March 12, 2012

Music Monday: Skyscraper

Confession: one of the girls in my Girl Scout troop doesn’t know my name. She keeps calling me “Miss Lovato” and I just stopped correcting her, because I’m totally fine if she gets me confused with Demi Lovato. If any of you have been following the Team Selena/Team Demi nonsense, it’s hard not to think that Selena would be the pretty clear winner of that fight. She’s dating Justin Bieber and is on the cover of Cosmpolitan. And I make no secret of it: I love Selena Gomez and listen to her music all the time.

But let’s not forget Demi! She’s been very open and honest about her eating disorder and her anger management problems and her self-harm. Life as a teen idol can be tough, but I think it’s cool that she’s talking about it. Selena Gomez is, let’s face it, pretty much a perfect human being. Demi’s not, and, well, neither are most of us.

Her comeback song, “Skyscraper,” is not my personal favorite. But it seems to speak to a lot of teens, especially ones who have been/are being bullied. (The top comment on that video right now is: “I’ve been through a lot these past months. Demi helped me. She almost saved my life. She is the reason why I didn’t kill myself. She is the reason why I’m still breathing.Thank you Demi. Thank you for everything you did. You’re an angel.”) So good for you, Demi.

March 9, 2012

Review: Uglies and Extras

I read and loved Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy well before I started this blog, so I haven’t reviewed it here. And anyway, you’ve probably already read it. Briefly: compelling, great world building, insightful cultural commentary, A+. But I only recently read Extras, the fourth book of the former-trilogy. I was a little nervous about it–I felt like Specials had pretty well wrapped up the trilogy, and I wasn’t sure what new ground Extras would cover.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Unfortunately, I don’t think Westerfeld was sure either. The book takes place a few years after Specials and reveals how one city has rebuilt itself after the “mindrain” that cured everyone from their “bubbleheaded” Pretty days. In this city, which seems to be somewhere in present-day Japan, everything is ruled by a Twitter/Klout-esque Reputation Economy, where the more famous you are, the more resources you get. It’s never clearly explained how this works, and I just didn’t find it to be as believable of a premise as I did the original Uglies world.

Anyway, in this book, we follow 15-year-old Asa Fuse, who is attempting to build up her “face rank” through citizen journalism. She stumbles into a clique called the Sly Girls and they end up discovering… something. Is it a weapon?

I won’t give away the ending, but I found it to be a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps if Westerfeld had dedicated an entire trilogy to this concept it would have been more believable, but as is, it feels like what it is–a tacked on fourth book because everyone loved the trilogy so much and wanted a fourth book. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off sticking with fanfiction.

Sharon Needles
I rate the original Uglies trilogy five plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

Extras is two plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

March 1, 2012

Review: The Kakapo

Last week for my children’s nonfiction class, we had to read two books about the kakapo, an endangered New Zealand parrot. Neither of the books, strictly speaking, were YA books, but they were both great and the kakapo is an amazing bird and I am going to blog about it. So there.

Hello there, kakapo!

Hello there, kakapo!

Kakapo! Here are some facts about them.

  • They are the only nocturnal, flightless parrots in the world.
  • They naturally smell like honey.
  • There are only 127 known kakapo left in the world.
Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

So, the first book we read is a children’s book, Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. These two have written other books in the Scientists in the Field series, and they generally know what they are doing. Kakapo Rescue won the Sibert Medal (which is the ALA’s award for children’s nonficton.) There are great photos of the beautiful kakapo, and I love that these two got to spend 2 weeks on Codfish Island, the kakapo’s reserve. They documented their visit, including tagging along with the various scientists and volunteers who live on the island to monitor the kakapo. They also highlighted several of the kakapo, so you get to know a bit about the birds’ personalities. It also has sidebar information about the history of the kakapo’s brink with extinction. It’s a very well-done introduction to the kakapo itself and current conservation efforts, which are heartwarming–people giving up their jobs to volunteer as full-time kakapo minders. The volunteers and paid scientists alike are clearly extremely passionate about these birds, and it’s hard not to feel the same.

Rat Island by William Stolzenburg

Rat Island by William Stolzenburg

Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue by William Stolzenburg is a very different book. It’s an adult popular science book, though a motivated high schooler could read it too. It’s not just about the kakapo–it’s more broadly about the way island ecosystems encourage the evolution of weird animals like the kakapo, who are pretty much helpless to foreign predators like rats and cats. He talks about how amazingly difficult it is to get rid of rats. Like, so hard, guys. So before Kakapo Rescue could even take place, SOMEBODY had to kill a billion rats to create a safe island for the kakapo. Rat Island also gives much more information about Richard Henry, the first conservationist to pay much attention to the kakapo. He tried to gather up a bunch on to what he thought was a safe island, but somehow a weasel got there and killed most of them. Then Richard Henry tried to kill himself, but failed. Twice. So he gave up on suicide. Poor guy.
Anyway, I thought Rat Island was completely fascinating, but fair warning: pretty much everyone else in my class hated it. (We all loved Kakapo Rescue.) Their complaints: no photos (I mean… it is a “grown up book”…), too much information, and jumps around a lot in time. This is all true, I guess, but it’s such a crazy story! Oh, and also, this guy Bill Wood trained Wishbone’s grandaughter, Freckles, to help him eradicate feral cats in the Baja islands. WHAT.

Finally, here is a BBC video of Stephen Fry making jokes while a kakapo tries to mate with Mark Carwardine’s head. SAVE THE KAKPO PLEASE.

For more kakapo information, check out the Kakapo Recovery Programme. Do it.

Overall, I rate the kakapo a million stars for being so cute and amazing. These two books about them are pretty good too.

February 20, 2012

Music Monday: What Time Is It

Sigh, you guys, we had some weirdly warm weather for a few weeks and then it abruptly went back to being winter. Stupid winter.

I’m trying to warm myself up with summery thoughts–like High School Musical 2, set during the extremely dramatic summer between the kids’ junior and senior year of high school. Also: this movie came out in 2007. Almost five years ago. Eek!

Still, it’s a fun summery song. With some pretty sweet dance moves. My favorite part is when they do the roller coaster wave. Also when Zac Efron slides down the hall on his tummy. Like a penguin.

February 15, 2012

Review: Leviathan

I know Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is pretty popular, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. But I simply didn’t think I was interested in it–a steampunk alt-history of WWI? Ugh, but I don’t really like steampunk or war stories. But I kept hearing such good things about it, and I remembered my initial resistance to the Uglies trilogy, and how much I ended up liking Uglies. And then I found out that the audiobooks are read by Alan Cumming, who I adore, and that sealed the deal. I’d have to check out this whole Leviathan thing.


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming

Okay, you guys, I totally loved it. Scott Westerfeld is just great. Even if his books have summaries that sound completely unappealing to me, he can just pull them off like nobody’s business. Although, I have to be honest, I still don’t really care about ~steampunk~. And that’s okay–in this alternate WWI, the Axis powers are the “Clankers” and use steampunk kinds of walkers and weapons and whatnot. I’m far more interested in the “Darwinist” Allied powers, who have been busily genetically engineering giant flying whales and talking message lizards. It’s a seriously detailed universe, and I’m captivated by it. I think that’s one of Westerfeld’s trademarks–it’s why I thought Uglies was so much more compelling than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. They both had the same sort of plot, but Westerfeld had the scientific research and details to make it all seem plausible.

Also, a reason why I tend not to like war stories is because they are always oh-so-masculine. Westerfeld’s got that covered too, with Ms. Deryn Sharp, one of my favorite YA characters of recent memory. Deryn’s father was an airman who died in a hot air balloon accident. But before he died, he taught Deryn an awful lot about flying. So Deryn changes her name to Dylan and enlists as a young midshipman in the British Air Services, where she ends up serving on the huge airship Leviathan.

Deryn Sharp

Deryn Sharp

Of course she’s terrified that someone will discover her secret, but she’s mostly too busy being super competent and savvy. Cheers for Deryn Sharp!

Then there’s our young Clanker protagonist, Alek. He’s the (fictional) son of the (real) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he and some of his household staff are on the run. They run right into… the Leviathan. I have to admit, I was initially frustrated with Alek and anxiously waited for the book to get back to Deryn’s chapters. He did grow on me, though I still prefer Deryn.

Alan Cumming, with his plethora of available accents, was a great choice for these audiobooks. You can hear a sample at Scott Westerfeld’s website. However, I couldn’t get the audiobook for Behemoth, the next book in the trilogy. And I discovered that the books are illustrated! (You can see one of the illustrations above.) So far Behemoth is great and I love the illustrations. And I’m still hearing the characters’ voices as Alan Cumming, so it’s a win-win situation.

fail whale
I rate Leviathan four flying whales out of a possible five.

February 13, 2012

Music Monday: Like Wow!

Last week I was perusing Give Me Something To Read and came across an article entitled “The Devil in Greg Dark.” I started reading it and was confused to see that it was from 2001–Give Me Something to Read usually posts recent articles. But I quickly realized that the article was really about Leslie Carter, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 25. I didn’t remember Carter’s music from my own tween years, and I learned that her full album was never released.

It’s a fascinating article, ostensibly about Gregory Dark, who produced Carter’s only music video, but also about why being a teen idol is not necessarily the best job going:

“Fourteen-year-olds are not stupid,” Craig Fanning answers calmly. “They can understand what you tell them to do. You tell Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera or Mandy Moore to do something, believe me, they do it, no questions asked, because they’re professionals. What Leslie has to learn is that this is not about her. It’s not about Leslie Carter. In fact, she has learn to void herself of Leslie Carter and become a professional.”

The whole thing is pretty awful and makes Leslie’s early retirement seem entirely reasonable.

Interestingly, the Village Voice called Leslie’s unreleased album the best bubblegum album of the entire ’97-Y2K era.

Here, for your musical enjoyment, is Leslie’s only single, “Like Wow!”

Rest in peace, Leslie 🙁

February 7, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Okay. There’s probably no point in me reviewing The Fault in Our Stars by John Green since by now it’s been a NYT bestseller for a couple weeks in a row (not to mention that it was also a bestseller in pre-sales) and you’ve probably already read it. But nevertheless, I read it and I have thoughts about it.

The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I have heard the complaint leveled that John Green is overrated. And, to some extent, I think I agree. Or at least–I think that his Twitter and his YouTube videos make me feel more fondness toward him as an author than his books alone merit. Is that the same thing as being overrated? Or is he just good at social media? Is that the whole point? (Maureen Johnson also triggers this confusion in me.) I think that John Green is excellent at social media but I think he is also excellent at writing books, and I will happily consume both.

Still, I was nervous about The Fault in Our Stars (or TFIOS, as the internet calls it). I mean, it’s about cancer kids. And Jodi Picoult wrote the cover blurb. Let’s be real: it could have been cringe-worthy. But instead, I really thought that it transcended cliche and delivered wonderful characters and, you know, deep truths about mortality or whatever.

TFIOS was so engaging that it cured my jet lag. The first day I got back from my European travels, I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 4am. It was less than ideal. The second day, I picked up all my held mail, including my pre-ordered copy of TFIOS. I decided to read a few chapters of it before going to bed at 8:30pm, a totally reasonable bedtime for a jetlagged grownup. But I got so sucked into it that I read it straight through until midnight. Then I wiped my tearstained eyes and went to sleep. Ahh.


Just got something in my eye

So. TFIOS is the story of Hazel, a teenage cancer patient. Hazel loves the (fictional) book An Imperial Affliction, which is about a teenage cancer patient. She dislikes most of the kids at the teenage cancer support group her parents make her attend, except for Isaac, a sarcastic eye cancer patient. And Isaac’s friend, Augustus. Before long, Hazel more than likes Augustus. She loves him, and vice versa. But Hazel knows her days are numbered, even if she doesn’t know the exact number, and she’s afraid to let Augustus get too close to her.

I don’t want to give too much away, but, you know, it’s a book about cancer kids. It’s funny and heartbreaking. Don’t put on mascara before you read it, that’s all I’m saying. These characters have a unique perspective on life and mortality, and Green–who worked as a chaplain in a children’s hospital–brought them to life unforgettably. As is true in many of my favorite YA novels, the teens talk perhaps a bit more intelligently and profoundly than normal teens. Like, whatever, at least they’re not vampires, am I right?

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
— Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars


five stars

Anyway, I give TFIOS five faulty stars out of a possible five. (The title, BTW, is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Classy!)

February 6, 2012

Music Monday: Mahna Mahna

Hey guys. It’s been awhile since I blogged, and the reasons are: final exams, extended travels, and laziness. I don’t really feel bad about it, though. I mean, I post at a YA blog. It’s not like I took two months off from curing cancer or something. Still, hope you didn’t miss me too much.

During my extended hiatus, I took my Girl Scout troop to see the Muppet movie. We loved it, obviously. The soundtrack is great, and we’ve been listening to it during our meetings while we do art projects and such.

And now you all have Mahna Mahna in your heads. You are welcome.

December 9, 2011

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

Dawn Done Broke

So! I saw the Breaking Dawn movie. As is true of the entire series of Twilight movies, this one was faster-paced and wittier than the book. However, the book is a horribly clunky monstrosity, so I’m not saying too much. Still, which would you rather have: book Bella’s whiny internal monologue about how everyone will think she’s pregnant since she’s getting married, or movie Jessica’s bitchy whispered “Do you think she’ll be showing?”

I know, Jessica, it’s a total shame that you did not have more lines in this movie

Jessica’s drunk toast was also amazing. Actually, all of the toast were amazing, except for Edward’s. The problem with Twilight is that Bella and Edward are the very worst, most boring characters, and yet tragically they are the protagonists. Sigh.

Anyway, their bed-breaking honeymoon was pretty much exactly as horrifying as I hoped it would be. I also felt that their horrified maid was a perfect avatar for the audience. Seriously, what even?!

Then blah blah blah Bella is pro-life, her whole gross pregnancy was boring and gross. Not enough Jasper. Not nearly enough Jasper. Come on. Jasper is the dude who will pounce you if you get a paper cut, the dude who mysteriously sometimes has a Southern accent, the dude who was some kind of Civil War vampire cowboy, the dude whose face always looks like this…


… and yet the movie focuses on Edward, who spent his free time as a vampire learning every human language and watching Bella Swan sleep. What-ever.

Oh, also, I liked how in the movie all the other characters acknowledge that “Renesmee” is the dumbest possible name for a baby. I also give props to the movie for showing that Jacob pictures Renesmee as an adult when he falls in love with her. That makes the whole imprinting thing less creepy, right? Or, wait, more creepy? I just don’t know.

In conclusion, Breaking Dawn Part 1 did the best it could with its source material.

December 6, 2011

Music Tuesday: Drummer Boy

OK, there are a lot of posts I want to write, including some book reviews and all of my intense thoughts about the Breaking Dawn movie. But those are going to have to wait until I’m finished with this semester of grad school.

For now, let me just say that I have been listening to Justin Bieber’s Christmas album a lot.

First of all, his voice changed?! When did that happen?

Second of all, he has a song called “Drummer Boy” and Busta Rhymes raps in the middle of it and it’s amazing. I cannot even put into words how much enjoyment I have gotten out of this song.

I would like, if I may, to quote Busta Rhymes’s rap in its entirety:

Lemme get straight to it. Yo.
At the table with the family, havin’ dinner,
Blackberry on our hip and then it gave a little flicker.
Then I took a look to see before it activates the ringer;
Came to realize my homie Bieber hit me on the Twitter.
Then I hit him back despite I had some food up on my finger,
Sippin’ eggnog with a little sprinkle of vanilla,
Even though it’s kinda cold, pullin’ out a chinchilla,
Bieber hit me back and said, “Let’s make it hot up in the winter.”
I said, “Cool.” Ya know Imma deliver,
Let’s collaborate and make the holiday a little bigger.
Before we work I gotta get this off,
See the other family members and drop gifts off.
Then I’m headed to the studio cause ain’t nothing stopping how
You know we bout to turn it up and really get it poppin’ now.
People everywhere and all our Twitter followers,
“Merry Christmas, Kwanza, happy Hanukkah!”

GOD. THAT IS ART. What part do I like best? How Busta Rhymes’s phone apparently rings whenever he gets a tweet? How Busta Rhymes tweets at the dinner table despite having food on his finger? How Busta Rhymes wears chinchilla fur to stay warm? How Busta Rhymes wishes all of his Twitter followers warm holiday greetings?

How can I decide, it’s all so good. I’d also like to give a shout-out to my favorite part of Bieber’s rap:

It’s crazy how some people say, say they don’t care,
When there’s people on the street with no food; it’s not fair.
It’s about time for you to act merrily;
It’s about time for you to give to charity.
Rarely do people even wanna help at all,
‘Cause they warm by the fire, getting toys and their dolls.
Not thinking there’s a family out hungry and cold,
Wishin’ wishin’ that they had somebody they could hold.
So I think some of you need to act bold;
Give a can to a drive, let’s change the globe.

I actually just un-ironically love that part. It’s the complete opposite of John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World To Change,” which is probably my least favorite song of all time. Tell ’em, Bieber. Start a canned food drive! Save the world! Don’t wait for it to change! HOLLA!