Friday, December 14, 2012

Paperback Book Tree Library Display

One of the parts of my new library job is setting up teen book displays. So far, it's been quite easy: scary books for Halloween, and then a pick of my favorites as a way of introducing myself. Now, though, I'm into thematic seasonal displays, so I thought I'd start off fairly easy with holiday picks.

That was easier said than done. There are simply not that many decent holiday YA books (and my small library owns even fewer). I cobbled together what I could (my favorite being Let It Snow - no really, read it now!), but I wanted to make the display a little more interesting.

Enter the paperback book trees! I have stacks of stripped paperbacks from my bookstore days, saved with the intent to recycle them in crafty ways. What better use than Christmas trees? They're simple to make, especially as a way of keeping your hands busy while watching tv.

I made these in part as an entry in the Pin It and Do It Holiday Challenge, and when I went to the challenge's link up page, I noticed that another bloggy Pam had already posted a fantastic tutorial for these trees. Her pictures are great, so check it out if you're interested in making some. I made one exactly as she shows, and for the second, I didn't fold in the final flap (which doesn't sit quite as well, but I think I like better. It's the one on the left above). Each of my trees is made from a section of 200 pages (100 pieces of paper) from a book - it's really all you need, so you can probably get two trees out of one book. I also lightly painted my finished trees with some glittery green paint.

And finally, for the sign, I jammed two skewers into the centers of the books and tapped my printed sign to them. I like how they look in the display!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Let It Snow

I depend on Christmas movies and Christmas music to get me into the mood this time of the year, but I very rarely look to books to do the same. Why not? Especially for someone as bookish as I am. I mean, there are a few I mentioned below, but they're mostly kids book.

So when I started pulling together a YA holiday display for my library, I was amazed that I couldn't find all that many. Of what I could find, there were very few I actually wanted to read. Luckily, Let It Snow was the one that I jumped at, and I'm so glad I did. It's really helped get me in the mood this year.

Frankly, the names on the cover were enough to get me to pick it up. I am a HUGE John Green fan, and I really enjoy the Maureen Johnson stuff I've read. (I'm not such a fan of Lauren Myracle, but I understand why a lot of kids love her.)

I thought this was going to be three separate short stories, but it turned out to be three inter-related short stories. Even better! They all start on Christmas Eve in a small town after a train has to stop for the night due to snow. The main character from one story becomes a supporting character in the next, and the same small-town odd folks show up in all of them. The stories, heavy on teen angst and romance, tie together beautifully. Think of it as an American teen Love Actually that all takes place in one night. If that doesn't get you to pick it up, then we can't be friends.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Bomb

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, and I read even less Young Adult non-fiction, but when I saw review after review giving high praise to Steve Sheinkin's Bomb, I thought I should at least give it a try.

And now I'm wondering why more history books aren't written exactly like this one. It's like reading a thriller spy novel, except I knew that it was all real! Sheinkin did massive amounts of research (as you would need to for a book like this), but most importantly, he included TONS of direct quotes from the people involved. It gave the whole story a much more immediate feel, which is definitely part of its success. In fact, while this makes a perfect YA history book, I'm sure there are many adults who would love this book too.

My only issue with the book was that I had problems following all the different people involved. This is a story, after all, that takes place over years and years and over the span of the ENTIRE globe. There is a substantial cast of characters. And while there were some photos of the people throughout the book, I would have loved an appendix listing everyone with a short description of their roles or even a photograph of them. A map or two wouldn't have hurt either, but then, I'm a very visual learner.

For history buffs, Bomb is definitely a must-read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Days of Blood and Starlight - Not a Review

I spent the entire morning curled up in bed, reading Days of Blood and Starlight, the follow-up to one of my favorite books of last year, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Did I love this new one as much as the first? Not quite, but I very much doubt that I could have. The first book is so beautiful and unexpected, not to mention heartbreaking. I'm sure I would have loved this new one even more if I had reread the first - it's been over a year between the two for me, and I felt Days started a bit too quickly for me. But the fact that I didn't get ANYTHING else accomplished before work today should tell you how good it is.

And really, you don't need a review of this book. If you've read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, you know there's no way you can stop there. If you haven't read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, what are you waiting for? I envy you for not having to wait for the sequel (although you'll have to wait with me for book 3).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Sandcastle Girls

Until this past summer, I had never read any of Chris Bohjalian's books. They were popular, and, from what I heard, quite good, but they seemed a little... too bookclub-y for me. But when I coworker showed me a copy of his latest book, The Sandcastle Girls, and said it had something to do with the Armenian Genocide, I had to at least give it a shot.

The Sandcastle Girls is the sweeping story of Elizabeth Endicott, a Boston-area society girl who travels to Aleppo in 1915 to bring aid to Armenian refuges, and of Laura Petrosian, a current-day novelist struggling to understand her own heritage. Bohjalian has said that this is the most important book he'll ever write, and without even having read anything else by him, I'm inclined to agree.

While there are a number of books out there that tell the story of the Armenian Genocide (The Road From Home by David Kherdian specifically comes to mind because it is a Newbery Award Honor book), there are almost none that tell the historical facts without becoming overly preachy or dull. As an Armenian who has studied the genocide, I know that too many of these facts too quickly can turn readers away, especially if they went into the reading not knowing the history. Bohjalian, however, metes out the historical facts at just the right tempo to keep readers interested but not flat-out horrified. Perhaps because the 1915 parts of the story are told not by an Armenian but by a Westerner, the reader learns the facts as she does, in bits and pieces. Even the present-day parts of the story are told by someone searching to understand her heritage, so we the readers are invited along to learn with her.

Historical facts aside, the emotions and relationships in this book are wonderful. It is a fish-out-of-water romance set in the most desperate of situations. My mother and I argued over the ending - I loved it, she HATED it - but we both loved the book as a whole. If everyone in my family hadn't already read this one, I'd be giving it for gifts at Christmas, no question.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Favorite Holiday Books

Some years, I really get in the holiday mood. Other years, I need a little help to get there. Luckily, I have some favorite books, new and old, to get me there.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss - Does this really need an explanation?

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer - One of my all-time favorite Christmas stories from childhood. Little Critter just can't do anything right as he helps set up Christmas.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris - If you've read any Sedaris, you'd recognize his off-beat look at the holiday season a mile away. If you haven't, start with Me Talk Pretty One Day (his best, in my opinion), then come back to this one. If the Santa Land Diaries doesn't have you rolling on the floor, you're dead inside. Also, Six to Eight Black Men makes me cry with laughter every time.

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas by Melanie Watt - My friend/bookstore coworker introduced me to Scaredy, and I've been a fan ever since. In his newest adventure, which is also his longest (by far!), Scaredy prepares you for Christmas. But don't think of this as just a kids book - it would be the perfect gift for any good-humored adult.

What are your favorite holiday books?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: A Long Long Sleep

I've always been a big fan of retellings of myths and fairy tales. These stories have survived for generations because they're just plain good, but a little modernization doesn't hurt either. Cinder, a favorite of mine from this year, is a retelling of Cinderella.

A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan is the latest retelling I've enjoyed (it was published in 2011), although it really just uses the story of Sleeping Beauty as a jumping off place instead of a story outline. Rosalinda has spent over 60 years in a cryogenic-like stass tube, accidentally shoved into a corner of her apartment building's basement. When she's awakened (also by accident), she must come to terms with the fact that everyone she loved is gone, as well as a world that is so vastly different than her own.

Sheehan's writing is beautiful, and she captures Rose's struggles in a very real way. There is pain and joy, wonder and horror, dark and light throughout the book. The beginning is perhaps a little slow, but that's because Rose, who is narrating, is just waking up from years of sleep - she needs a little time to get her emotions running again. I found myself flying through the second half of the book, with Rose's struggles affecting me almost physically. Yes, there were definitely some tears.

Since A Long Long Sleep is Sheehan's first novel, I'm eagerly awaiting whatever else she comes out with, fairy tale retelling or no. I can only hope it's as good as her first.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Vs. Movie: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Let's face it: most of the time, the movie sucks in comparison to the book. There are exceptions (Shawshank Redemption being the most often cited), but for book nerds like me, that's generally the rule. Imagine my surprise when I found a movie that was at just about the same level (not better or worse) than its book.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was in high school, and it was immediately on my radar as something I wanted to read. Somehow, however, I never actually got around to reading it. This year, with the movie coming out, plus the fact that it's now such a staple of Young Adult literature, I finally made the plunge into reading it.

And I didn't love it. But I think that had more to do with me than the book itself. I'm more than a decade away from where I was when it was first released, and I'm decades more jaded than even that. I could appreciate the book for what it would mean to a teen, but I couldn't quite connect with it like I would have once. As a coming-of-age book, though, it's solid.

I saw the movie for Perks this past week with a friend, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it for completely different reasons than the book. Maybe because I was seeing it rather than reading it, I felt more attached to the emotions of the teens, and I thought the actors chosen were superb in their parts. I was also surprised to find that, while I enjoyed the movie as a whole more, I enjoyed the ending of the book far more. Maybe it was because I knew that little twist was coming, or maybe because Chbosky (who not only wrote the novel but also wrote and directed the film) meted out more hints to the twist throughout the film, or maybe because the reveal in the book lent itself to the style of the book (letters to an anonymous "you").

On the whole, I think I liked the movie a little better, but I found the book and the movie to be quite comparable. Can we have more authors adapt and direct their own books, please? I'll be curious to see what else Chbosky directs in the future.

Do you have any book/movie combos that you love equally?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Meanwhile

I had heard about this amazing graphic novel Meanwhile by Jason Shiga a while ago, but had never bothered to track down a copy. And then, magically, during my first week at my new library job, I found it on the shelf! Clearly I was inheriting a cool collection from a really great librarian :)

I immediately picked it up and started in on the game. You see, Meanwhile is not like any other graphic novel, where you read from panel to panel, moving along the pages in some kind of order and getting a story out of it. No, this is a choose-your-own-adventure spiraling book of craziness.

It all starts with a simple question: chocolate or vanilla? Each choice you make (some as silly as chocolate or vanilla, some earth-shatteringly important) moves the story to another place. You move back and forth through the pages by following paths and flipping to different tabbed pages. You can see from the picture above that vanilla takes you to the light-teal page, while chocolate takes you to the dark-teal page.

The decisions you make quickly become more complicated, however. The page above shows a scene in which you need to enter the correct code on a machine to make it work. Each choice along the way can change the story, so you have to pay attention to what you're doing and where the path you choose actually goes.

There are 3856 story possibilities (so the cover states, at least). I barely got through a fraction of them. In fact, I found that there were whole pages that I was missing, so I did some tricky reverse-engineering to actually see how to get to them.

Is the story amazing? No; I mean, it's cute and fun, but the story is not what I'm going to remember this book for. The storytelling, however, is epic; it's truly not about the destination but how you get there. I want Shiga to produce another one of this ASAP :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rage Reading

Do you ever rage read? I do. More frequently than I'd like.

Rage reading is when you HATE the book you're in the middle of, but continue to read for the purpose of continuing to hate on it. I rage read my way through The Passage by Justin Cronin, and just today, finished rage reading the sequel, The Twelve. I can go on for hours about how much I hate these books. And yet, I found myself slogging through The Twelve every day for the last three weeks!

Why do I do this to myself? It used to be that I had a hard time not finishing a book, even if I didn't like it. I'm waaaaay better about that now, especially considering the volume of books I'm in contact with through work. But there are still those rare occasions when I dislike the book so much, I have to know how it ends so I can hate it even more.

I'm not the only one who does this, right? What books have you rage read?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gone But Not Forgotten

Sorry to the, like, two of you who read this. I know I've been MIA for a while, but let's chalk it up to illness and stress. Just because I haven't been hanging around here doesn't mean I haven't been reading. At my last count, I'm up to 60 books this year, and still going strong. I've read lots of YA that I should have read years ago, and I'm still trying to gain some ground with that.

More reviews will be coming soon! I've read so many good things I want to share!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles

There are times when I start reading a book really wanting to like it, but no matter how hard I try to put aside the little things that irk me, it just ends up a disappointing mess. I'm saddened that The Song of Achilles happened to be one of these instances.

I should start by saying that I am a HUGE Trojan War nerd. I've read most of the books out there, and I can describe parts of the epic in such detail that I can see people's eyes glaze over as they listen to me talk about it. But of course, that means I hold books about the Trojan War up to pretty high standards. And I know that my idea of the characters are going to be different from someone else's interpretation of them. But I found Miller's Patroclus so weak that I had a hard time caring.

My problems with Patroclus started very early. In most accounts, Patroclus kills a friend, and he and his father go into exile to escape. Here, Patroclus' father is shamed by his act and sends his only son far away. Much later, Patroclus proves he doesn't have much skill on the battlefield and spends his days in camp with the women (only later finding any use for his time in the healer's tent). These weak characterizations just don't jibe with my idea of Patroclus, and I found myself struggling against them every step of the way. I had no indication of why Achilles cared so much for him.

The story itself is fine, following Patroclus from his youth through his upbringing with Achilles to the Trojan War itself. That's a lot of ground to cover, but Miller moves things along well. Achilles himself felt a bit bland to me, but I loved his mother Thetis, who was the perfect blend of cold and calculating and overprotective. And I'm still confused by Briseis, who plays such a pivotal role in Achilles' motivation. There are a lot of characters to keep straight, and if you're not already knowledgeable about the story, you might have a little trouble, but the appendix should sort you out.

I guess that my biggest issue overall was that I just had a hard time caring - about people, about actions, about consequences. Miller's writing is beautiful (aside from some discrepancies with tense usage, but that should fall to an editor to fix), and I can't wait to see a story from her that I don't already know so well.

Buy The Song of Achilles on Amazon
Buy The Song of Achilles on Indie Bound

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: Charlotte au Chocolat

As a Boston-area food blogger of almost 5 years (and a life-long diner in the Boston area), I always want to know more about the restaurant scene, past and present, around town. That's why I was so excited to hear about Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver. It's the story of growing up in a restaurant - and not just any restaurant, but Upstairs at the Pudding, a real Harvard Square establishment.

I never dined at the Pudding (it closed before I gave two cents about good food), but I have since dined at its replacement, Upstairs on the Square. The owners have remained the same, and Silver talks about many of the reasons why the restaurant moved. The one time I ate there, I found that the atmosphere (bright and garish) outshone the food. It's one of those spots that I've been meaning to try again ever since, but it keeps getting bumped down my list.

The back cover of the book makes it sound like it's the story of a girl in frilly dresses, drinking Shirley Temples until her lips were pink from the grenadine. And yes, there is a lot of that in the story. But what makes this an interesting story is seeing the rise and fall of a local institution through the eyes of a child who is forced to spend much of her time within its walls. I'm sure Silver had other things she could have been doing instead of napping under the bar to stay out of the way during service, but there she was, year in and year out. She marks her own growth along with the demise of her parents' relationship and the cracks in the restaurant. She paints restaurant life in very realistic ways, perhaps in ways that only a child growing up in that environment could catalog.

Of course, the little bits of Harvard gossip make this a fun read for anyone in the Boston area. Who here doesn't enjoy watching clips of the Hasty Pudding Awards on the news (all female winners of the award dined at Upstairs at the Pudding, while the males were taken to other restaurants)? I especially loved hearing about the discordant relationship between the Harvard a capella group that would sing during brunch and the wait staff.

Buy Charlotte au Chocolate on Amazon
Buy Charlotte au Chocolate at a local store through Indie Bound

Full Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for free for review. The thoughts about it are all my own.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

Like most kids' book nerds that I know, I was waiting (im)patiently to hear all the award winners from this year's ALA Midwinter meeting. This is when the Newbery and Caldecott winners are announced, as well as a whole slew of other awards. My favorite of the bunch is the Alex Award, given to novels written for adults but which would appeal to kids ages 12 to 18. Many people call these "crossover novels" because of their appeal to YA and adults.

When I was in the YA age group, I just called these "novels." But I digress...

Two of my absolute favorite books from last year were on the list: Ready Player One and The Night Circus. I'm sure I won't get around to reading the rest, but I was intrigued by The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, so I borrowed it from work.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is exactly what it claims to be: a scrapbook. The book is filled with color reproductions of photographs and ephemera as if it were the real-life scrapbook of a young woman in the 1920s. Frankie is from a small town in New Hampshire and doubts that she'll ever leave, until the smallest of scandals sends her to Vassar College, then on to New York City and Paris. The book takes no time to read, and the story is a bit predictable, but the form is unique enough that it will seem fresh and new to a lot of readers. I'm not entirely sure how many teens will actually enjoy this book, although more and more kids seem to be interested in the 1920s (I think, in part, because of the buzz around the Great Gatsby movie coming soon).

For those who enjoy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I would suggest any of Nick Bantock's books (I've only read the Griffin & Sabine trilogy), which combine art and story in ways that are exciting and intriguing.

Buy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt on Amazon
Buy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt at a local store through Indie Bound

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: The One and Only Ivan

I don't read many middle grade books, but when my coworker handed me a copy of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and showed me the first few pages, I fell in love. Specifically, these few lines grabbed me: "People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback. The names are mine, but they're not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan. Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part." I mean, how could you not love Ivan?!

The book is narrated by Ivan himself, and he describes the shopping mall (yes, shopping mall) where he lives and the other animals around him in just-awkward-enough English that you could believe these were the thoughts of our great ape cousin. His closest friends are Stella the elephant and Bob the dog. When a new elephant named Ruby shows up, he becomes very protective of her and wants to see the humans do right by her. From my adult perspective, the story was a bit contrived (even though much of it is true). However, for kids, it offers a unique perspective onto the concept that humans often mistreat their charges.

Buy The One and Only Ivan on Amazon
Buy The One and Only Ivan at a local store through Indie Bound

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Cinder

How many YA books have done the retelling of a fairy tale thing before? And how many times has it actually worked? Happily (but maybe not happily ever after), Cinder is a rare exception to the cut-and-paste story retelling formula.

In this book, Meyer takes the well-worn story of Cinderella and places it in a future filled with robots and cyborgs, a very nasty plague, and a cold and menacing queen from the Moon. My first response on hearing the premise was that this was absurd and would surely be a flop. Man, was I wrong! All of these elements add enough of a new twist so that I wasn't concerned about waiting for the moment when this or that might happen.

Cinder, our half-human, half-robot protagonist, is more than you would expect from a story like this (where the original material often gets muted to bare, meaningless bones). She's not just a servant girl to an ungrateful woman - she's smart and strong and can keep her wits about her, even when she's meeting the prince, and yet she's vulnerable and uncertain about what is happening to her. The truth about exactly who Cinder is becomes glaringly obvious well before she figures it out instead, but instead of this annoying me, it left me cheering Cinder on, wanting her to move on until she could figure it out herself.

While Cinder is clearly being marketed as Book One of the Lunar Chronicles (giving a little away there, no?), it would be obvious even without that information that this is just the first step in a series of novels. The story follows the Cinderella tale very closely, but it makes enough jumps and breaks to be its own thing. But the way the story ends leaves me unclear of where it's going to go next (and I'm actually happy about this). I've chatted with a few people, and the obvious thought is that Meyer will tackle a different fairy tale the next time through, but however she presents the story, I'll be there to read it.

Buy Cinder on Amazon
Buy Cinder at a local store through Indie Bound

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: After the Apocalypse

After reading an intensely positive review of this short story collection on i09, I was intrigued enough to order a copy. There are so many post-apocalyptic stories out there, and After the Apocalypse sounded right up my alley.

In fact, the first story of the bunch, The Naturalist, hooked me right away. It takes place in a zombie preserve, where felons are sent to serve out their sentences (as long as they can survive the zombies that wander around the area). However, the big questions of why the zombies were kept in the preserve and why the prisoners were sent there were never answered, leaving me feeling a bit dissatisfied at the end.

My dissatisfaction continued with the rest of the stories in the book. Some had hooks as strong as the first (a huge Chinese corporation that could change the world but basically works on a feudal system, a woman who volunteers for medical testing, people who can inexplicably fly and all want to go to France), while others left me with no desire to continue after only a few paragraphs. In fact, there wasn't all that much apocalypse to speak of either. Maybe I would have been happier if the collection had had a different name?

That being said, I really like Maureen McHugh's writing, just not her stories. She has an eloquent way of describing these screwed-up worlds without using exposition. Instead, details are peppered here and there throughout the story that build the world brick by brick. I would get a little bored, and then there would be only a sentence or two that intrigued me enough to continue. I may seek out more of McHugh's work in the future to see if I enjoy it without the expectations put upon it by such a positive review.

Buy After the Apocalypse on Amazon
Buy After the Apocalypse at a local store through Indie Bound

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

My very first book of 2012 was not one I chose for myself. Instead, I started off the year with the January title for the Forever Young Adult book club. I'm a member of the Thursday night Boston group, which is filled with awesome ladies who love YA as much as I do. I'm always sad when I have to miss a meeting.

The Ruby in the Smoke, the first of the Sally Lockhart mysteries, by Philip Pullman is not a book I would ever have picked up if not for the book club. I have walked by it millions of times in the store, and even recommended it a few times to girls who wanted mysteries and historical fiction combined. I don't think I was wrong to walk by it. Not that it's a bad book - in fact, as far as Victorian mysteries aimed towards the teen set go, I think it's quite good. It's just not my cup of tea (insert bad Victorian London joke here).

Sally Lockhart, who was recently orphaned when her father sank along with his merchant ship off China, is a strong character whom I actually liked. She's determined to figure out what's happening, even when it takes her to the seedier side of London or has her experimenting with drugs. She's able to turn a photography business around with practically a single idea. She doesn't let the fact that she's an orphan with no home of her own get her down.

And yet, it takes another character (completely out of the blue, I might add) to solve the mystery of where this ruby is hiding. Really, Pullman, after all these pages of Sally being kick-ass and smart, you leave the actual mystery solving to a boy?!

Like I said, I just don't like mysteries (in the typical sense of the word). I especially don't like Victorian mysteries (although I don't mind other books that take place in Victorian times). My other book club read The Moonstone (the first British mystery novel) last year, and this reminded me of it very much - plodding and slow, and then everything happens at once. I hated every minute of The Moonstone.

And yes, I did watch the BBC movie version of this book as well. I couldn't help it - it stars Billie Piper and Matt Smith. It was cute, but it dumbed down some of the more interesting aspects of the story. I'd rather read the book than watch the movie again.

Buy The Ruby in the Smoke on Amazon
Buy The Ruby in the Smoke at a local store through Indie Bound