Thursday, May 28, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Weasels by Elys Dolan

I don't know about you, but it has never occurred to me to wonder what weasels do with their time. Yet, that is the concept of this book. Weasels plotting world domination. THe plot is fairly simple: the machine they built to take over the world has broken and they are trying to figure out how to fix it. Each page is packed with action. There are dozens of weasels carrying on conversations, carrying around huge drills, all kinds of things to discover. It's kind of like leafing through a Where's Waldo book and finding all of the little jokes inside. This makes it perhaps not the best pick for preschoolers but a fun read for elementary school kids.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Young Houdini: the Demon Curse by Simon Nicholson
Having just solved a mystery in New York, Harry and his friends expect life to return to some semblance of normal. This is not to be as they find themselves drugged and on a train to New Orleans, sent on a mission for the mysterious Order of the White Crow. In New Orleans they find the city in an uproar. The mayor is in a strange state and rumors abound of curses and demons. At the heart of it all is a small Haitian community, people well loved by Harry's good friend Billie. 

I was quite fond of the first Young Houdini book and this one is proving to be just as thrilling a read. A nice, largely historically accurate, kid's mystery.

What did you recently finish reading?
Monster Motors by Brian Lynch
Vic Frankenstein bought a garage and salvage yard in Transylvania, Kentucky in hopes of starting over. The problem? When he enters the garage, Vic releases a monstrous car known as Cadillacula which sucks gas from other vehicles and leaves them rusted out. The more Cadillacula drinks, the more powerful he becomes. With the help of his robot assistant, Vic creates a vehicle that just might be able to stop it: Frankenride.

Pretty much every classic movie monster you can think of makes an appearance in this graphic novel. The resulting vehicles are kind of cheesy but mostly fun. This is no great literature but entertaining enough and worth a chuckle or two.
What do you think you will read next?
Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs
An exploration of super powers, good, and evil. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A little business

Last year I participated in the 48 Hour Book Challenge hosted by MotherReader. This is a challenge in which participants read as much as they can over a 48 hour period. It's tough but a lot of fun. I just signed up to be a part of it again this year. When I did it last year, I used it as a personal challenge. I just wanted to see how many books I could read. This year I'd like my reading to accomplish something. I'll be making a donation to RIF (Reading is Fundamental), an organization that provides books to underprivileged kids, based on how many hours I read.  This year's challenge runs from June 19th through the 21st. I'll be posting updates as I go.

About the 48 Hour Book Challenge

About RIF

A quick overview of my results from last year

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book review - Scarlett Undercover

Title: Scarlett Undercover
Author: Jennifer Latham
Genre: mystery/mild fantasy
Similar books: Jackaby by William Ritter
                     Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
a solid mystery
Summary: After both of her parents died (her father murdered, her mother from cancer) genius Scarlett was headed for trouble. A kind police officer helped her to graduate early and get started as a private investigator. It's a role Scarlett was meant to fill. A young girl comes into her office one day asking for help with her brother who has been behaving very strangely, especially after his friend's suicide. As Scarlett investigates, she is drawn into a world of supernatural cults and curses which seems to be continuing to circle back to her own family secrets.

My opinion: This is a modern mystery with an almost noir feel. It deftly incorporates magical elements without ever becoming true fantasy, more the suggestion of magic than anything else. In fact, the plot becomes more about faith than magic. It addresses belief after tragedy, doubt, intellectual faith, and zealots. While the early chapters suffer somewhat from rather stiff narration and adherence to the traditional detective format and language, a little reading persistence pays off in a solid conclusion. 
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Books on screen

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH/The Secret of NIMH

There are three significant differences between the original novel and the movie version of this story.
1. In the book, Jenner is never actually seen. He has already left the colony and we hear the strange story of some dead rats, presumed to be Jenner and his group. This serves as a cautionary tale. In the movie, Jenner plays an integral role. He actively conspires against the others and even murders one in a quest for power making the movie version much darker.
2. In the book, the tests done by NIMH were specifically designed to test and increase the intellectual capacity of the rats. They escape out of a natural desire for freedom. In the movie the tests are all very cruel and almost haphazard. Their resulting intelligence seems to be a random side effect.
3. In the book, the rats use their knowledge of mechanics to create their lair, move to their new home, and move Mrs. Frisby's home. Science saves the day. The movie adds a great deal of, for lack of a better term, magic. Everything hinges on a mystical amulet that lifts the Brisby's home from the mud and which is powered by a courageous heart.
The other changes are mostly for cinematic effect (reducing the rats' story and plan, making Jeremy a comedic figure to counter balance the darkness of the plot). The one that confuses me the most is the name change. The movie makes the name Mrs. Brisby. Its a minor change but entirely unnecessary and a little disconcerting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book review - Cuckoo Song

Title: Cuckoo Song
Author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
                     Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
surprisingly contemplative
Summary: After her near drowning, Triss feels wrong. There are great gaps in her memory. Her sister is violently suspicious of her. And she is ravenously hungry. Her efforts to figure out exactly what happened to her set her on a quest that will have her questioning everything about herself and will send her across the city for answers.

My opinion: [Mild spoiler alert] I'm a big fan of this trend of viewing mythological creatures through new lenses. Traditionally, stories about changelings have focused on the horror of the family when they discover what is now in their home. One doesn't consider horror on the part of the creature when it learns its true nature and purpose. Unlike this book. Not-Triss is such a desperate creature, wanting love and belonging (though one could say the same of Penny). This book actually turns a pretty focused lens on human nature - stubbornness, false authority, fear, desperation. Being so contemplative, the pacing is rather slow at times. A better choice for fans of tales of faerie than the casual fantasy reader.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Star Wars Peanuts

While this project isn't exactly a craft, it's the fruition of an idea I had while working on some crafts. While brainstorming my Star Wars craft projects I had this idea of Snoopy as Luke Skywalker and Woodstock as Yoda.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book review - 5 to 1

Title: 5 to 1
Author: Holly Bodger
Genre: dystopian fiction
Similar books: Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
                     The Giver by Lois Lowry
a literary delight

Summary: Fed up with a system that only values males, women banded together to form the nation of Koyanagar where women hold the power and boys must compete in a series of tests for the opportunity to marry. Sudasa is now eligible for marriage - a marriage she's not sure she wants but which she's told she must make for the good of the country. Among the competitors for her hand is Kiran, a boy with a secret agenda. As the tests progress Sudasa and Kiran first clash and then discover they may be working towards the same goal.

My opinion: This novel is written not only in alternating perspectives but alternating formats. Sudasa's sections are written in verse. Artfully sparse, each word and space is packed with meaning. Kiran's sections, while prose, make use of very careful word selection. The novel as a whole is delightfully artistic. While dystopian it focuses more on emotion than action, introspection rather than revolution.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Spotlight on Spelled

I'm excited for the upcoming fantasy retelling, Spelled and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to highlight it here. Here's the summary and an excerpt provided by the publisher.

By Betsy Schow
Sourcebooks Fire
June 2, 2015
Advance Praise for Spelled
“A cute adventure with romance set in a world full of fairy-tale mash-ups. Readers will love Dorthea’s evolution from spoiled princess to strong, confident heroine… For Oz fans, this work is a great clean-read alternative to Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die.” -School Library Journal
“This wickedly funny, fast-paced adventure has it all: brains, courage, and heart. (Plus a kickin’ pair of heels.) .” --Jen Calonita, author of The Secrets of My Hollywood Life and Fairy Tale Reform School series
“Fairy tale survival rule #1, do NOT read this book late at night. You will wake up your entire family with loud laughter. Fairy tale survival rule #2, if you love the Wizard of Oz, clever fairy tale mash-ups, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing what will happen until the very end, you MUST read Spelled.” --J Scott Savage, award winning author of Farworld, Case File 13, and the Mysteries of Cove series.
A hilarious and snarky reimagining of the world of Oz, along with many other fairy tales injected throughout, "Spelled" is one fabulous read…Kick off those silver slippers and tuck in with this wonderful tale!” —Senator Sipes, Lil Book Bug (Palmdale, CA)
Book Info:
Talk about unhappily ever after. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the not-so-charming prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving Dorthea with hair made up of emerald flames and the kingdom in chaos. Her parents and everyone she loves are stuck in some place called “Kansas.” Now it’s up to Dorthea and her pixed-off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse…before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Betsy Schow:
Betsy Schow is the author of the memoir Finished Being Fat, and has been featured on The Today Show and in The Wall Street Journal. She lives in Utah, but travels the country with Color Me Rad 5k, and partners with nonprofits to teach kids creative thinking and how to reach their goals.
Excerpt from Spelled:

Most of the crowd had dispersed. The final few stragglers looked at me with the all­too-common look of fear mixed with trepidation. Pix ’em. They were just servants. It wasn’t like their opinion mattered.
Only one remained, watching me with open curiosity. He looked to be in his late teens or was magically enhanced to appear so. He could have been a hundred for all I knew. I’d never seen him before in my life. He was handsome enough, for a commoner, even in his worn leather pants and cracked work boots. A foreigner, his hair was unruly and dark auburn, which complemented his tanned but dirt-smudged complexion, though the tall, dark stranger vibe was ruined by his piercing pale blue eyes.
Well, I’d had enough of being a sideshow for the day. “If you’re the new gardener, the hedges are overgrown and in need of a trim.” I pointed in the direction of my father. “While you’re there, you can help the king with the wisps.”
The young man’s expression clouded over, but he didn’t move.
I stamped my foot and pointed more forcefully. “Off with you. Courtyard’s that way. Be sure to clean those awful boots before coming back in.”
“Someone told me I’d find a princess of great worth here. One with the strength to be the hero this realm needs.” He stared at me with those unsettling blue eyes. They were cold, like ice water—made me shiver from head to toe. Then his gaze seemed to search even deeper. Finally, he looked through me, like I was nothing.
In brisk steps, he strode across the marble to the courtyard. But before crossing the threshold, he turned back to glare at me with his lip curled ever so slightly. “It seems she was mistaken.”
Just like that, I had been sifted, weighed, and found wanting.
I felt my own lip curl in response. How rude! Who the Grimm was this peasant to judge me? I was wearing a Glenda original. Original! Not some fairy-godmother knockoff worn by those servant girls turned royal. I was a crown princess, for the love of fairy, and no one dismissed me.
Before I could put the boy in his place—down in the dirt, where he belonged—a clatter came from behind, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. I checked and was relieved that Sterling had simply dropped his sword. By the time I looked back, the gardener was gone.
After stowing his blade, Sterling held up his shield, not in defense of the entrance but so he could look at his reflection. “Clearly he’s blind and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
I didn’t ask for Sterling’s opinion, but it made me feel better.
Until he opened his mouth again.
“Worth, pffft. I mean, look around at all the jewels. Your palace has everything you could ever want. Honestly, I don’t know what you’re fussing about. Why would anyone want to leave?”
Because a cage is still a cage, no matter how big or glittering the bars are.
And I would find a way free, no matter the cost.

Sounds like fun, right? Check out this awesome giveaway!
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: The Chronicles of Claudette

The Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre

At face value, these books are just simple stories about a girl who wants to be a hero. Sure, there's epic adventure with witches, monsters, death around every corner. Kids love that stuff. As they are reading this, though, they are absorbing far more than adventure. Giants Beware! is loaded with lessons about bravery, loyalty, and the notion that even good, well-intentioned adults aren't always right. Dragon's Beware! builds on these themes and adds in the importance of knowing your strengths and limitations. Each character's strengths are necessary and they must work together to find and defeat the evil. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre
Flush with her success with the Baby Toes Eating Giant, Claudette is certain that she has a bright future as an adventurer. Her new plan is to slay Azra, the dragon that ate her father's legs. Azra also took her father's magic sword, the only weapon capable of defeating the gargoyles that are plaguing the village. With Marie and Gaston by her side, Claudette is certain she has what it takes to defeat the dragon.

Kids love the adventure of these stories. Parents will enjoy the messages of believing in yourself and the complex nature of things we don't understand.
What did you recently finish reading?
Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Penelope's life has always been defined by privilege and protection. Her father is the head of a black market organ donation syndicate. Her autoimmune disorder has always meant that her parents keep a pretty close eye one her. She dreams of freedom, but freedom comes at a terrible cost. As her family is betrayed, Penelope must go on the run with no idea who to trust.

Organized crime is a pretty interesting topic, making this a fresh approach to the standard "star crossed lovers" type plot. The action is pretty constant and the characters are relatively likeable.
What do you think you will read next?
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
This story of "difficult" girls doing affecting change on the sly has potential.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book review - The Firebird Mystery

Title: The Firebird Mystery
Author: Darrell Pitt
Genre: steampunk/mystery
Similar books: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
                     Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin
kind of slow-paced
Summary: Once an acrobat, Jack Mason has spent the last several years in a grim orphanage. Now he has a chance at a better life as the assistant to an "infirm gentleman." That man turns out to be Ignatius Doyle, eccentric and adventurous detective. When Doyle accepts the case of a missing man, he and Jack along with the missing man's daughter, Scarlet, set out on a dangerous mission that could change the course of the entire world.

My opinion: While the mystery aspect of this novel is pretty interesting, it moves slowly and has a tendency to get caught up in the minutae of a situation. As I read I tended to get so bogged down with details and explanations that I would lose track of the plot, a plot which didn't always transition well. It might be a nice choice for hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A funny pair of beards

In preparation for a program this week I made these two crocheted beards. I used this free pattern from Mad Mim. It's super easy to follow and the beards work up really quickly. I can't wait to make people wear them.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book review - Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Title: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Author: Kelly Jones
Genre: fantasy/comedy
Similar books: Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise
                     Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
quirky fun
Summary: Sophie doesn't know much about farm life when her family moves from Los Angeles to an inherited farm,  but she's determined to learn. The farm doesn't look like much: broken tractor, overgrown fields, a barn full of junk. Things start looking up when Sophie finds a hen in the field - a hen that seems to have unusual abilities. More hens arrive and Sophie must learn to care for them with limited resources and protect them from someone determined to steal them.

My opinion: What fun! While this is an odd concept (super-powered chickens?!) it works better than you might expect as learning to care for the chickens helps Sophie deal with her feeling about moving and grief over her deceased grandmother. The mixed format letters, lists, and the like help as well. It is fast paced and peppered with great drawings that highlight major events.

More information: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer releases May 12.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pick 6: dystopia

Books dealing with dystopias and the apocalypse are a fascinating exploration of human nature. Even though it seems like the dystopian trend is on the decline there are still a great deal of good novels in this genre on the market. Here are six dystopian novels published in the last six months.

6 new dystopian novels

1. Rat Runners by Oisin McGann

2. Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

3. Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy

4. Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

5. Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos

6. Undertow by Michael Buckley 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Star Wars crafts

Given that Monday was Star Wars Day, I made two Star Wars crafts this week. These are quick and easy projects.

Princess Leia headphones
I've had my eye open for a good pair of headphones for a while specifically so I could do this project. All you need is: headphones, craft foam, yarn, and hot glue. Cut 2 circles of foam large enough to cover the ear part of the headphones and a long rectangle to cover the strap. Now cover these foam pieces with yarn. I glued the yarn in a spiral on the circle pieces and in rows on the rectangle. Glue the circles to the ends of the rectangle. I wanted to be able to remove the decoration  so instead of gluing it directly to the headphones I made small foam strips that wrap around the headphones and hold the Leia hair in place.


Lightsaber earrings
These are made out of Lite Brite pegs. I painted the rounded ends with silver model paint. After the paint dried I added the details with permanent marker and attached jump rings to the rounded ends with hot glue. 


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book review - Bomb

Title: Bomb
Author: Sarah Mussi
Genre: thriller
Similar books: Rat Runners by Oisin McGann
                     BZRK by Michael Grant
Genesis just wants to get over her boyfriend, Naz. So she agrees to a blind date. That moment changes everything. When she wakes up, she's in a dark room and a strange vest is strapped to her body. A voice speaks to her through a device glued into her ear, telling her that she's wearing a bomb and if she doesn't do exactly as she is told it will detonate. Gen has just become and unwilling pawn of the Brightness.

My Opinion:
Just as a warning, it is very hard for me to talk about what makes this book wonderful without dipping into spoilers. If you want to skip the rest of my review, I'll understand. Zip past the next paragraph and just move on knowing I highly recommend this one.

Okay, for my complete review.

This is a very thrilling read. It has a great sense of tension and pacing. While we don't make a strong emotional connection with the characters the constant danger and fear will keep you reading. What blows me out of the water with this book is the ending. I quite literally yelled at this book when I finished it. It's very cinematic. Do you hear that Hollywood? Sarah Mussi has just written your next awesome movie. (And here comes the real spoiler. Last chance to scroll past it. You've been warned) Imagine what that would look like, the clock on the phone clicking over to 4:44 and the screen goes black. Delightfully infuriating. 

More Information: Bomb releases May 7th.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 4, 2015

May the 4th be with you!

Normally I'd post a craft today but I wouldn't be much of a librarian (or a nerd) if I didn't acknowledge the unofficial holiday that is Star Wars Day. So, I bring you a list of books for Star Wars fans, all of which I have either read or had personally recommended to me by young readers.

Books in the Star Wars Universe
Jedi Academy series by Jeffery Brown
This series is a double whammy, hitting the Star Wars and Diary of a Wimpy kids demographics.

Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger
While set entirely in a regular school, this series is clearly influenced by Star Wars and really embraces the saga's philosophies.

Star Wars Infinities by Chris Warner and David Land
Based on the idea of "what if" scenarios, this graphic novel series explores how Star Wars would have turned out if just a few decisions had been altered.

The Clone Wars Secret Missions series by Ryder Windham
This was a short lived series but pretty well loved by a couple of young readers at my library.

LEGO Star Wars: Yoda's Secret Missions by Ace Landers
Several short stories which are pretty firmly seated in the world of Star Wars. They are funny enough to hold up to repeat reads.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher
Who knew Star Wars would work so well in iambic pentameter? This series currently consists of Verily, a New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return, and The Phantom Menace: Star Wars Part the First. The Clone Army Attacketh is due out in July and Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge is slated for September.

Other books that might interest young fans
Space Penguins series by L.A. Courtenay

Flight Explorer edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Missle Mouse by Jake Parker

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Rust by Royden Lepp

The Ender Quintet by Orson Scott Card
The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book review - Seriously Wicked

Title: Seriously Wicked
Author: Tina Connolly
Genre: magical realism
Similar books: Hellhole by Gina Damico
                     Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen
a surprisingly practical approach to magic
Summary: Cam is sick of her mother's machinations. She's sick of chores intended to help with plans to take over the world (or at least the town). She's sick of trying to learn spells. She doesn't want to be a wicked witch. When her mother summons a demon that enters the body of the cute new boy at school Cam has just five days to save the world and Devon's soul.

My opinion: This is a great pick for fans of fairy tales. The approach to magic is surprisingly pragmatic. It's nothing mystical or amazing, doesn't come out of nowhere, but is a regular part of Cam's world and a series of chores. Cam herself is a fairly typical teen, dismissive of her mother's lifestyle and filled with zeal to save the world. Really, this is a standard quest novel: there is a set goal, distinct steps that must be taken, and a time frame to avert disaster. The resolution is solid, well set-up without becoming completely obvious. A good choice for young teens.

More information: Seriously Wicked releases May 5.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.