Overdue update (August reads)

5 09 2014

A long overdue update about books read in August.

The disappointments:

  • Crazy (Amy Reed): Even though it gives an insight into a important mental health issue (bipolar disorder), it’s not done very convincingly. The book is told in emails between Connor and Izzy, which is a poor choice of narrative device to tell this particular story, because it gets in the way of real character development and it actually hinders the plot advancement. The result is a fairly predictable course of events. It also doesn’t really help that the main characters are…well… dull.
    2.5 stars
  • California (Edan Lepucki): mCaliforniaore dullness… I got Californa mainly for the Colbert Report / Amazon / Sherman Alexie reason. The hype about this book was huge, it helped Edan Lepucki immensily, but the book itself…meh…I’m not too wild about it. It’s the story of Frida and Cal in a post-apocalyptic world that seems to just be… It looks like something environmental happened, but there’s hardly any world building so it’s all a bit sketchy.
    The main problem with this book though is that it seems thoroughly underdeveloped: the characters are dull and need fleshing out, the plot is not really going anywhere and meanders its way towards a sort of non-conclusion, there’s a lot of talk about actions that have been taken / are being taken but that we never get to experience being taken… if that makes sense? No? Don’t worry, the book itself makes very little sense as well. And nothing gets any sort of satisfying explanation because the reasons mentioned to do something are all so very arbitrary (like the whole Containment – Children bit: doesn’t make sense). A poor man’s The Road, I guess?
    2.5 stars

Onto the better stuff…

Picture book classics

  • Robot Dreams (Sara Varon): a wordless picture book about a dog and his robot-friend. This picture book classicsis a timeless and universal tale of the search and need for finding a connection and friendship. I also adore Sara Varon’s visual style. It’s so soft and easy-looking. My kid loves it as much as I do (Odd Duck is probably my kid’s favorite book).
    4 stars
  • The Dark (by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen): I think Jon Klassen’s Hat-books are a stroke of pure genius, but what he does here with Lemony Snicket is equally brilliant: a variation on a child’s age-old fear: fear of the dark. Really not to be missed!
    4 stars

Great YA books

  • 17 & Gone (Nova Ren Suma): I have to say that me liking this book came as a bit of a surprise. I liked – didn’t love – Imaginary Girls, but 17 & Gone is such a step up from that, in my opinion. Yes, I did guess from the very start what was going on, but despite that I continued to be enthralled by what was going on with Lauren and her visions of the lost girls. The main reason for this is Nova Ren Suma’s lush writing: her sentences are more than words on a page. They’re vibrant and have a sense of urgency that is mesmerizing and just urge you to keep on reading. Definitely the surprise of the summer.
    4 stars
  • We Were Here (Matt de la Peña): I have to say that I have completely fallen for Matt de la Peña’s books. I liked Mexican Whiteboy a whole lot, but I have to admit that I fell a bit in love with We Were Here. We Were Here is about a boy Miguel who’s sent to Juvi for a crime he’s doesn’t reveal, but which obviously haunts him. There he meets 2 ‘companions’ in Mong and Rondell. Three teens, each with baggage aplenty on a ‘road trip’ to Mexico. This story of (especially) Miguel and Rondell is the stuff classics are made of and it’s done so well. We Were Here really made me think of Of Mice and Men, a book that is also referenced in the story. We Were Here really broke my heart in the exact same way as Steinbeck’s classic did. I can’t wait to hear Matt de la Peña speak at NCTE’s Annual Convention in November!
    4.5 stars

 

 





Re-read: As I Lay Dying (by William Faulkner)

18 08 2014

2014-08-18 14.07.14I read this the first time when I was somewhere between 16 and 20, I think. But to be honest, I understood fuck all about it then.

I only re-read it now, several university degrees later and after 2 more decades of reading (none in the least after reading Adam Rapp), and pheww… this book, this author: so far ahead of its/his time: structure, voice, topics, everything is so different from things that came before. And now I can see how much authors that came after him owe Faulkner.
Only now I can place this in the proper context.
What an overpowering book this is.





B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars

 

2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars





London and books.

29 07 2014

The cat went to London and this is what she saw.

After 3-ish days in London and visiting some of the ‘bigger’ book stores (4 Waterstones and 2 Foyles*), it is obvious that what YA is concerned, the ‘world’ will think there are only 4 or so worthwhile books and/or authors (in the “adult” book world it was all about Robert ‘J.K. Rowling’ Gallbraith’s second book, The Silkworm):

  • John Green (The Fault in Our Stars had its own stand in most of the stores, but also his other books get a prominent spot)
  • Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl, Fangirl and Fangirl, and some Eleanor & Park which even had its own “very special edition”)
  • David Levithan (who has his own underground billboards, people! Yay! See photos below.), whose books for some reason have all gotten a ‘John Green Cover Makeover’ What is that all about? Also, Waterstones Picadilly was selling tickets for a David Levithan event in August.
David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

  • Veronica Roth‘s Divergent series, which also has its very own special boxed edition, which included the ‘Four’ vignette-story-thingie.
  • We were liars by E. Lockhart
  • and there’ s a thing there about a series called Geek Girl by Holly Smale.

All that is great for these authors of course, but… the other authors don’t get the attention they deserve, *at all *. Books by so-called lesser known authors, like A.S. King, that I know were still sold a few months back, were just not available now.

Which is why I shamelessly plugged some of these ‘smaller names’ that *were* in the stores, like putting Andrew Smith ‘s Winger next to a stack of Michael Grant ‘s books (see picture below), or making sure a book like The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu was now suddenly next to We Were Liars (which I picked up about 5 times but just put back time and again, btw, it starts with a map and a family tree. I don’t like maps in books.), getting Trish Doller‘ s Where the Stars Still Shine some ‘facetime’ (see picture below), and always, always putting Grasshopper Jungle in plain sight!

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

this book also deserves some facetime

This book also deserves some facetime

... and so does this one.

… and so does this one.

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

So there.

 

But all that doesn’t mean that London doesn’t like books. London does like books, even though ‘they’ may not be very adventurous in their preferences (which of course, is not unlike any other place). They like to keep things fairly traditional, I guess. But yes, London likes to honor its traditions and nowhere was that more clear than in the Books about Town benches, which is really a great initiative and something every major city should do once in a while. Here are a few photos capturing some of that.

 

Clarice Bean - Books about Town

Clarice Bean – Books about Town

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)... and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it's Tim Federle!

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)… and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it’s Tim Federle!

 

And yes, then there was also this little thingie that happened: lunch with Andrew Smith! What was that you said? LUNCH WITH ANDREW SMITH!*

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

AS at HG

 

*Who signed all of my books. So honored he took the time to talk to little old me. What a great and interesting person he is! And he got some fantastic news about Grasshopper Jungle while he was in London: Edgar Wright is to direct the movie!

Andrew Smith signing books

Andrew Smith signing books

 

In other news:

Books I bought while in London:

  • I want my hat back and This is not my hat (by Jon Klassen): both so incredibly witty! Perfect picture books!
  • Lost and found (by Oliver Jeffers): such a sweet picture book about friendship, again I can see why Jeffers’ books are favorites to so many kids and parents alike.
  • The journey home by Frann Preston-Gannon who won the Sendak Fellowship and worked on this book while with Maurice Sendak. This one is a picture book with a clear message about our planet and what we do/have done to it.
  • Brock by Anthony McGowan, the book he wrote for Barrington Stoke and which is ‘a dyslexia friendly’ book. Knowing McGowan’s wit, I really look forward to reading this one.
  • Why we broke up by Daniel Handler.
  • The boy in the smoke, which is Maureen Johnson’s book for World Book Day 2014 – and it’s a story that fits in the Shades of London series.
  • The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian (by Sherman Alexie), which I didn’t own yet.
  • She is not invisible (by Marcus Sedgwick): I am really curious about this one. Midwinterblood obviously won the Printz last year, but I felt it really wasn’t Sedgwick’s strongest book, nor did I think it was ‘the most literary YA book’ of the year or even ‘the best’ book of the year, so I don’t really know what to expect from this one.
great picture books

great picture books

Books I read while in London:

  • Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña: de la Peña is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. This is such a perfect coming-of-age, caught-between-culture story. Excellent stuff.
  • Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle: this is how to do showtime Broadway musical fun. I’m usually quite frustrated with books with that very topic, but not this time: I loved every second of this book. So funny! Can’t wait to see what’s next for Nate in Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

 

* Here is a photo of the new Foyles, by the way:

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross





Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders (by Geoff Herbach)

20 07 2014

Geoff Herbach has a thing with sports and ‘funny’ (intentional or not) male voices. In Stupid Fast, Felton was the boy ‘on the outside’ who suddenly came to the center of attention because of his athletic prowess. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleader, Herbach once again has a look at ‘a boy on the outside’, Gabe ‘Chunk’ Johnson, a fat band geek who – after hearing that funding for summer marching camp is going to the new dance squad – decides to wage the war of the vending machine.

And although this book definitely has a couple of things in common with the Stupid Fast-trilogy, it’s more of a watered down version of ‘the funny’ and ‘the great male voice’ we are getting here – it’s like a Stupid Fast meets Glee ultralight.. And I have to say that I am more than just a bit disappointed.

Stupid Fast – Herbach’s debut – remains the strongest of his novels up to now, and with each consecutive book it seems to me that the narrative element that stood out the most in his debut, namely “the voice”, just gets watered down and doesn’t manage to grab me anymore. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders, we get Gabe’s voice as he is recounting the events that led up to where he is now, namely talking to Mr Rodriguez, an attorney. We’re not actually getting the dialogue here, but just Gabe’s responses, which takes a bit of getting used to at first, but which is just annoying after a good couple of chapters. This type of narration also just seriously stands in the way of actual character development.

The thing that irks me the most about this book, though, is once again the ‘absent’ (mom left) or ‘clueless’ (Gabe’s dad) parent trope. Instead we’re getting a grandfather who used to be a bodybuilder champion, and who serves as the voice of understanding, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve also seen him before in I’m with Stupid.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any interesting things about Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. There’s a thing to be said about the name-calling that goes on (and one of the characters does say it), there’s bullying, there’s a whole lot about the social stratification at high school, there’s something about friendship and shifting allegiances and changes. All that could and should have been combined in a very interesting way, something Geoff Herbach managed to do in his debut, but hasn’t managed to do since in my opinion. Here everything just felt really fluffy and coincidental. All in all, I sincerely hope Herbach finds what’s missing soon, because I definitely loved the pants off of Stupid Fast and I refuse to believe that Geoff Herbach was a one-book wonder!





Read or reading in July

7 07 2014

 

I’ve been buying second (or maybe 3rd or 4th) hand copies of Paul Zindel novels. Confessions of a Teenage Baboon is the first one to arrive. It’s absolutely not what I expected it to be, but I really liked it. It has a ‘hopelessness with a shimmer of hope nonetheless’ that I think must have been rare at the time it was written. It certainly is rare to find nowadays. Also, it amazes me once again how much was possible in the 70s… This is something you also see in TV-series or in movies. Show a boob on TV today and it’s 16+ and a guy who’s smoking is always the bad guy of course. But here there is some really crazy shit going on, which I am sure would land this book on some ‘watchlist’ today. And even though it’s clear that this book wasn’t written today, it’s pretty timeless as well. Good stuff.

Confessions of a teenage baboon

After reading The Free, I’m also on a Willy Vlautin kick. Good thing we have them all lying around here. The Motel Life, Vlautin’s debut is up next.

The Motel Life





Books and … nails…

29 06 2014

So one of my teacher-colleagues gave me this nail art pencil set to thank me for stuff and because we both envy the mad nail art skillz of many of our students. Beginning of summer vacation, so I thought I would try it out. This is the result. From now on nails will match the books I read (if I have the patience and the colors to match the book…), starting with Andrew Smith‘s Grasshopper Jungle.

The greens are called Funky Lime and Pearly Apple.  The grasshopper antennae are done with just straight up Black and Silver Sparkles.








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