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! ****

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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





100 Sideways Miles (by Andrew Smith)

5 11 2014

Look: here’s the thing. I don’t know much, but if there is one thing I know, then it is this: Andrew Smith is a 16-year-old boy.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

So, OK, I don’t know what it actually is to be a 16-year-old boy, but I have lived with one for the last 18 years (because grown up men will always be 16-old boys, no matter how old they get) and I made him read[1] 100 Sideways Miles and here’s what he said:

  • Yes, it is fucking ridiculous to pee with a boner (in the morning) – something I had been wondering about for a long time too before I actually dared to ask my 16-year-old boy.
  • Yes, it’s fucking embarrassing to have your best friend buy a pack of condoms for you and people are overhearing the conversation – I guess this is a situation most similar to buying a pregnancy test for your best friend because – even though she claimed that yes, they’d obeyed Cade Hernandez’s number one rule (“Dude. Don’t be a dumb fuck. You have to use a condom. Only dumb fucks don’t use condoms.” (p.138)), ‘the condom broke’ – you now end up at the pharmacy (over-)emphasizing the fact that it is for your best friend, not for you… really, it’s not.
  • Yes, teenage boys think about boners and balls All.The.Time. Also, thinking of boners can give them a boner – but I knew that from Grasshopper Jungle, of course, but still, it’s always good to double-check your facts and sources.

Just this to say that Andrew Smith really gets how much of a teenage boy’s experience is linked to sexuality. How ridiculous would it be if this were not included in a book, featuring a male adolescent protagonist, right?

But I didn’t have to confirm everything with the 16-year-old boy I live with. Here are the things I knew myself:

First, it’s true about the eyes. Just like Finn Easton, I have heterochromatic eyes and just like with Finn, people hardly ever notice it, because they just don’t look. If they do notice and say something about it, it’s usually mid-sentence and a real conversation switcher. Some even think you’re an alien visitor from outer space[2].

Second, Andrew Smith is really really smart. You know how Finn is a boy with some serious problems, right? Not only is he a boy in a book, but he’s also a boy in a book in the book. See what Andrew Smith did there? Look, here’s Finn, he’s a pretty unique boy: he’s got heterochromia, which is pretty rare[3]. But add to that a dead horse fell out of the sky, killing his mother and leaving Finn with a very distinct :|: scar and some nasty seizures, and you get an epilectic with heterochromia. What are the odds, right? So, yeah, our Finn is a pretty unique individual.

But look, the boy in his dad’s book is also called Finn, and that boy in his father’s book also has heterochromia and a :|: scar on his back. Again, what are the odds? No wonder Finn has doubts about his whole existence: “Maybe it’s like that for all boys of a certain – or uncertain – age: We feel as though there are no choices we’d made through all those miles and miles behind us that hadn’t been scripted by our fathers, and that our futures are only a matter of flipping the next page that was written ahead of us.” (p. 1)

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!

So here’s a boy who is most definitely not okay… Does he have a say in his own life? Is everything already scripted for him? Can he make his own choices? What would you do if the only thing you wanted was “to feel like a regular human teenage boy and do regular human teenage-boy things” (p.175), but your whole existence is overshadowed by another boy in a book who wants just that, and you basically feel trapped inside a book? If it involves seeing the world through distance and miles instead of hours and time, fact-finding expeditions, falling in love with a girl, a shadow play and a road trip with your  best friend, then you might be like Finn who is slowly trying to step out of the book…

Andrew Smith is definitely at his best when he talks about the confusion and awkwardness of 16-year-old teenage boys… And confusion may well be the universal default teenage state of being, of course, which is why hundreds if not thousands of (YA) books have obviously used that as their premise. Andrew Smith, though, is always capable of coming up with so many detours that there’s a difference to reading his books. He links one thing to another and he invites you to discover that these connections actually make sense. Why would you not link time to space? Why would you not take the unusual path? Why would you not talk about boys with heterochromatic eyes and epileptic seizures who lost their mom in a freak accident? It’s more than a premise or a gimmick, his willingness to challenge not just himself as a writer, but also us as readers, is what makes reading any of his books like a new adventure. 100 Sideways Miles is no exception to this.

And besides the fact that 100 Miles Sideways is  first and foremost a novel about a boy who’s trying to figure out what choices he has in life, the entire book actually also reads like a huge comment on ‘the coming-of-age’ story (for lack of a better word) and if you know a little bit about the way this book came to be, then you’ll see that Andrew Smith is taking the concept of ‘meta-story’ to a whole different level.  Stop messing with my mind, Smith. Continue messing with my mind, Smith. Exactly because he always has such honest, real, relatable and universal sounding protagonists and because this is so obviously an Andrew Smith book, his writing stands out and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

Look, I get it. Andrew Smith’s novels may not be for everyone. The small details, the quirks, the narrative detours, the repetitions throughout the writing itself … it’s something you dig or…not. I totally got on board with it[4]. But hey, some people don’t like dark chocolate and prefer Hershey’s. Who am I to judge that, right? I mean, I don’t like Hershey’s, but I sure do like me some Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense. And although ultimately I don’t feel like 100 Sideways Miles tops Grasshopper Jungle (but nothing really does), it’s still Côte d’Or milk chocolate[5].

________________________

[1] Which he read during the Perigee moon, by the way. I kid you not!

[2] I don’t have the :|: scar on my back, but I have a similar looking scar right next to my eye – souvenir from a Mini Golf game when I was 13.

[3] Relatively rare, in any case. About 6 in 1000 may have a very mild case of heterochromia iridum , while the thing that Finn has (very distinctive, one eye green, the other blue) would be considered “very rare” (I read numbers of about 2 in a million but also “less than 200 000 people in the US”). I know me and one other girl who has it, so yeah, rare.

[4] Maybe that’s because even though outwardly I am the most organized person on the planet, in reality, if you could look inside my mind, you’d see it’s pretty much a free jazz record: all over the place and sounds likes complete chaos, try finding some structure in that! Something I recognize in Andrew Smith’s books, I think.

[5] Which is basically the (only) chocolate I always have in my kitchen cupboards.

 

Exclusive 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour:

This review is part of Lady Reader’s Official 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour. Please go and check out the other reviews:

LadyReaderBookstuff

 

 

There’s a great giveaway too:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More about the book and the author:

100 Sideways Miles was published by Simon & Schuster. Buy it at your local Indie.

Drop Andrew Smith a line on his Facebook page or tweet him @marburyjack .

His website is at www.authorandrewsmith.com .

 

Finally, also huge thanks to Amy del Rosso @ Lady Reader’s Bookstuff. You’re Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense!

 

Follow the tour:

 





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

 

 





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





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








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