Sunday, June 30, 2013

Just One Day review

Just One Day
by Gayle Forman
Dutton Juvenile
January 2013

First line: "What if Shakespeare had it wrong?"

I just read this book for the Not-So-YA book club - an awesome group of ladies who are as obsessed with YA fiction as I am. I must admit, I was highly skeptical of this pick, because I had attempted to read Gayle Foreman's If I Stay, and I just couldn't get into it. Just One Day really surprised me - I loved it. It provided some great discussion for our book club.

Straightlaced high school senior Allyson Healey decides on a single act of rebellion during her tour of Europe. While her friend Melanie covers for her, she runs off to Paris for just one day with mysterious, good-lucking Shakespearean actor, Willem de Ruiter. He quickly dubs her "Lulu," and Allyson is only too happy to ditch her old persona in favor of trying on being edgy rule-breaker. About half the book recounts her amazing, turbulent, exciting and romantic day. Together, they take the train from London, meet up with Willem's (ex-girlfriend?) Celine, travel the canals, make new ex-pat friends, get lost, ride a bike to the Louvre, break into an artists studio and impulsively end up in bed together.

In the morning, Willem is gone, and over-protected Allyson is absolutely shattered. In a panic, she calls the tour group chaperone, who kindly arranges for Allyson to rejoin the group and head home. At home, Allyson starts her freshman year of college in a deep depression. Her overbearing mother demands that she major in pre-med. Soon Allyson finds herself overwhelmed, flunking classes, and unable to make new friends. This is a real coming of age story, as Allyson struggles to reinvent herself. When she switches gears her second semester and takes a Shakespeare class, she picks up a sassy gay best friend, D'Angelo Harrison, or Dee for short. I loved Dee and wished there was more of him in this book. Dee veers dangerously close to being a Magical Negro in this story - he uses his amazing code-switching abilities to support Allyson, effortlessly transforming himself from campy queer to New York hoodlum, to liberal arts intelligentsia as the situation needs it.

Allyson's mother is seriously crazytown. That woman needs to cut the cord, and find other means of fulfillment in her life! Her obsession with Allyson bordered on the disturbing. Allyson is an only child and the entire focus of her mother's attention. In a way, I shouldn't have been surprised by Allyson's obsession with Willem - since she's seen that kind of behavior modeled by her mother. Allyson decides to get a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant and learn French so that she can return to Paris and find Willem. When she goes back, I found the string of lucky coincidences that lead her back to Willem kind of stretched credulity. This was a blazing fast read. With a slightly tweaked ending this would have made a fine stand-alone book. As it is, we will all have to wonder how things resolve in the sequel, told from Willem's perspective, Just One Year.

Compare to:
Meant to Be - Lauren Morrill
A Long Way from You - Gwendolyn Heasley
Falling in Love with English Boys - Melissa Jensen
Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Flowers feltboard

Here's my latest felt board creation:



And here's the rhyme I used with it:

Five pretty flowers in my garden grew.
"Hmmm," I said, "I bet they smell good too!"
I bent down to sniff, but they tickled my nose.
Aaah-Choo! Oh no! (with exaggeration!)
Away one flower blows! (remove 1 flower, repeat rhyme & continue count down)

I sang this to the tune of "Five Little Ducks." I have to say, I did not expect for the kids in my storytime to find sneezing so very, very hilarious, but they really did! This felt board story was a lot of fun. If I'd had a little more time, I would have created leaves and stems, so that I could just pop off the heads of the flowers one by one, but they worked well enough on their own, and were attractive and easy to make.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hallowed review

Hallowed
by Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen
January 2012

First line: "In the dream, there's sorrow."

Hallowed picks up where Unearthly left off, with Clara, Tucker and Christian ready to enter their senior year of high school in rural Jackson, Oregon. Thanks to Clara's angelic heritage, she's been having visions of a forest fire that she must rescue someone from. Clara's made her choice to be with country boy Tucker, even though it seems to go against the divine visions that are pushing her towards Christian instead. There's still plenty of tension in this love triangle, however. Clara's fulfilled all the requirements of her vision, but she's begun having new visions of a funeral - possibly Tucker's? In the meantime, Christian understands her flight and mind powers in only the way that another part-angel can.

Clara's best friend Angela, who also has angel blood, continues to press on with her research of everything about their angelic heritage. Clara's younger brother Jeffrey continues his very slow slide towards the "dark side."

Again, I disliked the heavy-handed "dark = bad" theme - when angels go against their mysterious and unknowable God, their wings turn darker, and truly evil villains are known as "Blackwings."

Clara starts to make more connections to the angel community and really comes to depend on them as her family is harassed by evil angel Samjeeza. I won't spoil the ending, but Clara is a really sweet person, and it's tough to see some of the emotionally wrenching drama she's put through. There are some big changes and plot twists that will affect the direction of things in the next novel, Boundless.

Compare to:
Angel Burn - L.A. Weatherly
Angelfire - Courtney Allison Moulton
Misfit - Jon Skovron

I borrowed this book from the library.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

New books, new books

I'm adding this group of books to the shelves this week at my library. I can't wait to see how quickly they check out. My money's on Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin being a popular read, and I'm shocked this new Sarah Dessen title The Moon and More didn't have holds on it already.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Formerly Shark Girl review

Formerly Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
Candlewick Press
May 2013

High school senior Jane Arrowood may have physically healed from the loss of her arm in a shark attack the year prior but she still grapples with emotional scars in this narrative poetry novel sequel to Shark Girl. Jane struggles as she tries to decide what path to take: continue her love of art as a painter, or try becoming a nurse - a way of paying it forward for the nurses who saved her life after the attack. 


Poems are interspersed with “fan mail” which are condescending and inspiring by turns. Some of the letters say things like, “Seeing you makes me realize how lucky I am,” while others simply offer encouragement. No one is more surprised than Jane by a budding new relationship with college freshman, Max Shannon. She discovers that he’s dealing with troubles of his own as he’s chosen to give up going away for college to stay at home and care for his mentally troubled father. 

This coming of age story showcases Jane’s mental turmoil and ultimately, her strength of character. Recommend this to teens who are looking for something that falls somewhere between the poetic melodrama of Ellen Hopkins and the soul-searching realistic fiction of Sarah Dessen.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bitterblue review

Bitterblue
by Kristin Cashore
Dial
May 2012

First line: "When he grabs Mama's wrist and yanks her towards the wallhanging like that, it must hurt."

Queen Bitterblue rules a fractured kingdom after the defeat of her psychotic mind-controlling father Leck. This book really ties together Graceling and Fire which felt like they took place in two separate worlds, to a great extent.

Bitterblue and most of her royal advisors kind of stumble through trying to rule the kingdom, as most of them are still pretty shellshocked from the years of abuse they suffered under Leck.

Katsa and Po show up for a brief turn, as well as a much aged Fire towards the end of the book, but this is primarily, of course, Bitterblue's story. Bitterblue is thoughtful and sensitive, curious but cautious as she gradually teases out and unravels many of the mysteries that her father left behind. Her mother, who sacrificed herself in order to save her daughter from Leck, taught Bitterblue to use math to calm herself, and fight against her father's mind control. Clues slowly but surely begin to pile up, as Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle at night to mingle anonymously with her citizens. Everything from the three grand bridges and architecture of the castle that her father built, to the populace's lack of literacy, to the seemingly mad and random pranks mentally-addled survivors in the village play on each other and the symbols in her mother's embroidery begin to point to much needed answers for the still healing nation of Monsea.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that one of the major reveals in the book is that one of the most heinous acts of Leck was his penchant for secret torture dungeons where he forced members of his court to do his dirty work for him. This was something that was hinted about, and easily guessed, but not directly discussed until very late in the book. There are plenty of other twists and turns though, that I never saw coming, which I really enjoyed. I loved the librarian Death's special ability - his Grace is to be able to memorize every book he's ever seen. This is a slower-paced, but still grand and sweeping epic conclusion to the trilogy.

Compare to:
Alanna - Tamora Pierce
Dragonswood - Janet Lee Carey
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
A Conspiracy of Kings - Megan Whalen Turner

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alex Ko review

Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story
by Alex Ko
HarperCollins
April 2013

In this straightforward autobiography, Ko covers the two main events in his young life: the loss of his dad from cancer when he was eleven, and his subsequent foray into ballet leading to a starring role on Broadway at age thirteen. 


After being sidelined from gymnastics due to working through an injury, Ko finally receives his father’s blessing to pursue dance. Ko’s passion for dance, both as an athlete and as an artist, is evident. Despite his family’s financial hardships and many setbacks, Ko never loses his upbeat disposition. Ko’s father remains on his mind, as he connects to him in nightly prayers and a dance piece choreographed in his father’s memory eventually becomes the audition piece that scores him the role in Billy Elliot

Readers will be fascinated by the backstage details of working on Broadway and impressed by Ko’s humble nature. Ko experiences equal parts camaraderie and competition with the two other boys who share the role. Even after appearing on Broadway, Ko remains starstruck by some of the celebrities he meets including Rosie O’Donnell and President Obama. An appealing memoir for tweens and their contemporaries.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Picture books mini-reviews 30

Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole
by Stan, Jan & Mike Berenstain
Harper
August 2012

This story has the feel of an early unpublished manuscript... because it turns out that just exactly what it is! A penguin is convinced that nothing interesting ever happens at the South Pole, and blithely misses seeing dangerous polar bears, whales, wolves, etc. Of interest to diehard Berenstain fans, especially for the illustrations, as you can see hints of the trademark Berenstain Bears style.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy
by Jan Thomas
Beach Lane Books
September 2012

This storybook offers typical zany fun from Jan Thomas with a great cowboy on the range feel. As to be expected, the story includes a multitude of very silly cows. I must confess I'm a bit intimidated by the idea of actually singing the cowboy song. If ever a book called for a CD to be included, this is it, but sadly there isn't one. Rats.

Still, if you're a brave, or a very musical storyteller, there's no reason why not to add this to your storytime repertoire.

I borrowed this book from the library.
Surfer Chick
by Kirsty Dempsey, illustrated by Henry Col
Harry N. Abrams
May 2012

This rhyming story includes plenty of beachy slang. A young chick and her dad take to the beach to teach her how to surf in this wacky picture book. Cole's acrylic, colored pencil and watercolor illustrations are bright and colorful, with expressive cartoonish faces for all the anthropomorphized chickens featured in this story. Pair Surfer Chick with Rhinos Who Surf by Julie Mammano for a beachy storytime and don't forget to include this around Father's Day as well.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Waking Dragons
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Derek Anderson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

October 2012

Here's a cute and simple book. It's a bit reminiscent of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, but for the younger set with simple rhymes, and a few words per page. Pair Waking Dragons with Night, Knight by Owen Davey, The Sunflower Sword by Mark Sperring or Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joose for a knights and dragons storytime session.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Seattle Public Library Domino Book Chain

This is one of the most heartwarming things I've seen all week! Check out this video from one of my favorite libraries: Seattle Public. 1:17 had me a little verklempt.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten Road Trip Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is: Top Ten Books Featuring Travel In Some Way (road trips, airplanes, travelogues, anything where there is traveling in the book!)

Here's my list:



Trickster's Girl involves a girl on the run, traveling with a magical raven to heal the Earth's ley lines.

The Darkest Minds has a group of teens running away from an evil workcamp where all kids with psionic powers are sent to keep them away from the normal population.

In Better Nate Than Ever, Nate sneaks away for a weekend in New York, to realize his dream of auditioning for a Broadway play.

Night Road is one of my favorite books of all time. Vampires go on a road trip, to get a new rebellious vampire under control.

In Meant to Be, nebbish teen Julia goes on a class trip to London, meets a cute guy and learns to loosen up.

I feel like listing Across the Universe, A Million Suns, Glow and Spark is cheating, since this topic makes me think, "road trip" not "starship" but the topic does list travel of any sort, and you can't deny there isn't much further you can travel than into outer space.

Angel Burn involves a half-angel girl and a deadly angel killer who are forced on a long road trip together, and of course, fall in love.

Are there any great road trip books I'm missing? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Frostbite review

Frostbite
by Richelle Mead

Razorbill
April 2008

First line: "I didn't think my day could get any worse until my best friend told me she might be going crazy. Again."

I enjoyed this second installment in the Vampire Academy series. Once again, 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. Dangerous
 attacks by an unusually well-organized group of Strigoi (who are normally lone hunters) have the Moroi vampire nobles in a panic. The students are forced to hole up in a glamorous ski resort over winter break. Tough girl dhampir Rose must sort through her feelings for her forbidden mentor Dimitri, and safe good-boy Mason. Not to mention her unresolved feelings towards her mother, a ruthlessly efficient bodyguard who abandoned Rose to further her own career. Rose's best friend Lissa and her boyfriend Christian are getting more serious, much to Rose's dismay. Rose's one-way psychic link leads to some awkward moments when she can see into her friend's thoughts, including intimate moments with Christian.

The first chapter is exposition-city, designed to help readers who've skipped the first in the series. The theme of female-dhampir-as-sluts is again briefly touched upon, but not fully explored. Tired of living under duress, some of the Moroi finally decide they'd like to figure out how to use their elemental magic in battle. What I find hugely curious is the subservience of most of the dhampir. I'd love to see a full-out dhampir rebellion. Just because they're the genetic equivalent of mules is no reason why they have to settle for second best at every turn! Those annoying Moroi deserve to be knocked off their high horses.

In the end, Mason sacrifices himself, believing to the last that Rose loves him. Dimitri turns down an intriguing offer of guardianship with an unconventional Moroi woman (Christian's aunt Tasha) I think it would have been so interesting if he had taken the offer. But then again, I'm a sucker for hard choices and unrequited love stories.

I borrowed this book from the library.

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