2k8 Challenge


I began many challenges in 2008, but, as I suck at challenges, I did not complete most of them, though I tried. 

First up, The 2k8 Challenge! By my (probably inaccurate) count,  I was ten books away from finishing this one; I read 18 YA debuts. Check out my list here

The Read For Your Dreams Challenge, also started by me, was a success! And, okay, I had to stretch a little to include some of these, but I did read ten books about or including significant amounts of travel. My list is here. I also want to give a shout out to Cafe Shree, who finished the challenge by reading about photography!

Let us not even speak of the failure that was The Printz Award Challenge. Not one book read.

I also tried the First in a Series Challenge. By my count, this was a success! However, the rules state that the “series” must be at least a trilogy, and I’m not entirely sure all of these are slated to have at least three books. 

The Short Story Reading Challenge was a failure. I read some books, yes, but not enough to complete the challenge.

I really don’t know about The Chunkster Challenge. I suspect I completed this one, but I don’t really want to go and look up the page numbers of the books I read and figure out what I read in what quarter.

I only finished three of my eight categories in the Triple 8 Challenge

I give up. Challenges are not for me, though I like the idea of them, and I do not plan in participating in any in 2009. 

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Almost Fabulous is Michelle Radford‘s first YA novel, and I certainly hope it’s not her last. It was such a fun read! I read it while sick in bed, and it was the perfect book to keep me completely interested and distracted from my various ailments, not bored for a second, but it also did not hurt my already throbbing brain. Which is great even if you’re not sick (which I hope you’re not; it sucks).

Ahem. I digress. Almost Fabulous stars Fiona Blount, a fourteen-year-old girl living in London with her mother, a former pop star and currently a major music producer. When she was younger, Fiona’s mum used to travel around with her band, the Bliss Babes, and Fiona has lived in various countries and started over so many times that she’s perfected the art of Total Anonymity. They’re staying in London now, which Fiona is happy about because she does not enjoy change, to say the least, but Fiona, now with her best friend, Gina, is still content to lay low and not attract attention from the school bully, Melissa.

Some of Fiona’s problems are typical fourteen-year-old girl problems; some are not. She’s got a crush on a fantastic guy, Joe, who happens to be dating the mean girl and school bully, Melissa. Her mother might just ruin her life (if anyone finds out who Fiona’s mum really is, Total Anonymity will be difficult). Melissa might ruin her life. The new girl, Peaceflower, stands out far too much for comfort and has attached herself to Fiona and Gina. Fiona is also searching for her long-lost father, William Brown (a common name doesn’t make it any easier). And to make it even worse? She might have superpowers. Or possibly a brain tumor.

Although I do tend to find all-powerful and totally evil popular girls in teen novels a little unrealistic, because I don’t think anyone is really that powerful or that evil (but maybe I’m just lucky enough not to have experienced that), it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book. Almost Fabulous is completely fabulous and entertaining and hilarious! I loved the characters. I loved the London setting (I love London, actually). I loved the music aspect, the superpower aspect–well, the whole book is just pretty fantastic and fun. It’s not a seriously deep-thinking read, but my brain certainly didn’t deteriorate as I read it, either. Somewhere in between, which is just what I need a lot of the time! I really loved this book, and I would love to read more about Fiona in the future.

Jenny Davidson‘s first YA novel, The Explosionist, takes place in an alternate version of Edinburgh in 1938. Sophie’s world diverges from our own when Napoleon wins at Waterloo in 1815, though there are other discrepancies that cannot be traced back to that battle–most importantly, the paranormal element of this book. Spiritualism is alive and well in this world, and actually real and sometimes state-sponsored. It’s quite possible to speak to the dead here, though not everyone can do it, and there are certainly plenty of frauds and skeptics.

Sophie is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her Great-aunt Tabitha in Edinburgh. Oh, how to explain this book! All of the political intrigue (to which Sophie is privy–often by eavesdropping–because of her great-aunt’s high status) and the ways in which this world differs from our own would take pages to explain properly (which is why you’re lucky there’s a lengthy novel about it). Suffice to say, Sophie and her friend Mikael soon find themselves involved in various mysteries and plots on which the fate of Scotland and the rest of the world hangs. Seances, explosions, terrorist groups, murder, politics, and various other things are involved. This world (like our own in 1938, though for different reasons) is on the brink of a war that will shape the coming years, a war that could be avoidable.

Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance. I was caught up in it all from the beginning, and now I absolutely cannot wait for a sequel–which is too bad for me, as this book isn’t even out until July, so there’ll be quite some time before any continuation of the adventures of Sophie and Mikael. I admire the way Jenny Davidson ended this in just the right place–readers are anxious to find out what happens next, and there’s no doubt that, barring exceptional circumstances, there will be a sequel, but there’s still a decent enough ending place so that the book actually ends rather than just stopping the way some series books do.

The Explosionist is an amazing book! Jenny Davidson is such a talented writer, able to make more than 450 pages absolutely fly by. The complicated twists and turns of the plot are never overwhelmingly confusing, but just enough to keep your brain busy. I quite enjoyed all of the characters, who were refreshingly real and human. This is an unputdownable, read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book, a remarkable feat for one so long. And remarkable really does describe this novel! I was so impressed and completely in awe of Jenny Davidson’s skill the whole time I was reading it. And when I finished, my first thought was of course a desire for more! Seriously, read this book. If you have any way of doing so, get ahold of a copy now, and if not, well, you’ll just have to wait for July.

Daphne Grab is a member of The Longstockings blog and The Class of 2k8. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is her impressive debut novel about Matisse Osgood, a New York City girl through and through who has to move with her parents to Prague, a small town in upstate New York about four hours away from the city. Matisse loves the city, and that, along with her bitterness about having to leave her world of art galleries and foreign restaurants and everything she loves, makes her seem to be a bit of a snob at first. Matisse has a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude; in her opinion, city people (herself included) are cultured and artistic and mature and intelligent, and the residents of Prague are backward hicks. The name of the town, in Matisse’s opinion, is a cruel joke.

However, Matisse’s attitude can be forgiven, a bit, when readers discover the real reason she and her artist parents left the city. Her father, a rather famous sculptor, has Parkinson’s Disease, or PD. He can’t sculpt anymore; he can hardly function even with the help of all his medications. Matisse can’t deal with that, and she doesn’t want anyone in Prague to find out. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the huge pity party that she left behind in the city. Matisse has a lot to deal with; she may be a pain and a snob at first, but there’s a real reason she’s acting that way. She’s refusing to deal with what’s really bothering her (her father).

Soon, though, despite her attitude, she begins to make some friends. Violet, a loner who writes poetry and sits by herself with a book at lunchtime, for one. Maybe even Hal, her next-door-neighbor who Matisse at first writes off as a complete hick, and Marco, who at first just seems like a shallow stereotype of a jock. Despite alienating her best friend in New York, maybe Matisse isn’t as alone as she thought.

I quite enjoyed Daphne Grab’s debut. Matisse is a realistic character, especially in terms of the way she handles (or rather, doesn’t handle) her father’s illness. Matisse’s character development is right on. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is an engaging, interesting story, and solidly well-written. I loved Daphne Grab’s portrayal of small-town life, and it’s pretty accurate (though I don’t live in such a tiny town, the community where I live is a lot like Prague, New York in some ways. And, yeah, I’ve been on a hayride!). I put this book down feeling quite satisfied, and I look forward to Daphne Grab’s future efforts. This book will be released on June 3.

Mayra Lazara Dole‘s wonderful first novel is a very necessary addition to the somewhat limited selection of LBGTQ literature out there (and what there is seems to be more about gay boys than anything). Necessary, because it represents a subset of the population that perhaps doesn’t have much literature to directly relate to. Laura, the main character, is a Latina (Cuban, specifically) lesbian living in Miami, but enjoyment of this great book is not limited to those that fit that profile, not by a long shot! I’m a straight white girl in North Carolina, and I really liked it.

Laura’s life is seriously changed when she is caught reading a love letter in class. That would be embarrassing for anyone, sure, but seeing as Laura’s love letter is from a girl, and Laura goes to a conservative Catholic high school, she’s more than embarrassed–she’s expelled from school and kicked out of the house by her mother.  Being a tortillera in Cuban Miami is completely unacceptable, and Laura’s mother won’t let her back–won’t let her even see her beloved little brother–until she is convinced that her daughter has turned straight. Laura can’t tell her it doesn’t work that way.  Laura’s life is further devastated when her first love, Marlena, is shipped off to Puerto Rico–to marry a guy.

Luckily, Laura is far from alone. She has her little brother, when he manages to call despite their mother’s forbidding they have contact. She’s got her dog, and for those who aren’t dog people out there–that means a lot. She’s got great friends, especially her best friend, Soli, and Soli’s mom, who take her in when she has nowhere else to go.  Now, if only she can come to terms with who she is, help her mother to accept her,  and find her place in the world, things might just be okay.

Down to the Bone is a funny, bold, and poignant novel  readers will quite enjoy. I loved the great characters, and the setting of Miami! I’ve never been to Miami, but reading these books set there (this and Total Constant  Order, most recently) really makes me want to go! Also the fact that I am freezing here makes the weather there sound like heaven…

I loved this fresh, engaging, and honest book about love of all kinds, friendship, heartbreak, family, and life in general.  Down to the Bone is a promising debut novel, and I look forward to Mayra Lazara Dole’s future writing.

Stephanie Kuehnert’s debut novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, is a painfully honest, raw, heart-wrenching story about a mother who is running from guilt and a daughter who just wants to bring her home.

Emily Black has grown up without a mother. Her mother, Louisa, left Emily and her father, Michael, when Emily was an infant. Her father has always told her that Louisa left to follow the music, to find the next great thing. He raised Emily on music. They listened to records and he taught her to play the guitar, and when she got to be old enough, Emily and her best friend Regan, spent every night they could at a local club where they heard great music (and did other things that her father would have stopped if he’d known about them).

When she got older, Emily figured the only way to bring Louisa home, if she were following the music, was to be the next great thing. And so Emily and her band, She Laughs, stop being spectators and start actually playing the music, hoping all the while that it will bring her mother back to her, not knowing the reasons Louisa left are far deeper and more complicated than what she’s been told.

 I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a brilliant first novel about music and life and love and family and friendship and growing up. It follows both women–Emily and Louisa–as they both try to deal with their separation, with never having known each other. Both stories are told from a distance, Emily’s in first-person and Louisa’s in third. It feels kind of like both stories are being told after the fact, being looked back on from some indeterminate later point.

This is an unputdownable book. I really could not stop reading! It’s so real and emotional and it really just blew me away. In I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert creates wonderful, believable characters, and gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the punk rock scene as Emily is living it. This is at times a hard book to read because Stephanie Kuehnert is able to make readers really feel the book, and there are some real, serious, painful things happening.

Stephanie Kuehnert is an unbelievably talented writer. Her debut is a smart, touching, intense and emotional novel that readers will absolutely love. It will be released in July, at which point I suggest you get your copy immediately. It’s certainly a new favorite of mine!

I wanted to absolutely adore A Curse As Dark As Gold. After all, I’ve heard a lot of great things from people whose opinions I trust (Miss Erin and Sookie at Over My Head, for example). So maybe I had unreasonably high expectations opening this book, and I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as taken with it as they were, though I did really enjoy it, and any disappointment is probably my own fault for having unreasonably high expectations. I will certainly look forward to future work from Elizabeth C. Bunce, and highly recommend this debut novel!

That said, A Curse As Dark As Gold is an enchanting fairy tale retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.  In it, Charlotte Miller’s father has just died, leaving her in charge of Stirwaters, the mill that’s been in her family for generations. Though their cloth is lovely and they work hard, Stirwaters has always had a run of bad luck. No son has lived to adulthood, so the mill has passed from Miller to Miller, but in a rather haphazard way–from uncle to nephew to cousin to brother, etc. Charlotte and her younger sister, though, are the last of the family, and they’re determined to hold on to the mill.

Of course, that won’t be as easy as it sounds. Charlotte has to keep the mill from being seized by debt collectors, and being female at this time makes things particularly difficult. And that bad luck? There have always been whispers of a curse on Stirwaters. Charlotte’s not the superstitious type, but now she’s starting to believe it might be true…

So what desperate measures will Charlotte take to save Stirwaters? She’s not sure how far she’ll go, until Jack Spinner shows up with promises to be her salvation. But what will be the cost, in the end, and is she willing to pay it?

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s debut novel is a well-told and well-written story, populated by interesting characters. Its setting is a slightly fictionalized time in English history, and, well, I’m a sucker for all things English, past and present, and I really enjoyed the setting. The story starts out a little slow for my taste, but certainly picks up by the end (the last hundred or so pages, I couldn’t put it down and read all through Spanish class). A Curse As Dark As Gold is an intelligent, original, and interesting new take on an old fairy tale, and a marvelous debut novel.

Also check out Erin’s wonderful interview with the author.

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