Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: The Boy Book, by E. Lockhart

 Love that face. Photo by richardghawley

Social leper and famous slut Ruby Oliver is back at Tate Prep for junior year 1, and whilst trying to make amends with her former friends, get through therapy, and decide what boy she’s interested in, she has further potential debacles to deal with, such as:

Being friends with Meghan
Choosing an activity for November Week2
Being able to afford the activity for November Week
A new job at the Zoo
Protecting Nora from boys who want to pass topless photos of her around the school
and Meghan’s relationship problems.

Of course I loved The Boy Book! I’ve actually read it twice – after I got The Treasure Map of Boys for Christmas, I couldn’t resist a re-read so that I was properly prepared. Ruby’s adventures continue to enthral me, and whilst reading The Boy Book I developed even more of a crush on Noel than I had before. If you want to talk ships, I am definitely on the Ruby and Noel boat. I just loved reading their Hooter Rescue Squad e-mails. I also liked finding more out about Meghan, Tate Prep in general, and Ruby’s former friendship with Kim, Nora and Cricket. It was great to see Ruby try to make wiser decisions and be a better friend. Also, I really want to go on my own Canoe Island trip.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from The Boy Book, a guide to boykind created by Ruby and her former friends, Kim, Cricket and Nora. It was mentioned briefly in The Boyfriend List and I think it works really well to tie the two novels together and to reminds us how Ruby feels about having lost the friendships she used to have.

If you enjoyed The Boyfriend List I’m sure you’ll love The Boy Book – it’s basically more of the same, which is why writing this review is so hard. I’ve already gushed over the wonders of the setting, Ruby’s parents, etc, in my review of The Boyfriend List, so check it out if you need more convincing to read the Ruby Oliver series.

Read an except from The Boy Book and other related information.
Jo's review at Once Upon a Bookcase
Clover's review at Fluttering Butterflies

1 Which I think is the third/second-to-last year of high school? Somebody American correct me if I’m wrong please!

2 An outdoors themed week at Tate Prep in which participation is compulsory.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading Challenges 2012

2011 didn't go so well on the reading challenge front. As you can see on my Reading Challenges 2011 post, I completed four challenges and failed to complete three.

The Fantasy Reading Challenge was easy, as it only required three books. The New Author Challenge was easy too, as most of the books I read qualified, and I already had most of the books I needed on my TBR for the GLBT and Book Blogger Recommendation challenges.

I think the flaw in my plan was my commitment to getting my TBR down. I didn't have a lot of time for reading last year and so I only read 21 new books. I counted re-reads for the challenges but that didn't help much - I was still trying to cover all the challenges with as few books as possible. My TBR didn't have enough British multi-ethnic YA on it, basically. I hit the library for a few books but I was also working under my rule that I must read three owned books to every library book (another method I use to try to get my TBR down).

My TBR is still at over 160 books. I gained too many books and read too few for it to shrink last year. So although I really enjoyed participating in all those challenges last year, and despite the fact that I'd like to join some of the horizon-broadening challenges and to support the British Books Challenge again (I love British YA, as evidenced here), I can't. I really, really need to get my TBR down. I just don't have the space for any more books. My room is far too crowded and now I'm receiving the odd review book, I need to redouble my efforts to shrink the TBR. Therefore I am limiting my reading challenges this year to those that I can complete just with books from my TBR.

New Author Challenge 2012

This was easy, and it's nice to be able to just read down the linky and see when people have reviewed books by authors I've read so that I can comment on them. My goal is 15.

1. Night School, by C. J. Daugherty
2. The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman
3. Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Vossi
4. Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
6. Bunheads, by Sophie Flack
7. The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
8. Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen
9. Saving June, by Hannah Harrington
10. Blue Bloods, by Melissa de la Cruz
11. Defiance, by C. J. Redwine
12. My Soul to Take, by Rachel Vincent
13. Ash, by Malinda Lo
14. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O'Malley
15. The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa

2012 Young Adult Reading Challenge

I've got 27 YA books on my TBR so it should be easy to read enough for Level 1, The Mini YA Reading Challenge – Read 12 Young Adult novels. Plus I've read three already! Great start to 2012!

1. The Boy Book, by E. Lockhart
2. The Treasure Map of Boys, by E. Lockhart
3. Night School, by C. J. Daugherty
4. The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman
5. Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Vossi
6. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
7. Real Live Boyfriends, by E. Lockhart
8. Bunheads, by Sophie Flack
9. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
10. Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen
11. Adorkable, by Sarra Manning
12. Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

I'm signing up for level 2: 11-20 - A Friendly Hug. Further motivation to get working on my TBR!

1. Night School, by C. J. Daugherty (received for review in 2011)
2. Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, edited by Angela Carter (had been on TBR since 2008!)
3. Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson (bought in 2011)
4. Good Bones, by Margaret Atwood (another one bought in 2008!)
5. Povídky: Short Stories by Czech Women, edited by Nancy Hawker (and another!)
6. The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy (got in 2010 - on TBR nearly two years)
7. Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen (won in 2011)
8. Blue Bloods, by Melissa de la Cruz (picked up at Atom Bloggers' Evening in 2011)
9. Masquerade, by Melissa de la Cruz (ditto)
10. Ash, by Malinda Lo (bought in 2011)
11. We're So Famous, by Jaime Clarke (not going to review, as I didn't rate it that highly)

And finally, I'll be posting about it shortly, but I am running my own challenge, the Magazine Reading Challenge. I'll go into more detail in the other post, but basically, I have loads of literary magazines sitting around and have I read more than about two cover to cover? NO. This is a challenge specifically intended to get my magazine TBR down and to encourage me to review them too!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Fantastic interview with Markus Zusak, the author.

I honestly thought I'd read enough fiction set during World War II for a lifetime already (yes, despite being 24 - I read quite a few books in my early teens, mmkay?), and therefore I wasn't entirely looking forward to reading The Book Thief. But I read good review after good review, and then it was one of the books on the Book Bloggers' Recommendation Challenge list last year. So it ended up being my last book of 2011, and what a book to end on.

The Book Thief is about a nine-year-old German girl called Liesel who goes to live with foster parents after the Nazis take power, her parents being communists. The foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a couple whose own children have grown up and moved away, live on Himmel Street, one of the poor parts of Molching, a place filled with colourful but still sympathetic characters. There are a few twists: one, the narrator of the story is Death, who warns the reader in the very first chapter that he will see the book thief three times, two, Death has a habit of 'spoiling' bits of the story, and three: Liesel has a habit of stealing (sort of) books.

The setting and the culture are described with just the right amount of detail. The information given is never superfluous, and I think that's because Liesel is the focus of the story. We know what is relevant to her life and to the lives of her friends, and nothing more. Almost everything that she wouldn't understand until she is older is left out. Instead the many pages of The Book Thief - 554 in my copy - are devoted to characterisation, to building and shaping and growing the characters, to developing their histories.

I hadn't actually read a novel that looked at life from the point of view of ordinary German citizens during the war before. All the others I've read were about Jewish people trying to escape the Nazis, and/or British soldiers or civilians. It was really interesting to read a book set 'on the other side' as it were, especially as Death, as the narrator, is brutally impartial. It was also interesting to read a book where the narrator referred to events well in advance of them actually being entirely described. It reminds me of Brecht's suggestion that actors summarise events before they are presented on stage, in order to remind the audience that they are watching a play and that the events are not inevitable. Yet even though you know what happens to Himmel Street from page 22, it's still devastating when it does all come to an end. I sobbed over the last few pages, and then I smiled, because I had just finished reading a really good book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

This is my seventh Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week there is no topic, in order to give people a chance to make up their own, or to use one from before they started joining in. I chose, from week 62:

Top Ten Books I Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

This is a pretty easy one for me because for the first couple of years I was a very slow poster and only reviewed a few of the books I read. Most of these I would have to read again in order to write a properly considered review, so this is a great chance to write about them without having to wait until I have the time to re-read.

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
I remember I got this from my university library as a 7-day-loan. The woman who checked it out for me said "You'll never read this in seven days". Hello, challenge! I did indeed read this in seven days, and it wasn't hard, because it was so enjoyable. Unfortunately all I remember at this point is that there were lots of people with the same or really similar names, and one girl went off into the sky and was never seen again. Not enough info for a proper review.

2. Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter
This was my favourite out of all of the books by Angela Carter that I've read. Again, I barely remember it, just how brilliant I thought it was. It's about Fevvers, a blonde, Cockney woman with wings, who is the centerpiece of a travelling circus. So much fun!

3. The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This is a famous retelling of the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the women involved. I didn't love this as much as I thought I would but I still loved it, mostly because of the ending, which really spoke to me. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd read it in my mid-teens, when I was more into long fantasy novels and pagan stories, rather than when I was twenty and mostly over that phase.

4. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Dracula is brilliant, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a bit goth (okay, more than a bit). I had no idea what to expect before I read it, but it certainly wasn't a hilariously camp adventure in which a woman saves the day with her knowledge of (at the time) modern technology. The bit where they bribe a group of working-class men with beer? I laughed so hard. Plus there's a vampire and all that.

5. Wise Children, by Angela Carter
I feel like I should add at this point that I pretty much love everything by Angela Carter unless I don't understand it (and sometimes even then). Wise Children has been described as the most accessible of her novels, and I would agree, although I didn't enjoy it as much as Nights at the Circus or The Magic Toyshop. It's about the lives of twins Dora and Nora Chance, and their weird and wonderful family, who are all involved in showbusiness in one way or another.

6. A Round-Heeled Woman, by Jane Juska
This is a memoir about a woman in her fifties who decides, basically, to start having more sex. But it's also about literature, and how much she loves it. It was really different and really interesting to read.

7. Lucia, Lucia, by Adriana Trigiani
Lucia is a young seamstress working in a New York department store in the 1950s, who breaks off her engagement to her childhood sweetheart for a stranger who promises her all the glamour her own life appears to be lacking. I loved the period setting and the details about sewing and food.

8. The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
I don't know why I have yet to read any other books by Sarah Waters! This is a story about four people, after and during the Second World War, told backwards. I really, really enjoyed it and remember that it made me want to eat lots of soup. It just seemed like an appropriate accompaniment for some reason.

9. The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold, by Francesca Lia Block
I had a phase of reading quite a lot of Francesca Lia Block books and most of them I don't remember much about because they're all so short and similar, but I really liked this one. I love fairy tale retellings in general and Block's writing style really suits them. Her retelling of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves', 'Snow', really stuck with me.

10. Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger
I would like to review this properly, but it was such a pain getting this from the library the first time (had to get an inter-library loan) that I'm not going to do it again. It's about two zine makers, John and Marisol, who become friends and how their friendship and lives progress. A spanner is thrown in the works when John develops feelings for Marisol, who is a lesbian.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Trailer for the film.

The Princess Bride is two stories in one. Firstly, it purports to be an abridgement of 'S. Morgenstern''s 'classic tale of true love and high adventure' in which Buttercup, the most beautiful lady in the world, thinking her true love Westley is dead, agrees to marry Prince Humperdink, who only wants to kill her and frame another country for her death so that he can have a war. Secondly, it is the story of how the original relates to the narrator's life, the narrator being a fictionalised version of the author, William Goldman. In addition, the 25th Anniversary edition includes an introduction, and a first chapter from the sequel, both of which include a lot of detail about fictional legal battles and problems with publishers.

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I enjoyed the film, and because fairy tales are one of my greatest obsessions. My reactions to the book were inconsistent though - sometimes I was loathe to put it down because I thought what I was reading was particularly fun or clever, but at other times I rolled my eyes and wondered what the point of it all was. It wasn't that I loved the fairy tale parts and hated the parts that were supposedly explaining how the 'original' The Princess Bride related to the author's life, like many reviewers seem to. My favourite parts were from the fairy tale - the climb of and battles on the Cliffs of Insanity, because it was exciting, and the visit to Miracle Max, because it made me laugh. But the introductions and interjections from the narrator were interesting, although they could have been better, more concise, less repetitive. I could appreciate the satirical references to the publishing industry and academia.

Maybe I'm too much of a fairy tale fanatic to be wholly impressed with The Princess Bride. I've read so many great retellings, reworkings, parodies, and original stories that The Princess Bride just seems a bit clumsy in comparison. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, and that I wouldn't read it again. It is an enjoyable, slightly-subversive, take on the fairy tale genre. Yet it didn't have that spark that books I truly love have.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read British YA

This is my sixth Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is "Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read X", and I decided to entitle my list:

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read British YA

I wasn't sure at first what to choose as my 'X'. I don't consider myself expert enough on the subject of YA in general to pick ten books out for someone who isn't a fan already, but then I remembered that I have a much longer history with British YA than with just YA in general - going all the way back to when I was an actual teenager!

As much as I love reading about all the things they have in the USA that we don't have here, like alternative high schools and proms and New York, British YA (or 'teen fiction' as it is more commonly known here) is my favourite. Opening up a book in which young people spell colour with an 'u', go charity shopping (not thrifting), heap scorn upon (or secretly love) The X Factor, and/or drink tea more often than coffee feels like coming home. Fictional British teenagers are also much more likely than fictional American teenagers to go to house parties/sneak into nightclubs and get drunk. FACT. Plus (mostly thanks to Sarra Manning) we have the hottest hot indie/art boys!

So if you like bad behaviour and British slang, read on, and read more British YA/teen fiction! Most of these are contemporary, because that's what I read (and write) most of the time, but I've tried really hard to pick out a couple that aren't.

1. Let's Get Lost, by Sarra Manning
Isabel is the Queen of Mean at her school, and is determined to stay at the top, even after her mother dies. Then one night at a party, she meets Smith, a ridiculously drunk student who mistakes her for his friend, and everything starts to change. I am planning to re-read and review this book soon, I keep thinking about it. (Okay, now I have retrieved it from its usual shelf and put it on my TBR, hehe)

2. Della Says: OMG, by Keris Stainton
Della gets asked out by her crush, but then the next day, she discovers that her diary (in which she was constantly writing about how much she fancied him) is missing. She gets a Facebook message with a photo of one of the most embarrassing pages, but she doesn't know who's got it. I enjoyed this so much, and am considering re-reading it soon as well!

3. Hard Cash/Moving Out, by Kate Cann
Kate Cann is really, really good at writing convincing teenage boys. Moving Out, originally titled Hard Cash, is the first in a trilogy told from the point of view of Rich, a broke art student, who is fed up of living with his similarly-poor parents and is in lust with posh Portia. Kate Cann is also well known for the Coll and Art trilogy, and Fiesta is a great summer book, I've read it several times. I also enjoyed Leader of the Pack.

4. French Letters and French Leave, by Eileen Fairweather
Okay, if you're not British or know nothing about the Eighties you may not understand half of the references in this pair of novels. But that's okay, because there are SO MANY jokes that there will still be plenty left for you.  Maxine Harrison is a girl who decides that it's a good idea to tell her French penpal that her dad is the Head of London Transport, when actually he's a bus conductor. Then he announces that he's coming to visit. 

5. Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman
In a world dominated by the dark-skinned Crosses, a rich Cross girl and a poor pale-skinned Nought boy dare to be best friends and maybe fall in love. A gripping and devastating thriller.

6. Extreme Kissing, by Luisa Plaja
I read this a couple of years ago, and I don't know why I haven't reviewed it yet! It's a really fun story about best friends Bethany and Carlotta, and a madcap day out in London that changes everything. The twist at the end I did not see coming, and I keep remembering it and thinking how genius it was.

7. The Diary Of A Crush Trilogy, by Sarra Manning
Because although, objectively, they're not as good as Let's Get Lost, or Nobody's Girl, once you fall in love with Dylan you will never be the same again. Art boys forever!

8. Girl Meets Cake, by Susie Day
Another one with loads of cute boys, Girl Meets Cake is a light-hearted read about a girl who invents an imaginary boyfriend to make herself seem cooler. All goes well until her friends start sending him messages, and she starts getting e-mails from someone calling himself Mysterious E.

9. Witch Child, by Celia Rees
This was a bestseller when I was a teen. It's about a girl in the 17th Century called Mary who has to leave her home after her grandmother is found guilty of witchcraft. She goes to America with the Puritans, but finds herself in trouble when people in her new town start accusing her of being a witch.

10. Night School, by C. J. Daughterty
This is cheating somewhat as it's the last book I read! Middle-class miscreant Allie is sent to a posh British boarding school, where at first everything seems very elegant and proper, but secrets abound.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Interview with Malorie Blackman at the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2011.

Callum and Sephy have been best friends ever since they were small children. Callum is a light-skinned Nought, poor, underprivileged, living in a small house with his parents and elder brother and sister. Sephy is a dark-skinned Cross, the daughter of a wealthy politician, living in an enormous mansion with her parents and sister. Their mothers were friends once, yet now they're not supposed to see each other, and so for the last few years, Sephy and Callum have been meeting in secret.

Now Callum has won a place at Sephy's school, with a few other Noughts, and Sephy is delighted. She doesn't understand why Callum might be nervous, why he gets angry when she talks to him in public, even when she gets in trouble. Callum is worried, not only because the other Noughts at school are dropping out, but because his brother might be getting involved with terrorists. Will Callum and Sephy ever understand each other? Will they even survive long enough to be happy?

The first thing I have to say about Noughts & Crosses is that it's definitely a thriller. I was gripped right from the start and I barely put it down in the couple of days it took me to read it, but then it took me several more days to recover from the ending, I was so shaken and generally depressed by it. Needless to say, if you like uplifting reads, this might not be for you. If you like to be absorbed by a book and to spend time figuring out how you feel about the characters and their choices, then I think you should pick up Noughts & Crosses.

Being a thriller, it's fairly light on the description, but we still get to know the two central characters well as they narrate alternating chapters. Most of the other characters remain quite enigmatic, but I don't think that's a problem. Sephy and Callum are children/teenagers so their parents, siblings, and teachers wouldn't explain things to them all the time, or talk to them about what's troubling them.

I really liked that the differences between Sephy and Callum weren't as simple as one being a rich Cross, and the other being a poor Nought. Although Sephy is immature and spoilt, like everyone assumes she is, her parents marriage is falling apart, and she isn't close to any of her family members. Callum, on the other hand, starts off as a member of a tight-knit family group, and it's his family loyalties that lead him to make bad decisions.

The one thing that bothered me about Noughts & Crosses is that the culture is exactly the same as our present one in the UK. An alternate history was hinted at a few times, to explain why Crosses were dominant. In this history, Africans, rather than Europeans, had spread out across the world, pillaging and colonising, and if this had happened, the unnamed country in Noughts & Crosses probably wouldn't have the same political system as the UK with the Queen and Prime Minister, people probably wouldn't be spending pounds, important people probably wouldn't wear suits, black probably wouldn't be worn to funerals and so on. Maybe the author thought that flipping black and white was enough of a change and that altering the world of the story too much would alienate readers, and she didn't want to get bogged down in the details that an alternate history novel would demand, but a few imaginative changes could have made the world much more vivid and interesting for me.

I wouldn't recommend Noughts & Crosses if you're looking for a detailed alternate history, but I would recommend it generally to anyone looking for an absorbing read. It's a novel about racism, seeing things from both sides, the fact that things are far from black and white (expressed beautifully as we see how different characters interpret and react to the same situation), and most interestingly, growing up.

Who grows up the most in the novel? I actually think it's Sephy, though she's by far the most immature character for most of the story. Callum only goes so far in maturing, and then he sort of abandons the notion of seeing the world in its true complexity, though he never goes as far as his brother Jude. If you've read Noughts & Crosses, what do you think?

Noughts & Crosses is the first in a four-part series of novels. The edition I read also included the short story 'An Eye for an Eye', which is set after the events in Noughts & Crosses, but before the sequel, Knife Edge. The other two books are Checkmate and Double Cross.

See also: Get Writing with Malorie Blackman - a video recorded for BBC Blast filmed in one of my local libraries and on the high street! (I got so excited over this, because I am a nerd)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday Amusements 2

In late 2010 I posted my first round of Monday Amusements on this blog. I intended to make it a semi-regular feature...and didn't post a single one in 2011. But now it's 2012, and January, traditionally a time to start new efforts, or at least to try again, and I want to be able to share all the book-related fabulosity that I stumble across with like-minded folk, so I'm going to give it another go.

Unfortunately I was ill just before Christmas and this scuppered my plans to get all the reviews for the books I'd read up by the end of the year. Hopefully I'll be posting the last couple of 2011's book reviews in the next few days. After that I'll post my Top Ten of 2011, but for now, enjoy these links.

 Photo by eflon

Spread the Word are rerunning their amazing free mentoring scheme for young writers, Flight! If you're a writer aged between 18-24 and live in Greater London you should definitely consider applying (closing date: 30th January 2012). I went on a course with some of the mentees from the previous programme and it seemed like it was a fantastic experience for them.

If you would like a reading challenge with minimum commitment, the 1001 Books community on Livejournal intends to review every book recommended in the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. If you sign up, you'll be assigned a book by the moderator to read and review. Once you've reviewed your book, you can request to be assigned another. I think it's a great idea and if I manage to get my TBR down, I'll be joining in.

I've really enjoyed reading the winning and shortlisted entries to Mookychick's Feminist Flash Fiction competition.

Spread the Word are now running a competition too - just write 300 words inspired by the picture here (closes 2nd March 2012). If you write fiction that takes a longer form, the Mslexia 2012 Women's Short Story competition is also open (closing date 19th March 2012).

Finally, what will you be doing on February 4 2012? Celebrating National Libraries Day?


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