Archive | February, 2012

Ship of Souls

28 Feb

D’s mom was his best friend and his only family. When she passes away, he ends up in foster care with a kind elderly woman named Mrs. Martin. Not wanting to be sent back to the group home, D is mindful to always be the best possible version of himself. Like the grandmother he never had, Mrs. Martin cares for D, but lately her attention has been focused on a new addition to the family, a crack-addicted baby that Mrs. Martin has decided to foster. At school, he doesn’t have to worry so much about begin perfect, but he still joins the math club, because the coach asks him and he feels it would be rude to say he’d rather be alone. When star basketball player Hakeem’s dad is looking for a math whiz to tutor his son, D lands the job. D soon finds an ally and friend in Keem and together they attract the attention of Nyla, a beautiful, self-proclaimed freak. One day after school in the park, D comes across a trapped bird. In freeing the creature, he learns that what looks like a bird is actually a being from another realm. Not only that, but he is now the being’s host and there is an important task that he must take on. With his new friends by his side, he will attempt to gather the dead and help them find long overdue freedom.

If Zetta Elliott’s Bird and A Wish After Midnight had a baby, it would be Ship of Souls. While Bird‘s Mekhai and D are both unique, they have things in common – their respectful and calm temperaments, their intelligence, their fondness for birds, and their loss of a loved one. With A Wish After Midnight, the magic also begins during a visit to a park/garden in Brooklyn and the magic involves history, though in a much different way. I loved both of these previous Elliott works and I found that the similarities were a welcome connection rather than leaving me with a sense of “been-there, done-that”. In fact, even with familiar aspects, this book feels intensely original.

At just 132 pages, Elliott does an impressive job creating a cast of complex and amiable characters, weaving in history, and conjuring up some magic like I’ve never seen before. I would gladly spend more time with D, Keem, and Nyla. Each are interesting, distinct characters, but even more so their chemistry and their growing camaraderie were enchanting. Elliott does a fabulous job of creating believable characters in realistic settings. In both of her urban fantasy novels, I’ve found myself intensely connected to the contemporary/realistic sections of the stories, before diving headfirst with the characters into the fantasy. In Ship of Souls, what starts off feeling like a contemporary fiction novel, eventually turns into an all-out fantasy adventure. The story is fast-paced, with short chapters and lots of action, making it a great choice for struggling readers or those craving a quick read that doesn’t lack in quality and depth. While Ship of Souls is a bit more MG than YA, with it’s complex character development, strong sense of place, beautifully imagined fantasy, and unique feel, it should find a home with many ages of reader.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Zetta Elliott
Publisher: Amazon Encore (February 28, 2012)
Note: Book received from author for honest review

Cute Wins!

26 Feb

I used to be really into the Oscars. I even won money once guessing the winners – the next year I won again (though money wasn’t on the line). And then this year happened. This year I saw plenty of movies, but of the 9 Best Picture nominees I only managed to see two – Midnight in Paris (on a plane) and The Artist (last night). Luckily there are some cool kids and presumably some cool adults who created a quick little overview to this year’s Best Picture nominees. (if the embedded videos do not appear below on your device, you can watch the videos here: Part 1 and Part 2)

I’m giving the kid who plays “Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris” an imaginary Oscar. Congratulations kid! You deserve it! In other news, I’ve never wanted to see The Tree of Life so badly. No one told me there were dinosaurs!

Cute should always win, but it can’t because animals are not eligible for Oscars and so Uggie will go home empty-pawed tonight. Seriously, in a movie that (likely) deserves any Oscar it receives, the dog really stole the show. (Uggie did win a Golden Collar this year, beating out another adorable little scene stealer, Cosmo from Beginners.)

In other cute news, The Muppets may finally win an Oscar for Best Song tonight (for “Muppet or Man” from The Muppets), an award that in my humble opinion they should have won back in 1979 with “The Rainbow Connection” (seriously Academy voters, what happened there?). Ok, technically, The Muppets won’t win the award should that song be chosen, but songwriter Bret McKenzie is close enough. According to Jason Segel Bret is by nature very Muppet-y. (I miss Flight of the Conchords.)

What films did you love from this past year? Who would you like to see take home an Oscar tonight? And what do you think of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees?

More Maths? Seriously?

13 Feb

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.
– opening line, An Abundance of Katherines

In that bathtub, Colin thinks about Archimedes, who once had a Eureka moment in a bathtub when he discovered that volume can be measured by water displacement. As a child prodigy, Colin has always assumed he would have a Eureka moment and make the move from prodigy to genius. Now that he’s graduated from high school, he’s starting to worry that it’ll never happen for him. This on top of the latest heartbreak at the hands of a Katherine, and not just a Katherine, THE Katherine, has left Colin feeling depressed. To the rescue? Colin’s best/only friend Hassan who prescribes the best of cures: a road trip. The two set off with no specific destination, but when a sign catches their eye (EXIT 212–SEE THE GRAVE OF ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND–THE CORPSE THAT STARTED WORLD WAR I) the two friends end up in Gutshot, Tennessee. There they meet local teen Lindsey Lee Wells and her mom, Hollis, who owns the textile factory that keeps the town in business. While the two settle in at Hollis’ and spend their days with Lindsey collecting oral histories from community members, Colin pursues genius status by working on The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, a mathematical formula that he hopes will predict the trajectory of any relationship.

The Abundance of Katherines is quite possibly my favorite John Green novel (though I still have to read his latest, The Fault In Our Stars). When I first read the synopsis, I feared that I would hate the main character. As Colin and Hassan’s adventure moves forward we jump back and forth in time, learning about the title-worthy abundance of Katherines in Colin’s relationship history. The range in these stories is fun, sometimes funny, and makes Colin’s “collection of Katherines” seem more coincidental or interesting than objectifying. Colin isn’t a protagonist that I relate to very strongly, but I do appreciate him and enjoyed his quirks. And I think his desire to leave a mark on the world and to love and be loved in return, are things that most readers will relate to. Because of the kind of guy that Colin is (and let’s face it, John Green is too), the book is filled with interesting footnotes, seemingly random facts made relevant, and anagrams, lots of anagrams.

Math was never my favorite subject in school, though I rocked the multiplication tables, but for all you mathletes out there, get excited for some MATHS! While there is math sprinkled throughout, John Green also offers readers a ten page appendix written by his mathematician buddy explaining the math behind Colin’s Theorem. For those who avoid math like the plague? John Green does say reading the appendix, as always, is optional (though fascinating).

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Children’s (September 2006)

Probability Lesson #2: Love at 1st Sight

6 Feb

Four minutes can change so much. Hadley misses her flight by four minutes, a flight that she didn’t want to take in the first place. She’s mildly claustrophobic, but the real reason she doesn’t want to get on the plane is the destination. She is on her way to London to be a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding. Hadley and her dad haven’t been close since he left her and her mom in CT and started his new life with a new love in England. If it weren’t for her mother making her attend the wedding, she would not be in this airport at all. Now she’s stuck waiting for a flight that will get her to London with barely enough time to get her to the wedding on time. If only there were a silver lining to this cloudy day. Enter handsome, friendly, British guy to share the flight with. His name is Oliver and he is on his way back home from Yale for a ceremony of his own and with his own share of daddy issues. The two seem to have an instant connection and a sweet yet short courtship on their intercontinental flight, but could this be love? What is the statistical probability of love at first sight? Will they see each other again or is first sight all they’ll have?

What a sweet story to start the year off with! It’s not just the Hadley-Oliver romance that pulled at my heartstrings, but also the focus on familial love, which was unexpected and heartwarming. Following Hadley on her journey is emotional, as she deals with her feelings about her parents’ separation and her father’s new life, while trying to make sense of a new potential romance. I’m impressed by how little of the book she was in tears, especially given the added element of jet lag. That’s not to say that the book is a downer. Even with some serious moments, Smith manages to keep the story feeling light. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight takes place over just 24 hours, but we learn about the past and are left dreaming about the future, so the time doesn’t ever feel too tight.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy (January 2012)
Note: ARC won as part of a cute little loveydovey prize pack from Hachette via Oblong Books in Rhinebeck.

24 books + 29 days

1 Feb

It’s a leap year, which means the shortest month of the year is as long as it ever gets, but that won’t help me get through this list of February releases any faster (thanks especially to Carolrhoda Lab and Penguin’s various imprints). Good thing I have the rest of 2012 to catch up!

Woolston’s The Freak Observer was one of my absolute favorite reads of last year (published Summer 2010) and I would basically read anything that she sends my way, even if it involves fishing.

I still need to read Bick’s Ashes and get my scaredypants on, but I may start with Drowning Instinct instead. Have you read the book summary yet? Enticing!

A teen gang member wakes up in a cell with foggy memory about how he got there. He thinks he’s in juvie again, but something isn’t quite right about this lockup (for instance, the girl he is forced to watch). Sounds like there will be some mystery, perhaps some unexpected (one can hope) twists or turns.

This one looks like it’s geared towards a slightly younger reader, but I have no problem with that! I’ve enjoyed R. Gregory Christie’s picture books for kids and am guessing his “picture books” for middle grade or YA audiences will be lovely too. Plus, it focuses on the life story of Lewis Michaux, the author’s great uncle, who was a black bookstore owner in Harlem during the Civil Rights era.

Jacqueline Woodson is a fabulous writer. She alone sells me on this book, but I also have a horrified fascination with meth addiction. This is not because of my recent obsession with Breaking Bad (which you must watch – insanely good!), but because of a youth-produced documentary that I saw five or so years ago (Mother Superior).

Witches! With secret loves! I’ll admit, the book trailer sold me (apparently the gushy version of me) on Born Wicked. It sounds like it may be yet another love-triangle-ridden paranormal YA novel, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Hey Pacific Northwest! You are pretty and I like to read books that take place in your neck of the woods (except those featuring sparkly vampires)! Oh yes, and books set between high school and college, and road trip books….All good things.

Oh dear. Death by broken heart. And now the poor teen is stuck somewhere between life and the afterlife. I’m not sure if this book and I are a match made in heaven (or wherever), but I’m committed to reading YA by former “Vassar girls” (having been one myself) and Jess Rothenberg is a member of that club.

When Cameron Post’s parents die in a car crash, her first feeling is relief – that she won’t have to come out to them. Forced to move to live with a conservative relative in Montana, she feels it best to keep her secret safe, all the while crushing on the new (beautiful) cowgirl in town. Sounds like a complex coming of age story.

I just read McMann’s Cryer’s Cross a month ago and appreciated the mix of the everyday with the creepy, mysterious, and paranormal. Dead To You sounds like it is in the same vein – a somewhat ordinary setup (albeit dark) but something isn’t quite right.

I want to read this for three main reasons: 1) bloggers I trust love it, 2) I haven’t read Aussie YA in a while, and 3) it’s a great excuse to share some of my favorite street art on the blog! It sounds like a fairly predictable love story, but sometimes predictable stories have their own share of surprises.

If Zetta Elliott’s Bird and A Wish After Midnight had a baby, it would be Ship of Souls. I know this may sound incestuous and that that little baby has a lot to live up to, but it’ll make its mark all on its own.

Of course this list is just a sampling (though a mighty one) of the YA releases coming out this month! What February releases are you most excited for?!