Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

ImageObviously it’s been awhile…I haven’t been blogging because I feel like the act of having to write about what I read diminshed the joy I have always found in reading.¬† But every once in awhile, I might have something to say. ūüėČ

I recently read a blog post that made a case for high stakes in literature.¬† Books where the stakes are high, either physically or emotionally, are the books that grab you.¬† The books you can’t forget.¬† The books you rush to the end of but then are sorry to put down.¬† (read full post here:

Liar & Spy was not that book.

Maybe Rebecca Stead and I just don’t understand each other.¬† I didn’t fall all over myself like most of the children’s lit population when When You Reach Me came out either.¬† But I decided to give her another chance.¬† Sadly, I think this is where Ms. Stead and I will part ways.

Liar & Spy is well written.¬† The characters are good, the story is good, but there is nothing that reaches out and GRABS you.¬† There is nothing that makes it GREAT.¬† Several reviewers who have been singing its praises on Goodreads have called it “subtle”.¬† Hmmm.¬† In this case, subtle, to me at least, equals boring.

I’ve read lots of books that are just ok and haven’t felt the need to say anything about them.¬† But lately I feel that many of these books are getting so much attention that they don’t deserve.¬† Am I missing something?¬† Are my tastes so completely different from those of the general population of readers?


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Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

I had no intention of liking this book.¬† The cover didn’t grab me and the jacket made me think this was going to be an “issues” book.¬† It’s one of my required readings for the GSTBA ballot and I actually tried to pawn it off on someone else!¬† But I picked it up and started reading and discovered that it’s ok to be wrong sometimes because this was one great book.

Sixteen-year-old Drea¬†has bounced around from place to place, home to home, while her mother chased boyfriends who never seemed to stick around for very long.¬† They finally end up at her grandmother’s house in Washington.¬† There, Drea¬†meets Naomi and Justin, two people who love music as much as she does.¬† But after being diagnosed with ADHD and what her mother deems “a touch of Asperger’s”, Drea has a hard time believing that anyone could simply like her for her.¬† Why does being “normal” have to be so hard?¬†

Drea’s¬†story isn’t necessarily new or even told in a groundbreaking way.¬† We’ve read tons of books about people who have a hard time fitting in.¬† What makes it special is how nuanced it is.¬† How rich the characters are.¬† Take Drea’s mom.¬† She’s man-crazy.¬† She’s had¬†boyfriend after boyfriend.¬† Yet, she’s not your¬†one-dimensional¬†selfish, neglectful mother.¬† She has faults, but she also loves Drea¬†like crazy.¬† She comforts Drea.¬† She’s doing the best she can to take care of her.¬† And you reallyfeelthat.¬† And that is what makes the difference.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
Young Adult | 278 pages | Henry Holt & Co. | May 2010 | 080509010X | Library copy




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The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

Gaby Rodriguez decided early on that she wouldn’t be another stereotype.¬† Even though her mother and older sisters had babies while they were teenagers, Gaby realized that she wanted more and worked hard in school to ensure that her future would be bright.¬† So it was quite a shock that for Gaby’s senior project she decided she was going to fake her own pregnancy.¬†¬†

Telling very few people the truth, Gaby perpetuated a pregnancy in order to find out what it was like to be a pregnant teen.  Would all of her accomplishments be negated because of this one mistake?  What would people say about her?  Who, if anyone, would offer their support?  The implications would go much deeper and spread far wider than Gaby could have ever dreamed.

Gaby’s story is told in a straight-forward, easy-to-read manner that I think will be appealing to teens, but for me it fell flat in places.¬† It was hard for me to connect emotionally to her writing.¬† Her tone is reflective and puts distance between the reader and the events.¬† Other than that, I think she has a strong message on an issue that has become something of an epidemic in this country and a real heart for those in need.

The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
Young Adult РMemoir | 218 pages | Simon & Schuster | January 2012 | 1442446226  | Library copy

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Garden State Teen Book Awards 2013 Ballot – Fiction Grades 6-8

Last week¬†was the first day of deliberations for the GSTBA 2013 ballot. Thankfully everyone played nice and we were able to get a list together without too much bloodshed (I’m not so optimistic when it comes time to discuss the Grade 9-12 fiction list!). In no particular order, here are the titles:

  1. Scrawl by Mark Shulman
  2. Countdown by Deborah Wiles
  3. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  4. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  5. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
  6. Trash by Andy Mulligan
  7. Crazy by Han Nolan
  8. Heist Society by Ally Carter
  9. 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
  10. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
  11. Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
  12. Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
  13. Sons of Liberty by Alexander and Joseph Lagos
  14. After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
  15. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  16. Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  17. A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard
  18. Mindblind by Jennifer Roy
  19. Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
  20. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

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2012 TBR Challenge – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

One down, eleven to go! 

I’ve completed my first book of the 2012 TBR Challenge (for my previous post on the challenge, go here).¬† Little Women is a book I’ve wanted to read forever.¬† When I was growing up, I remember my mom had an abridged version up in the hall closet that I would pull down every once in awhile and attempt to read.¬† For some reason, I never got much past the first chapter.¬† I’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times (the Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon version – which I LOVE), but I knew I¬†would be¬†missing out on a some sort of literary rite of passage if I didn’t read the book.¬†

The book is huge.  That abridged version I had as a kid did nothing to prepare me for the 400+ page volume I hefted around for a week.  Clearly there was going to be a lot more than they were able to show in the movie.  As paged my way through, I fell in love with the March girls and their charming New England world all over again. 

SPOILER ALERT! (But really, who doesn’t know this story????)
One of the parts I found most moving was the scene where Jo rejects Laurie.  It was much more powerful in the book than the movie.  I felt like we really got to see the depth of longing and hurt that Laurie experienced and it just about broke my heart.  About to embark for Europe to get over his heartbreak, Laurie goes next door to say good-bye to the March family:

When the parting came, he affected high spirits, to conceal certain inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assert themselves.¬† This gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but they tried to look as if it did, for his sake, and he got on very well till Mrs. March kissed him, with a whisper full of motherly solicitude; then, feeling that he was going very fast, he hastily embraced them all around…as if for his life.¬† Jo followed a minute after to wave her hand to him if he looked round.¬† He did look round, came back, put his arms about her, as she stood on the step above him, and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal both eloquent and pathetic.

“Oh Jo, can’t you?”
“Teddy, dear, I wish I could!”

That was all, except for a little pause; then Laurie straightened himself up, said, “It’s all right, never mind,” and went away without another word.¬† Ah, but it wasn’t all right, and Jo did mind; for while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer, she felt as if she ahd stabbed her dearest friend; and when he left her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never would come again.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Juvenile fiction | 528 pages | Barnes & Noble Classics | March 2004 (orginally published 1868) | 9781593081089 | Personal copy




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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

“Find the bird.¬† In the loop.¬† On the other side of the old man’s grave.¬† September third, 1940.”¬† I nodded, but he couldn’t see that I didn’t understand.¬† With his last bit of strength, he added, “Emerson – the letter.¬† Tell them what happened, Yakob.” (p. 33)

Jacob Portman believed he was destined to live an incredibly ordinary life.¬† But then his grandfather is tragically killed, spewing the above disjointed jibberish as he lay dying in Jacob’s arms.¬† Could this cryptic message have anything to do with the¬†strange photographs his grandfather used to show him when Jacob was younger about the magical children’s home he lived in on a small island off the coast of Wales?¬† Jacob had long ago¬†dismissed his grandfather’s stories as rubbish, but now he’s not so sure.¬† In order to make sense of everything that’s happened, Jacob and his father travel to Wales.¬† Cairnholm is shrouded in fog and mystery, but Jacob is determined to honor his grandfather’s last request and find out the truth about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Riggs’s debut novel is unique in that he blends Jacob’s story with some fantasically creepy photographs borrowed from collectors around the country (including himself).¬† Unfortunately, I felt some of the fantasy elements of the story could have been explained better and that, at times, the story was written to complement the pictures and not the other way around.¬† Readers who are looking to be thoroughly creeped-out may be disappointed as the story is not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.¬† Overall, though, I was impressed with the writing and was intrigued enough to read it all the way through.¬† The ending seemed like it might lend itself to a sequel,¬†though I probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Young Adult fiction | 352 pages | Quirk Publishing | June 2011 | 1594744769 | Library copy

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The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker

“You’re such a Button.”

Tugs Button has heard this more times than she can count.¬† Her family is known for being unlucky.¬† They aren’t good at sports or art.¬† They aren’t talented musicians or exceptional cooks.¬† They certainly never win anything.¬†

But all that changes at the 1929 Fourth of July picnic.¬† For the first time ever, Tugs partners with cool girl, Aggie Millhouse in the three-legged race – AND WINS!¬† Then her essay on “progress” wins first prize in the essay contest!¬† And finally, Tugs’s ticket is chosen as the winner of brand new Brownie camera in the raffle.¬† Tugs Button, the awkward, clunky, much-less-than-graceful tomboy, could possibly turn her luck around.

But Tugs is plagued by the new man in town, Harvey Moore.¬† He says he’s here to bring a newspaper back to Goodhue with the help of monetary investments by the townspeople.¬† Everyone in town is enamoured with this dapper gentlemen – everyone, that is, except Tugs.¬† What will come of Tugs’s suspicions?¬† Has her short streak of luck already run out?

Ylvisaker’s novel is a an utterly charming look at small-town life in Iowa in the 1920s.¬†

The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
Juvenile fiction | 224 pages | Candlewick Press | April 2011 | 0763650668 | Library copy

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