Archive | July, 2012

STICK IT!!! Defy and Conquer

31 Jul

There is only one reason I ever watch the Olympics: Women’s Gymnastics. This year is especially exciting because 16-year-old Gabby Douglas may become the first African American female gymnast to earn a gold medal in an individual event (Dominique Dawes was the first to earn an individual medal, a bronze, and the first to ever win a gold medal in gymnastics, which she won as a part of Team USA.) Gabby is the first African-American female gymnast to compete for Team USA in the Olympics since Dawes’ last appearance, which is cause enough for celebration. And, since the rest of the Olympics is so boring why not kill the time between gymnastics with more gymnastics?! STICK IT!!! Defy and Conquer.

First of all, this movie is awesome. Haley (Missy Peregrym) is a talented gymnast who mysteriously walked out of the World Gymnastics competition costing Team USA the gold medal. So, pretty much everyone hates her – especially her peers and former teammates. Haley would rather go to jail then do gymnastics, which is exactly the choice she is confronted with until a judge, who knows better, instead orders her to return to the world of competitive gymnastics and train with Coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). Stick It was also written and directed by a woman, Jessica Bendinger, a former model who first came to success as the writer of Bring it On. Bendinger clearly has a voice for the American teen girl experience and chooses to explore these overwhelmingly female spaces with depth, intelligence and humor.

Anyone who has ever played a competitive sport will like this movies for its bird’s-eye view into competition, training and the love/hate relationship of dedicating your life and your body to an uncertain future. But, as a former gymnast and a dancer, I felt an especially strong connection to these characters and their experiences. Without preaching, Stick It takes on huge issues like the judgment of women’s bodies by themselves and other women, female competitive relationships, and the challenging systems that keep women from succeeding. In gymnastics, athletes compete collaboratively as a team, while also competing individually on each event. So, while the athletes are motivated to perform well for their team, they are also competing against their teammates with hope of medaling as an individual. This provides an interesting parallel to the conflicts built in to normative female relationships where women are encouraged to compete with each other rather than build supportive relationships to encourage each other. Haley embodies the personal side of this conflict in her own struggle for self-expression through sport that is built around conforming to rules. As the film progresses, we are given more insight in Haley as a character and her emotional process is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

This is such a positive film for teen audiences because it is a story of independence, rebellion, and self-discovery. What is most revolutionary about Stick It is that it provides a narrative where the girls become their own agents for change through camaraderie and collective organization. Competition is usurped by collaboration as the girls rally together to disrupt the unfair judging process of their sport. Not only do they take a stand against a harsh system, and on some level a social ideology, they became liberated from the bounds of judgment and are able to perform for themselves and their peers in a way that satisfies a personal, rather than systemic, goal.

Out of the woods and well-read!

23 Jul

I’m back! I’ve been somewhat off the grid for the past week family-vacationing it out in Yellowstone. I didn’t read a whole lot on this vacation because I was prioritizing spending time with my family (my parents, sister, brother-in-law, cute little nephew, and husband) and because there was so much to do! Yellowstone is a fabulous place. But I was lucky enough to pick two fabulous books to accompany me on this trip. Though both great reads, I picked two of the most inappropriate books for this particular vacation.

First, I started off listening to the audiobook version of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. What better book to listen to on an airplane than a book about a plane crash? Luckily all of my plane rides ended a bit more smoothly than that one – no tray tables in foreheads. And seriously, what a fun book!

My suggestion for how to make Long Lankin even scarier

Book number two for the trip was Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough. I read this creeptastic book while on a backcountry backpacking trip in an area that isn’t open to backpackers until July because of grizzly bears. Grizzly bears. In good news, I’m less scared of ghosty things than I am of grizzlies. In better news, the only grizzly bears I saw were from a very safe distance and very close to my getaway car. The only creature who creeped into our campsite was an adorable little bunny rabbit, who I figured would protect me from any beast that happened my way. Bonus points to my dreamboat of a husband, who read out-loud with me for a while by the shore of a beautiful heart-shaped lake. Romance and horror stories are a good match after all.

Anyway, it’s good to be back! Pardon my absence. Hope you all had a great week! Did I miss any big news in the book world while I was gone?

Some real funny business

14 Jul

Who doesn’t like a good laugh? You don’t? Well, this week’s free SYNC downloads aren’t for you then (ah well)! This week’s YA+classic pairing engages in some funny business in the form of short stories by Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo, Mac Barnett, Jack Gantos (to name a few), and Mark Twain. The only short stories I’ve listened to on audio were also funny stories – David Sedaris – and they treated me well, so I’m excited to dive in and give some others a try.

The following two titles are available for download through July 18 (once downloaded you can listen at your leisure):

Guys Read: Funny Business
By John Scieszka [Ed.] et al.
Read by Michael BoatmanKate DiCamillo, John KeatingJon ScieszkaBronson Pinchot
Published by Harper Audio

Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend’s face, from the following esteemed writers: Mac Barnett, 
Eoin Colfer, 
Christopher Paul Curtis, 
Kate DiCamillo, Jon Scieszka, 
Paul Feig, 
Jack Gantos, 
Jeff Kinney, 
David Lubar, 
Adam Rex, and 
David Yoo.

Ok, so I’ve never had one of those spit milk in your friend’s face moments, but I have laughed so hard that milk shot out my nose which in my opinion is both more funny and more gross so…. I really have no point here, but promises were made in the above blurb and I’m holding them to it! Also, I’m taking Bronson Pinchot as audiobook reader as an opportunity to plug my favorite new site of 2012: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now. Have fun in there!

The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories
By Mark Twain
Read by Norman Dietz
Published by Recorded Books

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is a wild yarn involving a case of mistaken identity, a gambler who’d bet on anything, and a very unusual frog named Daniel Webster. First published in The Saturday Press in 1865, the tale was immensely popular, and in 1867 an expanded version was published with 26 additional short stories, told as only Mark Twain could tell them.

To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).

This is Not a Test

12 Jul

Sloane Price’s world collapsed when her sister Lily ran away, leaving Sloane behind with their abusive father. Six months later, Sloane has lost the will to live and has decided to end her life. But then the world ends and death doesn’t come knocking, but rather crashing and tearing through the walls. Yes, I’m talking zombies. One bite and you’re dead…or undead. And this doesn’t sound so bad to Sloane. But somehow she ends up one of the few survivors, taking cover in the local high school with five of her former classmates, all of whom want to live. As the six teens struggle to survive emotionally, mentally, and physically, Sloane contemplates her next step. Will the barricades fall? With supplies dwindling, will the teens have to venture out into the world? Will Sloane find the will to live when there’s seemingly little left to live for?

When I first heard that Courtney Summers was writing a “zombie book”, I was excited. I love the unexpected and appreciate when authors bring something new and exciting to a genre. With This is Not a Test, there are the usual elements present in zombie stories – fear and suspense, creatures that are equal parts disgusting and terrifying, and individuals bound together in their struggle to survive. But deep down this isn’t really a zombie story. What stands out is how much Summers develops the human element of the story. The complex character of Sloane is what really kept me engaged throughout. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a survival story where the main character cared about survival so little. Sloane is traumatized by years of abuse at the hands of her father, and she’s dealing with feelings of betrayal, sadness, and confusion about the abandonment by her sister Lily. Her fear of her father is greater than her fear of death. She’s more worried that her father will find his way into the high school than she is of zombies breaking through the barricades. Her situation is heartbreaking and while there’s clearly little for her to want to live for, as a reader I sincerely hoped she’d find it.

The suspense is palpable, the writing is concise and engaging, and the pacing is spot on. In addition, the high school setting is utilized especially well. Like Michael Northrop’s Trapped, there’s the big unknown about what is happening outside the walls of the school. Who has survived? Will help come? Will they make it out alive? (Of course there is a difference between waiting out a snow storm and a zombie apocalypse). While the school has clearly become something other than it once was, it is still haunted by its past and the people (the survivors included) who once inhabited this space. For example, while exploring the teacher’s lounge, Sloane thinks of her former teachers and wonders whether or not they are dead:

My head is full of faces, faculty members, and I wonder where they are now and if it’s a given, like Trace said, that they’re all dead. I wonder if I ever wished them dead-if something as simple as that would be the reason I’m here and they’re not. But then I think they must’ve wished us dead at some point. They must have. What teacher wouldn’t? (p. 82)

While she’s making light of the now insignificant dislike between teachers and students and the general misery of high school by comparing it to the context of the zombie apocalypse, she’s also addressing something deeper – she’s wondering why she’s still here. Why of all the people, the majority of whom truly want to live, has she been chosen (or otherwise managed) to survive? And this is what the story really comes down to – a young woman struggling to figure out her current place in the world, now that the world has ended, and perhaps more importantly, where to go from here.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Courtney Summers
Publishers: St. Martin’s Griffin (June 2012)
Note: Review copy received from publisher for honest review

Other books by Courtney Summers we’ve loved and reviewed:
Cracked Up To Be – audiobook review by Em
Some Girls Are – book review by Nora
(the absence of Fall For Anything from this list is not for lack of love, but for lack of getting-around-to-reading-it-yet)

Watch out for the women in white!

11 Jul

One final day to download the latest audiobook pairing from SYNC! This week’s pairing is the one I have been most anticipating from this summer’s SYNC schedule. And not just because I like a good ol’ spooky story, though there’s that, but because I’ve heard such rave reviews about both of these books and, more importantly in this case, the audio versions of them.

The following two titles are available for download through the end of the day (once downloaded you can listen at your leisure – though fashionably before Labor Day with this pair):

Anna Dressed in Blood
By Kendare Blake
Read by August Ross
Published by AudioGO

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.

The Woman in White
By Wilkie Collins
Read by Ian Holm
Published by AudioGO
Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

One night on the road to London, a young drawing master, Walter Hartright, meets a mysterious woman dressed all in white and answers her pleas for help. But who is she and why is she being followed by two men? And what is her connection with his pupil Laura Fairlie, the woman he secretly loves? Wilkie Collins’ masterpiece of terrible secrets, concealed identities, abductions, fraud, cruel aristocrats and sinister foreigners is a mesmerising read.

To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).

The Truth About Forever

8 Jul

I love Sarah Dessen and it’s not just because she’s from North Carolina and all her stories capture the emotional feeling of a part of the country that is near and dear to my own heart.  And, it’s not just because it was my 15-year-old sister, Maggie, who introduced me to Dessen with Dreamland, Dessen’s riveting novel about a teen girl’s experience in an abusive relationship.  I don’t just love Sarah Dessen’s writing because it brought forth a space for connecting with my sister and more so for raising her awareness of an alarmingly relevant issue. I love Sarah Dessen because every time I read one of her books it is familiar and satisfying yet intriguing and surprising. Which is exactly how I felt about The Truth About Forever when I read it a few summers ago – after finding at a yard sale. Oh, summer fun!

Since Dreamland I have read quite a few of Dessen’s novels but this was the first to touch me as deeply yet in a very different way. Macy is bummed because her boyfriend is away all summer at smart camp, she is stuck working at the library with the snotty, smart girls who resent her for dating in their clique, and, in addition to being a 16 year old girl and dealing with that, she is everyday coping with the loss of her father. Not to mention navigating the very different emotional responses her Mom and sister are having to moving forward as a family. When Macy is introduced to the members of Wish Catering she is introduced to an entirely new way of relating to the world. Oh yeah, and a really cute boy.

As someone who spent years working in restaurants, I appreciated Dessen’s ability to accurately invoke the chaotic essence of the service industry lifestyle while also presenting, and respecting, the intimacy of food preparation and family traditions built in kitchens. That Macy would discover this in a moment when her family traditions are dismantling is the first of many serendipitous moments that weave together her life-changing summer. It is a love story but a love story that reaches beyond romantic and into the deepest place your heart can go – into the heart of another.

The ultimate story is how life is full of unexpected opportunities and family can be born anywhere love thrives and love can, and does, thrive everywhere. Over the course of the summer, Macy falls deep into love with friends and family and, in the process, finds some of that love for herself.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak (April 2006)

Careful what you wish for

2 Jul

Djin, djinn, djinni, djinny, jin, jinn, jinni, jinnee, and (if you insist) genie – forget about magic wishes, these are some solid Scrabble words! You’re welcome. Djinnis and the perils of wish-making is the theme with the current contemporary+classic pair of free summer downloads from SYNC. Between now and July 4, the following two titles are available for download (while the window of opportunity for downloading is finite, once downloaded you can listen at your leisure):

The Amulet of Samarkand
By Jonathan Stroud
Read by Simon Jones
Published by Listening Library

A humiliated magician’s apprentice decides to speed up his education and summons Bartimaeus, a 5,000-year-old djinni. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely.

“Simon Jones excels at projecting the personality characteristics of someone who has seen and done it all: sarcasm, facetiousness, and dry wit.” – AudioFile Magazine

    Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

My friend Quinn reviewed this book on our radio show recently and she let us in on the fact that the magician apprentice’s humiliation comes in the form of a “magical spanking”, which we all thought was a funny idea.

Tales from the Arabian Nights
By Andrew Lang
Read by Toby Stephens
Published by Naxos AudioBooks

To save herself from certain death, the beautiful Scheherazade must beguile a Persian sultan with her enchanting stories.  In two of her most well-known tales, Aladdin and Ali Baba’s cleverness and quick-thinking save the day—and a great treasure.

“This is an absolutely gorgeous introduction for young listeners to fine literature, a vastly different time and culture and enchanting music.” – AudioFile Magazine

To see the full schedule of downloadable titles, visit or text syncya to 25827 (texting will sign you up for alerts when new audio downloads become available).

Summer Reading, July-style

1 Jul

I don’t have summer break anymore (Nora does and I’m jealous), but I still think of summertime as peak reading time. This summer I have all sorts of books that I need to read for work (both classic and contemporary YA), as well as an abundance of upcoming fall releases on my TBR. But while reading books from the past and the future is great fun, I’m also trying to sneak in a few new releases as well! Here are some July releases that I’m looking forward to:

Team Human
By Justine Larbalestier
and Sarah Rees Brennan
Anticipated release date: July 3, 2012

Mel lives in a segregated town – the vampires stay on their side, the humans on the other. But one day a vampire enrolls in her high school and her friend Cathy falls in loooove with the teen bloodsucker. Mel tries to convince Cathy that falling in love with a vampire is a horribly stupid and dangerous idea, but Cathy keeps falling deeper. Can Mel save her friend before it’s too late? Oh how I love a good satire! I can’t wait for this one.

Long Lankin
By Lindsey Barraclough
Candlewick Press
Anticipated release date: July 10, 2012

Long Lankin is the summer release that I’m hoping will chill me to the bones! Two sisters, Mimi and Cora, are sent to stay with their cold, eccentric Aunt Ida in an isolated village so that their father can better tend to business while their mother is in the hospital. Aunt Ida’s home, Guerdon Hall, has a mysterious and haunting past, and the girls along with two boys from the village start sleuthing for information. Something bad happened the last time two sisters came to Guerdon Hall. Will history repeat itself? Are the doors and the windows locked and sealed tightly enough? Or will Long Lankin find his way in? Creepy.

Perfect Escape
By Jennifer Brown
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Anticipated release date: July 10, 2012

Kendra strives for perfection. Being perfect is the only way she has found to escape the shadow of her brother Grayson and his OCD. When a cheating scandal threatens her reputation, Kendra decides to leave it all behind and hit the road (with her brother asleep in the car beside her). In classic road trip book fashion, running away isn’t always the best way to solve one’s problems and Kendra finds herself having to deal with the issues she is running from.

Small Damages
By Beth Kephart
Anticipated release date: July 19, 2012

While her peers are gearing up for prom and the last summer before college, Kenzie is mourning the loss of her father and contemplating a recent development – the baby growing in her belly. She’s determined to keep the baby, but her mother and baby daddy don’t understand. To keep her situation private, she is sent to Spain where she is to live out her pregnancy while working on a bull farm and give her baby up for adoption. I love reading books set in other countries, because I can take a vicarious vacation by diving into the story’s setting. While a dusty old bull farm, isn’t my prime choice of places to travel, I’m still excited to head to Spain. (though worthy of note: being pregnant in Spain doesn’t allow for much sangria drinking.)

Are any of these on your July reading lists? What new releases are you most excited for this month?