Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Reviews for January 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

Check this out: So Valente started posting chapters of this book on her website in 2009 and it gained a huge following, won the Andre Norton award (previously only awarded to traditionally published books) and the readers' choice CultureGeek Best Web Fiction of the Decade award. Then it was picked up by Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) and rose to #8 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011.


So Valente could be the girl who circumnavigated the traditional publishing machine in a web-installment-novel of her own making. I know she already had a following and was very successful, but this book is DYNAMITE and would have captured everyone's attention, even if it was written by a newbie. This book is a must-read. I don't say that too often. But it is. I don't want to give even the tiniest bit of it away, because it's a treasure that is most fully enjoyed in the unraveling of every sentence. Think a modern L. Frank Baum crossed with Lewis Carroll, geared (officially) towards children, but a fantastic read for grown-ups, especially those who have read some Oz books and Alice's adventures. For those of you who don't have time to read actual books (this means you Will Terry), it's worth it to get the audiobook. It's SO worth it. Please please, everyone. Read this. From beginning to end, it's a complete delight.

Warnings: I found no questionable content, but some characters are naked at times, and there's blood. As September would realize: "There must be blood."

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Found this at the library book sale. I've read two others by Summers, and very much enjoyed Cracked Up To Be. This novel follows the social fall-from-grace of Regina, a high school senior. Regina enjoys the privileges of being in Anna's popular circle of mean girls, until she shares the details of a sexual assault with another of the circle's members. As a result, Regina is expelled from the group and becomes an outcast.

I had a hard time with this book, for a few reasons. It was well-written, with a believable narrator. I suppose it's just that . . . never has high school seemed so dangerous. Regina wasn't only part of the in-crowd, she was part of a mean crowd, so the entire student body despises her. Her former friends make a point of torturing Regina, past the point of endurance. Past the point of reality? I dunno. I didn't fit in much in school, so I had to deal with some bullying, but this seems like a LOT. But maybe it's just because I don't want to believe it. I don't want to believe that high school could be this bad. That one girl could have so much power. That only one person in the entire student body would stand up for someone else. Are things really this bad now? I've read about kids killing themselves over abuse and bullying, and this topic is one of the themes of Some Girls Are, but really? Is it really this bad? And where are the parents? Why is it that none of these parents really do any investigating? I worried about Cyndal as I read it. About the drugs, the sex, the psychological and mob abuse.

This book is bleak. I don't really recommend it to anyone I know. But there might be some readers out there who would identify with Regina's character and take courage. Warnings on: sexual situations, drug and alcohol use and pervasive strong language.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

This was a debut novel, but it read as the work of a much more experienced writer.

Since I'm feeling lazy, I will add the official synopsis:

Paul Fisher is legally blind. He wears glasses so thick he looks like a bug-eyed alien, and kids tell a story about how he blinded himself by staring at an eclipse of the sun. But Paul doesn’t remember doing that. And he doesn’t mind the glasses, because with them he can see. Can see that his parents’ constant praise of his brother Erik, the football star, is to cover up something that is terribly wrong. But no one listens to Paul. Until his family moves to Tangerine.

Tangerine is like another planet, where weird is normal. Lightning strikes at the same time every day. Underground fires burn for years. A sinkhole swallows a local school. And Paul the geek finds himself adopted into the toughest group around–the soccer team of his middle school. Suddenly the blind can see, geeks can be cool, and–maybe–a twelve-year-old kid can finally face up to his terrifying older brother.

Paul's story is a frightening coming-of-age tale with some very disturbing elements. Cormier's The Chocolate War came to mind as I was reading it. The difference would be that Tangerine ended on a distinct note of hope. Recommended, especially for middle-grade boys.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A novel written from the POV of three women, two colored house-maids and a white journalist. Skeeter dreams of becoming a real writer, and so hatches a plan during the Civil Rights Movement to detail the experiences of the colored help working in white households in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. As the women move forward with their project, they face expected dangers and bigotry.

I found The Help to be graceful and glorious at once. If you've seen the film and think you know the whole story, think again and then go read the book.

Highly recommended to older teen and adult readers.

Frozen by Robin Wasserman

I ran across this book during some window shopping in Barnes & Noble. I found it on the NEW shelf, but I was surprised I hadn't heard of it. This is a reprint of a book originally called Skinned and published in 2008. The new covers, featuring a slender woman's figure made of water or ice, are very slick and attractive. I wasn't sure how I would like the book, but Scott Westerfeld (whose Leviathan I loved) said it was "Spellbinding," so I thought I would give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised. Very surprised. Frozen is a dystopian delight. The setting is post-WWIII America, mostly financially and socially recovered, at least for the main character. The history of the cities/country are VERY interesting, and we get some lovely tastes of it.

Frozen tells the story of Lia Kahn, victim of a tragic accident and recipient of the Download. I won't give away what all this means, the unfolding of these terms within the narrative is quite a treat. Suffice to say that Lia is unlikeable as a person, but pitiable in her plight. I grew to like her more and more as the story progressed. Her arc is fascinating. Frozen is hard sci-fi for those who don't read sci-fi, and I mean that in the best way. Those of you who know me know I love sci-fi more than high fantasy, a good post-apocalyptic, a good dystopian and a book written SMART. Frozen is all of these. I highly recommend it. Sensitive readers, please see warnings.

Warnings on: Strong language, sexual situations.

Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler

Kristen Chandler is a beautiful person, gracious, talented and well-spoken. She also has great hair. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I liked her second novel better than her first, but it's true. I didn't think I'd like it better because her debut novel was so great. The next book could be just as good, but not better....

In Girls Don't Fly, nearly eighteen Myra Morgan helps her parents care for her four younger brothers and pregnant older sister, attends high school, works a humiliating job, deals with a break-up and nurtures a love for birds. She becomes a contender in an application race for a scholarship program studying in the Galapagos Islands. Myra's narrative is sensitive, humorous (this book is FUNNY), and graceful. Through a series of difficult experiences, Myra learns to spread her wings.

One of the things I love about Kristen Chandler's books is she combines natural science with compelling narrative and realistic characters. Girls Don't Fly is highly recommended for adults and older teen readers.

Soul Moon Soup by Lindsay Lee Johnson

I bought this book in perfect condition at a library book sale. I found the cover art interesting and added it to my pile of books on a whim. I am so glad I did.

Soul Moon Soup tells the story of eleven year-old Phoebe Rose, who lives homeless in the city with her mother. As their situation gets worse, Phoebe is sent to live in the country with her grandmother.

Written in verse, Soul Moon Soup is lyrical, lovely and heart-wrenching. I can't really describe my experience with it. Just know that I adored this little book. Highly recommended.

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