Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: "The Iron Trial" by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Callum Hunt tries his absolute best to fail his entrance exams.  His father has been preparing him for years to fail because even though he must take the exam, neither of them actually wants Call to go to the Magisterium.  But, Call failed at failing, so now he is there learning how to control his magical abilities.  He wants to hate it, because that is what his father wants - but, what if his father is wrong?  What if going to the Magisterium isn't so bad?  After all, he has finally found friends in Aaron and Tamara, and the Treaty is still in place so it shouldn't be that dangerous, right?

First of all, this book is co-written by YA Fantasy superstar authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, so teens who love their books are going to go nuts for this.  However, this is written more for a younger teen and maybe even a tween audience, so I caution those readers to remember that when picking this one up.  Have patience though, because this is the first in a planned 5 book series and I suspect that the characters will age with each book, and the conflicts and situations will mature along the way as well.

Given that this is the first in a long series, it has a lot of set up to do and unfortunately I think this book - taken on its own - suffers a little for that.  There is plenty of world building, character building and histories to lay down as the foundation for the next four books and that can read a little slowly.  There are some exciting moments working in along the way, but some of it feels a little forced - like trying to keep the younger reader on edge while doing the hard work of developing this basis for the series.  That said, I think this has the potential of being a really great series, once it gets going.  This set up is not what I thought it was going to be, and I truly am curious to see how it will eventually play out.

The Iron Trial
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Scholastic, 2014
295 pages
Series:  Magisterium #1
Source:  From publisher for honest review


Monday, October 27, 2014

Graphic Novel review: "Through the Woods" by Emily Carroll

This gorgeous book is a collection of five creepy short stories that are loosely connected with "the woods".  No, the stories are not connected by the same "woods", but rather the idea of a wood, or travelling through the woods, or that all the strange things in stories come from the woods.

The cover immediately caught my eye, and the art inside is just as powerful.  I think of horror stories as stories that evoke strong emotions with their intensity, fear being the most pronounced emotion of course.  The art in this book amplifies the tension with its bold use of color and the way the words of the text are incorporated within the page.  The stories are short, but each reaches the creepy stage very quickly and then pushes the reader's threshold  just a bit more.

I really enjoyed this book, and found it perfect for this time of year.  I loved the beautiful artwork and the eloquent use of language, especially within the art.  The tone is so dark and mysterious - far more than I expected it to be.  I will certainly be suggesting this to tweens and teens who love horror stories, no matter if they are reluctant readers or if they regularly walk out of the library with a stack of books in their arms.  As long as they want stories that will freak them out, I think they will like this as I did!

Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll
Margaret K. McElderry, 2014
208 pages
Source:  Library


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: "Candy Aisle Crafts" by Jodi Levine

Some of the most popular programs we hold at the library involve food.  People of all ages love playing with their food!  Bonus points if you can make it look beautiful or extra cute.  The author who put this book together worked for years as the craft editor for Martha Stewart Living, so I think she knows a thing or two about making food look cool.

The projects are grouped together in four sections:  hard candy, gummy candy, marshmallows, and cookies & cereal.  There are several projects per category, complete with tips, step by step instructions, and some phenomenal photography.  The materials for these projects are generally readily available in the grocery store, but just in case you are nervous there is a list in the back to help you out with some of the author's other sources.

Reading through the instructions on the projects that really caught my eye makes me feel like these are things I can actually handle.  The steps are nicely laid out, some of the projects have step by step photos, and the steps make sense.  I was really hoping to find projects in here that I could use with my teens at the library, but we don't have an oven to use so most of these projects are out.  I will try them at home with my own kids though.  There are some that I will use at the library - like some of the gummy candy and marshmallow treats will work, and I really think they will have fun with it.  Additionally, the cover has some definite appeal, and I think it will be an attractive addition to our crafty section of our collection!

Candy Aisle Crafts:  Create Fun Projects with Supermarket Sweets
by Jodi Levine
Potter Craft, 2014
112 pages
Source:  Blogging for Books in exchange for honest review


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Audio Book Review: "The Scorpio Races" by Maggie Stiefvater

It is almost time for the annual Scorpio Races, and surely someone is going to die.  The races happen every November 1st on the island of Thisby, the island where the dangerous water horses come ashore every fall and are raced on the beach for money by the bravest men.  The water horses are larger and faster than normal horses, and have sharp teeth to help them tear into the meat that is their favorite meal.  Nineteen year old Sean Kendrick has won the Scorpio Races four times in a row and is the clear favorite.  Seventeen year old Kate "Puck" Connolly has never raced, has never been on a water horse and hates them for killing her parents, but is compelled by circumstance to enter the race.  The stakes are high for these two riders, and only one of them can win.

I listened to the first half of this book on audio, and read the rest in print.  I'm really glad I did this, because while I did get the feeling that this was set somewhere near Ireland or had Celtic influence (and it is based loosely in Celtic myth), nothing made that more obvious than the lovely accents of the two narrators:  Steve West (Sean) and Fiona Hardingham (Puck).  Having these two narrators really added to the enjoyment and the overall tone of the story for me .  It also helped me figure out how to pronounce the native name for the water horse: capall uisce which is said something like CAP-all ISH-ka.

The characters are developed beautifully... even the secondary characters.  But the pace and plotting are really the stars of this book.  The scene is set with a quiet intensity and the events build and build the tension in such a masterful way.  I was really surprised, honestly, because I did not expect something like this after the Shiver series (proof is that I haven't read it until now!).  This is just on a completely different scale than that series.  I am just kind of in awe, and cannot wait until the book club for younger teens reads and discusses this together!

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Stiefvater
Narrated by Steve West & Fiona Hardingham
Scholastic, 2011
404 pages or 12 hours 7 Minutes
Source:  Library


Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: "Open Road Summer" by Emery Lord

Reagan O'Neill is coming out of a bad spell, the cast on her arm is certainly physical proof of that.  So this summer, she is spending the summer with her best friend Dee.  Of course everyone in the world knows her as Lilah Montgomery, teen country super star, but to Reagan she's just Dee.  The same Dee she's known since 3rd grade, the same Dee that has always been there for her every time she has gotten in trouble, the same Dee who had her heart broken very recently.  So Reagan and Dee are embarking on Dee's Summer Tour and everything is fun and wonderful until a tabloid runs a story that insinuates Dee in a scandal.  Dee is rocked to her core and Reagan goes into protective mode.  The publicist decides to bring a new opening act onto the tour - a handsome, talented musician named Matt Finch and that's when things really get interesting.

This book came highly recommended - and then was given to me - by someone I trust completely.  She knows my reading tastes, and she got me perfectly with this one.  I loved this book!  Reagan is kind of broken, physically and emotionally, by more than one event in her life.  Some were based in her bad choices, and in others she was the innocent victim.  The friendship she has with Dee is rock solid and is pretty much the only thing she can really trust.  When Matt enters their tour bus cocoon, Reagan is caught off guard.  Can she trust him like Dee trusts him?  Who is he really?  He totally screws up Reagan's plan of just spending time with Dee and rebuilding herself.  Or at least that is what she thinks at first...  The characters are just so awesome, and while I certainly can't relate to the whole stardom thing, it still all felt realistic.  I think it may have something to do with the silly things that I would totally do with my best girlfriends too or the incredible dialogue between these characters....

This is such a fun summer road trip romance book that I just fell for.  LOVED this one and can't wait to read more!  The friend who sent me this tells me that there is a new potential book boyfriend I have to meet soon....

Open Road Summer
by Emery Lord
Walker Books, 2014
342 pages
Source:  Gift


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Audio/Book Review: "A Room With A View" by E.M. Forster

It all starts with wanting a room with a view, as promised by the woman who ran the Italian pension where Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Miss Bartlett were staying.  It ends with a terribly frightening decision that Lucy must make regarding happiness for the rest of her life.  While staying at the Italian pension, Lucy meets the Emersons, father and son, and while she is somewhat taken with them, it is clear that the rest of her society deems them unworthy for whatever reason.  Lucy fights her attraction to the younger Emerson, George and ends up returning to her English country home.  She is subsequently courted by Cecil Vyse, who while being only sort of agreeable to Lucy, does have the approval of society.  Re-enter George into her life, and Lucy must decide between the two men and what they will mean for her future.

I listened to most of this book on audio, and I'm pretty sure that I missed some parts because of the whole "paying closer attention to the road than the audio book" thing.  Still, I rather enjoyed this book.  This really makes a point to show how silly and snobbish "high society" was, and how a rebellious way of thinking was slowing making its way into the norm - rebellious in that a woman thinking for herself might be okay if not encouraged, for example.  Miss Bartlett drove me crazy, and I think her character was a great way to help Lucy shine.

There were a couple quotes that grabbed my attention that I'd like to share:

"It is so difficult-at least, I find it difficult-to understand people who speak the truth." p. 8

 "Passion should believe itself irresistible." p. 105

A Room With A View
by E.M. Forster
Bantam, 1988.  First Published 1908
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2008
204 pages
7 CDs, 7 hr 15 min
Source:  Purchased Used, Audio from Library


Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: "The Truth About Alice" by Jennifer Mathieu

Even if you weren't at Elaine O'Dea's party that night, you've heard about Alice Franklin.  Everyone at Healy High heard about how she (probably) did two guys in one night at that party.  The rumors just got worse when one of those guys, the football team's star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons, died a few weeks later in a horrible car accident.  After all, everyone says that Alice caused the accident by (supposedly) sexting Brandon while he was driving. Everyone is a expert on all of the things that Alice (probably) did, so let's hear this story from four people all involved in the gossip mill in one way or another - either by spreading the rumors or by not standing up for Alice.

This story is told in a rotating point-of-view format.  The main narrators are Elaine who hosted the party, Kelsie who is/was Alice's best friend, Josh who was Brandon's best friend, and Kurt who is the school's genius outcast and Brandon's next door neighbor.  I could picture each of these character's telling their stories while sitting and feeling uncomfortable on some television interview stage.

I feel like this is an important story for teens to read and hopefully discuss.  It points out easily just how damaging gossip can be, how quickly it can spiral out of control, and how painful and life-altering the effects can be for the victim.  The story is told very simply and isn't very long so I can see this being recommended to older teens who are reluctant readers or maybe read below level, or to teens who have a particular interest and want a very quick read.

And my personal take on it?  I love the message, hated almost all of the characters (its true here again that I always like the nerds; they are my people), and absolutely hated the ending.  I really wanted something to cheer for, to rally behind - and I felt cheated.  What did you think?

The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
199 pages
Source:  Purchased New


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: "The Running Dream" by Wendelin Van Draanen

When we first meet Jessica, she is opening her eyes in the hospital and taking in all that happened:  riding on the bus home from the track meet where she set a new record, the truck that plowed into the bus, the fact that she has lost one of her legs.  Jessica lives to run and now she can't even walk?

This story takes you through Jessica's journey, all from Jessica's point of view.  We see her dealing with the grief of losing her leg which symbolizes the life she had and loved as well as her dreams for the future.  We also see her struggle to comes to terms with her new reality and to not only make the best of it, but to not give up on her dreams.

I think the most important thing though is that this story could have gotten really preachy or didactic or overly moralistic, but it doesn't.  It does take you through what it is like to get a prosthetic limb though.  The narrative also stays within the realm of realistic possibility of what a sixteen year old would feel, say or do in this situation.  Granted, it does stay pretty surface level and doesn't get too deep.  But I think that will help keep this book most appealing to younger teens. This would be a quality read for those in grades 7-10, especially those interested in overcoming trauma, handicaps or even the power of friendships and working toward a goal.

The Running Dream
by Wendelin Van Draanen
Knopf, 2011
332 pages
Source:  Library


Monday, October 6, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: "Ranma 1/2: Volume 1" by Rumiko Takahashi

Two old friends make a deal:  the son of one will marry one of the three daughters of the other.  When Ranma arrives to meet the girls, he is matched up with Akane - the one who likes him the least.  She is quick tempered and has been trained to fight well.  Ranma is also very skilled in martial arts, but has this issue/curse  that makes his life difficult.  Whenever he is splashed with cold water, he becomes a girl and stays that way until he is splashed with hot water.

This curse is used in such a funny way - it is like slapstick comedy in a manga art form.  There are all these romantic entanglements for Akane, it seems everyone except Ranma is in love with her but she doesn't return this affection.  The guy she likes happens to like someone else...  and it is all sorts of awkward.

I think what I liked most about this is the crazy exaggerations and over-the-top action.  It is kind of crazy in a light-hearted and enjoyable way.  A villain is introduced too, and while he seems to be super strong and determined, his motive is still kind of a mystery (or else it was just as revealed and is again over-exaggerated) and he has at least one original flaw that is exploited with humorous results.   I've already requested volume 2, so I will read on.  It is fast and fun, so why not?

Ranma 1/2: Volume 1
by Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ, 1993
300 pages
Source:  Library

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