Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Read in August

This month I read the following books:

1 Lost Boy - Brent Jeffs

2 Misfit - Jon Skovron
3 EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken - Sally Warner
4 Afterlife - Claudia Gray
5 Bunheads - Sophie Flack
6 Sidekicks - Dan Santat
7 Red Glove - Holly Black
8 Puppet Play - Diana Schoenbrun
9 Water Wars - Cameron Stracher

Picture credit: Smithers Rare Book Catalogue 1896, Aubrey Beardsly

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fortune Cookies review

Fortune Cookies
by A. Bitterman, illustrated by Chris Raschka
Beach Lane Books

January 2011

Maybe my cynical old eyes are too jaded, but this lovely ode to Chinese fortune cookies presented several concerns to me. The cover design, trim size, and number of pages seem to call to a younger reader - say ages 3 to 5. But the fragile pull-outs are certain to be trashed by younger children, and while a sensitive 6-8 year old strikes me as the right age to carefully enjoy the hidden messages on each page, I'm not confident that they'll make it past the initial "babyish" look of the book. Raschka's watercolor illustrations are charming, as ever.

Each day of the week, there's a new fortune cookie to open, with a vague but sure-sounding sentence typical of most fortunes. "Today you will lose something you don't need." The protaganist, a bobble-headed little girl in a bright red square of a dress loses a tooth. Each day, the little girl has a few quiet at-home adventures, all somewhat related to the day's fortune, and at the end of the week she's delighted when her missing cat turns up and a box of kittens is found. Maybe this is wrong, but all I could think of is that old game, "in bed" (some people play by saying, "between the sheets") You read the fortune, and append it with "in bed" giving each fortune a saucy and sometimes hilarious turn. I can't say that I will be purchasing this for my library - the story makes much less sense minus the long thin fortune cookie strips, and they look too delicate for heavy use. Still, this might make a nice gift for the right sort of kid.

I borrowed a copy of this book.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Puppet Play review

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

This delightful offering is an inspiration for crafters everywhere. Written in the most basic terms, the book begins with a simple intro to kinds of materials to look out for, easy-to-read diagrams showing different kinds of hand-stitching, and a few pattern suggestions. While a few of these creations looked a little "unfinished" to me, there were plenty of puppets that struck my fancy. I was especially impressed with the floppy, wrinkly, beautifully long-trunked elephant puppet, fashioned out of a mismatching pair of grey striped socks. I also liked the looks of the sock monkey super-hero puppet (not your typical sock monkey!) and the inspired choice of an old argyle sock as the body for a wacky looking wizard. The green bandanna frog was cleverly made, although not quite my style, and the two-sided fish, made out of mismatching washclothes begs to have a song or rhyme written about him for storytime. The kangaroo puppet, fashioned from a re-purposed glove and the giraffe puppet made of tea-towels and clothespins both looked a bit daunting, but there were plenty of projects here eminently suitable for a beginner.

Many of these puppets were so clearly inspired by the found materials they were made from - for instance, where on earth would you find a lumpy, striped grey sock that is nearly as good as the one used in the book for this elephant? It seemed to me the best sock puppets came from unusual socks - large, old, colorful, fantastically-patterned knee socks seem to be a safe bet for really terrific puppet characters. Use this book as a jumping off point for your own puppetry creations. Dedicated crafters with a hearty supply of buttons, fabric scraps and notions will doubtless find these projects easy, but even a novice puppeteer could get started with a trip to their mismatched socks basket, a few sheets of cheap felt, and maybe a trip to a secondhand clothing store for a few extras.

The book is appended with some puppeteering tips, character creation ideas, and a list of websites of prominent puppetry arts organizations.

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wisdom's Kiss review

Wisdom's Kiss
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
September 2011

This epistletory novel tells the history of the remote kingdom of Montagne from multiple points of view. Fortitude, better known as Trudy, has a secret and little understood ability to sense the future. She's grown up in a tiny remote village of Bacio, and is madly in love with Tips, the youngest son of a struggling miller's family. Tips has gone off to join the military so that he can save up enough money to get married. In the meantime, soft-pated Princess Wisdom, nicknamed Dizzy, is in the midst of marriage negotiations with the prince of a neighboring kingdom.

I liked Trudy enormously, and and was really intrigued by her magical power. Dizzy annoyed me instantly. I had hoped that Dizzy would eventually come into her own, and stop being such a brainless idiot, but sadly, that never happened. I was rooting for Trudy and Tips to sort everything out. I was shocked when it was revealed that Tips had been lying to Trudy the entire time, and was working for a traveling circus instead of soldiering. I was even more surprised when it turns out that Dizzy has a natural skill as an acrobat and she runs off with Tips!!! So disappointing.

Wisdom's Kiss has been compared to The Princess Bride, and I can see why. They aren't entirely dissimilar, especially those portions that are written as if from a history book in the far future. There's a deliberately grand and pompous tone to Wisdom's Kiss that I did find rather fun. I was distracted by references to other European countries, though. I know my European geography enough that all I could think about was where is Montagne supposed to be? Is it Monaco? Someplace that is now Belgium? I almost wished that the book had taken place in a completely alternate world.

It was hinted that the naming convention of using virtues for women's names might be something
that only happened in royal families, and that Trudy (a.k.a. Fortitude) would be revealed to be related to Dizzy and her grandmother Ben. Instead it turns out that Trudy's mother happens to be from the same capital city. Big whoop. The other "big reveal" at the end, is that Tips' mentor Sir Felis el Gato is known by the nickname of "Puss in Boots." What??? Is this supposed to be a novel-length re-telling of Puss in Boots? I have to say, despite the purportedly magical cat, royal families and unlikely romantic match-ups, I still didn't see that connection at all.

A nice story for most fantasy readers, I suspect that this book would have appealed to me more had I read the companion novel, Princess Ben. Despite it's lack of polish, the political intrigue, plot twists, faint hints of romance and Renaissance-like magical setting make for a nice addition to most fantasy collections.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Addiction

Is it terrible that the first thing I thought on reading this brilliant cartoon by Grant Snider of Incidental Comics was, "Ah! Used Book Hut! I haven't been to one of those in a while!"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 13

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

Do you have pets?

Yes! Until recently, had anyone asked, the answer would have been "no" but I recently got a 10-gallon fishtank. My first set of fish, sadly, didn't make it. They were cherry barbs that I had named after Harry Potter characters. My new fish are fancy-tailed guppies - Kirk and Spock, and Chekhov and Sulu. It's a bachelor tank, because I don't want the tank taken over by guppy offspring. Science-fiction seemed to offer the largest number of male names to pick from.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Name is Sally Little Song review

My Name is Sally Little Song
by Brenda Woods
October 2007

Eleven year-old slave Sally Henderson is faced with difficult choices as she and her family make a run for it, from Southern slavery into the Florida swamp. If they can make it to Seminole territory, her family may stand a better chance of remaining free. The story is very accessible to young readers, without shying away from some of the harsher realities of plantation life. Unfortunately, her mother does not survive an attack by alligators, but the remainder of her family manages to make it to relative safety.

The Seminoles give Sally the name, "Little Song" for her habit of singing to herself to calm her nerves. While settling in to her new life, Sally must learn how to enjoy life again, even though her harrowing experiences will always stay with her. Teachers could pair this book with Jerdine Nolan's Eliza's Freedom Road, to compare the two girls different experiences. My Name is Sally Little Song offers a unique perspective and is a worthwhile read.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Secret Book Nook

This photo has been making the rounds on the internet. I wish I could find who to give photo credit to. Wouldn't this be neat? A secret book level.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This is Not Harry Potter

It's been around for a while, but I've just discovered this video by Hank Green (brother of John Green) of Nerdfighteria and VLog Brothers fame. I dunno. I'm kind of in a reading rut lately, and this perfectly describes my mood.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns review

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
Greenwillow Books
September 2011

16 year-old Princess Elisa is a once-in-a-generation chosen one. She's been born with a gem in her navel, signifying that she is in God's favor. The godstone appears to be mildly magical, occasionally filling Elisa with a gentle warmth when she prays, or turning cold when she's in danger. Her father has arranged a beneficial political match for her to the king of a neighboring country.

I must admit, I was initially drawn to this book by the stunning cover with the girl in a purple dress. I was disappointed when I first saw that it had been changed, because it just doesn't seem to promise the same kind of glamor and excitement as the original cover design. I do like that the new cover emphasizes the importance of the stone, which is very true to the novel. Reading the book, it's quickly apparent that the original cover, while striking, has nothing to do with the story. It's a racefail, because Princess Elisa is described in the book as having dark skin. She is shocked the first time she sees someone with blue eyes, never having seen such a thing before. She's also quite overweight. This isn't some imagined problem on her part. From the way she's described in the book, I think it would be fair to say that Elisa is morbidly obese. It's obvious that her entire family and palace staff are disgusted by her size, and the constant teasing and scolding have made her super self-concious. Elisa thinks about food constantly, always planning her next meal or snack. She can't see her toes. She gets worn out walking up the stairs. She sweats constantly. Worst of all, and this made it really hard for me to like her at first, she's an emotional eater. When someone makes a fat joke at her expense, she grabs an entire serving platter of canapes and eats the whole thing. On one or two occasions, she eats until she can't cram another bite and finally vomits. The emphasis in a medieval-type setting on the slim yet busty Western ideal of feminine beauty surprised me.

When Elisa returns with her husband King Alejandro she is mortified to discover that he plans to keep their marriage secret. Caught up in court intrigue, Elisa is soon kidnapped by a faction of rebels. They take her on a forced march across the desert that effectively acts as a fat camp. She loses the weight and seems to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, joining, and then leading the group of rebels. Her time in the desert molds her into a stronger, harder, more dangerous person - in short, someone much more fit to rule. Readers will enjoy the multiple twists and turns that the story takes, and the fast pacing of this high fantasy. This is the first in a planned trilogy.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NPR Top 100 Sci-Fi

I'm a big fan of sci-fi, so when NPR released their Top 100 Sci-Fi Novels list last week, naturally, I wondered how many I'd read.

Here's the list, I've bolded all the ones I've read. Several of them list series, and if I've read more than half of the series, but not finished it, I still gave myself credit on those.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman*
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey**
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

*Neil Gaiman is very hit or miss for me. I love his blog, and his children's books, but his graphic novels and adult science-fiction didn't grab me.
**started the first book, but DNF. Not my cup of tea.
Will I tackle the ones on the list that I haven't gotten to yet? Umm... I kind of doubt it! There are so many new and wonderful things coming out all the time, I just can't see myself going back to a few of the classics that I haven't read. Anything amazing that I've missed? What do you think?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cover Trend: Smoky Eye

Here's something that I've noticed. New books that feature a dark smoky eye, or at least a lot of eyeliner.

Teeth: Vampire Tales
ed. by Ellen Datlow et. al.
Harper Collins
April 2011

An anthology featuring a number of very famous authors: Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black.

Cleopatra Confesses
by Carolyn Meyer
Simon & Schuster
June 2011

Historical fiction, should be pretty self-explanatory.

Through Her Eyes
by Jennifer Archer
April 2011

It sounds like Tansy sees ghosts in her family's rural Texas home.

Babe in Boyland
by Jody Gehrman
February 2011

Teen advice columnist Natalie decides to go undercover and disguise herself as a boy in order to understand them better.

Cryptic Cravings
by Ellen Schrieber
Harper Collins
May 2011

The latest in the popular Vampire Kisses series.

White Crow
by Marcus Sedgewick
Roaring Brook Press
July 2011

Two girls become friends in an atmospheric gothic town that is slowly falling into the sea.

Dead Rules
by Randy Russell
June 2011

An interesting and unique take on the afterlife, when Jana dies and is separated from her true love Michael, and how she copes with being automatically enrolled in Dead School. Naturally, she's hoping he'll commit suicide ASAP so they can be reunited for eternity.
I have to be honest, this doesn't sound like my kind of read, but I do love the cover.

Know of any that I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 12

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

What's the LONGEST book you've ever read?

Gosh! I turned straight to Goodreads for the answer to this one. Looks like the longest book I've read in the last couple of years was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. 1,024 pages, but it was a fast read. It's set in an alternate Napoleonic England, and features two dueling mages and heartless meddling faery folk. I loved it! This has to be one of my favorite books of all time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken review

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken
by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper
Viking Juvenile
May 2011

Eight year-old Lancelot Raymond, better known as EllRay, is eager to prove that despite his small size, he is not a chicken. When he's bullied by some boys at school, rather than alerting his parents or other authority figures, he decides to "take it like a man" and suffer alone.

There were a number of things that I liked about this novel. Lots of interesting details about EllRay and his family made this early middle-grade realistic fiction novel feel very well developed. EllRay likes Mondays and he likes making lists. He doesn't understand girls. His younger sister is named Alfleta, meaning "beautiful elf" in Saxon, but goes by Alfie for short. His geology professor father seems caring but stern. While the adults can't seem to figure out what's going on, they can tell that things aren't quite right. Being promised a trip to Disneyland if he can have an "incident-free" week at school encourages EllRay to keep things under wraps more than ever. My heart broke for this poor kid, who felt such pressure, at such a young age. I liked that this was a "boy" book, featuring a relatively happy African-American family.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book wholeheartedly, as I did have some problems with it. While I loved the cover, I was very disappointed by the interior illustrations. In them, EllRay looks bug-eyed and two-dimensional. The ending of the book left much to be desired. As things grow to a head between EllRay and bullies Jared and Stanley, EllRay finally takes matters into his own hands, meeting Jared for a fistfight. This manages to clear the air, but both boys are disappointed when it's revealed that their parents have conspired to send them to Disneyland... where they'll be forced to hang out together. I didn't think a namby-pamby, "And then the boys all learned to be friends! And they lived happily ever after!" sort of ending would have made any sense, but I was saddened that violence seemed to be the answer to EllRay's problems, and that the adults in the story remained clueless throughout. The final third of the book really dragged for me... I kept picking it up, reading a sentence and putting it down again, meaning this short book took me over a month to read. The book is appended with a sneak peek chapter from the next book in the series. For me, this made an already choppy ending feel even choppier, but for kids who liked the book, that sneak peek chapter will provide reassurance that more of EllRay's adventures are on the way.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Declaration review

The Declaration
by Gemma Malley
October 2007

Surplus Anna's been brainwashed into submission in a world where procreation (and therefore, all young people) are forbidden. It's the year 2140 in London, but the story doesn't feel that far away, or overly British.

Citizens who
take Longevity medicine must agree to sign away their reproductive rights. It's a fair bargain, but one that many people would like to break, so they can have their cake and eat it too. This book presents a slightly more sophisticated take on these issues than Haddix's Shadow Children series. It's also somewhat reminiscent of J.G. Ballard - as a very minor point in the story Americans living in "uninhabitable" places naturally pack up and leave, once their air conditioning and other creature comforts are taken away. There were allusions to The Handmaiden's Tale as well, with the docile servitude expected from the illegal children. On the whole, I enjoyed this, despite a few holes in the plot, and an ending that managed to simultaneously tie things up a little too neatly yet still leave some major questions unanswered. This would be a great read for anyone who's enjoyed some of the more recent dystopian novels such as Drought by Pam Bachorz, Ann Aguire's Enclave, or Veronica Roth's Divergent.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Reading wrap-up

What a busy summer - I can't believe Summer Reading Club is over for the year. It was certainly a challenge... my first year at my current library, with a programming and prizes budget reduced to nearly zero, and very little time to plan. I think it went as well as could be expected. I managed to scare up some local performers who were willing to put on programs for free, and ransacked our supply closets for craft supplies that I could repurpose. Most of our summer reading program was accomplished through sheer ingenuity. You know that old saying, you can have things fast, or have them cheap or have them excellent, but you can only pick two out of the three. I opted for excellent, thrifty, yet time and labor intensive programs. Here are just a few highlights.

The Summer Reading theme this year was One World, Many Stories, and I started by making a Passport Craft for kids. I had planned to do a Mexican Paper Flower Making craft, using up the last of our tissue paper and chenille stems, but was stymied by much larger and younger crowd than I expected. The planned craft proved too difficult for most of the 3 and 4 year-olds who showed up, so I pulled out my "emergency kit" containing some coloring pages, and a simple caterpillar craft, where kids simply had to glue a precut caterpillar and leaf onto a floral scene.

Mostly, I stuck to affordable fun - the Sidewalk Chalk Art Expo that we hosted at the library was very successful. even covered it in their local news. We also hosted a well-attended Spelling Bee. The toughest part was coming up with lists of words, and deciding their difficulty beforehand.

Here's a picture from the International Apple Craft we did. I read How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and then invited kids to make their own apple faces, Mr. Potato-Head style, using red plates as our background.

A huge part of summer reading was managing people's expectations. A lot of parents (and kids) were bitterly disappointed at the paucity of prizes this year. I guess in years past, there was much better summer reading swag to be had. This year all I had were summer reading folders, bookmarks and a few stickers. I had some very uncomfortable conversations with folks who wanted to explain to the "new girl" that this isn't how Summer Reading Club is supposed to work. They did the reading, so where's the prize? I got through it by playing dumb, and remaining cheerfully psyched about Summer Reading. "Reading is the prize!" I informed them, and then might tell them how excited we were to have them sign up, how much Summer Reading helps kids with school success in the fall, so they don't have that summer gap, and then would solicitously inquire if they had gotten the free bookmark they were entitled to.

In years past, I've used a couple of complicated systems for tracking how much kids have read over the summer - including counting minutes read, pages read, or my personal favorite, pounds of books read. Kids loved "weighing in" their weekly reads on a kitchen scale. This year, I kept things simple, simple, simple. Just write down 10 books read on one's summer reading log, and you're entered in the grand prize drawing. We handled it on an honor system, since I didn't have the time or energy to play policeman. I did double-check all the drawing slips before I handed them in to the Central Library, and did find several duplicates. I'm going to be big-hearted and assume that those who entered multiple times, must have done it by accident. I went ahead and made sure we only had one entry per child.

Ultimately, I was really satisfied with our turnout. We had some respectable numbers, especially considering there hadn't been a children's librarian in the branch for so long, and so many families had started going to other branches in the interim. If I'm able to get similar size crowds next year, I'll be very happy. It's a comfortable number: busy enough to keep you on your toes, but with room to grow. Viva Summer Reading!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zita the Spacegirl review

Zita the Spacegirl 
by Ben Hatke 
First Second 
February 2011

Really excellent middle-grade science-fiction feels like a hard thing to find these days. This graphic novel more than delivered, offering zany aliens, an intrepid girl explorer and an enjoyably distinctive style. Zita, who seems to be around 10 years of age or so, is a bit impulsive and given to making hasty decisions. After a meteor delivers a strange looking alien device, she teases her brother Joseph and hits the button, and is shocked, overwhelmed and sad when he is sucked into a vortex. Not knowing what else to do, she jumps in after him. She soon finds herself on an alien world, and with Joseph kidnapped, she makes an unlikely alliance with Strong-Strong, a sweet but kind of dumb brute, often bossed around by his levitating, top-hat wearing, cockney-accented boss. Piper, a bit of a rogue and conman, his friend/pet Pizzicato, better known as "Mouse" a gigantic mouse who communicates via ticker tape, as well as H.A.M.B.O. - a Heavily Armored Mobile Battle Orb, otherwise known as One, a slightly dysfunctional battle robot all join her on her quest to rescue Joseph.

Zita the Spacegirl favorably reminded me of several other recent books: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, because Zita and Mirka both share the same irrepressible spirit. Zita's quest to find answers and the diverse alien population giving things a Mos Eisley feel reminded me of Eva Nine's adventures in The Search for WondLA. The sense of humor and fast pace made me think of Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, a mildly steampunkish retelling of fairy tales.

The ending of the book promises more in a series. Fast-paced, fun and accessible, I'd recommend Zita the Spacegirl for a wide range of readers, from 4th through 8th grade.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In My Mailbox 13

I need more books like a need a hole in the head, but I got tired of waiting for these to come in at the library, and went out and bought them! Check out these beauties. Gorgeous, eh? I'm justifying the purchase by thinning down my collection at home... just donated a box of paperbacks to make room for these on my shelf.

The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan
Red Glove - Holly Black
Forever - Maggie Stiefvater
Supernaturally - Kiersten White

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley review

Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley
by Stephanie Greene
Clarion Books
June 2010

This is a charming middle-grade novel where readers are treated to a sneak-peek of Sophie's family, school and friends. I loved all the little details about Sophie's family, who obviously have a lot of warm feeling for each other. As the youngest child Sophie is always feeling a bit left out. She's crushed when her older teen sister Nora moves out of their shared artistic messy room into a tidy attic room of her own. For her tenth birthday, Sophie doesn't want much... just a cute baby gorilla. Once she promises her classmates that getting a gorilla is a certainty, there's no end to the teasing she gets. She's worried about how on earth she'll make good on her word, until she saves face when her mom reminds everyone that gorillas are endangered, and therefore, impossible to keep as pets. Greene does a marvelous job of illuminating the inner-life of a child and everything Sophie thinks and says definitely rings true.

This story reminded me a lot of Alice's Birthday Pig by Tim Kennemore, about a similarly sweet and delightful family. Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley is the latest in a series about the irrepressible Sophie, but readers need not have read the earlier volumes to make sense of this one. I'll recommend this book to readers looking for something finer and more gentle than Junie B. Jones, and something just a hair easier than the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 11

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

Let’s talk crazy book titles! Highlight one or two (or as many as you like!) titles in your personal collection that have the most interesting titles! If you can’t find any, feel free to find one on the internet!

I suppose I have a few books with crazy titles... but nothing on earth beats the recent spate of romance novels with ridiculous titles like: Magnate's Mistress Accidentally Pregnant! or The Brazilian Millionaire's Love-Child. Those are real titles! No, I don't own them. But just hearing those titles makes me laugh out loud.

Can I Get There by Candlelight? by Julius Horwitz, published in 1963, doesn't have a crazy title, but I loved the back cover copy so much, I had to buy the book. There's a quote from Library Journal on the back which reads: "Librarians will help the cause of literature by rejecting this unsavory stew of sex, liquor and street language." It's honestly a very tame book by today's standards.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Alice's Birthday Pig review

Alice's Birthday Pig
by Tim Kennemore
Eerdman's Books for Young Readers
March 1999

What a sweet little early chapter book! I'd put this at a challenging 2nd grade, easy 3rd grade level. Alice's family is so wonderful, so warm and charming. She's teased by her older brother Oliver for mispronouncing "aminal" After a class field trip to a small farm, Alice wishes more than anything for a real pet pig on her birthday. Her family has a delightful tradition of making elaborately decorated birthday cakes to commemorate an important event of that year for each child. In the past few years they've come up with a penguin, an airplane, a chutes and ladders cake, a train, a stegasorus, Big Bird, even a plain "cake, cake" for the year her brother complains about his cake not being grand enough. 

This year her parents make her a pig cake... and then surprise her with a pet guinea pig. Her little sister Rosie gets into Alice's gifts including a paint set and inadvertently covers Oliver with glitter but none of that matters. Alice names her new guinea pig "Aminal", much to Oliver's dismay. Alice and her family are the kind of people you want to get to know and hang out with. This story is a real winner.
I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cover Triplets

It's common enough to find the same stock photo used twice, sometimes with a different treatment on two different covers. But here's a sample of the same photo being used three (possibly four)  times.

The Vespertine
by Saundra Mitchell
Harcourt Children's Books
March 2011

In 1889 Baltimore, Amelia discovers she has the power to see the future -- but only at the moment of sunset, or the "vespers" of the evening.

Dark Angel
by Eden Maguire
Hodder Children's Books
August 2011

Love triangle! Tania and Orlando's perfect relationship is marred by the meddling of Zoran, a hot rockstar, maybe with fae-like powers?

The Goddess Test
by Aimee Carter
August 2011

This is the cover for the Australian paperback version.
Kate thinks her mother is dying of cancer, and finds herself Persephone-like, engaged to Henry, King of the Underworld.
While the American cover seems more Grecian, this actually may be more acurate to the book, where the Greek Gods force Kate to wear corseted dresses for some reason.
by Janet Fox
June 2011

Any chance this is from the same photoshoot? It sure looks similar.
Kula runs away from rural Montana to experience big city life in San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sunflower Sword review

The Sunflower Sword
by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Miriam Latimer
Andersen Press USA
January 2011

A young "knight" wishes more than anything to join the other warrior knights who are busy fighting dragons. He begs his mom for a sword... but she gives him a sunflower instead. He decides to make the best of it, whooshing and swooshing the sunflower to and fro. Bright, cartoon-like illustrations feature the little boy's haphazard outfit, including a dagged tunic, a colander helmet and shoes that look more like cowboy boots than medieval wear. The mother's floral nightgown and whimsical scarf make her appear decidedly modern, inviting readers to wonder if the whole story takes place in a his imagination.

After meeting a real dragon, who mistakenly thinks that he's offering a gift, they accidentally broker peace. Soon all the knights are rushing to the hilltop, bringing offers of flowers, hoping for dragon rides. I almost wondered if this would turn into a bit of a love story... as the little knight offers the dragon a sunflower, her tail takes the shape of a heart. I love finding little details like that in the illustrations. Observant readers will note a small white dove that appears on every page, emphasizing the message of peace.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Long, Long Sleep review

A Long, Long Sleep
by Anna Sheehan
August 2011

This is a science-fiction re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story. Depending on how you look at it, Rosalinda Fitzroy is either 16-years old, or well over a hundred. Exploring a sub-basement, Bren is startled when he finds a human girl sleeping in a stasis tube, and after accidentally hitting the wake sequence, he attempts CPR, literally, "kissing" her awake.

It turns out Rosalinda is the heir to a multi-planetary empire. While she was supposed to be in a short stasis, a global disaster known as the Dark Times hit, and forgotten, she ended up sleeping for over sixty years. I really struggled for the first half of the book. Rosalinda is understandably, a disaster... technology, culture, everything has changed while she's been out and feeling physically weak from being in stasis for far, far longer than what is considered customary or safe, naturally, she feels completely overwhelmed. Even though her feelings seemed reasonable considering the circumstances, I was annoyed by how timid she was and how she constantly put herself down. She doesn't consider herself terribly bright and even before being accidentally in stasis, seemed like a bit of a lost soul. I found her very difficult to like at first.

As she slowly starts to open up to Otto, a telepathic alien classmate, readers gradually get glimpses of her tragic past. The privileged daughter of wealthy, elite business-owners, who use stasis on a regular basis, when they are traveling for business, as a punishment (kind of a like a "time-out" only infinitely worse) or just when they feel like they need a break from parenting, Rose has been robbed of any kind of normalcy since day one. After a while, she even begins to crave being "stassed" - getting high off the psychedelic dreams she experiences while in her stasis tube. Her parents truly come off as monsters... and it turns out that they've been inadvertently responsible for the Dark Times catastrophe as well.

As Rose is coping with all of this, there are dark hints of a murdering robot that's been sent to assassinate her. Obviously, there are a lot of people who would benefit if Rose could more permanently disappear. Who sent it? Who can she trust? How will she escape from this tireless death machine? I was surprised also, that while there is a hint of romance, it doesn't feature heavily in the story. Ultimately, Rose has to learn how to be her own person, discovering her own unique abilities and standing up to the board of directors who are running her family's business in her stead. I'll recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Across the Universe by Beth Revis with a caveat to stick with it, A Long, Long Sleep gets better (much, much better) as you go along.

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

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In My Mailbox 12

I was so excited to get this box of books from Hachette this week! Wow! I'm really looking forward to reading these. I've already dipped in and read the first few pages of Bunheads... it's fantastic, so far.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tintin trailer

Here's a new trailer for the upcoming Tintin movie. Interestingly, I'm not seeing a huge surge in requests for the Tintin books at the library. With the latest Harry Potter movie, we couldn't keep things on the shelf. I thought that Mr. Popper's Penguins would get a huge shot in the arm when the movie came out recently, but that didn't happen either. Still, I'm rooting for Tintin, I liked those books when I was younger.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 10

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

What's the one ARC you'd love to get your hands on right now?

I was hoping to snag a copy of Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick at the American Library Association Annual meeting... but by the time I heard where they were, they were gone!  I did another post recently about books that I was intrigued by, but didn't get ARCs for... not that I'm lacking for books to read! My To Be Read list is ridiculously long, and I've already got a healthy stack of ARCs by my nightstand.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sinister Scenes review

Sinister Scenes
by P.J. Bracegirdle
Margaret K. McElderry Books
August 2011

Joy Wells, a resident of the historic town of Spooking, is delighted to finally be graduating from Winsome Elementary in the boring neighboring suburb of Darlington. She loves reading stories by famous horror writer E. A. Peugeot and studying the exploits of early aviatrix Melody Huxley. Preteen readers will certainly relate to Joy’s nervousness about an upcoming school dance, her budding crush on Louden Primrose, her annoyance with her younger brother, and her embarrassment over anything her parents say or do. Sour villain Mr. Phipps has been reduced to working in a music store, but soon concocts a plan to get the film industry to come to Spooking. Once again, Joy finds herself amid a swirl of intrigue when young actress Penny Farthing goes missing; Joy auditions and wins the part. Between early-morning call times, long hours, and dealing with her crazed costar Teddy Danger, she soon finds that working for Hollywood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Joy finally comes to peace with the competing suburb of Darlington and works up the courage to talk to Louden. Lemony Snicket’s fans will find a lot to like in this concluding volume of the trilogy. It has sophisticated vocabulary, a dry sense of humor, and an amusingly deliberate gothic tone. Heavy exposition is helpful in reminding readers of the complicated backstory. Melodramatic and unlikely coincidences, including ghosts and gypsy curses, bring the novel to a satisfying conclusion.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
This review originally appeared in School Library Journal.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ruby Red review

Ruby Red
by Kertin Gier
Henry Holt
May 2011

16 year-old Gwyneth Shepard lives with her mother, her cousin Charlotte and her family of eccentric older aunts in a large rambling house in London.  Gwyneth is grateful that she doesn't have to sacrifice her every waking hour preparing for a life of time-traveling, the way her cousin Charlotte does. Her family carries a rare genetic code that enables certain family members to gain paranormal abilities, including time travel.

Isn't the
cover beautiful? It's so steampunk. The book wasn't overtly steampunk, although the device the characters use to control their time travel did seem like a very clockwork-driven machine, powered by tiny samples of each time-traveler's blood. It's hard to believe that this book was originally written in German. Lots of books seem to lose something in the translation, or come across as somewhat alien, but this felt as if it could have been written in English.

The mechanics
of time travel are fairly well thought out. It's a genetic ability which only a few people have. Travelers can only go back as far as the 1700's, when time travel was first discovered, they can't travel within their natural lifespan, and they can't go to the future. Without their time travel device, travelers will take uncontrolled journeys through time. With it, they can choose relatively safe times to take excursions to. They are helped by a secret society, devoted to protecting them, and Madame Rossini, an expert costumer, who outfits them for each trip. I loved Madame Rossini. She's quite a character, bossy, funny and picky about historical details, but pragmatic about using modern shortcuts to make the clothes as practical as possible. Interestingly, men seem to need to travel more than women do. When Gwyneth finds that she has the ability, she finds that she must work closely with Gideon, a brusque but handsome time traveler just a little older than she is. Naturally, Charlotte is very upset at being supplanted this way. Readers will feel a little bit sorry for Charlotte, since she can't help being such a prig.

There's a wonderful sense of suspense throughout the whole book. Who is the mysterious man who's been spying on the family? Why on earth did Gwyneth's mother think that lying about her daughter's birthdate would keep her safe? Gwyneth has shared forbidden information with her best friend Leslie from school - how will that play out? 
What happened with the exiled couple, Lucy and Paul? Why did they betray their family, and how did they come to be hiding out in the past? The only thing that truly bothered me about the book was that it ended on such a cliffhanger! Unbelievable! A few mysteries seem to be (somewhat) solved, but on the whole, this was very unsatisfying ending. It couldn't have been more abrupt if the ending had been been cut-off in mid-sentence. This is the first in a trilogy, and I'm curious to see how things will resolve.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Out of Print covers for your e-reader

This is so neat. Right now I have a plain blue cover on my e-reader. But these covers really have some pizzaz. I like the series of "out of print" book covers for e-readers on M-Edge. They feature classic old covers for books like Walden, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Moby Dick, Atlas Shrugged, Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, and more as well as a lot of old covers from The New Yorker. They create covers for Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. You can also design your own cover, which they'll custom print for you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Read in July

This month I read the following books:

1 Wisdom's Kiss - Catherine Gilbert Murdock
2 Pink - Lili Wilkinson
3 The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson
4 When Men Become Gods - Stephen Singular
5 Zita the Spacegirl - Ben Hatke
6 Ruby Red - Kerstin Gier
7 Pretty Bad Things - C.J. Skuse
8 A Treehouse of Your Own - John Harris
9 Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris

Picture credit: Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard


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