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Friday, March 30, 2012

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

A love made out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast ship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years into the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her reawakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone -- one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship -- tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of the list of murder suspects, there's only one that really matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could have never seen coming. 

In a nutshell, Across the Universe is a space opera. I'll quickly call upon dictionary.com to define the word.  It defines space opera is this: "a science fiction drama, such as a film or television programme, esp. one dealing with interplanetary flight". And to be truthful, if you remove the definition of "film or television programme" with "book" you have this story. Ut's a science fiction drama that deals with interplanetary flight.

Space operas seem to becoming more popular in YA now, with titles like Glow and the upcoming release Starglass. It will be interesting to see if they stay popular, but at the moment it seems that they are holding strong, with more sci-fi planetary titles coming out and more being sold.

But I digressed, so let me return to what I thought about the book.

Across the Universe is a strong action thriller for sure, and if you read it based simply on pure adrenaline it would be a fast and interesting read. The action scenes are quick and fast, they keep you interested and are well written. The action scenes may have been my favorite part of the book.

But the rest of the book....not so much.

I found the plot to be fairly predictable. The "real baddie" is easy to guess and his reveal is far from a surprise.  Who unplugged Amy is also easy to figure out. Revis attempts a bit of foreshadowing but most of it doesn't succeed and is too obvious. The "secrets" that form around the ship are easy to guess as well and many of them are tropes I've seem before (contaminated water, using forms of mind-control, etc). I found the plot to be pretty dragging and less of the science fiction epic that I had expected.

The characters....Hmm. I will say that my favorite character in this entire book dies, and if you've read the book it will be easy to guess which one. Amy and Elder seemed to be pretty decent characters. Elder's journey -- discovering that his mentor was not all that he expected and that his whole life is essentially a lie -- isn't that fresh but it's a good read. I preferred Amy's journey better, seeing as she coped and recovered in a new world, and I related to her more than Elder and really enjoyed how she reacted with being separated from her parents. I also didn't really like the romance (which isn't a shocker for me, but I really disliked the romance in this book). Elder seemed like he just suddenly started loving Amy and Amy seemed like she just started realizing he was around. I did like their relationship, however, and how they interacted around one another, even as they seemed more like friends than lovers.

And the truth is, the ending is pretty cheesy, and how the characters act (I'll just say there are some pretty soppy reminders to "stay together forever") seemed out of their characters.

Revis's writing is really just fine, easy enough to read but sometimes chunky and fragmented. She has a lot of room for improvement but I think in her next few novels her writing will become better (as the old saying says: "every book is better than the last").

I personally did not really enjoy this book, but if you are interested in science fiction, fantasy, space, romance, and the "space opera" it would be worth picking up. I will note that I am curious how this series continues and I will try and read the second book at some point. Essentially, this book wasn't for me but some people will like it.

Three stars.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

YALSA Awards

Most people have probably heard of the Newbery and Caldecott. These awards are given out each year in the middle of January (honoring the previous' years books) and celebrate the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". You can find more information about the Newbery here and more about the Caldecott here.

However, besides these two awards -- which may be the most well known -- there are plenty more distributed each year. The annual awards ceremony -- where all of the ALA awards are given -- lasts almost two hours.

Let's back up a second. ALA  or the American Library Association is a large organization that helps librarians and libraries, and the organization is the one that distributes the awards such as the Newbery and Caldecott. It's a very big group that many (I wouldn't say all, but it's a large number) of librarians are a part of. ALA is the main organization, but through the organization there are a great number of groups that specifically deal with a certain topic.

Now, back to the awards. There are many great awards that they give out each year. Awards for audiobooks and nonfiction and children's books and YA and distinguished authors and debut awards, every award you could possibly think of that somehow relates to books and literature.

Today I'm specifically going to talk about the YA awards. These awards are distributed by one of the groups of ALA, YALSA. YALSA stands for the Young Adult Library Services Association. You can view their website here.


YALSA distributes all of the YA-related awards. Most--not all--of the awards have one honor and three honor books (sort of like 2nd and 3rd place: you are still a winner and still acknowledged though you aren't 1st).  Some awards however, do not follow this scheme and instead honor 10 awards or more awards than the "average joe" award.  The awards are selected by committes. All members of the committees must be ALA/YALSA members and librarians. YALSA says that their awards are to honor the best literature for teens.  For each award I'm going to explain what each award is, exactly. For each award there will be a picture of the actual award given and a link to the award's site if you're interested in learning more. All statements in quotation marks are direct quotes from the YALSA site. The websites are a great resource and explain more about the award, such as when it was founded and it's criteria, as well as including lists of past winners of the award and winner's speeches.

Let's get started.

Alex Awards: The Alex awards are given to 10 books for adults that "have special appeal to teens ages 12-18".  These books can be of any genre, as long as the books were published in the previous year (example: 2011 books were honored in 2012). The award has been given annually since 1998. The award was originally given by a special project, the YALSA Adult Books for Young Adults that Margaret Alexander Edwards had sponsored. The award is named after Alexander Edwards, who was a "pioneer in young adult library services". She was called Alex by her friends, hence the award's title. YALSA says that the purpose of this award is to provide a list for young adult librarians to share with their teens and increase their teens' outlook on adult titles. The award is now sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust.

Margaret A. Edwards Awards: The Margaret A. Edwards Award honors "an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contributions to young adult literature". This award, instead of simply focusing on one of the author's titles, honors their entire body of work and all of the achievements that they have done over the course of their career. This award is again named after Margaret A. Edwards, whom the Alex awards are also named for. The Edwards awards have been established since 1988. The purpose of this award is to "honor an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and the world". Many of the authors honored with this award are very famous, or at least very well known -- just a scan down the list proves that. What do S. E Hinton, Judy Blume, and Madeline L'Engle have in common? They all won Edwards Awards. This award is sponsored by School Library Journal. 


William C. Morris YA Debut Awards: This award honors "a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens". This award focuses only on debut books. Debut books are books written by authors who have never published a book before; their debut title is their first book. This award is one of the more recent awards (the Alex, Printz, Morris, Nonfiction, and Odyssey awards are the five  most recent) -- it was formed in 2009. The award is named for William "Bill" C. Morris, an "influential innovator" and who left an "impressive mark on the field of children and young adult literature". The books in the award are based on: compelling, high quality writing; the integrity of the work as a whole; and it's proven or potential appeal to a wide range of readers. This award is the only one to have "potential or proven appeal" (ie, teens will be interested in reading the book) in its guidelines, and the award criteria is a bit more open, though the award is limited to debut titles.

Nonfiction Awards: This is the only YALSA award that focuses specifically on nonfiction. While some of the other awards may have nonfiction titles (and this is specifically mentioned in most award criteria) this award was specifically designated to honor "the best nonfiction book published for young adults ages 12-18". This award also gives a specific amount of time for the books published: November 1- October 31 of each year. (This is different than most of the other titles, which only require that they be published in the preceding year.) The award's purpose is to recognize the best in the field of nonfiction for teens and help give recognition to the genre. Interestingly enough, the award also states that it's purpose is to show YALSA as a strong leader in nonfiction. Hmm. This award is very recent, having started in 2010.

Odyssey Awards: Like the Nonfiction award, this award specifically focuses in on a genre: audiobooks. The awards honor "the producer (not the author or the person who reads the audiobook) of the best audiobook for children and/or young adults, published in English in the United States". This award is different because it opens the playing field to children's audiobooks as well. It also removes any audiobook not read in English (for example, an audiobook read in Spanish) from the award. The award is based on the following criteria: literary merit and the quality of the audiobook (narration, sound quality, background etc). This award has existed since 2008.




Okay, I have one more award to talk about. The Printz Award. The Printz is a bit like the Newbery award mentioned at the beginning of the post -- the Newbery for young adult literature. Both the Newbery and Printz awards both have very similar goals. This award is the one that is probably the most well known out of all of the awards, and one of the most recent.

Printz Awards: This award honors a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature". The criteria for the award is literary merits such as story, voice, style, setting, theme, accuracy, characters, illustrations and design (how the book is organized). This award is probably the YALSA award that is grounded the most in literary merits and quality. The purpose of this award is to bring quality literature to young adults and showcase the best fiction for young adults. The Printz Award is named for Michael L. Printz, a school librarian who was very active in YALSA and a longtime member of the organization. The award has existed since 2000 and is now considered the most well-known YALSA award. Anyone can nominate a title for this award.


These may be YALSA's most well known awards, and they are the ones cited as awards on YALSA's awards page but they are not the only awards and booklists that YALSA creates. There are many more smaller awards and many booklists, such as Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA), Fabulous Films for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and many more.

If you have any questions on these awards, comment below. If you are interested in searching and learning more about the awards you can view more information in the links for each award (click on the bold font titles  of each award) or you can view them on the awards page.

Hope that you learned something about YALSA awards :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ohmygod, or why i love melina marchetta

Melina Marchetta is a perpetual fan favorite. If you check her books out on Goodreads, they all have at least a 4.0 rating (which is insane on the site, even with somewhat inflated ratings). And there is, of course, a running joke on the site that everyone loves Marchetta, which is true. She's popular in both Australia and is taught in high schools there and in the US is well loved with weeks celebrating her.

It seems like everybody loves Marchetta!

And I can put myself into that camp.

I've read every single one of her books.

And how did I end up reading her? I started blogging. I'm absolutely serious. I started blogging and writing reviews on Goodreads (one of my favorite sites, fyi). Everyone loved Marchetta. And I figured, hey, I like contemp, I'll check her out.

So I ordered Jellicoe Road. Now I have to order books often due to where I live, so just ordering a book is a bit of a gamble. What if I hate it? Then I'll be out twenty dollars and returning's a hassle. But everyone loved it. So I started to read the book at school, a bit confused by the notoriously confusing beginning and continued to read. And then I loved it. (You can read the crazy gushing/slightly melodramatic Goodreads review here.)


And then I found out, wait! Marchetta had written MORE books. Of course I was delighted. I headed over to my public library which, despite being extremely small, has plenty of Marchetta love, having almost all of her books in circulation.


I picked up Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi. And I LOVED them. Their characters, plots, setting, writing, everything. Melina Marchetta had begun to establish herself to me, and I loved her books. I asked for Finnikin of the Rock for Christmas (and received it!). I requested Froi of the Exiles when it came on Netgalley from the US publisher and I hunted high and low for The Piper's Son (the ONLY Marchetta I hadn't read; I literally couldn't find it anywhere) until I finally found it and patted myself on the back.


Yes, I am a Marchetta fangirl.


Yes, I will read any book she publishes (hello, Quintana of Charyn -- I may just have to order it when it comes out in Aussieland).

Yes, I love her characters and her writing and her swoonable boys and her amazing plots and everything she has to offer.


But if there is one thing that I'm greateful to Melina Marchetta for, it's this: she essentially introduced me to the world of fantastic YA literature.


Her books were really the first YA titles I read and seriously loved. I ordered Jellicoe Road when I was first getting interested in young adult, first starting to understand the beauty and elegance of it as I transistioned out of middle grade, which I had loved for so many years. I barely had any YA books, just a measley two or three. When people told me to read Marchetta, I listened. And ohmygod, thank goodness I listened.


I devoured her books. They were fantastic and amazing and my first real understanding of how impressive and rich and real YA could be, how it could push boundaries and be proactive and fascinating and explore family stories and friendships and romance, how it truly could save (ie the fantastic online reaction of YA Saves last year).

Melina's books really helped me get a feel for how amazing contemp YA is, and how much I really truly love it. I read mostly contemporary, honestly, along with mystery and fantasy (with the Lumature Chronicles at the top of my list, obviously).

And Melina's books showed me the amazingness of Aussie YA, an amazing sub genre I discovered, full of many great books either being released in the US or staying in their native homeland.

She really helped me understand and expand my horizons of YA, understand what good young adult literature is. I'm greatful to her and to the bloggers and reviewers who told me to read it (thank you, thank you!).

And I now recommend Marchetta any chance I can. I tell people to read her books, I tell them about Aussie YA and I tell them about the amazingness of YA. I'll happily continue to read her books, as I have honestly enjoyed each and every one.

I could go on forever and ever about how much I love Marchetta and how frickin' nice she is in real life (honestly, read this post for proof) but honestly I love, love, love her books and I'm so greatful to her for showing me how lovely and wonderful YA can be.

                                        Thank you, Melina.


Now, to wrap up this post, I created a button for people with Marchetta Fever, based on this review


You should, if you're a true Marchetta fan, be able to understand the significance of the orange poppy. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing!
Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most importantly, will it get me girls -- especially Aleah?
So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah's house in the night. But deep down I know I can't run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop. 

Felton's growing up. He's always been given the unfortunate nickname of "Squirrel Nuts", but all of a sudden he's growing. He's shot up a few feet, his voice has deepened, hair has started to grow all around his body. As he's grown, his talent for athlethics has grown: he's amazingly fast, "stupid fast". The football coaches are impressed and want him on their teams, but Felton's not even sure he wants to play football. He just wants to run, run away from his family situation and run towards freedom and towards relationships (hopefully with the pretty piano player, Aleah).

This is a book that no doubt has oodles of boy appeal. The appeal is basically dripping everywhere, from the cover to the blurb to the story itself. I am not a boy, obviously, and I am not a football player. Originally I had my doubts about the book, as it seemed to be so perfectly marketed towards boys and out of my range. But the good reviews for Stupid Fast kept piping up, and it won a Cyblis in Young Adult Fiction last year. And I can understand the hype perfectly.

This book, while being marketed to boys for sure, is a very impressive read that I think girls will also read and enjoy.

Some male main characters in YA tend to be unrealistic; they're too funny or they make too many crude jokes/think of inappropriate topics, etc. There are lovely boys, as well, but in many stories where the male character is the central character (not a supporting character) the humor is amped up a thousand times and the boy starts to feel unrealistic. This is not the case here. Felton is humorous, for sure; he cracks jokes and he can be crude at times. But he's also more than just jokes and inappropriate humor: he's sensitive and is a three-dimensional main character, acting like a normal boy with feelings and emotions. And on the other end, he's not too sensitive and emotional, making for a relatable character.

I really liked the perspective between Felton and Aleah's relationship. There's no instalove here, simply a slow relationship that grows. Felton admires Aleah, for her impressive piano playing, but at the same time he's a bit afraid of her, as they are in two completely different social groups. But slowly the two become friends with crushes on each other and then they start to date. It's a really sweet and cute subplot and I really enjoyed the romance. Their relationship when the book ends (after a few events have occurred to distance them from each other) is also very realistic and sweet.

And the family story! So many times we complain about parents in YA, how they've simply been killed off or are barely present. The family story in Stupid Fast is very strong and very sweet, with a realistic portrayal of mental illness. The story is complex and it's a fun one to discover so I'll simply explain the basics: Felton lives with his mother, Jerri, who married young and has lately fallen into a descent of confusion, and his younger brother Andrew, who is a piano player like Aleah. The story is so rich and complex and so, so realistic.

Herbach's writing is strong as well. He sounds like a teen, using slang and swear words and quick, fluid descriptions. His writing is easy to read and to the point; it's sparse but still rich and full. And best of all, it sounds like a boy.

If there is one thing that I disliked about this book, one thing that made me bump the book down .5 stars, was that at the beginning I felt disoriented. For about the first five chapters, I felt confused and I felt like the book was just another male-oriented book I would dislike. Obviously as I continued, I started to love the book. But this original issue made me drop the book down just a tiny bit.

Stupid Fast is a clever, original book that I really adored. It'll be perfect for both boys and girls alike. I'm so excited it won the Cyblis; hopefully more people will be interested in this fantastic, quick read. And I can't wait to read the companion novel, again featuring Felton.

Four point five stars.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Popularity

Ahh, popularity.

The mean girls from Mean Girls being...mean.
You know, "she's more popular than I am" or "I wanna be popular" or "I'm so unpopular", etc. There have been plenty of movies on the subject. Mean Girls is maybe the most popular. We've all had issues with popularity, and I'd be surprised if you haven't. I want to be more popular, I don't like being popular, I'm such a nerd, why can't I be popular, the popular girls suck and I want to destroy them, to name several examples.

This situation has popped up in many, many contemporary books. It happens to plenty of people, whether you're concerned about your popularity or bullied or harmed by other, more popular people. And the situations, of course, also are often found in media.

But the problem of popularity also crosses over into the blogging world, sadly.

Note: not all bloggers are kids in green shirts.
Not all blogs are popular. There are extremely popular blogs and then moderately popular blogs and then small blogs and then blogs that are barely noticed.

However, sometimes, sadly, being popular gets you more stuff. More ARCs and more chances to be on a blog tour. More chances to interview big authors or get swag, more chances to host giveaways. The more stats you have, the more followers, the more people interested in reading your blog the better chance publishers will notice. (Kelly's post on stats here is a good explanation of stats & what they really mean.) And so people want to be popular, because they want....stuff.

And free stuff is nice. I like free stuff. I'm not judging people who want to gain more free stuff.

But it makes me sad when people just want to be popular. Now, this next part will probably sound like I'm an annoying mother, and I am sorry OH SO VERY SORRY, but there really is no other way to say it:

BEING POPULAR IS NOT EVERYTHING.

Now, I'm probably reminding you of your mom, or a counselor or guidance worker. You've heard this before. C'mon.

Picture me as this lady, minus the math problems (ick).
But it makes me sad that we still have to point this out, prove that being popular is not everything. Midlist blogs can still get free stuff. I get emails asking if I can review books. I get ARCs. I've been offered to do blog tours before.

Being popular is not everything. You can still receive stuff, get fans, get comments, get anything your heart desires.

So I'd like to thank all the blogs I continually read, the ones that pipe into my reader. They aren't all popular, have thousands of fans, host plenty of giveaways and have mailboxes stuffed with books. But they're good blogs with quality resources and reviews. And that's really all I want to get out of a blog.

So I'd like to thank all the blogs I read. And remember (hear goes the teacher thing again): your blog does matter.

No matter how popular it is. And popularity isn't everything.

So thank you, bloggers, no matter how popular you are.






Friday, March 23, 2012

New design!

You may have noticed that there is a new design on the blog. This design is very simple and I made it myself, mostly because:

1) I could never find any good templates that actually LOADED (about half of them loaded into unreadable xml statements)

and

2( I wanted a simpler, fresher design.

Couple things to note:

  • There is a weird thing with some formatting. Some of the reviews are highlighted weird (they should be readable still, if they aren't tell me) and the blockquotes are a bit messed up (block quotes are how I format the blurbs on my reviews).

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas


When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a  paper kite, for letting go.
As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?







 Rose was always close to her mother. After her mother dies from cancer, she and her family (her father & older brother Jim) must recover from her death. Rose’s mother was infamous for making Survival Kits for the parents of children she taught. These kits contained items to help the parents through their difficulties of missing their children and they were very popular. Rose discovers one of these kits in her closet, containing six items that will allow her to move on from her grief. As she tries to break out of the grief and return to her normal life, she wonders if she can ever love again. 

Now, this book came recommended heavily. I figured that since I enjoy contemporary fiction it would be a good read for me. The theme of grief, while important, has been a bit overused in fiction as of late, and the romance (a key part) isn’t my forte. I found myself disliking the book quite a bit even as I liked some parts. 

In the end, I feel kind of unsure on what I think. 

I’ll start with the good. The characters were all very unique. Where Freitas could have fallen into stereotypes – cheereladers, football boyfriends – she managed to subvert clich├ęs and make them unique, original characters that avoided tropes. However, I felt like most of the characters didn’t get much development. Rose and Will developed, changing as they continued their (very cute) romance. But the other characters seemed static, never changing or developing. I also felt like I didn’t know many of the characters. Rose and Will had personalities and I understood their feelings, families, and histories. But the others – like Rose’s three best friends – never seemed to even really be developed. They were simply there, almost like props, just to move the story along. 

For the plot, it was yes, a bit predictable. I expected it to be predictable almost instantly, though I may have been being cynical. But it was sweet, and the romance made me smile. The romance is also very well developed, forming over a long period of time instead of the dreaded “instalove” formula that appears in so many books. There were some things that seemed off, however. The Dad’s sudden change is very predictable and his character seemed to suddenly change after his pivotal event. I felt like the climax of the story was also a little off, as it was all based around one event (the dad’s pivotal moment). However, the story was sweet and it would make a nice fit for romance fans. 

The writing was nice, smooth and easy to read. I thought that Freitas’s authors note also added a bit to the story (read: always read the authors notes!). She explained that the Survival Kits actually did exist. Her mother, whose situation parallels some parts of the story (she sadly also died from cancer) created the Survival Kits for her friends and family, and like Rose’s fictional mother, became infamous for her kits. I thought that changed my reading of the book a bit, as I could see it more as an semi-autobiographical novel as well as a sweet romantic read. 

One final note: I would absolutely love to get my own Survival Kit someday

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What is Literary?

So literary.
Pretty books-- picture from www.nomisblog.com
It's a term that gets tossed around a lot, a term that gets ridiculed and celebrated. People say that literary books are the most boring books of all time. People say that literary books are the best books the world have ever created, and isn't it obvious that literary books tend to wind awards? People say that commercial is better than literary or vice versa (and I'm not going to get into that debate, but there are some nice posts on the topic here and here). 

But what on earth is it?

As always, we'll start with a definition and expand from there. This definition comes from dictionary.com.


.
  • pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings,especially those classed as literatureliterary history.
  • pertaining to authorship: literary style
  • versed in or acquainted with literature well-read.
  • engaged in or having the profession of literature  or writing:a literary man.
  • characterized by an excessive or affected display oflearning; stilted; pedantic.
These definition(s) show a lot of the different feelings over literary and what it means. Some people think that it is a good thing (i.e, well-read), or horrible (stilted, pedantic). So obviously there are many differing opinions on the term literary.

Literary in itself is defined as writing about literature. Now, some literary books have bases in literature, whether these be allusions to literature or literature being a major plot point.

Another key part of literary books is that the characters seem to be more prevelant, the plot important but shadowed by the characters.

But these are broad, reaching terms. 

Literary in its essence seems to be based around characters and their emotions and feelings. Characters are important to the story. But does that mean there cannot be a plot to the story? Of course not. And does the story have to be based in or around literature, or even have references to great literary works?

No.

So the definition is almost arbitrary. 

And books can fall in between literary and commercial. For me, personally, when I write literary books, I focus much more on the characters and how they interact with each other, and the writing. However, that does not mean my experience with writing literary fiction is the same of any one else's. Terms like these, that describe an entire genre, are hard to determine. There are always exceptions and always books that fall in between.

Personally, I'm going to say that my definition of literary is this:
a story faced more around characters and with more literature based intentions.

That is my personal definition. Do you agree? Do you want to murder me? What do you think of the definition of literary? Comment below.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Shattering by Karen Healey

Seventeen-year-old Keri likes to plan for every possibility. She knows what to do if you break an arm, or get caught in an earthquake or fire. But she wasn't prepared for her brother's suicide, and his death has left her shattered with grief. When her childhood friend Janna tells her it was murder, not suicide, Keri wants to believe her. After all, Janna's brother died under similar circumstances years ago, and Janna insists a visiting tourist, Sione, who also lost a brother to apparent suicide that year, has helped her find some answers.
As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: one boy killed every year; all older brothers; all had spent New Year's Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when their search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.
As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves? 

 Last year I read Karen Healey’s debut novel, Guardian of the Dead (which may be known in some circles as “that cover with the creepy eye mask thing”, those circles being my sister and I), and really enjoyed it for its unique combinations of mystery and mythology. Her second novel, The Shatteringwas one I eagerly anticipated and I’m glad to say it met up to my expectations. 

The novel once again takes place in New Zealand, Healey’s forte it seems as well as where she lives. Keri, Janna, and Sione are three completely different teenagers spending the summer in Summerton. (Keri and Janna live there; Sione is a tourist.) They have one connection: all three of their older brothers committed suicide. However, none of their brothers left behind a note, any kind of reason, and didn’t act suicidal. The three decide that they think their brothers were murdered and team up together to figure out just who killed them. 

The plot, I think, is a bit genre-bending. For the first half or so of the book the story seems contemporary, rooted in a modern day time period off the New Zealand coast. There are a few mentions of witches – the town of Summertown has a witchery store that Keri’s brother’s girlfriend works at – but for the most it seems to be contemporary. Then about halfway through the story the focus becomes much more based on fantasy and mythology, as Maori mythology is woven through and the witchery shop becomes more prominent. I found this to be a little jarring, especially as it’s such a sudden switch, but it does work well for the story, as our three main characters must slowly begin to believe in magic. 

The other qualm I had with the plot was the ending. The climax of the story is a battle and as the story winds down the characters must recover from the battle and move on with their lives. The ending seemed rushed, trying to fit in tons of information in only a few chapters. I wanted it to go slower, especially after such a dramatic battle scene, but the book went quickly and wrapped everything up in a number of rushed pages. Other than those two issues I found the plot to be pretty unique, an interesting take on grief and suicide. 

The characters I liked. They were strong and independent, and Keri, Janna, and Sione both had strong, unique voices. Keri was quiet; Janna was a rebel type; and Sione was in the middle, unsure of his identity. These descriptions are of course broad strokes, and they are truly three-dimensional and in-depth characters. The issue I had with the characters was this – how they were written. Keri may be the most central of the characters, the one that holds up the narrative. She’s written in a very likable, strong first person voice. However, Janna and Sione were written in more of a detached third person. I liked Keri’s perspective more – I felt I grew to know her more in first person – and while I enjoyed reading about Janna and Sione, I felt less connected to them in third person. This change of perspectives seemed a bit strange to me, but it confirmed my theory that Keri is the more central of the trio. I really did enjoy all three characters but my opinion was detracted by the writing. 

However, the writing is pretty. It’s fluid and sweet, and Healey certainly can show and write how teenagers act and talk. She seems better at first person then third ( Guardian of the Dead is written in first) but her writing was still strong. 

I enjoyed the story, and I will stick around for Healey’s other books – she seems to be a strong emerging writer. I had some issues but if you enjoy mythology, fantasy, or contemporary, this would be a good choice for you – and you’ll learn a bit about New Zealand. 
Four stars. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart


Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate Club.Her father’s “bunny rabbit.” A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. 
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. 
Frankie Laundau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer. Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society. Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew’s lying to her. And when there are so                              many, many pranks to be done. 
 Often times when I read book reviews, people complain about the main female characters. And they have reasons, reasons that can be cited from examples in the text. The characters are whiny, needy, immature, childish, bratty, dumb, too stupid to live, too dependent on their boyfriends (who exhibit stalker-ish tendencies) or just plain boring to read about. I’m not bashing these reviews – these are real problems in YA lit today, that need to be solved, we need strong female role models. 

But comparing and contrasting these books with whiny characters to a story like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks shows how amazing strong female characters can be when done well. 

Frankie has always been considered the “bunny rabbit” of her family: sweet and kind and someone to pass over. She attends her freshman year of school at Alabaster (a pristine boarding school her father attends), blending in like the bunny rabbit she is expected to be. But once she reaches sophomore year, everything changes as Frankie starts to feel more sure and confident of herself. She gets herself a boyfriend, the charming Matthew Livingston, and as their relationship becomes more serious she realizes he’s lying to her. As she investigates what he’s doing, Frankie discovers that Matthew is part of an all-boys club called the Bassets, which her father also participated in. She decides to help the Bassets anymously, by being sneaky – and getting plenty of pranks done. 

At the beginning the plot alienated me a bit. The first chapters are more a retelling then scenes that you’re straight in, showing Frankie’s “bunny girl” tendencies. This slogged for me, though I see the reasons that they were put in the novel. For about the first five chapters I thought I might put down the book. But I continued on, a fact that I’m glad I did. The book picks up speed and takes you away from the retellings and into more of the in-your-face plot. The other concern I had with the plot originally was that it seemed to be based around tropes, really, and only tropes, coming from the blurb and reviews that I’d read. A boys’ boarding school that a girl wants to take down? I’ve seen that plenty of times before, from movies to TV to books. But Lockhart cleverly subverts those tropes into a fascinating story that explores gender roles and feminism. The plot is far from predictable, cleverly twisting and turning. And that ending? Oh my god, yes. 

Now, the characters. Frankie Frankie Frankie Frankie, I love you. She so clearly develops and changes throughout the book, from the innocent “bunny rabbit” to the strong, confident girl. And remember those complaints people had that I cited at the beginning of the review? She pushes all those away. Frankie’s a strong, smart, confident girl who has ambition and goals, as well as insecurities. We need strong female characters in YA, and I think I’ll point to her as one from now on. I know some people found Frankie to be irritating, but I found her to be interesting and a strong, smart girl. Now, to the boys. I thought that the book would end up with Frankie maybe having to choose between Alpha/Matthew/Porter, but the ending is a knockout. And it’s in no way a “choose the right boy” scene. Now, I much preferred Alpha and Porter to Matthew. Matthew is an ignorant jerk, and yes, that may have spoiled the book in some way, but he’s an ignorant jerk. However, he’s well developed and strong, as are all the boys. Really everyone in the novel is developed, even the most minor of characters. I think that this book holds up strong because of its characters and explorations of themes (feminism, etc). All the characters are strong and developed and interesting even when I hate them (cough cough Matthew). 

The writing is very crystal clear and strong. The book is written in more of a unique way: it’s an account of Frankie’s first two years in high school. I can only think of one other book written like this -- Octavian Nothing . Lockart’s writing is easy to read and interesting. I loved her exploration of themes like feminism and sexuality woven throughout the text; it really made the book more thought-provoking. She didn’t blatantly explain the themes, simply wove them through and made you think. 

Overall, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks may just be one of my new favorite YA books. I loved everything about it, really, and next time someone needs a strong girl read I’ll be sure to mention Frankie and her silly, crazy pranks. 

Five stars. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Libraries and Librarians Matter

Why Librarians and Libraries Matter
 I want to be a librarian.

I've wanted to be a librarian for a very long time. I've done research on what education you need to be a librarian, read magazines geared towards librarian readers, and I've nibbled up every snap of information I can get on librarianship. Of course, I know that simply doing research isn't enough. I've prepared myself for volunteer work at the library in the future, connected with librarians and just tried to understand the job and its community.

But the truth is, it's not really a common thing for teens and kids to want to be. Most of my classmates want to be sports players, vets, rich people, etc. A teacher in fifth grade asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. We had to write a short paragraph and draw a picture of ourselves as an adult in the job position we chose.

Again, my classmates said they wanted to be sports players, presidents, judges, lawyers, writers (the girl who said that is my friend, of course) and all kinds of normal, typical things that made sense for a bunch of ten-and-eleven year olds.

I stood up and said, "I want to be a librarian." Most of the kids stared at me like I was an idiot. A couple said things like, "Why would you want to be one?" My teacher shushed them but I could tell she was surprised too.

And the same kind of attitude -- thinking libraries and librarians are stupid and old-fashioned -- seems to have carried on into adults.

That is not to say that every adult hates libraries or librarians, or thinks that they're stupid and/or old fashioned. But there are some that do, and there seems to be an image in popular culture of librarians. These librarians are old people, usually ladies, with thick glasses and sweaters who constantly tell you to be quiet.

But that is not how librarians are.

This should seem to be an obvious statement. Obviously this image is a stereotype, etc etc. But the image continues.

I'll counter this stereotype by telling you about librarians I know. I have known three librarians who shaped my life. Lori, Carol, and Amy. Lori was my elementary school librarian and the first ever librarian I really knew. She was very funny and kind, and an amazing book talker. Carol was the kids/teen librarian at the public library by my house. She led a mother-daughter book club that my mother and I participated in for almost four years until I grew out of the program. She was a smart lady who was fantastic at leading book discussions and picked great books. Amy is the assistant librarian with a focus on teens at the library I now patronage. She's a very funny lady with a great mind for what teens like.

And these librarians -- three amazing ladies -- are just three of many, thousands and thousands, of librarians around the world. Librarians are diverse; they're male and female, young and old, with every race represented.

But is the job easy? Of course not, no job is completely easy. Librarians deal with bad patrons and computer problems and plenty of other issues. There's the issue of e-books and technology and the fact that libraries might become obsolete someday. The issue that popular culture doesn't think highly of librarians and they are stereotyped. There are problems with budgets and not being able to buy enough books and the issue of books being stolen and the fact that funding for libraries is low.

But despite problems, libraries really can impact people. They help kids learn to read, impacting the babies and toddlers directly by storytime, and helping the parents with programs on literacy. They give older kids fun programs – gross out ones and fun ones and book related ones, work their butts off in the summertime for summer reading. They help kids find books to read, whether the books be for pleasure or a project, and make sure to give them good stories to enjoy.

Frankly, I love librarians.

I could go on forever about why I like them and why I care. But at the same time, these descriptions of what librarians do are empty in a kind of way. So I’ll tell you a true story. It may be a bit movie-like, and perhaps dramatic, but I think it tells a librarian story very well.

This story involves Lori, the first librarian I talked about. You’ll remember that she was the librarian at my public elementary school and was a fantastic book talker and storyteller.

Also, note—“we” and “us” mentions are describing my elementary school classes as a whole.

In elementary school, every time we visited the library as a class we would sit on a big round circle rug first. Lori would sit in a chair across from us and read us a book,  and when we got a little older, she would talk to us about other topics, such as online safety and plagiarizing.

When we were younger, we’d sit and beg her to read more and more. We liked reading, yes, but we liked listening to her more.

Lori was a clever lady. She knew we’d listen to her, so she carefully book talked books as soon as she finished reading. We paid attention, captivated, and guess what? Those books always got checked out. And guess what? They were great books.

As we got older, we started to read more. We read more thanks to what: her awesome book talks. She gave us a love of reading slowly. And you know what? By the time we were in fifth grade we didn’t want to listen to a story. We wanted to get up and check out a book or two (or three, thanks to our school libraries’ lovely policy of allowing older kids to check out up to three titles).

And what I love the most about this story is not how amazing our librarian was. It’s how this affected so many people – twenty six kids, and guess what, every single one of them read.

And this was just the classes I participated in; think of the other three or four classes, all of which went to the library and also gained a “thirst for books”.

Librarians can make an impact. And they do make an impact.

Personally, I think they’re underappreciated.

And I’ve known many, many great librarians both online and in real life.

And I’m proud to say that someday, yes, I want to be a librarian. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review Policy and Reorganizing

I love the blog. I do, really. But I've realized, as I look at the blogs I really love and aspire to be, that I need to change the blog a bit.

Here's what I've decided:

  • No memes. I love In Your Mailbox and reading others' posts, but I think I'd prefer to have no memes on the blog. 
  • More discussion posts, this will give more quality instead of the memes.
  • Longer, stronger reviews.
  • More features (coming soon).
And as I restructure, I have also revised the review policies. The policies have been updated and added to their page, so you can either view them on the page or read the policies pasted below.

On this blog, I often review books. I am outlining my policies below for better clarity and understanding. These policies are official as of March 16, 2012. If you have any questions, please refer to this page. If your question is not answered and you still want an answer, contact me via email at readwritegirl [at] aol [dot] com

  • I will only review young adult (YA) books on this blog. I do not review adult books, adult nonfiction, or seperate adult genres such as romance, panoramal, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, etc.

  •  I am open to unsolicited review copies. Please only send YA books that you feel I would be interested in. I do not accept  adult novels, or again any kind of other genres: romance, panoramal fantasy, science fiction, mystery, etc etc. If you are interested in sending me a copy, please email me at readwritegirl [at] aol [dot] com

  •  I will review both physical copies and e-books. I have a Nook e-reader. For e-books I prefer EPUB or PDF files. My preference is for physical copies.
  • My personal favorite genres are contemporary fiction and mystery. I am not a fan of paranormal (including paranormal romance) but do read science fiction and fantasy. 
  • I review books based on a five star system. Below is my system requirements:
  • 1 star=didn't like it
  • 2 star= it was okay
  • 3 star=enjoyed it
  • 4 star = great book
  • 5 star = fantastic, love it

  • All of my reviews are cross-posted to my Goodreadsaccount (http://www.goodreads.com/) and you can access my account here. Note that if you wish to view my reviews online, you will need to ask me to be your friend on Goodreads.

  •  Currently I am not open to other guest bloggers. If you have a guest blog idea contact me again on my email and we can decide an idea.

  • Under the FTC policy I would like to remind all readers of my blog that I receive copies of free books from publishers and authors. I recieve no monetary payment for these books and give honest reviews. I do not accept any kind of payment. All email addresses and information given to me is kept private and will not be revealed to the general public. 


There you have it, my review policy. Hope that this was helpful and understanding. If you have questions leave them in the comments below and I will try and answer, or email me at the above address.  

Hope this helps.