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broodings from the burrow

December 10, 2012

into the stacks: winter town (a virtual advent tour review)
posted by soe 11:54 pm

Virtual Advent TourMerry Christmas! I am a day late with my entry for this year’s Virtual Advent Tour. I offer my sincere apologies to hosts Marg and Kailana and to readers who came looking yesterday and found the blog closed and boarded up tight. I had good intentions, but you know how far that gets you.

For this year’s entry, I thought I’d offer you a quick review of one of the nominees in the realistic young adult fiction category for the Cybils Awards, which I’m helping to judge. The book takes place during the weeks surrounding Christmas:

Winter Town by Stephen Emond

From the jacket: “Every winter, straitlaced, Ivy League-bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, his childhood best friend who moved away after her parents’ divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she’s changed. The former ‘girl next door’ now has choppy black hair, a nose stud, and an scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth exterior, Old Lucy still exists, and he’s determined to find her … even if it means pissing her off.”

Winter Town, by Stephen EmondMy take: Every Christmas, Evan Owens’ predictable life brightens. That’s because his best friend, Lucy Brown, who moved away a few years back when her parents divorced, returns to town to spend the holidays with her dad. It used to be that he was just excited to see her because they were such good friends, co-authoring a comic together and sharing long, meandering walks. But this year, the Christmas of his senior year, Evan is eager to see Lucy even more than usual, thinking that in the past year he may have come to have other, more romantic feelings about his childhood chum.

So it’s a little bit of a shock when the Lucy who comes to the door has pierced her nose, chopped off her hair and dyed it an ugly shade of black, and seems to be sporting an equally unpleasant attitude toward life and — a bit — toward him. He sees glimpses of his old friend beneath the surface, but she’s definitely buried behind this new girl, who seems to be trouble with a capital T.

Lucy is equally frustrated with Evan, who seems content to coast passively toward the exact life his parents are leading, following his father’s map toward a successful adulthood. Lucy questions whether such a safe life is really worth living and how it is that Evan can be so talented at art without seeming to display any passion for it. Beset by problems back home, she had hoped to find the easy comfort that being in the presence of her best friend had always brought her, but this year Evan just doesn’t seem to be enough to tame the turbulence in her head.

Littered with indie references to music and movies, this contemporary novel is told in a narrative format, first from Evan’s perspective, then from Lucy’s. Interspersed between and within chapters are drawings — Evan’s random doodles, Christmassy scenes around town, and episodes of the fantasy comic, Aelysthia, they share. It’s not a graphic novel, but a novel with graphic elements, and the two work well together to set the scene and move the plot forward.

Hurtling at breakneck speed toward adulthood, these two childhood friends might be just what each other needs. But will they discover that the happiness is only possible inside a fantasy realm? Or can they share a journey together off the page as well?

Solidly enjoyable.

Pages: 331

Stephen Emond's Winter Town

Make sure you stop by yesterday’s prompt blogger, Random Magic Tour — The Coven, for some seasonal tunes.

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December 6, 2012

st. nick, morning, and party
posted by soe 11:56 pm

I’m fading so this will be a quick look back at three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Today was St. Nicholas Day. I awoke to find my shoe overflowing with great bounty, including fun new stripey knee socks and a Christmas tshirt.

2. Saturday morning, we were out the door early to run pre-party errands. By noon, we’d crossed the surprisingly line-free Costco and Target off our list, had returned a library book, and had dropped off bags of clothes at Goodwill and were en route to Poolesville to cut down a tree.

(Corollary: Remembering the night before how thin our usual tree farm had been last year and thinking to check their website. They had taken 2012 off to let the trees grow, and while they’d pointed to other resources in their county, it wasn’t as helpful for those of us who drive a couple hours out from the District. We opted to stay closer to the city and headed to the farm where we pick apples and strawberries.)

3. Our annual tree-trimming party was a great success, even if we were still cleaning when the first guests arrived. (We are always still doing something, but this was a new low.) We listened to music, doted on babies, hung ornaments, and ate a huge amount of food ’til nicely late into the evening. The party’s success was in large part due to generous friends who did not mention our obvious shortcomings as housekeepers and to my mother, who also did not mention my shortcomings when she knew us well enough to insist on making a lasagna this year to send back with us (as well as the tin of traditional spritz cookies that I assured her we could make do without this year since our time was crunched). It’s nice to have people who love you and know you so well.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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December 5, 2012

cybils update: early december
posted by soe 2:51 am

It was asked last month what the process is for the Cybils, and I never got around to answering. I thought I’d share a brief outline now:

We started out in early October with 191 nominated titles in our young adult fiction (non-fantasy or science fiction) category, which we each went through and marked whether we’d read any of them already. I had read two. Most (everyone else?) had read more.

Each book gets at least two readers from our seven-judge panel. More are allowed, but not mandatory, but you quickly learn to prioritize your reading. We then share amongst ourselves our top reads based on quality and appeal to the intended teen audience. Everyone tries to read all these titles.

You’ve already seen my top 15 and my top 10. (Apparently I was unknowingly breaking rules by sharing these with you. I have made these posts invisible for the time being and may make them public again after our committee’s work is done if it doesn’t seem like it will be problematic.) As I finish reading a new book, I compare it to what I’ve already read and rated. In order to add a new novel to the list, I’ll have to eliminate one from it. And later in the month, I’ll have to narrow down everything I’ve read to a top five. Then we fight amongst ourselves (during the week of Christmas!) to get our list of 5-35 books (it’d only be 35 if no one agreed on any of the titles) down to the ultimate 5-7 titles we hand off to the short list committee, who’ll pick the ultimate winner.

I’m over the 40-book threshold, but with three weeks to go am well below where everyone else is. As such, I’ll be digging in to try to push through with a bunch of books this week.

Cybils nominees on this week’s agenda:

  • The List (read yesterday)
  • Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone (finishing tonight)
  • Code Name Verity (tomorrow’s book, since it’s due back at the library on Thursday

Finish these books, all of which are in progress:

  • Fingerprints of You
  • The Children and the Wolves
  • King Biscuit
  • Dodger
  • Nothing Special
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  • The Wicked and the Just

Begin these books:

  • Why We Broke Up
  • Shadow on the Mountain
  • Graffiti Moon
  • Endangered

As always, this list is subject to whim and may change without warning.

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December 4, 2012

cybils, top 10 thus far
posted by soe 2:58 am

We had our second Cybils deadline this weekend, asking us to list our top ten favorite books thus far. (You can see my first deadline results here.) I got mine down to a dozen without a huge amount of pain but then got stuck for a while, mulling which final books to cull over others, trying to explain to Rudi why I was cutting books I’d enjoyed quite a bit for one reason or another. It was hard, and I expect it to get even more challenging in short order.

My top ten were, in no particular order:

  • The Storyteller, a haunting, harrowing, modern twist on a fairy tale set in contemporary (or maybe recent) Germany focusing on a young woman who, after pursuing a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, suddenly finds herself caught up in a variety of dramas, one of which may threaten her very safety
  • Crazy, an epistolary, post-summer-love exchange between two teens, where one of them slowly goes off the rails
  • Boy21, in which a teenage basketball star from a poverty-stricken town must come to terms with what is most important to him and to those around him
  • The Fault in Our Stars, a contemporary romance between two kids who have cancer
  • Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel, historical fiction of a Virginia slave who led an unsuccessful rebellion for freedom
  • How to Save a Life, a contemporary coming-of-age novel about two teen girls whose lives intersect when one of them agrees to give up her impending baby to the other’s mother for adoption
  • Pinned, the coming-of-age tale of two classmates, both of whom are struggling to overcome a disability
  • Gone, Gone, Gone, a teen romance set in the D.C. suburbs in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the sniper attacks
  • DJ Rising, in which a teenage boy struggling to make ends meet at home gets the chance of a lifetime to follow his dream
  • The Boy on Cinnamon Street, a contemporary romance involving a girl who’s suffering from PTSD

I would say that all of the books on the list at this point would merit at least 3.5 stars out of 5 and at least one would earn 4.5 stars. Of the group, I’d say my favorites so far have been Pinned, How to Save a Life (my review), The Boy on Cinnamon Street, and The Storyteller.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a roundup of what’s next in my Cybils reading and how the rest of my participation in the panel will pan out (to my understanding thus far). And I should have some more reviews for you beginning later in the week.

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