Apr 30, 2012

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

I read The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson for my awesome unofficial YA Book Club and loved it, so I decided to try out the other Maureen Johnson novel I kept coming across: 13 Little Blue Envelopes.  Sidenote, everytime I hear MJ's name, I think of Idina Menzel's character in Rent. 

I despise this cover.
The premise of the novel is a teenage girl, Ginny, taking a whirlwind tour of Europe.  The catch is that she's following orders from the 13 letters her whimsical artist aunt wrote for her before dying of cancer.  Ginny receives 13 little blue envelopes with instructions on how she is supposed to travel Europe with just a backpack and absolutely no technological contact with people back home.  On the way, she learns about her aunt and of course, herself.

Is it cheesey? Yes. In a typical way? No. Ginny is naturally a shy, awkward girl whom boys never look at and has no clue what she wants in life.  That doesn't go away by the end of the novel.  Sure she meets a guy, but by the novel's conclusion, they aren't making plans to spend the rest of their lives together.  I like that.  Some of the scenes are ridiculous, like the Italian boy taking Ginny back to his sister's place to get her drunk off of a sip of wine and try to sleep with her, but I get that they're supposed to assert her growing independence. 

13 Little Blue Envelopes is cute and very funny, even during the emotional chapters when Ginny copes with the sadness and frustration over her aunt's death.   I'd definitely recommend it to someone looking for a quick, relaxing read with some substance, but not super deep what-is-the-meaning-of-life-? substance.

Apr 27, 2012

Friday Five: Modern Retellings - Novels

I just finished a big project based on Retelling (familiar stories with a twist), so they've been constantly on the mind for the past month.  That means that you get to hear about them!  This is why last week's Friday Five installment involved teen movies based on classics.  This is how my mind works.

There are many, many, many, many  retelling available.  These are only five young adult options and not all are super great, but teens would definitely enjoy them.

Five Modern Retelling - Novels
1. Romeo's Ex: Rosaline's Story, by Lisa Fiedler
I wouldn't say that I detest Romeo and Juliet.  But I do say that it's Shakespeare's best comedy.  What? Comedy you say? Yes.
Juliet was also a rebound in Shakespeare's version.  So think about that the next time you sing the praises of a make believe couple.

Anyway, in this re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, we mainly get Rosaline's side of the story.  Turns out she's actually got a thing for Benvolio, and together they want to bring an end to the Capulet and Montague feud.  While not the best book in the world (her desire to study and be a healer is a little forced to add feminist power), I like that it puts Rosaline into focus because so many forget that she existed in the background.

2. Avalon High, by Meg Cabot
When she’s forced to move to D.C. for a year while her King Arthur obsessed parents are on sabbatical, Ellie knows her junior year is going to be terrible. Sure enough, the high school is a little weird.  In this modernized retelling, Ellie encounters a bunch of students who seem to act like characters from King Arthur tales.  They even have the same names.  Ellie just thinks it's a coincidence, but then a teacher warns her that the stories are true and the high schoolers are actually reincarnations of real people.  

I liked this book a lot because you didn't need any prior knowledge of King Arthur to understand what was happening.  There's a lot of explanation in the text which was helpful to people like me who tend to shun classics or just never got the chance to read them. 

3. Golden, by Cameron Dokey
Part of the Once Upon a Time series, this novel shines a new light on Rapunzel.  In this version, she doesn't have the long, golden hair for a prince to climb.  No, here she's actually bald.  When she finds out the sorceress who raised her has a real daughter locked in a tower, Rapunzel promises to help set her free and, in doing so, learns about love.

I liked this book enough, but it got a bit weird near the end when the real daughter is this super weak girl who doesn't know how to talk to people.  Ok, I get that she's been locked in a tower for years, but to have someone speak to a boy for you and agree to your eventual marriage to said boy, and then just set off to marry him like it's no big deal?  I can't buy that.  I buy the sorceress stuff before that plot point.  But the baldness gets a thumbs up from me.

4. This Dark Endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
This retelling is a prequel to Frankenstein.  Victor is a teenager with a twin dying from a mysterious illness.  Despite the fact that alchemy is illegal, Victor sets out to create the Elixir of Life, using directions from a book he stole from his family's "Dark Library."  In doing so, he gets his first taste of power and what it's like to give the power of life.

Now, I personally hated Frankenstein, and much preferred Young Frankenstein and it's Broadway counterpart, but I liked this prequel.  Obviously parts are a little far fetched because they're creating the Elixir of Life and there's absolutely zero mention of Nicholas Flamel (which just irks me and not even for Harry Potter reasons), but it's intriguing.  I did like how the twin's name, Konrad, was a nod to Konrad Dippel, another noted alchemist born at Castle Frankenstein.

5. Something Rotten, by Alan Gratz
This is a modern mystery version of Hamlet.  Hamilton Prince's family owns a massive paper plant that is releasing poisonous chemicals into the river.  Nonetheless, they have a fortune and life is good until someone goes and offs Hamilton's father, his mom marries his uncle, and so on and so forth.  His friend Horatio decides to play detective to figure out whodunnit. 

It's the exact same story, but with modern elements.  Cancer instead of poison, alcoholism instead of madness, environmentalism instead of...well madness, it's pretty nifty. I liked this book the best out of this bunch, although The Lion King is still THE best version of Hamlet ever.

Apr 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters In Books

I was dangerously close to making this my top 10 Harry Potter characters, but I limited myself to only two.  Go me!

Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters In Books

1. Hermione Granger - Harry Potter series

There's no question about it. I don't even know where to begin. #Perfection.

2. Luna Lovegood - Harry Potter series

If she had been in the entire HP series, she might have outweighed my love of Hermione.  

3. Harold - Harold and the Purple Crayon series.

Reason number 1: He has a purple crayon and purple is my second favorite color.  Reason two: he inspires imagination. I hate that this is going to become a movie.

4. Holden Caulfield - The Catcher in the Rye
He is whiny and emotional and I love it. He just wants to keep the kids away from the phoniness of the world.    With the fact that 8-year-olds are walking around with iPhones as toys, you kind of have to side with him on this one.

5. Stephanie Plum - Stephanie Plum by the Number series
Alright, these books are some of my guilty pleasure reads, but she reminds me of a Jersey version of Liz Lemon with her frequent consumption of multiple doughnuts and her completely chaotic workplace.  

6. The Pigeon - Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

I can never get over how cute that bird is.  It's those eyes. They look exactly like a toddler who knows she's being bad and is trying to get away with it by being adorable.  Those brats.

7. Turtle - The Westing Game
She's a young girl who figured out the game to win the millions.  Aside from that, I always loved how she was a such a softie beneath her tough girl front.  

8. Anastasia Krupnik - Anastasia series

I wanted to be her when I was younger.  Anastasia went through a million phases about what she wanted to be when she grew up.  I went through those same phases and it comforted me to know that somewhere out there, there was an awesome author who understood.

9. Alice - Agony of Alice

Like Anastasia, Alice was one of the most awkward characters I'd ever encountered and she made me feel semi-normal whenever I would read books from that series. 

10. Major Major Major Major - Catch-22
I love a lot of the characters in this book, but nothing made me laugh as much as Major jumping out of windows to avoid talking to people.  

Apr 22, 2012


Hey girl, Bad things happen when I have a project due tomorrow. Including illness.

Grad School Woes

It's the last week of this semester.  That translates to fun grad school projects and papers and happiness! Oh my! All of which is reflected in Ron Swanson's popping of that balloon.  I'll be back shortly if I survive the terror!  

In the meantime, everyone go read a book!

Apr 20, 2012

Friday Five: Teen Comedies Based on a Classic

I love teen comedies, especially the 90s ones.  I also love to make fun of them.  But some people like to berate teen comedies by saying they have no substance or they're too sexual or they poison the minds of youths or blah blah blah.  Well, fun fact: some of those movies are based on the classics you force them to read in school.  So HA!

Five Teen Comedies Based on Classics

1. Clueless
Yup. That valley girl you love and quote in your spare time and your busy time (I do, at least) is based on Emma.  Emma as in the girl from Jane Austen's Emma.  I've read two Jane Austen books in my life, and Emma is the only one I paid any attention to just because I wanted to see how it was possible that one of my favorite movies could be based on a book by an author I'd grown to detest just because I saw the ways girls acted about some old man in that other book I could never finish (similar to how some girls moms react when they read Twilight and think Edward is romantic, but slightly more respectable).  But it is.  It is spot on.  Obviously there are some liberties taken, i.e. there are no sophisticated homosexuals in Emma (unfortunately), but it's fairly close.  Even down to the creepy-when-you-think-about-it romance between a girl and her ex-stepbrother.  

My favorite part to quote. 

2. 10 Things I Hate About You
This one is based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.  Oh Billy, you had such a way with the ladies.  Callin' em shrews. #Classic.  The plot: boy meets girl, girl isn't allowed to date unless sister dates, sister listens to indie rock and reads feminist books so she's INDEPENDENT and obviously doesn't need a man to tie her free spirit down, so boy convinces a rich boy to bribe another boy to get INDEPENDENT girl to realize she wants to date so that the cute sister will want to date the rich boy, but realize in the end that it's the first boy she wants.  I don't know why I shouted INDEPENDENT, but I felt I needed to get that across because the girl doesn't wear glasses, which is always the visual clue for girl who is nerdy/independent and doesn't need anyone else.  Some lines from Shakespeare's play are quoted throughout, but none are as great as the quotes from the principal.

3. Easy A
This one's kind of obvious because they say it in the movie about a zillion times, but this movie's influenced by Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a.k.a. one of the most boring books about sex ever written.  Emma Stone, this generation's Lindsey Lohan, decides to help out a friend by saying she's slept with him, and then turns that into a nifty little business: lying about sleeping with guys to get some monies and social status. It's win/win until people start calling her a slut, so she brands herself with her own scarlet letter until she can come up with a way out of this mess.

4. She's the Man
Alright, this is the one movie on this list I haven't seen yet.  So I can tell you that it's loosely based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and that it starred a pre-retired and pre-DUI'd Amanda Bynes who crossdresses in the movie and gets away with it apparently because of her clear masculine features.  Kind of like how Barbra Streisand totally looked like a dude in Yentl.

5. She's All That
A guy bets his friends that he can make the nerdy girl into prom queen.  He gets her to take off her glasses and he almost succeeds. It's a more modern take on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, a play that's usually associated with the musical My Fair Lady (which does not use Audrey Hepburn's real singing voice, fyi).  She finds out about the bet, but it's okay because we get to watch a ridiculously choreographed dance scene at the prom that is DJd by Usher.  Plus, they end up together because of course her weird, artistic ways teach him the true meaning of love and life, her glasses were just blocking those lessons in the beginning.

Apr 13, 2012

Friday Five: Rock the Drop

In honor of Drop Everything and Read and Support Teen Lit Day, Readergirlz began "Rock the Drop" which involves taking a YA novel or novel YAs may enjoy (or any novel really) and just leaving it somewhere for someone to find.  

Because this is a nifty idea and because I have a problem with buying too many books at used book sales and desperately need space in my bookshelves, I decided to participate.  And I did six books instead of five because I really needed to get rid of some books.  

Friday Five Six: Rock the Drop







Apr 11, 2012

#TheList, No. 579: A Wizard of Earthsea

I’ll be honest, I was not a fan of this book.  I finished it yesterday and I already forget most of what happened.  Not that it was a bad book. In fact, it’s incredibly well-written, has some strongly developed characters (which is difficult given the size constraints of most children’s and YA literature), descriptive settings, and a consistent plot (I think).  But I’m not super into fantasy books, so it was a bit of a grueling process to get through this book. 

The basic plot involves a young boy, later named Ged, who discovers he has magical powers and is brought into training.  He is tempted by a witch to attempt a spell that far surpasses his ability, and brings a shadowy being into the world, which his master, being more powerful, drives away. Ged leaves for school to strengthen his power, but pride overcomes him and he once again attempts this spell, bringing the shadow into the world and causing the death of one of the teachers.  He spends the rest of the book attempting to escape this shadow until he realizes that the only way out is to confront it.

It seems solid. I would definitely recommend it to an older kid/YA who likes traditional fantasy novels.  It’s also the first book of a trilogy, so there’s the potential to build off of the affection for series and trilogies that YAs are experiencing now with The Hunger Games and Twilight (ugh).

The one thing that really stuck with me while I was trudging through this book is how important names are to the characters.  Not in the way that Professor Lupin is named Lupin because he’s a werewolf (his first name, Remus, is even more clever #RowlingLove), but the names themselves have a sort of power.  Telling someone your real name is a big deal in this world.  So if you needed to come up with a project to tie in this book, you might consider a name definition lesson. And really who doesn’t like learning that their name means “victory of the people” or something weird like that? 

I’ve read a lot about similarities between this series and The Lord of the Rings, which makes me slightly nervous to read those books that everyone is shocked I haven’t yet read. 

One more thing: apparently Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of this series, thinks Rowling was overpraised for HP and lacks originality.  Well, now I’m glad I didn’t like her books.  I’m kidding   I’m not kidding.

Apr 10, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Were Totally Deceiving

There's a lot of misleading entertainment out there. I think movies are the worst offender (Georgia Rule is NOT a comedy), but books can deceive as well.  Hence why you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover (*groan*). But the misleadingness (did I make that word up? maybe) isn't always a bad thing.

Top Ten Books That Are Totally Deceiving

1. Classics published with a "Twilight Cover"
Ok, this is more than one book in this number one slot, but I think this category is the most egregious offender.  Seeing Jane Eyre with that now infamous combination of red, black, and white is incredibly misleading. There are no vampires or werewolves in these stories.  These stories aren't fast and horrible reads. They're well-written and horrible reads (I'm kidding, I'm kidding...).  But really, any teen who picks up one of those books expecting Twilight is in for a surprise.


2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
This one is my bias against the book, but really, the bright neon colors scream out happy fun times! At least, they do for me because in my mind, neon = 80s.

3. The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
Now, I loved this book.  But looking at the cover, I would expect a story about the misadventures of a girly girl, not a story about a girl who lives in a poor, small town and likes to eavesdrop on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. 

4. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
I'll be honest. When I first saw this cover, I thought "really?" I'm not heavily invested in sci-fi, and it just looked like the stereotypical sci-fi novel. But I loved it.

5. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos
The cartoonish nature of the cover, coupled with the semi-funny sounding name of the main character, makes it seem like this book is a silly, fun story, and not one about a boy with ADHD and a neglecting family.

6. Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary
I love Bev C., but this is such a terrible book! Read it.  This book was published in the 50s, so it's been reprinted numerous times. I did a project on this book that involved examining the different book covers to see how each decade put their stamp on the book's 50s themes. This early 80s cover is the worst for the tagline: "Having a boyfriend isn't the answer!" The book is all about how she NEEDS to have one. She doesn't learn how not having one isn't the end of the world.  Oh no, she ends up with one and only then is she truly happy.  But the cover attempts to assert some 80s independence and completely sells the wrong story.

7. Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech
It looks so simple, so cute, so fun, but that cover in no way prepares you for the heartache inside. That is, unless you subscribe to my belief that if there's a dog on the cover, that dog is going to die. Spoiler alert: the dog dies.

8. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
This cover makes the book seem so juvenile and not like it's about a girl who goes on an awesome adventure.  I also hate how the girl's stomach is showing, not because I'm a prude - we all know my love of the Britney Spears - but because it makes me not want to take this book seriously, which is a huge problem for a lot of people when they see a YA novel.

9. P.S. I Love You, by Cecelia Ahern
What the heck is this cover? The book is about a woman who receives a bunch of notes from her dead husband, and yet the cover is all happy-go-lucky, look at me in my pretty flowery dress.  It's got a total chick lit cover, which like No. 8, makes me want to take it less seriously and not admit that I really liked it.

10. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (or any book turned movie)
While the cover does depict a scene from the book, all this cover really tells me is that Kate Winslet is in it.  The same goes for any other book turned movie, when the book is reprinted with the movie tie-in.  The covers typically reflect nothing of importance, but instead show the pretty face of a Hollywood actor/actress.

More at The Broke and the Bookish!

Apr 6, 2012

Hunger Games Detention

This is amazing.  I really hope it's true, although I feel bad that a kid got detention for quoting an awesome line from an awesome movie (based on an awesome book).  I say the student who dropped the book deserves the detention (kidding...). 

Friday Five: TV Shows Librarians are Obsessed With

Along with book stamping, hair buns 101, glasses selection, and shushing, library school will teach you that librarians or librarians-to-be are obsessed with TV.  We talk about it a lot.  It consumes our class breaks, moments before and after class, and sometimes discussion board posts that get offtrack.  From the past two years, this is what I've gathered:

1. Downton Abbey

Actually, librarians are obsessed with BBC in general.  You'll see.  I finally caved and checked out what I've heard described as "Fancy Entourage."  And now I'm addicted.  The show is a period piece that takes place after the sinking of the Titanic, in a world where the class system is changing.  It's fascinating PLUS Professor McGonagall is in it.  I suppose I should call her Maggie Smith, but I just can't. Not yet.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Librarians will not shut up about this show.  If you walk into any library class and say "Buffy," you will be met with cheers, emphatic "OH MY GOD BEST SHOW EVERRRRRs," praise of Joss Whedon's genius, and jeers toward any vampire series that pales in comparison (cough, Twilight).  Sometimes, if you're lucky, it'll be a classroom that will start singing the songs from the musical episode.   I haven't watched the series yet (I know, I know), but it's on my Netflix instant queue so I can watch it this summer and they'll let me graduate.

3. Dr. Who

Another BBC show that librarians cannot get enough of.  Again, I've never seen it, so I'm unfit to be a librarian. I tend to zone out when people talk about it, but I do know that the lead actor changes all the time and there's time travel involved.  Cool?

4. Once Upon a Time

This one is fairly understandable. Take a bunch of fairy tales and change them around to create a TV show.  They're classic stories that children and YA librarians hear/talk about all the time, so they're naturally going to welcome a different interpretation. Plus, it's from some of the creators of LOST. 

5. Sherlock

Surprise! Another BBC drama.  I swear, librarians think they're British. Maybe librarians in England watch Jersey Shore.  I hope they don't.  Anyway, it's a contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes and librarians always go gaga for anything Sherlock. 

Apr 5, 2012

Review: Briar Rose

This novel, a different take on Sleeping Beauty, was...not what I expected.  I was expecting more of an Ella Enchanted type of fractured fairytale, which is how it was presented to me in the review I originally read.  It's not so much an indirect retelling of Sleeping Beauty; instead, Yolen uses Sleeping Beauty directly to discuss the Holocaust.

On her deathbed, an elderly Polish woman who is convinced she's a fairy tale princess asks her granddaughter, Becca, to trace her family history.  After she passes away, Becca, who just happens to be a super liberal reporter, decides to jet off to Poland to find out what her grandmother (Gemma) kept hidden about her past.  All she has is a box of documents that was hidden for years, some background research, and the memories of all the times Gemma told her the story of Briar Rose, with some minor changes.  

The structure of the novel is really effective.  Every other chapter is a memory of Gemma telling the story; each flashback progresses the fairy tale a little bit.  In between the flashbacks, Becca completes her research on her Gemma's past.  She discovers the horrors she lived through during WWII and can finally understand why Gemma believed she was Briar Rose.

However, the narration was awkward: I noticed a few times that the 3rd person narrator would comment on Becca's thoughts, and then Becca would just say what she's thinking.  Also, the subplots regarding her struggles with romance and her sisters felt unnecessary and took away from the search for her family's past. 

But, all in all, it's an interesting use of Sleeping Beauty and a unique way to discuss the Holocaust.  It's a quick read, obviously depressing, but ultimately uplifting.  Just don't expect an entirely new version of Sleeping Beauty if you choose to read the novel. 

Apr 3, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books To Read In One Day

If I had the choice, I would spend my days reading.  Nerd alert: my idea of a perfect weekend involves reading books nonstop.  Unfortunately, I have to partake in the ritual that is working, so I'm limited on my reading time.  But these books can be read in one day or one sitting, and I love them:

Top Ten Books To Read In One Day

1. 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

2. Twenty Pageants Later, by Caroline B. Cooney

3. Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary

4. Divergent, by Veronica Roth

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznic

6. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

7. The Bad Beginning (The Series of Unfortunate Events), by Lemony Snicket

8. The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

9. Election, by Tom Perrotta

10. Bossypants, by Tina Fey


There's a bunch more books listed at The Broke and the Bookish. Yay books!

Apr 1, 2012

Did you know...?

Do you know why Abe Lincoln had a beard?  It was not, as my mother guessed, to cover up acne.  It was to make him appear more presidential.  It also came at the suggestion of an 11 year girl. In a letter, she told Lincoln that not only would he look better with a beard, but that she was certain she could convince her older brothers to vote for him in the upcoming election if he had facial hair.  Lincoln took her advice.

Spoiler alert: he won the election.

Thanks to my nonfiction/information sources for children class, I've become really interested in finding nonfiction texts that aren't boring.  Steve Sheinkin's Two Miserable Presidents is one such book. 

Look at that beard. So presidential.

Without patronizing the reader, he describes the American Civil War from the perspective of both sides, focusing on the difficulties Lincoln and Jefferson Davis faced throughout the ordeal.  He presents standard information regarding war plans, army tactics, and advantages and disadvantages to both sides, but he also includes stories of lesser known soldiers and quotes that highlight the soldiers' experiences during the war.  A lot of information is presented humorously, like the history factoid detailed above, which enhances the information typically found in textbooks.  Amusing illustrations also add to the non-textbook feel.  This presentation is more accessible to children who often find that history textbooks are boring and difficult to read.