Saturday, March 30, 2013

SLJ BoB: The Finals

Sigh. No surprises in Lynne Rae Perkins's decision. I can't say I'm pleased, but I'm also not surprised. Those of  us who haven't drunk the John Green Kool Aid can only shake our heads and mutter. Perkins did at least give a decent reason for her choice and I liked how she pointed out faults she found with both books. Fault laments the prospect of oblivion, of living and dying and leaving no trace.  And then concludes that it might not be such a bad thing.  Bomb tells us about individuals who did leave a trace, and how some came to feel deep regret, or at least ambivalence, about having done so.

I enjoyed reading the decision for this written by James Patterson. Which marks the first time I can say I've enjoyed reading something he's written. This seriously made me like him so much more and will think of him far more fondly in the future. Is it too late for us to redefine who we’re calling heroes in this country? Can’t the booksellers, the librarians, be king?

AND.....

Nicely done all my kindred souls who voted for and lobbied for the amazing Code Name Verity. I can now be emotionally invested in this Final.

My thoughts on these three books have not changed much since I originally read and reviewed them.

In my review of The Fault in Our Stars I talked about how much I enjoyed both Hazel and Augustus as characters. I like how the book gave voice to children with illness and did it in such an intelligent yet snarky tone. I flagged so many pages of the book. It is eminently quotable, like Green always is. This plays into my major problem with this and all Green's books. I can never shut his voice out of them. I hear him every word spoken by the characters and see his hand in every sentence. I suppose this may be the downside of his Internet prevalence. I personally like authors to be not quite so present in their work. Green never manages to give his characters their own voices. I always feel like they are him.

I know the format of No Crystal Stair (my review) is problematic for many. I think it is a great strength of this novel. I love the documentary style and when I was reading it that is how the story played out in my head. I do have qualms about the very thin line between fact and fiction here, but Nelson did a magnificent job of sourcing the book and explaining her vision so I'm able to lay those qualms aside. The uniqueness of the format and the telling of a story I didn't know made this an interesting book for me. However, it wasn't one that I can count as a favorite. I will never reread it. I would probably use it if I taught middle school history or literature (the one level I don't -I teach upper elementary and high school.) I think this is mainly because while the documentary style is a strength of the novel as a whole it made it hard for me to connect with any particular character and that is what will make me love a book.

Code Name Verity has characters I can love. And do. My review for this book is vague (avoiding spoilers-which I will continue to do here) and a little overwrought. I have a difficult time discussing books I love as much as I do this one. It's all too personal. This book is full of strengths. It is constructed brilliantly from beginning to end: plot, pacing, voice, it all works. The characters are rounded and nuanced. The themes are sweeping and complex. The story itself is complex with so many shades of gray. The book is about dark times and terrible truths, but manages to convey a tone of hope at the same time. And I feel completely inadequate to discuss it. Even writing this I feel like I can't begin to the book itself justice.

So I think it's pretty obvious what my choice would be were I the judge. Hopefully Frank Cottrell Boyce will feel the same. 


 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jinx

Jinx by Sage Blackwood was meant for me. The cover and synopsis drew me to it hard enough to buy it even though I don't usually buy books by authors whose work I don't already trust. This time it paid off and paid off well.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus.
Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trod paths. But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat


A story about a young boy receiving a magical education (sort of), a cranky wizard who hides too much, a quest, a journey, and an evil wizard to defeat, this book has it all. Including werebears. The prose is pithy and full of the sort of observations I love when reading. It sucked me in from the beginning, but the characters and story are what made me not want to leave and had me savoring every word. There is also some truly great dialogue. Simon has exactly the sort of sarcastic sense of humor I enjoy the most and it is a wonderful delight when Jinx picks this up from his mentor and develops one as well.

Jinx is a wonderful hero. He is smart, brave, loyal, and not such a great student of magic. I loved how often he failed at things and how he would try harder to succeed next time. I also enjoyed how his attitude changed over the course of the novel from child full of wide eyed wonder to slightly surly pre-adolescent full of attitude and a desire to not follow directions. How absolutely perfect is that? The villain of the story is creepy enough to make the reader wary, but not enough to terrify. 

Any reader who loves tales of magic and wonder will enjoy this one. I was sad at the end of the book because I didn't want to leave the Urwald or Jinx and Simon behind. I really hope the author writes more stories from this world just because I want to know more.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Final Four

Sigh. I wanted Code Name Verity to win this, but I adore Bomb as well and it is nice to see a non-fiction title move on. I have to say though that I was saddened and angered by this decision. Not due to its outcome, but due to the way Donna Jo Napoli wrote it. It wasn't so much a comparison of the strengths or weaknesses of the books as it was two really long summaries with a short apples and oranges paragraph at the end that said nothing significant. (I was really hoping Roger Sutton would cure the judges of that ridiculous analogy.) If one of my students wrote this I would give it back and make them do it over. For two such powerfully moving books to be given such cursory treatment is just wrong. Also, "I won’t say how, because how is what makes this book such a powerful heart-breaker, and if you haven’t yet read it, I won’t spoil it for you." What was that??? Too late by that point.

Martine Leavitt mentions in her decision that she had a hard time feeling Sophie's emotions and connecting with her character in Endangered. While I felt the total opposite I love how this shows how different readers will find different things that speak to them in books. I felt more distance to The Fault in Our Stars. As I've said before this is because I can never quite shut out John Green's voice from my head when I read his books. I see and hear him in every word and it distances me from all the characters and action. Still I appreciate how tough the decision was that Leavitt faced and appreciated how she celebrated both books and discussed why she chose the one she did at length. I have been eating an egg almost every day for breakfast for half a century. Then I read this: “It’s embarrassing that we all just walk through life blindly accepting that scrambled eggs are fundamentally associated with mornings.” I determined to eat pizza for breakfast the next day, and eggs for supper. That’s the sort of thing a book should do. It should make you eat different. Be different. And I was. When I finished this book I was different. I love this.

 Thannha Lai may win the award for shortest decision this year. She discusses the strengths of both books and then makes her decision, but gives little reasoning for it. I thank Grace Lin and Laura Amy Schlitz for crafting such concrete, entertaining worlds.  But I’m told I must choose one, so I shall choose Splendors and Glooms.  Now I will quickly send off this review before I flip flop, again.


Paul Griffin may get this year's award for most wishy-washy judge and that's saying something as the judges haven't been particularly forceful this year. He did discuss the strengths and commonalities of both books and that's a good thing. Though flipping a coin to determine the winner is not such a good thing. If authors are being bullied into being judges to the extent that they're so stressed out they need to flip coins maybe SLJ needs to come up with a different process for selecting judges. So in the end we have two profiles in courage about underdogs who dare to follow their hearts.  One features a groundbreaking bookseller and literacy pioneer, the other a girl dealing with more than a dragon tattoo.  Which one would you choose?


Match One: Thursday, March 28
 Bomb: the Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous WeaponVS The Fault in Our Stars by Jone Green

The mercenary part of me wants to see The Fault in Our Stars win because I don't want it a contender for the Undead. The honest idealistic part of me can't settle for that though. I genuinely believe Bomb to be the better constructed book. So it is the one I hope moves forward.

Judge: Lynne Rae Perkins (The Fault in Our Stars)

Match Two: Friday, March 29
 No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson VS Starry River of the Sky by Laura Amy Schlitz
I don't really care which one of these wins. I appreciate both of their literary strengths greatly but as a reader don't love either one. Splendors and Glooms gets my vote though because I want a MG fiction to make it to the finals.

Judge: James Patterson (????? Splendors and Glooms)  

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Corner of White

I enjoyed Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield series (my thoughts) quite a bit and I was  eager to see what she would do with a fantasy book. What she did is amazing. A Corner of White is absolutely wonderful. It is a combination of contemporary and fantasy that does both well and brings to life a cast of characters that you want to know and love.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).
Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot's dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.
As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds -- through an accidental gap that hasn't appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called "color storms;" a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the "Butterfly Child," whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses...


Madeleine is a girl of The World. She has lived in many exotic locales,but now lives with her mother in Cambridge and they don't have much money. Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello where there are attacks by antagonistic Colors, magic, and strange happenings in the political landscape of the Kingdom. When a crack between the two worlds opens up the two begin writing letters to each other. Elliot knows of The World. They study it in Cello. Madeleine thinks Elliot is a fantasy nerd with too much time on his hands but she plays along. Sort of. One of the brilliant things about Moriarty's construction of this novel is that she has Madeleine challenge the fantasy world she created. Through her she mocks it, points out the nonsensical in it, and therefore makes it all the more believable. Ingenious. There are times in the book when the town of Bonfire and its inhabitants seem more real than Cambridge.

The first part of the book is a bit confusing and not much is clear. I couldn't help being drawn into these characters lives and their story even if I didn't fully understand what that story was at first. Moriarty has strong control over the narrative and the style of her writing had me eager to keep reading until all was clear. In the meantime I was falling in love with both Madeleine and Elliot in all of their confused uncertainty about their lives. They are very different but have the same essential struggle. Both feel the void left by their missing fathers and both are shying away from facing the harsh realities before them.  Their letters to each other are a mixture of complaint, advise, and friendly banter that are delightful. The supporting characters are all fascinating and complex too. Both Madeleine and Elliot have hard things filling up their lives. Things that any reader can identify with, yet the tone of this book remains lighthearted and fun. The hard things are there, but life is still happening and Madeleine and Elliot both embrace life with wholehearted enthusiasm. 

There were a few elements of the story I questioned while I was reading. Why is this here? This seems unnecessary. But then the end comes and I knew. It is all necessary. All of it lays the foundation for the end which took me by surprise and in a most delightful way. It made me love the book even more. I absolutely can not wait for the sequel. I am satisfied with this ending, but as soon as I finished I wanted more. I didn't want to leave this world or Madeleine and Elliot behind.

I read a galley received from the publisher via NetGalley. A Corner of White will be available April 1, 2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SLJ BoB: Round One Wrapped Up, Round Two Hopes

Battle Five Winner:
I was rooting for Jepp, Who Defied the Stars but I truly loved both books and don't think either one has received enough recognition. It is also nice to see a MG pick move on to Round Two. Adam Gidwitz's decision went on and on and on. (I skimmed a lot and found myself wishing he would get to the point sooner rather than later. I have this feeling when reading his books too. His style of writing and my style of reading are just not meant for each other.) Still, gems like this one can be found: So the sentence-level work is very effective. Her chapters, and the stories that interrupt them, are also expertly crafted; Lin manages her pacing and our expectations so that each chapter break makes us smile or sigh.

Battle Six Winner:
Oh so sad. I love Liar & Spy. I still feel Splendors and Glooms is more book than is necessary and would have benefited from being shortened. Still it is a wonderfully Gothic and creepy, with an excellent villain. The best part of this battle was reading the decision because Franny Billingsley wrote it, and I will love anything she writes. Neither of you “out-counts” the other.  You are both terrific.  I have to go on my gut, choose what I would have loved most as a kid—that kid who was an unabashed lover of the gothic.  That kid who loved rough winds and intemperance and doors that really lock.  

Battle Seven Winner:
I love this book so much. We don't get enough new high fantasy of this ilk and wonderful world building. At least for me. I really enjoyed the way Marie Lu discussed both books together comparing their strengths and pointing out how similar they actually are. In the end she went wit the one she loved most and for the same reasons I chose it. But Seraphina. Oh, Seraphina. My heart is soft for this high fantasy of lyrical, musical proportions that soars with strong female characters and a wonderful overall cast.

Battle Eight Winner
I have to say I'm disappointed. Not because I don't like No Crystal Stair and don't think it's worthy (I do and I do) but because the MG books can't seem to triumph in this battle unless they are up against another MG book. I love  YA fiction but MG is equally good and worthy, often more so. Is this because the majority of the judges so far have been YA authors? It is sad that after Round Two is over there will only be one MG book left in the competition as the two left now are battling each other. Catherine Gilbert Murdock did write an excellently balanced decision minus the egocentrism and hand wringing we have seen from so many judges. Young readers will delight in Ivan’s triumph. I, however, delighted more in the triumph of a self-made grocer’s son who spread the joy of books to hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged souls.

Round Two Hopes and Predictions
(My judge predictions are in parentheses following their name.)

Match One: Friday, March 22
 Bomb: the Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin VS Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The first match where two favorites face off. Both of these were 5 star reads for me. I'm not even going to pretend like I'm torn about this though. Code Name Verity all the way!!!!

Judge: Donna Jo Napoli (Code Name Verity)

Match Two: Monday, March 25
 Endangered by Eliot Schrefer VS The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Two books that force their readers to face hard realities head on are up against each other in this match. I have to go with Engangered as the one I would pick were I the judge, because I never felt once like I was being manipulated into feeling what I was. I can't say the same for The Fault in Our Stars.

Judge: Martine Leavitt (The Fault in Our Stars)

 Match Three: Tuesday, March 26
 Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz VS Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
Very little thinking has to go into this choice for me. Starry River of the Sky is the one I want to see move on because it never bored me and had no characters that made me want to roll my eyes and tell them to get over themselves. (Looking at  you here Lizzie Rose.)

Judge: Tanhha Lai (I have no idea what she'll pick. Really. I'm stumped. Since I'm predicting this year I'll do what I do when I get stumped and go with the opposite of what I want. Splendors and Glooms)

Match Four: Wednesday, March 27
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson VS Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
 This will be interesting. These books have more in common than you would think at first glance. Which do I want to see move on? Seraphina of course. Why? Dragons. Kingdom politics. Music. Excellent world building. Doesn't get any better than that.  

Judge: Paul Griffin (No Crystal Stair)

Anyone else have thoughts they want to share? Feel free to join me in complaining about the lack of MG love. Please. I'm not alone right? Though I suppose I can't really complain as I was quite happy with the results of several of the battles MG lost in. I'm a conflicted book lover.
 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Garden Princess

I am always excited when a new princess tale comes out. I unashamedly love them. Garden Princess by Kristin Kladrup is a lovely new addition to this genre.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Princess Adela is not a typical princess. She’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly graceful, and she’d rather spend her days digging new plots for her garden than listening to teatime gossip. But when her friend Garth is invited to a garden party hosted by Lady Hortensia — whose beauty is said to be rivaled only by the loveliness of her gardens — Adela can’t resist coming along, even if it means stuffing herself into a too-tight dress and donning impractical shoes. But the moment Adela sets eyes on Hortensia’s garden, she knows something is amiss. Every single flower is in bloom — in the middle of October! Not only that, there is a talking magpie flitting about the garden and stealing the guests’ jewels. Is it possible that Hortensia is a witch and the magpie an enchanted prince? And what of the flowers themselves? Will Adela get to the root of the mystery and nip trouble in the bud before it’s too late?

Garden Princess has an old fashioned fairy tale feel to it. There are enchantments that most be broken and an evil witch who must be defeated. Adela is not an average fairy tale princess though. She is not beautiful or graceful and her greatest love is making things grow in her garden. She doesn't have much interest in courtship or marriage. At least not yet. She wants to explore the world and see as much as she can first. Adela is accessible and sympathetic from the beginning. Through a bit of luck she is able to discover what Hortensia is doing with the guests invited to her garden party and realizes that if something is going to be done she must do it. I loved when she realized she wouldn't be rescued and had to rescue herself and set out to do that. She does with the help of a Magpie-who is actually an enchanted thief named Ned. I love when a story has a noble thief so this was an added bonus for me. Ned is a wonderful character and I really liked how realistically clueless he was a Magpie, and how Adela began to rekindle his human thoughts and emotions.

The rushed and somewhat sudden nature of the romance kept me from enjoying this as much as I otherwise might have. I also felt that Ned's actions after leaving the garden made little sense. I understand he was feeling insecure after what Hortensia did to him and that he wanted to find his mother, but I don't understand his need to go about it as he did. It seemed to me that it was just so the story could last a bit longer before a final resolution was reached. The end dragged a bit for me as a result.

This is a book that everyone should have on hand for young princess story enthusiasts. With an excellent main character they can identify with and cheer for it is sure to be enjoyed.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher via NetGalley. Garden Princess is a available for sale now.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Going Vintage

I have looked forward to reading Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt since I first heard of it. The concept. The cover. And I really enjoyed Leavitt's previous work, Sean Griswold's Head (my thoughts). I had expectations for this book. Big ones. And it was everything I wanted it to be.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend, Jeremy, is cheating on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off boys. She also swears off modern technology. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in 1962, Mallory decides to "go vintage" and return to a simpler time (when boyfriends couldn't cheat on you online). She sets out to complete grandma's list: run for pep club secretary, host a dinner party, sew a homecoming dress, find a steady, do something dangerous. But the list is trickier than it looks. And obviously finding a steady is out . . . no matter how good Oliver (Jeremy's cousin) smells. But with the help of her sister, she'll get it done. Somehow. 

History was my concentration (almost a second major, but not quite-all elementary ed majors at my school had to have one) in college. I read a lot of historical non-fiction. I have little tolerance when people start misting up all nostalgic about "the good old days".  People who think if they could just get back to a simpler time everything would be better tend to make me want to give history lectures. (Being a homeschool mom this is a challenge. You have no idea how often I end up biting my tongue. The homeschool community has an issue with this. Not going to lie.) So I really loved watching Mallory on her journey to discover that nostalgia is all well and good, but the idea of a simpler and easier time is a fallacy. As her grandmother so sagely points out: Adolescence is the same tragey being performed again and again. The only things that change are the stage props. (Added to my all time favorite quotes.) This is a story about a girl who has had her heartbroken for the first time. Going vintage is her rebound. I could not identify with Mallory very much, but I loved her all the same. Like most 16 year olds she is a bit self centered, but she is aware of what goes on around her as well. I like how she sees things in herself and the life she leads that she doesn't like and works to change them. Yes, it is all about getting over a boy, but through the journey Mallory discovers a lot about herself and her family. Leavitt does spark some interesting food for thought on technology and how it hinders or helps human interaction. There could also be some debate on whether or not Mallory overreacted to Jeremy's online life. (I'm personally on her side 100% on this one.)

Something I appreciate about Leavitt's two YA books is even though they have their touch of romance, they are not romance novels. Going Vintage is a book about a girl on a journey to discover who she is independent of any boys. It is also a book about family. I love that. Mallory's family is a strong one. Not a perfect one, for such a thing does not exist. Mallory has a strained relationship with her mother. They don't fully understand each other, but they do fully love each other. Her parents argue a lot, but also make out a lot. Mallory's sister is her best friend, but man when they fight they FIGHT. (Having exactly such a relationship with my own younger sister, I really loved this aspect.) Mallory's relationship with her grandmother is truly special. I love seeing family highlighted as so important in all its beautiful imperfections in a YA novel.

And yes, the book does have a pretty awesome boy too. Oliver. Their relationship is complicated because Mallory just broke up with her boyfriend and that boyfriend is Oliver's cousin. I really like how Leavitt grew their relationship, how they became friends, how Mallory realized her opinion of him originally came entirely from Jeremy and she needed to get to know him on his own terms, how they do some stupid things in the course of the story but never ridiculous melodramatic ones. Oliver himself is a great guy, but still a teen guy, something else I appreciate. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Oliver is admitting he enjoys spending time with her. Best declaration of interest ever: "But given...the obvious roadblock. I'm not sure how much we can get to know each other." He rushes on. "As people, because you're an interesting person and I value that in friendship. That's seriously what I'm after, not that I'm after you and I'm  not talking about, you know, 'knowing' each other. Like in a biblical way or anything, although you're obviously pretty, I mean, very pretty and totally worth knowing both ways...God, shut it, Oliver. Shut it." The whole time he's saying this he's looking out a window and not at her. How awkwardly adorable is that?

I went into this book expecting a light fun read, but one with substance, heart, and wisdom. And that's exactly what Going Vintage offers.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Princess for Hire Trilogy

I adore Lindsey Leavitt's YA books. Sean Griswold's Head (my thoughts) is a wonderful story about family, friendship, and just a little bit of romance. Going Vintage has all the same elements plus, and is one of the best books I have read so far this year. (My review for this will post on Monday.) After finishing Going Vintage I decided that I should give Leavitt's fantasy trilogy for younger readers a try. They were so much fun to read.

Desi is a social outcast whose former best friend stole her crush. Added to that she has to spend her summer vacation dressed as a giant rodent for her job. Desi could use a little magic in her life. When she tells a fish at the pet store her troubles she gets more than she bargained for. It turns out that Desi has magic and her fish conversation alerts the people who need to know this. Next thing Desi knows she is signing a contract to be a princess substitute, she applies a little magical make-up and transforms into the princess she will impersonate while the princess gets a vacation. Sound magnificent? Desi thinks so, but soon finds the job full of royal trouble.

This is how the first book Princess for Hire begins. The reader follows Desi on the hilarious journey through her princess sub test and through her three consecutive Level 1 assignments. Desi is a wonderful character: funny, smart, and full of grace under pressure. Her voice is very much 8th grade girl as are her confused thoughts regarding the people in her life and her crush on the popular boy. I really enjoyed how Desi's character grew and changed through this novel. She learns a lot from the princesses she impersonates about herself and what she wants.

The Royal Treatment follows Desi through her Level 2 princess assignments. She is more important now and more is required of her. On top of her job she is juggling with being in the school play and dealing with cute new boy Reed, her best friend's crush, who it turns out she has more in common with than she could imagine. Then there is the secret she finds out about Facade and where they get their princess transforming magic from. I didn't think this installment was quite as strong as the first, but it was still a lot of fun. Desi has several more crazy adventures and Reed is a wonderful addition to the cast of characters.

A Farewell to Charms finds Desi now a Level 3 sub and matched with a permanent princess. But Desi can not forget what she knows about her employer nor can she ignore the feeling that she must try to change what is wrong. Desi-with Reed's help-tries to uncover what is wrong and work to make it better. I liked Desi the rebel a lot and this story is a wonderful tale of a girl who stands up for what she knows is right even when it may cost her everything. I also love the portrayal of friendship between Desi and her best friend. And Reed continues to be awesome.

Tried and true fantasy fans may find themselves raising their eyebrows a bit at the world-building. I did. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how it all works. However, these books are so much good fun that I was able to let that go. I can imagine this making a really great Disney Channel series. AND THAT IS NOT A CRITICISM. There is a much needed place for books like this and I'm delighted to have found these. Bit is certainly enjoying them now that we have discovered them.


Friday, March 15, 2013

SLJ BoB: Round One Reactions: Part One

I know I said I was going to wait until the end of Round One and only do one reaction post combined with my Round Two hopes and predictions this year. But then I realized that would be the longest post ever and that  there's a reason I always do two Round One posts. This works better for me.

It is a good thing that BoB usually aligns perfectly with my kids' three week Spring break. That way I don't have to feel guilty about checking it first thing in the morning rather than starting school.

Battle One Winner:
I was counting on Kenneth Oppel to make this decision. I get why people love Wonder and want to get it into the hands of kids. I have done my share of pushing that book-with mixed results. Bomb is an extraordinary work of narrative non-fiction, riveting and informative. As Oppel said in his decision: Intercutting multiple plot lines, Sheinkin tells of the story of the making of the atomic bomb with all the urgency and pacing of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie...Best of all, Sheinkin’s book is filled with all those small details that are the lifeblood of the best stories — and the details that novelists kill for when creating fiction! 

Battle Two Winner:
I was a little bit scared of checking the results for this one. I was going to be beyond displeased if it went the other way. I can't say I was impressed with Engle's written judgement despite my relief that she chose this book. That's because I felt like this was a contest between true excellence and good-but-not-special. I do like how Engle pointed out she was able to find humor, mercy, and poetry in Code Name Verity despite the horror and tragedy.  Best of all, there are traces of poetry.  In one notable dream scene, the statement, “I just want to go on flying and flying in the moonlight” made me smile gratefully, especially since the dream moon is green.  On page 28, the description of a pilot’s aerial view of Scotland is a passage so breathtaking that I felt as if perhaps I actually had received a volume of poetry after all.  And on page 252, I found my favorite line in the entire book:  “Must be lovely flying in peacetime.”

Battle Three Winner:
Kathi Appelt set the bar for decision writing high with her wonderful comparison of Endangered and Three Times Lucky. I love how she found the things they had in common and chose the book she thought did those things better. In many ways, both books are a celebration of the impressive tenacity of children.  Mo and Sophie make us think of the human spirit as a treasure. But at the end of the day, it’s Sophie who does this best.  At least for this reader.  In her overwhelming devotion to Otto, we see the enduring possible, even in the face of overwhelming cruelty. I predicted she would pick Three Times Lucky but was very happy to be wrong as I wanted to see Endangered move on.

Battle Four Winner:
This is really not at all shocking. I think it almost unfair to have this book in any competition of this sort and I like how Deb Caletti sort of pointed that out. I was surprised to find that she had never read his work, but not surprised that it had the effect it seems to have on everyone but me.
And then, something happened.  I care about books too much to tell you what, but it’s enough to say that right around page one hundred, things got serious.  Things got real.  Really real.  It was as if I was walking along on the ocean floor, tra la la, and then the floor fell away.  I had to set the book down and catch my breath.  I was a little afraid to pick it up again.  It was night.  I was in bed.  I said to my husband, “Well, he did it.”
“What?” Husband said.
“He made a Nerdfighter out of me.”

Round One continues on Monday with the battle between Jepp, Who Defied the Stars and Starry River of the Sky. My picks and predictions for the rest of Round One are here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Audrey Wait!

Audrey Wait! by Robin Benway came to my attention when Chachic and Heidi read it together and both wrote reviews of it. It sounded like one of those fun stories just perfect for when you had a bad week and need a good unwinding book. It was exactly that and I'm so glad I had it on hand when I had such a week.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
California high school student Audrey Cuttler dumps self-involved Evan, the lead singer of a little band called The Do-Gooders. Evan writes, “Audrey, Wait!” a break-up song that’s so good it rockets up the billboard charts. And Audrey is suddenly famous!
Now rabid fans are invading her school. People is running articles about her arm-warmers. The lead singer of the Lolitas wants her as his muse. (And the Internet is documenting her every move!) Audrey can't hang out with her best friend or get with her new crush without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi.
Take a wild ride with Audrey as she makes headlines, has outrageous amounts of fun, confronts her ex on MTV, and gets the chance to show the world who she really is.


Yes this book requires the reader to suspend disbelief from the beginning. You need to know going in that this is a situation that would most likely never happen. It isn't completely out of the realm of possibility though. Just because it never has happened doesn't mean it couldn't. I appreciated the way Benway unfolded the story. While the idea that someone could become famous because a song was written about them might be a little far fetched everything that follows from that makes sense and none of it overly dramatic. 

I think I liked this so much because Audrey is a believable character and I really liked her. I could relate to how she felt about music. (I may have damaged some speakers due to loud volume levels in my life once or twice. At least.) I really liked her enthusiasm for life and her honest straightforward personality. She is portrayed in a realistic way too. She is naive in  many respects and acts exactly like a 16 year old, which is refreshing. I also enjoyed her relationship with her friends, Victoria and Jonah. James, her new boyfriend, is also wonderfully realistic and completely adorable. I found the way ex-boyfriend Evan was portrayed to be refreshing as well. I liked what Benway did with that whole scenario.

Basically this book gave me everything I wanted from it, a lovely fun romp of a read. 

Note for Concerned Parents: There is quite a bit of strong language used and there are references to sex and drugs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mirage

Sequels are scary things. This is why I approached reading Mirage by Jenn Reese with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I LOVED Above World (my thoughts) so much. I wanted to love this one. I needed to love it because I haven't loved many books yet this year. It fulfilled all of that yearning plus some.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The desert is no place for ocean-dwelling Kampii like Aluna and Hoku, especially now that Aluna has secretly started growing her tail. But the maniacal Karl Strand is out to conquer the Above World, and the horselike Equians are next on his list. Aluna, Hoku, and their friends — winged Calli and Equian exile Dash — race to the desert city of Mirage, intent on warning the Equians. When they arrive, Strand’s clone, Scorch, has gotten there first. Now the Equian leader has vowed to take all his people to war as part of Strand’s army. Any herd that refuses to join him by the time of the desert-wide competition known as the Thunder Trials will be destroyed. To have any chance of defeating Scorch and convincing the Equians to switch sides, the four friends must find a way to win the Trials. The challenge seems impossible. But if they fail, the desert — and possibly all of the Above World — will be lost to Karl Strand forever. 

Aluna, Hoku, Dash, and Calli-they all have pieces of my heart. These are some truly wonderful characters and Reese took them and grew them in this second volume. Aluna learned so much from her first journey and it is wonderful to see her apply those lessons in this book. She proceeds with more caution and listens more carefully. She still makes some mistakes, but I love that her character has not stagnated and is moving with the story. We learn about Dash and his past in this book and what I discovered only made me love him more. His nobility, honor, and loyalty are great attributes and his charming ways only add to that. It was interesting to watch Calli-still torn between what she knows she must become and what she wants to do. She's so caring and diplomatic, and yet there are times when I'm not as sure of her as I am of the others. Not unsure of her loyalty, but what she'll choose to do with it. It keeps her from being too perfect. And Hoku. GAH! His quiet heroism in this book catapulted him past Dash as my favorite I think. I love how he refuses to back down from his ideals and tries to figure out ways to make them work in the world he lives in. It also has me very afraid for his continued safety. I always say I love it when authors aren't afraid to hurt even their main characters and Reese certainly isn't. It doesn't stop me from not wanting her to. 

The friendship these four share is my favorite element of this trilogy. They met and began it in the first book. This book sees it challenged and grow in amazing ways. It is clear too that they are all learning from each other and becoming better people because of each other. There are scenes that actually had me tearing up-and that is not an easy thing to make me do. One particular scene between Dash and Aluna had me actually shed a tear. I love how Reese uses their friendship and interactions to reveal more of their characters too.

In addition to our four intrepid heroes there are a host of new and amazing characters added here. I loved Tal, Rollin, and  Nathif especially.

The world building continues to be impressive. In this volume the setting switches to the desert. Here two different types of people dwell-Dash's Equians and the Serpenti (half snake people-and let me say that whole concept is just awesome by itself). The history of these groups is fraught and rich with detail and these were wonderfully incorporated into the fast moving plot. While Karl Strand and his evil plans shadow this book, the story here is less about confronting a nemesis than it is about learning to grow and change. The story focuses on the desert peoples and the workings of their traditions and politics. There is again a lot of food for thought here on honoring tradition and history while not clinging to it to your own detriment. This fits well with the themes of hope, unity, and strength in community that continue into this story from the first. The way Reese is able to do all of this in a plot that never once drags or even slows down is impressive. I also appreciate how she knows how to end a book. Yes, there is more and they are not done with their struggles, but this book ends with a sense of completion. I still really want the next volume while at the same time don't have cliffhanger rage. 

Mirage gave me an adrenaline rush and book hangover like I haven't had in quite some time. I love books that can do that to me and am eagerly awaiting the third and final installment of the trilogy.

I received this most joyfully and gratefully from Candlewick via NetGalley. Mirage is available for purchase today, March 12. (I have an 8 year old eagerly awaiting our copy's arrival. She is quite annoyed I already got to read it.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 BoB: Round One

Battle of the Books begins on Tuesday!!!! My anticipation level at this point is pretty high. I get ridiculously excited about this every year. Usually I have one book that I love and want to see win, and one that I want to see go down quick. That is not the case this year. While I do have a favorite, I also have several other books I love in the battle. And I didn't loathe any of them. I sort of don't know what to do with that.

Here is a quick look at my rating stats for the 16 books in the competition.
5 stars: 5
4 stars: 9
3 stars:  2

That doesn't mean there is still not plenty of angst about favorites happening here. Because I do have definite thoughts about certain match-ups. And while there is no book inspiring the feelings of loathing in me that some in the past have, there is one I would rather not see win.

Anyway here are MY picks for Round One. And this  year I'm going to try my hand at predicting what the judges will pick as well. It should be funny to see how wrong I am. These predictions are in parentheses next to the judge's name.

Match One: Tuesday, March 12
Bomb: The Race To Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (my review) VS. Wonder by R.J. Polacio (my review)

My Pick: Wonder is a good book. It has excellent characterization and does wonderful things with voice and point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Bomb is a work of art as far as I'm concerned. It is everything narrative non-fiction should be and Sheinkin did things with plotting and pacing that many fiction writers could take a much needed lesson from. My hopes for this match up rest on Bomb.
Judge: Kenneth Oppel (Tricky-but I think Bomb would be a book that Oppel would appreciate so I'll go with that.)
 
Match Two: Wednsday, March 13
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (my review) VS Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (my review)

My Pick: Code Name Verity was one of my top 10 reads of last year. If I was forced to narrow it down any further it would still make the top 5. I love everything about it: characterization, voice, plot, pacing, language. Everything. Titanic is a good work of non-fiction but I didn't really find it terribly distinctive or set apart form the multiple other books on the same subject. I'm pretty much going to hit the ceiling if it beats Code Name Verity.
Judge: Margarita Engle (Code Name Verity-because I can not fathom any other outcome.)


Match Three: Thursday, March 14
 Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (my review) VS Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (my review)

My Pick: Endangered is an excellent tale of revolution and hope in Congo. I love how this novel has such a wonderful sense of place and paints the Democratic Republic of Congo in all its variant shades, good, bad, ugly, beautiful. Three Times Lucky is a fun over the top mystery centering in a small North Carolina town. This is another novel that has a great sense of place and where the setting is done incredibly well. Honestly I will be perfectly content whichever of these books win the day. It is hard to pick a favorite between the two, but if I had to-and clearly I do-it would be Endangered.

Judge: Kathi Appelt (I can see her choosing either one so I'll just predict the opposite of what I want since that so often happens and say Three Times Lucky.)

Match Four: Friday, March 15
  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (my review) VS Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Saved the World by Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin (my review

My Pick: Temple Grandin is a fascinating story about a wonderful lady I didn't know anything about prior to reading this book. I found the story of her life and work to be interesting. I never really thought about the design that goes into slaughterhouses. I appreciate what I learned from this book. The Fault in Our Stars is a good novel. It's certainly not my favorite on the list, but I enjoyed reading it and flagged so many pages of quotes it looked like a porcupine in the end. And  yet...there is something about John Green's books I am not able to get fully on board with. I want to like them better than I do because I like him so much. This is another match-up I don't feel strongly about. I want The Fault in Our Stars to win though. Just by a little bit.

Judge: Deb Caletti  (The Fault in Our Stars-I will be shocked to the core if she picks Temple Grandin.)

Match Five: Monday, March 18

Jepp, who defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh (my review) VS Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (my review)

My Pick: I only read Jepp, who defied the Stars when I did because it was a chosen contender for BoB. I was waiting for my library patiently. I am so indebted to BoB for choosing it because I was able to read it that much sooner and I loved it. I loved it far more than I ever imagined I would. I loved it for the Jepp and all the characters he meets. I appreciated the authenticity of the setting as well. Starry River of the Sky is a beautiful book. Lin is a master at this type of story. I enjoy this one even more than Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I love the characters of Rendi and Madame Chang and the stories that they tell. Again the authenticity of the setting is a great strength of this book. I was able to feel like I was in that village and a part of what was going on. In the end this has to come down to the one I liked better though and that is Jepp, who defied the Stars

Judge: Adam Gidwitz  (Starry River of the Sky-he strikes me as one of the tricksy ones though.)

Match Six: Tuesday, March 19
 Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (my review) VS Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (my review)

My Pick: Splendors and Glooms is a finely crafted novel. It won a Newbery Honor and I can see all the reasons why. I understand why people love it. I found it to be awfully boring in several places though. Not gonna lie. Liar & Spy is wonderful. Another one of those stories that just nails the voice and characterization. The mystery and twists are perfect. I'm loving watching my students devour this one. My pick is most definitely Liar & Spy.

Judge: Franny Billingsley (I'm positive she'll go with Splendors and Glooms.)

Match Seven: Wednesday, March 20 
  Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (my review) VS Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (my review)

My Pick: Seraphina is a high fantasy novel involving kingdom politics, music, and dragons. What's not to love about that? And love it I do. So so much. Moonbird had me more interested in the fate of a bird than I ever imagined I could be. Still. A book about a bird vs a book about dragons? I'm going with the dragons. My pick is Seraphina.

Judge: Marie Lu (Seraphina)


Match Eight: Thursday, March 21

 The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (my review) VS No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

My Pick: No Crystal Stair is a fascinating read. I loved the different voices in the narration and the way it read like a documentary film. I learned a lot form it and found it to be engrossing. And what can I say about The One and Only Ivan that hasn't already been said? This book has so much heart, a great voice, a wonderful story. There is a reason it won the Newbery to pretty much universal excitement. My pick is The One and Only Ivan.

Judge: Catherine Gilbert Murdock (The One and Only Ivan)

I will do a reaction post at the end of the round that will include my Round Two hopes and predictions. What does everyone else think? Predictions? Hopes?