Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll remember me getting a little excited when this book came out: 


And then I got even MORE excited when Tahereh Mafi came out to MY OWN BOOKSTORE to sign copies! ZOMG! Of course, I had to go there to meet her.

And, of course, I got her to sign the ARC that I had read. And I got her to sign another copy, too, for you guys. WOOT! More about that at the end of this post.

And, OF COURSE, I had to read Destroy Me, the e-novella that came out last month! Here's the blurb: Perfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel MeDestroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

I ate this up. What surprised me most, in a good way, was how sympathetic Warner is as a character. I finished Shatter Me wishing that a sinkhole would open and swallow him up, crush him, and erase him forever. I hated his guts. But I finished Destroy Me kind of feeling sorry for him, despite myself. And also wondering if he is as bad a guy as Shatter Me led us to believe. Kind of the way I felt about Mitt Romney after the election: he's still not my guy, but at least I don't hate him anymore, and I can't help feeling a little sorry for him and wondering if he would have turned out better if he'd only had a different beginning. And I KNOW we're going to need to know this stuff about Warner by the time Unravel Me comes out! Destroy Me is available on e-book only, and you can order it from all kinds of places from the Harper Teen webpage here.

And to celebrate the release of Destroy Me, I am GIVING AWAY my beautiful, signed, original cover design, basically-a-collector's-item copy of SHATTER ME! AAAAAAHHHHH!

To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this here post. I will put all the names in a hat (because I'm old-fashioned that way, and also still slightly technologically challenged) and pick one at MIDNIGHT, on the night of DECEMBER 8TH.

One extra entry for every time you spread the word, IF you leave a link in the comments. I homeschool, guys. Time is a precious, precious commodity. The direct links really help me out.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: The Vindico by Wesley King

This week's Friday Forward is another book club pick from last month: Wesley King's YA debut THE VINDICO.

Here's the blurb: The Vindico are a group of supervillains who have been fighting the League of Heroes for as long as anyone can remember. Realizing they’re not as young as they used to be, they devise a plan to kidnap a group of teenagers to take over for them when they retire—after all, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of angsty teens to be evil?

Held captive in a remote mansion, five teens train with their mentors and receive superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Struggling to uncover the motives of the Vindico, the teens have to trust each other to plot their escape. But they quickly learn that the differences between good and evil are not as black and white as they seem, and they are left wondering whose side they should be fighting on after all . . .

I enjoyed this book on two levels. First, I enjoyed the superhero elements, and I loved the exploration of how different superheroes (and super-villains!) can get their powers. As a former (who am I kidding, current) superhero wannabe, I loved immersing myself in the possibility that a kid could get swept off the streets and given superpowers just like that. And what a premise! Kids kidnapped and trained to be superheroes is one thing - but training them to be super-villains? Now that's a twist I can go for.

Additionally, though, I enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be a hero in the first place. By coincidence, I read this book at the same time that the news about Lance Armstrong's doping scandal came out, and I was glad for the opportunity to think about the artificial granting of extraordinary abilities in a real-life context. While the League of Heroes insists that the only legitimate superpowers are those that a person is born with, and The Vindico insist that all people with superpowers should be welcomed no matter how they got them, the reader is asked to consider whether the fact that one has been born with an innate ability is more or less important than what we do with that ability, and how far one should go in trying to achieve and cultivate that ability. While it doesn't come across as pro-cheating, it does raise some very interesting questions about the nature of good and evil, and what it really means to be "good" or "bad".

I also loved the characterization. all the characters are well-thought-out, with deep histories that have shaped them into the people we meet in this book. I loved that even the worst of the bad guys are relatable and understandable - it lent a depth to this book that all superhero stories should have. And Hayden and Emily? All I can say is, AWESOME.

THE VINDICO is a quick, fun, surprisingly thought-provoking page-turner available in a bookstore near you or online at Indiebound here, Amazon here, and (for readers in Canada) Chapters Indigo here.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday Forward meets MMGM: Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I'll admit it: I was a holdout. I don't know if it was the fact that it was SUCH a big deal, or if it was the cartoony element (back before cartoons in books were a common as they are now - in other words, it was something new), or if it was the fact that when I opened it up to a random page, I got the page where he plays a prank on his best friend and my thought was, "This Wimpy Kid is a sucky friend, which is the opposite of awesome." Let it suffice to say that I was not eager for Kidlet Number One to discover these books.

Until he did.

It was one of those days. We were in a bookstore. We were waiting to see the amazing Libba Bray (more on that later!). The line was long. He was wilting. I told him to go pick a book - any book - from the pre-teen section and if he liked it, he could buy it with his allowance. And he came back with... Dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN: THE BOOK WHICH WAS NOT NAMED:

To my discredit, I argued with him. I told him that I hated that book with a passion that burned with the power of a thousand suns. (Yes, I actually said that. About a book. In a bookstore. I am a cretin.) But standing there surrounded by book-lovers, reason (and shame) prevailed. We can read this together, I thought. And then we can talk about it.

And then I laughed pretty much nonstop for over 45 minutes. This book is hilarious. Here's the blurb from Amazon and Goodreads:

It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley’s star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend’s newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.

Author/illustrator Jeff Kinney recalls the growing pains of school life and introduces a new kind of hero who epitomizes the challenges of being a kid. As Greg says in his diary, “Just don’t expect me to be all ‘Dear Diary’ this and ‘Dear Diary’ that.” Luckily for us, what Greg Heffley says he won’t do and what he actually does are two very different things.

From the moment Greg says that he specifically told his mother not to get him something that said "diary" on it (and then follows it up with a cartoon illustrating his fear: a bigger kid beating on him because of it), I knew that this was a book that would speak to the hearts of every middle-grader out there. Through Greg, Jeff Kinney gives us a picture of Middle School that echoes the universal Middle School experience: trying to find your niche in a universe that seems to have no niches left. From the Halloween mishap to the Christmas play shenanigans, Greg speaks for all middle-schoolers out there as he navigates the perils of hallway bullies, fights with his best friend, unreasonable parental expectations, and clueless teachers.

There are still definitely things about Greg's behavior that I didn't like: he treats his supposed best friend pretty badly from the very beginning, and he sneaks around a couple of times breaking his parents' rules. But these are things that echo the true middle-school experience, and while I don't like them and I don't want my kids feeling like it's okay to do these things, I do think that this book is a better way to bring up these issues and to illustrate why it's important to treat our friends well and listen to our parents, even when we don't know why they make the rules that they make. In other words, this book has some great talking points in it, and I encourage parents to read this book with their kids so that you can ask them questions and discuss those moments and find out what they think about Greg and his escapades.

As for me and my kid, we're already looking forward to laughing our way through the second book in this deservedly popular series.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney can be found in pretty much every bookstore that sells books for kids, or online at IndieBound here, at Amazon here, and (for Canadian readers) at Chapters Indigo here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Musings: VOTE ALREADY

So, I spent my Friday night filming my first out-of-country voting experience:

If you follow my tweets, it's pretty obvious who I support. But this vlog isn't about getting you to swing the same way. It's about letting you know that I really believe that things like choosing the President of our country are not things that we should just leave up to everyone else. And when it comes to local issues, like whether to continue a tax levy to fund schools or choosing the next governor of your state, you need to step up, because these things affect you. If you don't care right now, then take a look at your tax bill and think about what that money gets used for. If you think it doesn't affect you, then take a look at your neighbours, because even though it may not affect you, it probably affects them. Learn about the issues. Read the newspaper. Educate yourself.

And vote.

And spread the word!

Happy Monday. :-)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Forward: LUNA, by Julie Anne Peters

It's Friday, and boy, do I have some catching up to do! I missed a couple weeks while I was busy at writing conferences and making videos about cupcakes, but from now on, I promise to be more vigilant about my Friday reviews - as well as with the rest of my online life!

This week's Friday Forward was a book club pick from last month: LUNA, by Julie Ann Peters. Here's the blurb from Goodreads and Amazon: Regan's brother Liam can't stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister's clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam's family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen's struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

This book was a real eye-opener, and on the heels of Presidential debates that (barely) touched on issues like gay rights and gender equality and a very informative vlog by the Hank half of the Vlogbrothers, it came at a good time for me: a time when I was interested in learning more about transsexuality from the viewpoint of a transsexual, and also interested in learning about what it looks like from a closer but still external viewpoint. Told from the perspective of a transsexual male-to-female's younger sister, this book informs on both those levels, which is an extremely tough thing to do.

I have to honestly say that I found the introduction of Luna's transsexuality and her sister Regan's conflicting feelings about it to be a little heavy-handed at the beginning. I loved the opening scene in which we first meet Luna and learn that Luna by night is Liam by day, but the moments after that when Regan remembers their childhood and wonders when little Liam first showed signs of identifying as a female felt like more overt backstory than I really needed. Additionally, Liam spent a lot of time at the beginning getting down on himself and crying and generally expressing how much he wanted to break free, and while I can't make any claims AT ALL to know how it really feels to literally be in the wrong body - I'm sure it is every bit as horrible as Liam says it is, and then some - strictly for the purpose of telling the story, I would have gotten more deeply into this story and found Regan's character more relatable if there were a scene or two less of that. The first time Liam said that Luna wanted to break free, I understood exactly what she meant, and it irked me that it took several more scenes of that for Regan to clue in.

That said, I did eventually get really into this book. I loved the extreme contrast between Regan and Luna's parents and the parents Regan babysits for, and the irony that Luna got stuck with a set of parents who are so extremely conservative and traditional and badly suited to dealing with a child who doesn't slot nicely into society's idea of "normal". Then the reaction of the parents Regan babysits for when they do find out that Liam is really Luna really highlights just how difficult it is for people who are transgender to find acceptance in the world. The scenes at the end between Luna and her best friend Alyson are honest and heart wrenching and one of the best parts of the book.

Additionally, Regan has a lot going on in her own life, and there was a good balance between moving Regan's story forward and letting us see how in a lot of ways, she was held back by feeling like she had to hide so much of her private life from her friends.

I came away from this book feeling like I understand transgendered people a little better, and also feeling like I have a few more tools in the box that will help me behave in a more sympathetic and understanding way when I meet people who are transgender. And for that alone, it's worth the read.

You can find Luna in bookstores now, or pick up a copy online at Amazon here or preferably at Indiebound here or (if you live in Canada) at ChaptersIndigo here.

Happy Reading!