The 15 of 2015

23 12 2015

I didn’t read much this year. For the first time in 5 years I didn’t reach my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I know, fuck goodreads a2015-04-01 16.00.31nd reading challenges, but I like to keep track of my reading and setting a challenge on Goodreads is the easiest way for me to do this. So, not a lot of quality reading time this year and even less time to keep up this blog of course.

Despite all that, here are my favorite 15 books of 2015 in alphabetical order (by author’s last name):

  • Mosquitoland (David Arnold): I’m a sucker for road trip books.
  • Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates): if you haven’t read this, why the hell not?
  • Zita the Spacegirl (Ben Hatke): kid and me loved this series.
  • The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (Ben Hatke): 3rd of the trilogy and very sad to reach the end of the series. We have now begun reading Cleopatra in Space and the Amulet series together.
  • I Crawl Through It (A.S. King): bold, beautiful and completely wacky, but very readable.
  • The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire (Daniel Kraus): I am still reading this, but it’s so good it would be on this list anyway
  • Perfectly Good White Boy (Carrie Mesrobian): not the first book I read of Mesrobian (that was Sex and Violence), but this is my favorite of hers.
  • Cut Both Ways (Carrie Mesrobian): Carrie is my new fake girlfriend.
  • I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson): a good (yet predictable in hindsight) Printz winner. That being said, I really loved this book.
  • Challenger Deep (Neal Shusterman): hard man, very hard, but so good. I hope this gets some Printz love.
  • The Alex Crow (Andrew Smith): So pertinent. And also read this here.
  • Stand Off (Andrew Smith): Do I need to explain? Really? Do I? Okay: the Abernathy. Plus: Middle Grade spin off?
  • Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel): thank you, Janna Rosenkranz for the tip.
  • We All Looked Up (Tommy Wallach): Some good old fashioned apocalyptic fun. Brilliant!
  • The Martian (Andy Weir): never has a science-y book been more fun.

 

 

 

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March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)

Non-fiction

IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)

Standalones

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?

 

 





Read in January and February 2015

22 02 2015

It’s an absolute disgrace, but I haven’t read much this year so far. Here’s a brief overview:

The crossover by Kwame Alexander, which won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, in which 6 transgender teens tell their stories. I didn’t read much Middle Grade last year so I can’t say whether The crossover was “the best” MG of 2015. It was certainly different (told mostly in verse) and a punch in the gut. I liked this better than He Said, She Said, but I wasn’t wild about it either. It was good,… but not *wow* good for me. *** 1/2

Beyond Magenta, on the other hand: an eye-opener. Definitely worth that Stonewall Honor Award. ****

2015-02-10 10.40.46

The Alex Crow by the inimitable Andrew Smith. Yet again we get so many stories in one and yet again, Andrew Smith managed to pull everything together at the end.Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write a real review of this one. Maybe when it comes out (I read the ARC), I’ll re-read and write that review then. ****

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, a story of disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights in the Second World War. This was really well-told non-fiction. I can’t wait to read Bomb, now! ****

2015-02-22 19.19.22

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi, the love story of 2 teenagers in modern-day Afghanistan. It pains me to say this because I really “like” the story and the topic of this book, and I thought the way Atia Abawi told her story of living in Afghanistan for 5 years was really fascinating…but the writing style of this book feels a bit amateur. It’s very ‘in your face’, almost portraying black-and-white figures, rather than the ‘complexity’ of the people that Atia Abawi refers to in the acknowledgments and the way she talked about it at NCTE. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.40Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. BIG disappointment. It has all the signs of a writer of “adult” fiction trying to write YA and thinking they need to ‘dumb it down’ somehow. Blèh… hate it when that happens. * 1/2

BTW, I didn’t know that Meg Wolitzer actually wrote “adult literary fiction” before I finished this book. So yeah, this one is a fail for me.

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: a very typical Telgemeier book. Sweetly drawn and with a recognizable story, albeit somewhat ‘short’. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.07

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, and with drawings of his son Brendan. A story of mental illness. A very harsh and confrontational read, but excellent to get an insight into the mind of so many people (teenagers especially) who suffer from mental illness. This book by Shusterman impressed me more than his Unwind series. ****

2015-02-10 09.28.05

Also read in January:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – which I actually liked a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a sweet romance but really well done. *** 1/2

Reading now:

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos and with the kid, I am reading the Zita the Spacegirl series. Really great!

2015-02-11 09.27.29

 





Read in November 2014

3 12 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in November. I also don’t have the time right now for more than sketchy impressions of the books I read, rather than the full reviews they rightfully deserve. So here goes nothing…

Power books by power women, or also: books that will kick your ass as they rightly should:

GloryOBrien

 1) Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (by A.S. King aka the most missed author at NCTE/ALAN 2014)

I really hope to write a longer review of this, because this book and this author so deserves all the praise! This is a veritable horror story too. And can I be shallow and say how much I love my signed copy? Look at it!! But seriously. Read this!ASKingNCTE2014

4 stars (but really, it already has 6 starred reviews!)

2) The Truth about Alice (by Jennifer Mathieu)

There’s definitely an overarching theme in my November reads and that is cruelty. In this particular case, it’s cruelty in the guise of ‘slut shaming’. The Truth about Alice is Jennifer Mathieu’s debut YA novel and I was completely and shamelessly sucked in by it.

I “loved” every bit of this book: the multiple perspectives, the ruthless investigation of stereotyping people (and characters in a book), the way it unflinchingly shows how boys and girls are seen and judged in a completely different light. I also “hated” everything about this book: the way the boys and girls are shown and how stereotypes are reinforced. How some people have (too) loud voices and others don’t have a voice at all.

This is such an important book. For boys and for girls. And not in the least: for the adults raising those boys and those girls.

4 stars

3) Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (by Meg Medina)

This is a book from the heart. It’s not a ‘nice’ story, though. On the contrary, Meg Medina wrote a harsh psychologically layered story about bullying and female relationships. It’s edgy – and I’m not even talking about that title (which, by the way kicks so much ass 😉 – and I’m sure not just girls will identify with Piddy Sanchez or possibly even the mysterious Yaqui Delgado. If there’s one thing that’s abudantly clear after reading this provocative little book then it’s that everyone has a story: the victim, but also the bully, even if we don’t know what that story is, as is the case with Yaqui Delgado. And more than being ‘just another bullying book’, what really stands out is Medina’s great rendering of female relationships.

3.5 stars

Power books by power men

1) Knockout Games (by G.Neri)

Based on true events, comes G. Neri’s Knockout Games. I read this one right before Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and what the two definitely have in common is the violence. This one is a ruthless book. Set in St. Louis it’s all about a knockout club, a group of middle and high school kids who basically get into random violence (knocking out random people on the street for the fun and thrill of it). When Erica is uprooted to St. Louis after her parents’ divorce, she gets mixed up with the game (she’s good with a camera) and its leader, K (Kalvin), the Knockout King.

The narrative and the language are very straightforward. There’s no needless fancy talk, which wouldn’t really fit with the book’s topic anyway. Also like Yaqui Delgado, I see this being liked by a younger audience (Yes, yes, I know: there’s violence. And sex. Bite me). There’s also the same trope of the outsider trying to fit in, which that age group really seems to appreciate a lot. In this case, the protagonist is the white Erica who moves to a predominantly African American neighborhood and who’s trying to keep her head above water after her parents’ divorce.

3 stars

nctereads1

2) He Said, She Said (by Kwame Alexander)

This is described as a ‘hip hop’ novel and the language use of esp. the male protagonist Omar or T-Diddy (I did the same eye-rolling as the female protagonist!) in the book also reflects this. However, I can’t really say I was into it all that much. I also don’t like hip hop, so maybe it’s that. The story is too stereotypical for my taste: a good looking star football player (a real “player” too, of course) and a studious and responsible girl. Of course they’re destined to meet. Mixed in with this tale of destined yet too good to be true romance is a fight for social justice at the local high school.

I don’t know, it’s all very much in your face. I just couldn’t see past the shallowness of it all (maybe that’s the point?) and I just like my stories more nuanced and my characters with a lot more depth.

2.5 stars

Graphic novels:

1)  The Silence of our Friends (by Mark Long)

This graphic novel – also drawn by Nate Powell – is another (historical) graphic novel/memoir in the same vein as March Book One. It’s not quite as powerful as March Book One, but I can see this being liked a lot by my reluctant readers who’re really into history and the Civil Rights Movement.

3 stars

2) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (by Stephen Collins)

GET THIS BOOK NOW. GET IT! NOW! Absolutely brilliant graphic novel. What can I say? There’s the neat and orderly island of Here. The threat of a chaotic There. And there’s a *gigantic beard*. I repeat: there’s a gigantic beard. What more do you need? Brilliant artwork? It’s all there.

Gigantic Beard 1

Gigantic Beard 2

It’s the ultimate surrealist and eerily honest truth metaphor about the state of man in our current society (unfortunately it’s probably also the ultimate hipster book). This book is  awesome. Did I mention there’s a gigantic beard? That is evil?

5 stars

 

Up next: photo impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014





Read in September 2014

27 09 2014

Due to severe lack of time, here’s a photo impression of recently read books:

  • Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: All the rage in London, so I decided to check it out. It’s not even half bad 😉 Of course, it’s utterly predictable, but it’s an easy read which will please a lot of my reluctant readers. 3 stars
Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

 

  • Michael Grant’s Messenger of Fear: another new series by the author of the Gone series. It’s no Gone, though, but luckily no BZRK or Eve & Adam, both of which I just couldn’t get into. This one shows some promise. Will check out the next book in the series! 3 stars
Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite 'first in a series' flaws. Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite ‘first in a series’ flaws.
Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

 

  • Andre the Giant by Box Brown: a graphic memoir of Andre the Giant. Nice enough, although it lacks some depth. 3 stars
Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

  • The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz: bought this solely because Andrew Smith told me to. Yvonne Prinz tells the tale of a music (vinyl) obsessed girl in Berkely, who works at a legendary music store. Although the (love) story in itself is one I’ve read before, there’s a melancholy sweetness to this book that makes it really hard to resist.  3 stars
The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob's record store, aka Amoeba ;)

The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob’s record store, aka Amoeba 😉

 

 

Currently reading:

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel... will let you know what I think later.

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel… will let you know what I think later.

 

Also, coming soon: a review of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles… (thanks Amy Del Rosso)!

 

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!





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

 

 





The surrealist magic that is Shaun Tan’s mind.

30 03 2014

I’ve known of Shaun Tan for quite a while now without actually reading any of his (picture) books / graphic novels / masterpieces, but it’s only when you actually experience the almost achingly beautiful world of Shaun Tan that you will fully understand what people are raving about. In short, Shaun Tan is a graphic genius, whose imagination just knows no bounds and inspires readers to look beyond the ordinary and into the realm of the surrealist extraordinary.

The Arrival

In The Arrival he tells a tale (the tale) of immigration – completely wordless, yet as poignant as can be. In an extended metaphor – executed to perfection – Shaun Tan shows how an individual experiences arriving and living in a completely alien world. This book should be compulsory reading for any small-minded nationalist in any country around the world.

The Lost Thing

In The Lost Thing, Tan’s book that was adapted into a short film and won the Oscar for Best Animated Shortfilm in 2011, a boy finds a lost thing on the beach and wonders what to do with it. This sounds simple, and it also is, but Tan’s artwork makes this story both funny and dark, incredibly meaningful and absurd, and ultimately deliciously layered and complex.

The Red Tree

The Red Tree is nothing short of brilliant. A girl wakes up, feeling sad, lonely and desperate. In the most poetic of ways (look for the red leaf…) Tan and the girl show us what happens in those dark moments of self-doubt and helplessness… until… and this you have to see and read for yourself. This is an absolutely fantastic picture book.

Below are just a few examples of Shaun Tan’s brilliance:

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