Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big Sky, it is Montana, after all.

I don't think that there is enough fiction set during World War I. Especially not for teens. I've been hearing a lot about it lately because of NPR having fascinating interviews with the last of the WWI survivors (who are ranging in age from 106-115, holy cow!). Yes, I'm a dork. But you're reading this, so you can't be much better! *muwah*

Hattie's parents died when she was very young. Since then she's been bounced around from distant relative to distant relative. When the uncle she doesn't know she had dies and leaves her his claim in Eastern Montana, she sees an opportunity to create her own home, her own space for once. She's 16. It's 1918, there's a War, and a killer flu. She's got NO idea what's in store for her. It's not going to be easy, and that's putting it mildly.

It's definitely a teen book, but I see no reason why a smart 5th or 6th grader wouldn't enjoy it. I certainly would have. And yeah, I was one of those weirdo kids who looved her Ann Rinaldi (and hated those depressing death books - you so know which ones I'm talking about!).

I told my mom to read this book and think about putting in in her libraries, so if that isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is.

Cybils tally: 23/80

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dude, it's like Communism.

You know what? I could have used an appendix, or author's note. Additional resources. SOMETHING, to give me more information about the era/setting. When does a person read about communist Poland in the late 70's? I wasn't around then. The book's audience certainly wasn't. You sucked me in Dandi Daley Mackall! Why didn't you give me mooooorrreee???!!

Er, sorry about that. Eva's professor father has dragged her from comfort in the States to the cold squalor of Communist Poland so he can aid the underground movement there. She's miserable, and she has no idea how dangerous her father's endeavor actually is. Or that she's about to be swept up in it, too...

I'd never heard of this before it was nominated for the Cybils. I really liked it. In the last few years there's been a handful of 'historical' novels set in the late 60's through the early 80's, most notably, I think, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. I think that this, Eva Underground, well, and I guess most historical fiction (except for the book 4 titles from now where I can't figure out quite why it was set in the 70's) serves a really important role in informing the next generation of what came before in a manner that makes it all come alive. Even if it's actually a pretty recent event. I think that everyone occasionally needs a reminder that places that aren't all that foreign to us, like Poland, went through a great deal of trial to get where they are. We shouldn't forget this stuff. And if we didn't know, we should. It's similar to the argument when Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet came out in '96. On one hand, it's pre-digested information. On the other, it very well could be the only exposure someone gets. And maybe it'll spark some investigation.

Intellectually I knew that Poland had been under communist rule. In reality, I didn't really know anything. That's why I would have loved it the author or publisher would have included something at the end. Yeah, I can look it up on my own, but you have a great book here, what do you think compliments it?

Anyway, if you are going to read a historical novel this year, well, you should probably read The Book Thief, but if you are going to read a second one, try this one. Or maybe the next one. I liked that one too. Heck. Read 'em all. ;)

Cybils tally: 22/80

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Boy Book

Conveniently having read E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List, shortly before the Cybils began, I was ideally placed when the sequel The Boy Book was nominated. Ruby Oliver's angst was fresh in my mind, and I even survived the transition from the audio version I listened to for the first book to the print version for the second. It was actually kind of nice to see some of of the Ruby-isms spelled out; i.e. knowing that Ruby shortens to Roo rather than Rue, that "Agh" is actually "Ag".

While it was rather comfortable getting back to Roo's Seattle, I found myself, posting as I am, a full 10 books later, I needing a refresher to remember what was going on. Ruby's still in therapy, and she's beginning to chafe a bit about it. She's still not on speaking terms with most of her old group of friends, but she's made some new ones. She still pines away for that sleazeball Jackson, but she, like The Queen of Cool, has taken a job at the zoo. Will she finally find some peace within her own skin?

Having throughly refreshed my memory now, I remember that I liked this a lot. I think that Lockhart's really got that teen girl mind down. I'm no longer under twenty, but I still totally identify with Roo's issues and obsessions. I get wanting something you know isn't good for you, something you know in your mind you're better off without, but not quite being able to shove it out of you heart. It sucks, and Lockhart depicts it too well.

And she so totally leaves it open for a sequel!

Cybils Tally: 21/30

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Well, if it's what you want...

Here we are, four books later, dealing with popularity once again. I really think that Meg Cabot ought to slow down a bit. It seems like she's got a book coming out every other month. I have, historically, read most of these books, and have noticed a downturn in quality of late. They are usually ultimately satisfying in their predictable rom com ways, but the first half of the last several books have been very difficult to get into. They've been kinda whiny, and not terribly original (and the indignity I felt after reading Ready or Not and Princess In Training which were basically the same book with different endings? Yeah, let's not talk about that...). Oh, how I miss The Mediator...

Steph just knows that everything would be better if she were popular. When she finds a manual entitled How to be Popular, she thinks her moment has arrived. She will follow it's instructions to a T, and wonderful things will happen. She'll start a new life of popularity for the new school year and leave her old life of notoriety far behind. All her problems will be solved...

Telling kids to be themselves and not whomever everyone else wants them to be, or whomever society thinks they should be is a good message. I'm not denying it - it probably even merits repeating every now and again. So, I'm not real sure what my problem with this novel is. Other than there was not a single event that I didn't anticipate. There were no surprises, nothing that hasn't already happened a thousand times in a thousand other books. Am I jaded as an adult reader? Probably. Do kids appreciate the predictable? Yep. Does that make up for a lazy story? Not in my eyes. Sorry, Meg. I do still read your blog, though. You're a pretty funny lady. I'm just sick of your books. However, I am still going to read with the Avalon High Graphic Novels. I'm a glutton for punishment, I guess.

And guess what! In another nine books (yes, horribly behind in posting) we're going to talk about how popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be again! Wow!

Cybils tally: 20/80

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Enthusiasm or unhealthy obsession?

There are books and authors about which people obsess. Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, Jane Austen. Sometimes these obsessions become physical manifestations. Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman is the second such concerning Austen's Pride & Prejudice for teens that I've read this year.

I didn't really want to like this one. I don't know why I didn't, but it won me over. I remember when it came out, entering my sphere of recognition right alongside First Impressions, and I said, "Well, I simply can't read both of them," and picked the one without the jumping girl. For reasons unclear to me, I want to put this one together with Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Like at Best Buy where you can get two DVDs for $20, plastic-wrapped together as if a person couldn't imagine a DVD library containing one without the other.

Anyway, Julie has loved Jane Austen for years. She finally got her bff to read Pride & Prejudice, and now Ashleigh has taken it over as her very own obsession - she even refuses to wear anything but skirts. Ashleigh decides that they must find their own Mr. Darcy & Mr. Bingley - by crashing the All Boy's School up the hill. Only Ashley just assumes that Julie would be happy with an insipid Mr. Bingley, and promptly falls for Julie's Darcy! Gasp! Drama! (actually, literally drama, they join a musical to be closer to the boys).

This is for a slightly older audience than First Impressions, but it is essentially your typical romantic comedy with some era obsession going on, but it was entirely fun. Yay! It's a first novel, so I'm interested to see what Shulman will right next.

Cybils tally: 19/80

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The elder Anne Hathaway

You know, I felt really bad for Anne Hathaway. I kept recalling that bit in Pride & Prejudice where Charlotte gets all pissed at Lizzie because Charlotte's chosen to marry that obnoxious pastor-cousin of the Bennetts, Mr. Collins, rather than continue as financial burden for her family. She chooses security over a dream. There's similarity there. All three women are independently minded, and while I can't speak for Charlotte, Anne and Lizzie don't wish to settle. Of course, Anne almost does before it is forced upon her in an entirely different manner. Lizzie's a fairy tale. Anne just gets the second best bed.

Seven years older, Anne has known Will his whole life. By the time of his adolescence, Anne respects Will's wit and intelligence - and he is infatuated with her. She dismisses the attention of the younger man, but she can't deny the friendship. Life is hard in the 16th century, and soon Anne finds that situations change. Fast.

I was kind of mesmerized by this book. The title tells you what is going to happen, but as a reader, you go truly through the emotional turmoil Anne experiences. As a history buff, you know that even when she does marry the guy, it isn't exactly ideal - hence the second best bed (though in all fairness, it could have just been more comfortable, or her fav or something, no one knows).

Also, I totally dig the cover. A far better cover than that other Shakespeare love book published this year. Will's way unattractive on that cover, and I like the ethereal quality of this one. The not quite touching hands says a lot. Of course, the other cover reveals a ton more about the plot.

Cybils tally: 18/80

The votes are in!

Cybils nominating is officially closed. I can't speak for any other category, but the YA section received 80 (!!) nominations. The 5 of us (Little Willow, Mindy, Sara, TadMack & myself) on the shortlist panel will be whittling the 80 down to 5 by the end of December. Each book has to be read by AT LEAST 2 panelists, with everyone aiming to read as many as possible. You can find the entire list by going to our fantastic moderator/organizer, Jen Robinson's Book Page. Seriously, that woman Rocks.

In light of this fabulous and lengthy list, I will now be including my tally at the end of each Cybil book read. You know, just for fun. All books I read, like or not, are always blogged (caveat: I don't generally blog books I don't finish. Or picture books.), so if you search the blog, or My LibraryThing, you'll find all the books I've written about, including prior this extravaganza. Eventually, I'll get around to tagging them. Won't that be exciting? heh. ;)

Monday, November 20, 2006


Ok, you've got until Tonight at Midnight EST to nominate your favorite 2006 titles - one in each category. What are you waiting for? It's YOUR award - speak up!

Sunday, November 19, 2006


There is something old-fashion about Alice in the Know. Before I read this book, I was sure that I hadn't read any of the Alice series. Once having started this one, I became convinced that at some point in my youth I must have read one of this series. It has been around since 1985, after all. At some point my librarian mother must have brought one home for me. It seemed so familiar.

From what I can tell, the Alice books are about a girl growing up; about character development. About an everygirl winding her way through everything. This time Alice is managing her way through the summer before her junior year. She gets a job, her brother gets shattered, a friend gets sick and Alice gets exactly what she wants, at a price.

I can see how this series is on the ALA 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books list. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is incredibly frank about everything. From periods to drugs, from race to sex. She just talks about it in plain language; frankly. It's strangely rather refreshing. It's really got to piss people off. heh.

(And have you seen the next title? Dangerously Alice! And look at that cover! Totally Ominous! What is that girl up too!)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Yes, those are feet

Libby's bored. She's sick of pointless stunts that simply advertise her popularity. She's over the meaningless prattle of her friends. In a weak moment, she decides that maybe doing something completely out of character will enliven life, so she signs up for the zoo elective and finds herself with unpopular freaks. Whatever will The Queen of Cool do?

Well, she'll figure out that there are things that matter a whole lot more in life than partying and looking down at people, of course! This is a teen novel! You totally knew what was going to happen, but it was still great to watch the measured transformation. I felt all warm and cuddly by the end. Yay! Cecil Castellucci had a clear message, but she wasn't terribly didactic. Much stronger than the book of the same topic you'll see me blog four books from now. Any guesses for that title? ;)

I still want a sequel to Boy Proof, though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book Group, Round 3

Book Group has swelled to an impressive seven patrons with Esme Radj Codell's memoir, Educating Esme. My goal has always been to have between seven and 12 patrons, so I'm pretty happy. Five were returning.

Esme is a first year teacher in inner-city Chicago. She's dealing with abused and neglected kids, a less than ideal principal and she gives it her all. At times Esme is annoyingly superior, but I had so much respect for the good she accomplished with her students that I could overlook some of her attitude. I thought the book was funny, disturbing, and touching.

The book group, as one would expect, had a vast spectrum of feeling for her. One woman thought the lack of respect Esme showed for everyone appalling, and wouldn't have wanted Esme anywhere near her children. Several absolutely loved the book. One was more on the fence - she thought reading it was a chore, but that she'd probably want her kids in Esme's class. Most would have wanted their children to have an Esme. Either way, discussion went over an hour and I deem it a qualified success. I think next time I might even feed them.

Mostly, I can't wait until next month. Because my selection is rather, er, different, I think it will be a heated discussion. I'm sure that several of them will absolutely Hate the title. I will not deny that was one of my reasons for choosing it. Personally, I thought it hilarious. We'll have to wait until December 13 to find out how it goes!

Monday, November 13, 2006

And now for something completely different...

No idea what to do with this one. Not quite sure who to give it to. Think I might just have to wait until Vol. 2, or extensive discussion before I make up my mind about it.

As historical fiction, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume One: The Pox Party is so rich of language and detail that it actually drips the 18th Century. Octavian has been raised as a science experiment, experiencing a quality of life unusual for African-Americans in pre-revolution America. However, as war looms and connections with financial backers in England strain, Octavian begins to realize just how unusual his life really is - and how ignorance can be bliss.

It is clearly fantastically done and exquisitely researched, but I don't quite know where the audience is. I contemplate if the adult audience might just get more from the title. At the same time, I can totally see this being taught in high schools. It's frank, and it places the war in a context that, while I was aware of, I haven't seen in a fictional representation for teens. It was the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason and the age of Revolution. Science was paramount to a fault, war got in the way. Octavian was in-between.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Well, it's a psychedelic cover...

I have never read Judy Blume's Forever. Hadn't even heard of it until I was well beyond the targeted audience. I know it's famous and all. It makes no difference, me revealing this fact, I'm just saying. In Tanya Lee Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, Forever is armor.

A novel in poems told in the voice of three girls who are all scammed by the very same boy. Each girl is in a very different place in her life, and each girl values her individuality. It is however, how each reacts to the to him, that makes all the difference.

It's a quick, empowering read. And yeah, there's sex, so 14+

Saturday, November 11, 2006

You're Kidding, Right? Two Maths in a row? How is this happening?

I didn't do it on purpose. I swear it. I had no idea that Justina Chen Headley's Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) was about a girl who goes to math camp. Really. Nor did I intentionally read it right after another math-oriented book. Total coincidence. I will say, however that despite hearing that Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) was very good, I declined reading it for quite some time. Mostly because it the title irritated me. It recalled to me an old Avi book (Nothing But the Truth, gee, I wonder why) that I remember liking back when I was a teen. See, I was being loyal. But, really, what's in a name? A Rose is a Rose, and all that.

This is my third Asian-American experience novel this year. All have very strong female protagonists who struggle with previous generations' expectations/fears/prejudices. Each is extremely different than the last. This one is my favorite, and like An Abundance of Katherines, math was represented throughout the plot. This time in amusing proofs.

When Patty Ho gets a fortune revealing that she will marry a white boy (and have 3 children, no less!) her single Taiwanese mother packs her off to Stanford Math Camp, because really? Where else would she find a bunch of smart Asian boys (at least in her mother's mind)? Despite Patty's desperate need not to be an Asian stereotype, she can only hide her brilliance to a degree. She thrives, much to her surprise, at camp. When her mother shows up unexpectedly, Patty must face her heritage, her mother's past, and what she really wants in life.

This was sweet. Unbelievably well done. Engaging, humorous and realistic.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Um, Math?

When the topic came up a few months ago of literary crushes I didn't say anything. I read the lists and found them amusing, but I couldn't really create a list of 5(ish) authors for whom I would have a crush. However, I think it fair to say of all the authors out there today, Mr. John Green would most Definitely be on my list. And not just because he writes goodly - which he does. Rather, because his blog is freakin' hilarious.

I did something horrible to my back the day before I started An Abundance of Katherines. I wasn't moving well and little things caused lots of pain; I was being very careful. Despite my care, and despite my attempts otherwise, I laughed so hard during parts of this book that it hurt. It hurt a lot. But I couldn't do a darn thing about it. I was forced into an odd moan of a laugh, that while it didn't do much to alleviate my pain, it did most likely, express both rather contrary feelings.

Sweet, slightly obsessive Colin has just been dumped by the 19th girlfriend named Katherine. He's miserable and really just wants to moan on the floor in peace for a few days, but his buddy Hassan has other ideas. He wants to go on a road trip. In true short attention span fashion, between 9 and 12 hours latter, they reach Gutshot, Tennessee, where they remain for the rest of the book, meeting new people and reevaluating their perception of life and of themselves.

I do have a confession. I didn't make it through the appendix. I'm sure that Daniel Bliss is a magnificent fellow, but I'm a bit math-phobic, and while I honestly tried, it just freaked me out too much. My apologies. I'm sure that, had I been more math-inclined, I would have enjoyed his clever comments.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

That obnoxious girl from that other book

So I read The Year of Secret Assignments earlier this year, and, like everyone else, loved it. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Jaclyn Moriarty next installment. Enter The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie.

Back from her triumphant cameo with her own novel, we find Bindy Mackenzie struggling with a new required course called "Friendship and Development." It doesn't fit into her curriculum expectations, but despite her several letters to the Board of Ed, she decides to try her best and actually get her classmates to like her. It's no small feat as she's given her peers lists enumerating their similarities with rather unflattering animals.

There's something about Jaclyn Moriarty. I hesitate to make a broad statement, having read only two of her novels, but she has a remarkable ability to mask her novels true direction. My friend Cory and I discussed this, and here's how she summarized our thoughts:

...because she seems to be going on one direction and you're down with that, when it suddenly becomes something else. And not in a disappointing "Why did you ruin this good book" sort of way, but in an "I totally wasn't expecting that and I'm even more intrigued and this makes everything up until this point way better" kind of way.

Yep, that's about it. One of these days I'm going to get around to her other books. I really do enjoy this author tremendously.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Random Bits

It's no secret that I'm an NPR junky. Have been for years. It all started with those fun weekend shows - Whad'Ya Know, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, but most of all, above all others, This American Life. My Faaavvooorite. However, since my relocation, I have been in horrible withdrawl. NPR out here bites. I don't even seem to wake up to Scott Simon anymore, and that makes my heart hurt because I love him. But that's not the point - I never hear This American Life anymore, and really? That's like a law forbidding chocolate. Yes, I could buy it off of Audible, or try and find a convienient live streaming audio, but really? Those solutions aren't all that plausible. And now, to my ecstatic reception, This American Life is available as a Podcast. I listened to my first TAL podcast on Friday, and it made me feel warm and cozy. To make it even better? David Sedaris. Rock on. TAL really does make my life happier. YAY!

In other news, I swear to God, if I slice my hands open one more time in the near future, I might as well just cut them off. I now have, from various means, four cuts. Two on each hand, just to, you know, remain balanced. Oh, and that's not counting the one burn blister. Sigh.

Also, Go Vote.

Spies in Plaid

I must say. This cover is hilarious to me. That little smirk? It says: "I'm trying very hard to be smug, but really I'm dying of laughter inside, quick take this photo before I burst! Really, these spy headphones tickle!"

Ally Carter has here created the beginning of a series. I expected something along the lines of the Calypso Chronicles by Tyne O'Connell; light, fluffy, fun but tiring - i.e. bored with the concept after two books. I really don't think that is what we have here with the Gallagher Girls. Granted, only one has been published, , but I think that I'd Tell You I Love You, But The I'd Have to Kill You sets a sequence up for some serious character arc potential.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. In many ways, it's exactly what it sounds like. And those girls are certainly exceptional. They are international spies in training. This is spy school, and it's been around for generations. But what happens when Cammie, with her super-secret life falls in love with a civilian? Oh yeah, and for a bit more fun? Cammie's mom is the headmistress. Mom can't find out about the boy, and the boy can't find out what's REALLY going on at the academy. It was a blast and I devoured it.

Apparently, at Carter's blog there will be a contest to decipher spy code, with the answer possibly relating to the Love You, Kill You sequel. It will be posted tomorrow, if you are into that kind of thing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Read This Book

Call me a bad librarian or whatever, but I've never before read Nancy Werlin. I was vaguely aware of the name, but I wouldn't have been able to list off any titles or anything. Right. So then comes The Rules of Survival. I'm not sure that I can accurately describe my reactions to this book. It was fabulous. I didn't know quite what to expect, but it wasn't what I got. I tend not to look too closely at reviews or book summaries - just enough to tell me if I am interested. Sometimes that can just be a good cover. I rather think that I might have expected something on high school bullying. Well, there certainly was bullying. Just not so much in school.

This is a story about abuse. It's not pretty. It's not happy. And it's not the father.

It's absolutely fantastic. I was mesmerized by Matthew. By his strength, his flaws and his unfailing hope. This family was real. Matthew. His sisters, Emmy and Callie. His tragic and dangerous mother. Aunt Bobbie. Murdoch seemed almost too good to be true, but maybe not. Each distinct and with their own reactions.

I'm not really one of those readers who traditionally enjoys the "teen in peril." Not even when I was younger. Something bad, then something worse and all that; it generally seems so implausible. This isn't one of those. Well, ok, the teen is in peril. But really, it's not. I swear. I'll be watching for Werlin's next title.