Saturday, February 28, 2009

Let's talk about winning SPEAK! (Contest with 20 copies)

Major giveaway time! Be sure to read the rest of our SPEAK feature to celebrate Laurie Halse Anderson. This is Part 4.

Here's the handy table of contents so you can follow along in order:

Part 1: Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (at Reviewer X)
Part 2: Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (continued) (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 3: Authors speak up about Speak (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 4: Win one of 20 copies of Speak (on both blogs)
One more part coming!

Can’t speak up about SPEAK because you don’t have a copy yet? Well, we want to remedy that situation. Steph and I have 20 copies to give away. All you have to do is win one of them is comment on this post. For a second entry, comment on the giveaway post over at Steph’s. And to double your entries (for a total of four) comment on both AND post a link to this giveaway (either to the one here or at Steph's) on your blog (sidebar is fine) AND let us know that you did so. This contest will stay open until 9 pm CST March 12th and is open to US and Canadian residents only.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Authors talk about SPEAK

Steph (Reviewer X) and I have prepared this feature on SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and since it is quite long, we have divided into parts. This is part 3.

Here's the handy table of contents so you can follow along in order:

Part 1 Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (at Reviewer X)
Part 2: Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (continued) (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 3: Authors speak up about Speak (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 4: Win one of 20 copies of Speak (both blogs)
Part 5 still to come!

For Part 3, I am pleased to welcome four authors who each have something to say about SPEAK: Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Becca Fitzpatrick, Jayne Pupek and AS King. A round of applause!!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted speaks up about SPEAK:

SPEAK was not the first book by Laurie Halse Anderson that I read - that honor would go to THANK YOU, SARAH: THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THANKSGIVING, which I read to my then six-year-old daughter - but it certainly was an important book and it made a huge impact on me. Like far too many people, I've known far too many girls and women in my life who have been the victims of acts of sexual aggression. SPEAK spoke not just for its own narrator, but for generations of girls and women. Whether with this book or THANK YOU, SARAH or with the forthcoming WINTERGIRLS, Laurie Halse Anderson is the gold standard that the rest of us YA writers can only hope to be measured against.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of several novels for adults and teens including SECRETS OF MY SUBURBAN LIFE and the forthcoming CRAZY BEAUTIFUL (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2009). Visit her website at


Becca Fitzpatrick speaks up about SPEAK:

I was twenty five when I first read SPEAK. Not exactly a young adult, but intimidation and demoralization feel the same at sixteen, twenty six or even one hundred and six! One of SPEAK's strongest moments happens in the classroom when Mr. Neck opens a debate on immigration. The moment the debate falls out of his control, he squashes it. “I decide who talks in here,” he says.

Those words made me feel like someone had stuffed broken glass down my throat. Six little words, and I immediately remembered all the times others have tried to silence me. In my early twenties, I took a train from Vermont to Philadelphia. The train arrived in Philadelphia hours delayed, and by the time I boarded the smaller commuter train taking me out of the city, it was late at night. The train carried only a handful of passengers. I found myself sitting beside a man who verbally attacked me. I was petrified and alone—with the eyes of the entire train car on me. From some silent place deep inside me, I wished he would go away. I wished I would disappear. The man's threats intensified, and the passengers shifted their eyes, pretending not to see what was happening.

Then a woman stood up. She told the man if he didn't stop threatening me, she would see to it that the train was stopped and the police called. Never before in my life, have I been so grateful someone had the courage to say the words I couldn't bring myself to say.

In SPEAK, after Mr. Neck closes the debate, a boy named David Petrakis stands up. Everyone watches him, wondering what he will do. I don't have to imagine how alone, afraid, and yet determined David feels, because I've been there. Mr. Neck orders David to take his seat, but David tells his teacher he's protesting the tone of the lesson. Powerful words to a man twice his age, twice his size—a man who controls the grade that will be immortalized on David's report card. While David could easily rationalize away his convictions, he doesn't. Then he sets the perfect example of what it means to speak up, and ironically, he does it without saying a single word.

"David stares at Mr. Neck, looks at the flag for a minute, then picks up his books and walks out of the room. He says a million things without saying a word. I make a note to study David Petrakis. I have never heard a more eloquent silence."

Becca Fitzpatrick’s first YA novel HUSH HUSH (Simon & Schuster) comes out in January 2010. Visit her blog at


Jayne Pupek speaks up about SPEAK:

Laurie Halse Anderson's debut novel, SPEAK, is one of the most compelling young adult novels that I've read. SPEAK tells the story of a young girl who becomes an outcast after she calls the police to bust a summer party where she was raped, an event she endures in secret. As someone who has spent more than a decade working in mental health, I can attest to the authenticity with which Anderson describes Melinda's fear and shame; she literally loses her own voice as a result of her trauma. This is a wonderful book to share with any teenager, but especially meaningful for survivors of sexual assault and for any teenager who is being ostracized for doing the right thing. A writer myself, I admire how Anderson uses wit to keep a very difficult subject from becoming overly dark and depressing. This is a moving and engaging read.

Jayne Pupek is the author of the novel, TOMATO GIRL (Algonquin Books 2008). Visit her website at:


AS King speaks up about SPEAK:

I was thirty-eight when I first read SPEAK. From the minute I started, the book had me hooked and I read it in one sitting. I suppose part of the reason I was hooked was to see Melinda say or do something about what had happened to her. I remember hearing the statistics back when I was in high school. One out of four women and girls is raped or sexually assaulted. I remember mentally lining up the girls in my gym class. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. That’s a lot of girls walking around with a secret burning through their souls—a secret they never asked for or deserved. A secret with its own secrets.

One scene that really sticks out from SPEAK for me is the scene in the art room where IT arrives and starts talking to her. When he says, “Hello? Anyone home? Are you deaf?” it’s just such a moment of raw emotion as a reader. I want to reach into the book and pull him out and somehow show him that he’s done this to a person—to more than one person. I want to show him that he has ruined people.

Melinda asks, “Why am I so afraid?” and I am there with her, equally afraid and quiet.

Two chapters later, Melinda is home sick, watching daytime TV, in the chapter entitled Oprah, Sally Jesse, Jerry and Me. Halfway through that page, there is a single question. “Was I raped?”

Oprah and Sally Jesse answer the question for us. They tell Melinda that this was not her fault. They tell her that she needs to get these feelings and these thoughts of guilt and self-blame out. This had to be one of the best writing vehicles I’ve read in a long time. Because in real life, we don’t usually talk about uncomfortable things unless it’s sensationalized to the point of TV talk shows, and, in most cases, victims like Melinda are silent. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. There are so many.

What Laurie Halse Anderson did when she wrote and published SPEAK, is a favor to all of us—victims or not. She allowed us to talk about something that’s systematically ignored. She allowed us to inspect this secret our society keeps hidden, and by doing so, she freed a great many women and girls from a quiet hell, no matter how normal they acted in public. For so many women, SPEAK is a ticket.

AS King is the author of DUST OF 100 DOGS (Flux 2009). Visit her website at: and her blog at:

Friday Fabulous! (6)

Here's what I'm excited about this week:

1. Remember how I won three book contests last Friday? Well, I won two more on the weekend! I won The Agency by Ally O'Brien at Wendi's Book Corner and The Italian Lover by Robert Hellenga at Morbid Romantic (I also won another copy of The Terror, but I threw it back in the hat).

2. My mailbox in Kansas had a great week. I got Genesis by Bernard Beckett (which I lusted after here), The Heights by Brian James (which I lusted after here), Prophesy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink, Geektastic by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. I also got Need by Carrie Jones in a book swap with Sharon.

3. I won another blog award, the Your Blog is Fabulous Award from Amelia at Book Junkie, who has a very colorful blog. Thanks Amelia!

4. I went to my second pilates session this week and I am enjoying it so far. It doesn't seem like you are doing much during the class, but afterwards, you are sore in places you didn't even know you had muscles!

5. I got to meet Ann, her husband and her son. Ann contacted me after becoming a reader of my blog and realizing that we both lived in Frankfurt! She has three children's picture books that she wrote coming out soon, so we were thrilled to show her our picture book library. She also borrowed some of my YA stuff including Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley and the new Sarah Dessen Along for the Ride.

6. Kate Winslet won the Oscar! And we may go see The Reader tonight, since it finally came out here. Let's see though because I have a horrible cold.

What are you excited about this week?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Let's talk about SPEAK II

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. So Steph (Reviewer X) and I thought we'd celebrate with this feature. Since it is quite long, we have divided into 5 parts. Part 1 is on Steph's site so please read that first.

Here's the handy table of contents so you can follow along in order:

Part 1 Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (at Reviewer X)
Part 2: Steph and Lenore speak up about Speak (continued) (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 3: Authors speak up about Speak (at Presenting Lenore)
Part 4: Win one of 20 copies of Speak (both blogs)
Part 5 still to come!

NOTE: The following is continued from part 1 on Reviewer X's blog.

Steph: This is a book about alienation, ostracism, and loneliness – it’s not just about rape. In fact, Melinda doesn’t mention what happened to her until pretty late into the novel. I think that while it’s evident the assault is a major part of the plot, it resides in the subtext. The way it is handled helps those who feel exactly like Melinda but for different reasons relate to her. This is the part of the novel that got to me the most because her observations were right on the mark and poignant.

Lenore: You know, Melinda seems resigned to being rejected, and it hurt to read because you just feel like so much of her suffering could have been avoided had she just SAID something from the beginning. What is your take on the title – does it seem a little ironic seeing as Melinda hardly ever says anything?

Steph: Melinda omits a lot of what happened to her at first, but the narrative itself is straightforward. There is no guesswork to be done about what Melinda means—she thinks it simply and she thinks it clearly, even if she never physically says anything. There’s a power behind that, especially in connection with the reader. I love how this novel is vivid and contains great imagery without resorting to ornate prose.

Lenore: That’s so true. You know, I have mixed feelings about the Heather character. I did feel a bit sorry for her. She’s new in town and wants desperately to have friends and all she ends up is mopey Melinda who never wants to do anything. Heather can’t know what happened to Melinda, and yet, even though she sees she’s depressed, she never even tries to dig deeper and have a heart to heart. OK, maybe Melinda might not have been ready to open up at that point, but at least give her a chance. As for trying to be a Martha? Bad call.

Steph: My favorite character is the free-thinking art teacher, Mr. Freeman. From the get go, he’s the intuitive force of nature who will help Melinda break out of her shell. Melinda realizes this, too—when everyone is going on about how insane he is, she’s thinking he’s the sanest person she knows. I love how he teaches creative expression as an outlet for the soul and a basic necessity for a well-adjusted person. How real he is—emotional, crazy, sometimes a little irrational. And I love his quotes. But those taken out of context are not nearly as powerful, so I won’t ruin it for everyone.

Lenore: Yes, Mr. Freeman (now there’s a name with symbolism!) is really the polar opposite of Mr. Neck, the authoritarian teacher who only respects his own opinion. Mr. Neck certainly doesn’t encourage anyone to speak out or speak up for themselves. But do readers take the title to heart? Does it give them the courage to talk about what's going on their lives? Many people say it does. And I hope so. Laurie Halse Anderson has said she didn’t write the novel with a message in mind, but rather she just wanted to tell a good story: “Good books reflect the human experience, and we all learn from that.” (SPEAK Platinum edition bonus materials)

Both: Hear, Hear.

Thanks for joining us!

Where should my next book take me?

I haven't been on a trip since I went home for Christmas, and I'm getting the travel itch! I picked out a few books with exciting destinations and I want you to tell me where I should go!

Should I go to the sun-kissed beaches of Cancun, Mexico and into mysterious Mayan ruins where ancient myths flirt dangerously with present realities? If so, vote for Feathered by Laura Kasischke.

Should I go on a road trip across the USA with my fictional ex-boyfriend Jordan? If so, vote for Two Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt.

Should I go to Israel with my fictional estranged father? If so, vote for How to Ruin My Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles.

Should I go to London and do everything my fictional aunt instructs me to do in 13 Little Blue Envelopes? If so, vote for the book by Maureen Johnson.

Or should I go Elsewhere?

I guarantee that sometime in March I'll read and review the book that gets the most votes!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scene of the Blog: Photo of my blog/work space

Cathy at Kittling: Books has an awesome new feature where she highlights the blogging space of bloggers around the blogosphere. And today, it's all about me!

So click here to see my space in all its glory. You know you want to.

Cathy is also still accepting participants, so if you want your blogging space to be featured as part of this series on her blog, just leave her a comment or shoot her an e-mail.

Thanks Cathy!

Waiting On Wednesday (22) The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement Moore

I came across this cover this week and I just had to pause and admire it for a moment. I love how the title treatment hints at something dark.

Random House has the book listed under Ghost Stories and Horror, but the only summary I could dig up was the one on Rosemary's own website:

Sylvie Davis is a ballerina who can't dance. She's still reeling from her father's death, her mother has remarried, and Sylvie is shipped off to stay with relatives in the back of beyond in Alabama. She expects to be miserable, but when she sees echoes of the past repeating patterns of love, loss and greed, she wonders what's true, and what is her imagination. Sylvie's lost nearly everything - is she starting to lose her mind as well?

Well, that's a nice tease! I am fascinated by the psychological aspects mentioned, and I can't wait to see how exactly the paranormal is involved and if this goes in a thriller direction (please!) or not.

The Splendor Falls will be released in September 2009.

UPDATE - The publicist for the novel just sent me a bit more info and it looks like romance figures heavily into the plot as well:

Sylvie's father's cousin is restoring a family home in a town rich with her family's history. And that's where things start to get shady. As it turns out, her family has a lot more history than Sylvie ever knew. More unnerving, though, are the two guys that she can't stop thinking about. Shawn Maddox, the resident golden boy, is the expected choice. Expected and presumed by everyone. But Rhys--a handsome, mysterious foreign guest of her cousin's--has a hold on her that she doesn't quite understand.

Then Sylvie starts seeing things. A girl down by the lake. A man peering into the window. And a graveyard with an oddly placed headstone.

A modern gothic romance set in the South, Rosemary Clement-Moore has created a heroine who will steal your heart, a house that will haunt you, and a love story that will leave you breathless.

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. So head on over to her post this week to see what books other bloggers are lusting after.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (42) + picture of Emmy

Today's question at Wendi's Book Corner: Do you have a specialized blog where you only review a certain genre or type of book? If so, what is your favorite thing about that type of book? If not, what is/are your favorite genre(s)? What makes that genre(s) a favorite?

I have eclectic taste and I review nearly everything I read, so in theory, that means just about any type of genre could show up on my blog. I even reviewed a Christian romance once. That said, the majority of my reviews are literary fiction or young adult fiction. I really enjoy literary thrillers, historical fiction (plagues, middle ages, and early US history being favorites) and certain types of Sci-fi/fantasy (fairy-tale retellings, time travel, speculative, dystopian, post apocalyptic and generally Earth bound). I also like to mix in the occasional non-fiction book and memoir.

I am by no means bound by genre, in fact, I love finding novels which transcend genre and break new ground. Like, if someone wrote a chick-lit dystopia, how cool would that be?


Every morning after getting brushed, Emmy wants her daily dose of fresh air and bird ogling on our back balcony. Since it is winter and we don't want her to get too cold, we snuggle her into her cat bed (otherwise ignored) and put her out for about a half hour, checking every few minutes to make sure she hasn't jumped out and wound her leash around the table. Here she is telling me that she's not yet ready to come in...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: Where am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman

When I worked on a project for Tommy Hilfiger, writing product copy for their high-end European TH Denim line, I became very interested in the process of making jeans. During a visit to the flagship showroom in Amsterdam, designers walked me through their newest styles, explaining the details. They also told me that making jeans is not an automated process. It takes actual workers to load washing machines full of jeans and stones to make stonewashed jeans, deconstructions and fraying are done by hand, and resins and paint are hand sprayed to make each pair unique.

I would have loved to go on a factory tour and see some of these jeans being made. Kelsey Timmerman got to do just that, and it’s the reason why I picked up his book about his journey across the globe to see where his clothes were made. He went to Bangladesh for his boxers, Honduras for his t-shirt, China for his flip-flops, and upstate New York for his shorts. And, in my favorite section by far, he went to Cambodia to tour Levi’s factories.

I’ve been to Cambodia – even toured a local village – so many of his observations about their culture and low standard of living weren’t new to me. Apparently, Timmerman isn’t a professional journalist, and his prose is sometimes choppy and disjointed, but he mixes hard facts with humorous anecdotes to make this a highly interesting and informative read. At one point he describes asking a Levi’s employee in Phnom Penh if he can get a factory tour. He is open and honest about his intentions and he expects a rebuff:

“As I talk, he presses a button on his phone. I wait for a trapdoor to open beneath my chair, swallowing me. I imagine I’ll slide down into a pit full of idealistic, anti-globalization activists. I’ll be the only one wearing Levi’s and drinking a Coke. Some of them, having been there since the mid 1990s, will be zombielike, and they’ll walk towards me all herky-jerky with outstretched arms chanting, “Diet, Cherry or Vanilla, Coca-Cola is a killa!” Then they’ll eat my brains, because that’s what zombies do.” (p.113)

The employee surprises him though and arranges someone to take him. At the factory, he sees workers grinding jeans with stones and sandblasting them with sand guns. He interviews employees at their homes and comes to the conclusion that even if they don’t live well – they earn only about $60 a month, half of which they send back to the villages to support their families - they are a lot better off than if the garment industry didn’t exist there. We may think of them as sweatshops, but they are also opportunities for desperate people who might otherwise be picking through trash dumps to earn a living.

Timmerman believes in being a conscientious consumer and even provides some resources on how you and me can become one too. That means supporting companies that support fair working conditions. And it means understanding where our clothes come from. This book is a step in the right direction.

Where am I Wearing? is available in hardcover now.

Fun Fact: One of Tommy Hilfiger Denim's most expensive pair of jeans is made in Italy and hand scraped with brush of iron nails to give it its lived-in, vintage look. Now that even sounds kind of fun!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bookshelves: Before and After Blog

So this is what my bookshelf looked like in July 2007:

This is what it looks like today (I added some shelf extentions on the middle and right shelf, but not the left shelf...yet):

Oh, and I had to buy another bookshelf. Review books and catalogs are double stacked here:

And here's the shelf of unread YA hardcovers (the unsigned ones) that I keep on the shelf above my desk:

There is another shelf next to my desk too, but that is just work related books and office supplies mostly.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Fabulous! (5)

Things I’m excited about this week:

1. My lucky star must be shining this week because after a long draught, I won three book contests around the blogosphere. First I won a *signed* copy of Suzanne Selfors' Saving Juliet from Yan at Books by their Cover. Then I won an advanced copy of Eyes Like Stars from the amazing Shakespeare Scavenger Hunt that Author Lisa Mantchev and some awesome YA bloggers put together. And today Carey told me I won The Terror by Dan Simmons on her blog The Tome Traveller. I am very much looking forward to all three of these books.

2. I also got a couple of new books in my mailbox: Amberville by Tim Davys and Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard.

3. We are 99% sure we are going to get another Birman kitten to be Emmy’s companion. If things go as planned her new little friend will be born at the end of March and we’ll get to bring him home in mid June! Maybe then Emmy will stop waking me up at 6:30 am...

4. Sun dried tomato strips! I make a very easy pasta salad whenever we have guests and the only time consuming part was cutting up all the sun dried tomatoes (I use the ones in oil, so it was messy too). This week I found out that they are now selling the “cut and ready for salads” version. YAY!

5. Tonight we are going to see the new film version of German film classic Effi Briest – in German. I hope I understand everything!

6. The Oscars are finally here on Sunday. You know I’m rooting for Kate Winslet! And BTW, my favorite "Oscar Watching" site is Sasha Stone's Awards Daily.

What are you excited about this week?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Life is a journey and the people you meet along the way help determine its route. For high school senior Terra, life has always been defined by the suffocating atmosphere of her small town (where everyone knows her as the girl with the port wine stain) and the pristine house where she lives with her verbally and emotionally abusive cartographer father. Though she dreams of escape for herself and her mother, it takes a chance encounter with adopted Chinese teen goth Jacob to finally set her on a course towards independence and self acceptance.

At nearly 400 pages, North of Beautiful has the space to really explore topics such as the nature of beauty, the beauty of travel, sticking up for yourself, and trying to fit in when you stick out. As in the collages Terra loves to create, there are many interesting disparate details – from ancient maps, geocaching, and Chinese history to candle making, coffee tasting and metalworking - that come together to form a pleasing whole.

I loved how the “meet-cute” with Jacob in part one improbably leads to Terra and Jacob accompanying both their mothers on a trip to China in part two of the novel. Her horizons expanded, Terra really blossoms – her relationship with her mother improves and she finds herself falling in love with someone who sees beyond the facial flaw that has always held her back. Jacob is seriously swoon-worthy and is part of one of the sweetest first kiss scenes I’ve read in a long while.

NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL is out in hardcover now. It’s a novel whose journey is definitely worth taking. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FUN FACT: Author Justina Chen Headley and I share a dream travel destination: Bhutan! Not only does she mention it in this interview with Jocelyn of Teen Book Review, she also has Jacob say in the novel that he loves Terra’s port wine stain because it is the shape of Bhutan. Cool!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Mini Interview with Moi (2)

Well, I've only gotten two questions from you all so far, but I will go ahead and post them along with my answers.

Question asked in many comments on my Tuesday Thingers post this week:
Why do you have so much cereal?
Well, I really like cereal. I eat it every morning for breakfast. Most of the cereal brands that I prefer, Quaker Oat Squares, Chex, Post Great Grains among others, are not available in Germany. So I buy a ton of boxes while I am in the states and bring it back in my suitcases (along with all the books). And then I have to put it somewhere. That’s where my custom cereal shelves come in. I also beg visitors to bring me cereal when they come. Thanks again to Linda Gerber, Wes, Dad, Sommer, Tracy, Kelly and Steve, Rachelle, Marc, Rob Schneider, JR and many others for keeping me in cereal over the years. P.S. I also really like Almond M&Ms (thanks Jay!)

Question from Beth Kephart:
I'd like to know if there is any review of a book that you would retract if you could—a book that got much better or much worse with distance.
Whenever I read a review of a book that I’ve also reviewed by a reviewer I respect and they have a vastly different opinion, I do second guess myself for a second. I think that’s natural. But I stick by my reviews. At least the ones I’ve published on my blog.

There was a review I wrote on amazon way back in 2001 of Martyn Bedford’s The Houdini Girl which in hindsight may have been a little harsh. I gave it 2 stars. Here it is:

Boy meets girl. Girl moves in with boy the next day. Boy and girl live together until one year later, girl leaves boy. The twist here is that the boy (Red) is a magician and the girl (Rosa) turns up dead before he even knows she's left him. What happened here? And who was Rosa really?

The first part of the book is engaging and we see snippets of Red and Rosa's life together in flashbacks, as well as Red's gradual discoveries that Rosa was not what she seemed. Red makes a sympathetic character, UNTIL we come to the second part of the book, where Red steps out of character and starts acting like a master detective (only for the sake of bringing the plot forward it seems). Red's actions are so unbelievable that the book turns nearly into a farce. Still, I read eagerly on, waiting for the payoff: what happened to Rosa?

Some reviewers have noted that this book isn't easily forgettable, and I'd have to agree. Although I won't be keeping this one on my bookshelf, I did have an enjoyable time reading it.

Well, a couple of months ago, I was e-mailing with Julia Hoban, author of the upcoming YA novel Willow, and she told me how much she had loved the novel and it made me stop and think back. 8 years later, and I still remember the novel pretty well. If I were rating it now, through the lens of nostalgia, I might be more forgiving and bump it up to say 3 ½ stars. In fact, I actually wish I hadn’t given it away now, because I’d like to read it again.

Any other questions out there? Don't be shy! I'd love to do a part 3. Oh, and I'll answer the easy ones right in the comments.

Waiting On Wednesday (21) The Heights by Brian James

I loved Wuthering Heights when I read it as a teen (though, no, I don't think it depicts an ideal romantic relationship by any stretch of the imagination) and I like modern retellings of classics, so this new title by Zombie Blondes Author Brian James (due April 28, 2009) definitely caught my eye.

Here's the description from the macmillan website:

Henry liked to imagine his life began that cold rainy day in San Francisco when Mr. Earnshaw found him shivering by the side of the road. That was the day Henry met Catherine. For Henry, Catherine is like a precious gift. She pushes away his angry thoughts and makes him feel safe and calm. And though Mr. Earnshaw, a widow, raises the orphan and Catherine as brother and sister, their love for each other goes much deeper. They vow to always be together.

But everything changes when Mr. Earnshaw dies suddenly and Hindley, Mr. Earnshaw's own son, gains control of the family finances. Furiously jealous, Hindley never accepted Henry as a true member of the family. He works to sever Henry's relationship with Catherine and the violent rage Henry has harbored since he was a child bubbles to the surface. . . .

Contemporizing the classic novel, Wuthering Heights, notable YA author, Brian James delives into the dark nature of obsessive love, the social injustices of class, and the self-destructive power of revenge in this emotionally raw unforgettable offering.

Ooh - sends chills up my spine! Do you like modern retellings of classics? And if so which ones would you recommend reading? Which classics would you like to see updated?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (41) + picture of Emmy

Today's question from host Wendi: How do you get your books for reviewing? Do you track them somehow (excel, database, etc), or just put them in a tbr pile?

The first books I reviewed on my blog were books I bought and books I won in contests or from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Then I discovered Shelf Awareness and wonderful people called publicists. I've done my share of cold requesting (with a relatively high success rate), and I've accepted a fair amount of unsolicited books offered to me as well. I've only ever requested and received one book from Bostick Communications as most of their offerings don't interest me in the slightest. The library has been a good source for challenge books, but not for new releases which is what I usually review.

In addition to my review calendar, I have a marked up excel sheet where I track which books I have recieved and what their status is. It is very colorful! Books won in contests are highlighted yellow, books that urgently need to be reviewed are highlighted red, and books I've finished are highlighted green. I also have a couple of shelves where review books are organized by upcoming release date. When the release date has past, they go onto another shelf. I've started to break out in cold sweats everytime I look at my excel sheet or my shelves. Is my TBR pile really that HUGE? EEEK! I keep swearing I won't request or accept anymore books...but then a really great offer comes along and I can't say no...


Emmy's new favorite hobby is to jump on top of our fridge and pull down a couple of cereal boxes from our lowest cereal shelf using her paws so she can get up there. Then, she'll get behind the rest of the boxes and push them down. We've been hearing a lot of crashing noises from the kitchen lately that's for sure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review: The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

Raise your hand if you have an evil stepmother. Alice, Reena and Molly all do. For various reasons, each girl finds herself at a posh boarding school in rural Massachusetts and each tries her best to pretend she doesn’t come from a messed-up, broken family. When they find each other, they discover they no longer have to suffer alone or in silence, and the Poison Apples are born.

Yes, I have a stepmother. Yes, there were times I thought she was evil, especially during the early adjustment period. So I could definitely relate to the Poison Apples.

The book is narrated by all three teens in alternating chapters and divided roughly into three sections: the introduction of the characters and their stepmothers, arrival at boarding school, and the revenge plot over Thanksgiving break.

I loved the first section and Alice’s situation was pretty familiar. Her mother died of cancer and then she spent a couple of years moping around with her father. When her father meets someone new, she sincerely wants him to be happy. But when they announce they are getting married, Alice is shell-shocked. Stepmother-to-be R. convinces Alice’s father to sell his house and move into their own place – and Alice isn’t welcome. Instead, her father breaks the news that she’s to be sent to boarding school:

“Alice,” Dad said suddenly. “You’re not going to live with me and R. It doesn’t make sense.”

I stared into Dad’s eyes. Dad, I tried to silently implore him. I don’t want to freak out right now. I don’t want to give R. another reason to hate me. I don’t want you to think I’m a bad daughter. Just. Please. Don’t. Make. Me. Go.

The weird thing was, I could tell Dad was also trying to tell me something with his eyes. He was silently begging me to be okay with this. To not make him guilty. To not make him feel like he was marrying a psychopath who wanted him to send his daughter away… (p. 17-18)

Reena and Molly’s evil stepmothers come courtesy of divorce: Reena’s story is outrageously hilarious (it involves yoga and a penguin) and Molly’s is unfair and sad (it involves a lot of unpaid babysitting and a mental institution).

The boarding school section is peppered with fun wicked stepmother anecdotes and appearances but drags a bit when it veers off to explore other topics such as Reena’s crush on the English teacher.

And the end. Well, the end may surprise you! I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a stepmother or is a stepmother. Or anyone who just likes reading about stepmothers for that matter.

The Poison Apples is now available in paperback.

Fun Fact: The UK cover (the black one) was the first one I saw, and it made me really want the book. Which cover do you like better?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Love Letter to My Collection of Signed Books

Since it's Valentine's Day, I thought I'd do a post on some of the books I love most in my collection - the signed ones! I've even scanned in five of the most interesting ones for all of you to envy see. I'm pretty sure this is a complete list, but I've gotten a ton since I started book blogging, so I may have forgotten one in there somewhere...

Personalized to me (met the author):
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Piece by Piece by Tori Amos

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Silver by Norma Fox Mazer
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All three books in Death by series by Linda Gerber
Now and Zen by Linda Gerber
Die Welle (Graphic Novel) by Stefanie Kampmann

Personalized to Daniel (met the author):
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (German version)

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky
Ariol by Marc Boutavant
Ausser Dienst by Lewis Trondheim
Dschinn Dschinn by Ralf Koenig
Smartypants, Cinders and Change-a-lot by Babette Cole (French version)
Sehr Beruehmt by Philip Waechter
Aunt Eater Loves a Mystery by Doug Cushman

Personalized to both of us (met the author):
The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie DePaola

Personalized to me (did not meet author):
The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo
The Emerald Tablet by PJ Hoover
Far World: Waterkeep by J. Scott Savage
The Elite by Jennifer Banash
Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab
Undercover by Beth Kephart
Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies by Erin Dionne
Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gehrman
The Rule of Won by Stefan Petrucha
Oh.My.Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Confessions of a Contractor by Richard Murphy
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles
Secrets of my Suburban Life by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Starfinder by John Marco

Signed books:
Wake by Lisa McMann
Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern
The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
The Specialists: Model Spy by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: Down to the Wire by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: The Winning Element by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: Native Tongue by Shannon Greenland
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci
Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky
Alec Flint, Super Sleuth by Jill Santopolo
Creepers by Joanne Dahme
Back Talk by Alex Richards (marked up!)
A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
Cherry Bomb by Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna (marked up!)
The Lost Episodes of Beatie Scareli by Ginnetta Correli

Signed bookplates:
Violet by Design by Melissa Walker
Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley
Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds by Paul Bracegirdle

Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Reviews: Wake and Fade by Lisa McMann

17 year old Janie feels like she’s cursed. Not only is she dirt poor with an unemployed drunk for a mother, she also gets sucked into other people’s dreams if they fall asleep in her vicinity. Afraid of what would happen if someone found out about her ability, she tries to cope with it as best she can all alone. But the stakes are raised when she falls into someone’s gruesome nightmare and sees herself as a participant. Will she ever be able to just live a normal life?

Wake is at its heart a classic “superhero” origin story. Janie may not wear a cape, but she does have a “superpower” that she has to come to terms with and learn to control during the course of the novel.

Janie is often exhausted physically and emotionally due to all her dream excursions, so her attitude is pretty no nonsense. She does just enough to get by – at home, at school and at her job at a nursing home. The writing style really reflects this, with short, choppy sentences that don’t beat around any bushes.

The tone is on the dark side, but I liked that as Janie works through her issues, she also starts expand her personal interactions – even enough to include a love interest. Janie’s relationship with broken boy Cabel is one of the more touching I’ve read.

I’m glad I waited to read this until I got the sequel, because as soon as I turned the last page, I was eager to dive into Fade.

****If you haven’t read Wake yet, and you don’t like spoilers, don’t read any further because I am about to discuss its sequel, Fade.****

As Fade begins, Janie is finally feeling kind of good about herself: she has a boyfriend (even though they have to meet in secret for now), she’s working on controlling her powers, and she has a sense of purpose thanks to her job with the police. But then, when Janie is put on a case involving a suspected sex predator at her high school, she gets in way over her head. And she learns the bleak truth about being a dream catcher.

Fade was just as engrossing as Wake, and although the undercover police plot seemed a bit too convenient in many ways, the dream catcher reveal was really shocking and surprising. Fans of the Janie/Caleb relationship in Wake will also be thrilled to know that they’ll be getting lots of hot “off again/on again” drama between the two.

Fade doesn’t end on a cliffhanger (thank God!), but I am definitely looking forward to February 2010 when I can get the next book in the series.

Both Wake and Fade are available now.

Read a great new interview with Author Lisa McMann over at Maw Books Blog.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sorry, I'm just not that into you...

For the past couple of years, my policy has been to complete every book I start. True, I may abandon a book after a few pages, but if I make it to page 50, I’m going to finish the book.

The sheer amount of books in my towering TBR pile has made me rethink that policy. So today, I am going to talk about 2 books I abandoned recently. I’d love for someone to convince me it’s worth it to pick them up again!

First off, there is The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee. It is about a girl named Jennifer who is mourning the loss of her older sister Beth and tries to figure out why Beth died using clues found in a box of her sister’s things. Ok, so the premise isn’t that exciting, but Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief and my writing hero gave it an awesome blurb:

“Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished, just to stay near it. The Anatomy of Wings is one of those books.”

I started this one with high hopes which were quickly dashed. The first 20 pages or so are about Beth’s funeral and frankly, it’s tedious. There are far too many character introductions including tons of random cousins and aunties who travelled from afar to attend the event.

The second chapter starts with promise:

“This is the story of Elizabeth Day. I have pieced it together with my own two hands. I have made it from things I saw and things I did not see but later knew. It is made from the tatters of terrible things and the remnants of wonderful things. I have sewn it together before it fades.” (p. 22)

However, by page 50, I still wasn’t engaged and didn’t feel like reading more. So I put it down and started something else.

The Anatomy of Wings came out on Tuesday.

Then there is The Believers by Zoe Heller. I really enjoyed Notes on a Scandal so when I saw that Barnes & Noble was offering this as part of their First Look book club, I signed up immediately. The Believers is about a woman named Audrey who uncovers a secret about her husband Joel after he has a stroke. Both she and her grown children have to come to terms with the “unsettling discovery” during the course of the novel.

The novel starts with a prologue set in 1962 where Audrey meets Joel and agrees to marry him on their first date. Ok.

Fast forward 40 years and Audrey is a bitter woman set in her convictions and combative about everything. After a couple of chapters of her bad attitude, I didn’t really relish more of the same. Not even the “secret” could compel me to read further. I put it down at page 46.

The Believers comes out March 3rd.

Anyone else read these and think I should pick them up again? Or maybe you are struggling with a book or books that you just can't seem to finish?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Picture Tag: The Last Stalin Statue Standing

Taylor tagged me so I had to find my 5th photo file folder, then the 5th photo in that file folder. So here it is:

It's from my trip to the Republic of Georgia a couple of years ago. One of the cities I visited was Gori, birthplace of Stalin. Since he's their native son, they've pretty much forgiven him all his many transgressions and have allowed his massive statue to continue standing (that's me and my friend Camilla at its base). They also have a very one-sided museum in his honor (if you didn't know better, you'd think he was a pretty nice guy based on their exhibits).

Waiting On Wednesday (20) Genesis by Bernard Beckett

The Genesis summary from the HMH catalog has me very excited with buzz words like "post-apocalyptic", "utopian" (you just know that actually means dystopian) and "plague-ridden". Well, just read it:

Set on a remote island in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, this electrifying novel is destined to become a modern classic. Anax thinks she knows her history. She’d better. She’s now facing three Examiners, and her grueling all-day Examination has just begun. If she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And that the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be.

In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim?

Those questions also sound like ones that need to be asked on Battlestar Galactica, don't they? Reviewers in New Zealand, where the book was originally released, are in fact calling this a modern YA sci-fi classic and it recently won NZ's highest award for YA fiction, the NZ Post Award. Very exciting! Too bad the fine folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt never seem to get my e-mails begging them for their awesome books. Guess that means I really will have to wait until the April 2009 release date stateside.

McClelland & Stewart is releasing it in Canada (also April 2009) with another cover and offers this description:

A brilliant and chilling dystopia for a new generation in the tradition of Brave New World.

“Explain to us why you wish to enter The Academy."

Anaximander, a young Academy candidate, is put through a gruelling exam. Her special subject: the life of Adam Forde, her long-dead hero.

It’s late in the 21st century and the island Republic has emerged from a ruined, plague-ridden world, its citizens safe, but not free, and living in complete isolation from outside contact. Approaching planes are gunned down, refugees shot on sight.Until a man named Adam Forde rescued a girl from the sea.

“Anaximander, we have asked you to consider why it is you would like to join the Academy. Is your answer ready?”

To answer that question, Anaximander must struggle with everything she has ever known about herself and her beloved Republic’s history, the nature of being human, of being conscious, and even what it means to have a soul. And when everything has been laid bare, she must confront the Republic’s last great secret, her own surprising link to Adam Forde, and the horrifying truth about her world.

I also found the planned UK cover (left) and the New Zealand cover (right). Which of the four covers do you like the best? Which one would get you to take a second look at the book? I prefer the US cover - kind of a darker version of The Other Side of the Island. The UK cover is prettier, but it doesn't look like a dystopia cover to me. The Canada cover makes it look like a comedy. Don't even get me started on the NZ cover.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (40) + pictures of Emmy

Today, not only does Wendi reference the 898 5 star ratings of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, she also asks:

Do you use a rating system on your blog? How do you feel about using the rating system provided on sites like Library Thing and Amazon? When looking up information on a book you are interested in, do you use the ratings provided by these sites (or similar sites) to help you make the decision on purchasing the book?

Let me address Outlander first. Apparently it has an average rating of 4.41, so I had to go and add my rating which is a generous 1.5 stars. I picked it up a few years ago because of the time travel element and I did manage to finish it despite being very disturbed by the beating and raping scenes.

And now rating systems. I don't use one on my blog, and I probably never will. I do rate books on LT, Amazon and GoodReads and my ratings are very subjective to my personal tastes and sometimes my mood at the time of rating. I really like that LT lets you give half stars - I find that VERY useful.

Here is the key to my review site ratings:

1/2 star-1 star:
Why did I waste my time?! I'll burn it. (j/k - I've never burned a book though I have rated 2 books only 1 star on LT)
1 1/2 star: I didn't like it, but others might. I'll donate it.
2 stars: It was ok, but had some flaws. I'll donate it.
2 1/2 stars: It was ok, flawed, but with something special about it too. I'll donate it.
3 - 3 1/2 stars: It was good. I will donate it, or give it to a friend I think might like it.
4 stars: I really enjoyed it. I may keep it or I may pass it on to a friend.
4 1/2 stars: It was an excellent book. I will most likely keep it and let friends borrow it.
5 stars: I loved it. It goes on my keeper shelf. I might loan it out, but I'd expect it back in perfect condition.

Due to all the problems with Amazon's rating system, I don't really take their ratings seriously. But I will look at ratings on LT and GoodReads to gauge general satisfaction. A few low ratings aren't necessarily going to keep me from getting a book, but if all the ratings and reviews are low, it will definitely make me think twice.

Emmy never plays with store bought cat toys. She likes ribbons, elastic hair bands, balled up paper, bottlecaps and other non-toys. On Saturday we got a free helium ballon, so I hung a hair band on the end and she played with it for hours...until it flew out the window while we were airing out an unfortunate "cat play spray" accident.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Review: This One is Mine by Maria Semple

Violet Parry is an LA woman with everything: a successful and faithful husband, a beautiful toddler, and so much cash that she drops $300 on premium chocolate just because she feels sorry for the store. Since quitting her TV writing job though, she feels dangerously isolated in her expensive house and just might do something reckless…

Sally Parry, Violet’s sister-in-law, has just one thing on her mind (other than herself) and that is marrying a man whose star is on the rise. She has her sights set on someone, and this time, no one, especially not her chosen prey, is going to keep her from getting what she wants…

This is not the type of book I usually read, but when I heard that Author Maria Semple was a writer for the TV show Arrested Development (my favorite TV comedy of all time), I decided to give it a go. Arrested Development was not only brilliantly hilarious, it also excelled in making the viewer sympathize with characters that were extremely unlikable.

True to the Arrested Development mold, Violet, Sally and most of the supporting characters are extremely egocentric, make very bad decisions and are not the type of people you would ever want as friends. But somehow, you do end up caring about what happens to them. And yes, there are many absurdly funny scenes. There are also mentions of diseases as diverse as autism, diabetes and hepatitis C, but refreshingly, none of these are played for laughs.

I read the first few chapters aloud to Daniel and he enjoyed the authentic LA feel of the novel (he lived there for 5 years), but he said had trouble concentrating so he’ll finish it on his own (yeah, right!).

There is a heart buried deep within all this dysfunction, and I think it is perfectly expressed by the Hafiz poem Semple chose to include at the beginning of the book:

Someone put
You on a slave block
And the unreal bought

Now I keep coming to your owner
“This one is mine.”
You often overhear us talking
And this can make your heart leap
With excitement.

Don’t worry,
I will not let sadness
Possess you.

I will gladly borrow all the gold
I need

To get you

This One is Mine is available in hardcover now.

January Contest Winners!

Today I'm thrilled to announce the winner of the penguin prize pack and winner of the custom header contest.

The Penguin Prize Pack contest was by far my most successful contest to date - nearly 300 entries. I think it is safe to say that there will be more of these in the future! Thank you for all of your suggestions on sites to find out about books. Many I knew already, but many were also new to me. I used to draw the winner:

#30 is Hillary of The Book Reader. Congrats!

Now here's Daniel drawing the winner of the custom header contest:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Well Worth Watching Blogger Profile (2) The Chick Manifesto

For my second Well Worth Watching Blogger Profile, I chose Taren of The Chick Manifesto. I watch Taren's blog like a hawk, because you just don't know what will come next, but you know it's likely to be very entertaining. She's the co-host of the VC Andrews Challenge (along with Steph, one of my all time favorite bloggers) and she rocks the new Read Carpet Podcast.

And now she answers my questions!

If someone were to blurb your blog in 25 words or less, what would he or she say?
Aaaah I have no idea! Hopefully they'd say that it's a fun, random place to read about old favorites, new releases, and things they might not know about.

What kinds of books do you read and review on your blog?
I try to do all kinds, from current YA and chick-lit to biographies, historical fiction, and older books, both classics and plain old favorites. Lately, I've been re-reading a lot of V.C. Andrews books for the challenge I'm co-hosting. Basically, I like a wide variety of things and sticking to just one genre would kill me. So hopefully I have or will cover something for any book lover.

What were a couple of your favorite books recently and which ones are you most looking forward to reading soon?
A couple of books come to mind right away. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell I love love loved! It's a non-fiction look at successful people and how they were helped by outside factors and weren't just "self made men". It's so down to Earth (and in no way a self help book or anything cheesy like that!) and has stuck with me since I read it. Another, that I know a lot of people love, is Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. I have the attention span of a fruit fly and I could not put that book down. It's great if you like romance, science fiction, or adventure. I'm so excited about the sequel that's going to be released this fall. As for other upcoming reads, look no further than the pictures of my bookshelves I just posted. There are a few hundred I haven't read yet that once I stop procrastinating I'll get around to.

I'm all about The Hunger Games. What are some of your favorite posts or reviews in your blog archive and why?
I'm strangely proud of my three part V.C. Andrews Primer (1, 2, 3) because people seemed to like it (I had no idea there were so many VCA fan out there!) and it was fun to look at these trashy fun books from sort of a literary standpoint. I like my Outliers and American Wife reviews just because it's so fun to write passionately about something if you really love it or really hate it and those two were definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Those are exactly the posts I would have picked! What are some posts or reviews on other blogs that have caught your attention as being well worth reading?
That's a really, really hard one and so hard to pinpoint. Just recently I loved your post about dystopias, the transcript of your Read Carpet podcast segment. I envy Steph, Reviewer X's ability to write negative reviews since I'm generally so chicken about critiquing books and she's so…not! Alea at Pop Culture Junkie does this great round up with pictures of the books she got that week that are always so creative.

Ahh..Thanks! Complete this sentence: "If I didn't have my blog..."
If I didn't have my blog I wouldn't know about some of the great authors I've discovered or the awesome bloggers who are so much fun to talk to and read!

We are so thrilled you do have your blog, Taren. Thanks for playing along.
The Well Worth Watching Award was created and designed by Joanne of The Book Zombie. I'm just passing it along to other bloggers!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Transcript: Presenting Lenore Presents...Dystopias (1): What If?

Science fiction asks the “what if” questions, like ‘what if there was life on mars” or “what if little green aliens attacked earth”. Dystopias ask “what if society was really, really frakked up?” – how would people live and what would they do about their situation?” Authors build fictional dystopian societies as a device to criticize some hot button cultural issue of the day and to show us what our future might be like if the human race doesn’t get their act together.

George Orwell wrote his dystopian classic 1984 in 1948 and publicly asserted that it was written as a response to the oppressive communist and fascist regimes of that time. Today’s dystopias explore societies built on everything from marketers abuse of consumer privacy – such as in MT Anderson’s Feed – to government mandated plastic surgery – such as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. In 2008 we had Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games which can be seen as a criticism of reality TV, Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island, a criticism of extreme environmentalism, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, a criticism of the termination of human rights in the name of national security.

Not all dystopias are necessarily criticisms of course. They can also ask purely speculative questions such as “what would happen if children were left to rule themselves?” This was in fact asked twice this past year, in Michael Grant’s Gone and Bonnie Dobkin’s Nepture’s Children, two books I don’t feel a pressing need to read, because this particular question was quite adequately answered for me by William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Post apocalyptic fiction is a very similar and often interchangeable subgenre which explores the question “what if there would be a complete breakdown of society due to some cataclysmic event?” Books in this category include The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Life as We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Something that I’ve noticed is that dystopian novels written for adults tend to have unresolved and/or depressing endings while novels written with a teen audience in mind tend to have more uplifting or inspiring endings. If the teen protagonist doesn’t find a way to overthrow the society completely, he or she at least carves out some measure of freedom within or outside the society.

YA novels also tend to be less brutally realistic. In Life As We Knew It, Miranda and her family are holed up at home and trying to survive after a meteor hits the moon and pushes it too close to Earth, causing massive societal disruptions. There are no more food deliveries so people are starving. At one point, Miranda’s cat goes missing. Had this been an adult dystopia like The Road, the cat would have been roasting over a fire and in some starving belly by day’s end. But no. The cat comes back! And he even has enough dry cat food to last him until society can get back on its feet again. I found this unrealistic in the context of a post-apocalyptic landscape.

But despite that very specific plot criticism, I really love YA dystopias. They are generally creative, exciting reads and I think they are a great way to get teens thinking about and discussing “what if” questions and hopefully thinking about ways to make our world a better place so that we don’t actually have to live out a dystopian or post apocalyptic future.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Fabulous! (4)

What I'm excited about this week:

1. Last Sunday, Daniel and I went to a cat show. The breeders we bought Emmy from were showing 6 of their cats and invited us. Since it was only 20 minutes away, we decided to check it out. Tons of cute cats and crazy cat obsessed people! I also got a bunch of free product samples – dry food, canned food and clumping litter (which is not so easy to find here in Germany).

2. At our friend’s Superbowl party (we only stayed for the first quarter), Daniel made some sort of drunken deal and we ended up with 144 cans of Fresca.

3. My blog received yet another award this week: The Blog Friends Award from Staci at Life in the Thumb. Thanks Staci!

4. I came across this bookish version of Sir Mix A Lot’s I Like Big Butts called I like Big Books at Both Eyes Book Blog. It is genius. Read it now!

5. A couple more books in my mailbox: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King for her 15 weeks of Bees tour (I am up in March) and The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano.

6. Have you tried the Dulce de Leche Girl Scout Cookies? Seriously yummy.

Book Review: Tell Me Who by Jessica Wollman

Sixth grader Molly Paige and her best friend Tanna find an antique machine in Molly’s basement that has the power to tell them who they’ll marry. News spreads and all the kids at school now want to know “who” too. Meanwhile, Molly tries to find a way to keep her widower father from marrying the horrifying woman known as “The Claw” even though the “Who-meter” says their marriage is a done deal. Is the future decided or can it be influenced?

This concept had me super excited thinking of all the possibilities. How would your dating life change if knew the name of the person you were destined to marry? Would it help you avoid heartbreak or would you miss out on some great relationships while waiting for “the one” to show up? Would the absence of mystery suck all the roller coaster fun out of dating?

Once I started reading though, I pretty quickly realized that this novel was not set up to explore such questions.

Instead of jumping right into the action of the main plot, the book begins with a bunch of long winded set-up scenes that feature random elementary school kids doing disgusting things such as chewing with their mouths open. The “who meter”, the reason I’m reading this, does not show up until page 50. Not cool.

But then it does get kind of fun. Tanna finds out she’s going to marry some rich British guy and uses UK slang the rest of the book. Molly plots “The Claw’s” downfall and is grossed out when she finds out she’s destined to marry a younger neighbor. One classmate finds out she’ll marry 7 times. Another not at all. Only Molly’s basketball tutor Julie refuses to use the machine, saying:

“I guess it feels kind of like reading the last page of a mystery before you’ve even started.” (page 133)

Wise words Julie. I only wish you and your pals hadn’t been confined to a 3 month time period in a middle grade novel. That this wasn’t YA or even adult fiction is a real missed opportunity in my eyes.

TELL ME WHO is out in hardcover now. Find out more about the book at the author's website.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Mini Interview with Moi

I asked Sharonanne to send me some questions because I thought it would make a nice companion to the last meme I did a couple hours ago.

1. If you could travel in time to the future or the past where would you go and why?
I would go back to my high school years, when my mother was still alive and my grandmother still had her mind and I would just ask them tons of questions and really, really listen. I would let them teach me how to crochet and cook and garden.

2. What do you like the most and least about living in Germany?
I like being able to walk or take public transport to most places I go. I like being in central Europe where I can just get on a plane or train and arrive somewhere exotic in just a few hours time. I like seeing how the ancient and the modern juxtapose. I enjoy being able to partake of all the different kinds of fresh bread and cheese.

I do not like the poor customer service. Yesterday we went to a lamp store to get a lamp fixed that we bought in November. I mentioned that of the two light bulbs we bought, one did not work. Instead of apologizing that his store sold me faulty merchandise, the employee implied that I was lying and stated that I couldn’t prove it. He’s lost my business forever – and all for a light bulb that sells for 1 Euro retail. And sadly, incidents such as this are all too common.

3. How did you get involved in doing a podcast segment?
I left a comment on Adele’s blog about the time she was organizing The Read Carpet and she e-mailed and asked if I wanted to get involved. I told her I would love to as long as she didn’t mind that my voice is somewhat nasally!

4. If you could clone any author after they die who would you clone and why?
You mean so he or she could keep on writing? My first instinct is to say Lemony Snicket because maybe he would hang out with me out of gratefulness. That would be entertaining.

5. How do you choose the next book that you'll read?
I keep a review calendar which lists the books that must be read/reviewed in a given month. If I happen to have more time to read, then I can choose one from my less urgent pile. These will usually be books that have been released months ago and that I’ve seen great reviews for and think “I have to read that!”. There are several late spring/summer ARCs that I really, really want to read, but I’m waiting until closer to their release date. I am surprised I have so much willpower!

Anything else anyone wants to know? Ask in the comments or send me an e-mail. I'll compile any questions and answer them sometime (soon). Also let me know if you want me to ask you 5 questions, because I guess this is how it works!