Review: Shine

It is October, 1998. I am close to the end of the first semester of my senior year of college, just a few months away from beginning my student teaching experience and one month away from my 21st birthday.  Early in the month, the news is dominated by the story of Matthew Shepard, a boy the same age as me, who has been tortured and left for dead in a field in Laramie, Wyoming.  His crime? Being gay. On October 12, Matthew died in a hospital, unable to recover from his injuries. This crime haunted me then and still does today. How is it that human beings can be so cruel to one another? What drives someone to act out so violently just because someone else is different?

Reading the first pages of Lauren Myracle’s Shine brought back all these emotions.  The book begins with a newspaper clipping, “stunned residents of Black Creek, North Carolina, pray for seventeen-year-old Patrick Truman, beaten and left for dead outside the convenience store where he works.” The article goes on to describe the abuse Patrick suffered, clearly the victim of a hate crime. All the emotions I felt in college hearing about Matthew Shepard came back at once. This introductory article would not be the last time this story brought me to tears, Patrick’s story is agonizing and, unfortunately, very familiar.

Shine is narrated by Cat, one of Patrick’s friends, who struggles with feelings of guilt for not having been a better friend and anger at the abuse he suffered not only the night he was beaten, but daily as he was the victim of school bullies. Unsatisfied with the attention the local police are giving this crime; Cat takes it upon herself to investigate and to bring justice to Patrick, who lies comatose in the hospital.

Myracle is a master story-teller with an uncanny insight into the human experience. None of her characters are stock, none are uncomplicated. Readers will recognize in the characters the complexity of the human experience. In flashback, Cat describes a particularly terrible instance of bullying that took place on the first day of high school. Patrick is pushed into the boy’s bathroom and tormented by some of the school jocks. Instead of helping her friend, Cat turns a blind eye, afraid if she stands up for him, she will also become a victim. Those are the kinds of choices humans, whether teenagers or adults, are faced with every day. How many times have you turned a blind eye to something because it was easier than getting involved? We all know what the right thing to do is, but sometimes are unable to speak up for fear of drawing attention to ourselves. Through Cat’s journey, readers will be inspired to take a stand and will be forced to evaluate their own actions towards others.

Equal attention is paid by Myracle to creating a cast of supporting characters who are every bit as human and imperfect as Cat. She brings to life the reality of living below the poverty line in the south. The school Cat attends is divided sharply down socio-economic lines. Patrick, as it turns out, is not the only one who has been the victim of bullying. Cat has also experienced torment, though she suffers her victimization silently, afraid of the ramifications of standing up to a rich and powerful family in the town. What would happen if her aunt, with whom she lives, is fired because she speaks up against her boss? Again, Myracle deftly illustrates the painful decisions we are faced with every day.

Beyond her mastery of characterization, Myracle is a master of words, able to paint beautiful or terrifying pictures with her words. Through her brilliant use of imagery, she is able to draw readers into the scene and set the mood. “Patrick’s house was a ghost, dust coated the windows, the petunias in the flower boxes bowed their heads, and spiderwebs clotted the eaves of the porch. Once I might have marveled at the webs—how delicate they were, how intricate—but today I saw ghastly silk ropes.” These first lines of chapter one paint a beautifully haunting picture and let readers feel the pain Cat is feeling—a house that once was beautiful and full of life is now empty and somber, symbolic of both Cat and Patrick. Myracle is indeed a master wordsmith.

To say Shine haunted me would be an understatement; I struggled to write this review hoping to do justice to the book. The story is both tragic and inspirational and is one that needs to be read. Parents, kids, teachers, everyone needs to read this book—the story is too important not to be heard. After reading Cat’s tale, you will see the world differently, you will be different yourself. This may be the most important YA release of 2011.

Waiting to be read

My "To Be Read" pile is growing exponentially. This is partly due to a few requests for reviews I've received and partly due to my frequenting book stores and being drawn in by all the awesomeness out there. While saddened by Borders having to close forever, I've been helping them empty their shelves.

Admittedly, I was helping them empty their shelves even before the "everything must go" sales began. I also have some great upcoming titles on pre-order just waiting to be delivered. The moral of this story is that I need to read faster.

So here's what you can expect in the upcoming days. 

First, I've finished Lauren Myracle's Shine and was blown away! What an amazing book. You can run out and read it now; or, wait until tomorrow after you've read my review.

After that, a review of Rotters by Daniel Kraus, another amazing talent.

Then, I think I'll move on to a few of the non-YA titles I've got sitting in my list. A couple of indie publications and I'm happy to be part of an ARC tour for an upcoming James Patterson release.

It will definitely be a busy August.  

High School Library Needs Your Help

From another Danielle @ Frenzy of Noise
While I was in classes a few weeks ago, I had this huge (kinda funny to me) realization. All week everyone kept talking about community. Saying "this is the place you'll build a lifeline." All week I was that smug girl who's said to myself: I have that. Because I do have that. I have it in bloggers, in readers, in writers, in authors, in twitter. I know I have people.

I know I'm part of a community that bans together to stand up for literary injustice, backlash, plagarism and everything in between. We build hashtags on twitter and give small ideas a way to be big. We're awesome.

That's why when the director of my MFA program sent us an email about a book drive, I knew I had to bring the need to my community. This community.Why? Well...
"The literature section of Ballou Senior High School's library in Washington, DC has 63 books, not enough to fill five small shelves. In the area marked "Pure Science," there are 77 volumes. The generally accepted standard for school libraries is 11 books for each of Ballou's 1,104 students."

It's completely unacceptable that a high school is lacking a basic need of life, a need that opens the doors to education, creativity and imagination---books. And this is the time for all of us to step up, to ban together, to help out. No matter what genre you read, because they need everything. 

This selection I take out of the email from my program director because he says it better than I ever could. 

"It's a challenge for kids to take their literacy seriously when they don't even have books to read. Ballou is located in the most dangerous ward in our nation's capitol. Right now, the library serves as a physical safe space and a refuge for students in off school hours, but wouldn't it be great if they had something to read while they were there--even choices across genre?....This is not the only school in the country with needs, but when the flare went up we saw it and chose to respond."
What they need:

Everything.  From Shakespeare to Octavia Butler to Richard Wright. Fantasy, sci-fi, YA, adult fiction, history books, poetry, classic literature, science. Basically anything and everything that's suitable for high school. They will take anything as long as it is in GOOD condition and has no writing in it. 

I've asked if they would accept ARCs (new and old), and the director of the book drive, Lisa, said YES. Please note however, that this they really need finished copies. ARCs are fantastic, but the lasting value isn't always standing. 

How to donate:

If you have books you want to give, please mail them directly to:

Perry School
c/o Margaret Pegram
128 M St. NW suite 318
Washington, DC 20001

Inside the box put a note that says "c/o Lisa P. Ballou Book Drive".

They will be accepting books until August 22!!  

Also, if you'd like to include some kind of quick note for the kids, words of encouragement, that would be awesome!! But it's not mandatory. 

Spread the word! 

Reblog this post on your blog. Tweet this post. (we're on twitter at #HSBookDrive) Tell everyone. Send books. 

This is a chance for our community to step up, to reach out and to provide teens with books. This is why we are here so I challenge you to be part of this. If you can, if you have even one book or a stack of books from that project you finished a year ago, give them. Donating books is not really about the book, but about what happens when someone reads a book. And not even having a chance to read a book is completely devastating to me. I can't even imagine my life without books.

I hope you will help!! Even if you can't send a book--tweet, tell others, and take action.

Musings: On the Quick Read

Hoping these are all quick reads?

It has become increasingly popular when reviewing books to describe the book as “a quick read.” I’ve found myself describing books in this way. Recently, as I was drafting a review, I thought to myself, “What does that really mean?” 

When someone describes a book as a “quick read,” what are they really saying?  There are several (very different) possibilities:

  1.      This book was so amazing that I found myself rushing to the end.
  2.      This book was so terrible that I skimmed through most of it just to finish.
  3.      This book was an easy read, there was no challenging prose/vocabulary/concept
  4.      I’m an exceptionally fast reader

With all these interpretations, it seems describing a book as a “quick read” is an empty descriptor—akin to writing “nice work” on the top of a student’s paper. 

Equally troubling is the fact that some will see “quick read” as a negative, preferring instead, a read that will draw them in to an entirely different world. Personally, I enjoy a book that causes me to forget my own reality for a time. Being a fast reader, I can recall times where I’ve purposefully slowed myself down to savor a book longer. Is a quick read a book that does not invite a reader to stay a while, making it the fast food version of literature?

Conversely, some may see “quick read” as a positive. In this increasingly busy world people like to get information quickly and in small bites. For the person constantly on the move, a quick read may be just what they are looking for. They can hop from one to the other with little thought or attention to detail gleaning small pieces of information as they go. I prefer to get my news in this manner, finding fiction often preferable to reality.

How must an author feel about having her work described as a quick read?  Most writers spend months poring over their work, fretting over the perfect modifier or the most precise way to describe an emotion. What must it be like for that writer to see a review of the book containing months or years of hard work described as something people breeze through with no thought?  I guess the answer to that question depends on how the author interprets a reviewer’s use of the phrase “quick read.”

Perhaps what I am really bemoaning here is the number of people who no longer see the value of spending an afternoon lost in a book (more on that later) or the increasing lack of precision in our use of language. In any case, we owe those people to whom we are recommending books a more thoughtful description. Simply saying, “This made me laugh out loud” or, “it brought me to tears” is much more meaningful than saying, “I read this quickly.” For my part, I promise to never describe a book as a “quick read” when making recommendations or writing reviews. 

These are my musings, what are your thoughts?

An interview with Victoria Schwab

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
There are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

THE NEAR WITCH comes out August 2011 with

(pitch borrowed from the author's website)

Victoria Schwab’s debut novel The Near Witch is generating a lot of positive buzz, placing it among the most highly anticipated YA releases of 2011. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ask the author some questions and get to know a little bit more about the woman behind the book.
In the bio posted on your website, you list six very different fields of study you pursued in college. What have you taken away from each of these fields?

Is it sad that I had to look at my own bio to remember all 6?? Not because I didn't take things away from them, but because there were 2-3 more I didn't list, because they were only Minors. In school, I wanted to try, to taste, as much as possible. And I did. Physics taught me problem solving. In Film and Art History I learned to be observant and detail-oriented. Set Design helped me visualize worlds. In English, I fostered a love of children's lit, and in Communication Design I learned to fuse my passions for art and English, and find ways to educate using creative and accessible models (in my thesis, I explored Campbell's Archetypes using a color wheel). And from it all, I learned to be always absorbing something new. 

Who are your literary influences?

My greatest literary influences have probably been Shel Silverstein (so not kidding, that man taught me how to see the world, and how to hear rhythm), and Neil Gaiman. Talk about two extremes, but just as odd. I guess I'm a little odd, too. 

You describe yourself as someone who loves fairy tales and folklore. What is your favorite fairy or folk tale?

I am lover of the components of folklore and fairytale, the archetypes that make them up, the way stories are passed down, etc. Some of my favorite folklore comes from the early notions of the northern lights being a path for the dead, but one of my favorite fairytales has always been Little Red Riding Hood. Its origins, aside from being much darker than its later incarnations, also dealt with witchcraft more than hunters and axes!!

Did this tale in anyway influence The Near Witch?

Nope! I was influenced by the structure of folklore and the nature of fairytale, but the story itself is all my own. 

What can we expect from Victoria Schwab in the future?

My next project is called THE ARCHIVED (Disney*Hyperion), and it's very different!! I like that it's different. It's still a ways out, so all I can say is that my agent and I are constantly trying to come up with a mash-up to describe it, and the current one is: Buffy + The Matrix + If I Stay.

Buffy + The Matrix + If I Stay? What’s not to love about that? 

My thanks to Victoria for being so gracious with her time.  You can pick up your copy of The Near Witch hereDescription:  

Review: Divergent

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy)From Goodreads:
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

Divergent is the kind of novel that introduces readers to a world that is simultaneously familiar and foreign, fascinating and terrifying.  In this new society where people are categorized, trained, and sectored according to their prevalent personality traits, those who show no predilection for a particular faction are considered dangerous. To be labeled divergent is to be handed a death sentence, to even say the word is to call unwanted and dangerous attention to one’s self. 

Initially, the concept of Divergent seems comfortably fictitious; however, the further into the book I got, the more I noticed parallels between Tris’s world and ours. We live in a society so fond of labeling and categorizing people—it’s not hard to imagine this becoming a way of controlling the masses. As I read about the different factions, I was reminded of India’s caste system. The factionless described in Divergent called to mind the untouchables—those people who are considered the most lowly and expendable.  Readers will no doubt find themselves considering the faction they would want to join and which faction The Test would have them join.

Tris is a great protagonist. She is conflicted and beautifully human, making her entirely relatable. Divergent is a character-driven novel and Veronica Roth has succeeded in creating a brilliant cast. Equal attention is given to the development of each of the players in the novel.  Readers will find themselves taking sides and changing opinions of each of the characters as new details are presented, as nothing (and no one) is entirely as it seems in this new world.

This is a brilliant first novel and I’m eager to see what surprises Ms. Roth has in store for the next entry into this trilogy.

Review: Bliss

Bliss by Lauren Myracle

From Goodreads:

Lauren Myracle brings her keen understanding of teen dynamics to a hypnotic horror story of twisted friendship.

When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a tony Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naïve Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted, naïve Bliss is happy to be friends with anyone. That’s not the way it has ever worked at Crestview, and soon Bliss is at the center of a struggle for power between three girls—two living and one long dead.

I have to admit to being new to Lauren Myracle’s work, despite her being a powerhouse of YA literature. Bliss was an impulse buy, and this is where I get to continue my confessions by owning up to judging a book by its cover. The cover of Bliss evokes memories of Stephen King’s Carrie—a favorite book (and film) of mine. Between the creepy cover and the blurb on the back, I knew this was a book for me (way to go marketing team!). 

As soon as I began to read, it was obvious this would be a book I loved. For one, I am drawn to books that have a multi-genre feel in terms of layout and narrative technique. The chapters are broken up by quotes from a few different sources, primarily transcripts of the Tate-LaBianca murder trials and snippets from The Andy Griffith Show. This was brilliant. Myracle actually manages to make Mayberry take on an ominous tone, I’m not sure if anyone has ever done this before; but I know I’ll never look at reruns of this program the same way again. The quotations served the book well and were carefully chosen—they add a mixture of ambiance and foreshadowing. Equally cool were the journal entries by S. L. L. that helped to break up and/or introduce the chapters, which added intrigue and suspense to the novel.

When I sat down to write this review, I began by thinking, “what is this book about?” And that’s where I falter. It is, on the surface a teen horror novel; but it is also so much more. It is a story of racisim and classicism. It is a story about how cruel teenage girls can be to one another. It is a story of being an outsider and feeling pressure to conform while at the same time trying to maintain individuality. It is a story about how misguided and naive, albeit good intentioned, some adults can be. It is suspense and it is tragedy. The book is all these things, and that’s what really made me love it. 

The characters are real and because they are real, they are flawed and they are conflicted. It is the characters that drive the plot of the story. Readers will recognize faces from their own years in high school and will most likely recognize themselves.  Looking at the world through Bliss’s eyes for most of the narration, adult readers will be transported back to the gauntlet known as high school. Because Bliss is an outsider, having spent most of her life as a transient and living on a commune, her point of view allows for those of us who have been out of high school for a while to reacquaint ourselves with the rules of high school not found in any Freshman orientation program or school handbook. 

Bliss’s conclusion is neither satisfying nor happy; neither are most of life’s conclusions. While some readers may be put off by this, I thought it was brilliant.  Characters and events of this novel will be burned into my brain for many years to come and I am sure this is a book I will read again.  

Now, excuse me while I hop over to Amazon to pick up a copy of Shine. Lauren Myracle, you most definitely have a new fan in me.

July Random Acts of Kindness

July is here and what better way to celebrate summer than with a random act of kindness? The awesome ladies at Book Soulmates organized RAK as a way for bloggers to spread reading and smiles. All you have to do is hop over to their blog and sign up. It's a great way to meet other bloggers & to find a way to make someone's day. So go ahead, what are you waiting for?

Below is an overview (borrowed from Book Soulmates)

Book Soulmates

  • Sign up each month that you'd like to participate.
  • Show off your participation by grabbing our RAK button :)
  • Create a wish list (on Amazon, Goodreads, or your blog etc) and post it in the Google Doc located in each R.A.K post for the month.
  • If you choose to do a R.A.K for someone, check out their wish list and contact that blogger for their address.
  • At the end of the month, SHOW US YOUR R.A.K!  Make a post saying 'Thank You' to whoever granted one of your wishes and share it with us :)
Let's keep our International bloggers in mind and in our hearts.
Remember, there's always the Book Depository and they offer FREE shipping!

Easy breezy!!

Sign up for July [HERE]
See who else is participating in July [HERE

Review: Wildthorn

Wildthorne by Jane Eagland 

From Goodreads:
They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn't she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . . Originally published in the UK, this well-paced, provocative romance pushes on boundaries—both literal and figurative—and, do beware: it will bind you, too

“ . . . a girl who studied too much would become ‘dogmatic and presumptuous, self-willed and arrogant, eccentric in dress, and disagreeable in manner.’” (Eagland 82).

Louisa Cosgrove is certainly not the average Victorian young lady. She entertains dreams of becoming a doctor, like her father. She spurns the idea that a woman must be married in order to be complete and happy. She dreams of a world where she is free to be herself. Sadly, in Victorian England, these fanciful ideas are enough to cause one to be institutionalized.

I was hooked on this novel from the first chapter. I especially loved the way part one alternates between first person present narration and flashback, allowing the reader to unravel the mystery at the same time as Louisa.  Our protagonist finds herself institutionalized with no idea of why or who put her there and she must piece together bits of her past in order to solve the puzzle.

The pacing was perfect and it kept me hooked from beginning to end. Louisa’s character is easy to identify with, a girl who feels out of place and who does not understand why she must conform to societal constraints. Additionally, the history of the book is infuriating and caused me more than once to do some quick research to find out if things really were as bad as they are described to be. The short answer—they were.  The inhumane treatment Louisa receives in the asylum is sadly, typical for the time period.

Louisa’s journey is not an easy one and many times I was angry for her or on the verge of tears over her situation. Her character inspires sympathy and envy, while I don’t envy her situation I am inspired by her strength. The ending, while bittersweet, is satisfying. It is difficult to review this book without giving too much away, so I will end by saying, “go read this book—NOW!!”

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