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.