Friday, August 19, 2011

Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

"My life, I thought, is built on quicksand. It shifts from one day to the next."

Christine wakes up every morning wondering who the guy is sleeping in the bed beside her. Sometimes she feels like she's in her twenties and other times she feels like a child. It is only when she goes to the bathroom and sees an older woman staring back that she begins to panic. Every day, her husband Ben gently calms her down and reminds her of her life. Christine has amnesia and forgets everything she's been told each day when she falls asleep. When a doctor calls and tells her to read her journal hidden in her closet and to not tell Ben-Christine has to decide who to believe and how much she can unravel before she falls asleep again.

This book is getting a lot of press, including a rave review from Dennis Lehane comparing it to the movie Memento. A classic thriller it is full of fast paced suspense that will keep the reader hooked. What makes it memorable is the engaging depth of character in Christine-who can remember nothing of her life day to day. The plot is tightly written and does not fall into too many cliches. The twists and turns are fun and thoughtful. If I am any example of a typical reader, I was throwing theories around in my head throughout the whole novel. Only a few of them came true. For that, I tip my hat. 2011, 358 pages.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Faith" by Michelle Larks

292 pages

Life is good for Monet and Marcus Caldwell . Both have jobs they love: Marcus as a detective for the Chicago Police Department and Monet as a nurse in the neonatal unit of an inner city hospital. Their marriage is great and they're both active in their church and committed to God. The only thing missing from their life is a child. Doctors have been unable to explain why Monet has been unable to conceive, but she believes that God will bless them with a child someday. Suddenly, everything changes after Monet is brutally raped. Although she heals physically and makes big strides toward emotional recovery, Marcus agonizes over the pain his wife went through and his longing for revenge on the rapist, who remains at large. Then things get even more complicated: Monet learns that she's having a baby. She is thrilled and feels assured that the baby is Marcus', and vows to love it even if it is the rapist's offspring. Marcus, on the other hand, is appalled by the news and orders his wife to terminate the pregnancy. When Monet refuses, turmoil takes over the Caldwell household.

I don't read much Christian fiction because I think it can be cheesy, but I enjoyed this book. The characters and their struggles felt very real to me instead of all "everything is part of God's plan so nothing bothers me." The ending is predictable, but there were enough surprises throughout the story to keep me interested. I recommend this for anyone who wants to get a feel for the Christian fiction genre without going through too much preaching.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer

by Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins, 130 pages

Other reviews here have summed up this short graphic novel's plot (and they must have been pretty persuasive, 'cause I couldn't not put this book on hold after reading them--thanks, guys!), but basically all you need to know is that broody Pinocchio, driven by a personal vendetta, purposely spouts mouthy lies to make his wooden nose grow so he can break it off and stake vampires with it. Which he does. A lot.

Sounds silly--and it is--but it's also pretty cool. And funny. And involving. I'm sad it's so short! And I'm glad to know there are / will be two sequels. I laughed so much at the beginning that I had to go back and read the helpful summation of the original Pinocchio story out loud to my bemused brother, flashing the book at him so he could see the pictures while he was trying to make dinner. Despite being distracted by food preparation and open flames, he laughed, too. :P Dark humor, dark drama, and silliness in pleasing proportions.

Vampire Knight: Volume 12

by Matsuri Hino, 185 pages

Yuki tries to get through a tense vampire soirée policed by hunters--including Zero, with whom she hasn't spoken since their dramatic parting at Cross Academy--but her night out is cut abruptly short by an apparent murder / suicide involving a hunter and another pureblood in attendance. Feeling useless, she takes the first opportunity Kaname subtly gives her to try to do something to help make the world of vampires and hunters and everyday humans a little less tragic a place.

The politics and intrigue and philosophizing continue in this volume. Who and what are these characters to one another, really? Is Zero ever going to forgive and accept Yuki or Kaname or even himself? How do I want all of this to end? I don't know! But I do want Yuki to cut her hair and wear sensible shoes soon. She's much more fun when she's unfettered. And I imagine her loved ones (even the ones who profess to hate her) will be happier when it's safe enough to let her take care of herself, too.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers: Volume 3

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 227 pages

Dead Iemitsu's illegitimate daughter Chie has secretly been the stand-in shogun for several years. When the hard, capable ruler shows no sign of bearing a child to continue the Tokugawa line (and therefore the country's stability) with her current lover--and the double tragedies of the pox and drought show no signs of abating--a series of fateful decisions further builds the framework (for better or for worse) for the world into which Yoshimune will one day be born.

Whether in the fields or behind the shogun's palace walls, no one here knows life without hardship and hateful ultimatums. The only thing that makes these harsh choices bearable is the resolve of those affected to accept what must be done for the good of the country, even if it breaks their own hearts. Such pragmatism is a bitter pill for the soft-hearted reader, however, so she looks forward (rather idealistically) to a warmer, safer, happier future, however many generations down the line it may be. Yoshimune has already succeeded in injecting a little humanity into her rule in the first volume. Hopefully, that will only be the beginning.

Vagabond: Volume 21

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 212 pages

Kyoto is the place to be this volume as various characters arrive at or set out for the city. There, Musashi accepts a challenge by the fiery younger brother of the Yoshioka school...only to find himself first happily fighting the far more skilled older brother by the light of a cold night's fire in a field. Meanwhile, Matahachi is tiring of tricking naive samurai out of their money and begins to long for the company of those who know him by his real name. He sets his feet on the road to Kyoto. At the same time, the rightful owner of his stolen name saunters into the city laughing, which unnerves the locals gawking at Yoshioka's posted challenge notice. And, hearing that Musashi may be there and getting into trouble yet again, Otsû and Jôtarô pull themselves together and set out after their troublesome loved one.

All roads lead to Kyoto, here. I wonder how many paths will actually cross, though? Musashi's about to have the entirety of the Yoshioka school on his backside in retaliation / face-saving, so I think he's going to be a little preoccupied for a while. Matahachi just desperately needs a familiar face, and Akemi is around to supply one that won't come with all the baggage Musashi's would. It seems a little too soon for Musashi and Kojirô to clash, as their reputations could use more time to grow and solidify into something legendary first (although they're certainly not dragging their feet in that department, on purpose or not). And Otsû and Jôtarô would love nothing more than to grab Musashi's kimono sleeve and never let him out of their sight; but with his nature being what it is, I think that wish is unlikely to be fulfilled anytime soon. Mmm, mmm, mmm. I love watching these lives weave in and out of one another, even when only in spirit.

X/1999: Volume 13: Lament

by CLAMP, 180 pages

The Harbingers are starting to make trouble in earnest, attacking Tokyo's magically protective buildings with a series of destructive earthquakes. A young Seal tries to stop them, but alone she's not enough. Then Kamui stumbles upon Fuma just as the latter decapitates yet another of his friends. The battle goes rather downhill for Kamui from there until a pair of fellow Seals arrives on the scene and Fuma bows out till next time, never having lost his frightening cool.

Oh, these characters suffer a lot. At least we didn't know the deceased as well as we do some of the others. And Kamui is once again in need of hospitalization, every effort to impede Fuma having once again failed. Kamui needs to be more proactive, and not just wait for the other side to act before doing something. Otherwise, they'll always be a step ahead and he'll just have to take yet more gruesome beatings and watch more and more of his friends get killed in horrible ways. It's kinda depressing. And yet I can't stop reading....

"Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Dennison

247 pages

The tone and plot of this book are best summed up by one of the opening passages, which is actually a list:

There are six things very wrong with my life:

1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.
2. It is on my nose
3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.
4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.

5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.

6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.

The story continues through teenage Georgia's journal. In addition to the troubles listed above, she has to deal with fighting parents and the angst of her crush on Robbie the Sex God, who is unfortunately dating a total weirdo instead of Georgia.

This book totally cracked me up! The crazy antics of Georgia, her insane cat Angus, and her goofy little sister Libby kept me laughing the whole time. The teen drama is a little over the top for me, but I think most people can relate to it if they remember anything at all about being a teenager. This definitely isn't the most stimulating book out there, but it's great for when you want something light and funny to take a break from heavier reads.

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness, 579 pages

This has been an annus mirabilis, or a summer of wonders, for me regarding new fantasy authors. First I found Patrick Rothfuss and his stunning Kingkiller Chronicle novels, then I found Deborah Harkness's whimsical paranormal fantasy waiting for me on The New York Times bestseller list.

Diana Bishop is an American scholar with a specialized focus on alchemical history. While doing research in the Bodelian Library at Oxford, she stumbles across an old manuscript. She's descended from a long line of Bishop witches, though she's sworn off using her special powers. Her indavertent summoning of the powerful book sparks a storm of paranormal activity. Demons and vampires masquerading as humans descend on the venerable library. Matthew Clairmont, something of a Lord of Vampires, comes to Diana's aid when she's stalked by creatures who want the secret of the powerful manuscript. Vampires and witches are normally enemies, but the two of them have to work together to prevent the manuscript from falling into the wrong hands.

The pacing of the story is brisk, with elements of romance and humor mixed in with danger and adventure. Harkness uses her scholar's cred well, giving the story an intelligent basis while she keeps the plot simmering. My friends and I call this one Twilight for Grown-ups. Though be warned: I should have realized it was only the first volume of a planned All Souls trilogy, since this book has a cliffhanger ending. Recommended.

The Wise Man's Fear

by Patrick Rothfuss, 993 pages

For an excellent, detailed review, please see Jenny E's review on this same blog.

I have listened to both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. That's 36 cds for Wise Man's Fear alone! So Kvothe and I have spent a lot of time together in recent weeks. Though Kvothe didn't know I was there (the table to the right of the main hearth of the Inn: that apple pie does smell tasty!) I consider the time I listened to the innkeeper's tale very well-spent.

Certainly, sometimes I did roll my eyes back in my hidden corner. Out looking for Dinna again? (Oh, Kvothe, forever she will be breaking your heart!) And yes, Grasshopper, your own time with Tempi, the amusing but lethal Adem mercenary, did stretch on a bit too long. But Kvothe kept me enthralled through a thousand pages of adventure, enchantment and great peril. I am already looking forward to my next visit to the Waystone Inn.

While George R R Martin has been getting a great deal of press recently with the long awaited arrival of his next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Dance With Dragons, IMHO he is not the hottest fantasy writer in America. Just based on his first two novels, I think Patrick Rothfuss should be.

The Indie Author's Guide

by April Hamilton, 293 pages

I picked this up since I am interested in e-publishing. While that is the hottest area of publishing these days, Hamilton also writes about more traditional ways to self-publish. This book does not tell you how to write---it is designed to encourage you to get your finished work out to the public who will hopefully be eager to read it.

I knew some of the material already, but found the section on getting organized very helpful. The EPUB world is evolving so fast that even though this book has a 2010 copyright, it is probably out of date in some areas. Nevertheless, it does clearly layout your self pub options. I would use this in conjunction with writers' websites and blogs on self publishing. Recommended.

"The Scorch Trials" by James Dashner

361 pages

In "The Maze Runner," Thomas found himself trapped with a group of other teen guys on a spot of land in the Maze, a dangerous labyrinth from which they couldn't escape. Then a girl, Teresa, arrived, triggering the End. Several kids lost their lives, but the survivors were saved. Or so they thought. Now, in this second book in the series, they learn that the struggle has only just begun. Their safety is wrenched away as they're almost immediately forced to undergo another task: crossing the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. As if that wasn't enough, WICKED (the world government that formed after solar flares caused ecological havoc on Earth) has put plenty of obstacles in the boys' way; Teresa has disappeared and Thomas can't reach her telepathically; and a virus called the Flare has turned nearly everyone in the Scorch into a violent, flesh-eating monster. And, oh yeah, Thomas and the rest of the boys are told that they too have been infected with the Flare. That means they'll turn into zombies themselves unless they survive the Scorch Trial, in which case WICKED will give them the exclusive cure.

Like "The Maze Runner," this story had me hooked from beginning to end. The action starts right away and there's no break until the conclusion. I didn't like some of the twists that this story took, though. Some of the things that happen are so out-there that it seemed like the author was just throwing in every weird idea he could think of for the sake of making the book stand out. The Teresa storyline, especially, didn't make sense to me. However, there's one more book so I'm going to reserve judgment until Dashner has had a chance to explain everything. And I have to admit that all of the craziness makes me anxious for the next book because I want to see how he's going to bring it all together (if he can, that is).

The Walk, Richard Paul Evans

Page 289

I had never read one of Richard Paul Evans books before, but had been asked repeatedly for this book at the desk. I finally gave in to my curiosity and checked it out--it was amazing! I was sucked into the story from the very first page and just kept reading. The story immerses you in the characters life and I couldn't put it down. What was really great is this is just the first book in the series so there is much more to come. It is very emotional and inspirational novel and I highly recommend The Walk.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

p. 234
I finally read this book. I have started it so many times. It was a fun read, especially for a classic from the 19th century. I enjoyed it. I've seen movies and shows about it. It was interesting to see the differences from the films and TV shows. Like Tom's friend that is forgotten, Joe Harper. The famous funeral part where they show up for their own was not just Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but also Tom's closest school pal Joe Harper. The book was also involved more violent parts and gritty scenes then is usually included in the adaptations of the book. I'm glad I got to actually read the book. A true American classic. Makes me want to visit Hannibal finally even more now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Virals by Kathy Reichs

448 pgs/2010

About the Book: Tory Brennan is the niece of famous forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. She has only recently discovered her father and is now living with him on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. Tory and her misfit group of friends take it upon themselves to rescue a dog from a medical testing facility, only to be exposed to an experimental strain of parvovirus. Soon the group is experiencing heightened senses and powers, which will help them solve a mystery of a missing girl and solve a cold case murder.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Yet another adult author seeing the money in writing for teens. As far as adult authors writing for teens, this book isn't bad. Some of the references felt a little dated (Tory's friends refer to her Agent Scully and a few other references I now can't remember that struck me as odd). The group of teens is your typical, "we're science geeks, super smart and a bit nerdy, but we have each other" group of teens that usually show up in these types of novels. Of course they are able to break into medical facilities, fool adults, solve mysteries and twenty-year-old crimes. Of course the bad guys have long monologues explaining everything and there's a twist of suspects where the person you least suspect has been involved all along. So, pretty much, nothing out of the ordinary-it's what you would expect.

The biggest thing that bugged me was how easily the teens were able to outwit the adults and solve the mystery. I also was rolling my eyes when the teenage son of one of the bad guys starts spilling the story, even though he wasn't even alive when the murder happened, but he knew every detail because he Dad had had to spill everything to his son to protect everything. Really, I think the Dad would have kept his mouth shut, so I thought it was pretty annoying the teen knew everything. And there was the whole innocent character (so you thought) who really was bad-another groan and eye roll.

But for teens who like lots of action and some mystery and especially teens who enjoy the Maximum Ride series, I think this is a good pick. It's a new series and great for middle school readers.

Tickle, Tickle! Itch, Twitch! by Julie Olson

32 pgs/2010

When Mouse finds a feather, he decides to play a trick on Gus the groundhog. Gus keeps trying to stop his itch, but finds himself using things that won't help like a snake or a porcupine.

I wasn't all that impressed with this book. It was cute and I think some readers will like it, especially if you have into an interactive lapsit book and tickle your child as you read. But there wasn't anything that really made it stand out and it was just Ok.

Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrations by Ward Jenkins

32 pgs/2011

An adorably funny rhyming picture book about silly chicks who want to dance and have fun after they've been tucked in bed. Mama keeps coming in to tell them to settle down and go to sleep, yet the chicks run wild! The illustrations have lots of details and it's fun to pour over the pictures and look at each page to see what you can find. There's a cute twist to the story and I think this would make a fun preschool storytime, especially if you have the kids run wild along with the chicks.

The Sneaky Sheep by Chris Monroe

32 pgs/2010

Who knew sheep could be so sneaky? Blossom and Rocky are always looking for greener pastures and wondering what's up on the hill. Murphy the sheepdog is always telling them to stay out of trouble, but instead he ends up helping the sheep get out of the trouble they find.

A great book for older picture book readers-this one has a slight feel of a comic as well as a picture book. The illustrations are fun and I think older readers will have a good laugh as the sheep get into crazy adventures

The Loopy Coop Hens by Janet Morgan Stoeke


The Loopy Coop Hens are fascinated with Rooster Sam. Rooster Sam can fly and try as hard as they might, the hens just can't fly. Told in three short stories, the hens discover a secret about their beloved Rooster Sam. This is a cute book with three short stories making it perfect for early readers wanting the feel of a chapter book. There is lots of humor and the illustrations are fun. I wouldn't use it in a storytime setting, but instead would recommend it to readers looking for a book to read on their own or share with others.

The Hot List by Hillary Homzie

256 pgs/ 2011

About the Book: Sophie can feel her friendship with best friend Maddie changing now that they're in seventh grade. Maddie is hanging out with popular girl Nia more and Sophie will do anything to keep things the same. So when she suggests posting their secret "Hot List" at the school, Sophie thinks their secret will keep them close. Instead, it propels the "Hot List" into the ultimate decision list for the middle school and now someone else is adding to the list. Not knowing what else to do, Sophie makes a bet with Nia that she can get anyone on the list. So Nia challenges Sophie to transform dorky, not cool Squid into a Hot Lister, or else embarrass herself in front of her crush.

Sarah TeenlibrarianSays: At it's core, The Hot List is a story about friendship. Middle school is a strange time to navigate friendships as people change and find new interests, and Hillary Homzie nails that awkwardness perfectly. You don't want to give up the friends you've always known, but how do you let go and make new ones? And can you actually be friends with someone new? And what about being popular and cool-doesn't that count for everything?

What I liked most was the story with Squid and being true to yourself. This isn't a makeover story where the makeover changes them for good, but instead, the makeover helps them see what was best to begin with.

At times the story seemed to not know exactly what it wanted to be, but it got there in the end. Sophie learns to be confident, which I think middle schoolers can relate to. A fun, light tween read perfect for readers looking for a book about tricky middle school friendships.

Calling all book warriors!!

Did we really lose in July? The month we all tried to beat Jenny? You bet we did! St. Charles beat us by 4 books and 3552 pages. Coming very, very close was University City with 130 books and 35,712 pages.

This is not good news! They can smell blood and taste victory!!!!!

Put on the war paint, grab your books and let's take this competition back!!!!

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 6

by CLAMP, 220 pages

Mokona's revealed to be a lot more than just a ball of cuteness and comic relief as everyone realizes that none of them want a repeat of the past; it is only their chosen means of achieving an alternative that pits them against one another.

Loose ends are tidied up (except for one that is left amusingly wide open). Sappy and sweet and very nearly tragic, but this last volume ends on an unequivocal tone of hope and happiness.

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 5

by CLAMP, 215 pages

Cephiro and its defenders fight off incursions from other countries looking to take advantage of its current weakness. But what are their motives? And what of Lantis, Zagato's quiet, brooding brother? And how is he connected to one of the invading countries?

More backstory on Emeraude and Zagato as well as Lantis and the fellows from Autozam. More muddying of the good / bad distinction. And more bonding as the future is contemplated.

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 4

by CLAMP, 206 pages

The girls have returned home to Tokyo, their quest fulfilled, but their hearts are heavy with regret. To find comfort in shared memories, they meet up again at the tower only to once again be pulled back to Cephiro, where a new danger threatens the still unstable world. The trio learn some of the details they weren't privy to the first time they came to Cephiro, and that knowledge strengthens their resolve to serve the country however they can--even if that means trying to undermine its very foundations.

As the story gets more complex and the cast bigger, we meet a few characters CLAMP readers will recognize when they show up in one of the alternate worlds in Tsubasa. And did I mention that Mokona, Tsubasa's and XxxHolic's "white pork bun" tubby bunny-bat creature makes its first appearance in this series, as well? It doesn't talk so much in this one, though--probably because there aren't any perpetual grumps (I'm lookin' at you, Kurogane and Watanuki) to happily annoy. :P

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 3

by CLAMP, 207 pages

Umi and Fuu awake slumbering spirits who promise to help them when the time is right, but Zagato wants to ensure Hikaru doesn't get a chance to awaken the third and final spirit. And if he has to use mind control over one of Emeraude's most faithful servants to do it, he will.

Ah, enemies who aren't really enemies. CLAMP very rarely has baddies who are actually evil. There are almost always extenuating circumstances, contrasting yet legitimate motives, and, often, changes of heart. That's the tragedy of reality and one of the things I love best about these creators.

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 2

by CLAMP, 197 pages

On their quest to get the special mineral Escudo for their new, self-adapting armor, the girls run into a strange but helpful boy in the forest. With Princess Emeraude's former priest Zagato sending one powerful enemy after another to get in their way, they could use the extra hands.

As they fight their way through obstacles, the three girls quickly learn to trust and look out for one another, bonding as best friends who've only just met. Typical CLAMP sappiness that feels right at home in the context of the story.

Magic Knight Rayearth: Volume 1

by CLAMP, 203 pages

Three strangers are plucked from the viewing platform of Tokyo Tower and whisked away to another world where they're told they've been summoned by the imprisoned princess to save her kingdom. But can three ordinary fourteen-year-old girls who've never met before really save the world of Cephiro, where belief is power? Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi have a lot to learn, but they'll have to pick it up along the way as time is running out.

This is an early short series that still bears many of the hallmarks of future CLAMP titles: identifiable art, lots of wild magic, and a flair for the melodramatic that balances out nicely with sharp humor.

July Winners!

Congratulations to Sarah for beating the socks off of Jenny in July!!! Woot! A tip of the hat also goes to Heather  and Kristi for giving it their all. Kristi's run of Harry Potter books crushed Jenny in the total pages read category.

July 2011 Winners

Total books read: 136
Total pages: 39,804
Total staff contributing in July: 16

Most books read:
Sarah 30
Jenny 26
Heather 18

Most pages read:
Sarah 8284
Kristi 7162
Jenny 5751

Participation points:
Sarah 62
Jenny 52
Heather 38

Random winner:

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet
by Joanne Proulx.
This book was pretty uneven for me.  It may be because I was reading it on a plane and at the end of long days of vacation, right before I was falling asleep!  A young high school boy suddenly finds he can predict deaths and he feels it very strongly when the person dies. It makes him a little crazy and a minister tries to use him to the church's advantage but he finally figures out how to make things work as best as possible. Lots of references to popular music.  Not bad.
358 pages

After the Golden Age

by Carrie Vaughn, 304 pages

Celia West has struggled her entire life first for approval and later for distance from the superhero family in which she grew up. Blessed with no powers, herself, beyond a penchant for accounting and following money trails, she is tired of her predictably helpless role as kidnappee in the unimaginative criminal world's repeated, ineffective attempts to use her to get to her famous parents. But as suspicious dots start to connect, she finds that her rejected family history, and that of their city's greatest villain, may be unexpectedly relevant to both her future and that of the city, itself.

Happily, an earlier review by Kristi induced me to add this to my holds list. I enjoyed this alternative spin on (super)heroism and self-acceptance / discovery quite a bit. Celia is an interesting character with strengths and weaknesses and secrets that give her personality and substance. She may occasionally come off as more of a teenager than a twenty-something, but that feels like a clear result of her high-pressure relationship with her parents who refuse to see her for who and what she truly is. My only complaint is that the romance element, which was tiptoeing along just fine for most of the book, is resolved rather suddenly and gets a little too perfect and mushy near the end. Overall, though, this is a fast, entertaining read not just for superhero story fans, but for anyone who's ever felt unequal to the weight of parental / societal expectations.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 25

by Hiromu Arakawa, 191 pages

The final stage of "Father's" carefully laid plans unfolds as his unwilling participants fight to save one another, themselves, and the whole of their world.

With only two volumes left, this one's almost nothing but cover-to-cover action as the story jumps from one concurrent conflict or dilemma to another until they begin to converge beneath Central for the final showdown. But even in the midst of all the action, Arakawa doesn't lose sight of what makes this series so hard not to love in the first place: the characters. Lin! Roy! Riza! Al!...Al!! The drama and characterization blended in with the action just add to the already substantial depth and cohesion of this series, even if this volume is just a few moments in the middle of the chaos. One review I read of this volume complained about the hectic, fragmented nature while another had less of a problem with that and just suggested waiting till the last volume comes out and reading the final three in a spree to smooth it out. I don't have the patience for that. :) With such a long-running, complex, larger-than-life story to tell, and one that yet involves so many individual lives, I don't think the tense, frenetic pacing (or the way it's broken up and pieced together across these final books) can be helped. I trust Arakawa to make every moment count, and as long as I get to see it through to the very end, that works for me.

Midori Days: Volume 1

by Kazurou Inoue, 193 pages

High school junior Seiji Sawamura is a decent guy with a not-entirely-unearned reputation as a thug (not helped by his notorious right hook) that scares away every girl he's ever asked out. All he wants is a normal, happy high school life and a girlfriend to hang out with, but at this rate he worries the only "girlfriend" he'll ever have is his right hand. (Take that how you will.) As with any good fairy tale, Seiji learns the hard way about being careful what you wish for and in very short order discovers that his legendary right hand, breaker of many a nose, has suddenly turned into the upper half of a pint-sized girl his age named Midori Kasugano who, it so happens, has secretly harbored a naive crush on him for years and is therefore more ecstatic than freaked out about their current circumstances. Seiji, on the other hand, is pretty much freaked out. While her parents worry over her mysteriously unconscious real body at home, Midori and Seiji have to figure out how to coexist undetected by others until they can get her back in her original vessel.

I know what you're thinking, and I thought the same thing when I read the synopsis; but insistent reviews convinced me to try this series, anyway, and I'm glad I did. While the comedy is necessarily ridiculous and occasionally a little bawdy, Seiji is a gentleman through and through. Even though Midori tries to throw away his secret porn collection when he's not looking (she's pretty much got control of his whole arm and he doesn't know what she's up to unless he's got an eye on her) and chatters at him nonstop, he frets over her well-being and appreciates her affection for him, even if he doesn't exactly understand it. Little by little, Seiji makes small changes in his behavior to accommodate his unexpected (and unexpectedly devoted) guest and keep her out of harm's way, all of which inch him closer and closer to outwardly being the better person he's always been on the inside. This alteration does not go unnoticed by certain of his classmates. And one gets the impression that unnaturally chipper Midori, whose true self has a neglected admirer of her own, has got some growing up and issue-confronting to do, as well.

So far, over the top, often juvenile humor with oddly affecting sweet moments and something that might actually be character development. Who knew?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

368 pgs/2011

About the Book: When Doug Swieteck's father moves his family to "stupid Marysville" Doug couldn't be more annoyed. His new town is boring and there's nothing to do. Doug finds himself on the library steps, exchanging sarcastic words with Lil Spicer, the daughter of the deli owner. Doug decides he'll show Lil he's smart after all and enters the library to find a book of John James Audubon's bird drawings. Doug is drawn to the birds and with the encouragement of the librarian, Mr. Powell, Doug begins to draw his own birds. When Doug learns that the drawings are being sold off to donors because the book is owned by the town, Doug decides to get the drawings back.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Look at any Mock Newbery list for 2012 and chance are you'll see Okay for Now topping the list, and rightly so. This is a book that will you make you laugh and cry-sometimes at the same time!

Doug Swieteck first appeared in The Wednesday Wars, but readers don't need to be familiar with that book in order to enjoy this one. While they are companion novels, each one stands on it own perfectly. But for readers who have read both, there are some minor details that will make them smile.

The synopsis I wrote doesn't even begin to cover all that's covered in this book! There is a lot happening in the story and at times I felt it was a bit too much. Doug is dealing with a gruff, abusive father, and bullying brothers and at times he can see himself being like them. The thing I thought was the most well done with this storyline was that we see Doug's brothers grow and transform. In the beginning, we don't know Doug's middle brothers name (even in The Wednesday Wars, he's known only as "Doug Swieteck's brother"). Yet, as he grows and dare I say, becomes more human, to Doug, we learn his name and get to know him not as a bullying older brother, but as a brother who cares about his family. Much of the book deals with grief, loss, and recovery. Doug's oldest brother has returned from Vietnam and is not the same. Doug is dealing with the pain of his past because of his father.

There's also the storyline about the loss and recovery of Audubon's drawings. The way Gary D. Schimdt ties Audubon's drawings into the various events in Doug's life is fantastic and wonderful and makes the book a must read. (It's a must read for many other reasons too, but this was the thing that stood out the most to me as the most impressive and "I can't believe how he did that!") It's not easy to take something like Audubon and drawings of birds and make it readable and engaging. Doug relates his journey and various event happening in his life to the birds he is drawing. This could have been very corny and cheesy, and yet it comes of in a realistic way that pulls at the readers heartstrings and makes you further wrapped up in the story.

Yes, at times we need to suspend our belief because some of the storylines are a bit too unrealistic. But that's OK, because it's fun to read about Doug's year and his journey from hating "stupid Marysville" to seeing it as home.

I did think that there were some things that caused this book to have too much going on, but I tend to forgive that because of the way the layers all wove together. There are still some loose ends at the end-not everything can be tied up in a nice bow. I did have a problem with the ending a bit-I felt it was a bit too rushed and the father's storyline at the end felt a bit too fairy-tale-esque and not as realistic, so I think I would have liked to wrap that up more so we had better closure there.

Do I still think this book was fantastic? Very much so. Do I think it has a high chance of landing on the Newbery list come January? Most certainly. Do I think you should pick this one up and read it right now? Of course! One of the best middle grade books of the year and one that will stick with you long after you read it.

Audiobook Note: I listened to this one on audiobook and the narrator did a great job. I would recommend the audiobook, but the one thing I think takes away from the story on audio is that in the print book, each chapter opens with a picture of the drawing that Doug is working on and talking about. This can be especially helpful to readers not familiar with Audubon's drawings.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You: Volume 2

by Karuho Shiina, 189 pages

As hurtful rumors spread around school, Sawako worries that her pariah status will negatively impact her kind-hearted new acquaintances if they hang around her too much, so she tries to fall on the sword of self-sacrifice and avoid them. But since they all care about each other so much already, there's no way that solution will make anyone happy (with the possible exception of a mysterious schemer lurking in the background, that is).

Friendship warm fuzzies! Bonds no rumors can sever! And a boy thoughtful enough of his naive crush's happiness to back off for a while and just let her enjoy being one of the girls for the first time in her life. It's rare to find a shojo story that doesn't zero in exclusively on the romance as though it were the only relationship of consequence and the point about which all other plots and characters revolve. Kazehaya's influence may be what sets Sawako on the road to self-discovery, but the building of her female friendships is just as important to her growth as a character as is her sneakily deepening bond with him. As a result, Yano and Yoshida are more substantial characters, their connection to one another and to Sawako is more compelling, and some psychological foundations for healthy future relationships are set. Much, one imagines, to the relief of poor Kazehaya, who's waiting as patiently and nervously as he can for Sawako to figure things out at her own speed.

Gimme more! :)