Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling
By Lucy Frank
Expected publication August 5, 2014 by Schwartz & Wade

Chess finds herself in the hospital after an unspeakable incident that occurred when she was finally getting somewhere with the boy she likes. Now, she's been told she's sick, but with what, she's not exactly sure. What she is sure of is that she's sharing a room with incredibly rude Shannon, who may or may not be sick with the same thing Chess has. Will the girls find common ground?

I downloaded the e-galley of this on a complete whim. I've never read Frank before and I can usually take or leave issue books. Mostly, I was compelled by the fact that it's written in verse, which I love. I'm not so sure I loved it in this case.

Usually, I don't feel like a book has to justify its reasons for being in written in verse. With this book, however, it didn't make a lot of sense to me. There is no indication that either girl cares a fig about poetry and the prose here really isn't anything special. I suppose there isn't necessarily a justification for why Ellen Hopkins' novels are written in verse either, but it has never mattered to me before. With this book, it just didn't seem to fit.

Additionally, I felt a bit like the author tried too hard to create an air of mystery about the incident that sent Chess into the hospital and her illness itself. For a long time, readers don't know what exactly happened that prompted Chess's hospital stay, but Frank makes it sound very dramatic. Similarly, the mystery of Chess's illness is only hinted at for the first part of the book. In my opinion, it seemed like Chess might have an eating disorder, so when this turned out not to be the case, it felt like her illness had maybe been a bit overdramatized at first. I'm not trying to say that the illness that Chess does have isn't serious, though I don't know much about it, but the whole thing felt a bit overdramatic. Additionally, I had a hard time sympathizing with either of the main characters, so despite this novel's short length, I had to push myself to keep reading.  Not a book for me, I suppose.

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Shipwreck Island

Shipwreck Island
By S.A. Bodeen
Expected publication July 29, 2014 by Feiwel & Friends

Sarah does not approve of her father's new marriage. The two of them have gotten along just fine for years. Why does he have to ruin it with a new wife? Especially one that brings two sons! Unfortunately, Sarah really doesn't get much say in the matter and before she knows it, the whole new family is off on an exotic boat trip together. But when rough weather hits, they must find a way to get along if they want to survive.

I think this is Bodeen's middle-grade debut; she has written a few successful YA novels that I've been meaning to check out. When this book came across my desk at work, I figured I'd give it a read before adding it to our giveaway books.

It's a really quick read - less than 200 pages - which is good for keeping kids interested. It's got short chapters and the adventure/survival angle is a real hook for kids who claim they don't like reading. However, I didn't really enjoy this. Sarah is an exceedingly annoying character (unfortunate - she is giving Sarahs a bad name!) and many pieces of the story just didn't work for me. That her father would book this cruise without checking reviews or getting more information just seemed like a plot convenience.

Perhaps my greatest frustration with this book is that nowhere in or on the book does it say it's book one of a series. In fact, Goodreads (where I keep track of all my books) doesn't even say it's a series, and Goodreads usually knows these things (often even before I do). It became clear to me as I read that I wasn't going to get all the answers in the limited number of pages I had left. How hard would it have been to just mention it somewhere on the back cover? So, I have no idea where Sarah and her family have shipwrecked and what it will mean for them. I'm so frustrated with this ending (which isn't even a cliffhanger; it just ends) that I don't think I'll be picking up the next book. Obviously, I can see the appeal this book will have with young readers, but it just irritated me.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Program: Program Recap Bonanza - Again!

It's time again for a roundup of program recaps from this spring!

Valentine's Tea Party: so, last year for Valentine's Day, we hosted a Fancy Nancy tea party and it was insane - we had way more people than we anticipated and it got a little hectic. This year, we decided to try to tone it down a bit by just making it a general Valentine's Day thing and also holding it on a weekday instead of a Saturday. Nice try - it was only slightly less crazy than last year. This year, we mostly focused on making different kinds of valentines to give away. We made butterflies with lollipops for bodies, general cards with a variety of hearts and shapes and doilies, and hugs. The hugs were my favorite but also the most complicated - it required tracing each child's hand and measuring their arm span with string. Then, you attached the string to the handprints and voila! Long-distance hug (I actually received this from my niece and nephew and knew we had to use it for a craft project at work). The parents really loved the idea of this, but, as I said, it required the most work, so it got pretty hectic. We set up our red carpet for tea (pink lemonade) and cookies, as a way to take a break from the crafting chaos. Our final activity was a little photo op that I had seen on Pinterest (gotta love it!). I used a big piece of white paper and wrote "I love you because..." across the top in shades of pink and purple. Then we set a dry erase board, markers, and a bandanna (for erasing) next to it and encouraged kids to write why they loved their dad or mom on it. Parents were then invited to take pictures (nearly everyone had a smartphone) to turn into nearly instant valentines. They really liked this and it was hilarious to see the reasons kids wrote down (our favorite, of course, was "you read us books")!

Nursery Rhyme Olympics: I hinted at this one in my last program recap bonanza. This is a program that I'd seen quite some time ago on a listserv and thought sounded too awesome to pass up. So, with the Winter Olympics this year, the timing was perfect. The stations I used were Three Little Kittens (matching colored pairs of paper mittens), Jack Be Nimble (jumping over three "candlesticks" of varying heights), Humpty Dumpty (a puzzle of the egg-man that had to be put together), Ring Around the Rosy (a ring toss decorated to look like rose bushes), Jack and Jill (walking up a plank to fetch a cup of "water" - blue pompoms), and Mother Goose Waddle (holding a small ball between their knees and walking through a course). Each station had a sign with the nursery rhyme written on it and all participants got a scorecard when they arrived listing the various "events." Once they completed each, they received a stamp. When they finished them all, I gave out gold medals (made from foam and ribbon). The parents really loved this program and I think the kids had a lot of fun, too. They struggled with the Mother Goose Waddle - the ball we had was too big for their tiny knees, so I tried to just encourage them to walk like a duck, with varying degrees of success. Overall, this was a relatively easy and inexpensive program that came off impressive and a lot of fun.

Adventure Club: this is a program we've been running for two school years now, alternating it with American Girl Club. We've struggled with this one - we have a much harder time choosing a theme for each program and attendance is very hit or miss with this one. This spring, we had two Adventure Club programs, Captain Underpants and Big Nate. Considering the popularity of both of these book series, we expected successful programs. We were disappointed with both. For Captain Underpants, we had a toilet toss (tossing Tootsie Rolls into a fake toilet), underpants fling (exactly what it sounds like - we competed for distance), underpants decorating (we made giant underpants for the kids to decorate), draw Captain Underpants, and discover your underpants name. Attendance was extremely low for this program, a huge disappointment to us. A couple months later, we hosted a Big Nate version. For that program, we had creating your own comics, making fortune cookies (out of paper), an obstacle course (where they had to avoid the cats and collect the trophy), and a cheese doodle chopstick race (how many could they pick up with chopsticks in one minute). Once again, for a book series so popular, our attendance was very low. Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be continuing this program next school year.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: The Nazi Hunters

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi
By Neal Bascomb
Published 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books

It sounds unbelievable - a notorious Nazi simply disappeared one day, and everyone believed he was in hiding somewhere. A determined group of men, including Israeli spies and survivors of World War II, would stop at nothing to track him down and bring him to justice. But it happened in real life and this thrilling book is going to tell you how it all went down.

I waited, very impatiently I'll admit, for this book to arrive at our library just prior to the Youth Media Awards announcement. I really wanted to read all the Morris and Nonfiction Award shortlist titles prior to the announcement. I was thrilled when it finally showed up and even more excited once I started reading it.

This book is perfect for non-fiction readers, readers fascinated with history (particularly during wartime), and those who think they don't like reading chapter books. I'm impressed with Bascomb's ability to create a pitch-perfect level of tension surrounding events that have already occurred. Though I don't think many kids will have heard this story before, it still can be difficult to create suspense around a plot when the outcome is already known. Bascomb does a terrific job of this. This book reads like a thriller novel and I can definitely see myself handing this to kids who love non-fiction but are being encouraged to seek out longer reads (like most children's departments, our non-fiction section is chockful of extremely thin volumes). This book does a great job including archival photographs and has good back matter. My only problem was keeping the many people involved in Eichmann's capture straight in my head - there were quite a few of them. In terms of audience, I'd probably recommend this for 5th grade and up. Very well done, and deserving of its award win.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles
By Gail Carson Levine
Published 2011 by HarperTeen

Elodie longs to be a mansioner (an actress) but it seems like this dream will be near impossible to realize. She is saved by the dragon Meenore, who then sends her on a dangerous mission in the ogre's castle. Soon, Elodie finds herself in the thick of a complicated and mysterious plot.

This is, I think, only the second Levine novel I've read, after Fairest. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with that title, leading me to pick up this one in the fall. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one nearly as much as the other title I'd read. I had a hard time connecting with Elodie. She was likable enough, but a bit dull. I mean, she wants to be an actress but other than that, I don't feel like I know terribly much about her. Additionally, a lot of the plot felt overly complicated and convoluted. There are a lot of things going on here but I didn't feel like any of them were handled particularly successfully. It felt like Levine had a lot of stories she wanted to tell in this world and crammed them all into this book, though, allegedly, this is the first book in a series (book two may be coming out this year, I hear). It just felt like too much for me. Finally, the writing seemed a bit simplistic. I don't need every book I read to be drenched in lovely prose, but this just felt pedestrian.

I really wanted to like this book because it looked like a fun story, but I was mostly disappointed. That being said, I think it will be a fun story for some fantasy readers, just not me.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Beast Within

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince
By Serena Valentino
Expected publication July 22, 2014 by Disney Press

You may think you know the story, but how did a handsome prince become the beast he is today? And is there any hope that he can change his fate?

So, a few years ago, I remember seeing Valentino's other Disney retelling, Fairest of Them All. Being a huge fan of retellings, it definitely caught my eye. I never got around to that one, but when I saw this newest title as a galley at ALA Midwinter, I was happy to take one home.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be going back to check out Fairest of Them All. While I liked some of the ideas in this book (most notably, that Gaston and the Beast were best friends in childhood), I had many more problems. The writing is very simplistic and boring. The book relies almost exclusively on telling and not showing what is happening. In addition, I felt like Valentino was writing down to the audience, something I find quite insulting. This is supposed to be a book for teens, but it seemed like Valentino didn't believe teens could understand anything more complex than a simple sentence. There is a lack of characterization - I never cared enough about the Beast to actually care about the curse. I thought this book was supposed to give us the Beast's perspective, make him a more sympathetic character, but it just didn't work out that way. The development of Beauty and the Beast's relationship is completely out of left field and really seems unbelievable here.

I realize that this is being published by Disney, but I still wasn't expecting it to rely solely on the Disney version of the classic fairy tale. That was definitely another let-down for me. Like I said, I'm a big fan of retellings, but this one just didn't work for me.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Here Comes the Easter Cat
By Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Published 2014 by Dial Books for Young Readers
This book is awesome. I mean, I know that's kind of a cop-out review, but it's also true. I loved this book and I think kids are going to love it, too. It's so much fun and also adorable and it's about a cat, so really, what's not to love? I love that the illustrations in this book are so expressive that you almost don't need the words to understand the story. I love how hard Cat tries to be fun and lovable - but he is a cat, after all. I love that there is going to be another one! Just love this book!

By Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Published 2014 by Schwartz & Wade
Okay, sloths are a pretty big deal right now, so this book only makes sense. I mean, who doesn't want a sloth for a pet? They are adorable and they live in a tree and they make the cutest noises ever. This book is really cute, and is great to teach kids that sometimes a pet isn't exactly the way you want it to be. But sometimes a pet can also be a surprise. Obviously, we can't encourage children to want sloths for pets, but it may make them interested in learning about the wide variety of animals out there. Plus, I mean, SLOTHS. Just so stinking cute.

Lost for Words
By Natalie Russell
Published 2014 by Peachtree Publishers
This is a cute story that shows we all have different strengths. Tapir is excited about his brand new notebook and can't wait to fill it with words - but the words are lost! So, he asks his friends for help and soon discovers that maybe he should be filling his notebook with things other than words. A sweet story and I appreciate that Tapir is the main character (quick - name another book about a tapir!). This would be a good one for early elementary readers learning about different kinds of writing and artistic expression.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Rebel Fire

Rebel Fire (Young Sherlock Holmes, book two)
By Andrew Lane
Published 2012 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Read my review of book one here.
Young Sherlock Holmes knows that his American tutor's past is a mystery to him, but even he is surprised to find Amyus Crowe mixed up in a plot that also involves John Wilkes Booth. Being who he is, Sherlock sets out to find some answers.
I downloaded the audio version of book one on a whim, but I liked it well enough to pick up book two a couple of months later. I switched formats this time, picking up a physical copy of book two instead of listening. I don't think it really impacted how I felt about the book.
So far, I think this series is a great one to recommend to fans of adventure stories. The action is pretty much non-stop once it gets started, as Sherlock seems to find himself in sticky situations quite frequently. As I admitted in my review of the first, my exposure to Sherlock Holmes is extremely limited, so I'm still not sure how the character Lane has developed fits with the character that Holmes created. From what I know of Sherlock, so far his teenaged version doesn't seem quite as peculiar as the grown-up version. He seems to socialize fine with others and doesn't seem to have that savant level of case-solving that likely develops over time. I enjoy Amyus Crowe as a character, as well as his daughter, though Lane has started to develop a bit of a romantic entanglement for Virginia and Sherlock that I'm not sure I believe. I think my favorite character is Matty - he's just fun so far.
I found the plot of this one a bit more intriguing than the first - the idea of a conspiracy that spirited John Wilkes Booth away to save him for another purpose is pretty fascinating. I'm not sure it historically makes a lot of sense, but it's interesting.

I'll be interested to see how this series continues and I'll be recommending it to readers looking for some action and adventure or mystery.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: The Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles, book one)
By Mary E. Pearson
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.

Princess Lia does not exactly live a life of freedom - as a princess and a First Daughter, certain expectations are placed upon her. But Lia is not content to live that kind of life, so she sets out to forge her own destiny, escaping her kingdom and breaking a marriage contract. Little does she know that an assassin has been sent after her and will stop at nothing to fulfill his contract.

I was thrilled to spot this galley available for download. I'm a big fan of Pearson's Jenna Fox series, so I was excited to see a new title from her. I was also incredibly intrigued because it's a marked change of pace - from science fiction to high fantasy. How would it work out?

It's a pretty mixed bag for me. I don't necessarily have a lot of criticisms per se, but I'm also less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it. One of the things I enjoyed about the Jenna Fox series was how unique it was, and I think that was missing for me here. Boil this book down to its main elements and it's a basic "girl wants to live her own life" fantasy. That doesn't make it terrible - tropes are tropes for a reason - but I expected more from Pearson.

However, this book does have its unusual qualities. The worldbuilding that Pearson has done is interesting if incomplete - I want to know more about it, which is good, but that's also because not a lot of it really gets explained in this volume, which is maybe not so good. I understand what Pearson is trying to do with the quotes throughout, but so much context is lacking that they don't really make any sense right now. I feel like I'll have to go back and read them all again once the series is complete and I know the whole story of this land.

Character-wise, I liked Lia but, once again, I expected a bit more uniqueness of her. I liked that Pearson chose to use multiple narrators but I was disappointed when the assassin turned out to be exactly who I thought it was. I know she thought she was being tricky here, but it was pretty darn obvious. It was also a bit eye-rolling to pit the two main male characters so dramatically against each other - I would have liked more subtlety. The other female characters, though, were quite enjoyable.

Plot-wise, the transition from the first part of the novel to the second was not as smooth as I would have liked. Things were going so continuously in one direction that the change in action was a bit jarring for me. And honestly, a bit tedious - there was a lot of riding around in that second part of the book. But, the journey bit is important because it also leads to Lia finding out some stuff she wouldn't have otherwise. The ending is, of course, a cliffhanger. I'll be back for book two because I want to know more about this world - I need answers!

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: The Shadow Hero

The Shadow Hero
By Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew
Expected publication July 15, 2014 by First Second

Discover the origin story of The Green Turtle, the first Asian-American superhero!

Ugh, that's not even a summary, I know, but really, that's the basic plot of this book and you don't need anymore information to get started. I was thrilled to see a review copy available on NetGalley - I loved Yang's 2013 titles Boxers & Saints.

Unfortunately, I didn't love this one as much. I had high expectations for this one, obviously, considering how brilliant I thought Boxers was. Additionally, the call for more diverse books has been particularly strong this year, so it's great to see this title with an Asian-American protagonist (actually, almost all the characters are Asian-American). I really liked the idea behind this book - Yang discover The Green Turtle, a comic book hero from the Golden Age of comics, and decided to invent an origin story for him. I actually found the note at the end and the few pages of the original comic the most interesting. No one knows for sure if The Green Turtle was supposed to be an Asian American hero or not - his creator was Chinese, but the Turtle himself always has his face obscured in the comics. It's a fascinating story and it's easy to see why Yang was drawn to it. I like that he wanted to take it on and create an origin story for this character. I can't pinpoint exactly why I didn't love this - I think partly everything felt a bit rushed. Normally, I enjoy the quick pace of graphic novels, but in this case, I wanted more story and depth than I got. I feel like there were more questions that could have been answered, more issues to explore. Part of it is also personal preference - I generally don't go for superhero comics. So, for a different reader than myself, I can definitely see this book working much better. As it is, it's still a great read - Yang's writing is sharp and concise and Liew's illustrations perfectly echo the Golden Age comics.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Program: A Bonanza of Recaps!

As I may have mentioned a time or twenty, I am incredibly far behind on my reviews. That includes my program write-ups. So, I'm going to try to knock out a handful of them all at once!

My Little Pony Party: holy cats my friends, was this program insanely popular! We actually had to postpone it because their was bad weather on our originally scheduled date, but that didn't stop the crowds from coming. We actually did this program as a two-pronged event: in the Children's Program Room, my boss had activities and games for younger MLP fans, while in the Upstairs Program Room, my coworker and myself had activities for older fans (up to 18). For young fans, we had Pin the Cutie Mark on Rainbow Dash, coloring sheets, color a pony mask, very simple Shrinky Dinks, and a scavenger hunt. Our activities with tweens and teens included more advanced Shrinky Dinks, creating your own pony (highly coveted - made from Dollar Store ponies we painted white ahead of time), and some very intense trivia. Leading up to the program, I took it upon myself to watch all the episodes of MLP so I could meet our patrons where they were at - it has definitely helped me, both in the program and beyond, to be versed in the pony-verse. Am I a Pegasister now?

Meet the Artist: over the past few months, this program has continued to see decent turnout with one exception. We have covered Matisse (construction paper collages), Mondrian (geometric primary color paintings), Kandinsky (drawing to music - I played four different styles of music for about 10 minutes each and encouraged them to draw how the music made them feel: classical, bluegrass, rock, and jazz), Banksy (creating our own stencils), and Picasso (Cubist faces). I am surprised and pleased that this program has continued to do well. Banksy was my one exception for attendance, but I'm going to blame it on the weather - it was the first nice day we had seen in a long time!

Chocolate Olympics: I had to take advantage of the Winter Olympics this year so I hosted this program (and another one, which I'll talk about shortly). Tweens competed in Whopper races (pushing a Whopper with their nose through a course), Oreo stacking (much harder than it sounds!), the Hershey Kiss race (unwrapping a Kiss while wearing oven mitts), M&M sorting, and Chocolate Pictionary (using a chocolate bar as our drawing tool). The Pictionary was, by far, their favorite event and I think my teen volunteers had just as much fun as the patrons!

Look for another set of program write-ups soon!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Love Is You & Me
By Monica Sheehan
Published 2013 by Little Simon
Yes, I am still woefully behind on my book reviews. This was another in our batch of new Valentine's Day books and it is so adorable. I love the simple rhymes that highlight the many ways that love enriches one's life. The illustrations are charming and very kid-friendly. Perhaps the best thing is that this book can be describing love of any kind - between parents and children, siblings, friends, or partners. Very sweet - I will definitely want a copy for my own shelves.
By Catherine Rayner
Published 2013 by Tiger Tales
This has got one of the best covers in recent history - doesn't it just look like the giraffe wants to be your friend? Well, Abigail loves to count. Unfortunately, everything she tries to count can't stay still. Will she ever get to count as high as she wants? This is a good book about learning how to count, reflecting some of the real frustrations and difficulties that kids may encounter as they learn. The illustrations really shine, though - they are expressive and beautiful. Definitely recommended.

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
By Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Kate Hindley
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
Very funny instruction book on how exactly to bathe that woolly mammoth you've managed to keep as a pet. Kids will definitely appreciate the humor and parents will relate to the bathtime foibles presented here. The illustrations are lively and entertaining. It reminded me a bit of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie... which I think will only help it appeal to children. I can definitely see using this in a storytime. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist, book one)
By Brandon Sanderson
Published 2013 by Tor Teen

Joel longs to be a Rithmatist, but, according to the ceremony, it's not meant to be. When Joel spots Melody, who seems to be wasting her chance to be a Rithmatist, he can't help but be annoyed with her. Soon, though, the two will have bigger things to worry about - Wild Chalklings are loose at their school and students are disappearing. Joel and Melody will have to work together if they want to stop terrible things from happening.

As I mentioned, I was a second round judge for the Cybils this year. This book was one of our finalists. Prior to its being named, I'd heard of it and thought the idea of a magic system routed in chalk drawings sounded really unique. I was thrilled when it became a finalist, giving me a reason to move it up in my reading queue.

In my reviews of other finalists (The Water Castle and Jinx), I've mentioned disappointment. I expected to like both those titles much more than I did. This book, though, I really enjoyed. I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with buzz - as in, this book received little to none. This means that I wasn't sure what to expect, other than I knew that Sanderson is kind of a big name in the world of adult speculative fiction. Despite my enjoyment of speculative fiction (it makes up the majority of what I read), I've never really been interested in Sanderson's work before. So I suppose you could say my expectations for this were relatively low.

In a way, I'm glad for that, because it means I got to enjoy this book without worrying about it disappointing me. In fact, on a personal level, I think this book was my second favorite of our finalists (I still can't stop thinking about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp). I think what I loved most about this book was the system of magic. It's incredibly inventive and definitely unique. As I mentioned, I read a lot of speculative fiction and it's not terribly often that I'm introduced to something new and unusual. Most of the time, I'm okay with that - after all, some of my favorite books rely heavily on standard speculative fiction tropes. On the other hand, it's nice to get something completely different every once in a while. It reminds you that there is no limit to what creative minds can imagine and create and thrills me that I'm lucky enough to visit the things they've imagined.

I liked the characters as well. Melody was particularly amusing but Joel was also very charming. I liked that they began the book not as friends, and I like that their relationship has (so far) not developed beyond friendship. It's always nice to see characters of different genders engaging non-romantically. I also think it's really interesting that Sanderson chose to introduce this complicated magical world through an essentially non-magical character. It gives Joel perhaps the best perspective of anyone in the book and makes him even more easy to relate to than if he had been magical too.

I did make a small note during my reading (which I have, of course, lost) of a description that I found slightly problematic. Sanderson is describing the physical appearance of a character and uses the phrase "Asian eyes" (I believe; once again, I've since misplaced my notes). This just felt a bit lazy and generalizing to me and, with all the recent discussion of diverse books for children, seemed worth mentioning.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this magic world and am eager to return to it when Sanderson publishes the next volume.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Imprisoned

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II
By Martin W. Sandler
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens

It is a part of our history that, to this day, we often don't talk about: the internment of Japanese-American citizens in camps during World War II. This book will help bring that awful but important piece of history to light.

One of the last library books I snuck in this year before kicking my reading resolution into gear, I picked this one up because it was a finalist for the YALSA Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. I read a book by Sandler a couple years ago (The Impossible Rescue) and thought it was a well-researched and engaging piece of non-fiction, so I was interested to read more from him.

Like his previous title, Sandler clearly did his research for this book. What really makes this book stand out is how personal it is. Much of the narrative is drawn from oral histories and interviews with survivors of the camps. The archival photographs really help tell the story as well. It's a powerful story, one that I think is important to bring to the attention of young people. It is true what they say about the past: if you don't learn from it, you're doomed to repeat it. We need to remember the unpleasant parts of our history so that we don't ever repeat them. Sandler does an excellent job recounting the lives of survivors before, during, and after the camps. By highlighting their lives before, readers easily get a sense of how ridiculous it was to put these people in camps. It shows how easy it is for a culture of fear and suspicion to develop and grow until it becomes something unbelievable and unrecognizable. Showing their lives after the camps is equally important. For one, many of the survivors go on to lead extraordinary lives, showing that facing adversity can make you a stronger person. But also it shows that not everyone recovers from the injustices they had to face. This is a book that will hopefully get young readers thinking about social justice and our government and make them conscious of what happens in the world around them. It does feel like a bit of a harder sell than the previous Sandler title I read, though there are certainly many young readers who'll pick up anything related to war. I'll be recommending this one whenever I can.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants
By Neil Gaiman, read by the author
Published 2009 by HarperCollins

Odd pretty much lives up to his name. He hasn't had the best luck but he's tried to remain optimistic. Now, he finds himself on an incredible journey to save Asgard from the Frost Giants. Can he do it?

This review will probably be terribly short; you've been warned.

I consider myself a fan of Neil Gaiman but, frequently I find myself wondering if I'm more of a fan of the man than of the author. My relationship with Gaiman's works have been of two varieties: absolutely adore and want to treasure forever (Neverwhere, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Fortunately, the Milk) or wanted to like more than I actually did (Stardust, Coraline - though I think I might need to revisit that one).

So where does Odd fall for me? Surprisingly, more in the latter camp. I wonder if it has to do with listening to this book rather than reading. Don't get me wrong - Gaiman is a lovely narrator. He voices the characters well and, reading his own book, does an excellent job with the pacing and emotion behind the words.

But. This is a very short book - around 100 pages - which means a very short listen, which is probably not the best idea for me. You see, I listen to audiobooks while I am doing other things - commuting to work, running, and, quite often, working at my desk. With the first two, usually it is the act of listening to an audiobook that keeps me motivated to do either of those things. But with the last, I can get absorbed in my work (as I should be) and find my attention dragged away from the audio. I believe that's the case with this book.

So, my own bad habits are probably what makes this book not quite a favorite for me. I'd like to revisit it in print in the future because I imagine I'd actually quite enjoy this tale. It has all the makings of a delightful read; it's my own fault for not paying enough attention.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Rock-a-bye Room
By Susan Meyers, illustrated by Amy Bates
Published 2013 by Harry N. Abrams
Is it weird that my first reaction to this book is "bedtime story for hipster parents"? It's actually a good bedtime story for anyone, with lulling rhymes and gentle illustrations. But something about it shouts "hipster" at me for some reason. The gentle rhythm would work well if you wanted to sing this story instead of just reading. The illustrations are definitely suited for a bedtime read, calm colors and simple lines. Another for my arsenal of bedtime books.
Magic Colors
By Patrick George
Published 2013 by Boxer Books
Oh boy, are parents going to love this one! This book is delightful - with transparent pages, it shows what happens when you mix different colors together, creating new pictures with every flip of the page. The text is very simple, making this a perfect (and, I'm sure, endlessly fascinating) book to share with even the youngest readers. I definitely recommend this one! 
Magic Opposites
By Patrick George
Published 2013 by Boxer Books
Another awesome concept book from George - this time teaching opposites with magic pages. These books are just brilliantly done, and I particularly like this one for the more interesting opposites he chooses to introduce. Kids will love discovering the magic in these pages.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Charm & Strange

Charm & Strange
By Stephanie Kuehn
Published 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin

There is a battle raging within Andrew Winston Winters - between Win, the lonely teen at a Vermont boarding school, and Drew, the violent boy with a monstrous secret. But the battle has raged for so long and now it's drawing to a close. Which boy will be the victor?

This book caught my eye last year as it was thrown around as a potential 2014 Youth Media Award winner. I kept meaning to get around to it last year and never quite made it. At the end of last year, it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, given to an outstanding debut novel. So, I moved it up my reading pile and snagged it just before my Year of No Library Books began.

As is typical of me and my inability to remain current with reviews, I didn't get around to reviewing it before it actually won the Morris Award. Maybe it's a good thing, though; I find myself thinking of the book more positively now than when I first finished reading it.

At the time I completed it, I'd read only one other Morris Award finalist, Sex & Violence (last year was an ampersand year for YA, in case you couldn't tell). While I wasn't completely over the moon with that book, I was impressed by it and wasn't surprised to see it named as a finalist. This left me very intrigued by the titles it was up against. This book was the first of the others I got my hands on.

When I first finished reading, I was a bit miffed at the way Kuehn had chosen to tell one of the major aspects of the story. I'm not sure how much I can really say without getting into spoilers, but Win believes that he is cursed in a particular way. He believes that this is the cause of his anguish and that it runs in his family and that he is powerless to stop it. What Win believes felt too false for me, particularly within the context of the novel. However, the further away I get from this book, the less this bothers me. The more I think about the book, the more impressed I am with the story Kuehn told and the way she executed it. It's a big punch in the gut when everything is finally revealed and it makes the reader rethink everything they've read. This is a book that would probably benefit from back to back readings - I imagine one would discover things they missed after they know the book's ending.

The more I think about this book, the happier I am that it won the Morris Award. I haven't reviewed the other titles yet, but I think this was definitely an excellent choice as the winner.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

June Check-In

It's time again to check my stats. Here's what I read this month:

Middle-grade: 9

Teen: 8

Adult: 3

Picture books: 19

Library books: 23

Books owned: 16

We got a surprising number of new picture books that I perused through this month and that accounts for the majority of my library book reads. I've been listening to A Dance With Dragons, so I imagine that will keep my library book numbers low this month and next as it is epically long. I did pretty well on books I owned this month, but I'm still not moving through them as quickly as I'd like (or maybe there are just far more of them than I imagined). I'm impressed that I still managed to read over 20 books this month, as summer is in full swing at our library. I'm going to be even busier next month, so I expect lower numbers then, but we'll see.