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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Truth about Forever

This is my second Sarah Dessen book, and so far, she's got two for two on my list. I really enjoy her writing, her characters, her honest look at the world of being a teenager. I don't enjoy the drinking/smoking or the very occasional language, but those do go along with that "honest look," so that's that.

One of my favorite things about Sarah Dessen's writing is that the writing never, ever gets in the way of the story. It's the delivery vehicle, not the destination. Even with fabulous authors like Shannon Hale, I'll be reading along and think, "Ooo, that was a cool comparison," or "Ooo, what a lovely way of saying that!" So while I'm appreciative, I'm also momentarily drawn out of the story. Dessen just tells it like it is, as cliche as that sounds. No fancy-shmanciness, know what I mean?

The Truth about Forever tells Macy Queen's story---that's Macy, I-saw-my-dad-die-of-a-heart-attack, Queen. After her father's death, Macy has built tight walls of outward perfection around herself. She is fine-just-fine. A year and a half after the incident, she wants to mourn, but she thinks it's too late. Everyone else has moved on ... why can't she? Enter "Wish"---a catering company run by a totally frazzled, chaotic, full-of-life group of people, including the oh-so handsome Wes. When on a whim, Macy asks for a job, she finally learns how to step out of her perfect box and embrace the changes, good and bad, that truly living life inevitably brings.

Cool story. Thumbs up.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cybils Announced!

The 2009 Cybils winners have been announced. Check them out here!

I was on the science fiction/fantasy panel for young adult books. As a panel, we chose, easily and unanimously, Fire, by Kristin Cashore. This is a companion novel to Graceling, which was a finalist last year for the Cybils. I read Graceling in preparation for reading Fire, thinking that I should understand the first novel first. It really wasn't necessary to do so; Fire stands nicely on its own, with only one crossover character to Graceling (though it gives away a bit of Graceling's storyline to hear this particular character's history). I won't rehash our panel's review of Fire here ... you can check out what we had to say about it in the above link.

Of the other finalists, only one really presented any competition to Fire for me, and that was Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times, which Alysa already reviewed here. I chose Cashore's book in the end, though, because it seemed to appeal more to both a male and female audience, whereas Lips Touch I think is geared more toward a female readership. The writing in both was marvelous---beautiful imagery, deep characters, well-paced story lines, lots of good to root for. As for the other books ...

Sacred Scars: Very dark, very edgy, quite a few F words, compelling writing, disturbing plot, fascinating characters.





Tiger Moon: Truly sublime writing. Makes me want to visit India someday, or at least learn more about it. The first two-thirds of the book were quite slow, though. And our panel was concerned about the fact that the cover appeals to a younger teen audience, but that there's a minor scene of sensuality sandwiched in the middle of the book that doesn't fit that apparent target audience.


Dust of 100 Dogs: Did. Not. Like. This book was ick. The language. The extremely adult content, both violent and sexual. This took "edgy" and jumped off the cliff with it. I definitely do not recommend to a teen audience. Yes, the plot is unique and interesting. But the main character was obnoxiously superior. And there were some unanswered questions that bugged me (e.g., if all the four characters were doomed to live the lives of 100 dogs, how is it that they all came back to humanity at just the right time to make them all the same age they were before they began their dog lives? That seems a little overly coincidental ...).

Candor: Good book. Cool, devil-may-care main character. Interesting story. But speaking of plot holes? Yikes! I just couldn't get around them. And not so much holes as just a completely hard-to-believe premise. I thought we were asked to accept a little too much on good faith as readers. I won't go into details and risk spoiling the plot. And the love story felt a bit forced, to me. Anyway. Not one of my favs, but a good-ish book nonetheless. Good teen appeal.


The Demon's Lexicon: I wasn't a big fan of this entry either. The writing just didn't do it for me. It was often redundant (I thought I was going to have to chuck the book if the main character "snarled" one more time). There is a cool surprise twist that I didn't see coming. So. Read it for the twist. But not for much else.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Three thumbs up for this Count-of-Monte-Cristo-style tale of an adventurous inventor with a heroic streak (yes, I realize I don’t have three thumbs, but that’s how much I liked it people!). This is a must-read for males, females, adults, children, and anyone I missed in the cracks of those classifications.
The book details the life of Conor Broekhart who studies the science of flight right around the time the Wright brothers are scheming in America. Conor’s dream is to work with his dashing tutor and his royal family friend (the king of some small islands off the British Coast) to create the first self-propelled flying machine. But then Conor hears/sees too much as he rubs shoulders with royal doings and ends up struggling to survive as a prisoner working in a deep and dangerous diamond mine. A few years go by, and we see how the now-late-adolescent plans daring escapes, rescues, and dramatic reunions with his childhood dreams.
My one complaint is the uncharacteristic amount of loose ends that Colfer has left within the story. Perhaps he is planning a sequel to answer some of my questions? What happens to the plans that Conor engraved in his jail cell? Did the evil Bonvilain really die? While we do have a few loose ends, all the major conflicts are resolved though, so I guess I really can’t complain.
The characters (with a slight amount of exception) are well-developed, the plot moves quickly and compellingly, and the story weaves its own magic, though there are plot elements that definitely remind one of Alexandre Dumas’ timeless tale. The book is chalk-full of heroic rescue, tragic happenstance, and a particular obsession with flying. An excellent Beehive Nominee!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

When my brother announced he would be living in India for two years back in 2005, my family was a little taken aback, we knew nothing about Indian culture other than what we could gather from movies like The Jungle Book and Gandhi. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about India and its people, and gained an immense appreciation in particular for Indian women. Thus, I enjoyed this book quite a lot, as it follows the life and dreams of a teenage Indian girl during World War II.
Vidya, our protagonist, is a perky character with a stubborn streak and a sense of independence. Her fascination with India’s growing discontent with British rule clashes with her brother’s belief in doing his duty to fight the Nazis. All these opinions are thrown into the relative background when Vidya and her father are caught in the middle of a protest march and tragedy strikes the family. Vidya must move to the strictly Brahmin household of her extended family members, where she is forbidden to mingle with males (including her brother), and isn’t even allowed to go upstairs in the house. Here, she fears she will be forced into an arranged marriage before she has a chance to fulfill her dreams of higher education. Every day is a struggle, and the reader struggles with her.

While this historical fiction novel held some definite appeal to my interests, I can’t say it would fascinate everyone in the same way. It has some slow moments, and there is definitely some feminist angst that might not strike a chord with many males in the same way it did with me. If you have the time and the interest, it’s definitely worth reading, but I can’t really see it winning the Beehive Award.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ooh, La La!

Announcing the cover of the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  Coming August 24th, 2010.

Fun post about it by Scholastic here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When You Reach Me


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I've read a couple good Middle Grade titles recently.  And apparently I'm not the only one who thought this book was good -- When You Reach Me is this year's Newbery winner.  (And, equally impressive to some of us, Shannon Hale recommended it on her blog.)

When You Reach Me follows a girl back in the day who loves Madeleine L'Engle's  A Wrinkle in Time.  The fact that the book is set in the past is not really noticeable, though.  Grade school is a familiar setting for anyone who has attended.  Someone is leaving cryptic notes for Miranda -- our sixth grade protagonist.  She is also trying to figure out how to patch things up with her former best friend, Sal.  The hint of mystery and slow build of suspense kept me reading until I got into the book; at which point I couldn't stop thinking about it.  

The book is pretty serious -- Miranda takes things seriously and is in some tough situations.  Of course, that's not news for a Newbery winner.  It seems like Newbery winners are often dealing with the most serious of subjects: death. Graveyard book, Higher Power of Lucky, Kira-Kira, just to name a few recent ones.  But despite being a sober book, it has a fun twist of the fantastical.  I won't spoil it for you.  This would be a good book club pick, for sure.  I simply had to talk to Jacob about it when I was done.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, art by Jim Di Bartolo

Laini Taylor is such a wordsmith.  That's why she can write three short stories that each contain a complete world of their own.  And that's how she can manage to toss in things like swan wings and indigo veils and tiny bottles of mysterious potions.  Terribly romantic, that's what I call that.

Each story is a bit longer than the one before it.  (This is especially true of the first story, which is by default infinitely longer than the one before it.) The first deals with forbidden fruit and goblins, and contains my favorite character -- one feisty grandma.  The second is a lovely fairy tale (sans fairies) and the story of a catch 22 curse.  The third story is something of a musing on the definition of "human" and is definitely the creepiest of the three.  I didn't have any nightmares, though.

And the artwork!  Jim has really outdone himself.  I suppose it helps that he and Laini (who are married) collaborate on things all the time.  But the illustrations perfectly compliment the stories.  They come before each one and intrigue you without spoiling things at all.  And then, if you're like me, you can't help but flip back to them when you figure out just what it was the pictures were representing and portraying.

I feel duty-bound to say that there is a moderate amount of swearing in the book, and obviously kisses take place.  The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, just recently, and is on the Cybils YA Fantasy shortlist as well.  In fact, our own Ashley has read it but she is strictly forbidden from reviewing contestants until Cybils announcements on Valentine's Day.  Good luck, Lips Touch!

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