Monday, January 31, 2011

Read in January

This month I read the following books:

1 Sisters Red
- Jackson Pearce
2 Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace - Gordon MacKenzie
3 The Cardturner - Louis Sachar
4 Jane - April Lindner
5 Penny Dreadful - Laurel Snyder
6 Insatiable - Meg Cabot
7 Ghostopolis - Doug TenNapel
8 Dead in the Family - Charlaine Harris
9 Sister Wife - Shelley Hrdlitschka
10 The Strange Case of Origami Yoda - Tom Angleberger
11 The Vespertine - Saundra Mitchell
12 Avalon High - Meg Cabot
13 Inside Out - Maria V. Snyder
14 The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling - Maryrose Wood
15 Lucky - Rachel Vail
16 The Boy from Ilysies - Pearl North
17 Paranormalcy - Kiersten White
18 Doctor Horrible and Other Horrible Stories - Zack Whedon
19 Last Sacrifice - Richelle Mead
20 Fantasy: An Artist's Realm - Ben Boos
21 The Star Maker - Laurence Yep
22 Burned - Ellen Hopkins
23 Hourglass - Claudia Gray
24 Dirty Little Secrets - C.J. Omololu 

credit: The New Novel by Winslow Homer

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Everything I Was review

Everything I Was
by Corinne Demas
Carolrhoda Books
April 2011

Irene is thrown for a loop when her father loses his high-paying job and, unable to keep up with their fast-paced Manhattan lifestyle, her family is forced to sell their penthouse and move up north to stay with her paternal grandfather for the summer at his farm in up-state New York.

I was surprised when I started reading this to find that the main character is only thirteen.  The girl on the cover looks like she's seventeen, going on twenty-five.  The fact that the protagonist is so young makes this a very different kind of story than what I had expected. Irene's not worried about how to pay for college, and while dropping out of her private school, and losing their Manhattan penthouse is upsetting, she's comforted by the opportunity to spend the summer on her beloved grandfather's farm, closer to nature.  Irene has a schoolgirl crush on one of her teachers, but easily transfers her affections to Jim, one of the kids living down the street and the older brother of her new best friend, Meg.

The real
villain of the story, I thought, was Irene's mother Andie, whose idea of "economizing" means ordering daisy floral arrangements instead of more expensive blooms, cutting back on going to the hairdresser a little bit and only buying one new pair of shoes a week.  I was horrified by the way Andie childishly breezes through her husband's money, even after he's been laid off.  Unfortunately, the mother never really grows or changes, unlike her daughter, who finds this to be a very formative summer.  Irene gets the opportunity to reconnect with her older half-sister Jenna in Wyoming, enjoys making friends with the relaxed and playful Fox family down the street from her grandfather, and is happy to see her grandfather get a new chance at happiness with Lucia, a widow who runs the local gardening shop.  There are a few moments of tension: will Irene's grandfather sell his land in order to finance a grand return to New York for Irene's family?  Is Lucia responsible for a hit-and-run car accident?  Everything is satisfactorily resolved by the book's end, however.  I had assumed the story was set in present day, but a reference to Bonwit Teller, a department store that closed in the late 80's, suggests that it might be historical fiction. This book is marketed as YA, but it has the feel and cadence of a middle-grade novel.   I'll recommend this to readers aged 9-14.

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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I Don't Want a Cool Cat review

I Don't Want a Cool Cat!
August 2010

In this British import, a little girl enumerates all the kinds of cats that simply will not do for her. "I don't want a cool cat. A treat-me-like-a-fool cat." I loved the expressive cats featured on every page. The grey Himalayan "huffy, over-fluffy" cat stares dourly back at the reader. The greedy cat struggles in vain to push his considerable girth through the cat flap on the door, as the girl determinedly marches forth, can-opener and bowl of food in hand. The marble bengal prize cat pauses to catch her reflection in one of her many trophy cups and smiles back at herself. The big cat (an enormous tiger that takes up the entire page) is followed by a too small, hairless cat, and here, the illustrator has the cat and girl in the lower quarter of a two-page spread, surrounded by empty space, emphasizing the "too smallness" of this cat. The sweet little friendly kitten that the girl finally chooses at the end of the story, who she joyfully calls "my own cat" does appear to be just about perfect. The endpages features a repeating motif of red balls of yarn. Easily rhyming, steadily paced text paired with oversize bold-lined illustrations make this book a natural for sharing at storytimes. Dog-lovers should check out the accompanying book, I Don't Want a Posh Dog.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beautiful Creatures review

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown Books
December 2009

Hurrah! A supernatural YA romance with a male lead!  I really enjoyed the unique perspective on this one. The writing in this book was beautiful, Gothic and very atmospheric.  I was in complete suspense and kept expecting vampires to show up, and was a little pleased that ultimately, there didn't seem to be any (although supernatural creatures of other sorts definitely abound.)

Ethan Wate,
who can't wait to get out of the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina that he feels trapped in, is a very relatable character. When Lena Duchannes, a girl who's been haunting his dreams, shows up as a transfer student at his high school, he's mesmerized by her.  As their relationship progresses, Lena remains a mystery.  She's counting down the days, and seems to be pretty depressed about it, but as to what it is she's expecting when the clock runs down, the reader doesn't find out until the very end.  Ethan is very tentative and unsure of himself as he reaches out to Lena, which I thought was very believable and sweet.

Garcia and Stohl c
apture perfectly the intensity of the characters' first romance. The cast of gossipy and petty small-town characters serve to further isolate the two from everyone else, making them that much closer. Lena is staying with her uncle Macon, a wealthy town eccentric who lives in a grand estate up the hill.  I enjoyed the study in contrasts - when Ethan gets the rare chance to see the inside of Macon's decrepit mansion, he's shocked to find that on the inside, it's decorated in a clean, bright, IKEA catalog fashion. While he is quick to attribute many of the odd things he sees to rational explanations, ever so slowly, Ethan is finally able to puzzle out what is happening and it's on a far grander scale than he could have imagined. Shapeshifters, magic spells, ancient curses, a race of people known as "Casters" with supernatural powers used either for good or for evil, a secret underground  supernatural library... for readers who are willing to hang in there for the long, slow set-up, the ending of this book is a proverbial grand fireworks finale, with a huge showdown between good and evil.

received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Culling the TBR 2011

About once a year, I like to sit down and weed my "To Be Read" list, a sad task, but a necessary one. I've got a lot less that I'm eliminating from the list this year, mainly because I did get the chance to read a lot of things that I was after! I even went back and read a few books from last year's culled list: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau Banks by E. Lockhart, and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. So, taking them off my TBR doesn't doom them to "unread" status forever... it just seriously lessens the chances that I'll get to it.
So, with no further ado, here's how I'll be narrowing down my TBR this year:

by Kelly Armstrong

I read the first book in the Darkest Powers series, and didn't care for it as much as I had hoped, so this is an easy one to strike off the list.

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows 
by Ann Brashares 
Delacorte Books for Young Readers  

I've been meaning to read this book forever, and simply haven't gotten to it. I've even checked it out from the library... twice! I think it's time to be honest with myself and admit that even though I loved Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I don't think I'll be able to find the time to tackle it.

Born to Fly
by Michael Ferrari
Delacorte Books for Young Readers 

How did this one end up on my list in the first place? I couldn't even remember what this one was about. Off it goes.

Death by Latte 
by Linda Gerber 

Here's another one that must have caught my interest at some brief moment, but I now feel confident about crossing off the list.

Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings 
by Alan Gratz 
Penguin Young Readers Group 

I think I put this on my TBR when I was having a moment of thinking I hadn't read enough sports stories to recommend to folks. I feel a little guilty taking this one off the list, especially as there's a chance I might run into Alan Gratz at a booksigning one day. And it is an interesting sounding premise -- about nine generations of baseball players. Still. One can't read everything, as much as one might wish to!

by Will Hobbs 

I'd been meaning to take a look at this one, as it had kicked up a controversy in the blogosphere for it's treatment of Native Americans a while back... but I didn't get to it. Off the list it goes!

Loving Frank 
by Nancy Horan 
Ballantine Books 

I don't have a lot of time for reading adult fiction, what with all the great YA and middle-grade titles out there, so I am pretty choosy about which books I read to "take a break" from kidlit. I started reading this one, but couldn't get into it. I've been determined to get back to it for ages now... but I think I'll feel better if I let this one go.

How to Ditch Your Fairy 
by Justine Larbalestier 
Bloomsbury USA 

I started to read this and put it down... it just didn't captivate me as much as I'd hoped. We'll just have to call this one a DNF.

by Robin McKinley 
Putnam Juvenile 

I love Robin McKinley! I feel a little bad about eliminating this one.

The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear 
by Walter Moers 

I loved the wildly inventive City of Dreaming Books, and so, put everything Moers had ever written on my TBR, but I guess it's time to admit that I'm not ever going to get around to reading this book.

The Girl Who Owned a City
by O.T. Nelson
Laurel Leaf

I've heard that this one is the Mother of All Dystopian YA. But, it's been on my TBR list for far, far too long, and so, it has to go.

Five Children and It 
by E. Nesbit 

This book is supposed to be such a magical classic, but the scary creature on the cover has always warned me off.

I Don't Know How She Does It 
by Allison Pearson 

Again, I don't have much room in my schedule for adult fiction.

The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart

I've had friends hounding me to read this classic over the years, and I loved The Mists of Avalon. But, ultimately, this has been sitting on my TBR for - yes, an astounding, 10 years at least. I think I'll have to take a pass on this series.

Book of Shadows 
by Cate Tiernan 

I've heard amazing things about the Sweep series, but in the last several years, I simply haven't gotten to it. I might as well start fresh with Tiernan's new series, Immortal Beloved.

by Jessica Warman
Walker Books for Young Readers

Here's another title that intrigued me when it first came out, but I know that I won't have time to read now.

And that's it! Only 16 titles eliminated... and my TBR still hovers at around 50 books or so. But, this feels good, very cathartic!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ernest the Moose Who Doesn't Fit review

When I first saw the title of this British import, I assumed it was about a moose who needed help fitting in, a book about social acceptance.  And in many ways it is, but it's actually a lot more literal than that.  This is a normal sized picture book, but it is entirely too small for Ernest, who is a lot of moose to fit into one book. Graph paper background and oversized print surround Ernest and his small chipmunk friend.  On each double-page spread, Ernest woefully tries to shimmy into the book, always with various portions of his body cropped out.  The illustrations consist of fingerpainterly ink and paper collage.

Their unusual solution is to "tape" together spare scraps of "paper" to create a large gatefold page at the end, where Ernest triumphiantly squeezes his whole body in. The way this book played with the idea of "bookness" and the way it broke the fourth wall and directly addressed the reader at times put me in mind of The Monster at the End of this Book, but it also reminded me of Art Spiegelman's Open Me, I'm a Dog, as well as The Book that Eats People by John Perry and Mark Fearing.

When I was young, I loved books that ended with a fold-out page, they seemed so exotic and fun.  What a treat!  I know this will be popular with kids for that reason.  As a librarian, I worry that the die-cut fold-out page at the end won't hold up well to heavy use... but I'll buy it anyway, because I know it will circulate.  Share this with preschoolers and kindergarteners who are just beginning to really appreciate books.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cover Twins

I couldn't help but notice that that cover for HarperCollin's upcoming anthology Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories looked awfully familiar. It's the same picture from the cover of Boy Proof! And then, I wondered if this might be the same model from the cover of The Declaration.

Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories
edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
June 2011

Boy Proof
by Cecil Castalucci

February 2005

Meet Egg. Her real name is Victoria Jurgen, but she's renamed herself after the kick-ass
heroine of her favorite sci-fi movie, TERMINAL EARTH. Like her namesake, Egg dresses
all in white, colors her eyebrows, and shaves her head. She always knows the right answers, she's always in control, and she's far too busy — taking photos for the school paper, meeting with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club, and hanging out at the "creature shop" with her dad, the special-effects makeup wizard — to be bothered with friends, much less members of the opposite sex. As far as Egg is concerned, she's boy proof, and she likes it that way. But then Egg meets a boy named Max, a boy who's smart and funny and creative and cool . . . and happens to like Egg. Could this be the end of the world — at least as Egg knows it? -from Goodreads

The Declaration
by Gemma Malley
October 2007

It's the year 2140 and Longevity drugs have all but eradicated old age. A never-aging society can't sustain population growth, however…which means Anna should never have been born. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of boys and girls whose parents chose to have kids—called surpluses—despite a law forbidding them from doing so. These children are raised as servants, and brought up to believe they must atone for their very existence. Then one day a boy named Peter appears at the Hall, bringing with him news of the world outside, a place where people are starting to say that Longevity is bad, and that maybe people shouldn't live forever. Peter begs Anna to escape with him, but Anna's not sure who to trust: the strange new boy whose version of life sounds like a dangerous fairy tale, or the familiar walls of Grange Hall and the head mistress who has controlled her every waking thought?
Chilling, poignant, and endlessly though-provoking, The Declaration is a powerful debut that will have readers agonizing over Anna's fate until the very last page. -from Goodreads

Monday, January 24, 2011

Author names

I've been on a Meg Cabot kick recently, when one of my colleagues overheard me saying this, she corrected my pronunciation of the author's name. I had been saying it with a "silent T," Meg Cabot, to rhyme with... Bordeaux, I guess.  It turns out that it's actually Meg Cabot, to rhyme with habit. I confirmed the pronunciation by double-checking with one of my favorite sites ever, The Author Name Pronunciation Guide put together by  I must get in the "habit" of saying, "Meg CaboT"

Checkout the
site, if you haven't already... it's a fantastic collection of audio clips of authors explaining how to pronounce their own names.  Now you'll never have to stumble over the names of Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka or  Susan Patron (hint: it's not like library patron) again.

Bloggiesta Wrap-up

I got to a rarin' start this go around for Bloggiesta. While getting warmed up for it, I've been taking part in the Comments Challenge hosted by MotherReader and Lee Wind.  Ah, how I wish every month was Comments Challenge... I've had so many interesting folks stop by my blog, and I've discovered and reconnected with so many great people!

I had
been planning to completely redesign my blog this weekend... but a night of insomnia a couple of weeks ago, meant that I got that done much sooner than I'd planned. I like it! It's still a template, but a customized one, and similar enough to the way things looked before that I'm very happy with it. I was able to do a few things like make the text portion wider (blogs with a verrrry skinny space for posts, surrounded by a million ads, buttons, gadgets and widgets on either side are a total pet peeve of mine.)

Here's what
I got accomplished this weekend:

  • I finally got around to correcting a minor glitch - now redirects to, which simply means that readers won't get an error message anymore if they forget to type in the www. It wasn't that hard to do... once I spent a few hours figuring out how to get to the right "edit" screen. :\
  • I corrected some typos... quite a few of tiny things that had escaped my notice before.  I hate typos, so stamping out a few of them was very satisfying indeed.
  • I cleaned up some labels. I had a number of "orphan labels" where I only had one entry that applied. I consolidated quite a lot of those.  Goodbye, "librarians" label.
  • I added additional labels to a ton of posts that needed them.
  • Speaking of labels: I corrected something that has been bugging me for a while "newbery," "caldecott," and "printz" are now all capitalized.  Hurrah!
  • I had my blog analyzed by Website Grader - something from a past mini-challenge.  Really neat.  Apparently my blog has too many images? Interesting - I always feel like I don't have enough.
  • Updated my blog roll.  Removed a few blogs, added a few blogs. I like to mix it up.
  • As I mentioned earlier... I've been taking part in the Comments Challenge. I decided to step up my game and go for 10 comments a day, not just 5.
  • I'm still kind of stunned -- I can't believe I did it. I've got blog posts for the rest of January and most of February written and scheduled! Phew!
  • Best of all! I finally got my official review policy all polished up and posted! Check it out! I'm so happy with it.
I didn't keep track of how many hours I spend working my blog this weekend, but I can tell you this: "sleep" has consisted of 4-hour naps between midnight and 4:00 am, and I am thoroughly tuckered out!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pete the Cat review

Pete the Cat
by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean
March 2010

As a storyteller, I'm always on the lookout for new books or stories to add to my repertoire of established favorites. When you find a picture book that really clicks, it's such a wonderful feeling. How Chipmunk Got His Stripes by Joseph Bruchac, and Beverly Billingsly Borrows a Book by Alexander Stadler are two of my standbys. Even better is when I run across that rarest of finds: a book that leaves me feeling like I could sing. (I am deliriously unmusical.) Let's Play in the Forest While the Wolf is Not Around by Claudia Rueda has been one of my favorites for several years.

With Pete the Cat, Litwin and Dean have achieved children's librarian nirvana. This is, literally, a perfect book, for reading and singing aloud. Large, bright colored illustrations which are easy to see from across the room, a catchy tune that kids will quickly pick up and sing along with, an introduction to colors paired with a cheerful, optimistic message and a sense of humor. This book has it all. I'm buying multiple copies and hoarding them against the day that this wonderful gem ever goes out of print. I could go on, but I think the following video with the author and illustrator singing demonstrates exactly how magical this book really is.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Debut Authors Challenge 2011

I'm excited to try The Story Siren's Debut Authors Challenge. I figured I'd like to mix it up, and make sure I'm reading plenty of new authors in the upcoming year.  I've already read a couple of 2011 titles that I thought were debuts, but after some digging around, turns out they are not! One is from an author who has published in other genres, another is from an author who's been long absent from the publishing scene and is just now returning. (I know, that under the "official rules" being published in other genres still counts, but I am trying to read true debuts, here.)

I'd expected to kind of float along, and tally-up how many debuts I read this year, but then I figured, why not take a look at the official list and make sure I'm getting to authors who are truly new, not just new to me.  Happily, I'm finding that completing this challenge should be absurdly easy, as there are so many novels that have caught my interest which I am eager to read and review this year.  Good gosh, I could probably fill the requirements of this challenge with books released in January 

I know all of the following titles are high on my list of items "To Be Read":

1 Unearthly by Cynthia Hand 
Harper Teen January 2011
2 The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson January 2011
3 XVI by Julia Karr Speak January 2011
4 The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal Egmont USA January 2011
5 Across the Universe by Beth Revis Razorbill January 2011
6 The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wang-Long Shang Scholastic January 2011
7 Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton Katherine Tegan Books February 2011
8 The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney Flux February 2011 
9 Wither by Lauren deStefano Greenwillow March 2011
10 The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder Graphia April 2011
11 Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky Houghton Mifflin Books for Children May 2011
12 Lost Voices by Sarah Porter Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens July 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bloggiesta Winter 2011

It's on! A full weekend of blogging madness, and it's not too late to sign-up over at Maw Books. I talked a little about my goals for this season of Bloggiesta, last month, when the dates were first announced.

You can think of Bloggiesta as a self-improvement weekend retreat for your blog. Take time to do some catch-up reading, write some reviews for a rainy day, take part in challenges and tutorials. Basically, re-tool and improve your blog!

I don't imagine that I'll keep careful track of the hours spent, but do keep an eye out for my summary post at the end of the weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The DUFF review

The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
by Kody Keplinger
September 2010

Kiplinger makes a tremendous debut with this smartly written, fast-paced, realistic fiction novel about a girl with self-esteem issues. I have to admit, I was eager to pick up this book as soon as I heard about it. And, I may as well say it now, I find it difficult to talk about this book without discussing some major plot points, especially towards the end. So, consider yourselves warned - spoilers ahead! 

Seventeen year old Bianca Piper is friends with some of the prettiest girls in school, and she knows she doesn't measure up, looks-wise to her two best friends. When high school bad boy Wesley Rush saddles her with the unfortunate nickname, "DUFF" an acronym for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend" (implying that her friends only hang out with her because she makes them look good in comparison) that is really the last straw.

Despite all of the arguments and insults batted back and forth between each other, Bianca and Wesley have a sexual tension that fairly crackles off the page, and Bianca impulsively decides to enter into a secret "friends with benefits" arrangement with him. As Bianca's homelife begins to unravel - her always absent mother finally decides to file for divorce, driving her father to a complete meltdown and drinking binge - she begins to rely on these "stress-relief" sessions with her frenemy Wesley more and more.

Bianca's maze of feelings are intense. She's addicted to the hot chemistry that she and Wesley share, but she's battling pent-up rage from Wesley's constant casually hurtful comments, and as is typical in these kinds of "no-strings attached" situations, she starts to develop stronger feelings for Wesley. She is mortified that even though he seems happy enough to share her bed on those occasions they can slip away from their parents, she doesn't think he'd ever openly date her.

While I don't want to spoil the ending of the book, what I found fascinating was Wesley's reaction to all of this. Gradually, he finds himself really falling for Bianca. The fact that it's so easy for them to hook up, and yet, she remains so emotionally distant, captivates him and he finds himself challenged to get Bianca to truly open up. This is a compelling and very honest story about high school relationships. The mature themes and frank sexual situations make this appropriate for older teen readers.

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Most Anticipated Books for Spring 2011: YA Edition

by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster
March 2011

Short lifespans and polygamous marriages are featured in this dystopian tale. I love the cover. I am so excited to read this book, I don't think I can adequately put it into words. My only fear is that it won't possibly be able to live up to all my expectations for it. Still, I'm hearing very good buzz about this one.

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed
by Catherine Reef
Clarion Books
April 2011

At last, a biography of Jane Austen for young readers. I like the silhouette on the cover. I've been on a "Jane Austen" spin-off kick lately, so I'd love to immerse myself in the story of her life.

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair
by Elizabeth Laird
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 2011

Maggie Blair must escape accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth century Scotland.

Puppet Play: 20 Puppet Projects Made with Recycled Mittens, Towels, Socks, and More
by Diana Schoenbrun
Andrews McMeel Publishing
April 2011

Recycled crafts are always fun. This looks like an entertaining offering.

Everything I Was
by Corinne Demas
Lerner Publishing Group
April 2011

After her dad's layoff Irene's family has to adjust to greatly reduced living circumstances. I love the cover -- Irene isn't keeping her nose above water, that's for sure.

by Katie Kacvinsky
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
May 2011

Sounds like a thinly-veiled allegory about balancing on-line and face-to-face time. Still, could be very interesting!

by Jennifer Bradbury
May 2011

Suspense, adventure, romance in the British Empire and Egypt.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Cardturner review

The Cardturner
by Louis Sachar
May 2010

I was lucky enough to hear Louis Sachar speak at the 2008 Children's Literature Council Fall Gala in California (where a marvelous breakfast was served) and I'll never forgot how he told us of his latest project. "I want," he declared, "to publish a book." He paused dramatically. "For teens." He gave us a sly look. "On how to play bridge!" He then related how his agent had promptly told him, "This will never get published. Teens don't want to read about the card game of bridge. They just don't." Sachar went on to tell us of his near-epic struggle to write the book. How his own personal passion for bridge sometimes clouded his vision. The many re-writes that he went though. His final compromise: a whale symbol for those "bridge-heavy" scenes that, in truth, could be skipped by the reader if necessary. Sachar spoke with such passion and excitement about this project, it was hard not to get swept up in his enthusiasm. For me, seeing The Cardturner finally in print, it felt like there should be an orchestral swell of inspirational music. And in a way, I suppose it is a miracle that it was published at all. So, I was pretty excited to take a look at this impossible book - the little book that could, as it were. I wish I could say that this book was a triumph against all odds, but for me at least, just like that game of bridge I played once, this novel left me out in the cold.

I've only played bridge once in my life, and never really did figure out the rules. We were dealt cards... and after some checking around it was decided that I was "the dummy." The role of the dummy was, as far as I could tell, to put their cards down and not play that round. This happened to me round, after round, after round. I asked if this was because I was new to the game, but everyone assured me it was just a coincidence. Whenever I tried to strike up a conversation with the other players, I was immediately shushed, as they intensely moved cards around in a labyrinthian and mysterious fashion. The game was not only boring, it was incredibly lonely.

Diving into The Cardturner, I found the breaking of the fourth-wall a little distracting at first, especially when Alton introduces himself. He says that his name is unusual and I couldn't help but think of the famous scientist and cook Alton Brown. He's been roped into helping his ailing, wealthy uncle Lester Trapp at his local bridge games. Reluctant at first, he quickly becomes entranced by the game, and grows more and more loyal to his quirky uncle, whom his parents are hoping to milk for his inheritance.

Even with the "whale" symbol during some of the "bridge-intensive" portions, I still found myself zoning out. I'm sorry, but even the portions of the book that weren't "whaled" still had way, way too much bridge. The electronic footnotes in my e-book facilitated easy switching back and forth from the story and in-depth information from the addendum on the game of bridge, but it still wasn't enough to keep me up to speed.

There were some bright moments, however. I liked Alton's description of the bridge group that starts, "You know what? I'm not going to describe anybody else as elderly. Let's just say that if you take my age and double it, I would still have been the youngest person in the room, by a lot."

I was horrified by Alton's freakishly bloodthirsty parents. The father literally rubs his hands, vulture-like, at the thought of rich Uncle Lester's impending death. Alton's mother's greatest fear is that Lester will leave them out of the will, or be hoodwinked by some young, good-looking woman in his final days, leaving his fortune to someone outside the family. This is played for humor, but it still seemed quite selfish and revolting. If this had been handled with a bit more pathos, perhaps I wouldn't have found it so off-putting.

Stripping away the bridge from the narrative (which, believe me, is A LOT), we're left with the story of a very dysfunctional family. Alton and his younger sister Leslie (named after Uncle Lester) are both such sweet kids, you wonder how on earth their status and money obsessed, middle-class straggler parents managed to raise them. Alton's best friend Cliff... well, let's just say with friends like that, who needs enemies? Cliff has recently stolen Alton's girlfriend Katie, and seems to be making moves on Toni. I was confused by Alton's crush on Toni, Trapp's former cardturner. Is she not Alton's distant cousin? The book seems to be ricocheting towards an exciting conclusion, and then fizzles out with another very lengthy explanation of some of the final bridge moves employed.

Can I recommend this book? I just don't know. The characters, especially Alton, are compelling. The mystery of how and why certain family members have become estranged also greatly drew my interest. The bridge portions, unfortunately, were mind-numbingly boring, at best. But, if there is even one teen out there who's been turned on to the obscure card game, then I suppose, for Sachar at least, it will have been well worth it.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Ugly Truth review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
November 2010

This was a very funny book, but perhaps not quite as funny as the rest of the series. Don't get me wrong! The Ugly Truth has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. But, while the first four books had me roaring with laughter, erupting in guffaws, and frequently demanding to read aloud portions of the inspired insanity to anyone within earshot while gasping and trying to catch my breath, this latest offering only had me chuckling ruefully, or perhaps breaking out in a broad grin from time to time. 
I think part of the reason why this book didn't tickle my funnybone as much is because Greg Heffley is growing up. He's always been concious of being a middle-school boy and a bit of a late-bloomer, but this volume has him much more worried about when he's going to catch up with a lot of the guys in his class. There's less random hilarity in this volume, and more of a connected storyline, as Greg ruminates on his still strained friendship with Rowley, his uncle's upcoming wedding, his health class and school slumber party.  Greg's obsession with getting more popular, and winning over girls in particular, continues to be charming.  

I was surprised however, by how much he really didn't get it, in terms of Rowley.  Greg has been a selfish friend over the years, but he doesn't see that at all. He just wants things to go back to the way they were, when Rowley put up with all of his abuse.  Greg's bored demeanor with everything having to do with his family, and his disappointment at being treated like a little kid at his uncle's wedding (he was hoping to be a full-fledged groomsman, rather than an assistant flower boy) was pretty silly, and the highlight of the book, for me, was the school sponsored sleepover. Convinced he's going to be able to mingle with cute girls all evening, Greg eagerly signs up, but is sorely disappointed when it's mostly guys and their over-earnest teachers take away all of the kids cell phones and electronic devices when they refuse to socialize with each other. Predictably, the helicopter parents arrive to pick up their kids early, fearing the worst when they don't answer their text messages.

The blend of humor, and stick figure-like cartoons which convey so much emotion which are the hallmarks of this series are still here and Wimpy Kid fans won't be disappointed in this latest addition.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monster High review

Monster High
by Lisi Harrison
September 2010

This bubbly, light-hearted, humorous book alternates chapters between teen girls Melody and Frankie. Melody Carver is a Beverly Hills refugee whose family has recently moved to a sleepy Oregon town to give her a fresh start after her nose job. (Her former schoolmates nicknamed her "Smellody" because of her giant nose.) Unimpressed with the way her improved looks affect the shallow people around her, Melody spends a lot of time brooding. Frankie Stein, on the other hand, is merely 15 days old, but appears to be 15 years of age. Her parents, both monsters themselves, have brought her to life in a lab, and she's had little company other than her genetically modified pet mice, the Glitterati. In order to blend in at the local high school, Frankie is forced to wear make-up to cover her green skin, something which irks her to no end, as she's proud of her unusual looks. At school, Frankie meets with other monsters living undercover, Lagoona Blue (a mercreature), Draculaura (vampire, of course), Deuce Gorgon, (this one speaks for itself) D.J./Jackson Hyde (split personality), Cleo de Nile (an Egyptian mummy) and Claudine (a werewolf). All of them are R.A.D.s, or Regular Attribute Dodgers. Not having experienced the years of discrimination that the other monsters have faced, Frankie is eager for the R.A.D.'s to come out of the closet and mingle more openly with the "normies." 

Frankie's favorite saying is "Voltage!" and she is frequently embarrassed by losing a sewn-on body part at a critical moment. Near the book's end, at the big school prom, she kisses a boy, and her head pops off, a scene which is played for laughs. What I hadn't realized when reading this was that the story is actually based off a line of dolls by Mattel. Now everything makes much more sense. Although the book is about high school students, it will probably have more appeal for a younger, tween audience.

True fans of supernatural fiction or paranormal romance will probably be disappointed by the hyper-giddy characters and the conspicuous name-brand dropping. I might recommend this to readers who enjoyed Meg Cabot's Airhead series. Readers who enjoyed Harrison's other works, such as The Clique or The Alphas, or Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girls or The It Girl series, who are willing to dip their toes in paranormal waters might also enjoy this book. There is a sequel, The Ghoul Next Door, which is due out in April.

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

Saturday, January 15, 2011

House Brawl T-shirt

Check out this t-shirt from Threadless, called "House Brawl."  I like how it's subtle enough that non-Harry Potter fans (is there such a thing?) wouldn't necessarily get it. It looks comfy too!  Too bad Christmas and my birthday are already over, or I'd be laying down hints, for sure.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question from Crazy for Books for the Book Blogger Hop is:

"Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?"

I read YA for so many reasons. One thing that I love about books for young adults is that teens generally have so much optimism,  enthusiasm and hope.

I like reading science-fiction and fantasy because it's a great escape to worlds that could have been, or worlds that might be. I like reading about characters who can wield superpowers, or have technology that is so far in advance of our own, it might as well be magic.

My favorite kind of story, and honestly, I could read this exact same story over and over again and never tire of it, can be summed up thusly: Young person discovers they have paranormal powers. Adventures ensue.


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