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.

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

helen(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

Although I know the basic facts about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, this book taught me a whole lot that I didn’t know.  It begins when Annie Sullivan arrives at the Keller house to begin teacher Helen and continues in a chronological fashion that is interrupted by flashbacks to Annie’s childhood. Turns out that Annie had a lousy early life-orphaned, kept in a home for the poor that was later the target of investigations for the horrible treatment people in it received, her only sibling dying from TB, and then finally getting sent to the Perkins School for the Blind.  She was smart and capable, but you get the impression that she was a difficult person to get along with.  Which may have made her just the right teacher for Helen, who was a wild thing when they first meet.

I liked how when Helen and Annie talked to each other their hands are shown signing into each other and then the words were above. Not speech bubbles unless someone was actually speaking aloud.  Much of the story is also told by Annie’s letters to her mentor, who is at the school for the blind.  The process of teaching Helen was fascinating.  I find it really hard to get my head around imagining being blind and deaf. In fact, it’s so distressing for me that when I do imagine it I have to quickly make myself stop.

There is more to the story, though, then just the whole “miracle worker” part.  Quite a bit of drama comes when Helen is older and she and Annie return to Perkins.  Although not students there, her old mentor wants to use their fame and publicity for the school and that makes Annie resentful and drives a wedge between them.  Then there is a fascinating plagiarism story that was apparently quite the scandal.

I liked this quite a bit, especially because I learned so much more to the Helen Keller story than I already knew.  There is a helpful afterward that gives even more information about different elements of the story.

 

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay, Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, & Bill Willingham

angels(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

Phew! That was a lot of contributors’ names to type out in the title field. But, they all deserve to be there because this is a story with different parts of it told and illustrated by different people.  A really neat frame story is set up to allow the different stories to be told. In a wood outside of regular civilization is where the faerie folk live. When one of them sees an angel fall from the sky they gather around and can’t decide whether or not to kill him. They decide to have a tribunal and each will tell a story to convince the “judge” that angels are essentially bad or essentially good. The judge is an innocent faun, who is the possession of a nasty hag. The frame story is illustrated in black and white with very angular lines.  Each story then told is by a different author with a different style-in both story and illustration.

The first story is by Louise Haws and called “Original Sin.” The illustration of this story was my favorite. Very beautiful, soft, romantic. Reminded me of painters such as Reubens and Botticelli.  It is the story of Adam & Eve and the angel who feeds them from the Tree of Knowledge, thus setting them into the world and apart from the animals. I thought this was a really beautiful telling of this story, and I especially liked when the Angel reveals to Eve who some of her daughters will be-such as Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth.

The next story is called “The Story Within the Story Within” by Bill Willingham. I didn’t care for this one as much in terms of illustration style. The setting is a bar for angels where a man sits down with a female angel who is drowning her sorrows and then she tells him her sad story, which is about another angel who is an old friend of hers, but whom she has been sent to kill.  The most interesting part of this story was reading about the target, a lovable f&*( up of an angel.  He keeps getting assigned to different departments but is never very good at them, until he finds he excels in the Cancer department as an angel of death.  I’ve always liked stories imagining that sort of thing (heaven as a workplace), so I did like that part.

The next story told is “Chaya Suvah and the Angel of Death.”  Darker pictures with striking dark lines immediately set the tone of this tale, set in a village in Russia. Chaya Suvah is an old woman who never leaves her house. She once made a deal with the angel of death that he could not take her unless she agreed to it–and she just won’t agree. This story has story has some witch-hunty elements, ancient Jewish tale elements, and also cycle of birth and death.

“The Guardian” comes next and I really liked the watercolor illustrations.  A clumsy young woman attracts the attention of a kindly angel who starts to be by her side constantly to prevent her from falling, tripping, dropping things.  As a maidservant these things make her the brunt of unkind words.  Soon the angel falls in love with her and takes human form so that they can enjoy their love together.  But such form is too difficult for an angel and she makes him leave her.  But, as a guardian angel he is never really far from her.  This was a lovely story start to finish!

The final tale is the story of how the angels fought in heaven and fell to hell and earth.  Those that did not fall all the way to hell are the ones who turned into the faerie folk.

And that brings and end to the storytelling and now the tribunal is over and the boy must decide the angel’s fate! Have angels been proven to be essentially good, or essentially bad troublemakers?

I overall really liked this. It was a very quick read and I was impressed at how successfully these different stories worked together. Because of the framework it made sense to have the stories have different styles both of writing and pictures.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Volume 1 by Brian Michael Bendis

(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

spidermanIf you follow this blog you know that I enjoy reading comics and graphic novels, but not in finding them. Therefore, I usually just read whatever comes out on the Great Graphic Novels list or that I read about (I bought Sailor Twain for Paul for Christmas and cannot wait to read it).  So, reading the comics for the reading challenge is a delight.  But all that it to begin this review by saying-wait, what? is this a new Spiderman series? What happened to Peter Parker??? Did everyone know about this? Why are some Ultimate Comics Spidermans with an earlier publication date listed in the library catalog and Goodreads? I’m a bit confused, but confident that I read the correct book. And I can happily just jump in and enjoy the story as is.

So basically a teenage boy, Miles, gets bitten by a spider that his uncle brought home (accidentally) from some secret excursion to a top secret lab (where the Green Goblin works??) and discovers that he has some powers. Miles’ friend (a charming side character!) is delighted and wants Miles to be a superhero. Miles, on the other hand, wants to keep it a secret.  Mutants are not respected in the city and he is afraid he’ll be militarily detained.  Doing well in the charter boarding school (!) he is lucky enough to get into is really important to his parents, and to Miles, too. He can’t hide his powers for long though and quickly comes to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attention.  This first volume definitely peaked my interest and I’d like to read more about Miles as he deals with his powers.

There’s a good sense of humor in this, especially in the running joke that everyone who sees Miles in a Spiderman costume remarks “that is in terrible taste.”