February 2009


Wondrous Strange is about Kelley, an aspiring actress in New York City, who, like most people, doesn’t really believe in faeries offstage. She’s an understudy in an off-Broadway (way off Broadway) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that’s as close to the supernatural as she comes, until a horse (that isn’t really a horse) who eats frosted cereal (and nothing else) takes up residence in her bathtub, and she has one too many encounters with a weird stranger.

The weird stranger, Sonny, is really just trying to protect Kelley, but she doesn’t know that. He notices that something about her is different–that she is not exactly human. He guards the Samhain gate in Central Park. That gate connects the dangerous, enchanted faerie realm with the human one, and the consequences if certain faeries were to get through could be disastrous. 

Faeries, as you may have noticed, are huge right now. And, while this was an enjoyable read, honestly, there are a lot of better faerie stories; this one is largely unremarkable. It’s readable, sure, and enjoyable enough, but…meh. The characters weren’t particularly well-drawn, and their relationships seemed unrealistic and weirdly paced. I didn’t really believe a lot of their interactions, and the romance seemed forced and weird. The plot and faerie mythology (including the Shakespeare) used here were interesting, but not particularly original. I loved the New York aspect, though! Overall, this book can best be described as fine. Mediocre. It was a good read, though noticeably flawed, but it probably won’t stick with you and you won’t feel compelled to read it again or anything. If there’s a sequel, I’ll read it if it comes my way, but probably won’t go out of my way to get a copy. Three out of six windows. 

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  • Hardcover? Or paperback? I like paperbacks a little more, because they’re easier to read while doing something else. However, since the title of today’s meme is “Collectibles,” perhaps it should be more about, I don’t know, appearance or something, and not readability? But why would I have books I didn’t want to read? I don’t understand collecting books if you’re not going to read them, and the most readable books, for a multitasker like myself, are trade paperbacks. Not mass market paperbacks, which annoy me.
  • Illustrations? Or just text? If the illustrations are good, and really add something, then I like them. Sometimes, though, they feel superflous. I never feel like I need illustrations, though, which is weird because I love art, I just don’t usually connect it with my love of reading.
  • First editions? Or you don’t care? I think it’s cool to have first editions of books that later become popular, but not in an important way, just, if you know it’s a first edition, you can think “oh, wow, cool, I have a first edition of  (insert popular book title here).” But, practically, it really doesn’t matter to me. 
  • Signed by the author? Or not? I love signed books, particularly if they’re personalized, because it means I’ve connected with the author in some way, and that is always cool. I’m always a little star-struck when I meet (in person or online) one of my favorite authors! 

 

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A Kiss In Time is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. In this story, when the princess of Euphrasia pricks her finger on a spindle and the entire country falls asleep, it also disappears off the map. No one knows it’s there, until a couple of idiot teenage boys (escapees from an educational trip) hack through the thickets and find it. One of them, Jack, decides to kiss Talia when he finds her asleep on the floor. Which I personally find really creepy (Edward Cullen level creepy) even if it’s supposed to be fairy tale love or something. Remember, Edward watches Bella sleep because they’re meant to be; destiny (real or imagined) does not make this any less creepy.

Anyway. Talia wakes up, and so does everyone else in Euphrasia. They discover they’ve been asleep for three centuries, and the modern world is not what they’re used to. Jack and Talia tell the story, alternating chapters, as this Sleeping Beauty leaves the only place and time she’s ever known, still looking over her shoulder for the witch who cursed her centuries ago. 

This is a fun twist on fairy-tale retelling, and I do love fairy tales. I like the idea, but the story itself isn’t really fast-paced, and it took me awhile to get through; it does not beg to be read. Despite the fact that it’s easy to put down, though, it’s also easy to pick back up, and overall an enjoyable reading experience. 

The characters weren’t extremely well-drawn, but I did appreciate that they change realistically based on their new experiences; at first, Jack is an idiot and Talia is a spoiled brat, but they manage to move beyond that. The changes, however, are told more than they are shown. It’s sad, but I was more intrigued by some minor characters (particularly Meryl, Jack’s sister) than I was by the (kind of boring) main characters. 

The alternating narration was not particularly necessary. Neither voice was particularly distinct or developed; it was more like the same person was changing point of view than two different people were changing the story. It’s like a picture drawn by the same person from two different angles, rather than the two different interpretations of a scene drawn by different artists, like good alternating narration should be. The writing as a whole is fine, but not exceptional.

[SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING]Jack and Talia’s happy-ever-after is too easy. The great quest that all fairy tales come with is relatively simple, but they act like it’s a hard-won battle against evil, when really it’s all kind of a misunderstanding.[END SPOILERS]

As a whole, however, this book was, while unremarkable, not terrible. I don’t finish terrible books. For fans of fairy tale retellings, it will do. However, I expected more of Alex Flinn, because she is a talented writer, and could do much better than this. Two and a half out of six windows.

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Again, my blogging is suffering because of my life. I’m sorry. I do have a few places where you can find me right now, though. 

One, I was a part of a ‘Teen Girl Panel’ on Jezebel, about sexting. Which means sending naked pictures of yourself around by cell phone. Read my thoughts on the whole issue here. Read the comments, too, there’s some good ones.

Also check out my RED blog. Some of the content there is from one of my other blogs, some is original–I share my content with myself quite a lot sometimes. 

This is not me, specifically, but it’s great. Adele gave RED a fantastic review at Persnickety Snark! We got her winged monkey rating. Awesome, no? Check it out here

Thanks again to Adele for letting me know that a blurb from my review is featured in the Australian edition of Paper Towns! Not the first time I’ve been on a book, but (as far as I know–publishers don’t have to tell reviewers when they use our reviews, so there may well be some review quotes from me floating around out there that I don’t know about), it’s the first time I’ve been on a book as me, and definitely the most awesome–John Green! I was definitely excited.

And, again, I will talk about Helium. This time, because I wrote a review of what I’ve been reading exclusively lately: the Animorphs series by KA Applegate. Again, let me know if you want a Helium invitation because if I invite you and you earn money, I get a little money (a few cents, but a few cents here and there adds up!) and you can invite your friends and we can all pass the good writing karma around. 

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Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

08.05.2009 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Remy Walker has it all: he found the love of his life at home in crumbling little Dwyer, West Virginia, deep in his beloved Appalachian Mountains where his family settled more than one hundred and sixty years ago. But at seventeen, you’re not supposed to already be where you want to be, right? You’ve got a whole world to make your way through, and you start by leaving your dead-end town. Like his girlfriend, Lisa. Lisa’s going away to college. If Remy goes with her, it would be the start of everything they ever dreamed of. So when a fascinating young artist from out of state shows Remy his home through new eyes, why is he suddenly questioning his future?

The author vividly depicts a rich and beautiful place in this powerful novel about a young man who, over the course of a summer, learns how much he has to give up for a girl, and how much he needs to give up for a mountain.

Doesn’t this look really, really good? It sounds powerful, and interesting, and plus it’s written by Melissa Wyatt, who I already know can write good books. I really like Raising The Griffin, and I can’t wait to read this one.

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I know. It’s taken me forever to announce this, but my random number generator has decided that the winners of the two ARCs of the sixth Ranger’s Apprentice book are:

deltay

and

Cathy W.

Thanks for playing, guys! I’ve emailed the winners.

It’s been a few weeks. So now I’m answering all the BTT questions I’ve missed. I’ve missed a lot, really; my life is crazy right now. I’ll be back…sometime, but for now, I’m sorry about the spotty posting and the not-answering of many emails and the not-reading of many blogs and all of that.

Anyway. Booking Through Thursday.

 

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First. Go read this great article from Time MagazineBooks Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.

Third. DISCUSS!

To be different, today, I’d love to see a discussion here, in the comments, rather than scattered amongst all our separate blogs. Because this is an issue that affects ALL of us, and I’d really like to see us hash out the merits and demerits of this evolution.

Tell us what you think. Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

Sure, feel free to write about this on your blog, but honestly–I’d love to see an in-depth discussion, and you can’t do that by flitting about the internet reading 100 different, individual essays. You can only get that by having the back and forth of conversation.

Okay. I know. I was supposed to discuss in the comments there. However, seeing as this was weeks ago, that discussion is probably dead, so I’ll just post a few quick thoughts here. 

Right now, I don’t read ebooks. I spend enough time as it is in front of the computer screen. I don’t hate the thought, though. I mean, it’s convenient, it saves trees, all of that. It’s fine with me. And I might reconsider not reading ebooks if I move overseas next year; it might be the best way to get English-language books. I might buy a Kindle or something. I really don’t have a lot to say about ebooks, though; I don’t read them, but as long as they don’t replace printed books (and I don’t think they will, since I know a lot of people who don’t want to read off a screen all the time!), it’s a good idea: environmentally sound (as long as people recycle their e-book-reading-devices properly), at least. 

The article also mentions self-published books. It says that self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it used to, and that a lot of self-published authors now go on to be successful. I disagree. Those examples cited are wonderful, but they are the exception, not the rule, and I would still advise against self-publishing. Self-published novels will never get the attention that traditionally-published (even small press) books do; in fact a lot of reviewers won’t even look at them. I do accept self-published books, and, let me tell you, a lot of times there’s a reason no traditional publisher or agent would take them. If you’ve queried every agent possible, look again; there are probably still more who might be the right fit for your book. If you truly have queried every agent possible (and are doing your research and querying the right agents)…then I’d take another look at the manuscript and see what’s holding it back. Writing the right book is the hard part, and if you haven’t done that, of course you’re not going to find an agent. See Diana Peterfreund’s post about this. 

Not to say there aren’t good self-published books; there are. It’s just that there are a lot more bad ones, and the good ones, I believe, could have gotten published traditionally, if they’d just queried that one last (or ten last or more) agent. 

 

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Suggested by Simon Thomas:

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse – a biography has made you love an author more?

No. I’m in kind of a unique position among readers (as are all bloggers) in that I actually have contact with a lot of the authors whose books I read. Some of them are great people. And I don’t necessarily love their books. For example, I recently read a book of an author whose previous books I’ve loved. She’s really talented, and a great person, but I didn’t love this most recent book and didn’t feel it lived up to the high standards set by what she’s written previously. And that’s okay. On the flip side, I’ve read books by authors who are kind of obnoxious, and loved the books. That’s okay, too. I see the people (whether my impression comes from reading a biography or a blog or talking to them) as separate from the books; I have to, otherwise I’d feel like I had to write good reviews about the books of people I like and bad ones about the books of people I hate. And that would make me an awful reviewer. 

 

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Suggested by Barbara H.:

A comment on someone else’s BTT question this week inspired this question:

Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

I read a lot of author blogs! Check out my sidebar for a sampling. I have a whole folder in my feed reader for author blogs. Why do I read them? Several reasons. Maybe because they’re better writers than the average blogger, and even when they’re not writing about their books, they have a lot of interesting things to talk about. For some, I love their books and it leads me to their blogs; for others, I love their blogs and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their books. When it’s the books leading me to the blogs or the blogs leading me to the books, I do like information on their upcoming projects, but it’s not a must. 

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This week’s question is suggested by Kat:

I recently got new bookshelves for my room, and I’m just loving them. Spent the afternoon putting up my books and sharing it on my blog . One of my friends asked a question and I thought it would be a great BTT question. So from Tina & myself, we’d like to know “How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?”

Storage is a big problem for me. See, the “shelves” part of this question throws me off. Yes, a lot of my books are on shelves. But a lot are in piles. Or boxes. Or drawers. Because I have a very difficult time parting with my books. Some of the mess is semi-organized; for instance, I try to keep most of my foreign language books on shelves behind my door. And my Harry Potter books are on the shelves at the head of my bed. And my Animorphs books are in a box next to my closet. But most of it is just random, wherever there’s room. I used to have them organized (at one time by author, another time by spine color–that looked really cool), but there’s just too many now! I should try harder, though; this means it’s hard to find things sometimes. 

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Both of these news items would have been more timely yesterday, but…life is insane. So here you go!

First, the Cybils winners were announced! You can check out the list here, but the ones I’m particularly happy about are, of course, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, in my category, YA fiction, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye’s book Honeybee winning the award for poetry. 

Second, my piece on Heifer International is up at I Heart Daily! Check it out here

Another reminder to check me out on Helium, because of an article that might interest a lot of you–I get a lot of requests for help from beginning bloggers, so I wrote this article about starting a book blog. 

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This blog’s been a little empty of late, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. Here a few places I can be found around the internet (and maybe you’ll get some ideas for posting your own writing, too!):

First, Teen Ink. I’ve posted before about the magazine & web site, and right now I’ve got two articles on there: a travel piece on Morocco and a college review of Fordham University. Which I may or may not be attending next year, but, no matter where I end up, this is a fantastic school. Anyway, both of my pieces are first in their sections (Travel & Culture and College Reviews) today, so that’s super cool. 

I’ve also posted some articles on Helium, which is an awesome website where you can write articles and stories and get paid for your writing. I think most payments depend on how many people view your article, but they have a marketplace where you can write for assignments and if your article is chosen you get paid a specified amount, and there are also contests. Check out my page here; I’ve written about body image, fiction, choosing a college, patriotism, and several other topics, and I’ve just gotten started! If you’re interesting in joining, and wouldn’t mind not just signing up right away, let me know so I can send you an invite; if I invite another writer, I get paid, too, when they earn money (5% I think). 

Also, if you’re not already keeping up with I Heart Daily, make sure to check it out on Saturday, when I’ll have a Red Hearts guest post up! 

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So because we all like to win things, I’m sharing these contest links I’ve collected recently. For a little effort (sometimes no more than leaving a comment), you can get a chance to win:

Good luck!

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I’m thrilled to be Justina Chen Headley’s last stop on her blog tour for North of Beautiful today. Make sure to go and check out her other stops at Mitali’s Fire Escape, Shelf Elf, Archimedes Forgets, and Biblio File

One of the most interesting parts of North of Beautiful, to me, was the maps, of all sorts (the cartography, the geocaching, the collages that were maps of sorts), all through the book. How and why did you come up with this aspect of the story?

It’s ironic that I settled on maps because I truly am the most directionally challenged person I know.  Although I’m geographically dyslexic, I love antique maps-they’re beautiful works of art, part fact, part fantasy.  Maps seemed like the perfect metaphor for Terra, a girl who is boxed in 

by her father, her definition of beauty, her small town.  And at the same time, maps were her key to freedom.  In their very gridlines, the ones that bound her in, was the promise of adventure…if she dared to break the boundaries. 

 North of Beautiful is about finding what’s truly beautiful, not necessarily what we’re told is beautiful. What are five things that you find most beautiful? 

Five Most Beautiful Things a la Justina!  Here goes…

a.  My children:  every minute with them is an exquisite moment of beauty. I would never trade a minute of our lives together for anything.

b.  My mom:  I dedicated North of Beautiful to my mother because she is so authentically beautiful. I’d add as a codicil, my dad and my in-laws who are pure love.

c.  My friends:  there are no more beautiful women and men than my peeps who have circled around me during a recent crisis. Loyalty. Strength. Friendship.  Those are the expressions of True Beauty.

d.  Unbridled laughter.  Definitely, beautiful.  

e.  Hummingbirds.  I could watch them forever.

Travel (one of my favorite things!) is also important in this novel. What’s the best trip you’ve ever been on? What do you think makes travel an important experience, in general?

I hope that my best trip will be one I take in the future!  I would love to go to Bhutan.  Mustang.  Bali.  I want to take my kids to Greece and France.  And Italy.  I want to hike the Arches.  Write in the Hudson Valley.  I want to go on a safari.  I want to sit still and simply be in Angkor Wat.  In the meantime, I will read about all these place.  Reading about a place, of course, is the next best thing to traveling to a place.

Traveling is a crash course on life:  logistics (how do I get from here to there?), survival (are you going to starve or try the fish eyes?), resilience (can I can trek for another kilometer?), resourcefulness (okaaaay…so the train was canceled. Now what?), tolerance (got it…so when they tell me I’m fat, it’s actually a compliment!). 

Terra’s port-wine stain makes her stand out in a way that isn’t exactly easy for her. Almost all of us feel like we’re being judged for our flaws, obvious or not, at some point or another, especially, it seems, teen girls. What advice do you have for girls who don’t fit our society’s standards of beauty (which is most of us) and have trouble feeling beautiful sometimes because of it?

Strive to be phenomenal, not merely beautiful.  You’ll be stronger for it.  And in the end, when you’ve hit your potential as a person and as a woman, you’ll be much, much more beautiful than you ever imagined possible. 

Thanks, Justina! 

Want to win your very own signed copy of North of Beautiful? Be the first commenter to correctly answer the following question: What is the world’s leading online book community that Justina co-founded?

Also check out my review of the book and Justina’s blog. I’ll be posting a link to said online book community, too, but not right now–don’t want to give away the answer! 

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Bloomability has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked up first, years ago. It’s about Dinnie, a girl who’s always moved from place to place with her box of things, following her father from opportunity to opportunity. She’s quiet and introspective and adaptable, but when her aunt and uncle take her with them from her home, from the only family she knows, she doesn’t want to be adaptable. She wants to be with her parents and her sister, Stella, and Stella’s new baby, and her brother, Crick. This opportunity is a lot more than she realizes when she first leaves home, though. Her aunt and uncle are moving to Lugano, Switzerland, to work at an American boarding school. The school is American, but its students come from all kinds of backgrounds and from all over the world. Though she’s reluctant at first, this is an experience that changes Dinnie in amazing ways she couldn’t have imagined before.

This book inspired me. At first, it just inspired me to wish I could go to an international boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland, but after my parents told me I was being ridiculous, it didn’t stop being an inspiration. Bloomability inspires me to seek out new experiences, new places, new people, and to take advantage of opportunities. It’s also the reason I started looking to go to college overseas. I actually applied to a school in Lugano, and wanted more than anything to go there, but I can’t afford it. I might be going to school in Germany, though (my decision is still not made). I want to experience new parts of the world, and meet people from even more different places, and see it all from somewhere new, an idea whose seed was planted by reading this book. It’s one of the books that has most affected my life.

More than my personal love for this book, though, rereading it with a more critical eye was something I thought might be disappointing. It wasn’t; instead, I was only now able to realize how truly amazing this novel is. I want to read it again! Sharon Creech writes gorgeous, gorgeous prose, and creates fully realized, very interesting characters, and tells a story that really means something. Dinnie’s voice is distinct and honest and authentic and a pleasure to read. She recreates the setting of Lugano so vividly that I wanted to move there! It’s not just the characters I love; the way they relate to each other is also very well done. I also love the descriptions of Dinnie’s dreams, and, now, seeing how they connect to her life (connections I wasn’t always able to make reading it years ago). Her window signs, too! And Guthrie, his love of life is contagious even to the reader. 

I could go on, describing everything I love about this book, but then this review would be as long as the book itself, because I love everything. This book works on so many levels, too; when I was ten, it was enjoyable and inspiring and made me want to see the world. Now, it’s still those things but it’s also brilliant and meaningful and beautiful in ways I couldn’t recognize then. There’s so much more to this book than a story about a girl who goes to boarding school in Switzerland. I really don’t know how I can communicate how much you need to read this book effectively, but, trust me, you do. Bloomability is hopeful, gorgeous, inspiring, and, for me, life-changing.

Six out of six windows and a heart:

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I have been conflicted for some time about who to add to my facebook page. I kind of wanted to keep it to just real-life friends, or at least mostly real-life friends, and people from online who I actually talk to regularly. But I also wanted to keep in touch with all the authors, bloggers, and readers who know me from this site. So I created a second account! Add me! I’ve put in my name as “Jocelyn Tbr” (Tbr = Teen Book Review), and I’m the only result with that name. 

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The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Coming from Simon & Schuster on 06.02.2009

And then the best summary I could find, from the 2009 Debutantes website:

Two brothers are hunted throughout England by a powerful magician’s circle after their mother steals a charm, and when the eldest is marked by a demon, the younger uses swords and dark arts in an effort to save him but unwittingly uncovers the darkest of secrets.

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Also, the blurbs on the author’s website are from Scott Westerfeld, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare. Triple awesome. This sounds like great fantasy, and I can’t wait to read it! Put it on your wishlists.

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Today, I have a great guest blogger (vlogger? Is that a word?), who has created my first-ever guest vlog. Book Chic talks about how he got started book blogging, and it’s great. Check it out:

You can also see his previous guest post for Teen Book Review here, and his video page here

 

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PS: Anyone else interested in guest blogging or vlogging, feel free to email me with ideas.

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