Archive | December, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Bieb-style

28 Dec

Last Tuesday Nora and I joined in on The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday meme by listing our top ten books that we wanted Santa to bring. One of the books that stood out in the list was Nora’s selection of 100% Official Justin Bieber First Step 2 Forever: My Story by Justin Bieber. Many thought this was hilarious, others thought it dubious. Regardless of her reasons, she does really want to read this book! Nora reads a lot of musician bios, though I’m not sure how many of them are about teen pop stars (more like Rick James and Motley Crue).

As a kid, I remember opening to a random page of a book about The New Kids on the Block and learning such useless bits of information that I didn’t read any farther (it listed their shoes sizes – that’s literally all I remember). That ended my musician bio reading career. Perhaps the Biebs can revive that for me. Nora and I once joked (?) about having a book club discussion about the Justin Bieber autobiography and I decided to put the book on hold at the library in case this ever came to be. The book is in transit to my library as I write this post (Nora is so jealous), so we may have more insights to share in a later post. For now, here’s a little spin on Teaser Tuesday (really this whole post is just an excuse to share this video!) and a taste of what’s to come:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To join in, just grab your current read, open to a random page and share two “teaser” (not spoiler) sentences from somewhere on that page.

Book Blogger Secret Santa(s)

25 Dec

When my sister (above left) suggested that Santa should only come for the little kids this year (i.e. her baby and her nephew, rather than us big kids), I agreed that this made sense. This would have been my first Christmas sans the hairy man (as some youth radio producers refer to Santa – seriously, you want to listen to this), had it not been for my three, count ’em three, book blogger secret santas! Yeah, I went a little wild this year signing up for three different book blogger secret santa missions – a fun way to 1) give and receive books and 2) “meet” other bloggers. So, I wanted to take a moment to thank the Secret Santa organizers and all of my no-longer-secret Santas for helping keep the hairy man in my life for yet another year!

The first package that I received was from Julie of One Book Shy of a Full Shelf who amongst other things (like a book light and Disney pencils that the kids at work are going to be so jealous of) gave me the gift of Tamora Pierce (yay!), who I have been dying to read. We were paired up via Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I played Secret Santa in this swap for Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea whose interest in Japanese lit, books set in India, and tea made for a fun present to put together! (any excuse to give the gift of chai!)

The next package that arrived was yet another lovely surprise mix of goodies – this one from Kate at Midnight Book Girl who sent me Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which I’m very excited to finally read. She also sent me some tasty vegan treats, a cute bookmark and Christmas book inspired by my future cat-lady-dom, and bath stuff (I’ll admit it, I read in the bath)! For this Secret Santa, I had the fun task of putting together a package for Tahleen of Tahleen’s Mixed-Up Files who I was able to get a signed copy of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares for thanks to Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck who hosted Rachel Cohn and David Levithan last month. Thanks to the folks at The Broke and The Bookish for connecting us all!

And last but not least was a curious matching via The Neverending Shelf’s Secret Santa. I’m not sure if this is how it worked with everyone or if we were special, but Erin from Erin Explores YA and I were each other’s Secret Santas! I gave Erin some YA by Melissa Walker and April Lindner and some Taza drinking chocolate (yum). Erin sent me Lure, a ghost story set in a library by where she lives. Haunted library?! Sounds good to me!

Again, thank you thank you thank you to the organizers of these fun activities and to all my blogger matches! Hope the end of 2010 treats everyone well!

Top Ten Tuesday: The Santa Edition

21 Dec

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s Top Ten theme is our Santa Wish List – i.e. what books we want Santa to leave in our stockings. One time Em left a letter for Santa in the fireplace that read that her sister didn’t believe in him and that if he was real that he should keep the note…and he totally did! He left presents for her sister too, so she must have really believed after all. We didn’t send letters this year, but hopefully Santa has himself some Internet up at the North Pole.

Em’s Wish List:

1. The Great Escape: Or, The Sewer Story by Peter Lippman. This picture book is SO good! Baby alligators are stolen from their families/homes and sold as pets to city dwellers. Once the alligators start to get too big and alligator-y their owners flush them down the toilet and there’s this whole community of gators living in the sewer. That is, until they plan their great escape! I loved this book as a kid and recently wanted to get it for my library but it’s out of print and super pricey for a used book.

2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Book 1 by N.K. Jemisin. All that I have heard about this book makes me want to read it ASAP – racial diversity, homosexual relationships that are not scorned, high fantasy, “challenging” – yes please.

3. The Candle Cafe Cookbook by Joy Pierson. I have this theory that if your restaurant makes amazing food, then your cookbook is probably pretty awesome too. Will let you know if I ever prove this theory one way or the other.

4. Animal Man, Book 1 by Grant Morrison or Angel: After The Fall by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch (edited to include Brian Lynch – writers are very important!). In general, I am always happy to receive comic books or graphic novels as gifts. The Grant Morrison run of Animal Man is great. I rarely meet people who have read it and that is a shame. I did a graphic novel swap with a friend once in which I lent him my copy and we forgot to ever swap back. My collection misses this one. And good old Angel. My fiancee and I rewatched the television series, Angel, this fall and it made me want to know what happens next. (EDIT: an interesting connection between these two titles: the book that ended up in my collection after the graphic novel swap that caused me to lose my beloved Animal Man, was Joss Whedon’s Fray, so I couldn’t feel too bad for myself)

5. Forever by Judy Blume. I am embarrassed to admit that I have never read this classic YA novel. That’s not to say that I haven’t read select sections thanks to my friend Gayle in middle school taking on the task of showing me and my friends where all the sex parts were in books (she had the page numbers memorized! in multiple books!).

Nora’s Wish List:

1. 100% Official Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever by Justin Bieber. Our library system refuses to purchase enough copies of this book to meet the demand, and I need to read the book before the movie comes out on Feb. 11th. I don’t want to miss out on any important details. Apparently Justin likes grilled cheese and going to the mall! What else do I not yet know????

2. Neon Angel: A Memoir of A Runaway by Cherie Currie. I hear Cherie spends her time these days making chainsaw sculptures. This does not change the fact that I need more Runaways info. I want to know more about the Lita Ford drama…the movie barely touched on it.

3. Just Kids by Patti Smith. So many rock bios! I almost put down the Keith Richards book instead, but I got that one for my dad, so I can always steal it from him. Anyway, Patti Smith! Check out the “Horses” scene in the film All Over Me.

4. Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill. No, I don’t like Soundgarden. But I do like violent sci-fi YA featuring cannibals!

5. The Living and the Dead by Jason. Zombies + Minimalist Graphic Novel + Norwegian Author = Good.

What books are at the top of your wish list?

Jacqueline Woodson

20 Dec

This year, I finally got around to reading some novels by Jacqueline Woodson who I have been hearing about for years. I listened to two of her books on audio CD and must say that either her work is especially translatable to audio format or she lucked out on readers (or both), because listening to these two stories was a wonderful experience.

Peace, Locomotion

I have yet to read the 2003 National Book Award Finalist, Locomotion, which first introduces readers to Lonnie, but I was able to jump right into Peace, Locomotion without feeling like I was missing anything. In this sequel, Lonnie is now 12 years old, in 6th grade, and still living with Miss Edna, his foster mother. Lonnie lives apart from his little sister, Lili – each living with kind, loving foster families – and writes letters to Lili which serve as a sort of journal or diary for him as he preserves his memories and explores the meaning of hope, peace, love, loss, and family.

Lonnie’s a poet (Locomotion is told via his poems) but in his 12th year of life he spends more time writing letters to Lili than poems, especially since one of his teachers discouraged his writing, telling him he isn’t a poet if he isn’t published. Luckily, Lonnie still gets a few poems out for us to read, one of which is called Imagine Peace and really sets the reader up well to think about how peace, as Lonnie’s foster brother Rodney says, covers everything. Jacqueline Woodson does an impressive job writing a believable voice for our young protagonist. I absolutely fell in love with Lonnie. He is a sweet young man and his thoughts and ideas and experiences warmed (and at times hurt) my heart. I physically held my hand to my heart several times throughout the listening because I was so moved. Dion Graham is outstanding in his reading for the audiobook recording; you can hear the love in each word and especially in each letter’s opening salutation “Dear Lili”. I look forward to someday reading Locomotion and learning more about Lonnie and his family.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Reader: Dion Graham
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2009) Putnam Juvenile (2009)

After Tupac & D Foster

The title for this novel is interesting, as one might assume that the majority of the story takes place after the death of Tupac Shakur and after some encounter with D Foster. In actuality, the story is about the friendship between three young women during the time period that marks their transition from kids to young adults and the impact of Tupac Shakur in his last years of life. Woodson explores how even the shortest of times spent with one another and the shortest of lives can leave a serious mark on an individual and how music can touch people’s lives.

In addition to the title giveaway, we know that our title characters will not be with us forever from the opening line: “The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.” Neeka and our unnamed narrator have been best friends for a long time. When D Foster, a young woman whose foster mother allows her an enviable amount of independence, “roams” into their Queens neighborhood, she becomes part of their inseparable crew. The girls jump rope, hang out on the stoop, discuss the meaning of Tupac’s lyrics, and think about their Big Purpose. They feel a connection to Tupac, to his life, to his songs, and to his perspective on life. As D says one time, “when I see him on TV, I be thinking about the way his life was all crazy. And my life is all crazy. And we both all sad about it and stuff. But we ain’t trying to let the sad feelings get us down. We ain’t trying to give up.”

The friendship formed between the three young women is beautiful and sweet. There were moments throughout the story when I saw in the characters my young stoop buddies and students from my days living/working in Poughkeepsie – especially Neeka who I felt a special connection with in great part because of this familiarity with her sweet-yet-sharp way of communicating with others. The audiobook reader Susan Spain offers a wonderful performance bringing unique voices to the various characters (and again, really adding to the familiarity of the characters – Neeka’s voice is perfect!).

I really appreciate the thoughtful responses of the young women to Tupac’s music throughout this novel as well. I love Hip Hop and while I don’t exclusively listen to social issue Hip Hop, I do appreciate artists like Tupac Shakur who sing about more that just where the party at. I feel bad for people who can’t get past thug life tattoos, curse words, and an artist’s reputation (whether warranted or not). They are really missing out. Maybe if more people listened (in general – not just to Hip Hop), we would better be able to understand and connect with one another.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Reader: Susan Spain
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2009), Putnam Juvenile (2008)

One of my favorite lines from After Tupac & D Foster: “If it was a Tupac video, the only thing all the girls wanted to see real good was Tupac’s eyes. He had the prettiest eyes of any rapper–they were all big and sad-looking and he had dark eyebrows that were so thick, they made you think about soft things.” Feel free to enjoy his pretty, sad eyes in the following videos – all songs referenced in After Tupac & D Foster.

And a personal favorite, not mentioned in After Tupac & D Foster:

Some Girls Are

14 Dec

Regina is second in command of the popular clique at school. As a result, she has spent many years tormenting and teasing pretty much the entire student body. When her “best friend” Anna’s boyfriend tries to rape Regina, she mistakenly thinks her “friends” will be on her side. Instead, Anna decides Regina has been after her boyfriend for years, and that Regina is now out. Totally out. Suddenly Regina becomes the bullying victim of her former clique. She has nowhere to turn, having alienated the entire school. Everyone is glad to see her suffer, including her former best friend from before Anna took over Regina’s life. A relationship with a boy she used to bully is fraught with tension and anger, and Regina is very much alone in the world.

What makes this book unique is that Regina does not all of a sudden become nice. She remains somewhat mean and apt to hurt others on purpose. Her thoughts alternate between revenge and the fear of being alone. She is a realistic character, and provides a lot of insight into the mind of someone willing to do almost anything to be popular. Some critics complain that Regina does not grow as a character, but I think this is a good thing, as it seems so realistic. How often in real life do we see a teenager (or even adult) go through a complete moral turnaround just because of some consequences to their actions?

Regina also provides insight into the complicated nature of bullying. Namely that the mainstream media (which is obsessed with bullying in school right now-it used to be gangs) and many parents tend to see bullying as a black and white victim/perpetrator scenario. Some Girls Are presents the more nuanced revenge cycle in which figuring out who is the bully isn’t always so easy.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Courtney Summers.
Publisher: St. Martins-Griffin (2010)

The Lying Game

7 Dec

Emma is surprised when her foster brother shows her an online video whose “star”, Sutton, looks exactly like her. She figures out that this stranger with her face must be her long lost twin. She tracks Sutton down online and is excited when she receives an invitation to meet up. The only problem with this scenario is that Sutton is dead and the person who sent the invite to Emma has something else in mind for her. Everyone assumes that Emma is Sutton and when she tries to convince them otherwise, they don’t believe her because they are used to Sutton’s twisted pranks and know better than to believe a word she says. Once Emma realizes that Sutton is dead, she decides the only way to find out what happened to her twin is to slip into Sutton’s life and piece it all together herself. But as she learns more about Sutton’s misdeeds and the many pranks pulled off as part of The Lying Game, Emma and ghosty-ghost Sutton (who is following Emma around) realize that it may be hard to piece this puzzle together – turns out, a lot of people had a motive to kill Sutton.

Did I do ok there? This book is incredibly hard to synopsize. I tried to explain the story to a friend the other day and it took me about 5 minutes of good-old-rambling with her wide-eyed in disbelief to get the basics across. In defense of the book, the craziness of the plot is a big part of what makes it so fun. The official synopsis is all from Sutton’s point of view, which to me is completely misleading. True, Sutton is one of our guides, but she is basically useless in that role – for an unexplained reason she can’t remember much about her life. While this makes for more suspenseful reading, it also means that every time Sutton hops into the narration game she basically says “too bad I can’t explain anything.” Her contributions to the storytelling are incredibly boring and unproductive and it is confusing every time she first-persons her way in. For the most part, the story is told via limited third-person narrator, connecting us with Emma rather than Sutton. Whenever Sutton took a turn at narration, I found myself needing to stop and rewind so as to reread the lines thinking of the “I” as Sutton rather than Emma. I tried to convince myself at one point that Shepard was trying to connect our confusion between the characters with the confusion felt by Emma and Sutton as their worlds merge, but even if that was her intention it didn’t positively add to my reading experience. While I understand why she included Dead Sutton in The Lying Game, I think that the character is awkwardly incorporated and uninteresting and I wonder if the story/series would have been better without her.

The other thing that really didn’t work for me about The Lying Game is the overwhelming presence of product placement. Brand names in books is a big pet peeve of mine. I can get over a few here and there, but when I feel like I’m being advertised to every chapter (often multiple times per page), I’m not so happy. I thought about having my entire review be a list of every single brand name listed in the book, but figured that 1) it would take too long to gather them all and 2) why further name drop these brands? I hope that Shepard was paid royally for all this product placement and used that money for the betterment of the world, because there really is no other excuse for advertisements in books. (Nora says she doesn’t care about this stuff – she actually says that she loves product placement as long as the products are good. I think I taught media literacy too long! Damn you awesome non-profit youth media org!)

So now, what did work for me? Even though I never really came to fully care for Emma, I was able to connect with her enough to feel invested in her safety and in her figuring out what happened to her twin. The story is definitely suspenseful and has that “you can’t trust anyone” thing going for it. The truth is as much as things didn’t work for me with the brand-name-dropping and with the character of Dead Sutton, this book was hard to put down at times and I will quite possibly pick up the next in the series. The plot is wildly unbelievable in a way that is fun and somewhat enticing. I want to know what happened to Sutton and what will happen next with Emma. And I have suspicions about certain characters, which make me concerned for Emma’s safety, so the book obviously transported me somewhere, even if the mode of transportation had some flaws. I’m sure this book will be wildly popular and if they drop the Dead Sutton character (or make her just a voiceover rather than a visible presence), it could make for a successful television show follow-up to Pretty Little Liars.

Em’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars (Nora would love this; just not for me!)
Author: Sara Shepard
Publisher: Harper Teen (Dec. 7th, 2010)

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley for honest review and in print form from Oblong Books & Music

The Plain Janes

6 Dec

After a terrorist bombing in Metro City nearly takes her life, Jane decides that in order to survive she will need to become a new Jane. She gets a new look, turns to art, and finds hope in the Art Saves sketchbook belonging to John Doe, an unidentified victim of the attack who lies in a coma in a Metro City hospital. Her parents, feeling rattled from the terrorist attack and their daughter’s brush with death, move the family to the suburbs seeking a sense of security. In her new school, Jane chooses a seat at the reject table which just so happens to be made up of three other young women all named Jane. She courts the other Janes by trying to join their various after-school activities (drama club, science club, the soccer team), but it is her own homegrown secret art club that finally brings them together. Together P.L.A.I.N. – People Loving Art In Neighborhoods – carries out secret art missions throughout their town and soon everyone is talking about their secret club, but while some are inspired and entertained others are scared and view the art as attacks.

This graphic novel is a quick, fun read that will make you want to get together with friends to make some public art…unless you happen to relate more to the parents and cops in this story. Unlike another book that I recently read in which the characters play pranks on others in a very mean girl way, the art missions made by P.L.A.I.N. are fun, creative, thought-provoking, and meant to bring joy to the community. Planning and carrying out secret art projects makes the Janes feel more confident and for MainJane (as our protagonist refers to herself) it helps her feel proactive in making the world a more joyous and safe place. As she writes in a letter to John Doe, “It’s like I’m asking the world to keep me safe by making them pause for just one minute.” But while this work makes MainJane feel safer, it adds to her mothers fears – she feels that if P.L.A.I.N. is able to carry out these attacks then so could those who want to inflict harm on people. The connection that her mom and the cops make between artists and terrorists brings to mind real life artists who have been accused of terrorism such as Steven Kurtz whose Free Range Grain project materials were deemed suspicious and led to his week-long detainment (beginning the day after his wife passed away), four-year legal battle, and the loss of tens of thousands of dollars worth of material and work. The Plain Janes raises questions about public art and freedom of expression, about the healing power of art, and how terrorism and fear can affect our civil liberties.

Castellucci effectively balances the narration between first person (MainJane), letters from MainJane to John Doe, and dialogue between the characters. MainJane is easy to connect with and care for and is the most complex character of the bunch. The only real problem that I have with the graphic novel is that aside from MainJane, the Janes are all cookie cutter stereotypes – science geek (BrainJayne), jock (SportyJane), and drama kid (TheatreJane). And they are just the start – there is also flaming gay James, angry enforcement-loving Officer Sanchez, mysterious and cute loner boy Damon, and popular and bossy cheerleader Cindy who MainJane stereotypes from their first meeting saying “I know this girl. I bet her name is Kim or Zoe or Cindy. I used to be this girl.” The over-reliance on stereotypes is frustratingly unoriginal and it makes for less believable dialogue and characterization. Despite this, The Plain Janes is an enjoyable read and the artwork by Jim Rugg is a perfect fit.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Illustrator: Jim Rugg
Publisher: Minx (May 2007)