Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: My True Love Gave To Me



In addition to teaching me about the stringency of Overdrive's due dates, My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories also provided a great read. This book of short stories was edited by Stephanie Perkins and included pieces by some of my very favorite YA authors.  I can honestly say that I liked every single story in the book--although, of course, I liked some more than others.

I actually think that my favorite story in the book might have been the very first one. It's called "Midnights" and was written by Rainbow Rowell, who I love.  It traces the relationship of a pair of best friends, Mags and Noel, through four New Years' Eves. As always, I just love how Rainbow Rowell develops characters and can make them so fascinating, so real, even when their situations might be so common. The group of friends on this story made me think fondly of my own group of high school friends and the parties that we used to have.

I also really enjoyed "Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena. I think I've read a short story by him in another anthology, but never anything longer. This story hinged basically all on character, as the two principal characters, Shy and Haley, were snowed in to a New York City apartment complex for Christmas. Both of them are working through their reasons for being alone for Christmas, and even though there's not a ton of action, I felt like the short story packed in so much about Shy--really good stuff.

Another standout was "It's A Christmas Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins (who also edited the entire volume). In this short story, Marigold finds herself buying a Christmas tree (a "Charlie Brown"-type tree) that she doesn't need and can't afford from North's family's tree farm, simply because she wants to get close to North... for his voice.  So she can ask him to help her record a broadcast that might be her ticket into college and out of town. But the tree-buying leads to North carrying the tree back to her apartment, which is rather.... messy and overcrowded. But she and her mother are NOT hoarders, thank you very much. And somehow she and North end up spending the whole night cleaning and rearranging the entire apartment while getting to know each other. NOT what you might envision as a love story, but it totally works.

As if that's not great enough, there's also "What in the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman. In this one, the title character meets the tall, dark, and handsome Russell when she mutters a crazy-person under-her-breath comment about Ned Flanders while attending a campus caroling event.

There were also stories I really enjoyed by authors I haven't read before, including "Beer Buckets and Baby Hesys" by Myra McEntire, "Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White, and "The Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter.  These are all names I've heard often in YA circles but haven't had time to read yet.  After immensely enjoying their short stories, they'll be on my reading list for the future.

In short, My True Love Gave To Me is definitely a book not to be missed.  Even though the Christmas holiday has passed for this year, this book is still a must-read.... The coming of January may just mean shorter wait lists at your library!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Overdrive Due Dates are Serious Business

Just so you know, Overdrive due dates are Serious Business.

If you're wondering, "What's Overdrive?", then let me tell you, you're missing out.  It's a fabulous app that you can use to check out ebooks and audiobooks through your public library.  You can access it through your library's website.  If you've never used it, just stop reading this and go download it now.  Then use your library card number to log in.  If you need help, your local librarian can assist you.  It's fantastic.  You'll have all your favorite books and tons of new releases at your fingertips.  You will become gluttonous in your reading habits.

However, be forewarned, the due dates are Serious Business.  Apparently I've just always finished my ebooks and audiobooks before the due date.  Or renewed them.  Or just accepted that I'm not going to finish them and checked out a hard copy.  Or something.  (Because except in EXTREMELY rare cases, I always finish books once I start them).

But this week, I was in a race against time to finish My True Love Gave To Me, a fabulous book of Christmas-themed short stories edited by Stephanie Perkins.  Someone else had a hold on it, so I couldn't renew it.  I'd had to put it aside in order to read a book for book club, so on the day that it was due, I still had two short stories to go.  But I figured I had the whole day, so it wouldn't be a problem.

But when I got up that morning and opened up Overdrive, it informed me that I had 7 hours left with the book.  Huh.  Since Overdrive is an automated system, apparently it takes that "14 day checkout" thing very seriously.  It measures it to the hour.

So I went about getting done the things I needed to get done that morning and then settled down to read.  When I started the final story, Overdrive told me that I had 43 minutes remaining on my checkout.  Yep, that's right, Overdrive measures checkouts to the minute.

I thought, well, surely if I have the document open, I can finish reading it, even if my time expires.

Nope.  The last story was a long one.  43 minutes passed.  I wasn't done.  Overdrive didn't care.  It deleted that ebook right off my phone and I was left to wonder how the story ended. Grrrrr!!!!

I was left with no choice but to put my name back on the wait list to check it out again.

On the up side, the person who checked it out after me clearly did not read another book in the midst while she had it checked out, because she finished in a mere three days, and then I got it back and was able to finish.  Ahhh.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

  
I picked up Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before for several reasons.  First, I loved her Summer trilogy (The Summer I Turned Pretty, It's Not Summer Without You, and We'll Always Have Summer)--even though I was somewhat conflicted on the entire third book.

Secondly, All the Boys has been receiving some major hype of its own.  It was named to both Epic Reads' Book Shimmy Awards Nominees list AND Goodreads' Choice Awards Best Young Adult Contemporary list this year.  So that combination definitely says it's something I should take notice of.

Thirdly, I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the plot.  High school junior Lara Jean has an interesting way of getting over her crushes: she writes them a letter, in which she discloses her deepest feelings for them.  Then she seals the letter, addresses it, and hides it in a old hatbox in her closet.  And then she's over them, for good.  She says it's kind of like an exorcism.  She has done this five times, with complete success each time.  And I have to admit, when faced with the premise of this plot, that perhaps my high school self could have taken a lesson from Lara Jean.  I had a few too many unhealthy lingering crushes.  Wouldn't it have been great to just put them to rest and move on like that?  So much healthier.

(Warning: spoilery ensues from this point on.)

But apparently not.  Because somehow, a few chapters into the book, Lara Jean's old letters, dating all the way back to seventh grade, inadvertently get mailed.  And chaos erupts.  Because obviously, these guys want to know why on earth she would say these things to them, especially after so much time had passed.  And there's one guy in particular (Josh) that she REALLY never wanted to find out that she had feelings for him.... because he happens to be one of her very best friends AND her older sister's ex-boyfriend.

This is where the book begins to feel an awful lot like the Summer trilogy, except in reverse.  Instead of one girl in love with two brothers, we have one boy in love with two sisters.  And there's just no good way that it can end.  Except that in this case, Lara Jean realizes that there's no good way it can end.  So she decides that OBVIOUSLY, the REASONABLE thing to do is to PRETEND to be dating someone else to avoid all awkwardness.  Thus leading her into a book-long fake relationship with another one of the recipients of her letters (Peter).

The problem is that I, and I'm going to guess many readers of this book and lovers of the Summer trilogy, were secretly rooting for a similar result, where the sibling thing was somehow smoothed over, because obviously Lara Jean and Josh were so, so right for each other.  And that even though we were beaten over the head for the entire book by the fact that Peter was Not What He Seems Like and that he Really Was A Decent Guy, I just couldn't get over being sad for Josh.  First he lost Margot (which frankly, I didn't think seemed like that big of a loss--we never actually saw them together, so it was hard to work up much emotion over them), but then, worse, he lost the entire Covey family.  And he told Lara Jean that she was all that kept him hanging on, and that was when they were still just FRIENDS, before he even got the letter, and then she just ditched him.  And he's eating lunch alone, for cripes sake.

And he's just so good to Lara Jean through the whole book.  And okay, even if she never dates him, she's really just a craptastic friend.  Not to mention a craptastic sister to Margot.  She spends the entire book talking about how she loves Margot and just can't survive without her, yet they don't have a single authentic conversation the entire time that Margot is away at college, and as far as I can tell, that's way more on Lara Jean than on Margot.

Furthermore, Lara Jean somehow decides that she actually does like Peter.  Okay, whatever.  I get it.  We've all made bad romantic choices.  Particularly during the high school years.  Seems a little stupid of her after her whole soapbox about Josh, "If he were mine, I would never have let him go," and then she oh wait, she lets him go... but whatever.  What really gets me is that for the entire book she is pretty sure that Peter is "cheating" on her with Gen.  All the evidence points to this fact.  Gen basically tells her that its true.  Peters tells her that she can never ask him to give up Gen.  And okay, I get that they're in a fake relationship.  (Which, after a while, I lost the point of.  She had worked things out with Josh.  Josh wanted to be with her.  Obviously he bought the lie.  So why was she keeping it up?  And if Peter's goal was to convince Gen to want him, and she was hooking up with him, the job well done.  So why were they doing this again???)  But if they're then deciding to date for real, and Gen is being evil to Lara Jean, shouldn't they at least DISCUSS that hey, hooking up with Gen is now off the table??  Because that's a pretty crappy precedent to set.  Just saying.

Okay, enough with the rant.

Because I actually DID like this book.  I read it all in one day.  And even if I think that Lara Jean made poor romantic decisions, I found her to be delightfully quirky (though she would probably be mad at me for saying that).  What's more, I loved the entire Covey family, especially Kitty.  She was just such an awesome little sister.  I don't think that YA has nearly enough awesome younger siblings.  Far too often, they're just throwaway characters.  But Kitty was so full of life and personality.  She really made the story.

I also really like how Jenny Han weaves the past so neatly in with the present in her books.  There are several authors I admire that do this well, and she is definitely one of them.  This was a trait that really strengthened both All the Boys and the Summer trilogy.

I also have to admit that much of my frustration with this book was greatly alleviated when I hopped on Goodreads to mark it as "read" and realized that there's a sequel coming out next year.  So the end of this book is not the final word on Lara Jean's love life, which is frankly a relief to me.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Big Little Lies

 I've recently joined a new book club. For my second meeting with the club, the chosen book was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  Since I read primarily YA novels, I had not heard of either the book or the author--which just shows how woefully out of touch I've become with the world of popular adult literature since leaving my library job, since the book is apparently smashing up the bestseller lists.

This was clearly demonstrated to me when I put my name on the wait list at my public library at it became pretty obvious that there was only a slim chance that I would be able to get my hands on a physical copy of this book before our next book club meeting--a month away.  Okay, I figured, I'd just check out the ebook.  But when I logged onto my public library's Overdrive, there was a waitlist of 8 people ahead of me--for 4 copies of the book.  Wow.

Fortunately, I still have active Overdrive accounts for both the Delphi and Monticello libraries, since we've only been here for 4 months.  So sometimes, when I'm really desperate for a book that my library doesn't have, I check it out on Overdrive from one of those libraries.  So I figured, okay, if the book is this popular, surely one of those libraries will have it and I'll be able to get it, no problem.  Sure enough, both libraries had it.  But--holy cow.  There were 22 people ahead of me on the wait list at Delphi.  Delphi.  Seriously, I didn't know there were 22 people in Delphi who utilized Overdrive.  I think I only ever had to wait for a book once in all the time I lived in Delphi, and I personally knew the person who had the book checked out.  So then I checked Monticello, and whoa.  47 people ahead of me for checkout.  I worked at the Monticello Library and never saw numbers like that.  So at this point, I called my friend Andrea (who is in the book club with me) and asked, "What IS this book???"  She didn't know what the fuss was about either, but we were both awfully curious.

None of my holds ever did come up, but fortunately, Andrea's did.  She read it and then passed it on to me.  And I read that entire thing, all 458 pages, the day of book club in order to get it done on time.  I am a bad, bad mother.  (Although the kids would disagree.  They thought I was awesome for letting them have unlimited screen time for a day, since I usually monitor it pretty closely.)

Anyway, enough backstory.  The book itself.  You would think that 458 pages in a day would be overwhelming, but I was almost glad that I had to knock it out all in one day, because that way I had an excuse for not putting it down.  Aside from the first chapter, which is kind of weird and out of place, the book is a murder investigation and a flashback on the past six months of events that led up to the murder.  Except that Moriarty never tells us who was murdered, which is a fantastic hook.  I spent the entire book agonizing and guessing.

Now that I'm writing this, I feel like there's not a lot that I can actually say about this book without giving away so much of the story.  The basics are that the story centers around three moms: Madeline (who is feisty and loud), Celeste (who is rich and beautiful), and Jane (who is young and alone).  Their kids are all in the same kindergarten class, and the three of them form an unlikely close friendship.  The entire novel centers around the dynamics of both the kids and the parents in that kindergarten class, and it's so skillfully done that I really felt like I knew some of those parents by the end.  (Possibly because some of those parents are such excellent caricatures of parents I have known.  Ahem.)

Madeline is really the force that ties everything together.  Celeste, Jane, and even Madeline's own daughter Abigail all have secrets to keep.  Madeline also has to contend with her ex-husband and his new wife having a daughter in the same kindergarten class as own youngest daughter.  AND Madeline is involved in a bit of a feud with one of the other kindy moms.  Kindy--did I mention that this whole thing is set on a breathtakingly beautiful Australian beach?  I absolutely loved the relationships that develop in this book, and the characters are all so beautifully developed and true to life.

There's not much more that I can say without starting to give away secrets.  Big Little Lies proved a lively discussion for our book club, and I feel like I could still talk about it for hours, so if any of you should choose to read it, let me know and we'll talk.  :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: Stone Fox


 
My third grade daughter, Bryn, just read Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner at school.  I do typically try to read her class novels along with her so that we can discuss them, but I was not prepared for the way that she devoured Stone Fox.  On the day that her class started the novel, she came home with the assignment to "read chapter 2"..... and she sat on the couch and read the entire novel.  (Ahem.... she comes by this honestly.  This is what I did with pretty much every single book of my elementary school career.)  And then, with tears in her eyes, she promptly demanded that I read it as well, because it was "just so amazing."  Now that I have finished, she is demanding that her dad read it as well.

Luckily, Stone Fox is short enough that an adult can easily knock it out in one sitting.  At only 83 pages, with large print and pictures, it's a fast read.  And for an adult looking to read a book that will allow them to enter into some deep conversations with their kids, it's well worth it.

As Stone Fox opens, little Willy's grandfather has fallen sick.  Medically, there's nothing wrong with him.  It appears that he has simply lost his will to live.  Little Willy resolves to make his grandfather well by bringing in the potato harvest by himself and solving their money problems.  But then he learns that they're in much more debt than he could have dreamed, and the only way he can discover to save the family farm is to enter a dogsled race.  But everyone assumes that Stone Fox, a silent Indian with his team of five gorgeous dogs, will win the race--after all, he's never lost.

There are a lot of rich issues to discuss in this book.  While little Willy is only 10 years old, he does all the work on the farm--preparing the meals, bringing in the harvest, taking care of his grandfather.  This leads to a great discussion of responsibility and how families care for each other.  Little Willy sacrifices a great deal for his grandfather--including his entire college savings fund, which represents his future, but he never hesitates or regrets it.  There's also the way that Willy interacts with all the adults in the book.... because he has taken responsibility for his grandfather, they all treat him with respect.  And Willy's relationship with his dog, Searchlight, is so, so rich.  And then there's the character of Stone Fox, who is both noble and intimidating.  And of course, you can always look at historical context and how times have changed so significantly.

In short, I'd definitely recommend this one for a home school curriculum, some summer reading, or a parent looking do to some enrichment interaction with their child.  Quick read for the parent, a real thinker for the child.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: The Raven Boys

  So.... wow.  I picked up The Raven Boys expecting it to be at least a little bit like Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and it's distinctly.... not.  This book was heavy with mythology and had layers upon layers of story.  It sent me running to the internet more than once, to Google things like "Owen Glendower" and "Page of Cups."  When my husband asked me to tell him about the book I was reading, I stammered around for a few minutes before saying, "I really just can't describe it."
.... And now I've sat here for at least five minutes, staring at the screen, because I'm still not sure how to describe it.
So, things I loved:


* Noah.  NOAH.  I wished that I had known someone else who had read and loved this book (besides my former boss, who I knew was working) that I could have called and shouted into the phone about when I discovered his secret along with Blue and Gansey. Incredible.  Genius, Maggie Stiefvater.

* Neeve.  Actually, I wouldn't say that I loved her, but I am completely creeped out by her.  Which I think is the point.

* Cabeswater.  Oh, my gosh, so creepy and so beautiful and so amazing, all at the very same time.

* Ronan's last line of the book.  Hello?  Now I need to rush to my library to get the sequel, like, immediately.

* Blue's relationship with Maura.  As mothers and daughters go, particularly mothers and daughters in YA lit, they're awesome.

* The hints of the secrets surrounding Blue's father and her birth.  I suspect that it's going to be mind-blowing when we find out the whole story.


And things that I'm still confused or conflicted about:

* Barrington Whelk.  I wanted more backstory on him.  Why was he looking for the ley lines in the first place?  I wanted to understand him more.  He felt a little expendable.

* Orla.  I'm not really sure who she is.  She lives in the house with the rest of the psychics, but she's not part of the Maura-Calla-Persephone BFF triangle and she's never present at any of the readings.

* Ashley.  Declan's girlfriend who isn't as dumb as she looks.  I'm wondering if she's going to reappear in some real way.

* On that same note, the Lynch brothers.  Declan and Matthew.  Particularly Matthew. Do we get to meet him for real at some point?  Must.  Read.  Sequels.

* What exactly happened to Adam in Cabeswater.  And how that will affect his relationship with Gansey.  But I think I have to read the next book to find that out.

* Ronan.  He is such a mystery.  But he's supposed to be.  So I'll keep reading.


Maggie Stiefvater, job well done.  I am hooked.  I cannot wait to pick up The Dream Thieves.  Please hurry up and write the final installment of this series.  I don't think I can take the suspense.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Winter's Bone--the movie


  

After reading Winter's Bone, my book club got together to watch the movie version.  After the viewing, we realized that we had watched the cut-for-television version as opposed to the original theater version, so I do think we missed some parts and my take on it probably isn't complete.  So #1 observation: I hate how movies get cut to fit commercial breaks for television.  It really takes away from their original message.  And since, in my opinion, turning books into movies often takes away from the original message of the book in so many ways, this is kind of doubly painful.

That being said, let's start with the good.  I was highly impressed at how the movie stayed true to the original dialogue of the book.  It was practically spot-on.  That was an incredible strength and carried the movie a long way.

The other major strength was Jennifer Lawrence.  Before watching the movie, I didn't realize that "Winter's Bone" had been her breakout role.  But she did a fantastic job capturing Ree's strength and determination, as well as her downtrodden circumstances.  Two thumbs up to Lawrence.  Not so much approval to the wardrobing consultant, who kept dressing her in jeans, reindeer sweaters, and an Army jacket (all of which made her look very cute, but that's beside the point), as opposed to the skirts and dresses and old cast-off Mamaw's coat the the Ree of the book favored.  I felt like we lost a lot of the subtle spirit of Ree there.

I also didn't think that the character of Teardrop was nearly as good.  He just wasn't scary enough.  Where were the teardrop tattoos that gave him his name?  And the missing ear and long scar?  He pulled off mildly trashy, but not terrifying.

Likewise with the bar scene.  In the book, he pulls Ree out of bed and takes her to this terrible dive of a bar.  She's so drugged up on pain pills that she's barely conscious.  Plus she can't see out of one of her eyes.  And she's in her pajamas.  She's completely vulnerable.  There's this terrible sense that anything could happen to her.  In the book, it's a perfectly nice place, decorated with Christmas lights, for goodness sake.  She has some mild bruising, but that's it.  (That's another thing.  In the book, she basically looked like raw meat after her beating.  In the movie, mild bruising.)  She's totally conscious, walking around, talking to people, fully dressed.  No sense of imminent danger.  Completely lost its impact.

And there were weird substitutions in the movie.  Like when Ree and Gail went to visit her dad's old girlfriend.... instead of her being alone, there was a party, complete with music, going on.  Um, no.  There was no joy in the book.  What was that about?  And Ree looking for Thump Milton at a hog show.  That would indicate joy, fun, and disposable income.  No, no, and no.  And in the movie, everyone seemed to have pets.  Again, disposable income and some modicum of happiness--no and no.  And in the movie, Ree's youngest brother magically became a sister, several years younger.  NO.  In the book, it was so powerful to have the two boys, only 18 months apart, always together.  I felt like changing these things really took away from the power of the story.

But the biggest change of all was that there WAS NO SNOW in the movie.  WHAT?!?  The snow was so incredibly pervasive throughout the book.  It was in every scene.  It shaped the story.  I mean, hello?  The story is called Winter's Bone.  The snow was this overwhelming symbol, demonstrating the hopelessness of the characters' lives.  Yet there was not a single snowflake in the movie.  BIG FAIL, producers.

Basically, I felt like the producers of this movie must have read the book and said, "Hmm, has potential, but we're going to have to nice it up a lot."  In which case they should have just left it alone, because obviously, Winter's Bone is not a story that was meant to be "nice."

But what do I know?  Apparently it was nominated for four Oscars.

Probably by people who hadn't read the book though.  :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Winter's Bone


  

I read Winter's Bone for a book club that I have recently re-joined after roughly four years of absence.  I must begin by saying that I perhaps did not understand what I was getting into when I picked up this book.  My vague understanding was that we were reading it because it was "spooky, for Halloween."  I was incorrect about that--the "spooky" book was the last book we read (ahem, the last book the rest of them read; I didn't so much get to it), which explains my confusion in the early stages of this book.  Winter's Bone was not "spooky," but it was "scary" in another way.

It's scary to think that people actually live like this anywhere in the world today, much less in the United States.  Throughout the book, I kept thinking, "Now when does this take place?" and was jarred with reality again and again when I realized that it takes place now, here, today, and that while these characters are fictional, the setting is based in reality.

I did not like Winter's Bone.  I mean that in a couple of ways.  First, Winter's Bone is not the kind of book that anyone is supposed to "like."  It's not the type of book that you're mean to sit around comfortable living rooms or coffee shops chatting about, saying, "Oh, did you read Winter's Bone?  I just loved it.  It was such a nice read."  (Which is why I'm alternately fascinated and horrified at the idea of it having been made into a movie starting Jennifer Lawrence.  I mean, one one hand, she's proven that she can do uncomfortable and gruesome well.  One the other hand, the ads show her wearing a reindeer sweater, for goodness sake.)  There is nothing "nice" about this book.  It's gritty and uncomfortable and raw.  It's meant to take people out of their comfort zones.  That's not something you're supposed to "like."

So when I go to Goodreads and see all these 5-star reviews for Winter's Bone, I think what all those people are actually saying is, "I deeply appreciate this writer's craft."  But I don't feel like I can really say that either.  I do appreciate when Daniel Woodrell was trying to do.  And while my primary fare is YA these days, well, darn it, I was an English major and an English teacher, and I do know how to appreciate great literature, even if I don't choose to do it on a daily basis.  I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads where people argued over whether or not the characters were true to the Ozarks way of life and speech--but really, that wasn't the problem for me.  Overall, it just felt like Woodrell tried a little too hard to be artsy.  Like, what was with the part where Ree spent the night in the caves and talked about the entrails of the fish and her ancestors living in the caves?  Okay, if you're going to hit me with symbolism, bring it on.  But one random chapter in the midst of the misery of her everyday life?  Felt like he was trying to hard to sneak in the artsy.  And some of his descriptions of the landscapes.... gorgeous prose, but totally out of place with the characters and their thoughts.  Too split-personality for me.  I get that he as an author can do both, but they didn't jive together.

As a reader, what I really look for in a book is a character that I can connect with.  Or, barring that connection--really root for.  And I could never feel that for Ree.  I understand that she was in a terrible, terrible situation.  And I understand that her hardness was born of a life of living that way.  I even understand that she was doing the absolute best that she could.  Oh, I understand all of that.  And I wanted her to succeed.  I just didn't actually like her at all.  And I feel like that was a failing of Woodrell.  I have read plenty of books where I have rooted for completely despicable characters, simply because the author has played upon my emotions.  And then there was Ree, who I actually wanted to root for, but I couldn't because in spite of the fact that she had everything going against her, I didn't like her at all.  Fail, Daniel Woodrell.  The only character that I had any modicum of actual interest in was Gail, who I kept waiting to reappear after she and Ned go back to Frank--but no such luck.  Another disappointment.

Overall, this one doesn't make my recommendation list.  I'm interested in seeing how the other members of my book club liked it; maybe that will change my opinion a little.  We're also going to watch the movie version--review of that to follow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Changes

You may have noticed a lengthy silence here at Blatant Bibliophilia....  The silence was unplanned, but born of my crazy life.  In mid-July, our family learned that the company where my husband worked was going to be eliminating his position.  We had about two weeks to pack up our entire lives, find a new home in a new city, and move in time for the kids to start the school year with their new classmates (because their new school operates on a "balanced calendar").  I then got to play single mom for a month while my husband finished up his old job (an hour and a half away).  Since then, it's been unpacking boxes and adjusting to our new lives, hitting the ground running.

As you may have gathered from the rapid transition and the hour-and-a-half move, one of the saddest parts of this move has been leaving behind my awesome, wonderful, perfect job as a teen librarian.

I miss working with kids.  I miss being surrounded by books.

On the up side, I have re-applied to grad school to continue work on my MLS next semester.  I am home with my kids this year and really enjoying taking them to the library and reading new books to them.  I'm getting more time to read myself.  And I'm looking into options of job possibilities for next fall.  So while things feel pretty rough right now, I'm attempting to use the time to whittle down my TBR list (harder than it sounds when surrounded by 4 kids) and making plans for the future....

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Slammed

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A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my friend Andrea that said, "You need to read Slammed by Colleen Hoover.  NEED."  Two days after that, I found myself shelving that same book on the "new books" shelf at my library.  I took it as a sign that it was Meant To Be and snagged that copy for myself.

Once I started reading, I simply could not put it down.  I LOVED this book.

As it begins, 18-year-old Layken, her 9-year-old brother, and her mother are moving from Texas to Michigan.  Her father has recently died in a car accident and her mother has told Layken and her brother that need to make the move for financial reasons.  Lake is starting her senior year of high school and feels like her world has been turned upside down.

But as they pull into the driveway of their rental house, she meets Will, her handsome 21-year-old across-the-street neighbor.  Her younger brother quickly becomes best friends with his younger brother, and she just as quickly forms a deep attraction and bond with him.  They share an amazing first date to a poetry slam, where Lake gets a look at who Will is at his core.

But following that first date, everything is turned upside down.  Serious impediments to their relationship spring up.... not silly things like teenage drama, but big, painful stuff, like Will's career, the care of Will's brother, and the health of Layken's mother.  The characters in this book (Will, Layken, and her best friend Eddie) tackle some tough issues, and while none of them are painted as perfect people, I was definitely rooting for all of them.

Will teaches the other characters to love slam poetry, and accordingly, there are slam poems scattered throughout the book.  For me, these poems are really what set this book apart from anything else I had ever read.  They captured the characters emotions so beautifully and allowed them to speak so eloquently.  From contemplations for first love to death to anger to what it means to be a foster child to so much more--these poems are definitely not to be missed!

I simply cannot say enough good things about this book.  It's shelved in the Young Adult section at my library because the protagonist is a senior in high school, but I think it could easily be enjoyed by an older audience as well.  Any lover of poetry needs to check it out.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: Cinder


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In keeping with the summer reading theme of "Spark A Reaction," I decided that the theme for my second teen book club this summer would be science fiction.  I let my teens choose between three titles: The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and Legend by Marie Lu. Cinder won and I started reading!

Cinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles.  Or at least, it's currently the first book.  The prequel, Fairest, is scheduled to be released in a few months and I am soooooo excited..... which is probably a good indicator of how much I LOVED this book!

Cinder is a futuristic retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale.  Right off the bat, it's awesome because Cinder is an cyborg.  She was born as a human (or so she thinks....), but she was in a horrific accident (which she can't remember....) and the doctors saved her life by replacing the damaged parts with machinery.  She was then adopted by the Lihn family.... except that her benefactor, Garan, promptly died of letumosis, a terrible plague for which there is no cure.  11-year-old Cinder was then left alone with her cruel stepmother, Adri; older stepsister, Pearl; and younger stepsister (and only human friend), Peony.

The story begins with Cinder is 16.  She has become the most skilled mechanic in New Beijing.  Her entire paycheck goes to support Adri and her two daughters, of course.  Her sidekick is Iko, an android with glitch that causes her to have an actual personality.  On the day that the story begins, Prince Kai himself comes to her booth in the market (incognito, of course) with a droid to be repaired.  He tells her that it's a matter of national security that the information on the droid be recovered....

But mere hours later, tragedy strikes.  Peony is struck by the plague.  Adri blames Cinder and "volunteers" her for plague research.  It seems that this will lead Cinder to certain death herself.... but instead it introduces her to Dr. Erland, the head researcher, who makes a series of important discoveries about Cinder's mysterious past.

And while the beginning of the book was REALLY GOOD, this is when it starts to get AMAZING.

This was one of those books that, the minute that I was finished reading it, I hopped onto Goodreads to find out how many other books are in the series and how soon I can read them.  I was thrilled to find out that Scarlet and Cress have already been published, that Fairest and Winter are coming within the next year, and that several short stories have been published online.  I am a happy lady.  Modern fairy tales RULE, and Marissa Meyer's adaption is one of the most creative and best-done that I have read.  Do yourself a favor and read it!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Rot & Ruin


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I would never have picked up Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin on my own.  Even though I've heard a lot of hype about it, zombie books are just not my thing.  In fact, zombies in general are Not My Thing.  Much to my husband's disappointment, I have not joined him in watching a single episode of "The Walking Dead."

However, the teen summer reading theme this year is "Spark A Reaction," and I decided to go with a couple of zombie-themed weeks to play off the idea of "Spark of Life."  We played Humans vs. Zombies on the library lawn, had a teen movie night featuring Warm Bodies, and put together a pretty cool display of zombie-themed books and movies.  So naturally, it made sense for my teen book club to read a zombie book during this time frame.  I narrowed the choices to Rot & Ruin, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  They voted for Rot & Ruin, so I got reading.

The post-apocalyptic story centers around Benny Imura, a teenager who needs to find a job in order to keep his rations, and his older brother Tom, a renowned zombie hunter.  Benny utterly hates Tom because he thinks he is a coward.  This dates back to his very earliest memory, from when he was less than 2 years old and Tom rescued him from their parents, who had turned into zombies (as had the majority of the rest of the world, apparently).  So in spite of owing his life (and his entire existence since then) to Tom, Benny is convinced that Tom is a coward and completely hates him..... I was never clear on exactly how he could justify feeling this way, since it made basically no sense, except in a pissed-off teenage boy "I hate the world" kind of way.  But just roll with it.

Benny also basically hero-worshiped two other zombie hunters, Charlie and the Hammer, who have both gotten rich by killing more "zoms" than anybody can count and spend days regaling the townspeople the stories of their violent conquests.  It is quite clear to any impartial observer that these guys are No Good, but it seems that Benny has to figure that out for himself.... which he does about halfway through the book, when Charlie starts murdering everyone near and dear to him, all because Benny wouldn't hand over a zombie card (think baseball card, but with pictures of zombie hunters) with a picture of the Lost Girl on it.

The Lost Girl is an an enigma who lives out somewhere in the Rot and Ruin (all of the "uncivilized," zombie-filled area outside the town), a kind of wild thing who has been known to take down dozens of zombies and human men alike.  It seems that the source of much of her angst (as if being surrounded by zombies isn't enough?) is that Charlie and the Hammer abducted her at a young age and forced her to fight for her life at Gameland, where really sick and twisted humans can bet money on the outcome of child vs. zombie fights.  She managed to escape, but her little sister wasn't so lucky.... So now she lives in the wild, seeking revenge.  And yet somehow merely seeing her picture on a zombie card incites Charlie to such rage that he goes on a killing spree with the Imura family as his targets.  Again, not quite following the logic, but rolling with it.

Into this mess, throw Nix Riley, a teenage girl that Benny is JUST FRIENDS with.  We know that they are JUST FRIENDS because in spite of her declaring her undying love for him, he is Not Interested.  And yet he spends a great deal of timing noticing how well her t-shirt fits her.  Ahem.  But then Charlie abducts her, so Tom and Benny ride off into the Rot and Ruin to rescue Nix.  And surprise! It seems that Benny had more-than-platonic feelings for her after all.

"But what about the zombies?" you say.  "Isn't this a zombie book?"  Oh yes.  The zoms surround everything and everyone is deeply afraid of them.  Yet they are completely mindless and, it seems, easy eluded.  At least by Tom, who is a Zombie Ninja Master.  Tom also spends a great portion of the novel explaining to Benny how he (and everyone else) has been wrong about the zoms for all their lives--they're not scary, they're not really dangerous, they are really just sad, depressing remnants of what were once human beings and deserve to be treated with respect.  Okay, I'll buy that.  Sort of. 

So even though this was a zombie book, the zoms were far more pathetic than scary.  It was the humans that were the Real Monsters.  And this, children, is the Moral of the Story.  Which was repeated several times, in case we missed it the first time around.

The zombies are flat, one-dimensional characters incapable for growth.... and so is pretty much everyone else in this story.  Everyone in this book seemed like a caricature of an actual character.  Tom is The Good Zombie Hunter, who is noble and true to his purpose even though no one understands him.  Charlie and the Hammer are The Bad Guys, motivated by greed and their own evil.  The Lost Girl is the Tragic Heroine.  Nix is The Friend-Turned-Love-Interest.  Ugh.

In short, I would not have read this book if it hadn't been for my teen book club.  And in end, guess what..... none of them read it either!  At most, they only made it halfway through.  So this one does NOT make my recommendation list.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: Fourth Comings



In Fourth Comings, Jessica Darling (via Megan McCafferty) managed to overcome to dislike that I acquired for her during her college years (Charmed Thirds).  I no longer viewed her as just a Girl Who Makes Bad Decisions.  I can't say that I was 100% on board with every choice she made in this book, but I can definitely say that she has returned to the "think everything through from every angle" character that I came to know and love in Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings.

In Fourth Comings, Jess is a recent college graduate.  She is living in New York City, subletting an apartment.  On the upside, she's sharing a room with her best friend Hope.  I loved actually getting to know Hope in this book, as she has been mostly present only through her letters in the previous three books.  And after three books of having Hope presented as the ideal best friend, practically perfect in every way, it was quite interesting to find out that she's, well.... not.  (Though she's still pretty great.)

On the downside of the living arrangement, Jessica and Hope are also sharing the apartment with Manda and her girlfriend--who acts like an immature teenage boy.  Manda was more of what we have come to expect from previous books, just "matured" (?) to a 20-something in the big city.

Bridget, Sara, Scotty, Dexy, Jessica's parents, and Miss Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace all make appearances as well.  Bethany and Marin appear frequently and give Jessica a good deal to think about.

And, of course, there's Marcus.  As the story begins, he's experiencing his first day as a 23-year-old Princeton freshman.  Jessica is just not sure that she can handle 4 more years of living apart from him.  She's also not sure that she can handle dating a college freshman while she pursues a career (if only she could find  real job....).  And most of all, she's not sure she can handle being in a relationship with someone that can't seem to produce a sentence of more than 3 words (much less an entire conversation) after his self-imposed silence at Gakkai College and then his stint in Death Valley.  Ohhh, Jess, I hear ya.  We all had some deep love for Marcus back during Sloppy Firsts, when you were having those epic late-night phone conversations.  But now he just seems so distant....

So she decides to break up with him.  Not because she doesn't love him (she totally loves him!), but because she can't see their relationship going anywhere.  But with his "predictable unpredictability," Marcus ups the ante, refuses to accept her breakup, and proposes marriage instead.  He gives her a week to think it over--a week during which he is conveniently away at some kind of Outdoor Orientation Experience and therefore cannot communicate with her.  Exit Marcus from the story, except in Jessica's memory and imagination.

The rest of the story consists of Jess's experiences of the next week and her contemplations as she tries to decide if love is, indeed, "all you need."

Without giving anything away, I'll just say that I agree with the decision she reached in the end.

* * * * *

As an interesting (to me) side note, this book stumps librarians everywhere.  The first two books of this series can be filed squarely in YA, since the narrator and all the main characters are high school students.  The third book is a bit trickier, since it includes more mature themes and the characters have all progressed to college.... but at a stretch, it could possibly still be cataloged as YA, since it's the continuation of a series.  But now in this one, they're all definitely adults.  And the themes (marriage, job searches, financial independence, even the guardianship of Marin) are all adult.  So this one is definitely to be filed in the adult collection (as is the one that comes after it, Perfect Fifths).  So do we split the series and file it in two different places?  (In which case, where does Charmed Thirds go?  I'd vote with the adult.)  Or do we just file the whole series under adult?  These are the things I contemplate on a daily basis.  :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Never, EVER Shout in a Zoo



My kids recently picked out this adorable book at our local library.  The title page of Never, EVER Shout in a Zoo by Karma Wilson shows a little girl licking a chocolate ice cream cone.  The page with the copyright information shows her tripping.  The page with the dedication shows her crying as her ice cream cone lies on the ground.  And as the story begins, she gears up for a good solid wail as the opening text reads, "Never, EVER shout in a zoo. . . because if you do. . . anything might happen.  And don't say I didn't warn you."

In the following pages, the little girl learns to deal with the consequences of her actions as numerous animals, frightened by her wails, escape from their cages and rampage through the zoo.  Starting with a bear, followed by a moose.... and then things REALLY go crazy when the apes get loose!  Using alliteration and repetition, Wilson delights readers with the animals' antics.

When the little girl finds herself in quite the predicament at the end of the story, what do you think she'll do?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Pip's Trip



Pip's Trip by Janet Morgan Stoeke was written specifically with emerging readers in mind.  The text is large and repeats many words, although the vocabulary is not overly simplistic.  My kindergatener was thrilled to be able to read the entire thing aloud to her preschool brother.

In this story of the Loop Coop Hens, Pip tries to convince her friends Midge and Dot to go on a trip into the wide world with her.  Clearly the adventurer of the group, she climbs into the back of a pickup truck and prepares for a ride to parts unknown.  Midge and Dot, on the other hand, scamper off to ask Rooster Sam his opinion of the whole situation.  While Pip waits for her friends to come back, the truck "gets loud."  Regretting her decision, she closes her eyes in fear and waits.

The clever part of this story is that through the illustrations, readers can tell that the truck isn't actually going anywhere--a young man has it propped up on ramps and is repairing the engine.  But Pip is convinced that because it "got loud," she has gone somewhere.  And when she opens her eyes, the "wide world" looks just like her own farm!  And she is utterly convinced that she was very brave for traveling such a great distance in the big, scary truck.

Through this somewhat silly story, parents can have some great discussions with kids.  For example, what does it mean to be brave?  And how is the "wide world" like your own home?  A fun story as a stand-alone or a discussion-starter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Clink



My 4-year-old son recently grabbed Clink by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew Myers off the library shelf.  This adorable book is a must-read for any little guy or gal who loves robots.  My kids read it over and over again, and several guests to our house delighted in Clink's story as well.

Back in the day, Clink was a state-of-the-art robot who could multitask by playing music and making toast at the same time.  But nowadays, he's surrounded by newer models, robots who can do homework, give makeovers, pick up dirty laundry, play baseball, and switch out fancy attachments.  Nobody wants to buy him from the robot store.  So he just sits on the shelf and rusts away while all of his friends get bought one by one.

But just when poor little Clink has given up all hope, a boy who loves music (and, apparently, toast) enters the store... and hopeful readers will find that even lovable misfits can find a place to belong.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Athena the Brain

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My 8-year-old daughter has recently started devouring the "Goddess Girls" series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, so I picked up the first book to see what it was all about.  The series begins with Athena the Brain.  In this book, 12-year-old Athena gets an unexpected message with some shocking news: she is actually the daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods.  This is quite the shock.  She has been raised in a family of mortals as basically a sister to her best friend, Pallas.  In addition to revealing her parentage, Zeus has summoned her to attend Mount Olympus Academy, the school for the gods--where he is also the principal.

This is good news for Athena, because she has never quite fit in among the mortals.  It seems that she has some crazy talents, such as creating musical instruments and giving impromptu concerts.  So following a tearful goodbye to Pallas, off she goes to Mount Olympus Academy.  Over the next few days, she manages to make some good friends, particularly Aphrodite, Persephone, and Artemis.  Medusa, however, proves to be a jealous bully.

The book is very cute and provides some very simplistic versions of famous stories from mythology, such as as Medusa's serpent hair and freezing stare, the voyage of Odysseus, and the Trojan horse.  It also included some humorous puns, for example on the origin of the name of Trident chewing gum.  I liked that my daughter was learning basic mythology--even if it was in a very fictionalized format, she will have that background knowledge to call on when it's introduced in school later.

However, the book's actual storyline was very simplistic, so don't expect kids to get a lot of out that.  And if you're looking for some kind of explanation as to what kind of world these mortals live in, or what time period this is set in, or how the humans and gods interact... well, then you're out of luck.  There are no practical explanations given.  We're just to understand that characters come and go from Mount Olympus Academy at Zeus's whims, and they apparently age at whatever rate the gods desire as well.  The beauty of this series rests in the fact that there simply is no explanation given for anything--which may work for kids, but definitely didn't work for me.

Overall, I'm fine by my daughter reading this series--there's definitely nothing harmful in them, they're cute, and they do provide a good basis for later knowledge.  However, I wouldn't purchase the collection, and I will definitely try to introduce my daughter to other quality books to read in conjunction with these.

Book Review: Charmed Thirds

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The third book of the Jessica Darling saga begins the summer following Jess's freshman year at Columbia University.  She and Marcus have managed to survive their coast-to-coast separation (he is at a Buddhist university in California) with their romance intact and look forward to at least a few weeks of reuniting before Jessica begins her awesome summer internship with True magazine.  But somehow their weeks together don't end up as idyllic as Jessica had hoped, and then her internship is not quite what she expected either....



And then enter her sophomore year....

Unlike Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds covers a large expanse of time in one novel.  Jessica's entire college career is summed up in this third novel.  However, I was somewhat surprised by how little of her actual college experience was described by the novel.  The book began after her freshman year had ended, so all that we learned about her much-anticipated college experience was told in little snippets after the fact.  Sophomore year was divided into "sophomore winter" and "sophomore summer."  Apparently the only important events that happened during Jessica's college career occurred while she was on breaks from school.  Or, in the rare event that anything important happened during the school year itself, it was only narrated in a flashback during a break from school, and only described in relation to how it related to the events that were occurring during the break.

I had very mixed feelings about this method of narration.  I mean, I understand its usefulness as a way to basically skip forward a large chunk in time, hitting only the highlights.  But during the actual reading, I was extremely frustrated.  I had just stuck with Jessica for two entire novels, during which she wanted nothing except to leave Pineville.  So now she's in college, she's got all the resources to be off to a new and better life, and I'm to believe that the only significant events in her life occur while in Pineville???  It's enough to make me lose all respect for her as a narrator.  Furthermore, she apparently formed zero significant relationships during her college years.  I realize this may have been a plot device in order to keep the cast of characters for the series smaller, but really, I did not have any sympathy for her as a character when she was dissing on Sara for not being able to get beyond Pineville gossip.... and yet her only relationships are still with Pineville people.

During Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, I was a huge fan of Jessica Darling.  I rooted for her.  I related to her.  I could see a lot of my high school self in her.  I felt like she was flawed yet respectable, someone I could really get behind.  I could absolutely understand why Marcus Flutie (the bad boy who desperately wanted to reform himself) would have fallen desperately in love with her.  She was an awesome character.

I simply did not understand the Jessica that I saw in Charmed Thirds.  She was A Girl Who Makes Really Bad Decisions.  She alienated everyone everyone close to her.  She had no close relationships.  She made stupid decisions.  She had no plan for her life.  And she didn't even seem to feel bad about all the people she had hurt or let go.  And yet, miraculously, at all seemed to work out for her at the end--because, you know, she was such a great girl and deserved it.  And I was supposed to be happy for her?

Really the only thing that I did like about Charmed Thirds was Megan McCafferty's writing.  And because that is just so darn good, and also because I really hope Charmed Thirds was just a fluke and that the Jessica Darling I came to know and love in the first two books will make a comeback in the next installment, I have already put in an interlibrary loan request for Fourth Comings.  So stay tuned....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

 In this graphic novel, Charlie is along for the ride in more ways than one.  The first page finds him hanging on for dear life as his friend Nate weaves in and out of traffic while driving home from school, but Charlie only meekly expresses his fear.  He also doesn't have any kind of comeback when his cheerleader girlfriend, Holly, breaks up with him via text message in the book's first frame.  This kind of non-response is pretty much what we can expect from Charlie for most of book.  He is NOT the kind of guy that stands up for himself--he pretty much lets everyone in his life walk all over him.... which is how he ends up letting the cheerleaders manipulate him into running for student body president.
Nate, on the other hand, actually WANTS to be student body president--but only to ensure that the Robotics Team gets the funding to finish building The Beast.  But when Nate and the cheerleaders take their rivalry a bit too far, the principal pulls funding for both of their clubs... which leads to an uneasy (and unlikely) partnership between the two groups, as they team up to find an alternate source of funding.  The plan?  To turn The Beast into a robot-killing machine in time to win the Robot Rumble and secure the $10,000 of prize money.

This graphic novel was a quick read; I knocked it out in a little over an hour.  It leaned heavily on high school stereotypes (cheerleaders vs. nerds), but Charlie was a refreshing departure from the norm.  He and Nate were thrown together by their parents as kids because of their proximity as neighbors, but as high school students, Nate was the one kid that actually cared about and understood Charlie as a person instead of consigning him to the "jock" stereotype.  Nate was there for Charlie when no one else was and even took care of him when his parents weren't around.  Their friendship was a very cool thing, and I think it was Nate's loyalty to Charlie that finally enabled Charlie to stand up for himself.  This story was both fun and funny, and there's a nice little lesson about friendship in there to boot.  Thumbs up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: Parallel



I checked out Lauren Miller's debut novel, Parallel, from my library last week.  I read it--devoured it--in less than two days and have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  It reminded me vaguely of Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, in that it was a story of a girl with a chance at a do-over to get her life right.  Thankfully, I was very pleased with the end of Parallel, whereas Before I Fall was doomed to a sad ending before it started (since Sam was dead by the first page....).  Anyway, I digress.  This is really going to be one of those reviews where I tell you up front that you need to stop reading the review and and just go check out the book.  It's that good.

But for those of you who choose to stick around for the review, I will try to do it justice.

The novel opens on the night before Abby Barnes's 18th birthday.  She is NOT where she always thought she'd be.  According to her carefully crafted Plan for her life, she figured she'd be attending Northwestern University, enrolled in the journalism program.  But a scheduling snafu in her senior year of high school landed her in a drama class. . . . which led to her unexpectedly landing the lead in her school play. . . . which led to a talent scout "discovering" her. . . . which led to her being cast as a minor role in a movie (which she only agreed to do to enhance her Northwestern application). . . . which led to her spending the night before her 18th birthday at an elite restaurant in LA with the star-studded cast of her movie.

The second chapter of the novel is a flashback to Abby's 17th birthday.  Interestingly, it does NOT go as Abby remembered it in the first chapter.  She awakens... to an earthquake.  In Atlanta.  And is consequently late for school.  And because she is late for school, that aforementioned scheduling snafu becomes a little more complicated, and she ends up in astronomy class instead of drama.  In astronomy, she meets two very important people.  First, her professor, Dr. Mann: a Nobel Prize winner with a theory about parallel universes.  Secondly, a very cute boy, Josh: a new student who loves astronomy and rows for the crew team.

In the third chapter, Abby awakens on the morning of her 18th birthday.  But she's not in LA anymore.  Somehow, her entire life has changed overnight.  She's in a dorm room at Yale.  And she has no idea how she got there.  She has all the memories of the last year of her own life--the one that landed her in LA.  But as she reaches back, she has two alternate memories of that day a year before: her 17th birthday.  One day on which she took drama, which launched her on the path to LA.  And one day on which she took astronomy, which apparently launched her on the path to Yale--but how?  And how is this possible?

With the help of her science-savvy best friend Caitlin, as well as several scientific consultations with Dr. Mann, Abby comes to understand that she is living in a parallel universe.  And every time her parallel (the 17-year-old Abby) makes a decision, her own reality shifts again.

This book was beautifully, beautifully done.  This wasn't the first time that the idea of parallel dimensions has been touched (think "Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998), but in my opinion, it's the best.  I loved how Abby's reality shifted every time her parallel made a choice--so she had multiple reality shifts to deal with instead of just one.  But what I especially loved was largely summed up in this statement from Dr. Mann:

"That's the beauty of it.  There is no way to know how her choices will manifest in your life until she has already made them.  A decision that appears 'life-altering' might ultimately not be.  Often it is the choices that seem inconsequential that uproot us." (page 90)

Following on this sentiment, all of the choices that chance the trajectory of Abby's life seem like very small things at the time: an inconsequential elective to plug in to an otherwise academically perfect schedule; a silly way to spend a few more minutes with a boy she likes; a slight fib told told to a friend with the greater good in mind.  For a senior in high school, none of these seem like game-changers.  Abby's worried about picking a college.  But in fact, circumstances seem to pick the college for her; it's the small things that determine the outcome of her life far more.

Looking back on my own life, I thought this was a fascinating concept.  How often have I been worried about what I thought were "the big things"--picking the right college, or the right job, or making the right "big decision," when in fact it was the the small things that were steering my direction far more?  Where might I have ended up if it hadn't been for that chance conversation, or one decision that set me on a new path?  Reading Parallel started me contemplating all kinds of interesting questions along these lines.

The other thing that I just loved about Abby as a character was the way she grew as a character and developed a strong sense of self.  She draws a very strong line between herself and her parallel, and she eventually decides, "No, this isn't the life I would haven't chosen--it's the life my parallel chose."  And then she makes the hard choices to go about changing her life to make it what she wants.  I think that pretty much everyone hits a point in their lives where they look around and think, "You know, this is not what I wanted" about something or other in their lives--although most of us do not have parallels to blame for our predicaments.  :)  The question is whether we, like Abby, are willing to do the hard work of turning our lives upside down to get back to the people that we are supposed to be.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: The Vast Fields of Ordinary


 

I saw this one on my library's YA shelves, read the summary inside the front flap, and decided that I desperately wanted to read it.  Now that I'm done, though, I can't for the life of me remember why I was so convinced that it was going to be awesome.

The front flap reads: "It's Dade Hamilton's last summer before college. He has a crappy job at Food World, a 'boyfriend' who won't publicly acknowledge his existence (maybe because Pablo also has a girlfriend, one of the most popular girls in school), and parents on the verge of a break-up."  All of this is accurate.  Except that I never felt like Pablo was actually Dade's "boyfriend;" they never had an actual emotional connection at all--they just fooled around a lot.  And that definitely cheapened the story.  And Dade's parents truly were a hot mess.  But Dade was apparently emotionally stunted by a lifetime of living with them or something, because he seemed completely incapable of working up any kind of emotion (other than annoyance) about their situation--which did NOT make him a very likable character.

Front flap continued: "Add to all this the case of Jenny Moore, a nine-year-old whose disappearance has gripped his Iowa town, and Dade's main goal is just to survive until he leaves for school."  The Jenny Moore thing could have been really intriguing.  But it only popped up at random moments throughout the book and never turned into an actual storyline or major plot point of its own.  Instead it largely functioned as a symbol--and a poorly done one at that.

More from the front flap: "Then he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid, a dreamy-eyed misfit with all the wrong friends.  Alex breathes new life into the suburban wasteland that Dade can't wait to escape--"  Okay.  That's a very intriguing description.  I admit, it totally sucked me in.  But after reading the book, I need to make a few corrections.  Alex is not actually "mysterious" or a "misfit." He is a drug dealer.  And he also works at Taco-Taco.  There is nothing "mysterious" about either of those things.  But his life is going nowhere, and apparently that seems attractive to the college-bound Dade.  Also, I don't think that Dade's world is exactly a "suburban wasteland."  It's true that he lives in a very nice upper-class neighborhood and has awkward, conversation-less dinners at the country club with his dad, and that this material-filled life has caused a great chasm in his parents' marriage.  There's plenty of room for commentary on that.  But I think "suburban wasteland" is rather an overstatement.

The end of the front flap: "--but real love, like truth, has consequences, and its power soon sets in motion a tragic chain of events that will change Dade's life forever."  And considering how the novel ends, I think this last line of the teaser is a total load of crap.  I did actually like the relationship between Dade and Alex (in spite of Alex's drug-dealer tendencies, which I did NOT like), but considering how they ended up, I think the "real love" bit is ridiculous.  And secondly, I'm not sure where the reference to "truth" is coming from, because Dade doesn't engage in much of that.... while he tends to think of himself as some self-aware poet, in actuality, he spends the majority of the novel getting drunk and/or high and then passing out in chaise lounges by his pool in order to avoid his problems.  So it's not like he's on a noble quest for truth or something.  He is a master of the avoidance technique from beginning to end and learns absolutely nothing from the struggles he faces in this novel--except, apparently, how to avoid his problems ever more skillfully.  Dade's avoidance techniques do, in fact, set in motion that "tragic chain of events," but I don't think that Dade's life is particularly changed by them.... at the end of the novel, he just up and leaves for college--which was the plan all along.  The last few pages show him at college, totally happy to be starting over and living a brand-new life.  So basically I got the feeling that he learned absolutely nothing from what happened over the summer.

The front flap also makes no mention of Lucy, the lesbian friend who conveniently moves in down the street from Dade for the summer.  She wasn't a terribly convincing lesbian, but she was a good friend and added really the only bright spot to the entire novel.

Aside from not measuring up to its description, my major complaint with this novel was its lack of plot.  I was about halfway through it when I realized that there really was no major plot or action to speak of.  It's just the story of Dade's last summer at home.  Maybe the story of Dade's coming out.  It had the potential to be more--a mystery over Jenny Moore's disappearance, a battle between Pablo and Alex--but it just never developed.

So I didn't like the story, and I didn't like the main character, but you know what I DID like?  Nick Burd's writing.  This was his debut novel, and in spite of its many flaws, I thought that his writing was great.  His dialogue flowed naturally, his descriptions were vivid, and I lost myself in his words.  In spite of my frustrations with this particular story, I hope to see more from him in the future.

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

I picked up this book after my second grade daughter told me that her class was reading it and that she LOVED it.  It was an extremely quick read, due to the short chapters (most not more than 2 pages) and simple language, but it packed a huge punch.  I'd highly recommend it to any parent who is looking for a great discussion book to share with their elementary student.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has been in captivity for 9,855 days, according to his own count.  He lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, where humans watch him through the glass walls of his domain.  He spends his days eating and watching tv.  His best friends are Stella, the elephant in the domain next to his, and Bob, a stray dog who sneaks in to his domain to share his food.  Stella has a wonderful memory and tells stories of her long life, but Ivan can't remember much of his own life--at least at first.  But as Stella's health fails, a baby elephant named Ruby comes to join the crew at the Big Top Mall, and Ivan is called upon to hone his storytelling skills.  Bit by bit, he begins to remember his own youth and weave it together in stories for Ruby.

Ivan is also an artist.  He remembers making paintings with mud even when he was a young gorilla.  Now Mack, his keeper, gives him occasional art supplies and then sells his creations for $20 apiece in the gift shop ($25 with frame).  Ivan's best human friend is Julia.  She is the daughter of George, the nighttime custodian at the Big Top Mall, and she is also an artist.  She brings Ivan art supplies that Mack doesn't know about, and these two artists seem to instinctively understand each other.

As Ivan reflects more upon his past, he vows that Ruby will have a better life than he has had.  He uses his art as an outlet to enact a plan that he hopes will lead to a better future for the baby elephant... and for himself.

Katherine Applegate's story is absolutely beautiful--funny in some places, heartbreaking in others, sweet and touching throughout.  What makes it even better is the book was inspired by the true story of an actual gorilla named Ivan, who now lives at Zoo Atlanta (although most of the other characters come from Applegate's imagination).  This is a great read for elementary students, and an especially good one for parents to share with them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Insurgent


While Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, I somehow felt that I had missed a beat in between the two stories.  Whereas I couldn't put Divergent down, I found myself having to pause in Insurgent a few times to gather my thoughts and make sure I knew what was going on.  Even then, I still felt overwhelmed.

There's a solid chance that this was all my fault and not Veronica Roth's.  I was coming off a massive three-day migraine bender when I read the bulk of Insurgent, and my system was hyped up on the steriods that my neurologist had prescribed to break the migraine cycle.  Therefore, I found myself in the weird position of experiencing some of hallucinatory effects that Roth's characters suffered right along with them.  This made it very easy to sympathize with them but very difficult to grasp the greater implications of the story.

Overall, though, I think I struggled with Insurgent because the ground kept shifting.  Everyone kept double-crossing everyone else.  Tris lied to pretty much everyone at one point or another--including herself.  Every faction double-crossed every other faction, and every faction fell apart to some extent.  Plans were made and fell apart.  No plan ever went like it was supposed to, and even the back-up plans and double-crossing plans never quite panned out.  And then there were all the simulations and injections and mind-control drugs.  It was overwhelming.  I spent the entire book feeling like I was on a search for solid ground and never found it.  Which is probably exactly how Tris felt--so in that regard, the book was very nicely done; I could absolutely relate to the main character's frustration with her constantly shifting state of reality.

But beyond that, I had a hard time relating to Tris.  Her decisions made absolutely no sense to me.  While some of them were explained satisfactorily after the fact, for the most part, she came off as a completely erratic, irresponsible thrill-seeker.  I understood Tobias even less than her--possibly because he never offered a single word of explanation for what he was doing, yet expected Tris (and everyone else) to be on board with it simply because of who he was.  Clearly I would not have belonged in the Dauntless faction.  But apparently not in Erudite either, because I kind of loathed Caleb.

I was also very confused by the timeline of the novel; I generally thought that only a day or two had passed and then Tris would make mention of several weeks going by.

With all of that being said, I did still find it to be an extremely intriguing story.... but I did have the feeling that Insurgent was somewhat a necessary middle step between Divergent (which was an excellent novel) and Allegient (which I'm hoping will be excellent in its own right).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Adults Read YA Fiction (Thanks, John Green)

Over the years, I have caught a lot of flak for reading primarily YA fiction.  After all, people argue, I'm a smart lady... and I'm in my 30s.  Should I just grow up already?  Read some actual adult books?

I try to explain away my addiction by stating that since I work with teens (first as a high school English teacher, now as a teen librarian), it's important to me professionally to me to keep up with teen literature so I can converse with my students/patrons about what's new and popular and their field of literature.

While this is true, it is also somewhat of an excuse.  It's somewhat of a a "chicken and egg" situation.  I kind of chose these professions because they allow me to keep reading YA lit.  Because honestly, I would devour teen lit no matter what I was doing professionally.  And in the times that I've been a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom, for those of you not up on the lingo), I've devoured it in even greater quantities.  Because YA literature is just good stuff.  I love it in a way that I could never, never love adult literature.  And while I receive a lot of mockery for that decision (primarily from my loving husband, because he's the one who sees me curled up on the couch the most often, but also from many other adults who discover my addiction), I stand by my love.  And more than that, I form deep bonds with other adults who share that love.  Because they also have good taste in books, and we can talk for hours about the awesome things we've read.... but also because they, on a gut level, GET what it is that drives me to YA lit in the first place.  That love that I can't quite seem to articulate.

Well, lucky for me and all those other adult YA-lovers out there, the fabulous John Green has just published a quality article on why so many adults love young adult literature.... and why that it is TOTALLY LEGIT.  I knew there was a reason this guy was my favorite author.  I could just provide you with the link (which is http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/relationship-advice/too-old-for-young-adult-fiction), but the article is so stinking good and makes me feel so totally justified that I'm also going to copy and paste it here in its entirety.  No copyright infringement intended, just much praise to JG and his awesomeness.


Can You Get Too Old For YA Novels?

by John Green

The Hunger Games, Divergent, Pretty Little Liars--why do we devour young adult fiction well past our YA-years?  John Green, the best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars, explains.


For me, writing a book is like a very long version of that childhood game Marco Polo. I sit alone in my basement for a few years saying, "Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco," and then finally the book comes out. And if I'm lucky, people start saying, "Polo!" When writing my novel The Fault in Our Stars, I always imagined those people would be teenagers. My books are for young adults, after all.
But in the weeks after The Fault in Our Stars was published in 2012, I heard from more and more proper adults. They told me their kids had given them the book or they'd read it in book club or their friends had recommended it. Suddenly, the vast majority of my readers were grown-ups.
Ever since, I've been thinking about why stories about teenagers resonate so much with us as adults. I've been a passionate adult reader of YA fiction for a decade, and what I find so compelling about the best YA fiction is its unironic emotional honesty. When you're a teenager, you're often doing so many important things for the first time — everything from falling in love to grappling with heartache and loss. You also begin to ask the big questions of humanness: What, if anything, is the meaning to all this? What are my responsibilities to myself and to others?
My favorite YA stories approach these questions directly and enthusiastically. Author Sarah Dessen writes wonderful love stories, but they also confront issues of abuse and divorce head-on. Laurie Halse Anderson's novels deal compellingly with eating disorders and sexual assault. Series like Veronica Roth's Divergent and Marie Lu's Prodigy may be set in dystopic futures, but they're honest and straightforward in their social analysis. They're not just beautiful stories, they're also useful ones.
It's not like we stop needing the comfort and help that a good story can bring when we graduate from high school. I am still looking for answers to questions about the meaning of life. I am still trying to fathom the wondrous strangeness of love. I am still trying to make my way through life despite heartache and loss. So yes, when I set out to write a novel about two young people living with cancer who fall in love with a book and then with each other, I was writing it for teenagers. But I was also writing it for my adult self — the one who wanted to know whether love really is stronger than death and who wanted to find hope and joy and humor amid hard times. Those desires know no age.
Reader or writer, we love stories about teenagers, because although they can be cynical about many things, they aren't cynical about love, hope, and the stuff that really matters, like the future. While I am profoundly glad I will never be a teen again, I am thrilled to read (and write) about them because, deep down, it's their enthusiasm and curiosity that we can all admire and wish to emulate long after we've reached proper adult status.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

For those of you who have not been following, Twitter has recently erupted with a campaign for #WeNeedDiverseBooks.  As a librarian, a teacher, a mommy, and a human being, I'm excited about this campaign and all that it has to offer.  Here, I've compiled some of my favorite posts.

If nothing else, read this one first:
#WeNeedDiverseBooks because over 200 girls are missing in Nigeria and it took 2 weeks for us to care
This article was written by the Teen Librarian Toolbox, which is one of my very favorite websites to peruse professionally (and ok, personally as well).  Karen, who runs it, is just all kinds of amazing.  Please consider what she has to say in this post.

Then take a look at these awesome images and posts from Twitter.  Well said.





















#WeNeedDiverseBooks