Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Month in Review: June

June has been a busy, busy month. Need proof? This is post number 33 for the month.

A lot of this activity was prompted by the Bloggiesta event a few weeks ago. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bloggiesta is one of the most fun online events I've ever participated in. And the Bloggiesta is also responsible for the consistent reviews posted over the last few weeks, as I wrote a bunch up on the last day and I still have one or two in reserve. So now I need to spend some time this holiday weekend writing up a new batch!

Bloggiesta wasn't the only exciting blog event this month, though. I also had the chance to participate in the Nerds Heart YA, debating the merits of The World is Mine and Donut Days before sending Donut Days on to the next round of the tournament.

And then just on Monday I got to host Nonfiction Monday. There was also, of course, ALA, which I posted about earlier today, and I have to say one of the highlights of the conference that didn't make it into my final report, was the discovery of publisher Zest Books and all of their teen nonfiction books. Hopefully I'll be getting a box of books from them soon, ensuring I have loads of Nonfiction Monday books for weeks to come!

Here in NYC, there were also some great book events to attend - I got to meet Karen Healey, author of one of my favorite new books, Guardian of the Dead. I also discovered the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art and the Sons of Liberty panel (review coming soon! Actually...that would make a pretty good 4th of July weekend review! Revolutionary War superheroes. Doesn't get much more American than that!).

This month I was also very proud of myself for continuing my periodic link roundups (another go-round this weekend), as well as the debut of Sci-Fi Fridays, where I'll be concentrating my SF attentions weekly. If you're a SF nut, too, I encourage you to check the posts out weekly, and even join in yourself with your own posts!

Whew. Like I said, it's been a busy month - an ambitious start to the summer! Here's hoping the rest of the season goes as well!

Book Events: ALA in DC!

ALA and I go way back...all the way to 2002, when my mom and I made a road trip from Michigan to Atlanta just so I could attend the conference and speak at the Best Books for Young Adults teen panel the year Cindy (from Bookends) chaired the panel. Oh, she also arranged for me to meet my idol, Sara Ryan, at the same conference. That was an epic adventure, in and of itself.

ALA was a ton of fun back then, and again in 2005 when it was slightly closer to home in Chicago and I served as a chaperon for a new group of teen panelists. So when I heard ALA was again going to be somewhat close to me, this time in DC, I jumped at the chance to go. I'd never really visited DC before, and I haven't taken a vacation that wasn't family oriented in years, so this was going to be a multi-tasking vacation.

I got into DC an hour late on Friday, arriving at three. I'd been watching Twitter during the whole bus ride and saw everyone complaining about the heat and humidity, but it really wasn't any different than NYC, so I shrugged it off. It was definitely hot, but the humidity on Friday was nothing (summers on Lake Michigan were brutal, humidity-wise). Since the exhibits didn't open until after 5, I decided to play tourist, and made my first stop the Smithsonian Museum of American History - specifically the pop culture exhibit.

Hint for pop culture junkies planning a DC trip: skip the museum until they've finished the renovations. There were no more than ten things on display, which disappointed me immensely. Though I did achieve a childhood dream and finally get to see the famous Ruby Slippers

I've wanted to see these for ages, so I'm glad that itch got scratched.

I also got to see Kermit and the Fonz's jacket. Both were smaller than I would have thought.

There were some other interesting exhibits - I checked out the flag that inspired the national anthem, and the exhibit of first ladies' gowns. I also sat in on a cool presentation about the student protests during the civil rights movement - a young museum employee was role playing that we were back in the 60s and we were all at a protest planning meeting, learning how to effectively protest. That may have been the highlight of the museum!

But was time to hightail it back up to the convention center to hit the exhibits!

Well, I did make one small detour...
Can you blame me?

At the convention center, of course, there were books galore. Here's a partial glimpse at the exhibit floor: 

But there's also tons of other things going on. ALA has exhibits dedicated to all sorts of library services, from furniture to book carts to shelves to cataloging services.

There are also contests so you can win some of this stuff for your library. There was quite a line on Friday night to take a crack at Wii bowling.

The exhibits were only open for a few hours on Friday night, but a lot of people were crammed in there. Want an idea of how many people showed up just Friday night?

The DC convention center had a lot of great things going for it; adequate exit signage was not among them. Also, if you're going to have employees directing people to other stairs, maybe they should be positioned somewhere other than the bottom of the escalator?

Saturday I was up early with more sightseeing plans...that ended up going slightly awry thanks to my inability to keep track of maps. Long story short: I walked the length of the mall 1.5 times in two hours Saturday morning in search of the Holocaust museum. I did get some great morning pictures, though...

  And I really loved this quotation on one of the walls of the WWII memorial: 

"Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women... This was a people's war, and everyone was in it." Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby.

No, I don't know why my camera decided half of my pictures needed to have a strange blue tint. Ignore it.

No pictures from inside the Holocaust Museum - which was a deeply moving experience. The information wasn't anything earth-shattering for me, since I'm pretty well read on the Holocaust, but actually seeing some of the tools of torture was sending chills up my spine. Walking under a replica of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign from Auschwitz totally freaked me out.

So after thoroughly depressing myself, I headed back to the convention center to make a concentrated go at picking up as many books as I possibly could. When I arrived, I was greeted with the sight of a bunch of librarians glued to a TV - not even ALA was safe from World Cup fever!
I wasn't near a TV when the US lost, so I have no idea how these poor librarians took the news. 

Sunday I don't have any pictures for, which is unfortunate because of how awesome it was. Sunday afternoon is when I finally got to hook up with Lynn and Cindy, who you'll probably recall I've spoken about on here before. Long story short, they were my librarians dating from way back when I was in middle school and I consider myself incredibly lucky to still count them among my friends - not only because they are awesome, awesome ladies, but they were willing to let me tag along during their first chance on the exhibit floor and introduced me to pretty much everyone they know.

Also fun: knowing that I got to a highly anticipated book before either of them. Cindy did a literal double take when I told her that not only had I already finished Monsters of Men by Sunday (I picked it up first thing Friday night), but I'd also started reading Sapphique. Lynn was even funnier, trying to wrench my copy of Sapphique from my hands when I showed it to her. I made sure they both got copies for themselves before the end of the day, so no blood was shed nor ARCs torn in half.

The one big disappointment of the weekend? I was so busy running around sight seeing and networking that I didn't get to meet any of my fellow book bloggers! I think we were all mesmerized by the shiny, shiny books, since I've seen from other blogs I'm not the only one who had this problem.

As for all those shiny, shiny books - want to see them?

This is the picture I Tweeted from the convention center on Sunday:  Case about to burst purse inside tote b/c of carry on limit B... on Twitpic My suitcase is literally straining at the seams, and my poor purse couldn't handle any more weight so I stuffed it inside my new totebag along with other books that wouldn't fit in my suitcase.

Here's the "unboxing" of my suitcase, which I didn't dare tackle until tonight:

Here's the suitcase as it was when I first opened it...totally stuffed.
Here's some of the books pulled out, along with the books that were packed in my purse and tote bag...and my cat Gopher, because he can't resist suitcases.
 And here's my final display! In an attempt to stay organized and keep myself from reading too far ahead, the front row has the books that are already published or will be published soon, while the back row is filled with books being published in November, December and March 2011 (totally random, but two books from different publishers are labeled as 3/11 titles). I'm sure I'm going to cheat (after all, I've already finished Monsters of Men and Sapphique which are due to be published much later this year), but at least this way I need to make an effort to cheat!
Oh, and this actually isn't even the final tally. Several publishers volunteered to send me boxes of books after the conference. Can't wait until those start arriving!

ALA was definitely a fun and worthwhile trip for a book nerd like me. I was a little unsure how I'd be greeted, being a non-librarian, but everyone seemed to love having a book blogger around! So, to everyone I met at ALA, thanks for making this blogger feel welcome and part of the club.

And to my readers - thanks for staying to the end of this super long post! Were any of you at ALA? Share your experiences (or links to your conference reports) in the comments!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: Poisoned Honey by Patricia Gormley

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 2/22

Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene

I'm almost as interested in new spins on religious stories as I am in new spins on old fairy tales. I blame a childhood spent in the Christian Reformed Church. And being introduced to Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal at an impressionable age. Lamb may actually have been the first time I read a book that took on Mary Magdalene - that version of the character certainly left an impression on me, anyway, so I was interested in seeing how Gormley's version compared.

Mariamne (the Greek version of Miryam, called Mari by her family) of Magdala is the middle child and eldest daughter of a prosperous sardine merchant. While she often disagrees with her brother, she considers her father wise and fair - when an elderly member of the community asked to marry Mari, her father listened to her plea to reject the proposal and instead arranged a marriage with a handsome young man. Unlike many other girls in arranged marriages, Mari is gleefully anticipating her wedding day - until a plague befalls Magdala, cause Mari to fall ill and taking the lives of her beloved father and fiancé.

With the family business in peril and her older brother now in charge of the family, Mari must accept the proposal of the older man who first asked for her, all in the hopes of preserving the family's business and honor. As the new wife and youngest woman in a new household, Mari is berated, humiliated and ignored by her husband's daughter-in-law. Her only escape is in the simple spells an Egyptian mystic woman teaches her - first a way to escape the mundane world into a peaceful spirit garden, then a spell for healing, which all too easily is turned into a spell for doing harm.

In the spirit garden, Mari begins to hear voices - and soon they are coming to her even outside of the spirit realm, encouraging her to use the magic she knows to escape her unbearable life as the wife of a much older and unsympathetic man. As the voices become harder to ignore, Mari begins to wonder who is truly wielding the power; is she in control of the voices? Or are the voices in control of her? As her behavior grows more erratic, it becomes clear there's only one person who can save Mari - a young traveling rabbi known for his miracle and humble ways, who invites even tax collectors and the demon-possessed to travel with him and spread the word of the Lord.

I thought Mari's story was well done, even if it didn't have the humor and spunk of Moore's Lamb. However, this isn't just Mari's story. Shoehorned in somewhat awkwardly are also occasional chapters about Matthew, the son of Magdala's tax collector who goes on to be a tax collector himself. Mari and Matthew cross paths early on in the novel, and again later as they seek Rabbi Yeshua (the man who we know today as Jesus). Matthew's chapters really stick out for a couple of reasons. First, none of the summaries, either that I've seen online or on the book itself, mention Matthew's existence. Second, his chapters are told from a third person omniscient perspective, compared to Mari's first person chapters. Third, his chapters come about completely randomly. There's no discernible rhyme or reason for why a Matthew chapter appears, nor did his contributions really seem to contribute that much to the overall story, except as further illustration for how good Yeshua is, as he'll allow even a tax collector and a formerly possessed woman to join as followers. And really, I'm pretty sure even non-Christians have heard by now that Jesus was a pretty open and accepting guy.

The front jacket copy brings up lots of ideas that just don't pan out in the final novel. "Who is Mary Magdalene? A prostitute? A saint? A madwoman? A goddess?" Only one of these tantalizing possibilities is addressed in the text - that of being a madwoman. The extensive author's note addresses the prostitution allegation, but nothing about being a saint or even a goddess. I was also hoping more time would have been spent looking at Mary as a follower of Jesus - instead, joining up with Jesus is essentially the end of the novel.

If you're a hardcore fan of fiction about Biblical figures, then I would recommend this one, otherwise consider this a title you can skip.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

Found via: Amelia Bloomer Project nomination
Welcome back from the big weekend of ALA! I'm actually writing this post on Saturday night, since I'm not getting back to New York until late tomorrow - and I know there are plenty of librarians still in DC. Hopefully we'll still get a good Non-Fiction Monday turn out!

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedIn 2008, Nujood Ali's story was all over the blogs. The 10 year old Yemeni girl had summoned the courage and strength to seek a divorce from her husband, who was 3 times her age. Here, with the help of a reporter, Nujood gives the first hand account of that experience, describing in child-like terms growing up in poverty, one child among many between her father's two brides. Despite the obvious difficulties, Nujood is generally a happy child.

And then the terrifying news comes - that she is to be married, to a man significantly older than she is. Nujood isn't entirely sure how old she is, but she knows she doesn't want to marry and leave her family. Her father has made her future husband promise not to "touch her" until she has reached puberty, but at 10 Nujood doesn't really even know what that means, let alone what sex is and what it means when her husband demands that she act like his wife.

It is on one of her brief trips to visit her family that Nujood plans her escape, taking a taxi to the court house and making history by announcing to a judge that she wants a divorce.

Nujood's story is absolutely heartbreaking. The trauma she experienced is unimaginable for us in the West, with firmly established age of consent laws and lack of arranged marriages. The child-like prose doubles the horror for an adult reader, for while Nujood's descriptions of her relationship with her husband are never described in graphic detail, it's painfully obvious that she is raped and abused by her new husband and his family.

As an adult reader, I often craved more details - many people in the courthouse tell Nujood that granting her divorce will be nearly impossible, thanks to centuries of tradition, and yet we never see any of that struggle. A couple of meetings with a lawyer, her husband and father are temporarily sent to jail, and then a hearing - suddenly Nujood is free! However, I think for young readers the descriptions and details will be more than enough.

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly event across the kidlitosphere, highlighting and celebrating nonfiction published for children and young adults. Started by Picture Book of the Day, I'm excited to be this week's host! Participants, please leave links to your reviews in the comments, and I'll add them to this post periodically throughout the day!

Nonfiction Monday
Other Nonfiction Monday posts:

What a day. Thanks to all of the Nonfiction Monday participants!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sci-Fi Friday Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/19

Ship Breaker

You all know that I'm a sucker for science fiction, especially when it falls into the dystopian camp. I'm also a huge fan of books that bring in strong and interesting non-white characters (okay, I prefer my white characters to be interesting as well, but characters of color are harder to find!). Ship Breaker is one of the few books that combines both of those passions into an awesome story.

17 year old Nailer has spent his whole life living on the Gulf coast, working on the crews that break down the ancient oil rigs and shipwrecked boats that were abandoned as fossil fuels were exhausted and the climate changed so radically the coast began suffering through Category 6 hurricanes - aka City Killers. It's a rough and tumble life for everyone, but perhaps a little more so for Nailer who lives with his alcoholic father who isn't afraid to re-live his glory days as a wrestler by taking out his frustrations on his son.

Everyone on the crews dreams of making like Lucky Strike, the former crew member who found a secret oil deposit and was able to smuggle enough out to buy his way off the crew and set up a comfortable life for himself. Nailer thinks he's found his shot with the discovery of a modern and swanky clipper ship wrecked on the shore, filled with silver and gold and copper and, unexpectedly, a survivor - a young woman. Nailer and his friends are tempted to kill the girl and claim the boat as salvage, but ultimately Nailer decides to spare Nita after she promises there'll be a handsome reward for her safe return.

What Nita failed to mention is her rich father isn't the only one looking for her. Trouble is brewing in her father's industry, and a former colleague has pursued Nita across the Gulf, hoping to use her as a hostage. Without Nailer's help, she'll never reach safety. With the promise of adventure and a better life for himself and his friends, Nailer agrees to help, setting in motion an adventure that takes him from the ravaged Gulf to the ruins of New Orleans and out onto the ocean as he's always dreamed.

Bacigalupi is a rising star in science fiction right now, having just won the 2010 Nebula Award for his 2009 adult novel. So Ship Breaker continues the trend of adult writers turning towards the YA market, but after reading this one I'm happy to welcome Bacigalupi into the YA field. This is a tightly crafted adventure story, with a setting that feels all the more timely in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill (boo, hiss). I also found an interview with Bacigalupi that's interesting to read in light of the New Yorker article on YA dystopias. The New Yorker notes that a lot of YA dystopias don't truly work as social commentary like 1984 and Brave New World do because teenagers can't do anything to change their place. Bacigalupi, however, takes a different tack, saying "Adult readers nod their heads like a Chihuahua (bobble head) on a dashboard and say, 'Wow, that's really deep.' Then they get in their car and drive to work again. But with young people, they actually still have a chance to make better decisions than we made." Hopefully that means he plans on writing more YA!

The diverse cast is definitely one of the strengths of this novel. Not only are most of the characters not-white (specifically Nailer is Latino and Nita is Indian), but both men and women, boys and girls are part of the action. Nita starts off physically frail, but she's clearly clever and is a fast learner so she can earn the respect of Nailer and his crew who've known nothing but hard labor. Sadna, the leader of Nailer's crew, is a strong and imposing woman who has clawed her way up the ranks. At least in the shanty town, there's no difference between races or gender, it's all about how you can contribute and earn your keep.

When Nita arrives on the scene, class also comes to the forefront of the story as it becomes apparent that the entire world isn't in shambles like the Gulf coast is. Farther inland there are working cities with industries and infrastructure going strong. The only way those cities continue to thrive, however, is by exploiting people like Nailer to salvage every last resource from the wreckage people like us left behind.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/12 and Reading in Color

Toads and Diamonds

During the June Bloggiesta, one of the tasks I assigned myself was to tally up how I was doing with the various reading challenges I'd signed up for during the first Bloggiesta back in January. To my surprise, I was already almost finished with one - and reading Toads and Diamonds means I've now read the 5 fairy tale re-tellings I signed up for with the Once Upon a Time challenge! Of course, the challenge was for "at least" five books, so I'll continue to keep track of what re-tellings I read, but Toads and Diamonds will certainly remain one of the highlights of this challenge!

Based upon the Perrault story The Fairies, Toads and Diamonds is set in a fictional India, where society is sharply divided between the ruling class of the Believers and the native followers of the twelve. Diribani and Tana are stepsisters, living with Tana's mother after Diribani's father, a successful jewel merchant, has died. The family is living in poverty, having already sold most of their valuable possessions to keep even the cheapest rice on the table.

Everything changes one day when, after a long and tiring trip to the local well, Diribani meets a poor beggar woman who requests a drink of water. Diribani kindly gives the poor woman a drink, who then reveals herself  to be one of the goddesses the Believers worship. She bestows upon Diribani a gift - that whenever the girl speaks precious jewels and beautiful flowers fall from her lips. Diribani rushes home to share her gift with her family. When Tana is sent back out to the well, she stumbles upon the goddess who this time presents herself as rich and beautiful. When Tana hesitates before answering the goddess' question, she is given the gift of speaking snakes and toads. While not as glamorous as the jewels, snakes are revered by the Believers, so Tana is mostly unconcerned - until she realizes that deadly cobras are among the snakes she may make appear.

It doesn't take long for the girls' talents to be discovered. A prince is drawn in by Diribani's beauty and jewels, and offers her refuge in his palace from the local governor who considers her a witch. The governor, who has set a bounty to encourage the locals to kill all of the snakes in the land, also wants Tana killed, but the prince intervenes as well, proposing that Tana live outside of town near the temple, where the snakes will harmlessly slither into the forest.

But even with the protections of royalty and solitude, respectively, the sisters aren't entirely safe. Political intrigue is afoot as different factions jockey for power, and a powerful plague is waylaying much of the population, causing widespread death and famine. As Tana witnesses the cruelty people are capable of, Diribani finds herself isolated in the Believers palace, constricted by customs and morals she doesn't subscribe to, even as she's lulled into a false sense of security about her safety. Did the goddess truly bless the sisters with gifts? Or were they cursed?

The fictional India Tomlinson has created is extremely rich in culture and mythology. Setting up a society that reveres snakes definitely puts a twist on Perrault's tale (where originally it was the arrogant sister cursed with snakes and frogs). She includes an author's note at the end that makes it clear that the two religions she created are fictional, though she did draw from the wide variety of faiths that are celebrated in India today.

The story is told through alternating chapters, as Tana and Diribani spend most of the book apart. Tana's half is more of an adventure story, as she travels the countryside and discovers the extent of the local governor's greed and the results of his shortsightedness. Diribani spends most of her story sequestered away with the rest of the women of the royal court, as the Believers keep women separated from men whenever possible and veiled when the genders must mix. These scenes with the court women gave several examples of the book passing the Bechdel test as Diribani and the court women, including a princess, learn about each other's cultures - including Diribani teaching them the fascinating court dancing that combines dancing with self-defense.

It was wonderful to read a fairy tale story set outside of the traditional European style, that also wasn't focused on romance. While each sister does have a love interest, they are a small part of the story, and the romances blossom in an organic, well-developed way. There is no fairy tale "love at first sight" here - the relationships are built on mutual respect and interests.

Once Upon a Time Challenge

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/5

Thief Eyes

I read Simner's Bones of Faerie last December and found it to be a really interesting take on both the fantasy and post-apocalyptic genres. Simner's back again already, dealing once again with fantasy elements, this time tackling Icelandic sagas with a thoroughly modern heroine.

One year after her mother disappeared, Haley has joined her geologist father in Iceland, hoping to retrace her mother's steps and bring her home. What she never expected were those steps to draw her into the magical entanglements of her ancestors and the complicated rules of Icelandic myths!

The magic began with Hallgerd, a woman forced into an unhappy marriage who casts a spell that affects all of her female descendants - including Haley and her mother. In her quest to escape the magical realm and return to the real world, Haley encounters Muninn and Freki - a talking raven and fox, respectively, who offer their help, though always at a price. Also accompanying her is Ari, a handsome Icelandic boy, the son of her father's colleague in Iceland. As the magic sinks deeper into both Haley and Ari, the question is no longer whether they can find Haley's mother, but if they can save themselves from also suffering her fate.

Although this is only the second Simner novel I've read, I'm already detecting a theme in her novels. For one thing, she's got mother abandonment issues, as both this and Bones of Faerie focus on a girl trying to find her mother after a magical intervention (though this time Haley didn't know magic was going to be involved at the beginning).

The novel could be a little frustrating as sometimes Haley's reactions would be very cyclical. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Haley would often make virtually the same mistake multiple times.

I enjoyed the exploration of the Icelandic myths - there are a lot of similarities with Norse mythology which I have a passing familiarity with, but several key differences as well. Simner explains in an author's note that she drew much of the story from Njáls saga, but since the events took place 1000 years ago and weren't written until the 13th century, it's impossible to know what's historical and what's fictional while also leaving plenty of room for Simner to add her own interpretations. She also explains why Freki, traditionally depicted as a wolf, appears as a fox in this story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Found via: Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 nominations

Last Night I Sang to the Monster

While I have mixed feelings about the existence of the new BFYA list, one thing I am very positive about is Last Night I Sang to the Monster deserves to be on all sorts of "best of" lists. It's nominated for the Nerds Heart YA contest and I hope it goes far! This is definitely a title that needs more exposure.

At 18 years old, Zach is already in rehab for alcoholism. He was brought in for treatment after suffering severe alcohol poisoning, and claims to not remember what happened just before his last drinking binge. He knows it was bad, and remembering just hurts too much. Instead he drifts through the program, remaining silent most of the time, only opening up occasionally to his roommate Rafael. Rafael is also an alcoholic, but is about old enough to be Zach's father, and is much more at peace with the rehab program than Zach is.

As Zach makes his way through the rehabilitation program in fits and starts, we learn about his life before rehab - living with a brother with anger issues and an alcoholic father who hid bottles of booze where Zach could easily find them. Adam, Zach's ever-patient therapist, helps guide Zach through his journey, but Zach is the one who must choose to be sober, and in rehab there are no easy answers.

I have so much love for everything that's going on in this book. While there are several colorful supporting characters, none of them fall into outlandish stereotype territory. Every patient clearly has addiction issues, but they are all handling sobriety in their own ways. Some have come to the center voluntarily like Rafael, but others are there on court order and plan on staying just long enough to avoid jail time before returning to their old ways.

This is also an extremely chatty novel. Zach spends a lot of time in his own head and fills the narrative with vocal tics like well, so, look and okay. It's never enough to become annoying, and it definitely adds a sense of intimacy to this story. The casual tone makes it feel very raw and immediate, like we really are in Zach's head and he hasn't had time to censor or edit himself.

One thing that really impressed me about this novel is that even though most of the cast is male, there is a lot of crying going on. Zach cries with some frequency, as do other patients and doctors. But what's striking about all of these tears is no one is torn down for it. No one is called a fag or is told that he's crying like a girl - Zach doesn't even think these things about himself. Considering how men are so often socialized to see emotions, especially ones that lead to crying, as un-manly, I thought this was remarkable. Also, Zach is Latino, and Latino cultures are often portrayed as steeped in machismo that would also discourage tears. It's always a positive thing to see difficult emotions and emotional reactions handled respectfully and realistically.

I was also impressed by Zach's journey in rehab. Without giving too much away, I can safely say that Zach's road to recovery isn't so much a clear path as it is a roller coaster. He doesn't progressively get better - at least not obviously. His story is much more along the lines of "one step forward, two steps back." While sometimes it's frustrating to see Zach slip backwards in some way, it's also great to a complex look at alcoholism and recovery.

Speaking of complex, after checking out Last Night I Sang to the Monster, I recommend checking out Liz B's list at Teacozy Beyond Pap Finn for other YA novels where "an alcoholic (including recovering alcoholic) is portrayed as something other than the evil, abusive person." A great list!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday Review: Short: Walking Tall when You're Not Tall at All by John Schwartz

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/5

I'll be upfront here: I'm a short woman. Always have been. In middle school when the girls were getting their growth spurts and suddenly towering over the boys, I was still shorter than a lot of those boys. Hence my obsession with high heels shoes - I bought my first pair of heels (combat-style boots with three inch chunky heels) in sixth grade. To the right you'll see my favorite pair of heels today - I don't care that they're 4 inch micro-stilettos, they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned (though mine are black patent, not bubble gum pink).

So all of that is just to say that I have a vested interest in Schwartz's topic. Schwartz is just barely taller than I am, standing five feet, three inches tall. He's heard all the jokes and teasing all of his life and read all the doom and gloom studies about how hard life is for short people. But being a science writer for the New York Times, he was curious about the reality behind these studies, as obviously he's turned out pretty well. The result of his research is a thorough debunking of the best known studies about how terrible life is for short people. Or more accurately, he debunks the popular myths about the studies - he interviewed several doctors for the book who worked on these studies and they all point out the media grabbed the sexiest sound bites rather than digging into the meat of the studies and noting that correlation does not equal causation.

Even for kids who aren't short, this book provides great examples of why critical thinking is necessary. Schwartz explains the different biases that appear in studies, or in the media reporting on studies. There's also explanations of the bell curve and standard deviations, complete with illustrative charts. Schwartz also does an excellent job of not talking down to the reader, and includes a bibliography of many of his sources, all of which are adult non-fiction titles and actual scientific surveys. He notes that they're written at an adult level, but you won't know what's too hard for you unless you give it a try!

My one complaint about this book? Schwartz focuses almost exclusively on short boys and men. Women and girls really only get mentioned when talking about breasts and the effects of early onset puberty. I would have loved it if Schwartz had taken the time to talk to some women who had experienced being short growing up, and how being a short adult has affected them - maybe even a comment on how so many of us use those awesome (but admittedly impractical) high heels as compensation.

Nonfiction Monday

Thanks to Simply Science for hosting this week's Nonfiction Monday! Next week, I'm going to be the host - so excited!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Links: Roundup, 6/19

Another week, another link roundup! I'm kind of beginning to enjoy these...

Here's an interesting discussion that involves two of my favorite topics: gender and book blogging. Book Blogging and the Gender Gap, Redux at the Reading Ape asks if "so few men blog about books [because] male-oriented book discussion already HAS a venue."

Malinda Lo (author of Ash) has a great series of posts on avoiding LGBT stereotypes in YA fiction. An absolute must read for anyone writing YA lit, and not a bad resource for those of us who read it to help identify problems when they appear.

Here's a blog post that resonated with me, about when and how to critique a book when the problems come from production design rather than the writing. I received a book to review the day before I found this post at Read Roger, and I had to double check that it was in fact a finished book and not an ARC because it's one of the flimsiest books I've ever held. Should I note this in the review? I haven't decided yet (let me know if you'd like to hear about it!)

My favorite TV show of the moment (okay, pretty much the only TV show I watch), Glee is going to get its own book series. The first novel will be a prequel to the show and will be out in August. Half the fun of Glee is the musical numbers (and in fact, the show has a lot of problems outside of its musical numbers), so I'm not sure how well it will translate to books, but I'm certainly curious.

I don't know why I haven't seen more excitement about this - maybe because its an older series that was originally published in Australia? But I, for one, loved the Tomorrow When the War Began series in middle school, and now we've got a trailer for the movie!

It's been years since I've read any of the books, let alone the first one, so I can't really comment as to how accurate this looks. I can say that I don't remember there being so many guns or grown ups in the first book, so I wonder if maybe they're pulling some things from the later books? Wikipedia is pretty sparse on details, so I don't know if they're planning on making this a series of films, or even if it's going to get a US release (only release date listed is September 2nd for Australia).

And now for a little bit of self-promotion and nepotism...

If you missed it yesterday, I've started a new feature here on Bookish Blather called Sci-Fi Fridays, which will be a day to review a science fiction book or discuss other aspects of SF in YA lit. I hope by next week to have a shiny image that goes with it and turn it into something of a meme. Feel free to leave your SF reviews for the week in the comments!

Here's the nepotism, since this has nothing to do with books or reading, but does have to do with family: for those of you who are reality TV and/or golf fans, I encourage you to check out the Big Break on the Golf Channel, premiering Monday June 21st. My sister-in-law is one of the contestants!

And now to conclude on topic, my husband has jumped into the blogosphere and has started his own blog! He's posting excerpts of his writing at his blog Dysfunctionally Creative. Right now the opening scenes for his urban fantasy novel are posted, but I know he's also got a couple of scripts in the works that might be making an appearance soon.

Feel free to leave any links to something interesting you read or wrote this week! I'm taking next Saturday off from my roundups, as I'll be in DC checking out the exhibits at ALA and playing tourist.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Feature: Sci-Fi Fridays

So I came up with a new feature/meme-ish post for the blog that I hope to do weekly. Sci-Fi Fridays. On Fridays I'll be posting my reviews of SF books or discussion posts on science fiction and young adult literature.

Why Sci-Fi Fridays? Well...why not?! Science fiction has long been my favorite genre for everything from books to movies to TV (lifelong Trekker here!). So now for a bit of fun, I'm highlighting that love on the blog!

I did some Googling and didn't see anyone else with a feature like this...which doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If you're already hosting a Sci-Fi Friday, let me know and I'll just jump into your end of the pool. Otherwise, feel free to join in the Sci-Fi love! Leave a link in the comments with anything science fiction-related you've written this week and start thinking ahead for next Friday! Who knows, maybe I'll even have a shiny button by then.

Sci-Fi Friday Review: The Line by Teri Hall

Found via: YALit

The LineWhen I feel like I'm running low on new recommended titles, I head over to the YA Lit site which has a pretty comprehensive listing of all of the recently published and upcoming YA titles. That's how I stumbled across The Line, and decided it was a must-read when I saw one of the editorial reviews was from Booklist - and written by Lynn from Bookends (and one of my awesome librarians dating back to when I was in middle school).

Rachel has lived on The Property for as long as she can remember. Her mother does domestic work for the intimidating Ms. Moore, and the three of them have lived quietly away from civilization and next to the Line ever since Rachel's father was presumed dead in the war,

The Line separates the Unified States from Away - a place where horrible creatures and the Others, people who are no longer even human, live thanks to the weapons used in the last war. Not that Rachel has seen any of this, for while the invisible border runs right behind Ms. Moore's orchid greenhouse, Rachel has never seen any signs of life on the other side of the border. Until one day she receives a mysterious message asking for help, smuggled by an Other across the Line she'd thought was impenetrable. The message inspires Rachel to start asking questions about the Unified States, Away, and just why her mother insists on keeping them as far from the rest of civilization as possible.

 Lynn called this "a good choice for introducing young readers to the science-fiction genre" - and I absolutely agree with that assessment. This is in some ways "dystopia light" - a dystopia more on the level of The Giver rather than The Hunger Games. It's clear that the government of the Unified States isn't all sunshine and lollipops, but Rachel is shielded from a lot of the specifics by her mother and also because she's so young she's not as cynical and jaded as someone like Katniss. This is a solid book for middle grade readers, but more experienced dystopian readers won't find much new here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: Efrain's Secret by Sofia Quintero

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 3/15

I've been dying to post about this one for almost a week now. I discussed some of it with Ari of Reading in Color on Twitter after she finished, but I wanted to get my Nerds Heart YA decision up first so I could make some comparisons between The World is Mine and this, which I coincidentally read shortly after.

Efrain has one goal in life: to be accepted into an Ivy League school. He knows it's an uphill battle: he has no college fund; he's Latino; and even though he's poised to be Valedictorian at his Bronx high school, does class rank really matter when your school doesn't even offer calculus? But the final nail in the coffin appears to come in the form of his SAT score - 1650, far below the average score for Harvard's incoming Freshmen. With a mother that works around the clock just to keep a roof over his and his little sister's heads and a deadbeat dad who moved in down the street with his mistress, Efrain feels like he's at a dead end. Until his old friend Nestor, a high school drop out and current drug peddler, offers to hook Efrain up with a job like his. It's hard work, long hours, and fraught with danger from the cops and rival dealers, but the cash is tax free and it's all for the noble goal of escaping epidemic poverty, so it's okay, right?

Complicating Efrain's life even more are his relationships with his best friend Chingy and potential girlfriend Candace, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina with an overprotective mother. Efrain knows neither would approve of where he's getting his cash, and chooses to keep both in the dark, hoping to keep his secret until he has enough cash to pay for an SAT prep course, re-take the test, and start paying for college with the help of loans. But once he starts peddling drugs, working up from marijuana to the harder stuff, will it really be that easy to get out?

Oh Efrain, Efrain, Efrain. So many times I just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and tell him that no matter how daunting life seemed, selling drugs just wasn't the way to solve his problems. Of course, then there wouldn't be much of a story, would there? Quintero keeps this from falling into a re-hash of an after-school special with dynamic dialog and engaging characters. Nestor, who paves the way for Efrain to join him in the drug peddling business, is an absolutely terrific character. He's neither a stereotypical street kid nor a thug with a heart of gold - rather he's somewhere realistically in between. He alternates between being goofy and serious, a buddy to Efrain and a no-nonsense dealer. I almost want a book about Nestor's story!

The comparison I wanted to make between this and The World is Mine all comes down to the dialog. There are a lot of differences between these two books, but one major thing they have in common is the use of lots of slang. However, The World is Mine called a lot of attention to the slang by interpreting it for the audience, which drew me out of the story constantly and seemed to make it clear the book wasn't actually intended for anyone who might really speak that way. Efrain's Secret, in contrast, hardly translates anything at all. There are even short bursts of dialog in Spanish that go untranslated for an English-speaking audience. Since I speak about three words of Spanish, I had to rely on the context and character reactions to even have a clue what was going on, but it really added another layer of authenticity to the story. It reminded me of one of the things I loved best about the early seasons of Lost, when parts of Jin and Sun's conversations in Korean would go un-sub-titled. It was a great storytelling device then, and it works just as well in Efrain's Secret.

Efrain's Secret is a solid story that jumps up a notch on the basis of great characters and an engaging and immersive writing style.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Warriors in the Crossfire by Nancy Bo Flood

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/12

Warriors in the Crossfire

There are endless variations on stories about WWII, which is a testament to just how far reaching and traumatizing that war was. While there are lots of stories about the war in Europe, and many stories about Japan, I found Warriors in the Crossfire to be a new take on the Pacific Theater, focusing on the island of Saipan, an important strategic point in the war for both the Japanese and the Americans.

For Joseph, the 13 year old son of the village chief, and his cousin and best friend Kento, the second world war is a chilling specter on the horizon - but at the same time, that horizon feels far away. Kento is the son of a native woman and a Japanese administrator, secure of his place in Saipan and sure of his safety. He wants to be both a samurai and to learn the ways of the island warriors from Joseph - just in case he needs to protect his mother and sister.

For Joseph, the skills of a warrior have a much more practical purpose. For while he is afforded some privileges, like attending the local Japanese school, he knows that the rights of his people are severely abridged. He literally has to use his hunting skills to provide enough food for his parents, his sister and her husband, and his nephew, especially as the Japanese increase their demands for workers from the native population.

As the realities of war draw closer, Joseph's father gives him a near impossible task: protect his family from the crossfire of the Japanese and American soldiers, living in a cave with limited provisions. And the hardest part? He's not to trust Kento who is, after all, Japanese. If forced to choose, who would Kento protect - his Japanese or his native family? And who would Joseph pick if faced with a similar choice?

This is a short but well-paced, action-filled book. Joseph is a well-rounded character saddled with an impossible responsibility in the face of war. I loved the look at the culture on Saipan, how it was an uneasy balance between the Japanese rulers and the various native villagers. While the war mostly takes place off screen, the ending has an absolutely chilling portrayal of the Battle of Saipan and the grim orders given to the Japanese civilians on the island.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nerds Heart YA Discussion: Comparison and Winner!

After Lorin and I discussed The World is Mine and Donut Days, we compared the two books before finally settling on the winner that will proceed to the next round of the tournament!


So as for the monumental task of starting to compare these books - like I mentioned before, we have two protagonists who are trying to define themselves as separate from their parents (even though The World is Mine has multiple narrators, I considered Blue the main protagonist since he got more chapters to narrate and his big plans were what drove the plot). While on the surface they seem like two totally different books, at their heart the stories are quite similar. It's the outer trappings that take the stories in wildly different directions - urban vs. suburban settings, watching friendships fall apart (The World is Mine) vs. friendships coming back together (Donut Days).


The issue in comparing any two books is not in picking which one I prefer, it's in trying to pin down the why. Thinking about it, I realized that while Emma and Blue's problems aren't terribly different, Donut Days had much more heart than The World is Mine, and that's what makes the big difference for me. I'm not trying to disparage the goal of breaking into entertainment - I know that creative fields require just as much work as any other career. But Blue doesn't seem to have any larger goal than "coming up" and getting power for the sake of getting powerful. Add to that, he wasn't the most sympathetic character, and it all sums up to making it harder for me to care about his struggles (especially since some of them could have been so easily solved).


Every once in awhile it looked like Blue was going to connect with a deeper goal - I was encouraged when he was researching other entertainment entrepreneurs and when he was looking to the former NFL/music exec as a mentor, but yes, ultimately it seemed like all he wanted was to improve his own standing rather than connect with a larger community. He didn't want to throw awesome parties for the sake of the party goers - he just wanted the reputation as an awesome party planner, and he was even willing to sacrifice his friends (and the friends of friends) in order to achieve that


Emma could be bratty, but I felt like she was concerned with more than just herself and her own issues. She was angry at her parents, but mostly she was worried about them. She was angry with Nat, but she also recognized that she missed her friend. She was angry with her much of her congregation, but still concerned that they weren't taken advantage of. It just all made me care much more.


I pretty much agree with everything you're saying about Emma.


I do want to make sure I'm not just drawn to Emma more than Blue because my experiences more closely match hers than they do Blue's.


I also had to really think and make sure I wasn't just leaning towards Donut Days because it was easier for me to relate to. I also don't want to put some sort of value judgement on Blue's goals vs. Emma's - I'm afraid I'm sounding like all books must have some great moral message in order to be considered valuable, which isn't at all how I feel. I just think Blue's methods of achieving his goals fell flat, and since I could never empathize with him I was never invested in his goal. Add this to the weaknesses I felt with the writing (over-explanation of the slang, the abrupt ending), and The World is Mine just didn't hold up well for me. Emma could be bratty, but I could empathize even with her brattiness because we could see exactly where it was coming from - she clearly values science over faith, doesn't hold the Bible as infallible, and thinks her parents have unreasonable expectations. Even if I didn't agree with her positions or her reasoning, at least I could understand where she was coming from. I never quite felt I understood Blue and his shortcomings in the same way.


We're in agreement. The World is Mine had a lot going for it, but couldn't hold its own up against Donut Days.

Donut Days

Congrats to Donut Days and author Laura Zielin. Also, thanks to the Nerds Heart YA tournament for allowing me to take part, and a huuuuuuuuuge thanks to Lorin for being such an awesome and fun co-judge!

Nerds Heart YA Discussion: The World is Mine by Lyah B. LeFlore

Today's the big day, the first day results are being posted for the first round of the Nerds Heart YA tournament, all about underrepresented, diverse YA books. I had the pleasure of judging this round with Lorin of Arch Thinking, pitting The World is Mine against Donut Days by Laura Zielin. Continue reading for our discussion about The World is Mine, then continue on to Arch Thinking for our Donut Days discussion. At noon Eastern time we'll post our comparison of the two books and declare a final winner!
The World Is Mine (Come Up)

Let's start by talking about The World is Mine. I liked the variety of characters in the book and how we got to spend a little bit of time in everyone's head and see what was important to them and why they were in on Blue's venture. I also really, really liked seeing a book where the majority of the characters are non-white, but they aren't all down-on-their-luck drug dealers or anything. There's a variety of socio-economic statuses, a variety of academic success, etc.  

However, I have to admit that the slang really, really irritated me. Not the presence of it, but the way the author had to *explain* it to us. I lost track of how many times a slang word was followed by "which in our world means..." And while I liked the inclusion of the rap/hip hop lyrics at the beginning of the chapters, they were integrated awkwardly into the text: "Like Kanye's famous line, Mo' money mo' problems." The grammar felt really artificial there. Overall it felt like the book wasn't written for teens who are living lives like Blue and his friends, but for the kids in the suburbs who want to mimic the "urban lifestyle."
I was also totally frustrated by the cliffhanger ending. I felt like there was absolutely no resolution for any of the plot threads.
The ending! I was so annoyed when I read the last page. It really bugs me when books don't even pretend to be anything more than a way to make you buy the next book.
I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the audience for this book. And I think this made the dialogue feel stilted. Which was too bad because I really liked most of the characters. It helped that we spent time with many of them, which I agree that I liked. But I was also charmed by some of the other characters, like Blue's dad and Whiteboy's landlady. They came across as really genuine people whose problems I care about. Which brings me back to the ending - I guess it's a good thing that I want to know what happens next, but I think the author has lost my trust. If every book is a cliffhanger, I'm going to get jaded and stop caring.
I kept comparing the cliffhanger ending to the endings of Hunger Games and Catching Fire in my head, only because those are the two biggest cliffhangers I've seen recently. Those worked because something major was resolved - IE, the titular Hunger Games, but in the last few pages, a *new* twist was added, so you not only felt one story was completed, but there was another one to look forward to. I wanted something resolved - a truly successful party, the issue of  Mamie's track - so I had a complete story to reflect on before building anticipation for the next story.
The thing I thought about a lot when I read this book was how most of Blue's problems were of his own making. Some weren't (like the issue about college) but the problems with Collin and Mamie were. I get that it's a personality flaw but I did want to scold the boy half the time. I just wish he had been a little more self-aware.  

Blue...I kinda wanted to kick him in the face sometimes. He was totally dismissive of and just a little bit sexist towards Mamie. The sexism came in for me because he seemed unable to refer to her without labeling her as the *girl* DJ. It was irritating because while I can handle a flawed protagonist (in fact, the best ones are far from perfect), he had some glaring personality flaws that made him downright unlikeable sometimes. His problems with Collin seemed to mostly stem from an inability to listen - which I totally bought because Blue was caught up in his big dreams and who wants to listen to reality then?! But he was rather vile about Mamie, and was creeping me out a bit towards the end when he was wondering how long Jade was "gonna make a brother wait." Independently, that bit with Jade would just be typical male posturing, but combined with the Mamie issues it was clear Blue's got some messed up issues with women.  

I hadn't really picked up on Blue's women issues until you pointed it out, but I definitely see what you mean. (Interestingly, his mom isn't really a developed character in the book - Collin's off-screen mom is more fully developed. I wonder if the author will make more of this in her next installment.) Mostly though, I just thought his ego was bigger than he was - and from what I've heard of his favorite role model, Diddy, that's probably pretty accurate.

-     Good variety of characters
-     Interesting structure
-     Unsympathetic main character (but sympathetic supporting characters)
-     Annoying cliffhanger ending

Remember: check out Arch Thinking for our Donut Days thoughts, then come back at noon for our comparison and final decision!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Signed Copies

I've been following Booking Through Thursday for several months now, but I keep being unable to get my answer up in a timely fashion. With the Bloggiesta this past weekend, and a fun BTT question on Thursday, I finally have a chance to jump in!

This week's question: Do signed copies excite you? Tempt you? Delight you? Or does it not matter to you?

This is my new shelf dedicated solely to the signed books I own. I took a few minutes of Bloggiesta time this weekend to pull the books out of the assorted shelves and boxes they had been in and set them all up in their own nice display space.

(From left to right: Hunger Games, Guardian of the Dead, Spotlight, Empress of the World, Once Dead Twice Shy, Boy Toy, Extras, Lamb, Devilish, Peeps, How to Ditch Your Fairy, Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Catching Fire)

Before I moved to New York, signed books weren't really on my radar. Not a lot of book tours come through Michigan, so only three of these were signed before I moved, and two of them were bought as stock - only Empress of the World was signed and personalized (when I hung out with Sara Ryan for the second time at ALA in Chicago a few years back. I was so shell-shocked the first time I met her in Atlanta that even though my book was in my bag I never had the guts to take it out and ask her to sign it!)

Then came the fateful day when I read The Hunger Games and found out that two days later Suzanne Collins would be appearing at my soon-to-be favorite book store, Books of Wonder. So that kicked off my collection. All but one of my post-NYC-move books have been signed for me in person. The one exception? Once Dead, Twice Shy. Kim Harrison didn't come out to NYC for that tour - but she did make a stop near my hometown. My mom's a huge fan of Harrison's adult novels, and you can read the funny story of who read this one first on my Once Dead Twice Shy review. Since she knew I ended up liking the novel, she picked up a copy and had Kim Harrison sign it for me. Thanks, Mom!

Since moving to New York I haven't bought a stock signed book, because just the idea of having a signed copy doesn't hold that much appeal for me. For me, getting a book signed is all about meeting the author and having a chance, even just for a few seconds (like when I got Catching Fire signed at Books of Wonder), to share with the author how great I think their books are and ask last minute or spoiler-y questions. In some ways, the signature is just the icing on the cake!

Bloggiesta Finish Line

I was way too tired at the end last night to put up my finish line post. However since the Bloggiesta runs through 8 AM local time, I'm still fine posting now!

My grand total of blogging time this weekend, from lunch time on Friday until this morning? 22 hours. I beat my last Bloggiesta time by three hours! Not that it was a contest, but I'm impressed with myself.

Here's everything I accomplished:

  • CAUGHT UP ON MY BACKLOG OF REVIEWS - I had roughly a dozen books that I'd read but not reviewed yet. I got two reviews written on Sunday, and then I attacked the rest yesterday. Basically, I don't have to actually write a blog post for the rest of the month!
  • Set up Amazon Associates in Blogger - the images aren't actually connected with an Associates account, so no need for FTC disclaimers
  • Started adding images to reviews - Maybe next Bloggiesta I'll go back and add images to all of my old blog posts
  • Tags updated - I didn't do a huge overhaul like I did last time, but I did some maintenance
  • Changed layout - I'm really digging this new look. Let me know if you think anything could be improved! (For example, I'm not in love with my visited link color - I think it's a little too light - but I haven't figured out a good replacement color)
  • Favicon edited - that little picture that shows up next to the blog's URL or in the title tab now matches the blog's colors
  • Reading challenges updated - I counted up how many books for each challenge I've read, how close I am to completing it, and made sure my reviews were linked at the challenge page when applicable. You can also see what challenges I'm doing in the sidebar
  • Created a review policy
  • Updated my About Me page
  • Started using Pages in Blogger for the aforementioned pieces
  • Edited and finished my Nerds Heart YA announcement post (that goes up TOMORROW!)
  • Fixed formatting on my LGBT Lit book list
  • Started brainstorming for a new book list
  • Re-organized my To Be Read spreadsheet
  • Added a subscribe by e-mail option
And I visited tons of new blogs and spent way more time than is probably healthy on Twitter following the Bloggiesta hashtag.

The one thing I'd put on my to-do list on Friday that I didn't get to is working on putting reviews (or at least ratings) up at Goodreads - but I just kept of thinking of more and more stuff that I wanted to accomplish on my actual blog that the Goodreads stuff seemed less important.

Congrats to all of my fellow bloggers who took on the Bloggiesta challenge this weekend!

Review: God is in the Pancakes by Robin Epstein

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 5/10

God Is in the Pancakes

While the recipe for pancakes is relatively simple (especially if you're like me and rely on Bisquick to provide two-thirds of your recipe), the recipe for a great novel is much more difficult. Robin Epstein, however, has taken disparate ingredients - coming of age, intergenerational relationships, a pinch of romance, and heavy questions of faith and life and death - to concoct a delicious story.

Grace is 15 and has just started her first real job as a candy striper at the local retirement home. The highlight of the position is befriend Frank Sands, who suffers from Lou Gherig's disease. He teaches Grace how to play cards and encourages her dry wit and humor and, unexpectedly, asks her to help him die.

Grace is bewildered and initially refuses. She has too much going on in her life with her overdramatic sister and her sleezy boyfriend, her dad who just walked out, and her best friend Eric is suddenly catching her romantic attention - along with the attentions of half of the girls in school. Plus, while he's lost the use of his legs, Mr. Sands with otherwise healthy, and medical miracles happen all the time, don't they?

As Mr. Sands takes a turn for the worse, Grace finally meets his wife Isabelle, and finds herself even more torn. Mr. Sands is obviously losing his fight, but how can she be responsible for the death of Izzy's husband? They are both her friends, and she doesn't want to hurt either of them. As she turns to a god she thought she abandoned when her father moved out, Grace finds herself wrestling with difficult decisions that are way over her head, but she is determined to handle them with all the maturity and strength she can.

I love, love, love Grace. Her voice is totally authentic, believably teen-aged without resorting to or relying on slang and pop culture references. Outside of her struggle and debate over euthanasia, her problems and the way she deals with them are totally relate-able.

Her friendships with Mr. Sands and Izzy, however, are what make this novel stand out. Neither of the adults talk down to Izzy or noticeably treat her as a child - which is perhaps why Mr. Sands feels it's okay to saddle the girl with such a burden as asking her to help him die. Grace keeps coming back to his request over the course of the novel, and there are no easy answers. It's impossible to say whether Grace's ultimate decision is the right one, but it's easy to understand why she felt it was the right one at the right time. Right up until the end, it was impossible to tell what Grace was going to decide.

The running motif of pancakes is fun - Grace used to share post-church pancake brunches with her father and sister, but that tradition falls by the wayside when her father walks out on the family. While Grace questions her faith in God, especially as he seems to refuse to give Grace any answers, she never questions pancakes' ability to make people feel better.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bloggiesta Day 3

The finish line is in sight - but there's still one day left for blogging for me!

Last night my husband returned from a week long business trip to Mexico. I was hoping for some fun souvenir to tie in with the Bloggiesta, but alas, he doesn't love me that much.

I kid!

He almost bought me a copy of The Hunger Games in Spanish, but by the time he got to the book store with pesos in tow, they had sold out of it! Darn. Not that I can read Spanish, but it would have been nice to add to my collection!

So as often happens when my husband returns from a trip, I kept waking up all night, unused to having to share the bed and the sheets with another person. When one of my cats started bugging me at 7:30, I finally relented and got up, fed them, fed myself, and now I'm back in front of the computer for more blogging!

Accomplished yesterday:
  • Tags updated
  • Layout changed
  • Favicon edited
  • Reading challenges updated & linked in sidebar
And lots of time spent on Twitter and checking out new blogs. My Google Reader subscription list is growing and I'm hoping that this guide that I found through the Bloggiesta tag on Twitter is going to help me manage all of my new sites!

Today's top priority is writing up all of those reviews I'm behind on. I'm also going to look into setting up an Amazon Affiliates account so that I can easily add cover images to my posts. Otherwise I think I'm still fairly on track with my Bloggiesta goals! How are you holding up?
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