Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Year in Review: Part 2

More books!

Top middle grade novels:
 - Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins
One of the few books I read but did not review for the blog. If you haven't read this story, you are seriously depriving yourself of one of the most adorable series for middle-graders out there. Heart-warming and enchanting.

 - Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
Lovely and heartbreaking, this novel completely won me over. Oliver has written a universal tale of love and grief that will capture any reader.

 - Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
One of the books that I was initially hesitant about, I am so glad I picked this up. I am absolutely in love with this book and now must read any and everything by Jessica Day George. Immediately.

 - The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein
Another book I read and did not previously review, this is the latest addition to one of my favorite series. Haunted mysteries that are genuinely spooky but also hilarious and with emotional depth? I look forward to every one.

  - Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
If you haven't figured it out yet, Selznick is a treasure to this generation of young readers. Another beautiful and innovative book that I want to read again and again.

  - The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson
While it's a little bit crazy and hard to follow at times, this is clearly one of the most original new series to emerge in recent years. I will be interested to see where it goes from here.

  - Bridge to Neverland by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Yet another book I haven't review here, this is the latest (and hopefully last) entry in the Peter and the Starcatchers series. This series never disappoints and I enjoyed every second of reading this newest book.

  - Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Imaginative and with a main character that you really want to root for, this sophisticated fantasy lived up to my expectations. Eager for the next in the series.

Honorable Mentions:

  - The Wide Awake Princess by E.D. Baker
I love Baker for her charming and adorable fairy-tale retellings and her last is no exception. Innocent and romantic and fast-paced, her books always make me smile.

 - Hereville by Barry Deutsch
A very unique and funny graphic novel that I hope, hope, hope will become a series!

 - The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
I'm pretty sure this is considered a classic but I just discovered it. It is disarming and lovely, a simple but touching tale with a very original premise.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Year in Review: Part 1

It's that time of year! If you ever read or watch anything at the end of the year, then you know that nearly everyone creates and distributes their own "best-of" lists. I'm a huge fan of lists. I cannot function on an errand day without a list. So, over the next few days, you'll see my contribution to the already overwhelming number of lists out there. All lists are in no particular order.

Top 10 YA books:
- Okay for Now by Gary M. Schmidt
 A truly excellent addition to the world of historical fiction for young people, Schmidt executes this tale of hope, loss, growing up, and art.

 - Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Probably the best book I read all year, I have recommended this to everyone at my library. Taylor is a truly gifted writer and this gorgeous tale of angels, demons, love and Prague literally makes me hunger for more of her writing.

- The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
Well-crafted verse novel that details one extraordinary day for two ordinary teens. Contemporary and sweet without relying on melodrama for the emotional kick.
- Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
The only book on this list that I didn't review for the blog, this was a wonderful ending to one of the most enjoyable series in recent YA lit. Funny, exciting, touching, nerve-wracking and just plain well-done, I'm so satisfied with Westerfeld's end to the trilogy.

- The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Taking place over just one 24-hour period, Smith delivers this charming example of contemporary romantic YA at its best.

- The Watch That Ends the Night by Alan Wolf
A haunting and thoroughly engaging novel of the Titanic. More truly well-done historical fiction that makes such a large tragedy intensely personal.

 - Steampunk! edited by Kelly Link
Yes, it's true - steampunk is very trendy nowadays. But this collection proves that it's for good reason. Fascinating exploration of the varieties of steampunk.

- Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
The more I think about this book, the more I love it - a true sign that it deserves a spot on this list. Ryan proves that not all teen sci-fi must be post-apocalyptic nor must it be post-apocalyptic to be excellent.

  - This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Dark and creepy, Oppel expands the Frankenstein myth flawlessly. Cannot wait to see what else might be in store for Victor.

  - Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Witty and fun, Murdock is at her best creating this magical and delightful fairy tale. Romantic and whimsical and just highly entertaining.

Honorable Mentions:
These books have older publication dates but I read them this year.

 - Zombies Vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
This book was too good to be true when it was published and I was thrilled to discover that it did no disappoint. I will re-read this for years to come. More like this please!

 - Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill
Everything that I fictional biography should be. Hemphill perfectly captures the spirit and style of her subject and write some wonderfully beautiful poetry at the same time. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, book 1)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2010 by Hyperion Books for Children

Having read and loved the Percy Jackson series last year, I had to pick up this spin-off series.

Jason Grace does not remember who he is. But now, he's being attacked by storm spirits, taken to a special camp for demi-gods and being sent on a quest to rescue Hera, queen of the gods. Piper McLean doesn't understand why her boyfriend, Jason, no longer seems to know who she is. But she's starting to wonder if it has something to do with the creepy voice that's been whispering to her. Or maybe with the visions of the giant who has kidnapped her father. Leo Valdez is pretty sure that discovering he's a demi-god is the best thing that's happened to him - especially since the unmentionable accident that killed his mother. But there are a lot of responsibilities that come with being a hero - is Leo up for them?

I was really excited to start this series. Unfortunately, I feel kind of so-so about it. On the one hand, I absolutely think that Riordan has created a richer and more complex plot in this novel. He is a master of pacing and storytelling - hundreds of pages fly by because you are simply compelled to keep reading. On the other hand, this book lacks the characters that made Percy Jackson so wonderful. Riordan tries something different in this one by offering readers alternating perspectives of three characters. I think this could work really well for this more intricate story. Unfortunately, Riordan has not created a main character that I care about. I mean, yes, they are all interesting in that it's interesting just to find out whose child they are and how their godly powers will manifest. But ultimately, I don't feel for any of these characters like I did for Percy. That being said, I'm really interested to read the second book and see how Percy works in this series. And I'm very excited to see how this plot will play out over the series.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl
By Eoin Colfer, read by Nathaniel Parker
Published 2004 by Listening Library

I'm pretty sure this book has been on my radar ever since it was first published (which was 2001 for the print version). Recently, I found the first five books on Overdrive and downloaded the audio versions to my iPod for my commute. I just finished the first and I have to say, I'm very disappointed.

Artemis Fowl is your basic evil genius. Oh, except he's only 12. But he doesn't let his age stop him from hatching an elaborate plot to steal fairy gold which involves a kidnapping. But the fairy he kidnaps isn't just your ordinary fairy - she's Captain Holly Short, an officer in the LEPrecon Unit. This book had been recommended to me by a few different people and it also just seemed like one of those series that endures, so I figured there had to be a good reason. After finishing the audio version, I'm underwhelmed. I expected this book to be funny, clever, fantastical and interesting. I don't think I laughed at all. I could see parts where the book wanted to be funny, but it just didn't work for me. I also found most of the plot to be convoluted and boring. I wanted it to be so much more than it was. Sadly, this was a fail for me. Needless to say, I deleted the other audio versions I had downloaded without listening.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: What to Do About Alice?

What to Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!
By Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Published 2008 by Scholastic Press

It's no secret that I've been very much into non-fiction picture books as of late. I was pulling holds for the library the other day and came across this title. While it initially struck me as quite odd, it was actually a charming little read. I don't know anything about Alice Roosevelt (or I didn't before I read this book) so she seemed like an unusual choice for a picture book biography. But, for me, part of the charm of picture book biographies is that they can easily make nearly any subject an interesting one. This is a very basic sketch of Alice's life which she certainly made the most of. The illustrations match Alice's spunky personality perfectly. A very well-done short biography.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: You Will Be My Friend

You Will Be My Friend!
By Peter Brown
Published 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

This delightful picture book shows us the further adventures of Lucy, who we first met in Children Make Terrible Pets. I first discovered Peter Brown two years ago when I came across his absolutely beautiful and inspiring book, The Curious Garden. After that, I sought out everything he had already published and always keep an eye out for new titles from him. I absolutely loved the first Lucy book and was beyond excited when I spied this one on the shelves. Brown's books are just contagiously cheerful and lovely - you cannot help but smile when you pick one up. In this book, Lucy wants to make new friends. Kids can learn all the wrong things to do when trying to make friends as Lucy tries every terrible thing one can think of. The illustrations are completely charming and adorable and the book is just funny. I highly recommend this for everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, book 3)
By Suzanne Collins
Published 2010 by Scholastic Press

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first two books as well as this one.

If anyone ever doubted that Katniss was a true survivor, they can question it no longer. She has survived not one, but two, Hunger Games in an unprecedented turn of events. Now, safe among the rebuilt underground of District 13, Katniss starts a new life as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the districts rebellion against the Capitol. But is she really safe?

I thought this was a fitting end to the series. Collins manages to keep the story fresh with more plot twists. I liked the new twist with Peeta even though it made me sad at the same time. I liked the end, too. I thought it was good that Katniss and Peeta ended up together - which makes me even more frustrated about the whole love triangle. I think it was clear that this was a forgone conclusion so the ridiculousness of the love triangle is even more apparent. I still love all the secondary characters - even with the radical change in his personality brought on by the Capitol. I think Coin is a great foil for Snow and I really enjoyed all the new characters introduced as well. I definitely became attached to the characters throughout the series. You know, except Katniss. Because she still bugs the crap out of me. I don't have much to say about the third one that I didn't already say about the first two. All the bad things about the first two are still present in the third. And the things I liked are the same as well. Overall, I really enjoyed the series. I think Collins has a great talent for writing and I'm glad I finally read the series. Now I'll be able to understand more of the "it's the next Hunger Games hype" that is pervasive nowadays.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, book 2)
By Suzanne Collins
Published 2009 by Scholastic Press

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for book one and this book.

Amazingly, Katniss has not only managed to survive the Hunger Games, she has managed to keep Peeta alive and now there are two victors. However, the Capitol doesn't like the trick she pulled to make this happen and is worried that Katniss is going to be more trouble than she's worth. With the 75th Hunger Games and third Quarter Quell coming up, Katniss once again finds herself fighting for survival.

I was very eager to read the second book in the series and see what happened next to Katniss. Once again, I want to be clear about the fact that I really liked the book, but once again, I had some problems with it.

First, I liked finding out what life would be like for Katniss now that she's a victor as well as viewed as a potential threat to the Capitol. I have to admit that I definitely did not see the twist of the Quarter Quell coming. I knew that Katniss was going to face serious scrutiny from the Capitol but I didn't realize that this is the way they would try to silence her. Once again, this book is action-packed and fast-paced and full of thrills. And again, Collins has populated her story with wonderful secondary characters. I absolutely loved learning about all the past victors and their different strategies for winning. And I was incredibly excited to finally learn more about Haymitch's past in the Games.

But I still had some issues with it. I still don't like Katniss. She gets even worse because she is clearly becoming unhinged during the events in this second book. And once again, I don't really understand why she's like that. Obviously, horrible things keep happening to her, things that would probably unhinge most people. But for some reason, Katniss's unhinging feels melodramatic and pathetic. I can't really put my finger on why except for maybe that I just don't like her. I am also still really irritated by the love triangle. I mean, come on Katniss, get your act together. Also, maybe this was true of the first book but I didn't notice it while listening: the passage of time is really weird. For the first part of this book, months go by in a matter of paragraphs. But then during the Hunger Games, one day takes at least a whole chapter. It's a little disorienting. Maybe this happens all the time; actually, I'm pretty sure this happens all the time. But for some reason it bothered me during this book.

Once again, I really enjoyed the book but still had problems with it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins, read by Carolyn McCormick
Published 2008 by Scholastic Audio Books

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers.

Do I really need to provide a summary of this book? I think I'm the last person on the planet to read it...

In the nation of Panem, the Capitol is surrounded by 12 districts. Every year, the districts must send one boy and one girl - between the ages of 12 and 18 - to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen thinks her death is a foregone conclusion when she volunteers in place of her younger sister, Prim. But the Hunger Games are about survival - and Katniss has been surviving for years. Could she be more of a contender than she originally thought?

I have a feeling this review is going to make me unpopular, so before I go any further I must say this: I enjoyed the book. That being said, I don't think I fell as much under its spell as everyone else did. The good: this book is action-packed and exciting. Un-put-downable. I loved all the crazy plot twists and turns throughout the novel (well, maybe not all). I didn't want it to end (lucky for me I still had two books to enjoy after). Collins has created a believable and intriguing world that I am at once fascinated and disgusted by. Another good: the secondary characters. Oh my god, I'm in love with Peeta Mellark. From proper Effie who is seriously disturbed by the slightest breach in social interaction, to drunken Haymitch who is touchy and so complicated, to beautiful and brilliant Cinna with his enormous generosity of heart, to malicious President Snow with his disturbing scent of blood and roses, Collins has populated this world with characters that I absolutely love reading about. I'm totally intrigued by them and want to know more.

Here's the bad (for me, and it's going to look like I didn't actually like the book after I'm finished with this): Katniss. I'm sorry. I know. She is supposed to be a strong and incredible heroine. That's what everyone says. But I just don't buy it. I find her to be confused and indecisive and incredibly self-doubting. Yes, she is a teenager and is subject to one of the most horrible tortures imaginable. I understand these things. But if people want to hold her up as the greatest heroine in YA lit, I just can't get on board. Another bad: the love triangle. This is a totally unnecessary trope thrown in just to up the appeal factor. It increases Katniss's indecisiveness and adds a ridiculous amount of drama to what is already an action-filled plot. There is no need to introduce two love interests when Katniss struggles enough to accept one.

Some issues: the suspense was, for me, brought down a notch because I already knew there were two other books in the series. This makes it hard to assume that Katniss doesn't survive. And even Peeta - otherwise why would they make such a big deal of the love triangle if they're just going to kill off one part of the triangle? It was still interesting to see how Collins pulled off that sort of ending.

As an audiobook: really well done. The reader has a delightful voice and inhabits each character very well - subtle but distinct. The only problem I had with listening versus reading is the length of time it took me to finish the book. The audiobook is just over eleven hours - which is probably triple the length of time it would have taken me to sit down and read the print version. At times, this made me frustrated because I wanted to know what happened next more quickly. But, like I said, the audiobook was well done and I'm not sorry I experienced the book that way.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book but I had some problems with it as well. But, for an author to make me love a book even though I really don't like the main character is pretty impressive. Collins has some serious talent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: Stargazer

Stargazer (Evernight, book 2)
By Claudia Gray
Published 2009 by HarperTeen

WARNING: May contain some spoilers for the first book.

Bianca has survived the events of her first year at Evernight. But now everything is different. Lucas isn't on campus anymore and the separation from her true love is very hard on her. More than ever, she longs to find out the secrets of Evernight so that maybe she and Lucas can be together again. But this is Evernight, and the events of last year were only the beginning...

I read Evernight earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised by its twists and how much I enjoyed it. I'm really trying desperately to finish up all the series that I'm in the middle of, so I picked up the second book recently. I found that I didn't enjoy it as much as the first. Bianca started to lean more toward the whiny and annoying type of main character that I do not enjoy. Additionally, the twists and turns in this book felt much less interesting and more forced. I liked the introduction of another type of supernatural being but adding this into Bianca's identity storyline seemed sort of silly. This book made me feel bad for Balthazar but at the same time, I don't feel like the secondary characters had the same focus on them as they did in the first. I don't think this was a very strong sequel, but I'll continue reading the series to see how it ends.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: Sidekicks

By Dan Santat
Published 2011 by Arthur A. Levine Books

Captain Amazing is not as young and spry as he once was. Maybe he needs a sidekick to help him fight the never-ending crime in Metro City. Some surprising candidates show up - and each one of Captain Amazing's pets think that they will be the best sidekick. Who will prevail?

I picked this up on a whim - I spotted it on the shelves and thought, 'well, it's a graphic novel so it won't take me too long to read.' Plus, it looked really cute. I'm really glad I picked it up. This is a fun and funny story about four pets who long to spend more time with their superhero owner. But, I mean, he's a superhero so he's pretty busy. The solution comes when Captain Amazing holds auditions for a sidekick. Each one of his pets is determined to come out on top. Of course, things don't go quite as planned - the auditions are interrupted by a villain. The sidekicks must work together to help Captain Amazing and save Metro City. It's a nice tale about teamwork and finding out that everyone has their own special talent. The artwork is bright and sort of classic comic style - it works really well for the story. I really enjoyed this one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Stand Straight, Ella Kate

Stand Straight, Ella Kate
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 2010 by Dial

Ella Kate was born just after the Civil War, a normal little girl. But then she started growing - and didn't stop. She was a giant. But she didn't let her height stop her, instead choosing to embrace a new life. This is an interesting story that I think would appeal to a wide range of kids because how many kids have ever seen a real giant? Kids are always fascinated by stories of unusual people or things and I think Ella Kate's story would certainly grab their attention. The Klise sisters clearly work very well together and their styles are complementary. I've enjoyed everything I've read by them and this book was no exception.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Imagine Harry

Imagine Harry
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 2007 by Harcourt Children's Books

Little Rabbit has a best friend named Harry. He is lots of fun and is always there for Little Rabbit. But no one else can see Harry - he's invisible. Soon, Little Rabbit starts school and one day he sees Harry a little bit less than usual. This is an incredibly sweet story that is absolutely perfect for any child who might be ready to move on from his or her imaginary friend. I found myself feeling content and delighted after reading this story because it's just so sweet and adorable. Klise makes the message clear without hitting kids over the head with it so it's not overwhelming. The other Klise sister's illustrations are adorable and sweet and perfectly suit the story. A delightful little read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile
By Gloria Houston, illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb
Published 2002 by HarperCollins

When she was a little girl, Dorothy decided that someday she would be the librarian in a beautiful brick library. But when she marries a man who lives in a rural area without a library, Dorothy must change her dream to fit her new life. This is an endearing picture book that discusses the importance of bringing books to those who don't have a library in their area. If you're a librarian, I think this book is a must-read. Bookmobiles are a wonderful way to reach patrons in lesser-served area. The illustrations are soft and lush and highlight the story very nicely. I really enjoyed this story and I think it can be used to show kids how a love of reading can lead to bigger things in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
By Jennifer E. Smith
Expected publication January 2, 2012 by Poppy

This is supposed to be the worst day of Hadley's life: she's about to get on a plane to London to watch her beloved father marry a woman she's never met before. But Hadley is four minutes late and misses her plane. So, maybe this won't be the worst day - because she's just spotted a cute boy named Oliver with a seat assignment in her row.

Every once in a while, I really need a contemporary YA to break up all the dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi stuff that heavily populates the young adult world. Luckily, this was an adorable and delightful contemporary romance that I thoroughly enjoyed. Hadley is easy to relate to - her family has totally fallen apart and she can't bring herself to forgive her father. She doesn't want his life to move on when hers still feels like it's falling apart. And Oliver is an adorable endearing love interest. The chemistry and connection between the two of them feels believable and real, even though this book only spans a 24 hour period. The romance is so very sweet and we get to watch both characters grow and explore in just a brief time period. I really enjoyed this and think it will certainly grab fans of Stephanie Perkins or Sarah Dessen.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: Fracture

By Megan Miranda
Expected publication January 3, 2012 by Walker & Company

Eleven minutes doesn't seem like all that long, but a lot can happen. Three minutes underwater without air equals loss of consciousness. Brain damage starts at four minutes. Death is definite at ten minutes. Decker pulls Delaney out of the water at eleven minutes.

So, I did a couple reviews for the blog the other day and I think it was only the day after I finished reading this book. But I totally forgot about writing a review for this one because I was already trying so hard to block this book from my memory. At multiple points while reading I said to myself, "I should have stopped reading this already." I hadn't heard much about this book when I picked up an ARC at ALA but I have this disease where I can't say no to free books. So, I happily grabbed it up. The ARC opens with a letter from the publisher about how wonderful this book is, how the publishing team was swept away by this manuscript. Am I totally clueless? This book was terrible on every count. The characters are so incredibly underdeveloped that I don't understand how anyone could possibly care at all for them. I couldn't tell you the first thing about Delaney and she's the main character! Additionally, what is happening in this book?? You get the impression that something paranormal/supernatural is supposed to be happening but there is no clear explanation. Additionally, the love triangle is weak and ill-defined (probably due to the lack of characterization) and the "villain" is a confused mess. This whole book reads like a train wreck and I really don't see any redeeming value. I can't really see how this book was such a big hit in its publishing house. Maybe I just don't get it.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Almost Forever

Almost Forever
By Maria Testa
Published 2007 by Candlewick Press

One day, a dad receives a letter. He must go to Vietnam. How long will he be gone? One year. But that year feels almost like forever to his young daughter...

This was a really quick read but it packs quite a punch. This tells the story of war from a young child's eyes, who can't understand why her dad has to go and why her mom worries so much. I found it very easy to fall into this story and the characters were easy to relate to. I think this is a great story for children of today's generation - another generation of children too young to understand war and why their parents had to leave. Testa's novel also speaks to the power of familial love and while it can feel like forever and maybe you start to forget a little, ultimately you can't forget your family. A very rich verse story.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!
By Mo Willems
Published 2011 by Balzer + Bray

A collection of six (and a half) short stories about two friends, this is the latest offering by Willems. I became a gigantic, huge, enormous fan of his after reading the Elephant and Piggie books. Then I learned that Willems is basically a superhero because he used to work on Sesame Street. He is pretty much one of my favorite children's book creators. This book was no exception - the stories are delightful and fun and highlight friendship in the best possible way. His illustrations are simple and pure but complement his stories so perfectly. I find everything he produces to just be an absolute delight and can't wait to share all of his work with anyone I ever meet. As a side note, I actually saw Willems walking around at the ALA conference in June (the only time I saw an author not at an event or signing) but didn't say anything as he was with his daughter (or it appeared that way).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: The Day Before

The Day Before
By Lisa Schroeder
Published 2011 by Simon Pulse

Amber just wants one perfect day. By herself. But, when she sees a really cute boy her age admiring the jellyfish at the aquarium with the same intensity as her, she thinks that maybe the "by herself" part of the deal is flexible...

I'm pretty sure that I've read all of Schroeder's young adult work and found it enjoyable if somewhat repetitive. However, this, her newest, I liked best of all. This was less melodramatic than her previous titles and I found that a welcome change. I liked that the stories of Amber and Cade were revealed in bits and pieces throughout the novel and I thought their chemistry was realistic. This was a very quick and easy read and I think it will appeal greatly to fans of contemporary YA novels. There was enough of a touch of melodrama and romance and it all blended together well to make this a really well-told story. I really enjoyed this one and hope Schroeder continues in this vein in the future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Man in the Moon

The Man in the Moon
By William Joyce
Published 2011 by Atheneum

We've all seen him and wondered about him - the Man in the Moon. But did you know he is one of the Guardians of Childhood? Acclaimed author/artist Joyce introduces an ambitious new project with this first title, to be followed by a variety of picture books and chapter books and ending with an animated feature film to be released in 2013, I believe. There was a lot of hype about this project at the ALA conference earlier this year in June and I had hoped to snag an ARC while I was there. Unfortunately, I missed out on it, instead picking up the finished book at the library recently. I pretty much loved everything about this book - the story is imaginative and sweet and I think it has great appeal to children of all ages. But even if the story wasn't so engaging and endearing, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and could make up for pretty much any flaw. I want to hang them on my walls. They are lush and evocative - just beautiful. I'm pretty excited about this new project that Joyce is undertaking - it sounds like a really interesting idea. I'm very much looking forward to the next entry in the series.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Pacy Lin series

The Year of the Dog
Published 2007

The Year of the Rat

Published 2008

Dumpling Days
By Grace Lin
Expected publication January 2, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I received an ARC of the third book in Grace Lin's debut series at ALA in June, so I picked up the first two and read all three in one weekend. I was looking forward to them because I had been enchanted by Lin's Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I'm happy to say that this series did not disappoint, though it is very different from Lin's other title.

This series follows Grace/Pacy Lin (her American and Chinese name, respectively), a young Taiwanese-American middle child growing up in New York State. In the first book, Grace strives to find her talent and discover what she wants to be when she grows up. She is also thrilled by the arrival of another Chinese-American girl her age in her neighborhood (throughout the series, Grace tries to understand whether she is Taiwanese or Chinese - an issue fraught with very adult political implications). In the second book, Grace is devastated to discover that her best friend has to move to California. She must struggle with the inevitable changes we all face. In the upcoming third title, Grace and her family visit Taiwan for her grandmother's sixtieth birthday. Pacy discovers her heritage and the endless variety of dumplings she can enjoy. This series is really engaging and simple - it's really written in an easy way that I think is easy for children to comprehend and relate to. It's also pretty clear that this series is at least loosely autobiographical (Pacy, after all, decides she wants to be an author/illustrator when she grows up). Lin inserts family tales throughout the main action of the novel which usually serve to illustrate a value or proverb and which are generally quite effective. I think what I like most about this series is that it's pure - it's very realistic in its depiction of being a child of a minority ethnicity. I believe Lin wrote the series for children like she was, to fill a hole in the literature for kids. All kids need to read about people like themselves and Lin's simple yet illustrative and engrossing series is perfect for this. Very enjoyable.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review: Before I Die

Before I Die
By Jenny Downham, read by Charlotte Parry
Published 2007 by Listening Library

Tessa has been battling cancer for years, but now, there doesn't seem to be much more the doctors can do. So, she creates a list - ten things to do before she dies. Number one is sex. And she wants to get started as soon as possible...

Despite the tawdry description of this book (which sort of makes it sound like some weird kind of porn), Tessa's exploits are, for the most part, rather tame (though, I will admit, the sex scenes later in the novel are quite steamy). This book sort of reminded me of a Lurlene McDaniel book with an R rating - someone has a horrible illness but they are inspired to live life to their fullest. Chances are, they're going to fall in love and, in the majority of McDaniel books, be miraculously cured before the novel's end. Downham's novel has the same sort of tone - Tessa doesn't spend a whole lot of time feeling sorry for herself; she's just trying to do what she can while she still can. It's pretty easy to see where the novel is going to go nearly from the beginning - even the bits about Zoe and Adam don't really come as any surprise. I was moved by the ending, but not as much as I might have expected to be (and certainly not as much as by other YA books). I thought the reader did quite a nice job, injecting the right amount of personality and emotion throughout the book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: 43 Old Cemetery Road

Dying to Meet You (Book 1)
Published 2009

Over My Dead Body (Book 2)
Published 2009

Till Death Do Us Bark (Book 3)
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 2011 by Harcourt

This review encompasses the first three books of the new series by the Klise sisters, authors of the beloved Regarding the... series. I know how popular their earlier series was, and I recently read the first one, but when I saw the new series, I thought it might be a bit more up my alley (because of the spooky/scary/ghost story aspect). The basic premise here is that 43 Old Cemetery Road is house haunted by its former owner, failed author Olive C. Spence. Young Seymour Hope now resides in the mansion, abandoned by his parents. Mr. Ignatius B. Grumply initially rents the house in order to complete work on a new book in his famed Ghost Tamer series. Each book features these three main characters while introducing a new evil plot for them to foil in each title. The books are funny and cute, quick to read and interesting to try to figure out along the way. They are not as spooky or scary as I had originally hoped, which is fine, but a bit of a disappointment to me. I enjoyed them and will continue to read the series as it's published, but I don't think I'll be chomping at the bit for the next. I didn't engage as much as I had hoped.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Girl Coming in for a Landing

Girl Coming in for a Landing
By April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Elaine Clayton
Published 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf

This book came recommended to me a couple years ago when another librarian discovered my obsession with verse novels. This tells the story of one year in the life of a teen girl through poetry. This was a really quick and easy read. The inclusion of the illustrations, which work nicely with the poetry, makes it feel like we are simply reading this girl's journal. It makes for a very intimate novel and feels much more personal that way. That being said, not a whole lot happens throughout the course of the novel. So it feels very quiet and at times, slow. I enjoyed it, but having been thrown into the world of verse novels via Ellen Hopkins, this might be a bit too quiet for my tastes. The narrator here is likable and this is a very true depiction of life in high school. But, even though I said I was sick of all the crazy dystopian sci-fi novels, this book was a little too action-deprived for me to love.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Carver

Carver: A Life in Poems
By Marilyn Nelson
Published 2001 by Front Street

In this slim volume, Nelson beautifully relates the life of George Washington Carver through her skills with poetry. I don't know all that much about Carver and his life, so this book was really my introduction to the man. And what a wonderful introduction this provides. Nelson creates snapshots of Carver's life with her well-crafted verse and leaves the reader feeling that they really know Carver. What I found intrusive about another verse portrait I read recently (notes along the bottom of the pages) didn't bother me as much here. Perhaps it's because Nelson's notes were usually only one brief sentence and, in most cases, didn't provide much more information than the poem itself. Regardless, this was a truly wonderful read that I was incredibly happy to immerse myself in for an hour or so (it's a very quick read). This is another work of verse that won a Newbery Honor - and this is very much deserved. This book is highly recommended for all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: Boris

By Cynthia Rylant
Published 2005 by Harcourt, Inc.

Another book I stumbled upon while perusing the 800s of the YA non-fiction, this is the simple yet engaging story of Boris, a cat. It's difficult to tell if this is a work of fiction or autobiography, though in the end it doesn't really matter. Rylant has crafted a quiet portrait of the inexplicable love between owner and pet - even when the owner has tried so hard to resist becoming such of this particular pet. This is a quiet book, as nothing really happens over the course of its short length, but a delightful read for anyone who has ever been completely taken with and loved by an animal. Boris has a distinct personality but at the same time, he could be a stand-in for any cat, or any pet, really. It's a wonderful skill that Rylant has executed here. A very sweet read.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Borrowed Names

Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters
By Jeannine Atkins
Published 2010 by Henry Holt and Company

I admit that I had never heard of this book until I found in the 800s of our YA non-fiction (while I was rooting around for other verse works that ended up here instead of in the fiction collection). I was intrigued instantly.

In three different sections, Atkins provides readers with poems of three extraordinary women - all born in 1867 - and their daughters. I found this concept immensely interesting. I had no idea that these women were all contemporaries of each other. I have to say that the only one I really knew very much about was Wilder - and that is because I was thoroughly obsessed with her books as a child. I didn't know, however, that they were encouraged into being and edited by her daughter - who was quite a remarkable woman herself. It was fascinating to see how the daughters of such successful and famous women grew to be amazing women themselves. Sometimes, it's hard to even imagine the life of a child of someone so prolific - it's almost as if one can't even imagine them as real people. I think this book does a wonderful job of humanizing these iconic women and their daughters as well. In the end, they are women like you or I - with an incredible sense of determination and courage. This book could easily find an audience among young women - it screams "you can do anything" and should encourage anyone who reads to achieve their personal best.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Your Own, Sylvia

Your Own, Sylvia
By Stephanie Hemphill
Published 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

This book was on my radar long before my obsession with verse novels - most likely a result of every teen girl's obsession with Sylvia Plath. So I was delighted to find it on my library shelves and happily brought it home (even though I really should be reading all those books sitting in my living room).

Hemphill presents a portrait of Sylvia Plath in the form of poems, written by those closest to her throughout her life. Hemphill also crafts a few poems with no particular narrator that are written in the style of several of Plath's own poems. I expected to like this book because I am very much into verse novels, as well as non-traditional biographies (though this is certainly not a strict biography, much of it is based on truth). What I didn't expect was how extraordinarily well-written it would be. Hemphill has a beautiful way with words and, often, her poetry in this volume is easily as tremendous as Plath's. I loved the great variety of narrators that Hemphill chose for this story, from the clearly significant (Sylvia's mother, brother, Ted Hughes) to the more casual acquaintance (a number of boyfriends, mothers she nannied for, etc.). It really creates a comprehensive picture of Plath that I think many people are lacking. My main complaint about this novel would have been the biographical notes at the bottom of each page. While they are clearly they to put each poem in context (most usually by explaining who the narrator is and their relationship with Sylvia), for me, they too often broke the flow of the poetry and disrupted my reading of Sylvia's narrative. I would have liked this information better if it came in the form of an appendix at the end of the book and left the main text's focus on the poetry. I think this is a must-read for any Plath fan and I absolutely can't wait to read more of Hemphill's work, as this poetry was exquisite, reminding me why I used to love poetry so much.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
By Margarita Engle
Published 2008 by Henry Holt and Company

Even though I have like a hundred books in my apartment that I should be reading right now, I let my book sickness take over and checked out a bunch of books from the library. I tried to justify it to myself because I only checked out verse novels and books in series that I'm in the middle of reading. But I should be reading all the other books I have right now. Anyway...

Engle tells the story of Cuba's wars for independence mainly through the voice of Rosa, a healer. For some reason, this book didn't really grab me right away and was, for me, a little difficult to follow through the first part. I can't really explain why because this book has everything I usually enjoy - verse, historical fiction, multiple points of view. But, for some reason, it didn't grab me like it should have. However, this is a really well-crafted novel. Engle does a great job of depicting Cuba's struggles through these characters. I actually found myself more engaged after Silvia was introduced. This is a short book and a relatively quick read that leaves the reader wanting to know more about the facts on which this story is based. I know I have a hankering to find out more about this piece of history. I was a little surprised to see that this was a Newbery Honor book, but after reading it, I'm not quite as surprised (though, still a little bit). One thing, though, is that I have a hard time imagining the kid who would pick this up; I suppose there are kids out there who like historical fiction and might stumble upon this title. I don't think they'd be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Regarding the Fountain

Regarding the Fountain
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 1999 by HarperTrophy

These books were insanely popular at the school library I volunteered for during grad school. I picked one up recently and, being enamored with epistolary novels, I knew I would be reading it soon. Dry Creek Middle School needs a new water fountain. Florence Waters has been contacted regarding the fountain. What follows is a madcap mystery about the history of Dry Creek, a spirited fountain designer, and a fifth-grad class full of enthusiastic amateur sleuths and musicians. This is an easy and fast read, entertaining and unusual. I really liked having the story told this way - it made it much more interesting than a straightforward narrative would have been, I think. It's really funny, too - the characterizations are incredibly strong, especially considering they are mostly told through letters. This was a really enjoyable read and I will definitely read the others in the series. I've already picked up the Klise sister's new series and can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Andromeda Klein

Andromeda Klein
By Frank Portman, read by 
Published 2009 by Listening Library

Andromeda Klein has some problems - her mom is a tyrant, her hair is horrible, her best friend is dead, and her boyfriend has blown her off. With the help of her friends and her HGA (Holy Guardian Angel), she just might be able to overcome these issues. Well, maybe not the hair.

I loved King Dork so, as expected, I really wanted to like this book. And I did. But not as much as I hoped. I know part of it was the fact that I listened to the book (I'll get into that a bit later) but I'm not sure what the other part of it is. Something just didn't quite click for me. Andromeda is interesting, but a number of times throughout the book, I wanted to throw something at her. Like every time Saint Steve texted her - I mean, COME ON. How did she not see that happening? And Byron - I mean, really. So sometimes, it was hard to be on Andromeda's side because she was just way too obtuse for me. But, I liked the whole idea of the book. The way the action progressed was also well-done and interesting. But still, it just fell short for me. I liked the reader of the audio book - she had an excellent ability for differentiating between characters. Additionally, there were a few moments that felt particularly well-suited for audio - some songs and whatnot. But one thing that was definitely not well suited for listening - Andromeda's unique vocabulary. While listening, I didn't have a lexicon to refer to when I forgot what "bagel warm agony" meant. So that got pretty annoying. But, the book was decent. I like that Portman educates without hitting you over the head with it. I think the book would appeal to a great variety of teens.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Wintertown

By Stephen Emond
Expected publication date December 5, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lucy comes to visit every winter and it's pretty much the only thing good old Evan looks forward to. But this year, things are different - Lucy is different. She's chopped off all her hair, pierced her nose, and only seems to be able to answer questions with one word responses. Evan is determined to bring back the old Lucy, even if New Lucy wants to kick his ass for trying.

I read Emond's Happyface and was totally kicked in the face by it. That book dealt with some heavy stuff that there had been no indication of previously. So I wasn't sure what to expect from this one. The back blurb (of my ARC) is pushing it a little hard - "an illustrated Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." Upon completion, I have to say that I don't really agree. This book is good - don't get me wrong - but those two things that it's compared to were, for me, amazing. Emond falls a little short here. It's hard to pinpoint why exactly this book didn't feel amazing for me. The characters are wonderful and full of depth and I think Evan and Lucy's relationship is perfectly depicted with all the angst and tension that boy/girl teen friendships are fraught with. Maybe part of my disappointment is because I got kicked so hard in the face by Emond's previous novel. This book didn't pack quite the same punch. It just felt a little incomplete, even by the end. Additionally, I like Emond's use of art throughout the story but the comics didn't really work for me. I didn't really feel like they were adding to the story like I hoped they would. Overall, though, this is a good and enjoyable read about how boys and girls can be friends and take care of each other.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Duchess of Whimsy

The Duchess of Whimsy
By Randall de Seve, illustrated by Peter de Seve
Published 2009 by Philomel

The Duchess of Whimsy is fancy and particular and extraordinary. The Earl of Norm is boring and plain and lackluster. But he thinks the Duchess is just wonderful and tries desperately to impress her. She never notices him until the fateful day that the chef is ill and the guests search high and low for ingredients to prepare a fanciful feast. But the Earl of Norm has something more straightforward in mind - and it just might catch the eye of the Duchess. This was an absolutely adorable fairy tale love story that I really enjoyed. I picked it up because it's a Bluebonnet Book here in Texas and I wanted to see what it was all about. The illustrations are indeed whimsical and delightful. A truly sweet tale that I think children will adore.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: The Unforgettable Season

The Unforgettable Season
By Phil Bildner, illustrated by S. Schindler
Published 2011 by Penguin Group

I have a hard time resisting baseball in pretty much any form. So this picture book caught my eye from the "New" shelf and I immediately gravitated to it. Bildner tells the story of 1941, the season of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and Ted Williams' best batting average. It explores the rivalry between the two men, as well as how fans reacted to these extraordinary feats (which, if I'm not mistaken, still stand today). A stirring tribute to the sport and two of its greatest players, I think this book would be a big hit for baseball fans of any age. The illustrations are simple and evoke the game well. The text is more advanced than a simple picture book, so I would recommend this for an older crowd. This book made me appreciate these great players even more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: L is for Lone Star

L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet
By Carol Crane
Published 2001 by Sleeping Bear Press

I know this particular company makes an alphabet book for seemingly everything, so I had kinda rolled my eyes at them whenever I saw them. But this one came across my path recently. And being a new Texas transplant, I thought I'd take a look and find out what exactly a Texas alphabet might look like. To my immense surprise and delight, this book was actually fun and educational. I learned a lot reading through the Texas alphabet - for example, did you know that the nine-banded armadillo (the state's official small mammal) always gives birth to identical quadruplets? Amazing, right? This book is full of other facts and information like that one and I think kids could have a lot of fun with them. A nice pictorial and alphabetical representation of the Lone Star State.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: All the Way to America

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
By Dan Yaccarino
Published 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This is another non-fiction picture book that I picked up at the library. Yaccarino tells the story of his family's immigration from Italy and the little shovel that accompanied them through it all. This is a nice little story of Yaccarino's family and how they came to America - changing the spelling of their name, searching for work, and using that little shovel sort of as a tribute to generations past. Normally, I wouldn't imagine that Yaccarino's illustration style would work for such a straightforward and serious story as this is, but, wonderfully, it does indeed work here. The illustrations are creative and interesting and I think they show the Yaccarino flair. I think this would be a wonderful book for storytimes - it's easy to imagine this as a jumping off point for discussions of our families and the traditions we have kept alive through the generations. A lovely book for children.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: The Marshmallow Incident

The Marshmallow Incident
By Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett
Published 2009 by Scholastic Press

The Barretts are the creators of the fabulous Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, so when I spotted this other title by them on the shelves at the library, I picked it up for a quick read. This is a whimsical tale of a town divided right down the middle by a line. No one really knows where it came from or why it's there, but they have always respected it and the animosity between the people on either side of the line is clear. When someone accidentally strays over the line, the Knights who guard it let loose with their finest weaponry - cases and cases of marshmallows. This is a wonderfully irreverent and enjoyable picture book with a great message about tolerance and getting set in our ways. The illustrations are absolutely perfect for the story - full of details and hilarity. Delightful!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Okay for Now

Okay for Now
By Gary D. Schmidt
Published 2011 by Clarion Books

Doug Swieteck has just moved to upstate New York with his damaged family - his lost dad, his mousy mother, and his accused-criminal older brother. His other brother is fighting in Vietnam and may return home much different than anyone could expect. Doug will have to figure out how to make life in this new place work. What he finds includes ice cold Coke, John James Audubon, and Jane Eyre.

This book was just what I needed. After recently griping about the glut of teen sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal/dark and dreary I've been reading, when one of the librarians I work with put this in my hands, I took it home happily. This is a truly wonderful story. Let's see, what did I love about this? First of all, Doug - what a great narrator. Doug is the perfect example of a young teenage boy. And his story is just heartbreaking. I really felt for him - just reading about the bad things in his life and piecing together the whole story made me tear up. He is not always a sympathetic character and that's what makes him all the more realistic. Next, the rest of the cast of characters - from smart-aleck and beautiful Lil Spicer, to the wise and kind Mr. Powell, to the evil gym teacher Coach Reed, to all the customers of Doug's grocery route - Schmidt has populated his novel with wonderfully rich and entertaining characters from all walks of life. How they interact with and effect Doug creates a perfect story. And perhaps most of all, the beautiful and seamless integration of Audubon's work into the story and what it all comes to mean to Doug. This is a truly wonderful story about the power of art - because it is through his lessons with Mr. Powell at the altar of Audubon that Doug learns he is more than his circumstances and he can become whoever he chooses. A truly touching and wonderful novel. Highly recommended!

And just to note - I believe this is a companion to Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, but I haven't read that one and found I didn't need to in order to enjoy this title.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: The Last Badge

The Last Badge
By George McClements
Published 2005 by Hyperion

As a former Girl Scout, I was drawn to this picture book instantly. The charming tale of a young scout who longs to complete his last badge and prove his worth to his family, this book had me hooked. It's an adorable and endearing tale of family and bravery. The illustrations suit the light tone of the story and McClements adds his own light touches to the scouting tradition. The badges are cute and I think this book would be a huge hit among real scouts. A really fun and sweet read.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Henry Aaron's Dream

Henry Aaron's Dream
By Matt Tavares
Published 2010 by Candlewick Press

I am really into non-fiction picture books lately. Maybe it's because in school, one of my teachers stressed the importance of incorporating non-fiction into storytimes and these picture books are the perfect way to do so. Or maybe it's because you can learn so much in a short amount of space. Either way, if the non-fiction picture book is well done, I'm pretty much sold. Such is the case with this beautiful biography of baseball's home-run king (yes, he still is the home-run king, I don't care who Barry Bonds thinks he is) by the incredibly talented Tavares. This tells the tale of Aaron as a young child, enamored with America's pastime and how he wished to someday play in the big leagues. Of course, Aaron was watching when baseball (and most of America) was still segregated, so this dream seemed near impossible. But he never stopped believing and soon, he watched Jackie Robinson break the color barrier. This is a beautiful tribute to one of baseball's best players. Tavares' illustrations are lush and rich and easy to get lost in. I actually teared up while reading this (but maybe I'm just a big baseball softie). Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: Walking on Glass

Walking on Glass
By Alma Fullerton
Published 2007 by HarperTeen

Here is another short verse novel that I picked up for a quick read. I was not expecting the emotional punch that this book ended up packing. This is a heartbreaking story about a teen boy who came home one day and found his mother hanging from the chandelier, broken glass all around her. Now, she is in a coma, with little to no chance of ever waking up. We follow the narrator as he struggles with figuring out the right thing to do, while also discovering some unpleasant truths about his best friend. This is a novel with no easy answers, despite its short length. It manages to be surprising and complicated and really makes readers wonder how they would handle this situation. Readers can easily sympathize with the struggles the narrator is undergoing and wish that there were easy answers. A spare and tight verse novel.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust
By Karen Hesse
Published 1997 by Scholastic, Inc.

So I only recently became a gigantic fan of verse novels, which means I missed this early entry into the style. Hesse is an incredibly well-regarded author and this book won the Newbery Medal. How I managed to neglect it for so long is a downright shame.

Billie Jo is a teenager living in Oklahoma. And everyday, she must survive the dust. That is not the only thing Billie Jo must learn to survive during the course of this beautiful and haunting novel. This book was excellent. Very gripping and heartwrenching. Hesse manages to pack quite a punch in this slim volume and it just highlights her strength as an author. I truly couldn't wait to find out how things would turn out for Billie Jo and her family. This is a character that I really wanted to root for. Additionally, this novel takes place in the 1930s, so Hesse has managed to combine two of my favorite things - verse novels and historical fiction - and she does it so beautifully. Billie Jo is such a wonderful heroine and narrator - she has an incredible voice and a strength that is to be admired. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
By Marla Frazee
Published 2008 by Harcourt Children's Books

I know this was a Caldecott Honor book a few years back and I thought I had picked it up since then. But I spotted it on the shelves at my library and started reading and nothing seemed familiar, so I guess not. Anyway, this is about two best friends who go to week-long nature camp and spend their free time with one's grandparents. This is really a heartfelt and lovely tribute to childhood and friendship - these boys have the best week ever in the way that only children seem to be able to nowadays. I haven't always been a fan of Frazee's illustrations but I think they work wonderfully for this story. I really enjoyed this.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: King Hugo's Huge Ego

King Hugo's Huge Ego
By Chris Van Dusen
Published 2011 by Candlewick Press

Sometimes I like to read the new picture books as I'm reshelving them at the library. I couldn't resist this one. The title basically tells you the story - King Hugo is awfully fond of himself and has no qualms about making his subjects know how wonderful he is. In typical fairy tale-esque fashion, he is rude to a villager who just happens to know a thing or two about magic and soon, Hugo finds his head swelling to fit his gigantic ego! All's well that ends well in this very funny and smartly illustrated tale. Van Dusen's art is absolutely beautiful and so perfectly matched to the story. I think this would be a wonderful read-aloud book. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Legend

By Marie Lu
Expected publication November 29, 2011 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

So I realized as I was reading this that a lot of the books I picked up at ALA (and have subsequently read) were billed as the "next Hunger Games" or for fans of that series. This isn't really that extraordinary except when you realize that I've yet to read the Hunger Games trilogy. So all this hype and comparison is essentially lost on me. Maybe that makes me the best reader for these novels because I don't have to worry about how this title measures up to those. Or maybe it makes me a worse reader of these titles because I don't have that context. It's an interesting question to ponder.

Day is the Republic's most wanted criminal. But they don't know anything about his real identity. When Day plans a risky mission to save his family, will this be the Republic's chance to put an end to his notorious spree?

June is the orphaned daughter of two highly respected members of the Republic. Now, she is a military prodigy on her way to becoming the youngest official Republic agent. When June's beloved brother is murdered, she quickly ascends to the top levels of the military and makes it her mission to bring justice to her brother's killer.

When Day and June meet, everything they think they know about the Republic will be thrown into question and their lives will never be the same.

I had kind of a hard time getting into this at first. I think being thrown into the middle of the story, with short chapters alternating points of view was a little disorienting. This is a new world that I have to get a grip on and it was a little difficult to establish any sense of anything with the shortness of the chapters and the dual p.o.v.s. However, eventually, I think this dual narration works for the novel. It's nice to see all the situations that come up during the book's course from both characters. My main problem with this novel really has nothing to do with the novel itself. I think I'm getting a little burned out on YA books of this ilk - two diametrically opposed teens meet, their lives are changed, neither is who they thought they were, and, oh by the way, the adults are totes hiding things from you. This book never really strays too far from that. In fact, I almost think that's a pretty good summary of what's going on here.

That being said, the novel is fast-paced and action-packed, and the web of lies that make up this society are interesting. Lu leaves some questions unanswered, but it's to be expected, as this is (of course) the first in a new series. Will I pick up the next book when it arrives? Sure - the story is compelling enough that I want to know what might come next for Day and June. I'm sure this book will find its audience.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: The Future of Us

The Future of Us
By Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Expected publication November 21, 2011 by Razorbill

One of the fall's most anticipated teen novels, this is a collaboration between Jay Asher (whose debut 13 Reasons Why took YA by storm) and Carolyn Mackler (who has written a number of well-loved YA novels) that tells the story of best friends Emma and Josh. It's 1996 and Emma has just gotten her first computer. When Josh brings over a free AOL CD-ROM, Emma fires it up and finds...Facebook? OMG, she's looking at herself 15 years in the future...and she doesn't really like what she sees.

This was one of the most sought-after ARCs at ALA and I happily snagged a copy. Let me start with the good about this book: super-compelling. I literally did not want to put it down. I couldn't wait to find out how the present might affect what Facebook said the next time Emma and Josh logged on. Additionally, because this book takes place in 1996 and their Facebook profiles talk about things that don't exist yet, there are a few knowing laugh out loud moments. Sometimes, it makes you a bit nostalgic for the way things were (although this aspect might be lost on teens who were mere babies in 1996). But for me, there is one big part of this book that doesn't work: Emma. To me, she is one of the least sympathetic characters I've encountered in a while. And because of this, it causes a lot of the other aspects of the novel to not work for me. I find Emma to be whiny and ridiculous and because of this, I was actively rooting against her friendship with Josh. Because I thought Josh was a decent enough character and couldn't imagine why he was friends with Emma. Maybe it's just me and other readers won't have this problem. But this made the novel a bit of a miss for me.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
By Chris Van Allsburg
Published 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

I was introduced to this book by a professor in library school. Originally published by Van Allsburg in 1984, the first version of this book contained only the haunting illustrations and one to two lines of text. The book's existence was explained by way of an interesting introduction. Now, 14 authors have collected here to tell us the stories behind these unusual illustrations.

I find the introduction by Lemony Snicket in this edition to be entirely unnecessary. It doesn't really add much information to anyone who is familiar with the original. Snicket simply uses this space to posit the notion that these are the actual stories, written by Harris Burdick and entrusted to these 14 authors for care. What a magical thought, but is it true? Likely not. I would actually have liked to learn the process that was used for stories and authors - were authors selected and then they chose which stories they wanted to tell? Or were authors selected to tell certain stories, decided by Van Allsburg (or his publisher)? It's interesting to think about how the illustrations and authors were matched. For me, some of the combinations worked out much better than others. Some of the combinations I found quite bizarre. But overall, this was an interesting new take on this infamous work by Van Allsburg. My favorite new tales included Jon Scieszka's "Under the Rug" (which grew from "Two weeks passed and it happened again."), Sherman Alexie's "A Strange Day in July" ("He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back."), Jules Feiffer's "Uninvited Guests" ("His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn."), Linda Sue Park's "The Harp" ("So it's true he thought, it's really true."), "Mr. Linden's Library" by Walter Dean Myers ("He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late."), Lois Lowry's "The Seven Chairs" ("The fifth one ended up in France.")...actually, the only ones I didn't really enjoy were Tabitha King's, Gregory Maguire's, and Cory Doctorow's. All in all, this is a stellar collection of short stories by a great variety of authors.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: Brian Selznick's early works

Boy of a Thousand Faces
By Brian Selznick
Published 2000 by HarperCollins Children's Books

The Houdini Box
By Brian Selznick
Published 2001 by Aladdin

I fell in love with Selznick's Caldecott-winning work, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I had no idea that he had published anything else. I knew he had done illustrations for other authors but thought that was his first solo work. Turns out I was wrong. Recently, I picked up two of his earlier titles and read them. They are both short - about the length of a typical picture book - and both hint at Selznick's genius. He seamlessly blends his narration with his illustrations to tell a complete story.  Both of these stories appealed especially to me because they are about subjects I really like. Boy of a Thousand Faces tells the story of a young boy who loves horror movies. He likes to create his own faces, like the host of a horror show whom he idolizes. The story unfolds over Halloween and it's a very sweet story. The illustrations are great, perfectly evoking the golden age of horror films. The Houdini Box tells of a young boy who wants to be a famous escape artist like Houdini but can't quite get it right. One day, he meets Houdini himself, who gives him a locked box by way of explaining his tricks. This is another sweet story about a young boy and the power of imagination and belief. I think Houdini is a fascinating subject for kids. Selznick's early works show his ability to balance the written and illustrated. I really enjoyed both of these short titles and recommend them for all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Gothic!

Gothic!: Ten Original Dark Tales
Edited by Deborah Noyes
Published 2004 by Candlewick Press

Ten young adult authors offer their takes on the gothic short story. I read this one in preparation for Halloween - during the month of October I like to read and watch mostly horror-focused media (because it's my favorite anyway so why not take the whole month?). So I grabbed a few short story collections to read at the same time as my many ARCs. I figured I could take time to read one short story a day - and I certainly do. This was the first collection I dived into and I have to say, it was a pretty good one. Like I've mentioned recently, all anthologies/collections have their ups and downs. For me, this one was split down the middle - five stories I really enjoyed and five I didn't like as much. My favorites were Vivian Vande Velde's tale of a haunted hayride that may actually be haunted, M.T. Anderson's version of an ancient horror story, Caitlin R. Kiernan's take on supernatural rites of passage, Janni Lee Simner's eerie tale of fatherly protection gone too far, and Celia Rees' spooky ghost story. All were spooky and interesting and quick reads. I was most surprised to see which stories I didn't enjoy as much - the venerable Joan Aiken, one of my personal favorites Neil Gaiman, the fantastic Garth Nix, and the author of one of my favorite books ever Gregory Maguire. I was really surprised that I didn't enjoy these contributions more, but I guess it all depends on what they're writing. Other people may certainly enjoy these tales more than my favorites - and that's part of the beauty of the story collection. There's almost always something for everyone. A delightful spooky read.

Review: The Watch That Ends the Night

The Watch That Ends the Night
By Allan Wolf
Expected publication October 11, 2011 by Candlewick Press

Sunday, April 14, 1912: The RMS Titanic collides with an iceberg and sinks, with two thousand people aboard. These are their voices.

I have kind of an obsession with novels in verse - I will read about pretty much anything if it's written in verse. And I really enjoy historical fiction. So this was a great combination for me. Wolf chooses about 24 different voices to represent the two thousand people aboard the Titanic. I think he selects a great cross-section of individuals: a young refugee girl, a man with his children on the run from his ex-wife, the millionaire John Jacob Astor, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown (who, surprising to learn, was never called Molly in her life), a young dragon-hunter, a large cross-section of employees - the captain, the builder, one of the businessmen, a baker, a mailman, a telegraph operator, the lookout, a violinist - the iceberg itself, and the undertaker who assisted with the recovery of bodies after the tragedy. Wolf has chosen some of the most interesting voices to guide his narrative (can you believe I never even knew Astor was on the ship?)  and it flows easily and interestingly. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this story from such a great variety of perspectives and, even though we all know how this story ends, the personal perspectives allow us to see the story in a new light. Now, we want to know which of these people survive the tragedy and which go down with the ship (with the exception of Margaret Brown, whose fate I think is universally known). Wolf also provides biographical details at the end of the book, to help readers separate fact from creative license. I think Wolf has done a tremendous job of making an old subject fresh again. I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle
By Jessica Day George
Expected publication October 11, 2011 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

The Kingdom of Glower doesn't follow the traditional rules of succession. That's because the Kingdom of Glower contains Castle Glower, a castle that grows rooms, halls and even whole wings nearly every Tuesday and isn't afraid to let its inhabitants know how it feels about them. Princess Celie is clearly the castle's favorite and she is making an atlas of the castle's rooms in an attempt to better understand it. The rest of her family is also loved by the castle, but when the King and Queen are attacked and their fate remains a mystery, it's up to Celie (with the help of her sister Lilah and their brother, heir to the throne and chosen by the castle himself, Rolf) to protect her beloved castle from those who would threaten her family's reign.

What a delight this book was! I love fairy tales and this reads just like one! It's full of magic and joy and intrigue and wonderful characters. Celie is a wonderful heroine - she is strong-willed and independent, she thinks for herself and she loves the castle. Castle Glower is a delightful character as well - I feel like a member of the royal family and my concern for the castle felt real. Lilah and Rolf and the rest of the secondary characters were well-developed and interesting as well. This book actually reminded me a lot of E.D. Baker's The Frog Princess series - and that is a wonderful thing! I just felt happy to be reading this book. Though some bad things happen, the overall mood of this book is one of fun and amusement. I loved every second I spent reading this book and am so happy to know that this is the first in a series. I will have to read more of George's book - this is a highly recommended read!

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Review: Steampunk!

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
Edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Expected publication October 11, 2011 by Candlewick Press

Unless you live under a rock, you know that steampunk is huge right now. This is a new YA anthology to introduce readers to the subtleties and varieties that encompass steampunk, with stories from a selection of YA authors. As with any anthology, this had its highlights and not-so-much for me. It was really interesting to see how each author interpreted "steampunk", especially since it can be hard to define that term in the first place. The editors provide a nice introduction, which includes their attempt to define steampunk and a brief discussion of how varied steampunk stories can be. To the stories themselves: my favorites were Libba Bray, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Kelly Link, Garth Nix, Christopher Rowe, Dylan Horrocks, and Holly Black. I really enjoyed Libba Bray's tale of a girl gang - I've read most of her books and really enjoyed them and am continually impressed by all the different directions she chooses to go in with her writing - and how successful she always seems to be. I was surprisingly engaged with Ysabeau S. Wilce's police procedural story - I had read Flora Segunda a while back and thoroughly did not enjoy it so it was pleasant to discover that I really liked the story she included here. Kelly Link's tale of summer people was slightly creepy and magical; I'm looking forward to reading more by her. Garth Nix's tale of the former Grand Technomancer presented a future not that hard to imagine. The future in Christopher Rowe's story where personal cars are frowned upon (to say the least) is also not so hard to picture. Dylan Horrocks crafted a beautiful and sad story of Steam Girl, while Holly Black's story of love among the automatons was sad in another way. The stories I didn't love (Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Delia Sherman, Shawn Cheng, Elizabeth Knox, Kathleen Jennings, and M.T. Anderson) were actually still stories that I liked - I can still remember what all of these stories were about (which, considering my memory and how much I read, is pretty impressive). The more I think about it, the more I realize that I enjoyed something in every story presented here, though I definitely had some favorites. This is a great collection that I think will easily find a big audience. I'm happy to see steampunk take off and hope some of the authors featured here will continue writing steampunk adventures.

Thanks to the publishers for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Sweet Venom

Sweet Venom
By Tera Lynn Childs
Expected publication October 4, 2011 by Katherine Tegen Books

Grace, Gretchen and Greer are three girls living totally separate lives. Grace's family has just moved to San Francisco and she's excited to get a new start and maybe invent a new her. Greer lives a life of privilege and doesn't have time for anything unusual to enter into her life. And Gretchen...well, Gretchen has been fighting monsters for the last four years as a descendant of Medusa. Now, all three of their lives are about to crash together in ways these girls never expected.

Childs wrote a couple of books that are basically modern mermaid romances. I'm not really on the whole mermaid bandwagon, so I haven't read them but I've heard good things about them (one of them is actually a Lone Star title this year). But this, her newest book definitely caught my eye. The story of three girls who are descendants of Medusa - who we all know is evil (right? RIGHT?) - who are just discovering their identities and fighting monsters in the meantime - I mean, it sounds awesome. I'm happy to report that this book stands up to my expectations - it's fun and interesting and builds a great mythology. Childs takes what we think we know about Medusa and turns it all around - and it totally works. The three girls are different enough that they provide a good contrast to each other but not so different that you couldn't believe they all come from the same family (they pretty much all possess the same characteristics, just expressed differently). The process they are going through (of discovery, I mean) is compelling - I want to know what it all means. And that, I think, is the greatest strength of this novel - Childs has created a new mythology that is really interesting. I can't figure it all out on my own and she lets pieces slip only sporadically so the reader stays engaged throughout the novel - and I think that's pretty big when the third main character isn't introduced until 200 pages into the book. I didn't realize this was the first in a series (it better be!) so I was surprised and sad at the cliffhanger end. I can't wait for the next one! A fun and compelling read.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: Liesl & Po

Liesl & Po
By Lauren Oliver
Expected publication October 4, 2011 by Harper

Liesl lives in her attic -  well, actually, her stepmother has locked her in the attic ever since Liesl's father got sick. And now he's gone and Liesl never got to say goodbye. But on the third night after his death, Po appears in Liesl's room. Po is a ghost. Together, along with a distraught former alchemist's apprentice and maybe (just maybe) a little help from the greatest magic in the world, Liesl and Po will undergo a journey that will change them both.

This is Oliver's first book for middle-grade readers and, in an introductory note in my ARC, her most personal book yet. This book is beautiful. Oliver tells the story simply but engagingly. She doesn't really do anything fancy with the writing and it suits this story just fine. Because the story Oliver has crafted is powerful and moving and lovely. This is really a story for all ages - after all, who doesn't want to find out what the greatest magic in the world is? Liesl is a character that will break your heart and life your spirits - she is a sad girl, but not so sad that she has become damaged. This book is full of lovely metaphor and layers, but nothing that overwhelms the essence of the story. The supporting characters here are all executed flawlessly as well - though Oliver may utilize the "evil stepmother" trope, it serves its purpose and is told so beautifully that it doesn't feel tired. I loved getting Po's perspective as well - it filled the story out. I liked how Liesl and Will intersect and become important to each other. This book was just such a delight - I couldn't put it down. My one complaint: the ARC is lacking the illustrations that will appear in the finished addition. I would have loved to see the art that will accompany the story; I think it will add another beautiful layer to the story.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants

Everybody Sees the Ants
By A.S. King
Expected publication October 3, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lucky Linderman doesn't really feel like he lives up to his name. First, there is the fact that he has a squid and a turtle for parents. Second, there is Nader McMillan, who's been bullying Lucky since he was seven and never getting in trouble for it. And lastly, there were his grandmother's last words to him, telling him he is responsible for rescuing his POW/MIA grandfather from Vietnam. Will Lucky find a way to bring his grandfather home? And, in the process, could he maybe address those other two issues of his?

I didn't really know anything about this when I picked up a copy at ALA. But I did read King's Printz Honor book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and enjoyed it. This is similar in tone and style. It deals with some heavy issues in a non-traditional sort of way. Once again, King keeps the chapters pretty short which makes the book flow and move quickly. And again, King creates a very realistic and sympathetic main character, while also creating a good arsenal of secondary characters for the main character to play off. I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Vera Dietz, though. I didn't feel as compelled by Lucky as I had by Vera. And this book didn't have as many endearing and quirky aspects as the other - I didn't enjoy Lucky's dream sequences as much as the alternating viewpoints King used in Vera's story. I did like Lucky's character growth throughout the novel and where his character ended up. However, I didn't really enjoy the final chapter - it seemed a bit magical and out of place. It was similar to the end of Vera's story in that everything wasn't explained. And I find that frustrating in both of these situations. I wish there were a more complete ending. But, this was still a good read with an easy to relate to main character.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
By Laini Taylor
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by Little, Brown & Company

Around the world, black handprints are being scorched into doors by mysterious creatures. Angels prepare to execute their revenge. A devil's supply of teeth is running out. And in the middle, a blue-haired art student in Prague wants to know the truth about where she came from. But will she still want the truth if it changes everything she's ever known?

This book is getting tons of buzz. And I read one of Taylor's other books earlier this year and absolutely loved it. So I greedily snatched this up at ALA. This title does not disappoint. Once again, Taylor has crafted a thrilling and engaging new world, populated with fascinating and unique characters put through unbelievable twists and turns. From almost the very first sentence, I was hooked. Taylor has a truly amazing way with words. I wish there were more books of hers to read (luckily, there are still two I haven't read yet!). She is definitely an author with a long career ahead of her. Her ability to write makes it easy to get sucked into the incredible worlds she creates in her books. I would pretty much believe anything she told me because I just want to keep reading what she's written. Her way with words also helps her create fascinating characters - she is able to describe them in more unique ways than most other authors. I absolutely fell in love with Karou and Brimstone and everyone else. These things make the pages fly by, so before you know it you've reached the "to be continued..." on the last page and can't believe you have to wait to find out what happens next to these characters. I didn't realize this was the beginning of a series and felt a mixture of emotions when I reached the last page and discovered those three little words: elation that there would be more to come from this wonderful story and utter depression that I couldn't read the rest of the story now. I will impatiently wait out the months until the next installment of this story and in the mean time, I will thrust Laini Taylor's books into as many hands as I can.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Sharon Creech Verse Novels

Love That Dog
By Sharon Creech
Published 2003 by HarperTrophy

Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Published 2008 by Joanna Colfer

Jack doesn't want to write poetry - only girls do that. But he gives it a shot. Turns out, maybe Jack does have some things he'd like to write down. And maybe, just maybe, he's a poet at heart.

I read these back to back the other day and they were quick, heartfelt and engaging. Jack is a believable character and very easy to identify with. I have a soft spot for novels written in verse (I'm not really sure what got me started on this kick but now I can't get enough), but I especially love that Jack's story is told through poetry. This way, we get little bits and pieces of his life, through his poems, and slowly, wonderfully, complete our portrait of him as a real person. I loved how Jack found his inspiration for his words through poems easily recognized by me, the reader (and that these poems were provided for readers in the back of the books). I also loved the appearance of Mr. Walter Dean Myers and Jack's incessant need to know if an author is alive or not. I loved how each novel told a specific and poignant story - first about Sky and then about Jack's mom. These novels were a delight. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Glow

By Amy Kathleen Ryan
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by St. Martin's Griffin

Every other book at ALA was billed as "the next Hunger Games." Well, I still haven't read Hunger Games (yes, you may boo and hiss), so that doesn't mean too much to me. This book was no exception.

Kieran and Waverly are two young lovers aboard a ship bound for New Earth. They've been traveling all their lives, tending the heirloom crops and learning about their mission. This day will be different, though. This day the New Horizon, another ship bound for New Earth that left a year earlier, appears through their windows. And this will change everything in Kieran and Waverly's lives.

Okay, I'm just going to say it: this book takes place in space AND I LIKED IT. That is huge. I hate space - I don't watch movies or TV shows that take place there and I usually don't read too many books with space as their setting. I don't know why this is; it's just never appealed to me. And I had an especially scarring experience with Ender's Game last fall so my dislike for all things space only deepened. However, I'm also willing to give most anything a shot so I didn't hesitate to try this novel. I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed it. It was a compelling and intriguing read that I didn't want to end. I think what I liked most about this novel was the backstory - I really liked the history that Ryan created for this story. I found the whole idea of the twin ships with their differing characteristics quite appealing. I enjoyed the personal history of each character that received some authorial focus - particularly the stories of the adults. I liked all the twists and turns that came along - especially the contrasting development of Kieran and Waverly's characters. However, even though this was a compelling novel to read, it's the first in a proposed series and that compulsion doesn't really carry all the way through to the end of the novel. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger and I'm curious to find out how the mission continues. BUT I don't feel an overwhelming NEED for the next book to BE IN MY HANDS NOW. It's more of a mild curiosity. This book had a few logical flaws throughout, but the breakneck pace and interesting plot make it easy to ignore these things. All in all, this was a really interesting novel that has the potential to find a big audience.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review; A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness, from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, with illustrations by Jim Kay
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by Candlewick Press

I heard a lot of buzz about this one, so I grabbed an ARC when I had the chance. I wasn't really sure what to expect - I've never read a book by Siobhan Dowd or Patrick Ness, though I've heard heaps of praise for both of them. Apparently Dowd had the idea and characters planned for this when she abruptly passed away. Ness was approached to turn this into a book and this is the result.

One night, at 12:07, a monster shows up outside Conor's window. But it's not quite what he expected. See, Conor's been having nightmares since his mother first started feeling sick - and that's the monster he expected to see. But this monster, the one he actually encounters, claims Conor called him. We're about to find out why.

So, I'm not sure what I expected but this book was a wonderful surprise. It's terrifying and heartbreaking all at once. Ness has crafted a beautifully original story about loss and truth that should speak to all readers. The monster here is scary and yet has so many things to teach Conor that he is only intrigued. But he also needs the monster. He needs to understand what the monster means when it says that Conor called him here. He needs to understand the monster's confusing and irritating stories. He needs to understand why the monster insists that he talk about the nightmare - the horrible, awful, gut-wrenching nightmare. Conor's story is hard to listen to, especially because, to readers, it becomes clear where it's going very early on. However, part of the brilliance here is that Ness still makes you want to keep reading even though you're pretty sure how this story is going to end. I ached for Conor and understood him and his truth. This book is powerful and wonderful.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Juliet Immortal

Juliet Immortal
By Stacey Jay
Published 2011 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

After I read her Megan Berry series, I would have told you that I would follow Stacey Jay to the ends of the earth. That series was fresh and funny, a quick and easy read with one of the best heroines in recent YA history. So when I heard about this book - a complete reimagining of Romeo and Juliet?!?! - needless to say, I was beyond stoked. I happily snagged an ARC at ALA.

I don't think I can provide a decent plot summary here. There is so much going on in this book that I don't know how to accurately describe it all. Let's see if I can get at least some bare bones down here: Romeo was recruited by the Mercenaries (that would be the bad guys) to kill his soul mate, Juliet, and aid their evil cause. As she lay dying, Juliet was rescued by the Ambassadors (the good guys, naturally) and became one of them. Through the years, both have returned to Earth for their respective causes and fought each other bitterly each time. Juliet is sent to protect soul mates, inhabiting a person close to them, while Romeo must convince one to kill the other, only able to possess the bodies of the dead. In the present day, something feels wrong about this visit from the beginning and Juliet struggles to find the answers before Romeo's side wins.

Okay, I think that's a pretty good description of the basics. But, like I said, a lot of things are going on in this book, so there is far more that I could have said. At times, I felt like it was way too much to digest - I understand we are suspending belief here, but maybe this might be a little overkill? No, okay, I guess I'll roll with it. So, for me, there was a little too much happening. Additionally, because of the wealth of plot elements going on, it was sometimes difficult to get the characters all straight. Is this really Juliet that I'm reading about? Or is it the person she's inhabiting? This made it difficult to get really attached to any of the characters. However, I think for all that she's got going on, Jay still manages to craft a compulsively readable novel that will potentially appeal greatly to a wide audience of teens. So even though this wasn't as spectacular for me as the Megan Berry series, I'm pretty sure I would still follow Stacey Jay to the ends of the Earth.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.