Tuesday, April 30, 2013

10 Topics that Make Me Pick Up a Book

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This week's topic is: 
Top Ten Words/Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/Pick Up A Book.

That's pretty easy. Here they are:

1. Dragons. I am a fool for dragons. It's true.

2. Wizards. Who doesn't love a wizard?

3. Boarding school. I adore boarding schools! What a great way to get your protagonists away from their parents, and doing something awesome, right quick.

4. Love triangle. Lots of people are tired of them, but they still have a lot of appeal for me.

5. Elves. Just like humans. But magical, and better looking!

6. Cults. Is this crazy? I love stories about folks trapped in and/or escaping from a cult.

7. Spaceships. If it's not taking place in a fantasy milieu, then a spaceship will suit me just fine.

8. Multiverse. Any kind of time-travel/alternate reality sounds good to me.

9. Faeries. Yup. Maybe it's cheating to put this on the list (as I've already mentioned elves) but, that kind of magical, otherworldly beings is sure to make for a good story, I think.

10. Dystopia. Why is this an auto-go-to for me? I guess the current times feel kind of stressful. In a weird way, it's helpful to imagine worst-case scenarios. Even in a dystopia, the hero seems to be prevailing against terrible odds. I guess what I'm trying to say is that dystopia makes me feel good because even when things are going badly (in the real world) at least they're not going as badly as that.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Wallflower review

The Wallflower
by Tomoko Hayakawa, translated by David Ury
Del Rey
October 2004

What an utterly weird little book. There's this misfit girl, Sunako, and her aunt, a wealthy landlady, who's offered four boys free rent at her boarding house (more like a mansion) if they can turn her niece into a pretty young lady. The girl is very socially awkward, shy and hates herself but loves horror movies. She's kind of like a goth, without the fashion sense. She gets nosebleeds all the time when she's nervous and refers to herself as a creature of darkness, and the boys as creatures of light. She's always afraid that she'll melt away from embarrassment. 

The boys try to get her out of her shell - at one point they all dress in drag and take her to a hostess club - kind of the Japanese equivalent of a strip club? No one really bats an eye at this. The boys are all very pretty and as popular as rock stars. After this, Sunako decides that she's too overwhelmed by it all, and murdering the ringleader of the boys is her only answer. She makes several half-hearted attempts to stab him. The boys all treat this somewhat as a joke. Finally, they get her to dress up nice at one party (with the promise of a gift of a pile of horror DVDs if she cooperates.) She makes a splash, and hits it off with an American (who might be named John) but then gets in an awesome karate fight with a bunch of guests for being too fresh with her. The aunt offers the boys half off their rent, not knowing that her niece was only playing the part for the evening.

I like the art style, especially the way the characters revert to being children whenever they are in the midst of a strong emotion. The book reads back to front, as is traditional for manga. The translation notes in the back are helpful - but I really do think that there is a lot that is lost in translation on this one. This is the first in a popular series that has been turned into a TV show in Japan.

I purchased a copy of this book.

Friday, April 26, 2013

So You Wanna Be a Superstar? review

So You Want to Be a Superstar?: The Ultimate Audition Guide
by Ted Michael, Nic Cory and Mara Jill Herman
Running Press Kids
August 2012

Upbeat, positive encouragement is provided for teens who want to dabble in the arts and for those with dreams of stardom. The authors seem to have their fingers on the pulse of everything that is cool in pop culture, and the casual writing style ensures maximum teen appeal. Extensive musical theater history, dance terms, and audition tips are all presented in a clear, readable way. 

The book is chock-full of personality quizzes that will help teens discover their ideal roles and vocal range, as well as their own talents and interests so they can tailor an acting, singing, or dance career perfectly suited to their personal strengths. This engaging and fun-spirited guide is sure to be a boon for hopeful performers.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

10 Books I Thought I'd Like More/Less Than I Did

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is: Top Ten Books I Thought I'd Like MORE/LESS Than I Did.

Here we go!

Books I liked MORE!

1. Crossed - Ally Condie

I loved Matched so much! It read like a lighter, more romantic version of Louis Lowry's The Giver. I'd read plenty of ho-hum reviews for the sequel, and had put off reading it for quite a while. But even so, I was certain that I'd really, really like it, despite what I'd heard. When I finally dug in and started reading it... I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I thought it really suffered from the "middle-child syndrome" that lots of trilogies have. Not enough forward action on the plot and the main characters are separated for most of this book. Still, I plan to press on and read the third book, Reached.

2. Out of the Easy - Ruta Sepetys

I like the occasional historical fiction but really prefer sci-fi, or fantasy. I loved this book about independent Josie Moraine growing up in a 1950's New Orleans bordello so much more than I thought I would. What a terrific read!

3. I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had - Tony Danza

I picked up this memoir, excited to hear about 80's sitcom star Tony Danza's foray into teaching. I was expecting, I guess, the typical first year teacher story. What I didn't expect is that Danza was actually teaching in a Philadelphia inner-city school for a "reality" television program. He only had ONE class of high school English to teach. Wait. I'll say that again for anyone who missed it. The man taught ONE class - that's it! So, I was really disappointed. I felt like I was watching Marie Antoinette "play" at being a shepherdess with a flock of perfumed sheep, not reading a real autobiography of the rigors of teaching.

4. Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style - Tim Gunn

I'm a huge Tim Gunn fan. But this book didn't offer anything new or interesting. Disappointed!

5. The Other Normals - Ned Vizzini

I'm always on the look-out for teen fiction with guy appeal, so I figured I'd give this one a whirl. I felt like it was my duty to read something "for the guys." Boy was I surprised when it pulled me in immediately, and I was enchanted! 15 year old Perry finds himself teleported to a magical realm - and his red-skinned, tailed counterpart Mortin Enaw takes his place on Earth.

6. Chime - Franny Billingsly

I love Franny Billingsly. She's an auto-buy author for me. I did like this book a lot, but it took me a lot longer to get into than I thought. If this was the first Franny Billingsly book I'd ever read, I don't know if I would have kept going! Fortunately, I did, and it won me over by the end.

7. Tolstoy and The Purple Chair: My Magical Year of Reading - Nina Sankovitch

I don't regret reading this book, but what I had not realized was that this book is really about Sankovitch's extreme grief for her sister's untimely death from cancer. It was a lot more depressing than I had anticipated. Also, it turns out, the gorgeous purple chair on the cover, only becomes Sankovitch's reading chair after a cat pees on it, and nobody else want to sit on it. Ugh!

8. Legacy - Kayla Cluver

I didn't know much about this series except that I kind of liked the cover. Wow! Loved this story about a princess in a magical kingdom and the Romeo and Juliet aspects of her romance so much!

9. The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant - Dan Savage

I figured I'd like this book, as Dan Savage, of Savage Love advice column fame, and founder of the "It Gets Better Project" is always funny and irreverent. As a hopeful adoptive mom, it actually soothed a lot of my worries, and put me in a very upbeat state of mind. So, I thought I'd like this book, but I didn't think I'd love it as much as I did. It totally warrants a re-read, and I don't re-read books very often!

10. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor

Well, I'd heard all the wonderful reviews. The breathless excitement over this wonderful new fantasy. And I figured there was no way that this book could live up to all the hype. But incredibly, it did! I had been bracing myself for disappointment, but this book surpassed my every hope and honestly is one of the best books that I've read in years. Hurrah!

Books I liked LESS!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Better Nate Than Ever review

Better Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster
February 2013

Irrepressible 13 year old Nate Foster is certain that stardom awaits, as soon as he can leave his stifling life in small town Jankburg, Pennsylvania behind. Using his ever-loyal best friend Libby as an alibi, he sneaks away to New York City to audition for E.T.: The Musical. Nate and Libby have an endearing habit of using the names of Broadway flops as stand-ins for foul language. A madcap adventure, featuring bossy receptionists, cut-throat fellow performers, and wacky casting directors follows. 

With the help of an understanding aunt, Nate remains goofy and upbeat in the face of constant criticism and rejection. A fun and suspenseful ending will leave readers guessing whether Nate scored the part or not. Federle’s semi-autobiographical debut explores weighty issues such as sibling rivalry, bullying, religious parents and gay or questioning teens with a remarkably light-hearted and humorous touch totally appropriate for young audiences.

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

This review originally appeared in School Library Journal.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rocket feltboard

Forgive the poor picture quality - I snapped this on my cell phone, and for some reason the moon looks very bright! I just have a quick little rhyme that goes with this one:

I'm a little rocket, pointing to the moon!
5, 4, 3, 2, 1... blast off, zoom!

I read the following books:

Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit – Chris Van Dusen
You Can’t Eat a Princess! – Gillian Rogerson
Mooncake – Frank Asch
The Birth of the Moon – Coby Hol
Brave Spaceboy – Dana Kessimakas Smith

The funniest moment in this storytime, I had two little girls sitting in front, who began arguing among themselves while I was reading Mooncake by Frank Asch.
"The moon is made of cheese," nodded one girl.
"No! You're wrong! The moon is made of air," her friend whisper-shouted back.

I had to stop reading, and tell them, "Ladies! You are both wrong! The moon is made of rocks. Now, can we settle down and find out what Bear thinks the moon is made out of?" It was very hard to keep a straight face, let me tell you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When it's time to weed

I think I just failed my sanity check a bit, looking at this pile of weeded items from my library.

That Biblical Costumes book dates from 1953, and hasn't been checked out by anybody in about a decade. 

Do you remember when we were going to get rid of standard measurements and start using the metric system? Yeah. That kinda never happened. This 1974 title is full of earnest exhortations for students to brush up on the metric system, right now, before they're left behind!

Telephone Time has some good tips in it - especially about not giving out your full name or address out to folks who randomly call you. But! It was written in a time before cell phones. And before call waiting and answering machines, too!

And this last one. Wow. I don't even. The quotation marks around "retarded" just makes it extra hilarious, at least to me.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shattered Dreams review

Shattered Dreams
by Ellie James
St. Martin's Press
December 2011

First line: "I heard this place is like... haunted."

Sixteen year old Trinity Monsour goes to live with her aunt in New Orleans after the death of her grandmother. More than anything, she wants to fit in. On a dare, she goes to an allegedly haunted house and is overwhelmed by disturbing visions.

The story was set in post-Katrina New Orleans... affording plenty of opportunity for the main characters to explore abandoned and flooded homes.  But I still had trouble picturing a lot of the places in the book. To me at least, it felt like this story could have happened in any small town, with a number of older, decrepit buildings, anywhere.

There's a lot of drama that unfolds, as Trinity has a crush on the alpha mean-girl Jessica's boyfriend, Chase. When Jessica is murdered, Trinity and Chase waste no time whatsoever in hooking up. Trinity's visions lead to clues that may unravel the mystery of Jessica's murder -- but it sure does look suspicious that Trinity is the one coming forth with all of this information.

Despite the romance and the mystery of Trinity's heritage (why does she get these visions? who were her parents?) I never really connected with the main character. This is the first in the Midnight Dragonfly series, but I'm pretty sure I won't be picking up the sequel. I'll recommend this to readers who are looking for a spooky, ghosty, paranormal romance that isn't too triangular.

Compare to:
One Hundred Candles - Mara Purnhagen
The Summoning - Kelley Armstrong
Deadly Little Secret - Laurie Faria Stolarz

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

Picture book mini-reviews 28

The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie
by William Joyce
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
October 2012

Lush, beautifully detailed artwork is the star of this picture book. The text is a bit wordy and fanciful, but it has an Ozian feel - L. Frank Baum inspired, as it were. There's just a hint of the 20's in a steampunky, future/past fairytale. I was always terrified of the Sandman when I was a child, but the only image I had of him was the villain from Spiderman. Maybe if I'd read this as a kid instead, I'd be enchanted instead of scared of the idea. Featuring a star chariot, a Nightmare king, mermaids... this book is really something. Don't miss out on this wonderful Guardians of Childhood series by William Joyce.

I borrowed this book from the library.

In the Land of Milk and Honey
by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
September 2012

Here's a slice of black history, featuring the author's semi-autobiographical story of her family's move from Oklahoma to the Bay Area, California in the 1940's. Plenty of lyrical repeating phrases emphasize the beauty of California and the high hopes transplants had of living a better life there amidst a more diverse and welcoming populace. Soft, warm illustrations fill the pages with a light glow.

I borrowed this book from the library.

But I've Used All My Pocket Change
by Lauren Child
September 2012

The moral of this story is not only about planning ahead and using money sensibly, but also about generosity and sharing. This book is "based on" the original Charlie and Lola stories, and seems just as high quality. All the hallmarks of the series are here, especially the collage artwork and varying typefaces used to emphasize the text at certain parts of the story. As always, Lola is irrepressible and big-brother Charlie is super-responsible. After a trip to the zoo, Lola wastes all her money on small purchases, while Charlie generously shares, and can't afford what he'd like either. Pair this with Bunny Money, featuring Max and Ruby by Rosemary Wells for an interesting conversation starter with kids about budgeting.

I borrowed this book from the library.
Me Want Pet!
by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Bob Shea
Simon & Schuster
March 2012

Ooga! This story certainly plays off the caveman stereotype - a fun little story about how Cave Boy acquires not one pet, but three. Cave Boy tries out a woolly mammoth, a saber-toothed tiger, and a dodo bird, but none of them work out - until they save the day during a stampede. Heavy black lines and bright colors make the illustrations easy to see from a distance. The book is full of Tarzan-like speech - simple sentences with no contractions. Pair this with Caveman ABC by Janee Trasler for a very wacky, prehistoric storytime.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prized review

by Caragh M. O'Brien
Roaring Brook Press
November 2011

First line: "She grabbed the hilt of her knife and scrambled backwards into the darkness, holding the baby close in her other arm."

The dystopian saga continues, as teenaged midwife Gaia Stone escapes from the controlling factions near Unlake Superior. It's quickly apparent that she's jumped from the frying pan, into the fire. In Birthmarked, Gaia lived in a modest cottage with her small family, with the unpleasant job of delivering babies to the nearby city to meet their "quota" to the Enclave. Since making her escape to the settlement of Sylum, ostensibly ruled by a council of elder women, she finds things even more challenging. At first, the hardscrabble life of the settlers seems like salvation for Gaia who is on the run from the authorities of the Enclave. They provide food for her sickly infant sister and welcome her skills as a midwife. But, Gaia soon finds that the rules at Sylum are quite harsh. She can't leave because the Matrarc is holding her sister Maya hostage. Also, the residents are suffering from radiation poisoning, which only worsens if they try to run away into the surrounding Wastelands.

In Sylum, men outnumber women by about 10 to 1 - meaning that even with her scarred face, Gaia is considered a great prize. She's still interested in Leon, the boy she met in Enclave, but now she has two new suitors: brothers Will and Peter. It's a love square! Gaia also has the option of declaring herself a "libby" - a group of women who remain unmarried, but lose their voting rights on the council. Kissing without intent to marry is outlawed. Men who overstep their boundaries with the few available bachelorettes find themselves harshly punished. O'Brien's rich vocabulary gives a unique feeling to the world - set in the future, yet living like pioneers in the past.

There are plenty of meaty issues to explore in this series: infertility, abortion, gender roles and class differences to name a few. I'm looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, Promised.

Compare to:
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Wither - Lauren DeStefano
The Pledge - Kimberly Derting

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

City of Ember review

City of Ember
by Jeanne dePrau
May 2003

First line: "When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future."

In what we assume is the far future, Lina and her friend Doon live in what they believe to be the last bastion of humanity. A disintegrating city surrounded by darkness is reliant on the last of their dwindling stores. The Builders left Instructions for their descendants, which have since been lost. Most of the townsfolk are content to continue scraping along with reduced rations, hoping that the Mayor will somehow find a solution. In a scene reminiscent of Lois Lowry's The Giver, Lina is pleased to receive her assignment for her new job: that of Messenger. Doon, on the other hand is assigned to the pipeworks. Together, they end up piecing together the secrets hidden in their city.

Doon is the "responsible" one seeing the danger in the city as they are running low on supplies, including lightbulbs. I was mystified by their situation at first. The adults in the town seem strangely incurious, bureaucratic and ineffective. A lot of them seemed like mealy-mouthed whiners to me, because they see the supplies running out, but aren't willing to fight for any solutions.

The city is surrounded by darkness, and beyond the trashdumps are the Unexplored Regions. I saw a few plotholes here. Everyone has a massive ravening, unceasing fear of the dark. Everyone? Really? With no exceptions? People have difficulty navigating their own houses that they've lived in all their lives without the help of the lights? I wondered if their fears were at least partially chemically induced, but that didn't seem to be the case. Over several generations in a town of a fair sized population, not one person has ever happened to be blind and thus not afraid of the dark? Mysterious. The pace of this was excruciatingly slow. Some readers could argue that people who have no knowlege of anything else in the outside world would take a long time to puzzle out things which might be obvious to us. This is a solidly imagined world - Lina's knowledge of flora and fauna, for example, is limited to a few insects and a couple of varieties of garden vegetables. She has trouble understanding what a boat is, or how to use a candle.

The main characters are both twelve years old, and there's little or no romance of any sort in the book; their mindset seems very young.
The story has a satisfying ending, but is still quite open for more in the series.

Compare to: 
The Giver - Lois Lowry
Shade's Children - Garth Nix
Incarceron - Catherine Fisher

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spilt Milk feltboard

I'm so glad I made this felt board! It's based on that old classic picture book, It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw. It was pretty easy to make - just cut out the shapes in white felt, and the kids loved calling out what each shape was. Some of the younger kids were mystified and surprised by the ending, while my pre-k storytime kids were calling out, "It's a cloud! I bet it's a cloud! It's a cloud, right?" right from the start.

Sometimes it looked like spilt milk...

Sometimes it looked like...

Sometimes it looked like spilt milk... but it was only a cloud in the sky.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Read in March 2013

This month I read the following the books:

1. Tongues of Serpents - Naomi Novik
2. The Borrowed Bride - Elizabeth Lane
3. The Wallflower, v. 1 - Tomoko Hayakawa
4. Front Row: Anna Wintour - Jerry Oppenheimer
5. Formerly Shark Girl - Kelly Bingham
6. Lulu and the Duck in the Park - Hilary McKay
7. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea - Hilary McKay
8. The Alchemy of Forever - Avery Williams
9. Reading Women - Stefan Bollman

Picture credit: Her Favorite Book by Pino Daeni


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