This is War . . . Chocolate War

True confession:

I have never read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

Or, if I have, I’ve forgotten it. Also? Sometimes I get it confused with another book I haven’t read, A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

I’ll give you all a moment to recover from that.

Back? You OK? Need a glass of water?

Talking about this with Kelly Jensen of Stacked and Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom led to the obvious:

I needed to share my secret shame with the world, and I needed to fix it and finally read The Chocolate War.

And as long as we were going to do this, why not make it a thing?

So, it’s now a thing, with a graphic and everything!

Come join The Chocolate War : A Read & Blog Along from May 12 to May 19. Of course, there is a hashtag: #ChocWarRA

I’m still not sure what exactly I’ll be doing that week. Perhaps my chapter by chapter reader’s response, like I did with Frankenstein? Maybe a review of The Chocolate War and it’s sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War? Maybe a review of the 1988 film, which stars the other guy from Weird Science.

Join us! Pretty much, pick anything something how related to The Chocolate War. Like me, read it for the first time; or reread it and see if it’s what you remember. Of maybe look at books that reference The Chocolate War, like Leslie Stella’s Permanent Record. You get the idea.

Kelly and Leila are also blogging about this. This is open to everyone; hopefully this post is early enough to give you time to read the blog and plan a post. We’ll also have posts that you can leave a comment to link to your posts.

Hope to see your posts in May!

 

Round 3, Match 2

The second match of round two is Splendors and Glooms vs No Crystal Stair, Judged by James Patterson.

3 2 Crystal Splendors Round 3, Match 2: Splendors and Glooms vs No Crystal Stair

My prediction was Splendors and Glooms v The One and Only Ivan, Judge James Patterson. Neither seems like Patterson’s books, but I’m going to go with The One and Only Ivan. Call it intuition.” Well, pretty poor intuition because while I had Glooms advancing, Ivan did not so it’s impossible to win this go-round.

Not only did my intuition fail, but I wouldn’t have guessed that Patterson’s decision ended up resting on “message,” and that the message is Books and Book People Matter.

This puts me in a bit of a position, in that on the one hand, I dislike “but this book has such a great message” but I adore anyone who is Team Book AND who understands the critical role that librarians and booksellers play in reading culture.

Here, in Patterson’s words: “Is it too late for us to redefine who we’re calling heroes in this country? Can’t the booksellers, the librarians, be king? While kids read NO CRYSTAL STAIR, flipping through the mixed media, jumping through the different people’s voices, they’re getting a great message, one of the most important messages we have to offer as authors and librarians and teachers and gatekeepers: it’s cool to love books, to come together and share your ideas and passions. Books can be powerful enough to upset the norm, to actually change the way our world thinks. We’ve got to keep hammering this point home, because it’s true, but too many people out there seem to have forgotten it. We’ve got to face the facts. Bookstores in this country are dying. Libraries are being pulled out from under us. The chances of a kid in this country coming in contact with a book he or she will love are getting pretty slim. Isn’t that scary? So what are we doing about it? Let’s start with making some noise about this no-more-books, no-more-bookstores problem.”

Yes, it’s a pretty long quote but I wanted all of it here.

And, I haven’t read No Crystal Stair yet, but Patterson’s words have inspired me to move it closer to the top of the TBR pile.

Flashing Back

As I explained last April in Flashback Reviews, I’m “flashing back” to books read in prior years.

This past year, I highlighted reviews I did in 2010, 2007, and 2005.

I like highlighting past reviews for a few reasons:

– I like revisiting the books I read

– I like putting a bit of a focus on books from prior years. Readers don’t just read the new books, they also read books from earlier years.

– Most of these titles are now available in paperback, so libraries or schools that want to purchase multiple copies can.

This year (and because I started blogging in April, the “year” runs April to April), I’ll be highlighting reviews from 2011, 2009, 2008 and 2006. In all honesty, I don’t imagine I’ll have that many 2008 titles because that was the year I was reading for Printz and I didn’t blog those titles.

This time next year, April 2014, I’ll be reviewing the books from 2012, and from then on it’ll continue on that cycle.

So, welcome to 2011 — and 2009 — and 2008 — and 2006!

Round 3, Match 1

We’re getting down to the end!

3 1 Bomb Fault Round 3, Match 1: Bomb vs The Fault in Our StarsRound Three, Baby!

It’s Match 1. Bomb vs The Fault in Our Stars, Judged by Lynne Rae Perkins.

My prediction for this had been “Code Name Verity v The Fault in our Stars, Judge Lynne Rae Perkins. Much as I adore Verity, I think Perkins will be swayed by The Fault in our Stars.” Now, I was wrong about Verity advancing, but I did have half the match.

Before making her decision, Perkins did offer one of the more unique possibilities for such decision making: “I had some tentative ideas about how to choose one.  I considered, Which one has more post-it notes?  Each had eight.” I’ll have to remember that next year.

For the actual decision, was I right about that half? “I reached out and grabbed The Fault in Our Stars. For its clear-eyed funny transcendence.

So yay! I still am a bit in the game!

Round 2, Seraphina v. Stair

It’s with this match that my predictions crumble so that they start becoming more fantastical. Or wrong.

2 4 Seraphina Crystal Round 2, Match 4: Seraphina vs No Crystal StairSo this match is Seraphina vs No Crystal Stair – Judged by Paul Griffin.

I had predictedSeraphina v. The One and Only Ivan, Judge Paul Griffin. Prediction: Griffin likes animals, right? So he’ll select The One and Only Ivan.” So, not only was I wrong with the match up, I selected the title that had lost last time around. So there is no way for me to be right.

You know what would have been nice? If I had used my logic for the prior match for this match and tossed off a “coin toss” as a rationale for Griffin’s decision. Because, I kid you not, Griffin said “Okay, Rick just pleaded, begged, implored me to please flip the coin.  So heads No Crystal Stair, tails Seraphina. Heads.  It’s No Crystal Stair.”

I KNOW. It’s like picking the winning lottery names for the wrong day.

 

Round Two, Sky v Glooms

Match 3 of the second round is Starry River of the Sky vs Splendors and Glooms, Judged by Thanhha Lai.

2 3 Starry Splendors Round 2, Match 3: Starry River of the Sky vs Splendors and Glooms

As luck would have it, I predicted to this match up: “No idea, coin toss gives it to Splendors and Glooms.”

Thanha Lai admits to not always finishing books; she uses the fifty page rule and then flips through. I LOVE when people admit to this! I DNF books all the time doing a variation of this.

Of course, she does read both of these books and ends up deciding, “But I’m told I must choose one, so I shall choose Splendors and Glooms.  Now I will quickly send off this review before I flip flop, again.

I am partially right: right in that I picked the right book, but wrong in the reason (no coin toss this match).

Review: Poison

Poison by Bridget Zinn. Hyperion. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Kyra, sixteen, is not your typical hero. She is breaking into the home of the Master Trio of Potioners to steal a very specific, very deadly poison. So, thief and killer?

Not quite.

Kyra is — was — one of the Master Trio, one of the best potioners in the kingdom. Until the day she tried, and failed, to kill Princess Ariana, heir to the throne and Kyra’s best friend.

Why did Kyra throw her life away? Why is she trying to kill her best friend? Kyra has knowledge that if the princess lives, the kingdom will be destroyed. What is worse: one death, or the death of everyone and everything? Kyra races against time to try to find Ari and this time, succeed in killing her and ending the threat.

How to find a hidden princess when the entire country is hunting you?

First, get a pig.

The Good: Poison is a delightful, inventive, clever fantasy.

Kyra is smart and a master potioner. Her world is one with magic, but potions is not magic. Being good at it, like she is, is a combination of talent and work and schooling. It’s scientific, like chemistry. Kyra is rather dismissive of the magical elements of her world, seeing it as not quite as good as her potions.

See that right there? This bias reveals Kyra’s own prejudices and arrogance. Flaws help make a character whole, but what is extra terrific is that these flaws are also important to the narrative. They impact the decisions she makes and the consequences of those decisions. Delicious! Here’s an example without giving anything big away: the pig. Kyra needs a way to find Ari, and she gets — a pig. And doesn’t quite believe that a pig can track someone. The way that she interacts with the pig, who eventually acquires a name, Rosie, is revealing and important and matters to the plot and I loved it.

Poison has plot twists and one reason I adored the twists is that I wasn’t expecting them — oh, some things I figured out but others left me surprised. When I reread Poison not only where hints there, it explained things that before seemed to just be coincidences. I loved this.

Kyra reveals what she has to when she has to and even then, only tells you what she wants you to know or what she thinks you need to know. In the first chapter, we find out she’s breaking into the home of the Master Trio; she doesn’t share right away that she was one of the Trio. Or that she was engaged to one of the other potioners. Those quick plot twists in the first chapter are just a tease of some of what happens later.

Kyra has a pig to track the princess down, and while on her hunt she runs into Fred. Fred! He’s cute and charming and nice and of course, Kyra lies to him about who she is and what she is doing. Her lies? Her name is Kitty and she is a dairy maid delivering the pig to her sis, er, cousin …. yes. Kyra’s not so great with making stuff up, but Fred believes it. Plus Fred has a pet dog named Langley.

Poison is a great adventure, smart with a touch of humor. At one point, Kyra thinks that “she didn’t like children at the best of times, and now was certainly nowhere near the best of times.” As for adventure, she encounters criminals and goblins and witches as she tries to find Ari, and the reader gradually learns more about why Kyra is so convinced her best friend and princess has to die that she abandons her business partners, friends, and fiance in pursuit of killing Ari.

Poison is also modern while being a classic fantasy. On the surface, you have a princess and a kingdom and magic, with it all seeming like a typical quasi-medieval fantasy. Except, the tone that Kyra and others use is modern rather than pretend-medieval. Someone calls a parent “Mom,” for instance. Professions don’t seem to be coded as men or women only; Kyra is a potioner and lives with her two business partners, both young men. The royal line is through the female. Kyra saves Fred with both her potions and her fighting skills.

Because Kyra is a terrific character. Because Poison was even better the second time I read it. Because of the adventure and humor. Poison is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Bridget Zinn, the author of Poison, passed away in 2011. As shown in some of the links, below, the children’s literature community has come together to do what Zinn herself cannot: promote this wonderful book.

Other Reviews and Links: E.M. Kokie talks about Bridget Zinn at Cynsations; a mention at EW’s Shelf Life blog; Publishers Weekly discusses the promotion being done for Poison; Beth Reads; Parajunkee.

Round Two: Endangered v Stars

The second match of round two: Endangered v. The Fault in the Stars, judged by Martine Leavitt.

2 2 Endanger Fault Round 2, Match 2: Endangered vs The Fault in Our Stars

My prediction: I had predicted this match up, and my guess was “The Fault in Our Stars, because, well, John Green.

One thing I liked about Leavitt’s opinion: she talked about both books and not just “what I loved more” but touched on flaws. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Leavitt but that is fine, because I just liked that she didn’t think each book was perfect. Leavitt calls it being “picky” but why not be picky about books?

And the winner? “So the winner is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I like my choice. I hope you do, too.”

The loss of my dear Code Name Verity is a bit easier to take, knowing I was right about The Fault in Our Stars.