December 2007


Hurry and enter Em’s Winter Book Giveaway contest! It’s almost too late, so I’m glad I remembered to post this just in time. You can win some great books!

I’ve found a challenge to participate in for 2008: The 888 Challenge. The challenge is to read eight books in eight different categories in ’08. They can overlap with other challenges, and eight books can overlap into different categories. I’m not going to choose books now, but I’ll leave a link to this in the sidebar as well. I found this one through Alyssa. I reserve the right to change this at any time, but for now here’s what I have:

Category 1: Non-fiction

Category 2: Favorite re-reads

Category 3: Books found through other bloggers

Category 4: Adult novels

Category 5: POD books

Category 6: Books published at least 10 years ago

Category 7: Debut novels

Category 8: First in a series books

I’ve decided to start my own challenge. Check out the details here, and you can always get back to that through the link in the sidebar. Basically, I want to find new books and authors in 2008, and this is a way to do so!

I’d like to share a few cool links from around the internet.

Over at Look Books, there’s a great post about the Newbery awards.

Jacket Whys is a great new blog about children’s and YA book covers.

I’m sure many of you, as book lovers, will be able to relate to this post at ForeWord.

Check out Little Willow’s post about YA as opposed to adult books.

And that’s about it, for the moment.

I don’t know if I’ll be around to do this when 2008 actually starts, so I’ll go ahead and post this early. So here they are, my reading (and blogging) goals for the year 2008.

In 2008, I am recycling my goal to read a book a day, 365 books. Actually, I think it’s a leap year so 366. In 2007 I only read about 300, but hopefully I can actually meet the goal in 2008!

I also want to keep remembering to record all the books I read, title and author at the very least, and preferably some more information and notes, but that’s not a requirement. The records should be kept in my notebook and also posted online for a set time period. I can’t decide if that should be months or something shorter–every week, or twice a month? I guess we’ll see.

I also want to review every book I read, with the exception of those read for school. Reviewing my history textbook would be stupid.

Those read for school count towards the number read if I read at least 75% of the book (with novels, I’ll read it all, but with, say, the Princeton Review Guide to the AP World History Exam, I might skip a section or two).

I want to complete at least 5 different challenges over the course of the year. Hopefully that’ll introduce me to some great books I would not have read otherwise! I may create my own challenge, too.

I’d love to participate in the Cybils again, and try to read a bigger percentage of the nominees than I was able to this year (which should be doable as I won’t have finals. I had mostly semester-long classes this year, and will have mostly year-long classes next year).

I want to  keep up with this blog better! By this I mean updating review lists more often, posting more interviews, actually doing the Tell An Author You Care thing every month that I promised to do but forgot to do ages ago, and maybe adding a new feature (details on that later).

I’ll make this a page of its own as well as a new post, linked to in the sidebar, and if you think I’m not keeping up with it well enough, tell me! I’d also love to hear about your reading goals for 2008.

I was going to participate in the Saturday Review of Books Challenge. I picked out some good books, and I still might finish that list, but the challenge is done and I failed miserably. Hopefully I’ll try some new challenges in 2008, though! Congratulations to all the people who finished that one.

So, 2007 is almost over. I read some great stuff this year, but unfortunately I didn’t make my goal of 365 books. So I guess it’s my goal again for next year, but that’s another post (reading goals for 2008). I have a confession to make: I forgot to keep track of the books I read past about September. As you may have noticed, due to a lack of reading lists. But I’d like to go ahead and mention some that really resonated with me personally, limited to first-time reads (as I did reread a few favorites). There are so, so many more that I adored, but these are the ones I remember well even months later, the ones I’m eager to reread as I make this list, and the ones that really made me think. It’s a long list, but I had to cut a lot of great books out! Series books that I read all of this year are listed together. Before I start the long, long list, though, I’d like to mention my “shortlist” of my top ten (well, it’s more, but they’re listed by entry with series together). This was really hard to narrow down, but if you don’t want to look at the whole long list, check this one out. I have also decided on a best book of the year:

The best book I read in 2007 is Ophelia, by Lisa Klein.

  1. Ophelia by Lisa Klein
  2. Set in Stone by Linda Newbery
  3. Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
  4. The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  5. The Nature of Jade by Deb Calletti
  6. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  7. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
  8. A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern (Edited to add: the American title–I read the British edition–is There’s No Place Like Here.)
  9. Red edited by Amy Goldwasser
  10. Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
  • Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
  • Ophelia by Lisa Klein
  • Set in Stone by Linda Newbery
  • The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen
  • The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher
  • Kitty Goes Californian by Pepper McNeil
  • Girl At Sea by Maureen Johnson
  • My Secret and Postsecret, edited by Frank Warren
  • The Poker Diaries by Liza Conrad
  • Rock My World by Liza Conrad
  • Does My Head Look Big In This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
  • The Brief History Of The Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  • Buried Onions by Gary Soto
  • The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  • While I Live by John Marsden
  • Princess Nevermore by Dian Curtis Regan
  • The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti
  • First Light by Rebecca Stead
  • Sammy and Juliana In Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
  • The Silenced by James DeVita
  • Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
  • Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci
  • Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
  • Harley, Like A Person by Cat Bauer
  • In The Garage by Alma Fullerton
  • The Straight Road To Kylie by Nico Medina
  • A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern
  • The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  • Secret Society Girl and Under The Rose by Diana Peterfreund
  • Gentle’s Holler and Louisiana’s Song by Kerry Madden
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  • Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  • Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
  • Evolution, Me, And Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
  • The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr
  • Life As It Comes by Anne-Laure Bondoux
  • Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  • Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
  • Red, edited by Amy Goldwasser
  • Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
  • Or Not by Brian Mandabach
  • Reaching For Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
  • Go Figure by Jo Edwards
  • Snitch by Allison van Diepen
  • Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I reserve the right to add anything I read/think of before January 2nd :-) I hope that gives everyone some ideas to spend their Christmas gift cards on!

110 words

Touchtyping online

I have no idea how that compares to anyone else in the world, so if anyone cares to take the test and tell me?

Merry Christmas, to those of you who celebrate it! (And a happy early/late holiday for those of you who celebrate other holidays, and, well, happy Tuesday to those of you who don’t celebrate anything.) If you’re looking to escape your relatives for awhile, I don’t have the time to write anything new for you tonight, but I do have some cool links to check out:

First, I’ve got to direct you to my favorite Christmas book, ever. I almost forgot about it this year, though! I first read it when I was six, and I’ve loved The Best Christmas Pageant Ever ever since.

Also, check out this booklist about YA books with Latino main characters. Really, though, from what on it I’ve read, it’s also just a list of great books! It was compiled by a librarian, Lisa Linsday, and posted here by Mitali Perkins.

For some laughs, check out Forbes’s list of the 15 richest fictional characters.

Check out this review of A Bottle In The Gaza Sea from propernoun.net. I adored Valerie Zenatti’s When I Was A Soldier (and need to blog about it!), so I really can’t wait to read this one. Too bad it’s not out yet!

That’s it for now. Go back  to your families. Exchange gifts. Eat too much. Get into arguments. Watch television. Or whatever your family does!

*Leap of Faith is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominee*

LEAP OF FAITH is about Abby, a girl who gets sent to Catholic school after being expelled from her public school for assault. She stabbed a boy with a pocketknife. But only because no one would listen to her about what he was doing to her, and she had no more options. His father was the principal! Her own parents are always busy, always working, and don’t seem to have time to listen to their daughter.

At her new school, she finds friends, real friends, begins to do well in school, and even gets involved with the drama department, an elective she only signed up for in the first place because it didn’t seem academic. Of course, as the title suggests, much of this book is about religion. Abby has been raised without one, and her parents, at least her father, seem to be pretty strongly not religious. And nobody at school pressures Abby to become Catholic, but she begins to look more closely at faith, at her own faith, despite the way that upsets her father. She wonders if maybe religion’s not as bad as her father seems to think, and even signs up for classes in preparation to become Catholic. Still, though, she definitely questions it. Is she really going to go through with it, to be Catholic, to have faith, or is she just in it because she feels like it’ll help her out, socially?

I’m not religious, and I also would have hated it if I’d been sent to a religious school, but this book, well, wow. One thing I noticed was how different it is from most books I’ve read about young people and religion. Most of these books (except the ones written specifically with the purpose of advocating a specific religion, which I don’t feel this was) are about people questioning the strong beliefs they’ve been raised with–Evolution, Me, And Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande and Converting Kate by Becky Weinheimer come to mind–and for some reason that seems more acceptable in literature (again, excluding books written to advocate a specific religion) than what Bradley did here; she took a risk in writing this, as did the mainstream publisher in publishing it, but it worked.

I’m going to borrow a phrase from my review of Converting Kate to talk about this one:
“This crisis of faith idea, the idea of learning to think for oneself, is certainly not new in adolescent literature. It’s definitely relevant, too; so many children have grown up with their parents’ beliefs, never realizing that perhaps that’s not the only way to think until they’re older – say, teenagers. These are important books to have, important issues to write about as questioning of faith, regardless of how one answers those questions, is part of the human (and teenage) experience.”

That’s what this book is about, too, but it’s unique in that the main character finds faith, questioning her parents’ lack of it, and yet I feel it will appeal to readers of all religious beliefs. Catholics, atheists, Presbyterians, whatever. That is pretty remarkable.
Aside from that religious aspect and the fact that this book does deal with heavy topics (religion, sexual harassment) remarkably well (and appropriately, being a middle grade book), it’s also very well written. I loved the characters, Abby and her friend Chris in particular. I highly recommend this book for anyone, really, of any age, despite its being a middle grade book.

*Reaching For The Sun is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominee*

REACHING FOR SUN is a verse novel about a girl with cerebral palsy. Josie Wyatt is different in more ways than one from the kids at school. Immediately visible is her disability, but her life is also different. She lives in an old farmhouse with her mother and grandmother, while the popular kids live in the rich neighborhood behind her house. Josie doesn’t have any friends; some of the other kids are mean, some ignore her. She has her grandmother, and the people at the nursing home they visit. Her mother works long hours and goes to school when she’s not at work. Josie’s life is not easy.

Then Jordan comes to town. He’s about Josie’s age, but, unlike the other kids, he doesn’t seem to notice or care that there’s anything different about her. He lives in the rich neighborhood, but his home life isn’t as warm and happy as Josie’s with her grandmother, so he spends a lot of time at her house. He becomes a friend, something Josie isn’t used to having. And maybe more?

REACHING FOR SUN is a beautiful, honest, heartbreaking and heartwarming story. I believe this is Zimmer’s first novel, and it is quite impressive. I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next. Full of wonderful characters and lovely poetry, I couldn’t put this book down.

*Class Favorite is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominee*

CLASS FAVORITE is a cute, fun story about a middle school girl who suffers all sorts of humiliations over a short time. Sara Thurman quickly goes from being invisible to wishing she was when her mother sends her flowers at school to congratulate her on getting her period. Suffering in private would have been bad enough, but who spilled the beans to the entire school? Well, her best friend, Arlene, was the only person she told… (Side note: I know they’re in Texas, in what seems to be a small town, but, honestly, how many middle school girls are named Arelene??).

From there, it seems to be one humiliation after another. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even have her best friend to help her through it all, as they’re fighting. She’s made a new friend, Kirstie, but, well, Kirstie may not be all that she seems. Sara also really wants to win the title of Class Favorite in the yearbook, beating out nice, popular Rosemary who won it the year before. Also, she has a huge crush on Jason, a popular boy at school. Being humiliated in front of the entire school doesn’t exactly help with being Class Favorite or getting Jason to notice her in a way that doesn’t involve her total humiliation.

This is a story about a girl who wants to be popular, and things don’t go her way. That’s nothing new, really, and the “twist” at the end was kind of predictable. However, it’s still enjoyable, and Sara is a relatable character. It’s a fun read, and one that the target audience (middle school girls) will probably enjoy more than I did. It’s not one of those middle grade titles that can cross over to be loved by all age groups, but it’s not bad. Taylor Morris’s writing is good and funny, and CLASS FAVORITE at least helped me pass a couple of otherwise boring hours laughing.

*Home of the Brave is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nomine*

Katherine Applegate is also known as KA Applegate, creator of the Animorphs series (and writer of many of them, though quite a few were ghostwritten). I loved these books when I was younger, and even today, though I realize they’re far from being great literature, I still enjoy rereading my favorites. I still feel like I know the characters!

However, I wasn’t sure how great the writing would be in HOME OF THE BRAVE. Because, well, as exciting as the Animorphs books are to a nine-year-old, they’re not really very well-written. I was also unsure because HOME OF THE BRAVE is, to my knowledge, totally unlike anything Applegate has written before. It’s her first stand-alone novel, for one thing. It’s also a verse novel, something that can be hard to master. And it’s not sci-fi (thought I think she’s written other non-sci-fi books before, just nothing I’ve ever read).

This novel is told from the point of view of Kek, a young boy who comes alone to America from his home in Sudan, having lost his father and brother, not knowing where his mother is, to live with his aunt and older cousin. Possibly in Minnesota. I’m not sure. It sounds like Minnesota, there’s lots of snow and it’s really cold, and one character in the book mentions being from Minneapolis and having a brother who lives in St. Paul. Also, aren’t there a lot of African immigrants in that area? I think I read a magazine article about it. Someone, please, correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, Kek is quite obviously not used to life in America. His life at first was in a village in Sudan, with his family and his cattle and freedom. Then, the men with guns came and killed many people, but Kek and his mother got away and went to a refugee camp. Before he came to the US, though, he got separated from his mother. He doesn’t know where she is, or even if she’s alive. Kek is an eternal optimist, though.

Kek struggles to adapt to life in America–to school, where he is in an ESL class with kids from all over the world. To dishwashers, blue jeans, grocery stores, and other such things we take for granted. To speaking a new language. Luckily, though, he’s not alone. Kek has his aunt and Ganwar, a new friend named Hannah, the man from the Refugee Resettlement Center named Dave,  and an old woman named Louise who lets Kek look after her cow, whom he names Gol, the word in his native language for family.

Wow, just, wow. I mentioned my lack of expectations for this book, but it totally blew me away.  The verse is simple and powerful, told in first person through Kek’s eyes. The characters are wonderful. HOME OF THE BRAVE is a moving, amazingly well-written novel detailing a young boy’s struggles to adapt to life in a new country, an important topic. Kids need to understand this, with so many people from all over the world coming to America all the time. It’s a glimpse into the reality of that struggle, one we need. We come into contact with new immigrants all the time, and a better understanding of what they’re going through would be beneficial for anyone, but it’s something that kids in particular may not understand.

It’s also worth mentioning that HOME OF THE BRAVE is published by Feiwel and Friends, a relatively new imprint of Holtzbrink Publishers, and they’ve done a fantastic job with this book. I’ve got a couple of their other titles waiting to be read when I’m done with the Cybils, too.

In short, if you have any interest at all (and you should), I urge you to read this book! It’s amazing, nothing short of fantastic.

2008 is almost here, and with it the Class of 2k8. For those of you who don’t know, this is a group of children’s and YA authors who have their debut novels (for this audience–some of them have previously published other types of books) coming out in 2008. To find out more about the whole concept, check out the Class of 2k7. All of their books are (I think) now released, and there were some fantastic ones!

It looks like 2008 is going to be a good year for books! Besides those from already published authors that I’m really looking forward to, we’ve got some fantastic-looking debuts to look forward to.

I’ve been reading the summaries and excerpts on the site, and, wow, am I 1)impressed and 2)looking forward to 2008! As you will be, once you check it out. Also, don’t miss the Class of 2k8 blog.

*The Empress’s Tomb is a 2007 Cybils MG Fiction Nominee*

The Empress’s Tomb is Kirsten Miller’s second book about Kiki Strike, the fourteen-year-old Princess of Pokrovia who has been in hiding with her caretaker, Verushka, since an assassination attempt failed when she was very small. Though the series is named after Kiki, it’s narrated by Ananka, Kiki’s smart, well-read sidekick, whose life may not be as interesting or full of the intrigue and mystery that Kiki’s is, but she sure tells a good story.

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