Saturday, July 2, 2011

Digging to American by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is one of my all-time favorite authors.  She finds the small things that make each person who they are and she shares them in a way that makes everyone seem like something special, unique and important. 
Kim F

"The Line" by Teri Hall

219 pages

Rachel’s world consists almost entirely of the Property. She lives there with her mother, who works for the elderly and reclusive Ms. Moore. The Property butts up to the Line, an invisible, impenetrable barrier that separates their country, the Unified States, from Away, a dangerous no-mans-land. Rachel’s life passes in a never-ending routine of homework and chores…until she finds a recorded message from one of the Others—a person from the other side of the Line. When she decides to help the boy from the message, she sets in motion a chain of events that shakes up her stable life and reveals secrets about her mother, Ms. Moore, and the US government.

This is a quick, interesting read, and it definitely kept me on my toes. However, I thought it was too short—I would have like to see the characters developed more, and I thought some parts were too rushed, particularly the ending. I know that it’s the first in a series, but I wanted more details about what was going on. Nevertheless, this story definitely got me hooked and I’m anxious to read the rest of the series to find out what happens.

Friday, July 1, 2011

City of Fallen Angels

by Cassandra Clare, 424 pages

In the fourth book of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary is back in New York training to be a Shadowhunter with the help of Jace.  Jace is being haunted by dreams that cause him to pull away in an effort to protect those he loves.  Meanwhile, daylighter Simon is caught between dating Isabelle and Maia and learning to be a vampire.  When Shadowhunters start dying, the alliances between the Clan and the Downworlders are tested, and an ancient evil rises to challenge them all.

First, I have to say I love Clare's inventiveness and the unique way she uses Christian mythology to explain a world of supernatural creatures who struggle in that epic battle between good and evil.  In this book especially, the story flows quickly following several different story lines and building a dangerous puzzle piece by piece. 

That being said, the Clary-Jace romance is filled with enough teenage angst to give Bella and Edward a run for their money (and have we wishing- only momentarily- that one of them will finally put the other out of their misery!)  Clare also ends her story with an obvious set up for a sequel rather than just ending it.  I really enjoyed Clockwork Angel, Clare's last book and the first in a spin-off series set in nineteenth century London, and I had hoped that the City of Fallen Angels would be more like it.  Instead, Clare seems to be reviving old drama and plot elements from earlier books in the Mortal Instruments series.  Yes, I know I'll read the next book to find out what happens, but I hope Clare decides that it's okay to allow her characters to develop rather that regress.

July Challenge!

Welcome to July where it looks like it is going to be too hot to do anything but read. That means its a perfect time to send out a challenge to BEAT JENNY! 

You can do it! I recommend reading a ton of manga/comics/graphic novels! 

Naturally, this is all good-hearted fun but the prize for beating Jenny this month will be on the awesome end of the awesome and/or crappy prizes. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say

72 pgs/2011

About the Book: Caldecott Winner Allen Say writes a graphic memoir about growing up in Japan and being an apprentice to Noro Shinpei, a notable Japanese cartoonist.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I had received an advanced copy of this book and I thought, "hmm...this looks cool" and put it aside to read eventually. Well, then I went to ALA and heard Mr. say talk about this book and I had read it immediately!

What an amazing journey to become a cartoonist! Mr. Say was 12 when he got an apartment of his own. After reading about another boy traveling to meet Noro Shinpei and become an apprentice, Allen Say decided he would do the same thing in hopes of becoming an apprentice as well. His journey is such a fantastic read and at times I couldn't believe this was his story. I think any reader who has an artistic side will relate to the Mr. Say's feeling of how he must draw and that art is a part of him.

I can't wait to share this one with tween readers!

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

352 pgs/2010

About the Book: Brewster aka Bruiser was voted the most likely is school to receive the death penalty. No one in school knows what to think of him and he keeps to himself. Brewster has good reasons for closing off the rest of the world-secrets that he can't share. But when Bronte and Brewster start dating, Brewster finds it harder to keep himself closed off and his secrets are about to be exposed.

SarahTeenlibrarian Says: I'm a big fan of Neal Shusterman's books because they have such unique plots that really make you think. Bruiser is no exception. I can't say much, because it's best to read this one for yourself and discover the truth about Bruiser. But the story is one that will make you think about what you take from people and how much of your emotions you should be responsible for.

I do think there were a few things that could have been explained more. I would have liked more about Bruiser, but part of the book is just accepting his story, no questions asked. I also thought there were some plot points, especially with Cody, that really weren't needed. It did seem like there was some filler there. I also really hated that Cody's voice was done by a girl on the audiobook. I guess she sounded OK enough, but she made Cody sound too childish. But I guess it's hard to find a narrator that can successfully pull off a young male voice.

Bruiser has short chapters which I think makes it a fast read and the story is engaging and different, so I would give this one to readers who are looking for something that's not ordinary.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

264 pgs/2007

About the Book: Holling Hoodhood is a Presbyterian. Which means on Wednesday afternoons, Holling stays in school while everyone else attends religious education classes. But Holling is stuck and he thinks Mrs. Baker hates him-now she has to stay around and teach one student. So Mrs. Baker decides to teach Holling about Shakespeare. Holling is about to have a memorable year full of adventures he never could have imagined.

SarahTeenlibrarian Says: I wanted to read this book because Okay for Now is getting some Newbery buzz and while it's not a sequel, it's a companion book. Plus, I've heard so many rave reviews for this one, I finally had to read it.

I'm so glad I finally listened to all those people who told me to read this one! It's hilarious, charming, sweet and wonderful all at the same time. The year Holling has is somewhat fantastical (as in it's so crazy you can't believe it's really happening-but this is fiction after all). Holling learns about friendship, growing up and even a touch of romance during his year with Shakespeare.

I listened to this on CD and the narrator was fantastic! I highly recommend this book, especially on audio. A wonderful treat and I can't wait to read Okay for Now!

Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern


About the Book: When Lilian receives an early morning phone call from her sort-of friend Penny saying "I did it" and Lil knows that Penny has faked her own kidnapping. Now the police are looking for Penny and asking Lil questions! Lil has an idea that Penny might be in Portland, so she enlists the help of her friend Josh to go on a quest to find Penny and bring her back. Josh isn't just Lil's best friend-he's Lil's long time crush. But Josh doesn't want to "ruin" their amazing friendship. Will a cross-country road trip help Lil figure things out?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I really think Julie Halpern's books get better with each one she writes-which is saying a lot because I think all of her books are pretty awesome!! I swear Ms. Halpern looked into my road trip dreams and wrote this book. I've always wanted to take a massive road trip stopping at cheesy tourist attractions (we did this when I was a kid and I loved it!) I loved that she used real places for Lil and Josh to visit. Some of them I'd been to or heard about and the descriptions and banter between Lil and Josh made it feel as though I was there with them.

The banter between Lil and Josh is awesome. They are both witty and hilarious and I wanted to hang out with them. This isn't just a road trip book, this is a story about navigating that tricky time between high school and college and facing and uncertain future. How can your past self and future self collide and what will happen to the relationships in your past as you move on and grow up? The emotional ride of growing up and feeling in limbo is captured perfectly.

I really liked that while there is a romance aspect to the storyline, it's not the main focus of the book. This is more about Lil and figuring out how to move on. I also liked that the romance wasn't a fairy tale but instead felt very real-both are questioning what will happen to their friendship not only this summer but once college starts.

We get glimpses of Penny throughout the story and I liked this added element. This wasn't just a story about Lil and Josh, but Penny as well. I would have liked to see more about Penny-why was she so interested in Gavin? I liked the picture we got of Penny-she's such an interesting character and I wanted just a bit more. I also thought things ended a bit too easily for her.

Don't Stop Now is a perfect road trip, summer read. Add it to the top of your "read every summer to get into a summer mood" pile because it's one you'll want to read again!

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey


About the Book:
Violet Willoughby has grown up around spirits. Or at least pretending to see spirits. Her mother is one of the most famous spiritualists, but Violet knows it's all a sham. Until the day Violet starts to ghosts herself. While visiting the estate of a wealthy Lord for a spiritualist performance, a very persistence ghost appears and needs Violet's help. Her drowning accident a year before was anything but an accident and Violet is in danger. Violet may not believe in ghosts, but they believe in her.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: If you're looking for a good historical ghost story, add Haunting Violet to your reading pile!

Violet is an engaging character who I liked from the very beginning. I think what I liked most was her distrust in ghosts and spiritualists. For me, this made her a more interesting character because of the transformation she has to go to as she accepts her abilities after long believing spiritualism is fake. Violet's navigation of this new ability and new world gave the book an extra layer which I really appreciated. Violet is funny and smart and she loves to read-what's not to like about her?

Violet is surrounded by a fun cast of characters. At times there were a little too many to keep track of, but the main supporting characters I fell in love with. Violet's best friend Elizabeth is hilarious and charming and accepting of Violet no matter what. Colin is Violet's potential love interest, but they can't be together because he is poor and Voilet and her mother are trying to break into society and peerage keeps them apart.

The mystery kept me reading and guessing and the large cast of characters gave readers a large list of suspects to pick from. While the book can stand alone, but I would be happy to read more of Violet's ghost hunting and mystery solving. A great pick for readers looking for a ghost story and mystery.

X/1999: Volume 10: Fugue

by CLAMP, 180 pages

Kamui safely seals away one sacred sword in the heart of the CLAMP School campus just as Nataku brings the other to Fuma. Both sides are now complete, seven and seven, each certain its cause is in the right. While the Harbingers believe only mankind's destruction can save the long-abused Earth, Kamui believes the people he loves are the world. And he will do whatever he has to in order to preserve their existence in it.

Other than the maneuvering of swords and some seer-provided visions of the past for Kamui, nothing much happens in this volume that the reader doesn't already know about in one fashion or another. It's all about setting the mood and the stage for the beginning of the final battle.

Vagabond: Volume 17

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 190 pages

As Ittôsai observes, Kojirô fights all out with a group of similarly driven swordsmen on the same moonlit beach he has been retreating to for solitary practice since he was old enough to walk. In the process, he learns that it takes more than just passion and deadly skill to be a true warrior...or to stay alive.

The bulk of this volume deals with Kojirô's blow-by-blow education in the role of fear (and, so, respect) in battle. Some of those lessons are painful--and not just for him. The reader wants to protect and insulate him from pain as much as Kanemaki does. But like his father, the reader, too, must learn to let him grow up, though neither finds that easy to do.

Inoue's visual storytelling continues to impress. Kanemaki's tears wring the reader's heart just as his newly discovered pride lifts it, and Kojirô's expressive face conveys one emotion after another, from subtle curiosity to outright shock to excited determination. The young man may not be able to speak, and we may not be able to see into his head verbally, but he nevertheless communicates everything in his heart, as he does the moment he pauses to look over his shoulder as he leaves his father and the only world he's ever known--and has to brush away the tears welling up in his eyes before taking another step on his new journey.

"Divergent" by Veronica Roth

487 pages

Beatrice lives in a future world that is divided into five factions, each of which emphasizes a different value: Dauntless (courage), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (peace), Candor (honesty), and Abnegation (selflessness). The factions are all in the same city, but they each have their own compound and every aspect of members' lives is defined by the value of that faction. Children from all the factions go to school together, but at age 16 they all take an aptitude test to see which faction they fit best, and then they get to choose which one to live in for the rest of their lives. Beatrice is born in Abnegation, but she's always felt restricted by the passivity of the group. On the other hand, she can hardly imagine leaving her beloved family behind. When her aptitude test ends with an extremely unusual result, her decision is made even more difficult. And after she chooses her faction, she discovers that there is much more going on in her so-called peaceful world than she ever could have imagined.

This book sucked me in and I couldn't put it down! The idea behind the factions is really interesting, and there's almost constant action throughout the story. The hints of sinister things going on kept me guessing, but the conclusion surprised me. I like that the characters are multi-dimensional instead of clearly "good" and "bad" (with some exceptions, of course). I love that the narrator is strong and smart instead of just good-looking (she describes herself as "not ugly, but definitely not pretty" and none of her friends disagree) and is acknowledged and valued for that. Her internal struggle to figure out who she is, what she values, and where she fits in her world is something that almost everyone can relate to, and the story as a whole creates a lot of thought about human nature. Great stuff. I can hardly wait to read the rest of the series!

Autobiography of a Fat Bride

By: Laurie Notaro, 272 pp.

OMG!! I hope that is allowed!

This book is so funny ~ Well, really Laurie Notaro is hilarious! She kept me laughing throughout the entire book!

Notaro describes her life as a "big Italian" girl. She tells us everything! She holds nothing back! I think one of my favorite parts is the chapter "Red Mice!" It is a bit gross, yet so true and funny!

Unfortunately, we do not have this title in our system. I borrowed it through MOBIUS.

Place your hold on it today! You will be glad you did!

Empire State

by Jason Shiga, 144 p.

Jimmy's best friend moves to New York, leaving Jimmy behind in California.  It's then up to Jimmy to decide if he wants to grow up and follow her.

This is just a wonderful I-didn't-realize-it-but-apparently-I'm-in-love story.  I think I'm going to go read it again...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


by Veronica Roth, 487 pages

In Beatrice Prior's world, everyone one is divided into five factions that represent different values. She is born in Abnegation, a faction that values selflessness above all else. Even though she appreciates the values she's grown up with, Beatrice feels stifled by the Abnegation restrictions. At sixteen, she is at the age to choose which faction will become the rest of her life. If she decides to choose a faction other than the one she was born into, she will be cut off from her family. The choice she makes will determine her entire future, but the choice may be more dangerous for Beatrice than she realizes.

Oh my gosh, I loved this book! I started it in the morning on my break and within the first 5 minutes knew that I wasn't going to be able to put it down. I read it on short increments during my breaks throughout the day and couldn't wait to go home so I could read. I stayed up late to finish it, because I couldn't possibly sleep without knowing how the story ends! Divergent is an adrenaline rush filled with challenges, fights, conspiracy, and just enough romance to make life worth living in dark times. Tris is a totally kick-butt character, I can't wait to see where Roth takes the rest of the series. This is one I'll be recommending to everyone I know, so if you haven't put yourself on the waiting list yet, now's the time!

Sizzling Sixteen

by Janet Evanovich, 309 pages

Vinnie owes money to his bookie who is now answering to Bobby Sunflower, a very bad man. Sunflower decides to make an example out of Vinnie, and kidnaps him, demanding that Vinnie's family and friends pay off the debt in one week or else. The problem is, Vinnie's father-in-law, Harry the Hammer, isn't too pleased with Vinnie and is more than happy to watch him rot. Stephanie, Connie, and Lula are the only people left willing to save Vinnie, after all, if Vinnie dies, they are out of a job. The ladies hatch a scheme to rescue Vinnie and pay off his debt. So what if stink bombs, fried chicken, and hobbits aren't exactly bounty hunter weapons of choice? When it works, it works.

Evanovich is great with character names, but she's outdone herself this time with the hobbits. I'm not saying anything else... if you want the scoop you'll have to read the book!

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

by Janet Evanovich, 308 pages

Lula witnesses the beheading of celebrity chef, Stanley Chipolte, and becomes a target for the murderers. Stephanie and Lula must find the murderers before they find Lula, and so a brilliant plan is hatched. The girls will enter a barbecue cook-off in an attempt to lure the bad guys out into the open, never mind the fact that neither of them can cook. Meanwhile, someone is stealing from Rangeman protected properties, and Ranger hires Stephanie to ferret out the culprit. Can Stephanie balance her jobs and deal with barbecue-happy Lula and Grandma Mazur at the same time?

Yep, we know Evanovich is funny. Usually she gets a couple of good laughs and plenty of smiles out of me, but this one had me laughing so hard that I had to put the book down because I couldn't see straight. Who knew a hot dog suit in Jersey could be so funny!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer" by Dustin Higgins and Van Jensen

128 pages

We all know the story of Pinocchio, the little wooden guy who just wanted to be a real boy. Well, do you know what happened after the traditional tale concluded? Turns out, Geppeto got eaten by vampires. Very sad. Of course, Pinocchio was outraged and immediately declared war on the blood-sucking creatures. Fortunately, he was well-equipped to deal with them, as his growing wooden nose provided instant access to an unlimited number of wooden stakes. All he had to do was let a fib slip out, watch his nose grow, break it off, and use it to stab the vampire in the chest. On the down side, the vampire hordes rapidly increased and Pinocchio could hardly keep up. You'll have to read the book yourself to find out whether he kept them at bay...or fell victim himself.

I love a campy horror story as much as (okay, let's be honest here: much more than) the average person, but even I thought that the premise was a bit out-there. How many of these monster mashups can they write? Thank goodness Jen Hendzlik recommended it to me, because I read it anyway and I'm so glad that I did. It totally cracked me up. The plot isn't the strongest--in fact, there's one part of the ending that really irks me, and you'll probably know what I'm talking about if you read it--and I'm still not really sure how Pinocchio still has a wooden nose if he's supposed to be a real boy. Oh, well. The illustrations and the dark humor more than made up for those things.

"Wonderstruck" by Brian Selznik

608 pages

"Wonderstruck" begins with two stories that take place 50 years apart. In 1927, young Rose feels isolated and lonely in New York City, as she is deaf and can't communicate with any of her peers (her parents are overprotective and keep her close to home, so she has never interacted with another deaf person). In 1977, 10-year-old Ben lives in Minnesota with his aunt and uncle because his mother has recently died in a car accident. On top of that, Ben has also been struck by lightning and subsequently lost the hearing in his one good ear, leaving him completely deaf. He has never known his father, but after finding evidence of his identity Ben decides to find him. Rose and Ben's stories weave together, with Rose's told through Selznik's beautiful drawings and Ben's through text. As the story moves along, it is revealed how their lives intertwine.

I love Brian Selznik. I love "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." I really really love Selznik's drawings. I didn't think he could top "Hugo," but I think "Wonderstruck" at least comes really close. Not only are the images in this book beautiful, but the story itself is also delightful--well, I think it is. Maybe the oh-so-charming drawings are influencing the way I read it :). Nevertheless, I love everything about this book. It's got adventure, sorrow, and the warm-fuzzies. I had fun trying to put the two stories together and figure out how they intersect. I felt happy and satisfied at the conclusion. Awesomeness! Thank you, Sarah Bean Thompson, for sharing the advance copy with me so I didn't have to wait until the book actually comes out on September 13!

"Made for Each Other Or I Made My Prom Date Or Hunkenstein Or Love in Stitches Or Our Love's Aliiiive (My Boyfriend Is a Monster #2)" by Paul Storrie

127 pages

Maria has recently moved to Alaska to live with her Aunt Sophie after her parents died in a car accident. Now there's an even newer kid in town--Tom--and all the girls in school are going crazy for his hunkiness. To their dismay, Tom and Maria make an instant connection and he doesn't have eyes for anyone else. Maria soon discovers, however, that there's more to Tom than a stunning face and perfect body. He's actually a Frankenstein monster of sorts, and his family members (also reanimated monsters) have some major issues that threaten to come between Tom and Maria.

I enjoyed the first "My Boyfriend is a Monster" graphic novel, and I like this one even more because the story is more original. The romance part is predictable, of course, but the rest of it was more surprising. I wish it was longer so the characters could be developed more--I like them, but I don't feel like I really got to know them. That said, I thought this was a fun, quick read.

Anya's Ghost

by Vera Brosgol, 221 p.

Vera is not just haunted by thoughts of her immigrant Russian family, but also a ghost from World War One.  After she skips class and accidentally falls into an abandoned well, she meets Emily, who fell into the same well and died 90 years earlier.  Though she doesn't think so at first, Emily becomes a big help to Anya, even encouraing her to talk to the hot basketball player and go to a party.  But things slowly unwind, leading Anya to take desparate measures just to save her family.

I loved this story!  A blurb on the cover from Neil Gaiman says that it's a masterpiece and he was totally not kidding.  The art is subtle and introduces some really passionate colors during the more tense moments.  It's a really great story.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Great story!  I read this for one of my book discussion groups (the most fun one!) and everyone agreed that Hillenbrand's writing style makes her books highly readable, very accessible and hard to put down.  She's chosen a story as compelling as Olympic runner who goes down at sea during World War II, is captured by the Japanese and tortured in various POW camps and eventually emerges and thrives, against all odds.  It's a quick read and the consensus of our group was "two thumbs up."
Kim F

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stitch 'n Bitch Superstar Knitting

by Debbie Stoller, 356 p.

More skills and patterns from the AMAZING Debbie Stoller, feministing-fiber-artist extraordinaire (did you know that she makes YARN now?  Love!)  Clear instructions are make the whole process a breeze!

The best thing about Stitch 'n Bitch is that they actually listen to their readers.  They saw that we were editing patterns after the first book, so the second book focused on making things more personal.  They knew that we needed more techniques after learning how to personalize, so now they're teaching extra-spicy skills.  It makes me sad that I don't have nearly enough time to knit, but drooling over these patterns and making copies for later can usually suffice.

Customiser, Tout ce qu'il y a dans mon placard (The Left Bank look : easy Parisian-chic projects for your home and clothes)

by Anne Hubert, 63 p.

Projects for home and stuff (clothes, office, random stuff that most people don't have....)

Meh.  I was really disappointed.  I was expecting something le super cool and it instead it as comme ci comme ça... Many of the projects are not easy for the home crafter.  There's really not much to say.  The pictures are cool but that's about it.

"A Tale Dark and Grimm" by Adam Gidwitz

256 pages

Do not let any little kids read this book, the author warns. These aren't your traditional wussy fairy tales. There are heads being cut off, deals with the Devil being made, parents turning their kids into birds, and much more awful stuff. Hansel and Gretel are the stars of the show. The well-known story about their journey into the forest and the crazy old lady who traps them is included, but there's also much more. Here, we learn what happened before and after the familiar story.

I love this book! It's a funny, interesting twist on a classic tale, and I like all the action. It's a fast read that kept me on my toes. My favorite part is Gidwitz's commentary throughout the book, in which he makes snarky comments and repeatedly urges readers to send small children away before continuing the book. Fantastic all around!

Carter Finally Gets It

by Brent Crawford, 300 p.

Carter is 14, loves the ladies, and a high school freshman.  He also has a wicked case of ADD, a psycho older sister, and is desperately trying to avoid the nickname Slappy (thanks to an unfortunate incident on the high dive).     On top of all that, he's trying to deal with being cool, a mortal enemy, and figuring out girls (especially Abby, the hottie on the drill team).  All of this is bound together by Carter's hilarious inner voice.

I loved this book SO much.  Thanks to a wonderful recommendation from Sarah, I listened to it on audio and would be laughing so hard during my commute I was surprised I made it to work every day.  Plus, it really fills the whole "guys read" for the teens niche.  I'm definitely thinking this is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" for the hit-with-the-puberty-stick set.

Loved it!

Lauren Conrad Style

by Lauren Conrad, 230 p.

A lovely book of style tips for any girl, whether wondering what to wear on a date to what to wear to a job interview.

Alright - it's time to get confessional:  I love Lauren Conrad and the Hills.  That's right...  Every Monday night I would race home from work to hunker down with my roommate to see what shenanigans LC, Audrina, JustinBobby, and the rest of the gang were getting into.  All the while, I was AMAZED at what classiness Lauren was emanating.  I mean really, home girl has style.  Maybe that makes me shallow... but I still desperately covet her ability to braid and her perfect application liquid liner.
PROS: Lauren is totally spot on, and validates her selections.  CONS: I'm thinking I'm too old for this book.

All in all, it was lovely.  Lovely.

"Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich

308 pages

As usual, things are a bit wacky in bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life. The bail bonds office has recently burned to the ground, so Stephanie and the rest of the crew are working out of a motor home that they share with a dancing bear (long story, of course). After Morelli's crazy grandmother puts a curse on her, Stephanie decides it's time to choose between Morelli and Ranger. To make things more complicated, a man from Stephanie's past moves back to Trenton. Even worse, bodies "addressed" to Stephanie start showing up, and she has a feeling that the killer is someone way too close to home for her taste. It's a crazy situation that only Stephanie Plum could get into.

I get a few laughs from Stephanie, her friends, and their bizarre adventures, but it seems like each book is the same story. Each time I finish one, I think I won't read the next, but somehow I always do. I'm pretty sure I keep coming back because of the characters. I love Stephanie's narration and that she's goofy, fun, and doesn't have it all together--that's refreshing. Grandma and Lula are pretty stereotypical, but I love them anyway. Also, I hang on because I want to see whether Stephanie ultimately chooses Morelli or Ranger. The bottom line is that this series isn't great literature, or even good mysteries (in this one, especially, it's extremely easy to figure out who the killer is), but they're good for light "fluff" reading if you don't mind a lot of wackiness.

Summer and the City: a Carrie Diaries novel

by Candace Bushnell, 409p.

Carrie Bradshaw has finally made it to the city - at least for the summer.  As Carrie begins her summer of writing in New York, she beings to change into the Carrie she thinks she should be.  This is also the summer she meets Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbs (love!) and definitely falls for the love of her life: New York.  After all of this, how will she ever be able to go home?

Just when I thought I couldn't read another book I didn't like, along came "Summer and the City."  Blargh.  I liked the original book, and I loved the show, but this is just.... blargh.  I don't think I can handle another insipid prequel.  And why do I get the hint of an after-school special?  I respect these characters, and I respect the fact that this is a YA novel and that Candace Bushnell is trying for a different audience/gets what is appropriate for this age group.  I still feel annoyed that I took time out of my life to read this book.  Maybe once she gets to college it will get a little less saccharin... maybe?

Good Eats 2: The Middle Years

by Alton Brown, 431 p.

This should have been called "Good Eats 2: The Sad Attempt At A Second Book Which Should Have Just Stayed A TV Show," but nobody asked me.

I really love the show, but I just could not love the book for itself.  Alton's demeanor on the show is silly and wonderful with just a touch of mad scientist.  However, Alton's voice in the book comes off as elitist or pompous.  Perhaps it's perceived on my part, but it left me feeling disappointed and a bit depressed.  On the other hand, having his recipes in hand was AMAZING.  I love his stuff (how could you not) and digging through Food Network's website whilst trying to find them is never fun.

Verdict:  if you need an Alton fix and want his recipes, check out the DVDs.

Lost in the River of Grass

by Ginny Rorby, 255 p.

While on a horrible field trip with her horrible classmates, only the most horrible thing happens to Sarah: she gets trapped deep in the Everglades with a total stranger and only their wits to get them out.

I could not put this book down.  I've been going through a string on YA lit recently where the kids are rude and snotty and expect certain things from those around them, and this was refreshing.  Sarah is younger, so that might play a part, but her voice is refreshing and not totally obnoxious and immature.  Plus, there's a love story.  Really, what is a good book without a little romantic element.

Putting Makeup On Dead People

by Jen Violi, 336 pages.

After Donna's dad died 4 years ago, she's had a hard time letting go.  It has definitely shaped her world view in more ways than one.  So when the idea to attend mortuary school comes up, she can't not do it.  Her family has huge reservations, her friends (except for the amazing Liz and Charlie) think she's nuts.  But this is more than a fascination with death - it's all about shedding the past and finding herself.

I loved this book more than I thought I would.  I think it really highlights the idea that there is SO MUCH growing up that happens in that year between leaving home and growing up that I feel like I talk about so much.  But I say it because it's true.  Donna totally changes in the book.  As does her family.  What I loved more than anything was this whole idea throughout the book that people grow and change and it is HARD to recognize that in most instances, and that you just have to try to stick to your guns without burning too many bridges as you go.

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen & Dusty Higgins

Here's the premise: Pinocchio wasn't always the best boy in the world but he loved Geppetto.  When Geppetto is killed by vampires...yes, vampires...Pinocchio seeks revenge.  Every time Pinocchio tells a lie his nose grows-into a perfect vampire stake with an endless supply.

Even without the vampires this is not your Disney Pinocchio. The authors are kind enough to provide a brief(and hilarious) overview of the original Pinocchio story in the beginning. Here, Pinocchio is accompanied by Master Cherry the carpenter, the Blue Fairy and yes, the cricket...sorta.  What I liked about the story was the darkness mixed with humor. The town is besieged and a battle is going on between good and evil but at the heart of it is a mash-up of a family brought together by loyalty and love for each other rather than blood. Sweet, compassionate and bust out laughing funny. Oh, and kinda gross here and there. The illustrations are all black and white with varying degrees of detail. 2009, 128 pages.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Shipping News

by Annie Proulx
(1993 | 337 p)

Quoyle: A coil of rope

It took nearly 5 chapters of dogged reading before I realized what a gem of a book I'd found in The Shipping News. The storytelling is subtle while the writing is close-knit. Each sentence paints a tiny picture of Quoyle's metamorphosis.

Quoyle is delivered to us as a man with a "great damp loaf of a body" and a "giant's chin." These descriptions become characters unto themselves, tormenting and comforting Quoyle in turns. His hapless forays into life have not been kind but he's more resigned than bitter. He never expected much else. A disastrous marriage, his parents' deaths, and suddenly Quoyle is cut free, alone, the single father of two girls. His options being nonexistent he decides to join his Aunt in a trek to the forgotten family place in Newfoundland where he takes a job writing the Shipping News for a small town newspaper. Things begin to change.

My first reaction when I finished this book was "I'm in love! How am I this late to the Annie Proulx party?" The feeling still hasn't worn off. I must, must read everything she's ever written immediately. Or shortly thereafter.

Sgt. Frog: Volume 4: Frog in a Bender

by Mine Yoshizaki, 179 pages

An elite platoon of frog-like aliens has come to Earth to prepare the way for a full-scale invasion. The mission: perform recon, subdue the masses, and call it in. Unfortunately for Sergeant Keroro and his men, they set up their secret base beneath the Hinata household.

The boy, Fuyuki, is all right as a conquered minion, being an easygoing, geeky kid and lover of all things paranormal. But his grouchy, athletic superior (a.k.a. sister), Natsumi, proves more powerful (and more beautiful, to Corporal Giroro's mind) an enemy than they'd expected to encounter. And then there's the all-seeing, intimidating General (the kids' manga-editor mother).

Before they know it, the frogs find themselves the ones submitting, with irresponsible Keroro's list of assigned household chores growing longer every time he cooks up a cockamamie scheme to usurp control (or score some awesome new Gundam models). Keroro goofs around and blows their invasion budget on toys while super-soldier Giroro meditates as far away from his embarrassing fellows as possible, mad sadistic genius First Sergeant Kururu invents twisted weapons for his own amusement (and tests them on whoever's unfortunate enough to be at hand), and spacey Private Tamama tries to keep his dual personality (one sweet, one not so much) in check and skips after his beloved commanding officer. There's a fifth one, but the others have forgotten him, poor thing.

It's a New Year, and following a disorderly celebration involving model glue vapors and copious amounts of alcohol, Keroro decides to take over a weather satellite, make it snow, and then conquer the Earth in a winter invasion. Only he hasn't counted on snow being so cold, on frogs being pretty much naked, and on snowball fights being quite so diverting (and distracting...and likely to cause froggy frostbite). They don't make it past the front yard. Other shenanigans ensue, including miniaturizing the gang in order to combat the micro-aliens giving Keroro a cavity, Tamama having to hide the reality of the platoon's failure from an over-eager fan from home, and Keroro temporarily switching bodies with the clever Natsumi (with predictably weird results).

Sgt. Frog is mindless slapstick and fun in small doses. Pop-culture-addicted Keroro's selfish ineptitude amuses as his subordinates alternately confirm and then relinquish their allegiance to him and his "prisoners" try to maintain some affection for him while keeping his perpetually generated chaos as contained as possible. *kero kero* :P

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Volume 12

by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (story and art), khara and Gainax (original concept), 187 pages

In an alternate future, the paramilitary organization NERV employs a select group of teenagers to pilot giant semi-sentient, semi-organic mecha called Evangelions (or Evas) in battle against the devastating attacks of other mysterious mecha called Angels. Fourteen-year-old Shinji Ikari is one of those pilots and his father, Gendo, heads NERV. Their relationship has never been ideal, and as his father's twisted goals begin to surface and the organization comes under vicious attack from even shadier government forces, Shinji must face his own weaknesses...or die...along with everyone else he has ever known and loved.

Not for the cheerful, this series. People die. A lot. In sometimes gruesome fashion. For stupid mistakes, in the heat of battle, or on purpose. Back when I first started these, I marathoned volumes 3-10 and had an awful headache afterwards from crying over all the gut-wrenching plot points; but I didn't resent the discomfort, as I considered it evidence of my investment in the characters, who were so well drawn (figuratively and literally) that I couldn't help but care about them. The story is complex, with its own world-building vocabulary and multiple nefarious conspiracies, and the frenetic action often takes center stage, but it's the psychological and emotional lives of the title's protagonists that give it life and hold this reader's attention.

The series is finally drawing to its dramatic (and traumatic, I'm sure) conclusion, but it will probably be another couple of years before we get to read it, as Sadamoto is notoriously slow to put out books. Having inadvertently seen (only) the surreal psycho-drama that is the final episode of the insanely popular, hugely depressing, genre-breaking animé (it and the manga started at the same time in 1995 or so, but differ on many points), I am prepared for all kinds of messiness but remain optimistic that this incarnation will continue to follow its habit of being ever so slightly more hopeful than its sibling. We shall a few years....

Bakuman: Volume 1: Dreams and Reality

by Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 204 pages

Fourteen-year-old Moritaka Mashiro loves to draw, but ever since his struggling manga-ka uncle's death, he has resigned himself to a boring future as an ordinary businessman. He studies, doodles sketches of the girl he secretly likes, and plods along through his days drained of all ambition. One afternoon, realizing he's forgotten his notebook--including his crushy doodles--in the classroom, he shuffles back to school to get it only to find it in the hands of his classmate, Akito Takagi...who refuses to return it until Moritaka agrees to be his partner in creating manga. The would-be artist drags his feet, but will talented Akito's enthusiasm--and enlistment of another future "partner"--be enough to motivate Moritaka to pick up his discarded dream and run with it? And if he does, will they succeed?

I've been looking forward to reading Bakuman, as it's the first team-up of these two creators since the perennially popular Death Note series (Obata also draws the award-winning Hikaru no Go series). This one again promises detailed, realistic art and slow-paced, talk-heavy plots, but without the super dark fantasy elements, instead focusing on all the nitty-gritty minutia of the process of creating manga, from the different kinds of pens used to the slim likelihood of being able to live comfortably off one's manga earnings. Right now, it's this backstage access to the industry's secrets that most intrigues me, as the characters, though fun and energetic, haven't made enough of an impression yet in this introductory volume for me to get too attached to them emotionally.

Black Bird: Volume 8

by Kanoko Sakurakoji, 190 pages

Crow-demon Kyo decides the only way to protect himself, and his future with human lover Misao, from dogged exorcist Raiko is to wipe the young man's childhood memories of the demon attack that scarred both his body and his psyche. Misao, hating the idea of manipulating someone else the way she once was by Kyo's scheming brother, nevertheless goes along with the plan, although she asks Kyo to try every diplomatic avenue possible first. She just has to convince Raiko to trust them to negotiate in good faith. But can she trust him?

I've the same problems with this volume as I've had all along. Misao is a personality-less non-entity who generally goes along with whatever her man says, believing wholeheartedly in the melodrama. Kyo is a possessive cold fish who doesn't seem to care all that much about anything, his own life included, despite his manly 'tude. At least in this volume he admits to himself that his instinct is to live, whatever the consequences. The romantic tension finally gets dealt with, but by this time the reader's interest has waned a bit and she just wants to know how it all plays out with the prophecies everyone's been fretting about since book one. I like the whole tengu angle, but I don't think it gets used to its full potential--although this volume does a little better with it than have others. And as nice as the art is, I think it doesn't quite work for this kind of fantasy melodrama and would be better suited for a more mundane, realistic story.

It only just occurred to me that Misao and Kyo are rather Bella- and Edward-like in their personalities and in their relationship to one another: she's a human, he's a dangerous creature with sharp pointy bits (talons in this case); she's weepy-spineless, he's moody-broody; she wants to take it to the next level, he won't out of concern for her. He's even got a close-knit "family" who begrudgingly takes her in even as it's under perpetual assault from rival clans wanting to move in on its territory. Maybe those similarities are one reason I get so annoyed with these books? And yet, as with Twilight, I read them anyway. *sigh*