Sunday, April 28, 2013

Switzerland Summers: Dreams of Significant Girls

Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia
Simon & Schuster, 2011

Vivien, Shirin, and Ingrid have absolutely nothing in common, at least on the surface. One is a Cuban-Jew who loves food and lives in New York, one is a German-Canadian wild child, and one is quite literally an Iranian princess. The only thing they share are three summers together at a boarding school/camp in Switzerland in the early 1970s. During that time, these girls become the unlikeliest of friends as they navigate relationships, families, expectations, and the desire to follow their own dreams.

I've walked past this book a hundred times at my library, and since I was in the mood for historical fiction but not something based around a war, I finally decided to give this a try. Over the course of a few hours, I got to know each of these girls who take turns narrating. This was an aspect of the storytelling which I loved - it's interesting to see how each of them describe the same school, people, and summers, and each girl has a very distinct voice and perspective.

However, to me, historical fiction is a delicate genre in that by setting a story in a specific time period other than the present, authors need to make it an essential part of the story, that these events could only take place in that time or place. This novel didn't quite get there for me. The girls sent each other occasional telegrams and letters during their time apart, and at the end history played a slightly bigger role, but overall I felt like you could have set this in the year 2012 instead of 1972 and it wouldn't have been so different. I also had a hard time suspending my belief that these girls would actually become such close friends - not to say such friendships never happen, but the events that unfolded combined with these personalities left an edge of apprehension always in my mind.

If you're looking for a quick one-time read that explores complicated relationships and the realities of growing up, borrow Dreams of Significant Girls from your local library - it may be the book for you. I liked it alright once, but I wasn't in love.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Cristina Garcia's Website

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Genre Swap Book Reveal

In which I open my mail and find out what book I've received as a part of the Genre Swap Project on YouTube organized by HeavyShelves and Jesse the Reader.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday Words: World Book Night

If you're reading this, the chances that you are either a reader or a member of my family is extremely high. But let's focus on that first category for a second. The readers. Maybe the writers. The people who squee when a favorite author or fellow book blogger/book tuber leaves a comment, favorites, or follows something you said. The people who don't think of a boat when somebody says ARC. If you're one of those people, maybe you spent yesterday celebrating World Book Night.

World Book Night is both a day and an organization aimed at getting books out to people who maybe don't read much and use the written word as a way of building community. How is this done? By thousands of volunteers in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany going out on April 23rd and giving away books for free.

Yeah, you read that right. Free. As in none of the authors whose books were chosen for whichever country's list get royalties for the thousands of books that were specially printed for the occasion. We're talking half a million books in 2012 according to the WBN website. Also, no one gets paid to give these books out - you actually have to apply because so many people want to be a part of this.

I applied back in January and was lucky enough to be selected, and last week I got my box of Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street. As my first time as a giver, I was completely pumped and hope to make this a yearly tradition. However, I haven't actually been able to give my copies away yet. I applied with a friend of mine, a fellow teacher, and we are giving our combined 40 books to a few classes of struggling readers. Unfortunately, state testing was happening yesterday and continues today, so we're going to make a big deal about the whole thing Friday (yes, that's allowed - WBN only asks that no one hand out books early, but if you have to wait until later, it's okay).

If you're interested in participating, I highly encourage you to check out World Book Night's website and follow them on Twitter. And here's a fun fact to close with. Why April 23rd? Because it's the day historians acknowledge as William Shakespeare's birthday.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

World Book Night (US)
World Book Night (US) on Twitter

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scandals and Secrets: Stealing Parker

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks Fire, 2012

Thanks to ARCycling Blog for this ARC - sorry it took me so long!

Parker used to have a pretty perfect life until her mom came out. Now her church has made Parker and her family outsiders and the rumors that Parker must be a lesbian too started flying. So she quit varsity softball, changed the way she dressed, and kisses plenty of boys so no one can question that she likes guys. But things get even more complicated when the cute new assistant baseball coach flirts right back, meanwhile she starts to think of a guy she's always competed against before in a whole new light.

This was a really difficult read for me, if I'm honest. It was complicated for a few reasons, but I'll start with the things I liked. I liked Parker and her complicated emotions about her family and her friends and her church. I liked her relationship with her best friend Drew, too, and how it felt so realistic. Then there's Corndog, another guy on the baseball team who Parker has spent her whole life competing against for valedictorian (and she won). I really enjoyed how Kenneally had him grow, starting off as just one of the guys and emerging as this fantastic friend and someone I was truly rooting for - he was probably my favorite character.

But then there was the whole situation with the assistant coach, Brian. I was disgusted to the point of literally nearly throwing up. This story was a kind of trigger for me, taking me back to some particularly difficult things it took me a very long time to finally deal with, and I wasn't expecting it based on the blurb. He's 23 working in a high school, and Parker is only 17. He's the adult, and as a 24 year old educator myself who works with people Parker's age every day, I was just horrified and incredibly uncomfortable. Did he have to be a teacher? I think maybe I could have handled it better if he was just an older guy, but the fact that he was an educator made it even worse (as if the situation weren't bad enough already). As a teacher and librarian, I fight every day to make sure my students know I'm someone they can trust, and Brian is just evil. There were multiple times that I thought I was going to have to stop reading and give up on this book because I wasn't sure I could make it. There was also the behavior of the people from Parker's church, which was horrible but also fairly realistic. This did, however, lead to the novel feeling a bit preachy at times.

Overall, I can say that I like Kenneally's writing style and I look forward to reading more of her books (this was the first of hers I've been able to get my hands on). However, I'm not sure how readily I'd recommend this particular book to my students or teens for fear of them being triggered the same way I was.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Miranda Kenneally's Website
Miranda Kenneally on Twitter

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday Words: Real World Fears in Fiction

While I'm sure that there's plenty of book news to be shared, the bombings that took place Monday at the Boston Marathon are still fresh in my mind. It's shocking, disturbing, and sad, and of course my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy.

This comes on the heels of a recent institute day in my school district. Students had the day off and all school staff members were required to take part in a simulated school shooting scenario. We've been running drills since my own school days (I was in 1st grade for the Oklahoma City Bombing, 6th grade for Columbine, 8th grade for 9/11), but in light of continued tragedies like Sandy Hook, there's no such thing as preparing too much. It's the world we live in.

What does any of this have to do with books? I guess that I find people's reading choices and what's trending interesting. We read dystopian novels, full of evil governments and where killing is common because it's necessary for survival. But what about the situations like those we face now, the ones that take over the news headlines far too often?

Books can help us escape to a better time, but they can also be a tool to help us look at the world we live in and how we can try to change things. They help us examine that not all is black and white and that tragedies like the bombings and shootings affect us all differently. There are lots of books out there that examine these issues:

  • This Is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell - A gunman takes two teens and the class of kindergardeners they're tutoring hostage.
  • Shooter by Walter Dean Myers - Written in the style of interviews, a story unfolds of a bullied young man who kills a classmate, then himself.
  • Hate List by Jennifer Brown - After her boyfriend opened fire in her school cafeteria last year, a girl faces her senior year and the guilt she feels for her role in his actions.
May we hopefully someday live in a world where these horrors are only found in the fiction section. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Steal Your Heart: Perfect Scoundrels

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter (Heist Society #3)
Hyperion, 2013

Too often these days, I feel like it's become ingrained in people's heads that all adventure books must be dystopian, involving a corrupt government or the end of the world. These kinds of books also seem to feature girls in leading roles which is of course awesome, but they tend to be loners carrying the world's weight on their shoulders.

But not all adventure has to be sad with a huge message, and not every heroine has to go it alone. And that's what I love about Ally Carter's books. She does it so well in her Gallagher Girls series, and it shines through again here in Perfect Scoundrels, the third book in her Heist Society series.

Kat Bishop and her crew are up to their usual mischief when everything changes. This time it's not about a priceless painting or exotic jewels that need to be stolen (or as Kat thinks of it, re-stolen and returned to their rightful owners). This time, one of their own needs help. When Hale's grandmother dies, the will is read and it turns out she has left the billion-dollar Hale Industries to the 16 year old. But something doesn't seem quite right, so Kat and the crew are hired to try to find out the truth.

This is the first time I forced myself to read an Ally Carter novel slowly, and it paid off. Usually I complain that so much was going on, I wasn't able to keep up with the twists and turns of the heists and cons, but by slowing down I was able to follow the events and really get inside Kat's head. And while there's a lot happening (this series reminds me a lot of the 2003 version of The Italian Job), there's so much more than just plot here. Carter does a fantastic job of highlighting human aspects that any person can relate to, whether or not they lead a life as exciting as Kat's. Readers get to see smart and clever teenagers, that family isn't just the people who share your blood - sometimes it's the people you choose, and never doubt a girl who has a good head on her shoulders and a loyal crew.

While this book has been greeted with mixed reviews, I absolutely loved it. It was a fun escape into a colorful world with a fantastic group of secondary characters who I have come to care about in this series. If you're looking for a light contemporary with a dash of spice and adventure, then the Heist Society series is for you.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Ally Carter's Website
Ally Carter on Twitter

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Words: Another Chance

It was the vampire novel that took the world by storm. Twilight came out the fall 2005, my senior year of high school, but I didn't read it. There were too many other things that caught my eye, and if I'm honest, it just never sparked my interest. Fantasy, I love it, but supernatural? I was skeptical and didn't feel like I was particularly missing much even though it was all anyone was talking about.

And as people kept talking, the less I felt compelled to read it. In fact, it turned into a desire to avoid it if possible. But then in the spring of 2011 I was taking a YA lit class for grad school and guess what was on the syllabus?  I had seen the movie a million years ago, so I had an idea of what was coming, yet I worked really hard to go into this novel with an open mind and give it an honest chance.

The result? It still wasn't for me. I couldn't identify with Bella. Edward didn't really do anything for me. This may have been the book for some people, but not me. Not even close, not even a little, not even at all.

But this post isn't about bashing Twilight or the saga that follows or Stephenie Meyer. Because now it's 2013 and I decided to give her another chance. Sure vampire love stories weren't for me, but I've been seeing the posters, trailers, and ads for the film adaptation of her adult science fiction novel The Host for a few months now and I was intrigued. It only made sense to pick it up. I've been liking sci-fi lately, after all, and maybe it wasn't that I didn't like Meyer's story telling style; just that I didn't like Twilight's story.

And that was it. I'm about halfway through this brick of a novel (600-ish pages, I think) and I'm loving it. I went to see the movie with a friend of mine last weekend and the book is something I'm enjoying just as much if not more. I was actually sad that it wouldn't fit in my messenger bag this morning so I could keep reading during my lunch break. Never thought I'd say that a few years ago, but here we are.

So the moral of my little story? If you're feeling generous, give authors who you maybe didn't care for another chance. I know I've been pleasantly surprised.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Caught In Between: The Madness Underneath

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (Shades of London #2)
Putnam, 2013

Maureen Johnson picks up right where she left off in this second installment of her Shades of London series, giving readers more insights into the world of ghosts in modern London.

So if you haven't read The Name of the Star yet, you probably want to stop reading this review right now because it's impossible to talk about aspects of this book without spoiling a few things in the first.

Rory has been with her parents in Bristol for a few weeks following being attacked by the ghost who was recreating the Jack the Ripper murders, and she doesn't want to talk about what happened. If she told her therapist or parents the truth, they'd think she's crazy. She hasn't been able to get in touch with Boo, Callum, or Stephen, the members of the Shades and the only other people who know what really happened and what it's like to be able to see ghosts. And then there's the fact that she's become a human terminus - that if she touches a ghost, she kills them. Again. It's complicated.  But now allowed back to Wexford, she's behind in school and there are more mysterious murders taking place.

This book very much has the feel of being the second book in a series. The plot does move along, but not in the more exciting ways of a first book where you're getting introduced to the world, the situation, the characters, and the rules. This story is much more focused on Rory and developing her, and in that light it is very successful. We also learn a bit more about Stephen (who has been one of my favorite characters from the start), and this new round of murders is as gruesome as ever.

Johnson has a particular gift for pacing in her story telling. When I started this book, I only meant to read a chapter or two and get a feel for it. Next thing I knew, it was 2 hours later and I was halfway done. I had become so wrapped up in Rory's thoughts and getting to know her again, which is a fun 'problem' to have with a book.

While we get a lot of Rory, what readers don't get is time with some of the really colorful and interesting secondary characters from Wexford that we got to know before. I think this largely has to do with the time span of this installment - while the first book took place over a few months, I think this takes place just over the course of a week.

And then there was the matter of the ending. It was an interesting twist to be sure - I certainly wasn't expecting it - but it will be interesting to see how Johnson can write a satisfactory conclusion to this new situation in book 3 (or maybe she doesn't intend to. Only time will tell).

If you read the first book in this series, I say absolutely pick this one up, too. I didn't love it as much as the first, but personally I'm so attached to some of these characters that I needed to see what happened next.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Maureen Johnson's Website
Maureen Johnson on Twitter
Maureen Johnson on Tumblr

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Where's Your Bookmark? (24)

In which I talk about The Madness Underneath, the second book in Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wednesday Words: The Almighty

It's been all over the news this past week, yet I'm still not sure if I fully have an opinion on Amazon's recent purchase of the site many book-lovers have come to consider essential: Goodreads. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Goodreads is a kind of social networking for the book world. Make an account, keep track of what you've read, what you want to read, make lists and bookshelves, see what other people think, read and write reviews. Especially since I got my smartphone, I pretty much use this app daily and the website is a big part of how I keep track of various series that my library purchases.

And if you've never heard of Amazon, well then, you've really missed a lot since 1998. Wikipedia can fill you in on that one.

So the questions are obvious: what will this purchase mean for Goodreads? How will it change the site and the experience? And what does this do for Amazon (and will they ruin it)?

While it already has 16 million subscribers, I have no doubt that this purchase will help Goodreads' numbers grow. After all, people now associate Amazon with online buying power and only rarely do they actually refer to the rain forest we all learn about in elementary school. With the e-book market changing the nature of reading and sites like Goodreads becoming a huge player in how people today discover new things to read, Amazon's stamp could give reading a revival among those who don't normally browse bookshelves.

However, Amazon may make changes as they now have the right to do. This could mean better algorithms for suggestions, but I have little doubt in my mind that the "Find a Copy" feature which currently shows users where they can get a book from a wide variety of sources will soon change to "Buy on Amazon" instead.

My final word? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm not outraged, nor am I surprised, nor am I welcoming this with open arms. I just don't know, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

But what do you all think? I love reading your thoughts! Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.