Fourth Annual Book Blogger Awards: Briana’s Nominations

May at Forever and Everly and Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books are hosting the Fourth Annual Book Blogger awards, started by Joce.  This is my nomination post.  Check out the full explanation, rules, categories, etc. by clicking here.

This comes with the normal disclaimer that, of course, I like tons of bloggers and can’t feature them all, but I’d like to give a shout-out to at least some of my favorites!

Also I have not filled out a nomination for every category (for example, I don’t follow romance blogs), so if you want to nominate bloggers, you should check out the original rules post at Forever and Everly or Drizzle and Hurricane Books.

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BEST OF THEIR AGE

BEST GENRE BLOGGERS

BEST OF BOOK BLOGGING

MISCELLANEOUS

MOST IMPORTANTLY

The Best Books I Read in the First Half of 2020

The six best books I’ve read so far in 2020! Tell me what your favorite books have been so far this year in the comments!


1

The Romance of Tristan by Béroul

I think some people got the impression I did not actually like this story based on my review, which admits that parts of it are contradictory or don’t make sense (and segments are literally missing), but I did enjoy it! It’s wild and over the top like some of the most entertaining medieval literature, and it leads to interesting questions and conversations about God, love, duty, and more!

2

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

tenant of wildfell hall cover

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is definitely a gem I’ve been overlooking for far too long. I love nearly every book I’ve read by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, so I have no idea why I haven’t read this until now. On the bright side, I do think I appreciate a story about strong women surviving abusive relationships more now as an adult than I might have if, say, I had read this as a teen.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist

I did say in my initial review that I don’t quite love this book or find it as life-changing as many people do, but I did enjoy it! It was different and interesting and quite motivational, and it made me think about everything from destiny to purpose to religion to love, so it was a very worthwhile read.

Thorn by Instisar Khanani

I love fairy tale retellings, and Thorn reminded me why. An original take on “The Goose Girl,” it kept me glued to the pages as I wondered how the protagonist would reclaim her rightful identity and manage to save her new home from a terrible ruler.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea cover

This is a beautiful and unique novel that’s imbued with magic–but in a more subtle way than one typically associates with high fantasies. It’s also a wonderful celebration of literature. I highly recommend it.

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

The Toll Scythe 3

I really just mean the entire Scythe trilogy when I list The Toll. Shusterman’s story is bold and original and not quite like anything I’ve read in YA recently–or probably ever. It also makes the reader think about life and death and even God and free will.

Briana

Why I Still Love Nancy Drew (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

Do you prefer Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys? Why?

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I first fell in love with the Nancy Drew stories when I was growing up and my mother pulled a few of the classic yellow hardbacks out of some forgotten box for me to read. I am sure she does not remember this moment, but I do, because it would instill in me a love of the girl sleuth that continues to this day. Nancy Drew was a smart, skilled teenager who never backed down from a case and who always solved the mystery, regardless of the obstacles she faced. In addition, she was always confident, kind, and polite. If I didn’t want to be Nancy, I definitely wanted to be like her.

Nancy Drew was created in the 1930s, but the remarkable thing about her is that she continues to evolve to this day. I fell in love with the yellow hardbacks, which were revised in the 1960s to remove parts of the stories that were then recognized as racist or otherwise socially unacceptable. I was intrigued, however, to learn that some of the originals had been been reissued in the 1990s, along with content warnings, so that readers could compare the original stories with the revised ones. I was surprised to discover that the Nancy of the 1930s was often sassy and bold. Sometimes, she even did things like shoot rattlesnakes! The revised yellow hardbacks actually present a more domesticated and fashion-oriented Nancy–something closer to the feminine ideal of that era.

But the reimagination of Nancy did not stop there. Adaptations of Nancy are everywhere! Younger readers can pick up the Clue Crew series or the Nancy Drew Diaries. Graphic novel fans can meet a more environmentally-conscious Nancy who drives a hybrid car. Adult fans looking for a more mature Nancy can try the new CW show. It’s a testament to Nancy’s power that creators keep wanting to update her, to see what Nancy Drew would do in a contemporary environment.

This part of Nancy–her ability to adapt–is an aspect of that I also admire. I continue to enjoy the yellow hardbacks that first introduced me to Nancy, but I also love that her story never really ends. My favorite contemporary adaptations of Nancy are the video games released by HerInteractive. These games allow players to take on the persona of Nancy (though sometimes also Bess, George, and the Hardy Boys) to solve mysteries around the world. The games’ interpretation of Nancy–smart, bold, and, yes, a little bit sassy–fits right in with how I imagine Nancy from my reading. But they also manage to place her successfully in the present day–something not every adaptation has been able to achieve. The games show that Nancy is not a period piece. She is an icon who can continue to transform and inspire.

I love Nancy Drew because she shows that girls can be smart, independent, and fearless. I never even picked up a Hardy Boys mystery because Nancy resonated with me, and I didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere for similar fare. Nor was I attracted to the Hardy Boys as potential love interests for Nancy, as many fans are. To me, the Nancy Drew stories worked perfectly just as they were. Nancy turned 90 this past April. Butt she remains just as relevant as ever.

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in June 2020

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Rachel shares five things to remember when starting a book blog.
  2. Margaret lists 40+ queer books by Black authors to read during Pride Month (or any time!).
  3. The Orangutan Librarian has high praise for With the Fire on High.
  4. Michael lists influential books in his own ongoing education on systemic racism
  5. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund lists anti-racism graphic novels and reading resource list.
  6. Sammie discusses fantastic fathers in fiction.
  7. Jackie discusses a classic she read for school and loved.
  8. Alison talks about where to get ARCs (review copies of books).
  9. Xandra lists things no one told her about the book community
  10. Sammie writes about how working at a library changed how she talks about books.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War

Information

Goodreads: The Chocolate War
Series: Chocolate War #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1974

Official Summary

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare to disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now, the only question is: Who will survive?

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Review

The Chocolate War is one of those books destined to be polarizing. Set in an all boys school where a “secret” gang harasses both students and teachers, it asks readers to become invested in a story about unlikable characters–and to believe that incredible trouble can arise from a seemingly innocuous fundraiser. It’s hard to find someone in the story to root for–the nicest characters are side points and tend to remove themselves from the drama–but the story itself is compelling and an interestingly dark portrayal of high school.

Part of the fascination of the book is that is seems both realistic and unrealistic at the same time. The characterization is unflinchingly, introducing high school boys who are cunning and ruthless but who also have vulnerabilities and do completely normal things like moon over girls or worry about getting onto the football team. These definitely aren’t the boys readers will find in a lot of YA today, which tends towards portraying them as swoonworthy love interests who smell like sandalwood and know just the right sweet and suave things to say. And I found it refreshing.

On the other hand, it’s crazy to think that half the things that occur in the book are possible. An underground gang practically running a school? A guy in charge who seems to be some sort of mysterious but twisted genius? An entire school going to war over whether or not one guy sells chocolates for just ONE of many yearly fundraisers? It’s interesting, but it falls a bit in the realm of The Lord of the Flies for me; I can hardly believe this is what would happen under this set of circumstances.

However, I do actually like that so much fallout comes from something so insignificant, the fact that one kid saying he won’t sell chocolate causes everyone to go wild and things to fall apart. That is, really, the point of the book: that something that shouldn’t be that important ends up affecting so many things, that selling or not selling the chocolate ends up being a symbol of something greater.

I know a lot of people hate this book because of the awful characters and maybe the overall grimness, but I enjoyed it–if that’s the right word. It’s so different from most of the YA that’s being sold now that I found it incredibly refreshing. It stands on its own merits, as well, of course, as the author tells an interesting and thought-provoking story.

Briana
4 stars

Advice to Readers Who Are Afraid of Classics (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

What advice would you give to someone hesitant to read classics?

When people hear the word “classic,” they often think of books that are old, difficult to read, and boring. Many people additionally associate classics with whatever texts they were assigned in school–a sure way to dampen enthusiasm for any title, no matter how thrilling. And some people automatically conjure up images of the Victorian novel–a long-winded tome, perhaps Dickensian in nature. But a classic does not have to mean any of these things. At its heart, the label “classic” simply means an older work that people have thought was worthy to remain in print–perhaps because it has beautiful prose, perhaps because it raises intriguing or complex questions, perhaps because, as some would argue it “speaks to the human condition.”

If readers are hesitant to try reading a classic, I would remind them that “classic” is not a genre. Classics are simply books that have been published in the past (there is no agreement on how far back in the past–ten years, twenty, fifty?) and are still around and being read and enjoyed and discussed. This means that classics come in every genre and in every age range. This also means that you are reading classics today–you just don’t know yet that they are going to become classics! You may also already read and enjoy classics–and you just didn’t realize it.

Here are some commonly enjoyed classic books:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (children’s)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (romance)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (romance)
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (historical fiction, modern classic, children’s)
  • Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (mystery)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (children’s)
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok (modern classic)
  • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (modern classic, children’s, fantasy)
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (fantasy)

Classics come from every time period. They represent every kind of writing style. And they encompass every form, from poetry and drama to graphic novels and short stories. Far from being esoteric texts no one can understand, classics were often popular with their masses in their own day–for example, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare’s works were both popular with the common people.

You don’t have to like every classic. Really, you don’t have to like any classic. However, if there is a particular genre or writing style you enjoy, it may be worth looking into the books that were published in the past. After all, books aren’t inherently better written just based on their publication date; older works can be as intriguing or as enthralling as newer ones. So why not give an older book a chance?

11 Diverse Graphic Novels for Teens

Nat Turner by Kyle Baker

Nat Turner

Baker’s wordless graphic novel is supplemented with excerpts from Nat Turner’s confessions to tell the story of the 1831 slave uprising in Southampton County, Virgina. A gripping and thought-provoking portrayal of a pivotal moment in American history. This is technically an adult graphic novel, so perhaps best shared with older teens.

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Spiderman: Miles Morales series by Brian Michael Bendis

Miles Morales 1

Miles Morales is a relatable teen protagonist concerned with friends, family, and school–but also, of course, with fighting evil.  His adventures will appeal to readers eager to see more diversity in comics and to readers ready for a new, young Spider-Man facing contemporary issues.

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Ironheart series by Eve Ewing

Fifteen-year-old Riri Williams is an engineering student who makes her own iron armor to become a superhero.  With Tony Stark now existing as an A.I., it’s up to her to stop crime!  She’s a bold, confident heroine sure to inspire teen readers.

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March trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

March Book 1

Congressman John Lewis shares his life story, beginning in book one with his youth in Alabama and his activity with the Nashville Student Movement as they protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. A powerful firsthand account of the Civil Rights Movement, revealing details history classes can leave out.

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Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads

Deja and Josiah are best friends once a year when they both work at the local pumpkin patch. But now it’s their last day of the season and their last day on the job–both are heading off to college. Deja wants Josiah to seize the day and finally talk to the girl he’s been crushing on for years. And she’s on her own mission to eat every autumn snack available at the patch. A perfect autumn read!

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Maus by Art Spiegelman

Maus

Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experiences in Europe during WWII, from their attempts to evade deportation to their time in the concentration camps. Interspersed is the story of his own experience trying to come to terms with his parents’ stories.  This powerful memoir has rightly become a classic.

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They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

Takei introduces readers to a little-discussed period of U.S. history, the internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII. This graphic novel is based on his own family’s experiences.

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Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson

Sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan loves superheroes, but she never expected to become one.  Now that she has the ability to change appearance, however, will she find herself trapped in others’ expectations or will she find the strength to be herself?

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Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

In Boxers, a young peasant boy named Bao learns to call upon the powers of the gods to fight foreign influences in China. However, he might have to abandon his principles to achieve victory. In Saints,  young peasant girl flees her village and becomes a Christian convert. Now named Vibiana, she struggles to understand her calling in light of the visions she sees of Joan of Arc. When the Boxer Rebellion arrives at the gates, Vibiana will have to decide how strongly she believes in the faith she has adopted. These two graphic novels illustrate how the same events can be viewed differently by different people.

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Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru

When their father gets a new job, Tommy and Roberta Lee move out of Chinatown into Metropolis. Tommy is excited to live in the same city as his hero, Superman, but Roberta struggles to fit in. Then the Klan of the Fiery Cross starts targeting the Lee family. Can Tommy and Roberta help Superman stop the Klan from hurting more people? Based on a 1940s radio serial, this story teaches readers about the history of white supremacy and racism against Chinese Americans while also holding out a message of hope, if everyone bands together to fight for equality.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Information

Goodreads: The Secret Garden
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: 1911

Summary

When Mary Lennox’s parents die of cholera, she is sent away to England to live with an uncle she has never met. There she encounters empty rooms, a locked garden, and a crying sound at night that no one will explain. When Mary finds the way into the garden, however, her life quite suddenly begins to change.

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Review

First published in 1911, Frances Hodgon Burnett’s The Secret Garden continues to enthrall readers today. With its depiction of an idyllic garden full of Magic just waiting to be discovered, the story celebrates the beauty of nature and our connection to it. Though arguably very little happens plot-wise, the joy of discovery occurs for the reader as Mary and her cousin Colin begin to notice small changes in themselves that mark their growth, physical and spiritual, courtesy of the garden. So many wonderful things happen to them just because they are outside, that soon readers may find themselves wanting to begin a garden of their own!

I first read The Secret Garden many years ago, but the story has given up none of its Magic. From the very first pages, Burnett manages to capture the reader with a prose that is deft and sharp. She gets at the heart of her characters, exposing their flaws, but also celebrating their capacity to change. Who does not feel sorry for selfish little Mary Lennox at the start of the book, when she is so spoiled and neglected she barely knows to mourn her own family? But she transforms over the course of the story, letting go of some of her class prejudices and learning that she does not always have to get her own way.

Though many readers may overlook the book’s spiritual undertones, Burnett fascinatingly hints at the nature of the Magic that causes Mary and Colin to change so much. Dickon’s mother suggests it might be God, but Colin seems to have a hazier idea of Magic’s true form–and so does Burnett. A bit of positive thinking seems to be involved, but, on the whole, Magic remains undefined–a nebulous, powerful force out there, just waiting to transform the people who seek it. Some readers may simply see in this a message that nature can have healing properties, but, for me, it adds yet another layer to the story–tantalizingly suggesting Burnett’s religious beliefs, but never quite stating them.

Of course, any contemporary discussion of The Secret Garden must reckon with its unapologetic depiction of colonialism. Spoiled Mary Lennox has an appalling view of her home country, India, where she imagines all the “natives” as subservient to her will. Even once she leaves and begins to realize that the servants in England are actually people, she never makes the imaginative leap to realize that the servants in India must be people, too. Rather, she continues to use stories of India to entertain and amuse the other English children, exoticizing a country one begins to inspect she (or at least Burnett) knows very little about. It is a historical representation in keeping with its time, but this does not make the inclusion of these scenes or bits of dialogue any more palatable.

At the heart of The Secret Garden lies a story about the power of nature to change our lives for the better. An interest in growing things, Burnett suggests, will lead to growth in ourselves, as well. This uplifting message of the possibility of change combines with a charming story and delightful prose to create a book that continues to be enjoyed by readers over 100 years after its publication.

4 stars

10 Diverse Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo

Cece worries how the kids at her new school will react to her hearing aid. Will she be able to make any friends at all? But then she discovers that, with the Phonic Ear, she can hear her teacher anywhere in the school–even the bathroom! Does this mean she has superpowers? A lovable story featuring a smart and fearless heroine.

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Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel

Rachel Cohen is Jewish. As the Nazis occupy France, she must take on a new name and a new identity to survive. Now Catherine Colin, she travels across the country, always trying to stay one step ahead of those who would deport her. She takes with her a camera, hoping to create a chronicle of her journey for when the war ends. An intimate reflection on the desire to find safety, the feel at home, to make sense of an upside-down world.

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New Kid by Jerry Craft

Jordan Banks wants to attend art school, not the fancy prep school his mom is in love with. And he’s a little worried about the lack of diversity. It’s difficult to be the new kid in general, but Jordan also has to deal with stuff like the teacher never getting his name right and always looking at him when financial aid is discussed. He’s not sure he’ll ever fit in. Or that he can keep his old friends if he does. A compelling story about trying to navigate middle school that also teaches kids about microaggressions.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Five years ago, Omar and his younger brother Hassan fled from Somalia to the refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya. Now eleven, Omar has the chance to attend school. He could even learn English in anticipation of getting a visa for himself and Hassan to leave the camp and find a new home in another country. But can Omar leave his younger brother every day? And how do you hold onto hope when it seems no hope is left? When Stars Are Scattered draws attention to an important human rights issue while inspiring readers to take action and make a difference.

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The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

Tea Dragon Festival cover

Rinn dreams of becoming an apprentice cook but, for now, she is a gatherer.  Gathering is how she stumbles upon Aedhan, a dragon who was supposed to protect her village, but who fell asleep decades ago instead. Now Rinn must help Aedhan find his place in the community, while her uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel search for the beast who caused Aedhan’s enchanted slumber.  A companion book to The Tea Dragon Society that features a same-sex couple as well as characters who use sign language.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

In Aster’s family, girls grow up to be witches and boys grow up to be shapeshifters. But Aster wants to be a witch, too, even if he has to keep spying on the girls’ lessons. Then the boys starts disappearing. Can Aster help find them with his witch powers? A fast-paced graphic novel with a sympathetic protagonist and a topical message. Readers who enjoy books on witches or books about finding one’s place in one’s family will enjoy this story.

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The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell, et al.

Over the summer, sixteen kids will create a kingdom–and costumes–out of cardboard, making friends, dealing with family issues, and confronting their fears. In the Cardboard Kingdom, your imagination, and your friends, give you strength.

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The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch

When thirteen-year-old Moth Hush discovers that she comes from a line of witches, she is ecstatic. But her mom fears the town’s tradition of witch hunting and refuses to teach Moth how to use her powers. Can Moth prove that things have changed? Or is she better off hiding her magic from the world? Inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (Author) and Bre Indigo (Illustrator)

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is a Little Women updated for a modern audience.  This means not only setting the story in modern-day New York City and featuring the Marches as a blended family, but also espousing contemporary values.  Where Louisa May Alcott’s original novel may be said to have promoted virtues such as humility, hard work, and cheerfulness, Rey Terciero’s re-imagining promotes values of inclusion, diversity, and feminism.  In many ways, this feels like the Little Women many readers have wanted all along.

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Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing cover

Christine is not so sure about the new girl, Moon, when she first moves in next door. But Moon turns out to be undeniably cool, and just a little bit of a rebel–at least as far as Christine’s family is concerned. Moon reveals that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings, who assure her that her real home is far from Earth. But Moon’s erratic behavior begins to scare Christine. And when Moon needs her most, Christine might not be around. A sensitive reflection on finding one’s place in the world, not just by growing up, but also by discovering what it means to share a cultural identity as Chinese Americans.