Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Everything You Want

What would you do with $17 million?  Would it change you?  Would you change what you do?  Or would you be the exact same person just with more stuff and no bills?

College freshman at Indiana University (go Hoosiers!), Emma is stuck.  She can't get herself out of this place where everything that happens loops back to the fact that her best friend, Josh, dumped her and decked her during their senior year of high school.  Emma remembers being happy as a child but can't figure out how to get there as an adult.  When her parents show up at her dorm room one day telling her they've won LOTTO CASH, it seems like happiness should be easily obtained because they can do anything they want to.  Cars, clothes, vacations...you name it, they can pay for it immediately.

Emma tries everything she can think of to make her happy again.  She visits all the places she loved as a child, places she remembers being happy.  She throws out all her old clothes and tries to simplify her life by only wearing black and white.  However, none of this makes her happy because she has always compared her happiness to what makes her family happy.  Emma must figure out what makes her happy.

Soooooo, I liked the book just fine.  It's set in my birth state and it prominently features a goose in the beginning (I have a weakness for geese - it's a long story).  It's also fun to think about how I would spend that much money!  But (you knew it was coming, didn't you?).....Emma feels less like a 18 year old trying to figure out where she fits in the world and more like someone going through a mid-life crisis.  The randomness of emotions may be very similar between the two types of freak-outs, but the outward results are typically very different.  Or maybe Emma's just an old soul and I'm too critical.  Either way, that's my opinion and at least I'm honest.

Oh and it really bugs the living daylights out of me that the covers picture a domesticated duck and not a goose!!!!!!  

And there's a lot of language.  Don't say you weren't warned.

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.    

The Blending Time


The world has changed.  Wars and climate changes have ravaged the planet.  In the year 2069 anyone turning 17 will be assigned to a job that will best benefit the world.  Jaym, Reya, and D'Shay are all assigned to be SUN blenders in Africa, which was hit particularly hard by a solar flare several years back.  They think they will be re-building infrastructure.  (cue the ominous music here)  But in reality they are going to help preserve the African people by "blending" in a very different way...the solar flare exposed those people to radiation and they cannot have children with anyone else exposed.  They also think they are wanted in Africa.  (cue some sort of dramatic drum roll)

The three unlikely friends form a bond during their SUN blender training but are split up once they are "in-country."  Facing angry and armed rebels, brutally hot weather, and unfamiliar customs they must find a way to survive.

Oh, Michael Kinch - you wrote a good book, but darn it all if it doesn't live up to the thrill of The Hunger Games.  Suzanne Collins may have ruined me for life with her dystopian trilogy.  The plot, settings, storylines, and character development are good.  But those names - GAH!  Seriously...Jaym?  I have yet to figure out to say this name out loud.  Is it like "jam" or "Jay-um?"  And don't get me started on how stereotypical the name "D'Shay" feels.

However, with two male lead characters and lots of action this should be a great recommendation for guys.  Plus, it's only available in paperback, so it's cheap!   

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President


Anyone remember middle school? Remember the politics of popularity that dominated your every waking moment? Remember how you could never peg your jeans as good as Sarah Brown could and you couldn't get your bangs to curl like Libby could? (Okay, maybe that was just me.)

Oliver Watson sure has the middle school hierarchy figured out, but oddly he has no desire to be the most popular boy in school.  It doesn't matter because he's actually the third richest person on earth (he made a good investment early on...really, really early on).  So even though everyone thinks he's a total moron he really has a network of body guards and operatives to wreak havoc upon anyone who dares insult him or to secretly record anyone he wants dirt on.  Oliver even has a full-time public face to run all of his businesses (a recovering alcoholic no less).

Oliver is content to keep up his fa├žade until the elections for class president come up.  When someone nominates him as a joke and he relates the story to his parents at dinner that evening, he realizes this is the way to win his father's approval...er, I mean, prove to his father that he isn't a pathetic loser.  So Oliver goes about trying to win the election in any way possible.

Author Josh Lieb, who is also a writer for Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, writes exactly as I expected him to: with biting humor and a dash of crass.  Just what every middle schooler would salivate over, right?  The book is billed as YA, but only the wittiest teenagers will be able to laugh at this.  Yes, it is an incredibly accurate portrayal of how middle school feels but most high schoolers aren't much better.  It's possible I should have read the book with a willing suspension of disbelief but I think Lieb actually wanted the story to be so far-fetched that it's obvious that Oliver has created this little dream world where he is a billionaire and not a loser, which is actually a better gimmick.

Is it a "must-read?"  Eh.  Will you regret reading it?  Probably not.  Hands down though, the best quote from the book: "BUREAUCRAT (n): Someone who sits behind a desk and tells you that you can't do something."  (p.86)

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.
And I don't know why the font is smaller...blogger seems to be having some issues.  Maybe it needs a tissue.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Remembering and Forgetting - a ramblesome musing about favorites

Just to shake things up a bit, I thought I would post something reading-related but not a book review.  I hope the thoughts in my head make sense once typed out.

There are a few books, in the scope of the many I have read over the years, that I love to read again and again.  You would think that because I have read them so many times I would remember some of the details that are my favorites.  Yet I find myself re-reading a book because I am excited to get to a part that I'm remembering and then all of a sudden I come across a part that I had forgotten about but love just as much.  I also find myself tensing up in the scary parts or thinking "Oh my gosh - I hope everything turns out okay" even though I know good and well how the story turns out.  Does this happen to anyone else? 

And in case anyone was wondering what books I tend to re-read the list includes the following (mostly series books): the Harry Potter series - usually the 3rd through 7th, the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer - but mostly just the first two, Airman also by Eoin Colfer, and Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen.  I have some new favorites that I think I will be re-reading in the near future: the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (but maybe not Mockingjay) and the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Behemoth

"Barking spiders!"

Borrowing the most-used phrase of one of the two main protagonists seems to be the most appropriate thing to do here.  Book two of Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure picks up right where Leviathan left off.  Midshipman Dylan Sharp's true identity, as the female Deryn, is still a secret to the British military, and possibly more importantly still a secret to Alek.  His true identity - Prince Aleksander of Austro-Hungary - is about to be revealed to more people than he had originally hoped. 

The war between the Clankers and the Darwinists is growing and at the heart of it is the Ottoman Empire.  Strong Clanker influence in Istanbul threatens to cut off the supplies to Darwinist Russia.  Set mostly in and around this exotic city, the continuing story of Alek and Deryn unfolds.  There are battles, new Darwinist "beasties" and Clanker machines, secret missions, and new characters. 

Barking spiders, I loved this book!  Westerfeld writes such a convincing story and Keith Thompson's illustrations are so beautiful, I feel like I've totally done a Mary Poppins and jumped right through the pages into the story.  Even with all the stuff that Westerfeld makes up, it feels that real

I do offer my apologies for the extremely short summary, but I didn't want to give anything away!  (I'm not kidding - I had three paragraphs of summary typed out and deleted them all.)  The size (485 pages, hardback) may seem daunting but the story moves at break-neck speed...I read it in about 8 hours total (spread out over three days, but still).  Seriously, if you have not read either of these books yet set yourself a goal for your Christmas break, or at the very least make it your New Year's resolution.  Seriously, I'm not kidding.  Do it!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Life As a Rhombus

Rhonda is a math wiz and knows that in order to get into the college of her dreams and out of her hometown she has to concentrate on her grades.  Rhonda is focused: she's got her eyes on the prize and nothing will derail her...until she's asked to tutor a Sarah Gamble.  Sarah and Rhonda may go to the same school but Rhonda believes their lives are completely different.  Sarah is rich, beautiful, and popular.  Rhonda keeps her head down and away from the popular people.  But at their second tutoring session, Rhonda realizes Sarah is pregnant and confronts her about it.  Afraid to tell anyone she's close to, Sarah swears Rhonda to secrecy.  Rhonda agrees because she's been in the same situation. 

A somewhat unlikely friendship develops between Sarah and Rhonda.  In a way, they both need each other: Sarah needs a real friend who will support her and Rhonda needs someone to show her that she's more than a math tutor.  What Rhonda doesn't count on is being shown by Sarah's brother David just how beautiful and special she is.

As Sarah struggles to decide if she will keep the baby or not, Rhonda must come to terms with her own past and the "A" word: abortion.  While Rhonda feels like she didn't have much of a choice, Sarah must decide what she loves more - her reputation or her baby. 

I applaud Varian Johnson for writing this book.  I felt it tackled a seriously touchy issue without being preachy one way or the other.  The only thing I felt was missing from the options Sarah had to choose from was another "A" word: adoption.  And here I will end any soap box speeches.

That being said, the book seemed to be lacking something that I can't quite put my finger on.  Many writers of realistic fiction seem to write stories based on what they know or their own experiences.  I think this makes it sometimes hard to write a book that has universal appeal.  At times I felt like I was watching a Tyler Perry movie in book form.  (For those of you who don't know who Tyler Perry is, you'll just have to find out for yourself - this is a book blog, not a entertainment magazine.)  So to sum up my rambling review: decent book, but not necessary for all YA collections.

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Half-Life of Planets

"Love hurts, love scars, love wounds, and Mars."*

Hank has Asperger's syndrome and his fixation is on music.  His social skills are less than stellar and figures he will never get to kiss a girl.  Liana is fixated on astronomy and until recently, kissing.  On the last day of school Liana found a note in her locker with one word, "slut."  Her relationships have never gone past kissing but she is determined to prove to herself that she doesn't have to kiss to be in a relationship.  That summer their paths collide.  Hank realizes that Liana understands him as much as anyone possibly can and thinks he might be in love with her.  Liana realizes that she might just love Hank too, for his quirks not in spite of them.

Told in alternating first-person chapters, Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin write a sweet, funny love story.  Halpin's writing is definitely stronger than Franklin's and I enjoyed Hank's view of things much more than Liana's.  Hank has a razor-sharp sense of humor (although his character probably doesn't realize it), but honestly sometimes Liana just comes off as whiny and shallow. So extra brownie points to Brendan!  

* Lyrics from "Love Hurts" by Nazareth, capitalization by me.
Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jane

Remakes of a classic are hard to do and not be totally predictable.  Unless you are throwing in something completely different - like with Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies, because let's face it: zombies don't tend to follow the rules.  But I [seriously] digress.

If you haven't figured it out by now Jane by April Linder is a re-make/update of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  And if you haven't read Jane Eyre and you're reading this blog, well you darn well should get right on that.  I'm also not going to summarize the story for you because it pretty much goes just like the original, with the updates mostly being in the details.  For example, no one travels by horse-powered contraptions in the new book, unless you count sports cars.  Although it's been quite a while since I read Bronte's book, I distinctly remember liking it a lot, but with Linder's book....I finished because there's that weird part of me that needs to know how something wraps up even if I don't really like the book.  Oh I suppose it would be interesting to compare the two Janes in a paper of some sort, but I felt a distinct lack of creativity in Linder's work.  Characters had only slightly different names if there was any change in their names at all and the majority of the plot points were exactly the same. 

I hate to say it Mrs. Linder, but I think your audience is going to be limited in scope and you're going to have some whiners on your hands.  Some zombies might not have been a bad idea.  Cool cover though.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heist Society

Kat's family isn't the kind that makes offers you can't refuse.  Her family liberates things for the sake of the thrill.  And they're really good at it.  The thing about Kat is that she's walked away from "the life"... mostly.  The last con Kat pulled was to get herself into an exclusive prep school because she wanted to have a normal life.  But just because Kat walked away from her family doesn't mean they don't still need her.  When Kat gets an offer that she can't refuse from a wealthy (ahem, evil) Italian man, she must put on the biggest con to pull the biggest job to save her father. 

I'm a little torn.  Part of me wants to rave about this book and part of me wants to not.
Pros: Intrigue; lots of fun settings - Europe, London, upstate New York, Las Vegas; witty characters; high class art heists.
Cons: Plot points and dialogue practically the same as Ocean's 11, Ocean's 12, and Ocean's 13 movies; cast of characters is too young for the plot to really work.  My willing suspension of disbelief never quite kicked in.
Several times I found myself having to read entire sections again because I really didn't understand what was going on.  So either I'm not so bright or that is the point of all the mystery and misdirection that thieves employ.  


Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lonely Hearts Club

Penny Lane Bloom is tired of boys.  More specifically she's tired of when girls lose their identity over a boy.  Not only has she had a friend ditch her for a boy, Penny tried to be someone she really wasn't to land the boy she thought was her one and only.  Being a child of Beatle-maniacs (hence the her first and middle name), she decides to form the "Lonely Hearts Club" to help girls like her realize that they don't need to date to find their identity.  In a very short time the club goes from having a very small membership (just Penny) to 30 girls from her high school.  Since the most crucial part of club membership is not dating, lots of people are noticing changes in the female portion of the student body.  Neither the male population of the high school or the principal are particularly happy with Penny.  On top of everything, Penny is fighting a losing battle with herself over Ryan Bauer.  Not only is Ryan extremely good-looking, he's genuinely nice (not something Penny has experienced much with guys).  So what's a girl to when she thinks she wants to violate rule number one of the club she founded?  Time to change the rules...but only a little.

Elizabeth Eulberg's novel is cute and fast, but a little too gimmicky for me.   I don't know if the average teen reader will find all the Beatles' reference interesting or annoying.  The storyline also becomes a little predictable.  However, there are some thoroughly wonderful girl power speeches sprinkled throughout the story.  Since it's a quick read, it's worth the time.

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list. 

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

You know you're enjoying a book when strangers come up to you in McDonald's and tell you that they've been watching you smile as you've been reading....

Jessie's sophomore year could not be weirder.  Her two best friends, Bizza and Char, have transformed themselves into faux punks.  Her true punk older brother is not only going to be leaving for college soon, he quit his punk band, shaved his mohawk, and is falling for the prom queen!  And people who she has always pegged as complete nerds are suddenly becoming appealing as possible social consorts.  Even though Jessie considers herself a mathelete, she doesn't know if leaving her old friends behind for new ones is something she's ready to do.  But when Bizza has a fling with Jessie's long-time crush, she realizes the only thing her "friends" have ever really done is used her.  Not knowing where she fits in, she cautiously reaches out to different cliques at school, including the band geeks and the Dungeons & Dragons crowd.  And why, oh why does she keep having dreams about Henry, the cute but short-pantsed and white gym-shoed friend-of-a-friend? 

So author Julie Halpern, I will employ a Stephen Colbert method - Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger.  As stated above, I very much enjoyed reading this book.  My only complaint: the cover.  It's a good visual representation of the content, but I think some bolder colors and something that looks a little less like a doodle will be more appealing to the intended readership.

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Carter Finally Gets It

Will Carter has some odds stacked against him: he's a freshman, he has ADD, he has a stuttering problem (which gets worse when he's faced with belly button's and other girl parts), and he has a crazy older sister named Lynn.  As terrible as this all seems, there's actually a pretty hot chick that likes him.  Now if he could only nail that gainer off the local pool high dive.  Author Brent Crawford's first novel follows Carter though his freshman year of high school.  Carter learns a lot about how to FOCUS, football, girls, and the theater.  

Not having been a teenage boy but having dated several (once-upon-a-time), this seems to be an excellent look into how their minds function (or sometimes don't).  Don't believe me?  The back cover has this warning: "This book contains lewd humor, underage drinking, illicit fantasizing, and very bad decision-making."  While that statement is entirely accurate, it doesn't warn you about the strange looks you'll get from random people as you shake with silent laughter.

I've been trying to decide whether or not I think boys will read it.  I think I've decided that they would, if it weren't for the hardback cover.  For guys, I recommend the paperback.  I've included both with the paperback linked the book information.

Note: This book was read for possible inclusion on the 2011/2012 YARP list.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Mockingbirds

First of all I need to make sure we are all clear that this book has nothing to do with the Hunger Games series finale book.

Themis Academy faculty and teachers are brilliant academically-speaking, but are completely blind to what their students really are: teenagers.  For students at Themis, if something goes wrong, seriously wrong they don't turn to the adults, they turn to the Mockingbirds.  Masquerading as a singing group, the Mockingbirds are a student-only group whose mission is to right the wrongs of the student body.  We're not talking about bad study habits or crank calls, we're talking about blackmail and date rape.  Alexandra Patrick is a victim of the latter, and seeks out the assistance of the Mockingbirds to help her stand up to the guy who did it.  After having her sense of self shattered, she must learn who she is all over again.  She must also learn how to speak up for what she wants and to not just stay silent because "The only thing that means yes is yes.  A lack of yes is a no."

While it's not terribly fair to author Daisy Whitney to compare her book to Anderson's Speak, it's unavoidable.  The main characters are very different and so are the story settings, but the emotional grief and confusion that both girls go through are both very realistically portrayed.  Sub-characters are sometimes underdeveloped or left out for what feels like long stretches, but on the whole the book is still one that I think will help many people, not just rape victims, understand what kind of agony this situation is.  So as with all books of a very serious nature, it's hard to say that I liked it (it seems both petty and creepy at the same time).  However, it's an important topic to be addressed and I'm glad there are young adult authors who have the presence and guts to write these books.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hate List

Wow.  What an incredible book.  I would use exclamation points at the end of every sentence for this review, but because the book deals with such a serious subject it doesn't seem appropriate...exclamation points seem too perky.  But maybe I'll underline something...

Valerie Leftman's life is upside down, sideways, and in pieces.  It is her senior year of high school, but what should be a year living it up with friends, filling out college applications, and lording it over the underclassmen, is actually going to be the toughest year of Valerie's life.  Just over three months before, on May 2nd, Valerie's boyfriend Nick opened fire in the school commons, killing several students and a teacher, and wounding several others before turning the gun on himself.  Valerie herself was shot in the leg trying to stop Nick.  Even though it was Nick who pulled the trigger, many blame Valerie just as much.  Unhappy with her home life and the way she was treated at school, she started a "hate list" of people and concepts that annoyed her.  For Valerie this was just a way to express her feelings, but for Nick it was a starting place for shooting.

After a summer of hiding in her room and therapy, Valerie must face going back to school.  Most of her fellow students despise her, blame her, or at least want to ignore her.  However, she has an unlikely ally - Jessica Brown, student body president and queen bee of the school - whose life she saved trying to stop Nick.  As Valerie confronts her past choices and is confronted by people whose lives were forever changed on May 2nd, she realizes what it means to really see people for who they are.

Somebody given an award to author Jennifer Brown for treating such a tough and touchy subject with so much delicacy and depth.  I admit I had avoided reading this book for a while because I thought it would be so depressing, too dark, and riddled more angst than I can normally handle...boy was I wrong.  It didn't even take long to read and it's over 400 pages - yeah, it's that good.  When this book was reviewed in VOYA magazine they said "This novel ought to be the last written about a fictional high school shooting because it is difficult to imagine any capable of handling it better...."  I concur 100%.  Everyone, not just teachers, librarians, and teens, needs to read this book - grandparents should read this, football players should read this, pop stars should read this because this is a book that makes a difference in people's lives even if they have never been through this kind of situation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Conspiracy 365: February



A fantastic vendor at the recent South Dakota Library Association Annual Conference in Sioux Falls took pity on me when I said I'd read the first in Gabrielle Lord's Conspiracy 365 series but hadn't gotten to read any of the others, and she gave me a copy of February to read.  She rocks, and now I am addicted.

This may be a bold statement, but I'm going to say it anyway: I think this is the best high/low action/thriller series of books for boys available right now.  As with January, this next book in the series delivers a fast-paced narrative that ends with our main character, Cal, looking death straight in the eye.  Obviously, since there are 10 more books in the series we know he survives, but how will he escape?  Can his best friend Boges stay away from danger and continue to help Cal?  Who is this new girl Winter Frey and has she betrayed Cal?

You and I will both have to read March to find out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

A favorite from grad school

Though it has been over 5 years since I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, I will never forget it.  Ever.  My mind tends to gloss over the "less desirable" parts of movies or books and usually remembers only the "happy things" clearly. However, since the topic of this book is about a high school girl, Melinda, who almost completely stops functioning as a human being after being raped by a school mate at an end-of-the-summer party and is taunted daily at school by the upperclassman who did it, the plot is stuck fast in my brain.  The healing that Melinda must go through to be able to speak up about what happened to her is beyond immense (and it doesn't even start until the end of the book) and the reader can't help but go through each emotion with her.  One of the most painful lasting physical effects that I always think about is what Melinda does to her lips (rather than speak) - she chews on them until the skin becomes broken and bloody.  I cannot imagine having words to say, those words being on my lips, but out of fear not being able to say them and instead biting my lips and holding the words in.  But I've never been though a situation like that.

Anderson's book has recently been attacked in Missouri as being, well, a phrase that I probably shouldn't use on a blog associated with my job.  To get an idea of what's going on see Anderson's blog

These kinds of things always seem more noticeable around Banned Books Week (September 25-October 2), but this is what some people call "a hill I would die on."  Speak is one of those titles that goes beyond the debate about whether or not its approach to the subject matter outweighs the subject matter itself.  This book is the kind that lets people who have gone through what Melinda does know that they are not alone, and it also lets the rest of us know how awful this problem (rape) is so that [hopefully] we can help make a difference.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leviathan

For the last 6 months, almost every time I would talk to my mom on the phone (which is a few times a week) she would ask me if I'd read Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure yet.  My answer was always no...until last week.  With the coming of my YARP list reading season looming, I've been furiously trying to read everything I can that I want to read, and Leviathan was one of those titles.

Loved it.  Westerfeld has created one of those societies that is based in historical fact and tweaks it to make it more interesting for young people.  Westerfeld's world is dominated by the Clankers - those who create super-machines and Darwinists - those who weave the DNA of living creatures together to create new ones.  Set during the first weeks of what would become World War I, the Clankers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) become the aggressors toward the Darwinists (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia)

Alek must flee for his life to Switzerland and hide until the end of the war.  Deryn Sharp also has something to hide - she's disguised as a boy to make it into the British Royal Air Force.  These two, Clanker and Darwinist, are thrown together in an unlikely alliance on the great Darwinist "fabricated" airship Leviathan, and while fighting to stay alive, must keep their secrets. 

The book has been out since 2009, but the sequel Behemoth is due out next month, so I think I read it at the right time because now I don't have to wait very long for the next one!

Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World

I don't know why I've been putting off writing this review other than maybe I still feel drained from Mockingjay.  Maybe it's because Katie from the publishing company knows I am going to be writing this and I don't want to disappoint her!  This is actually a hilarious book so I don't know if I will do it justice, but I don't think I can put this off any longer.

Vordak, who was raised as a proper super villain, will give you all the tips you need to make a name for yourself (he even has a handy guide for that), how to build your army of minions and underlings, how to verbally out-wit superheros, and how to look good doing it.  Junior high boys are going to love this book.  Adults will also love it and probably get more of the jokes.  It's silly, full of diabolical laughter, and though sinister, absolutely delightful.

When my preview copy arrived, the first person to read it was not me, it was my non-biological-but-practically-adopted teenage daughter, Elisha.  She read parts out loud to me or would pass me the book so I could read something because she was laughing so hard.  Ironically, while she was reading page 65, which covers reasons to keep spare costumes handy in case of dangerous activities, including eating (accompanied by an illustration), the sushi she was eating dripped soy sauce on the book.  We won't tell Vordak because I'm sure he would immediately put her into one of his diabolically clever yet extremely slow-acting death traps, and I would miss her dearly.

P.S. The author is really Scott Seegert and the illustrations were done by John Martin, who is still awaiting rescue from Vordak's dungeon.  Someone go get the poor guy out of there!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mockingjay

Part of me just doesn't know what to say.  Maybe I was expecting something else, but I am really not sure if I love it or hate it.  The first two were so good but I feel........unsatisfied somehow.  My feelings of non-satisfaction for once have nothing to do with this being the end of the series.*  I just do not care for how the whole storyline wrapped up, especially Gale's exit from the main narrative. He gave up - he didn't bow out gracefully, he just faded away.  Also, I like my heroes and heroines to have little falls so that they do seem human, but when they fall too far & too much, they become caricatures or someone you really wouldn't want to read a book about because they always annoy you.  Katniss eventually did that for me and she felt nothing like the character that Collins first wrote her to be.  Too much of the essential character of Katniss was lost.


One last thing, which is not a positive statement for Collins' writing: I started liking the secondary characters in the storyline more than I like Peeta, Gale, or Katniss.

I don't even think I can summarize this book.  You'll just have to read it yourself and be the judge.


*Actually I lied: J.K. Rowling once again sets the standard, in my opinion, for YA series fiction.  She wrapped up the Harry Potter series so beautifully that I didn't feel unsatisfied with that ending.

Monday, August 30, 2010

MOCKING JAY IS HERE!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, so I know it's been out for almost a week now, but my copy just arrived.  While I am beyond thrilled about this, I am very disappointed with the Barnes & Noble shipping service.  Usually when you pre-order something from them, they make sure it ships in time to be to you by the release date.  That soooo did not happen this time and I am miffed.  I will be writing a strongly worded something-or-other via their customer service feedback website.

Now, if only I could suspend time so that I could read this and then move into my new house - which is also taking place this week!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The DUFF

Okay, you're probably wondering what in the world DUFF stands for.  Well let me tell you: Designated Ugly Fat Friend.  Author Kody Keplinger, who was 18 when she wrote the book, really lays it all out there.  I'm guessing that Kody wasn't very far out of high school when she wrote this, and I don't say that because the writing is immature or bad.  It's very raw and very real, which for a lot of teenagers that's exactly what high school is.  Because this is a professional blog I am writing and because of who I work for, this will be a slightly unconventional book review.  First, I will try not to skimp on details but also be mindful of my readership.  Second, I will not commit to recommending this book on this blog.  If you want more details and information about the book, you can talk to me in person the next time you see me.

The story is told through the eyes of high school senior, Bianca Piper, who feels like the least attractive one of her circle of friends, especially her best friends Jessica and Casey.  Her rampant cynicism and low self-worth are not helped any when Wesley Rush, the hottest, richest, and most-womanizing guy at school chats her up one night at a teen club.  His motivation: her hot friends.  His method: be nice to the DUFF - designated ugly fat friend.  The immediate result: Bianca's Cherry Coke in his face.  Wesley is not dissuaded by this and tries again the next weekend.  Bianca loathes Wesley for who he is and how he treats women, but her life is a bit messy and the only thing she can think to do to blow off steam without actually punching Wesley is to kiss him.  The worst part: she really, really likes it.  And so begins 6 weeks of trying to drown out the stress in her life by secretly hooking up with Wesley several times a week.  Funny thing is that when we open ourselves up to people, either physically or emotionally, we can't go unchanged.

Disclaimer: If this book were to be made into a movie and not edited, it would be rated R for language alone.  However, be ye also warned that there is promiscuity by the boatloads.

P.S. I do have to say that I did read it cover to cover in half a day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Rise of Renegade X


Another hit by a first-time author (Chelsea M. Campbell).  At least, I think so.  If any of you have ever seen the movie Sky High, this book is kind of like that, only more on the irreverent side and geared toward a more grown-up audience.  So don't let the cover fool you into thinking that it's a cute, quirky story.  Okay, it is quirky, but definitely for the high school crowd.

Damien Locke is turning 16, and in Golden City where superheros and supervillains abound, this is a big deal.  Why?  Because Damien is the son of a supervillain and at midnight on his 16th birthday his right thumbprint will rearrange itself into a V for villain.  But when midnight comes, the worst thing in the world happens...his thumbprint morphs into an X.  This can only mean one thing: his father, who he has never known, was actually a superhero.  Caught in between two worlds - hero and villain - Damien finds himself having to choose between his mother and father, his ex-girlfriend & supervillain Kat (who he still really likes but won't admit it) and his wannabe sidekick Sarah (who wants him to be a hero), and whether or not he can overcome his debilitating fear of heights to see if he can fly.

It was hard to put this book down!  This is going to be a book that almost any teenage boy, into superheros or not, will love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shadow Hills



 Persephone "Phe" Archer has been having very disturbing dreams ever since her older sister, Athena, died. Stranger still is the letter that arrives for Athena months after her death from Denevish Prep school in Shadow Hills, which happens to be the subject of Athena's last dream diary entry.  Phe is drawn to figure out why she is dreaming so vividly of a place on the other side of the country from her.

So Phe leaves L.A. and enrolls in Denevish only to find that Shadow Hills has a past shrouded in mystery and very secretive locals.  Though she's never been anywhere near Shadow Hills she knows she is connected to it somehow.  As Phe learns more about Shadow Hills, she learns more about her own destiny, but she also gets closer to danger.

Oh look, a book I didn't really like.  This doesn't happen very often because I read things with a fairly open mind and with one of Ranganathan's 5 library science principles in the forefront of my conscience: every book it's reader.  So even if a book isn't great literature I'm probably going to like it still. This is Anastasia Hopcus' first novel and I'm not sure she's got the knack of writing YA fiction for young adults yet.  Phe is only 15, but seems like she should be 18 at least.  I'm all for a willing suspension of disbelief, but I don't know any 15-year-old girls who aren't totally self-absorbed.

I also found the narrative to be a bit bumpy and some of the secondary characters were just in the way of the story.  Others seemed like they were going to be very important in the beginning but then faded halfway through, which made me feel kind of sorry for them.  It also bugs the living daylights out of me when YA authors feel compelled to add details that make it seem like they want the reader to know that they know what's cool.  Hopcus did this a lot with clothes & music, particularly at the beginning of the book.

Or maybe I'm just really cranky today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Too many details and previous reads.

I've realized since starting this blog it doesn't seem like I've read very many books.  The truth is, I do read more than what is posted on here but in between (or sometimes concurrent to) the titles that get posted on here, I end up reading books I've read before.  This usually happens on weekends, when I've either left a book at work or finished one and don't feel like making a run to the library to find something else.  That sounds terribly lazy of me, but for me there are some books worth reading repeatedly like Harris and Me by Gary Paulson or the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. 

Not really knowing how many people are actually looking at my blog (there's a noticeable lack of comments on my posts that's making me feel very insecure), I thought I would link my Shelfari list as well.  This has all the books that I can remember reading over the last 7 years-ish.  Forgotten titles pop into my head all the time though.  Hopefully the list will get a lot more fleshed out soon as my husband and I are buying a house and I will get unpack the boxes of my books that have been hidden away from daylight for over a year.  I'll put the link in the little area on the right as well so no one has to go and find this post again.  My Shelfari also lists what I'm currently reading and what I plan to read.  It's quite a handy little web 2.0 tool.

Anyhoo, over a month ago Lois Lowry posted something on her blog about authors who give too much description about their characters.  The book I'm currently reading is having this particular issue.  I do hope the author cuts this out soon and is only doing it now to establish character personalities.  Otherwise, I don't know how much I'm going to be able to like this book.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Things I Know About Love


Sometimes love is like flying through a large flock of turkeys...

Livia's had a rough time of it lately, what with surviving leukemia and all. Her sixth form year (she's British) was awkward and quiet, having spent too much time in hospitals and not enough time at parties. Her summer promises to be much more entertaining as she gets to spend an entire month in Princeton, NJ, where her older brother is finishing a year of his studies. She's only an hour away from New York and her brother's cute friend Adam from back home is also in Princeton. Oh, did she mention how cute Adam is? Now if only her mum and brother would stop worry so much about her leukemia relapsing.

In a slight narrative twist, author Kate le Vann alternates between long blog entries by Livia and shorter ones by Adam. Yes, they are both big nerds - she loves Star Trek and he loves computers - but they both freely admit it. The other thing is...Adam is completely 100% head-over-heels for Livia. Up to this point Livia doesn't think she knows much about love, only having had 1.5 experiences with it, but she's determined to find out as much as she can with Adam.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Not-So-Great Depression


When this book arrived from the publisher (Roaring Book Press) I thought it was going to be a silly, poorly-written, fluff of a teen book (sorry, Amy Goldman Koss). Okay, so it's definitely for girls, there is plenty of screaming & giggling, and it probably won't change your life or your view of the world, but it's read-aloud-portions-to-whoever-is-around funny (thank you, Amy Goldman Koss).

Ninth-grader Jacki's life is pretty charmed. Even though her parents divorced when she was 8, her older sister Brooke is leaving for college soon and her younger brother Mitch only thinks about food, sports, & his iPod, they are a happy family. Jacki has everything she needs - Emily, her best friend; a really cute boy named Adam B. to distract her; an organic baker father to bring her fresh baked goods; and a lovely home with a pool in L.A. The only thing she doesn't have in her life is a hamster (she's working on this) and a clear idea of what she wants to be when she grows up (unlike her sister).

Her history teacher keeps going on and on about a big recession but it never really hits home with Jacki until her mom loses her high-paying, high-stress job. A series of not-so-great events threaten to ruin what started out to be a pretty decent year. The only job offer her mom finds is in Casper, Wyoming, even if they don't move there they will probably have to sell their house, Jacki breaks her foot, and her sister's dreams of going to a fancy university out East are crushed by their family's tanking investments. They are forced to re-think what it is that makes them happy, both as a family and as individuals. As they start to formulate what the next year of their lives will look like the most profound statement of the story is made during a conversion among Jacki, Brooke, and their mom. I recount it here:

Brooke says, "It will be a year worth living."
I [Jackie] laugh, "All years are worth living."
Brooke shrugs and says, "Some are spent waiting to live."

While Jacki serves as narrator and the principle voice in the story, she didn't necessarily feel like the main character somehow. It felt much more like it was about her whole family, which was refreshing to me. It was very nice to read a book for high school girls that was light-hearted in tone even though it dealt with some real-life issues. Jacki is a somewhat self-centered airhead but what ninth-grade girl isn't at some point? This was fun reading!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ninth Ward

Having parents who have lived & worked just outside the French Quarter of New Orleans for over 11 years, I had to read this book by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It is a blending of fiction and spirituality based on true events.

Lanesha is mostly alone in her life. She doesn't have any friends to speak of. She's teased by kids in her neighborhood and at her school because of her yellow-green eyes. They call her spooky and a witch. Her only family is Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who couldn't save Lanesha's mother when she gave birth to her. Unwanted by her mother's Uptown relatives, Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya live contentedly in the Ninth Ward, a mostly poor and predominately black section of New Orleans. Mama Ya-Ya can see things and people coming before others know they are there - that is her gift.

As the story opens, Lanesha is celebrating her 12th birthday on Sunday, August 20, 2005. A few days later Mama Ya-Ya seems agitated like Lanesha has never seen...something is coming, something dangerous. They soon learn that this danger has a name: Katrina. Lanesha has always thought that it was Mama Ya-Ya that was the strength in their relationship but when Katrina hits, screaming like a wild animal, and the levees fail, Lanesha must be the strong one and fight for survival in their flooded city.

The story moves at a decent clip and is beautifully written. However, I don't think that this will be a book that kids pick up on their own. If asked to read it, they won't find themselves suffering through though. Lanesha is a strong character and children will be able to identify with her spirit.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Conspiracy 365: January


The cover of this book would suggest that I would be blown away. Something certainly looks like it exploded anyway. Although, I can't say that I was thrilled, Australian crime novelist Gabrielle Lord has certainly created a high/low thriller for late middle/early high school boys. Set in Australia, fifteen-year-old Callum Ormond gets a warning from a crazed man on New Year's Eve - his father wasn't killed by some mysterious illness, he was murdered, and someone or a group of people are after him and he must disappear for the next 365 days. Cal is a bit startled by the warning but proceeds with life as usual. However, that night Cal almost drowns in a boating "accident." Not long after, his house is broken into, he's kidnapped, and framed for attempted murder. Cal decides that for his safety and the safety of his family he must take to a life on the run. At the same time, he must solve a mystery his father left him that has a connection with the people who are after him.

The first book in the installment, January takes a while to get going, but promises much more to come with a new book for every month being released consecutively this year.

To keep with Cal and all the Conspiracy books visit the author's website.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chagrined

Here I am, with a brand new blog with a name (and description) that probably over-emphasizes my dislike of vampire books, and along comes Adam Rex with a new book called Fat Vampire that I'm going to have to read. Rex wrote one of my personal favorite books from the last few years called The True Meaning of Smeckday, which made me laugh so hard sometimes I cried and couldn't breathe. (The only other thing in recent memory to do that to me was the "Hamburger/Accent Lessons" scene from the first Steve Martin "Pink Panther" movie.) So congratulations Mr. Rex, you've ruined me!

I also find the cover hilarious.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grey Griffins, The Clockwork Chronicles, Book 1, The Brimstone Key


Authors Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis pair up for a second series of their Grey Griffins characters. Friends Max, Harley, Natalia, and Ernie are staring their first year in the "local" Knights Templar training school, Iron Bridge Academy. But what would a school year be for the Griffins if not a threat to the known world? An brilliantly evil man from the past, Otto Von Strife, also known as the Clockwork King, has returned after most thought him defeated for good. Von Strife's previous plan was to steal the souls of changelings - humans who have been infused or affected by faerie blood giving them special powers - and put them into his clockwork army. There many changelings at Iron Bridge and Ernie is one of them. As changelings start to disappear from Iron Bridge it can only mean that Von Strife has started his work again. The Griffins, with help from Max's bodyguard Logan, friend and fellow Templar techie Monti, and a smattering of other interestingly named characters (Throckmorton the gargoyle is my favorite) must stop the Clockwork King before he rebuilds his army and opens the gate to the Shadowlands - where the most evil of creatures are bound.

While the pacing can be jarring and the writing questionable at times, the adventure is still fun. I have read another review that complains about the constantly shifting perspective. I, however, find it refreshing that the storyline is not bound to the perspective of the natural hero - Max. Rather it gives others in the Griffins a chance to flesh out their emotional characters. Particularly, I enjoyed seeing things from the most timid of the group, Ernie, who eventually sheds his fear to lead fellow changelings to hunt down Von Strife...in the next book.

Bits and pieces of sci-fi technology make appearances in the book, like EMPs (Matrix anyone?) and hovercraft/blimp type ships (Star Wars). Obvious from the previous series is an about face towards steam punk (how many times will I read the word "corset" in a book with 3 male lead characters?). All of this can be a bit obnoxious to a grown up, but as the intended age of this book is late elementary to early middle school, I don't think this will make a bit of difference. I think this will appeal to boys who like comic book heros, sci-fi movies, adventure, and danger.

Here We Go.....

Before I publish my first book review I thought I would note a couple of things. First, you'll notice that I have book covers in my reviews - they are linked directly to information about the book from Barnes & Noble. The State Library has an affiliate contract with them to use their covers as long as we link the cover to their website. As this blog is a part of my paid professional State Library time, I will be using that contract.

Second, these are my opinions about a book. Sometimes I like a book because it appealed to me, and sometimes I like a book because I think it will appeal to its intended readership. I will do my best to note why it is that I like the book (or don't like it). You are free to disagree because we are all different people with different values and feelings.

All that said, I hope you enjoy my blog!