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review: “flash burnout” April 19, 2010

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Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan.
Houghton Mifflin // Hardcover // 336 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Blake was just doing his photography homework. He didn’t expect to find anything other than a cool subject for a photo shoot. But when he finds Marissa’s drug-addict mother, his — and her — world change. Now, he’s torn between helping Marissa and his girlfriend, Shannon. (Not to mention his conflicting feelings about both girls, his family, and the world around him.) Will he be able to put what’s really important first?

I was pleasantly surprised by “Flash Burnout.” I thought the voice was pretty authentic, and that Blake sounded a lot like some of my teen boys at the library. But what really impressed me about this debut was the heart of the story. Blake’s seemingly light tone and joke cracking had me thinking that the book would be a quick, light-hearted story. I was wrong — this book has real depth to it.

My favorite part of the story had to be Blake and his home life. I thought his mother, father, and brother were among the best, most well-developed families I have ever encountered in YA literature. And I think that the family was presented as a very relatable family — I think teens will find a lot of things in common with all of the characters.

There were some minor problems with teenage slang. (And yes, it drew me out of the story even though I’m surrounded by teenagers five days a week.) And this is a novel for older teens by far. But overall, I thought this was a very strong debut novel. While it wasn’t my favorite of the Morris Award nominees (a YALSA award for best debut author basically), I thought that it definitely deserved the win. It’s already in my library and I would absolutely recommend it for public libraries.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
L.K. Madigan

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a flurry of announcements. April 14, 2010

Posted by Katie in shoptalk.
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In lieu of an apology post for not updating more recently, I’ll just run down a catch-up of what’s been going on in my life/blog these past few weeks!

Nerds Heart YA

I’m really excited to be a bracket judge this year for “Nerds Heart YA.” This is a bracket-style competition to recognize under-appreciated/unknown YA books released the previous year. For this year, the books nominated (nominations are over) had to feature characters or were penned by authors in the following categories: Person(s) of Color (POC), GLBT, Disability/Mental Illness, Religious Lifestyle, or Lower Socioeconomic Status. Stay tuned here for my post or check out Nerds Heart YA for more info.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

I completely slacked this time on the 24-hour read-a-thon. Didn’t post my start post, had to work during the time, wound up having to go car shopping right after work, and only put away four books. Thanks, as always, to the organizers of the event and to the cheerleaders who still commented even though my blog looked a bit dead!

Read: “The Sky Is Everywhere” by Jandy Nelson, “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Blume, “The Daughters” by Joanna Philbin, and “The Reckoning” by Kelley Armstrong. Page count: 1103. Reviews to come.

John Green and David Levithan

Last Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of going and seeing both authors on the release day of “Will Grayson, Will Grayson.” It was a great signing — John and David both read from WGWG, answered questions, and talked about the process of writing the book. I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. And it is definitely worth noting that there was a Stormtrooper in attendance. Also worth noting was meeting up with Drea and Kristen — it is always awesome to see friends!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Yes, that is a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” feltboard. I made that at work this past week for my Eric Carle preschool program next month. I just had to show it off!

National Poetry Month

And my attempt at celebrating National Poetry Month at my Teen Book Display!

So, all in all, a busy few weeks at work (we were on spring break too!), but I should be back into the blogging swing now.

review: “boys, girls, and other hazardous materials” March 31, 2010

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Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman.
Putnam // Hardcover // 288 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

After a horrible eighth grade year, surrounded by frenemies and pressured to do what they want, Charlie Healey is certainly ready to make a fresh start at a new high school. But when she arrives at the school, she finds out that her past isn’t so easy to escape — there’s her childhood best friend Will, and Nidhi, one of the girls that the popular crowd tormented at her old school. And that’s not all that’s going on — Charlie’s got to figure out who her friends are and what exactly Will is hiding from her…before it blows up in her face.

I have mixed feelings on this one. I really liked its potential, but it didn’t really achieve it throughout the course of the story.

The first half of this novel is about Charlie and high school; typical freshmen issues — finding friends, joining clubs, classes, lockers. There’s little to no plot. And when Nidhi shows up, I thought, plot! But their differences are quickly gotten over and Nidhi becomes one of Charlie’s friends.

I was interested in Charlie’s life, and pleased to read a YA novel about freshman year. But the plot doesn’t really show up until more than midway through the novel when Charlie discovers that there’s more than meets the eye to the peer pressure and bullying around her.

And then, the plot moves quickly until the end of the novel, which does have a nice wrap-up, without leaving readers wondering what happens.

Charlie also annoyed me sometimes. I was frustrated when she started sounding like a mouthpiece for anti-bullying campaigns instead of a real teenager. (It didn’t happen often, but when it did — whoa.)

The supporting characters (Nidhi, Michael and Sydney) wound up being my favorites. And I did root for Charlie and Will to figure out that they needed to date, but only mildly.

Overall, this is a cute fun (slightly flawed) read that I know will find a place in YA literature. Public libraries would definitely benefit from having this in their collection.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Rosalind Wiseman

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review: “an off year” March 30, 2010

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An Off Year by Claire Zulkey.
Dutton Juvenile // Hardcover // 304 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Cecily had a plan — after graduating high school, she was set for college. But when she arrived at college for her move-in day, her plans changed. Cecily didn’t want to be there. So, she moved back home for a year, planning on taking a year off to figure out exactly what she wanted in life. The problem is she has no idea what she wants and no idea how to get it. For now, she’s content with sitting around.

This novel really surprised me with its honesty about one of the hardest transitions for teens — the transition from teenagedom to adulthood. And I think this is an area of YA that is just beginning to be explored; one that needs to be explored further.

I also thought that the novel might get to be a little boring if all Cecily was doing was waiting to figure things out. But outside influences in her life (her family, her friends, a therapist) really to the story, making it well rounded and not a completely internal dialogue.

I really connected with Cecily as a character. I feel like everyone has that moment in their lives when they look as the expected path laid out for them and wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing. I didn’t take any years off between high school, college, and graduate school — sometimes I really wish I had!

And it has to be mentioned — the novel takes place in Chicago and I still get a thrill out of reading books that are written in my hometown. Zulkey did a great job describing the area and I definitely felt like I was around the Rogers Park/Evanston area…even if the novel doesn’t come right out and say it.

Younger teens will probably be less interested in this title, but I definitely think this will work well with high school seniors/college freshmen.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Claire Zulkey

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review: “bleeding violet” March 29, 2010

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Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves.
Simon Pulse // Hardcover // 464 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Hanna hasn’t had the easiest childhood — she’s never known her mother, her father just died, and she’s a manic depressive. So when she sets out to find the mother who abandoned her, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that her task isn’t as easy as it seems. Rosalee wants nothing to do with Hanna, but agrees to a challenge — if Hanna can fit into the town of Portero, she can stay. But in a town like Portero, it isn’t easy to fit in…even if you are normal.

I loved this book. I don’t know how this review is going to come across, but I suspect it will be just a ton of gushing with an occasional coherent thought.

Hanna is the very epitome of a unique character. She’s bi-racial — black and Finnish — which totally shocked me. (Being Finnish myself, I’ve never come across a YA Finn. Ever! I did a dance of joy and called my father up to pronounce Hanna’s last name for me correctly.) But what’s more is that Hanna is crazy. She speaks to her father. She calls upon a swan to help her out, she only wears purple dresses — and she is an amazingly narrator who sucks you in and refuses to spit you out.

The world that Reeves creates is this horrific, grotesque, complicated, well thought out concoction that literally had me in awe from the beginning of the novel. I don’t want to say much in terms of the specifics so that I don’t spoil the ride for anyone, but this is one of the most unique world builds that I’ve ever come across in YA.

That being said, this novel will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of sex and sexuality, and it’s weird and it’s definitely a book that I would recommend to mature YAs. Some of my teens got it through the Simon Pulse program and they begged me to buy it for the library. I happily complied with their request.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Dia Reeves

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review: “scones and sensibility” March 28, 2010

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Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland.
EgmontUSA // Hardcover // 320 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Polly Madessa has fallen in love — with the works of Jane Austen and especially of “Pride and Prejudice.” After being inspired by the likes of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, she sets out her summer speaking as her idols did, determined to find romance in everyday life. When Polly struggles to find what she’s looking for, she decides to create it by playing matchmaker for her older sister, her best friend’s father, and the local owner of a kite store. Farce and comedy ensue as Polly tries to make the perfect couples she read in books.

This was a very cute novel. At first, Polly’s use of archaic language grated on my nerves, but I was soon smiling at the charm of the novel. It reminded me very much of the style of books I read as a tween (Anne of Green Gables, Betsy-Tacy, Little Women), but with a modern twist.

The romance and couples were obvious to me, and I knew exactly where things were going to fall apart. But I was happy to accompany Polly on her journey as she learned that her matchmaking wasn’t as thought out as she had planned.

I was surprised that Polly’s family and friends didn’t give her a harder time about her language and her behavior. Especially during one incident that actually has the police getting involved because Polly wrongly assumes that someone is unattached when in fact they are in a relationship.

What I struggle with is who to sell this novel to. My tweens are very young, and I think the ones that would make age-wise to Polly would have difficulties with the language that she speaks in. This is definitely a book that has a very tight niche, and it might be hard to sell it to a tween.

On the other hand, it is quite enjoyable and I think it might work well as a mother-daughter book club read. I am definitely looking forward to what the author will write next.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Lindsay Eland

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in my mailbox (41). March 27, 2010

Posted by Katie in in my mailbox.
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In My Mailbox explores the contents of my “mailbox” on a weekly basis. I’ll be using this as a book and contest round-up tool to show what I’m getting ready to review. If you would like to participate and have your own “In My Mailbox” post, you can find more information here at The Story Siren.

Library Check-Out

“Radiant Darkness” by Emily Whitman.

Scholastic Book Fair

“The Summer Before” by Ann M. Martin, “Confetti Girl” by Diana Lopez, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” by Jacqueline Kelly, and “The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet” by Erin Dionne.

NetGalley

“The Iron Daughter” by Julie Kagawa, “The Clearing” by Heather Davis, and “Inside Out” by Maria Snyder.

For Review

“Rules of Attraction” by Simone Elkeles and “Blood Feud” by Alyxandra Harvery.

review: “by the time you read this, i’ll be dead” March 26, 2010

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By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters.
Hyperion // Hardcover // 224 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Daelyn Rice has tried to commit suicide multiple times. The latest attempt has left her unable to eat solid food and to talk without pain. And Daelyn still wants to die — so she finds an online community to support her during her next attempt; the attempt that Daelyn wants to be her final success. But as much as Daelyn wants to die, others want her to live and they’re reaching out to her, trying to keep her alive.

It’s hard to review this book for me. I thought it was amazingly well-written, but the whole time I wanted to shake Daelyn and remind her that people cared about her. I was so utterly frustrated with her character and the seemingly unending hopelessness that she had — I really struggled to finish the book.

There are also pretty detailed descriptions on the methods that people chose to commit suicide, something that I almost wasn’t comfortable with in a YA book. And I have to say that I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to difficult subjects in YA literature. But when the descriptions were making my stomach turn? It was too harsh for me, and too harsh for a lot of the teens I know.

Daelyn does has reason for being truly unhappy — she’s been bullied her whole life for her weight. I don’t want to say it justified her depression and suicide attempts, but I felt like she had been truly abused.

[Spoilers for the end, run away if you don’t want to know!]

And the most frustrating part about the novel was that the ending was open — we don’t know what Daelyn did; if she did attempt suicide, if she was successful; or if the few people in her life were enough to convince her otherwise.

A hard-hitting well-written YA novel. I had trouble moving past the subject matter. And I think librarians should be careful to recommend it to teens who can handle the material.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Julie Anne Peters

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review: “magic under glass” March 25, 2010

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Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore.
Bloomsbury // Hardcover // 240 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Nimira is a singer in a music hall — a trouser girl — the bottom of the social pyramid. So when the mysterious and rich Hollin Parry offers her employment singing with his automaton, she packs her belongings and goes with Parry. But Nimira soon discovers that the rumors of a haunted automaton are exactly rumors — there is someone trapped in the automaton and it’s up to Nimira to set him free.

Dolamore’s debut is a unique work that easy to describe — truly enjoyable — yet hard to categorize. It has a Victorian/gothic sensibility to it, definitely some fantasy, a bit of romance, and this almost steampunk magic…

What is so remarkable is that the world is easy to slip into and understand, without a ton of back story overpowering the clean and simple story of Nimira and Erris.

My biggest problem with the novel was actually the length — it was too short! Nimira and Erris had this lovely building relationship and then, wham — all of a sudden they were in love. Additionally, the last forty pages race to the end and then the reader gets a cliffhanger. That really made me mad when I read it. (Just recently, Dolamore announced that Bloomsbury did purchase the sequel “Magic Under Stone.” No pub date has been announced.)

Other than the length and sudden romantic relationship, I was enchanted with this novel and cannot wait to read the sequel. I hope that we can have a better exploration of Nimira and Erris’s relationship. I also really want to learn more about the fairy world that is only briefly touched upon in “Magic Under Glass.”

This brings me to the hard part — I’m not sure who to sell this book to. I think the best bet is to start off with high fantasy lovers and see if word of mouth draws in other readers. I look forward to talking to my teens about this book!

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Jaclyn Dolamore

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review: “captivate” March 24, 2010

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Captivate by Carrie Jones.
Bloomsbury // Hardcover // 288 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Zara and her friends ended the reign of Zara’s pixie king father at the end of “Need” by trapping him in a iron-barred mansion. Now, all they have to do is make sure no pixies escape and everything will be fine…or so they think. By trapping Zara’s father, they’ve made way for a turf war between neighboring pixies, and for other pixie kings. But when Astley, a pixie king, shows his good side to Zara — she begins to wonder if all pixies really are evil. And when the stakes are raised, siding with the pixies doesn’t seem so horrible after all…

I really loved “Need” and was really pumped for “Captivate.” I came out with mixed reactions to the sequel. Overall, I really enjoyed the story and the new directions — but I did have some major out-of-character moments.

Zara was much more wishy-washy in this book, and instead of the smart heroine I loved, I had to read about her boyfriend issues over and over again in the first half of the book. And I honestly thought I was going to scream the next time that Nick called her “baby.”

What kept me reading was the immediate chemistry and intrigue between Zara and Astley. I’m not sure that Astley is truly “good,” and I’m not sure that I want him and Zara to get together, but I was so invested and interested in their scenes together — a thousand times more than Zara and Nick.

Now, I had really enjoyed Nick in “Need,” but he was reduced to a boyfriend doing nothing but “protecting” Zara by un-empowering her. This really bothered me!

Issie and Devyn are the cutest friends in the world, and I am so glad to see that they are continually being included in the story instead of being dropped now that Zara has a boyfriend!

And as for the plot, the beginning of the novel is very slow and took me a while to get into. But the last 100 pages flew by and the cliffhanger ending left me already counting the days to the sequel. I will definitely be sticking around for the third book, but I do hope that the Nick from “Need” returns this time around.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Carrie Jones

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