Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Reviewed by Maggie: October 28, 2012
Published March 13, 2008 by Dial
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon • Book Depo (no e-book version)

When Flannery first recommended this book to me with the promise of Boston and baseball, my exact reaction was, "........" The opening paragraph of her review cracks me up because what I remember most about Boston is: rats. Lots and lots of rats. Since "everywhere" is too general, let me tell you 3 specific places where I saw a rat.

1. Subway (as in Eat Fresh®)
2. California Pizza Kitchen, Prudential Center
3. My dorm room

My friends refused to walk on my left because whenever I saw a rat charging out of the bushes, I'd push them out into the street. Excuse me for trying to save your life! Did no one see the episode of Little House on the Prairie where everyone in Walnut Grove nearly died of typhus?! That wasn't just a TV show, that was a PSA.

Second only to rats in Boston are Red Sox fans. The SAWX. I grew up watching sports (not baseball, as if) but nothing in my life prepared me for Red Sox Nation. I lived 5 minutes away from Fenway Park and got a very rude awakening the first (and only) time I tried to take the T after a game. My PTSD still prevents me from talking about it.

Imagine my surprise when not only did I end up finishing this book, I loved it. It reminded me that aside from the rats and the Sox, Boston was also where I first fell in love, strolled through a park at night while someone played the saxophone, and had a chocolate chip cannoli from Mike's Pastry. (Don't knock it til you've tried it! My love for Mike's has outlasted that first love.) Every so often, I need to be reminded that hope exists. I need it to wrap me in a bear hug and refuse to let go until I surrender because anything less won't work with me. Some Disney magic also helps.

My Most Excellent Year refers to the year Alejandra Perez and a 6-year-old named Hucky entered the lives of T.C. Keller and Augie Hwong. T.C. and Augie declared they were brothers in 1st grade and never looked back. T.C. had just lost his mother and he bonded with the quiet kid who was the one person who didn't look at him like he'd just lost his mother. Of course, Augie didn't stay quiet. Have you ever met a quiet Ethel Merman fan? While Augie shared his love of musicals during their weekly sleepovers, T.C. shared his love of baseball. When Alejandra (that's Alé with an é) transferred to their school freshman year and politely rejected T.C.'s offer to consider a relationship with her, while talking to Augie about musical theater, both boys were goners. Their story is told through journal entries, emails, IMs, and texts.

First, I loved that two of the main characters are minorities. This was such an issue for me growing up, and it's still an issue for me now, but it's so important to see last names like Hwong and Perez and not deal with stereotypical characterizations. Augie is the son of a Chinese immigrant mother and American-born Chinese father. His mother terrorizes the Boston theater community with her reviews for the Globe. Here's a sample of her review of Carousel:
"Nice songs to beat your wife to. Attend at your own risk."
She instilled her love of theater in Augie, but made sure to warn him about Carousel when he was 8. Alé is the daughter of diplomats and her father was the ambassador to Mexico until he accepted a position at Harvard. She's used to hobnobbing (and accidentally insulting) diplomats, actors, and (I'm assuming) Bono. Her closest friend before moving to Brookline was a Secret Service agent.

Second, I loved the fathers in this. T.C.'s dad, Ted, named after Ted Williams naturally, and Augie's dad, Craig, are such presences in their sons' lives. T.C. uses a vocabulary word in one of his journal entries and a few pages later, Ted ends up using the same word in an email to T.C.'s counselor. You can just see T.C. using it around the house with Ted, making up ridiculous sentences along the way.

Third, Augie Hwong is who I tried to get my little brother to be. Yes, the one who is now a big bad cop. I just think children, particularly boys, need a well-rounded education, especially of the musical variety. Also, I knew even back then that he was destined for a career involving weaponry so I wanted to get to him before the mouthbreathers did. Since I controlled the radio in the car (ah, the perks of being the oldest), I played a steady stream of Rent, Les Miserables, and Ragtime. (Wicked came later.) I was so proud when I heard him humming "Would you light my candle?" I was even prouder when Rent the movie came out and he went to watch it on his own.

This book had the same energy of Sorta Like a Rock Star and it was what I hoped Will Grayson, Will Grayson would be. The format of journal entries and emails and texts made it an easy, fun read. You don't need to know all (or any) of the baseball and theater references to get this book. Just read a short synopsis of All About Eve so you understand one of my favorite Augie moments. I know it's not perfect, but it had so much heart that like Mary Poppins, My Most Excellent Year is practically perfect in every way.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

This was my last book in The Readventurer challenge and it was the perfect book to go out on. Thanks for the recs, Flann!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle
The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy #1
Reviewed by Noelle on October 25, 2012
Published September 19, 2006 by Henry Holt and Co.
Goodreads • Buy on AmazonKindleBook Depository

Kate and Emily have just inherited the estate on Hollow Hill but have no idea of the land's cursed history.  Girls have been disappearing off the property for centuries with only crazy legends about magic and goblins for explanations.  Kate begins to realize just how true the danger is once Marak the Goblin King begins to woo her.  Goblin Kings court by kidnapping and the bride is destined to spend the rest of her life below ground.  Kate is desperate to save herself and her sister, but dangers develop from unexpected sources--and sometimes, so does love.

The Hollow Kingdom was one of Catie's book choices for me in The Readventurer's She Made Me Do It Challenge.  Catie wasn't sure how I'd go for the Beauty and the Beast aspect of the story and I must admit, I've been hit and miss with B&B stories in the past.  Luckily, The Hollow Kingdom has several important differentiations from the trope that makes it one of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings to date.

First of all, Marak (the Beast in question), isn't an isolated brooding, angsty or self-pitying alpha male.  He's a pragmatist and a confident and compassionate leader.  Above all he's amused and delighted by most things---especially Kate.  He's friendly, he cracks himself up and it's pretty well known how much I enjoy a happy smartass.

Secondly, I appreciated that the Beast was actually, you know, a beast.  I roll my eyes when the Beast has like one scar and everyone screams monster.  Marak has six fingers, silver skin, horse hair, chrome teeth and unfortunate bone structure.  Yet I was also relieved that he wasn't so much of a Beast that the story necessitated him changing into something more socially acceptable for a viable romance to occur.

Although there were No Regrets, I'm not sure I could call The Hollow Kingdom a full on Disco Chicken, Catie.  For the first half of this book I was stressed out of my ever loving mind! (You can't yell "Wheeee!" when you're busy breathing into a paper bag.)  Yes, there was an inevitability about Kate's situation but her panic and desperation were so visceral that I couldn't help but be swept up in those feelings.

I appreciated that Kate's struggle with Marak was a battle of wits rather than a battle of physical strength (another welcome differentiation to the Beauty and the Beast trope).  I was also impressed with Kate's resourcefulness in resisting the Goblin King's abduction attempts but Marak had just enough of a magical and tactical advantage for the whole thing to be truly unsettling.

I also loved that no matter how quick thinking Kate managed to be, she had to constantly worry about being foiled by her sister's naivete.  As someone who growing up constantly had dreams of my sister inexplicably ignoring warnings and jumping into a shark-filled swimming pool, I could relate.  The supporting characters' "back away slowly from the crazy person" attitude toward Kate also added to the uneasiness factor.  I mean, even knowing what the plot was and what would undoubtedly happen, I couldn't ignore that "last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again" feeling in their interactions.

From the book summary I was surprised that more than half of the story was devoted to Kate's resistance of Marak's marriage attempts.  I expected more time to be spent in the development of Kate and Marak's spousal relationship.  I wish the reader got to witness more of the bonding scenes alluded to (I swear I'm not just being a perv) rather than just mentions of the milestones and time jumps.  The reader spends so much time viewing Marak as an adversary and the time between their marriage and the crisis that catalyzes the plot is a pretty small window to adjust to their new relationship.  While Kate has years, the reader has a chapter or two.

Still, I was charmed.  The writing was lovely and I was enthralled by the goblin world building.  Little details like the reason a goblin baby looks the way it does were just unbelievably endearing.  I'd call this recommendation a big success, Catie!  Rating: 4/5 stars.

Has anyone read the rest of the series?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Adventures in the Bargain Book Bin: October 24, 2012

By Noelle

I admit it: I spend at least a couple hours a month in the Amazon Bargain Book section.  I generally look for hardcovers under $8,  paperbacks under $5 and e-books under $4.  Just in case clicking through 100 pages of book links isn't your thing, here is what caught my eye this time around. 

How about starting off with some ridiculously low-priced hardcovers?

Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams • Goodreads
Hardcover - $2.56

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty • Goodreads
Hardcover - $1.30
Kindle - $1.24

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp • Goodreads
Hardcover - $1.51
Kindle - $1.43

How to Make a Bird by Martine Murray • Goodreads
Hardcover - $1.30
Kindle - $1.24

Graceling by Kristin Cashore • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.80

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.80

Mistwood by Leah Cypress • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.80

Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.78

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.80

Before I Die by Jenny Downham • Goodreads
Paperback - $4.00

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers • Goodreads
Paperback - $4.00

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott • Goodreads
Hardcover - $6.80
Paperback - $3.60

Happy shopping and happy reading!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bookmark Binge: October 21, 2012

Can't get enough of...

The Assassin's Curse?
Check out the newly released cover art for the sequel The Pirate's Wish. (PS. That's a manticore!)
Cassandra Rose Clarke's blog tour had a lot of fun posts including: a hypothetical movie cast, her favorite fictional pirates, and the development that went into deciding Ananna would be a pirate.

The Girl Most Likely? 
It's going to be a film and Rebecca Sparrow tweeted that Rachel has been cast!
I can't wait to hear who Rachel and Zoe are. You can follow the news on their FB page.

Look at all these links lying around...
This YA book cover themed wedding shower card is hilarious (via That Cover Girl)
Don't miss Belle's close encounter with Craig Silvey.
Check out The Reclusive Reader Battle of the Covers for Graffiti Moon. (Maggie actually owns 3/4 of the versions in the battle!)

Upcoming Reviews and Reads...
Maggie has been plowing through our The Readventurer She Made Me Do It challenge like there's no tomorrow but I managed to get on the score board this week by finishing book one in my challenge.  I'll optimistically add the other two books as "coming soons":

How about you Maggie?
I finished the White Cat audiobook but didn't love Jesse Eisenberg as the narrator. Once I uncurl from the fetal position, I'll be reviewing Quintana of Charyn. Quintana was unquestionably my most anticipated book this year. I'll also review the final book of The Readventurer challenge and hopefully start another fantasy series by the author of Code Name Verity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

YAA Soundtrack: Graffiti Moon

By Noelle

If you scroll through my favorite books on Goodreads, chances are I have a soundtrack for them on my iPod.  And like any music-obsessed person, I live to force my favorite songs on others.  For any other playlist aficionados out there who enjoy making and listening to book-themed soundtracks, you've come to the right place!  We will occasionally be posting links to playlists from my personal soundtrack collection. 

Oh, Graffiti Moon.  I love you so.  With this soundtrack I mostly went for a fun night of adventure theme and tried to find songs that are bittersweet, hopeful or full of sweet anticipation.  Hope you enjoy!

Take a listen to the grooveshark playlist or check out the track listing and liner notes below:

1. Some Nights - fun: Yup. Starting out with the most overplayed song on the radio right now! Posting these playlists 6-8 months after I originally make them is really working out for me.  (True story: this just came on my work's Light Rock, Less Talk station while I was writing this post.  Ag!)

2. Gentle Roar (Mylo mix) - Niki and the Dove 

3. Our Braided Lives - Matt Pond PA 
It must be you and me were made for night. / ‘Cause there’s streetlights showing off inside your eyes,
[...] Far below the
knowing ceiling sky / The night will end / The dark will leave.

4. Sail - AWOLNATION: This one is for Ed and Leo.

5. The Prayer - Bloc Party: My Lucy/Shadow (and his identity crisis) song.

6. Colours - GROUPLOVE

7. Paris - Kate Nash
You can stand on your own two feet, you can lead me through the streets
Pave the way, so we can dream dreams, no one else can see what you made me see

You said you'd lend me anything, I think I'll have your company 

8.Momentum - The Hush Sound: Reading the lyrics to this song has me convinced it could have been written about Graffiti Moon.  It's got references to it all--punches, the bike riding scene, FEELINGS.  Everything.

9. Embers - Just Jack: Noelle Trivia! This song has three of my favorite things in a song: violins, handclaps and a round.

10.  Young Blood (slow version) - The Naked and Famous

11. Shake It Out - Florence and the Machine 

Thanks for listening! Did I do it any justice?  Do you have any favorite books that are just dying for a soundtrack?

YAA Art Projects: Graffiti Moon

by Noelle

As many of you know, I just loved Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.  Loooooved it.  It's pretty much spray painted on my heart.  (See what I did there??? But it's TRUE!)  And as my Goodreads friends know, I found Graffiti Moon very artistically inspiring:

Like I said, this is old news for the Goodreads crew, but since I haven't posted it on the blog yet and since I'm posting a Graffiti Moon Soundtrack (this afternoon!),  I figured, what the hell, it was time for another YAA Art Project post.  

I painted this in honor of Graffiti Moon's US release back in February 2012.  I call it "I Want to Collide" after one of my favorite quotes from Graffiti Moon:  “Mum says when wanting collides with getting, that's the moment of truth. I want to collide."

Here it is!

Another favorite quote from the book is: "For a while, for as long as you're looking at it, that painting is the world and you get to be in it."  As you can see, to me, Graffiti Moon was that work of art and what a pleasure it was to spend time in it's world.  Thanks for the inspiration, Cath Crowley!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke
The Assassin's Curse #1
Reviewed by Noelle on October 15, 2012
Published October 2, 2012 by Strange Chemistry
Goodreads • Buy on AmazonKindleBook Depository

This is an accurate portrayal of me after reading The Assassin's Curse:

In fact. You know, what? Hit it:

Ananna is a pirate, born and raised 
and on the high seas is where she spends her days.  
Sword fightin', riggin', stealing your loot.  
Handy with a lie and a knife in her boot.    
All she wants is to travel to distant lands, 
but her mom and pop are plotting marriage plans.
She'll take adventure over a relationship, 
so on the big day gives her fiance the slip.
She has no idea just what trouble she's in, 
turns out he wasn't joking about that assassin.

Naji's an assassin with a capital A.  
He's got a new target, he's stalking his prey.
He's the shadow behind her in the dead of night, 
knows eighty ways to kill, never lost a fight.
All covered in blood magic, scars and tattoos. 
He'll meet her in the desert for a midnight duel.
But versus Ananna, he experiences a first: 
instead of an easy kill they both get cursed.
Enemies become allies if only to survive.  
The Curse is Impossible but they still have to try... 

Dance Break!

I'm sorry.  I'm not sorry.  This book was so much fun!

There are few things I like better than reading about two adversaries forced to become allies in pursuit of some higher goal.  When Ananna accidentally triggers a curse binding herself with her would-be assassin, Naji, they quickly become one of my most favorite Buddy Cops of Convenience of all time.   The awkward teamwork!  The reluctant bonding! The coordinated sword fights!  Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter!

What makes this particular team so perfect is that both sides of the partnership hold equal weight.  You'd think that might be hard to pull off with one side being a legendary blood magic assassin and all, but Ananna is no wilting flower either.  In fact one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me was how often Ananna nonchalantly saved Naji's ass.  Perfect heroine is perfect.  Etc. Etc.

As much as I enjoyed this first book, I can already tell the sequel is going to be even better.  I cannot wait to get my greedy hands on it.  As is, though, The Assassin's Curse is a gem and has the perfect blend of hijinks and high stakes.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Warning: I bought the paperback and the back cover copy includes developments that happen within the last 10 pages or so of the book so just go ahead and stick with the Goodreads summary if you don't want to know the set up for the next book until you get there.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bookmark Binge: October 14, 2012's been awhile but instead of shame spiraling we are making up for lost time!

Can't get enough of...

Friday Brown?
Read Vikki Wakefield's Story of My Book at Readings.
There is another great interview with Vikki from ALPHA Reader.
Listen to Wakefield discuss Friday Brown and teen fiction in general on ABC Adelaide.

Clara in Washington?
There aren't many reviews of out there, but I really like this one by My Girl Friday.
I also liked seeing an actual copy of the book with its gorgeous cover on Bean There, Read That.

Don't miss the two short stories of the Unspoken universe: The Spring Before I Met You and The Summer Before I Met You
Sleeps With Monsters: Sarah Rees Brennan answers Six Questions for
SRB talks with the designer of that beautiful, beautiful cover on her blog.
SRB's tumblr is a ton of fun as well complete with fancasting and fan art and series news!

Look at all these links lying around...
This slideshow by Entertainment Weekly of TV Faves reimagined as kid fiction cracked me up.
At the Hairpin: Things to Ban Instead of Commonly Banned Books (thanks for the link, sis!)

And if you're wondering what we'll be reading soon...
Check out our She Made Me Do It Reading Challenge over at The Readventurer!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: The Girl Most Likely by Rebecca Sparrow

The Girl Most Likely by Rebecca Sparrow
Reviewed by Maggie: October 12, 2012
Published March 1, 2003 by University of Queensland Press
Goodreads • Buy at Amazon MarketplaceFishpond

Rebecca Sparrow is my ambassador of quan. After finishing her books, I just want to yell, "I love everybody!"

The Girl Most Likely is actually Rebecca Sparrow's first book, and not the sequel to The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay as I previously thought. Normally, I'm a stickler for reading books in the order they were published, but I'm glad I read Nick McGowan first. I loved seeing the teenage Rachel, the ambitious, hopeful, poised for success Rachel, before meeting the 27-year-old, down on her luck version. This version, after finding herself broke and broken up with, is returning from whence she came -- her parents' house.

New Adult, quarter life crisis, whatever you want to call it, this book covers that transitional period of time. After being so solid in her personal and professional life, the girl who achieved her most likely to succeed status is now faltering. After vegging out in front of the TV with Fruit Loops, Rachel decides to go back to the basics: simple, achievable goals, like learning a particular piano piece. It's while doing this that the cutest, creepiest meet-cute occurs. The former piano playing part of me squealed at this meet-cute. However, the Criminal Minds watching part of me immediately thought, "CRIMINAL MINDS SITUATION." Fortunately, there was no unsub.

What I love about Rebecca Sparrow's books is that she writes about the moments that make life funny, happy, mortifying, crushing, and ultimately, worthwhile and unique. Rachel's life is laugh out loud ridiculous at times, and can't leave the bed disappointing at others. Thanks to Zoe Budd, the ridiculous far outweighs the disappointment. Nick McGowan fans will crack up at who Zoe grew up to be because OF COURSE. She even pulls out her classic "You're going to have sex with him!" line. I love her. I love Rachel. And I love this book! See? I just can't help myself. It's the quan!

Rating: 4/5 stars. 

Extra! Extra! I first came across this book on the Anna Scott Jots post on Brisbane. Did you know Brisbane is also called (brace yourself) BrisVegas?? When you're done laughing, check out Anna's other recs. Of Girl Most Likely, Anna says: "...a great, very funny depiction of a woman having a mid-20s crisis and not knowing what the blooming heck to do about it. With sexy neighbour thrown in for good measure. What's not to love?"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Lynburn Legacy #1
Reviewed by Noelle October 10, 2012
Published September 11, 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Goodreads • Buy on AmazonKindleBook Depository

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath

I've been eager to read Unspoken ever since I caught sight of that beautiful cover and am happy to say that it did not disappoint.

Kami Glass, teen investigative reporter, has always stood out from the crowd. Whether it was not being shy about talking to her imaginary friend in public, or being the only one daring enough to dig around the mysteries of her town Sorry-in-the-Vale, Kami has never quite fit in.  And why should she want to when she's finally running the school newspaper with her best friend and the mysteries of her hometown have just gotten more fascinating than ever? The legendary Lynburn family has returned and with them the rumors of the family's dark history with Sorry-in-the-Vale.  Kami is unable to resist investigating their cryptic hold over the town----especially when it turns out that her imaginary friend is actually a real, live Lynburn.  Kami is determined to discover just what the Lynburns are hiding and what exactly her not-so-imaginary friend has to do with it.

Unspoken is a charming, hilarious, exciting, gothic mystery that emotionally delivers in satisfyingly unexpected ways.  The characters all have wonderfully distinct personalities and Sarah Rees Brennan really excels at natural, humorous character interactions and hilarious yet realistic dialogue.  I was gleefully cracking up the entire book.  She is also wonderful at defying YA stereotypes and tropes, a skill I immensely appreciated and that really elevated Unspoken to the next level for me.

And Kami? Kami is definitely going to be inducted into my Heroine Hall of Fame/ granted a seat at my Lunch Table.

I don't want to go too far into the mystery or plot of Unspoken (go! read! enjoy!) so that leaves the perfect opportunity for me to go into a psychic connection stress spiral tangent.  Because oh my god, can you even imagine?! For example, let's say your imaginary friend turns out to be real.

I've read a couple of books lately featuring some kind of psychic or emotional connection and am I the only one whose mind leaps straight to pure HUMILIATION Do Not Pass Go?  How freaking embarrassing would it be if the guy you thought was some inner imaginary voice your entire life--the guy who you told all your most mortifying adolescent feelings and insecurities--was actually real?

How awkward would it be that this guy you have been completely emotionally open and vulnerable to suddenly was a real life person with real life personality flaws and issues? It's like if God started answering Margaret...and then turned out to be a maladjusted teenaged boy, a boy who now has all this extra personal knowledge and emotional collateral on you?  Can you even imagine?!

Luckily for the readers, while I'd be taking a floor nap in the fetal position for the rest of the book, Kami is a less emotionally stunted individual than myself and handles the complexities of her and Jared's new situation with a maturity that made me so proud.  Kami--wonderful, smart, ambitious Kami-- has a wealth of supportive, healthy relationships in her life.   Jared--volatile, furious, scared shitless  Jared-- has virtually no connections with anyone or the world around him. Kami has a strong friend network and family foundation.  Jared has...Kami.

Jared also had believed that Kami was imaginary and thus his own creation and I really think that he used her as proof to himself that there was some goodness and light inside of him.  He took comfort that Kami's sheer amazingness came from somewhere within him and when Kami turns out to be just as real as Jared, he's desperate to assign a higher purpose to their special connection, because he sees it as his only redeeming quality.  To Kami, the reality of their connection makes her less trusting of it and skeptical of what it means for her future.

Sarah Rees Brennan handles the emotional complexities of Jared and Kami's bond so masterfully.  Even as their codependency wavers back and forth from constructive and destructive and the edges between their individual feelings increasingly blur, the situation is always handled with refreshing perspective and maturity.  I couldn't help but love both characters all the while questioning what their relationship should even be.  I loved the depth of the dilemma.

I agree with the Book Smugglers that I can't really consider the ending to be a cliffhanger in the WTF?! NOOO! sense since what happens is 100% in line with the character development thus far, and I knew in my heart it was what would naturally occur in that particular situation with those particular characters.  To me it was more a cliffhanger in the I'm very, very excited to see what happens next sense.  (Especially after seeing this on SRB's tumblr hehe.)

Rating:  4/5 stars.