Archive | January, 2012

Probability Lesson #1: Miracles

29 Jan

16-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out of hospitals in her battle against cancer. One day, sitting in her car in the hospital parking lot she comes across her old flamingo list – a bucket list created during summer camp with her friend Lily that includes such important life milestones as “kill my little sister’s dreams”, “lose my virginity at a keg party”, and “experiment with petty shoplifting”. Feeling like all hope is gone, Cam decides it’s time to speed up the process of checking things off her list (starting with some petty shoplifting). Her mother, on the other hand, has not given up hope and decides to pack up and move her daughters from Florida to the small town of Promise, Maine, where it is said that miracles happen. Cam is cynical and sarcastic and doesn’t believe in miracles, but when her health improves and she meets some of Promise, Maine’s finest, she learns to open up and live in the moment.

“She realized she’d be spending the rest of her short life making other people feel better about the prospect of losing her.” (p. 31)

That line breaks my heart. No teenager should have to come to this sort of realization. Cam is a solid protagonist. Even if she isn’t your favorite person, you’ll still find yourself caring for her and hoping that the streak of miracles in Promise, Maine don’t skip her over. Cam is intensely pessimistic, at least in the beginning, which would turn some off, but the girl does have a pretty valid excuse for said pessimism and at least she owns it. It’s interesting to see the change she goes through during her summer in Promise, Maine. Though the story is written in third person, audiobook reader Emma Galvin captures Cam’s tone and attitude perfectly. With such an emotional storyline, there is great potential for either author or reader to take things too far – tipping the scales towards the overdramatic – but there is none of that here. Wunder handles the emotional scenes and moments of self-reflection with great care and Galvin’s understated performance is believable and much appreciated.

The Probability of Miracles is an impressive debut with a whole lot of heart. For such a serious and sad subject matter, the book still manages to be light and fun while navigating the emotional rollercoaster of Cam’s summer in Promise, Maine. So while there may very well be tears along the way, Wunder gives Cam and the reader good reasons to stick around. Immensely touching, this book will stay with you long after the last pages.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Wendy Wunder
Reader: Emma Galvin
Publisher: Penguin Audio and Razorbill (December 2011)
Note: Audiobook received from publisher for honest review.

Cinder (review + giveaway)

24 Jan

There are many fairy tale retellings, and an especially large number of Cinderella stories, but I can’t recall ever coming across a cyborg fairy tale heroine. Cinder, book one in the Lunar Chronicles, takes place post-World War IV in the busy streets of New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, an area ravaged by an outbreak of a fatal plague. Linh Cinder is a cyborg and a talented mechanic who lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters, her adoptive father having passed away long ago. Her stepmother, Adri, has never accepted Cinder as her daughter, but as a cyborg she is considered a second class citizen and is bound to her stepmother by law. When her sister Peony contracts the plague, Adri offers Cinder up for vaccine research. In the palace’s laboratory she discovers new information about herself, about her past, and decides to work with the doctor to find a cure, and to find a way to break free of her unhappy home life.

Did I mention there’s a handsome Prince? In this Cinderella story, the Prince Charming gets some personality, some soul. Cinder first meets Prince Kai while working in the market. It seems that Prince Kai has an android in need of some discrete tech servicing. The two meet again later when Cinder is working with Dr. Erland in the palace laboratory. Prince Kai is especially concerned with the doctor’s mission to find a cure for the plague because his father, the Emperor, has fallen victim to the fatal disease.

And yes, there is a ball and a fairy godmother (well, a friendly android at least). All of the elements are here and there are some sweet little nods to the original Cinderella. For example, in the opening scene, Cinder removes her “too-small foot”, which brings to mind the small feet of our classic Cinderella that made it clear that the abandoned glass slipper belonged to her alone. Though there is much familiarity in the story elements, Marissa Meyer really makes Cinder her own. The New Beijing setting, the letumosis plague, and the impending conflict with the Lunar Queen are all welcomed additions. Having a fairy tale heroine as resourceful as Cinder is also appreciated. We don’t have to rely on magic to make things happen.

As the first book in a planned four books series, we don’t get our happily ever after ending. The next three books in the series are based on three other fairy tales, but with Cinder remaining as our main hero. I am curious to see how this intermingling will work. I’ve enjoyed other fairy tale retellings which mix different tales together – the Fables graphic novels and the television show Once Upon a Time – so I’m hopeful that Marissa Meyer’s series will continue to grow in creative and interesting ways.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (January 2012)

Edit: Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Zeitghost Media, we were able to give away a copy of Cinder! The winner has been selected and it is….Veronika Briseño! Happy reading Veronika!

And as a special treat, here is a personal favorite Cinderella story! As a little kid, I was shocked by the disrobing of a cartoon character, but I loved the music and the weird sisters and their funny toes.

The Rock and the River

16 Jan

13 year old Sam Childs, son of a well known civil rights activist, has grown up believing that the non-violent protest methods of his father and Dr. King will lead to change. One day, Sam discovers literature about the Black Panthers under his older brother Stick’s bed. Stick brings a home a gun, and then soon after runs away to join the movement. After witnessing police brutality on the streets and learning of the assassination of Dr. King, Sam starts to question his father’s tactics and yearns to learn more about the Black Panther Party. Torn between two role models – his father and his brother – Sam must make sense of his world and choose which path to take.

The Rock and the River takes place in 1968, the year in which Dr. King was assassinated, towards the end of the time period generally referred to as the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968), and in the early days of the Black Panther Party (founded in Oakland in 1966). Sam is on the brink of adulthood and still looking for guidance from his father and brother, who seem to be on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. As the racial violence strikes closer to home, it becomes harder for him to understand and truly believe in the non-violent protest methods that his father has raised him on. But is he ready to throw those beliefs away? His anger draws him to the Panthers, but as he joins the party, he learns that there is more to them than uniforms and guns.

I was not taught anything about the Black Panther Party in school, aside from seeing occasional images of them (in the context of comparison to the non-violent protesters) wearing leather jackets and berets and carrying guns. And I doubt that I’m unique in this gap in my formal history studies. It’s a shame because, as Magoon’s novel proves, it’s valuable to see the various methods employed in the struggle and the connections and differences between the various parties. I also appreciate that Sam’s introduction to the Black Panther Party has him recognizing that there is more to them than their militancy. While he wavers back and forth between being drawn to and scared of the gun-toting aspect of the Panthers, Sam gains a feeling of hope for the movement and connection to his brother when dreaming of the Panther’s plan for a neighborhood clinic.

Sam isn’t only thinking about Civil Rights though. He’s 13 and he’s becoming an adult. He’s thinking of his future and his girlfriend Maxie, and yet also yearning for the comfort of childhood – of the days when he and Stick used to build a tower in their bedroom and share bedtime stories. His male role models have drifted apart from one another because of their politics and he’s not sure which one’s footsteps to follow in. It’s a confusing and emotional time for him, and as a reader it’s impossible not to root for him and wish to lend him a hand when he’s feeling alone.

I started off reading The Rock and the River by listening to the fabulous audio recording, read by Dion Graham whose vocal performance is spot on as usual. About mid-way through, I switched to reading the physical book, not because the audiobook wasn’t working for me (oh how it was), but rather the environment I was in made reading more appropriate than listening. And I think I switched at just the right time, being able to read at my own pace as the action picked up. About 3/4 of the way into the book, I simply couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end. Sam, his internal struggles, and his connection to family during these trying times, is what really kept me engaged throughout the novel. Yet Magoon also inspired me to learn more about the history of this time period and specifically about the Black Panther Party. This is what I appreciate most about quality historical fiction – when authors manage to bring history to life in a way that encourages continued exploration.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Kekla Magoon
Reader: Dion Graham
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (May 2010) and Aladdin (January 2009)

Top Ten Tuesday: I Want More (please)

10 Jan

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at the fabulous The Broke and the Bookish, featuring weekly top ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This Tuesday’s topic is Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book, so um, get to work? Pretty please?

1. Octavia Butler – it is hard to move past this one. Octavia Butler wrote one of my absolute favorite books, Kindred, and I love her other work as well. Sadly, she passed away in 2006, and so my wish will not come true. At least I still have Wild Seed on my TBR.

2. Eric Carle – what a dear sweet man. His work is beautiful and he has a whole lot of heart.

3. Sherman Alexie – more YA please! I’ve loved everything that I’ve read by Sherman Alexie, but I want more from him specifically in the YA department. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Flight are both solid.

4. Sara Varon – her artwork is darling. If Sara put out a new book every year, that would be just fine by me. Robot Dreams is a personal favorite.

5. Jennifer Donnelly – ok, I admit it, I still need to read A Northern Light, so I shouldn’t be begging for more yet, but Revolution was so good! I want more! Now! Please?!

6. Jonathan Safran Foer – I would take anything JSF sent our way, which is why I am out of JSF books to read. Keep them coming!

7. Zetta Elliott – I’m getting my wish! Very soon! I loved Elliott’s picture book Bird and A Wish After Midnight was fabulous! Can’t wait to read Ship Of Souls!

8. Jacinta Bunnell – that’s right. I want some more gendertastic coloring books in my life!

9. Nnedi Okorafor – I still have plenty to read (all on my shelf) by Okorafor, but I can’t deny that I want MORE! (feeling kind of greedy on this one). Zahrah The Windseeker is one of my all time favorite books.

10. Terry Pratchett – I was having trouble deciding who to give this final spot to. The truth is I’ve never read a book by Terry Pratchett. The truth is that even if I started today, reading at my normal pace, I would still have plenty of books by him to read for a very long time. But my dear friend, Quinn, who is 11 years old and a huge Terry Pratchett fan, would appreciate some new books to listen to. And there you have it, my final wish.

I hope all my wishes come true (even the hopeless ones)!


6 Jan

Alex is a somewhat nerdy and average teenager living outside of London and attending high school. He goes over to the house of a friend, and the next morning he wakes up unable to remember anything. Alex doesn’t recognize his room or body, and it suddenly becomes clear that he is no longer himself. He has turned into Flip, a semi-posh and popular teenager from another part of England.

While this book could easily be a Freaky Friday type farce, it is actually pretty well done. It ponders questions of the soul, and makes the switch pretty believable. The subplots involve girls and other people who have switched souls. The girl subplot, in which popular player Flip suddenly likes a nerdy girl, could have been better developed. However, the friendship Alex has with the head of the soul switching message board online is very interesting. Namely, it serves to point out how impossible it would be to live someone else’s life.

The book goes quickly, and contains a lot of good detail about the British school and social class system. I did wish the book would get a bit grittier in parts, as Alex always seems a bit too controlled. I also would have liked his love interest to be more believable and more developed. Still, the book is fun and interesting. It goes into a sci-fi theme that isn’t all that overdone recently, and the addition of technology (Internet, cell phones, etc…) gives it new life.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Martyn Bedford
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (April 2011)

John Green Week: The Miracle of Swindon Town

3 Jan

thanks to Jeffrey West for the lovely banner image!

For those of us who have read a John Green book or watched one of his vlogbrothers videos, we know that he is an immensely talented storyteller. But what I learned this fall is that he is also a skilled soccer player (sort of). John’s brother Hank has a YouTube site called Hank Games, where he and various other folks play video games and talk over them. And one playlist with (at the time of posting) 56 videos* is entirely devoted to John Green playing FIFA 11 while telling stories.

His team is called The Swindon Town Swoodilypoopers and includes outstanding players such as Bald John Green, Other John Green, and heroic goalie, Fat Lucas. Bald John Green is the star forward of the team, who often overshadows Other John Green with his sexy mustache, but as John claims, Other John Green is “a hero in his own right.” During John’s quest to take the Swindon Town Swoodilypoopers all the way to the Premier League, he covers subjects such as how he got engaged, his friendship with Maureen Johnson, high school pranks, the American economy, and Pants the Cat.

The reason I love these videos? Well first, it’s impressive how well John can multi-task and how well he moves back and forth between story and goal celebration. For example, during one game the following commentary happens: “Could John Green do it? [goal] He’s a finisher!…That was as suave and smooth as the way I asked out my wife for the first time.” But the main reason that I love the Swindon Town Swoodilypoopers is that they captured the attention of my husband! My husband is an avid reader, but the world of YA lit is one that he is seemingly uninterested in. That is until soccer is involved. One day I was watching a video where the Swindon Town Swoodilypoopers play Colchester while John talks about his first date with his now wife, and I was utterly surprised when my husband came over, sat down next to me, and watched the WHOLE VIDEO (he too was impressed by John’s ability to play and tell stories at the same time). I’m sure it helped that the story was romantic and adorable and that we watched this video together right around the time of our wedding, but I felt the magic of FIFA 11, of Hank Games, of the Miracle of Swindon Town, uniting us for a solid 12 minutes in the world of YA. My husband may never return to that world, unless of course a new season begins, but I’ll always have those 12 special minutes.

For more information on John Green Week, visit I Eat Words.

For more information on John Green, John Green may be able to help you out.

*edit: since posting, a new video has gone up! let the 2012 season begin!

A Good Looking Start To A Good Looking Year

1 Jan

Here’s a little taste of the January releases that I’m excited to check out!

The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Anticipated release date: January 2, 2012

    I’m reading this one now and enjoying it. I like chance encounters in random places and male love interests who are as kind as they are handsome. Contemporary love stories aren’t usually my cup of tea, so this one has been a pleasant surprise thus far.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends
Anticipated release date: January 3, 2012

    I love a good fairy tale reworking and a good sci-fi story, so make Cinderella a cyborg and you’ve got my attention. Can’t wait!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Dutton Juvenile
Anticipated release date: January 10, 2012

    I’ll be curious to hear what the final count of pre-orders for this book are when it finally comes out January 10. I was one of the many who decided to help John Green use up his Sharpie collection, when he generously offered to sign all the pre-orders. John Green hasn’t failed me yet. The Fault In Our Stars sounds like an especially heartfelt offering from him.

Fracture by Megan Miranda
Walker Books for Young Readers
Anticipated release date: January 17, 2012

    This debut sounds in some ways like a lot of recent YA releases – near death experience followed by strange happenings – but the reviews I’ve read for Fracture make it sound like it will standout in the crowd. The main character wakes from a coma seemingly fine despite what the brain scans show, but then she finds herself drawn to the dying. You can read the first two chapters here. I’m curious to see if/how debut author Megan Miranda’s science background (she studied biology at MIT) comes into play in the story.

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Katherine Tegen Books
Anticipated release date: January 31, 2012

    This is one of my most anticipated debuts of 2012. I love a good fantasy story and Incarnate sounds like it has some pretty unique world-building and a fascinating plot. In a society where souls are reborn time and time again, a new soul is born and an old soul is lost forever. Ana, the new soul, as a young adult sets out in search of information about her birth and the disappearance of Ciana, the old soul. This book is the start of a series and I hope it’s one worth coming back for more.

What books are you excited for this month?