Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book review - Nimona

Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Genre: fantasy, graphic novel
Similar books: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale
                     Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
love, love, love it

Summary: For years, Lord Ballister Blackheart has been fighting against the Institution and his nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. It's a battle he never seems to win. Things might be changing now that he's met Nimona, a young shape-shifter with a taste for chaos and a mysterious past. Their partnership seems like a match made in heaven but as Nimona becomes increasingly unpredictable, Blackheart wonders if there are things she's not telling him, secrets that are more dangerous than the Institution.

My Opinion: I read this initially as a web-comic and fell in love after just a few pages. I'm thrilled to see it in print. Blackheart is the quintessential anti-hero. His goal is not to gain power or wealth but to point out the problems with the Institution and the failures of Goldenloin. Nimona is sharp, witty, and impulsive. Because it was originally published a page at a time, this graphic novel is particularly well paced. Each page tells what is essentially a complete thought, often ending in something of a mini-cliffhanger. The plot is both action oriented and thoughtful. It takes a hard look at the relationship between "heroes" and "villains." This is a book you can read repeatedly and continue to enjoy it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Upcycled Sasquatch

Interestingly enough, this project started with a conversation with my nephew about Minions. We were discussing the idea of making a Minion marionette and trying to decide what you might use as a base. In the process, I remembered some old bolster pillows I had lying around and lamented that they were brown and furry.

Remembering those pillows, though, sparked an idea. Surely we could make them into something, maybe a puppet. A Sasquatch, we decided. We turned some vending machine capsules into giant wiggle eyes with some pompoms and craft foam. Some precision cuts, fabric scraps, and hot glue gave it a mouth. We made a single tooth out of a bit of craft foam. It took a bit of hunting to find just the right t-shirt to make his feet. We had combed the pillow to tidy the fur (a goal that turned out to be futile, as you can see from the pictures) resulting in little wads of loose fur. A tuft of that made great hair. It's actually a pretty simple project but we're thrilled with the results.

Best of all is the way he dances.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book review - The Stellow Project

Title: The Stellow Project
Author: Shari Becker
Genre: mild sci-fi
Similar books: Revived by Cat Patrick
                     The Secret Under My Skin by Janet McNaughton
not amazing, not terrible
Summary: Following the advice of her father, Lila packed up her little sister Flori and headed for their cabin in the mountains, thrying to stay a step ahead of a killer storm on track to hit their home in Manhattan. Their situation at the cabin quickly becomes dangerous as Lilah runs low on the medication that keeps her alive and their father fails to meet them as promised. When Lilah discovers that her father has been accused of an act of eco-terrorism, Lilah is desperate to save herself and her sister. This effort finds her mixed up with a secret research facility that may have ties to her father.

My opinion: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I loved the premise (though I loved it more at the beginning than I did as secrets began to be revealed). The characters are mostly likeable and complex. The plot is a little weak though. For a book that wants to be a thriller, the tension just isn't there. And there are too many questions and not nearly enough answers. Many characters draw conclusions about secrets with only the slimmest of evidence, conclusions that are seldom challenged or misled. It's a plot with great promise and may very well live up to that promise with future volumes. As it stands, though, I'm hesitant to commit to this series.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Officer Buckle and Gloria by Petty Rathmann

Officer Buckle wants nothing more than to keep the residents of Napville safe. Unfortunately, his safety presentations put everyone to sleep. When he takes along Napville's new police dog, though, people start to take notice. Kids of all ages will delight in the highly expressive Gloria and the way she acts out all of the safety tips (#80 - Wipe up drool) which are included in the story and the cover liners. Some small kids enjoy this book but it is a somewhat subtle plot that relies on the text and images in concert to an extent that not all kids are able to understand. Even adults find this book charming.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book review - Every Last Word

Title: Every Lasat Word
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Life Unaware by Cole Gibsen
                     Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
excellently written

Summary: Samantha McAllister seems to have it all. One of the popular girls, she has the look and dates the right boys. She also has a big secret. Sam has Purely Obsessional OCD and her mind is overrun with dark thoughts, concerns, and an overwhelming need to know things about people. Hiding her OCD makes her life a careful balancing act. Then she meets Caroline, a girl who won't fit in with her other friends but whom Sam doesn't want to give up. Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner. It is among the misfits of Poet's Corner that Sam discovers a new side of herself - a side that she must might prefer.

My opinion: The most important thing to talk about with this book is Sam's portrayal. Yes, she has OCD but it doesn't solely define her. She's a popular girl wit ha secret. A solid student. A swimmer. A poet. Uncertain about her friendships. While OCD plays a role in a lot of those things, it doesn't completely control the plot. The point of her journey is discovering what is best for her, rather than what her friends approve of. Plot wise, this novel is solid. There is a twist so deftly written that I didn't begin to suspect it until the beginning of that chapter. While I might have liked to have seen a little more development of some of the secondary characters, I found this to be an amazing read which I can't wait to recommend to teen patrons.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reading Challenge reflections

Though you are reading this Monday afternoon, I am writing it Sunday night and am still incredibly sleep deprived. Bear that in mind if this isn't particularly well written.

Now that I've had a little time to contemplate my reading challenge experience this year, I have to say I'm pretty pleased with my overall results. I removed caffeine from my diet for a week before the challenge so the 4 cups I drank during those 48 hours were far more effective. It also meant that when I had to work a 6 hour shift on Saturday (like I did last year) I was far more aware of what was happening around me instead of spending the shift in something of a fog. 

Most importantly, I learned a lot last year about my to read pile. Last year I alternated longer books and shorter books so I'd feel like I was making more progress. It worked really well for the first 24 hours but that second day, with so little sleep, I struggled to process the longer books. 

So, this year I built my stack with all of the long books to be read on the first day. For the most part, it was an effective strategy. I still struggled with the last few, but that was likely to happen no matter what book I was reading. I had a few longer books at the bottom of my stack because I honestly didn't expect to get that far. So, when I made it to Razorhurst at 3:00am Sunday, I made it maybe 2 chapters before I had to give it up and select something else. 

In all, I think if I participate in this challenge again next year my approach will be pretty much the same. Its not easy but it's very satisfying when you hit one of your goals.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Finish Line

This is it! The end of my 48 hours. I've surpassed my both of my goals, having read more titles and more hours than last year. This year I read and reviewed 16 books, leaving just 2 of my pile (plus my 5 back-up books) unread. I also got through 4 1/2 discs of the audio book of The Diviners (which really is horrendously long at 15 discs/18 hours). By my best accounting, I spent 38 hours and 45 minutes reading and reviewing.

I realize this is the same photo I used for my starting line post but, disregarding the audio book at the top, this is my completed list (with the addition of 3 e-books: The Disappearance of Emily H., The Doubt Factory, and Out of the Dragon's Mouth.)

I'll likely do a more in depth look at my experience later today or perhaps Monday, once I've had a chance to sleep.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B

As my final selection for this year's challenge, I have to admit my understanding of this particular novel is probably barely adequate. It's and interesting cast of characters and I'm particularly fond of Wendall/Sweetie as he's such a quirky little kid. He reminds me of the little sister in Tim Wynne-Jones's A Thief in the House of Memory. Now, even in my severely sleep deprived state I couldn't help but note the similarities between the group therapy scenes and the support group in The Fault in Our Stars (though clearly this is a far more productive group than the one John Green describes). And I liked that it wasn't all neat and tidy happy endings. Life is messy and change is necessary. Some things aren't meant to last.

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

I'm quite fond of Gownley's quirky Amelia Rules! series, so when this book arrived at my library just days before this challenge, I knew it needed to make it's way into my "to read" pile. At heart, it's actually a fairly simple story, this idea of some serious event changing the way you view your entire life. More importantly, it answers that perennial question posited to writers: where do you get your ideas? It is, perhaps, a niche graphic novel but worth reading if you enjoy memoirs.

Roller Girl

The first time I saw this book I thought "How strange. Why would anyone want to read a book about roller derby?" But then (maybe because I wanted to prove it's weirdness) I found myself leafing through the pages. And it wasn't long before I knew I needed to read this book. It's a sports story. It's a story of making and losing friends. It's a story of redefining yourself and admitting your faults. Not too shabby for some weird book about roller derby. And it really shines as a graphic novel. Each page has great visual appeal with a slightly muted color palette to prevent it from becoming to garish and an excellent use of light. It's like to dance but for tough girls.

Mr. Terupt Falls Again

When I first read Because of Mr. Terupt a few years ago I was not overly impressed. There were too many narrating characters with not enough to properly distinguish their voices. Honestly, I found it mediocre at best. I hadn't intended to give it another thought. Then I began to notice how it was favored among some of our young patrons and I wondered if I'd judged it too harshly. I figured it was worth reading the sequel to see if I liked this one any better. While some of the narration feels somewhat stiff and unnatural for a sixth grader, this volume seems like a noticeable improvement on the previous one. I still find Alexia in particular annoying and more like an idea of a preteen than a real kid. Her use of awkward slang, in particular, bothered me. Buyea is perhaps a little heavy handed with the lessons he intends for his readers but I'm beginning to see why kids enjoy these books.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rhyme Schemer

A good verse novel is a thing of beauty. To be able to tell a distinct, artful story while making each word count for maximum impact is not a skill that many possess. Over the years I've read a good number of verse novels, most of them mediocre at best. Seldom does one read a verse novel and thing "poetry really was the best format for this story." Much like my very favorite verse novel (Love That Dog by Sharon Creech) poetry really is the only format for this book, and not just because it's about poetry. The very sparse poetry Holt uses in this novel really captures Kevin's anger. He's constantly on edge and that is well reflected with journal entries that at times have just two words on a line. He's stretched thin, barely contained. And I love that the found poetry pages are pages from existing books, not something specially prepared to make his poems more polished.

Out of the Dragon's Mouth

When we learn about things like the Vietnam War in history classes, we tend to get very few details: the basis of the conflict, it's scope in years and international involvement, and the resolution. We learn that as American troops withdrew from South Vietnam, desperate people attempted to leave with them, sometimes pressing their small children onto trucks and into helicopters in hopes of a better life. This is essentially all we learn. Novels like this one open our eyes to the realities of life in a postwar region. Continued political turmoil left Vietnam a very dangerous place to be and thousands fled, preferring the dangers of over-packed, rickety ships to the threat of their own government. Even if one could reach a refuge camp, conditions there were not much better especially as some residents of the camps were little more than children with no parental supervision. This is a fascinating look at how circumstance can take a young person used to privilege and put her into a situation where her only thoughts are to survival. The writing is somewhat stilted at times but it's a solidly educational read.

Hold Me Closer

When this book first came out, I had no intention of reading it. Not only was Will Grayson, will grayson not my favorite John Green novel, Tiny Cooper wasn't my favorite character within that novel. I found him overly exuberant to the point of irritation at times. But when I was building a reading list for this challenge,  this seemed like a good bridging novel, a slight mental break for evening #2. For the most part, that's exactly what this book was. It doesn't exactly break new ground in storytelling. While the level of detail may be more than what we got in the original novel it doesn't really take any new turns. What it does do, which the original did not, is give Tiny a little more depth of character. We see a little more of his vulnerability and fear, his longing and doubts. It doesn't work as a stand-alone at all but fans of Will Grayson, will grayson will get a kick out of it.

Whale Rider

This is a deceptive little book. It's brief length makes it seem as if it will be a very quick read. In fact, it's possible to read it in very little time. To my way of thinking, that isn't exactly advisable. While the central plot is very straightforward, that of a girl proving her worth to a great-grandfather who values only males, it is much more than that. It's a story of cultural traditions, traditions that are being lost in the name of "progress." The very narration is steeped in those traditions. It isn't a narrative style common to American novels so it was a fascinating change of pace from my previous selections. I look forward to making time in my schedule to watch the film version so I can see how the film makers represent both the culture and the tone of the novel on screen.

My Near-Death Adventures

Take Gary Paulsen's The Cook Camp. Add a dash of John D. Fitzgerald's The Great Brain and Robert Newton Peck's Soup with maybe just a hint of Sid Fleischman's McBroom. All these things combined make up something like My Near-Death Adventures. It's funny to be sure and I'm quite fond of Stan's tendency to unknowingly verbalize his thoughts. The real selling point for this book, in my opinion, is the images. Advertisements, postcards, humorous photos, all vintage. Usually those things alone are enough to entertain me. These images have the added appeal of having been altered as part of Stan's scrapbook to illustrate some part of his exaggerated story.

Half a World Away

Most of us have this idea of adoption as a sort of perfect completion. A couple chooses a child to become a part of their family and love makes them complete. The child, grateful to be chosen, is just like a natural born child. This novel blows that notion out of the water. The simple fact is no adoption is easy. Especially international adoption. The process of bonding with an adopted child is difficult and may never fully succeed (an experience confirmed by a few of my childhood friends who were adopted themselves). Half a World Away puts us into the life of Jaden, a Romanian boy adopted at age 8 with a serious attachment disorder. He hordes food, destroys possessions, and secretly believes his adopted parents (whom he mentally calls by their first names) dislike him and would prefer to be rid of him. When his parents decide to adopt another child, this brings to the forefront many of Jaden's issues and forces him to consider his own value and the notion of love. Kadohata takes us deep into Jaden's emotional world, allowing us to live his life along with him and make connections with him. We struggle to understand his parents and the world around him just as Jaden does. This is an emotionally complex story but one that will have us viewing our own families in a new light.

The Disappearance of Emily H

Here's a book that wasn't really at all what I expected. While I appreciate the need for books that look at bullying and which acknowledge that telling an adult isn't always a practical solution for kids, I'm not sure I'm okay with the solutions Raine came up with either. Plotting against and threatening to socially ruin a bully don't seem like methods one would want to advocate. Additionally, Raine takes some pretty significant safety risks and never once considers asking for help. The final chapters do acknowledge the dangers of those decisions but I'm not sure that's enough to make up for my concerns. I'd also have liked to have seen more of the turmoil between Raine and her mother. That wasn't addressed enough for my tastes.

The Frog Who Croaked

What a fun book! While the mystery is not overly complex, it is solidly constructed much like your standard cop show. While Zengo and O'Malley are in stereotypical roles (the overly eager and impulsive rookie and the slightly jaded old-timer) the novelty of the world Krosoczka has built keeps the characters from feeling stale. And of course there is the vaguely menacing specter of Pandini looming over the plot. He reminded me of Daredevil's Kingpin. His reputation is built on good intentions but something darker drives him. All in all, this is a solid introduction to a middle grade series.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Read Between the Lines

The thing about most novels is you only get one or two perspectives on the story. While our hero is facing adversity and meeting with a variety of other characters, some only for a moment, life goes on around him. But what does that mean for the people he meets? It's refreshing to read books like this one which acknowledge that every individual has a story. These stories all intertwine to create a larger plot. In this case of this novel, each small story in some way involves the middle finger gesture. More than that, though, they are connected by the idea of self-discovery. Every character in this book makes some discovery about himself/herself. These discoveries may be affirming or depressing. Either way, the character ends this one day enlightened in some small way. It's a pretty interesting slice of life.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

In historical fiction, it's important to capture both the events and the sense of the corresponding era. This is a task that this novel more than accomplishes. The Tate family jumps out from the page, as real as your own neighbor. Their adventures and foibles are entertaining and humorous, much like the tales in Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963. At the same time there is an underlying current of worry and dissatisfaction throughout the novel. Calpurnia simply does not fit into societal expectations. A chance encounter with  her grandfather opens up the world for her in a way that virtually guarantees that she won't be satisfied with the life of domesticity that her mother has planned for her. It is both surprising and satisfying that her discontent remains at the conclusion of the novel, a likely result given that there were precious few opportunities for girls at the turn of the century. This book is an absolute delight.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a little more on the high fantasy side of things than I usually prefer. A great deal of the plot deals with bargains and the inter-workings and machinations of the high fae. I found those elements to be rather wearing. At heart, though, this is an excellent retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I'd go so far as to say I prefer it to Disney's version. For one thing, Feyre is a far more powerful character than Disney's Belle. Feyre has given up everything to protect her family. She's a hardened hunter, undereducated, though we see touches of a softer side early on with her fondness for painting. She's stubborn, outspoken, and opinionated, attributes that serve a heroine well in high fantasy. Prythian is a delightfully described world, making this book worth reading for descriptions alone. It's a weighty read but worth wading through if you have the patience.

The Doubt Factory

Book #1 complete!

The Doubt Factory is a complex, political novel. It's the story of a privileged teenage girl who has her whole world shaken by what she thinks is a prankster called 2.0. It isn't long before she discovers that 2.0 is much more. This group of activists has uncovered a industry of misinformation and doubt that has allowed dangerous, life-threatening products to remain on the market, unlabeled, for years. Companies are getting rich at the cost of human lives. And 2.0 isn't going to stand for it any longer. They just need Alix's help to get proof and get the message out.

I love books like this one about being awakened to the dark side of our modern life. Teens are already questioning many things about their personal lives. It's important to encourage them to question the larger world as well. The Doubt Factory takes a very close look at public relations and the media, encouraging the reader to look beyond the story that is being spun to the facts underneath. The writing is tight and tense. The characters have complexity and voice. This is a great book for the thinking reader.


I'm super excited to get started on the 48 Hour Book Challenge! It's now 8 am and this is my official Starting Line post. Join me periodically over the next 48 hours to see what I've read so far.

Here's my to-read pile

Not pictured: The Doubt Factory, The Disappearance of Emily H, Out of the Dragon's Mouth, Razorhurst, and How to Fly With Broken Wings

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Books on screen

If you've ever read Neil Gaiman, you know he's kind of the king of weird. Coraline is often considered his crowning achievement (though personally I prefer The Graveyard Book or Fortunately, the Milk). The whole book reads like a nightmare, seeded with a constant sense of unreality. 
The movie makes a few significant changes. It adds two elements: a neighbor boy and dolls which watch the other mother's victims. Wybie, the neighbor, is in many ways a sensible addition. In the book Coraline spends a great deal of time alone so much of the plot exposition takes place in her mind. Another character allows the exposition to be verbalized. The dolls feel a little unnecessary.
More noticeable, and more questionable, is the nature of the other home. In the movie, the world beyond the door has a delightful magical quality not present in the book. In the book the "other" has a decidedly unnatural feel, whole-heartedly unsettling. While it makes the menace of the other mother more startling, it isn't true to the original story.
Other changes can be explained away as necessary for cinematography, pacing and the like. While I certainly prefer the book and the absolutely eerie audio book narrated by Gaiman himself, the movie is worth a watch. At the very least its an impressive feat of stop motion animation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book review - Spelled

Title: Spelled
Author: Betsy Schow
Genre: fantasy

Similar books: Bewitched in Oz by Laura J. Burns
                     The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Not exactly what I expected, but nice

Summary: Dorothea isn't exactly thrilled to be a princess. While being able to buy whatever she wants is nice, she's under a curse and can never leave the castle. To make matters worse, her parents have just informed her that she has been betrothed to the less-than-charming Prince Kato. In a fit of rage, Dorothea makes a wish that sends her world into chaos and puts it in danger of being taken over by a very wicked witch.

My opinion: Initially, I was somewhat annoyed by this book. There is a point where cultural and fairy tale references go from cute and clever to irritating. This book has a tendency to toe that line. It wasn't until I passed the halfway point that it began to redeem itself. I had been expecting something more along the lines of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, that nearly effortless combination of classic stories. This book includes elements of nearly as many stories but the combination is more awkward. I like that it draws material from the original Oz book series, rather than the movie (including the hammer heads which were always my favorite). This makes for a more menacing version of Oz that fits the darker nature of this plot. The ending redeems a lot of the slow, awkward start and Dorothea ends the book far more likeable than she began.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, June 15, 2015

A frisbee story

The story of today's craft goes something like this: My nephew was visiting this weekend, so I didn't have any immediate plans to make any craft projects. As it turns out, our weather this weekend was phenomenal. Sunny, warm, the works. The sort of weather that begs for picnics and outdoor activities. I live in a second floor apartment, so I don't really have much in the way of outdoor equipment. Not even a frisbee, as it turns out. The solution? Make one.

Luckily, I have a copy of this book:
which has a pattern for a crocheted t-shirt frisbee. It was simple enough to find an old shirt and cut it into the appropriate sized strip. The crocheting itself should have been quick work. Of course, three rounds in my crochet hook broke. And I didn't have another one that size. Or even in a close size. I found a smaller hook and tried to work really loose. Which, of course, didn't work. The resulting frisbee looked more like a hat. I ended up pulling pretty much the whole thing out and making up the pattern as I went along. We ended up with a not completely round, sort of curly, frisbee. But it mostly flew straight and was easy to throw and carry. To my mind, that makes it worthwhile.
It's not much to look at, but was pretty fun to toss around.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book review - Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Title: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
Author: Jen White
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson
                     Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
charming, thoughtful

Summary: Liberty and Billie are supposed to be spending the summer (and hopefully the foreseeable future) with their dad, a nature photographer who travels around the country in an RV. That was the plan. Then their dad leaves them at a gas station and disappears. When she realizes that their dad is not coming back, it is up to Liberty to take care of them both and hopefully find a way to get them back to California and the friend they were staying with after their mother died. Along the way they meet a lot of interesting people.

My opinion: There's just something about survival stories - finding shelter, food, friendship, and transport in a strange place far from home, even if that strange place is a city. We find these stories highly appealing. This book is a solid representation of the genre. For most kids this isn't going to be a casual read. There are too many serious events. It might be a good selection for group discussion, though.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Star Wars Infinities

Star Wars Infinities by Adam Gallardo

This is a great series for anyone who has ever wondered "what if that scene had turned out differently". Each Infinities book approaches one of the original trilogy and changes a single event, one encounter that ends differently and changes the entire trajectory of the story leading to some surprising results. While the art is mediocre, the plots are fascinating. I've actually only read 3 of the 4 parts of the Return of the Jedi story but if all the rest are anything like what I've read these are well worth a look.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
Three teens are thrown together to stop a violent future, facing some dark secrets in the process. After been thrown out of three boarding schools, Sadie is home and facing her last chance - the local public school. There she meets back up with Emerson. Emerson isn't happy to see Sadie. While they were once friends, Emerson fears Sadie will ruin his chances with his dream girl, especially since Sadie knows things about him he'd rather forget. In the midst of it all is Emerson's brother Miles, a fragile boy with chronic health problems and a knack for seeing the future. Miles is seeing terrifying visions of violence, violence that might just involve the three of them.

Kuehn has painted a complex picture of three very damaged teens. So far, it is fascinating to see how their stories intertwine and unravel.
What did you recently finish reading?
Never Be Younger edited by Rachel Bateman
Nine authors re-imagine works of Shakespeare, setting them in space, even a night club. The characters are historical, modern, even mutants. Some hold pretty closely to the original plays, others imagine how the story may have turned out differently. These stories may just change how you see Shakespeare.

What do you think you'll read next?
Valiant by Sarah McGuire
Pretty much, if it's a fairy tale retelling I'll read it. I'm not particularly familiar with The Brave Little Tailor, but the description of this new version sounds promising.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book review - Because You'll Never Meet Me

Title: Because You'll Never Meet Me
Author: Leah Thomas
Genre: mild sci-fi/realistic fiction
Similar books: Noggin by John Corey Whaley
                     Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
pretty compelling reading

Summary: Ollie and Moritz can never meet. Ollie is something of a hermit, restricted to a rustic cabin in the woods due to a severe electricity allergy. Moritz is kept alive by a pacemaker. A meeting would prove deadly for both of them. Through a series of poignant letters, Ollie and Moritz work through intense loneliness, bullying, and a dark past that connects them. 

My opinion: What stands out most for me about this book is the narrative structure. At first, it just seems like two boys writing letters. Ollie's are exuberant, filled with sidebars, enthusiastic description, and unfettered positivity. Moritz's are sparse, precise, almost dour. As we read, we realize not only do their letter styles reflect their personalities, they change. Ollie's letters lose their enthusiasm and length so gradually that we don't notice it until they nearly match the tone of Moritz's first letter. Meanwhile, Moritz's letters slowly gain enthusiasm, positivity, and detail. This juxtaposition is masterful and a delight to read. Even the names they call each other and their salutations reflect their changing mindsets. The odd nature of the plot will not appeal to all readers but if you're willing to go in with an open mind you'll find this novel well worth the effort.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 8, 2015

It's time for Doctor Who!

This clock remake was inspired by a photo I'd seen online. If you Google "Doctor Who clock" you'll see a dozen different varieties. With 12 doctors now these characters are perfectly suited to replacing the numbers on a clock. I'd considered printing out some pictures and gluing them to the clock face. In the end, though, I settled on painting some cartoon versions of the different doctors.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book review - The Devil You Know

Title: The Devil You Know
Author: Trish Doller
Genre: suspense
Similar books: The Third Twin by CJ Omololu
                     Escape Theory by Margaux Froley
I had some problems with it
Summary: Since her mother's death, Cadie has taken on a lot of responsibility. She goes to school, works in the family store, and helps raise her little brother. All of this means that she had to give up a lot: thoughts of college, her place on the soccer team, even her boyfriend. Now that she has graduated, with a lifetime of the same in her future, Cadie has had enough. She wants one night, maybe a weekend, of unbridled fun. When she meets a pair of cousins at a campground party, Matt and Noah seem to be exactly the kind of fun she's looking for. Their road trip quickly goes from fun to terrifying when Cadie realizes that one of the cousins isn't what he seems.

My opinion: The thing about thrillers and mysteries is that, by their very nature, they must be subtle. If foreshadowing or the building of a red herring is too heavy the reader will smell it coming. It takes the thrill out of reading and creates a barrier between the reader and the story. This is one large problem with this book. Another is the way Cadie is characterized. Having spent four years working and raising her little brother, Cadie is presented as a very practical, responsible young lady. Yet she not only hangs out with but leaves on a road trip with two men she's just met, at least one of whom she knows to have violent tendencies. She ignores niggling doubts, instincts that tell her something isn't right. Even a desire to cut loose for once, to be "fun", doesn't sufficiently explain such a gross lack in judgement. While the book does have some redeeming points these two problems along with overly simplified plot points made this novel more disappointing than thrilling for me.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pick 6: teams

This list is a little hard to define. I started tracking it when I was compiling a list of Percy Jackson read-alikes. There is something about books featuring groups of kids (formally organized or otherwise) working together towards a common goal where each one has skills necessary for that goal to be achieved. It can make for great reading. So here are six books published in the last six months featuring teams.

6 new team-based novels
1. The Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

2. Has anyone seen Jessica Jenkins by Liz Kessler

3. Sisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross

4. A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

5. Young Houdini: The Demon Curse by Simon Nicholson

6. Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs 

Clarification note: I am in no way saying that all six of these books would be suitable read alikes for Percy Jackson. They simply share a thematic element.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
For as long as she can remember, Rachel's been preparing to become the perfect wife and mother. She dresses modestly, cares for her younger siblings, and attends church regularly. When a former member of their congregation returns to town, it starts Rachel questioning what she's always believed, especially when things at home take a darker turn.

This is one of those books that I feel like I can't really express an opinion until I've read it in it's entirety. More than a quarter of the way through, but it could still go several different ways.

What did you recently finish reading?
Sweet by Emmy Laybourne
Laurel's on her first ever cruise, courtesy of her best friend Vivica. Of course, this isn't just any cruise - it's the Cruise to Lose, the official launch of the revolutionary new sweetener/diet supplement Solu. At first, Laurel is only concerned with a series of embarrassing encounters with former child star Tom Forelli and her serious seasickness. As the days pass, though, she begins to suspect that something is wrong with Solu.

Reminiscent of an action/mild horror movie, Sweet is pretty action-packed. The plot is solidly structured. While a little predictable, it's still pretty exciting and has some decent messages behind it.

What do you think you'll read next?
Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
A story of two unusual boys, good friends who can never meet in person.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book review - Powerless

Title: Powerless
Author: Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs
Genre: thriller/superhero
Similar books: Hero Worship by Christopher Long
                     V is for Villain by Peter Moore
Who doesn't love super-heroes?
Summary: Kenna has always felt inferior, invisible. The only "normal" surrounded by superheroes and villains, she's always struggled to compete and prove herself, especially as those closest to her feel the need to protect her from everything. When villains break into her lab, Kenna is determined not to be a victim. To her surprise, though, one of the villains saves her life. Thrown into a rescue mission with the villains, Kenna's entire world view is about to change.

My Opinion: This is a relatively standard questioning of the classic hero/villain dynamic, the rejection of absolutes in favor of complexity. Its a superhero story, which many will find appealing, with the added dimension of being unpowered in a world built on powers. Personally, I'd have preferred to see a little more depth of character but this is the first in a series. Hopefully the characters will develop more complexity in future volumes. Also I found the big twist a little too well foreshadowed. It just wasn't all that surprising.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 1, 2015

These toys have been assimilated

I seem to have developed an obsession with altering toys. Some of this comes from the lack of good merchandising for some of my favorite fandoms. The rest of it is probably my inability to leave well enough alone. Today I have two toys I remade over the weekend, both into Cybermen.

I found this C-3PO bobble head in a box destined for Goodwill. While I consider myself something of a Star Wars fan, something about this little toy just begged to be remade into a Cyberman.
I cut the rockets off the side of his speeder and sanded off much of his brow ridge (I'd have liked to have done more but his head is hollow and I hit air partway through). Wire and hot glue make up the "handles" on the sides of his head. The rest of the details simply painted on.

I'm not really sure where this action figure came from, given that I've never been a fan of the Power Rangers, but his relatively flat face and semi-robotic appearance seemed perfect for a Cyberman. He had some train elements as well but those were easily removed with a screwdriver.
 As with the bobble head, a little wire and glue make up his "handles". I had considered sanding off some of the molded decorations but I decided they give him character.