Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly WovenBrightly Woven 

Alexandra Bracken

SUMMARY: All Sydelle Mirabil ever hoped for was some rain and a chance to escape her village in order to pursue her craft as a weaver.  Then the mysterious wizard Wayland North breezes into town and suddenly Sydelle's wishes are being granted but not quite in the ways she'd expected.  North brings rain to the village but as his reward he asks for Sydelle to become his assistant as he travels towards the capital.  While Sydelle has always wanted to see the world beyond her dusty corner of the kingdom, she is not pleased about the circumstances of her departure and even less pleased about the companionship.  The strange wizard is alternatively grumpy and teasing; he drinks too much and refuses to use magic except in special circumstances.  Soon, it also become obvious to Sydelle that North is hiding a secret.  But she has little opportunity to investigate her suspicions.  The unlikely companions are being chased by a rogue wizard who will stop at nothing to prevent Sydelle and North from reaching the capital and accomplishing their goal of stopping the coming war.  

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I was quite excited for this novel.  There is nothing better a fresh, new fantasy and the plot and cover both seemed promising.  But, sadly, Brightly Woven just did not do much for me.  It has many of the right elements for a good fantasy romp: a mysterious wizard, a spunky and strangely talented heroine, a society on the edge of potential danger and disaster, a unique system of magic, ominous but clever antagonists.  The premise and plot is unique and for the majority of the novel, the narrative moves along at a good clip.  

However, despite all these things I found that I had to force myself to finish reading it.  There is a possibility it was just bad timing; perhaps Brightly Woven was not the right book for me at that moment.  But I think that there were other factors. While Sydelle and North immediately display the classic signs of good chemistry (bickering, mutual fascination), their relationship's build into romance never felt as genuine as I wanted.  The text would illustrate North's growing protectiveness towards Sydelle and Sydelle's growing care and concern for North yet I never felt as though I had been shown significant depth of either character or the progression leading to these emotional developments.  I expected them to be together but yet I wasn't cheering for them.  Also, The plot got a little twisted towards the end.  I don't want to give away any spoilers so I will simply say that I felt that there were a few too many climaxes to make the conclusion feel solid and satisfying.  On occasion, the language became a bit overinflated or melodramatic.  

But, while Brightly Woven did not light my fire, I do hope that Alexandra Bracken will keep writing.  Despite its flaws, this first novel illustrates potential.  Also, many readers have and likely will enjoy Brightly Woven.  I would advise you to check the novel out for yourself.  Tell me what you thought! 


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ash by Malinda Lo


Malinda Lo

SUMMARY: After the death of her beloved mother, Aisling feels terribly alone, even with her grieving father and familiar home.  Then her father comes home from a visit to the capital with a new wife and two new step-daughters.  While Ash is not thrilled, life doesn't seem hugely different.  But then her father also becomes ill and dies.  Now Ash is at the mercy of her bitter stepmother who decides that she will pay for her late father's debts by becoming the household's primary servant. Miserable, Ash yearns for her mother even more and when she encounters the strange and frightening fairy Sidhean, Ash thinks she might have finally found her route of escape.  But then she meets the King's huntress Kaisa and Ash slowly stops wishing to disappear as their growing friendship reawakens her desire to live and to love.  Now Ash must choose between fairy magic and the powerfully human magic of love and connection.  

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I've been wanting to read this novel for months! I was so excited to finally get a hold of it this past week and my anticipation was nicely rewarded.  Ash is a great debut novel from Malinda Lo that successfully combines several little subgenres of YA fiction into a lovely and enjoyable narrative.  First, Ash joins the ranks of other great fairytale retellings and for me, it is up there with Ella Enchanted  in terms of favorite 'Cinderella' rewrites.  But also, Ash  takes another popular fantasy concept-dark and dangerous fairies-with equal success.  So the novel is firstly a fun fantasy combining a familiar narrative outline with well known ideas like frightening fairies as well as the solid human experience and conflict that grounds all good fantasy novels.  Ash is a sympathetic heroine and so the story's focus is neither the magic nor the fairytale aspect but Ash's very familiar struggles to grow and develop in difficult circumstances.  Her fears, griefs, weaknesses, and strengths are evoked clearly through Lo's gentle and spare but descriptive prose.  

The other highlight of the story is Ash's blossoming relationship with the Huntress Kaisa.  Ash's initial interest in the role of the Huntress grows into an attraction to Kaisa herself as the two young women begin spending more and more time together.  Kaisa teaches Ash to ride and hunt; Ash learns that the possibility for love still exists in the world.  The sweet, slowly developing love between the two women fits perfectly into this delicate and unique fairy-tale of a novel.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to teens who enjoy other fairy-tale retellings.  


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White


Amy Brecount White

SUMMARY: Laurel hopes that the mysterious flowers left outside her dorm room door are good omen for her new beginning at Avondale School.  But suddenly, strange things start happening when Laurel touches flowers.  It starts during her presentation in English class about the Victorian Language of Flowers when Laurel's whole body buzzes and strange rhymes pop into her mind.  On an instinct she gives the special bouquet she's crafted to her teacher.  When that same teacher suddenly finds unexpected romance, Laurel begins to suspect that she has something more that a green thumb.  So with her new friend Kate and her reluctant cousin Rose for support, Laurel begins experimenting her newfound but still unclear powers.  But soon she discovers that her flower powers are not all happiness and light and Laurel must find away to keep everything under control as prom approaches.

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: Forget-Her-Nots is a book which generally can judged by its cover, in the best of ways.  As its flowery pink wrapper might suggest, Laurel's story is a sweet tale of friendship, first love, and growing up with a fanciful, fairytale twist.  Laurel's struggles to deal with her beloved mother's recent death while trying to fit in at a new school will make her a recognizable figure to most readers.  Brecount-White follows Laurel's believable roller coaster of emotions with sympathy and honesty.  Meanwhile, the details about flowers and the Victorian flower language tradition will appeal to those interested in history, especially quirky, cultural history.  The fantasy aspect of the story is fun but at times a bit of a weak point in the novel.  The concept of Flower-Talking is a unique one but sometimes the language surrounding the idea comes off as a little too old-fashioned or silly to work with the rest of the story.  But overall, Amy Brecount-White has created a likable protagonist and a fun story that combines universal issues like maturation and grief recovery with some delicate fantasy elements.  I would say that this book is more likely to appeal to younger teens more than older ones and also mostly to girls rather than boys.  


Monday, October 4, 2010

My First Blogger Award!!!!

Oh my goodness! I'm all of a flutter! So, the lovely Kate at Literary Explorations honored me as one of her Versatile Blogger Awards! Thank you so much, Kate-it's so encouraging to be recognized by such a great blogger! I've only been blogging since June so I'm so surprised and excited to be honored this way. I love writing about the books I read and other events or issues related to kids and reading. As any readers can tell, beginning grad school this fall is making my blogging a little more erratic than I'd like but this award just gives me new inspiration to keep plugging away.  I hope to get even more involved in larger blogging events and get my blog onto a more regular schedule over the next few months. Thanks for all the great support I've received so far!

Okay, so apparently this award comes with some fun follow-up procedures:

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award

2. Write 7 things about yourself

3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic

4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked to let them know about the award

Since I'm still new to the blogging world and my explorations there get a little limited by grad school, I'm just giving away a few-hope that's okay! 

Congrats to all of you!

Okay so now for the seven things about me:

1.) I'm currently studying to get my Masters in Library and Information Science so that I can (hopefully) become a teen/youth services librarian at a public library or a librarian at an independent high school. 
2.) I have a strange passion for many things '80s, including The Breakfast Club, Dirty Dancing, '80s pop music ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is a favorite), and '80s dress-up events. 
3.) I'm a huge Jane Austen fan.  I mean, I have a Jane Austen bobblehead and a large postcard of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy decorating my room. And that just in addition to how much I could talk about the brilliance of her novels as social commentary and comedy. 
4.) I love musicals and fully believe that sometimes life would be better if it were a non-stop musical, with revealing solos, jazz hands, and all.
5.) I spent my third year of college in England and traveled around Europe a bit. I would love to go back and keep traveling someday soon!
6.) I love to draw and paint, especially figure and portrait work but sadly, I'm getting a little rusty as other activities have taken over recently. I hope to get back into it this winter.
7.) In high school I got into amateur poetry slamming and loved it. I'm trying to start writing again now because I'd love to facilitate slams at my future job as a librarian. 

So there you go--a little more randomness about me! Thanks again to Kate for honoring me and congrats to all touched by this cool award!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why I Think Banned Books Week is Awesome and Important

  So, once again, grad school gets between me and the blogosphere. But I couldn't let Banned Books Week end without putting my two cents in.  In case you weren't already aware, this past week was Banned Books Week, a week set aside by the American Library Association to celebrate our freedom to read and highlight the continued presence of censorship in our world.  My first encounters with Banned Books Week were in high school when I helped create the library programming surrounding it.  So now, every year in September, I go to the ALA website to check out their newly published lists of banned or challenged books and think.  I think about how passionately I feel about intellectual freedom and freedom of information access.  And I think about how complicated and complex the situation surrounding each challenge or attempted banning can be.  And I think about way great books can be denied to readers because of misunderstanding or fear. 

But let's get the basics taking care of first. What's a challenged book and what's a banned book? The ALA website states that a challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based on the objections of a person or group." A book becomes banned if the challenge succeeds in getting it pulled from the shelves or from the curriculum.  Thanks to the work of teachers, librarians, parents, students, and other passionate people, most challenges never become bannings.  

The ALA notes that most books are challenged or banned for a few major reasons.  The material is usually thought to be "sexually explicit," to contain "offensive language," or be "unsuited to any age group."  Most often, people challenge books out of a wish to protect their children or minors in general from materials they deem inappropriate or dangerous.  While I understand the urge to protect children (and I really do!), there are lines that our First Amendment just won't let us cross.  While a parent has the complete right to control what his or her own child reads, he or she does not have the right to control what other people's children can read.  

So, every year across the country, teachers and librarians work with students, parents, and others to stand up for our First Amendment rights--and the rights of children and youth to access information.  Learn more about how you can get involved and check out the lists of recently or most challenged and banned books today at the ALA's website.  I am proud to say that I read banned books and so here are just a few of my favorites:

His Dark Materials (series) by Phillip Pullman
In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Forever by Judy Blume
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

So even though Banned Books Week is over, the fight to protect the freedom to read and to think is never over.  Go read a banned book today! Research how else you can get involved in advocating for this issue!