Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: More Maggie Edition!

Don't forget to enter my Banned Books Week/Blogaversary Giveaway! 

Well, friends, I only read one book this week...but that's because I got so into it, I wanted to take my time and enjoy it.  If you've been following me for a while, you probably know about my immense love for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  And I think anyone who's been following any book blogs for any amount of time recently has heard about her new book, The Raven Boys.  My copy came in the mail about a week ago, and it is SO BEAUTIFUL.  And tonight, I am happy to report that the story lives up to its gorgeous outsides.
This is how I felt after reading The Raven Boys: Excited, and slightly crazed with glee.  The last line is a real doozy.

This is actually only the second of Maggie's books that I've read.  After reading The Scorpio Races, I was kind of afraid to read more of her books because I loved it SO MUCH, you know?  The Scorpio Races was one of those books that just felt like it was expressly designed to become one of my favorite books of all time.  The series she's best known for is about werewolves...and while I've been told it's not like other werewolf series, and I really truly believe that because she's so amazing, I've been slow to pick it up.  (I do own the first book in the series...and I will read it.  Soon.  Really.)  But with The Raven Boys, I was pretty confident, because several months ago an excerpt went up online and it blew me away.  So when it arrived, I dug in with much anticipation.  Happily, it did not disappoint.  I have a hunch that I won't love Maggie's other books in quite the same way that I loved The Scorpio Races, for a bunch of big and small reasons but especially because of the horses.  But all the things that made it such a compelling read, and one that I recommend widely, are present in The Raven Boys.  It's been a while since I felt so completely engaged by a book.

Anyway, here's my Goodreads Review.  I did my best to be coherent, but really--pick up a copy.  There's a great heroine, awesome secondary female characters, and the best crew of teenage guys I can think of in any book, ever.

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I'm gonna go ahead and make it official: Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite author. This book took me a whole week to read because it was so rich with detail and life and I didn't want it to end. Reading a book by Maggie Stiefvater is like watching The Wire--you may start out a little disoriented because the world you're dropped into has so clearly been existing without you forever, but you slowly get acclimated and sucked in and by the end it feels like you've always lived there. Every sentence is its own tiny beautiful thing, which makes the experience of reading very different from a book like The Hunger Games where every sentence is sleek and trim and pushes the story ahead faster and faster. I don't think either is better than the other, but I think it's hard to do either very, very well. Maggie Stiefvater does her thing very, very well.

But what is it about? Blue, daughter of a psychic (properly, the child in a family of psychics, although not a traditional nuclear family) doesn't have power she can use herself, but she does amplify the energy around her. She's also the subject of a persistent psychic reading: if she kisses her true love, he will die. Gansey, wealthy private school student, is hunting for a Welsh king rumored to be in a magical sleep; whoever wakes him will receive a favor. The rest of the Raven Boys--so called because of the Raven crest on their school sweaters--have formed a family of their own, largely because of Gansey's inimitable something that holds them together. Adam is doing his best to get by on his own terms in the world he aspires to earn a place in. Noah is quiet, shy, and seems uncomfortable in his own skin. And Ronan is desperate and angry after his father's sudden and mysterious death. When Blue becomes entangled with the Raven Boys, all of their lives suddenly become amplified in ways they never expected.

This is the first book in a planned series, so while there's a ton of mystery, excitement, suspense, and world-building, there aren't a ton of answers. There's also not a ton of romance, although some groundwork is laid. Since Blue really can't kiss anyone without being worried about killing them, things move pretty slowly. I think, though, that if you go into this book expecting a well-told, well-crafted story, with characters you won't soon forget, you'll enjoy this one and look forward to the rest. I probably wouldn't recommend it to a struggling or reluctant reader, but for my students who are on the cusp of being ready for adult literary fiction, this would be a really good read (Hey former students reading my reviews: I mean you guys. READ THIS.)

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 29, 2012

In My Mailbox: Birthday Books!

Don't forget to enter my Banned Books Week/Blogaversary Giveaway!

In My Mailbox is a feature started by Kristi at The Story Siren.  I haven't done it before, but I was pretty excited about what showed up this week!

As I mentioned before, I had a birthday recently.  And since I have the world's greatest husband, I had a pretty exciting week of mail.  Here's the stack:

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle, The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand, The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, and Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  Also, my Taylor Swift perfume, a gift from my MIL, because T-Swift is my GIRL.
And here are the lovely covers:

All gifts from Mr. S except The Raven Boys, which was my present to myself.  I pre-ordered a signed copy from Maggie Stiefvater's local indie bookstore.  (They have signed copies of her other books, too, plus a selection of other signed YA!)  Because I pre-ordered, she not only signed it, but she drew a raven in it, and included a bookplate of some of the artwork from the trailer--which she did herself.  And the little insert from the bookstore tells all about how she got their attention initially by offering to play Christmas carols on her harp if they would let her do a signing there.  WHAT.  Maggie, you are my hero.

Look how pretty:
I'm in the middle of it--I'm reading slowly.  At first that was because it's so literary in style that it took some time for me to adjust (much like when I make the switch from YA to adult) and now it's because I am loving being in this story.

So, clearly, I am a very happy gal.  Oh--and we're going on Saturday to pick up our gift from my mom and step-dad: a new bookcase!  Is that perfect or what?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Banned Book Week Giveaway (and Blogaversary Celebration! Yay!)

Hey, y'all, do you know what next week is?


That's right: it's the time when we all get together and try to figure out why on earth people want to ban A Wrinkle In Time, James and the Giant Peach, or The Egypt Game.

Coincidentally?  September 28th is also my one-year blogaversary!  So imagine my delight when I discovered this great Banned Books giveaway hop I could participate in and celebrate both at the same time!

SO: To make sure that some of these amazing, truthful, quietly life-changing books are as abundantly available as possible...I am giving away three of my all-time favorite banned or challenged books.  If they're new to you, that's awesome.  If you have copies or you've read these books before, I'd really love it if you entered anyway.  If you win, find a teenager or a teacher or a librarian and give them these books, so that even more people will get to read them.  And when you're done with my giveaway, check out the tons of other bloggers hosting Banned Books Week giveaways as part of this blog hop by clicking over to I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and I Read Banned Books

In My Giveaway:

1) Looking For Alaska by John Green.  This book has been challenged based on a scene depicting a crummy, awkward sexual encounter.  The knockout punch of love and grief and confusion and anger this book delivers is somehow reduced to one unsuccessful sex act. I'll let John Green explain why he thinks that's dopey:

2)The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  This book has been banned or challenged for a lot of reasons, language being the first one that most people would notice.  When I taught this book as part of a student choice lit circle unit, the group reading it called me over in shock, thinking there was no way I had read and and decided to teach it anyway.  But it's that good.  Alexie's books have also been banned in schools throughout Arizona under their bizarro law against books that might promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group (white people) or books that are targeted specifically at students of a particular ethnic group (except white people, I guess?).  He has a really eloquent statement about that here.

3) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  The reason behind challenging this one brings actual tears of anger to my eyes: this beautiful, honest, gut-wrenching novel about a young woman's rape is TOO SEXY.  In fact, it's pornographic.  Because of a RAPE SCENE.  Here's Laurie Halse Anderson's take on the subject.  If I had my way, every high school student in the world would read this book.  Yes, guys too.  No, rape isn't a "woman's issue." 

I will also be giving away a $10 gift card to Donors Choose so that the winner can help a teacher buy books (or something else, but we're all here because of books, right?) for his or her classroom.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

RTW: Best September Read

It's time for a very special Road Trip Wednesday, as brought to you by YA Highway!  This week's question (as is usually the case on the last Wednesday of the month) is:

What was the best book you read in September?

So why is this one so special?  Because this was also the question during my very first RTW!  My first entries date back to 9/28/11, so look for a celebratory post (with giveaway!) to be up on Friday!

And my RTW answer this month?

My review of Send Me A Sign by Tiffany Schmidt can be found here, but in a nutshell: this is a top-notch contemporary YA novel in which the main character has three (difficult) best friends, two hot guys, one crazy mom, and leukemia, in no particular order.  It drew me in and made me understand and sympathize with the decisions that Mia makes about her friends, her illness, and the guys in her life.  If you are a contemporary fan, this one should go to the top of your list when it comes out.  (And Tiffany Schmidt is donating money to cancer-related organizations when you pre-order in September--you still have a few more days!  You can even order a signed copy from her local bookstore!)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Birthday Edition!

That's right--yesterday was my birthday :)  Growing up, we always made a pretty big deal out of holidays, with Christmas being the mother of all celebrations and birthdays being next on the list.  My little sister was born five years and three days after me, so we had we had a whole birthday week, really.  So this year it was really nice to go a little bit old-school and have my mom and step-dad visit with a birthday cake and presents (well, actually, they took us out shopping for our present--a really nice bookshelf that we will hopefully be picking up next weekend!  My biggest bookshelf didn't make it through the move so I was short anyway, but this one is like a nice adult bookshelf that's not made of cardboard.  I figured you all would appreciate how cool that is!)

And yes, my cake was pink, at least on the inside!  I always asked for a strawberry cake when I was little and saw no reason to change now!  (Image Source)

Once again, I just have two book reviews today.  I spent most of this week stuck in a book that I wanted to like but it just wasn't grabbing me.  It was historical fiction, so I was interested, but the voice felt a little too historical and there just wasn't much going on.  It has decent reviews on Goodreads but after three or four days I was maybe 20% finished reading because it just wasn't working for me.  I eventually had to remember what I always told my students--life is too short to read a book you're not enjoying!  So then I picked up Diverse Energies and was into it enough that I did not immediately pitch it over my shoulder when my copy of The Raven Boys arrived (signed and doodled and bookplated!  You guys, it's so beautiful.)  Anyway, that's pretty high praise.  I might be taking tomorrow off from everything to read The Raven Boys.  We'll see.

What I Read This Week:

Time Between UsTime Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was honestly a little nervous going into this book because of the extent to which time travel romances (The Time Traveler's Wife, Doctor Who episodes like "The Girl In The Fireplace") sometimes completely wreck me. So, without explaining how or why, I will let you know upfront that I only cried a little at the end of this book, and it was more the kind of crying where a story was so good and so emotional and so brilliantly paced that you have to take a minute at the end and just feel all the feelings.

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet. But when his time traveling goes wrong, he settles briefly in 1995 Chicago instead of the 2012 San Francisco where he belongs. Anna challenges all of his rules and ideas about time travel, and he changes her life--literally, tangibly--forever. Really, though, this is a book about how we make choices for ourselves, and whether it's ever ok to make choices for the people we love. It's about choosing to live life as a "daring adventure". Do note that the story takes a little while to get set up, but then it takes off like a rocket: hang in there. The setup makes the rest of it so much better. If you love YA romances with great families, minorly unlikable but majorly lovable best friends, and a little something different, you'll love Time Between Us.

I received a free advance e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Diverse EnergiesDiverse Energies by Tobias S. Buckell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've mentioned before that I'm not usually crazy about short-story collections, but this is a really great one. These stories represent a wide variety of dystopian/post-apocalyptic/just plain creepy or messed up settings, with characters that are similarly varied. The editors' goal was to take some of the frustration of many writers with the sameness of protagonists (in speculative fiction especially, but this is not a phenomenon unique to genre fiction) and turn it in a productive direction. The result was a really excellent anthology of stories with protagonists who were something other than straight white kids from Western countries. And I have to say, the collection succeeds in making it seem really ridiculous that so many of the other stories that get published are about kids who look pretty much the same. Maybe this is just because I spent my days for the last three years with young people from 20+ different countries with a range of skin tones, hair styles, attitudes, favorite foods, religions, favorite subjects, sexual preferences, living arrangements, family makeups, languages, etc, but reading this book felt normal. It made me mentally flip through the last hundred books I read and suddenly that was the collection that felt sort of false. I mean, that's not to say that everyone should stop writing about straight white kids from Western countries. But it's weird that those stories get published so disproportionately.

And lest you think this book serves only as a Good Example or something, let me give you an idea of some of the stories you'll find inside. There's a police report narrated by a frozen-yogurt worker (with killer dude-voice and a completely twisted streak of dark humor) about the day the first robot lost it. There's the story of a boy living safely within the walls of his school who longs to know more about the world outside, and an explanation from the school's founder of why the boy and his friends weren't allowed to that will make you question every dystopian setting you've ever read (at least for a second.) And there's a severely creepy story that's set in unmistakably future Earth, where the rich have all forsaken the real world in favor of a 24/7 virtual world and the poor have started squatting in their (too-often bedbug infested) homes right under their oblivious noses. Those were just a few that stood out to me, but you may have other favorites (like the excellent contributions from Paolo Baciogalupi, Malinda Lo, or Ursula LeGuin.) If you're a fan of dystopian stories, you must give this book a read.

I received a free advance e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews 

Monday, September 17, 2012

A bit of exciting news! (Plus: Books for a cause!)

So it feels like I've been waiting FOREVER to tell you all about this, but a quick check of my inbox confirms that it's only been a week!  (Well, a week is forever in internet time.)

This summer, I saw a post on MotherReader about judging for the Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards).  I knew it was a longshot that they'd want me to judge--I'm just now coming up on my first blogaversary* and still have a relatively small blog.  But what with moving all the way across the state to a new place and leaving off having a job and all, I've been trying to get myself to just "go for it" when I hear about something that sounds like fun**.
And somehow, not only did I make the cut, I got my first choice--YA Fiction!  The first thing I did when panelists were announced was make a new folder in my Google Reader just to keep up with all of the awesome, new-to-me blogs of my fellow judges.  I am so excited to work with them to choose from what I'm sure will be a pretty fantastic group of books--I'm a second round judge, which means that the first round judges will have already done the heroic work of checking out ALL the books nominated in our category and creating a short list of finalists.  I'll read those, and along with the rest of the second round judges, I'll get to help choose the winner of the 2012 Cybil Award for Young Adult Fiction.  (I am also super jazzed to see what some of the other categories come up with, especially Science Fiction/Fantasy YA!) 

I will update further when nominations open, but for now, PLEASE start thinking about your nominations!  Each person can only nominate one book per category, and the books must have been published between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012. 

And while I have your attention:  You may remember the rave review I posted yesterday for Tiffany Schmidt's upcoming Send Me A Sign.  Well, it turns out that not only is Tiffany a pretty fantastic author, she's also a pretty fantastic person.  During the month of September, she's making donations to two charities in memory of a former student.  For every person who sends her proof of a pre-order, she'll donate $1 to The Sunshine Kids and The Dear Jack Foundation.  You can read more here, and pre-orders are available from the Doylestown Bookshop (where they will be signed!  That's where mine is coming from!) as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indie Bound.  If you're thinking about buying a copy anyway, do it today and support some great organizations!

*Stay tuned for that next week!

**So far: hosted a party for the season 7 premiere of Doctor Who, thrown myself into a pub trivia team, and attended a board game night.  Clearly "going for it" is working for me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Whatever Will Be, Will Be Edition

I've decide to take a more laid-back approach to my now-completely-insane reading goal this week, and make peace with the two books I've read this week.  They were both really good, so be sure to check out my reviews below! 

Other good things this week:
  • I've spent a lot of time beta-reading a book I'm really into.
  • I picked up a new TV show (Awkward.) which was good because it helped pass the time while I...
  •  Did ALL THE DISHES.  That is not that much of an exaggeration, as all our dishes needed a wash before they were put away, and all I have left is a sink full of cutlery. 
  • I have also helped our trivia team defend its title (we joined the team last week, which was the third week in a row they won; this week made a streak of four and I discovered how amped up I get by competition). 
  • The Bills are actually playing decent football today!   So that's fun to watch, and it's been distracting me from my book more than last week, which...was not fun to watch at all.
  • And tonight--when, granted, I could be trying to up my book numbers--I'll be having an early birthday celebration with my mother-in-law's delicious pasta fagioli and homemade bread. 
So if I don't make that 150 book goal?  It's ok.  I've got good stuff going on.
And, like I said, I have two pretty great books to tell you about.  (And I know I will be starting next week's Sunday post with another, as I'm currently 46% of the way through Time Between Us and I can tell that even though I'm already really into it, it's just heating up.)

What I Read This Week: 

 SkinnySkinny by Donna Cooner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if the voice inside your head--you know, the one that tells you you're not good enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough--was so loud and determined that it felt like another person was actually living inside your head? That's the way it is for Ever Davies (or, as Skinny would call her, The Fat Girl.) Skinny is Ever's name for that voice; Ever imagines her as a wacked out version of Tinkerbell. It took very little explanation for me to understand exactly who and what Skinny was, and I imagine many readers will feel the same way. The book follows Ever as she chooses to have gastric bypass surgery and throughout her recovery and dramatic weight loss. It takes more than shedding pounds to get rid of Skinny, though, and I found Ever's story really compelling and powerful.

It was interesting to me to read this so close on the heels of reading Butter by Erin Jade Lange. Both protagonists are not just obese but also see the world in dramatically distorted ways. Both encounter the sudden attention of the popular kids, and both have to decide how they feel about that attention. And both Ever and Butter have musical talents but have resisted public performances because of their size. Despite these similarities, though, these books read very differently and could be a fantastic pairing for lit circles or book clubs within the same classroom, because they present similar issues through the eyes of two distinctive, vivid protagonists. Ever's ultimate discoveries about Skinny and what Skinny has done to her feel heartbreakingly real and familiar, and will make you look twice at anyone in your life who is hard to be around. Donna Cooner has created a character who is at once deeply frustrating and deeply sympathetic.

I received a free advance e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Send Me a SignSend Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's acknowledge, first things first, that Send Me A Sign is a novel with cancer in it. But it is not a Cancer Novel. It is a novel about a Person with cancer, not a person with CANCER. So those of you who, like me, grew up morbidly fascinated by novels with titles like Time to Die My Love Who Is Dying or Mommy Don't Go And Die Because It Is My Turn To Die Too Young: this is not the kind of book you think it is.

Mia has cancer. Mia also has a near-perfect GPA, a spot on the cheerleading squad, a trio of amazeballs (but difficult) best friends, a hot and beloved next-door neighbor who would do anything for her, and an equally hot hook-up who wants to become more. Oh, and a crazy-self-involved mom and list-a-holic dad. All of the above get about equal screen time, and everything on that list affects everything else on that list. This reads like any other contemporary, but with more medical terminology and above-average characters.

It's not that the book makes light of cancer. The thing is, when you're a senior in high school, all of those things that I listed kind of feel as serious as cancer. That's why we love contemporary YA--the stakes can feel SO HIGH even when the book is about, like, who the protagonist is gonna make out with. But what's amazing about Send Me A Sign is the way Tiffany Schmidt balances all of Mia's problems. Cancer does make the stakes higher than usual, but for Mia it has the effect of just making all the hard things harder: amplifying every emotion, every decision, every reaction. By the end of the book, I was completely immersed in Mia's life. And really, that's what the book is about, much more than her illness--it's about her life. So even if you normally give Cancer Books a pass, you might want to give this one a shot. I think it will surprise you (and suck you in and make you neglect your to-do list for a whole afternoon. Not that I did that or anything.)

I received a free advance e-book copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Waiting In The Wings


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: The Wonder of Google Docs

It's time for YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday once again!

This Week's Topic is: What word processing program do you use to write your manuscript, and can you share one handy trick you've learned in that program that has helped you while you write?

Well, my two old WIPs are waiting patiently where I left them...which is in Google Docs (now Google Drive, I guess?)  I love Google Docs because I can access it from wherever I am.  The first WIP was a project I started when I did NaNoWriMo with my 6th graders, so I chose Google Docs because I knew I would want to write from my home and work computers about equally. 

Recently, though, I haven't been writing so much.  I have been beta-reading, though, and that's where Google Docs has really come in handy.  I get a copy of the MS in Google Docs, and I can add comments (just like in Word or OpenOffice)--and then the author can respond to the comments, which triggers an email to me, so I know to look back at that spot.  Or, if it's a quick little thing (typo, punctuation, whatever) the author can fix it up and mark the comment as "resolved" and it goes away.  It's cleaner and simpler than emailing pages back and forth with comments.  There's even a chat function built right in, which I've used once or twice if we both happen to be logged in at the same time.  (I'm not sure about people's familiarity with Docs/Drive--I don't have time to make a how-to screencast right now, but if you're interested, let me know!  I can easily throw one together in the next week or so!)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: In Under The Wire Edition

So I just barely managed to get my four books in this week--two and a half of them today!  I admit to picking the two shortest books on my list, so I'm in trouble if I find myself in the same boat next week.  I'll have to start marking out imaginary "commutes" in my new stay-at-home schedule--turns out you can read a lot of books in 80-90 minutes a day.

What I Read This Week: 

 UndeadUndead by Kirsty McKay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a good old-fashioned zombie romp! Of the zombie books I've read--and they are becoming more numerous than I expected them to--this one is the closest to watching a traditional zombie horror movie. Now, my theory of horror movies divides them into two categories--ones where the blood spatters everywhere (awesome, fun, usually at least a little campy) and ones where the blood oozes (why do they even make these movies, they are just unpleasant from beginning to end). This is solidly in the first category. A group of teenagers, a rapidly-spreading zombie outbreak, the middle of nowhere, snow, no phones, etc. Like any zombie story worth its salt, there are some twists and turns and surprises. Was it the most thought-provoking take on zombies I've ever seen? No. But it's not trying to be. Did I have a lot of fun reading it? Definitely. It's action-packed, frequently goofy, occasionally touching, and something I think a lot of my former students would love. (A sequel is already in the works--called Unfed, which is an awesome title--and I will definitely be picking that up whenever it arrives.)

Disclaimer: I received this title as a free, advance e-book. This review is my own honest opinion.

ButterButter by Erin Jade Lange
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One interesting thing about this book is the way in which reading the blurb puts the reader in the same boat as many of the characters. It has one of the most arresting hooks of any book coming out this fall: Butter, the morbidly obese teenage protagonist has announced that he is going to eat himself to death. What's more, he is going to do it in one meal, broadcast live over the internet.

Will you watch?

Erin Jade Lange does a great job keeping Butter's story human, rather than veering into the easy, lurid territory of stereotypes about bullying and suicide. Butter's voice is frustrated, angry, lonely, scared, and full of the kind of hopelessness that it's so easy to truly believe when you're a teenager with a problem that seems impossible. In Butter's case, his weight has gotten so out of control that he can't imagine ever feeling normal or healthy. At school he is mostly invisible, called by a nickname that has lost all meaning to most of his classmates (one derived from a gruesome attack just before high school.) I think the best thing about this book is the way Lange captures the absolute certainty with which teenagers understand their perceptions of the world (especially negative perceptions) and then uses supporting characters to challenge some of those assumptions. Because Butter is the first-person narrator, it's easy to take his version of the truth as fact, which makes for a surprising reading experience when he learns to see things differently. I remember that certainty and that sense of hopelessness, about problems large and small. If you've ever stayed up all night certain the world is ending, only to see things differently in the light of day, you may recognize something of yourself in Butter.

Butter offers a conflicted, relatable male narrator, a realistic look at what it can feel like to be an outsider, and a unique take on issues of bullying and popularity. I recommend this to anyone looking for something a little different in contemporary YA.

I received a free, advance e-book copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

DramaDrama by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a forever theater nerd and a former actor/singer/stage manager/costume designer/sound designer/board op, I kind of loved this. Set in a middle school producing an old-fashioned musical with ridiculously complicated set and costume needs, this captures the spirit of stage crew perfectly. Some liberties are taken with details, of course (a 7th grader is making dresses with boned bodices and hoop skirts from scratch? There's an understudy but she's not expected to be at the performance?) but it gets at the sense of urgency and the can-do team spirit that characterized all of my forays into theater from middle school right up to a goofy one-day grad school show. The friendships and romances are sweet and appropriate to middle school, when things change quickly and people are still struggling to define themselves. Overall, I was totally charmed by Drama and I think anyone who did theater when they were in school would get a kick out of it.

I received a free advance e-book copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Button DownButton Down by Anne Ylvisaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When local football hero Lester Ward heads off to play college ball, the small town of Goodhue gets football fever. Small but scrappy Ned Button dreams of following in Lester's footsteps, but it seems impossible until he learns to take a few lessons from his ailing grandfather. I would recommend this as a readaloud for 4th or 5th graders; the story is simple but the characters are worth rooting for. A few side characters seem a little underdeveloped (most of the girls, sadly) but the main relationship between Ned and his grandfather is really likable. This is a good pick for anyone looking for a story about family, playing smart, and small victories.

I received a free, advance e-book copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: No More Required Reading For Me!

Today's Road Trip Wednesday from YA Highway is a topic near and dear to my heart:

This Week's Topic is: Back to school time! What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?

See, it is back-to-school time.  But not for me, for the first time since I was four years old!  It is...weird.  And kind of awesome.  I joined millions of Americans today in the time-honored pastime of folding laundry while watching an afternoon talk show (my 4pm favorite?  Ellen!).

But before I get school out of my system altogether, here are some books I loved when they were assigned to me (sorry, Gatsby and Wuthering Heights; I hated you in high school.  Silly me.)

This was the only book from 9th grade English that I actually enjoyed.  This was deeply disappointing, as I loved to read, and had middle school teachers who assigned awesome books like:

This one seems tame by the standards of modern "all the adults have dropped dead and the kids are in charge" books (do we have a more concise name for this genre?  "Oldpocalypse"?  "Gerondemic"?) but when I was in 7th grade, this seemed nothing short of revolutionary.  I wanted to move into my school with a cute boy and loot grocery warehouses!

Ok, to be fair, by the time this was assigned by my beloved 8th grade English teacher, I had already read it.  But I was so excited that everyone else was going to read it, and I wrote an essay about it that I still remember because it was called "World Without Love" (Like the song, which I had recently learned from watching Ally McBeal.  In retrospect, it feels really squicky that I was watching Ally McBeal at the same time that I was being assigned to read The Giver.  Y'all, that show was racy.  But my friends were watching it, and it marks the ONE AND ONLY time that "everyone else is________" EVER EVER EVER worked on my mom.  EVER.   Sorry, I digress.)

Of course, if we extend this all the way through grad school, then I have to include one more...

I took a class on YA Lit in ed school, and while I liked most of what we read, this was the clear standout.  It's also the only one on this list I haven't re-read (and re-read, and re-read...) so I think it's probably time.  (Oh, wait, if you listen hard, you can hear my TBR pile forming into a giant book-zombie and crashing towards me.  Ok, ok, never mind, that re-read will have to wait a little while.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Addendum

I totally did not expect to read an entire book today but then I had the best, most relaxing Sunday afternoon in recent memory: on the couch with Mr. S, the cat, my Kindle, a bag of Pirate's Booty, and a bottle of flavored seltzer.  So, here's another review for you--I wanted to get it up today rather than waiting, because this book is just out and I think people will be talking about it quite a bit!

What I Read This Afternoon:

 Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very quick read for me. It definitely sucked me in and held my interest. I was totally hooked by the premise--A is a teenager who has always woken up in a different body and a different life every morning, but one day A falls in love with a girl named Rhiannon and struggles to be with her as much as possible. I couldn't imagine how that could be executed in a way that didn't feel kind of weird and off-putting, but I trust David Levithan so I gave it a shot. A's voice is so natural and likable that it somehow didn't feel weird at all, which is pretty impressive, and Rhiannon's own discomfort and confusion helped to absorb any of my own that would have remained. I was impressed by the simultaneous thoughtfulness and absolute readability; the book engaged with some big ideas and did them justice, but at the same time, it was a story of two teenagers who want to be together but can't, just like 85% of the other books I've read this year (at least!). It most strongly reminded me of Before I Fall--while it was, strictly speaking, fantastical, it really read like a contemporary. And it definitely made me think. I recommend this to any fans of contemporary YA who are in the mood for something just a little bit different.

I received a free e-book copy in advance from Netgalley; this is an honest review reflecting my own opinions.

View all my reviews

Sunday Sunshine: Literal Edition

"Literal" in the sense that it has been warm and sunny here all week (yes, it DOES happen in Buffalo!)  Mr. S starts his new job on Tuesday, so we've tried to make the most of the time off while also staying cool (we don't have an air conditioner installed right now, and we're doing our best to coast into the cooler weather without having to put one in.)  We've gone to the mall (which, after five years in Manhattan, is sort of an amazing pasttime) and played mini-golf and arcade games, and gone to the supermarket (another amazing thing--supermarkets are so BIG outside of the city!).  We also had some folks over last night for the U.S. premiere of Doctor Who Season 7 (but I'll try to confine that kind of talk to my new Tumblr.)

Anyway, I did finish two books this week, and I'm already kicking into high reading gear for the rest of 2012!

What I Read This Week:

 Great Expectations Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As many of you know, I read this book in an unusual way. (Well--re-read, after speeding through it in college and then promptly forgetting everything about it.) Over the course of the summer, I read a chapter a day, sending notes to several of my former students who read it with me. I also kept a blog record of those notes here, at my Great Expectations Readalong blog. If you're interested in my chapter-level reactions, you can find them there, so I won't go into a ton of detail here.

When I was in tenth grade, hating my way through A Tale of Two Cities, my favorite teacher remarked on how funny he found Dickens. That was maybe the only time I ever questioned this teacher's wisdom, but this summer I really found out what he was talking about. Parts of this book actually made me laugh out loud. Other parts made me rant and rave; others made me cry a little. I recommend this for Dickens beginners (like myself) and Dickens skeptics (formerly ditto). The one-chapter-a-day approach was nice for me, because I could read other things at the same time, and it gave me a better sense of the original rhythm: Great Expectations was originally published in installments, which you can kind of get the feel for when you read it slowly. I don't think Dickens gets nearly enough credit for either his completely goofy sense of humor or his mastery of suspense. Try it--especially if you suffered through Dickens in school like I did. You may be pleasantly surprised.

OMGQueerOMGQueer by Katherine E. Lynch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me get two things out of the way up front: I don't often have the patience for short story collections (seems like an oxymoron, but somehow is also true) and I went into this thinking that "queer youth" meant high school students, but in fact it seems to be a mix of HS and young adult writers, with the result that the stories range from solid YA to solid NA, emphasis on the "A" part. However, I did make it through the entire collection, and there were some stories I really enjoyed. One of my favorites was the first in the collection ("Jelson" by Brenna Harvey), about a young person who has the ability to transition along the gender spectrum at will. The story made some thoughtful points about gender and sexuality while also being pretty fun and readable. A few more had very likable voices, even if the edges were a little rough, and overall I think it's a collection worth adding to a library or classroom.

In terms of general access, however, I feel compelled to discuss the heat level of a few stories. There was a nice range of sweet romance and family stories to more explicit sexual encounters, which I think reflects the reality of the young queer experience. I will say, though, that reading as a teacher I realized the sizable gulf between adult romance and sexuality and teen romance and sexuality; while I'm generally comfortable giving my students the latter (depending on the student and the book, always, but I try not to censor too much) I would not necessarily feel great about handing over the former. YMMV, and obviously if you're an adult, carry on and enjoy! Personally, there are a few stories in here that I would consider actually teaching to a whole class, but I wouldn't personally just set this out on the all-access classroom library shelves. (Regular public library? Definitely.) I would consider giving it to students I know well, whose families don't mind them reading racier material, but I know many of the parents and guardians at my old school would object to SOME (again, not all) of the stories in this collection.

I received a free e-book copy for review from NetGalley. My review is a reflection of my own honest opinions.

View all my reviews

I'd also like to share a blog that I really enjoy: Lee Wind's I'm Here. I'm Queer.  What the Hell Do I Read? I find Lee himself to be a really interesting and thoughtful blogger, and he maintains the largest list I've seen of books for young people (picture book through teen)  featuring LGBTQ characters and themes.  When I was in the classroom I tried to make my library as inclusive as possible so Lee's site was a huge help.  If you're looking for more books with LGBTQ content, Lee's site is a great place to start.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Stray Saturday Night Observations

  • I've read 85 books so far in 2012.  If I want to reach my goal of 150 books this year, I'll need to be reading just about four books a week for the rest of the year.  That's gonna take some doing.
  • My Kindle TBR piles (Galleys TBR and YA TBR) are teetering at a combined total of 24 books.  Just at this moment, most of my physical TBR piles are hidden away in boxes, but that didn't stop me from picking up two books I've been wanting to read (Between Shades of Gray and Please Ignore Vera Dietz) in paperback when we visited our new local indie bookstore yesterday.  It's a sickness.
  • I've finally figured out what a Tumblr does; if you're interested in my feelings about TV (they are myriad) or pictures of the food I make for TV-themed parties (the only kind I throw) it's here.
  • I've really missed blogging regularly during the move, and I'm pretty excited to be back to it!