Kidlit Con

One week ago, I met Melissa Wiley for the first and hundredth time — first in real life, but it felt like the hundredth in a good way because of all the talking done online. I was having fab talk with people who I only see, at best, once a year at a conference like this. I was meeting people new and old and having a ton of “wait, that’s YOU” moments, but I think I successfully avoided doing that in real life.

As promised, I wrote more about Kidlitosphere Conference 2010. It appeared first in SLJ’s Extra Helping (subscribe here) and is up at Kidlit Con 2010: Building A Real Community.

Over at the Kidlitcon2010 blog, Andrew Karre has a number of round ups:

one of all the blog posts people made reporting on their experiences;

one of the photographs — which actually has a photo of me that I LIKE. My sister just fainted from the shock. Will have to talk to Andrew about getting a copy;

and one of the presentations — so far, more people have viewed the presentation that Pam Coughlan (Mother Reader), Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson’s Book Page) and Sarah Stevenson (Finding Wonderland) and I did than were at the conference. If you have any questions about that presentation, let me know.

Also, Greg Pincus was not there in body but followed along via Twitter and put together a transcript of the tweets.

Review: The Demon’s Covenant

The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan. Simon & Schuster. 2010. Personal copy.

The Plot: The story of Alan, Nick, Mae, and Jamie starts not that long after the events of The Demon’s Lexicon. Demons, magicians, and battles, oh my.

The Good: There will be spoilers.

For those who have not read The Demon’s Lexicon: if you like horror infused with humor, read my review, read the book, then get the sequel. Know that yes, this is a trilogy, and the sequel is as good as the first so yes, you want to invest your time in this one.

The rest of the review is for those of you who read The Demon’s Lexicon and are wondering — how’s the sequel?

Alan and Nick are dealing with the consequences of Nick’s true identity being made public. Meanwhile, Jamie is trying to balance school and being an untrained, unaffiliated magician. Mae is trying not to think about the magician she killed to save Jamie, as well as her relationships with both Alan and Nick and Seb. Seb being the main person bullying Jamie. Alan is concerned that Nick is going to end up giving in to this true nature and disaster will follow. Mae doesn’t want to lose her brother. Jamie wants to know about how to be a magician, even if it means meeting with Gerald, a magician known to see humans as sub-magician and not worthy of care or concern. Mae’s concern for Jamie brings her back to the Ryves brothers.

This is terrific horror. The demons are chilling in their difference from humans, the magicians terrifying in their belief in their superiority. As with the first book, the risks to body, to sanity, to life are quite real. And, as with the first one, the quartet of teens deal with stress, danger, and risks with one-liners that make me both laugh out loud and want to hang out with them. Without, of course, the threat of doom and danger. You know what it’s like? Redford and Newman at their finest, in The Sting and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. (If right now you’re going “huh? who are they?” don’t share your reaction with me, as it will make me cry. Just go to Netflix or your library or wherever you go to get movies. You won’t be sorry. Do share your new-found love of these movies.)

Alan, Alan, Alan. The older brother who will do anything, lie to anyone, risk everything, to protect his brother Nick. Including protecting Nick for the consequences of Nick’s actions. And Nick. Oh, Nick. The younger brother who see the world differently, knows he is out of step emotionally with everyone around him, yet wants to change (or at least pretend) for Alan.

And Mae…. can I officially be jealous of Mae? Because with who she ends up kissing, well, how can I not be jealous? I loved, loved, loved how this was handled. A female with multiple love interests? At the same time, no less? And for each one, I thought, “yes, this is right, pick him.” OK, maybe there was one I was a bit “eh” about. The Demon’s Covenant, while not a paranormal romance, does a terrific job of exploring attraction, want, need, lust, love, and sexuality.

Because I love me a book that can have me scared and laughing, often at the same time, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2010.

The third book, The Demon’s Surrender, is due in 2011. I cannot wait!

Review: What We Left Behind in Jacksonville

What We Left Behind in Jacksonville by Colleen Mondor (of Chasing Ray). Short story at Strange Horizons, October 25 2010.

The Plot: Bridget, the narrator, is on her way to the Jaycee Annual Haunted House with the rest of her friends. As the high school students giggle and flirt, as cool guy Jack has his hand on her knee, they laugh at haunted houses. Until Bridget says, “I lived in a haunted house.” Quiet descends as Bridget shares about the house her family lived in when she was three.

The Good: Do not read this story at night, alone in your house.

Bridget is telling the story, a story from when she was three, so we realize that she is telling a Family Story. A story she knows because it has been told in a way that it is also her story. But even this is a story; in the first paragraph, as Jack is described, Bridget adds “Jack was some kind of zombie version of Sinatra. It worked on him the way everything did, because he was always the coolest one in the group no matter where we were or what we were doing. I had a mad crush on him that Halloween; it still makes me smile to remember that.” Bridget is telling a story about telling a story; and telling a story about the power of story and belief.

A radio that turns itself on. An odd stain on the wall. Strange voices in the hallway. The events escalate, the tension builds. Is the house haunted? What will the family do? What does it mean?

A story, within a story. Maybe I loved this story because Colleen, who I have never met in person, is a good online friend. Maybe it’s because this is the type of horror I like: not the gorefests of Saw, but rather the type of suspense where shadows creep outside the the edge of vision. lurking on the edge of possibility, and things can be good or bad because we believe it to be so. Maybe because the timeframe of this story tells me Bridget is my age and so this is the story of my childhood, without the Florida setting, the time of possibilities and endings.

Anyway. Go, read. Come back, let me know what you think. And, after you’ve read, read Colleen’s post about the backstory at Chasing Ray.

Photo: I thought this post looked bland. So while this is not a photo of a ranch house in Florida, it is an empty, ghost-like house in South Carolina that I thought fit the story.

Review: The Ring of Solomon

The Ring of Solomon: A Bartimaeus Novel by Jonathan Stroud. Disney Hyperion Books. 2010. Reviewed from unedited version from publisher.

The Plot: Jerusalem, 950 B.C.E. King Solomon (yes, that King Solomon) rules Israel with wisdom and strength. And a ring — a ring that gives him unbelievable powers. King Solomon controls Israel, including the magicians of his court. Magicians control djinni. One of those magicians has a djinni named Bartimaeus.

The Good: I’m addressing this to three different readers. Sort of like choose your own adventure! First, new readers to this series; next, members of awards/lists committees; finally, people who have read the other books in the series.

New Readers: In The Ring of Solomon’s world of magic, magicians bind djinni and other creatures to do their bidding. Bartimaeus is one of those djinni, summoned to do a master’s bidding. Djinni are rarely willing conspirators; elaborate spells and ceremonies are required to both summon and bind them and one misstep by a magician frees the djinni. The djinni are not happy to be summoned and commanded, so those missteps usually don’t end well for the magician. Usually the magician ends up eaten. So there is danger and risk in magic. The djinni do have some free will. With Bartimaeus, that means he is snarky, looks out for number one (that would be himself) and always tries to figure a way out of serving his current magician. Oh! And whatever you do, don’t call a djinni a demon. It’s rather insulting.

In The Ring of Solomon, Bartimaeus serves a magician who serves the mighty Solomon and, of course, it is Bartimaeus’s story. It is also the story of Asmira, personal guard to the Queen of Sheba. Sheba hopes to protect herself and her country from the personal, political, and military advances of Solomon so she sends Asmira on a secret mission. Kill Solomon. Take the ring. 

There’s no way you cannot like Bartimaeus, in part because he’s funny, sarcastic, and smart. Does Bartimaeus speak the truth? “Dissemblers as we sometimes are when conversing with humans, higher spirits almost always speak truth amongst themselves. The lower orders, sadly, are less civilized, foliots being variable, moody and prone to flights of fancy, while imps enjoy telling absolute whoppers.” An example of Bartimaeus’s behavior is, despite Solomon’s power, Bartimaeus sings bawdy songs about him and, at one point, takes the appearance of hippo that bears a startling resemblance to one of Solomon’s wives.

Asmira is also very likable. First, she’s strong — as a member of the guard of the Queen, she’s been taught to fight from the time she could walk. Second, she’s smart. She even knows a bit of magic. She’s on a journey anyone can respect: save her queen, save her country. Since Bartimaeus is linked to someone who protects Solomon, and Asmira is out to get Solomon, well, you know these two kids will hook up at some point.

So, you have action, humor, great characters. You also have a continuation of a series, but set several thousands of years before the other series, so you do not have to have read the trilogy to understand this book. Be warned: once you read this book, you will want to read the entire trilogy.

People on awards and lists: while this is a part of a series, because it is set so far before the trilogy, this book truly stands alone.

If you have read and enjoyed The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud, here’s what you need to know: it’s the Bartimaeus you know and loved. The Ring of Solomon is set thousands of years before the trilogy, so none of the humans mentioned in the trilogy appear here. It’s a whole new cast of characters. If, like me, it’s been four years since you read the books, that’s OK because the only character you need to know is Bartimaeus and how can you forget him? You don’t have to worry about remembering anything about plot or characters from the other three books. The final version of the book will have a list of main characters as well as a map.

Is The Ring of Solomon stand alone? Yes; no cliff hangers here. As someone who loves Bartimaeus and his unique voice, which makes me laugh out loud, I hope that The Ring of Solomon is just one of many additional books about Bartimaeus.

Is this one of my Favorite Books read in 2010? Does a djinni call when summoned?

Review: The Mockingbirds

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. Little, Brown. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Themis Academy is a boarding school that believes its students are so good that they never do anything wrong. No, really. They have an honor code, a student code! Themis students are so wonderful they always live up to the honor code! The students know better. A few years ago they started the Mockingbirds. It’s a secret society dedicated to addressing what happens when students don’t follow the rules and end up hurting other people.

Alex wakes up naked in a strange boy’s bed. She takes the “walk of shame” back to her dorm room, confused, appalled. Somehow she had sex — twice — with this strange boy. Carver? Carter? Whatever. She lost her virginity to a stranger and doesn’t even remember it. She doesn’t remember his name. She doesn’t remember ANYTHING.

If you’re too drunk to say “no”, is it rape?

If you’re too drunk to say “yes,” is it rape?

The Good: While it is tempting to not believe that Themis Academy’s teachers and administration would prefer to ignore misdeeds than address them, I found it sadly believable. Schools, companies, governments, families, friends — many people and groups are so invested in how they “look” and what others think that they honestly believe it is better to keep secrets and pretend everything is perfect than to acknowledge problems, to fix things, to offer justice. Themis Academy doesn’t even hide anything — there are no coverups — they just pretend that it is all as perfect as they want it to be.

The students know better. By pretending that bad things don’t happen, the school lets these things happen over and over, lets students get away with things. A few years back, inspired in part by the ideals in To Kill a Mockingbird, a secret society was started. Alex is a junior but she has never paid much attention to the Mockingbirds. She’s a gifted pianist who is wrapped up in her music. Now, her world is turned upside down. Who can she trust? Can she trust herself to trust other people? Is she just a slut, like some people whisper? Should she speak up or pretend it never happened?

Whitney gives the reader a lot of food for thought, and for discussion, while avoiding turning The Mockingbirds into an overly didactic “message book”. The two main discussion areas that will be ideal for class discussions and book groups: justice and rape.

First, justice. Overall, Whitney’s view of people is positive. The Mockingbirds started because a group of students were bullying others online and the administration did nothing. It is a structured organization with procedures for everything from how to handle accusations to the trial. Participation and punishment is voluntary and peer-based; it is not violent. The Mockingbirds, formed in the absence of any type of school discipline, get it right.

I think there could be much discussion about the format the Mockingbirds use in pursuing justice; what would happen if the students did not buy into it; and what would happen if the Mockingbirds got it wrong. In Whitney’s book, the students buy-in reveals that they want a system of justice. It turns out, this system is barely four years old. It hasn’t had the time to “get it wrong.”

I confess, as a rather jaded person, I see the potential for the Mockingbirds to become powerful and for there to be abuse of that power — but that is not the story Whitney tells. Her story is about students seeing the powerful doing nothing and trying to do something. It is about students trying to create a fair system, with checks and balances. My questions about the Mockingbirds and abuse and well-intentioned mistakes are not commentary about the book — rather, they are questions that show how ideal this book is for class or book group discussion.

Second, rape. Whitney could have taken the “easy” way out by having someone drug Alex or spike a drink. Simply put, Alex has a few drinks on an empty stomach. A friend of hers supplies the drinks. Alex gets drunk. She passes out. Alex works through the process of trying to determine whether she “just” exercised really bad judgment in sleeping with Carter, or whether she passed out and Carter had sex with her without her consent. She also has to work out that trusting the wrong person is not her failure, but the failure of the person who betrayed that trust. All of these steps (especially the last, where the fault is not in Alex’s judgment but in Alex being betrayed) make for great discussion.

And, finally, put the two together: justice and rape. The resolution in The Mockingbirds works for Alex. Would it work in other schools? Is this justice? I know this review is turning into more of a book discussion guide, but Whitney raises some fascinating questions that can lead to some meaningful discussions.

Review: Wildthorn

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from ALA.

The Plot: Louisa Cosgrove, 17, is supposed to be at the Woodvilles as a companion for their eldest daughter. Not exactly her choice, but in Victorian England she has to do what her older brother and mother say.

The carriage stops and Louisa finds herself at Wildthorn and being called “Lucy Childs.” Her clothes are taken; when she insists she is Louisa, she is told “Don’t get excited. Otherwise we’ll have to calm you down, won’t we?” She is sitting, bewildered, in a huge room being served greasy soup as loud and strange voices surround her when she finally learns what Wildthorn is. “It’s an asylum. For the insane.”

Flashbacks trace Louisa’s journey from a little girl who was more interested in how a doll was made than in playing with one to a young woman who wants to become a doctor like her father. Why is she at Wildthorn? Who put her there? And is there any hope of escape?

The Good:Can you imagine a bigger nightmare than being somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, called by a name not your own? Trapped, with every moment of your life watched and dictated? While Wildthorn is the physical asylum, Louisa’s life outside was sometimes just as rigidly controlled by others. Society, including most of Louisa’s relatives, want her to be a perfect lady, concerned only with social visits, running a household, marrying and having children. Louisa fought that control, and, indulged by her father, studied science and dreamt of attending the London School of Medicine for Women. Louisa has to face the truth; but in facing the truth about why she ended up in Wildthorn she also has to realize the truth about her family members. Who she thought they were, who they really are.

At Eagland’s website about Wildthorn, she explains that she was inspired by a real-life person, Hersilie Rouy, who was incarcerated in asylums for fifteen years despite the fact that she was sane. In reading Wildthorn, I wondered what would be worse: being sane, like Louisa, trapped in an asylum? Or, being truly mentally ill and getting “treated” with hot baths and restraints and at the mercy of uncaring and harsh staff?

Louisa is fortunate. She was strong, mentally, before arriving at Wildthorn and she has a good sense of self. She also befriends a sympathetic attendant, Eliza. Her strength and this friendship keep her going.

Wildthorn is a nuanced work of historical fiction and to fully discuss it, spoilers are necessary. If you don’t like them, stop reading now.

Louisa tries to figure out who committed her and why. As the flashbacks unfold, Louisa reveals that she kissed her cousin, Grace. Did Grace tell someone? Did Grace tell Louisa’s mother? Louisa’s slow realization of her attraction to Grace is realistic and heartbreaking, doomed because we know Louisa ends up at Wildthorn. But is this the reason Louisa is in Wildthorn?

Don’t worry. Wildthorn is not about Louisa being punished for her sexuality. Eagland, to emphasize this, gives Louisa a love that is reciprocated, a love that is sweet and saving and warm: Eliza, the attendant and local farm girl. Louisa’s and Eliza’s relationship is healthy and whole. Is it realistic, one wonders? Is it giving modern readers a modern ending? In looking up information about the London School of Medicine for Women (est. 1874), I saw the name Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Louisa mentions Anderson when insisting that there is nothing wrong with a woman pursuing medicine. Anderson’s daughter also became a doctor, Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson. According to Wikipedia, “She never married and is buried at the Holy Trinity Church with her friend and colleague, Dr. Flora Murray near to her home in Penn, Buckinghamshire. The inscription on her grave stone says Louisa Garrett Anderson, C.B.E., M.D., Chief Surgeon Women’s Hospital Corps 1914-1919. Daughter of James George Skelton Anderson and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Born 28th. July 1873, died November 15. 1943. We have been gloriously happy.”

We have been gloriously happy.” Known Homosexuals – Lesbian History in the Archives notes that “records of lesbian relationships – particularly older historical accounts – are notoriously difficult to track down. Unlike male homosexuality, lesbianism was never criminalised. Invisible in law, it was not officially, and largely not publicly, recognised. Historical accounts are therefore harder to identify than those describing male homosexuality.” It mentions Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson and Dr. Flora Murray, saying they were not “clearly identified as … lesbian[s],” but points to their being buried together and being “gloriously happy” and having that on their gravestone.  As the article explains, documentation isn’t always available. What would be Louisa’s and Eliza’s situation in “real life”? I think the happiness and acceptance Louisa and Eliza find with each other is realistic.

As you can see, I love digging deeper and finding out the history behind historical fiction. For those interested in Victorian England, asylums, and women: Women and Madnessat HerStoria; Life in a Victorian Lunatic Asylum at History to Her Story; and County Asylums [of England and Wales].

KidlitCon 2010

Tomorrow, I leave for KidlitCon!

Registration is available onsite, so if you’re not sure about attending, please come!

I can be really, really, really bad with names. I may know your Twitter handle but blank on your real name, or know your blog but not know what you look like. So when we meet in person, please be patient! I call it the “oh, OH” reaction. A name is said, wait a beat… wait a second beat… OH, you’re YOU!

My icon photo is pretty much what I look like, except with glasses.

I’m looking forward to saying “hi” in person!

Review: Only The Good Spy Young

Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter. Disney Hyperion. 2010. Personal Copy.

The Plot: Life is never boring for Cammie Morgan, Gallagher Girl and spy-in-training. Winter vacation in London with her friend Bex turns into something more. No, really, something much more, even for Cammie. She is going to need all her skills, all her talent, and all her friends to figure out who to trust.

The Good: Cammie Morgan and the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (AKA a school for super spies) were introduced in I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You. Cammie juggled spy school, friendships, and secretly dating Josh, a town boy who knows nothing about spies or spy schools. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy introduced a new layer to Cammie’s world: boy spies from the Blackthorne Institute including a maddening, heart pounding, annoying, (and so cute!) Zach. Cammie and friends prevent a kidnapping in Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover.

The Gallagher Girls are best read in order. Cammie falls for Josh in book one and then Zach enters the picture, which is GREAT. One of my pet peeves with books (any books, not just young adult) is the “first guy is The One” theory of romance. (I won’t waste your time with my rant on that, but it’s a doozy!) It’s terrific that Cammie can fall for a guy, kiss him, have feelings for him and, then, well, life happens and it doesn’t work out and that’s OK and there are other cute guys out there.

The Gallagher Girls — the girls themselves — continue to rock. How many books have a school were the students love school? Study because they want to? OK, they’re studying Covert Options BUT STILL. This is a book were learning is cool and exciting and matters.

While some elements of the storyline that takes center stage for Only the Good Spy Young were in the first book (Cammie’s father died on a mission, teacher and family friend Joe Solomon) other elements (the Blackthorne Institute, the Circle of Cavan) are introduced later. Each book is a stand alone adventure, but each book also builds on the one before which is why they are best read in sequence.  All of Carter’s fabulous touches remain (humor, great characters, fast plot, inventive storytelling) but a seriousness is being added to the series. Cammie is getting older and realizing spying is not all fun and games. Oh, she knew from what happened to her father that spies die. What she is learning now is that spying (and what it takes to become a spy) is more than what is taught in the Gallagher Academy. Sometimes, it is ugly; and sometimes, there is betrayal. Carter is introducing shades of gray to a story that began very black and white. Yes, these are books about teen spies, but they are also books about teens, and teens grow up. Cammie is growing up, realizing there is much more to her world, and I’m looking forward to what happens next.

Favorite Books Read in 2009

You’ve seen my Favorite Books Read (so far) in 2010.

For a blast to the not-so-distant past (that is, last year), here is list of my Favorite Books Read in 2009.

As a reminder, it’s a subjective list of books I like. Here the list of books; the link to my original review; and a quote from that review.

Enough of the explanation. On to the books!

Ash by Malinda Lo. 2009. “This retelling unfolds slowly, deliciously. It’s an internal story; a story about Ash grieving the loss of her parents, shutting down from it, and eventually choosing life and love. This is a tale about recovering from grief and unbearable loss.”

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel. 2008. “I laughed out loud for most of this book; it’s a Favorite Book for this year. How much did I love it? I bought my own copy. That’s love, what with the spending the money and needing to find room on the shelves. The second bit probably won’t be a real problem; I’m sure the niece and nephew will pounce on it and claim it as theirs and take it home.” (Note: not only did they take my copy of the book, they also went and got three real life “bad kitty”s of their own).

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. 1952. “Betsy is like the present day backpacker through Europe, except with a heck of a lot more luggage. Instead of hostels, she stays at a pensions and boarding homes. While her parents have arranged for some chaperoning, just as often Betsy is on her own to explore Munich, Germany, Venice, London. And as for her parents — Betsy has dropped out of college. While her father isn’t necessarily pleased with her college career to date, he does not give her grief. He talks to her about it matter of factly — and offers to take the money that would have been spent on college tuition and expenses and use that to support her visit to Europe, agreeing that the life experiences she will get will be as valuable an education as college.”

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper. 2009. “Just when the reader is seduced into believing what Sophie believes — that their island is isolated and the family alone — that isolation is shattered by unexpected visitors. The visitors are there not only for plot (Nazis, need I say more that it cannot end well?); but also for metaphor. No matter how much anyone, Montmarayan or not, believes themselves alone, they are part of the greater world and cannot run and hide.”

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford. 2009. “You know Carter. He’s like many freshmen boys — insecure and overconfident, searching, a kid trying to grow up. And so does he do and say stupid things? Like telling one girl he loves her and then moments later asking someone else to a dance? Yes, yes he does. Does he talk as if he truly believed life is like a porno? Well… sometimes. But isn’t that what a book is supposed to be about — growing up? Realizing the truths about people and yourself? What fun would there be if Carter was perfect?”

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. 2009. “Read The Hunger Games, knowing you only have to wait a few short months to read the sequel, Catching Fire. It’s a wonderful experience for a reader: great plotting, memorable plotting, a unique world. And in all honesty, once you’ve read the first, you don’t need to read a review or recommendation to read the second. On to the sequel. It delivers! Brings the reader up to speed on what is happening? Check. Ups the action and investment? Check. The main character grows, including becoming more aware of her world? Check.”

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. 2009. “Now, let me put on my law hat and adult hat. I love the strategy that goes on behind the scenes; how the decision makers in Alabama knew that a bus boycott was going to take place, had it all organized, and were just waiting for the right moment to start. At the same time, it’s not all orchestrated; Colvin’s impulsive actions, unconnected to and not influenced by any of the Montgomery activists, inspired them to go for more and to reach further — demanding the end to segregation rather than just better segregation. While the bus boycott was an amazing accomplishment, it did not bring an end to segregation on buses. A lawsuit did that.”

Columbine by Dave Cullen. 2009. “This book does not glorify Harris and Klebold. Cullen shares minute by minute, second by second, their actions at the beginning of the book, with the first two students killed and the mayhem starting. But he does not continue the intimate timeline of what went on in the school until the end of the book — when we have a better realization of what Harris and Klebold intended (blowing up the school to kill all inside, regardless of jock, friend, preppy, Goth) versus what happened (the bombs did not work). Then, the end — and while some moments in the library are shared, including what happened to some individuals as well as refuting the Cassie Bernall myth, Cullen thankfully does not share a second-by-second account of the slaughter in the library.”

crazy beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. 2009. “He’s crazy, she’s beautiful, can they wind up together? LOVED THIS. Love, love, love. Alternate chapters tell this story, first from Lucius’s view, then Aurora; there are some clever overlaps, such as both are given pancakes and orange juice their first day of school, yet both have vastly different reactions to their breakfast. We see Lucius starting school, not expecting friends; Aurora starting school, nervous but expecting to like people and be liked. We also, from the start, see and feel the spark between these two. And let me tell you – H. O. T. There is attraction; and there is tension; but of course these two crazy beautiful kids cannot get together at first glance.”

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. 2009. “Hear the sound of shredding? That’s me, shredding my few chapters of a book about a family with secrets hunting demons. Brennan does such a beautiful, wonderful job with this plot that I feel it’s rather hopeless to go back to my draft.”

Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter. 2009. “Carter does it again. What is “it”? Writing that has a playful tone mixed with humour and seriousness. Fast-paced plotting. Adventure and suspense that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s a “good read;” and it’s the type of writing that looks easy….but then you either try it yourself, or you read all the imitators who cannot carry it off, and realize just how talented Carter is.”

The Everafter by Amy Huntley. 2009. “Each object, bracelet, keys, sweatshirt, is something that, when alive, Maddy lost. Touching the object brings Maddy back to that time, that moment, and she can relive that memory again and again and again. If, in that captured moment, alive-Maddy finds the object, the door is shut and that memory cannot be revisited. So a ghost story. A dead girl revisiting her life story. With physics.”

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2009. “A look at six months in the life of one girl, when she begins to leave childhood behind and become her own person. Told with a lot of humor and love, with details for the grown up reader to love, such as the warm, loving, physical relationship between Callie’s oh so formal and proper parents.”

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan. 2009. “It’s easy to see why this made the Morris Award shortlist. Yes, of course it’s because of the plot, and the deft handling of serious issues and everyday issues, and supporting characters who are well rounded; but it’s also (in my opinion, I have no connection to the Committee!) the character and portrayal of Blake. Blake is so real, from his humor, his point of view, his attraction to Shannon, that at times I thought Blake was real and the author had just invited him to his house, given him some cheese and caramel popcorn, and transcribed Blake’s words.”

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. 2009. “Flygirl examines universal questions of identity, family, and growing up, with flying being both what Ida Mae wants to do, as well as working as a metaphor for a young woman trying to escape the limitations her country places on her because of her race and her sex. It’s full of high quality writing, with phrases like “Melanie looks at me and her face crumples like a newspaper, only all the headlines are sad.”

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. 2009. “The Forest of Hands and Teeth, like any good horror movie (or Buffy), uses the threat (here, zombies) as a metaphor. Mary wrestles with questions about life and love, about asking questions or staying happy with the status quo of her life. The walking dead represent both Mary’s fears and her limited choices.”

Going Bovine by Libba Bray. 2009. “There’s some things I think I don’t like in books. Then, what happens, is a book comes along that has the things I don’t like and I realize it’s not that I don’t like something — I don’t like it when it isn’t done well. Why, I wondered, do I want to go on a road trip with Cameron? And a dwarf? And yard gnome? This is just getting ridiculous. I don’t do ridiculous. But then, I remember, I do. I love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Thursday Next delights me. Like Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, Bray throws out casual one-liners that are just fantastic; the book is so full of wry observances and over-the-top humor that I’m sure I missed half of what was there. This book demands a reread.”

Hold  Still by Nina LaCour. 2009. “Some books you rush through, wanting to know what happens next. Some you savor the writing, so take your time. And others, like Hold Still, you pick up, read a few chapters, then stop, do something else, anything else, because it is almost unbearable. Ingrid is dead; the book starts with Caitlin finding out about it. . . .  Ingrid, of course, breaks ones heart. Parents willing to do anything to help her, a brother who loves her, friendship, none of it can stop the sadness. Caitlin’s sadness is different; it’s the sadness of loss, and starting over, and being able to make the choices that Ingrid could not.”

Liar by Justine Larbelestier. 2009. “Micah lets us know, up front: Lies. Liar. And at the end of the book, the question for the reader becomes — when do you believe Micah? When do you not? And what does that say about you? Larbalestier’s writing is brilliant; Micah’s voice seduces us, tricks us, makes us want to believe in her, yet we are also afraid, unsure, uncertain. We know her; her school; her family. Or do we? Just how good a job does Larbalestier do? While I know Micah is manipulating me, the reader — I never feel like Larbalestier, the author, is.”

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor. 2009. “The cover gives a taste. While these are tales about being kissed, or wanting kisses, or the price of kissing, it is not a “romance”, per se, though I would give it to people looking for stories about love. Since it’s not a traditional romance, then, it doesn’t have a traditional romance cover. Rather, the girl you see is one who looks haunted and who will haunt you. Two colors: red and blue. Blue eyes that are striking — almost disturbing. Otherwordly. And of course the lips are red — but not smiling. Full, kissable lips — but not smiling, not inviting, not happy. This is the face of a girl turning into a woman, haunted, haunting, striking, inviting you in yet keeping you at arm’s length.”

Malice by Chris Wooding. 2009. “An unhappy teen, looking for escape or adventure, conducts the ritual and finds himself in a world where all the rules have changed. Up is down; down is up; time stops and speeds up; nothing is safe; there is no rest. The geography of Malice is strange, jumbled, shifting. And the possibility of death is not just real — it’s more likely than survival. And more likely than escape.”

My Life In France by Julia Child. 2006. “Child describes her life in France as a newlywed. Child and her husband, Paul (who met and wooed during World War II) travel to France for Paul’s job shortly after their marriage. The Childs’ married when Julia was in her mid 30s, Paul ten years older. Oh, to be in post-World War II France. Reading this is not just traveling through someone else’s experiences; it is doing so to a time long past. Paris, sixty years ago. I adored all the details of living in France, traveling, and, of course, eating. In France, Child falls in love first with French food and then with French cooking. Half of the book follows her as she discovers and builds this passion. The second half is about where she takes this — plans to teach soon grow to writing a cookbook and then cooking on TV. As I mentioned in my review of Julie & Julia, I adore a book about someone who does this in their 30s and 40s and 50s.”

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino. 2009. “Girls are supposed to be nice and pretty; even their anger, today, is frowned upon. Tamara is glorious in her anger, misdirected though it may be at Muscle Man, a child who is equally hurting but instead of pushing the world away and hating it, looks to be loved and thinks he can achieve that love by telling a lie or two or three. Part of the sweetness of this book is how the neighborhood realizes what Muscle Man is doing and accepts it. It is only Tamara, hurting herself and angry at the world, who cannot see beyond herself and see Muscle Man for who he is.”

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. 2009. “Is this about a birthmark? About learning how to geocache? About a wounded mother healing and growing? A young artist? A romance? A trip to China? Coffee? It’s all of these; but ultimately, it’s classic young adult: coming of age, as Terra matures into a strong, beautiful young woman.”

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. 2009. “Zarr delivers both an intensely personal, internal story of faith and belief; and a suspenseful mystery involving a missing teen. Sam has good reason to question her faith. Her family is falling apart; faith, belief, love have not helped her mother. They don’t help her father be a better father. They don’t help Jody Shaw’s family. Once Was Lost is about more than questioning, though; it’s an exploration, with Sam remembering her earlier child-like faith and now looking at others, wondering, how to believe again. What does she want? Is it the faith of her childhood? Zarr handles Sam’s spiritual dilemma with respect — respect for Sam, of course; but also respect for religion, and faith.”

Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee. 2009. “On the surface, this is a story of try, try again, similar to stories of learning how to ride a bike or swim. But, this is flight. Something so much more than just riding or swimming; flying is about growing up and leaving childhood behind, it’s about not accepting limitations, and it’s about freedom.”

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. 2009. “Perfect chemistry? Try perfect romance instead!”

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis. 2009. “What’s not to love about three kids who are outsiders who are brought together by their love of science, invention, and fun?”

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick. 2009. “I feel like I should put a disclosure in this review — Lizzie Skurnick is my best friend. The problem with such a disclosure is, of course, that Skurnick and I have never met. (I hope Skurnick isn’t now on the phone to her lawyers, reporting me as a potential delusional stalker). But having read Skurnick’s essays on teen books, Shelf Discovery, I am convinced that somehow we are friends. How else to explain how she wrote about my favorite books? She has snuck into my house and looked at my bookshelves; she has remembered the titles I have forgotten; she has eavesdropped on my fifth, seventh, ninth grade self as I sat and talked books with my friends.”

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. 2009. “It’s a story as old as time. Girl meets Wolf. Wolf meets Girl. Wolf turns into Boy. Girl and Boy fall in love. But Boy has to turn back into Wolf, eventually. Shiver is a beautifully written, lyrical love story.”

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises. 2009. “Now, on to Stella, Max (the boyfriend) and Jeremy (the intern). This is a great triangle for a couple of reasons. First, don’t you hate triangles where one guy is so obviously wrong that the girl looks stupid? That doesn’t happen here. Second, don’t you hate how complex emotions are looked at in a simplistic way? Again, not happening here. Stella may call herself “boy obsessed” but quite simply she is attracted to two very different guys at the same time. There is no simple “Team Max” or “Team Jeremy” (That said, I’ll let you know in the comments what Team I’m on). In the real world, attractions can be complicated and messy. And also fun and flirty.”

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart. 2009. “On the surface, this book is about boys. The boys Ruby likes, the boys she likes, Ruby figuring out when flirting is just fun and when flirting is something more. And you know what? That can be enough. Many teenagers share those same concerns and worries. Why not have a smart, funny book about navigating love and lust and friendship? It’s a bonus that the treasure map of boys is about more than romance; it’s about figuring out what one really wants and also owning one’s own actions. And it’s also about heavy metal music and cupcakes.”

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena. 2009. “When I call this a “road trip” book, I mean it in the best possible way. A classic road trip story is at its heart a buddy story; group of guys hit the road, have a few laughs, share some tears (or some other manly type of emotion), meet a girl or two, bond, learn more about each other and themselves. It’s a journey that is physical; but also an internal journey. We Were Here delivers all that; but by throwing away most of the usual “road trip” trappings. Instead of three friends, it’s three people who barely know each other; instead of a “last trip before graduation/spring break” reason, they are on to Mexico; instead of a parent’s car and credit card, it’s buses, walking, and stolen cash. There are still laughs; pretty girls; a party. But there is also racism, danger, and the knowledge that these are three kids who ran away from a group home. Readers are going to want to know what happens next to Miguel, how he’s going to survive one more day.”

When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak. 2009. “The readers as well as the characters learn a thing or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if the readers come to a conclusion or two before Emma, Mike, & company. But that’s good; you don’t want to spoon feed it all to the reader. A book shouldn’t tell them something is wrong, or right; the reader should be able to figure it out themselves.”

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. 2009. “On the surface, this is typical school story centered on the dynamics of friendship: old friends lost, new friends made. But it’s more about Miranda being able to see things outside her original narrow viewpoint. The cause/effect she saw behind what caused Sal to stop being her friend? Wrong. The “rich girl” in class being mean to her? Wrong. When You Reach Me is about that journey to seeing the bigger picture behind what an individual sees and believes; a journey that some adults never seem to have made.”

The Witch’s Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith McGowan. 2009 .”Hansel and Gretel is one of the more disturbing of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. What’s worse, the witch eating children or the ultimate betrayal, that it’s your parents who abandon you? McGowan takes thesetwo horrors, embraces them, and balances scary with funny. In his tale, it’s not just a parent abandoning a child in a time of famine; oh no, it’s much worse. It’s parents who willingly turn their children over to the witch for every reason from bad grades to being kind to homeless people. Derek Wisse, turned over for disappointing his parents, doesn’t disappoint Fay; not when “baked with secret ingredients and served with my very yummy homemade key lime pie.” Mmmm, key lime pie. I love how the author uses humor, but also ups the horror by giving the nameless murdered children names, personalities, histories. Recipes.”