Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's Elementary: The Hop review

Today is Earth Day, and I feel like reviewing The Hop by Sharelle Byars Moranville is a great way to honor it.

Checkouts: Not owned by the library.
Source: I found an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) at Snowbound Books.  The ARC was free and I am not paid for this review.

Synopsis: Tad is a toad whose home, Toadville-by-Tumbledown, is in grave danger of being destroyed by a monstrous earth-eating machine.  Taylor is a girl whose grandmother lives by a beautiful pond that is going to be filled in to make room for a strip mall.  Tad and Taylor's paths cross as they both try to save what they love.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Usually with ARCs, you miss out on the illustrations, pictures, maps, and other visual aids of a book.  Not so with the ARC of The Hop, and I'm so glad.  The illustrations by Niki Daly are perfect.  They not only complement, they complete the story written by Ms. Moranville.  The drawings add a lot of charm to the book, too.

The narrative itself is great.  Most of the chapters alternate between focusing on Tad and Taylor, in third-person limited.  Each has a distinct feel, and Tad's thoughts are toad-like without being insultingly simple (for an example of oversimplified animal narrative, try The Case of the Library Monster, reviewed earlier this month).  It's fun reading about how close the two are to meeting up several times, yet missing each other, until everything comes together.

This is a retelling of the folktale "The Frog Prince," but it's different and unique enough to be interesting.  And that goes beyond the fact that Tad is a toad, not a frog!  Taylor wins her royal title in a competition.  Tad doesn't want to be a human for the long run, and in fact doesn't know that this will be a side-effect of kissing a queen to save his home.  Also, there's some wonderful conservation leanings to the tale.

If there's one issue I have with the book, it's the pacing.  There are plenty of red herrings, twists of fate, and near-misses.  I think a child could easily get frustrated, and tire of the book.  Know your child or student's attention span before recommending this one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Yay for YA: Fracture

It has been noted by various people that there has been a disturbing amount of dead girls on YA book covers.  (For a good take on the subject, visit this blog.)  While I completely agree that it's creepy, macabre, and probably objectifies women, I think there's a companion trend in male-oriented YA fiction: zombies.  What's the connection between pretty dead girls in art, and horrific zombies shambling around?  Death.  Whether it's about girls falling for Hades (such as in Abandon, reviewed last fall) or a young man coming into his own by fighting zombies (such as in Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay, respectively reviewed last summer and last fall), literature has taken a turn toward facing death in whatever form best appeals to its audience.

This bit of pondering was spurred by a book I read this past week, after a copy was graciously given to the library by the Superiorland Preview Center.  Here is my review of that book, Fracture, by Megan Miranda.
Checkouts: New to the library
Source: Superiorland Preview Center

Synopsis: One early winter's day, Delaney Maxwell falls through the ice while walking across a lake with her neighbor and best friend, Decker Phillips.  He and their friends rescue her, but she was dead eleven minutes.  She lay in a coma for a week before shocking everyone by waking up and seeming completely normal.  Or is she?  She is now pulled toward dying people, and she meets Troy Varga, a young man who has the same "gift" after a similar near-death experience.  What will they do with this strange power?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars (3.5, really)

This is a decent debut novel.  The writing is of good quality; the prose kept me engrossed.

The characters are well-rounded and fleshed out.  Through the course of the book you learn a lot about Delaney and her friends, and their positive and negative attributes.  The friendship/relationship between Delaney and Decker is complicated, confusing (for them at least), and certainly realistic.  The dynamics in their group of friends felt natural for the most part.  There was one part where many really piled the survivor's guilt onto Delaney that felt over-the-top, but otherwise the interactions between Delaney and her peers were realistic.

That's not the case so much with the dynamics of Delaney and her mother.  Her mother is certainly complex, with plenty of baggage, but her actions bordered on hyperbole.  Then again, there are mothers out there who don't actually deal with their children's problems and force-feed them pills to address the situation, as she does.

The plot is the sticking point of this review.  It's been done before.  Not necessarily verbatim, but someone with a near-death experience gaining death-related powers is something that's been the plot of plenty of books, movies, TV shows, graphic novels, and so on.  Is this a bad thing?  Your mileage may vary.  Personally, I didn't feel that this was a different enough story to call it good.  But you might like how it's handled in Fracture.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to make a librarian happy (Part 4)

This week was filled with a wonderful amount of cataloging.  A couple dozen new books found a new home in the library!  I'd made a Scholastic order with our Scholastic Dollars earned at the book sales, but my buddy Lynette at the Superiorland Preview Center also stopped by the previous Wednesday with a box of great, new books for all ages.

From Superiorland
Books by Marissa Moss
Marissa Moss is going to be the visiting Young Author next month.
Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters: The Vampire Dare! and The Name Game!

New YA novels
What the Dog Said 
The Vanishing Game
Fracture (review coming soon)
Eye of the Storm

Chapter books
Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week
The Island Horse

Baseball books
The Kansas City Royals
The Detroit Tigers

Two picture books and one science book

Mythology set
12 books in the World of Mythology series

Heroes of Olympus
These were both checked out within an hour of cataloging - and the time was only that long because I was holding one for a student.  Rick Riordan's books are hot.  (I reviewed The Lightning Thief, part of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, last summer.)

This is how I make the seventh grade literature teacher happy.
Sterling Biographies series

Backyard Wildlife: Ducks

Great books
Dead End in Norvelt (2012 Newbery Medal)
Inside Out & Back Again (2012 Newbery Honor)
The last of which was checked out within five minutes of cataloging it.

YA novels
Liar's Moon (sequel to Star Crossed, which I reviewed last fall)
The Scorpio Races
The Hunger Games (replacement copy; I reviewed this earlier this year)

What a great mass of books!  What looks good to you?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reading to the students: Tonight on the Titanic review

A couple months ago, I started visiting the elementary classrooms during non-library time to read to the students.  Since I'm only at the school in my role as librarian one day a week, most of this is voluntary.  But, it's important to read to kids, and I hope to get them interested in other books they might not otherwise read.  I started off with something everyone could love, James Herriot's Treasury for Children, and moved on to reading books that complement the teachers' lesson plans.  Sometimes, it's a bit of a losing battle, like when teaching Kindergartners about transportation and attempting to give the "princesses" positive female role models by reading a book about Amelia Earhart - they were quite nonplussed - but other times, I find winners.

In December, I reviewed the first in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne.  I'm currently revisiting the series in honor of the tragedy that struck in the North Atlantic Ocean 100 years ago today.  Last week I read it to the Kindergartners and third graders; I'll read it to most of the other classes in the next few days.
Checkouts: 3
Series checkouts (30 books owned): 125
Source: Local library sale

Synopsis: One rainy night, Jack and Annie visit the tree house and find a little bewitched terrier.  To break the spell, they need four gifts.  The first is from a ship lost at sea.  This brings them to the R.M.S. Titanic on the night it sank.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is a great series.  It's a great mix of adventure and history.  And the kids love the books.  To paraphrase the Kix cereal commercials, "Kid tested, librarian approved."

In reading this story to the students, I was impressed by their knowledge of the Titanic disaster.  Kindergartners knew that most of a glacier is below water.  A third grader knew that other ships nearby had ignored the Titanic's distress flares because the ship often had parties with fireworks.  I'm looking forward to what the other classes will already know.

There's a funny coincidence between this book and pop culture.  One of our protagonists here is named Jack - just like the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1990s movie about the famous disaster by James Cameron.  It's hard to keep from laughing when you're half-expecting little Annie to tell her big brother, "I'll never let you go, Jack!"

I had a glacier from the local ice cream stand on April 14, in honor of the Titanic.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yay for YA: Supernaturally review

A few months ago I reviewed the first in this series, Paranormalcy.  You can find the review here.  Here's my take on Supernaturally, the second book.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Series checkouts: 2
Source: Personally purchased from Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Evie is living the normal life she's always wanted, complete with a locker.  Then Raquel contacts her, and offers her freelance opportunities at the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA).  With the dubious assistance of a faerie-raised human named Jack who can travel through the Faerie Paths, she takes the jobs, and finds all sorts of new trouble and dark, old secrets.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell, this is just as good as its predecessor.  I love Evie's voice throughout the narrative.  She's refreshingly sassy and smart, yet realistic.  Cut out all the fantasy elements, and you'd have a normal girl living a normal life, hating gym class, hanging with friends, and trying to get into only her top choice of universities.

Her love for Lend and desire to be with him is mostly cute and sweet, but there's also the very teenaged problem of thinking they have to go to the same university or it will be an absolute tragedy.  There's also the issue of how he doesn't like the idea of her working for IPCA again, and she goes behind his back and deceives him.  They need to work on their communication skills.  But who doesn't, right?

Reth is back, causing more problems for his ex-girlfriend, who stills hates him and wants nothing to do with him.  Added to the mix is the absolute screwball, Jack, who drives Evie nuts but takes her to cool places, not just her missions for IPCA.  Despite Lend's jealousy toward the enigmatic Jack, as with the first book, there's no stupid love triangle.  I applaud Ms. White for that.

There's a lot going on in the action of the plot.  What are those bleeping faeries up to now?  Why can't they just leave Evie alone?  But we do get some more answers and resolutions, including a bit about Evie's past.

I'm looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Endlessly.  I already snagged an ARC from Snowbound for it, but I'm trying to be good and wait until closer to the release date to read that.  This is a fluffy, fun series, and I'm sorry that it's only a trilogy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vote for me!

Independent Book Blogger Awards
Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

Voting starts today, Tuesday April 10. If I win, I could win a trip to Book Expo America in New York City! That's an amazing convention full of publishers, book sellers, advanced reading copies, librarians, and the crazy author rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. Please vote for me!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yay for YA: Catching Fire and Mockingjay

After seeing the movie version of the Hunger Games, I just had to read the sequels!

Catching Fire: 6
Mockingjay: 9
Series checkouts: 27
Source: Catching Fire was from Follett for the school, personally purchased my copy; both the school copy and my own copy of Mockingjay were personally purchased.

Synopsis: Katniss continues her narrative of what happened after the 74th Annual Hunger Games, in which she competed and won.

My Goodreads ratings: 5 stars for Catching Fire, 3 stars for Mockingjay

The following reviews contain spoilers.

Catching Fire is one of the most satisfying middle books of any trilogy I've read.  It was creative, and it distanced the series from comparisons between this and Battle Royale.  The book starts out with the confused relationship between Katniss and Gale, a threat from President Snow, and the need to make peace with the spurned Peeta as he and Katniss must travel the country in the victory tour and convince the populace that they are in love.  Then comes the announcement of the third Quarter Quell, the amped-up Hunger Games that happen every quarter-century.  The contestants this time are chosen from past victors, who had always thought themselves safe from ever again competing or knowing hardships.  Since Katniss is District 12's only female victor, she must again compete.  And when Haymitch's name is drawn, Peeta volunteers to go with her.

Throughout the book are hints at rebellion and what's to come.  The end has a great twist, which left me breathless and reaching for the final book in the trilogy.  Great storytelling!  I didn't even mind the relationship drivel, showing how Gale and Peeta loved Katniss while she didn't feel anything beyond friendship and camaraderie toward either of them.  More on that later.

Unfortunately, after a fabulous start, and more world-building as the plot moved to District 13, Mockingjay got old quickly.  Don't get me wrong, there's still some excellent adventure and twists here.  But Ms. Collins found a dead horse to beat.

War is Hell.  Repeat, War is Hell.  And if you missed it: War is Hell.  Oh, and by the way: War is Hell.
I get that part of what inspired the author was news footage of one of the recent wars, followed by a reality TV show.  And I know that this is young adult literature, where sometimes the audience may not know as much as us wise adults do.  But it seemed like the point was driven so far home that it got preachy and ham-handed.

As I sit here writing this review, I'm realizing that Mockingjay probably had some heavy influences from another final book of a YA series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Both have characters dying a bit arbitrarily (though if you know Greek mythology, the fact that Castor dies and Pollux lives is nothing new).  Both have tear-jerking, pointless casualties.  (What the heck was a certain character doing in the Capitol, anyway?  Never explained.)  And both have epilogues where it's "babies ever after."

Except I liked Harry Potter's epilogue.  There, the pairings felt natural, and it was cute to see the main characters' progeny heading off for their first year at Hogwarts.

If the last three paragraphs plus the epilogue of Mockingjay did not exist, I would have liked it far better.  Instead, we have a complete change in Katniss' character just to ... what?  Satisfy the audience's need to have an answer to the infernal Team Peeta/Team Gale question?  Enforce society's charge that motherhood is the best role a woman can ever achieve?

I'm not going to give a spoiler as to who Katniss ends up with, though I will say there was no choice, no other option.  More disappointingly her mate, in the epilogue, takes fifteen years to convince her to give up her beliefs that she's held so long throughout three books and have children.  While I did not expect a happy ending, it really did not need to include a broken Katniss worrying about how her children will react to learning about her past.

Epic fail.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's Elementary: The Case of the Library Monster

It's spring break, and time to play catch-up!  My apologies for being an inconsistent blogger.  Today's review is of The Case of the Library Monster, part of The Buddy Files series by Dori Hillestad Butler.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Middle-grade elementary students who like dogs
Source: Personally purchased from the Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Buddy is a therapy dog at a school library.  One day he hears a noise in the bookshelves and finds himself face to face with a strange monster.  What is it?  Where did it come from?

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

This is actually book 5 in the series, but the story stands alone very well without prior knowledge of Buddy's adventures.  It's episodic, and I like that quality in a kid's book, especially in a library with a tiny book budget.  I don't have to track down the first four to make it worthwhile.

Buddy is the narrator of the story.  On the one hand, this should really appeal to many kids.  I know that I liked that sort of book when I was young and related better to animals than to people.  But on the other hand, it's a really annoying voice.  My sympathies to parents that read this to/with their young ones.  Imagine Dug from the movie Up narrating an entire story.  It's not pretty.
My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.
Despite the narration, this is fairly realistic fiction.  The humans cannot understand Buddy, and he behaves likes a dog.  There's information about what the monster is from a book that a student reads to Buddy.  He can't solve everything about the mystery, but through his doggy actions he can bring about some resolution to the mystery.