Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010 by Adrienne Rich

"Spooky those streets of minds
shuttered against the shatter

articulate those walls
pronouncing rage and need"

Adrienne Rich has over 30 books of poetry, almost all a compilation built on the years the poems were written. At 81 years, I would be remiss if I didn't proclaim loudly that she is one of the most influential poets of our time. This collection is a reflection of a long life, love, trust, betrayal and as always social commentary.

Adrienne Rich is not an easy read but she is a necessary one. She pulls you into each sentence and demands you focus on the message she is sending. A gasp here; a shudder there; an overwhelming sense of awe as her words take your breath away. As Rich says, "I believe almost everything I know, have come to understand, is somewhere in this book."  Indeed. 2011, 89 pages.

One Hundred Poems From the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth

"In the eternal
Light of the spring day
The flowers fall away
Like the unquiet heart."

Kenneth Rexroth is a celebrated poet in his own right but in this collection he provides a translation and basic introduction to Japanese poetry and how it differs from Western poetry. Each poem is translated by Rexroth with the original Japanese language and then characters printed below. A short biography of each poet is provided in the back.

I admit that if I go to a bookstore without a certain book in mind, I tend to get in trouble. This book was one of three unexpected choices that called out as I browsed the poetry section. I've always enjoyed Rexroth's poetry and I suppose the current events in Japan also pulled me to this simple tome. This is a good introduction to Japanese poetry and is a quick and reflective read. I am struck by how a few simple words can evoke such an emotional response from the reader. 1955, 140 pages.

Hisa kata no
Hikari nodokeki
Haru no hi ni
Shizu kokoro naku
Hana no chiruramu

~Ki No Tomonori

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

2010/256 pgs

About the Book: Interwoven short stories that tell the true story of what happened to Hansel and Gretel.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: A Tale Dark and Grimm received a lot of buzz late last year, so I was eager to check it out. The book starts out explaining that the fairy tales and stories we know are altered and that the author is going to tell us the true Grimm tales the way they were meant to be told-gory, gruesome, dark and all. And they are that-gory and dark, but they're also brilliantly woven together to tell one large story arc.

The author often interjects into the story to break up some of the tension and "scarier" parts. Some of the tales are darker, but I don't think it's anything scarier than any other horror novel for middle grade or young adult. There's also lots of snark that the author interjects into his comments which gives the book a lot of humor.

The opening tells the reader that Hansel and Gretel get their heads chopped off in the first story and after an opening like that, you can easily sell this book to older tweens and teens! I can't wait to start booktalking it to readers-I'm sure they'll snatch it up!

"Hunger" (Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider's Quartet #1) by Jackie Kessler

177 pages

Seventeen-year-old Lisa has anorexia, and it's slowly beginning to take over her life. Although she can't admit to herself that she has a problem, most of her time and energy is spent planning her meals, exercising, and trying to keep her family and friends from catching on. When it becomes too much, she tries to kill herself but the attempt is botched. Death, who had arrived for her suicide, tells her that she's been given a new job: Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. At first, she thinks that she's imagined it all, but soon it becomes clear that it's all too real. As she rides around the world, she encounters both unbelievable gluttony and miserable starvation and discovers that she has the power to balance the two. It also makes her realize that she has a big food problem, but she doesn't know if she can fix it.

This is a really interesting take on eating disorders. The anorexic-as-Famine idea brings attention to both the seriousness of anorexia and the tragedy of worldwide hunger. I like that it has elements of fantasy because that will make it more enjoyable for people who don't usually enjoy books about "issues," so they will learn about eating disorders but not be bored. Kessler is right-on with her portrayal of the anorexic mind and body: the Thin voice criticizing nonstop; the constant mental calorie calculations; feeling scatterbrained; constantly being cold. I wish that this book contained more explanation about the Horsemen--their background and what their long-time plans and objectives are--but this is the first in a series, so perhaps we learn more about that later.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire by Kristin Cashore
461 pages.

Though marketed as a companion piece and prequel for Graceling, I think it would have been better to leave this book as a stand-alone story. I found the tie-in between the two distracting. It is mentioned in the Prologue and then left until almost the end, leaving me constantly trying to figure out what the tie-in actually was.
I enjoy the way Cashore portrays strong young women who are independent. In both Fire and Graceling, the main characters struggle and eventually accept themselves for who they are.

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
458 pgs.

Though I'm getting tired of the zombie, vampire, werewolf genres, I decided to give Rot & Ruin a shot. Mayberry's has a different take on the zombie apocalypse and focuses on Benny, a fifteen-year-old training with his brother to become a zombie-killer. Though it could be very gruesome, it was a good read and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel Dust & Decay.
4Graceling by Kristin Cashore 471 pgs. Gateway Award Winner

I enjoyed this debut novel about a young woman with special abilities coming into her own and accepting her "gift". It had just the right amounts of action, mystery and romance to keep me interested. It is well written and left me wanting to continue reading additional books by Cashore.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

2011/272 pgs

About the Book: It's 1975 in Vietnam and ten-year-old Kim Ha and her family are praying for her father's safe return. He's been missing for the past nine year and war rages on around them. When the opportunity arises for the family to leave Saigon on a navy ship and come to America, the family decides to take the chance and hopes for a better life.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Inside Out and Back Again is a beautifully written novel in verse debut. The book is partly based on the author's own experience as a child, and it's clear she's writing what she knows and cares deeply about her story.

Kim is a strong, brave character who has a lot of spunk and a great voice to her narration. Her transition to America isn't easy. In Vietnam, she was smart and had friends, whereas in America she is taunted and teased and feels dumb because she doesn't know the language. But she doesn't let that stop her, which I loved about her. She stands up for herself and she was a character you couldn't help but like.

The book is getting some early Newbery buzz and deservedly so-it's a touching and memorable debut and well done in verse format.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet

2011/56 pgs

About the Book: Press Here-on the yellow dot. See what happens? Another dot appears! Follow the instructions in this interactive, imaginative picture book.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I LOVE Press Here! One of my favorite picture books of the year! I loved what the Booklist review said "without so much as a single tab to pull or flap to turn, this might be the most interactive picture book of the year."-so true and I couldn't agree more. The book encourages the reader to use their imagination and believe in the magic of the book. Tilt the book left and the dots fall to the left side of the page, shake the book and the dots spread all over, clap and they enlarge. It's too much fun and I couldn't help myself from wanting to play along and take part.

I also read this one with my niece, who loved it. The text is simple and instructs the reader on what to do next. It's also congratulatory and encouraging and praises the reader for doing a good job.

With fun, creative, interactive books like Press Here, who needs ebook apps?

Crabby Pants by Julie Gassman ; illustrated by Richard Watson

2010/32 pgs

About the Book: A little kitten is very crabby and finds himself in the naughty chair. But then he thinks about his crabby pants problem and comes up with a way to solve it for good. Only his solution won't make anyone else very happy.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I picked this one up on the title alone. I was called crabby pants many times as a kid (and OK, even as an adult sometimes) and the cover with the crabby kitten just made me laugh.

The story is as much for parents as it is for kids-both will get a kick out of the creative solution to the crabby pants problem. My only complaint was the ending, which was a little open ended, but still fun and could lead to a good discussion between parents and kids. Crabby Pants is a humorous picture book that's sure to lighten anyone's mood!

In Front of My House by Marianne Dubuc

2010/120 pgs

About the Book: A child tells about what can be found in front of the house, inside the house, around the room, and beyond.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: This is a fun, twisty little book! Thank you Chrissy for showing it to me!:)

The book starts with "in front of my house" and soon grows to the bedroom, what's outside the window, what can be found in a book, in outerspace, and on and on. The path doesn't always make sense, but it captures a child's imagination perfectly (which doesn't always make sense either!:) It's a long picture book, but the text and illustrations are simple. It's fun to guess what could be coming next-chances are you won't be able to! The story is circular and we wind up where we started, making this a great book to read over and over again!

Everyone Needs A Friend by Dubravka Kolanovic

2010/32 pgs

About the Book: Jack the wolf doesn't mind living alone, but he does get lonely at times. So when Walter the mouse comes for a visit, Jack is excited to have a friend to spend time with. But Walter has some annoying habits and Jack isn't sure he likes his company. Will Jack and Walter learn to get along?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: A sweet book on friendship, Jack and Walter are too cute! The illustrations have a nice, soft, warm & fuzzy look to them. Jack's annoyance at Walter's habits is funny to read about and I'm sure many readers can relate! A good book to add to a list of friendship books for the preschool crowd.

The Brothers' War: Civil War Voice in Verse

by J. Patrick Lewis

31 p.

Lewis writes poetry trying capture the voices of the people involved in the Civil War from John Brown to people enslaved to Confederate soldiers.

I think the book was great. The poetry was fantastic and moving. The pictures were often ones I had not seen before. I only wanted more poems really.

"There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom" by Louis Sachar

208 pages

No one at school likes Bradley Chalkers, not even the teachers. He bullies the other kids, and they tease him in return. He never does homework and has never gotten a single gold star for good behavior or good grades. His only friends are his collection of stuffed animals and figurines. Then Jeff moves into town and is friendly to Bradley, while the school gets a new very unconventional counselor who seems to like him. For the first time, Bradley begins to question his status as the "monster" of the fifth time.

I love this book! I read this book as a kid, but I didn't remember much about it and was very glad that it didn't disappoint this time around. The characters are very lovable despite their flaws, and the kids' antics cracked me up. It's a quiet story without a lot of major events, but the fifth graders' thoughts kept me entertained. I think this book has a great message for kids but it doesn't beat them over the head with it.

Perfect Soup by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Ben Mantle

2010/40 pgs

About the Book: A mouse wants to make the perfect soup and is in need of a carrot to complete his meal. He sets out on a search for his perfect ingredient, but is soon owing favors to those he meets along the way. With the help of a friendly snowman, the favors will be finished and the perfect soup will be made.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I'm a bit mixed on what I think of this book. It's a cute story and the illustrations are adorable. I think my adult reader self took over though when I read it. I kept getting annoyed at all the people for asking favors instead of just being nice and helping! And I got annoyed that the mouse kept ignoring the snowman. But it does have a good message/lesson and could lead to a good discussion, especially if younger readers feel the same way as I did.

A Little Bit of Love by Cynthia Platt, illustrated by Hannah Whitty

2011/32 pgs

About the Book: A young mouse is excited that his mother is making him something to nibble on. Together they gather flour, honey, berries and cream for the special treat. But there's also a secret ingredient that needs to be added!

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: This is a sweet picture book and great for a lapsit read with the preschool crowd. I liked the way the mother mouse explained how they were able to gather each ingredient, although the story is a bit too sappy at times for my taste.

City of Fallen Angels

Cassandra Clare
432 pages

Clary has returned to NYC and hopefully normal life, well as normal as her life can be. Jace is finally her boyfriend and she is training to become a shadowhunter. Her mother and Luke are getting married soon. Simon is dating two girls, both of which are very dangerous and no one will leave him alone. Jace is having nightmares about killing Clary but things are about to get much worse.

I really liked this fourth installment of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instrument series. Clary has learned enough now that the reader isn't being constantly lectured at which is nice. There isn't a lot of action but the pace is still pretty quick and keeps you interested. I read it in one day on a road trip so I can attest to the gripping storyline.

The Time Machine

1895/104 pgs

About the Book: The story starts with a man known only as The Time Traveller having a dinner party with friends. They are discussing existence and the various planes and dimensions things can exist on. The Time Traveller then shows his guests a small machine and claims it is a time machine. He mentions that he has a larger machine that would allow a human to travel through time. He sends the small machine off, but the guests believe it was a simple parlor trick. The next week the guests gather again for a dinner party, but The Time Traveller is not there. Soon he appears, looking bedraggled and hungry. He claims he has traveled through time and been to the year 802,701 A.D. He invites his guests to listen to his tale.

The traveller explains that when he first arrives, he comes across a group of people he calls the Eloi. They eat fruit and are easily tired and distracted and he describes them as childlike. The world they live in is very peaceful and paradise-like. He meets one called Weena that becomes a companion to the traveller. He notices that Weena grows fearful in the darkness. The traveller than discovers another race, the Morlocks. The Morlocks live underground. The Morlocks have stolen the traveller’s time machine and he is determined to get it back.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I read this for my SF pick for my reader's advisory class. I enjoy science fiction movies and TV shows, so I thought I would enjoy this book, but I wasn’t a big fan. It was good, but not my favorite. I found it a bit boring and dull. It’s mostly the traveller talking about his theories of how the future formed, how the races came to be, etc. It didn’t have much characterization or dialogue which I like in a book. It was interesting to read though to see what early science fiction was like. I think I would enjoy it better as a play or movie.

vampire Knight vol 11

Matsuri Hino
200 pages

Zero did not kill Yuki and she left the academy with Kaname. They return to the Kuran mansion where Yuki tries to learn how to be a vampire again. There is a year skip in time and we find Zero still at Cross Academy splitting his time between school and hunting vampires. His old mentor is temporarily the head of the school. Zero is considered to be a good candidate for the Vampire Hunter Association. Yuki is always hungry for more blood, Kaname explains that only the blood of the one you love can truly satisfy her hunger but his blood doesn't work for her. He explains that this is because part of her still loves Zero.

The time skip was weird for me but anyways more of the same. Yuki still doesn't know who she really loves Zero or Kaname. I personally think the reason Kaname's blood doesn't satisfy her is because she really loves Zero . We'll see what happens in vol 12.

Vampire Knight vol 10

Matsuri Hino
200 pages

Zero has killed Rido and Kaname has destroyed the Vampire Senate, now what? Zero pledged to kill all pureblood vampires which now includes Yuki. The Night and Day classes stand side by side to protect each other. Will Zero stand by his word or will his feeling for Yuki get in the way?

Once again Vampire Knight just gets more confusing. There are not enough explanations and the reader is left to wander aimlessly though the story. I want to know why the crazy brambles around Zero? It gets more and more complicated but I still want to know what happens next.

Odd Thomas

Dean Koontz
416 pages

Odd is really his first name and it suits him. Odd Thomas is a short order cook in Pico Mundo and he plans to marry his girlfriend Stormy. On the surface he is pretty normal but can see the dead. If he had a choice he would really rather not see them but he can't help it. Odd tries to help them move on. One day a strange man walks into the Pico Mundo Grill and Odd must try and save his town from a catastrophe.

I enjoy reading Dean Koontz novels, they are smart and little scary. I had put off reading this one for a while but now I'll have to get a hold of the whole series. If you like mysteries a little on the strange side Odd Thomas is for you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by Milan Kundera, 314 pages

This story is set during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.  It follows the lives of four characters, Tomas,a womanizing doctor, his wife Tereza, his mistress Sabina, and her lover Franz.

Kundera created each of his characters around an idea.  Each embodies a particular philosophy.  Physical descriptions are spare except where they are essential to characterization.

This is a compelling read full of ideas, concepts and emotions.  Not all of the characters are easily likable, but they are all interesting.  Pick this one up if you're interested in existentialism.

P.S.  I hear it's nothing like the movie (which leaves out one of the main characters!)

Gemini Bites

by Patrick Ryan, 229 pages

Kyle's life already resembles a primetime sitcom. With six siblings, one of whom apparently hates him, and a pair of loving but quirky parents, the last thing the semi-outed sixteen-year-old needs is a tenth body thrown into the mess. But that's just what he gets when his dad announces that Kyle's classmate Garret will be moving into their newly remodeled game room for a few weeks. Garret obviously has some issues of his own, but Kyle finds himself drawn to the strange, artistic boy despite the latter's insistence that his night-timey goth look is more than just skin deep. Unfortunately, Kyle's über-competitive twin sister Judy (a.k.a. Monster) can't stand to see Kyle win at anything. Not even vampire love.

Gemini Bites is a well-written, quickly-paced teen novel that broaches some sensitive topics with frankness and gentle humor. Kyle's and Judy's voices are distinct (his more self-effacing, hers more assertive) yet clearly related as they each deal with insecurity and identity issues in their own way. If the parents come off as perhaps a little too laid back and indulgent, their supportive, positive relationships with their children and with one another (rare finds in contemporary teen lit) put the reader in a forgiving mood. Sometimes, it's nice to be reminded that not all families are hopelessly dysfunctional.

An involving, sweet, funny read about shared bonds and the importance of being oneself.

What I Did.

by Jason, 268 pages

This melancholic Norwegian graphic short story collection features three tales that share themes of death, guilt, and time. "Hey, Wait..." recalls a childhood friendship and the shock of growing up. "Sshhhh!" wordlessly follows a bird man's life through its ups and downs. And "The Iron Wagon" adapts a 1909 Norwegian psychological mystery's tale of murder and its toll.

Although it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the various dog, bird, and rabbit men and women from one another, these stories succeed in conveying a sense of the inevitable nature of death, the ephemeral nature of life, and the weight of what we do with it for the brief time it is in our hands.

V.B. Rose: Volume 10

by Banri Hidaka, 188 pages

High schooler Ageha's part-time job at a fashion designer's has changed her life in more ways than one. Not only has she sold a few of her own creations, but, after a rocky start and slow courtship, she's also dating her boss Arisaka. Things are going well when his estranged mother Ran unexpectedly shows up and whisks Ageha off on a shopping spree and for an emotional heart-to-heart. Will Ageha be able to help the two patch things up?

While this series is not especially deep, it can still be poignant when it tries. Ran's recounting of her relationship with Arisaka's late father is touching and sad and gives the story just enough depth to make it more than a fluffy comedy but not so much as to make it a true drama.

Unfortunately, this is another title whose concluding volumes may be vanishing into the abyss left by Tokyopop's demise at the end of May. *sigh* I'm still waiting to find out how my favorite Hidaka series (I Hate You More Than Anyone) ends, as well, since publisher Go!Comi pulled its unceremonious disappearing act last year. Oh, the suffering of lovers of sequential art....

13th Boy: Volume 3

by SangEun Lee, 179 pages

Hee-So learns a few shocking things about the elusive boy she likes and the boy she can't seem to get rid of. What she does and does not do with that knowledge will determine more than just her own future.

As stubborn as ever, and patient when it suits her, Hee-So makes a difficult promise and goes about keeping it. But she's not the only one with vows to fulfill and a devoted heart to navigate by. I'm glad she now knows most of what we do, but there are still a few surprises in store both for her and the others whose lives have become inextricably linked with her own.

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 5

by Yuki Midorikawa, 193 pages

Someone's been going around drawing spell circles on the ground, causing trouble for the local yokai who unwittingly pass through them and become momentarily visible to unsuspecting humans. As Natsume unravels the mystery, he might make a new friend--but only if he doesn't first become lunch for a secretive monster who enjoys playing with his food. Also, Natsume confronts a mermaid and takes an active role in protecting the people closest to him by trying to replicate his grandmother's actions of the past.

Scary moments alternate with sweet ones in this volume. Even sarcastic, selfish Nyanko-sensei makes me go, "awwwww." :) More, more, more, please.

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 4

by Yuki Midorikawa, 191 pages

Always a softy, Natsume volunteers to help a lonely yokai track down an evil counterpart, accompanies Natori-san on a hot springs holiday that turns out to be more work than pleasure, and puts himself in danger to give comfort to a grieving yokai whose only memento of lost love is a shadow hiding in a painting of a wintry cherry grove.

Yokai have long memories. Luckily for Natsume, these days he generally leaves a good impression, though this can yield unexpected returns. For the first time in his young life, he has a sense of belonging and is happy. He has friends, people who care for him and treat him as family. Fear of losing them has kept him from being honest about his abilities, but he knows he'll have to tell them someday. He owes them that much. But he's not ready just yet.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Dr. Diana Bishop is a historian doing research at Oxford's Bodleian Library when she unknowingly unearths a rare Ashmole alchemical text that has been missing for centuries. What she is reluctant to admit is that she comes from a long line of witches that can trace back to the first witch killed in Salem, Massachusetts. When the magical community (vampires, witches and demons) realize what she has found and that it may give them all answers to their species origins there are more magical creatures than humans in the library and Bishop has to find a way to embrace her magical past...and future. 

I am very mixed on this book. Despite its nearly 600 pages, it was a quick read. Deborah Harkness is also a history professor with a distinguished academic background so the story is sprinkled with many thought-provoking ideas and figures throughout history. It is a smart read and the reader can spend many hours reading up on different topics from Elias Ashmole to Darwin's Origin of Species. The atmosphere is perfectly creepy. It's when the emotional component gets thrown in that I started rolling my eyes. Yes, a 1500 yr old vampire, Matthew is the love interest and protector of Diana. They fall in love quickly and dramatically. He is very protective of her and tells her what to do because you know, he's never felt this way about anyone. She agrees because she loves him soooo much despite her seemingly intelligent and independent (to this point at least) life. They don't consummate their relationship and despite the growing knowledge that she may be the most powerful witch ever-she is constantly falling into sleep from exhaustion or sorrow when Matthew is gone. I'm sorry but did the last half of my review remind anyone of another Vampire book? Maybe one with sparkly vampires and a ton of teenage angst? Of course, I'll read the second one due out in 2012 because there is a lot here. Just calm down on the Twilight bits...please! 2011, 579 pages.

Have a blast with April stats!

Tomorrow is the last day of April so please, please, please get your stats tallied and turned in to me! I'll start working on compiling everything on Monday.


"Twisted" by Laurie Halse Anderson

250 pages

Tyler Miller seemed like a pretty average guy. He wasn't in the in-crowd, but he had a few friends and wasn't on the bottom of the totem pole. Basically, he was invisible at school. Home was another story, though. Although he got good grades and stayed out of trouble, nothing was ever good enough for his harsh dad. Then, at the end of junior year, Tyler got fed up with everything and sprayed graffiti all over his school--and got caught. We learn of all this after we jump into the story as Tyler is just finishing his summer of community service. The hard physical labor of his work has transformed his scrawny frame into a muscular machine. When he begins his senior year, everyone notices him as they never have before. Some people think he's cool for vandalizing the school. Some think he's a jerk. Between his new body and his new reputation, people are thinking both good and bad things about him, but at least they're thinking about him. He's even caught the attention of Bethany, the hottest girl in school, and she seems to like him. Problem is, her twin brother rules the school and has it out for Tyler. When things get out of control at an unsupervised party, Tyler finds himself being accused of a crime. Things look especially bad, due to the graffiti incident, and his dad gets even more controlling. As things get worse and worse, Tyler begins to plot a way to get out of his messy life.

Laurie Halse Anderson is great at portraying (what seems to me) realistic teenagers. Sometimes their situations seem a little over-the-top, but the voices of the characters always ring true to me. Tyler is no exception. The story is told in such a way that I could sense the confusion and frustration he felt without him coming out and talking about it. I also loved many of the secondary characters, especially his friend Yoda and sister Hannah, and the relationships that Tyler had with them. As much as I liked the characters, I didn't care for the story itself as much. It seemed sort of choppy--nothing would happen for a while, and then all of a sudden everything changed. Also, I was unsatisfied with the ending. I don't think parts of it were explained well enough, and it seemed like the resolution came too easily. I think the book as a whole, though, is definitely something that many teens (and adults who remember having a hard time as teens) can relate to.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Three Incestuous Sisters" by Audrey Niffenegger

176 pages

Three sisters live together in a beautiful house by the sea. One is beautiful, one is smart, and one is "talented" (aka, magical). They get along wonderfully until a man enters the picture and falls in love with the beautiful sister, which drives the oldest sister mad with jealousy. She'll stop at nothing to get what she wants, but when she finally goes to far, she realizes that she's made a mistake that will tear her family apart for years.

This graphic novel is just a little to weird for me (and that's saying a lot). I found the drawings especially creepy. I wasn't really thrilled with where the plot went, either. The sparse text left little room for explanation or characterization; I felt like there was something I was supposed to be getting from the illustrations, but I just wasn't.

"Cloaked" by Alex Flinn

341 pages

Johnny has never felt like anyone special. Since his dad disappeared years ago, it's been just him and his mom, and times are tough. They can barely scrape enough cash together to pay their bills each month, so Johnny spends every free moment working in his mom's shoe-repair shop in the lobby of a South Beach hotel.

Then the beautiful, rich princess Victoriana checks into the hotel and happens to cross Johnny's path. She needs help: her brother Phillip has been turned into a frog by an evil witch, and Victoriana needs Johnny's help to get him back. At first Johnny thinks she's crazy, but it doesn't take long for him to realize that magic is real and has been all around him for quite some time.

This story is cute and fun, but I don't think it was as entertaining as Flinn's last book, "Beastly." The plot itself (of "Cloaked") was a little more interesting to me because I'm not as familiar with the fairy tale references in "Cloaked," but it's still pretty predictable. I really like the characters, especially the narrator Johnny, which helped me get into the story more. Overall, I found it to be a fun, enjoyable read but nothing really special.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

2010/180 pgs

About the Book: Lisa isn't sick, nothing is wrong. She just wants to be thin. She's just been given a new job-she is to become Famine and join the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Lisa isn't sure what to make of this new job and thinks it was all a nightmare. Until the scales won't go away and horse is still in her garden. Lisa takes off on a journey that leads her to battle her demons as well as the worlds.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Hunger is an interesting take on novels about eating disorders. There's a bit of a fantasy element to this one, since Lisa becomes Famine. There's also a nice balance of humor with the serious, so the book never feels too heavy.

I think it's a great addition to novels about eating disorders and is such a unique take on the story that readers who don't typically read "issue-driven" novels should give it a try.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart

2008/352 pgs

About the Book: Frankie Landau Banks has discovered that one summer can make a big difference in high school. Now a sophomore at an elite boarding school, Frankie has caught the attention of popular senior, Matthew Livingston. Matthew is a member of the secret all male society, The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Frankie's father was once a member and she has heard all about the Bassets growing up. But Frankie is barred from joining-it is an all male society after all, which Frankie doesn't think is fair. So she secretly organizes pranks and orders for the Bassets to perform.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Oh, Frankie Landau Banks, I want to be you! Frankie is a fantasic character and this book is one I finished and want to go back and read all over again. She's smart, sassy, funny and tons of fun. She likes Matthew but never wants to be a waspy girl that lets him control her. She stands up for herself and is a strong character. And the pranks she pulls off are awesome!

There's plenty of mystery, humor, action and romance so I think a wide variety of readers would enjoy The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. It's also a great book to give adults who might need a push to read YA-Frankie is such a great character they won't care that it's YA-they'll be so drawn into the story.

A great read and highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On the Blue Shores of Silence: Poems of the Sea by Pablo Neruda

“…in the salty air of the coast the stars quiver.”

There are many books of poetry written by Pablo Neruda but I do not think I have ever seen one so beautiful. The poems included were written in what Neruda called his “autumn” and were inspired by his surroundings in his house at Isla Negra, Chile. Each poem is presented as an experience with paintings by Mary Heebner of Isla Negra first; the poem in its original Spanish and then the English translation by Neruda’s friend and translator Alastair Reid.

I love the ocean and can get lost in a poem of Neruda’s for hours so my review is a bit biased. I felt as if I was holding a gorgeous treasure waiting to be discovered when I got this book. Like I was walking barefoot in the sand, waves lapping at my toes with the gulls crying out while I search for the perfect shell or piece of sea glass. There’s a moment when you let the salt and the wind and the waves transform you. This book had me right there in an instant despite my completely land-locked location. 2003, 63 pages.

XxxHolic: Volume 11

by CLAMP, 185 pages

Watanuki's giving nature ties him ever more closely to those who love him, even as he begins to come untethered from existence. Seeing the signs of the coming confrontation, Yûko does her best to maintain the shop's physical and spiritual integrity while preparing Dômeki and the others for the moment Watanuki will need them the most.

CLAMP do cute as well as they do cool. Between the devoted pipe fox spirit, Himawari-chan's safe little bird, the admiring son of the fox spirit who runs the oden cart, and of course Mokona, the urge to cuddle something while reading this series is great. I'm so glad I have a lap cat! But the cute things serve more than just to suck in impressionable readers. The characters need those cuddles to balance out all that is frightening and dead-serious in their lives--and there's a lot of that here. I do not begrudge Yûko and Mokona their boozy parties or Watanuki his silly rants at obnoxiously patient Dômeki or his perpetual swooning bedazzlement at the littlest of Himawari-chan's smiles. We need those giggles as much as they do. And if the sudden influx of cute and the growing background tension seeping out into the foreground are any hint, we're going to have need of them soon. Don't vanish, Watanuki!

13th Boy: Volume 2

by SangEun Lee, 189 pages

Determined not to let Won-Jun forget about her, Hee-So decides to join her school's Girl Scout club so she can stay close to her former-only-in-his-opinion boyfriend, who is in the Boy Scout club. She enlists the help of Beatrice (her random talking cactus, remember? also, he transforms into a human boy for 24 hours once a month on the full moon--just go with it) and gets into the club just in time for the big co-ed campout. There, in addition to implementing her plan to win back Won-Jun, Hee-So finds she must deal with bullies in her club, Won-Jun's childhood friend the weirdly naive Sae-Bom (who refers to herself in the third person and carries around a stuffed bunny rabbit she claims is magically alive but currently not resident in its body), and the ever meddlesome and annoying Whie-Young. Why does he keep talking like he knows everything about her?

Hee-So may be woefully unobservant, but the reader forgives her because she's so focused on her goal that she simply overlooks anything not directly related to its furtherance. And in her defense, Won-Jun is sending her rather mixed signals and proud Whie-Young refuses to explain himself in plain language her one-track mind can process. She can't help but be distracted. Besides, this is the girl who realized she was in possession of a talking, walking, transforming cactus and shrugged, telling herself there was no point in asking questions that would just make her head hurt. It is what it is, no point in wondering why. Just roll with it. This is pretty much her philosophy on everything, with the exception of Won-Jun's dumping her--there's no way she's letting that one go. For his part, Won-Jun finally seems relieved to have gotten involved with such a crazy girl, as he believes she may be the key to straightening out the messy love triangle that has bound him since childhood. Poor Whie-Young's gonna have a rough road ahead. Hee hee.

Hellsing: Volume 10

by Kohta Hirano, 191 pages

Ultimately, all the immortals in this series want the same thing. Alucard is just particular as to the manner in which he gets it. Those of us who've grown the teeniest bit fond of him (despite the gruesome insanity that generally accompanies his existence) should be thankful for that pickiness, as he quite vocally does not approve of the means by which his various opponents offer to grant his request and, so, refuses to take them up on it.

This is the final volume of the series. While I have enjoyed it overall and will miss Alucard's unique presence, I think my limited tolerance for wanton bloodshed and seemingly random plotting also means I'm a little relieved. Some elements I would have liked to see fleshed out never get addressed after they're introduced, while others seem to wrap up too quickly and neatly. And yet some bits are really creative and thought-provoking. And many others make me laugh, though some uncomfortably so. In the end, I'll always think of Alucard and his cohorts with a chuckle...and a wide-eyed headshake for the sheer madness of it all.

Hellsing: Volume 9

by Kohta Hirano, 231 pages

Alucard and Father Anderson have their big showdown, but it's not what our whacked out, weary vampire had hoped for. And neither, certainly, is the follow-up confrontation, which none of them saw coming, even though it's been brewing in front of their noses for fifty years.

As the Major celebrates his perfectly executed plans and Police Girl battles a werewolf who seems to want her to take him out permanently, Alucard throws himself into his own altercations with all the glee, cold bitterness, and disappointment he can muster--which is rather a lot.

I must admit, I was a little sad at the big reveal in this volume. But I shouldn't have been surprised, given the creator's preference for defying convention and thwarting reader expectations. This series is all about the craziness and unpleasantness that comes with being a blood-sucking fiend, even if that blood-sucking fiend has a sense of humor and is under contract with the disturbingly pragmatic forces of good.

Time and Again: Volume 5

by JiUn Yun, 170 pages

Brought together by their painful pasts, spiritualist Baek-On and his assistant Ho-Yeon work together to maintain the balance between humans and the supernatural, exorcising harmful demons and reprimanding humans who do not treat the spiritual world and its dangers with due respect. The two young men are wise beyond their years, and though long-since weary of existence, a delicate combination of guilt and friendship keeps them among the living. But painfully-won wisdom is no assurance against doubt.

When Baek-On tragically misreads a well-meaning spirit's motives, he seeks council with Soo-Kyung, a heron spirit who knew his father and has watched Baek-On follow in his footsteps. She comforts him the only way she knows how, by telling him her own story and the lesson she has learned, and is still learning, and that he will still be learning for the rest of his life. Spirits and humans are not the same, can never live together in true understanding, and cannot be judged by one another's standards, nor can their interactions with each other. All he can do is move forward, learning from each experience and hoping it is enough.

Set against the rich backdrop of ancient Korea, Time and Again is a series steeped in folklore and reflection and moral ambiguity. This is one of those titles I re-read a few times before turning them in because I want to appreciate as much of the subtle character and plot details as possible. Baek-On appears to be a lazy hedonist while Ho-Yeon seems the epitome of calm, steady rationalism. But extended acquaintance reveals deep vulnerabilities in each of them, as well as sincere concern and respect for one another and their tiny circle of companions. And although a lot of the characters, especially the females, look alike, the art in general is delicate and flowing.

This volume announces that the next will conclude the series. And that makes me a little sad.

Vagabond: Volume 11

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 216 pages

Musashi gets his one-on-one with Sekishûsai, but it's not what he expected. For one thing, his opponent is armed with nothing but a backscratcher. For another, the old man is asleep. But as he stands over the dreaming master, Musashi finds himself facing the most formidable opponent he has ever encountered--and realizes that he must grow exponentially stronger before he will be worthy of even imagining to land a blow against him.

Musashi fights a sleeping old man, memories of his invincibility-obsessed father, and his own insecurities while doing no more than gazing down at a face that could be his own in fifty years. Sekishûsai's inner peace and reinvigorated spirit following the encounter give us hope that Musashi will find what he's looking for eventually. In the meantime, though, he oughtn't to be all by himself, so I'm glad to see Otsû and Jôtarô refusing to give up on him even if it means giving up the promised comfort and stability of a real home. And just in case we've forgotten about him, Matahachi resurfaces just in time to get into trouble. I don't think fate's going to let his and Takezô's paths remain uncrossed for long, no matter what names they choose to call themselves.

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit: Volume 6

by Motoro Mase, 232 pages

Fujimoto lives with his decision regarding Dr. Kubo, but he is not at ease. As he turns the consequences over and over in his mind, he goes about his job and delivers two more ikigami.

One is for a young man with no fixed address, no family who actually care about him, and no prospects for lifting himself out of his sorry lot. Until he gets his ikigami. The death papers act as free passes for services at participating businesses. After all, it's the least society can do to honor the sacrifice of the chosen. That means a free bath, free clothes, free food. But what good does a lavish last meal serve someone whose stomach is contracted by lifelong poverty? If National Welfare can't help him, then who can it help?

The other ikigami goes to a former journalist's son who resents his once-brave father's capitulation to the silencing force of the powers that be. In retaliation, he has taken up the fallen standard of truth and immersed himself in the underground anti-establishment movement. When he receives his ikigami, all that bitterness and anger overflows and he strikes out at the closest target representative of the cause of all his misery....

The dénouement of this volume is as significant as the climax. Fujimoto gets more of an education in what it does and does not mean to be a "social miscreant" than he has in all the time he's been faithfully carrying out his duties. When he can't adjust his point of view on his own, the ground moves beneath his feet and forces a change in his perspective. What does he see from that new vantage point? The same world of black and white? Only time will tell.

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit: Volume 5

by Motoro Mase, 232 pages

This volume's chosen are a young artist who gave up his dream to support the family business and an insecure high school senior who is a National Welfare zealot. With his remaining time, the first chooses to protect his imperfect family's future and still go out with an anonymous, scathing indictment of National Welfare--the government can paint over it, but they can't make people un-see it. The second unintentionally leaves his otherwise authority-trusting classmates the legacy of doubt by showing what can happen when an idea is taken too far by an individual or by a country.

What defines a social miscreant? When should you report a suspected one? How do you know if you are one, yourself? And what do you do when the woman you trust and confide in and are developing feelings for proudly tells you that she is one--and that she believes you are, too?

Mase continues to impress with his moving depictions of unique personalities under the ultimate pressure. The artist's final act of graffiti is disturbing and rousing and unmistakable in its meaning. The zealot's breakdown and subsequent influence on his once complacent classmates take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster. And all the while Fujimoto struggles to understand what he believes...and whom.

Tegami Bachi: Volume 4: A Letter Full of Lies

by Hiroyuki Asada, 183 pages

Now a rookie Letter Bee, Lag goes about his deliveries with unrivaled earnestness. New to the field and naive about the ways of the world, he's offended to learn that the writer of a letter has filled it with falsehoods about his achievements--and it's a letter to the man's mother, no less. What kind of person lies to their mother?! As he learns the answer to that question, Lag is led to ask even more. At the Bee Hive, he meets the mysterious Dr. Thunderland, Jr., the scarred, eye-patched chief of biological sciences in the two Amberground regions outside of the capital. He, too, found a rare friend in Gauche and supports Lag in his search, sending him off to a dangerous region to find a man without a name. The town of Honey Waters has been cut off the Bee route for some time due to anti-government sentiment in the area, but Lag has come for information as much as he has for a delivery--if he can find the unnamed recipient. Who is the "the man who could not become spirit," what does that even mean, and what are the goals of the shadowy anti-government organization known as "Reverse"?

Lag learns that even letters full of lies can be full of love; that fear can lead even good people to do bad things; and that if you have friends you can count on, you can do anything. Setbacks are tough, but he firmly believes that love will overcome all obstacles. This series is all about heart--and little Lag is made of nothing but.

X/1999: Volume 5: Serenade

by CLAMP, 182 pages

Kamui struggles against the forces vying for his allegiance and finds comfort only with Kotori, who may have more influence over his final decision than anyone else--and who isn't asking him for anything but to once more be her friend. Meanwhile, goofball Sora reveals his own prophesized fate to the ever-serious Arashi, including the fact that he will die for her. While she blinks in shock, he cheerily moves on to discuss their next move in preventing the earth's destruction, a move that involves making contact with the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan--the world's strongest family of diviners, mediums, and exorcists--who could be another Seal.

One of the reasons I initially wanted to read this series was to discover the ultimate fates of two characters from the CLAMP series Tokyo Babylon, so I am most happy to see Subaru Sumeragi's shadowy figure grace a panel, knowing his evil, deadly nemesis Seishirô Sakurazuka can't be far behind. And if Sora's going to die for Arashi, he'd better not do it anytime soon, 'cause he's the best source of comedic relief we've got going and the story is far from over.

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle: Volume 26

by CLAMP, 190 pages

Syaoran reveals his past(s) and future(s) to his companions, trying to explain to them the sacrifices he has made and to what purpose, hoping they will understand and forgive him for possibly setting events in motion that have greatly affected their lives, as well. But they have each of them made choices that have brought them to this point and they accept equal responsibility for what has come to pass...and, smiling, promise to willingly bear equal responsibility for whatever happens next.

And, boy, does a lot happen. We finally understand how XxxHolic's Watanuki fits into the greater shared plot with Tsubasa and then time snaps back to the now of the past and it's an all-out battle between the sworn companions and the powerful magics of Fei-Wang, with scene after scene of flashing swords and roiling spells, repelled attacks and landed blows. The final bittersweet panels made me scrunch up my face in pity and satisfied melancholy and righteous triumph all at the same time. And there are still two books to go!

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle: Volume 25

by CLAMP, 183 pages

How many times, in how many dimensions, have Syaoran and Sakura crossed paths, shared lifetimes, missed chances? Everything he does, everything he has ever done, has been for her. Their souls are so intertwined with one another that it is impossible to separate them, no matter what fates may befall them, no matter what barriers may divide them. Somewhere, somewhen, they are together, even if only in spirit. The tragedies of the past play out, to be returned to over and over again in a desperate race to change the tiniest of moments. And in this one thing, Syaoran shares a motive with the great manipulator Fei-Wang--a wish. But though they both live to fulfill that one desire, it is the way they choose to chase after it, and why, and what they sacrifice in the process, that makes all the difference between them.

Timelines weave in and out as Syaoran explains himself to his friends. The scattered nuts and bolts can be hard to reverse engineer without a detailed schematic, but you believe it can all be made to fit together again, regardless, because the care has been taken to show the individual pieces lying around throughout the entire run of the series. It's only now that we see their relation to one another and begin to understand how they make a whole. And as I've said before, the emotional lives of the characters, and their bonds with one another, are so believable that at this point I'd probably swallow whatever explanation the manga-ka cared to offer me, even if it weren't so epically crafted as it is. Is it convoluted? Sure. Melodramatic? Absolutely. And I don't care one whit. Just give me the next book.

InuYasha: Volume 52

by Rumiko Takahashi, 186 pages

Kagome has learned that some force is blocking her own spiritual powers--and has been since she was born. If she wants to help defeat Naraku, she'll have to figure out who or what is squelching her power and break free of their control. And she may have found the responsible party. When he first confronts them, Magatsuhi appears to be another proxy of Naraku's, but he is something else all together and really wants that last shard of the Shikon jewel...the one that's keeping Sango's little brother Kohaku alive.

Ooooh, nice revelation (and vindication) for Sesshomaru, here. He can still shoot dry, sarcastic barbs at his brother, but with more confidence and less insecurity. It will be interesting to see how InuYasha, who displayed some surprising maturity by largely getting over his competition with his brother volumes ago, deals with the new lay of the fraternal land. Perhaps the two of them will finally be able to come to terms.

InuYasha: Volume 51

by Rumiko Takahashi, 186 pages

Still stinging from the encounter with his late father's spiteful foe, Sesshomaru lets his wounded pride propel him forward into what he knows is one of Naraku's traps. But if it offers him the opportunity to finally prove to himself that he's better than his half-brother, it's a risk he's willing to take. Even if it ends with one or the other of them dead.

Sesshomaru, you fool. Even Totosai, who forged the sword you covet and the fragment of it that you carry, has been trying to tell you that you're making things more difficult than they need to be. But if this is the only way you're going to learn where things--and you--really stand, then so be it. Just don't get yourself killed in the process, 'kay? What would little Rin do without you?

The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko: Volume 1

by Airiko Tsujita, 201 pages

Kanoko is an observer of human nature. She sits in the back of her junior high classroom and giddily watches the little dramas and comedies and sleight of hand play out before her. Boy A likes girl B who's sweet on boy C who couldn't care less but occasionally talks to her just because he enjoys watching Boy A squirm with jealousy.... And of course, Kanoko takes notes--detailed, insightful ones, in fact. And what's the first rule of being a good observer? Being just that--an observer. You can't get an accurate picture if you're part of the image, yourself. So detached Kanoko is understandably frustrated and unnerved when a few of her test subjects decide to do the unthinkable and, ignoring her grumbles and protestations, insist on voluntarily interacting with her on a regular basis. In other words, she makes some friends.

I was a little confused at first, as Kanoko transfers schools every chapter so she can widen her behavioral science experiences with a fresh crop of guinea pigs. Inevitably, however, somebody up and talks to her and appreciates her unasked advice and grows up a little in the process, as does she. And her original trio of friends from her first school do not abandon her, nor she them, so there's a nice little thread of continuity there. It's rather sweet, actually.

And this first volume stands alone quite nicely in the event that another publisher is unable to pry the series' English language license from Tokyopop's cold, dead hands. *grumble grumble fume fume*