Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone
By Adele Griffin
Published 2014 by Soho Teen

Addison Stone is a brilliant young artist, living a fast-paced life in New York City. Or she was - until her death. Addison Stone was also a troubled young women, who may have heard voices and started a vicious revenge war with an ex-boyfriend. So what really happened the night Addison Stone died? Adele Griffin interviews those who knew her best and attempts to uncover the truth.

I'd heard lots of praise for this novel both before and after its publication, including some discussion as a potential Printz winner. It sounded really interesting and I know Griffin is an acclaimed author, so I was eager to check it out. A review copy showed up at my library in a box of donations, so I figured I'd try to squeeze it in.

Here's my problem: I love the way this book is written, but I don't love this book. I think the documentary novel is extremely interesting and also a feat of literary talent. How do you create enough unique voices to populate such a story? How do you balance the need for many character voices with the probability of that number becoming too many? How do you keep a reader engaged over the course of a novel that is essentially just a bunch of dialogue? I can't answer any of these questions, but perhaps Griffin could.

I thought, narratively and stylistically, this book was a winner. Griffin does a fantastic job of piecing together Addison's story and making the reader believe that it might be true (though I don't know how realistic a teen art sensation is). It makes the reader ask a lot of questions: how would I be remembered? What would the people I leave behind say about me? Why, when Addison is such a talented artist, is she most remembered for her notorious relationships? How do you help someone who doesn't think they need help? How much do you let other people define you? Lots of great stuff for discussion here.

Unfortunately, I just didn't care about Addison so much. To me, it was obvious what had happened to her, perhaps because I've experienced life with someone similar. And, though I love the choice of a documentary novel, it likely impacted my ability to care about Addison - I didn't really get to hear her voice and her feelings. Perhaps I would have connected with her more in a traditionally told narrative - I don't know. Another big part of the problem for me is the art itself. Several of Addison's works are included in the book - and I thought they were all terrible. So, to get me to believe that this girl was the next big artist, it was too much of a stretch with the art provided.

Overall, a really interesting concept and stylistically and philosophically stunning, but a bit of a let-down.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Messy Art

As I mentioned previously, our program numbers were a little wonky this past fall. What never faltered, though, was attendance at our Friday morning preschool programs. Apparently, we have a huge population of littles and their parents can't get enough programming! My coworker and I thought we'd have a little fun and let the kids get messy and make art. It got a little crazy! Here's what we did!

Finger painting: it doesn't get much better than good old-fashioned finger painting. To prepare for the program, we taped down plastic dropcloths over 75% of the floor space (I joked that we were making a kill room a la Dexter Morgan; my colleague was not amused). This allowed for - we hoped - enough space for our attendees to spread out. Unfortunately, we did not anticipate over 100 patrons, so the room definitely got a little crowded. They loved finger painting and definitely got messy - one child was smartly dressed in a plain leotard - easy for cleanup!

Painting with wet glue: a project I'd seen on Pinterest and really wanted to try out. Unfortunately, this was not the right setting for it at all. Way too many people and no way to control grabby adults who didn't understand the concept of waiting one's turn. This would be a great project to do with a much smaller group of kids (though they all had fun with it).

Bubble painting: we've done this a few times in the past and it's always been a hit. Colored bubbles! What's not to love?

Footprint rocketships: another adorable project we'd seen on Pinterest; another absolute disaster with this crowd. I don't think a single child actually made this project as intended, but I suppose as long as they enjoyed themselves, it didn't matter. Another one I'd love to try with a smaller group of kids.

Like I said, this program got a little crazy. We expected a decent turn-out but not the number we ended up with, so we ran out of space quite quickly. Most kids just ended up finger painting over and over again, but they all seemed pleased, so even though it wasn't what we envisioned, we got many compliments and I'd say it was a success.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review: Playlist for the Dead

Playlist for the Dead
By Michelle Falkoff
Expected publication January 27, 2015 by HarperTeen

Sam can't believe it, but his best friend just killed himself. He left behind a lot of questions and a playlist with a note: "For Sam - listen and you'll understand." But the playlist just seems to bring more questions. Sam can't help but feel that Hayden's death is his fault - and he soon discovers he's not the only person who feels this way. Can Sam uncover the truth about what happened that night and find a way to move on?

It seems like more and more YA contemporary realistic novels are being published, and I think it's a great thing. Teens need to be exposed to a variety of stories that highlight experiences both similar and different to their own. I spotted this title available as an e-galley and figured I'd give it a shot. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me.

This is nothing against this particular book, nor against books about suicide in general, but I just found the plot of this one a bit tiresome. Instead of feeling like Hayden's story, this definitely felt like Sam's story. Those stories are important - survivors of suicide, those who are impacted when someone they love takes their own life. I just didn't connect with Sam - I found him irritating. I wanted to know more about Hayden. I also think the story got dragged down in romance. I was more interested in the story of Sam and Hayden's relationship and didn't care about the developing relationship between Sam and Astrid. While it was ultimately important to the story of Hayden's suicide, it felt like it detracted from the true story much of the time.

And that's part of what irritates about the cover of this book - it chooses to focus on the romance instead of the friendship, showing silhouettes of what we can assume are Sam and Astrid, instead of Sam and Hayden. What is wrong with writing a book about the friendship between two boys and how that changes when one boy commits suicide? We need books that aren't afraid to plumb the depths of male friendships. In a different story, I would have appreciated the developing romance and how confusing it might be for someone mired in grief. But in this story, I just didn't care.

I think that's my problem with this book as a whole - I never connected with it emotionally. I didn't care about anything that was happening - and for a book that's dealing with teen suicide, I think that's a problem. The story just fell flat for me. I also thought the resolution was extremely predictable, particularly the revelation of who's behind the mystery attacks. I just expected more from this story.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thoughts: The Kill Order

The Kill Order (The Maze Runner, prequel)
By James Dashner, read by Mark Deakins,
Published 2012 by Listening Library

Before Thomas and the existence of the Glade, sun flares killed many of the Earth's population. And then, a deadly virus came. Hear the story of what it takes to survive in this world.

I'm calling this "Thoughts" instead of a review because I'm not sure how much I'll have to say. I was looking forward to this book, though my experience with the rest of the series was a bit lackluster. My fiance, who read all the books as well, told me this was his favorite. Particularly after finishing book three and being extremely disappointed, I was hoping to find some answers in this book.

I honestly couldn't tell you if there were any. I listened to the audio version of this and it was an extremely poor choice. In fact, the entire time I thought, "Do publishers realize that not every book works well in audio?" I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that this book was not one I should have listened to. It didn't grab me at all, which really shouldn't have surprised me. As I said, the series was interesting enough, but not one of the best things I've ever read. I really struggled with this book because it move backs and forth temporally and, as I didn't find the story or characters terribly compelling, I couldn't keep track of what timeline I was in.

I don't have much more to say about this. I was unimpressed. I think it's safe to say that Dashner is not an author for me.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: The Story Thieves

The Story Thieves (Story Thieves, book one)
By James Riley
Expected publication January 20, 2015 by Aladdin

Owen's life is pretty unremarkable, though he does get to spend a lot of time at the library with his mom. His favorite books are the Kiel Gnomenfoot series and it's about to end. But everything changes for Owen when he spies his classmate Bethany climbing out of a book. Soon, he learns that her father was a fictional character, so she can climb into the pages of any book. Owen longs to be a hero, so he convinces her to visit one of the Kiel books. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong and soon, both their lives are in danger.

This is the first book by Riley that I've read. His previous series is extremely popular at my library, so when I spotted the digital galley of his new series available, I figured I'd give it a shot and see what the fuss was about.

It's not difficult to see why Riley's writing appeals to kids. It's fast-paced and action-packed while also being concise and to the point. The characters are realistic, everyday kids - I could imagine them being classmates of mine when I was younger. The story is interesting and full of twists and turns. It's also funny and clever, making fun of tropes (which kids might recognize) and full of literary references. It's also thought-provoking, as the main characters begin to question what the difference is between reality and fiction.

Like I said, the writing here is very kid-friendly. It reminded me of Rick Riordan except not as tiresome (I'm a bit worn out on Riordan at the moment). It grabs you from sentence one and compels you to keep turning the pages as swiftly as you can. The narrative switches back and forth between Bethany and Owen who, during the course of their hijinks, get separated and embark on distinct crazy adventures. It works really well and never feels like "meanwhile, over here in this other plot line..." - the switching back and forth seems natural. As much as I can be a fan of luscious, elaborate prose, there is also something to be said for concise, clear prose that gets the story across. Riley manages to keep his writing crisp and clean without being boring.

The characters are delightful - like I said, they're very realistic (despite Bethany being half-fictional, or however she'd be defined). I related much more to Bethany - she has this awesome power, but it's also overwhelming because she has no one to help her understand how best to use it. So, she's figured out her own set of rules and is very careful to follow them. Of course, Owen comes along and brazenly ignores her rules. I completely understood Bethany's frustration and anxiety over Owen's actions. I liked that both of the characters needed a little bit of the other's sensibilities in order to complete their journeys.

The ending is perfect and sets up a sequel quite nicely. I'll definitely be looking forward to it - this was a fun, quick, and exciting read. Riley's fans won't be disappointed!

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fall Program Recap: American Girl Club

Right at the end of last summer, my library did a bit of job restructuring. What it means is that I'm no longer responsible for planning and executing as many programs and my collection development duties have increased significantly. So, there might not be as many program recaps on the blog as there have been. I haven't stopped programming entirely, but I have decreased my efforts.

One of the programs that continues to be successful is our bimonthly American Girl Club. It's not a huge amount of work and I team with a coworker for it, so I'll be continuing this program indefinitely. We held two sessions in the fall. Here is what we did at each!

For our season kick-off, we focused on 2014's Girl of the Year, Isabelle. She is a creative girl who attends a prestigious arts school. We are lucky to have a real ballerina as one of our teen volunteers, so we focused our program on Isabelle's dancing. Our ballerina taught them the basic positions and a few basic exercises, which they really enjoyed. Then we made tutus for their dolls and watched videos of the brilliant Misty Copeland. I think our attendees actually enjoyed every part of this program and it was incredibly easy. Thanks to our lovely ballerina!

The second fall American Girl Club taught the girls about Kit and the Great Depression (they're always so cheerful, aren't they?). We listened to Little Orphan Annie (just like Kit would have), ate oatmeal raisin cookies (something simple and wholesome), and make clothespin dolls. We also had the girls bring in canned goods to donate to the local food pantry. Our attendance was a little bit lower than usual for this one, though Kit was one of the most requested girls. I'm not sure if we didn't have enough planned in our presentation, but the girls seemed to finish their crafts quickly this time around. We ended up watching some of the film adaptation of Annie to fill time.

We had a bit of a strange fall at the library - most of our program numbers were way down and even our circulation seemed down. But this program is the most consistently attended, so we'll be continuing with it the rest of the school year and probably next as well.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear
By Monica Carnesi
Published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Beatrice and Bear meet in spring and become fast friends. But what happens in winter when Bear needs to hibernate? How can the friends share the season? They certainly try and it's adorable seeing how much they want to spend the time together. It's a very sweet story of friendship that would be great for the storytime crowd. The pictures are just as charming as the story - very expressive and sweet. A new favorite!

By Arree Chung
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
Ninjas are very popular right now - so much so that I even had a ninja-themed storytime this fall. This is a fun book, showcasing a ninja on a mission. There may be danger, but a ninja is always prepared. I like the arrival of a new little ninja at the end of the book and the simplicity of the text - one or two words per page. A good choice for young ninja fans, though it's not my personal favorite of the new crop of ninja stories. The illustrations are cartoon-y, which will appeal to kids, but the style is not one I love.

The Very Cranky Bear
By Nick Bland
Published 2014 by Orchard Books
This is an adorable story with illustrations that really pop. Three friends seek shelter from the rain in a cave, only to discover the cave is occupied. How can they make this bear less cranky? Hijinks ensue, sure to delight a young audience. Of course, the animal left out in the cold is the one with the successful idea. It's a lot of fun, energetic and lively. I really enjoyed this one and look forward to sharing it with kids.

Little Green Peas
By Keith Baker
Published 2014 by Beach Lane Books
The energetic peas are back - this time, to teach about colors! I think the peas are absolutely adorable and I love the illustrations - there are lots of details to examine and discover. But, for me, this concept didn't work quite as well as the first book. It is great for sharing but the colors are sometimes confusing, not highlighted properly and I find it strange that brown was not included (it's a very important color!). It's definitely fun and I think kids will like it, but I might just be over the peas.