Review: One Moment

One Moment by Kristina McBride. Egmont USA. 2012. Reviewed from eARC.

The Plot: If you could change one moment in your life . . .  That’s how Maggie feels. She wants to change one moment so that it doesn’t end with her boyfriend Joey dead, floating in the water below the cliff. Only thing is, she doesn’t remember what happened at the top of the cliff; she remembers agreeing to jump off the cliff into the cool water below, something Joey and her other friends have done countless times over countless summers. But after that, she remembers nothing.

So what is the one moment to change? Something at the top of the cliff? Earlier, when she agreed to jump? If they all hadn’t gone to the party the night before, would things have ended up differently?

The Good: Maggie and Joey are high school sweethearts about to finish up their junior year of high school. They are part of a tight knit group of friends that have been close since kindergarten: Maggie, Joey, Adam, Tanna, Shannon, Pete. The incident at the cliff happens at the beginning of One Moment. After that happens, after Joey dies, Maggie tries to figure out what happened, and why. She flashes back to her relationship with Joey and her friendships with the others. Up until Joey’s death, Maggie and her friends were living a golden life, a page out of “classic high school life in America, early 21st century.” Some casual drinking, but nothing serious; their lives were parties, concerts, dances.

Dances. When Maggie learns that Joey didn’t go home the night before he died, didn’t do what he told her he had done, she begins to look closer at all her memories. She begins to question things she didn’t question before. Like how Joey didn’t take her to homecoming because of his grandfather’s stroke. Or the time he was supposed to pick her up and never did. Other things, too. Maybe their relationship wasn’t as perfect as she thought. As One Moment progresses, Joey becomes more nuanced a character than how Maggie initially saw him. What, though, does this have to do with his death? What does this have to do with why Joey fell?

Part of why I liked One Moment is not just the story being told (the death of a friend, the impact that has on those around him, what led to his death and Maggie’s role in it, if any) but how it is told. It begins the afternoon Joey dies; we follow Joey and Maggie up the trail to the cliff, preparing to jump. It cuts out in the handful of minutes (or seconds) before Joey’s death, but, still, it shares with the reader more than Maggie initially remembers. From the start, the reader knows more than Maggie. The reader is supposed to be making connections and conclusions well before Maggie grasps it herself, because we have knowledge she has suppressed.

What I also liked about One Moment is how it addresses the things we do, and don’t; the things we say, and don’t; and the impact that has. Who we really are and who we pretend to be. While One Moment may appear to be a mystery (what happened to Joey), it’s really a classic coming of age as Maggie is forced to confront that the world is a complex place.

Alert for book clubs: this book inspired many great book club questions. What do they think of Maggie and Joey? About what happened at the top of the cliff? If these were their friends, how would they react, both after Joey’s death and after all the secrets were revealed?

Other reviews: GalleySmith; Rather Be Reading.


Meet Me In St. Louis: YALSA YA Lit Symposium

The YALSA YA Lit Symposium, is November 2-4, in St. Louis MO.

I attended the 2010 Symposium and 2008 Symposium (I know, I’m lucky!) and they are such a terrific experience! Smart programs, knowledgeable presenters, and enthusiastic attendees.

This year, I’ll be on a panel organized by Robin Brenner (No Flying, No Tights); it’s about YA Literature and Fan-Created Work. From the YALSA YA Lit Symposium website: “Fan created works, from fan fiction to fan art, are an increasingly visible and a richly rewarding way for fans to interact with their favorite stories. At the same time, fan works raises sticky questions about copyright and the meaning of transformative work for literature and authorship. Join a panel of authors, editors, librarians, and fans to explore the impact of participatory fan culture has had and will continue to have on teen literature. Presenters: Robin Brenner and Elizabeth Burns.”

I hope to see you there!

Boy Books or Girl Books

Shannon Hale offers insight (and, for this reader, at least, a touch of heartbreak) in her post, Why Boys Don’t Read Girls (Sometimes).

It’s about boys reading “girl” books.

A lot is written about reading, and boys reading, and girls reading. (See my post from a few months back, Boys, Girls, Books, for instance).

Hale addresses a specific issue: boys being taught by society that some books are too “girly” for them, that books are indeed either “girl books” or “boy books” and that this artificially keeps boys from reading books they would otherwise like. Go read the whole thing, but here it is in a nutshell: “There’s something that happens to our boys in school. Maybe it’s because they’re around so many other boys, and the pressure to be a boy is high. They’re looking around at each other, trying to figure out what it means to be a boy—and often their conclusion is to be “not a girl.” Whatever a girl is, they must be the opposite. So a book written by a girl? With a girl on the cover? Not something a boy should be caught reading. But something else happens in school too. Without even meaning to perhaps, the adults in the boy’s life are nudging the boy away from “girl” books to “boy” books. When I go on tour and do school visits, sometimes the school will take the girls out of class for my assembly and not invite the boys. I talk about reading and how to fall in love with reading. I talk about storytelling and how to start your own story. I talk about things that aren’t gender-exclusive. But because I’m a girl and there are girls on my covers, often I’m deemed a girl-only author.”

And the heartbreak? She mentioned a book signing, attended by a mother and her children, and when the boy looked interested in Hale’s books the mother stopped the son from getting an autographed book by saying, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in a girl book?” and the sisters all giggled.”

If boys (or girls, for that matter) want to read action, or humor, I’m not saying, give them a thick tome that is all about character development, emotions, and setting.

No, I’m about respecting the reader and giving them what they want.

But if a boy wants action and adventure? And loves stories about spies, with some humor? And you tell them about a great series about teens who are in a secret spy school, learning how to be spies in their regular classes and going on missions, and using and inventing cool gadgets, and the only reason that boy says “no” to that series is because it’s author is a woman, the spies in question are teenage girls, and the covers show girls, then there is something wrong. The book has all the elements for the reading story that reader wants, and the reason for the “no” is based entirely on the main characters being girls.

If boys will read fantasies were the cast of characters is mice or cats, why not read ones with girls?

Stripped to the elements of story, without regard to whether the main character is male or female, many times “girl” books meet the reading needs of boys. And instead of saying to those readers, “yes, Georgia Nicolson is hysterical, you’ll laugh the entire time” we at best don’t even offer or pitch that book because it’s a “girl book” or at worst do what that mother basically did: explicitly prevent the reader from reading that book because it is a “girl book.”

Part of the reason boys don’t read is, no doubt, their reading choices aren’t respected. Part of the reason is perhaps the adults in their lives only value some books and not the books the reader wants to read. But another part of that reason is a society that teaches boys that there are such things as “girl books” that boys shouldn’t read.

And that’s just sad.

Edited to add: Shannon Hale posted again, with some reaction to her post, at Boys Shamed For Reading Girl Books.

Review: Dark Companion

Dark Companion by Marta Acosta. Tor Teen. 2012. Reviewed from NetGalley.

The Plot: Jane Williams has been in the foster system since she was six. Following the unnecessary death of her best friend, Jane decides she wants more  for her future than what she sees around her and throws herself into studying. It pays off when she is accepted to Birch Grove Academy her junior year.

Jane is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, thrust into a world of privilege. To her surprise, her fellow students are welcoming and accepting. Mrs. Radcliffe, the headmistress of the school, invites Jane to her home and introduces her to her two wildly different sons: scruffy musician Jake and golden haired Lucien.

Something isn’t quite right. The previous scholarship student, Bebe, dropped out of school and hasn’t been in touch with her friends. The school nurse killed herself. Jake says cryptic things; Lucien is sometimes friendly, sometimes not. Is Jane right to worry? Or, as an orphan, does she not have the right context to understand this world of friendships and family?

Jane is right to worry. She’s been brought to Birch Grove for a purpose. The world is even darker than she imagined.

The Good: When I began reading this (boarding school with spooky overtones), I immediately thought of such Lois Duncan classics as Down a Dark Hall and Daughters of Eve. Teen Gothic? Teen Gothic done well? Delicious! I sank into the book with pure pleasure, enjoying Jane discovering the world of Birch Grove, picking up on the dark undertones and whispers of things not being quite right. Jane made friends, had a crush on Lucien, tries to figure out what happened to Bebe, and I just loved every second of it. Who was a real friend? Who was fake? What dark things were going on at Birch Grove? I narrowed my guesses down to —   No, I won’t tell you. That would be cheating. But it’s really hard, because what it turns out to be is so perfect for this book, and so perfectly  part of the book.

Jane is a terrific mix of tough and vulnerable, smart and naive. Here she is on why she is at school: “It was rage that got me to Birch Grove Academy for Girls and out of Hellsdale. I nestled into my bed, knowing that rage would help me survive here, too.” Jane may know the way of the streets, but families are alien territory. What I liked about Jane is how her background impacts her; for example, one of the first thing she does when she settles into her own home (which is a cute little cottage I would love to live in!), is to find a place to hide those things that are important to her. When Mrs. Radcliffe takes her on a shopping trip so that Jane is ready for school, Jane returns half the clothes and pockets the money, putting it in with her secret stash. She’s a foster child who has to hide what is important to her, and who has to be always ready to run.

Also! Before I forget! This book also is funny. One of Jane’s new friends is Mary Violet, and I adored her, because she had such a way of looking at the world — she just cracked me up. It got to the point where just seeing MV’s name appear on the page made me smile. MV does this thing with mangling translations of French words that is just perfect. “She has that je ne sais quoi. That’s French for, “I’m totally clueless.” MV’s wit is quick: “Embrace your flaws. I would if I had any.” Or, “It’s in one of those M months, March or May. Maybe Mebruary or Maugust.”  Jane needs a MV in her life; but hey, we all do.

Jane is at Birch Grove for reasons that have nothing to do with how well she does in chemistry class. She is faced with some interesting choices; choices about trust, but also about herself and what she wants. At one point, I wanted to reach into the pages and shake her and say “what are you doing?! LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.” I was so frustrated with Jane, but then I remembered who Jane was. A child without parents; without any memory of her dead mother; raised in some of the worst situations possible. OF COURSE she is going to have her own needs, her own dark desires, that those raised in a healthy family would not have. Like I said, Jane was brought to Birch Grove. Part of the reason is not just that she is an orphan with no relatives; it’s that she has the types of needs that can be used or manipulated by others. Who would think that the desire for family, for friends, for belonging, could be twisted and manipulated?

I won’t comment on the romance, except, yes, it involves the two very different brothers. I don’t want to give anything away, sorry!

I was so swept away by the Gothic (aided by wonder epigraphs at the start of each chapter, taken from various early Gothic books), that I missed the most obvious thing in the world. Dark Companion is a spin (a wildly delicious supernatural paranormal spin) on Jane Eyre. Once I realized (and by “realized” I mean, “read a blog post at the author’s website“), I was doubly impressed with Dark Companion.

Other reviews: A Cupcake & A Latte; Talk Supe.

Review: A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. Harper Collins. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Prince Khemri is one of the ten million Princes who rule the Empire. To “ordinary folk,” these Princes seem immortal. And, it’s true, that they can be reborn in certain situations; and that they are augmented in what may appear to be super-human ways. Augmentation is around three types of technologies, or “teks”: Mektek (machinery); Bitek (biology); and Psitek (mental powers).

The sixteenth anniversary of his selection as a Prince-candidate is Khemri’s day of investiture as full Prince. He even gets assigned a Master of Assassins! Khemri has big plans, based on his grooming as a Prince and the things he’s been taught. He’s going to get a warship, go explore, make his mark, and become the next Emperor.

Turns out, his education wasn’t complete. Some details were left out. Like the competition between Princes can be deadly. Instead of sitting back and living out the adventures lived in his favorite Psitek experience, The Achievement of Prince Garikm, he finds himself being saved from assassinations attempts and enrolled as a Naval candidate because the Academy is one of the few safe places.

That’s all in the first thirty pages. That doesn’t even cover Khemri’s three deaths. Action, suspense, space pirates, and, yes, even a touch of romance in this intergalactic adventure.

The Good: Khemri is an idiot. No, really; he’s arrogant, because he’s a Prince; ignorant, because his education has been limited; and an idiot, because it takes him a while to realize his arrogance and ignorance are not positive qualities. Luckily, he has an experienced Master of Assassins, Haddad, and Khemri has enough self-preservation to know to listen to Haddad. It keeps him alive; and makes Khemri realize that he has things to learn. Fortunately for the reader, it takes Khemri a long time to stop being a total idiot. Part of why I loved this book is Khemri’s evolution from spoiled, privileged Prince to … well. I can’t tell everything.

The immersion into the Empire, via the experiences of this new Prince, is a second reason I enjoyed The Confusion of Princes. It’s clever, the way Nix shares knowledge of how it works with the reader. Instead of someone “new” entering this world, Khemri is someone who is privileged and of high rank. Someone who has had information downloaded to him, or tutors. He is supposed to know it all; and believes he does. The twist is Khemri keeps discovering what he doesn’t know. His frustration and rage are shown, and, I confess — at times made me laugh. Khemri may be an idiot but he’s my idiot. (Also? Khemri is telling this story after the fact; he knows what he was. He calls attention to the stupid things he does, and well, it’s funny.) Aside from that, the Empire is a complex, detailed place and I loved finding out more about it.

The action and adventure! Khemri is constantly on the go, either escaping assassins or alien attacks, or fighting duels, or accepting secret assignments. Sometimes it felt like Khemri was in the middle of some type of computer game; and it turns out there is an online game tie-in. Now, as that article explains, the game tie in didn’t work out quite like planned. But you know what? I love this type of stuff; thinking of new ideas, new ways to tell story, taking advantage of new technology, and, well, just playing with new ideas presented by today’s technology. Aside from that, I’m curious as to what gamers will think of the story, of the pacing.

Reviews: The Book Smugglers; Tor; io9.

As A Quick Reminder

Anyone can nominate a title for the various YALSA lists and awards.

All you need to do is go to the page on the YALSA website for that particular list or award. In the menu options to the left, there is a link to the nomination form. Be sure to double check the policies and procedures for that particular list or award, to make sure the book is eligible and it’s the right list/award.

So, for example, the Nomination Form for BFYA. Or the Nonfiction for Young Adults.

A few reminders: some of these do not follow the traditional calendar year. BFYA includes a few months of the prior year.

Also, do not assume a title has been nominated! I did that last year and was shocked about what had not been nominated. My own darn fault for not being more aware, by checking out the nominations list, but the title was so good I assumed…

Well. That won’t happen again.

So, go forth and nominate!

Some Quick Thoughts About That Site

Honestly, this fell under “if you don’t like something, don’t give it any attention” with a side of “other people are writing about it, nothing to add” categories of blog topics, until, well, a certain post was made at a certain high visibility website.

Cryptic enough?

Let’s put it this way: if on the off chance yesterday you read a post at the Huffington Post about GoodReads and bullying and reviewers, here is as quick a primer as I can put together without becoming tl;dr.

As Foz Meadows explained several days ago in Bullying and GoodReads: “Little more than a week ago, a website aimed at naming and shaming so-called Goodreads ‘bullies’ suddenly appeared online – called, appropriately enough, Stop the GR Bullies. Run by four concerned ‘readers and bloggers’ writing anonymously under the handles Athena, Peter Pan, Johnny Be Good and Stitch, the site thus far seems bent on punishing the creators of snide, snarky and negative book reviews by posting their handles, real names, locations and photos in one place, together with a warning about their supposed ‘level of toxicity’ and some (ironically) snide, snarky and negative commentary about them as people.” Click through to read this post, and other related posts; I removed the link to the website, but you can click to it through the linked post.

Many bloggers and authors spoke up against this sharing of information as well as the logic behind it. See, for example, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: “Whenever I see someone react with outrage and pity for an author who received a harsh review here or anywhere, my reaction is always confusion and disappointment. When I read someone react with fury and pitchforks about a negative review, questioning the reviewers intelligence and biological makeup, I am completely baffled. We’re still angry that readers are honest about what they think about books? WHY? I’d rather honesty than false admiration and condescension.”

As I said, a lot of smart people saying smart things, so nothing left for me to say, with a side of me not wanting to give that website more traffic or attention.

But then. Then, yesterday, the Huffington Post put up a post by the still-anonymous person/people behind that website, and, well, especially from the way it was up at first, it looked like an endorsement. If you end up going there to look (and I’m not linking to click bait), the original post did not have the disclaimer you now see at the top. Foz Meadows contacted HP and her response was up at the end of the day: Stop the GR Bullies: A Response. I recommend reading it, because it explains the issues with the website in question as well as links to other posts on the matter.

Remember how the website in question posted personal information? Well, apparently, they’ve revised those posts. However, many bloggers saved screencaps; Gossamer Obsessions lays out the changes that were made. On the one hand, good; on the other, this was apparently done without notation of editing/clarification and the bloggers behind the website are responding with a sort of “these are not the droids you’re looking for” about the whole matter. (Please, click through to the post; it’s best read in full context).

To me, the bottom line is: sharing the real-life information about people is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Only two more quick points. This arose, apparently, from some people not liking what was said about books and authors at GoodReads. (Hence the Stop the GR Bullies.) Without getting into a tl;dr myself about the right of people to like and not like books and to talk about the books they like and don’t like, either in the real world or online, here’s what I want to add to that:

If you don’t like a review, don’t read it. If you don’t like how an individual reviews books, stop reading those reviews. If you’re the author, the sad but true fact is “don’t engage, keep it private to trusted friends.” If you’re a reader, then use your own GoodReads account or what have you to share your own opinion of the book.

To Star Or Not To Star

I have a GoodReads account that is sorely neglected.

It’s on my to-do list to make better use of it. Believe it or not, one of the reasons I’ve not used it as much is the pressure of the stars. You can rate books on one to five stars: didn’t like it (one), it was OK (two), liked it (three), really liked it (four) and it was amazing (five).


What if I think the structure is amazing but the characters average? In my review, I’ll talk about the plot mainly and not touch on the characters because it’s the plot that engages my interest. How does that fit with stars? What if I don’t think its amazing but I know other readers will –which, again, I can address in a review but not in stars.

And  yes, I know this is all internal, inside my head, issues with stars. It’s not anyone shoulding me about what to do or how to do it. But, to be honest, in reading up on stars like this, I have read some people react to three stars as if it’s not good. Since three is “liked it”, it just confused me all the more. And by “confused” means “takes up too much time to decide on a star.”

Of course, I since found out I didn’t have to use stars.

Here’s my questions, especially for GoodReads users:

Thoughts on the stars?

If I start taking my GoodReads account more seriously, what suggestions do you have for me? Repeat what I have here? Something shorter?

Links: Monica Edinger over at Educating Alice also posted in The Thing About Stars; and Teri Lesesne also did at Seeing Stars and Seeing Red.

Flashback July 2005

As a brief reminder, I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in June 2005:

Norma Johnston’s The Keeping Days series: The Keeping Days, Glory in the Flower, The Sanctuary Tree, A Mustard Seed of Magic, A Nice Girl Like You and Myself and I. “It’s the turn of the century — the year 1900! And Tish Sterling wants to be a writer. She thinks she’s qualified because she loves to write and she “feels things deeply.” The first four books portray life at the turn of the century; they also deal with issues such as prejudice, fear, family, friendship, belief, and love. But most importantly, they deal with Tish becoming a writer. It’s not easy – dreamy write in your diary writer writing; Tish has to work at it. Part of the glory of these books is Tish resisting the idea that writing is a craft, requiring discipline. These books show Tish growing as an artist, with all that being an artist means. The first four books cover a two year period. The last two jump forward to the start of World War I; the main characters are those who were born in the first four. In these last two, we see the artist that Tish has become. The last two are also about secrets and honesty (as well as topical issues such as war and women’s rights).”

Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson: “This is an honest and sensitive look at a teenage girl’s struggle between passivity and action, between defining herself based on others and defining herself based on self. At times, it is an uncomfortable read because Jacobson is brutally truthful in her depiction of a teenager who is struggling with issues of self, of shame, of faith, of love.” For those following along my flashbacks at home, you’ll see that by now my using “the plot” and “the good” has become my standard. Also, it was thinks to a suggestion in the comments from Kelly (a cofounder of the Cybils) that I began keeping all my bests/favorites in one sidebar.

Annie, Between The States by L.M. Elliott: “This book starts right after the beginning of the Civil War, and ends just before the war ends. All the officers, all the battles, and other historical information is factual. As the war goes on, Annie finds strength she didn’t know she had. She also is forced to rethink assumptions, especially assumptions about the “servants” in her house. Elliott doesn’t let the North off the hook: she shows that the Union and its soldiers were not free from prejudice. Elliott also shows that the 19th century had many different prejudices, including ethnic and religious prejudice; much is made about Annie’s father “marrying down” when he wed an Irish Catholic.”

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: “Snape.”

Confessions of a Closet Catholic is Sarah Darer Littman: “A book that treats religion, faith, questioning and belonging with respect, sympathy, honesty and humor. CoaCC weaves together 3 different threads: a search for the spiritual; the appeal of a different family; and the bonds of family.”

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston: “Are the children of Green Knowe real? Are they ghosts? Or are they imaginations, indulged by a Granny who sees that Tolly needs a sense of connection that Green Knowe and its children give him? This is not so much a book about ghosts as a book about the imagination of a child.”