August 15, 2012

I'm moving!

Blogger, we had a great time together. We really did. But I think it's time we saw other blogs and bloggers. It's not you, it's me. I wish you all the best.

And for those of you who have kept us company these past five years, I invite you to meet my shiny new blog over at WordPress. I'll race you over. ;)

April 20, 2012

Book review: Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

For Janelle Tenner's life to change, first she had to die. She's certain that's what happened to her after being hit by a speeding truck that appeared literally out of nowhere. And she's absolutely sure that Ben, a boy who's been around for most of her life but to whom she's never spoken, has everything to do with why she's still kicking it with the living. But something else is going on too. What's behind the mysterious deaths her FBI father is investigating, where the victims appear to suffer from radiation burns so severe that their skin is literally melting off their bodies? After snooping in her father's files, Janelle also discovers evidence of a mysterious countdown--but a countdown to what? And why is it starting to seem like Ben has something to do with all of it?

In a solid debut, author Norris presents a tense, compelling tale that is part X Files, part Roswell, part Heroes (tagline "Stop the countdown, save the world" sounds VERY familiar) and part every other teen novel where romance is mixed with something way not normal. The countdown heading of every very short chapter moves the story along at a breakneck pace but not at the cost of character depth or solid dialogue. Norris also doesn't flinch from sacrifice. There may have been a miracle involved in saving Janelle, but it doesn't mean she's spared from devastating loss. The ending while satisfying to the story at hand is also frustrating enough that fans of the book will clamor for a sequel.

The major complaint I had with the advanced reader's edition that will hopefully be resolved with the published version is the very liberal use of the f-word. While I don't have a problem with its use in an organic nature (teens in a given situation who would actually talk that way in real life), with Unraveling, it seemed more like an agenda on the part of the author. And it seriously diminishes the resonance of the one instance of the story where the f-word would hold power and poignancy. Again, I'm hoping further edits have resolved that problem. Other than that, Unraveling's 400+ pages riveted this reader until the very last one, and I look forward to what Norris writes next.

Check out the book trailer!

April 5, 2012

Book review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

It isn’t easy being a woman in Born Wicked’s oppressive alternate version of 1890’s New England. The religious Brotherhood rules society with an iron fist. Women are expected to dress a certain way, behave according to a strict code, read only certain books. Even their futures are limited: marriage or the Sisterhood are essentially the only two options. Being a woman is a definite hardship. But it’s even worse if you’re a witch. The Cahill sisters have much to fear because this is exactly what they are.

Cate Cahill, the eldest of three sisters and still grieving over the death of her mother, struggles desperately to hide her and her sisters’ secret from those who would destroy what’s left of her family. Tess and Maura embrace the magic they possess and wish to hone their power, but Cate considers it a burden she would rather be rid of. There’s also the matter of her romantic future. A childhood friend has offered a proposal of marriage, which would shelter her from the disapproving eyes of the Brotherhood but also take her to New London and away from making sure her sisters stay out of danger. And what of her growing attraction to Finn, the scholarly gardener whose family owns a bookstore that dances on the edge of forbidden? A relationship with him would be completely inappropriate, but she finds him harder and harder to resist.

Jessica Spotswood’s debut novel, the first in the Cahill Witch Chronicles series, is a fine addition to the teen historical fantasy shelves. The female characters are well-drawn and alive on the page. The constant threat of the Brotherhood discovering the family secret maintains a tension-filled feeling of dread throughout the book. The mysterious prophecy that presages a trio of sisters (maybe the Cahills!) affecting the future of this world is tantalizingly introduced and sure to be developed in future volumes of the series. Cate’s romantic future is also uncertain with some unexpected twists at the cliffhanger ending. It’s an enjoyable debut, and teen fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Check out the book trailer!

March 5, 2012

Book review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hazel has no illusions about what's going to happen to her. She's going to die. And soon. Hanging on to borrowed time (she was supposed to die two years ago, but an experimental drug has temporarily extended her life), Hazel's simply marking time--taking college classes, going to cancer kids group sessions, watching her parents hover and trying to impact as few people as possible with her demise. The staring eyes of Augustus Waters, a new boy in her cancer support group, are a shock to her oxygen tank-hauling, fluid-filled lungs limbo. He's in remission; he's gorgeous; and, for some reason Hazel can't fathom, he's completely into her. So begins a last ditch grasp at life, a chance to cram as much living and loving into the time she has left.

John Green has never been one to condescend to the young audience for whom he writes, and The Fault in Our Stars continues this tradition. Hazel and Augustus are intelligent, thoughtful, layered characters who play well off one another. "Gus" isn't an Edward Cullen who places dying Hazel on a pedestal and spend the entire book merely adoring her. He's a three-dimensional, flawed human being who is desperate to leave a legacy that will endure. But he does, however, throw most of his energy into brightening Hazel's life, even going so far as to sacrifice his Make-a-Wish to satisfy Hazel's quest for answers from her favorite book's author. It works, though, in the context of this "seize the day" attitude they've both chosen in facing whatever few days are left to them. And after three stories told by men, it's a refreshing change of pace for Green to stretch his literary legs into a female protagonist voice this time out.

February 6, 2012

Book review: Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves

Coming in April to WPPL!

Running the streets of London chasing a pickpocketer is never the proper thing for a young woman living in Victorian London to do. That is precisely, however, what seventeen-year-old Abbie Sharp does. The thief, after all, took something that once belonged to Abbie's recently deceased mother. The chase also sets into motion Abbie's descent into Whitechapel, a seedier district of London that is forever linked to the grisly deeds of one Jack the Ripper. At the behest of her guardian grandmother, Abbie volunteers at Whitechapel Hospital, whose patients are destitute and downtrodden women and children. Some of these women are also prostitutes, a target of choice for the Ripper. Who is the mysterious Ripper? His grisly but precise butcherings of women lead the police to think that the murderer is also a medical professional. Is Jack the Ripper one of the doctors with whom Abbie works side by side at the hospital? Is her own life in danger? And how is it possible that Abbie all of a sudden has terrifying visions of the slayings before they've even occurred?

Amy Carol Reeves's debut novel is engaging and, at times, terrifying. There were certain points during Abbie's encounter with the Ripper either in visions or even in the flesh (!) where the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Reeves's vision of who Jack the Ripper really was and why he goes on such a sudden and brutal rampage is quite creative and rather fascinating. It also sparked an interest in clarifying the true facts of the events. Her PhD in nineteenth century British literature serves her well in points of setting but falls short in characterization and dialogue. Abbie's words, and her gratuitous use of "alright," pull the reader out of nineteenth century London and into contemporary nuances of language. The rather anemic love triangle between Abbie, William and Simon is also too underdeveloped for this reader to really care whether or not she ends up with either of them. Setting aside dialogue issues and the lackluster romance, Ripper really is an interesting tale with enough of an open-ended conclusion to beg a sequel.

One final word of warning regarding the publisher-generated synopsis. I felt it gave away far too much. Had I read their full description before reading the story, I would have felt disappointed by the rather surprising plot twists that were in store for me. Tread more lightly next time, Flux!

February 1, 2012

Can John Green do no wrong?

The February book recommendations are up with some brand new(ish) books and a couple of oldies but goodies thrown in for good measure.

What book are you reading right now?

January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Would Make Great Book Club Picks

Caveat: I'm a YA Librarian. I made this list with teens in mind. That doesn't mean that every pick is technically a teen book. It simply means that I think a group of teens could have engaging and thought-provoking conversations about the books. Of course any group, regardless of age, could enjoy reading and have an excellent conversation about any of the ten books below. What's been your favorite book club book?

10. 1984 - George Orwell Terrifying. It seems like each day brings us a step closer to the kind of world in which Winston Smith lives.

9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie Funny and heartfelt, the story brings to light an existence that is not often explored in contemporary literature.

8. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak Am I right in thinking that every book club in the world has already discussed this book? If not, you're welcome.

7. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card This thought-provoking science fiction story isn't for everyone, but it's an excellent read. It's also currently being made into a film. What better time to have a book club tackle it?

6. Life as We Knew it - Susan Beth Pfeffer The book suggests a truly frightening prospect. I expect the book club would spend a lot of time discussing "What if?"

5. Feed - M.T. Anderson You're probably starting to notice that many of the titles on this list are dystopian in nature. It's a sub-genre that by far has been the most successful with our Library's teen book group. They're the inheritors of what we've created, so it's only fitting they explore the possibilities of what's to come.

4. Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson A fascinating and heartbreaking glimpse into the chaotic mind of a young girl struggling with an eating disorder.

3. American Born Chinese - Gene Luan Yang A graphic novel as a book club pick? Absolutely...especially a gem like this one. Three interrelated stories for the price of one.

2. Unwind - Neal Shusterman The teens not only found this one fascinating but exciting as well. Shusterman has that effect on people.

1. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins It's phenomenally popular and sure to spark discussion not just about the world of Panem but our own.

January 24, 2012

Book review: The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

Jay Baker’s got trouble, right here in River City. Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with B, and that stands for—better luck next time? You got that pop culture reference, right Mr. Baker? After all, the ones you fling at your readers span decades beyond the referential zingers any typical high schooler would have in his arsenal of snark. They also, alas, get in the way of the story you’re trying to tell, making readers take time out of the narrative to figure out just exactly what you’re trying to say.

Having said that, The Edumacation of Jay Baker isn’t all bad. Amidst the overwhelming tide of female voices in teen literature today, it’s always refreshing to have a male protagonist—even if he is angsting over the women in his life in a voice that misses the mark of feeling authentic. His surprisingly strong bond with his older sister is a positive spot too. They snark at each other as most siblings are wont to do, but there’s still a deep love present, and it helps both of them deal with the situation of their parents’ marriage imploding.

The plot itself is nothing new, but nothing bad either. In more capable hands, the family drama and a shifting of affections from one girl to another while not groundbreaking, is not an unwelcome addition to the shelves. This particular book, however, is done in by a mismanagement of words.