Books & Chocolates blogger gift swap

My friend Nicole just told me about what sounds like another fun book swap. Jules of One Book Shy of a Full Shelf is hosting a book and chocolate swap to coincide with Valentine’s Day (more or less).

Full info for the swap can be found at her site. Or by clicking that nifty button in my sidebar.

If you are an active blogger (any blogger, not just a book blogger) you have until January 20 to sign up. (That should be easy for everyone to remember since it’s also my 25th birthday!)

The only requirements are simple: You have to send along at least one chocolate treat and one book. What could be better?

If you agree, sign up here.

The Boyfriend List: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Boyfriend List by E. LockhartThe whole mess started with Finn. But it started a while ago. Before Finn was all cute and tall and athletic. Well, technically it might have had more to do with Kim. But Finn is definitely involved. So is Jackson. And his four ceramic frogs. Tommy Hazard, as usual, is blameless. Angelo and Noel aren’t really involved. But they might have helped make everything worse. When it’s all said and done Nora, Cricket and Meghan are all not speaking to her. Kim isn’t either but that isn’t really a surprise.

And that’s almost all before fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver starts having panic attacks that lead to her eleven shrink appointments.

The first step in stopping the panic attacks is probably understanding what happened. Which requires looking at how things started (with Finn, obviously) and where they wound up (losing her best friend Kim, again duh). And a good way to figure things out is by making lists, right?

It’s not like one list could make Ruby’s life even worse by ruining her reputation and making her a social outcast. Right?

Wrong. One list can actually make Ruby’s life even worse by ruining her reputation and making her a social outcast in The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver (2005) by E. Lockhart.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Boyfriend List is the first book in E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series.

Deceptively slim at 229 pages (paperback), The Boyfriend List is a complex story told out of chronological order. While Ruby’s life is essentially falling apart around her she also starts seeing Dr. Z and looking at her past interactions with boys to see what, exactly, happened. Lockhart moves seamlessly through distant and near past as she moves the story toward Ruby’s immediate present (the point from which she is narrating).

The resulting story is satisfyingly complex while still being straightforward. Despite what the title might suggest, this isn’t a book about boys. It’s about friendships and social interaction. And, okay, yes it’s also about boys. Lockhart brings humor and compassion to a book that is simultaneously zany and deeply authentic (I think, more on that in the Exclusive Bonus Content). Even more impressive: She does it all while creating a convincing cast of oddballs, smarties, and other likely suspects who are all fun to read about–even if some of them might be jerks (like Jackson). All in all a delightful book.

Ruby’s adventures continue in The Boy Book.

Possible Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: The truth? I was nothing like Ruby and her friends in high school (except maybe Nora). I had no interest in boys and no time for them. Did any boys even like me in high school? Still not sure. (Probably not. But since I doubt any of my high school classmates read this blog I guess we’ll never really know.)

So is this book authentic? I don’t know really but other people say it is so I’ll go with that. It’s weird reading books about the quintessential high school experience only to know your high school experience wasn’t like that. I’m starting to think I had a really skewed view of my high school life but who knows? Maybe the next big thing will be a book about a girl who spent all her time reading, working in a library, and doing homework instead of having boyfriend troubles or partying or whatever those authentic teens are doing. It could happen, right?

On Writing Book Reviews

A while ago I discovered the wonderful and brilliant blog Emily Reads. Aside from having the best take on Greg Heffley EVER Emily’s blog is interesting because she posts review haikus. As far as I know she’s the only book blogger who posts reviews in haiku form (maybe in poem form period). Then I started looking around and realized everyone has very different review methods.

One of my best friends, The Book Bandit, features a book of the week (like this one) in a list kind of format (what it is, why she liked it, etc.) along with other reviews.

Blogs run by groups of people like Stacked or The Book Smugglers might have review conversations or multiple reviews with different takes on the same book.

Dog Ear often includes quotes in her reviews to support her stance.

I’m also really enjoying booked up‘s reviews because aside from having a really clean site, Nicole also takes her own pictures of each book instead of just posting the cover image.

You get the idea.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how I put reviews together–a process I thought I’d share with you below:

All of my reviews start with a summary–always written by me. I structure them much like a booktalk. Summaries never have spoilers or feature information beyond page 20 of the book (give or take for longer titles) or information not featured in the blurb found on the actual book.

Reviews also feature title, publication date and author. If I discuss a cover I try to mention the designers/artists involved.

Sometimes reviews are negative. I am always honest in my reviews and part of that includes reviewing books I didn’t love in a professional manner. Honestly, reviewing nothing but the books I loved would get boring. Reviews, especially negative ones, often help me as a reader to hash out what exactly frustrated me or turned me off in a book.

The end of a review will feature possible pairings. These include books, movies, tv shows, songs, etc. I feel fit with the book at hand. Sometimes that means there is a similar plot, genre or basic premise. In other instances the items will deal with similar themes or feature similar language and style. The pairings are, of course, subjective but I do put thought into it and try to put things readers will enjoy if like the book featured in the review.

Sometimes, if I have a lot to say about a topic not directly related to the review or my feelings about the book (often about the cover but sometimes other things) I will also place Exclusive Bonus Content at the end of a review. I cross post a lot of my reviews but that bonus content can only be found here.

Then, of course, every Wednesday I apply all of these guidelines to a Chick Lit Wednesday review which features a strong female character (or more!) and is often written by a female author.

Blog Book Giveaway: Wildwood Dancing[CLOSED]

This giveaway is for a discarded library copy of Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. What that means is that this book has a barcode, library labeling and a “withdrawn” stamp on the title page. It’s in serviceable condition and looks almost like new–you have been warned. (You can actually see the spine in the left end of my header and will note that it looks pretty good.) Though not published in 2010, this was one of my favorite reads this year (and my 1000th book) and seemed like a good one to giveaway at the close of 2010.

Want to know more about the book? Read my review.

The giveaway is open to US readers only (sorry!) and will end January 2. The winner will be notified via email on January 2 .

TO ENTER: Leave a comment below (with a valid email in the email form area) with your favorite fairy tale, myth, or legend.

Winner will be selected via random number generator by Maple the Palm Pre.

Congratulations to the winner: Nicole!

In the meadow we can build a paper plate snowman . . .

. . . and name him Stanley.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I led my first craft time this past Monday. I’ve helped with programs before but this was the first time I was going solo in terms of creating the craft and running the program. Aside from stupidly killing my knees by kneeling on the floor with the kids (long story) the program went well. Five or so children took part including a couple of boys who were drawn in by the general amazing-ness of my craft.

We made paper plate snowmen. One girl actually bounced and oohed when I showed the demo to entice program participants. Just saying.

Here’s my demo version. As you might have guessed, his name is Stanley.

The direction of the craft relied heavily on supplies already on hand at the library (except for a hole punch which I had to bring from home). Ideally I would have liked to use white glue for the craft but working with a bunch of kids aged 3 to 7 or so in a carpeted room made it not feasible. Glue stick will work but you need to really slather it on.

Anyway, if you want to make your own Stanley, start by stapling two paper plates together (with the bottoms up so you have a curved surface). Next glue pom poms to the top plate to create eyes and a nose. I used a crayon to draw on his “coal” mouth and buttons.

Punch two holes (I used a hole punch but in desperate times it is possible to position a three hole punch properly to use just one hole). Cut a pipe cleaner in half and twist one half through each of the holes to make branch arms.

Finally, to cover the staples holding him together, make a scarf. I had paper strips with a hole punched in one end–I have no idea what their original use was but they were just the right size for snowman scarves and came in tons of colors. I glued one strip across the neck area and then slanted the other one so it would look more scarf-like (and camouflaged the holes that my strips had).

The final result is a fun snowman that is actually pretty sturdy as long as enough glue is used. The kids had fun picking their own colors for the scarf and pom poms and everything worked smoothly (except my knees). It was simple, fun, and festive without being too Christmas biased. I was really pleased with the result of the craft planning and the program itself.

Magic Under Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (original cover)Nimira is a trouser girl. She left her home years ago seeking fame and maybe even fortune in Lorinar.

Instead Nim is treated like foreign trash and reduced to playing in seedy music halls lacking the respect and admiration reserved for artists back home in Tiansher.

That is until a sorcerer comes to Nim with an unusual proposal.

Hollin Parry is in possession of an automaton of singular craftsmanship. It plays the piano and some people say it might be haunted, so real does it look. Mr. Parry doesn’t believe any of that, but he would like a singer to accompany the automaton’s playing. In fact, he wants Nimira to accompany it.

If Nimira can ignore the rumors about the automaton and the sorcerer’s past, Mr. Parry can offer her respectable work at the fine estate of Vestenveld, a steady income, and maybe even something more if Nim is willing.

But life at Vestenveld is not as it appears. A madwoman roams the halls and rooms are filled with remnants of a dark past. Then there’s the automaton.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (revised cover)He doesn’t frighten Nimira, far from it. But what if his lifelike movements aren’t just clockwork actions? What if the automaton really is haunted? Or worse? As Nim learns more about her new home and the automaton she will have to make dangerous choices to protect herself and save the one she loves in Magic Under Glass (2010) by Jaclyn Dolamore.

At 225 pages (hardcover) Magic Under Glass is a short book–especially for a fantasy (a genre where many books top out at more than 400 pages). Dolamore’s pacing is perfect to build tension and establish the complicated world of Lorinar, especially as seen through the eyes of a foreigner like Nim, right until the end of the story.

Like the Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle books, this one blends a lot of different elements into what is essentially a fantasy. Magic Under Glass offers commentary on racism, discrimination, class systems, ethics and more all while guiding Nimira through a story narrated, rather delightfully, in Nim’s witty voice. The novel also blends elements of gothic novels with traditional fantasy tropes (and politics) to create suspense and romance throughout.

The ending comes very quickly as the story builds to a high action scene that culminates rather abruptly. Even with the quick ending Magic Under Glass is really a perfect story. And, honestly, a perfect ending. The story’s closure is just open-ended enough for readers to imagine their own perfect outcome. A sequel may be in the works–Dolamore has certainly created a large enough world to accommodate many more stories–but this is one book that is wrapped up very nicely on its own without tying things up too tightly.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Exclusive Bonus Content: Readers who followed the Liar cover controversy back in 2009 might remember that the same publisher was once again called for putting a white girl on the cover of Magic Under Glass in 2010. (More basic information about book cover design can be found in this post.) Nimira is a character of color. She has brown skin and her second class status among the paler people of Lorinar is a HUGE part of the story.

The original cover for the book (the top image in this review because it’s the cover I read the book with) has a girl with pale skin. Now, to be fair, I think this infraction is easier to swallow than Liar because the girl’s face is obscured and the lighting is dim so you can’t really say for sure what the girl actually looks like. On the other hand, that’s splitting hairs and there should be more minority characters shown prominently on book covers. This cover, while visually wonderful (props to the photographer Monica Stevenson, designer Danielle Delaney and Kristin Farrell who supplied the beautiful jewelery shown), is also really not indicative of the plot since it focuses on one tiny scene that relates very tangentially to the actual plot of the story. Interestingly this cover also might be showing Nim in her “trouser girl” costume which is a loaded thing in itself (and explained in the book so I won’t get into it here).

If response to the controversy raised by the cover/plot disconnect later editions of the book were released with a new cover featuring a model who much more obviously fits Nimira’s description. This cover also is more closely related to the plot of the story. See that key she’s holding? Really important part of the story. Seriously.

Personally, I like both covers. They capture different parts of the story very well. The contrast (and controversy) also provides an interesting counterpoint to the story and even comments further on some of the issues raised in the novel by Dolamore herself.

Blog Book Giveaway: A Private Midnight[CLOSED]

This giveaway is for a signed copy of A Private Midnight: A Teenager’s Scrapbook of Secrets by Scott Fried (who happens to be one of my neighbors as well as the author).

It’s a little bit PostSecret, a little bit six word memoirs, very interactive and quite cool.

Want to know more about the book? Check out its website.

The giveaway is open to US readers only (sorry!) and will end December 26. The winner will be notified via email.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment below (with a valid email in the email form area) with the words in your pockets (make of that what you will–I’ll take anything, seriously).

Winner will be selected via random number generator by Maple the Palm Pre.

Congratulations to the winner: Autumn!

Starlighter: A Review

Starlighter by Bryan DavisDragons aren’t real. Mountain bears are dangerous enough with their intelligence, ability to talk and, of course, their eagerness to eat you as much as talk to you. Still, rumors persist of a strange planet called Starlight where dragons rule over enslaved humans–slaves stolen from the planet Jason Masters calls home. Starlight has never been discovered but still hope persists that it can be found, the slaves can be rescued, and maybe the people of Jason’s planet can find their own path to freedom.

Jason doesn’t believe the rumors, but when his missing brother asks for help Jason finds he must trust him and the legends to do his duty.

Koren, a slave to the dragons, can scarcely believe in a world where humans are free. The thought is too far fetched. And too dangerous.

But soon Jason’s mission intersects with Koren’s own work to save her people. Together they might be able to save everyone. Or doom them all in Starlighter (2010) by Bryan Davis.

Starlighter is the first book in the Dragons of Starlight series.

As far as fantasies go this is pretty straightforward swords and sorcery fare with aspirations to high fantasy thrown in for good measure. Jason Masters is a warrior-in-training. Dragons have enslaved humans. Swords are drawn and battles are waged. The story is also concerned with the fate of not one but two worlds (where the high fantasy elements come in).

The problem is that despite those fantasy trappings, Starlighter isn’t really a pure fantasy. Davis also blends in elements of pure science fiction with advanced technology like courier tubes for messages that can be unlocked with genetic material and energy panels.

The blend of futuristic elements with a story focused on a warrior in a world with a strong caste system, with an honor code for how gentlemen should treat women (think chivalry for ancient knights) is jarring. Aside from having a lot going on (dragons, swords, portals, energy panels, and so on) Starlighter‘s mixed bag of elements doesn’t quite mesh.

Davis tries to throw readers right into the thick of the story, but this is one that likely could have done with more set up to prepare readers for odd blend of fantasy and science fiction with a plot that, though starting without preamble, takes a while to really get going.

UPDATE: I figured out what really frustrated me about this book. Basically Davis seems to be trying really, really hard to adhere to standard fantasy tropes with stilted language and swords and what not. But then he throws in all this space stuff. And it’s like mixing oil and water but not in a “look at these artistic circles I’ve made” kind of way but in a way that they just really don’t mesh together. And that’s just the way it is sometimes I guess.

Book Blogger Holiday Swap Gifts: In which I discuss my loot

This November I had the chance to sign up for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I sent out my gifts to my “santee” in late November and had a great time packing everything up and reading my santee’s blog for gift ideas. The funny thing, which I only discovered yesterday is that my santee was Martha from Hey, I Want to Read That and Martha was the secret santa for my friend Nicole over at The Book Bandit’s Blog who also participated. Just goes to show it’s a small world I guess!

Then last week I got my lovely Holiday Swap package. And all I can say is I hope everyone is as charmed by their gifts as I am by mine. A huge, massive, thrilled thank you to my lovely give giver, Andrea over at So Many Books, So Little Time for my fabulous package!

I love giving gifts and seeing reactions. But sometimes I also really like talking about gifts or hearing about gifts others received. So read on to see my lovely package . . . with pictures!

Here is the full group of wrapped packages:

(yes one says “Happy Holidays” upside down because I’m an idiot and didn’t turn it around for the picture.)

And here it all is unwrapped:

Now some close ups because I can.

This is my pretty card to add to my card collection (I save almost all of the cards I get, it’s getting out of hand but I can’t stand to part with any):

I got a nice pack of sticky notes with a snowman on them. I have a slight post-it problem (I used to save them after using them–no really) and love using them for everything from sticking notes on my computer to labeling books for review or giveaway, etc. Having pretty sticky notes is even better!

I also got a pair of fuzzy socks that kind of match the sticky notes that are excellent because it’s always very, very cold by my computer in the winter so I often wear socks and slippers. These are both festive and comfy.

And what’s a Book Blogger swap without books, right? I was very lucky to get not one but two nice books.

First I opened up a copy of Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart. (With my favorite version of the cover–added bonus!)

It’s special for me because Fly on the Wall was the very first Chick Lit Wednesday Review on this blog back when I was still working out what CLW reviews would look like. It’s also the first book I read by E. Lockhart (and maybe my favorite because I *heart* Gretchen and the premise and the structure and, well, everything). Finally it is also one of my favorite books because I wrote a great booktalk for it.

Then I opened this book which actually caused me to gasp in surprise (and happiness):

Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein is one of my favorite books of all time. I got it from my library back  when I was a page when the YA librarian at the time (none other than the illustrious Info Witch) recommended it to me. I read it and loved it. Then I went looking for it a few years later only to find that the library no longer had any copies and I assumed it was out of print and impossible to find. But lo and behold not only did my swapper give me a copy she gave me a new reprint paperback with a nice new cover design! I’m so excited to have a copy of this book to call my own–I can’t wait to get my “to read” pile under control so I can re-read it and give it a proper review here on the blog.

Once again a huge thank you to Andrea. These really were the perfect gifts :)

And Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers. I hope you all get gifts as wonderful as these were for me!

Sleepless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sleepless by Cyn BalogEverything is a joke to Griffin Colburn from the usual pranks and hijinks right down to his relationship with his girlfriend, Julia Devine.

So, really, maybe it isn’t so surprising when Julia thinks the news of Griffin’s death is a practical joke. Maybe it isn’t so surprising that he seems to be playing mean pranks on her . . . after, well, you know.

Julia is used to being the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. She’s used to the whispers and the gossip.

Eron DeMarchelle knows all of Julia’s secrets. He knows what happened to her as a child. He knows her dreams.

Eron is a Sandman, a Sleepbringer, who has been watching Julia since the day she was born helping her sleep and find rest. No longer human, he shouldn’t feel a connection to Julia. But he does.

As his time as a Sandman draws to a close, Eron has a chance to see Julia as a human. To talk to her and maybe have something more. That is, if he can keep her safe long enough to actually talk to her in Sleepless (2010) by Cyn Balog.

At 215 pages (hardcover) Sleepless is a quick read with a lot of appealing elements. The book is written in chapters alternating between Julia and Eron’s first person narrations.

Sleepless is also a strange book to review because I really did enjoy it even though there were a lot of issues with the story.

Eron is a charming character. Though naive and initially stiff, he quickly grows on readers. Even his lack of understanding about simple, rather ubiquitous, slang eventually makes sense considering Eron spends most of his time in the human world watching his charges sleep. Once you can get past the initial creepiness of Eron’s job as a Sandman (and about putting his charges to sleep being called a “seduction”–ew) he is actually very well-meaning and not creepy at all.

Julia, unfortunately, is less endearing though she does have her moments. She talks a lot about not wanting to be “Front-page Julia” or be seen as a victim anymore and how Griffin (and his best friend Bret) helped her develop a thick skin while acting as her buffers to the rest of the world.

The thing is, Julia kind of is a victim. She mentions learning to give as good as she got from Griffin, but he still comes across as a verbally abusive boyfriend.* Who proceeds to profess his undying (er, figuratively) love for Julia upon his demise. That might be possible to overlook as banter gone wrong, except that Julia also lets another character forcibly kiss her (twice) against her will because she wants to be nice. Then, when someone stops this character, she defends his actions since he’s such a “good friend” to her.

There are a lot of reasons Julia could be so misguided, most of them even work with the story although nothing is ever stated explicitly. I’m not even sure why the troubling aspects of this story bothered me so little. Maybe it has something to do with Eron being the main character and beyond reproach and the good guy and there to protect Julia? I’m not sure.

Some of the writing is also awkward.**

There’s a thing called “willing suspension of disbelief” (I learned about in a film studies class, maybe you’ve seen it attached to literature) where basically for a premise to work you have to temporarily surrender your logic.*** Sleepless works if you have enough willing suspension of disbelief.

If you can get past some of the fundamental problems mentioned here (by suspending that disbelief) and just want to sit back and enjoy a fairly straightforward supernatural romance, Sleepless might be it.

*And just plain mean. He gave Julia rabbit ears in their prom photos. Who does that? Is it weird to admit that was the moment I knew Griffin was kind of evil?

**Two words: “hip tumor”

***Star Trek works because the audience believes that gravity can be simulated in space, thereby willingly suspending their disbelief upon seeing the crew of the Enterprise walking around instead of . . . floating.

Possible Pairings: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, Wings by Aprilynne Pike,Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Exclusive Bonus Content: I was going to make this cover image smaller but the alignment is so perfect and the cover is so nice that I’m going to leave it. I also want to point out the flower (I don’t know what kind of flower it is. If you do, tell me in the comments!) and the crescent moon. In addition to putting the character’s name at the top of each chapter, the moon is incorporated into the top of Eron’s first chapter pages while Julia’s first pages are adorned with the flower at the bottom of the page. I don’t have the book with me (I knew there was a reason I kept the books until the review was written) but the design is very indicative of the American edition of A Little Wanting Song and both books are published by Random House so I’m going to go out on a limb and say someone at that publishing house had a hand in both books.