Saturday, September 29, 2007

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

"There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast. I speak from better experience. My best friend and next-door neighbor, Ashleigh Marie Rossi, is an Enthusiast."

Ashleigh goes all out for whatever happens to capture her imagination at the moment, be it candy making, a certain band, or literature. Then she co-opts Julie's love of Jane Austin and this time she may have gone too far. Julie is justifiably worried that Ashleigh's enthusiasm will taint her own love of Jane Austin. Sure her love is understated and much more personal, but she wants to maintain it just the same. She's worried that Ashleigh's insistence to no longer wear pants (it's not proper to show off your lower limbs), talk like she's in an Austin novel, and to crash the private boys school fall dance might just put her over the edge this time.

Julie is our "Elizabeth," our heroine who lusts after her Mr. Darcy and stays silent on her true feelings in her attempt to protect others. Ashleigh is surely one of her silly younger sisters, I can't imagine who else she would be modeled after. As one might expect, there were plenty of mixed signals, poor communication, and of course love triangles that are happily resolved by the end of the book.

Some of the characters irked me a bit. I found Julie's father and step-mother irritating, but I can forgive them because they were meant to be. On the other hand, Ashleigh just about drove me insane. Her inability to accept that things were not as she thought they were...even when she was told repeatedly that they weren't was frustrating to say the least. As fun as she was spurring them on to try new things, her inability to listen and accept what people tell her was incredibly annoying. I know people like that in real life and I don't like them. It was hard for me to accept that Julie wouldn't have a major melt down and freak out on her. I kept waiting and hoping even though I knew it would go against Julie's quiet internal struggle type character.

It was also a little frustrating waiting around for the characters to figure out what you've known from the beginning of the book. I wonder though if the girls who aren't as familiar with Jane Austin would recognize the patterns that the author used. It might not be as obvious to them as to someone who's already read everything Austin has written. Regardless, it was still nice to read along and be rewarded when the girls figure out who their "Mr. Darcys" actually are. A cute, fun read, that will appeal to girls looking for a light romance.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross

I was looking at the YALSA list of Great Graphic Novels and came across Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross. I recognized the name because she contributed an illustration for Dave Roman's Agnes Quill, which I liked so much. My library doesn't own it so I had to get it via ILL. (I heart ILL.)

I'm a fan of autobiographical works so this one really appealed to me. We read Melissa's story from elementary school to middle school. She has loving, wacky parents and has an unusual childhood - traveling with her dad's hippie band, going to alternative schools, visiting a lame therapist. She winds up in special ed classes which have more to do with her insecurities than her abilities. About 1/2 way through the book we find out Melissa has a very high IQ. So, naturally, she's an outsider, to say the least. She struggles to comprehend pre-teen girl friendships and battles with her own ideals of being herself but also wanting acceptance by the popular kids. Eventually she comes to the decision that she is a-ok. Nothing terribly new here story wise. Melissa makes you cringe and laugh... and memories of my own adolescence were quick to resurface while reading more than a few of Melissa's.

The book is really a collection of short stories, some as short as just one page. I like this format of going from one memory to the next. Each story has its own title. The cover is in color, but the stories are rendered in grey and black. Miss Lasko-Gross draws her comic with pen and that lack of crispness from computer enhancements appeals to me in a big way. It makes the art more personal and is perfect for Melissa's not-so-perfect story. As the book's title states, Melissa does escape from "special" and I am eagerly looking forward to what becomes of Melissa post "special" liberation.

P.S. So there's a myspace for comics?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Wyoming, I do believe I love you

Dear Wyoming Libraries,

Congratulations, you clearly have the most awesome library marketing people.

mud flap girls + libraries = fun! Who wouldda guessed?


joanna, oops...wrong cookie blogging librarian

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, Deban!

Happy happy birthday! Yay!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

gossip girl

hey people!

it's me! your official "oops... wrong cookie" gossip girl correspondent! you might be curious about how i got this job. well, it's simple really. first, it's not a job. it's a privilege! secondly, i'm a fan. a HUGE fan. if there's a gg book out, i've read it. if it's release date is around the corner, i'm waiting on pins and needles for its sweet, sweet cover to slide into my hands. and tonight's premier of gossip girl on the CW is no exception!

when i heard the CW would be taking on this Sex in the City for teens series i was ecstatic! but also a little nervous. i mean, this is, in my humble stuck-as-a-teeny-bopper opinion, excellent entertainment! (granted, there may not be a lot of, if any at all, literary merit to these books, according to some people, but they are a great source of entertainment. honestly, that's why i read. period. entertainment. call me a bad librarian if you feel the need to do so but it's true. and i like to think we all have our reasons for doing the things we do or enjoying the things we enjoy. to each his own, i say! Cecily - if you read this, which i'm sure you won't, i ADORE your books. it's a pleasure to read them and i will be sad when the gg series [maybe i should say the series as i know it cause i'm thinking you are about to bring in new characters and i don't know how i feel about leaving serena, nate, blair, etc behind...] and it girl series come to end. which, i'm hoping, is a very long time from now! when i got to the final pages of one of the gg books and saw little miss jenny humphrey was going to boarding school... my heart did a little flip-flop of joy! more books! but... i digress... horribly...) can the CW do this series justice? how in the world is this going to work? i'm guessing there will be some editing of the language and i bet nate will be sitting around smoking a lot of cigs vs. pot.

but none the less i'm doing a countdown to show time as i type this little introduction of myself. i'm giddy with excitement over here! i can hear the buzz already... "is that serena? serena's back? serena's back! what's she doing here? serena serena serena serena"

one minute to spare!

you know you love me...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I is Someone Else by Patrick Cooper

Stephen is a 15 year old English boy and on his way to an exchange program in France. En route he meets up with a stunningly beautiful woman and her boyfriend. They say they know his brother. His brother who disappeared over a year ago without ever contacting them again. His brother who his mother says is dead.

Stephen takes the plunge. He decides to skip his trip to France and accompany these two strangers in their VW bus (it is the late 60s after all) to Turkey to find his brother. Along the way he gets a crash course in hippie culture. The drugs, the search for life’s meaning, the communal style living…the drugs. Inevitably, his brother is said to have just left Turkey for Afghanistan and Stephen decides that he will travel on not only to find his brother, but also to experience these cultures himself.

At one point, I wished, “if only there was a map in here showing me where he traveled,” and lo and behold like magic there was one at the front of the book. Good call author! Stephen goes on quite a journey and his travels through much of the Middle East are well described. Not to mention his spurts of explosive diarrhea and dysentery. There are several, rather detailed, passages devoted just to that! It took me awhile to get into the narrative, but once I did I really appreciated the realistic writing style. The author didn’t pull any punches. Traveling to foreign countries can be difficult on the digestive system, especially if you’re fifteen, have little money, and are staying in places where cleanliness is a luxury. The drug discussion was also quite frank. There was no moralizing that I could find. Doing drugs, dealing drugs, neither of those made you a bad person. It was your actions towards other people that showed your true self.

This book was definitely an immersion into a certain time and place. Stephen embraces the various cultures he meets. He learns how to be a traveler not a vacationer, an important distinction in my mind. And the author is particularly good at describing the places he visits. The long bus rides, the mosques, the market places, the tea-houses, the rejection of western ideas of wealth, all of these make the book something special and much different than other teen books. I especially loved how the people he met wove in and out of the story. You never knew who would turn up and that seemed like something very true to the “freeness” if you will, of what these people aspired to. Everyone was on their own personal journey and no one knew exactly when or where it would take them.

Of course not all of Stephen’s experiences are positive. He is dealing with a trauma that occurred the past school year, he is betrayed by someone he thinks is a friend, he is almost stoned to death in a market place, and perhaps most importantly he finds out, for better and for worse, that people aren’t always who you remember them to be. Regardless, he finds out he has strengths that he never knew about and learns that you really can choose your own destiny.

There is a sequel entitled Tell me Lies.

Not Like You by Deborah Davis

Kayla is 15 and has moved around a lot. Her mother is an alcoholic and tries to sober up by moving her and Kayla to a new place for a new beginning. The new beginnings usually don’t take for very long. Soon enough her mom starts drinking and Kayla seeks out comfort in the form of a boy who’s never treats her like he should.

When the family moves to New Mexico, Kayla isn’t expecting much. She starts up her dog walking business to earn money for bills. Her mother looks to finding a new job and tries to keep sober. And things chug along like they might turn out ok for once. The thing is Kayla’s angry. She’s angry at her mom for being a drunk, she’s angry that she never has enough money, and she’s lonely enough to turn to an older boy for consolation. When things turn sour at home, she decides that what she really needs to do is take off and create a new beginning of her own.

I liked this book, but there were things about it that bothered me. I understood the anger that Kayla felt about her mom. Her mom was never able to stay sober for long, she couldn’t keep jobs, she depended on Kayla to pay bills after she spent the money on booze. But for all that, she wasn’t as horrible as she could have been. She didn’t beat Kayla, she didn’t sexually abuse her, she didn’t rent her out by the hour, she obviously loved her – she was just unable to get control of her addictions. So although I understood the anger, I felt like it was also a whole lot of “poor lil’ol me” going on. I kept thinking, things are not ideal, but they could be so so so much worse. Something I think (maybe?) Kayla realized by the end of the book. In the end, the self-pity worked for me. I believed Kayla, even if I didn’t like her as much as I wanted to. One thing I would have liked to have seen was a bit more character development, a bit more internal growth. I think that Kayla took a journey in this book, but it wasn’t reflected enough with increased maturity.

Now Kayla’s relationship with Remy was spot on. Remy is 24 year old singer with a band. He’s gorgeous and talented. He’s also interested in Kayla who he thinks is 17 turning 18. I wasn’t sure what the author wanted me to think about Remy. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to think he was a user and a bad guy. I didn’t. I actually kind of liked him. I’ll admit he was a bit of a user, he was somewhat selfish, he cared more about himself than others. But he had a goal and he wanted to achieve it, he also acted on information provided by Kayla, even if he should have seen through it at times. I also think he genuinely liked her, but that her insecurities about her self-worth created situations where it was easy to just go with it and take advantage.

The other characters were enjoyable. There was Luz, a teen mother who become’s Kayla’s first friend in a long time. Sherrie and Shirley the lovely ladies who own a used clothing store who befriend Kayla as well. Redbud, the landlord who isn’t quite who you think he’s going to turn out to be. And how could I not mention Rebel, Cocoa, or Elvis, the animals who are so central to Kayla’s life. As a dog owner, the situation with Rebel just broke my heart. But no worries, it isn’t a dead dog book.

This Week in Jenn H.'s Reading

First of all, let me apologize if you all got a message about resetting your password. Blogger and my usual browser do not get along....

On to the books...

Early in the week, I started a small book by Jacqueline Woodson called Feathers. I've read several of her books before and enjoyed them. This one was quite interesting. In some ways it reminds me of Spinelli's Maniac Magee. The plot is similar--white boy enters an all-black neighborhood and changes the way the other children see their world. What makes it different is the beautiful imagery and the flaws apparent in all the characters, even the "Jesus Boy." I like how Woodson uses the religious images and ideas but doesn't preach.

Next I tried one of the new GNs, Miki Falls by Mark Crilley. It's part mystery, part romance. I was intrigued at the opening, when we see the heroine, Miki, plunging out of a two-story window. How did she get here? Turns out it all started with a boy, of course. He is a new student who is keeping everyone at arms length. This just makes Miki more determined to get to know him. Soon she discovers that he is not quite human and has a very strange "job" that must be kept top secret. This appears to be a four-part series, following the seasons of the year. APL has vol. 1 and 2, Spring and Summer. Autumn has been published and Winter is not yet released.

Finally, Repossessed: A Novel by A. M. Jenkins. This book was so much fun to read! Kiriel is a Fallen Angel who is fed up with his job in Hell. So, he decides to take a vacation by stealing a human body and spending some time on Earth. But not just any body will do--"A body that was carefree, insulated from earthly considerations like hunger; a protected place to try out physical existence. A body without responsibilities-no family or job to care for; someone who had time to experience the things I wanted to experience. But not too protected."

Ultimately, he chooses Shaun, a typical middle-class American teenager. Kiriel gets more than he expected in physical existence, including the hormones and troubles of a teenage boy. His sensual experimentations and humorous mistakes will definitely appeal to teens, as will his questioning of authority and his place in the universe. This is a good pick for reluctant readers, especially those who are curious about religion. I can just bet that someone, somewhere will try to ban it, though!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What Joanna Is Reading

Hello, Friends. I have been unable to finish reading a whole novel this past week. There are a handful of factors, but none more dominant than laziness. Lazy lazy lazy... which is actually me watching TV.

One reason is that I've been waiting for my copy of Sandman: The Wake (vol 10). I was on a wait list, then there were copies available and still they were not coming my way. So I finally called a library directly. It better be there tomorrow. I have about 5 Sandman spin off GNs sitting by my bed begging to be read, but I can't until I know how it ends!

While waiting for Sandman, I cracked open
HERO by Perry Moore. This is a book I've been meaning to read since I got an ARC at TLA in April. Then I saw him at ALA in June and thought he was just fantastic. It still languished on my shelves until last week, but what made me stop reading was...

A Wrinkle in Time. I haven't read it since 5th grade when the "Advanced Reading" group I was in read it. We made a mural of the book and it hung in our cafeteria for a while. I really don't remember this book at all, which is making it a satisfying read.

Also in progress are:
Bullyville by Francine Prose


Behind the Eyes by Francisco X. Stork

Friday, September 7, 2007

Foundling: Monster Blood Tattoo Book 1 - D.M. Cornish

“Rossumünd was a boy with a girl’s name.”

And so Monster Blood Tattoo begins. Having a girl’s name has caused no end of grief for Rossumünd at the orphanage (otherwise known as Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls) where he has grown up. It is there, year after year, he has been overlooked by the agents who come to the house to pick workers. He yearns after the Navy, a life of adventure and danger, even though he’s never actually seen the sea. Eventually he is chosen to be a Lamplighter. One who must live by a tight schedule lighting the highway lamps when it gets dark and snuffing them when it gets light. He’s mightily disappointed. It seems a very dull job, no adventure, no monster-slaying, nothing to recommend it. But when Rossumünd sets off to travel to his new job, little does he know that he’s set out on a series of dangerous adventures. And his new life soon proves to be much more exciting that he had hoped for.

This was a totally inventive fantasy. It’s set in a world where there is an eternal struggle between various kinds of monsters and humans. People mainly live in sheltered cities, there are several kinds of monster-slayers that are strange and dangerous and not very well liked even though they keep people safe. In fact it’s so original, I’m not really sure how to write about it without giving away plot points that would be much more fun to discover on your own. It’s a complex world that is filled with shades of gray. Nothing is straight forward, nothing is clear cut, and things that are said to be good or bad aren’t always what they seem to be.

Needless to say I loved it. It took me awhile to get into the vocabulary, but luckily there was lots of explanation and I could tell from the text what was going on even if I couldn’t remember exactly what a word meant. The characters were completely engaging. I don’t think there were any main characters that weren’t well developed, interesting, and compelling. The people that Rossumünd meets on his journey were absolutely fantastic. They were sinister, and surprising, and I wanted to know even more about them. These Australian authors never cease to amaze me, there are some real quality teen books coming from over there.

That being said, the author obviously has big things planned for our hero. There are sequels to come and I am really looking forward to them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis

I did it. I read a book that isn't from an author I already know. Lately I've been so concerned about staying on top of my ARC list that I've neglected the new books that have been coming into my library. Forgivable, but I am shaking my finger at myself.

I was reading BCCB (Sept 07 issue) yesterday at work when one of the recommended books made me dash to my preshelving (not yet in the catalog) and grab said book in a quick "ah ha!" movement. I checked it in and then immediately checked it out to myself. Here is where I give another tip-o-the-hat to Patti, our collections librarian: This is one of the best books I have read this year.

Significant portions of the story are written in dialogue. This makes for a slim 157 pages (yeah!) and a brisk read (woot!). Like many other novels in dialogue, it should be accessible to students who balk at the prospect of the standard prose novel with dense paragraphs and small print. My other favorite formatting choice is the addition of silhouette icons that punctuate changes in scene. A fly, a pregnant woman, a ladder, a tree, a star w/ a rat, and something that I thought was an upside-down jelly fish but is really a campfire. Last night I couldn't figure it out, but checking just now I realize, duh, campfire.

This is a very strong first novel. It is poignant and heartbreaking, victorious and silly. The characters are smartly crafted and entirely believable. Sophisticated readers will see the peeks of hope & a promise of a positive ending early on. But it won't dampen the novel's impact because the author competently manages a climatic revelation that still leaves many unknowns.

Tough kid Zyler and quite kid Logan became best friends after being paired together for a 4th grade project. Zyler goes up to Logan and asks what they should do their project on.

Me: I don't know.
Zyler: What about on the Japanese samurai?
We were best friends ever since.
Logan's family moved to another part of town after Logan witnessed a horrific event between Zyler, the "girl next door" of their affections-Cami, and Zyler's abusive father. He no longer has contact with Zyler or Cami and has become the 8th grade boy embodiment of monumental sadness and debilitating regret. His pain is tangible and this is where the sparse text & dialogue format shine as the perfect modes of delivery for his story.

While Logan is in a new neighborhood with a new school, the event of his past follows him via gossip chains and school board eavesdropping hearsay. He quickly gets a reputation at school as a molester and the bullies make every effort to terrorize him. Case in point: he gets the nickname "Crapstock" as in not being of the supposed good/cool stock. [I admit this is clever and made me chuckle.]

The hope that is waiting for Logan comes through the characters of a counselor (of whom we don't see too much, but what we do is effective), loving parents, and a wonderfully odd little duck called Laurel, who writes palindrome notes to Logan and shares my big love for corn dogs. There's a revelatory moment late in the book in which Logan defends the worst bully and which should remind readers that bullies aren't born that way - they are made. While abuse and bullying are important themes, I hope readers will connect with Logan's physical and emotional paralysis to help himself and his friends, and the painful consequences that Logan lives with afterwards.

Every middle school library should have this book.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Vacation Reading

So I had a lovely vacation. Full of get-togethers, my brother's wedding, not enough relaxing...but it was one of the best trips home I've had in a long time. I also did some reading so in brief here's what I read and what I thought. It's in order of being read.

Genesis Alpha - Rune Michaels
This started out pretty strong. A teen boy who's always looked up to his older brother is floored when his brother is arrested for a vicious murder. Lots of gaming action, veers into the realm of science fiction about half way through. I had the plot figured out pretty early on which made this short book seem a bit long to me. There were some good plot twists, but it didn't stand out for me.

Boy Toy - Barry Lyga
Wow. This wasn't what I was expecting at all. This is a lot different than Fan Boy and Goth Girl. This was a serious book about a boy who is sexually abused by his teacher. Fast forward 5 or so years and he's about to graduate from high school and his abuser has just been released from prison. It was a heavy book that was really difficult for me to read. I had to keep putting it down. Really well written, but I'm glad I'm finished with it. This one will be great for kids looking for abuse survival stories. I don't really like the cover or the title though. It isn't selling itself as a serious story and I fear that people won't like it because they'll pick it up and expect something totally different.

The Keep - Jennifer Egan
A dark gothic book. I hated the main character for most of the book. I mean Danny was fun to read about, but I kept thinking, "What a complete loser asshole." When he was a kid, him and his older cousin left behind an unpopular cousin in a cave. He found his way out 3 days later on the brink of death. Fast forward into their late 30s early 40s and the same cousin has because a millionaire, bought a castle, and extended Danny an invitation and plane ticket to join him there. The castle is in disrepair, there is a strange old woman who lives in the castle keep and won't leave, and there are very strange things going on. This was amazing.

A Woman in Berlin - Anonymous
A diary of a woman in Berlin at then end of WWII as the Russians enter the city. This is a frank account of the bombing, the take-over of the city by the Russians and the mass rape of the women who were left largely unprotected in the city. It made me hope that I'm never ever caught in a war zone.

Falling Boy - Alison McGee
A book about a boy who has to come to terms with why he's in a wheelchair and the group of kids that help him come out of his shell. I didn't like this one nearly as much as her All Rivers Flow to the Sea which was a lyrical and beautiful book about sisters and grief.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
Yay! Just as fun as the first time I read it. I ran out of books and needed something to read on the plane ride home and I went into the airport bookstore looking for this. And, miracle of miracles, it was actually there. I laughed maybe even more than the first time. I wish I had more time so that I could read all the rest in the series right away. It'll have to wait which makes me sad.

And I was lucky enough to catch the PBS production of Murder at the Vicarage one night and it was wonderful. I want to watch all the Miss Marple mysteries where Geraldine McEwan is Miss Marple. Fabulous. Sadly they are not on netflix. Only the old series is and I don't like that Miss Marple.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Agnes Quill: an Anthology of Mystery by Dave Roman

I was working on a graphic novel list for work and Patti suggested I look at Agnes Quill, which she remembered ordering for us. Intrigued, I got a copy from another library.

I have to say that this was such a fun book and would be a good candidate as an intro graphic novel for someone who might not otherwise pick one up. (yeah, I know, what are those people thinking?) Agnes Quill is a collection of stories, or cases as Agnes is a detective of sorts who solves mysteries for the dead and sometimes quasi-dead/not entirely human. I know! Sounds great, right? Veronica Mars, fantasy/haunted gothic city version.

All of the stories are written by Dave Roman, but are illustrated by various artists. One of them is Raina Telgemeier, who is the illustrator for the adaptations of the Babysitter's Club. I've never liked that series, but the GN version makes it more interesting. (Note: Dave and Raina are married. AW! This is super duper cute. Double note: Raina is wearing a Harry & the Potters t-shirt... DAVE did the CD cover for this album. Note #3: See this essay by John Green on BSC. Note the 4th: I swear, the world is a small small place. God bless it. Take 5: Holy cow! Check this and this out... all you Harry & the Potters fans.)

So back to Agnes. You can read some of the stories online. This book is a great find. Read & enjoy.