Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Absent by Katie Williams

Williams, Katie. Absent. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 05/21/13. Print. 

3 Word Book Talk: Ghost Rumor Revenge

Annotation: If you died before your time and found life on the other side as a ghost, perpetually stuck in the purgatory of high school, what would you do with your days? Is there a way out of there? What if you were a suicide?

Review: How involved could it be in just under 200 pages, I thought? I tend to prefer the meatier books, the ones with 300-400 pages that have time to get somewhere before they are over. Boy, was I wrong here. May I venture to say that it is a sign of true genius to create a story that is, all at once, mystery, meta-physical, clique-crossing, revenge, love, empathy for fellow human being, greater understanding of human nature, coming-of-age, coming-of-death, coming-of-soul story?

Williams begins Absent with three teenage ghosts (really!) wandering endlessly around the high school where they died, trying to come to terms with not being able to do anything to affect the status quo, which is for them, not about being dead so much as about what other students are saying about them. Talk about endless purgatory, right? 

What makes Absent special is the truly fantastic writing, many lines are so good they are quotable. But what's also great is the deep characterizations of the three ghosts. You think it's just creative license stolen by Williams to throw three deaths in the same high school at you, just so she has a story with someone else for the protagonist to talk to. Not so. This is what brings me to the truly shining bit: the plotting. The fact that right when you don’t realize you’re getting somewhere, all at once it is like, SHAZAM! There is a deep mystery thriller here right under your nose. As well as a coming-to-terms-with-who-you-are-even-though-you-are-now-dead tale of discovery, shock, redemption, and finally, transcendence.

In under 200 pages.

Seriously brilliant.

genres: mystery / metaphysical / paranormal / ghosts / death / grief / suicide / contemporary / romance / coming-of-age / ya fiction

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Relic by Heather Terrell

Terrell, Heather. Relic. New York: Soho Teen, an imprint of Soho Press, Inc., Expected Release 10/29/2013. Print.

3 Word Booktalk: Apple Relics Bad!

Annotation: If the world flooded and the small amount of human survivors were reduced to living like the Dark Ages, what would they think, 200 years in the future, when they uncover our remains, of our Apple, our Prozac, our Mastercard? 

Review: Eva just lost her brother Eamon, who was going to the Testing with other candidates, to attempt to win the honor of Chief Archon, a role their father won years before. But Eamon was questioning the status quo, and it got him killed before he could even Test. Enter Eva, a Maiden of the Aerie, (yes, down to the head-to-toe gown, think Dark Ages) who decides to take Eamon's place in the Testing, after finding that the Lex (like their Bible, up there in New North) actually permits females to Test, even though it had not been done in 150 years.  Eva is, of course, a more determined female than average, and when things during the Testing don't add up, she (like Eamon before her) starts to question everything the Lex and her people of the Aerie, have led her to believe is true -- about them, about the Boundary people who "serve" them, and ultimately about their humans that lived before the flood (the Healing) took that civilization. 

Ok, here we go. On Amazon, it says this book is a cross between The Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, hoping to entice readers who love that sort of thing. It isn't. The only similarities are this: female protagonist in a dystopian world, some kind of testing and competition, rulers that are insidious in their desire to protect the status quo, a world where the people live in the style of the Dark Ages with patriarchal gender roles. That's it. It is an insult to both writers of TGoT and HG to even compare this book to those. 

This is a sophomoric effort at best. Most of the characters were rather flat, when they could have been fleshed out so much more. The plot was rather predictable, and you know which way it is going to go at every turn, believe me, which bored me. Ditto to the transparent and trite future love triangle.

However, I did like the concept of people in the future misconstruing Apple as something we people of today thought of as God, and that the no-longer-functioning computer relics were glass worship alters. That our society was overdependent on Mastercard, Visa, Prozac and other "remedies" like Tylenol and Ambien, failing to see the true meaning of life. But this great concept also wasn't fleshed out as much as it could've been. Good concept, weak delivery. 

I didn't even start becoming interested until the last 30-40 pages, when Eva started to deviate from the plan and show some initiative, making the trajectory of the plot start to also take off, just when the book was ending, which pissed me off. What we are left with is a small desire to see if the next book (yes, another @#$?&! series! Is the stand-alone book now dead, I ask you?)

I don't know if that little itch is one I am willing to scratch. The first book was a bit of a snooze and I'm not sure I would invest the time, when there are some seriously fantastic books out there, just waiting to be read. (Read my recent review of The Dream Thieves if you doubt this.)

Genres: dystopian / science fiction / fantasy / ya fiction

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sinners and the Sea - Review

Kanner, Rebecca. Sinners and the Sea. New York: Howard Books - Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 04/02/2013. Print.


We all know people thought Noah was crazy. A storm coming to flood the whole earth? Yeah, right. That boat you're building is going to save two of every species, including you and your family? Good luck with that. What did his wife think about all this? He would be a tough guy to be married to, for sure.


Rebecca Kanner breathes life into an extremely old tale - that of Noah and his Ark. The fabulous twist is that she tells it from his wife's perspective, a woman the Bible didn't even see fit to assign a name. Using that oversight to her advantage, Kanner weaves a tale of mystery, suspense, shame, regret, bravery, and strife, all around a woman who becomes for us, and herself, the true hero of the story, and ultimately of her own life, proving once again (or maybe from the get-go of human time), that behind every great man stands a much greater (but often overlooked) woman.

Feared and hated in her native village for bearing a facial port-wine stain upon her face, seen as the mark of the Devil, our young female protagonist is an unfortunate burden to the father that loves her. All efforts to find her a husband and send her away for her own safety, fall on fallow ground, until finally crazy old Noah arrives on the scene, looking for a truly virtuous wife, in a land where all are hopeless sinners. Fitting the bill, she goes off with this muttering, dottering, crazy-for-God old man, sure he isn't long for this world. 

And her life is never the same. 

She arcs from a hated, feared, unnamed girl to a fierce, strong, determined woman truly deserving of the name hero. She survives not only Noah, with his determination to follow his God's will, (which involves a crazy scheme to survive a killer storm that will flood the earth), but also the multitudes who would kill for a place on the Ark her family builds, and finally her own offspring, who alternately please, fail and disappoint her, to become mother of the entire human race.

I'd say the girl had one helluva arc.

Rebecca Kanner's writing career is sure to have the same. Sinners and the Sea is written with great, descriptive prose; Kanner captures this time in history with visceral aptitude. We feel for this woman, who tries so very hard, both as a wife and a mother, to fulfill all that is expected of her, even at the expense of her own strength, sanity and heart. We feel connected to her struggle, cheer her small victories, and wish for a happy outcome to the truly arduous life of this unnamed woman. 

Mostly, we root for her to be granted a name.

Genres: historical fiction / mythology / religion / Christian Fiction / biblical / adventure / adult fiction / literary fiction

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Dream Thieves. New York: Scholastic Press, 09/17/2013. Print.

3 Word Booktalk* -- Dark Dream Magic

Annotation: Ronan's dad had a secret, and now he's dead. But Ronan has the same secret; he's a dream thief.

What if you could steal something from your dreams? Would that be a dream come true? So what happens when something follows you out of your nightmares? Ronan's going to find out.


Love Letter to Maggie,

Well, you just keep getting better and better, don't you? Not only an incredible weaver of intersecting plot lines, but ones that seem to develop straight from the conflict between these incredibly nuanced, deep and delightfully complicated characters who, as a reader, I fall in love with, hate with, or I'm loving hating them. The sheer electric tension between some of these characters crackles off the page in a such a tangible way it makes me almost recoil with the shock of it. Who are these people, Maggie? Did you know them? Are they modeled after people you know? They play so completely off each other, and while I am reading them, I see you perform the omniscient third person point of view so flawlessly I am feeling their emotions -- how they feel about each other, their hopes, fears and deepest desires -- as if I am a virtual body snatcher. If ever I thought you were a good, solid writer before, I have to say, you have grown so far beyond solid you've become a word magician of character, chemistry and plot creation. Go Maggie!

I can honestly say that book two is even better than the first book, and I can't possibly wait until the third book comes out. 

Whoever's not reading this right now is seriously missing out on the sweet spot of YA today.

Maggie, you have proven that truly great writing takes place firmly outside any genre labels. YA may be all the rage right now, but it is largely because writers like you have chosen to embrace that very unique period of life when all of us humans must decide just who we are going to be. Plumbing the depth of possibilities there -- with all the choices arrayed before us, opportunities shunned or seized, and pitfalls largely inevitable --- is what makes the metamorphosis from child to adulthood such a mesmerizing and memorable event. 

And what makes readers of YA so addicted to it.

Genre: paranormal / ghosts / fantasy / urban fantasy / supernatural / romance / mystery / contemporary / coming-of-age / YA lit

Check out the Book Trailer:


*From the 3 Word Booktalk by
Karen Jensen MLS
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Youth Services Librarian, Betty Warmack Branch Library
Reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001

The Raven Boys - YA Review

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic Press, 2012. Print.

3 Word Booktalk* -- Magical Boy Trouble

Annotation: All the psychics in Blue's family tell her the same thing, if Blue kisses her true love, he will die. A buzz kill if ever there was one. 

Review: Out on a magical errand on St. Mark's Eve, Blue and her aunt are monitoring the Corpse Road to note the appearance of spirits that night, those of which who will die within the next year. Here Blue meets Gansey for the first time, and she is haunted by the knowledge of his future demise. Next she meets him in person, quite by accident, but doesn't tell him what she knows.

Well, Maggie is just getting better and better! As she has done before, (Shiver, Linger and Forever) she introduces us to a rather mediocre protagonist, Blue, in the first book of this series, The Raven Boys. Blue seems to be the voice of reason at the epicenter of all the more interesting characters that bloom, blossom and explode around her - Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and Blue's mother and more interesting aunts and cousins. Blue herself lacks magic, but her mother and all the aunts and cousins, living together in their "house of psychics," possess the gift in one way or another. Blue's only magical talent is she is like a "WiFi hotspot" for everyone else's power. This includes increasing the power coursing through an ancient and magical ley line (Blue's mother, aunts and cousins know it as the "Corpse Road") that the Raven Boys are certain runs through the quaint town of Henrietta, VA, the finding of which has them all in quite a twist. Especially Gansey, who had dedicated his not-yet-even-an-adult-yet life to finding it. A old-money rich boy, he believes it will lead him to an ancient king, Glendower, who, once found, will re-animate and somehow grant the finder one monumental magical wish, one that goes way beyond the desire of money for Gansey. For Adam, having Gansey's kind of money would be wish enough.

Can't imagine why they are all in such a twist.

Oh, and Blue still has that secret she's keeping, and she's torn between the attentions of Adam, and the orbital pull of Gansey, who's spirit she encountered walking that corpse road on St. Mark's Eve, which means that he is going to be dead within a year. Does that means he is the "one" and she kisses him, sealing his fate? 

Will Blue find her first love among the Raven Boys, and yet avoid her first kiss? Will Gansey and his friends find the ley line and the ancient king, Glendower? 

The characters are so deep, nuanced and resonant, it feels like you are getting to know real people in The Raven Boys, and then you start caring about them, and next worrying over their fates. 

(Sidebar: Adam so keenly reminded me of E from Entourage I began to see E in my head whenever Adam was in a scene.)

This is classic Maggie. She starts off with her protagonist, introducing her to all these other characters, and as the protagonist gets to know them, so does Maggie, and then, so do we. It is as if she hands them the pen, and they wink and run off with it and with us, and we fall in love. The fact that she can do it with not just one, but many supporting characters, is a singular talent of Ms. Stiefvater's alone.

By the time The Raven Boys ends, you are dying to know what is going to become of each of them  - Gansey, Blue, Adam and Ronan. Especially Ronan. We are given hints when Ronan is found by Gansey in a church at night, in quite a state, cupping a baby raven to his chest, as if he'd just given birth to it.

Genre: paranormal / ghosts / fantasy / urban fantasy / supernatural / romance / mystery / contemporary / coming-of-age / YA lit

*(This great idea comes from a this great librarian below, discovered on the YALSA listserv.)

The 3 Word Booktalk
Karen Jensen MLS
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Youth Services Librarian, Betty Warmack Branch Library
Reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Testimonial to Metro State University Class LIT332 with Adela Peskorz, the Wonder Professor

The past fourteen blog posts have been the result of a class at Metro State University, LIT332, adolescent literature. I have another blog, Words and Wind Move Me, where I had already been blogging on YA, but the class required me to start a new one and close the privacy settings. This blog is the result, and I like the name better. I think it will come up on search engines more frequently. Now that the class is closed, I have secured permission to take this blog public.

Being an aspiring writer of the genre, and having it be my go-to for a good read, I already felt I knew much about YA, so I thought LIT 332 was going to be a cakewalk. I have to confess, it was not an easy road; there was a ton of work. But looking back, I can’t imagine where I would trim anything out. When you do finally cross the end of the semester finish line, not only are you proud of yourself, but you know you are made of sterner stuff; you have developed a core that previously lacked, a strength now honed to a fine point. You feel invigorated and ready to take on anything. 

The course was so well-crafted and honed, everything we read, wrote and discussed funneled masterfully into our final group project. It was like listening to a symphony of perfect notes racing toward their crescendo. The challenge -- of teasing out which YA book possessed the most essential qualities of the Young Adult canon to deserve our award -- was one I feel we raced wholeheartedly to meet. 

The course was both a pleasure and an honor to share part in. I feel forever altered by it, and know it has set me firmly on the path to a future within YA Literature -- be it writer, editorial assistant, or teacher, (or professional blogger anyone?). Yes, you will work for it; this course is not for the faint of heart, but no other course I have taken has made such a profound difference in widening and deepening my scope of knowledge and synthesis of a topic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Survivor

Opdyke, Irene, and Armstrong, Jennifer. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. 
New York: Random House, Inc., 1999. Print.


One teenage girl has more courage than twenty grown men as she defied the occupying Nazis to hide Jews right under their noses.


When it comes to Nazi Germany, you don't need to write fictional stories. The truth is so much stranger and bizarre and horrifying than fiction, there is no need to write anything but those true accounts -- so brave, inspiring, and rivetingly awful. But what an amazing example of the good in the human spirit soaring above the worst examples of what humans can do, in this sad period of our history: the Holocaust.

Irene Gut Opdyke was just a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Poland. Training to be a nurse, she was caught between the Nazis and the Russians as they fought over ground in her country. Her story is unbelievably tragic and brutal. Her bravery, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice would be impressive for even a war hero, but when considering she was a very young woman, are downright astounding. Her story is honest and never self-congratulatory. Her multiple acts of humanity were to her the only possible ones she could ever have made.

Jennifer Armstrong, an award-winning author of historical fiction, best known for Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, which won three separate book awards, (1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in nonfiction, 1999 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction, 1999 Riverbank Review Children's Books of Distinction - nonfiction) wrote Irene's story (as told to her) in first person narrative as Irene, providing such an immediate and raw connection to Irene and her experiences through the Holocaust as to put the reader right smack in the middle of it themselves. Being a writer, Armstrong handles Irene's story with such amazing respect and reverence, infusing each emotive scene with beautiful and haunting prose that allows this true account to read as lovely as any fiction, but always the reader is acutely aware that this is no fiction

I am of the opinion that the Holocaust is a story that lends itself particularly well to nonfiction, because it is precisely the personal, true aspect of it's horrors punctuated with contrasting acts of humanity and hope that makes any fictional tale of it seem frivolous at best, sacrilege at worst. There are enough personal, true accounts to be cautionary tales there is no need to make any up.

In My Hands won 1999 Children's Bookseller's Cuffies Award for best autobiography, 2000 Association of Booksellers for Children's Choices Award in nonfiction, and the 2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 2000 Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction - nonfiction. It is obvious that this is truly a highly regarded work, especially relevant to children and teens precisely because it is  a true account of a teen who experiences extraordinary events of history first hand, and not only doesn't allow herself to be a victim of this horrible time in human history, but becomes who she is going to be defined as a person precisely because she isn't passive, but is active, is instrumental, in saving lives and making a difference during a war when it seemed not many people dared to do so. Her story is one relatable and inspiring to all readers, but especially to teens who need stories and real-life heroes such as Irene Gut Opdyke.

I read this book because Jennifer Anderson nominated it (for a Mock-Printz) and wrote such a compelling case for it in our MSU discussion board. I want Jennifer to know that if I had finished it before nominations, I very well might have nominated it. I am positive I would have put it up for a honor. She was spot-on in her blog post when she summed it up with one word: magnificent.

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir, Coming-of-Age, Multicultural