Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ReReadathon Wrap-Up

I had this list. Laughing at myself so hard right now, because otherwise I might cry. What was I thinking??? I KNEW that school was starting up again for my kids this month. I am their teacher after all. I also knew that I would be doing hard core planning for the start of our homeschool co-op in August. I knew exactly how far behind I was getting on my galleys, library books, and purchased books. Yet there is that list. Mocking me.

I did get some rereading accomplished though.

From the list:
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Stuff I reread because I'm teaching it (or will be soon):
Bomb: the Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
D'Aulaires' Norse Gods and Giants
Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Not on the List but I Reread Because I Wanted To:
Romancing Mr. Briderton by Julia Quinn
I love Quinn's novels. She is an auto-buy author for me, but this is far and away my favorite. I adored Colin from his first appearance in The Duke and I and couldn't wait for when he would get his own novel. I wasn't disappointed and felt Quinn developed his character so well. Contrary to typical romance tropes Colin isn't tortured by something from his past, he doesn't have some terrible blight he is trying to overcome, his struggles are so completely normal. He is so very real. And yet as much as I love him I was thoroughly taken by surprise on my first read by how much more I love Penelope. This is really her story. Way back when it first came out I remember the joy I felt that first day I read it. Despite my enjoyment of romances, I don't find many heroines in them that remind me of myself. That could be me. But Penelope could. This book is about books and writing and other nerdy things to. That this is Colin and Penelope's bonding point makes my love for this book infinite. There is even an entire conversation at tea about grammar. It is the only romance novel I reread on a regular basis, and it is just so good.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

TTT: Favorite Endings

This week's TTT topic is Favorite Beginnings/Endings.

I did a My Favorite Things post on Beginnings a couple of years ago and my favorites haven't changed, so I'm going to concentrate on endings. Since I'm focusing solely on endings I'm just going to give the book cover and no other information.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shorter Musings: MG Realistic Fiction

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. Some of those are starting to pile up so I thought I would put them all together in one post.

Here are some MG Fantasy books I have read recently with my thoughts.

The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse
Good solid MG fiction, which Rebecca Barnhouse excels at. I love being able to read a historical novel that I know will accurately represent a time period. You can tell this is her first novel I think. I may have had a more enthusiastic reaction if I read this before her Beowulf books. I do feel it drags a bit in places and just sort of ends with no resolution. I liked this glimpse into the potential life of a person barely mentioned in historical documents and the struggles she would have encountered.  

Destiny Rewritten by Katherine Fitzmaurice
I can see MG readers enjoying this. Maybe. It's a little too long and I think references too many things they may not care about. Still it has a lighthearted tone and fun subject matter that will appeal to some young readers. It is a longer than it needs to be. I didn't care for the book at all, but that could just be my adulthood getting in the way I seriously wanted to knock Emily's mother upside the head and tell her to stop being ridiculous. And the end had me gagging on the saccharine sweetness.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet
On the one hand I really like the portrayal of homelessness and the stark reality of the life too many children in the country are leading. On the other hand I feel the unrealistic aspects of the plot did this sort of a disservice. I found the scenario,the spying,the mystery too wholly unbelievable to take seriously. I doubt kids will have the same problem though and definitely plan to talk this book up. I do love the language and the connections to Langston Hughes. 

Paperboy by Vince Vawter
This is an interesting look into the mind of a child who stutters and how he interacts and thinks of the world around him. The book starts off slow and takes a while to pick up and since it is sort of short that means I didn't engage with the story until almost too late. Also there are no quotation marks for dialogue, and I understand why this was done. It is because it is supposed to be him typing out his story. It still drove me nuts and gave the book a very stream-of-consciousness feel to it despite the plot that does progress step by step. I also felt it resorted to cliches one to many times. This is just not my type of book overall, but it is well written and will have appeal for people who enjoy this sort of thing.
Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave by Deron R. Hicks
This is a fun mystery that involves old family secrets and following clues to hidden treasure. It is one of those books that I think will be an easy sell to kids, but not necessarily one all kids will stick with to the end. I did like the way the mystery unfolded, and it had a lot of humor in it. There is a villain and some mild danger, so nothing too scary. It could easily by enjoyed by more advanced younger readers as well.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Favorite Shakespeare

A couple months ago I did a My Favorite Things post on my favorite classics. I didn't include any Shakespeare, because that's how much I love Shakespeare. He needed his own separate list. Now just to be clear, I love watching Shakespeare more than reading it, and when I read it I tend to read it aloud. Yet read it I do. After all, it is not everyday you can go see a performance of Shakespeare.

Here are my favorites to read and watch:

 What about you? Are you a Shakespeare lover or hater? If lover which do you love most?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

WoW: Moonkind

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Fer, the Lady of the Summerlands, has made a critical mistake. In a world where oath-binding magic runs deep, the consequences of a broken promise can be nothing short of dire. But Fer has not broken her promise-she's remained true to her vow to rule with honesty and without the disguise of a glamorie. Yet as a young leader, she's naively trusted others to honor such an oath, too-one that many are unwilling and unable to keep.

With the cost of countless broken oaths weighing heavily on the land, the realm has begun to change. A stillness is creeping in, bringing a silent death to the place that Fer holds so dear. Only Fer has the power to fight it, but she may have to rely on the help of the one boy whose very nature is to deceive her.

Harper Collins put their 2014 catalog up on Edelwiess a couple weeks ago and I bounced and squealed when I saw this. I knew, of course, that the book was coming soon. It is the final book in one of my favorite trilogies. I hadn't seen the cover before this though. And wow. I love it for so many reasons. The colors. Rook. ROOK IS ON THE COVER. I love the seriousness on both their faces too. The stakes are higher in this one for certain. It is just gorgeous and I can not wait to devour its contents. Moonkind comes out December 31.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan is a modern immigration story. It is a story about bullying. It is a story of first love, swimming, and discovering your parents aren't as indestructible or noble as you always believed. I was happy to receive an e-galley of this and even more grateful upon reading it.

Carrying just a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother are immigrating to England from Poland. Kasienka isn't the happiest girl in the world. At home, her mother is suffering from a broken heart as she searches for Kasienka's father. And at school, Kasienka is having trouble being the new girl and making friends. The only time she feels comforted is when she's swimming at the pool. But she can't quite shake the feeling that she's sinking. Until a new boy swims into her life, and she learns that there might be more than one way to stayafloat.

Kasienka has such a strong voice. This is a novel told in verse which is something I'm not overly fond of as a rule. Here it works beautifully. Kasienka feels lost, confined, and smothered through a great deal of the story. The brokenness of the blank verse gives the reader a true sense of this. She always feels like she's struggling for air and the way its written makes the reader feel that too. I felt as though I knew Kasienka as I was reading. That could partly be because I taught many immigrant children as a teacher and I saw in her so many of my former students. And the students of other teachers who, as Kasienka states in the book, ignored the horrid spitefulness of the girls in their class because it did nothing to disrupt the order the teacher was trying to maintain. Through Kasienka's eyes the reader gets a view of how bullying amongst girls works. How subtle it is. Mostly though the reader just gets a great story of a girl learning to stand on her feet, knowing her own worth, and relying on herself. Kasienka's strength in the face of her circumstances is amazing. That's not all she is though. She is subtly funny. Her descriptions of her first kiss and all that follows with the boy she shares it with are wonderful.

The action in the story highlights two issues, modern immigration and bullying. Yet neither of these is the entire point of the book. The point is to tell Kasienka's story and these are intrinsically a part of her story. They are her life. I like how both were handled. The immigration story is a real one and I've seen it play out enough times to know Crossan got it right. Likewise, she did an excellent job with the bullying. It is there in schools everywhere exactly as she described, and I LOVED that no one made a big deal about it. No one was turned into a hero. No one learned a valuable lesson. It resolved itself in a way these situations often do. The intentional obliviousness on the behalf of the school employees is also a sad reality and I liked how this was handled as well.

This is a perfect book to give a middle schooler. Kasienka is 12. She has started her period and kisses a boy for the first time. She discusses both of these things as well as other issues of puberty. I think that girls her age will relate to her and her voice. I am certainly going to be book talking it to my daughter in a couple of years. 

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, via Netgalley. The Weight of Water is available for purchase in the US on July 23.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

P.S. Be Eleven

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia won so many accolades and I was left feeling a little left out of the party. I enjoyed the book to be sure, but didn't really understand what all the fuss was about. If the same amount of fuss is made over its sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, I will understand completely

After spending the summer in Oakland with their mother and the Black Panthers, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern arrive home with a newfound streak of independence, and the sisters aren't the only ones who have changed. Now Pa has a girlfriend. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam a different man. But Big Ma still expects Delphine to keep her sisters in line. That's much harder now that Vonetta and Fern refuse to be bossed around. Besides her sisters, Delphine's got plenty of other things to worry about-like starting sixth grade, being the tallest girl in her class, and dreading the upcoming school dance (her first). The one person she confides in is her mother, Cecile. Through letters, Delphine pours her heart out and receives some constant advice: to be eleven while she can.

After the summer they experienced in Oakland it is impossible for the Gaither sisters to go back to life as normal. They were changed by their experiences as well as learning how to fit the reality of their mother into their lives. They also return to discover that things are not all the same at home too. Each of the girls reacts to these things in different ways and I found the portrayal of this realistic. The younger two adjust to their new realities easier. This makes sense given their ages. Delphine does not find it so easy. I really feel like this book more than the first is well and truly her story. Fern and Vonetta are still there and important, but this is mostly about Delphine. Delphine adjusting to her new view of Big Ma, her father being love, how she sees her father's opinions, Uncle Darnell returning broken, and the simple every day tragedies of sixth grade. 

 Garcia brings the world the Gaither girls live in to wonderful life. The setting and time period really shine in this book. She captured it well (as did the cover artist). It is easy to access without needing everything explained. The plot follows Delphine from her return through several months of school as she adjusts to all the changes in her life. It is simple yet beautifully rendered with plenty of action to keep readers engaged. I loved the letters from Cecile. They maintain her character form the first book, but also see her open up a bit.

I feel like this is going to be an easier sell with my students, which I'm eager to test when school starts again. Fortunately it is entirely possible to read it without reading the first book. Hopefully they can fall in love with this and go back to read that.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Lion Hunters

When Code Name Verity came out last year I was so excited (my thoughts). See, the wonderful people at Sounis recommend Elizabeth Wein's books regularly. And I tried. I really really did. But The Winter Prince, which begins The Lion Hunters sequence, was impossible for me to get through. Not because it is badly written, quite the opposite, the writing pulled me and wrapped me up in it from the beginning, but that story creeps me out in too many ways. I feel it a little too much. So I rejoiced at the release of Code Name Verity as a chance to experience a book full of Wein's writing. And I loved it. I loved it so much I decided to revisit The Winter Prince. I have tried and failed to finish that book a total of six times now. Finally I decided to skip it and just start with A Coalition of Lions. Best. Decision. Ever. (For me.) (Though it is wonderfully written and Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy just posted a great review of it this week.)

I love historical fiction that makes the reader feel like they are actually in the time and place. Some historical periods are easy for authors to do this with. Generally the more knowledge and background the reader has, the easier it is for them to feel present in the story. Ancient Ethiopia is not such an easy historical setting to do this with. But Wein does it. Everything about the world of Aksum is real, the smells, the air, the textures, the people. That Wein laid all that down with so few words is even more remarkable. I came to care for in love all of the characters in A Coalition of Lions. Goewin was easy to feel for as she tries to make her way in a world run by men. Her frustration as she is often ignored and not listened to is strongly felt. I also adored her relationship with Priamos and how it unfolded. The true heart-stealer though is Telemakos, the young nephew of Goewin. He is bold, energetic, curious, and has a passion for living and discovering every moment. As soon as I closed A Coalition of Lions I knew I needed to track down copies of all the other books because I he is their main character.

The Sunbird
 Never has a "this if for fans of Megan Whalen Turner" recommendation worked for me. It usually just ends in disappointment and rage. Not here. The recommendation in this case is perfect. Of course, Mrs. Turner herself recommends these book so it's hardly surprising. I fell in love with Telemakos in the previous book and that love only grew in The Sunbird. A few years have past and Aksum is being put under a quarantine due to a plague sweeping the world. Yet the plague found its way in anyway. Someone is issuing orders in the Emperor's name and he wants to discover who. Telemakos is still so young, but his abilities to make himself invisible in plain sight and hear and remember everything set him apart for the job. But he is still SO YOUNG. That is what I enjoyed about this story actually, watching Telemakos learn and figure out his trade. It was fascinating seeing his mind work through possible problems, possible solutions, and arrive at plans. At the same time is story his a heart-wrenching one. His relationship with his father is not what he wants it to be. His father is not the man he wants him to be. And of course since Wein is not afraid to do bad things to her beloved characters, Telemakos doesn't make it out of his adventures unscathed. I enjoyed the further development of Medraut and Goewin and their difficult sibling relationship as well. So much character development and so well done with an adventurous twisty plot full of intrigue. And it's only 185 pages. That takes serious skills.

The Lion Hunter
 Oh. My. Goodness. It's not like I didn't know Elizabeth Wein is completely unafraid of hurting her characters but I expect time to settle into a story before it starts. Not with this one. Man this book starts off intense. Telemakos is strong though and watching him overcome the adversity he faces makes for a great story. Then there is still left over intrigue and fall out from Telamakos's adventures in the previous book.  Goewin continues to be my favorite adult character in the books. She is calculating and shrewd and not always completely honest about her intentions, but like her nephew she is a survivor. I like how she does not allow herself to be overcome by grief, sadness, or guilt. She feels those things but they don't become all she is. Her brother could learn some lessons from her. I do like how Wein is dealing with the characterization in this series. She is showing people as they are, with good parts and bad parts. Never simple good or evil. Yet it is hard to watch Telemakos caught in the middle of all that. Particularly when he's still recovering from everything that happens to him. A word of warning: If you read this you will want to have the next book ready to go. It was one of those endings. But I loved how the end reflected the beginning. Oh the symbolism.

The Empty Kingdom
Oh Telemakos, still so young and naive even after all he has suffered. That point was really driven home as this book opened up and found him suffering yet again, only far less so and with less grace. He still remains a character easy to adore and to see the brilliance in. I feel Wein did a great job of rendering an honest portrayal of a tricky adolescence here. Telemakos has been through so much but hadn't grown up yet. I also liked how his strength and will were highlighted in his refusal to take opium for his pain, but it was also made obvious that he wasn't entirely without his need for a crutch. And his reliance on that wasn't healthy for him or his crutch. Again, an excellent portrayal of the shades of gray in all people. Abreha, who Telemakos spends the book resenting, is not  an easygoing or nice man, but he is necessary for Telmakos's growth in a way no other person could possibly have been. I love how Telemakos comes to realize this and appreciate it in the end, even if he has no wish to repeat the experience. Despite all of his brilliance, Telemakos misses so much that is right under his nose in this one. This is  not a criticism, but a mark of his  youth and naivete. It highlights an entirely different aspect of his character. I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing his journey (well, most of it). I am so sad that it has come to an end. Fortunately I can always go back for a reread. I would be ecstatic if another book were added to this series.

A thought on the whole series: I liked the biblical allusions and symbolism woven through these stories. This is a place that was rich in culture and knew these stories well.

These books are not widely available. A sad state of affairs to be sure. BUT. That is changing. You can now purchase e-books of The Winter Prince and A Coalition of Lions. Wein says the others should be available soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

TTT: Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

This week's TTT topic is Authors Who Deserve More Recognition.

In thinking about this I came up with five names immediately and decided that they were the only ones I wanted to list. Adding others would be just me trying to get the number up to 10, which is unfair when these are the ones I truly and deeply feel deserve more recognition.

Megan Whalen Turner
The following for her books is growing, and that is a wonderful thing to see, but it is not yet nearly as large as it should be. She is a phenomenal story teller, the best currently writing books of any genre/age category in my opinion. It is just not right that her books are not more well known and that none of them since The Thief have won a major award.

N.D. Wilson
Wilson's books are truly extraordinary. He has one stand alone novel, one trilogy, and half of a series currently out in the world of MG fiction. He also writes adult theology/philosophy books that are wonderful. His current MG series, the Ashtown Burials, is a tale of myth and adventure that is as exciting as they come. He is gifted with the rare talent of being able to construct exciting plots, develop his characters well, and write brilliant prose.

R.J. Anderson
I love Anderson's books. All of them. I can not figure out why her Faery series is not being published in the US past the first two books, because they are SO GOOD. I order them from England so I can read them. They are that wonderful. (I don't do this for any other author. If it's not in print in the US I just shrug and move on. Not with her books though.) I am happy to see that Ultraviolet an Quicksilver have gotten such lovely attention here in the US, but it is still far far less than they deserve. Read her books more, people.

Jenn Reese
I adore Reese's Above World trilogy. It is inventive, exciting, adventurous and full of great characters you can love and relate too. Her world is fully realized and all the people in it fascinating. Furthermore these books have been a huge hit with every child whose hands I've put them in from ages 8-13. These books should be mentioned, book-talked, and listed by everyone.

Rebecca Barnhouse
Barnhouse has a way of weaving mythology into historical fiction that is nothing short of brilliant. Her novels reflect their time period perfectly while making it completely acces
sible to the modern reader. She creates characters you can love and, as an added benefit, her books are great for exposing kids to Norse myth and the epic poem of Beowulf.

In writing up this post I have realized that all of these authors have something in common. They write books that straddle that MG/YA line in many respects. Books that 5th graders can read and enjoy. Books that teens can read an enjoy. Books that adults can read and enjoy. Books that are actually perfect for that 7th-9th grade range. For some reason those books NEVER get the respect they deserve nor the attention. These writers are writing extraordinary books though and EVERYONE should be reading them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heartbreak Messenger

One look at the cover was all it took to hook me in. Then the premise, a boy who carries break up messages for a fee, sealed the deal. The Hearbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance is so much fun to read.

Twelve-year-old Quentin never asked to be "The Heartbreak Messenger," it just kind of happened - and he's not one to let a golden opportunity pass him by. The valuable communications service he offers is simple: he delivers break-up messages. For a small fee, he will deliver such a message to your soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. If you order the deluxe package, he'll even throw in some flowers and a box of chocolates...well, you don't want to leave a girl completely alone.
At first, Quentin's entrepreneurial brainchild is surprisingly successful. But as he interacts with clients and message recipients, from the teary-eyed football player to the dangerously powerful soccer chick, it doesn't take him long to start wondering whether his business will create negative repercussions in how life, especially for his relationship with his long-time best friend Abigail. Quentin discovers the game of love and the emotions that go with it are as complicated as they come - even for an almost innocent bystander.

 Quentin is a delightful main character. He is savvy enough to take advantage of a great business idea, yet so clueless when it comes to understanding relationships. He is not completely in his money making scheme for selfish reasons, but he isn't completely altruistic either. He comes across as genuine. He learns some important lessons about love and the human condition from his encounters with the people he brings his break up messages to. The impact this has on him is believable. Quentin's new business also affects his relationships with his two best friends. I appreciated how the friendships are portrayed, despite it being the oh so typical two boys-one girl friendship that pops up so much in MG books. It is used so much because it works well. Watching Quentin face the truth of his feelings for Abby was amusing and excruciating. Everything about them is so typical of the age.

The different scenarios Quentin finds himself in due to his job are hilarious. I wondered if it would start to get old, but it didn't. Vance wrote each encounter in a fresh way giving life to all of the heartbreakers and heartbreakees. All of them have the humor that comes from Quentin's awkwardness, but each also stresses the reality of how hard relationships really are. 

The Heartbreak Messenger will have wide appeal. Boys. Girls. Romantics. Anti-Romantics. There is something here for everyone. 

I read a galley made available by the publisher, Feiwel & Friends. The Heartbreak Messenger is available for purchase July 23, 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Reading Challenges Update

School begins for the Painter family tomorrow and so my Book a Day challenge is at an end for the year. I read a ton of great picture books, MG novels, and YA novels. Because of this and the 48 HBC I'm 15 books ahead of schedule on my Goodreads goal for the year. That will come in handy once homeschool co-op starts and I'm grading papers for three high school English classes. I will miss having so much time to read, but am excited about getting back to teaching and structure as well.

I am still participating in two summer reading challenges though.
Here are my goals and what I have read so far:
Series I Aim to Finish:
The Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart (2 books to go) My Review
The Lion Hunters series by Elizabeth Wein (3 books to go) Review posts Thursday!
The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima (3 books to go-though I think I should reread the 1st too)

Finished Series I will Read Completely:
The Tiffany Aching books in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

So yeah-still lots to read in the next six weeks.

What I plan to reread:
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson
The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson
The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones
ADDED: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima-Reminded to do this by first challenge.

I'm laughing at how overly ambitious I was.

Friday, July 12, 2013

School Books

Yep. My kids go back to school on Monday. I love doing year round school. I really do. As usual I thought I would share some of the stuff that I will be teaching this year, because I'm EXCITED.

Bit will be in 4th grade (Can you believe this!?!). Her history focus for this year is Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation. Oh so much good stuff to read. Lots of wonderful non-fiction and Norse Mythology. We will be doing a unit on Beowulf-to introduce her to the story and concept with which she will be reading:

With her history units she will also be reading The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood, King Arthur by Roger  Lancelyn Green, Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green, and a graphic novel version of Macbeth.

These are the books that I'm teaching for my 4th-6th grade co-op class. Bit is in this class so will be reading these as well.

I'm also teaching two High School Literature classes. One for 8th-10th grades and a 10th-12th grade British Literature class. So I get to teach all the awesome books basically. (I even managed to work it so I'm teaching The Queen of Attolia again. Because it is the most awesome of all awesome books.)

Little Musician is going to be in Kindergarten. (Even harder for me to wrap my head around.) I will be introducing him to all the greats via read aloud including Charlotte's Web.

Is anyone else actually looking forward to the new school year?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Binny for Short

It's a new Hilary McKay novel!!! That is really as long as this review needs to be right? It should be. But alas, some of you may not know about the wonderful Hilary McKay so I'll tell you a bit more. Binny for Short is wonderful, a terrific read for summer, or anytime you need a little summer in your life.

When she was eight, Binny’s life was perfect: She had her father’s wonderful stories and Max, the best dog ever. But after her father’s sudden death, money is tight, and Aunty Violet decides to give Max away—he is just too big for their cramped new life. Binny knows she can’t get her dad back, but she never stops missing Max, or trying to find him. Then, when she’s eleven, everything changes again.
Aunty Violet has died, and left Binny and her family an old house in a seaside town. Binny is faced with a new crush, a new frenemy, and…a ghost? It seems Aunty Violet may not have completely departed. It’s odd being haunted by her aunt, but there is also the warmth of a busy and loving mother, a musical older sister, and a hilarious little brother, who is busy with his experiments. And his wetsuit. And his chickens.

Anyone who has read McKay before will feel comfortable within the pages of this book. It is so nice to start a story, sit back, and know your in the hands of an author you can trust. Those unfamiliar with McKay are in for a treat as they discover the wonderful characters she creates and the stories she builds around them. Binny's story starts out pretty dire. Her father has died, her dog has been moved to parts unknown, and nothing is as it was. Binny is haunted by the hole her missing dog left in her life. She is haunted by how much less she can remember her father than her dog. She believes she is being literally haunted by her mean Aunt Violet who has left them her house. Binny is so delightfully 11, and I say that without any sarcasm. Gareth, whose family owns the house next door, becomes her instant frenemy. He is oh so obnoxious, doesn't like anything, and yet you can't help but want to hug him. He and Binny have some great adventures.

As always in true McKay style this is a perfect sibling story. Clem, Binny's older sister, and James, her crazy younger brother, play large roles and their personalities take up just as much space as Binny's. Their mother is stressed and overworked so the kids have to work together to help her out and take of each other.

The seaside village where the family moves is wonderful too. McKay brought it to life in so many wonderful ways. One can almost smell the salty fishy air and feel the sea breeze as one reads. Everything about the place, from the quaint diner to the tourist robbing seal boat to the seals themselves, give the reader a definite sense of place.

And can I also say, while trying to avoid outright spoilers, in a world where so many MG books feature tragically dead dogs this is a nice breath of fresh air.

I read an e-galley received from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss. Binny for Short will be available for purchase on July 23.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

TTT: Movie Adaptations

This week's TTT topic is Best/Worst Movie Adaptations. I already did a My Favorite Things post on my favorite movie adaptations, so I'm going to make my list all about the adaptations that made me want to throw things at the screen. One actually made me cry.

We'll start with the one that made me cry. Eleven years later I'm still ranty.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Apparently the movie makers were unable to deal with the complexity of Dumas's plot and the character of Edmond Dantes. The ultimate genius of this novel is that Dantes is both the hero and the villain. Much of brilliance rests in Dumas's subversion of the tragedy. You have an obsessed megalomaniac who finds redemption and doesn't come to an end of death destruction taking everyone with him. He turns back just in time to not destroy everyone including himself. He does some terrible things to people who deserve them, and some terrible things to others who don't. The book is clouded in shades of gray and Dantes is a complex multi-dimensional character. That's hard to render on the two dimensions of the screen. I get that. However, the people who made the movie clearly didn't get the whole point of the book. They took Dantes's amazing character arc and flattened it like a pancake, then reduced the amazingly complex plot to a story about a protracted love triangle (where did that come from?) gone awry with a villain who would be twirling his mustache if he had one to twirl. The plot "twist" they invented is predictable nonsense one can find in any soap opera. They also took out all my favorite characters besides Dantes, probably because those characters are essential to the plot, character arc, and redemptive themes they wanted nothing to do with.  I'M STILL ANGRY. This is one of my top favorite books of all time and they BUTCHERED IT. 

Les Miserables (1998)
And speaking of cutting characters and plot...I still don't understand how you can make a movie of this book and feel like Eponine is an extraneous character who can be cut completely in order to focus more on Cosette. I know there are plenty of people who hate the musical version BUT at least the people who created it understood Hugo's themes and point. Same can't be said of the people who made this disastrous version. Some stories are just  too epically big for a two hour movie, so maybe you should just not even attempt it.

The Hobbit(2012)
 Peter Jackson managed to avoid the mistake of cutting an epic story into too short a film version with The Lord of the Rings turning it into three wonderful movies. Then he lost all sense of reason and decided to err on the other side of the equation with The Hobbit, making a delightful adventure tale that could have been told in one two-three hour movie and dragging it out forever. Hot dwarfs aside, this movie is a hot mess. It shouldn't be because they scored on the acting talent side. Man does it drag on. And on. And on. Genevieve Valentine said everything I thought about this movie brilliantly here.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Is it even fair to include this? It's Disney so OF COURSE they messed it up. Except they shouldn't even have touched it in the first place. It is obviously NOT Disney material, and should not be Disneyfied. Still I wasn't quite prepared for how badly they messed it up.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)
I have a love/hate relationship with the Harry Potter movies, but this one falls fully into the hate column. I can't even watch it. I felt like they focused on all the wrong things, to the exclusion of important stuff that in turn made movies 7 & 8 awkward in parts. The fact that someone was even able to MAKE this video says it all (but I'm glad thewlis rox did, because it is so delightfully illustrates my point):

Prince Caspian (2008)
Some books just shouldn't be made into movies and this is probably one of them. Prince Caspian doesn't have a lot of action. There is a lot of walking and a lot of talking. The movie producers decided it needed to be spiced up. I get that. Prince Caspian is my least favorite of the Narnia books, because it is rather dull. I simply object to the sort of spicing up they chose to do. They had everyone acting completely out of character. And yes. The unmentionable thing that happened at the end made me the most angry.  Because EVERYTHING MUST HAVE ROMANCE. Ick.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Going to be completely honest here: I've never made it through this entire movie. I just can't. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet has me turning it off to watch the 1995 BBC version every time. I've never made it past the first 15 minutes.

ETA: The Tale of Despereaux (2008)
I can't believe I forgot this one originally, but Under a Gray Sky's post reminded me. And it so deserves to be counted amongst the worst. Bit hated it. And she was only four at the time.

Ella Enchanted
Another one I can't believe I forgot! Escape Through the Pages reminded me of this one.   I think it is that I have actively tried to erase this movie completely from my memory. It was such an awful distortion of the book. Shudder.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ruby Oliver: The Rest of the Series

Back in January I finally read The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (my thoughts). It instantly became one of my favorite YA books. I really like the way the themes were addressed and I loved Ruby's voice. I expressed reluctance to read the rest of the series in that review, but in the end I couldn't stay away. Ruby is one of those characters who worms her way into your brain and heart. I wanted to see how she fared after the events of Sophomore year.

The Boy Book: The Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them
I admit I was worried that all my fears were coming true and I shouldn't have picked up the sequel about halfway through.  Again, Ruby's voice is the great strength of the book. Her realistic tone and vulnerability as well as her mistakes make her genuine. I was wondering if this was simply going to be a rehashing of the first book and that is why I become wary at the halfway point. However, Ruby turns it around and I really enjoyed seeing her grow. The choices she makes toward the end of the book made me happy and I like that she felt so empowered by them even if she had regrets for where they led.

The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, Gideon-and me, Ruby Oliver
Ruby is trying so hard to be a good friend to Nora, continue to battle the consequences to her reputation from the Boyfriend List, and maintain some sort of life. I really liked the progress Ruby made in this book, the realizations she had about the people around her, and her choices. (One of which had me cheering for her-she has come so far!) Her parents continue to amuse her (and me). I still think her mother could do with some therapy too, but she loves Ruby. I like how Ruby came to see how much her parents do care for her and how much she appreciates them, even if they do still embarrass her from time to time. I have to say I really like where this book ended. A lot. I like where Ruby is, her epiphanies, and how things resolved with Nora and Noel.

Real Live Boyfriends: Yes, Boyfriends Plural. If My Life Weren't Complicated I Wouldn't Be Ruby Oliver
Once you have read three books of a four book series, it is impossible to not read the last book. I loved the way this book ended, but felt that much of it was a rehashing of things that happened in book three. Yes, it is important that Ruby realize she is not actually mental, or even all that neurotic, but I felt she was on her way there by the end of the third volume. I didn't really need to see it. Mostly I was annoyed at the Noel drama in this one. It felt a little forced. I didn't dislike this book, but I certainly didn't like it as much as the others. Ruby's voice is still wonderful though and anyone wanting to see what happens as Ruby winds up her existence in the Tate Universe before going off to college should definitely read it. You won't be able to stop yourself if you read the first three anyway. (Hutch is awesome. As always.)