“I am. It gets lonely sometimes.”

Mother and her two daughters are at the library checking out New Moon:

Miss Print: “So are you on Team Jacob or Team Edward?”

Daughter #1: “Team Edward!”

Mother: “Is anyone really on Team Jacob?”

Miss Print: “I am. It gets lonely sometimes. He’s a lot more fun and cheerful.”

Daughter #2 nods (I’m the only one who noticed).

I also have definitive proof in the form of a poll from The Book of Face that, despite his obvious superiority, most of the world* does not support Team Jacob:

Scientific Poll Edward vs. Jacob

*World here referring to everyone on The Book of Face that voted in that poll

How to Steal a Car: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Steal a Car by Pete HautmanKelleigh Monahan doesn’t drink, do drugs, talk back, or do any of the other things girls usually do to act out. In fact, if it weren’t for a series of bizarre coincidences, Kelleigh wouldn’t even have become a car thief in How to Steal a Car (2009) by Pete Hautman.

The first car, the Nissan, was barely even stolen. And after that, well, steal one car and suddenly everyone expects you to be a regular car thief or something.

That isn’t to say that this bookis an action packed heist book. It’s not. Despite its title, How to Steal a Car is more about the ennui and general frustration so often associated with suburban life–especially for teens.

Kelleigh is surrounded by people lulled into complacency by their quiet, suburban town while she, much like Moby Dick’s Ishmael as quoted in the beginning of the story, wants nothing more than to run away. Or, as luck would have it, to drive away in someone else’s car.

How to Steal a Car is an interesting, super fast read. Unfortunately that does not make it particularly compelling. While Kelleigh’s ennui was palpable, she remained painfully one dimensional as a character. Hautman’s portrayal of the rest of the characters in the novel were similarly lacking in depth. The story was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end, but the Kelleigh at the end of the story was basically the same Kelleigh we met at the beginning: a girl frustrated with her life and unsure what to do to fix it.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga, Rx by Tracy Lynn, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Gone in Sixty Seconds (movie).

We now resume your regularly scheduled programming

Okay, readers, it’s been a rocky couple of months but I think I’m back. I wasn’t going to get into details but I’m kind of tired of not talking about everything. September was pretty awful and I was ready to use October to pull myself together. Then my uncle died last week after being in and out of hospitals since January. My aunt was hospitalized with a mysterious infection around the same time. And I got sick again (I’ve been ill on and off since September). Dealing with work and school besides had me ready for a nervous breakdown.

Some things, obviously, can’t be fixed. I’m still sad and I really miss my uncle. But my aunt is on the mend and lots of other things are coming together. For the first time in a really long time I woke up feeling like a person instead of a zombie or a ghost or some other non-person-detached-entity. And even though 2009 is an utter fail as far as my family is concerned a lot of good things happened too.

Now, because of my prolonged illness(es–it might just have been the same cold coming back again and again) I have no content to post. But new stuff will be up here soon. See you on the other side.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. AlexanderAustin Gray doesn’t have a lot of things at the beginning of The Sweetheart of Prosper County (2009) by Jill S. Alexander (find it on Bookshop). She doesn’t have a blue-ribbon-winning sow. She doesn’t have a deer hunting license, or a signature wave. And she definitely doesn’t have a mound of cleavage.

What Austin does have is a plan.

Austin is almost as tired of waiting for someone else to pull her into the annual Christmas parade as she is of being the butt of Dean Ottmer’s jokes and Austin has a surefire way to fix both her problems: become a hood ornament/Sweetheart in the No-Jesus Christmas Parade.

The plan is pretty simple: join Future Farmers of America, raise a blue-ribbon-winning animal, learn to hunt or fish, and say hello to her new role as a member of the confident, parade royalty that are able to shrug off Dean Ottmer’s bullying and taunts. Easy as pie with a little help from her best friend and her momma.

Things soon get complicated (and exciting) when Austin acquires a chicken named Charles Dickens and befriends the FFA crowd. Before she knows it, what had started as a mission for Austin becomes a lifestyle as her dream of becoming the sweetheart of Prosper County forces Austin and her momma to rethink how they deal with little things like annoying neighbors and bigger things like the death of Austin’s father years before.

As a New York City native, reading about Austin’s world was almost like reading about another country. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this book was also disarming in the best possible way. Austin is an open-minded and mellow (except when it comes to Dean Ottmer) character and the book absorbs those qualities.

The book mentions religion a lot (one of the awesome secondary characters is an Elvis impersonator with an Evangelical side) but not in a self-important or righteous way–it’s just a part of who these people are. And, really, that’s how most things should be treated in a book be it cultural, religious or otherwise.

Alexander is a Texas native and she adds a lot of that flavor to The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Readers will be able to hear the twang and feel that Texan charm in Austin’s narration and the story itself. The plot is well-paced and delightfully fun while still having some weight to it.

Possible Pairings: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Miss Smithers by Susan Juby, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Little Brother: A Review

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowI don’t know what I was expecting when I opened Little Brother (2008) by Cory Doctorow. What I do know is that those expectations were largely colored by Doctorow’s appearances in various web-comic-strips on XKCD as a red cape wearing blogger who flies around in a hot air balloon.

Anyway, Marcus Yallow is a senior in San Francisco in the near future. He goes to Cesar Chavez High School which makes him one of the most surveilled people in the world. There’s a terrorist attack, he’s held captive in a Guantanamo Bay-esque prison, he’s released and then he decides to use his hacker skillz to get even and reclaim his city from the sinister clutches of Homeland Security.

And as action-packed as that sounds, the book never became more than a mildly interesting bit of tedious reading for me.

I’m fairly tech savvy, and I do worry about privacy and the like, but after finishing Little Brother the only piece of tech-related advice I retained from the story was that crypto is really awesome. Doctorow tries to embed useful information into the story, but it is either too basic to be interesting or too specialized and esoteric to make sense.

I’m not a teenager and I come from a liberal household and I was living in Greenwich Village during 9/11. I found it irritating that Doctorow’s character’s seemed to operate in a very binary way. Young people (for the most part) opposed the Department of Homeland Security while older people (for the most part) blithely accepted martial law. Really?

Finally, the real reason I disliked this book is that it just was not well put together. With all due respect to the importance of this novel’s subject matter, the writing was far from impressing. The descriptions of technology were almost always too long (and often too technical) to be seamlessly integrated into a novel.

The novel’s continuity verged on non-existent. For instance, Marcus makes a point of mentioning in the early pages that he is wearing boots for easy removal at metal detectors. Yet when he is released he receives his sneakers back with clean clothes. The core of the story–about Marcus’ missing friend–is left hanging for vast spans of the plot. Doctorow is at pains to create a core group for Marcus only to have them all removed from the story by the halfway point and then haphazardly mentioned in a rushed ending.

Marcus was also a bit annoying as a narrator–particularly when in the company of his girlfriend. Realistic depictions of teens aside, I was hoping for a bit more from characters (teen or otherwise) in a novel which is grounded in such extraordinary circumstances.

Also, and this isn’t really the book’s fault, but I truly disliked the cover.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie StandifordIcelandic hairdressers are the happiest people in the world. Unfortunately for Beatrice Szabo, no one knows their secret. And Bea isn’t even a hairdresser, let alone living in Iceland.

Bea is used to moving a lot thanks to her father’s professional wanderlust. But moving constantly is pretty easy once you stop getting attached to things like houses and gerbils. Finding herself in the familiar position of new girl in town (Baltimore this time) is nothing to worry about, especially since Bea knows it will only be a year before college when she can finally be alone.

It’s much worse watching her mother’s slow, embarrassing, breakdown and listening to her constant accusations that Bea is a hard-hearted robot.

Robot girls still have to go to high school where the alphabet conspires to seat Bea next to Jonah Tate–known to most everyone as Ghost Boy. A loner since the third grade, Jonah lives his life apart from the usual bustle and flow of his small private high school’s social circle.

Neither Jonah nor Bea are looking very hard for a new friend. Still they somehow manage to find each other through the unlikely common ground of a late night radio talk show featuring a quirky cast of regular “Night Light” callers. It isn’t a traditional friendship or the usual romance, but it’s definitely love.

The more Bea learns about Jonah and his tragic, lonely world the more Bea knows they need each other; that scary as it seems their friendship might finally be showing her how to be a real girl instead of a robot. But will one former robot be enough to make Ghost Boy into a solid Jonah? Do robots and ghosts even speak the same language? in How to Say Goodbye in Robot (2009) by Natalie Standiford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bea’s narration is a sharp-witted look at high school from an outsider’s perspective, but also something more. This book offers an authentic look at a type of friendshipnot often seen in young adult novels. There is a theory that in every relationship there is one person who loves a bit more–one partner who loves a little stronger. Standiford examines that kind of relationship in How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

Despite the seriousness of the core plot, this story is charming and surreal even at its grittiest moments. Like the Night Lights, Standiford creates a world here between waking and sleep where–if you believe hard enough–magic might be real and anything could be possible.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is a beautifully written book. Standiford paints Bea’s simultaneously stifling and fantastical world with beauty and style deserving of its charming flap copy and enchanting cover.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

“Well, that’s true.”

A couple weeks ago I was rehashing a conversation with some coworkers at MU when a coworker told me that if I kept baking like that I could get a husband. Almost everyone shared my sentiment that, while meaning well, it was kind of a bizarre thing to be told.

Except for one . . .

Bear chimed in without missing a beat amidst the other balking to say, “Well, that’s true.”

Good to know. (And those were mix brownies. I can’t imagine what I could acquire now that I bake cookies from scratch–perhaps a husband and a dog?)

Mini Hiatus

At this point it would take a novel to explain all of the problems I and my family are having right now, so I’m not going to bother trying. I have four posts scheduled already for October and I’m going to try to keep up with Chick Lit Wednesday (either posting ahead of time or by posting retroactively) but I don’t expect much more content to be up on the blog for the foreseeable future until things even out a bit which I sincerely hope will be soon.

Swan Lake: A Review

Swan Lake coverThis version of Swan Lake (1989) is written by Mark Helprin with fabulous color illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg. The story, of course, is very similar to the famous ballet.

An old man lives on a mountain with a young girl who, as children of her type often do, wants to venture down from the safe seclusion of their mountain to find her parents. Seeing this, the old man tells the girl a story to show her what she will encounter below: A story about a prince and a princess named Odette. As the old man relates the story of these star-crossed lovers, it becomes apparent that their fate is intimately linked with the young girl.

While parts of the story are excellent and the illustrations are truly stunning, the book on a whole left me cold. Helprin’s writing is odd. I have written at length in other areas about my strong dislike of modernizing fairy tale stories with references to things like newspapers in a story clearly meant to be set in an earlier time. It might have been funny in Shrek but in any attempt to relate a story as a true fairy tale it just fails miserably, creating a disconnect between the reader and the story.

Event Notice: The Amanda Project

Greetings readers, I received an email about this event and thought I’d pass along the information. I don’t know much about this project, but I did really like Melissa Kantor’s earlier novel (for teens rather than tweens) Confessions of a Not-It Girl. So, if anyone can make it to the event this weekend here’s the info:

The Amanda Project info

Attention all tween girls in the NYC area!

The Amanda Project is the first series that invites tween girls to become a part of the mystery and contribute their own stories and ideas! Come celebrate the publication of the first in the 8-book series – Invisible I – and launch of The Amanda Project!

Hear author Melissa Kantor read from the book and talk about writing collaborative fiction.

AND, in the spirit of Amanda, we’re also taking submissions from tween girls who aspire to be writers! Send your latest piece of fiction (up to 500 words) to events@theamandaproject.com, and we’ll pick a select group of writers to read at the event!

For more information:
www.theamandaproject.com/tappresents-10-11
events@theamandaproject.com
www.myspace.com/the-amanda-project