Archive | March, 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon

27 Mar

“Seems that’s what I was always doing now — chasing the moon, trying to catch the high, trying to hold on to it. Trying to step deep into it. And disappear.” p. 123


Laurel Daneau has experienced great loss. At a young age she lost her mother and her grandmother to a devastating storm. She lost her home and a big chunk of her heart. A few years later, Laurel and her family (father and brother) move to Iowa hoping to make a fresh start. She joins the cheerleading squad, makes a new best friend, and falls for basketball co-captain T-Boom. Things are looking up, at least from the outside, until T-Boom introduces Laurel to meth (which she calls moon). Soon her attraction to T-Boom is overshadowed by her desire for the moon. As she gets pulled in by the euphoric effects of meth use, she loses herself in the drug, damaging both her body and her connections with those who love her the most. Living on the streets, she meets Moses, a gay street artist who paints memorial murals of loved ones lost too soon. Will Laurel take the path of recovery, dealing with her addiction and her sadness, or will she continue down the road of meth-addiction, numbing herself from the pain, and end up as yet another one of Moses’ mural subjects?

Kaylee says, Write an elegy to the past…and move on. She says it’s all about moving on.” xvi

The story starts out with a hopeful Laurel – a Laurel who is heading down the road we as readers hope she will continue on long past our time with her – and this sets the tone for the book. While Laurel’s story is filled with sadness and loss, Woodson always gives us hope. Laurel is so lost in her heartbreak and her addiction, that this is almost all that we see of her. We feel her grief and the sense of relief that drug use affords her, and we also see how much she loses and the painful and dangerous path that meth use takes her down.

Woodson’s writing is beautiful as usual. Beneath a Meth Moon is an elegy, filled with sorrow and remembrance. The novel hops around in time from Laurel’s childhood memories before the storm to her recovery from addiction, reminding the reader that depression and addiction are not problems that are simply solved at the end of a novel, but issues that one must continually work on. In a way this is a story about drug addiction, but it’s really more about loss. Woodson doesn’t dwell on the lifestyle, the logistics, or the physical deterioration caused by drug use, though these are touched upon. Instead she focuses in on the emotional impact of both losing loved ones and losing oneself.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (February 2012)

Hunger Games: anticipation & a teeny bit of worry!

23 Mar

We suspect that Alicia may have found her way to a midnight screening of The Hunger Games film last night, but for Nora and Em, tonight is the night! Going into the screening, here is what we’re each most highly anticipating and what we’re dreading a little bit ….

ALICIA:

    Any time Hollywood turns a book, especially one loved as much as The Hunger Games, into a movie I have the inevitable feelings of wariness and skepticism.  However, those feelings are matched by a tangible excitement pulsing through my body when I think of the place and people in my mind becoming real images.  
     
    This is why I am most concerned about the costumes. There was so much attention and detail given to presentation in the book and I’m worried Hollywood will over-sexualize or undervalue the effect of Katniss’ appearance. Also, not loving Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. However…
     
    What I am most excited about are the unexpected moments that are sure to arise and will truly evoke the emotions I felt while reading. I often find these in the performances of the actors (see Jessica Chastain in The Help). I have mixed feelings about some of the casting – Woody Harrelson as Haymitch? Not in my head. But Jennifer Lawrence feels like the only choice for Katniss and that pretty much trumps all of my other casting concerns. I’m really amped to see her take on such an iconic role. It’s also why this is the image that gets my blood pumping…

NORA:

    I am most excited about costumes…also watching Jennifer
    Lawrence’s performance.  I just watched Winter’s Bone last night, and I kept seeing all these parallels – like skinning a squirrel, having to sacrifice for siblings etc. I think she is going to be awesome. And who isn’t excited for Wes Bentley’s facial hair?

    I am dreading the Peeta/Gale casting.  I am just not feeling it via the pictures.  Maybe when I’m watching the actual movie I will see why they were cast, as all the other casting seems great.

EM:

    What I’m most excited about? I think Jennifer Lawrence is going to kill it. She is way older than I pictured Katniss, but she’s a solid actress and as Nora said, Winter’s Bone totally sold me on her in this role. I’m also interested to see Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Neither are anywhere close to how I pictured these two characters, but I think they’re going to redefine these characters for me.

    What I’m dreading? The muttations. Did anyone see Breaking Dawn Part 1? That wolf council (or whatever) scene? I could not hold the laughter in. It was such a bad voiceover and CGI combo. I’m worried that some of the special effects work in The Hunger Games will be of the embarrassing variety. I’m hoping for the best, but also preparing for the worst.

What are you most excited for with The Hunger Games movie? What are you worried about? If you have seen it, what lived up to or exceeded your expectations? And what (if anything) fell flat?

On Our Radar: Adaptation by Malinda Lo

21 Mar


“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating. And this Wednesday, among the many books that I am “waiting on”, I want to highlight one that is perhaps my most highly anticipated release of the year. This past week Malinda Lo revealed the ARC cover for her upcoming sci-fi thriller, Adaptation, on her blog along with the following description:

Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

Adaptation is a bold contemporary science-fiction thriller from the acclaimed author of Ash.

Given how much I loved Ash and Huntress, I would read just about anything from Malinda Lo. That she chose to write a sci-fi thriller is just icing on the cake. Adaptation is scheduled for a September 18, 2012 release (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). I am scheduled to wait patiently until this book makes its way into my hands.

32 audiobooks enter, 1 audiobook leaves (victorious!)

19 Mar

The 5th Annual Tournament of Audiobooks has begun over at Audible.com. The tournament bracket is filled with a range of audiobooks, including adult, juvenile and young adult titles; non-fiction and fiction; and a large range of styles and genres. The full bracket is broken into four sections – Critically Acclaimed, Editor’s Picks, Best Sellers, and Customer Favorites – that will merge together in the final rounds of competition. Round 1 voting began March 18 and will continue through Sunday, March 26. Vote for your favorites and sample the competition (you can download the first chapter for each competing book for free through April 24th)! I have quite the fondness for audiobooks and I’m a fan of the Audible app for iPhone (seriously, 1.5x narration speed changed my life), so I’m excited to check out the free samples and see how this tourney goes!

These ladies were released from their book jackets for a little listening session. Who do you think is more engrossed in their audiobook?



Representing the world of YA, we have Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (narrated by Sarah Drew) up against Patti Smith’s Just Kids (narrated by Smith). Clare Vanderpool’s Newbery award-winning Moon Over Manifest (narrated by Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell, and Kirby Heyborne) is up against Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, and Mark Boyett). And there are two Alex Award winners in the mix – Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (narrated by Wil Wheaton) and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (narrated by Jim Dale). I’ll be interested to see how far these titles make it and which title in the end emerges victorious.

For those who can’t get enough of bracketed book competitions, our friends in the blogosphere are also offering some fun competitions. Do check them out!

Forever Young Adult’s March Madness – complete with Headless Person, Fancy Dress, Big Face, and Covertastic Divisions!

And YA March Madness, co-hosted by Bookalicio.us, Chick Loves Lit, GReads, and The Book Cellar – with Paranormal, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Dystopia, and Fantasy/Mythology Divisions (each division is hosted at a different blog).

Wanderlove

13 Mar


“Are you a Global Vagabond?” Bria’s ex-boyfriend Toby doesn’t believe she has it in her, that she’s “not the traveling-type”. Her friends have backed out of their European summer vacation plans, because they don’t think she’s “in the right headspace for traveling.” But when she sees an image of a Mayan temple rising out of a tropical rainforest in a Global Vagabond pamphlet, she decides that despite what everyone else thinks, it’s time for a trip. She heads off on “La Ruta Maya” on her own, well alone aside from her fellow tour members, who she discovers upon landing in Guatemala City are far older than the models in the catalog. When she decides to wander off alone in the bustling market at Chichicastenango, she meets Rowan, an American backpacker and dive instructor who convinces her to ditch her tour group that night to hang out. His half-sister Starling, though, is the one who convinces Bria to leave the tour group and half of her luggage behind and hit the road less traveled. As they make their way across Guatemala to an island just off the coast of Belize, both Rowan and Bria attempt to escape the past, by focusing on the present, continually moving forward, and ignoring any talk of the past. But Bria comes to realize along the way that it’s hard to move forward without first looking back.


What really makes this story come to life is Kirsten Hubbard’s knowledge of the region and her experience traveling and engaging with travelers. Wanderlove is an enjoyable fictional travelogue, but it’s as much about the emotional journey as it is about the travels themselves. In addition to traveling from Lake Atitlan to Livingston to Laughingbird Caye, Bria reclaims her love of drawing and her confidence, both of which were lost following an emotionally heavy relationship and break-up with fellow-artist and boyfriend, Toby. Hubbard, an artist herself, incorporates drawings from Bria’s sketchbook throughout the book. I actually wish there was a heavier use of the drawings throughout as they added to both the character development and to the sense of place (and in general, I love pictures in my books). The final picture is the best of all (don’t peek ahead) and the beauty above represents the feel of Wanderlove so well.

What made me pick up this book in the first place, aside from having heard fabulous reviews of Kirsten Hubbard’s debut, was a recent trip to Central America (Guatemala and El Salvador in particular). Having been to some of the locations featured and having experienced traveling in the region in general, it was interesting to see which moments got me reminiscing. For example, as a huge fan of reading while traveling, I loved the frequent mentions of books. Rowan seems to pick up a new book at each stop, making good use of hostels’ shared bookshelves. Like Bria and Rowan, I appreciate the downtime while traveling – not always feeling pressure to see the sights, but recognizing that riding your bike around an island, reading a book in a hammock, having a conversation with fellow travelers and locals, and playing soccer with kiddos are all valuable uses of time. At first the story seemed to be pretty judgmental about certain ways of traveling and strongly favoring a particular approach, an approach which seemed to focus on traveling through a country primarily hanging out with other foreign travelers and expatriates. But I had faith in Hubbard as a seasoned traveler, and it paid off, as eventually there are moments of thoughtful realizations, like “travel is a matter of perspective” and Guatemalans travel and backpack through Central America too. As an additional bonus, Wanderlove has inspired me to start planning my next Central American trip, more in theory than on paper, but all the same, it’s very exciting to dream!

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press (March 13, 2012)
Note: Reviewed from ARC picked up at Oblong Books & Music

Sometimes a car can't handle the steep incline of Cerro El Pital with the weight of five travelers and one super cute pup.



Looking up and looking down. My favorite monkey and my well-worn book at Tikal.

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

11 Mar


Kelsey Finkelstein is ready for the best year ever. She’s starting off freshman year with big plans for greatness, including showing off her skills on the JV soccer team and finally gathering up the courage to make something happen with her longtime crush, Jordan. Things are looking good (not counting her back to school outfit, care of Mom), especially once she learns that her arch nemesis has unexpectedly moved out of town. And with her best friends along for the ride, what could possibly go wrong?

Well to start, when you’re trying to rebrand yourself (in a good way), having unflattering pictures of you published in the school newspaper is not great PR. She also gets on the bad side of upperclassmen Julie Nelson, who in addition to rocking one serious unibrow is also the captain of the JV soccer team and a fan of making life miserable for Kelsey. She learns that she doesn’t always have the best taste in boys. A rift develops in her friend group. She has an unfortunate run in with some “old fashioned root beer”. She finally has her first kiss…with the wrong boy…and it’s not the stuff that dreams are made of. Oh and her family is kind of annoying (albeit in the way that basically every family is when you’re 14). Will she make it through the year in one piece, or will the unnatural disasters take her down?

Freshman year is weird, awkward, and exciting, and Zeitlin captures this perfectly. I really like Kelsey and I found her easy to relate to, even though she is a much cooler freshman than I was* and lives in New York City (as opposed to the small town I grew up in). She’s thoughtful and fairly even-tempered. She’s got just a small dose of angst and dramatics (she saves the waterworks for when they’re truly warranted). She’s a good student, she participates in after-school activities, and she’s kind to others, but she’s not a goody-goody. She parties, she experiments with alcohol, and at times there are consequences that make the “unnatural disasters” list. She’s just your average teenager, if there is such a thing, and she makes for a great narrator.

I enjoyed the framework of the school year a lot. I was worried at first that the school year would either make the story drag or skip over substantial periods of time without allowing for unseen character/story development (like when TV shows come back from hiatus and pick up months later in the storyline), but neither concern amounted to anything. The pacing is solid, the chapters are short and sweet, the writing is funny and engaging, and I was always excited to pick it up again. While I love a good stand-alone, I would gladly read more about Kelsey and friends (if they should make it to sophomore year).

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Meredith Zeitlin
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (March 1, 2012)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review

*My senior year of high school, I became friends with a bunch of underclassmen including one super-sweet-awesome freshman who made me forever believe that freshman can be cool despite all the obstacles.

March is here (with some fresh snow and some new books)

1 Mar

Finally getting your snow day on? (we are) Want a nice book to curl up with? (yes please) Here are a few March releases to keep an eye out for….

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Amulet Books
Anticipated Release Date: March 1, 2012

    I just want to stare at this cover for a while. Hold it up proudly in front of me on the subway. Put it on display at the library. It’s a real beauty. Though I may hit my dying teens in fiction limit pretty soon, the quirky narration and characters who make terrible versions of cult classic films may make reaching that limit worth it.


Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
Putnam Juvenile
Anticipated Release Date: March 1, 2012

    Freshman year is weird and exciting and awkward. Being a teen now is much different than when I was a teen, and the main characters in this book live in NYC, which is another huge difference from my small town upbringing, but somehow I can still relate. Very fun. Will be finishing this one tonight.


Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Anticipated Release Date: March 13, 2012

    A backpacking novel set in Central American – this sounds perfect. I went to Guatemala and El Salvador a couple years ago and am hoping that Wanderlove will give me some inspiration for reminiscing about those lovely countries and my travels there. Check out the author’s Wanderlove site where she and others post images from their wanderings.


Loss (Riders of the Apocalypse #3) by Jackie Morse Kessler
Graphia
Anticipated Release Date: March 20, 2012

    This is book three in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, in which contemporary teens are transformed into the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I have yet to read the first two books in the series (Hunger and Rage), but I am promised that I can hop on into Loss without having read the previous novels. So far, so good.

And an honorable mention to Michael Northrop whose latest release, Plunked, is not quite YA, but is surely a great read.

What other releases do you have your eye on? Fever? Pandemonium? (Can you believe I still haven’t read Wither and Delirium?)