Friday, December 23, 2011

REVIEW: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary: Seventeen year-old Sam and his twelve-year-old brother Riddle have never had a normal life. A decade ago, they were kidnapped by their mentally unstable father, a criminal with a pathological fear of government and technology. Since then, the trio has traveled across the country, living in ramshackle places and avoiding the authorities at all costs. At a very young age, Sam learned that it would be up to him to ensure that he and his brother are fed and safe.

Riddle has never been to school, rarely speaks, and suffers from untreated asthma. He lugs around an old phone book filled with the impossibly detailed mechanical drawings he spends his days creating. Sam's escape is music; every Sunday, he visits a different church so that he can absorb the sounds of organs and pianos, clapping and singing. He sits in the back and remains anonymous. Then he meets Emily, who finally sees him and, eventually, introduces Sam and Riddle to her family. For the first time, the two boys feel connected to the real world, but what will happen when their father discovers their secret?

Tracy's Thoughts:
Intertwining a gripping survival story with a sweet tale of first love, I'll Be There is one of the best, most heartfelt books I've read in ages. It's one of those stories that completely mesmerizes you and still lingers in your mind weeks later. And puts a smile on your face. There is a magic to Sloan's prose: it is thoughtful and yet carries an immediacy that makes each page a joy to read. There is nothing flashy in her writing; it is vivid and precise, allowing the extraordinary characters and their predicaments to move the story along. Am I sounding a bit fan-girl crazy and over-the-top in my praise? I apologize. But. I love this book.

It's magical in a completely different way. It is all about the connections that people make, the brief intersections that can change your life. It is about how all the small, insignificant things can add up to larger ones. It is about family and belonging. Told from multiple points of view, covering everyone from Sam and Riddle, to Emily and her mother, to the boys' paranoid father Clarence, I'll Be There creates a world that is both intimate and infinite. The narration transitions seamlessly, weaving a rich and layered tale.This is a book that made me laugh, cry, gasp, and sigh with pleasure at the end, pausing for a moment to savor the extraordinary journey I had just completed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen, Adult Crossover Interest
Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: It is 1941 and Stalin's reign of terror is in full dominion, though fifteen-year-old Lina has no idea of the terrible forces at work. She is stunned when Soviet officers invade her home to arrest her family and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia, giving them only twenty minutes to pack a few belongings. Her father, not home at the time of the arrest, is separated from the rest of the family while Lina, her mother, and younger brother are crammed into a boxcar labeled "Thieves and Prostitutes." This is only the beginning of Lina's journey, filled with deplorable, life-threatening conditions and a slow realization of some of the more unsavory aspects of life. And yet through it all, Lina retains hope, following her mother's strong example and using her artistic talent to send messages to her father.

Tracy's Thoughts:
This is a truly lovely book; haunting and terribly sad because we know it is based on true events, but also inspirational. Ruta Sepetys writing is fluid and emotionally evocative. With a few precise words, she is able to make a powerful statement ("Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch."). It is never overdone or cheaply sentimental. The first sentence grabbed me, and I did not want to put this book down as Lina's story gradually and painfully unfurled:

They took me in my nightgown.

Thinking back, the signs were there—family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.

We were taken.
The novel is written in short chapters, which makes some of the atrocities described a bit easier to digest. Scenes are not truly graphic, but they are vividly and powerfully depicted. But, again, there is a thread of hope and perseverance that runs throughout, as well as a budding love story to provide balance. Also, there are flashbacks to Lina's life in Lithuania before the deportation to provide respite and clues to explain why Lina's family was targeted by the Soviets.

Reading this novel, I felt like I was reading a true account—like Hautzig's The Endless Steppe or even The Diary of Ann Frank. The characters, especially Lina, her mother, and a crotchety old man who is with the family on the train and at the various work camps, seemed real. Of course, several first-person accounts and interviews where included in Sepetys's research. And the author's own family history undoubtedly made this an intensely personal story.

My only complaint is that I felt the ending was a bit too abrupt. I wanted more. There is an epilogue at the end, but to me Lina's story felt incomplete. But, regardless of my slight disappointment with the ending, this is a story that needs to be told. The Holocaust is widely studied, but comparatively few are aware of the genocide of the Baltic people that took place under Stalin's rule. Sepetys's novel is an important work, both thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

REVIEW: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Psychological Suspense

Summary: Christine Lucas wakes in a strange room, with a strange man beside her. He wears a wedding band, and she is disgusted with herself for apparently sleeping with a married man. But catching sight of herself in the bathroom mirror, Christine discovers that she is not the carefree twenty-something she believed herself to be. She's clearly in her forties—and she also wears a wedding band. Unfamiliar photos are pinned to the bathroom mirror, and a note proclaims that the man in the bed is her husband, Ben. Christine has amnesia. Every night when she goes to sleep, she loses all memory of the her life past a certain point.

Her life is very narrow. Just Ben, and a psychiatrist whom Christine meets without Ben's knowledge. At the direction of her doctor, she keeps a journal to document her life and piece together the past—and hopefully—a future. However, day by day, her journal entries become increasingly unsettling and Christine begins she wonder if she can trust anyone—including herself.

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book has appeared on numerous Best of 2011 lists, and it won the Crime Writers Association's 2011 award for best first book. I can understand why. It reminded me of Cat Patrick's Forgotten, but with a creepier flavor, like the the movie Memento. Watson's writing is compelling, creating an increasingly tense, claustrophobic feeling in the reader. I read this book in one evening, and although I guessed the book's twist ending early on, I was never fully confident in my theory, just as Christine could never fully trust her own memory and instincts.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

FLASH REVIEWS: A Parade of Picture Books...

I recently realized that we haven't reviewed any picture books lately (as promised in our site description!), so here goes...

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
The bear's hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he seeks out his fellow forest creatures to inquire "Have you seen my hat?" It's like a sly game of clue, with clever visual hints. It's an adorable tale with an ever-so-slightly dark twist at the end. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 5/5 Stars


Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah OHora
Bernard loves living at the zoo, and he loves naptime. Unfortunately, the other otters are tired of his snoring. So begins Bernard's quest to find a sleeping spot where he won't bother anyone... This is a sweet, low key story with simple, almost vintage-style illustrations. Ages 3 to 7.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Blackout by John Rocco
Told through a series of graphic novel–style panels, this is the story of an ordinary summer night in the city. A little girl is eager to play a game, but everyone in her household is too busy. Then there is a blackout; with the power suddenly out, no one is busy at all and the the neighborhood comes alive. The visual images are bold and striking, and small details add a lot to this story about family togetherness. The contrast between light and dark plays an important but subtle role. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

The I'm Not Scared Book by Todd Parr
Extremely bright colors—a Parr trademark—will grab kids' attention in this motivational book about common childhood phobias. Comical details add nuance. The text itself lacks subtlety, but will give comfort to anxious children and offers simplistic solutions to calm fears. Ages 3 to 6.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting and Julie Fortenberry (illus.)
Danny has lots of what-if questions about pirates, and his mother is patient and inventive as she answers each one. This is a heartwarming tale of imagination and connection between mother an child. The artwork, especially the drawings of pirates, is bright and striking. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Friday, December 16, 2011

REVIEW: The Witches of East End by Melissa De La Cruz



Rating: 3/5
Audience: Older Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Paranomal Romance/Mystery/Fantasy

Summary:
It’s the beginning of summer in North Hampton, and beautiful Freya Beauchamp is celebrating her engagement to wealthy Bran Gardiner, the heir to Fair Haven and Gardiners Island. But Freya is drawn to Bran’s gorgeous but unreliable brother Killian, and sparks fly when the two decide to play a dangerous game, following an ancient story of love, betrayal and tragedy that harks back to the days of Valhalla.

Witches of East End follows the Beauchamp family—the formidable matriarch Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid. Freya, a sexy bartender, has a potion to cure every kind of heartache, while Ingrid, the local librarian, solves complicated domestic problems with her ability to tie magical knots. Joanna is the witch to see when modern medicine has no more answers; her powers can wake the dead. Everything seems to be going smoothly until a young girl, Molly Lancaster, goes missing after taking one of Freya’s irresistible cocktails. As more of the town’s residents begin disappearing, everyone seems to have the same suspects in mind: the Beauchamp women.
Lucinda's Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. As a fan of mythology it was refreshing to see a tale with Norse, rather than Greek mythology at its core.  The character development was interesting and kept me reading.  I finished this book quickly.  The one drawback to this book is the "too" neat ending.  The book seemed to end very abruptly, with a very hurried resolution to problems that should have taken at least a couple more chapters to reach their denouement.  This book comes with a PG-13 rating due to  some steamy romantic scenes.  While they are steamy they are tastefully written.  The epilogue provided an unseen twist that I'm sure will lead to the next book in the series.  This author also writes the Bluebloods vampire series for young adults.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

REVIEW: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genre: Paranormal Horror

Summary:  Theseus Cassio Lowood kills ghosts. Well, the bad ones anyway. You know those urban legends and ghost stories about vengeful spirits taking their anger and disappointment out on the living? Some of them are true, and it is Cas's job to stop them once and for all. He travels from town to town with his witch mother and their cat Tybalt, killing murderous ghosts and secretly preparing himself for the day that he will confront the ghost that killed his father. Now he has a new ghost in his sights: Anna Dressed in Blood. But something about her is different than the other ghosts Cas has faced. She's incredibly strong. And she knows she's dead. For over fifty years, Anna has killed everyone who has dared step foot inside her family home. But for some reason, when Cas invades her territory, she lets him live.

Tracy's Thoughts:
"Spellbinding and romantic," declares Cassandra Clare on the book's cover blurb. Spellbinding, yes. But romantic? Um, no... Not so much. Anna Dressed in Blood is more Supernatural than Twilight (or whatever paranormal romance is your current favorite). Yes, there is a late-emerging romantic subplot here, but it is not the heart of the story.

As a horror story, I didn't really find it all that scary, either. At least, not leave-the-light-on and jump-at-small-noises scary. But. Kendare Blake's writing is absolutely gripping. Vividly cinematic (unlike one zombie book I could name) and satisfactorily gruesome, Anna Dressed in Blood is definitely creepy and disturbing. I was enthralled by the atmospheric description and the compelling, first person narration:

The stagnant clouds make me motion-sick for some reason, so I go back to looking at the forest, a blanket of pines in colors of green, brown, and rust, struck through with birch trunks sticking up like bones. I'm usually in a better mood on these trips. The excitement of somewhere new, a new ghost to hunt, new things to see...the prospects usually keep my brain sunny for at least the duration of the drive. Maybe it's just that I'm tired. I don't sleep much, and when I do, there's usually some kind of nightmare involved. But I'm not complaining. I've had them off and on since I started using the athame. Occupational hazard, I guess, my subconscious letting out all the fear I should be feeling when I walk into places where there are murderous ghosts. Still, I should try to get some rest. The dreams are particularly bad the night after a successful hunt, and they haven't really calmed down since I took out he hitchhiker.

An hour of so later, after many attempts at sleep, Thunder Bay comes up in our windshield, a sprawling, urbanesque city of over a hundred thousand living. . . . It's only as we get into the heart of the city—the older part of the city that rests above the harbor—that I see what I'm looking for. . . .

Over the course of my life I've been to lots of places. Shadowed places where things have gone wrong. Sinister places where things still are. I always hate the sunlit towns, full of newly built developments with double-car garages in shades of pale eggshell, surrounded by green lawns and dotted with laughing children. Those towns aren't any less haunted than the others. They're just better liars. I like it more to come to a place like this, where the scent of death is carried to you on every seventh breath.

Cas is a dynamic character: bold, snarky and wonderfully quick-witted. But he's also fallible. Every now and then, he fumbles on a job or is caught off guard, with no idea how to respond. He doesn't always know the answers—especially once he is faced with a ghost like Anna—and admits to manipulating people to achieve his goals. I didn't always like him, but I understood him and was invested in his story. Plus, his wry humor adds a wonderful dimension to the story, as do the secondary characters. Cas reluctantly makes friends with a geeky psychic and the school's queen bee, who for once does not fall into the popular girl=mean girl stereotype. And of course, there's Anna. You wouldn't expect to find a homicidal ghost known to rip people in half a sympathetic character, but Blake has managed to imbue Anna with a vulnerability that doesn't make her murderous history any less disturbing. Perhaps more so, if anything.

Anna Dressed in Blood also does an excellent job of setting itself up for further books in the series without sacrificing the story at hand. It stands on its own, but also leaves you wanting more. Personally, I'm hooked and looking forward to the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, due for release in August 2012.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

REVIEW: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Genre: Historical Fiction/Novel in Verse

Summary: It's 1975 and, as the Vietnam War rages, the fall of Saigon is imminent. Until now, ten-year-old Hà's life has been been somewhat ordinary: she goes to school, fights with her older brothers, plays pranks on her friends. Of course, her father has also been missing in action for nine years and now her friends are beginning to move away from the threat of the Communist invasion. When her mother makes the difficult decision to flee their homeland, the family must leave behind everything familiar. The novel is written in free verse and takes place over the course of a year, beginning on Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, relating Hà's experiences and impressions from her life in Saigon, through the family's escape and difficult boat journey, to the even more difficult transition to life in America.

Tracy's Thoughts:
First off, I usually avoid novels in verse. I am always skeptical that they can deliver the same level of plot detail and character development as a prose novel. Thanhha Lai proved me wrong. There is precisely the right amount of detail in this sparse novel. Hà's world is elegantly and succinctly crafted and the format in no way detracts from the fullness of the story. Hà, her mother, and each of her three brothers emerge as distinct, empathetic characters. There is the scholarly engineering student, Brother Quang, who must take on work as an apprentice mechanic; gentle Brother Khôi, lover of animals; fierce, loyal Brother Vu, obsessed with Bruce Lee; and their mother, a loving woman strong enough to do whatever is needed for her family. Hà herself is eager, perceptive, stubborn, and prone to tempers. She's determined to feel smart again, though quite sure that "Whoever invented English/should be bitten/by a snake."

This is a powerful novel about the immigrant experience, and one to savor slowly. Despite what many will consider weighty subject matter, this is a fairly light read with a good deal of humor. I found myself grinning and laughing out loud more than once at Hà fresh take on American culture, such as her insistence that the "The Cowboy," as she calls her family's Stetson-sporting American sponsor, should have a proper horse and teach her to ride. Inside Out & Back Again is also the perfect novel to give to any middle school student who has been bullied or felt out of place.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hunger Games Fashion!

Top fashion designers are putting their talent and imagination toward envisioning Katniss's fire dress! Check out the awesome photogallery at Instyle.com.

Here are my favorites:

Design by Rachel Roy

Design by Charlotte Ronson


Design by Christian Cota

...And then some of them really miss the point. (A caftan? What was Tommy Hilfiger thinking?)

So, which design is your favorite? Can you picture Jennifer Lawrence in one of these outfits for the Tribute Parade? Tell us your vision for the perfect fire dress!

Friday, December 9, 2011

REVIEW: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Adult/YA Crossover
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Summary: The Cirque des Rêves arrives in the night, without warning, and captivates its audience from dusk till dawn. What the audience—and most of the performers—do not know is that the circus is merely the arena for a much grander scheme. Two magicians have set their protégés on a collision course, a deadly game where not even the participants themselves are sure of the rules—or the consequences. Celia, the daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, is a performer in the circus, pretending that her magical feats are mere illusion. Marco, an orphaned boy trained by Prospero's greatest rival to defeat Celia, is more covert in his strategy. The Night Circus spans decades and continents as the game plays out slowly—until the two competitors finally meet and fall in love, putting the circus itself at risk.

Tracy's Thoughts:  
This gorgeously imaginative, genre-blending novel is all about atmosphere and tone. It reminds me of a slightly lighter, Victorian-era Something Wicked This Way Comes. The prose creates a feeling of suspended enchantment, and the reader is made to feel like a spectator to the circus itself. The action develops slowly, and the narrative skips about in time and from one character to the next. Some readers may find this frustrating; and yet, however loosely the threads are woven, they all pull together magically at the end. Readers who loved Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I read this book months ago, before we launched the blog, but with all of the recent attention—it was named Favorite Book in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards and recently snagged a movie deal with Summit—I thought it was time for a review here on Book News and Reviews!

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genre: Dystopia

Summary: In a not-too-distant future Chicago, everyone is divided into five factions with five different belief systems. Abnegation strives toward selflessness, Amity pursues peace and friendship, Candor practices unrelenting honesty, Dauntless engages in feats of courage, and Erudite seeks knowledge. Beatrice Prior was raised in Abnegation, but knows she is too selfish and inquisitive to remain there, even though switching factions means leaving her family behind. And now that she is sixteen, it is finally time to choose her permanent faction. But her choice won’t be easy. When she takes her aptitude tests, Beatrice learns that she is a Divergent, someone who does not fit easily into any of the predetermined classifications and whose very existence threatens her society.

Tracy's Thoughts:
Looking for the next Hunger Games? This is the book you’ve been waiting for. After a slightly slow start, Divergent is an addictively fast-paced read set in a fully developed world. In fact, I liked it even better than Hunger Games. The post-apocalyptic Chicago setting is fascinating and just recognizable enough to make this future vision all too believable. Even better, there is no annoying, forced love triangle. (Seriously... Did anyone really think POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!!! HIGHLIGHT TO READ that Bella was going to choose Jacob or that Katiniss wouldn't end up with the every-loyal, always-patient Peeta? Well, did you?)

But yes, Divergent has a romance. A GREAT one actually. The romantic tension between Tris (the character formerly known as Beatrice) and Four is engrossing and unpredictable. Yeah, you know they will end up together, but each meeting and conversation holds a surprise. And Roth does a stellar job of balancing the physical action with relationship intrigue.There are enough fights, chases, and life-threatening risks to satisfy any action fan—and it's not all squeezed together at the end to add last minute conflict like in other popular books I could name. As soon as Tris chooses her faction, she must prove her mettle and survive a series of initiation tests—or become factionless.Tris is gutsy and smart, but also vulnerable and unsure of herself—not in an annoying way, but in a realistic, true-to-life way. She doesn't have special weaponry skills or supernatural strength, but she's mentally tough and really, really determined. I loved her, Four, and the entire world Veronica Roth has created.

Both action-packed and thought-provoking, Divergent easily sets itself apart from the other new books on the Hunger Games bandwagon. Roth writes with an engaging intensity that challenges readers to look at their own lives and consider what faction they might choose. This is a page turner that I highly recommend for both girls and the guys, teenagers and adults. Needless to say, I am eagerly—and impatiently!— awaiting the May release of Insurgent, the trilogy's next installment. Only five more months to go...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

REVIEW: Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Spoilers present)

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Audience: Older Middle/High School/Adult
Genre: Vampire Fiction/Romance

Summary: In Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final installment in the series, Bella’s story plays out in some unexpected ways. The ongoing conflicts that made this series so compelling--a human girl in love with a vampire, a werewolf in love with a human girl, the generations-long feud between werewolves and vampires--resolve pretty quickly, apparently so that Meyer could focus on Bella’s latest opportunity for self-sacrifice: giving her life for someone she loves even more than Edward.

Lucinda's Views:  In the last installment in the Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer doesn't fail to deliver.  I really enjoyed re-reading this book after seeing the movie on opening night.  (Side note:  The book and the movie follow closely and the film is well done.)  Having said that, Bella's new adventures kept me interested as her evolving relationship with Edward takes on some unexpected turns.  The way that the story neatly wraps up the love triangle between Edward, Jacob and Bella is satisfying, and the ending to the book rings true. 

On a deeper level the story ponders some of the ethical questions that plague our society today...."Is terminating a pregnancy morally right?  Which person is more important the mother or the baby, especially when the mother's life is in danger?" 

On another note, the appearance of the Volturi bring more vampires out of the woodwork, several of whom I would like to see further stories about.  Vampires such as Garrettt, and the reappearance of the Denali vampires for instance.  Another possible story that I would like to see is the relationship between Jacob and Renesmee.  Possible spin offs?  Who knows?  Only Stephenie Meyer.



Just a little trailer from the movie to whet your appetite :)



Found this interview with Stephenie done by Nancy Pearl...Interesting!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

DUAL REVIEW: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry

Tracy's Rating: 3/5 Stars
Lucinda's Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genre: Post-apocalyptic Fiction/Horror

Summary: It's been fourteen years since First Night, when the dead suddenly reanimated and ended civilization as we know it. Now, the living bunker down in isolated communities surrounded by the great "Rot and Ruin." Benny Inmura, recently turned fifteen, must get a job or have his rations drastically cut. Unfortunately, the only option he can see is to join the family business with his hated older brother, venturing outside the the fences of Mountainside into the Rot and Ruin to act as a bounty hunter and zombie killer.

Tracy's Thoughts:
I liked it, but I didn't love it. Rot & Ruin has been one of the "it" books in the YA blogosphere since before its release in September 2010, so perhaps I was expecting too much (again). The concept reminded me quite a bit of The Forest of Hands and Teeth—an unexplained zombie apocalypse and isolated societies that separate themselves from the infected zombies with fences and guards. But Maberry has taken his story in a completely different direction than Carrie Ryan's horror hit, and his premise is an intriguing one.

Although the message is a bit heavy-handed at times, the exploration of the idea that zombies were once people too and therefore deserve some respect is definitely a bit different. It helps that Maberry's zombies aren't horrific monsters stalking their prey, but actually shambling, rather pathetic creatures. Of course, they are still pretty threatening en masse. But the real villains of the novel are the lawless men who roam the Rot and Ruin, torturing the zombies and even humans for sport. Unfortunately, the main villain was a bit one-dimensional. Also, I hated that at one point late in the novel he gave a completely uncharacteristic monologue about his motives. That's just lazy writing. As high school English teachers are fond of saying, "Show, don't tell."

I found the other characters appealing—especially Benny's brother Tom and the mysterious "Lost Girl"—but not quite fully-fleshed. I could never really connect with any of them, as much as I wanted to. This is especially true of Benny, the primary character and narrator. His motivations were sometimes baffling, especially his hatred for his brother and only relative. I would have loved to learn more about Benny and Tom's history and seen more of how they interacted before they became colleagues.

Like the characters, I found that the action lacked that special something that I was looking for. Even the surprises seemed a bit predictable. And some of the scenes that could have been cinematic nail-biters fell a bit flat. Still, though the prose lacked immediacy and elegance, it's solid enough. I read the entire book—and it's a thick one!—without ever losing interest. For all the niggling gripes I have about the book, I never once wanted to but the book aside and move on to something else. (I do that a lot.) I wavered between a 2.5- and 3-star rating for a while, but finally settled on 3 stars for the intriguing world and ingenuity of premise. All the pieces are there, just in need of a bit more polish and a dash of emotion. Also, you sort of have to read Rot & Ruin to fully appreciate book 2 in the series—Dust & Decay—which offers up everything that Rot & Ruin is missing (IMHO).


Lucinda's Views:
I really enjoyed this book.  Benny's evolution from a clueless fifteen-year old whose only exposure to the Rot and Ruin is through stories told at the local general store to a person who knows what exists in the great beyond is well developed and believable.  Benny's journeys both physical and mental are peppered with ethical questions such as "Are the zombie's truly the undead? Do they have feelings?  What constitutes torture, when something is dead, where to draw the line,  etc?" are all thought provoking.  Tom's humane treatment of the dead is a stark contrast to the other bounty hunters', especially Charlie Matthias's, treatment of the undead.  This contrast serves to push the story along to its inevitable conclusion.   A conclusion that may be very surprising to all.      

Sunday, November 20, 2011

GUEST REVIEW: The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

We have our first Guest Reviewer! Allison, our Teen and Adult Programmer here at the library, wanted to share her reaction to one of the many new additions to the fairy tale genre. (Seriously, fairy tales are HOT right now—on TV, in movies, and in books. But more on this is a later post...)

Instead of a traditional written summary, we found this great book trailer:



Rating: 2/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen (Middle and High School)
Genre: Historical Romance/Fairy Tale

Allison's Guest Review: This book completely fell flat with me. Dickerson begins with the retelling of a Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty tale, and for the first six or so chapters, she hits the nail on the head. The main character, Rose, as well as her mentor, Frau Geruscha and the well-mannered (and betrothed) Lord Hamlin are wonderfully developed. After the basic plot set-up, however, the story winds through a mist of characters which hold little importance to the main theme. Finally, the evil conjurer Moncore makes his appearance, with little fanfare or back story. The reader has found herself enthralled in the fairy tale beginning, waiting for the eventual “happily ever after” ending, only to have multiple characters and plots confuse her. The entire plot is summed up in the last two chapters, without much prior understanding as to what conspired to make these events come together.

Are you interested in being a Guest Reviewer?
Simply send your review to reference@bcplib.org, and tell everyone about the book you loved (or hated!).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NEWS: National Book Award Winners Announced

The 1,223 books submitted for the 2011 National Book Awards have now been pared down to one winner in each of the four categories. And the winners are...

Fiction


Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward


A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker largely absent, he doesn’t show interest in much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fifteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to a dramatic conclusion, the unforgettable family at the novel’s core—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day.  —Jacket Copy


Nonfiction


The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
by Stephen Greenblatt


In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. The man was Poggio Braccionlini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.   —Jacket Copy


Poetry



Head Off and Split: Poems
by Nikky Finney


The poems in Nikky Finney's fourth collection, Head Off & Split, sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African-American life: from Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks, to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning, to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. Her poet's voice is defined by an intimacy, which holds a soft yet exacting-eye on the erotic, on uncanny political and family events, like her mother's wedding waltz with S.C. Senator Strom Thurmond, and then again on the heart-breaking hilarity of an American President's final state of the union address. Artful and intense, Finney's poems ask us to be mindful of what we fraction, fragment, cut off, dice, dishonor, or throw away, powerfully evoking both the lawless and the sublime.   —Jacket Copy


Young People's Literature 



Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai


For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by—and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape—and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
   —Jacket Copy



You can see video of the ceremony here. Salvage the Bones, The Swerve, and Inside Out & Back Again are all available for check out from the Library.

Friday, November 11, 2011

REVIEW: How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

   

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Middle School
Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction


Summary: Ever wonder how some of the most famous people in history really died?  This book offers an answer.  Among the people profiled are Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Marie Curie, Henry VIII, just to name a few.  For example, did you know that Cleopatra really died from a poised hairpin, not an asp as legend tells.  Did you also know that Edgar Allen Poe may have perished from rabies and not alcohol poisoning as alleged? Interspersed between the profiles of the deaths of the famous are interesting factoids about disease, death, and historic trivia.   If you do not like gore or gross tales do not read this book.  

Lucinda's Views:   I really enjoyed this book and read it in under an hour.  It is a quick, interesting read, which captures the reader's interest from the start to the finish.  The interspersed factoids and trivia serve to enlighten the reader and do not detract from the book's content at all. Rather, they add just a dash of fun to an already spicy topic.  A good pick for both reluctant readers and fans of the macabre! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BOOK BATTLE: Lauren Oliver's Delirium vs. Ally Condie's Matched

Welcome to our first Book Battle! Sometimes book plots are SOOO similar that comparison is inevitable, so we thought we'd see how these two romantic dystopias hold up in a head-to-head fight. So, let the battle begin...

First Up: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Summary:
In the future, love is considered a disease and teenagers are given a government-mandated "cure" at the age of eighteen. Just before their eighteenth birthday, teens also undergo evaluations to determine their future careers and spouses. Lena doesn't want to end up like her mother and can't wait to get the cure. But then—just months before her procedure—Lena meets Alex, a free-spirited young man who challenges her to question her beliefs.

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book grabbed me right away. In fact, I was avid to read it from the moment I learned Oliver's second book (after the fabulous Before I Fall) was in the works. And for the first several chapters, I was certain that I was going to love everything about it. But for some reason... I didn't.

Don't get me wrong. There are lots of things to love here. First, the writing is gorgeous. Oliver has a very special way with words and is able to create a scene like nobody's business. The sensory detail alone is enough to have me pick up everything and anything she cares to write. Take the following excerpt from Chapter Two:

    The smell of oranges has always reminded me of funerals. On the morning of my evaluation it is the smell that wakes me up. I look at the clock on the bedside table. It's six o'clock.                

   The light is gray, the sunlight just strengthening along the wall of the bedroom I share with both of my cousin Marcia's children. Grace, the younger one, is crouched on her twin bed, already dressed, watching me. She has a whole orange in one hand. She is trying to gnaw on it, like an apple, with her little-kid teeth. My stomach twists, and I have to close my eyes again to keep from remembering the hot, scratchy dress I was forced to wear when my mother died; to keep from remembering the murmur of voices, a large, rough hand passing me orange after orange to suck on, so I would stay quiet. At the funeral I ate four oranges, section by section, and when I was left with only a pile of peelings heaped on my lap I began to suck on those, the bitter taste of the pith helping to keep the tears away.         

   I open my eyes and Gracie leans forward, the orange cupped in her outstretched palm.         

   "No, Gracie." I push off my covers and stand up. My stomach is clenching and unclenching like a fist. "And you're not supposed to eat the peel, you know."         

   She continues blinking up at me with her big gray eyes, not saying anything. I sigh and sit down next to her. "Here," I say, and show her how to peel the orange using her nail, unwinding bright orange curls and dropping them in her lap, the whole time trying to hold my breath against the smell. She watches me in silence. When I'm finished she holds the orange, now unpeeled, in both hands, as though it's a glass ball and she's worried about breaking it.         

   I nudge her. "Go ahead. Eat now."
I also liked the early characterization of Lena. She isn't rebellious and opinionated; instead she is scared and vulnerable. It was a nice change to meet a dystopian heroine who isn't immediately strong and sure of herself but must develop those qualities across the course of the novel. Which leads to my first complaint... Lena's change of heart was much too sudden, and I found her character development lacking. Also, the relationship with Alex seemed rushed to me. One moment she was nervous of him and what her feelings for him meant for her sanity... then she's all in. You know those annoying montages in movies that are used to indicate the passage of time? Well, that is how much of the Lena/Alex relationship is conveyed. Basically, all the good stuff—the meat of their relationship—gets montage treatment. So I never fully bought into their relationship, which is key to the story and Lena's own development.

My major complaint, though, is the world building. The details of Lena's world felt far too nebulous. A fuller, more developed world would've grounded the story and created a more realistic feel. Instead, Delirium read like a very well written—but exceptionally long—prequel. As a stand alone novel, it doesn't really work. Though, due to the high-drama, cliffhanger ending (seriously, I gave serious thought to hurling my book at the wall in frustration!), I will probably give book two (Pandemonium, 3/6/2012) a shot despite my disappointment in the trilogy's beginning.


VS.


The Challenger: Matched by Ally Condie

Summary:
In the future, the Society officials calculate all the data to determine each citizen's perfect life. They monitor your food intake, select your ideal job, and find your perfect Match. Cassia has always trusted the Society, and when the screen at the Matching Banquet identifies her ideal mate as Xander Carrow—her best friend—she knows her future with him will be a happy one. But then she discovers that a glitch in the system also selected another Match for her: Ky Markham, a quiet, intense boy who remains on the fringe of her group of friends. Now, aware that her Society's decisions aren't as perfects as she always believed, Cassia is forced to examine the the world she lives in and the future she wants more closely.

Tracy's Thoughts:
First off... Ally Condie's prose doesn't pack the same punch as Oliver's writing, but it has a lyrical, almost hypnotic flow that kept me turning the pages eagerly. The world-building is amazing and wholly convincing. There's not a lot of background about how the Society came to be, but I expect more details to come later in the trilogy. There are many similarities to Lois Lowry's The Giver, but Condie's world thrums with a nervous, subtly terrifying energy all its own. The slightly sinister officials, the strictly organized activities, even the machines used to dispose of waste—it all works together beautifully to ground the story and create a background in which the novel's plot makes sense. The characters, too, are much more developed than those in Delirium. I was captivated by Cassia's relationship with her family, especially her grandfather and brother Bram. Cassia's evolution from a happy, obedient citizen to one who questions, doubts, and—ultimately—rebels was believable and enthralling.

Unfortunately, I did think that the love story that is the impetus for this change was a little lacking. Of course, given the strict monitoring and control of their world, it would be impossible for Cassia and Ky's relationship to follow a familiar path. This makes for some leisurely pacing, but at least the story doesn't feel rushed in any way. I found both characters intriguing and look forward to catching up with them again in Crossed, in which I fully expect the action to escalate. (Library copies are on order!)


Final Scores:
Delirium by Lauren Oliver Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Matched by Ally Condie: 3.5/5 Stars   BOOK BATTLE WINNER!!!!!


Post-game Questions:
1. Tell me, have you read either of these titles yet? Do you agree with my verdict, or did you have a different reaction?

2. So I wasn't quite satisfied with Delirium, but still plan to check out the second book in the series. Having invested the time in Book One, I want to know what is next for the characters. My question is... How many chances are you willing to give a series before giving up altogether? Does anyone but me feel a compulsive need to finish a series—even if it's not exactly to your taste—once you've started?

3. Okay... now we have to talk cover art. IMO, both books are gorgeous—probably two of the most memorable YA covers I've seen in a while. What do you think? What recent YA cover art sticks out to you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

REVIEW: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary: When their weird classmate Dwight begins to wear an origami finger puppet and claims that Origami Yoda can predict the future, sixth-grader Tommy and his friends decide to keep a case book of their encounters with Dwight's puppet so that they can determine whether the predictions are accurate. This book includes instructions for constructing your own Origami Yoda.


Tracy's Thoughts: 

First, a confession: I am not much of a Star Wars fan. I mean, I've seen the original movie (now dubbed "Episode IV") and the even the second (i.e., Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back). It was at Governor's Scholars in 1996 a long time ago, and I really don't remember much beyond the most iconic moments that are probably familiar more from various spoofs than from the actual films. I do remember finding Yoda rather annoying. So, despite all the glowing reviews, I approached Tom Angleberger's book with (I think) understandable hesitation. And found it adorable and really, really funny.

Despite the title, you don't have to be familiar with the Star Wars universe to enjoy this book, though a love of all things Jedi and Yoda-like philosophy will certainly heighten its appeal. The format, with various characters' first-person accounts and its humorous drawings, is sure to attract Dairy of a Wimpy Kid fans. There is also a similar humor and camaraderie reminiscent of Kinney's uber-popular series. And yet Angleberger's characters and stories have a distinctive flavor of their own.

Dwight is an awkward, loner-type nerd who uses a finger puppet to communicate with his classmates. His Yoda impression isn't the best, but the advice and predictions made by Origami Yoda are downright uncanny. Soon the whole sixth-grade class is vying for Dwight's attention and debating the power of Origami Yoda. The main narrator, Tommy, is a likable, relatable character who isn't sure what to believe while his best friend Harvey is staunchly cynical about the whole thing. The interactions between the characters and their willingness to follow the cryptic advice of a paper finger puppet are somehow believable and hilarious. All in all, this is a fun, quick read with wide appeal—whether you are a Star Wars fan or not.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

REVIEW: Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Summary: Sara Gallagher has always felt that she didn't fit in with her adoptive family.  She has questions about the parents who gave her up and wants to know more about her medical history for her daughter's sake. Now that her daughter is six and she's planning a wedding to a wonderful man, Sara decides it's time to dig into the past. But when she finally discovers the identity of her birth mother, Sara makes a shocking discovery: Her mother was the only victim to survive a notorious serial killer. And everything she learns indicated that her father was The Campsite Killer. Sara's mother wants nothing to do with her... but her father is a different story.

Tracy's Thoughts:
I loved Chevy Stevens's debut novel Still Missing, and her second novel has many similarities. The action takes place in short, fast-paced chapters, each of which represents a different session between Sara and her therapist. And it is a page-turner without a doubt; I read the entire book in one sitting. The premise is fascinating, and the story emotionally complex. Sara's doubts about her own emotional reactions and coping mechanisms were realistic and intriguing. The characters and their difficult relationships were equally interesting.

However, for me, Never Knowing lacked the impact of Stevens's award-winning debut. The last-minute plot twist was predictable and unbelievable, and I also had issues with the therapy session format. The plot device seemed a bit stale the second time around, plus the difference in timeline (most of this novel takes place in almost-real time, while most of the events in Still Missing occurred long before Annie's therapy sessions) occasionally makes the break-up of sessions awkward and unrealistic. So, yes, I was disappointed in Stevens's sophomore effort. Still, it was a compelling read and I definitely plan to pick up her next novel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NEWS: National Book Awards snafu

There's been another development in the National Book Awards' category for Young People's Literature. The addition of a sixth book was quickly announced last Wednesday, October 12th, due to an error on the committee's part. In explanation, Harold Augebraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, stated: "It was our mistake, and we take full responsibility...For security reasons, we do everything by phone, and we don't write things down when [the judges] transmit the titles to our staff. And someone wrote it down wrong." Apparently, someone mistook the word Chime—the intended nominee—for Shine. Augebraum claimed that for confidentiality reasons, the involved titles would not be made public and that the six finalists would stand. But...then author Lauren Myracle was asked on Friday to withdraw her novel Shine from contention.

Myracle, who is known for writing popular but often controversial books for both middle grade and young adult readers, consented. In a statement released through her publisher, Amulet Books, she stated “I was over the moon last week after receiving the call telling me that Shine was a finalist for the award. I was later informed that Shine had been included in error, but would remain on the list based on its merits. However, on Friday I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work, and I have agreed to do so.”

So... I understand that mistakes happen. But it is incredible to me that the staff member writing down the book titles didn't take the time to confirm the author. I also think that the way this mistake was ultimately handled—claiming that the involved titles would remain confidential and then requesting a withdrawal of Myracle's book several days later—was another bungle. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Congratulations to the winners...

Congratulations to the winners of our Fall Giveaway Event! If you haven't received a notification e-mail, please contact me at the Ridgway Reference Desk or e-mail me to arrange for pickup of your prize!

Angela: A Thousand Lives, Heresy, Prophecy, The Heretic's Daughter 
Marissa L. Sanders: Radiance, Forgotten
Lena: American WidowKat, Incorrigible
Melinda: The Promised World, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, Glow, Falling for Hamlet, Love Ya Bunches 
Christina Shepherd: Original Sin, Triangles
Cindy: Maman's Homesick Pie, Triangles
Bobbie Sharp:  All These Things I've Done, Chime, Thirteen Days to Midnight, The Katrina Club, Keeper, The Phantom Limb, and Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact
Sherry Hutchins:  One Day, The Soldier's Wife, The Replacement, Sacred Hearts
Kasey: Nate the Great Strikes Back
Pamela: The House at Midnight, The Iron Queen, White Cat
Marie: A Spy in the House, The Body at the Tower, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Museum of Thieves, Simple Skin Beauty
Elizabeth: Etta, Think of a Number, Promise the Night, The Body at the Tower
Kari: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Delerium, The Duff



Orphaned Books, looking for a good home
Our Sad, Unclaimed Orphans include:

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama, We the Children by Andrew Clements, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda, South of Broad by Pat Conroy, A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres (copy #2), The White Mary by Kira Salak, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, and So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz

You may have noticed that a few titles went unclaimed. If you would like to receive any of these ARCs, please leave a comment below telling us which title(s) you would like to receive. You can choose as many as you like, and they will go to the first claimant. Ready, set, go...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NEWS: National Book Awards Finalists Announced

The 20 finalists for the National Book Awards were announced yesterday in Portland's Literary Arts Center. Later, an additional nominee—Chime by Franny Billingsley—was added to the Young People's Literature category. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 16. The finalists are:

FICTION

Andrew Krivak (The Sojourn), Tea Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife), Julie Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic), Edith Pearlman (Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories), Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones).


NONFICTION









Deborah Baker (The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism), Mary Gabriel (Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution), Stephen Greenblatt (The Swerve: How the World Became Modern), Manning Marable (Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention), Lauren Redniss (Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout)


POETRY



Nikky Finney (Head Off & Split), Yusef Komunyakaa (The Chameleon Couch), Carl Phillips (Double Shadow), Adrienne Rich (Tonight No Poetry Will Serve), Bruce Smith (Devotions)


YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE


Franny Billingsley (Chime), Debbie Dahl Edwardson (My Name Is Not Easy), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out and Back Again), Albert Marrin (Flesh and Blood So Cheap), Lauren Myracle (Shine), Gary D. Schmidt (Okay for Now)










So what do you think? Are there any glaring omissions or surprises? Personally, I am very surprised by Chime's nomination (though I have to admit I haven't read it yet!). In fact I haven't read any of the nominees, though there are several—The Tiger's Wife, Salvage the Bones, Radioactive, Inside Out & Back Again, Shine, and Okay for Now—that I've been looking forward to.

Have you read any of the nominees? Which titles do you want to read? For further details on the finalists and book summaries, check out the official site of the National Book Foundation.


**NOTE: The Library currently owns many of these titles; others are on order.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NEWS + REMINDER: We're now mobile-friendly

NEWS
It's now easy to navigate our site on your smartphone! The gadgets on the right sidebar don't appear in the mobile version, but you can browse recent posts and click on the title to open the full post—including images and comments. If you still see the desktop version on your phone, your mobile browser may not be supported. However, if you would prefer a more easily navigated version, you should be able to force the mobile version by appending ?m=1 to the URL. This trick should also work for some other websites that aren't currently mobile-friendly. To force "mobile-ize" Book News and Reviews, simply type in bcplreviews.blogspot.com/?m=1.

+ REMINDER
Don't forget that our Fall Giveaway Event deadline is this Friday! It looks like there are a few titles in high demand (Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, Forgotten, Heresy, Prophecy, The Iron Queen, etc.) If you want to increase your chances of winning your top pick, remember that you can earn an extra entry by commenting about any of the other news or reviews we have posted to the site. Good luck!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

REVIEW: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genres: Realistic Fiction

Summary: The first time seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper hears the term "Duff," she's sitting by the bar at a teen night club. Wesley Rush, the "most disgusting womanizing playboy to ever darken the doorstep of Hamilton High," saunters over to chat. Wesley wants to hook up with one of Bianca's hot friends and talking to their Designated Ugly Fat Friend, he explains to Bianca, is his way in. Bianca, being no shrinking violet, quickly and dramatically crushes his plan. Still, being called the Duff continues to niggle away at her. She knows she isn't really fat or ugly, but next to her gorgeous best friends she's a nonentity. Add to that her parents' crumbling marriage and the return of the boy who broke her heart, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction... So she kisses Wesley. It's stupid and she hates herself, but they start hooking up secretly. The plan is to keep everything on a strictly physical level, but then the impossible happens: she actually starts to like Wesley and is horrified to discover that she could actually be falling for the guy she hated more than anyone.

Tracy's Thoughts:
First off, I have to warn you. If (fictional) teen sex and swearing upset you, you might want to give The Duff a miss. This is an edgy book that is practically destined for the Banned Books list. Due to some harsh language and sexual content, I would only recommend this title for mature teens and adults. The relationship between Bianca and Wesley is smoldering, and most of the teenage characters drop the F-bomb more than once. (Though not all... Casey's discomfort with swearing was a subtle contrast, and one of the endearing details that makes this book so special.) So, yes, the content is a bit graphic, certainly more than in your average YA novel. But Keplinger isn't promoting sexual activity to teens—far from it, though this isn't a book with a heavy-handed abstinence message either.

So okay, you have been duly warned. Now on to what I loved about this novel. I cannot tell you how much I adored Bianca's snarky, smart, totally authentic voice. She's abrasive and more than a little spiteful—in real life, I might hate her. But she's also clever and loyal and eminently relatable. While her cynicism and aggression frequently shocked my inner sensibilities, I always understood where Bianca was coming from. She says what she thinks and makes bad decisions, but she accepts the consequences. In her first novel, Kody Kepplinger has created a memorable, fully realized character that I won't soon forget.

The other characters of The Duff are also fabulously complex. There's no question about it: Wesley is often a total jerk and is way too focused on physical gratification. But like Bianca, I somehow found myself liking him anyway, maybe even partly because of his unabashed behavior. Of course, he is also unexpectedly sweet and vulnerable with issues of his own. He's a real, nuanced person—not just a stereotypical Misunderstood Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold. And I loved Bianca's friends Casey and Jessica, and the relationship the three girls have with each other. Bianca's parents are not as skillfully drawn, but they too are flawed and interesting.

The teen dialog is spot-on, not surprising considering that Keplinger was 18 when she wrote the book. It feels fresh and natural, not stilted at all. The banter between Bianca and Wesley, reminiscent of the great repartee in classic screwball comedies but with a modern edge, is particularly engaging. The entire novel is smoothly written, flowing seamlessly between Bianca's inner thoughts and the exterior action.

All in all, this is a unique and fast-paced read that will be adored by the right audience. It is contemporary, sexy, and sharply funny. It examines teen self-esteem and the social labeling of others as well as being a modern love story and family drama. There is a lot to like about The Duff, and I look forward to reading Keplinger's next book, Shut Out, as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The Duff is one of the titles up for grabs in our Fall Giveaway Event.

Friday, October 7, 2011

REVIEW: The Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger

Rating:3.5/5
Audience: Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Steampunk/Vampire/Werewolf

Summary: This delightful comedy of manners set in the late Victorian Era, details the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, a woman who is a preternatural.  In other words, she has no soul and her touch causes vampires and werewolves to revert to their former human selves, thus rendering them no longer immortal.  Alexia is a quiet spinster just trying to survive life with a vacuous mother and selfish half-sisters, when adventure suddenly finds her.  Join Alexia as she snares a great catch for herself on the marriage mart, foils several plots to kill Queen Victoria, and learns what constitutes proper dress for dirigible travel. This series starts off with Soulless and is followed by Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and the soon-to-be published Timeless. (2012)

Changeless     Blameless    Heartless  Timeless
Lucinda's Views:  This series, is a delightful romp through Victorian England.  However, it is a Victorian England where vampires and werewolves move through high society.  An England where the Queen has werewolf bodyguards and their existence is not a secret.  Alexia, is a complex, but pragmatic character whose soullessness is supplemented by her cool, almost sarcastic logic.  If you enjoy the ins and outs of Victorian etiquette and love a good intrigue, with a dash of romance thrown in you will enjoy this series.  As the series progresses, the characters become more complex and develop surprising depths.   Part of these developments include surprising revelations concerning the nature of Alexia's union with Lord Maccon,  revelations concerning the unflappable Professor Lyall, and a whole new view of Lord Akledama's drone Biffy.  On the whole, an entertaining read for fans of the steampunk genre.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

REVIEW: Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Genres: Magical Realism

Summary:  
Ten-year-old Keeper believes in wishes and magic, and truly thinks her long-lost mother is a mermaid. She’s safe and happy living in a small, close-knit Gulf Coast community with her guardian Signe and an extended family made up of eccentric neighbors and pets. But on the day of the blue moon, everything goes wrong. Keeper makes a series of mistakes that angers everyone she loves and the only solution she can think of is to find her magical mother to ask for help. Setting off alone to find a mermaid could be dangerous, but Keeper has a plan and her dog BD and Captain the seagull for company. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned. 

Tracy's Thoughts:
It has been months since I first read this book, and yet thinking of this charming tale still puts a smile on my face. The setting is beautifully and evocatively drawn, and a hint of magic runs throughout. It's not a fairy tale, but there is a dreamy, nostalgic quality to Appelt's writing that is similar. From the beginning, I doubted Keeper's belief in magic and mermaids, but her faith had me constantly thinking "what if?" Between Keeper's rich imagination and Appelt's lyric writing style, even the most common things are lent a measure of magic. 

Keeper is a clever, loveable girl with a unique personality. In fact, all of Appelt's characters in this wonderfully written book have a distinct personality and history—even BD and Captain! Keeper contains several flashbacks and is narrated from multiple perspectives, which may challenge some younger readers, but the payoff is definitely worth it. There are actually several storylines woven together here, though Keeper's adventure remains central. One set of flashbacks involves Keeper and Signe's neighbor and good friend Mr. Beauchamps, an older gentleman with regrets about a youthful romance and missed chances. His relationship with another young man is mostly implied and contains nothing objectionable for young readers, but some readers/parents might want to be aware of this small piece of the overall storyline.

This is a very quiet book. The action builds slowly, only gradually reaching a point where the tension is so high that I actually, literally, held my breath as I turned the pages. I was genuinely worried about the characters, as if they were real people that I knew. Going into too much detail would ruin this enchanting story of family, love, and secrets—but if you enjoy vivid settings, a touch of nerve-wracking adventure, and colorful characters, this book is a rewarding, unforgettable read. It is especially good for thoughtful tweens who consider most middle grade fiction too childish.

Keeper is one of the featured titles in our Fall Giveaway Event!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

REVIEW: Forgotten by Cat Patrick

ARC Cover
Final Cover
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genres: Psychological Suspense, Romance

Summary: 
Every night when she goes to sleep, 16-year-old London Lane forgets. In the morning, all she has is a note telling her about a day she can't remember—and about all the days before that. But while her past is a blank, London "remembers" the future, getting glimpses of times to come in the lives of herself and those around her. She knows that her classmate will be accepted into a good college, that her best friend Jamie's love affair will end tragically—but has no idea what she wore, did, or said the day before. With the help of her mom, Jamie, and her detailed crib notes, London has managed to live a relatively normal life, keeping her condition a secret from everyone else, even her doctors. But when London starts experiencing disturbing visions she can't make sense of, she realizes it's time to dig into the past she keeps forgetting and perhaps even discover why her brain resets every morning at precisely 4:33 a.m. Especially now that she's met Luke, the boy who she can't see anywhere in her future but still turns up in her life, day after day.

Tracy's Thoughts:
The premise of this novel grabbed me immediately, and Cat Patrick's deft writing—somehow managing to juggle the complexities of London's condition without becoming repetitive or confusing me hopelessly—kept me glued to the story. I raced through this one in one sitting, inhaling every bit of it despite the need to suppress a certain level of disbelief. Patrick skillfully hands you clues to the mystery of London's condition, while offering several subplots, including a a spat between London and Jamie and family secrets—which later tie in to the main plot nicely.

I especially enjoyed the relationship between Luke and London (although their paired names make them sound like soap opera characters). Their romance is a bit rocky, but all the stronger for it. There is even an element of mystery to the relationship as readers wonder why Luke seems to single out London straight away. Is it simply normal attraction, or is there something else behind it? Plus, there are the unique challenges brought by London's condition, lending the book a sort of 50 First Dates appeal. Luke is a sweetly adorable guy next door, vulnerable, sensitive, sometimes awkward, and a little weird. London is equally likeable though not without flaw: she can be stubborn and a little slow to forgive, but she's also fiercely loyal, funny, and charmingly offbeat (but not in an overdone, clichéd way). Her entire personality doesn't center around her condition, an accomplishment for which I give Cat Patrick props.

All in all, Patrick does an admirable job of piecing together London's past and her future without tying everything up too tidily. Many readers will hope for a sequel, but Patrick claims she's happy with the book's ending and no sequel is planned. (There is, however, a movie in the early stages of development.) In my opinion, there's just enough for readers to draw their own conclusions. However, I was left wondering a bit more about the practicalities of London's condition, and also a bit bothered by the suddenness of some of the twists at the end (oh, my, were there twists). One thing, which I will not reveal due its spoilerish nature, bothered me in particular.

I would recommend this book to all YA readers who enjoy a combination of romance and mystery/suspense, especially if they like just a touch of the paranormal for flavoring. If this sounds like the book for you, we have a copy up for grabs in our Fall Giveaway Event! Library copies are on order.

Final note: Did you notice the two covers at the beginning? The prettier, more romantic ARC cover (left) was changed to the cover on the right—which I think does a better job of evoking the novel's suspense element—for the final publication. Which do you prefer?

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