Thursday, April 28, 2016

Shorter Musings

Some shorter musings on books I've read recently.

Booked  by Kwame Alexander
I'm so sad that this was incredibly disappointing to me. I LOVED [book:The Crossover|18263725]. From the moment I finished it, it was my choice for the Newbery and I was so excited when it won. Maybe my expectations for the follow-up were too high, but I think it was more of a case of this being rushed and having a different agenda other than magnificent storytelling. The first poem is laughably bad. Terrible rhyming picture book about soccer level of bad. After that the poems improve somewhat, but it doesn't have the rhythm and flow I was expecting. It's more verse for the sake of being verse. It's exactly the sort of verse novel I don't like.
Some other things that bothered me:
*It's in 2nd person. NOTHING keeps me further away from a character than 2nd person narration. It is never a good idea to use if you want rounded real characters.
*There is a lot of book title dropping that is why too much *wink wink nudge nudge*. It's like the intended audience is librarians rather than children.
*There is an ultra cool hip librarian dude and I could write a fairly long rant about this trend in books but let me just say in this case it just had me rolling my eyes. Dude didn't even contribute anything substantive character or plot wise.
*Way too much of a deal was made about this random box thing the librarian had, and I honestly could not have cared less about what was inside. Alexander failed to make me care or show me what the motivation was. And then he pulls a trick with that at the end that actually made me laugh because I think I was supposed to be moved to curiosity or passion about what was in it, but I my reaction was more along the lines of "what a dumb way to end this book, who cared about that box?".

I think this will circulate well no matter what. Kids who love <i>The Crossover</i> will want to read it. Others will want to try it because it is a short quick read with soccer. Alexander definitely has an inspiring way with students too so promoting his work is never a bad thing. This far from being the best example of what he can do as a writer though.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet
This is an excellent fantasy that takes a look at the aftermath and impact war. It is after the great heroic battle with evil is fought and men are coming back from the front (or not). Victory is never as easy as just winning. Bobet uses fantasy elements and excellent characterization to show how war can haunt those who fought it and those left behind. At its core it is a story about growing up, family, and community. I highly recommend it.

The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom
I was so excited when I stumbled upon this in the new arrivals section of the library. I typically love Lindsey Leavitt's books. I also typically love epistolary novels. This is should have been right up my alley. It is a wonderful concept. Two best friends find themselves only sharing one class in their first year of middle school so they exchange a notebook every day, writing back and forth about what their thinking and feeling. As they begin to try new things and make new friends, their friendship faces challenges. It is an age old story, but there is always room for a new one as new middle schoolers face this problem every year. The issue with this book is about 150 page too long. Many of the journal entries are rambling and could have used more editing. There will still be an audience for this book, but I was hoping to like it more myself.

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
This was awesome. I'm not going to write a full review for the blog as it is the last in the trilogy, and so much of what it is great about it depends on an understanding of A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom. Now is a good time to read the whole thing all at once since. It is well worth it. For already fans of the books I will say that I was quite satisfied with the conclusion and felt like it was perfect for the story Moriarty has been building all along. Not everything is perfectly wrapped up, but she does it in a way that is satisfying and still leaves room for the imagination to take over. (No ponderous details Epilogue! No Epilogue at all! YAY) It also contained a delightful moment where I was able to pump my arm in victory and yell, "I KNEW IT!" (Except I didn't really because Moriarty never made obvious and gave me enough cause to doubt myself that I was never completely sure.) There were plenty of twists and turns. My favorite part of the book though is that the plot involves a true split between Madeleine and Elliot for the first time. They both go through dark hard times but don't have the strength of each other's voices in the night to depend on. But I love how Moriarty uses that in the end. That power that's always existed between the two of them. How their voices in the dark mattered to them and both their worlds. Basically the book was everything I wanted it to be and some things I didn't even know I wanted but loved anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Favorite Books From Every Year I've Been Alive

My friend Benji did this on his blog a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was a great idea. I wanted in on the fun and made my own list.







































2016 is still to be determined

Some of these years were a lot harder than others, but this was fun to do. Looking through the list, it definitely covers all the genres I love and all my years of reading. And makes it very clear how I feel about Megan Whalen Turner and Diana Wynne Jones.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Unidentified Suburban Object

The Painter household has been waiting for a new Mike Jung book since we first read Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities when it first came out. Unidentified Suburban Object did not disappoint.

Chloe Cho is the only Asian girl in her school. When people aren't confusing her with being Chinese or Japanese (she's Korean), they are busy thinking she is first chair violin and the smartest kid in school simply because she's Asian. She is interested in her Korean identity, but her parents refuse to discuss their history or culture with her. When she starts 7th grade and has a new Korean teacher, she couldn't be more excited. Ms. Lee assigns her students a project that means Chloe HAS to learn about her family history. Finally Chloe will get some answers, but they are not anywhere close to the answers she was looking for.

This is the second MG book I've read this year that has a heroine with sharp edges who isn't "nice" all the time. If this is the start of a new trend, I'm 100% on board! Chloe is magnificent. She is smart, talented, and ambitious. She works hard, but she has a lot of natural talents as well. This has made her more than a little sure of herself. She has always been on top and she expects to stay there. Chloe is snarky in the perfect way middle schoolers are. Her longing to know who she is and how she fits into the world strike exactly the right note. That is a universal story that all middle schoolers understand, but her story is also a specific one that children of immigrants will especially connect with. Chloe's best friend Shelly is a good foil for her: more shy,  more sensitive, just as smart but not as showy. They make a good team.

For the most part, this is a basic MG novel about identity and friendship that takes place at school. But it has a pretty spectacular twist. One that is going to have its target audience gasping. Again they will be able to identify. Jung excels at taking the feelings all tweens have and focusing them perfectly in a very particular direction. The friendship aspect is well done too. In her anger, confusion, and temper, Chloe does not treat Shelly the way she should. Watching her grow in this area is significant to both the plot and her character development. I appreciated how there are very realistic consequences for all of Chloe's actions too. Unlike many MG novels, the adults are present and realistic. Chloe's parents love and support her. They are sometimes a little clueless to her emotions and what she needs to deal with the things she's learned, but as a parent of a tween myself, I could relate. The teachers are well done as well. Some of them are excellent, some of them are clearly picking up a paycheck, but they behave and respond as actual teachers do.

I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. I know my daughter will love it too, and I can't wait for our official copy to arrive.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books, via Edelweiss. Unidentified Suburban Object is available April 26th.