Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Big Stink review

Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie: The Big Stink
August 2010

Do you love reading about about terrible odors, copious amounts of farting, projectile vomit and belching? Man, have I got the book for you. The fourth book in Lubar's series catches up with poor Nathan, who's already been a zombie for while. He's been recruited by the Bureau of Useful Misadventures (or BUM, for short) where his professor mentor frequently sends him out on "Mission Impossible" style assignments for the government with the help of his two best friends Abigail and Moogie. After a few months of being undead, unfortunately, Nathan is starting to decompose.  Dealing with his stinkerrific-ness, hiding his rotten condition from his unsuspecting parents, and dodging the school bully takes up more time than running secret missions for the government. I won't ruin the ending, but luckily a solution is found for Nathan's B.O., which allows the series to carry on as per normal in it's next and final installment. I must say, this isn't at all the kind of book that I normally gravitate to, but I read it out of professional curiosity.  Who is the audience for this book? Reluctant readers, especially boys, who enjoyed Andy Griffiths Zombie Butts from Uranus, Dan Gutman's My Weird School series or other similarly juvenile humor will enjoy this grossly funny book.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Push Button review

Push Button
by Aliki
Greenwillow Books
2010

Aliki returns with this cheerful examination of a modern toddler's life. Plenty of white space in each of the brightly-colored, bold-lined illustrations done in Aliki's trademark style makes each image really pop. The rhyming text and fun onomonopia noises make this a natural for storytimes. The endpages feature colorful round buttons labeled with letters of the alphabet, numbers or arrows. The unnamed boy's dark hair, tanned skin and pink cheeks reminded me of the rambunctious boy from All by Myself, another Aliki favorite.

What I loved about this book was the obvious sense of enjoyment the "push-button boy" gets from playing with the phone, his jack-in-the-box, getting to press the button in the elevator. When he injures his finger, he finds he has to turn to other, non-pushbutton activities. There's a subtle plug for reading, as he decides to open a book, and finds the images and words begin to flow off the page. Here, Aliki pays homage to Ashley Brian, George David Weiss and Bob Thiele's classic book What a Wonderful World. But, the "push-button boy" also passes the time gardening, playing with simple toys, cooking, painting, and playing an instrument. When his finger is all better, "That busy boy,/It's go, go, go./That Push-Button,/Page-Turning boy I know." There's very little sense of judgement, that "pushing buttons" or using technology is somehow a worse use of time than playing outside or reading, just the idea that these days, there's a wide smorgasbord of fun activities for toddlers to enjoy. I would recommend this charming story for ages 2 to 5.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ubiquitous review

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors
by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange
Houghton Mifflin
2010

What a glorious, glorious book this is!  I am thoroughly enchanted, on so many levels.  Ubiquitous is a perfect marriage of poetry and art and science.  It's a collection of poems about various species that exist in huge numbers on the planet.  Beginning with the incredible endpapers, showing a tightly drawn, swirling doodle representing a timeline, this book successfully conveys a sense of the vastness of geologic history.  Bacteria show up relatively early, about 4 billion years after the Earth is formed, followed by a number of other organisms, including sharks (375 million years old), ants (140 million years old), dandelions (5 million years old) and finally humans, a mere 100,000 years old, showing us as a tiny blip at the end of the timeline.

Several different poetry forms are used, everything from a diamante (diamond-shaped poem) to concrete poetry to free verse.  The concrete shark poem echoes it's subject precisely with the line "snout bristling teeth" forming the mouth of the shark, the fin created by the warning, "Shark! Shark! Shark!" ending in a tail made up of the words, "Power-pumping bursts/Long lazy strokes."  The concrete poem devoted to squirrels is rather hilariously made in the shape of the squirrel as a long, continuous, hyper-frenetic run-on sentence.  I rather enjoyed the metaphor used in The Mollusk That Made You where the mollusk is described as a "shy gray wizard" walking on one foot, wearing "a magic mantle,/trailing stars."

The bold-lined, brightly colored linocut illustrations nearly have the look of leaded stained glass, adding a reverence and majesty to the subject matter.  I never could have imagined that bacteria, lichen and diatoms (single-celled, ocean-dwelling life forms) could look so beautiful.  Any of the illustrations in the book would make a lovely piece of wall art.

Finally, each poem is paired with a paragraph of information about the subject of each poem, including the scientific name, average size, and additional info on the life cycle of each organism.  The book is appended with a glossary of science terms.  This is a book that belongs in every science classroom.  I borrowed my copy from the library, but you can be sure I will be purchasing a copy of my own to keep.

I borrowed this book from the library.


Poetry Friday is hosted this week by A Year of Reading.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Present review

The Present
2010

Sparing use of color in mostly grayscale illustrations gives special emphasis to the excitement that a child feels upon discovering a package hidden in the coat closet. Arthur's birthday is right around the corner, and he's certain the present is meant for him. We never see Arthur, instead, the clean, bold lines of the graphic design-inspired illustrations depict each of the many, many items that Arthur supposes could be in the box. As he ponders each possibility, he usually makes a comment on why he would or wouldn't like each potential gift. A ring toss? "If he practiced a lot, he could become the world champion ring tosser and get his picture in the newspaper." It could be a bowling set, which he wouldn't care for, or a wheel, which he wouldn't need. There are plenty of other things that Arthur wants though.  A Japanese lantern that he could marvel at, a paint set, a new backpack to replace his current one which has holes in it. Could it be those ice skates he's always wanted, a french horn which would be neat to play, a computer that he could watch movies on?  Could it be a pet fish?  It's pretty exciting thinking about all the possibilities.  


Although much of the book seems like it could appeal to one's greedy baser instincts, ultimately, there is a very altruistic message to this book, that it really is better to give than to receive.  When the doorbell rings, and a woman from a charity is looking for donations, Arthur gladly gives her the still unopened box.  The Present provides plenty of fodder to spark some interesting discussions: What kind of gifts are you hoping for?  How many gifts do you think is enough?  Would you give away a present you'd been looking forward to opening?  What if somebody else really needed it?  Definitely an interesting book.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dark Flame review

Dark Flame 
by Alyson Noel
St. Martin's Griffin
2010

Unfortunately, I found this installment of the Immortals series to probably be the weakest yet.  We jump right into the action, and readers would be strongly advised to read the preceding books, Evermore, Blue Moon, and Shadowland first.  In this latest episode, Ever and former best friend, the newly immortal Haven are at odds.
Ever feels terrible for "cursing" Haven with immortality, but Ever's boyfriend Damen accurately predicts that Haven will love her new preternatural abilities. Meanwhile, Ever is struggling under an evil spell that makes her attracted to rogue immortal Roman, Damen's centuries long arch-rival, and is desperately trying to hide her embarrassing feelings from her friends. Roman already has the upper-hand, being the only person with an antidote to the spell that prevents Ever and Damen from touching. (Ever and Damen hug and kiss a lot for people who supposedly can't touch, though.) Roman intensifies his position by successfully wooing Haven, driving another wedge between Ever and Damen.


Nice-guy surfer Jude still pines for Ever, but she doesn't seem to feel anything for him. Damen is creepily Edward-esque, being alternately distant and jealous of Ever. Ever and Haven's gay friend Miles is terrifically out of the loop on all of this, but he is too busy and happy to be going on a trip to Florence, Italy to really notice or care about any of the new stresses his friends are experiencing.

For me at least, the introduction of Roman as a new potential love interest for Ever (one that she's simultaneously addicted to and disgusted by) turned this series away from being a love triangle, Ever-Damen-Jude, into a love square, which is a much harder balancing act. It also pushes Ever a little more solidly into Mary Sue territory if all of the male leads (except for Miles, of course) are crazy about her.

This series has always been very Pagan friendly, and that continues in this book. Most of the main characters regularly use plenty of New Age meditations, chakras, crystals and herbs. Reformed charlatan psychic Ava returns briefly to lecture Ever about thinking positively. One of the major problems of the book is that Ever just isn't as smart as I'd like her to be. As she reminds us several times throughout the book her weakest chakra is her throat - so she's bad at discernment, and always making bad decisions.

One redeeming feature of the book was that I was completely taken by surprise by the ending. I love a story that has some kind of twist at the end - and this definitely delivered on that score. Long-time fans will probably already have eagerly snapped up this book, but new readers to the series may find the lack of forward plot-progression somewhat daunting.




I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Search for WondLA review


Eva Nine is a lone human girl being raised in an underground pod by her caretaker, MUTHR, or the Multi-Utility Task Help Robot. By the age of 12, Eva longs to know what is above the surface, and while she loves Muthr very much, she is curious to discover if there are any other humans on the planet.  The story is somewhat inspired by, but is not a literal re-interpretation of Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The rich, detailed graphic novel style art, in black and green tones is deeply reminiscent of W.W. Denslow's original illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. 
My 
first piece of advice to readers is to drop any preconceived notions about Oz.  I drove myself crazy for the first few chapters, thinking, things like, "Okay, if Eva is Dorothy, does that make Muthr the Tin Man?  Or is Muthr more like Auntie Em?"  When she meets up with alien traveler Rovender Kitt, I wondered if he is supposed to be a counterpart of the Scarecrow.  And is Otto, the tardigrade bear that Eva is able to telepathically communicate with, more like the Cowardly Lion? Or more like Toto? Put those thoughts aside, and just enjoy the story for what it is, a highly imaginative and gorgeously illustrated tale about coming of age and finding your place in the world.

I
loved Eva Nine's loosely braided hair and futuristic clothes. The technology is well-thought out and truly lends another layer of depth to the story.  Walking plants, menacing alien hunters and a varied and harsh landscape create a strange and eerie world.  I was glad to see the language barrier between alien species meaningfully addressed, and even more pleased that it was quickly circumvented in such a clever and workable way.  Eva relies on her Omnipod, a silver device shaped somewhat like a hand mirror to diagnose and cure illnesses, function as a flashlight, and to store and record information, the same way modern readers might be inseparable from their iphones.  Her flying car, a classic, "this must the future" item is widely regarded as an antique.

Much
has been said about the augmented reality maps embedded in the book.  I'm sure that the technical requirements (a computer with webcam, the ability to download a player) will foil many readers, and while the interactive 3-D maps are really, really cool, with a lot of "gee whiz" factor, you don't need to sign in to the website to enjoy the book on it's own. 
The 
secrets revealed at the end of the book were stunning and something that I was not expecting (despite, in hindsight, the very obvious clues.)  The Search for WondLA feels like an instant classic and is sure to be enjoyed for generations to come.  I hear a rumor that this is the first book of a planned trilogy.  I know I'm eager to return to the magnificent world that DiTerlizzi has created.


I
borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Freight Train app

I've just discovered Curious Puppy, which sells educational iPhone apps based on children's books. Check out the video for Donald Crews' classic Freight Train. They've expanded and extended the original story in such a cool way.  Awesome!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Bloggiesta Announced

It's on!  Natasha at Maw Books Blog has announced the dates for Winter Bloggiesta 2011.  Bloggiesta is 72 hours of marathon blogging taking place January 21-23, 2011.  I really enjoyed participating last summer, when I got inspired to take care of a lot of "nuts and bolts"  items around my blog.  The funny thing is, just one weekend increased my awareness for keeping up with things like broken links and so on, so it's been easier to stay on top of those things all year.


What do I think I'll get done this time around?  Let me see.


  • I need an official review policy.  I have one, of course, but it's not posted and could use some polish.
  • I have quite a backlog of books that I've meant to create reviews for.  I'd like to get some of those done.
  • Will I finally conquer the favicon, and get the one I want to show up?
  • Take part in mini-challenges, like the comment challenge.

Looking forward to it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Return of Animorphs

Looks like K.A. Applegate's Animorphs series is going to be returning, with new covers in May, 2011.  I remember when Animorphs first came out and were at the height of their popularity.  Kids would come clamoring in on a daily basis, wondering and hoping when the next title would be released. I used to booktalk these all the time.  I'd catch a kid's eye, and ask, "Ever talk to a school vice-principal, or other adult who seems a little weird, a little too formal?  Well, they could be a Yeerk!"  (Yeerks were the evil bodysnatcher aliens that the Animorphs fought against.)


I have to say, I do not love the new covers.  The way they flash between animal and human without giving very many anthropomorphic qualities to the animals is a bit of a turn-off for me.  But, I think kids will love, love, love them, because of how flashy and impressive they are.  The original covers used die-cut cutaways, which rather vexingly would get torn up and ratty-looking rather quickly.  I think the new covers are bound to have plenty more staying power.  Vive la Animorphs!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2011: YA Edition

2010 seems to be going by in a flash, doesn't it? There are so many books to look forward to in 2011. Obviously, there are a lot of sequels coming down the pike: Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr, Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins,Awakened by P.C. and Kristin Cast, The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan, Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.

I thought I'd take a look at some new (or new-to-me) authors for some other books that I'm putting on my "to be read" list for next year.


Choker
by Elizabeth Woods
Simon & Schuster
January 2011

Not totally sure what this debut novel is about, just that it's supposed to be a thriller, and cover is gorgeous. So eye-catching.



Slice of Cherry
by Dia Reeves
Simon Pulse
January 2011

Two sisters go on a madcap killing spree.

XVI
by Julia Karr
Speak
January 2011



Gritty, dystopian with mature themes. Nina fears the day that she turns 16 and will be tattooed, as a sign that she is now available to any man who wants her.

The Demon Trapper's Daughter
by Jana Oliver
St. Martin's Griffin
February 2011

I'm excited about this paranormal story that takes place in Atlanta.  Too bad it's not being released in hardcover.



Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance
Walker Books for Young Readers
by Brendan Halpin and Emily Franklin
February 2011

Charlie Tracker and Fielding Withers appear to have a sizzling romance, on-screen and off in their alter egos of Jenna and Jonah.  However, it's not a real relationship, but a "fauxmance" carefully orchestrated by their PR managers.  Or is it?



The Iron Witch
by Karen Mahoney
Flux
February 2011


Donna Underwood feels cursed by the magical iron tattoos she carries - a legacy from her alchemist parents in this tale of alchemists vs. faeries.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cover Trend: Beautiful Swirly Font

I've noticed a new cover trend. Beautiful, swirly fonts. Check it out.








Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2009

In a small South Carolina town, where it seems little has changed since the Civil War, sixteen-year-old Ethan is powerfully drawn to Lena, a new classmate with whom he shares a psychic connection and whose family hides a dark secret that may be revealed on her sixteenth birthday.


Beautiful Darkness
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2010

In a small southern town with a secret world hidden in plain sight, sixteen-year-old Lena, who possesses supernatural powers and faces a life-altering decision, draws away from her true love, Ethan, a mortal with frightening visions.


Delirium
by Lauren Oliver
Harper Collins
2011

Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.


Unearthly
by Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen
2011

Sixteen-year-old Clara Gardner's purpose as an angel-blood begins to manifest itself, forcing her family to pull up stakes and move to Jackson, Wyoming, where she learns that danger and heartbreak come with her powers.


Unraveled
by Gena Showalter
Harlequin
2010

Since coming to Crossroads, Oklahoma, former outcast Aden Stone has been living the good life. Never mind that one of his best friends is a werewolf, his girlfriend is a vampire princess who hungers for his blood, and he's supposed to be crowned Vampire King--while still a human! Well, kind of. With four--oops, three now--human souls living inside his head, Aden has always been 'different' himself.



Do you know of any more?  Let me know in the comments and I'll add them.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jane Austen ornaments

Check it out! Fellow blogger and book lover Lisa Rabey of The Lisa Chronicles has started a new Etsy shop, Excessively Diverting, featuring Jane Austen inspired jewelry and sundries.

I'm intrigued by these Christmas ornaments, inspired by Austen's novels. Now you can buy the Austenite in your life the complete set. There's also an option to custom make your own ornament with any book you like (as long as it's in the public domain.) 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stork review

Stork
by Wendy delSol
Candlewick Press
2010

I just finished reading this wintry tale about Katla Leblanc, a totally urban L.A. girl suddenly forced to deal with her parent's divorce and subsequent move to her mother's small hometown in Minnesota,  bereft of creature comforts, including warm weather and Starbucks coffee. Worse yet, in Kat's opinion, is that her mother has taken up with a new boyfriend, Stanley, a kind yet bland "okely-dokely" Minnesota native, rather than trying to work things out with her always on-the-road cheating charmer of a husband.

The entire town shares her strong Norse heritage. Kat busies herself trying to fit in at her new school.  An unfortunate date with Wade, an abusive bully, means that she doesn't get off to the best start, but she recovers and makes a few new friends when she's recruited to write a fashion column at the school newspaper.  She also meets gruff but handsome Jack, the school newspaper editor.  Kat soon discovers that she has supernatural powers - she's
destined to join the Icelandic Stork Society, a group of crones who use their powers to decide where to place new souls entering the world, i.e. who should get pregnant.  This is a huge responsibility and Kat steps up to the challenge, taking her charge very seriously.  When a new soul, a shy baby girl who loves nature, makes itself known to her in a dream, Kat briefly toys with the idea of punishing Wade's girlfriend with a teen pregnancy.  Fortunately, Kat is able to make a very mature decision on where to place the baby.

There are plenty of helpful birds (a staple in Icelandic folklore) throughout the story; no trolls, though (unless we count creepy Wes.)  I was not expecting the secret that Kat and Jack share.  The way it was revealed, and the explanation that Kat suffered amnesia, yet no one told her about it, seemed like a huge retcon to me.  The ending too, wrapped things up very, very quickly.  I had been expecting a cliffhanger, with a sequel to follow, because there were so many threads left unresolved, but the last few chapters went by lightning quick with a number of surprising turns that resolved nearly everything.  This is a fantastic debut by author Wendy delSol.  I'll recommend Stork to teen readers who enjoy paranormal romance and/or fantasy.  There is a sequel planned for Fall of 2011, Frost, which should pick up the next adventures in Kat and Jack's story.




I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nanowrimo Report

Another year, another Nanowrimo!  How'd I do?  I wish I could count myself amongst the number who've completed the heroic feat, but sadly, "real life" got in the way.


I was doing quite well, ahead of the game, but then, moving house ended up completely derailing my plans for glory.  Packing... moving everything... and then unpacking... all of these things turned out to be quite a timesink.


Still!  I'm very glad I made the attempt.  I had fun doing it.  I got much further this year than years past, despite a terribly uninspiring set of "pep talk" letters this year, urging writers to "just quit," or "write fanfiction," or, "no, really, just quit," as well as plenty of Nano backlash.  I'm glad that I didn't give up, and kept on typing, right up 'til the bitter end.


I think the main thing that I took away from this whole enterprise this year was that writing a novel is hard.  To be perfectly honest, my very favorite part of Nano was writing up all of my blog entries in advance, so that my blog would keep plugging along, as I nano'ed.  Blogging is so gratifying.  I enjoy writing reviews, and discussing favorite (or not-so-favorite) titles with other book lovers. Something about walking a mile in someone else's shoes has certainly made me feel like going a bit easier on authors whose books I haven't loved and only deepens my appreciation for authors of novels I've read that I've adored and there's something really wonderful about that.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Georgia Book Award


Exciting news!  I have been hard at work on a seekrit project.  I've been chosen to be on the awards committee for the Georgia Book Award!  Myself and a panel of Georgia librarians and teachers will be reading dozens (and dozens) of picture books, winnowing it down to a "short list" of twenty titles that  schoolchildren across the state will read and vote on in the 2011-2012 school year.

Best of all, I'll be attending the
Georgia Annual Conference on Children's Literature, next March in Athens.  Guest speakers include some of my favorite children's and YA writers ever, Mary Downing Hahn, M.T. Anderson, Alma Flora Ada, Karen Beaumont, and Gail Gibbons.  What an incredible line-up.  I'm swooning a little, just thinking about it.  And now, it's back to the books -- my "to be read pile" (never a tiny thing, even in the best of times) has now grown to truly alarming proportions.  I'm excited to be looking at so many books that might otherwise have slipped me by - I know it's going to be pretty tough to make our final selections, as there are so many wonderful stories out there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ratfink review

Ratfink
2010

Fifth-grader Logan's new and all-consuming worry is that his friends will find out about his embarrassing grandfather. Logan is determined to keep his social circle and his grandfather (suffering from Alzheimer's and prone to random and bizarre outbursts, such as streaking the neighbors) as far away from each other as possible. That's an increasingly difficult task to undertake when his grandfather's deteriorating condition has just necessitated moving in with his family.

Meanwhile, at school Logan is bullied by bossy new girl Emily "the Snot" Scott, who wants to know what mysterious artifact Logan's best friend Malik is carrying around in his backpack. If Logan won't snoop for her, she threatens to publish photos of his grandfather running around in his boxers. I found Logan a bit hard to sympathize with at times, as his obsession with keeping his poor grandfather under wraps struck me as a bit self-centered and shallow. On the other hand, it was an honest portrayal of what a lot of popularity-obsessed middle-schoolers might actually feel in that situation. This is a perfect snapshot of that time in lots of boys lives, before girls are on their radar. It's clear that Emily is only an annoyance to Logan, nothing more. Logan struggles with his loyalties, but after plenty of build-up, finally decides not to betray Malik's trust. And we never do find out what is in Malik's backpack. Lame! I was very curious! Was it a stuffed toy that Malik would be embarrassed to be seen carrying? A weird science contraption that he's working on? Medical supplies for asthma, diabetes or the like? We'll never know!

Logan's parents briefly consider an assisted-living situation, something which Logan views with dread. In his grandfather's lucid moments, it's clear that Logan and his grandfather have a very warm relationship. His grandfather gives him sage advice about how to handle a few sticky situations at school, and manages to deliver the book's message about sticking up for yourself and ignoring the crowd when necessary without sounding too preachy or corny, a laudable feat. I wanted to see more moments like this -- where our protagonist is a bit less neurotic.

For such a well-drawn sketch of family life, I found the ending a bit unrealistic and a little too pat. Still, the issues of loyalty, friendship and family are well-explored and Bailey School Kids author Marcia Thornton Jones shows a more mature, well-rounded side in this middle-grade offering. I would recommend this to readers aged 8-12.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nightshade review

2010

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew that I had to get my hands on it. High-school student Calla lives in an isolated Colorado mountain community, with other hereditary werewolves such as herself. As daughter of the pack leader, she is considered an "alpha" among her peers. Her upcoming arranged marriage to Ren, son of one of the neighboring wolf clans is something that has been carefully planned for nearly all of her life. Together, they will start a brand-new pack, a very rare opportunity. As magical and otherworldly as all of this sounds, all of it is played out in a relatively normal high school. There are some human students, but the wolves and their liege lords, cruel wizards known as Keepers, mainly keep to their own cliques.

For a group of werewolves, these guys sure act a lot like vampires. They go to exclusive nightclubs, wear beautiful clothing, appear to live upper-middle class or better, they bare their fangs in human form when annoyed, they scorn most humans as being beneath them, and they even drink each other's blood when they need healing. I liked the fact that when the wolves change back and forth into their human forms, it is more magical than physiological, allowing them to work around the whole clothing issue. Their clothes remain a part of them, and changing back, they remain clothed in whatever they had on before.

Cremer plays with a lot of gender roles and expectations here. Calla is continually chided by her mother - she must look more feminine and enticing. But she mustn't do anything unladylike, either. Ren runs around like quite the man-whore, but only receives the lightest of warnings. Calla, on the other hand, is expected to enter their union totally pure, something which causes the members of her pack to keep her at arm's length.

Of course, in a world so focused on breeding future wolves, and selecting appropriate mates, it only goes to reason that the difficulties of being gay are exacerbated. Calla is shocked when she learns that her friend Mason has been hiding his relationship with Nev for quite some time. There is an additional storyline about Calla's younger brother, Ansel who has been crushing on his big sis's best friend Bryn for a long while.

This is a much spicier read than I am used to. It verges on romance novel territory. The only explanation that I could find for Calla's quick arousal at the touch of any guy is that she must be in heat! Ren came off as a gross jerk to me. He sleeps around, he's pushy and bossy, he insists on "re-naming" Calla, calling her "Lily" even after she tells him not to. Yet, every time Ren manhandles her, Calla swoons. It's clear that Calla prefers new guy, human Shay, but she just has a lot of difficulty putting aside the duty she feels she has to her family, especially as she's been planning on getting married to Ren for so long.  Not to mention, she's fearful of the undead wraiths the Keepers may sic on her if she doesn't comply with their plans for her union.  Curiously, a lot of the reviews I'm reading seem pretty split between the two guys, with some readers seeing Ren as the guy she "should" be with, and Shay as the random interloper.  Put me on Team Shay, for sure.  
I am already eagerly awaiting the sequel, Wolfsbane coming out next July.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mash-up

Happened to see these two books together like this at the foot of my nightstand and it kind of freaked me out!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cats' Night Out review

Cats' Night Out
2010

"In the city, windows light/How many cats will dance tonight?" As the sun goes down over the city, somber-eyed cats come out two-by-two to practice their dance steps. Each group of cats, appropriately attired in poodle skirts, red capes, pink tuxedoes, rhinestone boots and more, either boogie, tango, tap dance, foxtrot or conga on rooftops and through city alleyways, until finally, the neighbors call for some peace and quiet, "No more dancing on Easy Street!" The following page is punctuated by the startled cats now wide-eyed surprise, as they quietly slink away... at least, until the next night.

The digital illustrations are reminiscent of mixed-media watercolor and the brown, grey and muted tones capture the nighttime urban landscape perfectly. The cats, with their serious expressions as they sashay across the pages, are adorable. Truly eagle-eyed readers will spot hidden numbers woven into each picture, on signposts, above windows, carved on doorway lintels and the like. I found the "14" hardest to spot, but it is there. The rhyme is clever and infectious, keeping the story moving along nicely.  Cats' Night Out makes counting by twos incredibly fun and would make a fabulous bedtime read.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Harry Potter site

Bloomsbury has updated their Harry Potter website, and is offering a new edition of the entire Harry Potter series with new "Signature" covers.  I am enchanted, and seriously considering replacing my current mismatched set of HP's.  Gorgeous!  I am especially fond of the Dark Mark featured on the Goblet of Fire cover, but they all look terrific.  Check out the whole set on Bloomsbury's webpage.  They are beautiful, no?


The style looks a little bit retro, but reminds me somewhat of Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard illustrations, too (especially the glowing little stars).  The artist, Clare Melinsky says, "I was delighted and excited to be asked to illustrate the covers for such massively famous books—and seven of them! It was top secret for the best part of a year."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spirit Bound review

Spirit Bound
by Richelle Mead
Razorbill
2010

In this fifth installment of the Vampire Academy series, we catch up with Rose and Lissa, a few months after the end of Blood Promise when Rose failed in her attempt to save her former instructor (and secret boyfriend) Dimitri from being turned into a Strigoi, or evil vampire.

I was transfixed in a can't-look-away-from-a-trainwreck kind of way by all the havoc that Rose inflicts on herself. First thing she does when returning to St. Vladimir's Academy is to start dating Adrian. I felt like Rose needed a sassy gay friend to tell her, "Stop! What, what, what are you doing?" because a lot of her decisions made no sense. She's pining for Dimitri, so she decides to date a surly alcoholic jerk? She's like a bull in a china shop!  I was glad at least, when Adrian pressured her for unprotected sex, Rose had the good sense to turn him down, since she's definitely not ready for an unplanned baby.  She does let him bite her though, something she quickly comes to regret when she's left with embarrassing bite marks that she has to explain the next day.

Dimitri, in the meantime, hasn't given up on Rose. He's determined to hunt her down and turn her into one of his own kind. She's safe behind school wards for the moment, but graduation is very close, and she can't stay on campus forever.  Of course, Rose's stress increases when she realizes the graduation exam is being run by her mother, who has no intention of taking it easy on her estranged daughter.  Rose is also fearful of not getting a permanent assignment as her best friend Lissa's bodyguard (despite the obvious advantages of their unusual psychic link) and getting stuck with a desk job instead -- a possibility that looks more and more likely, the more people she manages to rub the wrong way in the royal court.


Lissa's character has always underwhelmed me... why is Rose so protective of her, other than the fact that she's been told to all her life?  But, in this book, Lissa finally steps up to the plate, using her much misunderstood Spirit powers to achieve a few miracles.

I'm mystified as to why the Moroi (the good vampires) seem content to sit around like cows for the slaughter. The Queen and her court refuse to use their magics defensively against Strigoi attacks, instead, using the dhampirs (half-vampires, like Rose) as meat-shields, even lowering the graduation age and using undertrained children when they need to beef up their security forces before they stoop to consider other options.

I'm itching to see Rose finally get over this whole, "dhampirs are second class citizens" thing. Be warned, Spirit Bound ends with a huge cliffhanger.  Now that Lissa's finally of age, she thinks that she's going to be able to vote on the Royal Council.  But, it turns out she actually needs a quorum (one other family member) in order to get her vote.  With the revelation that she may have an illegitimate half-sibling waiting to be found, the direction of the next book seems clear.  There's only one book left to go in the series (although, Mead is considering a spin-off series) so I might have to read Last Sacrifice when it comes out next month, just to see how it ends.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Desk of Books

Check out this fabulous carved wooden sculpture/functional desk by Luciano de Marchi of Italy.  It's designed to look like a stack of books.  Could be yours, for the cool asking price of 25 grand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Linger review

Linger
2010

I raced through this sequel to Shiver. The story continues with Grace enjoying her relationship with Sam, newly cured of his lycanthropy, while Grace's best friend Isabel still grieves over the recent death of her brother. Sam is struggling to deal with the permanence of his new situation, while still worrying over which of his wolf "family" will return to human form in the spring. In the meantime, a few of the new wolves that Sam's adoptive dad Beck recently created are having troubles. Recovering addict and famous rocker Cole is angry that his wolf change doesn't seem to be sticking... he'd been hoping to escape his human life by turning wolf. Cole's friend Victor, unwittingly turned wolf, seems to be having trouble staying in one form.

Sam is, in every way, the perfect boyfriend... sensitive, poetic, genuinely thoughtful, undemanding. There is some tension as he's been sneaking into Grace's bedroom every night, not for prurient reasons, but just to snuggle. It isn't explicitly said, but implied, that despite their attraction, their frequent kisses and and despite their absolute rightness for each other, Grace and Sam are probably still virgins. When Grace's parents discover him in their daughter's bed they react with feelings of hurt and rage. They promptly assume the worst and ban Sam from their household, letting Grace know in no uncertain terms how disappointed they are in her. In the meantime, Grace and Sam both feel strongly that they want to get married. I thought this was interesting, because it's plenty common for high school girls to fantasize about marrying their boyfriend... but I'm not sure if young men usually harbor those same thoughts.  Grace, predictably, feels embittered that her neglectful parents choose to get involved in her life at this late date.

I was a little surprised at how very desperate Grace, and to some extent, Sam, become during their enforced separation. With Grace's 18th birthday only a few months away, they have very little to lose by simply lying low and waiting a little while until they can be together, even without Grace's parents blessing. However, they both feel the pain of separation keenly, and unable to bear even a few days without him, Grace runs away to stay with Sam at Beck's place at the edge of the woods.


Linger adds the viewpoints of Cole and Isabel, who play counterpoint to Grace and Sam.  While it's clear that Grace and Sam are meant to be, together forever, soulmates; Cole and Isabel, on the other hand, have a purely animal attraction, lending a dangerous feel to most of their interactions.  Cole questions the whole premise that the change to wolf is caused by cold temperatures... he sees too many exceptions to the rule.

I will say that all the foreshadowing in the book in regards to Grace's exposure to a werewolf bite as a girl made the ending totally predictable, but surprisingly I didn't mind.  Even though I knew, pretty much from the second page, where the book was going, I still enjoyed the journey.  There is a cliffhanger, and I am very curious to see where Stiefvater will take us next.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Censorship

Banned Books week was last month, but I couldn't help sharing this hilarious video that I recently ran across entitled, "Protect Yourself... With Censorship!"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hereville review

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
2010

This wonderful middle-grade graphic novel covers the adventures of Mirka Herschberg, "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl." Mirka, a bit of an imaginative tomboy, doesn't feel that she fits in amongst her nine sisters. She's terrible at knitting and most household chores, and longs for adventure, preferably slaying dragons or the like. Sadly, her greatest enemy (besides a basketful of knitting, of course) is a local wild pig, fond of pushing her over on her hike through the woods to school.

One of the things that really struck me about this book was the seamless blend of ordinary life and the fantastical. Mirka lives in a world where she knows trolls, witches and dragons must exist... yet, her warm and loving family and the ordinary daily tribulations she must handle at school are so expertly drawn, you nearly wonder if she's only imagined the fantasy elements. When Mirka approaches her stepmother with her worries that her mother may be a dybbuk (a restless, wandering spirit) her stepmother reassures her, "I live in the family your mother made, surrounded by her children and under her roof, I think I'd know it if she were still here." Unobtrusive footnotes for many of the Yiddish phrases were most welcome.


After meeting a mysterious woman in the woods (she must be a witch, Mirka decides) she manages to get directions to a hidden (magical?) sword. The adventure is on! Armed only with the knowledge that the sword is guarded by a troll, and that trolls are often easily outwitted, she sneaks out prepared to do battle. When she goes to challenge the troll (brilliantly rendered as an odd cross between a grumpy middle-aged man and a gigantic spider) the last thing that she is expecting is for him to threaten to have her for dinner, unless she can knit a beautiful sweater that very evening. It's a knit-off, as Mirka and the troll furiously clack knitting needles to see who will be victorious.

Deutsch really plays with the graphic novel format, breaking up the panels in many different ways, lending a lot of visual interest and an easy flow to the story. This book is worth a read, and then a re-read to pick up all of the tiny little details hidden in the illustrations.  I highly recommend it.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bink and Gollie review

Bink and Gollie
2010

From the first page, when I saw the amazing treehouse that the girls live in, I wanted to move right in. Check out that fabulous deck! With a telescope!

Two best friends, each very different, star in this collection of expertly written stories. Sparing use of color lends emphasis and draws the eye throughout the highly illustrated text. Tall, well-groomed Gollie plays a sort of Felix Unger to Bink's exuberant, irrepressible Oscar as they make their way around town. Much like Nate the Great, Gollie seems to have a craving for pancakes, while Bink's stout frame could be attributed to the numerous peanut butter sandwiches she always seems to be fixing for herself. Three little mini-adventures are included in the book. The two girls go roller-skating and end up shopping at a sock bonanza, Gollie goes adventuring in the Andes (sort of) and Bink purchases a goldfish to be her marvelous companion. When Bink makes the ill-advised move of taking her goldfish Fred out roller-skating, disaster ensues. Although Gollie has never been fond of Fred, she leaps into action, saving the day by relocating Fred to a nearby pond.

I must admit, I did feel a little pang of worry about that frozen fish in the pond on the final page. Bink and Gollie seem pleased though - they're confidently skating along, smiling, perhaps secure in the knowledge that the fish will thaw out in the spring? I think a lot of really great children's literature does that though... leaves you wondering and worrying about some small detail.

Bink and Gollie is a little tough to categorize. I nearly want to put in alongside beginning reader books like James Marshall's George and Martha, or Lobel's Frog and Toad, but the difficulty of some of the vocabulary would seem to preclude that. The small trim size has me leaning against saying this is a picture book, although, if it had been in a larger format, I might not have thought twice about putting it there. What decides me? Is this a book best enjoyed read-aloud or read to oneself? Ultimately, I have to say, despite the brevity of the text, and generousness of the illustrations, this appears to be a light, refreshing sorbet of an early chapter book.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bookshelf Organization Challenge

A friend of mine recently challenged me to illustrate how my bookshelves are organized, using only MS Paint. While I don't have that particular program, I did mock something up using photobucket.

After losing a great deal of my book collection in a flood last year, I've made a concerted effort to thin out my books -- keeping only the ones that are most precious to me. If I'd done that in the first place, then I wouldn't have needed to put books in storage, where they flooded!  And now, I've got everything narrowed down to one bookshelf! (Avert your eyes from the towering stacks near my bedstand, ahem.) I've got it organized thusly:




After working all day in a library, the last thing I want to do is organize books alphabetically by author, or anything like that. They are arranged pretty willy-nilly, and somewhat by size. The "books to be read shelf" is mostly YA ARCs and a few picturebooks.

How about you? I'd love to see how others are keeping their bookshelves organized. Want to play along? Post a picture on your blog, drawn in MS Paint, GIMP or something similar (the simpler the better) of your layout.  Leave a comment and I'll link to your post!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Matched review

Matched
by Ally Condie
Dutton
November 2010

I snagged a copy of this at ALA Annual. It's a book that I've been looking forward to for a while. The only bad thing about it is that it doesn't come out until November, so if you haven't gotten an advance copy yet, then you still have a little while to wait.

The inhabitants of this world would probably tell you that they are living in a utopia, but if so, it's certainly not a place where I would want to live.  There is no hunger, no disease, no uncertainty. Citizens live in perfect comfort, they are matched with their ideal mates, receive work assignments, start their families and live happily until their eightieth birthday.

As much as everyone seems comfortable with this arrangement, there are little clues that all is not perfect in paradise. Families are fearful of how any little action (stopping to talk to someone on the train, being a few minutes late to work, having to deal with a child's temper tantrum) might look to officials. People talk about how there used to be more "free hours" assigned. Even now, some of the recreational activities are thinly disguised efforts at getting more work out of the citizenry. Everyone carries three tablets with them at all times: a blue nutritional supplement, a green tablet to relieve stress if necessary, and a red tablet only to be taken at the direction of an Official. Sounds ominous, no?

Cassia is pleased beyond measure when she is matched for an arranged marriage with her childhood friend, Xander.  She is dumbfounded when for a brief moment, her screen flashes to another possibility -- Ky Markham, a bit of an outsider at her school.  The officials assure her that it was just a mistake, but now that the seed of doubt has been planted, she can't help but wonder... might Ky be a better match for her?


I was a little surprised at how slow Cassia is on the uptake with certain things.  It takes her a long, long while to cotton on to the fact that the elders are being poisoned.  It's not just a coincidence that everyone passes away exactly on their eightieth birthday.


There is a bit of twist at the ending that I didn't quite expect.  Although it doesn't have a head-scratcher of an ending, there are a few important questions unanswered and unresolved.  Easier to read, with more romance, this is an approachable, enjoyable alternative to Lois Lowry's The Giver.




I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Dominoes video

So nifty!  I'm sure they did this all in more than one take, but it's really cool to see, nonetheless.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Very Best Pumpkin review

The Very Best Pumpkin
2010

This is a sweet, simple tale of a boy named Peter who spends the year carefully tending a runt of a pumpkin, until, by fall, his efforts are rewarded with a beautiful specimen of pumpkin. He generously gives the pumpkin as a gift to the shy girl next door, Meg, an act which seals their friendship.  I enjoyed the illustration of her, hiding behind a book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The ink and watercolor art is aged with coffee stains, and the deliberate curlicues throughout lend a country-kitchen feel to this feel-good fall story. The art reminded me very strongly of Mary Englebreit with just a touch of Tomie DePaola. Full-color spreads are occasionally punctuated with illustrated borders featuring ladybugs, roses, bees and oak leaves.

There is an addendum in the back, with advice for growing your own pumpkin. Families who are looking for a seasonally appropriate, yet totally not-at-all-scary story for Halloween will be very pleased with this offering.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fire review

Fire
by Kristin Cashore
Dial Books
2009

I hadn't picked this one up right away, because I heard that Katsa, the star of Graceling, was not in it... and I loved Katsa so much, I couldn't picture the Seven Kingdoms without her. What a mistake! This was a fabulous book, and almost more of a companion novel, rather than a true prequel. On the other side of the mountains, completely cut off from the Gracelings, we get a glimpse of a parallel world. To be honest, it nearly could have been a different series altogether if it weren't for the brief inclusion of creepy Leck, who possesses the "Grace" of mind-control.

The titular character of this novel, Fire, grew up in an isolated mountain retreat with her best friend and sometime lover Archer and foster father Lord Brocker. In this world, technicolored super-versions of every species are referred to as "monsters."  Fire is a human monster, with telepathic powers. She can influence others thoughts, read minds, and communicate through telepathy. Her mere presence is usually enough to provoke strong feelings in other humans and in the monster-creatures around her.  Fire's father Cansrel was the advisor of King Nax, who led the kingdom into ruin with his penchant for drugs and parties. Cansrel was an exceptionally cruel person who delighted in torturing others, and reveled in the stupefying effect he had on ordinary humans. Fire wants, more than anything, to be different than him.

Prince Brigan approaches Fire to ask for her help with a delicate political situation in the capitol, which she initially refuses to do, until his thoughtfulness and kindness finally win her over.  He is less susceptible to her magical aura, and provides her with a group of female bodyguards to escort her.  At the climax of the story, Fire stretches her mental powers to the utmost, by keeping track of an entire castle-full of occupants during an evening of espionage at a state dinner and carefully nudging players to be in the right place, at the right time.

I wondered whether most teens would be interested in reading about Fire's intense conflicts on whether it would be right for her to have children, and her ultimate decision not to have children, not wanting to create more "monsters" like herself.  This was a powerful and engaging story, however.  The writing is lyrical and vibrant and the world-building is incredible.  Many of the themes verge on the adult, including patricide, making this a more appropriate choice for older teens.





I borrowed this book from the library.

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