Monday, February 13, 2012

“They are presented attractively for the same reason that kittens are cute - so that they can draw you in, then pounce on you for the kill. Seriously. Stay away from kittens.”

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians – Brandon Sanderson

Book 1 in Alcatraz Series

308 pages

Genre: Children’s; Fantasy; Adventure; Humor

Summary: Alcatraz Smedry is an ordinary boy with a special gift: he breaks everything he touches.  He receives a bag of sand on his thirteenth birthday, (Sand, you say? Why, yes; don’t you get sand for your birthday?) and when he becomes aware of the fact that a band of librarians have their hearts set on stealing it, he makes it his mission to prevent that from happening, even if it means infiltrating their lair: the public library.

Review: I first became aware of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians after a friend of mine recommended it to me (thanks, Christina!). Since I am a librarian by profession, anything having to do with evil librarians automatically gets moved up to the top of my “to be read” pile. Ultimately, I’m really glad I read this, as it was just as delightfully bizarre as the description makes it seem.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians was packed with humor and absurdity, and the plot itself was quite unique, indeed. Who knew sand could be coveted by so many people? The Smedry talents were also pretty hilarious, and while some didn’t make a whole lot of sense on the surface, when taken into context with the story, they fit perfectly (ie arriving late).

All of the characters were really well-done, and I enjoyed Alcatraz as the narrator immensely. Alcatraz does not take on a passive role in the book, but rather talks to the reader directly, which is a wonderful tactic for engaging children in the plot. I also found it pretty great that librarians were the villains, as the stereotype is that librarians are quiet, docile folk. Obviously librarians are just quiet because they’re thinking up ways to take over the world. My favorite characters, though, would have to be the dinosaurs with the British accents. I am endlessly fascinated by dinosaurs and all things British, so if you put the two together, I am the happiest person on the planet!

If you’re looking for a book that’s a bit (okay, a lot) out of the norm and enjoy plenty of absurd adventure, definitely give Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians a try. This book is especially suited for people who fall into the 9-12 age range.

Rating: 3/5

Other Books in this Series: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens

“Take pride in your pain; you are stronger than those who have none.”

Gathering Blue – Lois Lowry
Book 2 in The Giver trilogy
240 pages
Genre:  Children’s/YA; Dystopia
Summary:  Now orphaned after the recent death of her mother, Kira, a young girl with a leg deformity, faces an uncertain future in a society that only values the strong and unflawed.  She does, however, have a rare gift that might be her saving grace, despite the fact that everyone sees her as a weak link.  Will Kira be able to thrive in a bleak society that is constantly trying to keep her down?
Review:  As a middle grader, The Giver was one of my favorite books.  Up until a few months ago, I had no idea that sequels to this book had been written, so once I discovered that, Gathering Blue quickly found its way on my reading list.  My hopes were high going into this book, and I feverishly hoped that the same magic that Lowry was able to create in The Giver would reemerge here.  Much to my dismay, I did not enjoy Gathering Blue very much at all, and I read it more out of a sense of duty rather than enjoyment of the text.
One of the things I really disliked about this book was the main character, Kira.  Throughout Gathering Blue, Kira was rather passive, and she didn’t really seem like she was in control of her destiny at all.  Whenever something happened to her, it never even seemed like she reacted properly.  It was also very hard for me to feel sympathetic towards her, as the reader wasn’t really given a chance to get to know her because she kept her distance, and was rather one-dimensional.
While the village itself was rather creepy and interesting, I found the plot twists to be quite predictable and wasn’t surprised by any of the events found therein.  I really wish something would have happened that seemed to come completely out of left field, but alas, no such luck.
I was also disappointed that there wasn’t any connection to The Giver.  The worlds created in these books are completely separate and never intersect.  Perhaps something will change in the third book, but in all honesty, I’m not sure if I’ll read it.
Even though I was disappointed in Gathering Blue, people in the 9-12 age range who like something a bit out of the norm might really enjoy this book. 
Rating:  2/5
Other Books in this Series:  The Giver (Book 1), Messenger (Book 3)

“Sutton's dead. Tell no one. Keep playing along... or you're next.”

The Lying Game – Sara Shepard

Book 1 in The Lying Game series

307 pages

Genre:  YA; Mystery

Summary:  What if, after you died, you were able to get a second chance at life?  Sutton, a teenager who recently passed away, has that chance…sort of.  After her death, Sutton discovers that she has a twin sister she never knew about named Emma, and because of this, Emma is able to walk into Sutton’s life and pretend to be her.  Will Emma figure out the mystery behind Sutton’s death, or will she ultimately meet the same fate as her deceased sister?

ReviewThe Lying Game was an absorbing read full of twists and turns that will leave the reader eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next.

The primary thing that drew me to this book was the plot.  A girl dies and her twin pretends to be her in order to figure out why; how cool is that?  As it turns out, it was, indeed, pretty awesome, and I thought the author did a great job with suspense building.

I also really liked how different the main characters were.  Emma was really down-to-earth and kind of shy, while Sutton was more of the “mean girl,” life of the party type, and it was fun to watch Emma try to take on Sutton’s role.  In this same vein, I also thought that Shepard did a great job of exposing class differences between the two girls, and it really illuminated how different their worlds really were.  Sutton’s group of friends had pretty repellant personalities, and as much as I disliked them, I still wanted to find out what ridiculous thing they would do next. 

If you need an escape from reality, The Lying Game is a light, fun book that you will devour like the tastiest piece of candy.  Not all of the loose ends are tied up by the book’s end, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be extremely eager to pick up the next book and see how everything turns out.

Rating:  3/5

Other Books in This SeriesNever Have I Ever, Two Truths and a Lie, Hide and Seek

Read-alikeBefore I Fall – Lauren Oliver

“There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.”

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling

222 pages

Genre:  Memoir; Humor

SummaryIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? examines different events in Mindy Kaling’s life and exposes her opinions on a variety of subjects including, but certainly not limited to, friends, love, and show business.

Review:  I think Mindy Kaling is rather fantastic.  I absolutely love watching "The Office," and her character, Kelly, has always been one of my favorites.  When I discovered she had written a book, I knew I had to read it immediately.  Ultimately, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was a really funny, fluffy book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

One of the greatest things about this book was how honest Kaling was about herself.  Instead of trying to make herself look perfect, she expounds upon and embraces her shortcomings, which I find very admirable.  Kaling just seems like such a fun, hilarious, happy person, and her charm shines through on every page.  I was smiling almost the entire time I read this.

If you’re looking for a fun, light read that will definitely make you laugh, check out Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Rating:  3/5

"Dad reckoned there was a rational explanation for everything, even things that made no sense at all. UFOs, ghosts, God—they’re just the names people have come up with for stuff they haven’t worked out yet."

Flip – Martyn Bedford

272 pages

Genre:  YA; Fantasy

Summary:  On a seemingly ordinary day, Alex, a fourteen-year-old boy, does what he always does and goes to bed.  Instead of waking up in his own home, however, he finds himself six months into the future, and worst of all, in another boy, Flip’s, body.  Will Alex figure out why this happened, and will he ever be able to find his way back to his own body?

Review:  The thing that immediately drew me to Flip was the concept.  What would it be like if you were able to switch bodies with another person?  In all honesty, it’s something that I have thought about on more than one occasion, so I was really excited to read this book.  Overall, I found Flip to be quite fun, and I really enjoyed following Alex on his journey as he figured out what happened and why.

While the concept itself is, of course, fictitious, the way in which Alex handled the events that transpired was definitely believable.  Alex displayed just the right amount of shock and horror, yet he strove to correct the situation immediately.  I thought it was great that even though Flip was a more popular boy than Alex and seemed to live a charmed life, Alex was still eager to leave his new life behind and get back to his old life with his own family and friends.  It was also interesting to see Alex trying to explain himself to his new family.  He flat out told them that he was someone else, and they just sort of shrugged it off as if he were joking around, which is probably how anyone would’ve handled that situation.

The other characters were also really well-done, and I especially enjoyed Flip’s sister, Teri.  The relationship between Flip and Teri was so typical of that between a brother and sister, and I enjoyed their banter and Teri's teasing immensely.

Flip would probably appeal the most to reluctant readers, especially teenage boys.  If you enjoy fiction that deals with body switching and adds a touch of mystery, try it out!

Rating:  3/5

"You will take me in to your fractal meaningless babble; the quick of my mouth, the madness of my tongue."

In the Next Galaxy – Ruth Stone

120 pages

Genre:  Poetry

National Book Award for Poetry, 2002

SummaryIn the Next Galaxy is a book of poems in which the poet reflects upon many themes, including love and loss.

Review:  I first discovered Ruth Stone last November, after the unfortunate announcement that she had passed away.  I quite enjoy poetry, and it’s truly a shame that I had never heard of her up until that point, especially since she won the National Book Award.  After perusing the titles of the books she had written, I decided to make In the Next Galaxy my introduction to Stone’s work, and I’m very glad I did.

In the Next Galaxy had beautiful, lyrical language, and I found myself completely absorbed in the poems therein.  In just a few words, Stone was able to create powerful, haunting images that have stuck with me for quite some time.  Her observations about life were poignant and complex, and while many of the poems were unhappy, they really exemplified the human experience.

If you’re a fan of poetry that, while not always happy, is still incredibly beautiful and thoroughly examines love and loss, I definitely recommend In the Next Galaxy.  While this book sometimes goes into uncomfortable places, I enjoyed the ride quite thoroughly, and I’m truly looking forward to reading more by Ruth Stone.

Rating:  4/5

Other Books by Ruth StoneOrdinary Words, In the Dark, Second-Hand Coat, What Love Comes To, Simplicity

Saturday, February 11, 2012

“I guess that's what saying good-bye is always like--like jumping off an edge. The worst part is making the choice to do it. Once you're in the air, there's nothing you can do but let go.”

Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

470 pages

Genre:  YA; Fantasy; Death

Summary:  If you had one day left to live, how would you spend it?  For Samantha Kingston, a popular teenager with a seemingly perfect life, that is no longer a hypothetical question:  her last day is Friday, February 12th…or is it?  While she is sure she died the day before, she wakes up once again the next day, only to discover that it’s February 12th yet again.  Will Samantha ever figure out why this is happening, or will she forever be stuck in this never-ending loop of sameness?

Review:  I picked up Before I Fall on a whim one day, as I was drawn in by the cover.  Why am I such a sucker for cover art?  After reading the description of the book, I became more excited to read it, and ultimately, I found it to be extremely interesting.

Since the day keeps happening over and over again until Samantha gets it right, it made the reader think of the movie “Groundhog’s Day,” in which the main character is also stuck in a perpetual loop where he keeps waking up to the exact same day.  Add in a dash of “Mean Girls,” and you’ve basically stepped into Samantha’s life.  Throughout most of the book, I found Samantha to be completely awful and had little to no sympathy for her, yet I was still interested to see how things would turn out.  Perhaps it was because she seemed so real; I could think of many people who were just like her.  Would she finally do the right thing?  Would she stop being so shallow?  She’s definitely one of those characters that I loved to hate, and watching her grow throughout the story was definitely a wild ride.

I also thought the pacing was particularly well done here.  This story could have gotten stale quite fast, but I never found myself bored with the plot and I really wanted to see how everything was going to turn out. Events transpired in a logical sequence, and while some of the twists and turns were a bit predictable, others were completely surprising!

If you’re looking for an entertaining, thoughtful read that will have you examining what you would do if it were your last day, Before I Fall is definitely worth reading.

Rating:  3/5

Read-alikeIf I Stay – Gayle Forman

“Well, it's simple to love someone," she said. "But it's hard to know when you need to say it out loud.”

When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead

199 pages

Genre:  Children’s; Mystery; Science Fiction

Newbery Medal, 2010

Summary:  Miranda’s life is wonderfully ordinary until she finds a mysterious note that reads: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. Miranda finds even more letters, and soon realizes that they relate to her and her life, as they reveal things that have not happened yet.  Who is behind the notes, and how does he/she know about events that have not yet occurred?

Review:  Since When You Reach Me is a Newbery winner, I had rather high expectations going in.  Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care for this book.

To me, the story seemed rather disjointed at times, and it didn’t really have the continuity that I enjoy.  This may have been a nod to A Wrinkle in Time, but it just didn’t work all that well here.  I also thought the story was rather predictable.  While it is important to leave clues for the reader, especially when dealing with middle grade fiction, I thought that many of the plot twists were so obvious anybody could see it from a mile away, thereby removing the element of surprise that one waits for when reading a mystery.

The characters weren’t particularly compelling either.  All of them seemed rather one-dimensional, and I wish the author had fleshed them out a bit more.

While I didn’t care for When You Reach Me all that much, it is an award-winning book and many people love it.  If you enjoy middle grade fiction with an element of mystery, especially A Wrinkle in Time, you may also enjoy this book.

Rating:  2.5/5

Read-alikeA Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I'll be ready for it to happen, and that way, it won't happen. It's a burden, being able to control situations with my hypervigilance, but it's my lot in life.”

Bossypants – Tina Fey

277 pages

Genre:  Humor; Non-Fiction; Memoir

SummaryFrom musings on her childhood, to being the boss, to improv, Bossypants provides the reader with a firsthand glimpse into Tina Fey’s life.

Review:  I went into Bossypants with extremely high expectations, as Tina Fey is one of my absolute favorite television personalities.  Yeah, no pressure.  Fortunately for me, Bossypants lived up to my expectations, and I was heartily amused from start to finish.

One of the best things about this book was obviously the humor.  Tina Fey is such a witty, clever woman, and the way she expounded upon random topics relating to her life was incredibly hilarious.  Throughout most of the book, I was absolutely laughing out loud, almost to the point of tears, and I’m just glad I read this in private, as I’m sure people would have thought I was crazy.  Perhaps I found it so entertaining because I could relate to so many of the things she was talking about, especially as it related to excessive worry and overextending oneself.  Is this a good thing?  I’m not sure, but I do take comfort in the fact that we operate on the same wavelength of crazy.

I also really liked her thoughts on being a boss, especially in an industry that’s dominated by males.  Her advice was sound, her observations poignant, and it is definitely one of the biggest things I took away from the book.  I also liked what she had to say regarding females in comedy, and I found her explanations relating to her rise in the industry to be extremely interesting.

Ultimately, if you like to laugh and you love Tina Fey (and, really, who doesn’t?), definitely read Bossypants!

Rating:  4/5

“Mama Sweetie said you didn't need a reason to sing. She said if everyone started off the day singing, just think how happy they'd be.”

Shine – Lauren Myracle

359 pages

Genre:  YA; LGBT; Realistic Fiction

Summary:  Set on the backdrop of the Deep South, Shine is the story of a hate crime perpetrated against a sixteen-year-old named Patrick, and his best friend’s, Cat, search for answers.  Will Cat be able to figure out who committed this atrocity?

Review:  I first became aware of Shine after the whole debacle with the National Book Award.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, basically what happened is this book was nominated for the aforementioned award, and soon after said nomination, it became known that the book was selected in error, and was ultimately removed from the list.  Like many people, I was outraged at the way in which the situation was handled, and decided to read Shine right away, while shaking my fist at the committee.  Because of all this, I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

One of the things I disliked about Shine was the pacing.  For me, it was a bit uneven, as the reveals were presented to the reader either too quickly or too slowly.  There were several instances in which I was just waiting for something to happen, and while that sense of anticipation works in some books, I didn’t think it worked particularly well here.

The characters were also difficult to relate to, and I never really warmed up to the narrator, Cat.  It was hard for me to understand the actions of many of the characters, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to so I wouldn't feel any sympathy towards them.  I did, however, like the glimpses I got of Patrick, even though his portion of the story was told in flashbacks.

This book wasn’t all bad, though.  For the most part, the plot was interesting and compelling, and when I wasn’t in one of the lulls of the book, I flipped through the pages quite eagerly.  Myracle really has a way with words, and this book was incredibly well-written.

While Shine wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I do still intend on checking out more of Lauren Myracle’s books.  If you enjoy the mystery surrounding hate crimes in the deep South, you may like Shine.

Rating:  3/5

Other Books by this AuthorBliss, Kissing Kate, Internet Girls series

“The Fat Girl Code of Conduct: 1. Any sexual activity is a secret. No public displays of affection. 2. Don’t discuss your weight with him. 3. Go further than skinny girls. If you can’t sell him on your body, you’d better overcompensate with sexual perks. 4. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever push the relationship thing. ”

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things – Carolyn Mackler

244 pages

Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction

Printz Honor Book, 2004

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves struggles with low self-esteem resulting from her size. While her family seems pretty close to perfect in every way, Virginia doesn’t feel like she fits in because of her weight.  When allegations against one of her family members begin to emerge, however, Virginia ’s life is turned upside down and she discovers that things may not be as perfect as they seem.

Review: The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things was a fast-paced, well-written book filled with wholly believable characters that many readers can relate to.

For me, one of the best parts of this book was how authentically the author was able to capture the high school experience.  Many teens feel like outcasts or misfits and struggle with self-esteem, regardless of what they look like or how talented they are, and having the narrator expounding on the fact that things aren’t really all that great is something that is infinitely relatable.  I also really liked that even with the people in seemingly ideal situations, all wasn’t as it seemed and they struggled, too.  It really emphasizes that struggles are universal, and even when you think someone has it all, they may not feel that way about themselves.

Another thing that really stood out to me in this book was “The Fat Girl Code of Conduct” that Virginia lived by.  In it, she outlined what she could expect from relationships and the like because of her size, and it was heartbreaking, yet insightful.

One of the most memorable characters was Virginia ’s mother.  Virginia's mom was obsessed with exercise and staying in shape, and this obsession developed a nice contrast to Virginia’s own struggles.  In Virginia ’s mind, it seemed like nothing she did was enough to please her parents, especially her mother, and her mother's obsession with weight gain was probably a contributing factor to Virginia’s own insecurities.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things was an insightful novel that accurately captures many of the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  If you’re looking for a book with a relatable narrator or have enjoyed any of the readalikes listed below, give it a try.

Rating:  3.5/5

Read-alikes:  The DUFF – Kody Keplinger, Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have – Allen Zadoff

Friday, February 3, 2012

“You can never know about your own destiny: are the people you meet there to play a part in your own destiny, or do you exist just to play a role in theirs?”

Going Bovine – Libba Bray

480 pages

Genre:  YA; Fantasy; Humor

Printz Award Winner, 2010

Summary:  Cameron, a 16 year old boy trying his best to survive the trials and tribulations of high school, receives a shocking piece of news on an otherwise ordinary day:  he has Mad Cow Disease, and he’s going to die.  Dismayed by the diagnosis, Cameron befriends what he believes to be an angel named Dulcie who tells him that a cure is available, but he must go on an epic quest in order to obtain it.  Will Cameron accept the challenge and go on his own personal odyssey before it’s too late, or will the disease bring on his inevitable demise?

Review:  Libba Bray’s body of work has been highly recommended to me by my bookish friends many, many times.  After stalking, I mean, investigating her twitter feed and seeing concrete proof regarding her sense of humor, I decided to give Going Bovine a try.  I mean, the cover of the book is a cow holding a garden gnome; what could be better? Ultimately, I found it quite enjoyable, hilarious, and while it was a solid 500 pages long, I read through it in about two days.

The plot was definitely unique, and half of the time I felt like I was reading the crazy ramblings of someone on an acid trip, which made sense in the context of the story.  As Cameron’s mental prowess declined, so too did his grasp on reality…or did it?  The situations he found himself in were often hilarious, and I absolutely loved following him around on his zany adventures.

While I wasn’t particularly attached to Cameron, I absolutely loved Dulcie.  Dulcie was incredibly colorful and energetic, and the scenes that she was in were quite enjoyable for me.  The gnome was also pretty great, and I loved when he would speak of his adventures to the rest of the characters.

Going Bovine was definitely a wild ride!  If you’re looking for something out of the norm, give it a try.

Rating:  3/5

Other Books by this Author:  A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing, Beauty Queens

“The important people in our lives leave imprints. They may stay or go in the physical realm, but they are always there in your heart, because they helped form your heart. There's no getting over that.”

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares – Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

302 pages

Genre:  YA; Romance; Adventure; Realistic Fiction

Summary:  While perusing the shelves of a bookshop one day, Dash, a bookish, brooding teenage boy, haphazardly stumbles upon a journal written by a girl named Lily.  After accepting the challenge presented in the journal, Dash and Lily begin to communicate through it, daring each other to do things that are out of their comfort zone.  Will their relationship ever leave the pages of the notebook, or will they continue to solely trade dares with one another?

Review:  Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares was a sweet book packed with action, adventure, and romance, and it’s sure to keep the reader entertained from start to finish.

For me, the greatest part of this book was the humor.  There were many instances in which I was laughing out loud, and the wit used throughout shined on every page.  Dash and Lily were also pretty great, and it was really easy to relate to them. I really liked that they were both so intelligent, and I found many of Dash’s comments to be absolutely hilarious.

The plot itself was really interesting, and I definitely enjoyed that all Dash and Lily knew about each other was what they revealed in the notebook.  It really made me long to find a random notebook somewhere and trade dares with another person whom I’ve never met.  Throughout the entirety of the book, I was hoping that the culmination of events turned out exactly as they did, so I was left feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside.

If you’re looking for a fun, quick, adorable read where you will say “aww” and laugh frequently, I highly recommend Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.

Rating:  4/5

Read-alike:  13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson