Friday, 22 January 2010

Unsung YA Heroes, a.k.a. My Favourite Young Adult Books you (probably) haven't read yet

Kelly at Yannabe has come up with this awesome project - Unsung YA heroes - and it's all about celebrating the love for lesser known YA books in need of more could I not be in it??
It's a bit like the Nerds Heart YA Tournament (which btw, is happening again and why didn't I know anything about it until yesterday?!) except that it's not a tournament and that we can pick books published any year, as long as they haven't reached the big audience they deserve (yet).
If you would like to read more about the project, learn how it works and maybe even post your own list, go read Kelly's master post here.

I have chosen to talk about 5 young adult books, which I have loved, reviewed, but somehow haven't praised enough. In no particular order:

The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass

I read this back in 2008 and I still think of it as one of the most lovely-written YA I've come across. Skimming through my review makes me want to read it again right now. I had forgotten so much. Set in the '60 in Johannesburg, South Africa, it's the story of 12-year-old Emily and her dysfunctional family and how their lives are forever changed by the arrival of another strange family, one summer.
This what I wrote in my review:

What I loved most about this book is the way it’s written. The only word that I can find that describes it it’s gentle. It feels like a petal that softly touches the story and never intrudes too much. You can almost smell the flowers and the trees with exotic names (jacaranda, poplar, bluegum…) while you listen to a story told by Buza, the Zulu watchman who sits on a wooden stool all night at the edge of the garden, holding his stick who has been passed through generations and holds the power of sixty dead Zulu warriors.

I loved its sense of nostalgia, the wisdom and the beauty of those Zulu tales, the atmospheres that the writing created...It definitely deserves a much broader audience.

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

To be fair, this one hasn't been released in the US or UK market yet, which is why it doesn't feature prominently on LibraryThing. But it did really well in Ireland, where it was first published, and also in Australia.
According to Amazon it will be released in Us and UK in April 2010, with brand new covers which look really cool, so look out for it!
From my review:
This story is not your usual fantasy adventure for teenagers. And maybe that's why it took me a little longer to get into it. It's a story about intrigue at court, yes, but at its core it's a story about relationships, about the strong bond that can exist between friends, family or lovers. It's real, and it's intense, but in a world ruled by protocol and politics, personal affections can become obstacles, or even powerful tools, depending who is using them.
I thought the honesty in the writing was unusual. It's very elegant but very physical and intimate too. As for all the books featured in this post, I'd love to read it again, especially before reading the second chapter "The Crowded Shadows".

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman
I've read this before I started blogging, so I haven't written any reviews for it. But I still remember it as one of my favourites. It's the story of Rain, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, and next in line to take her place. Rain's birth was the result of a horrific rape, and that is why her mother shuns her. It's up to Rain to prove to her clan and to herself that she's worthy of being a leader.
Sparsely and skillfully written, this is a book you can read in one intense afternoon, and still carry it with you for a long time. It has a poetic, mythical quality to it which is matched by a wonderful message of peace and acceptance. It's also about women warriors, strong, independent and proud. What's not to like?

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
This is pure undiluted feel-good pleasure. It doesn't pretend to be anything else that great fun. The subtitle says it all: A novel of love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park. Now, I don't know much about Fenway Park, but Love and Mary Poppins...yeah, definitely big hits with me:)
Especially when The Love was between two boys, Augie and Andy. This is what I wrote in my review:
The romance, oh the romance...Of course I'm talking about Augie and Angie. Maybe I don't read much YA gay romance between boys, but I thought this was the sweetest, most romantic, most adorable, most everything boy-on-boy literary love. The way their family and friends reacted was even cooler. They knew all along Augie was gay and they were wondering how long it would take him to figure it out. I probably felt closer to him than to any of the other characters.

I literally smiled and giggled all the way through it. And when I wasn't smiling I was fighting back emotional tears of empathy.
No wonder it managed to win all its rounds for The Nerds Heart YA Tournament and claimed its crown!

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Although I still love Finding Violet Park more, I have gushed over it enough, I think. Broken Soup is great, too. Jenny Valentine needs to be HUGE!
This is what I thought after reading Broken Soup:
The charm of Jenny Valentine's style relies in the characters, I've already said that. But of course is not just that. It's in the way she describes emotions, which belies an attentive observation of human nature. It's in the metaphoric language, exemplified in the title, which can say so much with very little words. It's in the palpable love for all her characters. And in the fact that I feel I should reread this book right now to be able to explain why it was so good, because there's so much to highlight and to appreciate.
Oh, and there's a bit of a surprise ending, which combined with everything else that happens before, is a wonderful heart-warmer.

There's nothing else I can say, except READ IT!

Here endeth my "Unsung YA heroes" love letter. *Off to check out all the other unsung heroes*

Bloomsbury steps back!

From the Bloomsbury Kids website: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of *Magic Under Glass*. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

Three brief sentences. But they mean a lot. Our voices have been heard, and thanks to many readers who complained to the publisher, one step toward a wider multicultural visibility has been taken.
I'm really looking forward to seeing the new cover now!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Bloomsbury Cover Fail

I first heard about Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore and its problematic cover yesterday, thanks to Ranay's post. I went on to read more posts and more comments about this, and now I'll try to gather my own thoughts on the subject.
It has happened once again, that a publisher, Bloomsbury in this case, has chosen the picture of a white girl to represent the main character in the book, who is actually dark-skinned.
It's a fantasy book, so the main character doesn't have a real ethnicity, but to quote the author's own words:

Nimira is from a fictional land which is not meant to be a parallel to a specific country in our world. Her culture has elements, such as costume and music, that might be drawn from Eastern European, Asian and Roma cultures, and I love that readers are interpreting her look in different ways.
Now, the issue is definitely NOT with the author. Quite the opposite. The problem here is the publisher and whoever is in charge of the marketing. I'm not going to talk about the book itself. It actually sounds like something I would really like, and I'm looking forward to reading it, especially after seeing the author's personal blog and discovering such an interesting person behind the book. I don't want to hurt her or her book in any possible way, especially since it's her first, and I can only imagine how over the moon she is feeling right now. I don't want to spoil this special moment.

But something needs to be said, and I believe the more people show concern and outrage about this issue, the more likely our collective voice is to be heard. This kind of exclusion towards non-white people from book covers is unacceptable. If you think the same, let the publisher know. I did. Their contact page is here.

But instead of pouring your anger onto this particular book by calling for a boycott, and thus hurting a young author's expectations, why not show our thirst for diversity in books by reading and reviewing more of them? Chasing Ray has an excellent and inspiring post about why diversity in kids and YA matters and how we should demand it more. READ IT!
I know I don't read enough of them these days. And since I'm a white person, living in a western country with mostly white friends, I sometimes forget how important this is. I forget because I can, not because I want to. This is not an excuse, though. That's why I'm going to actively try and include more ethnic diversity into my reading and search for books about non-white people (kids and adults) which are not about Afro-American slaves or about the holocaust.
And then I will spread the word about them!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Some thoughts about reading and blogging in 2009

So, it's January, and here comes the annual post, where I go through everything that I have read, reviewed, and blogged about, and try to sum up what this year has meant to me. There will be stats, best of, blogging highlights, resolutions, considerations and all that. It's going to be a long post, so be prepared.

Never before, since I started blogging 2 and half years ago, life has come in the way of my reading, as this year. I've slowed down everything, reading and blogging, since about June. The reason being a very painful break up which is still very much affecting me, in everything that I do and say. I have never really shared my private life here, since I started this blog to talk about books only, but the truth is that it's almost impossible to separate our reading experiences from our life experiences. They influence each other in many ways, sometimes more than we would want them to. So, yes, it's been hard, but I'm healing, slowly. Reading has been hard too, cause my mind is so full of everything else, that it wonders away from the page constantly. That's also why I haven't reviewed that many books in the past few months.

But I believe 2010 is going to be better. It has to be. I'm starting fresh, with a new house and new flatmate. I have many good resolutions that I want to follow, and the keyword to all these is confidence: I want to believe in myself more, in what I do and what I could do.
I want to dedicate more time to creativity, in any form.
I also want to liberate myself from the burden of the looming TBR mountain. Which means not what you think it means, but quite the opposite. No more guilty feelings if the unread books are left unread. I'll just read what I feel like reading. So what if I have many unread book? It's not like they go out of date. They can wait. I will keep my ban on buying books, though. I discovered it's not that hard to keep to it, when you're so broke as I am! I'll just use the library more. They usually have almost everything I'd like to read. And if they don't, well, I'll deal with that problem when it comes.
Speaking of bookish resolutions, I want to start rereading. It's not something I have ever considered. I always thought there's too many books in the world to waste time going back to the ones I have already read. But that was my younger self speaking. The older, wiser one is saying: rereading is not wasted time. It enriches the experience of a book. It makes you notice things you hadn't notice the first time. It lets you meet beloved characters and place again. And let's not underestimate my inability to remember...stuff. Rereading helps a lot on that front, too. So I'll compile a list of recent reads that I would like to revisit soon. The list is going to be solely for entertaining purposes. No commitment attached. Me no likes commitments.
Which brings me to the next resolution: Challenges. I quit them. Officially. We're done. It has been fun till it lasted. But now I'm over them. Except for those I will join, of course. I don't think I'm ready to quit The Once Upon a Time, yet. And I want to give another chance to Amanda's LGBT challenge. But other than that...goodbye yearly challenges!
This year I have only finished the Young Adult one. No surprise (or struggle) there. As for the rest, let's not hover on those failures. Really, there's no need. I know I suck at challenges. Hence the drastic decision.

Before I start with the stats and the annual list of favourite reads, I'd like to highlight some of the best moments of my 2009 blogging life:

My second Read-a-thon, in April: So.Much.Fun. I wouldn't enjoy it so much if I just had to sit there for 24 hours doing nothing but reading. I always say I should read more during Readathon, but to tell the truth, it's the blogging (with the games, the mini challenges, the comments, the sharing) that makes it so awesome.

The Ya Tournament, a.k.a. Nerds Heart YA, created by Renay.
I loved every step of it. From proposing the books to read, to selecting the short list, and then of course, reading the books, reviewing them and seeing how the tournament proceeded. It didn't hurt that the book I chose as winner of the first round, My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger, ended up winning the Tournament!
I sincerely hope we're doing this again this year.

NaNoWriMo. OK, it's not strictly a blogging activity, but it is very much linked to it. I wished I had more time to share about the whole experience here, but I hardly managed to write the daily quota, let alone blog about it! It has thought me a lot about what it really means to write every day. It's HARD! But also very satisfying. I haven't even started revision yet, but I will. I definitely, most certainly, absolutely will!
Again not strictly blogging related, but definitely book related, is the Coraline premiere, at the Jameson International Film Festival in February. And the Gaiman/Palmer signing few days later. Geek heaven:)

Now for the stats:
Total books read: 52
Adult Fiction: 19
Ya+ Kids fiction: 21
Written by Women: 18
Written by Men: 19
Authors new to me: 25 out of 37
Rereads: 0!
Graphic Novels: 6
Manga: 5
Non fiction (including graphic novels): 5 (Although, does Laika qualify as non fiction? it's a mix of both really).
Books left unread: tons! better not start listing.

What all these numbers say about my reading habits in 2009? That I haven't read much non-fiction, that's obvious. That's why one of my goals for next year is to extend my knowledge about the world in general, by reading non-ficiton books on science, current affairs, travel and maybe even history.
It also says that for all my "graphic novel frenzy" phase, I've ended up reading merely 6 titles. Although I've counted The Absolute Sandman as only 1 book, while it could have easily been considered as 3 volumes! Still, I want to read a lot more than that this year.
Something else I need to read more of is just plain adult (as in grown up, non-kiddish stuff) literature. Everything from modern to classics, I have neglected it a bit. I need to keep in touch with my inner adult self, I know she's there somewhere:P

Favourite reads:
As I go through my list of read books, I realise how many great ones there are. It will be hard to narrow it down to just a few!
First the ones that really stand out from everything else in no particular order.

The Knife of Never Letting Go + The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness.
I never got around to write a review for these two. Now it's too late. All I can say is, they're fantastic. Loved loved loved the first (and cried so much when that thing happened) and loved even more the second, for its complexity, for being political and touching and heartbreaking, and completely impossible to put down. I've also read the short story here. I cried there too.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenneger

The Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Dust of 100 dogs by A.S. King

Loser by Jenny Spinelli

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Klueger

Tapping the dream Tree by Charles de Lint (I had already read half of it in the past 4 years,but I finally finished this year, so it counts. Beside, the stories I have read this year would have definitely made the list on their own, anyway).

Safe Area Goradze by Joe Sacco

Death: the high cost of living by Neil Gaiman

The Wee Free Men + A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

I also really enjoyed: The Restaurant at the end of the Universe by Douglas Adams; The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot; Honey and Clover by Chica Umino (first 3 volumes); Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa (first volume - it's impossible to get the 2nd vol.); Fun Home by Alison Bechdel; Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine; Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi; Laika by Nick Abadzis; The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan; The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery; Missing Angel Juan by Francesca Lia Block; The Hunger Games + Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond; all the Scoppettone books except one; Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson; Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.

Biggest disappointment: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. And the Owl Service by Alan Garner

Books I'd like to reread soon:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Wee Free Men + A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
The Book thief by Mark Zusak
Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine
Tipping the velvet by Sarah Waters
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Holes by Louis Sachar
and more to come...(to tired now).

The end.

Books read in 2009