Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Imaginary Review

The Imaginary

Book talk: Rudger can be a bit shy but he's always willing to go on adventures with Amanda. Whether they're sailing the high seas on a pirate ship or exploring a jungle, Amanda knows Rudger will always be there by her side. That's why he's her best friend, even if he is imaginary. Rudger feels the same way about Amanda, but when a suspicious stranger comes knocking who can actually see him and Amanda ends up in the hospital, Rudger is left to face real danger on his own. He finds a haven for imaginary friends where he discovers that he's not the only one who has encountered this monster in a Hawaiian shirt, and he has all of them terrified. But Amanda is a special girl and Rudger will do anything to save her, even if the other imaginaries warn him that to do so is to face certain death.

Rave: This surreal horror story about a monster that eats imaginary friends is utterly bizarre and fantastic. The mythology Harrold develops around imaginary friends and how they work is wonderfully creative. I particularly like how they hang out at a library in-between gigs because they're hot spots for imagination. Of course I'm always partial to a nice talking cat sidekick as well. The imaginary friends are hilarious and touching and the monster is actually quite creepy. The illustrations just make it all the more wonderful with their fanciful details. The book is laced with humour and droll observations and the conclusion is surprisingly touching. A great book overall.

Every book its reader: It's hard to know who to recommend this to. The crowd looking for stories about imaginary friends and the ones looking for horror stories don't always intersect. But I think once kids started reading it they'd get into it. It would make a good read-aloud as well. I'd say fourth grade and up.

Topics and Trends: horror, imagination, monsters, friendship


You can find a reading guide at the publisher's website and more info at the author's website.

There's a great pair of book trailers showing a time-lapse of the author and illustrator at work.

Source: school library

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blackbird Fly Review

Blackbird Fly

Book talk: Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko moved from the Philippines to a small town in Louisiana when she was four, but she still doesn't feel like she fits in. She wishes her mother would cook normal meals while her mother thinks she's become too American. Things go from bad to worse when she ends up on the school's Dog Log, a list of the most unpopular girls. Even the few friends she has start to turn on her, afraid her Dog Log status will contaminate them. But just when she thinks she's lost everything she gains something new: she discovers a talent at the guitar that just might be enough to turn things around.

Rave: This book is a sweet story about friendship and finding your place in the world. Apple's struggles with bullying will ring true with many students and open the eyes and the hearts of others. The new friends that she makes are characters worth rooting for even as they struggle and make mistakes. Apple's passion for the guitar adds more appeal. Her struggles with her mother are deftly handled showing Apple's frustration without painting her mother as some unreasonable villain. The other children aren't portrayed as completely two dimensional either.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Wendy Mass and the like looking for a sweet school story. It's about middle schoolers but I wouldn't hesitate to give it to a fourth grader looking for a story about older kids.

Topics and Trends: guitar, music, diversity, bullying, the Beatles, immigrants, popularity


You can visit the author's website for more information

Source: school library

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hook's Revenge Review

Hook's Revenge (Hook's Revenge, #1)

Book talk: Jocelyn Hook knows that one day she will follow in the foosteps of her famous father Captain Hook: scourge of the seven seas! The only problem is that she's never actually met him, or set foot on a pirate ship for that matter. That, and her mother and grandfather who seem very determined to cinch her in corsets and stuff her with teacakes until she finally succumbs and turns into the meek lady of good breeding that they hope to marry off one day. But while suffering through the tortures of finishing school she finally hears from her father. The note promises danger, encounters with terrible beasts, and a wardrobe entirely free of corsets. Jocelyn doesn't have to think twice before accepting her father's request and jumping headlong into adventure!

Rave: This is the feminist retelling of Peter Pan that I didn't know I was waiting for. Jocelyn is a firey, witty, young girl who is full of bravado but still suffers from impostor syndrome. She's layered and extremely relateable because really who hasn't bristled at their parents' expectations and dreamed of escaping on a pirate adventure? This book is full of adventure and heart and did I mention the humour? Plus there's the appeal of Peter Pan, Smee, and all those other familiar never-land faces. This was one of my favorite books of 2015.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for humor and adventure in grades 4 and up.

Topics and Trends: Stories retold, pirates


Heidi Schulz has a pirate-themed author page you can explore.

Source: school library

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Shulz: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Brief Reviews Spring 2015 part 1

Farthing (Small Change, #1)Ha'penny (Small Change, #2)

I loved everything about Farthing. It's well-written and takes so many different themes and genres and weaves them together into something incredible.  The plot is a mystery that follows inspector Carmichael as he investigates a murder at party for the high society set in the English countryside. The setting is an alternate history where England has made an alliance with Hitler. The characters all have incredible depth and struggle with issues from antisemitism and homophobia to family pressures and political intrigue. The second book continues to develop the world and the consesquences of Carmichael's actions in the first book while centering on a different crime, one revolving around a theatre. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Farthing and Ha'Penny by Jo Walton: buy them or check them out today!

One Summer: America, 1927 I read this as an audiobook. It was narrated by the author, who wasn't quite as dynamic a reader as I would have liked, but the content was so interesting I kept listening. It covers a range of subjects, not all of which I'd normally read about on their own, but in this context I found them fascinating. This quote from the book shows just how much happened that summer: "Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence. The Jazz Singer was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flooded as it never had before. A madman in Michigan blew up a school and killed forty-four people in the worst slaughter of children in American history. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T and promised to stop insulting Jews. And a kid from Minnesota flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before.” Recommended for anyone looking for a narrative nonfiction history book. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson: buy it or check it out today!

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2) Perhaps my expectations were too high because I loved Seraphina so much, but I was not as big a fan of Shadow Scale. This book was on a much grander scale with different parts of the world explored and many new characters introduced. It was interesting to see more world building but it felt like a bit much at times, especially when what I really wanted was to see Seraphina and Lucian and the plot kept them apart for most of the novel. I missed the smaller, more personal scale of the first book. I feel like Hartman was trying to cover too much and please too many people. Still there was plenty to love about this novel and I enjoyed reading it. Hartman's writing is beautiful and she does an excellent job fleshing out the world and her new characters. I was definitely not a fan of the ending though, which felt too abrupt and was completely unsatisfying to me---which is too bad because it's the last book in the series. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman: buy it or check it out today!

Gilded Ashes (Cruel Beauty Universe #2)Another fun, fantasy re-telling of a classic fairy tale. If you enjoyed Cruel Beauty, you'll like this novella as well. I gulped it down in a morning. The setting is the same as her previous novel and the characters are pretty well-rounded. The step sisters avoid the over-the-top caricature they're given in many Cinderella stories and I like the dark twist on the fairy god mother. My favorite part was the relationship between Maia and the prince which is allowed to grow over time instead of magically happening over the course of a dance number. I wish it was longer and I'm looking forward to the next book in this world! Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge: buy it or check it out today!

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)
Something about this series just sucks me in, chews me up, then spits me out at the end. The political intrigue, the lush world building, and most of all the moral dilemmas and forbidden love that drive the plot. I like that there's often no clearly right choice and the characters are all completely cloaked in shades of grey. I'm definitely going to have to clear my day for reading when the next book comes out! The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski: buy it or check it out today!

Guy in Real LifeI really wanted to like this book, but sometimes I feel like I'm in a one-sided relationship with geek culture. I enjoy and respect it, but it often doesn't seem to value or respect me. For the record I have played both table top RPGs and MMORPGs (yes, despite my ovaries!) so I was excited to read this book, especially because it had a female DM. But then it gets everything about the female characters so wrong! Svetlana does not seem as fully fleshed and real as Lesh, and not just because his character puts her on a ridiculous pedestal. There's also a lot of aspects that are mentioned but never really explained or dealt with in a way that left a sour taste in my mouth. For example one character using 'homo' constantly or it never really being clear if Lesh wants to be Svetlana or date her.  Most unexcusable to me is the fact that Svetlana is stalked and assaulted and somehow the author makes that about Lesh. I mean really who cares how Svetlana copes with having her privacy violated and her life endangered what's really important is how that affected the guy who likes her. Ugh!  Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff: buy it or check it out today!

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within This book is a great introduction to writing and appreciating poetry and it's all narrated in the witty style of Stephen Fry. His humor turned what could have been dry discussions of the mechanics of meter into a delightful conversation. The poetry exercises were great as well and I enjoyed reading Fry's examples and trying them myself. I don't plan on becoming a poet, but it did help me appreciate the poetry of others better and it was fun to try. I'd highly recommend this to fans of either poetry or Stephen Fry. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry: buy it or check it out today!

Work Song I greatly enjoyed my trip back into the world of Whistling Season in this companion novel set in Butte, Montana.  Once again Doig does a wonderful job evoking a certain time and place and populating it with a varied cast of characters that alternately tickled my funny bone and pulled my heartstrings. This book was particularly enjoyable for me because I was reading a copy my great uncle had annotated with notes involving the book's similarity to my great-grandfather's time spent in Butte around the same time period. Even without the personal connection I would have enjoyed this thoughtful and witty work of historical fiction. Work Song by Ivan Doig: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Brief Reviews Winter 2014

The Sisters BrothersThis book consists of bursts of violent action interspersed with long existential discussions. It's an odd combination, but I like it! The titular brothers are hired hit men assigned to assassinate a man in the San Francisco gold country. Along the way the find and lose fortunes, have close calls with death and deal out some death of their own. This reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in that the brothers are pieces in a game playing their part without understanding the bigger picture of why and because of the nature of their conversations as everything is going on around them.  If you're an adult looking for a Western and have a dark sense of humor then you'll enjoy this book.   The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt: buy it or check it out today!

Carnival of Secrets (Untamed City, #1) I'm a fan of Melissa Marr and the audiobook is narrated by James Marsters (aka Spike from Buffy) so I decided to listen to this while traveling.  I was not disappointed. Melissa Marr crafts a complex world full of compelling characters at cross-purposes. Marsters does an excellent job narrating it all. It was all terribly engrossing and distracted me admirably from the bus and plane rides necessary to get home for the holidays.  I would recommend it with the caveat that it ends on a major cliff hanger and the second book isn't slated to come out anytime soon. Carnival of Secrets by Melissa Marr: buy it or check it out today!

Belfast NoirI wanted to like this collection of stories more than I did. I think the main problem was that I just wasn't its intended audience. I am a very character focused and a lot of these stories were focused more on plot twists and action than establishing layered characters. I suppose you can only do so much in a short story. I mostly picked it up because the stories were all set in Belfast and it succeeded in establishing a sense of place. In that sense I suppose it gave me what I was looking for. But while I liked the stories I didn't particularly love any of them and none of them really stayed with me. Belfast Noir edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville: buy it or check it out today!

Let's Explore Diabetes with OwlsI listened to this as an audiobook narrated by the author, which I suppose is appropriate considering I mostly know David Sedaris from podcasts he's appeared on. I started listening to it with my mom as we worked on a puzzle together and it cracked us up. It was a bit more awkward finishing it by myself on public transit because it kept surprising loud laughs out of me. The topics covered vary vastly but I would listen to David Sedaris talk about almost anything. I'm sure he could find a way to make a description of paint drying poignant and hilarious if he tried. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris: buy it or check it out today!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversIf you want an entertaining and insightful book about science, you can always count on Mary Roach to deliver. This particular book goes into many subjects from organ donation to embalming and it kept me fascinated as it presented me with a slew of facts while causing me to laugh along the way. Roach is particularly good at taking topics that leave many people squeamish and making them accessible with humor and that is precisely what she does in this wonderful book. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Since You've Been Gone review

Since You've Been Gone

Book talk: Sloane was the best friend a girl could ask for. No matter what they were doing, Sloane would turn it into an adventure and Emily could count on her to draw her out of her shell. Which is why Emily couldn't wait for their epic summer to begin. But then Sloane disappears without saying a word. The only clue she leaves behind is a list of things for Emily to do: from apple picking at night to kissing a stranger. Armed with her list, Emily sets out to check items off and find Sloane. Along the way she ends up having the most unexpected and wonderful summer of her life.

Rave: I like that the main driving force of the plot was the friendship between Sloane and Emily. It was interesting having the story told from the perspective of the friend that isn't as popular and often feels like an after-thought. The story deals a lot with what it's like to be friends with someone with such a strong personality, especially for a shy person, and what it's like to be suddenly left alone to cope with life. Emily makes admirable strides but I like that her personality doesn't suddenly change overnight and that it takes her and other characters times to overcome their fears. I also really like the relationship between Emily and Frank and how it slowly grows out of a friendship. I was expecting a frothy book about high school relationships and was surprised by how much I liked this book. I was completely absorbed and flipping pages quickly.

Rant: There were a couple of points that stretched my credulity a bit, but I was so taken with the characters I didn't mind.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone looking for a story about summer and friendship 7th grade and up.

Topics & Trends: friendship, romance, summer

Bonus Quotes:
“I somehow knew that the particulars didn't matter. She was my heart, she was half of me, and nothing, certainly not a few measly hundred miles, was ever going to change that.”

“I don’t think you have to do something so big to be brave. And it’s the little things that are harder anyway.”

“Do you not like The Beatles?" Frank asked, sounding shocked. "Do you also not like sunshine and laughter and puppies? I don't think the Beatles get enough recognition. I mean, when you look at their body of work and how they changed music forever. I think there should be federal holidays and parades”
Source: independent book store author event (Book Passage)

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Volcano Beneath the Snow

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery

Book talk: John Brown is a controversial figure: depending on your perspective he could be seen as an inspiration who stopped at nothing to fight for what he thought was right or as one of the earliest domestic terrorists. The truth lies somewhere in the murky area between these two extremes. Read this book to uncover the bloody and complicated history of slavery, the civil war, and John Brown.

I really enjoyed the nuanced approach Marrin took towards John Brown but my favorite parts were when he pulled back to provide further context. His section on the history of slavery was excellent and contained a lot of information that was new to me and I wish I had earlier. Marrin doesn't pull any punches and he doesn't come down on any one side but allows the reader to explore the complexities of history and see multiple perspectives.

Rant: He hinted a lot about its connections to modern-day terrorism but I wish he had gone into this even further. Perhaps that will be a future book?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to history enthusiasts 7th grade and up or those looking for an excellent narrative nonfiction.

Topics & trends: slavery, history, terrorism, narrative nonfiction, civil war

Source: school library

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin: buy it or check it out today!