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1. The Accidental Highwayman - an audiobook review

Tripp, Ben. 2014. The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides. New York: Tor Teen.


Can I tell you how much I like this book?  I reviewed it several months ago for AudioFile Magazine and could hardly wait until they published my review so that I could freely blog about my affinity for it!  Although "swashbuckling" is the term I've seen most often in reviews of The Accidental Highwayman, I would characterize it as a mix of daring deeds and derring-do, of historical fiction and magical conviction.  You can read my official review here, I listened to the audio version, but would guess that the printed copy is equally enjoyable.

To summarize:

Amidst a grim 18th century English setting arises the accidental highwayman, Whistling Jack.  Teenager Kit Bristol makes the unlikely yet unavoidable transformation from circus performer to manservant to famous highwayman tasked with the rescue of a mysterious princess from an enchanted coach.  Narrator Steve West employs the English "standard accent" for his presentation of the gallant robber.  He delivers non-stop action and suspense while maintaining an air of wise contemplation suited to this retrospective narrative of daring deeds from a magical past.

This is the first in an expected series. Judging from the effort expended on the series' official website, http://kitbristol.com , they knew right out of the gate that this one would be popular!  Enjoy the goofy trailer (there are two more on the site).

 

Note:
As a fledgling ukulele player myself, I love that Ben Tripp plays the ukulele in this trailer.

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2. WINTER 2015 NEW VOICES SNEAK PEEK

Happy 2015 to you! To start the year off right, we’d like to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2015. These debut novels entertained us, enriched us, intrigued us, and made us so excited to witness the beginnings of these authors’ sure-to-be-stellar writing careers.

Click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and make sure to keep an eye on these fantastic authors. We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Blackbird Fly

BLACKBIRD FLY, by Erin Entrada Kelly, follows twelve-year-old Apple Yengko as she grapples with being different, with friends and backstabbers, and with following her dreams. Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to America from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” But it becomes unbearable in eighth grade, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is. Read the first chapter here!

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly

THE KEEPERS: THE BOX AND THE DRAGONFLY, by Ted Sanders, is the first in a four-book middle-grade fantasy series about Horace F. Andrews, a quiet boy who discovers he possesses a power that can change worlds. When a sign leads Horace underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse full of mysterious objects, he unfortunately finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it? From the enormous, sinister man shadowing him to the gradual mastery of his new-found abilities to his encounters with Chloe—a girl who has an astonishing talent of her own—Horace follows a path that puts the pair in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between two warring factions in which every decision they make could have disastrous consequences. Read the first chapter here!

No Parking at the End Times

NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, by Bryan Bliss, is a thoughtful and moving story about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love. Abigail’s parents never should have made that first donation to that end-of-times preacher. Or the next, or the next. They shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there for the “end of the world.” Because now they’re living in their van. And Aaron is full of anger, disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But is that too big a task for one teenage girl? Read the first chapter here!

Red Queen

RED QUEEN, by Victoria Aveyard, is a sweeping fantasy about seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose latent magical powers draw her into the dangerous world of the elite ruling class. Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with Red blood serve the Silver elite, whose silver blood gifts them with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the King, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the King forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything to use her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal. Read the first chapter here!

Little Peach

LITTLE PEACH, by Peggy Kern, is the gritty and riveting story of a runaway who comes to New York City and is lured into prostitution by a manipulative pimp. When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: She is alone and out of options. Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels. But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution. It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition. This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive. Read the first chapter here.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, by Becky Albertalli, is an incredibly funny and poignant twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming-out story—wrapped in a geek romance. Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: If he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing with, will be jeopardized. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Read the first chapter here!

Check back here for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!

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3. The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Arc

Review by J THE BOY NEXT DOORby Katie Van ArkAge Range: 12 - 18 yearsGrade Level: 7 and upPaperback: 288 pagesPublisher: Swoon Reads (February 3, 2015)Goodreads | Amazon Maddy Spier's been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls. How can she make him

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4. I'LL MEET YOU THERE by Heather Demetrios

Review by Leydy I'LL MEET YOU THEREby Heather DemetriosHardcover: 400 pagesPublisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition (February 3, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only

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5. WHEN (Death Date) by Victoria Laurie

Review by Tamara WHENby Victoria LaurieAge Range: 12 - 18 yearsGrade Level: 7 - 12Hardcover: 336 pagesPublisher: Disney-Hyperion (January 13, 2015)Goodreads | Amazon Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers,

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6. Dear TWISTED FATE . . .

from Becca TWISTED FATEby Norah OlsonHardcover: 272 pagesPublisher: Katherine Tegen Books (January 20, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Two sisters. One mysterious boy. Ally and Sydney couldn't be more different—one shy, the other popular and outgoing—and when a new boy moves in next door, tensions between the sisters escalate. Graham is attractive, peculiar, and perhaps a little

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7. A Peek at the Creative Space of Maggie Hall

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA author Maggie Hall. Her debut novel The Conspiracy of Us was published this month from Putnam/Penguin:
To fight her destiny as the missing heir to a powerful and dangerous secret society, sixteen-year-old Avery West must solve an ancient puzzle in a deadly race across Europe. Forbidden love and code-breaking, masked balls and explosions, destiny and dark secrets collide in this romantic thriller, in the vein of a YA DaVinci Code. 
Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada at the Champs-Elysees when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war.
They are part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle of Twelve, and Avery is their missing heir. If they discover who she is, some of them will want to use her as a pawn. Some will want her dead.  
To thwart their plans, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the landmarks of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul and through a web of ancient legends and lies. And unless she can stay one step ahead of beautiful, volatile Stellan, who knows she’s more than she seems, and can decide whether to trust mysterious, magnetic Jack, she may be doomed after all.

Maggie is a world traveler and has worked as a bookstore events coordinator and marketing manager. You can learn more about her at her website, follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or join her at YA Misfits where she blogs about young adult literature.


Describe your workspace.
I literally work in a closet! I love really small spaces—I feel like I can block the world out more easily. When I was traveling and didn’t have my office, I would sometimes throw a blanket over my head to get that same enclosed feeling.
I occasionally do want a little light and space, though, and then I’ll settle in my living room, in this big comfy chair with a big comfy blanket . . . though it kind of makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it . . .

Describe a typical workday.
I like to write really early, before I can get distracted. I usually drag myself out of bed at 5:30 or 6am, grab a cup of coffee, and write as much as I can before the day officially starts. And then I kind of try to write the rest of the day, but usually don’t end up getting anything more done on actual writing until the evening.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I got the Eiffel Tower picture at a thrift store, and Paris is important in CONSPIRACY (plus, it’s pretty)!
You can’t see it very well, but on the right are bookmarks and postcards from some of my friends’ books—I love having them nearby!
And, of course, my cover. This is the first dust jacket I saw, and the first time I saw how the whole thing was really going to look! I freaked out a little.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I’ve traveled so much and learned to write so many weird places that I don’t have much of a ritual—when you’re writing on your phone on the floor of the Shanghai airport or on a train through Thailand, it’s hard to follow writing rituals too closely. I do like to listen to music while I work—that always gets me in the mood!
What do you listen to while you work?
All kinds of stuff. I have a playlist I’ve been using for the whole life of this book, and those songs can always get me in the mood to write! Here’s a link to it from forever ago, when the book had a different name! http://www.yamisfits.com/2012/09/band-geek-thursdays-maggies-playlist.html
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Sour gummy worms. I have no idea why, but they taste like this book to me.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Deadlines! I swear, otherwise I would never be able to focus! Is there something that works for other people, because I’d like to know about it!
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
On the computer, always. I take a lot of notes in lots of notebook (and lots of random post-its, as you can see on the desk photo!), but I never actually write longhand.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m working on CONSPIRACY book 2 right now, and I’m definitely outlining. My favorite outlining tool is actually the Save the Cat Beat Sheet—it lets me put my ideas in a logical framework without having to be too precise about it. And of course, once I actually start writing, the story tends to take on a life of its own, but I do find that having an idea of where I’m going with it is really helpful.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Anyone I was sharing with would literally have to sit on my lap, so . . . hm. Can I say Chris Hemsworth, and I’ll sit on his lap? I think that would give me some good writing inspiration. ;)
Really, though, I’d say my writing friends. I would love having the smart, awesome people I’m lucky enough to call critique partners around to bounce ideas off of and to make me get back to work when I’m checking twitter for the millionth time. . .
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 

Writing is rewriting. I have to remind myself over and over that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and that the magic comes from editing. Otherwise, I’d worry too much and never get anything done!



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8. Another Series That Ends Well

I got the last Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy, in from England a few months ago. I didn't rush to read it, because I'd found the last few Skulduggeries a little slow and long. Not this one. This one moved along, I kept wanting to find more time to read it, and I would have been happy to have read still another book about the bony one.

The last few books, including this one, jumped around with points of view. With the other books, I felt that slowed everything. With this one, not so much. I began to feel with this book that when you're using multiple points of view in a book, the book may not be one person's story as much as it is the story of some kind of event in which many people have a point. That was a bit of what was going on here. Instead of being just Valkyrie Cain's story (these books have never really been about Skulduggery Pleasant), The Dying of the Light is the story of how a group of magical folk battle the seemingly unbeatable Darquesse. Valkyrie is a significant part of that, but it's not just her, which is why the point of view switches seemed workable.

Two particularly interesting bits:
  • Every now and then, the scene in Dying of the Light switches to what appears to be a totally different story involving an unnamed Irish woman in the U.S., a mortal, and a couple of evil types we know from an earlier book. Oh, and a dog. We're not even sure who the woman is until the end. This is the kind of thing that I would usually become very impatient with. I loved it. Who is she? What's going on here? And when?
  • Unlike many fantasy authors, Landy addresses the issue of Christianity. As in, if there is a magical world with gods, as there is in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe (most are insane and Valkyrie has punched one), what about the Judeo-Christian concept of God? I've wondered about that with, say, the Percy Jackson books. If the Greek gods are real, does that mean Baby Jesus isn't? In The Dying of the Light that issue is discussed. "Is there a God?" Valkyrie's mother asks Skulduggery. And her uncle says, "My wife and I go to mass every Sunday...Don't you sit there and tell me there's no God." And Skulduggery doesn't. He just can't tell him that there is.
So, great stuff in this book, which I'll be passing on to my niece. Sigh. We've finished our series. What's next for us?

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9. Zac & Mia & Willow – YA for your soul

Here in SE Queensland, just before Christmas, an unusual thing happened. It began to rain. I’d almost forgotten the scent of a wet garden and the sensation of damp. It was perfect cosy reading weather. Alas, the week before Christmas with a house full of family and several menus and trips away to plan for […]

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10. ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven (6 PIECES!!)

"Review My Books" Review by Ryann Dannelly ALL THE BRIGHT PLACESby Jennifer NivenHardcover: 400 pagesPublisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 6, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Theodore Finch is obsessed with dead—like always thinking about ways to kill himself without actually doing so. Violet Markey is only looking forward to the day of graduation, when she can finally

0 Comments on ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven (6 PIECES!!) as of 1/15/2015 11:23:00 PM
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11. THE WALLED CITY {Audiobook Review}

by Andye The Walled City UNABRIDGED By Ryan Graudin Narrated By Eugene Kim, Kim Mai Guest, Janet Song Length: 10 hrs and 28 mins Release Date: 11-04-14 Publisher: Hachette Audio Goodreads | Audible | Amazon 730. That's how many days I've been trapped.18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out. DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin

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12. Judging a Book....Eve Ainsworth



I have always been a bit fussy when it comes to books. It goes without saying that I have to love the concept and in a lot of cases I'm swayed by recommendations. But what can often make me decide to pick up a book in the first place is the cover. If it is striking, if it grabs my attention - I very often want it, or at least want to know more about it.


So it goes without saying that I was delighted when Scholastic sent me the design for Seven Days. I immediately loved its bright, bold statement and the fact that words, spiteful words from my text, were plastered across it. It represents bullying so well for me. It's a big, bold statement. I was confident that this cover could have impact.
I guess I'd worried a lot about the cover. I really wanted to love it, so it was such a relief to see it. I just wanted to hug the designer behind it (in fact I did at the Scholastic party...!)

It got me thinking just how important cover design can be, and how authors could be blessed or cursed with a cover that they do not like, or do not feel reflects their story.

With this in mind, I spoke to a few authors about their favourite covers and asked what it was about them that made them stand out.

What were their cover stories?




Helen Grant - Urban Legends (Random House)


" I was very pleased this cover because it shows a female (dead?) body but in such a way that it appears almost abstract; you can only see one eye and the line of the face runs diagonally across the cover. I thought that was quite stylish."








    Keren David selected Salvage (Atom Books)

  " I love both the published versions of Salvage. They are very different, but still have lots of impact."












Hilary Freeman selected The Camden Town Tales (Piccadilly Press)

"I love all my Camden Town Tales covers. I think that they appeal to the readership because they are pretty and perfectly targeted."  










Emma Haughton  selected Now You See Me (Usbourne)



'I love this cover because it's so simple, and yet so striking, And that gorgeous zingy green!'









Sheena Wilkinson selected Still Falling (Little Island)


"What I loved was the feel of the cover. I couldn't in a million years have said what I wanted but when I saw what the designer had done I just thought, yeah, that's it. I wanted the book to have a sexy grown up feel which I think it does. My last books all featured horses and I really wanted this one to feel like a departure which it does. "








Caroline Green  selected Hold Your Breath (Piccadilly Press)



"I loved the metallic look that gave it an underwater feel. And the colours are gorgeous."










It's fascinating looking at different front covers and wondering what the author felt about each one. I guess when an area such as design is taken out of their hands, it's even more important that it works, that they connect to it.


What front covers do you especially like? Have you ever picked up a book initially because of the design?


I know I have...

Eve x

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13. A Letter to THE JEWEL by Amy Ewing

by Becca THE JEWELby Amy EwingSeries: Jewel (Book 1)Hardcover: 368 pagesPublisher: HarperTeen (September 2, 2014)Goodreads | Amazon The Jewel means wealth, the Jewel means beauty—but for Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet finds herself living in the Jewel as a servant at the estate of the Duchess of the Lake. Addressed only by her number—#197—Violet is

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14. PERFECT COUPLE by Jennifer Echols

"Review My Books" Review by Rachel PERFECT COUPLE by Jennifer Echols Series: The Superlatives Paperback: 336 pages Publisher: Simon Pulse (January 13, 2015) Goodreads | Amazon As yearbook photographer, Harper is responsible for those candid moments that make high school memorable. But her own life is anything but picture perfect. Her parents’ bitter divorce left her wondering what a loving

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15. Start Your Engines…TRACKED is Almost Here!

Exactly four months from today, Tracked will hit shelves, and I couldn’t be more excited about it! So I’m celebrating by firing off a double-shot of good news:

1. On the first day of Christmas, my true love (@coachmathmartin) gave to me…the debut present of a lifetime. Seriously. This Tracked-related surprise is made of hand-polished, custom-welded, plasma-cut steel. You can see it below, in Tracked‘s first official trailer! Check it out:

2. Today, we’re also announcing TRACKED‘S OFFICIAL CREW. By joining Phee Van Zant’s circuit rally team, you’ll be the very first to snag book excerpts, custom swag, and exclusive content. And did I mention prizes? Hit the starting line now, and lap the competition by winning BIG. Each month, from now until May, there will be wildcard giveaways and winner’s circle prizes for one-of-a-kind Tracked-related bags, posters, bookmarks, keychains, t-shirts, quote cards, autographed books, skype visits and MORE. There will be loads of opportunities to win, and multiple winners will be chosen for each lap! Trust me. You’re not going to want to miss this race, so join by signing up below!

TRACKED Crew Badge

[contact-form]

See you on the starting line. ;0)

Jenny

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16. Cybils books about Trans* people

Leelah Alcorn was a trans* teen who commited suicide this weekend. Her parents wouldn't accept her, her friends, either. She was alone with no support, and she killed herself. Her mother then posted on Facebook about how her son had been hit by a truck, implying it was a horrific accident. There is a beautiful hashtag right now, #RealLiveTransAdult to let trans* teens know that there is hope.

Four books about trans* people were nominated in the Cybils YA Nonfiction category this year. 4. That's tied with perennial favorite subjects of the Civil Rights Movement and WWII. I've read them and had reviews written on each of them, picking apart their merits and weaknesses, judging how they may or may not be award worthy. Some obviously compare against others, pitting themselves against each other in my judge-y reader's brain.

You know what? In light of this? Fuck that. I just can't pick them apart when the importance that they even exist is so painfully obvious today. None of them have fundamental flaws, they are all worthy of recommendation, and here they are:


Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition Katie Rain Hill. A college student when she wrote this, Katie tells her story of growing up in a body that didn't feel right--the body of a boy. She tells of her depression and pain and the sheer relief of discovering that transgender was a thing--there was a word for what she was and she wasn't alone. She details the process of coming out and transitioning, the support of her mother and the bullying at school, her advocacy work in Oklahoma, and starting college. A wonderful memoir.





Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen Arin Andrews. A high school senior, this is also a memoir of a trans* teen, detailing his life growing up, his depression and his problems at his very conservative Christian school, as well as coming out and transitioning. There is also the real heartbreak of falling in love and a painful breakup after his girlfriend goes to college. This one has a little more medical information than Rethinking Normal

I would read these two as a set, as Arin and Katie are both from the Tulsa area and had some very similar, and some very different experiences. They also used to date and their relationship (and messy breakup) is well-documented in both books so they can be a sort of he said/she said set. Having two (sometimes drastically different) takes on the relationship (including different versions of events and conversations) might be a very successful way to hand sell the set to teens who might not be otherwise interested in reading a trans* memoir.





Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out Susan Kuklin. Kuklin interviewed several trans* teens for her book, editing their conversations down to a narrative in the teen's own voice. In the range of interviews and photographs, Kuklin captures a wide-range of trans* experiences and showcases the diversity within the trans* community. (Also, it's just a plain gorgeous book. I'm usually all about a smaller trim size for YA nonfiction, but yes, this is a book that can justify being larger.)





Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Much like Beyond Magenta, this book focuses on several trans* narratives (although not exclusively young people) and the personal stories of trans* people. Interspersed are chapters to offer background and context--challenges faced by trans* people (covering topics such as legal, health, and social), trans* people in history, introduction to trans* issues, how trans* people and issues are viewed in different cultures, and more. It's hard to tell in the photo, but the cover is a shiny silver, making it a fuzzy mirror.









Books Provided by... my local library, with the exception of Transgender Lives, which was given to me at a publisher dinner with the author at ALA.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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17. Favorites of 2014

As the years go by, I get less and less comfortable choosing “best of” books at year’s end.  There’s no way that I can read all of the deserving books, and what I may find moving or amusing may not resonate with others.  However, with that being said, and in no particular order,

here are my personal favorites of 2014:


Juvenile Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Adult Fiction
Juvenile Nonfiction
Picture Books
Audio Books
Graphic Novels

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18. Eyes Wide Open

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines Paul Fleischman

Fleischman (who’s probably most known for his Newberry Prize winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) offers a book about the real issues facing us environmentally while, at the same time, teaches teens how to evaluate their sources and be an informed consumer of news. It’s a really great call to action, pointing out how we need to change things, and maybe should have changed them yesterday.

I really liked the design of the book, but I think it would have worked even better in color.

The margins contain a lot of extra reading or watching for more information. It was a great way to recommend some great titles. I also really like what he chose--a good mix of books, articles, movies, and videos. Additionally, a lot of the things he chose are for adults, but are things teens could totally read and understand. It shows a respect for his audience that I really appreciate.

It also has excellent back matter and extensive endnotes--not only are all the sources documented, but many also give further information.

That said, there is a “how-to-think how-to manual” vibe to the book that grates a bit--it seemed condescending. I’m also wondering at who it’s aimed at--are teens no longer cynical about what they’re being told by THE MAN?

Fleischman’s writing often uses many of the same logical fallacies he warns readers against falling for. And, some of his points were interesting, but he didn’t have anything to back them up (like lack of food is what led to the Rwandan genocide and the crisis in Darfur. I think that’s an interesting argument to make, but the argument has to actually be made.)

Two things really irked me though--one is that he really hates think tanks (wonder if he feels the same way about the left wing environmental ones?) and paints them with such a brush that what he describes just doesn’t resemble what they are (and yes, this is personal, and yes, I know a lot about think tanks from the inside.) He tends to equate them with lobbyists (they’re not the same thing) and also all lobbyists are bad (what about the ones who lobby for the environment? According to Fleischman it doesn’t matter, because they’re not as well funded. Um, no. If you have a problem with the tactics, you have a problem with the tactics, if you have a problem with funding imbalance, that’s something else.) He also says that all talking heads on the news are PR flacks. Nope.

The other is the overblown hyperbole he resorts to. According to him, Foundations are a way for think tanks to hide where their money comes from and is the same thing as how drug cartels launder their money. Also, when talking about the psychological phenomenon of regression (trying to make the point that people would rather watch TV, play video games, care about a sports fandom or hang out on social media than face reality and learn about the world around them, which is problematic enough, but wait) he talks about how it regression causes childish reactions--his examples? Credit cards [note: not credit card debt, but credit cards in general] and tax revolts are childish reactions to wanting it now and not being able to save for the future or long term. And shootings are a crazy-people childish reaction to annoying people.*

And then my head exploded.

He makes some great points, but so much of it is undermined by his tone and writing, that it undoes everything that's right about this book.


Exact quotation: “With the daunting issues facing us, it’s easy to see the appeal of retreating to a childlike stage without responsibility. This is the defense mechanism regression. Where can you see it? Credit cards. You haven’t saved enough money but you really want something now? Go ahead and buy it anyway! Tax Revolts. Maturity demands looking beyond our narrow interests. Contributing to the public good from our private pockets causes some adults to throw tantrums. Shootings. Don’t like your boss/ex-wife/gum-chewing coworker? Blowing them away is a childish fantasy with such appeal that some mentally unstable people act it out.” p. 69


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19. Alice + Freda Forever

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.



Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis Alexis Coe

Man, I love Zest in general and when I heard they were doing a New Adult line, my thoughts were “huh? really?” because I wasn’t sure how it would fit. Then I saw that their first New Adult book was a historical true crime about 19th century lesbian murder in Memphis. Because, of course, it’s Zest and that’s how they roll and that’s why I love them.

Sadly, I did not love this book, as much as I wanted to. It’s exciting and compelling, but has some fatal flaws.

Alice and Freda were school friends. In the late 1800s, it was common for young women to form very intense friendships, hold hands, declare their love for each other. For Alice and Freda though, it went much deeper than mere “chumming.” They were actually in love, and Alice was going to pretend to be a man so they could get married and Alice would work to support the family. But when Freda’s sister discovered the plot, she forbade Freda to contact Alice again. She then told Alice’s family who agreed to keep the girls apart. Freda moved on, but Alice could not, would not. So Alice slit Freda’s throat in the middle of a street in broad daylight. A sensational murder trial followed, with Alice’s family pleading insanity, because what other explanation was there for same-sex love?

Coe tells this story very well. It’s gripping and readable, opening with the murder and then jumping back to detail their relationship. Their relationship had many issues, Freda was a flirt, Alice was jealous and possessive, and Freda had moved upriver from Memphis. She also does a great job explaining the trial and differences in the legal system between then and now and I love the way she subtly emphasizes that Alice’s family was rich (not mega rich, not high society, but definitely not poor) and white and how that changed things. How Alice’s Memphis was not the same Memphis many other people lived in. Overall the story is a great one to know about and I couldn't put it down--I read it one sitting.

But, it still had some problems.

For one, it kept referring to Eastern Tennessee like that’s where Memphis is. (Such as when Alice’s father hires two of the most prominent, expensive attorneys in Eastern Tennessee.) At one point it talks about “nearby Knoxville.” Um, look at a map. Memphis is as far West as you can get in Tennessee and Knoxville is 400 miles away. If something as basic as the location of Memphis is incorrect, what else is, too?

But, my major problem is that it’s illustrated. As I’ve said before I don’t agree with using drawings of historical photographs instead of the actual photographs. And this book even illustrates historical DOCUMENTS, like newspaper headline and articles, and the Register of Deaths. Worst of all, all of the letters between Alice and Freda are illustrated in handwriting. Not their handwriting, or even time-period authentic handwriting, and some of it is VERY hard to read. Yeesh, just type it out.

Some of the pictures are great and there’s no way there’s a photograph (my favorite is this stark on of Alice lying in her jail cell where she’s lightly sketched in white, surrounded by this heavy, dark grey) and that’s fine. BUT. Don’t illustrate a newspaper headline. Just use the original. And, if you’re going to use letters as part of your narrative and evidence, make sure they’re readable.

So, on the whole, this is not one I’ll be looking for on the award lists this year (sadly) and I’ll be very disappointed if it is on the lists, BUT, it is one I’ll recommend to readers and share widely.


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20. Review of My True Love Gave to Me

perkins_my true love gave to meMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories
edited by Stephanie Perkins
High School   St. Martin’s Griffin   323 pp.
10/14   978-1-250-05930-7   $18.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4668-6389-7   $9.99

Holiday romance is the connecting link for the twelve tales included in this highly enjoyable anthology by a dozen well-known young adult authors, including Rainbow Rowell, Matt de la Peña, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor, and Stephanie Perkins. 
The short stories feature teen protagonists of different races, sexual identities, and ethnicities confronting various obstacles and insecurities in their pursuit of new love amidst celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and even Krampuslauf. And in keeping with the spirit of the season, the eclectic collection of stories — some fantastical, some realistic — all end with hopeful, if not always happy, endings.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review of Unbroken

hillenbrand_unbrokenUnbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand; 
adapted by the author
Middle School, High School   Delacorte   292 pp.
11/14   978-0-385-74251-1   $19.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-99062-5   $22.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-97565-2   $10.99

With media attention focused on the July 2014 death of Louis Zamperini, and Angelina Jolie’s upcoming movie detailing his WWII experiences, this adaptation of Hillenbrand’s best-selling Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption puts the Zamperini story in the hands of many teens not ready or willing to tackle the adult version. Constantly in and out of scrapes as a child, Zamperini appeared to be heading for a life of crime. But Louis traded delinquency for adulation. He became a competitive runner, and gutsy performances earned him a slot on the 1938 Olympic track team. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Air Corps, surviving a plane crash and forty-seven days adrift on a raft only to be captured and interred in various Japanese POW camps until war’s end. He returned to California alive but emotionally scarred; after battling alcoholism, he became a Christian crusader. This adaptation eliminates much of the original detail, particularly concerning Zamperini’s survival at sea and his time as a POW, and Zamperini’s eventual redemption receives fewer edits than other portions of the text — and thus its impact is more prominent than in the original. But the tension built by his oceanic ordeal and by the unrelenting torture during his years in captivity never wavers, creating a humdinger of a page-turner: a noble story about the courage of America’s Greatest Generation, personified. An author interview with Zamperini and (unseen) notes and index are appended.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. How Will We Live Our Afterlives?

Here's the basic set-up for The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie: Hell and "Up There" are just places people go to after they die. While there are definitely evil folk in Hell who suffer horribly, some people, like our teenage protagonist Mitchell, seem to end up there for random reasons. For them, Hell is pretty much a really boring, overcrowded place. They hold jobs and can change. Mitchell's good friend, a Viking prince who died in battle at sixteen, has learned to read in Hell.

Mitchell is an intern in the accounting department and through his boss is able to get his hands on a device that will allow him to time travel. His plan is to go back in time with his three best (dead) friends to relive and change their deaths. Mitchell, in particular, wants to get to live the life he missed out on because he was hit by a bus.

There's much that's entertaining and intriguing in this book. There's plenty of narrative drive once the group finally gets on the road. But I had a hard time with the "paradox" business that Mitchell kept talking about. If these dead kids changed their deaths, what does that do to their afterlives where they were best friends and even two couples? The things that happen at each of their deaths that only happen because of something else that happened and could that be changed? Well, I was watching an episode of Dr. Who this afternoon that I couldn't follow, either. The where-are-we-in-time thing is difficult for me.

While I was reading The Devil's Intern, I wondered if it was really YA or was it an adult book with teen characters? One of the big factors in determining YA is supposed to be theme. YA themes often involve young people working out how they're going to live their lives. At first, I thought the characters in The Devil's Intern were coming to terms with how they had lived their lives, which would be adult. However, you could argue that they are working out how they're going to live their afterlives, bringing us around to YA territory again.

Hellbent by Anthony McGowan is another YA book set in Hell. Interesting how totally different they are.

The Devil's Intern is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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23. Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

The Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit […]

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24. Strike

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.

Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights Larry Brimmer

When I was growing up, my parents had a Boycott Grapes sign in our basement. I knew Cesar Chavez was a labor leader, but when I hear his name, my mind always goes to this:



Strike changed all that, really bringing to life the issues of migrant workers and how and why they unionized.

What Brimmer does really well is bring a lot of meat to the story--the divides between Filipino and Chicano workers, the politics involved in *which* union you joined (not all unions are created equal, which is a side of labor history we don’t see a lot, especially in children’s books.) I also like that Brimmer takes a hard warts-and-all look at Chavez and where he mis-stepped and where he succeeded and everything he accomplished.

To top it off, the design is just breathtakingly gorgeous. I would have gone for a smaller trim size, to make it more appealing to an older audience, but if you’re going to make it large, this is the way to do it. (Except a few of the pictures are too large, making them pixelated) There are several pull quotes which is great, and they’re presented in Spanish and English. On one hand, I like that they’re in both languages when this makes sense. But, why are non-Hispanic whites and Filipinos translated into Spanish instead of left in English or translated into Tagalog, respectively? This is especially troubling with quotations from the Filipino workers, because one of tensions was that many meetings were held in Spanish instead of English, leaving Filipino attendees in the dark and out of the loop.

Overall though, a fascinating and great book--one I’m really glad I read. I learned a ton about something I knew a little bit about. A great example of what nonfiction for teens can look like.


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25. How I Discovered Poetry

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.

How I Discovered Poetry Marilyn Nelson

Traveling Light (Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas, 1956)

In memory, Pudgy is just a tail
brushing my thighs as we surveyed the shelves
in the icebox. “Pudgy,” Daddy explained,
“went to live with a different family;
she’s fed and happy.” Lady welcomed us
to one Officer’s Housing, where she lived
under our unit. She was a good dog.
She seemed almost sad when we drove away
behind the moving van. And General
did have a knack for causing us trouble:
He dug up gardens, dragged whole clotheslines home.
“He’ll be happier with his new family,”
Daddy explains. We’ve been transferred again.
We stand numb as he gives away our toys.

This is a beautiful collection of unrhymed sonnets exploring life growing up on a series of military bases--a child of one of the few black officers. It explores so well the pain of growing up coupled with the pain of moving every few years, always saying goodbye, always trying to fit in with a new group of kids--sometimes made even harder by racial differences.

It’s a sparse book--only 50 sonnets--but packs a punch. Inevitably it will be compared to the other memoir-in-verse that came out this year, Brown Girl Dreaming, and I fear it will be overshadowed by it, which is sad, because this one is so good and so lovely.

It’s also wonderfully illustrated by Hadley Hooper in black-and-white drawings (maybe prints?) occasionally accented with muted goldenrod or blue.

Now, how do I feel about it as Cybils book? This one’s interesting… it’s a nomination in both YA nonfiction and in Poetry. I think it’s an outstanding choice, and strong contender for poetry, I do not think it’s a strong choice for YA Nonfiction. If nothing else, her author’s note states: “I prefer to call the girl in the poems ‘the Speaker,’ not ‘me.’ Although the poems describe a girl whose life is very much like mine, the incidents the poems describe are not entirely or exactly ‘memories.’ They are sometimes much enhanced by research and imagination.” So, a wonderful book that everyone should read, but not the right book for this award.

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