Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pick a metaphor...

Because lately, I'm just trying to keep my head above water.  It feels like I'm taking three steps forward and two steps back.  I'm trying to juggle work, work, more work, reading, blogging, and a bunch of (fun) personal events, so there's really a lot on my plate.  The good news is that the skies are clearing and I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The bad news is that apparently the stress has left me unable to write an original sentence.  So rather than subject you all to more of the above, I've decided to stop beating myself up for something that I can, instead, just declare in plain English: other than my Sunday reviews, I'll be away from the blog until (probably) summer vacation.  I'm still reading other blogs and I'll comment when I can, but for the next four weeks, I'll be primarily focusing on finishing up the school year with a bang.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Very Short, Very Sleepy Edition

This was a two-book week--we're in the last big push at school with things like awards nights and final projects, and I feel like I've slept about ten hours this week.  It is a little more than that...but I definitely found myself nodding off during some of my subway reading time.  I have a fair amount of ground to make up over the summer if I want to meet my 150-book target (what kind of crazy person came up with that number in January???)

What I Read This Week:

 Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose, #1)Venom by Fiona Paul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Awww, YA boys. I never fall for the one I'm supposed to. In Venom, Fiona Paul has created a great example of the kind of artsy, edgy "bad boy" that I just know the entire internets will soon be swooning over. Falco is great, and I'm definitely intrigued by him. But you'll be reading all about him in a million reviews soon enough. I want to talk about Luca.

From the minute I learned that our heroine, Cass, was betrothed to a guy she had known in childhood but who she dismissed as "boring", I knew I had found my rooting interest in this book. "Boring" in YA is often code for "sweet, thoughtful, and unlikely to be regularly in mortal peril." I don't know about y'all, but that's way more my type. And Luca does not disappoint. He takes care of Cass and makes her laugh...and he's even got some secrets and mystery, about which I really hope more in the next book.

I also really liked the female characters--Cass, Mada, Agnese, and Siena being the principals. Cass is generally a sympathetic heroine, although I found myself a little frustrated at times with some of her choices. Agnese, Cass's elderly widowed aunt, struck a nice balance between being the strict old lady and being someone who had lived a full life (another piece of this story I want more of!). Cass only really has two young women in her life--her friend Mada and her lady's maid Siena. Mada is wealthy and often a bit self-centered, but she is redeemed by how much she really loves her fiance. And Siena, who seems like a bit of a sad sack at the beginning, really grew on me as I got to know her better.

In short, if you're a fan of historical romance, or mystery and intrigue, or Venice, or Renaissance ideas about religion and science, you'll add this to your list and look forward to October, when this fun little number comes out!

**Disclosure: I won an ARC from the YAMazing Race, organized by The Apocalypsies. This is my honest review of the book.**

 Monument 14Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The voice! The pacing! The ending! I really enjoyed Monument 14, and this is another one I think my students will get really into. It's a quick, engaging read about a group of kids and teenagers stuck inside some kind of superstore during a series of natural and chemical disasters. It reminded me of Michael Grant's Gone series and The Girl Who Owned A City by O. T. Nelson. I've seen some other reviewers who weren't so keen on the voice of the protagonist, Dean, but I thought it felt just right, age-wise. It was also frequently funny and even more frequently kind of heart-breaking, especially in a few key moments toward the end. I liked the inclusion of the little kids, who were a pretty accurate mix if my days of being a summer camp bus monitor are any indication, and I liked Dean's evolving feelings about them. And the ending just sits up and begs for a sequel, which I'm sure is underway. If you're a fan of survival stories, or if you've ever dreamed of living in a Target superstore, check this out when it hits shelves on June 5th.

**Disclosure: I received a free advance Kindle copy of this book through NetGalley.**

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Something Old, Something New

Well, ok, Imaginary Girls isn't that old.  But I feel like the last person to read it, since it made so many end-of-year lists.  My other reviews are some ARCs I got from Netgalley, both of which have just come out. 

I have to bring some rain into this sunshine, though, and acknowledge that I'm in mourning.  Dan Harmon, creator of best-show-on-television Community, has not been asked back for the show's fourth season.  To translate, for those of you who don't share my TV addiction, that's like hearing that there will still be a third book in the Divergent trilogy--but it will be written by someone other than Veronica Roth.  Now, the guys who have been brought in as showrunners might be good--they've worked on shows I really like--but I don't want to read Tahereh Mafi's Divergent book three.  I want to read her Shatter Me book two, and I want to read Veronica's Divergent #3.  In Dan Harmon's own words:

I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of Community without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying “it has to be like this or I quit” roughly 8 times a day.
--Dan Harmon's Tumblr, which is easily searchable, but which I am not linking because this is a family blog and his is, well, not. 

So, Dan, thanks for a great three seasons.  It won't be the same without you.

What I read this week: 

 Breaking BeautifulBreaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**I received a free advance Kindle copy through Netgalley**

This is not my normal beat. A dark contemporary with loads of suspense, mystery, violence, and a dash of temporary amnesia. A car wreck whose only known survivor can't remember the details--and who may have been responsible. An abusive relationship. A bitter ex-girfriend, scary conspiracies, and the new cop in town investigating everything.

So at this point, I know half (three-quarters? more?) of you all out there in blogland are totally salivating. And you should be, because this book hooked me in, and I'm the kind of freak who normally reads the description above and thinks, "Nah."

Honestly, what kept me coming back was the handling of the fallout from Allie's abusive relationship. While I haven't been in that situation, I have friends who have, and the way Allie spoke about Tripp was eerily close to the way I've heard my friends describe their experiences. Her relationship with Tripp soaked into her core and flared up unexpectedly during interactions with nearly every other character in the novel. By the end, I really felt for Allie and even though I figured out the main mystery fairly early on, the ending of the novel still had me gasping.

So the verdict: If this is your thing, you'll love it. If it's not your thing...well, think about it anyway. It's a quick read and you might surprise yourself.

The Weepers: The Other LifeThe Weepers: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book I plan to stock in my classroom. I enjoyed it, but I think it will really appeal to some of my students who aren't so crazy about reading. It's short and full of action and gore (not so much my thing, but I know I have students who will go nuts over it.) I actually preferred the sections set in the bunker and Safe Haven to the action sequences--I'm really fascinated by the idea of having to survive with none of the public infrastructure we're all used to. Definitely an interesting premise: after an outbreak of mutated rabies forces people to go into hiding in bunkers (both public and private, which brings back echoes of public disaster shelters like the Superdome during Katrina) the survivors try to figure out if anyone else is left. I will likely pick up the next book when it comes out.

Imaginary GirlsImaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was frustrating to read--in a really fantastic way. There were really very few moments when I felt like I actually knew what was going on, but the writing was so good that I trusted the book and kept going. Like, with most books that have mysteries or withhold information, you spend some time feeling like you're trying to move a huge brick wall with your hands tied behind your back, but then you get clues or info or put things together and have moments where the wall suddenly slides ahead with no effort for a little while. (Usually I can tell when I've reached those moments because my eyes involuntarily jump ahead a few paragraphs looking for key words like "opened her eyes" or "the cannon fired" or characters' names, and then I start breathing again and go back for what I skimmed over.) In this book, to my constant delight and complete frustration, the wall moved at its own pace. I never felt like I got the jump on what was happening or rested easy for a moment. It's not so much that this book has twists as that it just isn't anything you've seen before. I realize I've said virtually nothing about the plot or characters, and that's because I don't know how to do that without spoilers. If you're someone who likes totally new and original stories and you're ok with feeling in the dark, definitely give this one a shot!

View all my reviews

Waiting in the Wings:

I won an ARC of this in the YAmazing Race--and I can't wait to start reading!!!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: Delayed Teacher Appreciation Week Edition

Welcome to today's edition of Blog Me MAYbe: MAY I tell you more about myself than you ever wanted to know?

Today we're tackling my public school years.  I went to public school from 7th to 12th grade, and I loved it.  Sure, I had my share of DRA-ma...but so did everyone.  And, when you're in a class of 200 or 500 instead of a class of 18, having a few people turn on you is so much easier to bear. 

And my teachers.  Well.  I firmly believe our school district had a monopoly on the world's best teachers.  Not everyone was stellar, although I think they were all well-intentioned, but a few teachers stand out especially, and I need to shout them out. 
  • My 8th grade English teacher who was the first person who ever asked me to let my voice out in my writing instead of burying my personality under a weird formal voice that I thought was "correct."  (She also turned me on to a ton of great books, like Cynthia Voight's Tillerman Cycle.  And she had a poster of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies on her wall.  So:  clearly the coolest.)  
  • My humanities and AP English teacher, who told me it was ok to hate the books we read, and even to tell him I hated the books we read, but also made me push my thinking about them further and deeper than "I liked" or "I hated."  
  • The history teacher my class had for 10th and 12th grade, who pulverized our inflated sense of how well we could write, and then built up our actual writing skills to fill the void.   We thought she hated us--but then we realized it was all love.  (Well, I realized that relatively faster than many of my classmates.  But then she took us out for hotdogs and ice cream at the end of our senior year and I think everyone else realized it too.)
That's me in the pink dress as Mrs. MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie--blonde wig and all!

And my high school theater teachers?  Forget it.  I wouldn't have made it to adulthood without them.  We had an amazing theater program.  We did five shows a year, with elaborate but homegrown sets and costumes painstakingly assembled by our devoted theater and shop teachers and a lot of student elbow grease, and we took our acting training very seriously.  (Probably a little too seriously, but come on, we were teenagers.)  As the scrappy, overcrowded public school, we prided ourselves on putting on shows that were way better than the affluent suburbs just minutes away.  There were rumors one year that the closest and richest of the suburbs did a production of Titanic, the musical, and that their ship actually sank into the stage on hydraulics.  We scoffed at their technology:  we were actors.  We were artists.  We were more than a little obnoxious.  But it was a defense mechanism, really, because we knew we'd never have that kind of money.
This is from A.R. Gurney's Sylvia--definitely my favorite high school show.  That's me on the couch, looking skeptical.

All of this is to say that I'm pretty sure my high school theater teachers have actual magic powers.  Because in the midst of budget woes and kids getting busted for drug- and gang-related activity and teenagers with babies and everything else people think of when they think of inner-city public schools, they created this safe haven where everyone was focused on the work.  They created this culture where suddenly, positive behaviors were valued by teachers and students.  We didn't tolerate personal drama coming interfering with rehearsal.  Lateness and absence were grounds for shunning.  If you took the work seriously and applied yourself, your stock went up.  As freshmen, we couldn't understand the few upperclassmen who smoked--never mind lung cancer, think of what that does to your voice.    I can't imagine going through high school without the theater program they created. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Graceling Realm Edition

Oh, Kristin Cashore.  I love your books, so I am happy that they are each in the neighborhood of five hundred pages...but they wreak havoc on my strenuously-paced and totally self-inflicted reading goals for the year.  Never fear, friends, I read for four solid hours on Saturday night (instead of doing other work...but it will get done by the time it needs to be done.  I just may not sleep as much this weekend as I usually try to when I have the chance) and finished Bitterblue, so I could at least count two books for this week!  And really, they were excellent--if you've been following this endeavor all year, you'll know what a big deal it is for me to invoke the name of The Scorpio Races in a review.

What I Read This Week:

 Fire (Graceling Realm, #2)Fire by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know how to write this review. I don't really know how to explain what this book is about, because it feels like lived experience rather than plotted fiction. I haven't cared this much about a protagonist since Puck Connolly of The Scorpio Races, which is a really, really difficult line to come up to. (What do they have in common? They love their horses, and they love men who love horses. I hadn't thought of that till just now, but it's true.) This book was disorienting, because I never felt like I had a handle on the plot--there wasn't a race or contest to win; no one really needed to escape from anywhere, except once, but that went pretty quickly; the fundamental rules of society weren't about to be overhauled. Instead, we got Fire: a young woman with exceptional beauty and unusual abilities, trying to work out one piece of her life after the next (What does it mean to be part of a family? What are the ethics of war? What obligations does a person have to herself, her friends, her loved ones, her country?). And...we get to work through them with her. They don't always come conveniently one after the next, and they are never easy things to work out. But always, always, I was willing to follow Fire as she worked them out. I think I said something similar in my review of Graceling, but after reading this, I almost feel as if I know what it is to be under the influence of Fire's power. (I almost missed my stop on the train at least three different times reading this book! That never happens to me!) Kristin Cashore is an extremely gifted writer. Her works require patience and time, to be sure. But the reward is so intensely wonderful that I have to encourage you to read her books. There is plenty of action and romance, but it unfolds slowly at times (and then, overwhelmingly, all at once--as I guess it does in real life, when it happens.) Don't go in expecting something paced like The Hunger Games--Cashore has her own rhythms, which are part of what I love. Lean into the writing. Trust it. Love the characters. Suddenly you'll look up and realize you've been reading for two hours. This is storytelling at its finest.

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found Bitterblue to be a wonderfully satisfying continuation of the stories that were told in Graceling and Fire. It is a more direct sequel to Graceling, of course, but having just been blown away by Fire, I was happy to get some more information about those characters as well. I really adored Bitterblue as a character--when I put them all side-by-side, I think I like Bitterblue the best of Cashore's three heroines, even though I still feel most committed to Fire. Bitterblue feels younger and somehow more like a traditional fantasy heroine. I especially love the way she thought about relationships, and trying to understand the different ways people related to each other.

I'm going to be hard-pressed to review this one without spoilers for Graceling and Fire, and there will be light spoilers for Bitterblue itself, but I'll try to be careful with those.

I'm sure Saf is going to be a very popular character; he seems to have the rakish charm and emotional ambivalence that makes for a superstar YA love interest. However, I have to say, I rooted for Giddon throughout the book, and I'm hoping for future books that bear this out. Poor lovely Giddon, can't anything ever break your way? And he would be so good for Bitterblue. (I loved her revelation, upon meeting Fire, that it was possible for a couple to be together for nearly half a century without anything horrible happening. That comment shows some real genre awareness, and it pleased me almost as much as it pleased Bitterblue.)

Raffin and Bann continued to delight me. I want a book about Raffin and Bann and Giddon and Po. They are all such dear, lovable boys who can grow up when it is required of them, but can also quarrel over beans and vomit-inducing medicines that would do the Weasley twins proud.

As of right now, it doesn't seem that Kristin Cashore has said anything publicly about what else might be in the works, and who can blame her--but I can say for sure that if and when her next book comes out, I will be pre-ordering my copy the day it goes on sale.

View all my reviews

Waiting In The Wings:


Friday, May 11, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: MAY I share something funny (and by a writer, no less!)

Check out the blogfest!

Hey y'all.  Let's talk about someone who has become one of my 2012 Favorite People: Maggie Stiefvater.  She became one of my favorite people when I read The Scorpio Races (still holding strong as my best book of the year, as I predicted on January 1st when I finished it) and THEN I found her blog.  

What I've learned from reading her blog:  She is a strange and wonderful person and I want to be her when I grow up (shhhh, 26 is not grown up.)  

But, hey, Mrs. S, wasn't yesterday "MAY I tell you about someone else day?"  

Great question.  Yes.  Today is for sharing something funny.

Like Maggie's most recent blog post, "The Trampoline of Doom."

Go, read it, and above all, check her illustrations.  (That's right, in addition to writing like a word ninja, girlfriend is a pretty fabulous visual artist.  There is nothing she can't do.  Behold her decked out printer.) 

Anyway, enjoy...I'm off to read for dear life, to see if I can get one more book in by Sunday's post.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: MAY I tell you about Suzanne Collins? How about some great causes?

Today's Blog Me MAYbe question is: MAY I tell you about someone else?

Now, ok, you all clearly know about Suzanne Collins.  BUT.  Did you know that she rarely signs books?

AND, did you know that she was really keen on getting books in the hands of kids?

Ok, maybe you knew that too.  But I'm sorry, you guys, I couldn't sit on this any longer.

Ok, I'll explain.  Books of Wonder ran a book drive for three children's charities: Reading is Fundamental, LitWorld, and Children of Bellevue.  And, to get people excited about buying books for these awesome causes, Suzanne Collins donated twelve (duh) copies of The Hunger Games--signed copies.  For each book a person donated, they got an entry to win a signed copy.  And...well, I won a copy.  And here it is. 

So, Suzanne Collins, THANK YOU for being so incredibly generous and donating these beautiful prizes.  I feel so lucky to have won one, and doubly lucky to have gotten it for supporting these really awesome causes.  MAY I tell you about them?

Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States. We prepare and motivate children to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most. We inspire children to be lifelong readers through the power of choice. RIF provides new, free books for children to choose from and make their own. The seeds of inspiration in these books have motivated children to follow their dreams and achieve their potential. Yes, it seems incredible for a book to launch a life, but it happens every day as hungry, inquisitive young minds reach out and grab hold of the new people, places, and ideas that books bring them.
Nearly two-thirds of low-income families in the U.S. own no books.
Planting seeds of inspiration in our nation’s most vulnerable children is what RIF and a network of more than 400,000 volunteers do. Whether in schools, homeless shelters, or community centers—wherever you find children—RIF volunteers spend countless hours distributing books, staging reading motivation activities, and promoting the importance of literacy in their communities.
--Reading Is Fundamental Mission Statement 


LitWorld Believes:
In the inviolable human rights of children;

In the transformative power of literacy to build strong foundations of health, security and economic potential;

In learners as teachers and teachers as learners;

In the importance of children's stories, ideas and opinions;

In the right of every child to a safe and resource-rich learning environment;

In education with a purpose to inspire lives and build peace and connection for humanity;

In the leadership abilities of young people and their vision to create change in the world;

We believe that all children have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.
--LitWorld's Core Values and Principles

Children of Bellevue
  •  In the clinic waiting room, trained community volunteers engage children of all ages in reading activities. The volunteers don’t simply read aloud; they model book-related interactions for parents who sit nearby and watch.
  • A ROR parent educator makes in-depth contacts with parents,pointing out their child’s reaction to the books, talking about the importance of language and literacy in the early years and giving advice about reading. The counseling sets the stage for the doctors’ intervention.
  • Pediatricians give children a new book to take home at every check-up, from six months to five years. These books are carefully chosen based on developmental and cultural appropriateness. Children participating in the ROR program will start school with a library of at least 10 books in their homes.
  •  Pediatricians give parents age appropriate advice about the importance of reading aloud during well-child visits. The most important thingparents can do to increase a child’s success in learning to read is to read to that child. Even parents who themselves cannot read can teach their child a love of books by looking at books with their child.
    --Children of Bellevue Reach Out and Read Program

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: MAY I ask something about you?

Your question today is short and sweet, but it will help me put together a research reading list for a project I'm working on: Other than books by Stephanie Perkins, what is your favorite YA contemporary novel?

Tricky, right? I knew everyone would just say Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door, so those are off-limits. Go!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: In the Middle

Happy Tuesday!  (I know.  But I can try, right?)

Last week, we covered childhood.  Childhood was awesome:  I was adorable, I read early, grown-ups loved me, and kids hadn't gotten mean yet.

Then came sixth grade.  (Cue ominous music.)

Sixth grade, for me, was still elementary school.  As you can see, my elementary school was pretty teeny-tiny.  (It has gotten even smaller since then, and sadly, it will close next year due to underenrollment.)  There were two kindergartens, because we were one of the only full-day kindergarten options in town, but the rest of the grades had only one class each.  And after fifth grade, a handful of kids left because the local public schools started middle school in sixth grade.

So my sixth grade class had eighteen kids in it.  And we got hit with the hormone stick--hard.  Which meant that suddenly, my best friend since the second grade turned into the coolest girl in the class.  She herself didn't really get mean, but the other girls divided into two different factions of mean girls and neither of them had room for a girl who had tangled hair, crooked teeth, and wore a lot of holiday-themed sweaters on dress-down non-uniform days.

Adorable as tree ornaments; less adorable as clothing.  (Source: jspad on Flickr.)

And forget about the boys.  I had already made my crush-since-third-grade cry by asking him to skate with me during a "hitchhiker" skate at the monthly school roller-skating party.  Also, bizarrely, all the cool boys in my class spent the year fighting over who was which Happy Days character.  YUP.  They were definitely too cool for me.  Suffice it to say that by the end of the year, on our class field trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, my "group" was me, my mom, the new girl who was known only as "the girl who eats her chapstick", and her mom, because no one else would be in a group with either one of us.  (She was a perfectly nice girl, by the way.  And who hasn't enjoyed a flavored Lipsmacker a little overzealously?)

So, by the end of sixth grade, transferring to public school seemed like a pretty great idea.  Especially when it looked like a school straight out of a TV show...

Luckily, this was a much better experience.  But I think that's a story for another Tuesday!

What was your least favorite year of school?  Would you re-visit it if you could?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Blog Me MAYBe: MAY I tell you something about writing?

Hello all!  Welcome to those of you stopping by from the Blog Me MAYbe blogfest!  Today's theme is:

MAY I tell you something about writing?

At the beginning of this blogfest, I thought, "Maybe I'll quietly sit out Mondays and hope no one notices."

And then grading and the end of the marking period hit, and I quietly sat out last Thursday and Friday.

Now, part of what attracted me to the BMM fest was its easy-going nature:

And if posting every day sounds like too much, or if you miss a few days, or only do a couple posts a week, who cares, yanno?
--Sara McClung's intro to BMM
But that was also part of what scared me.   (Here's where I start telling you something about writing.)

I love deadlines.  Love them.  They're also my enemy, because part of who I am at my core is Someone Who Does Not Miss Deadlines.  I procrastinate, yes, lots, all the time--but I have become the MASTER of procrastinating.  Because I Do Not Miss Deadlines.

So, when I decided to start writing, as a fun thing I could do for me, and as something I could do as a good model for my students, I tried NaNoWriMo.  I thought that would be good for me, because it's nothing but deadlines.  The problem: no one is watching. 

 Long story short: I have the first ten or fifteen pages of two novels that I want to work on...and they petered out.  I mean, I'm really busy with work, right?  Yeah, that's it.

Then I signed up for a TV writing class online (through Gotham Writer's Workshop--I enjoyed it, and they have a lot of different types of writing classes, so check it out if that's your thing) and somehow found the time to read the lectures, do the homework, submit my pages, and do my critiques every single week, by the deadline, including the week of our school production of Annie that I was directing.

What's the difference?  DEADLINES.  Someone else was expecting my work at a certain time.  So I delivered.

So, friends, I have a confession to make.  My name is Mrs. S, and I am a writing poser.  A fake.  A phony.  I've seen a lot of advice along the lines of JUST WRITE THE BOOK, and I've been blowing it on that front.

But I can change--and I think I will, now that I've figured this out.  I do plan to take more classes, but I'd also love to set up something informal with some of you, if anyone else works this way.  I'm not proposing anything as intense or formal as becoming CPs, because clearly, I'm not there yet.  More like a deadline mafia--everybody's got each other's back but also looks out to make sure that things are getting done the way they're supposed to.  You could set your own goals and deadlines, but when they roll around, you have to get the pages in.

Does anyone else work like that?  Want to set up a deadline mafia?  Have you done anything like that in the past--and how has it worked?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: My Mind Is A Sieve

Somehow, despite millions and billions of desperate proclamations to the contrary, we've all survived to May 1st, 2012--the release date for TWO of the year's most hotly anticipated YA sequels.  So, first of all, yay us!  Way to go, not dying from suspense!

But I suspect it was a little bit easier for me than for most.  Because friends, I am losing my mind.  Or, more accurately, my mind is losing things.  I suspect, if you took an x-ray of my brain, it would look like a hunk of swiss cheese.

 I might love a book to death, but until the tenth or twelfth reading, I'm going to forget the whole thing within two weeks.  Seriously.  Sometimes it's kind of a fun affliction, because I can be in suspense all over again! (Now, if I could just apply that to the first season of Veronica Mars, we'd be in business!)  But when sequels come out is when things get tricky.

As a result, two of my books this week were re-reads.  But due to the above factors, and because I read them before 2012, I'm counting them toward my reading challenge totals.  I wrote new responses for both of them, in light of my new purpose for reading.

What I Read This Week:

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks, Veronica Roth, for the sleep I didn't get two nights ago when I dreamed my fear landscape.

Thanks also for the sleep I didn't get last night, when I stayed up finishing my pre-Insurgent re-read of Divergent.

I had to re-read it, because the first time I read it I was going so darn fast in order to find out what happened next. Oops. Turns out there were whole big chunks I had kind of forgotten (I'm not great with remembering plots under the best of circumstances. But hit me with suspense? Forget it. My eyes can't stay on the right page, let alone paragraph.)

And, yup. It is that good. I mean, we all knew that, but just in case anyone was wondering. It is. I mean, only if you like suspense and stakes-raising and action and surprising, complicated characters, I guess. If those things aren't your bag...well, Leave it to Beaver is on Netflix now. You could go check that out.

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Veronica Roth. WHAT?

This book blows the whole game wide open. Don't worry, I'll be vague, because it's only been out for two days as of when I'm writing this. But I mean...I had no idea things would head the way they did, but it was so beautifully set up that it felt like the natural progression. And the ENDING--I am so in love with this ending, because it provides so much resolution and clarity while simultaneously setting up an EPIC next book.

Non-spoilery things I especially loved:

--Getting to know more about the other factions
--Christina. Just, all of her.
--Lynn, Marlene, and Uriah.
--Johanna Reyes (you guys, I love this new character so so so much. SO much. Ok, spoilers here: Her speech, when she decided to leave Amity to try to keep the peace, definitely made me cry a little. I am Amity all the way. Except, I guess, traitor Amity. Reyes Amity.)[ Her speech, when she decided to leave Amity to try to keep the peace, definitely made me cry a little. I am Amity all the way. Except, I guess, traitor Amity. Reyes Amity.) (hide spoiler)]

I'm going to hold off on a full, spoilery response until the end of the month, when it's time for Bookmobile at YA Highway and Tracey Neithercott's YA Book Club to discuss it, and then I'll do a megapost! Enjoy it, if you haven't yet!

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Graceling by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I re-read Graceling because Bitterblue is finally here, and I had gone and forgotten much of what made this story so lovely. I actually like the third-person narration here, even though I am often a sucker for the opposite, because Cashore's rhythms and word choices give this a real fairy-tale feeling. It's much richer and darker than a fairy tale, even the real, un-Disneyfied versions, but the narration keeps it moving reassuringly along. (I wonder if that's how King Leck's words work? Yikes. But it does remind me of famous fictional story tellers like Sara Crewe or the Story Girl--every time I picked the book up, it immediately started to wash over me and pull me right in.)

As much as I love Po--and truly, I can't think of a fictional couple that hits me in the heart harder than Katsa and Po--I think my favorite part of Graceling is when he and Katsa are apart, and Katsa is with Bitterblue. Bitterblue's quiet strength doesn't totally prevent flashes of her youth from coming through, and on this reading I found myself thinking a lot about Amandla Stenberg's performance as Rue. If I was making a film of Graceling right now, she's probably who I'd cast--there's something about Bitterblue that just makes you want to give her a hug, even when she's being completely brave and mature, and Stenberg has that quality coming out her ears.

But of course, Po and Katsa do deserve a mention. I love their easy way with each other, once they figure out the terms of their relationship. It's rare that we get to see a fantasy protagonist (or one in any similar genre) joke around with his or her significant other to the extent that Po and Katsa do. I know they're usually busy fighting evil and saving the world, but so are these two, and they still find time for laughing and otherwise enjoying each other. That's really refreshing. And frankly, it's nice to see a couple that loves each other and is able to commit to each other in a way other than marriage. Marriage is great, don't get me wrong--but it isn't the only way to be in love and mean it.

Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to Fire and Bitterblue! Definitely worth reading, even if you're a little skeptical of fantasy--this is a good story with great characters and relationships that anyone can enjoy.

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Waiting in the Wings

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MAY I Ask Something About You?

Wednesdays in the Blog Me MAYbe Blogfest opens things up to YOU, my dear, dear friends who I have never met.  I'm already seeing some great questions pop up, so before all the good ones are taken:

What was your VERY FIRST favorite book?  When you were just a wee little version of yourself (now I'm picturing you all as like, the Muppet Baby versions of yourselves) what was the first book that you just couldn't get enough of?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blog Me MAYbe: MAY I tell you something about my (child) self?

Happy May Day, everyone!  Today is the first day of the Blog Me MAYbe Blogfest, hosted by Sara, Katy, Cambria, Jessica, Tracey, Alexandra, Lola, and Alison.

The theme for Tuesdays is MAY I tell you something about myself?  

I'm going to try to focus on a different part of my life each Tuesday, so as not to bore you!

Thanks, Facebook, for getting my whole extended family to post baby pictures of me on the internet!

When I was younger, my grandfather used to call me Shirley Temple.  This picture, I think, is from that phase. 

Some facts about me when I was this age:
  • I loved whales.  A friend of the family did an "adopt a whale" thing for me; my whale's name was Patches.  We looked for him when we went to Cape Cod the summer I was four, and went whale watching, but no luck.  This was the phase of my life when I decided that I wanted to be a marine biologist (which startles people coming from a four-year-old.) 
  • I (shocker) loved to read and be read to.  I was reading some chapter books (mostly Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary) before I started school.  My favorite books that my parents read me were Kay Chorao's Oink and Pearl books and The Josefina Story Quilt.
  • I was an only child for the first five years of my life, and I didn't go to preschool.  As a result, I had more than the usual number of imaginary friends. (I made my dad write out a list once.  It fills the length of a sheet of paper--in three columns.  That's in the archives, somewhere.)  Most of them were characters from TV shows--which, I realized later, means that I basically spent my toddler years making up fanfiction as I acted out stories with them.