Monday, August 31, 2009

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan's novel was one of the books on the list for my daughter's sophomore American Literature class, along with Gone With the Wind (which she wanted to read because it was so long), Walden (which I have always loved in theory and have never finished), and some other decent titles. She will pick one book to read for the entire year and keep a journal about it.

This would not be a bad book for this purpose. Covering eight women in two generations, it explores, in brief vignettes, the life, love, and loss of women of Chinese heritage. The mothers all came from China to the United States, and their (mostly sad) history in China is covered. The daughters all have uneasy relationships with their mothers, and their own problems with life, even though they are not living through wars.

While there is nothing that would make this book objectionable for middle school students, I don't know that they would find it very interesting. It's very philosophical; very little happens. I looked at about 90 interest inventories over the weekend, and the number one thing students dislike is nothing happening in a book.

I suppose I should read Gone With the Wind again, but I know I read it in the summer of 1980, so maybe I will try to actually finish Walden.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Pearl Among Princes

Coleen Murtagh Paratore's publicist was nice enough to send me a copy of A Pearl Among Princes, which comes out on September 17th. This book is a good example of a book that I disliked, but which many of the girls will adore. I can see fans of Twilight finding this appealing, and Twilight is something that I hated because I am old and I no longer have any tolerance for romance!

Pearl is a servant on an island that holds summer classes teaching princes "the charming arts". Recently, the rule that princes can only marry those of royal blood has been revoked, so Pearl would like very much to marry a prince and leave her island in order to make her mark on the world. Her true love, Mackree, has recently dumped her because of her desire to move beyond being a servant.
Pearl impresses several of the princes favorably, as do several of her friends. They are all preparing for the big Summersleave ball while the princes take classes in dance, courting, and manners. Pearl's father is a cook whose heart is failing. Her mother died a few years ago, but left gifts for each of her birthdays. When her father feels he doesn't have much time left, he gives her the last three gifts, which reveal a secret about Pearl's identity that changes her life. Does she settle for one of the princes, or try to win back Mackree, her true love?
SPOILER ALERT: The girls will like this for the ball gowns, the flirtation, the friends, and the fact that Pearl turns out to be a real princess after all, and ends up with Mackree. She gets to have her cake AND eat it(and they do seem to eat a lot in this book)-- she gets to leave the island with Mackree to take her place on the throne.
Why I didn't like it: I hate weddings, and the emphasis on the necessity to marry really, really irked me. This would also explain why I wasn't a big fan of Paratore's The Wedding Planner's Daughter! This is touted as a "girl power" book, but even when Pearl finds out she is a princess, she feels a need to take a man with her. Hard core fans of fantasy will find inconsistencies in the quasi-medeival setting of ball gowns, servants working in a castle, and princes arriving on ships when things like hospitals with desks and nurses in white caps, peanut butter, chocolate, and other modern things jarringly crop up.
I read this after Picky Reader informed me that there are 19 boys in the accelerated math and science block, and 6 girls. Luckily, she is very pleased with herself to be one of the 6 girls. This made me want to slap Pearl a bit. How we feel about books can be so very influenced by what is going on with our lives!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Youngest Templar: Trail of Fate

Michael Spradlin's second book in The Youngest Templar series, Trail of Fate, comes out on October 29th. His editor, Timothy Travaglini, from Penguin Young Readers was kind enough to send me an ARC, and I am glad he did. The first book was a great hit in my library, and is just the thing for my son right now.

Tristan, who has found the Holy Grail, is tossed ashore in France after a shipwreck only to be found by Cathers who are being chased by the High Counsel who judges them to be heretics. Tristan takes a liking to their leader, Celia, and vows to help her. Along with Robard and Maryam, a girl assassin, they go to Celia's mountain fortress and help them defend the group from the High Counsel, who has joined forces with the evil Sir Hugh.

This story is filled with wry humor, lots of action, and great cliff-hanger endings to chapters. Mr. Travaglini says in his letter that fans of The Ranger's Apprentice series will like this one, and having just read five of those, I agree. If you haven't read The Keeper of the Grail (reviewed here October 06, 2008), definitely look into it. Much more exciting than many books set during this period.

I'm afraid I am weary of Jacqueline Wilson after my binge this summer. Double Act is about twins, Ruby and Garnet, who live with their father and his girlfriend. The have very different personalities, with Ruby being the most obnoxious... I mean "funny and outgoing". Their father moves them to a small country town to start a bookstore, and the twins try out for a play, but most of the book is spent with Ruby complaining about school, the girlfriend, etc. Still, Wilson's books are hard to put down, and Picky Reader is still working through the pile I brought back from Ireland and hasn't tired of her yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Adam Selzer Update/ New (Old) Horowitz title

I would love Adam Selzer if only for the parents in How to Get Suspended and Influence People. They cook theme dinners from vintage cookbooks. That, and I actually tried to get my daughter to decorate her room with schlocky old album covers like one of his characters, because it was such a fun idea. Mr. Selzer has FOUR new books out! Andrew North Blows up the World, for 3-6th graders, about a boy who thinks his father is a spy, The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History, which has solved my gift giving problem for what to get my children's history teachers, I Kissed A Zombie and I Liked It, which may well be the only zombie book I end up really liking this year, and, for adults, Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps, which is based on Mr. Selzer's time giving Haunted Chicago tours. Whew. I hope that the lack of sleep does not impede Mr. Selzer's further writings!

Saw the sequel to Horowitz's Groosham Grange (reviewed March 11, 2009) in the public library. Had it on my list to buy but didn't remember it at all. It was just as fun as the first book, with David in competition with another student to win the only school prize, The Unholy Grail. David is on the receiving end of many attempts to sabotage him, so the contest is a tie, which means that the two are sent to the British Museum to steal an artifact, and are then pursued by evil characters from a wax museum! (Including Sarah Ferguson, who isn't really evil.) These have a Harry Potter feel to them, with the Hogwarts type school, and if the publication date of 1988 is correct, this is very interesting!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bear with me

Read an article in the Columbus Dispatch by Amy Saunders on "Mom bloggers" who are getting paid to try products, and I feel compelled to state that I do not get paid for any reviews, and when I receive books from publishers, I do try to mention that fact. Sometimes, this is the only way I can get the book. Most of the books I review come from the public library.

Also feel a need to point out my "mission statement"; namely "One young adult librarian's attempt to read all the young adult literature in the world and shoot her mouth off about it." Middle school students are hard to buy books for, since they often fall between children's literature and teen literature, so my take on a book is colored by "Will it suit my students". There are perfectly wonderful books that don't, so I'm not going to buy them. Other students or librarians might think they are great. On the other hand, I might hate something personally but know that it will be a hit with my students.

Alfred Martino's Pinned (reviewed February 27, 2007) and Over the End Line are examples of great books that are just too old for my students. Jonny and Kyle have always been friends even though Kyle has the popularity that Jonny craves. Jonny is on his way to being a top soccer star and being popular, but all that changes after a drunken party when a girl is attacked by several of the soccer players and Jonny is too drunk to stop them. Riveting, interesting, and nuanced, this is just too much for middle school.

Michelle Kehm's Suzi Clue is also too old; some books dealing with prom go over well, but this one was unsatisfactory for reasons I can't quite name. Actually, the names were a little disconcerting, which is a personal sore point: a Spanish teacher named Ms. Picante, an indie girl named Jett Black, cheerleaders named Trixie Topp. The author has written for many adult magazines, so this just felt like a book for older high school students.

I really liked Patrick Carman's Atherton series, and am looking forward to his installation in The Thirty Nine Clues series, but his Skeleton Creek was something I couldn't get through. For one, it was produced in a handwriting font in all capital letters. This would not annoy students, but it felt like shouting. It is a mystery, with some horror, but is too slow paced for the students who prefer this sort of story. Too much time is spent on Ryan writing in his journal about how much he likes writing. The cheap Scholastic paper-over-board binding and the presence of a web site with videos that add to the story did not work in this book's favor. I can see it being popular at book fairs, however.

Fahy's Sleepless was really hard to pick up because the cover is just gross. Normally, I would think this is a big selling point, but again, the book gets off to a slow start. A group of students travels to New Orleans to help rebuild in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, and when they return home they find that they are walking in their sleep and killing people, probably due to a secret they all are keeping from their trip, or perhaps some voodoo at work. My students who like vampire/zombies/horror like a little faster paced story with a slightly lighter touch, so I think I'll pass. (Think Heather Brewer's The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd.)

Very excited about getting back to school! 6th graders start tomorrow!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fun Contest

Just found out about a contest that Peachtree Publishers is having. Fred Bowen writes a lot of easier to read sports stories and is sponsoring a contest to name a teacher in one of his books. To find out more about the contest, go to this web site:

To enter the contest, you can go here. I'm going to enter using the names of the GREAT Blendon Cross Country coaches who have suffered through two of my children!

Kevin Emerson

It just occurred to me that I don't have the 5th Emerson book yet(The Eternal Tomb), since I am behind on my book orders (tragically), but I need to get it soon. The really wonderful things about these books are the details that Mr. Emerson provides for everything-- food, transportation (I want to travel through the earth!), characters-- is wonderful. The Oliver's world is so complete that I am sucked right in. Even if I were to be reading during a meeting, which I would never, ever do, his writing would transport me. However, since I have been sitting in meetings (not reading), my brain is too addled to give good plot summaries, so the publisher's descriptions follow. If you haven't looked at these, they are a must, since 6th grade boys who are reading Twilight and really don't need to be will love them.

The Sunlight Slayings: Reunited with Emalie's cousin Dean, who has turned into a zombie, Oliver, Dean, and Emalie go off in search of why vampire children have been mysteriously turning into dust, but when they encounter the Fallen Brotherhood--a human group that fights vampires, Oliver learns troubling news.

Blood Ties: Oliver Nocturne, vacationing with his extended family in Morosia, a vampire city beneath Rome, is shocked to learn that Emalie has stowed away--believing the city holds the key to her mother's whereabouts--and must come up with a plan to keep his family in the dark about her presence.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Flanagan and assorted fiction

Flanagan's The Battle for Skandia was filled with action and adventure, and the part that I liked best was when the leaders from "enemy" countries band together to defeat a common enemy. Great, great stuff. The Sorcerer of the North wasn't as filled with fighting, which was a nice change. We get to see Will in his first posting, a little older and calmer. He then has to head up to Macindaw to investigate strange goings on. I really want to get The Siege of Macindaw, because we are left right in the most exciting part of the story... the books just ends! Still, it's always a good sign when I can't wait to get the next book in a series. If you don't have this series for your middle school library, get it right away.

Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty was very good, but more of a high school book. Girl spends summer in the same place she has her whole life, but things are changing. Bittersweet, charming, but middle school girls are not quite at this point yet. The same is true of the excellent After by Amy Efaw. Devon is a straight A, soccer playing good girl who has a baby and abandons it in the trash. She is then arrested and put through the legal system. What I liked about this was that it really seemed to get inside Devon's head-- the denial, the confusion, the surprise. Too much detail for middle school students, but really essential for a high school library.

Books I just couldn't get into: Bryant's Kaleidoscope Eyes, mainly because it is a novel in verse that reads like prose cut up into short lines, a pet peeve of mine. Berg's Hollywood and Maine, because the 70s setting didn't work for me. Thompson's Pyscho Major Syndrome was again too old, Gill's Soul Enchilada had a bizarre voice, and Parker's Chasing the Bear: a young Spenser novel was told in super short chapters broken up by Spenser sitting on a park bench with his psychiatrist girlfriend. Ruined the suspense/action of it all. Then, there was the horrible, horrible adult memoir by Nathan Rabin, The Big Rewind. Wow. Apparently, he's famous for writing and being on television shows, and yes, his youth was messed up, but that still doesn't excuse the level of vulgarities he uses. Great cover, horrible book.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Flanagan and some easier reads.

John Flanagan's book are understandably popular in my library. The Icebound Land really got me excited about the further adventures of Will. He and Evanlyn are stuck working as servants in Skandia, where it is really, really cold. Evanlyn settles into the kitchen to plot their escape when it warms up, but Will becomes addicted to warmweed after the rigors of working in the yard. With the help of Erak, who greatly admired Will's spirit when Will was under his charge, the two escape and make their way to a cabin to try to break Will of his addiction. Halt and Horace, on the other hand, are in trouble of their own, but being good fighters and clever men, defeat an evil war lord and better the people in his charge. Oooh. Tonight it's The Battle for Skandia, and the The Sorcerer of the North. Can't wait!

Sharon Draper does fabulous books for older students, so it's good to see her turn her hand to books for younger students. Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs is a mystery series, with four boys who build themselves a clubhouse and have secret passwords, etc. The Buried Bones Mystery is okay; I liked Sassy: Little Sister is Not My Name a little better, but this is fine stuff. I especially liked "School was over and the summer morning stretched ahead like a soft, sweet piece of bubble gum." I got a little confused about the four characters and had trouble telling Rico, Ziggy, Rashawn and Jerome apart, but the story is solid. There are six titles out so far.

I was a bit surprised that I liked R.L. LaFevers' The Forging of the Blade as much as I did, but it was due to the reason I don't care as much for easy reader books-- the characters seem a little flat and I can't get invested in them. Kenric was immediately appealing to me, fully developed, and I was therefore invested in his quest. This is book one of a trilogy, Lowthar's Blade. When Kenric's blacksmith father goes missing, he heads out to find him and becomes embroiled in a dastardly plot of Mordig to reforge a kingly blade with which he can then take over the kingdom. Because he has made friends with a goblin and bested a fey, Kenric has the means he needs to defeat Mordig. A little too neatly wrapped up, but I am ordering the next two books so that I can find out what happens!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mercy on These Teenage Chimps

Gary Soto is one of those authors that I either love or hate, and I loved this one. Ronnie wakes up one morning and feels chimplike-- his ears stick out, he has fuzz on his chin, he lopes along and has an insatiable appetite. His best friend feels the same way, and after embarrassing himself climbing on a ledge to impress a girl, takes to staying in a tree near his house. Ronnie sets out to find the girl and let her know what his friend is feeling, but Jessica is so impressive that he falls for her too. Taking place in just a few days, I loved the sheer goofiness of this book. My own teenage chimp turned up his nose at the slim volume and went off, I kid you now, to eat a banana. Maybe I enjoyed this because it hit so close to home, but I'm definitely getting a copy for the library.

Lurlene McDaniel's Prey

I was a little leery of this one, since Boy Toy (dealing with the same subject of sexual abuse of a teenage boy) was so off putting, but McDaniel treats this subject with understanding and a sense of moral ambiguity that rings true. Ryan is a high school freshman with an absent father and deceased mother. Lori is a 33-year-old, knock-dead attractive teacher. The two connect, and lapse into an affair that they both want. When Honey, Ryan's friend, is concerned about his lack of interest in high school matters, she discovers the truth and turns the teacher in. The very good point is made that if a female student were in a similar position with a male adult, no one would second guess that this was a Bad Thing, but the fact that the abused child is a boy leads to speculation that this is something he wanted. Which is was. So is it bad? McDaniel makes all these points clearly, never getting too graphic. I don't think this is a middle school title, but high schools certainly will be interested.

The low level fiction reading is depressing. The stand outs are the 20-year-old Martin Matthew titles by Paula Danziger, which are quite amusing, and a similar series by Sarah Weeks about a young boy named Phineas that also will be popular with boys who like funny stories. In general, though, they are Not Good Literature, and not even particularly fun to read, such as Suzanne Williams' Princess Power Books. These are for much younger readers, so I am not quite sure what students would think of them. I didn't care for them, but in the same way that I don't care much for 4th graders-- they are lovely when other people are dealing with them. I just don't want to. The covers look like bad Nickelodeon cartoons.

Guilty pleasure of the week: John F. Carson's 1967 The Mystery of the Tarnished Trophy. My father's elementary school librarian was deaccessioning books in 1975, and this was a title I was allowed to have because I helped her. It is probably the only sports book I read until about 1999, but I have kept it all these years. I was thinking about putting it in the library collection, but it really is such a wonderful story that I couldn't bring myself to. Walter's father was listed as missing in action in WWII, but his mother has never given up hope that he will return. She moves them to the father's hometown, hoping to find out what happened to him. Turns out he was accused of a theft and left in some disgrace, so Walter is determined to solve the mystery. Beautifully written and evocative of a lost era, it still makes me happy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Burning Bridge

John Flanagan's The Ranger's Apprentice series is wildly popular in my library, and I can see why. The books are packed with action and written in a way that makes you turn each page thinking "And then? Then?" This one took me a while to get into, but I am blaming the summer doldrums. Will, the ranger's apprentice, is hanging out training with Halt and Horace when Morgarath's evil plans start to emerge. Wargals are traveling about destroying buildings and kidnapping all of the miners. But why? Halt gets sent off to help an emissary deal with an uncooperative leader, and Will and Horace (as well as Gilan, whom they meet later) have their lot thrown in with Evanlyn, who may or may not be a princess. The three stumble upon Morgarath's plan-- he is building a bridge over an impassable canyon and tunneling under a mountain in order to attack. Horace's fighting skills come in to play, and I won't spoil things by describing the very exciting scene near the end of the book.

Good stuff, and well-written, too. I am going to read The Icebound Land, but devote some time this week to reading some of the low level series that were purchased for summer intervention. If you deal with students in 3-6 grade, stay tuned!

Friday, August 07, 2009

More Irish Libraries

Killarney was my favorite place in Ireland, and their library was also one of the prettier ones. The collection for teens was a little sad, but Irish libraries have had such horrible budget cuts. It was interesting that this library charges adults E.30 per book, but children are not charged.

This is one of the Dublin Public Libraries; the other I visited was in an older building. This was in the Ilac shopping centre-- I had to stop and ask at a shop where it was. The security people actually yelled at me for taking this picture-- apparently, malls are terrorist targets. I feel so dangerous.

This is what I would love to have my library look like-- the National Library. The interior of this was lovely. There was some construction going on, so I didn't look around too much.


Bookworm Readers is having a great contest to win some interesting looking books on friendship. If my Harry Potter contest was any indication, sometimes there are so few entries that it's easy to win, so I'd enter!

My reading is still going poorly-- still reading adult beach-reads like Nora Roberts. Next week, when I get back into the building and can commune with my beloved books, I will do better. Right now, they are shampooing the carpet, so I can't get in. Good news: the custodians buffed the tile and removed all traces of where the book shelves that were removed used to be.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Jacky Daydream

Jacqueline Wilson seems to have several autobiographies, or at least different versions of her story. The one that I bought to bring home was Jacky Daydream: The Story of Her Childhood, published in 2007 by Corgi Yearling. I enjoyed this one, since Wilson tells mainly the story of her childhood, and ties events in her own life to characters in her books. One of my friends thought this was a little annoying and precious, but I can see girls who have read a lot of Wilson books feeling clever when they are able to name the character in a similar circumstance. This is nicely supplemented with pictures and documents and was a fun read. It did discuss, briefly, the fact that both Wilson's father and mother may have had "friends"; this is also the case in many of her books. Girls who read the books will not be overly shocked by this admission, and there aren't a lot of details.

Guilt admission: I've been reading Maeve Binchy books, since there is a new one out about Polish immigration into Ireland and I haven't been able to get it from the library yet. (There's also a Cathy Cassidy, Angel Cake, dealing with the same topic.) I have training on our new Destiny circulation system Thursday and Friday, then am allowed into the building next week. Right now, my desk chair is on top of the circulation desk, and all is chaos, so I don't even want to go in to work.

In a related note, rumor has it that the architects have decided to embrace the "bistro" look for the library. I'm not sure exactly what this means, although the end result will probably be a library that looks like the love child of Panera Bread and Pottery Barn. *Sigh* As long as it does not impede functionality, I'll be fine with it. In fact, the more fashionable, the better. In 15 years, it will be just as dated as the Brady Bunch look is now, and I will laugh.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Werewolves and vampires and psychics...oh my!

Even though I usually complain about the sheer quantity of vampire books I am forced to read, I am utterly tickled by Marlene Perez's Daisy Giordano series: Dead is the New Black, Dead is a State of Mind, and the latest, Dead is So Last Year. Daisy is a psychic living in Nightshade, a town with many paranormal citizens. Her mother works on cases with the police department; Daisy gets a job at Slim's, a diner run by an invisible man. When Daisy thinks she sees her father, who vanished under mysterious circumstances, she uncovers a plot to destroy Nightshade.

I liked Daisy. The juxtaposition between the paranormal activities and the mundane world of an older teenager amused me greatly. The writing is effortless and engaging, something I've been missing in YA books this summer. Fluffy? A bit. Fun? You bet. Just what I needed to get me out of my summer reading doldrums. I hope that another volume will be out soon!