Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: "Amy and Roger's Epic Detour" by Morgan Matson

Title: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2010

Since Amy's father died in a car crash, her life has been flipped upside down. Her mother decided to take a job in Connecticut, far away from the memories of how their family used to be; her brother Charlie is sent away to a rehab clinic in North Carolina; and now Amy has to drive her mother's car from California to the new house. The only problem? Amy can't bring herself to drive after the accident. Enter Roger, friend from childhood (and whom she hasn't seen since), who has to get to Pennsylvania to spend the summer with his father. After reviewing the route Amy's mom mapped out for them, they decide it is much too boring and plan to drive wherever they feel like going.

I had heard a lot of good things about Amy and Roger's Epic Detour before finally picking it up, thinking it would make for a good book club choice (by the way, if anyone is interested and lives near Burlington, MA, it will be July 8 at 7 p.m.). It did make for a good summer read, enhanced with a bevy of visuals and what I'm sure are excellent playlists, but overall I didn't think it was anything truly remarkable.

I think I was most annoyed at how we didn't find out about the actual accident until the book was almost over. I understand why Matson structured it that way, but I found myself just getting frustrated and annoyed that Amy couldn't bring herself to reveal what happened until then. It's not like it was a big surprise; I guessed at the basics, and the full story revealed very few details.

The writing and character development didn't do much for me either. No phrases struck me as noteworthy, and the characters themselves didn't really have much personality besides their music interests and Amy's grief. I couldn't feel any chemistry between Amy and Roger, either.

But despite all this, Amy and Roger makes for a great road trip book. I learned a lot about the states the duo drove through, thanks to the handy dandy travel journal Amy filled out during the trip (loved how Matson used and included this) and random facts—not too soon after finishing the book, I impressed my fiance with my knowledge of bourbon. I also really enjoyed the scrapbook stuff like receipts, pictures and postcards sprinkled throughout.

The journey is not only physical, but metaphorical in this book. Not anything too outstanding or even different, but it does the trick. Plus it can just be plain old fun. It certainly made me want to get in my car and go.

Disclosure: I got this from my local library.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Ten Bookish Websites/Apps

Today's Top Ten Tuesday, which is hosted by the other blog I write for, The Broke and the Bookish, has to do with top ten bookish websites and apps. As I just got a smart phone the other day, I'm a bit behind on the bookish apps (so I will read all about them in others posts to get ideas, yay!). Most of the following will be websites.

1. The nook app for Android: I did download the nook app on my new Android phone (yay), which is pretty nice. I can read any of my ebooks whenever on my phone now. I think that's pretty cool.

2. This website is where I met many of my online bookish buds, including Jamie who leads us Broke and Bookish folk. It's a great social website for book lovers, and a great place to find book recs.

3. Google Reader: I know this isn't totally a website, but I figured this was easier to list than all the blogs I follow. I follow a lot, and this helps me manage them and read them all in one place. (By the way, I love blogs.)

4. My library's website: Any time I want to get a book that I've read about or seen a review for, I check to see if it's in the Minuteman catalog first. It's free to check books out of the library, you know! And it's super quick to request it. Plus no buyer's remorse.

5. Book buying websites: When I know I want to own a book, I go to Amazon first (I get free shipping because I get free prime because I'm a student!). Then I'll check other ones, just in case.

6. YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) website: This is for my library professional development. They have awesome webinars that I can watch after they take place for free, since I'm a member. It also has lots of helpful lists and articles for teen services.

7. Mike the Bookseller webcomic: As an employee of an unnamed major book chain, these comics make me smile. They're pretty awesome.

8. Unshelved webcomic: As a library worker, this comic is fabulous. I love it and it's hilarious and TRUE.

9. Twitter: This is where I get all my news, including most of my bookish news. Twitter is like an appendage for me when I'm online.

Okay, well I didn't quite get to ten, but I'm close. Hop on over to The Broke and the Bookish to weigh in  on your favorites.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Blog Tour: "War and Watermelon" by Rich Wallace

Thanks for joining me today at Tahleen's Mixed-Up Files for the blog tour of Rich Wallace's War and Watermelon!

Title: War and Watermelon
Author: Rich Wallace
Publisher: Viking Juvenile, 2011

It's the tail end of the summer of 1969, right after the moon landing and before Woodstock, during the Vietnam War and while the Mets started getting hot on their way to the World Series. Twelve-year-old Brody is growing up in New Jersey at this time, anticipating the jump from elementary school to junior high, playing on the football team, and trying to figure out girls—while also trying to come to terms with the bigger issues of the time. Joining his older brother Ryan at Woodstock starts him thinking about peace, love and rock and roll, and how his brother might not always be there—especially once he turns 18.

I enjoyed this story. I mean, once Woodstock was mentioned, I was all over it—I have this great fascination with that insane and incredible concert (I own one of the two CD sets of the concert's recording). There were a lot of music references, including periodic top tens listed by Brody, and very brief descriptions of Joan Baez during Brody's experience at Woodstock.

The setting is so important in this book. We see not only New Jersey during 1969, but also the attitudes of the time—racism is slipped into the dialogue like a whisper, and opinions about the Vietnam War are often vocalized by Brody's father in response to Ryan.

I did have a few minor quibbles with this book. I loved all the music references because of my love for the music of the time, but I wish there was some sort of appendix or something in the back with a little bit of info on all the musicians mentioned. A lot of kids probably won't know who Joan Baez is, or what the songs mentioned sound like (I know I didn't recognize all of them and was too lazy to look them up at the time). I also got pretty bored with the long descriptions of Brody's football games; they seemed unnecessary. I did, however, like the football game in which Brody's female classmate played touch football and did a nice job at beating the other team.

This book would make a really nice companion to a school unit about America in the late '60s. There are themes that are for more mature audiences (there are a lot of references to marijuana and partial nudity), but the language is simple and easy to understand. It's a great way to give younger teens a look at what life was probably like for their parents. I'd recommend it to lovers of the '60s, music lovers, or sports fans looking for a good read.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Audiobook Review: "The True Meaning of Smekday" by Adam Rex

Title: The True Meaning of Smekday
Author: Adam Rex
Publisher: Listening Library, 2011 (print available from Hyperion, 2007)
Narrator: Bahni Turpin

Starting off with a short essay on what she thinks is the "true meaning of Smekday," 12-year-old Gratuity Tucci tells a short story of how she knows the reasoning behind the new holiday—only to be told by her teacher that she needs to elaborate. So she tells a more full version of her story, basically how her mother starts talking about aliens who talk to her through a mole on her neck, how she ends up with a Boov (the aliens previously mentioned) named J. Lo, and their trip in a floating car named Slushious to Florida, the land allotted to humans by the Boov. After that abridged essay is written, she continues a secret, full-length version of how she and J. Lo cross the country to Arizona in Slushious, meet a number of colorful (and often eccentric, to put it mildly) characters, learn about a bigger threat to Earth than the Boov, and attempt to save the world.

This book is so incredibly rich in symbolism it's fantastic. I could not listen to Rex's words without thinking of Native Americans and relocation; it's pretty much impossible to not think of it if you know the history. It's an incredibly smart and often hilarious post-colonial piece of literature, disguised as a science-fiction story about alien invaders. Oh, did I mention all the satire Rex slips in about American culture? It's great.

Don't be scared away by that description though. This is also a fast-paced road trip story, complete with alien weaponry and battles, and lots of humor. Rex is truly a genius when it comes to poking fun at fantasy cliches, my favorite involving a blob of taco sauce. He also incorporates themes of family and friendship incredibly well, without making it hokey or sappy.

As for the audio version, Bahni Turpin is a master. She gives the Boov great voices, to the point where I believed it was J. Lo talking each time she read his dialogue. Everyone had a distinct voice, and her sound effects added so much to it all. This was one of the best performances I've listened to in a while, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good way to pass the time on their commute.

If you're looking for a smart and incredibly entertaining sci-fi novel, look no further. I've become a huge fan of Rex after this beauty of a book.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from my local library.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Short hiatus and giveaway winner

First things first. I know you're all dying to know who won my Ruby Red giveaway, and here it is!

Anna Freud of My Open Books! Congratulations, Anna!
In other news, I will be on a short hiatus probably for the rest of the week. You might have noticed I sort of disappeared recently. That's because my poor little laptop wasn't working right and is in the computer hospital to get all better. I'm hoping to have it back by the end of the week.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Ruby Red" Giveaway!

I've been presented with the opportunity to host a giveaway of Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red for all of you, my lucky and loyal readers. Haven't heard of the time-travel adventure yet? Here's a quick summary provided by the publisher:

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
I personally enjoy time travel stuff, especially when paired with London stuff. Especially when it's London of the past AND the present. So I have good expectations. The trailer is pretty cute too.

Look out for my review later this summer. In the meantime, sign up to win your own copy of Ruby Red! Also, many thanks to Zeitghost Media and Macmillan for providing me with said copy.

Fill out the form below the rules.

*This giveaway will end at 11:59 p.m. EST on June 13, 2011.
*Entrants in US or Canada only.
*One entry per person.
*Must be 13 or older to enter.
*You do NOT have to be a follower to enter.
*If I contact you as the winner and you don't respond within 48 hours, I will pick a new winner.

The YA Darkness Maelstrom

I was going to not write a post about the whole Wall Street Journal article that pretty much bashes and dismisses young adult literature, but I feel like I should at least say something about my stance. Especially when I see it's gotten more than 8,000 Facebook "likes" from people.

If you know me, you will know that I am distraught by the complete ignorance and lack of empathy Meghan Cox Gurdon displays in her article, titled "Darkness Too Visible." She basically claims that teens don't need to worry about the dark themes that are present in many young adult titles today.

Unfortunately, she is very wrong.

Let's just look at a few statistics. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the third leading cause of death in young adults ages 15 to 24 in 2007. According to Childhelp, a report of child abuse occurs every 10 seconds. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8.

Do we see something here?

Teens and tweens do not always have lives full of sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. I actually have yet to meet a teen whose life is that awesome. I remember what it was like when I was in middle and high school, and life sucked hardcore. I went through a period of pretty intense depression (though it was never diagnosed or anything), and I felt so alone and miserable, despite my loving family and decent economic standing. I did not get the idea to be miserable from books. Books helped me to escape, and to see that I wasn't alone.

This is the reason why I'm studying to be a librarian and hope to work with teens. I want to find books for them that will help them, that are relevant to their lives and are something they can hold on to. Now, don't read this to say I will give every teen that walks through the library doors books about rape and suicide. No. I will assess the situation and use my training to see what interests the teen, to see what they are looking for and what they want or need. Then I will do my best to find a book that is a match for them, and, if necessary (and if possible), one that fits with their parents' desires too (it can be done, believe it or not). The good news is, there are too many books to count in the world. There is one out there to fit nearly every situation.

It will just be my job to find them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: "Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie" by Jordan Sonnenblick

Title: Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Publisher: Scholastic, 2004

Steven Alper's life is fairly typical of your average 8th-grader. He plays drums (and he's really great, not to mention dedicated), he gets decent grades, and he's annoyed by his (totally adorable) 5-year-old brother Jeffrey. But Steven's life, and those of his family, are thrown into a whirlwind of hospitals, medications and constant anxiety when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia. Not only does Steven have to process the fact that his younger brother may not live to see middle school, he has to deal with a father who can no longer communicate, a mother who must quit her job to care for her younger son, and Jeffrey's own fears and uncertainty of what will happen to him. And he still has to worry about grades and stuff. That's a lot for a 13-year-old to deal with.

It's not easy to write a funny book about cancer, but Sonnenblick did. Let me just clarify: the cancer is not funny, but humor is still a part of the writing and is present in the characters' lives, despite the grim issues Steven has to deal with. Steven has a keen sense of humor, and I often found myself smiling while reading certain passages. His voice is also perfect, and I love that he's so intense about his drumming, and so fiercely protective of Jeffrey (even if he doesn't realize it).

The way Steven's parents deal with the news and Jeffrey's treatment are wildly different. While his mother drops everything, including her job as an English teacher, to take care of Jeffrey and learn everything she can about his disease and the treatment, his father shuts down emotionally and immerses himself in his accounting work. The Alper's financial situation is dire because of Jeffrey's leukemia, and Steven becomes very aware of this.

Sonnenblick never forgets his main character is in middle school and is just trying to get by without looking like an idiot (he's not always successful). His grades start to slip, and his image is still super important to him (keep an eye out for the school dance scene). 

And the "girls" part in the title? Those girls are Renee, gorgeous neighbor and girl of his dreams; and Annette, friend and fellow musician (basically she's a piano genius). I loved watching Steven's relationship with both girls grow and change over the course of the year—not only do we learn a lot about each girl and their little complexities, we learn a lot about Steven by how he reacts to each one. Also, he can be super clueless when it comes to girls, but hey, I guess that's understandable. He's only 13, after all.

Alternately funny and heartbreaking, this is a great read. There aren't many books that tell the story of the sibling of a cancer patient, and I'm very glad to know this one exists. Humor is so important to have in the face of tough times, and this book serves as a good reminder of that, especially for teens who don't know what to do when faced with such horrible, life-changing things.

Disclosure: I bought this book from my local bookstore.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review: "The Time-Traveling Fashionista" by Bianca Turetsky

Title: The Time-Traveling Fashionista
Author: Bianca Turetsky
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 2011

Twelve-year-old Louise is ready for a change. She is bored of the way she looks, the food her mom cooks (doused in vinegar, always), and the plain old boring life she leads. It's a good thing the school dance is coming up to give her something to look forward to, and to shop for. You see, Louise loves vintage clothing—the feel of the fabric, the style, the stories each garment holds. So when she gets an invitation to the Traveling Fashionista Vintage Sale, she figures this is the perfect place to find The Dress of her dreams. And she's right. But she has no idea just how far she will "travel" once she puts it on.

Basically, this is a simply written but engaging story of a girl who is sent back in time to 1912 into the body of another woman, who just so happens to be on board a glamourous ship going from England to America. Guess which one. It's full of fashion and descriptions of high living, from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl from 2011.

The writing is, again, simple, especially for something labeled "teen." I would categorize this more as a middle-grade novel, though it masquerades as teen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing either. It actually worked pretty well for one of my Girl Scouts who is less confident as a reader, and whose teacher would only look at reading level when she judged its appropriateness.

By far my favorite aspect of this book was the artwork. Beautiful illustrations by Sandra Suy are scattered throughout the book, showcasing the fashion designs Turetsky describes. It really brings the story to life, and I relished each piece of art.

All in all, this was a fun historical fiction with a contemporary character thrown out of her world and into one she (mostly) wished she could live in. Real people are characters in the novel, so we even learn a bit about the people aboard the great ship. (By the way, I did find myself tearing up toward the end; I got attached to some of these characters, even if they were only minor.) If you are looking for a quick read and you love fashion and color, by all means go find copy of this book. If you're looking for something with a bit more depth, you might want to consider another historical fiction novel.

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