Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reads: A Visual (from Goodreads)

What I Read in 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ask The Passengers
Catching Jordan
Anna Dressed in Blood
A Breath of Eyre
Between Shades of Gray
The Pursuit of Happiness
Notes from the Blender
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Boy Meets Boy
What My Mother Doesn't Know
Story of a Girl
Audrey, Wait!
Grave Mercy
Pretty Crooked

"Sunday" Smiles: Year-End Edition

Okay, okay, it's Monday.  But I knew I wasn't done with my 2012 reading yesterday--and the Sunday before was the day before Christmas Eve, and I hadn't finished a single book that week!  So you'll excuse the late, weird post, I hope: here are my last five reviews of 2012.  I spent all day today reading (glorious) and managed to get my year's total up to 120 books read in 2012--not the crazy goal I set for myself but definitely more than I would have read without the crazy goal, which is why I love crazy goals.   Since there are five reviews today, I am only posting two in their entirety because I love them THAT MUCH; the rest have snippets and are linked to Goodreads so you can see the full reviews if you want.

What I Read...Recently:

 Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I liked: Anna. [...] I liked Cas's voice. I liked the suspense and was actually pretty cool with the horror elements in general. I thought Carmel was better than she had to be, as the OMG Most Popular Girl Ever, which was a relief. [...]  I wanted to know more about Cas's mom and her witchcraft...[Full review]

Catching Jordan (Hundred Oaks, #1)Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book definitely picked up for me as I went along. I really liked the portrayal of the team, and what it means to be a peer leader (nerd alert: I just realized I've been roughly translating "QB" as "Stage Manager", which is why I related so strongly to that part of Jordan's life).[...] But overall, I was really rooting for Jordan and her friends, and I enjoyed parts of this one a lot.[Full review]

GentlemenGentlemen by Michael Northrop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this book one day a year or two ago--I think I had picked up a copy for my classroom when Borders was going under or something, just on a hunch that some of my kids would like it. I only got about thirty pages in before lending it to a student or having to put it down for some other reason--that happened a lot, and it was unusual that I'd go back to books like that. But I remembered the dark, ominous, funny first thirty pages. [Full review; recommended read, esp. for reluctant readers!]

Ask The PassengersAsk The Passengers by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. As good as everyone says it is. I can't stop thinking that it reminds me of Speak, and somehow doesn't suffer in comparison: about the highest praise I can give a YA Contemporary novel. (Oh how I would love to teach a unit with Ask the Passengers and Speak. If any books could ever make people be a little less awful to each other, I think that's the pair that would do it.) What I mean when I compare this with Speak is that both books have protagonists who feel so real, and who need and deserve so much love, and who have such difficult journeys through their small towns and high schools, and that both books just overwhelm me with how deeply I care about the characters.

I'm also really, really happy to find a book that has a main character who is truly questioning--not just reluctant to come out, but really trying to figure out how to define herself romantically and sexually, and struggling with the idea that she has to define herself that way to begin with. I appreciate books that come from different places, too: there absolutely should be more books about teenagers who are happy and confident in their sexuality across the spectrum, and more books about teenagers who are certain of their sexuality but meet with obstacles that make it hard for them to express what they know about themselves. But I think this is the first book I've read that gives so much honest space for questioning. The bottom line is, we need more books of all stripes in which young characters have the kinds of real, honest experiences of figuring out their sexual and romantic identities (and I love that this book refused to make those be the same thing). Ask the Passengers is going to set a nearly-impossible-to-top standard, but man, I would love to see more people trying to hit the high, high bar that has been set.

This is a book about questioning. It's a book about love: between parents and kids, sisters, friends, strangers, and couples. It's a book about what people say and how far that can be from the truth. It's about philosophy and brain people and tiny towns and airplanes. This is the kind of book (like Speak that I think should be required reading for everyone, full stop. You don't have to like it or feel the way I felt about it or have any particular reaction. But read this book. It will have an effect on you.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I felt my heart grow three sizes as I was finishing this book. Or else I felt it get slightly squashed under all the feelings. I don't know how else to account for the suspicious dampness in my eyes when I finished--it's not a crying book, really, but there it was anyway. This is the kind of book that rewards being a forever reader--I'm sure it's lovely even if it's the first book you've ever read, but if you've read and read and read and read and read, at recess and under the covers and on buses and trains and planes and finished books before you could get them home from the library and just spent a whole life loving books, this is the kind of book that loves you back.

It's also the kind of book that very nearly anyone can read. It has the magic of a really good middle grade fairy tale; some people will cry, "But there is fighting! And injuries! And sadness! And nudity! And fish guts! Won't you think of the children!" and to those people I would say, that's the lovely thing about words: they can only be as graphic as what's in your imagination. I suppose a book that went into exceedingly long explanations of any of those things, with a great number of descriptive words, might be a little much for a child in the middle grade age range. But this one isn't one of those, so I'm not particularly troubled by the idea of a child reading words like "blood" or "naked". (In fact, I'm given to understand that most people's very first experience in this world involves both of those things, so really, why the fuss?) At any rate, I would probably have been ready to really enjoy this book around age ten or so--a fairytale riff with a great story and more than a smattering of really excellent words--but I guess I just kept getting readier and readier to read it up until this afternoon, when I finally got around to it.

The bottom line: If you like a good story, read this. If you are A Reader--if that is part of who you are, and especially if as A Reader you have spent some time already in Fairyland--YOU MUST READ THIS. It's one of Those Books that hooks in somewhere under your rib cage and tucks a tiny little piece into your heart that you didn't know was missing.

View all my reviews

Happy New Year, everyone: I'll be posting a looking back/looking ahead post tomorrow, on New Year's Day.  Until then: have a good night, be safe, and see you next year! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Joyeux Noel!

So, I mentioned last week that I have a lot to be happy about and grateful for lately, and the list has only grown since then.  I'm not sure how much blogging I'll get to between now and 2013, but I want to make sure to share some of the things making me smile:

New Books!

I mean, always.  But a few have come in the mail recently--I bid on some signed copies in a Hurricane Sandy fundraiser auction, and they came this week: Dancergirl and Circle of Silence by Carol M. Tanzman, and Gentlemen by Michael Northrop.  It was a great chance to add to my signed book collection, check out some new books, and support the efforts to rebuild and recover after Sandy.

Then, TODAY, Christmas decided to come early for me!  I won two different giveaways--one from the ladies who ran the 2012 YA Superlative Blogfest, and one from Rebecca Behrens, celebrating Festivus!  So I can look forward to getting This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers and Ask the Passengers by A.S. King.  Thanks, ladies!

Cinder Paperback Blogger Shout-Outs!

You may have noticed the badge in my sidebar, proudly proclaiming, "My blog is in the Cinder paperback!"  Apparently, in the midst of my brain melting down this summer when we were moving, I sent in a link to my review of Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  So last week, I got an email informing me that my blog would be included on a page in the paperback dedicated to the book bloggers who've supported Cinder.  I mean, there's about a bazillion other blogs listed, blah blah blah...but you know what?  Yes, I am enough of a nerd (and loved Cinder enough) to be really excited about this.  So if you pick up a paperback (out Jan. 8th, with a bonus story and a sneak peek of Scarlet!), look out for my name.  Hint: I'm on the ankle ;) 

Christmas Preparations!

I've been baking and shopping (and this weekend I will be wrapping) galore!  We have a kitchen large enough that I don't feel claustrophobic when I'm in there, so I did my first real Christmas bake, with a few kinds of cookies my mom makes every year.  Plus, I went over to my in-laws' one day and baked with my mother-in-law--we did one kind of traditional Italian cookie that she knew and one kind from my mother's collection (which my sister copied over for me on recipe cards one of the first Christmases I was living away from home.  Best gift ever!)   I've mentioned before that I am WAY into Christmas, so my excitement is building.  We're going to get to see a LOT of family and friends in the next week or so, as long as the weather holds enough for some driving (ok, a lot of driving: Mr. S is a real trooper!  But hey, my in-laws are getting me driving lessons for Christmas, so by next Christmas I should be able to do some of the driving, at least!) and I'm really looking forward to all of it.

SCBWI (or: Why it Pays to Show Up!)

Last year, as my colleagues found out I was moving away, any time I came in sniffling or headachy I inevitable heard variations on, "Why did you even come in?  You won't need all your sick days."  They said it, I'm sure, because they could all sympathize with how crummy it is to teach when you're sick.  But the answer was always, "I needed to be here today."  Rehearsal, complicated class projects, and in one memorable case, I had promised to stay after with a senior who, in JUNE, needed to complete several hours worth of extra credit in order to pass her P.E. class and graduate.  And last week, I was rewarded for those crummy days with a remarkably well-timed check paying me for unused sick days.  It was enough for a splurge at the fancy supermarket (Vosges chocolate-covered blood orange and Campari caramels, you guys--they maybe deserve their own section of this blog post!) AND registration for the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York!  I had been wanting to go, but I wasn't sure if the finances would work out...and then, voila!  I'm super-excited to go and learn and hear from some awesome presenters and of course, meet some blog friends IRL!  If you're going, or if you're in New York, I'd love to meet you, so drop me a line!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Class of 2012 YA Superlatives Blogfest: Best In Show

Welcome back to the last day of the Class of 2012 YA  Superlatives Blogfest!  I've had a blast participating and I want to give a huge thanks to Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, Alison Miller, and Katy Upperman for hosting!  I may be back with more of this kind of thing next week--YA Highway is hosting their own end-of-year book-listing bonanza--but that depends on how many posts I can schedule over the weekend.  I really don't see myself blogging on Christmas (although maybe some of these awesome books will be under the tree?  We'll see!)

Favorite Cover:

 Enchanted by Alethea Kontis  and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  I know people are kind of over the girls-in-dresses thing, but Enchanted feels different to me.  The black and white with the pop of color from the flowers?  Gorgeous.  And just perfection.  Perfection in my favorite color.  I was so excited when Kristin Cashore came to Books of Wonder--mostly excited to hear her speak and to meet her, but also a little bit because it gave me an excuse to get actual, physical copies of her books, which had previously been on my kindle.  Such. Pretty. Covers.

Cutest Couple:  

Raffin/Bann from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  I don't think it would be possible for me to love them more.  Unless maybe they got their own book... (Are you listening, Kristin Cashore?)  (I'm sure you're not.  That's ok.)  (But seriously, that book would be amazing.)

Most Likely to Succeed (Or, pick a Printz Winner.)/Most Likely to Make You Miss Your Bedtime (Book you just couldn’t put down!):      

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  I mean, for me these two go hand-in-hand.  I read a lot of page-turners this year, but none as masterfully put together as this one (and none with subject matter this difficult, at least that came out this year.)  But here's the beginning of my review for Code Name Verity:  "I am writing this review at 2:00 am. I had about 20% of the book left when I picked it up at midnight, struck by mild insomnia. Now I am finished and I may not sleep tonight."   If you don't believe me, here's part of what Maggie Stiefvater, The Great and Powerful, had to say: "As with all my favorite books, it rewards the careful reader. If an author can make me gasp once, it’s likely that novel is ending up on my favorites shelf. If an author can make me gasp THREE TIMES, either the author is making me read their novel underwater or it’s really cleverly done. This one’s really cleverly done. It was a three-gasper."  I know this one came out in a tough year, what with TFIOS being the biggest hit since Harry Potter and all (or so it seems) but I'm rooting for it.  And I am a TFIOS fan, for sure. I think that book deserves all of its accolades.  I just hope this one gets some too.

Best Repeat Performance (Your favorite sequel or follow-up.):


Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  Yeah, it's a good thing this one has such a pretty cover, because it's showing up a lot.  Bitterblue rewarded fans of Cashore's previous books while creating its own amazing world with supporting characters I love to no end.   Honorable Mention: A Million Suns by Beth Revis, Insurgent by Veronica Roth, Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.

Favorite Finale or End of Series Novel:

 Goliath by Scott Westerfeld. 
I'm totally cheating here--this came out in 2011, but I realized that I haven't read any series finales in 2012 (I am not willing to accept that Bitterblue might be the last we see of those characters or that world.)  So I'll go with the excellent conclusion to Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy.  Steampunk with adorable weird animals and Westerfeld's genius ear for slang?  If you haven't read this series, pick it up soon!


Romance Most Worthy of an Ice Bath:

 Ismae and Duval from Grave Mercy by Robin LaFever.  I've mentioned before that Duval is one of my favorites because he is an ADULT (see also: Giddon), but he's got some other great qualities too.  He's incredibly loyal to his half-sister, the Duchess.  He pushes back on Ismae's blind obedience to her order, and their relationship builds over the course of this very lengthy book until you just. can't. take. it.  Then--it delivers!

Breakout Novel (Your favorite book by a debut author.):

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick.  I will totally be picking up whatever she publishes next.  (Oh: according to Goodreads, that's going to be What I Thought Was True--but it won't be published till 2014.  Sigh.)   

Best Old-Timer (Your favorite read of the year, published BEFORE 2012.):

Mrs. S's bookshelf: best-old-timers-2012

More of Mrs. S's books »
Here are my five-star reads from 2012 that were published in 2011 or earlier: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.  Goodreads links can be found in the widget above.

Book Most Likely to Make a Grown Man Cry:  

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green/Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  Cancer vs. Nazis: not to be reductive of two really lovely books, but I mean, come on.

 Most Pleasant Surprise (Best book you didn’t think you’d like, but totally did.):

 Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf.  This is a dark contemporary, dealing with Big Issues and a mysterious death and a lot of things I was iffy about.  Plus, with books from Netgalley, it's always a lot more hit-or-miss than books that I find (as I do most of my books these days) through blog recs.  This was one of the ones that made Netgalley feel really worthwhile.

Most Creative Use of a Love Triangle:

 Adaptation by Malinda LoI don't think, given the blurb on Goodreads, that it's too spoilery to mention that this love triangle involves a girl interested in a girl and a guy, both of whom are interesting and sweet and root-able-for.  And that gets points from me right awayBut by the end of this book, it's so much more complicated than that, even, and I totally love it.  I can't wait to see what happens next for these characters.  


Sleeper Hit (Book you found so awesome you wish it had been hyped more.):

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis.  I think the word I used in my original review was "sparkling"--I love fairy tale reimaginings of all stripes, but what delighted me so much about this one is that it was able to capture the feeling of traditional fairy tales, while adding a modern sense of humor and a great set of twists and turns.


Favorite Outlier (Your favorite middle grade or adult 2012 book):     

The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand.  I read a few great MG books in 2012--Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale were two of my other favorites.   But The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls was definitely my favorite because it had the same creepy, gruesome sensibility as Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl (actually, this is closer to Dahl's short stories for adults, which my beloved 8th-grade English teacher used to read us...or at the very least, Dahl's darkest children's books, like The Witches.)  It was these kinds of stories that shaped my dark sense of humor and set me up to enjoy a certain breed of horror movies (campy ones: think Cabin in the Woods or Evil Dead, although of course this is scaled to just exactly what a middle school kid with a twisted idea of awesome could handle.)  It made me want to go back to my old school and read it aloud to the middle school students, who would have lost their minds and howled over the gross parts.  I was so, so excited about this one--it's the kind of thing I could enjoy while also being DEAD ON for the target audience.  Loved it. 


Invent Your Own Category--2012 Book You Can't Wait To Read in 2013!  

In no particular order, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, and Unspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanI left out any sequels/series installments where I've read the first one and just haven't gotten to the latest volume yet (Sorry, Reached, Days of Blood and Starlight, The Crown of Embers, Feedback, and The Evolution of Mara Dyer!)   But these three are all ones I keep hearing absolute raves about, and also ones I don't own yet.  They are very, very different books, which about sums up my style--what they have in common is that I think I will love them!  What are the non-series (or first in a series) 2012 books you most want to read in 2013?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Class of 2012 YA Superlatives Blogfest: Elements of Fiction

Today's topic on the Class of 2012 YA Superlatives Blogfest is Elements of Fiction.  Continued thanks to Katy, Jess, Alison, and Tracey for hosting!

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Or, the plot you wish you’d thought of yourself.):

 Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Not only is this an amazing book full of twists and turns, it's the first in a four-book series that she's had plotted out since before this one was published!  I want her to teach a master class on plotting.   

Most Formidable World (Or, the setting you definitely would NOT want to visit.):

 Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  Being held by the Nazis?  Working on makeshift airstrips in wartime?  Hiding out?  No thanks.  Although I'm sure the girls' homes are absolutely lovely during peacetime.   

Wanderlust-Inducing (Or, the setting you’d happily travel to.):

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard.  Now, ok, really and truly?  I would almost certainly not be happy backpacking around Guatemala.  I want to be someone who would love that kind of thing...but in fact, I freak out easily, travel gives me headaches and upset stomachs, I am REALLY NOT OK with bugs, I love schedules and spreadsheets and being places on time, and I don't like to be grubby.  So it's really a testament to this book that ANY part of me said, "Hey, that sounds awesome!" I guess maybe I just want to read more Kirsten Hubbard? 

Loveliest Prose:

 The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.  I'm thinking this will be a popular answer in this category as it's hard to beat Maggie for prose.  Or guitar-sharpieing.  Or rally driving.  Or baked-good inventing.  (She is a superhero, you guys, have I mentioned this before?  I'm pretty sure I have.)

Best First Line:

 "The Garretts were forbidden from the start."  My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick.  I think I like this one so much because it reminds me of A Christmas Carol's "Marley was dead: to begin with."  It throws you right in and makes you wonder where you're going next. 

Most Dynamic Main Character:
 Ismae from Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  I mean, the ill-treated daughter of a turnip farmer who becomes an assassin nun?  The blindly loyal assassin nun who learns to question her orders?  The woman who hates men (with good reason) but falls in love with Dreamboat Duval (yeah, that's what I call him.  You got a problem with that)?  If that's not dynamic, I don't know what is.

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending:
Insurgent by Veronica Roth/The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.  This category could also be called, "Books that made me FREAK OUT when I realized how long I'd have to wait for the next installment."   


Best Performance in a Supporting Role:  

The Garrett Family from My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick.   It's too hard to pick just one--the whole Garrett clan was well-drawn and totally lovable.  Actually, I really liked Tim and Nan from this book too--as frustrating as Nan could be, I felt like she was pretty realistic.  Sometimes friends get angry at each other for reasons they can't or won't share right away.  Sometimes things just get messy.  This is a big messy book and I love it.

Best Use of Theme:     

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  John Green is a master at getting his ideas across without feeling in-your-face about it.  TFIOS, which deals with death and love and belief and sadness and so many things that could get so heavy or gloopy or lugubrious, manages to convey big ideas about all of those topics while still staying compulsively readable and often funny.  I guess that's why we all love John Green so much.