Monday, June 29, 2009

Banned Books!

Story of my life: Last night, I finally broke down and purchased Thriller so I could dance around in my kitchen to real music instead of me just singing the bits and pieces I remembered. (Also, that album is AWESOME. It was the best "time to mop the store" music EVER when I worked at the co-op grocery store.) Anyway, I was going back and forth because it's the end of the month and so I had already spent all of my "fun money" budget with a few too many trips to the bookstore this month. And, of course, today I get a gift certificate to Amazon. Face, meet palm.

In other news, I have AWESOME "problems." Really, life is pretty good right now. The sun's even out. Now all I have to do is decide what to eat for dinner tonight.

So, tomorrow I'm finishing up the Banned Book Challenge. Hopefully. There is some mad-dash-to-the-finish-line reading going on over here.

Anyway, in light of that, I thought I'd review some of the banned books I've read for the challenge this week. Sound good? Good.

I already reviewed Speak which is banned because apparently we can't talk about rape in books, even when it never gets described.

Also, for this challenge, I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, because I haven't really been getting into anything I've read lately, so I thought I'd go to something I knew I'd love. Also, this time, I actually read Harry Potter in the Philosopher's Stone. Anyway, it's banned, because Harry and his friends do magic, which is considered by some to be Satanic.

I also read ttyl Lauren Myracle

This book is told entirely in Instant Message, entirely in chat speak. If you're not used to talking to teenage girls online, gird your loins.

Maddie, Angela, and Zoe are best friends as they head into their sophomore year of high school. Maddie's preoccupied with getting the popular girls to like her, Angela falls too hard and too fast for the wrong guy, and something is just not right with Zoe's relationship to her English teacher.

This one gets banned because there is talk about sex, drinking, and shaving your pubes when wearing a bathing suit. Also, I suspect there is issue with the fact that the icky teacher uses church as an excuse to get icky with Zoe. I have also seen a few complaints (mainly in online reviews) that the chat speak is destroying the English language.

Chat speak annoys the hell out of me, but it did lend authenticity to the character's voices. Although, I kinda got the feeling that Zoe was the type of girl to spell her words out and use capitalization, but she didn't.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. The friendship of the three girls is real and zapped me right back to high school. Many of the decisions they make were STOOOOOOOPID, but guess what kids-- teens aren't know for their awesome decision making skills. It was funny and a quick read. I don't have an overwhelming desire to read the rest of the series (mainly because of the chat speak) but I can see why teens love this one. They should.

Also, at one point, Zoe (I think) mentions thumbprint cookies. I thought about those for the rest of the book (I read it in one sitting) and then had to go make some. But now they're gone.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Winds of Change

Red Poppies: A Novel of Tibet Alai

Alai grew up on the borderlands of China and Tibet, and his life has straddled this cultural divide. This is the world he paints in Red Poppies, which one the Mao Dun prize in 2002. I initially picked it up because Howard Goldblatt is one of the translators, and he's my favorite translator, because I'm just that geeky.

This takes place during the first part of the twentieth century, starting with the Chinese Republic years (after the fall of the Qing in 1911) and continuing through the first part of the civil war, WWII, and the continuation of the civil war, from which the Communist government eventually emerges as victorious in 1949.

Our narrator is supposedly an idiot and everyone around him says he is. He uses his idiocy as a shield and a weapon, even though we see all along he's not an idiot and I'm not sure why the other characters don't realize it (even if they are always questioning it.) He is the second son of a chieftan, in the days when the borderland Chieftan's reigns were waning. His family grows opium and becomes rich, and then switches to grain when the other Chieftans start to grow opium. As the other chieftans now have no food, our narrator's family's power and riches grow because they can now sell their excess grain for exorbitant prices.

This is a brutal landscape. The family holds slaves and while our narrator lives in luxury, most of the people do not. Everyone who is not family is a servant or slave, all subject to the whims of the Chieftan and his family. The brothers are played off each other to see who will become the next Chieftan. Family feuds are started and carried out, people starve, people die. Buddhism is present, but no one outside the clergy is religious, and the clergy are subjected to the whims of the rulers.

Mostly, this is a story of changing landscape and changing time. Only our narrator knows that it does not really matter which son will succeed his father as Chieftan, for the time of the chieftans is over. History will roll over them and fold them into something else.

Here is some background on Tibetan History. As the article states, during this time period, the Chinese governments were not exercising control over Tibetan regions, the Dalai Lama was. I will point out that the Chinese governments were not exercising control over large portions of China--since the Nationalist Revolution until Communist takeover, large sections of the country were controlled by warlords or other regional leaders. Red Poppies takes place in a region that is outside control of China and the Dalai Lama, as it falls between the two spheres of influence. The Chieftans never see that eventually, one power, or both, will expand and take them.

Read Gang Yue's Review, which focuses on the opium production and economic aspects of the book (I found these fascinating, because I was reading more from a changing powers perspective.)

Another review, that takes great issue with the book. Written by the son of Tibetan refugees, he takes great issue with the way pre-Communist Tibet is portrayed in the book.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's about power, not love

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. Lockhart

A meditation on power, set in an elite boarding school, but not always in the way you'd think. There's Frankie, sick of being Bunny Rabbit, ready to step out of her sister's shadow. She knows all about the Order of the Basset Hounds but her boyfriend would rather keep her in the dark.

Matthew and Alpha are the top dogs in the school (in more sense than one), engaged in a subtle power struggle that Frankie can't stand.

She's going to take over.

I really liked this. I don't have much to say that hasn't been said already. I will say that it didn't grab me as much as I thought it would, but I think that's because I came late the party--it had been built up so much that there is no way it would be able to live up. I especially loved the end--I found that to be the most real and true part of the book.

UPDATE I totally forgot that Kim had asked me a question about this for Weekly Geeks:

I just recently read Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Bank. So, my question is whether or not the book ended the way you expected it to? That'll be hard without spoiling the ending, I suppose, but maybe you can just talk about it in code or something for everyone who has read the book.

Expected? Or Wanted? Not what I expected, but what I wanted. I thought it was real and in line with the rest of the book. I'm not a huge fan of super-tidy endings.

The Kids are Alright

I think there is another reason why young adult novels are doing well, and it is less easy gauge. As of yet, there are no real studies determining this, but anecdotally, we all relate to it. A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.” We read to break free of their digital tether. To experience what life was like before the net. To disconnect. To finally feel alone.

From an article on "Why Teenagers Read Better than You."

h/t Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two Looks at Polygamy

I read both of these books within a month of each other, and so it's very hard not to compare them. They were both fantastically good, but if I had to sum each on up in one word, the first book would be "gripping" and the second "compelling."

The Chosen One Carol Lynch Williams

Kyra lives with her family in a polygamist religious compound. The current prophet has isolated the community and banned all reading except for the Bible. Kyra has been chosen, meaning that she, at age 13, will marry her uncle, age 60. She will be his 7th wife.

Kyra knows she has sinned. She has snuck out at night to kiss a boy and hold his hand. Even worse, she sneaks out during the day to visit the book mobile.

I am not a huge fan of books where reading opens a whole new world to a character and the power of books blah blah blah. You tend to be preaching to the choir. At worst, it's just authors talking about how important they are to the world.

This isn't like that. Kyra likes her books, but they serve as her personal, private rebellion. It's also not the main plot line, but the bookmobile (and the fact it's mobile) is a very important device in the plot. If that makes any sense.

When Kyra is promised to her uncle, she is torn--torn between her desire to run, to flee and her family--running means never seeing them again, it means her mothers might be reassigned to other men, men who are not as nice as her father is.

William's language is immediate, Kyra's thoughts are short, concise, almost choppy, which leads the tension and the drama as she decides what to do.

Powerful, amazing stuff.

Sister Wife Shelley Hrdlitschka

Unity is a fundamentalist religious community in British Columbia and the home of three very different girls. Celeste has impure thoughts and has feelings for a boy in her community, but she it is almost time for her to be assigned to a husband. Nanette, her younger sister, is pure and pious and cannot wait to be assigned--she feels she is ready to be a wife and a mother. Taviana is from the outside and was living on the streets until someone from Unity found her and brought her in.

After Taviana is kicked out of Unity, Celeste is assigned to the father of the boy she likes and she wants to leave Unity, but she can't figure out how she would be able to leave her family.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the three girls' points of view. The subject matter is compelling enough, but it's a slightly quieter and slower book than The Chosen One. But, I liked the different points of view presented. Celeste's husband, while quite a bit older, is not a bad guy, but a complex character who tries to be kind and gentle and nice. Nanette sees nothing wrong in her lifestyle and can't understand why Celeste doesn't just pray harder to rid herself of such impure thinking. Taviana knows Unity isn't for her, but is grateful for the safe place it gave her when she needed one the most.

I liked this one better, because it was more nuanced and complex. It wasn't as gripping and terrifying, but it had much more meat.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Race in Percy Jackson

So, I haven't been reviewing the Percy Jackson series, because I've been listening to them and I don't review audio books (have to draw the line somewhere!) BUT! I have been enjoying them (I'm currently on disc 1 of Last Olympian.)

Anyway, Chasing Ray had a link to this post at HappyNappyBookseller about the racial implications of one of the character deaths in Last Olympian. (Not too spoilery--the death happened like, in Track 6 on the first disc, so it's fairly early.)

It's worth a read.

Also, I'd like to call out Jesse Bernstein, who narrates these books. Asian-American characters DO NOT have Asian accents. Sorry, nope. There is no reason that Mrs. Chase should have a really, really thick generically-East Asian accent. NONE. It bugged me so much, I even grabbed a copy of the book to see if she was written with one. NO. Also, if I recall correctly, Ethan Nakamura doesn't need a slight Japanese accent. Just because you're Asian doesn't mean you're not a native speaker of English. D'UH.

I love the series, and overall the audio is really good, but this bugs me to no end. And it's not the way the books were written.

"Highminded, but entertainingly semi-trashy"

Shanghai Girls: A Novel Lisa See

See's in DC tonight, doing a reading for this. I wish I could go, but I can't. :(

May and Pearl are sisters, living just outside the International Concession in Shanghai and, even though it's fairly looked down on, they pose for "Beautiful Girl" posters at night. They love their life and then their father gets in trouble with some gansters and loses everything and sells them off to get married. Then they trapped behind Japanese lines during WWII and then escape to LA and live in China town and face the problems many Chinese immigrants faced during WWII and the Cold War, as well as many personal tragedies.

When I was almost done reading this, I saw Roger Sutton's tweet, "Rather be listening to Lisa See's highminded but entertainingly semi-trashy Shanghai Girls." I never would have thought of it that way, but as soon as he said it, that's all I can think of. He's right. May and Pearl's life is tragedy after tragedy after tragedy and fairly soap-opera-y... in the hands of a less-skilled writer, this plot would ruin the book. However, it doesn't. It's a good read and enjoyable.

I liked the relationship between the sisters, they were best friends but still had their grudges and sister-issues. I do really wish I could have seen more of May's side of things. As it stands, we only get her side when she's fighting with Pearl.

My only complaint is one of Chinese history (surprise, right?) The Chinese civil war started before WWII. In fact, they Communist and KMT forces formed a pact to stop fighting each other and start fighting the Japanese (the United Front). Then, once the war ended, they started fighting each other again. As far as Pearl's concerned, the civil war doesn't really start until after WWII. Now, I don't necessarily think this is See's error, because in her party lifestyle life in Shanghai, I could see Pearl not knowing, but it did give me pause.

It's not my favorite See book, but I do recommend it to her fans.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Surfing With Jennie

Ok, here are just a few internet goodies I discovered this weekend.

First off, the Harry Potter Musical. Seriously, block off 2 hours of your time and watch this full length musical that crams most of the Harry Potter series into one story. Parts are hilarious (lines, prat falls, and the fact that Ron is ALWAYS eating). There is some language, so I wouldn't recommend it for younger audiences, but it's well done. (I have the "Voldemort is Going Down" song in my head. The vocal/band balance is a bit off in the first few videos, but stick with it.

Also, I just noticed that the original cover for Neil Gaiman's The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish is the same as the album art of Counting Crow's This Desert Life. Is this a revelation or did everyone else know this 10 years ago?

AND! For all you twitter-ers out there, did you know the entire cast (characters, not actors) of Mad Men is on twitter? Start following Peggy Olson, Ken Cosgrove, and of course Don Draper and everyone else. I think Sally Draper's feed is my favorite.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bloggiesta finishing

Well, I have to say that, in the end, I only ended up only devoting about 10 hours to Bloggiesta. I had hoped to do more, but it was a rare weekend when Dan and I were both in town, so that had to be taken advantage of, plus my body wasn't letting me skimp on sleep.

This is what I accomplished during Bloggiesta-- I got my feed reader organized and down to 500 unread posts. Doesn't sound like much, but it did take me 10 hours! I had posts that were unread from mid-May! Now, I'm only about a week behind. Also, I usually spend maybe an hour, if anything, on bloggy things during the weekend, so 10 hours was a lot of time.

Anyway, there's still a good part of Sunday left, so I do plan on working on this some more, even if Bloggiesta is all done.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bloggiesta update #3

Ok, I worked out, took a shower, walked to the movie theater, watched I Love You, Man (funny) and then walked to Thai Square, then walked home. Now back bloggiesta-ing.

Will not accomplish any goals by 8am tomorrow. But I did buy a new roof, so that has to count for something.

Update #2

So, 7.5 hours devoted to my blog reader, and I'm down to 673 posts.

In my defense, I follow a lot of China blogs and am so far behind I *just* this afternoon read most of their coverage of the 20th anniversary of Tian'anmen Square. That takes a while.

I'm now going to go take a break to work out.

Bloggiesta update

So, it's been 31 hours since Bloggiesta started.

I didn't publish these goals at the beginning, this was my mental list:

1. Write at least 15 book reviews. (I have 71 books that have been read but not reviewed. I actually have reviews written for 32 of them and notes for about 10 more)

2. Catch up on my blog reading.

3. Update my blogroll.

4. Update my Amazon widgets.

5. Get two weeks worth of pre-written reviews converted into posts to be automatically posted. I have all these reviews written for a rainy day, but when the rainy days come, they're not getting posted.

6. Post 5 book reviews, probably of Jean Estoril's Drina series.

I've only been able to devote 5 hours to this so far. Yesterday was a work day and the first day of summer vacation, so I just wanted to catch up on blog reading in between helping people. It was fairly busy, so I didn't get much blog reading done. After work, we went to temple and then today I slept in and then had 3 hours of a roofer estimate (new roof! woot!)

So far, I've gotten my blog back-reading down to 912 posts. Oiy vey.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This is why I love Meg Cabot

So, I'm slowly but surely catching up on my blog reading. So, here's a real gem I've come across: Meg Cabot on grandmothers and smut, and the new Harry Potter posters.


It's noon! That means it's Bloggiesta time! I'm starting with Rebecca's Feed Reader mini-challenge. I had wanted to do this anyway this weekend-- I'm way behind and need organizing and cleaning. Here we go!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fairy Tales in modern High School

Cindy Ella Robin Palmer

As is obvious from the name, this is a version of Cinderella. This one is set in high school and the ball is prom. Cindy is disgusted at the amount of time and energy her classmates, and the school administration put into the prom. She doesn't understand it and writes a letter to the editor of her school paper saying so. Of course, she ends up a social pariah. Meanwhile, she's balancing 3 crushes--one on the unattainable senior guy, one on her SAT tutor, and one on an online friend whom she's never met and lives on the other side of the country.

Even if you didn't know the Cinderella story, this one is fairly predictable while still being a fun read. I like how Palmer handled many aspects of the story--Cindy's step-mother and sisters weren't overly cruel, just shallow and self-absorbed. I did have a minor quibble with the marketing. The back of the book states: "with a little help from an unexpected source--and the perfect pair of shoes--Cindy realizes that she still has a chance at happily ever after" and the shoe thing, while well done? Not that big of a deal. Really, it was minor, and in fact could have been cut altogether, except this is Cinderella, so you need some shoes.

Geek Charming Robin Palmer

Set at the same high school in LA, this is a take on The Frog Prince. Josh and Dylan meet (well, Josh has always known Dylan, she's just never noticed him) when she makes him fish her purse out of the mall fountain. In return, she and her friends have to star in Josh's documentary about the secret lives of the cool crowd. While some things are fairy-tale standard-- Dylan makes Josh over and they end up becoming friends, the ending deviates a little from the source material and is awesome.

Overall, it's a little deeper and slightly less predictable than Cindy Ella. Also, this one is told in alternating chapters from Dylan and Josh's point of view. Frog Prince is a hard fairy tale to retell without magic (in fact, I think this may be the first magic-less Frog Prince I've read) but Palmer pulls it off in a way that completely works to stay true to the story (including Dylan's father making her keep promises) while also staying true to the modern high school setting. Cindy gets a name drop, but not as many as her step-sisters (which makes sense, given that Cindy's a sophomore and not popular while Josh is making a documentary on popular seniors, so the step-sisters are mentioned more often as they fit into that group.) Very fun and enjoyable.

Weekly Geeks!

This week's Weekly Geeks is to catch up on your reviews. This is a repeat from last summer, when I also participated.

The rules are this:

I tell you all the books I've read but haven't reviewed yet, and then you ask me questions about the books, and then when I review them, I'll answer your questions.

Embarrassingly enough, you'll notice that there are several titles on this list that were on the one last year, too. Because I'm that behind... oiy. (72 unreviewed titles! SEVENTY TWO! Obviously, I need your help!)

The date refers to when I read the book. I'll also say that I actually have written reviews of many of the more recent books I've read, I just haven't posted the review, but if you have questions, I want to hear (well, read) them!

April 2007

Junie B Jones, Dumb Bunny Barbara Parks
From a Crooked Rib Nuruddin Farah
Special Topics in Calamity Physics Marisha Pessl
Exit A Anthony Swofford
Midnight at the Dragon Cafe Judy Fong Bates
Name Me Nobody Lois-ann Yamanaka

May 2007

Chicks with Sticks: Knit 2 together Elizabeth Lenhard

September 2007

Drina Dances in Paris Jean Estoril
Drina Dances in Madiera Jean Estoril
Drina Dances in Switzerland Jean Estoril
Drina Dances on Tour Jean Estoril
Drina Ballerina Jean Estoril

January 2008

Murder of Bindy MacKenzie Jaclyn Moriarty
Spell Book of Listen Taylor Jaclyn Moriarty
Regarding the Bees Kate Klise

February 2008

Tithe Holly Black

April 2008

Shopgirl Steve Martin

July 2008

An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries Nina Schindler and Robert Barrett

August 2008

Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds Paul Zindel
Feeling Sorry for Celia (reread) Jaclyn Moriarty
Year of Secret Assignments (reread) Jaclyn Moriarty
Toning the Sweep Angela Johnson
Nothing but the Truth (reread) Avi
Cathy's Book If Found Call 650-266-8233 Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman
Shooter Walter Dean Myers
Regarding the Fountain (reread) Kate Klise
Princess Alyss of Wonderland Frank Beddor
Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf Jennifer Holm
The Specialists: Winning Element Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: Native Tongue Shannon Greenland

October 2008

Hatter M Frank Beddor

December 2008

Tales of Beedle the Bard JK Rowling
Token Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones

February 2009

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. Lockhart

March 2009

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris R. L. LaFevers
Into the Wild Sarah Beth Durst
Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls Elisa Primavera
Red Poppies Alai

April 2009

Gold Lady Grace Cavendish
Sisters Grimm: Everafter War Michael Buckley
I Want Candy Kim Wong Keltner
Racketty-Packetty House Frances Hodgson Burnett
Moon Opera Bi Feiyu
Bluford High: Lost and Found Anne Scraff
Got Fangs? Katie Maxwell
Beacon Street Girls: Worst Enemies/Best Friends Annie Bryant
Repossessed A. M. Jenkins
Oh.My.Gods Tera Lynn Childs
Celebutantes: On the Avenue Antonio Pagliarulo
Tender Morsels Margo Lanagan
Frog Princess E. D. Baker

May 2009

Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
Coldest Winter Ever Sister Souljah
Hotlanta Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller
Secret Life of Samantha MacGregor: Bad Connection Melody Carlson
The Poison Apples Lily Archer
Chosen One Carol Lynch Williams
Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty Jody Gehrman
Golden Jennifer Barnes
The Season Sarah MacLean

June 2009

Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan
Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) Kimberly Pauley
Dead is So Last Year Marlene Perez
Sister Wife Shelley Hrdlitschka
Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover Ally Carter
Fever, 1793 Laurie Halse Anderson


Monday, June 15, 2009

Books for Nerds

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves M. T. Anderson

Octavian's not everyone's cup of tea. We know that right? This is not a book with mass teen, or general reader appeal. This is a book for your readers. Your nerdier types. You know who they are.

Sometimes, I think we get too hung up on "appeal." We're always asking who the audience is and if they will like it. We deal in buzz and word of mouth and everyone's trying to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight.

We don't have room for the odd book like Octavian. We wonder if, when books like this get awards, if the awards have lost touch with "what kids are reading today" even if the award is about quality and not appeal.

In our desire to get everyone reading and everyone into libraries we forget the nerds. The ones who've always sought refuge in our stacks. And I always wonder, in our quests to make everything appeal to everyone, if we're pushing away our core audience--the misfit geek crew.

Or, in my snarkier days, I'm wondering if we're just trying to make libraries cool so that the fact we spent every lunch period in our youth in the library will now be cool, and not nerdy, because we obviously still have some unresolved issues from our childhoods.

Anyway, Octavian is for the type who comes to the library even if it's not cool. Octavian is for, well, ME.

You should read the first one first. If you liked it, you should read the second. This one finds Octavian and Dr. Trefusis in British-occupied Boston, and then escaping to British-occupied Virginia, where the governor has promised escaped slaves their freedom if they fight for the Crown.

Octavian is taught harsh truths about the freedom is not equality, and no longer being a slave doesn't mean respect, or that people will value your life as much as they value their own. We see war, gritty horrifying war. We watch Norfolk burn. We hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.

And I cried as I came to see the type of man Dr. Trefusis really was and lost all respect for him.

This book will be less shocking to readers than the first. While Anderson writes powerful and moving accounts of plantation slavery and war, readers are familiar with these themes, unlike the shock of the twisted ways of the College of Lucidity. But, if you liked the first, pick this one up and slip it to your bookworms.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Hour 48

Hours Read: 19.5
Books Read: 8 whole books, 1/2 of two other books, so 9.
Pages Read: 2055

Well, I didn't get in 20 hours, but that's ok! I had fun. I'm currently halfway through Geek Charming by Robin Palmer. I'm at my parents until Tuesday, and given that all three of us have spent the after noon curled up in chairs, drinking coffee and reading, I'll get a lot more done in the next few days! Also, I reviewed 12 books (including the the two below) so that's good. As part of the Summer Reading Blitz, I'm trying to read 30 books in June. As of Friday night, I had only read 2, so I was a little behind schedule, but now I've read 11, so I'm a little ahead of schedule. Yay!

Anyway, I'm now seeing how many people cross the finish line over at MotherReader, as I said I'd donate $1 to Bridget Zinn for everyone who finished the challenge. Plus, another $1 for everyone who read at least 20 hours, but I'll have to wait a few days for that!

Anyway, the last full book I finished today was Masquerade, which is the second Blue Bloods novel, but I should review the first Blue Bloods novel first, right? Right.

Blue Bloods Melissa de la Cruz

So, I knew this was Gossip Girl + Vampires. What I didn't know is that is was really good.

Blue Bloods is well written-- I'm guessing it has a super-high lexile score and works in a lot of different things-- it's not just about vampires, but also about the founding of Plymouth Colony, what really happened at Roanoke, and the Illuminati. And a murder mystery (something can actually kill vampires? Really?) Plus the usual rich mean kid high school drama of love and backstrabbing, fabulous clothes and awesome parties.

It sucked me in and held me. If you've at all toyed with reading this series, toy no more and pick it up. A very pleasant surprise.

Masquerade Melissa de la Cruz

So, this whole plot of who-can-kill vampires is continuing and getting worse. There's a new Blue Blood in town, and he's into all sorts of mischief that doesn't make things look good for him, or for Mimi Force. Jack continues to be drawn to Schuyler, as it turns out he was to her mom. Schuyler's half-blood status is mucking about with her transformation. Also, a lot more of the Angel lore that ties into the history of vampires, as according to de la Cruz.

If you liked the first, you'll like the second. The third is out (but even though it's been out since October, there's a still a waiting list at the library! The fourth then comes out this October...)

Hour 45

Hours read 16.25
Books read 7.5
Pages read 1749

Zombie Queen of Newbury High Amanda Ashby

Geeky Mia has never been entirely sure why Rob the football god, has started dating her. What she does know is that Queen Bee Samantha wants Rob to herself, and Rob seems to be turning. So, led by her hypochondriac best friend, Mia casts a love spell on Rob. A love spell that goes horribly, horribly wrong and turns the entire senior class into a zombie and Mia into their queen. Mia is puzzled and flattered by her new-found popularity until the new kid, Chase, tells her that Zombie Queen just means she's the first to be eaten. Now Mia and Chase have limited time to reverse the spell and save the prom.

Seriously, was my high school the only one in the US where the football players were not total gods of the school? Some of them were really popular yes, but so were some of the band people. Football player = super hot big man on campus is getting a little stale.

Anyway, a super-fun book and a really quick read. I loved how all of Mia's crazy cures and vitamins and supplements actually helped in keeping some of the zombie effects at bay.

Hour 28.5

Hours read 14.25
Books read 6.5
Pages read 1550

Well, I am now in Wisconsin! I made my connecting flight (which was a miracle) and even cooler, ran into someone from high school!

I had to board shortly after my last post, but got 4 more hours of reading in while in the air. Things are now even more confusing because I've switched timezones. So, I have to add an hour to what all the clocks tell me to keep my hour count correct for how many hours into the challenge I am. Ai yai yai. After I landed, I hung out with my parents for the rest of the night, because dude, they're my parents! And I don't get to see them all that often. But now it's bedtime, so they've headed off to bed and I'm doing a post before I'm off to bed as well (although I'll read a bit before actually sleeping!)

Anyway, I read two more books.

You Are So Undead to Me Stacey Jay

Megan thought that after the zombie attack 5 years ago, her Settler powers had left her. No such luck. On the night of her date with the hottest guy in school, right before he's supposed to pick her up, someone else shows up at her door. An undead someone.

In the world Jay creates, there are things we left undone or unsaid when we die that can follow us, even after we are buried. If such things are pressing enough to the dead person, they will leave their grave and find a Settler. The Settler takes their information and promises to pass on the message, fix the wrong, and then sends the dead to a peaceful afterlife. Being a Settler has an uncanny knack to completely mess up Megan's social life. Then, there are the Reanimated Corpses, or actual Zombies-- people brought back to "life" to kill other people at the behest of those who practice the dark arts.

It's bad enough the undead are seeking Megan out, but there are a lot more Zombies trying to kill her. Someone is after her, and it's time to face up to her awesome powers and get beyond what happened. After all, how else is she going to get to Homecoming? Unless that's the evil plan, to keep her from homecoming so no one can stop the massive zombie attack.

Part mystery, part zombie novel, part romance, this is more action packed than some of the lighter zombie novels we've seen lately, but still heavy on the "does he like me, does he not, is the head cheerleader evil as in try to kill me? or just evil as in a total head cheerleader B----?" sort of thing. It's a fun read.

Mob Princess: For Money and Love Todd Strasser

Kate's life has fallen apart on Christmas Eve. After her boyfriend dumps her for not putting out, Kate thought the night would suck, but then she walked into her house and found a whole host of worse problems waiting for her. Her mother was moving out. Her father's girlfriend was pregnant (although it seems to the reader that there's much more going on than just that) and her dad needs her to be the brains of his business with her mother gone. His mob business.

There's mean girls, a possible turf war with a rival family, and two guys to choose from. Lots of fun and I want to read more, although just when the plot really got good, the book ended. In a frustrating way, not "well, that was a satisfying conclusion with enough open ends to keep me waiting for more adventures" way, but in a "WAIT? WHERE IS THE REST OF THIS BOOK?!" sort of way. So, you know, you might want to check out multiple volumes at once. I know I'll be hunting down the rest!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Hour 18

Hours read 10.25
Books read 4.5
Pages read 1092

Jake, Reinvented Gordon Korman

A most fantastic retelling of The Great Gatsby. Jake Garrett is a former math nerd transferred to a new school and has completely reinvented himself as the coolest guy around who throws the best parties. But it's all to win the heart of the star quarterback's girlfriend. Didi may enjoy making out with Jake, but Rick knows she'll never dump Todd for him.

This is the best kind of retelling. The source material completely fades into the background while still providing the structure of the story. Gatsby fans will enjoy this one, as will readers who have no idea about the green lantern at the end of the pier.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Test Post

This is just a test post to see what happens when I email my blog posts. This way, I can blog from the airport, instead of only Twittering it.

UPDATE: Yay! It worked!

Hour 14.5

Hours Read: 8
Books Read: 3.5
Pages Read: 879

Alex Rider: Stormbreaker Anthony Horowitz

After his uncle, his only living relative, is killed under suspicious circumstances, Alex Rider discovers that he was really a spy for M-16, and killed shortly before stopping something big. M-16 decides to press Alex into service to finish the job. Alex doesn't want to, but is blackmailed into it.

He is sent undercover to a computer facility building the new Stormbreaker, a revolutionary new laptop that is going to be given to every schoolchild in England. Alex knows something's not right about the scene. He also knows that Herod Sayle, the owner and mastermind, and his band of cronies (straight from any spy movie, although Mr. Grin might be a little more Joker-esque) are probably onto him as well.

I do really enjoy the teen-spy-novel genre. I tend to enjoy the ones staring girls more (I'm a sucker for a romantic subplot) but this one was very, very good and if you like teen spies, check it out. (Although, you probably have. This is like, the first/biggest/main teen spy series, and I don't know why I haven't read it before now.)

Here's a really striking quotation-- something that I think a lot of teen spy heroes feel (all in trouble with the law, though many tricked into breaking the law so there's something to hold over them) and with no families, etc (exception being Gallagher Girls and The Squad):

In the end, the big difference between him and James Bond wasn't a question of age. It was a question of loyalty. In the old days, spies had done what they'd done because they loved their country, because they believed in what they were doing. But he'd never been given a chance. Nowadays, spies weren't employed. They were used.

Hour 6

Hours Read: 6
Books Read: 2.5
Pages Read: 687

And now, I think I'm going to read a few more pages and then head off to bed and read some more in the morning, finish packing, and then head off to the airport. Where I'll read some more. Until I get to Wisconsin. Then I'm going to hang out with my parents.

Avalon High Meg Cabot

In addition to SASS, I wanted to start this weekend off with some Meg Cabot, as I read all the The Princess Diaries series last year (well, everything that had been published and didn't require ILLing)

Ellie is starting her junior year at a new high school, Avalon High. She quickly makes some new friends--Will, Lance, and Jen. And Will's creepy step-brother Marco. It isn't long before things start acting out a la King Arthur. Mr. Morton certainly thinks Will is Arthur and the forces of darkness are after him. There's just one thing-- Ellie may be named after the Lady of Shalott but there's no way she's going to be filling that role-- not when she thinks Will is the cute one and Lance is a total dunderhead.

A very fun look at King Arthur in modern high school. Cabot's stories have a way of sucking me in. Also, Avalon High is set in Annapolis, so I liked the local setting, even though I'm not sure that anyone would refer to BWI as the "local train station." I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if the Amtrack Station there were the closest to town, but, um, BWI is the Baltimore airport. And the station's not even really at the airport, even though there's a shuttle from the airport to the station so you can get the train down to DC.

And, for a totally different take on things, another pre-written review for a book I read awhile ago but ties in well:

Damosel: In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of her Wondrous Life and Times Stephanie Spinner

Damosel is a Lady of Lake, commissioned to fashion a sword that is invincible and will staunch blood flow if the owner is wounded. What she makes is Excalibur.

This is King Arthur, as told through the eyes of the Lady of the Lake (but not the same one that imprisoned Merlin. There are several.) Through her eyes, we see the kingdom and court from the fringes and we learn the rules governing ladies.

We see more, as well, through the eyes of Twixt, a dwarf who has had a hard life and ends up at court, so we can see much more of the intrigue and well... plot, than we would if limited to Damosel's take on things.

I haven't read much on King Arthur lately, although I read a lot as a kid. I'm not sure I would call this a 'frank and often startling account' as the pacing is steady and sometimes slow but it was a very interesting take on events because of Damosel's position-- she rarely goes to court and hears things from other people. The chapters told by Twixt annoyed me a little, even though they were much more briskly paced (because Twixt witnessed and was involved in the events) it was a little jarring, because he only gets a a third of the book, even though it's mixed in with Damosel's chapters. It would have been better if the narration had been better balanced, or only focused on one character.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Hour 3.5

Hours Read: 3.5
Books Read: 1.5
Pages Read: 399

Great Call of China Cynthea Liu

Frequent readers know how much I love the SASS series. I was so happy when a new one came out, but I saved it for this weekend, because I read 3 SASS novels during my first 48 hour Challenge and that's when I really fell in love with the series.

OMG. A novel that uses standard Pinyin?! Be still my geeky heart. This means I understood things much better than Cece did, because I only had to translate Pinyin to Mandarin to English, but wacky-made-up-by-the-author-system to Mandarin to English. AND! Cece's fav Chinese food? Muslim! MINE TOO. (Seriously, they need to start exporting that to the US. I could eat dingding mian every freakin' day. When I lived in Nanjing, I practicly did!) Also, I love the way she comes up with stories to remember her characters. (Although da, meaning big is NOT an exploding star. It's a man with his arms stretched wide! If you think of it as a man, you can add on to the story for other characters. Also, what's with always taking a soft sleeper train?! Way too expensive. Hard sleeper's where it's at. (Says the girl who gets street cred for once attempting to travel for 16 hours with a Standing Room ticket. Luckily, around hour 5, which was 4 am, a hard sleeper bed opened up and the ticket collecter took pity on me and offered me the upgrade.)

Anyway, and excellent addition to the series. I've been wanting them to do one on China since forever. This one does it justice.

Hour 1.5

Hours Read: 1.5
Books Read: .5
Pages Read: 153

I know MotherReader's only tracking time and not books and pages, but I'm still kicking it OLD SKOOL.


Nobody's Princess Esther Friesner

This is what we know about Helen of Troy-- she was the most beautiful woman in all of Ancient Greece and was stolen from her husband. The Trojan War happened to get her back and then she was returned to her husband.

Friesner wanted to know what happened before. So, this is Helen's story, growing up, longing to be more than a pretty face, longing for more from life than having a husband picked for her and being queen. So, Helen trains with her brothers, talks her way into the boar hunt of Calydon and befriends Atalanta AND the Oracle at Delphi.

A thoroughly enjoyable adventure tale, even though those versed in Greek Mythology will scoff at the premis. Friesner has an excellent authors note at the end, explaining where she got her details, as well as the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Helen could hande a sword. I very much want to read Nobody's Prize.

Here's another book that I read awhile ago and have the review written for that ties in well:

Quiver Stephanie Spinner

This is a novelization of the story of Atalanta. There are a few versions of the Atalanta myth, but Spinner pretty much follows the one that is outlined here. Told in first person from Atalanta's point of view, there are a occasional breaks that show conversations between various gods and goddesses to show how and why they are interfering in her story, and changing the course of events.

This is an excellent retelling of myth and a good author's note at the end. Y'all know how much I adore a good author's note.

The main difference (besides style) in these works is that Spinner has the hunt for the fleece happening before the hunt, so Atalanta and Jason are already friends (and, of course, Helen isn't there!) Friesner puts the fleece after the hunt.

Zero Hour

Well, I've been to the store, cleaned the house, and packed for my trip tomorrow.

It's time to start reading.

There's no way I'll be defending my record of 42 hours reading that I set last year, but I do hope to get to 20.

Remember-- I'm donating $1 to Bridget Zinn for everyone who participates in the challenge (you need the start and end post on MotherReader) and another $1 for everyone who reads 20+ hours!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Ok, My friend Jerry has been bugging me FOREVER to get my own domain name.

Someone is squatting in, but it's time to start redirecting your feeds to...

That's my name! Don't wear it out. :)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Books about Boys and cultural identity. And boys. Did I mention boys?

Dark Dude Oscar Hijuelos

Set in the late 60s, Rico is fed up with being the only Cubano in Harlem who's blond, light-skinned (he has freckles!) and hazel-eyed. Couple that with the fact that he was really sick as a child and spent a lot of time in hospitals and subsequently speaks messed up Spanish, and people have a really hard time believing Rico's Latino at all. He's sick of being beat up for his looks. He's sick of the kids at his school venting their frustration at whitey on him. When his friend Jimmy becomes a serious junky, Rico decides it's time to take a cue from Huck Finn, and runs away to a buddy's farm in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, Rico blends in and doesn't need to worry about his heritage, although he does miss his family. But Wisconsin isn't always the escape he thought it would be.

I loved, loved, loved Rico's voice and his believable vulnerability. This is a long book and it just flew by, but not in that fluffy-fast-read sort of way, but in that way that I just couldn't put it down. It wasn't gripping the way a thriller or mystery is, but I just wanted to keep hanging out with Rico and Jimmy and Gilberto and everyone else on the farm. One of Hijuelos's other book, Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is an adult title that's been on my to-read list for awhile. It's getting moved way way way up.

Mexican WhiteBoy Matt de la Pena

With a Mexican father and white mother, Danny has never felt like he fits in. When he's in his predominately white neighborhood and school, he's just that Mexican kid, but when he goes down to National City to spend the summer with his father's family, he's the white kid.

Still, this summer, getting to know his father's family, playing baseball, will give Danny many answers about who he is.

This is a hard one to review. I mean, it's extremely well-written. It's an excellent book. There are a million and one things right with it. There is very little wrong with it except that it's about boys. And baseball. An excellent book that a lot of people will love, but just not my thing.

And that's ok.

Challenge Update...

Hmmm... how am I doing on those challenges?

Well, there's the TBR challenge and I've read 3 books! Just 9 more before the end of December!

Octavian Nothing II, Kingdom on the Waves
Frog Princess
High Fidelity

Then there's the banned book challenge. I said I'd read 10 by June 30th. So far, I've read 1.


For the 1% challenge, I need to read 13 books by the end of the year. I've done 1.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

For the Buy Books Challenge, I need to buy and read 12 books by the end of the year.

I've purchased 11 and read 5!

Turning Pages
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Forever Princess

Frog Princess

For the Chunkster Challenge, I have to read 6 adult books of 450+ pages by the end of the year. I've done 1.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

And then there's my own Guardian Challenge, which has me reading 10 books by February 1.

Yeah, I've got nothing on that.

AND! Then there are two June-only challenges:

MotherReader's 48 Hour Challenge, where I read as much as possible in 48 hours this weekend.

And now there's the Summer Reading Blitz, where I attempt to read 30 books this month. So far, I've done 1:

Forest of Hands and Teeth

Lots of reading to do!

Guardian Challenge

Hey folks! Time to update your June reviews!

BUT! Mr. Linky is having some issues and disabled my favorite widget, so... leave me a comment and I'll update this post with your reviews. Or add them to Mr. Linky when they get their issues resolved.

Anna read Rebecca

Monday, June 01, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels Scott McCloud

I had to read this for my young adult literature class last summer. While McCloud does have a book, Understanding Comics, my professor felt that Making Comics was a better introduction to the art form and how to read them.

Making Comics is a comic book about how comics are made. It talks about the history of comics, the role they play in different areas of the world (they're taken much more seriously in Europe in Japan) and the different styles of comics. Of course, it talks about how to lay out a story, choosing your frames, perfecting your drawing skills, and different tools used and the effects they achieve. Throughout, McCloud animates himself, walking us through these steps and issues with himself as a friendly, funny, and slightly self-deprecating narrator/tour guide.

If you're interested in making comics (or even if you aren't, I totally wanted to be a comics writer after reading this even though I can't draw at all) or are interested in how to read them, why artists make the choices they do, or the history of them, or just want an interesting non-fiction read in comic book form, this one's for you.

Round up is over at Jean Little Library!