Category Archives: Cybils

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets

by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets coverJames is trying to stay positive. He’s letting the positive influence of Walt Whitman guide his through his day. He starts with a YAWP and, maybe, a poem or two as he does his best to avoid his parents, survive the awkwardness of school and girls, and try to keep his anxieties and worries in check.

At the top of his anxiety list is trying to get his sister, Jorie, reinstated to school and their house. But as he starts to look at why she was expelled, new mysteries arise.

I so enjoyed this book. It’s tragic and heartwarming and heartbreaking and lovely all rolled into one gorgeously-covered package.

It would be a total error on my part not to mostly spend this post gushing about how much I loved James’ voice. How it showed his strengths and weaknesses, as well as his wholehearted attempt (with both the success of, and failure) to embrace a Whitman lifestyle.

I loved his friendship with Derek. And Beth. I loved how he wanted to help Jorie, out of both selfish desires and guilt. I also loved how he knew Jorie as a younger brother knows his older sister – and that the actual discovery of a few of Jorie’s secrets shocked him, but didn’t push him away.

I loved that he had a real therapist (that he paid for. himself.) and an imaginary bird therapist (The Dr. Bird of the title). I loved that he hugged trees. And took photographs with real film.

And I loved the Whitman piece. The last chapter made me want shout – er, YAWP! – with joy. BUT my knowledge of Whitman is actually quite narrow (think your basic Dead Poet’s Society references), so I’m not the best person to judge how well Roskos did bringing Whitman into the story. But it worked for me!

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Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy cover imageJosie works in a bookstore and a brothel. Her mother is a whore in the French Quarter in 1950s New Orleans. Josie has no plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She has only one plan: to get out and go to college.

And while there are a number of people rooting for her and helping her out, Josie may not be able to escape the problems her mother has created.

 

Okay, guys. I’m just going to be blunt about this at the very beginning: I was so bored for the first 100 pages. That’s a lie. I loved the first page. But everything else: bored.

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you! First, this book has been receiving raves! Second, I LOVED Between Shades of Gray.

So, I thought about it. A lot. And I think the reason I was so bored is I found Josie to be incredibly dull. Which meant that I didn’t care about her desire to go to college. Or her desire to attend fancy parties. Or why she cared about a dude she had a five minute conversation with in the bookstore. In fact, the parts I found the most fascinating about Josie (cleaning the brothel, her relationship with brothel-matron, Willie, her care for the bookstore’s ailing owner) weren’t as focused as I wanted them to be. And if the story had focused one THAT, maybe I would’ve understood what made her so interesting?

Either way, I stuck through it and ended up loving the last 2/3rds-ish of the book. The mystery starts to kick in, and the tension ramps up as Josie continues to tempt fate. It was a slow burn, for me, apparently.

While there is romance in this book, the relationships I found most enthralling were Josie’s connections with the adults in her life. The adults vary in how they are connected to Josie, but they all are dynamic – even if they are only present on a few pages. When the romance aspect DID come up, I found myself thinking – but what’s going on with WILLIE right now?!?! Which, I can assure you, is not my normal book reaction (Team Kissing!).

There were a few plots that I didn’t care for. And while the mystery’s increased tension helped draw me into the book, I actually think the murder was a bit pointless and utterly too convenient. If things had ended just a bit differently, I probably would’ve thought differently, but they didn’t and here we are.

I did really, really, really like the secondary characters (esp. Patrick!). They had such a vivid quality, no matter if their page time was a handful or a few chapters. (I also suspect their vividness sucked the life from Josie.) I loved the varied support they provided Josie. I loved how they interacted with each other. And I loved how they all helped bring to life the mid-century French Quarter. (I could go on and on about Sepetys’ ability to writing setting. Just know that she’s a master at it.)

As I mentioned, tons of people have been loving this book. And so did I…eventually. So pick it up! See what you think!

Have a lovely one, and stay warm!!!

P.S. This was a Cybils book, although I’ve been eyeing it since it showed up at my door with that gorgeous cover and Ruta Sepetys’ name on it.

P.P.S. I promised twitter I would post this yesterday, but I got distracted writing a post about the Harry Potter love triangle that wasn’t. (DOES THIS SURPRISE ANYONE?!?!) And then I decided to wait to post THAT until the actual interview has come out. So, I guess there’s that to look forward to? But anyway, sorry, twitter, for being a day late.

The Cybils Finalists Have Arrived!

…which means it is time for me to get to work!

I’ll be serving as a judge in the YA Fiction category and checking out these titles:

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

So, yeah. Wish me and my fellow judges luck (and check out their blogs)! Or go see what else has made it through the tough first stage in the other Cybils categories! There are some pretty awesome titles to be found, I assure you.

Oh, and.

Happy 2014, everyone. Here’s to magic happening this year!

~k

2012 Cybils Finalists

Hello, my lovely friends on the Internets!

It is so, so, sosososososososoosossososoosososso wonderful to finally share with you the 2012 Cybils Finalists!

I am equally excited for everyone to see the books my group (The YA Fiction) selected to move on to the next round and to add allllllll the books from the other groups.

I also have to say, once again, how much fun (and exhausting. but mostly fun.) it was to serve on the panel. The group was utterly delightful and extremely articulate. They made signing off from our No-Holds-Barred-Fight-for-the-Life-of-Your-One-True-Book chat bittersweet. Sad because our little cohort was breaking up, but happy because TIRED. (Although, everyone basically had a list of books they had been WAITING to read for the last three months.)(Mostly, SFF/adult/non-cancer books seemed to be winning out.)(more on that later this week.)

I wish all the judges epic amounts of luck. It is extremely hard to narrow the list down to 5-7, so I can’t image picking just 1. I cannot WAIT to see which book remains supreme at the end of it all!

Hope everyone had a lovely holiday,

~Kell

The Disenchantments

by Nina LaCour

The Disenchantments coverThe Disenchantments are going on tour – their first and last – before heading separate ways. 

Colby thinks this tour is part one of an epic gap year exploring the world with his best friend, Bev. But Bev has other ideas – which she expresses to Colby just hours after disembarking up the coast.

As The Disenchantments continue to play shows, Colby has to realign all thoughts on his future – with or without Bev.

You may or may not have noticed this: but I love stories that glorify the awesome randomness of life. (See also: Okay for Now, My Most Excellent Year) This also extends to movies. (See also [and somewhat inexplicably]: The Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting, EuroTrip) And road trip stories. (I’m not going to reveal some of the road trip stories I love. Yes, they are somehow even more weird than EuroTrip*) So a road trip story that glorifies the randomness of life? I am So There.

Luckily, I really, really enjoyed The Disenchantments. I found it utterly charming. Also, heartbreaking. And hopeful. And bittersweet. Just like the summer after senior year, but before college (or whatever comes after senior year) should be.

And as a connoisseur of randomness of life stories,** I may have understood that the seemingly random things were going to come together SOMEHOW but it was glorious to watch how they did. How each decision and action made throughout the trip led to the final few chapters. Ugh. Talk about a reader reward. Love it.

I loved Colby’s voice. And Bev’s (even if it was mostly withdrawn)(full disclosure: Bev drove be BONKERS, but I think she was supposed to, so I was mostly okay with it). But I really, really, really loved the characters of Meg and Alexa and how they factored into the story. BUT. I firmly, firmly believe not everyone is going to love or engage with these characters. They are dramatic, and – dare I say – way hipster. And, like I said, Bev is a bit of a mess and HARD to connect with, let alone being likeable. So, this isn’t one of those one-size-fits-all books. And the characters are all sort of in the same vein, so it might be hard to like ANY of them if you don’t like one of them.

But, I found them charming. And the story charming. It warmed my heartstrings.

Delightful.

Published by: Dutton
How I got this book: the library!

* And, let’s be real, EuroTrip also gave us the most amazing Matt Damon cameo EVER and the classic, and catchy, Scottie Doesn’t Know.
** Clearly, a self-appointed title

Send Me a Sign

by Tiffany Schmidt

Send Me a Sign coverMia has been diagnosed with cancer, just as summer is about to start. Just as her friends start discussing the tanning, and the bathing suits and the parties that Mia will, inevitably, have to miss. 

But Mia has always believed in signs. And the signs are telling her if she just keeps her illness secret – hides away for the summer – her friends will never know something was wrong. That she was different.

So she only tells her closest of friends, Gyver, and the boy who may just be playing games with her, Ryan, and starts to look for signs that she can beat the cancer that she’s determined to hide.

Okay. So. I need to rant about this title a bit. But then I bring it back to not-ranting. Fair warning.

This isn’t your typical “I just got diagnosed by cancer” book. Really, it’s not. There are very few medical discussions, and the time Mia spends in the hospital actually seems pretty short.

No, this is a book about Pretending Cancer Doesn’t Exist To Your Friends to Stay Popular. Which – I sorta get? But mostly I didn’t. In fact, it made me think Mia was incredibly shallow if she thought her popularity was more important than her treatment. Likewise, it seemed to acknowledge that Mia knew her friends were shallow enough to think differently of her because she was diagnosed with leukemia. THEN MAYBE YOU NEED SOME BETTER FRIENDS, MIA.*

There are many instances where Mia’s mother is actually egging on her Cone of Silence, even when Mia’s realizing it probably wasn’t a brilliant idea to hide her diagnosis from her friends. Which did make me pity Mia a bit, but it also made me really sad it took almost the entire book for her to stand up to her mom.

On top of all this, Mia does actually tell a few friends. Thereby burdening them with her secret to all of their friends as well. That’s just great, Mia. Way to be a friend to them.

AND THEN, when the secret does come out – as it, clearly, inevitably, obviously, was going to – Mia just feels sorry for herself because everyone is mad at her. For lying. And not allowing her friends to help. And she is beside herself. And bad things happen. And I could not make myself feel sorry for her when they did.**

Just, ugh. Was so ososososososososososo frustrated by Mia’s decision-making process. And of how little she thought of herself and her friends.

And rant over.

So, not particularly liking Mia nor understanding why she continued to make irrational (to me) decisions did have an effect on my view of the story. Esp. since the fallout from those decisions was basically the main plot (like I said, not an I Have Cancer book so much as a How I’m Dealing With Cancer book). But, I got it. I did. She’s terrified. And believes in signs. And just wants to be normal. Not The Girl with Cancer.

And there were a lot of elements of the book I really liked: both of the guys, Gyver and Ryan, were well-depicted. Ryan especially. I wanted to hate him SO much and he never allowed me to. That was both a surprise and great. And I loved that he was the one pushing Mia to tell people. To trust.

And Mia’s relationships with the adult figures in her life were also great. Like I said, I wish she would have stood up to her mom a bit more, but on the whole, I liked it. (Esp. the contrast between her mom and Gyver’s mom.)

This is just one of those books where I didn’t like the main character (or at least her decisions), but I still liked the book on the whole. Because even though Mia clearly had trust and self-esteem issues, all the bad decisions forced her to realize this. And start to work on it – and her friendships. Which = good thing.

Where this book came from: Galley from ALA
Published by: Bloomsbury/Walker

* Incidentally, some of her friends were actually expressing concern and worry for her, which Mia just lied her way through. Or ignored their voicemails. So, maybe she should also give her friends more credit?

**Okay, I felt bad for her. But in the pitying way. Which she was trying to avoid in the first place.

Cybils 2012 Update 1

Cybils 2012 Logo

Hello, all!

I’ve reached the quarter-century mark in my Cybils reads (aka 25 books) and thought it might be a good time to check-in.

Some fun stats: in the three weeks since nominations have opened (and subsequently closed), 147 eligible titles were nominated in the Young Adult Fiction category (thank you for nominating!). As I mentioned, I’ve read 25, which is about 5 short of where I’d like to be, but overall I’m happy with my pace. (This is starting to sound like one of my old sports reports…) Nine books I read pre-Cybils, so I’ve read 16 in three weeks. I’m hovering somewhere around 7,500 read pages total.

Discussions are starting to gear up as more and more panelists read more and more books. Which, honestly, is one of the best parts of this whole experience.

I had major insomnia last night and I couldn’t help thinking about the Cybils process and what sets it apart from just normal reading and discussion/reviews throughout the year. And I started using this crazy comparison to a museum. (This is the part of the post where things get a bit weird. Feel free to skip down below.)

So, the Cybils process is like walking into an uncurated museum of art. There are a bunch of works of art on the wall with no real guiding theme grouping the art together. As panelists, we get a huge list of books and then we just start reading them. At the moment, I’m reading based solely on what I have access to and when. This means there’s no order of what’s following what, how things will compliment each other, etc.

Which ALSO means books can seem better or worse depending on what you read immediately before or after the book. It can be like having a Pop Art piece next to an Impressionist and the Pop Art looks gaudy or the Impression piece looks pale when put right next to each other. Or you can have a Big, Huge Dynamic piece that’s epic in scale next to a postcard-size portrait that’s rich in details and it can seem nearly impossible on how you compare the two.

But good things also come from this Museum of Random Placement: you start to see odd connections and similarities that you wouldn’t see between things. Like, you read two books and discover a common oddity (i.e. both books have working in a Taco Bell) that you never would have realized if you read one in January and one in December and the books were so different you never would have thought about one regarding the other anyway.

It’s a really weird, interesting and unique way to look at books (and presumably art). And it can be hard comparing the bold with the quiet and the detailed with the grand. And you could read one book and hate it because it’s the sixth Super Sad Book you’ve read in a row and you really, really are just Over Them. And normally, with out Super Sad Books #1-5, you would have loved #6.

This is where the panelists come in – they are reading from the exact same list of public-nominated, eligible titles (aka viewing the same works of Random, Uncurated Art), but reading them, likely, in a different order and with a different perspective (aka the art has been rearranged – still with no theme). So when I look/read something that I have opinions about, they can – like DOCENTS – bring intelligent thoughts to the conversation, which usually, in some way, changes how I think about a book. Or how it was framed (PUN TOTALLY INTENDED) by the books I read before it. Etc. Etc. Etc. And while you can get this from reviews, to have a back and forth about the books (ENGAGEMENT), it’s easier to step away from the things that are preventing you from judging a book independently from the others.

To sum up this incredibly lengthy and wandering simile: Serving as a panelist on Cybils is like going into a Museum of Random and In No Order Paintings, trying to compare works of art even though they are vastly different and not always in a pleasing order that will benefit all pieces and you are forced to rely on your fellow docents (aka panelists) to help you make sense of the chaos. Amazing, awesome chaos. But chaos, nonetheless.

So, basically, (and this is where you want to join back in People Who Understandably Skipped That Craziness Above) Cybils are going well. I probably email my fellow panelists far too often. And use too many exclamation marks. And run-on sentences. And fragments.

But, in general, good. And we’ve only just started!*

Hope all is well, fellow readers (and homework helper seekers). Read something wonderful today.**

~kell

*meaning there are only MOAR exclamation marks to come!!!!!!!I!I!I!II!I!I!I!I!I

**That was totally cheesy. But, as with the exclamation marks, also how I roll.