Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year in Review, Part Three

And now, here we are - the last of my year in review posts. My final post of 2012 will offer my favorite teen reads of the year.

Librarian of Snark's Best Young Adult Novels of 2012

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman - I had only just read Unwind when I discovered there was a sequel on the horizon and I was thrilled. Coming 5 years after the first, this sequel was a surprise to many. A lot of fans were dubious about the sudden development of this as a trilogy, but Shusterman proved he could pretty much do what he wants and be awesome at it. UnWholly is just as good as the first and will leave readers waiting for book three.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor - I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone with so much passion. I was outraged when it didn't receive an awards nod at the Youth Media Awards. This was one of my most anticipated reads for 2012 and it definitely delivered. Taylor is a prose goddess and I'll read anything she writes. I cannot wait to see how she closes out this amazing and imaginative trilogy.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan - I have a huge fangirl crush on Brennan now and this book is the reason why. Brennan has crafted a spooky, magical, mysterious, smart, and hilarious gothic mystery that will leave you dying for the next installment. Kami is one of my favorite heroines to have emerged in young adult literature this year.

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel - another of my anticipated 2012 reads, here is another sequel that lives up to the promise of the first. I think Oppel is creating a magnificent character study in these novels and I can't wait to see what Victor Frankenstein will do next.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga - with one of the best premises in YA lit this year, Lyga delivers another excellent novel. Jazz is a great main character and I loved the mystery and suspense of this book. Another book where I can't wait to find out what's in store.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan - perhaps one of my most surprising reads of the year, this book has just about everything you could ask for: snark, romance, vampires, zombies, mystery, and heart. Just absolutely loved this one!

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - I seriously don't know how she does it. Stiefvater just keeps hitting it out of the park, crafting these unique, completely enthralling reads about any and everything you can think of. This, her latest, combines psychics, prep school boys, and dead (or is it sleeping?) Welsh kings. I'm 100% on board the Stiefvater train now.

Black Heart by Holly Black - I devoured the entire Curse Workers trilogy this year and I think they're grossly under-read. These books are so fantastic - an authentic male teen voice, magic, and crime drama. Please get your hands on these if you haven't read them yet!

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund - another author who I believe is not read as much as she should be, Peterfreund hit 2012 with perhaps one of the most ambitious ideas - a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. And she nailed it. I was completely swept up in this story.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - JOHN GREEN STOP MAKING ME UGLY CRY IN PUBLIC! For the love of Pete, this is my favorite novel of the year (and I know I'm not alone on this one). Even nearly a year later, this book has continued to live in my heart. It's one of the first books besides Harry Potter that I desperately want to re-read. I hope John Green continues to write these amazing, gut-wrenching books for many years to come.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore - also known as "the book that made me break my own blog rule." I couldn't stop myself from reviewing this book, despite not having reviewed the other titles in the series. And it ended up being one of the longest reviews I've written on this here blog. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more. I'm eager to see what Cashore will do now that she has supposedly finished with the Graceling books.

October Mourning by Leslea Newman - beautiful, haunting, and heartbreaking, this is the story of Matthew Shepard's death, told in verse. Newman has created a stunning tribute to a life cut far too short. This is an important and wonderful book.

The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors - suitable for tweens and teens, this is a very charming fairy tale that surprised me in the best way. Irresistible and sweet, I will definitely be picking up more by Selfors in the future.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama - despite mermaids not really being my thing, this book completely won me over (confession: I nominated it for the Cybils this year; that's how much I loved it). Weaving together a historical narrative with a paranormal twist, Fama has given us a lyrical read. I'm delighted to have her on my radar.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - though I was hesitant to read this one, I'm so glad I picked it up. An absorbing start to a new fantasy series, with captivating magic and a Russian twist. I loved the complexity of the world and the characters.

Honorable mentions go to some amazing reads not published this year that I also adored:
- The Chaos Walking trilogy
- Finnikin of the Rock
- The Scorpio Races
- Between Shades of Gray
- Anna and the French Kiss
- Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

It was an excellent year for YA lit and I read quite a bit, but I'm disappointed that there are a few I still haven't gotten to yet. I'm hoping to tackle a couple over the holidays (The Diviners, Seraphina, and Ask the Passengers are at the top of my stack), but we'll see what I have time for. As far as award predictions go, you'll notice probably one major absence on my list above. While I enjoyed Code Name Verity and I think it's a very well-done novel that deserves its praise, I didn't love it as much as the other books I read this year. It's the fan favorite for the Printz, but I'm hoping to see John Green nab it for The Fault in Our Stars. We'll just have to wait and see!

My stats for the year (according to my Goodreads account which, as I've mentioned, lags a little behind my actual reading):
- 521 books read (245 picture books, 144 middle-grade tween, 131 teen books - including some overlap between the categories)
- 86, 335 pages
- 52 5-star reads, 260 4-star reads, 148 3-star reads, 50 2-star reads, and 11 1-star or did-not-finish reads

And thus concludes my best of 2012 posts. What made your list? What 2012 titles am I a fool for missing?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (2013 preview)

For the last Picture Book Saturday of the year, I thought I'd give you a little preview of some books coming to us in 2013.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
By Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Expected publication January 8, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
This is another brilliant and beautiful book by Bryant and Sweet. I love their ability to take a lesser-known historical figure and bring them vibrantly to life in a way that is appealing to kids and informative. They excel at research, as indicated by their excellent back matter. Sweet's illustrations continually blow me away - her ability to adapt to the style of her subject is absolutely wonderful. This is another lovely addition to each woman's body of work.

Goose Needs a Hug
By Tad Hills
Published 2012 by Schwartz & Wade
Okay, so this isn't a 2013 release, but it's the end of the year and this brand-new release might get lost in the holiday shuffle. Another new board book featuring beloved Duck, Goose and friends, this is a simple story of what Goose needs when he's feeling badly. Will he be able to tell his friends what he wants? The illustrations are, as ever, very sweet, and I love the simplicity of these stories.

Snippet the Early Riser
By Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Expected publication March 12, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Snippet is a snail. He enjoys typical snail activities: drawing on the sidewalk, eating leaves, and piggyback rides. But Snippet also likes to get up early - and his family does not. I was completely enchanted with Murguia's Zoe Gets Ready, so I was delighted to discover that she has a new title coming next year. This is a sweet story about an early bird snail who will try everything he can think of to wake his family so they can start their day. I think the artwork is lovely and I think kids will enjoy reading about this little snail.

Pirates vs. Cowboys
By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by David Barneda
Expected publication March 12, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Burnt Beard is the fiercest pirate to sail the seas. Black Bob McKraw is a rough and tumble cowboy. What happens when these two meet? This is a cute story of how important communication is and how easy it is for messages to get mixed and situations to escalate. It's a pretty complex story, cleverly disguised as a face-off between pirates and cowboys. There is wonderfully rich vocabulary in here and the pirate-speak and cowboy lingo are highlighted in different colors. This will definitely be a big hit.

Thanks to the publishers for digital advance reader's copies, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Year in Review, Part Two

Welcome to part two of my year in review (oh, that unintentionally rhymed...anybody want a peanut?)! Anyway, hopefully you've seen the first part of my review posts, where I tackled my favorite picture books. Next up, my favorite middle-grade and tween titles!

Librarian of Snark's Best Middle-Grade Books of 2012

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre - I completely love this graphic novel, which seems to be part of a number of tween graphic novels with spunky and outspoken heroines. This made me laugh out loud and stirred my sense of adventure. I'm excited to see this on our 2013/2014 Bluebonnet list - I think kids are going to love it.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke - actually, I think I read both Zita books in 2012 and I love them both equally, so I will cheat and claim this spot as a two for one. Zita is a fantastic character and her adventures are exciting and suspenseful. I love all the characters in this series and hope that Hatke continues to send Zita travelling through space.

Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor - while I have some qualms with this one, the charming Stars family and the love they share for each other is enough to recommend this book into my top titles. I think this has a lot of kid appeal and they may be more forgiving of its flaws than I am.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - yes, I am extremely late to the party on this one and that is just a shame because this is, hands down, one of my favorite books of the year. I was completely sucked in to Ivan's story and this book broke my heart. Total love.

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull - despite its intense focus on our avian brethren, this book won me over with its beautiful prose and realistic take on the sibling relationship. A lovely debut.

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby - this is a fall 2011 title, but it kind of snuck under the radar, so I'm including it here. This is a wonderfully evocative and thrilling mystery, as much about the power of story as it is about the journey of Solveig.

The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson - even more high-octane and compelling than the first, this sequel to The Dragon's Tooth definitely delivers. Wilson knows how to keep you turning the pages, bringing so much energy to the story that you may be left breathless. This is a great series for Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz - I had a lot of thoughts on this book - and I'm still having many of them, a few months after the fact. But this is definitely one of the outstanding books I read this year. It's getting a lot of Newbery buzz and I'm not surprised. I would definitely be interested to hear what kids think of this one. Oh, and, creepy puppets. READ IT.

Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey - I love this book and I want everyone else to love it, too. This book is full of Good Things: Heart, Adventure, Daring, Characters, Love, Adversity, and Pirates. When I finished this book, I wanted to shout its praises at every tween who walked into the library (thankfully, I thought better of this plan). Now, months later, I still want to shout its praises. Please read this book!

Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli - a new book from Spinelli is always cause to celebrate and this was no exception. This is a great coming-of-age story told from the alternating viewpoints of a set of special twins.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart - I've thoroughly enjoyed all the Benedict Society books, being a big fan of puzzles. I think mysteries for the tween set are a hot commodity right now and this title, as well as the rest of the series, should not be overlooked.

13 Hangmen by Art Corriveau - though in my mind I think this book is a hard sell, I was pleased to see it chosen by the winner of my Cupcake Wars program. This book has a little bit of everything - historical fiction, sports, mystery, science fiction, and growing up. I think it all works together well and kids who find this book are sure to be rewarded.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio - I'm almost positive you've read this book and, even if you haven't, you've heard of it. This was one of the first books I read this year and I still think about it frequently. A fantastic story about growing up, fitting in, and choosing kindness, I'm not surprised to see this book adopted by so many schools as community reads. If you haven't read it yet, please do.

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood - a delightfully fun fantasy full of magical concoctions. I picked this one up by chance and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm thrilled to know there is a sequel coming as well - I think Rose is a wonderfully complex heroine and this book is a treat.

The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan - the "final" volume in Riordan's Kane Chronicles (I mean, do we really think he won't revisit this?) did not disappoint. In fact, I thought this series got better with each title. I hope Riordan continues to produce these fun, fast-paced, and smart reads.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine and Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin - I've yet to review either of these books, but I thought they were both exceptional. Look for my effusive praise for both in the coming months.

These are my top tween reads of the year, not including some older titles I just discovered (including Gregor the Overlander and The Emerald Atlas). As I've mentioned before, I'm now officially the Tween Queen at my library, and I really need to keep pushing myself to read more middle-grade novels. That's one of my big goals for the next year: read more tween! Stop being tempted by the pretty YA books - there are just as many awesome tween ones for you to read. Since I didn't read as widely in middle-grade as I would have liked, I can't make any Newbery predictions. Well, I could, but they'd probably be horribly inaccurate. Suffice to say that I can't wait to keep discovering the wonderful tween novels there are out there and share them with my kids.

What were your favorite tween reads this year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Year in Review, Part One

It's that time! Time for me to present you with the surely highly-anticipated lists of my favorite books of the year! As before, I'm going to break the list down into three parts: picture books, middle grade, and young adult. Also, most of the books on these lists will be 2012 releases, though older titles may sneak in. Links will go to my reviews where applicable. And, of course, if you find a title you haven't read it, get your butt in gear and pick it up!

Without further ado, Librarian of Snark's Best Picture Books of 2012!

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black - this is, by far, the best book written about a potato, not just of this year but of any year. A simple but extremely fun story, I can't wait to test this one out in storytime. The illustrations are fantastic and this book will have you laughing out loud.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer - Olivia is a pig after my own heart. After not enjoying the last couple Olivia adventures as much as her first, this newest title is a return to her former glory, showcasing the truly unique Olivia doing what she does best.

My First Ghost by Maggie Miller - I love the old school vibe of the text and the illustrations in this one and its blend of spooky and fun. I feel like this is a book made for me.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett - really, this is probably my favorite picture book of the year, despite my intentions to not rank them. I absolutely love everything about this book - I think it's fun and vibrant and able to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Please more, Mac and Adam?

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger - yes, it's a book about a color. Not all colors, just one. But it is more than that - it's inventive and striking and I love the attention to detail. This is another book that I think has appeal across all age ranges.

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff - another book about colors, but this one introduces the whole rainbow. I love the presentation of this and the illustrations are just gorgeous. I hope to see more and more of the incredibly striking concept books we've seen this year.

There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares - it's not secret I'm a sucker for a baseball book, and how could I resist one about the greatest hitter of all time? This book made me teary-eyed, thinking about what a truly wonderful player Williams was. Definitely a must for fans of the game.

Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey - another thing near and dear to my heart is scouting, even though it's been a decade since I was actively involved. This picture book biography of the Girl Scouts' founder hits all the right notes and warmed my heart.

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet - here's one published at the tail end of 2011 that made its way onto my list. The more I read and see by Sweet, the more I become convinced that the woman can do anything. This is a beautiful biography of the man behind the Macy's Parade that could not fail to inspire all its readers to dream big and create.

The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood - there is just something so magical and beautiful about this book. It perfectly captures the holiday season (at least for me) and manages to sneak in some jokes for the observant reader as well. I completely love the quietness of this book.

Of course, this is only a small sampling of the picture books I've read and enjoyed through the year. Looking through my Goodreads account (which is not always as up-to-date as it should be), I've read approximately 245 picture books this year. To see some of the other titles I've enjoyed, look for my Picture Book Saturday posts. Do any of my top titles make your list, too?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: The 13th Sign

The 13th Sign
By Kristin O'Donnell Tubb
Expected publication January 8, 2013 by Feiwel & Friends

What if there were 13 zodiac signs instead of 12? What if the discovery of this sign changed who you are, who your friends are? What if everyone you know has undergone a personality transformation because of this 13th sign? And what if, in order to reverse the personality changes, you had to battle the original 12 zodiac signs? Jalen is about to find out.

When I read the blurb for this title, I couldn't resist requesting it. It sounds like a really interesting premise, even if you don't really believe in the zodiac - I, like most girls, used to faithfully read my horoscope, hoping to get a glimpse into my future (don't we all wish we had some way of knowing what fate awaits us?). Of course, I outgrew that, but I still think the concept of the zodiac and signs is interesting. So I was definitely intrigued about this premise. What if there was a new zodiac sign and everyone's personality shifted to reflect their new signs (though, according to the dates in the book, my sign would have remained the same)? Unfortunately, I think this book was a case of cool premise, flawed execution. I had a hard time getting invested in this story, mainly because I wasn't at all interested in the main character. I get what the author is trying to do - this book is about more than just Jalen's quest to restore the zodiac. It's also about Jalen still dealing with her missing father and, now, the terminal illness of her beloved grandmother. But I don't care enough about Jalen to care about either of these things. Additionally, Jalen's own near-fatal bout with sickness is mentioned several times throughout but we never really know what she was sick with and how that illness came about. Another thing that bothered me about the book was the assertion that everyone's personality was changed by the unlocking of the 13th sign. As I mentioned, my sign would have remained the same, and, looking over the revised zodiac dates, that would be true for a number of other folks as well. So, not everyone's personality would have changed; it's simply convenient to the story that Jalen and everyone she knows would undergo the personality transformation.

Overall, I think the book showed promise but ultimately failed to live up to its potential. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy provided via NetGalley.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

Actually, I'm finding that I don't have that much to say about the program itself these days. I seem to have reached a point of pretty solid numbers, though the exact makeup of kids still tends to vary from month to month. We've yet to read a book that the kids didn't enjoy and most of our programs have been successful in terms of having interesting discussions (even if we sometimes tend to wander off-topic). We have gotten better at keeping on topic, and we're still working on getting everyone to speak up at each meeting. I admit, I've gotten a bit lazy about extension activities. When I first started the book club, I made sure that we had fifteen minutes or so at the end of every meeting for some sort of activity or craft that tied into the book but was something different than just a discussion. The last couple of meetings have been missing this element. It's not that I don't want to do this anymore - I just seem to be having more trouble coming up with an extension that fits each of our recent titles. Additionally, and especially in the case of our November meeting, the discussions have gotten longer and we wouldn't have had time for any activity even if I had planned one. And, as I mentioned in my last post, I've been giving the kids more ownership in the titles we read by presenting them with two choices that we vote on two months ahead of time - that has taken up the last ten minutes or so of our discussions lately in place of our extension activity. So, without much to say about the discussion itself (except I think this was the favorite title so far), here's my review of our November book.

11 Birthdays
By Wendy Mass
Published 2009 by Scholastic
Amanda and Leo celebrated their first 10 birthdays together - born on the same day and thrown together by fate - but something terrible happened at that tenth birthday party. So, for the first time in their lives, they are celebrating their birthdays without the other. It's a pretty terrible day, but Amanda makes it through - only to wake up and discover she's living it all over again. What's going on? Can Amanda figure out how to fix it and stop reliving her 11th birthday?

When the kids picked this for our book club and I told other staff, I was surprised by how many of them had read it (and, I should note, that the majority of the book club kids had already read it when they chose it). Sure, I'd heard of this book before, but I didn't really think of it as one of those titles that adults would pick up. Having finished it myself, I can see the appeal. This is a fun story with characters that are easy to enjoy and a great sense of mystery and suspense - how exactly are these kids going to remedy their unique situation? I liked the backstory of their families and how it related to their own story - just a touch of magic. I thought this was a fun and easy read and I'm really glad the kids picked it. I'm intrigued that there are two other companion books - I'm definitely going to check them out when I get a chance and figure out how they're connected.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (46)

More holiday books for you to enjoy!

Sad Santa
By Tad Carpenter
Published 2012 by Sterling Children's Books
The day after Christmas is the worst day of the year for Santa. This year, he's taking it especially poorly, sinking into a funk that no one, not even Mrs. Claus, can get him out of. Will Santa ever get his Christmas spirit back? For me, the best thing about this book is the style of the illustrations - muted colors with a retro feel. It's very striking, especially next to the other Christmas books. I get the message of this book, but I think it could have been conveyed better.

Just Right for Christmas
By Birdie Black, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Published 2012 by Nosy Crow
I'm continually impressed by the books I've seen from Nosy Crow and this Christmas story is no exception. It's a familiar story: a king buys red cloth to make a special Christmas present for his daughter, never knowing that the leftover cloth will go on to make many more special presents for many more families. It's a simple story, but it's lovely. I love how genuinely excited each new family seems - the finder of the scrap to make something "just right" for their loved one and the loved ones at receiving these just right gifts. The illustrations perfectly reflect the quiet and sweet nature of the story. A lovely addition to holiday reading.

Who Will Help Santa This Year?
By Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by David Biedrzycki
Published 2006 by Scholastic
Well, this may not be a new book, but it just made its way to our library. This is a cute story that is sure to appeal to young fantasy lovers. The task of Christmas for the whole world is too much for just Santa, so he seeks out help. Will he get assistance from the dragons? Or maybe the mermaids can help? Kids will enjoy seeing all the fantastical creatures Santa consults before finding the perfect fit for his workshop. The illustrations are vibrant and bold, each reflecting perfectly the environment of the different creatures.

Dinosaur vs. Santa
By Bob Shea
Published 2012 by Hyperion
Yes, Dinosaur is back - and this time, he's getting ready for Santa's arrival. Of course, Christmastime is not without its own challenges, but Dinosaur is no stranger to battles and he will face them all, stomping and roaring along the way. If you've seen the previous Dinosaur books, you pretty much know how this one goes - but it's still as charming and fun as the others. I love the simplicity of the story and the illustrations - this is a book that all kids can enjoy, from the youngest to the oldest. A fun new book to share at Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Come to the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and meet The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback! Ivan has lived his life at the mall, watching TV, befriending Stella the elephant and Bob the dog. But Ivan is also an artist, spending lots of his time drawing and trying to capture what he sees around him. When Ruby, a new baby elephant, comes to Exit 8, Ivan begins to see things differently, and everything beings to change.

I wish I had more time to read. This is probably my most common complaint. And it probably sounds ridiculous to most people - this year, I've read over 500 books (including picture books, novels, and non-fiction). And yes, I agree - that's a lot of books, much more than the average person has time for in a year. But, when I think about the number of books published every year that I want to read, compared to the number of books I actually get to read in a given year, I'm struck by how I will always be at a deficit. I've had an ARC of this book for a long time - I think I received at Midwinter in January - and it really sounded like something I'd enjoy. Early reviews were all exceedingly positive and, as we get closer to awards season, many people are talking about its Newbery potential. I knew it would be a quick read and finally decided I needed to pick this book up now. I'm so sad I didn't get around to it sooner.

This is a beautiful book and I am thrilled that it's getting Newbery buzz and also that it's been selected as a Bluebonnet book for next year (the Texas state book award). The story is told by Ivan, in his distinct and wonderfully captured voice. This is a book that really makes me wonder. In recent discussions at work, it has come about that my boss is creeped out by monkeys - and I've been surprised to discover that she is not alone. The people I've talked to about this say that monkeys are so unsettling because they are so similar to us - too similar in their opinions. A book like this is not going to assuage their fears. But, for me - a person who finds the many similarities between our species fascinating rather than unsettling - this book is incredibly thought-provoking. Is this what a great ape's thoughts would sound like, if we had the ability to understand them? Are their desires and hopes different from ours? Or do they dream of the same things we do? The eloquence of Ivan's voice elevates this book, making it one of the most outstanding I've read this year. Applegate does a stunning job, using language to its fullest in her elucidation of Ivan's thoughts and hopes. It's sparse but complex, painting a vivid picture of the friendships that Ivan has developed and the love he feels for his companions. This is an emotional book, bringing laughter and tears, all with a satisfying conclusion. I completely loved this book, and I look forward to kids discovering it while reading next year's Bluebonnet titles. And I would not be surprised to see this book get some love from the Newbery committee. If you haven't read it yet, please do! I look forward to re-reading it many times.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Insurgent

Insurgent (Divergent, book 2)
By Veronica Roth
Published 2012 by HarperTeen

WARNING: There will be spoilers for book one. To read my review, go here. Possible spoilers for this title as well.

In a heartrending decision, Tris chose Dauntless - and that was only the beginning. Tris discovered that she was Divergent, and that the Erudite had a plan to alter the power structure of their world. Oh, and she fell pretty hard for one of her Dauntless leaders, Four. After foiling the Erudite plot, Tris now has to deal with the aftermath, and soon realizes that Erudite will not be stopped after one attempt.

I had sort of an ambivalent reaction to the first title. However, as time passed and it came closer to the release date for book two, I found myself getting more excited than I expected to be. So, I made time in my reading schedule for this book much sooner than I might have normally gotten to it.

If there is one thing Roth does well, it's tension and action. This book clocks in over 500 pages - and it flies by. Every chapter is packed with action and leaves you breathless - what's going to happen next? How is Tris going to overcome this obstacle? Can Tris and Four ever be happy together? Roth is also good at delivering twists and turns - although those that populate the romance seem a bit overdone, the ones that pepper the action of the plot are exciting. I was especially pleased with the traitor in their midst - it works within the ridiculous world that Roth has created and makes for some high emotion.

Roth's stumbling blocks are mostly based in pure absurdity - the world of the Factions is still pretty ridiculous. However, that doesn't stop me from wanting to know more about it. What I am perhaps most interested in (and assume I will discover in book three) is how the world got to be this way. What was the catalyst for the creation of the Factions? How did it come to be that this was the most logical form of government? Additionally, Tris is not really any less annoying in this book, but I still find myself rooting for her. As a matter of fact, this book reminded me a lot of Mockingjay - Tris struggles with her sanity and PTSD throughout most of the book, often feeling despondent and as if her efforts have not been worth the cost. Her romance with Four suffers as a result of her mixed emotions and this becomes an increasingly frustrating aspect of the book. Yes, there is something very appealing about a love story that must overcome the odds but, at some point, we all want a happy ending. I suppose most people don't read dystopian fiction for its happy endings, but if it's going to be peppered with romance, I want that romance to at least be the cheerful bit. Odds are that everything is going to work out in book three, but for now we'll just have to wait and see.

Overall, this is sure to be enjoyed by fans of the first, who will despair the wait for the concluding volume. This is also a great readalike for Hunger Games fans and anyone who likes an action-packed story.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Rotters

By Daniel Kraus, read by Kirby Heyborne
Published 2011 by Listening Library

Joey Crouch is about to have a very surreal awakening. His mother is going to die, and he is going to be sent to live with his father, a man he's never known. And he's going to discover his father's very unusual secret - grave-robbing.

I'm a big fan of audiobooks and, between commuting and exercising, I listen to quite a few. I downloaded this one recently because it won this year's Odyssey Award (the ALA Youth Media Award for audiobook productions). I was really excited to listen, assuming I was in for a treat. Unfortunately, I didn't have the best experience with this one.

First, this book and I got started on the wrong foot. I was under the very mistaken impression that this was a historical fiction story. I didn't really until maybe chapter 6 or 7 that this book does actually take place in modern times; up to that point, I was thinking that maybe there was going to be some crazy time traveling to get back to the days of grave-robbing. WRONG. The grave-robbing is taking place very much in today's world. Things for this book and I did not really get any better from this point on.

I guess I don't really know how to explain my feelings about this book. I'd read quite a few reviews that this book was beautifully written, despite its disturbing subject matter. Many reviews called this book a horror - well, yay. I love horror. I wrote a whole thesis on it. Disturbing subject matter written eloquently? Also right up my alley - The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is one of my absolutely favorite books. I really thought this would be an ideal book for me. But it just wasn't.

Yes, the subject matter is disturbing and, for the squeamish, the descriptions are probably a bit much. But, this book is not horror. Yes, it tells of horrific things, but, at least for me, it didn't evoke the fear and anxiety that I associate with a true horror story. Perhaps if I had actually cared about Joey or any of the characters I might have felt more anxious and afraid. But I just did not connect with Joey in any way and I really didn't care how poorly his father treated him or how he struggled with his morality throughout the novel.

Is it well-written? I don't know. I'm inclined to say probably, but I found myself completely bored and frustrated while listening. There seemed to be a lot of descriptive passages - A LOT. To me, it felt like the book was trying too hard to be a beautifully written book about the macabre. It just didn't work for me.

On the other hand, I can see, in a way, why the audio production was awarded. Heyborne really seems to push his limits and fully embodies a variety of characters. I personally didn't care for a number of the intonations and inflections he used to represent the different characters, but there's no denying that he is a talented vocal actor and that this is a well-done production.

The plot - on the surface, it's about Joey and his father coming to terms with his mother's death and learning to live with each other and their secrets. Actually, I'm not sure that's what it's about because I think Kraus was trying to make this a really philosophical novel about the evil we inflict on each other - you know, the whole "what darkness lies in the hearts of men" and whatnot. And that stuff is here - it just wasn't done in a way that was effective and interesting for me.

I really don't know how I feel about this book. I think I'd need to give the print version a try to fully wrap my mind around my thoughts.

Anyone out there read this one? Want to convince me I'm just missing its brilliance?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Event: Young Adult Literature Symposium, Day Two

My recap of day one can be found here.

So, day two started just as bright and early as day one. The first session I attended was "Collapsing Boundaries: Being Hit by Blurred Genres." I was really interested in seeing what this panel would have to say. It's become increasingly difficult to categorize books (not just those for children and teens) as more and more titles are crossing multiple genres. Coming from a library that still puts genre stickers on books and has frantic parents asking for fantasy or mystery books when the dreaded genre assignment comes around, I'm definitely curious about what the professionals have to say about this topic. The presenters, Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance, gave a brief introduction to the topic, first defining genre (you all know that "young adult" is not a genre, right?) and then looking at some examples of books that are pretty easy to classify and then more that are a bit trickier. Then, the panel of authors took their time explaining their thoughts on genre. We heard from Helen Frost, A.S. King, and Scott Westerfeld. It was interesting to see that A.S. King didn't really care to categorize her books - they're all just "Amy books," according to her (her first name is Amy, in case you didn't know). I think Westerfeld made a really interesting point as well - he said he feels more free to explore different genres because young adult sections at bookstores and libraries are not as often broken down into genre categories as adult fiction is. Of course, that's not necessarily true nowadays - teen sections at Barnes & Noble have, sadly, broken out a section called "Paranormal Romance" and perhaps others. But, in general, the young adult section is a pretty cohesive unit. Westerfeld believes this gives young adult authors the freedom to explore different genres and readers more permission to read an author because they enjoy their writing, not just because they like that genre. All in all, I thought the authors were wonderful to listen to, and I think the blurring of genres is here to stay. People want to read books that encompass more than one facet of the human experience. Increasingly, they expect a more complex and intricate reading experience - uniting multiple genres is one way to achieve this. The caveat, of course, is that it still must be well-written, no matter how many genres you try to weave together.

The last panel I attended is the other in contention for favorite panel of the symposium: "Guys Talkin' to Guys: What Will Guys Read Next?" This was a fantastic way to end my first symposium. A panel of male authors (Andrew Smith, Antony John, Torrey Maldonado, and Greg Neri) and a panel of local teen guys answered questions about their writing, their reading, their experiences, and more, and interacted with each other and the audience. It was amazing listening to the young men discuss their experiences with reading and books - they were all incredibly articulate and thoughtful and had lots of wonderful things to say. I think, too often, we think we know how teens (not just teen boys, but all teens) will respond to something so we don't bother to let them voice their actual thoughts and feelings. This session really showed me the value of talking to teens and actually listening to what they say. It was also a great experience listening to the authors and their insight into the male mind - most of them echoed the experiences of today's teens, showing that these experiences can be universal and transcend any generational gaps, perceived or actual. The panelists mentioned many things I already knew - guys tend to like cliffhangers, short chapters, a mixture of formats, action and adventure, and non-fiction. But they are not afraid of reading a romance or a book narrated by a girl protagonist. Really, most teens are willing to try new things and will just stop if they decide they don't like something. Like I said, the best part of this panel was hearing from the guys themselves - I wish I could have recorded all their responses.

The very last event of the symposium was a closing session with Scott Westerfeld. I don't have much to say about it - Westerfeld gave a really fascinating presentation on his Leviathan series. He covered the history of illustrated novels (which is what he classes his series as) and discussed the unique aspects of working with an illustrator. Often, Keith Thompson's illustrations would change the way Westerfeld wrote a scene or described something. He even admitted that seeing fan response to a particular character led to him bringing that character back in book three, something he hadn't originally planned. So, even in this session, the topic of fandom and fanfiction and fanart came up. I enjoyed hearing an author's perspective on it - Westerfeld seems to embrace most of it and he talked about how fascinating it was as an author to see which moments fans will latch onto and create from.

Overall, the YA Lit Symposium was worth attending. I find most of the panels thoughtful and engaging; I'm only bummed that I missed others I would have enjoyed because of concurrent time frames. I would definitely like to attend in 2014 - it will be in Austin, TX (my neck of the woods!). Did you attend the Lit Symposium? What things did you learn?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (45)

With the holidays upon us, I figured I'd feature some new holiday books. These are all Christmas books. That doesn't mean there aren't holiday books celebrating all the other winter holidays; it just means that we only had Christmas books show up on our new book cart recently.

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas: A Safety Guide for Scaredies
By Melanie Watt
Published 2012 by Kids Can Press
I'm a big fan of Scaredy Squirrel - actually I'm a big fan of all of Melanie Watt's books. I really like her style and her sense of humor is spot on. Kids are always asking for the Scaredy Squirrel books. So I was thrilled to see this new holiday book arrive. This is actually significantly longer than previous Scaredy Squirrel titles - it's divided into chapters, outlining everything a person (or squirrel) needs to know to prepare for the holidays. That trademark humor is once again present and the exact perfect amount of holiday cheer graces the pages.

Christmas Parade
By Sandra Boynton
Published 2012 by Little Simon
I was a bit of a latecomer to the Sandra Boynton party but now I think every new book of hers is a cause for celebration. This arrives just in time for the holidays and showcases a raucous and delightful Christmas parade. I love her illustrations - they suit the sense of humor of the books so well. I also enjoy that her books show you don't always need a story line to have a fun book that will appeal to kids.

The Christmas Quiet Book
By Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I very much enjoyed Underwood and Liwska's earlier collaborations, The Loud Book and The Quiet Book. To celebrate the holidays, the two have united again for this title, which celebrates the kinds of quiet one can only find around the holidays. There is the "knocking with mittens quiet" and "hoping for a snow day quiet." I think I might even like this one better than the other two titles - there is something so beautiful and magical about the quiet holiday moments highlighted here. Completely charming and gives you a warm feeling inside.

Santa from Cincinnati
By Judi Barrett, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Here is everything you wanted to know about the boy who grew up to be Santa - told through photos and memories from his family and friends. This is a fun imaging of Santa's growing up - could he have played in a rock band? Were his first words really "ho ho ho"? Young readers will enjoy debating what parts of this biography they think are true and what parts they find too silly. Vibrant illustrations evoke the biographic feel of the story.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin
By Josh Berk, read by Jim Meskimen
Published 2011 by Listening Library

Will, also known as Hamburger, Halpin is starting at a new high school. It's hard enough being the new kid, but being the hefty deaf new kid? Really tricky. However, Will may be a bit more observant than the average hearing high-schooler - and that just might come in handy when the star quarterback dies. Was it an accident? Or maybe even murder?

This book has a really interesting premise and I've been meaning to read it for a few years now. My roommate in library school read it when she was considering books featuring characters with a disability for our young adult literature class and she enjoyed it. I downloaded the audiobook as I came across it. This has extremely high boy appeal and a really strong male voice - I really felt like I was listening to the inner workings of a teen guy's mind. Will's deafness is a very integral part of his character and it's portrayed in a realistic way. I like that this is about more than just the mysterious death of a classmate - actually, I felt the mystery was the weaker part of the story. I wish the book had focused more on Will's decision to change to a traditional high school instead of a high school for the deaf. A deeper exploration of deaf culture would have been really fascinating to me. However, it's also good that this book isn't just about Will's disability - this book shows that he is more than just a deaf guy. He's also very observant and lonely, and he wants to fit in. Many of Will's struggles will be familiar to teen readers. I also enjoyed the development of Will's relationships with the other characters in the story - once again, it was a part of the story that felt very realistic and natural and worked well for me. There are many genuinely funny moments throughout the story, making this a good read for teens who are looking for their next funny book. As I mentioned, I thought the mystery was the weakest part of the story - it seemed a bit too convoluted.

As a reader, Meskimen has a pretty flat intonation - and it actually works well in the story. He is good at altering his voice to represent the various characters in ways that don't feel overly done. He reads at the perfect speed and really nails the jokes. A well-done audio.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Gone

Gone (Gone, book one)
By Michael Grant
Published 2008 by Katherine Tegen Books

It happens in an instant - one minute Sam is sitting in class, bored as usual. The next, his teacher has disappeared - as in, vanished into thin air. And it's not just his teacher - every adult, every person over the age of 15 has vanished. Left to fend for themselves, will the teens band together? Or will big personalities - and the appearance of some teens with special powers - keep them in constant conflict?

I know what you're probably thinking - how have I not read this book before?? Yes, occasionally, I feel like a Terrible Youth Librarian when I admit to the popular books I haven't yet read. This was definitely one of the big ones - I feel like everyone has read and raved about this series. It's not that I wasn't interested - I mean, did you see the premise? It sounds awesome! I just hadn't gotten to it (STORY OF MY LIFE). So, I finally made myself pick up the first one and check it out. My first experience with Michael Grant was not quite what I expected, so I was a bit dubious going into this one. Plus, I worried about The Hunger Games effect - too much hype coloring my experience of the book. I'm extremely pleased that I finally got around to starting this series - I'm really looking forward to reading the rest. This book was what I had hoped BZRK to be. A great cast of characters to which it's easy to relate - I can understand the teen appeal here. These characters represent a lot of archetypes - and I think it works in this story. The development of special powers by some characters provides an interesting twist to the story and creates a great source of conflict among the cast. Not that there's a lack of conflict prior to that - the simple lawlessness and chaos created by a lack of adults and parental authority creates plenty of conflict. I love this idea - it's like Lord of the Flies to an extreme degree. No one knows why the adults are gone - or if they're coming back. And, once the kids realize that the second you turn 15, you disappear, too, it's a whole new ballgame. I was desperate to discover the cause of the FAYZ - and I'll have to keep reading to discover. Grant is fantastic at building an atmosphere of suspense and making readers anxious about the fate of these characters - it seems like none of them more than a few steps away from a terrible fate. This is definitely a series for fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian lit - the 500+ pages fly by and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I can't wait to read the rest of the series!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: Dead is the New Black

Dead is the New Black (Dead Is, book one)
By Marlene Perez, read by Suzy Jackson
Published 2010 by Brilliance Audio

Daisy comes from a family of psychics - unfortunately, she isn't one herself. However, Daisy begins to take matters into her own hands when teen girls start disappearing in town. So, while her mother is using her psychic abilities to help the police, Daisy begins conducting an investigation of her own. But has she put herself in danger with her amateur sleuthing?

This is another of my many audiobook whims - usually I just browse the titles available for download and, if I've ever had any sort of interest in one I see, I download it and give it a shot. I thought this series sounded different so, when I spotted the first title, it was my opportunity to try it out. I really liked the narrator for this one - she had the perfect voice to embody Daisy's character. Daisy's narrative voice felt very authentic as well - I never once questioned that this was a teenager talking. Some of the plot is a bit cheesy, but I kind of expected that from the bright pink cover. It's also pretty predictable, especially the romantic aspect, but, once again, this didn't come as much of a shock. This was a very quick listen - I imagine an even quicker read, as it's less than 200 pages long. Quite a bit happens in the book, so it feels a bit crammed and rushed at times, but there are also still a few questions left to explore. This is a very obvious set-up for the sequels that have followed, and I'm curious enough to pick up the next one at some point down the road. Overall, this was a case where the cover suited the content very well - a quick, girly read with a supernatural twist. Those intimidated by longer supernatural fare should check out this title.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Event: Young Adult Literature Symposium, Day One

If I were a better prepared blogger, you would have already read about my experiences at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium, held at the beginning of November in St. Louis, Missouri. Alas, time seems to be continually slipping away from me, so you're getting my write-up with a bit of a delay. The good news is that the things I heard and saw were about lasting contributions to YA lit and programming for teens. As I did for the Texas Book Festival, I'm going to split my recap up into two parts because there is a lot to cover!

I arrived in St. Louis on Friday afternoon after a very long drive (you can see why I love audiobooks so much!). We had a couple hours to kill before the opening reception (I was not able to take advantage of the pre-conferences this time around), so we headed to the zoo. If a city I'm visiting has a zoo, it's pretty much guaranteed to be my first spot. Anyway, since this is not a review of my trip but of the conference, I won't bore you with my recap of the zoo. But it was lovely. Friday night held an opening reception for the conference. I guess I should have expected that it would just be a mixer and networking reception, but I didn't. I'm pretty socially awkward, so the forced interaction of "People Bingo" is never my cup of tea. I had expected some sort of opening remarks by the YALSA president or someone equally official. Instead, I milled around awkwardly, signing my name on squares for folks only once they approached me. I was thrilled when I met up with some friends and colleagues and basically clung to them from that point on. After a couple hours of "mingling," we left. We went to dinner at a very cool burger joint and that was it for the night.

Saturday is when the conference really kicked off. I'm pretty sure that the very first panel I attended spoiled the rest of the conference for me. I started my first YA Lit Symposium with "YA Literature and Fan-Created Work." I absolutely adored this panel. Moderated by Robin Brenner (of No Flying, No Tights), the panel was composed of Liz Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy), Leslee Friedman (Organization for Transformative Work), and Aja Romano (The Daily Dot). I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this panel, but I'm so glad I attended. Panelists provided us with an introduction to fan-created work and the language that accompanies it, as well as a thoughtful and insightful production on how important fandom and creating fan work is to today's teens. Friedman also discussed the legality of fan-created work (what I took away: if the fan work is transformative, it's legal). We were able to see some examples of various types of fanart and a really wonderful video of teens discussing their fandom and their work. It's strange - when I was a teenager and we first got our computer, I remember reading fanfiction and loving it. Of course, I knew that fanfiction still existed but I never made the connection between my own enjoyment of fanfiction as a teenager and today's teens. This panel was informative and entertaining and definitely made me want to have a fanart night for the teens at the library.

After a short break, I moved on to the next panel, "The Future of Review Guidance." The panel was comprised mainly of contributors to the Adult Books 4 Teens blog and wasn't exactly as illuminating as I hoped. Actually, I think this panel and I got off on the wrong foot. The very first thing discussed was the definition of review - essentially critical analysis of a title - and its difference from reader response - mainly what I do here on the blog. Though the panelists all agreed that there was a place for both, I felt a bit like reader response was less valuable than critical review. It made me wonder if I'm not taking my blog in the right direction and if I should even continue blogging if I can't commit the time to critical review of every title I read. It's not that I don't think critically about what I read - I feel it's nearly impossible to be a librarian and not think critically about what you read. I just don't find myself with enough time to write a critical review; lately, I'm finding it hard to find time for reader response. Also, I don't feel like I have the authority to provide critical review - it sort of reminds me of writing essays on English literature, something I haven't done in years. I don't think I could express my thoughts eloquently enough to make my attempts at critical analysis worthwhile. So, from the get-go, I felt, as a blogger, that I was less than what this panel was discussing and that made it difficult for me to focus on what was actually being discussed. This is, of course, my own personal hang-up, and I'm sure other attendees got a lot out of the panel. It just made me feel a bit dejected about blogging.

There was a lengthy break for lunch at that point; conference attendees had the option of an optional author luncheon feature David Levithan and Patricia McCormick. Since I was paying out of my own pocket for attending, I had to pass on the luncheon, so I met up with my boyfriend (he accompanied me on the trip so he could see an old college friend) to grab some lunch and check out Busch Stadium (home of the Cardinals).

After our lunch break, I headed to "A Matter of Facts and Fiction: Giving Teens a Research Edge through YA Author Panels." Maybe I was in a bit of a food coma, but the majority of this presentation just did not sink in with me. According to the description, five authors were there to discuss a pilot program in which teens and authors came together to face the trials and tribulations of doing research in an increasingly digital world. I guess I sort of got that, vaguely, but to me, it seemed most of the presentation consisted of the authors discussing how they did research for their novels. That's fine, and most of what they discussed was very interesting, particularly since their novels are all markedly different. I guess I expected something more along the lines of either how to connect teens with authors, or how to get teens the nonfiction they wanted and enjoyed. So, my lack of enthusiasm for this panel is probably as much my fault as anything else.

The final session on Saturday that I attended was called "Make it Pop: How to Use Pop Culture in Your Library." This was another fun session, though I don't think it was as helpful as it was entertaining. The session started with sort of a definition of popular culture and what it means to teens. Then, the discussion moved to ways to incorporate popular culture into programming and displays for the library. The point was made that popular culture trends change much more quickly than they did in previous years and, if you can't stay current with what's popular, maybe you shouldn't run a program or put up a display based on pop culture. For example, is it still relevant to make a display or run a program based on Twilight? Well, the final movie did just come out a few weeks ago, but it's certainly not as culturally relevant as it was a couple years ago. If you run a program or put up a display based on something that's already had its moment in the spotlight but isn't there anymore, you run the risk of alienating your teen population by seeming like you don't really know what will appeal to them. There is almost nothing worse than being a teen librarian whose teen patrons think is uncool. I was pleased to see a lot of discussion about fandom again during this program - we really need to figure out ways to capitalize on this here in libraryland. One audience member did comment that one of the easiest and most successful teen programs she's done was a "Fan Art Night" - she set out art supplies and invited teens to come and create fan art. Simple and effective - what we strive all programs to be like.

The day actually ended with an author book blitz - each attendee was given five tickets, which they could turn in for a signed book from one of the authors in attendance. There isn't terribly much to say about this event - it seemed to run smoothly. A few authors ran out of books early on, but I wasn't too surprised by that. I had circled the authors I was interested in meeting and the books I thought sounded good, but there was nothing I absolutely needed to have (well, I would have really liked to get a copy of A.S. King's newest but that was pretty much the first one to go). I just moseyed around and got copies of ones I thought I'd like to try.

And that was day one of YALSA's YA Lit Symposium! Stay tuned for day two!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (44)

Let's Go For a Drive
By Mo Willems
Published 2012 by 2012
I know that I have professed my love for Willems before, but seriously - if you are not reading these, you are definitely missing out. The Elephant & Piggie books are really for all ages - it's impossible to read them without laughing out loud, feeling moved by the beautiful friendship between the two main characters, and acting out the best parts. In their newest adventure, the friends want to hit the road, but, Gerald being Gerald, there is a bit of a delay in getting started (Gerald is just a very cautious elephant). I absolutely love everything about this book and I think this series is just getting better and better. Please keep doing what you're doing, Mo!

Think Big
By Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Vanessa Newton
Published 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
This is a very fun and inclusive celebration of art. Scanlon and Newton embrace all forms of art - acting, dancing, singing, painting, cooking, and more. It's really lovely to see Scanlon illuminate the meaning of art, and it will be important for kids to see that many of their favorite activities are art. The illustrations are very stylistic and complement the text wonderfully. This book is perfectly suited to toddlers and preschoolers - short text and bright colors will catch their eyes and keep them engaged.

I'm Not Sleepy
By Jane Chapman
Published 2012 by Good Books
I'm a sucker for Chapman's illustrations - they are just so adorable and I want to cuddle all the little creatures she depicts so sweetly. Even with my dislike of birds, this new book of hers is no exception. A little owlet is absolutely not sleepy, no matter what Grandma says. Mo will try everything he can think of to put off bedtime and Grandma, being a grandma, obliges. Eventually, though, she'll prove she can outwit little Mo and get him to sleep. This is a very fun bedtime story and would work well in a pajama storytime.

If I Built a House
By Chris Van Dusen
Published 2012 by Dial
Jack has a big imagination, as we learned in Van Dusen's earlier If I Built a Car. Now, he's thinking that his family's house could use some improvements - a racetrack here, a flying room there - the possibilities are endless! In rhyming text, Van Dusen shows what wonders a house could hold if the design were left to a kid. I think he hits on all the things that kids enjoy most in his house design and readers will love imagining how wonderful a house like this would be. I think Van Dusen's style is beautiful with its retro flair and vivid color palette. This is sure to be a hit.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: A Nest for Celeste

A Nest for Celeste: A Story about Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
By Henry Cole
Published 2010 by Katherine Tegen Books

Celeste lives a quiet life under the floorboards of her plantation. But her quiet life is about to be disturbed as her plantation plays host to the famous naturalist John James Audubon and his young assistant. The arrival of these two men will lead Celeste to discover the true meaning of friendship and the strength she carries within.

The library I work at collaborates with the Friends of the Library each year and selects a community read. They choose a main title, usually suitable for teens and adults, and two companion titles, suitable for ages 0-7 and 8-12 each. This year's main selection was Okay for Now (read my review here). With its focus on art and healing, the companion titles were chosen - My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius by Harriet Ziefert for the younger crowd, and this for the middle-grade readers. We usually try to do some programming around the titles (though I think there is room for more connection with the community read) and people often ask about the titles, so I knew I wanted to be sure to read this selection. It had actually caught my eye when it was first released - I liked the subtitle and the cover illustration indicated a sweet and hopeful story. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again - I'm not a big fan of talking animal books. However, this story is so absolutely charming and inspiring that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved Celeste - I think kids will really relate to her. I really loved the plot of this book - Celeste lives in a big plantation which becomes host to John James Audubon and his young assistant. Celeste watches them painting birds and soon befriends the young assistant. She is an artist herself (she is weaving her practical and beautiful baskets on the cover). I also like that the book doesn't shy away from depicting Audubon's practices - he often killed his avian subjects and posed them as he pleased. I think kids should hear about this and it makes a great discussion point. I think this book works really well with our other selections - Celeste learns about art and inspiration and friendship. This was a wonderfully sweet story and I'm glad it was chosen for our community read.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: The Dead and Buried

The Dead and Buried
By Kim Harrington
Expected publication January 1, 2013 by Scholastic

Jade is thrilled to finally be living the life she's asked for: a new house in a cool town. She doesn't mind being the new girl - no one knows her here, so she can have a fresh start. But, the perfection she imagines soon begins to crack: her younger brother claims to see a girl in his room and Jade notices her stuff being moved around. It's beginning to sound a lot like her dream house is haunted - and this ghost isn't going anywhere.

I love scary stories and seem not to have had much success with ghost stories lately. I requested an e-galley of this one a couple months back, figuring I'd give it a shot. I'm always looking for a good scare and was definitely in the mood for a ghost story when I recently started reading this one. I thought Jade was a really well-defined character - I liked that she had a unique but believable interest (she collects gemstones and knows all their meanings). I also really liked that this was a story about being the new girl in school without being a story about being the new girl in school - I like mostly that's because Jade has a great attitude about starting over and giving new things a try. I liked the secondary characters as well - Alexa was a bit over-the-top but still in a realistic way. Harrington may have tried a bit too hard to make all the characters equally multi-dimensional - I'm thinking of the super-hot jock who is also brilliant and happens to be poor. The main storyline here is really Jade's attempts to solve the mystery of the ghost in her house - who killed Kayla Sloane? This book reminded me quite frequently of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (and, even it hadn't, Harrington helpfully has Jade study the book in English class) but in a way that will be more accessible to teens (I read Rebecca in high school and loathed it). The romance and love triangle felt a bit convoluted and stereotypical, but I understand its relevance in the plot. Though Harrington tries to throw some red herrings into the mix, I found the identity of the killer quite obvious very early on - a disappointment, but I still enjoyed reading. Though not as scary as expected, I think this will be a good read for teens looking for a mysterious ghost story.

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

Also note: the cover was changed prior to release. The top picture shows the cover that will be on the hardcover release in January. To the left here is the original cover, which I much prefer. Any thoughts?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Shadowlands

By Kate Brian
Expected publication January 8, 2013 by Hyperion

Rory survived when others could not: chased and confronted by a serial killer, Rory saw her chance for escape and took it. Now, with the killer still on the loose, Rory and her family must relocate, leaving their old lives behind without breathing a word of where they're going. They're supposed to be safe in their new life, but soon, Rory sees hints that her nightmare isn't over just yet...

Kate Brian is an accomplished author of young adult fiction, publishing under both this, her pseudonym, and Kieran Scott, her real name. I've never read anything under either name before - nothing under the Scott name really caught my eye, and the Brian books all seemed to be about things they didn't really interest me, namely, drama among the rich girls. I requested a digital galley of this title because it seemed to be a departure from what she'd written before and I thought it sounded like it had potential. My mom is a big fan of suspense, thriller, and horror novels, so I've got my own appreciation of them, and I enjoy seeing more in this genre written for young adults (I'm a big believer in scaring the younger generations). The good about this book: it is suspenseful. Short, quick, dialogue-heavy chapters will keep readers turning the pages at a frantic pace. Brian creates a suitably creepy atmosphere, both in the initial chase sequence and in the town to which Rory and her family relocate. It's an incredibly quick read - I finished it in one night, and it wasn't even a night where I did nothing but read. The bad about this book: the twist doesn't really come as much of a shock. Observant readers will have it figured out long before it's revealed to Rory (I'm terrible at seeing plot twists coming, but I had this one figured out pretty early on) and it definitely loses its effectiveness if you've figured it out ahead of time. The ending is also incredibly abrupt - if memory serves (and I could be mistaken), the big twist is revealed on the last page; it might even be the last sentence. It feels incredibly awkward to just end there, especially as there are still a number of questions left unanswered. Perhaps this is the start of a new series, but that doesn't seem right to me either - after all, the big twist has already been revealed; where would Brian go from here? All in all, it was a very quick and suspenseful read but it felt like an incomplete package.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Event: Texas Book Festival, Day Two

Note: Here's my recap of day one.

For day two of the Book Festival, I decided to take things a bit easier. I knew we would have a 4+ hour drive back home at the end of the day, so I wanted to finish up relatively early (we were supposed to meet some friends when we got back to town). This meant skipping out on a couple of presentations that came at the very end of the festival but, thankfully, nothing that I would be absolutely torn up about missing.

I started my day off with what I was sure would be a popular session: a conversation with Justin Cronin. Earlier this year, I read and adored Cronin's The Passage and couldn't wait for the sequel (I have it in my possession now, though reviews have been mixed). I'd never read anything of Cronin's before that, but I'd heard his name - he always seemed to receive critical acclaim. After reading The Passage, I could see where the good reviews came from. The session was essentially just an interview with Cronin in front of a live audience. He talked about his writing process, the role religion/spirituality plays in his books, advice he'd give to young authors, his opinions on genre, and more. I found him to be a very engaging and easygoing speaker - I was not surprised to discover that he is also a professor. I really enjoyed listening to his stories.

I had a short break after that before my next session: The World Turned Upside Down. This session featured a number of middle-grade fantasy authors discussing the genre: Katherine Catmull, Greg Leitich Smith, and Lisa McMann. Catherynne M. Valente was scheduled to appear as well, but couldn't make it because of Hurricane Sandy. I was disappointed, as she was the author I was most interested in seeing, but I was familiar with the other authors as well, so it didn't completely ruin it for me. I thought this panel asked a lot of interesting questions: all of the authors scheduled had created unique new worlds (well, except for Greg Leitich Smith, whose novel Chronal Engine takes place in the Cretaceous Period, which is almost like a new world) as the settings for their novels. They talked about how they came up with these worlds, what sort of notes they had to keep (in order to ensure consistency in their world building), and the pros and cons of writing about a world that doesn't exist in actuality. Of course, there was also advice for young writers (there was a lot of that throughout the festival) and various other topics touched upon. Unfortunately, this was probably my least favorite panel of the festival. The moderator, who is apparently an author herself, kept providing her answers to her own questions. I don't mind that so much, but this felt like a case of "Let me remind this captive audience that I also write books and have wise things to say so maybe they'll go buy MY books too." It felt very intrusive, to the point where she seemed to be cutting off the panelists and interrupting them to insert her own agenda. Maybe that's not exactly how it went, but that's what it felt like on my end. Kind of ruined the panel for me.

My last mission of the festival was to get a book signed by Bob Shea. As I mentioned in my last post, I had purchased some books and gotten them signed as presents for my nieces and nephews (because I am the Book Aunt). I had already purchased a Bob Shea book on day one - he was scheduled for a signing at around the same time as Adam Rex. However, he apparently finished early and I missed him. No problem; he had another signing scheduled later that day. Well, his second signing on day one came...and went, with no sign of Bob Shea then either. There seemed to be a lot of confusion regarding this signing - he was listed on the Children's Tent schedule but they sent me to the Adult Tent. He was listed there, but I waited 15 minutes (well after the other authors scheduled at the same time had all arrived) and he didn't appear. Okay then, one last chance. Mr. Shea was scheduled for one final signing, in the afternoon of day two, immediately following a presentation in the Children's Activity Tent with Jon Klassen and Loren Long. Since I had nothing better to do as I waited for his signing, I decided to watch said presentation: Animals, Animals, Animals. Mr. Shea, Mr. Klassen, and Mr. Long were allegedly teaching the children in the audience how to draw various types of animals. I say allegedly because it really just seemed like the three were goofing around with each other and cracking jokes that went over the kids' heads. I laughed the entire time I watched this little activity - the three illustrators had large sketch pads and took turns drawing animals that the kids shouted out at them. They also ended up collaborating for a flying dogtopus - a sight truly spectacular to behold. The presentation finished up and I killed the 15 minutes immediately following (all the authors were scheduled to sign 15 minutes after their sessions). Then I made my way to the tent and asked where the line for Bob Shea's signing started. "Oh, he's not signing," I was told. "But I just saw him present with those two guys who are signing now," I retorted. "Well, he decided not to do a signing." EPIC SIGH. Curse you, Bob Shea, curse you - foiled three times from getting my copy of Dinosaur vs. the Library signed. I left the festival, dejected and frustrated.

Not a very good end to my first attendance of the Texas Book Festival, but overall, it was a lot of fun. I thought the panels showcased a variety of authors, all of whom seemed to really enjoy speaking to their readers. If possible, I'll definitely try to attend again in the future.