Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Jenny by any other name...

To me, Jane Austen is a tragic figure. Save William Shakespeare, she is perhaps the best-loved author in the English Language. She got there by penning sweet, funny, romantic tales that tell of Regency life with a astute eye. Sweet, ROMANTIC tales. sigh. But she totally died without ever marrying. Which, like, to my unmarried self, is SUCH the tragedy! We're fascinated - enamored, even - of her heroines and her life. This is the 2nd book I've read inspired by her this year, and the fourth in two years - not counting the movies. If it's inspired by Jane or her books, it's the dark chocolate of women's (and teen) lit. Tasty, and with antioxidants.

Cassandra's Sister (other than being a 2007 Cybil nominee) was recommended to me by blogger/author Colleen Mondor. In person. Over munchies at a Barnes & Noble cafe (Yes, I DO feel special! Thanks for asking!). So, it was sorta a must read. And so:

Cassandra Austen's little sister, Jenny, was always scribbling away, creating stories for her friends' and family's amusement. It wasn't terribly serious, as all young women were merely waiting to get married. She was a bit shy about it, but all who learned of her stories loved them. This is Jenny Austen becoming the woman Jane. This is her, with her optimism, her shyness, and her everyday struggles.

Curiously, the novel starts out with the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. Execution via guillotine certainly gets my attention, but it is an odd entrance into a life that, while it may have coincided with the events, did not much engage with them (well, as far as I know, and as is revealed in the text). Aside: The intersections of history fascinate me. One forgets amid the pastoral calm of Austen that merely a few hundred miles away chaos reigned in France. Yes, there's an acknowledgment of war with the constant parade of soldiers, but it is at a distance in her work, at least from my perspective (yeah. I'm saying this without ever have read any of her books. Just watched the movies. Yes, yes, bad librarian. Miss Erin intends to rectify the situation with her Christmas present to me. She's a doll. Again, special. I'm a lucky girl.).

The author accounts a bit for this: "Revolution and war, two such vivid players on the stage of history might seem far away from her quiet family in their rectory in the Hampshire countryside. But they were not" (p 10). It's meant to connect the beheading with Jane's life, and it does, but I don't really feel that the incident is quite large enough to warrant the opening scene of the book. However, it does, as I said, effectively get the reader's attention. And that is SUCH a large percentage of the battle.

Other wee bits I noticed: The passage of time is a bit uncomfortable. Suddenly, a year or two, or ten have past. Nothing has really changed. Some people have died, or been born. Jenny becomes Jane and loses interest in playing cards. Nothing truly momentous, and that's... just life. Jane Austen's life. In fiction by Veronica Bennett. There were, especially in the beginning, slightly annoying expository sections that reveal the social constraints of the time. The explanation was necessary, but inelegantly done. Bennett seems to have nicely mimicked the tone, pace and style of Austen, which is a double edged sword; great for those who are looking for things to extend their love for Austen, but a barrier for those (like me), who sometimes need something rather faster. All flaws were forgotten about half-way through the book, and I sunk into that world.

This will most likely appeal to readers who are already in love with Austen. This sounds like a negative review, but I really don't view the book that way. It took me some time to get into it, after that opening salvo wore off, but I did grow to care about the characters. I just found it difficult, since I knew that she doesn't find her love. It's just so sad to me that the woman who gave the world the ideal of romance...didn't find it herself. I liked the book. I'll stop talking now.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Definitely Criminal Minds. Definitely.


Remember The Wonder Years? Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminal Minds reminds me of that. There's a sweet nostalgia about it. It doesn't drown the reader in 1977, but soft little touches of setting and time imbue the novel with a very specific era; it's a delicate balance, and April Lurie succeeds with ease and humor.

This one didn't make it onto my radar prior to its nomination for the YA Cybils, and it's books like this that really make me happy to be involved with the group. Whatever influence I have (and I judge this to be rather negligible, but nevertheless), I relish the idea that I get to tell you all about funny, sweet stories like Lurie's that might have just slipped past your (and my) notice.

So, 1977. Brooklyn, NY. Our heroine, April, has got a crush on the Bad Boy Rocker from school. She finds an unexpected in with him when she starts walking the "retarded" (unclear how - but I suspect autism) Larry from across to and from school. Bad Boy Rocker (Dominick) discovers that Larry's a genius drummer and soon April and Dom are going out. Sorta. April's potential bliss is endangered by an older brother (his annoying friends) and his attachment to a mofioso's daughter.

It's a slice of life, and subtle layers and depths that were rather unexpected with the bright pink cover (a cover that makes me shout "jazz hands!" for some unknown reason). Lurie was smart in her choices of pop references (it is continually disturbing to me that we still know John Travolta) as those of us who never experienced the 70's (yep, me) will either know the references anyway, or won't need to.

Fans of The Wednesday Wars (um, prolly more of the girl fans. But there's MOBSTERS! if you are good and focus on that, I bet you could get boys to pick it up despite the pinkness) will love this.

My Bff

My Bff. I'm so proud of her.

Isn't she a good writer?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I feel a wee bit bad about this one...

I should have written about it...months ago (sadly, many months). We (the Poster Girlz) requested copies from the publisher because we were considering it as a featured book for Reader Girlz. Successfully, I might add, as Miss Spitfire is December's featured book for their theme of GIVE. In fact, early readers of this post would be well off to notice that Sarah Miller will be at the Reader Girlz Myspace Forum tonight chatting about her novel and about being a writer in general (and hopefully about novel #2). I plan on being there; 7pm PST/ 10pm EST. I've a couple questions for her that I'm DYING to ask... :) It'll be fun, you should totally come!

ANYWAY. Clearly, I liked the title as I nominated it for the Middle Grade Cybil Award. It is to me 2007's Hattie Big Sky. Furthermore, I've made my mother read it and buy it for her libraries. Always a sign of quality. Supposedly. At least, I like to think it is...just my word, though. Miss Spitfire is beautiful historical fiction that works for all ages. I feel confident giving it to kids and adults alike. In fact, I was recommending the book before I was done reading it, I liked it so much!

Enough babbling. I'll get to the point.

You know the story of Helen Keller learning to communicate from Annie Sullivan. You guys are so savvy, you probably knew more than I did going in. What Miller does here is tell this familiar tale from a perspective far more novel: Annie's. Relying on impeccable research, and starting each chapter out with a relevant quote from actual Sullivan correspondence, Miller imagines what this most famous teacher went through to communicate with her pupil. It's an engrossing read that honestly evokes the frustrations and triumphs of the heroine. You just can't help but feel connected to Annie while reading.

Funny/embarrassing story (depending on who you are. Namely, not me): I was so enamored upon starting Miss Spitfire I quickly and effusively emailed the author saying how amazed I was that the same author who wrote Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn wrote the lovely gem that is Miss Spitfire. About a half hour later... I wrote back apologizing for being a bad librarian and not checking my facts before emailing, as that book was written by an entirely different Sarah Miller... She seemed to take it well...I was, as you can imagine, rather mortified...It was the first time I'd ever written an author just to say how much I liked their book. Not a great start.

Oh, and just so you know, I'm only a little biased about Michigan writers. ;) There's another I'm going to join the choirs to praise soon. I bet you can guess who... lol

Sunday, December 09, 2007

More than TWICE as many votes.


I don't know if it's just the virtual circles I run in, but it seemed to me that few books this year were met with the anticipation that Jay Asher's debut effort drummed up prior to its publication. Now, partially, I'm sure, this is because Asher is One Of Us out here in the kidlitosphere, but not entirely. Not entirely at all. Thirteen Reasons Why is, like Chris Crutcher said in his cover blurb, clever and suspenseful.

The basic (remember, clever) premise is that a teen boy receives a package containing cassette tapes from a classmate. The catch is that this classmate? She committed suicide and these tapes contain 13 reasons why she ended her life. One side per person who did her wrong.

Um. Holy crap, right? Like, can you just imagine? And here we've got poor, bewildered Clay frantically trying to figure out how he could possibly have ended up on the tapes when all he did was have a huge crush on Hannah and make out with her the one time. Meanwhile, Hannah's life unravels via audio diary as she enumerates each step, each person, each painful misconception.

And we get to go along on the... kind of appalling ride.

The funny thing is that really? Hannah isn't that likable a person. She's CLEARLY been wronged. The people on those tapes were not nice or fair to her. But Hannah, in what amounts to her revenge, doesn't really come off any better. It's painful, really painful to read. You have to love the sass and spunk of the girl, but you have to question her desire for spite; her need to give back the pain she receive; the compulsion to make sure the people she blames for her suicide know that they had a hand in it. Wow. Heavy stuff. And yet Asher is able to bring into Hannah's voice a wryness that amuses as it shocks.

Hannah actually kinda hijacks the novel. Ostensibly, it's about Clay, it's through his experience that we see Hannah, outside from her own presentation, but it's her novel, her story. Clay's just the vehicle. She's driving the car, and she's running over a lot of people on her way off the bridge. Clay is able to tell us how much debris is left behind.

This would be a great title for book clubs. Lots and lots to talk about, and such a quick read - if only because like Clay, who can't stop listening, we just can't stop reading.

Other thoughts:
Tea Cozy
Outside a Cat
Jen Robinson

Sunday, December 02, 2007

*drags feet*

Vhat? You vant I should blog?

Did you see that list? That's 123 titles! Do you think I have time to blog?

ok. fine. you win. but it won't be tonight.

sigh.

At least you know I'm alive. Prove that you are: