Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Just One Day series by Gayle Forman
Reviewed by Maggie: October 23, 2013
Published by Dutton Juvenile on Jan 8, 2013 and Oct 10, 2013
Goodreads • Buy Just One Day at AmazonKindle • Indie
Goodreads • Buy Just One Year at AmazonKindle • Indie

Gayle Forman became one of my auto-buy authors after reading If I Stay and Where She Went. I loved that If I Stay stood on its own, with so much heart in its 196 pages, and I loved that Where She Went brought even more to the story.

After finishing Just One Day at 3:08 am on January 7, I could not wait to see what else Forman would bring to the story in Just One Year. Nine months later, after finishing Just One Year, my reaction was, "Lovely. But that's... it?"

Just One Day was a story that grew on me as the main character grew on herself. Allyson Healey, like Anna Oliphant before her, is begrudgingly in Europe. Her situation is temporary as she is just on an extracurricular trip before starting college in the fall. To Allyson, it seems like everyone is having fun on the trip except her -- because it's true. Things start to change though when she catches the eye of an actor in a Guerrilla Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night. After another chance meeting, she takes the biggest leap of her life as "Lulu" and agrees to go to Paris with him for the day. Yada yada yada, she wakes up alone the next morning. When she gets back to the States, her life post-Willem de Ruiter takes a Bella Swandive. She's stuck in that moment in Paris despite now being at college. After months of stagnation and blank pages in her life, she finally starts to wake up from her stupor.

Just One Year is the B-side of this story. Willem de Ruiter is on his own journey of self-discovery after Paris. Actually, he's been on one since before Lulu. The death of his father 3 years earlier upended his family and he's been unmoored ever since. I love that Forman gives Willem's character an arc that is as emotional and messy as Allyson's. Willem has a lot of growing up to do and he gets the full YA treatment, which is really nice to see done to a male character.

With both of these books, I loved how travel played such a huge role in the characters' development. I believed the intense feelings because it's such a heightened experience when you're young and alone and in Paris! (90s flashback: Remember when Brenda almost ran off with Rick?) I don't think you need to travel to find yourself, but while you're out there discovering what the world has to offer you, you may find yourself being asked what you have to offer the world.

Here's the thing. I did enjoy reading these books and would've probably rated them 4 stars. However, after finishing Just One Year and considering the books together, I'm actually giving it 3 stars. Why? This should've been one book. Just One Day is an unfinished story that ends in the last two pages of Just One Year. Just One Day ends on a cliffhanger because it's the middle of a scene! This is really one 692-page book, and a bloated one at that. What I loved about If I Stay was the economy of language. Forman expressed so much with a single gesture. Adam blowing on Mia's cold hands to warm them up tells Mia's mom everything about how he feels. I know Cath Crowley and I are the only fans of dual points of view, but I wish this was one book with dual perspectives, or one book with two parts. Unlike Where She Went, which continued the story after the first book, Just One Year mirrors the first book and then gives you one scene more. As much as I liked reading about Allyson and Willem in their sprawling, individually published stories, I would've loved reading a tighter, complete, single volume.

Series Rating: 3/5 stars.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
(The Lynburn Legacy #2)
Reviewed by Noelle: September 25, 2013
Published September 24, 2013 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle

Warning: Spoilers from Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1) are mentioned below, specifically the developments leading into Book #2.  Read my Unspoken review here.

I've lost that loving feeling.  Oh, that loving feeling.  I've lost that loving feeling and it died under the weight of a thousand quips. (Whoa-oh-oh-oh.)

You all know I love quips-- I do! But there reaches a saturation point where it all becomes too much.  Must (nearly) everyone talk like that all of the time?  I can't imagine having a conversation with these characters without having to Cher slap them to snap out of it.

Because the stakes are higher than ever for the citizens of Sorry-in-the-Vale.  A crazed blood-thirsty sorcerer is demanding human sacrifices.  Families are falling apart.  Kami and Jared's magical link is broken just when their combined powers are needed the most.  And last but not least there are several post-makeout D-T-Rs to establish.  There are so many important conversations that need to happen between characters but everyone is too busy lock and loading zingers to say what they really think or feel.

It's like talking to Lorelai Gilmore about stopping the apocalypse after she's had 20 cups of coffee.  Funny? Yes. Frustrating? TOTALLY.

Sarah Rees Brennan's writing is charming as always and I still have a lot of affection for these characters and this world.  However, while there are eventually some conversational breakthroughs, in the end, Untold is a rather apt title for this installment: there's so much talking in this book without the characters actually saying anything to each other. The plot suffers from middle book syndrome where not much happens until the end, further accentuating the incessant quip-show.  By the time the talking stopped and the action kicked in I had already emotionally checked out.

There are several intriguing plot developments setting up the final book, so I'm sure many will be back to see how Kami and the gang fare in the finale. Hopefully Untold hasn't talked me out of it. We shall see. Rating 2.5/5.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Reviewed by Maggie: September 23, 2013
Published September 10, 2013 by Disney Hyperion
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon • Kindle • Shop Indie

First, this isn't Code Name Verity.

To me, Rose Under Fire was a harder read than Verity. Verity was one of my favorite books last year. It was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship and courage set during World War II that I compulsively read in a day. However, I never forgot that it was a work of historical fiction. With Rose, even though I knew it was also a work of Elizabeth Wein's ability and imagination, it felt so much like a memoir. It was so much harder to take knowing that all these atrocities were based on actual events. It's not a quick read nor is it an easy read. The experiences of the women at Ravensbruck were so horrible and beyond imagination, it's no wonder that people at the time didn't believe the stories coming out of Europe. It's also for that reason, though, that I think a book like Rose Under Fire is so important.

Rose Justice is an eager American pilot who learned flying at the knee of her father, the owner of a flight school in Pennsylvania. She goes to England to join the Air Transport Auxiliary and assist the Allied cause. Her uncle uses his connections to get her a flying assignment to France and it is on the return back to England where she disappears. No one has a clue where she or her plane is -- because she has been captured and taken to Germany. She ends up in Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp, along with women from France, Poland, and Germany. She encounters a group of Polish women who have been nicknamed the Rabbits because they were subject to horrible experimental medical procedures. One of the Rabbits, Roza, was only 14 when she was captured by the Nazis.

What I love about Wein's writing is her ability to take historical events and facts and use them to buttress her story. It's not so much about Nazi medical experimentation as it is about Roza. And Izabela. And Aniela. And all the other women whose names Roza forces Rose to memorize in case something happens to them so that their stories, their names can be told.

This story is also about hope, when it's not that thing with feathers.
"Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet."
It's about maintaining hope while surviving a reality that is harsher than most people can imagine. It's about surviving a place that was designed to systematically dehumanize and purge its prisoners. For Rose, her poems help keep her from becoming a schmootzich, someone whose desperation has turned her into a savage. Something else that helps Rose are her friendships with the other prisoners. It wouldn't be an Elizabeth Wein story without powerful relationships. The friendships in Rose though are different because they are born of circumstance -- horrible circumstance. It is unlikely that the prisoners would have even encountered each other in the outside world, and yet they now depend upon one another to make it through another day. Sometimes, though, the most powerful bonds are the ones forged in fire. It's what keeps you standing when hope plummets. It's a tiny strip of Cherry Soda nail polish that stubbornly clings to your toes even when your head has been shaved and your clothes stripped off.

I was a bit undone by this book. I honestly expected to finish it in a day or two, but I had to take breaks when the historical aspect overpowered the fictional. At the same time, I wanted to learn more about the very real women who inspired this story. This book is a testament to their endurance and bravery, and one that I think everyone should read.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to the Future: The Song of the Lioness Series by Tamora Pierce

Welcome to Back to the Future, a feature at YAA where we revisit young adult books from back when we were well, young adults.  Sometimes we'll be reading these books for the first time, sometimes we'll be rereading to compare how our adult selves interpret the book and sometimes, we'll be doing a bit of both.  

Somehow, Noelle completely missed Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness series the first time around.  Is she now too old to wear an Alanna is My Homegirl shirt? 
Only one way to find out---To the DeLorean!

Goodreads • Buy on AmazonKindle

Summary from Tamora Pierce's website:
This story, all four books, is about the making of a hero. It's also about a very stubborn girl.
Alanna of Trebond wants to be a knight of the realm of Tortall, in a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors. Rather than give up her dream, she and her brother--who wants to be a mage, not a knight--switch places. She becomes Alan; Thom becomes a student wizard in the school where she would have learned to be a lady.
The quartet is about her struggle to achieve her goals and to master weapons, combat, polite behavior, her magic, her temper, and even her own heart. It is about friendships--with the heir to the throne, the King of Thieves, a wise and kindly knight--and her long struggle against a powerful enemy mage.
She sees battle as a squire and as a knight, lives among desert people and tries to rescue an independent princess. Singled out by a goddess, accompanied by a semi-divine cat with firm opinions, somehow she survives her many adventures to become a most unlikely legend.

Present Day Noelle
Not only am I not too old for an Alanna is My Homegirl t-shirt, I want one for Christmas.

Quick peek at circa 1992 Noelle:  *muppet flailing*

Back to Present Day Noelle: Young adult Noelle would have looooved this series and I'm still surprised I managed to miss it the first time around.  The Song of the Lioness would have felt right at home on my shelf beside Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.  Nevertheless, I'm glad I finally got the chance to remedy my oversight.  I greatly enjoyed Alanna's journey. 

I loved that although Alanna was naturally talented, she also depended on hard work and practice to overcome her deficiencies.  Mini-trials and tribulations built to serious battles, showcasing just how far Alanna grew throughout the series.  Alanna had to work hard for her accomplishments which helped balance out the Everyone Loves Alanna vibe that developed later in the series--- not that I could blame them.  I loved Alanna, too. 

Another great thing about the series is it's handling of romantic relationships.  Like real life, the heroine was allowed multiple romances that had their own natural expiration dates.  There wasn't any of the My High School Boyfriend is My Soulmate crap that can show up in other YAs.  Relationships began and ended for a variety of reasons with no talk of destiny, fate or tragedy.  It was very refreshing.  

Unfortunately, I read this series at the beginning of the summer and took all my notes for this review on my now extinct cell phone so this review is much shorter than I intended.  (If only I had a real Delorean to go back in time and back up my phone!) Still I remember enough to say with confidence: Alanna is definitely my homegirl for life.  I can't wait to read Tamora Pierce's other Tortall series.

Present Day Noelle's Ratings:
Alanna: The First Adventure: 3.5/5 stars
In the Hand of the Goddess: 4/5 stars
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: 4/5 stars
Lioness Rampant: 5/5 stars

Monday, September 9, 2013

Recap: An Evening with Markus Zusak at the Museum of Tolerance

By Maggie

I only found out about this event the day before and I am so glad I did because it was hands down one of the best book events I've been to. Get comfortable because it was also the one where I took the most notes. (Sidebar: After seeing how long it was, I put a recap of the recap at the bottom.)
Date: Sunday, September 8, 2013
Time: 7pm
Place: Museum of Tolerance

ETA: 30 minutes early! Not only that, Markus was in the lobby chatting with people. I was gearing up to talk to him when I remembered what my Australian friend, Anna, called him.
Lost in translation.
Guys, I couldn't stop laughing. Every time I regained my composure, I would lose it all over again. Wisely, my friend and I decided to just head into the auditorium.

Did you notice the curtains in the first picture? Movie money! I'm used to book events where the author's name is printed out on a piece of paper -- if that. From the venue to the presence of "guests of Twentieth Century Fox" taped over a row of seats, this was obviously a big event. We got a surprise later when they screened two scenes from the upcoming The Book Thief movie. Here is how the night was broken down:
  • Introduction by the Director of the Museum of Tolerance, Liebe Geft
  • Markus Zusak spoke for 10 minutes
  • Screening of The Book Thief movie trailer
  • Q+A moderated by Danielle Berrin of the Hollywood Jew blog
  • Screening of The Book Thief movie clips (exclusive!)
  • Mad rush out of the auditorium to the signing line

Liebe Geft said that when this event went up on their website, they got calls from all over the world. She gave some facts about The Book Thief, like how it has spent over 230 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. When she described Markus as "the author of five renowned and important books," I saw Markus put his head down and sort of chuckle to himself. 

Markus Zusak:
The first thing he said about Liebe's introduction was, "That was really nice." He then talked about his first signing in a town by the Margaret River. Nobody showed up. The librarian still made him do a reading and a guy sitting in the corner reading a fantasy book kept interrupting to give his opinion. His message to librarians: Don't make authors do that. 

The Book Thief started in his backyard in Sydney. He's the youngest of four, and he and his older brother would often get in trouble. His mum swears a lot and his friends would come over to hear her swear with her German accent. He and his brother would come in from playing outside and his parents would randomly start telling them stories about Europe. They'd hear about bombings, people who didn't want to put out the Nazi flag on Hitler's birthday, and people who would give food to prisoners. One such person was a teenage boy who gave a piece of food to an old man who couldn't keep up on the march to Dachau. No one else came to the aid of this old man but the teenage boy did. Markus said, "That's why you can't underestimate teenagers." The old man fell to the boy's feet to thank him.

Markus's parents didn't come to Australia with much but they came with great stories. His parents were great storytellers. He set out to write a 100-page novella and "it kind of got out of hand." He set out to write a book that meant something to him and it turned out to mean everything.


Q: Danielle asked him about this reaction to the trailer.
A: Markus said it was surreal because he "never thought it would be successful at all." He couldn't imagine people recommending it to their friends. How would they even describe it? That, though, took pressure off when he was writing. He watched the trailer about 40 times. "It's surreal and a real privilege."

Q: How to make the topic (Holocaust) accessible to an audience.
A: "You never want to be taking advantage of the theme. You have to make sure your heart is in the right place."

Q: How did you conceive Death as a personality?
A: "Hopefully it looks effortless but it was a nightmare." He wrote the first 200 pages quickly and then he stopped to redo it because it wasn't working. Death would say things like, "This is a story about a young girl. Do you like young girls? I do, but I like everybody." He felt like he had to take a shower after writing a page.

People tell him he must have a lot of imagination and he says, "No, I have a lot of problems."

One thing he thought about was, "What if Death is actually afraid of us."

Q: What went into the idea that everybody suffers, including the ordinary Germans.
A: "Imagine waking up one day and being able to speak another language. That's what writing The Book Thief felt like. It was there for the taking."
Q: The Book Thief is a book that celebrates books. What is so powerful about words and storytelling? Do you feel a responsibility when you're writing?
A: "The hardest question to ever answer is, 'What is your book about?' At the end of the day, what we are made of is stories." His parents came to Australia without a toothbrush but they had stories.

His motive is simply, "Is the world a better place for the fact that this book is out there?" Do we really need another book set in the Holocaust? He asks himself if his heart was in the right place. Is the world a better place for the fact that your book is out there. He read Diary of Anne Frank on the plane ride over from Australia. The flight attendant came over and said, "I don't want to spoil it for you but she dies at the end." Markus said, "That's why you still need Holocaust books."

Q: Was there a religious or spiritual impulse guiding the hopeful worldview of book? 
A: [Note: Someone turned on a mic somewhere and her voice interrupted his answer. His answer here follows the interruption.] "This is what happens when I'm talking about religion. This voice comes from nowhere."

Q (from the audience): His parents' reaction to the book.
A: Funny story first. He finished the manuscript in December 2004 and gave it to his mum and dad for Christmas. (Yes, he realizes the irony.) It had taken 3 years to finish after numerous interviews with his parents and his dad kept asking him when the book was going to be finished. A week after Christmas, he called his dad and finally asked him about the book since he hadn't mentioned anything about it. Markus asked if he read it and his dad said, "Yeah, yeah. I'm up to page 11." Markus said, "That's like a page and a half a day!" It turned out that his mum had read the manuscript first and then given it to his dad. When it came out in Germany, his dad read the German version. He then told Markus, "It's not so much that it's shit in English, but the German version is so much better." Another thing Markus's dad says to him: "Your books are doing well -- not like JK Rowling." Unsurprisingly, Markus says that everyone wants to meet his dad. Of his parents, he says that they bought so many books for their kids so they would be good in English, unlike them. They weren't only telling them about their lives but teaching him how to write.
Q: Did he have a concern about the book being marketed as YA in the United States? (I recognized the person who asked this question but couldn't place him until later when I remembered he was the moderator at the Laini Taylor event at the Santa Monica Library.)
A: I loved Markus's answer to this. He said it was like going into a shop and trying on a great jacket and then coming out and seeing the same exact jacket in a different color. You don't know which one to get, but ultimately for him, he doesn't care about categories. He said, "My ambition is to write somebody's favorite book. Once a book is loved, it's a loved book." It doesn't matter what it's classified as. It sits on the top shelf with all the other most loved books. YA is a huge force in the US.

Q: "I noticed your use of foreshadowing wasn't very subtle."
A: He says he gets that a lot. That and, "You're an idiot." Another common one: "Congrats on the success of your book but I just couldn't get into it." One drunk guest at a wedding told him that seven times. However, he refers to something Death says in The Book Thief: "Mystery bores me, it chores me." Markus: "If I could get them to love these characters, they're going to read on no matter what." It was a risk but he wanted to do it that way. He loved Rudy the most and it really hurt him to do that to his character, and he wanted to prepare people. It just felt right to do it that way.

Exclusive sneak peek:

Signing line:
This was just one side too! There was one line for people who bought books from the Museum of Tolerance, aka not real fans, and another line for people who brought books with them.

When it finally got to my turn, I told him some of the books were going back from whence they came to some Aussie friends. When he heard that, despite the fact that he'd been signing for over 30 minutes with at least 30 more to go, he took time to doodle something special.
Where's my doodle, Zusak!

My thoughts:
I loved how diverse the crowd was. Not only were there people of all ages, these were people who were so passionate about the book and affected by it. The older lady sitting next to me told me before the event started that she never buys books, she just gets them from the library, but she HAD to buy this one.

Markus was so funny and charming. He understands the seriousness of the subject and has a tremendous respect for it, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. I love that he didn't consider being categorized from "Adult Fiction" in Australia to "Young Adult" in America to be a downgrade or anything to gnash his teeth about. His goal was and is simply "to write somebody's favorite book." Whether that's an adult or a teen doesn't matter. What he said about never underestimating teenagers really struck a chord with me and, I think, a lot of the teens in the audience. I especially enjoyed his stories about his parents. He said being German, they're not really touchy feely but after the book came out, he told them he loved them. His parents weren't fluent in English, but they made sure their kids were with all the books they bought them. This definitely made me think of my mom and the books she still offers to buy me if we happen to have lunch by a bookstore.

Basically, I came out of the event an even bigger fan of Markus Zusak (and his family!) and I can't wait to see The Book Thief in theaters. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Booking Forward: Sequels and Titles and Dates, Oh My!

By Maggie

That sound you hear is my belated squeal. While we were on our hiatus, we missed a lot of news. Two series are coming to an end in 2014 -- Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Dustlands. If you haven't read Days of Blood and Starlight yet, get on that. If you have, the title for Book 3 was revealed.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor - April 1, 2014
Raging Star (Dustlands #3) by Moira Young - April 15, 2014

The title that caught my eye though is World After, or the LONG anticipated sequel to Angelfall by Susan Ee. Let me check my glasses because the release date says November 2013, as in 2 months from now. And there's a cover!
World After (Penryn & the End of Days #2) by Susan Ee - November 19, 2013
Preorder on AmazonKindle 

If I squeal, will I jinx it? Will the release date suddenly change to 2014 like it did with The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher? Don't play with our emotions, publishers! Did we miss any other squeal-worthy news?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Early Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Reviewed by Noelle: September 3, 2013
(YAA received an ARC of this book from the publishers)
(Will be) Published on September 10, 2013 by Candlewick Press
GoodreadsPreorder on AmazonKindle

Here's the thing with reviewing Patrick Ness books: I don't want you to read reviews of Patrick Ness books.  I want to Panda slap your laptop out of your hand before allowing you to read any details about Patrick Ness books.  I want you to skip GO, do not collect $200 dollars and JUST FREAKING READ THEM ALREADY. Save the review browsing for after.

Which might be a bit scandalous to say as a book blogger (goodbye page views!) but: 1) I don't want you to get spoiled because part of the fun of reading Ness is feeling like you are a reaction GIF brought to life, and  2) Preconceptions and Ness books just don't mix.

Your brain will try to fill in the blanks and make assumptions--specifically that you can try and guess where the story is going in Part One.  Patrick Ness will smile to himself, suddenly amused on the other side of the planet, not quite knowing why.  Part Two comes around and you'll chuckle ruefully.  That Ness, he gets you every time!  But you've read a book before, you know where Part Three is going, right? RIGHT?  Part Four comes along and there you are lying in the fetal position in your driveway as Ness lays down rubber doing donuts around you while screaming "MWAHAHAHAHA!" out the window.

We've all been there.

I always thought one of the best things about Patrick Ness was the beauty of not being sure where he was leading you but being willing to open up and experience the journey. Ness has made that thought into a book.

"I'll just see", he says. "That's all I'll do.  I'll just see what's next."

What's next takes the universal feeling of being sure there must be More Than This, focuses it into a tight close up shot of a teenage boy's dying face and then pulls it back all the way to the atmosphere.  Detailed personal agonies let go to boundless breadths of emotion.

I somehow didn't cry until page 381.

More Than This is unconventional.  It might test your patience and expectations as a reader.  But, as a reader, haven't you ever read a book and wondered, isn't there more than this?  Well, my dears.  This is it.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars