Friday, August 31, 2012

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

This book bills itself as a Da Vinci Code for Teens. I can't remember (and am too lazy to check) whether this is the official publisher tagline or whether I read that on a blog somewhere. The verdict: oh boy, is it ever.

Lot's of fun this one. I liked Nora our main character's voice quite a bit. She's prickly, defensive, and desperately trying to appear jaded and blase about it all. She's also a bit of a phenom at Latin, which is what gets her into this whole mess.

Her best friend Chris and her begin an independent study translating some old letters and working on a coded book. As they begin to break the code Nora also is translating letters that are secretly the key to the whole shebang. Her professor suffers a mysterious "heart attack," her friend is murdered, and her other friend suffers a mental breakdown while covered in his blood.

Enter secret societies from stage left and you've got the set up pretty much figured out. I liked how the author made several people equally shady so that I ended up suspecting everyone and having a lot of fun discovering exactly who was the actual guilty party. It did require a bit of suspension of disbelief, but I was more than willing since I was having such a good time.

Book Source = e-book from Library

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The first time I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal was around 2006 when my boss read Little Pea as part of a storytime training exercise. It was love at first "pleh".

We first met Chopsticks in 2009's delightful Spoon. Little Spoon is feeling down and wishes he were more "exotic and cool" like Chopsticks.

That's Spoon up there in the corner of the book image. He says, "Not exactly a sequel to Spoon. More like a change in place setting." And that folks delivers a great introduction to what the book has in store for us.

Chopsticks do everything together and according to Spoon, Fork, and Knife, no one can remember them being apart. One tragic day one of our stick friends breaks. He's quickly whisked away (by a whisk - so many fun visual and verbal puns in this book) to the medicine cabinet where a bottle of glue mends him and orders bed rest.  Mending stick tells his partner to venture off on his own while he recuperates and his partner embarks on a journey of single-stick self-discovery that includes pole vaulting and symphony conducting.  Are you smiling? Because this stuff is delightful.

I recommended this book to a friend who has twins. I think the message of being apart and being an individual makes a terrific and loving sibling story. 

While I've raved about the writing, I must give equal credit to Scott Magoon. Every object in the story is animated and completely charming. The 3 year old in my house was particularly interested in the q-tips. Amy and Scott make a great storytelling pair. Not unlike... Chopsticks! 

Finally, AKR does a bit of everything and all amazingly well. In addition to her many picture books she had (has?) a great blog that encouraged random acts of art and kindness, she publishes nonfiction including pregnancy and baby journals (also check out the remarkable An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life) and then there's her hallmark art and community multiyear project called "The Beckoning of Lovely".  These days she's more active on Twitter.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Oh dragons, how I usually avoid you like the plague. Was it Eragon that finally pushed me over the edge? I’m not certain, but slogging through those probably didn’t help. It took several excellent reviews and a push from a coworker to finally pick this one up. I’m so so so glad I did.

It is an interesting take on dragons. In this world dragons are shapeshifters, able to take human form even as they eschew human emotions. And I mean they eschew them to the point where they have a group of censors that will literally subject them to an emotional lobotomy if they feel too many of them! After a long war, humans and dragons are at peace. It isn’t the most stable peace, but it seems to be holding. At least, it was holding until the human prince is found beheaded.

This is a very character driven story and the characters are fantastic. Seraphina is our heroine. She’s got a tightly guarded secret (and the way the author reveals this is an absolute delight) She’s hidden this secret her entire life making her a bit of an outsider, so when she takes a position as assistant music maker at court she has a unique perspective that allows her to see things that others choose not to. And she is inevitably drawn into an unofficial investigation of the prince’s murder.

It is also a very tightly plotted book. I got the sense that the author knew exactly where she was going. Luckily for us, the writing is so good it doesn't feel forced or contrived. It feels like an excellent journey full of delicious court intrigue, interesting fantasy elements, and a secret identity that made me shriek. As much as I loved this book, I think I would have loved it even more if I had been able to read it in one stretch instead of a couple pages everyday in between interruptions (not the book’s fault obviously).

Anyhow, I am fairly certain this one will be, at the very least, shortlisted for the 2013 Morris Awards. I think it also has some very strong Printz potential as well. It was so very very good!

Book Source = Library Copy

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

What happens if you have a monster for a father? What happens if your sister leaves you alone with him? What happens if on the same day you decide you’re going to kill yourself, there is a zombie apocalypse? I mean, really…what happens?

This was a neat twist on the usual zombie stories. Sloane is ready to die, she sees nothing getting better in her life and the one thing she had to live for, her sister, abandoned her several months ago. Then catastrophe! And she somehow ends up with a group of fellow students as they make their way towards the high school. There are some similarities to Trapped by Michael Northrop, but all in all I thought this was the stronger book. The social dynamics of the group are very well done, with tensions and emotions running high. It comes to a head in a drunken game of “I Never,” which as you can expect – does not end well. The book also explores what it takes to survive in horrifying circumstances (um. obviously, right?) and it is not awesomesauce.


I think it lost its focus a little in the second half, but I also think that it is hard to keep up the intensity of these types of stories. The story with Mr. Baxter could have been fleshed (haha) out a little more. I was wondering if there was a parallel story of abuse that got mostly edited out?

The other story that could have been expanded on and probably should have been, was the recorded message that they listen to over the radio. The kids do comment on its strangeness (medical processing? I mean, it just sounds super sketchy and full of ulterior motives), but then they decide to follow the instructions anyway. I’ll be honest – if I heard a similar recorded message I would think it was hella strange and probably stay where I was. Maybe the next message would sound better. Maybe the next message would actually explain something.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I read it in one day and didn’t want to put it down at all.

Book Source = Library Copy