Friday, September 30, 2011

FFFT: Friday Food for Thought

I’ve found some things close to my heart to share with you this week.

First, I’m sure you all heard about the tornado that destroyed Joplin, Missouri, a town two hours south of my home in Kansas City. My sister is a teacher who lives one town over from Joplin, and her roommate of five years was a middle school teacher in Joplin for a while. So any information about schools and libraries in Joplin post-tornado is of much interest to me. This article shows how Kansas City locals are helping Joplin by creating mobile libraries to put in classrooms. Huge shout-out to Pete from the Reading Reptile for spear-heading the project. I chatted with Pete for nearly an hour the other week about children’s bookstores, and he’s as awesome as the article suggests. If you want to help out by donating, there is information in the article. I’ll be going to Reading Reptile to buy books to donate soon so let me know if you have any suggestions!

YA Saves. This was mentioned in last week’s FFFT as Maureen Johnson’s campaign to get people reading YA. Now there’s a tshirt! Get yours here. Anyone want to get me one as a birthday present? Just kidding- go donate books instead. 

I’ve mentioned boys reading vs. girls reading before, and how there is both a perceived and realistic gap in different ways. And I personally know how hard it is to get some boys to read. I nannyed and tutored Charlie for a summer. We read together every day. And every day it was a battle. Even though he was smart in other ways, reading wasn’t Charlie’s strong suit. As this article by the awesome Jennifer Echol’s (remember my post on her?) suggests, you have to find something they’ll relate to. This is why we read every Time Warp Trio book in existence…and a ton of Star Wars books! But this really relates to any reader- if you find something you like to read, you’ll want to read it! I can’t tell you how many times my mom told me to “put the book down!” when I was a child. I have far too many interests…

Finally, as proof that there are boys who read, check out this interview with a 16-year old boy book blogger. Not gonna lie, he sounds cooler than me as a blogger. I can only keep aspiring! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Goddess Test (Aimée Carter)

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimée Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Length: 293 pages
Rating: 4/5

“Become immortal or die trying” says the cover of this Harlequin Teen novel. Kate and her mom move back to her mom’s childhood home in tiny Eden, Michigan. A valid premise for any teen novel, but it gets more complicated. Kate’s mom is dying of cancer, and Kate wants to spend all her time with her mom, rather than trying to make friends at a new school. Normally I don’t like books where the premise involves anyone dying, but I was willing to give this one a chance because of Henry. Not a pale, tortured vampire, but a dark, brooding god of the Underworld. Excellent.

After Henry demonstrates that he can bring people back from the dead, he offers Kate a choice. He’ll keep Kate’s mother alive as long as Kate agrees to live with him for six months of the year and pass seven tests. Failing any test means death for Kate’s mother…and Henry too. But if she passes, she becomes Henry’s bride and a goddess.

As a practiced reader, I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief and accept that Henry was Hades, god of the dead. Yay for more Greek mythology! However, it took Kate 136 pages to accept this. 136 pages of her doubting what I had accepted when reading the back of the book was frustrating, and it was hard for me to get into the book at first. But as I read on, I came to accept that was just part of Kate’s personality. She’s a little obtuse, but also very selfless, and she grew on me as the book went on, especially as she learns to accept things, and learns to value her own life, not just the lives of people she’s trying to save (her mother, Henry, and the list goes on). Because it turns out that it’s not just Kate versus 7 tests, it’s Kate versus a mystery person trying to kill her before she passes the tests. Just in case it wasn’t hard already.

The moments between Henry (who is still working on getting over Persephone) and Kate were some of the strongest in the book. There was also some good betrayal and plot twists in the novel to keep a reader interested. And of course the major questions: will she pass the tests in time or will she die trying?

This this is fun book, especially if you’re into mythology and romance. And apparently it’s the first in a series, because YA rarely does solo books these days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Going Too Far (Jennifer Echols)

Title: Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV Books
Length: 245 pages
Rating: 5/5

I feel obliged to admit I’ve got a total girl-crush on Jennifer Echols. I tend to love everything she writes, and Going Too Far was no exception. It seems like a simple enough premise: bad girl, good boy. Meg is a reckless teen dying to get out of town. One night she goes too far and her punishment is riding the night shift with a play-by-the-rules rookie cop, John. How could they not start to fall for each other? But both have a lot of baggage holding them back, especially the fact that John has chosen to stay behind in the tiny town Meg can’t wait to escape.

Things I loved:
1.     Characters: I dare you to read this book and not love John. I also dare you to not like Meg. She’s spunky and witty and flawed. Yeah she’s got issues, but don’t we all?
2.      Witty dialogue: the story happens in a pretty short time frame, so there’s a lot of dialogue between Meg and John as they ride around. It’s great because it’s not beautifully styled. Sometimes the dialogue jumps around just like it would in a real conversation. Maybe it was because I had just watched Rookie Blue, but the dialogue made the book kind of like a TV show or movie running through my head. It was great and I had a lot of trouble putting the book down.

Things you should know before reading
1.    If this was a movie, it would probably get a PG-13 rating. Sex is alluded to on page one, but I wouldn’t call it a bodice ripper. YA romance has its dignity…or maybe that’s John…
2.    Let me repeat again that this isn’t just a light fluffy read. The characters have baggage, they’re flawed. All this just made the story better. This is one of the things I really like about Echols- she writes great romance, but it’s not all about the romance- the characters have personality and depth and well, character.
3.    Echols has written similar books (same genre, same size, same publisher) and I plan on reading them as well. I’ll let you know what I think!
     PS A frequently asked question on Echol's website is this: Is John from Going too Far based on a real person, and can I borrow him?
     Her answer? No
     Well darn...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Queen/King of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner)

To recap the series:
The Thief (reviewed here)
The Queen of Attolia (reviewd below)
The King of Attolia (reviewd below)
A Conspiracy of Kings

Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Green Willow Books (HarperCollins)
Length: Queen: 279 and King: 385
Rating: 4/5
The next two books in the Queen’s Thief Series did not disappoint. (As a side note, one of the great things about the library is that you get to read books in their original form. As these books were published about five years apart, I get to see the evolution of their book cover designs first hand. I admit to thoroughly judging a book by its cover, so it’s always interesting to see how covers change through time. After much scrutiny, I approve of the current hand-obsessed book designs.)

No matter how many books set in fantasy worlds I read, I continue to be amazed at the level of detail created by their authors. The world presented in these books is no exception. I really wish I had a map so I could better picture the lands of three main countries of Attolia, Eddis and Sounis. And while the HarperCollins catalogue promises a map in the latest book, I’m not seeing one.

The cover of the book I read
The current cover
The Queen of Attolia (2000): Things I liked:
1.      It jumps right into the story. The Thief starts with our hero (of sorts) Eugenides in prison in Sounis, and the second book opens with Eugenides trying to stay out of prison in Attolia. Fitting for Eugenides, a thief named after the king of thieves. All of the books begin with action and then piece together how Eugenides came to be in that pickle, and how he will escape (or often can’t escape, but tries anyway).
2.      We get more than Eugenides point of view. This book is called The Queen of Attolia, and we often get her thoughts and actions as well. I’m going to call it limited first person omniscient, as much is hidden despite seeing so much.
3.      It’s unconventional. The ending is never expected, but you grow to love Eugenides enough that you can accept whatever the author throws at you.

Other thoughts: The physical book I read has lived in the library for about ten years. Somewhere in that time, a reader took it upon themselves to ink out any “bad” words in the text. I never verbally swear myself, but even I don’t have an aversion to the words chosen to be crossed out (I had to guess based on context they were so well scribbled over, but usually I don’t find “hell” and “whore” to be that deplorable). What I’m saying is that I’m not a fan of censorship. I first read these books ten-ish years ago, and my young, (slightly righteous) sensitive mind wasn’t offended then. If it’s your book, do with it what you will. But if it’s a library book, I say treat it with more respect- let each reader decide what they like and what they don’t. Have you ever come across a censored book or been tempted to censor a book?

Current cover (as I read it)
The King of Attolia (2006): Things I liked
1.      By this point, we know not to trust the narrator, whoever they may be, to tell the reader the full story. This book pushed it even further, introducing a new narrator, Costis, who is clearly wrong in a lot of his interpretations. It was frustrating seeing everything from this skewed point of view, but necessary for the development of the plot. It’s almost a mystery story the way things are revealed and everything comes together.
2.      Eugenides will always be one (or five) steps ahead of everyone else. He’s like the author, pulling strings and making things happen, unseen in the background.
3.      Each book introduces a new and ever-expanding cast of characters. This keeps the books fresh even though they’re always about Eugenides and happen in a short period of time.
Other thoughts: Unreliable narrators abound in fiction. Sometimes I like them, taking pleasure in noting things the main character does not. Sometimes I hate them, thinking they are really wrong and stupid and need to figure things out. Sometimes I don’t even notice until it is revealed a character was wrong all along. What are your thoughts on unreliable narrators?

I had the great pleasure of meeting Megan Whalen Turner’s editor at Green Willow Books, Virginia Duncan, while at the Denver Publishing Institute, so I might have to email her and find out the story about the missing map as I read A Conspiracy of Kings. A review will be forthcoming! 

And in case you were curious:
As I read it (the original I believe)
Current Edition

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Food for Thought

Fridays are hereby designated as days for sharing. I always find lots of neat stuff online through the week relating to YA lit and to books in general, and I want to share it with you. This week’s finds include:

 This is now my computer background- so beautiful! 

Have you heard about the gay-YA hoopla? This sums it up better than I ever could, but it is a bit lengthy. The gist I got was that earlier this week, an literary agency was reported to have suggested an author "straighten" a gay character. The internet exploded in protest, and many authors and publishers insisted they would never do this. Eventually, everyone agreed that YA books should have diverse characters, and to show publishers/authors/agents your support, readers should buy books that have gay (or other diverse) characters. As @maureenjohnson likes to remind me on Twitter, #YAsaves. Kids need books like these too. (Has anyone read Will Grayson, Will Grayson? Great book with gay characters.)

I also read (okay, skimmed, there were a lot of names and numbers) an interesting article about children's bookstores in the tough economy. You can read it here. They remain positive and slightly hopeful about the position of children's books, but I was miffed at their reporting. Being a Kansas City native, I noticed that while our favorite indie bookstore, Rainy Day Books gets the article lead, our well-known exclusive seller of children's books, The Reading Reptile, isn't mentioned at all (is this article about kid booksellers or isn't it?). It's easy to think that the big bookstores are the indie's worst competition, and now that Borders is gone, the indies will do better. But maybe competition between the indies will now grow worse, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Just food for thought. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Summer I Turned Pretty (Jenny Han)

Title: The Summer I Turned Pretty
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 276
Rating: 4/5
(I'm borrowing Audrey's classification system- great idea!)

This book was recommended to me by another blogger, Ashlie Swaiston of Bookish Novelties. Check it out- it’s awesome (know how you love books that make you FEEL? She makes you feel just reading about the books!). And she just put up reviews of the two books in the series that follow this one if you want to learn more.

Belly spends all her summers at Susannah’s beach house. Susannah is her mom’s best friend and mother to Conrad and Jeremiah, Belly’s brother-figures, friends, and crushes.

I decided to read this book while it was still summer, but turns out this book is about the summer that changes everything, and it hit pretty close to home, as this is my last summer before real life hits. Jenny Han is great with tone- this book was dripping with nostalgia, and made me rethink all my favorite summer moments, but also all those what-could-have-been moments. Belly is scared for a future that doesn’t involve summers at the beach house, scared for the unknown. Aren’t we all scared for the unknown?

This was very much a coming of age story. Belly discovers herself and comes to better understand the fleetingness of life itself.

And then there are the boys. Will Belly choose to be with Jeremiah, her best friend? Conrad, the boy she’s always loved? Or Cam, the boy who noticed her before she was pretty? For a while I thought, I’ve read books like this before, I know how she’s going to pick. But then I kept guessing and reading and guessing and never really knew until the end.

A sweet, nostalgic read that will stick with you and remind you of summers past. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

The blog got a face-lift over the weekend, and now it's time for our first guest post. Please welcome the fabulous Audrey Gibbons to the blog with this awesome post (I really want to read this book now!). Look for more from Audrey in the future, because this girl knows her YA Lit!

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razor Bill (Imprint of Penguin)
Length: 288
Rating: 5/5


Hello, boys and girls.  Audrey Gibbons here.

As most of you know it’s not easy to pick the next book to read (there are so many!) There are three reasons why I first decide to read a book:
            Reason 1:  YA Fiction.  In her last blog, Emily mentioned that she likes YA fiction based upon the fact that young adults have so much more hope and belief in change than adults.  I agree 100%.  There is something about YA fiction that makes a person think more than an adult book can.  Teens have growing minds that are ready to accept all sorts of knowledge to form their own opinions and decisions on life, whereas most adults have already developed theirs.  check.
            Reason 2:  The first sentence.  If an author can hook me in the first sentence, then I read the next and the next, and soon I’m on page 15 without having left the bookstore with a 13-year-old staring up at me wondering why there is a 22-year-old standing in her section.  First sentence:  “‘Sir?’ she repeats. ‘How soon do you want it to get there?’” Seriously, how can you not read on? check.
            Reason 3:  The last sentence.  It’s not a spoiler since you haven’t read it yet. I recently read that spoilers actually add enjoyment to our reading experience.   (I won’t spoil the thrill of letting you all read the last sentence.) check.

Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why has been on the NYT bestseller list for quite some time now, but it was actually published the year I graduated high school (2007).  Perhaps it’s just now picking up speed because recently adults are realizing how awesome YA fiction is to read.  This YA novel is extremely important for teens and adults to read.

            Reason 4:  Asher beautifully captures the teenage mind.  Not only does he create a story from the point of view of Hannah Baker, but also from the view of Clay Jensen.  Hannah’s voice is eerily cheerful and my stomach hurt every time I remembered she was not alive.  Clay’s voice is confused and hurt and I just wanted to hold his hand. 
Reason 5:  This novel will appeal to boys and girls, men and women.  Asher reminds us that what we say affects others and sometimes words can “snowball” downhill. 
Reason 6: The PLOT.  Hannah Baker was a new girl at her High School just trying to fit in, but one kiss in high school has a way of getting caught in the rumor mill.  The always-nice Clay Jensen’s life changes forever when he finds the package of tapes on his front doorstep.  Seven cassettes makes thirteen stories, and changes thirteen lives. Asher has you jumping back and forth between present and past events that all influence each other.    Could you listen to a dead girl speak about why she killed herself—and by the way: it’s your fault? This idea torments Clay since he thought that Hannah was— oh I won’t spoil it.

Alright, the reasons start getting shorter.

            Reason 7:  It’s insanely creative how he uses out-dated technology.
            Reason 8:  Sometimes I got so mad at the characters that it was comparable to my hatred for Umbridge—which is Reason 9: Asher’s writing skillfully brought me into the novel. The downside? Reason 10: This was a book I couldn’t put down, but had to at times because it was painful and upsetting to read.

Something that annoyed me that only anal people would be annoyed by:
Reason 11: The map and red stars on the back of the front cover do not match up to the book exactly.  If there’s a map, I will play along too.  When the map doesn’t coincide with the book, it takes out the fun. So, who’s going to take the time to make a new map for me?

It all has to end eventually:
Reason 12:  After I finished this book I could not stop thinking about how real this novel felt.  The style, the writing, and the characters fit together perfectly.  The best part? Hope.  A quintessential theme in YA fiction.
AND I have a favorite quotation:
Reason 13: “see me/for my soul/alone”
(I’m such a sucker for poetry).


Thanks Emily for letting me guest blog! 
Thank you for posting! -Emily

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)

I read this book when I was younger, and decided I needed to reread the entire series in preparation for reading the latest book, A Conspiracy of Kings. An ancient library bookmark found in my room from 2000 suggested I read it as well, so who was I to argue?

I was not disappointed by this Newbery Honor book. Things I enjoyed:
1.      Male narrator. So many of the books I’ve been reading lately are females, this was a nice change.
2.      First person narration that doesn’t reveal everything. I’ve never had a character keep so much from me and I LOVED it. What appears to be a simple story gets more and more complex throughout.
3.      Myths and stories from the world of the book interwoven in the text. Usually these just slow me down- I want plot not background. But these stories were great. I love fantasies that have deep worlds of history and myth backing them up.

Reviews of its companion books, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia to come soon (as soon as I can get them from the library). And then of course, I’ll finally let myself read A Conspiracy of Kings so get excited for that!

Sidenote: I'm plodding (so many unnecessary details!) my way through A Game of Thrones and noticed that the chapters from the kids' points of view are way more interesting to me than the adults. The adults seem so flawed without hopes of changing, whereas the kids have so much more hope for redemption and growth. Let's hope this isn't taken away from the kids in the second half, or I may not make it to the next book. Extra brownie points are given to YA Lit today for always giving kids hope. Also, because this book is soooo long, look for a guest post on the blog next week from the lovely Audrey Gibbons about 13 Reasons Why.