YALSA’s Hub Challenge: NOT finished

A quick entry here for a Hub Challenge update. I’m sorry to say that this year I didn’t finish.  There was even extra time this year compared to last year! It was so exciting that so many more people had signed up for it this year, too.  My friend Megan also didn’t finish.  We decided that it was because this year there seemed to fewer titles to choose from, and that’s because more titles were on multiple lists.  I’d already read the Alex books that I wanted to before the challenge started, so that eliminated a few possibilities, too.  I loved the MAE winner-Tamora Pierece-and thought that I would reread all the Alanna books, which I haven’t read in many years.   However, midway through I was feeling frustrated and stressed over my reading-I had things I wanted to read on my to-read list, I just started reviewing books and I had to get them read first, and I eventually decided to just let it go.  I’m ok with that.  I don’t usually like giving up on things but I decided in this case that it was better than feeling stressed about trying to do this.  I’ll try again next year for sure.  Of the titles I did read for the challenge the one that is sticking with me the most is the book about the development of the nuclear bomb-Trinity. Of course, I just wrote that and then double checked my Goodreads shelf and see that though I only read 12 books (half) for this challenge, several of them were ones that I loved-Seraphina, The Diviners, and The Name of The Star.

If I had to choose one book that the challenge got me to read that I’m so glad I did, it’s The Name of the Star.  It’s a great book and I wouldn’t have read it were it not for this.

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

(Hub Reading Challenge: Popular Paperbacks)

promAfter The Diviners it was a treat to pick up a fluffy book I could read in a day. The inspiration for this story is Pride and  Prejudice by Jane Austen and the characters share the names of the characters in the original.  The story is modernized and set in an exclusive snobby wealthy private school where Lizzie Bennett is a scholarship student and looked down on by everyone else. Enter Will Darcy (who looked like a teenage Colin Firth in my head.) I liked the new details Eulberg gave the story-Lizzie is such an accomplished pianist that she’s destined for Carnegie Hall, the prom at the academy is covered by the New York Times Style section. I enjoyed how much this followed the original, even to the extent that sometimes these über-rich kids spoke like English people in the 1800s.

A fun, quick, prom season read.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

(Hub Reading Challenge: BFYA)

divinersI’ve had this book anchoring my bedside table for almost a year now. Having it be on the Reading Challenge list was the kick I needed to pick it up. This book is huge-coming in at over 550 pages.  And the thing is, I don’t think it needed to be that long. The book is about a girl in the 1920s who has a supernatural gift, she is a “diviner.” Due to some trouble in her small town, Evie is sent to Manhattan to stay with her uncle, a bachelor who runs a museum of the supernatural and occult along with his hunky mysterious assistant, Jericho.  Evie is hot to experience all that 1920s Manhattan has to offer-speakeasies, gin, flapper dresses, loose morals, and jazz (insert jazz hands here.) Her swanky new friend Theta, a Ziegfeld Follies girl, aids and abets her, while her straight laced friend Mabel tut-tuts.  A horrendous murder kicks the mystery off.  Soon, it is a string of murders that seem to have something to do with the occult-weird brandings and sacrifices are present.  Uncle Will, Jericho, and Evie begin investigating. Then there are all the other diviner character, like Memphis and his brother Isaiah.

This was definitely an engaging, if too long, story.  However, if this was a movie I would never in a million years see it.  Occult-supernatural-horror-grisly? Not for me. In fact, all the murders were way too scary for me. But, I soldiered on. I wish this was a stand alone book, and I think it could have been. But, like all things these days, it’s #1 of presumably a trilogy. And if the other books are this long I probably won’t read them. The world of the 1920s is very fully detailed and realized-almost a little too much.  It’s clearly well researched, but I felt that it seemed like the author was going down her big list of details about the 1920s and making sure to include a song title, historical figure, slang phrase, wardrobe detail, etc. on every other line.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Hub Reading Challenge: PPYA

starI’ve known about this book for quite a long time and even attended the studio recording of the audiobook. And yet, I just wasn’t interested in reading it. I’ve had it checked out for a month and only somewhat unwillingly picked it up yesterday morning because I thought I should give it a try. Well. Apparently I just didn’t know what this book was all about because it was fantastic. I have an hour’s time this afternoon while I wait for my daughter in dance class and I couldn’t even save it for then. I had to just spend the morning reading it until it was done because I was so caught up in it.

The first thing that made this so compelling was the fact that it’s set in a boarding school! Present day, London. Rory has moved there from New Orleans and is going to spend a year there while her parents are on sabbatical.  Just as she arrives and is dealing with fitting in a murder occurs that mimics the first murder of Jack the Ripper. A second soon follows and the city is caught up in copycat Jack the Ripper panic. I’ll pause here to say that Rory becomes involved and it’s a great thriller and I totally recommend it. If you don’t mind spoilers scroll on down past picture and I’ll tell some details that might explain it better. Otherwise, just take my word for it, enjoy the photo, and go check this book out of the library (and p.s. the cover was one of the things that turned me off. I hope it’s better in the paperback version.)
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

OK, so what I didn’t know that made the book completely exciting was that due to a near death experience the first night at school Rory can see ghosts. And it turns out that she’s not the only one-that others who can are part of a super secret, denied by the government, but run by them, organization. Ghost police, if you will. And without realizing she was seeing a ghost, Rory saw the murderer who is terrorizing London and becomes involved with this ghost squad in trying to stop him before he kills his next target, who is Rory herself.
This was an exciting and suspenseful mystery. The supernatural element was not totally crazy. There’s some historical stuff in there, which was nice, and there were loads of the type of boarding school details that I just eat up.
Really great.

Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron

(Reading Challenge: Popular Paperbacks)

strutsThis is the sort of YA book I really enjoy-straight up realistic fiction ( I say realistic but the truth is in my adolescent I saw none of this in me or my friends, but, like with movies, that’s why it’s fiction) with some conflicts, some happy resolutions, and personal growth. I especially liked that the main character was a boy because even as an adult now I am still fascinated by the secret look into a boy’s point of view. Sammy, the boy, is a pretty well-adjusted kid. He lives with his single mom, is an aspiring musician, has some nice solid friends, is great friends with a girl who he thinks he might like to have be a girlfriend,  and is in a band.  Unfortunately his band is kind of a mess, especially because the lead singer is an enraged loose cannon. There several different threads to the story that all tie nicely together. One thread is his connection to his grandfather who is mentally slipping away into dementia. But the moments of clarity provide for some wonderful bonding, as his grandfather was a professional musician.  Then there’s the girl situation. I thought this was resolved pretty easily, which was, frankly, refreshing. And the losing their virginity part was very nicely done and very positive. Again, refreshing.

I especially liked seeing Sammy’s relationship with his male friends, including his best friend Rick, who is gay. Although Rick is out to Sammy he hasn’t dated anyone yet and doesn’t really want to discuss it. Sammy points out that this makes their relationship lopsided because if they’re friends and he can go on and on about wanting Jen5 (such a novel affectation-who do you know in real life who names themselves with a number? made me think of another book about Su5an Smith), shouldn’t Rick be able to dump on Sammy about his own dating angst? I thought Sammy was really sweet to Rick and I really liked their friendship.

The music in the story is great-Sammy’s description of what it’s like when he plays, his songwriting, the bands that get mentioned, the prospect of a career in music (the part where he sees a fairly successful guy he looks up to behind the counter of a coffee shop is great.)  And I loved it that at the end all the referenced songs were compiled in a playlist! I’m fairly certain that in my husband’s music library we’ve got all those songs and I’m going to ask him to make me a disc of it so I can have a listen. It was a nice touch to a nice book.


The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long

(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

silenceAs seems to be the case with graphic novels, I never would have picked this up on my own, but because it was on the list I did and I’m glad. Also, this is published by First Second and I pretty much love everything they put out. They just publish consistently high quality engaging interesting graphic novels.

So this is a story about civil right in the late 1960s in Texas.  It is based on Mark Long’s memories of his life and incidents. I suppose it is somewhat fictionalized (and his note at the end goes into that), but basic facts are accurate. Mark is white and his dad is a reporter. They live in a very segregated part of Texas and while his family is teaching their children to respect all people and not use the N word, they are oddities in their neighborhood for it. The casual racism is really upsetting to read about. Upsetting because I doubt it was exaggerated and it’s astonishing and horrible to think that people thought it was ok to behave that way. And Texas, this look back is not improving your image to me. Police officers wildly and randomly shooting into a dormitory? Believing that black people are out to get you and who cares if they die?

What I liked about this book, and what was so moving, was the real struggle you see in Mark’s dad and his black friend Larry.  They are uneasy friends, both wanting to be “men of conscience”, but struggling against bosses, the media, friends, family, and ingrained racism.  This was a wonderful look at both the big picture of civil rights in the U.S. and a closer look at how that played out in two families.  I really liked the use of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in the text as they were illustrated by the actions of Larry and Jack.

Definitely recommended. I think it would be great if this were used in history classes.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

enchanted(Reading Challenge: BFYA)

I was completely enchanted by this book. hahaha. But seriously, I loved this. Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, so she is bound to be magical. They live in a world where fey abound and magical things happen. Basically they live in a fairy tale! There are fairy godmothers and enchanted nameday gifts and Sunday’s sisters are all named after the other days of the week. In the wood by an old well one day Sunday meets and enchanted frog. She and the frog fall in love and though she kisses him it does not turn him into a man. But of course he actually does and then must set about meeting Sunday in human form and having her fall in love with him that way. But alas, their families are all mixed up with bad history and curses.  What I loved so very much about this lovely story was that it was not a retelling of just one fairy tale. Instead there were bits of everything woven together-old woman and the shoe, princess and frog, Cinderella, Jack and the beanstalk, Rapunzel, and so on.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings and this was a very original take on it. I loved it!

I can tell from Goodreads that this is Woodcutter #1, letting me know that the author intends to make this a series or trilogy. You know I normally hate that, but in this case it’s ok. The story ended completely, was fully satisfying, but there are so many other characters (6 other sisters who’ve all clearly got their own stories) that it would be very easy and natural to tell each of their stories.  Sort of like how Marian Keyes’ books are about all these sisters in the same family. Except when they came out people didn’t announce ahead of time first book of a big named series. It was just she wrote a book. Then the next book you were reading you were like “hey! She just referred to a sister who seems to be the person I read a last book about.” and it was all very low key and cool. That would never happen nowadays.