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.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bookanalia Spring 2012 AND Publishing

So Geary and I went to a book sale today at the Provo Library. Ty's mom Karen was with us too. She got six books. Geary got 22-ish dollars worth. I got 37 books for $28.50, including:

The Isle of Blood (ARC) by Rick Yancey - third book in the Monstrumologist series.
Two YA ARCS (one dystopian), one called Drought and one called Variant.

Geary picked up the Cinder ARC. Good gleanings. I need a library. Like, one in my house. Or just a room the size of this house devoted to books. Book sales make me happy.


I sold a story to http://www.wilywriters.com/blog/. It was "Eric" and it will be available as a text and audio file in March or April. I will post details when they are available.


I will be a regularly contributing writer this year on http://www.anthemexposition.com/.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Books of 2011

A list of the books I read in 2011. Only 62. It feels like so much more when I'm making the list in my mind. I think the list was shorter than it would have been because fall semester was such a killer. I spend most of my time making art those months. I should listen to more books on tape. Then I could make art AND add books to my list at the same time!

The Girl Who Could Fly

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Paint the Wind

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me

The Maze Runner

The Anatomy of Wings


The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Alchemist

True Grit


A Break With Charity

When You Reach Me

Love, Stargirl


Curse of the Wendigo

I Am Legend

On Writing

Miles From Ordinary

Life As We Knew It

Fight Club

The Chocolate War

Beyond the Chocolate War


Fever: 1793

Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural

Esperanza Rising


I Am Not Esther

Carolina Autumn

Going Bovine

This World We Live In

The Dead and the Gone


The Game of Sunken Places


Burger Wuss

The Replacement

Fall for Anything

A Blue So Dark

Button, Button

I Am Legend

The Secret Life of Bees

Harris and Me

The Postman


The Invention of Hugo Cabret



The Limit


The Upstairs Room

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler


War Horse

Knee-Knock Rise

Jacob T. Marley



Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 23

Batman: Noel

The Last Unicorn

Anyway, here's to getting lost in a good book.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Reviews for December

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

Ty and I received this from my maternal grandparents for Christmas. I'm a big fan of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, so I didn't know what to expect with this.

I really, really liked it. A lot. Written in the pseudo-style of Dickens, this tale focuses on Marley, Scrooge's partner we never got to meet, since he's deceased at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Much is revealed about Marley's life and Scrooge's as well, to everyone's benefit (especially the reader's). I don't want to give anything away, but if you make reading A Christmas Carol part of your personal Christmas celebration, I suggest you add Jacob T. Marley to the tradition.

Highly recommended.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

An urban teen retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

The narrative is told from the Beast's point of view. The prose isn't
very memorable, and I was mostly bored until Beauty showed up. It was okay. Most teens would like it. Warnings on: Language.

Something to note: In the book, the Beast is a BEAST. With hair, and claws and fangs. As in the traditional telling of the tale. Why, when they made this into a movie, does the Beast look like this?

There are plenty of girls who would date this guy. What makes him so repellent? Facial tattoos? Piercings? Big deal. I consider this creature design a FAIL.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

This book was my big discovery of the holiday. Ty gave it to me for Christmas, and I would be hard pressed to find something more creative. Plus, it's steampunk!

Set in an alternate past, during the events of WWI, Leviathan follows the paths of two teens, Prince Aleksandar (son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. . . yes, THAT Franz Ferdinand) and Deryn Sharp. Following the deaths of his parents, Aleksandar flees the land of the Clankers in a Stormwalker (think mech-warrior) to escape plotting countrymen. Meanwhile, Deryn is training (in disguise as a boy) to be an airman aboard the Leviathan, a genetically engineered airship designed by the Darwinists.

It's too complicated and wonderful to describe here. There are gorgeous illustrations by Keith Thompson too.

Highly recommended.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Cyndal got this for Christmas, so I stole it for a few days.

This book tells the story of Michael Vey, a teenager with a secret. I'd say it's a cross between X-Men and Jumper, but with powers focused on electricity. The narrative was funny in places, and my elementary school-age boys enjoyed listening to me read it aloud.

I think Cyndal will like it. I understand that there are two more in the series to come.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I'd never read this Newbery Medal winner, so when we ran across it at the library book sale, Geary tossed it into my bag.

Claudia is tired of boring life with her family, so she determines to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to live with her little brother Jamie. While there, they hide from security, make money by dredging the wishing fountain, and explore exhibit after exhibit. Following the museum's inclusion of a new piece of sculpture nicknamed Angel, Claudia and Jamie research the statue's history, hoping to prove it was created by Michelangelo. Their quest takes them to the house of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where they learn the truth.

This charming little book is a little dated (part of its charm) and all about art! Highly recommended.

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt

" From the moment young Egan arrives in Instep for the annual fair, he is entranced by the fable surrounding the misty peak of Kneeknock Rise: On stormy nights when the rain drives harsh and cold, an undiscovered creature raises its voice and moans. Nobody knows what it is—nobody has ever dared to try to find out and come back again. Before long, Egan is climbing the Rise to find an answer to the mystery. "

I loved this sweet book. Another Newbery winner Geary slipped into my stack.

A quick read recommended to all ages.

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

Ran across this book at the library book sale. As we were walking out, we just stopped for a moment into the special book room. I debated buying this, but only for a moment. I've read Surrender and The Ghost's Child by Hartnett (reviews on this blog) and really admired her work.

"Plum is soon to turn fourteen, and one evening she stands in front
of a mirror with her school dress around her ankles, her body
reflected naked and distressing in the glass. . . . Her hands
gather her hair in a dense ponytail, and her face, unshielded, looks
round and inflamed, her eyes the tarred tips of poison darts. Her
arms are strong, her neck utilitarian, not vulnerable at all: indeed,
Plum’s entire body is somehow too much – too tall, too thriving,
too there. "

Butterfly tells the story of 13-year old Plum. She stands in front of the mirror one morning and realizes she's ugly. After this realization, she makes a series of discoveries, is put-upon by frenemies, and turns fourteen.

This is a GORGEOUS book. The prose is Hartnett's signature amazing style, lyrical and lovely. The only yummier prose I've read is Marcus Zusak in The Book Thief. Highly recommended. Warnings on: strong language, sexual situations.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, adapted for graphic novel by Peter Gillis, with art by Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon

Yes, I know we've all read it. But read it again. And then read this version.


Batman Noel by Lee Bermejo

Stoo gave this book to me for my birthday. He handed it to me and after I unwrapped it, said, "It's A Christmas Carol. With Batman."

And that's exactly what it is. Fantastic artwork and a great twist in storytelling, Bermejo's work is a revelation. Non-purist fans of A Christmas Carol will like it. Fans of Batman (of course) will like it. Some might be surprised to find that the Scrooge character is Batman himself.

Thanks Stewart. I loved it!

Warnings on: Violence, language.

The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss

This Newbery Trophy book tells the true story of two Jewish girls living in Holland who have to hide in a Dutch family's home to escape the Germans.

I love the way it's written, in the innocent perspective of a child.

I will recommend this to my girls. I think it would be good to read as a family as well.

Warnings on: disturbing situations.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

I'm a horse person. And I love books. Needless to say, I am a sucker for horse books. When the preview to the film came out, I cried in the theater. To the preview. I haven't seen the film yet. I wanted to read the book first.

Like Black Beauty, War Horse is told from the horse's point of view. It takes place in England during the First World War. It's sad. Mostly. But has a happy ending.

Recommended, especially for horse lovers.

So I was lying in bed at my parents' house, finishing up this book. My mom knocked and came in to tell me something. She took one look at me and said, "Are you crying? Are you okay? What's wrong?" I held up the book and shook my head. She laughed. "Oh." She knows me well.

The Limit by Kristen Landon

I met Kristen Landon at the Teen Book Fest. She was very nice and signed the book for me.

The Limit is YA fiction, set in a creepy near-future. The basic idea: if you go over the government-imposed debt limit, they take your children.

Matt is in middle school, living a normal adolescent existence, when he learns that his parents have gone over their limit. So begins the drama. Well, it's not too dramatic, or suspenseful. But I love the concept. Middle-grade readers should eat it up.

Warnings: No questionable material.

Wither by Luaren DeStefano

So I didn't pick up this book for months because I hated the cover art. As you know, I don't like photos as book covers. Especially photo-covers that look like French mag fashion spreads. Also the book was in hardback, which is incredibly expensive, especially for people who are used to shopping at library book sales. But I had just finished the last of my book pile I'd brought down to AZ for holiday reading (ten books) and needed something, and I happened to be in Barnes & Noble, and there it was, in paperback. I couldn't resist. In spite of the cover.

To be honest, the cover grew on me. It's totally symbolic, and actually kinda cool.

Here's the beginning of the official description, because I've written a bunch of reviews and I'm tired:

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years--leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

I didn't know if I would like it. But I did. And even pieces that would normally bug me, holes in the plot and such, didn't get in the way of my enjoyment. This is a plague book, a post-apocalyptic and a dystopian all in one. Yum!

Recommended for older teens and adults. Warnings on: sexual situations (nothing graphic) and disturbing imagery