Monday, 25 May 2009

"Varmints" - The Movie

Last year (when I was still reviewing picture books regularly on Mondays!), I sang the praises of Varmints by Helen Ward and Marc Craste. If you missed it but love strange but awe-inspiring works of art made into kids stories, read it.
I said it looked like an animation put into paper. So, it was only a matter of time till Varmints was going to be made into a film. I thought it would look great, but this little trailer exceeded all my high expectations. I'd love to watch the whole movie!

Thanks to the Literary Resources blog for bringing this to my attention!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Nerds heart YA book tournament - It's coming!

After weeks of heated discussions and of tough decision-making, we now have .....Ta Daaaa...

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo
The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson
The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen
What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier
Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
Debbie Harry Sings In French by Meagan Brothers
Feathered by Laura Kasischke
Leftovers by Laura Wiess
The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher

All YA titles published in 2008, all not very well known and deserving of more TLC.
The first round kicks off June 1st and ends June 22nd. By then the first reviews with the first round selections should be up on each of the judges blogs.
This is the bracket graph:

It was all designed by Renay. I think it's awesome!
I'm a judge and I'm in excellent company, look at that:
Jodie, Book Gazing
Natasha, Maw Books Blog
Ali, Worducopia and Lenore, Presenting Lenore
Mary Ann, Libr*fiti
Trish, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin' and Vasilly, 1330v
Kelly, YAnnabe
Becky, Becky's Book Reviews, and Kailana, The Written World
Heather, A High and Hidden Place
Amy, My Friend Amy
Laza, Gimme More Books!
Stephanie, Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-Holic
Nicole, Linus's Blanket
Renay, YA Fabulous and Susan, She's Too Fond Of Books And It's Turned Her Brain
Chris, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On and Nymeth, Things Mean A Lot

So the fate has decided I'm going to judge The Opposite of Invisible and My Most Excellent Year. I've never done anything like this before, I'm very excited and a wee bit nervous. I want to be fair and unbiased so I hope I won't be bashed by fans of either book hihi :P

Apparently anyone can follow the YA nerdy developments on this Twitter account, but I haven't ventured into the twitter world yet (me sort of suspicious, don't know why), so I'm not really sure how it's all going to work.
Anyway, I hope anyone else is as excited as I am!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Loser - Jerry Spinelli

After three books read and three hits, I officially declare Jerry Spinelli just my kind of writer. At the last read-a-thon I literally never put this one down till I finished it. I wanted to squeeze Donal Zucker, the "loser" of the title, at about every page. He could have been Stargirl's little brother.
He's so enthusiastic about life. He laughs uncontrollably at silly words and shouts "Yahoo!" anytime he's super happy, he gives everything he has and doesn't hold anything back. He's extremely generous and sympathetic to anybody around him. He's kind, innocent and hyperactive. He thinks sleep is the Curse of the Human Race and claims to never indulge in it.

At the beginning of the story he's starting school, and can't wait. When he runs off to his first class with his giraffe hat, you know life is not gonna be kind to him.

I pictured him wearing the hat all proud and eager to learn, and my mind raced immediately to my first day in school. I didn't have a giraffe hat, but I brought my favourite toys with me, in my lovely pink toy bag, and I just kept them with me on the desk. When the teacher objected to that because I wouldn't have any space for books and pens, I shoveled them in the space under the desk and left them there for days. At the first desk inspection I came last for having the messiest desk, and discovered two things: 1) Teachers don't like toys, and 2) Everyone else was a lot tidier than me no matter how I tried. But I still loved school. And so does Zinkoff.

So, he is the sweetest little kid, and all you want to do is give him a big hug for being adorable, but he's also clumsy and awkward, can't get an A to save his life, nor can he sing, or play an instrument, or run. And the cool thing is that he doesn't care, because he doesn't know he's not the best. He just loves doing stuff, doesn't want to be the best, doesn't want to win.
How can someone like that survive the school jungle?

I loved almost everything about this story. Loved Zinkoff's family, how supportive and understanding and caring they are. How they love him for exactly who he is and not for what he should be. I loved the minor characters, like Mr Yalowitz, one of his teachers, who puts Zinkoff in the first row because "the Z shall be first!"and who can say things like "Master Z, whenever you put pencil to paper, unspeakable things happen...Thank God for keyboards!".
I adored the "Take Donald Zinkoff to Work Day". As I said, I just loved about everything of this book (except probably the kid who collects his earwax in a bottle, I could have done without that image in my head.) so I'll just shut up and tell you to go and read it yourself.

After reading this, I reconsidered the whole competitiveness issue, and rationally decided it's a load of bullpoopy. Rationally. It still stings like hell when I realise I'm not the best at something, but then I go back and think about Zinkoff and feel a lot better :D

One last thing. When I read it, I chose my starry bookmark (made by Nymeth) for it
without thinking, and then, when I read the following passage, realised it was the perfect bookmark:

At this time in his life Zinkoff sees no difference between the stars in the sky and the stars in his mother's plastic Baggie. He believes that stars fall from the sky sometimes, and that his mother goes around collecting them like acorns. He believes she has to use heavy gloves and dark sunglasses because the fallen stars are so hot and shiny. She puts them in the freezer for forty-five minutes, and when they come out they are flat and silver and sticky on the back and ready for his shirts.
This makes him feel close to the unfallen stars left in the sky. He thinks of them as his nightlights. As he grows drowsy in bed, he wonders which is greater: the number of stars in the sky or the number of school left in his life? It's a wonderful question.

other opinions:
I just fiinished reading...
Dog year diary
You read it too? Let me know!

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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi

...and in this way we began a long session of ventilation of the heart...

This one the most entertaining read I've read recently. It was the perfect Read-a-thon choice. Short, smart and absolutely hilarious. If you loved Persepolis, like I did, you don't want to miss this little gem. If you still don't know Marjane Satrapi's work, this is a fast and delightful way to realise what you've missing out all this time.

What do women talk while drinking tea, away from men's ears? Sex, of course! And marriage, men, plastic surgeries...the usual. Only, these are Iranian women, living in a patriarchal society where they have half of the rights of their male partners, so what's usual becomes outrageous!
I'm in awe of Satrapi's gift for irony and subversiveness. Even the sole idea that, behind doors, women talk about these themes, is refreshing. But she just adds that magic touch of lightness and humour that makes it completely irresistible.
Of course, though, being Iranian, the secrets they share are part of a culture that we only know from the media, and from what we read on books (if we do at all). This is a rare opportunity to have a sneak peek at their private lives and thoughts. It's addictive! I wish there were a whole series of these books:D
It was also really interesting to know what is the image that they have of the western culture. For example, when talking about virginity, Marjane's aunt, a free-thinking, divorced artist, declares:

...Why don't we behave as westerns do!? For them, since the problem of sex is resolved, they can move on to other things!

I wish. I mean, I see her point, but the "problem" is far from resolved. Especially when you look at the new wave of conservatism which encourages boys and girls to join pledges not to lose their virginity till marriage and advocates abstinence for adolescents as the solution for every problem. I find this very scary, considering it's coming from the so called liberated western society.
But aaaaanyway. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. It's clever, bold, and definitely too damn short!

need more encouragements?
read these:
Tripping Toward Lucidity
American Bibliophile
Things mean a lot
Biblio File
Books of Mee

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Saturday, 9 May 2009

Excitement! Oh mighty Excitement!

Photo taken from here

My library is awesome! They finally got me a copy of The Absolute Sandman vol 1!!! And I'm the first person to get it. It's brand new!
The librarian said that the volume caused much stir within the staff. Everyone was admiring the volume which came in *especially* from another branch. "It's worth 70 quid", he told me. "Yeah, and it sells for like 140!". Me was very proud.
I've read the first story already, and I thought I might take my time with it and review every single one, but I've noticed that I can't renew it because someone has already reserved it, so I have till May 6th. Seeing how slow I am at reviewing stuff, I'd consider myself lucky if I manage to read it AND review it before then.
So, now I'm off reading the second story, "Imperfect Hosts".
Good Night bloggies!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Safe Area Goražde - Joe Sacco

Before reading this I had a very vague idea of what happened in the early 90's in Bosnia. I couldn't have picked a better book to introduce me to this topic.
This graphic novel is a brilliant reportage written by Joe Sacco, who decided that in order to tell the world about the Bosnian war, he couldn't just be a normal daytime journalist, there in the morning, gone by the evening. He had to live with the locals, talk to them, eat with them, even become friends with them. Between late 1995 and early 1996 he has travelled to Goražde four times, staying at Edin's (his translator and closest friend there) most of the time.
Why Goražde? Because they were still there. Of the eastern UN designated Safe Areas, only Goražde had survived the ethnic cleansing. But also because...who has ever heard of Goražde? The press concentrated on Sarajevo, making the capital look like a privileged area to those left on the eastern Bosnian areas. The media forgot all about those small towns left to fight for their lives with barely any weapon to defend them.
Now here these people are given a chance to tell their stories. The main voice is Edin's. We get to know him closely, meet this parents, his friends, even his dog. It's him who starts telling how they lived before the war, how different ethnicities coexisted peacefully:

"I didn't make any distinction between Serb, Croat, and Muslim children. We were always, in forests, on the playground, the stadium..."

He goes on to give a brief historic background of the area, which I particularly appreciated, because when we covered that in school I must have been sleeping.

Through Edin's voice, and through all the other witnesses that are interviewed, the war is being given faces and names. Real people! Gradually I came to care for them and to worry for their safety, even though I knew that those who were telling the story survived. But at what price.
I learned how they were forced to live in fear for years. How their houses were burned, with all their memories and belongings. How they risked their lives to get food that would last for one or two weeks. There are stories of incredible cruelties, unconceivable violence, of rapes and humiliation. Of mass murders and mass graves.
It's not an easy read, you can imagine that. It takes time to digest everything, even to turn the page, sometimes. I still haven't come to terms with all that unjustified violence. It's there, clear as day, drawn vividly in front of you. Sometimes it was more horrifying than a horror movie. Because it really happened, and barely anything has been done to stop it.
If it sounds a heavy read, I won't deny it. But Sacco has managed to include some humour in it, too. Some light and funny moments, sharing his chats with the locals, making fun of himself, of the journalists, of his friends. Riki, for example, with his unbeatable optimism and his love for American songs, is one I will not forget easily.

I loved Sacco's irony and amused observations.
But what I loved most was the obvious passion he puts in his work. It's intimate, detailed, shocking and highly informative. It should be required reading in high schools.

I wish I didn't have to return it to the library, because one read is not enough to grasp everything. So many stories, so many nightmares, and so little international help.
I was appalled at the lack of support that the Bosnian Muslims had, from the UN (so called) peacekeepers. The little faith I had in this organization has crumbled like a shelled house.
At some point, towards the end, Edin is shown defending his town with few others, hiding in an abandoned house and watching the tanks advancing helplessly.
"Our only hope was the support of the world. We'd expected that for months and years. We thought they would stop it...But they didn't do anything"

Luckily they survived. But the consequences were enormous.
This is definitely not a comprehensive view on the Bosnian war, but it could be a great introduction.
I don't think this book is widely read as it should be. I'm going to make sure at least my best friends get a copy!

Another review:
The boston bibliophile