Monday, 31 May 2010

Review: On Pointe

Dear Blog,
I missed out on many reviews last week what with Armchair BEA and everything, which was much fun.  A big THANK YOU to all the organisers. 
Anyway.  Last week, I didn't review much, so this week no doubt I will be reviewing muchly :D among other things, I read On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover, and I need to say something about it.

Summary (from Goodreads): For as long as she can remember, Clare and her family have had a dream: Someday Clare will be a dancer in City Ballet Company. For ten long years Clare has been taking ballet lessons, watching what she eats, giving up friends and a social life, and practicing until her feet bleed -- all for the sake of that dream. And now, with the audition for City Ballet Company right around the corner, the dream feels so close.
But what if the dream doesn't come true? The competition for the sixteen spots in the company is fierce, and many won't make it. Talent, dedication, body shape, size -- everything will influence the outcome. Clare's grandfather says she is already a great dancer, but does she really have what it takes to make it into the company? And if not, then what?

Review: I'm not really sure why I read this. I did ballet when I was younger for three or four years, but gave up when I was eight because they told me I wasn't good enough to take the exam I'd be practising for ages for, and wouldn't let me take any more lessons with them.  So, well, I realised when I read On Pointe that Clare's story was much the same as mine, even though she was dancing seriously and it was what she wanted to do forever, and she was being accepted into a proper ballet company, and I was practising for my Grade 1 Primary.
Anyway.  Even though most of the time I don't miss doing ballet, I like reading books about it.  When I read books like Ballet Shoes and A Company of Swans, it makes me want to start twirling around in a leotard and such again.
So, well, at first On Pointe seemed really different from this.  It vividly describes the pain and pressure of being a ballet dancer, and it made me almost glad that I hadn't decided to keep dancing.  I winced at the pain of the shoes, the blisters, the endless practice, etc. etc.  Who would put themselves through that? Well, I guess the same way I stay up until I feel dizzy with tiredness, my neck goes crunch and my wrists make a weird clicking noise whenever I move them so that I can write things (not just blog entries, poems and novels too).  And like Clare says, "it's worth it."  I suppose it is.  I don't care if I end up with neck pains and a warped back for the rest of my life.  Writing is what I do and I'll put up with a little pain to have the satisfaction of creating whole worlds, scenarios, characters. 

Enough of my rambling.  Anyway.  The second half of the book is when everything becomes much clearer to Clare.  You can be a dancer without having to put yourself under all that pressure and through all that pain.  Yes you can!  Which is why it makes me want to borrow teach-yourself-ballet type books from the library and dance about now and again (I except my readers are sniggering behind their ARCs as they read this).

 Another reason I love this book: it's a blank verse novel.  And, while it's not the best novel-in-verse I've read, it still has that flowing stream-of-consciousness  atmosphere to it.   The book's hard to put down because instead of each part of the story being individual separated poems, the poetry is only broken by line breaks now and again.

One thing: I'm not sure what to make of the whole bulimia sub-plot.  In the beginning, Clare seemed concerned about her friends who would vomit before every lesson, but then as the story progressed it just sort of faded into the background.  I mean, apparently Rosella's mother encouraged her to throw up what little she ate, and when Clare found this out she seemed to be all, "um.  OK. If her mum says it's alright for my friend to do this to herself, then I shouldn't be worried." Um, HELLO?! If Rosella's mother told her to jump off a cliff would she do it (providing it would make her a better dancer)?  Well, probably.  I'm not exactly an expert but bulimia is BAD.  I know that much.   
Summary:  Mostly good, with some flaws, which can be overlooked with the re-assuring...moral?  Is it a moral?  That makes it sound like a fable.  Which I suppose it is, the moral being: you CAN do it! (but not without some struggle, which makes it interesting).
 An awesome book whether you're a dancer, you want to be one or you don't know what an arabesque is, On Pointe  is a great read.  Rating: 4.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

In My Mailbox 8

Dear Blog,
IMM returns,  hosted eternally by Kristi of The Story Siren fame. 
As I write, my hands are covered in paint (I'm helping my little sister whitewash her bedroom).  I've stopped to take a break and hopefully all the paint has dried, otherwise my father won't be pleased
Even though I have far too many books that I need to read, I got some books anyway, all bought.  

ON POINTE by Lorie Ann Grover
(FINALLY arrived from America. Yay!  Review coming soon)

Summary (from Goodreads): For as long as she can remember, Clare and her family have had a dream: Someday Clare will be a dancer in City Ballet Company. For ten long years Clare has been taking ballet lessons, watching what she eats, giving up friends and a social life, and practicing until her feet bleed -- all for the sake of that dream. And now, with the audition for City Ballet Company right around the corner, the dream feels so close.
But what if the dream doesn't come true? The competition for the sixteen spots in the company is fierce, and many won't make it. Talent, dedication, body shape, size -- everything will influence the outcome. Clare's grandfather says she is already a great dancer, but does she really have what it takes to make it into the company? And if not, then what?

PAPER TOWNS by John Green
(I bought this from Amazon, and it hasn't arrived yet):

Summary (from Goodreads:) When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q.

(also from Amazon, not arrived yet).

Summary (from Goodreads): Jacob Todd is abroad on his own, visiting his grandfather’s grave at the commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem in Amsterdam. There, he meets elderly Geertrui, who tells an extraordinary story of love and betrayal, which completely overturns Jacob’s view of himself and his country, and leads him to question his place in the world. Jacob’s story is paralleled in time by the events of the dramatic day in World War II when retreating troops were sheltered by Geertrui’s family. [close]

So, well, though I didn't get much (controlling inner self and book-buying splurges) it was a good week.  What about yours?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Armchair BEA: Literary Blues

Dear Blog,
Armchair BEA continues.  I think I shall miss it when it dissapears on Saturday night. Anyway, my Thursday entry will be all about books that have blue covers.  Hence the title.
I don't know why this seems a good idea.  But no other blogger seems to be talking about book covers, especially not blue ones.   
Why blue?  Well, blue is a cool colour.  And there cool books with blue covers.  For example:

River Secrets by Shannon Hale-sorry the picture is so rubbish.  The Books of Bayern have some of the most beautiful UK covers ever, to my mind, and no picture does them justice.  As I've said before, they're so pretty you don't want to read them.  I'm not too keen on the US covers because, well, they're not as pretty.  And they have models on the front.  I don't know why, but I don't like it when books have models on the front.  Probably because they destroy how I imagine the character to look.  Anyway.  The prose in River Secrets is as beautiful as the cover, and all the Bayern novels are well worth a read. (I think River Secrets is my favourite). One thing: Bayern is actually the German name for Bavaria.  Perhaps Shannon Hale could have thought something up herself instead of stealing a region in another country with another language across the Atlantic.  This is meant to be a fantasy novel.

Life as we Knew It by Susan Pfeffer-is just made of pure awesome and is what got me into dystopic/(post)apocalyptic fiction.  The UK cover is purple, but the US one has blue elements.  Anyway, I'll review Life As We Knew It soon.
I was 11 or 12 when I first read it and since then I've read many, many such novels.  Some are better.  Some are worse  But, well, I'll always look at it and think, "how awesome!"  I shall forever be glad I read it, even though I'm always worried now about how much food we have, etc. We had a powercut yesterday afternoon and you really would think an asteroid had hit the moon.  It was only off for an hour, but when it came back on I yelled, "THE LIGHTS! THE INTERNEEEEET!"
Related to my shallowness surrounding book covers, I'm spending 8 or 9 quid on the US edition of This World We Live In because I think the UK one looks like a poster for a B-movie horror film.

Lirael by Garth Nix-If you haven't read the Old Kingdom Trilogy, then where've you been?  You cannot claim to be a YA fantasy fan without having read at least some Nix. 
I think Lirael is my favourite of all the Old Kingdom books.   Epic huge-ness?  Check.  Necromancers? Check.  Talking dog, aka most awesome sidekick ever?  check.  Fantasy kingdom?  check. Steampunk-type nation?  Check.  Big mysterious, magical wall dividing aforementioned fantasy kingdom and Steampunk-type nation?  check.  Evil crow spies?  check. Misfit, unlikely heroine?  check.  Fantastically evil villain, who you can practically hear yelling, "BWAHAHAHAHA!" off the page?  check.  Armies of corpses aforementioned evil villain is trying to raise from the dead?  check...

Fearless by Tim Lott- Best.  Book.  Ever.  Simple as.  End of.  Seriously. 
This is a kind of dystopic novel, even though I didn't realise it at the time.  But it's wonderfully thought up and everything seems to be perfect and harmonious-much like The Other Side of the Island, but perhaps not as post-apocalyptic.  Still, it's there: Corporations (as every good dystopia must have), who hide the truth from the public and spread fear and corruption.
It's truly a touching book.  The first time I read it, I wept buckets at the end, but once I dried my eyes and blew my nose I smiled in that tragic sort of smile you smile when you read tragic books and something uplifting happens at the end.

The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder-although it is very much a book about oranges, the cover is blue and it deserves a mention.  I'm a huuuuuuuge fan of Jostein Gaarder.  I love the way his books open your eyes to the world and you discover things you've never even thought about before.  While much of the world critically acclaims Sophie's World, The Orange Girl is my favourite of the Gaarder books I've read. I really should talk about him one Foreign Language Friday (which, by the way, I'm not expecting to do this week with all the Armchair BEA everythings). 
Anyway.  It's wonderfully simplistic, romantic and dreamy.  It makes for a great summer read without being trashy, and will make you wish that there were trams still running in (insert tram-lacking country here), except by the seaside towns for tourists.  It is truly, quote the quote on the back from a magazine which escapes my mind, "a modern fairy tale."

Voices by Ursula Le Guin (sorry about the rubbish picture quality again)-is the second book in the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy, and my favourite of all Le Guin's books.  Why?  Well, Orrec and Gry  (from Gifts) make an appearance, it has some cool new characters, a war-torn city, and books.  Lots of books.  Hidden books. People giving their lives to protect the books. And so on. The city is fantastically imagined: one of those books that really opens your eyes and makes you go "wow!" as every good fantasy novel should. 

Well, there you go. Sorry I only mentioned  a few  books, but I've not been sleeping very well and I need to catch some zzzzzs before I faint with tiredness. I forgot to do a whole piece of Russian homework, and only remembered it existed when my tutor asked why I hadn't done it.  And my music theory...don't ask.  I know I've only been going for five weeks but I've been singing for six years and playing the classical guitar for a year and a half.  I should know the difference between tied notes and slurs.  Anyway, I believe it's overtiredness, which explains me not wanting to do anything vaguely extra-curricular that takes up my valuable reading/thinking about sleeping time (I don't sleep very well at all at night.  I'm just not tired at 12:45 am.  Perhaps I should become nocturnal instead).

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Armchair BEA Interview: Mary Elizabeth of A Novel Idea

Dear Blog,
Day 2 of Armchair BEA.  AKA, Interview Day.  I'm interviewing Mary Elizabeth of A Novel Idea and Ten Thousand Hugs.  In the former she reviews a multitude of childrens books, and in the latter she blogs about all things motherhood.  Everybody, parents and teachers particularly, should check her blogs out.
So, well, here's my interview conducted as follows:

Why did you want to blog about children's books in particular?

I have four small children, I taught elementary school for five years. I love teaching and sharing children's literature with others!

What are your five favourite children's books?
The Red Balloon; Little House on the Prairie; Ramona Quimby, Age 8; The Invention of Hugo Cabret; The Series of Unfortunate Events (all 13 books)

What are your five favourite adult books?
Angela's Ashes; Man's Search for Meaning; Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh; Watership Down; I Will Bear Witness.

Would you rather be attacked by 12 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?
Twelve duck-sized horses - how cute would that be??

What's the worst book you've ever read?
A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt, the brother of Frank McCourt. I read it because Frank McCourt is one of my favorite authors, and I discovered that Frank McCourt was definitely the writer in that family!

Have you been to the BEA before?
No. I hope to go someday, though!

What's your favourite thing about book blogging?
Sharing my love of books with others.

What was the last book you bought, borrowed from the library or got sent?
One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer's Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien. My husband gave it to me for Mother's Day.

If you could travel back to one point in history anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would go to Paris on August 30, 1997, to stop Princess Diana from leaving her hotel and getting into that terrible car accident. The world lost one of the most incredible human beings when she died. One of my life's dreams was to meet her. She was a true princess.

Approximately how many books do you own?
Hundreds...maybe thousands.

Thanks muchly, Mary Elizabeth!  I've never interviewed anybody before so I'm very excited about this interview. I'm being interviewed by Felicia from Geeky Blogger's Book Blog (but at the time of posting she hasn't put it up yet). 

So, well, the Armchair BEA festivities continue.  Yay! 
I have to go and eat something resembling lunch now, alas.  Back later.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Armchair BEA: Read, re-read, re-re-read

Dear Blog,
I would expect that the book blogosphere is very quiet this week, with everybody flocking to the Book Expo America in New York.  I plan to go to the BEA in the future, but I'm a teenager and I'm skint.  I have enough trouble saving up for my next book, let alone going across the pond and back in an aeroplane. 
Anyway. To take my mind off the lack of New York, I'm participating in Armchair BEA.
One of the topics suggested is "Blast from the Past", which is described as:
Blast from the Past - During this time, a lot of new releases are going to be the focus. What if we also remembered some great books released in past years or even classics as an option? Tell us a little bit about books you've cherished, old or new.
So, well, I'll do a twist on that and just praise briefly a few of  the books I read to death, until they fall apart.

All the Stars in the Sky by Megan McDonald-is probably my favourite Dear America book.  I've lost count of all the times I've read it (and I'll probably review it at some point).  Florrie, the heroine, sounds like a thirteen-year-old, which is cool because in lots of historical fiction novels, in the author's attempt to write in a historical-type sort of language, they sort of forget that the person talking is a child. So, well, Florrie 's a great character.  The sort you pretend to talk to when you go on rambling walks across fields and paddocks by yourself.  Or is that just me?

Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child-I know I'm waaaaay to old for these books, but I love them to pieces anyway.  I read them when I can't sleep.  I used to be able to quote much of Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by heart.  There are picture books for younger kids, too, and I've read them but not with the same enthusiastic-ness. 
Anyway, what is it I like about these books, even though I first read them when I was seven or eight?  Clarice's ordinary but quirky family.   And the serious-but-side-achingly-entertaining way Clarice looks at the world.   In that sense she reminds me a bit of Karen on the TV show Outnumbered.  There are 3 of the novels so far.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- READ.  THIS.  BOOK. I really ought to review it at some point.  Anyway, this fantastically epic novel is all about books, Nazi Germany, death, children, adults, and, most importantly, hope.  Ish.  It's one of those what-more-could-you-want? sort of books.  I think I've read it about four times (the first, in under 30 hours, which for a nearly 600-paged book is impressive).  They should really make it into a film.  
Anyway.  The book is narrated by Death, so you wouldn't think it would be much fun reading.  And, well, in truth it isn't exactly a barrel of laughs at the end.  However, Death's humour is black and sort of consoling, in a grim, twisted sort of way.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank-enough said.  Seriously.  This is absolutely the top book on all versions of the Books To Read Before You Die list.  Or, it should be.
I've read this enough times for about 20 people, though.  I borrowed a copy from the library and kept borrowing it until it literally fell apart, and they had to order in a new edition.  Having found two new copies, I both read those until they crumbled to dust as well.  I finally bought my own copy last year to read to my heart's content.  And the library hasn't ordered in any more copies since.  Never mind.
Voyage on the Great Titanic by Ellen Emerson White-as you will know if you read my blog regularly, I am completely obsessed with historical fiction in diary form. I first read this when I was about nine and I must have read it a squillion times since.  With reason! Of course, we all know how it's going to end.  With  much heartbreak and bad things, but, well, the heroine is still alive at the end and that's good enough.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett-absolutely.   I first saw the 1995 film when I was seven or so and absolutely adored it.  I read the book when I was eleven, while my family and I were travelling around Europe (I bought it in Madrid). I couldn't believe it was even better than the film, in which her dad only suffers from amnesia, the time period skips forward about a decade to the first world war and what was London is in the film New York.  I don't think reading the book has changed my impression of the film but, well, the book is the greatest. 
Anyway, there you go.  Six books I love to pieces, sometimes quite literally.  I have to go now to answer the call of my Russian homework, so all for now.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

In My Mailbox 7

Dear Blog,
It's the weekend.  It's the book blogosphere.  What does that mean?  Yes, that's right: In My Mailbox!
Hosted infinitely by The Story Siren.
I got some cool books this week, all bought. A library about half an hour away from my house was having a sale and all the books were about 10p.  Which means yay!  I go to that library whenever we're in the area, for the teenage section's big and has loads of cool books. My mother's friend who lives in the area said the sale had been going on for weeks; now I wish I'd turned up at the start.  I'd have probably returned with four times as many books.

Sharp North by Patrick Cave
Many Stones by Carolyn Coman
Massive by Julia Bell
Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty  (reading this at the moment)
Feeling Sorry for Celia by  Jaclyn Moriarty
The Simple Gift by Stephen Herrick
Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (you can read my review here)

I read the two Jaclyn Moriarty books a few weeks ago, but I wanted to re-read them and for 10 p they're definitely worth being on your bookshelf.
All in all, an awesome week.  Except that even though I ordered it about two weeks ago, On Pointe still hasn't turned up yet.  I hope it's not lost in the post.
 And how was your week? What books did you get? Hopefully the books you ordered two weeks ago have turned up?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Book Blogger Hop!

Dear Blog,
I'm just posting to mention that if anybody's come to Books and the Universe via the Book Blogger Hop, you're in the right place, is all.  *waves* Greetings, new readers.  I'm glad you found my tiny corner of the blogosphere. 
I've discovered many many cool new blogs via the Hop.   It's a genius idea. 
Got to go.  I'm off to Bristol today. 

Foreign Language Friday: Inkdeath

Dear Blog,
As I write, it is Thursday. I’m writing this entry on my laptop at 10pm because I’m out pretty much all day tomorrow. My laptop doesn’t have the internet on it, but tomorrow morning I might have time to copy over this entry to my blog on the main computer downstairs and publish it. .

I must admit it seems a little funny to be reviewing the third book in a trilogy without having mentioned the other two on my blog. But I read the other two a while back and I only read Inkdeath a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still fresh in my memory. I’m planning to re-read the first two books in the trilogy-Inkheart and Inkspell-at some point soon, so I’ll review them too.

Name: Inkdeath
Written by: Cornelia Funke
First published in: Germany as Tintentod
Translated by: Anthea Bell.
Summary (from the blurb): Life in the Inkworld has been far from easy since the extraordinary events of Inkspell, when the story if Inkheart magically drew Meggie, Mo and Dustfinger back into its pages.
With Dustfinger dead, and the evil Adderhead now in control, the story in which they are all caught has taken an unhappy turn. Even Elinor, left alone in the real world, believes her family to be lost-lost between the pages of a book.
But as winter comes on there is reason to hope-if only Meggie and Mo can rewrite the wrongs of the past and make a dangerous deal with death…

Review: Apparently following JK Rowling, Cornelia Funke is the most popular children’s author. And with reason! I first encountered her when I was nine, and I borrowed the audiobook of The Thief Lord from the library. I put it in our family’s car and I used to be disappointed when we walked to and fro. I kept asking my mother if we could take the car instead.
I devoured Inkheart when I was ten or eleven and read Inkspell about a year later, so it made me so very happy when Inkdeath came out. I rushed out and bought it in hardcover.
Inkheart was amazing. I loved it! A book about books! What could be better?! And though it wasn’t quite as fantastic, Inkspell kept me up late for several nights in a row as well. All the twists and turns of the plot had me spellbound, the magical characters leapt off the page.
Alas, in Inkdeath, the twists and turns of aforementioned plot were too many to keep track of. It was like wandering around in a big maze. Only a few things mattered, really: defeating the Adderhead, keeping Meggie and Farid together, and returning to normality. So why did the author throw in a load of other characters and give practically each one their own plotline? Concentrating and making sense of it was like untangling a big ball of wool. And as a knitter, I know how infuriating that can be. There was an epic cast of characters and locations at the back. It doesn’t need to be 712 pages, dear blog.

And what happened to what characters I actually cared about? Meggie turned into a small, spineless, simpering shadow (no alliteration intended) of the awesome heroine she was in the first two books. She kicked butt (that doesn’t sound quite so cool with my English accent as it does when Americans say it. Please can an American just read this paragraph aloud to say it as it was intended?). But in this book she just pined after Farid the whole time. There’s no time for teenage angst, my friend. The Inkworld needs saving! You’ve got to get out there and restore everything! Yeah! *punches air*
She seemed to fade away into the background to be replaced by…

Mo. Who for no apparent reason became the Bluejay even though he kept saying he wasn’t. I think he was supposed to be the real “hero” of the story. Alas. I’m afraid children don’t find it as thrilling when adults save the day. At least this one doesn’t. 
Indeed. Meggie and Farid, what spineless little creatures they were in this book, seemed to be the only children around. Did Cornelia Funke forget who she was writing for? Even if she was writing for under 18-year-olds, Inkdeath is much darker stuff than the first two books and seems much more like a teenage book than the first two.

Two things: as ever, Anthea Bell does a top job of translating. She was the genius behind the transformation of The Princess and the Captain from French into English, and she does it again! Another thing: the illustrations at the end of most of the chapters and the quotes from books at the start of each chapter are cool. The illustrations are pretty, but, well, that doesn’t make up for the story I’m afraid.

Summary: Definitely, in my opinion, the worst of the three in the trilogy. Anybody who read and loved the first two would stay away, or at least borrow the paperback copy from the library instead of blowing £12.99 on the hardback edition. Sorry, Cornelia Funke. As much as I love the rest of your books, Inkdeath wasn’t much fun at all. I feel really guilty rating this 2, but I need to be honest.  

Review: Far From You

Dear Blog,
I have to go out soon so this will be a quick(ish) review.
Summary (from Goodreads): Years have passed since Alice lost her mother to cancer, but time hasn't quite healed the wound. Alice copes the best she can, by writing her music, losing herself in the love of her boyfriend, and distancing herself from her father and his new wife.
But when a deadly snowstorm traps Alice with her stepmother and newborn half-sister, she'll face issues she's been avoiding for too long. As Alice looks to the heavens for guidance, she discovers something wonderful.
Perhaps she's not so alone after all...

Review: I am completely obsessed with novels-in-verse.  Far from You is one of the many aforementioned novels-in-verse I've found while trawling through Goodreads for hours on end for cool books I'd not have discovered otherwise.  So I worship Goodreads for opening me eyes to a wonderful world of books.  Even though I must spend much money on them. 

I wasn't very keen on it at the beginning. Alice was a typical angst-ridden teenager, and I thought she was selfish and whiny.  I know her mother died and everything, but that has nothing to do with her selfish-and-whinyness.  Except that the whole reason she's selfish and whiny is that her dad remarried after her mother died.  I wanted to yell, "get over it!  You've got a little sister.  Smile!  And better a stepmother than no mother!"  Which is true.  She wasn't an evil fairy-tale type stepmother.  Apart from when she burst into tears because she couldn't stop the baby crying, she seemed nice enough.
However, Alice and her stepmother both showed their true colours when they were stranded by the snowstorm, and I liked them both as they grew to like each other.  Ultimately I admire them both for their bravery.

I can't help but compare this with If I Stay.  Music.  Boyfriend.  Snow.  Sound familiar?  That's because, well, it is.  And, alas, I think If I Stay wins in most cases.  The music seems more alive, the protagonist more likeable.  But you've got to love Far From You because the characters change.  They develop.  They learn!  That's an essential part in any good story. And it's such a poetic book.  The poetry is wonderfully effective and really got you inside Ali's head.  I really felt her hopelessless when she started burning all the precious things they had with them, and when she was trying to get hold of the sweet that fell between the seats.

Far From You is the sort of book to read on a dark and stormy night, curled up on the sofa or in bed with a mug of hot chocolate.  The more safe you feel, the more effective the spare poetry feels.  You really feel the cold and the fear of being trapped in a car with a tiny baby, with nothing to eat or drink.

Summary: I'm so very glad I read this as part of my current poetry craze.  I shall definitely be reading Lisa Schroeder's other novels,  I Heart You, You Haunt Me and Chasing Brooklyn.  Rating: 4.5

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Armchair BEA!

Dear Blog,
Alas, alack, not all of us can go to the Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention in New York City next week.  That's why Armchair BEA exists! It's not too late to participate (except if you want to interview another blogger, in which case it is too late) in the various events going on.

Quoting from the website, which explains things more than I do:

As May approaches, the excitement level builds among people who live and work with books - publishers, authors, booksellers, and the media, including book bloggers. Book Expo America (BEA) happens in late May every year. This year, it's taking place from Tuesday, May 25 through Thursday, May 27 in New York City, the center of the publishing world, and will be capped on Friday, May 28 by the very first (annual?) Book Blogger Convention (BBC).

If you were going to be part of all that, wouldn't you be blogging and chatting and tweeting about it too? And if you weren't going, wouldn't all that blogging and chatting and tweeting leave you feeling like you were really missing out?

A few non-BEA/BBC participants were discussing that left-out feeling on Twitter when they were hit with the realization that they didn't have to feel that way. While they might not be in New York City, meeting bloggers and authors and collecting ARCs, they could try simulating the experience virtually - and thus Armchair BEA was born!

Considering that it was born just over a week ago on Twitter, Armchair BEA is growing up fast! Over 80 people have already signed up to participate in one way or another, and since this is a virtual gathering, it won't run out of room - if you won't be in New York City next week for the "real" Book Expo America and Book Blogger Convention, you can still join us!

So there you go.  Being a lowly teenager in England, I can only dream about going to the US in the near future so I'll be taking part.  You can expect many features and BEA-type things from Monday to Friday next week.  *nods*.
*goes to finish Russian homework at the last minute again*

Monday, 17 May 2010

Review: The Year the Gypsies Came

Dear Blog,
I finished The Year the Gypsies Came yesterday, and I was going to review it this evening but have some time on my hands before my German lesson so I'll write it now-though it will be a brief and to-the-point review. 
Summary (from the blurb): Emily Iris looks forward to the times her parents welcome house guests to their family's unhappy home on the edge of Johannesburg.  For a while, as long as the visitors are there, her mother and father will put  their quarrels aside and be like a real family.
One spring, a family of wanderers-an Australian couple and their two boys-comes to stay.  But the arrival of these 'gypsies' starts a chain of events that will shatter Emily's hopes of a happy family and change them all forever.

Review:  It was nice to read a book set in South Africa during apartheid that doesn't have anyting vaguely resembling white-girl-falls-in-love-with-black-boy-or-vice-versa in it.  I mean, it has elements of racial tension, but, well, not all the people in South Africa in the late 1900s were white middle-class teenage girls who weren't afraid to break the rules and stand up to the police, à la Blue Sky Freedom or Ruby Red.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  They're both very good books.   It's hard to tell if The Year the Gypsies Came falls into the same sort of category.  Emily is white, her parents are wealthy, they live in the suburbs, and so on.  But it's different, too.  It's full of Zulu and Xhosa folk tales and the poetic descriptions are as beautiful as the front cover.

However.   If you're after a joyous and life-affirming read, I don't think this is for you.  There's death, prisons, abuse, shouting parents,  rape, and so on. Despite what the cover would have you believe, it's dark stuff. 1 dysfunctional family + 1 abusive family=2 dysfunctional families and a lot of heartbreak, especially when you least expect it.  However, if you're not to depressed to go on, you'll be rewarded.  It's similar to A Swift Pure Cry in that despite the overall sadness it's relatively uplifting.

Speaking of Emily.  I think it worked well that she was so innocent.  In some respects, I think it worked well that she was so small and unknowing of the big wide world's horrors.  One thing, though:  Was she really 12?  She seemed much younger, and I suppose her age made her seem almost ignorant where she was just supposed to be naïve. Perhaps if she was a couple of years younger it would have been slightly more believable.  Either way, innocence is innocence and despite her age it made her mother's affair and the knowledge of what Jock, the Australian wildlife photographer, does to his sons seems all the more frightening.  And in the end Emily speaks up. 

There wasn't  really any romance, save between Emily's mother and a man called Dennis who you only actually meet once or twice, and not for very long.  In that respect he was nought but a minor character, but on the other hand he was so important.    And what happens between Emily and Otis but, well, that's as far from romance as you can get.  I didn't mind the lack of romance, really.  Though it's nice, it's not really essential to the story (and Emily was only 12).  And, seeing as this is The Year the Gypsies Came, it would most likely end in tragedy anyway.  Alas, alack. 

One last thing: The descriptions are so clear and poetic.  It's beautifully written. *thumbs-up for nice scenery--setting*

Summary: Worth reading if you don't mind depressing books.  It's different from many apartheid-era books, which was pretty cool.  The cover is as beautiful as the prose, but don't  let these things mislead you.  Rating: 3.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

In My Mailbox (6)

Dear Blog,
IMM returns as ever, eternally hosted by The Story Siren.  
I didn't get too much this week *is controlling inner self and resisting book borrowing/buying splurges*. However, it was a good week for novels-in-verse:


the updated edition of The Ultimate Teen Book Guide.

Off, and they haven't turned up yet.
Far from You by Lisa Schroeder
On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover

That was my week.  What about you?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Persepolis

Dear Blog,
Foreign Language  Friday returns as ever. 

Name: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
 Originally published in: French.  In France it was first published in four volumes, and in English two- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return.  My copy (cover on the left) has both books- put together it's about 350 pages give or take.  
Translated by: Anjali Singh

Summary (from the blurb): The intelligent and outspoken child of two radical Marxists, and the great-granddaughter of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquwly entwined with the history of her country.    Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life.  This is beautiful and intimate story full of tragedy and humour-raw, honest and incredibly illuminating.

Review: The summary from the blurb doesn't exactly give much away.  The two books combined, it's the story of Marjane's life from the age of six pr seven to twenty-four, growing up during the time of the Islamic Revolution. At the end of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Marjane is sent to Austria, and spends about the first half of The Story of a Return there. 
I read this a couple of weeks ago and it's still stuck in my head.  Every time I go to my bookcase I take Persepolis  off the shelf for a minute to  just think about it.  There's a quote on the front from Mark Haddon that says, " will remember it for a very long time."  And you will!  As soon as you've finished you'll want to read it again.

Some of the reviews on have complained slightly about this book because published like a paperback book, the print's too small, and it should have been published in a more comic-book style. But  to my youthful eyeballs, I think it's fine, so I have nothing to complain about there.

On the subject of the print and such, the artwork and writing style is fantastic.  The artwork's quite simplistic yet effevtive-because it's told from the point of view of a child, this simplicity seems fitting. The writing is told in the first  person past tense.  But as the book goes on, and Marjane grows up, the writing seems to sound more and more mature,   Like Marjane was just recounting her daily comings and goings at the end of the day. 
If that makes sense. I think reviewing books makes you go slightly mad. 

And the story itself?  Well, I read Elizabeth Laird's novel Kiss the Dust a couple of months ago, but though that's set partially in Iran it's more about Kurdish culture than Iran.  So I guess you could say this is the only book set in Iran I've read *hangs head in shame at un-worldliness*.  Anyway, I thought it was a fascinating insight into Iranian history, culture etc.   The Story of a Childhood was probably my favourite of the two, which was mostly about Marjane's life in Iran at the height of the Revolution, and the contrast between traditional home life and modern life (perfectly and simplisticly shown in the picture below). It was, for a book about such grim subjects, surprisingly...what's the word? Well, the way it was written it sounded almost light-hearted through Marjane's innocent eyes, which was strange because some parts of it were truly horrifying, the stripped-down images more haunting than if they were elaborate detailed images.  The Story of a Return was the gritty account of her four years as a teenager in Vienna and her return to Iran of the title,  years as a student, marriage, et cetera, summed up best about her life as "A Westerner in Iran and an Iranian in the West". 

Summary: I'm not sure exactly what rating to give Persepolis. It's a strange, haunting book(s), in turn funny, horrifying, bitter, fascinating, tragic, and heartwarming. Much like The Book Thief, I can't help but ask, "in what sort  of way am I rating it?  By plot?  by characters?  By the writing? So, well, it shall remain unrated.  It's certainly a book to read before you die.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Review: The Hunger Games

Dear Blog,
I know the title of this review probably sounds pretty silly, seeing as the rest of the book blogosphere is gearing up for the release of Mockingjay this August.  Having not read the Hunger Games, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. 
Before I start: I don't like the UK cover (the one on this review).  If only because I don't like books with pictures of the characters on the front, especially if they look animated.  Like  this one does.  *shall be ordering US editions of the next two books*.
Anyway.  This will be a  relatively short review because my Russian homework summons.

Summary (from Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she's representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district. With clear inspiration from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the Greek tale of Theseus, Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich. Impressive world-building, breathtaking action and clear philosophical concerns make this volume, the beginning of a planned trilogy, as good as The Giver and more exciting.

Review: I hear they're making this into a film. I'm not sure if that's actually true or not, it could just be a rumour.  Don't take my word for it.  If they did, I wouldn't be very happy, but that's just me being picky-the characters will look all wrong, they'll miss out chunks of the story, hideous media tie-in editions will become the norm, etc. etc.  But, well, you can see why they're making it into a film.  It would make a good film.  The Hunger Games would make a good anything.
At first I wasn't so sure if it was worth all the hype.  The first hundred pages or so weren't as exciting as I had expected them to be.  Unlike Michael Grant's Gone, (which has a similar idea: teens battling it out in an enclosed space) I don't think the action begins right on the first page.  It's interesting, giving some background to the nation of Panem, Katniss' life in District 12, her friends and family, the preparation for the Games and so on. All these things are important, so you have to  read it to get to the heart-stopping part, i.e the rest of the book. It's only when the Hunger Games of the title actually get going that the excitement begins. 
But when it does?  Wow!   You can't stop reading.  And when you do tear yourself away to attend to far more unimportant matters like eating and sleeping, you're still thinking about it. I kept having dreams about it (In one of which, I was hiding up a tree about to drop a tracker-jacker nest on the Career Tributes [rich children who spend their whole lives in training for the Hunger Games], but the nest was stuck to me and the tracker-jackers flew out and stung me to death).
The idea, you can tell, is influenced muchly from other books.  Reading the synopsis, Logan's Run, Lord of the Flies, Gone, and The Other Side of the Island spring to mind.  But reading the book itself it sounds wonderfully original, and suddenly Big Brother seems innocent, happy and tranquil.  You'll not look at such reality TV in the same way again.
Well, then, what's not to like? The characters? It's sort of hard in the first person to make all the supporting characters well-rounded and three-dimensional, but Suzanne Collins manages it.  The writing? It's written as every action-type novel should be: spare but descriptive. The pace?  Well, you need the first 100 pages or so, the ending isn't rushed nor dragged out, so that's all OK. The ending? It's not exactly a cliffhanger, alas, but it leaves much space for the next two books. Overall, good job Suzanne.  Thumbs-up all round. 

Summary: I seem to be the last blogger in the universe to have read it.  Hopefully everybody else has read it before I have, and though it's not the best book I've read,  it's essential reading for teenagers and adults alike.  Rating: 4.5
*gets Mockingjay countdown for side of blog*
*rushes to library to order Catching Fire*

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Translucent v. 4

Dear Blog,
thought I might do a Waiting on Wednesday as many bloggers seem to like participating in this meme.  It's hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine.  I probably won't do it every week-I'll alternate between WoWing and Book Blogger Hopping on Friday, on alternate weeks.  I don't want my blog to be too full of memes.

I shall begin my WoWing with volume 4 of the Translucent quintet by Kazuhiro Okamoto (I'll probably talk about the series on Foreign Language Friday at some point)-my favourite shojo manga of all time.  Nay, probably my favourite manga of all time.  *squee*
I want one of those countdown things at the side of my blog, so I can make one for it.
Alas, alack, we (my family and I) are going to Italy for two weeks and we're leaving the day before this comes out.  NOOOOOOOO! I know I'd probably finish it before we'd even flown over France, but I'd still have read it.  This is brutal, dear blog.  Despite however happy loading up on Sarah Dessens and a load of other summer-y books will make me, I won't be able to get my hands on it until we get back.

Name: Translucent (volume 4)
Author: Kazuhiro Okamoto
Release date (In English): August 15th 2010

Summary (from Amazon): Our penultimate Translucent collection finds Shizuka Shiroyama struggling with her first romantic feelings, a bully, a competitive theater department, and a disease that's literally turning her translucent! Shizuka tries to overcome her greatest challenge yet when she turns completely invisible, with the danger of never being able to revert back to a "solid" form again! She's overwhelmed with fear and becomes reclusive, but her best friend - the hyperactive, hopeful Mamoru - isn't one to give up easily, and he certainly won't give up on Shizuka. Mamoru's enthusiasm for life and silly realizations will prove to be as infectious to readers of this series as they are to Shizuka herself. If only we all had "Mamoru tricksters" to cheer us up! While coping with the unpredictable Translucent Syndrome, Shizuka is determined to follow her dreams and have some fairly normal school years... despite the odd problems that life throws at her and her friends.

Well, fellow bloggers, what are you eagerly anticipating?  

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Review: Struts and Frets

Dear Blog,
Sorry about the quality of the picture.  But I felt like I ought to say something about Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron, and a cover makes things interesting.  Ta-da! *points to cover*  This is Struts and Frets!  *jazz hands*.

Summary (from Goodreads): Music is in Sammy’s blood. His grandfather was a jazz musician, and Sammy’s indie rock band could be huge one day—if they don’t self-destruct first. Winning the upcoming Battle of the Bands would justify all the band’s compromises and reassure Sammy that his life’s dream could become a reality. But practices are hard to schedule when Sammy’s grandfather is sick and getting worse, his mother is too busy to help either of them, and his best friend may want to be his girlfriend.

When everything in Sammy’s life seems to be headed for major catastrophe, will his music be enough to keep him together? [close]
Review: I'll list various things because the inside cover of the hardcover edition lists things: (These Are The Things That Keep Sammy Awake At Night, So Read This Book If You...that sort of thing)
Some Reasons I Like This Book:
  • It's told with the point of view of a boy.  I read little contemporary fiction, and even less with a male narrator.  I thought it was an interesting insight into the mind of the opposite sex.
  • In relation to the last bullet point, Sammy's voice seemed so very realistic.  Well, to my mind.  I don't know if any boys would read this and go, "pffft!"  and laugh.  But Jon Skovron is obviously a male and most likely speaks from experience.
  • Still lingering on Sammy's character (he must be good to have 3 bullet points mentioning him), he's both ordinary and unique. That balance makes him likeable and easy to relate to.  He's like any other teenage boy.  He worries about love and the future of his band and his grandfather.
  • I really liked the relationship between Sammy and Jen5 (there were four other Jennifers in their class at school and all the other Jennifer-related names were taken).   All teenagers will be able to relate to and in away learn from it.
  • The main reason I love Struts and Frets: This book is chock-full of music, much like If I Stay. But it's a different sort of music. Instead of being a cellist, Sammy plays in an indie-rock band and his grandfather is a jazz musician. But still, it's music, and it feels fantastically alive. Unlike some other music-related books I could mention (ahem, The Journal of Danny Chaucer by Roger Stevens). There's even a Rock and Jazz Mash-up Playlist at the back of the book, and it's fun to look the songs up on YouTube and think about how they're related to the book.
Some Things  I Didn't Like:
  • I can't really think of anything...Oh, there is one thing I guess.  There's a lot of swearing in this book and it doesn't really add anything to the story. That's all :D
Summary: boy or girl, Struts and Frets is a must-read.  Read, listen, enjoy.  4/5

Sunday, 9 May 2010

In My Mailbox (5)

Dear Blog,
Before I start, I guess I should say: Happy mother's day! to all the Mothers on the other side of the pond (in the sceptr'd isle we celebrate it in March). 
It's IMM time.  Hosted as always by The Story Siren

The 3 books I bought in In My Mailbox 2 (An Ocean Apart, a Light in the Storm and With Nothing but our Courage)have finally arrived from the US.  Yay!

Nothing.  *is poor again*

I've been borrowing heaps from the library lately.  I know I shouldn't because I've got enough to read at home, but oh well.
The Ultimate Teen Book Guide (a new edition's just come out but I could only find the 2007 one at my local library.  Oh well.  It's still got a heap of books I haven't heard of)
The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose
The Year the Gypsies Came

Summary: quite a good week.  What about you?