Archive | July, 2010

Sister Wife

26 Jul

Celeste lives in a religious, polygamous cult.  Young girls are promised to old men, and Celeste isn’t an exception.  When Celeste begins to realize there is a world beyond the cult (through friendships with outsiders and a secret relationship with a boy her age), she must decide if she can leave her family and escape.  A total page-turner with great characters.

Cults are so fascinating from a YA point of view, as they play into the teenage fantasy of escape from family mixed with the feeling that escape is impossible.  There is usually a moment in which a young person can define their own separate future, but only with great sacrifice.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Shelley Hrdlitschka
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication date: November 2008

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

25 Jul

I love this cover! I have given up on vampires. Sort of. (Ok, fine, this summer I’ve been obsessively re-watching Angel – you know, vampire with a soul?). It seems like every new vampire addition to pop culture makes up their own rules as to what vampires are or are not, can or cannot do (don’t get me started on vampires who can’t go out in sunlight for fear that they might get a little sparkly). While this book does a bit of that itself, the narrator’s commentary on pop culture helps make this story stand out. The contrast between Zadia Bloodstone (fictional “heroic crime-fighting vampire who preyed only on lowlife scum”) and her real-life vampire author Nina (guinea pig eating, reformed vampire, support group member, who still lives with her mother at the age of 51 – well, 15 if you don’t count the undead years) is extreme to say the least. Nina compares being a vampire to being stuck inside with the flu forever – not quite the glamorous and powerful life that one might expect, especially if you have been reading her books. The reformed vampire support group that Nina belongs to is rather dull. In the thirty years that they have been meeting, they have exhausted most topics of conversation. When the remains (ashes) of one of their members are found along with a hole left by a stake and a silver bullet, they decide that they must find the slayer and convince him that vampires are not the threat that mass media makes them out to be.

The main trouble with The Reformed Vampire Support Group is that when you take away the excitement of vampires and try to highlight how their lives are pretty boring, you sometimes get what you’re asking for. That being said, there are some exciting moments throughout and there are scenes where the dialogue makes for more enjoyable reading than any action-packed vampire story could offer. For example, there is a hilarious scene in which a taxi driver assumes that Horace and Nina are dressed for a costume party as members of the Addams Family. I also found Catherine Jinks’ choice of villains to be interesting; the evil in this story is not found in the werewolves and vampires in the story (though they are not perfect either) but rather with a couple of humans trying to capitalize on the lives/abilities of others. While this is not an entirely original idea (e.g. see Whedon’s demon fight club – Angel, Season 1, Episode 16: The Ring), it’s still refreshing and ties the fantastical elements of the story to reality.

I will definitely be reading more from Catherine Jinks, though I doubt I would read a sequel to this particular story (feel free to remind me of this if I ever review one).  I also think that Jinks should consider creating a graphic novel version of this story.  The cover design makes me yearn for one.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Catherine Jinks
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Publication date: April 2009

Twenty Boy Summer

22 Jul

Twenty days, one boy per day. Frankie is determined to find the guy that will help best friend Anna finally ditch her albatross (aka virginity – that’s what all the kids call it these days). Sadly, in Frankie’s quest to help her find “the one”, Anna struggles with the secret that she has been keeping since the death of Matt, Frankie’s brother and Anna’s first (super secret) love.

This isn’t my type of book, but I picked it up anyway – mostly because the word summer was in the title and, well, it is that time of year. I was worried that I was going to be thoroughly bored by the half-way mark, but I was pleasantly surprised that Sarah Ockler was able to drag out the limited and mostly predictable story-line without boring me once. I mean that as a compliment.

I liked Anna and I wanted things to turn out well for her though it seemed clear that she would have some problems along the way. The part that didn’t work for me the most was the character of Frankie. I never really felt like I understood her as a character and once every chapter or so she would open her mouth and not sound like a real human being (Frankie saying words wrong all the time? You either know the word preposterous or you don’t use it. No one says prepottermous. Right?). Also, a big pet peeve of mine is when things are spelled out too much for the audience, both in books and other media (TV is the worst!) and Twenty Boy Summer had a bit too much of that for me.

In the end, though, this was a nice, light, summer read. The beach scenes made me long for a trip to the ocean even though I know that my memory of it all is always so much better than reality. Oh and speaking of summer, Sarah Ockler apparently doesn’t like watermelon. It hurts my brain when I attempt to understand how this can be. I ate watermelon for dinner tonight. Yes, I realize that is not a meal, but it was awesome.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: June 2009

Graceling

18 Jul

Aside from having fabulous covers, there are many reasons that I am a fan of Kristin Cashore’s debut novel.  First and foremost, Katsa is a kick-ass (literally) female protagonist.  Born a Graceling (one who possesses preternatural talents or skills), she has been used by King Randa, since her Grace first revealed itself at age 8, to carry out violent acts on his behalf (her Grace is believed to be a killing Grace).  As she grows older, her conscience gets to her and she forms a secret council to work against the “mindlessness of the kings”.  On one of the Council’s missions she meets another Graceling, a young man named Po, a mission and meeting which set the action of the book in motion.

I started listening to this story on audiobook because I had heard rave reviews of the recording (I enjoyed it though some of the performances for the smaller roles did not work for me).  Cashore does a wonderful job creating this world for the reader but I kept trying to picture the lands in relation to the real world map and felt the need for a visual “reality check”.  Eventually, I decided to check out the book because, as in most good fantasy, I knew that there would be a map contained within.  Seeing the layout of the land helped me to have a better sense of their journey.

I appreciate the story’s commentary on patriarchal domination.  After being “owned and operated” by King Randa for most of her life and being forced to commit murder or torture in his name, Katsa decides that she will never be owned by anyone again and for her this includes marriage. As she falls for Po, she contemplates love and partnership and what it would mean for them to not marry.  She also discusses with Po her use of birth control (a flower called seabane) to avoid motherhood, something she has no interest in.  Part of why Katsa and Po work is that he doesn’t mind her superiority. As he says at one point along their journey,

“You’re better than I am, Katsa. And it doesn’t humiliate me.” He fed a branch to the fire. “It humbles me. But it doesn’t humiliate me.”

I couldn’t help but think of my favorite super hero(ine) of all time, Buffy Summers, while reading. This is not only because both women are skilled fighters whose powers at times make them feel alone in the world (and make dating a real challenge), but also because the fighting/training scenes between her and Po are so reminiscent of training scenes with Buffy and Riley (a mix of tough and focused fighting with a bit of sex and romance). The Graces also bring to mind super powers or mutations in popular media (especially X-Men) – the Graces have such range from ones that help predict the coming harvest to mind readers to invincible fighters (I couldn’t help thinking of Moist from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog whose special ability is basically that he can make things, well, moist – some people just don’t luck out when it comes to super powers).  I personally think the best Grace is the one that makes you an amazing cook (that actually exists in this story).

I am excited to read more from Cashore and as much as I want more stories of Katsa, I think the author is smart to go where her imagination takes her rather than to simply continue the character’s story.

Read This! Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Publication date: October 2008

Nora:

I really don’t know what is wrong with me.  Obviously Graceling is a great book, Katsa is great, I can see why everyone loves everything about the novel.  I just couldn’t finish it.   I had about 75 pages left, and returned it to the library.  Maybe it just wasn’t dystopian enough?  Too high fantasy?  Maybe too much Twilight destroyed my brain?

an introduction to nora

17 Jul

Nora is a school library media specialist.  She likes a variety of YA genres, but favors dystopian fantasy, books about rich girls and people who go to boarding school, people struggling with personal-identity, and books where people inflict physical and mental pain on themselves.

Random questions below provided by some friendly young adults.

If you could live in the world of a book, which book world would you most want to live in and which would you least want to live in?

The obvious answer for world I most want to live in is Harry Potter.  But then I start to think about the death eaters, Voldemort, the bullying, etc…and it just seems too risky. Therefore I am going to say Gossip Girl.
Least want to live in: The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

If you could be any inanimate object, what would you be?

A pillow.  For lying around.

If you could have any super power what would it be?

Super-Intelligence.

What is a color you miss in nature after a snow storm?

I try to stay inside and not look around too much in the winter, so I
am not sure.  Maybe the color of skin covered by ridiculous amounts of
winter clothing?

What are the qualities that make a good friend?

Laughs at my jokes.  Likes to read books.

What is the best dream you have ever had?

I frequently have dreams about shopping and finding a perfect item.

If you had to have one song stuck in your head for the rest of your life what would you choose?

Patience.  Guns N’ Roses.

If you had to be trapped in a t.v. show for a month, which show would you choose?

Hannah Montana.  It seems so relaxing and predictable.  I could hang
with Dolly and Carol Burnett.

What YA character would you most want to be friends with?

Georgia Nicolson from Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.

What inspired you to start blogging about YA literature?

Reading YA is nothing but fun, and I want other adults to realize
that they are missing out!

What is your favorite non-YA book?

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I have many things I like about myself, but my ability to do well in school and write awesome papers is at the top.

When did you start reading YA literature?

In about third grade I started reading Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. By high school I stopped reading YA and kind of forgot about it. Then (just like Em) I started reading the Harry Potter books, and discovered an entire new world of YA.

What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?

Jamaica!

What is one book you wish you could change or re-write?

In Breaking Dawn I would change Jacob imprinting on name left out to avoid spoiler. Of all the creepy things in the series, this is the creepiest.

an introduction to em

17 Jul

Em is a library director and teaches media production to youth.  She voraciously listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks in 2007 and ever since has consistently been reading/listening to at least two books at a time (not in unison). She loves books with strong characters; a little bit of fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopia; and stories that make her sad or happy (generally teary eyed). In her “spare time”, she co-hosts the radio show, Bound By Books, with three amazing tween readers.

Random questions below provided by some friendly young adults.

If you could live in the world of a book, which book world would you most want to live in and which would you least want to live in?

I would want to live in the world of The Hobbit. Mostly I want to live in the Shire. I don’t really need to go on any adventures to places with giant spiders or anything. I would least like to live in the world of Ship Breaker; I would not last a day there.

If you could be any inanimate object, what would you be?

I would want to be a piano, but preferably one that gets played more often than mine and by a really amazing pianist who plays lots of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, and Schubert.

If you could have any super power what would it be?

I would have a super power that sends out a wave of calmness. Basically, I’d make people chill out when tension was running high.

What is a color you miss in nature after a snow storm?

I don’t miss any colors right after a snow storm. Usually everything looks so dirty and dead right before a snowstorm, so I appreciate the nice clean blanket of white. But otherwise, the obvious answer is green (unless we’re talking freak snowstorm that puts an end to a beautiful orange-red-yellow autumn in which case, orange).

What are the qualities that make a good friend?

Fun, funny, easy-going, trust-worthy, thoughtful, and invested in learning/growing. Nora gets extra points for being vegan and eating/cooking food with me and for sharing my love of YA.

What is the best dream you have ever had?

Any dream where I am not stressed or scared or owing a lot of money is wonderful.

If you had to have one song stuck in your head for the rest of your life what would you choose?

I’d pick this sitar and tabla music by Zakir Hussain (I’m not sure who plays sitar with him). It’s soothing. I’ve used it to help a friend overcome his insomnia. I think it could fade into the background when other music was on but be enjoyable when I actually want to hear it as well.

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

I’m going with Quantum Leap. I would get to go all over the place and hang out with Scott Bakula.

What YA character would you most like to be friends with?

I would be friends with Luna Lovegood. She is so nice. And I appreciate her quirkiness.

What inspired you to start blogging about YA literature?

I read so many books but have little opportunity to discuss them and my most active book club was made up of teachers who were not really needing opportunities to talk about books intended for young adults (that’s what they do with their kids every day). I also enjoy the process of reviewing books and tv/film and was looking for an outlet.

What is your favorite non-YA book?

I love Kindred by Octavia Butler. It’s sad that she had to leave us so soon. If I could cheat and pick two, my other favorite non-YA book would be Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I love the line “Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!” Beautiful.

What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I’m easy-going (my seventh-grade English teacher told me I was “even-keeled”). It’s a nice way to be.

When did you start reading YA literature?

In elementary school and middle school, I was really into Sweet Valley High and scary stories by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. In high school, I switched over to adult books except for the occasional classic-crossover like Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and Fahrenheit 451. I came back to YA as an adult when I finally decided to venture into the world of Harry Potter via audiobook (I had a very long commute to work). Jim Dale (vocal artist for Harry Potter audiobooks) and J.K. Rowling are both amazing. I would sometimes get home at the end of my commute and sit in my car listening to the books until a good stopping point.

What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?

India. Definitely, India. The food alone wins India my top destination vote, though there is plenty more to love about the country for sure.

What is one book you wish you could change or re-write?

I would change and re-write the entire Twilight series (I am assuming all four, since I haven’t read Breaking Dawn yet). I would make Edward less creepy/stalkerish and I would make them more condensed and less redundant. I want to like these books, but I find myself bored far too often. I would also cut a little Quidditch out of the early Harry Potter books. The series gets so much better once Quidditch dies down a bit.

Heist Society

16 Jul

I read this book not because it seemed like the kind of book that I would like, but simply because it was nominated for the 2010 YALSA Teen Top Ten. I wasn’t expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. The story and lead character grabbed me right from the start. Katarina Bishop, we soon learn, comes from a family of thieves and has recently decided to leave the family business behind, opting instead to steal a new life by conning her way into an elite boarding school. This is where we first meet her, but she is not there long for her family needs her and steals her right back by getting her kicked out of school for a classic prank (headmasters car, fountain) that she did not commit (as Hale says, “I’m an old fashioned guy. Besides, it’s a classic for a reason.”). Once back with her family she learns that some “different kind of bad” guy named Arturo Taccone is missing some paintings, believes her dad to be responsible, and wants her to get his paintings back or else (because there’s always an or else). So, Kat heads out to figure out who stole the paintings, where they are, and how to get them back.

The whole story reads like a movie (each time she goes to a new location, I pictured the title at the bottom of the screen reading “Paris, France” etc) and perhaps that is why I liked it so much – never a dull moment, extremely easy to visualize, great characters, interesting story line. I really don’t have any complaints. In fact, one of my most usual complaints about YA media (the unnecessary focusing on romance) is not a complaint that I have with this book. There is some crushing going on – a bit of a love triangle even – but the romance is not super developed. I love this about this book (what do you bet that the movie version will ruin this for me?). Katarina may be a teenage girl with raging hormones, but she has a job to do and she is always focused and on task. Well done Katarina and well done Ally Carter.

extra points for the subtle inclusion of information about how Nazi’s stole artwork before and during WWII and how people are still working to this day to right those wrongs.

Read This! Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Publication date: February 2010

Kira Kira

15 Jul

Here is how to win a Newbery Award: Write about growing up somewhere where you don’t fit in because of your race/ethnicity/religion. Then have a sibling who is either special needs or dying of some disease.

This is Kira Kira.

It is actually pretty good, but do kids go for this stuff anymore?

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Publisher: Atheneum
Publication date: February 2004

Mr. Schue

7 Jul

Ok, so the teacher on Pretty Little Liars isn’t really named Mr. Schue, but I cannot remember his name, refuse to look it up, and it makes me laugh (on the inside) whenever I think of that as his name. What the real Mr. Schue (Glee) and the pretend Mr. Schue (Pretty Little Liars) have in common is that they both make me very uncomfortable. The real Mr. Schue does so by always choosing hip hop songs to perform – playing “cool teacher” and all is awkward. There was also that whole seduce Sue Sylvester number this season which made me cringe (teacher butt shots? really?). The pretend Mr. Schue makes me uncomfortable because as an adult who has worked with kids, the idea that this guy would think it is fine to date a student is utterly creepy and gross. I don’t care if she is totally cute and he is not that much older than her. It’s just wrong and it makes me find his character to be unattractive (to say the least).

It is not that I’m not into secret relationships or people that seemingly shouldn’t be together but it-feels-so-right – I like both of Emily’s current potential relationships on the show with Maya and Toby (oh the secrets on this show) and one of my favorite shouldn’t-be-together relationships of all times, Buffy and Spike (my favorite show of all time as well). I just question a guy who would not be able to find someone at his own stage of life who he is attracted to and enjoys the company of AND who thinks that dating a high schooler (read: threatening his career, life, etc) is a risk worth taking. I was glad that this week he finally got called out on his inappropriateness by his former college buddy (I also question an adult male whose seemingly only local friend is a high school student – he had to ship a friend in from out of town to tell him he was icky). The real Mr. Schue doesn’t appear to have many friends either, but at least he has enough reason to understand that teacher-student romantic relationships are not cool. Real Mr. Schue tells it to Rachel straight (after hinting throughout the episode that she should back off), “I’m sorry. I’m going to have to stop you. The way you’ve been acting is totally inappropriate. I’m your teacher and I’m sorry but that’s all I’m ever going to be.” (Glee, “Ballad”, Season 1)  In the case of pretend Mr. Schue and Aria, this speech wouldn’t work without some revision since it doesn’t seem fair for pretend Mr. Schue to call Aria out on her bad behavior when he is even more to blame. But I can’t seem to see pretend Mr. Schue taking credit for this one.

Highlights for this week’s episode:

  • I liked the Spencer story-line re: winning and her new crush,
  • I like that pretend Mr. Schue got called out by his friend and then acted ridiculous towards Aria at the end,
  • And I like the development of the friendship (romance?) between Emily and Toby (where was Maya this episode?).

Lowlights for this week’s episode:

  • Mostly Hanna – not super interested in her or her mom at the moment. Her sneaking around the office building was not at all suspenseful or interesting to me, though that therapist guy was super creepy – especially back in his strange closet office.
  • What’s up with every show having a celibacy club? (ok, so I’m really only talking about Glee and Pretty Little Liars) Are these clubs really that common or do teen shows think that having a club is the only way for them to talk about how some teens don’t have sex? It seems like a cop out to me. Donna (90210 original) was a big ol’ virgin and she didn’t have to join a club to talk about it (right?).

Pretty Little Liars

6 Jul

Nora: I was shocked the other day when Em said she is bored by Pretty Little Liars.  Em, what more do you want?  It is summer, and there are good looking rich girls who may or may not have killed their best friend.  ABC Family does produce watered-down blandish versions of teenage life, but isn’t better than nothing?

Em: Here’s the thing. I haven’t completely given up on the show. I’m still watching it. I just find myself a little bored most of the time. I thought the Pilot Episode was good and so I was hoping for more from the show. I also find myself confused every time Kendra “I call it Mr. Pointy” The Vampire Slayer is on screen. Seriously, does Bianca Lawson ever age? She has been playing a teenager since she was a teenager back in the 90s (Saved By The Bell: The New Class anyone?). I also think the editing could be a lot tighter. They hold the oh-my-god-a-message-from-A-just-arrived-mysteriously-and-we-are-kind-of-scared shots a bit too long every single time.