Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ummm... The Cleverly Untitled Post

Today I

-bought way too many books
-was ogled by a somewhat famous sci-fi author
-stepped on a discarded Dairy Queen cup
-helped many, many, many old people (they seem to swarm around comment.)
-met a child Holocaust survivor - very nice man
-got a tattoo- nah. Just wanted to check that you were still listening!

All of these things and more happened at Toronto's annual Word on the Street festival. In case you don't know what that is, it's an outdoor book sale-type thing that usually takes place on a rainy weekend in the T-dot. This year, however, it was thankfully dry...but also Paul Newman-free*. Poor guy. I'll miss those blue eyes!

A whole bunch of different publishers/authors set up circus-like tents and hawk their wares. Sometimes you get free buttons. Occasionally you get stopped on the sidewalk by dashing men in cell phone costumes. Usually you pay ridiculous heaps of cash for ill-fitting sweatshirts with pointless logos/catchphrases and Reader's Digest subscriptions.

Sigh. Maybe I helped the economy's state of terror today.

Maybe I just wasted all my money.

Oy vey.

Here's The Complete(ly long) List Of Books Purchased Today

1. Would You by: Marthe Jocelyn
2. Free Ride: John McCain and The Media by: David Brock & Paul Waldman
3. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by: Mitch Albom
4. The Girls by: Lori Lansens
5. The Celebutantes: To the Penthouse by: Antonio Pagliarulo
6. Jenny Green's Killer Junior Year by: Amy Belason & Jacob Osborn
7. Perfect by: Natasha Friend
8. Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery by: Susan Juby
9. Night Runner by: Max Turner

*Not that Paul Newman is Canadian or anything. 'Cause he's not. I just wanted to fit that in somewhere. :( RIP

Friday, September 26, 2008

Never Play Leapfrog With A Unicorn by: F.W. Bosworth

Total: Three (and 1/2) stars.

Special thanks to Frank for this book!

"When I was born, my dad was short and black." This is how the book begins. If I'm not at least 'intrigued' when I finish the first page of a book, it's usually a bad review for me. With NPLwaU (God, that's a mouthful) I was split right down the centre. Although I must say, the beginning definitely gave me a "chuckle" or two. ;)

Bosworth spins an elaborate tale of the kind of childhood the Cleavers wouldn't understand. While 'Unicorn' could be read as a straight up-and-down memoir, I would err on the side of humour based-on-a-true-story fiction.

Some jokes are laugh-out-loud funny while others will take readers a few moments to set in. I was slightly confused at first - what was the comedy, and what the drama?

Although not YA in particular, kids (like me) who grew up in a conventional if not idyllic home with benefit from learning about the sunnier - or, um, dirt-covered - side of life.

Told in with tongue firmly in cheek humour, F.W. Bosworth's book (originally published on a fiction website) segues into a new century of the literature experience.

Lush by: Natasha Friend

After the bomb that was Who's Your Daddy?, all the reviews I'm writing seem to be super-peppy, cheerleader-esque ones. I guess this is karma. Just so you know - be prepared for some gushing.

Total: Five Stars.

A long time ago, when I started this blog, I told myself that when I found a book worthy of "All Five Stars," it would be my final review. Obviously, this isn't the case. I can't stop now - I'm addicted! I sat staring at an open Word document for a long while, trying to give reason to a "Four," or even "Four and a half," star review. Needless to say, I found none.

Lush is everything you could ask for a middle grade and something more. Even more so than all the lovely details of how a thirteen-year-old whose world is falling apart would think or act, there are many questions that go unanswered and loose strings are left while others are tied up.

The heroine of Friend's second novel is Samantha, "Just Sam." She's an eighth grader with a troupe of loyal - if unpopular - friends: Vanessa, Angie, and Tracey. I liked how all the characters had little quirks that made them memorable and turned them into distinct characters of their own right - regardless of their relationship with Sam.

Sam's father is an alcoholic. He has been for some time. Much of the book is spent ignoring problems (like any real family would do) and trying to behave normally. Sam's mother is also addicted - to Yoga. This is her way of dealing with problems, even if Sam hates the "sport."

To try and find her own way to deal with her familial problems, Sam writes a letter to a girl she doesn't know - someone she has only seen from afar. But is the mysterious letter writer really who she claims to be...?

Short answer: no. It's fairly obvious Sam isn't writing to who she thinks she is, but my guess was totally wrong. There are several shockers in the book - none of which I was expecting.

This actually made me tear up a little. The last book I cried while reading was Deathly Hallows - and not because it was sad! The tender moments between Sam and her mom, Sam and her brother, Luke, and even Sam and her dad are enough to melt the ice surrounding my heart!

I can't wait to get Friend's other novels, Perfect and Bounce.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

TTYL by: Lauren Myracle

I've tried to start this review about half a dozen times. I wish there was a more eloquent way to put it, but I can't find one. So I'm just going to say... I loved this book!

Total: Four stars.

It was truly a fun, fast, and (looking for another 'f' word here, but coming up empty-handed...) real. Told all in IM conversations is the story of three teenagers, Zoe, Maddie, and Angela. It starts on their first day of school and goes from there, throughout the many fights, parties, road trips and dramas of fifteen-year-olds.

Sure, it sometimes gets tiring to read, but it never sways off the road of reality. All three girls have distant voices. Maddie's the firecracker. Zoe's the perfect one. Angela's the drama queen. Even though - from my above descriptions - they seem to fall into stereotypes, it's the relationships between the three girls that are constantly evolving (and devolving) that shape them into honest-to-God people. I felt like I could've been reading saved IM convos with some of my friends.

A recurring theme in the book is drawing the line between funny and hurtful. Especially in regards to Maddie. She has trouble keeping friends outside of Zoe and Angela, partly due to not knowing what makes a comment okay. This causes lots of trouble for her in the latter half of the book.

I would recommend this to someone with a short attention span. The short 'chapters' are perfect for reading at the bus stop or between classes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Who's Your Daddy? by: Lynda Sandoval

Okay. I know I usually start off with how many stars I'd give a book, but I'll save that for the very end.

There isn't much good to say about Sandoval's debut novel, but I'll try not to make this review incredibly catty. Who's Your Daddy? is actually the unofficial name of a clique of three high school-age girls: Lila, Meryl and Caressa. All of them have "unique" fathers. Meryl's is the vice-principal. Lila's is a police officer. Caressa's is an old jazz star.

The concept of the book is that none of them can find a date. Well. I'm immediately put off by this premise. High school is not all about boys. YA books generally press the "boyfriend and best friend is all you need" dynamic, but WYD pushes it to the extreme. For girls who are continually described as bright, happy and pretty, they all seem so depressed that they've been dubbed untouchable.

Moreover, this novel is told in alternating first-person POVs of the three girls. They are all exactly alike. It's impossible to tell apart, except for the helpful headers (i.e. Chapter Four, Meryl) at the beginning of each new chapter.

I, personally, thought the voices were completely unoriginal, contrived and un-teenager-ish. They use phrases like "triple whammy," a lot. Also, Lynda Sandoval has some bizarre obsession with CAPTIALIZING WORDS LIKE THIS. IN EVERY CHAPTER. IN EVERY GIRL’S POV.

One thing I really had a problem with (out of a long, long list) is the way these girls talk over Instant Messaging. There is no distinction between girls. All my friends IM differently. Some use all lowercase letters, some constant text talk. None of them type like this:

“My freakin’ dad told me I couldn’t come to your house on homecoming night, Caressa, that’s why.”

Lovely grammar. Really. Realistic...?

I understand that writing your first novel is no small peanuts. I don’t think I could ever write a novel. It’s a difficult task and I have the utmost respect for people who complete this. However, I think that Who’s Your Daddy? could use a plot vamp-up and some characterization before I’d ever re-read it. For example, Lila’s mother died when she was a little girl. The best part in this entire book comes early on when Lila reminisces about her mom. It was bittersweet and kind of wonderful really. If only the rest of the novel was, as well.

Total: One star.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Keeping The Moon by: Sarah Dessen

Total: Four and a half stars.

Truly, the only thing keeping this from earning a five-star review is that it is so reminiscent of Dessen’s other works. ‘Girl who doesn’t fit in finds love’ and usually during a balmy summer.

That’s not to say that Keeping The Moon doesn’t deserve to have shrines built for it in the rooms of young adult girls across the world. Because it does.

Fifteen-year-old Nicole “Colie” Sparks can’t seem to get away from the constant torture the popular girls put her through. First it was because she was fat, now it’s because she’s been branded a “Hole In One,” (read: a slut.)

Colie’s mom, fitness guru Kiki, has shipped her off to live with quirky-cool Aunt Mira in Colby, North Carolina for the summer. During that summer, Colie meets a host of eclectic small town people (waitresses Morgan and Isabel, Mira’s teenage prodigy Norman) and discovers herself along the way.

Sometimes predictable, but mostly not, Keeping The Moon stands out in a sea of trashy, meaningless Cliques and It Girls. Although this wasn’t my favourite Sarah Dessen (This Lullaby, for sure), it sure is a contender. Every girl can find themselves in Colie. Whether an art geek or homecoming queen, we’ve all had a struggle with our identity one time or another.

I would definitely recommend this to preteens or girls in their early teens. While the story rings true for older teens/young adults as well, it’s a great story to read during middle school or the first years of high school when teens are typically struggling to be accepted by peers, parents and themselves.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Forbidden Daughter & The Dowry Bride

In anticipation of my first author interview with Shobhan Bantwal, I decided to post the trailers of her two books. Hope you like! (I should have our interview posted by tomorrow evening.)

My Inagural Interview: With Shobhan Bantwal

Hey all. For my first interview, I got the chance to ask the lovely author, Shobhan Bantwal, some questions.

Without further ado...

1. When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

When my husband and I became empty nesters a few years ago and later when he accepted a consulting job that kept him out of town on weekdays, I took up creative writing to occupy my lonely evenings. I started writing small social interest articles for a number of Indian-American publications as a hobby. Then I changed gears to short stories, and when I won three awards, I decided to write full-length novels. Therefore my writing career was a “Menopausal Epiphany,” that started at the age of 50 and it has gradually turned into a second career (besides my full-time occupation as a public service employee).

2. Do your novels take directly/indirectly from personal experience?

My stories are entirely fictitious and do not come from personal experience. However, what does come is the cultural detail of small-town India in all its colors, flavors, and textures. Some of the characters’ qualities also come from my personal life. Stern fathers, soft-hearted mothers, idealistic young men who are willing to sacrifice a lot for the women they love, and women who are strong and stubborn on the inside and appear compliant on the outside are based on people I know.

3. What was the road to the publication of The Dowry Bride and The Forbidden Daughter like?

The road to publication is full of pitfalls for most writers, except for a handful of lucky ones who get discovered with minimal effort. I am no exception to the other plodders. Honing my writing to bring it to a level good enough to make it marketable was a lot of hard work. It was also a rough path to finding an agent, and then a publisher. I find that marketing the books is the hardest part of being a published author.

4. What is your favourite part about writing? Your least favourite?

Creating the characters and scenes is the most enjoyable part of writing for me. I can clearly see both in my mind. My least favorite is the plotting. I am not a disciplined writer, so I don’t have an outline when I start on a story, but just a tiny seed of an idea. Therefore my stories wander away in all sorts of directions and I have to pull in the loose ends constantly to prevent myself from getting lost and make sure I stay on track. But at times that, too, can be a pleasant creative experience.

4. Is there a fictional character - past or present, in one of your books or someone else’s - that you strongly relate to?

I am such a hopeless romantic that I relate to a lot of female characters in women’s fiction, especially romance. Without relating to one’s characters it is impossible to create true-to-life characters. To that end, I relate strongly to every one of my protagonists. I put myself in their shoes in every scene, so I feel every one of their emotions.

5. Are you technologically savvy? Do you think technology has altered the literary experience?

Although I use a computer regularly for my writing and my full-time job, my technical skills are on the poor side. But I believe technology has revolutionized the literary experience by making it easy for anyone to write. To add to that, POD publishers have made it simpler for writers to self-publish their books and sell them via Internet. Online booksellers have further changed the way books are marketed. No wonder there has been an explosion of new writers on the literary scene in recent years, and more new ones keep coming each year.

6. Is culture important to your everyday life?
Culture is what makes each one of us unique in so many ways. Although I have lived all my adult life in the U.S., my Indian culture is still very much a part of me. The food I cook and eat, my taste in clothes and entertainment, my accent, my outlook on life -- they all color my personality and my lifestyle.

7. How do you think young people would benefit from reading your books

My books are unique in that there is a social topic that is the central theme in each of the two books that have been published so far. In The Dowry Bride, the issue is India’s notorious and abusive dowry system around which the story is woven. In The Forbidden Daughter, gender-based abortion, which is practiced in some instances in India, is what drives the plot. I feel such hot-button issues can become interesting if they are interwoven with romance, intrigue, humor, and emotion.

Young people can learn a lot about Indian culture and its richness while becoming aware of certain social problems that plague women in that culture. Many of my readers have thanked me for opening their eyes to certain elements of Asian cultures and harsh women’s issues they had never been aware of. In that context I believe my books are eye-openers for readers of any age.


Again, thanks so much to Shobhan for graciously answering my questions!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

TBR (to be read)

I feel like the huge, almost-toppling-over stack of hardcovers and paperbacks is a weight on my chest. It really pains me to see all these books, unread, never-been-opened. I feel like I should read faster. Typically, it takes me a day or two to read a book in such a way that I can pay attention to details.

Instead of doing a “Shopping Spree,” feature, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list of all the books I’ll get around to devouring eventually.

1. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by: James Patterson (For a review of the first novel, go here, and for the second, here.)

2. Lush by: Natasha Friend (I’ve always wanted to read her books, they’ve gotten such great reviews, and when this one went on sale, I eagerly scooped it up.)

3. TTYL by: Lauren Myracle (I, stupidly, thought this book would be easy to find. I’ve read Lauren’s other books; loved her collaboration on How to be Bad. It took me forever to find this, though!)

4. Tenderness by: Robert Cormier

5. Sucks to be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe) by: Kimberly Pauley (Reviewer turned author? How could I not?)

6. Haters by: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

7. Who’s Your Daddy? by: Lynda Sandoval (This has been on my Want-To-Get list for ages. V. v. v. v. hard to find.)

8. The X-Files: I Want to Believe by: Max Allen Collins (I loved his work for the Criminal Minds novelizations, plus The X-Files is an old obsession of mine. I’m pondering dressing up as Scully for Halloween: Manic Panic red hair, alien baby and all.)

9. Now You See Her by: Jacquelyn Mitchard (She. Is. Amazing. Truly. I heard some negative feedback for this, so I thought I’d pick it up and see for myself.)

10. Boy Heaven by: Laura Kasischke

11. Dead Connection by: Charlie Price

12. Looking For Alaska by: John Green (No explanation needed. Nerdfighters is my oxygen.)

Jet Set by: Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

Total: Two stars.

Frankly, the only thing that keeps this review decent and expletive-free is the fact that Carrie and Jill have such detailed writing that I feel like I really am standing in front of Van Pelt Academy in Switzerland.

This story is told in the boring, whiny first-person of Lucy Peterson. God, did I ever want to slap some sense into this so-called “brainiac” and “tennis prodigy.” As someone who plays tennis fairly well, this novel was a disgrace to the sport. It only talks about her games and practices shortly, while anyone who’s every picked up a racquet knows tennis is all about hard work. Every time Lucy serves - ace!

Yeah, right.

Furthermore, the authors are swimming in well-treaded territory: poor, but kind girl attends posh academy. Interesting, unique concept there! Not only have many authors done this before (Claire in The Clique, Jenny in Gossip Girl, Reed from Private etcetera, etcetera), but Carrie and Jill’s YA debut, “Bittersweet Sixteen,” is almost exactly the same! I have yet to read “Summer Intern,” but I assume it’s alike.

Despite the stellar writing, nothing can pull this story through. The plot has already been perfected by many an author before. Nothing new about this. The main theme is “revenge,” and it gets tedious keeping track of who’s friends and who’s not.

A predictable but happy ending is just what middle-grade readers are looking for. I wouldn’t dare recommend this to anyone a day over fourteen, because it’s very immature and scandal-free.

Again, Kate Brian’s ‘Private’ makes for a much better choice, as does the Social Climber series.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Maximum Ride: School’s Out - Forever by: James Patterson

Total: Three and a half stars

Even better than it’s predecessor, The Angel Experiment, School’s Out - Forever dives deeper into the humourous and romantic aspect of life on the run. This instalment of James Patterson’s bestselling fantasy series sees the flock attending private school, meeting and greeting with the President and a fresh set of physiological problems for the flock’s winged leader, Max.

A high point of the book is the constant theme of morality. It takes the current world issues about cloning and commercialization to a whole new extreme level. The flock - a group of teens and kids who are half-birds, half-humans - was created by a group of evil scientists they refer to as whitecoats. As per usual, the flock is on the run - but who are they running from?

I liked this quite a bit more than the first novel. It seems to develop a back story to the romance between (MINOR ANGEL EXPERIMENT SPOILERS) Fang and Max a little bit more. Some other couplings are thrown in the melting pot, too. Readers will love hearing Max’s sarcastic voice back for another narration and will laugh out loud when reading about their mishaps at a private school in Virginia.

This book is written in the same blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style as the last one. The chapters are short. Really short. In fact - although I was aware this was Patterson’s well-developed style via the Alex Cross series for adults - they can sometimes be daunting to read.

All in all, School’s Out does not disappoint and may even pull new readers not yet under bossy Max’s spell - or strong n’ silent hottie Fang’s - into the whirlpool that is Maximum Ride.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

All Q, No A by: Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser

Total: Two and a half stars.

Mimi Schulman is navigating the murky territories of Baldwin as a not-super-rich girl. Sounds tough, but it's not really. Her life seems pretty charmed at first blush: she's broken into the inner circle at school, her father is a completely pushover, she writes a column for the school newspaper The Bugle, etc, etc, etc.

The follow up story to Mechling and Moser's "The Rise and Fall of a 10th-Grade Social Climber" was highly disappointing. Several other reviews I'd read for it on Amazon described "All Q, No A: More Tales of a 10th-Grade Social Climber" as being a mystery set within the scandalous walls of prestigious Baldwin School.

I guess those reviews were wrong. Much of the book is confusing. Long paragraphs in Mimi's witty, sarcastic first-person should be enjoyable to read, but are usually only a pain. This book relies heavily on characterization - that part, at least, is good - but the plot (as it often is with sequels) was pointedly absent.

For a large part of the book, Mimi whines about her crush not paying any attention to her. Despite brief mentions in the first book, the cliché "sensitive artist type" was almost never seen. Now, Max Roth, aka Mimi's crush, plays a somewhat larger role, albeit a boring one.

Every so-called plot twist could be expected by any reader well-versed in the "poor girl goes to rich-kid school" genre. The only thing that sets All Q, No A apart is the fact that the supporting characters are full of quirks that keep the book going. If you're looking for an out of the ordinary YA that still qualifies as a beach read, I'd go for Kate Brian's Private series instead.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Book Trailer To Get You Through The Weekend

I was just fumbling and stumbling through book blogs and author's blogs, when I happened upon this striking book trailer. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of them and I also have an interest with reading teen pregnancy stories (particularly unique ones.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by: James Patterson

Total: Three stars.

Max is not your average fourteen-year-old. She has wings and the government doesn’t acknowledge her existence. Along with five other wings-having misfits (loner boy Fang, blind Iggy, talkative Nudge, The Gasman - whose name explains everything - and sweet, mind reader Angel), she is part of The Flock.

The Flock who will stop at nothing to receive answers about their parents, their real families.

When Angel is kidnapped, Max and the gang have to willingly go back to the one place they thought they would never return to - School. No, not regular school with pencils and teachers and recess. They school where they were experimented on.

This is a relatively quick read, helped along by short and snappy chapters - typical of James Patterson, though Maximum Ride’s chapters are shorter than I expected. It has everything that reluctant readers could want: non-stop action, (some) character development, government conspiracy plots, several settings. It’s quite low on descriptions of appearances - especially of The Flock - but I would count that as a “plus” point. It’s refreshing to simply imagine how they look.

By the end, I had zero answers to the questions asked towards the beginning of the book and only got more questions. It’s perfectly set up for a sequel or two or three.

The driving force keeping The Angel Experiment away from four or five stars is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it romance element. (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) With Fang and Max, near the ending. They share a kiss that I would never have foreseen had I not Wikipedia’d the series before buying this book. There are no indicators beforehand and while I like them together and apart - it just seemed so rushed. Especially for James Patterson.

That being said, I’m going back to the bookstore today (hopefully) to purchase the rest of the series. MAX RIDE FANS: How many books are there in the series? Three, right? I’m a tad confused.