Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in review

Something about the end of the year begs us to look back. I think it’s the new calendar. Somehow the physical act of replacing Spiderman with Transformers makes us nostalgic. Ha ha.

In all seriousness, 2014 was a pretty amazing year for books. Of the 400ish books I read this year I picked 14 that really stood out to me. So, here it is, in no particular order:

14 noteworthy books published in 2014

1. A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
    Really, read this one. It’s magic.
2. The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
    The best controlling mother character. Ever
3. Tomboy by Liz Prince
    It was the first memoir I’d ever read about someone I really related to. Plus it’s an awesome graphic novel.
4. Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
    You’ll never read another dystopia that works out like this one.
5. The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swan Downey
    As a librarian, I’m a fan of any book that supports freedom of expression and portrays librarians as action heroes
6. Sekret by Linday Smith
    Psychics in Soviet Russia. Normally I’m not a huge fan of psychics but the setting really made this one work for me.
7. Noggin by John Corey Whaley
    Come on. It’s John Corey Whaley. Sure, head transplants are a weird topic but this book is about so much more.
8. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
    There is literally nothing I can say about this book without spoilers. Just trust me. If you haven't already, read this one. And if you have read it, you know exactly what I mean.
9. Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga
    I actually read the whole Jasper Dent trilogy this year. It’s grim but seriously engrossing.
10. The League of Seven by Alan Gatz
     An interesting take on the whole “mythology kids” subgenre
11. Revolution by Deborah Wiles
     The 60’s are quickly becoming my favorite decade for historical fiction. And this trilogy is absolutely fantastic.
12. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
     Troubled sibling relationships. Plus weird kids who are happy being weird.
13. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
     An adventuresome graphic novel that includes a solid dose of social consciousness
14. Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe
     Read this one all the way through. Then read what Crowe was doing with the haiku form. Your mind will be blown.

So, there you have it. 14 books that stuck with me this year. Here’s hoping 2015 brings us another amazing assortment of books

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book review - All the Bright Places

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Paper Towns by John Green
                     Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Oh. My. Goodness.

Summary: Finch and Violet met on the ledge of their school bell tower. Violet is a well liked "good girl" still overwhelmed by her sister's death a year ago; Finch is the school freak, know to behave impetuously and at times violently. When they pair up on a class project they start to look at the world and themselves differently. As Violet learns to embrace life, though, Finch's is slipping away.
My opinion: This book simply blew me away. I Let me list the positives: 1)The sensitive portrayal of metal illness. The characters are fully fleshed out, dynamic and human. 2)The detailed exploration of the undoing that is grief. Finch doesn't judge Violet's continuing grief. He simply helps her to keep living. 3)The joy of the every day. Really, the way these characters find magic and beauty and meaning in just the smallest of things is wonderful. 4)The message about labels. Labels can, by their very nature, harm people. 5)The sense of atmosphere and character. And while the ending is not the one I would have picked, it is realistic and satisfying.
More information: All the Bright Places releases January 6th.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Minion mirror

I found this small compact with a magnetic clasp at Dollar Tree. A little model paint allowed me to customize it into a minion for my sister.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas

I hope this holiday finds you safe, warm, and surrounded by loved ones. I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging. I hope you'll rejoin me next week.

P.S. If you enjoy this picture, you should check out Torchwood Babiez

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book review - Princess of Thorns

Title: Princess of Thorns
Author: Stacey Jay
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
                     A Curse Dark of Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
Exactly what I had hoped it would be

Summary: As a child Princess Aurora, daughter of Sleeping Beauty, was fairy blessed with courage and strength but cursed with the complete obedience of any man she ever kissed. Now a teen, Aurora must use all of her blessings on a quest to save her brother and her kingdom from the machinations of the ogre queen who has taken over the land. Disguised as a boy she enlists the help of the cursed Prince Niklaas to raise an army and stop the plot to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
My opinion: This is exactly what a retelling should be. It has mined source material from three or four fairy tales and used that to create an entirely new original story. Aurora is a delightfully flawed character who unnecessarily complicates her own situation. It's a complex mythology with a lot of plot complications that make for a pretty thrilling read. While some of the relationships are predictable, the quality of the plot more than makes up for that minor failing.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Picture books for everyone

Santa Mouse and the Ratdeer by Thacher Hurd

I knew I wanted to highlight a Christmas book today and I spent ages considering my favorites from my childhood. How Spider Saved Christmas. The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree. Santa Mouse. Santa's Toy Shop. Little Critter's Merry Christmas Mom and Dad. Morris's Disappearing Bag. All were much beloved and entertaining. But I finally settled on Santa Mouse and the Ratdeer. In this book, Santa Mouse is having a rough start to Christmas Eve. He can hardly even get his boots on. Christmas is likely to be a disaster when he crashes his sleigh in the North Woods. A little kindness from an eager little girl is all it takes to set things right. what really sells this one for me is the ratdeer. I find it highly entertaining to recite their names; Blunder, Basher, Lousy, Loopy, Bugsy, and (my personal favorite) Twizzlebum. This is a slightly off-beat Christmas story which can be a nice change of pace from the classics.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen
To escape darkness in her past, Clara is traveling the world, following her father's journal and avoiding attachments. Then she meets Elias. He is angry and lives in a world of his own making, drawing incessantly, muttering to himself, and accusing her of spying on him. When Elias accidentally takes Clara's bag, she finds herself drawn into his world. He has two personalities: the angry and distant Salem Elias and the gentle Elias Clara finds herself falling in love with.
This is certainly a unique concept. I'm looking forward to seeing the way this book plays out.
What did you recently finish reading?
Tut: the Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover
Tutankhamen didn't die as a young man as we all believe. Instead, Osiris gifted him with immortality. He's been living as a 14 year-old ever since. Now he lives with Gilgamesh and Horus in a Washington DC apartment. Tut lives a pretty average life. But those days are over now that his evil Uncle Horemheb is after him with the full force of the cult of Set behind him.
This is likely to go over well with fans of Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, and that ilk. While a little foreknowledge of Egyptian history and mythology would be helpful in understanding this book it isn't necessary. While it is not for everyone, there is a section of young readers who will enjoy this one.
What do you think you will read next?
Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland
A coming of age story in the digital age. This has potential.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book review - King Dork Approximately

Title: King Dork Approximately
Author: Frank Portman
Genre: realistic fiction/humor
Similar books: Two Parties, One Tux, and a Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath by Steven Goldman
                     Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo
Be ready to laugh

Summary: Life is changing quickly for Tom, the titular King Dork. in the wake of scandal his assistant principal has vanished and the school is closing its doors. For the first time in his school career Tom will be separated from his best friend Sam. Can Tom figure out the social structure of his new school, make his band a success, and get a real girlfriend at last?
My opinion: King Dork got a chuckle and an eyeroll from me. Fun, I figured, but not really something to write home about. This sequel, in the other hand, felt far more clever and noteworthy. I marked several passages I wanted to remember, either because they were thought-provoking or stinking funny. There is sufficient explanation for those who haven't read the first volume but not so much as to annoy those who have. A clever read for the dorks among us.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, December 15, 2014

Six faces of Doctor Who

For some time now, I've wanted to repaint a Rubix cube. With Christmas on the way I finally have an excuse. I found a cube at Dollar Tree, peeled off all of the stickers, and painted these Doctor Who themed images on it with acrylic paint. While the central screw makes painting the images a little tricky, I'm pretty pleased with the final result.

I managed to line u the hole with the angel's mouth on this one.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book review - Suspicion

Title: Suspicion
Author: Alexandra Monir
Genre: mystery/magical realism
Similar books: Impossible by Nancy Werlin
                     Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Not my favorite

Summary: Seven years ago, Imogen's parents died in a fire that destroyed the family manor. Ever since, she has been living in New York with her new guardians. When she is forced to return to England, Imogen learns that the Rockford estate holds many dark secrets, at least one of which will change her life.
My Opinion: I go back and forth with this book. On the one hand, it has pretty good atmosphere. The world of Rockford manor is nicely described, plenty of background description to help us visualize the setting. The characters are okay. Imogen and her friends have decent depth. Everyone else is sort of nebulous and changeable. A certain amount of uncertainty is necessary given the nature of the plot, but some of the lack of characterization goes too far. The plot is sort of messy, one moment tight and tense, the next loose and kind of sloppy. I thought the ending was a little haphazard and could have used a little more foreshadowing. Still, it's a pretty decent read especially if you like magic and English gentry.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Books on screen

Basil of Baker Street/The Great Mouse Detective

These days, both this book and the movie are pretty obscure. In spite of reading the book and seeing the movie, both during my childhood, I only recently connected the two. To be honest, they don't have terribly much in common apart from character names. In the book, Basil idolizes Sherlock Holmes and spends many hours observing the great detective. the movie's Basil may as well be Holmes and barely seems aware of his human counterpart. The plots are entirely different. The book deals with the kidnap-for-ransom of two mouse children, lured away by their abductors with candy. In the movie it is the father who has been taken by the villainous Ratigan in order to overthrow the queen. Perhaps the Disney writers thought that children would respond poorly to the notion of being kidnapped (though you would think the idea of having your parents stolen would be far worse) or perhaps they were simply looking for a plucky young heroine. Notably, each version of the story tells us something about the era. the book was published in the 50s and stars adults who rescue children who's foolishness allowed them to be captured. The movie was released in the late 80s and is far more action oriented, showing a young girl acting on her own. 
If you're fond of an older writing style, a traditional detective, stick with the book. But if you like more humor, songs, and child heroes the movie is well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman
At the end of King Dork, Tom had suffered a head wound that led to some mild memory loss and a lot of sympathetic attention from girls. Now that things are getting back to normal, Tom finds himself questioning just what normal really is. The rest of his tenth grade year finds him questioning relationships, secrets, rock and roll, and pretty much everything else he thought he understood.
I found King Dork, pretty amusing and endearing. As I've started reading this sequel I imagine my reaction will be the same. The narration style is a little different with this one, though, so be prepared for that.
What did you recently finish reading?
The Sham by Ellen Allen
Ever since she moved to Clevesham a year ago, Emily has been planning for the day when she will leave. With that day nearly upon her, she's trying to stay focused, to avoid trouble. Then she meets Jack, a mysterious boy who's been living with a group of Travelers. Jack is noble, handsome, and sick. His memory is failing and his body seems to be falling apart. Clevesham seems to be falling apart too. Strange graffiti has been showing up around town. And girls are disappearing. How will Emily know who to trust and what to believe?
This is a slightly odd, rather British, mystery. I really wasn't clear on exactly what was happening until the very end. 
What do you think you will read next?
Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
Yay for fractured fairy tales! This one promises to take Sleeping Beauty from a passive character, waiting for rescue, to a hero in her own right.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Redwall mice

My niece has a birthday coming up. As the librarian aunt, I always give the kids books. But I also like to give them something fun. This has gotten harder as the kids get older. Now that my niece will officially be a teenager, I had a hard time thinking of what to give her. Luckily, she's a big Redwall fan, so I was able to put together this little polymer clay figure inspired by Father Abbott.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book review - Rebels By Accident

I'm very excited today to be a stop on Patricia Dunn's virtual tour for her new book Rebels by Accident. Here is my review!

Title: Rebels by Accident
Author: Patricia Dunn
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Does My Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah
                      #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler

Summary: Miriam has always been a rule-follower. The one time she decides to rebel by sneaking out to go to a party, she and her best friend Deanna are arrested. Her parents have had enough. They send her to Egypt to spend the rest of the school year with her grandmother. Miriam expects to spend the year locked in her room, studying. Egypt has a lot more to offer than she expected, especially when a girl named Asmaa incites a rebellion.
My Opinion: There is a lot to like about this book. Miriam and Deanna are realistic, likeable characters. They make bad choices and are frequently guided by fear. the atmosphere is excellent. We see Egypt as this odd combination of the traditional and modern (much like my favorite character, Sittu). It does feel like a lot happens in this book in a very short time. We're talking about a matter of days. This is only a minor complaint, though. Just consider all that this book accomplishes: a more realistic picture of Egypt in the modern era, Miriam coming to an understanding of what it means to be Egyptian and Muslim, etc. If you're like reading about journeys of self-discovery and global education, this might just be the book for you.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Like the sounds of this book? Want to read a little bit more? Sourcebooks and Patricia Dunn have provided this teaser.

Rebels By Accident Excerpt
Sixteen (well, almost sixteen), and I’m behind bars. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. It’s not as if I’m locked up with serial killers or slashers, but I’m in a cell. Deanna’s with me, along with about thirty other underage girls who were also at the party and didn’t run away in time or convince the police to let them go.
As we piled into squad cars, I watched these girls (and even a few guys) put on all the moves—-crying, flirting, screaming, fainting, even begging—-to get out of the arrest, but none of it worked.
I have to say Deanna gave it her best. Not being able to crack a smile really worked to her advantage when the officer in charge said to her that he was glad someone was taking the situation seriously. She wasn’t kidding when she said she was a great litigator like her mom. When the cop found me hiding in the bathtub with the shower curtain drawn (could I have picked a more obvious place?) and dragged me downstairs with the rest of the crowd, there was Deanna, telling the police we shouldn’t be responsible for the actions of some stupid guys who brought beer to the party. She almost had one cop convinced to let us go when Karen, the bane of my existence, stepped forward and threw up on his shoes.
All through elementary school and middle school, Karen and her drone Beth talked trash about me and my family. Their favorite insults were that my dad was in Al--Qaeda and my mom was only one of his many wives.
At least she’s not in our cell. They put her, and all the other vomiting kids, in a separate cell—-with buckets.
Still, it stinks in here. I stick my nose between the bars, trying to breathe air that doesn’t smell like puke, beer, or raw fish. Who has an open sushi bar at a high school party? Then again, what would I know about parties? This is the only party I’ve been to since first grade.
“Come on, Mar. It’s not that bad.” Deanna pushes against my shoulder. I don’t budge. I don’t say anything.
“Funny how we started the night trying to break into the party, and now we just want to get out.” Deanna stands closer to me, but I can’t even look at her. If I do, I’ll start to cry. And I’m already the biggest freak at school.
“Look, I know you’re flipping out here, but everything will be okay.”
“Are you kidding me?” I turn to her and lower my voice. “I’m in jail. Do you know how happy this is going to make my parents?”
“Now they can feel totally justified when they never let me leave our apartment again.”
Relax? We’ve just been arrested! We are in a holding cell with girls who have picked on me—-or, worse yet, ignored me—-since kindergarten. On top of that, my parents are going to kill me! Why did I let Deanna talk me into going to this party?
Okay, the truth: she didn’t have to talk me into anything. I wanted to go. I would’ve done anything, even lie to my parents, to crash a party. I knew I wasn’t invited and that I’d probably be kicked out as soon as someone saw me. But forcibly removed—-by the police? That I didn’t expect.
Still, I shouldn’t blame Deanna for helping me get what I wanted. But I do. It was an amazing night of music and dancing. Yes, I danced with three guys! And nobody made jokes about my dad being a towel--head or my uncle being Bin Laden…Tonight I was dancing and laughing. I wasn’t a freak or a weirdo; I was just another girl having fun.
“Actually,” I say, turning to Deanna, “thanks.”
“You’re thanking me?” she asks.
“Hey, I know I’m in big trouble but tonight was an adventure—-probably the last one I’ll have until I’m thirty.”
“Don’t mention it,” she says. Most people would say she has no expression on her face, but I can tell she’s smiling

Friday, December 5, 2014

My Tonks face

This one is a serious flash-back, the costume that started it all. This is my costume from a Harry Potter program we held about three or four years ago. The picture quality isn't great so you can't see the purple and green in my hair. Also not visible are the safety pins along my pant seams or my combat boots.

Looking for my regularly scheduled book review? Rejoin me tomorrow for my review of Patricia Dunn's Rebels by Accident.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Snow

Snow by Morgan Luthi

In design, Snow is like most American comics, making comprehension less of an issue. In terms of atmosphere and general tenor, it's more reminiscent of manga. Snow is the tale of a young refuge who arrives on Hub, one of a handful of planets holding out against the terrifying Warmongers. Snow is about regular people trying to survive oppressors as well as desperate secrets. Its about forming your own destiny. The art style is simple but each panel is complex in its use of imagery. I recommend this book for kids transitioning to "teen" comics and starting to explore the world of manga.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Suspicion by Alexandra Monir
Seven years ago, Imogen's parents died in a fire that destroyed the family manor. Ever since, she has been living in New York with her new guardians. When she is forced to return to England, Imogen learns that the Rockford estate holds many dark secrets.
I've quite literally only just started this book but it holds a lot of promise and the few chapters I've read had a great sense of atmosphere. 
What did you recently finish reading?
Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag
Allison used to be a famous superhero. As Mega Girl, she and the rest of her team of teen heroes fought a number of dangerous villains. A chance encounter with Menace, a mind-reading villain, brought her evidence of a grand conspiracy and she gave up crime fighting in favor of a normal life. Her efforts to focus on her education are hindered by public opinion and a world of heroes that seem determined to draw her back in.
I love books, graphic novel or print, that turn our idea of superheroes on it's ear. This book combines a fantastic concept with great art, resulting in a truly compelling read.
What do you think you will read next?
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
At last, we come to the end of Percy Jackson's adventures. I've literally been waiting for this book since last October and at last I've got my hands on a copy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Book review - Rite of Rejection

Title: Rite of Rejection
Author: Sarah Negovetich
Genre: dystopian fiction
Similar books: Divergent by Veronica Roth
                     The Giver by Lois Lowry
A charming, entertaining read

Summary: All of her life, Rebecca has been working towards her Acceptance, the day that she becomes a full citizen and is eligible for marriage. She works hard in school and follows all the rules. So it comes as a surprise when the Machine rejects her as a future criminal and she is sent to the PIT. There is no future in the PIT, only lawlessness and decay. Rebecca's only chance is to throw in her lot with a group planning to escape.
Rating: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Rebecca is an incredibly passive protagonist. She spends a great deal of time sitting around waiting for people to take care of her rather than doing anything to take control of her life. Additionally, there are a number of overly convenient plot points, things that happen a little too easily. On the other hand, it is a unique twist on a standard setting and has a sort of rough charm. The ending is open enough to allow for a sequel or for the reader to imagine a future for the characters. All in all, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
More information: Rite of Rejection is available now in print and as an e-book December 4.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, December 1, 2014

Giraffes love cookies

While perusing craft ideas, I came across this tutorial for a dinosaur serving tray and knew I needed to make one of my own. But I didn't want to make it a dinosaur. I had visions of making one with a giraffe. So, here are some photos of my completed version.

The plate came from Dollar Tree and the giraffe from the bin of dollar animals at Walmart. I used E-6000 glue to attach the giraffe to the plate.