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

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

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

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

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. 
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.

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.

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. 
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.

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.

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.

by Julia Karr
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
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

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

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.

by Lauren Oliver
Harper Collins

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.

by Cynthia Hand

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.

by Gena Showalter

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

by Wendy delSol
Candlewick Press

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.


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