Thursday, March 28, 2013


If you haven't checked out Fairy Tale Fortnight yet, get over to The Book Rat or A Backwards Story RIGHT NOW because it is awesome.  And because Misty and Bonnie have put together some great posts this year.  And because fairy tales are always fun.  

One of this year's events is a create-a-cover challenge, and I decided to give it a go.  This was my very first attempt at photoshoping, so they're not the most polished images ever, but I'm honestly just impressed that I figured out how to get photoshop to work at all.

I don't know what it is about hooded figures, but I love them.  There's just such an aura of mystery about them.  If you know of any hooded-figure-covers, send them my way.  And the dancer was too graceful not to put in a dancing hall.  Or a creepy, empty cathedral.

I got both (1,2) of the models from faestock.  She has some stunning photos, so you should check out her profile.  The woods are from ~frozenstocks.  And the empty hall is from *E-dina.

Head over to Misty's create-a-cover post to see what other people have created or to submit your own cover.  And while you're over there, check out all the other cool Fairy Tale Fortnight posts.  If you create your own cover(s), be sure to let me know in comments so I can check them out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale

Rapunzel's Revenge--Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
August 2008 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
144 pages--Goodreads

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.

Rapunzel's Revenge is a lot of fun.  I love the western/fairytale mash up, though that setting takes a little getting used to.  Rapunzel is great.  No damsel in distress, she is proactive in rescuing herself from towers, sea serpents, and giant henchmen.  I love the little touches of tomboyishness the illustrations give her, like leaves in her hair after she has been climbing trees.  Jack is also a lot of fun.  He is shameless, but lovable.  He's a scoundrel and a thief without being a jerk.  Like Han Solo, but less rude.  He and Rapunzel play well off each other.

I love the little chunks of humor sprinkled here and ther, things like Jack saying, "We'll have to wait until nightfall," and in the next frame the narrator textbox says "Night fell."  Little quirky things like that make the book not take itself too seriously.

This is not the book you're looking for if you want a complex villain or developed relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel.  I love the mother-daughter dynamic in Tangled, but that is not part of this book.  And I'm okay with that; it's out of the scope of this particular retelling.

Some reviewers have said the plot is too slow before Rapunzel escapes from her tower.  I can agree that the story picks up that once Jack comes in and Rapunzel starts lassoing things with her hair, but I liked the backstory.  Either way, it's a graphic novel, so it's a quick read.  The plot does feel a bit disconnected as we move from one adventure to the next, but it each adventure is still fun.

Rapunzel's Revenge is a fun, quick read, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Haul 7

Yay, new books.  Please excuse the top of my head for not being in frame.  It had somewhere very important it needed to be.

Splintered--A.G. Howard
The Fault in our Stars--John Green
Dragonsong--Robin McCaffrey
Esperanza Rising--Pam Muñoz Ryan
Rules--Cynthia Lord
Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence--Richard West
How They Croaked--Georgia Bragg

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frankenweenie Thoughts

We recently watched Tim Burton's Frankenweenie in my Frankenstein and Film class, and it was super cute in a creepy sort of way.  It's sweet; it's funny; it's clever.  There are so many references to other Frankenstein films, the original novel, and monster movies in general.  Shelly the pet turtle, Edgar E. Gore, Percephone's Bride of Frankenstein hairdo, Godzilla rampaging and crushing a car.  And of course, there's the usual Tim Burton visual vibe of tall, gaunt, pale, spindly legged people.  Everyone in town is distinctive, but the best representation of this is a character whose name on the script is just "Weird Girl."

Weird Girl
My favorite character is Mr. Rzykruski (no I can't pronounce his name), the science teacher styled after Vincent Price.  There is a (mild spoiler) great scene in which the towns people/mob are gathered at a parent meeting to question whether this science stuff is healthy for their children.  They accuse him of being a monster (figurative, not literal, need to clarify for this movie), but they give him a chance to defend himself, and he basically calls them ignorant, small-minded, fools and proceeds to use cracking-head-open imagery to describe his teaching.  So he basically plays right into the town's preconceived prejudices about him, and I can't decide if he did that intentionally or not. Since I can't find the clip of the parent meeting, here's a clip of one of Mr. Rzykruski's science lessons, just so you can get a feel for his character. 

Frankenweenie is a great adapation of the Frankenstein story.  So go forth and watch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Redbox or wherever you watch things.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence by Richard Plat

Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence--Richard Platt
Illustrated by John Kelly
October 2011 by Kingfisher
48 pages--Goodreads

A comprehensive history of disease and pestilence, told from the point of view of the bugs and pests that cause them. The book features case histories of specific epidemics, ‘eyewitness’ accounts from the rats, flies, ticks and creepy-crawlies who spread diseases, plus plenty of fascinating facts and figures on the biggest and worst afflictions. Illustrated throughout with brilliantly entertaining artworks and endearing characters, you’ll be entertained by a cabinet war room showing the war on germs, a rogues’ gallery highlighting the worst offenders, the very deadliest diseases examined under the microscope and much more.

Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence is super fun and very informative.  It's surprising how much information they fit on 48 pages.  But the book never feels overloaded.  The layout is similar to Eyewitness books with one main topic per page-spread with chunks/paragraphs of supplemental information spread across the page-spread.   The book covers a few diseases in detail (plague, small pox, malaria) and glances over a few more.  I would have been interested to see more about the diseases skimmed over, such as Ebola and HIV.  I'll have to save that interest for another book.  The book also addresses how far we've come in the fight against disease as well as future threats, such as antibiotic resistant tuberculosis. 

The illustrations are a lot of fun.  It is very colorful, and the characters are quirky.  The rats and mosquitoes don't play a central role; they mostly just highlight the informational paragraphs.  

My only complaint is that the book is so thin, it can easily disappear on the bookshelf, but that's the price you pay for getting the paperback.  Aside from that, it's a great short informational text.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas--John Stephens
January 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
417 pages--Goodreads

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey through time to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

It is so satisfying to get a good book.  A book that you just like.  A book you like so well that you just can't help but love.  The Emerald Atlas was that book for me.  I loved it.  It's a sort of Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Series of Unfortunate Events without shamefully ripping from any of the series; it just uses the elements we love best out of them.  It does draw on the prophesied destiny of the chosen one(s) trope, but it only felt a little overdone in that sense.  The characters keep it from feeling tiresome.

The characters are absolutely fantastic.  Stephens captures the sibling dynamic between Kate, Michael, and Emma perfectly.  They bicker and fight and get on each other's nerves, but they love each other desperately.  Each sibling is unique.  Kate is the traditional protective oldest; Michael is the annoying bookworm; Emma is the feisty one.   And great characterization is not limited to the core cast; every character is memorable from the quirky wizard Dr. Pym to the slovenly and dwarf king Hamish.  Captain Robby and Gabriel are solidly honorable.  Each character is a delight to read about.

As an added bonus, the audio book is narrated by Jim Hale, the same guy who narrates the Harry Potter books.  He is an excellent reader, but his narration gave the book this weird semi-British, semi-American effect because it takes place in America, but there are dwarves and it's read by a Brit...

The novel is well paced, thought it may take a bit of time up front to get into it.  The climax is exciting and the ending satisfying.  There is a bit of bad guy monologuing from the Countess and some deus ex machina rescues via Dr. Pym, but as it is a middle grade fantasy, I'll excuse that.

It's just a solid, fun adventure and I'm eager to get my hands on book two.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ancient Mars Capable of Supporting Life

Okay, so this isn't bookish news, but it's just too cool not to include.  NASA via the Curiosity Rover found evidence of an ancient environment on Mars that could have been capable of supporting life.  Watch this episode from Sci Show and Hank Green will explain it all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Series I'd Like to Start But Haven't

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Yes, this was the To Ten topic for last week, but this was when I had time to write the post.  If you absolutely can't stand me breaking the assigned topic, think of this as my Top Ten series to begin in spring.  But anyways, these are the series I really need/want to start reading.

10--Benny Imura by Jonathan Maberry beginning with Rot & Ruin.  I haven't read any zombie books, not even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  So I should probably jump on the boat sometime soon...  And it's got a cool cover.

9--Thursday Next by Jasper Fjord beginning with the Eyre Affair.  I love books about books. There's just something about messing around with characters from someone else's novel. If Jane Eyre is up and wandering around outside her story, obviously that has to be put to a stop.  And I've heard Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations makes an appearance in this series.  Let's hear it for crazy old ladies.

8--The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo beginning with Shadow and Bone.  I've heard mixed reviews about this one, but I"m willing to give it a shot.  I love a good fantasy and if nothing else, the cover is amazing enough that I need to read it.  

7--Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans beginning with The Prisoner of Cell 25.  I know almost nothing about this series, but a teacher I know gave this book to a 7th grader who doesn't normally read.  By the end of the class period, the student was interested enough in the story to ask for the sequel.  If there's a book out there interesting reluctant readers, I need to read it.

6--Mairelon by Patricia C. Wrede beginning with Mairelon the Magician. Wrede's books are always quirky and fun and hilarious.  I loved the Enchanted Forest books.  This series is Victorian street urchin + magic.  What more could you want?  I used A Matter of Magic (the bound set of the two books in one) as the picture because the cover is just so pretty whereas the books seperately bound are less so.

5--Theater Illuminata by Lisa Mantchev beginning with Eyes Like Stars--Shakespeare retellings.  'nuf said.  Seriously.  Books about books meet retellings of myth-like things (okay, they're plays not myths, but still) all in a fantasy world.  My favorite genres got married and had kids.

4--Fairytale Retellings by Jackson Pearce beginning with Sisters Red.  I love fairytale retellings, as I've said all over the place on this blog.  Who else is stoked for Fairytale Fortnight?  Ahem, back to the book.  I've heard Pearce's books are good.  And the covers are amazing.  

3--This is also why I want to read The League of Princes by Christopher Healey beginning with The Hero's Guide to Saving the Kingdom.  We rarely get retelling from the prince's point of view, and Healey is supposed to be very funny.

2--Also Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale.  Western spunky princess graphic novel retelling.

1--Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness beginning with The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I've heard these are amazing and I own the first book, so I will read it one of these days when I find a minute.  

Most of these series are fantasy, so I'll probably have to pace them out some to get some variety in my reading so I don't go crazy, but I will begin them.  Soon.  Sometime.  Probably after finals.  Or later.

If you've read any of these series, let me know what you thought about them.  Also, which one series should I start first?  Which series are you dying to begin?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster--Walter Dean Myers
April 1999 by Amistad
288 pages--Goodreads


Steve (Voice-Over)Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I'll call it what the lady prosecutor called me ... Monster.

This is one of those novels that has won so many awards and is a staple in so many Adolescent lit classes that you wonder if the actual book can live up to its reputation.  Monster does.  I sped through the book in just a couple of days and had only three pages to go when one of my classes began and I had to spend the whole class dying to know what happened.  

Steve is on trial for murder.  Witnesses say he was the lookout for some other guys who robbed a convenience store and shot the owner.  The book is a screenplay, written by Steve, about the trial.  I liked the screenplay format.  It makes the book a quick read, and all that white space makes the book look accessible.  Some readers see this as a ploy or gimmick, but I don't.  I see it as a way for Steve to work through what was happening to him.

However, partly because of the format, we don't get to know Steven well.  The novel only centers around the actual trial, not his life before.  And despite being in his head the whole time, Steven is still a mystery to us at the end of the novel.  He is an interesting character and I would have liked more background information about him and his family.  I realize that this kind of goes against the point of the book (to determine Steve's guilt or innocence just with the limited evidence we get), but still.

I like how the book addresses the criminal justice system and the preconceived notions we have about the accused.  We forget that in the eyes of the law, a defendant is innocent until the prosecution proves otherwise.  This book also made me realize the difference between "innocent" and "not guilty."  Maybe a particular person did commit a crime, but if there is no evidence to prove guilt, the law cannot touch them.  In that light, I love how Myers leaves Steve's innocence or guilt ambiguous.  I won't spoil the court verdict, but we really don't know whether Steve participated in the theft.  Is he evading responsibility for his actions or being rightly served by justice?  

This book also forces us to look at, in a very small degree, the violence that goes on in prisons.  We tend to ignore the fate of inmates because we don't have to see them and subconsciously we think, "They broke the law, so they deserve what they get."  But even criminals don't deserve to be assaulted and beat up on a regular basis.  The novel deals with some heavy, mature subjects, but it is actually pretty light on swearing, which surprised me.

This book made me think about a lot of things. I liked it, and I think it is a book that would resonate with a lot of teens.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Want to Go Private?--Sarah Darer Littma
August 2011 by Scholastic Press
330 pages--Goodreads

Abby and Luke chat online. They've never met. But they are going to. Soon.

Abby is starting high school--it should be exciting, so why doesn't she care? Everyone tells her to "make an effort," but why can't she just be herself? Abby quickly feels like she's losing a grip on her once-happy life. The only thing she cares about anymore is talking to Luke, a guy she met online, who understands. It feels dangerous and yet good to chat with Luke--he is her secret, and she's his. Then Luke asks her to meet him, and she does. But Luke isn't who he says he is. When Abby goes missing, everyone is left to put together the pieces. If they don't, they'll never see Abby again.

This was a difficult book to wrap my mind around.  Reading it was very similar to reading Crank by Ellen Hopkins; I couldn't put it down until I finished it, and once I did I spent an hour or two researching meth addiction, or in this case internet predators.  While reading the novel, you want to put it down because what you're reading about is so horrible, but the story is so compelling that you can't look away; you have to know how it ends.  Want to Go Private? drew me in from the start.  I just started flipping through it to see what it was about and couldn't put the thing down until I finished it, skimming through parts just to finish faster.  

I don't know if it was because I was an adult reader or because the premise is laid out on the jacket cover (we know from the start that Abby will be kidnapped), but Luke comes off as super creepy from the get go.  No 27 year old anywhere is seriously interested in a 14 year old.  Darer wrote the novel to explore why a teen who has been through all the internet safety talks would still fall for a predator, because teens do continue to fall for the act.  But Luke's blatant creepiness undermines that purpose.  I wish his creepiness had been more subtle.  If he's an obvious creep, readers won't be dumb enough to fall for him, so he needs to be sneakier.

Abby's defining characteristic is vulnerability.  Beyond that, she's not very developed.  This makes Abby easily replaced by any teen reading the book.  She falls for Luke because she want to be noticed and accepted and liked.  She feels like she isn't good enough and that her parents are too hard on her.  Change the pronouns as necessary, and that description fits every teen ever.  While that doesn't make for the most interesting character study ever, it does fit with the purpose of the novel.

I loved the last third of the novel.  Once Abby is safe and home (sorry, spoiler) her family tries to put together the pieces, tries to understand why and how this all happened.  They blame the Abby because how should she be so stupid   Abbey blames herself.  Kids at school stick her with a less than favorable reputation.  However, while the characters victim blame, the book does not.  Through Abby's counselor, the book explains that the blame entirely lies with the perpetrator, who is very, very skilled at grooming potential victims.  Yes, Abby made some very poor choices, but she was up against an adult and it is not her fault.  She doesn't deserve what happened to her.  

The book does get a bit preachy in places, but since Darer wrote it to prove a point, I guess that was unavoidable.

Now content.  This is a story about how a girl falls for an online predator.  It's not going to be pretty.  The language is what you would hear in any high school, strong,  and as usual, I felt it was unnecessary.  The sexual language coming from Luke was also unpleasant.  The descriptions of what he made her do and what he did to her after kidnapping her are graphic and a bit disturbing.  But that is the nature of this subject.  You can't tell a story about sexual predation and have it all be sunshine and roses.  This book is meant to be a wake up call.  This stuff is real.  It happens every day and teens need to know about it in order to protect themselves.  I'm not saying this is a book for everyone, but while it is a disturbing read, it is also an important one.  Ignoring online predation will not make it go away.

Will I read it again?  Probably not?  Am I glad I read it?  Yes with a caveat.  I think it's a very important and under addressed (or at least not addressed as powerfully and effectively addressed as it needs to be) topic, but it wasn't a pleasant read. Compelling, emotionally draining, and memorable.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched--Ally Condie
November 2010 by Dutton Juvenile
369 pages--Goodreads

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Wow, that was good.  I had kind of low expectations going in, but it was a hard book to put dow
n.  The synopsis above makes the book sound shallow, but I liked it, and I saw the the love triangle stuff as the impetus for Cassia to question the perfection of the Society.  I am a bit annoyed, though, that a love triangle is the basis of the plot.  Thankfully, it isn't as big of a trip up as I expected it to be.  I don't like love triangles, especially when the girl waffles between two boys and she just can't decide who she likes better.  Cassia spends the whole time being drawn to Ky and feeling guilty about hurting Xander, but she doesn't really waffle.  So points there.  By the way, no I will not pick a team.  Teams are not the point; the Society and its absolute control is.  I will not allow romance to get in the way of my dystopia.  And since we all know how this is going to end, there is no point in bickering.  Xander is the representation of the status quo; Ky represents choice.  She can never choose Xander because that would prove that the Society is right, and we can't have that.

Condie does a good job of the building and describing a credible dystopia.  We start out seeing the micromanaging control as strange but justified.  Everything is safe this way.  But then Condie leads us through a gradual reveal of the darker side of the Society.  There's not much in the way of action, so don't expect a thrilling Hunger Games read-alike.  But it is engaging through the interpersonal relationships and government induced issues.  

I love Cassia's parents.  So many YAs kill off the parents to get them out of the way.  It is so nice to see good parents who love and support each other and care about their kids.  I also like how their choices are flip sides of the same coin.  Mother keeps the rules to protect the ones she loves; Father bends the rules to protect the ones he loves.  They are an interesting and unexpected pair.  I wish we could have seen more of Grandpa, but it is kind of important to get rid of him early on as his death is part of what spurs the change in Cassia.

I like the role "Do Not Go Gentle" and other poems play in Cassia's emerging rebellion.  Yes, literature can change the world!  I know it would be terribly boring to include in the book, but I'd be interested to see a list of the 100 songs, poems, history lessons, ect.  Maybe as bonus material online or at the end of the book?  I'm curious.

I will definitely read the next book.  I hope Crossed includes more about the outer provinces and the countries the Society is fighting against as well as more turmoil within the Society.  I also hope we learn why and how the Society came to be.  The scary part of dystopias is not that such a world could exist; it's seeing our own society's potential to go down the same path.  

Is it formulaic?  A bit.  There's definitely a lot of carry over from The Giver, but I don't think that kills the novel.  Condie makes her world original enough to satisfy me.  Besides, what's wrong with a deeper exploration of that type of world?

P.S.  Google Chrome thinks "dystopia" should be "topiary".


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