Sunday, September 29, 2013

A New Voice: All The Truth That's In Me

All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
Viking Juvinille, 2013

*e-ARC provided by publishing company via NetGalley - Thank You!*

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend went missing from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith came back with half her tongue cut out. In the time since her return, she's been shunned by her mother and is mostly ignored by the town, but when events unfold Judith must make a choice: she can continue to live like a ghost among the living or she can reclaim her place, her voice, and finally reveal the truth she's been carrying around for so long.

Berry's novel is unlike any book I've encountered before. In the most obvious way, it's told in 2nd person, as readers quickly learn these diary entries/letters are being addressed not to the reader necessarily, but to Lucas, the boy that Judith has been in love with her entire life. It took a while to get used to, but after a while it became less jarring. It's also a sparse novel when it comes to its style and prose - entries are often short, sometimes only a paragraph or two, sometimes flashbacks - yet they carry with them incredible weight and paint a strong picture. Berry doesn't say some things outright - I got the very strong impression that Judith was growing up in Puritan New England, but that is never explicitly stated. Also, the men of Roswell Station go to battle, but I wasn't quite sure against who or why. Perhaps I was reading so quickly - despite some of my misunderstandings, I was very easily caught up in this story - that I missed some of these details along the way. If you are a fan of novels in verse, you will probably find this style to your liking.

This novel is a gentle blending of genres in a way. It's part historical, part mystery as readers don't discover what Judith knows for a while. If you stick with it, you may be surprised as I was. I know the truth wasn't what I was expecting.

In short, I was intrigued by this book, but it was a one-time read for me. It was interesting to see a story told in such a different way, and I appreciate the courage it took to make that stylistic choice.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Julie Berry's Website
Julie Berry on Twitter

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday Words: Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is in full swing, starting on September 22nd and lasting until the 28th. What is this week all about? It's a celebration of the freedom to read, to have texts and materials from a variety of viewpoints and genres available for people so they can make the choice for themselves if they want to read them or not rather than those materials being restricted and having that option taken away. And of course when you're talking about challenging or removing books, things can get a little heated.

Last week, I set up a display in the school library where I work. At the same time, I also put together a graphic of some book covers of commonly challenged books along with a few quotes from actual challenges people filed against these titles. I put it on my personal Tumblr account, hoping other people might find it interesting or useful and didn't really think too much of it because not much of what I put online gets a whole lot of notice, usually. You can see it here.

So imagine my shock when at the time of writing this post, that graphic had over 28,000 notes on Tumblr. On the one hand, I'm so excited to see so many people responding to Banned Books Week and my work, but I'll admit that some of the many, many comments people have had on it do make me pause.

Especially among teens, I find Banned Books Week to be a great celebration. They're at an age where they like being able to finally make choices, and the books you choose to read at that age can potentially shape the rest of your life. Also, what better way to get people to read something than to tell them "someone out there doesn't want you to read this. In fact they think that so much, they wish we didn't even have it in the library for you." The books fly off the shelf, and suddenly there's a new appreciation for the titles on the list that are also required reading in English classes.

What Banned Books Week is NOT about, though, is anger. It's not about calling other people ignorant or stupid or wrong. It's okay to not love every book on this extensive list, nor should people feel compelled to read all of them because they believe in the right to choose. You can choose to read it, but you can also choose not to. And that's okay. Read what's right for you. What Banned Books Week is about is having materials available so your book, whatever it may be, will be there for you. Most people who challenge books do have good intentions, but so do the librarians who insist on keeping materials.

So here's to celebrating fREADom and may your week be an educational one! Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bucket Lists and Big Attitudes: Goodbye, Rebel Blue

Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell
Amulet, Expected Release Date: October 1, 2013

*ARC provided by NetGalley - Thank you!*

Rebecca "Rebel" Blue has never fit in and has always had trouble with the rules. She does what she wants and because she believes she is in control of her own life. Blue believes this so much that she even takes on a crazy task and seeks to complete the bucket list of a recently deceased classmate just to show that her life is determined by choice, not chance. What Blue doesn't expect is for how these choices and each item on the list changes how she sees the world, what she believes about people, and how she fits into a much bigger picture.

Goodbye, Rebel Blue is one of those cases where I had no idea what I was getting into, but I'm so happy to have given this story a shot. Rebel is confident in who she is and what she wants. On the outside, it looks like she invites being ostracized and prefers being alone. And maybe she does, but not for the reasons she or other people think. As the novel progresses, readers are learning about Rebel at the same time that she's learning new things about herself. What starts out as a way to honor a dead girl she only knew in life for two hours in detention becomes a gritty journey where her biggest enemy is herself. She tells it like she thinks it is, and I admired that (while simultaneously cringing some times, but that's the point!) She considers huge questions, she feels deeply, and she has incredible growth as a character. She's not always likable, she's rarely the nicest person, but I was rooting for her nonetheless. There's a little Rebel in all of us, that part of our soul we wish we could let out, take the filter off, and burst forth. She's 'barefoot in a world that wears shoes' and you don't need to have blue hair like she does to know what that feels like. I could identify with her almost every step of the way and I'm 'old enough' to know better.

The bucket list forces Rebel to interact with all different kinds of people, and these characters are all just as interesting, scared, twisted, troubled, and wanting as much as she is, each in their own way. Rebel's detention buddy-turned-unlikely-friend Macey was a particular favorite of mine. She and Rebel couldn't be more different, but their struggles make them a great pair. Nick, the good boy Rebel also forms a friendship (and more) with is her polar opposite, and they widen each other's worlds in great and scary ways. The novel is well balanced in terms of Rebel's time: the amount of time spent with family vs. at school vs. extra curriculars and how it feels like she's always being pulled in a million different directions was realistic and reminded me a lot of my high school experience.

All in all, I couldn't be happier that I've read this book. I actually can't wait for it to come out so I can order it for my school and share it with my students. If you liked Thirteen Reasons Why or are looking for a contemporary story that's got salt in the wound but still has hope, Goodbye, Rebel Blue is a perfect choice.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Shelley Coriell's Website
Shelley Coriell on Twitter

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Words: The Your Life in Books Tag

My world as a booktuber continues to expand via the world of video tags. Here's another one in which I share a little bit about my life via the books on my shelves.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Knowledge and Nightmares: The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #2)
Scholastic, Expected Release Date: September 17, 2013

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

If you thought that Maggie Stiefvater pulled out all the stops in The Raven Boys last year, hang on to your hats. You ain't seen nothing yet - just wait until you take on The Dream Thieves, book two in planned four book series The Raven Cycle. I'll try to keep Raven Boys spoilers to a minimum, but you have been warned!

This book picks up right where readers left off as the hunt for long-dead Welsh king Glendower continues, but the stakes have been raised now that a dark secret has been revealed. While The Raven Boys spends a lot of time focusing especially on Blue and the psychic women that make up her household, then The Dream Thieves is Ronan Lynch's book. Readers learn about his past, his family, the nightmares that plague him, and the truth about how he plays a much bigger role in finding Glendower than just being Gansey's friend.

Everyone is going through changes in this installment, and no one is safe. I loved seeing how the relationships between Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah continue to evolve from the first book, and new characters come into play as well. Readers are introduced to Joseph Kavinsky - another Aglionby boy who makes Ronan's brand of dangerous look downright tame - and the Gray Man - a mysterious fellow looking for the Lynch brothers.

Stiefvater's writing style is an acquired taste that isn't for everyone. I'm not sure if I would have read it when I was younger, but the books of hers that I've read so far seem to suit me now. It's often dark and eerie, and her talent for imagery blows me away page after page. She toys with your emotions as often as possible, so much so that by the end of this book I was at a total loss for words. Every voice is distinct, every scene counts, and every single word matters in putting together this story. Weird is wonderful in this case. I had to take my time reading this book (I made the mistake of rushing with book one and ended up confused) and as a result, I was fully able to appreciate this fantastical world Stiefvater is bringing to life.

Also, thanks to this book, this happened:

So if you are in the mood for a fantasy that blends history, the supernatural, the unexplainable, fast cars, Latin, psychics, new loves, lost loves, kisses, almost kisses, nightmares and new wonders, then The Dream Thieves is absolutely the book for you. Stiefvater pushes imagination and this cast to the brink, then goes over the edge in a spectacular fashion.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Maggie Stiefvater's Website
Maggie Stiefvater on Twitter
Maggie Stiefvater on Tumblr

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday Words: 12 Septembers

I don't remember what I ate for dinner last night. I couldn't tell you what I did after work on Monday without really sitting and thinking about it for a minute. It would probably take me a while to name the last five books I've read, too (but more because I read a lot). But I can tell you as clear as day that 12 years ago, I was wearing blue jeans with a new shirt my aunt had just gotten for me for my 13th birthday which I thought looked especially great with my new short haircut. I was getting my clarinet out of my pint-sized locker for 3rd period 8th grade band when a guy in my class said that someone was attacking the World Trade Center and we said that was a really sick twisted kind of joke to say. But then instead of going to band, I was ushered into Mrs. Arnold's classroom where I wasn't supposed to be until 4th period for Algebra. We were there because the news was on and a building was burning and we watched a plane fly into the second tower.

Twelve Septembers later, the world is a drastically different place, yet a lot is still the same. Today I woke up and went to school, only I'm not the student anymore. I sat at my desk and wrestled my long hair into a bun and got to the business of helping my students find books to fall in love with. I watched the images from my youth on the news in passing online and on TV, and us adults of the building were all measurably less jovial than usual. Meanwhile, the students who were all very quiet and respectful during the national moment of silence, had no memories to ponder - most of them were toddlers or infants on that day. Their afternoon and mine consisted of figuring out how to make a TARDIS out of cardboard boxes as part of their homecoming decorations.

I think now about all the hundreds of books I've read in the past 12 years, how those stories and the events of September 11, 2001 have changed me and my way of looking at the world. Times that the leaves have turned, fallen, and come again. And while it's easy to get caught up with the stories we haven't read or written yet, I think it's important to look back at history, full of its truths far stranger, sadder, and more impossible than the wildest fictions, and remember.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Horrors of History: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, Expected Release Date: September 10, 2013

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

The saying goes that truth is often stranger than fiction, but in her most recent novel - a companion to her award winning, New York Times best-selling Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein's piece of fiction gives insight to the horrors of modern history in Rose Under Fire.

Told through journal entries, letters, and poems, this book shares the story of Rose Justice, an American girl who finished high school early so she could come to England and help with the war effort by flying planes, delivering them for the ATA (Air Transport Auxilary). She dreams of doing more and wants to be a fighter pilot, but what she wants changes quickly when she is captured by the Nazis and sent to the notorious women's concentration camp, Ravensbrück. Rose sees true bravery and finds friendship among her fellow prisoners, but how can that be enough to endure this nightmare she's trapped in?

While World War II is probably one of the most popular time periods that gets explored in historical fiction, I've never seen it looked at through this particular lens. When people think of concentration camps, of course it is right to think of the thousands of victims of genocide and the Holocaust, Rose is classified as a political prisoner. Wein has clearly done her homework with this story - the details were gruesome and left little to the imagination when showcasing extreme starvation, uninhabitable living conditions, and disgusting medical experimentation just to name a few. But Rose doesn't hide, mostly because there's nowhere to hide, but also because there is a drive in her that never felt corny or disingenuous. She felt real. She felt raw. I clutched my stomach and forced myself to keep reading because she had to keep going, too. The inclusion of facts was seamlessly woven into the fiction so it never reads like a history book but instead feels like looking in a window.

To the horror of many I know in the book/library/reading/writing world, I haven't read Code Name Verity yet. I was assured by the publisher when I got this at ALA 2013 that these are companion novels, not sequels, and since they can stand on their own, readers don't have to worry about reading them in the order they were published. You can be assured, however, that I will absolutely be revisiting Wein's extraordinary writing in Verity. If you are looking for a book that is a heartbreakingly honest look at WWII or historical fiction that sticks to reality - no over the top romances or any elements of the paranormal here - then pick up this book as soon as you can. For men and women, high schoolers and up, this is a book that demands your full attention and deserves every second of it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Elizabeth Wein's Website
Elizabeth Wein on Twitter

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday Words: Book Shuffle

I was recently tagged for the first time on YouTube! Nat over at the channel PickleHeartsBooks picked me to do the Book Shuffle Tag. How it works is you put your music on shuffle and for the first five songs that come up, you have to think of books that go with them. Check out what I picked!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Museums and Mysteries: Starry Nights

Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney
Bloomsbury, Expected Release Date: September 3, 2013

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

Daisy Whitney tries her hand at magical realism in her fourth novel, Starry Nights.

Meet Julien, a Parisian teen who spends his days giving tours at the Musee d'Orsay. He loves art - always has - and his life changes when the subjects of the paintings start to leave their canvases and come to life at night. With the help of some friends old and new, Julien discovers the art is reacting to Clio, a real girl who Renoir cursed and trapped in a painting. As Julien and Clio fall in love while the famous paintings of the world start to fade, the young pair must choose between the greatest loves of their life: the art, or each other?

The strongest point of this novel was the descriptions of the art and art history. As someone who loves the Impressionist era almost as much as Julien, I appreciated this, and readers can trust that Whitney knows what she's talking about here: she got her degree in art history from Brown University.

Yet for a relatively short book, there's a lot going on. While all the pieces were there for me (I love art, Europe, museums, and Whitney's previous works), for me this story didn't quite hit the spot. Not only is art coming to life, but there's the mystery of Clio's painting, questions of a forger, elements of Julien's school life, his friends, and a whole other slew of things I don't want to spoil on top of a love story that was very, very fast. I also didn't feel like I knew some of these characters or places very well. It took me a while to realize Julien is French, if I'm honest, and though there was a lot of talk of French food, I never felt like I got a strong sense of Paris.

One aspect that strikes me the most about this book is how it's being pitched as magical realism when, to me, this is much more in line with the fantasy genre. In my reading experience, magical realism is when one aspect of reality is changed, often without explanation. However, here there were a lot of rules. Julien has a gift and he can't explain where it comes from, sure, but then there was a whole mythology that made it all feel more like a fantasy or perhaps supernatural.

If you are looking for a quick read with quirky characters, nights at museums, love, and an edge of mystery and mythology, then Starry Nights is probably a book you will really enjoy. The novel is very clearly a love letter to art, especially the Impressionists, and that comes through with every page. I liked this book enough for a fast one-time read, and if it sounds interesting to you, I'd say check to see if your library has a copy you can borrow should the mood strike.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Daisy Whitney's Website
Daisy Whitney on Twitter