Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: The Dyerville Tales

The Dyerville Tales
By M.P. Kozlowsky, illustrated by Brian Thompson
Published 2014 by Walden Pond Press

In the aftermath of a fire, Vince has become an orphan. But there was no evidence of his father perishing in the fire, so when Vince finds out that his grandfather has died, it becomes essential that he get to the funeral. What better place for his father to finally return to his life? Through it all, Vince carries his grandfather's journal, full of fantastical stories, as he sets out to find his family again.

Another entry in my efforts to read more middle-grade (and most of those seem to have been fantasy of some sort), this ended up being not a good book for me. I never got interested in Vince as a character and there aren't really any other characters to share the spotlight. Reading a lot of fiction for youth has gotten me pretty accustomed to plots developing rapidly but things seemed to be moving too haphazardly in this book. I don't think Vince was developed well as a character. I couldn't really understand his fierce belief that his father was still out there somewhere - yes, I understand that his remains weren't found in the fire, but he never gives an explanation as to what he thinks his father has been doing all the years since, nor why he would disappear in the first place.

There are two narratives being told concurrently in this book - that of Vince in the present day and that of his grandfather's childhood, told through his grandfather's journal. I didn't feel like the fit between the two was natural and the transitions were also awkward. I had problems with the storylines in both, as well. The tale of Vince's grandfather was just a bit too bizarre for me - I could never fully believe in it, but I felt like the book was working really hard for me to believe it. As I said, I never connected with Vince as a character, and I also found his storyline a bit too unbelievable. I had a hard time being convinced that the orphanage director wouldn't allow him to attend his grandfather's funeral - to the point where she was hunting him down after he left of his own accord. I also felt the plot with the criminals on the loose to be almost completely unnecessary. The ending is both ambiguous and a bit too pat, a strange combination that doesn't sit well with me.

Ultimately, this book was not a good fit. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: The Water Castle

The Water Castle
By Megan Frazer Blakemore
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens

Ephraim and his family have moved home - their ancestral home, that is. Their mother packs up the family and moves to a property in Maine, one that has been in their family for generations. His mother is desperate to help his father - he's suffered a stroke and nothing seems to be helping. When Ephraim begins to hear rumors of the Fountain of Youth being located on the property, he's sure he has the cure. If he can find the water, maybe he can save his dad.

Wow, I am so far behind on my reviews. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I had the pleasure of serving as a Round 2 judge for the Cybils, in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. I am, apparently, just now getting to writing reviews for the finalists in that category.

Before the finalists were announced, I had only read one of them (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, click for my review). Thankfully, I had heard of all the others and had at least a passing interest in them (obviously, or I wouldn't have wanted to be an EMGSF judge in the first place). I was, perhaps, most interested in this title. It had gotten a stellar review from Betsy Bird (she of Fuse #8) and was even getting considerable buzz as a potential Newbery winner. It was the first of the finalists available from the library, so I dove in.

Unfortunately, I did not share Ms. Bird's enthusiasm. I was extra excited prior to reading because this books takes place in Maine, my beloved homeland. Imagine my even greater joy when I discovered that Blakemore is a librarian in Maine. How could I not root for this book?? I felt like Blakemore captured the beauty and quiet majesty of living in Maine wonderfully - this book made me miss my home state quite a bit (though I read it in the dead of winter, not a lovely time to be in New England). In fact, the writing was, for me, the book's greatest strength. Blakemore clearly has a way, and I'm impressed by the quality of writing in this book. Impressed enough that I'm eager to see what else she writes.

I also quite enjoyed the characters. Each child has a distinct personality and they work quite well together here. I liked the children from outside the family as well. The adults in the book are a bit more nebulous, but that's not terribly unusual in a book written for youth. Additionally, I loved how the events of the past affected the events in the present. I liked finding out the history of the Water Castle and all the families who had been involved with it over the years.

What lessened my appreciation for this book was the ending. While not inherently opposed to ambiguous endings, I have to feel that they're right for the story in question. In this case, I felt there were too many plot threads left hanging, too many questions unanswered. If I were an actual kid reading this, I would have been insanely frustrated to reach the end of this book and find out that's all there is. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Overall, I can easily see how this book became a Cybils finalist, but it was probably my least favorite of the bunch.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Program: Meet the Artist

In the fall, I pretty much chose artists for this program based on how quickly I could think of a way to emulate their art and its level of difficulty. Thus, we started with Calder, moved to Pollock, and finished the fall with Georges Seurat.

As before, I showed a short presentation on Seurat's life and work. The kids were astounded by Seurat's paintings - they couldn't believe that they were composed of dots of colors and how long it took him to finish a work. I explained how Seurat believed viewer's eyes would put the dots together to form the larger picture and how he used colors to express certain emotions.

After our presentation, we got down to creating our own works of art. I gave them all a small canvas to work with (I use watercolor paper as a stand-in for actual canvas in this program) and acrylic paints. We used the erasers of new pencils to create our dots, cleaning them off between colors (and actually managing to keep them clean enough that the pencils were still usable afterwards!). I encouraged the kids to sketch the picture they wanted in pencil first and then fill it in with their dots of color. One of the kids remarked that I must have been sad, as I was using a lot of black and brown in my painting (I was trying to make a beach scene and used those colors for the rocks and sand). I was pleased that they had made the connection between what I'd told them in the presentation and our own art, as I'm never sure if they actually absorb what I teach them.

The kids really liked seeing their paintings come together even though they were only using dots of color. I find myself really enjoying this program, despite not considering myself an artist at all. It's been fun to see the kids creating art.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
By Julie T. Lamana
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books

Armani is about to celebrate her tenth birthday and nothing is going to get in her way. If only people would stop talking about this fool storm that's threatening New Orleans. Unfortunately, that storm is about to get a name - Katrina - and change Armani's life.

I'm pretty sure I picked this up on a whim at ALA Midwinter but I'm very glad I did. Since then, this book has been getting some buzz, even popping up on some early Newbery contender lists. After finishing it, I can't say I'm surprised by that.

This book is just phenomenal. It's completely gripping, from the beginning chapters of Armani's everyday worries about turning ten to the harrowing chapters when the family is in the throes of Katrina. The chapters are short, keeping readers turning the pages at a frantic pace. I did not want to put this book down. It's fascinating and a bit mind-boggling to me to think that target readers of this book will either not have been alive or too young to remember Hurricane Katrina but Lamana does an amazing job of putting readers right in the middle of the storm. I visited the Gulf Coast six months after Katrina struck and, from what I recall, Lamana has done an excellent job portraying the storm and the aftermath realistically. This is a hard book to read because it shines a light on how terrible conditions were for survivors of the storm, but it's also incredibly important. She has done a wonderful job of showing how upsetting the events are without traumatizing readers. What will be most appealing to kids, though, is that it is an engaging tale of struggle and survival.

The characters are fantastic as well. Armani is one of the most interesting narrators I've encountered in recent history and I absolutely loved hearing this story in her voice. Similarly, I loved being introduced to her family, a cast of characters for certain, but believable and a lovely depiction of a family. I think Lamana has also done an excellent job of leaving clues throughout the book that come into play later on, like the bench Armani and her grandmother always sit on, the Boman family, and Uncle T-Bone's military service. It's so rewarding to see that everything is connected in some way. Armani's emotions are conveyed very convincingly and I'm incredibly impressed that this is Lamana's debut novel.

If I have one criticism of this book, it's that the ending is a bit too tidy. Yes, there is clearly some loss, but the fact that Armani is able to return to New Orleans so quickly after the storm seemed unlikely to me. Ultimately, the novel ends on a hopeful note, which is nice, though perhaps, as I said, a bit too tidy. Overall, however, this book excels on every level. I'm so glad I read it and look forward to sharing it with readers.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Foundry's Edge

The Foundry's Edge (The Books of Ore, book one)
By Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

Phoebe lives a comfortable life, even if it is tinged with sadness. She is still reeling from her mother's death but her father, an important man, has provided her everything she could ask for. However, when danger arrives on their doorstep, Phoebe finds herself following her father into an unbelievable world - a world of living metal. Is this the secret her father was kidnapped to protect? Can Phoebe, along with her begrudging servant Micah, rescue him?

The premise of this book sounded really interesting to me when I came across the ARC at ALA Midwinter. I was trying not to take home too many (as my house was already overflowing with books), but I wanted to give this a try. The notion of steampunk for middle grade readers really intrigues me and I'm always looking for unique fantasy to recommend to my readers.

I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did, which is always an unfortunate situation in which to find myself. Here's my main problem with this book: it is way too long. I didn't actually get interested and invested in the story or characters until probably 200 pages in, and that's just no good. Most people are not like me; they'll quit a book if they don't feel that connection within the first few chapters. It's my sheer stubbornness that forces me to keep reading books I'm not particularly feeling. In this case, I'm glad I stuck with it, because the second half of the book is quite good. The pacing picks up, the plot develops more rapidly, and I actually started to care about the characters. Taking the second half of the book alone, I think it's quite well done. The world of Mehk is fascinating and fleshed out really well. The characters come into their own. The journey to rescue Dr. Plumm feels dangerous and important. All in all, it's quite an exhilarating book for the second half.

But that's the problem. Readers must first have to slog through the first part of the book to get to the good stuff. And it will take a very persevering reader to do so. I'm torn on whether or not I'll be back for book two. As I said, by the second half, the book seemed to have found its footing, so I have hopes that book two will hit the ground running. I'll likely give it a shot, but I'm not sure how many readers will get into this one.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Release Day Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog

Prisoner of Night and Fog (book one)
By Anne Blankman
Expected publication April 22, 2014 by Balzer + Bray

Gretchen has grown up under the affectionate gaze of her Uncle Dolf, but, as she grows older, things begin to change. You see, Uncle Dolf is Adolf Hitler and he is steadily gaining power and prominence. Gretchen has always believed what he's told her, but when she meets a young Jewish reporter with questions about her father's death, she's not sure what to think anymore. Will Gretchen continue to be Dolf's beloved niece or will she search out the truth, no matter the cost?

As I've said before, I'm a big historical fiction fan. I'm also a big fan of taking well-known characters or historical figures and looking at them in a different light. So, when I spotted this e-galley, it was a no-brainer download for me. I was really intrigued by the notion of Hitler's niece and how a young person who has grown up in his shadow would view his rise to power.

Unfortunately, this book was a big old mixed bag for me. While it certainly was interesting reading about Gretchen and her opinion of Uncle Dolf (who, it should be noted, is not technically her uncle, but a family friend), other parts of the story felt too convenient or unbelievable for me. Actually, I found Gretchen's brother Reinhard to be maybe the most interesting character, and Gretchen certainly had plenty to deal with when it came to him. This book takes place in the early 1930s, so Hitler has not yet risen to the top of the political power; however, he is well on his way. Gretchen has grown up admiring him and believing what he's told her about Jewish people. The book focuses on what happens when Gretchen actually meets a Jewish person for herself. I had a little difficulty believing that Gretchen would so easily let her long-held beliefs about Jews go after a few interactions. Yes, Blankman does note her internal struggle with it, but the struggle feels false to me.

Similarly, Blankman does a fine job setting the tone and atmosphere of the novel - 1930s Germany is not a place I would have liked to have been. However, a lot of the information Blankman provides about Hitler's comrades and members of the National Socialist Party feels info-dumpy. A lot of it feels like a reading of facts about Party members, without a lot of characterization of them. In fact, I had a difficult time distinguishing between them all. Additionally, the romance felt too convenient for me. From the beginning, it was clear that Gretchen was going to fall in love with a Jewish man, and it never felt authentically developed to me.

The mystery of Gretchen's father's death seemed believable enough and gave the book the push to move forward, though, as I said, I was more interested in Gretchen's solving the mystery of her brother. I was disappointed upon reading the author's note to discover that this is going to be a series. While there is obviously plenty of fodder for more books about Gretchen and her relationship with Hitler (he hasn't even been elected Chancellor yet), I liked the ambiguous ending of this book. I will come back for book two because I'm interested to see how Blankman will handle the increasing bleakness of historical events, but I'll be back with some hesitations.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Venom

Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose, book one)
By Fiona Paul
Published 2012 by Philomel

Cass lives a life of luxury in Renaissance Venice, though it hasn't been easy since her parents' deaths. Things only get more complicated, however, when she discovers a murdered young woman. Soon, she finds herself caught up in a mysterious world of secret societies - and finds her affections torn between two men.

Well, I like mysteries and I like historical fiction, so no real surprise as to why I picked this one up. I actually had an e-galley of this title, but it expired before I finished it. I didn't make it a priority to pick up the book and finish it post-publication, but, back before the Year of No Library Books began, I decided to try to finish up a few books that I'd left in similar situations.

This book is pretty much what I expected. It's a gossipy, fast-paced historical romance with a decent mystery thrown in. Though I'm a big fan of historical fiction, I don't often know much about actual history, so I can't really speak to the historical accuracy of this book. I will say that I don't think Cass would have really gotten away with as much as she does in the novel in actual Renaissance Venice - young women didn't really have a lot of agency back then. Maybe the lack of her parents would have given her more freedom, but I have my doubts.

That being said, my feelings for Cass are pretty neutral. I don't particularly like her, but I don't dislike her either. I find her interesting enough that I zipped through this book and I was involved enough in her story to find myself caring a bit about which love interest she should pursue. This perhaps speaks to the secondary characters being developed well enough that I did actually have an opinion on the love triangle and I'm interested to see what happens with it in book two.

The mystery is perhaps the lightest part of the story, but it does involve a secret society and murdered courtesans, so it's definitely got some intrigue. I called this book gossipy and I don't mean that in a negative way - it feels like a mystery that would be shared in darkened corners of secret rooms and whispered from friend to friend.

Readers looking for a fast-paced historical read with some swooning and intrigue thrown in will definitely find something to enjoy in this book.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Program: beTWEEN the lines/Write for Your Life

So, it's been quite some time since I wrote about my beloved tween book club, beTWEEN the lines. This is partly because I'm incredibly far behind on program write-ups (and reviews in general - someday I hope to be much more current with posting my reviews). It's also partly because I've been sad thinking about writing this post. You see, the book club is no more. After abysmal attendance in September and October, I scheduled one more session in November and returned to our original format - we all would read the same book and discuss it. The book in question was Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming. As the meeting date approached and I saw only one name on the sign out sheet (participants signed out copies of the book), I knew it was over. When I spotted my lone attendee at a program the week before our scheduled book club meeting, I let her know that the meeting was cancelled and she could return her copy of the book the next time she came to the library. She didn't seem particularly sad to discover that we wouldn't be meeting. And so, my beloved book club went out with a whimper.

I am really sad to have let this program go, though I have seen greater success with new monthly programs. What makes me even sadder is that just a few weeks ago, we had a phone call from one of the mothers of last year's regular attendees. She wanted to know why she didn't see the club on the calendar anymore and wondered if I would start it back up again. I wish I could but, as I've said many times, in its original format it was a costly and time-consuming program that never had stellar attendance. We have had similar bad luck with teen book clubs here, so maybe it just doesn't work in our area.

I was less sad to see my Write for Your Life program go. I had only started this program because we had a lot of patron requests for it. From the beginning, I had a feeling that we wouldn't have attendance that reflected these requests. I wasn't wrong. For the November meeting, I had one attendee - the same one who had been coming to book club in the fall. We worked on character worksheets that I had found on the NaNoWriMo site for young people. With low attendance, it didn't seem worth it to keep devoting staff time to this program, so away it went. No one has asked what happened to this one.

Have you had to drop recurring programs because of poor attendance? What recurring programs actually draw a crowd for you?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, book two)
By James Dashner
Published 2010 by Delacorte Press

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one. To read my review of The Maze Runner, go here

Thomas and the Gladers believed that escaping the Maze would be the end of their ordeal. They are wrong. What awaits for them outside may be even worse.

After listening to the first book of this series on audio, I was in no great rush to pick up the second. However, my boyfriend felt a greater sense of urgency to find some answers to the puzzles presented in the first book, so I finally picked up the second.

This time around, we went with the print copy and I'm glad about that. I felt a bit frustrated while listening to book one as it seemed I would be able to read much faster than listening. I wasn't wrong. In addition to my ambivalence about the first title, I had heard from a few friends that the series only gets worse as it goes on, so I had some trepidation about picking up the second title. I don't think those criticisms are wrong and, though I see that when I initially added this book to my Goodreads account I gave it three stars, the more I think about it, the less I liked it.

This book shares the same fast pace as the first and that definitely works in its favor as the actual plot is pretty boring. There is little to no explanation of what is going on in this book, or why, and it quickly becomes tiresome reading. Additionally, I expected more character development in this entry in the series - that seems one way to keep the middle book in a trilogy from feeling like a chore you have to slog through to get to the exciting conclusion. Once again, there is little to no character development. It's not a good sign that I find both the plot and the characters just plain boring - this is supposed to be an adventurous science fiction novel!

I am of two minds about this series. On the one hand, I'm invested enough in the story that I want to find out the answers. On the other, it's just not very good. I'll finish it out, but I'm not sure I'll be reading any more Dashner after this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Carnival of Souls

Carnival of Secrets (Untamed City, book one)
By Melissa Marr, read by James Marsters
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Mallory knows little about The City, but the inhabitants of The City know all about her. Soon, she'll find out more than she ever wanted to know, as her path crosses dangerously with Aya and Kaleb, two desperate souls searching for better lives. Originally published as Carnival of Souls.

I will fully admit: the main reason I listened to this audiobook is because it was narrated by James Marsters (Spike from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer). I adore him and think his voice is lovely, so when I found out he was doing audiobook narration, I was eager to listen. I have read the majority of the Wicked Lovely series and enjoyed it, so I also had interest in reading something new from Melissa Marr.

What I liked most about this book is that it feels gritty and dark. I liked Wicked Lovely because it explored the darker side of fae and, in general, I'm a fan of dark fantasy and horror. There is quite a bit of violence in this novel and it all feels ever darker than the faeries in her previous books. I also enjoyed the multiple points of view. It was interesting to have a variety of perspectives in this world. I did find myself a bit frustrated by the lack of development of Mallory - it was my understanding from the blurb that she was really the main focus of the book, yet in actuality, we don't spend that much time with her. So, I wish either the blurb was different, or she had been focused on more fully. That being said, I think Aya was my favorite character - she felt more fully realized than Mallory and I found her story slightly more interesting than the others.

Where I found this book lacking was the romance and the lack of worldbuilding. The romance never felt genuine to me, and came out of nowhere, in a way that I found very unappealing. Maybe if we had spent more time with Mallory it would make more sense, but I don't think it rings true to Kaleb's character. In terms of worldbuilding, Marr has the beginnings of a truly fascinating world in play here but there is a distinct lack of information. There is little to no explanation of what the daimons and witches are, or why they don't get along. I don't want a big infodump explaining all that to me, but I would like something that gives me some insight.

I thought Marsters was a great choice for the audiobook. As I said, I think his voice is lovely to listen to, and he captured the darkness of the story quite well. I'm not sure how successful he really was at distinguishing the character voices, but I still enjoyed listening.

Final note: there seems to be some controversy surrounding this title, which is allegedly the first in the series. First, there was the business about the title (I think there was a lawsuit), which I don't care so much about. But there also seems to be something complex going on between the author and publisher as there is no information on when a second book might be forthcoming. I did find an indication of an e-novella being released this fall, but nothing beyond that, leaving me wondering if this series will continue anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Release Day Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow

House of Ivy & Sorrow
By Natalie Whipple
Expected publication April 15, 2014 by HarperTeen

Jo's grandmother is actually the witch that lives in the spooky old ivy-covered house. Jo is a witch, too, and she and her grandmother are the last two Hemlocks left. Her mother was killed by a terrible Curse and she's been on the run from it since. Now, it seems like all the magical barriers they've put in place are failing - the shadows have found Jo.

I could not resist a book with such an intriguing name and graphically pleasing cover. I whipped through the e-galley of this book recently. That was one of my favorite things about this book - quick and compelling read. I really wanted to get the whole story, so I would have liked to read this without putting it down if that had been possible. The chapters are short and the pacing is quick - the action comes at a pretty steady clip so this book is a really fast read.

I also really liked Jo - she is an easy girl to relate to and therefore, it's easy to get on her side. Yes, she is a pretty powerful witch, which is not typical for a teen girl, but she also has typical teen problems. She's funny and interesting with a touch of melodrama, which really works in this situation. I also really enjoyed Jo's grandmother - if there has to be another dead mom, then reading about this grandmother is a decent balm for that. She's quite amusing, though maybe a little much on the quirkiness scale.

The mythology is a bit different than what I've seen in other witch stories, though the female-only bit is pretty common. I really liked the Curse and loved discovering how it really worked and Jo's quest for answers propels the book along. I was expecting a bit more darkness from the title than the book actually delivers but, overall, I found it a fun and quick read.

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Suitcase of Stars

Suitcase of Stars (Enchanted Emporium, book one)
By Pierdomenico Baccalario
Published 2014 by Capstone Young Readers

Finley's life is about to change. He's about to meet the Lily family, a pretty girl about his age and her father who've moved into a strange house in his town. They're about to make life much more complicated for him.

I'm lucky enough to be auto-approved for Capstone's titles on NetGalley, so when I spotted this one, I figured I'd give it a shot, part of my ongoing attempt to stay current with middle-grade lit. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to this one prior to its release date but I finished it recently, so now it's time to see what I thought.

Also unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy this book very much. The blurb makes it sound much more interesting than it actually turns out to be. You see, the blurb focuses on the Enchanted Emporium, the shop that Aiby Lily runs with her father. But, we don't find out about that shop until quite far into this book, and, as a whole, we don't find out terribly much about that shop. There is no mention of the magical artifacts that the blurb discusses. This is a huge disappointment, as that's the book I wanted to read. Instead, this book focuses a lot on Finley and how he befriends Aiby. There is a lot of annoyance from Finley as Aiby is a bit cagey with information for him and he becomes frustrated. It seemed like there was a lot of time spent on introducing Finley and making him a sympathetic character, which didn't really work for me.

Once Finley and Aiby start communicating a bit more, the action picks up a little. Unfortunately, by this point, I was already disappointed with the book and the whole thing felt disjointed and a bit all over the place. Nothing about this book was particularly memorable and, considering the plethora of other middle-grade fantasy out there, I don't see myself recommending it. It's the first in a series focusing on the Enchanted Emporium and, in all likelihood, the next books will actually talk about the Emporium in more detail. I won't be returning to find out for myself, though.

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Program: Wimpy Kid Party

This is the second year I've run a Wimpy Kid party in the fall. The series is insanely popular, so it seems logical to do programming to go along with it. This year, I held the party the day that book eight was released, which I think definitely helped build excitement. Here's what we did this year!

Magic dice - this was a free printable that I found somewhere on the Internet that I decided to use for this program. It directly related to book eight, when Greg realizes he's made some pretty bad decisions in his life so he begins using a Magic 8-ball to make all his decisions for him. I've seen homemade Magic 8-ball instructions in the past but they all seemed a bit too time consuming, so when I found a simple cut, fold, and glue magic die, I decided to go with that. The kids really liked asking it questions and rolling their dice to find out the answer.

Make your own comics - yes, we do this every time we have an event similar to this, but that's because the kids never get sick of doing it. They love making their own comics and it's very easy to set up!

Trivia - this year, I made a Wimpy Kid trivia PowerPoint and we played individually. I awarded Mom Bucks to kids for getting the right answers, as well as giving each kid Mom Bucks for attending and completing each craft. I also had my teens handing out Mom Bucks when they saw kids behaving well in the first half of the program (when we were doing the crafts). I made sure that the kids hung onto their Mom Bucks. Anyway, the trivia was pretty straightforward and I was impressed by how much the kids knew. I had one boy who I'm pretty sure knew the answer to every trivia question.

Giveaway - and this is why they needed to keep their Mom Bucks. I had them write their names on the back of all the Mom Bucks they had gotten throughout the program. We dropped them all into a bucket and pulled two lucky winners for a copy of the brand new book, just released that day. They were very excited about it. I also encouraged all the kids who didn't win to put their name on the holds list for our library copies, which my coworkers told me many of them did immediately after the program.

The kids really liked the Mom Bucks aspect of the program, with many of them taking them home as souvenirs. A successful and fun program, which I'm sure I'll do again when the next book arrives!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Boys of Blur

The Boys of Blur
By N.D. Wilson
Published 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Charlie is returning to his roots. His stepdad's former coach has died, so the family attends his funeral. Soon, Mack is offered the coach position to finish out the season. Charlie's not sure how he feels about it, living in a town with so much family history - his mom, his stepdad, and his real father. Things are about to get more confusing when Charlie and his newfound cousin stumble upon a strangeness in the sugar cane. Charlie may need to become a hero.

I snagged a galley of this at ALA because I absolutely loved Wilson's Ashtown Burials series (though I haven't read book three yet - for shame!). Now, the buzz seems to be building around this book and Betsy Bird (of Fuse #8) is calling it a Newbery contender.

Now, for another edition of Librarian of Snark confessions: I've never read Beowulf. In any form or translation or reinterpretation. So, I might be missing something big about this book. I know enough to understand that, at least in some way, Wilson is offering his own interpretation of the epic with this book. A little crazy? Maybe. But, I also think this book works exceedingly well.

Though I'm sure I'm missing the subtleties and nods to the Beowulf legend, this is a mighty fine book regardless. If you had told me that someone - anyone - wanted to write a retelling of Beowulf for the middle-grade set, even without knowing the story, I'd have given you the side-eye. I suppose what we should be thankful for is that not just anyone chose to do this - Wilson chose it. Wilson makes an epic of English poetry insanely compelling for the youth of today. His writing is vibrant and colorful and it wraps this epic tale up so well. I think kids will have a hard time putting this story down.

Wilson manages to capture an exciting fantasy novel and an introspective hero dealing with the troubles of everyday life all in the same book. I was right there with Charlie every step of his journey and I rooted for him so much. I love that Wilson manages to write a book set in the South that's not dripping in charm, yet is still clearly of the South. This is just a lovely book and I'm so glad Wilson has come to my attention.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Here and Now

The Here and Now
By Ann Brashares
Published 2014 by Delacorte Press

Prenna is a time immigrant - she, along with many others, came to our present from a terrible future, hoping that they might figure out how to fix it. But Prenna has been forced to live according to a set of rules and they no longer seem worth following. Soon, her feelings for a time native - Ethan - will lead her on a path of rule-breaking that may just be the right path to follow after all.

Okay, I'm going to get my little bias out of the way right off the bat here: time travel. Quite frankly, it usually just bothers the hell out of me because I can't wrap my mind around how it works. I don't usually watch shows involving time travel or read books that include it either. To give a brief example, The Time Traveler's Wife made me angry most of the time and A Wrinkle in Time is one of my most reviled books from childhood.

So, maybe this book and I were not made for each other from the start. However, a little perusing of other reviews as well as the trusted opinion of a friend and colleague lead me to believe that, in this situation, it's not just me. It is this book.

This book is just all kinds of wrong. Thankfully, for me, Brashares doesn't spend time explaining how time travel works, instead relying on a fabricated set of rules that Prenna and the others must follow in order to keep history intact. What Brashares focuses on is Prenna and her intuition that she must be the one to do something, to alter the course of the future so that maybe it won't be as terrible as she knows it to be.

The entire premise of this book is really built upon some coincidences. For example, Prenna just happens to land in 2010 right in front of Ethan, the boy she'll fall in love with later on, despite the fact that none of the other 100 or so travellers were seen by anyone. Awfully convenient, no? Additionally, Ethan just happens to befriend a strange homeless man who ends up being someone Prenna should know. Yes, Brashares explains that he was staying close to Prenna to make sure she remained safe. But what high school kid befriends a weird homeless guy?

What really hurts my heart about this book is the dialogue. Brashares wrote the hugely successful Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, which I read and loved as a teenager. She clearly knows how to write teens well. You would never believe that from reading this book. The dialogue is stilted, forced, and completely unrealistic - no teenager talks this way. She tries to give a flimsy explanation - the people of the future have a completely different way of talking, so Prenna has taken her conversational cues from sitcoms and teen shows - but that really doesn't explain why her speech sounds the way it does. Additionally, Ethan, a "time native," sounds just as false as Prenna does. What happened here, Ms. Brashares?

Prenna and Ethan, of course, fall in love. I think we are supposed to believe that it's not an insta-love situation because they've been friends for sometime prior to the start of the novel. But since we don't see any of this friendship, it still feels like insta-love.

There are many more plot holes and gaps in explanation, both large and small, that make me question how someone thought this book was ready for publication. I can applaud Brashares for trying her hand at something different. It's unfortunate that she wasn't successful.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Release Day Review: Lost Children of the Far Islands

Lost Children of the Far Islands
By Emily Raabe
Expected publication April 8, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Gus, Leo, and Ila live in Maine with their parents, mostly normal lives. But then, their mother becomes ill and soon, the children find themselves whisked away to a mysterious island inhabited by someone called the Morai. Who is she? And what is making their mother sick? Can the kids find a way to save her?

I think I've said before that I'm a sucker for any book set in Maine; it's where I grew up and where most of my family still lives and, even if I never live there again, there's something magical about it. So, the setting of this book and it being a middle-grade title led to my requesting the e-galley when I spotted it.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I quite frequently see reviews which complain about authors who break the "show not tell" rule when conveying information in a book. I admit that I don't often notice this while reading. However, this book felt like it was telling me everything, and not in a particularly interesting way. I had a really hard time with the characters as well. None of the kids felt believable or sympathetic, which feels like a really weird thing to say about child characters. Ila was particularly troubling in the beginning.

This book also feels rather dark and hopeless a lot of the time. I don't have a problem with dark books for kids, but something about this one just felt off. The action moves along very predictably, which is disappointing. I enjoyed that Raabe chose to explore Celtic mythology, as one doesn't often see that in children's books, but even that felt pretty half-hearted. Overall, I feel like this book had potential, but didn't really capitalize on it.

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Plus One

Plus One
By Elizabeth Fama
Expected publication April 8, 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sol lives in the night. She has no choice: the world is divided into Night and Day and, by law, Sol can only be out of her house during the night. But her beloved grandfather is dying and Sol will do anything to give him one last perfect moment. Including stealing her infant niece from the hospital. What Sol doesn't know is that there is a Day boy determined to get in her way.

I was completely enamored with Fama's Monstrous Beauty, so when I heard about her newest book, I immediately put it on my radar. I was thrilled to score an ARC at ALA Midwinter and finally crammed it into my busy reading schedule.

Much like her earlier book, this new novel is exquisitely well-written. Fama seems to have quite the knack for perfectly capturing some of the most complicated emotions I've encountered in fiction. Parts of this book made me laugh and parts of it broke my heart in ways and places I couldn't have imagined.

Part of this is due to Sol. Oh, Sol. She is just full of it and I adore her for that. You know, just the other day I was participating in a Twitter chat about likable characters and my thoughts about Sol bring me back to that chat. I'd describe her as full of piss and vinegar and I think she works beautifully that way. My heart ached for her because, after all, what she wanted was really something quite simple - to create a final perfect memory for the grandfather who has raised her. Admittedly, she doesn't take the best route there, but her heart is clearly in the right place.

I thought the premise of this book was really fascinating - the lives of citizens equally divided between those who live in the daylight and those who live under cover of the night. A government-mandated divide. Really intriguing. Unfortunately, I wanted more. While Fama does cover the origins of this divide and briefly recaps the history, I wanted more. There is so much you can do with a premise like this and I would have liked Fama to explore it a bit more. I can understand why she wouldn't - surely not all of the exploration would be relevant to the main story here and could have dragged the book down - but maybe it just means I want to read more of Fama's lovely writing.

Additionally, I felt like the ending was a bit rushed. The book builds in action and develops its characters nicely, heading toward the conclusion. But I felt the last 50 pages or so were rushed in comparison to the slow build of the rest of the book. It felt a bit jarring.

A note on the cover: I like the idea of it a lot but I think it gives a somewhat false impression of the book. It would suggest a much more heavily romance focused book than what Fama has actually written. Yes, there is romance in here, but it's not the main focus, which I think this cover might lead you to believe.

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Program: Day of the Dead

This was my second year trying a Day of the Dead program at the library and I don't think we'll be doing it again next year. We didn't have much success. Regardless, we had a lot of ideas for the program, but ended up just choosing a couple activities.

We ran the program just for an hour and had it open to ages nine and up. We chose just two activities and a snack station. Our first activity was very simple: sugar skull coloring pages. We had some intricate skull coloring sheets, as well as blank skull outlines for the kids to create their own designs. Not a very popular station, though I've re-discovered how much I enjoy coloring and how relaxing it can be.

The more popular craft of choice was decorating skull flowerpots. We bought small terracotta flowerpots from the craft store and spray painted them white. Then we provided the kids with Sharpies and let them decorate them as colorful Day of the Dead skulls. The kids definitely enjoyed this craft, and the pots came out really cool.

For snacks, we provided Mexican hot chocolate, which the kids hated, pan de muerto, and two kinds of cookies. They liked the idea of trying new snacks, but I don't think the kids actually enjoyed any of them.

Like I said, we had a pretty low turnout for this program, so I don't think we'll do it again next year. It's too bad, because there are a ton of cool crafts to go along with the holiday! Have any of you tried Day of the Dead programs?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Dangerous

By Shannon Hale
Published 2014 by Bloomsbury

Yes, her middle name really is "Danger" - Maisie Danger Brown. Despite the awesome middle name, though, Maisie is not really in the habit of living dangerously. Until some bizarre events at astronaut boot camp. Now, Maisie is on the run - and possibly responsible for saving the world.

Okay, I was pretty sure that this was the first book by Shannon Hale that I'd read - until I looked at my Goodreads and remember the atrocity that was Austenland (one of her novels for adults). I really didn't enjoy that book, and it's probably a good thing I forgot it was written by her until after I finished this one. That being said, her teen books have always seemed well-received, so, when I spotted this new one as an e-galley, I figured I'd give it a shot.

To be fair to this book, I was completely on board with it in the beginning. When the book started, Maisie was just about the most bad-ass heroine I could think of. She's a homeschooled, multicultural girl with an interest in science who happens to have been born without one of her hands. And she's clever. I wanted to read about this character. I was fully prepared to root for her throughout this book's 400 pages. I wanted to learn more about all these aspects of her as a person, explore how they impacted her and how they would impact the events of the story.

And then...something went wrong. Maisie turns into a character almost unrecognizable from those first chapters. All those interesting bits about her character? They turn out to be exactly that - interesting bits about her character. They are almost all completely ignored once the "action" begins to take place. In fact, Maisie's disability is "cured" during her stay at boot camp, which just doesn't sit right with me. I don't think any of the interesting bits about her need to be the focus (i.e. you can write a character with a disability but the story doesn't have to be about that disability), but they also shouldn't be there just to add some sense of diversity to your book. A strange and, in my opinion, awful romance develops. And the plot goes absolutely haywire. It's my understanding that this was Hale's first foray into science fiction. I don't think it really panned out for her. The plot that develops in this book just gets more and more ridiculous as the book goes on. The character development completely stops - Maisie is the only character I feel like I have a real understanding of, but, like I said, she completely changes from the beginning, and not for the better. Maybe it doesn't help that this book goes into hard science fiction territory and that is definitely not my thing. But, mostly, it just all seems crazy. I just don't have good feelings about this book and am starting to rethink the three stars I gave it on Goodreads.

One last thing: this book also toes the line between upper middle-grade and young YA, but, ultimately, I don't think I'd put it in my middle-grade collection. The romance veers into really inappropriate territory (I don't want to give anything away, but there is a great deal of manipulation involved) and the way Maisie describes her romantic feelings made me forget she was supposed to be a young teen (I think she is 14? but someone correct me if I'm wrong!).

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March Check-In

It's that time again! Time to see if I am sticking to my resolution or not! Here's what I read this month:

Early chapter: 2

Middle-grade: 6

Teen: 11

Adult: 6

Picture books: 2

Library books: 11

Books owned: 16

Once again, I am just barely ahead in reading books I own versus library books. However, I listened to a lot of audiobooks this month (six, to be exact) and when you include the two picture books I also read, that's most of my library book reading. One book I had put on hold at the end of last year finally came in, so that's another library book. And, I will fully admit that I bent my rule a little with the other two: they were both books in series that I was checking out for my boyfriend, but which I wanted to read as well. Since I was already checking them out for someone else, I took advantage and breezed through them myself. I don't think it impacted my ability to read more books I own too much. All in all, I feel like I'm doing pretty well, though my TBR pile is shrinking much more slowly than I imagined. Hopefully I keep on track and read from my personal stacks more quickly!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Release Day Review: Dear Killer

Dear Killer
By Katherine Ewell
Expected publication April 1, 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books

Kit is the perfect killer - actually, she's the Perfect Killer, London's most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper. And she got to be that way by abiding by a very specific set of rules. Now, however, her identity has been thrown in question and she starts to bend the rules a bit. Will continue her perfect streak? Or is she about to lose it all?

One of the things I inherited from my lovely mom is an appreciation of thrillers and serial killers. That sounds awfully morbid, but it's true - my mother very rarely reads a book that doesn't feature a fictional serial killer (she's not so interested in real ones). Thankfully, she must not be the only reader out there who appreciates this kind of tale, so she's always been flush with reading material. I spotted this e-galley and thought of her, figuring I'd give it a shot.

What I didn't know before I started reading was that this manuscript apparently won a novel in progress award. I don't suppose that should impact my reading of the book, particularly since I didn't know that until after finishing it, but it's caused me some confusion.

You see, I just cannot with this book. I cannot even focus on things that might be good about it (though there probably aren't that many) because I find the entire premise of this so completely implausible. Yes, I get that it's fiction - it doesn't have to really be all that believable. But seriously - a teenager with over 50 kills under her belt and the detectives have literally no leads? A mother who starts training her 9-year-old in the art of killing without detection? A secret mailbox where apparently the entire city of London just knows they can drop off a letter naming someone they want killed and it might actually happen? A young detective taking lead on the investigation of such a prolific killer? A serial killer who lives by a strict set of rules but decides to break them just once and doesn't think this will cause any problems?

I mean, seriously. If I were the gif type of person, I'd put the "Nopetupus" right here because JUST NO. I'm no detective or law enforcement officer, but even I've watched enough flipping movies to know that the crap the law does in this book is not even close to accurate (and the movies don't even get everything right, so that should give you some idea how far off-base this stuff is). I just could not buy into the idea that there could be a teenage serial killer of this level. And, for being the "perfect" killer, she's awfully sloppy, inserting herself into the investigation, befriending a victim, etc. IT JUST DOES NOT WORK, BOOK.

I wanted to like this book, because, as I said, I appreciate a good serial killer novel. But there is so much NOPE about this that I can't even tell you if there's anything good (maybe the discussion of moral nihilism, but even that could have been expanded more).

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