Thursday, July 30, 2009

Steve Vander Ark and The Lexicon

Now it's time to talk about more Azkatraz!

Really it's just about one person and a book. But first a couple of announcementish things...

Stay tuned to the blog (you can follow us here, too) for a few exciting bits coming up. Ragu has been granted access (be scared!) to the blog and he'll be posting some reviews. We also have trivia coming up. We'll post literary trivia and trivia from episodes of the show. There will be prizes we'll announce later so keep watch and make sure to play.

I'm really happy that I get to review a new book by Stephanie Kuehnert called Ballads of Suburbia. She's also graciously agreed to do an interview for the podcast. We can all look forward to that.


Before I get into the rest of it, I have to make a little statement about my previous blog entry about Azkatraz. I happened to review a certain Mugglecast rockstar which sparked a bit of drama, to the Twittered power. While I'm not going to apologize for posting my opinion on my own blog, I am sorry that things got kind of out of hand. For any of you who read the last one and were upset at all about it, the aforementioned rockstar and I have had words and there are no hard feelings on either side. So now I can get back to the business of books...

My favorite session this year at Azkatraz was the one I went to presented by Steve Vander Ark. It was enjoyable and funny. We got to tease about the Harry Potter books that we all know and love - reminding those of us privileged enough to attend the session that it's okay to have fun with Harry Potter, too. Yes, there are scholarly discussions to be held but sometimes we shouldn't take it all so seriously! I think that true fans should be able to see and understand some of the sillier bits in the series.

And Steve Vander Ark said something that made me look at the movies in a different way, too. I haven't really liked the movies for many reasons, but one is that, as adaptations, they suck. He happened to answer someone's question about the movies by saying that he loves the movies... they're wonderful fanfiction.

It was easier for me to watch the newest movie with this little tidbit in mind. Thinking of them, not as adaptations of canon, but of works of fanfiction. I'm happy to be able to enjoy the movies now!

The presentation made us all laugh and then he had to go and makes us get all teary, too. I guess I didn't realize how many hateful things were said about him until he stood up and thanked us all for giving him a warmer reception than he expected. With the lawsuit over the original lexicon, mud was slung and people were angry. But it's important to remember that Steve Vander Ark is still an amazing fan and he has a wealth of Harry Potter knowledge. It was truly a pleasure to experience the convention with him there.

I picked up a copy of The Lexicon, which was published after some changes were made. And he signed it for me. Yay!

This book is amazing. I've flipped through it more than a few times and I've looked a couple of things up. The level of detail is so great. The book is an encyclopedia of Harry Potter with entries from "Abbott" through "zoological column." Steve Vander Ark clearly did his research with the information about various names and even wand woods. What more could we ask for? (Besides an encyclopedia from Ms. Rowling herself - although I'm pulling for a publication of Hogwarts: A History...)

The comprehensive guide is really the perfect companion for the series. I love the entries where we also get paragraphs from Steve. If you have the book already, read the Snape entry. Truly wonderful! Then, just riffle through it while closing your eyes, stop and glance at whatever page you land on. I bet you'll find something you didn't know about Harry Potter.

I guess that's probably more of a commercial than a book review... but that's okay. Hey, it's my blog, right?

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

YA Lit Trivia! #1

What book series involved King Arthur's son, Old Ones, and three children and who is the author?

Post your answers here. First one correct gets 10 points in the Trivia contest!

Prizes to be announced...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Azkatraz Review!

Azkatraz: HPEF Harry Potter Conference 2009

I went to Portus in Dallas last year and decided to head over to San Francisco this year since I had such a good time. I even prepared a presentation and submitted it for consideration. It ended up being accepted as part of a panel on Severus Snape. It was one more thing to look forward to at the conference.

I arrived in San Francisco on Thursday in time to see the new Half-Blood Prince movie with the rest of the fans at the conference. I’ll have to review the movie, myself, later. It was fun to be there with so many other folks who are fans. We had a huge room all rented out at the theater (don’t get me started on the issues with IMAX!) and there was a line party beforehand (very hot and long). It was a good start to a fun weekend.

Friday I spent the day with my roommates at Fisherman’s Wharf. We went to Ghirardelli Square and got chocolate and I got a couple of souvenirs for friends and family. It’s amazing to me that SF is 60 degrees while Houston is in summer 90s right now. It was like I was transported through a time machine to winter. Crazy. It’s nice to be back to normal… I like cooler weather, but it has its place: in Winter.

The conference arranged for a cruise around the bay on Friday night. Super fun. It was all about Wrock – wizard rock – and even though I don’t listen to it, I had a good time. The bay is gorgeous and I met a couple of nice people there. The cruise was four hours long and I got a lot of great pictures of foggy Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge (which isn’t golden at all…).

Chris Rankin (of Percy Weasley fame) was a special guest at the con and I sort of talked to him on the cruise when he was out taking pictures. He mostly chilled with a couple other people and introduced the different Wrock bands and stuff. It was fun to see him (more about that later)!

Saturday didn’t hold much programming for me, but I went to one presentation and missed a couple more because I was doing the Craft Faire (which was a complete bust for me, unfortunately). I would’ve enjoyed going to the panel on Hermione in the books and in the movies. Damn that useless Craft Faire!

My panel on Snape took place Sunday at 3:30. I had time to kill that day so I went to roundtable discussion moderated by Penny Gershman about Dumbledore. That was really fun. I always enjoy going to presentations from the Gershmans. (Check out the HP Progs podcast if you haven’t already.) I had a couple of things to say about Dumbledore, so it was pretty fun. I love Dumblydore!

And then I went to a roundtable about Percy Weasley and, lo and behold, Chris Rankin showed up! And he sat at my table! And he heard me talk about Percy! And he looked at me!

Okay, so I’m not so fangirly over Chris Rankin that I was that super-excited, but it was really fun to have him there and talk about his character. He got to talk, as well, and I didn’t have to pay to listen. Since he was the special guest there were all sorts of opportunities to pay and see him and/or hear him. But I got to sit with him for free! Lucky me.

I paced around a little bit until my panel came up. I was really prepared and waiting for my opportunity to discuss bits of my paper. Travis Prinzi (the Hog’s Head) moderated for us and there were two other girls on the panel. Unfortunately, one of the girls pretty much dominated the entire panel and I got a negligible amount of time to say anything about Snape. The disappointment still rankles. I’ve been very proud of my paper and the work I did on it and to not be able to answer the questions I wanted to answer is terribly sad and quite annoying, actually. You can find the paper at the website. (The link is to the right of your screen.)

Moral of that story: next year I will not be doing a panel even if it means my subject doesn’t get accepted.

Sunday night was the Ball, which was superfun. We dance, we schmoozed. Awesome and shiny. I had the opportunity to embarrass my roommate by asking this really cute (and famous?) guy to take a picture with her. I guess he’s gained fame by playing Harry in a YouTube phenomenon Harry Potter musical thing. He was supernice, though, and he chatted with us for a few minutes. He likes my name. Yay for me.

I also got a picture with Andrew Sims. He’s one of the hosts of Mugglecast and I happen to make fun of him a lot because he’s very stuck on himself. Honestly, he walks around like he owns the con (doesn’t even wear his badge) and he only wants to talk to you as long as you’re talking about him. So I decided it would be funny (for me) to get a picture with him so I could laugh about it. We talked to him for a couple of minutes about his hair. He swears that the sun has given him highlights and it’s all natural. I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear me, but after he said it was the sun I said, “Yes, because the sun shines on you more than anyone else.”

Well, I thought it was funny…

We changed the subject off of him after that and he suddenly got interested in talking to someone else. I’m still giggling about it, though. Yay me!

Monday was most of the programming I wanted to see. There was a presentation on Hermione (the paper is amazing, you can find a link to it on the website Essays page). I went to a roundtable about Ron, which was also really interesting. I went to a presentation comparing the werewolves in Twilight and Harry Potter, which is probably the best session I went to besides the one by Steve Vander Ark. That one was amazingly enjoyable. I wish I’d recorded it! I might have to have a whole entry just devoted to that session because this post is already too long…

I was so sad to leave on Tuesday. We had to get up early and check out. Melissa and I said goodbye to Diana at the airport, which made us very sad and then I had to say goodbye to Melissa in Dallas, which was also very sad.

I’m already planning for Infinitus next year, though. I have three papers in the works to submit as presentations. Crazy! But I’ve found out that I really enjoy writing essays so we’ll see how that goes. Until next year, it’s back to real life and trying to get the podcast some attention.

If you haven’t already, check out the episode recorded at Azkatraz. It’s all about the effect Harry Potter has had on the YA and childrens markets. I had two guests with me and the discussion was pretty interesting.

There are a couple of reviews coming up here soon, so stay tuned.

Until next time, go read something good!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review: Evermore, by Alyson Noel

Evermore, by Alyson Noel

I’m not going to fill this review up with information about Alyson Noel since you can go to her website… I trust that anyone reading this already knows how to use the interwebs and all. So we can get right into the book.

I frequently pick books off my sister’s shelf since she has so many. She reads a lot of YA and works at B&N so she’s got a discount and everything. Good for her and good for me because I’m certainly not able to buy most of the books I’d like to review. Maybe one day I’ll be such an important reviewer that people will actually SEND books to me!

Anyhow, I grabbed Evermore from her because I know it’s a pretty popular book. I’ve seen it mentioned here and there and thought it’d be a good one to check out in case all the fuss was warranted. And because I’m still sort of procrastinating my reading of The Book Thief for the podcast.

It took me a little over a week to read Evermore. That should tell you that I wasn’t so interested that I had to immerse myself until it was finished (Twilight was so infectious that I read the entire book in a day). However, that doesn’t indicate that I didn’t enjoy the book – just that it wasn’t what I’d call a page-turner.

The premise was interesting to me. After a bad accident and almost dying, the main character, Ever, can see auras and read thoughts. She’s not thrilled about it since she also feels guilty for the accident that her family and left her alive. Then a guy shows up that she can’t read and the plot unfolds from there. The idea of seeing auras is certainly not overdone in the YA world, so it hooked me right away.

I must say that giving this character the name ‘Ever’ felt like cheating. I think that’s probably the one thing that bothered me throughout the entire story. Really? Ever Bloom? In a world where JK Rowling exists to give us phenomenal names with deep meaning, what author would purposely choose an obvious and non-ironic name like Ever? Her sister has a normal name (Riley) and so does the love interest (Damen). If this book went wrong anywhere, I’d say it was in the name of the main character. Complete wasted opportunity to use something better – something that would make readers think and wonder. So a fail on the character’s name.

Especially since the author put so much thought into the flowers in the book. That was a wonderful device that kept the readers and the main character wondering about Damen’s intentions. He “gave” one of the silly cheerleaders white rosebuds on several occasions while he gave Ever red tulips. While the reader could figure out that there must be some meaning behind it (because why on earth would he be interested in the cheerleader?) it added interest to the plot and conflict for Ever. Nicely done.

The voice of the main character came through as believable. She’s a little sassy but guilty and the ghosts of her past still haunt her (literally). She’s a well-rounded character for me. It was easy to understand why she developed in the way that she did. I enjoyed being able to be sad for her, frustrated at her and happy when she got things right in the end. I definitely felt like I could connect with this character.

I didn’t, however, find that her connection with Damen felt natural. It felt forced and I’m still not quite sure where the development got messed up. It seemed like the two were jammed together because that’s what the plot needed in order to work but a few things sort of fell by the wayside in result. I don’t think enough emphasis was put on the fact that Ever couldn’t “read” Damen. I think the author meant for it to come across, but it fell flat for me. I kept wondering when I was going to get to that moment where reasoning clicked. But the connection between the two of them was never sufficiently supported. We find out that they’ve known each other through several lifetimes, but that just wasn’t enough for me. It wasn’t enough to drive the story.

Despite that, I found the plot interesting and the other characters were woven in well between the two main characters. The flow was consistent and the development was logical and real for me. It wasn’t packed with action, but it didn’t need to be. And even though Damen and Ever didn’t connect right for me, their story was interesting enough to keep me interested and guessing at what would happen in the end.

I also really like that it took Ever so long to really come to the conclusion she needed. She was quite torn up and distressed so if she had immediately skipped from her heartbreak to accepting Damen’s love, the story would’ve been ruined. The ending would’ve been cheesy. But having it drawn out, making Ever really work for it, gave the plot and characters more depth and rounded it all out very well.

So even though a couple of things bugged me, I would definitely recommend this book to someone. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can find it at
Amazon or at your local bookstore.

Please feel free to leave comments about this book. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it or about this review. Also, please check out our
website and our podcast for more reviews and short fiction.

Until next time… go read something good!

~ Vilate

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Our First Official Blog

Hey everyone, Vilate here for YA Lit Review.

I'm working on setting up this blog as a venue for written reviews of teen and childrens books. As much as I love doing the podcast, we just can't get enough reviews done every month for me. With Ragu being so far away from me and work eating up so much time, I thought this would be a good way to fix that little problem for us.

As usual, I would love any input for the books I'll be reviewing here. And if you have your own reviews you'd like to send in, all the better! I really want this to be as interactive as possible, so please give me whatever you've got!

Here are some of the books upcoming for this blog:

  • Joan Bauer's Backwater
  • Roald Dahl's Matilda
  • Andrew Peterson's On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game
The first new review title will be Evermore, by Alyson Noel. Please stay tuned and pipe in if you'd like your opinion heard in any of these reviews!

Until then, go read something good!

~ Vilate