Sunday, June 30, 2013

Program: Origami Creations

It feels like forever since I planned my May program! I remember that I discovered it was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so I wanted to do something that tied in. I hadn't done a true origami program yet (though we've included origami in a number of programs) and it seemed like the perfect simple program for the month when we'd be getting ready for the craziness of summer to begin.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the program - it was incredibly easy to run. The biggest snag I ran into was the number of attendees - I normally top out around 20, but this program ended up with 35! I always wait a few minutes past the start time for stragglers to arrive - I don't want anyone to feel like they've missed anything. So, I waited as usual. It seemed like I had about the right size group after 5 minutes or so, so I went ahead and got started. But they just kept coming! Kids kept showing up during the program, so I had to explain a number of times that I was in the middle of teaching one project, so they'd have to wait until I was finished to join in. Meanwhile, they could try out some designs on their own (I had books set up on a side table). Since I hadn't expected quite so many kids, I didn't have any teen volunteers helping, so about halfway through the program, I ran out to fetch the teen librarian, who is pretty good at origami and offered to help if I needed her.

I decided to teach the kids two different projects - they could do either or both, or neither if they just wanted to try some stuff on their own. I had a couple kids who chose that last option, but most of them wanted to learn the two different projects. After I finished showing everyone the two projects, I made myself available to teach them to any latecomers, or help anyone who hadn't quite gotten it the first time around. Most everyone left with at least three creations and they all seemed to have had fun. I will definitely have another origami program in the future - but with some extra help this time!

The two projects we did:

Heart with wings: like this one here, though I found a Youtube video when I was first searching.

Box: we did not make lids for our boxes, which disappointed some kids, but they simply made two and squished them together instead. I used these instructions, but I've seen some slightly different ones out there as well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Enchanted

Enchanted (Woodcutter Sisters, book one)
By Alethea Kontis
Published 2012 by Harcourt Children's Books

Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, a position that pretty much guarantees heartbreak and mischief. What exactly it means, though, even Sunday does not fully know - but a fateful turn of events will lead her to self-discovery.

So, here is a funny story about my experience with this book. When I started hearing all these great reviews about it (this was sometime last year), I thought, "really? I read that book and thought it was pretty terrible." Then, one of my friends, who has pretty similar taste to me, read it and loved it and I thought to myself, "well, I guess we can't agree on everything" (and we definitely don't, COUGH ENDER'S GAME COUGH). Then, it was named a Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adult book and I thought, "But wait, that book wasn't published last year." When I signed up for The Hub Reading Challenge, I starred it as a book I might read, to give it a second shot and see what I might have missed that everyone else loved. When it finally came time to read it, I realized that it is a completely different book than the one I had been thinking of this entire time (the book I was thinking of was Entwined).

So, now that I got my title confusion out of the way, how did this book fare? Well, I loved it. I will admit that it has flaws - there is a lot going on here and pretty much every fairy tale you've ever heard of makes an appearance at some point, so if that isn't really your thing, then maybe don't read this one. However, for someone like me, who really likes nothing better than fairy-tale retellings, this book was an absolute joy. Even things that normally annoy me in books (the insta-love between Sunday and Rumbold, for example) did not bother me here, mainly because they follow in the tradition of fairy tales (isn't that pretty much where insta-love originated from?). Similarly, I'm not bothered by the possible lack of characterization, because that's also pretty typical of a fairy tale. And I love that Kontis apparently tried to cram every possible tale into this one book - for me, it's the more, the merrier. I find it difficult to imagine a fairy tale fan who wouldn't enjoy this book - it's written to fit right into the canon of traditional literature and it reads exactly as a fairy tale should. It's full of charm and whimsy, but also dark and foreboding. It's magical, sweet, and sinister. I absolutely loved the tales of the Woodcutter family - I want to know more about all of them! As you can imagine, I'm thrilled to discover this is the first in a series of the Woodcutter sisters - but I hope Kontis is planning on telling me more about the brothers as well! I thoroughly enjoyed this and definitely recommend it. So glad I figured out that it wasn't the book I thought it was!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Fragments

Fragments (Partials, book two)
By Dan Wells
Published 2013 by Balzer + Bray

WARNING: There may be spoilers ahead. To read my review of book one, go here.

Kira has found the cure for RM - but it's not as simple as that. The Humans and Partials seem to once again be on the verge of war - and if it comes to that, it could be the end of both races forever. The only hope it for Kira to discover the truth about RM and ParaGen - and perhaps herself as well.

I really, really loved the first book, Partials. Fragments was one of my most anticipated books of this year, and, thankfully, I didn't have to wait terribly long into the year before I had it in my greedy little paws. When it first arrived, I was a bit intimidated - at 500+ pages, this was clearly going to be something else. Would it be able to hold up for over 500 pages?

Yes. Dan Wells is relentless. Everything I said in my review of book one holds true here as well. The pacing is pitch perfect - I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I needed to know what happened next. There are so many cliffhangers throughout the book - it's a thrill ride. What I like even better about this installment is that there are multiple storylines happening at once and we get the chance to go back and forth between them. For some chapters, we are with Kira as she makes the (possibly insane) journey to the middle of the country, searching for answers about ParaGen, Nandita, her father, and her own identity. For other chapters, we are with Marcus, as he struggles to find Kira and Nandita, and searches for answers on his own while attempting to find a common ground for the humans and Partials.

Just as in the first book, though this is heavy on the action and adventure, there are quieter moments here as well. And once again, the things that Kira is struggling with are things that are universal among teenagers - who am I really? Where do I fit in? How do I decide what's right? It's seamless how Wells mixes these moments in with the action - it feels natural and easy to begin to wonder the same things about your own life.

I loved the new bits about this world that Wells reveals here in book two - crazy, unbelievable things, but so fascinating. As with most second books in series, some questions are answered and some new ones arise. Needless to say, I am once again eagerly anticipating the next book. I can't wait to see how everything will come together.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Thorn Abbey

Thorn Abbey
By Nancy Ohlin
Published 2013 by Simon Pulse

Tess has just transferred to the imposing Thorn Abbey and soon hears many stories of the beautiful girl who lived in her room before her, Becca. Becca seems to have been loved by all, including the very handsome and charming Max, but she died tragically in a boating accident. Or did she? Tess is about to uncover the truth.

All right, someone remind me why I requested the e-galley of this book because I'm having a very difficult time remembering. Maybe I thought it sounded dark and creepy? Maybe I have a thing for imposing boarding school stories? Who knows? Whatever the reason was, it wasn't good enough because I find myself wishing I hadn't bothered with this book. That's not to say it was the most awful thing I've read, just that it wasn't very good. At first, I was intrigued - the premise sounded interesting and I do seem to enjoy a good creepy boarding school story. Additionally, the pacing is well-done - the chapters are short enough to keep you turning the pages and the suspense is executed nicely. However, it doesn't take terribly long for the plot to veer off-course. Tess' instant love for Max and resulting obsession with Becca is pretty annoying - and this is the main focus of the book. So you can see where this book and I started to part ways. I did not like how dense and wishy-washy Tess was - I mean, I get that supernatural forces would probably not be one's first explanation for a roommate's strange behavior but if you're in a creepy boarding school story, chances are pretty good that there's a ghost involved. The storyline with Killian and Tess seemed incredibly out of place and I still don't really see its purpose. I both liked and hated the ending - I liked how the Becca/Devon storyline finished out, but I hated everything else about the end. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks Daphne du Maurier for inspiring her to write this story and, after thinking about it, I'm pretty sure this is at least part of the reason why I didn't enjoy this book. Looking back on it, it's quite clearly derivative of Rebecca - another book I really disliked. I can see this book having its fans - creepy boarding school story, after all - but it really did not work well for me.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

Our final meeting of book club for the school year had me nervous. Every copy of the book had been given out (that means 10 of them), plus the two copies we had in the collection were checked out. So were 12 kids going to show up? I mean, that would be fantastic! Of course, I don't really have to tell you that they didn't all show; however, I did have a few kids in addition to my usual, including the sister of one of my regulars who just celebrated her 9th birthday and is now officially old enough to join the club.

This was actually one of our better discussions in terms of staying on topic - we did manage to discuss One Direction, but I promise it was relevant! How was it relevant? Well, apparently one of the boys is named Liam, just like the main character in our book, and that was how one of our readers figured out that the book was British (because in her mind, Liam = British name). What was our book for May?

By Frank Cottrell Boyce
Published 2008 by Macmillan UK

Liam is a bit tall for his age - well, that's an understatement. Liam is so tall and mature-looking that he begins to be mistaken for an adult. This leads to some fun pranks - like pretending to be a new teacher on the first day of school and nearly inciting a riot. But when Liam hears of an opportunity to travel to space, he can't believe his good fortune. All he'll have to do is convince a group of kids that he's the best dad ever. Easy, right?

I guess I never realized just how well-received Boyce's books are; nearly everything he's published has won some kind of an award. This was my first exposure to him, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. It was fun and funny, but also provided a lot of fodder for discussion. We talked about what it means to be a kid and what it means to be a parent. We talked about how most children long to be older - the book club kids were no exception (13 was the nearly unanimous choice for ideal age). We talked about video games and whether we thought they were valuable or useless (a really insightful discussion actually). I really liked that this book kept me entertained but also gave me deeper questions to think about. Truly excellent, I think, and I will definitely try to read some of Boyce's other titles.

At the end of book club, I reminded the kids that we were going to be trying something different for summer. I presented them with our June genre: mysteries. I had some ARCS and withdrawn books that they could choose from if they wanted (which, of course, they all did), as well as a book list and a display I created. I'm definitely interested to see if any new kids show up with the new format, as well as how the discussion will go. Has anyone run a genre book club with kids before? What sort of questions did you ask when not everyone had read the same book?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Wednesdays in the Tower

Wednesdays in the Tower (Castle Glower, book two)
By Jessica Day George
Published 2013 by Bloomsbury Children's

If you'd like to read my review of book one, go here.

Princess Celie feels a deep affinity for Castle Glower and she's pretty sure that the castle feels the same way about her. So when an odd assortment of rooms begin appearing - and staying put - Celie begins to worry about the castle. And things only get more complicated when the castle delivers Celie a giant egg and expects her to hatch and care for the creature inside it!

Tuesdays at the Castle was one of my favorite middle-grade fantasy reads in recent years, so I was definitely looking forward to reading the sequel. Happily, Bloomsbury approved my e-galley request and I devoured the book in just a couple of sittings. I still love Celie - I think she's a wonderful heroine. She is so determined and genuine and her love for the castle and her family is palpable. The Castle itself, while still playing a major role, doesn't seem like as much of a character in this one. Instead, a few of the secondary characters come forward and take a bigger role in the story. I did really love learning more about Castle Glower - where it came from, why it does what it does, and how it needs to be protected. The story felt a bit more disjointed in this volume, though, and I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I adored the first. However, I still found this to be an enchanting fantasy read. I really love the tone of these books - it's light and joyful and just reminds me why I love reading so much. I wish every book were as delightful to read as this series is so far. Reading this reminded me that I need to check out George's other books, because I love they simple way she writes and I love the fairy tale themes she uses. I don't know how many books there will be in this series, but I love the ending of this one - it sets up perfectly what is in store for book three and I think it's going to be a great one. I definitely recommend this series to middle-grade fantasy lovers!

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Far Far Away

Far Far Away
By Tom McNeal
Published 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in Never Better and is trying his best to thrive. But his mother left him and his father sunk into a depression and they're in danger of losing their house. Oh, and Jeremy hears the voice of Jacob Grimm. When the lovely and sometimes troublemaking Ginger takes an interest in Jeremy, Jacob's protection from a dark evil begins to slip and Jeremy is in more danger than he could have imagined.

I started hearing about this one a few months ago, seeing some buzz around the web and hearing it get a push at TLA. I happily requested an e-galley when I spotted the book on Edelweiss and started reading when I had the chance. I think I've made it known that I love all things fairy tale, so I was really looking forward to this book. I absolutely loved the narration - I loved how it was framed as a fairy tale and the many allusions that peppered the text throughout (even Jeremy's name seems straight out of an old tale). I loved Jacob Grimm's voice and how desperately he wanted to look after Jeremy and never let him down. I loved the foreboding menage of the Finder of Occasions and I love that I became so absorbed in the story that I started to forget something evil was lurking. Everyone seemed creepy and off enough that I suspected them all of being the Finder and when everyone is a suspect, no one is a suspect. I loved the awkward friendship that blossoms between Jeremy and Ginger - so unusual in a fairy tale setting, but it worked so wonderfully here. I enjoyed the slow pace of this story, relished in the leisurely way events passed. I loved the darkness in this book. The tone is just great, very traditional Grimm brothers (not the watered-down Disney fairy-tale version). The story is very well-written and I just gulped down great portions of it whenever I had a moment to read. I definitely recommend this to readers looking for a creepy book.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Prodigy

Prodigy (Legend, book two)
By Marie Lu
Published 2013 by Putnam Juvenile

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one. To read my review of Legend, go here.

Day and June are on the run when something unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son takes his place. Quickly, the two must decide which side they are on; will they fight for the Patriots or for the Republic? And can they make those decisions together?

It's funny: I just re-read my review of book one and I didn't seem to be as positive about it as I remembered. Then again, my memory is terrible, so this really shouldn't be too surprising. Also, it seems that my feelings for a lot of books grow warmer the more time passes after I finish them. It appears to be the case for this series, as I was hotly anticipating the release of book two and put my name on the waiting list as soon as it showed up in the library catalog.

Here's what I like about this series: I love the alternating chapters and viewpoints. I love getting the chance to see things from Day's perspective and from June's. I love that the voices are distinct, so I'm never confused about whose perspective I'm reading. I love that Lu has created two inherently opposed characters and brought them to places they never could have imagined. I love that the roles of Day and June - in their relationships with each other and other people, as well as in their lives overall - are continually shifting and changing. I love that they are so confused and vulnerable - to me, it makes them incredibly realistic and teenager-y.

I also love the world Lu has created - this future is scary and also incredibly believable. I love the layers of lies that Lu's government has created for its citizens and I love that the uncovering of these layers leads to more and more confusion and outrage. I love the complexity of some parts and the simplicity of others. I love the pacing - this book is full of action. It grabs you by the lapels and doesn't let go. It's relentless. It makes me want to recommend it to every teen who wants an adventure story (not that I need to, because they all already know about it).

And, I admit, I love the romance. Though there were times that it all felt a bit too unrealistic and perfect while I was reading Prodigy, I love that these two broken people have come together and are trying to heal.

I am on pins and needles for book three!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Event: Texas Library Association Conference

This April, my library sent me to the Texas Library Association Conference, held in Fort Worth. I was lucky to be able to attend three days, Wednesday - Friday, though I did have to miss Neil Gaiman on Saturday (it was my Saturday to work, unfortunately).

This was my first time attending the TLA conference, and I was definitely interested to see how it would differ from the ALA conferences I've attended. After talking to some colleagues, I received kind of mixed reviews - in terms of the exhibits and signings and authors in attendance, it was pretty equal to the national conferences. In terms of the programs and sessions, it was a mixed bag - most talks seemed to be geared toward specific audiences or were sessions with authors broadly discussing their works. So, I'll admit - my expectations were pretty low.

Even with such guarded expectations, I felt mostly disappointed with the conference. Wednesday afternoon was the start of the conference, though the exhibits didn't open until late Thursday morning and the selection of sessions on Wednesday was pretty paltry. I find my colleagues were mostly right about the sessions - I had gone through the scheduler and picked out things I thought sounded interesting and relevant to my job at the library, anything to do with books or programming for tweens (with some children's and teen stuff thrown in here and there). The majority of the programming-focused sessions I attended seemed geared toward school librarians, which is fine, but not necessarily relevant to my job. A number of the sessions I attended featured authors - once again, fine, but several of these were billed as programs that would have the authors discussing ways to use their books in programming and exactly none of them actually did this. I went to a few sessions on new and upcoming titles for tweens and teens and I think there was maybe one book that I didn't already know about. Now, that might be entirely my own deal, considering how obsessively I follow book news, but still, I expected more. I'm not sure I took notes in any of my sessions - that's how useful they were to me.

Obviously, one of my favorite things about attending conferences is visiting the exhibit hall and snagging advance copies. I use these for collection development purposes, reading things I'm on the fence about to decide if I want to order it, as well as just reading things so I have a better idea of what kids I can recommend it to. We also use these advance copies as giveaways at programs and for summer reading prizes. The exhibit hall for this conference just seemed a little off. The hours didn't really seem to mesh well with the conference schedule (though maybe that was just me). Additionally, I didn't visit the exhibits for the first time until later in the afternoon on the first day and by the time I got there, a lot of publishers were telling me they had already run out of copies of some titles. On the first day? Really? I am incredibly grateful that publishers bring these copies of books to librarians, giving us a chance to see what new and exciting things they have coming. But this time around, it just didn't seem like they planned it terribly well.

I love talking to the reps in the publisher booths - this is the only interaction I really have with these people, and I like knowing what titles they are excited about, what titles they are really trying to push, and what hidden gems they can introduce to me. I'm going to come right out and say it - some publishers are better at this than others. The reps at Bloomsbury have consistently been awesome to me, taking the time to chat about what they have coming. One of them even recognized my name from winning a giveaway they had on Facebook - I think that's awesome! Also, the St. Martin's Griffin folks are always lovely - I bug them every time I see them about Amy Kathleen Ryan's Sky Chasers series and they handle my pestering graciously. Similarly, the Abrams reps always seem genuinely excited to interact with you - I've never had a bad experience with them and though their booth is small in comparison, they make up for it in personality. The ladies at Candlewick were also wonderful this time around, letting me know about an event with Patrick Ness at ALA Annual that I am super super beyond excited for. And it is not just the smaller publishers or divisions - there were lovely reps at Disney, Scholastic, Penguin, and Houghton Mifflin (one rep at HMH gave me her card and sent us some Mustache Baby bookmarks after the conference - so wonderful!).

But if there is one publisher that I have had consistently bad experiences with, it's HarperCollins. I have now attended three different conferences with exhibit halls, and I have seen the same reps for HarperCollins at all of them. Every time, these reps have been lackluster and, often, downright rude. TLA was no exception. I stood in the booth for at least 15 minutes, looking over the galleys on display and waiting for someone whose eye I could catch to engage in a conversation. I was ignored that entire time, despite there being 4 reps standing in the booth. They were chatting with each other and ignoring me and any questions I may have had about what they had to offer. Similarly, one of my colleagues was visiting their booth at a different time and inquired if they had any teen galleys she could take back to the library. She was told no. While she was still in the booth, another conference attendee came to the booth, one whom the reps knew, and that attendee was immediately presented with some galleys. When the rep noticed my colleague still standing there, she handed over one title reluctantly. I am not saying that I expect every publisher to have billions of galleys available for everyone who asks, but I do expect them to try to talk with me and let me know what books they have coming that might be a good fit for my library. The reps at HarperCollins are never friendly or engaging and, honestly, they make me not want to visit their booth at all.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by my TLA experience and I don't think I'll plan on attending next year. I would definitely like to see some improvement in the sessions and programs offered at the conference.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Friends with Boys

Friends with Boys
By Faith Erin Hicks
Published 2012 by First Second

Maggie is starting high school after being homeschooled for the majority of her life. Her brothers are around to look out for her, but things have been harder for her family since her mother left. Maggie struggles to make friends (besides her brothers), deal with her mother's absence, and, oh yeah, figure out why she sees that ghost in the graveyard.

I love graphic novels and I was really looking forward to this one. It seemed to be getting decent reviews and sounded like it had potential for an interesting story. When I decided to participate in The Hub Reading Challenge, it was a no-brainer for me to put this on my list of books to tackle. Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly impressed with this one.

What I liked best about this: the characters. Maggie is a great main character - it was easy to relate to her and I wanted to know more about her. I loved learning about her family and the relationships between Maggie and her brothers and among the brothers are well-done and very realistic. I love good sibling relationships in my fiction for youth and this book does that incredibly well. I also liked Lucy and Alistair, another interesting sibling relationship and more fascinating characters to get to know. I also love the art. The style is perfect for the story and everything flows incredibly well. There are some nice quiet moments throughout that the art captures perfectly. Hicks definitely is a talented artist.

What I didn't really like: I guess I was just underwhelmed by the story. I thought it would be more of an adjustment for Maggie, moving from homeschooling to public school but, actually, she doesn't really seem to have that much trouble with the transition. I thought the storyline with the ghost was weak - I get the point Hicks was making here, but it just didn't seem that strong to me.

Overall, I thought this was a decent read, impressive for the characters and art. I will give Hicks another shot and hope she tells a more engaging story next time around.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Aristotle (or Ari) is an angry young man, frustrated by his closed-off father and his mother's unwillingness to talk about his imprisoned brother. Dante is a boy with an unique outlook and optimism to boot. When the two meet at the local pool, they don't think they have much in common. But as they spend more time together, they both soon realize that knowing the other will forever change them.

I remember, vaguely, hearing about this book after it was published last year. It was discussed over at Someday My Printz Will Come as having award potential. It sounded like an interesting book, and, I admit it, I love the cover art. So I kept meaning to read it. And, you know the story - I didn't get around to it. After it won a slew of honors at the Youth Media Awards, it moved to the top of my list of books I missed out on last year that I needed to read as soon as possible. It was one of the first books I knew I wanted to read for The Hub Reading Challenge, so I got right down to it as soon as it was available at the library.

This book, man, I can't even. This book completely sneaks up on a person. I don't even think I can accurately describe what I felt while reading this book. It starts out relatively slow and pretty much remains that way - I think it's safe to say that not a lot is actually happening throughout this book. But something bigger actually is, and maybe you're not really aware of it. What's happening is that you're falling in love with Aristotle and Dante - you are living alongside them, and fighting and feeling what they fight and feel. You are hoping they know how lucky they are - to have their parents, to have each other. You are hoping you realize how lucky YOU are - to have the people you love, to have amazing books like this one to remind you of all that luck. You are thinking what a lovely little book this is, with these characters who feel so real and all this emotion on every page. And before you know it, the book has completely cast its spell on you and your heart is breaking for Ari and Dante and you don't even know why and you never want this book to end and you are pretty sure that this is one of the best books you've ever read because it made you believe again and HOW DID IT DO THAT?

Suffice it to say that I absolutely adored this book. Saenz's prose is gorgeous, spell-binding and completely captivating. He has created absolutely believable characters who I truly feel like I know and care about. He has crafted a deceptively simple story that left me full of emotions I didn't expect. This is the first of his books I've read; it won't be my last. Truly, truly excellent and deserves all the praise and awards it's received.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope

The Last Little Blue Envelope
By Maureen Johnson, read by Emily Durante
Published 2011 by HarperTeen

WARNING: There may be spoilers for the first book. To read my review of that title, go here.

Ginny imagined that the contents of the last little blue envelope, stolen from her last summer (along with her backpack), were lost forever. She is mistaken. One day, she receives an email from a boy in London and the next thing she knows, she's on a plane, about to embark on another life-changing adventure.

13 Little Blue Envelopes was the first book by Maureen Johnson that I read, and I loved it - funny, smart, exciting, great characters, and interesting plot. I mean, what wasn't there to love? I read it right around the same time this book, a sequel, was published and, as I finished, I wondered if the sequel was necessary. I always imagined I'd get around to it someday but, for me, someday usually means many many years later. Well, here we are, two years later, and I've finished The Last Little Blue Envelope.

Do I still think this sequel is unnecessary? Yes, but I mean that in the kindest way possible. For folks who like a little mystery left at the end of a story, they'd be content with simply reading the first book. It's not necessary to Ginny's story to find out what was in the last envelope - at least, I don't think it is. But, for those folks who loved Ginny and her adventures and want to spend more time with her, then The Last Little Blue Envelope is a worthy follow-up.

I listened to the audio version this time around and it's very well done. Durante does a great job voicing Ginny, and handles the accents of secondary characters quite well. This book is mainly just more of what I loved about the first - great characters, engaging writing, quick reading, realistic teenage experiences. I do feel that I could have read the print version much more quickly than I could listen to the audio, but that's okay. It wasn't bad to take a little extra time with this one.

My main issue with this sequel is how Ginny and Keith's relationship played out. At the start of this book, I thought to myself, "Oh, please don't make this go the way these things typically go." And then it did. It was disappointing and I felt that the whole romance-y plot detracted from the story of the last blue envelope.

Overall, a good follow-up to a delightful novel, though I prefer her Shades of London series.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

48 Hour Book Challenge: Update 2

I'm about 30 hours into the challenge. It wasn't terribly busy at work so I managed to sneak in a few extra minutes of reading but with SRC kicking off full blast on Monday, I had too much work to get done. I'm really using my audiobook option - I listened on my ride to and from work and for a couple hours while cooking and eating dinner. That has definitely helped bump up my time.

I finished Alanna: the First Adventure tonight. I liked it well enough, though I guess I was expecting a lot more with the rabid Tamora Pierce fan base there is. Moved onto Never Fall Down - about 100 pages in and I'm liking it. Tomorrow will be my big reading day - no plans all day until the evening, after my 48 hours ends. 

I have hopped around and visited a few of the other participant blogs and I am in awe - you all are kicking butt and showing those TBR piles who is boss! I'll be happy if I finish two more books tomorrow - nothing in comparison to the double digits some of you cranked out in the first day!

I had hoped to stay up late and try to get by on just a couple hours sleep but I'm definitely crashing. So I'm calling it a night and will get back to reading when I wake up tomorrow. Have fun everyone!

EDIT: I tried to post this last night at midnight but apparently it didn't go through so I'm posting it now!

48 Hour Book Challenge: Finish Line

Well, it's been 48 hours since I started my challenge. I think I could have done better, but I think I did okay with the time I had. My final stats:

Time spent reading/blogging/socializing: 20 hours, 52 minutes
Pages read: 1114
Books finished: 3 (Alanna: the First Adventure, Never Fall Down, Heist Society) + 50% of The Miseducation of Cameron Post + about 38% of my audiobook (Caleb's Crossing)

I wish I'd more time for both reading and blogging/socializing, but for my first time, I don't think I did too badly.

On the plus side, I finished 4 books for the Hub Reading Challenge, though I still had two more I would have liked to have finished. Also, thank you everyone for the comments - I appreciate the encouragement! Now I'm going to take a few minutes to respond to them and visit other blogs to see what other people read!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

48 Hour Book Challenge: Update 1

So I'm about 14 hours in to my challenge. I managed to squeeze in 5 hours of reading last night (between listening to an audiobook on my commute home and reading once I got there), so this morning, I'm going to take an hour to visit other blogs and see how everyone else is doing!

I finished one book last night - The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I was already about halfway through it before the challenge started, but I'm glad the challenge gave me the motivation to finish it. Like I said in my starting line, I'm in a hurry trying to finish the Hub Reading Challenge, so after I finished that, I started Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. Ready to shame me? This is the first time I've ever even tried to read a Tamora Pierce book. I KNOW, I KNOW - I'm a terrible librarian. Anyway, I'm glad the Hub Challenge is pushing me to pick her up - we'll see what I think of it!

As I also mentioned in my starting line, I'm working a full eight hour day today, so I probably won't get much reading done. I'll have my lunch break and, on the very off chance that it is slow at the desk, we are allowed to read, so I might get to sneak in some time here and there. But our summer reading program starts on Monday and I have tons of stuff to get done (I've got three professional journals to get there, ordering to get done, program stuff to get ready - I'm sure you know how it is), so I probably won't get to sneak in as much reading time as I would on a typical slow Saturday. Not that I expect this to be a slow day.

How is everyone else doing?

Friday, June 7, 2013

48-Hour Book Challenge: Starting Line

Last year, one of my friends alerted me to the 48-Hour Book Challenge (then hosted by MotherReader, this year hosted by Ms. Yingling with help from Abby the Librarian). Unfortunately, she alerted me to it after it was finished. Since then, however, I started following some of the blogs who participated in the challenge, and waited to see when the 2013 challenge would be, thinking I'd give it a shot. Well, that time is now! So, this is my first time ever participating in any sort of blogging challenge (I'm in the midst of the Hub Reading Challenge right now, but haven't been blogging along), and I figured this was a good one to try out! Unfortunately, it doesn't fall on a particularly good weekend for me - I have to work all day Friday and Saturday and we have theater tickets for Sunday night - but I will participate as much as I can! I've already warned my boyfriend that I plan on doing nothing but reading when I'm not working, so hopefully he knows I mean business.

As I mentioned, I'm trying desperately to finish the Hub Reading Challenge, so my TBR is mainly made of those books, with a couple of ARCs thrown in for good measure (of course, if none of these strike my fancy, I've got about 200 other books in my house to choose from). My goal will be 12 hours of reading - I'm setting it low so hopefully I can blow it out of the water!

I'm starting at 6pm CST Friday, so I'll be finishing up at 6pm CST Sunday, right before we head to the theater. Have fun everyone!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Seraphina

Seraphina (Seraphina, book one)
By Rachel Hartman

Published 2012 by Random House Books for Young People

Though peace has reigned in Goredd for many years, dragons and humans still feel unease with each other. Seraphina feels this unease even more, struggling to keep her secret while also living as normal a life as possible. When a royal family member is murdered and a dragon is suspected, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, assisting the handsome and perceptive Captain Kiggs. Is the peace of Goredd about to be shattered? Can Seraphina protect her secret and the life she has built? Or will Kiggs uncover the truth?

If there has been a more universally lauded debut in recent history, I certainly can't name it. Seraphina garnered an astounding seven starred reviews (which I think is the most one can receive). It won the William C. Morris Award for YA debut novels and was named a Top Ten book on the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. It was universally beloved by the book bloggers I read and trust. I fully intended to read Seraphina as soon as possible - I worried, you see, that the hype might ruin the book for me. Frustratingly, I didn't get my hands on a copy until January - many months after the book's publication. Did the hype machine do in another book for me?

Well, yes and no. Yes because, I mean, SEVEN STARS. That's a lot for any book to live up to. And no because this book is exceptionally awesome. Did I think it was SEVEN STARS worth of awesome? No - but I did thoroughly enjoy it and am thrilled that it received so much praise. What I liked about this book - I'm a pretty big fan of fantasy (if you had told teen me I'd be saying that, I would have laughed in your face) and I especially enjoy a nice epic fantasy. Hartman has done a superb job here. She has created an entirely new dragon mythos and it works so exceptionally well. The world that Hartman has built is so multi-faceted and huge, but it is vivid and wonderful. I loved discovering the rules of Seraphina's society and the secrets and layers that it is built upon. I adore Seraphina herself, and the struggles she faces daily with her identity. I loved the banter and romance that blooms between Seraphina and Kiggs - it felt natural and was a pleasure to watch develop. I just love the complexity of this novel and its world - I feel like there are so many stories to be found in Goredd and I want to hear them all. I loved Seraphina's garden and the characters she finds there - I want to spend more time with them. I cannot wait to hear more from this world and these characters.

So why don't I think this is seven stars worth of awesome? As much as I loved and enjoyed it, I don't find it to be the greatest book I've ever read. Yes, it's intelligent and imaginative, engaging and extremely well-written. But for seven stars, I expect to be so completely overwhelmed with amazingness that I can't read any other books because they just aren't as awesome. In short, this is a wonderful book that I am excited to have read and I look forward to reading more from Hartman. But the hype monster worked a little too hard on this one for me.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Series review: The 39 Clues

The 39 Clues, books 1 - 11
By Various authors
Published 2008-2011 by Scholastic

Dan and Amy Cahill have not had an easy life - orphaned after a terrible fire, they've been raised by their great-aunt Beatrice, though they have wished to be under their grandmother's, Grace, care instead. When Grace passes away, the siblings are finally exposed to the secret family history they knew nothing about - that may have led to their parents' deaths. Before they know it, Dan and Amy are embarking on a worldwide clue hunt to uncover all the Cahill family secrets and the 39 clues that could make them the most powerful people on the planet.

So, I decided that I was going to have a 39 Clues-themed program at the library and figured I should probably read the books before the program to have a better understanding of the series. I'm not going to talk about the program (I'm actually planning on repeating it this summer with minimal changes, so I'll post about it after that), and I don't have enough to say about each book individually to give them all separate reviews, so I figured I'd do a series overview here.

As I'm sure you know, this series has been insanely popular and successful since it was first published, now encompassing a sequel series (with a third to come in the fall, I believe). It's not hard to see why these books have done so well. Perhaps what book one has most going for it is Rick Riordan's name on the cover. He is one of the few authors that kids ask for by name, so that recognition helps sell this series to kids. Additionally, by having Riordan write book one, readers quickly know what to expect: fast-paced, crazy adventures in interesting settings. Riordan knows how to write a cliffhanger as well - every chapter ends on one, and this continues throughout the series, really drawing kids forward in the story. Another thing this series and all its authors excels at are the first sentences of each chapter - they are so crazy and attention-grabbing that you can't help but keep reading to find out what they mean.

Not every book is as awesomely exciting as the next one, but as a whole, the series works exceedingly well. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to interact with the series, as well - secret codes are included in each book, there is an interactive online game, and, of course, the kids can try to get ahead of the Cahills in the clue hunt along the way.

One of the best things about this series is how easy and natural it is to pair with non-fiction; David Levithan, the editor, describes them as "subversively educational." While following the clues, the Cahills learn about different places and times in history, as well as different people. Hopefully, reading bits about these things in the exciting adventures of Dan and Amy encourages many kids to explore these topics in non-fiction as well. It would be insanely easy to create a display of non-fiction books that relate to the series; they would probably fly off the shelves, too.

As an adult reading the series, I found them quite often too ridiculously unbelievable. However, they are quick reads and it's very easy to see the kid appeal in them. I'm glad I've read them now, and I'll be trying to read the sequel series when I get a chance, too.

Here they are, in order, for the curious:
Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
One False Note by Gordon Korman
The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis
Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson
The Black Circle by Patrick Carman
In Too Deep by Jude Watson
The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis
The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman
Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Jude Watson and Peter Lerangis

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Program: Earth Day Terrariums

As you may have noticed, I love when I can tie a program into a holiday or special day. I had been wanting to do a terrarium program with the tweens at my library for a while and then realized that there'd be no better day than Earth Day. This was a really simple program and most of the kids finished well before the hour was over. I had a great turnout for an afterschool program geared solely for kids age 9-12. We started the program by talking about Earth Day - what it meant, where it came from, why it's important, how to celebrate. Then I explained that we'd be making terrariums using old soda bottles - finding a new use for something and adding more green to our lives. We made our terrariums all together, walking from each station as I explained the purpose of each layer - rocks, moss, soil, and finally our plants and seeds. I chose plants that I thought would be difficult to kill - I didn't want disappointed attendees coming back a couple days later complaining that their plants hadn't made it. I also wanted the kids to grow something edible, so I offered rosemary seeds to anyone who was interested. The kids loved seeing the different kinds of plants and were incredibly excited about growing the rosemary - many of them didn't seem to realize that they could grow their own foods. A few kids were also excited about the idea of introducing bugs to their terrariums - I encouraged them to research this more after the program to make sure the bugs and plants could live together harmoniously.

Since I knew the terrarium building probably wouldn't take the whole hour, I decided to recycle a craft from my All By Myself storytime and have the kids make bird feeders. It was much less messy this time around, and the tweens seemed just as excited and interested in the bird feeders as the preschoolers had. I let them make as many of them as the wanted and provided bags for transport this time. They asked questions about what was in the bird feed and what kind of birds they might see. I told them to watch underneath where they hung their feeder and see what sorts of plants grew. Overall, this was a really easy and fun program. The kids were very into learning about the terrariums and the environment. I would definitely do this again, and think it would be a perfect program to tie into this year's summer reading theme!