January 31, 2011

Find the Gap: Setting

Let's face it, despite the fact that YA has really exploded over the past several years and so many more YA books are being published, there are still some topics that just don't seem to get covered. I've noticed other bloggers sometimes mention that they'd like to see more YA books with characters with quality x or settings in time period y or what-have-you. So I thought I'd run a little "Find the Gap" series through February, with a different aspect of YA each week that we can discuss.

First up is setting. We've all read the typical 'high school' contemporary YA read, and the traditional fantasy world where there be dragons. And if it's historical YA there is a better-than-average chance it's going to be set in the Victorian era (which I do love, don't get me wrong). But what's missing? What places or time periods do we never get to travel to in a YA novel?

Here are a few to get things going:

- Colleges and universities: there have been a few more of these popping up in YA recently, but still not nearly as many as I'd like. College students like to read too, you know, and often they like to read about students like themselves!

- Countries other than the United States: there are so many interesting places around the world you could give your story as a setting...so why always go with the U.S.? The novel's relatability won't entirely vanish just because it's not set in an American city. I'd say "outside North America" but actually, I haven't read very many YA novels set in Canada or Mexico. More of those would be nice too!

- Small towns: not everyone lives in a large city. I know there have been some YA books written where the whole point was either big-city-girl-meets-farming-community (or conversely, country-dweller-lands-in-the-big-bad-city), but how about some that just *happen* to be set in a small town?

- Parallel universes: these seem to crop up more in movies than in books, for some reason. But there's so much potential in that kind of concept, and I think it would be particularly appealing to the older YA set.

- The sixties: this was such a hugely important time period on just about every level (politically, socially, etc.) And it was very much a time for young people. Why are there not more YA books about it? No idea.

What other settings spring to mind for you? And are there any books you've come across that do address some of the gaps above?

January 30, 2011

Sunday Confessions: Bookshelves

Marcie from To Read or Not to Read hosts a weekly meme called Sunday Confessions, and I really liked the question this week so I thought I'd join in!

"How do you arrange your bookshelves?"

My organization of my books doesn't make a whole lot of sense (except perhaps to me). I have what works out to about 4 bookcases total. There are a couple shelves devoted to favorites (hardcovers mixed in with paperbacks), a couple shelves for series, a section for paperback historical fiction (I know, so random), and then the rest of the fiction that I've read is divided into hardcovers and paperbacks. In general these are all organized alphabetically by author within their section.

Books I haven't read and some books from university (like Shakespeare) are stored in a bookshelf in my closet, and a mishmash of 'miscellaneous' books (ranging from nonfiction like cookbooks and psychology books to Japanese folktales and poetry) are stored on a shelf under my desk. Recently I "purged" my book collection and we donated a bunch that I never read to the "Reading Tree" charity organization, but I keep getting new books so I still don't have much space on my shelves!

I also have a plastic bin for my library books but they tend to spill out and migrate to various parts of my room and the rest of the house, especially the study where I often write my book reviews.

I've seen some other bloggers do a bookshelf tour and I must admit I always like seeing what books they own and how their shelves are arranged. I was thinking about doing one myself - would anyone be interested in that?

In My Mailbox (15)

In this meme, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, we share the books we've received, bought or taken out from the library.

So it was a pretty awesome mailbox week for me! I received some ARCs of Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, which are for a blog event I am co-hosting with Casey at The Bookish Type (you will hear more about it in the near future!) These were the first ARCs I had actually ever physically held in my hands...I was *so* excited. Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Books!


Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (from Jessica at Confessions of a Bookaholic — thanks very much!)

From the library:

I had kind of a massive library haul this week. I'm not sure what I was thinking, ordering all of these at once...I seem to have a tendency to go a little overboard and then be really surprised when they all come in at the same time and suddenly I have these huge stacks of books in my room that keep toppling over.

These were all books I thought I could use for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge —a few graphic novels, a few with male protagonists, a couple middle-grades, and a couple light fluffy ones. I have no idea how I am going to get through all of these before they need to be returned!

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert (didn't order this one but I saw it while I was there and thought it looked a bit different from most graphic novels)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (again, didn't order this one but when I took a look at the description, I went, 'Male protagonist, partly graphic novel, middle-grade...check!' and took it out)
The Shifter by Janice Hardy
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale (I've already reviewed it here)
Freefall by Mindi Scott
Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

And these are just more that I'd ordered (well, the Kit Pearson one I picked up while I was there...never heard of it before!)

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount-White
Tagged by Mara Purnhagen
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson
Mistwood by Leah Cypess
Cat Among the Pigeons by Julia Golding (I didn't realize this was the 2nd book in a series when I ordered it, but apparently it is)
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

And of course as always I checked out the library discards (gotta love those) and as usual could not resist the 25 cent prices:

Hannah & the Spindle Whorl by Carol Anne Shaw - this one has a local setting and features the Salish culture, so I figured I'd give it a try.

The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones - oddly enough, my library seems to keep putting Diana Wynne Jones books in their discards. No idea why, but it means more for my collection!

And now you have seen a very good example of my library addiction :D

January 28, 2011

Rapunzel's Revenge: Review

Yep, another one for the "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge! This time it's the graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale.
Goodreads' description:

"Once upon a time, in a land you only think you know, lived a little girl and her mother . . . or the woman she thought was her mother.
Every day, when the little girl played in her pretty garden, she grew more curious about what lay on the other side of the garden wall . . . a rather enormous garden wall. 

And every year, as she grew older, things seemed weirder and weirder, until the day she finally climbed to the top of the wall and looked over into the mines and desert beyond.

Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale teams up with husband Dean Hale and brilliant artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to bring readers a swashbuckling and hilarious twist on the classic story as you’ve never seen it before. Watch as Rapunzel and her amazing hair team up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) to gallop around the wild and western landscape, changing lives, righting wrongs, and bringing joy to every soul they encounter."

Why is it outside my comfort zone? Truthfully, I'm not really sure why! I guess when I think "graphic novel" I immediately think of either typical Japanese manga or superhero comics, and neither of those really grab me. But I know the graphic novel category has really expanded in recent years and stretched its definition, so I thought I would give it a try.

Did it win me over? Why or why not? Well, I decided to start out easy with Rapunzel's Revenge, since I've read other books by Shannon Hale. I'm not sure if this was a good idea, since I did go into reading the book with some expectations based on previous Shannon Hale books I'd read. And I found out that Rapunzel's Revenge has a much different feel than, say, her Bayern books.

So I must admit I was a little disappointed at the start. However, once Rapunzel's adventures got going (and especially once Jack entered the scene) I began enjoying myself. Jack's a fun and funny guy, so there are a lot of humorous lines once he joins Rapunzel on her journey. Some of them are a little cheesily deserving of an eyeroll, but I did find myself smiling and chortling throughout.

The plot, while not too complex, is action-packed and entertaining. Sure, there are a few times that things happen awfully conveniently, but this didn't bother me as much as it might have in a typical novel.

And the illustrations are gorgeous. Nathan Hale certainly has talent and he shows it off in spades in Rapunzel's Revenge. The colours are breathtaking, the details impeccable; the artwork draws the reader in at every page.

So, ultimately, I'd say yes — or at least, it won me over enough to try the next one.

If I could change something, I would... Make the dialogue pop some more. I just felt like a lot of the dialogue (especially towards the beginning) was flat and/or unrealistic, and lacked Shannon Hale's signature mastery of language. I got the feeling that this is aimed at the younger YA set, so that may partially explain the simplistic dialogue (and I suppose the authors are limited in terms of how much space the words can take up on the page, versus the images).

Just one more thing I want to mention: While I am not typically a "Wild West" kind of person, it was a fresh and creative setting for telling a story loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale. Rapunzel uses her long hair to great effect as braided lassos, for instance! I appreciated the attention the authors paid to making the story feel authentically placed in this setting, including all of the fun geographical names used like "Gothel's Reach," "The Devil's Armpit," and "Pig Tree Gulch."

Would I read more like this book? Yes. I will be picking up the sequel, Calamity Jack, at some point! I think the key for me is remembering that a graphic novel is not going to be able to give me everything I get out of a novel of standard format (for instance, complexity of a character's emotions and reactions), but it may excel in other ways, like with the visual component it brings to a story.

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. (Compared to other graphic novels, it might get a higher rating, but since I've read so few in this format I just tried to rate it as I would normally.)

Recommend for: lovers of artwork and entertaining Wild West adventures alike. Also, I'm betting a lot of fans of the movie Tangled (which, by the way, I loved, and if you haven't seen it you should) will enjoy this one.

If you haven't signed up yet for the challenge and would like to, you can fill out the form HERE.

Book Blogger Hop (24)

Yes, that's right...time again for the Book Blogger Hop! This awesome meme is hosted by Crazy-For-Books and this week's question is, "What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011? Why are you anticipating that book?"
I have to pick just one? Impossible. Divergent by Veronica Roth because it looks like such an exciting dystopian read, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab because I've been anticipating it for quite a while now and because it sounds really different from anything else I've read, and Abandon by Meg Cabot because, well, it's Meg Cabot, and it's a retelling of the myth of Persephone. 

Recent posts on the blog:

 - Is Personality Related to Genre? Help Me Find Out! 

Ever wondered if the type of books you read is linked to your personality? I am trying to figure it out! I'm running a survey on genre preference and personality in YA readers, so if you could take a moment to just answer a few questions I would be eternally grateful! :D I'm trying to get to 100 responses so I have a decent sample size to work with. Just click on the link above to go to the questionnaire.

- Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge: Ideas for a Prize?
- Waiting on Wednesday: A Girl Called Tennyson and Sean Griswold's Head
- Forget-Me-Nots: Nobodies and Somebodies
- In My Mailbox (14)

Hopping time!

January 27, 2011

Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge: Ideas for a Prize?

I know some other bloggers who are hosting challenges provide a prize at the end, to help keep the participants motivated. I thought since this challenge (details and sign-up at the link) really *is* quite a challenge that it would make sense to have some incentive to keep going!

But since there is no one particular genre for this challenge, and everyone's comfort zone is different, there isn't a single book it would make sense to give away. So, what do you think would be a suitable prize? I was thinking perhaps a giftcard or the winner's choice of a book from the Book Depository, so that international participants can enter...but I'm open to suggestions!

January 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: A Girl Called Tennyson and Sean Griswold's Head

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's picks:

A Girl Called Tennyson by Joan Givner

"Anne “Tenn” Tennyson Miller’s adventure begins during an ordinary ferry trip, but reality soon melts away as Tenn is transported to the fantasy land of Greensward.

When she arrives in Greensward, Tenn is elected to rescue her new friend, Una, who has been spirited away to a nearby country occupied by evil forces determined to destroy the harmony of Greensward. Before she sets out on her dangerous mission she is trained by the wise woman, Bethan, who understands the enemy’s weaknesses and offers Tenn resources and information that can help her on her mission.

Once in enemy territory she uses Bethan’s supplies and teachings, as well as her own keen memory and wealth of knowledge, to sustain her quest. She is eventually successful in finding Una but then discovers that there are many other children who must also be saved and returned to Greensward.

This classic fantasy quest from established YA author Joan Givner takes young readers on an adventure written in the British tradition, fused with a contemporary voice. Givner alludes to the work of Tennyson, as “Tenn” loves poetry, story and rhyme; in fact it will be her love of great writers that helps her in her quest and leads her to success."

I don't know much about Tennyson but what better way to learn more than through a novel? The cover is creepy and haunting in a subtle kind of way, definitely evokes the feeling of traditional, epic fantasy.

And for something a little lighter...

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

"According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object—an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas—it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking—er, focusing on—Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

In this sweet story of first love, Lindsey Leavitt seamlessly balances heartfelt family moments, spot-on sarcastic humor, and a budding young romance."

I love that she chooses his head to be her focus object! This one just sounds super funny and sweet and it'll be interesting to see how the multiple sclerosis/psychology side of it is handled. 

What books are you waiting on?

January 25, 2011

Is Personality Related to Genre? Help Me Find Out!

Having a background in psychology, I'm interested in finding out if there's a connection between certain personality traits and the genres of books individuals prefer. So I came up with a few questions to ask my fellow YA readers.

Of course, this is a completely unscientific, just-for-fun survey to give me an idea of any patterns that might exist. Hopefully I'll be able to make a questionnaire or two out of my results! I would love it if you would help me out by answering these questions (anonymously, of course!)

January 24, 2011

Forget-Me-Nots: Nobodies & Somebodies

This is a feature on my blog for highlighting books I enjoyed in childhood and the teenage years that I don't see getting much attention nowadays.

This week's pick: Nobodies & Somebodies by Doris Orgel

Goodreads' description:
"Popularity and friendship are the themes of this quietly assured tale. Beth, Liz and Vero--the girls with whom everyone in fifth grade wants to be friends--have formed a secret club and won't let anyone else in. Janet and her friends start their own club, the Nobodies (Nobs for short). Laura, a new student, is caught in the middle: she wants to be friends with both Janet and Vero. Told from the alternating points of view of Janet, Vero and Laura, this tale of friendship and rivalry is fresh and authentic. In the course of the narrative, all of the characters are allowed to develop; even snobbish Beth and Liz are revealed to be vulnerable as well as mean and glamorous. Readers will recognize themselves in this slice of upper elementary school life."

I re-read this middle grade title several times when I was younger. It's such a classic tale of cliques and outsiders, and one that is so familiar in those years of elementary school. The way it's told from three different perspectives really lets the reader identify with the characters and get a strong sense of their individual personalities. This is a great story for anyone who's ever felt "out" and longed to be "in"...or conversely, anyone who's been "in" and has started to question whether it's worth it.

Anyone remember this one?  

January 23, 2011

In My Mailbox (14)

In this meme, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, we share the books we've received, bought or taken out from the library.

Books in my actual physical mailbox this week:

Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers — thanks Tor Books!

Thirst by Christopher Pike — won in a giveaway from Bewitched Bookworms, thanks! There were also a couple Wicked Lovely tattoos included and a Haven bookmark :)

From the library:

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler
Mister Teacher by Jack Sheffield

January 20, 2011

Blogger Awards!

I've been given the Stylish Blogger Award by Stephanie at Books Are A Girl's Best Friend, Bev at My Reader's Block, Bea at Bea's Book Blog, and Steph at Steph: Short & Sweet, and Bea also passed the Versatile Blogger Award on to me! Thanks everyone for thinking of my blog :D

The rules for both of these awards are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers
4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award!

Okay, let's see, 7 more things about myself...*wracks brain*

1.) In addition to reading I also do some creative writing — in fact, my sister and I have collaborated on a couple of writing projects and they've turned out to be lots of fun!

2.) I've participated twice in longboat races, which were exhausting but a great challenge :D

3.) I've climbed Mount Fuji and lived to tell the tale, despite the fact that I suffered from altitude sickness for most of the hike up.

4.) I was once in a choir that sang for the Canadian prime minister and the queen of England.

5.) In my first year of university I participated in a German play, acting the role of a pompous scholar and reciting a bunch of lines I didn't really understand (since I don't speak much German). Thankfully most of the audience didn't either!

6.) I once had a tarantula crawl across my hand (supervised, of course, at a bug museum :D)

7.) Even though it's been quite a few years since high school, I still frequently dream about being back there — too frequently for my taste!

I'm passing the Stylish Blogger Award (since the Versatile Blogger Award has been floating around the blogosphere for quite a while now) on to a few awesome bloggers I've discovered recently:

Stephanie at Poetry & Prose
Aylee at Recovering Potter Addict
Julia at That Hapa Chick

Congrats! :)

January 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Ruby Red and Shattered Souls

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's picks:

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Goodreads' description:

"Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon, the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust."

I first saw this one featured at The Story Siren and was immediately intrigued. Neat that the time travel is something they know about already! Apparently this one was written in German originally. Anyway I *love* the cover, the red is so rich and the scrollwork so intricate...it really stands out!

This is the German cover — quite a different feel, eh?

Apparently that tagline translates to something like, "Love goes through all of time."

Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey

Goodreads' description:
"Mary Lindsey's SHATTERED SOULS, a dark and dangerous forbidden love story about a Speaker who helps lingering ghosts pass to the spirit world and the Protector who has pledged to serve her."

I know, this one's already been floating around the blogosphere quite a bit, but I couldn't resist giving everyone another chance to ogle this drop-dead-gorgeous cover. And I also wanted to say that the skewing of perspective and transformation here reminds me of a Canadian artist, Rob Gonsalves', work. Some of his stuff is brilliant! 

What books are you waiting on?

Anna and the French Kiss: Review

This is my first read for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge! As such the review's structured a bit differently (I thought I'd mix it up for these ones).

All right, so I saw countless rave reviews of this book before I picked it up a few days ago and started reading. And when a book gets that much buzz, you start to wonder if it will really live up to it. And I'm sorry, but unfortunately I am going to have to say, that in the case of Stephanie Perkins' novel Anna and the French Kiss...

IT TOTALLY DOES. This fantastic debut deserves all the praise it's getting.

Amazon's description:
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Why is it outside my comfort zone?

Well, it's not very far out of my comfort zone, but I figured I should start small and ease into it! Based on the cover, title, and even the synopsis, the first time I saw this one I likely dismissed it as "oh yeah, another typical fluffy YA contemporary romance read" and moved on to something else. Plus, it is written in present tense, which isn't my favorite style. But because every blogger was going crazy over it (and John Green, too!), I finally decided to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed out on a wonderful story.

How did it win me over?

Stephanie Perkins has such a deft hand at characterization. She creates flawed characters flawlessly. I loved how richly crafted both Anna and Étienne are—their likes, dislikes, fears, little quirks...all fleshed out and real. Anna gets anxious in some social situations and is a little obsessive; Étienne is afraid of heights, among other things (and incidentally is shorter than Anna. To which I must say: kudos for breaking stereotypes!)

And I definitely appreciated that Perkins wasn't afraid to make her characters intelligent, even geeky. Anna loves going to films, and Étienne is a history buff. They had actual intellectual discussions. And the way that these two characters fit together so beautifully was really amazing. I loved that they became such close friends without being romantically involved, and yet there was a spark there from the very beginning. You can tell they're perfect for one another. But there are obstacles in the way, and Perkins draws out the tension so well that I was thinking, "Just kiss already!" by the halfway point, I'm sure.

While it isn't too difficult to guess where the plot's going, it flows smoothly and the characters and their interactions are so engaging. Plus, Perkins made me like Paris a whole lot more than I used to. My family and I went to Paris in the peak tourist season years ago and we all hated it. It was hot, there were huge long line-ups, everything was so expensive...we were glad to be gone after a couple days. But Anna and the French Kiss makes me think that maybe I should try Paris in the off season.

If I could change something, I would...

I wanted to see the side characters fleshed out some more, both the ones in Paris (Meredith, Rashmi, and Josh) and especially Bridget and Toph back in Atlanta. There's an important plot point that occurs when Anna returns home, and I felt like I wasn't really feeling the emotional side of it with Anna because we hadn't seen enough of the characters involved. Spoiler, highlight to read: we get told that Anna likes Toph, but we don't get to see why. She's spent the majority of her time in Paris with Etienne (and thinking about Etienne), but then when she finds out her best friend is sleeping with the guy she kissed months before, she gets really upset. As a reader I just didn't feel the betrayal that strongly, because there was no agreement between her and Toph, and her feelings about him felt kind of forced. (Plus, who can think about Toph when you've got Etienne around?)

Also, Anna *does* engage in a lot of introspective reflection which, while within character and helping the reader to see her growth, sometimes makes what she's learning from her mistakes a little obvious.

And maybe I just like to see mean characters get their comeuppance, but I would have had something terrible happen to Amanda, because let's face it: she has it coming.

Just one more thing I want to mention: I really liked that it was set at a boarding school, because the whole experience (dorm life, cafeterias, residence advisors) reminded me of university! I really preferred university to high school (one reason I don't read a ton of contemp YA is because they're usually set in high school) and it made the whole book feel a bit more mature to me.

Would I read more like this book? Definitely...although I think I'll be hard-pressed to find another like it! Perhaps the next one by Stephanie Perkins, though...

Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. A romantic story that manages to be sweet and heartfelt without once dropping off into sappy. I want an Étienne.

Recommend for: anyone who wants to snuggle up with a story that will alternately make you sigh with enjoyment, tense up with anticipation, laugh out loud, cringe with shared embarrassment, and awwwww at the cuteness of it all.

Enjoy with: something sweet to nibble on, preferably something chocolate. Seriously. This book will doubtless make you hungry with all its mentions of chocolat chaud and eclairs.

If anyone hasn't signed up yet for the challenge and would like to, just fill in the form below :)

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