Wednesday, February 29, 2012

DJ Duel & Dance Party: Sorta Like a Rock Star

So not only do we write a blog about YA books and make art about YA books and watch TV shows because they kinda sorta remind us of a YA book, we also often make playlists to go along with our favorite reads.

We know. We lead truly fascinating lives.

BUT why keep the soundtracks to ourselves when we can have a DJ Duel and Dance Party with all of our readers?  Here's how it works.  We each will choose a song to represent our book of the week.  It can be the lyrics, it can be the style, it can be a nod to a certain moment in the book or it can just be a feeling associated with the book.  We'll post the songs here and let our readers vote for their favorite along with suggesting songs of their own.  After voting is complete, we'll have a kickass playlist to put on our Spotify!

This week our book is Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick.  Here is Noelle's review if you want to refresh your memory on the awesomeness that is Amber Appleton.  Okay let's do this!

DJ Noelle:  I've gotta go with Alex Winston's cover of Everlasting Light by The Black Keys.

Why?  Amber Appleton is like a freaking flood lamp---scratch that, she's like the stadium lighting equivalent of hope.  She could probably solar power your house.  These lyrics are pure Amber.

Lyrics like whoa: Let me be your everlasting light / Your sun when there is none / I'm a shepherd for you / And I'll guide you through / Let me be your everlasting light 
Let me be your everlasting light / Your home when there is cold / In me you can confide / When no one's by your side / Let me be your everlasting light

DJ Maggie: I'm going Korean -- Oh My Friend by Big Bang.

Why? I wanted something that combined the Korean Divas for Christ with Amber's ridonkulous energy. Solution? Why K-POP, of course!

Lyrics like whoa: If this world makes you sad, say my name whenever and wherever / I am 911, for you only, I'm only 5 minutes away, yeah yeah / Your sorrow that you feel isn't sorrow / It's a rope that bonded us together / I'll get wet in rain for you, run without a stop, go through a rough wind yeah / Your heavy burden, dark shadow; I will block them all now

Oh my friend oh my friend; I will be your friend forever
Oh my friend oh my friend; only you can make me live
Oh my friend oh my friend; I will become a tree behind you silently
Oh my friend oh my friend; my friend I love you (dear) friend 

It's time to vote!

Now it's time for your song requests!  What other songs do you think should be on our Sorta Like a Rock Star playlist?  Leave your choices in the comment section!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Totally Normal: YAA Confessions

By Noelle

Being an adult YA lover will make you do a lot of things that will raise the eyebrows of your non-YA believing friends.  Like mentally re-writing a television show to make it a loose adaptation of one of your favorite book series.

I admit, I will watch this show if only because I've convinced myself that what we're really looking at here is not a cast photo of Jane By Design, oh no, but a photo of Ruby, Noel and Jackson from the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart:

Mainly I thought: OMG it's Noel!  Naturally I did some more investigating.  Here's what E. Lockhart tells us about Noel Duboise in the Boy Book:
Here's Noel: blond, spiky hair that probably requires quantities of gel; non-drinker, clean-liver, vegetarian, but heavy smoker; pierced eyebrow; underweight; funny in a mutter-under-your-breath way. [...] Noel looks at the Tate Universe as if he finds it all mildly amusing and sometimes a bit sickening, but he's willing to participate for purposes of research so that he can bring back interesting tidbits of information to the ironic, punk rock planet where he really lives.
Next, I toiled through pages and pages of tumblr posts.  For science.

Exhibit A:

 Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

Guys, I can't unsee it.  Obviously the next step in this investigation is to catch up on this show and see if there are any other comparisons to Ruby Oliver other than my inappropriate crush imaginary casting. 

In the meantime, what do you think? Am I on to something?
Here's a GIF while you think it over...

Review: Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
Review by Noelle: September 21, 2011
Published May 1, 2010 by Little Brown and Company
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon • Buy at Fishpond • Kindle

Irrepressible hope and relentless optimism are amazing and impressive...and you know what else? Extremely annoying. Yes, dear readers, I was one of those people giving Amber Appleton the side-eye for the entire first half of the book. 
Sure, I empathized with her horrible situation and admired the spunk in her survival skills but I still resisted the crap out of her charm. I found her hugging obsession creepy. Her “JC” name dropping made me itch. Her slang felt unnaturally shoehorned into her otherwise SAT-word laden inner dialogue. Her group of “special” school friends felt just too precious to be real. And for goodness sake, did she have to give everything five word nicknames just to use the acronym for it?! Amber would do something promising and then follow it up with something that made me cringe.

Yet I stuck around for a couple reasons, the main one being Amber is not portrayed as trying to be perfect. She gets offended and swears and lashes out. Amidst all the “up with people!” moments there were also glimpses of a teenager I could recognize--an angry, unappreciated, emotional adolescent that I found extremely easy to root for. I think my opinion of Amber permanently turned around after her interactions with the Korean Divas for Christ, Private Jackson and even Joanie of Old (see what I mean about nicknames?). For all of her inappropriate methods and pushiness, Amber has such a good heart. Even though at times her world must seem so small, Amber never sees it that way. Her hope makes it endless. Amber not only recognizes the loneliness around her, she is genuinely interested in these people’s lives. She sees what makes them who they are and without making a big deal about it, celebrates it every day. She will shine her floodlight of hope on anyone who gives her the chance.

She really, truly is sorta like a rock star. 

And then Amber’s already extremely shitty life gets horribly worse and Amber's belief system is shaken to the core.  I realized that I too had been just one more person underestimating Amber’s value and how much I’d grown to depend on her enthusiasm and optimism. 

Yes, there is a definite cheesiness factor here between the After School Specialness of the Five and the nature of the ending, but dammit if I didn't soak it all up like a freaking hopeful sponge. You won this one, Amber Appleton.

Also, the haikus--the last two in particular--were, as Amber would say, some good hooey.

Rating: 4/5 stars  I definitely recommend this book.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty
The Ashbury/Brookfield Series #3
Review by Maggie: February 26, 2012
Published May 1, 2008 by Scholastic Inc. (orig. published 2006)

My best friend's mom is a doctor and one of the most patient, compassionate people I've ever met in my life. Whenever I hear about the latest disease, I immediately call her with my deadly symptoms. Now this same woman, after five minutes of watching Lea Michele in Glee, will ask, "What is that bitch doing now?" Lea Michele's character is just one of those people -- she can make people who have devoted their entire lives to helping others want to commit murder.

Now imagine reading 491 pages of Lea Michele's diary.

The first 150 pages, as you may have seen from my SOS masquerading as status updates, were excruciating.

But it's Jaclyn Moriarty!, I thought. I loved the first two books in the Ashbury series. (If you haven't read Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments, I highly recommend them.) Surely this one is going to pick up. And it did -- after 200 pages that took me nearly two weeks to get through.

And the thing is, I ended up liking Bindy. I loved her sense of humor. In her Reflections on Glandular Fever (street name: mono) on page 222, she writes:

As for glandular fever, I don't believe in it. I don't think it exists. It's one of those "teenage" ailments that students invent to get themselves extra study time. I have no respect for it.

What I didn't like was the minutiae of her life carefully transcribed on the 200 pages prior. Sure, a lot of what Bindy wrote came into play later, but this isn't a Megan Whalen Turner book here, where every word and choice has meaning. I thought a lot of the first half could be cut. I didn't really start enjoying the novel until page 225, when the gang from The Year of Secret Assignments was mentioned, and then the story went full speed from there. I'll still read The Ghosts of Ashbury High... eventually... but I'm a bit hesitant after Bindy.

Final verdict: 3/5 stars -- 2 stars for the first half and 4 stars for the second half.

Full disclosure: I've only watched two episodes of Glee, both times against my will. In fairness to Lea Michele, I thought everyone was annoying.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Review by Noelle: February 25, 2012
Published February 28, 2012 by First Second
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon

Attention: You can read the entire comic for a limited time at Faith Erin Hicks' website Friends With Boys. Also, reading her creative process at the bottom of this page was pretty cool.

Friends With Boys is a web comic (soon to be graphic novel) by Faith Erin Hicks featuring previously home-schooled Maggie McKay's experiences adjusting to public high school, making friends outside her family and oh yeah...figuring out why that pesky ghost is following her around.

Maggie is a likeable, sympathetic heroine who is complemented nicely by her charismatic brothers.  The sibling dynamics of both the McKay brood and Maggie's new friends Lucy and Alistair are my favorite parts of the story.  The characters' interests really filled out the story nicely and were fun to read about to boot. 

Hicks excels at communicating emotions with no words, whether it's her beautifully articulate facial expressions or wide framed scenery shots.  Maggie's high school map and field notes are both hilarious and dead-on. The characters are all expressive and charmingly rendered. 

Some elements of the story are left open-ended but I enjoyed filling in the blanks myself about the ghost and what she meant in relation to what Maggie was going through with her mom. Maybe that's just what the author intended or maybe I have an overactive imagination.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.  Friends With Boys has some pretty enjoyable funny, spooky and poignant moments. 

(Sidenote: I'm totally going to try to make Magsby be a nickname for YAA Maggie until she tells me to stop trying to make Fetch happen.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Reviewed by Maggie: February 24, 2012
Published October 18, 2011 by Scholastic Inc.
GoodreadsAmazon HardcoverKindle

This was a book I was ready to hate. Actually, if I'm being honest, this was a book I wanted to hate. What? German foosball players aren't the only ones capable of schadenfreude.

Plus, this was a story about horses, those vicious, four-legged beasts that naive children are tricked into riding at summer camp before they're brutally thrown off. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Yet I found myself drawn into this story, this mythic tale of savage water horses in a barbaric race created by all too real people, and I found myself hoping it was all real. Because that would mean Sean, Corr, Puck, and Dove exist. I loved these characters, never mind that Corr and Dove are two of those four-legged beasts I despised not too long ago.

Maggie Stiefvater's mythic capaill uisce are wild water horses that come ashore the island of Thisby once a year. Those capaill that have been captured are raced in the island's famous Scorpio Races, a tradition similar to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, but with far more deadly results. It attracts crowds from all over, people drawn to the thrilling and terrible spectacle. The Scorpio Races are so dangerous that fatalities occur before the race even starts. Capaill are controlled by two things: the call of the ocean and their bloodlust. Despite months or even years of training by the capall whisperer, Sean Kendrick, capaill can never fully be trusted. Their natural instinct to kill is too strong. It can only be temporarily curbed. However, the tremendous risk of the races comes with even greater reward. The races are Thisby's main attraction, so most islanders just manage to eke out a living. Winning the races comes with an enormous, irresistible purse. All residents of Thisby have lost a person, or more often persons, to capaill. And if the horses don't get them, Thisby gets to them and they end up leaving. For Kate "Puck" Connolly, one has already happened and the other is about to happen. Her parents were killed by capaill while out fishing, and her older brother, the main breadwinner, is about to leave the island. (Raise your hand if you just pictured Matthew Fox as both Charlie Salinger and Jack Shephard.) Puck impulsively says she's going to race to get her brother to stay, or at least delay him, but when she finds out they are about to lose their house, she realizes she has to race. Sean, the whisperer, lost his father to capaill and his mother to the mainland, but he's won the races 4 times. That enormous purse and the gorgeous horse he rode on, though, belong to his boss. He races because it's his job, and he can't imagine anyone else on Corr. Puck and Sean are literally on a collision course.

This is usually the part of the story where a rich and handsome 3rd party enters the picture, but The Scorpio Races isn't a love story. It's a survival story. The only love triangle here is between a capall, his rider, and the ocean -- and it's beautiful and heartbreaking.

This is a book I saw in my head. Maggie Stiefvater crafts such a visual story I could picture every scene. For Thisby, I pictured Jersey in the Channel Islands. The dual points of view of Sean and Puck allowed me to get into their heads. When I started this book, I figured I'd just read it and rate it and be done with it. After all, why spend my time writing a review for an author who doesn't really value them? In this case, it's because what the author put out is that good. It's the same debate I go through whenever I think about buying Kanye's latest album. Yeah, he says shit that irritates the hell out of me, but damn, does he know how to make music. Maggie Stiefvater? She knows how to make music.

Verdict: 5/5 stars.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall by Susan Ee
Reviewed by Maggie: February 22, 2012
Published May 21, 2011 by Feral Dream
Goodreads • Buy Paperback at Amazon • Kindle  

I just got my paperback copy of Angelfall today, so I thought I'd revisit this book and write a proper review -- one that doesn't involve a Korean grandma, a cell phone, and a 911 operator.

I've made some successful forays into fantasy recently (Finnikin of the Rock, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Seraphina), but as a genre, two elements repel me: tedious world-building and nonsensical names. The latter reason is why, despite some glowing reviews, I can't even consider a Rachel Vincent novel. Angelfall, a self-published dystopian fantasy about a 17-year-old girl named Penryn, looked like a potential disaster. However, it was only a $0.99 potential disaster, so I decided to risk it and buy it for my Kindle.

I'm so glad I did.

Angelfall throws you into San Francisco 6 weeks after angels descended and attacked. All we know is that the angel Gabriel was gunned down, unleashing an angel apocalypse all over the world. Penryn, named after an exit off Interstate 80 by her mentally unstable mom, is trying to survive in this new world order, with angels up top and humans trying to fill whatever space they can underneath, no matter the cost to themselves. It's human nature in its basest form -- survival of the fittest, kill or be killed. Penryn can fend for herself. Her paranoid schizophrenic mother made sure of this, enrolling her daughter in self-defense classes from an early age. However, Penryn isn't just fending for herself. She's caring for her handicapped younger sister, Paige. Except Paige gets taken by an angel while Penryn is defending another angel from certain death. Now Penryn must trust this injured angel, Raffe, to take her to the guarded angel aerie to find her sister.

And that's just the beginning.

Going back to my two fantasy dealbreakers, there is no tedious world-building -- some would say that there isn't enough world-building, or world-explaining, but that works for me. I'd prefer to know less, at least initially. Secondly, Penryn's name fits her completely. This isn't a cool name; this is a name chosen because it was there. Like her child.

Angels were another potential stumbling block because I consider myself devoutly agnostic. I don't mind religion if it's intrinsic to the story and the characters, like in Sorta Like a Rock Star. I just don't like being preached to.
Imagine my delight in finding out Raffe, the angel, was agnostic! And that wasn't even the turning point for me because I was already invested in the story. I loved the dynamic between our two feisty leads, Penryn and Raffe. I really loved what happened when Penryn pulled out her Ally McBeal "I am a trained kickboxer" card and punched a man twice her size, fully expecting all the people around her to swoop in and stop the fight before any harm came to her. Not in this new reality. This is the kind of detail I love. It shows how societal norms have changed, that a man fighting a woman who challenges him isn't the end all because they've seen the end all.

This is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed -- so much so that after finishing it on Christmas, I gifted it to 5 friends that night. (And still only spent $5!) This is a quality story with quality characters written by a very qualified author. I highly recommend it.

Verdict: 4.5/5 stars. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All I Ever Wanted... In A Book

By: Maggie

To piggyback on Noelle's fantastic review of All I Ever Wanted, there's a passage in the book that really struck a chord with me. Mim's mom accidentally gives away Mim's beloved travel books, thinking they're old and used and unwanted. For Mim, though, these books that she's read over and over again are proof that a bigger, better world exists. Mim's neighbor and recipient of the books ends up giving them back to her, saying she knew the books were given away by mistake. When Mim asks how she could've known that, her neighbor replies,
"Because these books have been loved. You don't just give away books like these." She picks a book up and opens it in the middle. "See? Fingernail makes. Under every line." She holds a page up to the light and it's worn thin as rice-paper and scored with horizontal lines.
As a reader, I loved this passage. As an anal retentive, I was horrified. Lines in the book?? Creases in the binding?! Never have I ever! Some of my favorite books growing up were the American Girls Collection, particularly the Samantha Parkington series. This was back in the day when the dolls were mail order only and the only characters were Kirsten, Molly, and Samantha. Felicity and Addy came later. I must have read the Samantha books over 100 times each. And here is what my books, which I kept through move after move, look like today.

Perfect. Like new. See, this to me means the books were cherished. Loved. I would never have marked them up. At the same time, when I do see someone brazenly marking up a book, I'm totally awestruck, like, What a BADASS!

Welcome to Young Adult Anonymous, where you can let your crazy out. So what kind of reader are you?

Review: All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield
Reviewed by Noelle: December 5, 2011
Published June 27, 2011 by Text
Goodreads • Buy Kindle edition • Buy at Fishpond

Oh, man. I really, really liked this.

Mim dreams of a different life, a life far, far away (in every respect) from her current one and it’s not difficult to understand why she wants to escape. She lives in a rough neighborhood where bright futures are the rarity, not the foregone conclusion. The family business includes drug dealing and loan sharking and her neighbors range from strange to genuinely terrifying. Mim hardly dares to say her dreams out loud, but she fiercely clings to the idea of a better life. By drafting a set of strict rules for herself, Mim is determined to change her fate. She has managed to steer clear of any outright involvement in criminal activity, but that all changes when both of her brothers are arrested and her mom needs her to pick up a package. Over the following week, Mim’s rules are systematically broken and her life is forever changed.

It’s amazing how much Vikki Wakefield accomplishes in so few pages (202!). Her prose is stunningly beautiful and atmospheric. There's nothing extraneous in her writing, every word is chosen with such precision and care. Wakefield really has a knack for nuanced, genuine characters. Although the plot is suspenseful, gritty and entertaining, where the book really delivers is the character interaction. The emotional relationships are bitterly honest. And Mim? Mim is just plain special. She is tough, yet a dreamer. Resigned, yet hopeful. She's prickly, funny, flawed and fierce. I loved her journey as all of her preconceptions about everyone from her mother to her crush to herself blow up in her face and challenge her to adapt and grow. Her blind need to escape has kept her separate from the world around her, but what happens when she opens her eyes and really sees "her people"? I was completely absorbed throughout all of her mistakes and triumphs.

Verdict: 5/5 stars.  All I Ever Wanted is one of my favorite books of the year.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
The Tomorrow Series #1
Reviewed by Noelle: January 29, 2012
Published June 1st, 2006 by Scholastic Paperbacks (orig. published 1993)
Goodreads • Paperback at Amazon • Buy at Fishpond • Kindle edition

Whenever I hear a random, not easily explainable boom, there is a small part of me that wonders  if that noise I am brushing off as a transformer going out or random firework is actually something much more sinister. What if it is in fact not a benign blast but the first act of war? There I’ll be, wandering around in my safe oblivious bubble with electricity, plumbing, shelter and easily obtainable food and that boom was the moment my normal world changed forever. 

That is what happens to Ellie and her friends after a run of the mill camping trip. They return to discover their country has been invaded, their families held prisoner by the invading forces and that they are now the de facto resistance. 

I really appreciated how Marsden described the difficulty the teens had fully fathoming their dangerous new situation. 

“I still couldn’t comprehend that this might be a matter of life and death, that this was the most serious thing I’d ever been involved in. Of course I knew it; I just couldn’t keep remembering it every single second. My mind wasn’t that well disciplined.”

It’d really be hard to wrap your head around it, going from teenage worries and cares to guerilla warfare--especially with no authority figures around to take charge. Figuring out what is even going on would be hard enough, let alone survival tactics such as food and protection and eventually fighting back. A course of action, no matter how small would become a risky, life-threatening venture. Ellie and the different members of the group come to terms with the consequences of their war time actions and decisions in different manners which were all very interesting to see. 

The book is written as a group history taken down by Ellie to preserve a record of what happened. At times I thought Marsden had backed himself into a corner by choosing such a specific format. It worked really well sometimes, like when Ellie offered up a cut and dry relation of strategy and events or when Ellie was offering her insight into the situation but there were other times I yearned for more personal information about the other characters. Although the group had 8 members, I ended the book knowing only a few well enough to care what happened to them. (And by care I mean freak out about them. Something big would happen and it'd be more like “Oh, crap” vs. “OMG NOOO WHYYY??” You know how much we like to freak out at YAA.) Overall I was intrigued by all of the characters but ended the novel feeling held at a distance from most of them. I have a feeling that will be remedied in the six following books.

The format also made me skeptical when Ellie would share certain personal feelings (such as debate the merits of competing crushes) in the history. I wanted to read that stuff of course, but I couldn’t help but be semi-mortified that she was sharing it in such a public forum.  The format also made the love stuff (there’s love stuff) leap-frog all of the fun crush-building moments straight to “Oh, by the way, I’m in love with so and so now.” I know the teens are all in life and death mode and there was no time for semantics but I was left feeling a little disappointed. I wanted to be more invested in those kinds of developments.

But back to the good stuff. Primarily this is a book about survival and I loved the ins and outs of the group’s every day life as the resistance. Ellie and Homer's excellent strategizing, along with their ability to think on their feet kept me glued to the book to see what would happen next. It also made me realize how fast I'd be captured or killed if I were in their place. I don't keep matches handy or even know how to drive a stick shift for crying out loud! I might have to start carrying a can opener in my purse. Maybe I should learn a survival skill for each book in this series. Does anyone know where one can sign up for bulldozer driving lessons?

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.  I thought this book was good with moments of great.  Overall this was a fast, engaging read with a dynamic, interesting heroine. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. On to the next one!

Another point of view: Maggie rated this book 5 stars via Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Reviewed by Noelle: March 15, 2011 
Published May 4, 2009 by Chicken House Ltd
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon • Buy at Fishpond

Gah. The feelings. I'm still trying to process them all. This book evoked such a visceral response. I'm not sure if I thought anything the entire time I was reading it but I felt everything. There was this constant low level buzz of dread--a wonderful, dazed, hysteria always in the background. I had a knot in my chest the whole book and it is still there even now that I'm finished. The Australian outback is such a perfect setting too, filled with beauty and despair. After awhile it started to feel like a hallucination.

Stolen is 16 year old abductee Gemma's letter to her captor after she is kidnapped from a Bangkok airport and taken to Australia.  The writing style is simple but utterly engrossing.  Lucy Christopher skillfully immerses  the reader in Gemma's emotional roller coaster of fear, confusion, desperation and shockingly, sympathy.

And what a genius format to choose--a letter directed to the captor. Blurring the "you", the captor with "you", the reader. Such a clever way to form that subconscious bond.

I thought the book needed a few more speed bumps in the last corner before home stretch and the format, while perfect in so many ways, allowed for some huge unanswered questions. Still this book, while not flawless, will immediately put its hooks into you. Be prepared to read it in one sitting. At one point I seriously debated calling in to work so I could continue reading!

This book stressed me out in the best possible way.
Verdict: 4.5/5 stars.