Monday, January 31, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Review: Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

Found via: Bookends

Last Monday, the big talk in New York City was how it was colder in Manhattan than it was in parts of Antarctica. Which probably isn't the fairest comparison considering it's summer in Antarctica right now, but the point was made: it was freaking cold here. As we're in a brief lull between snowstorms, and temperatures are thankfully back into the 30s, I thought it was high time to settle in with Frozen Secrets, Sally M. Walker's in-depth look at the mysterious continent.

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica RevealedWalker methodically walks us through numerous aspects of Antarctic exploration, from the first humans to attempt to cross the continent, back to the dinosaurs that once called it home, and looking ahead to what clues Antarctica can give us about Earth's future.

There's a little bit of something for everyone in here - geology and climatology, paleontology and even robotics. Every couple of pages I was coming across new stunning facts and photographs that I just had to share with my husband - who is going to read the book next and use it as research for the survival-horror role playing game he's setting up for our friends that will now be taking place in an Antarctic research station.

Teen readers I'm sure will feel a connection with the middle school scientists featured in the book - their science teacher goes scuba diving with Antarctic research teams, and gave her students the chance to build a robot that was actually used in an Antarctic dive. How cool is that?!

Walker does an excellent job of explaining complex scientific theories and experiments in plain language for the non-Antarctic-expert. The explanations are accompanied by amazing photographs and excellent charts and drawings when applicable, making everything extremely easy to understand, but not feel condescending.

This is also an absolutely stunning book. I can't find a picture of it online, but the cover image that Amazon has isn't the actual cover - the same picture is used, but the title is moved up above the mountains and is in a blue font, while the subtitle is in roughly the same position but faces from yellow to light blue, like the overall photo does. Visually stunning, and I just love the font as well - it comes back for the chapter headings throughout the book. Almost every page has at least one picture, from portraits of research teams to stunning landscapes to historical photographs of early Antarctic explorers. This is absolutely a must-read for any sort of science geek.

Nonfiction Monday
This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by The Miss Rumphius Effect. Be sure to stop by and check out the other great nonfiction titles highlighted this week!

Friday, January 28, 2011

What Have I Missed? Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Recommended by: Bob

A Northern Light is one of the books that inspired me to start this challenge. Bob had recommended it to me ages and ages ago, but I never got around to it because I wanted to keep up with all of the new titles coming out. When I started seeing people rave about Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution I knew her name sounded familiar...all because A Northern Light was still in the back of my mind as a book I needed to read! So I decided this needed to be the first book I challenged myself to - and that my reward for getting this challenge under way would be getting to read Revolution next!

A Northern LightIn 1906, in a small farming community and summer tourist town, Mattie Gokey dreams of going to New York City to study writing, to share her stories of everyday life with the rest of the world. But realistically, Mattie knows she's never going to leave North Woods. Her mother has recently died, leaving Mattie and her three sisters alone with their father, who can barely bring in enough money to keep food on the table through the winter. Even if she could get a scholarship to cover her tuition, where would she get the money for lodging, clothes and books? And then there's the fact that handsome Royal Loomis has come courting, and Mattie is feeling a surprising impulse to stay at home and settle down.

Taking a summer job at a big tourist hotel to help out her family and put away a little savings for herself, Mattie is implored one day by guest Grace Brown to burn a bundle of letters. Mattie takes the letters, but keeps them hidden, just in case Grace ever asks for them back. Until Grace's drowned body is pulled from the lake, the apparent victim of a boating accident. The young man she was traveling with is nowhere to be found. Mattie begins reading the letters, hoping for a clue as to who Grace was, and maybe for a little guidance from beyond the grave for who Mattie should be.

Donnelly weaves lots of complicated themes into what is on the surface a basic coming of age story with a bit of mystery. Classism is big, ranging from the rich tourists coming in to land that's been settled by poor farmers, to the poor farmers looking down on those who are even poorer. Sexism is the other big one, and all the myriad ways it rears its ugly head. There's the expected views that women shouldn't be educated, but also ideas about what is appropriate for women to be writing about and how to handle sexual harassment. Mattie's best friend is African-American, and she gives us a first hand look at the ugly realities of racism in a Northern state 40 years after the end of th Civil War. Want more? There's also wonderful questions about decency and obscenity, both in people's actions and in literature through the books Mattie's beloved teacher surreptitiously loans her.

My one irritant in this book is the use of Mattie's dictionary word of the day. On the one hand, it's a fun trope and is used well to indicate when a particular chapter is set (the story goes back and forth between the discovery of Grace's body and the months leading up to Mattie taking the position at the hotel). On the other hand, the bit began to wear thin about halfway through the novel as Mattie often would struggle with how the word did or didn't fit how her day was going. I felt that the idea was well established enough at that point that it could have been left to the reader to figure out how a word did or didn't fit thematically, and only have Mattie mention it when it was an important comment on the story.

Huge thanks to Bob for recommending this to me! Next on my list? Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, winner of the Printz in 2005 and recommended by Rachel!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Thoughts: Snow Day!

Inspired by Melissa's Teaser Tuesday for Trapped, and New York's own snowy weather, I got to thinking about weather and reading.

Snowing in New York         Image by Keith Barlow via Flickr
As I settle in for my own snow day, I really kind of wish that I had Trapped with me - while the snow has stopped so this blizzard won't reach the epic fail that was the Christmas blizzard (which I totally missed by being on vacation Phoenix, Arizona, grr), this still seems like the perfect weather for this sort of book. On the other hand, I can totally understand people wanting to read a book set in a tropical paradise as a bit of escapism today.

So I'm wondering how your own reading tastes tend to go, especially when it comes to frigid winter or sweltering summer days. Do you want to read about characters who are suffering/celebrating the way you are? Or are you purely an escapist fantasy reader and want to at least imagine being some place totally different?
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Taking Off by Jenny Moss

There's a superstition out there that whatever you do on the first day of a new year is something that you'll be doing often for the rest of the year. I'm kind of hoping that I can apply that superstition to books: the first book you read published in the new year should be indicative of how the rest of the year's books will turn out. So I'm really, really glad I chose and AWESOME book to be my first published-in-2011 read.

Taking OffAnnie is a senior in high school in a suburban Texas town facing large, looming questions. Like where is she going to college and what will she do with the rest of her life. Surrounded by engineers who work with NASA, and fellow students who know that college is the next step, Annie isn't even sure she wants to go to college. She loves poetry, and has tried her hand at writing a few times, but is pretty sure she's actually terrible and knows there's no money in the endeavor. She hides her passion from everyone - her divorced parents, her best friend Lea, and even Mark, her boyfriend of two years.

When Lea, the daughter of NASA engineers, invites Annie to yet another dinner party featuring NASA personnel and astronauts, Annie drags her feet until she learns the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, will be there. She maneuvers her way to sit next to Christa at dinner, and even though the conversation is rather routine, Annie finds herself inspired by Christa's passion for life and following her dreams. While Annie doesn't know the answers to her big life questions yet, she knows she wants to see Christa's launch into space.

Meeting Christa, and roadtripping with her dad and his handsome young friend Tommy to see the Challenger launch, and ultimately the disaster after takeoff, inspires Annie to start taking risks. Small ones first, but bit by bit Annie draws strength and inspiration from Christa's memory, and is finally able to take off for herself.

First of all, I have to give massive props to Jenny Moss for how she carries off the climactic scene of the Challenger's explosion. I knew going in that it was going to happen, and yet when the shuttle finally launched, and then broke apart, my heart was in my throat. I felt like I was right there with Annie, even though Challenger happened when I was barely a year old. 

The romantic subplot in Taking Off is absolutely superb - because it reflects a lot of the indecision that can happen in relationships, especially young ones. I've gotten burned out on the number of YA books that end with the teens finding their soul mates. Annie is content with Mark, but knows they're not soul mates. So refreshing to see a girl exploring her options!

This Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, meaning this book is set at a very specific time that is close enough to feel contemporary but long enough ago that the book's intended audience wasn't even born yet. This is historical fiction that will still appeal to people who think they hate the genre, because aside from the Challenger and a few mentions of cassette tapes, Annie's personal struggles are truly timeless.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Review: The Girl Who Was on Fire ed. by Leah Wilson

When I got the ARC of this from Smart Pop books, it included a bit of info on the editor - including the name of her degree from Duke University: Culture and Modern Fiction. Um, can I go back to school for that? Seriously, if money (both to go to school and in terms of making a living later) were no option, I would love to get an advanced degree in something like that. Which is probably why the Smart Pop books in general appeal to me so much, as they combine my love of all sorts of bits of popular culture with light academic reading. So when I was asked to look at Smart Pop's April 2011 title, all about The Hunger Games trilogy, I was allllllllllll over it!

The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy13 YA authors tackle The Hunger Games trilogy, looking at topics as varied as the roles of fashion and the media, to politics and PTSD. There is some really serious stuff in here, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who paid attention to more than the (gag) love triangle in the original books.

I'm clearly going to be partial to any essay titled "Team Katniss" - after all, that's the team I officially supported with a t-shirt at the Mockingjay release party - and Jennifer Lynn Barnes offers an excellent analysis on why Katniss herself is who we should be most concerned with - not being preoccupied with her love life. On a more frivolous level, I really enjoyed Terri Clark's look at Katniss' (and Cinna's) many fashion statements throughout the trilogy, and how Cinna was able to use fashion as a rhetorical device. Reading it made me think that Cinna would have loved to design for Madeleine Albright. Sarah Darer Littman, who is a political columnist when she's not writing novels like Life, After, writes a devastating essay comparing the politics of the trilogy to contemporary US politics - especially some of the rhetoric used during the Bush Administration to justify the war on terror (I can see that essay inspiring a LOT of negative criticism. Littman doesn't pull any punches - but it might be my favorite).

All of the essays here are worthwhile - those are merely my favorites, but each of them has something excellent and worthwhile to add to conversations on The Hunger Games. I wouldn't recommend powering through this book in one sitting, however. Unlike a lot of other Smart Pop books, the authors only had three novels to work with, which leads to some repetitive passages - talking about the bombs in the Capitol in Mockingjay or Katniss' use of the berries in Hunger Games. The essays themselves aren't repetitive, and all of them make unique points from the same set of examples, but reading one essay after another really highlighted for me how little material, in a sense, the authors had to work with in comparison to the Smart Pop book on Harry Potter.

I said in the intro that I consider this "light" academic reading and I want to make it clear that I don't intend that as a slight, but on the other hand only a few of these essays rely upon any sources outside of the three novels. Most of those outside sources are excerpts from interviews Suzanne Collins gave while promoting Mockingjay. This isn't hard hitting collegiate-level literary analysis, but would serve as an excellent introduction and as examples of just how many different ways one book (or set of books) can be analyzed.

The Girl Who Was on Fire goes on sale in April, and I consider it a must-read for any fan of The Hunger Games.

Reviewed from an ARC provided by the publisher

Nonfiction Monday
This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Great Kid Books. Be sure to stop by and check out the other great nonfiction titles highlighted this week!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bloggiesta wrap up

Another Bloggiesta has come to a close. How did I do?

My primary goal was accomplished Saturday morning: all posts going forward are using IntenseDebate. So far I like it, though there are a few kinks I need to work out. Maybe it's just me, but every time I click to reply to an ID comment, the comment field is already populated with the last comment I wrote. It's totally bizarre. Is that happening for anyone else?

Other than the comments change, I caught up on all of my reviews - which, granted, was only 5. Barely a drop in the bucket. But I still got them out of the way, so that's good.

I was also able to put together my feminist YA novels list. I'm pretty proud of it. I think I might put together a reflection post on it to post on a rainy day - I've already had one comment suggesting I add The Hunger Games which I just don't think is going to fit in with how I conceive of the list. Also, I recognize it's a rather white list - the two books about African-American women are both set in the army in WWII. Of course, a lack of racial diversity (or the perception thereof) has been a longstanding problem in the feminist movement, so it's unsurprising that the same problem is found in YA representations of the topic.

My sidebar has been tweaked a couple of times over the weekend - the subscribe by e-mail option is more prominent, as is subscribing via Google FriendConnect. NetworkedBlogs has also been added. I removed the links to the old reading challenges and added a link to my TBR shelf on Goodreads. It's a pretty empty shelf at the moment - adding my (massive) TBR list to Goodreads is one of the things I didn't happen to accomplish. However, I think I want to try to be more social about my Goodreads use, so please add me as a friend if you're so inclined!

I also learned about FeedFlare and implementing those options both into my RSS feed and the footer of every post here on the blog! Oh, and the aforementioned wireless set up in my apartment was completed yesterday afternoon, too.

I was much more relaxed about Bloggiesta this time than previously. I think it's because I had no big projects that needed to be tackled. My tags are kept rather orderly and I didn't want to do any massive layout changes. Thanks to my new year's resolution to spend 6-8 hours writing every weekend (including writing for the blog), I've been able to keep mostly up-to-date on my reviews. So I found that a lot of my Bloggiesta time was spent on Twitter and I went out of my way to comment on more blogs than I have before. I think if I can keep on top of general blog work, I'm going to be doing a lot more cheerleading in future Bloggiestas. I think this is a really worthwhile project and I profusely thank Natasha for setting this up for the fourth time! Poor thing hardly has a chance to work on her own blog she's so busy organizing and cheering the rest of us on. I hope to help out in June by at least hosting a mini-challenge of some kind! Perhaps helping to change comment systems, since I've found that so rewarding.

This is the end of the Bloggiesta posts until this summer (I hope!). Fellow participants: congratulations on all of your hard work! Just think - anything you didn't get done this time around, you can get to next time!

Book List: Feminist YA Novels

"Feminism is a whole state of being. It’s having lenses on your eyes, your ears, all your senses all the time. You’re not a feminist just when you’re doing activism work, you’re a feminist all the time. You’re a feminist when you’re watching a movie, where you decide to go out, the way you make your economic choices. All the smallest details and the biggest details." - Farah Salka, coordinator for Nasawiya, a feminist group in Lebanon

If you've been reading my blog for any appreciable amount of time, you know by now that I am a huge feminist. Feminism informs pretty much everything I do, which includes what books I read and how I read them.

The ALA has released the Amelia Bloomer Project list since 2002, highlighting the panel's choices for feminist titles for readers from birth through 18. I find it to be an extremely helpful list, and follow their nominations blog religiously. But for a while I've been wanting to put together my own list, that highlights both my favorite explicitly feminist books, as well as books that may exemplify feminist ideas while not feeling like a traditionally feminist book. By putting this list together, I hope to illustrate that feminism doesn't have just one meaning or purpose, and is in fact a movement and ideal that should be supported by all human beings.

In order to make it onto this list, a book must fit four criteria: 1) must be a young adult novel 2) I have to have read it 3) Must have at least one feminist element 4) I have to like it enough to recommend to others! This isn't an exhaustive list, but I am always taking new suggestions - let me know if you think there's anything I missed!

Annie on My MindAnnie on my Mind by Nancy Garden. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982
Feminist points: lesbian romance, discrimination based on sexual-orientation
After Liza and Annie cross paths at a museum, the girls find themselves to be inseparable. But their feelings go far beyond friendship, and blossom into a tender romance they feel they have to hide from their friends and family in New York City in the early 1980s. A ground breaking book that holds up extremely well almost 30 years after publication, a subplot about a lesbian teacher being fired due to her sexual orientation doesn't feel so much like historical fiction even today.

Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch. Laurel Leaf, 2002
Feminist points: young woman on her own, women entering workforce, worker's rights
16 year old Rose Nolan immigrates from Ireland to New York City in 1911. Beset by obstacles from the moment she steps off the boat with her family, Rose and her sister end up in the big city on their own, renting a room from a labor organizer, whose daughter arranges for Rose to work with her at the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz. Penguin young readers, 2009
Feminist points: women in sports, education of women
Nine short stories tell the story of nine generations of one family and their connections to baseball, from 1845-2002. Two stories look at women and the game: in 1926, Frankie is a genius when it comes to numbers and loves baseball statistics, but has already decided she won't be going to college because of her gender. In 1945, Kat travels from New York City to the midwest to play for the Grand Rapids Chicks in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
Feminist points: US suffrage movement
A novel in verse following 18 year old Muriel Jorgensen, and her family's neighbors the Normans. When Frank Norman - who Muriel is beginning to think of as more than a friend - and Muriel's brother enlist to fight in World War I, Muriel and Frank's sister, Emma, are left to help keep up the home front. When Muriel isn't contemplating the war, she is fascinated by the rapidly-growing suffrage movement, which her aunt is protesting for even as the US goes to war.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Hyperion, 2008
Feminist points: Self-identified feminist protagonist, institutional sexism, expression and conceptions of femininity
At 14, Frankie Landau-Banks is a mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. When she comes back for her sophomore year, she's morphed over the summer into a girl with a chip on the shoulder of her knock-out body. Frustrated by her boyfriend's participation in an all-male secret society, Frankie plans epic pranks to show who has the real brains, and hopefully open the minds of her classmates.

Empress of the World and Rules for Hearts by Sara Ryan Puffin, 2001 and Viking Juvenile, 2007.
Feminist points: strong female friendships, lesbian and bisexual romance
In Empress, Nicola Lancaster is attending a summer camp for gifted students in order to further her dreams of becoming in archeologist. On the first day she meets the beautiful Battle Hall Davies, and finds herself instantly smitten. Nic wrestles with her conceptions of love and dating and her own identity while learning the important lesson that "words don't always work." Rules for Hearts picks up Battle's story the summer before she goes to college. She and Nic have broken up on amicable terms, and Battle is now spending the summer living in a co-op house with a Shakespeare theatre company and falling for her roommate Meryl.

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont. Atheneum, 2010
Feminist points: abortion, sexual orientation, gendered stereotypes
When 16 year old Sydney discovers she's pregnant, the only person she can tell is her best friend, Natalia, who takes Sydney to a party to confront the father. When the party is busted by the cops, Natalia and Sydney's parents send the girls on a six week camping trip into the Canadian wilderness - and Sydney never has a chance to tell her parents about the pregnancy, or the fact that she's pretty sure she wants an abortion. She spends the trip trying to hide her pregnancy from her fellow campers, and dealing with Natalia's evolving opinions on how the pregnancy should be handled.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. Dial, 2010
Feminist points: women in entertainment, strong female friendships, disability
When Piper sees the school's latest rock band giving an impromptu concert on the school's front steps, she's drawn to their charisma and spunk - though not their music. Severely deaf, Piper hears only with hearing aids and has never been able to make out much music. So everyone is skeptical when Piper steps up to manage the band. Determined to prove her worth as a manager, and earn extra money for college after her parents raided her college fund to pay for a cochlear implant for her baby sister, Piper must meld the various flavors of Dumb - the diva lead singer, the talentless eye-candy, the surly bassist, the silent guitarist, and musical prodigy drummer - into one coherent sound.

FlygirlFlygirl by Sherri L. Smith. Speak, 2009
Feminist points: racism, women in traditionally male jobs, women in the military.
Ida Mae Jones wants, more than anything else, to be a pilot like her father. But as an African-American woman in Louisiana in the 1940s, she knows her chances are slim to none. Until she sees an ad for female pilots to join the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots to support the US's efforts in WWII. Outside of her hometown, no one will know the girl with a tan is actually a light skinned African-American - or so Ida hopes as she finds herself stationed in Texas, a dangerous place for a woman in her position if she were ever discovered.

Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore. Harcourt Children's, 2008 and Dial, 2009.
Feminist points: choices of children and marriage, sexual harassment, menstruation, generally bad-ass female protagonists
In many ways, Katsa and Fire are two sides of the same coin, facing many similar problems and reacting in different ways. In Graceling, Katsa is "graced" with almost supernatural killing abilities, making her a useful assassin for her uncle the king. Katsa, however, prefers to use her fighting skills to help those who her abusive uncle would hurt. Teaming up with Po, another Graceling with fighting skills to match Katsa's own, it is up to the pair to defeat a tyrant. Fire is a prequel to Graceling and set in a different part of the world, "where monsters come out of the sea and air, and armies burst out of holes in the mountains, and the people are different from anyone we’ve ever known." Fire is half-monster herself, gifting her with psychic abilities as well as cursing her with being devastatingly attractive to both men and monsters who will do anything to have or destroy her. It is a tumultuous time in the Dells as various factions are plotting to overthrow the king. As battlelines are drawn, Fire is drawn into the fight.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
Feminist points: critiques of mythology, sexual orientation (asexual), multicultural cast
Set at a boarding school in New Zealand, Ellie's life revolves around her best friend Kevin, her crush on Markk, and choreographing fight scenes for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Until a woman in the play sets her eyes on Kevin, and Ellie worries about her influence on her best friend. Soon Ellie finds herself drawn into the world of Maori mythology - myths that, it turns out, are dangerously real, as the patupaiarehe seek to destroy as many human lives as possible in order to gain their own immortality.

Mare's WarMare's War by Tanita S. Davis. Knopf, 2009
Feminist points: racism and sexism in the military, women in the military, female family bonding
Octavia and Talitha are mortified when they learn they're going on a summer roadtrip with their eccentric grandmother, Mare. The girl's can't see past her unconventional name, looks and car - until Mare spends the drive telling them about her service in WWII with the African-American battalion of the Women's Army Corps, lying about her age in order to escape life in the deep South and spending the war in Europe.

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
Feminist points: date rape, victim blaming
When Alex wakes up in bed with a guy she barely knows, she quietly starts to panic. As flashes of memory break through her hangover, she realizes a terrible truth: she was date raped. Her elite boarding school, however, seems to be of the opinion that its students can and will do no wrong, so Alex has two choices: keep the incident to herself and avoid the cafeteria where the guy and his buddies snicker about her, or go to The Mockingbirds, the secretive student group, set up to bring justice to Themis Academy students wronged by their peers.

A Northern Light  by Jennifer Donnelly. Harcourt, 2003
Feminist points: sexism, classism, racism, education of women, appropriate roles for women
It's 1906 in northern New York and Mattie Gokey's dream is to leave the hardscrabble life on her father's small farm to study writing and live in New York City. But after her mother's death and her brother running away, extra money and hands are what her father needs most. When Mattie convinces him she should take a job at a hotel on the lake, he grudgingly accepts. Mattie continues to dream big, but also recognizes the stability that marrying the handsome Royal would bring. Just as she thinks she might be content somewhere other than the city, hotel guest Grace Brown's drowned body is recovered from the lake. In the face of a life cut tragically short, Mattie must reevaluate her own decisions.

Rampant and Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund. HarperTeen 2009 and 2010.
Feminist points: women working together, strong female friendships, female family bonding, women warriors, historical roles for women
Unicorns aren't all sparkles and rainbows. They are, in fact, vicious killers who can only be stopped by highly trained female virgin warriors. Unfortunately, it's been 150 years since any woman has trained to fight unicorns, so when unicorn attacks begin out of nowhere, a group of eligible young women are hastily assembled in a former Roman convent. Astrid Llewellyn is the descendant of one of the most successful unicorn hunters ever, but spends most of Rampant resisting what others are trying to force upon her as her birthright. A young woman of science, Astrid wants to study the unicorns and empirically test the most effective fighting techniques, but is brushed off by the convents sponsors because she is wanted for her fighting skills and nothing else. In Ascendant, Astrid has mastered her fighting technique, but still wants to apply scientific principles to the unicorns, especially as her best friend's abilities are mysteriously weakening. When given the chance to work with Gordian pharmaceuticals in the French countryside, Astrid leaps at the chance to help her fellow hunters, and possibly even the world if she can help them discover the means to make the much-sought-after Remedy.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010.
Feminist points: work/life balance, sexuality, sisterhood, women warriors
Scarlett March has one purpose in her life: to hunt Fenris, the werewolves that killed her grandmother and took Scarlett's eye while she was protecting her little sister, Rosie. Rosie has never stopped feeling like she owes Scarlett her life, so for years she has aided in the Fenris hunt, even though she's not sure hunting is what she wants to do with the rest of her life. As local Fenris activity is on the rise, and Scarlett's former hunting partner Silas returns to help, the sisters both know they have to be on the top of their game.

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Puffin, 1999.
Feminist points: rape
It's the beginning of Melinda's freshman year of high school, and she has stopped talking. Not that many people notice - ever since she called the cops while at a party over the summer, everyone at school ignores her. Melinda knows what has silenced her - but questions whether she'll ever have the strength to confront him and recover her voice.

Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse, 2005 and 2006.
Feminist points: female friendship, beauty standards, peer pressure
In a future where plastic surgery is mandated for all citizens at 16 in order to match the standards of the Pretty Committee, Tally Youngblood is just counting the days until she turns 16 and can join her best friend Paris as a Pretty. Until she meets Shay, a rebel who would rather not be turned Pretty, and is so committed that the day before her birthday she runs away to live in the woods with a bunch of outcasts Tally isn't even sure exist. Instead of being called in for her surgery, Tally meets with the terrifying Dr. Cable, who orders Tally to follow Shay into the wilderness and bring her and her fellow heretics back to civilization. Tally and Shay's relationship continues to evolve over the trilogy, as they first have to talk themselves out of acting Pretty, before being drafted into Dr. Cable's terrifying Special Circumstances.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking Juvenile, 2009.
Feminist points: Eating disorders, body image
Lia and Cassie were best friends, encouraging each other on their never-ending quest to be thin. But now that Cassie is dead, Lia can only rely on the little voice in the back of her head encouraging her to remain in control, and to keep losing weight.

The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Knopf, 2010.
Feminist points: sexism, racism, appropriate roles for women
With the Depression looming large, Charlie Anne is devastated when her father must go north to build roads, leaving Charlie Anne and her siblings alone with their cousin Mirabel, who seems determined to become their new mother. In between non-stop chores and scoldings to behave more lady-like, Charlie Anne is fascinated by the new wife her neighbor has brought home. Rosalyn wears bright red pants while the other women wear threadbare homespun dresses. She's also brought with her a young African-American girl, Phoebe, who has lost her mother, just like Charlie Anne. The two girls forge a friendship, in spite of the rudeness and outright hatred of their community.

Last updated: 1/23/11

Sunday morning Bloggiesta Check-in

Lost track of how much time I spent on the Bloggiesta yesterday. Somewhere around 10 hours? In the early evening I kind of lost some of my blogging mo-jo, as I sat down for a late lunch/early dinner and a movie with my husband, then had to put out some minor crises. The last thing I wanted to think about was more work, so I kept an eye on Twitter and did some brainstorming between playing stupid games on Facebook.

Last Bloggiesta I ended up spending 23 hours on the blog. I'm clearly not gonna come close to that this time around, but that's okay, I think. For one thing, I didn't have nearly as many major projects this time around (in June's event I re-designed the blog, which took forever to tweak). Last June I also didn't have half the social life I do now - while I haven't gone out with friends this weekend, I hung out with them last weekend and have plans for next weekend, which means I do need to do some errands and chores this weekend that in Bloggiesta's past I could hold off on until the next weekend.

I have gotten a few major tasks out of the way, though! Yesterday I successfully updated to the IntenseDebate comment system, and I love how easy it is to have and follow conversations in the comments. I really hope the new format encourages more commenting, because the #1 thing I love about the internet is having great conversations with people I've never met. So please folks, don't be shy!

I also set up wireless in my apartment! For two and a half years now we've had wires criss-crossing all over our apartment and just could never talk ourselves into making the investment into a wireless router. Then my husband somehow managed to break the ethernet port on his work laptop, and that was the kick we needed to make the jump into the 21st century. I love that now I can shift positions on the couch as many times as I want and not have to worry about getting tangled up in the internet cord, or worry that the cord is going to come out and Blogger will stop saving my posts as I write!

I've also found plenty to do that wasn't on my original to-do list. I messed around with various ways to subscribe to the blog, so now the subscribe-by-email and Google friend connect options are more visible, as well as adding NetworkedBlogs so the blog will automatically post to my Facebook account. I kind of feel like all of those options are taking up a lot of room and pushing other important content (like my mini-review policy) down too far. Any suggestions? I also messed around with FeedFlare so now those of you who subscribe through RSS feeds can see how many comments a post has as well as other sharing options right from your feed reader!

Today's must-do goals are to finish my feminist book rec list and finish reading a book to review for tomorrow's Nonfiction Monday. Anything else I accomplish will be gravy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloggiesta update - Saturday morning

Husband had to wake up at seven to prepare for an eye doctor appointment (things to consider when you get new contacts: if you have to wear them for three hours before your appointment, don't make your appointment first thing!) so I've been up since 7 and have been Bloggiesta-ing since 7:30. Yay for being a nerd!

Yesterday I only got two hours of work done, but I wrote up two reviews and set up a page for my What Have I Missed challenge, as well as creating an image for the challenge, so that's good work in my opinion. The link to the new page is in the header, and my first What I Missed review will be up on Friday! I also spent a lot of time on Twitter and looking at other blogs, trying to figure out the comment situation. I didn't get any opinions on Disqus, though there was a lot of back and forth on IntenseDebate. Former users seem to hate it while current blog admins really like it.

I chose to go with IntenseDebate because I like the look of it (petty, I know) and from a commenter-perspective it seems less finicky than Disqus - there are other blogs I follow who have to announce almost once a month that they're having Disqus problems. Not a great selling point for the system. If you have a moment (and/or need to boost your comment challenge numbers!), please leave a comment on this entry and try out the new commenting system! Whether you're a big ID fan or not, it has to be better than Blogger's system, right?

Plans for today: more reviews to be written, and template cleanup. Work work work...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bloggiesta Time!

For the third time, I'm participating in the Bloggiesta blogging challenge (and it's not too late for you to join in with me!). I first did the Bloggiesta last January and it really propelled me into joining the community of book bloggers, rather than just sitting in my own little corner talking to myself.

Unfortunately before I can really dig into the excitement of the Bloggiesta, I have to get through my work day. And then I have errands + date night with my husband (we were going to do this last night...and then it was ridiculously cold and windy). And I'm also planning on keeping with my resolution to get some writing on my novel done this weekend.

But every other waking moment? BLOGGIESTA!

Here's my provisionary to-do list:
  • Change the comment system. Either go with a popup or Blogger's comment page, or maybe even attempt to install Disqus, because I really, really hate that it takes at minimum three clicks to log in and comment with my current set up. If I get frustrated with it to reply to comments, how many people aren't even commenting in the first place?
  • Catch up on reviews
  • Clean up and update LGBT rec list
  • Create a feminist rec list
  • Add titles from my TBR spreadsheet to my Goodreads account
  • Update sidebar and other general blog maintenance
  • Update my Twitter presence
Comments and review catch up are my priorities - everything else is just gravy.

What are your Bloggiesta plans? (And if you have any experience in using a comment system other than Blogger's default, I'd love to get some feedback and pointers!)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Another Pan by Daniel & Dina Nayeri

I knew going in that this was a sequel of sorts to Another Faust, which I totally missed out on. However, I was interested enough in the Peter Pan aspect to want to give it a shot. Considering that the jacket makes no mention that this is part of a series, I figured I was in the clear. And in a way, I was: only one character returns here from Another Faust, and she seems to stand up well enough on her own. However, when it came to actually enjoying the book...

Another PanAnother Pan is set at the exclusive Marlowe school in Manhattan, where largely discredited Egyptologist Professor Darling is a teacher who has just scored a great exhibit of Ancient Egyptian artifacts on loan from the British Museum. The artifacts relate to his life's work: uncovering a Death goddess that was an alternative to Anubis, and discovering the truth behind the legends in the Book of Gates - legends that are supposed to hold the key to immortality.

Roped into helping their father set up the exhibit, 16 year old Wendy and 13 year old John would rather be elsewhere - Wendy with her jock boyfriend and John developing his street cred. But when a charismatic new RA by the name of Peter shows up, who has an obsession of his own with the ancient book, Wendy and John eagerly join his quest. Wendy is drawn to the dangerous Peter, despite her boyfriend and her father's disapproval. John craves acceptance, and longs to be seen by Peter as being worthy of joining his Lost Boys gang. As the underworld begins to take hold of Marlowe, and a conniving assistant from the British Museum also closes in on the truth about the books, the two Darlings and Peter are in a race to complete their quest first - to find the secrets to immortality before death catches up with them, permanently.

Lurking at the periphery of most of the story is the new, decrepit school nurse, who was apparently the governess in Another Faust. It's clear that part of her story has been told elsewhere, but the lack of detail didn't seem to impede the story.

What did impede the story? The pacing and the characters. This was a slow, slow book. I wanted to give up several times, but forced myself to keep going, mostly because I have a huge weakness for Ancient Egypt (even though it seems the stories of the Book of Gates are totally new with no relation to myths that are currently known) and also because many of the nods back to Peter Pan were quite clever. The pacing felt off, and the overall writing felt stilted. The third person point of view wasn't used naturally, and there were weird line breaks within the chapters; instead of using a break to indicate a change in place or time, sometimes they would be used to denote a switch in POV character - but other times would be used traditionally. It pulled me out of the story every time.

Most of the characters were extremely flat. Simon Grin was practically a cartoon villain - I kept waiting for him to start muttering how he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Wendy and John were easily manipulated, though a lot more time was invested in John and his motivations so he was slightly more sympathetic. Really the most intriguing character for me was Peter, and that was probably me trying to fit this slick and handsome young adult into the story of the perpetual child I know.

In any re-telling, I love finding the ties back to the original story, and here many of them were quite clever. There's the obvious Barrie Auditorium (which still gets cleverness points, because Peter Pan was originally a play), but then little things like Peter always hanging out by windows, or checking out his shadow. His Lost Boys gang is also constantly plying Peter with happy thoughts (often things relating to youth or staying young) whenever he starts to get grumpy, though the rationale behind it is never explained.

But ultimately, this was a frustrating read. There was just enough intrigue with the myths and the quest that kept me turning the page, but I was always thinking ahead, hoping the book would finally end so I could move on to something else. While part of me is curious about what connections this had to the previous book, I don't want to have to wade through a similarly tedious book to get there, so I think this is my first and only encounter with the "Another" series.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Trash by Andy Mulligan

This one has been getting lots of love from the start - and while it wasn't awarded any serious hardware at the recent ALA awards, Trash does have the honor of being one of the top ten books chosen by the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, a great honor in itself!

TrashRafael, Gardo and Jun-Jun, aka Rat, are trash boys. Living among the dump site Behala, the boys spend their days climbing mountains of trash, sorting out what can be re-sold, earning meager pay that is hardly enough to support themselves and their extended families. Most of what they find is shtupp, until one day Rafael pulls a leather bag out of the refuse - a leather bag with an ID card, and over 1,000 pesos inside. It's more money than Rafael has seen in his life - this sort of money represents hope for his family.

But before Rafael can get too comfortable with his newfound luck, the police come to Behala, saying they're looking for a leather bag. Instinctively, Rafael hides his treasure, and with Gardo and Jun-Jun's help, begin their own investigation into the man on the ID card and former owner of the cash. Their search will bring them face to face with some of the darkest secrets of their country, with the ones whom power has corrupted. But the boys hold out hope, that they can solve the mystery, and perhaps bring about some small amount of justice.

The theme of trash comes up in so many ways in this book - there's the actual trash mountains the boys climb every day, and it's where they find the money that jump starts their adventure. But it's also how people treat the boys - as if just because they're poor these boys are worthless. It's also a term that comes to mind to describe the corrupt politicians and other people in power.

The narration jumps between the three boys, with the occasional chapter told by other supporting characters, like the man who runs the Mission School in Behala who befriended Rat. It's never totally clarified who the story is being told to, or how long after the events the story is being relayed. This would be an excellent book to use when writing teachers are talking about audience and first person narration, because these boys are very aware that they are telling a story.

Mulligan does an excellent job describing th downtrodden settings and fast-paced action. He cultivates an excellent sense of danger as the boys are on the run. There's a bone chilling scene where Rafael is taken in for questioning by the police that had my heart in my throat the entire time.

There's a lot of awesomeness going on here. While this one personally wouldn't have made it onto my personal best read in 2010 list (and won't be going on my 2011 list), I can still see why it's garnered a lot of praise, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This one's been on my TBR list for awhile, but it's such a slim book that I put off reading it for awhile after picking it up from the library - short books like this I usually finish up in less than two subway rides, leaving me bored and bookless for part of my commute home. But then I heard some Printz rumblings for this and figured that a lazy Saturday night spent in bed, where I was trying to rest and kick the last bit of my week-long cold, was the perfect time to pick it up.

Jumpstart the WorldWhen Elle's mother picks up a new boyfriend that doesn't want to deal with a teenager in the house, she's set up in her own apartment on the other side of New York City. For most almost-16 year olds, this would be a dream come true, but Elle's just angry that her mother is pushing her aside for the comfort of her newest boyfriend - who, by the way, is taking her mother on a cruise over Elle's 16th birthday. There are only two good things about the new apartment: getting to pick out a new cat (a scared, scarred black cat, the antithesis of everything her mother likes), and her new neighbors - specifically Frank, who may be older and has a girlfriend, but Elle can't help immediately forming a little crush on him.

The new boyfriend also doesn't want to pay for Elle's private school, so she's starting a new school year at a new school, where the only people interested in being friendly are a group of outsiders, most of whom happen to be gay.

When Elle isn't sure she wants to be friends with this group - not that she's homophobic or anything - Frank is the one that listens to her. Frank and his girlfriend invite Elle over for homemade chicken soup, and introduce her to the wonders of photography. Just as Elle begins to acknowledge she's falling for Frank and falling hard, she's shocked to discover that "Frank" hasn't always been Frank - he is, in fact, a transgendered man. The truth turns Elle's world upside down, forcing her to search for the true meanings of friendship and family.

The writing here is spare but thoughtful, and feels very much like we have a direct line to Elle's thoughts. On that level I can totally see why there was Printz buzz for this. On the other hand, there's a stunning lack of character development. Elle, Frank and Elle's new school friend, Wilbur, are the only three that get any sort of depth, but even Frank and Wilbur feel more like stock characters. Here's how bad it was for me: at one point, Elle's cat is sick and needs to be given antibiotics twice a day. At the same time, one of the other characters ends up in the hospital and Elle is spending most of her time there. During this dramatic time, all I could think was that she needed to keep giving the cat antibiotics or it was going to die. I know my great love of cats probably makes me biased, but I really shouldn't have more sympathy for a cat than human characters.

Hyde does do a good job presenting Frank as just another character and never slips into being too didactic about the particulars of trans life. Details of Frank's transition, and of continuing issues as part of his trans identity, are integrated into the story and only those bits that have an impact on what's happening at the moment are included. I note this because the last book I read with a transgendered character was Almost Perfect, which did stop to explain the minutiae of transitioning. However, the presence of a transgendered character is about the only similarity between the two novels (I still highly recommend Almost Perfect - and, of course, so did the Stonewall Award committee!).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Thoughts: 2011 Awards

So yesterday was the big day in kidlit land - the announcement of the ALA's Youth Media Awards. It's already been pointed out that I was way off on YALSA's nonfiction award, but how did the other awards shape up?

Now, if I ran through every single award and honor presented yesterday, we'd be here all day. So instead, I'm going to comment on the most notable (to me) awards for the YA contenders, as well as link to my reviews when applicable, but direct you to the list of all the winners.

Big winner: One Crazy Summer. I clearly made a mistake in not writing up a full review for One Crazy Summer because that was the book to beat this year. A National Book Award honoree, Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction winner, Coretta Scott King Author award winner, and Newbery honoree. It's a small book - where on earth are all of those medals going to fit?!

Awards that made me squee at my desk: Five Flavors of Dumb winning the teen Schneider award and Almost Perfect winning the Stonewall award. I totally didn't expect either of these titles to get any awards attention - Five Flavors of Dumb because of its November publishing date and Almost Perfect because it's actually a 2009 book (and was on the 2010 Best Fiction for Young Adults list). So these were both very pleasant surprises because of my absolute love for both of these books.

Award that made me fistpump: Ship Breaker winning the Printz award. In movie-land, science fiction gets the short end of the stick. Thankfully, YA book people know an awesome book when they see one and gave this epic environmental dystopian tale the top award in the field. SO EXCITING. Also awesome? Our collective excitement got both Ship Breaker and Printz to be trending topics on Twitter. The #alayma hashtag also ended up trending for awhile near the end of the ceremony. Book geeks are loud and proud on Twitter.

The only other award I'm on record predicting and getting right: Firefly Letters getting a Pura Belpre honor. Over at Reading in Color I predicted that The Red Umbrella and Efrain's Secret would be recognized and Firefly Letters would get at least an honor, since she won in both 2008 and 2009. The Belpre committees clearly enjoy Engle's work!

Award that seemed to come out of left field: Moon Over Manifest winning the Newbery. I'm far from an expert on MG fiction, but I hadn't even heard of this one (despite its three starred reviews). I don't think I even saw it on any mock-Newbery lists, and no one mentioned it in last week's Twitter kidlitchat!

Was the National Book Award a predictor for ALA awards? Well, half of the NBA honors won big prizes, and a third honor was also honored at ALA (Lockdown by Walter Dean Meyers is a Coretta Scott King award honoree). Dark Water was completely left out, as was the actual NBA winner, Mockingbird. In the kidlitchat, it was mentioned that the NBA winner never wins the Newbery, and that has held true for another year - seems like it's almost preferable to just get the NBA honor!

Book that left Angela alone in the cold: Stolen. Clearly I'm alone in how this title underwhelmed me (and I still haven't found anyone who can adequately explain why Ty is at all desirable for anyone not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome), given that it received two starred reviews before getting a Printz Honor. I don't want to be unnecessarily negative here, but I just had to say something on this one.

Wait, what didn't win an award?! Out of My Mind. Seriously. Nothing. What on Earth happened there? I acknowledged in my favorite books of 2010 post that some MG experts had problems with the title...but were so many opposed that it didn't get any love? Hopefully it's a book that will get enough word-of-mouth attention to keep it finding new readers for a long time.

This week we should also be seeing what the longer book lists selected as the top books of the year. I can't wait to see what the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Amelia Bloomer lists come out with!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Review: Every Bone Tells a Story by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw

Found via: YALSA award for excellence in nonfiction nominee

Today's a big day in book-world: the ALA's Youth Media Awards are announced today at 7:45 AM Pacific Time - it's more than possible that you're reading this after the award winners have already been announced! Be sure to check out the link for a list of all the awards being presented today - the big ones are, of course, the Printz and Newbery awards, but 17 other awards are announced today as well, including the YALSA award for excellence in nonfiction for young adults. This review marks the completion of my goal to read and review all five of the nominees in that award, so I'm definitely excited to see which of these worthy titles win!

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and DebatesEvery Bone Tells a Story looks at four significant discoveries of ancient bodies, and what these bodies can tell us about how Earth and humans have evolved over millions of years.

Each discovery is given its own chapter, and each chapter is divided into the same four sections: Discovery, Deductions, Debates and Further Reading. Additionally, there's also a page or so of speculation opening the chapter, presenting a possible account of how the person died.

Turkana Boy                                                           Wikipedia
But that doesn't make the book repetitive - each chapter includes unique information, not only about the discovery in question, but about archeology in general. For example, in the first chapter on Turkana Boy, it's mentioned that scientists from all different fields work to come to conclusions about the discovery, however it's in the next chapter on Lapedo Child that we actually get detailed descriptions of four different types of scientists who contribute, from paleopathologists who study skeletons for signs of disease, to archaeozoologists who study animal remains to determine human/animal relationships. I had no idea so many different sciences were involved in archeology! As Rubalcaba and Robertshaw point out, archeology is definitely not about tomb raiding and bull whips.

The text is simple and straight forward, making this title accessible to a wide range of readers. Perhaps my favorite part of the book were the debates section of each discovery, just for the wide range of debates presented. Sometimes they're academic and scientific debates - did neanderthals and early humans co-exist enough to inter-breed? When did true language develop? But in the case of Kennewick man, serious ethical debates arose about the possibility of his identity as a Native American, and a little bit of the history of European settlers desecrating the remains of Native Americans and the ongoing struggle many Native tribes are facing to ensure the bones of their ancestors are treated with the proper respect.

My other reviews for YALSA nonfiction nominees:

2010 was an excellent year for nonfiction. I'm so happy I got involved with Nonfiction Monday as it has really encouraged me to seek out nonfiction and gives me a constant source of new nonfiction recommendations.

As for award predictions...I'm usually terrible at these, but I'll take a stab this time. It's going to be either Every Bone Tells a Story or They Called Themselves the K.K.K., but I think my favorite book of this list is The Dark Game. However since my favorites rarely actually win the big awards, we'll see what happens.

Nonfiction enthusiasts should also be on the lookout for the announcement of the Sibert medal, which is for informational books for audiences birth through 14.

This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Be sure to stop by to check out the other great nonfiction highlighted this week!
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Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Found via: Forever Young Adult

Phantom of the Opera is far from my favorite musical - even among Andrew Lloyd Webber shows it doesn't rank very high (my favorite is totally Cats and I feel no shame for this. Well, not much). Even so, I think as a theatre geek I'm contractually obligated to at least pay attention to a book that re-tells the story of the classic musical (and, of course, novel). The Jumbee takes the basic premise of Phantom, but instead of 19th century Paris opera, it's contemporary Caribbean high school theater. Keyes deftly weaves the themes of the original into the new story, with just enough twists to keep even those of us who know Phantom guessing.

The JumbeeFollowing the tragic death of her father, famed Shakespearean actor Alan Legard, Esti and her mother relocate from Oregon to her father's enclave on the island of Cariba. Both women are hoping that a change of scenery will help them move on; Esti in particular is hoping to rekindle her passion for acting by getting the lead in the prestigious high school's production of Romeo & Juliet.

Cariba is an island steeped deeply in tradition and superstition. When a student dies within days of Esti moving to the island, tongues start to wag. When Esti begins rehearsing in the dark theater, alone, rumors begin that she's communicating with a jumbee - a ghost who is often malevolent. When Esti begins hearing a voice in the dark with her, she's not sure what to think, either. The voice - Alan - claims he was a student of her father's. But why did her father never mention this brilliantly talented student with the sexy voice? And if he's truly there, why does he always insist that the lights must remain on? Esti isn't particularly superstitious, but if there's anywhere ghost stories could be true, it would be on the island of Cariba.

Just as Esti is sure she's falling in love with the mysterious Alan, her childhood friend and resident playboy, Rafe, returns to the island from LA. Rafe and Esti immediately resume their friendship, with the possibility of something more always bubbling beneath the surface, but Esti is torn between the two boys. One with whom she has a lifetime of history, the other who has reawakened her passion for the stage. With her other relationships and responsibilities faltering, Esti must discover who Alan truly is, and make a fateful choice.

There are plenty of obvious parallels here between The Jumbee and Phantom of the Opera: the love triangle, a mysterious teacher, a diva who gets every coveted role even when a more talented ingenue appears. However, that doesn't necessarily make the novel predictable. For example, even though I know Erik turns out to be a real man rather than a ghost, Alan's corporealness (or lack thereof) goes a long time without being explicitly confirmed or denied.

Because it's not clear who - or what - Alan is, there are some parts of his and Esti's relationship that made me uncomfortable, but could plausibly be explained by jumbee magic - or just an extremely accomplished manipulator. They don't have a healthy relationship at times, but it's not quite Bella/Edward levels of creepiness.

Speaking of creepy, Keyes does a fabulous job of creating the atmosphere of the fictional Cariba. The school has a sordid past as a plantation with a particularly sadistic slave owner, giving rise to the stories of the jumbees and their various hauntings. The island is in equal parts a lush tropical paradise and the setting of a horror film.

Keyes also integrates the Shakespeare into the text well. Enough happens off stage that the scenes that show the rehearsals or performances for Romeo & Juliet don't feel boring or overdone.

The story is thoroughly enjoyable with some great scenes and set pieces, but the actual writing felt awkward and clunky at times, which holds me back from recommending this whole heartedly. Fans of Phantom should enjoy it, and the unique setting and diverse cast are also major bonus points, but the actual writing style kept me at a bit of a distance.

In other news: Yesterday was the official start of the 2011 Comment Challenge hosted by MotherReader. The challenge lasts for 3 weeks and the goal is to leave 100 comments on other book blogs in order to encourage the habit of commenting. I did this last year and had a blast "meeting" new people and finding new blogs. Welcome new readers who found me through the challenge, and I encourage everyone else to join in the fun!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John's music week on Bookish Blather!

Well, not really, since I don't have another music-related title for Friday, but I've sure gone through a bit of a music spell the last few weeks, with Janis Joplin, 50 women in rock songs, and now a high school hard rock band with a deaf manager.

Five Flavors of DumbWhen the winners of the local Teen Battle of the Bands put on a show on the school's front steps that literally sets their amps on fire, Piper is fascinated. In a moment of recklessness, she volunteers to be their manager, betting that she can get them a paying gig within a month. The move shocks her friends and family; Piper is a quiet student who doesn't know the first thing about music - and she can hardly hear Dumb anyway. Piper is profoundly deaf and can only hear with the assistance of the Barbie-pink hearing aids she's been saddled with since she was 6.

But Piper is determined to prove herself as a capable manager - and she's desperate for the money, any money, after she learns her parents have plundered her college fund in order to pay for the cochlear implants of her deaf baby sister. Home life is stressful with the new baby and the constant reminders that even as a toddler Grace can hear more than Piper ever will - so Piper is willing to do anything and everything to get Dumb the publicity they need so she can restore her college funds and escape to the elite Gallaudet University with its extensive programs for the deaf. But the members of Dumb aren't always willing to play nice - members are alternately apathetic, diva-licious, angry, shy and outright incompetent. Piper has her work cut out for her as she tries to meld the five distinct flavors of Dumb into one harmonious sound.

I love pretty much everything in this book. For one thing, it doesn't follow the "standard" band storyline I've seen in so many movies. You know how it goes - band experiences sky rocketing fame, then falls into the temptations of sex, drugs and rock and roll, before diving into a self-destructive spiral that only ends when everyone hates each other and/or someone is dead. Instead, Dumb starts as dysfunctional - they only know three songs, and they're all covers. The band consists of a lead singer, a bassist, and a guitarist who only knows three chords. So first Piper recruits a drummer. Then the lead singer insists on bringing the school's resident hot chick into the mix - even though she has no discernible talent. It's a complete and absolute mess all around, but Piper - driven by desperation for money and approval - keeps on going.

Piper is far from perfect. She is not Inspirationally Disadvantaged, nor is she the Disabled Snarker or any number of other tropes for the disabled that pop up often in the media. Yes, Piper is deaf, and this has clearly profoundly affected her life. Sometimes she's bitter about it - or at least bitter that her sister is able to benefit from her treatment in ways Piper never could have. She's clearly not a saint, and pulls some really crummy moves in her desperate attempts at achieving stardom for Dumb. She is the very definition of a well-rounded character, and it's wonderful to watch her grow as a character throughout the story.

Five Flavors of Dumb also gets major bonus points for the subtle "Girl Power" message. Dumb ends up with two female band members, and they absolutely don't get along initially - but it's also because one doesn't respect the other's ability, not out of any catfighting scenario. And the two band members and Piper end up banding together at a crucial moment to offer each other support. John doesn't call explicit attention to these moments, but I've seen so many stories where girls have superficial friendships, or no female friendships at all, that's it's just fantastic to see these complex relationships play out in a totally natural way.

More bonus points, coming from this non-music person: John weaves a mini-lecture on the Seattle music scene into the story. Seattle, of course, has been home to some of American music's most influential players, and Piper is introduced to two of them via a mysterious scavenger hunt: Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. The scenes that play out around the search for Hendrix's childhood home are especially moving.

And I know this review is getting long, but one last comment - what an AWESOME cover! It totally embodies the rock and roll feeling of the novel. I have so much love for this one, I'm surprised that I only found out about it through my library's "Teen Scene" newsletter - usually by the time that arrives in my mailbox I've read or requested every title! So thanks, Queens Library, for pointing this one out!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Review: The Girl in the Song by Michael Heatley

Found via: Chasing Ray

I'm not generally a big music person - I'm not the type that is constantly hooked up to an iPod or streaming Pandora. The music I do listen to, however, I like to know a lot about. The lyrics at a bare minimum. When VH1's Behind the Music debuted, I was totally fascinated because I wanted to know what inspired people to write the songs they did. The Girl in the Song fulfills that need for me, describing the women who inspired 50 rock songs, by artists ranging from Buddy Holly to David Bowie.

The Girl in the Song: The Stories Behind 50 Rock ClassicsHeatley arranges the songs by title and methodically spends a couple of pages on each song, dedicating most of the text to a biography of the woman and/or how she inspired the artist, and then in a box at the end gives a short introduction to the band or artist (as necessary - eventually all of the Beatles and Rolling Stones pages are dedicated just to the woman, because there's only so much you can say about those legendary groups without becoming redundant).

Perhaps because the book is limited to "rock" songs, it sometimes feels a little redundant - as I said, there are a lot of Beatles and Rolling Stones references. Even David Bowie has multiple entries. I'm far from a music encyclopedia, but were there no other songs worthy of having their stories told?

That being said, I did like that variety that is included. Most of the songs are well known by now, and some of the background stories are well known, too, but others are more obscure. Leonard Cohen wrote Chelsea Hotel No 2 about Janis Joplin. "Fire and Rain" was written in part as a memorial to a dead friend. I was especially fascinated when the same person came up multiple times. English model/photographer Pattie Boyd inspired at least three songs by two different artists - husbands George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and the Farrow sisters Mia and Prudence both inspired famous songs.

I really appreciate that Heatley keeps most of the focus on the women who served as inspiration for the songs. The artist's side of the story has already been shared with millions of people - it's about time the woman's side was shared. Heatley highlights how the songs popularity affected the women, and their own career accomplishments.

This is a quick read, but extremely fun for pop culture and music trivia fans. While it's not specifically a YA title, I think it will have a lot of interest for young music fans, and could be a great companion read to a book like Audrey Wait, which is all about how life changes dramatically for a girl who inspires a major hit song.

Nonfiction Monday
This week's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by Charlotte's Library. Get 2011 off to an educational start and see what else is being reviewed today!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Have I Missed? Personal 2011 reading challenge

As described a few weeks ago, I'm embarking on a personal reading challenge in 2011 - do some nominal catching up on books that I missed the first time around, focusing on books published between 2003 (when I graduated high school and thus lost my regular access to Cindy & Lynn's stash of books) and 2008 (I didn't start blogging, and thus keeping up on the latest in YA, until December 2008).

I've solicited suggestions from readers and friends, as well as looked at the various awards lists for those years, and have selected the following books so far to read in the next 12 months.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (recommended by a friend on Facebook)
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (recommended by Rachel, 2005 Printz winner)
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce (also recommended by Rachel)
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (recommended by Ari, 2004 Printz winner)
Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton (2005 Printz honor)
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (2006 Printz honor)
Anahita's Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayres (2007 BBYA top 10)
Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis (2005 BBYA top 10)
Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (recommended by Megan Miranda on Twitter)

That's nine titles so far, which means since I want to read 12 this year, I have three more to pick out over the next 12 months. Hopefully I'll get those through suggestions throughout the year.

January's book will be A Northern Light, since I picked that one up while I was on vacation. And then as soon as I finish that one I'm going to be getting Jennifer Donnelly's newest book, Revolution, since that one's been burning up the blogs for awhile now. The two aren't related, but it seems as good an order to reader her books in as any!

Happy new year, everyone - hope you all have the best of luck in meeting your own reading goals this year!
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