Sunday, February 24, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Weekly Update #2

Two very different books this week:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is a slightly overweight, not-exactly-popular high school senior whose only ambition in life is to fly under the radar and survive the hell that is high school. He and his best friend, Earl, have little in common except for their love of amateur filmmaking and profanity. When Greg's mom forces him to spend time with Rachel, a girl he "sort of dated" who is dying of leukemia, he can't imagine worse torture. 

Not much happens, either in the plot or with character development. Rachel's illness provides a thin plot thread, but really isn't the focus of the story. I kept hoping for Greg to learn something, but this is not that type of book. That said, the book is hilarious, especially if you aren't easily offended. If phrases like "Jesus Christ in a cockwagon" offend you, I would recommend giving this book a pass.

For a book with a more sensitive take on kids with cancer, I highly recommend John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Book three in the Inheritance series.

The adventures of Eragon and Saphira continue. The story is predictable--anyone who is familiar with Tolkien or Star Wars will be able to see the plot twists coming from miles away. I still found it entertaining, though more careful editing of some parts (much of the dwarven politics, for example) would have kept the plot moving a bit better.  

The downside of listening to these books on audio is that you can't skip exposition and description like you can while actually reading. It took forever to listen to this monster.

Finally, I can get to the last book, the one actually on the challenge list!

Next up:  Inheritance by Christopher Paolini and Every Day by David Levithan.

Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Weekly Update #1

I started out by rereading a couple of books on my bookshelf that I read a few years ago. I am also listening to the audiobooks in the Inheritance Cycle in preparation for the final book, Inheritance, that is actually on the list.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

When newly popular Frankie finds herself excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society, she does what any smart, self-respecting, budding feminist would do--she comes up with a brilliant plot to take over as "Alpha Dog" of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.  Her daring pranks are soon the talk of the whole school, but the reaction is still not quite what she expected.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking and entertaining book.  The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because I was slightly disappointed in the ending.

First Crossing:  Stories about Teen Immigrants by Donald R. Gallo (ed.)

A collection of ten short stories centered around teenage immigrants and some of the issues they face.

Just as in real life, the immigrants in these stories are from many different cultural backgrounds and come to live in America for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the highlights: "First Crossing" about a Mexican boy's first illegal trip into the US; "Pulling Up Stakes" about a Transylvanian boy who finds himself befriended by a group of vampire-loving goth kids; "The Green Armchair" about a young girl who works in her father's furniture repair shop.

Eragon (audiobook) by Christopher Paolini

First in the Inheritance series.

Eragon is a teenaged orphan who lives with his uncle's family. They are poor and when Eragon finds a beautiful blue stone, he tries to trade it for food. 

The stone turns out to be a dragon's egg. The egg chooses Eragon and hatches for him. He is set on a course to become a dragon rider. 

Eragon is a fairly typical fantasy adventure. While the writing is often immature and well-read fantasy fans we notice many details borrowed from other books and movies, the book is still entertaining and worth a look for fantasy fans.

Eldest (audiobook) by Christopher Paolini

Second book in the Inheritance series.

Though the Star Wars parallel continues, I did like this one better than Eragon because Paolini's writing has matured.

The story picks right where Eragon left off.  Though Eragon and Saphira made it through the battle at Tronjheim, Galbatorix still rules Alagaesia.  To get ready for the battle against Galbatorix, Eragon visits the elves, where he and Saphira hone their communication and improve their battle skills.

Meanwhile, back at Carvahall, Eragon's cousin Roran leads a rebellion against Galbatorix after Roran's fiancĂ©e, Katrina, is kidnapped.  He blames Eragon for keeping the mysterious stone and starting the whole mess.

While Eragon's story falls flat in many places, I loved Roran's story.  He is a simple man who rises to do extraordinary things when he must.  The same applies to Eragon, but I just find Roran more interesting (even though he doesn't get a dragon).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye "An Origin Story"

Here are two more of my favorite spoken word poets, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, telling the hilarious and highly coincidental story of how they met.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oh, How I Wish I Could Improvise

Amazing improv. If this doesn't brighten your day, nothing will!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Neil Gaiman Hosts "Selected Shorts"

Neil Gaiman hosts this episode of Selected Shorts, featuring "The Rocking Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence and "The Book" by Ben Loory (read by Jane Kaczmarek).  What a great way to discover classic short stories and to hear commentary by your favorite authors and performers.

"The Rocking Horse" is about a young boy who bets on horse races to earn money to help his family, but learns that money is not, after all,  his family's real problem. It has a fantasy element that is a departure from D.H. Lawrence's usual style. The story is read by Fionnula Flanagan.

"The Book," is read by Jane Kaczmarek. A woman buys a book and, once she gets home, discovers that it has no text. After the bookstore manager refuses to let her return it, she rants about it to anyone who will listen. Because of her vociferous objection to the book, it soon appears at the top of the bestseller list. (That's exactly why I love book-banners--they've helped me to discover many of my favorite books!) In the commentary, Gaiman says, "No two people ever read the same book because, as readers, we are the books that we read." Indeed.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

YALSA's 2013 Hub Reading Challenge

I can't believe I've never done this challenge before, as it's right up my alley. It's time for the 2013 Hub YA Reading Challenge.  Many of these books are already on my TBR list.   overflowing with booknerdy excitement!

From February 3 to June 22, read at least 25 of the 83 books from a list of eligible titles (all are award winners).  A bonus challenge is to read all 83--that's my goal.

The prize? In addition to experiencing the best of contemporary YA lit, be entered to win a YALSA tote bag filled with YA books!  Squeee!

I'll be starting with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney.  Next up? The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Now excuse me, I have some reading to do, as I'm starting a week late...

Update (2/9/13 9:40 PM)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever is the sixth installment in the Wimpy Kid series.

Greg Hefley is desperately trying to stay on Santa's nice list, while also finding a way to keep his virtual pet happy and outfitted in the latest fashions (which requires real money).  Of course, Greg's schemes don't turn out the way he intended and he is soon on the run from the law. Worse yet, a blizzard blows into town and (gasp!) traps him in the house with his mom and brothers.  Which is worse? Greg isn't too sure.

My favorite quote from the book:  “So I've started wearing sweatpants to bed because I really don't need Santa seeing me in my underwear.” 

I can't wait to share this hilarious book with my students. They love the rest of the series and I'm sure this one will be a big hit as well.

Update (2/10/13 4:27 PM)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I love John Green's writing and I marked lots of great lines as I read that I intended to use in my review. In the end, though, this simple and repeated exchange between Hazel and Augustus says it all. 



They meet at a cancer support group--Hazel is terminal, but her tumors are being kept at bay for the foreseeable future and Augustus is in remission, but missing a leg. As our protagonists fall in love, awkwardly and sweetly, they know that their "forever" will be brief. After all, "[s]ome infinities are bigger than other infinities."

What I loved most about this beautiful, humorous, and heartbreaking story is how real the love story and the friendships feel. Hazel and Augustus fear that their lives will be meaningless, that they will be forgotten when they die. What each finds in the other is a glimpse of what their lives have meant to another. Just like in our real, everyday lives, these ordinary characters find the extraordinary in each other. And that's what love is.