Tuesday, January 31, 2012

YA books and cancer

I'm not sure why but there seems to be a plethora of YA titles on the market right now that somehow relate to cancer. It's a terrible disease. It's painful, scary, and incredibly hard to deal with which I guess makes it potential fodder for stories. I know very few people who haven't been touched by cancer in some way (for me, it was an aunt I was very close to who died when I was fourteen. She had liver cancer. It was fast and hard on the entire family.)

Fortunately, all the cancer related YA books I have read have dealt with the topic in a sensitive and (sometimes) amusing manner, creating characters that readers can relate to and understand, not because of the cancer but because of the magnitude of emotions each is feeling. Here's a run-down of some of the recent YA Books dealing with cancer.

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler. Two sisters. One is diagnosed with cancer and the other is left dealing with the guilt, anger, and sadness of being the one without the cancer. I really enjoyed this book and thought the author dealt with the varying emotions between the sisters in a dynamic and realistic way.

Sign Language by Amy Ackley. The main character watches her father deal with cancer. He was once a healthy, vibrant dad and it is of course very hard for her to see him fade away. The main character grieves quite a bit and in the process the reader sees her growing up. Read my review.

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. Of the books mentioned so far, this is probably my favorite yet. I loved Cam so, so much. She had a vibrant, strong, and aggressive voice that showed she would not let her illness beat her. This story focuses on the main protagonist as the person with cancer and it is a heart wrenching story. You can read my review and judge for yourself.

Perhaps the most famous of any of these cancer books due to the big-name author attached to it, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is getting major praise. I haven't read it yet but it seems to be another painful but realistic cancer portrayal.

Radiate by Marley Gibson also features a cancer-stricken teen protagonist. For me, this is the weakest of the "cancer novels" I've read so far. I'll have a review posted next week. However, it does use optimism and positive thought to its best advantage I think.

Lurlene McDaniel is perhaps a staple of the "cancer/illness" YA novel. She was writing when I was growing up and yes, it's true, I too delved into her books of teenagers sick with leukemia, going blind, or other rather terrible, life-threatening illnesses. I still have some of her books in my library's collection today. Why you may ask? Well, she does still circulate for me. These are more old-fashioned, cleaner reads that I know younger teens in my community are still addicted to. Long before cancer became the "it" thing to write about in the YA community, there was Lurlene McDaniel.

Another older title but a truly well-written story is Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. When Steven's little brother is diagnosed with leukemia, his world is truly changed forever. This is a fabulous story and features a male protagonist which is good because yes it's true, teen boys also have to deal with life-threatening illnesses. Be sure to read the sequel, After Ever After, told from Jeffrey's point of view.

Another newer release is Donna Freitas's The Survival Kit. Rose's mother died from cancer and this book takes place in the aftermath, as she tries to come to grips with losing her mother at such a young age.

Sarah Wylie's All These Lives comes out in June 2012. It's the story of twin sisters, one of whom is diagnosed with cancer. I have it on my TBR pile but it sounds like another interesting cancer experience.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham. Tessa has a list of things she wants to do before she dies. It's like a bucket list only her time is running really short. Jenny Downham is never afraid to tackle difficult issues and this book showcases that talent.

What am I forgetting? What other YA books about cancer are coming out this year? Do you know of a middle grade book that tackles this topic? Please share in the comments because I would love to know.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Candidate information for the Printz Award, 2014 committee

My name is Sarah Wethern and I am addicted to teen fiction. Reading is my passion but getting books into the hands of readers is what fulfills me every day of the week. I absolutely love teen fiction and feel that right now, teens are the luckiest readers in the universe because there are so many interesting, fascinating, disturbing, fun, and happy books being published for teens right now. Teen fiction runs the gamut from the absolutely fluffy to the absolutely literary with so much in between. I feel privileged to pick up a teen book and be able to read it. When I was a teen, my literary YA landscape was peppered with Sweet Valley, with some Nancy Drew, with some Lurlene McDaniel and with plenty of Judy Blume. These stories are important in the development of modern teen lit but they cannot hold a candle (okay, with the exception of maybe Judy Blume) to some of the well-written, thoughtful, and very provocative books that are being published right now.

I am running for the Printz Committee because I want to continue to challenge myself as a reader and a librarian. I want the chance to leave a mark on the landscape of teen literature and I feel that being part of the Printz Committee will be the greatest opportunity to do so. I want to help pick the next book that will challenge readers, make them look at a situation differently, and leave a literary mark on their own reading experiences. I think the Printz Committee is tasked with one of the most difficult jobs in the world when it comes to the Youth Media Awards. How do you choose just one to stand out amongst all the rest when there is so many wonderful books on the market today?

I still consider myself a new professional. I graduated with my MLIS in 2008 but since then I have taken every opportunity available to me to extend my field of knowledge, to improve my skills as a librarian serving teens, and to participate in the library world as much as possible. I do not want to sit idly by and let my career pass me by. I want to delve in and find as many opportunities as possible to make myself a valuable resource to my community and to YALSA.

Currently, I am the youth librarian at the Douglas County Library in Alexandria, Minnesota. I serve ages 0-18 but one of my main focuses right now is on building teen participation. This library has never held teen programs or teen events prior to my arrival in July 2011. Since then, I have held several different teen programs (some with more success than others but that is always the chance you take when it comes to teens). I am currently in the process of starting a teen book club and working to create programming opportunities for teens at my library this summer. In my previous position, I was the teen librarian for the Pueblo City-County Library District where I oversaw all teen activities for the library district including planning three successful teen summer reading programs, planning an anime/manga fair for my library district, participating in several community organizations that focused on teen sexuality, health, and wellness, amongst other activities. My commitment to teens and to teen literature is strong and makes coming to work each day a wonderful surprise. You never know what to expect, what book you may be able to get into the hands of a teen. I am beyond honored to be on the nomination ballot for the 2014 Printz Committee and I know that if you elect me to the committee I will fulfill the duties of this committee with verve and excitement.

I hope you will consider me when voting for the 2014 Printz Committee and if you have any questions to ask me, please email me at sarah.wethern@gmail.com or you can find me on Twitter and Goodreads. I would love to talk books with you or to provide more discussion as to why I think I am a good fit for the Printz Committee.

A little more background information about me and my career:

St. Catherine University, MLIS, 2008, 2011.
Winona State University, BA in English and BA History, 2006.

Work Experiences:
Youth Services Manager, Douglas County Library, July 2011--present.
Teen Services Librarian, Pueblo City-County Library District, February 2009-July 2011.
Information Clerk II, South St. Paul Public Library, January 2007-January 2009.

YALSA experience:
Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults committee, 2012-2013
Chair, 2011-2012 YALSA/BWI Collection Development Grant
YALSA Hub Blogger, 2011-present
Readers' Choice Task Force, 2010-2011

YA Lit Symposium, 2012: Pop Culture (presentation still in the works with co-presenter).
YALSA Tabletalk Mashup, Contemporary YA Lit and How to Use It, ALA Annual, 2011.
Colorado Teen Lit Conference, 2011: The Under Dog of the YA World: Contemporary Teen Fiction
CLiC Spring workshop, 2011: Collection Development for Teens
Colorado Teen Lit Conference, 2010: The YA Blogosphere
CLiC Spring Workshop, 2011: What's Hot and What's Not in Teen Fiction

Other committees I have served on:
Cybils 2009 Teen Fiction, round I judge
2011 Maud Hart Lovelace Award, reader

Other information:
2011 winner of the Baker & Taylor/YALSA Conference Grant
Member of the 2010-2011 Colorado Association of Libraries Leadership Institute
Member of the Minnesota Library Association

I am committed to working with teens and providing them with the best of the best in teen literature. I believe by working on the Printz Committee I will be a more valuable asset to YALSA and to the communities I serve in Minnesota. Please consider voting for me for the 2014 Printz Committee.

The Youth Media Award Winners and Your Library

It's always with much excitement that the ALA announces the youth media awards. As I have started working as a professional, I have become more invested in the award winners. The excitement of anticipating which books will take home the Caldecott, the Newbery, the Printz, and the many other awards grows for me each year. But, I've noticed, particularly with the library I'm working at right now, that the excitement towards the Printz and Morris awards I feel was not necessarily felt by my predecessor, particularly in terms of purchasing the award winners.

My library is definitely lacking in the Printz and Morris winner and honor books. The same cannot be said for the Newbery and Caldecott awards. There is so much cachet attached to those two awards that many dedicated library patrons follow these awards and eagerly place holds on the winners after the announcement is made. Sadly, I did not notice this increase in the Printz and Morris winners this year at my library, at all. There were no holds placed for Where Things Come Back. No one was trying to get their hands on The Scorpio Races or Paper Covers Rock (Morris). This was addressed recently at YALSA's Hub blog with particular emphasis on the Morris Award, in somewhat of a similar fashion.

When I first started my new job last July, the first thing I noticed was that my library owned NONE of the recent year's Printz winners. I feel like, because my library has never been a very teen friendly place (something I am working hard to change), this may be part of the reason. I do wonder though if other libraries, particularly smaller rural libraries like the one I work at, just do not have the money to fund purchasing another award. For me, this is a no brainer. I want to have these books in my collection and I was pleased to see that by the time the Morris and Printz winners were announced, my library already owned all the books. The same could not be said for most of the libraries in my consortium however. These libraries have less of a budget them me, a smaller population, and perhaps less need for having the Printz and Morris books. But it makes me uncomfortable because somehow I get the sense that some libraries do not feel they need to even carry these award winners.

At my previous job in Colorado, I worked for a much bigger library district and we owned every Printz winner and honor book since the award's inception. But I noticed high school teachers there (and at my current job) are not really utilizing these award winners. The Newbery award on the other hand is well used. Kids have to read a specific number of Newbery books a year and at my current job, one of the assignments is to build a speech around a Newbery character and come dressed as that character to give that speech. These are such well established awards, with a long history behind them. I do worry though about how long it may take the Printz and the Morris award (and the Stonewall Award, and the Pura Belpre Award and many of the lesser known awards) to make a dent in the community, to crash through the educational walls of local high schools and middle schools. Heck, maybe in some communities these awards are being utilized but for me and the professional jobs I have had so far, and the communities I have served, this is not the case.

I do wonder sometimes then if teen lit will ever get the respect and accolades it deserves from those outside the hallowed walls of YALSA and the tight knit community of readers who love teen literature, a community that is much smaller than we perceive.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (02)

Story time is back in full swing for me. I've been doing a variety of themes but I wanted to share a few of the stand out books that have been crowd-pleasers with my kids. These are oldies but goodies!

Under My Hood I Have a Hat by Karla Kuskin. This would work well for preschool too I think but I used it with my mother goose group (ages birth-24 months). I brought along my own winter hat, scarf, and mittens to help illustrate the point. This book is great to talk about body parts in conjunction with clothes, even for a group so young. Most of them understand hat in particular because they all came in wearing a winter hat of their own. It's a very simple text story but it allows for plenty of discussion. The kids liked patting their own hats, trying on my big (for them!) mittens, and touching my soft scarf. We could also talk about colors since the character had quite the plethora of colorful winter clothing.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (who I love!). This book pretty much is amazing, particularly with the preschool set who love to discuss (or potentially argue, lol) whether it is a duck or a rabbit. Such a simple book, light on story and the illustrations are deceptive because there is more to think about then first appears. This book always generates big buzz with any kids and I found that to be true for my story time kids this week.What do you think? Is it a duck or a rabbit?

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. I love the illustrations, I love the rhyme. The kids really get into saying "bear snores on." It's a bit on the long side so I tend to use this as a beginning book. It allows for conversation about hibernation, what animals eat in winter, how they survive, and the rhyming text makes it all fun too. I can never keep this book on the shelves any time of the year really and it's my favorite of Wilson's "Bear" series books. The kids haven't all seen some of these winter animals so I like to bring in nonfiction books with pictures of the real thing to talk about after the story is over too. It adds another dimension to the story time and a great way to show parents that nonfiction is good for kids no matter what age.

Picture Book Saturday is the creation of A Patchwork of Books so head on over to see what books she may be discussing today!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Things I Like! (02)

You all know the greatness of Downton Abbey, right?

Well if you're ever in need of the most cutting of put downs, be sure to take a peek at this video. Shit the Dowager Countess Says. Enjoy. And be sure to keep some of these cutting remarks in your own repertoire.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I've Got Your Number is classic Sophie Kinsella but that's okay with me! It has all the wonderful things that I love about Kinsella's stories and it proved to be another fast, engaging, definitely fluffy fun read.

Synopsis: Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry the ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her 'happy ever after' begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring but in the panic that followed, she has now lost her phone. As she paces shakily round the hotel foyer she spots an abandoned phone in a bin. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!

Well, perfect except the phone's owner, businessman Sam Roxton doesn't agree. He wants his phone back and doesn't appreciate Poppy reading all his messages and wading into his personal life.

What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other's lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents... she soon realises that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life. (Goodreads.com)

I really liked Poppy. She is as obsessed with her phone and communication as most people my age so her struggle after she lost her phone really rang true for me. She needed her phone to stay connected but as she finds out, when she snags a thrown away phone, the phone allows her to make new connections too. I also really liked that Poppy liked her job. Kinsella does "chick-lit" very well (though I'm not sure if that's the correct term for these books anymore) and she fortunately she also knows what tropes to ignore. Poppy is good at her job as a physiotherapist. She likes helping people feel better and she genuinely cares about her patients.

The antics Poppy gets into as she has Sam's company phone are hilarious. She cares too much and makes trouble for him though as she sees it, she is just trying to make him a bit more human. I loved their differing views and I liked seeing Sam slowly start to come along to Poppy's way of thinking, at least to a degree. As is usual for most of Kinsella's books, there is a business crisis that takes the two main characters in different directions. But Poppy is not the silly character Kinsella's infamous Becky Bloomwood is. Poppy has a good head on her shoulders and she is able to aid Sam in sorting out the business issues that develop in the story.

Of course, Poppy still has some inferiority issues to sort out, particularly when it comes to Magnus's family. However, the scenes where she plays Scrabble or tries to understand just what this family of academics is saying are hilarious. I liked that she was an ordinary girl just trying to be pleasing to her fiance's family. Poppy is kindhearted and it shows on every page of the story. She is a likeable character that is kind of like the girlfriend everyone has in their life, supporting her friends (even when their envy shows), going out for drinks and just enjoying life. Her romance with Sam is subtle but I loved seeing it blossom on the pages through the text messages. This book is in fact a great readalike to Meg Cabot's Boy series.

All in all, I raced through I've Got Your Number. It's nothing particularly new in the world of romance or women's fiction but it's a fun book with two great characters. Sophie Kinsella just writes fun stories and I enjoy reading them!

ARC provided by Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is the kind of book people were talking about way before it was released into the wild. The love for this book since its publication has been astronomical. I was very excited to read this book, despite how long I've put it off. I LOVED Please Ignore Vera Dietz and had read only rave reviews for Ants. Well, let me tell you, this book was an utter letdown to me.

Synopsis: Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their family is fine. And he certainly didn't ask to be the recipient of Nadar McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.
Lucky has a secret—one that helps him wade through the daily dysfunction of his life. Grandad Harry, trapped in the jungles of Laos, has been visiting Lucky in his dreams—and the dreams just might be real: an alternate reality where he can be whoever he wants to be and his life might still be worth living. But how long can Lucky remain in hiding there before reality forces its way inside? (Goodreads.com)

Let me tell you first what did work for me. The writing. A.S. King is a masterful writer, digging into her characters actions, motivations and heads with the thoroughness of a sharp blade. Her prose is beautiful and she is easily one of the best writers in the young adult right now. While I did not enjoy this book, I can definitely agree that this is a writer with talent. Her words are amazing.

Otherwise, this book was a big letdown all around for me. I utterly disliked every single character in this book, Lucky included. Oh yes, I felt awful for him no doubt but I did not buy into his redemption arc at all. It felt phony and built on nothing but the circle of lies adults had fed him all his life.

I felt King's treatment of Lucky's aunt, Jodi, a woman who definitely pops quite a few mental health pills, to be nothing short of callous. She became this stereotype of what it's like to suffer from anxiety, sadness, and depression. All I read when Jodi was on the scene was the scorn that King seems to feel towards those who rely on pills to get them through the day. And the fact is, a lot of people need these pills to be functional at all during the day. Jodi came off as this caricature with no humanity at all, no sympathy towards what may have caused her suffering to begin with.

Also, does King hate fat people? There is one quote in particular that sticks out in my head, when Lucky's ants think "why doesn't she just get on a treadmill?" (This was from the arc edition so perhaps it was changed before the final printing.) Yeah, if only it was that easy. It's obvious that food is a respite for Jodi and the grotesque descriptions of what she eats (which sadly mimic all too much what many American families are eating) sounded downright rude and evil. I truly couldn't get past the feeling that King herself hated Jodi.

As for the other adults, they were nothing but a bunch of lemons. It was obvious that Lucky had been suffering from bullying his entire life. And the school administration is too afraid to do something because the bully's father is a lawyer and will sue the school. If that's not the flimsiest excuse for ignoring a student's needs I do not even know what is. I was appalled frankly.

And then there were the dreams Lucky had, where he met his grandfather in Vietnam. Eventually I just started skimming these because, while I did find them relevant to the story, I found them boring and it stopped the flow of the story. It's not that I did not like Lucky's relationship with his grandfather, it was perhaps the most complex relationship in the story, I just could not find them interesting.

I did find Lucky's relationship with his mother to be interesting also, if not always healthy but at least it was a playful, somewhat happy relationship that got worked on throughout the course of the story.

Overall, this story was a disappointment to me. While the writing was beautiful and the risks that King took with her dream interludes were different, they just did not work for me. The story as a whole did not work for me. I could not connect with Lucky or any of the characters. The accolades for this book have been impressive and I'm glad it worked for so many other readers. For me, it did not.

ARC from ALA Annual.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers reviews Everybody Sees the Ants
Reading Rants reviews Everybody Sees the Ants
Helen's Book Blog reviews Everybody Sees the Ants 

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's book award season!!

The winners are in! While I had a dentist appointment this morning and was unable to see the awards live, I've got all the handy winner information. Here is the official press release with all the award winners, but here are some of my favorites.

John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back is the big winner here, taking both the 2011 Printz and the 2011 Morris award! Here's my review of this book.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (one of my favorite books of 2011) took home a Printz Honor! Read my review here

The other Printz Honor books include:
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
The Returning by Christine Hinwood
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

I didn't really have a clear favorite for this award but I knew, as did most anyone involved in YA lit, that Where Things Come Back was going to do some big things. It's not my favorite book of the year but it's literary excellence does stand out.

The big winner here is A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka. I'll admit, this is not one of my favorite picture books. I didn't really like the watery and squiggly lines myself. BUT one of my favorite picture books of the year got an Honor! Blackout by John Rocco. This book is simply gorgeous! The other two honor books are Grandpa Green by Lane Smith and Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell. I actually like all the Honor titles much better than the winner itself.

Jack Gantos takes the big prize with Dead End in Norvelt which I just checked out from my library because I'm sure the demand is going to go up today. I haven't read it yet but hopefully this coming weekend. I didn't really have a clear favorite in this group. While I really loved Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt the ending was troublesome and over the top.

The Honor books are: 
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

I haven't read either of these books but I'm pleased to say that my library owns everything on the list.

So, did anything big surprise you this year in all the awards? A favorite you want to rave about? Something you feel was left out?

Review: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo is the story of a girl who wants to fix a town. Along the way she learns that sometimes hate can never be removed from someone's heart, that music truly touches the soul, and that there is goodness when you least expect it. Fortunately it's not quite a sappy as I've just described.

Synopsis: When Ollie’s daddy, the Reverend Everlasting Love, pulls their travel trailer into Binder to lead a three-day revival, Ollie knows that this town will be like all the others they visit— it is exactly the kind of nothing Ollie has come to expect. But on their first day in town, Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother is in jail for murdering his father. Jimmy insists that his mother is innocent, and Ollie believes him. Still, even if Ollie convinces her daddy to stay in town, how can two kids free a grown woman who has signed a confession?  Ollie’s longing for a friend and her daddy’s penchant for searching out lost souls prove to be a formidable force in this tiny town where everyone seems bent on judging and jailing without a trial. (Goodreads.com)

Ollie is the kind of character that it is hard not to like. She's the oldest daughter of five, she is the one the family relies on to model good behavior, partake of family chores without complaining, and be a shoulder for her younger siblings. This is no easy task as Ollie has come to realize. Most days she just wishes her father, Everlasting Love, would stop with the traveling preaching and settle down into a house with hot water, a flusher, and never worry about having to do laundry again. Ollie, at thirteen, dreams of modern conveniences. 

She meets Jimmy Koppel and is intrigued. She knows something is wrong with this boy and she wants to help. Perhaps for the first time ever for her, she wants to reach out beyond the usual three days of preaching and try to make a visible difference in a town. Her father agrees and soon Ollie is smackdab in the heart of Binder, Arkansas, trying to figure out a way to save Jimmy's mother, a woman who has signed a confession that she killed her husband when in fact, that is far from the truth.

This is one of those books that smacks of small town charm and hate. There is most definitely something off with Binder. Fortunately, there are some great citizens that the Love family comes to rely. A new family of friends is forged and Ollie is at the heart of it. Ollie is in fact often times more a conduit for the town to get its act together than a real, fleshed out character. Her needs were often ignored I felt, despite her father agreeing to stay in town for longer than the usual three days. Ollie took so much upon herself as the eldest daughter and I did not always feel I got to know the true her, the person with wants and wishes all its own. This book is truly about Binder and Jimmy's story and how the Love family intersects. It is much less about Ollie.

I also had an issue with Reverend Everlasting Love himself. It seemed that he was rather ignorant of his family's needs. It's not that he was a selfish character necessarily but he also did not see what was right in front of his own eyes. For example, his daughter Gwen, who Ollie, and readers, can clearly see longs to take after him, that she is in fact just as good at traveling preaching as Everlasting himself. While I didn't get a clear indicator that Reverend Love looked down on women and saw them as less worthy, I also didn't think he saw them as anything other than being more forces to spread the word for him, an extension of himself rather than people with desires all their own.

However, that being said, I enjoyed the journey even if I found the characters flawed. I liked the mix of good and bad in Binder, and even the rare shades of gray. I also liked that while Reverend Love is clearly preaching a Christian rhetoric, this book isn't really about religion. Rather, I found it to be a nice message about treating others as you want to be treated, as taking the time to talk with people, and at making an effort to truly use yourself for good rather than bad. It was a nice message about living up to the Golden Rule I thought, more so than about living up to God's commandments. Religion can be a very touchy topic to tackle in any book but I think Hilmo ventured into the right direction by showing how these five girls were trying to live up to the Golden Rule, even as they didn't always get their way or had to put their own wants aside sometimes so another family member could have a special moment.

This book is set in 1957. I thought the time period wasn't all that necessary to the story however. Yes, there was the small local grocery store, the pay phone, the new invention of the "flushers" and the laundry machines that did all that hard work, but really this was about a small Arkansas town trying to survive and flourish against a backdrop of anger. The historical setting wasn't necessarily important but the rural setting itself was.

With a Name Like Love has some problems but I think it has an audience. It has that meandering, slow feeling that I associate with Moon Over Manifest only it's a tad shorter and I think easier to engage in. Jimmy and Ollie's friendship is a great part of this story and it stands out, above even the flaws I found. Quick and breezy story that will definitely bring some tears.

Reviewed from local public library copy.

Other reviews:
Kidliterate reviews With a Name Like Love
Semicolon reviews With a Name Like Love

Friday, January 20, 2012

Things I Like! (01)

I've been trying to come up with something fun and worry-free to post on Fridays, something that will give you a bit more taste of my personality and what I like to do, outside of reading. Thus, Things I Like! It's an amalgamation of Pop Culture Junkie's currently enjoying feature and KellyVision's Things I'm Obsessed With feature.

Today I want to introduce you to a little thing called history. Maybe you know it! But do you know history set to Justin Timberlake's Sexyback? This is one of my favorite recent Youtube videos. Tell me you don't have 1066 rocking in your head the rest of the day. I was a history (and English) major in college and I love finding fun ways that people are teaching history today. Yes, these videos are slightly dorky but man oh man, it gets a date in your head.

THEN you have to watch Martin Luther (set to Manic Monday by the Bangles). Oh man, the psychedelic!

Stay tuned for next Friday when I wow you with more Things I Like!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A peek at my Goodreads to-read bookshelf

Here are some of the books I've recently added to my to-read bookshelf on Goodreads. A mix of both upcoming YA books and some already published titles.

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin. I've had this book for way too long sitting on my TBR pile. The cover still catches my eye and I really do want to read it. It seems to have an edgy feel to which I hope it lives up to.

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. I'll be honest. I really wasn't all that enamored with Kirsten Hubbard's first book, Like Mandarin. It was just okay for me. However, I've had this book on my Kindle for months now since it came out on Netgalley. My plan is to read it before it's actually released which I think is in March this year. So, here's hoping it surpasses the previous book because this will likely be my last try for this author.

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic. This just came in at my library so I plan on reading it this weekend! It's a very short book so yay, lol. I like the cover and I hope it has some meaning for the story. It looks like it may be a bit of a tearjerker.

Fetching by Kiera Stewart. It breaks middle school up into various canine breeds and I think it sounds like a lot of fun. Cliques and middle school, let the drama begin! I would also totally love to have a dog like the one pictured on the cover.

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo. I've read some reviews of this and it seems like it's going to be a good story. The cover is kind of blah, too much green for me, but I'm curious to see how the title fits the story.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot. It's a new Heather Wells book! I'm so excited. Another straight contemporary story from Meg Cabot, one of my favorite writers. She always makes me laugh. I'm excited to see what changes are in store for Heather and her beau, Cooper.

The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate. I have enjoyed everything I've read by Melissa Senate before and this one has been languishing on my TBR pile. It involves food, some romance and I'm sure interesting characters. I really need to get reading this book. (It's an adult book, if you can't tell.)

Of course, this is only a small sampling of my to-read shelf. I feel like I add something to it every day. Goodreads, so addictive! If you want to keep up with my Goodreads shelves, feel free to friend me! I love talking books whether it's Twitter, my blog, or Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is not your ordinary tale of Cinderella. This Cinderella knows her way around an android more than she knows her way around a broom.

Synopsis: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (Goodreads.com)

There is a lot to like about Cinder. It is really readable. It has that special quality that makes you want to stick your nose in a book and not look up until you're finished. I think much of that relies on the greatness of the main character, Cinder. She is a great character. She is very sweet, likeable, kindhearted and really smart. She knows her way around wires. Of course, it helps that she is a cyborg and needs to know her way around wires. But being a cyborg is not a great thing in New Beijing. Cyborgs are looked upon as second class citizens and Cinder really is not her own person as she is owned by her stepmother. Here is where the Cinderella story stands out most as Cinder is forced to do all kinds of chores, forced to work in the market to provide her family with money, and not allowed the opportunity to attend the grand ball that is coming up.

I really enjoyed Marissa Meyer's take on the Cinderella theme. She created this a very interesting setting for Cinder to live and survive in and she made sure that Cinder is no weeping princess. This is a girl with dreams and plans of her own. She wants to leave her family and make a fresh start. This urge becomes stronger when her stepsister, Peony, is infected with the plague and is on the brink of death. Peony was one of Cinder's only friends and to see her suffering, well, it is more than Cinder can stand.

I also really, really liked smartmouth and sweet Iko, Cinder's android. She has some great one-liners in the story that add unexpected humor, particularly when a scene is on the verge of getting too bleak. She is a great match for Cinder who doesn't want to care about girly things like ball gowns, crushes, and having a prince potentially like her. Iko and Cinder make a great team.

There were some aspects of this story that I wasn't particularly thrilled with and the biggest is that this story is incredibly predictable. Not even fifty pages in I figured out the twists and from then on, much of the tension of the story was lost. Everything was incredibly obvious and to my mind, that hurts the story telling. Secondly, I was rather bored with the political machinations of Prince Kai and the Lunar Queen. While those scenes in the book are definitely brief, they dragged down the story by taking the focus away from Cinder, a character I liked and was rooting for. I realize that the political components play an important role in the story but like in real life politics, I tuned these plot lines out and skimmed. I wanted more time with Cinder who was a character I admired.

That being said, on the whole, I really enjoyed Cinder. I liked the world Meyer created and I liked that it was not a US-centric story too. I found the setting to be very distinct, even if Cinder herself did not appear to be Chinese. She is cyborg however and that identity is something she is cautious about. This is a girl trying to discover who she is and where she fits into the world. She yearns for independence and the hope that being a cyborg will not always make her looked down upon. I really liked that Cinder is not wholly one "ethnicity" or one "identity" because for me, it makes her story more authentic and for readers, makes Cinder a character more people can relate to.

While I definitely wished so much of the story was not so patently laid out for everyone to guess at its twists, I did enjoy Cinder. I'm hooked enough to want the second book now, lol. I'm anxious to see Cinder grow into herself, to stand up for herself and take charge of her future. I think teens in particular will root for Cinder for that very reason, that she is reaching out for what she wants and for what makes her happy.

Cinder is available now from Feiwel and Friends and is a January YA debut.

Other reviews:
 The Book Smugglers review Cinder
Wondrous Reads reviews Cinder
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Cinder

ARC provided by publisher.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

When I first read Jane of Dear Author's review of Susan Ee's ebook, Angelfall, I thought, I know I've seen that book somewhere before. And I was right! It's a Cybils finalist for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. Given that it was only $0.99 on Amazon, I was sold. I quickly burned through it this weekend, reading nonstop as I basically had to find out what was going to happen. Yep, this is a good one and truly the closest book I've read that mirrors the brutality of The Hunger Games. But honestly? I liked this book more.

Synopsis: It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again. (Goodreads.com)

My one quibble with this book is that at times the writing is rather clunky and almost too straightforward. There isn't a lot of literary beauty in it but then, there isn't necessarily a lot of literary beauty in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and well, I adore those books, so as I said, this is a minor quibble. I usually stay far, far away from self-published books but Susan Ee has broken that trend. This is one book that has been edited and critiqued and stands heads and shoulders above so much of the self-published drivel I have come across. Susan Ee has that wondrous gift of  being a fabulous story teller and it shows. 

Penryn is being compared to Katniss Everdeen left and right around the interwebs but I have to say, give me Penryn any day of the week. There is none of the love triangle crap (at least, so far) and while Penryn makes mistakes along the way, she is also brutally honest in her end goal and she is not above using violence and subterfuge to save her sister, Paige. (Yep, another older sisters saving a younger sister. You can see where the comparisons are ripe for the picking.) There is just something so honest about Penryn though. She has rescued this angel, Raffe, but all she cares about, particularly early on, is using him to gain access to her sister. So, she cuts the feathers from his wings. She wants him to feel the anger and pain she is feeling and it works. This is a character that has already seen the bottom of her world pulled out from her so she has nothing to lose.

I have seen quite a few comments on Goodreads that the world building is weak but honestly, world building is one of those things I don't pay as much attention to. But, like many reviewers, I do question how organized and frankly how little chaos there is in this world even though the angels have only brought destruction to humans a mere six weeks ago. But that doesn't mean I wasn't freaked out because yep, I was. There is definitely something spooky about Penryn and Raffe's journey, as they head to San Francisco. The descriptions of the highways being filled with abandoned cars is chilling, as is seeing the angels circle above, looking for humans or monkeys as the angels call humans. Then there are things in the woods that are eating humans. It seems to be cannibals since food is extremely scarce. Raffe and Penryn have to make a run for it many times.

At the same time, these two have to rely on each other. Penryn needs Raffe and his angelic knowledge in order to find her sister. Raffe doesn't need Penryn quite as much as she needs him but he tolerates her and he does help her. But this is not an alliance. This is not a friendship. It's at most a very, very mild attraction but given the circumstances the world is thrown into, and given their separate missions (after all, Raffe needs his wings sewn back on, Penryn just needs her family reunited) these two are not headed for a love story any time soon. And since this is apparently going to be a five book series, it is obvious to see that the attraction will be drawn out and complicated for a time to come.

This book is twisty and turny and gives me, a seasoned reader who figures out the big "twist" all too easily, a run for my money. The clues are there but there are still some "whoa" moments which I love. I hate figuring everything out on my own. And then the ending, it just smacks you in the face and if you aren't enticed to read the next book, I'd be very shocked. 

I wouldn't say this is quite a YA book. It would be great for your older readers but I think in many ways this is more brutal than The Hunger Games so before handing this off to fans of Collins's books, I would read it first. There are some gruesome details that frankly gave me a few nightmarish images in my head. Penryn is a teen but she reads older and her actions are that of someone who has had to grow up quickly. I also think the idea of religion and the angels being so villainous may alienate some readers. But there's more to this story that much is obvious and I will be very interested to get more answers.

For fans of Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series, I think there is also some crossover appeal. I am very intrigued by Ee's portrayal of angels and I know there are more revelations to come.

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1) is what one could call a page-turner. It is compelling and the fact is, this book is so, so much better than most of the mediocre "dystopian" books being published for teens right now. If you're passionate about dystopian stories, do yourself a favor and read Angelfall

Copy purchased from Amazon.com for my Kindle (and it's a steal at only $0.99!)

Other reviews:
Good Choice Reading reviews Angelfall
Mindful Musings reviews Angelfall 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is a collection of short, interconnected stories, revolving around life at Fort Hood, Texas. This is an adult book with a military theme. If you remember, last week I was commenting on military themed YA books and for some reason, I've really been in the mood to read books on this theme. I don't think too many of you know this but I am kind of obsessed with HBO's Generation Kill (where you can see Askars!). It is a phenomenal look at the assault on Baghdad in 2003. When Jane of Dear Author reviewed this collection a few weeks ago, I knew I had to read it, and I'm so glad I did. I've been in the mood for well-written and thoughtful adult books lately and You Know When the Men Are Gone is just that.

Synopsis: In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

There is an army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians' speeches.(Goodreads.com)

I won't go an analysis of each individual story. Rather, as a whole grouping, I really loved this book. Characters that featured in one short story were given new insights and perspectives when they featured as the main protagonists in stories of their own. You think you know someone, you think you know their suffering, but you don't, not really, and these stories illustrate that.

This is not a happy collection. It's not a romance collection either. It is a collection of stories that beautifully showcase the hardships of war. Being without your spouse for months at a time, having to rely on a makeshift family, have to try to understand what life is like for that spouse when they return, having to make the painful decision that military life is not right for you. There are so many emotions in this book, so many sad but realistic portrayals of what it must be like to be a military spouse. The author, Siobhan Fallon, herself is married to a military man and her authenticity on the subject shows. I was immediately thrown into regimented life at Fort Hood, a world away from the United States even as it sits smack dab in Texas. 

Of course, you don't have to have any type of military knowledge to appreciate this story because it's all about the hardships in relationships and how war takes its toll on parenting, on sex, on life and on marriage. I cried a lot reading this collection but it was not because of anything schmaltzy. This is an authentic slice of the military experience and it really makes you realize how much entire families are sacrificing for a war. Yes, the men are off fighting and there is no doubt I am thankful for their bravery, courage, and for doing something I could never do, but I also liked taking a peek into what the wives, the kids, the residents of this small community were facing as the men were all gone. It is reality's slap in the face.

What I also liked was that it was not all about patriotism, about jingoism. These are real sacrifices being made every day across the US by military families and they are not thinking about the good of the country necessarily. They are thinking about getting back home to loved ones, or the horrors that could await them once they do arrive home. While I am certainly proud to be a US citizen, I tend to shy away from books and movies that portray patriotism and the US as the be all and end all of life and this book so does not do that. These are ordinary families living harsh lives. The women are doing the best they can, as are the men off fighting. This is a story that is character focused and it shines.

Copy borrowed from my local public library.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (01)

Well, that time of year is coming up again! Valentine's Day! In honor of that, publishers are releasing a plethora of Valentine's Day and kissing/hugging related books. Here are a few new ones to watch for. These all won me over because of their illustrations, more than the story itself. What can I say? I do like cutesy.

The Biggest Kiss by Joanna Walsh, illustrated by Judi Abbot. What I like most about this book is the illustrations. There really isn't much of a story, it's rather just different examples of kissing. Dogs kissing, elephants kissing, a kiss on the tummy. It is definitely overly sweet but that picture of the big blue elephant totally wins me over. It's definitely a book you'll see being checked out any time of the year but Valentine's Day will give this book extra oomph!

All Kinds of Kisses by Nancy Tafuri. I adore Nancy Tafuri and this book is another example of why. She makes adorable animal pictures. This is ANOTHER book about all kinds of kisses, as the title implies. It could be used in conjunction with animal story times very easily since it has a farm emphasis. There's just something about her realistic drawings that make me happy paging through her books. There is a lot to discuss with kids, such as the different sounds animals make, what they might eat, where they live. So while this is ostensibly a book about kissing, I think it would fit other story time themes very well. It doesn't border on the cutesy quite as much as The Biggest Kiss does either, so if you'd prefer a book a bit more down to earth, Tafuri does not let you down.

Big Hugs, Little Hugs by Felicia Bond. You may recognize her as the illustrator for Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse (Moose, Cat, Dog) books. Yep, this is another cutesy title but I do love the illustrations. Not only does it show animals hugging but it teaches a bit about opposites along the way (inside/outside, big/little, etc). The illustrations are something special though and a bit different than what I normally see with her books. I like the message that hugging is something everyone the world over does.

So there you have it, a little pre-Valentine's Day picture book selection to get on the shelves of your library.

Picture Book Saturday is the creation of A Patchwork of Books. Head on over to see what books she's chatting about.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Romance Round-up: January 2012

Here are some recent romance titles I have reviewed:

Scrumptious by Amanda Usen
Breakaway by Deirdre Martin
Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves
Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia Day

It's not much, the holidays kind of kicked my butt but I really enjoyed all of these books. Need a new hockey romance? Breakaway is the perfect choice. Flawed but still enjoyable.

Have you read any romance books lately you'd like to recommend?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi is a book I somehow missed back in 2011 but I'm so glad I picked it up this year. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and meeting Donna Parisi.

Synopsis: In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.
Since her father’s death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she’s clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she’s standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers’ Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.
This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn’t dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn’t know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting someone you love. (Goodreads.com)

How often do readers get the chance to meet a character interested in mortuary science? Not too often. However, Donna finds herself unexpectedly reeled in by this career opportunity after a high school classmate dies. It was not what she set out to do in life but it gave her new direction and a goal to work towards as her aimless senior year of high school was coming to a close. As for me, I was completely fascinated. While I know there is no way on earth I could deal with dead bodies all day, I liked seeing the emotional aspects of it also, how Donna had to deal with grieving wives, sisters, and relatives. She definitely had a knack for saying just the right thing and as her experiences at Brighton Brothers Funeral Home grew and expanded, her confidence in herself was growing in leaps and bounds. I felt her career interests mirrored all the changes in her personal life too.

Not only is Donna graduating from high school but she is going on a path few of her classmates will ever experience. The death of her father right before she started high school has deeply affected Donna and it shows in this story. It is hard for her to let go of her grief, it's difficult for her to see her mother moving on and meeting someone else, but it is also forcing her to make a new friend, to grow up herself. Donna meets Liz during school and she is immediately smitten with her. As the reader, I didn't quite understand why Donna liked Liz so much, why she saw her as this otherworldly person, exploring all these opportunities Donna never seized on. Liz just did not quite impress me the way she impressed Donna.

So much changes for Donna in a relatively short amount of time. She starts a new relationship with a guy, she has this new job, she moves out of her mom's house, and more. She is growing up. I thought this was a very authentic experience because so often in life things happen at such a breakneck speed. Change does not happen in a vacuum and it definitely did not for Donna. While in some respects all these changes might have been a tad too easy (fitting in at Brighton Brothers, moving out, even her first real sexual experiences) I also thought Donna truly was overwhelmed at times with emotions, particularly when it came to her mom. There was just something so realistic about a mother and daughter fighting, knowing at heart they both want the best for each other, but they are unable to express that properly.

The book is not all sad though! There are a lot of funny moments, light macabre humor at times, and overall a feeling of hope. I loved learning a little more about the mortuary business. It was never gross to read about (and I have a weak stomach for grossness) but instead rather invigorating. As Donna explains, death is something we all share. Why not better understand that process? The nontraditional route she took to find happiness is also invigorating in a YA story. Her "college" experience was in many ways like an apprenticeship of times past. She lived on the premises of Brighton Brothers Funeral Home, she was involved in its daily operations. She was learning straight from the source and that is what she needed, not some rather vague Communications degree from a regular college.

All in all, I found this book to be extremely readable. Violi has a great writing style that kept me hooked and wanting more. I was eager to return to this book every time I opened it back up and I did not want it to end. There was just something about Donna's journey that spoke to me as a reader. It was out of the norm but yet Donna was finding her footing back into the mainstream too as she left her grief behind. Donna just really changed for me throughout the story. She found her own voice and vision. I really enjoyed seeing where she was going and where her journey was taking her. I know that sounds a bit cliched but it's also true. I really liked how she came into her own as the story proceeded. I think her character is summed up nicely from this quote on page 281:

"...This is my ritual, so keep your clothes on." I smile. "We'll make up the steps as we go."

And that she does! Donna finally starts to forge her own path and it's a fantastic journey.

Putting Makeup On Dead People, despite the ugly cover, is one of the better contemporary YA books I have read recently.

Other reviews:
Reclusive Bibliophile reviews Putting Makeup On Dead People
The Book Sp(l)ot reviews Putting Makeup On Dead People
Stacked Books reviews Putting Makeup On Dead People

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom

That fugly blue dress on the cover? Yep, that's truly the prom dress Justina wears to prom. That fugly blue flower? It's also featured in the story! Intrigued? Well then you'll definitely want to get your hands on Robin Mellom's debut book, Ditched: A Love Story.

Synopsis: High school senior Justina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing. So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her.
Ian, who always passed her the baseball bat handle first.
Ian, who knew exactly when she needed red licorice.
Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.
And then ditched her.
Now, as the sun rises over her small town, and with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven, Justina must piece together — stain by stain on her thrift-store dress — exactly how she ended up dateless. A three-legged Chihuahua was involved. Along with a demolition derby-ready Cadillac. And there was that incident at the tattoo parlor. Plus the flying leap from Brian Sontag's moving car...
But to get the whole story, Justina will have to face the boy who ditched her. And discover if losing out at prom can ultimately lead to true love. (Goodreads.com)

Several reviewers have compared this book to a movie. One review I read compared it to the 1998 movie Can't Hardly Wait. (I don't remember what reviewer did this so if it's YOU, please let me know so I can link to the review.) In her acknowledgements, Robin Mellom herself mentions John Hughes so you know, if you haven't figured it out yet, Ditched has a great movie quality to it.

Perhaps even more important? It's just plain fun! The characters are eccentric and the odd balls  you see in high school. There's the stoners, the uber popular girls, their male counterparts, and then there is Justina and Ian. Justina herself is part nerd part sweet girl making for an emotional roller coaster ride of a story. Told in a back and forth style, from the present to the night before, Justina reveals what happens through a series of dress stains (and more!). It is kitschy and fun and makes you curious just where that curry stain came from or what exactly those other stains are? The french fry bruise? Yep, it has a story too.

This is a book that can be book talked so easily because it has a fun and frothy story to it but it also has romance, mischievous high school adventures, and more! Be aware though, there is drug use in this book along with drinking and driving. Those are not habits I want to necessarily sell to any reader but I am also aware that these things go on in high school. So, basically know who you are talking to when suggesting this book. Though the cover itself may garner attention just when put on display. You will want to find out why she is wearing that blue dress and matching blue flower.

The romance was the least interesting part of the story for me because I didn't feel like I ever got a good handle on Ian. He was Justina's crush but he was absent for so much of the story that all I could see was Justina's perceptions of him. That's not bad but it also didn't sell him as a character to me. But then, this is the type of story where the true joy in the story comes from the adventure rather than the characterization. Teens looking for a fast-paced read filled with twists and turns they might not expect? Teens looking for humor that ranges from smart to potty-mouth humor? This book has both those things.

The story is one told many times in young adult books. Prom. But Mellom gives it a twist and the hijinks that ensue are hilarious and give readers a better understanding of Justina. She is a character I liked from page one. I think she has a bit of that "everyman" quality to her, something about her character that any reader is going to relate to. For me, it was easily the love she had for Buffy marathons. And licorice too! While her relationship with Ian did not fully resonate with me, I did enjoy seeing them go from friends to wanting to take that step into something a bit scarier but so important.

All in all, Ditched kept me hopping! I never quite knew what Justina and her friends would do next, where they would go, or what pranks might ensue. This was a pure fun reading experience and there just are not enough of those in the world.

Ditched: A Love Story is available January 10, 2012 from Disney/Hyperion.

Other reviews:
Galleysmith reviews Ditched
Good Choice Reading reviews Ditched
Mundie Moms reviews Ditched

ARC from ALA Annual.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu has received some amazing press via the main review related journals (SLJ, Booklist, etc) and it is incredibly well deserved. This is one book that lived up to the hype for me. It is the story of a very brave little girl named Hazel (LOVE the name!) who is determined to rescue her friend Jack, no matter what enemies may try to stop her.

Synopsis: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel. (Goodreads.com)

There is not a whole lot I can add to all the accolades this book has received except to say that I absolutely fell for this story, head over heels. It is a very somber story. There is a dark and unsettling quality to it, much like how fairy tales were originally written, it seems to me. The Grimm brothers wrote scary stories and I think Anne Ursu tackles fairy tales in much the same way. These are not happily-ever-after stories. They are real and prove that no magic potion or pair of ballet slippers is a guarantee to happiness. It is perhaps not an easy lesson to take away but for so many kids, happy-ever-after is not a reality anyway. I truly believe kids will respond to this story.

Can I say how much I adored Hazel? She may just be my new literary star because she was amazing. Danger, scary snow witches, wolves, and even flowers that once were girls do not deter her from her goal. She is determined, absolutely determined, to rescue Jack, her best friend, her rock, the person who keeps her steady amidst all the changes in her life. Her adoptive parents are divorcing, her adoptive father is remarrying but is basically out of her life altogether. He refers to Hazel as "princess" but that is as shallow a term as possible to ever refer to Hazel. She is no princess though she yearns for the happy memories she has from growing up with her father. Then there is her mother who is trying to support them, who cannot give Hazel the attention she once did. Hazel's life is anything but steady and I wanted to cry for her but I had to tell myself to buck up. If Hazel was trying to deal, I certainly had to. This is one unforgettable and brave little girl. But also, do not forget how very vulnerable she is because again, she is only a little child really. A girl who hates her fifth grade class, who feels out of place amongst her schoolmates, who enjoys stories and imagination and who's best friend is changing right before her eyes.

And did I mention stories? This book is filled with wonderful literary references. From Hogwarts to Narnia and back again, this is a  book for a reader to savor! Every time you come upon a new link to another story world you will smile. It is a tinge of lightness in a book that is as I have said, a somber story. For all its fantasy characteristics, it tackles kids and their emotions, how they relate to the world around them, and what happens when they start to close in upon themselves. Jack did not just wander into the forest, he willingly chose to go with the witch. This is a fact Hazel has to tackle with as she attempts to rescue him. It made me sad for her but also even more encouraging of her progress.

I haven't even touched on many aspects of the story that have shown up in reviews. The reversal of roles between Jack and Hazel, the fact that she is not white (and yay Walden Pond Press for making the cover truly reflect who she is as well as making it just a beautiful cover), the different ways Ursu turns traditional fairy tales on their heads. While these are important aspects of the book, my heart instead clung to Hazel as she persevered.

I can only end this by saying Hazel won my heart. I am an emotional reader, I always have been. I cry easily, I love to laugh in books, and I especially enjoy when a story takes me to an unexpected place within myself, when it makes me consider my past and my future in a new light. Breadcrumbs does this and more. The writing itself is exquisite but it is Hazel who steals the show, this amazing little girl who will not give up even when she realizes the outcome she expects is not what will happen, at all. This book will be flying off shelves for a long time to come.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers reviews Breadcrumbs
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Breadcrumbs
Galleysmith reviews Breadcrumbs

Finished copy provided by publisher. I also won an iPad from them but this book stands on its own merits.


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