Sunday, March 31, 2013

Secondhand Charm review

Secondhand Charm
by Julie Berry
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
August 2010

First line: "'What will you do when school is over, Evie?"

Fifteen year old Evie is nervous and excited as the school year draws to a close in her tiny village of Maundley. The kingdom of Pylander seems to be generic stand-in for medieval Europe. More than anything, Evie wants to travel to the capital city of Chalcedon and study medicine. But now it seems that the capital is coming to her! Handsome young King Leopold III is coming to town on a sort of "king's progress" to check up on the far-flung corners of his kingdom. After using her amazing healing abilities to save the life of a member of the king's court, Evie's awarded a full scholarship at university. She and her best friend Priscilla (also a scholarship recipient) and sometime crush Aidan make a journey for the capital.

After running into every danger imaginable, Evie finds herself on a sea voyage, even after being warned to stay away from the ocean. And that's when things get really interesting. She soon makes the acquaintance of a giant sea serpent - essentially a sea dragon - whom she's unknowingly been bonded to her whole life. One shipwreck later, and now in the possession of a shrunken sea dragon, Evie finds herself swept up by Princess Annalise from the neighboring kingdom of Merlia. The Princess is also secretly a serpentina, with various magical powers that are feared and mistrusted by the religious Pylanders. Clair, Evie's sea serpent, was a real pleasure to read. He shifts from being childish and cranky to encouraging and wise. He sees most humans as food, but is fiercely loyal to Evie.

The book is a highly readable middle-grade adventure, as Evie makes her way across the country, meeting many new friends and enemies along the way. There's a possibility of romance, lightly hinted at, with her old family friend Aidan, who's been in Chalcedon studying masonry, but that's absolutely not the focus of the story. A few of the connections seemed like a bit of a stretch. Evie runs into the played-for-laughs flirty Commedia Dell'arte twin brothers Alfonso and Rudolpho multiple times. Things come very dramatically to a head when she and the twins finagle their way onto the king's honeymoon cruise in order to alert him of the danger he faces from his scheming new bride.

There's a real twist to the ending that I definitely didn't see coming. I'm a little disappointed that this book is a stand-alone; there's definitely room for more adventures to unfold in this world.

Compare to:

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 29, 2013

May B. review

May B.
by Caroline Starr Rose
Schwartz and Wade
January 2012

First line: "I won't go."

Twelve year old Mavis Elizabeth Betterly is sent by her parents to help out a new couple settling on the Kansas prairie in the 1870's. Spare narrative poetry immediately conveys the feel for the lives of hardship that May and her family lead. Descriptions of pioneer food are particularly striking: fresh meat, tinned fruit, plenty of coffee, maybe a biscuit. May struggles in school, but is fighting to be able to finish, because she really wants to become a teacher one day. The deck really seems stacked against her: few people in their community acquire more than an eighth-grade education, her parents need her to drop out to work for them, she's a girl and therefore seen as unworthy of much schooling anyway and worst of all, she's struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia. She's madly jealous of her older brother Hiram, who doesn't appreciate all the advantages he's been given.

Life on the Oblingers' settlement is no easier than at home. Their sod house is poorly made, dingier and dirtier than most. The new Mrs. Oblinger, only a few years older than May, suffers from crippling depression and May is quickly overwhelmed and lonely. 

Things come to a head when the Oblingers abandon May without warning, deciding that life on the prairie is too tough for them. May is forced to winter alone, until help will finally arrive. I found the ending a little over the top and unbelievable - May survives a fierce blizzard by the luckiest chance - but the target middle-grade audience probably won't mind.

Short chapters, and free verse make for a blazing fast read.

Compare to:
Hattie Big Sky - Kirby Larson
Out of the Dust - Karen Hesse
Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

As a librarian, I recommend a lot of books. When I sat down to think about it, I realized, that unlike my bookstore days, I can't just recommend the same book over and over again. And I can't just point people towards the pile of bestsellers. Those books don't really need my help - they're already flying off the shelves! Instead, I've got a wide range of books that are my "go-to" recommendations. I tried to narrow my list down to 10 - but instead, I've got a list of 15.

Here they are, 15 never-fail, love to recommend books:

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda - Tom Angleberger
A great recommendation for middle-school boys. Or Star Wars fans. Good realistic fiction, with a bit of fun doodles and drawings, it's also a nice go-to for the kid who's read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and is looking for more along the same vein.

Candor - Pam Bachorz
I recommend this one to teen boys a lot. The main character starts out so smarmy, but gradually, he wins you over. Plus the premise is so Twilight Zone - totally Stepford Teens.

The Folk Keeper - Franny Billingsly
I love all of Billingsly's books. I recommend this and her other middle-grade novel, Well-Wished, rather a lot. Kids gravitate to the idea that the main character's paid job is to wrangle magical folk.

Airhead - Meg Cabot
What a great book! I recommend this for teen girls who love girly stuff like Gossip Girls and the like. But, I also recommend this to girls who like science-fiction and fantasy, too. I like that this is a neat little trilogy, not a series that goes on forever. Who wouldn't love to be dumped into a supermodel's life, overnight?

The Ear, The Eye and The Arm - Nancy Farmer
I'm always amazed by how many people don't know this book. Futuristic Africa, people with superpowers, some kidnapped kids. This one's a pageturner for sure.

The Girl With 500 Middle Names - Margaret Peterson Haddix
This is a short, early chapter book. But I loved this one when I was a kid, and I love it still. Haddix really gets into the experience of what it's like to be in a family that is really struggling to get along. Forced by her mother's failed business venture into wearing personalized sweaters originally created for other girls, Janie puts on a brave face and pretends that all is well. In these tight economic times, plenty of kids can really relate to this book.

Wait Til Helen Comes - Mary Downing Hahn
I always ask kids, "Do you like ghost stories?" and if the answer is yes, this is the book I steer them to. Love this haunting tale! And, if readers like this one, there's always The Doll in the Garden also by Mary Downing Hahn to follow up with.

Night Road - A.M. Jenkins
I love to recommend this one to teen guys. It's a vampire road trip! I'll put this in the hands of the occasional Twi-hard as well.

Dark Lord of Derkholm - Dianna Wynne Jones
Dianna Wynne Jones is the perfect author for readers who love Harry Potter. What I love about this one is all the individual personalities and family dynamics in a big, crazy, loving magical family. Imagine if the Weasleys had adopted some griffins and a mermaid or two, and you basically get the picture.

The Host - Stephenie Meyer
Why don't more people go crazy over this book? It came out the same time as Breaking Dawn, but I think it's about a million times better. Once I saw the book was being made into a movie, I figured demand for this story would be sky-high, but that hasn't really happened. This story, about trying to hang onto one's humanity in the face of an all-out alien invasion, absolutely pulled me in from the first page!

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson
Here's another book I love. There's a real mystery behind this one, as Jenna is recuperating from a horrible accident and her overprotective family are obviously keeping secrets from her. What's going on? There's a real surprise at the ending that I didn't see coming.

Larklight - Philip Reeve
I love this steampunk Jr. trilogy. Fun alternate history reading for middle-schoolers. Fancy Victorian manners, plus spaceships! It's just awesome.

Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians - Brandon Sanderson
There's something so appealing about the idea that, yes, we DO live in a magical world. It's just those evil librarians, in the Hushlands (a.k.a. the USA) that have hidden all the magic away for their own nefarious purposes. Great sense of humor to this middle-grade series.

Penny Dreadful - Laurel Snyder
Penelope wishes for an "everything change" - a whole-life transformation. Well, be careful what you wish for! Before you know it, her father loses his job, and they move to a ramshackle home in the countryside where Penny has a whole new set of circumstances to adjust to.

The Amulet of Samarkand - Jonathan Stroud
I love footnotes, and I love this book about spoiled prat Nathaniel and the wisecracking centuries-old genie Bartimaeus. Perfect for readers who have graduated from Harry Potter.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lulu reviews

Lulu and the Duck in the Park
by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Albert Whitman & Co.
March 2011

First line: "Lulu was famous for animals. Her famousness for animals was known throughout the neighborhood."

This delightful series about Lulu, a smart and imaginative little girl growing up in pleasant suburban surroundings is sure to be a hit with young readers looking for early chapter books with just a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor. Lulu loves animals, apples, and jumping off the swings at school. Lulu's teacher Mrs. Holiday isn't so sold on animals. After a field trip to the to the park, and a scary incident with a loose runaway dog, Lulu ends up in possession of a duck egg. She keeps the egg hidden with the help of her best friend Mellie. Of course, the egg hatches once she gets back to school. Happily, the baby duck is soon reunited with its mother.

None of the text ever explicitly identifies Lulu as African-American, but Lamont's illustrations show Lulu and Mellie with a darker complexion than the rest of their classmates. The appealing illustrations which decorate nearly every page and large type make for a comfortable read for readers new to chapter books. The reading level is just a skoche easier than Junie B. Jones and Magic Tree House, but a nice step up from Amelia Bedelia or Jean Van Leeuwen's Amanda Pig series.

Lulu and the Dog From the Sea
by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Albert Whitman & Co.
March 2013

First line: "Lulu and Mellie were seven years old. They were cousins and they were friends."

Lulu and Mellie aren't just friends, they are best friends. Lulu's love for her menagerie of just about a dozen pets is once again very evident in this story about her family's trip to the ocean. This book isn't just sweet, it's super sweet! Lulu is just as cute and funny as ever in this latest offering in the Lulu series. While Lulu's mother wants to get plenty of reading done during their vacation, and Mellie's big project is to finish a homemade kite, Lulu decides to tackle the challenge of taming a stray dog who has been wreaking havoc at the seaside resort. This book is unique in that large portions of the omniscient third-person narrative describe the thoughts and feelings of the dog from the sea. Large type and a generous amount of black and white illustrations make for a very easy, approachable read. There's a very dramatic ending too, sure to satisfy any dog-lover.

Compare to:
Cinderella Smith - Stephanie Barden
Anna Hibiscus - Atinuke
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream - Jenny Han
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu - Wendy Wan-Long Shang

I received a free copy of these books for review.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My latest project: audiobook makeover

My latest project has been re-housing kids audiobooks.

Here's the before picture:

The main issue with these is that the plastic jewel cases crack easily. The discs fall out or get scratched. Also, most of our audiobooks are in larger cases, so these slim little numbers get lost or mis-shelved on our library shelves easily.

I re-housed all of these in larger, sturdier "clam cases."  This also puts the CD's in fabric and plastic pockets, instead of those snap-in plastic buttons. Much less chance of cracking or breaking this way. 

I designed this template myself. The other thing that's nice - for the staff I put a large reminder of how many discs to look for. When audiobooks get returned at the library, the first thing we have to do is quickly check and make sure all the discs are there - it's surprisingly common for people to leave the last CD in their car player!

Hurrah! I've been seeing these audiobooks circulate more already!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Ten Unread Books on My Shelf

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books I HAD to Buy... But Are Still Sitting on My Shelf Unread.

I'm a little ashamed to admit, I actually have more than 10 here! So, this is my Top 12. I don't know what's wrong with me? I guess I feel like owning these books, somehow I'll absorb them by osmosis? C'mon! These books aren't going to read themselves! I've got to get off my duff, and read these.

Chains - Laurie Halse Anderson
Welcome Caller, This is Chloe - Shelley Coriell
Tempest - Julie Cross
The Hunt - Andrew Fukuda
Sapphire Blue -  Kerstin Gier
Luxe - Anne Godberson
Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney
The Apothecary - Maile Meloy
Heart of a Samurai - Margi Preus
Dark Mirron - Mary Jo Putney
The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan
Any Which Wall - Laurel Snyder

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Host review

The Host
by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company
January 2008

I highly recommend this amazing, fast paced, psychological sci-fi thriller from the very popular author of the Twilight series. This is true science-fiction, on par with Bradbury or Asimov. Meyer uses the concept of an alien and human forced to co-exist in the same body to pose questions about memory, personality and what it means to be human. 

The story begins as the conquest of Earth is nearly complete. The altruistic Souls have invaded and are using most humans as "hosts" for their small, parasitic bodies. 

Wanderer has taken over Melanie, her 8th host, and she finds the strong-willed personality of her host start to push through, as she starts to fall in love with the same humans her host cared about. In the meantime, a small band of humans have formed a top-secret resistance, and the society of the Souls may be changed by this particular invasion more than they ever could have anticipated. Riveting stuff, with a bit of a twist to the ending that will leave you wishing this wasn't a stand-alone book! Meyer has supposedly been working on a sequel for a while - let's hope some excitement about the upcoming movie finally spurs Meyer to complete it.

I purchased a copy of this book.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spark review

by Amy Kathleen Ryan
St. Martin's Griffin
July 2012

First line: "Seth Ardvale wasn't aware of what woke him; he only remembered the fading dream of a rumbling sound that shook his bones."

In this sequel to Glow, Waverly, Kieran and Seth continue their adventures on the Empyrean - a generation starship designed to take colonists on a century long mission to a new planet. I was hoping for this book to be a lot like Across the Universe - but despite the love triangle there's a lot less romance.

Waverly has successfully brought the kidnapped girls back from the New Horizon, the uber-religious sister ship of the secular farming ship the Empyrean. Kieran has assumed command, and with Seth's attempted coup unsuccessful, Seth is in the brig.

Everyone's parents on the Empyrean have been kidnapped by Ann Mather, the charismatic leader of the New Horizon. That leaves the children of the Empyrean to run the ship as they try to catch up with the other ship that has their families hostage. I was kind of surprised by the fact that even though the oldest children on the Empyrean are 15 and 16 years old, they are all mostly overwhelmed. For the most part, their attitude seems to be, "I'm just a kid! I don't know how to... pilot a ship/be the captain/run a medical bay!"

Waverly is overtaken by her feelings of rage and is more than ready to wreak havoc on the New Horizon and take revenge for having been kidnapped and her eggs stolen by the infertile crewmembers on the sister ship. On a certain level, this made perfect sense. But on another level, I thought to myself, "Ladies, think this through." Do the girls on the Empyrean really want the human race to die out? Are they actually willing to bear all the children of the next generation all by themselves? That's a minimum of four children each, and hopefully more. And here's this other ship, with over a hundred surrogate mothers all of whom are delighted to carry pregnancies to term. Sharing their eggs just makes sense. Granted - the other ship should have asked. They should have taken the time to talk to the girls, and bring them around, not just drugged them, and taken what they needed without asking. That was rude. But at the end of the day, what else was going to happen?

I thought the book could have explored the religious questions more thoroughly. Kieran is religious, unlike most of the members of his ship. He puts together a weekly church service, and I was surprised that very little religion enters into his sermons, which are mostly pep talks about why he should continue to be captain.

This book is fairly gritty, as various characters have to survive near misses with air locks, piloting One Man mini-ships at zero g, freezing temperatures in the outer bays, etc. etc. They are mostly too bruised, tired and scared for any romance to happen.

Compare to:
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
The Comet's Curse - Dom Testa
Inside Out - Maria V. Snyder

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This week's topic is: Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR.

I'm so excited for all of these, for different reasons. Fortunately, there's not much longer to wait. Here they are!

Taken - Erin Bowman
How My Summer Went Up in Flames - Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Going Vintage - Lindsey Leavitt
Maid of Secrets - Jennifer McGowan
The Originals - Cat Patrick
The Rithmatist - Brandon Sanderson
Furious - Jill Wolfson
The Program - Suzanne Young
The Lucy Variations - Sara Zarr
Poison - Bridget Zinn

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Picture books mini-reviews 27

Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Schwartz & Wade
September 2012

 The title says it all! This is one of the most charming books about learning to count and managing money that I've seen in a while. Plenty of funny, repeating rhymes makes this an appealing read-aloud "Lemon lemon Lime, lemon Limeade!/ Lemon lemon Lime, lemon Limeade! /All that it will cost ya? Fifty cents a cup! /All that it will cost ya? Fifty cents a cup!"

I love Karas' illustrations and I like the pleasantly suburban multi-racial neighborhood.

I borrowed this book from the library.

by Ari Berk, illustrated Loren Long
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
September 2012

 This picture book invites one-on-one reading, with a text-heavy story about a baby bat and sumptuously dark illustrations best suited for examining at close range. How do bats see in the dark? Through echolocation, of course! Mama Bat explains what senses are by saying, "Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you." The illustrations are mostly dark, but not somber, and they paint a picture of a quiet night and the intrepid bat who explores it. This would be a good pick for Halloween or for any child who'd like a good dose of storytelling along with their science. The world hasn't seen a bat this loveable since Stellaluna, make no mistake.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Abe Lincoln's Dream
by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press
October 2012

This story was a lot more fanciful than I had thought it would be. Lincoln's ghost makes corny jokes, but retains his somber mien as he and an African-American schoolgirl float over the country, and talk a bit about progress since Lincoln's time. Molly Leach lends her skill as a book designer, as this book contains the superbly peppy fonts that Smith's books are known for. Abe Lincoln's Dream is sure to be popular on President's Day, or during any presidential election year.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Odder and Otter
by James Howe, illustrated by Chris Raschka
October 2012

Why haven't I mentioned this book sooner? I just loved this odd, quirky, funny little book. Otter finds himself falling in love with a fish, much to his own chagrin and the stern disapproval of his fellow otters. "They're right. It is impossible. You cannot love your food source," thinks Otter when, despite his best efforts, he finds himself smitten with Myrtle the fish.  Raschka's loose watercolor and crayon illustrations add a child-like charm which belies the hipster-like irony of Otter's situation. Luckily, there's a happy ending, as Otter and Myrtle manage to make things work. This story is in the vein of Chris Raschka's Arlene the Sardine and other weird, not-quite-for-kids, but entertaining all the same, picture books.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Comment Challenge prize

Wow! Special thanks to Lee Wind and MotherReader for once again hosting this year's Comment Challenge. Ah, how I wish it could be Comment Challenge every day - it's so nice to have those conversations with your readers. And I always end up discovering so many neat new blogs. No one was more surprised than me to hear that I was a winner of some free books.

When I got this package in the mail, I literally jumped for joy! Yes, now it's time for my other favorite part of blogging - settling in and reading!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top Ten Series I'd Like To Start But Haven't Yet

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week's topic is: Top Ten Series I'd Like To Start But Haven't Yet

Here we go! I've really got to get cracking on these.

Fairyland series - Catherynne M. Valente
Books of Faerie - Maggie Stiefvater
The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson - Stephanie Burgis
The Luxe - Anna Godbersen
Tempest - Julie Cross
Dark Mirror - Mary Jo Putney
Seeds of America - Laurie Halse Anderson
Legend - Mary Lu
The Penderwicks - Jeanne Birdsall
Cinder - Marissa Meyer

What series are you eager to dig into?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gingerbread review

by Rachel Cohn
Simon & Schuster
March 2002

First line: "My so-called parents hate my boyfriend Shrimp."

Cyd Charisse has been expelled from her New England boarding school and is back in San Francisco with her family, mom Nancy, step-dad Sid, and adorable younger half-siblings Josh and Ashley. She very much feels like the unwanted step-child in her family. Her thoughts keep circling back to an unintended pregnancy with her ex-boyfriend Justin and the abortion she had. It doesn't completely rule her life... but it does haunt her. She has an almost-too-wise sound, kind of like Diablo Cody - the arch 30-something hipster attempting to speak in a teen's voice. The book came out in 2002 and already sounds just a wee bit dated... the all-pervasiveness of cell phones and internet was beginning but not at the zenith that it is today. I found the parents being named Sid and Nancy a bit distracting at first, but by the end of the story, I barely noticed.

Forced to do community service, Cyd befriends "Sugarpie" an elderly woman at a senior center. Sugarpie was a psychic and tarot-card reader who faced some heartbreak of her own in her day and provides the kind of womanly advice and support that Cyd finds lacking in her career-driven, money-obsessed parents. Cyd's new surfer boyfriend Shrimp dumps her just before she sets off for a month in New York to reconnect with her father, something which upsets her very much, especially after finding a warm relationship with him following her dysfunctional relationship with Justin. Cyd carries around a ragdoll with her everywhere -- Gingerbread, named after a dessert her father brought her on their one meeting at an airport when she was five. Cyd comes to realize that her biological father "real-dad-Frank" is a jerk and a disappointment. Embarrassed by his affair, he first tries to pass her off as his niece and later as his goddaughter. She connects with her older half-brother Dann; as a gay man, he shares her outsider status in the family. Older sister Rhonda (Cyd later finds out she goes by the name Lizbet) is a disappointment as well -- a snooty, preppy, pious Catholic, who's horrified to learn that she has an illegitimate sister. Despite all she's been through, Cyd remains somewhat boy-crazed, crushing on her boyfriend's brother Wallace as well as her father's New York Italian driver Louis.

I enjoyed Cyd's quirky sense of humor. She refers to her room (when grounded) as "Alcatraz." She finds an outlet for her energy working as a barista and is always ready with a clever come-back.

The tearful confession that Cyd finally makes with her mother, Nancy at the end of the book didn't feel forced at all. It felt as though she was getting her life back on track, and connecting the pieces, especially as Nancy confesses to her that she'd considered adoption -- choosing the name Cyd so that it would be unique and memorable so she could find her daughter if they were separated. Sid-dad comes across in the end as a real hero as well. He may not be Cyd's biological father, but he's the guy who is always supportive and there for her.

Compare to:
This Lullaby - Sarah Dessen
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Read in February 2013

This month I read the following the books:

1. Empire of Ivory - Naomi Novik
2. Secondhand Charm - Julie Berry
3. Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory - George O'Connor
4. Love Times Three - Joe Darger
5. The Feminist and the Cowboy - Alisa Valdes
6. MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend - Rachel Bertsche
7. The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet - Dara-Lynn Weiss
8. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl - Ben Hatke
9. The Selection - Kiera Cass
10. The Princesses of Iowa - Molly M. Backes
11. The Future of Us - Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
12. Salvation - Anne Osterlund
13. Crewel - Gennifer Albin
14. Victory of Eagles - Naomi Novik

Picture credit: In the Orangery by Charles Edward Perugini


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