Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: "The Good Neighbors, Book One: Kin" by Holly Black

Title: The Good Neighbors, Book One: Kin
Author: Holly Black
Illustrator: Ted Naifeh
Publisher: Graphix, 2008
Where I got it: The library.

Rue starts right off the bat by telling us she doesn't worry about anything. She doesn't worry about her mother who has been missing for 3 weeks, she doesn't worry about her dad who has gone into a stupor since her mother disappeared, and she doesn't worry that she might be going crazy. That's why she's seeing all of these weird things and impossible beings, right?

But when her dad is accused of not one, but two murders, and a previously unknown grandfather shows up, she knows she has to dig a bit to find some answers. What she finds is much more than she bargained for.

Holly Black has created a spellbinding world in which faeries and folklore exist among the mortals in our worlds. The two previously lived together fairly peacefully, if not on the best of terms, but things are starting to crumble a bit. Rue finds herself in between the two worlds, through no desire of her own, and discovers she is to play one of the biggest roles in some sort of upcoming confrontation, though she's not sure of specifics, and we're not given many answers in this first installment of the Good Neighbors trilogy.

Black certainly leaves her readers with a lot of questions, which I expect to have answered in Kin's sequels. The story is promising, if not terribly original, and Black promises at least an intriguing plot with some interesting characters.

Speaking of characters, I found it hard to connect with any of them. We are treated with Rue's first-person narrative, but I wasn't particularly fond of her and didn't quite feel enough sympathy to care about where she was going or what she was trying to figure out. I was invested merely in the story, and not the players (unless you count finding out about mysterious characters, like the thus-far-impenetrable Tam). Her friends seem loyal, except for her boyfriend, and her dad a decent enough guy, but I found there was little character development or depth to any of them.

As for the illustrations, Naifeh was born to draw faeries and magical creatures. Humans not so much. I found myself confused as to how people came to the extreme emotional duress the illustrations implied—they occasionally seemed far too dramatic. The rest of the time, they looked warped and unpleasant, like they didn't quite fit their skin, and their features were inconsistent. The only way to tell who was who was often defining characteristics like hair and clothing.

I will continue reading the series, if just to find out what happens and learn more about the different beings in this world. I sincerely hope there will be a greater need for faery illustrations and less for humans. It's an interesting premise, and I'm hoping it will live up to its potential.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I am so thankful to be a part of such a loving, supportive, intellectual and stimulating community. Thank you for being in my life!

I'm thankful for my family, my home, my education, my boyfriend and all the food I'm able to eat—especially the luxuries. I'm excited to partake in a feast of thanksgiving with family and friends.

Big Bird was not so lucky.

But look how happy everyone else is! Enjoy your meals!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top Ten Things to get me in the the Holiday Spirit

Okay, so I know I just posted about how I wouldn't be posting a whole lot these next few weeks, but I just had to take part in this week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) since it's pretty much my favorite stuff ever. After you read my top ten, mosey on over to The Broke and the Bookish to link to your own. What gets me into the holiday spirit? Well, let me tell you!

1. A Christmas Story: This movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. I've been known to watch it in February. We put on the TBS marathon while we open presents Christmas morning and leave it going while we're home—I can't wait to watch it again! And I know it's a book. I haven't read all of it, but I definitely will this year. Once my special Christmastime discount rolls around, I'm totally buying this and reading it and loving it.

2. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry: Best quick Christmas book ever. It's short, has pictures, and is absolutely hilarious (would you expect any less from Dave Barry?). Plus it will still give you that warm fuzzy feeling. I mean come on. It has a dog.

3. White Christmas: You know, the one with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. It's a family favorite. We always go to see it on the big screen when they do that at the Showcase Cinema each year.

4. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle: Haven't read this one yet, but I'm told it's a great book to get you all Christmasy and excited. So I took it out from the library, and it's waiting for me and more time.

5. All the Hallmark Original Christmas movies: I know, what? Yeah, I love these. They're often poorly acted with plenty of plot holes, but that's part of their appeal to me. Plus they're all heartwarming and have romance and are about being with your family and realizing the importance of love. (Gosh I'm so schmaltzy. I love it.)

6. Nonstop Christmas music on the radio: We have at least three stations here in the Boston area that do nonstop Christmas music from this time until Christmas, and though it can get incredibly annoying to hear the same song 50 times (ahem, Feliz Navidad) it's nice to just switch on the radio and have the Christmas tunes (and the option to change to another station). Plus, WROR has Santa on the radio from 7-8 taking calls from kids and it's absolutely adorable.

7. Elf: Yep, this is a new classic for sure. I love this movie and will watch it as often as it's on, or put in the DVD myself. "I'm singinngggg! I'm in a stooore and I'm siinngiiiiing! I'm in a STORE AND I'M SIIINGING!" And that scene where they're singing but Joely doesn't know he's in there? Priceless.

8. Peppermint schnapps in my hot chocolate. Do I need to say more? If can legally drink, I would highly recommend you try it. Or if you don't like chocolate or mint, try hot apple cider with butterscotch schnapps for a Thanksgiving-y drink.

9. Barenaked for the Holidays: This is the Barenaked Ladies' holiday album, and it's fantastic. There are a handful of original songs, a bunch of quick synthesizer-type songs that last about a minute, and of course some traditional ones they jazzed up a bit. They don't forget about Hannukah either—there are a few of those on there. A heartbreakingly beautiful version of Auld Lang Syne caps it off.

10. Anything Rankin-Bass: You know those claymation movies that are always on each year? Those are the best. It's not Christmas without them, as far as I'm concerned.


Okay, I thought of another one and I want to include it, so I'm calling it a bonus.

Charlie Brown! What is Christmas without Charlie Brown, or the Vince Guaraldi Trio? If you don't know what I'm talking about, I encourage you to acquaint yourself with this stuff immediately.

That's all, folks! I'm sure I'll be thinking of more as the holiday gets closer, this is just a start. What about you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just a warning. Also, puppy pictures!

Hi all. I just wanted to let you know I might not be posting too often through the end of the semester. I've got two pretty big projects to finish, not to mention we just got a doggie yesterday and I will be playing with her over blogging. Sorry, priorities! :)

I hope to still give you all a review a week, but just in case I thought I'd just give a heads up. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos of Lucy, whose name-spelling may change in the next week or so. (You may also notice my brother in these pictures. His name is Zaven if you are curious.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blog tour: "Fractured" by Joanna Karaplis

Welcome to the fourth day of the blog tour for Fractured by Joanna Karaplis! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Title: Fractured: Happily Never After? 3 Tales
Author: Joanna Karaplis
Publisher: McKeller & Martin, 2010
How I got it: It was sent to me from the author for review.

Fairy tales have been told and written down for centuries. Throughout the years, they've not only been told, but retold, and many have been completely revisioned. Fractured gives us incarnations of Snow White, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, all old favorites, but with a very different twist. They're modernized: Snow White is Yuki (meaning "snow" in Japanese) White, budding graphic designer and friends of the seven dorks who hang out in the computer room. Cinderella is Cindy, fangirl extraordinaire and texter to the extreme—who manages to snag tickets to see her reality-TV crush at a Halloween party. And the little mermaid is Adrianna, a girl with a beautiful voice but the perceived impairment of a gigantic schnoz—thank goodness YouTube can get her an audience without her having to show her face.

All three tales are completely rewritten and re-imagined in ways I have never seen before, but they all retain the structure and basic story of the original fairy tales collected by the Grimm Brothers and written by Hans Christian Anderson. Karaplis manages to make everything work incredibly well—Snow White's apple, Cinderella's fairy godmother and the ball, and the little mermaid's impairment keeping her from her love (in this case, it's not a prince at all, but fame as a singer).

So let's break it down by story.

"Snow White and the Seven Dorks" is about, as I said, Yuki White, new girl in school, slightly badass, and awesome artist. She eventually falls in the geek crowd, not necessarily as one of them, but as their hang-out buddy, someone who also happens to use the computer room. Yuki is seriously awesome—she's got a sassy, sarcastic air to her that is just great (funny and charming) and it makes her incredibly likable. I wanted to be her friend. I also really liked how the story alternates between the present at the dance she's at with her crush and how she got to that point. There's a lot of development within the 30 pages of the story, not only in Yuki's character, but in her relationship with Kevin, head dork and all-around nice guy. This was by far my favorite, if only because I loved Yuki so much.

"Cyberella" is, of course, the Cinderella story. But this story is told completely in texts and blog posts (which are done by Trevor, fan blogger for the reality show True 2 Life). Some might find the texting to be a bit annoying, but I quite liked looking at the story through them. It's a new sort of epistolary telling, along the lines of ttyl by Lauren Myracle. Karaplis completely captures the language tweens and teens use in texting, accidental misspellings included. It makes it real. At times they seemed more like IMs than texts, but then again I'm sure there are people who text that frequently. My one problem was that the "prince" of the story, the True 2 Life star, says his Mystery Girl left something behind at the party, but then we never find out what it is. But all in all it's a cute story and I enjoyed it.

"Swan Song" is the story of the Little Mermaid, Adrianna (nicknamed Adi), who has a beautiful and professional voice, but a nose that she is incredibly self-conscious about. Her friend Fiona convinces her to create YouTube videos after a particularly awful encounter with a bully who targets her nose, and Adi agrees, as long as she doesn't face the camera. But looks aren't everything, and she makes a decision that will change the course of her life forever. It's a story about self-acceptance, even if Adi might not accept herself as she is—we can learn from her, as the story's title page indicates. And the ending gave me goosebumps, by the way. It's a great retelling, even if I didn't quite identify with Adi or agree with the decisions she makes. I kept telling her NO DON'T DO IT. But she did anyway. And if she didn't, we wouldn't get a Little Mermaid story.

One quick note about Jenn Brisson's illustrations. Each story began with a title page that included a tag line and an illustration. I loved them all. They look like pencil drawings, and they're set in a white oval on a black background. They all have this surreal quality, which goes very well with the fairy tale theme, and are all slightly creepy. Again, I especially love the Snow White one, a girl holding a circle with an apple on it and looking slightly anxious, with a crow in a top hat swooping under and around. Very nice.

If you like fairy tales, especially fractured ones as I do, I would definitely check out this one. Completely original tellings in a modern context—fabulous!

See what other bloggers had to say about Fractured and some interviews of Jo at the other blog stops:

Nov. 15: Steph Su Reads and Word bookstore
Nov. 16: Word of Mouse Book Reviews and Bella’s Bookshelves
Nov. 17: The Reading Girl and Between the Pages
Nov. 18: Page Turners and Tahleen’s Mixed-Up Files
Nov. 19: YA Addict and YA Book Shelf

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WINNERS of my super-awesome 100-follower Laurie Halse Anderson giveaway.

Who won my Laurie Halse Anderson 100-follower giveaway? Why, I'll tell you!

Matt of teen librarian and resident of Middlesex, England will be receiving a signed copy of Wintergirls!

And Tressa from Texas will receive a signed copy of Chains!

Woooooo!!!!!! Congratulations you guys!

On a side note, Matt, when I looked up to see where Middlesex was, it made me real nostalgic and all missing-England. Someday I shall return.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: "Waiting for June" by Joyce Sweeney

Title: Waiting for June
Author: Joyce Sweeney
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2003
Where I got it: The library, hooray.

Sophie is a high school senior, trying to save up enough money for her college education and get through her final year so she can work toward her goal of becoming a poet. She also happens to be pregnant. This does not make her life easy, as she is constantly harassed in school, gets in bitter fights constantly with her mother (who refuses to share the identity of Sophie's own father), and tries to avoid everyone's questions and suspicions of who has fathered her child. Yet Sophie deeply loves her unborn daughter, whom she names June, and is nothing but confident and calm when thinking of her future with her. But to make matters even weirder, Sophie has been having dreams about a pod of whales, dreams so vivid that she is sure they are more than just dreams, that they (and her daughter) are trying to tell her something. The closer the due date approaches, the more secrets are revealed to both Sophie and to the reader.

This slim volume packs a lot of issues into a poetic and lovely story. The only way I can describe the prose is floaty and calm. Nothing ever seems rushed—Sweeney takes her time telling the story, even through the tenser moments and action scenes. As we get deeper into the story, the mysteries get more and more intriguing. Sophie's dreams kick up a notch, to an almost supernatural level, and despite her sleuthing she cannot guess the meaning of them until the end, leaving us to make our guesses and hang in there, waiting to find out if we were right.

That said, I found the issue of June's father pretty predictable—yet that didn't really detract from the story for me. I was more interested in why Sophie was having the dreams, and finding out about her own past. Her mother is very bitter and angry about the pregnancy, even though she herself has a somewhat sullied past. She is a single mother, and gives no indication of how she got there. Sophie is haunted by the fact that she doesn't know her own heritage or where she came from, and uses her pregnancy and the need to know her family's medical history to figure this out.

In the end, this book is about women's solidarity and independence. It is full of strong women who do what needs to be done and take care of each other. All of them band together when it comes down to it, though some take longer than others, and everything is done with as much dignity as possible. It's a quick read, but gave me that happy feeling you get after reading a good story.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My not-quite-100-followers Laurie Halse Anderson giveaway

Hi guys! So I'm tired of waiting to reach 100 followers for my 100 followers giveaway. I'm hoping that this will get me there, and if it doesn't then OH well.

So here's the deal: some of you might remember I went to see Laurie Halse Anderson recently, and that I got two awesomely awesome books, signed, for you all. Here they are in case you forgot:

And a nice cover view:

Oooo, aahhhh. What can I do to own these lovely signed editions, you ask? Why, it's as simple as filling out the form below. Just do it before November 12 at 11:59 p.m., EST. And just one entry per person, please.

EDIT: I will be choosing 2 winners. The first winner will get to pick which book he or she wants, and the second winner will get the other one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review: "Before I Fall" by Lauren Oliver

Before I FallTitle: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2010
Where I got it: The library.

Samantha Kingston is popular. Really popular. She's one of the girls who made your life hell in high school, one of the girls who started and ended trends, had power over everyone in the class, decided who would rise and who would fall.

That is, until she dies. After that she doesn't know what to do.

After a fatal car crash the night of a blow-out party, Samantha is shocked to find herself waking up the next morning. But it's not the next morning—it's the beginning of the day she died. Again. And then again the morning after that. Why does she keep living this last day of her life over and over? Each day plays out differently, but what does she have to do to make it end the way it's supposed to? What can she do to make things right?

We watch Sam start off as a shallow, petty girl who is actually quite unlikable. She is cruel to her peers, counts status among the top priorities, and is consumed by her own popularity and ego. She can't or refuses to see how her actions and her words affect her targets, and how much damage she and her clique do. We do see how much she loves her friends, but it was not enough to shake my disdain for her.

Yet through each day in this nightmare, we see Sam's layers—how she got to where she is, why she acts the way she does, and why her friends act that way as well. I at least could see why she chose the path she did, even if I didn't agree with her reasons and would like to think I would have chosen a different route if I was presented with the same opportunities (but who can say?). It is a combination of believing you will live past high school and college, long enough to start a family, and not realizing what's important. We all can identify with acting poorly toward someone in our past and realizing how wrong we were in hindsight, maybe years down the road, but Sam is still 17 and her priorities are clearly not in line at the start of the novel.

Through the days that she relives, Sam goes through the stages of grief—she grieves not only the loss of her own life, but what she will have to leave behind and the people who will have to deal with the aftermath of her death. She goes through shock and denial, anger, depression, and finally makes the way toward acceptance. Oliver's talent is obvious not only in how she writes not only Sam as a character, but Sam's realizations—they are beautifully done, with Sam coming to them in a realistic way without much schmalz. I was especially impressed with the depth Oliver gave all of the secondary characters, and at times found them to be richer characters than Sam. Lindsay, her bff and the queen of mean at the school, has a less than enviable past that is slowly revealed through each day, piece by piece. Kent is described as a freak at first, almost an outcast in the world of high school, but shows remarkable strength and compassion in each version of Sam's last day. And Sam is given the opportunity to get to know many more "outcasts," girls who she and her friends have targeted in the past, for reasons Sam cannot remember or doesn't even know.

Perhaps the best thing about Before I Fall is Oliver's writing. She captures a teen's voice perfectly, without any dialogue or Sam's narration sounding forced or out of place. It is easy to read, and full of poetic and beautiful descriptions of places, people and things. And none of it is hard to understand. For that, I commend Lauren Oliver, and I will be sure to pick up Delirium when it comes out in February.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hooray for Laurie Halse Anderson!

I had the great pleasure of meeting the fantastic Laurie Halse Anderson on Thursday night in Brookline! She gave a fantastic talk to a pretty crowded room (though it was kind of small, to be honest)—she is such a lively and animated speaker. At one point, when she was talking about how much she loves writing the Vet Volunteers series, she really got into reenacting what the little puppies on the ER table looked like while being hit with the defibrillator. Awesome.

She also gave a very illuminating description on how she researched and wrote Forge, the book she is now promoting. She did the traditional research of looking up primary resources and things like that, but she also did the hands-on stuff too, like walking in the snow like the soldiers did, without boots or a jacket—ouch. Plus, she shared about her early life, including her not-so-perfect home life and hating school until she went to a community college outside of Syracuse, where she grew up.

It was great to listen to her and to actually meet her at the end. She took the time to talk to everyone and didn't rush us out of there (though the librarians looked like they wanted her to a little bit). It might have taken a long time, but I was in line with some very nice, friendly people, including Nikki from Wicked Awesome Books. Finally, just before 9, I got to the front of the line. And she remembered me from my blog post about Speak! It was pretty exciting, I have to tell you. Unfortunately I was dumb and forgot my camera, so I have no awesome pictures of the actual event to show you. Next time I will not fail you all.

Anyway, I got three books signed for me (hooray!): nice hardcover copies of Chains and Forge, plus my copy of Speak.

AND, see those two other books at the bottom there? I ALSO got a couple of books for you all to take a stab at winning! I have a signed edition of Wintergirls and Chains, waiting to be claimed. However, I think I am going to wait until I reach 100 followers to do a giveaway like that. I might add a few more along the way, but let's see how long it takes me to get to that goal. Feel free to help me along the way. :)

Winner of "The Night Wanderer" by Drew Hayden Taylor!

Congrats to Kayla! She has won a copy of The Night Wanderer, whoopee!

I'll be contacting her soon to get her shipping info. Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future—I'm getting awfully close to 100 followers, and once that happens, who KNOWS what I'll do.
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