Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You
By Todd Hasak-Lowy
Published 2015 by Simon Pulse

Darren's life is not going quite as expected. In fact, it's been a bit off the rails since his parents' divorce. But when his dad shows up with some unexpected news that changes everything, it begins to go even further off track. Can Darren figure out a way to deal with his crazy life or is his family's explosion inevitable?

This book caught my attention because of its unconventional narrative approach - it's told entirely in lists. I'm a big fan of novels in verse, so this struck me as similar, but unique. I figured I'd give it a shot.

Here's the thing: this book may grab some readers because of its unusual format, but I don't know if it will keep them. It's nearly 700 pages long and while it doesn't feel quite that long, it does sometimes feel unnecessarily long. I'm not sure the story is really interesting enough to support the unusual format. You see, there is nothing terribly unique about the story itself. Darren gets some unexpected news about his family (the exact details of which might be unique, but this serving as a catalyst to the rest of the novel's events is not), takes a hastily planned road trip, and sort of has his entire outlook altered because of the combination of these two things. But, the focus of the blurb is on the road trip - and it's over in the first section of the book (I'm not sure what it works out to page-wise, but there was A LOT of book left after the road trip was over). I mean, I'll fully admit that I'm terrible at writing blurbs, but it's not my job to do so, so I expect better ones from the people whose job it is.

Also, this book has a serious case of manicpixiedreamgirl. This is a phenomenon that I've heard discussed before and have probably even read some books that it could be said suffer from it, but I've never really noticed until this book. I mean, Darren's love for Zoey is based in absolutely nothing and actually just served to irritate me for the entire book as Darren made a series of pretty ridiculous decisions and treated people pretty poorly in the name of his so-called love for Zoey. I'm also not sure that any of the characters grew at all over the course of the story. Mostly, they seem the same, if not, in some cases, a bit worse, than when they started.

Additionally, some of the lists are entirely pointless. They are literally just a recounting of minutes passing or a sentence broken up to one word per line or something else pretty silly. Some of the lists actually drive the plot along and fill in backstory, but others just seemed like filler. The passage of time in the book is another thing that bothered me. Like, all of a sudden, multiple months had passed. It felt very jarring.

So, I was drawn by the interesting format of this one, but ultimately, it didn't succeed for me. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Escape from Riverdale

Escape from Riverdale (Afterlife with Archie, book one)
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, illustrated by Francesco Francavilla
Published 2014 by Archie Comics

After his dog is killed, Jughead enlists the help of Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) to bring him back. But Hot Dog is not the same and soon, Jughead is leading an infestation of zombies through Riverdale. Will Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest escape unharmed?

I've never read an Archie comic before. When I read comics, they were decidedly in the horror vein. That's my main motivation for reading this one - classic comic featuring zombies. It sounded awesome and I wanted to read it even before I signed up for the Hub Challenge. But, of course, it took my deciding to participate to actually spur me to pick it up and read it.

But I devoured it (heh). And I loved it. It's a legit zombie story, one that I quickly became completely invested in. It's creepy and gory and tense and compelling. It's not terribly original but, then again, what zombie story is? The thing is that this one is just so well-executed that it was a delightful read (if you like this sort of story). Not being familiar with the Archie comics didn't matter, because Aguirre-Sacasa introduces all the characters you need to know and provides basic sketches of them in this first volume. I was so caught up in the story that it even made me cry (trust me, I was as surprised as you are). The art is fantastic as well. The whole thing is just plain fun and I can't wait to see where it goes next. Definitely recommended!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Circle, Square, Moose
By Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Published 2014 by Greenwillow Books
Moose is back, and this time, he's covering shapes! He loves shapes! But he also sometimes creates a little catastrophe where he goes. Well, Zebra will fix it. Or he'll try anyway. This book will definitely appeal to fans of the first (Z is for Moose) and, generally, kids tend to think chaotic animals are pretty amusing. Much as I love moose (and Paul O. Zelinsky), I tend to prefer Musk Ox (of Musk Ox Counts and others). However, Moose is much better for a storytime setting (Musk Ox can get a bit wordy), so I'm pleased to live in a world where there's room for both. This will definitely be popular with those who enjoy a bit of absurdity.

100 Things that Make Me Happy
By Amy Schwartz
Published 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
A simple idea, this book really is a list of 100 things that will make you happy. It rhymes, too, which is a bonus. I really enjoyed it - I think Schwartz has curated an excellent list of things. It make me want to start my own list, which is a very simple extension activity you could use with this book. It would also be fun to just dissect the list that Schwartz has created and talk about whether the same things make you happy or if you like different things. The illustrations are very vivid and highlight the items on the list quite well. I liked this one much more than I expected.

The Book with No Pictures
By B.J. Novak
Published 2014 by Dial Books
This book got a ton of buzz because apparently Novak is the next big thing in publishing (or he was, for a hot minute there in 2014). People raved about it, so of course, I was anxious to see it for myself. And, you know what? It's pretty cute. It's silly, and I think kids will enjoy it (though I've not yet been brave enough to try it with an audience yet), but I expected it to be funnier. And, I kind of missed the pictures. There is a lot of joy to be found in excellent pictures in children's books, and, obviously, this book is missing that. It certainly has a different kind of joy. I also wonder a bit if it will really still be as funny after multiple readings but, like I said, I haven't tested it with children, so I don't know.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
By G. Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
I couldn't resist picking up this picture book biography of Johnny Cash, one of my favorite singers. And I'm glad I didn't, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, like many biographies for children, some of the less savory aspects of Cash's life are cleaned up (though not as much as I've seen elsewhere), but I think this version still presents an accurate portrait of Cash's life. I thought the way Neri chose to tell Cash's story also worked exceedingly well - it's spare but evocative and captures just enough to bring him to life. The accompanying illustrations are quite stunning - I think they really bring the narrative to life. There is great back matter at the end, so this is an excellent jumping off point for kids who want to learn more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: In Real Life

In Real Life
By Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
Published 2014 by First Second

Anda loves gaming, so when the opportunity to join a guild in an MMORPG comes up, she jumps at the chance. Things get complicated when she meets a gold farmer - who in real life is a poor Chinese teenager. His actions in the game are illegal, but it's this work that makes him money. So what's right and what's wrong?

I've never read Doctorow before. Quite honestly, technology and gaming, while I enjoy them, are not really my thing and most of what he writes deals with these things. This is a graphic novel, so something a little bit different. It also explores what is apparently a real-life issue (like I said, gaming is not really my scene). It was named a top ten title on the Great Graphic Novels list for teens, so I read it as part of the Hub Challenge.

I don't know if I have much to say about it. Frankly, the bulk of the story here rubbed me the wrong way. It feels...imperialist? Is that the word I'm looking for? It feels like Anda is this white savior who must find some way to save the poor desperate savages who don't know any better (these are my own words, not the author's; this is my impression). Anda fully admits that she doesn't know what life is like in China or what having a job like Raymond's (that's the gold farmer she befriends) would be like and yet she still, for some reason, believes that she should be the one to fix it. I get that this is Anda's story, but this just reeks uncomfortably of white American superiority and I honestly cannot understand how Doctorow thought this was a legitimate way to present this issue. Like I said, gaming is not really my thing, so I don't know all the intricacies of gold farming, but Doctorow does discuss the real life issue in the introduction a bit. It seems much more complex than could be worked out in a short graphic novel. Additionally, the ending just furthered my bad feelings about this part of the story - Raymond, who was fired, returns to the game in a new handsome avatar and with a much better job, while Anda encourages his former coworkers to stand up for their rights and she becomes a hero. It just felt icky. I get that you want a happy ending, but another part of this story is Anda learning that her actions have consequences and, sometimes, things DON'T work out for the best.

I'm not sure what else to say. The first part of the story, where Anda talks about her love of gaming and is recruited because she is a female gamer, is good. If you're at all in the world of gaming, you've heard about what it's like to be a female gamer (REALLY NOT GOOD), so I appreciated the part of the story showing that it's totally legit for girls to game and no one should make you feel bad for liking the things you do. And the art is lovely to look at, particularly for the in-game scenes. But, on the whole, this book just did not work for me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
By A.S. King, read by Christine Lakin
Published 2014 by Blackstone Audiobooks

Glory has no plans for her future. What if she doesn't have one? Her mother did stick her head in the oven, and that kind of thing runs in families. But when Glory and her best friend drink a petrified bat (or maybe it's mummified?), they begin having visions of the future. Now Glory will know for certain if she has one - but will it be one she wants?

I'm pretty sure I'll read anything A.S. King publishes. I listened to this one for YALSA's Hub Challenge and I'm very glad I did.

I loved this book. For quite a while, I wasn't sure if I would. I mean, it's pretty strange. A girl and her friend drink the remains of a bat and begin having visions of a dystopian future - it's definitely out there. And most of King's books have some sort of out there element. But this one just hit all the right notes for me. I loved Glory and her mixed feelings about her mother (about whom no one talks, including her dad). I like that Glory does not want to get close to anyone, which includes the readers. She is complicated and angry and unsure - she feels very much like a real teenager. I think King did a fantastic job of exploring Glory's grief - maybe because an immediate member of family passed away, I'm always conscious of the way grief is portrayed in books for young people. King captures the complicated experience of grief really well. I really liked reading about Glory's experiments with photography and the discovery of her mother through her photography notebook. I thought the other characters were developed nicely as well - from Glory's father to her best friend to her best friend's mother and more. Every one is unique and feels real, like I could meet them on the street someday.

I thought the plot here was exceptional. Magical realism can sometimes be hit or miss for me, but it was completely engaging this time around. Glory's visions of the future were kind of like a car accident - horrible but I couldn't look away. How does the world end up looking like she sees it? What is Glory's part in the history of the future? Can she find a way to change it or is everything already in motion? Really gripping stuff. And, of course, I can't help but love the feminism in this book. King knows how important it is that the young people of today care about the injustices around them and she clearly wants to foster a desire to correct these injustices. This book reminded me of how much I wanted to change the world when I was younger and made me feel guilty for not continuing that nowadays.

I thought the audio was really well done. I worried initially that this kind of story wouldn't work for me on audio - sometimes I lost focus while listening. But the narrator for this was perfect. She sounded exactly right for Glory's voice and the short chapters and awesome story definitely held my interest the whole way through. In fact, I sped through this, finding excuses to listen whenever I could. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Rump

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
By Liesl Shurtliff, read by Maxwell Glick
Published 2014 by Listening Library

Names are destinies - so Rump really wishes his mother hadn't died before she finished telling him his full name. Growing up Rump hasn't been easy but, if you can believe it, it's only going to get worse when Rump discovers his magic.

This was a book on the Bluebonnet list for the 2014-15 school year and I didn't get around to reading it before the vote, but I was still interested. I recently lost my iPod (not physically, but it doesn't work anymore), so, in need of a new audiobook, I spotted this one and decided to download it.

This worked really well in audio format. I thought the narrator had a believable inflection for a child's voice and he did a good job with slight alterations to distinguish between characters. There is enough action to keep the listener engaged throughout and it's paced well, though I did find it to drag a bit when Rump was in Yonder and I started wondering just how much time had passed.

The story is a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of retellings, so obviously I was interested in this one. Rumpelstiltskin has always been a favorite tale of mine, and I think he is the perfect character to explore more deeply. I really liked imagining him as a boy, and I think kids will get a kick out of it as well. The story is surprisingly easy to relate to, because it's really about names and how perception can shape your future. Growing up, I wasn't a huge fan of my name (I'm still not, really) and, in general, our names do set the course for our futures. People will perceive you a certain way if your name is Phil rather than Bill. It may be subtle, but it's there. It's an interesting thing to consider, and one that I think helps make this book ripe for discussion.

I also wondered where the book was going to go - Rump re-enacts the tale we all know pretty early on in this story, so I wondered how he was going to spend the rest of his time. And, that part does start to feel a little long. Additionally, since readers (theoretically) know Rump's true name, it's not quite as suspenseful as it could be.

Overall, though, it's a cute story and I'm looking forward to checking out Shurtliff's newest - about Jack (of Beanstalk fame).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
By Becky Albertalli
Expected publication April 7, 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Simon is being blackmailed - but he's more concerned for Blue, the boy he's been emailing. The boy he is getting to know bit by bit. The boy with perfect grammar and a willingness to forgive Simon's occasional mistakes. The boy that Simon is maybe falling in love with. So Simon's life is a bit complicated, but he'll do anything to protect his relationship with Blue - and the relationship it could be.

I requested this e-galley because I'm always on the lookout for new GLBTQ fiction for teens and this definitely fits the description.

First, let me say that my summary up there is terrible and please ignore and just read this book because it will make your heart happy. No, seriously. Ignore my terrible attempt to sum up one of the most hopeful, affirming, adorable, charming, and downright delightful books I've read lately and just go read it for yourself. Or, I guess, maybe read the rest of my review and then go read it.

Simon. I feel like that's all I really have to say. If Albertalli doesn't nail Simon's voice, then I don't know what life is anymore. Simon is one of the most endearing characters I've met recently. He is messy and complicated and full of so much longing - longing to keep his life as simple as he can for as long as can. Longing to slow down all the change that seems to have infiltrated his group of friends. Longing to come into his identity on his own terms, not on those dictated by society or forced upon him by someone who can't possibly understand what it's like. And, of course, longing to know the true identity of Blue, the boy who has inexplicably stolen his heart right out from underneath him. I'm almost positive that if Simon were real, I'd already be friends with him. He reminded me so much of people I knew in high school and college, and also of myself.

Because Albertalli has done a remarkable thing: she's made a book with a message that doesn't feel preachy or overbearing. It's a message about the humanity that should live in all of us and it's a direct call-out to those who try to quash it with hatred and ignorance. It's Simon's story, but it's also the story of many GLBTQ teens. With Simon, Albertalli has created a character who shows them it's okay to be messy. It's okay to be angry about coming out and your sexuality and making a big deal out of something when you don't even want to. It's okay to cry when you should be laughing and laugh when you feel like crying. It's okay to be confused about coming out, and it's okay to do it in whatever way feels right to you.

This book will make you cry, but it will also make you smile. It will break your heart and heal it. This book was a delight and I'm so happy to have read it. I can't wait to recommend it to young readers and share it with everyone I know.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Island of Dr. Libris

The Island of Dr. Libris
By Chris Grabenstein
Expected publication March 24, 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Billy's summer is not looking so great. He's stuck in a lakeside cabin with just his mom, who is too busy working on her dissertation to spend much time with him. But when he reads a book from a particular shelf in Dr. Libris' library, everything changes. Soon, Billy is on the island in the middle of the lake with the characters from a book. But this can't be real - can it?

I've been a fan of Grabenstein's for a long time now and I really enjoyed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, so it was a no-brainer for me to download and read the e-galley of his newest book.

It's also not difficult for me to imagine why this book exists - Grabenstein's last book was a big hit, particularly with librarians and other book-lovers, and he also co-authors a bestselling series with James Patterson. This book is another homage to books and reading, so I'm sure the publishers are counting on this being a hit as well.

Unfortunately, for me, this one just isn't as good. It doesn't have the same charm and fun as Grabenstein's previous title and, honestly, it feels a bit unfinished to me (which may simply mean that a sequel will come sooner or later). It shares many similarities with Grabenstein's previous books - short chapters, characters to whom it's easy to relate, and loving tributes to beloved characters and stories. But it just didn't work as well. I never really connected with Billy and the secondary characters never develop in their own right - Walter just felt like a sidekick rather than his own person, which is a shame. Notably absent is Dr. Libris himself. There are some memos included that are meant to give some indications of his character, but he doesn't really enter into the story directly and I felt like the story needed him. A lot of my unanswered questions might have been addressed had Dr. Libris actually played a role in the story. I never understood the motivation for Dr. Libris' experiment or how it would make him money - which is mentioned several times but never explained. Additionally, while Billy must figure out how to solve the problems he has unintentionally created for the characters, it's not the same as the puzzle-solving mysteries of Mr. Lemoncello. I had high hopes for this, but it just fell short for me.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Noon Year's Eve

This is an idea that I'd seen floating around library listservs for the past several years and finally decided to give it a shot at our library. The idea behind it is simple: host a party counting down to noon on New Year's Eve for all the little ones who can't (or shouldn't) stay up until midnight. It's a fun way to have a celebration for those too young to participate in a late-night party.

Our expectations were exceeded. We planned on 40 children attending; we had over 120 people total. We received so many compliments on the program that we are definitely planning on hosting a party again next year - but this time we'll be more prepared! Here are the activities we shared with patrons.

Noisemakers: what's a New Year's party without a noisemaker? We made very simple shakers out of plastic cups and anything that would rattle inside of it - beads, beans, and bells. We used clear cups so you could see the pretty colors of the noisemakers inside. You could tell this was a popular station as the noise level in the room grew and grew.

Party hats: again, you can't have a real celebration without a festive hat. We bought plain solid-colored party hats and set out as many different stickers as we could find to decorate them with. As I said, we planned on 40 kids, though we bought supplies for slightly more, but we still ran out of hats. One of our volunteers improvised by making hats out of solid colored plastic cups, a hole punch, and yarn. They were pretty cute.

Coloring sheets and interview: coloring sheets are always a way to fill up a preschool program and they always get used. I also found a printable New Year's interview, which I thought was cute. It asked things like the child's age and favorites and what they hoped for the coming year. I wish I had gotten to see some of the responses! The coloring sheet was a very simple "Happy New Year!"

Balloon drop: of course, the main event of the program was our countdown to noon and balloon drop. Before the program, we made a very simple balloon drop out of two paper tablecloths and some yarn. We laced the two cloths together with the yarn, then taped the whole contraption to the ceiling and filled it with balloons. When the time came, we found a fun clip on Youtube that showed New Year's celebrations around the world while counting down. We started the video with one minute to go, but didn't start counting aloud until 10. When the countdown finished, I yanked the yarn, the cloths ripped apart, and our young patrons were showered in glorious balloons. They absolutely loved this part of the program and their excitement was definitely infectious.

A toast and a fortune: after the balloon drop and as patrons gathered their belongings, we treated them to a cup of sparkling juice and a fortune cookie to get their new year started.

As I said, this program was a huge success with tons of compliments and I'm looking forward to repeating it next year!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Edward Hopper Paints His World
By Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
I could not have named a Hopper painting before I read this book and, now that I have, I feel sad about that. This book - I loved it. I loved how Hopper's dream never wavered, no matter how his circumstances may have changed. His story is told simply but in a way I found very effective and moving. However, what makes this book truly excellent are the illustrations - they are simply breathtaking. Minor has done a beautiful job of melding his own style with Hopper's - the last few pages will really highlight this for readers. I just think the art here is absolutely stunning.

A Bed for Kitty
By Yasmine Surovec
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a very simple story for young cat lovers. To show how much she loves Kitty, Chloe buys her a special bed. But anyone who's had a cat knows how that usually goes. Chloe doesn't understand why Kitty doesn't sleep in her new bed, so she tries to show just how wonderful it is. It's a cute story, one that I think would work really well in a toddler time - the illustrations are very simple and the story focuses strictly on Chloe and Kitty. Adorable.

Bear Sees Colors
By Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
Published 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
I adore the Bear books - I love the simplicity of them, and the illustration style just makes me sigh in contentment. It's like visiting an old friend every time I read a Bear book. This newest is no exception. In this book, Bear and friends discovers the joy of colors. I love the design and layout of this book - alternating the full-color spreads with white pages to really highlight the vibrancy of the colors. The rhymes are sometimes a bit off (something I've found in other Bear books as well), but I'm so charmed by the illustrations that I'll just look the other way. A delightful new book about colors.

By Raul Colon
Published 2014 by Paula Wiseman Books
This is one of those books that makes me think I'll never serve on the Caldecott committee. This book is getting tons of praise and I've seen it touted as a contender for the Caldecott - but I just didn't like it. I have a fair appreciation of wordless picture books - going through early literacy classes instilled in me the importance of letting children infer and tell the stories from the pictures - so I've no beef with this book in that direction. I guess I just didn't think it was terribly interesting. It's not a book for me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Liars, Inc.

Liars, Inc.
By Paula Stokes
Expected publication March 24, 2015 by HarperTeen

Max and his friends have no problem profiting from their classmates' desire to lie. But when Max's best friend disappears, will all the lies catch up to him? Did Max have something to do with it? Or are there lies that even Max didn't know about?

Liars are kind of a big deal in teen fiction right now - they're popping up everywhere. While I don't have a particular fondness for them, I thought the blurb for this sounded suspenseful enough to give it a try. I didn't know beforehand that I'd read this author before, though under a different name and a different genre.

I'm not sure how much I have to say about this one. It was an interesting enough read and I was invested enough to want to know the truth behind Preston's disappearance, but it's probably not a book I'll remember for a long time. What I enjoyed most was the actual mystery. I though Stokes did a great job making it complicated but not convoluted, with twists that were surprising and mostly believable. My predictions about the truth were close but not exact, and I was pleased with Stokes' explanation of things.

What I didn't like were the characters. I thought they were all pretty selfish, making many poor choices. I was consistently frustrated with Max - he does not make a lot of rational decisions during the course of the story (though maybe I wouldn't either if the FBI suspected me of murdering my best friend). I also didn't love the dynamics between Max and his family - it seemed like something terrible had to happen for him to remember that he actually cared about them. I get that he's had a rough life, but he's been with the Cantrells for quite some time so I would have hoped he'd treat them better. However, I relate very little to Max's story, so maybe it's accurate and I just don't know. I really despised Parvati and I did not understand Max's attachment to her. He's pretty sure he's in love with her but most of their interactions don't seem to go much beyond some playful banter in between the sexy times. I just didn't buy their relationship.

Overall, this was a decent enough mystery/thriller to keep me engaged, but not memorable enough to sit on my keeper shelf.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: This One Summer

This One Summer
By Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Published 2014 by First Second

Rose and her parents always spend the summer at a house in Awago Beach. But this summer is not like the others before it. Her parents seem to be fighting a lot, and when Rose seeks a distraction, she and her friend Windy only end up finding more drama. What will this one summer change for them?

Obviously, I've been meaning to read this book for a long time - probably a year ago is when I first started hearing about it. At the beginning of this year, it won both Printz and Caldecott Honors - something no book has done before. My interest in the book only grew at that point, and I put a hold on the library copy, waiting for it to arrive.

I've speculated before that, sometimes, reading a book after you've heard the hype machine run for a while doesn't do great things for one's opinion of the book. I fear that may be the case with my feelings for this book. But...

I didn't love it? Actually, that's not entirely true. I LOVED the art - it's absolutely wonderful and Tamaki completely deserves her Caldecott and I really applaud the committee for recognizing the beauty in this artwork.

However, if you take away the art, there's nothing left for me to love. I really had no interest in the story, and I don't think it was fleshed out in a way that really captured my attention. It felt underdeveloped - well, parts of it, anyway - and a bit disjointed. I think it's a really interesting look at how a parent's grief, particularly over something one may not fully understand, can impact a child and the cyclical nature of parent-child relationships. But I felt Rose's relationship with Windy was not as strong as I would have expected prior to reading, and their involvement in the other drama going on around Awago Beach never really fit for me. Additionally, I understand what the climax of the book is supposed to be, but it didn't feel all that climactic really. I just have a really hard time thinking the writing here is worthy of a Printz Honor. But, what do I know?

Overall, definitely not my favorite graphic novel. I'm excited to take a look at some of the titles from the Great Graphic Novels list next.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Listen, Slowly

Listen, Slowly
By Thanhha Lai
Published 2015 by HarperCollins

Mia was looking forward to a summer on the beach, working up the courage to talk to HIM. Alas, that summer is not in the cards. Instead, Mia will have to become Mai and travel with her father and grandmother to Vietnam, so that her grandmother can finally find out what happened to her husband in the Vietnam War. Can Mai survive the trip and find a way to be both Mai and Mia?

I was really looking forward to Lai's new book. I enjoyed her debut (Inside Out & Back Again) and was curious to see what she would do next. I was a little sad when I discovered that this wasn't a verse novel like her previous title, but only until I started reading.

Because once I started reading, I didn't care that Lai wasn't creating beautiful verse for me to read. It became clear that Lai simply has a way with words, regardless of the structure she puts them into. I fell completely for this book pretty much from page one and didn't want to put it down until I finished.

Once again, Lai has done an amazing job of creating a beautiful and vivid landscape for her characters. To me, it seems obvious that Viet Nam is a place dear to Lai's heart - her loving descriptions of its beauty (and its unpleasantries - all those bug bites!) really shine. I also really enjoyed that the country is a character not just for us readers, but also for Mai. I love that she understands that it seems to have its own way of doing things, whether or not she likes it.

I also really liked Mai/Mia (she mostly goes by Mai in the book). I loved her quirks and her attitude felt pitch perfect for a girl her age. I really appreciated the journey she goes on throughout the novel; I found it very believable. It was incredibly easy to relate to her woes and worries - having to look after her grandmother while her father does noble medical work, wondering if HE knows who she is and will remember her after spending a whole summer apart. I think Mai's interest in the mystery surrounding her grandfather is definitely something kids will relate to - I remember first getting interested in genealogy and stories of my own families' pasts around her age. I thought the development of Mai's relationship with the people around her in Viet Nam was really well done, also. She is hesitant at first, and doesn't think she will have much in common with anyone, but I liked being pleasantly surprised as she discovered things they could share. I also loved the complexities of her familial relationships - here she is, on this journey with her grandmother, to uncover the truth about her grandfather. But her parents won't talk about their own memories of Viet Nam or how they came to the United States, so why should she help when no one will tell her why? The moment when the family finds out what happened to Ong was extremely powerful.

This book was just absolutely lovely to read and I'll definitely be awaiting Lai's next novel.

NOTE: Once again, I don't know how to make diacritical marks here, so my apologies for not having them where relevant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky
By Stacey Lee
Expected publication March 17, 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Samantha is not sure if killing a man who's about to rape you counts as murder, but she's not sticking around to find out. See, being Chinese will surely count against her, so she decides to follow her father's dream and head for California. She's lucky for the company of Annamae, a runaway slave, and the two girls disguise themselves as boys, falling in with three cowboys. But none among them could predict the danger and disaster that awaits on the Oregon Trail.

I'm a big fan of historical fiction and, like any kid who grew up in a certain time period, a big fan of the Oregon Trail, so I was delighted to stumble across the e-galley of this book. I downloaded and devoured it recently.

I really enjoyed this one. I loved the unique perspective that Lee gives readers - two women of color, basically alone in the world, relying on each other and themselves (with some assistance from some cowboys who often are more trouble than they're worth) to forge a new way in the world. I loved the relationship between the two girls - they come together through a tragedy but grow to truly depend upon each other. Their differences are many, but I love when they discuss them - their upbringings, their religion and beliefs, etc. It just works so well. While I enjoyed all the characters (the boys are great comic relief), I think the book shines most when Sam and Annamae are enjoying each other's company.

Sam is a wonderful narrator. There are times when she wallowed a bit too much for my taste - obviously she has reasons for her sadness but occasionally, she stayed too long in it when I wanted her to buck up and face the next challenge. Much as I liked the romance, it didn't seem all that necessary and the story would have worked just as well without it. Like I said, the boys were great for comic relief, but I liked that Sam was always trying to figure them out. Their antics also propelled a number of plot twists, but in a believable way.

I think it's clear that this book was researched very well. Nothing felt off or out of place to me. Most of the time while reading, I felt like I was right alongside Sam and the gang, riding horses and learning to rope and shoot a bow and arrow. I did question a bit how quickly Sam gets used to riding, particularly for such long distances at a time, but I guess she didn't have much choice.

The plot is well developed and never lags - I was turning pages as quickly as I could to find out what would happen next. I thought the ending was great - once again, everything just felt incredibly realistic and believable. A book like this could easily be depressing - I mean, life was not easy for anyone, but particularly people of color. But this book is hopeful - I was certainly left with a smile on my face.

An absolute delight and I can't wait to see what Lee does next.

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Summer of the Gypsy Moths
By Sara Pennypacker, read by Jenna Lamia
Published 2013 by Listening Library

Stella likes living with her great-aunt, though she doesn't particularly like the foster kid who lives there, too. But when something unexpected happens and threatens Stella's life in Cape Cod, will she and Angel be able to set aside their differences and figure out a way to keep them both safe?

This book got quite a bit of buzz when it was released. I remember several people lobbied for it as a Newbery contender. It definitely caught my eye but I never found the time to read it. I recently downloaded the audio version and listened every spare second I had.

This is my first time reading a book by Pennypacker, though the Clementine series looks absolutely charming as well. I don't think it will be my last. I loved the simple yet beautiful way she told Stella and Angel's stories. I completely fell in love with the characters she created, including the beauty of Cape Cod itself. I was so swept up in the story that I found excuses to listen to my audio more than I typically do in a week. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, how these characters would find themselves and fix their hearts. Perhaps that broken and lost quality is what spoke to me. The characters here certainly have had hard times. But it never feels hopeless. In fact, Stella's spirit is probably a large part of what compelled me to keep reading this book.

However, the main thrust of this book is near impossible to actually believe. I don't know if we're supposed to assume some kind of magical realism or something a bit odd at play here, but I had to completely pretend the book took place in a fantasy land. If I stopped to think about the fact that Stella and Angel actually bury dear old Louise in the garden and then manage to fool everyone around them for months, my enjoyment of the book started to lessen. The ending also felt a bit tidy, though not everything was wrapped up neatly. I appreciated that Stella's mother didn't necessarily feature into her happy ending, as much as that also broke my heart.

I quite enjoyed listening to this one. Being from New England, I found it lovely to hear that Down East accent again, as much as I may poke fun at times. I've listened to other books read by Lamia and I think she's a great choice for youth literature - she has a vocal quality that makes her believable as a young narrator but she also has enough range to distinguish easily between characters.

I really enjoyed this one and am looking forward to catching up with Pennypacker again in the future.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Carol Sing-Along

Last year during our storytime break, I held a preschool dance party. This year, I wanted to do something just a bit different. I love singing carols and I knew there were probably patrons who did as well, so why not host a sing-along at the library? That's exactly what I did!

I'd say the program was a success and it was a lot of fun and easy to run. I greeted everyone at the door with a printout of the lyrics (because even if you think you know the words, you might forget them - trust me!) and I played "Wonderful Christmastime" as families entered and got settled. Then we got started. Here's my playlist!

"Frosty the Snowman" - Laurie Berkner
"Jingle Bells" (with handbells!) - Laurie Berkner
"Jingle Bell Rock" (with handbells!) - Bobby Helms
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - Donald Duck and Goofy
"12 Days of Christmas" (with stick puppets) - The Muppets and John Denver
"Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" (with a miniature Christmas tree to dance around) - Brenda Lee
"Let it Snow" (with some corresponding actions) - Donald and Daisy Duck
"Deck the Halls" (with scarves) - The Muppets and John Denver
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Susie Tallman

 - A Few Notes: they love, love, LOVED shaking the bells along with the music and probably would have been happy to do it for the entire program. However, I assure you: two songs with bells is QUITE ENOUGH.

- I initially wanted to do "12 Days of Christmas" with actual puppets but after using the stick puppets, boy howdy, am I glad I didn't! I didn't think the song really moved that quickly, but once you get into it, it definitely does. I tried to show all the puppets every time they were mentioned, but I had to give up around the sixth day.

- next time, I would not do both scarves and bells. It's too much of a hassle to hand out and then collect two different kinds of props, especially if you have any kind of crowd. Thankfully, I had a manageable number (and no children who refused to give up their props), but it still dragged the momentum a little bit.

- I opted to use the most family friendly versions of songs I could find. I liked using the Disney characters and the Muppets because they were voices the kids were likely to recognize and definitely stayed family friendly. I had early qualms about using "Let it Snow" in the program, but I decided to make it into a cuddle song - caregivers "held [them] tight" and gave kisses goodnight, and we used out hands to make it snow.

To finish up, I played "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on repeat as we did our simple craft: reindeer headbands. I just had long strips of brown paper and lighter brown handprints for them to attach as antlers. I also provided stickers for extra decoration. They loved it, it was really simple, and they looked adorable wearing them.

Overall, I think it was a successful program. I had a lot of fun with it and I got a lot of compliments from parents in attendance. I'd love to repeat the program in the future!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
By Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Jon Parra
Published 2013 by Chronicle Books
I appreciate authors taking a common theme and focusing on a specific culture. One of my favorites of this is Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns. But I enjoyed this one as well - a book of shapes focusing on Latino culture. I liked that the book uses Spanish vocabulary and the illustrations are really vibrant, perfect for highlighting the culture. I also appreciated that the objects highlighted for each shape were more unique than in other shape books I've read. I really enjoyed this one.

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance
By Birgitta Sif
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
I was pretty excited to discover this book, as I thought Sif's Oliver was a strange and lovely delight. I feel much the same about this one. Frances loves to dance but she's also quite shy about it. When she meets a young singer, she finally realizes that she should share the love she has for dance with others. It's a very sweet story, and I don't think small children can read empowerment tales enough - I definitely could have benefit from more of them. The illustrations are charming as well - I think Sif has a beautiful style. I'll definitely be looking for more from her.

Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious
By Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Hayelin Choi
Published 2014 by Readers to Eaters
I've talked before of my love for non-fiction picture books - you get all the best bits of the story distilled down to something you can read in just a few minutes. I admit to being only somewhat familiar with Waters prior to reading this book, but I adored it. I loved the simple way she thinks about food and her desire to share it with others. I thought Martin did an excellent job capturing her philosophy and making her story easy for young readers to understand. I thought the illustrations complemented the story beautifully - they look delicious!

The Boy in Number Four
By Kara Kootstra, illustrated by Regan Thomson
Published 2014 by Dial
Being a native New Englander, I grew up with an appreciation of both hockey and the Boston Bruins. Bobby Orr means a great deal to Bruins fans, so I couldn't resist reading through this book when it arrived at the library. Unfortunately, it's a disappointment. It is far too simplistic to legitimately serve as a biography of Orr and the writing is trite and pedestrian. The illustrations are lively enough, depicting the action of hockey well, but the text mostly just drags them down. I hoped for much more from this book.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Requiem

Requiem (Delirium, book three)
By Lauren Oliver, read by Sarah Drew
Published 2013 by HarperCollins

WARNING: Likely spoilers ahead. Read my reviews of books one and two.

Lena is not the girl she was a short while ago. What she's discovered and what she's been through have changed her irreversibly. But can Lena take the changes within herself and find a way to change the world around her? She'll stop at nothing to try.

Well, two years later, I finally downloaded the audio of book three and finished the series. I'm really bad about starting series and not finishing them, so that's one of my reading goals for this year, particularly in cases when I know the series has been fully published now. Since I listened to the first two books on audio, it seemed like the natural choice to finish out the series in the same format.

Personally, I think this is the weakest of the trilogy. A great start, a strong follow-up and this feels like limping to the finish line. It feels like, with this book, Oliver drops all pretense of this book being about anything other than a love triangle and, as I said in my review of book two, I just don't care about that nonsense. I was sick of listening to Lena whine about whether or not she loved Julian or Alex. On the bright side, this made me endlessly glad for Hana's viewpoint - at least she was thinking about more than which boy she liked best. Overall, though, the book as a whole is just not as strong as the previous titles. The characters do not really grow in interesting ways, though Hana does at least a bit. The action completely fizzles out, leading to perhaps the biggest letdown of a conclusion that I've read in recent memory. Honestly, I don't have much more to say about the book - it was definitely a disappointment and not a good conclusion to a promising series.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review: How I Discovered Poetry

How I Discovered Poetry
By Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Published 2014 by Dial Books

Award-winning author Nelson poetically describes her development as an artist and her experiences growing up.

There was quite a bit of discussion about this book last year and its chances for winning some sort of literary award. Of course, it was difficult to find a book that discussed this book without also discussing the other well-known verse memoir published last year (which I actually read after this one). It was my year of no library books, so I missed out on this one, but it was one of the first things I checked out when I found myself with some time this year. This book did win a Coretta Scott King Award author Honor.

Is it horrible of me to admit that I'm not overly familiar with Nelson? I had previously read her verse biography of George Washington Carver, and that's about it. My interest in this title mainly stemmed from hearing it discussed by people I admire, all of whom quite enjoyed it. When it won an award, I knew I'd pick it up sooner rather than later.

I wish I'd picked it up even sooner. It's just absolute perfection. Every word is so skillfully chosen and comes together in a way that just leaves me speechless. I am in awe of Nelson's skills as a poet: each entry is written as an unrhymed sonnet. Nelson mirrors her actual development in each poem, with language developing more as the book progresses. It works so beautifully. The illustrations are simple and beautiful as well, and they complement the poetry perfectly. I was completely enchanted by this slim book and it is certainly deserving of its award.

Just a note: I found it interesting that most reviews of this book targeted it for slightly older readers, middle school to high school. I didn't find anything in it that would make me hesitate at giving it to an upper elementary reader.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson
Published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Award-winning author Woodson poetically relates her life growing up and how she came to find her passion in writing.

This is, of course, the other verse memoir that everyone was talking about last year. Once again, I didn't get around to it until this year, after it had won nearly every award under the sun. I actually read this after I read Marilyn Nelson's similar-but-different memoir, so it's extremely difficult not to compare the two.

I suppose it's a good thing that they're both damn good books. In fact, I'm not sure I could pick one over the other. Nelson's is more technical, just 50 poems but each powerful and perfect. Woodson's is more free-flowing and ranges over 300 pages, but each capturing the feelings and moments in a beautiful way. I don't want to spend the whole review comparing the two. Let's just say they're both brilliant and you should not ignore either in favor of the other; they both deserve your attention.

Woodson's memoir left me with more questions. Perhaps because she takes a wider-ranging approach, I wondered more about what I wasn't being told. What happened with her birth father (he is mentioned again in the author's note, but I would have liked to read more as their relationship was being rebuilt)? What did Woodson's family think when she found success as an author? I think I would happily read another 300 pages of Woodson's beautiful verse to hear more of her life story.

My favorite part was when she described how her mother must have felt losing her brother - it so perfectly expressed the grief of losing a sibling that I felt like she plucked it right out of my own head and heart. Really, it's just proof of how amazing a writer Woodson is and how we should all be reading her beautiful words.

This is a phenomenal book to recommend to any aspiring young writer, or any child who has had a rough beginning, or anyone who worries that they might never find the thing that will make them special, the thing they can do better than anyone. In actuality, this is a book for all readers, and I'm so thrilled it was showered with awards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Finding Serendipity

Finding Serendipity
By Angelica Banks
Published 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.

Tuesday's mother is probably the most famous author in the world, the writer of the beloved Vivienne Small books. Just when she's about to finish the final book, Tuesday enters her mom's writing room and finds it empty. Just like that, Tuesday is off on an adventure to find her mother - and discover things about herself she couldn't have imagined.

Another of the ARCs to appear at my library recently, I immediately put it into the piles of ones I wanted to read before passing along. I read through it pretty quickly once I started - I didn't want to put it down.

I was completely charmed by this book. I loved Tuesday - she's smart and adventurous and loving and resourceful. She's completely devoted to her family, including her dog Baxterr, and they are just as devoted to her. The adventure is fun and exciting, with a few tense moments. I particularly enjoyed the bit where Tuesday begins to feel hopeless - it was quite beautifully written. In fact, the writing throughout is evocative and descriptive and works really well for the story.

Calling a children's book inspirational feels a bit like the kiss of death, but this book definitely stirred something within the cockles of my cold adult heart. Because, you see, this is a book about the power of reading and writing, and it evokes the beauty and struggle of both of those things perfectly. I completely loved it. It made me remember how much I loved writing when I was younger, something I don't do at all anymore (at least not creative writing) and made me question why I stopped. It made me want to pick up pen and paper again and find the writer who used to live inside me and see if she could live again. It also made me terrified that I could never come up with something as creative as my favorite stories and left me in awe of every writer who puts themselves out there, at the mercy of readers.

I was so charmed by this book that I'll happily recommend it to readers. I think, perhaps, it will work best as a family read-aloud, but I'll suggest it far and wide.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans
By Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
Expected publication March 10, 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers

When Miss Drake's beloved pet human passes on, she doesn't really expect to inherit another. But Winnie arrives, believing Miss Drake to now belong to her. Winnie is thrilled to discover the magical world she never knew. But an unfortunate encounter with an enchanted sketchbook sets Winnie's dangerous sketchlings loose on the city. Can Miss Drake and her new pet set everything right again?

I downloaded this one because I thought it sounded cute, plus it's written by Laurence Yep, a very prolific children's book author. I don't have terribly much to say about this one. It's very short - less than 175 pages - so it was a very quick read. I think it took me maybe 90 minutes to read the whole thing. It's very cute - a gentler sort of fantasy than a lot of what has been coming out for middle-grade readers. But this is maybe a little simpler than I'd expect from a middle-grade read. I'd definitely recommend this for the younger end of the age level. Like I said, it's very cute. I was charmed by Miss Drake and Winnie and the myriad magical creatures they encounter. The story is a bit simplistic, and it's pretty easy to see where things are going. There are hints of a deeper story, which perhaps will come in future volumes (this is billed as the first in a new series). I thought the relationship that developed between the two characters was sweet, and there is enough of a greater magical world hinted at that I'd like to learn more about. Overall, though, it was a bit simplistic for me. Cute enough, but nothing special.

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

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Two Hands to Love You
By Diane Adams, illustrated by Paige Keiser
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
This is a great gift book for new parents. It highlights all the ways a child is loved and all the different people who will love that child. The love takes a variety of forms, shown through a number of different activities. It's a very sweet book, with very soft and simple illustrations. The book has a nice rhythm, adding to its soothing nature. This is a perfect book for sharing one-on-one, and one that will reassure children they will be loved no matter what. It may be a little cloying for some, so know your reader.

Lily the Unicorn
By Dallas Clayton
Published 2014 by HarperCollins
This book was made for my boss. It's not a bad thing, but it definitely appeals to a certain kind of person. It's a bit much for me personally, but I can see a lot of kids who will love this book. This is a very simple book of contrasts between Lily and her friend Roger. But this book is really not that simple - it's crammed with details. I mean, crammed. Kids will certainly have fun discovering all the details, and it's great for sharing on an individual basis but I can't imagine it would work in a storytime setting. Like I said, just a bit much for me but will definitely have its fans.

Toucan Can!
By Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis
Published 2014 by Gecko Press
It's not secret that I am not a fan of birds. However, the toucan on the cover of this one is just too adorable to resist. This book will tell you all the things that the brightly-colored toucan can do and wonders if you can do them, too. It's a tongue-twister rhyme that will have you barreling along until you can't keep the words straight anymore. This would be an interesting one to try in storytime - would the kids find it hilarious when you stumble? The illustrations are a lot of fun and may make up for the times when the words are moving too fast. This book is sure to be the bane of existence for some parents.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Blue Birds

Blue Birds
By Caroline Starr Rose
Expected publication March 10, 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Alis has just arrived with her parents in the New World, eager to claim the land for England. But her eagerness is soon replaced by trepidation, as her beloved uncle is nowhere to be found. It soon becomes clear that the relationship with the local natives is strained at best, deadly at worst. But Alis has a hard time believing that Kimi, a Roanoke girl she meets, could ever mean her harm. Will the two groups reach an understanding?

I was pleased to see a new book by Rose show up on my radar. I enjoyed her previous title, May B. (though apparently, I never reviewed it). Perhaps my enjoyment was due to the combination of two things I love: historical fiction and novels in verse. If that's the case, then her new book was definitely another to look forward to.

It only took me a few hours to read this one - the benefit of reading a novel in verse, I suppose. However, Rose certainly does an excellent job creating a compelling world through that verse. I think, perhaps, this story is well-suited to the verse format because there is an emphasis on experiencing nature. Alis truly falls in love with the untamed island of Roanoke, something I don't think she initially expects. She obviously doesn't expect to befriend a native girl, either, and the blossoming of their friendship is quite lovely to watch. I liked that both girls were clearly looking to replace something they'd lost when they find each other and that neither is deterred by their lack of commonalities.

While I liked that the story is set on Roanoke Island, I also liked that Rose didn't make too much of the mystery of what happened to those first settlers. She discusses it more in an author's note at the end, but really, her story is of the two girls, and I think it works well to keep it that way. I also was surprised by the ending, something I wasn't expecting.

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

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: The Imaginary

The Imaginary
By A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Rudger doesn't care that he's imaginary - Amanda can see him and that's all that matters. But, it turns out Amanda isn't the only one who can see him. The evil Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries and he's found Rudger. He'll stop at nothing to devour Rudger. But what happens to an imaginary friend when his friend stops believing?

I was really excited that this ARC showed up at my work. I remember hearing about it a while back and thinking it sounded really interesting. Plus, I knew it was illustrated by Emily Gravett and I love her style, so that made me even more curious.

This was a very compelling and quick read, but it's also pretty dark. I can definitely see certain sensitive children being scared witless by some of the action in this book, but for kids who can't get enough of Coraline and its brethren, I think this definitely hits the right notes. While I found Amanda to be a bit of a prat, I think the driving force of this book is Rudger. He wants nothing more than to be the best friend he can be for Amanda. However, after he encounters Mr. Bunting and the other imaginaries, he becomes just as determined to put an end to the evil.

While it can be pretty dark, it can also be quite amusing. It's not terribly surprising either; the bad guy is malevolently bad, the good guy is beatifically good, and the ending is about what you'd expect. But I really enjoyed the journey with this book. I think Gravett's illustrations add just the perfect touch to the story and I think the finished package will be a sight to behold.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified
By Hannah Moskowitz
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by Simon Pulse

Etta doesn't exactly fit in any of the boxes people want to put her. She longs to find a place where she belongs, but she's pretty sure it's somewhere in New York City, not small-town Nebraska. She's finally trying to be an Etta that she likes, but she's not sure if anyone else will like this version of Etta. Then she meets Bianca. Could she help Etta live up to her potential? Or does Bianca need saving of her own?

I was thrilled when I discovered this book. I've read a couple of Moskowitz's previous titles and really enjoyed them, so I was first simply excited to discover a new book by her. Then I read the description and became even more excited. Etta is a black, bisexual, recovering anorexic ballerina. THANK YOU, HANNAH MOSKOWITZ, FOR WRITING A CHARACTER LIKE ETTA!

Now, excited as I was, that doesn't mean I didn't struggle with this book. Because, honestly, I really did. Until probably halfway through, I struggled. And it's because of Etta's voice. I don't think this is really a criticism, though. Etta rambles. She jumps from one thought to another at the speed of light. She's bold and also unsure of herself. She wants to fit in but she wants to find out who she's really meant to be. Moskowitz has created such a unique voice with Etta; I just struggled to keep up with her. Once I finally just let myself get lost in her rambles and stopped trying to follow them word for word, things were much easier for me. And then I just got lost in the story.

I loved that Moskowitz was unafraid to create a character that is all the things Etta is - black, bisexual, ballerina, recovering from an eating disorder - and more. I think a lot of times, authors would be afraid of the dreaded "trying to cram too much into one book" criticism. Yes, there is a lot going on here. But I can't imagine Etta without all these pieces. People are complicated. They're not just one thing. They are also not strictly defined by their labels, an argument which Etta makes repeatedly throughout this book. I think this will really resonate with teen readers - it certainly made me think about the ways I label myself and how perhaps I should be more cognizant of my personal associations with labels.

While I think Etta is a phenomenal character who is greater than the sum of her parts, it is difficult for me not to focus on one part in particular, simply because it's the part to which I most relate. I don't think it's a stretch to say that bisexuality is almost an invisible identity. We don't see a lot of bisexual characters in books or in media, and when we do, they often play into stereotypes about bisexual people. I loved how perfectly Etta addressed the struggle of identifying as bisexual - not gay enough but not straight enough either. A traitor no matter who you end up with. If you're a bisexual woman and you end up marrying a man, will you still be accepted by the queer community? For that matter, do you have to shut off half your identity when you choose a life partner? Etta's struggle as a bisexually-identified person is not emphasized more than any of her other struggles; it's just the one that I felt the most deeply.

As for the story itself, it's a great look at the complicated intricacies of friendship and how one is a good friend without losing their own identity. While I think the plot mostly plays out pretty predictably, the ride is so enjoyable that I didn't mind at all. Another great book from Moskowitz, which once again leaves me waiting for more.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: The Memory Key

The Memory Key
By Liana Liu
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by HarperTeen

A heroic incident causes damage to Lora's memory key and she starts remembering things she never has before. These new memories seem to suggest that something other than a car accident happened to her mother, that perhaps it wasn't an accident after all. Now, Lora will stop at nothing to uncover the truth, no matter how dangerous it may be.

Sometimes I think I read too much speculative fiction. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me too picky about my speculative fiction particularly for middle-grade or teen audiences. And sometimes I wonder if that makes me dislike books that I might not otherwise have problems with or if the books just sometimes aren't that good.

Obviously, I know that not all books are winners. But let's take this book. This is a book that I wonder if I might have enjoyed more if I didn't read quite so much speculative fiction. It's got an interesting premise: set in a future version of our world overrun with an Alzheimer's-like disease, people are implanted with memory keys which help them retain all their memories. Science such as this leads to interesting questions about privacy - where are those memories being stored? Who has access to them? Who decides if and when a memory should be altered? Would we really want to allow the government or a private corporation access to our brains like this?

Aside from these interesting questions, though, this book doesn't have much going for it, at least not to my speculative fiction-addled brain. Though it's clear this book is set in the future, there is very minimal world-building. Readers are given the basics of the Vergets epidemic and the history of the scientists working to combat it. But the setting is very vague otherwise - how far in the future are we looking? I'm pretty sure it takes place in the United States, but I'm not sure of anything more specific than that.

And then there's Lora. For much of the book, I found her unbelievable and flat. Her reactions to the incredible situations she keeps finding herself in don't seem reasonable. She seems to have very little emotional affect - even when describing a previous crush or an embarrassing moment, she seems distanced from any actual emotions that would be connected to these memories. Worse, even her descriptions of the grief she feels at losing her mother felt flat for me. In addition, her reactions don't seem normal. When her memory key begins to malfunction, she doesn't seem overly concerned. Liu tells me that she's so happy to have memories of her mother that she ignores the urge to fix her key, but she doesn't show me in ways that make me believe her. Lora also seems to have very little sense of logic; her investigations into her new memories and her mother's accident seem haphazard at best, if not just plain lucky.

Because of Lora's flat affect, the romance completely bombed for me. It felt both unnecessary and disingenuous. The twist also wasn't as compelling for me for the same reason. All of these bits add up to a book that I found flawed and uninteresting. I wonder, though, if I didn't read so much excellent speculative fiction if I would have noticed some of these things as much. There are some good action sequences in the book, and it moves along relatively well. Other readers might not see the twists coming, either. Ultimately, this one just didn't really work for me.

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

February Check-In

It's the start of March, so once again, it's time to look back at what I read for the previous month!

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 8

Teen: 8

Adult: 5

Picture books: 15

Library books: 24

Books owned: 12

A pretty good month, I think, with 21 total novels. I didn't think I was going to read that money - February got off to a slow start - but I guess I kicked it into gear later in the month. I don't know how March will go - I have a pretty wonky work schedule due to some programming and projects, plus I have a few doctor appointments (just routine check-ups) and some major wedding stuff (first dress fitting and our engagement photos!). Hopefully I'll be able to maintain the pace I'm at, but we'll see how it goes!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Winnie the Pooh Party

When my coworker mentioned the idea of a Winnie the Pooh program, I eagerly signed up to help. How could I not? I love Winnie and his friends and I knew we could come up with some adorable fun for our patrons. Here's what we did!

Tigger tails: a very simple craft with brown construction paper strips as belts and orange construction paper strips attached as tails. Then we provided crayons for coloring on stripes. Voila! Your own Tigger tail. We even had the privilege of a life-size Tigger manning the station (our boss has a tiger costume). I loved seeing the Tigger tails running around the library after the program.

Best Friend picture frames: to represent Piglet, we had diecut foam picture frames that the kids could decorate. We provided a variety of stickers for decorations and magnets for the back of the frames. When they got home, all they had to do was put a picture of their best friend in the frame. They love anything with stickers.

Pooh masks: we pre-cut Winnie the Pooh masks and set them out, along with crayons and popsicle sticks. The kids could color the masks and then attach a stick and then pretend to be Pooh!

Rabbit's Garden: we filled our kiddie pool with beans and stuck in some apple and pumpkin diecut shapes. Once the kids dug through the garden and found a shape, they could turn it in for a delicious fruit snack. Probably the most popular station - the beans are always a big hit!

Obstacle course: we love to do obstacle courses in our programs because we can incorporate a variety of movements into one activity. For this course, the kids first had to flap their wings like Owl, then crawl like Gopher (there's the tunnel again!), and finally hop like Kanga and give Roo a big hug. Our teen volunteer stationed himself at the end of the course with a kangaroo puppet that we called Roo. It was adorable watching the kids make their way through and then shyly hug the puppet. They also got a stamp for participating.

Pin the Tail on Eeyore: I feel like this is a no-brainer! We made a big picture of Eeyore but left off his tail. Then we had the kids close their eyes (usually they are too young to be comfortable with blindfolds) and try to pin his tail on the right spot. Very simple and very adorable.

We had a lot of fun with Winnie the Pooh and friends and we think our patrons did, too!