Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reviews: Fangirl, Starry Nights, Nowhere Girl, The Monstore

After a week of distractions, I am back at work on my latest projects - dividing my time between novel and PB. As much as I enjoyed all the M&Ms and YouTube videos, it does feel good to be productive again! As promised, here are a few reviews.

FANGIRL By Rainbow Rowell
Release date: September 10

From Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

At BookExpo America in May I heard Rainbow Rowell read an excerpt from Fangirl and I was sold. I waited in line for over an hour to get my hands on an ARC. It was so worth it! I love, love, love this book. The dialogue is smart, fun, and real. The setting, for the most part, is the college dorm, but I liked that the author didn't use that as a reason to eliminate parents from the story. Cath and Wren's dad is a great character and although it's complicated, I enjoyed the relationship they have with him.

I had heard lots of good stuff about Ms. Rowell's previous YA novel but hadn't gotten to it yet. The minute I finished Fangirl, I headed to the library to get Eleanor & Park, (which I also adored.)

STARRY NIGHTS By Daisy Whitney
Release date: September 3

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Julien is a romantic—he loves spending his free time at the museum poring over the great works of the Impressionists. But one night, a peach falls out of a Cezanne, Degas ballerinas dance across the floor, and Julien is not hallucinating.

The art is reacting to a curse that trapped a beautiful girl, Clio, in a painting forever. Julien has a chance to free Clio and he can't help but fall in love with her. But love is a curse in its own right. And soon paintings begin to bleed and disappear. Together Julien and Clio must save the world's greatest art . . . at the expense of the greatest love they've ever known.

This one was also on my BEA wish list. I stopped back at the Bloomsbury booth at least a half dozen times before I finally got a copy. Sadly, it was hugely disappointing. I didn't care about any of the characters. There seemed to be odd things thrown into the story just for the sake of being odd. The friend with a carousel in his living room--really? The story was set in Paris, but even the setting felt flat. I was so underwhelmed that I didn't finish--and I don't do that often. I'll be passing my copy along and I hope the next reader gets more enjoyment from it than I did.

From Goodreads:   

Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she's ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she's always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.

This has been on my list for a long time but when I heard that Ms. Paquette was going to be at our local bookstore a few weeks ago, I rushed out to the library to get it. My hope was to buy a copy at the bookstore the day of the event and get it signed. Sadly, there wasn't a copy to be found that day. (She was there to promote her more recent books.) Anyway, I love everything about this book. (That cover!) For all of the physical challenges Luchi Ann is faced with, the story is equally about her inner growth. The author does an amazing job of getting the reader to feel what Luchi Ann feels, dread what she dreads, and hope for what she hopes for.

THE MONSTORE By Tara Lazar, Illustrated by James Burke
From Goodreads:

At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gumballs, there’s a trapdoor.

Knock five times fast, hand over the bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside The Monstore.

The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her.

But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions

I have been trying to get my hands on Tara Lazar's The Monstore since it released in June. The first attempt through inter-library loan was met with the message that none of the libraries were willing to loan out their copy. Which is great--must be popular, right?! But not so great for me. The second attempt was more successful. Persistence does pay off.

This is such a fun story. I love the gorgeous, vivid illustrations, and the smart ending. It's a great story all around. When I showed the book to my (adult) daughter, she read the first page and said, "I already like it." So of course, I added those opening sentences to my list of great story openers, then I rushed the book back to the library, so as not to keep it out of the hands of eager young readers.

Next up on my TBR list is Sara Dobie Bauer's first novel, Life Without Harry. Find out what it's about, why she's giving it away, and request your own copy here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Waiting Strategies

I discovered something this week: It's a little unsettling the things I will do to take my mind off the waiting that is such a huge part of the writing business.

I started querying last week. We all know the best thing to help counter the waiting anxiety is to work on your next project, right? And I have a perfectly enchanting story all started. Chapter three is just waiting to be written. But, I didn't do that. Instead I watched this video. Obsessively.

And also: I watched the "How it was made" video (just as obsessively.)

I ate M&Ms before 9 A.M.

I read like a fiend. (Reviews coming next week.)

I even joined Twitter. (I told you. Unsettling.)

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with these things, (except maybe the M&Ms before 9 A.M.) But I am hoping that this week I can finally concentrate and get back to work.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crayons, Piranhas and Lies, Oh My!

This week I read two more of the books I received at BEA, both of them illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The Day the Crayons Quit is written by  Drew Daywalt. I absolutely love this picture book! Duncan opens his desk one day to take out his crayons and finds instead a stack of letters. Each one is from a different color crayon and voices their reason for quitting. Red is overworked, purple is tired of straying outside the lines, pink wants to know if the reason she gets so little use is that she's too girly, and so on. This book is adorable. Love the way the text is presented as handwritten notes in varying crayon colors. This is a new favorite for me!

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas is written by David Almond. This book is very quirky MG. I didn't love it. It rambles a bit too much for my taste. I was halfway in and came very close to giving up on it. I did end up picking it back up, and it did get a bit better - enough so that I finished. There were things I liked about it. It has bits of charming, rich description  The main character, Stan, is a sensitive boy. He's lost his parents and lives with an aunt and uncle. We see a tender side to him the day he goes to the fair and rescues the goldfish that are in tiny bags of water as prizes. We get to see him grow and discover himself. But the rest of the cast is so flat, so caricature-ish. At times the story felt like farce. Perhaps children will find Chief Envistigator Clarence P. Clapp and his fight against appallin' fishiness in the land of Rackanruwin funny. "Good afternoon, ossifer!" he says "My porpoise is to seek out daftness and destroy it." It felt cartoonish. Maybe kids find this funny. I just wanted to skim to the next scene and make it to the end of the book.

I also spent a few hours in the children's room of the library, where I grabbed a stack of picture books and settled in. Of them, my favorites were Donna Welch Earnhardt's Being Frank. This one is a lot of fun. It made me giggle out loud. Who can't relate to being in that spot between being honest and sparing someone's feelings?

Also, Audrey Vernick's Brothers At Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team. I'm not a sports fan. I'm not a regular reader of non-fiction, but I loved this book! What made it special for me was not just the surprising fact that there could be a baseball team comprised solely of brothers, but also it was refreshing to read about the bonds of family: siblings getting along, respecting each other, enjoying each other's company.

As I finish books, I'm filling a box for an under-funded school library in Texas. Maybe you have books to donate as well? Here's the announcement as posted by Larry on Verla Kay's Blueboards.

"Well, I recently accepted a position as principal/curriculum coordinator at a local charter school here in Texas. We are a PK-8th grade campus with approximately 300 students. Over 90% are at poverty level. Our library is coming along slowly. We are in need of lower level AR books (PK-2nd grade for sure). Our library budget is nonexistent. We could use new or gently used books. If anyone knows of publishers/bookstores/individuals who might be willing to donate some books, I'd greatly appreciate it. We are the Ehrhart School in Beaumont, TX. Thanks so much!"

If you'd like to help, send your gently used books to:

The Ehrhart School
Dr. Larry Haynes
3380 Fannin Street
Beaumont, Texas 77701

Sunday, August 4, 2013

More Reviews: I'm With Stupid & The Bronte Sisters

I am reading several books right now, and yet I keep getting distracted by the titles of other books. That's what happened with these two. I had requested Geoff Herbach's I'm With Stupid, and of course it came in when I was in the middle of three other books. But, I was dying for more of Felton's story. So I picked it up and read it within a few days.

Felton Reinstein is one of those character's you can't forget. His story started with Stupid Fast, continued with Nothing Special, and in the final book of the series, I'm With Stupid, he is as funny, troubled, confused, and real as ever. Felton is in his senior year of high school and he's got some big stuff to contend with: being aggressively recruited by colleges, a strangely uninvolved mother, his father's suicide coming back to haunt him. He's also got all of the normal high school stuff, girlfriend troubles, figuring out who he really is, who his friends are, how to have fun, blow off steam and just get through another day.

There's something about the staccato, stream of consciousness writing that really puts you in Felton's head. He's a character you have to root for, when he's screwing up, when he's flipping out, and when he's getting it right. All three books are well worth reading, but you wouldn't have to read them all to enjoy I'm With Stupid.

I don't know why I go to the library when I have an abundance of reading material. But, last week I was overwhelmed with the desire to read some of Audrey Vernick's picture books. They were all checked out - good for her, not so good for me - but that's when Catherine Reef's biography of the Bronte sisters caught my eye. The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne is a gorgeous book full of heavy, glossy pages and plenty of photographs. I'm not a big reader of biographies but this one held my interest from start to finish. It's technically a YA book, but it was shelved downstairs in the children's room, and I found it completely captivating. What I enjoyed most about it was being able to see where each of the sisters drew from their real lives in creating their stories.

Now I hope I can ward off further distraction long enough to finish Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed before the library has to hunt me down to get it back.

I never realized I was so fickle. Do you ever stop reading one book to start another?