Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Yearling (Imprint of Random House), 2009

Miranda, sixth-grader and native New Yorker, knows how to live in the city, especially since her mom has been telling her how to be safe for pretty much her whole life. She deals with the older boys who hang out near her apartment building, the crazy man on the corner who kicks at the street and lies with his head under a mailbox, and she knows to keep her key out at least a block before she gets to her door. But her constant companion, her best friend Sal, starts acting really weird; after he gets punched by one of the kids on the street for no reason, he stops talking to her and walking home with her and basically just ignores her. She's not sure why or what she did, or how to get him back.

This is all made way more complicated and frightening when she starts getting the notes. The notes that tell her pieces of the future. And the notes that tell her she needs to help the note-writer before it's too late and a person close to her dies.

When You Reach Me has stayed with me long after I finished the last page. It's a fast read, but it's also one that I will probably revisit again soon. There is a gentleness to Stead's writing, a mystery just out of reach that only comes together when it should. I did guess at things, but I often found myself second-guessing and turning to pages to see if I was right or not.

And let me tell you, that ending is beautiful.

I also need to tell you all that, if you have read and liked (or loved—better if you love it, as I do) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, you need to read this book. Miranda loves it to the point where she's read it too many times to count and her copy is falling apart. She calls it her book, and I think any reader knows what she means. It's the book that means the most to her, the one she carries with her always (be it figuratively or literally).

Miranda isn't perfect.. She has a mean streak if the mood strikes, if she's jealous of someone. And she doesn't always make the best decisions. But she is all the more real for it, even if we don't want her to do what she chooses to do.

Oh, and the story takes place during 1978-9, giving it a slightly different feel. It's a New York of a different time, but not so different. There is just a dash of science fiction, but it's nothing that takes you out of the real setting or out of Miranda's day-to-day experiences.

I truly loved this book and wholeheartedly recommend it to those who enjoy books about time travel, friendship, A Wrinkle in Time, and possibly game shows.

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book from Barnes & Noble.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blogging About Blogging

So here we are, the final day of Armchair BEA. It's been pretty fun, though I wish I had had more time to peruse all the different blogs and get to know bloggers participating. Lots going on this week (wedding venue hunting... not fun).

Anyway. Today's Armchair BEA topic is blogging about blogging.

When I blog, I mostly try to put quality content up here. I write reviews as often as I can, though I don't review every YA/MG/children's title I read (sometimes you just gotta enjoy it). I also try to keep the memes to a minimum, unless I know it will increase the quality of my blog.

I would really my readers to get to know me and like when other bloggers are able to include personal information in their posts, but I often find it difficult to know how much to put in. I don't want this to be a blog about ME, but about the books I enjoy (which is part of me, true, but not all). I think in the future I'll try to include a bit more about librarianship and what I value in the career path I've chosen to pursue. I do a few posts here and there but nothing to write home about. (On a side note, I just renewed my memberships to ALA [American Library Association] and YALSA [Young Adult Library Services Association], so I'm kind of excited about that.)

I use Twitter a lot to promote and to get to know other bloggers, and have them get to know me, too, but maybe someday I will be more comfortable and confident in sharing more here.

I really like blogging. It's fun and it's useful to me, especially since I can keep track of all the books I read and review much more easily (provided I keep up with cataloging them. Bad librarian!). I just khave to remember that it's something I do for fun and not an obligation! Sometimes I get too stressed from it all, but I eventually make it back to where I need to be.

Anyway, that's me and blogging. Do you have my same issues, or different ones? What does blogging mean to you?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA, Days 3 and 4

Okay, so I missed yesterday... my bad! In my defense I was real busy.

Let me start off with the discussion topic from yesterday: Networking!

I don't have an interview for you all, but I will share the best networking tool for bloggers that I've come across: Twitter. I don't know what I'd do without it. It's a great way to get into conversations with others, be they bloggers, publishers or authors. I have made so many contacts through this social networking site, and I love getting to know people better through it.

Some of my favorite bloggers? That's a tough one, as there are so many (I'm sure that's been said by most people), but I need to give a shout out to Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner, as well as The Broke and the Bookish, which I also write for. She is always so encouraging and fun to talk to, plus she's awesome. I'm also quite fond of the Boston Book Bums, who are super fun to tweet and chat with, and I love their Bookish Intelligence Reports (gotta keep up with the bookish news). Plus they're from my neck of the woods, so that's pretty great.

Okay, on to today's topic: Nurturing Blogger Relationships.

Actually, I'm going to go with Twitter again here. Love getting into the conversations. It's pretty much the only way I talk with other bloggers, except for in comments (though I don't write comments as frequently as I should). I also use a lot of e-mail stuff, but only with publishers and other bloggers in The Broke and the Bookish (*coughJamiecough*).

I also like to meet bloggers in person, but alas I have few opportunities to do so since not many live in the Boston area. Though I did just join a Facebook group for us Bostonians, so I have hope.

As far as book pitches go, I get annoyed when I'm approached to review books for adults. This is primarily a young adult/children's review blog; I only review adult titles if I think they'll appeal to teens. This is not just because I just enjoy YA/children's, it's because this blog is also professional development for me. I am hoping to be a YA librarian at some point (sooner rather than later, fingers crossed) so it just wastes time if I start reading a book and find out that it's not for teens. I have a lot of books that I really should read, considered classics in YA, that I should be reading instead.

Sorry about that rant! Whoo. Glad to get that off my chest! :)

Just thought I'd randomly throw in some happy sunflowers. 
Anyway, that's my story. Pretty much it revolves around Twitter. How do you network/keep in touch?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA, Day 2

On this, the second day of Armchair BEA, our question is: What are the best books you've read in 2011?

Here's my list!

First up: Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. A wonderful book of diamond-shaped poems, with a deeper message buried in the heart of each (a few words are bolded to spell out that message). You can read my review here.

Heartbreaking yet inspirational, this lovely middle grade book won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for 2010, and for good reason. My review is here.

The Dairy Queen Trilogy are some of the best contemporary YA books I've ever read. Er, listened to. I love D.J. Schwenk and her farm and her sports-crazy family and her relationship angst! Every part of this series is fantastic. Oh, I listened to the audiobooks, by the way, and Natalie Moore is the most perfect narrator for this series. You can read my reviews of the audiobooks here, here and here.

Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer deals with a part of American history that is usually glossed over in the middle grade literature I usually read, and that is the Black Panther movement of the 1960s. Told by 11-year-old Delphine, this is the story of how she and her two younger sisters spend the summer with their reluctant mother in Oakland, California. Check out my review here.

Those are the best books I've read this year, no doubt about it.

Armchair BEA: Late to the game, but I made it.

I'm Armchair BEA-ing it up this week.

So this first post is supposed to be about me, and why I am armchairing it this week.

I'd have loved to be at BEA, but unfortunately I can't take time off work right now. I'm saving up my vacation hours for... my wedding! Hooray, getting married!

Anyway, here's a little bit about me. First, my name is Tahleen, in case you weren't sure. I live in Massachusetts, I am 24 years old, and I started blogging last summer because I wanted to use it in my professional development. I'm in library school right now, with a concentration in Youth Services; I hope to one day work with teens in a public library. Here's hoping!

I also love to read (duh), and I like to sing too. What else can I say about me? Oh, I have a really cute doggy. Her name is Lucy and she is pretty fantastic if I do say so myself.

She is about a year and a half old and is a Toto dog. Hi Lucy!

This blog is the manifestation of my love for young adult and children's literature. I hope you stop by time and again to read a few of my posts!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperTeen), 2011

In a futuristic Chicago, people belong to factions and exhibit the trait most valued by the one they belong to. Beatrice has just turned 16 and therefore must make a choice that will affect her life forever. Should she stay in the faction of Abnegation, where selflessness is valued, and where she has grown up and lives with her parents and brother? Or does she dare to abandon everything she knows for what she most desires? Once her choice is made, she plunges into an adventure she never imagined, not even after all the thinking she has done. And she has one very dangerous secret she must keep... if she wants to survive.

In the influx of dystopian novels out recently, it's hard for one to stand out from the crowd. Surprise! Yep, this is another very positive review of this book. Divergent succeeds in being original, suspenseful and completely enjoyable. In the world Roth has created, people are put into strict groups, which is not a new concept. What is new (at least to me) is the concept that the people of each group have ONE trait or quality that they value above all others (selflessness, peacefulness, courage, intelligence and honesty) and live their lives accordingly.

What I loved about this so much was that the characters aren't on a grand mission to overthrow their government or society or whatever because they recognize it's a flawed society or that they want to be FREE, dammit. No. I'm pretty tired of that, honestly. These characters all completely accept their lives and do the best they can in the world their given, which is what I would expect. Sure, things happen that show these flaws, but it's not like a light bulb ever goes on about how awful their world is. Only hints here and there. (This might change in the other books of the series, I don't know, but I liked that part of this volume.)

And speaking of characters, I loved how flawed they all are. No one is perfect, ever. In fact, I hated Tris, our narrator, a few times during my reading. But I was glad for it. Tris is often something of an anti-hero, though she shows some cojones quite often. I admired her and despised her, which makes a pretty good case for Roth's writing. And another awesome thing: There is some diversity in this cast of characters, hallelujah. What's interesting is people's skin color is not noticed so much as their way of dress, which indicates their faction. There is still prejudice in this world, just a different kind than we're used to.

Oh, did I mention I could barely put the book down for all the action and layers of mystery within the plot? Yeah, that was pretty great. This book has nearly 500 pages but I flew through it.

I am very impressed with Roth's debut, and I will most definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out (whenever that may be—soon please?).

Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the (very awesome) publisher.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: "The Greedy Sparrow" by Lucine Kasbarian

Title: The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale
Author: Lucine Kasbarian
Illustrator: Maria Zaikina
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011

When one thinks of folk tales, familiar ones from childhood are first to come to mind. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella. But this depends on the child. Armenian children's author Lucine Kasbarian remembers the story of a greedy sparrow she learned from her father and grandmother when she was little. As an adult, she decided to turn that story into a picture book, and with smashing results.

In this tale, starting with the traditional Armenian folk tale beginning of "There once was and was not" (explained in a helpful author's note at the beginning), a sparrow starts off with a thorn in its foot. It asks a nearby baker if she will remove it, and she does it, "with pleasure!" The sparrow flies off and the baker tosses the thorn into her fire. But then in a twist, the sparrow comes back later and demands the thorn back. Clearly it's impossible to retrieve it, so he demands a loaf of bread in return. So the baker does.

In a pattern of lending and replacing, the sparrow goes from bread to a sheep (how hilarious is that cover picture of the sparrow flying with the sheep?), and on to other replacements, until his greed gets him right back where he started.

I loved the predictable pattern of the storytelling, and yet despite knowing that each person the sparrow asks to watch over the items will fail him, I was sometimes surprised at what the sparrow asked for in return! It's really delightful, and we get the beautiful illustrations to show us the funny results (sheep!).

Speaking of the illustrations, there couldn't have been a better artist than Maria Zaikina for this book. Her unusual style of using layered wax and oil paint brings us striking, textured representation of each scene in the story. It definitely lends it a folksy feel. And the clothing! I love the traditional outfits of all the Armenians she illustrated, especially in the wedding scenes. I loved that little bit of my culture brought to life.

Kasbarian mentions a number of real places that are or were in Armenia, such as Lake Van, Mount Ararat, and Aghtamar. In a discussion guide I received with the book, it asks readers to do some research and find out which ones are no longer in Armenia.

My only regret about this book is there is not much background information in the actual book. I would love to see another, longer author's note at the back explaining some of the traditions that were explained in the supplementary material I received with this, like the importance of minstrels in Armenia back in the day.

I will most certainly be keeping this picture book through the years, and when I have children some day, I'll share this part of their heritage with them in the form of The Greedy Sparrow.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author for review.

Audiobook Review: "I, Emma Freke" by Elizabeth Atkinson

Title: I, Emma Freke
Author: Elizabeth Atkinson
Publisher: Recorded Books, 2011 (print version available from Carolrhoda Books, 2010)
Narrator: Ali Ahn

Emma Freke considers herself to be, well, a freak. She is almost 6 feet tall, has bright red hair and has a name she can't believe her mother gave her. "Am A Freak"? What could be worse? She doesn't know who her father is and never gets a straight answer out of her mother or grandfather. Plus, her mother Donatella won't win any prizes for mother of the year. After a huge misunderstanding about Emma starting to homeschool, she feels worse than ever. At least she has her friend, 10-year-old Penelope, to cheer her up; she also is able to finish up the school year with a hip librarian tutor at the library.

When she gets an unexpected invitation to the annual Freke Family Reunion, however, things really start to look up for Emma. Will she finally feel like she's found where she belongs?

The audio version was good. Though I thought Ahn sounded a bit too mature to narrate for 12-year-old Emma at first, she grew on me. She did a great job at giving each character distinct voices, though at times I thought I would probably have read dialogue in a different way than she intoned it on the recording.

This was a short, sweet book about a girl who can't seem to find her place in the world. Very big in size and trying to be very small in all other ways, Emma feels like an outsider in her own family. She looks nothing like her 5-foot-tall mother, an aging yet lively and eccentric (albeit flakey) Italian with lots of boyfriends. Though she's very intelligent and kindhearted, Emma can only see her flaws and what makes her different. Though this sounds like a sad story, it's got a lot of heart and happiness with the message to be happy with who you are, minus the cheese.

The characters are certainly not stock. Differences abound, from a tattooed lost cousin to a spunky adopted girl from Liberia with lesbian parents (PS this is not made into a big deal, it just is, and I love that), to the loud-mouthed and irresponsible Donatella to the joke-cracking black sheep of the Freke family. It's a varied and entertaining cast that I enjoyed reading about.

And through it all, Emma finds her voice and, as the "gray moms" said, her "joyla."

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Audiobook Review: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" by Ann Brashares

Title: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Listening Library, 2007 (print available from Delacourte Books for Young Readers, 2001)
Narrator: Angela Goethals

The summer they all turn 16 will be their first summer apart. Lena, Carmen, Tibby and Bridget have been best friends since before they were born, when their mothers met in a pregnant ladies' aerobics class. While they're usually joined at the hip during the summer vacation, it's not possible this year. Lena will be going to Greece to visit her grandparents, Bridget is off to Baja California (in Mexico) for soccer camp, Carmen will be spending the summer with her dad in South Carolina, and Tibby is stuck at home in D.C., alone.

Basically, they find this incredible pair of pants that manages to fit all of their very different bodies perfectly. So they make a pact to send the jeans to each other throughout the summer (and exchange letters, of course). But things don't go exactly according to plan for them all, and they will need the pants and each other to get through it.

I wasn't the biggest fan of this book. I can't see what so many others love about it, but I appreciate that it is loved. I just couldn't bring myself to really connect with any of the characters, and in fact didn't really like any of them. They were all pretty bratty, even though they did grow up a little over the summer. Mostly, I was just bored with it all. That said, there were a few good points, and I even teared up once.

Goethals was a good narrator for this story. She managed to make each girls' voice slightly different, and was calm and smooth throughout the narration. She put emotion into the reading when it called for it and did an overall great job.

I don't think I will be picking up the sequels, though I am glad I finally can say I've "read" this. It's sort of a modern classic YA book. Anyway, if you have read it and liked it, please comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.

Friday, May 6, 2011

TGIF: Book Blogger Identity

Today is Friday, and thank goodness. Every week Ginger at GReads! hosts TGIF, with a question about books, blogging or whatever. This week's question:

Book Blogger Identity: What occupies your time when you are not reading/blogging?

I have a lot that I do in my non-blogging/non-reading moments. I'm studying to be a children's/YA librarian at Simmons College (yesterday was my last day of the semester, woohoo!), and I work at a public library in my area. I also work VERY part-time at Barnes & Noble, mostly for the discount (not gonna lie).

I am a singer too. I sing in a small Armenian chorus (there are currently 9 of us) and in my church choir.

Let's see, what else? I hang out with friends and my fiance quite a bit, when time permits. I'm also the assistant troop leader of a middle school Girl Scout troop. (Side note: We are going camping this weekend, so I will not have access to the Internet. Sad.)

Oh yeah, I'll also be planning my wedding in the next year or so. That I'm guessing will take up a big chunk of my time.

So what do you do in your non-bloggy/booky time? Link up at GReads!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Audiobook Review: "Front and Center" by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Title: Front and Center
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Listening Library, 2010 (print version available from Graphia, 2009)
Narrator: Natalie Moore

**Possible spoilers follow in summary**

D.J. Schwenk is back again, this time looking forward to her basketball season in her junior year of high school. Things are getting sort of back to normal, at least, as back to normal as they can after her brother Win ended up in a wheelchair and with her mom with him in a rehab facility. But things quickly get hectic again, as D.J. not only has to deal with navigating high school, but also with worrying about college scouts, getting a basketball scholarship, and having a new boyfriend. Plus there's Brian Nelson, who keeps showing up out of nowhere, even though she is darn sure she's through with him. Right?

**Spoilers done**

Again, Natalie Moore does a superb job narrating as D.J. in this final installment of the Dairy Queen trilogy. D.J. has more dealt to her in this novel, but instead of it focusing on how she deals with everyone else's problems, this plot focuses strictly on D.J. and how everyone is expecting so much of her when it comes to her basketball playing. She's an excellent player but is incredibly intimidated by Top Ten college ball, mostly of screwing it up and letting everyone down.

I was never sure what D.J. would decide when faced with complicated and difficult situations. She is so unused to be in the spotlight that she isn't sure how to react or what to choose, and I really felt for her. I wanted her to be happy but I also wanted her to make the right decision for her, and it was hard to tell what that was. Either way, I was rooting for her.

It's rare that I grow so attached to a group of characters. I felt like I wanted to be a part of the Schwenk family, even though it's made VERY clear that they have a lot of faults. I'm very sad that I won't be able to follow D.J. through her senior year and on to college. (Fingers crossed for another book!)

If you haven't read/listened to this trilogy, please do yourself a favor and do. There is humor, wonderful three-dimensional characters, great relationships and realistic everyday issues. Love love love it.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.
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