Stupid Fast: A Review

Felton Reinstein is not stupid funny much as he would like to be. Even people who like him don’t laugh at his jokes, forget the people who don’t like him. Until his voice dropped and he hit a major growth spurt, Felton wasn’t anything special.

Then he started growing. The he got fast. Felton Reinstein is not a fast name. But Felton is stupid fast all the same.

In the span of one surreal summer Felton has a chance to remake himself. He can stop being the kid with the weird mother and the prodigy-piano-player little brother. He can stop hanging out with the Peter Yangs of the world and show everyone (especially that jerk Ken Johnson) what he’s really made of.

Maybe Felton can even impress the beautiful girl he finds on his borrowed paper route. He might even be able to find his place in his miniscule town and his own family. This is the summer Felton Reinstein finally knows he’s fast. This is the summer Felton Reinstein goes from joke to jock in Stupid Fast (2011) by Geoff Herbach.

Stupid Fast was a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction. It was also selected as the winner for the 2011 Cybils in YA Fiction by myself and my fellow judges.

This is one of those books that has the potential for strong appeal along with a unique voice. The atmosphere of the book is top-notch conveying both a sense of small town pride** and team camaraderie that, I imagine, is what a sports team is supposed to look like.

Unfortunately, it also took a really long time for the story to actually start. Felton talks a lot in the beginning about growing hair and growing taller. Instead of the emphasis on that it would have been nice to get right to the plot soon instead of having Felton tease readers with foreshadowing or coy asides.

Felton and the plot pull themselves together during the second half of the story, but whether that is enough to hold a reader’s interest is a matter of personal taste. I’m still not sure I would have been invested enough to finish had I found this book on my own time.

Stupid Fast really does have a lot going for it though. A sports story told by a boy who doesn’t think he’s an athlete* this book never gets lost in sports jargon. The book remains approachable even when the focus shifts to football during key scenes. Felton is a fun narrator with his own quirks and occasional charms. Stupid Fast has a lot of heart after its rocky start.

*Despite the raw talent, Felton does not actually know how to play football. Shh, don’t tell the coach!

**Eventually, granted.

Possible Pairings: Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Everybody Sees the Ants: A Review

There are some things you need to know about Lucky Linderman.

First: His mother is a squid. She swims more than two hundred laps every day. No matter what. Even when Lucky has some new bruises courtesy of Nader McMillan or her husband once again flakes on his familial duties.

Second: His father is a turtle. Lucky’s grandfather never came home from Vietnam and Lucky’s dad never recovered. He spends all of his time hiding in his shell or working at the restaurant instead of actually being a father.

Third: Lucky doesn’t smile. Ever. Not since asking one stupid question for one stupid project in Social Studies (the class actually isn’t stupid–Lucky kind of likes it). He is definitely not going to smile since that one stupid question brought him nothing but trouble and the renewed hatred of Nader McMillan.

Fourth: Ever since Lucky was seven he’s been having strange dreams. Now the dreams are his only refuge as he spends each night in the war-torn jungles of Laos trying to finally bring his grandfather home from the war he could never leave.

But even dreams that seem as real as Lucky’s can only last so long before it’s time to really wake up in Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King.

Everybody Sees the Ants is King’s follow-up to her Printz Honor book Please Ignore Vera Dietz. It was also a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction which is how I came to read it.

There are certain books that I enjoy upon first reading them. But the more I think about them, the more I really look at all of the little details, the more problems I have. Everybody Sees the Ants was that kind of book.

While not actually a mystery, Everybody Sees the Ants is structured in such a way that readers do not initially get a linear story nor do they get the full story. Anyone looking for a puzzle to put together will enjoy the multiple angles of this book. Lucky is a shockingly authentic* narrator with a voice and story all his own. King’s writing is painfully intense and quirky as Lucky drags readers through dense Laos jungle and the even deeper problems of his own life.

Unfortunately these strengths are not complemented by the book’s plot which is filled with numerous holes and seemingly random details that added little to the plot itself. Without delving into specifics, King never fully explains the nature of Lucky’s dreams which creates a fundamental problem with the structure of the book. Similarly, readers never really understand why one teenaged boy is able to not only bully but literally terrorize an entire town with absolutely no intervention from any adults or the authorities.** Other moments were easily predicted or simply heavy-handed as King was at pains to make certain points about Lucky’s relationships with his parents and the world at large.

If you aren’t looking for a book that needs to answer all of your questions or stand up to a close reading, Everybody Sees the Ants might still appeal.

*Unlike me, you probably already knew that King was a female author. I didn’t know that while reading the book and was completely floored to find out A. S. King was not a man. That’s how authentic Lucky’s voice is in this story.

**I maintain my stance that Nader should have been institutionalized as a psychopath long before the events of this book started.

Possible Pairings: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Exclusive Bonus Content: One of the biggest problems I had reading this book is one most readers will not have. Fantastical things happen to lucky throughout the course of the story. These things are called elements of magical realism but, for me, they pushed the book firmly into the fantasy genre. While judging this book as a potential winner in the Cybils’ YA Fiction category, that became a problem for me. I struggled with whether something fantastical was really happening or if Lucky was just delusional. Because if Lucky is really that delusional, how can a reader believe anything else he says? If you expect an answer to that kind of question this is not the book for you.

Leverage: A Review

Danny knows he’s small. He knows in terms of the pecking order at his school he falls near the very bottom (but above the Cross Country Runners at least). Doesn’t matter. He has a plan. Sure everyone makes fun of the boy’s gymnastics team–especially the varsity football players. They can laugh all they want when it gets him a full scholarship to a college of his choice. Danny is going places. All he has to do is keep his head down and stay out of the way of the football giants until he graduates. Easy.

Kurt Brodsky doesn’t care about high school politics. When you’re as big as Kurt is, you don’t have to. Classes, friends, sports. Doesn’t matter. As long as he can lift weights to stay strong and try to keep his past buried, it’s fine. No one is going to hurt him ever again. If part of that means joining the Oregrove High football team, fine.

Except nothing about the football team is simple. Not when the players keep taking questionable “supplements.” Not when the players can stomp anyone who looks at them funny in the halls. Not when the rivalry and tension between the football and gymnastics teams escalates to something violent and ugly.

Danny and Kurt should have never started to talk. They sure as hell shouldn’t have liked each other. But they did. That happened. If they can find the courage to work together maybe they can make this violent, ugly thing better. They can’t fix it or change it. But maybe they can make some things right in Leverage (2011) by Joshua C. Cohen.

Leverage is the first novel by Cohen who, before writing, parlayed his own high school gymnastics training into a professional career. Leverage was also a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction which is how I came to read it.

Told in chapters alternating between Danny and Kurt’s narrations, Leverage is a book with great characters and strong writing. Cohen captures two authentic, distinct voices with Kurt and Danny while shedding light on what being a high school football player or gymnast really feels like.* I just wish the book had a different plot.

This is a gritty, brutal, painful story about a school being torn apart by something that is supposed to bring people together: team sports. While Cohen provides an unblinking look at some harsh realities, the execution is not ideal with gaping plot holes, unanswered questions, and an ending that pushes the limits of believability on almost every level.**

Leverage is a strange, tense read. Although it is filled with authentic details, the story has erratic pacing and ultimately lacks any real sense of resolution even after drawing readers in and making them care so much about these characters for the entire 425 (hardcover) pages.

The book will no doubt appeal to sports fans and athletes as well as anyone looking for a book that doesn’t flinch from the harsher side of reality. It will not work as well for readers who like every question raised in a story to also be answered.

*I read this book a month ago and the idea of a school gymnastics team still blows my mind. It never occurred to me that such a thing could exist. (I went to a really small, non-sporty school.)

**Not to mention being largely predictable. If you’ve finished the book you’ll probably see what I mean.

Possible Pairings: Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, Between by Jessica Warman

Frost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Leena Thomas is thrilled to be starting her senior year at boarding. Although she is nervous about what her future away from the close-knit community of her school might look like, Leena is ready for a memorable year in the school’s best dorm ever: Frost House.

Instead of dealing with the ugly, impersonal dorm buildings Leena and her closest friends will have Frost House to themselves; it will be their own little refuge away from the pressures of school and the uncertainty the future holds.

Then Leena finds out about a surprise change of roommates. Instead of a semester with a room all to herself, Leena has to deal with Celeste Lazar the school’s resident eccentric–not to mention the center of her own little drama-filled world. Exactly the kind of thing Leena hoped to avoid by living in Frost House.

Celeste’s presence brings the added bonus of her cute brother David hanging around. But Leena isn’t sure a cute guy is enough to make up for her derailed plans, strained friendships, or listening to Celeste’s insane talk about a threatening presence in Frost House.

As Leena struggles to rediscover the refuge she knows Frost House should be, she finds herself gravitating more and more to the closet in her room and the calming presence she feels there. Something is clearly wrong in Frost House but the closer Leena gets to the truth the harder it is to see whether the problem really is a mysterious threat, Celeste herself, or something else entirely in Frost (2011) by Marianna Baer.

Frost is Baer’s first novel. It was also a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction.

With equal parts thriller and ghost story Frost is a suspense-filled journey through Frost House and Leena’s own troubled world. Baer expertly spreads information throughout the story to keep readers guessing as their understanding of both the house and Leena herself constantly change.

The tension between Leena and Celeste mirrors the tension of the narrative itself as Frost works up to its shocking finish. This tension works well here adding an eerie ambiance to the story with Leena’s ominous foreshadowing throughout the narrative and the constant push and pull between the logical and the fantastic in the story.

While some of the characters are under-developed, Baer more than makes up for it with a fully realized setting that brings Frost House to life on the page. The writing here exemplifies what a creepy, atmospheric story should look like.

This book is ripe for discussion and open to many interpretations depending on how the story is perceived. The beauty of that, and the best example of Baer’s masterful prose, is that every interpretation is correct. Frost is a mysterious, sometimes sinister read guaranteed to hook readers and keep them guessing.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Tragedy Paperby Elizabeth LaBan, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, Dark Souls by Paula Morris, Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Between Shades of Gray: A Review

On June 14, 1941 Lina Viklas is taken by the Soviet secret police. Along with her mother and her younger brother, Jonas, Lina is forced to leave her home in the middle of the night to board a train to be deported from Lithuania with thousands like her.

As they are taken farther and farther from Lithuania, all hope seems lost. Lina’s father has been separated from the family to be sent to a prison camp. Lina’s dreams of one day attending art school or falling in love are dashed. With nothing but the clothes on their back and a few precious possessions, how can they survive? Will help ever come?

Refusing to lose her sense of self along with everything else, Lina clings to what she does have: her memories and her art. While dreaming of her past, Lina uses her talents to document the atrocities she and the other deportees are forced to endure. Lina may be far from everything she once knew, but she will survive. Any other options are too horrible in Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Between Shades of Gray is Sepetys’ first novel. It was also a finalist in the 2011 Cybils for Young Adult Fiction which is how I came to read it. Since its publication Between Shades of Gray has garnered a fair amount of accolades and even critical acclaim in the form of a finalist spot for the 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Sepetys,  herself a daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, brings light to one of history’s darker (not to mention lesser known) moments when the nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 as thousands were deported and sent to labor camps and prisons. These countries did not reappear until 1990.

Because of its content and its deft negotiation of this bleak subject matter, there is no doubt that Between Shades of Gray is an important, valuable book. It will undoubtedly be added to many history class curiculums and will raise awareness about Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.

Unfortunately, being an important book does not make Between Shades of Gray a book without its flaws.

Both the story and its narrator, Lina, are difficult to connect with. The story has a linear narrative of Lina’s journey with the other deportees interspersed with flashbacks and memories of Lina’s old life in Lithuania. While the memories illustrate all that Lina has lost, they also appear abruptly and at little to the plot’s forward momentum. The ending is similarly abrupt not only having a a fifty-four year gap between the last chapter and the epilogue but also a gaping hole in terms of what happened to many of the characters.

Although Lina becomes a strong character as the story progresses, she spends much of the novel as a petulant girl who enjoys rash behavior and jumping to conclusions with little to no evidence to support any of her seemingly random assumptions.

So much emphasis is placed on Lina’s art but the book as a whole provides very little payoff in that department. Granted, Between Shades of Gray isn’t that type of book but I can’t help but wish that readers had been able to see Lina’s actual drawings after hearing so much about them.* If any book could have benefited from illustrations to add another dimension to the story, it’s this one.**

Between Shades of Gray is already a beloved book for a lot of readers. It will likely reach many more. The story and the characters are brimming with a potential that, in a lot of ways, was not fully realized. While Sepetys has created a story with many beautiful, compelling, important parts the sum of those parts never quite added up to a flawless read.

*Or at least to see a little more about what happened to some of the drawings Lina sent out into the world.

**Seriously, after you read the book, think about it for a second. How cool would that have been?!

Possible Pairings: The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Tamar by Mal Peet, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Hitler’s Canary by Sandy Toksvig, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers: A Valentine’s Day Review

“In the beginning, there was Lucy Wrenn, standing all alone out in front of her school on the first day of sophomore year, with a seductive little message written on her stomach in Sharpie marker.”

But it turns out what Lucy saw as the beginning of something much more is actually the end of everything when her boyfriend breaks up with her. Right there. On the first day of school. Even after seeing the message on her stomach.

Lucy doesn’t understand how Alex can suddenly stop loving her this way. She knows her feelings haven’t changed even if her heart is now broken in painful, sad, pieces. She knows she needs to get him back. Even if that seems an impossible feat there in the beginning on that first day.

By the second day, Lucy has a plan. Recruited by three mysterious, beautiful girls at school, Lucy has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If Lucy can make a guy fall in love with her and break his heart in the next week, Lucy can become one of them; a part of their secret sisterhood of heartbreakers.

Suddenly Lucy’s chances of winning back her boyfriend are looking up. The girls offer to help Lucy find the right way to win and break a heart with their own special brand of advice and a little something extra–a little something magical. With that little bit of magic, Lucy won’t need to break a heart at all. She can just win back her boyfriend and have things go back to normal.

The only problem is that nothing about becoming a heartbreaker is normal. Or easy. Some of it isn’t even very nice.

In the beginning Lucy Wrenn had her heart broken. By the end, Lucy Wrenn might not have a broken heart but she also might not recognize herself in The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers (2011) by Lynn Weingarten.

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers is Weingarten’s second novel. It is also her first fantasy.

From the very first page, Weingarten creates a compelling narrative voice for the novel with a tone commonly found in fairy tales or folk stories. The prose aptly captures the strange blend of magic and mischief Lucy encounters as she delves into the world of the Heartbreakers.

Despite the pitch perfect voice, some moments in the novel stand out as too crude, too modern, or simply too mean. Breaking hearts is a messy business and leads to some tough decisions for Lucy and some heartless behavior from all of the characters.

While The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers is light on the fantasy in some respects (the actual “magic” of being a Heartbreaker comes up more in the second half of the story), this story remains an interesting commentary on what new relationships look like as well as what it really takes to get a guy while staying true to yourself.

Lucy’s transformation throughout the story is handled well and extremely interesting. Though the story is fully resolved many questions about the Heartbreakers’ purpose, the arc of the story, and Lucy herself are left unanswered. With so much world building and setup, readers are definitely left hoping for a sequel to see what becomes of Lucy and her new friends.

Possible Pairings: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith , Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

You can also read my interview with Lynn about this book.

Clockwork Prince: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Only in London a short time, Tessa Gray’s world has already been turned upside by her brother’s betrayal and the discovery of her own strange ability. With the help of her unlikely Shadowhunter friends, Tessa has managed to make some order from the chaos of lies and mystery that surrounds her.

That order proves tenuous when rival Shadowhunters seek to displace Charlotte and her husband as heads of the London Institute. With Charlotte’s position in doubt, so too is Tessa’s place in the only home she has known since leaving New York City. If Charlotte can find the Magister, the villain cloaked in secrecy who wants to use Tessa’s powers in his mission to destroy all Shadowhunters, her position will be secured. But what if she can’t?

As Tessa helps in the search for the Magister, her future place in London is not the only dilemma presented to her. Why is Jessamine sneaking off so often? What madness leads Will to move so violently between passion and cruelty? Why does her heart still ache so much just to see him? And what of Jem, Tessa’s quiet, steadfast companion in all of this chaos?

With so many secrets, it is unclear which truths should be told and which should remain hidden in Clockwork Prince (2011) by Cassandra Clare.

Clockwork Prince is the second book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series, preceded by Clockwork Angel. This trilogy is a companion to Clare’s Mortal Instruments series which begins with City of Bones.

It’s hard to review books that are part of a series because, particularly in the case of this book, you cannot read just one book. Things are even more complicated when the series ties back to a completely different, longer, series.

That said, if the idea of a quasi-steampunk Victorian London where the descendants of angels fight monsters (even while befriending one of those “monsters” who happens to be a warlock) this is the series for you. But don’t start here. Go read Clockwork Angel first then come back to read this review.

Clockwork Prince is simultaneously compelling and painfully frustrating. Many questions from the first book (particularly about Will’s . . . affliction) are answered. Some of the answers are satisfying and add to the story. Some of them add to the general annoyance I had while reading the book.

Neither being or knowing the author, I’m not really qualified to say what each character would or would not do. BUT, for this one reader, it felt a lot like every single character walked through the book doing the wrong things. Worse, they seemed to be doing them for all the wrong reasons. Will all be resolved to my satisfaction in book three? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Finding the answer to that question (aside from my genuine fondness for these characters and this series) is enough to guarantee I will eagerly await the release of Clockwork Princess in 2013.

Clare’s writing remains top-notch here. While the larger plot does take a back seat to character development, Clockwork Prince sets readers up for what is sure to be a stunning conclusion to a clever trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Sabriel by Garth Nix,  Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick: A Review

Perry Stormaire had no intention whatsoever of attending his senior prom. Not when his band had their first ever actual gig in an actual club in New York City.

Unfortunately his parents have other ideas when the foreign exchange student staying with Perry’s family expresses her wish to attend prom before going home to Lithuania.

Why Gbija Zaksauskas wants to attend prom is anyone’s guess. Frumpy, quiet, not to mention epileptic it seems like Gobi’s entire mission as a foreign exchange student was to blend into the background.

All of that changes on prom night.

As Gobi embarks on a night-long mission of vengeance, Perry is dragged along–sometimes literally–for the ride. A week ago Perry’s biggest problems were choosing a college and working up the nerve to defy his father. Now, Perry isn’t even sure if he’ll make it through his prom night in one piece in Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick (2011) by Joe Schreiber.

Though completely improbable and often needing a lot of suspension of disbelief, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick remains a fast exciting read of pure escapism with refreshing humor and oddly authentic characters for such an outlandish story.

Schreiber has created a fun blend of unlikely adventure and the more usual coming-of-age story. Structured with college essay question at the start of each chapter, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick perfectly captures the panic and scrambling so often associated with the college search and application process.

Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

Tour de Christmas 2011: In which I share photos (and videos!) of NYC Holiday displays

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. Today, Christmas Eve, is arguably one of my favorite days of the entire year including other holidays and my own birthday (Christmas day is probably my favorite). One of the best things about the holiday season is spreading good cheer and giving gifts.

In the spirit of giving, I have some fun things to share in this blog post.

Earlier this month my friend Nicole (AKA The Book Bandit) and I took a day to look at what I deemed all of the noteworthy holiday trees and window displays to be had in Manhattan. There were multiple modes of transportation, maps, and itineraries involved but the end result was a really fun slice of holiday cheer in something I’m calling the Tour de Christmas. I fully expect to make the Tour de Christmas an annual part of my holiday activity.

And, now, I also plan on sharing some of the fun with you, dear readers.

To begin the Tour we first had to get to 81st Street.

American Museum of Natural History: Origami Tree

After a trip through the maze-like lower level and first floor of the museum, Nicole and I found the giant canoe that shares space with the museum’s origami tree during the holiday season. The tree is filled with origami animals every year (previously it had just been cranes but this year there was a whole assortment of animals and even key pieces from museum exhibits).

Even the base of the tree had some fun origami art:

An important part of the Tour de Christmas is documenting the sights as well as posing with them.

After leaving the Museum of Natural History we moved crosstown through Central Park to

The Metropolitan Museum: Angel Tree

The Met’s tree is enormous and has point of place in the museum’s Renaissance Wing for the entire holiday. The tree is well-known for its beautiful 18th Century angel ornaments as well as the creche that surrounds the base of the tree.

Because the tree is in a section of the museum that is always kept dark to preserve the historic items on display (and perhaps because much of the Met’s gift shop items around this time of year document the tree), photography is not allowed. I, however, may or may not have very carefully ignored that rule to take a very quick shot of the tree with my iPhone.

Upon leaving the Met this year’s Tour was a straight shot down Fifth Avenue.

FAO Schwarz: Fifth Avenue at 58th Street

FAO is fun most times of year but they did have a special Lionel Train display set up for Christmas:

Conveniently located directly across the street from FAO is Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf Goodman: Fifth Avenue at 58th Street

While I have never stepped inside Bergdorf, I make it a point to check out their holiday windows annually. Every year the store has a different theme and creates stunning, artistic windows in the spirit of that theme. This year’s theme was Carnival of the Animals. I took about a million pictures of theses windows because they were all so fantastic but here are some of my favorites:

This one (above) was made entirely of paper and features a Boston Terrier in the lower left.

I really loved both of their “all white” windows this year.

This one (above) has lots of metal items. It felt very steampunk to me with the flapper-esque mannequin and coppery tones.

One of Bergdorf’s last window’s didn’t relate directly to the others (sometimes with smaller or sides street windows the store does something slightly different). I’d be hardpressed to pick any one as my favorite but I really enjoyed this tall lady and her giraffe:

Originally Bergdorf was the last stop until Rockefeller Center at 50th Street. But then something caught our eyes across the street.

Tiffany & Co: Fifth Avenue at 57th Street

Although the actual windows were tiny, Tiffany went all out with a carousel theme in their windows that even extended to the exterior of the store. Inside each carousel-like marquis was a window display (several of which were animated) bordered with mirrors.

If you are so inclined, you can also watch my recording of the Tiffany windows to see what they look like animated. (This adventure was my first ever experiment with making and editing videos so you’ve been warned!)

After Tiffany’s it was a quick trip down Fifth Avenue, past the Cartier building wrapped up in its famous bow, to get to our next stop.

Rockefeller Center: Fifth Avenue at 50th Street

We took about a million pictures of New York’s most famous tree because it was really exciting to be there aside from being quite good looking this year. But really it just takes one to see the magic of the place:

And, because I can, one more view of the plaza facing away from the tree which proved to be an excellent spot to pose for photos. (We had to wait about ten minutes for our turn.)

Having photographed the Rockefeller Center Tree from every possible angel numerous times, we were ready for to cross the street.

Saks Fifth Avenue: Fifth Avenue at 49th Street

Except for this one, sad, photo the Saks windows were actually moving too fast to photograph with any degree of quality. I did, however, make a video of all of the Saks Christmas windows to document their frenetic animation.

After that it was time to head farther down to the next stop on the Tour de Christmas.

Lord & Taylor: Fifth Avenue at 38th Street

Fun Fact: Lord & Taylor is the only store in New York City (at least the only one that does holiday windows–maybe the only one period) that has moveable windows. Instead of having to crawl inside the displays to install the sets and figures, Lord & Taylor window designers can lower the windows into the basement of the store to install the windows. For this reason, and perhaps because the designers are awesome, Lord & Taylor always has really beautiful, well-realized windows. This year was no exception.

Each of the windows looked at what Christmas was made of (as seen by children whose drawings framed each animated window display):

By this point I was finally getting the hang of my video camera. So you are welcome to view my video of the Lord & Taylor Christmas windows.

Lord & Taylor was the penultimate stop on the inaugural Tour de Christmas. For anyone who has ever seen Miracle on 34th Street, the Tour’s last stop will probably not be a surprise.

Macy’s: Herald Square

Macy’s windows are sometimes wonderful and sometimes just bizarre. This year, happily, they were delightful. The windows were bright and sparkly (not to mention a little bit steampunk!) and told a clever story of the journey ornaments take.

As you can probably imagine, I also made a video of these windows for your viewing pleasure.

With all of the trees documented, and all of the windows viewed, there was nothing left to do but call it a day and declare my first ever Tour de Christmas a success.

I hope this post finds  everyone in good health and high spirits whether you celebrate Christmas or a different holiday entirely (or perhaps even several at once). Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers.

If you would like to see all of my photos from the Tour de Christmas 2011, you can find them on my website.

For your convenience here, again, are the video links:

Tiffany’s 2011 Holiday Windows

Saks’ 2011 Holiday Windows

Lord & Taylor’s 2011 Holiday Windows

Macy’s 2011 Holiday Windows