How to Ditch Your Fairy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine LarbalestierWelcome to New Avalon, the best city in the world–just ask any of its residents. New Avalon has the most important celebrities, the tallest buildings, and the best slang. It also has the best sports school in the country, but you probably already knew that since it has a reputation for training future famous athletes by the truckload.

As far as fourteen-year-old Charlie is concerned life in New Avalon is just about perfect, especially now that she’s getting to know here totally pulchy and crush-worthy new neighbor Stefan. The only real problem is Charlie’s parking fairy.

It’s not that fairies are uncommon, far from it. Many New Avaloners have fairies that help with everything from finding loose change to finding the perfect clothes. Some fairies make people charming and famous, some keep them from ever getting cold or losing their grip. Charlie’s fairy helps her find a perfect parking space anywhere, any time.

Charlie can’t drive. Charlie hates cars. Charlie is tired of always smelling vaguely of  gasoline. And Charlie is sick of being passed around to her all of her neighbors going to the doctor or some other important appointment where they need to find good parking.

Charlie is desperate to get rid of her fairy through any means necessary. And sometimes desperate people do stupid things like refusing to help one of the most important people in school and teaming up with their archenemy (and even a few other, more dangerous, things). Only time will tell if it will all be enough to solve Charlie’s parking problem in How to Ditch Your Fairy (2008) by Justine Larbalestier.

Larbalestier splits her time between Australia and the United States (specifically New York City) and has written books set in both countries. How to Ditch Your Fairy is set in neither. Instead, Larbalestier has created an imaginary country; an amalgam of the two. The effect is rather like being thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim. The setting, the slang, and the culture are utterly alien and initially quite confusing. (The book includes a character as clueless as some readers will feel about the ways of New Avalon as well as several helpful glossaries at the end of the book.)

While the total immersion is a little daunting at first, it helps get right to the action of the story. Larbalestier introduces a fascinating and foreign city readers will love learning about throughout the story. Even though New Avalon doesn’t exist outside of this story, it feels like it does thanks to Larbalestier’s expert depiction.

Charlie is also a refreshing addition to the already rich cadre of young adult heroines. She eats, drinks and breathes sports (like most of her fellow students). Charlie’s passion for sports is embedded in every part of How to Ditch Your Fairy but there is more to the story, and the heroine, than sports. Some readers will fully identify with Charlie and her enthusiasm for all things sports. Others will appreciate her eagerness because it so clearly reflects the fierce commitment needed to follow a dream.

How to Ditch Your Fairy starts with a familiar girl, a character you could have met anywhere, but by the end of the story it will be clear that this book is completely original and completely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter

Exclusive Bonus Content: I had the very, very, very good fortune of talking to Justine Larbalestier at a signing event at Books of Wonder a few weeks ago (right before making a fool of myself in front of Scott Westerfeld, but that’s a different story) and mentioned to her my appreciation of her frank discussion of the problems surrounding the cover for her latest book, Liar. (Sound unfamiliar? I talk about it my review of the book and here as well.) Anyway, we got to talking and Larbalestier said she favored the Australian version of the cover.

Before talking to her I’d had my own dilemma deciding whether to get a hardcover or paperback version of How to Ditch Your Fairy. I tend to prefer hardcovers in my personal collection and I ultimately bought that one because I decided I preferred that cover art (the top photo here). I still do, but after reading the book I’m torn because I think the paperback version (bottom photo) is more true the story even though both capture the “spirit” or the book in some sense. I also like that both version keep the same attractive color scheme. I’m happy with my choice (and that Ms. Larbalestier applauded the power of blogs in my copy!) but I decided I’d present you with both covers here to get a fuller sense of the overall package.

Girl at Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (in which I am wrong a lot)

Girl at Sea by Maureen JohnsonSeventeen-year-old Clio Ford has the perfect summer planned. She’s managed to snag a job at her favorite art store where her dream boy is already employed–the first time her crazy tattoo has been good for something. Working in the art store will give Clio a 30% discount, dibs on returned art supplies, and full access to Ollie. For an entire summer.

Clio has never been kissed but with this foolproof summer, she’s sure her time is coming.

The only problem is she isn’t going to be in the country this summer.

Instead of a summer romance she’s getting. . . . Clio isn’t actually sure what she’s getting. Life with her father can be like that. Madcap and reckless, he and Clio achieved a minor level of fame as creators of a popular board game. But that was another life. And Clio has finally gotten used to her new life. Without her father.

Until now.

The summer definitely involves a boat in Italy and one of her father’s ridiculous schemes. It will also feature Julia, his scary new girlfriend. To make the summer even more unbearable, Clio will also get to spend it with Julia’s daughter Elsa of the effortless charm and goddess-like beauty and Julia’s assistant Aidan of the strange haircut, extreme arrogance and really intense eyes.

Clio’s summer has all the makings of perfect disaster. Or maybe things can be disastrously perfect in Girl at Sea (2007) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Every time I start one of Maureen Johnson’s books, I expect to recognize her writing style or her voice. I spend so much time reading her blog and twitter updates that it seems reasonable to assume her books will all have that same voice. They don’t. Every time I start a new Maureen Johnson book I am amazed that every character has a totally different personality, every narrative sounds unique, and even each book’s design is something special.

For years I believed Girl at Sea was the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It isn’t (although in my defense the covers are very similar–I prefer this one).

Now that it’s clear what this book is not, it is safe to say that it is excellent.

Clio’s life is anything but ordinary which makes her story really engaging. Part treasure hunt, part reconciliation, Girl at Sea blends a bunch of unlikely genres to create a story filled with adventure, romance and Johnson’s signature humor (the one thing that really does seem to come through in every book).

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Movie Reviews!

I recently got to see three movies I had been really excited about. So excited, in fact, that I had to share my thoughts with you, dear readers, in a departure from my usual book reviews.

I had big plans to take my mom to see both the new Sherlock Holmes and Avatar in theaters since their respective trailers looked so cool. The feature on 60 Minutes about James Cameron and his new movie also didn’t hurt.

Sadly, the big movie plans never happened. But I did get both movies on DVD, fairly quickly, from my place of employ. I’m sad to say that was the best part of the viewing experience for me and my mom.

Sherlock Holmes was fun but it didn’t really live up to any of the older movies featuring the brilliant detective. Jude Law was excellent as Watson while Robert Downey Jr. was a bit more himself than his character. He also looked really dissipated. And, honestly, the plot dragged on a bit too long. I think the movie might be a promising opener for a new, modern era of Sherlock Holmes movies which will return to more traditional stories and tropes (Sherlock is not a fighter, no matter what Guy Ritchie wants you to think) but given the vast departure here it seems unlikely.

Avatar was a bit easier to judge since I had no expectations as to what it would be. Visually the movie was stunning. The cinematography and CGI were truly impressive. But the plot was not original and, again being frank, it was way too long. It took us two days to watch it. Ultimately, it wasn’t too disappointing to miss either in theaters. I’m not even sure we could have made it through Avatar in an actual theater.

Then a couple weeks ago to celebrate my friend Jan’s birthday, I went with her and Nicole, The Book Bandit, to see Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland in 3D. Let me start here by saying the last time I went to a 3D movie the theater was still giving out those paper glasses with the red plastic lenses. How far we have come! Even the glasses were cool! And they fit over my own glasses.

I had heard mixed reviews about the new Alice but I fell in love with a poster of Anne Hathaway as The White Queen and the new Cheshire Cat so I was optimistic even though Johnny Depp’s makeup as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter’s bulbous head as the Red Queen did give me pause.

There was nothing to worry about! This movie was so good! Jan and Nicole had already seen it before and I can see how they didn’t mind seeing it again–I would totally see it again in a heartbeat. Everything was so layered and rich that I can see it being a new viewing experience every time. I don’t think the movie necessarily had to be 3D but the visuals were really neat, not too flashy.

As to the story, I loved it. I can see how people would be upset if they were expecting a faithful retelling of the Lewis Carroll story, but that’s not really what’s going on. It’s a sequel. What came after Alice first walked through the looking glass, if you will. (In this way the movie is similar to the Sci-Fi channel miniseries Alice with Caterina Scorsone–also super good.) I loved all of the actors and the characters. The story was charming and the movie itself was quite simply beautiful.

I was particularly fond of Anne Hathaway’s character. I want to start fluttering around like her and I have a mad desire to dress up as the White Queen for Halloween even though I never go to Halloween parties and probably can’t really pull it off–I loved her that much.

Anyway, there were definitely two duds. But Alice in Wonderland definitely made up for it and reminded me how much fun it can be to go to see movies in a movie theater when you can.

Catching Fire: A Review

Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsKatniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, has survived the Hunger Games saving not only herself but also her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark.

But there can only be one victor in the Games and her desperate move has made Katniss a target not only of the Capitol’s anger but also of the fledgling rebellion. Saving herself and Peeta set off a spark that is spreading quickly through the other districts. A spark that the girl on fire is not sure she wants to put out.

Everything is spinning out of control.

Katniss’ only hope to protect her loved ones is to convince all of Panem that she was mad with love, not rebellion. But is that true? Months after the Games, Katniss still can’t unravel her true feelings for Peeta anymore than she can admit that their relationship is an elaborate act for the cameras.

It’s hard enough traveling from district to district pretending to be madly in love without knowing if any of it is real. But the reaping is approaching and with it the time for Katniss and Peeta to return to the Capitol as mentors for the 75th Hunger Games–a special year for the Games which never means anything good for the districts.

Good or bad, the spark has been lit and there’s no turning back in Catching Fire (2009) by Suzanne Collins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Being the second book in a trilogy, this one has an understandably slower start than The Hunger Games. Collins spends a fair bit of time recapping plot points and reintroducing characters. Even with those details, readers will be hard pressed to follow Catching Fire without its predecessor (hint: read this trilogy in order).

That said, I might actually prefer this one to the first.

Readers have already been inside the Hunger Games seeing life in the arena and understanding the spectacle in all of its authoritarian gore. Catching Fire, by contrast, takes readers behind the scenes. Collins spends a lot more time building up the politics of Panem and introducing readers to the other districts. Add to that the fledgling seeds of revolution and you have some of my favorite literary tropes.

Catching Fire also adds past victors into the mix along with more of Panem’s past. Then there’s the whole massive-twist-that-changes-everything in the middle of the story (that some people very irresponsibly add to their booktalks or reviews even though it’s totally a spoiler).

On top of that, this book spends a lot more time looking at the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Is it love? Peeta knows what he thinks while Katniss is less certain. She knows  she doesn’t want to get married or have children and she isn’t sure if that means she also doesn’t want to love anyone even though she wants to do everything in her power to keep Peeta safe (my own thoughts: it’s love–and I will be so pissed if Collins disagrees with that).

If The Hunger Games was a loud, free-spirited book, Catching Fire is its more introverted, creative counterpart. Everything readers love from the first book is here, but at the same time more space is given to character development and world building (two things I always want to see in my dystopian adventure novels).

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Legend by Marie Lu, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: The cover here is huge because I want to you take a minute to admire it. Take it in. Ostensibly it’s the same cover as the first book in a different color scheme. But not quite. I love the subtle twists book designer Elizabeth B. Parisi puts on these books with Tim O’Brien’s artwork. They make the series on a whole cohesive but each book is also very individualized. Plus mockingjays are totally badass.

The Hunger Games: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsIn the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Ruthless and calculating, the Capitol rules the districts with an iron hand. Especially after what happened to District 13. But people don’t talk about that.

Inside the Capitol life is a constant celebration filled with beauty and abundance, especially during the Games. Outside the Capitol, in the other districts, people live in poverty struggling to find enough to eat. To remind them, year after year, that they once rebelled and are now conquered, the Capitol has made the Hunger Games an annual spectacle of brutality masked as entertainment.

Two tributes are required from each district. One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Whisked from their homes, forced into an arena, the tributes are trained, armed, and ordered to fight to the death. There is one Victor in every Game. But no one ever truly beats the Hunger Games because no one can ever truly beat the Capitol.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen doesn’t care about the Games. She cares her mother and protecting her younger sister Prim. She cares about surviving and finding enough food for her family. For Katniss, underfed and ill-prepared, stepping into the arena promises a quick and gruesome death.

Her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, is unlikely to fare much better.

There can only be one Victor. But working together, Katniss and Peeta might just find a way to beat the Games in The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins.

Find it on Bookshop.

By now, this book hardly needs a review. Wildly popular, The Hunger Games already flies off the shelves. After reading the book, it’s easy to see why.

Collins presents a bleak, futuristic world filled with action and the promise of excitement and intrigue. The Hunger Games is not written as a story being told to a reader. Instead Katniss seems to be talking directly to the reader. The immediacy and pathos this adds to the story cannot be overstated. Readers are right there with Katniss as she meets the other tributes–and calculates how best to kill them and the likelihood that they will beat her to it. Katniss could be cold and calculating, indeed she often is, but the dynamic between Katniss and the other characters makes her more than that. It makes her human.

The Hunger Games is essentially filled with battles, twists, and suspense. But it is also the story of life in a police state. Even more, it is the story of a girl learning who she is in the most unlikely of settings and understanding that sometimes victory can be about a whole lot more than winning.

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Legend by Marie Lu, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

How to Catch a Star: A Picture Book Review

Once there was a boy and that boy loved stars very much. In fact, he could think of nothing grander than catching his own star to call his friend in How to Catch a Star (2004) by Oliver Jeffers.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jeffers’s whimsical first picture book blends easy to follow text with sharp, clean illustrations to create something remarkable. Everything about this story invites readers to stop for moment and plan their own scheme to catch that elusive star.

It’s not easy to build suspense into a 32 page picture book, but Jeffers manages it. Will the boy catch the star? Will he find a friend? It’s hard to say in the beginning–but don’t worry, everything works out in the end.

The clear, short sections of text combined with large, often full-page, illustrations make How to Catch a Star ideal for reading aloud or for early readers.

The public has spoken

Posts will no longer be excerpted when viewed through a feed reader. Please don’t forget to stop by sometimes though and share a comment or two (:

Random Poll #6: Miss Print’s Post Synopses (or lack thereof)

I recently started displaying excerpts of posts in RSS feed format. Partly this was an experiment to get a better sense of how my lovely readers get to the blog and partly I am aware that although I try to stick to 500 words my posts are generally on the longer side of what is expected or “typical” for a blog. But I’m not sure how I feel about them.

So I’m asking you: Should I leave the RSS feed posts as excerpts? Vote in the poll below. (Bonus Question: Should I excerpt the posts on my actual blog or do you like reading them all from the home page? Tell me in the comments, but please say yes because I don’t want to change any old posts . . . kidding, mostly!)

Operation Library School Status: Complete

I’m done. I don’t have my diploma yet, but I have finished all of the requisite coursework for my lovely new master’s in library science. Now I just need to find a job (please do pass along any hints or postings you may!)

I’m pleased as punch but also a little out of sorts because this is the first time I have been out of school since I was 4 years old. Put another way, I’ve been in school one way or another for twenty years. And now I’m not. It’s a very weird feeling but also an exciting one.

I learned a lot in these two years about libraries and being a librarian, of course, but I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. I learned that library science really is not rocket science. And I learned that it is okay, and sometimes necessary, to just jump in head first (or feet first–which way does that expression go?).

This blog essentially started when I knew I would be applying to library school (I’ve come to think of it as the world’s longest writing sample) and now that I’m just about done, I feel like it also is starting a new chapter. It will probably be a chapter that looks very much like the previous one, but a new chapter all the same.

My main concern (like all of my fellow graduates *high fives them all*) is to find a librarian job. But now that I’m not in school I feel like I can have other plans to. For posterity (and to remind me when I slack on them all) those plans include:

  • Updating my website (not this one, my other one)
  • Finishing my novel (I was an English major before I was a librarian!)
  • Developing a writing habit (see above, also it’s time)
  • Submitting writing around (once I figure out where “around” would actually be)
  • New cross-stitch project
  • New crochet project
  • Getting rid of all the books sitting around my apartment waiting to be read (it’s time, especially since I can conceivably read all of them now . . . eventually)
  • Possibly starting an online bookclub through a wiki (this is very early stages and I need to touch base with people to get a better sense of where it’s going, but if you want to be a part of it, let me know in a comment)
  • My long promised book giveaway bonanza (so close, you guys! 33,350 hits as of this moment)

I have a few other things up my sleeve which I’m sure you’ll all hear about. For now, a big congratulations to any other graduates out there and to all of my dear readers still working through a degree, best of luck–soon you’ll be the ones waxing philosophical about that completed degree.

Rapunzel’s Revenge: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel/Comic Book) Review

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan HaleOnce upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl named Rapunzel.

Stolen from her parents by a vengeful witch, Rapunzel grew up in a world of privilege and perfection except for the wall all around her home begging to be climbed.

On the other side of the wall, Rapunzel finds out the truth about her life and its lies.

She is trapped in a tower and she does escape. A gallant prince has nothing to do with it. But her mile-long braids-turned-lassos might.

Now that she’s free and knows the truth, Rapunzel has one thing on her mind. With the help of her big talking, man with a plan, sidekick Jack (yes, that Jack . . . the one with the beanstalk, yup) Rapunzel is ready to right some wrongs in Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (husband and wife) and illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation).

Find it on Bookshop.

Like a lot of readers, Rapunzel’s Revenge had me as soon as I heard about the premise. A feminist retelling of a classic fairy tale set in the American Old West? What’s not to love?

Some readers might be surprised by the depth of both the illustrations and the text or put off by the comic book styling. Yes, the book is geared more toward tweens and older children, but there is nothing wrong with that. And don’t let the comic book panels fool you, this is a humdinger of a book rich with enough detail and subtext to keep even the most advance readers busy (while the interplay of text and images can help readers on the other end of the spectrum).

There is an obvious juxtaposition between what Rapunzel narrates in what can only be called a “voice over” of the story and what she actually shows us.  (For an example see the section on page 34 and 35 describing Rapunzel’s triumphant escape.) This interplay adds a level or humor and depth to the story that, amazingly, can only come from a comic book format.

Nathan Hale spent more than a year creating the artwork for this book and it shows. Each panel is intricately drawn out so that the story jumps off the page. If you think the cover looks good, wait until you start reading the story.

Rapunzel is charming, Jack’s fast-talking humor make him easy to love, and the setting itself is so original that it’s easy to forget you might have met these characters before. Sometimes retellings of classic tales get it wrong. They’re completely off-base and make no sense or just a dry, pale, rehash of the original. Rapunzel’s Revenge is one that gets everything right.

Punzie and Jack’s adventures continue in Calamity Jack.

Possible Pairings: The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne and Giselle Potter, Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monks, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin