Saturday, June 27, 2009

YA Weekend--The Postcard

The Postcard by Tony Abbott is more of a middle-grade novel than Young Adult. I learned of this book after reading a terrific review on Lesa's Critiques blog. It won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.

Thirteen-year old Jason finds himself spending time with his father in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida cleaning out his grandmother's house after she passes away. All he wants to do is get back home (I think it's New York, or some place more north--I can't find it in the book now) to hang out with his best friend Hector. His stay in Florida takes a turn for the worse when his father falls off a ladder cleaning the gutters and ends up spending some time in the hospital. Jason finds himself alone and stumbles onto a family mystery after a strange anonymous phone call asking him if he's smart and to look in the desk. He starts investigating and finds an old postcard. The postcard is an old hotel in the area once owned by Jason's great-grandfather. He discovers a pin-hole in a window in the hotel on the postcard and feels compelled to check it out after also discovering an old magazine article featuring the hotel in a fictional story. This starts Jason's journey throughout St. Petersburg and his family history.

By the end of the story Jason learns who his real grandfather is, what his grandmother's life was like when she was younger, and what a tyrant his great-grandfather was. Along the way, Jason also befriends a girl in the neighborhood named Dia who eventually helps him solve the mystery.

I really love the premise of this book. I think family histories can be very interesting and I love looking at old archival materials like postcards and whatnot. A trail of clues on old postcards is a fun idea! I also liked the realistic nature of Jason's family. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, he feels torn between them. His father is a borderline alcoholic. There are real family issues discussed that I think many kids reading this book can identify with.

However, this book was quite long for what it was. I felt bored about halfway through. And though it overall was an interesting concept, I wonder if I was bored if a middle-schooler reading this might be bored too. I'm not sure. Funny, I think I'm realizing something about my reading habits. This particular book had a story within a story concept to it. I find that whenever I read books like that (ie: Atwood's Blind Assassin), I lose interest in the story within a story and just want to read the "real" story. I rate this book lower simply because of its length and sort of wished perhaps there was a tad bit more adventure/suspense to the story. It unfolded very methodically. Just wasn't zippy enough for me after reading The Red Blazer Girls and the 39 Clues books.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fragment by Warren Fahy

I received an ARC of Fragment from Random House through Shelf Awareness. This book was touted as the next Jurassic Park or The Ruins. I have not read The Ruins, but I did read Jurassic Park (many years ago now) and devoured it! I LOVED the mix of adventure, science, suspense and Crichton's good writing. After that, I read all of Crichton's earlier works. So I was really looking forward to delving into a scientific thriller.

The book opens on a boat filled with scientists and a camera crew recording a reality show that takes the scientists to various islands looking for new species. When they come across an island only mentioned once in all of history and completely uninhabited, the scientists are excited to check it out. Once ashore, they discover a crazy world left to evolve without any human contact whatsoever. Darwin gone completely crazy! There are plants that are actually animals. Every species on the island seems to be a predator. The opening of the book starts with quite a bang and continues on that front throughout. It doesn't really slow down, except for the lengthy scientific descriptions throughout the book.

The overall premise of the book is fantastic. The prologue of the book provides a brief history of alien species invading islands and taking over or causing other species to go extinct. Alien as in foreign not extraterrestrial. I actually found this information just as intriguing as the novel. It set up the book quite nicely. This is Fahy's first novel and it's relatively well done. I say relatively because I think there was good and bad. Fahy has a fantastic imagination. The descriptions of the island, its animals and environment were spot-on. The back of the book contains a map of the island and sketches of some of the species found on the island. I found my vision of the animals from the text was quite close to the sketches provided. It takes a incredible amount of imagination for Fahy to create the island that he did.

The title is apt in that it not only describes the island as an isolated fragment of a supercontinent long ago, but also the writing style. Short chapters that jump around between characters and places. This eemed very disjointed and bugged me through the first 2/3rds of the book. The last 1/3rd really picked up and ended quite interestingly. I was satisfied with the ending and that made up for some of my annoyance in the beginning of the book. Some of the lengthy scientific descriptions got a little tedious, but not overwhelming.

Overall, this is a fun book for summer. A good vacation read. And I can definitely see this made into a movie. It is so visual. One of my real problems with the book actually has nothing to do with the author. It was the marketing. This book did not live up to Jurassic Park for me. I definitely can see a comparison to Crichton's work in general, the science-fiction adventure such as Congo comes to mind more than Jurassic Park. I just think that's quite a lot to live up to for a debut novel. This book is receiving nice praise though, check out other reviews at:Thoughts of Joy and The Novel Bookworm. Both glowing reviews.

Fragment became available in bookstores June 16, 2009.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

YA Book Carnival - Giveaway

The very first YA Book Carnival begins today! At On My Bookshelf, we are excited to host a giveaway of two fantastic YA novels, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers!

Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti: Marisa is ready to start her sophomore year on the right foot with a positive attitude and dreams of a boyfriend who will bring her everything she's been waiting for. But when popular Derek surprisingly asks her out, she discovers that what she always wished for might not be enough. Navigating a year filled with conflict--including her parents' relationship turmoil and a fight with her best friend--makes Marisa stronger and helps her understand what's really important. Someone close to Marisa has been waiting for her all along, but will she realize that he's the one?

Peace Love & Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle: By sophomore year, Carly is so over her cushy lifestyle in the affluent Atlanta suburbs. She is tired of fancy nails, shiny cars, and empty values, and has vowed to become a non-leg-shaving-rebel hippy just to be different. The only person she isn't sick of is her little sister, Anna. But while Carly was away for the summer, her younger sister blossomed into the hottest girl at school. Carly has always relied on Anna's consistency and authenticity, but suddenly everything is different. Then beautiful Cole appears on the scene, and Carly is too busy crushing on him to notice that Anna is drifting away. During an ill-fated party at their house, Carly and Anna--and a trio of adorable baby ducks--hit rock bottom and finally start to make things right.

Who wants to win this pair of ARCs? Leave a comment here for one entry. Become a public follower for FIVE more entries. The winner (US & Canada only, please) will be selected on Friday, June 26 at noon, in time to announce the winner for the last day of the YA Book Carnival on Saturday, June 27.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Picture Book Thursday

Today's Picture Book Thursday is all about two summer releases courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.

All of Baby: Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler (Pictures by Hiroe Nakata): This was a big hit with Lilah, and a lot of fun for me to read aloud--there are no awkward or dull ryhmes here. The rhyme scheme is energetic, the rhythm extremely readable ("Baby's got a nose, a neat little nose. Sniffs at a rose nose. Honks when it blows nose. Wrinkles when it goes nose--goes kerchoo."), and the formula is pleasantly predictable (each two-page spread deals with one body part and is followed with "Who loves baby's _____? Me! I do.") It also deals with a baby's favorite topic, body parts, and the gentle, colorful illustrations are very pleasing to the eye. This is a gorgeous book that will become a favorite for babies/toddlers and the adults who read to them.

Best Baby Ever by David Milgrim: I actually looked up the age range on this book to be sure it was intended for children. Not that it's inappropriate; it's simply that I was cracking up while Lilah's attention was wandering. This book follows baby's milestones through the parents' gushing to friends, relatives, strangers who stand still long enough. Among the antics of this young family: In their haste to find the camera to capture Baby's every amazing "first," the new parents let Baby wander right out the front door. The text is written in Dick and Jane style, which enhances the humor: "See Baby laugh. Laugh, Baby, Laugh. See Daddy jump up and down on one leg and cluck like a chicken to get more laughs." The book ends with the parents crying like babies as Baby, having reached so many other milestones, heads off to school. If you know a couple expecting their first baby, your shower gift shopping is over - they will love this book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - Re-Reading

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm re-reading one of my very favorite series, the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, and I'm on the second book, Lost in a Good Book. It's a tough call whether I adore Thursday or her brilliant creator more. There's so much going on in these books that it's tough to pick a couple of sentences that will make any sort of sense to someone new to the series, so this is longer than two sentences. Thursday is talking to Marianne Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility:

"Don't we have to be careful as to what we say?" I managed to utter, looking around nervously.

"Goodness me, no!" exclaimed Marianne with a delightful giggle. "The chapter is over, and besides, this book is written in the third person. We are free to do what we please until tomorrow morning, when we depart for Devon. The next two chapters are heavy with exposition--I hardly have anything to do, and I say even less! You look confused, poor thing! Have you been into a book before?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: Reading does not get better than this! The story begins in 1950s rural England, where precocious eleven-year-old Flavia deLuce spends her spare time getting even with her older sisters, tinkering with poisons in her chemistry lab, and riding her bicycle from the rundown family manor to the village. When a dead bird turns up on the doorstep with a postage stamp on its beak and a barely alive stranger breathes his last, perplexing word ("Vale!") to Flavia, it is the most exciting time in her life to date. Most troubling to her: her father's shock and fright at the sight of the bird and a missing piece of the housekeeper's dreadful custard pie - who could possibly have eaten that? She digs into the investigation with relish, uncovering disturbing information about her father's school days and a postage stamp worth killing for. The police at first send Flavia off to make tea, but grow to appreciate her insights. The premise of a young aristocratic girl solving mysteries could be dreadful, but in Bradley's capable, witty hands, the material makes for an engaging mystery that manages to exude originality while evoking the Golden Age mystery. Is Flavia a realistic eleven-year-old from 1950? Really, I don't care in the least. She's so appealing, and I was so relieved that she uses her prodigious intellect for (mostly) good and not evil, that I wasn't bothered by questions of how

Fortunately, Sweetness is billed as the first in a series, and I look forward to more of Flavia's outrageous antics and penetrating deductions.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife - Review and Giveaway!

Bloomsbury USA was kind enough to send me a review copy of Hale's second book for adults (after Austenland, a fun Jane Austen-infused bit of chick lit), The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. Hale takes a chick-lit premise (housewife meets her celebrity crush) and turns it on its head. Becky Jack is a happily married mother of three and seven months pregnant when she meets Colin Firth, I mean Felix Callahan. She insults Callahan with such wit that he invites her to dinner. They become fast friends, calling, e-mailing, and visiting when possible, though Callahan is no fan of children and views her Mormonism with amusement. The premise is completely unrealistic, of course, and Hale even points out the unlikelihood of the two meeting (they meet when Becky flies out to Hollywood because she's sold a screenplay with no effort whatsoever and then stars opposite Callahan in the film), but the friendship and Becky's balance between Callahan and her family are the center of the story.

I found this mostly enjoyable and more thought-provoking than chick lit, if overlong (at 352 pages). An omniscient narrator pops in and out with commentary that makes the book seem like a fairy tale and the repartee between Becky and Callahan really sparkles. However, there are issues that other non-Mormons may run into. I found Becky to be naive at times, in contrast to her intelligence and wit, and her relationship with her "perfect" husband sometimes grated. Apparently, Mormon women simply aren't friends with men, so Becky's family and bishop counsel her to drop the friendship, to "avoid the very appearance of evil." Even though her friendship with Callahan enriches her life, Becky is prepared to drop it if her husband objects. I found this to be both frustrating and interesting because my inner feminist yelled, "Are you kidding me?" when Becky considers giving up this part of her life when her husband is jealous, but at the same time, it's a complicated question since marriage is all about compromise and I can see putting family first. But (I know, another 'but') Becky really ranks herself third after her husband's wishes and her children's needs, and I can't relate to that. She gushes and gushes about how perfect and wonderful her husband is, but when he finds the house a mess after work, he scolds her like an errant child, and I gritted my teeth through those parts of the book. At least Becky doesn't submit easily; she responds passive-aggressively to his criticism by asking him to clean up while she finishes her phone call with Callahan. But this doesn't seem like a marriage of equals. I'm not sure if that's typical of LDS marriages, but a little more equal partnership would have been nice. Becky seems smarter, wittier, and more fun than her husband, so his de facto tyranny was especially annoying.

Hale has done an excellent job making a chaste relationship story entertaining and offering a complicated alternative to the usual chick lit formula. This would be a good choice for book clubs, as there are plenty of issues to discuss, and different people are sure to react differently to the relationships in the book. For those mystified by Mormonism, The Actor and the Housewife sheds a bit of light on the community, and groups can discuss the questions presented by the book and how they would have answered them.

Are you intrigued? Tell me about a book you've recently read that you found thought-provoking, and you'll be entered to win my gently read hardcover copy. US and Canada only, please, and enter before Sunday, June 21 at noon.

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

The Writing Class is almost indescribably good, but I'm going to ramble on and on about it anyway. Amy Gallup was a novelist, but she peaked early and hasn't written in years, except on her blog, where she catalogues funny-looking words and creates debate about the sexiest letter of the alphabet. She's out of print, divorced, and bitter, and she survives by teaching creative writing through the university extension. Her thirteen students this session are the best group she's had in years...except for a prankster who leaves creepy voicemails, vicious comments and pornographic drawings on workshop writing samples, and a Ted Bundy mask in a student's car. When a student dies, the remaining class members band together to determine the culprit, knowing that one of them is a killer.

Willett deftly skewers the writing life and writing classes while maintaining the suspense of a murder mystery. We read writing samples from the class members, which run the gamut from cliched to overwrought, and provides clues to the killer's identity. One student, Carla, has taken Amy's class so many times that she quotes Amy when other students ask questions. Carla could have been a shell of a character, but Willett draws her developing relationship with Amy in a rich, complicated way. The other class members begin as one-note characters (Amy's class roster is hilarious), but we see them develop into realistic people. The And Then There Were None group dynamic is intriguing and very well handled. The group manages to avoid the fact that the killer whose identity they playfully discuss is actually one of them. This is a wickedly funny, thought-provoking, page-turner of a novel, and I'll be reading more of Willett's work.

It's Not You, It's Me (or books I just won't finish)

Often, I read a summary of a book and know immediately that it's a perfect fit for me. Sometimes...I'm wrong.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson: I entered every blog contest out there for this book, which sounded perfect for me, but I can't get past the first fifty pages. Southern Gothic? Ghost story? Murder mystery? Sign me up. But this book, which started out with a bang (the ghost of a girl leads Laurel to her body, floating facedown in Laurel's pool) fizzled for me when it became apparent it was going to be more about Laurel's poor, Southern family and her relationships with her husband and sister than about ghosts. The point-of-view switching bothered me as well, and after a couple of tries, I moved on.

Testimony by Anita Shreve: I've always meant to read Anita Shreve, and kept attempting to read The Weight of Water years ago. I was excited to win this one, but Shreve lost me on page four (4!) with the phrase "empurpled penis," which is possibly one of the worst turns of phrase in the English language and, sadly, was not meant to be funny. I cannot believe that an editor didn't kill that phrase. It wasn't just that particular affront to the English language; I had a strong feeling of melodrama/dragging out a story that was less dramatic than the author thought it was, and I *did* try to keep reading past "empurpled penis," but I just didn't care for the writing and it wasn't the book for me.

Someone out there will love these books, I know, but I've got to get them out of here. Every time I see Testimony on my dresser, I think "empurpled penis, empurpled penis" and start laughing uncontrollably. Leave a comment telling me which book you'd like to read and why before Sunday, June 21 at noon and I will pick a winner for each. U.S. and Canada only, with my apologies to everyone living elsewhere.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Mailbox Monday

I haven't posted a Mailbox Monday post in awhile. So I thought I would get this up here. :-)

I won Testimony by Anita Shreve in book blog contests hosted by Teddy Rose and Wrighty Reads. I'm passing my second copy along to a friend.

From Shelf Awareness:
Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (ARC). A pet memoir about a blind kitty. Sounds like a good book for those who enjoyed Marley and Me. :-)

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (ARC). This sounds like a bit of a complicated literary novel. Part romance, part mystery, somewhat philosophical sounding. Sounds interesting for when I'm in the mood something more complex and in-depth.

Fragment by Warren Fahy (ARC). Scientific thriller compared to Jurassic Park. Sign me up! I'm looking forward to getting to this one sooner rather than later. Sounds like a fun read for summer.

Books I've purchased recently:
I didn't receive these in the mail, but I'm excited about them nonetheless so I thought I'd post them here.

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon
I've seen this one around the blogosphere lately and really think it sounds fun. Entered a few contests for it but no such luck so I decided to just add it to my library.

39 Clues #4: Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson
Looking forward to the fourth installment of the series. I've found that I have not heard of some of the authors in this series so far. I like to look them up and see what else they have written. Jude Watson has also written many Star Wars novels (probably why I haven't heard the name before). ;-)

The Lost Hours by Karen White
Another one I've heard about from various book blogs. I nominated it for my book club recently and it was chosen! I'm looking forward to reading one of White's books, they all sound interesting.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Yet another one I thought might be interesting from reading reviews of it on book blogs.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page. Hop on over to check out what others have received in the mail!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Great giveaway!

Lenore over at Presenting Lenore has an awesome giveaway going! Head over there to find out how you can win 3 books: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. Giveaway ends June 17th!