Thursday, June 30, 2011

bookish notes from an ACTUAL teen reader

The other day I had a conversation (through email, mind you, but no less authentic) with a teen reader (16, to be exact) and since she and I have very similar tastes, I often consult with her about books, trends, hits and misses, and so forth.
But she said something that really surprised me.
She'd just finished a book (Unearthly, in the spirit of full-disclosure), and the book she'd read just before that was Sapphique (the sequel to Incarceron). And what she said was probably just hyperbole, but no less intriguing.
She told me, "I am so done with girl-lead books."
I asked her to clarify, and she said, "From now on, if the girl is the main character, I'm not going to read it. I'm only going to read books where the guy is the narrator or main character."
It was all I could do not to point out that Incarceron & Sapphique's "main character" was a dude, but...
While I'm not going to copy and paste what she said, her reasoning in pretty interesting. She felt like YA girl protagonists hit two ends of the spectrum: uber-bitchy and self-centered (read: Claudia from Sapphique, Katniss, Katsa, etc.) or guy-crazy brainless wonders (read: Unearthly). And while I liked Unearthly slightly more than she did, I see where she's coming from.
It does seem like many girl characters are very...heavy. Heavy on the personality. And for one teenager, that heaviness is kinda hard to stomach. She said that it didn't really echo the complexity of being a young-adult female. She also raised a good point concerning romance.
It's like characters want to have it both ways, was her point. They want a guy they can hang on and kiss and stuff, but don't want them getting too close, because at the end of the day, it's all about the girl and what she wants (forecast reads: Hunger Games rant).

My favorite comment of hers? This is a quote: "It's like modern authors are afraid to let their characters really fall in love, because they think that having a girl care about a guy, and putting his feelings before hers, makes her some trapped 50s housewife. And a guy protecting a girl is some sort of crime, when really, I think it's sweet! It shows that he cares. That's selfless."

I told her that she may not be reading that many books in the future, as most YA authors seem to be women, and their main characters seem to be girls. But I just thought that was an interesting thing for a 16-year-old girl to say. Just an hour ago she emailed me with a "petition" in which her entire reading group vowed to take a 6-month hiatus from girl-narrated books... her book group has 87 young people, ranging from 14-23.
While part of me thinks that this decision is a little on the drastic side, the other part thinks that it's really cool that she and her friends decided to do something about their dissatisfaction. They're not abandoning the genre. They're not giving up reading. They're trying to make decisions that will better fit their needs. And really, I'm impressed that "normal American girls" are conscientious of things that I also happen to notice. There are a great many characters who are either limp noodles or she-wolves.
Where's the happy medium?
And my hot-shot-"I read ___ books a year!"-self attempts to answer that question by actually listing the "happy medium of girls" books**: Nevermore, The Looking Glass Wars series, The Books of Bayern, for the most part, the Wondrous Strange series, Wildwood Dancing, Chaos Walking (sans the last book), Percy Jackson series, eventually Divergent, Shiver, and lawd-o-mercy the classic authors do it best - The Chronicles of Prydain... but that's only a handful. And truly, when I think about it, most of the time when I compliment books in reviews, it's in regards to the creativity of the storyworld, or the action/excitement, or the pacing, or whatever. Usually it isn't in the characters, because I realize that my friend has a point. There's so much forcefulness in the average YA girl's personality. Forcefulness, snark, it starts off as fun, upbeat, but eventually...it just turns into mean bitchiness. As my friend said, "Like Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew, only without Petruchio to spank her."
Hmm...not sure about the spanking part, but she has a point.

But what do you all think? Does she have a point, or is it bring on more snarky/googley-eyed gals?
And what about the resolution?

I will say that I absolutely LOVE having conversations with teen readers because as much as I (22yearold) enjoy YA, it's really written for them. So it's cool to get their perspective and see what exactly they think of certain things.
& when you've got reader-cousins, it's like free consulting work! :D



**and because of the subjectivity involved, my opinion-based-list may be different from others'.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Help me STUDY, please!

For awhile now I've had my eye on Maria V. Snyder's Study series:
- Poison Study
- Magic Study
- Fire Study

What I've heard...- Poison Study is very good. Like, I have seen SO MANY 4-and-5 star reviews for this one, and from people who I know really make books work for 5 star reviews.
- However, I have seen that several reviewers think the series kind of slackens as it goes along. With the last book, Fire Study, I've seen less 4-and-5 star reviews.

So for those who have read Poison Study...
- did you read the sequel books also?
If so,
- did you like them?
- would you recommend reading ALL 3, or can I just read the first one?

Many thanks!

Where is everybody...

...from?In the spirit of last minute, random question-posts... I want to know where everybody blogs from.
Why? I was at my grammy's house today, attempting to explain what it is that I do on the computer all the time (heehee) and I was telling her about all of my bloggy friends. She asked where all my "friends" were from, and I realized I couldn't really give her much of an answer, other than "well, er, California, and New Jersey, and Ohio, and Florida..."
I'm also curious if more book bloggers live in a certain area, like East Coasters, West Coasters, suburbanites, etc. I think it would be cool to know where everybody blogs from, and if there are more from a certain area.
So...where's everybody from?:D

- PS -
Is anybody specifically from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, or New Mexico?
Just curious!

Friday, June 24, 2011

IMM!


I actually got books this week - wahoo!
I've put myself on a book buying ban after BEA, but I temporarily lifted it to order Once Every Never. ;)

Bought
Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston
* ordered from Amazon Canada. I used Amazon UK a lot in the past, but I'd never used CA's website till now. I was EXTREMELY surprised at 1) how cheap it was to buy/ship from there, and 2) how **quickly** the book arrived! It came in only 5 days, even though I used the regular standard shipping. And the whole thing only cost around $20.
I'm just impatient and didn't want to wait around for regular old Amazon to put the title up, heehee.

Received for Review
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Special thanks to Candlewick!
*Patrick Ness is one of my new favorite authors, and I just finished Monsters of Men, so I can't wait to check this one out as well!

What did everybody else get this week? Anyone else on a strict buying ban?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Best of dystopian Review - UNWIND

Unwind - Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Dystopian
# of pages:
335 (hb)
Unwind @ Parental Book Reviews



The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.


This is looking to be the Summer of Dystopian... I finished Divergent, got a lot of books at BEA that forecast more dystopians for the fall, and somewhere in between, I bought a copy of Unwind, a book that I'd heard about repeatedly as being one of the best dystopians in the YA genre.
You all know I try to ignore hype (as an example, I was genuinely surprised to find Divergent as enjoyable as the hype made it out to be). However, this is one book that is completely deserving of praise, and not only that, it is one of the best dystopians I've ever read.
Why, you ask? I'll refer you to the publication date. Unwind was published in 2007, before dystopians truly took off as the 'next big thayng.' Even before The Hunger Games (2008).
In other words, Unwind is truly innovative and original because there really wasn't anything around at the time for it to copy. In a literary atmosphere where more and more dystopians are all about romance, love triangles and "OMG big bossy governments are so mean!", this novel stands out.
For one thing, the premise is both clever and chillingly realistic. In the near future, an event known as the Second Civil War takes place. The issue this time is reproductive rights, with pro-lifers pitted against pro-choicers. The fighting results in a disturbing compromise called the Bill of Life, which implements the practice of Unwinding. Guys, you want a dystopian with a creepy/original premise that really makes you think, 'Gah, could this really happen?' Here it is, right here. I can't imagine love ever being a disease, or matching people up based on...well, I still don't get the reason for wanting to do that. But unwinding troubled and unwanted kids, thereby easing juvenile delinquency and solving organ donor shortages ? Eerily contemplative.
Neal Shusterman is up there with Scott Westerfeld as extremely gifted, KISS-style dystopian writers (yes, yes, Westerfeld has written a host of other stuff. I'm talking about his dystopian skills). Shusterman gives readers 3 characters to follow: Connor, a good kid with some bad habits; Risa, a highly gifted musical prodigy, and Lev, a young boy raised by his fundamentalist family to be a "tithe." Each of these characters had their own identity and were strong characters throughout. I especially appreciated that Connor was never really that bad in the first place, only a little immature, and that he was able to grow into this sensitive, capable leader. It was a really cool transformation to watch. Lev's transformation, from a sweet but naive kid to a hardened, streetwise punk, was no less powerful but somehow slightly less enjoyable.
But as much as I liked the characters and how they were portrayed, it's the story world and plot execution of Unwind that really makes it a unique read. I was very, very impressed with Shusterman's ability to equally show both sides of an issue. At the heart of good dystopians are commentaries about our current society, and yes, these commentaries usually manifest in political forms. What really makes Unwind special is Shusterman's ability to pick an issue - say, reproductive rights/right to life - and take it straight down the middle (in contrast, much as I love Scott Westerfeld, he did get a bit preachy with those Rusties in Uglies). I just wanted to say that I was really, really impressed with Shusterman, and really respect him for not just picking whichever agenda suited him best, and molding a story from it. It makes Unwind all the more worthy of attention.
The only 'complaint' I have is that the writing style was a little weird. It's written in third-person present-tense, which I've never encountered before. For example, "Amelia pauses in between sentences, thinking of what she will say next." It just took some getting used to. Also, the perspectives switched a lot between characters, sometimes randomly, which got a little confusing. Other than some writing-style issues, this book was an amazing read.
I do think the ending could have been better - some things happened at the end that I wish hadn't happened! Oh well, though. I will caution you that the scariest part (yes, I said "SCARY") is close to the end. I'll just say that Neal Shusterman isn't the type to totally keep readers in the dark - you'll get to see exactly *what* happens in the sinister Unwinding process, and
it.
is.
freaky.
*Nightmares!*
The ending was satisfying, though, and sets the stage nicely for the sequel, Unwholly, which will be released in 2012.
My humble suggestion? If you consider yourself a fan of dystopian fiction (and especially if you're growing tired of the - *ahem* - tendency for repetition in YA dystopians), check out this book, 'cause it's one of the ones that started it all!

(A word on content: there is a moderate amount of violence in this book, aside from the general premise of harvesting teens' organs in a disturbing process known as 'Unwinding.' There's no sexual content apart from kissing and some innuendo. For more information, see the link at the top)

Final Rating


Notable Passages

There was a time, shortly after the Bill of Life was passed, that Dumpsters such as that would be tempting to girls like her. Desperate girls who would leave unwanted newborns in the trash. It had become so common that it wasn't even deemed newsworthy anymore - it had become just a part of life. Funny, but the Bill of Life was supposed to protect the sanctity of life. Instead it just made life cheap. Thank goodness for the Storking Initiative, that wonderful law that allows girls like her a far better alternative...
With the burden now lifted from her, she has sudden strength. She now has a second chance in life, and this time she'll be smarter - she's sure of it. As she hurries down the street, she thinks how wonderful it is that she can get a second chance. How wonderful it is that she can dismiss her responsibility so easily...
- 53-54


"People shouldn't do a lot of things," says Connor. He knows they're both right, but it doesn't make a difference. In a perfect world mothers would all want their babies, and strangers would open up their homes to the unloved. In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn't a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.
- 75


"So the Dunfees found the records. The father, I think worked for the government, so he was able to hack into the parts department."
"The what?"
Hayden sighs. "The National Unwind Database."
"Oh."
"And he gets a printout of every single person who received a piece of Humphrey. Then the Dunfees go traveling around the world to find them...so they can kill them, take back the parts, and bit by bit make Humphrey whole..."
"No way."
"That's why people call him Humphrey," Connor adds. "Cause 'all the king's horses and all the king's men...couldn't put Humphrey together again.'"
- 106


"Sure, I can talk like you, but I choose not to. It's like art, you know? Picasso had to prove to the world he can paint the right way, before he goes putting both eyes on one side of a face, and noses stickin' outta kneecaps and stuff. See, if you paint wrong because the best you can do, you just a chump. But you do it because you want to? Then you're an artist." He smiles at Lev. "That's a bit of CyFi wisdom right there, Fry. You can take that to the grave, and dig it up when you need it!"
- 125


Then Hayden asks the question. Not a question, the question. Asking it is the great taboo among those marked for unwinding. It's what everyone thinks about, but no one ever dares to ask aloud.
"So then," says Hayden, "if every part of you is alive but inside someone else...are you alive or are you dead?"
- 167


"If I'm unwound," says Hayden, "I want my eyes to go to a photographer - one who shoots supermodels. That's what I want these eyes to see."
"My lips'll go to a rock star," says Connor.
"These legs are definitely going to the Olympics."
"My ears to an orchestra conductor."
"My stomach to a food critic."
"My biceps to a body builder."
"...I wouldn't wish my sinuses on anybody."
- 176


On the existence of a soul, whether unwound or unborn, people are likely to debate for hours on end, but no one questions whether an unwinding facility has a soul. It does not.
- 265


In her mind's eye she always pictured harvest camps as human cattle stockades: dead-eyed crowds of malnourished kids in small gray cells - a nightmare of dehumanization. Yet somehow this picturesque nightmare is worse. Just as the airplane graveyard was Heaven disguised as Hell, harvest camp is Hell masqueraded as Heaven.
- 268


Unwind @ Amazon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What are you WAITING for?!

This is kind of like a Waiting on Wednesday...only not.
These are the books that I am the most looking forward to between now and...January 2012. These are the nail-biting-hysteria-inducing books that I literally cannot wait to dive into!
See if any of these are on your TBR, too.

The Son of Neptune - Rick Riordan
Book TWO of a 5-part series
- Published by Disney Hyperion
- Tantalizing Tidbit: Well, see, y'all know I absolutely adore the Percy Jackson series, and as the spinoff of the Percy Jackson series, the next Heroes of Olympus book just HAD to be in this list (even if the whole Greek/Roman god combo is a little weird - the schizophrenic "Zeus-one-day-Jupiter-the-next" deal has me and my middle school betas shaking our heads in confuzzlement). Plus, by all indications that's Percy on the cover. Yay! I do wish this series wasn't 5 books long.
- AARRRGGGHH Factor: slightly under 4 months
- October 4, 2011
Preorder The Son of Neptune @ Amazon


All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky - Joe R. Lansdale
STANDALONE BOOK
- Published by Random House
- Tantalizing Tidbit: a period of American history that I love (Depression-era), a setting I love (Oklahoma & Texas), and an inkling of a love story. Oh yes, I am indeed interested. Plus, that cover is absolutely beautiful!
- AARRRGGGHH Factor: 3 months
- September 13, 2011
Preorder All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky @ Amazon


Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston
FIRST BOOK (may be 1st of a series, or may be standalone)
- Published by Penguin
- Tantalizing Tidbit: This book looks absolutely stunning. Historical fantasy is **always** intriguing for me, because it blends my two favorite subgenres together. Lesley takes this a step further by picking a setting in history that isn't often covered - Roman Britain.

AARRRGGGHH Factor: I believe that Once Every Never will be available from (US) Amazon the last week of June/early July (when I see it pop up on Amazon, I'll put the link in)

Order Once Every Never @ Amazon Canada (shipping to US is only about $7.99)
(I ordered mine from Amazon CA, and it was like $20 total, and I live in TX)

In the Forests of the Night - Kersten Hamilton
Book TWO in a trilogy
- Published by Harcourt
- Tantalizing Tidbit: follows Tyger Tyger, the first in a series about Irish mythology, magic, and goblins!
AARRRGGGHH Factor: a little under 4 months
- October 3, 2011
Preorder In the Forests of the Night @ Amazon


Witchlanders - Lena Coakley
FIRST BOOK (may be 1st of a series, or may be standalone)
- Published by Simon & Schuster
- Tantalizing Tidbit: 1) boy narrator, 2) high fantasy setting, 3) witches and magic - oh my!
and 4) there's a SWORD on the cover. Always a good sign! Add those together, and that makes for the PERFECT equation (for me, at least!)
AARRRGGGHH Factor: a little over 2 months
- August 30, 2011
Preorder Witchlanders @ Amazon


And if I had to choose the ONE book I'm most eagerly anticipating, it would be...without a doubt...



Enshadowed - Kelly Creagh
Book TWO in a trilogy
- Tantalizing Tidbit: Follows Nevermore (my favorite 2010 book) and incorporates elements of Edgar Allan Poe and his works into the (seriously) most original story I've read in a long time. I'm so hoping that this second installment will be just as exciting
- Published by Simon & Schuster
AARRRGGGHH Factor: Approximately 7 months
- January 17, 2012
Preorder Enshadowed @ Amazon

--
So what are you all waiting for? Which future releases have you the most excited?!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review - DIVERGENT

Divergent - Veronica Roth
Genre: YA Dystopian
# of pages: 487
(hb)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen, Harper Collins
Divergent @ Parental Book Rev
iews

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


When I started it a few weeks ago, Divergent seemed like one of those books that everyone had already read but me. I was seeing 5 star reviews for it right and left. And to be honest, I thought, "Oh, swell. Another dystopian. Please, please tell me there's no love triangle or emotion suppression a la Giver or anything else that's been done to death." Heehee, that's me and dystopians. Well, that was me and dystopians, because Divergent is one of those blessed books that truly surprised me. I was expecting, at best, to find an entertaining book that I could nod my head at, go "yeah, cool," and then go on with my merry little life.
But folks...Divergent is every bit as deserving of the praise it has received.

For one thing, the book succeeds at its most basic (but often overlooked) level: believability.
Does believability in a dystopian mean a world that is in our near future? No, not really. It means that it is a story that is both rational and (to a certain extent) possible. Beatrice Prior's near-future Chicago world is one that makes sense: I could definitely see the principles behind the creation of the factions, I could believe that ordinary people thought that they were creating a better, more virtuous society, and I could believe that this man-made world would misplace their values, become totalitarian, and descend into corruption.
So not only was the story world believable, it was fascinating. I absolutely loved and absorbed the idea of the factions - what they stood for, how members lived...everything. Easily, this is the most compelling dystopian I've read since The Knife of Never Letting Go. Because the main character was brought up in Abnegation and then transferred to Dauntless, I really got to see those factions in high-def detail. I'm hoping that in the next installment I'll get to see how some of the other factions work as well, because they are all so vividly unique.
For me at least, Beatrice 'Tris' Prior is exactly the kind of character/narrator I look for in a YA novel. She's someone who is still very much learning about the world around her and her place in it. Yes, she was a strong and determined character. So are a lot of others in the genre. It was her capacity for compassion, tenderness, and the possession of a conscience that made her stand out. Sure, in the beginning she was a little closed-off, and I originally found her to be a little on the cold and detached side, but it's how she matured that really impressed me. And also, she was the perfect heroine for a dystopian book. I think there's this tendency to make them immediate question the world around them, and by the end of book one, they're already screaming out "Vive le revolution!" and planning a new world order. But Tris is perfect because she's someone who initially a product of her society - it's what she knows and what she's always known. Slowly, though, she sees cracks in the system and starts to question the world around her. Perfect.
And this review wouldn't be complete without mentioning Four. The funny thing is, I wasn't originally very impressed with him. I have this idea of guys as chivalrous and inherently mannerly, and at first glance I was puzzled by his seeming complacency with a clearly flawed system. But just like Tris, I came to discover that there was more beneath the surface. After that, he easily became my favorite character (especially when I found out that he had this characteristic that I absolutely LOVE but don't see enough of in YA fiction)
So I said how much I loved the worldbuilding. I said how much I loved the main characters.
The story itself was a near-perfect blend of action, emotional growth, juicy revelations, and buildup. Sure, there were some parts that were slower than others. It just made the buildup more exciting. And really, some parts were a little hard to get through. I was a little unsure what to think about some of the Dauntless initiation practices - excessive violence as bravery, really? But see, the cool thing is...that was the whole point. The point was to show how one faction's noble values disintegrated into brutality. At the same time, other factions' noble principles had been replaced with greed, corruption and dishonesty - the very vices that led to the formation of the world of the factions in the first place. At the same time, I liked the message the author seemed to present - the pursuit of virtuous behavior (i.e. being brave, selfless, or honest) isn't the problem; rather, it's trying to choose one at the expense of the others. If you can't tell, I absolutely devoured this premise!
Lastly, I don't exactly know how to say this, because this is a quality in literature that is personally important to me, but may not be to other people. I'm not saying that Divergent is a 'morality tale' or anything that heavy-sounding, but I really, really liked that it seemed to have some powerful (yet subtle) moral truths within it. It just really stood out in such a substantial way. And it's a testament to how extremely intelligent and well-spoken (or well written?) Veronica Roth is. I mean, if she had a dinnertime conversation with Erasmus, Chesterton, and Lewis, she'd definitely be able to hold her own, that's for sure! I know that ideally, we reviewers should be able to separate authors from their work and just look at what they produce...but honestly, it's been so cool to not only find a new favorite book to gush about, but also a new author to admire.
So yes, I definitely feel like one of the last ones to read and review Divergent, but believe me when I say that this is top-notch fiction right here. It doesn't get any better than this. All the pieces came together to craft an EXCEPTIONAL ending. And while it does leave you wanting more, it's not the kind of ending that induces nail-biting hysteria. I'm actually really, really glad it ended where it did (I won't say what, but if you've read the book...I really like how it ends up with "Four." :D)
Don't you dare pick up another dystopian book from your TBR pile until you've read this one first!
Final Rating

Veronica Roth's website

Saturday, June 11, 2011

when you start at the end, and have to work your way backwards

Book one, book two, book three...
Obviously, series books are meant to be read in order. You start with book one, proceed to book two (or wait around, biting at your nails and climbing up the walls until book two is released), and on you go, until the series ends.
That's usually the way it works.
Sometimes, though, I've found myself starting with the last book, and working
my way backwards. The only other time I remember doing this was in 2008, right when Breaking Dawn came out. In my way of thinking, I'd read some of BD, decide whether or not the premise sounded interesting, and *then* I'd start at the beginning of the series. Well, 100 pages in, I was like "who ARE all these characters? So confused!" and that was that.
With the Chaos Walking series, it was actually the last book, Monsters of Men, that first caught my attention. My cousin and I were just sitting around, talking about books, and she brought up this really cool dystopian series she was reading - the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (and she's the one who coined the phrase, "It makes Hunger Games look like 'Sesame Street").
Then she dropped the biggest, baddest spoiler ever. She basically blurted out the ending, then was like, "do you BELIEVE that? that's not closure!"
So yeah, pretty much when I went into The Knife of Never Letting Go and was first introduced to Todd Hewitt, New World, and all the psychotic freakwads who populate it, I knew what was going to happen on the very last pages of Monsters of Men, the finale.
Has that ever happened to any of you guys? And if so, have you still been able to plug along through a story, even knowing how it was going to end?
With Monsters of Men, I may know what happens on the last page or two, but I don't know what happens to get to that point. So that, for me, is what this reading journey will be about. Getting up to that point.

(and just sayin,' I totally got her back, Mockingjay-style: "Yeah, that whole business with Prim sure sucked, amiright?")

Thursday, June 9, 2011

an ode to childrens books!

This post is inspired by the time I spent recently in a first grade classroom, reading with a bunch of 7-year-olds, and with a conversation that I had today with a new-mom friend, in which we listed children's books that it is perfectly acceptable to fangirl over.
Here's my list of my favorite childrens picture books (non-chapter books). Most of these were around when I was a kid, but there are a few recent classics who have jumped onto the list.

1. Anything Chris Van Allsburg

The man behind The Polar Express, Jumanji, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and The Wreck of the Zephyr was really popular when I was in elementary school in the good ol' 90s. I would absolutely track down every one of Van Allsburg's books to add to either my classroom (if I taught younger grades) or my future kids' bookshelves.

2. Hooray for Diffendoofer Day & Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Okay, so pretty much all of Dr. Seuss' books are beloved and bona fide classics in their own right. BUT two stand out for me, and they are among the only picture-books that I currently own: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and Oh the Places You'll Go! One of my high-school teachers, I remember, read Diffendoofer Day on the first day of school to us, and on the last day of school, she read Oh the Places You'll Go. Most of us, including the guys, bawled.

3. StellalunaStellaluna is one of the few childrens books that I definitely remember reading at school, one of the few that I can definitely recall. The story is beautiful, and seriously, it made me (temporarily) like bats!

4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayOh, I had this book *memorized* when I was in kindergarten. Before When Sophie Gets Angry, there was poor Alexander, who just couldn't get anything to go right for him! Oh, this book will definitely be on my kids' shelves.
Funny story: I read this book to a group of first graders, and one little boy immediately pointed to the cover and asked, "Why is his face yellow? Does he have jaundice?" Kids say the darndest things.

5. Anything by Eric CarleVan Allsburg's illustrations are more beautiful, but there's something delightfully entertaining and beautiful about Eric Carle animals, whether it's a hungry caterpillar, a very quiet cricket, or...bears.

6. Where the Wild Things AreThe fact that this book is #6 doesn't say anything - I'm only posting these as they come to mind, not ranking them. But I loved the book, I own a shirt with the book's cover on it, and I adored the movie, too. This is definitely a worthy classic, and would definitely be included on my future kids' bookshelf!

7. The Stinky Cheeseman & Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Math Curse, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and other deliberately genius books by Jon Sciezka
One of the most-asked-for books that I read to family member's class was The Stinky Cheeseman. Jon's hilarious re-imagining of fairy tales, and his ability to nail the fact that math is INDEED confusing, only make his books all the more enjoyable and classic. The Stinky Cheeseman and Math Curse are some of the few picture books that I own, and boy, they sit on my shelf, next to my YA books, with pride. I will definitely buy more Jon Sciezka books in the future!

8. Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsSure, it's a fun story, and the illustrations are superb, but how awesome would it be to literally have food dropping out of the sky? I reckon that if we lived in a world like that, we'd all sit around like Augustus Gloop, looking up toward the heavens with our mouths hanging open. What a concept! Sometimes the silliest scenarios make for the most fun and engaging stories.

9. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary TaleThe story itself is cute, but what's really cool about this Mo Willems book (and it's sequel) is the visual component. The photography-and-animation component is brilliant, and just adds an extra level of coolness to the book. Oh yes, this book definitely has that artistic edge.

10. Skippyjon JonesSo no, these books weren't out when I was a kid, but one of my teachers read them to us in high school, and they've shot up my list to my Top 12 favorite childrens books. A little Siamese kitten who thinks he's a chihuahua? Absolutely adorable. And if you read the book outloud, with an accent, it makes the experience all the more entertaining (even if you're reading to yourself...ssshhh!) :)

and...11. YOU ARE SPECIAL
You know how there's that question that's often asked, "If you could recommend one book to everyone, what would it be?" or the more obnoxious-sounding, "If you could make people read one book, what would it be?"
This would be my answer. Because yes, if I could "force" people to read any book, I'd feel pretty guilty about making them read something really long and involved. You Are Special is a short childrens story that has an incredible message and is just one of the sweetest, most endearing books I've ever read. It is one of the very few "picture books" that I own and it stands out among my massive YA-filled shelves.

--Feel obligated to mention--
The Missing Piece and other Shel Silverstein stuff. The reason I'm apathetic toward Shel is because I had a class in which his book was turned into a really in-depth lecture on psychosocial hooha, and we had to write a paper. Boo.

Goodnight Moon
. Oh, dear lord, I think this is why I cringe at heavy-repetition books (except Seuss, who was a Class-I genius). "Good night, ____. Good night, _____." It's what I imagine a childrens book written by the Waltons would sound like. Even as a kid, I'm told that I would make it past a few pages, then scream "GOOD NIGHT ALREADY, GOSH!," like a little mini-Napoleon Dynamite way before its time.

Corduroy
. Didn't particularly care for this book because I have a weird, unexplainable aversion to corduroy. Even thinking about it now, as I type, makes my skin break out in goosebumps. Moving on...

So these were just some picture-books that I loved, still love, will buy and add to my library when I have extra funds, and just wanted to give some attention to. I think I'll do another post about the best childrens chapter books.
What are some of your favorite childhood books?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review - FAIRY BAD DAY

Fairy Bad Day - Amanda Ashby
Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal
# of pages: 336
(ARC)
Publisher: Penguin
Release date: June 9, 2011

While most students at Burtonwood Academy get to kill demons and goblins, fifteen-year-old Emma gets to rid the world of little annoying fairies with glittery wings and a hipster fashion sense. She was destined to be a dragon slayer, but cute and charming Curtis stole her spot. Then she sees a giant killer fairy - and it's invisible to everyone but her! If Emma has any chance of stopping this evil fairy, she's going to need help. Unfortunately, the only person who can help is Curtis. And now, not only has he stolen her dragon-slayer spot, but maybe her heart as well! Why does she think it's going to be a fairy bad day?


Okay, right away when I read this book back in April, I knew it was going to be something special. In fact, my first Goodreads status update said: "I'm already on page ten and already this book's fantasy world is way, WAY more creative and exciting than most other books I've read recently."
Seriously. The storyworld here is very dynamic, very detailed, and beautifully simple. It's like Hogwarts lite combined with a non-mythology version of Camp Half Blood. In this world, kids like Emma attend a boarding school (and just the fact that it's a boarding school that doesn't reek of the "Gossip Girl"/House of Night/every-juvenile-delinquent-activity-you-can-think-of- that-allegedly-happens-at-a-boarding-school image REALLY gives me hope for these places continuing to be used as a legitimately-interesting story location) where they learn how to use their gifts to help control the paranormal population. Kids like Emma have "the sight," meaning they can see the several paranormal creatures that make up this richly populated story world, and their jobs are simple: keep these paranormals in order, and if need be, protect the human population by, well, slaying wayward paranormals. There are troll slayers, demon slayers, goblin slayers, coveted dragon slayers, and fairy slayers, which Emma unhappily becomes as the story opens. The synopsis from Goodreads seems so overly-simple compared to the truly dynamic story world Amanda Ashby has created, and also the plot that unfurls as Emma learns that her job slaying pesky little fairies is really more life-and-death than she anticipated. There were some parts of the story that didn't really feel very clear to me (for example, if humans can't see all the paranormals, are they really in danger of them? and is slaying really necessary?) But quite simply, I found this book utterly fascinating.

I really do love "rite-of-passage" characters - actually, I kind of crave them. So while Emma's initial me-centric and immature attitude was a little hard to see through, I really enjoyed how she gradually became responsible, sensitive, and caring. She became much more in-tune with those around her, including the character who is my absolute favorite in the book - Curtis! Curtis was everything I like: sense of humor without being a goofball, caring but not overbearing, and assertive enough to stand up for himself when Emma got a little ridiculous with herself. Plus - added bonus - he went through most of the book on crutches. Yes, a dude who is "strong" and capable but still can't quite walk without assistance. That was very cool, and that's something that really set him apart and made him stand out from all the other love interests in all the other books I've gone through.
Even though I usually make much ado about the main characters in a book (boy/girl + love interest), I need to mention how well-rounded and charming the supporting characters of Fairy Bad Day were. In a time in YA fiction when the designated "best friend character" is usually a couple fries short of a Happy Meal (not in a generally unintelligent way but in an airheady, probably-listened-to-too-many-Hansen-songs way). Either that or they're the "writing angry poetry in red pen" sort. So I really, really enjoyed the fact that Emma's friends/classmates had personalities and were genuinely interesting, but not the Adderall-and-a-leash kind.
Though Fairy Bad Day's ending was satisfying, I am absolutely dying to know if this will be the first installment in a series. As interesting as the storyworld was, there's so much more that could be expanded, so many details left to be explored. This is one of the few books of 2011 that really, truly, has made me want MORE. And isn't the cover a win?!
Seriously, I can't think of a book that's more deserving of your attention this summer!

Fairy Bad Day @ Amazon
Amanda Ashby's website

Sunday, June 5, 2011

surprised by the WSJ: in which I do what the politicians do and speak outta both sides

I'm still not done reading the WSJ's article that has managed to get the book-blogging community buzzing. It's always something, isn't it? A few months ago it was that stuff in Missouri, now it's this...I've been used to newspapers (the NY Times and USA Today are the worst) spinning their own agendas so I don't usually take articles very seriously, but this one surprised me. I assure you, my mental pendulum will swing both ways, so all I ask is that you reserve judgment till you get through the entire post/treatise/diatribe/whathaveyou...

In this blog post, I'm going to do a little something different (although I seriously doubt anyone wants to hear anything that's not 100% ' OMG WSJ IS WRONG!') and talk about where the WSJ gets it right and where it gets it completely wrong. That's what they teach you in debate: that rarely is there ever a totally-right or totally-wrong issue. Same applies here.

On one hand, I do feel very relieved that this article has been written. It's what the literary community so often forgets: consumers (whether they be parents, teens, or interested adult readers) have absolutely no way of knowing what is in a book before they read it. And while there is this attitude of "so what? anything goes in books," that is not the only attitude out there. Real parents, real teachers, real teens, and real adult readers may care a great deal. For us, it's not "anything goes." For us, it's not "reality for some is reality for all," and for goodness sake, it certainly isn't "any book is better than no book!" That is so flipping ignorant. And it can't be both ways. If authors have the right to write whatever they want, with no moral boundary that says 'this is too far,' then consumers have the right to symbolically say, "What the...?! Are you for real?!"

The part that I think is the most insightful is:
Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.

So yes, I do share the WSJ's "puzzlement" over why in the world this genre can be so explicit and in-your-face with quite a lot of disturbing themes, situations, and content. Yeah, it freaketh me out. And yeah, there is little-to-no way to know before diving in. And that's where my issue is: some people want to know, and there is no way for them to know. And my issue is with the idea that teenagers - with developing brains and personalities - are ready for anything. That they can handle anything. That just because reality is sometimes horrible and ugly is an open invitation to demonstrate, explicitly, just how ugly it can get. I need to say, though, that the #1 reason why I am sympathetic to this article is because it appeared in the Wall Street Journal, one of America's most important newspapers. If this was the work of some blogger, I would have shrugged and said, "She's got some points, but geez...dramatic much?"

I already shared my favorite part of the article. Now I'll share my least favorite: That part in the beginning where the poor sweet mama couldn't find a book in the whole YA section. I don't buy that for one second! Geez, the last time I went to a bookstore (NYC's Books of Wonder), I left with 10 books. And I'm one of those 'stay away from dark stuff' types. If I can find an armful of books, anyone can! Did she not see Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver? Or Michael Scott's Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel? What about Neal Shusterman's books, or Cassandra Clare's shiny, flashy, can't-miss-em books? Did she see The Dark Divine or The Maze Runner or Paranormalcy or Prophecy of the Sisters or FOR CRYING OUT LOUD anything with the name "Rick Riordan" on it? What about Matched or Divergent or the freaking BOOK THIEF? And boy, nothing says "dark and disturbing" like that Artemis Fowl! For goodness sake. Yes, I'm the type of reader who will agree with the WSJ that there is some weird, crazy...stuff in YA, but the majority of books are thrilling, enjoyable, uplifting, and written by some of the most gifted, capable, and endearing authors in the industry. If some editors and publicists are impervious to shock or sensibility, I'd reckon there are twice as many who actually do give a wang (at least, maybe a little wang) about what they're releasing into the market.

What do I wish the WSJ had done differently? First of all, part of me is glad that they actually named names and to an extent, held books and authors accountable for the written word. Like I said, it can't be both ways. It can't be acceptance and validation without some reservation. But I wished that they would have ended their article by praising, or even just acknowledging, the authors and books that represent the brighter parts of the genre. Not everything is drugs, sex, cutting, despair, and other unspeakable things. The image they painted is a truth, not the whole truth. It does not come close to describing Veronica Roth and her Divergent, or Kelly Creagh and her Nevermore, or Kersten Hamilton and her Tyger Tyger, or Neal Shusterman and his Unwind, or Bree Despain and her Dark Divine or Patrick Ness and his Chaos Walking...I could go on and on and on and on.

So if I had to draw a line in the sand, would I side with them, or with the pro-#YAsaves trend? Both, actually. Because this isn't an either-or issue. I said I was glad that this article was written. Yes, I am, because I do believe that sometimes 'dark' is 'too dark.' And I do believe that people should be made aware of the fact that some subgenres of YA are pretty... disturbing. And I think something needs to be done to better inform consumers. I think that if people weren't so often surprised or caught off guard, they'd be less hostile to books that they'd just as soon skip.

With most issues, I think that the most truthful realization lies somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, I can't completely jump of the "WSJ is utterly wrong" bandwagon because, as someone who is often disillusioned by not just the openness but also the seeming permissiveness of literature aimed at Young Adults, I do think that information is a good thing. I do think that consumers need to be made aware of the direction that some books are taking, and how the envelope sure is being pushed far by some books and some authors. But in the very next sentence, I will defend those whose work does not apply at all to this article. As someone who reads YA almost exclusively, I'll be the first to say that no, not every book is for everybody (and it is my complete personal opinion that an even smaller number of books aren't for anybody), but I'll also be the first to say that this is the most diverse, inventive, creative, and lively genre out there.

PS - authors have been sharing their thoughts all day, but the one that really speaks out above the rest is Veronica Roth's post. What she has to say is not only insightful and eloquent, it's also extremely reasonable. Without trying to sound over the top, she keeps demonstrating over and over what a class-act author she is.

Sorry for being complicated,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

BEA book (re)post!

(had a problem with the first post)
The grand total of BEA-books, for me, was 44, plus 10 books that I bought, which brought me up to 54. Needless to say, my bookshelves need a huge alphabetizing makeover!


Books bought at the Strand & Books of Wonder
The Official Illustrated Twilight Guide - Stephenie Meyer
Prophecy of the Sisters - Michelle Zink
Guardian of the Gate - Michelle Zink
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Entwined - Heather Dixon
The Cabinet of Wonders - Marie Rutkoski
The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkoski
Unwind - Neal Shusterman
The Grimm Legacy - Polly Shulman
Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness

Signed BEA books
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex - Eoin Colfer (released)
The Girl in the Steel Corset - Kady Cross (released)
The Iron Queen - Julie Kagawa (released)
The Throne of Fire - Rick Riordan (released)
Sirenz - Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman (June 8, 2011)
Spellbound - Cara Lynn Shultz (June 28, 2011)
Goliath - Scott Westerfeld (August 29, 2011)
Ashes - Ilsa Bick (September 2011)
The Eleventh Plague - Jeff Hirsch (September 1, 2011)
Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars - Nick James (September 8, 2011)
The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson (September 29, 2011)
The Carrier of the Mark - Leigh Fallon (October 4, 2011)
Crossed - Ally Condie (November 1, 2011)
Legend - Marie Lu (November 29, 2011)

Unsigned BEA books
Pure - Julianna Baggott (February 8, 2012)
The Unwanteds - Lisa McMann (August 30, 2011)
Variant - Robison Wells (October 1, 2011)
The Mephisto Covenant - Trinity Faegen (September 27, 2011)
Tris and Izzie - Mette Ivie Harrison (October 11, 2011)
Forever - Maggie Stiefvater (July 12, 2011)
All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin (September 27, 2011)
The Inquisitor's Apprentice - Chris Moriarty (October 3, 2011)
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick (September 13, 2011)
The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater (October 18, 2011)
Wildwood - Colin Meloy
Draw the Dark - Ilsa Bick (released)
Eve - Anna Carey (October 4, 2011)
Rock On - Denise Vega
Cold Kiss - Amy Garvey (September 20, 2011)
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey (February 1, 2012)
After Obsession - Carrie Jones (September 5, 2011)
The Future of Us - Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (November 21, 2011)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor (September 27, 2011)
The Apothecary - Maile Meloy (October 4, 2011)
The Rivals - Daisy Whitney (February 6, 2012)
Liesl and Po - Lauren Oliver (September 1, 2011)
Circle Nine - Anne Heltzel (September 13, 2011)
Shut Out - Kody Keplinger (September 5, 2011)
The Bridge to Neverland - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (August 9, 2011)
Wintertown - Stephen Emond (December 5, 2011)
The Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney (released)

Two boxes of books - one that weighed 70lbs and one that weighed around 35 lbs shipped from NY on Thursday to TX, and it arrived Tuesday. We paid about $50 total. Guys, if anyone is going to BEA next year, please please go with USPS! Not only were they cheaper, but they were surprisingly speedy.
I'm really excited to get started reading, and several of these books will giveaways, so keep checking back to see when those start!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

IMM - the BEA books

For my first BEA, I tried to take the careful, somewhat-choosy approach on what I picked up. The grand total of BEA-books, for me, was 44, plus 10 books that I bought, which brought me up to 54. Needless to say, my bookshelves need a huge alphabetizing makeover!


Books bought at the Strand & Books of Wonder
The Official Illustrated Twilight Guide - Stephenie Meyer
Prophecy of the Sisters - Michelle Zink
Guardian of the Gate - Michelle Zink
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Entwined - Heather Dixon
The Cabinet of Wonders - Marie Rutkoski
The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkoski
Unwind - Neal Shusterman
The Grimm Legacy - Polly Shulman
Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness

Signed BEA books
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex - Eoin Colfer (released)
The Girl in the Steel Corset - Kady Cross (released)
The Iron Queen - Julie Kagawa (released)
The Throne of Fire - Rick Riordan (released)
Sirenz - Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman (June 8, 2011)
Spellbound - Cara Lynn Shultz (June 28, 2011)
Goliath - Scott Westerfeld (August 29, 2011)
Ashes - Ilsa Bick (September 2011)
The Eleventh Plague - Jeff Hirsch (September 1, 2011)
Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars - Nick James (September 8, 2011)
The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson (September 29, 2011)
The Carrier of the Mark - Leigh Fallon (October 4, 2011)
Crossed - Ally Condie (November 1, 2011)
Legend - Marie Lu (November 29, 2011)

Unsigned BEA books
Pure - Julianna Baggott (February 8, 2012)
The Unwanteds - Lisa McMann (August 30, 2011)
Variant - Robison Wells (October 1, 2011)
The Mephisto Covenant - Trinity Faegen (September 27, 2011)
Tris and Izzie - Mette Ivie Harrison (October 11, 2011)
Forever - Maggie Stiefvater (July 12, 2011)
All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin (September 27, 2011)
The Inquisitor's Apprentice - Chris Moriarty (October 3, 2011)
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick (September 13, 2011)
The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater (October 18, 2011)
Wildwood - Colin Meloy
Draw the Dark - Ilsa Bick (released)
Eve - Anna Carey (October 4, 2011)
Rock On - Denise Vega
Cold Kiss - Amy Garvey (September 20, 2011)
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey (February 1, 2012)
After Obsession - Carrie Jones (September 5, 2011)
The Future of Us - Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (November 21, 2011)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor (September 27, 2011)
The Apothecary - Maile Meloy (October 4, 2011)
The Rivals - Daisy Whitney (February 6, 2012)
Liesl and Po - Lauren Oliver (September 1, 2011)
Circle Nine - Anne Heltzel (September 13, 2011)
Shut Out - Kody Keplinger (September 5, 2011)
The Bridge to Neverland - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (August 9, 2011)
Wintertown - Stephen Emond (December 5, 2011)
The Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney (released)

Two boxes of books - one that weighed 70lbs and one that weighed around 35 lbs shipped from NY on Thursday to TX, and it arrived Tuesday. We paid about $50 total. Guys, if anyone is going to BEA next year, please please go with USPS! Not only were they cheaper, but they were surprisingly speedy.
I'm really excited to get started reading, and several of these books will giveaways, so keep checking back to see when those start!
 
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