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Maddie Reviews: Emma by Jane Austen

9 Jul

Earlier this year, I decided to deviate from my usual reading material and go for something a bit different. I got a copy of Emma through a free book something-or-other, and decided- why not? I had been inspired to start reading Jane Austen because of Gwyneth Paltrow, The Mother Daughter Book Club series, and just because it sounded like something that would be more interesting to me. I figured that if I was going to finally start to brave literature from the early 1900s, why not start with something a bit gossipy and love triangle oriented?

You’ve probably heard of this book before. It was the last book that the famous Jane Austen published in her lifetime. Its heroine is the witty and intelligent but extremely nosy Emma, a member of the higher branch of English society from around the eighteen hundreds. As the publisher description adequately describes her, “she was beautiful, clever, rich, and single.” She is set apart from her peers (and, I think, other heroines of her time) by being content to remain perfectly clever and single. As she says in the book, “’I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature, and I do not think I ever shall.’” Certainly, the main plot point of the story is her delightful nosiness.

In the very beginning, she sets out to match her new charge/protégé, the young Miss Harriet, an orphan of unknown parentage, to the handsome, young, and wealthy Mr. Elton. Emma decides she must take Harriett under her wing after her main companion, the former Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston, is married. Making matches and getting into people’s business is our dear protagonist Emma’s favorite pastime. The story evolves to include the interesting twists and turns of Emma’s scheme, with some things extremely unexpected, and others that could be guessed from the beginning – for, really, what is a Jane Austen novel without romance?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I noticed how Jane Austen seemed to use some facts of English society in the story, remark about them in a clever prose, and then (very subtly) make fun of them, as if to say, through her characters and their actions, that some aspects of society were just plain stupid. To give a specific example I have in mind would spoil some of the book, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Another thing I liked about this book were all the different characters. There is the disagreeable friend of Emma’s, Mr. Knightly, her father, Mr. Woodhouse, who seems to have a rather stalkerish obsession with their town doctor, Perry (and health), the young, slightly dimwitted Miss Harriet, and the dapper Mr. Elton.

I also love her use of language. It was the kind of book that you are bursting at the seams to read in a British accent, and cuddle up with a cup of mint tea, a blanket, and a small dog by the fireplace.

There were things about this book that I wasn’t as fond of. First, there are spaces in places they simply shouldn’t be. The same can be said of the letter u, and other odd things that appear in places that they don’t in American English. The book, while much more interesting, than, say, The Scarlet Letter, is still a bit tedious and hard to read at times. The plot as well, or at least parts of it, was extremely predictable. For example, I knew that ______ would end up with ______ and that ______ would, like, NEVER work out, and they’d end up back with _______ . . . I think you get my point. Saying all of this, though, it was still readable.

If you struggle sometimes with regular English, let alone older English, and classics just aren’t for you, then you may want to wait a few more years to tackle Emma. On the other hand, I highly recommend this book if you like classics, or want to start reading them. This book is most definitely a great place to begin! Also, if you appreciate love complications and just all-around extremely satisfying (read for five hours straight in a very large generously stuffed chair) books, you’d definitely adore this one.

So, pick up Emma, by Jane Austen: It’s a great way to start reading classics, and to perfect that British accent.

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Originally published in 1815 by John Murray

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are also posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog.

Maddie Reviews: The Diviners

25 Mar

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!

I have very interesting friends, and it is because of them that I read this book. My one friend was reading this in the library at school, when my other (slightly crazy) friend came up behind her and started reading her page aloud with various interesting voices. The next thing I knew, my slightly crazy friend was reading the book too, and giving more commentary. (“Ooo! I think Tommy’s going to die! DON’T GO IN THERE, TOMMY!”) They both talked about how good the book was, and had several silent screaming fests when they discussed it afterwards. . . So, my curiosity got the better of me, and I absolutely had to read it.

The Diviners
This book, The Diviners, by Libba Bray, primarily focuses on the main protagonist, Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill. It starts out with her being exiled to New York City to cool off (the reasons being along the lines of her accusing the town golden boy of knocking up a chambermaid at a particularly boisterous party). It takes place in the 1920’s, so as the cover remarks, New York is stuffed to the brim with speakeasies, pickpockets, Ziegfeld girls and silent pictures. “The city ran on corruption as much as electricity.” Evie’s only reservation about leaving her small town was that she’d be stuck living with her Uncle Will, who owned a museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, otherwise know by New Yorkers as the museum of Creepy Crawlies- a place “arrears on its taxes”.

Anyway, Evie, known to her small town as “that awful O’Neill girl” a flapper through and through, also had a gift- or rather, a supernatural power. She could take an object that was important to the person whose item she was examining, and get. . . sort of. . . transported to a scene in the person’s life when they possessed that object.

Also going on in this book are POV’s (points of view) from different characters, the other main POV being a character named Memphis, who was a numbers-runner for Papa Charles, “the undisputed king of Harlem”. Memphis too, had a gift- a different gift, though he hadn’t used it in a long time, for when he needed it most, his ability had failed him. There are other characters in this story, too, ranging from the reserved assistant of Evie’s uncle, Jericho, who (guess what!?) hides a secret, to Theta, a Ziegfeld girl and friend of Evie’s. She, (Theta) lived in an apartment with her “brother”, fleeing from her past-and, yes, her gift.

There are many interesting characters, but the main plot point of the story is about a series of murders, done by a serial killer whom the reader knows from the beginning, called Naughty John. The victims were branded with a cryptic, mysterious symbol and a note. Evie’s uncle was called to the scene by the police, as the killings seemed to be religious or occultish in nature, and the rest of the book unfolds with Evie realizing that her gift could help catch the killer. Evie, Sam, (another character; a NYC pickpocket), her uncle, and Jericho discover in the process of solving the case that the killings were the start of something bigger.

Personally, I enjoyed this book (for the MOST part). I loved the complicated weaving of the storyline. I loved the third-person storytelling, and how it switched POV’s constantly from a random aristocrat to the wind. I loved the names- especially me, being a name fanatic, encountering names such as Memphis and Theta gives me an embarrassingly large dose of satisfaction. Perhaps, my favorite thing, though, was the historical fiction aspect. I swear, I’ve learned more about the twenties, the Harlem Renaissance, and Prohibition than I have from ever watching a PBS special. Because of this book, I can recite ten examples of flapper slang off the top of my head. Finally, I started reading it the same afternoon I got it, and finished it the next morning. So, yes, it was THAT good- the kind of good that you sit and stare at for a couple minutes afterward, and get bug-eyed when you realize that THERE IS A SEQUEL.

There were things about this book that I did not appreciate as much. . . the main thing being the ending. It had a very last-minute relationship plot twist that I just did not like. Besides that, the only other real flaw that stayed with me was that the characters sometimes aggravate the reader- (Dude! Don’t go in there! Are you STUPID!? There’s a creepo! OR THERE! DON’T WALK INTO A RANDOM ABANDONED WAREHOUSE!!! OR under a creepy bridge! ESPECIALLY when the psychic ten-year-old told you NOT to!) . Lastly, depending on your perspective, you might think that the book talks a little bit TOO much about Prohibition and other subjects along those lines.

I would not recommend this book to someone who doesn’t like really creepy books-there are scenes from the POV of some of the victims (at one point, it seems like someone dies every other chapter). Also, if you do not like more complex plots or the whole Armageddon bit.

BUT, if you DO enjoy any of the above. . . or, well, even if you don’t, you should pick up Diviners by Libba Bray, because you can bet on your life-ski that you’ll enjoy it.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)

Guest Review: Sloppy Firsts

15 Aug

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

Jessica Darling’s life began to change the night her best friend Hope “U-hauled ass out of Pineville.” It’s the middle of the school year and Jessica’s remaining social network consists of the “Clueless Crew”, three girlfriends with whom she has nothing in common, and Scotty, a friend from childhood whose changing feelings for her leave Jessica continually doubting the sincerity of his friendship. Alienated in her own life, Jessica begins to push her own boundaries and finds an unlikely friendship in a forbidden stranger named Marcus Flutie.

Sloppy Firsts is a story about how life begins to change and how the choices we make affect that change. As this blog reminds us, Young Adult isn’t just for teens. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that the term “young adult” has been co-opted to apply to teens when in truth it’s a sliding timeline. Through the vulnerable, yet bitingly hilarious voice of her 16 year old protagonist, McCafferty offers timeless insights on friendship, love and even gender roles – “Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or Smart. Guess which one I got?” Jessica Darling’s observations are sharp – her responses to them honest and hilarious.

I was totally drawn in by Marcus Flutie and Jessica’s quest to unravel her interest in him. McCafferty beautifully develops the connection between Jessica and Marcus as a tender one of mutual discovery, while still stinging with adolescent realism. I especially like her use of the female body to illustrate how physical and emotional experiences intertwine. Though, at first I was disappointed in myself for getting caught up in the “romantic” aspect of the story, the characters offer more depth than a trite teen crush. Marcus speaks to what Jessica is lacking in herself. Whereas her friendship with Hope was a safe place where Jessica could be herself, unchanged and unharmed, her friendship with Marcus offers her a site for discovering what is unknown, even within her own head and heart.

I’m definitely getting Second Helpings.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Broadway (August 2001)

Girl Power: the Nineties Revolution in Music

11 Jan

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

My record collection is organized by race and gender and it pains me to say that the white male section is nearly the same size as the white women, non-white women, and non-white men’s sections combined. Clearly this is not completely accurate research, but I use this example to illustrate how dominant white male influence has been on the music industry, even in the personal collection of an educated, girl-band supporting feminist. However, the largest decade reflected in my female collection is the 90s, a pivotal decade that permanently inserted the female experience into music. From Bikini Kill to Britney Spears, Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music chronicles women’s integration into and influence on music in the 1990s and reminds us of a host of revolutionary acts that are in danger of being lost on current and future generations.

Meltzer’s manuscript is a cohesive fusion of history, advocacy and personal narrative that ultimately serves to inform. The author’s investment in her subject matter is directly attended to as she inserts her own experience into the dialogue, offering a personal experience of one girl that also reflects the unique experiences of many. I was in my formative years during the 90s, ages 12-22 to be exact, and from Madonna to Hole to Tori Amos, I discovered and defined myself by my relationship to that music. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville remains one of the most influential albums of my life – required listening for every teenage girl.

Girl Power is chock full of information and the first few chapters offer an insightful history of the riot grrrl movement and the creation of female-billed music festivals. Meltzer guides her readers through a timeline that chronicles the shift from grrrl power to girl power, the former a feminist movement reflecting girls’ concerns and the latter a marketing tool employed by the music industry to capitalize on young girls’ increased consumer presence. She also offers interesting insights on the cultural implications reflected in the changing landscape of pop music, i.e. the difference between Madonna and Britney. My only critique is to suggest that the 90s also the decade to boasted a proliferation of black female artists: Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, TLC, En Vogue. Though there are brief mentions of Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, little attention is given to non-white artists or any genre outside of rock.

Meltzer closes with a call for community and collaboration, and a subtle hint towards girl made music – “When girls in their bedrooms around the world recognize they’re connected – via the internet, their experiences, their love of the same pop culture – they will see that the flaw in girl power is to fixate on the individual; real power will come when they decide to band together.”

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marisa Meltzer
Publisher: Faber & Faber (February 2010)

Note: In the book Meltzer discussed the film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. See this movie! It is awesome and stars Diane Lane and Laura Dern when they were teens!

Girl Power Playlist from Alicia

Silent All These Years – Tori Amos
Bitch Theme – Bratmobile
This Ain’t Pleasure – L7
Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Drunk Butterfly – Sonic Youth
Flower – Liz Phair
Cannonball – Breeders
anonymous – Sleater Kinney
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Asking For It – Hole
U.N.I.T.Y. – Queen Latifah
Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
That I Would Be Good – Alanis Morrissette
On & On – Erykah Badu

And a few video highlights from the playlist!

Guest Review: The Carrie Diaries

9 Nov

Our good friend Jacinta recently connected us with Alicia – a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and will be guest posting with us here at Love YA Lit from time to time!

Sex and the City the television series ended six years ago. One might find this hard to believe, considering the characters and the lavish lifestyles they live have been far from gone in the mainstream media. The latest installment in the SATC enterprise is The Carrie Diaries, author Candace Bushnell’s young-adult novel that introduces audiences to Carrie Bradshaw as they’ve never seen her before – 17, virginal and unsure of how to fulfill her dream becoming a writer. The young Bradshaw struggles through adolescence the same way her adult self struggled through her 30s, and with just as much, if not more, wit and insight. It’s easy to see how Carrie became Carrie as Bushnell chronicles a very real, and entertaining, teenage experience using the skills we’ve come to know her for: realistic dialogue, relatable, yet flawed, friendships and capturing the excitement and emotion of the first moments of love.

As a feminist scholar and critic, and an advocate for girl-friendly media, I was plagued by very familiar annoyances in the reading. Although adult Carrie admits in SATC (season 4, episode 17) that her father left when she was a toddler, Bushnell posits high-school Carrie as the eldest of three girls being raised by their father since their mother died a few years earlier. Although a single dad raising three young women is certainly an alternative to the status-quo, it is not more or less feminist than a mother, working full time and raising 3 daughters. And in the case of the latter, it provides something very important missing in both fiction and film – positive female role models.

The debate over Bushnell’s characters and their choices has been raging since the debut of the original series. In The Carrie Diaries, the author offers her own feminist commentary that is neither subtle, nor convincing. In a chapter dedicated to Carrie’s discovery of feminism, the 12 year old visits her local library to see her mother’s favorite (fictional) feminist Mary Gordon Clark speak. The young Bradshaw is chagrined by the woman’s gruff and judgmental manner, leaving her to ponder “How can you be a feminist when you treat other women like dirt?” An excellent question, though I’d be interested in asking Bushnell “Why all feminists must be represented as angry, elite meanies?”

Unlike her adult counterpart, whose friendships offered support, honesty and resilience in the face of obstacles, the high school Carrie is surrounded by a group of friends that are competitive, highly emotional, or just plain bitchy. Her most passionate moments include falling for a narcissistic, but gorgeous guy who eventually cheats on her with her best friend, developing her voice as a writer with the support of the Brown-attending George, and eventually being published in the school paper, with the help and support of the paper’s editor – her friend’s boyfriend.

As a lover of pop-culture and an advocate for media literacy among the youth, especially girls, I was encouraged to find the positive elements of a story that will surely resonate with a large audience. Although Carrie’s mother is absent in reality, she is ever present in the lives of her daughters, all of which are struggling to maintain her legacy while evolving into who they will be as individuals. The biting, yet quirky, humor that endeared me to Carrie on SATC punctuates the tensest moments in the novel as Carrie offers teen-appropriate insights like, “Funny always makes the bad things go away.” Unfortunately, comparing the young Carrie to the character she became on the series leaves me no less than disappointed. The Carrie created here comes out an evolved and matured being, moving forward into the next phase of her life, something that was remiss of her character when the SATC series ended, and further exacerbated in the following two films. In fact, I’d favor a film version of The Carrie Diaries over both SATC films.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Candace Bushnell
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 2010)

Review originally posted at pop!goesalicia July 2010.

Author Adele Griffin on Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War

30 Sep

“You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they’re safe in the bleachers. That’s why it works, Carter, because we’re all bastards.”
–Archie Costello, The Chocolate War

It has been over thirty-five years since Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War was published—a book that holds a third place position in the American Library Association’s Most Banned Books of this past decade. Wow. Who knew. (Me, I didn’t, until I looked up the list.) So what’s the big deal about this book, one of my own top three most beloved YA novels of all time? Aside from its violence, strong language, and the sacrilege of corrupt priests who make tactic agreements with their most powerful students in order to enforce Groupthink? Well, sure. There’s that. But I believe what really makes Cormier’s The Chocolate War the Oh-No-He-Didn’t book of Time Unending is its philosophical position that human nature is an inexorably dark place, and that the power of the mob is most dangerous when it is turned onto the spectacle of suffering. It’s a grim summation, diametrically opposed to the viewpoint most notably expressed by Anne Frank’s earnest (if ironic) belief that: “Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.”

When I first read this book, many years ago, I, too, was attending a small Catholic school very close to Cormier’s Leominster, Massachusetts. At the time, most of the book’s so-called shockers glanced off me. I wasn’t undone by the intellectual, bullying Archie—my school had its share of brutal manipulators. And I’d had my run-ins with real-live meanie nuns. For me, the most brilliant angle of Cormier’s multi-faceted, near-perfect gem of a YA was the fact that no matter how chaotic, how insufferable Jerry Renault’s life became, he still had. To go. To school. Had to show up and endure whatever fresh pain and humiliation lay in store for him. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Jerry Renault had to adapt a stance, and from that stance, just deal. And Cormier knew that like no other author I had ever read before.

The unique conundrum of the Young Adult novel, the one unalterable plot point of the genre, is that you can’t quit high school. As in: you can’t be promoted or fired or relocated or get saved by a Sabbatical, or even—except in the most rare of instances—just take a semester off. In order to survive, you need to figure out your strongest sense of self, and kick that self out the door into another day, every single day, until you get your mortarboard.

In my own book, The Julian Game, where the online bullies are anonymous and home has ceased to be a respite from the daily grind, my protagonist, Raye, is in the same predicament, and that mortarboard feels very far away, indeed. But it would be impossible for me to write a YA novel about betrayal, revenge, violence, bullies, self-reliance, and the stance of the Peaceful Warrior without looking at the path Cormier has forged. While he chose a rough setting in which to place his diamond, and while the entire story unfolds without a single text message or Google search, any teen today could slip inside Jerry’s skin and know that it fits as easily and protects as thinly in 2010 as it did in 1974. It is the book’s relevance, above all, that continues to dazzle us, not just from the summit of any given Banned Books list, but from the apex of literary excellence.

– Adele Griffin, September 28th, 2010, Banned Books Week

Adele Griffin is a critically acclaimed author of novels for children and young adults. Be sure to check out Adele’s beautiful new website, the quirky-fun site for The Julian Game, and of course her novels for young adults! Thank you for sharing with us!

Adele’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Pantheon (1974)

Banned Books Month

1 Sep

Every year around this time we get really excited for Banned Books Week. Not because we are excited about book banning, but because we love that there is a special week set aside to celebrate the freedom to read! Plus, the list put out by the ALA each year of frequently challenged books is a great way to find some of the best YA books out there! Several of our favorite books make the list each year, so the week also serves as a reminder to us that we need to work extra hard to make sure that access to these amazing books is not denied to readers.

Check out the ALA’s list of Books Challenged or Banned in 2009-2010 featuring super cute robots!

We decided to stretch out our celebration this year by celebrating Banned Books Month! This month we will be reading and reviewing books that have been frequently challenged or banned over the years. Reviews will be posted on our blog and linked below in the Mister Linky Widget.

Giveaway!: If you read and review a book which is on one of the ALA’s frequently challenged lists (or that you know has been recently challenged), feel free to share the link to your review below (please include the book name and your blog name in the “Your name” field). We also encourage reviewers to include information about the book’s challenge/banning either in your review or in the comments section. At the end of the month, we will choose one reviewer at random to win a prize – an “I read banned books” tote bag filled with a selection of challenged books and other Banned Books Week goodies (for non US entrants, we can only offer the tote and goodies – sorry!).*

Updated 10/11/10: Giveaway is closed. Winner has been chosen. Feel free to continue sharing and reading reviews!

Over at Steph Su Reads there is a Banned Books Reading challenge which fits nice and cozy with this one! She also has included a great list of resources re: challenged books. Check it out! We plan to participate by reading/reviewing at minimum 1 book per week during the challenge (likely more!).

p.s. Banned Books Week is from September 25th-October 2nd this year! What will you be doing to celebrate?

*We will not be eligible to win, but our guest reviewers will. We will use a random number generator to pick the winner.