Archive for July, 2011

July 22, 2011

Review: Fire

by renata

Fire by Kristin Cashore is a prequel (sort of) to her brilliant book Graceling. (I don’t think I fully reviewed that book here, so let me just say, it is wonderful and you should go read it ASAP. It’s probably my favorite book that I read this year, and I don’t even generally like non-contemporary fantasy novels.) I’d heard from a few friends that Fire wasn’t as good as Graceling, and that it wasn’t really related to Graceling. That bummed me out, because I wanted more of Graceling‘s protagonist, Katsa. But I’m glad I gave Fire a chance, because it was really great.

Fire

The titular protagonist of Fire (and this sounds weird–when I first heard it, I said, what?! But really, it works) is a so-called “monster” woman. (There are “monster” versions of all animals, but monster humans are very rare. Fire believes herself to be the only one living in the kingdom.) Being a monster means being a woman who’s so beautiful that people go crazy for her and her namesake fire-red hair. She also has the ability to control their minds. She resists using this power, and she really just wants to be left alone out in the forest with her childhood friend and sometime-lover Archer. But it’s not to be, and she gets sucked into helping Prince Brigan defend the kingdom against various rebellions and treacheries. (I’m really not going to go into the details of all that–it’s complicated. Just read the book if you want to know more!) Fire’s relationship with Brigan is initially strained. Brigan doesn’t trust Fire, both because of her abilities and because of the terrible deeds her father did. Fire doesn’t trust Brigan because she can’t read his mind, and because he’s a total jerk to her when they first meet. But perhaps they can grow to trust each other… and love each other? Yes, of course they do, effing duh. But their relationship has a sweet and believable progression.

Now, here’s the thing. Parts of Fire kind of reminded me of Twilight (which is not a good thing, in my book). I mean, you have this impossibly beautiful woman who everyone falls in love with. She can read everyone’s thoughts… except one man, in whom she’s romantically interested. Sounds a lot like the Edward/Bella dynamic, right? But here’s the thing: it’s infinity times better than Twilight. Kristin Cashore is an impressive writer and she really gets into the heart of what it would mean to a woman to be so impossibly beautiful. Fire is reflective without being whiny (… most of the time). Also, as in Graceling, Cashore explores sexual relationships and gender roles in an intelligent, interesting way. After you read Fire’s thoughts about motherhood, you will never be able to take Twilight‘s baby Renesmee seriously (… if you ever could).

Besides Fire herself, this book is stuffed full of wonderful, developed side characters who I really cared about. Which is good, because if I didn’t like them, I might have found all of their soap operatic romantic difficulties a little bit much to take. As is, I enjoyed it and rooted for them all to find happiness.

Oh, and the little bit of this book that ties into Graceling is super creepy (as it should be). I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Graceling, but still–a really great read. I rate it four monster cookies (out of a possible five).

MonsterCookies

July 19, 2011

Review: The Name of the Star

by renata

Okay. Here’s a confession. I really like Maureen Johnson as a public figure. Her Twitter is hilariously weird, and she always stands up for YA lit when people like the Wall Street Journal say dumb stuff about it. (Which I guess is in her professional interest to do.) But I’ve been a little ambivalent about the books of hers I’ve read. They’ve been clever and enjoyable, but they haven’t really grabbed me. And then, I completely misunderstood what The Name of the Star was about–I thought it was straight-up historical fiction about Jack the Ripper, and I wasn’t that excited about it.

So why did I even read it? Well… at the ALA conference, the line to get Maureen’s new book was the same as the line to get Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. And like I said, I like Maureen Johnson, I just don’t love her the way many seem to. And I think part of that is because I am not actually a teen girl, even though it might be hard to tell that just based on my GoodReads and my iTunes. She’s clearly doing something right in terms of her target audience.

Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Anyway, so, I wasn’t that excited about The Name of the Star, but I still felt cool and insider-y to have an ARC of it, so I decided I had to read it before it comes out for real (September 29th). Then I sat down and read it all in about two days because it was so good and I got so hooked!

The Name of the Star is not actually historical fiction. It’s set in modern-day London, and the protagonist is Rory Deveaux. Her parents are professors at Tulane and they are spending a year in England for some kind of professorial business (I forget and it doesn’t matter), so Rory will be doing her senior year of high school at Wexford, a boarding school in London. I really like Rory as a character. She’s funny and, I think, reacts very believably to her new situation. She’s excited to get out of small-town Louisiana. She’s a little nervous about British boarding school, but she’s armed with Google.

Shortly after Rory arrives at Wexford, there’s a shocking murder in London. It becomes clear that someone is reenacting the Jack the Ripper murders, and London goes into Ripper-mania. Personally, I have never been that excited about Jack the Ripper. I studied abroad in London and was taken aback by just how much Ripper tourism there is. I mean, really, out of all the stuff that’s from London, why go on a Ripper tour? Was the Beatles tour sold out? But I digress.  Johnson clearly did a lot of research into the Ripper and pulled up a lot of interesting details that got me a little more into Ripper-mania than I thought I would.

Rory’s friend (and crush) Jerome is into the Ripper and he starts poking around in the case. Rory tags along and quickly gets in over her head. I don’t want to say more! But I loved all the twists and turns. This book was not at all what I expected it to be, and I got really into the mystery. I loved all the fun secondary characters. And I’m already looking forward to the sequel that I assume is coming since the cover says “Book 1.” Really. Put this on your radar, even if you don’t think you like Maureen Johnson and/or Jack the Ripper and/or historical fiction and/or books. (Oh, and the title gets explained about halfway into the book. The title frankly confused me before I started reading. Don’t even worry about it. Just read it.)

I rate the Name of the Star 4.5 Haunted History Ghost Tours (out of a possible 5).

Also, permit me a moment to show off:

I can't tell if that's supposed to be "ty" (thank you), "by" (kind of obvious), "mj" (her initials?), or something else. Whatever, though. Thanks, Maureen!

July 6, 2011

Europe on $0 A Day

by renata

I just unintentionally read two books and watched a movie that took place in Europe (by which I mean, I didn’t sit down to have a Europe-themed reading/movie week. I read and watched them all on purpose. I wasn’t tricked or anything.) and now I’m wishing someone would send me to boarding school and/or on an international scavenger hunt. But since that’s not likely, I guess I’ll just review some international YA books and a movie.

So, I finally read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. And, yes, I loved it. Probably everyone else has already read this by now, and Sandy already reviewed it, so let me just say that reading it made me really hungry. I give Anna and the French Kiss four croissants (out of a possible five).

croissant

Mmm, croissant.

Next up: Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I know! I don’t know why I hadn’t read this yet, given that it’s probably her best-known book. I really enjoyed it! I had to suspend my credulity, to be certain… why did she have to be seventeen? It would have been so much more plausible if she were eighteen, in terms of traveling as a minor and such. But whatever, if I want plausibility I’ll read Jon Krakauer, right? So, seventeen-year-old Ginny finds the titular little blue envelopes and gets sent on a quest by her late, wacky Aunt Peg. She’s not allowed to call or email home (though she does cheat on that one a bit). She goes on a cool trip across Europe, and, get this, travelling by herself is like, totally a growth experience and she comes out of her shell and (maybe) finds love! She learns more about her Aunt Peg and starts coming to terms with her death and her life! For me, the best part of the book was the armchair travel. I give it three backpacks (out of a possible five), and I’m definitely going to put myself on the library wait list for The Last Little Blue Envelope.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

And finally, I saw Monte Carlo, the new film starring Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester. I went to see it on opening day with my friend Anna (with whom I previously saw Prom and Soul Surfer). We are aficionados of tween/teen movies, and we admire Selena Gomez’s work in Another Cinderella Story, Princess Protection Program, and Wizards of Waverly Place. We also like her album, Kiss & Tell. You could call us Selena Gomez fans and we would not even try to deny it. We were so excited about this movie that we went to see it on opening day.  (I KNOW.) Unfortunately, it was not worth our excitement.

MonteCarlo

I would not advise seeing this film.

The plot of Monte Carlo is: Selena Gomez, her fellow waitress friend, and her bitchy stepsister (Leighton Meester) all go on a one-week trip to Paris together, following Selena’s high school graduation. Their guided trip is very hectic and crappy. They get left behind by their tour bus and rush into a very posh hotel to get out of the rain. Inside, Selena Gomez gets mistaken for a very rich and spoiled heiress (also played by Selena Gomez). Heiress-Selena (who reminded me a lot of Posh Spice) is supposed to attend a charity ball the next morning, but she bails out of the hotel and goes to the beach (because she doesn’t care about the children). Waitress-Selena and her friends get whisked away in a private jet to Monte Carlo. “Hilarious” mistaken identity antics ensue, and in the end, heiress-Selena gets a mild dose of comeuppance and they all raise a lot of money for charity. Also, there are some European romances, obviously. Hoorays. We knew going into this that it would be formulaic and cheesy–that’s what we wanted. But it was just too slow-moving and too, well, boring, despite the great backdrops of Paris and Monte Carlo. Oh, and it needed about 300% more scenes with heiress-Selena. She was awesome. The best part of this movie was the anxious tween girls who sat behind us and offered helpful commentary like, “Oh no! She forgot her necklace! GO GET THE NECKLACE!” and “STOP KISSING!”

I rate Monte Carlo three of out five Spice Girls, but only if you can see it with chatty tween girls. Otherwise, two Spice Girls (and neither of them are Posh Spice). Oh, also, I feel strongly that this should have been a musical. Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy are all in various stages of launching musical careers. Plus, Finn from Glee is in it. And yet, no singing? Boo, Monte Carlo. BOO.

July 1, 2011

La Vie Harry Potter!

by sandy

Ok, so I have been woefully neglectful of this blog, so I thank Renata for

A) Not throwing sticks at me

B) taking up my slack.

C) Going to ALA so I could live vicariously through her

I have excuses: Personal problems, life getting in the way, blah blah and more blah.

I have to say that I have been working on my own novel a lot this month. I thought I was almost done with my latest revision but then I realized that I have a lot more plot to write, so I’m doing that. Whatever, you people don’t care about that.

What you care about is the last Harry Potter comes out in 2 weeks! TWO WEEKS BABY! So like any Potternerd, I’ve been rereadin the books.

Except, I’ve been reading Sorcerer’s Stone for like a month now. That is a little embarrassing because

A) I’m a grown up and that one is written for young readers

B) it is pretty darn short

C) I’ve read it many many times

There is just this thing called time and I don’t have a lot of it. However… I’m going on vacation to Cape Cod tomorrow. Seven days of living by the beach, along with my in-laws who love my children and love playing with them and love keeping them out of my hair (I like my kids, really, but man, they are time consuming! Sometimes I wish they’d just sit and watch the Magic School Bus for the 40th time so I can read my Harry Potter) so I’ll be reading the books. We’ll see how far I get.

Also? I’m going to be in New York City when the movie opens so my friends and I are going to the midnight show at Lincoln Center. I promise to live tweet this event @sandyjoys  Obviously I will not tweet during the movie, but I’m excited for this freak show. In fact, earlier that evening I’m going to first preview of the new off-bwy production of Rent, so it is going to be a freakshow kind of evening. My favorite!

I’m thinking maybe I’ll dress up as a Mark Cohen/Harry Potter hybrid. Striped scarf, check. Glasses, check. Obsessive need to take care of all your friends before yourself, check.

Anyway, I’ll see you all on the flip side of my vacation where I promise that the blogging will become more frequent and fun.

July 1, 2011

ALA Conference Highlights

by renata

So, what did I do at ALA, besides swoon at David Levithan and go on an awesome ghost tour? It’s kind of a jumble! The conference was so overwhelming, and I also wanted to get in some NOLA tourism, so I definitely didn’t get to see or do half the stuff I wanted to do. (Like, I missed seeing Stephanie Perkins and getting an ARC [Advanced Readers Copy] of Lola and the Boy Next Door. And I saw Daniel Handler but missed getting an ARC of Why We Broke Up. And, saddest of all, John Green did not attend ALA after all, breaking the hearts of thousands of librarians.) But mustn’t dwell. Here’s what I did do and see:

  • Saw Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) give a presentation and Q&A. He seems like such a genuinely nice guy, and completely taken aback and flattered by the massive popularity of his books. He also spoke about why he keeps his day job on the website Poptropica, which I guess is an interactive game. He said he loves having a different medium through which to tell stories, and even though it’s stressful to have two jobs he thinks it’s worth it. Oh, he also said that he would like to have ten Wimpy Kid books and then stop.  My favorite part of his session was a young boy (who must have a librarian parent) asked him how he got the pages of his books to look like notebook paper. That’s totally the kind of thing I used to wonder about reading books–like how in the Babysitters Club books sometimes there would be handwritten letters. How did they do that? (The answer is: computers.)
  • Went to the YA coffee klatch event. It was cool, but honestly a little disappointing. The idea was librarians sit at a bunch of tables in a big ballroom and drink coffee, and every four minutes a new author comes to sit down and talk. It was just a big whirlwind, really, and I wished we could have had a few more minutes with each person, but I did get to meet Maureen Johnson (and see her wear a Burger King Twilight crown), Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why), and Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things).  Also some new authors. The one I’m most excited about is Leila Sales, who has a book coming out called Past Perfect, which is about teenage historical reenactors. It sounds awesome.
Maureen Johnson & her crown

Maureen Johnson, Queen of YA, doing her best Bella Swan impression

  • Went to signings and met Maureen Johnson, Jay Asher, and Carolyn Mackler again and got ARCs of Maureen’s book The Name of the Star and the one Jay & Carolyn co-wrote called The Future of Us.
  • Shared an elevator with David Levithan and, I’m almost certain, kept my cool about it.
  • Went to a workshop about transliteracy and had some librarians tell me that the digital divide is like a seashell and sometimes you have to teach people how to use the mouse before you can teach them how to use Microsoft Office.
  • Handed out my business cards six times, although once was to my friend Stacey and I wrote “sext me” on it, so that one probably doesn’t count as “networking.”
  • Shamelessly picked up tons of free stuff.
daniel handler

Daniel Handler, aka the elusive Lemony Snicket

  • Saw Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) read an excerpt of his new YA novel, Why We Broke Up, which features paintings by Maira Kalman (13 Words). (Although, like I previously whined, they ran out of ARCs and I didn’t get one! Boo-urns!) It sounds really funny, though. And his own little comments and asides were perfect and hilarious. I love him. Example (recreated from memory… was funnier when he actually said it): “Hollywood has optioned Why We Broke Up, which is a thing that Hollywood does sometimes where it pretends like it wants to make a movie out of your book but usually it doesn’t really. Anyway, one of the concerns that Hollywood has about this book is that it portrays teenagers drinking alcohol. They are afraid that if teenagers in real life see teenagers drinking alcohol in film, they too will want to drink alcohol. Here is what I say to that, and what you should say, when teenagers, as they so often do, come to you, as adults, for advice. I have had alcohol, and I have had my heartbroken. That is not a coincidence. If you drink alcohol, you will get your heart broken. It is far better to stay sober, and passionless, and alone. So teenagers, do not drink alcohol.”

I also met Jackson Pearce (author of Sisters Red and others) standing in line to get a book signed by Maureen Johnson. That weirded me out, like I assumed that all YA authors would automatically be in the same club and not have to wait in line to see each other. I had this interaction with her:

Me: Excuse me, is this the line for Maureen Johnson?
Jackson Pearce
: Yes.
Me (looking at her name badge):
Okay, thanks. And, um, are you Jackson Pearce, the author?
Jackson Pearce: Yes, there aren’t too many of us with this name.
Me (awkwardly)
: Oh, um, cool! I really like your books!
Jackson Pearce
: Thank you!
Me (still awkward and confused)
: Um, are you having a signing sometime?
Jackson Pearce:
Oh, I had one yesterday, and we already ran out of copies of Sweetly (her upcoming book).
Me:
Oh, too bad! Um, nice to meet you?

And then I kind of awkwardly was going to shake her hand but we were both holding books and I kind of shrugged and then got in line to see Maureen Johnson. Oh well, what can you do?

sweetly

Later I got this free lollipop to commemorate Jackson Pearce's new book. Pretty sweet. GET IT?

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and I’m so glad I went! I just wish I could have cloned myself so I could have gone to all the workshops and all the signings and all the paranormal tours! Being in the same place with 20,000 librarians is a trip. There is a definite “librarian look” and “librarian personality” and we were all just sort of dressed sensibly, yet quirkily, and all very polite. And many, many of us were constantly on our smartphones, livetweeting our conversations about the power of social media and #hash-tagging them.