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, 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...


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


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


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

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.


The Challenger: Matched by Ally Condie

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.
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