Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, IncorrigibleKat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson # 1
Also known as “A Most Improper Magick”
Publisher: Atheneum
Number of pages:   304
My copy: ebook ARC from Galley Grab

Twelve-year-old Kat Stephenson may be the despair of her social-climbing Step-Mama, but she was born to be a magical Guardian and protector of Society–if she can ever find true acceptance in the secret Order that expelled her own mother. She’s ready to turn the hidebound Order of the Guardians inside-out, whether the older members like it or not. And in a society where magic is the greatest scandal of all, Kat is determined to use all her powers to help her three older siblings–saintly Elissa, practicing-witch Angeline, and hopelessly foolish Charles–find their own true loves, even if she has to turn highwayman, battle wild magic, and confront real ghosts along the way!

* * *

Truth be told, I picked up Kat, Incorrigible from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab not because of the blurb but because I thought the cover was utterly charming. The girl’s mischievous smile is enough to make me curious about this book, so I picked it up from the selection, excited to know what really made Kat incorrigible.

Katherine is the youngest Stephenson family, and she’s also the least ladylike of all the Stephenson sisters, much to the despair of her stepmother. Her biological mother passed away shortly after Kat was born, and she has never agreed with what her stepmother wanted for her, which earns her not only her lectures but also her sisters, Elissa and Angeline. When Kat hears that Elissa is set to marry the horrible sounding Mr. Neville, she cuts her hair short and plans to run away to save her sister, but not before she gets caught. She thought it was kind of strange that her sister Angeline would practice witchcraft from their mother’s magic books, but she was in for a surprise when she finds out that she is her mother’s successor as a Guardian in the Order, with magic more powerful than her sister, if harnessed and trained properly.

I’m the youngest in the family, but seeing that there’s only two of us, there isn’t much mischief I could get into. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not really a kid full of mischief — I’m really the nicer kid at home. Okay, I’m not the most proper kid and God knows how many times my mom and I argued about the mess of my room, but I’d like to think I’m a pretty good kid.

Now, Kat is far more mischievous than I was obviously, and even if she had the best intentions, it doesn’t always guarantee that things will go smoothly or as planned. Kat is such a fun heroine that I keep on forgetting that this novel is partly historical. She reminds me of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, with a hint of magic. Kat’s voice is clear and easy to relate with despite her age. Kat really and truly loved her family, and that’s a characteristic that would make anyone love her too. Kat’s sisters are a hoot, too, and I liked how even if they were supposed to be “proper ladies”, they were still funny and quirky in their own way. I especially liked how Elissa started acting out like the heroines in her gothic novels and how Angeline and Kat made fun of her because of that. I never had sisters, so I can only read about these relationships, but I think the author totally nailed their sisterhood.

The plot is fun and adventurous, and like the characters, it made me forget that this is partly historical. It wasn’t as gripping as I’d thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean the plot is bad or boring. It’s quite the opposite, really — although sometimes it may seem a little bit too outrageous already. Despite its magical elements, I liked how there is more stress on family and love prevailing over evil forces than just plain magic. This gives the story a bit more depth and it definitely made the ending so much more satisfying. I think this is a very good start to a series, and it’s a fun read for kids the same age as Kat, or people who sometimes wish to be kids again, like me. :)

Kat, Incorrigible was also published as A Most Improper Magick by Templar Publishing last August 2010. This edition will be out April 5, 2011 under Atheneum. Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the e-galley!

Rating: [rating=4]

Other reviews:
My Love Affair With Books
Baffled Books

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark DowellTen Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of pages:  256
My copy: ebook from Galley Grab

Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation–and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.

It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in “like” with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.

* * *

I am a city girl, and I am sort of proud of it. Sort of, because I know sometimes I imagine myself living somewhere remote, away from the rush and hustle and pollution of the city. However, I don’t think I can stay in the province too long — I kind of like the rush, and most of my friends live in the city, too, so staying away from them is kind of torture.

I think Janie Gorman from Ten Miles Past Normal would be able to relate to my sentiments pretty well. Fourteen-year-old Janie experiences a withdrawal from the city soon after she steps into high school, five years after she convinced her family to move to their own farm. Nine year old Janie was so excited to live in a farm after one field trip, and to her surprise, her parents agreed and they moved, making Janie the coolest kid in middle school. High school was a different story, though and she knew it the moment she went to school with hay stuck in her hair.

Janie just wants to be normal, but it’s hard when everything in her life pushes her to the “different” zone. As if her Farmville-like life wasn’t enough, her celebrity blogger mom tries to attempts to bond with her, she joins the Jam Band even if she knows little about singing, and she has to make a project about an influential woman — something that her best friend knows more than she does. And as if that wasn’t enough, her mom has to go and plan a hootenanny. Hoote-what? Exactly. Who’s normal? Janie isn’t.

The blurb gives away most of the plot, but don’t worry, it isn’t really spoilery. What makes Ten Miles Past Normal such a fun read is Janie. She’s a fun, creative and often cynical girl who just really wants to be normal and be noticed, but not in the way she often is. Janie’s far from being an outcast though — she’s just very different, and that difference is what makes other people wary about her. Her voice was absolutely delightful. I love her quips and her observations, and I find myself cheering for her as she discovers more of herself. The book goes from a flashback to the present time every now and then, but the author wrote it so well that you wouldn’t get mixed up in it. The other characters were hilarious, too, especially Janie’s mom (I kind of wished there was more shown to her blogger side), her new-found Sharpie-tattooed library friend Verbana, ultimate crush Jeremy Fitch and of course, Monster Monroe! Together, they all make a wacky cast of characters that I could picture very well — I think they’d all work very well on TV, too. :)

The lesson shared by Ten Miles Past Normal isn’t really new, but it’s nice to be reminded of it every now and then. Sometimes, you find yourself looking for other things you think you can’t find at home. But once you go back, you realize that they were just there, and you just couldn’t appreciate it in the first place. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell is a fun, coming-of-age story that is really suited for early teens but will entertain adults my age too.

Oh, and one more thing about me and the city: I just realized that where I live is already considered a rural area in reference to Metro Manila. Goes to show that maybe I’m already where I’m supposed to be. :D

Rating: [rating=4]

Other Reviews:
Novel Novice
The Book Scout
Paparazzi Hags
Girl About Books

Retro Friday: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Still in the spirit of Banned Books Week, I thought I’d share about one of the books in the list that I read as I grew up for Retro Friday. I honestly had no idea why this had to be banned, because it’s quite a lovely book — I’m sure those who have read this would also agree. :)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Publisher: Laurel Leaf/Bantam Doubleday Dell
Number of pages: 149
My copy: paperback, bought from Booksale

No one ever told Margaret Simon that eleven-going-on- twelve would be such a hard age. When her family moves to New Jersey, she has to adjust to life in the suburbs, a different school, and a whole new group of friends. Margaret knows she needs someone to talk to about growing up-and it’s not long before she’s found a solution.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock God. That’s when our dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him… just once or twice. Thank you God.

* * *

I think my mom bought this book because God is in the title. If I were only getting this now, I’d buy it for the same reasons, which goes to show how I am such my mother’s daughter. :)

I read this just as I was about to turn thirteen, I think. From the very start of the book, I liked Margaret. It’s so easy to relate to her. She’s a very normal kid with a normal family who has typical questions about growing up. She’s feeling changes in her body, and she’s learning about these changes from her new friends in school, and she finds that its awkward to talk to her parents about it. She starts liking guys and she wonders if the guys somehow likes her back, too. I see a lot of my teenage self in her, but the only thing that Margaret and I don’t have in common is the religion aspect. While I grew up in a devout Catholic, Margaret grew up without knowing any religion because of her parents’ different beliefs (her mom being Christian and her dad Jewish).

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I can’t remember all the parts of it. However, I know I have fond memories of this book, so much that I re-read this books a couple of times. She’s one of those characters whose normalcy makes her charming, and it’s not often we find someone like that in YA books nowadays — at least not one who is not involved in a paranormal love triangle of some sort. Her voice was real and funny, and she wasn’t especially mean or beautiful or popular, and that makes it easier to relate to her.

I liked how Judy Blume was very brave to address these questions that every pre-teen girl has and answer it in a realistic manner. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, no matter how embarrassing other things are because they really happen — like stuffing cotton in training bras, looking for ways how to get rid of acne fast or pretending to have a period already just so they’re ahead of their peers. Thankfully, I didn’t have the same kinds of pressure when I was Margaret’s age. It wasn’t such a big deal for my friends and I on who gets their period first or what. I think the only “competition” that was somewhat evident back then was who gets a boyfriend first (which I have obviously lost until now :P).

I also liked how Judy Blume made Margaret’s faith a huge part of the story. I liked that the way Margaret talked to God here was like a friend, like she could talk to Him anytime, and yet still respects Him for being, well, God. Margaret’s confusion over her religion felt real, and it was nice to read about someone who was actively searching for her faith and something to believe in. I think people often forget the most important thing that religion helps us build: a personal relationship with God. I liked how Margaret had the chance to see and experience the different traditions of different religions, how Judy Blume led her character through all those experiences yet still not give us a final decision. Instead, she gives Margaret a reason to believe and continue to talk to God in the way she knows how. Which I think God appreciates since it comes from the heart. :)

I’m not sure if this book is recommendable to boys (but Judy Blume has a boy version of this book entitled Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), but I absolutely recommend this to girls and parents of pre-teen girls — it’s one of those books that a girl must read at least once in their lives.

Rating: [rating=4]

Retro Friday: Invisible Lissa by Natalie Honeycutt

My shelf post was long…but no, I’m not yet done writing. :P I thought I’d take the time to participate in Angie‘s Retro Fridays, just for kicks.

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve been meaning to re-read this book for a while, but because I had too many other books to read, I haven’t gotten around to it. I read this one last year and I’ve honestly lost count when I read this book and found comfort in its old and slightly yellowed pages. It’s already out of print, but I’m pretty sure this can be found in bargain bookstores. What book? It’s Invisible Lissa by Natalie Honeycutt.

Invisible Lissa by Natalie HoneycuttIt was around Valentine’s Day that Lissa started feeling invisible…

That’s when she sent out 31 Valentines and only got 8 back. Lissa didn’t have much trouble figuring out who was behind it all – Debra Dobbins. Although Lissa couldn’t stand her, she had to admit Debra had the whole class in her power.

Things started getting worse when Debra started a cheerleader’s squad and Lissa didn’t get in. But the last straw was the FUNCHY Club, Debra’s exclusive lunch group that Lissa’s best friend Katie had the nerve to join. That’s when Lissa decided she was tired of being invisible…and that it was time to show Debra that her days of being queen of the fifth grade were definitely numbered.

I remember spotting this book in one of those small Book Sale branches how many years ago — probably during freshman year in high school? I read a lot of middle grade fiction then, but I know I was reading more of Animorphs back then. I can’t really remember why I got this, except maybe because it was cheap. And I’m glad I got it. :)

I think the main reason why I liked this book so much was because I could relate to Lissa. Like her, I used to give everyone in my class gifts during our yearly Christmas party. Well, okay, not everyone, but all girls in my class since they’re easier to give gifts to. Like Lissa, too, I never got as many gifts as the ones I give out. It never bothered me, really, because I wasn’t spending for my gifts, anyway. It extended outside of the gifts too — I remember writing a retreat letter to everyone in my class. That was tiring. It’s a good thing everyone else felt the need to return a retreat letter if you wrote them one.

Invisible Lissa is a very smart middle grade (or is this kid?) fiction that deals with serious issues that kids experience in school and at home. There’s the normal school work, family issues and most importantly, bullying. I think the great cast of characters really helped that too. Lissa is a flawed but easy to relate to protagonist, and she’s hardly angsty so I know she wasn’t exaggerating any of her emotions. Debra Dobbins is the classic female bully, one who gets people to do the dirty job for her. The other characters were also a delight, from Joel (Lissa’s guy best friend) to Jason (Lissa’s younger brother) to Bernice the class drip and finally to my favorite character, Zack, who seemed like he liked Lissa, but it was never really revealed.

I don’t know how fifth grade is in the US, but I feel that this painted a pretty accurate picture. I liked how Lissa’s problems were resolved, because it didn’t involve any shouting match (does that ever happen in real life?) nor was it very clean cut that everything went in Lissa’s favor. Sure, it did work out for her, but there’s much to say at what could happen next.

I have yet to read this again to see if my opinions of its greatness has changed (seeing as I think I already outgrew middle grade fiction), but as of now, this still remains to be one of my favorite books. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

My copy: paperback bargain copy (P35) from Book Sale

Cover: personal photo
Blurb: back of book