Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Oh Yeah? Says Who?!"

Whether it's a short-answer response, personal narrative essay or expository essay, remember this clip! Pretend Schwartz is standing next to you, saying after every fact or claim you make, "Oh yeah? Says who?!" You must provide details and/or examples for what you write!

HOBBIT 13-minute TV spot

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Christmas Carol Mashup

Run time: 1 hour 10 min 3rd Scr. clip

Thursday, October 4, 2012

my junior high spine poetry!

Greetings all!

Yes, this site is still running!

The reason for my frequent absences is that I got a full-time teaching job! I am now the proud teacher of junior high Language Arts (English, for those of us were in high school ten years ago). 

We just finished up a unit on poetry, and for their end-of-unit project, my kiddos created poems using the titles of book spines. It's called Spine Poetry, and apparently it's the latest rave on pinterest. 

Here are a few:










Sunday, September 23, 2012

review - ENSHADOWED (Nevermore #2), or: proof that I am still alive!

 Enshadowed (Nevermore, #2) - Kelly Creagh
Genre: YA Paranormal/Speculative
# of pages: 429 (hb)
Publisher: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster 
Recommended for: Upper MS (you gotta know yo' Poe!) & beyond



What can I say about Enshadowed, the long-awaited sequel to 2010's sleeper novel, Nevermore? Only that I was just as absorbed and captivated as the last time I delved into this rich world - this rich *reality*- that Kelly has created. I read this 429-page tome (which is interestingly shorter than Nevermore) in two sittings: 48 pages on Friday, because as a new teacher in a new subject, I am often utterly exhausted, and the remaining 381 pages Saturday night. Let me tell you something: if you had an easy time reading Nevermore (and didn't think it dragged in parts like I've read in other reviews), you will most likely be very pleased. For me, Nevermore's pace wasn't "slow," it was "steady," building up beautifully and eerily until the last third of the novel. Since I'd say about 80% of the YA books I've read previously have characters going from complete strangers to gettin' all kissy in 100 pages or less, it was nice to see a budding romance that, well, budded. The pace was perfect for me.
So why am I writing so much about Nevermore when I already wrote a review for it back in 2010? Well, because I think the key to devouring Enshadowed and appreciating it as the next installment is to keep in mind exactly what worked with the previous book. Yes, it is true what the other reviews say: there isn't much Varen. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure (to use a family phrase: "If you don't wanna be fartin' in the dark...") I will say that although we get glimpses of him here and there throughout the story (but are they real, or are they figments?), Varen doesn't actually appear until the last chapter. Believe me, that was not a spoiler. It's what happens next...ohhh, what happens next! If not for the fact that I am LESS THAN THREE MONTHS away from the new HOBBIT movie, I would seriously be crawling up the walls in nervous anticipation for this time next year, when (HOPEFULLY) the final book in the trilogy will be released. HOPEFULLY!

BUT... there is the search for him, and yes, much of the cool-but-confusing aspects of the dreamworld are further explored and explained. Most of the story is Isobel's search for a way into Baltimore and a reunion with Reynolds...while also being haunted by the nefarious Nocs. Isobel is aided in her quest by the wholly entertaining Gwen, who puts the "stereotypical weird best friend" cliche to utter shame. Let me just say: there is absolutely nothing cliche about Gwen's character. Yeah, she marches to the beat of a different drummer. Yeah, she has a kind of "outsider" reputation. But she is absolutely hilarious and can also be sensitive without being overdone. I'm going to need to drop some Gwen quotes in this review to illustrate my point. :)

Look, I've been at this review-writin' thing for over nearly four years. I am very much aware that reading and reviewing books (or any kind of artistic/creative outlet, for that matter) is a very subjective business. I get that opinions can vary widely on any book. And while I don't outright *disagree* with other reviewers (because in all honesty, nothing hacks me off more than when I get comments on my reviews telling me that my opinion is 'wrong'), I will say this: if you like to read reviews before diving in (as I do)...just take what is said with a grain of salt. When the first reviews for Enshadowed started pouring in sometime in late July, I felt a little underwhelmed. Wow...it sounds like 'middle-book syndrome' has struck again... Maybe because I paid too much attention to those reviews, I went into Enshadowed with slightly lowered expectations.
Well, that was a good thing, because when I was utterly blown away, it was a pleasant surprise. So if you enjoyed Nevermore, I'm happy to say that you will more than likely be entertained (or absolutely CONSUMED) by this next offering.

In the meanwhile, I'm just hear waiting on pins and needles (or rather, Pinfeathers and needles) waiting for next August...



Kelly Creagh's website
Enshadowed on Amazon
 

Monday, June 25, 2012

review - SUCH WICKED INTENT

Such Wicked Intent (Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, #2) - Kenneth Oppel
Genre: YA historical fantasy/gothic horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: ALA Midwinter
Recommended for: High school & up

Release date: August 21, 2012

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again ? just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother's betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting. When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor's twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

--
This review was designed to be spoiler-free; however, spoilers from the first book might be revealed...
Such Wicked Intent was one of the ARCs I was fortunate to get at ALA Midwinter, and after being completely captivated by This Dark Endeavor, I had to know what was going to happen next.

This second installment in the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein picks up almost immediately where Endeavor left off. If you've read that novel, you know what I'm talking about. And while Oppel's writing style was just as strong, I'm not sure the story captivated me as much. The main area of study in This Dark Endeavor was alchemy (I don't think that's a spoiler), and Victor tried to use alchemical means to save his brother's life. Now the area of study has shifted to what I can only think to call paranormal mysticism - spirit boards and attempts to reach "the great beyond" or whatever. And whenever one encounters spirits, one also encounters commentary about life after death and so forth. That's one of the things I don't like to see even in a fictional novel, because even in a fictional story, I can't help but think that any type of spirit world (and all its rules and workings) is just bass-ackwards. As a result, I was never as engrossed in the story as I was with This Dark Endeavor, mainly because in SWI I spent a great deal of my reading experience being confused, highly skeptical, or just downright uncomfortable.
The characters weren't as likeable as I remembered, either. I mentioned Victor's megalomaniac personality and his intense need for approval dueling with his sensitive, well intentioned and sometimes compassionate nature. Those were the qualities that endeared me to him. But here, Victor was mainly just a bully and a narcissist who sauntered through the novel getting his way by forcing his will on everyone else. Likewise, Elizabeth wasn't near as likeable as in the first installment. Between perfect Konrad and brooding Victor, Elizabeth was presented as the voice of reason - she was spiritual to their scientific, level-headed to their impulsive. But in this installment, Elizabeth took on an obsessive and borderline crazy personality. I'm serious - even Bellatrix Lestrange would think Elizabeth was one weird chick.
But even for all its shortcomings (and I'm being honest - that's what they were), Such Wicked Intent's saving grace was in its commentary. I've said before in reviews that what gets me going is not so much the content in a book, but the message behind the content, or the approving or disapproving way in which it's portrayed. What made SWI so brilliant was the feeling of watching an impending trainwreck in slow-motion. Any reader who knows more than a little about Frankenstein ultimately knows what grand finale we're moving towards. And as bummed out as I was that Victor lost a lot of his likeability with me, I loved seeing the intensity give way to madness. I may not necessarily like Victor any more, but I still understand him.

 

The previous book in the series, This Dark Endeavor, will be one of the Texas Lone Star books for the 2012-2013 year. Good choice, TX librarians! 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW - Deadweather & Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg)

Source: ALA Midwinter
# of pages: 295 (ARC)
Recommended for: 11 & up



Deadweather and Sunrise, the first installment in the new "Chronicles of Egg" series, is exactly the kind of book I had been desperate to read: exciting and action-packed, witty, heartfelt, and rather sophisticated. After being disappointed and underwhelmed by novels in the older, "teen fiction," I decided to go back to the younger end of the YA spectrum (a la Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson and the like). The book reminded me of what I consider to be the "Golden Age" of Young Adult fiction, from 2001-2008, a time in which similarly well-written, exciting and authentic novels were being published. I think that author Geoff Rodkey really has a winner with this one, and I definitely think he's in the same company as Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott, Jonathan Stroud and Rick Riordan as far as style. D&S is also a prime example of why I wish there was a better term for novels that are marketed to the younger-than-teenagers crowd - "middle grade" doesn't seem to cut it. It's been my experience that a lot of readers pass over such books because of a misconception that they're somehow "juvenile," and in fact, lately I've gotten the impression that when it comes to publishers and [adult] readers, the "middle grade" label has a sort of stepchild status. I have to say, D&S is one of the most original, authentic and well-written BOOKS that I've read in months. Even though I get why Putnam labeled it grades 3-5 for marketing reasons, I would definitely categorize this novel as perfect for the middle school/preteen crowd and beyond. In my opinion, this novel is too mature to warrant an elementary grade leveling.
The novel centers around the young Egbert (called "Egg"), who lives a thankless life on his quasi-negligent father's ugly fruit plantation on the pitiful island of Deadweather (which reminded me of Houston in the summer). By chance, Egg winds up on the beautiful but treacherous island of Sunrise, where he draws the attention of a ruthless tycoon, meets and becomes infatuated with said tycoon's daughter (a delightful character with a not-so-delightful name of "Millicent"), is wrongly accused of murder (it's a bit complicated) and soon finds himself caught up in the dangerous world of rival pirate gangs. I appreciated that the pirates in question weren't portrayed as harmless, goofy caricatures (like that silly stop-motion flick The Pirates or that even sillier live-action flick, Hook) but as actually mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Even the pirates of Pirates of the Caribbean were more mild than the ones presented here. And I liked that. Like I said, D&S had a sort of sophistication to it that I don't see in a lot of novels nowadays. This wasn't just an "oh-how-cute" book. I found myself absolutely absorbed in the story and felt a connection to the main characters. Also, there were several times throughout the novel when Rodkey completely had me guessing what would happen next. After the slew of predictable and formulaic teen-fiction novels I'd read recently, that was a welcome change.
What I want prospective readers to know about Deadweather and Sunrise is how fun and authentic it is. Please don't let the illustrated cover design fool you - this book has way more going for it than you may assume. I don't think it's premature in the least to say that the "Chronicles of Egg" looks to be one of the most promising new series I've seen in the last 2-3 years. Like I said, D&S has a very authentic feel to it, but it also has a sophistication and a sort of maturity to it that I can't quite describe. There were several times when I was absolutely nervous for the characters and the situation they were in. And I think that's the mark of a truly gifted author: someone who's able to get the reader to really feel for the characters and what's going on in the story. They also skillfully employ allusions and innuendos in order to create an emotional reaction, rather than pander to the audience by resorting to edgy or TMI scenarios. Hats off to Geoff Rodkey!
I have no idea how I'm going to quell the need for the next installment! What I do know is that I've found a real winner with Deadweather and Sunrise, and I will definitely be recommending this novel to my students.


  


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review - MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin
Genre: YA Horror/Paranormal/?
Publisher: Harper Collins
Recommended for: HS & Up
Source: ARC from Trade
 --

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.


Pretty intriguing synopsis, huh? It's not what it seems! The synopsis makes it seem loads more interesting than it actually is - believe me.I tried so hard to like this book. And on the surface, there's nothing really wrong with it and nothing that would keep me from liking it. I want to point out that for a story that has a "Debauchery Club," it was pretty tame. Surprisingly tame. But Masque ended up thoroughly confusing me on many levels. I don't even know what to call this book: it's not a dystopian, it's not really a paranormal, and frankly, one airship and a bunch of corsets doesn't qualify as a steampunk in my eyes. So what is this, exactly? A neo-Gothic horror story? There wasn't enough 'horror,' though, because halfway through the novel the focus shifts away from decay and despair to seeds of revolution. To be honest, it read like a story with no clear direction, like it couldn't make up its mind if it was going to be character-driven, or plot driven. And so (for me), it basically failed at both. By contrast, one of the powerful elements of Poe's works is his dark and melancholy mood. Dark, but with just a hint of suspense, of something big that's about to happen. That mood did not carry over into Masque of the Red Death the way it did in Nevermore
But for me, the biggest "thing" about Masque was the characters' sheer lack of motivation and the way they related to each other. I actually get why Araby would want to waste away her days in the Debauchery Club. What I don't get is why she gets involved in a plot to overthrow the Prince, or why other characters did what they did, if that makes sense. The other big "thing" about this book was the stark contrast between character descriptions and character actions. None of the characters had any clearly-defined personalities and as a result, everybody seemed pretty schizophrenic. In one chapter, a girl would be a complete airhead and quintessential 'mean girl' - a few chapters later, the same girl would be giving orders and plotting to overthrow the Prince. And that would have been near genius (the whole 'appearance vs. reality' motif) if I got the feeling that the author did it on purpose. But I didn't get that feeling. The feeling I got is that Masque of the Red Death is populated by characters that lack any defining personalities or motivations. They just do and say whatever suits the current mood. The whole thing was rather bizarre. 
 And much like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. Also like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I did not care for the twist, and thought it was actually handled in a very sloppy manner. I genuinely believe that having a major twist at the end ONLY WORKS if it makes SENSE. Otherwise, it's just useless and confusing. And this twist, like I said, was one of the sloppiest-written twists I've ever read.

Overall, Masque of the Red Death didn't hold up for me. Like I said, I tried very hard to like this book (harder than I've tried for any other book in a long time) and I compliment Bethany Griffin on taking one of Edgar Allan Poe's best-known stories and giving it a unique spin. I know that there will be many who will love this book, and in this case, I would say judge it for yourself. For me, though, it takes a special book to hold up Poe's dynamic legacy, and this just wasn't it.
FINAL RATING: 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

review - FROI OF THE EXILES

 
Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere, #2) - Melina Marchetta
Genre: Fantasy 
Publisher: Candlewick 
Source: ALA Midwinter 
(note: the reviewer is way more enthusiastic than I am in in this post, and while I do not agree at all with her opinion of the novel or its 'educational value' and 'characters as role models,' I do agree that her content assessments are accurate)


This review is written to be a continuation of the previous post, which was a review of Finnikin of the Rock, the previous novel in this series. I wasn't even going to post this "review" on my site, because I don't usually take the tone that I'm about to take, but I do want to go on the record and not beat around the bush about my feelings...

Admission: I only read the first 100 or so pages when I wrote this review. That is all I needed to read in order to fully decide how I felt about this particular installment, given that I already trudged through the first book, and Froi of the Exiles is nothing but the second verse of the same old song. 
I don't think I will ever finish this, and it's because I don't want to join the ranks of all the other delusional readers out there who think that characters like this are okay. Maybe I just have a problem with this book existing. After all, the "beloved" main character is a guy who tried to force himself on someone in the first book. How dare we try and tell teenagers that that behavior is acceptable, or even redeemable. I want no part of it. I don't have to answer for anyone's behavior but my own, and I don't want to be "enlightened" enough to ever think that these characters - most of whom are absolutely scum-of-the-earth disgusting, are good or heroic. It's too bad that this is what fantasy has become - there's no goodness, integrity, or decency anymore. All characters are soot-stained and all feed into this concept of moral relativism that our society just loves to perpetuate. Literature ought to build us up and inspire us to be better than what we are, not remind us all how flawed and mediocre we all are.

And as weird as it sounds, considering that Jellicoe Road WAS the closest thing to a favorite novel that I have, I will not likely be picking up any more of Melina Marchetta's books. As I said in my Finnikin review, I just don't have any energy to spend on any more characters either as 1. seriously broken or 2. morally ambiguous as she likes to write. It's my perception that there's this feeling among YA readers that if a book isn't seriously complicated or morally ambiguous, it's not worth reading. As far as literature goes, it makes me wish that I could go back in time and read The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain and the Redwall books again for the first time, because they have yet to be matched by anything modern literature has produced. As skilled a writer as Marchetta is (and she definitely has a way with words), her characters Finnikin and Froi are utterly laughable when placed next to such others as Aragorn, Faramir, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, and a host of swashbuckling, sword-wielding mice. That's my disappointment with Marchetta's novels: the characters she creates. Forget Froi. Give me more Reepicheep. And as popular as this modern fantasy series is, it'll never outsell the Lord of the Rings series. Ever.

Anyway...what else can I say? I like my fantasy stories more in the tradition of Tolkien, Lewis and Alexander. I like my characters to have integrity and act with honor, and therefore I guess this is where Marchetta and I part ways. 

In short, I do not recommend the Lumatere Chronicles to anyone but adult fantasy buffs. I would never, ever suggest these books to young adults - I'd be concerned that it would look like I was condoning or dismissing the behavior of the "heroes" in this series.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

review: FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, or why I won't read Melina Marchetta anymore

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere #1) - Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Candlewick
hardback
Recommended for: Adults Only (in what I can only describe as a complete travesty, this book is marketed to Young Adults. I severely object to this book - and its sequel - being labeled 'YA' anywhere or by anyone)
 
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.


But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere's walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.


Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she'll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin's faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

--

I originally wasn't going to put this review here, because it is less of a 'review' and more of a rant. But I'm trying to move all my reviews from Goodreads over to my blog, so here it goes.
Even though she wrote one of my favorite novels, Jellicoe Road, I really don't care for Melina Marchetta. And it's because of this series, the Lumatere Chronicles, the foray of a mostly contemporary Australian author into epic fantasy. Readers, if this is what constitutes a modern fantasy, then I really need a time machine so I can go back to the '50s and hang out with men who really know how to write fantasies: Tolkien, Alexander, and Lewis. Even Philip Pullman (whose His Dark Materials are not exactly 'fantasies') seems decent compared to this.
And once again, it's frustrating because I'm definitely in the minority on this one. If you know me, you can probably guess why I didn't like this book. I'll be brief and just sum it up in one word: protagonist. Yes, the main character, Finnikin, that everybody loves to drool over, was the worst part of the book for me. I mean, he was just a disgusting character. I really would like to know how readers (especially girls) can get through this book and rate it 5 stars. It completely escapes me. I guess I like my heroes to respect women. And when I say 'respect women,' I mean not seeing them as objects of gratification. Without dropping a spoiler, and without wanting to get into it, because it's just downright disgusting, I will say that what Finnikin does in this novel is something you would never EVER see a character in Tolkien's universe commit. And frankly, I don't think young readers ought to be subjected to such behavior on part of the hero. I think it might confuse them or give off the message (as Marchetta no doubt gave off to me, a grown woman) that the behavior in question is no big deal and something that ought not warrant any thought. But hey, as long as girls are okay with it, and continue to excuse it, I guess it's not really a big deal, right?
 
And reading an advance copy of Froi of the Exiles has made me realize...it's not just Finnikin. I didn't like anybody in this novel, except for Evanjalin, and even she annoyed me at times. Girls in fantasies fall into usual tropes: either they're damsels in distress, old crones, or scheming, conniving shrews (Evanjalin!) I hate to say it, but I'm noticing a pattern with Marchetta's books: broken characters can always be redeemed, so she seems to say. And call me what you will (view spoiler), but I don't agree with that philosophy - at least, not in books. To me, there is such a thing as making characters too 'screwed up' to the point of being past redemption. Finnikin and Froi were too 'icky' for my taste.
And yes, having a character (the illustrious and heroic 'Froi') attempt to rape a character in one novel, only to wind up as the misunderstood but no less heroic protagonist in the sequel, is what I would call 'icky.' It's the kind of characterization I expect to see in a George R.R. Martin novel; Martin can get away with it, though, because he's not shoving his work at kids.
So...how can I say that Jellicoe Road is the closest thing I have to a favorite novel, when I'm not even sure that I like Melina Marchetta? Don't get me wrong, she's a fabulous writer with an incredible and thoughtful eye for detail, but as far as a storyteller, I'm finding that the more of her novels I read, the more dissatisfied I become. Why does everything have to be so complex? Why do all her characters have to be so depressingly broken?
I've already severed all reading ties with Cinda Williams Chima, and I might have to do the same with Melina Marchetta...

Mostly, I just don't think modern authors know how to write good fantasies. The two most popular YA fantasies - at least on Goodreads - seems to be this book and Graceling, both of which are products of modern authors with highly worldly and progressive messages set in completely nihilistic universes with characters that Nietzsche himself might like. 
In the fantasy genre, there is something to be said for traditional-style storytelling. Look at C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and J.R.R. Tolkien. All of their fantasy novels featured characters with integrity and a moral code. It's disillusioning to me that integrity is no longer required in a fantasy hero or heroine...

This is one such book that I recommend to no one, but I think that some adults might be impressed with Marchetta's fantasy universe, doom-and-gloom as it is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review - THIS DARK ENDEAVOR

This Dark Endeavor - Kenneth Oppel
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Gothic Horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
# of pages: 298 (hb)
Recommended for: High School & Beyond  

In this prequel to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, Frankenstein, sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor's twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor can cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and his best friend, Henry, on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love ? and how much he is willing to sacrifice?

This Dark Endeavor is an incredible book! I don't know where Kenneth Oppel got the idea to write a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein starring a teenage version of the eponymous character, but what an ingenious idea!

Truth be told, I never had read Frankenstein in school. My class was on a different track and I had a teacher who made the famous declaration to our class that he'd rather teach 'that Dumas man' than teach Frankenstein. Basically, my knowledge of the source material has come from Kenneth Branagh's film version, and Mel Brooks.

Still, even I could recognize the level of detail, skill and panache that Kenneth Oppel put into this fascinating novel. And for those of you who did read Frankenstein, have you ever wondered what might have happened to make Victor Frankenstein the man who actually dared to create life? Here, it's simple: Victor has a brilliant, charismatic and practically perfect twin brother, Konrad. Light to his shadow, and all that. I think this may be the only major divergence between the real Frankenstein and this adaptation - I don't recall a twin character in the original novel, but then again, I never read the original. When Konrad falls ill with a rare condition, Victor takes it upon himself to find a cure, believing that practical science has failed. His course of study is the dark arts of alchemy - the first of many such introductions into dark and creepy arts. Joining him in his "studies" are his cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza (yes, *the* Elizabeth Lavenza and best friend Henry Clerval (and don't we know what fate eventually has in store for them!)
I loved the way Oppel chose to portray Victor. It must have been hard to try and make one of literature's most megalomaniac characters into a sympathetic boy, eager-to-please and desperate for attention. I actually liked the guy! It was easy to root for him in his endeavors (dark and twisty as they were) and I found myself even making excuses for him on several occasions. Even though you know, ultimately, that Victor Frankenstein is a completely doomed character, I still wanted him to succeed. Let me clarify that at this point in Victor's life, he's only interested in successfully making an Elixir of Life for his sick brother - not creating the Boris Karloff creature...
Hats off to Kenneth Oppel for making me care about a character I never thought I could admire. And I loved seeing Victor gradually become more and more twisted, more aggressive, more desperate, and *still* remain sympathetic. I guess I'm drawn to characters with delusions of grandeur who want to prove their worth. Those must be the characters that leave an impression on me. :)

This Dark Endeavor was simply unputdownable, and I rarely say that. My little ADD-self can put down the most thoroughly interesting of books, too, so that should say something to this novel's overwhelming power of intrigue. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend picking up this novel. It clocks in at slightly under 300 pages, so it would be a quick read. And like I said, it's practically unputdownable!
 

Monday, March 12, 2012

an update

Greetings, fellow padawans! 
(okay, okay, so that is totally geeky, but I couldn't resist)
So...the job is going really well and so far I've been able to keep up with my reading.
This is a cute random bookish picture

I haven't posted any of my reviews on here because the majority of books I've read recently have been ARCs, and I'm not sure if there would be any interest in reading my ARC reviews before the books are actually out. I've read Enchanted (Kontis), Shadow and Bone (Bardugo), Masque of the Red Death (Griffin), When the Sea is Rising Red (Hellison - but I skimmed through this one) and This Dark Endeavor (Oppel). Unfortunately, with the exception of This Dark Endeavor (which I absolutely loved), I disliked all the others and when I finally do get around to posting the reviews, they won't be all that praise-worthy. Wanted to just get that confession out of the way. 

Due to these less-than-stellar experiences, I've dubbed 2012 the Year of the Re-Reads. I'm going through some of my favorite books, as well as books I haven't read for years, and reading them again. I'm giving myself all year to get through Lord of the Rings, and I've already finished reading through the five books of the Chronicles of Prydain series. 
What's next? Probably re-read the Harry Potter series at some point (it's been since 2009 since I've read those) and...I want to re-read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Have any of you all read that? 
It was part of our required reading in middle school, and at the time I thought it was 'okay.' But now that a movie version is in production, I'd like to read through it again and figure out who's who. All I remember is that Peter is a sick SOB and Mazer is cool. And something about xenocide. Anyhoo.

In other news, I've decided that I'm interested in sci-fi. I'm about to start Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis, whom I hear is the newest popular YA sci-fi author. 

And by the way...has anybody seen Martin Scorsese's Hugo, adapted from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick? I don't even remember this movie being marketed back in the fall (unlike the frickin headache that is The Hunger Games - I see that stupid preview multiple times a day!). 
But when I watched the Academy Awards a few weeks ago, they said that this was the most nominated film of the year. Naturally, a Martin Scorsese movie that does not contain the 'F' word piqued my curiosity. And let me tell you, this is now my #1 favorite movie ever, tied with the Lord of the Rings films. IT IS THAT GOOD! The only thing I would've liked is for them to keep the whole title - calling it "Hugo" made me think it was a biopic for Victor Hugo or something. LOL - would've still seen that movie, too!
I gotta tell you, set aside whatever book you're reading right now and watch this movie! It is AH-MAZING!

Peace out padawans,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review - BRUISER

Bruiser - Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Contemporary plus Paranormal
# of pages:
Publisher:
Recommended for: Everyone


"There’s a reason why Brewster can’t have friends – why he can’t care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can’t be explained. I know, because they're happening to me."

When Brontë starts dating Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins – the guy voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” her twin brother, Tennyson, isn’t surprised. But then strange things begin to occur. Tennyson and Brontë’s scrapes heal unnaturally fast, and cuts disappear before their eyes. What at first seems like their good fortune turns out to be more than they bargained for…much more.
--
 
 Bruiser is the second Neal Shusterman book I've read, and I enjoyed it just as much as when I read Unwind this past summer. I think the main thing about Neal Shusterman that I like is his writing style. He has a way of saying everything that needs to be said in a quick, simple and efficient way. I always knew just enough about the characters' thoughts and motives to get me through what was happening, but he didn't let me in on everything, if that makes sense. Just like with real people, you can't always know what they're thinking or what makes them tick. Shusterman gives just enough to help readers navigate the story, but there's always an enigmatic quality that I think is special.

And while Unwind was a solid dystopian, I don't really know that Bruiser fits into an easily-defined category. I guess magical realism wouldn't be a completely accurate label, but the whole premise revolves around something definitely supernatural and wholly thought-provoking: a boy who literally takes on the pains of people close to him. And so the story is told from the points-of-view of multiple characters, including Brewster - called "Bruiser," and the siblings Tennyson and Bronte, who literally invite themselves into Brewster's powerful but complicated world. As an aside, I'm normally very distracted by weird names, but in this book they seemed to have a real purpose. I have to say that Shusterman has a gift for creating lovable but complex characters who reveal themselves to be more than what they seem. However, I didn't always like Bronte, Brewster's girlfriend. She's the kind of character who's outwardly perfect and upright but who harbors the ability to be extremely egotistical. As the novel grew more complex, I found myself very put-off by some of her actions. I was appalled, but I also figured that Shusterman was angling for that reaction. And to be honest, I kind of liked that part of the story. I liked how easy it was to place one person's happiness above the welfare of another. I liked seeing that kind of tension and I liked seeing the characters realize the magnitude of what they'd done. Now THAT is how to create tension in a novel! My favorite character, though, would have to be Tennyson. In my opinion, he seemed to be the most misunderstood character and underwent the greatest character evolution.

I could go on an on about the brilliant qualities of this book. Not a single sentence was out of place (though I still don't like the present-tense writing style or the multiple shifts in narration) and every scene built up to an explosive finale. And the ending was satisfying but also open-ended.

I'm definitely proud of our Texas librarians who picked Bruiser to be a Lone Star book for this year. It's the perfect book I'd recommend to teen readers because it has all the elements needed in a true winner: there's action, there's suspense and sometimes even extreme tension, there's a sweet, simple romance, there's manipulation, there's heartache, and there's just a little bit of the unexplainable. Ahh, Bruiser is without a doubt one of the most memorable novels I've ever read.
 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My mailbox this week!

This was a busy, busy week for my mailbox and me!
 
I received a big box of books from Hachette (Little Brown) from a request I made at ALA. 
I was absolutely ecstatic when it showed up this past week, because I've never gotten a box of books from a publisher and it was a really special feeling!
 
FOR REVIEW
Revived - Cat Patrick
Purity - Jackson Pearce
Ghost Knight - Cornelia Funke
The Last Princess - Galaxy Craze
 
TRADE
Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles #2) - Kady Cross
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
Cybele's Secret (Wildwood #2) - Juliet Marillier
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
 
 
 Also, I found out of a bit of exciting news on Friday - there was a job I'd been offered that I really wanted, and I got it! I'm so excited to start this professional chapter of my life, but I may not be able to update as often as I have been. Please hang in there with me and keep me on your blog roll. I'm not entirely gone, and I'll be posting when I can!
 
 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

YA Paranormal Activity Hop!


Welcome to my stop on the YA Paranormal Activity Giveaway Hop!
This hop is hosted by Kathy at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer
Up for grabs is an ARC copy of Incarnate by Jodi Meadows. If I hit 100 entries, I will double the prize and throw in a copy of Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes as well! So that's two possible books that you can win!
To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter. 
(also, if you choose to do the extra entry and 'follow' this blog, please be sure to click on the GFC button on the right-hand side!)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

9 of my favorite literary characters (so far)


I've been thinking a lot lately about how I define a 'good character.' I think about several of my favorite characters from years of reading and I wondered if they had anything in common - any physical traits or behaviors or backgrounds. Looking at this list I've created, I'd say that they most, if not all, exemplify bravery in some way, and are loyal to friends and/or a cause. They've got spark, heavy personalities, and are never, ever boring!

So out of my long list of favorite and highly memorable characters, I wanted to take the time to write about 10.

These are not ranked in any order.

Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings trilogy
+ honorable mention to Ian McKellen's portrayal in Peter Jackson's film series
(J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954-1956)
Quick character info:
Why he makes the list: Gandalf is the quintessential 'wise old sage' character type. He predates Albus Dumbledore by nearly forty years (and I'm absolutely convinced that Gandalf is at least part of the inspiration for Dumbledore) and did you know that Gandalf is an Istari, a being most similar to our concept of an angel? And he battled a balrog - and won. And he battled Saruman - and won. And, in the movies, he whacked crazy old Denethor upside the head with his staff. And he talks to eagles! 
Yes, how could Gandalf not be part of this list?!
Also, I definitely agree with author Mary Hoffman, who said that Gandalf is "the best white wizard in fiction."

Standout quote: [Frodo has said, "I wish it need not have happened in my time."]
"So do I," said Gandalf. "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."




Fflewddur Fflam from the Chronicles of Prydain series
(Lloyd Alexander, 1964-1968)
Quick character info: Fflewddur Fflam is a fun but hapless bard who joins the protagonist on many adventures throughout the series. His most prized possession, an enchanted harp, breaks its strings every time he lies...er, colors the truth.
Why he makes the list: Fflewddur has such a fun personality: he's witty and incredibly eccentric, but he also has moments of great depth and insight. You can always count on good ol' Fflewddur to lighten a somber mood or provide non-preachy words of encouragement.

Standout quote: "By all means," cried the bard, "A Fflam to the rescue! Storm the castle! Carry it by assault! Batter down the gates!"
"There's not much left of it to storm," said Eilonwy.
"Oh?" said Fflewddur, with disappointment. "Very well, we shall do the best we can."




Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia series
(C.S. Lewis, 1950-1956)
Quick character info: Reepicheep, who first appears in the fourth (by chronological) book, Prince Caspian, is a talking mouse, one of the descendants of the mice who chewed the ropes off Aslan's body in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He provides counsel to Caspian, and makes further appearances in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle.
Why he makes the list: Reepicheep is feisty, fierce, and, let's face it, has a wicked awesome name: REEP.Ih.CHEEP. Know what else? He's a freaking warrior. With a sword. And he wears a red plume. Legit. I'm also willing to bet that Reep played a role in inspiring Brian Jacques' Redwall series, which is populated with all sorts of battle-savvy mammals. Plus, I like that Reep is descended from noble mice who served Aslan (gives some color to his lineage). But what I like best about Reepicheep is that he is loyal and always attempts to stand for what he believes to be right.
And - personal opinion here - there is something dadgum awesome about a talking mouse. Seriously.
 
Standout quote: "My friendship you shall have," piped Reepicheep. "And any Dwarf - or Giant - in the army who does not give you good language shall have my sword to reckon with." (Prince Caspian)
and
"Stop it," sputtered Eustace, "go away. Put that thing away. It's not safe. Stop it, I say. I'll tell Caspain. I'll have you muzzled and tied up."
"Why do you not draw your own sword, poltroon!" cheeped the Mouse. "Draw and fight or I'll beat you black and blue with the flat."
"I haven't got one," said Eustace. "I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in fighting."
"Do I understand," said Reepicheep, withdrawing his sword for a moment and speaking very sternly, "that you do not intend to give me satisfaction?" (Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
 



Percy Jackson from the Percy Jackson series (& Heroes of Olympus spinoff)
(Rick Riordan, 2005-2009; 2010-ongoing)
Quick character info: Percy Jackson begins the series as a troubled 12-year-old boy (and ends the first series as a 16-year-old), dyslexic and with ADHD. At a mysterious summer camp, he learns that all the gods, heroes, and monsters from Greek 'mythology' are real, and that he is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. Powers are recognized, quests are undertaken, friendships are forged, chaos ensues, and hilarity is ever present as Percy narrates his adventures over five books.
Why he makes the list: In all my years of reading, Percy's character stands out to me for a number of reasons. What gives him an edge over all the other good, noble, and virtuous characters I've read is his voice. It's snarky, sardonic, incredibly witty (sometimes bitingly so) and refreshingly youthful. And yet, rarely ever is he flippant or careless. There's an underlying sensitivity to him that I think is an excellent quality in a boy. If Percy's commentary could make college professor snort, that's proof enough that this is way more than just a 'children's series.'

Standout quote: There are so many hilarious Percy quips, but for this post, I'll pick his commentary on the appearance of one of the series' antagonists: He'd changed since the last summer. Instead of Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, he wore a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and leather loafers. His sandy hair, which used to be so unruly, was now clipped short. He looked like an evil male model, showing off what the fashionable college-age villain was wearing to Harvard this year.



Todd Hewitt from the Chaos Walking trilogy
(Patrick Ness, 2008-2010)
Quick character info: Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in a remote village of a newly colonized world. The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the trilogy, focuses mainly on Todd on the run from the men of his town, who desire to add him to their 'perfect' army. The later books of the series revolve around Todd's physical and mental growth as he tries to resist the power and corruption around him, against the backdrop of war.
Why he makes the list: Todd makes the list of best characters largely because of his powerful narrative voice. The first thing you notice when you read the Chaos Walking trilogy is that Todd's narrative is written in the vernacular. Though hard to understand at first, it also adds a strong element of reality to Todd's character. But more than Todd's narrative, I loved his inner goodness and humanity, even when faced with some outright brutal situations. In fact, Todd Hewitt is everything that Ender Wiggins from Ender's Game should have been, but wasn't (and that might only make sense for those who have read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card). And the way Todd interacts with the other major character, Viola, is just about as heartfelt and genuine as can be expressed in literature. Their relationship progression was like seeing the steps to a perfectly solved equation (if that makes any sense). I could go on for hours about all the inherently good qualities that make up Todd Hewitt...but I won't.

Standout quote: "Here's what I think," I say, and my voice is stronger and thoughts are coming, thoughts that trickle into my noise like whispers of truth. "I think maybe everyone falls," I say. "I think maybe we all do. And I don't think that's the asking." I pull on her arms gently to make sure she's listening. "I think the asking is whether we get back up again."



Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings series
+ honorable mention to Sean Astin's portrayal in Peter Jackson's film series
(J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954-1956)
Quick character info: Samwise Gamgee is the hobbit gardner of Frodo Baggins and accompanies him from the Shire all the way to Mordor and back again. After the One Ring is destroyed and the Shire is restored to order, Sam marries and becomes Mayor of the Shire. Eventually, as the last of the Ring-Bearers, Sam leaves Middle-Earth to join Frodo and Bilbo in the Undying Lands.
Why he makes the list: If ever there was a character who epitomized the concept of "loyalty," Samwise Gamgee would be it. Sam is definitely my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (brilliantly acted by Sean Astin), and now that I'm re-reading the Lord of the Rings series, I'm experiencing Sam from the books, and he's just as loyal and servant-hearted as on the big screen. His bravery and unfailing loyalty to his friend, Frodo, and to his cause, makes him the most moving and inspiring character I have ever, ever encountered in a fictional work.

Standout quote: "Come Mr. Frodo!" he cried. "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo. Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go."



Eugenides from the Queen's Thief series
(Megan Whalen Turner, 1996-ongoing)
Quick character info: Eugenides is the eponymous thief of the series. As an extended member of the royal family of Eddis (a fictional realm similar to a Greek city-state), though, he functions more as a spy than a common street thief. He usually finds himself firmly placed in the midst of political intrigue and upheaval, and as a result, reading about his adventures is usually entertaining.
Why he makes the list: As I'm finding out, I appreciate characters with a good sense of humor but also a little bit of snark. Not too much snark, and I usually don't like snark in girl characters, but more to the point, Eugenides almost always knows exactly what to say to make his point and get what he wants. And the few times when his circumstances render him speechless, those scenes are probably even more dynamic. Plus, there's the whole name thing going on. Eugenides. EU-GEN-ih-DEEZ. Now that is a wicked awesome name.
Standout quote: "This is the stupidest plan I have ever in my career participated in," Xenophon said.
"I love stupid plans," said Eugenides.


Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series
(J.K. Rowling, 2003-2007)
Quick character info: Luna Lovegood first appears in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She is known as "Loony Luna" and has a reputation for being, to say the very least, socially awkward. Despite her seriously unconventional nature, Luna forms a strong friendship with Harry Potter and is one of the only people to believe his claim that the Dark Lord Voldemort has returned. She rises to prominence (and social acceptance) in the series as she joins the student-led Order of the Phoenix and plays an important role in the two novels that follow, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Why she makes the list: Loony Luna is my absolute favorite character in the whole series (slightly ahead of Professor Snape) and she is basically the reason I picked up the series again and finished it (I'd initially stopped reading the series after the fourth book's publication). I saw Evanna Lynch's Luna on screen and thought, "that girl is seriously legit," and I had to find out more about her. To be absolutely honest, I see a lot of my adolescent self in Luna. Like her, I had different interests and styles that made me feel at odds with my classmates. But I love her gentle spirit and her quiet determination to do what is right. As zany as she is, Luna is one of the bravest of Hogwarts' students, and she continually proves her worth. Plus, I have to love a character JK Rowling describes as the "anti-Hermione." After all, I have never liked Hermione (though I'm probably one of the only readers who doesn't), and I like a character who's not so boringly and bossingly logical. Luna's whimsy, coupled with her fierce loyalty and bravery, are what make her my favorite Harry Potter character.

Standout quote: "Mistletoe," said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white berries placed almost over Harry's head. He jumped out from under it.
"Good thinking," said Luna seriously. "It's often infested with nargles."




Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games trilogy
(Suzanne Collins, 2008-2010)
Quick character info: Peeta Mellark is the baker's son who, along with Katniss Everdeen, ends up as the tributes from District Twelve (and we all know that the 'tributes' are the designated two children/teens from each district who compete in the deadly Hunger Games). As the series progresses, he becomes a key member in the rebellion against the capital and is one of two guys who compete for Katniss' affections (the other guy, Gale, will never make a 'favorite character' list on this blog. EVER).
Why he makes the list: Okay, let me get one thing straight: I had a weird reading experience with this series. I absolutely adored the first book, somewhat liked the second one, and loathed the final one. And I'll just go ahead and say that I despise Katniss Everdeen as a character and if I ever made a WORST literary characters, she'd be on the list. Yeesh. Oh, and I'm not impressed that he's going to be played by Josh Hutcherson in the movie, and in all likeliness, I will not see the movie.
So why on earth does Peeta make this list? Because he was really the only thing that kept me going through Catching Fire, and the only reason I picked up Mockingjay at all. I hated what happened to him in that book, and I felt sorry for the guy that he got stuck with sad-sorry-excuse Katniss.
--

So that's my list! Stay tuned, because I'll likely post 10 more favorite characters in the future.
Which literary characters would make your list of favorites? If anybody has a post about favorite characters, leave the link so I can add it to the end of this post!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review - DRAGONSWOOD

Dragonswood - Janet Lee Carey
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin 
# of pages: 407 (hb)
Recommended for: All Ages

 
Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt. Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft.
 
--
 Like many other novels, Dragonswood ended up being different than what I expected. The Goodreads synopsis, in my opinion, doesn't accurately assess the plot. 
It's not like there's anything wrong with the novel; rather, I just didn't find it very enjoyable. For one thing, Dragonswood is very oddly paced and plotted. What is this novel about? A girl accused of witchcraft running from her persecutors? A mysterious wood made up of dragons, fairies and witches that is now endangered? An imposter seizing control of the island? A half-fey child trying to usurp power from the royal family? WHAT, exactly?! All these elements came together in a very sloppy sort of way, in my opinion. The plot changed directions so many times and it wasn't until about halfway through the novel that one unified plot came together. Judging by the other reviews, I'm one of the only reader who has noticed this. But Dragonswood, for this main reason, was a very disjointed and odd read.

As far as characters go, everyone was fairly ordinary. I'm getting annoyed, though, at every single female character in a medieval setting being a caricature of a modern, 'enlightened' woman. If I read one more novel about a girl complaining about marriage and being a man's 'property,' I'm gonna lose it.  Were there medieval trailblazer women who went against the norm? Sure, but it's like the handful of them have all been cast over and over again as protagonists in these novels! Take a hint from Juliet Marillier, who knows how to tow the line right down the middle: her heroines want more out of life and strive to be more than simpleton housewives, yet they're not against love and marriage if the right guy comes along. So when they do meet Wonderful Love Interest, they don't sound like a bunch of hypocrites. But poor Tess spends about 1/3 of the novel complaining about men, then all of the sudden decides she's in love. It was rather sudden. And kind of silly, given her numerous protestations. 
On the subject of Tess, also, I didn't really connect with her. Tess is also one of the most jaded characters I've seen in a while in YA lit, and while I'm actually intrigued by jaded and cynical characters (for obvious reasons, hur dur dur), in this situation, I felt like the author was shooting for 'jaded' and ended up with 'annoying.'
But even saying that, I still felt bad for Tess and I cared enough about her story to see this through to the end. And if Tess annoyed me at times, the supporting cast of characters was near infuriating. Tess' two friends Meg and Poppy end up on the run as well after Tess is forced - under torture - to out them as 'witches.' Okay, I'm sure this was the author's intention, but it absolutely infuriated me how much Tess was blamed and scapegoated for what happened.
So why am I giving this novel 3 stars? Well, because with all its faults, Dragonswood still did at least half of what I expect books to do: it entertained me, and I was thoroughly interested in what was going to happen next. Even if I was never 100% on board with the rather sloppy plot or 100% rooting for the characters, I was entertained. Also, I liked Janet Lee Carey's writing style and I like her historical fantasy setting of Wilde Island, which supposedly borders England.
Dragonswood is a decent read, and while I do recommend it, I'm not in any hurry to schedule a re-read.
 
 
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