Friday, October 31, 2014

Book review - Killer Instinct

Title: Killer Instinct
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre: mystery/thriller
Similar books: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
                     The Body in the Woods by April Henry
What a relief. A sequel that lives up to the promise of the first book.

Summary: Cassie's mother trained her to read people. It comes easily to her and has served her well, especially now that she's part of a clandestine FBI team. Called the Naturals, these teens have skills well suited to crime solving - lie detection, emotion reading, statistics and spacial reasoning. Together they work to solve cold cases. Now they are being pulled into an active case. A killer appears to be copying the crimes of the father of one of their own. The only way to help Dean is to stop the killer before he takes any more lives.
My Opinion: I really liked the first book in this series, The Naturals, so I was both excited and wary of this second novel. Barnes does not let the reader down. This is just as exciting as book 1, with new complications, the program hanging in the balance, and beginning to peer more into the personal lives of the team, and further character development. I was a little less happy with the eventual identity of the killer, but that  is a minor complaint. If the series continues in this vein it could be pretty excellent.
More information: Killer Instinct releases November4.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Happy Halloween!

I'd like to invite you to join me on a little reading journey. The year is 1992. I am 8 years old and my third grade teacher frequently reads aloud to us. In the month of October she reads us Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. By the end of the first chapter, I am completely hooked. That year, I read every book in the series as fast as I can, including Return to Howliday Inn which is released that spring. 
This is probably the edition we read from
Fast forward a decade. Like all beloved books, Bunnicula has slowly drifted out of my life. My younger brother, now 10, has read the series too and tells me about a new book in a related series, It Came From Beneath the Bed. I read it and agree with him that it's ridiculous but funny. This is my reintroduction to Bunnicula and company and I wonder if it will hold up to another read. Again, I race through all of the books. I fall back in love with the slightly dim but loyal Harold, the suspicious and dry Chester, the mysterious Bunnicula. I rediscover the vivid atmosphere and fun loving humor of the series. And I praise the Howes for being awesome.

Fast forward one more decade. Now that I am a librarian, Bunnicula has become one of my perennial recommendations for slightly scary books. And I have one more new experience with Bunnicula. I have to confess, I'm not a fan of audio books. I look around, I don't know what to do with my hands, and I get distracted. But I'm determined to try them so I can recommend them to patrons. So, I decide to give the Bunnicula audio book a try with the idea that if I know I love the story I will pay more attention to what is happening. To my delight, I discover that this audio is read by Victor Garber, who I adore. It's one of only a handful of audios that I manage to listen to in its entirety. 
And that is why I will continue to recommend Bunnicula to young readers. When a book sticks with you your entire life, you know it is something special.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl; Legends of Zita the Spacegirl; The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita is probably one of my all time favorite heroes. She doesn't have any special gifts, isn't a genius or magic. She's just a girl trying to get herself and her best friend home and trying to do a little good along the way. Each of the books has a distinct plot while contributing to Zita's efforts to return to Earth. As such, each book teaches its own lesson and the reader grows up a little with Zita as she learns. These are great books to read and reread. Each panel is complex, easy to understand, and lovely to look at. Hatke has peopled his worlds with a wide variety of loveable creatures. The loyal Mouse. The murderous yet honorable One. The innocent Strong-Strong. The fearful Robot Randy. The hard to trust Piper. The frightening yet well-meaning Imprint-o-tron. The mysterious Madrigal. I defy anyone not to love Zita just a little bit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
In the Walled City, everything is run by crime lords and gangs. Teens either run drugs or work in the brothels. None of them tend to last very long. Mei Yee is trapped in a high end brothel. Disguised as a boy, Jin hunts for Mei Yee. Mostly, though, she hides out and runs. Then there is the mysterious Dai who offers Jin a chance to rescue Mei Yee.
I've just started reading this one but so far it seems pretty exciting.

What did you recently finish reading?
Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Cassie is a teen with a gift for profiling. She's part of a secret FBI team of teens with natural abilities in crime solving. The Naturals, as they are known, are only meant to work on cold cases. They got involved in an active investigation once before and it nearly ended in disaster. But, victims of a brutal new serial are beginning to turn up and the case has ties to one member of the team. Can they catch the killer or is this one too smart for them?
I thoroughly enjoyed Naturals, the first book in this series so this easily made it onto my "to read" list. I'm always wary of sequels, but this one holds up well. Plenty of action, tension, and personal complications leading to a conclusion that brings the Naturals to a "new normal." 
What do you think you will read next?
The Odyssey of Falling by Paige Crutcher
The personal odyssey of an "odd" girl. Could be pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book review - Beau, Lee, the Bomb, and Me

Title: Beau, Lee, the Bomb, and Me
Author: Mary McKinley
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler
                     Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
Kind of a disappointment

Summary: Rusty is used to being alone in high school. She is one of the weird kids - too smart for her own good and overweight. She doesn't expect things to change until college. Then she meets new kid Beau. Beau is the target of all the high school bullies and they become fast friends along with Rusty's cartooning friend Leoni. When the bullying gets violent Beau has had enough. He decides to run away to San Francisco (where his uncle lives). Rusty and Leoni are determined not to let him go alone.
My Opinion: I wanted to like this book far more than I actually did. Road trips usually make for great plots, especially as the physical journey can be representative of the emotional journey. That aspect was certainly present here. The book also asks us to consider some pretty big ideas: equality, abuse, bullying, and self-esteem to name a few. Those are the positives. I have two specific complaints. 1) Much of the plot (and particularly the conclusion) is idealized. It's how we wish things would go for kids who are facing something difficult. 2) It has a tendency to preach. Instead of guiding us organically through these big ideas, various characters go on rants telling the others, and thus the reader, why the way we look at things is wrong. I know very few teens (or adults for that matter) who listen to more than a few lines of a lecture before tuning it all out.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, October 27, 2014

Animal jars

With my craft fair now less than three weeks away all of my crafting time is focused on preparation. Here's one of the items I'll be selling. These jars are made from standard sized baby food jars, E-6000 craft glue, acrylic paint, and Mod Podge.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Book review - In Real Life

Title: In Real Life
Author: Cory Doctorow
Genre: graphic novel/realistic fiction
Similar books: For the Win by Cory Doctorow
                     Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer
mind expanding

Summary: Anda started playing Coarsegold Online after a presentation at her school. As a member of an all female guild, she feels like she can finally be her true self. In the game she is a fighter, a leader, dependable and she makes several new friends. When she happens upon a young Chinese gold farmer, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about the game and about her world. She'd like to help Raymond, but the situation is far more complicated than she realizes.
My Opinion: This is the perfect book to argue for the value of graphic novels. It's exciting, filled with fight scenes and a tight, quick moving plot. The art is phenomenal. It is somewhat cartoony with loads of details, great use of light, and a nicely muted color scheme that adds to the atmosphere. Most importantly it is thought provoking. Doctorow asks the reader to consider issues of social justice, thoughtful consumption, politics, economics, and effective protest. This will be a great book for teens beginning to think about their place in the larger world.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pick 6: Horror

I know I've done a horror list already but given that Halloween is almost here, this seems to be the appropriate topic. So, here are six more books published in the last six months populated with monsters, ghosts, and other creepy things.

6 new horror novels

1. Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

2. The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

3. Amity by Micol Ostow

4. The Book of Bad Things by Dan Poblocki

5. Mary: the Summoning by Hillary Monahan

6. All Those Broken Angels by Peter Adam Salomon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Beau, Lee, the Bomb, and Me by Mary McKinley
Rusty is used to being alone in high school. She is one of the weird kids - too smart for her own good and overweight. She doesn't expect things to change until college. Then she meets new kid Beau. Beau is the target of all the high school bullies and they become fast friends along with Rusty's cartooning friend Leoni. When the bullying gets violent Beau has had enough. He decides to run away to San Francisco (where his uncle lives). Rusty and Leoni are determined not to let him go alone.
So far this one reminds me of the classic road trip story. Take three teens and set them on the road for a series of misadventures. Rusty's voice is strong and mostly endearing (if a little preachy at times). 
What did you recently finish reading?
Mr. Katz is a Zombie by M.C. Lesh
When he goes along with his parents to investigate reports of a haunted house, J.D. meets a ghost who asks him to remove a dangerous book from the house. He expects that to be the end of it but then the book falls into the wrong hands. Specifically, the hands of his best friend Rodney who accidentally turns their teacher, Mr. Katz, into a zombie. It is up to J.D., Rodney, and twins Randy and Ricky to turn him back.
This is a good zombie book for younger kids. Not particularly violent and only moderately gross. Personally, I'd have liked to have seen a little more character development but the plot was relatively solid.

What do you think you will read next?
Watched by CJ Lyons
A tale of web crime and blackmail. This could be a very exciting read.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book review - Every Breath

Title: Every Breath
Author: Ellie Marney
Genre: mystery
Similar books: Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
                     The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
Engrossing, a little dark

Summary: When Rachel Watts moved to Melbourne and became friends with James Mycroft she never expected that the friendship would get her involved in a mystery. A late night visit to the Melbourne Zoo uncovers the body of Homeless Dave, an eccentric friend of Mycroft's who has been violently murdered. Mycroft's personal connection with the victim paired with his obsession with forensics draws them into the investigation. His extreme focus and lack of boundaries, paired with Rachel's willingness to follow him and the painful secrets they both bear, gets them into trouble.
My Opinion: The comparisons between this book and every other Sherlock Holmes story are going to be unavoidable - Marney named her characters Mycroft and Watts for a reason after all. Rather than try to subtly weave in all of the comparisons she just lays it all on the line, even having the characters point out their resemblance to the famed detective pair. By making the similarity obvious, Marney frees up her book to focus on more important things: the development of the plot and the characters. The pacing and atmosphere are excellent, giving the novel a dark and gritty feel. The characters are nicely developed. My main complaint is with the revelation of the killer. Because of the description of the plot provided, both on NetGalley and Amazon, I guessed at the killer's identity pretty early on. If you have not yet, do yourself a favor and DON'T read any plot descriptions. Simply immerse yourself in this story of two broken teens solving a murder.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, October 20, 2014

More finger puppets

As part of my preparation for craft fair season I've been making more finger puppets. Here are some of my recent favorites.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Batman and Puppets

When we discovered that 2014 marked the 75th year of Batman it seemed like the perfect idea for a program. So, Wednesday we had had our Batman celebration. With participants ranging in age from under a year old all the way up to adults, it was a major success. Plus, it was the perfect excuse to wear a costume.
Batman/superhero book display
Arkaham Asylum, photo op

The Streets of Gotham obstacle course
This was the end of the obstacle course and my favorite part - carry a baby over a pool of lava
Where does the Joker belong, other than in Arkham
Participants had the option to have their photo taken with these sound effect bubbles
Mr. Peanut served nicely as The Penguin.

Also this week we had our monthly puppet workshop. As always, the kids had some interesting puppets to share.
This was the original we made as an example
I love the eyes on this one. A little creepy but awesome.
Another dragon
This monster has excellent red eyes and sharp teeth
And this ogre is the complete package: warts, ear hair, snaggle tooth, and (if you look really closely) green glitter boogers crusting its nostril.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book review - Stitching Snow

Title: Stitching Snow
Author: R.C. Lewis
Genre: fantasy/sci-fi
Similar books: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
                    The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Loads of fun, a little dark

Summary: It has been eight years since Essie left home. Years that she spent hiding out on Thanda, a harsh mining planet, fixing mining drones, fighting in cage matches, and doing her best to avoid anything having to do with Windsong. All those years of avoidance come to an end when the mysterious Dane crashes in a field near Essie's mining colony on Thanda. Dane is keeping a lot of secrets and will admit only that he is hunting for a very special treasure. Essie just wants him gone. She's starting to get too comfortable with Dane and fears she'll let slip her own massive secrets. But increasing strife on Windsong means that neither of them will be able to stay away for long.
My opinion: This is a very different twist on the story of Snow White. Many of the more familiar elements are present (the dwarfs as robots, the poisoned apple as a necklace, the guard meant to kill her, that sort of thing) Lewis does not hold too strictly to the original plot, choosing instead to allow the plot to develop naturally, only touching back to the original story occasionally. Lewis has said in interviews that she centered her plot around a particular question: Why doesn't Snow White approach her father and those loyal to him for protection from the step-mother. While some versions of the tale kill the king early on, this book takes a darker, more predatory approach. this means that the primary conflict for Essie is one of personal safety versus social duty. While this book takes place on another planet, which can be distancing, Lewis does a decent job of world-building in such a way that we remain engrossed in the story, explaining politics and power structure of a planetary system without losing dramatic tension. If you like unique takes on familiar stories you'll enjoy this one.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Picture books for everyone

Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin

Is there anything most kids love better than pizza? We can all relate to the way Rubin waxes eloquent about this king of foods. And Dan Salmieri's illustrations are spot on. His raccoon is equal parts pathetic and mischievous. And the plot is downright silly, with a broom enthusiast's club and broom bots with laser-beam eyes. Each page has loads of fun details to enjoy. The humor has just enough layering for old and young alike to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Every Breath by Ellie Marney
When Rachel Watts moved to Melbourne and became friends with James Mycroft she never expected that the friendship would get her involved in a mystery. A late night visit to the Melbourne Zoo uncovers the body of Homeless Dave, an eccentric friend of Mycroft's who has been violently murdered. Mycroft's personal connection with the victim paired with his obsession with forensics draws them into the investigation. His extreme focus and lack of boundaries, paired with Rachel's willingness to follow him, gets them into trouble.
My fondness for retellings is no secret, so when I came across this modern reimagined Sherlock Holmes I knew I had to read it. It's a little darker than other recent retellings but I'm enjoying it so far, particularly the interplay between Mycroft and Watts.
What did you recently finish reading?
Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen
The night of the Perseid meteor shower Arianne spotted a strange ball of light in the fields around her family horse farm. A year later their pony gives birth to a baby centaur. The family must decide how to keep this strange creature safe without losing their farm. How long can they keep such a miraculous and magical being a secret? Especially when Arianne's little brother, a victim of Thalidomide related birth defects, forms a fast friendship with the centaur and their horse boarding clients are growing suspicious.
In tone, if not in plot, this book puts me in mind of A Wrinkle in Time. The magic and commonplace combine nicely, the presence of the centaur serving to bring to light the problems and issues their family is not facing. Yolen's writing is nearly flawless as always, her characters nuanced and likeable. 
What do you think you will read next?
Press Play by Eric Devine
A tale of self-esteem, hazing, and the choice to report an incident when it might cost everything you've been working toward. Not my usual choice of book but I've been trying read outside of my comfort zone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book review - Jackaby

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Genre: fantasy/mystery
Similar books: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
                     The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
All the best of Doctor Who and Sherlock combined into one cool mystery

Summary: Tired of the restrained life her parents had planned for her, Abigail Rook ran away from her school in search of adventure. Now she's landed in the United States and in desperate need of work. Her desperation leads her to Jackaby, an odd detective with an eye for the supernatural. Abigail hires on as Jackaby's assistant and finds herself in the middle of a serial murder investigation. The police are certain a regular man is to blame. Jackaby suspects something darker.
My opinion: When I saw this one described as "Doctor Who meets Sherlock" I was both thrilled and a more than a little bit skeptical. I'm a fan of both shows and don't really go for pale imitations. I needn't have been concerned. Jackaby is the perfect combination of the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes: self-assured, self-important, quirky, awkward, funny. He plots things out six steps in advance and is knowledgeable in everything yet misses the commonplace. The pacing was excellent, the twists sufficiently surprising. Abigail makes a good foil to Jackaby, keeping him grounded and giving the reader a more relatable character. Combining mystery, fantasy creatures, and a touch of romance, this novel has a little bit of something for everyone.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, October 13, 2014

Customized shoes

A friend this summer asked me to customize some canvas sneakers for her. At last, I've finished them. I painted the canvas with simple acrylic paint and seal-coated them with Mod Podge. I'm pretty pleased with the results.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Book review - BZRK Apocalypse

Warning! If you have not read BZRK or BZRK Reloaded this review contains spoilers.

Title: BZRK Apocalypse
Author: Michael Grant
Genre: Sci-fi
Similar books: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
                     Feed by M.T. Anderson
Set your jaw - this isn't an easy ride

Summary: When we last saw the members of BZRK they were triumphant - sort of. They had successfully cured Vincent of his biot-loss insanity - mostly. They stopped Burnofsky's attempt to destroy humanity - at a great cost. And the Armstrong twins suffered a great blow with the loss of their Doll Ship. Sadie and Noah (Plath and Keats) were happy to follow Lear's instruction to lay low. It isn't long, though, before they are drawn back into the thick of things, beginning when their ship is bombed. It's time for the final confrontation between biots and nanobots in their fight for humanity. And for Lear, and his motivations, to at last be revealed.
My opinion: From the first page of BZRK I've been fascinated by this trilogy. You'll never look at the human body the same after having it described as a landscape in detail as Grant does in this series. The battle between biot and nannobot is fantastic, with biots more responsive but leaving their operator far more vulnerable to crippling attack. This final volume has the expected fights, both "in the meat" and up in the macro. it also takes us much deeper into motivations: of the BZRK members, Bug Man, Burnofsky, and particularly of the elusive Lear. It blurs the lines between good and evil then points out that blurriness. Readers, be prepared. This final book is far more grim and gruesome than the prior novels, though not without purpose. As the title suggests, this is a world on the edge of total collapse so things are going to get bloody before the somber, yet satisfying, conclusion.
More information: BZRK Apocalypse releases October 14.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Books on Screen

Growing up, I read Jumanji (and the other Chris VanAllsburg books) frequently, probably because of the complexity of the illustrations and the pure imagination of the plot. The movie takes that plot and adds new dimensions: the rivalry between Judy and Peter and Alan Parrish trapped within the game. This lends a lot more drama and tension to the movie than was present in the original book. Still, the general plot and the spirit of the book remain as well as some of the key illustrations (like the lion roaring and the chimps on the refrigerator). 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho
Since they were small Althea and Oliver have been best friends, perfect foils. She is impulsive and artistic; he is thoughtful and scientific. Now they are 17 and starting to realize that they might want more than friendship. As they individually explore their changing emotions a mysterious illness grips Oliver, causing him to sleep for weeks at a time and causing both of their lives to spiral out of control.
A little slow starting, this book begins with a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between these two teens and the way it is beginning to shift. I'm intrigued to see how things develop as they discover more about Oliver's illness and the consequences of the choices Althea makes while her friend sleeps.
What did you recently finish reading?
Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
Shane Burcaw is a 21 year-old with a degenerative disease - Spinal Muscular Atrophy. In this memoir he describes his childhood in all its glory: diagnosis, physical therapy, disastrous first crushes, attempts at sports, and more.
This memoir doesn't attempt to gain our sympathy, only understanding. Most readers will appreciate that. He wants us to see the person sitting in the wheelchair, not the disease that puts him there. He describes what could be absolutely humiliating incidents with humor. The message to choose joy whenever possible is a strong current throughout the memoir and keeps the book upbeat.
What do you think you will read next?
BZRK Apocalypse by Michael Grant
I blew through both BZRK and BZRK Reloaded so I am absolutely thrilled to have the conclusion to this trilogy waiting for me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book review - A Song for Ella Grey

Title: A Song for Ella Grey
Author: David Almond
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
                     Pay the Piper by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Not really my cup of tea

Summary: Claire and Ella have been best friends since they met as small children. They shared everything. Things are beginning to change. Their final year of school has begun and they expect to be headed in different directions before too long. Then they meet Orpheus, a wandering musician who enchants both girls (as well as most of their friends) with his good looks and haunting music. Ella, in particular, is entranced by Orpheus and he returns her feelings. Claire tries to be happy for her friend, not knowing that worse things than losing Ella to love are coming.
My Opinion: I'd love to say that I loved this book. I really enjoy retellings, especially of less common tales. This is based on Orpheus and Eurydice, a tale that I've only heard once or twice. I've got to say, though, that I'm not a huge fan of Almond's writing style. I read pretty much all of his books because I love his ideas but I find his style hard to connect with. His narrators always seem somewhat distant emotionally. In this case, the odd mystical style of the narration actually works in the book' favor. It lends an extra "fairy tale" air to the plot. So, I really wanted to love this book and I'm sure many people will. It is magical, mystical, musical, and grief stricken. It's just not something I'll be likely to read again.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, October 6, 2014

Christmas ornaments (already!)

Now that October is upon us, the Christmas rush has begun. Not only is it time to be getting to work on handmade presents, it's also the season to be preparing for Christmas craft fairs. To that end I've been making Christmas ornaments. Here are four I've made recently out of polymer clay.