Tuesday, June 29, 2010

REVIEW: The Lonely Hearts Club

The Lonely Hearts ClubEulberg, E.  (2010).  The Lonely Hearts Club.  New York:  Point.

285 pages.

So, when I first saw an ALA preview of this book during an online talk, I really wanted to read it.  Then, after the book came out, it got lost in the mountain of books I was equally excited to read.  Until now.

Appetizer: So, after walking in on her boyfriend Nate in a state of, umm, undress with another girl, Penny Lane (named for The Beatles song) reflects on her other past relationships and decides to swear off boys for her two remaining years of high school.  It doesn't take to long for other girls to see the appeal of Penny's Lonely Hearts Club and the club grows becoming a force within the school, creating tensions with some of the boys and other girls.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Penny is close with one of her friend's ex-boyfriends, Ryan, and thinks he may want to be more than friends.  But being the leader of the Lonely Hearts Club isn't the only thing potentially stopping Penny from pursuing a relationship with Ryan.  She also needs to know if he is different from other guys.  If he's worth the risk of heartbreak.

It could just be that I happened upon The Lonely Hearts Club just when I was just in the right mood to read a romantic comedy, but I was greatly entertained.

I sat down to start the first few pages last night and got immersed.  The book is light and fun and I didn't want to stop reading.

I liked that it dealt with girls finding support from their female friends and considered that the risks of taking a chance on liking a guy.  It's one of those happy escapist books in which annoying ex-boy and mean girl types get yelled at.

It made me want to run out and start a club with all my local female friends.  But then I went through the list in my head and realized that every. single. woman. I know in Columbus is either in a serious relationship or married.  Massive fail.

So, instead I had to satisfy myself with listening to a bunch of Beatles songs on repeat.  I hadn't done that since...middle school?  So, that was fun.

There's a lot of fun, humor and a bit of subtle commentary about gender roles and they way girls are treated in relationships as well as on the pressure girls receive to have sex for the first time.  For example, when two friends break up, Penny wonders why the girl is treated as "damaged goods" and as a victim while her ex-boyfriend is congratulated on being free once again.

I actually could have used some more of the gender and sex cultural commentary throughout.  I was reminded of that one episode of Sex and the City, in which Miranda says something to the effect of, we are four awesome ladies, but all we do is talk about guys!

And I kind of got that vibe with The Lonely Hearts Club.  These girls decide to band together to focus on themselves, their own goals and identities, (and while one character in particular does follow this empowerment vibe) most of the girls' meetings STILL revolved around guys, like discussing how Penny was going to have to face Nate the Ex once more during Thanksgiving break.

I also did have a little trouble keeping a lot of the secondary characters straight.  Eulberg tended to introduce a lot of names without describing the characters.  And since I have trouble with names when a person is standing right in front of me, no way in hellz could I keep these characters straight.

Dinner Conversation:

"When I was five years old, I walked down the aisle with the man of my dreams.
Okay, make that boy.  He was five too.
I'd known Nate Taylor pretty much since birth" (p. 5).

"He wanted me.  And I wanted him.  It seemed that simple.
Soon enough, we were together.  Finally, really together.
Only I didn't get the fairy tale I was hoping for.
Because guys change.
They lie.
They stomp on your heart.
I found out the hard way that fairy tales and true love don't exist.
The perfect guy doesn't exist" (p. 7).

"A girl.
With Nate.
I stood frozen, not believing my own eyes.  I looked between the two of them as they fumbled for clothing...
The girl started giggling.  "I thought you said your sister was gone for the evening!"
His sister?  Nate didn't have a sister.  I tried to tell myself there was a good explanation for what I was seeing.  There was no way Nate would do something like this to me.  Especially in my own house.  Maybe this girl had been in a car accident right outside and Nate had brought her inside to... um, comfort her.  Or they were just rehearsing a scene from a summer production of...Naked Romeo and Juliet" (pp. 10-11).

"Lonely.  Hearts.  Club.
In theory, it may have sounded depressing.  But there wasn't anything depressing about the music.
No, this Lonely Hearts Club was the opposite of depressing it was alive.
The answer had been in front of me all along.  There was a way to stop getting cheated on, lied to, and used.
I would stop torturing myself by dating loser guys.  I would enjoy the benefits of being single.  I would, for once, focus on me.  Junior year would be my year.  It would be all about me, Penny Lane Bloom, sole member and founder of The Lonely Hearts Club." (p. 19).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

REVIEW: Sea and Rambles about Expectations

Kling, H.R.  (2010).  Sea.  New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons.

323 pages.

So, everybody on twitter (and by that I mean all of the authors and YA peeps) have been going CRAZY about Sea.  So, I naturally had to move it from the third pile to the left of my "to read as soon as humanly possible" mountain of books to the top of the pile closest to my bed.

However it seems with all those random tweets that I kind-of-sort-of only half read, I had very skewed expectations about this book.  For example.  I assumed it was fantasy. I assumed that it involved blue people (???HOW???).  I assumed it would be an immersing, super-amazing read that would parallel my love for The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.

Again, I don't quite know where all these expectations came from.  But I had them.

And it's my experience that when I have freakishly high expectations, I'm doomed to be disappointed.  That was kind of the case here.  Not because this book isn't awesome.  It is.

But because there were no blue people.  There was no fantasy  (but in my defense the opening line of the prologue is "I'm sitting alone on the other side of the world talking to a sea turtle that might be my mom...."  That at least opened up the possibility of magical realism, right?).

Any-hoo, it took be until about page 150 to 100% figure out that my expectations were so skewed.  There would be no blue people.

For any other skewed peeps out there, Sea is realistic fiction.  REALISTIC!!!!!!!!!!

If you want blue people, watch Avatar.

Don't be as confused as I was.

This is your official expectations wake-up call.  Don't hit snooze.

Now, on to the book...

Appetizer: For Sienna's fifteenth birthday, her father gets her a plane ticket to go to Indonesia to help him with tsunami relief for a group of orphans who are suffering from PTSD.

Sienna isn't sure that she'll be able to go though.  Since her mother died in a plane crash into the sea three years previously, she's refused to fly, letting go of her activist dreams.  She even refuses to surf with her best friend's brother, Spider, anymore.

Deciding to face her fears, Sienna goes with her father and his fellow therapists, including a woman, Vera, that Sienna fears may have a romantic interest in her dad.  In Indonesia she'll gain insights into other ways of understanding the world, religions and maybe even come to terms with what happened to her mom.  Of course, she'll also face a possible new romance that will give her insights into who she is and how she feels about the people she left at home.

As I was reading, I was impressed by how true to her age Sienna felt.  She was prone to romantic infatuation, to being afraid  of taking risks, to wanting her family restored, to needing her Dad.

I absolutely LOVE that this book is activist oriented (there really should be more books out there that normalize activism.  Who's with me?).  Sea is a window into Indonesian culture and intentionally avoids judgmental statements.  Sienna sees how privileged she was being raised in her upper middle class white background with regular access to fresh fruit, education and a sturdy home.  And through her eyes, the reader can gain the same insights.

The book opens up discussion about the 2004 tsunami and long-term effects on survivors, most notably Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This book is a wonderful summer read though.  Since part of it involves a journey, romance and the rest takes place on the beach, it's perfect to read on the beach.  

(BTW, why don't I live beside the sea?  All I got is a smelly river that when the wind blows just wrong drifts a sewer-scent in my direction and that I would NEVER EVER swim in for fear the water would turn my skin green.)

Dinner Conversation:

"I'm sitting alone on the other side of the world talking to a sea turtle that might be my mom.  The boy I love is with the girl he loves, and the girl he loves may not be me.  If I was halfway to Crazy before, I'm fully arrived now" (p. 1).

"After Mom disappeared, Dad stopped working abroad completely to stay home with me.  With us.  He joined a private psychiatric practice here in El Angel Miguel, our little beach town south of San Francisco.  I guessed he thought I was fine now...or at least sort of.  I spent a lot of time pretending I was, anyway" (p. 5).

"We're traveling to Java.  We'll be perfectly safe."
How could Dad promise we'd be safe?  He said the same thing three years ago.
He came home and Mom didn't.
How could he ever make that promise again?" (p. 10)

"And then he was standing in front of me.
He looked about sixteen or seventeen.  When his eyes met mine, they were so intense and dark.  Bottom-of -the-ocean dark, the darkest eyes I'd ever seen.  Up close his eye were even more piercing, like he was trying to peer right into my soul" (p. 73).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

But I want to go back to this idea of expectation for a moment.

When describing genre, I discuss with my students how genre sets up expectations about the content of a story--Whether or not it'd be acceptable for a unicorn or blue person to go skipping along the beach in a story.  My genre expectations were part of my problem with being able to review this book.

But I also felt pressured to enjoy the book since everyone else in the world seemed to love it.

I wanted to know what some of you-all thought about encouraging the expectation of enjoyment with a book.  I'm much more likely to open a book when someone says, "I think you're going to love this..." but at the same time, when someone says that to me, I'd better love that book.  

Am I alone in this?

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Mumblings on The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

So, I didn't really want to write a formal review for the eclipse novella (do you really expect me to keep retyping The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner over and over again?). Mostly because, as with the entire Twilight series, my opinions are a bit...muddled.

I always end up hooked on reading the books, but as I read I always feel extremely pissed off as a feminist.

And despite these muddled experiences of anger and hookedness, I still had to pick up this book.

Isn't it funny how an exercise in perspective turned novella for Meyer is pretty close to a whole book for many other authors?  But then, I think, my writing practices are just very different from hers.  I like thin stories.  Skeletal even.  Meyer appears to prefer writing with heft.  And in the case of this novella, without chapter breaks.  Would having parts, section breaks, a few gaps been too much to ask?

I did really like the cover image though.  I thought the hourglass is a wonderful touch since the one thing the reader knows (assuming they read Eclipse) before picking up the book is that Bree's time is running out.  This is reinforced by both the title and Meyer's introduction to the book.  But having said that, while I appreciate the title, I don't like its placement on the cover.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Twilight Saga)It took be a while to figure out why.

But I did!

If you just glance at the cover, the title looks like a quote.  One of those author endorsements explaining why you MUST read this book.  With the title so long and "an eclipse novella" beneath it in smaller print, it looks like a book recommendation.
And nobody needs to recommend Stephenie Meyer anymore.  Her name sells.  And while I still come across the occasional undergraduate student who doesn't know about the books, they still know about Twilight.  Taylor.  Robert.  Kristen.  (Whether they like any or all is another question.)

When I first heard the book announced, I did not even remember Bree as a character. "Who?" was my specific reaction.  I read Eclipse two years ago.  And haven't picked it up again (although I would be willing if a student wanted to discuss it with me.  I've had previous students do that with both Twilight and New Moon).  Breaking Dawn and the events in it are scarred into my brain.  But the plot of Eclipse has kind of faded from my memory.  I did remember this was the book in which Edward rolled over on Bella (as opposed to the ones in which he watched her sleep in a stalkery manner, left her, or impregnated her). But overall, this book was just a bridge in my head.

I did go back and find the Bree section though (it's on pages 569-579) for other people like me.

After finishing the book, I felt kind of "eh."  I didn't really get hooked.  While I love that Meyer includes characters from different races and background in the stories, there was nothing about Bree or Diego that really drew me in.  Every now and then Diego's "slang" would just make me want to cringe.  Fred entertained me.  But I didn't get enough of him.  And having Bree's perspective didn't really add depth to the series for me.  It just jogged my memory about the plot of Eclipse (which I guess is a plus, with the movie coming out).

Admittedly, Bree does anger me less than Bella, but she's still spends most of the novella letting Diego take the lead or over-analyzing the things the vampires are telling her only to have it change nothing in the end.

I did like the idea of using Bree as a foil to Bella.  In both cases the girls lived with their fathers.  They're both readers who position themselves as outsiders.

Okay, that's enough rambling.  What are your thoughts on Bree's short second life?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Blog Tour: Interview with R.J. Anderson

As I mentioned on Monday, I was lucky enough to send R.J. Anderson some questions.  Her answers are below for your amusement.  Be sure to read the entire interview, R.J. gives some hints about her third book in the series, Arrow, below.

The end of Faery Rebels sets up the reader for Wayfarer well.  Did you always intend to have a sequel to Faery Rebels or did the plan for the second book come around in the editing process?

I wrote Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter so that it could stand alone if need be. But I always hoped I'd get the chance to write a second book, because there were still unanswered questions and unresolved issues at the end of Book One -- and I already knew who the main characters of that book would be. So when my agent said that yes, editors would like to see a proposal for a second book along with the manuscript of the first, I jumped at the chance.

Did you research a lot of faery lore for your books or did you feel free to make your own rules?

A little of both. I grew up reading fairy tales and folklore, so a lot of the traditional ideas about faeries were familiar to me. I used some of those basic principles and put my own twist on them, invented a few ideas of my own, and then did some delving into more obscure faery legends for further ideas.

Faery Rebels: Spell HunterI really like Knife/Peri as a strong female character.  Did you base her characterization on anyone?

Thank you! I do, too. But no, she isn't based on anyone in particular, though her personality and characteristics were influenced by the superhero comics I read as a teenager, and some of the more intelligent and resourceful heroines I encountered in fantasy novels.

I also really like how you created vast differences among the human, Oak, London and Children of Rhys faery cultures and perspectives.  Did those different philosophies about how to treat one another come about naturally in the writing or were the varying stances something you intentionally wanted to explore?

I did want to make the various cultures distinct, because I think that's only realistic -- people who've grown up in different circumstances and with different privileges, not to mention different forms of government, are going to inevitably have different priorities and attitudes to life. I believe in objective moral standards, but even among people who agree on what those standards are, there's often a wide range of ideas on how best to maintain them. And none of us ever gets it perfectly right -- there's always room to have one's complacency shaken up and challenged a bit, and I think that's a healthy thing.

Judging by the end of Wayfarer, it seems there will be a third book in the series.  Can you give us some hints about the content, conflicts and characters that book will involve?

The third book is called Arrow, and it deals with the repercussions of some of the things that happened inWayfarer -- particularly with regard to the Children of Rhys and their contact with the outside world. The heroine of the third book, Rhosmari, is a very minor character in Wayfarer but ends up being instrumental in the conflict between the rebels and the Empress... plus having some fairly harrowing experiences of her own.

And that is the most I have told anybody about this book yet! See, now you have an exclusive. :)

(YAY!  Thank you for that!)

What are some of your favorite books?

As a child I loved the Narnia series, Tolkien's LotR and The Hobbit, and George MacDonald's Curdie books. More recently I've been impressed by D.M. Cornish's Foundling and Lamplighter, as well as Catherine Fisher'sIncarceron and Sapphique and Megan Whalen Turner's series about Gen (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings) -- all have fantastic worldbuilding, beautiful language, clever plots, and rich characterization, and that's what I look for in a good read.

Thank you very much for sharing!

To learn more about R.J. Anderson or Wayfarer, check back over the next few days or visit some of the other blogs on the tour:

Whispers of Dawn, The Book Cellar, The Hungry Readers, My Own Little Corner of the World, KidzBookBuzz.com, Reading is My Superpower, Book Crumbs, Becky’s Book Reviews, Fireside Musings, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Book Review Maniac

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blog Tour: Wayfarer Review

WayfarerAnderson, R.J.  (2010).  Wayfarer.  New York:  HarperTeen

Appetizer: Set almost 15 years after the events of Faery Rebels:  Spell Hunter, Wayfarer takes up the story of Linden, who is a mere baby-faery during the events of the previous book.

Unlike its predecessor, this book switches points of view to share the story of Timothy, a distant relative of the guardians of the Oak faeries.  Suspended from boarding school for hitting another student, Timothy is originally from Uganda and is struggling with his faith and being in England.  When he arrives at his cousin's home to serve out his suspension, he's quickly drawn into the Oak faeries' struggle to survive.

All is still far from perfect in the oak tree where the faeries reside.  They still lack their magic and now their queen, the only faery who is still powerful, is dying.  It falls to Linden, who soon draws in Timothy, to find other faeries to help restore the Oak's magic.  Linden wasn't counting on the fact that some of the faeries have very different views on how to use their magic and how to treat humans.  Their search will take them to London and on to Wales.

As Linden and Timothy travel, they bicker and get on one another's nerves.  I thought that was a very nice touch...very authentic to the experience of going on a long journey (or taking a walk, with a friend or two of mine).

I have to say though, overall, I enjoyed Faery Rebels a little more than this book.  Wayfarer still builds to the tension, has dynamic characters, inventive worlds and addresses issues of belief, but it didn't have my favorite character, Knife, front and center and kicking butt.  (She's more off to the side and kicking butt in this book.)  I also preferred seeing Paul coming to terms with having to live in a wheelchair than Timothy trying to suss out his religious faith in light of having doubts due to studying science at his boarding school.  But those are just my preferences.

I will, of course, look forward to the third book in the series which I'm guessing will be published at some point, since some of the overarching conflicts of the book are still unresolved at the end.

Dinner Conversation:

"The Queen is dying.
The knowledge sat in Linden's belly like a cold stone as she hunched over the tub of greasy water, scrubbing her thirty-ninth plate.  She'd promised Mallow, the Chief Cook, that she'd wash all the Oakenfolk's dishes in exchange for a second piece of honey cake at dinner, and at the time it had seemed a reasonable bargain.  But now that she knew what was happening at the top of the Spiral Stair--that the faery Queen was lying pale and weak upon her bed and might never rise from it again--she wanted to heave up all the cake she'd eaten and throw the last few dishes straight back in the Chief Cook's face" (p. 1).

"It is time you learned what your task must be, and how carefully we have prepared you for just such a time as this.  For you are our people's greatest hope--perhaps our only hope."
A tremor ran through Linden as she realized that she was about to receive her life's occupation at last.  But the Oakenfolk's greatest hope...What could Her Majesty possibly mean?" (pp. 6-7).

"Though the idea of going out into the world alone made cold worms crawl beneath her skin, neither could she bear to think of sitting idle while her people were in danger" (p. 13).

"Maybe we are renegades, as you say, but at least we know enough to care about something besides ourselves.  At least we still remember that we belong to the Great Gardener, and not to some Empress who goes around putting people to death at the flick of a wing!" (p. 97).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

To learn more about R.J. Anderson or Wayfarer, check back over the next few days or visit some of the other blogs on the tour:

Whispers of Dawn, The Book Cellar, The Hungry Readers, My Own Little Corner of the World, KidzBookBuzz.com, Reading is My Superpower, Book Crumbs, Becky’s Book Reviews, Fireside Musings, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Book Review Maniac

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Blog Tour and Review: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter
To kick off this blog tour, I'll be reviewing the first book in R.J. Anderson's series.  Tomorrow I'll focus on Wayfarer.  And for Wednesday, I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview Ms. Anderson herself.

Anderson, R.J. (2009)  Faery Rebels:  Spell Hunter.  HarperCollins e-books.

Pages?  I don't know how many.  (Behold, the difficulty of the ebook.  It tells me percentages instead of page numbers)

Appetizer: This is the first book in the series (the focus of this tour is actually on the second book, but I couldn't possibly skip ahead).

Bryony is a young faery living in an old oak tree with the rest of the colony.  And let me tell you, the faeries have an oak-load of problems.  They've lost a lot of their population, most of their magic and some of the older faeries just kinda...die...of The Silence.  Because of all this craziness, the faeries are in lockdown, if you will.  No leaving the Oak.  This rule is difficult for the curious Bryony to accept.  So, it works out well when the career the queen chooses for his is to be the hunter.  Bryony loves the freedom of the outdoors despite the risk of a crow attack and quickly takes to observing the strange humans living in a nearby house.

So, I really love the perspective of this book.  From the start of the story, humanity is foreign to Bryony.  I like the descriptions Anderson uses to describe the strange things like electrical wires, the relationship between a human husband and wife, to thinking a wheelchair is a throne.  I also like that the book takes up issues of artistic expression, self-sacrifice, dealing with becoming wheelchair bound, suicide and love.

I really enjoyed the book.  It took me a while to get into the book though, mainly because I couldn't quite figure out what the plot was.  Sure, there were hints early on that all was not well in the Oakenwyld and there were a few red flags about who might be the source of most of the problems.  But much of the first half of the book just felt like a string of events, separated by seven years, a season, another two seasons, etc.  I felt like some of the earlier events could have been shared in flashbacks.  Then I may have gotten into the book more quickly.

This also initial string-of-vaguely-related-events feeling also caused me to have trouble to figure out the age appropriateness for the book.  Initially I thought it was middle grade.  Then, in the second half of the book Bryony (who has now changed her name to Knife--a shift that was actually pretty easy to follow), is suddenly to act as a mother to a new little faery hatchling. Oh, and BAM!, there's romance.  I was just...surprised (but still entertained!).  This book didn't really give me hints of what I was supposed to expect from it.

I kept expecting a bad guy to emerge, but that never really happened.  (There's still potential for that to happen later!)  The ending is still satisfying, but (of course!) makes way for a sequel (that would be Wayfarer...more on that tomorrow!).

Dinner Conversation:

"I only want to go out for a little, little, while," the faery child pleaded.  "Just below the window, on the branch.  I won't fly away and I won't tell anyone, I promise" (1%).

"Between the branches of the great Oak glowed dazzling gems of blue sky, and the leaves whispered promises of a breeze she longed to feel.  A robin lighted on a nearby twig, cocking its head at her, and Bryony felt a sudden urge to dive through the window and leap upon its back.  Together they would soar far away from the Oak, to a place where she too could fly free...." (2%).

"A long time ago someone put a curse on everyone in the Oak, so we couldn't do magic anymore.  And everybody got confused and scared and a lot of faeries died" (2%).

"And as Bryony listened and learned, and practiced her new skills, she felt more and more certain that the Queen's magical Sight had not deceived her:  Of all the tasks in the Oak, this was what she, Bryony, had been meant to do" (10%).

"Whatever had made the Okenfolk so fearful of human beings, it seemed to have happened around the same time as their other misfortunes--the loss of their magical powers, the fading of their creative abilities, and worst of all the deadly arrival of the Silence.  Could all these things be connected?" (18%).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

To learn more about R.J. Anderson or Wayfarer, check back over the next few days or visit some of the other blogs on the tour:

Whispers of Dawn, The Book Cellar, The Hungry Readers, My Own Little Corner of the World, KidzBookBuzz.com, Reading is My Superpower, Book Crumbs, Becky’s Book Reviews, Fireside Musings, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Book Review Maniac

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rick Riordan Scholar

Okay, so what I'm going to type a statement in a moment that will seem vaguely mean.  Know that I intend the following statement in the best way possible.  And I'll explain my reasoning for stating it in a moment.

Dear Rick Riordan, please stop writing so much.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Hardcover Boxed Set (Percy Jackson & the Olympians)You see, Riordan's Percy Jackson series is a central component to my dissertation (Dudley--he's a growing boy.  Currently with rough versions of three chapters).  I was very excited after the fifth book of Percy Jackson book was published.  It put a cap on a beautifully imagined and constructed series that also worked beautifully into Dudley's chapter on myth and nationalism.

I even drew upon the first book of the 39 clues to help make my points in that chapter, since Riordan authored it and came up with the concept for the series.

Yay for that.  All was well in the world of Dudley.

Then....THEN, dear readers.  I heard that there would be a new Percy Jackson related, Heroes of Olympus series.  And my first reaction was NOOOOOOOOOOO!

You see, I'd already had to read six books by Riordan to write a portion of Dudley.  Now I'd have to allude to more books, but not be able to read the whole series, thus dating Dudley.  Dudley is young.  He shouldn't be old before his time.  That doesn't seem fun.

Bah humbug, Rick Riordan.

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)Then, Riordan started ANOTHER series.  The Red Pyramid.  (I am reading the first book now, thus this rant.)


You see, dear reader, I don't want to be the first official Rick Riordan scholar.

Mainly because I can never remember how he pronounces his last name.  You can't be an official scholar on one person when you constantly mispronounce his name.  That seems like it would make my life ridiculous.  More ridiculous.

I always want to pronounce his last name as Roar-din.  I've heard other people pronounce it that way and all was well.  Then last year, a book seller burst my bubble when speaking about the 39 clues series.  She addressed all the assembled 10-year-olds and me, informing us that the 'i' was somehow emphasized.  She then said his name in some way that my brain has blocked and can't repeat.

So, after that I started pronouncing his last name like R-I-ooorden.  But I still felt like I wasn't getting it right.  Like that initial combination of vowels was somehow more complicated.

I'm also heard him say his own name in videos.  Like the start of this introduction to the 39 clues:

What?  What was that?  My brain does not understand.  Riiiiyyyyuuuuuuaaaaaadan?  Is that right?  Closer at least?

I suppose I could watch and re-watch and RE-WATCH this video again and again trying to get the pronunciation to stick in my head.  But I've already had to read several thousand pages because of this man.  Doesn't it seem like overkill that he now has caused me to spend hours watching the first thirty seconds of a youtube video?

So, Rick Riordan, please stop writing.  About myth.  You're more than welcome to start a series about constipated fluffy bunnies who are battling alien carrots who, in turn, only want to find the love of a good lettuce leaf.

I promise I'd read it.  Eventually.  After Dudley is finished.  Just, please, oh please, stop writing more stuff on myth that I am duty-bound to feed to Dudley.  Dudley will be fat and I will be crushed under him.  And never graduate.  Is that what you want Rick Riordan?  Is that what you want?!

Friday, June 18, 2010

REVIEW: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking)Ness, P.  (2010).  Chaos Walking:  Monsters of Men.  London:  Walker Books.


603 pages.

Appetizer: This is the final book in Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy.
Let me tell you, I had a PAIN of a time remembering exactly what had happened when the last book ended.  In fact, I had a bit of a conversation with myself trying to figure it out:

The dog died?
No that was midway through book one.  ...And that SUCKED.
They arrived at the town?
End of book one and start of book two.  Have you completely forgotten about The Ask and the Answer?
That one undying dude falling over a waterfall?
Book two...some time?  Book one?  No, two, I think
Oh, right, right, right.  The main dude was working for the bad guys and what's-her-name was working for the healers.
Yes, but that's not the ending.
Kay, whatever.  This book is over 600 pages.  Peeps are fighting.  Remember the sides as you go.  Just start reading!

Monsters of Men picks up right when the last book left off.  Thus causing my above conversation with...me.  Of course, had I read beyond the first two paragraphs I would have realized the following paragraphs would summarize the impending dramas.

And by "impending dramas," I mean war.  The first 70 pages or so go back and forth quickly between the points of view of Todd (who is preparing to fight an army of Spackle) and Viola (who is going to tell the arriving humans the truth of the planet's situation).  It's an intense, don't you dare put this book down, section of text.

There's also a third perspective given voice in this book, that of 1017, the only surviving Spackle from the execution of all the Spackle slaves.  While a little confusing at moments, the character has a strong voice.

As I was reading the book, my mind kept going to World War II.  There are a lot of parallels in terms of a genocide, forming alliances, deciding whether not to drop bombs, etc.  Of course, the fact that the Spackle employ guerrilla tactics draws parallels to the Vietnam War.  Lots of wars.

There were also a lot of character foils.  You can compare Todd to the Mayor.  Todd to Lee.  The Mayor to Ben.  Todd to 1017.  Viola to 1017.  Viola to Mistress Coyle.  And on and on.

The pacing of the book is very impressive.  Throughout the entire series, Ness has known how to keep the pressure on (although a portion of the second book did drag for me a little).  In this book there are waves of intenseness that make you go "Oh, shiz!  Can't stop reading."  But even during the calmer moments, the story is building tension for that next wave of chaos.  As a writer, it'd be worth studying how Ness accomplishes this so well.

The end of the book, of the series, is a satisfying one.  As a whole, I don't like to think of this trilogy as a series.  I think the story is really just one ginormous, gigundo, HUGE book.  An INTENSE ginormous, gigundo, huge book.

Dinner Conversation:

"War," says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting.  "At last."
"Shut up," I say.  "There ain't no at last about it.  The only one who wants this is you."
"Nevertheless," he says, turning to me with a smile.  "Here it comes."
And of course I'm already wondering if untying him so he could fight this battle was the worst mistake of my life--" (p.1).

"I only ever been down here once, when I ran thru it the other way with Viola in my arms, carrying her down the zigzag road when she was dying, carrying her into what I thought was safety, but all I found was the man riding by my side, the man who killed a thousand Spackle to start this war, the man who tortured Viola for informayshun he already knew, the man who murdered his own son--
"And what other kind of man would you want leading you into battle?" he says, reading my Noise.  "What other kind of man is suitable for war?"
A monster, I think, remembering what Ben told me once.  War makes monsters of men" (pp. 10-11).

"He is worse than the others, I show.  He is worst of all of them.
Because he knew he was doing wrong.  He felt the pain of his actions-
But he did not amend them, shows the Sky.
The rest are worth as much as their pack animals, I show, but worst is the one who knows better and does nothing" (p. 84).

"And if you didn't make personal decisions, you wouldn't be a person.  All war is personal somehow, isn't it.  For somebody?  Except it's usually hate" (p. 288).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

REVIEW: Metamorphosis Junior Year

Metamorphosis: Junior YearFranco, B.  (2009).  Metamorphosis Junior Year.  Somerville, MA:  Candlewick Press.


114 pages.

Appetizer: During his junior year, Ovid begins reading the myths recorded by his namesake.  He begins seeing his own life and friends as characters from Greek myth and he records his observations in illustrations, narratives and poems in his journal.  He's also working to express himself in other art forms, like sculpture.  And he definitely needs the way to express himself ever since something happened to his sister and Ovid's parents began micromanaging his life.

One of my favorite aspects of this novella was Ovid's hopes for getting a girlfriend.  Early on he writes that he could use an intervention from the gods.  Venus though, because he doesn't trust Cupid (p. 14).  Then, after two different people do hit on him in his sculpting class, Ovid figures it is Cupids doing since "by sending me a man and an older woman--'cause he probably got word I was interested in this girl at Lambert" (p. 31).  I was entertained.

Psyche in a DressOf course, many of the other references to myth have darker nuances, but that still present issues that will be very relevant to teens.  The Icarus-type-girl is getting high too often.  The Narcissus-type-guy has a beautiful face, but cuts himself.  Another of Ovid's friends has an eating disorder, another has been raped by a family member and on and on.  With all the references to myth, I was strongly reminded of the poems in Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block.  In fact, you could probably declare Metamorphosis:  Junior Year to be the "guy version."

With each chapter averaging two pages, the occasional poem that leaves a lot of space on the page, the illustrations and the fact that the book is only 114 pages, this story is a very quick read.  It could also draw in a lot of reluctant teen readers who wouldn't normally give a full novel a chance.  But having said that, this novella includes a lot of gaps in the text, things the reader is left to imply and references to Greek myth.  Both of these could be discouraging.  Personally, I also had trouble keeping all of Ovid's friends straight.  I had to make a list of their names and note what their primary problem was to keep them straight.  But then, I've always been bad with names.

Metamorphosis:  Junior Year would be awesome to pair with some of Ovid's myths or The Metamorphosis.  And since the book is so short, it's an easy pair.  As opposed to Going Bovine with Don Quixote, which together would send most students running.

Dinner Conversation:

"So here I am in my room with this notebook I got for drawing, and now I'm writing in it, too.  In a desperate attempt to retrieve my sanity from the trash.  There better be some god of journals and blogs who cares about what I'm saying, or I'm screwed" (p. 3).

"Would things be different or better with me now if my parents had given me a normal name?  Probably not.  My name can't be what's screwing me up, because I've had it my whole life...and it wasn't till the family crisis that I wrote Is life worth living? on the bills in my wallet" (p. 7).

"Bottom line, I could really use an intervention from the gods--Venus, to be exact.  I don't trust Cupid" (p. 14).

"Thena was center stage
in her own tragedy
of mythical proportions
and I didn't have much of a part to play.
I was mostly backstage, wishing, wanting
to go back to Act I.
Missing her" (p. 42).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

REVIEW: The 39 Clues (Book Six)

The 39 Clues Book 6: In Too DeepWatson,  J.  (2009).  The 39 Clues:  In Too Deep.  New York:  Scholastic.


206 pages.

Kay, so I doubt the ten-year-olds are having this problem, but Scholastic is publishing the books too quickly!  I'm having trouble keeping up!  I guess I should just be thankful I'm not trying to keep up with the Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord.  That's being published each month.  (Although, when I was a teen, I was all about the Fearless series by Francine Pascal.  But I quit that around book seven or eight.)

Appetizer:  In Too Deep doesn't start out too deep...or rather, a better term would be "too tense."  Amy, Dan and their au pair, Nellie have arrived in Sydney, Australia, not on the hunt for one of the 39 clues but on the hunt for connections to their parents, who the siblings have learned travelled to Australia before their deaths.

Of course, as Amy and Dan reconnect with their father's old best friend, the extended Cahill family won't leave them in peace (and this includes the unexpected appearance of a new Kabra, who'd previously stuck to the sidelines).

So, I absolutely love the contrast between the cover image, the book title and the opening paragraph!  The book begins:  "The sound of rushing water filled Amy Cahill's ears."

Right there.  I knew she was in a plane descending to the bottom of a lake or an ocean!  Oh the dramas!

But then, the story continues:  "If she kept her eyes closed, she could imagine she was standing under a beautiful tropical waterfall.  Unfortunately, she was hiding in an airport bathroom" (p. 1).

Oh, Jude Watson and the cover designers, you had me going there.

I think I implied it previously, when I reviewed Beyond the Grave, the fourth book in the series, but thus far Ms. Watson is my favorite among the 39 Clues writers.  In this book, I couldn't help but notice how well she integrates some of the previous Cahill adventures into her story.  (I appreciated this because all of the books are running together.  And since I can't keep up with the series, there's no way I could possibly find the time to go back and RE-read).

I did have a little trouble with the pacing of In Too Deep.  This book seemed more relaxed (that's not to say there aren't tense moments?  Exploring an opal mine only to have poisonous spiders and a deadly snake dropped into the the pit, cutting off the only exit, anyone?).  But, when I was about three quarters of the way through the book, I kept flipping through the remaining pages, wondering why isn't this over yet?  We'd had emotional upheaval (by the way, I don't understand how these kids will trust anyone EVER again.  EVER!  There is not a person in the world who does not have ulterior motives when it comes to them.), Dan and Amy were moving on to a new country
(Indonesia.  They explore some of the history surrounding the Krakatau eruption)...But, why is this book still going?  I felt like the new territory could have belonged in the seventh book.

But as I kept reading, the answer became apparent:  More emotional upheaval ahead!  Funz!

In this installment, Irina's characterization is explored in more depth.  And she makes some difficult choices that made me like her a lot.

I was also drawn in by the murderous Isabel Kabra.  That is one heartless lady.  Like psychotic killer heartless.  Vile villain heartless.  In no way redeemable heartless (and kids, I'm someone who found redeemable aspects in Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort).

I thought it was an interesting touch to bring in such a sinister character.  Because most of the "bad guys" that the Cahill siblings have faced so far have all gradually been debunked from being pure-evil.  Untrustworthy still?  A few psychotic tendencies when you get in their way?  Yes and yes!  But not evil.

Dinner Conversation:

"She and Dan could be off on a tangent.  This trip might not lead to a Clue.  They had no evidence that it would.  But they had both known the moment they saw [their parents'] passports where they were headed next.  They didn't even have to exchange a word" (p. 4).

"Throw a roo on the barbie, mate!"
Amy winced as the bad Australian accent crashed against her ears.  Then she cringed as she saw Dan dressed in an Australian bush hat and a safari jacket.  He had a fake rubber snake wrapped around his neck.
"You call this a low profile?" she hissed, swiping the hat off his head and stuffing it in the side pocket of her pack.
"What was I supposed to do in the airport shop?" Dan asked.  "I had to buy something" (p. 5).

"You have been resourceful, I give you that, " Irina said.  "You think on your feet, you and your brother.  But there comes a time when you must think deeper.  You must face the thing you don't want to face.  Until you do that, you're vulnerable."
"To what?"
"To someone who will tell you what you want to hear," Irina said.  "So I ask again.  What happened the night of the fire?" (pp. 55-56).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Kayla Chronicles

The Kayla ChroniclesWinston, S.  (2008).  The Kayla Chronicles.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.


188 pages.

Appetizer:  Kayla has just started high school, but she has big plans to become a journalist.  Her best friend, Rosalie, knows just what she should write about for her first expose.  Rosalie wants Kayla, a gymnast and (secret) dancer, to try out for the high school dance team, to expose them for only allowing the curvier girls to join the team.  Rosalie hopes that when Kayla (who is lacking curves) is rejected from the team then they'll be able to expose the dance team for their vile ways.

Things don't quite go as Rosalie had planned.  First, Kayla didn't really want to go along with the plan to begin with.  Second, Kayla makes the dance team.  It quickly becomes apparent that the two may be growing apart as friends.

I absolutely loved Kayla's voice in the book.  She was strong, honest and feminist and willing to question her beliefs and why she had them.  All this was very refreshing.  And while she initially had trouble telling her friends what she was thinking, she didn't have a problem telling the reader.  Some of the time, she did feel too wise for a fourteen-year-old, but that can be explained away by the fact that she is also a genius (not just according to her, but also to "Broward County, the state of Florida and a 4.5 GPA" (p. 25)).

Her family is funny and quirky and so are her friends.  And Kayla balances the pressures others put on her with her desire to belong, be a strong, independent woman and find out who she is as well.

I loved that Kayla presented herself as a feminist from the very beginning.  On page two, she narrates:  "When I, Mikayla Alicia Dean, soon to be fifteen, think of feminism, I think of strong females taking action--even when that action goes against the girly-girl mold society assigns us" (p.2).  She goes on to breakdown some stereotypes of what readers may expect a feminist to look like.

Kayla is also dealing with her first romance as well.  Her reactions to the boy she likes are often innocent, honest and over-the-top embarrassing.  (So, I could see two or three embarrassing things happening in the midst of going from you know I exist? Really? to girlfriend-boyfriend.  But Kayla's interactions with Roger Lee are less along the lines of those "ugh, I can't believe I said that" moments of cringiness and are closer to the "Will he still like me?  Will he ever speak to me again?  The horror!  THE HORRROR!" level of embarrassment.)  It was a little much for me by about the fourth time something SUPER-embarrassing happened to her.  I'm sure other readers would say those were their favorite moments though.  I personally was cringing on Kayla's behalf.

Throughout the book, Kayla describes the website her and her friends have created or her list of favorite books on listmania.  With all the online references, I was surprised to see there was no website devoted to the book.  Little Brown, get on that.  It could be a great avenue for readers to discuss the book and the ideas in it.

Also, I chose to read this book because the plot involved Kayla joining the dance team.  I was kind of surprised that the actual dancing didn't really have a place in most of the story.  There's a description of a routine here or there, lots of mentions of sweating through practices, but I was left wanting more.  (My WIP involves dancing.  So, my current research is to see how other authors incorporate it.  How explicit are they about the steps?  Does their writing make me want to dance?  Stuff like that.)

Dinner Conversation:

Allow me to define it:
Stank-a-le-shus--derived from stank, slang for stinker; 1) the art of being stank; 2) one who behaves in a manner so overboard, so bigger-than-life outrageous, so self-deluded, well, it could only be considered stankalicious.
And stankalicious, the newest word in my book of Kayla-isms, describes my best friend, Rosalie, to a tee" (p. 1).

"The "doom my future" part is that she wants me to try out for the Lady Lions dance team--the It girls of our new school.  She wants me to prove how they won't let ordinary girls like me on the team.  So my goal is to fail, thus supporting her theory while turning me into a huge "Who Not to Be Like" poster.
Rosalie was all "ooo" and "ahhh" and "power to the people," and I'm like, "hmm, you have a lot of nerve, sister-girl.  A. Lot. Of. Nerve."
I didn't say it out loud, though.
I should have, but I didn't" (p. 3).

"So it was official:
My boy-breasts were about to become political prisoners in a high-stakes game of Popularity Death Match.
Breasts so small shouldn't be so much trouble" (p. 12).

"IF you're concerned with how others are seeing you, don't be.  It'll make you crazy.  Your confidence, your power, will come from looking inside and trusting yourself" (p. 91).

"My head buzzed with voices.  Rosalie's voice and what she wanted.  JoJo and what I thought she wanted.  Miss Lavender and her comments about my look and what she wanted.  Even my Mom's voice.  I could hear them all buzzing in my head, telling me what was best for me, telling me how to be Kayla" (p. 108).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!


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