Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Looking Glass Wars and Seeing Redd-- Frank Beddor

Fantasy has just declared war on reality.

*Grins* Isn't that the best tagline for a book trilogy ever? Ok, maybe not EVER, but I really like it. I have always been a huge fan of all things Alice in Wonderland, so I will be the first to admit this book review might be a little biased. However, upon speaking with others who have read and enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy (the third is forthcoming), I am glad to know it wasn't just my personal Alice in Wonderland obsession taking over.

Put simply, the trilogy is based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... but it is much, much more than that. The white rabbit is now Bibwit Harte, an albino tutor with extraordinarily large ears and Alyss' Chief Advisor. The Mad Hatter is now Hatter Madigan, the Chief Bodyguard whose tophat folds down into a series of spinning blades, and is the world's most deadly weapon. Imagination is just like magic in these books, and Alyss is the expert in utilizing White Imagination. Of course, her opponents, namely Redd (Queen of Hearts), employ Black Imagination. And, let's not forget The Cat (Cheshire Cat) who is a deadly assassin employed by Redd, who has wolverine-like claws and nine lives.

These books are surprisingly violent... although the violence is fantastical (an ace of hearts gets beheaded, a bomb made out of crystal blows up a tower, etc etc), it is still present. There is much war, espionage, and intrigue... perfect for young readers for whom realistic violence is not appropriate, but they want to read about it none-the-less.
These books are particularly good in the audio version. In fact, they are so good that way, I would recommend listening to them rather than reading them, if possible. But in either format, I would recommend these books to tweens and younger teens, both boys and girls, especially those who like retellings of old tales and fantasy stories.

Side note: These books are currently being made into films, and there is a graphic novel series debuting at Comic-Con featuring Hatter Madigan.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blood Roses- Francesca Lia Block

Blood Roses is a collection of very short stories by the renowned author Francesca Lia Block. Block is best known for her Weetzie Bat books, and has received all kinds of awards, including the Margret A. Edwards lifetime achievement award. The Weetzie books were published in the 90's and are full of real-life fairy tale, post-punk rock L.A., loving life goodness.

Blood Roses, however, just doesn't move you the way the Weetzie books could. Possibly Block's sensual, honest, impressionistic fairy tale writing style just isn't as original as it once was? Maybe YA literature has matured over the years and her work just isn't as stand-out unique? For me, I think, Blood Roses was a little underdeveloped. It was like Block had all these ideas for books that she just couldn't work out, so she turned them into short stories. It's not that they were poorly written or no good... it's just that I expect more from Block after all these years of incredible books. Teens who enjoy Weetzie Bat and nontraditional, creative writing styles might still go for this book, but otherwise, I think it might be a hard sell.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Body Drama-- Nancy Redd

I do believe I have stumbled upon the best "what is happening to my body" book for teen girls that I have ever seen. I SO wish this book existed when I was an adolescent! Finally, an honest book that gives the answers girls really want to know. This book would be perfect for the teen girl who needs information, but doesn't want to actually talk to someone about her problems.

Body Drama has real photographs, not the cartoon-y drawings many books have. The photos are of real, not airbrushed teen girls in every shape, size, and color. While this book does not glorify unhealthy weight, it does portray girls who are not stick-thin as healthy and beautiful women. I do feel that I should mention this: the pictures are taken very clearly and close-up. If you have a conservative or extremely shy teen, this book might embarrass her. I have never seen such honest photography in a book meant for youth, and be warned, there are close up pictures of body parts you never thought you would see in this format in a teen book. One of the last pages has small photos of 30 nude girls. They are not sexual at all; they are just a celebration of healthy female bodies.

On various blogs, I have read that some libraries are placing this book in the adult section due to the honesty of the photographs. I am proud that FVRL has placed this teen book where it belongs: in the YA Nonfiction section.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Road of the Dead-- Kevin Brooks

I love thrillers and mysteries. I might be a wuss when it comes to horror movies, but scary books I can handle! Bring on the corpses!

The Road of the Dead, however, I didn't love. At all. Maybe I just don't like Kevin Brooks's writing style? I have also read Candy and Being by this author and both of those books just left me saying "meh." The interesting thing to me is that I keep picking up books by Brooks... maybe I WANT to like his books and writing style but I just can't?

The Road of the Dead takes place in England, mostly in the swampy countryside. The setting of the book contributes heavily to the mood of the story. In this tale of grief and revenge, Ruben and Cole's sister is murdered while visiting her friend in a small town in rural England. The police will not return her body to the family for burial until the murder is solved, so Cole and Ruben decide to travel to her murder site and solve the mystery themselves. Ruben's character is fairly interesting (he is clairvoyant... what the heck is with all these mind-reading books I have been reading lately?!), and we spend a lot of time in his head. However, the other characters in the book are one dimensional and almost like caricatures rather than engaging people.

Although I wasn't a fan of this book, I would still pass it on to teens. I think they will like the thriller-ness of this tale, and they might also be enticed by the mystery. Fans of Plum-Ucci's Body of Christopher Creed, Lois Duncan's books, or all those teen slasher flicks might enjoy this book.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vibes vs. Dream Girl

Sassy, curvy, gothy, and psychic teen Kristi stands out in every way. Unlike the other barbie doll-esque girls with whom she attends school, Kristi has more glaring concerns on her mind then who to date. Kristi is psychic, and has to work very hard to separate the thoughts of others from her own. Always expressive, often to the point of being offensive, Kristi is smart and vocal about her opinions. She makes her own clothes, listens to opera, and befriends the school freaks. Now if only she could get uber-popular and totally hot Gusty out of her mind... but she just keeps getting these Vibes.

Claire Voyante is not your typical Dream Girl. Her french parents don't even know how ironic her name is because Claire keeps her psychic abilities a secret from everyone but her Grandmother Kiki. Dressed vintage Chanel, Fendi, and Givenchy outfits, Claire runs around New York solving mysteries and defending the honor of her new best friend Becca.

To be fair, it is hard to summarize books like these and make them sound inventive and enticing, which Vibes really was. I enjoyed the Kristi's strong character and I liked that she was curvy and proud. While she could easily be labeled as a goth chick, she isn't stereotypical in the way many goth kids are portrayed in YA Lit. I also appreciated the realistic way her parents and friends were written... often flaws are the most interesting part about a person, and in too many YA books, everything wraps up clean, pretty, and sparkly.

Dream Girl, however, left me wanting a better story. It felt a little bit like Gossip Girl, Blue Bloods, and some pop-culture TV shows all wrapped up together. While it wasn't a terrible book, it paled in comparison to Vibes. I would still pass this book on, especially to the girls who can't get enough of those rich girl books sprinkled generously with fashion and celebrities. However, anyone looking for a truly engaging story about a teen girl with the ability to hear other people's thoughts and/or see the future should choose Vibes over Dream Girl.

Vibes-- Amy Kathleen Ryan
Dream Girl-- Lauren Mechling

Every Soul a Star-- Wendy Mass

Wendy Mass is one of those authors I discovered accidentally. I was shelving books at a branch library and I came upon her premiere work: Mango Shaped Space. On the back, there was a brief review from another author I liked, so I gave the book a chance. I am truly glad I did because I loved Mango and have read everything Mass has written sense (even the children's and tween books, which is the category Mango Shaped Space fits into).

Every Soul a Star in told from the perspective of three different teens (sound familiar?). Ally is an outerspace and astronomy genius who lives with her parents and brother at the isolated Moon Shadow Campground. Jack flunked science class, but his teacher offers him a get-out-of-summer school-free card: work as his assistant on an eclipse/astronomy project and he doesn't need to retake his class. Bree is a teen model, fashion expert, and make-up application guru. When the three of them are thrown together at Moon Shadow camp preparing for a full solar eclipse, predictable chaos ensues. However, in the end, stereotypes are broken, friendships are made, hearts are mended, and some major stargazing occurs.

One thing I appreciate about Wendy Mass is that I can always offer her books to conservative, sheltered, and/or younger teens. Most of her books are best for girls, except Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, which has a male protagonist. While the end of most of her books are a little too perfect and a wee bit schmaltzy for my taste, teens enjoy them. It is nice to have a go-to author when a teen (or his/her parents) wants a non-edgy, clean teen fiction recommendation.

Also by Wendy Mass:

A Mango Shaped Space
Leap Day
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
Heaven Looks a lot Like the Mall

What I Was-- Meg Rosoff

First, a confession: What I Was isn't exactly a YA book... it sort-of kind-of is, but according to the small amount of research I did through WorldCat, almost all libraries catalog it as adult fiction. However, as Meg Rosoff mostly writes YA fiction (including one of my favorite books of all time, How I Live Now), and since the characters are teens, I feel it is appropriate to review this book on a YA Lit blog.

H has been kicked out of more schools than he can count. He has been sent to St. Oswald's, a boarding school on the coast of England that time has forgotten. H is not particularly smart, athletic, or witty. However, he excels at self-preservation, secret keeping, and sneaking out... all of which are the qualities he needs to succeed in his new life's mission: to spend as much time with Finn as possible. On a school nature outing, H discovers a boy named Finn who lives by himself in a cottage by the sea. After Finn's grandmother died, he had only the sea and a cat for companionship... until H came along years later. H insinuates himself into Finn's life, and only when tragedy strikes does H find out what Finn... and H himself... is really made of. This is a story about loss, relationships, true platonic love, and boarding school.

I would recommend this book to YA readers who like well written books. While the subject matter is appropriate for teens 13 and up, the writing style is a little more advanced than the typical YA tome. Although the protagonist is male, I think boy and girls will both enjoy this book... and besides, who can resist a boarding school book? I sure can't!

Monday, July 7, 2008

How to Be Bad-- E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle

How to Be Bad is written by three popular YA authors: E. Lockhart who also wrote Fly on the Wall, The Boyfriend List, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landue-Banks (fab fab fabulous book!), and more. Sarah Mlynowski penned the Bras and Broomsticks books, and Lauren Myracle is known for her TTYL books. Each author takes on a character and the chapters of this book are narrated by three different female characters.

Honestly, this book isn't about how to be bad... mostly it is about how to be a good friend. The three gals, Jesse, Vicks, and Mel take a road trip to Miami to Chase down lost boyfriends, see giant stuffed alligators, and to visit the smallest police station in the entire world. This book is not fine literature, but you could tell the authors had fun writing it together. I would recommend this book to teen girls who are looking for a beach or bathtub read. While there are some serious issues that come up (cancer, poverty, religious zeal), mostly How to be Bad is about three girls having fun.

Jars of Glass-- Brad Barkley & Heather Hepler

Chloe is an artist. Shana is a goth girl who uses white makeup to mask her inner turmoil. Micah is their adopted brother who doesn't speak and eats sugar by the bagful. Their father runs a funeral home in theory, but mostly sits on the roof drinking cheap whiskey and chain smoking cartons of cigarettes. Where is Chloe and Shana's mother? She is locked away in a mental institution after angels told her to place her son's hand on the stove.

Jars of Glass is narrated in alternating chapters by the sisters Chloe and Shana. While they each have a distinct voice, the story blends together well. Overall, the book was okay, but isn't a title that will linger with me for longer than a couple of months. The story is well written, but a bit tired. I get bored reading about how all goth kids are emotionally stunted and about abusive parents who are so worthless they don't even have a name. The plot felt a bit recycled, and while it was engaging enough for me to read in just a few days, there wasn't anything stand-out about it. I would give this book to teens who liked Barkley and Hepler's Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, or girls who like weepy sad stories that wrap up nicely at the end.

Just got back from ALA!

Hello blogreaders!

I just got back from attending the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA. It was fabulous; I attended tons of really engaging workshops and came home with about 40 ARCs (advance reader copies of books.... they rule).

Thanks for being patient with me while I was away, and I will be posting tons of new reviews of books I read while I was gone (I read 11 books in 9 days so watch out!!).