Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Finalists

Round Three Winners
 
My favorite line from Judge Maggie Stiefvater's decision: "But the idea seemed simple. You read two books, and you like one of them better. You explain your thoughts in a coherent way, and then you retreat to your kitchen to make cookie dough." This is pretty much where Maggie and I split ways on this one.

 My favorite line from Judge Ron Koertge's decision: "I like to really know the characters in books. I like to ride around in cars with them, eat dinner with them, sleep in their spare rooms and poke around in their medicine cabinets." I completely agree with this sentiment, but had no desire to do any of those things with the characters to whom he was referring.

The Undead Winner
  I didn't vote for Okay For Now, but I almost did. I'm extremely satisfied that it won the Undead.

My Thoughts on the Finals

When the list of books in this year's battle was announced four of my Favorite Reads of 2011 made the list: The Cheshire Cheese Cat, Chime, A Monster Calls, and Okay For Now. Amelia Lost and Inside Out and Back Again were also high on my list. Choosing a favorite was difficult. When the list was announced there were seven books I hadn't read and I managed to get them all in before the battle began. I am grateful for this because I probably wouldn't have read Between Shades of Gray or Drawing From Memory without this competition, and I found many things to appreciate in both. Now we are down to 3 books and saying good bye to the 13 others has been difficult. They are all worthy books.

Between Shades of Gray (my review) is an important book that tells a part of history not often discussed. I was hesitant to read it prior to the competition because I am always wary of historical fiction, especially if it is on a subject I know quite a bit about already. This was the case with Between Shades of Gray. I taught at at a school that saw a constant influx of students newly arrived from both Russia and the Baltic States. I needed an understanding of their history because the consequences of it were playing themselves out in my classroom on a daily basis. I exaggerate not at all when I say those kids hated each other's guts. Feeling the need to understand the problem before I could attempt to deal with it, I did a lot of research. This may be why the book didn't have quite the emotional impact on me it had on others. However, it is a wonderful book and one I would most definitely include in my curriculum if I taught middle school or high school history. I really like the way Sepetys made Lina an artist who funneled her feelings and recorded her condition through her drawings. My biggest complaint about the book is that I felt the characters were a little underdeveloped, Lina a mere vehicle for the bigger story and her mother a little too perfect. I appreciated how the book showed all the shades of gray of the human condition and highlighted the perseverance of the human spirit and the power of hope.

Life: an Exploded Diagram (my review) has beautiful language and is constructed in such a way to cause marvel at its literary strengths. It is, in my opinion, not a kids' book. That is not to say that there aren't kids out there who wouldn't want to read it and appreciate it. I'm sure there are. It is, however, a book I wouldn't let my own children read until they were well into high school-a point at which I don't consider people "kids" anymore. The powers that be decided it was a kids' book though and so here it is. I have made it known that I don't like this book. It is, despite its lyrical descriptive language, a cynical and  hopeless dissection of life. It is dark and depressing, but not at all deep. The characters are self consumed and shallow.  I was so sick of listening to everyone in the book whine about the futility and emptiness of their lives, the shaking of their fists at the sky and cursing, the wallowing in their misery. (Hence my boredom.) There is no love of anything, least of all life, demonstrated.I have never understood why adults want to indulge in hopeless cynicism like this and then acclaim it as brilliant. I certainly don't know why we would want to be encouraging children to do the same thing. Hope of a better future, despite one's circumstances, is a quality that I believe should be nurtured, not squashed.

Okay for Now (my review) is the story of a boy, Doug, doing what kids do, growing up and figuring out life. He is doing this in 1968-1969, newly arrived in small town New York. I love Doug. He captured my heart within the first few pages of his story and has yet to let go of it. I wanted to shake him at times, I wanted to hug him at times, I wanted to roll my eyes at him at times, I wanted to give him a high five at times. At all times I found him endearing, even when I didn't like him. What I really find to be brilliant about this book is how Schmidt used Doug to represent the time period. He is an individual that demonstrates the universal. The year of his life we see was an interesting year in the chronicles of American history. On one hand there was vast discontentment and anger brewing over US involvement in Vietnam. Horrors and atrocities were taking place and young men were returning home broken physically and emotionally. On the other hand you have the Apollo missions, a testament to the potential of human perseverance and persistence, so much possibility for the future. Tragedy and hope playing out side by side in the living rooms of Americans every night. Doug has a tragic and sad life in many ways, he has been abused physically and emotionally. At the same time he is persistent and he perseveres. Most importantly he has hope. Even when he has to acknowledge things might only be okay for now, there is always hope that the future will be even better.

You might call me naive or too idealistic, but those are labels I will proudly wear if they describe me as a person who will always choose the hopeful over the hopeless. I prefer books that celebrate the amazing resilience of the human spirit. That being the case I want to see either Between Shades of Gray or Okay for Now win this. Because I love it (and Doug) with all my heart my top choice is obviously Okay For Now.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

100 Cupboards

Featuring Bit, age 7

We would have been finished with 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson a lot sooner. It was one of those books Bit had me reading 3 chapters a day of and begging to push bedtime back for. Then we went out of town for two weeks and I left it at home. We were at a crucial point near the end too. Bit was unhappy with me. I made up for it by letting her skip piano practice one night this week so we could finish it. (My voice is still recovering.)
The Story
Henry's parents have been kidnapped while on one of their world traveling expeditions for the travel books they write. He has been assured they will be returned safely after being ransomed. In the meantime he is planning on enjoying himself during this unexpected stay with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in Kansas. Henry has lived an extremely sheltered and protected life and is reveling in new experiences such as baseball, climbing, and drinking soda. Then he discovers, hidden behind the plaster on one wall of his attic bedroom, 99 cupboards. The cupboards seem to go to other places. He can smell things in them, feel things, even see light and people moving around in one. Then he begins receiving mail from a couple and discovers things can come through them into his room. Henry and his cousin Henrietta begin searching for answers which leads to adventures in strange places, discoveries about Henry's past, their family's past, and the awakening of an old and dangerous evil.

Bit's Thoughts
I  Love This Book! I can't decide what to say first. It is one of those books that is slow and gets more and more exciting. Almost all the parts were my favorite. Henry is my favorite character. I like that he was curious enough to chip all the plaster off the wall. I like the adventures he had while searching for someone in the cupboards. He ended up finding someone else who was really weird. I think that Henrietta is really really bossy. I can't really decide if I like her or not.  I have a least favorite cupboard. It is to Endor and is creepy. It makes Henry sick. I think the book was scary around the end because it gets really intense. I thought I was going to have nightmares, but I didn't.

My Thoughts
This is one of the read alouds where Bit was able to choose any book from the shelf. I was pretty excited when she chose this one. I love Wilson's books and they make wonderful read alouds. The language in them is wonderfully rich and has the best imagery. The writing is descriptive, detailed and emotive. There are some parts of the book where the action is slow, but that is part of the genius of the writing. The plot unfolds in the same way the main character, Henry, emerges causing the reader to experience the action just as Henry is experiencing it. Note that when I say the action is "slow", I don't mean boring. It is never boring. Even when little is happening but discussions of tumbleweed and baseball, the way the words are written hold you in the story. The end is anything but slow and will have you reading faster and faster trying to find out what happens next. The villain is introduced in the last few chapters and is creepy with a capital C. Wilson knows how to write villains. Fortunately he also knows how to write heroes. Henry is a hero who lacks confidence,  imagination, and is sometimes cowardly, but a hero is what he is. He is just getting into his stride by the end of this book, which is most definitely a set up for the second book. Which brings us to:


What Bit and I are reading next: Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Final Four

Round Two Winners
 Between Shades of Gray
I applaud Marc Aronson in his decision from beginning to end. He did a marvelous job analyzing and comparing both books. His is probably my favorite judge's decision to read so far. Even if I would have chosen the other book if I were in his place. Despite my personal preference for Amelia Lost, Between Shades of Gray is an important and heart wrenching book and well deserving of its place in Round Three. My favorite quote from Aronson's decision: "We have fiction whose largest claim is nonfiction, and nonfiction whose power comes from its resemblance to fiction. I feel like a hapless kid in dance class, whose feet keep getting tangled up."
 Chime
Oh joyous day. I was becoming concerned that, in a battle where I had so many favorites, none of them were going to make it to the final four. so many people seemed to think Daughter of Smoke and Bone would take this one and I couldn't begin to guess what E. Lockhart would do. I was worried Then I started reading E. Lockhart's decision and my smile started, tentative at first because the woman who wrote The Disreuptable History of Frankie Landau Banks certainly has the ability(and maybe the desire) to mess with people's minds, but I soon found that she had similar thinking to my own. This is probably why I think her decision is made of awesome, but since I have to pick a favorite line: " I like my men reasonably but not terrifyingly handsome, funny, and nurturing rather than powerful and remote. I am not interested in danger as an aphrodisiac. It quite turns me off."
 Drawing From Memory
The more the judges talk about why they like this book, the more I like it. It is a quiet book, but tells an engaging story. I'm happy that it is doing so well even if it is not one of my favorites. My favorite line from Judge Jewell Parker Rhodes' decision: "Sifting through personal experience to create art is never easy. The possible pitfalls are many: emotional indulgence, inability to empathize with perspectives beyond the central character, and, most importantly, the failure to elevate memories to art, imbued with human truths for a new generation. Both authors brilliantly outflank these problems."
 Life: An Exploded Diagram
I'm not surprised by this outcome, but I'm disappointed. And saddened. I acknowledge that Life uses language in brilliant ways, plays with narrative voice, and has amazing construction. I just find the story it contains so hopeless and void of meaning. Hence the sadness. I also feel it has been given an advantage in the judges it has in its bracket which is causing me to think cynical thoughts about how the judges were assigned. I don't want to think cynical thoughts about BoBs. My favorite line from Judge Chris Lynch's decision: "School Library Journal, being the efficient operation that it is, had all four of the books from the previous round in this bracket sent to me before I got started. All four were still in play, and they want the judges to be able to get right out of the blocks when the time comes. My first reaction when all four had arrived was: My goodness, there’s a lot of talent in the room."

Round Three
Remember, these are my picks not predictions.

Thursday, March 29

 The Contenders:  Between Shades of Gray (my review) vs Chime (my review)
My Thoughts: Between Shades of Gray is an amazing debut novel and an important book telling a story that needs to be told and is not told often enough. I appreciate it, but I don't love it. There were things about the plot structure and narrative that bothered me enough that it is not a favorite. Chime  on the other hand...well I think we all know by now that I love this book with my whole heart so my pick is: Chime
Judge: Maggie Stiefvater  

Friday, March 30 
 
The Contenders: Drawing From Memory (my Goodreads review)  vs Life: An Exploded Diagram (my review)
My Thoughts: My pick is Drawing From Memory
Judge: Ron Koertge 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Juliet Club

The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper is fluffy fun, but intellectual fluffy fun. After all, it is fluffy fun that takes place during a Shakespeare seminar on Romeo and Juliet. It is perfect if you are in the mood to read a lighthearted romance with a little of the Bard thrown in for fun.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Italy . . . Shakespeare . . . but no romance?
Kate Sanderson inherited her good sense from her mother, a disciplined law professor, and her admiration for the Bard from her father, a passionate Shakespeare scholar. When she gets dumped, out of the blue, for the Practically Perfect Ashley Lawson, she vows never to fall in love again. From now on she will control her own destiny, and every decision she makes will be highly reasoned and rational. She thinks Shakespeare would have approved.
So when she is accepted to a summer Shakespeare symposium in Verona, Italy, Kate sees it as the ideal way to get over her heartbreak once and for all. She'll lose herself in her studies, explore ancient architecture, and eat plenty of pasta and gelato. (Plus, she'll be getting college credit for it--another goal accomplished ) But can even completely logical Kate resist the romance of living in a beautiful villa in the city where those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet met and died for each other? Especially when the other Shakespeare Scholars--in particular Giacomo, with his tousled brown hair, expressive dark eyes, and charming ways--try hard to break her protective shell? 

This book contains plenty of Romeo and Juliet, but does not mirror that particular play at all. It is quoted, it is discussed, the students in the seminar are answering letters written by people around the world to Juliet, but the plot itself has a fair amount of Much Ado About Nothing with a dash of The Taming of the Shrew thrown in for good measure. It is all a lot of fun. Whatever the synopsis might lead you to believe Kate is not the center of the whole story, in fact very little of it past the beginning is told from her point of view. The narration is third person and the characters come and go like players on a stage. Despite it's narrative form it definitely reads like a play or movie and you become well acquainted with all of the characters. One issue I had with it was that Kate was the least developed character for being the supposed lead. By the end I knew everyone else much better. I also thought there were a couple of plot threads left unexplained at the end (Giacoma/Sylvia history for one), but overall the book was an entertaining and fun night's read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Little Wanting Song

I read and fell in love with Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley (my review) a couple of months ago. I loved it so much I immediately ordered A Little Wanting Song, the only other Crowley book available in the US. I'm happy to say that it is also an excellent book and I really hope to get more from this author in the future.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
CHARLIE DUSKIN loves music, and she knows she's good at it. But she only sings when she's alone, on the moonlit porch or in the back room at Old Gus's Secondhand Record and CD Store. Charlie's mom and grandmother have both died, and this summer she's visiting her grandpa in the country, surrounded by ghosts and grieving family, and serving burgers to the local kids at the milk bar. She's got her iPod, her guitar, and all her recording equipment, but she wants more: A friend. A dad who notices her. The chance to show Dave Robbie that she's not entirely unspectacular.
ROSE BUTLER lives next door to Charlie's grandfather and spends her days watching cars pass on the freeway and hanging out with her troublemaker boyfriend. She loves Luke but can't wait to leave their small country town. And she's figured out a way: she's won a scholarship to a science school in the city, and now she has to convince her parents to let her go. This is where Charlie comes in. Charlie, who lives in the city, and whom Rose has ignored for years. Charlie, who just might be Rose's ticket out.

This story is told in alternating viewpoints between the two girls, Charlie and Rose. This is about both of them, their fears, their hopes, their insecurities, their dreams, and ultimately their friendship. At first I wondered if Crowley would be able to write from the perspective of two girls and make them distinct from one another. I didn't need more than a few chapters to answer that. Charlie and Rose are very different people. I found myself with an instant affinity for Charlie. I don't have her talent for music, but I do have her silent, introverted, awkward thing going down. I was A LOT like her when I was in high school. I also love music and use it as an escape like she does: I went inside and found a song on my iPod with a hard bass line and a whole lot of drums and I let the music rip a hole in the world, one that I could walk through and be somewhere else for a little while. I could never have come up with words so perfect to describe that feeling. It took me longer to warm up to Rose, probably because I could relate to Charlie so well. However, Rose is sympathetic too and soon I was just as concerned for her welfare. She is bright, loves science, and wants noting more than to get out of her dead end town. It takes a lot of wanting to get out of a place like this, though. It takes wanting so bad it's all you care about, all you dream about, all you breathe. Some days I think it takes more wanting than I've got. Both girls have strengths and both have flaws. Together they learn a lot about themselves and their views of the world and others lives. I do feel like this was mostly Charlie's story, but Rose has an important story of her own outside of the role she plays in Charlie's.

The romance in the book is also done well, both in Charlie's developing flirtation with Dave and Rose's complicated fragile relationship with her childhood sweetheart, Luke. Both romances contrast and compliment each other, one just beginning and one possibly coming to an end.  All four characters are real, unique, and grow over the course of the summer changing the dynamics between the characters frequently. Crowley did this with never once resorting to melodramatic tactics of people hooking up with people they shouldn't or other such nonsense. Teenage mistakes are made but they are made in humorous and realistic ways. Misunderstandings are logically sorted out and unnecessary drama is never visited on the plot. And man can Crowley describe a first kiss: And then we're at that moment when you both go and get what you want or you both go back. The moment when you say, Stuff being scared; what's on the other side is better. That moment when you inch closer to each other little by little, till your skin starts and ends in the same place. Till your faces get so close your lips start and end in the same place, too. Till you taste milk shake and salt and sugar days and the world spins and the stars sound like harmonicas.


I haven't even mentioned all of Charlie's song lyrics inserted into the story which make me wish she were an actual person who could record those songs so I could buy them. I totally would.

Note on Content: There is strong language used and some discussion of sex (no one is having any).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BoBs Round One Wrap Up, Round Two Picks

The Rest of Round One


 Drawing From Memory
So many of my picks making it to the next round this year. So strange. Maybe reading all the books helps! I am excited to see Drawing From Memory joining them. This is a unique and wonderful autobiography. My favorite line from Judge Barbara O'Connor's decision: "And the experience felt personal, intimate, and casual, as if Say might whip out a napkin and draw a sketch while talking, or pull out a few paintings tucked lovingly in a box from long ago." This is exactly what is so appealing about this book.
  Inside Out and Back Again
The alphabet made this first round really hard on me. Again, two books I really enjoyed were pitted against each other. This time the books in question weren't favorites though, just two I found a great deal of merit in. I would have liked to see Heart and Soul get some love since Inside Out and Back Again has gotten so much already, but I did enjoy Inside Out and Back Again more so I'm happy to see it move on. My favorite line from Judge Sarah Weeks' decision: "I felt that I had tasted ripe papaya, and glutinous rice—as well as the salty tears of the endearing main character, Ha"
 Life: An Exploded Diagram
I suppose I had to be crushingly disappointed in a decision by a judge at some point, but I was really hoping it wouldn't be this one. (Although I suspected it would be.) I loved A Monster Calls. I love how it is tragic and hopeful at the same time. I love how Conor is unlikable and sympathetic at the same time. I love the mixture of dream and reality, and the way the story breaks your heart and then hands it back to you again whole, but in a different shape. Life has beautiful prose, but they left me feeling completely empty and void. And very very annoyed. Annoyed that I had bought it and spent my valuable time reading it when it was so empty. My reactions while reading the book: bored-bored-so bored I think I'll skip a few chapters-whoa, there shouldn't be this much sexual description in a novel that doesn't have half naked dukes or pirates on the cover-skipping the rest of that too-ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? REALLY THAT'S WHERE THIS WAS ALL GOING???? UGH!-wow that end was cynical and hopeless I feel like I need a strong drink. My favorite line from Judge Lauren Myracle's decision: "I wasn’t asked to make a case for whether each or either of the books was a book for kids. I was asked to pick a winner, in the imagined scenario of these two books putting on their boxing gloves and going at it, jabbing and circling, plotting and verbing, creating worlds and characters and spitting out adjectives from the mouth-guards of their covers."
Wonderstruck
Wonderstruck was not my favorite going in, I love Okay for Now and Doug and I am sad that they didn't win. However, Wonderstruck is a book I also loved so I am not terribly devastated, which is good as I'm still recovering from yesterday.  This one is a brilliant mix of art and prose, with a story that made me feel for the protagonists and experience a little of what they were experiencing. It has become one of my daughter's favorite books. She's read it more than once, and for that it will always be a favorite. My favorite line from Judge Jeff Kinney's decision: "Oh, the delicious irony. A guy who draws stick-figure cartoons gets to judge which book is better on its literary merits…"

Note: I am not telling why the lines I'm picking are my favorites, but I will tell you don't agree with the sentiments in all of them.


Round Two Picks
Remember these are my picks NOT predictions.
Friday, March 23

The Contenders: Amelia Lost (my Goodreads review) vs. Between Shades of Gray (my review)
My Thoughts: Between Shades of Gray is a gut wrenching tale with a heroine who is sympathetic and easy to relate to. Amelia Lost is a nail biting tale with a heroine who is often unlikable but very interesting. The character development in both books is top notch. I feel Amelia Lost has more control of the story being told though and I am still wowed by how it manages to be suspenseful despite knowing the outcome. My choice for this one is Amelia Lost.
Judge: Marc Aronson

 Monday, March 26


The Contenders: Chime (my review) vs. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (my review)
My Thoughts: Chime! Chime! Chime! Both of these novels are a celebration of beautiful lyrical language. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a wonderfully written paranormal romance. Chime is something more. I love what Billingsley did with Briony's voice demonstrating how twisted and convoluted a place the human mind can be, how readily it is manipulated and can manipulate. My pick (in case I haven't made it clear) is Chime.
Judge: E. Lockhart

Tuesday, March 27

The Contenders: Drawing From Memory (my Goodreads review) vs. Inside Out and Back Again (my review)
My Thoughts: This is an interesting match up. Here you  have two books about young people having to move on and make a new life in a post war world. Allen Say's story is told through a combination of words and pictures. Ha's is told in blank verse poetry. Both books covey the fears, joys, and trials of their protagonists' situations beautifully. In the end it really comes down to which I enjoyed more and that makes my choice: Inside Out and Back Again
Judge: Jewell Parker Rhodes

Wednesday, March 28

The Contenders: Life: An Exploded Diagram (my review) vs. Wonderstruck (my review)
My Thoughts: I think I have made my thoughts on Life known. Wonderstruck is a beautiful book that brilliantly mixes the mediums of illustration and prose to tell a single story. Also a book that references From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler so well gets extra awesome points. My choice is most definitely: Wonderstruck
Judge: Chris Lynch
 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Peaceweaver

Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse was not just one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, it was THE MOST anticipated read of 2012. It has been pretty much since the moment I finished reading The Coming of the Dragon (my review) last year. If you read that book you will want to read this one. If you read this book you will want to read that one. It doesn't matter which one you read first. They are companion novels that are really stand alone stories. They overlap at their ends but they are about two different journeys. And Peaceweaver was everything I was hoping it would be. (And really, look at the cover and tell me how could you not want to read this book.)

Hild is the favored niece of the King of Shylfings. She has been given the honor of serving the mead in the Hall to her uncle's men, a position she is hoping will allow her to influence the men toward a peaceful existence that has been all but abandoned since her aunt, the queen, was taken ill. Unfortunately the king is unduly influenced by others and the man with his ear is a war monger. Hild's dream is to slow the endless warring and the number of women among her people becoming widows. Then, in an act that surprises even her, she kills a man saving her young cousin's life. Her mother says Hild is far-minded, a gift that runs in her family. Her uncle claims she is possessed. In a bid to rid himself of her sight the king pledges Hild to the Geats who are looking for an end to a longstanding war. As a peaceweaver it is Hild's job to marry their king and work for peace between the two groups. Her uncle has other plans in mind. The journey to her new home is a trial Hild almost doesn't endure, but the choice she  must face when she arrives is even harder. Does she forsake her honor and what she knows to be right for the chance to return to her home?

Peaceweaver is historical fantasy at its best. Rebecca Barnhouse conveys the time and period of her story while weaving the mythology of the people who lived it through the plot beautifully. The details of food, clothing, etiquette, religion, class, warfare, and gender roles are depicted in vivid pictures without lengthy descriptions or explanations. The characters, even the most minor ones, become real people to the reader whose lives are important to the world as a whole.

Hild is who this story is all about though. Readers who have read The Coming of the Dragon will enjoy following her journey on the way to becoming the girl who turned out to be so important in the fate of Rune. New readers will enjoy learning where Hild's journey is taking her. All readers will enjoy the journey itself, and what it reveals of her and the world she inhabits. Hild can wield a sword well, but she doesn't try to be (nor want to be) a warrior. She uses the sword when she has no other choice and her considerable intelligence the rest of the time. In the beginning she doesn't always think completely through the consequences of her actions and she is quick to judge others and dismiss as inconsequential those she feels are beneath her.  As her circumstances continue to worsen and she is forced to overcome challenge after challenge these flaws in her character lessen, though not quickly and not entirely. Her journey makes her into the girl she needs to be to make the tough choices she has to make in the end. The decision she reaches does not come easily and is depicted realistically with all the hesitation and slightly selfish waverings any human would experience in a similar situation. It is that realism that makes her heroism so extraordinary.

Through Hild and the other women she comes in contact the reader is given a picture of what the role of women in these societies must have been like. They were not without influence, but their influence was determined by their ability to wield it well and the willingness of the men to be swayed by it. Gender roles, the imbalance of power that existed, and the unfairness of this was explored through Hild's story. When she questions what is happening to her and asks what the difference between being far minded and possessed is she gets this response from a female slave: "If a woman tells a man the gods favor him, she is far-minded. But let a woman do what the gods tell her without asking a man's permission first? Then she's possessed." This unfairness is brought into greater focus when one contemplates the idea of what a peaceweaver does. They are given to a man they don't know in order to establish a peace that often doesn't hold. While the concept of weaving peace is a beautiful one, the reality of it would have been harsh and, more often than not, tragic. Most especially tragic for the peaceweaver herself. However, Hild's story highlights that even when the circumstances that bind us are unfair and not of our choosing, we have a choices in the midst of them and those choices will show what kind of people we are.

As a fair warning I will say that there are people who might be annoyed by where the story ends (which is in the exact same spot as The Coming of the Dragon). I personally loved this aspect. This stage of Hild's journey is at an end in that moment and a new one is beginning, the same is true for Rune's story. We don't have to know for certain what would come next. If ever there was an end to a story to fuel the imagination this is it. And I like that. Though you will certainly not hear me complain if Barnhouse chooses continue Hild's and Rune's story with another book.

I read a copy of this book most joyously received from the publisher via NetGalley. Peaceweaver will be in stores Tuesday, March 27.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Marchetta Madness

This is the week. Over at Chachic's Book Nook it is Marchetta Madness and you will find a delectable range of posts dedicated to the amazing works of Melina Marchetta, including a fine poem dedicated to all her truly wonderful heroes. (Even if Will didn't get the love he oh so deserves in it.) I have tried to give Will a little of that deserved love in my post though which is now up. So go on over there and check out what I have to say about Saving Francesca and read all the other wonderful posts while you are over there. If you haven't yet read a Marchetta book you should probably get on that too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why We Broke Up

I was interested in Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, I admit, largely because I wanted to see what the author of The Series of Unfortunate Events could do in the world of contemporary YA. And writing from the PoV of a heartbroken 16 year old girl. Then it went an earned itself a Printz Honor and I became even more interested.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

This is a realistic and heart wrenching portrayal of a girl who has had her heart smashed to pieces, just as much by her own reckless wantings as by the boy who betrayed her trust. I loved that. I loved Min had a sarcastic and bitter tone through the book, but those things weren't directed at Ed (all the time), they were directed at herself. As she parses through all the moments in their relationship you can practically see her face-palming and hear her muttering, "Stupid, stupid, stupid." This book could be subtitled: What Happens When a Smart Girl Starts Thinking With Her Hormones, A Cautionary Tale. It is a dissertation on the importance of guarding your heart even when the boy who comes knocking on it is a hot basketball star who makes butterflies dance in your stomach. It is not an easy book to read. You know where it is going to end and, even if the title didn't give that away, it is obvious from the get go Ed is bad news for Min. The writing is on the wall, she is too bedazzled by lust to see it. This scenario plays out so often in real life that this book will most definitely find an audience who can relate. I really liked how  in the end all Min really has is regrets. There is no "It is better to have loved.." sentimentality. There is no "at least I learned a valuable lesson". There is just "wow, how could I not see this for what it was".


My only complaint is that the narrative is almost stream of consciousness at points, which fits with the idea that this is a letter from Min to Ed, and it also helps us get to know Min better as a reader. It made the book really long though. If this was actually a letter it would have taken Min a couple weeks riding around in Al's truck to write it and Ed would never make it past page 30. 

Note on Content: The book has quite a lot of strong language and some sex. Parents of younger YA readers might want to know this is there.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

A new Christopher Paul Curtis book is always something to get excited about. They are guaranteed kid pleasers as well as being excellent historical fiction. I used both Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 in my classroom. I was thrilled when The Mighty Miss Malone came out in January to have a new Curtis book to add to the others.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
"We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful" is the motto of Deza Malone's family. Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But the Great Depression hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie's beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father. The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.

Deza truly is a mighty character. She is one of those characters who you know and love from the get go. The kind you want to see have all sorts of successes even if they are occasionally annoying. Deza is bold and a bit full of herself. She speaks her mind, has plenty of opinions to speak about, knows she is quite smart, is disdainful of those things she doesn't understand (like excitement over boxing), and people who know her tend to think she is going to be someone important indeed. And you can't help but love her. She is far more bold and gregarious than Curtis's other heroes and her sparkling personality causes her to burst off the page. Given all that, everyone's expectations for her and Deza's expectations for herself, I really liked how Curtis reversed the family's fortunes in the end. It made Deza's journey more realistic and better for her character development.
  
This is also a superb depiction of life during the Depression for a girl that doesn't have anything to do with dust or overalls. For this Curtis has my undying  love and devotion. It works great as a companion to Bud, Not Buddy for this reason, and, of course, Deza made an appearance in Buddy's story just as he makes one in hers, but you absolutely do not need to read them together. Each is its own story. 

I predict that kids will love Deza's story just as much as they have all of Curtis's other books and look forward to introducing her to the ones I come in contact with. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

BoBs 2012 Week One Winners

The first week of Battle of the Books has come to an end. We now know four of the titles that will be moving on to compete in Round 2. Here they are (with my reactions):

Amelia Lost
I am so excited that Amelia Lost is moving on to round two. I can't remember the last time a non-fiction book has excited me so much. I am happy to see it getting some love as it completely deserves it. My favorite quote from Judge Matt Phalen in his decision: "Now that I think about it, Anya’s Ghost and Amelia Lost have more in common than their striking covers. Both books are constructed with precision, paced perfectly, and designed to lead you through these stories with confidence and invisible skill. Each book has moments of beauty and terror..." He also gets bonus points for the awesome "punk rock research" microfilm comment.

Between Shades of Gray
This is a battle it was hard for me to choose a favorite in, but in the end this is the one I chose and I'm happy to see it move on. It is a powerful story and everyone should read it. My favorite quote from Judge Gayle Forman in her decision "Sepetys’s writing is both lyrical and harsh in a way that sneaks up on you and kicks you in the gut." Completely agree.

Chime
This was the most difficult battle for me. I loved both The Cheshire Cheese Cat and Chime. They are both brilliant books. I do have a personal affinity for Chime that puts it a little ahead though. I want it to win. I don't blame Judge Sy Montgomery for flipping a coin. Here is my favorite quote from her decision:   "At least apples and oranges are both fruits; comparing these books was like comparing salty to sweet. Both are beautiful and perfect—neither is better than the other."

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  I can't believe I''m 4 for 4 in my picks this year. I don't quite know what to do with myself with nothing to complain about. It was wonderful reading Judge Sara Zarr's decision on this one because her thoughts on these books reflected mine perfectly. My favorite quote: "It’s a book for lovers of lush language and exotic locales, a velvet sofa of a book, something you sink into."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Swift

R.J. Anderson's Swift was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012. Anderson is an auto-buy author for me, so much so that if her books (like this one) aren't going to be foreseeably available in the US I order them from the UK. Swift did not disappoint, it exceeded my expectations for it. Anderson brought the story that began in Knife (my review) to a brilliant conclusion with Arrow (my review). Swift takes place in Cornwall and deals with an entirely different group of magical beings, Piskies. While there is a definite overlap between the first trilogy and this book you can read Swift without reading the others. (Though why would you want to? And if you don't read them first you will definitely want to once you have finished this.)

Ivy is a Cornish piskey living with her family and people in an old mine. Ivy is different from the other female piskies. She is smaller and more fail and, most devastating to her, born without wings. Being different hasn't been easy on Ivy nor has the disappearance of her mother, presumably snatched by spriggans, her people's fearsome enemy. When a strange creature, presumably a spriggan, is taken captive by her people and Ivy stumbles upon his cell she makes a dangerous bargain with him. If she helps free him he can take her to her mother and teach her how to fly. This sets Ivy off on an adventure that will forever alter the way she sees herself and the world she grew up in.

What I consistently impresses me about these books is that each heroine is very different from the ones who have come before her. They all share a similar spirit, but their personalities and how they go about achieving their goals is quite different. Ivy is, to me, the most interesting one yet. She has a confidence in herself that is mixed with fears of inferiority. She is stubborn and strong willed, but also willing to explore new ideas and entertain the notion that she may be wrong about things and need to rethink them. Having been sheltered all her life, completely shut off from the outside world, she has much to learn and yet she has a real sense of adventure and is not afraid of the unknown.

The mysterious captive who offers Ivy the bargain for her heart's desire is as fascinating as they come too. Ivy calls him Richard, but that is not his name. When she discovers him for the first time he is alone in the dark and is despondent. What is he doing in his despondency? Quoting Shakespeare. You should have seen the smile on my face when I reached that page. I admit I was excited and extremely happy to find they had captured a Shakespeare quoting magical being. I was kind of hoping we would get more of a certain character who fit that description.

The story itself is an interesting one full of intrigue and a lot of action. As always, the themes Anderson explores through the plot are just as engaging as the plot itself. There is a blood feud that shows what a cruel face justice can have when it is used as a mask for revenge. There is the danger of what happens when we allow the stories we tell about our pasts to become the truth we believe about ourselves and our history. There is the fine line that exists between protecting those we love for their good and enslaving them for our own. Good food for thought and excellent execution all around.

While the book has a definite end it leaves the door open for more which I am anticipating. There is still a lot left to explore both individually for Ivy and "Richard" and with their connection to each other. (Whether it turns out to be a romantic one or not. There was no romance in this story though there was definitely potential for that to develop. Yet there is also potential for things to develop in a completely different fashion. I'm interested to see where Anderson might go with all that.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Marchetta Madness

Chachic is at it again bringing bloggers and fans together to celebrate a wonderful author and her work. This time it is Melina Marchetta, and from March 18-24 you can stop by Chachic's Book Nook and contribute fan posts of your own or, if you haven't yet, discover this amazing author. The event is entitled Marchetta Madness and is sure to be awesome because no one can do an event like this the way Chachic can.

Monday, March 12, 2012

BoBs Round One

Tomorrow, March 13, it begins. 16 books.15 Author Judges. Only 1 winner. The eliminations are about to begin. This would make an awesome reality TV show. (I would watch.) Until that happens you can follow the action here.

Here are my thoughts (I read all the books this year-I have lots of these.) and hopes. I don't do predictions because I'm really bad at the. I will be commenting on the site and tweeting (@brandymuses) daily, but I will only post reactions here on Friday and again next Thursday when Round One ends. Here are the brackets if you haven't seen them.

Tuesday, March 13

The Contenders: Amelia Lost (my Goodreads review)vs. Anya's Ghost (my Goodreads review)
My Thoughts: Amelia Lost is the most well plotted non-fiction book I have ever read. It has excellent characterization and, against all expectations, is suspenseful. It was one of my top reads of 2011. Anya's Ghost is an interesting and engaging graphic novel about a young Russian-American girl who comes across a ghost eager to "help" her leave loserdom. It was good, but I felt it didn't really do anything American Born Chinese hadn't already done and done better. My pick is Amelia Lost
Judge: Matt Phelan

Wednesday, March 14
   
The Contenders: Between Shades of Gray (my review) vs. Bootleg (my Goodreads review)
My Thoughts: Between Shades of Gray is a well paced engaging narrative about a time in history not widely explored. Bootleg is a well written account of Prohibition, the reasons behind it, and the consequences of it. Both are great representatives of their genres, but if forced to pick I enjoyed Between Shades of Gray more.
Judge: Gayle Forman


Thursday, March 15

The Contenders: The Cheshire Cheese Cat (my review) vs. Chime (my review)
My Thoughts: SOB! I can't tell you how much I curse the laws of the alphabet that put these two amazingly wonderful books up against each other in the first round. Both are a language lovers delight. Both excel at what they are trying to do. Both are among the finest examples of their genres. Neither have received enough recognition for their excellence. Sigh. But only one can win and I want it to be Chime
  
Friday, March 16

The Contenders: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (my review) vs. Dead End in Norvelt (my review)
My Thoughts: Here we have this year's Newbery winner taking on a paranormal. I am not a fan of paranormals of any kind, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so well written it almost, but not quite, made me not care that it was paranormal. Dead End in Norvelt on the other hand didn't impress me much at all. I found it rather long and largely forgettable so I'm going to have to go choose Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Judge: Sara Zarr


Monday, March 19

The Contenders: Drawing from Memory (my Goodreads review) vs The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (my review)
My Thoughts:  An autobiography of a young man in Japan realizing his dream of studying art with his idol against a contemporary fiction about a superfan of a Bollywood star. Another interesting match up. I don't feel strongly about this one. I enjoyed both books but neither of them wowed me. If asked I would choose Drawing from Memory. (Bit, who was sitting next to me as I typed this, disagrees.)
Judge: Barbara O'Connor


Tuesday, March 20

The Contenders: Heart and Soul (my Goodreads review)  vs Inside Out and Back Again (my review)
My Thoughts: All of my favorites are pitted against each other in the first round. Highly annoying. I loved both of these books. Heart and Soul is a  beautiful book full of the most wonderful illustrations that tell as much of a story as the words that accompany them.  Inside Out and Back Again is a blank verse novel that made me love it despite its blank verseness. It paints a picture of a beautiful place torn to pieces by the ugliness of war and one survivor and her family who have to make a new life in a place that doesn't make it easy for them. My favorite here, but only by a smidgeon, is Inside Out and Back Again
Judge: Sarah Weeks

Wednesday, March 21

The Contenders: Life: An Exploded Diagram (my review) vs A Monster Calls (my review)
My Thoughts: I couldn't make it all the way through Life. My review is a longer explanation of why. Short version:  The writing is excellent, but it is long and very definitely not my cup of tea. A Monster Calls was one of my favorite reads of 2011. It has been a long time since a book has had me in a puddle, but this one did. I love everything about it. My pick is most definitely A Monster Calls
Judge: Lauren Myracle

Thursday, March 22

Contenders: Okay for Now (my review) vs Wonderstruck (my review)  
My Thoughts: I love what Brian Selznick does combining words and pictures. Wonderstruck was a wonderful read and I have appreciated its impact on my daughter especially. But Doug Swieteck stole my heart and he is not letting it go so I have to choose Okay for Now.
Judge: Jeff Kinney

I am eager to see just how wrong my predictions are (the ones in my head that I'm not sharing with you) and how my favorites do. Expect some whining sadness come the updates. I know not all my favorites are going to make it through this first round.