Archive | December, 2011

2011 Was A Very Bookish Year

31 Dec

Nora is always willing to lend a hand

This was an especially bookish year for me. The biggest highlight of the year, of course, was marrying my best friend and the love of my life. This is arguably not very bookish (although we read some books to help plan our ceremony), but with my blog buddy Nora as a bridesmaid and my top read of the year accompanying me on our honeymoon, I’ll let it count. Italy, where we spent our honeymoon, also has the most bookstores I’ve ever seen. In Florence, for example, there were three bookstores on the street where our hotel was located, not to mention the many other stores throughout the city.

L to R: what most YA collections in Italy look like, a panel from the ceiling of the library in Venice, me reading The Passage and avoiding the shade of the Leaning Tower, Spy Girls!, a bookstore in Florence that didn't let lack of space inhibit its collection growth, and a window display at the cutest kids bookstore I've ever seen.

I also started a new job this year, working at my local library as a library assistant and later in the year taking on the role of Library Director. Some of my favorite tasks of the job are collection development and helping folks find the books they want and the books they didn’t realize they wanted. I love library work and I love working in the community where I live. I couldn’t have asked for a better job. Nora also got a new job this year. After finishing up her M.S.I.S. in the Spring, she found work as a school librarian! YAY!

Another bookish highlight: my 11 year old buddy Quinn and I started a radio show called Bound By Books at the beginning of the year, back when our community radio station first launched. We toyed around with calling the show Donkey Cabbages, after a Grimm’s fairy tale with a funny name, but after finally reading the story decided that it was just too plain weird to name our show after it. So Bound By Books was born, we had two new friends join us later in the year, and the three of us have a grand old time talking about books on the radio each week.

Maddy, Antonia, and Quinn talk about Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

And, of course, a big highlight of the year were the amazing reads that sparked my imagination, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me bake (true story). I almost exclusively read YA fiction, but I have a couple titles highlighted below that are more A than YA (they’re too good to ignore).

The Passage by Justin Cronin, is easily my favorite read of 2011. In the rush to catch a train, I neglected to pack any books to bring with me on my honeymoon and so bought a copy of The Passage at the airport bookstore. Aside from my super-sweet-awesome husband, I could not have asked for a better travel companion. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it! No reservations! Don’t let the enormity of the book dissuade you (as it did me for a good year) from picking it up; it’s a fast read, because you won’t want to do anything but read it until it’s through (and you won’t want it to end). I haven’t figured out how to successfully describe the story without giving too much away or making it sound kind of stupid. Here’s my latest effort (tell me how I do): The Passage is the story of a very unique girl named Amy and the many people around her whose lives are greatly impacted by an outbreak of vampiric creatures who either kill or convert those they come in contact with. It’s scary. It’s post-apocalyptic. It’s awesome. I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Twelve, coming out sometime in 2012.

My favorite audiobooks of the year include another adult title, Room by Emma Donoghue, whose narrator, Michal Friedman, had me convinced that she was a five year old boy named Jack. It’s an amazing bit of storytelling that I’m glad to have finally gotten around to reading. But now on to the YA! Another audiobook highlight for me was Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go narrated by Nick Podehl. I listened to this one while gardening during the summer, and can say it definitely did wonders for my garden by keeping me out there all day long. Podehl is a fabulous narrator who, along with MacLeod Andrews, also narrated another favorite audiobook from 2011, John Green and David Levithan’s fabulous Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The beauty of this audio recording is not just the narration, but also that the songs of Tiny Cooper are brought to life! And lastly, my most recent audiobook favorite is the debut from Wendy Wunder, The Probability of Miracles, a wonderful story with a lot of heart, read by Emma Galvin in an understated performance that I much appreciated.

My suggested books list is quite extensive for this year (for a link to reviews of my favorite reads, click here; Nora’s here), but I’ll list my top picks below (minus those titles already listed above):

Nothing by Janne Teller
Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Don’t Stop Now by Julie Halpern
Trapped by Michael Northrop
Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (another great audiobook!)
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (this one made me bake)
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

I still owe many of these lovely reads a review, so look for those in the coming year. I’m currently reading three books (yes three) that have great potential for making the best of 2011 cut, if I am able to finish them before the new year: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Winter Town by Stephen Emond, and The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon (narrated by Dion Graham who is one of my favorite audiobook narrators).

On that note, I’m off to do a little pre-party reading! Hope you all have a wonderful New Years Eve! And happy reading in the new year! Thanks to Nora and Alicia and all our fellow bloggers, authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers, publicists, and readers out there in the blogosphere for sharing this wonderful year with us!

Love Lessons from Edward Scissorhands

18 Dec

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!

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us – a brief moment of time known to most of us in western culture as the season of giving. With the current economic crisis, and a heightened awareness of conservation due to our struggling environment, many Americans are preoccupied with the challenge of gifting those we love. This holiday season why not stay away from the stores and give someone the gift of yourself. If you’re unsure of how to do that, as most of us are, take a deep breath, smile and try the following:

1. Start with the heart: Although I have seen this movie at least ten times, this time around I was struck by a single moment – the moment we learn of Edwards’s creation. In a brief yet poignant flashback we see Edward in his original form, a nearly faceless robot preparing for the holidays in a room full of concoctions. From across the room the Inventor approaches, in his hand a heart shaped sugar cookie which he holds up to Edwards’s chest. It is precisely this choice that motivates the entire subtext of the movie. The Inventor was inspired to bring Edward to life by giving him a heart. Not a thinking mind, not a perfect body but the ability to feel. In our constantly chaotic, success driven society the importance of feeling, or loving, is often neglected, but in truth it is the one thing we all have in common. So while many articles have commented on Edward’s difference – a loner, a misunderstood artist – I’d like to suggest that it is not the differences that endears us to Edward, and eventually turn the townspeople against him, but rather how we are the same.

2. Share yourself: Humans, at least Americans, spend most of their lives hiding our vulnerabilities and guarding ourselves from being hurt. Our protection isn’t as obvious as a fistful of knives, but is often just as harmful. With Edward Scissorhands, director Tim Burton provides a physical metaphor for vulnerability. And while his hands do not have the tangible ability to feel, Edward touches people none the less. Front yards are transformed into botanical works of art, and every woman in town lines up to receive a distinctive hairstyle. Everything as far as the eye can see is marked by Edward’s unique talents.

3. Make it snow: Just as it began, the movie draws to a close with a simple, beautiful act – Kim dancing in the snow. In this brief moment, we realize Kim’s love for Edward as she turns circles in the snow flakes created by his sculpting, literally enveloped in his love. Edward has no social understanding of how to participate in the life he has been brought into. He knows only how to be – that’s it, just be. And it is in this expression of who he is that Edward liberates Kim and she learns how to love without fear. For years, Tim Burton has been “making it snow” in Hollywood by sharing his vision with an audience through innovative films like Beetlejuice and Sweeney Todd. It is the gift of truth – our talents, our love, ourselves – that is most worth giving. So this holiday season, when you’re thinking presents, think of yourself. Maybe it’s a mixtape of your favorite songs, or the chance to see a classic film on the big screen. Let us give to each other the passion in our souls and the love in our hearts. And by all means touch someone, because you can.

Films stills from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.

Watersmeet and The Centaur’s Daughter

12 Dec

Ellen Jensen Abbott’s Watersmeet tells the story of Abisina, an outcast from Vranille whose call to adventure comes when a new leader comes to power. With her dark hair and skin, and her lack of a father, Abisina is an outcast in Vranille and has been treated horribly all of her life. Her mother’s role as the village healer is the only thing that has offered them protection. One day, Abisina’s mother tells her of her estranged father, and promises that soon they will leave for Watersmeet. But when a long-awaited leader arrives and turns the town against all outcasts, Abisina must flee for her life. On her own now, she must seek out her father and the place called Watersmeet. Along the way she meets dwarves, centaurs, and other classic fantasy creatures, and begins to come to terms with her own prejudices.

The Centaur’s Daughter, the follow up to Watersmeet, picks up two years after where book one left off. In an attempt to avoid too many spoilers, I’ll keep the summary here vague. Abisina has found her place in her new home, but there are new threats, new challenges, and Abisina must set off to forge alliances between various lands/groups/creatures. As she comes of age, she also struggles with what it means to be her father’s daughter – contemplating leadership, exploring her special abilities, and dealing with her own lingering prejudices.

Several memorable characters and locations from Watersmeet return or are revisited in the second book. Abbott doesn’t leave new readers to the series in the dark, but instead finds ways to fill them in on what they missed. This is generally a pet peeve of mine, but since it had been a while since I first read Watersmeet, I was happy for the refresher. I think a reader could hop right into The Centaur’s Daughter without having read the previous book, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Watersmeet is a fabulous read and the issues that Abisina continues to struggle with in The Centaur’s Daughter are much richer given the context of the first book.

What I appreciate most about this series is that it is classic fantasy, reminiscent of Narnia and Earthsea novels. The story deals primarily with issues that are common place, but explores them in a fictional land inhabited by humans, centaurs, fauns, dwarves, fairies, and minotaurs. The books both have maps that make it easier to get a sense of the land and to follow along where the various adventures take the characters. And while the novels are considered YA, and our main character is a teenager in both stories, I think that this series is especially appropriate for younger readers.

While I have enjoyed both books so far, I would definitely suggest Watersmeet more enthusiastically than The Centaur’s Daughter. Watersmeet has a strong balance of character development and action, and introduces us to an interesting and complicated new world. It works well as a stand-alone, which is something that I always appreciate in a series book. The Centaur’s Daughter is a great follow up for those who fall for the world, characters, and story that Abbott created in Watersmeet, but it felt at times like an interlude. Sure there was action, but it felt like it was building up to something that was just too big to fit into this installment of the series. I suppose we’ll have to wait for book three! (not the worst thing that could happen to a person) That being said, Abisina’s character development in The Centaur’s Daughter is captivating, and makes for an engaging and worthwhile read.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars (Watersmeet)
Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars (The Centaur’s Daughter)
Author: Ellen Jensen Abbott
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish (April 2009 and October 2011)
Note: ARC of The Centaur’s Daughter received from publisher for honest review.

Dear December

1 Dec

Dear December,

Thank you for the manageable and exciting reading list.

Yours truly, Em

p.s. your covers are lovely.

Winter Town by Stephen Emond
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Anticipated Release: December 5, 2011

I’m not totally sold on the storyline for this one – straight-laced dude tries to find his old childhood pal underneath her new Goth exterior – but what makes this a highly anticipated release for me, is the fact that Emond is a comic artist. While Winter Town is not a graphic novel in the strictest sense, I’m looking forward to seeing how Emond incorporates illustrations into the story. Plus the cover design incorporates paper hole punches as snow. Yes, I judge books by their covers.

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
Anticipated Release: December 8, 2011

A terminally ill teen moves to a strange town, where miraculous events are commonplace. There she finds a mysterious envelope containing a bucket list which will change her life forever. Sounds like a sweet, quirky, heart-warming debut novel. Alloy Entertainment is involved. I’m sure Nora would have something to say about that.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Anticipated Release: December 27, 2011

I love the stories of objects. And Lemony Snicket. So how can this one go wrong? The story of why Min and Ed broke up is told via a long letter from Min, delivered with a box of trinkets (and a thunk) that help her to explain why their relationship has come to an end.

What December releases did I miss that you’re excited about?