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End of Spring Mix Tape

29 May

If I had to list my three biggest media addictions of Spring 2014, they would be graphic novels, Bollywood films, and new music. After not really buying much in the way of music the past few years, I went a little wild this spring. Here are some of my recent favorites from said purchases. Happy listening!

Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson
This song is super catchy and I love watching the quirky dance moves. I especially love how the guy to the left of Michaelson looks like he really wants to get down, but he holds it in until the end when they finally get to let loose.

MFN – Cibo Matto
From Hotel Valentine, their first album release since 1999 (what?!), comes this and plenty of other fantastic and fun songs. Remember when they used to inspire sexy dancing in The Bronze? Oh the good old days. I’m sure the Scoobies would get down to this track as well.

La La La (Brazil 2014) – Shakira
Just in time for the 2014 World Cup, Shakira has released a new version of a song from her self-titled 2014 album with lyrics changed to be more soccer-y and worldly (e.g. “Now here we are. You rock it.” becomes “Hear the whistle. Kick the ball.”). The music video features her baby daddy, Pique, and several other futbol stars lip-synching along, as well as her baby, Milan, playing futbol with an elephant (cute!). The original song was my favorite track off her latest album and I have to say the soccer player eye candy doesn’t hurt. Watch out though, this song is a major earworm.

Love Is The Answer – Aloe Blacc
While “The Man” is the biggest hit (thus far) off Aloe Blacc’s Lift Your Spirit, this is by far my favorite track off the album.

Holding On For Life – Broken Bells
After the Disco is one of my favorite new albums of the year and Holding On For Life is one of my favorite tracks. The music video features scenes from a short film the Broken Bells created to celebrate their album release, a little sci-fi romance starring Anton Yelchin and Kate Mara. The full film is available for viewing online (go for it!).

Fever – Black Keys
Here’s another great new track off a new album that I love. Yes, the phone number onscreen throughout the video is a working number.

Rumble – Kelis
I love Kelis’s new food-themed album. An artist perhaps best known for her hit “Milkshake” off her album Tasty who later studied at Le Cordon Bleu, she’s quite the food-loving singer-songwriter! And how fun is it that she operated a food truck at SXSW 2014 to promote her new album? This song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with food, but I’ll take it anyway.

London Thumakda – Labh Janjua, Neha Kakkar & Sonu Kakkar
The Bollywood film, Queen, was released while I was on vacation in India and this music video played on TV a lot. I finally watched the film this month and loved it! It’s about a girl who gets dumped two days before her wedding and decides to go on her honeymoon (London and Amsterdam) by herself. This video shows a festive wedding celebration prior to the wedding getting called off.

Do you have a favorite song of Spring 2014? Share it in the comments!

War Horse (Audio)

7 Apr

War Horse
I’ve never been that into horses. Don’t get me wrong, horses are great. I mean they’re basically superheroes – they can run shortly after birth, they can see nearly 360 degrees, and they can sleep standing up (ok, maybe that last one isn’t the greatest super power, but it’s still very impressive). I know horse personalities vary, but in my limited experience with them, I’ve never met a bad egg. They’re beautiful creatures. And whenever I watch a battle scene with soldiers on horseback at the movies, I’m more sad to see the horses fall in battle than the soldiers. But somehow, I’ve never been drawn to horse stories and if I’m honest, would probably even go so far as to respond to them with a “this one’s not for me”. So it comes as no surprise that I was late to the party when it comes to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I still haven’t seen the stage performance or the Spielberg film adaptation, but I can now put a big check mark next to “read the book”.

War Horse follows Joey, a bay-red foal, from farm life to the war on the Western Front. As Joey is transferred from owner to owner, we see war from his point of view as well as from the perspectives of his various caregivers, on both sides of the war in England, Germany and France. The story is narrated using fairly simple language to match Joey’s limited awareness and the way he sees the war. Still, plenty of people talk to Joey, sharing their thoughts and concerns, asking things of him, and Joey communicates with people in his own way. While Joey has a job to perform at each stop along his way, it’s also clear that his value to his caretakers goes far beyond his contributions as a work animal. Joey also has some horse companions, Zoey and Topthorn – one a farm horse, the other a war horse. Unlike with many animal stories, the horses themselves do not have some special, secret horse communication, yet Joey still feels a strong connection with these two horses.

Morpurgo had several inspirations for War Horse, including conversations with World War I veterans and a haunting painting of horses charging into a barbed wire fence during battle. In a piece written for The Telegraph titled “War Horse: When Horses Were Heroes”, Morpurgo also shared a particularly touching inspiration for the story – an encounter he once witnessed between a boy with a debilitating stammer and a farm horse:

As I came into the stable yard behind the house I found Billy standing under the stable light, talking freely to one of the horses. He spoke confidently, knowing he was not being judged or mocked. And I had the very strong impression that the horse was listening, and understanding too. It was an unforgettable moment for all three of us, I think. It was that extraordinary moment that gave me the confidence I needed to begin writing War Horse.

That story alone moved me to tears. War Horse also moved me to tears several times. I’m sure if I ever get around to watching the movie, Spielberg will make sure to have the music swell just right at all the tearjerker moments. The story is moving, war is harsh, and the themes of family, friendship, courage, and communication across language barriers are explored in interesting ways. But it is the uniqueness of Joey as a narrator and protagonist that makes War Horse really stand out.

Through his performance on the audiobook recording, reader John Keating distinguishes between Joey and his various owners, giving each a distinct voice and accent. The audio recording is well paced and overall a short listen at just over four hours. I’m glad I finally gave this “horse story” a listen.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Reader: John Keating
Publishers: Scholastic Audiobooks (2010)

Doll Bones

20 Jan

Doll Bones
Zach may be too old to play with dolls, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He and his friends Alice and Poppy have been acting out an adventurous storyline with dolls and action figures for almost as long as they have been friends. When Zach’s dad throws all his toys away, it looks like their storytelling days are over. Only, there’s still one great adventure to tell, and it stars the friends themselves. Poppy claims to be haunted by a dead girl, a ghost who claims that The Queen (a bone china doll that’s off limits from game play) is made from her ashes. The ghost demands that the children bring the doll to the cemetery in the town where she lived and give her the burial she deserves. Otherwise, the dead girl will haunt the friends forever.

Focusing on Zach’s experience of events and performed by Nick Podehl, this story is more about growing up, friendship, and creativity than it is a ghost story. There is plenty of adventure and some creepy moments with the doll, but the story always comes back to the three friends navigating the transition between childhood and adolescence. Nick Podehl skillfully captures the story’s pace and the changes that the characters, both male and female, go through during their adventures. Doll Bones is a great choice for young readers who want to read something scary, but can’t quite handle a real horror story yet. But other readers will also find much to love here, from the solid character development to the friends’ quest to find their way to the doll’s burial ground.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Holly Black
Reader: Nick Podehl
Publishers:Listening Library and Margaret K. McElderry Books (2013)

Dream More (and read more too)

17 Dec

A few years back, the University of Tennessee’s Class of 2009 had the opportunity of a lifetime. Dolly Parton was their commencement speaker. I honestly can’t think of a single living person who I would be more excited to hear give an inspirational speech (I admire her so much, my friend Irit and I once shared a Dolly Parton-themed birthday party). The speech she gave to this graduating class not only inspired the audience and web viewers, but also inspired her latest book Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You, in which she elaborates on the four main hopes that she introduced in her commencement speech, also the basis of the mission of her Dollywood Foundation. Her hope for us all is that we dream more, learn more, care more, and be more.

As a physical book, like Ms. Parton herself, Dream More is a tiny little thing at just 128 pages. As an audio-recording, which is how I enjoyed this book, it is a slim two-disc set. While Dolly fans will surely enjoy this book in any format, I highly suggest listening to the audiobook. While they are her words either way, it is an absolute pleasure to hear them shared in her own voice. She’s warm, inviting, thoughtful, and funny. She even breaks into song now and again. While I found the first half of the book/audiobook to be more focused, her messages are clear and sincere and inspiring throughout. It was a pleasure to listen to the full audio recording. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’ve listened to it twice already.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

There’s also a significant focus on the importance of reading and in particular on encouraging reading at a young age. Dolly Parton talks about her work with her Imagination Library and how proud she is to be known as “The Book Lady.” In her words, “If I’m remembered 100 years from now, I hope it will not be for looks but for books. I don’t want the responsibility of any boobs in the future! I had to get that off my chest.”

Dolly Parton is an amazing woman with a lot of life experiences to share. While Dream More will be of most interest to her fans, those unfamiliar with her aside from her popular hits or her famous physique or her Dollywood theme park will find much to love here too.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author & Reader: Dolly Parton
Publishers: Penguin Audio (November 2012)
Note: Review copy received from publisher for honest review

On a side note, this book brought to my mind Nas’s “I Can“, with his lyric “Read more. Learn more. Change the globe.” Worth a listen if you haven’t heard it (recently or ever)!

Through To You

3 Dec

Cover art for audiobook version of Through To You by Emily Hainsworth
Camden Pike has been grieving since the day his girlfriend Viv died in a car crash. One day while visiting her memorial site, he sees a ghostly figure. The apparition isn’t a ghost, and it’s not Viv. Rather, it is a girl named Nina, who comes from a parallel world – a world in which Viv is very much alive and still in love with Cam. Given the opportunity to be with Viv again, to take back his goodbye, is a relief and he begins splitting his days between the two worlds. But things are different in this parallel world, Viv isn’t the same girl he remembers, and Nina is hiding something from him. Meanwhile, the portal between the two worlds is shrinking, and Cam is forced to choose which world is the one for him.

I had high expectations going into Through To You and while I thought the story was well-written, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The trouble was that while I believed Cam’s grief and his feelings for Viv, I never felt them. It was a very unemotional read for me. The story is also fairly predictable and the publisher’s summary (and mine above, sorry) perhaps gives too much away, although there was one twist that I didn’t see coming. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty that I appreciate about Hainsworth’s debut novel. For one, I thought the romantic element was well done; it was believable and never once triggered my gag reflex. While I’m down for a good all-out sci-fi story, I also appreciate how much this book reads like contemporary fiction, albeit with a parallel world thing going on. I thought the pacing was solid, the length felt just right, and (ta da!) it’s a stand-alone!

I also had mixed feelings about the audio recording. While I thought the reader Jesse Bernstein did a fabulous job at capturing the voice of Camden Pike, he was not quite as successful with the female characters, in particular Viv and Nina. Unfortunately, this made it difficult to connect with anyone but Cam. The film rights to Through To You have already been acquired, and I do think that in the hands of the right people, this story could translate beautifully to the big screen. While this wasn’t the perfect read for me, it was still enjoyable and I look forward to reading more from Emily Hainsworth.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Emily Hainsworth
Reader: Jesse Bernstein
Publishers: Harper Audio (October 2012)

Three Times Lucky

17 Sep

Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, lives in Tupelo Landing NC (population: 148) with the Colonel and Miss Lana, owner and hostess of the local cafe. Like her namesake, Mo was separated from her mother as a baby and sent downstream during a hurricane. Mo hopes to someday solve the mystery of just who her “upstream mother” is, but this summer she has another mystery to solve: a murder mystery. When a lawman comes to town on a murder investigation, and a local man turns up dead in his boat, the same boat that her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, “borrowed” from the now dead man just a few days earlier, Mo LoBeau throws her detective hat on and sets out to uncover the truth.

I rarely read middle grade fiction, but when I received this audiobook in the mail and saw that it was read by the late Michal Friedman, I knew it was time to put the YA on hold and try something for the younger crowd. Friedman was a fabulous vocal talent – one of those performers who portrayed child characters so well that it was hard to believe an adult was reading to you. Just as she did with little Max in Emma Donoghue’s Room, Friedman brings Mo to life in the best possible of ways. Mo LoBeau is absolutely charming as a narrator and not just because of Friedman’s performance, though that certainly helps. In this impressive debut, Sheila Turnage creates a highly memorable, and enjoyable, protagonist who is loyal, courageous, smart, sassy, and resourceful. She and her friend Dale are an adorable duo, especially when they begin work together (though Mo is certainly in charge) as the Desperado Detectives. While overall, this book is very light in feel, there are moments of seriousness, from Mo’s letters to her “upstream mother” to Dale’s abusive father to the kidnapping of a loved one. The mystery element is exciting and surprising at times, but what really carried me through was Mo LoBeau and Turnage’s fun, often quirky, dialogue.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Sheila Turnage
Reader: Michal Friedman
Publishers:Penguin Audio (August 2012)
Note: Review copy received from publisher for honest review

Mixtape Madness Mash-up!

6 Aug

I have been playing a game with my Facebook and blog followers where I pose a theme and ask people to comment with the name of a band (I choose the songs). I take the first 10 responses and create a mix tape with my own additional 5 choices for coherence and transition. The first attempt, What Would Katniss Listen To, was successful and if you friend me on FB, I can share the Spotify playlist. We decided to try a similar idea here at Love YA Lit with a literary twist. In reflecting on National Black Music Month (June), I decided to create a top five in honor of Black music, Black authors and Black characters. This is a Mixtape Madness Mash-up, y’all!

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

“Seems like people been teasing me all my life…. It’s bad enough that I’m the darkest, worse-dressed thing in school. I’m also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen.” (p. 4)

This is Maleeka Madison, a wise beyond her years middle school student battling the internalized racism of classmates, teachers and even herself. I loved how aware Maleeka was of other people’s ignorance yet found herself yearning for their acceptance. Her story is personal and unique yet completely relatable.

Song accompaniments:

  • India.Arie – Brown Skin
  • Lauryn Hill – Lost Ones

  • Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

    “You never think other folks got feelings. Like Janelle. I must’ve cracked wise a hundred times about her weight. Never even thought about it. It was just something I did for a laugh. Listening to her now, it don’t seem all that funny.” (p. 50)

    The story of an 8th grade English class and a teacher’s creativity, this book is an inspiring read about education, art and the overwhelming power of expression. I love books that switch narrators and Grimes takes it a step further by never appropriating a lead voice or main character in her story. The characters exist through the eyes of each other – classmates, rivals, crushes – and are self defined through the poetry they are writing.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Salt-N-Pepa – Expression
  • Mos Def – Hip Hop

  • After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

    “Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it – our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and then go have it. The night she said it for the first time, it was late in the summer of 1995 and we were all just hanging out – me, her, and Neeka  -watching music videos on TV.” (p. 7)

    Jacqueline Woodson’s novel continues to tell the story of three best friends and the omnipresent influence of Tupac Shakur on their loves and identities. Any music fan can relate to Woodson’s characters that look to music to help them understand themselves and their lives. Those of us who hold a special reverence for Tupac as an artist and a creative soul will be especially touched by the tenderness of D and the vulnerable elements that make her connect so deeply to a man and his music.

    Song accompaniments (a brief homage to Pac and especially to D and her girls):

  • 2Pac – Holler If Ya Hear Me
  • 2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up
    • I love how the juxtaposition of theses two songs (the 2 most successful on the 1993 album Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z.):) Illustrates the struggle of Tupac, both as an artist and an individual, and the essence of what his fans love about him.
  • 2Pac – Changes (originally recorded in 1992, but released 2 years after his death)

  • Caucasia by Danzy Senna

    “The less I behaved like myself, the more I could believe that this was still a game. That my real self—Birdie Lee—was safely hidden beneath my beige flesh, and that when the right moment came, I would reveal her, preserved, frozen solid in the moment in which I had left her” (p. 233)

    I was obsessed with this book when I first read it. It begins in the 1970’s in politically and racially charged Boston and tells the story of Birdie and Cole, daughters of an interracial couple who are separated when their parents flee from the law each going with the parent they look more alike.  The story is told in Birdie’s voice, the daughter who has been forced by her mother to pass for a white, Jewish girl, as she comes of age and comes to terms with her own self-discovery. It is a truly fascinating story about race and identity and the things we rely on to define ourselves.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Monie Love – It’s a Shame (My Sister)
  • Aretha Franklin – You’re All I Need To Get By

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

    “She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’s already done so. But what was one more beating? A flogging, even? I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her. This was a new notion to me and a curious one.” (p 246-247)

    Ok, technically I have not read this book but it is a fact-based fiction of 13-year-old Isabella and her sister, Ruth, struggling for life and freedom during the American Revolutionary War.  Written by the same author as Speak, I am sure it will be awesome. And, I will probably learn something. Double awesome.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution
  • En Vogue – Free Your Mind
  • Some real funny business

    14 Jul

    Who doesn’t like a good laugh? You don’t? Well, this week’s free SYNC downloads aren’t for you then (ah well)! This week’s YA+classic pairing engages in some funny business in the form of short stories by Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo, Mac Barnett, Jack Gantos (to name a few), and Mark Twain. The only short stories I’ve listened to on audio were also funny stories – David Sedaris – and they treated me well, so I’m excited to dive in and give some others a try.

    The following two titles are available for download through July 18 (once downloaded you can listen at your leisure):

    Guys Read: Funny Business
    By John Scieszka [Ed.] et al.
    Read by Michael BoatmanKate DiCamillo, John KeatingJon ScieszkaBronson Pinchot
    Published by Harper Audio

    Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend’s face, from the following esteemed writers: Mac Barnett, 
Eoin Colfer, 
Christopher Paul Curtis, 
Kate DiCamillo, Jon Scieszka, 
Paul Feig, 
Jack Gantos, 
Jeff Kinney, 
David Lubar, 
Adam Rex, and 
David Yoo.

    Ok, so I’ve never had one of those spit milk in your friend’s face moments, but I have laughed so hard that milk shot out my nose which in my opinion is both more funny and more gross so…. I really have no point here, but promises were made in the above blurb and I’m holding them to it! Also, I’m taking Bronson Pinchot as audiobook reader as an opportunity to plug my favorite new site of 2012: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now. Have fun in there!

    The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories
    By Mark Twain
    Read by Norman Dietz
    Published by Recorded Books

    “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is a wild yarn involving a case of mistaken identity, a gambler who’d bet on anything, and a very unusual frog named Daniel Webster. First published in The Saturday Press in 1865, the tale was immensely popular, and in 1867 an expanded version was published with 26 additional short stories, told as only Mark Twain could tell them.

    To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).

    Watch out for the women in white!

    11 Jul

    One final day to download the latest audiobook pairing from SYNC! This week’s pairing is the one I have been most anticipating from this summer’s SYNC schedule. And not just because I like a good ol’ spooky story, though there’s that, but because I’ve heard such rave reviews about both of these books and, more importantly in this case, the audio versions of them.

    The following two titles are available for download through the end of the day (once downloaded you can listen at your leisure – though fashionably before Labor Day with this pair):

    Anna Dressed in Blood
    By Kendare Blake
    Read by August Ross
    Published by AudioGO

    Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

    When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.

    The Woman in White
    By Wilkie Collins
    Read by Ian Holm
    Published by AudioGO
    Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

    One night on the road to London, a young drawing master, Walter Hartright, meets a mysterious woman dressed all in white and answers her pleas for help. But who is she and why is she being followed by two men? And what is her connection with his pupil Laura Fairlie, the woman he secretly loves? Wilkie Collins’ masterpiece of terrible secrets, concealed identities, abductions, fraud, cruel aristocrats and sinister foreigners is a mesmerising read.

    To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).

    Careful what you wish for

    2 Jul

    Djin, djinn, djinni, djinny, jin, jinn, jinni, jinnee, and (if you insist) genie – forget about magic wishes, these are some solid Scrabble words! You’re welcome. Djinnis and the perils of wish-making is the theme with the current contemporary+classic pair of free summer downloads from SYNC. Between now and July 4, the following two titles are available for download (while the window of opportunity for downloading is finite, once downloaded you can listen at your leisure):

    The Amulet of Samarkand
    By Jonathan Stroud
    Read by Simon Jones
    Published by Listening Library

    A humiliated magician’s apprentice decides to speed up his education and summons Bartimaeus, a 5,000-year-old djinni. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely.

    “Simon Jones excels at projecting the personality characteristics of someone who has seen and done it all: sarcasm, facetiousness, and dry wit.” – AudioFile Magazine

      Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

    My friend Quinn reviewed this book on our radio show recently and she let us in on the fact that the magician apprentice’s humiliation comes in the form of a “magical spanking”, which we all thought was a funny idea.

    Tales from the Arabian Nights
    By Andrew Lang
    Read by Toby Stephens
    Published by Naxos AudioBooks

    To save herself from certain death, the beautiful Scheherazade must beguile a Persian sultan with her enchanting stories.  In two of her most well-known tales, Aladdin and Ali Baba’s cleverness and quick-thinking save the day—and a great treasure.

    “This is an absolutely gorgeous introduction for young listeners to fine literature, a vastly different time and culture and enchanting music.” – AudioFile Magazine

    To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).