Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen

Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen definitely lives up to its title. Though perhaps gargantuan would be a better fit.

Synopsis: Sara Black is tiptoeing across a fraying tightrope. 

As the new eleventh grader at Anton High–the most elite public school in the country–she sticks out like an old VW bus in a parking lot full of shiny BMWs. But being the new kid also brings a certain advantageous anonymity.

In Anton High’s world of privilege, intelligence, and wealth, Sara can escape her family’s tarnished past and become whomever she wants.

And what’s the harm in telling a few little black lies when it can lead to popularity? That is, until another it girl at Anton becomes jealous of Sara’s social climbing.

With her balance evaporating, one small push could bring Sara crashing down. 


Sara Black has just entered an elite world of privilege and academics, and it's all because her father is the new school janitor. No one knows anything about her and though she does not plan on nit, it is easy to let gossip and rumors meld her into someone new, someone more interesting, someone that fits in with the popular clique. After all, who does not want to find acceptance as the new kid?

Too bad the lies keep growing and turning Sara into someone she doesn't recognize, someone her best friend doesn't recognize. Suddenly Sara is cheating, she is lying, she is doing anything she can to be part of Carling's (the most popular junior in school) social strata. And if that means hurting her father, Charlie, who has been the only parent to truly care for her since her mom's departure from their lives, well, so be it?

I think it would be easy to dislike Sara, but at the same time, she just wants to fit in. That is what this book is about, finding acceptance. Unfortunately, Sara goes about it all the wrong ways. The pressure to fit in, to conform, and to live on the edge escalates as the story goes on and it felt very true to life. I felt it as a teenager and I know it has only gotten worse for this current crop of teens growing up across the globe.

Carling and company are definitely stereotypes of the "Mean Girls" variety but they keep the story hopping, that's for sure.

For me, the heart of this story lies with Sara and her father, a man who suffers from OCD in a bad way. And cleaning is his onus. It was hard seeing her deny their connection, deny that this is the man who cares for her and who wants to be part of her life, but at the same time, it fit with the story because it was the only way Sara could continue to live her lie.

I was glad that Sara was a redeemable character. This was a definite quick read. Nothing particularly new or exciting in the world of contemporary YA fiction, but it was enjoyable and well written. Tish Cohen does a great job of delving into some of the reasons teens lie and how conformity is the comfort they need, particular as life is changing all around them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time. I've been in the mood to re-read my P&P collection and have been doing so in a frenzy. Yes, I kind of have a mad crush on Mr. Darcy, but the work as a whole is wonderful. Funny, satirical, romantic, and just plain good fun. I've liked it long before it became in vogue in the literary world and sequels and alternative versions, modern versions, etc started popping up. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy those alternative versions, because I definitely do! But I'm picky, very picky. I wanted to share a few of my favorite versions of the books that I've been reading in my P&P marathon.

One of my favorite collections is the A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aidan.



These three books follow the storyline from Pride and Prejudice, only from Mr. Darcy's point of view. The stories are: An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire and These Three Remain. The second book is my least favorite of the trilogy and really, the most irrelevant to fans of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy attends a house party in order to try to forget Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The characters are all new and do not relate at all to Jane Austen's classic. It's not a bad book, Pamela Aidan is a strong writer, but because it has so little to do with the overall storyline of P&P, I just tend to skip over it in my re-reading, or at least skim it. The first and last book however are perfectly wonderful stories! You get to really dig into Mr. Darcy's head and examine his feelings towards Elizabeth. The romantic in me loves it. Plus you get glimpses into his private life with his sister, Georgiana, and his best friend, Bingley. This is all obviously fictional and made up by the author, but it fits very well with the character that Jane Austen established in her book.

 
According to Jane by Marilyn Brant is a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The main character, Ellie, hears the voice of Jane Austen in her head ever since high school. It affects all her relationships, particularly with the seemingly odious Sam Blaine, her high school crush. It's up to Ellie to establish if Sam is a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Wickham. This is a fun take on the classic. It is a loose adaptation but it is great fun and sweet. Ellie is a strong character and Marilyn Brant makes Jane Austen a snarky and compelling voice.

In the YA world, I have three stories that I most enjoy when it comes to Pride and Prejudice.


 

Enthusiasm, The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading, and Prada & Prejudice play with the themes and characters of this story in fun and unique ways. Each story is an enjoyable visit to the world of Jane Austen.
Then of course, there are the movies! The Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice will always be my favorite. It is a classic. No matter how many remakes, I don't think anything could top this BBC show. It's long but it follows the story so well. It's beautiful and both the leads, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, are fantastic in their roles. I also really like the Keira Knightley version of P&P. Not quite as good, but it is definitely beautiful and I have to say, I like the character of Mr. Bingley better in this version. He seems more charming and affable to me. 

I know there are more versions of this wonderful book. There is the recent, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre which I have no intention of reading. Vampires and P&P do not belong together, nor do zombies. Sorry, haven't read that recent version either. Though I have heard they are making that into a movie. 


For Christmas, I was lucky enough to receive the Pride and Prejudice graphic novel version. It is very well done! The artwork is good and the author captures the tones of this story very well. It doesn't follow it word for word, and really focuses on only the climactic moments in the story (it is much shorter), but it does a good job of encapsulating everything that makes this story wonderful.

Do you have a favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptation? A novel, a tv version, or even something online that reminds you of this wonderful classic?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cover alert!

One of my favorite YA writers, Jennifer Echols has released the cover to her upcoming book, Endless Summer, the sequel to The Boys Next Door (very cute story! Read it if you haven't yet.)

Isn't is gorgeous? What a lucky author. I can't wait for this book!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Baby-Sitters Club, revamped!

This news courtesy of YA Author Melissa Walker.

If you didn't know already, the Baby-Sitters Club titles are being re-released this spring, with new (fugly!) covers. Here's a sneak peek:






These are bland, boring and just kind of character-less, both literally and figuratively. I much prefer the other covers, even if the Baby-Sitters Club members didn't always appear the way I thought they did in my head. I mean a phone, really?? A notebook sure, but for a cover?? These look like temporary advanced reader covers, NOT a final cover.

I was a huge fan of the BSC books growing up. I want to read the prequel in April, yes, I totally admit it. I thought about purchasing the newly released covers too, but now I'm not so sure. What do you think? Like, dislike? Hate??

Monday, January 25, 2010

eReader Contest Alert

You know you want to win a Sony Pocket eReader! While I can't see myself buying an ereader in the foreseeable future, I'd love to win one. So what are you waiting for?? Go enter!

Life Size Monopoly

Last Tuesday, I held my monthly teen event. This time, it was Life Size Monopoly which I have seen showing up on listservs for months. I've always wanted to try it and this month I finally did. Unfortunately for me, I decided to do it during one of the busiest weeks I've had so far this year, but oh well, it worked out really well. I have a few pictures to share.

I made the board out of poster board. One piece of poster board equaled one space on the Monopoly board. The large dice my library already had from a previous program so that worked out nicely. But they are just boxes covered with paper. However, they were a huge hit with the teens.
I got all the pictures from a listserv set of files. If anyone is interested in this program, I'd be happy to send you all the files. They made the program so much easier. Plus, my library has its own printing department so I had the community relations person print them all off for me which saved me time. Then, it was just a matter of taping them to the poster board. The instructions said to laminate but I didn't have time to do that. May do it on a rainy day though since I plan to use this game again at some point.


I have to say, my teens were not at all enthusiastic when I told them about the January program. They were all, "Monopoly?? Really? That game is lame!" However, once they started playing, they were really having so much fun. I wish I could share pics of them actually on the board, exchanging money, and rolling the dice, but for privacy issues I can't and won't.

I did learn a few things from this experience though.

1. Have the teens work in teams! I had 14 teens show up, and out that, most of them wanted to play as individuals. But that slowed the game down big time. The two teams I had worked really well because while one person was moving around the board, another person could exchange money, buy properties, whatever it may be. When it was just an individual doing this, it slowed things down. Also, have one main person rolling the dice. Speeds things along!

2. Make everything big! At least, that's what the teens told me to do. I didn't have the time to make life size chance and treasure chest cards. I don't know if I would have done it even if I did have the time, but that was what they told me.

3. Make sure you re-read the rules before you start. I foolishly did not do this. Again, I'll blame it on lack of time. I did read a modified version of the rules but there were a few things I did forget. Fortunately, one of the teams was a Monopoly champ and helped me immensely get the rules straightened out.

4. You'll probably need more than one set of money. I know I did. I was able to find a place online where I could print more Monopoly money off so it wasn't a huge deal, but really, you don't want to run out of money.

5. Have fun! :)

This was one of the most fun programs I've had since I started my job. It went pretty smoothly and while they initially thought it was going to be lame, it turned out to be great fun for all involved, and that's what you want in any teen program. I also stepped out of the way mostly and let the teens run the gameboard and deal with money. I didn't get involved and it worked out very nicely. Now, they want to make a life size Jenga game. LOL. I'm not sure if that will come to fruition but it sounds great doesn't it?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In My Mailbox

It was definitely a decent week for books for me.

Mailbox:
13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce (!!!! So excited to read!)
Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink (This is the Prophecy of the Sisters Book II. Still need to read book !)
All of the above books were won in a contest sponsored by The Book Smugglers, so thank you!

Bought:
The Truth about Lord Stoneville by Sabrina Jeffries

ILL:
Hey There, Cupcake! 35 Yummy Fun Cupcake Recipes for All Occasions by Clare Crespo

Gift:
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (thanks Mom!)

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren which special kudos to Pop Culture Junkie.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Underdogs of the YA world: Unsung, Underpraised but AWESOME!

YAnnabe is hosting the the best YA books you haven't read and I wanted to get in on the fun. There are so many great YA books out there. But there are also plenty of titles that don't get the praise and accolades they should. Well, here are a few favorite of my own "unsung YA titles."


Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott seems to get often overlooked in her backlist. This is one of my very favorite relationship books of all time for YA. Not just romantic relationships but family and friend relationships, and the lengths we will go through to try to please others, versus the reality of relationships: they are hard. Kate and Will steal the show and you may just want to make out by the mall trash after reading this book.


The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson. The cover grabbed me right away. I love the old-fashion appeal of it. Then, the contents itself are wonderful. Seances, spiritualism, girls being turned into the perfect secretaries and workers, explosions and terrorism. This book is jam packed and unfortunately it just doesn't seem to get the attention it deserves.





Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones. This author's other books (What My Mother Doesn't Know, etc) seem to get much more attention than this small gem. It is also written in verse and it tells the story of what happens when the character's sister has a breakdown. The poems convey so well the reality, pain, and healing of mental illness. You are immediately gripped in this family's emotions and you will be left with an indelible impression. A must read!




Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman. I admit, I saw this title on someone else's list and I am stealing the idea. This book is fabulous! A great play off Pride and Prejudice, my favorite book of all time. The characters are great, the setting is up to date so that teens will be immediately drawn in, and well, the romance is sweet! Shulman is also a great writer so the story comes together so well.








North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. To me, this was the underdog book of 2009. I hadn't heard about it at all until I read it for the Cybils and I was blown away. Such a fantastic, moving, gripping, and transformative story. I know it doesn't have vampires or a really convoluted worldbuilding but it doesn't need to. It relies on the beauty of language and the realities of people to make a compelling story. Terra is a great character but I have to say, it was her mom's journey that just added a wonderful addition to this story.





Jerk, California is another story of renewal, hope, and the hardships of family. Sam's journey to discover who he is, the family he has never known is poignant, comical, and sad. This is a road trip book with a very interesting and strong male protagonist, even if he does not always realize his strength.





Those are my titles. I'm sure there are more that will come to me as soon as I post this, but as of now, these titles stand out so beautifully in my mind as amazing stories.

Movie Trailer: Diary of a Wimpy Kid



I'm good with the casting. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Twilight Manga Cover

It's arrived. Soon Twilight fans will have another book to covet.



While pretty, it doesn't do much for me. Part of that is because I pretty much despise Bella but also, it's very bland. I find the grass standing out more than the person. (The very cynical side of me just sees this as another money grabber for Meyer too.)

You can also see some of the inside art work.

Thoughts? Are you eagerly anticipating the Twilight graphic novel?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the Today Show

The Today Show invited Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney to chat. Well, they didn't get to chat too much but it's still a nice little segment.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Candor has several meanings:

1. Brilliant whiteness; brilliancy.
2. Stainlessness of character; purity, integrity, innocence.
3. Freedom from mental bias, openness of mind; fairness, impartiality, justice.
4. Freedom from malice, favourable disposition, kindliness; ‘sweetness of temper, kindness’
5. Freedom from reserve in one's statements; openness, frankness, ingenuousness, outspokenness.

The etymology is also interesting: [17th c. candor, a. L. candor (-{omac}rem) dazzling whiteness, brilliancy, innocency, purity, sincerity, f. root cand- of cand{emac}re to be white and shining, ac-cend{ebreve}re to set alight, kindle: cf. candid, candle. F. candeur (16th c. in Littré) may have aided; the 14th c. example is properly Latin.]

(BTW, I found all this information from the Oxford English Dictionary Online, which my library supplies as a database. Thank you library!)

All of these definitions stand out when you think of Candor and how author Pam Bachorz makes candor into something repugnant and dishonest. She takes normal phrases, things like "Obey your parents" or "Academics are the key to success" and uses them to create a heavy blanket of oppression and disintegration of individuality.

Synopsis: In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the town's founder, Oscar earns straight As, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause. But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant–perfect–through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar' s built a business sabotaging his father's scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before they're turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks? Then he meets Nia, the girl he can't stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more.

Oscar Banks is such a multi-faceted character. On the one hand, he despises what his father is doing and tries every day to repel the messages, to build shields from the messages. He does not want to forget his brother, Winston, or his mother who left the family. On the other hand, Oscar profits from these messages and uses the technology for gain. Sure, he helps people escape Candor, but he also makes a tidy profit too. Oscar is a character you can both sympathize with and want to condemn as a monster too. He is intelligent and sly but then something happens. He meets Nia, a girl who stands out amongst the hive-mind of teenagers that makes up Candor. Nia is color, she is laughter, she is disobedience and Oscar does not want to see that end.

But in helping her, he hurts her too with his own dishonesty. Nothing is simple for Oscar, nothing is simple in Candor.

This story creeped me out a good bit, but in the best way possible. It reminded me of Lois Lowry's The Giver and M.T. Anderson's Feed, both who use sameness of society, subliminal messages, and other ways to block out individual thought in ingenious ways. I was immediately drawn into this story, drawn into a world where a simple but usually normal command, like obeying your parents or doing well in school, turns teenagers into a group with no individuality. That parents would even want to do that to their children is disgusting and hard to understand, but then you have the character of Oscar's father. He suffered quite a bit. He lost a son, lost his wife. Candor is his way to hang onto what he has, to try to find some semblance of happiness, even if he is doing it at his son's expense.


There is so much to dig into in this book. You will be both scared and irrationally intrigued by the Listening Room, which wipes out the minds of the misbehaving teenagers of Candor. You will be at first amused by the group TAG, which is targeting a mysterious graffiti artist in town, then disturbed by the mechanical police order they start taking on, where they become their own law.


I was glad that Pam Bachorz did not dig into the technology aspect of this book. As in, HOW is this happening. I just went with the idea that it is happening and I did not need the how. The why was intriguing enough for this book.


Then the book ends and I am agog in the best and worst way possible. While I knew things could not necessarily end in a happily-ever-after, I guess I put too much optimism in these characters and this town.


I can't believe how long I've had this book on my TBR pile, but then when I finally started reading, I flew through it. I wish I hadn't put it off for so long. It was compelling, nerve wracking and a great character study.


Pam Bachorz has some great extras on her website, including Candor Podcasts which is like getting some Messages right into your own ears. Podcasts suddenly don't seem so inauspicious do they, lol?


Here is the book trailer just in case my review hasn't made you interested yet.




And the awards are in!

Printz:
Winner: Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Honors: Charles and Emma: The Darwins Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
The Monstrumologist by Richard Yancey
Punkzilla by Adam Rapp
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes

Well, out of this whole list, I've only read Going Bovine which I wasn't a huge fan of, sorry Ms. Bray. I do have The Monstrumologist on my TBR pile however so now I think I'll move that one up. Congratulations to all the winners!

Newbery
Winner: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Honors: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Mostly True Adventures of Homor P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Read and really loved When You Reach Me so I'm happy that it won. However, it seemed like kind of the predictable choice this year. I have heard very good things about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon so I may try to read that next also. Congrats to these authors!

Caldecott 
Winner: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Honors: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee
Red Sings From Treetops by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

I don't know picture books very well at all since I don't make those my first book of choice. But I do know and recognize The Lion and the Mouse and it does have absolutely fabulous illustrations.

Sibert Award 
Winner: Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone
Honors: Moonshot by Brian Floca
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

I at least recognize all these nonfiction titles, so that's a first step. I keep meaning to read Claudette Colvin but it hasn't happened yet.

Coretta Scott King Award
Winner: “Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal,” written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (author)
Honor: Mare’s War by tanita s. davis

Must get my hands on Mare's War.

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
 Winner:  The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

Very happy! I really enjoyed that book.


Since I haven't read everything on this list, I can't make true judgments in terms of if these books deserved to win. I was at first surprised to not see Marcelo in the Real World on this list but perhaps all the hype ended up overhyping it? All I know is I'd love the chance to take part in these decisions some day!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer


This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a book I had been looking forward to as soon as I knew it was being written. If you've read and enjoyed the first two in this series (Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone), I know you will enjoy the latest edition to this saga.

Synopsis:

It's been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the earth’s climate. For Miranda Evans life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbors are dead, the landscape is frozen, and food is increasingly scarce. 

The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda’s father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda’s complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship. Then a devastating tornado hits the town of Howell, and Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever. 

Well, life really is not much better for Miranda. While there have been no huge disasters in the interim from books 1 and 2 to this book, the sky is still gray, food is increasingly scarce, and the list of the dead is still being read. Miranda, Jon, Matt, and their mom are still struggling for survival. It's another story of the struggle to live and it does not get any easier for this group when Miranda's dad and stepmother show up, with their baby and three strangers. Add to that, Matt's new wife. That just means more mouths to feed and the food supply will disappear more quickly. 


Despite the terrible situation facing these survivors, there is some hope and some humor. Hope comes in the form of baby Gabriel. Humor comes in several different instances. Miranda and company have taken to pillaging houses for other necessities (toothpaste, toilet paper, etc) and she gets a secret thrill out of it. I must admit, under those circumstances, I would too. Taking a peek into someone else's life is always interesting, but with the macabre thrown in, it becomes perhaps a bit more thrilling and sad.

I liked seeing Alex and Miranda collide and the different viewpoints they have on this life changing event. Alex resorts to his religion while Miranda clings to hope even as life seems to be getting worse. However, this new group also adds more tension and anger into the story. You see these characters facing their personal end of the rope. Then there is the news of hope floating out in the US, of the "secret towns" that are only for the wealthy elite. It's a mixed bag book yet again.

This book also has gone back to the diary style of the first book which I prefer. Miranda's personal insights have grown but yet she still faces her immature moments, her angsty scenes.

I assumed this series was meant to be a trilogy but I felt like the ending was open enough for another book, for this group's next survival adventure. I know I would love to see this world get better for this group, to see them end up somewhat happy rather than resigned to another hard struggle. However, I thought This World We Live In to be a strong story that brought these characters together and intensified their struggles. The first book in the series remains my favorite, but I was completely engaged yet again in this terribly changed world.

You can read other reviews of this book at Jen Robinson's Book Page and at Karin's Book Nook.

This book galley was provided for free by Net Galley. The book will be published on April 1, 2010.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Talking cheap with authors


Last night I was fortunate to host a Skype chat with Laurie Halse Anderson, probably one of the most prominent and well-known YA writers today. It was so much fun and it went very smoothly. This was my first time using Skype in any major way. I've played around with it a bit before but nothing major. Well, after this experience I just wanted to share a few tips that I learned. Some may seem really obvious but I don't think it's bad to rehash them again.

1. Practice, practice, practice! I held my Skype chat in the movie theater in my library which probably has one of the most difficult projectors to work with just because it's very, very high up so you really do need to know how to use it. Well, with two teen volunteers (who were very helpful I might add), we went in there and set up the main computer, then used my netbook to call the main computer and see how it looked on the big screen. I was so glad I did this because there were some initial issues that I was able to work through pretty easily knowing I didn't have a time crunch on me. So yes, practice setting up and making calls to make sure sound and image are working.

2. This kind of goes along with practice, but try to set up the room in the best fashion so the speaker can see as much of the audience as possible. Again, due to the room I had, this was kind of tricky but I found a good compromise and I was able to help people find the best seats so that Ms. Halse Anderson would be able to see them.

3. Promote the event! (Again, duh, but believe me, teens don't read signs or newsletters.) I found it best to mention the event to the teens I saw as the day drew near, rather than weeks in advance. Get them in groups too! If they know their friends are coming, they will likely tag along even if they initially don't seem interested. Also, get teachers involved. I had a few teachers at the event who promised their students extra credit if they came. And, it worked! I had a very decent sized crowd so I was pleased.

4. Get your library to buy multiple copies of the books! Because let me tell you, from late November to Mid-December, I had maybe 15-20 copies of LHA's books come in, in addition to what we had already, and they were gone from my display quick as lightning. There were hold lists too. I mean, this worked so well to build interest in the event.

4. Offer prizes! I had LHA sign a few books for the event. Simple as that. The teens loved having a signed copy of her books.

5. Let the teens do the talking. Seriously, I pretty much introduced LHA, let her speak a bit and then had the teens come up to the camera and ask questions. I had some of the basic ones ("How do you come up with your ideas, etc) but also some real personal stories. It was a great mix of emotions in the room.

6. Don't panic! When I was going through the practice call with LHA's assistant, I couldn't get the sound. I had to have an IT guy come up and help and it was a really simple fix.

7. And of course, have fun! This is a really inexpensive and reasonable way to bring teens and writers together. LHA is very reasonably priced for a Skype chat I have to say, so if you're looking for an author to do a similar event with, I'd highly recommend her. She was funny, poignant, honest and a good speaker. The crowd was laughing and really hanging on her every word. Fun times ensued.

I felt so lucky to have this experience and I'm hoping to do it again later this year with another author. Ellen Hopkins is huge at my library and I think she would be a great choice. Hopefully some of this information will be beneficial to you if you decide to have a Skype chat at your library.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard


The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard is a story I was really, really anxious to read from the moment I first heard the synopsis. I am a sucker for a pair of star-crossed lovers/lovers from different side of the tracks and The Secret Year certainly plays into that type of literary device.

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Colt has been sneaking out at night to meet Julia, a girl from an upper-class neighborhood unlike his own. They’ve never told anyone else about their relationship: not their family or friends, and especially not Julia’s boyfriend. When Julia dies suddenly, Colt tries to cope with her death while pretending that he never even knew her. He discovers a journal Julia left behind. But Colt is not prepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship, nor to pay the price for the secrets he’s kept.

I ended The Secret Year on a contemplative note. I think I got too hyped for this book and when I finally read it, my reaction was very mixed.

I really, really liked Colt. I thought he was a very finely drawn character. You could see how he would be interested in a girl like Julia, in the thrill of secrecy and having one over Austin Chadwick, his nemesis. At the same time, the reader just knows this type of unhealthy relationship cannot end well. It just can't. Much like Romeo and Juliet, Colt and Julia were not meant to be.

The other pieces of this story that I enjoyed most was the aftermath: seeing the truth being revealed slowly but surely. There was incredulity and disbelief, anger and the idea that it was all lies. This is what the heart of the book was for me. Seeing how Colt came to terms with Julia's death then tried to move on even as he still was stuck in a stasis because he still couldn't tell anyone. Even in death, he was still Julia's dirty little secret and Colt did not like that. Hubbard sets that up very clearly and it lends credence to the unhealthy nature of this relationship. Much as Colt seemed to enjoy being with Julia, I personally just found their relationship awkward and hard for them, especially as the outside became more oppressive to them.

I liked the present time much, much better than the past even as I know the entire catalyst for this story was the discovery of Julia's notebook.

What I didn't really like at all: well, Julia. I didn't find her diary entries to be all that interesting or to be very deep or meaningful. I found the entire diary aspect of this story rather generic and I just couldn't connect with her at all. I felt like she was the rich snob that Kirby point-blank told Colt that Julia was. I just didn't like her much at all. While I found Colt to be a fairly deep and interesting main character, I didn't feel the same about Julia. She did not move beyond the rich girl from the Black Mountains for me.

What I also really liked though: the writing. Jennifer R. Hubbard has a great way of writing. It's descriptive, rich, realistic, and could express what Colt was feeling and thinking in subtle and harsh realities. The writing could move me when a character like Julia just could not.

So, all in all, this story was very mixed for me. I'm fairly sure teens are going to respond well to it. It has a nice mix of star-crossed lovers, fighting and cliques in high school, and just the drama that teens love in their lives. While it perhaps did not live up to the hype I created in my mind, I was still satisfied when all was said and done. I know I'm going to be keeping my eye on Jennifer R. Hubbard. The writing alone will make me come back for more.

And in case you missed it, author Jennifer R. Hubbard was kind enough to do an interview for my site which you can read here. I hope you'll read her book too.

You can read some other reviews of The Secret Year at Green Bean Teen Queen, Karin's Book Nook, and The Story Siren.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In My Mailbox

It was a great week for my mailbox I have to say. Perhaps not so great for my well-used wallet (oh holidays, you are a killer), but so many good books have been released that I just went for it. So, without further ado...

In the physical mailbox:

Sand Chronicles, volume 7
The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
Set Up in Soho by Dee Davis
All That You Are by Stef Ann Holm

Bought at the bookstore:
According to Jane by Marilyn Brant
Coming Undone by Lauren Dane

Definitely more romance buying than YA titles this week, but that's the way it is. So many good titles. Luckily I have many books requested at the library too, lol.

Have you read any of these? Any thoughts?

(In My Mailbox is sponsored by The Story Siren.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: The Dark Divine by Bree Despain


The Dark Divine by Bree Despain is an interesting small-town paranormal story.

Synopsis: Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

Set in a small Minnesota town, The Dark Divine was for me, a very strong story. I'm about as worn out on paranormal books as it is possible to be. I don't read them very often anymore at all, despite all the teens at my library who still clamor for them. The mediocrity on the YA paranormal market is strong but fortunately, this book did not fall into that category. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by Bree Despain's tale.

Grace is the daughter of a pastor but she is as far from imperfect as you can get. In fact, she has a huge crush on the recently returned Daniel, who is the black sheep of her community and certainly her family. By liking Daniel, by wanting to be with him, she is hurting her parents and her brother Jude, who she adores. But I liked that Grace did not conform. She becomes tangled up in Daniel's problems and life and this time, she wants answers.

The paranormal aspects of this book were also well integrated into the story. I didn't feel like I had to grit my teeth at the mention of monsters and other paranormal beings. It wasn't totally seamless reading experience for me, but the characters were so strong and distinct that it helped make the paranormal aspects pale in comparison which for me, was a positive thing.

Religion and the paranormal is always an interesting contrast too and I didn't feel like the author had to get heavy handed with the religous aspects to make strong comparisons and contrasts with the more paranormal threads of the story.

But mostly, this story is about the characters. Daniel, Grace, Jude, and Pastor Divine all have quiet and not so quiet discoveries throughout the course of this story. It made for very interesting reading.

My one small, very nitpicky dislike was the fact that during the Thanksgiving dinner, Despain referred to the green bean hotdish as casserole. That's so not Minnesotan, at least not the Minnesotans I know and grew up with. Growing up in MN, my family never used the word casserole, it was always, always hotdish. But really, that's my only gripe. :)
Ok, one more minor nitpick. The format of the book itself wasn't my favorite. I didn't like all the breaking up within chapters. It did interrupt the flow of the story for me at times, particularly if a new heading was added during an intense scene in the story.

All in all however, this is a satisfying paranormal read. I'm hoping to see more of these characters.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Review: The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg


The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg is a definite debut winner. It's a fun and genuine story.

Synopsis: Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating. So she vows: no more. It's a personal choice. . .and, of course, soon everyone wants to know about it. And a few other girls are inspired. A movement is born: The Lonely Hearts Club (named after the band from Sgt. Pepper). Penny is suddenly known for her nondating ways . . . which is too bad, because there's this certain boy she can't help but like. . . .

Penny is a lively character. I was reading this book on my plane ride back to Colorado and I was fully immersed in her thoughts and goals as she created The Lonely Hearts Club and watched it take-off in directions she never expected.


I liked seeing friendships being revived, new friendships springing up, and seeing how Penny deals with the feelings she has for a boy she has always considered just a friend. I also liked the fact that Penny isn't perfect. She makes a few hurtful remarks her classmates, she isn't always the perfect friend, but at the same time, she tries. She really wants to see her club revolve around friendship and putting yourself first: not your friends, not your boyfriend. It isn't a club about not dating, even if that's the impetus for starting it, it becomes so much more.

There was one thing that I wish had been shown a bit more in the story, rather than just tacked on and told by the author. Penny has a friend, Kara, who is obviously struggling with an eating disorder. By book's end, a few friends tell Penny that Kara has decided to get help for it and the girls go on to say that she was inspired by Penny and the club. I felt there was a huge gap in that part of the story, minor as it was. You see Penny influencing other girls, but if you're going to throw that in to the story, may as well give it a bit more depth. (Seriously, this is the only minor nitpick I have.)

I enjoyed the romance aspects of the story, and watching Penny see her crush, Nate, through new eyes. Reality and boys don't often go hand in hand, but this story provided a nice vehicle to see the downsides to relationship behaviors, from both guys and girls.

And mostly, this is just a totally fun story. Lots of great Beatles references, a strong friendship story, and just enough romance thrown in to make this book a sure hit with YA readers, both middle grade and high school I'd say since it's a rather clean read for the most part. I have to touch on the truly awesome karaoke scene in this book too! As a karaoke aficionado, I had the biggest grin on my face during this part of the story.

All in all, an enjoyable read. Enough depth to give what can be an overused topic a bit of a new shine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cybils Finalists!

The finalists for the Cybils awards are up and posted. You can read all the categories here but I wanted to highlight the Young Adult Fiction category, of which I was a judge.

The finalists for Young Adult Fiction are: (drum roll please!)

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
How to Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford

Congratulations to all the nominees and to the finalists. It was such a fabulous experience being part of the Cybils, getting to read so many exciting and interesting YA books. I was blown away by the talent that is out there in the YA community. Now I have to go and read the finalists from the other categories. :D

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