Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Devilish by Marueen Johnson

I'm currently working backwards on my reviews, as Devilish is the book I read before Boy Toy. Talk about two totally different books...

This was my other new pick at the Books of Wonder signing on Sunday. I loved Suite Scarlett, as previously mentioned, and last spring or summer I read The Bermudez Triangle and really enjoyed that. So on Sunday I knew I wanted a Maureen Johnson book - the question was simply which one to pick! I ended up settling on Devilish - and when Maureen Johnson signed it she was sure to warn me to watch out for demons (with the cutest drawing ever of a demon. I will have to scan it when I get home).

Devilish opens at the beginning of Jane and Ally's senior year at St. Theresa's all-girls Catholic school. It is "Big-Little" day, where seniors and freshmen pair up so the seniors can shepherd the freshmen through their first year at the rigorous school.

In profiles published by some of the schools gossip mongers, we learn that Jane has a reputation of being "difficult," while Ally is flighty, nervous and shy. As Big-Little Day commences, Jane is concerned that Ally will freak out too much to find a Little, but as Ally has received a cupcake from a secret freshman admirer she is filled with confidence and sure that today is going to be a good day.

But it isn't long before disaster strikes and Ally finds herself utterly humiliated in front of the entire senior and freshmen classes. When Jane is comforting Ally in the bathroom, a new student, Lanalee, enters and not only offers to take care of Ally so Jane can return to class, but asks to become Ally's little. Problem solved, right?

Well, Jane thinks, or rather hopes, so. Ally returns to school the next day, suddenly clad in fashionable clothes with a hip new haircut and dye job. She shows a confidence in class that leaves Jane flabergasted and wondering what on earth happened to her best friend. The answer - Ally has sold her soul to a demon and in exchange is now fashionable and confident. Jane is horrified, and goes on to make her own deal with the devil to try to protect her best friend.

This lands Jane in the middle of a centuries old battle between the forces of good and evil - the evil being cupcake-eating beautiful demons, and the forces of good hiding under habits, robes, and the guise of an unassuming freshman. Jane has always been an above average student, but it's going to take all of her knowledge, quick wits, and combative attitude to save not only her best friend, but herself.

I can't pin down exactly what it is, but there's something about Johnson's writing that sucks me in immediately. Again, I found that I couldn't put down Devilish, even before the demons and intrigue showed up, because there was something about Jane that I just wanted to keep reading about. The narrative is engaging and witty without sounding pretentious. Suite Scarlett felt the same way (though this didn't at all feel repetitive or derivative - all of Johnson's work that I've read so far share the trait of engaging narrators that I don't want to put down, but all of the young women feel very distinct).

I also have to give the book major props for only having a peripherary romance. As someone who's never been a big fan of romance in any genre, I always loves stories that focus on young women doing something other than falling in love. Yes, Jane does spend some time thinking about her ex-boyfriend, and may-or-may-not be falling for a young and dashing demon hunter, but the book is much more focused on her relationship with Ally and trying to figure a way out of their contracts with the demon. Give me a good action or intrigue story over mushy romance any day!

Generally I'm not a big fan of supernatural/fantasy elements, but Johnson's take on demons and that eternal battle between good and evil is fun and kept me hooked for the short read.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Yay, a brand new review! Where I'm not at all working on catching up on all of the books I've read while I've been on my blogging hiatus. I bought Boy Toy at the Books of Wonder signing on Sunday. I started reading it Monday night and could hardly put it down until I finished it last night. As the blurb on the cover says, this is a disturbing book, and it should be - you can't deal with issues of teachers sexually abusing students lightly. But Lyga handles the subject deftly here.

In seventh grade, Josh Mendel had probably the hottest history teacher in school. Mrs. Sherman was young, had a killer body and, best of all, thought Josh was a genius at history and treated him like an adult, rather than a 12 year old middle schooler like everyone else did. When she asked him to help her with a project for grad school - a project that involved staying at her apartment after school - he jumped at the chance. Not just because she was hot, but she and her husband also had a huge video game collection. Heaven for a twelve year old.

Slowly, Mrs. Sherman - now Eve to Josh - began treating him more and more like an adult. Giving him sips of wine, and then making the big leap to kissing him and using him as a lover, rather than a student.

Eve and Josh carry out the illicit relationship after school for months, until it all blows up during a game of spin the bottle at the birthday party of Rachel, one of Josh's best friends. Suddenly, not only do Josh's parents find out about the affair, but the entire school - maybe the entire city knows. To Josh it doesn't matter that his name was never published in the newspaper or printed in the trial records - everyone knew who had been screwing (or was being screwed by) the hot history teacher.

Now it's Josh's senior year of high school, mere weeks from graduation. The baseball season is winding down, careening towards one final blowout game with their rivals; Josh is anxiously awaiting the results of his college applications; Rachel, who Josh almost raped at her birthday party five years ago, leading to the revelation of his relationship with Mrs. Sherman, suddenly wants to start talking to Josh again, or maybe do more than just talk.

And Mrs. Sherman is being released from prison early, less than five years into her original 15 year sentance.

Josh's life immediately begins to go into a tailspin - he's constantly afraid he's going to run into her, despite the restraining order, and he doesn't know how he'll react when he does see her. He's still convinced that everyone is watching his every move and thinking about his history with Mrs. Sherman, which stands in the way of his burgeoning relationship with Rachel. the end of senior year is turning out to be a lot more complicated than Josh ever expected it would be.

I found myself often thinking of Living Dead Girl while I was reading this - not because of any similarities but because of how differently they treat relatively similar subjects. While Living Dead Girl follows a girl who is still very much being abused, and being abused by a stranger rather than a teacher, everything about the book was very spare. In contrast, Boy Toy inundates you with details, while it's not overly graphic, there's never any question about what Eve is doing with Josh, but the details also come from seeing the relationship build from normal teacher-student to something much more sinister (and the uncomfortable feeling of following the progression knowing that something terrible is going to happen and unable to warn naive and hopeful Josh about it). Alice often comes across as being very disconnected from what's happening to her, and in a very different way Josh does as well (it takes him a long time before he's able to understand that he did not cause Mrs. Sherman to abuse him - hell, it takes him a long time to qualify it as "abuse").

The details of the relationship and the abuse come in two large info dumps in the middle of the narrative. Both are prompted by the character who is probably my least favorite - Rachel, Josh's girlfriend. I just felt incredibly angry at how she manipulated and forced Josh to divulge all of the details of the abuse and the ensuing trial - at first I was hoping it was going to be some sort of forshadowing to show this perfect girl wasn't so perfect afterall, but in retrospect it seems more like lazy storytelling: Lyga needed a way to give us this information, and he chose Rachel pestering Josh until he caved at 3 in the morning to be the instigator. Ultimately it meant that a large part of the romance in the book was lost on me because I couldn't see Josh and Rachel's relationship as a wholly positive thing.

I did, however, love the baseball that was woven throughout the book - and not just playing the game, but the statistics as well. Josh is something of a math genius, and part of that comes through in his constant thoughts about baseball stats - which really was a great way to lighten some of the heavier moments in the text.

Despite my huge problem with Rachel, I found this to be an absolutely fascinating and compelling read that I highly recommend.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Signing Frenzy!!!

Today was the culmination of the NYC Teen Author Fest: 40+ authors signing at Books of Wonder.

Holy crap were there a lot of people there.

Thanks to this event happening a week BEFORE payday, I was working with a limited book-buying budget. I prepared a list before I went of all the books I would like to buy at the event (about a dozen) and in reality could afford four, in addition to the one book I had to bring along: Scott Westerfeld's Peeps (apparently I left all of his other books with my parents when I moved out here. Inexplicably I kept Extras with me, but it's already been signed, lol).

The signing was split up into three shifts and I had at least one author to meet in all three of them. First up I met Maureen Johnson, whose Suite Scarlett I loved earlier this year. I considered picking up Suite Scarlett but instead chose to take a chance on one of Johnson's other books, Devilish. I started reading it during the train ride home and while I'm hooked. Johnson has a wonderful knack for building characters I just love to read about.

The second shift had three authors for me to get to: Justine Larbelestier (I read How to Ditch Your Fairy back in October, Barry Lyga (as previously mentioned I loved Fanboy and Goth Girl, and he had the cover for Goth Girl Rising on his phone - it's an EXCELLENT cover, and I'm usually pretty 'meh' about cover art. I picked up Boy Toy and can't wait to start reading) and E. Lockhart (so I now own The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, one of my favorite books of 2008). While I was standing with Justine I thanked her for writing a book where it wasn't a big deal that the girls were amazing at sports - so often in books that otherwise try to positively portray women in sports there's some naysayer talking about how weird these girls are. While I'm not at all a jock, I really appreciated that sentiment, and a girl behind me in line noted that we were standing at what must have been the feminism table, as E. Lockhart and Lauren McLaughlin, author of Cycler, were there, too. So the inscription on How to Ditch Your Fairy reads "Feminism rules!" I also thanked E. Lockhart for writing a book where feminism isn't a dirty word - something that's extremely important to me.

And finally in the third shift was the man I'd been dying to meet, Scott Westerfeld. While waiting for the second shift to wind down I stood in a makeshift line with another young Westerfeld fan, so we spent a good thirty minutes chatting about books and Facebook, lol.

And then I got to meet Scott Westerfeld!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He's so awesome. I wrote my senior thesis on science fiction and young adult literature, using Uglies as my case study, so I brought a copy along to the signing. I had no idea if he'd be interested in it at all, but it couldn't hurt, right? He seemed to think it was really awesome however, and so we spent a minute chatting. I told him why I only had Peeps with me, so he asked how long ago I moved to New York, and mentioned that of course I would want to live here after reading Peeps, lol. He also asked what school I had gone to and I told him it was near Ann Arbor, so we chatted about Borders for a minute, since he always needs to swing by the corporate office there when a new book comes around.

Yeah, I'm totally a Westerfeld fan girl. Have I mentioned that I can't wait for his next book? It's going to be flippin' sweet.

I hope the festival overall was considered a success. I couldn't make it to as many events as I had originally planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I could make, and really hope another one is thrown next year!!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NYC Teen Author Festival Dispatch: I Have Seen the Future...

Eeek, I know, I owe some reviews. I promise I'm going to get on it.

But not tonight. Still hyped up over the first NYC Teen Author Festival event I was able to attend: 'I Have Seen the Future...and it Sounds Like This' (The first event was 'Juvenalia Smackdown' that featured writers reading from what they'd written as teenagers. Apparently Scott Westerfeld was crowned King of Suck for his, and even got a jaunty crown to prove it. Not that he wore it tonight :-( )

Tonight I got to listen to seven authors (six were listed, but Holly Black showed up with a manuscript fresh from her editor's hands to read) read from their upcoming books, ranging from books coming out this spring to books coming out goodness knows when (Justine Larbelestier read from, not her next book, but the novel that comes after that one).

I gotta admit, it was pretty exciting.

The Mulberry Branch library was packed. I managed to get there right around six (stupid work keeping me late!) and it was standing room only. At least 100 people were there - mostly teenagers, but I was hardly the oldest in the room.

David Levithan was hosting the event and opened with a few words about the YA lit boom that we are either at the beginning or the middle of. The guest of honor for the evening was Joe Monti, who was the teen buyer at Barnes & Noble about ten years ago, which is apparently when this YA boom began. Joe was the "best and biggest advocate" for the burgeoning genre of YA lit, and was chosen to be the guest of honor for the evening because the organizers wanted to highlight someone that the general audience might not necessarily know, but was instrumental in the development of the genre nonetheless.

And then it was on to the readings!

Libba Bray began the evening as payback on David Levithan's part (she was the host at Monday's event and made David read first, so he figured payback was fair game). She presented Joe with a gift - a Captain American action figure since he's into superheroes - and read from her upcoming novel (she had the galley to read from and everything) Going Bovine. According to my hastily scribbled notes (all of my notes were hastily scribbled), the book is about Cameron, a sixteen year old boy with mad cow disease, and his best friend Gonzo, who is a highly paranoid and a video game nerd. The two are on a road trip to save the world, and hopefully find a cure for Cameron in the process. While I haven't read any of Libba Bray's other works, I've admired their covers in book stores, and this one looks like it's going to be totally different.

She read a scene from the road trip where Cameron and Gonzo accept a ride from a van-full of members of the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'n' Bowl. Gonzo is convinced that they have to be serial killers because the only people that own vans are soccer moms and serial killers, and these people definitely aren't soccer moms!

Next was Barry Lyga, author of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, which I just got around to reading last fall and seriously enjoyed. He made a few comments about Joe saving his life in Vietnam, and then got to the good stuff: a Fanboy sequel!!!! Goth Girl Rising is the name of it, and he read bits and pieces from the beginning of the book. It was like a quick overview of what made Goth Girl, well, Goth Girl, with snippets of reflection on the events of the first book.

A few bits of note from the reading: one of her mom's last bits of advice: stop bitching about your cramps. Her reason was it's nothing that every other woman on the planet hasn't had to deal with. I respectfully submit that Goth Girl's mom was wrong, as my mother is one of those freakish women who hasn't had a day of cramps in her life, let alone the mind-numbing ones that kept me home from school on a semi-regular basis.

But I digress.

An aside about jocks and why Goth Girl doesn't like them: they think they are "Hand crafted by god to dispense orgasms to this world."

And an awesome thought: while the main character of Fanboy's graphic novel was essentially wankbait, she had to give him some credit because he was a fifteen year old boy at least attempting to write about women and their problems. Very sage point there.

Next up was Justine Larbalestier - I loved How to Ditch Your Fairy, and the book she read from sounds quite promising, even if the current title is a bit ridiculous (It's currently called Wild Heat, which doesn't exactly sound like a YA-friendly title ifyouknowwhatImean). Her next book is Liar, but she chose to read from this one because she thought that Joe would like it better. It's set in New York City in the 1930s and is a slightly alternate history, though there was no real sense of that in the section she read. The book is filled with letters so she read a letter from "a precocious 11 year old from a wealthy family" to her brother who is away at boarding school.

It wasn't the most exciting selection of the evening, but it was fun to listen to.

Next reader was Eireann Corrigan who had the darkest reading of the night with her upcoming "Person of Interest." It's about two high achieving girls who feel the need to find some extraordinary about themselves in order to get into good colleges. They concoct a plan for one of them to disappear and then the other one will "find" her and voila, instant extraordinary story for college applications.

Eireann read a section from near the end of the book, which she said she hoped wasn't too spoiler-y. For 99% of the reading I was wondering why on EARTH she'd want to preview THIS PART of the story because it felt like she was giving away the ending - and then it twisted at the very last second and it became clear that a lot more needed to happen before the resolution of the story.

The selection was from the scene where Chloe, the girl who "disappeared," is going to be "found" by Finn. Chloe has apparently spent the last few days isolated in the basement of Finn's grandmother's house and may or may not have gone a little stir crazy from the isolation. While she was gone her boyfriend, Dean, was arrested under suspicion of murdering her. Finn is naturally freaked out and tells Chloe they need to just go home and tell everyone the whole story so they can save Dean. Chloe then reveals that apparently she's an evil mastermind (or perhaps just stir crazy - hard to tell from just this short section) and insists they have to go along with the plan - either Dean's life is ruined or both of their lives are ruined - possibly even all three of their lives. Chloe threatens Finn, saying that if Finn tries to blow the story, Chloe will pin the whole disappearance on Finn, claiming she was weirdly obsessed and kept Chloe locked away for days.

Okay, sounds totally spoiler-tastic and like it ruins the suspense, right? Well, it does, until at the last moment Finn picks up the wooden plank that had been part of this scheme all along and wallops Chloe upside the head with it. I need to know what happens next!!!!!!!!!!!

Apparently I zoned out a bit during Holly Black's reading, since the only note I have is the last line of her reading, which was the main character saying that if he were going to jump off a building to kill himself, he'd have put pants on first. I remember laughing...and that's it.

My hastily scribbled notes have failed me.

For the next reading of the evening, I decided both David Levithan and Rachel Cohn need to take a basic speech class, because neither of them enunciated the title of Rachel's next book. I have the title written down several times in various permutations based on what I was hearing at the time. The most common one seemed to be "Very La Freak" which really doesn't make much sense. I caught that the character's name is Veronica but she prefers to be called Very. And her last name is La Freak? Or she is a freak? I have no idea. Seriously, basic rule of speech, people: when you're introducing an unfamiliar phrase, err on the side of caution and over-enunciate so your audience can familiarize themselves with the new term.

Other than that, though, I was very entertained by Rachel's reading, and apparently I have a psychic connection as TWICE I predicted what was going to happen.

The story is about a girl (Very, or whatever) who is addicted to technology, like her iPhone. And the funny story connected with that was while she was working on the book, Rachel took a vacation to Australia where she was determined to write the book (perhaps on her iPhone?). Instead she spent all of her time taking pictures with the phone and uploading them to Facebook. Allegedly she had signed up for a plan that would let her use the phone unlimited while in Australia...except it didn't and she got a text message one night saying her bill was over $700.

ANYWAY, Very has a problem with technology, so she has been checked into rehab at Emergency Services for Computer Addicted Persons Everywhere, or ESCAPE. At one point Very is describing the check-in process to ESCAPE where of course you have to undergo a full body search to make sure you aren't smuggling electronics in. Patients are allowed one bag full of clothes and another filled with cosmetics and toiletries, which are all, of course, manually checked for more contraband. Here was my first psychic moment, thinking that in the toiletries bag is where I would try to smuggle in a vibrator (if I were addicted to technology of course, lol) - especially since they have the ones that look like lipstick and everything! Sure enough, the protagonist mentions that in the contraband room they are sure to have a stash of "naughty toys" as well.

My second call of the night was when the counselor was interviewing Very and asked her about what sort of exercise she liked. I thought of course the only thing she'd be up to is Wii Bowling...which she is. Two for two, go me!

The final reader of the evening was, honestly, the whole reason that I came: to hear Scott Westefeld read from Leviathan.

Before he started reading though, he was presented with a pair of steam punk goggles (which made me giggle because when we went to a gaming convention this summer, Billy picked up the exact same pair, for no reason other than he thought they were incredibly entertaining). And then he said he was going to be the first author of the night who was smart enough to turn the mic stand the correct way. Of course, as soon as he tried to turn it "the correct way," it swung around to the previous position. He tried two or three times before declaring that he has been chastened.

The steam punk goggles were appropriate because Leviathan is a bit of a steam punk novel, though Diesel-punk may be more appropriate. It's another alternate universe book, where Darwin discovered DNA while in the Galapagos and since then Britain has been fabricating creatures of Natural Philosophy and relies on various animal hybrids for all of its manufacturing needs, while the rest of the world developed the way it did in our own history. The book is set in 1914, as the first world war is starting. One of the main characters is Darren, a cross dressing Scottish girl who is cross dressing so she can be in the living air navy. The scene Scott read from is the girl's first day (or at least early on) in her time with the air navy where she's going to have her first taste at flight.

The first taste we got of the crazy animals in this world is an illustration of the tigeresques, half-wolf, half-tiger crazy awesome creatures.

The next creature we were introduced to was called a couple of names, and I'm not sure what one referred to the species of creature, or the type, or this particular one, but it was called an airbeast, a medusa and a huxley. It was the first hydrogen-breather created and the illustration showed a giant balloon-like jelly fish with long tentacles with Darren strapped in and hanging from the bag, a bit like a parachute.

The illustrations are awesome - I loved how they didn't fit perfectly into a square border - on the two illustrations we saw, there was always at least one part of the illustration that stuck out beyond the frame, giving a real feeling of movement to the image.

And then it was question and answer time. I didn't get to stay for the whole thing since I had to meet my husband (it's been almost a month and I still love dropping that into conversations) when he got out of school (the reading wasn't too far away from where he has classes). I got to listen to a couple of questions though - first was about if Uglies was ever going to be a movie. Apparently it's been optioned by Jim Davis - not the creator of Garfield, but the producer of Aliens vs. Predator. According to Scott, every time a producer (since it sounds like Davis isn't the first to have the rights to this) goes to a studio and says "Hey, give me $70 million for this movie" the studio goes "... you want to make a movie about ugly people?!?!?!?!" So who knows if it will ever happen.

What is happening however, is a Midnighters manga that is going to tell more stories about the Midnighters after they leave Bixby. I would have loved to hear more about that, but I didn't have a chance to ask.

Then I forget the question that sparked this response, but I made a special note of this part of Barry Lyga's response about writing Goth Girl - he had to get past the idea of writing about all women and realize he had to focus on telling the story of one woman. I am VERY excited to see how this book turns out.

Oh, man, I'm worn out just from writing this post- it's taken almost an hour! Now it's time to sleep and rest up for tomorrow night's event - the TIGER BEAT concert at Books of Wonder!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Roundup: Playing Catchup!

So...I took the better part of a month off from blogging because I had to run away and do a little something called get married. I still did plenty of reading (in order to procrastinate on wedding projects), but between actually trying to complete projects, and starting a new job, I couldn't find the time to blog.

So here's a list of what I've read since I last blogged - some of these books may get posts of their own, but I'm not going to break my back to catchup on the backlog of books.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis. It is, indeed, a very complete history, not just of Sesame Street, but of the state of children's television before Sesame Street started (as for many people involved, Sesame Street wasn't their first foray into children's television, so the book talks about their experiences on those other shows. I think it would break my mother's heart if she found out that Captain Kangaroo was kind of a dick in real life).

Minders of Make Believe by Leonard Marcus. Man, I've been waiting for this book forever. It probably would have been helpful back when I was writing my senior thesis. Oh well.

I Am Apache by Tanya Landman. This one will most likely be getting its own post because I loved it. Talk about a kick ass heroine. A little bit too perfect at times, but not enough to take away from the general awesome-ness of this.

The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Lavine Ain. This one, on the other hand, probably won't be getting a blog post, just because it hasn't really stuck with me. I remember enjoying it, but it was nothing to rave about.

Madapple by Christina Meldrum. Wow, this one was weird. I'm still not sure what happened. And I'm not sure whether I liked that or not.

Dear Julia by Amy Bronwen Zemser. Yeah, I wasn't a fan of this one. Will probably get its own post because of how much it irritated me, from the protagonist's ridiculous speech patterns to the negative feminist stereotype of a mother.

The Fold by An Na. A great story about a young Korean-American woman who is offered the chance to have plastic surgery so her eyes will look more American. Joyce's struggles, with the surgery, with her family, with her friends, all felt very real (though I totally called what was going on with Helen very early on in the book. Not sure if that was my awesome deductive reasoning skills, or if it's the conclusion I want from most books, lol)

Pleasure Control by Cathryn Fox. Picked this one up from my new job. LOL it's terrible. There are few things more hilarious in life than poorly written erotica. The sex scenes were bad (half the time I couldn't tell what was going on, and when I could figure it out, I wasn't sure how they had gotten there and if it were physically possible), the plot was barely there and ridiculous - seriously bad stuff. And there's a sequel!!!
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