Wednesday, July 25, 2012

REVIEW: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Matson, M.  (2010).  Amy & Roger's Epic Detour.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.

344 pages.

Appetizer:  It's been three months since the accident that killed her father and Amy Curry still refuses to drive.  And as long as she doesn't have to spend time with anyone for too long, she can fake her way through seeming normal. But after her mom enlists nineteen-year-old Roger, to drive Amy from California to Connecticut to the new home that her mom is establishing for Amy and her twin (who is off at rehab).  Amy's concerned that she won't be able to hide everything she's going through and feeling from her attractive road trip partner.

Then, when Amy and Roger decide to ignore her mother's itinerary and have a real road trip, she knows this trip will not be what she had expected and feared.  It may actually be a way for both Amy and Roger to deal with everything that they have both been dealing with.

Including emails, receipts tickets, playlists, photos, and excerpts from Amy's travelogue, this book does a good job of incorporating many different materials to help expand the story.  I really liked the use of mixed media.  I thought it was effectively done.

I really enjoyed this book.  I thought Amy's grief was thoughtfully characterized and I loved the way pieces of her past were slowly revealed by things that triggered her memory.

I also like that there were a bunch of playlists included throughout the book.  It provided a nice soundtrack.  (But there were so many lists of songs!  It made downloading them way too expensive...but you can find copies of at least the first playlist to listen to online.)

I do have a few tiny complaints about the book though:

  1. Why did the font have to be so small!!!!  I felt like I should have been reading a scholarly article on psychoanalysis or something.
  2. Ohmysweetgoodness, Amy and Roger have the worst eating habits on the road!  I mean, I know they're teenagers and I know it's normal to eat unhealthy when travelling, but I kept waiting for one of them to go into a diabetic coma.
  3. At one point a fashionista provides Amy with a new wardrobe from her own closet.  Speaking as a clothes horse, while I believe this character would totally have been nice and let Amy borrow some outfits, I really doubted she would have actually given a bunch of her clothes away.  I suppose these means I'm a special brand of selfish fashionista.
  4. Roger was a little too obsessed with his ex-girlfriend for a little too long.
  5. At the end of the novel all of the themes and Amy's issues were wrapped up a too perfectly. Like with a bow with sequins and curlicues that is so over the top that you know your loved one must have had a store professional wrap it instead of doing it his or herself.  

Nonetheless, this was a great summer read!

Dinner Conversation:

"An Email from Amy's mom:
I'm sure all will go well on the drive.  I'll expect you and Roger no later than the tenth, according to the itinerary I've mapped out for you (attached).  You have reservations at the hotels listed.  pay for them, meals, and gas with your emergency credit card.
And please be safe!" (p. 3)

"I sat on the front steps of my house and watched the beige Subaru station wagon swing too quickly around the cul-de-sac.  This was a rookie mistake, one made by countless FedEx guys." (p. 8)

"' I can't drive,' I said, when I felt I could speak again.  I hadn't driven since the accident, and had no plans to start again any time soon.  Or ever.
..."Oh, you won't have to drive!" She was speaking too brightly for someone who'd been yawning a moment before.  "Marilyn's son is going to drive.  He needs to come East anyway, to spend the summer with his father in Philadelphia, so it all works out." (p. 13)

"'You want me to spend four days in a care with someone I've never met?'
"I told you, you've met," my mother said, clearly ready to be finished with this conversation.  "And Marilyn says he's a lovely boy.  He's doing us a big favor, so please be appreciative." (p. 14)

"As soon he turned toward me, I blinked in surprise.  The sticking-out ears were gone.  The guy coming toward me was shockingly good-looking.  He had broad shoulders, light brown hair, dark eyes, and he was already smiling at me.
I knew in that instant the trip had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated." (p. 15)

"I tore open the package and shook out a book.  It was heavy and spiral-bound, with a dark blue cover.  AWAY YOU GO! was printed in white fifties-style script.  And underneath that, Traveler's Companion.  Journal/Scrapbook/Helpful Hints.
I picked it up and flipped through it.  It seemed to be mostly blank pages, with a scrapbook section for preserving "Your Lasting Memories" and a journal section for recording "Your Wandering Thoughts."  There also seemed to be quizes, packing lists, and traveling tips.  I shut the book and looked at it incredulously.  This was the "present" my mother sent me for the trip?  Seriously?
I tossed it on the counter.  I wasn't about to be tricked into thinking this was some sort of fun, exciting adventure.  It was a purely functional trip that I was being forced to take." (p. 19)

"For the first time, it struck me that this trip could be something worth recording in the scrapbook, after all.  "Well," I said, not entirely able to believe I was about to suggest this.  "I mean, I guess we could go other places.  As long as we're there in four days, does it really matter which way we go?"
"Really?" Roger asked.  "What about your mother's reservations?"
I shrugged, even though my heart was pounding.  It was a legitimate question.  Knowing my mother, she'd probably be calling every hotel to make sure we'd checked in.  But there was a tiny, reckless piece of me that wanted to be the difficult one for once.  That wanted to mak eher worry about me for a change.  That wanted to show her what it felt like to be left behind." (p. 37)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

REVIEW: Of Poseidon

Banks, A.  (2012).  Of Poseidon.  New York:  Feiwel and Friends.

324 pages.

Appetizer:  Emma meets Galen when she runs into him on a Florida boardwalk during her summer vacation.  Literally, runs into him.  Cheek to chest.  It's rather embarrassing for her.  Her best friend Chloe makes things worse by teasing her.

But what initially seems like a quick and innocent meeting by chance proves to be the gateway to much more.  Emma has the eyes of the Syrena; a species of sea creatures.  But, somehow, she has no knowledge of what she truly is.  Galen is a prince of the Syrena who is on land for an investigation in the hopes of finding a way to unite his people with humanity.

Galen's strange reaction to Emma is complicated by the fact that she and Chloe are attacked by a shark.  As Emma struggles against a bull shark to save her best friend, she fights harder than a human ever could.

Aware that Emma may prove to be essential to all of his goals, Galen decides to stay close to her, establishing a house in New Jersey to learn more about the unusual 18-year-old.

Before starting the book, I was a little wary of reading Of Poseidon.  I can only handle so much angsty paranormal romance and I think I've already gone well beyond that point.  As I started reading the young adult novel, I was initially pleasantly surprised.  (After I got beyond Emma being clumsy though...that reminded me a little too much of Twilight.)  Aside from the clumsiness, the first chapter included a lot of wonderful humor (this was slightly dampened after the shark attack, but the humor bounced back).  So, I was willing to let the book win me over...that is until more clumsiness and damsel in distree behavior emerged.  Emma literally runs into a door and knocks herself unconscious.  Literally.  Are you kidding me?!

Then there's the moment where she attacks someone--literally fights another character throwing someone against a wall, falling through a glass wall, etc.--over a very insensitive seemed so out of character, I couldn't believe it was actually a part of the plot.  Aaaand the book entered the realm of being too ridiculous for me to lose myself in and truly enjoy.  Banks try to sell some of this off as a quirk of the Syrena, but I just didn't buy it.

Also, since we once again have a love interest who travels across a country, enrolls in school to observe a girl, jokingly considers kidnapping her, senses that their love is biologically necessary, mentions tapping her phones, etc., I had to dust off the old stalker scale:

In the book's defense, Banks does carve out a scene between Emma and her mother in which Emma affirms that she shuns abuse in relationships:
"You two fighting already?"She's fishing, but for what I don't know.  Shrugging seems safe until I can figure out what she wants to hear."Do you fight often?"Shrugging again, I ladle enough oatmeal into my mouth to make talking impossible for at least a minute, which is more than enough time for her to drop it.  It doesn't work.  After the exaggerated minute, I reach for my glass of milk."You know, if he ever hit you--"The glass is mid-tilt, I swallow before the milk can escape through my nose.  "Mom, he would never hit me!""I didn't say he would.""Good, because he wouldn't.  Ever.  What's with you?  Do you have to interrogate me about Galen every time you see me?"This time she shrugs.  "Seems like the right thing to do.  When you have children, you'll understand.""I'm not stupid.  If Galen acts up, I'll either dump him or kill him.  You have my word."Mom laughs and butters my muffin.  "I guess I can't ask for more than that." (pp. 154-155)
I appreciate the effort, but Galen does slap Emma awake thirty pages later after she passes out due to exhaustion (p. 185).  Granted, it could be argued I'm being picky or that the slap probably isn't that hard and could be more of a tap, tap tap, against her cheek...but still, way to send a mixed message there.  Consider choosing words more carefully.

*Vague Spoiler* Then, it got worse.  During a climactic scene, Emma reflects upon her choices, narrating:
"I've turned into "that girl."  Not the one who exchanges her doctorate for some kids and a three-bedroom two-bath, but the other kind.  That girl who exchanges her dignity and chances for happiness for some possessive loser who beats her when she makes eye contact with some random guy working the hot dog stand.Not that Galen beats me, but after his little show, what will people think?  He acted like a lunatic tonight, stalking me to Atlantic City, blowing up my phone, and threatening my date with physical violence.  He made serial-killer eyes, for crying out loud.  That might be acceptable in the watery grave, but by dry-land standards, it's the ingredients for a restraining order." (pp. 291-292)
Having a character acknowledge her $hitty choice is not the same as making a good decision for her own health and future.  *End Vague Spoiler*

Plus, the book ends on a cliff-hanger.  Boo.

I'm back to taking a break from paranormal romance.

Dinner Conversation:

"I smack into him as if shoved from behind.  He doesn't budge, not an inch.  Just holds my shoulders and waits.  Maybe he's waiting for me to find my balance.  Maybe he's waiting for me to gather my pride.  I hope he's got all day.
I hear people passing on the boardwalk and imagine them staring.  Best-case scenario, they think I know this guy, that we're hugging.  Worst-case scenario, they saw me totter like an intoxicated walrus into this complete stranger because I was looking down for a place to park our beach stuff.
 (p. 1)

"The siblings lean on their elbows against the rail, watching the girls they just met peel the T-shirts off their bikinis and wade into the water with the surfboard floating between them.
"She's probably just wearing contacts," Rayna says.  "They make contacts in that color, you know."
He shakes his head.  "She's not wearing contacts.  You saw her just as plain as you're seeing me.  She's one of us."
"You're losing it.  She can't be one of us.  Look at her hair.  You can'teve call that blonde.  It's almost white."
Galen frowns.  The hair color had thrown him off too--before he had touched her.  The simple contact of grasping her arm when she fell dispensed any doubts.  The Syrena are always attracted to their own kind--which helps them find each other across miles and miles of ocean.  Usually that attraction is limited to water transmission, where they can sense the presence of one of their own. He's never heard of it occurring on land before--and never felt it so strongly, period--but he knows what he felt.  He wouldn't--couldn't react that way to a human.  Especially given how much he despises them." (pp. 8-9)

"'Stop!' she yells.
Galen stops.  But Emma's not talking to him.  She's talking to the shark.
And the shark stops.
Emma wraps both arms around Chloe and hugs her to her chest, leaning her friend away from the attack.  "You can't have her!  Leave her alone!  Leave us alone!"
The shark turns, saunters away as if sulking.
Galen gasps.  He watches until the smooth sway of its tail disappears in the distance.  He tries to comprehend it.  Because what he knows, absolutely knows, about bull sharks is that they don't back down." (p. 23)

"'So the humans followed you around, made you feel uncomfortable?'
That's what I just said, isn't it?
Toraf nods thoughtfully.  Then he says, "Imagine how Emma must feel then."
"Think about it.  The humans followed you around a building and it made you uncomfortable.  You followed Emma across the big land.  Then Rachel makes sure you have every class with her. Then when she tries to get away, you chase her.  Seems to me you're scaring her off." (p. 56)

Tasty Rating:  !!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

REVIEW: Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses.

Koertge, R.  (2012) Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses.  Somerville, MA:  Candlewick Press.

87 pages.

Appetizer:  Here's the opening for this collection of poems and fairy tale modernizations:

"Do you want to sleep?  Find another storyteller.  Do you want to think about the world in a new way?
Come closer.  Closer, please.
I want to whisper in your ear."

Aside from reminding me of the beginning of The Tale of Despereaux, these poems and vignettes
do reveal new perspectives.  Many include feminist themes, modern settings, a deeper look at a specific character or twists.  The ugly duckling becomes a bullied youth.  The beast misses having fangs.  Since the stories are based on the traditional versions (the Grimm brothers, Perrault, etc.) it is important to be familiar with the original fairy tales (which, sadly, I was not always).

The illustrations are wonderful; dark and brutal.  The woodcut style gives the book an old-school feel.  There are some notably violent images which are both shocking and also speak to the nature of the traditional fairy tales Koertge based his poems and stories upon.

Near the end, there's a character who uses the  word "gay" in a derogatory way (p. 75).  There's also another story that notes gay marriage as being a step toward the apocalypse (p. 63).  Although these phrases are in line with the characters' voices, I would have preferred they weren't included at all.  This lost the book points with me.

My one other caution about the book would be in regards to age appropriateness.  Since it's so short, illustrated and dealing with fairy tales, it's possible to assume the poems are for younger kids, but due to some swearing  and references to sex, a teacher may have to be cautious before using some of the poems in a class room.

Koertge wasn't willing to shy away from controversial topics and language with this piece.

A teacher can still select among the poems to model for students how to adapt a traditional fairy tale to modern social mores.  Some poems I would consider using include "The Stepsisters," "Memoirs of the Beast," and "Wolf."

At Cynsations you can also find an interview with Koertge and a giveaway of Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses.

Dinner Conversation:

The Little Match Girl:

"She's selling CDs on the corner,
fifty cents to any stoner,
any homeboy with a boner.

Sleet and worse--the weather's awful.
Will she live?  It's very doubtful.
Life out here is never healthful." (p. 15)


"The soldier had seen the devil in the desert.
And he'd seen the devil's toys--IEDs,
VBIEDs, the maniacs with dynamite
strapped to their chests.

So he was surprised when the devil came
right up to him in the VA hospital room and said,
'So here's the deal.  If you can wear a bearskin
for seven years, you'll stop having bad dreams.
And I'll make you rich.  But if you ever
take the bearskin off, I get your soul.'" (p. 19)

Twelve Dancing Princesses:

"When he tells the king, the full force
of twelve baleful glances stuns him
even as he ponders his reward:
choose any daughter.

Now they're really mad.  They're not doughnuts
in a box, oranges in a sack, pennies in a dish.
They're a force to be reckoned with." (p. 25)

Memoirs of the Beast:

"We're happy now.  We're very,
very happy.  But I have to admit
there's not much to do in Ever After.
It's always sunny and 78*.  Every
night the fireworks light themselves.

With a sigh, sometimes, I brush
my perfect teeth and remember when
they were fangs." (p. 29)

Tasty Rating:  !!.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

REVIEW: The Book of Blood and Shadows

Wasserman, R.  (2012).  The Book of Blood and Shadow.  New York:  Knopf.

434 pages.

Appetizer:  To beef up her resume for college, Nora Kane, along with her best friends Chris, Adriane and Chris's kinda creepy roommate Max, are working as a research assistant for a professor.  They're studying The Book, the Voynich Manuscript, an ancient and mysterious text in Latin that the professor organizing their research has rested his career upon.  Nora's job is to translate letter's of a girl named Elizabeth Weston, the step-daughter of an alchemist who may have authored The Book.

As Nora works to translate Elizabeth's letters, she feels connected to her and reconsiders some aspects of her own life (like how Chris's roommate, Max, may not be as odd as she first thought).  As Nora makes strides in her work, events take a dark turn.   Some get hurt, others die and it falls to Nora to find a way to save the survivors and herself all while someone is following her.

But that may not be the beginning of her story.  Her life is also divided around her older brother Andy's death in a car accident.  He'd been drunk when he'd crashed, killing himself and a girl.  These events have left Nora's parents despondent and haven't exactly won her a lot of friends at Chapman Prep in Massachusetts.

As for her end?  Well, that might be in Europe.  Her friends had planned a wonderful adventure to  France, but Nora may be the only one able to go.  Instead of a fun spring break, she must go to Prague to solve the mystery of what happened to her friends and how it all connects to The Book that seems to have ruined so many lives.

The writing of The Book of Blood and Shadow is wonderful.  The opening did a great job of catching my attention and curiosity.  Wasserman used a lot of rich and beautiful language. (Although, having said that, I also wouldn't have minded if the novel had been 50-60 pages shorter.)

But still, love.

I approve.

Read it.

It made me feel as though I needed to improve the writing in some of my own manuscripts.  This is a compliment to Wasserman, although, it's a little sad for my own writing journey.

This is by no means a perfect text.  Some of Elizabeth Weston's letters were a little long, confusing or were a little too conveniently found.  Also, two or three twists or reveals of characters' secrets were on the obvious side.  But I liked the continuing uncertainty about who Nora could trust as well as her connection to someone in history.

Read The Book of Blood and Shadow and then let me know what you think!

Dinner Conversation:

"I should probably start with the blood.
If it bleeds it leads and all that, right?  It's all anyone ever wants to know about, anyway.  What did it look like?  What did it feel like?  Why was it all over my hands?  And the mystery blood, all those unaccounted-for antibodies, those faceless corkscrews or DNA--who left them behind?
But beginning with that night, with the blood, means that Chris will never be anything more than a corpse, bleeding out all over his mother's travertine marble, Adriane nothing but a dead-eyed head case, rocking and moaning, her clothes soaked in his blood, her face paper white with that slash of red razored into her cheek.  If I started there, Max would be nothing but a void.  Null space; vacuum and wind.
Maybe that part would be right.
But not the rest of it.  Because that wasn't the beginning, any more than it was the end.  It was--note the brilliant deductive reasoning at work here--the middle.  The center of gravity around which we all spiraled, but none of us could see." (p. 3)

"Until the September I turned fifteen--the September I enrolled in Chapman Prep--my life could be divided pretty neatly into two eras.  Before Dead Brother; After Dead Brother.  BDB, I was the youngest in a family of four, father a Latin professor, mother a part-time bookstore manager, both of them teetering on the edge of divorce but sticking together, in that noble tradition of post-boomer bourgeoisie, for the kids.  ADB, there were still four of us, it was just that one--the only one anyone cared about anymore--happened to be dead." (p. 9)

"I told myself I deserved some good luck, overlooking the fact that it would call for substantially more than luck to thrust me into one of those narratives where plain-Jane new girl catches the eye of inexplicably single Prince Charming, because somehow the new school has revealed her wild, irresistible beauty, of which she was never before aware.
Spoiler alert:  Chris had a girlfriend.  An endless string of them, in fact." (pp. 13-14)

"Chris and I got Adriane through advanced Latin, Adriane and I got Chris through remedial chem, the two fo them got me through the new-girl phase with a minimum of muss and fuss, and for two years we were, if no happier than the average high school student juggling APs and SATs and extracurriculars and defective parents, at least not miserable, and not alone.  Then Chris went to college (albiet, via the path of least resistance, down the street), I found Max, we all found the Book, and everything went to hell." (p. 17)

"I have been here before.
I have done this before.
There were flashing lights, before.  Sirens screaming.  Someone screaming.
There was blood, before, blood on the road, blood I imagined and blood I saw, blood that shimmered under streetlights as we sped by, tires crunching over broken glass, my father grim and pale behind the wheel, my mother with one hand cupped to her ear, like she was still hearing, or trying not to hear, the call that had summoned us from before to now, to after." (p. 105)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Mighty Miss Malone

Curtis, C.P.  (2012).  The Mighty Miss Malone.  New York:  Wendy Lamb Books.

Seven hours and 55 minutes.

Before even starting to read this middle grade, historical novel, it had a lot working towards its advantage:

1.  It was written by Christopher Paul Curtis.  As the author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, Bud, Not Buddy and Elijah of Buxton and who has repeatedly brought history to life with humor and compassion, I expected more of the same from The Mighty Miss Malone.

2.  The audio book is narrated by Bahni Turpin.  I absolutely loved the way that her narration brought The True Meaning of Smekday to life.  It's one of my favorite audio books EVER.

3.  Curtis tends to feature Michigan heavily in his books.  Since Grand Rapids, MI is my hometown, I'm always happy to see my home-state represented.  (This book is no exception since it features a baseball team from GR, a journey to Flint, brief visits to Detroit and Lansing and a note about how proud Michigan people are to talk about how they're from Michigan Woo-hoo!)

So, I started listening to The Mighty Miss Malone with high expectations.

Appetizer:  In 1936, Deza Malone is 12.  She, her fifteen-year-old brother--Jimmy--and their parents live in poverty in Gary, Indiana during the Great Depression.  They can get through anything as long as they have one another.  Even though her dad is having trouble finding a job.  Even though her brother stopped growing several years ago, can sing like an angel and stole a pie.  Even though Deza's teacher thinks she's intended for greatness.  Even though Deza's teeth are rotting in her mouth since the family can't afford to take her to a dentist.  And even though (last one, I swear) they have to eat buggy oatmeal that their mom gets from the government.

After Deza's dad goes on a fishing trip that ends in tragedy, their situation becomes more precarious.  He most return to his home town of Flint, Michigan to try and improve their family's situation, but after they don't hear from him for over a month, the Malone family decides their only choice is to follow him in the hope of reuniting and finding their way through their difficulties together.

Given the current economic climate, there's a lot that rings true about The Mighty Miss Malone: The uncertainty and stress of trying to have everything you need, seeing hopes that have to be set aside for practicality and the struggle to keep a family together. 
As with Curtis's other historical novels, The Mighty Miss Malone includes many touches of humor (although, I must admit, I was hoping for even more...but then, nothing can live up to the tongue stuck to the side view mirror of a car in the Michigan cold scene from The Watsons Go to Birmingham).  On the plus side, there are a couple of scenes where Miss Malone's path crosses with Bud and Bugs from Bud, Not Buddy.  I'd been wondering if that would happen.

There was a lot of rich history to explore:  The biography of boxer Joe Lewis, the Great Depression and the government's programs for the poor, Hoovervilles, riding the rails, the realities of prejudice, literacy, etc.

As an audio book reader, Turpin didn't disappoint.  I was once again impressed by her ability to use different voices and bring the protagonist to life.

Dinner Conversation:

"Once upon a time...."

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

REVIEW: The Year of the Beasts

Castellucci, C. & Powell, N.  (2012).  The Year of the Beasts.  New York:  Roaring Brook Press.

175 pages.

Appetizer:  One weekend each June, the carnival comes to town.  For the first time, Tessa's parents have decided she's old enough to go alone with her best friend Celina.  Aaaand Tessa's eighth grader little sister, Lulu.  Tessa was hoping to spend her night of freedom getting closer to her crush, Charlie Evans, but it looks like Lulu may be the one who gets that honor.

Lulu's budding relationship with Charlie drives a wedge between the sisters, but Tessa finds a new love interest with an outsider named Jasper.

Intermixed with the contemporary realistic novel-like narrative of Tessa and Lulu's jealousies and difficulties is a graphic novel of a young Medusa trying her very best to live a normal life despite turning everyone she sees to stone.  Feeling like an outsider, she must learn how to return to being a normal girl and whether that is possible and what she truly wants.

In the style of American Born Chinese, these two narratives are collide together near the end of the book in a way that is, ahem, freaking awesome--excuse my French.  (Seriously, I was feeling "meh," about the entire book when it suddenly took a dark and tragic turn and some serious issues were presented and *bam* the narratives collided and it was glorious.)

Now, in terms of my reactions before I got to that awesome collision of narratives:  While at first I was very entertained by the idea of a novel and graphic novel combined, I found that I wasn't that engaged with the traditional novel.  I wasn't crazy about the writing.  I thought the sentence structure needed to be more varied and needed to focus more on showing instead of telling.  There was also a bit too much repetition...and it didn't strike me as being a stylistic choice.  Take this for example:
"Tessa tried to look as though she was thinking of other things.  She tried to look casual.  She laughed a little too loudly when Charlie spoke about his riverboat" (p. 11).  She posed.  She brushed her hair back.  She chased the ball.  Run, Tessa.  Run.
Or read through this example:

"She put her arms around her friend and they lay there like they always had since they were little girls.  Celina knew just what she needed.  Just like the old days.  Tessa knew that she could count on Celina no matter what.  Celina was Tessa's best friend.  Celina was on her side.  And best friends always knew when to show up" (p. 113).  I guess they were best friends then.  If only some of these sentences had been cut or combined to be less redundant....
Having now complained extensively, there were still a lot of great lines.  The tensions and jealousies between Lulu and Tessa were compelling.  (As someone who's an only child, it was an interesting window into a different experience.)

I did find the graphic novel story to be more engaging.  I liked the way the girl was depicted as being disconnected and ostracized.  I thought it was a great use of the Medusa figure as a metaphor.

Dinner Conversation:

"They rolled into town in the middle of the day:  large covered wagons and flatbed trucks hauling disassembled rides that looked like futuristic dinosaur bones.  They settled over by the highway, by the river, near the empty muddy brown field and planted themselves.  Two days later, sawdust, lights, and swinging rides that screamed against the sky sprouted." (p. 1.)

"Tessa wondered what kind of sister she would be if she weren't truly happy for Lulu.  Would she be a mean sister, like those in fairytale books they both loved?  When she spoke would only toads and bugs fly out of her mouth?  Would she be condemned to be the true ugly one?  Would her road always be dark and barren?  Would her soul grow more and more twisted?" (p. 30)

"Tessa began kissing Jasper in secret whenever she had the chance, and not one person said that she looked any different.  No one teased her that she was in love.  No one cooed and cawed as though her first love was as cute as a passel of puppies.  No one sighed around her or smiled.  But Tessa felt different.  She was blooming, too.  She could tell it was true when she caught sight of herself in mirrors and windows." (p. 67)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Friday, July 13, 2012

REVIEW: Give a Boy a Gun (Or Better, Don't!)

Strasser, T.  (2000).  Give a Boy a Gun.  New York:  Simon Pulse.

207 pages.

Appetizer:  After a tragic school shooting at Middletown High during a dance, a sophomore journalism student named Denise Shipley returns from college to her home town to interview the survivors, families and neighbors to try to understand what had happend to cause Gary Searle and Brendan Lawlor to decide to try to kill their classmates.

This young adult novel has a mixed media structure that consists of quotations from fictional schoolmates, teachers, friends and family members, excerpts from Gary and Brendan's emails and suicide notes.  The author also intermingled facts various news articles and statistics at the bottom of many pages. theory...loved this structure.  The reality was a little harder to follow.  This will seems picky, but I wished the quotations included tags of who had said them at the beginning instead of the traditional ending spotting.  Since many quotations went on for pages, it would have helped to have a better sense of characterization if I knew who was speaking before I finished reading his or her comment.  It also would have been nice to have more hints at who they were than their names.  (In a classroom, character logs could help extensively with this.  But as a casual reader who is awful with names, I confused a few of the people.)  Add to this the fact that the quotations and stats at the bottom of the pages often came mid-character comment made it difficult to know where and what to read when.  Here's a sample page so my grumbling will at least have some context:

See the New York Times Quote at the bottom left?  It comes mid-sentence.  When am I supposed to read it?  When?!  And who is speaking through most of these two pages.  I have to turn the page to find out.  *Whines*

I feel like an old fart to lodge all of those complaints.  I know it's up to each individual reader to choose how to tackle the book.  I just thought it could have been a little easier.  I do appreciate the experiment though.

Give a Boy a Gun does a great job of exploring Gary and Brendan's journey toward desperation.  I like the structure of going grade by grade until the night of the awful attack in terms of what contributed to their bad choices.  Strasser explores the influence of media, cliques, privileging of sports, bullying, family dynamics and a few other factors that influenced the characters.  He also includes a some suggestions in terms of the changes he'd like to see as well as a list of resources:
"I have no one answer.  But I do have suggestions:  The manufacture, importation, and possession of all semiautomatic assault-type weapons should be banned.  The sale of handguns should be restricted to the military and law enforcement agencies.  Children should be taught from the earliest age to respect one another's differences.  Schools should enact zero tolerance for teasing.  Students' achievements off the field should be valued as highly as those on the field." (p. 204)
When using this book in a classroom, my central assignment might be a research project to have students research more recent statistics.  (Most of the stats in the book are from the mid to late 1990's.)

Overall, an intense read that is important to help readers critically understand the issues surrounding potential school shootings and gun control.  It's an effective argument for stricter gun control and anti-bullying campaigns.

Dinner Conversation:  

"Dear Mom,
By the time you read this, I'll be gone.  I just want you to know that there's nothing you could have done to stop this.  I know you always tried your best for me, and if anyone doubts you, just show them this letter.
I don't know if I can really explain why I did this.  I know that every day of my life will hurt and and be a lot more bad than good.  It's entirely a matter of, What's the point of living?" (p. 7)

"Around 10 P.M. on Friday, February 27, Gary Searle died in the gymnasium at Middletown High School.  After the bullet smashed through the left side of his skull and tore into his brain, he probably lived for ten to fifteen seconds.
The brain is a fragile organ suspended in a liquid environment.  Not only does a bullet destroy whatever brain tissue in its path, but the shock waves from the impact severely jar the entire organ, ripping apart millions of delicate structures and connections." (p. 8)

"I was a sophomore studying journalism.  As soon as I heard the news, I went home to Middletown, determined not to leave until I understood what had happened there." (p. 9)

"Gary wasn't always like that.  When we were in eighth grade and some big jock would body-slam us into a chalkboard or rip the pocket off our shirt, we'd be pissed, and we'd grumble about how we'd like to kill this guy and kick his face in.  The thing was it was all sort of make-believe wishful thinking.  Maybe you'd go home and play Doom for an hour and just blow everyone to bits.  But you never really considered getting a gun and going after them.  At least, I didn't.  --Ryan Clancy"  (pp. 35-36)

"You're walking down the hall, minding your own business.  You see this guy, and he just sneers at you and says, 'Hey, f@&&*t.' Thing is, to him it's nothing.  Two seconds later he's probably forgotten he even said it.  But it's burned in your brain.  It's a permanent scar.  A week later you're still asking yourself, why'd he have to do that?  Why'd he have to pick you?" (pp. 49-50)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

REVIEW: Whirligig

Fleischman, P.  (1998).  Whirligig.  New York:  Dell Laurel-Leaf.

133 pages.

Appetizer:  Brent Bishop moved to the Chicago suburbs about three months ago.  He's still working on establishing himself among the rich and popular juniors at his school.  When he attends a party hosted by the king of popularity, Chez, he tells small lies and tries to flirt with Brianna in the hopes of her raising his status.  When things don't go as he has planned, he finds himself drunk, driving, and feeling suicidal as he speeds down an express way.

Instead of killing himself though, he accidentally kills another girl, Lea Zamora, who had been driving behind him.  Despite the court's decision to only give him probation, he seeks punishment and retribution.  He finds it with the mother of the girl he killed.  She assigns him the task of placing whirligigs, Lea's favorite childhood toy, at the four corners of the country.

People have been recommending this book for years.  It then sat in my To Be Read Mountain for years until an Earthquake struck, the snow caps of my TBR Mountain collapsed and Whirligig was unearthed.  Or something.

As I began reading, I wasn't sure if it was going to live up to all of the recommendations.  It was clear within the first few pages that Brent was a jerk.  I found myself rooting for tragedy to strike so I could finally feel some sympathy for him has be began to change (Although, the fact that he suddenly turned suicidal on page 18 was a little surprising and didn't necessarily match social-climber characterization I had imagined).

Then I hit the second chapter and the story switches to the first-person point-of-view of a girl named Steph who describes the impact one of the whirligigs had on her.  And I was won over.  I didn't enjoy some of the other perspectives that were included as much, but it was still an enjoyable look at the impact of actions and at Brent's reassembling of his identity after causing a tragedy.

In terms of uses for the classroom, Whirligig lends itself to some diverse uses.  Reading about Brent assembling his first whirligig made me want to go out and buy supplies and try to make my own.  Throughout the book, he also explores a number of works of literature (and discusses why writing in books is awesome!), learning to play the harmonica, studying astronomy, various history topics, etc.

I think it's a great book to include in a thematic unit on identity.  It also can be used to focus on the impact and consequences of action (it could be one option for literature circles.  Other books that could be paired with it include Looking for Alaska and The Book of Blood and Shadow.)

Dinner Conversation:

"Brent turned toward his clock.  It was five thirty-five.  He hated the hours before a party.  A nervous energy whipped back and forth inside him.  He focused again on the computer's screen and careened through the video game's dark passages, firing at everything speeding toward him, borne along by the never-ending music." (p. 3)

"He shouted out the catalog of the night's injustices, rained punishments on his enemies, wailed at his disappointments and deprivations.  The flood of words seemed to bear him down the road.  His head reeled with drink and despairs.  Then he saw that he'd gotten on the wrong express way." (p. 16)

"They are the pawns.  You are a king.
He took his hands delicately off the wheel again.
You have a king's absolute power within you.
He hold his hands in midair for several seconds.  They shook slightly.  Gradually, he lowered them and laid them lightly on his thighs.  He stared blankly at the lights before him.
You have absolute power over you own life.
He saw that the car was drifting to the left.  He felt his hands jerk, but kept them on his thighs.
You have the power to end your life.  Now.
Very slowly, he closed his eyes." (p. 18)

"'So why are we here, of all places?'
"That's why."  Alexandra stopped and pointed at a strange contraption near the edge of the cliff.
"What is it?"
We approached.  It was as big as a box kite and mounted on a pole, gesticulating wildly with moving arms, vanes, wheels and propellers larger and small.  I'd never seen it.  It was all different colors.  It didn't resemble anything in particular, except at the top, where there was a woman's head.  Attached to her hair were three reflectors.  Shells and chimes hung around her neck.  Even with half the moving parts stuck, a gust blowing through it set off a flurry of fluttering and shimmering and ringing, as if a flock of exotic birds was taking flight.
I squinted my eyes against the wind.  "Who made it?"
"I think we can rule out the Pilgrims.  How should I know?  It's always been here."
"What's written on the wood?"
"'Lea Rosalia Santos Zamora'."
"What's that?"
"I'm pretty sure it's a prayer to the wind." (p. 24)

"His second life had eclipsed his first.  Its moment of birth had been the crash.
He didn't remember the actual impact.  He did recall the ambulance lights, the policeman asking how he felt, the discovery that he'd escaped with only cuts and a minor head injury.  Then came the alcohol test.  Then the drive to the police station, being booked for drunk driving, the photographs and fingerprints--registering his new birth, he thought now.  Then the realization that the ambulance at the scene had been tending someone else, that he'd hit another car." (p. 34)

"'Lea is gone.  I'm learning to accept that.  I thought I had nothing I could ask you that would help.  You can't bring back her body.  Then I thought about her spirit.'
Brent's skin tingled.  He stared at the photo, then at [Lea's mom], anxious to hear her bidding.
"This is my only request.  That you make four whirligigs, of a girl that looks like Lea.  Put her name on them.  Then set them up in Washington, California, Florida and Maine--the corners of the United States.  Let people all over the country receive joy from her even though she's gone." (p. 41)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

REVIEW: A Beautiful Evil

Keaton, K.  (2012).  A Beautiful Evil.  New York:  Simon Pulse.

287 pages.

Appetizer:  In this sequel to Darkness Become Her, it's only been a few days since the devastating events  that concluded the prequel and Ari is still in the remnants of New Orleans, living in the Garden District with a handful of misfits, attending to elite school to learn more about her enemy the goddess Athena and mourning the losses she experienced at the end of Darkness Becomes Her.

Her love interest, Sebastian, has been avoiding her ever since he and others saw what Ari will become once her curse takes full-effect in a few years.  Ari's only hope is to find a way to unravel the curse before than and save the people she cares about who Athena captured at the end of Darkness Becomes Her.

This was a nice fast-paced continuation to Ari's story.  The fantasy world was easier to accept now that it was previously established.  Although, the way magic is differentiated from curses later on in the book to allow some characters still remain powerful in Athena's temple realm was a little forced.  I also still struggle with the godess Athena being the primary antagonist.  I feel like Keaton could have created her own original bad guy effectively without twisting one of my favorite characters from Greek myth.  (Sorry, my bias for Athena was showing a little there.)

I found myself wishing for a map of the reconstructed New Orleans that Keaton envisions.  A listing of all the Novem families, their powers and who belongs to which house also wouldn't have hurt.  (But hey, now that would be a great extra credit opportunity for a student who chose to read this book.)

Keaton once again did a good job of providing rich descriptions of New Orleans and the French Quarter.  As someone who lives in Louisiana, I did have one practical concern or two.  As I kept reading, I wondered if she imagined the city as being in a constant state of celebrating Mardi Gras or something.  Yes, it is a week (or two!) of celebrations, but it's also a half-week or so of NO SCHOOL.  So, when Ari was attending school, I was a little confused.  Plus, while Keaton includes multiple parties, Lundi Gras and Lent are never really mentioned.  I'm guessing this is a point when research falls short to personal experience.  Cool points for describing king cake though!

Also, along with drowning girls, has anybody else noticed that there are a lot of Medusa books that involve a lot of hair-snakes recently?

It's a great image, but I think that the cover designers need to sit down, talk and agree to avoid so much overlap.

Dinner Conversation:

"'Everyone knows what you are now.  Question is, Selkirk, will you live up to their expectations or be the complete failure I think you really are?'
My pulse thundered like a herd of galloping horses.  Sweat rolled down my back, dampening my shirt and the waistline of my jeans.  Tiny wisps of hair stuck to my face and neck.  I kept my eyes shut and dug my short fingernails into the wrist I held tightly, wishing I could inflict some pain...or better yet, make him shut the-- (p. 1)

"The goddess of wisdom had created a god killer.
And once she'd realized that, she'd charged Perseus with killing her creation, which he did.  But what neither of them had counted on was Medusa's child, who had been hidden away--a child who was cursed like her mother to have strange eyes and hair the color of moonlight, a child who would follow in her mother's footsteps and become a monster in her twenty-first year, the same age Medusa had been when she was cursed
And so it began, from mother to daughter, all the way down to me.
And according to the curse, I had less than four years left." (40-41)

"The sun was up fully by the time I stepped off the streetcar and headed down Royal Street for another day at Presby.  Morning light bathed the French Quarter, turning it into a sparkling jewel.
Motor vehicles were prohibited in the Quarter, which took the place back a hundred years and increased the number of mules and carriages.  The tourists loved it.  I did too--no constant drone of engines, no hons or brakes, no smell to clog the air." (p. 68)

"'Ari,' Sebastian said, stopping as we hit the turn in the stairs.  "I know I can't go into the library with you, but whatever you learn in there...I can help on the outside.  Athena screwed up my life too."
"I know she did," I respond quietly.
"And I know you're the type who likes to do things alone," he said, arching his brow.  "It takes one to know one.  But"--he grabbed my arm and pulled me into the corner as a group of students went by--"don't run off and do this by yourself.'" (p. 71)

"'[Sebastian's] interest in you is merely rebellion.  You are different.  Forbidden.  Something he knows is wrong.' Her darks eyes traveled over my features.  "He sees beauty now, is lured by it, even though he knows what lies beneath is evil.  So intriguing, this flirting with danger." She flicked a glance at the jar. "Pandora was the same way, you know? A deceptive package.  The Greek writers called her Kalon Kakon, a beautiful evil.  It won't be long before you destroy those around you, just like she did." (pp. 88-89)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

REVIEW: Ditched--A Love Story "Crazy Crackers"

Mellom, R.  (2012).  Ditched:  A Love Story.  New York:  Hyperion.

275 pages.

Appetizer:  The morning after prom, sixteen-year-old Justina Griffith wakes in a ditch on the side of the road.  She has no idea what happened to her last night.

With no money or phone, Justina walks to 7-Eleven, where she begs the gas station attendant for a Snickers and slowly reveals what happened to her the night before and how and why she ended up at prom with Ian Clark, dressed head-to-toe in blue.

In the past, Justina had been a bit of a, ahem, a bit of a kiss whore.  All of her kissing has caused her to develop a bit of a bad reputation (but unlike the Joan Jett song about not caring about a bad reputation, Justina cares deeply).  Eight months and twelve days ago, she'd decided to only unlock her lips for a boy that was really-truly-most-likely-boyfriend-material in the hope of improving her reputation with her classmates.

Enter Ian Clark.  They became friends the night Justina took her vow of lip-lockery, but Prom had promised to be Hallmark moment for them to become a couple.  So, when Justina wakes up in a ditch without Ian anywhere in sight, she can't help but wonder what happened to him and think that her potential prince is a frog.

Want to know what's awkward?  On page eight, Justina asserts her celebrity crush is Anderson Cooper.  That made this book a little awkward to read the week that Cooper publicly came out as gay.  Awkward reading of Ditched.  But good for you, Anderson!  And good for young kids who could be helped by knowing they're not alone.

What first seemed like a YA version of the movie The Hangover, Ditched is a little less mysterious as Justina quickly remembers everything that happened to her, but still slooooowly reveals her story to two strangers in 7-Eleven.  (Arguably, the a small mystery still remains:  Can she figure out Ian's true nature and know for sure if he's trustworthy boyfriend material.)  I liked the way that each bruise, stain and bit of damage is revealed chapter-by-chapter.  I thought the pictures pointing out the specific piece of damage to be revealed was a nice touch.  I still had been so attached to the idea that this book was a mystery, that the reality was disappointing.  (This is not the book's's totally mine.)  But I did have other issues with Ditched.

Knowing this book is a romantic comedy, it's understandable for Justina to wake up on the side of the road and not be super panicked.  Dealing with such serious emotions isn't easy to make funny (although, I imagine some authors could make it happen).  But as a person with a grasp of reality, I felt like there was much more cause for freaking-out.  Like, if I woke up in a ditch after a night of partying of which I could remember nothing, my first instinct might be to see if there was any evidence that someone had raped me or hurt me in some other way.  Awful, but true.  Just saying.  (Admittedly, the story does quell this concern on p. 19.)

I would have been willing to let Ditched slide if that were the only offense, but then Justina is essentially "rape kissed," as the kids say.  The offender is a drunk boy who is trying to make another girl jealous.  Before the kiss, Justina says, "No, Dan.  It's not right.  I won't--" (p. 91) and then ends the kiss by turning her "head away.  'Stop it.  Stay the hell away from me!'" (p. 92).  She then asks what's wrong with her.  As though she did something wrong.

Bah humbug.

My largest issue was with the way most of the female characters behaved.  I thought the author did a good job of trying to make Justina a complex character (she's an outsider who wants to blend in and erase her bad reputation, a girl with a plan of romantic perfection who has also been pressured, etc.), but the author fell into that trap of making her protagonist hate/insult any and all other female characters who could be perceived as "threats."  Two girls from another high school who attend the Huntington High School prom are "skanks" (p. 116), her best friend tries to steal guys' attention just to mess with their girlfriends.  There are a lot of insults based upon whose wearing what and how expensive it is.  The author tries to dismiss some of this behavior as low blood sugar on Justina's part.  I don't accept this.  Admittedly, as Justina starts to get to know various characters, she sees beyond their "skank" and "slutty" exteriors, but I felt it was too little too late to dig out of that deep ditch  (hahaha, see what I did there...played with the title and used cliches!  I guess that balances out).

I'll stop myself from starting to rant.

Although I do think the way gender is presented in Ditched needs to be troubled and examined (there's also a lot of assumptions that most guys are "scumbags," so the bah humbug-ness goes both ways), it is an interesting premise and there were a handful of amusing moments.  I'd say it's laugh-out-loud factor included one or two chuckles.

Also, parents of precocious tween readers be warned:  There is quite a bit of alcohol and marijuana smoking going on around Justina in various scenes.  It's still arguably responsible (no drunkards or high people drive) but, while representing the reality of prom night, the drug use also isn't at the periphery as much as it would be with other romantic comedies you might recommend to younger readers.

Dinner Conversation:

"I don't know how I ended up on the side of Hollister Road, lying in this ditch.
This moment, last night, the details--all fuzzy.  A reluctant glance down and I see I'm covered in scratches and bruises.  The bruise on my shin appears to be in the shape of a french fry.  French fries cause bruises?  And I have at least five stains on my royal blue iridescent dress--two black, one greenish-bluish, and the remaining are various shades of yellow.  What are these?  Mustard?  Curry?
Wait.  I don't even want to know.
What I do want to know is why I just fell out of a moving Toyota Prius and was left here in this ditch with a french fry shin bruise and unrecognizable stains.  Especially the yellow ones." (pp. 3-4)

"'It will be amazing,' he said.
"I can't wait to walk into that room with you," he said.
"It will be the best night of our lives," he said, as if he were reading straight from a Hallmark card.
And like a doof, I told him I would go.  I even told him if a Journey song came on, I would dance with him, and I imagined my arms draped around his neck, and his breath on my cheek, and my hip brushing against his.  I didn't explain I had been imagining a lof of things about him lately." (pp. 4-5)

"Because even though jerk is the only work I can imagine to describe him now, it's not a word that ever entered my mind as being synonymous with Ian Clark.  Ever.
I have always known of him--Huntington High isn't huge and it's the type of place where everyone's business is just known.  It's almost as if we're all distant relatives--people you've heard of and you know their basic story--or the Lifetime movie version of their story--but you don't really know them, and sometimes don't want to.
Ian became more than a person I knew basic facts about back in sophomore year, spring quarter, P.E.: softball.  I remember my first words to him.  "Have you seen that silver bat around?" (p. 19)

" you declare to your best friend you are never ever going to kiss another boy again until you know deep in you bones, in you marrow, in you cell structure--one hundred percent--that he is boyfriend material."
"Okay," Gilda says.  "I mean...what?"
I shrug.  "No kissing allowed until the guy proved he had the material.  Until then, lips locked."  I press my lips together, reminding myself what they feel like.  "It's been eight months and twelve days since I kissed a boy.  I was going to finally unlock my lips for Ian.  At prom." (p. 21)

"'I'm never kissing another boy again.'
"O-kay. I'm Ian."
"I know.  I remember you," I said. "I hate boys.  You included. You should probably know that up front."
He nodded. "And I hate girls."
We shook hands, and that was it. We were perfect together.
As friends." (p. 35)

Tasty Rating:  !!

Friday, July 6, 2012

REVIEW: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (this book made me wish I was a good Necromancer)

Every time I read this title, I am struck by an urge to sing off-key:

Get it out of my head!  Get it out!!!!!!

Perhaps reviewing the book is the cure-all I need....

McBride, L.  (2010).  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  New York:  Henry Hold and Company.

343 pages.

Appetizer:  Sam dropped out of college and is unhappily working at a fast food restaurant named Plumpy's.  After a strange man enters Plumpy's and accosts Sam about why he hasn't reported to some mysterious council, his life goes down hill at a drastic angle and quickly.  Another man attacks Sam at the end of his shift and he and his friends Ramon and Frank flee.  But the final member of their Plumpy's shift, Brooke, isn't quite so lucky.  The strange man, Douglas, kills her and reanimates her head to "send a message."  Sam finds himself drawn into Seattle's supernatural politics, a grab for power and a mystery related to a missing (and attractive!) werewolf hybrid named Brid.

Oh, and Sam learns he's a necromancer.


Filled with humor, dramatic twists and touches of the macabre, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is a well-written urban fantasy worth checking-out.  I was strongly reminded of the cancelled TV show Reaper as I read due to the mix of humor and supernatural action.  Plus, both are set in Seattle and both feature protagonists who begin the stories as college dropouts with parents who have been keeping some supernatural secrets.

The chapter titles throughout the novel are references to various songs, which meant I wound up with a lot of songs stuck in my head throughout the reading process.  I had to go to to get other songs stuck in my head.  While fun, I did wish music entered into the plot of the story a little more.

One of my few big complaints about this novel is the way the author switched point of views.  For me, Sam's voice was engaging enough that I wanted to stay with him.  Plus, when he met with his mother for her to reveal important backstory, the switch to flashbacks from her point of view (as opposed to maintaining the conversation between mother and son format) didn't really work for me.

Fingers crossed that a companion novel is published sooooOOOOOOOooon!

Dinner Conversation:

"I stood in front of today's schedule still holding my skateboard, still drenched from the ride over, and still desperately wishing that I hadn't dropped out of college.  But wishing wouldn't erase Sam from the counter slot and rewrite it under the grill slot.  No matter what, my job kind of sucks, but on the grill it sucks less.  On the grill, you don't have to handle customers.  Something about the fast food uniform makes people think it's okay to treat you like crap.  Personally, I'm always polite to anyone who handles my food.  There are lots of horrible things that can be done to your meal before it gets to your plate." (p. 1)

"My name is Samhain Corvus LaCroix, and I am a fry cook.
I tried to take some pride where I could.  If I was going to be a dropout loser, then I was going to be the best dropout loser.  That pride came with some complications because it always depressed me to spot anyone, short of a manager, working fast food over the age of eighteen.  I didn't look in any mirrors until I got home and out of my uniform.  It was better that way." (pp. 2-3)

"Douglas watched as the girl unlocked the front door.  No use debating what could have been.  The gloves were already off, and now he was going to have to give a very ungentlemanly kind of warning.  Pity, that.  Still, a necromancer left unchecked could create all sorts of trouble.  Best to put him in his place now.
The little parasite had to be lying.  How could he not know?  It wasn't like necromancy was a power one could ignore.  Douglas could remember seeing his first spirit when he was quite young." (p. 27)

"I opened the box, then quickly dropped it and scrambled up onto the counter, making very dignified shrieking noises.  Ramon stared.  Frank came into the kitchen just in time to see the box bounce onto its side and its contents roll lazily out.  Ramon tried to back up, but he was already against the wall.  Frank managed a quick hop back as Brooke's head rolled to a stop in the middle of the floor.  It had been severed cleanly at the neck, making her ponytail appear longer as it trailed behind like the tail on a grotesque comet.  I couldn't see any blood.  In fact, the wound looked cauterized, which didn't make it any more pleasant.
Nobody said a word.
Nobody except Brooke.
"Ow, cut it out, you guys!" Her blue eyes popped open and swung around until they found me. "Ugh, so not cool. Really, Sam. You don't just drop somebody's head. Especially a friend's.  Like being stuffed into a box and bounced around for an hour wasn't bad enough." (p. 49)

"Douglas swore and closed his eyes.  "I saw my first spirit when I was a child, Sam.  You can't tell me that you haven't had some sort of experience.  Your aura isn't that weak.  Weven if you can't accomplish a full raising, you must have seen something by now.
"Full raising?"
"Of the dead, Sam.  Necromancy.  You're a necromancer, like me."
I laughed, saw he wasn't joking about the necromancy thing, then stopped. "I'm nothing like you," I said. I guess my keep-my-mouth-shut policy had gone out the window.  "Necromancy." I laughed again.  "You could have at least worked up to that one.  You know, started with 'Luke, you have the power' or something like that." I snorted. 'Come over to the dark side.'" (pp. 95-96)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Sons of Liberty (Book One)

Lagos, A., & Lagos, J.  (2010).  The Sons of Liberty.  New York:  Random House.

Happy Independence Day, Americans!

Appetizer:  Set in 1760, Brody and Graham are young slaves on the horrendous Mr. Sorenson's plantation.  After an accident in which they hurt Sorenson's vile son, the two must run away.  Pursued by the villainous Walker, who works for Sorenson, and his many dogs, the two try to take refuge on the lands of Benjamin Franklin (Yes, that Benjamin Franklin!).

The two boys do not find any respite though, because they are captured by Franklin's mad son, William, who has been doing experiments with electricity and killing many animals in a cabin on the Franklin land.  William does not hesitate to experiment on the two boys.

Benjamin Franklin does manage to find and save Brody and Graham, but the boys are changed.  They can leap across the river with almost no effort.

Franklin and his friend Benjamin Lay vow to protect the boys and prepare them for a great future, fighting to create a country where slaves can be free.

In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Quinten Tarantino's Django Unchained, The Sons of Liberty draw inspiration from history to create a superhero origin story that is both inspiring and empowering.  The website for the book series,, is pretty great.  And although it wasn't online while I was writing this post, they're developing a fact vs. fiction page that could be a great resource for students.

While I loved the story, I do have to admit, I felt like the way the graphic novel came together was not 100% clear.  I found that I had to read it more slowly than I would other graphic novels to make certain I was following.  There were some gaps in the text during which characters would be in surprising places without explanation (William going from the Franklin home to Fort Ticonderoga...I missed that development).  There was also a flashback within a flashback that was a little disconcerting.

The second book in this series is Death and Taxes.  I'll check it out because I want to get to more of the superheroing and see the push toward freedom.

Dinner Conversation:

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Well, I'm off to watch Independence Day!

Monday, July 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Name of the Star by @maureenjohnson

Johnson, M.  (2011).  The Name of the Star.  New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons.

372 pages.

Appetizer:  The eyes of London are watching.  However they somehow didn't capture the death of a woman who was killed in the same brutal style that Jack the Ripper used in 1888.

Rory, who has just arrived in London to spend her senior year at Wexford Boarding School near the location of the original Ripper's attacks, hears the news on the way to her new school.  Over the next several weeks, as Rory settles into school and befriends her roommate Jazza, all of London awaits a possible second murder by the Jack the Ripper copycat.  An attack does come and through circumstances *cough* sneaking out of the dorm *cough* Rory is the only witness (despite her friend being present) to see a strangely dressed man near the scene.

What put it simply...drama ensues.

I thought The Name of the Star had a really strong opening with a description of all of the surveillance in London quickly followed by a woman discovering the dead body of a woman killed in the style of the Jack the Ripper slayings.  My enthusiasm faded a little with the start of the actual first chapter.  Rory's voice wasn't quite as immersing.  Although it was awesome that she was from Louisiana (Yay, Louisiana!!!!  There needs to be more representation of my adopted state in YA and children's literature!).  I personally didn't need to hear about her getting situated into her dorm.  I also thought it may have been more fun if her stories about her family back in Louisiana were shared more in conversations instead of as exposition (I did like the way she incorporated a lot of Louisiana experiences into chapter fact, I would have been fine with that being the main way her past was explored).  Some of my waning interest in the first few chapters could be due to my age.  I've moved into multiple dorms over the years and met multiple new roommates, so unless the dorm involves magic--like Hogwarts!!!!YAY!!!!!!!--then I'm not too interested.

But, I was once again super-engaged and interested when the mystery started to heat up again.  I really like the way the news coverage and influence of the media was incorporated into the rest of the novel.  I also really liked the ending and am looking forward to the second book.

I do have one detail issue with the first half of the book though.  I can't be too specific for fear of providing a major spoiler, but I do wonder why the killer's first victims went with him.  Based on the big reveal about the killer, I was left wondering how he controlled the women.  But that's all I'll reveal, unless someone would like to have a spoiler-riffic discussion in the comments.

Also, to help get a visual of the setting of The Name of the Star, here's a tour that Maureen Johnson went on with some readers:

Also, if you don't follow Maureen Johnson on twitter, you really should.  She will stare at you until you follow her.  Then, she'll probably stare at you after.  But it will be slightly less creepy by then.

Dinner Conversation:

"The eyes of London were watching Claire Jenkins.  She didn't notice them, of course.  No one paid attention to the cameras.  It was an accepted fact that London has one of the most extensive CCTV systems in the world.  The conservative estimate was that there were a million cameras around the city, but the actual number was probably much higher and growing all the time.  The feed went to the police, security firms, MI5, and thousands of private individuals--forming a loose and all-encompassing net.  IT was impossible to do anything in London without the CCTV catching you at some point." (p. 1)

"Jack the Ripper struck for the second time very early on September 8, 1888.
That last fact was hammered home in about seventeen thousand ways.  I didn't even watch the news and yet, news just got in.  And the news really wanted us to know about the eighth of September.  The Eighth of September was a Saturday.  And I had art history class on Saturday.  This fact seemed much more relevant to my life, being unused to the idea of Saturday class.  I had always assumed the weekend was a holy tradition, respected by good people everywhere.  Not so at Wexford." (pp. 61-62)

"It didn't take a great deal of insight to know that Jazza was not going to want to go to a crime scene that evening.  She was, to use the vernacular, a normal person." (p. 66)

"Gators are just something you have to accept where I come from.  Most don't go anywhere near the houses, even though there are lots of delicious children and dogs there.  Every once in a while, though, an alligator has a lightbulb moment and decides to take a stroll and see the world a bit.  One day when I was eight or so, I opened the back door, and I saw this thing way at the end of the yard.  I remember thinking it was a big black log--so, of course, I went down to look at it, because what's more exciting than a big log, right?  I know.  Children are stupid." (p. 154)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!


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