Wednesday, November 27, 2013

REVIEW: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Love Story
Audience: Young Adult/Teen

Summary:  For Eleanor and Park, it is far from love at first sight. Park thinks the crazy-haired, oddly dressed new girl looks like a victim waiting to happen, and the minute she steps on to their shared school bus he's proven right as the bullies zero in for the kill. Meanwhile, Eleanor is too concerned with her problems at home to think much about the "stupid Asian kid" who reluctantly scoots over to share his seat, cursing under his breath all the while. For days they share the seat in awkward, sometimes hostile silence. But then... Something changes. Soon, Eleanor is surreptitiously reading Watchmen comics over his shoulder and Park is making Eleanor mix tapes of his favorite bands. Slowly, tentatively a friendship develops and then friendship becomes something more. But love doesn't solve everything. Together they must face disapproving parents, mean-spirited classmates, and the dark truths Eleanor never wants Park to discover.

Celebrity Stamp of Approval:Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

First Lines: "He'd stopped trying to bring her back. She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu."

Tracy's Thoughts: I practically inhaled this book from start to finish. Told through the alternating perspectives of Eleanor and Park, it is a fast, engaging read that brings its characters to vibrant life. Both protagonists feel incredibly real, flawed yet wholly sympathetic. Though they come from different worlds, I completely bought into the idea that Eleanor and Park are destined to meet and fall in love. Yet even they have doubts that their love can last, especially considering their circumstances. Eleanor is keeping secrets from Park about her disadvantaged home life and abusive, skeevy stepfather, and Park's Korean-American mother is less than approving of Eleanor and her appearance. Plus Park has some difficulty coping with the shameless bullying some students at the school direct at Eleanor. (Though he adores her, he's also a little embarrassed by her at times.) And then there's Eleanor's own insecurities and her trouble believing that slender, calm Park is attracted to her chubby, difficult self. Suffice it to say, they have a lot to deal with, and every bit of it feels realistic and essential to the story.

Despite the undeniable dark side to this novel, it is also funny, heartbreaking, and extremely sweet. In many ways, the novel is like Eleanor herself: gritty and perhaps a little abrasive, but also extremely lovable. There is a good deal of profanity and crude language, but, to me, the language is authentic to the characters and place rather than gratuitous. And the dialog is smart and clever; it's no wonder John Green so enthusiastically recommends this book. Though it is solidly grounded in the period (did I forget to mention the book is set in 1986?), Eleanor and Park is a timeless, universal story of first love.

Monday, November 18, 2013

REVIEW: The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Preschool to 2nd Grade

Summary: Laszlo lives in a large house with a creaky roof and several intimidating staircases, but it is the dark that scares him. It hides in corners and comes out at night, but most of all, it lives in the basement. Then one night, the dark comes to Laszlo's room and speaks to him, urging Laszlo to visit the one place he fears most.

First Line: "Laszlo was afraid of the dark."

Tracy's Thoughts: From the moment I first heard of this book, I was psyched. Yes; I'm a grown woman without children excited over a picture book! But it's a collaboration between Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen! I loved the dark, edgy humor of Klassen's I Want My Hat Back and thought a book by Klassen and Lemony Snicket about a child's fear of the dark would be perfect. And the duo does not disappoint.

This imaginative, suspenseful picture book manages to be both appropriately eerie and oddly comforting (in a Lemony Snicket kind of way!). Here, the dark is a living, breathing entity. As least it is to Laszlo, who sleeps with a flashlight and avoids shadowy corners. Most of the illustrations are deceptively simple two-page spreads depicting the interplay of light and shadow, with solemn little Laszlo looking on warily. The house is austere and barren, giving the dark room to expand. Overall, the muted color scheme and mildly creepy tone of the text compliment one another perfectly. And after Laszlo comes to an understanding of sorts with his nemesis, the ending comes full circle. Only now, instead of watching the creeping shadows with suspicion as the sun sets outside, Laszlo is oblivious to the coming night and plays happily with his toy trucks, his flashlight nowhere in sight.

For a completely different take on nighttime fears, I highly recommend I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fall 2013 Giveaway Winners + Last Chance Giveaway!

Grace Doll by Jennifer Laurens
Cover Description:
Grace Doll had everything a girl could want:      
Fame. Fortune. Beauty. Everything except her      
freedom. So when a powerful movie producer      
forces an experimental treatment on Grace--one      
that's purported to make beauty immortal--she      
stages her own death to escape him. With the      
help of trusted friends, Grace slips into hiding.        
She's forever flawless. Forever young, and      
forever pursued by her past.       
But when a stranger arrives on her doorstep,        
holding the key to a life she thought she'd       
left behind, Grace must decide   between the      
safety she's known...and embracing the role      
she was born to play.      
And the winners are...
# 127  Jada Redmon
# 53  Pinky028
# 62  Pinky028
# 56  Pinky028
# 6 Bethany
# 65 Pinky028
# 68  Kari Crum
# 134  Jada Redmon
# 85  Anonymous (Jen)
# 135  mrsshreve
# 80  Anonymous (Jen)
# 18  Jessica Cooper
# 88  Anonymous (Jen)
# 103  Kayla Druin
# 140  Catherine Spann
# 93  Anonymous (Jen)

....But wait! We have an extra giveaway available. For those of you who didn't win, Grace Doll by Jennifer Laurens is now up for grabs.The book goes to the first person to leave a comment below (be sure to leave your e-mail address so I can arrange pickup!) Ready... Set...Go!
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