Friday, August 30, 2013

Something Strange and Deadly Book Club: Week Four

Hello again and welcome to the final week of the Something Strange & Deadly book club sponsored by Epic Reads. If you want to learn more about this fantastic book club dedicated to Susan Dennard's debut novel, click here.

This Week's Question: "'Eleanor, you have a choice,' [Jie] said softly. 'You always have a choice.'" (p. 166, Something Strange & Deadly)How do you think this quote relates to the overall theme of Something Strange and Deadly? Do you think Eleanor behaves as if she has a choice at the start of the book? What about at the end of the book? And do other characters behave as if they have a choice or do they see themselves as victims of circumstance?

What a question to end this book club on! Choice is a popular concept to explore in fiction for a reason, especially in the world of young adult literature. When people are young adults in their teens and early twenties, it's often the first time in their lives they are making important choices for themselves rather than always having others make them for them. This is absolutely true of Eleanor Fitt. As much as this story is about fighting zombies, it's a journey of making choices and being strong enough to stick with them. Eleanor doesn't behave as if she has a choice at the start of the novel because she's never had one before - these are uncharted waters for her. Over the course of the book, she thinks for herself, develops her own beliefs of good and bad and right and wrong, and by the end we see an empowered young woman who has made incredible sacrifices. Yet I don't feel sorry for her - instead I empathize with her because while she is making her choices, others are making their own. She makes a choice about who and what she wants, but so does Daniel and so do the other Spirit Hunters, and unfortunately they don't all make the same choice. It's heartbreaking and frustrating, but all things considered Eleanor handles it well. Her newfound ability to choose means she no longer has to conform to f that's not what she wants. And Miss Fitt chooses to own her name, which is an awesome sight to behold.

I had so much fun participating in this book club, so thanks to Susan Dennard for this great story and to Epic Reads for sponsoring this!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday Words: Book and a Beverage

The start of the school year continues to be insane, so not much reading has been happening lately (outside of my slow trek through The Fellowship of the Ring). However, I am excited to share that last week The Fuma Files was featured on The Book Addict's Guide, a fantastic YA blog run by the lovely Brittany, for her Book and a Beverage segment. I highly encourage you to check the post and her blog out - in it, I compare The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater and her character Ronan Lynch to drinking a Guinness =)

Click the link here!

Hope you all have a fantastic Wednesday!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Play On: This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Farrar Straus Giroux - Expected Release Date: September, 2013

*ARC given by the publisher at ALA - Thank You!!*

All Elise ever wanted was friends. Even just one friend. Someone who she felt like she could talk to and was actually, really listening. It's why she spent the whole summer before her sophomore year trying to change herself so she'd be liked. Now almost a year after her plan and a suicide attempt failed, she might have found a way to the thing she's always wanted through unlikely means: by becoming the hottest new DJ at an underground club.

I can't remember where I heard about this book first, but I've wanted to get my hands on it ever since. Luck was on my side at ALA when the fabulous people at the FSG booth were kind enough to give me an ARC. My expectations were high, and this story blew away all my expectations.

Elise is a girl I can identify with in almost every way. She's been raised to believe that with hard work, with knowing who she is, she can accomplish anything. But that's not always true because there are so many things in this life we can't control like being the victim of bullying - sometimes it's blatant, other times it's more covert, but it always brings pain and leaves a scar. Music is her salvation and I loved how Sales started every chapter with song lyrics and so realistically showed how songs have a way of painting pictures, of bringing things together, of helping us make sense of our world or at least feel connected to someone else who knew exactly what we are feeling now when they wrote and recorded it sometimes years ago.

The protagonist is complex and confused and raw and honest and secondary characters fill out this story beautifully. It's a true to life portrayal of how people effect each other, how we don't always see or understand our own lives sometimes, and why we do things we know we shouldn't. The highs and lows and everything in between were sparkled with enough detail to give me an image, but never overwhelming.

If you love music, if you've ever wanted friends and felt alone, if you've ever worked hard and still feel like you're waiting for it to pay off, pick up a copy of This Song Will Save Your Life. I've already added Sales' other books to my Goodreads to-read list and can't wait to get more great stories from this talented writer.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Leila Sale's Website
Leila Sales on Twitter

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where's Your Bookmark? (31)

Talking about The Dream Thieves, the second book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Thanks to Scholastic for giving me this ARC at ALA!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday Words: First Day of School

The title of this post pretty much says it all this time: today is the first day of school in my district. Great timing, too, because it wasn't until last week that I started asking myself "What day is it?"

With most of the hours of my day now being reclaimed by students, teachers, reference questions, lesson teaching, lesson planning, ordering, covering, labeling, Tweeting, book talking, drama club directing, speech judging, chaperoning, and new this year Tumblr-ing (literally just got approval to start a Tumblr for our school library yesterday and I'm so excited!), that means life is about to drastically change from my summer patterns of going to bed 'whenever', sleeping in until 8, and sometimes devoting entire days to curling up with a book.

With only 24 hours in a day, so much to do, and sleep being necessary to function, what happens to my reading time? It's cut down, sure, but I'm going to do my best this year to make sure it's not eliminated. My goal is to read for at least 15 minutes every day. It's not much. I'm currently reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time and 15 minutes sometimes isn't even enough to read one chapter, but it's something. Me in the morning with my coffee and a book. It's a great way to start each day, plus by not saving it for the evening, I can still collapse as soon as I walk in the door after a long day if I need to.

So here's to recreational reading, and if you're still in school/working in schools, the assigned reading too! I'd love to know what fantastic titles you are all reading in and out of the classroom - tell me here, on Twitter, or on Goodreads! And now, it's off to work I go.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week Three

Hello again and welcome to week two of the Something Strange & Deadly book club sponsored by Epic Reads. If you want to learn more about this fantastic book club dedicated to Susan Dennard's debut novel, click here.

This Week's Question: Eleanor finds herself more and more intrigued by (and perhaps attracted to) Daniel Sheridan, the inventor of the Spirit-Hunters. What is it about him that appeals to her? And vice versa, what do you think attracts Daniel to Eleanor? Then there's Clarence Wilcox, the seemingly perfect eligible bachelor. Why do you think Eleanor doesn't like Clarence?

Ah, now we jump into the juicy relationship dynamic! In her original post for these questions, Susan Dennard states that E.M. Forster's novel A Room With a View is one of her all-time favorites. I loved that book as well, and I can see a lot of parallels between that story and this one in terms of Eleanor's relationships with Daniel and Clarence.

I think one of the primary aspects of Daniel that appeals to Eleanor is that he's honest. Not to say he wears his heart on his sleeve or is always open about everything, but he never tries to be something he's not. He's not comfortable with a seemingly rich and good girl sticking her nose in his business and a dark world he's dedicated his life to fighting. He's the only person in Eleanor's life that treats her like she's normal. To her mother, she's a pawn. To Philadelphia society, she's the daughter of a disgrace. But with Daniel, he teases her, calls her Empress, tries to make her feel uncomfortable and at the same time shows her (however unwillingly) a place where she could have a chance to be more than a society girl. He pushes her, and she pushes back. This is key to why I think Daniel is attracted to Eleanor. She's feisty. She doesn't always listen, yet she always has good intentions. They're both vibrant people being muted by their respective situations and the expectations of society. They don't seem to like each other at first, but they do come to respect each other and from that, something more grows.

It's the opposite when examining Clarence Wilcox. Slimey from the start, Clarence is a creep with an agenda. He doesn't even hide it very well, at least not to Eleanor. While charm and a rich family are more than enough in the eyes of Mrs. Fitt, Eleanor sees not all the pieces fit together. Her smarts and ability to pay attention to the world and people around her are the same things that make her a good Spirit Hunter and a good match for Daniel. To Clarence, her skills are nuisance. He represents the worst in men as a manipulative specimen who doesn't think much of others (especially women) and will use whoever he has to if he believes he will benefit in the end.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Modified Myth: The Abandon Trilogy

The Abandon Trilogy by Meg Cabot (Point Publishing)
Abandon, 2011 (bought copy)
Underworld, 2012 (ARC from Blog-O-Rama - thank you!)
Awaken, 2013 (ARC loaned from Literary Lushes - thank you!)

Meg Cabot takes readers to the land of the dead in her Abandon Trilogy, a reimagining of the Persephone myth. While I usually don't review a series as a whole, this time I feel like I can make an exception. This blog started after this trilogy did, and now having completed the whole series, I feel that it's best to look at all three of these books together as one unit.

The premise: Pierce was 15 years old when she died. She arrived in the Underworld and reconnected with John - a death deity she first met when she was a child and her soul mate - but she escaped and came back to life. The trilogy follows their romance when they meet again 2 years later and her struggle with becoming queen of the Underworld and spending eternity there, being targeted by evil spirits known as Furies, and trying to keep her family safe.

Now I love Meg Cabot's writing generally. The Princess Diaries books felt like they had been written just for me, I adore many of her other YA novels, and as I've grown up I've enjoyed the handful of her adult novels that I've read. However, if I'm honest, this series was a tough one for me. In series, there is of course an over-arching saga that ties the books together, but to me a strong series means that each installment has an arc of its own. Here is where the Abandon Trilogy struggles.

If read in quick succession, the story makes more sense. Abandon is mostly backstory, explaining the connection between Pierce and John. Underworld is a typical second book, filling in more details about the world, introducing more new characters but seeming to leave a lot of the old ones we just got to know in the first book behind. Then finally Awaken brings back things we haven't thought of since book one, mashes them up with plot points and characters from book two, and thus wraps up (mostly) the story of the lord of the Underworld and his beloved.

The premise is interesting, but to me this is a case of a trilogy that is actually one book drawn out over three books. With some editing and condensing, this could have been a really fantastic stand-alone novel in my mind but as a series, it didn't quite hit the spot for me. What I can say positively is that this is a trilogy that mostly redeemed itself in the third book. Much of the tension in the relationship between the protagonists stems from lack of communication, but at least much of that is resolved by Awaken's conclusion. Old characters and newer characters blended together to form a colorful and quirky cast. Not everything was fully explained, but the main points were so I was mostly satisfied.

Overall, if you are a fan of Cabot's and haven't read this series yet, borrow it from your library if the mood strikes. It wasn't my cup of tea, but this trilogy was the reason Meg Cabot came to town a few years ago and I got to meet this rockstar author I've looked up to for a very long time. She even declared that I was the best librarian ever! For that I am eternally grateful.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Meg Cabot's Website
Meg Cabot on Twitter

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday Words: Memories and Memoirs

As this summer and my time as a 24 year old comes to a close, I'm doing a lot of reflecting and I've come up with the following conclusion: being 24 kind of sucked for me, but I'm still optimistic about 25.

I prefer focusing on the good things that have happened over the last 12 months. I've made great friends at work. I've branched out in terms of what I read, what I believe, how I dress, where I go, what I try. Because Yoda was wrong. It's not always as simple as do or do not. There IS try. I've tried to keep my chin up. I've tried my best and since I'm not in charge of the Universe, that's all I can do.

But sometimes, the bad times and memories set up shop in the front of my brain and they're not so easy to ignore. I try not to let my 'failures' get me down, and to the shock of absolutely no one, reading usually helps with this. Or really just stories in general. Maybe I write my own stories or escape into a fictional world where I can make or find a happy ending, or if not happy at least one that is satisfying. But when I'm really struggling, when I'm feeling especially lost, I turn instead to memoirs.

While biography is a big genre in terms of what it covers (usually, a person's life story), memoir falls under that umbrella in that it focuses usually on one time or particular aspect of a person's life. And because stories need conflict, these books aren't always happy. People are struggling. An awful situation is happening. It feels like all hope is lost, and maybe it is. But maybe it's not. Maybe these people tried.

In the past 24 hours I've read Josh Sundquist's memoir Just Don't Fall: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made It Down the Mountain. In it, he discusses his life from the time he's 9 years old, is diagnosed with cancer which results in his left leg being amputated at the hip, all the way up to the 2006 Paralympics where he represented the USA as a skier. He struggles with his body, with family relationships, with his relationship with God, and feeling lost. (All things I relate to, though certainly not always to his scale.) It's a well written, very open and honest story, and it helps me put things in perspective. That it's okay to admit when things aren't okay. That life is hard, but it's also beautiful. That if this guy can get through all of that, then I can get through my own pile of life. It keeps me optimistic about 25.

So while this blog is usually dominated by YA fiction, I say branch out. Try something new. Memoirs are fascinating in that they are true and instead of connecting to a character, the product of someone's imagination, you may find a connection to a real person. And when you're feeling alone, that can be a good thing to find.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week Two

Hello again and welcome to week two of the Something Strange & Deadly book club sponsored by Epic Reads. If you missed my post for last week's question on this outstanding debut by Susan Dennard, click here or if you want to see what the book club is all about and how it works, click here.

This week's question: Magic and ghostly elements frequent the Something Strange and Deadly series. Even though corpses do awaken from time to time and hauntings are hardly that uncommon, the people of Philadelphia seem determined to pretend the Dead are not a growing threat. Do you think that's a part of human nature? To push on and ignore the danger at our door? Or do you think Philadelphia's ignorance - or for that matter, any ignorance/false sense of safety in modern days as well - can be pinned on politicians? Can you think of any examples where something similar happened, but rather than the Dead, it was a natural disaster/growing crime rate/etc.?

This question is a deep one with the potential to be incredibly explosive, so I am going to tread cautiously. When examining if something is a part of human nature, one has to remember that there are over 6 billion humans alive on this planet at present. Then one also must take into account all the humans of the past, the situations they faced, and how they responded. In this case of Philadelphia's ignorance, I think it showcases how people jump to extremes. As we see the situation through Eleanor's eyes, it appears that most people cling to one extreme and the idea of normalcy. Then when readers meet the Spirit Hunters, they see the other extreme: people who not only acknowledge the Dead as a threat, but have devoted themselves to putting an end to this growing danger.

The cause of ignorance must also be considered. Is it that people aren't being informed so of course how could the possibly know how much danger they are in; or is it that they know and choose to blatantly disregard the truth? The answer to this affects what examples may be drawn up for the second question posed. In everyday life, people believe what they want, picking pieces of the truth that best support their argument. Go to this school because of the accolades it has received. Don't vote for that person because this one situation that happened. The people of Philadelphia - for whatever reasons, be them the result of personal experiences or propaganda - know that there are Spirit Hunters exist and are other people fighting, so they have made that small truth enough despite the fact that the Dead are a growing threat. This truth reinforces their hope for normalcy. They are being told the situation is being handled and aren't being informed of the full truth: that the Spirit Hunters need more help and resources. (After all, how can they help is needed? Though admittedly, it's pretty clear to anyone who can open their eyes in Philadelphia that there was trouble and it was only getting worse.) People cling to the good things to keep the bad at bay, both in fiction and in reality.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Completely Charming: The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Harper Teen, 2013

*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA - Thank You!*

Kasie West has completely stolen my heart again in her second book, the stand alone novel The Distance Between Us.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen has never known a life outside of the one where she and her mom live in a small apartment above Mom's porcelain doll shop, doing their best to just get by. She's never known money, and she knows that people who are rolling in it probably aren't to be trusted. However, Caymen may have been wrong when she meets Xander, the grandson of a loyal customer who isn't what she expected. Tall, handsome, and crazy rich, she doesn't want to like him but she can't help it when they get to know each other, he becomes a valued friend, and she starts to see that they actually have more in common than she could have imagined. However, when things in her life turn south and money matters more than ever, do Caymen and Xander stand a chance at closing the gap and making this work?

This book was completely charming from top to bottom. Caymen is smart, independent, sarcastic (without ever being mean or snarky - there is a difference), and a really hard worker. Xander was a great leading man for her - a little softer around the edges, a little more willing to compromise and show he cares, a guy who is willing to admit he doesn't know it all but that he does want to try and learn. Secondary characters - especially Caymen's best friend Skye - were also fleshed out and provided great moments of necessary tension and comic relief. The situation also felt plausible and I loved how this book took the economy and reality of money in our lives in a way that didn't turn into a Romeo and Juliet thing. Xander isn't 'slumming,' nor is Caymen a gold digger - they're just people who have a great connection and once they're both willing to admit it, they want to find a way to hang onto it.

I loved West's debut novel Pivot Point and this book only cemented in my mind that this an author whose books I will read no matter what. It was smart, interesting, honest, realistic, and fun. In a market that can feel saturated by contemporary stories, this is one that stands out above the rest and you don't want to miss.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kasie West's Website
Kasie West on Twitter

Friday, August 9, 2013

Where's Your Bookmark? (30)

My thoughts on Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, a powerful piece of historical fiction that you don't want to miss and companion to her 2012 Printz Honor book Code Name Verity.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week One

Hello Internet! This month Epic Reads is doing an online book club featuring an author whose debut novel I absolutely adored. That's right, it's Susan Dennard and Something Strange & Deadly. You can learn more about the Book Club and the fabulous things you can get by participating in it here.

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to read the second book in this trilogy which just came out, A Darkness Strange & Lovely (but my birthday IS in two weeks... just saying...), so I will be answering the questions only pertaining to book one and I will try to keep my answers on this epic book about a girl and team of misfits and majestics who are fighting zombies in 1876 Philadelphia as spoiler-free as possible. Yeah, you heard me. It's awesome.

Week One Question: Eleanor's mother expects a lot from poor El. She wants Eleanor to marry and save the family from financial ruin (despite the fact that Eleanor is only 16), she wants Eleanor to become friends with the rich "cool" kids (like Allison and the Virtue Sisters), and she wastes money the Fitt family doesn't have on new gowns and fancy house decor. She demands Eleanor behave according to "proper etiquette" and squeeze into a corset that deforms her ribs. Do you think, given the time period, Mrs. Fitt is justified in her demands on Eleanor? Why or why not?

So this is an awesome question. Historical fiction has a great ability to be shocking because our modern eyes and brains are looking at a world that really did operate by a totally different set of rules. As a modern woman, my initial reaction is "No! Let Eleanor live her own life!" Yet, is Mrs. Fitt really that different from some mothers today? She puts pressure on her daughter partly because society puts pressure on her. With her husband dead and her son nowhere to be found, she puts all her energy into the one thing she has left: Eleanor. She wants her daughter to make successful, important connections. Mrs. Fitt is adhering to the apparently timeless idea of 'dress for the job you want, not the one you hav' every time she redecorates another room or buys another dress. It's not that I agree with what Mrs. Fitt is doing, but I can understand it.

To me, another facet of the question is what is really motivating Mrs. Fitt to put these expectations on Eleanor: is it out of love or out of fear? Given the choices she makes throughout the book, I think it's safe to say that the latter rules her brain. Again, in 1876, I can see why this would be the case. Women went to finishing schools, not universities. There weren't options. In a very Mrs. Bennet/Pride& Prejudice sort of way, Mrs. Fitt knows this: a woman either marries well financially or she is done for. Acting a certain way, dressing a certain way, living a certain way can all be tools to help ensure an advantageous marriage and strong financial future. Maybe she doesn't want to see her daughter suffer and lose the comforts and quality of life she's grown up with, but more than that I believe it's Mrs. Fitt who is afraid of losing her lifestyle. So are her actions justified? To a degree, yes, given the limitations of the time they lived in. But are Eleanor's actions - her choice to refuse, to follow her own bat - justified? Oh heck yes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wednesday Words: Take Your Time

I have no problem admitting that one of the reasons I like reading YA is that I can usually read them more quickly than adult or nonfiction books. This is a result of the pacing of YA novels - a thin book may take place over the course of months or years, a big book may take place over the course of few days, and there's every other option in between, but with every page the story is moving forward.

But every now and again, there are books, even YA books, that I find I simply cannot read quickly. I have to take my time, not necessarily because the pacing is slow, but that the world the author has put me in demands so much more of me. My attention. My emotions. My breath on more than a few occasions. 

Such is my current situation. I've been reading the ARC of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein for almost a week now, which for me is a long time to be with a YA book in printed form. The story is of a girl named Rose, a World War II pilot for the ATA who is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, a famously horrible concentration camp for women. This story is captivating and Rose's situation is unlike I've ever encountered before. There are lots of novels out there about WWII, women pilots, and even concentration camps, but none others quite like this story. It demands much of its readers because it deserves it, because this novel is built up off the horrible truths of our history, worse than any horrors than can be imagined into existence in the fiction section.

Part of me wishes I could read it faster, that I could be done with it because I want to write/record my review and share this story with others. But then I remember that it's more than okay to take your time. Some books aren't meant to be drunk like shots. Some are thick concoctions that are meant to be sipped and go down slowly, leaving you feeling utterly full by the time you're done. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and even with my pile of ARCs staring me in the face, their publication dates fast approaching, I'm still allowed to take my time if it means really experiencing this story the way it was meant to be told.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Almost: Anomaly

Anomaly by Krista McGee (Anomaly #1)
Thomas Nelson, 2013

*ARC received at ALA Annual Conference - Thank You!*

The premise for Krista McGee's dystopian/science-fiction novel Anomaly, the first in a planned series, blew me away. However, I quickly learned that this book was almost, but not quite, what the description said it was.

Thalli is growing up in a world post-nuclear war, underground, in a society run by scientists and where emotions have been eradicated. Therefore, her very existence is dangerous because she feels deeply and always has. When her secret is discovered, a childhood friend saves her from annihilation and instead she is studied in labs. But are the scientists really the most powerful ones calling the shots, or could Thalli's anomaly actually be part of a much larger plan?

The story was going along really well with an interesting premise and a cast of characters that were each distinct when the novel took a very sharp turn. Insert the surprise: this isn't just a dystopian and science-fiction story, but Christian fiction. Suddenly there's a religious element that changes everything - the tone, the characters, the story as a whole. I found it very hard to enjoy the book, which I otherwise actually really liked, after this for a few reasons.

First of all, I have no problem with Christian fiction or faith-based fiction in general. It's actually very cool to see a world and characters in which faith plays a big part. I was not a fan, however, of how it was handled here. It wasn't just an element of the story - I felt like I was being preached at. This leads to my second criticism which is the fact that this was Christian fiction was essentially hidden. Nowhere on my ARC when describing genre/content was this mentioned. Had the publisher been forthcoming about this element, I would have gone into this with the proper mindset and known what was coming. Another option could have been for the religious aspect to be handled as an allegory instead which I believe would have been stronger in the context of this incredibly vivid and well-planned world McGee created.

If you are seeking a story that combines Christianity with popular dystopian and science-fiction tropes, then McGee's Anomaly is absolutely for you. I liked the blurb on the back, but unfortunately the way the religious parts of the text were inserted and handled resulted in this novel not being my particular cup of tea.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Krista McGee's Website