Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty (Or Otherwise Known As My Ode to Ms. Moriarty)

I’m going to start here with a little note about Moriarty books for those of you who have never read her: characters move from one book to another, a bit part in one might translate to the main character in another. You do not have to read them all, they are not sequels, they are complete separate entities that happen to have a fun interaction with each other.

Having said that I have read every single Moriarty book (except one – Feeling Sorry for Celia why haven’t I read you???) and I can honestly say I have loved each one. The Year of Secret Assignments is the one I put most frequently in readers hands (and which has an awesome new cover), but The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is probably the funniest. It is a laugh out loud story of the most annoying (and yet hilarious) person ever. A stranger, but no less lovely book is her The Spell Book of Listen Taylor.

Anyhow, the characters in Secret Assignments are some of the central characters The Ghosts of Ashbury High and it was a delight to visit with them again.

Moriarty is very big into writing epistolary novels. This one is no different. It is composed of transcripts, blog entries, exam essays, assignments, etc. They are written by several characters, both teachers and students are represented. The voices are all very individual and Moriarty takes you in a very non-linear, interwoven way to the conclusion. And she manages to do this in such a way that at no time are you looking around confused wondering what is going on. It is very obviously building up to something – but the strength of her writing is such that you aren’t quite sure what is going to happen – only that you want to follow her anywhere she takes you (dang, can you tell I’m a huge fan?). There are several huge reveals – some that you are saddened by, but most leave you giggling.

If you’ve never read Moriarty’s blog you really should. She doesn’t update much, but in May she posted entries every single day, and they seriously turned into the highlight of my day. It was the first thing I read in my Google reader every morning. She is funny and has a way with words that never fails to take me in. She also shares sweet stories about her really smart young son who’s got a super duper name (…which I might be a little partial to, you know, since it is shared with my kiddo).

She is currently working on a new series which I can't wait to read.

Book Source = Library Copy

The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen

From the writer of The Compound....

When Mason accidentally helps a girl escape from the local nursing home, he discovers that there is much more to the local science lab than just environmental sustainability experiments. After running from guards, doctors and psychic teenagers, will he discover what is really going on? Who is this girl and why was she catatonic in a nursing home? And who is the Gardner that she is so afraid of?

Okay, this is the kind of story you really should read in one sitting. Full of action and suspense, each chapter leaves you with a cliffhanger. And the characters are quite interesting, especially Mason. He isn't your typical teen to begin with, since he has a horrible facial scar from a dog attack when he was five. He's also very tall and athletically built, and has a superhero complex. But for the most part, he is shy, quiet, and modest, a boy whose main concerns are taking care of his depressed mother and how he will get into college.

Enter "the girl." For most of the book that is all we know her as. Silent, fey, and definitely damaged, she leads Mason into a world of lies and horror he was never suspecting. But she doesn't do it on purpose. She has no clear idea of who she is or where she came from; she just knows she has to get away.

The suspense was the main grabber of this book. The only downside was that occasionally it felt like there was too much science shoved into too small a space. To a point, it was neccessary, but it could get a bit dry at spots. Luckily, Bodeen keeps the action and horror moving along to counterbalance the hard science. I would be very curious to know if all of the science is good or just made up...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oh, Marcus Flutie

I have a confession to make. I have just now read the Jessica Darling books by Megan McCafferty. I liked them quite a bit. Okay, I loved them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

White Cat by Holly Black

I've liked quite a bit of Holly Blacks early work, namely Tithe. Dark urban fantasy that was was original and fresh and I hadn't read much like it. Now fairy books are a dime a dozen, evil fairies, nice fairies, paranormal out the wazoo.

So naturally I was interested in her new series. Which is essentially a mix of gangsters and magic. It reminded me a bit of Graceling, in that people are born with a talent magical in nature. In the White Cat world, these talents have been made illegal. Which makes everyone who is born with one a criminal by definition. In Graceling, those with graces have multicolored eyes. Something that marks them as graced. In White Cat there is no such obvious marking, but these "talents" are transferred through touch. Everyone, those with powers and those without, have taken to wearing gloves to avoid the consequences a touch can bring. In both worlds those with powers are ruled by those who are more powerful. In White Cat it is organized crime families. In both worlds being "graced" with a magic talent/power is a lot less fun then you think it will be. And that is sort of where the similarities between the books end.

I enjoyed the story, it was suspensful and there were interesting and fun plot twists, excellent double crossings and interesting secondary characters. I would pick up the sequel for sure to see where the story goes. My one main complaint was that the world building wasn't as strong as I would have liked. I didn't quite get how the world worked and I found it confusing at times. Not overwhelmingly confusing, just a bit disorienting. By the end I got it, but I think it could have been worked in earlier to better effect.

I really liked Cassel (the main character) and I thought his character development was the strength of the story. He was super fun to follow around. He's the dude on the cover, even though he's a bit whiter than the author says he is. It would be really interesting to learn more about his convoluted family history. Seems like there are some stories there!

Book Source = Library Copy

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Only One Year by Andrea Cheng, illustrations by Nicole Wong

Sharon is surprised when her mother tells her and her sister, Mary, that they will be sending their baby brother, Di Di, to China to live with his grandparents and extended family for one year.

"China is better for little children," she explains. "In China Di Di will have Nai Nai and Auntie Jing and Uncle Tao and so many cousins to watch him." (5-6)

The book then chronicles the year Di Di is gone and the first few months of his return to the United States. At first, Sharon and Mary miss him terribly, but slowly they return to their regular activities, like playing school and building a dollhouse. Cheng doesn't tell us this. Rather, in lovely and sparse prose, she shows us. Sharon's friend Isabella doesn't understand the family's choice, especially when she learns her own mother is expecting a baby:

"Our baby is going to stay home with my mom and dad and me."

Cheng knows there is no reason to tell us how these words would make Sharon feel. They words hang in the air with heavy importance, like the swing Isabella has hopped off of.

Only One Year is an important contribution to children's literature, as it is about a topic that I haven't seen explored much, if at all. But it is also one of the most tightly written novels for young readers I've read in a long time, and could be a Newbery contender. The wonderful illustrations are placed at just the right moments, like when the family is hand-crafting Di Di's bed right before his return.

So much happens in this little and memorable book. I'm glad CH told me to read it!

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I’ve Been Reading Lately – Potential Mock Printz Edition

Revolver – Marcus Sedgwick.

Wow, this was sort of a powerhouse of a book. Short, quick chapters, switching back and forth between two time periods. It was intense. I loved how the story was really one of family and survival, but that a revolver was so central to the story and so central to how the story turns out. That it propels this story both historically and in present day, that it ties into their survival, but also their moral life. That the story deals with all the ethical dilemmas that come with just having a gun. Do you use it? Do you not? What if you do? What then? What if you don’t, but you should have? It was a breathless story full of suspense…until that epilogue, which frankly was anti-climatic and unnecessary and detracted from the story to the point that where we probably won’t have this book in our Mock Printz.

The Sky is Everywhere – Jandy Nelson

Everyone’s been buzzing about this book. It was a really emotional read and the type I don’t usually pick up, so I was happily surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I loved the family, my heart broke for all of them and I loved their quirks. I appreciated much about this book, especially how Lennie wrote poems everywhere and buried them under rocks, or wrote them on trees, or on discarded coffee cups. I loved her friendship with her best friend and how they moved apart only to find each other again. I enjoyed the plot line on how grief can lead you to act in wildly inappropriate ways. I was less impressed with the new relationship she was in. I mean, I liked the way they were drawn together and how they broke apart and even how they were drawn together again, but I would have liked a better conversation at that point. It seemed flat, for how much was invested in it. This one might be on our Mock Printz.

Split – Swati Avasthi

What I appreciated most about this book is how an act of violence perpetrated by a domestic violence victim is the catalyst for big changes. Jace’s family has been terrorized by his father for years. His brother disappeared when he graduated high school, never contacting his family again – or so Jace thinks. On the night when Jace acts in a way he finds completely abhorrent and he must leave home, he also discovers that his mother has secretly kept in contact with Christian throughout the years. She gives Jace his address (several states over) and tell him that Christian will look after him. When Jace lands on Christian’s doorstep, it is apparent that things aren’t going to be that simple. This is a story of abuse and what survivors must do to heal and most importantly what they must do to break the cycle. I was really impressed with this book. I had some quibbles with language on occasion which didn’t seem realistic, but on the whole, I really liked it. Another possible contender for our Mock Printz.

Toads and Diamonds – Heather Tomlinson

I could not get into this book. I tried several times and then just put it down. We’ll see if the other committee members feel strongly about it, I may have to force myself to press forward. That isn’t a bad thing – I frequently have had the experience where something I didn’t immediately get into turned into a favorite when I stopped monkeying around finally forced myself to read it.

So yeah, obviously I’ve been reading potential titles for our Mock Printz. If anyone has any suggestions feel free to let me know in the comments. We go on reviews, but sometimes word of mouth can be the thing that gets us that little known title we would have missed otherwise.

This is what it is shaping up to look like so far:

1. Bacigalupi, Paolo – Ship Breaker (probably)
2. Benoit, Charles – You
3. Larson, Hope – Mercury (maybe)
4. Nelson, Jandy – The Sky is Everywhere (good chance)
5. Perkins, Lynne Rae – As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth (yes???)
6. Stork, Francisco X – The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
7. ?
8. ?
9. ?
10. ?

Book Source: All Library Copies

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Library's huge Manga and Anime Convention for Teens

For our second year, we held Yomicon, our manga and anime convention for teens. We had almost 750 people, the vast majority of them teens, a few kiddos, and about 100 parents. It was about double from last year. I wasn't one of the people who planned Yomicon, that honor goes to some of my insanely talented colleagues, but I helped to work the event and I wanted to brag about it, because it was pretty much the most incredible library program I have ever been a part of. It took the committee almost a year to plan this, and I know they've already started thinking about next year.

We had a huge manga and anime library (sent over to the host branch from the other 20 libraries in our system) that was available for check out. And check out it did. The kids would check out entire series of graphic novels. It was so cool. I think we checked out over 1000 volumes in that one evening.

We had screenings, an artist panel, a cosplay contest, tons of food, Dance Dance Revolution, and other video games, an art contest, crafts (including button making and steampunk jewelry), a canned food drive, a live band, and a whole bunch more that I am forgetting. We basically took over an entire library branch for an entire evening.

Everyone who entered got YomiYen, our currency for the evening. With that they could buy themselves refreshments and prizes. If they participated in various events they could earn more YomiYen, which meant more food and bigger better prizes. We had so many prizes and it wasn't nearly enough. We're going to have to start making them earlier this year.

Here are some of the prizes that were made by our incredibly talented staff:

Some food:

And you can check out our Yomicon Blog for more information.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

This was one of my most highly anticipated titles. In fact, I was so desperate to read this that I was sick at the thought of having to wait until September. A big thank you to Candlewick for sending me an ARC! I did a happy dance when this showed up at my door last week. And I think I might have let out a squeal. And then grooved all the way inside my house (probably to the horror of my neighbors). Then I interrupted my husband to tell him about it and I know how little he cares about all this teen fiction stuff, but that was how excited I was! And then… I had to put it aside so that I could get through all sorts of required reading. But! But! I finally got to read it this weekend.

I ride after him, gun up, but not shooting, just watching and feeling-
Feeling the thrill of it-
Cuz that’s it-
That’s the nasty, nasty secret of war-
When yer winning-
When yer winning, it’s effing thrilling-

That quote, Todd speaking, is one of the reasons that I can’t get enough of this series. There is a willingness to get to the ugly truth of humanity here. And there is ugliness to spare on New World. An ugliness that has been threatening to wipe out the hope and future of its people throughout the first two books. Ugliness , otherwise known as the Mayor of New Prentisstown. Or, Mr. President, if you’re nasty.

We start the third book seconds after the second one left off. The war is about to begin. Not just between The Ask and The Answer as we thought. No, the Spackle have mobilized too. And with the return of 1017 into the fold (The Spackle that Todd helped escape in the previous book) they are majorly pissed. In fact, they are so pissed, that they pull out all the weapons they’ve been secretly working on for the past decade or so. Weapons like an acid fire boomerang thing that is devastatingly accurate. So, yeah, things aren’t looking good.

Essentially, this is a war that no one can win. It will lead to the annihilation of some or all. This is what Todd and Viola had been hoping to prevent and it is them that can stop it (because, you know, everyone else is more interested in blowing stuff up). I hesitate to say it is their destiny, because that makes it seem like there is a higher power meddling in here – and there is not, but their lives have been leading up to this point. Their experiences and their choices to never stop fighting back against the Mayor and tyranny has led them directly to this point. And they shine. Not in that infallible way that storybook heroes tend to shine, but in a flawed, confused way, that has them desperately clawing their way to victory.

Ness also manages to take this final book in new directions. We’ve gotten used to the double narration of Viola and Todd. This time he adds the voice of the Spackle, 1017, in particular. It was fascinating to learn about the lives and culture of The Spackle, who call themselves The Land. In fact, this made me wonder if Ness was borrowing from the Inuit, whose name for themselves (If I remember correctly) means The People. Anyhow, an excellent addition that added a fresh perspective to the story.

There are several surprises included here and a pretty shocking conclusion that I absolutely loved. If I had one complaint it was that I was subjected to too much Mayor Vs. Todd “I’m a gonna kill you if you touch Viola.” Yes, Todd, we know. But even that storyline was wrapped up satisfyingly in the end. And there were some super neat parallels between the Mayor and Todd and The Sky and 1017 (the Sky is the leader of the Spackle).

An excellent conclusion! Can’t wait to read whatever it is Ness writes next.

Book Source = ARC provided by publisher.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath

I love a Polly Horvath book.

I know when I pick it up that it will be something special, something I have never read before, and something that will stick with me. It will also, most definitely, be something beautifully composed. I looked forward to this book all year.

Northward to the Moon is the sequel to My One Hundred Adventures. I don’t adore these two books like I do The Canning Season and The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane. There is plenty of weirdness (Jane and her siblings of unknown paternity living a vagabond life on the beach) but they are a smoother ride.

At the end of Adventures, Felicity, Jane’s poet mother, and Ned decide to relocate the family from the coast of Massachusetts to the plains of British Columbia so Ned can teach French. But Ned does not know French and in the first pages of Northward he loses his job. Then Ned hears about a dying old friend, a Carrier (of Canadian First Nations), with whom he stayed for a spell during one of his many travels. She has a message for Ned which leads the family to Nevada in search of Ned’s mother.

Once the family got to Nevada I realized that there is quite a bit of information about the adults in the story. Estranged family members, family secrets, sibling relationships, aging parents, multi-generational bonds. Okay yes, these things are also reflected back to Jane and her siblings, but it still made me pause while I was reading it.

And then there’s the ending. Oh Polly Horvath. I do so enjoy your books.

Never fear! It looks like we will hear more about Jane in the future.

Source: checked out from my library

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

This story is split between “Then” during the bike trip Cass embarks on after the death of her best friend Julia, and “Now” which is the production of a musical Julia wrote shortly before her death entitled “Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.”

This is a fairly complex piece of writing. The details are slowly teased out between the two narratives of Now and Then. Characters are introduced, you sense the history, but don’t have any of the background information. If this sounds like it is a problem, it isn’t really. It is just for a more sophisticated reader. The writing was very reminiscent of John Green (well to me anyway) in its smartness and complexity and they way that the kids spoke. Very smartly. Very big idea-y. Very advanced. Occasionally I thought maybe too advanced? But there are smart kids out there – so I gave it a pass.

Cass is a Quaker, or more accurately, her parents are Quakers and she’s pretty much all the way there. She’s always been the weird kid not allowed to do things everyone else takes for granted. She’s always stood out, she’s had rumors about her since she can remember. Mean rumors. Hurtful rumors. But she’s always had Julia to help her be ok with that. With Julia gone, everything just crumbles. She no longer knows her place in the world.

At times, the emotion in this book overwhelmed me. I think I cried through every single “Then” section. Sobbed might be more accurate. There was one scene where Ollie (Julia’s boyfriend) lashes out at Cass. Up to that point you know that they had some sort of falling out, but not the details. When you find out, you can’t believe the deliberate cruelty. You wonder how they make it back together in the “Now” sections (because they are in the first “Now” section – don’t worry I didn’t give anything away there). And then you get to that part and you wonder at the beauty and power of friendship and how it can heal you even when you’re dealing with an unbearable loss. The Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad Musical was a sweet addition, a beautiful tribute to a beloved friend, a method of coping and an expression of love.

I really liked this one.

Book Source: Publisher Review Copy

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Haiku Reviews Part II

So I've been reading a lot, but have a major case of the lazies. Here are two reviews of books I've read recently that I loved. I'm almost positive both of these will be on our library system's Mock Printz.
As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth – Lynne Rae Perkins

An improbable
number of things go wrong…you’ll
be charmed through and through.

Ship Breaker – Paolo Bacigalupi

Best dystopian
names and slang I’ve ever read.
Story's not bad either ;)

(i'm counting story's as one syllable. I couldn't decide if it was one or two, so heck, one it is!)

Previous Haiku Reviews

Book Source: Publisher Review Copies