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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Flashback: August 2010

As a brief reminder, I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in August 2010.

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett. Candlewick Press. 2010. My review: ”Plum wants. She wants her friends to like her, she wants to be thinner, she wants to be prettier, she wants to be the most important person to her brother Justin because he is her most important person to her, and she wants a miniature television set for her birthday. She is a bundle of want and longing and doesn’t even realize just how desperate she is. She doesn’t know how to achieve or change, she just knows the hunger.”

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand. Viking, an imprint of Penguin. 2010. My review:In a secret room in Rogan’s house – the house built by their actress great grandmother – [Maddie and Rogan] find a miniature theatre hidden in the walls. Maddy hears rustles of the audience, sees magical snowfalls in the attic walls. The fantasy of Illyria is hints, shadows, whispers: the hidden theatre and its sounds, Rogan’s description as “fey” and his gifts that take no work to achieve or maintain; Aunt Kate’s own mystery connection to the past and her sense of looking out for something unknown and unknowable about the family. Putting the plot of Illyria into words almost diminishes it. What happens next does not matter so much; what matters is Hand capturing Maddy’s falling in love with the theatre, as strongly as she has fallen in love with Rogan. What matters is the sweetness and heartache and bliss of Rogan’s and Maddy’s love. What matters is the capturing of place, of the 1970s, where parents drank their whiskey sours, children had freedom to roam and fight, teenagers discovered rock and roll when it was still raw and dangerous and not packaged and dressed up as a pretty boy band or poptart; and pot and hash were casual among teens. And Rogan, Rogan, Rogan. A character seen almost entirely through Maddy’s worshipful eyes; whose own path in life seems almost inevitable.”

Karma Bites by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas. Sandpiper Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Books. 2010. My review: ” Karma Bites offers a frothy concoction of over the top middle school politics, friendship dynamics, and family, with magic that sometimes helps, sometimes hurts, and always has consequences. Having read several serious books in a row, it was nice to just relax, laugh, and enjoy.”

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott. Simon Pulse. 2010. My review: “Sarah and Brianna, best friends since forever. Ryan, Brianna’s boyfriend. Ryan, who Sarah likes. Likes likes. Yes — Sarah has broken the single most important unwritten rule. Sarah likes her best friend’s boyfriend. . . . From the first page, Scott had me hooked, caring for Sarah, seeing the world through her eyes where maybe, kind of, sort of, it is OK to like your best friend’s boyfriend. Let me begin with this: oh, the love, the lust, the glances, the heat. The Unwritten Rule brilliantly captures all those emotions of wanting someone else, wanting a boy, wanting that boy to want you back. . . . Ah, love. But when the person you love who may love you loves someone else? Such as your best friend? Let’s be blunt. Love triangles are hard. Or, at least, I am hard on them. I have never bought into the “it was an accident!” school of excuses for cheating. I want ethics and ethical behaviour. Scott gives that to me — Sarah double and triple thinks every step she takes, agonizes over what is happening, yet she cannot deny her feelings.”

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams. Chronicle Books. 2010. My review: “Evie is a hard person to like. Evie knew Zabet years ago, before she dropped four letters, when she was Elizabeth. So long ago, that Evie shouldn’t be affected by her death. Is she? Evie is a hard person to know. She thinks about Zabet, about her death, but it is almost at a distance, as if she doesn’t want to admit to a loss. . . . Evie, not grieving, but when she goes to the funeral she gets physically ill, cannot sit through the service, hides in a room where she finds another mourner. Evie, who is always telling herself and others stories, both imagining the future and other lives and refining her past, tells the man she is Zabet’s best friend. The man turns out to be Zabet’s father, Mr. McCabe. Divorced, he knows so little about his daughter’s life that he believes Evie. Perhaps recognizes her name from so many years ago, so doesn’t suspect that Evie is a liar. Evie’s lies catch up to her, because Mr. McCabe invites her to dinner, along with Hadley, Zabet’s real best friend. I read The Space Between Trees almost as nauseous as Evie at the funeral; Evie, so real, so odd, so separated from her world. The stories she tells — “For a second, it’s so real that I believe it might actually have happened the way I’m telling it.” Meeting Hadley, who for her own reasons doesn’t confront Evie about her lies to Mr. McCabe, pulls Evie into Hadley’s world, into the type of friendship Hadley and Zabet had. Evie is confronted by reality, and by the consequences of lies. A girl is dead. The more we learn about Hadley, about Zabet, about Evie, the more the reader sees these are just three teenage girls. Each with secrets, lies, issues. Yes, there is a mystery element to this book, but the true mystery solved is how we interact with each other, the lives we touch, the lies we tell, to others and ourselves. And the lies we need.”

Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Young Adult Book Lovers by Rachelle Rogers Knight. Sourcebooks. 2010. My review: “If I were giving this as a gift, I’d give this book along with a blank journal. Read Remember Recommend Teens is a great starting off point and a great reference for awards and lists; then, once the reader gets comfortable with their own book journaling style, the blank journal could use be used to continue writing about books.”

Manifest: A Mystyx Novel by Artist Arthur. Kimani Tru, an imprint of Harlequin. 2010. My review: “The press release for Mystyx promised “an exciting, new multicultured paranormal series” and it delivers. Krystal’s mother is half Cherokee, her father is black; and the students at Settlemans High School are a mix of race and ethnicity. Sasha Carrington is a “Richie” and Latina; Jake is a “Tracker” and white. Sasha and Jake become Krystal’s friends and will be main characters for the next books in this series. Dead people talk to Krystal; up to now, she has ignored them and they leave her alone. Until now. Until Ricky. Sasha and Jake notice Krystal’s odd birthmark that looks like a letter “M” and tell her that they have the same birthmark. Sasha and Jake further share that they have powers: she can teleport; he can move things with his mind. Krystal lets her guard down, enough to make friends with Sasha and Jake, to learn more about her own powers, to help Ricky, and to recognize the truth behind her parents’ divorce.”

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Pat Rothfuss. Illustrated by Nate Taylor. Subterranean Press. 2010. My review:It’s something, isn’t it, how a story shifts depending on when you stop telling it? Oh, not just the end, but the message, also. The way you see the characters. Whether you walk away laughing — as you do if you stop reading The Princess at it’s first ending — or afraid –as you after the second ending — or resigned to truth, as you do after the third ending — well, it all depends on when you want the story to end. Do you want to live happy? Afraid? Or with the truth? That is the second clue that this book isn’t for children. A truthful ending is neither happy nor hopeful. It’s just true. And with teeth.”

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Little, Brown. 2010. My review: “Bacigalupi’s vision of a post-fossil fuel world offers a look at a “what might be” as well as “what is today.” This is true science fiction. There is no magic, just an imagined scientific future. Coal and oil burning ships are replaced with clipper ships that use high-altitude parasails to harness the jet stream to sail. And wow, talk about “reuse, repair, recycle” in action. The old wrecks of ships are stripped down until nothing is left, each staple, each wire reused. Problem is, the recycling going on is not a clean yuppie version, it’s a dirty, backbreaking, health-killing process that is carried out by the poorest of the poor. I read about ship breaking (taking apart a ship to use its parts) thinking, “wow, Bacigalupi has some imagination!” Then I checked out the book website and saw the report on modern day ship breaking in Bangladesh.”

You by Charles Benoit. Harper Teen. 2010. My review: “Told in second person, Benoit pulls you into the story, makes the story about you and your choices and your friendships. Your slacking off (why?) in middle school, so you didn’t go to High School with your friends from the gifted program, and you began hanging out with the hoodies and drinking and getting Cs and you liked Ashley but couldn’t tell her and now you’re standing there, with shattered glass and blood and screaming won’t help because it’s already too late and how did you get here?”

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. 2010. My review: “In the best possible way, The Beautiful Between is a quiet book. Connelly is friendly but without friends. Then Jeremy sits down. At her table. . . .  Turns out, there is a reason Jeremy is reaching out to Connelly. And it’s not help with his vocabulary. Instead, he thinks Connelly can help him with something. In reaching out to Connelly, he unintentionally rips a scab off [Connelly's own] long ago wound. I don’t want to go spoilery about why Jeremy reaches out to Connelly; in a way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Jeremy and Connelly develop a beautiful, real, true friendship. They become each other’s best friend; and it’s a friendship that develops not from a Grand Movie Experience, but from the small building blocks of friendship: talk, spending time together, being accepting, helping, knowing when to be quiet and when to speak up. And forgiving when a person doesn’t. In this way, it’s a quiet book. No vampires. No road trips. No ghosts. This is Connelly’s story, and her layers and hurt she cannot name are poignantly drawn. Jeremy is shown through her eyes; he is and remains a crown prince. So softly that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint, their relationship shifts from acquaintances to friends.”

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2010. My review: “The reader is thrust into Finnikin’s world, and it takes a while to find one’s footing. To understand what has happened in Lumatere, to comprehend the horror of exile, to appreciate what Finnikin has sacrificed and accomplished in ten years. The reader is playing catch up in Finnikin’s world — much as the exiles have done and continue to do so, in the world outside of Lumatere. . . . Finnikin had given up hope of returning to Lumatere, focusing instead on life outside. Better to deal with the reality of today than waste time dreaming of home. With the appearance of Evanjalin, hope appears. Evanjalin, an exile, has survived the worst of exile life: massacre and slavery. Yet she still has hope. She still has faith. She believes. Evanjalin wants Finnikin to have hope. She doesn’t defer to Finnikin; she challenges him, she ignores him, she pushes him. Marchetta has created a complex and often dark world. The stakes are high; people are tortured, raped, murdered. The worst happens. It isn’t sugarcoated and light. It is harsh and brutal. And yet — love survives, and life, and happiness, and even hope. It isn’t easy. But then, life isn’t. The worst happens and the world doesn’t end. People go on. I love, love, love Finnikin. I love him because he is a true, good, person, stronger and better than he may realize. I love, love, love Evanjalin because she is driven and has a mission and, like Finnikin, is a true, good, person. And I love, love, love how Finnikin and Evanjalin begin to see each other as friends and then something more. And I love, love, love Finnkin of the Rock because it is about these two wonderful people.”

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. 2010. My review:DQ wants to live, and die, on his own terms. He wants to make his own decisions. He creates the Death Warrior Manifesto and drags a reluctant Pancho into his vision of how a person should live. Pancho goes along with it for his own reasons that have nothing to do with DQ or his Manifesto. Pancho’s reason? His sister didn’t just die. She was murdered. Hanging out with DQ, accompanying DQ on DQ’s tumor treatments, will give Pancho the freedom from St. Anthony’s to find out who killed his sister. And to kill him. . . . Pancho wants to avenge his [his dead] sister; he doesn’t see a life beyond that, nor does he want one. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is Pancho realizing, through his friendship with first DQ and then Marisol, that he has options. What choice will he make?”

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    I just wanna know how you managed to read *and* review so many books in one month. I can get them read (probably not 13), but cranking out such thoughtful reviews is the tough part! Or were these still saved up from June 2010? In any case, it’s fun to see what was being published then, although Finnikin wasn’t much of a flashback for me because I only read it a couple months ago.

  2. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Lisa, part of it was having “saved” reviews. Part of it was that I was aiming for three reviews a week, which lasted maybe till about December. Since then, I’ve decided two reviews a week is much more manageable: some weeks I may read more so get ahead; some I may read less. On average, review-wise, I try to keep about three weeks ahead so that if something happens/I get busy, there’s no pressure to read.

    Isn’t FINNIKIN great? Have you read FROI?

  3. Lisa says:

    Yep, I finished Finnikin on a train ride home, then stayed up until two reading Froi in one big gulp (“There’s pizza in the freezer, kids, help yourselves!”). The thing that’s so frustrating is that Finnikin could stand on its own (and leave you desperate for more, but still…). Froi ended on such a cliff-hanger that I’m seriously considering ordering the book from Australia because I don’t think I can wait until spring to finish up the story. This is the annoyance of coming to a trilogy/series at the beginning (or middle, as it were); it’s much easier to discover some wonderful storyline *after* it’s completely finished and you can read it all at once. Raven Boys, I’m looking at you.

  4. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Speaking of Froi: I’m about to post some news about …. stay tuned! And RAVEN BOYS is on my summer vacation reading list.

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