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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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.

2015-01-16 07.35.17

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 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!





Girls, girls, girls… (Fat Angie, Fangirl & Doll Bones)

7 04 2014

Doll Bones (By Holly Black)

Doll BonesIt’s a fact universally acknowledged that porcelain dolls are exceptionally creepy. From Holly Black – of The Spiderwick Chronicles, Modern Faerie Tales and much much more fame – I expected nothing if not a creepy old tale of a superweird doll scaring the bejeezus out of me. In that respect I didn’t get what I came for, because rather than a scary story, we’re actually getting a fairly standard middle grade road trip ‘adventure’ story of 3 friends, Zach, Poppy and Alice, who want to lay the bones of this creepy little doll to rest.

Maybe I just went into this with the wrong expectations, but I thought it was all fairly safely played and written, especially when it comes to the characterization of the three protagonists. This reads like an adventure book about friendship, but the characters making up that friendship aren’t pronounced enough to be wholly successful. Holly Black also merely touches upon some of the family dynamics, making this novel to only scratch the surface of much deeper things and in that respect, I think Doll Bones and Holly Black missed a few opportunities.

3 stars

 

Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell)

FangirlLast year’s hit sensation was definitely Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (for a variety of reason, not in the least that it’s just a really great book!). So when Fangirl came out, I got an e-ARC, but didn’t get around to reading it BECAUSE I JUST HATE READING STUFF ON A SCREEN. Anyway, I finally got a hold of a print copy and… was disappointed with the outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the concept of fandoms. Hell, I belonged to the X-Files Fandom way back when. Yes, that’s before the Harry Potter Fandom, on which Fangirl’s Simon Snow Fandom is obviously based. The main problem I have with the Fandom stuff in the book is that it’s all.so.incredibly.boring. Seriously, there’s nothing exciting whatsoever about the characters that Cath, the protagonist is obsessed with, Simon and Baz. Rowell introduces every chapter with extracts from either the ‘actual’ Simon Snow books, or with an extract from Cath’s fanfiction, but after one or two of those, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually read them anymore, because: SOoooo Boooooring.

This leaves the other aspect of this novel – which is obviously not just about fandoms and fangirling, namely the character part and Cath growing up into college as her own person and not an appendage of her twin sister Wren, and/or out of the fandom. There are a whole bunch of minor characters around Cath (like her twin sister Wren, the love interest Levi, her roommate, the writing partner Nick, her bipolar dad, etc. etc.), but I’d argue that also on this front Fangirl can’t bring what Eleanor & Park brought: real characters I could root for.

Add to that that this book is a way way too long (+400 pages) and dragged all the way until the end, which was then completely rushed, and you can safely say that I thought Fangirl was a big disappointment. I missed spunk in the main character, I missed sparks in the romance, and I missed guts in the writing.

2.5 stars

 

Fat Angie (by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)

fatangieSpunk and sparks is not something I missed in e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s Fat Angie. And I’m sorry, Simon Snow Fandom, but a Buffy mention in the first couple of pages of any book will bring a smile onto my face, even if the main character of said book has to go through the worst of things on a daily basis: extreme bullying, a shitty home life… When KC Romance walks into Fat Angie’s life, things are looking up, even though Angie at first doesn’t really know how to react to a person who genuinely seems to want to be friends with her, rather than kick her when she’s down.

Fat Angie was one of the two winners of the 2014 Stonewall Book Award, along with Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Unlike that book, Fat Angie definitely has more literary spunk and where I felt Cronn-Mills’s book was first and foremost “an issues book about a very important topic that needed to be told”, to me  Fat Angie is an actual good book as well, regardless of topic or issues dealt with.

3.5 stars

 





Maggot Moon (by Sally Gardner) – Carnegie Medals and Printz Honors and all that.

16 02 2014

maggotmoonMaggot Moon is a book you “have to” like. It would be considered a) bad taste, b) having no heart and c) “not knowing your stuff”, if you don’t like this book. Well, that’s just not how it works with the cat. Yes, this book won both the Carnegie Medal and a Printz Honor, which should mean a lot, I guess, but I don’t find it a particularly “likable” book. Is this a good book? Yes, for sure because it definitely has more than its share of literary and other merits (it’s “well done”), but I can’t say that I “liked” it very much. And this for the very simple reason that the connect between protagonist, Standish Treadwell, and me, the reader, just wasn’t there.

Maggot Moon is that novel that would be hard to categorize at first. Is it a historical novel? Yes and no. Is it a dystopian novel? Yes and no again to that. Semi-historical ‘alternate outcome of history’ dystopian adventure story would be a good way to describe its setting. The year is… not mentioned for a long time, until you finally learn that it’s 1956. Before that, what you did know is that Standish lives in a society that’s dividing its people into Pure and Impure and people like Standish and his Gramps end up in Zone 7, the zone designated for outcasts and impures. Standish could be living in any totalitarian regime that won a war, but saying he lives in an age in which Nazi Germany “won” the war wouldn’t be a stretch. Almost starving, doing the best he can to survive, Standish goes to a school where the kids are treated brutally. Standish has found solace in the one true friend he’s made, Hector. That is, until something happens and Hector disappears. Standish’s story is also the story of a the race to the moon, the race between important nations that want to put the first man on the moon, and of course the Motherland has gone all-in in this too.

Maggot Moon is lauded almost universally because of its very distinct narrative voice. Standish has a (learning) disability. Although this is not explicitly stated in the book, reading one interview with (or listening to) Sally Gardner and you know the authorial intent here was to give Standish the voice of someone who has dyslexia. In the book this is cause for him to be called ‘stupid’ by a.o. his brutish teacher because he can’t read and write the way a 15-year-old is supposed to, and it’s in part the reason why he lives in Zone 7. That and the fact that he has heterochromia, an “affliction” the cat also “suffers” from. This, obviously is not a serious illness or anything, it just makes you stand out. It’s also one hell of a conversation stopper, you could be in the midst of a conversation with someone and then they’d just stop mid-sentence exclaiming: “You’ve got two different eyes.”  Is this a rare thing? Well, that depends. About 6 in 1000 may have a very mild case of heterochromia iridum , while the things that Standish has (very distinctive, one eye blue, the other brown) would be considered “very rare” (I read numbers of about 2 in a million but also “less than 200 000 people in the US”). Anyway, in Standish’s world it could very well be just one more sign of impurity and a reason to fear for your life. Anyway, the point of view is ‘unique’ in that the reader experiences everything through the (very polished prose, I might add) of a kid with a learning disability. This point of view leads to awkward phrasing sometimes, but also – obviously – to near poetic language because Standish has a very unique way of seeing things in his head. It’s just the words that come differently to him, which means you get metaphors like “doubt is a great worm in a crispy, red apple” or the beating of Standish’s heart is like “an egg bumping against the side of a pan of boiling water.” Yes, that’s all very nice and poetic.  And yes, I do recognize the literary quality of all of this.

But at the same time I cannot shake the feeling that there’s almost too much authorial presence here: it’s Sally Gardner writing pretty sentences, and writing short concise chapters, and making you believe that this is how Standish thinks and experiences everything. In other words, I couldn’t really go along with the “this is Standish’s voice”. To me it felt more like “this is Sally Gardner showing us that Standish thinks and speaks like this”. That being said, I do recognize the “quality” of this book even though it prevented me from fully getting into the book.

And then there are the illustrations in the margins (the rats, the maggots etc.)… a nice find, yes, but absolutely not developed enough, I thought. This part of the book could have made this book stellar (no pun intended)  and then it would have had a much greater impact (think A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay). Now, I felt myself not really looking at them anymore after a few chapters… a mere distraction, rather than an integral part of the story, which I personally think they could (should) have been.

Maggot Moon is a book that is destined to have mass appeal, lots of cross-over potential here… It’s a book for people who loved A curious incident of the dog in the night-time and Wonder. It’s a book for people who like dystopian novels and a book for people who love historical World War II novels.  It’s also a book that I can see ‘grown-ups’ telling their kids they should read (and like). For the cat it’s a book that does have its literary merits but that has some definite flaws as well, flaws which prevented me to fully ‘get’ or ‘like’ this book.





Picture me gone (by Meg Rosoff)

5 01 2014

picturemegoneThe blurb of this book does its job perfectly! Luring people into thinking you will get a brilliantly crafted mystery with a (young) teen with a uncommon gift, all in the typical Meg Rosoff style (like the lack of quotation marks for dialogue)…  But never have I been cheated more by a blurb of a book than with this one. Maybe that’s the point, though: thinking you will get a mystery, but instead getting a story of an obviously intelligent yet naive girl (I mean, Mila is 12 and a half…and yes that surprised me!) who has to find out for the first time in her life what it means to be lied to and cheated by the grown-ups in her life. A cheat within a cheat within a cheat… But, I can’t but feel disappointed in this (slender) little book. The misleading blurb aside, I also feel disappointed in what the story turned out to be: the so-called search for her father’s friend who’s suddenly disappeared doesn’t make sense at all! But most of all I didn’t buy Mila’s voice, and that’s the whole conundrum right there.

It’s obvious that Mila has a keen awareness and sense of her surroundings. The way she describes what a house tells her about its inhabitants, the way she can tell how a person feels, that a person is pregnant rather than just tired, it all has a creepy vibe to it too, obviously, which is both intriguing and alienating at the same time. It’s also evident that she must be quite the intelligent 12-year-old and I totally buy that this type of 12-year-old child exists, even though Mila reads like she’s 45 rather than 12. But what I didn’t buy specifically is that Mila repeatedly mentions that she can read her surroundings (so far so good), but also says that she cannot tie the clues together, which doesn’t make sense if the premise of your whole story is that we are dealing with a gifted child and your gifted child is the narrator of your story. Mila says for instance very early on in the novel: “I have a keen awareness of where I am and what I’m doing at all times. I am not given to dreaminess, I have a terrier’s determination. If there is something to notice, I will notice it first.” (p. 3) If that is in fact true, then saying you can’t tie the clues together is some serious lack of consistency here.  Unfortunately, this is also what made it really hard to connect with the protagonist of this novel and there’s nothing worse than a lack of connection when you’re reading.

Which brings me to the obvious conclusion and that is that Picture Me Gone has actually reinforced my previous idea about Meg Rosoff’s books: it’s a case of “It’s me, not you…”. I had this feeling with How I Live Now as well, even though I couldn’t really put my finger (paw) on it, gave her another shot with What I Was, but now…  The closest I get to describe what I feel about Rosoff and her novels is that I somehow sense this whole ‘aura’, which is some sort of magical disorientation but very much done on purpose. We’re constantly reminded (in the writing style, in the choice of character, etc.) that there’s something more to these books than what we read. It’s like her books are quietly shouting out at you: “Don’t you get it? There are layers and layers here, and there are metaphors. And look here: Gil’s a translator, this is MEANINGFUL. DON’T YOU GET IT????” And then I’m like: “Sorry, I must be missing something…”  Maybe I’m just like Mila claims to be: I see all the pieces of the puzzle right there in front of me, but I can’t actually make the puzzle. I’m missing that very last crucial piece: purpose and direction.

Also, Meg Rosoff likes dogs… and the cat…well, the cat…





The year 2013 in reading

22 12 2013

Sometime during summer the cat thought 2013 would be a really weak reading year. And there have been some major disappointments and some serious stinkers this year, for sure. I didn’t care for Allegiant (the last in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series). I definitely thought Lauren Myracle’s The Infinite Moment of Us was the biggest disappointment of 2013. I thought Melvin Burgess’s The Hit totally stank. I honestly don’t understand how people could rate books like Where She Went or Virtuosity more than, “Mèh, they’re OK…-ish.”

But, more than anything the books I read in 2013 have convinced me that there’s one thing I just can’t take anymore and that’s… mediocrity. I absolutely hate it when it seems like there’s no effort in the book I’m reading. And most of all, I want to see personality in the words I’m reading, I don’t just want to see craftsmanship (although it’s a big plus, obviously!), I want to see balls! I want to read character – not as in a well-rounded character or protagonist (although, again, that’s obviously a major plus), but as in: show me what you’ve got, show me your stuff, show me your fucking talent! Take a risk, don’t play it safe and show me you care. Your book doesn’t have to be perfect, but I want to see you care. I want to see authenticity and honesty and intellect in the writing. I want you to be an author, not just a writer. If that makes me a book snob, then so be it.

I absolutely loathe carelessness and disinterest when it comes to the book I’m reading. If you only write half a character, then don’t put that character into your book. If you only have half a plot, or dozens of half-assed developed plots, then cut them short and focus on the essential. If you show me fake sentiment, cheap thrills, or go for the lowest common denominator I really don’t care much about what you write. If you write a book because that’s what people happen to do these days or because they want to sit at the cool kids’ table, or if you write a book because a book packager has this great idea of what will work and sell, I cannot take you seriously.

So… on to 2013 and the books and authors that passed the one and only true feline test of authenticity! (books published in 2013 will be indicated in bold)

For the cat 2013 was absolutely the year of Andrew Smith, no question about it… I read all his 6 published books in 2013, starting with The Marbury Lens in February and ending with (his debut) Ghost Medicine in October. An absolutely highpoint was Winger in June. But also Passenger, Stick and In the Path of Falling Objects showed me the talent of a true author: fierce and intense, an authentic voice amidst an ocean of average wannabes. He does not always turn out ‘perfect’ books, but they always – always – make an indelible impression. I cannot wait for Grasshopper Jungle in February 2014!

If I mention Andrew Smith, I cannot not mention A.S. King, and not just because she pointed me in the direction of Andrew Smith. In October Reality Boy once again proved how she can see through the bullshit and is one of the most – if not the most – open and caring authors out there these days. She rocks and she’s my hero. And she writes like no other. Respect.

I have one book on my bookshelf, unread, that I’m afraid to touch, because I know that if I do, that’s it… I won’t have any left of that author and what will I do then, if I don’t have one of his books to fall back on… The first book to leave me completely drained and shattered this year was Adam Rapp’s 33 Snowfish. Rapp is the master of voice and in 33 Snowfish, stream-of-consciousness is the logical narrative device to carry the characters’ voices, giving the novel a certain cadence and musicality that is unique in YA literature today. Looking back on 2013, I do think that it’s not a big leap from liking Adam Rapp to liking Andrew Smith’s novels, though, in that both go places where very few YA authors dare to go. Again, balls, man, balls! *

One author showed that “Yes, it’s really OK” to have obvious literary ambitions as a YA author, and that’s David Levithan. His Two Boys Kissing was important not just because of its topic, but also because of its narration: daring and poetic. David Levithan definitely showed his talent once again in 2013!

Adam Rapp, Andrew Smith, A.S. King or David Levithan… these people are so good I want to keep them a secret, but I realize that wouldn’t be fair, so if you buy someone a book for Christmas this year, then make it one of their books… but if you have more money to spend, then there are definitely a couple of other authors and books that made 2013 worthwhile reading-wise:

I figured out you can’t go wrong with Chris Crutcher (Deadline, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Whale Talk) or with garden gnomes on book covers (Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes from the Midnight Driver).

I don’t understand why Gregory Galloway’s The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand didn’t get more recognition. Well, I do understand, but I don’t get it… I read two extremely good debuts this year, namely Jesse AndrewsMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Evan RoskosDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets . And Matthew Quick also confirmed this year that he’s so incredibly good at describing feelings of isolation from the world in Please Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock . But he doesn’t revel in the despair but shows what it means not to get stuck in that isolation and hopelessness.

I didn’t read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, this year, but what I read was excellent:

  • Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now, which is MG and YA of course, because Gary D. Schmidt is just absolutely boss and can do no harm. Ever.
  • Anthony McGowan’s Hello Darkness confirmed that McGowan is the funniest British MG and YA writer around these days.
  • Jo KnowlesSee You at Harry’s scores big on integrity and humaneness (although I just noticed, I didn’t write a review of it).
  • Paul Zindel’s The Pigman: how good is this book! Totally withstands the test of time!

 

2013 isn’t over yet, and I’m still reading a few books, but it’s already very obvious that this ‘best of 2013’ or how you want to call it, isn’t the most standard of ‘best of YA lists’ of 2013…** but I don’t care, this is what I read, this is what I like. Take it or leave it.

 

 

*I totally get that I’m not being very woman-friendly here. But then, I don’t want to be PC. Fuck that shit 😉

** Yes, I only have 2 women in my ‘list’, but what women they are!








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