Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Noah's Castle

Townsend, John Rowe. Noah's Castle. 1975. Seattle, Wash.: October Mist Publishing, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: Provided by publisher]

A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (1977)

When a financial crisis makes it impossible for England to import food, the country begins to fall apart. When Barry's father starts hoarding food in the basement rather than helping those in need, those on fixed incomes such as the elderly and the infirm, the Mortimers begin to fall apart as well.

It took me a long time to get into this book. Barry's father is just so horrible, even before he starts hoarding, that I didn't think I could handle a book full of him. For example:
"You always used to be at work all day until we moved here," Mother pointed out.
"That was before the present crisis," said Father. "Now I have the shopping to do."
"It was you who insisted on doing it," Mother said. ... "I sometimes wonder what I'm for. Just cooking and cleaning, I suppose. I might as well be a servant."
"A servant would need wages," Father said -- unaware, I was sure, of any cruelty in the remark.
Except that he is aware. He spends the entire book making belittling comments about Barry's mother and older sister Nessie, mostly about their inferior, womanly minds. And, for the most part, they just took it. Nessie gets all riled up about it, but only in front of Barry. No one stands up to Father. It wasn't until Barry started to doubt his father that I started to get into Noah's Castle. Then Nessie started actively defying her father and it really started to get good.

Of course at the same time, problems much bigger than a horrifically controlling and sexist head of household are looming all around the Mortimers. As food goes beyond "scarce" right to "rare," people around them start to starve. Barry, Nessie and their mother have to deal with the guilt of knowing that they have plenty when so many other people are suffering and dying of want. Father, on the other hand, feels no guilt. Those people are ill-prepared and none of the Mortimers are allowed to share with them, not matter how hungry, elderly, young, or sick they are. This conflict is the core of the novel. As much as you want to help the needy around you, how do you give away all of your food, not knowing when you may get more, knowing that it means your sickly little sister may go hungry? It's an impossible question with no rights answer, and none is given in the book. But the rights and wrongs of everyone's actions are explored.

Of course, the wrongness of the sexism isn't explored to its fullest, but maybe that would be a bit too much to ask of a book originally published in 1975. Luckily, Nessie struggles against her father's beliefs and bullying and seems like she'll escape the Mortimer house unscathed.

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

while watching new moon...

when bella runs into laurent in the meadow.

the girlfriend: so, are vampires like penguins in that they mate for life and then when their mate dies they get another mate? or are they like soul mates, like romeo and juliet?

me: um...what?

the girlfriend: you know, how penguins are monogamous and stuff, but when their mate dies they get a new one? or are they like romeo and juliet?

me: like romeo and juliet, i guess.

the girlfriend: so in this mythology they're like soul mates, but in normal, not-stephenie-meyer mythology vampires are slut-fests, right?

me: right.

the girlfriend: i'm so confused. i don't need this woman adding more myth to the myth-pot.

amen, right? and she hasn't even read the books.

ALA Wrap-Up's so good to be home where I can sit down!

I managed to get a last minute Exhibits Only pass and a spot on a bus down to DC with TCLC, a consortia to which my library belongs. So with no preparation at all, I flitted down to ALA for a couple of days!

The girlfriend convinced me to get a car (thank you PhillyCarShare, you make my life possible!) and drive down on Sunday, as the TCLC bus was only good for Monday. I'm so glad she did! I'm also eternally grateful that she came with me and acted as my PA, passing out my card to publishers, taking pictures, carrying stuff, and, most importantly, reading me the list of author signings on the drive down so we could have a plan of attack.

This allowed us to show up at the Random House Pavilion (seriously, "booth" does no begin to describe their set-up) in plenty of time to go swimfan on Libba Bray. Luckily she's into the crazy and played along:

Look at me. I'm totally in her personal space. Libba, if you somehow magically happen to read this, I'm sorry. BUT I LOVE YOU!

The rest of Sunday went by in a blur or schmoozing and carrying around heavy things, though I do remember needing to explain to Lane Smith why I needed to him to make a book out to "Lawral's Dad."

Monday I was a bit nicer on my wallet and, having read the author list in advance, brought books from home for people to sign. This is key, people. Because of my lack of preparation the first day, there are now multiple copies of Going Bovine and A Great and Terrible Beauty in my house.

Julie Anne Peters was awesome and sweet. She even laughed off my stalker joke when I showed up at two of her signings in one day.

And Nick Burd was also a doll. We chatted about queer bookstores and he "stole" the Giovanni's Room bookmark that fell out of my book.

All in all, I had a great conference! Hopefully next year I'll actually get to go for the whole weekend and/or to some sessions. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beautiful Malice

James, Rebecca. Beautiful Malice: A Novel. New York: Bantam Books - Random House, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

After the violent death of her little sister Rachel, popular Katie Boydell reinvents herself as quiet, keeps-to-herself Katherine Patterson. Moving in with her aunt and changing high school for her senior year complete the transformation.

Until Alice.

Alice is one of those girls who acts as her own center of gravity, always in the center of everything and dragging you in. Katherine can't resist her, and Alice pulls Katherine into Life again. It looks like everything could be alright in a post-Rachel world. But then Alice starts to devolve. And she's determined to take Katherine down with her.

I don't know that it's meant to be read this way, but Beautiful Malice was a great mystery. The entire story is told in flashbacks. Katherine, an adult with a young daughter, is looking back on her senior year of high school when she met and knew Alice. Eventually her teenage self is remembering and telling Alice about the events leading up to Rachel's death. In both scenarios, the reader should, on some level, know how the story ends: Katherine grows up and has a child; Rachel dies. And yet, I never felt impatient waiting for that end to come. In fact, there were plenty of points in the senior year storyline when I was sure that things could not possibly end the way adult Katherine seemed to imply that they would. Moreover, when the endings finally did come they were plenty twisted, making them surprising even if they really do amount to Katherine growing up and having a child and Rachel dying.

The bulk of the story is set during Katherine's senior year of high school, specifically when she is befriended by Alice. Katherine is Katherine, rather than Katie, because she is trying to move on in her life past Rachel's death, but it is still a big part of her. It takes a really long time for Katherine to open up to anyone, including the reader, about what happened to Rachel, and yet I wasn't annoyed by not knowing. From almost the beginning, I knew Katherine was dealing with some serious survivor guilt, but as her recollections of Rachel slowly unfolded, it became clear that her guilt went beyond just the guilt of still being alive. Katherine feels truly responsible for Rachel's death, and because her story of what really happened the night Rachel died is so drawn out, it looks like she just might be. She's dealing with all of this while she slowly gets sucked into Alice's world.

Alice, by the way, is the mayor of crazytown. She's fun-crazy in the beginning, always managing to have alcohol and a party to go to (and an awesome dress to wear to it, and one for you to borrow besides). She lives in an apartment of her own, paid for by her birth mother who feels guilty that Alice was adopted by hicks. She seems so grown-up and exotic to Katherine, who used to be a more suburban version of her. Alice drags Katherine back into the social scene she should have always inhabited, introduces her to new people and experiences, gains her complete trust and (for a while) adoration, and then goes crazy-crazy. When Katherine stops worshiping the ground Alice walks on and gets her own friends, Alice becomes possessive and stalker-y. It's pretty scary, and the lengths she goes to (and why) left me speechless.

I think Beautiful Malice will be devoured by readers looking for more thriller in their mysteries, but be warned that though Alice and Katherine are teenagers for most of the story, they have very few "typical" teen experiences. They're never in school, they hang out in bars, and they date grown men. I'm not saying that this book is inappropriate, because really, there's nothing graphic or too "adult" going on, but it's certainly not set in high school, even if the main characters are technically high schoolers.

Beautiful Malice will be available for purchase next month!

Book source: Review copy from the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stolen - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Velde, Vivian Vande. Stolen. Marshall Cavendish, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee (2010-2011)

The simplest way to begin is to start at the ending: The girl's name was Isabelle.

This is the simplest way because in the beginning she had no name -- she was a girl with no name running through a forest she didn't know, for a reason she couldn't remember. She didn't know if she was running away from something or to something or for the simple joy of running
When Isabelle is chased into a tree by a pack of dogs, she realizes she probably is running from something; she just has no idea what that something is. She's brought into the village and told that she's probably running from the old witch in the woods. A baby was just stolen by the witch, so maybe, just maybe, the witch released the girl she stole six years ago. Her name was Isabelle.
Let me start off by saying that this book is never as spooky as the cover would suggest. There may be an old witch, and there is certainly rampant speculation about said witch and what she might do out there all alone in the forest, but this book isn't about her. It's about Isabelle. Also, there is someone a lot more scary than a witch, but that person is scary in a much different way than what the cover advertises. This person inspires a slow build of scary rather than a jump out and grab you scary. I say this because I certainly wouldn't have picked this book up when I was in late elementary/early middle school (I was kind of a wimp), but I probably would have really loved the story inside.
The girl who might be Isabelle gets thrown into a lot of drama, right from the get-go. She's bitten by a hunting dog that is looking for a witch. When she begins to recover from that, she has to tell the family that took her in that she remembers nothing about her own life. Just when she starts to come to terms with that, the folks who might be her family come to claim her. The newly stolen baby was their daughter as well. Their joy at having Isabelle back is tempered by worry about the baby. There is so much pain in this family; Isabelle wants to be their missing daughter, if only to allow them to avoid the pain of losing a daughter all over again. Then Isabelle meets Honey, possibly her older sister, and she can tell that whether Isabelle is the "real" Isabelle or not, Honey wants her family to have nothing to do with her.

Isabelle has some memory; she knows how to spin wool and she knows she was never a princess, for example. She can still navigate the world she's found herself in, even if she has no idea what her place is in it. Maybe because, at least in her head, she has no history with the people around her, she sees things about them that the rest of the village may not. She feels sorry for the mother and father (hers?) who have love two daughters to the witch, but she can see, where others do not, that this desperation to have Isabelle back isn't just the grasping hope of grieving parents. She can see that the rich aunt after whom Isabelle was named is lonely and desperate to have her namesake back. She sees that Honey isn't just suspicious of her, never believing her to be the true Isabelle, but that she doesn't believe that the "real" Isabelle is capable of coming back at all. And she sees that Avis, the woman who initially took her in, doesn't trust the lot of them. These insights don't always seem to help Isabelle figure things out as quickly as she should, but they are more interesting than simple, wide-eyed wonder at that is new around her.

There's a lot of intrigue in this little village that Isabelle must decipher if she's going to figure out who she really is. When it does finally come back to her, it all comes back in a rush (I mean for her. The writing isn't rushed). The ending is unbelievably clever. I had to rush back and reread the prologue to make sure it all fits together, because it is certainly not what I was expecting. It's awesome; I highly recommend it.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Books about PKs

About a month ago I came home from the library and realized that, without looking to do so, I'd come home with three books featuring PKs (Pastor's or Preacher's Kids), Saving Maddie, Once Was Lost, and The Dark Divine. Since then I've been on the lookout for YA books (and middle grade but I can't find any!) about PKs. I'm trying to come up with enough to make July PK month here at lucy was robbed, in honor of my mom, who is a PK and will be celebrating her (number removed to protect the innocent) birthday.

I'm still a few books short of a whole months worth of reviews. Here's my list so far:
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Zora and Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney (not all that YA, but I think it'll work)
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
Nothing Pink by Mark Hardy
The Less-Dead by April Lurie (if I make it to the top of the hold list at the library in time, also about the kid of a religious radio personality rather than a pastor)

I'm thinking of adding The God Box (Sanchez) and Empress of the World (Ryan) to round out the month, but they're about queer teens and Christianity, not the PK experience. If you have any titles that might work, please let me know! So far, the only way I've found to search is to use the subject term "Children of clergy," which brings up most, but not all, of these and a bunch of Mormon historical fiction. I'm looking to stay in the present as much as possible.

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Red Pyramid - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Riordan, Rick. The Red Pyramid. New York: Disney - Hyperion Books, 2010. Print. The Kane Chronicles 1.
[Book cover credit:]

Carter and Sadie don't see each other often. When their mother died, their mother's parents were granted custody of Sadie, and Carter went with their father. Everywhere. Dr. Julius Kane, Sadie and Carter's father, is an Egyptologist who travels the world doing research and giving lectures. Living with him, Carter has had experiences other kids can only dream about. He's also missed out on some "normal" kid stuff, like learning that it's not cool, or even okay, to wear loafers. Sadie, on the other hand, has had her fill of normalcy and is dying (her hair at least) for a little excitement. When something goes horribly wrong during Carter and their father's annual visit with Sadie, Carter and Sadie must learn to work together and trust each other, an uncle they never knew they had, and a cat in order to save their father from Set, the Egyptian god of the desert. Oh, and the world. They have to save that too.

Rick Riordan has done it again! He's taken kids who could be normal, personality-wise if not in circumstance this time, linked them up with a deity and set them loose. This time, the kids are not children of gods, but the children of former members of a society (of magicians!) dating back to the time of the Pharaohs that is dedicated to serving/controlling the gods of Egypt. Carter and Sadie are more powerful than most because of their lineage, but there is a Harry Potter-esque it-could-be-anyone thing going on that will open up the rest of the series for a lot of interesting sidekicks. At this point in the series there are only a few kids still training in this society, one of whom is already set up as the girl Carter will embarrassingly and awkwardly crush on for probably the rest of the series, but I'm sure Riordan will bring in a whole cast of interesting kids by the end.

The whole story is told from both Sadie and Carter's points of view in, more or less, alternating chapters. I really liked getting to see the story unfold through both of their eyes. The changing point of view didn't bog down the story, really, since everything was still told in sequence with little to no instances of both characters covering the same event. I did wish, however, that their was a bit more of a difference between their voices. When they're actually talking, there is plenty of difference between proper, nerdy Carter and punky, spunky Sadie, but when they're narrating they're not all that different. Every once in a while Sadie, as narrator, gets riled up about something and it's really clear that she's the one telling the story (the name of the narrator is on every page to help with that as well), but for the most part both of them just sound like Riordan.

Something that is mentioned on multiple occasions but is far from a focal point of the story is that Sadie and Carter's father is black and their mother was white. Both of the kids are biracial, but neither of them looks it. They have that mini-me thing going on with their parents: Sadie looks astonishingly like her mother and Carter looks just like his dad. In the beginning of the book, Sadie talks about how, without her mother there, people question her relationship to Carter and their father because she's so clearly white and they so clearly aren't. She talks about how annoying it is, on the few days a year that they get to spend together, that people question whether or not she belongs in her family. This is, of course, complicated because she doesn't feel like she belongs due to the very limited amount of time they are actually on the same continent. Also near the beginning, Carter expresses his envy of Sadie's normal life with their grandparents. He feels hurt and rejected because his grandparents fought so hard for Sadie and not for him. While I was reading, I wondered about that; why did their grandparents only fight for the grandchild that looks like them? There is a magically influences reason for why they only went to court for custody of Sadie, but I didn't feel like Carter really processed that information when he found out. Maybe because he wasn't thinking about it in the same way that I was, he didn't need the cathartic breakthrough that I was looking for. It was enough, for him, to know that without magical influence his grandparents may have fought just as hard to hold on to their grandson as they did their granddaughter. This is all balanced out by Sadie's feelings of abandonment because she was left with their grandparents rather than being allowed on the road with Carter and their dad, so maybe I'm reading too much into the situation.

Family issues aside (and I'm paying more attention to them here than was paid in the book), I love that Carter and Sadie's race was a non-issue. I do wish that both of them had been presented as biracial characters, or that they even saw themselves that way, rather than one white and one black, but I'm glad that this did not pick up elements of a "problem novel" about a biracial family. It is simply a fantasy book with biracial main characters!

Book source: Philly Free Library

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Brimstone Key

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Benz, Derek and J.S. Lewis. The Brimstone Key. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print. Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles 1.
[Book cover credit:]

Booktalk (for folks new to the Grey Griffins):
Harley, tall and buff, is a whiz engineer, especially considering he's a sixth grader.
Natalia, whose signature long red braids are always trailing behind her, is kind of a whiz in general.
Ernie, or Agent Thunderbolt, is currently part faerie, and the more he uses the power that comes with that, the more faerie and less human he will become. But Ernie's an upbeat kid and has decided to use his powers for good, you know, like Superman.
Max, the leader of the group, is the youngest in a very rich, very powerful family. With that comes certain responsibilities. Luckily he has his friends to help him out.
Together they are the Grey Griffins, and they assist the Templar in their quest to protect the innocent from what is evil in this world.

Booktalk (for Grey Griffin fans):
Iron Bridge Academy is finally about to open, and the Grey Griffins will be attending school with Templar kids like themselves. Though they've never been around other Templar kids, except Brooke of course whose father will be headmaster, the Grey Griffins are excited. Ernie, especially, is looking forward to recruiting more changelings to his super hero team. Before they can all be whisked off to school, they're visited by a clockwork bug that leads them to an underground vault. When they find an old set of Round Table cards (and almost die, of course), things start to get weird, even by the Grey Griffins rather warped standards. One of the characters on the card, The Clockwork King, just walks away.

The Brimstone Key is a great start to what looks like it will be a promising new direction in the Grey Griffins stories. As someone who has never picked up a Grey Griffins book before, I found this story easy to understand and catch up with. I may go back and read other Grey Griffins books now, while I wait for the next book, but I won't be going back to read them because I felt I was missing something here. That said, I probably did miss some things that devoted Grey Griffin fans will squee about. There were a few characters that were clearly making cameo appearances in this book, I assume from the previous Grey Griffin escapades, but they weren't so central to this story that I minded not really knowing who they were. Of course, there also might be a bit too much information and back story in the beginning of this book for someone who has just devoured the previous Grey Griffins series. Just because I appreciated all of the explanation and introduction of characters doesn't mean that everyone else will. BUT if you are a Grey Griffins fan, or are providing readers' advisory for one, rest assured that there is a lot after those first few chapters that Max, Natalia, Ernie and Harley were surprised about, so I'm sure you (or your reader) will be too.

This book was pitched to me as a steampunk novel for middle grade readers, and I wondered just how the writers were going to pull that off with established characters from a series set in current times. They did it wonderfully and pretty realistically. Well, maybe realistically isn't the best word given that this is a fantasy novel, but the writers did not require any ridiculous suspensions of disbelief of me in order to fit the steampunk elements into the story. The Grey Griffins nemesis is a man who has spent the last century trapped in a Round Table card. When he somehow escapes, he restarts the experiments and projects that got him imprisoned in the first place. And voila! We have clockwork machines running amuck in the modern day (Templar cloaked) world. Fashions at Iron Bridge Academy also run on the steampunk-y style. At first, this was weird to me, but parts of it get explained away pretty understandably:
  • The Academy is not actually in Avalon, but in Iron Bridge, a Templar community outside of the "regular" world that has maintained Victorian sensibilities.
  • All the kids wear goggles because they can act out their Round Table tournaments with them.
  • A lot of the changelings are depressed about their lot in life, and so bring in the sort-of goth element.
  • All the grown-ups have weird weapons strapped all over them, especially when things start to get dangerous.
Put all of that together with a bunch of evil clockwork machines and a "subway" restored to its turn of the century glory and you have a good old steampunk costume party at school every day, and because the Grey Griffins are woefully dorky, fashion-wise, all of this gets explained in great detail. And while I'm a fan of the steampunk elements throughout (clearly), I don't think they are overwhelming to the story. Readers who are just looking for a fantasy or just looking for another Grey Griffins book shouldn't be put off by them.

I really enjoyed getting to know all of the Grey Griffins (and a few yet to be named sidekicks, to avoid being spoiler-y). I'm sure that fans of the previous series will enjoy heading off to school with Grey Griffins here, and new readers are sure to be sucked in as well. There is definitely a Harry Potter vibe going on with the addition of Iron Bridge Academy to these kids lives that will appeal to a lot of readers.

The Brimstone Key came out yesterday and is available for purchase!

Book source: Review copy from publisher via the yalsa-bk listserv.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

48HBC Wrap-Up

And my final stats are (drumroll please):
Networking/Blogging: 2hrs 20mins
Reviewing: 1hr
Actually Reading: 16hrs 5mins

For a total of 19hrs and 25mins! Just short of the (unspoken) 20hr goal I was aiming for.

The Brimstone Key (Grey Griffins Clockwork Chronicles) - DONE
Once Was Lost - DONE
The Bar Code Tattoo  - not feeling it; back to the library
Tithe - DONE
Saving Maddie - DONE
Stolen - just getting started

Of my six current library books, my goal for this weekend, that only leaves one untouched! Plus I read The Brimstone Key, which wasn't on my to-do list, but was great nonetheless. I didn't write as many reviews as I wanted, but I'll get to those soon.

I had a lot of fun, and I hope you all did too!

Refresh Refresh - Mini-Review

I have a bad habit of checking books out from the library, reading them, copying down quotes I think I might want to use in my review, and then returning them to the library. Given the volume of books I read, those quotes don't help me that much if I wait too long to sit down and write the review. The books that I'm "mini-reviewing" left an impression on me and I feel that I can recommend them without hesitation, I just can't remember enough little details to write full reviews.

Novgorodoff, Danica. Refresh Refresh. Adapted from the screenplay by James Ponsoldt; based on the short story by Benjamin Percy. Color by Hilary Scamore. New York: First Second, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]
A small town is turned upside down when most of the men, Reservists, are sent to Iraq. The local recruitment officer tries to work his magic on the remaining men in town, including about-to-graduate high schoolers Josh, Cody, and Gordon. They manage to avoid him while trying to deal with lives without their fathers. Home life is different for each but hard for all as they try to learn to be men without a wide range of role models around. They spend their days being as macho as they can in public, going as far as to start a fighting club and take on local bullies, while in private they're glued the their computers, awaiting emails from their fathers.

I don't really know how to write a review of this book, which I guess is why I haven't. It's so sad, all around, and so hopeless in so many ways. The three boys that are at the center of the story aren't the only ones affected by the war, most of the town is, so there isn't really anywhere for them to go to get away from the worry and fear that they themselves feel. Each of them deals with it in their own ways, coming together for their fights. The prevailing feeling is pain. The fights just make that pain physical, shared, and visible.

Most of the story is told through the artwork. The dialog and text are pretty sparse. It works so well in this graphic novel that I can't imagine the short story it was based on. The lack of words make the faces and feelings take on so much more meaning and, in the end, the feelings are what this book is about. And it's beautifully drawn. The images pulled me into the story in a way that I don't know if the short story would have.

Anyway, I really thought Refresh Refresh was very good, but I know that I'm not doing it any kind of justice here. Ninja Librarian's review made me check it out, so I'll let her convince you too. :)

Book source: Philly Free Library

48HBC Update #2

I got home late from work last night, then stayed up late reading, and then slept in longer than I meant to this morning. oops.

Here are my numbers so far:
Networking/Blogging: 50mins
Reviewing: 45mins
Actually Reading: 9hrs 5mins
Pages read:  480
The Brimstone Key (Grey Griffins Clockwork Chronicles) - DONE
Once Was Lost - DONE
The Bar Code Tattoo  - not feeling it; back in the pile
Tithe - just getting started

Clearly today must be my day to shine. I have until 10:30pm EST to really rack up some hours, and maybe even get some reviewing done.

Congrats to all of you who are finishing up today!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

House of Stairs - Mini-Review

I have a bad habit of checking books out from the library, reading them, copying down quotes I think I might want to use in my review, and then returning them to the library. Given the volume of books I read, those quotes don't help me that much if I wait too long to sit down and write the review. The books that I'm "mini-reviewing" left an impression on me and I feel that I can recommend (most of) them without hesitation, I just can't remember enough little details to write full reviews.

Sleator, William. House of Stairs. New York: Firebird - Penguin Group, 1974; 2004. Print.
[Book cover credit:]
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1974)
When five teenaged orphans each wake up alone to find themselves trapped in a chamber of staircases that would rival an M.C. Escher print (or a David Bowie/Jim Henson hallucination), none of them are all that surprised. Being an orphan isn't easy, and they're used to be put through the ringer by the state. Peter, Lola, Blossom, Abigail, and Oliver find each other on the staircases and figure that they are being put through some kind of test. When it quickly becomes clear that to fail the test means to starve, they start to turn on each other in order to "win."
I checked this out because more than a couple people on the yalsa-bk listserv said that The Maze Runner, which I purchased months ago but haven't gotten to yet, is a redone version of The House of Stairs. I can't find the emails now, but I think I remember them saying it wasn't even that great of a do-over.
Gee, I hope they're wrong.
The House of Stairs did have a lot of weirdness and suspense, especially once the kids all figure out what the machine really wants them to do in order to get food (hint: it's not good), and I did care about the couple of characters that I was supposed to care about. I think where this book fell short for me was the complete lack of backstory and explanation. Those of you who've been reading along here know that I'm not all that into long expository passages; I'd really rather just get to the story. That's all The House of Stairs was! Just story! Still, it didn't work for me. I do need some explanation, and the answers that Sleator offered up at the end were just too little too late to make me like this book. I had too many lingering questions, and not in the good way.
That said, there is a reason this book has been continually printed since it's publication (although, the reason for the bad 80's cover on the 2004 edition still eludes me). It's short and suspenseful and it sucks you in. And it would be good for discussion. A lot of my lingering questions would work well in a group, such as "Why AREN'T these kids shocked to be used as lab rats? Is it because they're orphans, because they're kids, or because this might be some kind of post-apocolyptic world (There is a big discussion about the last time anyone had real meat and about the government living in a compound)?" One (more) caveat, though, for group sharing: there is some serious fat-phobia going on here. One of the orphans is overweight, possibly because she hasn't been an orphan that long and possibly because she wants everything for herself. The fact that this isn't clarified bothered me, as did the fact that she was much more obsessed with getting food than anyone else. These kids are actually starving; the fat girl shouldn't be the only one obsessing. But hey, you can talk about that in a group too.
Book source: Philly Free Library

48HBC Update

So starting late last night didn't work out so well for me. All of my lack of reading was because of this little guy:

I don't begrudge a minute missed reading. He was SO CUTE and SWEET, even if he was really really upset about the lack of mommy for a good portion of our evening together. More of my friends should come to town for conferences with babies I can borrow because, let's be honest, there is a serious lack of babies in my day to day life.

Anyway, here are my stats so far which bring me through this morning's commute (I'll count all the stuff I do on the sly while at work once I get home):
Networking: 15mins
Reviewing: zilch
Actually reading: 2hrs 30 mins
And I don't even want to talk about how few pages I got through in that 2 1/2 hours, as most of that time looked like some variation of this:

Not that I'm complaining. :)

Secret Keeper - Mini-Review

I have a bad habit of checking books out from the library, reading them, copying down quotes I think I might want to use in my review, and then returning them to the library. Given the volume of books I read, those quotes don't help me that much if I wait too long to sit down and write the review. The books that I'm "mini-reviewing" left an impression on me and I feel that I can recommend them without hesitation, I just can't remember enough little details to write full reviews.

Perkins, Mitali. Secret Keeper. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Asha's father moves to New York to look for work, he leaves his family in the care of his brother. Asha and her elder sister Reet are both pulled out of school, where Asha especilly excels, and are forced to live in a house that is much more traditional, and therefore restrictive, than their own. As they adjust to these changes, their mother sinks into depression and money begins to run out. When Uncle decides that a good marriage for Reet, who is beautiful and attracting a lot of attention, will fix both of these growing problems, Asha must take drastic measures to keep her family intact until her father sends for them.

The best part about this book is the descriptive language that Perkins uses throughout. Everything is so lush and easy to feel or visualize. At the same time, she doesn't coddle her readers, most of whom aren't familiar with 1970s Indian dress and customs; she does not go to great lengths to spell everything out. Because she lets you kind of figure things out for yourself as you go along (with the help of a glossary of Indian words at the back of the book) there were no obtrusive info-dumps to pull you out of the story. Some people may want more description of the customs and traditions acted out in the book, but I was happy to get on with the story!

Asha is young and chafing in her girl-hood. She had a pretty free and open childhood, learning how to do things like play tennis and cricket, but all of that stopped when she got her period and she had to become a proper young lady. Further restrictions are placed on her and Reet when they move to Uncle's house. The contrast of their lives inside the house (always inside the house) to that of her male cousin Raj is pointed, both to the reader and to Asha. Watching Asha come in to her own and start to make decisions for her family in this environment is all the more amazing. Because the story centers around this aspect of Asha's life, as well as how her growing confidence can or cannot save her sister and mother, I think that this would make a great middle grade read as well.

I really enjoyed Secret Keeper and look forward to reading more of Mitali Perkins' books in the future! She's also a prolific blogger over at mitali's fire escape.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Friday, June 4, 2010

48 Hour Book Challenge!

The 48 Hour Book Challenge is here again!

Last year I finished without roughly 14.5 hours and 4 books. I'm hoping to do a little better than that this year. I want to finish at least the 6 YA and middle grade books I currently have checked out from the library.

I'm also going to try to post some mini-reviews of books that have been sitting on my desk for months. They're all (well, mostly) great books, I just haven't gotten around to writing the reviews. If I haven't written full reviews of them by now, it's not going to happen, but they still deserve some attention! I have a bad habit of checking books out from the library, reading them, copying down quotes I think I might want to use in my review, and then returning them to the library. Given the volume of books I read, those quotes don't help me that much if I wait too long to sit down and write the review. The books that I'm going to "mini-review" left an impression on me and I feel that I can recommend them without hesitation, I just can't remember enough little details to write full reviews. This seems the perfect weekend to do some recommending rather than full on reviewing.

However you choose to participate in this year's 48HBC, have a great weekend everyone, and get reading!