Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Blogger Hopping

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books.


I'm Alison. I've been blogging for four months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

GIVEAWAY! I'm giving away a SIGNED copy of Book Crush by Nancy Pearl. Go HERE to enter!


I decided to enter Steph Su Reads' Banned Book Challenge. Check out my post about it here!

Check out my Guest Post on StephSuReads about Deenie by Judy Blume and my experience with banning books.

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: How do you spread the word about your blog? I use Twitter and Goodreads for a little blog publicity. But mostly I spread the word about my blog through participating in the blogger hops and by commenting on other people's blogs.

Follow Friday: What books have bitten you? Not to beat a dead horse, but...Twilight. Two years after first reading the series and I'm still obsessed. Also, the Harry Potter series. And Pride and Prejudice.

And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday.

Nancy Pearl Speech Highlights plus GIVEAWAY!

Nancy Pearl: Librarian Extraordinaire


Last Friday, I had the great fortune to hear Nancy Pearl speak. Nancy is a library (now retired) who has written four incredible books with thousands of reading recommendations. Her books are: Book Lust, More Book Lust, Book Crush (for kids and teens), and the brand new Book Lust To Go (books that allow you to armchair travel). You're sure to find dozens of books to read any time you open her books.

Nancy spoke at a high school auditorium on a Friday night in an outer-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Since it was so far out, there weren't that many people there - about 50 or so. With such small numbers, the talk had a personal, intimate feel. She spoke for about 45 minutes. The talk was excellent - funny, informative, compelling. I think it's the only talk she gives, because I heard her speak a few years earlier at the downtown Minneapolis library, and the speech was almost identical. But I enjoyed hearing it again.

For you Nancy Pearl fans out there, I thought I'd summarize some points in her talk that stood out to me:

Origins of the Librarian Action Figure

I am a proud owner of the Nancy Pearl librarian action figure. One of the librarians at my law school had an extra one and gave it to me a few years ago. Nancy opened her talk by telling the origins of the librarian action figure.

In 2001 or 2002, Nancy was at dinner with one of the heads of Archie McPhee, a company that makes unusual action figures, including ones for Emily Dickinson and Jesus Christ. They started joking that they needed a librarian action figure. Nancy laughed it off, but awhile later, her friend called her up and asked her to be the action figure's model. She agreed and was, as she put it, "digitized."

Since it was an action figure rather than a doll, it needed an action. Nancy and the creators all agreed that the "Shh" finger was the most appropriate and funny thing the figure could do.

The doll came out in mid-2003. By complete coincidence, it came out within weeks of her first book, Booklust.

Origins of the Booklust books

One of the publishers of Sasquatch Books, a small Seattle publisher contacted Nancy and suggested the idea of writing a book that made book recommendations in different categories. He said the idea came to him because he was looking for a great Civil War fiction book to read. As a sort of test, Nancy came up with a list of a dozen or so Civil War fiction books. She didn't have anything to do at work that afternoon, so put together a list within a half hour of speaking to him on the phone. Among the recommendations were Gone With The Wind, Andersonville, and Killer Angels. The publisher was thrilled and asked her to put together 300 different categories of books, about 250 words each.

When Book Lust was published, she assumed that she'd put every book she loved in there. She "foolishly" included her e-mail address in the forward to the book asking readers to send in suggestions for books she missed. She expected to get 5 or 6 e-mails, but instead hundreds began pouring in. The e-mails typically said "I can't believe you missed this book..." and then the writer would list 200 of their favorite books. Some of these books Nancy had never heard of, some she didn't like, and some she loved but had completely forgotten.

A new book was in order. More Book Lust came out a few years after Book Lust was published. Nancy wanted to call it, Book Lust 2: The Morning After. The publishers thought the title was funny but balked at the last minute, worrying that it would be too controversial. Nancy still thinks of the book with the more amusing title.

Book Crush was the next book. It is a list of books for kids and teens. Nancy started out as a children's librarian and has a huge array of knowledge about children's literature.

Her newest book, published October 1, 2010, is Book Lust To Go. Nancy describes herself as an armchair traveler. She travels a lot for work, but really doesn't enjoy it. She'd much rather sit at home and travel the world through books.

Nancy's Childhood

Nancy fell in love with the library at an early age. She grew up in the Detroit-area. Her parents were big readers and loved her very much, but they were also extremely unhappy people. Consequently, her home was not a place where she felt safe or happy. She spent all her free time at the library. She went there every day after school, and on Saturday, she would pack a lunch and be there from the time it opened until it closed. The librarians frequently drove her home when the library closed, knowing that if they didn't take her home themselves, she might go somewhere else.

Mrs. Whitehead was the children's librarian at her local library. They were especially close. At her library, you couldn't check out adult books until you were 13. On Nancy's 13th birthday, she got an adult library card and showed it to Mrs. Whitehead. She asked Mrs. Whitehead to take her over to the adult section so she could check out her first adult book (Gone With The Wind). Mrs. Whitehead only did so reluctantly. It wasn't that she didn't think Nancy was ready for adult books; instead, she feared that once Nancy headed to the adult section, she'd never come back to the children's area. Lucky for Mrs. Whitehead, Nancy kept coming back.

Nancy went to college to become a librarian. Her goal was to be a children's librarian. Her first job out of school was with the Detroit Library System. She noted that she never worked at the same library as Mrs. Whitehead, but she was her colleague through the library system. This was a great source of pride for Nancy.

Great YA Reads

Someone asked Nancy for a few good YA reads. She recommended the Hunger Games series, anything by Sarah Dessen, anything by M.T. Anderson (especially for boys), and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Nancy loves the first line from the book I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." She also said that she thinks the best vampire book for teens is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I haven't read this one and want to get to it ASAP. In another part of her talk, she mentioned how much she liked Rosamind DuJardin's books.

Banned Books

In light of Banned Books Week and the recent Scroggins article, I asked Nancy about her experiences with banned books. She said that pressure to remove books are not quite as strong in a public library as in a school library. Not that they're non-existent, but parents approach a school library's responsibilities toward a child differently than they do a public library.

Nancy mentioned that one of the difficult parts of being a librarian is having to purchase books that portray all viewpoints. She specifically recalled how hard it was to decide whether to put books that denied the Holocaust on her library's shelves. An interesting twist to the banned books issue that hadn't occurred to me.

Giveaway


I had Nancy sign a copy of Book Crush for a giveaway.




Book Crush features books for Young Readers, Middle-Grade Readers, and Teen Readers, with topics such as:

Not A Dry Eye In The House
Ghosts I Have Loved
Utopia - Not!

and many more.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (17): Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
December 2, 2010


I've heard nothing but good things about this book. I am super excited to read it.

Summary

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Author Interview with Leah Cypess of Mistwood

I read Mistwood by Leah Cypess last month and absolutely loved it. Read my review here.











Leah was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me.

Leah Cypess has been writing since the fourth grade, but before becoming a full-time writer, she earned her law degree from Columbia Law School. She worked for two years at a large New York City law firm, then moved to Boston, where she now lives with her husband and two young daughters. [Mistwood] is her first novel. (taken from back cover of novel)

Visit Leah's website, follow her on Facebook or on Twitter!

1. Please give a 1 or 2 sentence summary of Mistwood.

It's the story of a powerful shapeshifter bound by an ancient spell to protect the king's dynasty. But when the books starts, she's alone in her forest, she's lost both her memory and her powers, and the king isn't exactly who he claims to be...

2. I loved the complexity of the fantasy world in Mistwood. Everything from Isabel's supernatural abilities to the court politics was so well-developed. How did you build the world? Do you have a lot of background in your mind that never made it onto the pages of the book?

Thank you! I'm not an advance planner, so I made up most of the world as I went along; afterward, of course, I went back and tried to make sure it all made sense, add relevant details, and iron out inconsistencies. There is a lot of background in my mind about the
difference between the northerners and southerners -- I think the northerners are a proud, chivalric, feudal society, whereas the south is much more mercantile and trade-oriented. I think that's still hinted at in the book, but not laid out clearly; it's not necessary for the main story.

3. If you were to write a spin-off (as opposed to a sequel), which secondary character's story would you most be interested in exploring?

Well, I actually am *ahem* in the middle of revising the companion novel. And one of the secondary characters from Mistwood does play a major part... *looks mysterious*

But if I was going to use one of the Mistwood characters as a main character in a book or story, I suspect it would be Ven. I think his earlier life was fascinating. I don't know exactly in what way, yet!

4. How do you think your training as an attorney affected your writing?

To be honest, I don't really think it did. Legal writing and fiction writing are two very different skills, and I had been writing fiction for a very long time before I learned legal writing.

That said, as a third-year law student, I was permitted to take up to 12 undergraduate credits if I could demonstrate that they would be useful for my intended legal career. I had already written the first few chapters of Mistwood, and wanted to take an undergraduate fiction writing workshop; so I met the dean of students, explained this to her, and added, “If you really want, I can make up some reason about why this will be helpful for practicing law.” She said, “Brad Meltzer took an undergraduate fiction workshop in his third year of law school, sold his first book right after graduation, and never practiced law for a single day. Go for it.” I critiqued the first few chapters of Mistwood during that class.

5. Can you describe your writing process? Are you an outliner or more spontaneous plotter? I read somewhere that you wrote Mistwood by hand. Do you prefer that writing style?

Very much a spontaneous plotter... at least until I've written myself into a tangled mess, at which point I sometimes sit down and try to write an outline. Which I then ignore.

I do prefer writing by hand, something I used to think was a liability when I was younger (though I have learned to be a fast typist!) Now that I have kids, though, it's crucial. I bring a notebook and pen to the playground and that's where I get a lot of writing done.

6. What are some books that had a big influence on you growing up? Have you always preferred fantasy?

I've always preferred fantasy, but I also liked mystery a lot, and I read everything ever written by L.M. Montgomery. The Belgariad by David Eddings and Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey were probably the series that really hooked me on high fantasy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Manga Monday (17): Emma vol 5 by Kaoru Mori

Emma vol. 5 by Kaoru Mori


Summary/Review


Warning: My manga "reviews" often contain spoilers. I find it hard to adequately discuss a volume of manga without talking about it in more detail than some might like.

Volume 5 is split into three parts. We begin with a flashback. William's mother doesn't live with his family. Now we learn why. Years ago, Richard  (William's father) was a young upstart, with plenty of money but looked down upon by the aristocracy. The landed aristocracy didn't take to the rise of the merchant class during the Industrial Revolution well. Aurelia (William's mother) is from old money, but has never fit into society. She doesn't have the traditional talents of women of her time and is mocked by the others. She and Richard fall deeply in love and marry. But their troubles only begin from there. The demands of London society are many. Aurelia tries to do everything right, but it never gets any easier. Eventually, she leaves the family and goes to a country house to regain her health and nerves and just stays there.

Emma comes back from London a different woman. She is laughing and talking with all the servants. She's still capable and liked by her employers and the other servants, but now she is no longer shy and stand-offish. Why the change? She and William have rekindled their relationship. They express their love through a series of letters flowing between Haworth and London.

The volume ends as William comes to visit Emma in Haworth. This is a thrilling occasion for both of them, but also causes some problems back in London. William has really gotten himself into a fix. He is engaged to Eleanor, but is pursuing a maid instead. We see a contrast between the virtuous William and Eleanor's lecherous father, who is having an affair with a opera diva. It's funny how both men are similarly having dual relationships, but their personalities and intentions cause me to view one as good and the other as bad.

One complaint I have about the series is that it doesn't have character bios at the start of each volume. Volume 2 included a spread of bios, but none of the volumes since have included them. This gets really confusing. New characters keep being added, and I am completely lost. It was particularly difficult to understand the beginning of this volume, when the story focused on Richard and Aurelia. There was no explanation that it was a flashback, and it took me several pages to understand what was happening.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In My Mailbox (13)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Check out my Guest Post at Steph Su Reads about Deenie by Judy Blume and banning books. Actually, you should read everything Steph posts. It's such a fabulous blog.

Bought

I had the great fortune to hear Nancy Pearl speak on Friday night and get signed copies of her books. I'm going to write up the talk more thoroughly in a day or two. It was a fabulous way to spend my birthday!

Book Crush by Nancy Pearl (purchased for upcoming Giveaway!)
Book Lust To Go by Nancy Pearl (brand new book!)



Library



Love.Com by Aya Nakahara (randomly grabbed from library)


Spells by Aprilynne Pike (Forgot to take a picture of it)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hopping Time

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books.

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for three and a half months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I decided to enter Steph Su Reads'Banned Book Challenge. Check out my post about it here!

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: When you write reviews, do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book?

I don't write reviews until after I've finished the book, although I'm thinking about how I want to shape the review as I read. I typically review a book a few days to a week after I've read it, partly because I want to give it time to sink in and partly because I procrastinate.

Follow Friday: What is the best book cover ever?

Ummm...hmmm...I'm not sure. Let me think about it and I'll update the post.



And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday



Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Mistwood by Leah Cypess


Summary

The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwod.

But when she is needed she always comes.

Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have.

Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty--because without it, she may be his greatest threat.

Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can't help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court . . . until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.

Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart . . . and everything she thought she knew. (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I loved Mistwood from the first page to the last. The story begins with Prince Rokan finding Isabel in the woods and Isabel pledging to protect him. Isabel is whisked away to the castle. She awakes finding herself in a completely foreign environment, not knowing why the prince had brought her here. Yet her subconscious knows exactly what she's doing. She instinctively understands the intricacies of court politics, physical protection, and human motivation. Isabel is a shifter - an immortal creature who can take the shape of whatever thing necessary - wolf, cat, stone, mist, male human, female human, etc. The shifter has served the royal family for hundreds of years.

The book slowly develops the Mistwood fantasy world. I often get frustrated with books that start slowly and mysteriously but this had a perfect tempo. Isabel remembers nothing of who she is. We discover the world with her. Sharing the experience with the protagonist makes the book much richer. Isabel learns about the shifter from others and from her instincts. She has to figure out what part of the shifter legend is just myth versus what part is accurate. Who should she be? If the books say that she never does this or always does that, should she be that way? Even if it goes against how she perceives herself?

Isabel is a great character. She is fiercely protective of the prince, a naturally brilliant fighter, politically astute, albeit a bit arrogant. I also liked Prince Rokan. Determined to be king, he also wants to be a different ruler than his harsh father. He struggles between appearing weak and losing his basic goodness. Clarisse, Prince Rokan's sister, is the most intriguing character. Her motivations are so hard to determine. Does she hate Isabel out of jealousy or fear for her brother? Is she trying to help Prince Rokan or hurt him? Leah Cypess did a great job at creating a truly complex character in Clarisse. I think I'd need to read the book several times to understand her fully.

Mistwood was not a page-turner. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is actually a compliment. Many a poorly written book has me turning the pages with frantic excitement to discover the ending but not really caring about what was going on in the build-up. With Mistwood, I turned each page slowly, savoring each little detail that led up to the ultimate discovery of why Rokan needed the shifter and the secrets of Isabel's past. The book never got bogged down. Different events happened throughout the tale that both advanced the plot and held my interest. The ending was a complete surprise - something I really enjoyed but not what I expected.

I highly recommend Mistwood to anyone who likes strong female characters (a la Graceling) and consistent, lyrical writing (a la Maggie Stiefvater).

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (16): Iron Queen by Julia Kagawa

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.


Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa
February 1, 2011


I can hardly wait for the third book in the Iron Fey series. There's no summary for the book available at this time, but you can read at excerpt here!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tween Tuesday (14) - Deenie by Judy Blume

Deenie by Judy Blume

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.


This is  one of my reviews for the Banned Book Challenge. Go to the main post on StephSuReads' site here and my post discussing the challenge here.


 (This is the cover of the book I read years ago. It looks very 80s, but I think it's prettier than a lot of the modern covers.)

Summary

When Deenie finds out that she has scoliosis, she’s scared. When she sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream.

But the words won’t come out. And Deenie, beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips. For four years—or longer. She never worried about how she looked before—how will she ever face the hard times ahead? (courtesy of Amazon)

Review

I first read Deenie in 4th or 5th grade. It was one of my favorite books as a kid. I'd recently been diagnosed with scoliosis, and Deenie was one of the few books that dealt with that condition in any form. I must have read the book half a dozen times. I decided to revisit Deenie in honor of the Banned Book Challenge. I hadn't touched the book in nearly twenty years. I was surprised how much I'd missed when reading the book as a kid. Or perhaps not missed, but not really cared about.

At the beginning of the book, Deenie is a shallow, vain little girl. She's not mean outright, but carefully avoids anyone who doesn't fit into her view of perfection. This includes Barbara, a new girl who has a bad case of eczema, or the "Creeping Crud," as Deenie calls it. Deenie's mother is to blame for much of her daughter's vanity. Everything has always been about elevating Deenie's beauty. "Deenie's the beauty. Helen's the brain," her mother likes to say (this is a quote that I could recite from memory after 20 years). Her mother has a grand plan to turn Deenie into a model. Deenie isn't necessarily opposed, but also wants to try out for cheerleading and be a normal kid. I wanted to slap Deenie's mother throughout the entire novel. Occasionally, I wanted to slap Deenie as well, but I felt sorry for the pressure she had put upon her.

Deenie's world is turned upside down when she is diagnosed with severe scoliosis. The best treatment at the time (early 1970s), other than surgery, required Deenie to wear a back brace for at least four years. Suddenly, Deenie is no longer the beauty - she's a freak. This, understandably, throws a huge wrench into Deenie's world outlook. She becomes an emotional wreck, lashing out at anyone and everyone. I think everyone would be the same. Her mother certainly doesn't help matters; she looks for someone to blame more than she attempts to support her daughter. As Deenie adjusts to her brace, she learns to be more accepting of other people. Beauty isn't quite as important. And the girl with the "Creeping Crud" may be worth her respect after all.

In some ways, I was disappointed with my re-read of Deenie. I thought the characters were flat and the writing was too simplistic. It felt reminiscent of the cookie-cutter after-school movies. I did like how Judy Blume took Deenie on a journey, using a conflict to turn a conceited girl into a thoughtful young woman. I did think that the other characters were one-dimensional, but on the other hand, each character played a different role. Deenie's mother was uniformly awful, but Deenie's father was uniformly great. If you put everyone together, you see the whole gamut of reactions. Perhaps my problem with Deenie is that it felt dated...I'm not sure. The themes of the book are just as true today as they were then, but the today's YA writing is a step above Blume's prose.

Deenie ranks 42nd in the ALA 100 most challenged books list from 1990-1999. I couldn't remember why until re-reading the book. Now, I definitely understand - not that I agree with it - but it's very clear why people consider it objectionable. There are several references to masturbation, particularly one in a sex education context that I'm sure enrages many people. I thought it was rather pointless. It didn't further the plot at all, but there was nothing offensive about it. I didn't notice it when I read the book at 9 years old. All the offensive content of the book went completely over my head. I can see why some parents may want to keep Deenie from their children. I don't know that I would give it to a 9 year old, unless that child was as naive as I was, but that's why it's important for parents to monitor their own children's reads rather than just flatly banning books. Deenie was an enormously influential and touching book for me as a child. I'd hate to see any kid denied the opportunity to love it simply because some other parents object.

Rating:

When I was a kid: 5 / 5

Today: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 20, 2010

Manga Monday (16): Emma vol 4 by Kaoru Mori

Emma vol. 4 by Kaoru Mori

Summary/Review

Warning: My manga "reviews" often contain spoilers. I find it hard to adequately discuss a volume of manga without talking about it in more detail than some might like.

Emma and William are still separated in most of this volume. William continues his transformation into the ideal aristocrat - becoming more and more miserable while doing so. The culmination of his new persona comes with the acquisition of Eleanor. The daughter of a viscount, Eleanor has been head over heels for William since the first volume. William finally decides to accept the chase. Eleanor is a nice enough girl, but just haven't the depth that Emma does. William cares for Eleanor halfheartedly; Emma is still at the forefront of his mind.

In the meantime, Emma is on her way to London with her mistress as a traveling companion. London brings back painful memories of William and Mrs. Stownar. It turns out that Emma's mistress and William's mother are friends, or at least acquaintances. Emma is "loaned" out to William's mother to be her companion for a party. Emma is dressed not as a maid, but as a beautiful lady-in-waiting. Now that Emma looks like a society girl, she's ready for the party. And who would she happen to meet at this party...

I continue to love the artwork in Emma. I like how Mori conveys emotion. When showing heightened emotions - sadness, embarrassment, etc - Mori draws entire spreads without using any words. We just see boxes showing the character's faces slowly reveal their feelings. It has a much greater effect on me than any words. The ending of volume 4 illustrates Mori's talent particularly well. One thing I didn't like was that there was nudity in this volume. Nothing much, really - just showing Emma's mistress naked as Emma helps her dress. But it wasn't something I have any interest in seeing and didn't further the volume in any way.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In My Mailbox (12)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Bought

I actually bought two books this week! Book buying is becoming a habit. I love using the Kobo reader on my Palm Pre.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (already finished. It was somewhere between okay and really good)
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (I picked this up from the library last month but couldn't get into it. I wanted to give it another try. I like it better this time. It's so complicated that I think I'll have to re-read it as soon as I finish.)

Library

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (for the Banned Books Challenge)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding My Voice by Marie G. Lee

Finding My Voice by Marie G. Lee


This is the second of my reviews for the Banned Book Challenge. Go to the main post on StephSuReads' site here and my post discussing the challenge here.

Summary

Ellen Sung's senior year at a small Minnesota high school begins inauspiciously: on the first day of school a blond jock calls her "chink." The younger daughter of her town's only Korean-American family, Ellen is apparently unfamiliar with bigotry and seems unprepared when other classmates taunt her and a teacher makes racist jokes. But Ellen has other worries--fulfilling her father's expectations that she get into Harvard, like her perfect sister; earning a varsity letter for gymnastics; wondering why Tomper Sandel kissed her at a party but started going out with someone else. If Lee's story line is somewhat familiar, her portrayal of her heroine is unusually well balanced. Ellen may be too scared to confront the local bigots and not yet secure enough to stand up to her exacting parents, but she's steely in other ways. She works hard--and unapologetically--to maintain her 4.0 average, and she conducts her relationship with Tomper with an easy dignity. The author's depiction of first-generation anxieties demonstrates similar depth and candor, two hallmarks of this sensitive novel. (courtesy of Amazon)

Review

Ellen is torn between two worlds. Her parents expect her to be obedient, get straight-A's, go to Harvard, and become a doctor. Ellen doesn't know what she wants. She wants to make her parents proud and live up to their impossibly high expectations. Yet she also wants to go to parties, do gymnastics, have a boyfriend...be a typical American teenager. This would make life hard for any teen. Ellen faces the additional pressure of growing up as the only Asian teen (other than her sister) in her small town in the Iron Range. The Iron Range of Minnesota is located in the northeast corner of the state; this rural mining area is not known for its racial diversity. Ellen's classmates and teachers frequently make little racist comments to needle her and even escalate into ugly hostility.

Finding My Voice was an "okay" book. The plot was an interesting coming-of-age story, and it read quickly. But I just didn't believe a lot of it. I did believe the racial hostility. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for the author to grow up in rural Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s. I'm sure blatant racism was a common occurrence throughout her youth. With the exception of one incident at the end of the book which I thought was overdone, the depictions of racism seemed unfortunately realistic.

My problem with the book is hard to define in one sentence. Ellen has lived in this little town her entire life. Even if she is the only Asian kid, you'd think her classmates would be used to her by now. The book reads as if the hostility is something new, and Ellen's classmates don't seem to know her very well. By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew everything about my classmates, and I went to a large school. Also, when I was a senior, most of the teasing stopped. 18-year-old kids aren't as interested in terrorizing their peers than 15-year-olds. Ellen seemed very unsure of herself for being a senior in high school. Granted, many 18-year-olds have no idea what they want to do with their lives, but most have a better sense of themselves than Ellen. I feel like this book would be more realistic if Ellen had been in 8th or 9th grade.

I read this book for the Banned Books Challenge. I can see why some people object to this book. There are numerous racial slurs, moderate swearing, and several depictions of teenage drinking. But banning the book seems pretty extreme. The most offensive part of the book is the racism. Despite its ugliness, experiencing racism alongside a character is far more education than simply reading about racism in a history book. Plus, the swearing and alcohol is minor in comparison to many YA books.

Finding My Voice is an interesting depiction of a Korean-American girl trying to find her place with negative pressure coming at her from her classmates and overbearing (albeit well-meaning) parents. I don't know that I'd recommend the book to others if I could find any alternatives. The concept is good, but the execution is a little lacking.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hopping Blogging

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books.

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for three months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I decided to enter Steph Su Reads'Banned Book Challenge. Check out my post about it here!

Questions of the Week:

Blog Hop: Share a few of your favorite blogs.

So hard to choose. I follow hundreds of blogs and keep finding more every day. Here are a few that I really love:

StephSuReads
Angieville
Novel Novice
Emily's Reading Room
I'd So Rather Be Reading

Follow Friday: Do you prefer YA or Adult reads?

I've always read a lot of YA books, mixed with adult non-fiction. Since I've started this blog, I read almost exclusively YA. I'm sure I'll get back to my history and biographies some day, but I'm enjoying YA fiction now.



And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday


Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Fat Cat by Robin Brande



Summary

Cat is smart, sassy, and funny—but thin, she’s not. Until her class science project. That’s when she winds up doing an experiment—on herself. Before she knows it, Cat is living—and eating—like the hominids, our earliest human ancestors. True, no chips or TV is a bummer and no car is a pain, but healthful eating and walking everywhere do have their benefits.

As the pounds drop off, the guys pile on. All this newfound male attention is enough to drive a girl crazy! If only she weren’t too busy hating Matt McKinney to notice. . . .

This funny and thoughtful novel explores how girls feel about their bodies, and the ways they can best take care of their most precious resource: themselves.

Review

Some books start out dull and I have to force myself to keep reading. Other books start out "blah," only vaguely piquing my curiosity. My favorite kind of book captures me from the first page and I rush excitedly through the chapter to see what this book is going to turn into. Fat Cat was one of the best kind of books. I was sucked in by the first few lines. Not because the plot was particularly stunning, but because of the Cat's (the main character) voice.

Cat Locke is smart - a science and math geek. She's also funny, sarcastic, kind, and a great best friend. The revolves around a year-long science project. Cat tries to replicate the eating habits and lifestyle of pre-historic humans. That means no ice cream, no chocolate, and no Doritos. It also means no cars, no computers, no television, and no phone. Cat undergoes a great transformation due to her new habits. Suddenly she's no longer the fat girl; she's the girl boys ogle at.

Cat's biggest character flaw both helps and hinders her - she is stubborn. It is her stubbornness and determination that gets her through this year of sacrifice. Very few people could give up processed food and modern technology with such fervor as Cat. But her stubbornness also leads her to hold a fierce grudge against her former best friend Matt for 4 years. One comment provoked vehement hatred that only intensified as the years passed.

Cat's project benefits herself more than science. She learns how to achieve and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. She learns about boys. She learns about her family and her friends. But can she learn forgiveness as well?

Fat Cat is a fun read from the first page to the last. I particularly love how it portrays smart girls with no guilt, embarrassment, or harassment about their intelligence. It's cool to be a smart girl in Cat's world. Of course, I can always get nit-picky. I wish her dad had been portrayed more fully. Like many YA dads, he's just thrown into the pages occasionally. Mostly my main complaint is the book's predictability. But even though it was wrapped up into a clean, even package with a bow on top, I thought it was a fun, fabulously wrapped package.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (15): Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

The new website The Contemps has been getting lots of blogger press in the last few weeks. I finally checked it out and was really impressed with the selections of contemporary realistic YA fiction.

Celebrate realistic YA with The Contemps!

Here is one of the upcoming titles:

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
April 28, 2011


WHO ZAN IS: Blow-your-mind brilliant. Stop-your-heart gorgeous. Hold-your-breath clever. WHO ZAN WAS: Joy’s boyfriend. WHY JOY NEEDS HIM BACK: So she can breathe again. WHAT THAT MEANS: An elaborate road trip involving a SAAB 900, Sprite, and Barry Manilow. Oh, and Noah, Zan’s irritating-but-almost-charming ex-best friend. Original and insightful, quirky and crushing, Joy’s story is told in surprising and artfully shifting flashbacks between her life then and her life now. Exquisite craft and wry, relatable humor signal the arrival of Emily Wing Smith as a breakout talent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tween Tuesday (13) - What I Want To Read

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.

I'm a little behind in my Tween books, so I'm focusing on a few Tween books that I really want to read.

Pies and Prejudice by Heather Vogel Frederick (Out today!)

Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this installment. With four effervescent heroines, several budding romances, an ambitious cooking venture, and a hefty pinch of drama, Pies has instant teen appeal, even more so if readers are Anglophiles. When Emma's family announces they are moving to England for a year, the book club selects Pride & Prejudice in honor of their adventure and keeps up regular meetings via webcam. Austen fans will appreciate the character nods: Emma deflects the advances of a Mr. Collins-like oaf, Megan falls for the amiable Simon Berkeley (aka Mr. Bingley), and Cassidy spends much energy detesting Tristan Berkeley, the obvious but nonetheless enjoyable Mr. Darcy character. For teens who may not recognize these parallels, the author makes them clear with quotes at the head of each chapter, as well as pointed comparisons made by the characters themselves. With interesting facts about Austen interspersed throughout, and a visit to relevant sites in England incorporated, this book makes an excellent introduction to one of the most masterful–and popular–writers of all time. Don't be surprised if 12-year-olds start checking out Pride & Prejudice after reading this teen-tailored adaptation.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Keeper is a breathtaking, magical novel from National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

To ten-year-old Keeper the moon is her chance to fix all that has gone wrong ... and so much has gone wrong.

But she knows who can make things right again: Maggie Marie, her mermaid mother, who swam away when Keeper was just three. A blue moon calls the mermaids to gather at the sandbar, and that's exactly where Keeper is headed - in a small boat. In the middle of the night, with only her dog, BD (Best Dog), and seagull named Captain. When the riptide pulls at the boat, tugging her away from the shore and deep into the rough waters of the Gulf of mexico, panic sets in and the fairy tales that lured her out there go tumbling into the waves. Maybe the blue moon won't sparkle with mermaids and maybe - Oh, no ... "Maybe" is just to difficult to bear.

Betti On The High Wire by Lisa Railsback

A new life in America is a balancing act . . .

Ten-year-old Babo and the other “leftover kids” live on an abandoned circus camp in a war-torn country. Babo believes her circus-star parents will come back for her any day now, so she is not one bit happy when an American couple adopts her. She hates her new name (Betti) and is confused by everything in America. She’s determined to run away. But as Betti slowly begins to trust her new family and even makes a friend, she decides maybe she can stay just one more day. And then maybe another . . .

Betti on the High Wire is both heartbreaking and hilarious—and completely unforgettable. This brave little storyteller of a girl will wiggle her way straight into your heart.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Manga Mondays (15): Emma vol 3 by Kaoru Mori

Emma vol 3 by Kaoru Mori

Summary/Review

Warning: My manga "reviews" often contain spoilers. I find it hard to adequately discuss a volume of manga without talking about it in more detail than some might like.


Emma volume 3 is a further exploration of upstairs and downstairs England, as well as new money versus old. After Mrs. Stownar's death, Emma finds a new job as a maid in a large mansion. The owners of the mansion are German industrialists - a new class of wealth rising to power in England. We see the large staff that goes into caring for a huge house. The volume also features a party for the servant. The contrast between the staid, proper upper class and the loud, fun servant class is quite stark. Emma is rather shocked by it - in many ways, her quiet, proper personality makes her fit in better in a formal society.

In the meantime, William is trying to move past Emma. He is determined to be the perfect aristocrat - always charming, a philanthropist, the ideal gentleman. He attends a picnic with his family and friends. He's trying to pretend that he's having as good a time as everyone else. Unfortunately, he convinces the girls that he's having a fabulous time - I think many fancy William, his sister, and his brother. We also read about an amateur performance of Romeo and Juliet that Williams helps arrange to benefit charity. It's sad to see him trying to hard to move beyond Emma and failing miserably.

This feels like another place holder book. Emma and William don't interact at all. But I loved the historical details. There are little asides about the Industrial Revolution and its effect on Victorian England. Mori really does her research. In the afterward, she even describes how the laundry is pressed and folded and tells us how to make lavender sachets. I really respect the author for her determination to be authentic.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fade by Lisa McMann

Fade by Lisa McMann

Summary

For Janie and Cabel, real life is getting tougher than the dreams. They're just trying to carve out a little (secret) time together, but no such luck.

Disturbing things are happening at Fieldridge High, yet nobody's talking. When Janie taps into a classmate's violent nightmares, the case finally breaks open -- but nothing goes as planned. Not even close. Janie's in way over her head, and Cabe's shocking behavior has grave consequences for them both.

Worse yet, Janie learns the truth about herself and her ability -- and it's bleak. Seriously, brutally bleak. Not only is her fate as a dream catcher sealed, but what's to come is way darker than she'd feared....

Review

Fade was an enjoyable read. Lisa McMann skillfully builds upon the world she created in Wake. Lisa's prose is stark, littered with short sentences. It adds to the tension and grittiness of the book. Plus, it makes the book go very quickly.

In Fade, Janie and Cabel are both working for the local police department. A fuzzy phone call leads the police to believe that one of the Fieldridge High teachers is having sex with a student. Janie and Cabel are assigned to discover the culprit. This assignment puts their relationship to the test. At the same time, Janie is learning more and more about her gift of dream-catching. She's discovering exactly how it is a gift and a curse.

Fade was definitely a page-turner. The plot moved quickly in a typical who-dunnit manner. I thought the discovery of which teacher was having sex with students was a little too much. It was so outrageous and creepy that it was just too unrealistic for me (at least I hope something like that never happens).

I loved the strong role played by the Captain. She becomes the mother Janie's never really had but sorely needs. Lisa also does an excellent job of making Janie and Cabel three-dimensional characters. We see how they "sparkle" but she also highlights their flaws.

I wish there were a few less swear words in Fade. It's not really a criticism of the book; the characters all swear frequently, but it sounded like many teenager actually speak. I just prefer reading fewer rather than more swear words. Depending on the age of the reader, the prevalence of swearing is definitely something to consider.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

In My Mailbox (11)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Bought


I actually bought two books this week! An unusual amount for me.

 

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (actually bought it for my husband - he loves the Mortal Instruments series - I don't know what he did with the book so no picture)
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (already finished; one of my favorite books all year - I bought an e-copy so no picture)

Library




Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (have to read this so I can get to Mockingjay!)
Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Dengeki Daisy vol. 1 by Motomi Kyousuke


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (for the Banned Books Challenge)
Deenie by Judy Blume (for the Banned Books Challenge)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick


Summary

For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her...until Patch comes along.
With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment, but after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is far more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

Review

For the first 3/4 of this book, I would have given Hush, Hush 2-3 stars. By the end, I was ready to give Hush, Hush 3-4 stars.

Whether you like Hush, Hush depends on what type of book you're looking to read. If you like suspenseful, psychological thrillers, you'll love this book.On the other hand, if you prefer fantasies that have just as much focus on the development of the supernatural world as the action, this may not be the book for you. I'm in the latter category. The supernatural twist to the book, the fallen angels, isn't discussed in depth until 3/4 through the book. It's a really interesting concept and I like the twist Fitzpatrick brought to it, but it was not developed enough for my taste.

I also have a lot of problems with several of the characters. Nora is just fine; it's impressive how skeptical she remains throughout the book - she's not a hopeless romantic - and she does an excellent job of defending herself. Vee seems like a stupid girl. The ditzy, boy-crazy types drive me crazy. Patch, the hero, is another character I dislike. He gains some redeeming qualities as the book goes on, but for much of the story, he's not just your typical "attractive, bad boy." He's lewd and disgusting in a way that's a total turn-off to me. I prefer my "dangerous boys" to have a softer edge.

All the criticisms aside, the ending of the book is fabulous. I was turning the pages as fast as I could to see what would happen next. Not only was it suspenseful, but it was interesting and satisfying. The ending really saved the book.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Time to Hop!

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old favorites.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books

Here's the question of the week from the Blog Hop: Post a link to a favorite review or post that you've written in the last three months.

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for three months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I decided to enter Steph Su Reads' Banned Book Challenge. Check out my post about it here!

It's hard to pick which review I would consider my "favorite." So I'll just pick one: Sucks To Be Me by Kimberly Pauley


And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (14): The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

The new website The Contemps has been getting lots of blogger press in the last few weeks. I finally checked it out and was really impressed with the selections of contemporary realistic YA fiction.

Celebrate realistic YA with The Contemps!

Here is one of the upcoming titles:

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
November 2, 2010

Some schools have honor codes. Others have handbooks. Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds. Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers. In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tween Tuesday (12) - The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by  Lois Lowry


This is the first of my reviews for the Banned Book Challenge. Go to the main post on StephSuReads' site here and my post discussing the challenge here.

Summary

In the "ideal" world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl. These children's adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community's Elders. This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are "released"--to great celebration--at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also "released," but with no fanfare.

Lowry's development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community's citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society. Until the time that Jonas begins training for his job assignment--the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory--he, too, is a complacent model citizen. But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society's collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world.

Review

I picked up The Giver in 7th or 8th grade, shortly after it was awarded the Newbery Medal. It was my first foray into the dystopia genre. Initially, I was completely taken with Jonas's Utopian society and did not expect the dark twist the book soon took. I was charmed by Jonas's content life: his friends Asher and Fiona, his cute little sister Lily and her "comfort object," and the simplicity and routine of his life. I loved the idea of everyone being assigned a job at 12 years old; the ceremony of ages was fascinating. I wanted to experience all the wonders Jonas's society had to offer. Re-reading the book, I see dozens of hints that Jonas's society is far more disturbing than it appears on the surface: required reporting of feelings and dreams, physical punishment for merely mispronouncing words, lack of options, the list goes on...

Jonas doesn't question his society until he is named as the new Receiver of Memories, a highly honored position. His training entails being given all the memories of the past of things obliterated in this controlled society. The memories are good: color, snow, music, love; but the memories are also bad: hunger, warfare, death. Jonas now wonders whether the safety and stability of his world is worth the lack of freedom, of beauty, of happiness.

Looking back now, I was surprised how short it is. Lowry packs a huge amount of substance into barely 200 pages. The transfer of memories doesn't even start until almost halfway through the book. Part of me wishes the book was longer, and we saw more of Jonas's training. If you look at the book with a critical eye, you could say that the transitions are rather harsh. Things happen almost too quickly. But I never noticed that on my many re-reads as a kid. The book still manages to feel complete. The brevity shows Lowry's skill as a writer.

The Giver has been challenged many times by parents and school districts. People have accused the book of dealing with sexuality (which seems pretty ridiculous); euthanasia (true, but provokes discussion); the occult (I suppose the idea of transferring memories seems fantastical); and my favorite, it is negative ("This book is negative. I read it. I don't see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.”). One particularly extreme reviewer said that "The Giver is in service to Lucifer." It's easy to criticize a book that you don't like as "evil." I'm most disturbed by shutting down the book because it is "negative." Spurring thought-provoking discussion about government, freedom, and life itself is far from negative. It is a critical element to education. The twelve or thirteen year olds this book is written for are precisely at the age where they are capable of seeing not only black and white, but some gray also. The Giver is an opportunity for growth and something I think all kids should have the opportunity to read.

Quotes from Tuckahoe Library's Blog and Bookslut.


Spoilers below...
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What did you think happened at the end of the book?
 Of course, from the companion books written years later, we now know what happened. But whether Jonas lived or died at the end of the book was a controversial debate. I never once thought Jonas had died. Call me simplistic, but I took the ending of the sled and music completely at face value. It wasn't until my mother read the book when I was in college, and I began reading critical discussion of the novel that I even thought the ending was questionable. Many reviewers thought Jonas's vision was really a hallucination or symbolic of his journey to Elsewhere upon his death.

Rating: 5 / 5
 
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