Wednesday, September 25, 2013

P.S. Be Eleven - Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: P.S. Be Eleven
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad (Harper Collins), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 274 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: September 23, 2013
Finished: September 24, 2013

From the inside cover:

Things are changing in the Gaither household. After soaking up a "power to the people" mind-set over the summer, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern return to Brooklyn with a newfound streak of independence. Pa has a girlfriend, Uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam, but he's not the same. And a new singing group called the Jackson Five has the girls seeing stars.

But one thing that doesn't change? Big Ma still expects Delphine to keep everything together. That's even harder now that her sisters refuse to be bossed around, and now that Pa's girlfriend voices her own opinions about things. Through letters, Delphine confides in her mother, who reminds her not to grow up too fast. To be eleven while she can.

An outstanding successor to the Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven stands on it's own as a moving, funny story of three sisters growing up amid the radical change of the 1960s, beautifully written by the inimitable Rita Williams-Garcia.

I read One Crazy Summer a few years ago and loved it mainly because of Delphine's narration. P.S. Be Eleven is the sequel and picks up immediately after the first book ended, in the summer of 1968 with the girls on the plane back home to Brooklyn from California after visiting Cecile. More independent and with a sense of standing up to injustice, they're less likely to take the usual treatment from Big Ma, from everything from choice of school clothes to liking the Jackson Five.

Their Dad makes the quick moves by meeting and proposing to a woman while the girls were gone, which Delphine isn't impressed with but eventually becomes neutral about. The girls are mostly concerned with school and saving money to pay for half the cost of tickets to see the Jackson Five at Madison Square Gardens. Delphine regularly writes to Cecile, who although is still a very hands-off mother, manages to give her some decent advice about savouring her childhood and taking her time about tackling more grown-up issues. There's also a nice commentary on returning war veterans with Uncle Darnell, who returns from Vietnam alive but has constant nightmares and develops a drug problem.

The writing is amazing, Delphine's voice and narration makes the book yet again, and is a nice piece of historical fiction about growing up in the late 1960s.

Thoughts on the cover:
The original book's cover got a redesign after it accumulated so many awards, and the sequel cover is done in a similar style. I love the image of the girls playing Double Dutch on the street in front of the brownstones all wearing bellbottoms (even though Big Ma won't let them wear them in the book). Plus the colours are awesome.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: September 20, 2013
Finished: September 23, 2013

From the inside cover:

Darkness Never Dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her-or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

After reading the first in the trilogy, Shadow and Bone, a couple months ago and getting hooked despite a few annoying things, I knew I'd be picking up the rest of the instalments.

Siege and Storm picks up after Alina and Mal's escape from the Darkling across the Fold. After trying to live in secret in Novyi Zem, the two are recaptured by the Darkling and brought back to Ravka. After a coup by the pirate Sturmhond, who turns out to be someone completely different, Alina and Mal begin to gather forces against the Darkling. Alina yearns for more power to defeat the Darkling, but at the same time fears it because she doesn't want to become like him. Add in your traditional cliffhanger ending leading the way into the final instalment, and you've got a decent second book here.

The characters make this series for me. The Darkling is still a deliciously troubled villain, his character development is done incredibly well, and his relationship with Alina is one I can't help reading on about even though he's evil because he makes a darn good case as to why they belong together (can't argue with logic, even from a psycho villain). Alina seems a bit more focused in this book, not quite as naive, more dedicated to using her power to help Ravka and realizing her power is a part of herself she cannot stifle. I felt like slapping Mal upside the head for most of the book, about the time he moped around for the hundredth time because Alina was too busy saving Ravka to make time for him. Boohoo buddy, cut the girl some slack, once your homeland is safe you two can cuddle again.

I must say; the addition of Tolya, Tamar, and Nikolai were much welcomed, I loved all three. The twins were awesome pirate bodyguards and Nikolai was just darned charming and two-faced, but really enjoyable.

If you read Shadow and Bone, you've obviously already read Siege and Storm. If you haven't read these yet, give them a try if you're in the mood for a new series.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the first cover: the Kremlin-esque towers with the Sea Whip curled around and resting at the top. I can't wait to see the cover for the third book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 435 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: September 15, 2013
Finished: September 19, 2013

From the inside cover:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life-and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let it go. She doesn't want to.

Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath ison her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words...and she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

After reading Eleanor and Park back in June, I immediately fell in love with this author, I tend to with authors that portray geek culture in a wonderful way. In this new novel she manages to endear herself to me all the more (which I didn't think was possible) because she writes about a subject very dear to me: fandom.

Growing up, I was a huge bibliophile/anime/fantasy/sci-fi geek; you name it I probably loved it, read fanfiction about it, and plastered my walls with posters of it. I am proud to say I still am a huge geek, but not to the same degree as Cath in the book (but I totally was when I was in high school and university).

Cath is the ultimate Harry Potter Simon Snow fan. She's even the most popular Simon Snow fanfic author on, with some readers liking her stories even better than the original Simon Snow novels. When Cath and Wren go off to college near their home in Omaha, Nebraska, everything starts to change. Wren begins to pull away, which forces shy, codependent Cath to expand her worldview, sometimes rather painfully (like Cath living off protein bars and peanut butter for a month because she's afraid to ask where the dining hall is on campus). Eventually she starts to become more comfortable with college life: making friends with her prickly roommate Reagan, having Nick as her writing partner in her Fiction-Writing course, and eventually dating the very awesome Levi, who begs Cath to read her fanfic aloud to him even though he's not a huge fan himself.

There are many reason why I adore this book. First off, Cath is a wonderfully realistic character, smart and witty but very vulnerable and insecure. You get to see her grow throughout the novel but she thankfully never gives up the fandom, she just has more of a balance, so I'm glad the message that being part of a fandom is 'something you need to grow out of' wasn't included here. Also, Cath writes slash fic, which I give huge props to the author for including.

Levi is a great male character, and he and Cath model a really great relationship, which I'm always pleased to see. I loved Reagan, the way she befriended Cath and essentially forced her out of exile had me laughing so hard. The dialogue I think makes this book. The conversations are incredibly realistic, I'm pretty sure I had some of these conversations while in university (and the conversations regarding fandom I'm pretty sure  I still have today). I also appreciated the deeper issues that Cath deals with: the aftermath of her mother leaving and coming back into her life, her dad's breakdown, and Wren's drinking issues. All these were handled quite well I think, adding to the credibility and realism of the book.

If you've ever been part of a fandom you need to read this, you will love the portrayal the author makes here. Even if you're not a fangirl/fanboy, it's still an immensely enjoyable read with good writing, realistic and relatable characters, and a touching coming-of-age story.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the scenario on the cover with Levi trying to get Cath's attention but she's preoccupied with Simon and Baz. I also love the aqua colour scheme.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Program - Suzanne Young

Title: The Program
Author: Suzanne Young
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 405 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: September 4, 2013
Finished: September 9, 2013

From the inside cover:

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane's parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they'll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who's been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone-but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He's promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they've made to each other, it's getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

I picked this up purely because it sounded awesome, I mean a dystopian-esque YA about suicide and the government erasing memories to keep them alive, who wouldn't want to read that? However, since finishing it I have mixed feelings about the novel.

The premise is that Sloane lives in a world where suicide amongst teenagers has become a viral epidemic, so suicide is literally contagious (at least this is the claim). To combat this, the government set up The Program, a recovery program where kids are whisked away to hospital-type rehabilitation centres and return six weeks later with extremely large chunks of their memories missing. Sloane and the rest of her friends know this, so they want to avoid The Program at all costs, hiding their pain when their friends die since any signs of grief mean an automatic call to have the kids taken away to The Program.

I like how the book brings attention to the issue of teen suicide, but I'm not sure if it was handled in a way I'm comfortable with. Though suicide in the novel's universe is supposed to be an epidemic and spreads like a sickness, it wasn't really portrayed this way other than kids tending to fall into depression after witnessing a traumatic event like a friend's suicide (well duh, that already happens). So they're reluctant to seek out help from the various therapy services that are available because they know the therapist will flag them, plus they have no coping skills, so they succumb. This seems to me so very similar to how suicide is understood by teenagers today: they have the signs of depression, they're reluctant to seek help (if they're even aware of it) because there's a negative social stigma attached to it, and because they're lacking appropriate coping skills they just perpetuate a sad cycle. Throughout the book's first part, I kept thinking, "my god, what's wrong with these kids? They aren't 'sick', they just need therapy." I don't think the "suicide as a contagious sickness" was reinforced enough, it just felt like the existing views and misinformation on suicide were just packaged in a different way. I would have felt differently if there was a page somewhere dedicated to listing suicide prevention hotlines and websites but there wasn't. I know it's fiction but because we're dealing with the issue of suicide I feel things should have been handled differently. Definitely have a discussion with readers of all ages (even older teenagers I find don't know enough about mental health issues) if they're reading this.

Aside from the suicide issue, Sloane as the heroine didn't really make an impact on me. She pretty much only exists in relation to James, her only motivation is related to James. Throughout the second part when she's in The Program itself and is getting memories erased bit by bit, her only concern is that she'll forget about James. Not that she might lose favourite childhood memories, not that she might forget about her brother or her friends, just about James. The novel is very much a syrupy love story with a really interesting premise, I was hoping it would be more about a person fighting for the greater good after they have a eureka moment, but Sloane (at least for now) is only concerned for herself and James. I will be picking up the next book to see where this goes though, I really hope I have a different opinion with the sequel.

This is such a promising idea with a lot of potential but just didn't wow me, though it might just be me, so I encourage you to read it and see for yourself. But please ensure you have a discussion on suicide with teenaged readers regarding this novel.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love it. The clinical white hallway with Sloane and James (I'm assuming that's not Realm) in the yellow scrubs, with the different coloured pills on the back.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Katie Woo Rules the School - Fran Manushkin

Title: Katie Woo Rules the School
Author: Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers, 2013 (Paperback)
Length: 90 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: September 4, 2013
Finished: September 4, 2013

From the back of the book:

For Katie Woo, school is one big adventure. Join the stylish schoolgirl as she learns how to be a great classmate and friend. From the school play to the class pet, Katie knows how to rule the school!

I am just starting to pick up 'big kid' books here and there for my daughter. Though she's not quite two, she'll be into chapter books before I know it, so if I see something appropriate, I'll pack it away for her. I hadn't heard of this series before getting a newsletter advertising it, apparently it's so popular it has it's own book club that you can sign up to receive this book for free.

After reading it, I'll definitely keep this for my daughter. These new books (6 in the series) are compilations of previously published separate stories (4 stories per book), so the format is perfect for young readers just starting out with chapter books. The sentences are short, and there's illustrations on every page, so again a perfect chapter book for the 6-8 year olds.

I especially like how multicultural the book universe is. All races and ethnicities are represented by Katie and her group of friends in their first grade class, which is what I look for in reading material for my daughter and my students. I don't always find stuff that is culturally varied, so it's wonderful when I come across something that does fit the bill.

If you've got a young reader in your home, I encourage you to sign up at the link above (through Facebook) to get a copy of this for your child to see for yourself.

Perfect first chapter book for beginning readers with multicultural characters and good messages.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's cute with a nice colour scheme, sure to attract the kids. I like how the other books in the series utilize colours other than pink.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Rose Throne - Mette Ivie Harrison

Title: The Rose Throne
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Publisher: Egmont USA, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 27, 2013
Finished: September 1, 2013

From the inside cover:

Two princesses, two kingdoms, an ancient prophecy...

A throne of rose-coloured wood, intricately carved, its origins lost in time.

An island ripped asunder by powerful magic.

A princess with magic, a princess with none.

Each princess may in time rule over her own kingdom, but only one can rule over both.

Can either princess afford to follow her heart, while around them men struggle and vie for power? Can either rule if the other yet lives? And what of the prophecy, which tells of a land and magic united under a single monarch? Mette Ivie Harrison's new fantasy romance features two heroines, as different as night and day, caught up in a maelstrom of events, where love is the most dangerous of all emotions, and survival means concealing all that matter most.

The premise sounded really interesting so I picked this up. Though to be fair, the summary isn't really accurate once you read the story, so don't put too much stock into it.

The story is original and engaging. The people of the kingdoms of Rurik and Weirland possess an innate power called weyr. Taweyr is the male magic, which controls death and war. Neweyr is the female magic and controls life and the earth. Ailsbet is the 17-year-old princess of Rurik, where taweyr is valued above all else. Deemed to have no magic and worthless to her father, Ailsbet grows to be self-resilient and intelligent, and also a bit prickly. Marlissa (called Issa) is the 18-year-old princess of Weirland that is betrothed Ailsbet's 13-year-old brother Edik. Entering into the betrothal in order to help  bring the two kingdoms together through the prophecy with the idea that Edik will grow to be a better man than his father, Issa tries to forget her love for Duke Kellin and sacrifice for the good of her kingdom. When Ailsbet discovers she is Ekhono (when a person possesses the weyr of the opposite gender), she must keep it a secret to save her life, but is encouraged to work through her brother to become queen as the person with the stronger taweyr.

The concept of the weyrs could've been explained more, you never really get a concrete idea of exactly how they work or what they do. There was a lot of sexist issues in the book: who is deemed to have value, what jobs are seen as integral, and what happens when men are valued to the exclusion of women and their influence, so it was interesting to see the author delve into this territory, I quite enjoyed it. The characters are well-developed and endearing; Issa and Ailsbet are quite different but are strong females that are flawed in their own ways. Kellin, Umber, and Edik are multi-dimensional as well.

The only downside was the ending. Everything built up and up but fell flat all of a sudden, there just wasn't any satisfying resolution to any of the plot points. Thus far The Rose Throne is a one-shot with potential plans for sequels (possible trilogy?) and I really hope there are more instalments because the ending just didn't cut it.

Excellent story, writing, plot, and characters. The ending falls short (pray for a sequel), but if you can overlook that it's well worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. Ailsbet is exactly as described, and the position of her face is not typical of most YA covers.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bullied - Carrie Goldman

Title: Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear
Author: Carrie Goldman
Publisher: HarperOne, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 348 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction, Parenting
Started: August 30, 2013
Finished: September 1, 2013

From the inside cover:

Carrie Goldman became an unexpected voice for the antibullying movement after her blog post about her daughter Katie's bullying experience went viral and an online community of support generated international attention. In Bullied, Goldman brings together the expertise of leading authorities with the candid accounts of families dealing firsthand with peer victimization to present proven strategies and concrete tools for teaching children how to speak up and carry themselves with confidence; call each other out on cruelty; resolve conflict; cope with teasing, taunting, physical abuse, and cyberbulling; and be smart consumers of technology and media. As a mother, she calls on us all-families, schools, communities, retailers, celebrities, and media-to fiercely examine our own stereotypes and embrace our joint responsibility for creating a culture of acceptance and respect.

For parents, educators, and anyone still wrestling with past experiences of victimization and fear, Bullied is an eye-opening, prescriptive, and ultimately uplifting guide to raising diverse, empathetic, tolerant kids in a caring and safe world.

I've been meaning to read this since it came out last year but it unintentionally got pushed to the back of my reading list, but thankfully I got around to it, and just before school starts to boot. I've been following this author's blog since before she even wrote the book, she's an awesome adoption advocate and really knows her stuff about bullying, the media, and sexualization of little girls.

Bullied is an amazing comprehensive resource about bullying that talks about many aspects: the possible sources of bullying and how children get in that mindset to ostracize the "other" (media stereotypes of masculine and feminine, parents treating others disrespectfully etc.), the profiles of children that are typical targets of bullying, exactly what constitutes bullying and the different types; and ways to combat the bullying that help the victim, the bully, and the community. The author includes a lot of first-hand accounts from stories sent to her after sharing her daughter's experience with bullying, interviews from prominent experts in the field, as well as celebrities and activists.

Bullied is an excellent book that all parents, teachers, and anyone that interacts with kids on a consistent basis needs to read. Not only does the author touch on the huge issue of the media and stereotypes that kids are exposed to on a daily basis (that isn't addressed as often as it should in my opinion), it offers practical solutions that keep both the victim and the bully in mind (because typically the bullies are victims in their own right too). Also, the author has lists of other resources in the back of the book: books grouped by age level, movies, etc. She actually lists several books I've read and recommended on bullying, as well as some pretty good documentary films too, so I can tell she's done her research.

Anyone who deals with kids on a daily basis needs to read this, it's just an amazing resource that dispels the myths about bullying that people have been perpetrating forever and offers practical solutions.

Thoughts on the cover:
Kinda plain but most of the cover is taken up by the title anyway.