Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
By Tom Angleberger
Published 2010 by Amulet

Since moving to Texas and starting work at a library, I’ve been made aware of the Texas Bluebonnet Awards. These are similar to many other state-sponsored children’s book awards in that kids are provided with a set of titles, they read a certain number of them, and then they are eligible to vote on their favorite. It’s always a good idea to familiarize oneself with such awards when working someplace where you might be asked about them frequently, such as a library. However, between all the other books I was reading and the great demand on these titles, I didn’t get a chance to read them until recently. Of course, this particular one I’d been curious about and wanting to read anyway, but this bumped it up on the list.

Dwight is a weird kid – pretty much everyone agrees on that. But when he starts wearing an origami Yoda finger puppet and dispensing surprisingly wise advice, Tommy and his friends start to wonder – is Dwight secretly a genius? Or is he really just a weirdo who happens to notice coincidences? So, Tommy and his friends do the most logical thing they can think of – compile a casebook of the evidence and leave it up to you to decide.

This book is so much fun and I think that’s what Angleberger was going for here. It’s totally bizarre and hilarious and fragmented and it really works for the audience it’s geared toward (or at least, I think it does). This book is great for the short attention spans that permeate our youth today because it’s told as episodes, which are short and pretty well self-contained. However, I like that there is also an overall arc to the story – and it’s not just solving the case of Origami Yoda. This book may be an ode to our society’s persistent love of Star Wars but it’s also a book that deftly handles the complexities of being a tween. There is so much life stuff to figure out when you’re twelve that it would be wonderful to have a wise finger puppet that could tell you what you should do. I also like that Angleberger leaves it up to the reader to decide the truth about Origami Yoda – something that will really get kids engaged and talking about this book. As an awesome bonus, the instructions for crafting your own Origami Yoda are included. I really loved this book and can’t wait to read more from Angleberger.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Youth Media Awards: Some thoughts...

As I mentioned in a prior post, this was my first time attending the ALA Midwinter Conference and one of my main reasons for attending was so that I could be there for the announcement of the Youth Media Awards. If you’re not a children’s literature junkie (though I’m not sure why you’d be reading this blog otherwise), this is the time when they announce the winners of all the major American youth literature awards – the biggies being the John Newbery Medal, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, and the Michael L. Printz Award. This is probably going to show how much of a nerd I am but attending the announcement of the awards felt like being at the Oscars – there was a huge sense of anticipation throughout the room, along with wild cheering when awards were announced. It was a lot of fun being there. However, it probably would have been a lot more fun if I had read a bigger percentage of the winners. I don’t know if I want to go through all the awards individually, but there are a few things I’d like to talk about.

I, like most people in the room, was rather shocked when they announced that there would be no picture book winner of the Schneider Award. It’s funny because I’m not sure why this should be shocking; it’s not like I could think of a suitable candidate myself. I suppose it just seems controversial not to select a winner, especially when it was clear that books had been nominated for the award – the committee announced that none were deemed worthy. It almost seems like a bit of a slap in the face to anyone who nominated a picture book for the award. Of course, I understand that it’s the committee’s decision in the end and they were selected to the committee for a reason. I think it was just a baffling moment for many people in attendance. Additionally, I was surprised (but happy) that Wonderstruck was one of the Schneider Award winners – surprised because, while I was reading, I never really thought of this book as a story about children with disabilities (although, of course, it is) and happy because it’s such a great book that it deserves to be honored. That being said, I was pretty surprised that this was the only award it received. I had thought it might be a Newbery or Caldecott Honor and I don’t think I was the only one to think so.

Has there ever been a year when Kadir Nelson released a book (either written or illustrated by him) and he didn’t win some sort of award? I haven’t yet read his newest book, though I really want to, but he won both a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and the Coretta Scott King Author award. I’m pretty well convinced that Nelson is almost always the one to beat in any year that he’s published.

The Michael L. Printz Award is probably the biggest award for young adult literature and this year’s announcement was full of surprises for me. I haven’t read the winner or any of the Honor books, which I find pretty surprising considering how much young adult literature I read. (Side note: I have a copy of The Scorpio Races but, sadly, haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.) I’m not too terribly surprised by the winner (Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, which also won the William C. Morris Award for a previously unpublished author) because I’ve seen a lot of excellent reviews for it lately. I’m more surprised by the Honor books – two of which I’ve never even heard of. As I said, I read a lot of young adult fiction and I hear about even more. So for there to be two books on this list (which is presumably made up of the most outstanding fiction published in the last year) that I’ve never heard of is quite a bit of a shock for me. I guess even with as much as I do read, there is still a lot out there that I miss (of course I knew this already but I just pretended I didn’t). Perhaps even more shocking to me is that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was not selected as an Honor book. Seeing as it was probably my favorite book of 2011, I thought for sure it would garner at least an Honor. I was disappointed to say the least.

Less surprising for me were the Caldecott books – I’d seen all of them singled out as likely candidates in one place or another. I have actually read all of them and, perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but I am not a fan of Chris Raschka’s illustration style. So, for me, to see the three Honor books (all of which I really, really loved) lose out to his latest title was a bit disappointing. I know that it’s not the first time he’s been honored and I know that many people love his work – it’s just not for me.

And the Newbery – another surprising announcement of the day. Nearly every source I’d looked at in anticipation of the announcement had Okay for Now pegged as the winner. I think many people were surprised by the announcement of the winner and Honor books – of which Okay for Now was neither. I’ve only read one Jack Gantos book before but it is absolutely one of my all-time favorite children’s books – The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. I’ve heard good things about Dead End in Norvelt, so I was pretty pleased with that choice. But I don’t think anyone predicted the Honor books, although one recently won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. As always, the announcement of the Youth Media Awards just means more books that I have to go back and read so I don’t fall behind on my award-winning literature.

As I said, this is not an exhaustive list of this year’s winners; for that information, go here. And, once again, these are simply my humble opinions – I don’t claim to be an expert, just an enthusiastic fan. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments – but please, keep it friendly!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (2)

Now, for the next installment of Picture Book Saturday...

Red Sled
By Lita Judge
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
This is a very sweet story that reminded me of The Mitten. It's a nearly wordless picture book that tells the story of what happens to a child's red sled when it is left outside during the night. Various animals come to investigate it and end up trying it out. The pictures are simple and bold and this book would be wonderful for dialogic reading.

Ricky and the Squirrel
By Guido Van Genechten
Published 2010 by Clavis Publishing
The only reason that I picked up this book is that my colleagues at my new job had told me how ridiculous it was. One of them actually went and got it for me so I wouldn't forget to check it out. Apparently there is a series of books starring Ricky and this is the installment that deals with death. Unfortunately, it doesn't do so very well. The dead squirrel looks like he's smiling, which is just really creepy. And there is a very awkward transition to something about chestnuts (I don't remember exactly) at the squirrel funeral that Ricky and his father have at the end. A very strange and sadly, not well done, picture book.

The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers
By Lisa Campbell Ernst
Published 2011 by Penguin Group, Inc.
Presumably this is a sequel to a book called The Gingerbread Girl, which I haven't read, but it definitely doesn't matter. Gingerbread Girl receives some animal crackers as presents but they are wild and run away. Soon, the story has evolved into a cute new version of the old "Gingerbread Boy" story. The illustrations are sweet and edible-looking and this book is wonderful for teaching vocabulary (rhymes the word 'rhinoceros' with 'preposterous'). I really liked this one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Midwinter Recap

Like many librarians across the country, I attended ALA Midwinter this weekend. It's the first time I've been to the Midwinter Conference and I found it a very different experience than attending ALA Annual (which I did for the first time last June). The main reason I wanted to attend was to see the announcements of the Youth Media Awards and the main reason I was able to attend was because the conference was held in Dallas.

I don't want to do a full recap of events but the reason I found Midwinter so different is because the majority of the conference was taken up by committee meetings. I'm not involved in any sort of committee (yet, anyway), so I didn't really need to be attending. Since I wasn't really keen on sitting in on committee meetings that I would have no effect on, that made it pretty easy to choose which sessions I wanted to attend.

Most of what I went to were publisher presentations - really straightforward sessions with publishers where they introduced big titles they had coming out this spring/summer. However, the very first session I attended on Saturday morning was put on by Abrams and included some of their authors - Michael Buckley, Margi Preus, Tom Angleberger and Lauren Myracle. This session was particularly interesting. Each author got a chance to talk about their books. Tom Angleberger demonstrated how to make Origami Yoda with an oversize piece of origami paper - and he chose me to assist him! I turned bright red (because I was nervous and excited) but I think I did a decent job. Definitely a highlight of the conference for me! Lauren Myracle also talked about the National Book Award debacle in public for the first time ever, so it was really interesting to be there for that. The way she talked about it was very emotional but I'm glad she's made peace with it. It's a very unfortunate incident that occurred. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just Google it and you'll soon learn.

Another highlight of the conference for me was hearing John Green speak. I really like him, but I'm not as much of a fangirl about him as I could be - something I instantly regretted after hearing his presentation. I've read nearly all of Green's books and I never tire of them - his writing is smart and witty and heartbreaking and wonderful. His characters are fantastic. To me, Green is a writer to admire because he believes in teens. He doesn't "write down" to them or pander, something that I truly appreciate. I follow him on Twitter as well, where he continues to show how smart and funny he can be. But seeing him speak made me feel like I should be following him wherever I can (that sounds really stalker-ish, but mostly I mean I should be following the Vlogbrothers as well). He talked about reaching out to communities that teens create themselves. He talked about his great appreciation for librarians. He talked about many things and I listened, totally rapt. I couldn't resist the urge to buy a copy of The Fault in Our Stars (which I then got signed by him). I started reading it almost immediately because it truly felt irresistible. But, I'll talk more about that when I post my review.

Of course, how can I talk about the conference without mentioning all the books? When I attended ALA Annual, I returned home with, I think, about 150 books. Most were advance reader's copies and this thrilled me to no end. I didn't expect to come home with that many books this time around because I knew it was a smaller-scale conference. Additionally, we have run out of space in our apartment for the books (for now, my boyfriend just bought us a new bookcase we've yet to put together), so I planned on restraining myself. But, I have a disease. It's a book disease. I cannot resist the pull of free books. I don't know how many I walked away with this time (because I've been forbidden from bringing them into the apartment so they still reside in a pile in my trunk) but it's a pretty significant haul.

What remains to be seen is whether or not all the books I graciously received are worth it. Thrillingly, I managed to snag copies of seven or eight of my top twenty most anticipated books of 2012, which is fantastic news for me. I also received copies of some books that I criminally overlooked when creating the aforementioned list, most notably Adam Rex's newest book, Cold Cereal. I cannot wait to start reading all the books I received and, of course, reviewing them here.

Another highlight of the conference was attending the Youth Media Awards, but I think I'll save that discussion for a separate post - I'd like to take a look at the winners. My final highlight was the wrap-up concert, this year given by Lisa Loeb. I have always enjoyed her music and I think she is just adorable. This concert was proof of that. She sang some of her "grown-up" hits and also some selections from her recent children's sing-along book. I think it's safe to say that everyone who took the time to stick around for her show greatly enjoyed themselves.

Ultimately, I had a good time at Midwinter but I don't think I'll attend again unless I join a committee or it happens to be local again. Talking with other attendees from Texas made me really want to attend the Texas Library Association Conference in April, so now I'll have to see if I can work that out. I hope anyone who attended Midwinter had a good conference and best wishes to all attending ALA Annual in Anaheim!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: The Shadows

The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere, book 1)
By Jacqueline West
Published 2010 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I picked this one up in a last-ditch attempt to read some Bluebonnet books before they announce the winner. Olive and her parents move to a new house, something they've never had before. As excited as she is about having a place of her own, there's something weird about this place. There are strange paintings throughout the house that seemed to be glued to the walls. And when Olive finds an old pair of spectacles in the house, she learns that the paintings are certainly more than they seem...

Olive is a fun and spunky heroine about whom I loved reading. As a matter of fact, I really enjoyed all the characters West created here. The three cats who live in Olive's house are great with unique and interesting personalities. West has also created some wonderful villains who are actually really dark and evil, something that is a bit unusual in children's books. Yes, the villains are usually unambiguously evil but they're not necessarily really all that dark. The whole book itself has an excellently dark and mysterious tone. The story is self-contained and as such, I don't really see a need for sequels (which I know there are/will be). As much as I liked Olive as a character, I didn't really feel terribly connected to her. I'm sure, as it's my MO, I'll read the next book in the series, but I think this could have been a great stand-alone dark fantasy book for kids.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Picture Book Saturday

Recently, I've been debating whether or not I wanted to continue reviewing picture books on the blog. I never feel like I have enough to say about them and I don't feel like people care as much about reviews of these books as about chapter books (perhaps this is a misconception; it's just what I think). So I went back and forth, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I've started a new job (still kept my old one but hooray! I'm now a library specialist in a children's department) and I think I'll be spending more time around picture books. Additionally, it's still helpful for me to retain some information about different titles for that oft-imagined point in the future when I will once again be responsible for performing storytimes. So, after reading some new (to me) blogs (like I needed more blogs to follow), I've decided to blatantly rip off this idea from them. Every Saturday, I'll collect a few reviews of picture books and post them here. Ta-da! Here is our inaugural post!

Nothing Like a Puffin
By Sue Soltis, illustrated by Bob Kolar
Published 2011 by Candlewick Press
I couldn't resist picking up this book when I spotted it (being from Maine, puffins have a special place in my heart). It's a fun little book about puffins and what makes them special. This book is great for learning the same/different concept, particularly because it uses rather unusual pairings to make its comparisons. The illustrations are bright and bold and I think they work well here.

The Best Kind of Kiss
By Margaret Allum, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley
Published 2011 by Walker & Company
This is an adorable book that I couldn't resist, perfect for Valentine's Day. The illustrations are absolutely darling and suit the mood of the book perfectly. It's a very sweet idea - a little girl lists a variety of types of kisses. They are unique and sweet. It's easy for me to see opportunities to extend this idea beyond the book and I think it would work well in a storytime for that reason. However, there is one caveat - the ending. On the last page, we learn what the best kiss of all is - a kiss from Daddy. In today's world, there are a lot of children who might feel alienated by this ending, even if they are unable to articulate that feeling. So, I really enjoyed this book but I would hesitate to recommend it fully because of the last page.

Tom's Tweet
By Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Dan Santat
Published 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
I had never heard of this illustrator until last month when I read a graphic novel by him and now I'm seeing him everywhere! That's fine with me because I really like his style. This is another adorable little story about Tom, the cat, and his tweet, a little bird he discovers but hasn't got the heart to eat. Santat's illustrations are a bit strange for the story but I love his style so much that I don't really care. It's a sweet story about finding your own family and making unlikely friends and I can easily see a non-fiction connection (with stories like Owen and Mzee, for example). A fun and cute story.

I think three's a good number, right? Until next time!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Hourglass

Hourglass (Evernight, book three)
By Claudia Gray
Published 2010 by HarperTeen

WARNING: There will be inevitable spoilers for the first two books in the series, as well as spoilers for this title.

Bianca and Lucas are reunited at last. If only the situation were more peaceful... Having escaped the attack on Evernight, Bianca and Lucas live under the protection of Black Cross. But with Bianca being a vampire, how long can this last?

I feel compelled to keep reading this series because I always have to know how things end and, I must admit, Gray has done some clever things throughout the series that actually surprised me. However, I think this was my least favorite book so far. Bianca really bugged the crap out of me this time around. Throughout much of the book, she is being completely dense about everything. She doesn't understand why she can't email her parents even though she is hiding with the enemy. I mean - come on! Every teen reading this book would know the answer to that one. Additionally, she drove me crazy because of her complete idiocy about what was happening to her. I know she's not necessarily supposed to be the smartest girl who ever lived but if she already knows she's half-vampire and half-wraith (wait, what part of her is human again?), she should probably be able to figure out what that means for her future options. And this is the plot twist that almost lost me, Ms. Gray. I loved the first book in the series because Gray's ideas genuinely surprised me. I don't find that to be true in this book. Most of what occurred was predictable and not terribly interesting. And I just don't like the idea of Bianca as a wraith now. I mean, isn't that the end of things then? My predictions for the final book are that somehow Bianca and Lucas both discover a way to change what they've become. If not, I'm sure they will still manage to be together. Because otherwise we all wasted our time, right? I can't say I'm especially looking forward to the last book, though I will be glad to see it end. Interestingly, I'm very much looking forward to Balthazar - I think he's a great character to do a spin-off with.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: The Mockingbirds

The Mockingbirds (Mockingbirds, book 1)
By Daisy Whitney
Published 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

At prestigious Themis Academy, the teachers and staff think the students can do no wrong. But the students know that isn't true. So they've come up with their own solution: the Mockingbirds. Alex is a good student (everyone at Themis is) - music is her passion. So when she wakes up one morning, naked, in the bed of a boy whose name she can't really remember and suspects that something she didn't agree to went on the night before, Alex has two choices - keep quiet and do nothing, or enlist the help of the Mockingbirds to bring that boy to justice.

I picked this one up because I received an ARC of the sequel at ALA last summer. I think I had heard good things about the book beforehand so I may have eventually gotten around to it as well, but this bumped it up on my to-read list. This book deals with some tough stuff and, sometimes, in a very frustrating way. However, I think it's only frustrating because it's realistic. Even though most of us know the statistics, there is still that myth about rape: some stranger attacking us in a dark parking lot or breaking into our house randomly. Random - that's how we still imagine most rape to occur. But we should all know better by now; the majority of rape is what's called date rape, perpetrated by someone with whom the victim is familiar. Mockingbirds brings this statistic to the forefront by telling Alex's story. This book also deals heavily and, I think, wonderfully with the issue of consent. In fact, it is this issue that Alex's charges hinge on. I don't think it can be denied that, to this day, we live in a rape culture. I guess I should be careful what I say here but there is still a lot of misinformation about rape in our society. I think this book, while it is fiction, could help clear up some of the fogginess. I don't want to give too many details of the plot away, but I think Whitney handles this topic sensitively and smartly. Why I found this book frustrating is because Alex behaves very much like I know vicitims behave. She questions herself constantly, wondering if this is really all her own fault and feeling guilty about pressing charges when she's so unsure about what happened. It's very frustrating to read all this self-doubt but, at the same time, it's very realistic. I'm not 100% invested in reading a sequel to this but mainly because I can't imagine a more compelling storyline. However, I'll give it a shot. I think this book probably deserves a wider audience than it's gotten. I found it to handle a difficult topic well and certainly opening the door for important discussions.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, book two)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2011 by Hyperion Books for Children

Carter and Sadie Kane have been reunited and they may have saved the world from Set, but that doesn't mean it's saved for good. Now, the Kanes must use all their power and resources to stop Apophis, the god of Chaos, from rising and destroying life as we know it.

Naturally, I had to pick up the second book in the series to see what the continuing saga of the Kanes had in store for me. As I was reading, for some reason, I found myself wishing I knew how many books are going to be in the series. I've since found out the answer (three, the third and final with an expected publication of May 2012) and I think I'm satisfied with it. I don't know why it felt necessary to know how many books to expect in the series, but it made me feel better once I knew. Maybe I just wanted to see how it compared to the Percy Jackson series. Anyway, I read the print version of this one and I have to admit, I desperately missed the audio version. These books are written as a series of recordings, so they just work well in that medium. Also, the narrators chosen do an excellent job with characterizations. So, for me, the print version loses some of the awesomeness of the audio version. That being said, this second entry in the series is just as exciting, fast-paced and funny as the first Kane Chronicle book. With some of the same characters as the first but also introducing a whole bunch of new characters, it's easy to see that populating his worlds with interesting and diverse characters is Riordan's strong suit. I especially loved the Kanes' new guardian, the dwarf god. I thought this one had some great twists and turns for the characters and I think it was a wonderful continuation of the series. I can't wait for the last book to come out!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Unwind

By Neal Shusterman, read by Luke Daniels
Published 2009 by Brilliance Audio

This book has been recommended to me since it was published and I picked up the audio version for our recent long car trip (since I thought it was one my boyfriend might enjoy as well).

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The solution (for better or worse): life cannot be terminated from conception until the age of thirteen. But between the ages of 13 and 18, parents can have their child unwound, donating all their organs, so that technically, life doesn't end. Connor, Risa and Lev may all come from different situations but they are all about to be unwound. And their paths are all about to cross...

This book certainly lived up to its recommendations. Shusterman has created a chilling (yet unfortunately, believable) future with a highly suspenseful and compelling plot. The time flew as we listened to this story as we were totally engrossed in this world. I cared about every single one of the characters and loved that Shusterman used the three different main characters with their unique situations to take us through this story. He manages to balance the perfect amount of drama and romance, action and dialogue; everything flows incredibly well. The reader was excellent at making the characters each distinct without attempting to do voices that would have proved distracting. I was engaged the whole time we were listening and couldn't wait to discover what the next twist in the story would be. I'm so intrigued with the idea of a sequel to this - I think it stands perfectly well on its own. But I will definitely be interested to see what Shusterman does with a sequel. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, book one)
By Rick Riordan, read by Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren
Published 2010 by Brilliance Audio

I, like most other Percy Jackson readers, was extremely curious to find out how Riordan's other series held up. As my boyfriend had also recently exhausted all the Percy books and the first Heroes of Olympus title, and seeing as we were embarking on an 18-hour car ride (one way!), I picked up the audiobook for this title and we listened, eager to satisfy our curiosity.

Carter and Sadie Kane may be siblings, but you'd hardly guess by looking at them. And you'd be hard-pressed to catch the two of them together - they've been living separate lives since their mom died. Carter now globetrots with his Egyptologist dad who homeschools him and teaches him everything you ever wanted to know about Egyptian gods and artifacts (yes, you may be saying "I didn't really want to know about those things..."). Sadie lives with their grandparents in London and has the totally rad British accent and lingo to prove it. Getting together for their one day a year, the siblings accompany dear old dad to the British Museum, where, in short order, there is an explosion, some magicians, their dad disappears, and the god Set is released. Now, the Kanes must set on a quest to stop the gods from destroying them or the world.

I have to say: I was not disappointed with this read. I know other people have felt it doesn't really stack up to Percy and his books, but I think that's unfair. If this book were too much like the Percy books, people would be mad about that. While Riordan uses pretty much the same idea in this book that he did with his other series, this book is unique enough to stand on its own merits. The dual narration works really well here - creating great moments of suspense when switching between one narrator and the next. Additionally, I almost think the Egyptian mythology works even better than the Greek mythology because it's that much more unique. Greek mythology (and even, to perhaps a lesser extent, Roman mythology) is ubiquitous in our culture - even people who have never studied the myths generally know the basic stories. To me, that makes Riordan's use of Egyptian mythology in this series that much better. I know nothing about it, so the book becomes even more exciting as I learn about it. This book is just as well-developed as the Percy Jackson series, with tons of action, some romance, lots of humor and a phenomenal cast of characters.

Additionally, this is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to. Both readers have done extensive narration work and it is easy to see why. They have voices made for listening to - clear and just plain fun to hear. They are both excellent at changing their voices to differentiate between characters, whether subtly or more completely. This book was basically made to be heard - the narrative is written as the characters' audio recordings of the events that transpired. I didn't know this when I picked up the audiobook, but I clearly made a good choice. I've started reading the second book in print and, I won't lie, some of the magic is lost.

All in all, I highly recommend this to fans of Riordan's other series and especially the audio version.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: Zora and Me

Zora and Me
By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, read by Channie Waites
Published 2010 by Brilliance Audio

I remember hearing about this book when it was first published and then it went on to win the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award. I downloaded the audiobook on a whim and before embarking on my holiday vacation, I wanted to listen to something I could finish up in the few days I was working the week we left (I listen during my commute to and from work). This was the perfect choice.

Bond and Simon invite readers to get to know Carrie and her best friend, Zora - Zora Neale Hurston, that is. Zora is a natural born storyteller and her latest concoction of a man with a gator head has Carrie living extra cautiously. And when a man is found murdered, their town is plunged into a mystery and Carrie begins to wonder if Zora wasn't right all along. Hurston's seminal novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was one of the few books I had to read for school that I really truly enjoyed. So I was eager to see how this novel would imagine her childhood. I didn't know any of her biography before reading, but the authors provide a helpful biographical sketch at the novel's end. I really enjoyed this. It was spooky and mysterious but also dealt with more complex social issues. I think this would be a wonderful book for the classroom or a book club. Additionally, the audiobook was fantastic. I thought Waites was a phenomenal reader. I'm very glad I listened to this! Highly recommended!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Looking Forward...

Like all good book-obsessed folk, I am always eagerly anticipating the new books coming out. In 2012, I'm looking forward to trying to finish up all the series I'm currently in the midst of, as well as getting back on track and reading all the books that have already been published that I've been meaning to get around to. I hope to make a dent in my personal collection of books I own but haven't yet read. But, I wouldn't be a hard-core reader if I didn't have some books that I can't wait to see come out this year.

Anticipated books of 2012:
- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I really enjoyed Graceling, though Fire fell a little short for me. But, hands down, Bitterblue was my favorite character and I've been anticipating this book since I knew it existed. I cannot wait to read about her again and hope that this proves to be another wonderful read by Cashore. (Expected publication: May 1)
-  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I didn't actually even know what this book was about until yesterday but, honestly, who cares? A new John Green is all I needed to know. But, now that I know the premise, I'm even more excited than I was before. Even though I haven't read all of Green's work yet, I've read enough to know that this book is sure to be one of my favorites of 2012. (Expected publication: January 10)
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cinderella as a cyborg??? I don't necessarily go for heavy science fiction stuff but I absolutely adore fairy tale retellings. Some of my favorite book bloggers just posted a review that wasn't entirely positive but I'm still eager to get my grubby little paws on this one. (Expected publication: January 3)

- Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
I literally just finished listening to Unwind and was terribly excited to discover that there will be a sequel. I can't wait to see where Shusterman goes with this story. I'll be posting a review of Unwind shortly but, suffice to say, this is now one of my most anticipated books of the year. (Expected publication: September 25)
- The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
I haven't even read Son of Neptune yet but it doesn't matter because I know I will be on tenterhooks waiting for the third installment of this series. My guess is that this will be from Annabeth's perspective and will find the heroes traveling to Greece, but does it really matter? This book is sure to be an action-packed thrill ride addition to Riordan's exciting series. (Expected publication: September)
- The Twelve by Justin Cronin
I'm about halfway through The Passage and it's pretty clear that it would have made it into my best of 2011 list if I had finished it before year's end. That being said, even without knowing how book one ends, I'm thrilled to learn that book two will be out in 2012 and can't wait to see where this incredibly well-crafted series will go. (Expected publication: August 28)
- The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
This book has been getting a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and it sounds like a book right up my alley. I'm very much looking forward to this post-apocalyptic viral crisis title. (Expected publication: January 24)
- The Diviners by Libba Bray
I literally just discovered this book existed but I will read anything that Bray writes and now can't wait. It sounds like the start of a new series in a similar vein as the Gemma Doyle trilogy but set in a time period even more exciting to me - the 1920s. I CANNOT WAIT. I have the ultimate greed for this book. Seriously. Within five minutes of discovering its existence. (Expected publication: November 1)
- The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore
HOW WILL THIS SERIES END?? Dying to find out. One of my most surprising new favorites in the last couple of years, I can't wait to see how it all ends. Bernie Kosar <3 (Expected publication: August 21)
- Whatever the second book is called by Laini Taylor
I don't care what the title is, what the plot is, what the cover looks like - none of it matters. I think it's safe to say that, with a mere two books (that I've read), Taylor has guaranteed that I will follow her anywhere. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of my absolute most favorite reads of 2011 and I cannot wait for the sequel. (Expected publication: September)

- Broken Harbour by Tana French
For my now-defunct book club, we read In the Woods, which I really enjoyed. I have read the two books she's published since then and I find each compelling and extremely well-executed. I really like the mysteries she writes and can't wait for this new book. (Expected publication: March 29)

- Storybound by Marissa Burt
Another book that I just discovered existed, this sounds like a book designed for me. Children in Story go to classes to become Heroes, Sidekicks, even Villains. When a young girl stumbles into Story, she finds herself in jeopardy. This book sounds like a fantastic new middle-grade fantasy. Can't wait! (Expected publication: April 3)
- Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill
This year, I read Hemphill's verse portrait of Sylvia Plath and was blown away by its beauty and wonderfulness. So that makes me very excited for her new verse novel - a tale of two sisters on the Venetian island of Murano. I'm even more excited because I've actually been to Murano and bought glass blown there, so I can't wait to see Hemphill's portrayal of the island and its profession. (Expected publication: May 8)
- The Council of Mirrors by Michael Buckley
It's here! It's finally here! It's almost too good to believe! The final book in the Sisters Grimm series is coming out in 2012!! I am jubilant. I can't wait to see how this series ends. Though I wasn't completely taken with the series at first, I've grown to absolutely adore it and have waited not-so-patiently for each book to arrive. (Expected publication: May 8)
- For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
This is another book getting tons of buzz in the blogosphere and Twitterverse. I've only read the first Killer Unicorn book but really loved it and I have the second in my room right now (hoping to read it this week). I'm so intrigued by the idea of this book (a post-apocalpytic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion) that I think it could either be amazing or really stumble. The only hitch for me is that I've never read Persuasion so I worry what may be lost on me. Regardless, can't wait to see how this turns out. (Expected publication: June 12)
- Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
I'm still not 100% convinced that this is actually really going to happen but I'm pretty sure I've seen that a couple lucky folks have gotten ARCs so I guess I believe it enough to put it here. I think I've only read one book by either author but I've heard great things about both of them. Regardless, this book just sounds awesome. (Expected publication: July 3)
- Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Glow was a book that came out of the blue for me and the more I think about it, the more I really enjoyed it. I am thrilled to see that the next installment will be out next year - yay for shorter wait times for series books! I think this is going to be a really strong series and can't wait to read more. (Expected publication: July 17)
- Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
I love Giffin's books because they are smart and funny and deal with complicated adult issues and relationships. There is only one already published that I haven't read yet and I plan on fixing that soon, so I can't wait for her new book to arrive. (Expected publication: July 31)
- Romeo Redeemed by Stacey Jay
I had mixed feelings about Juliet Immortal so I will be very interested to see how Jay continues the story in this sequel. She captured me with her Megan Berry series so I'll continue to read what she writes. I hope the world is developed more in this sequel. (Expected publication: August)
- Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel
I was absolutely blown away by This Dark Endeavour in 2011 - it was a dark and disturbing and fascinating read. Incredibly well-developed with intriguing characters, I can't wait for the sequel! (Expected publication: August 21)
Okay, so I'm going to limit myself to twenty here, but that's just a small sampling of the books I can't wait for in 2012! What is everyone else looking forward to?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Year in Review: Part 4

Hard as it may be to believe, I do occasionally read some adult fiction. Though not nearly in the same numbers as children's and young adult literature, I still enjoy reading books intended for people my own age. I didn't snag as many ARCs of adult books at ALA, so my top ten list of adult books includes a couple titles I read this year that were published prior to 2011.

Top 10 adult books:
 - The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This stunning debut novel blew me away (and I think most critics agree as well, seeing as how it has found a place on a number of year-end best-of lists). It's a book about baseball, about a scrawny up-and-coming shortstop who surprises everyone who sees him play. But it's about so much more, too. I don't think it's a new idea that baseball is sort of a metaphor for life and Harbach plays on this idea beautifully. This book is heartbreaking and hilarious and deserves all the praise it's received. I cannot wait to see what Harbach writes next as this was definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

 - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This book got a lot of pimping at ALA and already had a movie deal before its publication. I've seen a lot of mixed reviews for this since, but for me, this was a fun and extremely well-constructed novel. Featuring an Everyman you can't help but root for, villains you can't stand, and an epic quest through virtual reality that would be so extremely cool if it actually existed, this book delighted the nerd and trivia freak in me while also satisfying me as a reader.

 - Triangles by Ellen Hopkins
I've read all but one of Hopkins' YA novels and have enjoyed them so I was extremely excited to delve into her first foray into adult fiction. I found that while it didn't rachet up the level of risque from her YA novels, it explored more complex relationships. A book with strong appeal to readers of "women's literature," I'm happy to say that Hopkins made a strong entry into adult fiction.

 - Practical Jean by Trevor Cole
This was a surprise read for me. I had never heard of it but snagged a copy at ALA this summer and thought I'd give it a shot. I believe it was first published in 2010 but it's the first work by Cole to be published in the U.S. Jean is an endearing and confused protagonist who is wonderfully crafted by Cole. An absurd black comedy, I really enjoyed this book.

 - A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres
One of the very few non-fiction books I read this year, Scheeres writes thoughtfully and beautifully about the tragedy of the Peoples Temple at Jonestown. She personalizes the story without making it cheesy and makes it very easy to see how this horrific bit of history came to pass. Incredibly well-done.

 - Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson
For some reason, circuses are very big right now. Me, I've always loved the circus. So, this was one of two titles (the other being The Night Circus, which I haven't found time yet to read) about circuses at ALA that I spent a great deal of time looking forward to. Carlson has crafted a richly imagined and insular world at P.T. Barnum's New York museum of wonders in the mid-19th century. She presents the dual narratives of the museum's taxidermist and giantess, creating a compelling and delightful novel.

 - Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
This was another book I grabbed on a whim at ALA and I'm very glad I did. A richly detailed and thoroughly engrossing historical novel, Feldman looks at the effects of war and those who get left behind. Alternating the stories of three women, she creates a wonderful story. I connected with all the characters and loved charting their development through the course of the novel. Glad to have discovered this one.

 - The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
A deeply depressing but incredibly well-done novel, this was yet another serendipitous find at ALA. Pollock's first novel introduces us to a host of unique and disturbing characters and follows them through the post-war (WWII) years to the 1960s. A meditation on violence and evil, this is an incredibly strong and provocative book. Excellent.

 - Monster, 1959 by David Maine
This was a book I had sitting in my collection for a few years and finally picked it up early this spring. Published in 2008, this is a take on "King Kong" from the ape's point of view. A monster, created from radiation testing, follows the drums to a human sacrifice and gets more than he bargained for. The beauty of this book is that is provides social commentary without coming across heavy-handed. A surprising read that I really enjoyed.

 - Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Published in 2006, I listened to the audiobook version of this at the very beginning of 2011. A dark and creepy mystery with a very unusual protagonist, I found this complicated and well-drawn with a twist right at the end to show me that, no, I don't have everything all figured out. I can't wait to read more of Flynn's novels.

2011 by the Numbers:
For the curious, here are my 2011 stats, according to my Goodreads account (where I log all my books read):
- 263 books read (far down from the 412 I read in 2010, though a larger percentage of those were picture books) for a total of 67,436 pages
 - 15 five-star reviews, 164 four-star reviews, 73 three-star reviews, 8 two-star reviews, and 3 one-star reviews (including one book I didn't finish)
 - longest read of the year: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
 - the majority were tagged as either young adult or juvenile

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Year in Review: Part 3

Sadly, I didn't read as many picture books this year as I normally do. Which is kind of weird when you think about it since they literally take fifteen minutes to read. Alas, I was trying desperately to read as many novels as I could squeeze into the year and the picture books fell by the wayside. So an abbreviated list for you (though I'm sure it's woefully misrepresentative of the wonders that are published in picture books every year).

Top 5 picture books:
 - Man in the Moon by William Joyce
Imaginative and filled with lush illustrations, Joyce once again proves why he is so successful and deserving of any and all praise he receives. A treasure for children of all ages.

 - Small Saul by Ashley Spires
One of the picture books I didn't review here, this is a sweet tale of a small pirate who tries and tries to fit in, but he's just not like the other pirates. Ultimately this book shows us how everyone has a place in the world and there is room for all unique talents, even aboard a pirate ship.

 - Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator! by Mo Willems
I love Mo Willems and will probably love everything he ever produces. A sweet little book of friendship with his signature style of illustrations, I hope Willems continues to produce picture books for a long time to come.

 - Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Seve, illustrations by Peter de Seve
A wonderful new addition to the tradition of fairy tales, the de Seves provide readers with a beautiful and happy little story about the power of simplicity and the joy in finding commonalities.

 - King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen
Van Dusen's illustrations always blow me away, and this new picture book is no exception. A funny story about a conceited king, his illustrations are the right amount of ridiculous and suitable.