Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everyone Sees the Ants by A.S. King

After hearing A.S. King speak at the Printz Reception at ALA I really wanted to read this book. I had picked it up in the exhibit hall earlier that day and immediately felt guilty that I have never having read Please Ignore Vera Dietz (I swear I put that book on hold and it just never arrives…) and so on my plane ride home I just dug right in.

King draws you into Lucky’s story immediately by starting her novel at a defining moment in Lucky’s life. The day when he created a school survey for a social studies project. The question that Lucky thought would translate pretty excellently into pie charts and graphs was, “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you use?” Lucky is sure this is the way to an easy A.

As a reader, we are sure there is probably more to the story than what Lucky is telling us. Was it really a joke? Is Lucky depressed? And if so, exactly how depressed? The author manages to jump us around from reality to dreams and then back again before we actually understand exactly what Lucky was getting at with that question. Does it start when Lucky is seven and a kid his age pees on his feet in a restroom bathroom. Or did it start when his grandfather never came home leaving his father fatherless? That day he gets his feet peed on, Lucky gets some good advice, although he doesn’t heed it until much later. It is a funny paraphrasing of a famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

“He may have peed on your feet, but nobody can pee on your soul without your permission.”

I love that. I loved how the next line Lucky says, “I had no idea what this meant.”

To get back to the survey, Lucky’s survey obviously does not provide the easy A he was hoping for (and, come on, did he really think it would?). Instead, it turns a much needed spotlight on what is going on in Lucky’s life. It serves to kick start Lucky’s journey and his growth. A journey that kids need to read about because it will show them there is a way to get past shame and secrets. And that in all ways, to quote the author, “the simplest answer is to act.”

One of Lucky’s coping mechanisms had been to retreat to dreams where he attempts to rescue his MIA/POW grandfather from his Vietnamese captors. The back cover tells us these dreams are real. Like really and totally REAL. As a reader you’ll probably be questioning that assertion, wondering whether or not these dreams are more symbolic of Lucky’s mental state. I loved how the author played with the uncertainties and how she teased us with hints, with “souvenirs,” with an ending that was still a little ambiguous, but completely magical, and how she never explains how it all works. As an aside: the use of the ants throughout the book was much less effective for me, and frankly a little confusing, and they did get an explanation.

I really enjoyed this. And now I need to put Vera Dietz on hold. Again.


Book Source = ARC picked up at ALA

The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

I fell in love with this series when I read The Demon King. It had everything a good fantasy novel needs. Adventure, great characters, great character development, world building, action, and romance. The second book fell a little flat for me, but the third, The Gray Wolf Throne more than makes up for it. We're privy to a whole world of court intrigue and our characters always rise to the occasion. It is so good that it makes up for the fact that the story isn't complete in the trilogy (frustrating! But in this case...excellent!), because, honestly? I don't want this story to be over yet. I want to spend more time with these characters, see them grow and develop. I want to see more hidden truths make their way to the surface.

It doesn't hurt either that there is never a dull moment and the story every bit as exciting as the first entry into the series. And, ok, let's be real, Hans is pretty swoon worthy.

In The Gray Wolf Throne we find Raisa fighting her way back to her throne. Her cover as Rebecca is blown and so is the trust between her and Hans. In fact, it is difficult to know exactly who is trustworthy and who is trying to assassinate her. I mentioned the court intrigue right? Phew. Lots of alliances, lots of skulduggery, lots of revenge. All of it, good stuff.

On occasion the author chooses to recap things on page instead of off, which makes this book a little thicker than necessary. Not the biggest offense, but sometimes a little frustrating for the reader (or this reader at least). The story seems to be moving along in a certain direction to an inevitable conclusion, but one that I'm wholeheartedly rooting for. Chima is always full of surprises so perhaps my confidence is immature, but what is certain is that I cannot wait until I get my hands on the next one.

Book Source = ARC from ALA Exhibit hall

Monday, June 20, 2011

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This book sat in my library holds for 4 months before it became available. Every now and then I'd look at my holds account and check its progress. So when it finally arrived I dove into Swamplandia! by Karen Russell with great anticipation. The book accumulated loads of glowing reviews, the cover is fantasgreat, and the narrator is a girl on a small island in the Florida swamps. It pretty much said JOANNA WILL LOOOOVE ME.

I didn't LOOOOVE it. I do really like this novel and have no qualms with the aforementioned glowing reviews. Excellent writing - check! Compelling characters - check! Unique and oddball - check!  Recommend to others - check!  I also expect this novel to be recognized by the Alex Awards Committee in January. My hangup involves my own disappointment with what I wanted to happen and how I wanted the story to progress in my own imagination. What really happened was indeed logical for the progress of the story.

Our heroine, 13 year old Ava Bigtree, lives on a swampy island with her father, called "Chief" even by his kids, sister Osceola (who has the most pathetic sweet 16 bday ever), and brother Kiwi. They are not Native American but masquerading as so for their family's livelihood - running a second-rate, third generation tourist trap called Swamplandia! where they wrestle gators, sell the most ridiculous souvenirs, and have a museum that exhibits items from their house that Chief relabels and calls Bigtree Artifacts. Awesome. This tourist tacky, phony history is really part of Florida's history and I embraced this part of the story.  It's genuine and counterfeit. It's so Florida. And if you want to dig around some, connect the man-made invasion of non-native plants and animals destroying native Florida like the cancer that killed the mom and the World of Darkness that signals the end of Swamplandia!. Good stuff, friends.

Finally, while Ava gets main billing, I hold big love for socially inept Kiwi and his journey with his SAT vocabulary (he homeschooled himself and gave himself report cards) to real life shock and awe when he escapes to mainland in an effort to save Swamplandia! from bankruptcy. His story and Ava's alternate chapters.

YA Note: In the acknowledgements the author thanks  Kelly Link for the Bigtrees story. Ah ha! I really need to read her stories and Karen Russell's earlier collection of short stories which debuted the story that sparked this novel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

I've been trying to read more adult books lately with the idea that I'll be able to predict some of the next year's Alex Award winners. It's sort of a futile task, but that's why I picked up this one. It didn't hurt that it was set in New Orleans and I'll be headed out there for ALA this year (woo!). It turns out Claire, our main protagonist might be a bit on the hard side (she's a tough cookie this one) for this to make it an Alex winner, and it also served to freak me out royally about New Orleans, but hey, I enjoyed it a lot. And isn't that the point?

Claire DeWitt was a little hard to like. She's awfully distant, often in a drug/alcohol induced haze, and she's sarcastic and a little mean. At times you will question whether of not she's a reliable narrator. However, if you let her, she'll win you over. She's the world's best detective (so she says anyway, but I tend to believe her) who follows the unconventional methods of detection set out in the book Detection written by an "enigmatic French detective." Basically, nothing is off the table: prophetic dreams, buying illegal guns from kids, hard drugs, soft drugs, gut feelings and the belief that nothing is a coincidence.

The mystery is really well plotted and I loved how the author tied in bits of Claire's history and made it relevant to the story. There are a lot of bits and pieces going on here and as we learn more about Claire we start to understand her motivations and her complexities. It really is a bit of a roller coaster ride and I loved it start to finish.

This is the first in a series and I can't wait for the next title. I imagine it is only going to get better.

Book Source = Library Copy

Monday, June 13, 2011

What We're Reading at Our House - 2

Today is the first day of summer vacation for my 2nd grader-now-3rd grader. Here's what we checked out at the library last week. (Part 1) What are you reading? Any suggestions for us?

Picture books:
  • Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic, 2011)
    2.5 year old really liked this and it later wooed 7 year old who initially turned his nose up at the wordless book where "it's soooo easy to find the walrus that you don't even have to try." But there is a story and he got it and liked it. Surprise! I love picture books. [see video!]
  • Not Me! by Nicola Killen (Egmont, 2010)
    Little one enjoyed it, but didn't get that each child's name rhymed with his naughtiness (Paul painted the wall)
  • Race You To Bed! by Bob Shea (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010)
    We love Bob Shea and yet I own none of his books. Hm. This one was enjoyed by both Little and Big Kid. The lamp is a carrot! I mean really. Shea is just too good.
  • Simms Taback's City Animals (Blue Apple, 2009)
    Taback's Where is My Baby was both boys' #1 favorite board book. This one is "A Giant Fold-Out Book" that I never saw before our librarian used the jungle version for storytime. It's super cute as you fold out parts of the page to reveal which animal it is. The last one is a mouse, but I totally thought rat. Kind of gross if you think about it. 
  • Blue Goose by Nancy Tafuri (S&S, 2008)
    Tafuri was a go-to author for my storytimes. I was not as familiar with this one as her others (my branch didn't own a copy) but she seriously is one of the best.
  • Three By the Sea by Mini Gray (Knopf, 2010)
    LOVE Mini Gray at this house. This one was not quite so loved by Big kid, but there's so much to look at in her illustrations. Mouse's kitchen cookbooks are hilarious. 
  • 2 Thomas the Tank books because we cannot leave the library with out something Thomas. I do think it's cute that he'll go up to the librarians (we have a children's and a teen librarian) and tell them he wants either Thomas books or Thomas movies. Then he goes back later and shows them what he picked out. They play along very nicely. (And he is stinkin' cute so he's hard to resist.)
Chapter Books & Comics

  • Geronimo Stilton
    7 year old loves loves loves these. I like the inclusion of different fonts and colors used to help with word comprehension.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Sparrow : The Pirate Chase by Rob Kidd (Disney)
    Big kid saw the new Pirates movie a couple weeks ago and he picked this book out but I don't think he's read it. All of a sudden it's not what he wants.
  • Tin Tin, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck Adventures, Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures -
    annnd this may be why he's reluctant to read the Pirates book. Too many comics!
  • Stone Rabbit: Superhero Stampede by Erik Craddock (Random House, 2010)
    Big kid loves this series.
  • Bone, volume 3 by Jeff Smith
    He started reading Bone last year but never got past #1. I think he's a little young, but he really seems to be taking to it now.
  • Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker (Wave Books, 2009)
    I forget how I learned about Rachel Zucker who writes, for lack of a better term, 21st century mama poetry. I'm making an effort to read more contemporary poetry and she has a style (both subject and format) that I like very much.
  • When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
    It's hard for me to not like a coming of age memoir. Prep for our trip to Puerto Rico. I also got some Rosario Ferré and Judith Ortiz Cofer is on hold.
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
    Haven't started this yet but will this week. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots by Becky Janni

Hi, Friends! Picture book time! I know you are busy with summer so I want to send a reminder that a wonderful book comes out tomorrow (June 9) so you can schedule some time to go get it.

Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots is the sequel to 2010's super fun Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse by Rebecca Janni and illustrated by Lynne Avril.

Nellie Sue's charming cowgirl dialect would make this an entertaining read aloud.  Plus, think of the dress up and thematic opportunities!  First Nellie Sue faced the challenge of taming her horse and now she tries her hand at being a good friend. Grab your lil' partner and enjoy!

Another reminder: the author is my husband's cousin. But still, these are seriously fun books.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
During the ALA Media Awards earlier this year, Patti and I discussed our desire to read a book and review it together as a chat. We tossed around ideas and one of mine was The Penderwicks. I never read them and I knew a new book was due out later this year. I checked out the first book and finished it very quickly. My thoughts:  adorable.  It's also very retro in its design, its references to pop culture, and its genre. I'll explain this last one more below.) I also thought it wouldn't make quite the juicy conversation that Patti and I usually like to have so here I am on my own. Book 3 The Penderwicks at Point Mouette was released May 10, 2011.

Now just because I said it wasn't juicy doesn't mean I think less of them.*


Okay, Friends. Are you going to tell me that none of the Penderwicks books were on those B&N shelves? Because it sounds like these are the books this mom might want. Shocker: these best-selling novels aren't books about cutting and sex abuse.  Heavens! The Penderwick Family Honor wouldn't stand for that nonesense. Penderwick stories are  about family. Funny stories about families. Interesting stories about families. No swearing, no meanness, just a pleasant view into the lives of 4 girls and a couple boys. They go to school. They read (other non-cutting/sex abuse books - all hard core classics that would please any parent who refuses to let their child read books post-1965). The girls like math (!) and science (!) and soccer (!). They have good friends. They are good friends. They are (rather) obedient children. They take care of and love each other.

Granted this series is geared a little bit younger than what the article chose to talk about, but 13 year olds would totally dig these stories. The oldest is 13 and there's kissing! And let's face it, 13 year old girls really really like kissing books no matter what their mothers might think otherwise. So let's hear it for the non-edgy-but-still-rockin' YA. It's a great big YA world out there. There's something for every one. Just because you haven't found it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If you can't find it yourself, ask your teacher or librarian.

*Oh yeah, about the novel: there's a surprise for one of our friends that I totally didn't see coming. Rosalind is MIA except phone call snippets which allows more time for Skye, Jane & Batty to have their stories. Mr. P, Iantha and Ben are also out of the picture, but we do get Aunt Claire. My heart still belongs to Skye though Jane nearly stole the show this time. And I want to go to Maine for the summer. It's June and it's hot enough here in FL.  This is book 3 of what will be 5 books.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

I sort of can't believe I actually read this book. I blame Madigan for her lovely review at her blog Madigan Reads. I should really thank her (thank you Madigan!) because it was a really fun book that I never, ever, ever would have picked up otherwise.

So basically, the premise is that angels are bad guys who appear to be Wondrously Awesome, but really just suck your life and health away for their afternoon snack. There are AKs (Angel Killers), a decentralized group associated with the CIA, who are secretly fighting the angels, but the Church of the Angels is growing as are their devoted followers. When Alex is sent to another hit he finds out that there is more to this story then he’s been aware of and things are going to get more dangerous than ever before.

We've got two main characters. Willow, our teen psychic and Alex our teen angel killer. Inevitably, the two meet, hate each other, and angsty love sparks start to fly. The first part of the novel is definitely the best. Their narrow escape and their life on the run was fast paced, tense, and super fun to read.

However, when they finally get together the book basically grinds to a standstill. Nothing happens except them gazing into each others eyes and exchanging I love you’s. It drags. For me all the amazing tension that was built up in the first half completely dissipates. And it isn’t that they’ve gotten together, it is that way too much time is spent with them telling each other the same thing over and over. This is a case of what is thrilling in real life doesn’t always transfer to thrills on the page. In all honesty, after really getting into the book I had to force myself to finish.
My only other thought is that I found it strange that the angels used the same lingo as the AKs. Angel burn is what the AKs call it when an Angel has sucked out so much of the life force of a person that they are left mentally damaged. When we shift perspectives to the Angels – they are calling it that too. It jarred with me. I thought their descriptions and perceptions would have made more sense if they had been different.

Book Source = I can't remember if this copy came from TLA or the mail.