Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Having read 20 books in half as many weeks, I think I'm going to take a break and go for something with a little less drama. Like all those Rolling Stones and issues of W that have been piling up around my apartment.

With Vampirates 2 & 3 having just arrived from amazon and The Sweet Far Thing FINALLY coming out in paperback next month, I shouldn't be gone long.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saints of Augustine

Ryan, P.E. Saints of Augustine. New York: HarperTeen, 2007.
[Book cover credit: www.librarything.com]

Charlie and Sam, former best friends, each spend the summer dealing with problems that are much too big for either of them to handle alone. They will either drown in them or learn to be friends again to get through them together.

Charlie spends most of a great summer painting houses, working on his car, making out with the girl of his dreams and getting high. If he could only ignore the facts that his father hasn't left the house since his mother died and that he owes his dealer a lot of money, everything would be perfect. Almost. He could use someone besides his perfect girlfriend to talk to, and his ex-best-friend Sam hasn't spoken to him in a year.

Sam spends the summer hiding from just about everyone. When a new guy in town forces Sam to confront what he has been hiding from himself, he realizes that he could use a friend too. Read Saints of Augustine to see if Sam and Charlie can learn to trust each other again after so much has changed for both of them.

Jars of Glass

Barkley, Brad and Heather Hepler. Jars of Glass. New York: Dutton Books, 2008.

Chloe and Shana, sisters, recount their lives without their mother in alternating chapters. Chloe tries to hold everything together, taking care of Micah, her father and the apartment in the hopes that they can prove to the social worker that they present the "stable environment" her mother needs to come home to. Shana, on the other hand, does everything she can to distance herself from her family and desperately tries to thwart Chloe in her efforts to bring their mother back.

"Yeah, that's me, Miss Normal. My mother did stuff you hear about on the nightly news, and now she's locked away in a loony bin. My sister collects broken glass. We've adopted a kid who doesn't speak and lives off sugar. Oh, yeah, and I live in a funeral home" (p170-1).*
Life is far from normal for Shana, her little sister Chloe and their adopted brother Micah. Chloe runs around trying to make everything better and preparing everything for their mother's return. Meanwhile Shana is doing everything that she can to make sure that things don't get worse, even if that means sabotaging her sister, who was once her best friend, and making it impossible for their mother to ever come home again.
*Quote taken from an ARC.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Baldini, Michelle and Lynn Biederman. Unraveling. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008.
[Book cover credit: http://www.librarything.com/]

When Amanda starts making out with Rick, a hot senior with a girlfriend who just happens to be Amanda's arch-nemisis, Amanda will do just about anything to make their relationship real and be accepted by her peers, even if her mother, The Captain, might kill her for it.

Amanda Himmelfarb, known as Himmelfart at school, has fights with her mother, The Captain, that are so epic they warrant their own names. Looking for distraction and acceptance elsewhere, Amanda starts to make out with Rick, the hottest senior, in his car after school. When he offers her The Deal, he'll take her to Homecoming as his honest-to-God girlfriend if she'll sleep with him, she agrees right away. Now Amanda has to figure out how to get to the dance and through the night without The Captain figuring out what's going on and without losing herself in the process.

We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah!

Rosenbloom, Fiona. We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah!. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
[Book cover credit: www.librarything.com]

After a summer away, Stacy and Lydia are determined to rule the school and be part of The Chicas clique. Instead they come back to school to find their third best friend, Kelly, already part of The Chicas and themselves decidedly uncool, so uncool that they weren't invited to the biggest party of the year, Eben's Bar Mitzvah.

Though this is a sequel to You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!, which is focused on the disasterous, friendship-ending events leading up to Stacy's Bat Mitzvah, it is not required reading to understand this book.

Though this book may fill a niche, which would explain Rosenbloom's 4.5 star rating on Amazon, I found it to be shallow and generally not worth reading. The characters are not well-developed (even after two books worth of them!) and come off as popularity hounds and pathological liars. This is clearly a book for tweeners, given that the plot revolves around Bar/Bat Mitvahs and all of the non-adult characters hover around that age, but I think that it is dumbed down to the point of being insulting to the intelligence of the tween girls it is supposed to attract.

"Ohmygod you guys...Pause. Eben is like the best boyfriend ever. ...He like made his mom drive us to Stamford because the movie he wanted to see was playing only there. She like does whatever he says. Anyway, he bought me a rose. Holler" (p169-170).

We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah! has all the trappings of chick lit: fashion, popularity, boys, self-doubt and self-promotion. Unfortunately the, like, totally coolspeak of the girls is so way over the top that the dialog is, like, hard to read, and it is, like, totally clear that the author is trying way too hard to be cool. Holler.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Little Brother

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. New York: A Tor Teen Book, 2008.
[Book cover credit: http://www.librarything.com/]

Bookgasm Best Sci-Fi (2008)
Emperor Norton Award (2008)
Locus Recommended Reading, Young Adult (2008)
Nebula Nominee, Novel (2008)
Publisher's Weekly Best Book, Children's Fiction (2008)

Free Download:
Little Brother is available as a free download in various formats through Creative Commons at

Marcus, known online as w1n5t0n, is your average student at Cesar Chavez High School in San Francisco. He's hacked his school-supplied laptop so he can IM his friends in class, outsmarted the gait-recognition system that lets school administrators know who's walking the halls when they should be in class, and he ditches school to run around the city doing some serious ARGing. When the San Francisco Bay Bridge is attacked by terrorists, he and his friends are literally in the wrong place at the wrong time and become suspects.

After another terrorist attack, this time just outside the City by the Bay, the Department of Homeland Security unveils a lot of new ways to monitor San Francisco's residents and, hopefully, separate them from the terrorists that DHS is sure are still in the city. From monitoring every keystroke you make on the internet to logging everytime and everywhere you swipe you muni pass, Big Brother is watching you. But not everyone likes being watched. When a growing group of kids, lead by the online persona M1k3y, set out to hack the DHS's new systems, DHS declares war on them and rolls out more surveillance. Yes, Big Brother is watching you, but Little Brother is watching them.

Total Geek-Out:
Reading this book will make you smarter. Doctorow has a way of explaining technology that is completely understandable (even if you've never so much as changed your own watch battery) without making you feel like you are reading a computer science textbook. By the end of the novel, you will want to run better security on your computer, to say the least, and you will even know which system will give you what you want (it's not Vista). Doctorow's bibliography, as well as the afterwords written by Bruce Schneier and Andrew Huang, will lead you to the resources you need to complete your education and hack your own computer.

The paranoia that runs rampant in this book, though not at all unfounded, is out of control. It is worse than Mel Gibson with a copy of Salinger and beer bottle. If you don't get that reference, run, do not walk, to your nearest library, video store, netflix queue, whatever and borrow Consipracy Theory. It is the 1990's movie version of this book, but with grown-ups instead of teenagers. It's awesome.

If you like what Doctorow had to say about cities, sidewalks and neighborhoods, read up on some Jane Jacobs. Her pièce de résistance, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, or the commonly excerpted essay "The Uses of Sidewalks" (available most recently in The City Reader) are good starters. Look for these books at your local library and change more than your computer habits. "Be like M1k3y: step out the door and dare to be free" (p373).

Tales from the Farm

Lemire, Jeff. Ills. Jeff Lemires. Essex County Vol. 1: Tales from the Farm. Atlanta: Top Shelf Productions, 2007.
[Book credit cover: www.librarything.com]

Alex Award (2008)
Doug Wright Award, Best Emerging Talent (2008)

After the death of his mother, Lester moves in with his uncle who lives on a farm. In between school, homework and feeding the chicks, Lester finds time to fight aliens with Jimmy LeBeuf, a local guy who used to play for the NHL and hasn't been the same since.

This Alex Award winner takes a mature look at child's play. Lester's pretend play mixes seamlessly with his real life, his and his uncle's, flashbacks of his mother on her death bed, and comics that Lester draws himself (actually attributed to author/illustrator Jeff Lemire's 9 year-old self). His growing, equal relationship with Jimmy is in sharp contrast with the relationship Lester has with his uncle, which is strained with the death of his mother, chores and a serious lack of understanding on both sides.

Though the illustrations are in black and white, they lend beauty and emotion to this all but wordless story. Unfortunately, for me at least, even the beauty of this string of events, especially the depiction of Lester's uncle's pain and effort to relate to his nephew, does not make up for the fact that there is barely a plot. This story covers the four seasons of the year on the farm, and though we watch how things change for Lester and how he and Jeff's alien fantasy evolves, I couldn't quite get over waiting for something to finally happen.