26 August 2010

Mockingjay and what makes a book excellent

Suzanne Collins

Holy crap.  That's what I have to say about this book.  Holy.  Crap.  I knew it would suck me in just like the first two did, but I had no idea.  None.

I will give nothing away.  Zip.  Zilch. Nada. Nichts.  But what I will say is this:  Suzanne Collins is a masterful author.  Why?  Because she can keep you on your toes for 390 pages, wrap up loose ends and still leave you feeling unsettled.  But I suppose that's what a book about world war should do, regardless of which side is victorious.

Tomorrow, I will proudly wear my "District 12 Tribute" t-shirt that I purchased earlier this week and encourage all of my students to read this series (no offense to Stephanie Meyer, because I loved the Twilight Series, but this series?  So much better).  And I will say - simply for the benefit of those who know me well and know my rantings about how I felt that this series should end:  Suzanne Collins, thank you for the ending to this book.  It is perfect.  Before I read it I wanted only one thing (which I will not divulge at this time).  You presented an ending with the things that I wanted - needed so deeply - but didn't know it.  And, sleep soundly.  I was afraid if the book didn't end a certain way I'd have to hunt you down.  No worries about that now though.  In fact, I should probably bake you cookies or something.

And my humblest apologies to any author whose books I read in the next few months.  Don't know when I'll come down from the high of this book.

22 August 2010

Very LeFreak

Very LeFreak
Rachel Cohn

Well, it's finally happened.  I'm going to review a book I didn't like.  Really didn't like.  I didn't hate it, but I have a strong, soul-felt dislike for this book.  But we'll get to that in just a minute.

Very LeFreak is about a girl named Veronica - self nicknamed Very - who was raised by a nomadic mother who passed away before she graduated high school.  Now in her freshman year at Columbia, Very is quickly spiraling out of control, and is forced to go to 'technology detox' - no IPhone, computer or MP3 players allowed.  Similar to alcohol or drug detox, hopefully Very will be able to shed her layers of technological bull and find her true self.

It's possible - very possible in fact - that this book is much more compelling to younger people than it is to me.  However, I don't have cable (I rarely watch TV), I don't own an IPod or MP3 player, and I pretty much stick to calls and texting on my cell phone.  And I am one of those people who can go for an entire day (gasp) without my phone and be just fine.  While I think that the premise of the story is compelling - especially when I have students asking to use the bathroom pass just so they can text "I luv u" to their gf or bf - I found Very to be...uh...very selfish.  She has no regard for those around her, and yet everyone still wants to be her friend.  And I hated the ending.  Hated hated hated it.  I could see it coming from a mile away, hoped that it wouldn't actually happen - thought for a split second "ooh, it's not going to happen" and then whamo-blamo, it happened.  Not that I have anything against Very's choice, I just think it was too...predictable?  Trendy?  Predictably trendy?  And I really hated that her name was Very.  Where do we go with character names from there?  Kinda?  Mostly?  Extremely?

Anyway, I didn't like this book.  Sorry Ms. Cohn.  Like I said, it might be because I have very little in common with a person like Very, and if I met someone like her, I'd move away very quickly.  Now can you see why I hated that name?  Read those last few sentences aloud and it gets very confusing...VERY quickly.

In a Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat
Loretta Ellsworth

I know I love tons of books - in fact, most of the books I blog about are 'favorites', but this one really is top of the line.  It's so good, I've already ordered it for the library where I'm working - it's on my very first book order! (Exciting!!!!)

In a Heartbeat follows two girls:  Eagan and Amelia as their lives change forever.  Eagan is a sixteen year old figure skating phenom who dies in a tragic skating accident.  Amelia is the fourteen year old recipient of Eagan's heart.  The book follows Eagan as she makes sense of the afterlife, and follows Amelia as she deals with the guilt and joy associated with her new heart.  When Ameila starts to crave grape lollipops and wants to learn to skate, she feels inexplicably compelled to find her donor's family.  But the question remains, will Eagan's family want to meet her?  What was Eagan like?  And can Amelia help with the sorrow they feel at their sudden loss, or will her presence in their lives bring back difficult memories?

One of the things I loved about this book were its many great lines.  So many thought provoking ideas coming from teenagers - and they were things only a teenager could think of.  One of my favorites:  "But the fact remained that someone had to die for me to live...and every night at dinner, when my family prayed for a new heart for me, we were praying for that to happen."  Though the book is intended for middle to high school readers, it isn't fluffy.  It deals with big issues.  Amelia really struggles with her 'gift' and Eagan is forced to look back on her life and realize there is more to it than what she could see as a teenager - something we all tend to do as adults (hopefully) - you know, realizing that our parents aren't just 'being mean', seeing their struggles and understanding the sacrifice they made for us.    Unfortunately, Eagan didn't get the chance to make amends before she died, and that's a tough lesson that kids (and adults) need to learn or at least think about.  Hopefully, after reading this book, more people will consider becoming organ donors.  Though there is tragedy involved with it, it is an amazing gift that so many people benefit from.

For more information on organ donation, please visit http://organdonor.gov/

08 August 2010

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I'm never sure if I read more than the average person, or less than a normal bibliophile, but I feel like I read a lot.  And even though I feel like I read all the time, there are still tons of books I'd like to read and just can't seem to find the time to read them.  So I do what any literature lover would do - I get audiobooks.  I would not recommend audiobooks most of the time - part of my love of reading is the act of getting comfortable and shutting out the world - an act I would not advise while driving.  But in this case, I would highly recommend at least listening to the first disc, or chapter of the audio book (read by Natalie Moore) if only to hear the awesome Wisconsin accent - an accent that I miss terribly since I've moved away from the Midwest.  It is one of the most friendly, unassuming accents in the United States (in my opinion).  Southern accents are all too common, and - to be perfectly honest - I'm always a little afraid that a compliment from someone with a southern accent is actually meant to be criticism.  New York accents make me think of the mafia, and california/surfer accents make me want to sunbathe.  But the Wisconsin/Michigan/Minnesota accents are my favorites.  Might have something to do with  my love of the movies New in Town and Fargo, but it also has to do with my wonderful memories of the amazing people I know from those regions.

Ok, enough about the accent on the audiobook.  The book itself is fantastic - with or without the accent.  It's the story of DJ, a girl whose life has always revolved around two things:  dairy cows and football.  Her older brothers are legendary football players, and she's always loved the game.  Her father runs - or used to run - a dairy farm, but was injured and now DJ and her younger brother do most of (all) the work around the farm.  An old family friend - and the coach of the rival high school Holly - asks DJ to help out his 'star' quarterback, Brian Nelson.  In return for the training help, Brian will help out around the farm doing odd jobs.  DJ reluctantly agrees and not only is a friendship born, but DJ realizes that she has a deep abiding love of football, and just to prove that she can, she decides to go out for the football team.  Dairy Queen is the first in the series of adventures DJ has learning how to actually talk to people, how to deal with life's stress and curveballs, and how to be a female football player.

What caught me about the book is how Murdock used DJ's train of thought and internal monologue to make the reader not only understand her naiveté, but empathize with her.  Thoughts like "You're probably laughing now too.  So what.  I know where your milk comes from, and your hamburgers." DJ is the perfect embodiment of a strong teenage girl - she doesn't care what people think, except when she does.  And in doing something no one else has ever done, DJ does some soul searching to figure out what matters and what doesn't.  She never claims to figure anything out, she just honestly reports what she experiences and how she feels about events and people and people's reactions to events.  She learns not to make assumptions, and learns how hard it is to break free of the assumptions you've made and the assumptions people have made about you.

The rest of the series - Off Season and Front and Center - are definitely on my reading list.  This time, I'll probably sit down with the actual book - now that I have DJ Schwenk's voice in my head to guide me.

02 August 2010

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

To say this is a great book is to do it an injustice.  I think all crazy-in-love teenage girls should read this book - especially if they're dating someone older.  A) Teenage girls shouldn't date men more than two years older than they are, and B) any teenage girl considering marriage before college, should be forced to read this book.

Ok, I understand that sometimes we find our soul-mate early on in life, and it's quite possible that I, as a 32-year-old single woman, might be a little judgmental of people who get married right out of college.  However, the story of Bronwen Oliver, aka Phoebe Lillywhite, is a great story/example of someone who is about to get married and become an "us" before she knows who she is.  She struggles with the idea of  "we" because she isn't sure she's fully developed her sense of "me" in the first place.  And Bronwen has a litany of life issues - many of which are made less painful when her fiance, Jared Sondervan, becomes an integral part of her life.  But one of the main questions of this book remains - can finding your soul mate fix your life problems, or do you have to fix your life problems in order to really enjoy a relationship with your soul mate?  I don't think that Erin McCahan attempts to answer this question, I think she simply wants to present a scenario where someone has to consider this idea.

I love how real Bronwen is.  I love the fact that she has created an alternate persona for herself - Phoebe Lillywhite - because she is nearly 100% certain that she does not actually belong to her family.  She's sure that her 'real' parents will show up any day and whisk her away.  Why? Because her mom really doesn't get her.  Every teenage girl feels like her parents don't get her, as I'm sure every mother feels like she doesn't get her teenage daughter.  And Bronwen really struggles with not only her relationship with her mother, but figuring out who she is and what she wants in general.  And the best part is, it's not completely cookie-cutter.  Throughout the book, Bronwen (and Jared) approach their life decisions an their relationship in a very mature manner*, and the best part is - even though they're being very mature about the decisions they make, life is still hard.  We all need to read books where life is rough for the 'perfect' people.  I think that sometimes we get this idea that if you do the right things and have the right friends and believe the right things, that life will be easy - I know I thought that when I was a teenager (and, I won't lie, I still think that sometimes now).  But regardless of what you look like or who your friends are or what you do with your Friday evenings, life is messy and icky and difficult.  And with books like this one - where someone who should have a perfect life doesn't - remind us that it's not always greener on the other side.
*Thank you, Erin McCahan, for keeping their relationship sex-free and sacred.  I think even though many teens ares sexually active, it's good to have an example of someone who isn't every once and awhile.

My only disappointment with the book was the ending.  I won't spoil anything, but I will say that I think in real life, it would have ended differently.

01 August 2010

Princess For Hire

 Based solely on the title, what teenage girl wouldn't want to read this book?  It's flippin' fantastic!  I wasn't terribly excited when I started it - though my dear friend and mentor Di Herald recommended it highly.  Though the book has been out since March in the US, I read the ARC, and LOVED it.  What a creative storyline!

The premise of the story is that Desi - an average, if not slightly dorky, teenage girl - lives a fairly boring life in Idaho.  One day she stumbles upon a job as a princess for hire.  A princess stand-in if you will.  When a princess wants a vacation from her life, she calls on a substitute princess.  Desi accepts the job just to bring a little glamor into her life.  Though the job is pretty awesome in theory, in practice Desi gets stuck in some amazingly awkward situations.  She also finds herself wanting to not just 'stand in' but to stand up for the princesses she works for - her gut tells her that these girls would like their lives to be different, but just can't find the strength to make changes.  When her actions become controversial, Desi finds herself caught in the middle of some pretty powerful magical people - one of which is her mentor and coach, the distant yet driven Meredith.

I loved that the author paired a very fantastic idea (substitute princess) with some very real life, down to earth problems that everyone - even princesses - have to deal with.  Things like overbearing siblings and arguments with parents.  Through Desi, the reader comes to realize that being a princess isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. Desi realizes that life is complicated no matter where you live or what you have to live through, and she is such a realistic teenager that it's easy to identify with her (even though I haven't been a teenager for a very long time...).

I would highly recommend this book, and you'll probably find it in the GMMS Library collection very soon.  Thanks for the suggestion Di!