Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Black Heart review

Black Heart
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry
April 2012

First line: "My brother Barron sits next to me, sucking the last dregs of milk tea slush noisily through a wide yellow straw."

The ending of this epic series was truly amazing! Gifted teen shapeshifter Cassel Sharpe is once again, torn between doing the right thing, or siding with his decidedly shady magically-gifted criminal family. In Black Heart, Cassel has gained fairly good control over his transformation magic but spends a lot of time stressing out over his work as a double-agent. 

His long-time unrequited love, Lila, has officially joined the magical mafia (with the tattoos to prove it) and in the meantime, he's been offered a very sweet deal with a witness protection program - provided he can deliver a couple of big-time mafiosi hold-outs to justice. Conspiracies and backstabbing abound as criminals and politicians vie for control over the "curseworkers" - the small segment of the population with magical ability who are hated and distrusted by everyone.

I love how Cassel really comes into his own in this book. One of the things he says is, "Now I know why people are afraid of transformation workers. Now I know why they want to control me. Now I get it. I can walk into someone's house, kiss their wife, and eat their dinner. I can lift a passport at the airport and twenty minutes later it will seem like it's mine. I can be a blackbird staring in a window. I can be a cat creeping along a ledge. I can do anywhere I want and do the worst things I can imagine, with nothing ever to connect me to those crimes. Today I might look like me, but tomorrow I could look like you. Tomorrow, I could be you. Hell, I'm scared of myself right now."

I can't quite decide if this is a "good guys don't always finish last" or an instance where the bad guys win, or a bit of both, since Cassel has always been this fish out of water in his criminal family. I don't want to spoil anything, but I can say, after having been through so much, Cassel finally does get a much deserved respite.

Compare to:
Thirsty - M.T. Anderson
Eighth Grade Bites - Heather Brewer
The Replacement - Brenna Yovanoff
The Wizard Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

398.2 Necklace

I love this necklace from Etsy seller MoonGardenDesigns. I get the joke - do you?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Abby and the Book Bunch review

Abby and the Book Bunch: Out to Lunch, The Mystery of the Golden Key & Claim to Fame
by Nancy K. Wallace
Calico Chapter Books
January 2013

The busy lives of Abby, her friends, family and neighbors in the idyllic suburban community of Evergreen are the focus in this series of early chapter books. 

In Out to Lunch, Abby, her best friend Sydney and neighborhood boys Zachary and Dakota team up for a medieval project at school, creating knight and princess costumes with the help of their glitter-addicted librarian Mrs. Mackenzie. In The Mystery of the Golden Key, Abby discovers a beautiful key buried in her backyard, and after doing some research at the library, befriends the original owner of the key, Abigail Flynn, a 100-year-old nursing home resident. In Claim to Fame, Sydney is mortified when the boys play a trick on her, turning her blonde hair pink by sprinkling strawberry Kool-Aid on her while she’s at the pool.  In the meantime, Abby’s nervousness over learning her lines for a play they are putting on at the library inspires her to change the show into a very successful puppet show. 

The series would benefit from clearer labeling as to the series order. Other titles in the series are listed alphabetically on the back cover and nothing on the spine or frontspiece indicates what order the books should be read in. Generously sized font, short chapters and a good number of greyscale digital cartoon illustrations make these a fast and fun read for young readers. Each book is appended with activity suggestions to extend some of the ideas presented in each title.

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

This review originally appeared in School Library Journal.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Of Poseidon review

Of Poseidon
by Anna Banks
Fiewel and Friends
May 2012

First line: "I smack into him as if shoved from behind."

I'm not ashamed to admit that I picked up this book based on the gorgeous cover alone. Bonus: I love books that alternate between two main characters POV. Of Poseidon was a fun read - if you enjoy the schadenfreude of yelling at characters who are Too Dumb to Live. Clumsy Emma and her best friend Chloe are enjoying a vacation on the Florida beach before they go off to the college in the fall. Things quickly take a serious turn when Chloe is eaten by sharks. Emma is very dramatically super sad that her token black friend is dead. In the meantime hunky stranger Galen is hiding a secret - he's actually a merman. He's actually a royal alpha-male merman, or Syrena as they're called, who is immediately smitten with Emma. He decides to behave like a creepy stalker and chase Emma around, moving to New Jersey so he can keep tabs on her. It's explained to the reader that this is okay, because Galen's culture is male-dominated. Galen's feisty sister Rayna is given away in marriage to Galen's friend Toraf without her consent, and everyone seems right on board for that.

Galen and Emma are Meant to Be Together - Emma's unusual violet eyes give away her half Syrena heritage, and Galen hopes that she can unite the warring Poseidon and Triton tribes. Galen's main obstacle is that he feels Emma rightfully "belongs" to his older brother Grom. Emma has all the hallmarks of a Mary Sue - gorgeous, klutzy, unusual eyes, special powers, (like Aquaman, she can talk to fish) she's as dumb as a box of rocks, yet everyone is smitten with her.

Later in the book, Emma and Galen hit a rough patch and break up. Emma is on a date with nice guy Mark, and Galen shows up and angrily demands that she get out of Mark's car and come with him instead. I was shouting out loud, "No, Emma, no! Don't go with him! So what if he's got great pecs? He's a total weirdo, and threatening other guys you spend time with is such a red flag! Don't do it!" On more than one occasion she even describes Galen as having such an intense stare that he has "serial killer eyes." Of course, Emma decides that she must go with him, in order to protect Mark from getting beat up, since a mere human would not be able to stand up to Galen's superhuman super-strength. Then Galen refuses to drive her home, instead, pulling over on an abandoned stretch of road and guilting her into taking him back. Gross!

File this book under, "so terrible that it's great." Read if you're looking for a light summer read and you're not worried about killing too many brain cells. I kind of split the difference on the read-alikes I recommended: two mermaid books that I think are way better than this one, and two paranormal romances with inappropriately domineering boyfriends (that we are for some reason, supposed to like.)

Compare to:
Lost Voices - Sarah Porter
Lies Beneath - Anne Greenwood Brown
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
The Mephisto Covenant - Trinity Faegen

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

Friday, July 19, 2013

Picture book mini-reviews 33

Polar Bear Morning
by Lauren Thompson
Scholastic Press
January 2013

Two polar bear cubs explore the arctic, finding seals, seagulls and icebergs. Simple text (just a sentence per page) and large, bold shapes in linocut illustrations make this a good choice for very young audiences. Polar Bear Morning is the perfect example of "less is more." This is a nice companion to Polar Bear Night.

I borrowed this book from the library.

The Ant and the Grasshopper
by Rebecca Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley
Roaring Brook Press
October 2012

Caveat emptor! This is not the Aesop's fable. Vibrant, eye-spinning illustrations with clashing colors and Cajun slang celebrate New Orleans music. The lesson seems to be "Laissez les bon temps rouler!" or "Let the good times roll!" which is rather the opposite of the moral from the original fable about virtues of hard work and planning for the future. File this alongside gutless re-tellings of The Little Red Hen with new endings where she decides to share her hard-won bread, despite the laziness of her friends. Some readers may appreciate the wildly colorful, deeply saturated collage illustrations, but I found them stomach churning.

I borrowed this book from the library.

999 Frogs Wake Up
by Ken Kimura
NorthSouth Books
January 2013

What a great spring story. 998 frogs (plus their big brother) decide wake everybody up for spring. When they accidentally wake up a hungry snake they assure him that he can sleep a little later if he likes. Cute, "kawai" illustrations with lots of white space retain a very Japanese feel from this import. This is a sequel to 999 Tadpoles.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Red Hat
by Lita Judge
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
March 2013

With one exclamation per page, a bear and his forest animal friends "Wow-za" "Shwooop" and "Doot-do-doo" through the onomatopoeic story, going on a wild adventure with a knitted red hat they find out on a clothesline. Unraveling their way through the forest, the boy finally gets his tangled yarn back and he re-knits it into little hats for everyone. This is a sequel to Red Sled.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Last Apprentice trailer

Here's the first trailer for Seventh Son - based on Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice book series. I don't know how much of the plot it conveys, other than "here's an awesome magical world of magical magic and big battles, woooh!" Still! It looks intriguing.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Little Free Libraries


I am having so much fun visiting my local Little Free Libraries. If you haven't heard from them, basically, they are little boxes, maybe a bit bigger than a birdhouse, where you can leave a book, or take a book... for free! I guess the thing I love about them is that each one is like a tiny, charming surprise. Each one that I've seen is decorated differently. People are so creative! You probably have one close to you - check the map.

If you don't have one near you, you can start one. You can pour as little or as much money into it as you wish. You can purchase a Little Free Library box from their website, or they helpfully provide plans so you can build your own, or you can use your own creativity and build something of your own design.

Personally, I have waaaay too many books - I'm having a lot of fun leaving books at Little Free Libraries and seeing people take them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Picture book mini-reviews 32

The Loopy Coop Hens: Letting Goby Janet Morgan StoekeDial BooksFebruary 2013

Chickens don't fly... like Newton's apple, they'll head straight for the ground. This picture book makes for a fun story for beginning readers, with easy three and four letter words and a repetitive vocabulary. Dot, Pip and Midge are just as charming as the adorably addlepated Minerva Louise from Stoeke's earlier books. The silly chickens are convinced someone must be throwing apples at them - when they finally make their way up into the branches of the tree to investigate they are rewarded with a wonderful view and cheerfully discover that what goes up, must come down.

I borrowed this book from the library.

I'm Not Readingby Jonathan AllenBoxer BooksFebruary 2013

So silly! Adorable Baby Owl (from I'm Not Cute) returns. This time, he's squashed under a boatload of even cuter fluffy baby chicks. This is the book that I didn't know that I needed for preschool storytime. Colorful digital illustrations with soft fluffy edges make Baby Owl look extra cute and huggable. Endpapers feature a plethora of baby chicks. Fortunately, Mama Owl is able to come to the rescue and set everyone to rights so that Baby Owl can finally share his love of reading with everyone.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Oh So Tiny Bunny
David KirkFeiwel & FriendsFebruary 2013

Tiny Bunny is surreal and overly cute. He dreams of all kinds of things (making friends with a dragon, being larger than a forest) but then is super lonely. He awakes to find himself in the company of another bunny. Bright digital illustrations have a glossy sheen. This picture book is sure to be an Easter tie-in favorite, for the colorful bunny cover alone. This would also pair well with other books about making friends.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Busy-Busy Little Chick
by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian PinkneyFarrar, Straus & GirouxFebruary 2013

Loose, sweeping watercolors grace this picture book based on African Nkundo folk tale. Busy-Busy Little Chick industriously builds the whole family a new home. What a mensch! Because the story is based on the oral tradition, the book begs to be read aloud with repeated onomatopoeic phrases. There's a nice moral to the story - even though Busy-Busy Little Chick's siblings and mother are lazy, he helps them out anyway, it's just the right thing to do.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Color of Rain review

The Color of Rain
by Cori McCarthy
Running Press Kids
May 2013

First line: "Of all the directions to be looking, I stare up."

Seventeen year old Rain White dreams of getting away from decrepit and dangerous Earth City. Her younger brother Walker is becoming "Touched" - more and more catatonic by the day, and the rest of their family has already been ripped away from them in this dystopian future. She hopes to get passage for her brother to mech space where there may be a cure for his debilitating condition. Clearly, Rain's only option is to become a space prostitute. Her best friend Lo convinces her to sell her virginity at a good price to a disgusting client, but when this plan falls through, she meets Johnny, a sexy space traveler, who offers her and her brother a spot on his ship... for a price.

Rain is horrified when she learns that Johnny's offer to buy her virginity is all a sham. He's actually a space pimp with a whole stable full of girls. Yes, he said he was interested in her body... but he never said it was specifically for himself. Her brother is cryogenically frozen and spends most of the book as a popsicle, as she struggles with psychopathic Johnny and his number one assistant, cyborg mech Ben.

Johnny casually takes Rain's virginity, and then downgrades her from "red" status - meaning only he can touch her - to blue, green and then yellow, as he allows fat slobby crewmembers to abuse her. Gradually, she and Ben reach out to each other, as they discover Johnny's secrets. Johnny is actually trading Touched colonists as slaves to mining colonies. Rain and Ben try to free them at a gambling colony run by Johnny's ex-girlfriend, but are foiled by Johnny's seemingly all-powerful reach.

Interestingly, Rain is fairly highly sexed herself. She finds Johnny attractive, and enjoys their time together, even as she recognizes that mech Ben is much more sensitive and ultimately, a better match. Even though she's only recently become sexually experienced, she's quickly able to turn off her feelings and provide a decent experience for her repulsive clients.

While marketed for fans of Across the Universe by Beth Revis, the space element is not as prevalent as one might think and this book might actually be a better match for mature readers who enjoy dark dystopian fantasies or readers looking for books about arranged marriages. Readers who liked Julia Karr's XVI about a dystopian world where all women over 16 are fare game for random men, or Suzanne Fisher Staple's Shabanu about a Pakistani girl doomed to an arranged marriage, or Pearl Abraham's The Romance Reader about a girl's escape from an arranged Hasidic Jewish marriage, will find much to appreciate in this gritty sci-fi dystopian novel about a girl's exchange of sexual power for freedom and family.

Compare to:
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
XVI - Julia Karr
Shabanu - Suzanne Fisher Staple
The Romance Reader - Pearl Abraham

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

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Shadow Kiss review

Shadow Kiss
by Richelle Mead
November 2008

First line: "His fingertips slid along my back, applying hardly any pressure, yet sending shockwaves over my flesh."

Ordinarily, I wouldn't recommend skipping books in a series. Especially by the third book, there may be too much background info to catch up on. However, Shadow Kiss has enough exposition in it, the author seems determined to bring everyone up to speed and rope in new readers with this later addition, if necessary. I think readers will enjoy the first two books of the Vampire Academy series, but if you are looking for some resolution to the romantic conflict and a dramatic cliffhanger ending, readers will do fine to go directly to this book without reading the others first. In this installment, we return to St. Vladimir's, an exclusive private school for young vampires. Physically weak, Moroi have elemental magic. Half-human, half-vampire dhampirs train to be their bodyguards. Immortal, evil Strigoi are recognizable by their pale skin and red-rimmed eyes.

The class tensions inherent in vampire society are finally beginning to bust apart at the seams. Once again, dhampir Rose is torn between love and duty as she struggles to keep her growing feelings for her tutor Dimitri under wraps as she protects her Moroi friend Lissa from Strigoi attacks. Rose has already earned two molnija marks (the Russian word for lightning) on the back of her neck for killing Strigoi. This book includes a huge battle scene, which earns her a molnija star tattoo meaning she's killed too many Strigoi to count.

The end of Shadow Kiss brings plenty of tension and excitement. As graduation nears, Rose has begun seeing ghosts. She also finally ends up making love with Dimitri but almost immediately loses him to a Strigoi attack brought on by some foolish underclassmen, intent on hazing new members of their secret club. Christian, Lissa's boyfriend, uses his fire magic successfully in the attack, and many of the highborn Moroi are forced to re-evaluate their own 'helplessness' and the necessity of ascetic lives for their dhampir bodyguards. Rose's friend Lissa has been cavorting about, oblivious to the near-slavery that Rose has been facing as her protector, and finally gets a long-overdue wake-up call about how selfish she's been when Rose ultimately abandons Lissa to drop out of school, mere days before graduation, to hunt down and confront the now-Strigoi Dimitri.

Compare to:
Crave - Melissa Darnell
Blue Bloods series - Melissa de la Cruz
Infinite Days - Rebecca Maizel
House of Night series - P.C. + Kristin Cast

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Picture book mini-reviews 31

by Denise Fleming
Beach Lane Books
September 2012

Here is a unique and simple picture book with a few words per page. Fleming's distinctive dyed paper pulp illustration technique is, of course, a defining element of the style of this book. Worms, moles and other such creatures are featured in this appreciation of underground natural habitats. Pair this with Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin for a great Dig Into Reading summer storytime!

I borrowed this book from the library.

Exclamation Mark
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Scholastic Press
March 2013

Can punctuation rules make for an exciting children's story? Yes! Yes they can!

Exclamation mark doesn't fit in with all the other periods... even though he tries, he simply stands out too much. Enter the question mark, whose inquisitive nature causes him to quickly strike up a friendship with exclamation mark. But, will exclamation finally get sick and tired of question marks constant questions?

Presented in a very simple format, with lined paper as a background, simple cherry wooden colored endpages, and varying typefaces, Lichtenheld's expressive smiley faces carry the story to a humorous conclusion.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Peepsqueak Wants a Friend
by Leslie Ann Clark
January 2013

Colorful digital and ink illustrations take us on Peepsqueak's quest for a friend. His repeating line, "You are 2, but I am 1; my search for a friend has just begun," does tend to get a little wearing as he "hopped, skipped, jumped and skittered" in search of a friend. Still, this is a nice story for youngsters in search of encouragement on the ease of making new friends.

I borrowed this book from the library.

You Can Do It!
by Betsy Lewin
Holiday House
January 2013

So simple and fun. Here's a book in the same category as Crosby Bonsall's Mine's the Best with an entire engaging story being told with a vocabulary of less than 25 words. An alligator has a dream of winning a swim competition and puts in plenty of hard work on the journey to victory. An appealing beginning reader, with loose watercolor illustrations, the endpages feature alligators warming up for athletic feats.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Read in June

This month I read the following the books:

1. The Earl's Intended Wife - Louise Allen
2. Tempest - Julie Cross
3. The Truth About Style - Stacy London
4. The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson
5. Just One Day - Gayle Forman
6. Season of the Witch - Mariah Fredericks
7. The Color of Rain - Cori McCarthy
8. The Three Martini Playdate - Christi Mellor
9. The Search for Delicious - Natalie Babbitt
10. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World - A.J. Jacobs
11. Revived - Cat Patrick

Picture credit: Girl Reading by a Waterfall by Maria Bashkirtseva


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