Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nightschool: The Weirn Books: Volume 3

by Svetlana Chmakova, 212 pages

At school, Alex discovers she's not the only one to remember her sister; nor is her sister the first to have disappeared. She teams up with the student council and a geeky T.A. in order to retrace the steps of the missing.

Elsewhere, the hunters' safe house is betrayed by one of their own and comes under attack by an underworld werewolf gang. But what or who is the real target? And how is this all connected to Alex?

Daemon, the hunters' capable leader, and Mr. Roi, the most powerful, colorful, and insurance-claim-generating teacher at the nightschool, combine their resources to track down the source of the emerging threat and try to find a way to stop it.

There are more subplots here than I know how to explain, so you'll just have to read it (preferably one volume right after another so you don't forget who's who and what's going on).

Nightschool: The Weirn Books: Volume 2

by Svetlana Chmakova, 195 pages

Alex Treveney is a weirn (a special kind of witch) homeschooled by her older sister Sarah, a Night Keeper at a secret after-hours school for weirn, vampires, werewolves, and other "night things". When Sarah disappears, along with all evidence of her existence--including everyone but Alex's memories of her--Alex takes it upon herself to find her. With a burst of unknown power, she somehow survives an encounter with a band of "hunters", whose job it is to take out any night things who break the treaty governing their sharing of the world with humans, and enrolls in the nightschool in order to pick up and follow her sister's trail. Meanwhile, the hunters have to deal with the casualties from their run-in with Alex, whom they assume is a malevolent agent and an enemy to be destroyed--even though she has no idea what she's done.

There's a lot going on in this original English language manga, but if you can keep your threads and characters straight, it's worth it, as the art is attractive, the characters interesting, and the story engaging and unique.

The first two volumes of this series appeared on YALSA's list of "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" in 2010.

Kurogane: Volume 4

by Kei Toume, 224 pages

Wandering cyborg-assassin Jintetsu and his talking-sword Haganemaru keep a protective eye on Matoko, who still insists she's going to kill Jintetsu when the time is right. And that's fine with him; but until then, he'll keep her out of trouble as best he can.

In this volume, the three drifters come across two very different women as they travel. One, a cheating dice-thrower, has determined to start her life over again and get a respectable job. But when the fate of a loved one is in the balance, will she gamble away her own future to ensure his? The other, billed as a marvelous mechanical doll in a travelling theatre troupe, troubles Haganemaru's dreams of his human past as the characters contemplate their scars and what it really means to be "alive."

Now this series has made me feel compassion for a talking sword. *sigh*

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle: Volume 17

by CLAMP, 182 pages

The desperate companions and their new acquaintances make a slew of interwoven, sacrifice-laden wishes with the space-time witch Yûko, each taking on him- or herself a portion of the burden to save their friends and the fragile local community.

Kurogane takes responsibility for Fai's life, but at a cost the self-loathing Fai may never learn to accept. And as Yûko asks for a volunteer to carry out the final requirement of the group bargain, Sakura steps forward, tired of idly watching everyone else fight and hurt for her sake. She must go alone. And she will not return unscathed...if she returns at all. As the volume closes, those who remain need to regroup and renew their trust in one another and themselves and then move forward, hoping to find greater healing as they go.

This series's intricate visuals, plotting, and characters have made me a fangirl, no question.

Alice in the Country of Hearts: Volume 4

by Soumei Hoshino (art) and Quinrose (story), 189 pages

Alice is asked to choose where she'd like to live while in Wonderland: continue to stay at the clock tower with Julius, move to the amusement park with Boris and company, the castle with Vivaldi the Queen and that troublesome rabbit Peter, the Hatter's mansion with the scary twins and Baron Blood (who is, mysteriously, a murderous spitting image of her ex)? She feels safest with Julius (who at least hasn't tried to kill her yet, unlike some of the others), but is she in the clockmaker's way?

Alice's influence is causing some cracks to show in the strict rules of the "game" of Wonderland, but will they help her or hinder her as everyone is shaken up and increasingly out of their element? And will the boundary-erasing chaos of the Queen's upcoming ball only take Alice deeper into this world and farther from her own?

I don't know where this series is going, exactly. It likes to be a little convoluted and vague. But, I'm enjoying it anyway and find myself worrying over the characters' well-being and tenuously short life expectancies.

Flower in a Storm: Volume 1

by Shigeyoshi Takagi, 192 pages

After being rejected as a "freak" by a boy she liked, all Riko Kunimi wants is to blend in as a normal high school girl. But when powerful corporate heir Ran Tachibana decides he's fallen in love with her at first sight, her life is anything but ordinary. Ran thinks "normal" is overrated and declares that he loves her just the way she is--strong, awkward, and pretty freakishly athletic.

This series is mindless, sappy fun as it mocks the clichés and excesses of more serious, self-involved, over-the-top shojo melodrama. Ran gets about in fast cars and helicopters and always with a contingent of sunglasses-wearing, black-suited, armed guards due to the continuous attempts on his life made by his numerous business rivals. His supplies of influence and money appear to be bottomless, as is his devotion to bewildered Riko. For her part, Riko belies her protestations of normalcy by doing things like jumping unharmed from a third-story window and taking out her own kidnapper with a high kick (while handcuffed, with a gun to her head, on the back of a speeding motorcycle). If Ran is happily himself and happy to accept and appreciate her as she really is, can she learn to do the same?

Officially, Riko's the "flower" and Ran's the "storm", but they could easily swap roles and still make it work. This is stupid and funny and kinda sweet. And I'm already on hold for number 2. :P

This volume also contains one of the author's earlier works, a much more serious short story, "The Need for Artificial Respiration".

Dengeki Daisy: Volume 3

by Kyousuke Motomi, 192 pages

Teru tries not to let herself question Kurosaki's denial about being her behind-the-scenes friend and protector Daisy, but why? Is she afraid to have proof that he's lying? Or proof that he isn't?

I like Teru. She can play ignorant and then call people on trying to pull one over on her. Is she playing the same game with Kurosaki? We know he has his reasons for doing what he does and for beating himself up, but we don't know what they are yet. Hopefully, it will all become clear soon so these two can both know what the other knows and face their fears side by side.

Dengeki Daisy: Volume 2

by Kyousuke Motomi, 192 pages

Before orphan Teru Kurebayashi's computer genius brother Soichiro dies, he gives her a cell phone with just one person's email address in the contacts list: DAISY. Soichiro, worried that the dangers plaguing him will follow his sister after he's gone, tells Teru that he has entrusted this mysterious Daisy with taking over his role as her family, counselor, and protector. After Soichiro dies, Teru follows his advice and starts up a correspondence with her unknown benefactor who provides her much-needed emotional support. When, soon after, a new, cranky young janitor is hired at her school--a janitor who seems to know an awful lot about computers and who just happens to be around to help whenever Teru's in trouble--she suspects her brother's stand-in may be closer than she'd realized.

In this volume, Riko, the beautiful new counselor at school, turns out to be an acquaintance of both Daisy and Tasuku Kurosaki, the prickly janitor to whom Teru has been indentured since volume 1. Will she make Teru's life easier--or just complicate things even more? And will Riko's added help be enough to save Teru, and a troubled childhood friend, from the forces that once pursued her big brother?

One reason this series works so well is that Teru instantly connects Kurosaki with Daisy and asks him about it upfront rather than stretching the suspension of disbelief beyond credulity by ignoring the obvious. When he denies knowing what she's talking about, she accepts it but, in the back of her mind, doesn't really let go of the idea of them being one and the same.

Both Teru and Kurosaki display characteristics that pleasantly deviate from stereotypical shojo patterns. The story takes some refreshing spins, too, and the leads are likeable, well-realized individuals, which makes their growing bond that much more believable.

Recommended for anyone looking for a light yet involving romance comic.


By: Frank E Peretti 126 pp.
A young couple go to a funeral of a loved one. Once there, the woman, Kathy, cannot take her eyes away from one small, nearby gravestone that reads, "Tilly" and it has one date on it from nine years ago.
For some odd reason this gravestone has touched her heart but she is unable to figure out why. At several more visits to this gravestone, Kathy sees an older lady visiting this grave. She needs to figure out who is buried here so she talks to the lady. The information she receives is startling, yet comprehensionable.
Find out what when you read Tilly for yourself!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Petty Magic by Camille Deangelis

A nice distracting bit of witchery, this is the story of Evelyn, beldame from the House of Harbinger.  The story has witchcraft of the most uplifting and useful kind as well as the kind used entirely for selfish reasons. It's got fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery and nostalgia, all rolled together and told from the somewhat flippant but very likeable voice of Evelyn.
This is sort of like Anne Rice-lite.  If you like romance novels and witch stories with a bit more of a literary flair, then you'll enjoy Petty Magic. 
320 fairly fast moving pages.
Kim F

book jacket

White Cat

Holly Black
310 pages

In Cassel Sharpe's world there are people that can make things happen. These curse workers as they are called can change memories, hurt people, kill, and bring luck or lack of it just by touch. Cassel is the only person in his family that can't do any of these things. He goes to a private school while his mom is in jail, one brother is at law school, and the other is an enforcer for a mob boss. His life is already complicated and then one night he wakes up on the roof of one of the school buildings and is kicked out of school as a safety hazard. He has to stay with his oldest brother and then his Grandpa as they work to clean his mom's house for when she gets out of jail. Cassel keeps having weird dreams with a white cat and then one happens to be at his family home. Is this coincidence or just one piece of the puzzle Cassel has to put together to find out what's really going on?
I was intrigued by the cover of White Cat but put off reading it for a while. When I finally started reading I wasn't sure if I liked it, the story slowly unfurls and for some too slowly. If you can get fifty pages in you're hooked. The idea that with a mere touch people can change your life has some serious repercussions in this book. No one is immune to these powers and they can't be taken back. It creates a world that keeps you on your toes. Cassel Sharpe is a great main character and you root for him but since this is just the first of at least three books his problems are probably just beginning. Look out for a twist in the ending that will make you want to read the next book immediately. I really liked it and encourage more readers to take a look.

Endless Summer, Jennifer Echols

Lori and Adam are back for this sequel and still trying to figure things out. Lori is sure she wants Adam and not Sean, but an unfortunate case of falling asleep while out on a date lands them in serious hot water with their parents, who are finding it hard to believe that sleeping was the only thing that happened. Worse, Adam's big mouth isn't helping the situation or the rivalry he has going with his brothers. Lori falls back on more scheming to get them out of the mess, determined to date a truly inappropriate boy so her father realizes how good Adam actually is for her. Adam is convinced that Sean is one she really wants, and this scheme is her way of getting him. Lori has the rest of the summer to convince Adam he's the one she wants, to keep his mouth shut, and her father that convincing Adam's parents to send him to military school was out of line.

Endless Summer, Jennifer Echols
298 pages

The Boys Next Door, Jennifer Echols

Lori has always been one of the boys, but this summer she’s determined to get at least one of the boys next door to see her in a new way. Using magazines, T.V. shows, and observation she dives headfirst into a makeover, determined to make one of the most desirable boys in school her’s before her sixteenth birthday. At first it seems like it’s working, but then Sean starts acting weird, and suddenly Adam is the one throwing her off and making her tingle. In the midst of her plotting Lori struggles with her new ideals. Is getting with Sean worth faking an injury so he regains his spot at the end of the wakeboard show for the Crappie Festival? And if Adam really wants her, why is he giving her advice on how to get Sean? Maybe she should finally listen to the advice her father gives her everyday. Watch out around those boys next door.

The Boys Next Door, Jennifer Echols

336 pages

Persistence of Memory

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
212 pages

Persistence of Memory centers around Erin a teenager who has spent most of her life thinking she's crazy. Much of her time has been spent in psychiatric hospitals or being monitored by doctors but now she's getting better. Then out of nowhere she starts to slide back into madness having memories of a different life and waking up in another person's body. This other person is Shevaun a vampire who doesn't like that Erin can get in her thoughts. How can Erin do these things and if she was ever crazy are just two questions that come up in this story that the reader begs to have answered.
With books by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes I tend to either really like it or dislike it, there isn't much middle ground. Sadly Persistence of Memory is one that I didn't really like. It has an interesting story that could have been really great but gets cut short. It takes most of the book just to discover what is going on and in a few more pages it is over. It seems like the publisher only wanted so many pages and when the author got close to that number she just stopped. The beginning is pretty slow too. If you want to read some of her books try Hawksong or Midnight Predator but don't waste your time on this one.

Hector and the search for happiness : a novel / François Lelord.

165 pages

I picked up this book while browsing because a review likens it to The Little Prince. This story follows Hector, who is a psychiatrist, as he seeks to understand what makes people happy. In his practice, he works mainly with people who are rich, with jobs, family, etc., but are somehow dissatisfied with their life. On the other hand, he occaisionaly works with people who don't live the nice parts of town, and who may have mental illness or other conditions, who seem to be happier than his well-off patients. So Hector decides to take a year-long sabbatical and travel around the world to find out the secrets of what makes people happy. Through China, Africa and the US, Hector writes his observations in his little notebook.

The book is written in a simplistic, childlike style, similar to The Little Prince. In this book, however, the viewpoint is from Hector who is a very intelligent psychiatrist, as the narrator keeps feeling the need to remind us. This simple style allows Hector to ask seemingly naive questions (Why do the children begging on the streets smile?). It seems completely incongruous with the way we would expect a psychiatrist to act. I think this is the author's point, though. He's reminding us to approach the world with curiosity, and to not be afraid to ask to ask naive questions.

This quick read is not exactly mindblowing, but is a nice reminder to step back once in awhile for a fresh look at the world.

Jaunary Stats-PLEASE read!

Hi, all! What an amazing first month we've had! Please take the time to fill out the monthly stats form for me! You can find the stats form on the rules page or here.

It is quick and easy and saves me a ton of time.  I will be working on totals over this weekend so the sooner the better!


Usagi Yojimbo: Book Five: Lone Goat and Kid

by Stan Sakai, 142 pages

After his lord is betrayed and killed in battle, upright samurai Miyamoto Usagi wanders throughout Japan, offering his bodyguard services to the worthy and countering the nefarious doings of the corrupt nobleman who caused his lord's death.

In this volume, Usagi recovers a dead samurai's swords, helps protect a village from attacking ninja, and gets caught up in a web meant to trap an honorable assassin and his son.

Stan Sakai is pretty brilliant. Not only does he succeed in building a vibrant, cohesive world filled with allusions to Japanese historical figures (Miyamoto Musashi, for starters), pop culture (Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Godzilla, Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, among many others), and traditional crafts (such as the kite-making in this volume), but he does so without casting a single human being.

As you might guess from the cover (or the title, "usagi yojimbo" literally meaning "rabbit bodyguard"), our noble hero Usagi is a rabbit--not a bunny; though he can at first glance be deceptively cute, bunnies don't usually go around causing little cartoonish skull-and-crossbone thought bubbles to appear over their unfortunate opponents' heads. In his pursuit of honor and justice, Usagi encounters cat ninjas, bat ninjas, snake lords, goat assassins, a blind pig swordsman, a rhino ronin (or masterless samurai), and highways, fortresses, and villages populated with lions, tigers, and bears and an assortment of other animals who, like himself, are utterly human in every other way.

Sakai has won a handful of Eisner awards over the years, has long lettered for Sergio Aragonés' hysterical Groo the Wanderer, and has lettered for and is friends with Stan Lee (who wrote the introduction to this volume).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The strange case of Origami Yoda

By Tom Angleberger 141p.

The sixth grade has fallen under the spell of an origami, finger-puppet Yoda who dispenses sage advice in a way that only a faux-Yoda can. Tommy has been collecting a wide assortment of stories from his classmates regaling how Origami Yoda helped them. But, there are skeptics in the midst. Origami Yoda is the brain child of Dwight who is certifiably "weird" and not known for astute observations or bestowing wisdom. So, it is up to Tommy to determine if it is all an elaborate hoax in Dwight's mind, or if there does exist some divine Origami Yoda power. Oh, and he has to decide fast because his future with a certain female classmate hangs precariously in the balance. A cute, quirky, quick read that may well appeal to Wimpy Kid fans. May the force be with you.

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

2011/192 pgs

About the Book: Lilia is not a very good servant. She spends too much time daydreaming, her porridge is lumpy, and she breaks dishes. So when Lilia overhears that the family she lives with is planning on selling her to the miller's family, Lilia decides to run away.

Ten years ago, Lilia showed up in a basket floating down the river, so Lilia decided to set out and discover her true family. Lilia's best friends Kai and Karina decide to journey with her. But an encounter with the Elf-King and his daughter cause Kai to fall under the Elf-daughter's spell, and Karina and Lilia must recover a lost jewel, or Kai will be lost to them forever.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: A True Princess has it's roots in The Princess and the Pea, but that's only part of the story and the plot stands firmly on its own.

Lilia is searching for her family but also searching for a way to rescue Kai. These stories weave together nicely and have a very fairy tale feel to them. While the story might be a big predictable, especially for older readers, it's still a lot of fun to read and there are plenty of twists and turns that may surprise some readers. Lilia is a very likeable character. Each chapter starts with a phrase from a booklet entitled "How To Tell A True Princess" and include things like "A True Princess Does Not Gossip" and it's fun to see how Lilia proves each chapter heading wrong!

This is a perfect read for tweens who want a light fairy tale, especially if those readers are fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.

Silver Diamond: Volume 8: After Death

by Shiho Sugiura, 165 pages

When a strange man named Chigusa drops into Rakan's garden and is soon joined by two more unfamiliar men and a talking snake, the lonely boy with the green thumb safely guesses his life won't be quite the same. But when another boy briefly appears--one who shares his face but not his gentle, loving nature--Rakan knows he has more personal questions that need answering. He goes with his new friends to their--and possibly his own?--home world to counter the evil of his twin and learn the truth about himself.

In this volume, Rakan and company encounter a majestic giant serpent that stirs Narushige's painful childhood memories. What's happening to all the great serpents and how do they fit into the Ayame Prince's prophecies? And what is shrewd Kinrei, supposedly the mute Prince's loyal mouthpiece, really up to?

I love the world-building in this series. Chigusa's home is a harsh, dry place devoid of sun or real vegetation and quickly heading down the path to total uninhabitability and ultimate destruction, if Rakan's lookalike the Ayame Prince's dire prophecies are true. Plants, therefore, hold a near-mythical symbolism to the few people still surviving in this caste-ruled wasteland. When they see Rakan's Sanome power of making plants grow with his touch, they're torn between fear and a desperate hope. The Ayame Prince, whose power is as opposite Rakan's as his heart, has promised protection to those who trust in him--and he's never been wrong before. Can Rakan really restore life to this dying world before it's too late?

I love the characters, too. Koh, the snake, makes me giggle, and his person, Narushige, is kind, dignified, and rational. Tohji, the third guy to drop into the garden, is proud and naive and the object of the sly, deviously fun Chigusa's mockery. And Rakan exudes gentleness with his instinct to love and aid every living thing he encounters, even when he's not so sure that's a good idea. The only time his eyes grow hard is when he's contemplating his opposite number.

As I may have admitted in other reviews, I'm a fan of stories of quasi-families and metaphorical group hugs, and this series fits snugly into that category. The imaginative set-up, clever dialogue, and pleasant art are just icing on the cupcake.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hellsing: Volume 4

by Kohta Hirano, 205 pages

After the mess in South America, Integra recalls Alucard and the gang back to England for an audience with the Queen, Iscariot's Maxwell, and other behind-the-scenes bigwigs. But their war-room briefing is interrupted by a cheerful messenger from Millennium's man in charge. The "Major" is anything but modest as he boasts, via video conferencing, of his plan to defeat Alucard and take over the world with his army of Nazi vampires--starting with those snotty Brits.

Whenever I think this story's sole focus is to see how much bloody action it can cram into one book, it surprises me with hints at a deeper element by wiping the crazy, self-satisfied smile off Alucard's face and replacing it with something more complex and troubled. Last time, it was in his reactions to Police Girl's hesitation to kill and to a human opponent's unexpected suicide. This time, it appears in his disoriented, frustrated face upon waking from a memory-haunted dream. Now I'm curious! The reader gets so distracted by the present undead Nazi threat that she forgets the colorful lead must have an intriguing past to mine. How did a seemingly unstoppable monster like Alucard become the Hellsing family's "man" in the first place? Who--and what--was he before?

"Hate List" by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend Nick opened fire at Garvin High School - killing six students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. His blueprint for targeting victims was a "Hate List" of names he and Valerie created throughout their relationship. Now, after a summer of guilt,depression and therapy, Valerie steps back into the halls of her high school to complete her senior year and face a school full of students who think she is just as responsible for the murders as her dead boyfriend.

- IMHO -

"Hate List" is what young adult writing is (and should be) all about. The first two Gateway nominees I read I felt I was just page-flipping to get to a predictable ending. However, this book is meant to be digested slowly and I found myself intrigued with all of the characters as the story developed.

There wasn't the usual sickening dose of sugary teen angst or happy-go-lucky plot lines. Valerie's story feels incredibly raw and genuine. It's a great exploration of the adolescent psychology of dealing with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy. It's also an excellent social commentary on the dangers of bullying without being overbearing. Re-living teenage torment through Valerie was unpleasant and brought back very vividly how painful it feels to be made fun of and picked on. As the reader, I was constantly torn (as was Valerie) as to whether or not she should feel guilty about the deaths at her school.

I'm excited to see more from Jennifer Brown and from what I've read so far, I definitely think this has a shot at taking the Gateway.

Rating: 5 "shhhh's"

"Room" by Emma Donoghue

321 pages

The point-of-view is what makes this book stand out; the story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old named Jack who has lived his entire life in an 11 x 11 foot room. His mother was kidnapped before he was born and has been held in captivity since then. I think the author does a great job of portraying Jack and creating his world. The situation is bizarre and a little improbable, but Jack and Ma's thoughts and feelings seem realistic to me and I really connected with them. There's plenty of action and suspense--a couple of times my heart was literally pounding. The plot has several unexpected twists that kept me hooked throughout the entire story. Overall, a very interesting book that's going to stick with me for quite a while.

Matched, Ally Condie

Cassia lives in an ordered city where everyone knows just enough to do their part. The Society controls every aspect of her life. They choose her job, her meals, and at the start of the book, her match. The night of her matching ceremony goes perfectly. Her dress is beautiful, the food is wonderful, and she is matched with someone who seems perfect for her. It isn’t until later, when she views her match on her microcard, another face comes up. From that moment on, nothing is the same. Cassia will be visited by officials, but their perfect explanations don’t reassure her. In a place where everything is decided for you, Cassia begins to ask herself a dangerous question. Why?

Matched, Ally Condie

366 pages

City of Ashes

by Cassandra Clare, 434 pages

Clary Fray's journey continues with her fellow shadowhunters. She suspects that her father is behind recent killings, claiming downwolders for his victims. What is his motive? They need to stop her father before it is to late. To make matters worse, the inquisitor from the clave has arrived to investigate Jace. Does the inquisitor have a personal vendetta against or is she just crazy?
As Clary's world seems to be falling apart she will be tested physically and emotionally. She struggles to make difficult family decisions and faces even more frightening demons.

The suspense continues from book one to two, with more unexpected twist and turns. The anticipation is building as I wait to read the third book, City of Glass. I struggled to write a review for this book, because I didn't want to give too much away, especially if you haven't read the first book.

Oh No She Didn't, Clinton Kelly

Oh, yes. She did.

In two hundred and one pages Kelly chronicles the 100 top style mistakes women make. Part rage against laziness and poor taste, part heartfelt advice and all with Kelly’s signature biting humor. Along with style mishaps you read of the author’s respect of Judge Judy, and learn of some of his lovely fantasies, including a loudspeaker speech dedicated to the woman in pajamas at the Ice Cream cooler in frozen foods. I laughed my way through the book, it has great illustrations and a blunt way of stating the facts then providing alternatives. Throughout the book you find great advice including how to talk to your tailor, how to avoid those various gaps in the fit of your pants, and the secret to the perfect placement of hemlines.

Oh No She Didn't, Clinton Kelly

201 pages

"Let the Great World Spin" by Collum McCann

Let the Great World Spin takes place in New York City during a couple days during 1974, and it consists of several short stories told through the eyes of several interweaving characters. The writing was enchanting, and McCann’s words embodied everyone from a tightrope walker (modeled after Philippe Petit who walked across the Twin Towers) to a young Irish monk to a prostitute to a grieving mother. Part of the fun of reading this book is figuring out how every story and all of the characters are ultimately connected. McCann ultimately pulls together all of the stories and lives in a cohesive, understandable fashion to reveal a colorful tapestry of pain, promise, and hope that was New York City in 1974. Let the Great World Spin truly feels like New York City, and it draws the reader in like a large, cacophonous city does – through mystery, disparity, discovery, and human connection.

Let the Great World Spin won the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction.


By Stephen Wallenfels, 192 pages.

I made the mistake of starting this book before bed one night, not a good idea if aliens and the apocolypse freak you out. POD follows two young people during what appears to be an alien invasion. The pods appear one morning accompanied by horrific sounds only people can hear. There is no electricity and no communicative devices work. Any person stepping outside is immediately obliterated and disappear without a trace. Josh is sixteen and trapped at home with his father, they have no idea if his mother is alive. Megs is twelve and trapped in a parking garage of a hotel, her mother left and Megs is alone. The first-person narration switches back and forth between both characters as we watch their desperation to survive on both a physical level and an emotional level. This book is NOT for everyone, it is an account of an apocolyptic event so horrible things happen and there aren't many answers, but it will interest people who enjoy science fiction and stories of survival.

Fever Crumb

By Philip Reeve, 324 pages.

Ok, these are going to have to be shorter, I am WAY behind!

From her childhood, Fever Crumb was an unusual child. Taken in by Dr. Crumb of the Order of Engineers, she is raised in a world where logic is valued above all else and emotion is shunned. There are no women in the Order, which makes Fever stand out; but she also has unusual physical features which she discovers remind people of the dreaded Scriven, a not-quite-human race that was wiped out after years of human oppression. When Fever is sent to live with and assist the archeaologist Kit Solvent, she begins to discover a tangled web of mysteries and for the first time is thrown into an emotionally charged world. Fever must learn to balance reason with emotion if she is to solve the mysteries of her past, and protect her future from the political upheaval of her society.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, this is the story of a young biracial girl, growing up and trying to figure out how she fits into the world and who she is.  Rachel's mother was Danish and her father a black G.I.  They met and married in Germany.  There Rachel's mother never thought about her husband's skin color but when she arrives in America, she learns a whole new language to describe black people, none of it flattering. 
My favorite parts of the book are when Rachel talks about the "blue bottle" inside of her. It's where she puts all the feelings she can't speak about.  Eventually the bottle breaks but Rachel is resilient and she has been loved so while the bottle is shattered, Rachel is not.
I'm kind of a sucker for sad stories and this is definitely one of those but it has hope in it, too. It will stay with you.  You'll find yourself thinking about it long after you read the last page.
264 pp

book jacket

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

City of Bones

by Cassandra Clare, 485 pages

When Clary Fray witnesses a murder at the Pandemonium Club by people no one else can see, her life is turned upside down. She soon finds out that the murderers are known as shadowhunters, dedicated warriors that remove demons from the world. Clary also discovers that not only demons exist, but also werewolves and vampires. Clary feels an immediate connecting with one of the shadowhunters, Jace. When her mother disappears and she is attacked by a demon she is pulled into Jace's world where she discovers things she never new about herself. Will she like what she discovers?

City of bones is one of my favorite books. If you want a fast paced book that you can't put down read this. I actually read it in a day, which is quick for me because usually I get bored or tired from sitting around to long. There was constantly new and interesting things that Clary was discovering about herself that I just couldn't put the book down, because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. I am glad that I have the second book so I can start reading that right away.

"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

271 pages

William, the author and narrator, grew up in a rural village in Malawi. His family was poor but happy until 2002, when a disastrous famine struck and his family had to put all of their time and energy into staying alive. They didn't have the money for William's school fees anymore, so he had to drop out because all schools in Malawi require tuition. Instead of letting his brain take it easy, 14-year-old William started borrowing materials from his tiny community library. There he discovered a book called "Using Energy," which gave him an idea: he would build a windmill to provide electricity and running water to his home. He'd always tinkered with radios and conducted little experiments, but this was a big thing even for him. His neighbors thought he was crazy, but he stayed with it, constructing the windmill from scraps he found around the house and in his town's junkyard. After lots of trial and error, William finished his windmill and it changed his life forever. Not only did the windmill provide electricity and water for his family for the first time, but the recognition it gave him caused people to pitch in so he could afford to go to school again. It also drew attention to his impoverished community and inspired millions of people as his story spread through the media. Other Africans in desperate circumstances discovered that education could give them what they needed to make their lives better.

For me, William's story was a real eye-opener. First of all, it made me realize how much I take for granted: plenty of food, unlimited access to clean water, and resources for keeping my home warm and safe, to name a few, but especially education. In the US, we take it for granted that we'll get at least some kind of schooling (not to say that all the education in America meets the standards it should, but that's another story), and in fact a lot of us complain about having to go to school. William and many other Malawians, on the other hand, aren't guaranteed an education and they treasure every day that they get to spend in school. Reading about William's desperate efforts to stay in school and then to educate himself when he was forced to drop out was a huge inspiration. He demonstrates that there is a ton of talent that is being wasted in impoverished areas because simply living life is too much for some to keep up with. It's amazing that William had the drive and luck to succeed and bring positive change to his community. A couple of other things I liked about the book: it gave me a good idea of how the windmill was built and how it worked without getting super-technical, and I enjoyed William's humorous tone. I recommend this book for everyone!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Secret

By Rhonda Byrne
184 pages

Evidently The Secret, Rhonda Byrne’s motivational offering of 2006 was only a secret to me! Somehow this NY Times Bestseller with 1.5 million DVD sales escaped my radar. It very innocently fell into my lap just recently and I had the benefit of reading it without all the hype and criticism that has surrounded it.
On first examination of any self described “life transforming” book I take a deep breath filled with skepticism. Too many have gone down that path too often. From Eckhart Tolle to Dr Phil, we are led to believe that the answer is as simple as it is complex. To her credit Ms Byrne leans on the side of simplicity by giving just 3 simple commands to “mastering your universe”…ask, believe and receive. The other 183 pages are talking heads that put their own personal spin on the “law of attraction” that rules our collective universe.
Surprisingly it was the “law of attraction” a component related to quantum physics (a class I missed in college) that held the most interest for me. This law simply stated “like attracts like” is a practical theory that has been applied by many scientist and philosophers throughout time. Taken in its most secular and scientific context, I found myself intrigued by the possibilities it offers in the world around us. Referenced in quotes by Karl Jung “What you resist, persists” and Henry Ford “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right” somehow validated the rather obnoxious pontifications of the 24 contributors quoted in the book.
Having now shared in “the secret” I will admit that it has shaped my thinking in a more positive light… least until the next new “secret” comes along.

Still, I can only give this cosmic guide a Rock, Chalk. (hopefully that’s enough to keep my karma good)

Samurai Deeper Kyo: Volume 37-38

by Akimine Kamijyo, 415 pages

Kyo and Kyoshiro's personal histories as individuals and as friends-turned-potential-enemies are finally revealed as are their motives for taking the paths they've chosen. One by one, everyone pulls together to support them and their shared purpose. But the only one who can face the desperate, bitter, seemingly-all-powerful Former Crimson King is Kyo--in his own body. But after so long apart from himself, will Kyo be able to maintain the new identity his soul has formed over the years, or will he fall back into the dark, voracious, unstoppable force of destruction that lies buried in his genes? Only with the love and support of his new family can he hope to prevail...or survive.

Despite yet another knock-down, drawn-out, not-over-nearly-as-soon-as-it-should-be fight, this final installment in the series still manages to land the emotional punches that made me read this far in the first place. I love these characters. I love how they all grow as individuals and as a family. And I love how you just know, no matter what they appear to do on the surface, that their hearts are all in the right place. With its themes of indomitable hope, self-sacrifice, and strength in loving numbers, SDK gets to the warm-fuzzy sucker in me no matter how much cheese or how many overwrought battles it throws in its way.

Nightmare Inspector: Volume 9: Return

by Shin Mashiba, 179 pages

Hiruko follows one last dreamer into her nightmares and starts down a path of self revelation that brings him, and the reader, to a startling, bittersweet realization.

Both Mashiba's tale and her art are dark, dense, and complicated and hard to wrap your head around until you stop to think about everything that has come before...and then it all falls into place. It's frustrating and satisfying at the same time.

Yostuba&!: Volume 9

by Kiyohiko Azuma, 222 pages

Five-year-old Yotsuba Koiwai lives with her adopted dad, a freelance translator who works from home. The two go about their daily business, hang out with friends and neighbors, run errands, cook meals, and play together. It doesn't sound like much, but it's simple happiness in manga form.

In this volume, Yotsuba shops for a teddy bear (huggability test!), goes out for yakinuki (meat cheer!), and has her first encounter with hot air balloons (!!!). Throughout, there's an undercurrent of nostalgia and joy. Young readers will see the world through Yotsuba's eyes, older ones through her dad's and the other grown-ups' (who, due to infectiously-imaginative-child exposure, often see the world through Yotsuba's eyes, too). But regardless of age, the jokes are funny, the expressions are priceless, and the end result is a smile. "Enjoy everything!"

Yotsuba&! earned an Excellence Award at the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival, has been nominated for a handful of other awards in both Japan and the U.S., and has appeared on best-of lists from Publishers Weekly, Comics Journal, and YALSA.

Parasyte: Volume 8

by Hitoshi Iwaaki, 270 pages

In this final volume of the series, Shuichi and his right-hand-alien Migi face off against the most deadly of Migi's fellow invaders. Goto is actually five parasites occupying the same host and he's cold, on the hunt, and very hard to kill. But when the time comes, will Shuichi really be able to finish him? More importantly, will he want to? After all, the parasites are not the most horrible creatures out there--a lesson later reinforced for Shuichi by a chance reencounter with true evil. Meanwhile, Migi has made his own personal re-evaluation since getting to know humanity through Shuichi and chooses a new path.

The moral complexity and imagination of this series are its strongest qualities. And despite Migi's conclusion that their two species can never completely understand one another, it's clear that for the two of them, at least, that doesn't mean they can't be friends.

Hellsing: Volume 3

by Kohta Hirano, 191 pages

Integra sends Alucard, Police Girl, and a contingent of new Hellsing recruits off to South America to start tracking down the evil Millennium group. But the bad guys are eagerly awaiting their arrival and set in motion a bloody game to test their opponents. Meanwhile, Iscariot is up to its own shadowy doings.

Goodness, there's a lot of collateral damage to the local police force in this volume. And it isn't pretty. Let's just say that Alucard appears to make a little homage to his historical namesake (or himself--we're still not sure) from that involves spikes. *shudder* Despite the violence (and there is an awful lot of it), there's still the barest hint of moral ambiguity, as even Alucard pauses--however briefly--to question his methods. But when Integra considers their true enemy, she gives the order--and Alucard won't question her.

Murder in Little Egypt

By Darcy O’Brien
344 pages

The inverted triangular tip of Southern Illinois is surrounded by the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In Darcy OBrien’s True Life Crime story of Dr Dale Cavaness, this region known as “Little Egypt” plays a key role. “Dr Dale” returns home to the rough and rural mining town of Eldorado to begin his medical practice. As many country doctors in the 1960’s, he is responsible for most of the area’s medical needs, from general practitioner to surgeon. To his community he is well-loved and respected, a larger than life influence and a man too good to be true. Unfortunately for his family, his Dr Jekyll persona is off-set by his Mr. Hyde behavior at home. A cold and un-caring father, he physically and verbally abuses his wife and their 4 sons. The years of alcohol, cheating, and lavish spending eventually send his life spiraling out of control. Facing financial ruin he turns to murder to collect insurance on not one, but two of his sons over a seven year period.
Perhaps as disturbing as these heinous acts is this community’s effort to protect their own in light of ever-mounting evidence against the “good doctor.” Patients and friends rally to not only support him, but refuse to cooperate with the investigators of these young men’s murders.
The reader has the benefit of the complete story down to the final verdict, expertly researched and documented by Mr. O’Brien. The cold hard facts are compelling. What is more difficult to comprehend is how an entire region bands together to shelter this man, innocent or guilty. In their minds the difference is barely discernible.
Like much True Crime writing the real interest lies in the “psychological dynamics behind these ghastly crimes.” Written in 1989, the investigation is rather dated compared to today’s forensic tools and extensive resources. Murder in Little Egypt is entertaining in the same voyeuristic way of In Cold Blood or Helter Skelter. So readers beware!

Mr O’Brien its only a Rock and a Chalk for this effort.

Twenty Boy Summer

by Sarah Ockler

290 pages

In Twenty Boy Summer we follow the journey of Anna as she recovers from the loss of her first love and best friend. The twist resides in the fact that Frankie her other best friend lives next door and it was her brother that died. Frankie does not know Anna loved her brother and invites her along on a family vacation to the beach. Here they make a pact to meet a boy every day while on vacation hence the title Twenty Boy Summer. Do they meet the quota of 20 boys? You'll have to read it to find out. I didn't expect to like this book very much but it grew on me. The way every one grieves the loss Matt (the brother) is remarkably poignant. It begins as a stock teen novel but by the end has grown beyond those stereotypical bounds. For a debut novel I find myself even more impressed by the author and would reccomend this to other readers of teen literature.

To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn: 3)

by Tad Williams
(1993 | 1066 p)

Simon, a once kitchen boy turned knight, is caught up in a strange tale. He and his companions are at war with the greatest powers in all of Osten Ard, not all of whom are entirely of this world. Their only chance for survival? A strange poem found in the notes of a long dead madman and an uneasy alliance with the immortal Sithi and the cave-dwelling Trolls of the frozen north. At one time Simon might have found his current circumstance to be exciting, adventurous. But he's long since left behind the mooncalf boy that he was. Being a hero is about survival, confusion and pain. Glory is the stuff of songs.

"To Green Angel Tower" is the final book in Tad Williams' "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" trilogy. There's a lot of story tangled in these 1066 pages, making the task of writing a brief review seem nearly impossible. I feel I could construct a detailed dissertation on Williams' land of Osten Ard and still have a few plot points left unexplored.

The world that Tad Williams has created in this series is intricate and 3-dimensional. The characters are complex and believable, particularly that of young, brave, naive Simon. I sincerely enjoyed my time with the story and was sad to see it finally come to an end. On the other hand I was a little disappointed in how things wrapped up. After all of that world building and the intricately twisty plot, the ending seemed too tidy. It felt as though, even with 1066 pages, the author was rushing to find an end. Perhaps if "To Green Angel Tower" had been split into two novels Williams would have been able to give the ending the same flourish that I so enjoyed throughout the rest of the story. (The paperback edition of "To Green Angel Tower" was published in two parts due to its size. The story itself, however, was constructed as one book.)

But I so loved this series that I can't be overly critical for very long. I don't know how I only now found these novels (they've been out for years!) and I'll definitely be looking for more work by Tad Williams. I'd highly recommend this series to fans of awesomeness and epic fantasy.

(If you're curious, you can find my reviews of the first two books -- The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell -- on my LibraryThing.)


Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.
Two worlds: one a prison, where thousands of prisoners fight, murder, steal, and perform other acts in order to have food, shelter, safety. Finn lives in Incarceron, but has no memory of how he got there. The other, Claudia's world, is one of Protocol. Everything that is done is done in the name of protocol. Claudia's father is the warden of the prison, Incarceron. He has been distant, secretive and cold toward Claudia all of her life. When Claudia learns that her arranged marriage to the son of the queen has been moved up to the following week, she and her tutor steal into the warden's office and find a crystal key. Soon they learn they can use the key to speak with the owner of the other key, Finn. And so Finn and his cohorts begin communicating with Claudia and Jared in an attempt to find a way out of Incarceron.
This is an intense, dystopian novel with lots of twists and turns. While I really enjoy listening to audiobooks, I think I would have followed the plots better had a read this book rather than listened to it.
442 pages; 11 hours, 37 minutes.

One for the Money

By: Janet Evanovich, 343 pp.

WOW! I really like how Evanovich helps you to see what is going on in her stories. Stephanie Plum becomes a bounty hunter for her cousin, Vinny, because of losing her job and she is in need of money. Find out if she gets her FTA - Failed to Appear!
And guess what.... Coming 2011 (Yes, this year!) the movie will be at the movies! Check this site out:
If you don't mind a bit of gory details, a few curse words, sexy talk, and violence, then you won't mind reading this story of book one in a series. Or even get it as book on cd for a funny narrator, C.J. Critt. Critt changes her voice just right for you to detect what character she is portraying. I cannot wait for book two, Two for the Dough!

At Home A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

I really like Bill Bryson and am always glad to see a new book hit the shelves. Despite providing a huge amount of facts and tidbits about his subjects, I don't get bogged down or bored. At Home is more of the same. The book is full of facts about the history of homes and it is his 150 year home in Norfolk England that he uses as his base as he wanders from the attic to the cellar spouting off trivia about fork tines, dining tables, food in the middle ages, diseases, servants, stairs, bed bugs, archeologists, bathing....the list goes on and on. Somehow he does it with such wit and ease that you don't realise the amount of information you are taking in. I liked this book and enjoyed reading it though I have to admit it was not one of my favorites. My favorites are In a Sunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods simply because I get more of Bryson himself...he is a character in these books and not merely the narrator. But even a mediocre Bryson book is really enjoyable and this was a fun read. 2010 512 pages

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I read this book for book club and though I was intriqued by the description, the actual reading experience did not follow through. The book opens with a four year old little girl found alone except a small white suitcase and a book of fairy tales on a dock in Maryborough Australia. No one comes looking for her so the dockmaster and his wife take her in and raise her as their own. The book weaves the stories of Nell, her granddaughter Cassandra, and Eliza, the authoress as it attempts to solve the mystery of the abandoned child. Unfortunately it quickly becomes confusing, melodramatic, and annoying. The characters are not very likable, their voices all sound alike, and I had trouble understanding their motives. It bounces from one character to the next and one time period to the next and one country to the next in a way that left me thumbing backwards to try and figure out where I was. She attempts to do too much with this book; its a little bit mystery, romance, gothic, historical fiction, and fairy tale. And it leaves the author attempting to tie too much up at the end in a contrived and unbelievable way. If you want to read a book that successfully presents and solves a historical mystery, I think A S Byatt's Possession is a truly satisfying read. I really wanted to like The Forgotten Garden but I just couldn't do it. By the way, this was received well by the book club and pretty much everyone liked it except me (sigh) 560 pages 2009

Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume

My parents never censored anything I read when I was growing up.  I never realized how unique that was until I’d spend the summers with my Oma & Opa in Kansas City. Not only was my reading censored, I wasn’t even allowed to go to the KC Public Library. It was Mid-Continent or nothing baby.  I loved Judy Blume growing up and purchased Then Again, Maybe I Won’t with my own money one summer. I made it two pages in before it was confiscated until I got home.  With all the banning of books flying around I decided to revisit an old friend.

At thirteen, Tony has an established life with his family and friends in Jersey City. They don’t have a lot of money but the community is a close-knit one and folks look out for each other. It is very easy to hear the Italian accents in characters voices. When one of his dad’s inventions hit the big time Tony finds out that money can really change people-even those the closest to you-in ways you never imagined. Not only does Tony have to deal with moving away from the community but also maneuvering new things such as girls and other embarrassing things that can happen to a guy going through puberty.   Blume writes with the voice of a teenager and the wonder of figuring out all this new stuff in life. The story is old enough to feel dated in some aspects but the emotions and situations ring true. 1971, 164 pages.

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

“I felt naked. And ugly. And huge.”

Cat has a lot going for her.  She’s super smart, funny,  has great friends and a supportive family. What she doesn’t have is being able to think of herself as skinny and her former best friend.  When presented with an opportunity to make a huge statement at the science fair, she opts to turn herself into a guinea pig and live like a prehistoric person would…with a few modifications. No one really wants to eat rancid meat these days, now do they?

This is part of what I like to call the growing trend of  fat lit. Cat is uncomfortable in her own skin and takes this opportunity to change that and is greatly surprised by the changes in her body as well as those around her. But, as always, it is more about healing what is inside then having a perfect body.  What I didn’t like about this book is that it felt like a treatise on how to eat raw foods.  You could almost hear the PSA coming through the different characters rather flat voices-the message of fighting childhood obesity was more important than the story.   The pacing was moderate and the setting could be anywhere.  If I had to give the book a one word review? Meh.  It is on the 2011-2012 Gateway Award nominee list and no, that doesn’t surprise me in the least.  2009, 327 pages.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

2011/368 pgs.

About the Book: In the future, scientists have eliminated all disease thanks to the wonders of genetic engineering. But the downfall is that the offspring of those genetic engineered children now have a shorter lifespan-twenty years for women, twenty-five for me. Some still believe in a cure and will do anything they can to find one, including kidnapping and selling young girls into polygamist marriages.

Rhine is 16 and finds herself being taken to Housemaster Vaughn's household to be married off to his son, Linden. She refuses to accept this new role and is determined to find a way out. She begins to develop feelings for one of the household staff, Gabriel and Rhine is convinced she and Gabriel can escape Housemaster Vaughn's clutches. But world around Rhine is blurring and it's getting harder and harder to see what is real and what is a lie.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Be prepared to hear a lot about this book-this one is going to be big! This is a fantastic debut and it will leave readers wanting more.

Although it's set in the future, life in Housemaster Vaughn's house almost has the feel of a period drama. Like Rhine, we never know what really is happening or what is real and what is a lie. Housemaster Vaughn is up to something, but we don't know what and that mystery adds to the story.

The characters are all fantastic-not only do we get to know Rhine, but we really get to know and care for her sister wives, Cecily and Jenna. The author has a fantastic balance of telling and showing. She tells us that Rhine is spending time with our cast of characters and then she also gives us a glimpse into a conversation with them. This balance made the romance as well as the friendships between the sister wives more real.

And the romance-love it! The author has this great way of making us unsure of who we like, who we trust, and if someone is good or bad. It's never sappy or over the top, but instead she keeps us guessing along with Rhine as to what really is going on and what exactly her feelings are.

This is a first in a trilogy, yet Wither wraps up nicely enough to not leave me hanging with a horrible cliffhanger. There are still questions left unanswered and I want to know more, but I also felt satisfied with the ending.

If you're a fan of dystopian novels, add this one to your reading list.