Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Right to Arm Bears

The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime Jasper Fforde

This is the second Nursery Crime book, the first being the hysterical The Big Over Easy. Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are back, this time investigating the suspicious death of Goldilocks on the grounds of SommeWorld, the new amusement park whose opening is beset with problems.

It looks like Goldilocks (an investigative journalist) was hot on a story of oatmeal quotas and bear rights. (And, of course, the debate over the right to arm bears.) The three bears were the last to see her alive-- which one did it? Or was there a fourth bear?

All the while, the psychotic Gingerbread Man has escaped from the hospital he was being held prisoner in, Punch and Judy have moved in next store, and cucumbers keep exploding...

Hilarious and filled with bad puns and nursery rhyme characters in adult situations. I love Fforde, and this is a shining example of why!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Award Season

My Kiki Strike t-shirt as arrived! I also won a Looking Glass Wars shirt at our Mock Caldecott a few weeks ago. Pictures will come soon.

So... if you didn't know, the ALA announced their Youth Media awards on Monday. That includes such things as the Caldecott, Newberry and Printz, among others! Check out the full list of winners here.

Anyway, some of ALA's favorites were my favorites, too!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

A graphic novel won the Printz! This is a beautifully told (and drawn) story. It starts out with the tale of Monkey and his adventures (because who doesn't love Monkey?) We then see the story of the author, trying to fit in at a new school where he is the only Chinese kid. Eventually, another Chinese kid transfers to the school and, after a rough period, they become friends. Then we get the story of Danny, an althete and cool high schooler, who looks white until his cousin Chinkee (every awful Chinese stereotype you've ever seen) comes to visit and blows his facade away. The book flips between these tales until they come together at the end. Funny and moving, I highly recommend.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is one of my favorite books of last year and a Printz honor book. Death narrates this tale of a small girl in Munich in WWII. Death is serious, and funny, and really sick of war. He's not a big fan of humans, and usually doesn't notice them, but he notices Liesel.

Liesel is sent to Munich as a foster child. She knows her mother is giving her up for reasons that have something to do with Hitler and that her dad was a Communist. In Munich, she makes unlikely friends and learns to read from a stolen book. There is power in stealing books. There is power in reading.

This book is beautiful and deep and stirring. I will warn you that I cried so hard at the end that I woke up Dan who was sound asleep.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Best Of!

This is more of a housekeeping post.

First off, somehow I totally left A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage off of my tops favs for 2006 list. I've gone back and added it in.

Anyway, so, the following favorites of last year have already been talked about by me (link goes to review):

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
Lamb: The Gospel According the Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa
Casson Family books by Hilary McKay
Fables series by Bill Willingham
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Gruene
Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen
Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

In Children's (excluding the ones mentioned above):

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Lady Grace Mysteries by Grace Cavendish
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliet
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
Regarding the Sink: Where, Oh Where, Did the Waters Go? by Kate Klise
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan

In YA (excluding the ones mentioned above):

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty (along with Second Helpings and Charmed Thirds)
Startled by His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison
King Dork by Frank Portman
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Which means I have 8 to review. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mates, Dates and other things...

Now Reading: Mao's Last Revolution Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals
So Far from the Bamboo Grove Yoko Kawashawa Watkins
The Girl Sleuth Bobbie Ann Mason

Ok, so, I didn't update the first week, so last week I was supposed to review 10 books. I did 4, so this week, I'm aiming for 11. Got your seatbelts on?

Right now, I'm going to talk about Cathy Hopkin's series Mates, Dates, and.... I've already discussed the first one, Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras.

Overall, the series isn't funny (it has its moments, but humour isn't the object), but is too light to actually carry a more serious tone. It can get really preachy, and in its preachyness, especially when talking about drugs, the information is just plain wrong. That said, I did find this series oddly compelling and have read all of them now and enjoyed them. I'm sad that Cathy Hopkins has stopped writing this series, but I didn't enjoy it enough to pick up her new series, Truth or Dare.

I think the main reason I liked this series is that Hopkins does do teenage girls well. The books alternate first person point of view and although sometimes her main characters read like she brainstormed five adjectives to describe them and then stopped, I do like them and did get attached. My favorite part was the fact that these girls are the worst friends you find in literature. These friendships are REAL. They fight over stupid stuff. They make up in silly ways. They accidentally piss each other off ALL THE TIME. It's so real! And the angst levels tend to be spot on.

So... here's a quick recap of the books:

Mates, Dates, and Cosmic Kisses This is Izzie's story about trying to find a boy. She meets Mark in the shops at Camden. He's lovely and she's smitten but he doesn't call when he says he will! (Oh my god! He's a real boy!) And Izzie's always trying randomly run into him and generally making a painful fool of herself in the way only a smitten 14-year-old can. All the while, ignoring the perfectly lovely Ben who is obviously a better match. Predictable and sweet.

Mates, Dates, and Designer Divas is Nesta's book. She falls in deep smit with Simon, who is definetely upper crust. Nesta's used to being the "rich" one amongst her set, but Simon's world is one of riding and designer duds. Mainly, his sister's friend is a straight up racist bee-otch and Nesta's having a major crisis of self-esteem. And Izzie's singing with Ben's band, which is pretty neat-o. Nesta also gets wasted, which is funny. But this is wear the first "translation" issues really become apparent. As you are probably aware, in England, a public school is what Americans would refer to as a private school. In dealing with Richie Rich and his gang, Nesta says she also goes to a public school because, as she later tells the girls, the public is allowed at their school. HA HA HA HA. At least, I think that's what she said, because they translated the public school to a private school to make sense to American audiences, making the next few lines of the book make absolutely NO sense.

Mates, Dates, and Sleepover Secrets This introduces the new character of TJ, whose best friend just moved away to South Africa. The girls decide to "adopt" her and she's makes the trio a quartet. TJ's big problem is that she's a bit of a tomboy and all her guy mates think of her as just that, a mate. She's crushing on the boy next store, all the while not realizing that Lucy's brother is crushing on her, big time. Lots of preachiness about being true to yourself.

Mates, Dates, and Sole Survivors Is back to Lucy's point of view. Lucy's bummed out, because she and Tony are back off-again and everyone else has a boyfriend. Lucy goes off on a self-discovery weekend with her dad and meets a lovely boy named Daniel. He's also into fashion and designs his own stuff. Then he turns really possesive and keeps trying to change Lucy. And I thought Mates, Dates, and Sleepover Secrets was heavy on the be-true-to-yourself theme. Also preachy on the don't-let-boys-rule-your-life theme.

Mates, Dates, and Mad Mistakes Izzie's sick of being treated like a little girl and takes on a whole new image, much to her mother's chagrin. She dumps Ben and starts dating this scally she thinks she can reform. She drinks. The boy smokes weed. This book irked me the most because it was the preachiest, and at the end, when Izzie has her little learning moment, she's talking about what she's learned about drugs and a lot of her information is just plain wrong.

Mates, Dates, and Sequin Smiles Nesta has to get braces! I liked this one, because not only is Nesta all freaked out about her braces (which are A LOT less common in England than in the US) but she meets this hotttt guy in her acting class, Luke. As soon as her dad sees Luke though, he forbids Nesta to ever see him again, and won't give her a reason. The books not nearly as preachy as Mates, Dates, and Mad Mistakes and the plot was less predictable than usual, and a little more oddball.

Mates, Dates, and Tempting Trouble Luke's a dawg! And cheating on Nesta! With TJ! And it's on! Lucy sides with Nesta (especially when TJ dumps Lucy's brother OVER EMAIL) and Izzie's on TJ's side. Friends before boys, girls, friends before boys. Obviously it gets worked out, because there are more books in the series, but OH! THE DRAMA!

Mates, Dates, and Great Escapes We're back to Lucy's POV and everyone's going on the school holiday to Italy except for her, because her family doesn't have a lot of extra money for such things. But then some extra money comes into the picture and she gets to go too! And just in the nick of time, because she and Tony are definetely OFF. And Lucy meets a hott American and maybe things will get better? This one's not preachy and fun, because it's the girls running around in Italy. Also, I really like how Lucy can finally afford to go on the trip.

Mates, Dates, and Chocolate Cheats We're back to Izzie and back to super-preachy. Izzie's got curves, and as all curvy girls know, there's a fine line between curvy and fat and we often think we're on the fat side of that line when we're not. It's the problem of being curvy. So, Izzie thinks she's fat and is trying to lose weight and doing all the stupid things girls do to lose weight short of developing an eating disorder. At the same time, the girls are trying to be on a pilot for a TV show called "Teen Talk" or somesuch. And Izzie falls in love with someone who is so obviously gay, it's hilarious. But in the end, we all learn the lesson that not only is Izzie NOT fat, but even if she were, it's what's on the inside that counts and you can't lose weight overnight (sadly). Oh, and you can't date a gay guy.

Mates, Dates, and Diamond Destiny Once again, the girls are ripping on Nesta for being shallow, but Nesta's PMSing and takes it really seriously. Plus, there's a guy collecting at the coffee shop who was one of Luke's friends. Nesta gets involved with charity work to prove she's not shallow but she keeps running into William. She DOES NOT like him, so why are the girls giving her such a hard time? And even if she did like him, how would she be able to trust a friend of Luke's? A bit preachy on the charity-work angle, especailly when cancer-girl makes an appearence, but fun. Especially when they smack down the smug girls.

Mates, Dates, and Sizzling Summers This is the last book in the series. For some reason, TJ is still totally in love with Luke, the asshat who cheated on her best friend. WTF? This whole angle is something I never understood and Hopkins couldn't make me. Actually, she didn't really try to explain why she still liked him. But TJ is dating the dreamy Ollie Axeford, who's a bit of a player, but, to his credit, is always straight up honest about it and doesn't lie to her. TJ's dad has a stroke and the family goes down to... Devon? Cornwall? I can't remember. Anyway, there she meets up with some of the Truth or Dare characters in a really obvious attempt to bring readers over to her new series. The ending really dissapointed me, because it seemed really out-of-character for TJ and it ended the series on an off note.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Those Bad Chinese Girls

Now reading: Mao's Last Revolution by Roderick MacFarguhar and Michael Schoenhals
From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books Kathleen T. Horning

For those of you who don't know, I'm a bit of a Sinophile. I have a concentration in Chinese Studies and actually almost double majored in Chinese, except that... I studied abroad in China and therefore couldn't. (It had to do with how many credits were taken on campus vs. elsewhere.)

So, I was intrigued by this new generation of Chinese female writers and, overall, was disappointed. These new girls are no Ding Ling or Eileen Zhang, sadly. Most of their "critical acclaim" stems from the "China banned it! It must be good!" mindset. My main complaint with all four of these books is that their authors think they're the deepest, most insightful people on the planet when really, they're shallow and self-obsessed. (Not that I dislike shallow and self-obsessed, take my love of Bridget Jones.) Also, I tend to blame the author for things the protagonist narrator does. All these works are highly autobiographical, so forgive me.

So, first up was Chun Sue's Beijing Doll. I was excited about this because it was translated by Howard Goldblatt, who translates Mo Yan. I would go to Notre Dame in a heartbeat to study under Goldblatt.

Sadly, Chun Sue is no Mo Yan. She is a spoiled middle school student who'd rather drop out of school to screw random college guys than much else. She claims to be a great rock and roll expert but can't tell the difference between punk and grunge. (Seriously? You can't hear the difference between the Sex Pistols and Nirvana? Really?) Basically, this book was written when she was in her late teens, and it painfully shows. I think Chun Sue will look back on this book in five years and cringe. It also has this odd quality I can't define that really reminds me of Miss Sophie's Diary. That also really irked me about the author/protagonist's attitude-- she claims she's all rebellious and the only person to do these wild and crazy things but OH WAIT! Ding Ling was writing essentially this same story (but an oh so much better one) 80 years ago! She does however, have the most excellent line, "How can you get mad at an asshole for being an asshole?" (p93)

Next up is Mian Mian's Candy. Although Mian Mian and her narrator are older than Chun Sue, it maintains the same quality of "I'm so original and I'm so deep" when really being neither. Mian Mian's narrator, however, does have actual problems of poverty and drug use as she bounces between the southern boomtown of Shenzhen and Shanghai. Her descriptions of the characters she meets in Shenzhen are crazy. This character, unlike the others, is not a spoiled child thinking she lives some other life. The narrator is gritty, and her problems are gritty and harsh and there's prostitutes and drugs and gangs and robbery. My biggest complaint with Candy is the unevenness of the writing. Parts of it are really well done and when she wasn't pontificating on the deeper meaning of life, I really enjoyed it. And parts are poorly written and don't make sense. One of deeper thoughts that did make sense and didn't sound like stuff your average angst-ridden late-teen would write was "We'd grown up on movies from the Soviet Union and North Korea, but now we listened to music from England and sat in our kitchens eating instant noodles, wondering if we had AIDS." (p230)

And one of the more poignant sections, "If you knew my friend Apple, please listen to some Chopin. If you liked him, please don't use a candle to light a cigarette ever again. If you loved him, please leave the door open when you bathe, and let in some fresh air... Apple, we didn't wear black armbands, because wearing black armbands is too conventional and you're like us to look pretty." (pp255-258)

And now we're onto Wei Hui and her Shanghai Baby and Marrying Buddha. Wei Hui is Shanghai-ese spoiled spoiled spoiled who can think of nothing better to do, so she decides to become a writer, and because she's a writer, she must be tortured! Oh! It's so hard being her! It's so hard living the life of luxury and not having to care! Don't you feel sorry for her? Because she wants you to.

Also, Wei Hui is the most pretentious of the crop. And her writing, ugh. "A team of Japanese boys on roller skates looked like mounted butterflies as they showed off their techniques... their dyed hair like feather dusters." (p89). Tortured similes litter every page. Also, the translator did some weird things, such as " 'You're looking piaoliang [cute],' I said." (p90). I mean, piaoliang isn't some weird word that doesn't fully translate into English. She could have just said "You're looking cute". Also, from the context (more than I've provided here), we don't really need piaoliang defined--it was fairly obvious what it meant. So, why? She incessantly name drops to make herself sound smart and educated, but it doesn't work because she's really neither (at least, by Western standards, maybe by Chinese standards, I don't know.) Also! Check out the horribleness of this next paragraph, not only in style and but also sheer ignorance (which was not meant ironically!), "At the airport Flying Apple and I kissed a hasty goodbye that left my lips wet. Many gay or bisexual men have a special, fuzzy sort of tenderness that one finds in small animals, but I'm always aware of the AIDS risk. As Alanis Morissette put it, 'I'm sick but I'm pretty, baby'."

Marrying Buddha is better. I couldn't not read it, Shanghai Baby was so bad, it's like car crash reading-- I couldn't turn away. My main complaint with Marrying Buddha is the lack of copy editor. It's a sequel to the first, as Coco is on book tour for Shanghai Baby. It flips back and forth between her life in New York, and the story of her relationship with a new boyfriend and her life in China as she tries to put her life back together after they've broken up. Wei Hui still thinks she's deep-- "For I have seen almost everything there is to see of human illusion. I have glimpsed what lies beyond the lavender haze. I have witnessed the slow dissolution of life in all its guises and illusions and watched it fade." (p.17) but it's not as bad as her first book.

Really, my most serious complaint is lack of copy editor-- in addition to typos and misspellings, there are some fairly serious errors-- every chapter opens with some quotations. In one, she is quoting Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, but it gets attributed to Candace Bergen instead. Also, her boyfriend, Muju, is referred to as Muji for about half a page. Then on p. 209 she says "That evening when I got home I turned on all the lights in the house, put on a CD by the Latin jazz great Gilberto Bebel called Tanto Teimpo..." now, I know the CD she's referring to, and it's great you should all get it, except it's by Bebel Gilberto and is called Tanto Tempo. Also, I'm not sure I'd call her a Latin jazz great, as she's Brazilian, and I kinda think of Latin music as being in Spanish, not Portuguese, and this is her debut CD and was released in 2000. But it IS a great CD, as is all of her other stuff, and there's a new album coming out this year and I can't wait!

The other weird thing about Marrying Buddha (to get back on track) is that no where in the book is a translator credited. When I read this, I thought that it might have been written in English, at which case Wei Hui gets a lot of credit for writing a better book, but in a brand new language. However, when I googled it, I did find this site, which states that Larissa Heinrich, of the University of New South Wales, translated it into English. This is the only mention I've been able to find of a translator. I am horrified that Heinrich could go through all that work and not recieve any credit whatsoever.

Hmmmm... Flickr and Blogger aren't playing nice rightnow... stay tuned for book covers!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Best of 2006

Well, here are the tallies and the results of last year! Please not that my "Best of 2006" is of books I read last year, not just books that came out last year.

In 2006, I read 221 books (this only counts books that were at least 100 pages unless it was just shy of 100, but was thick content).

84 were Juvenile, 87 were Young Adult, 50 were Adult.
I owned 19.
17 were banned.
17 were nonfiction.
61 were required reading for work. 44 were also read for work, but I didn't have to read them.
6 were books I was rereading.
12 were off of Anita Silvey's list of 100 best children's books. 3 were classics.

Books that I wanted to shout off rooftops about when done reading (aka, my top picks for 2006):

Suite Fran├žaise by Irene Nemirovsky
As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway
Kiki Strike Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christoper Moore
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

Honorable mentions: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Cracking India: A Novel by Bapsi Sidhwa, Casson Family Books by Hilary McKay(Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After), Fables by Bill Willingham (Book 1 is Legends in Exile) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Gruene, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present by Peter Hessler, Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen, Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, A Dirty Job: A Novel by Christopher Moore

Best Children's Books:

Obviously, Kiki Strike and the Casson Family as they made best overall.

Top Picks:
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Lady Grace Mysteries Grace Cavendish (actually Patricia Finney, Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler)
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
Chasing Vermeer / The Wright 3 by Blue Balliet

Honorable Mentions: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Regarding the Sink: Where, Oh Where, Did Waters Go? by Kate Klise, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan , The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Best YA: Obviously, Boy Meets Boy, American Born Chinese, Kipling's Choice, Gingerbread, As Simple as Snow, Book Thief

Other Picks:
Sloppy Firsts: A Novel by Megan McCafferty (and sequels)
Startled by His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison
King Dork by Frank Portman
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Favorite Discoveries:
David Levithan
Shannon Hale
Christopher Moore

Already it's January 5th, and I haven't blogged about 5 books yet this week. Does the review I have in draft count? No? Ah well, I guess I'll aim for 10 next week. We'll see if that actually happens, but I do need to talk about those books I put on my best list that I haven't talked about yet!