Friday, February 3, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith, 493 p.

I had never heard of this book before I picked it up on a whim at a half price store, and it sat on my shelf until the book group decided to read it in January.  I'm so glad that I finally got the opportunity.

It reminds me so much of what I would have read as a kid when I ran out of American Girl and Dear America books, and I so wish I could have had it then.  I really think that Francie is my historical spirit animal.  I want to take her home and give her lots of coffee and books and attention.


Little Bee

by Chris Cleave, 271 p.

Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee.  Sarah Summers O'Rourke is a widow and writer.  How their stories collide is as rife with tragedy as it is with hope.  Told from both perspectives, Little Bee is breathtaking, difficult, and wonderful all at once.

The only reason I might say it was painful to read is that there is so much emotion in the book that I had to put it down often.  Read it, do.

The Big Crunch

by Pete Hautman, 280 p.

This was described to me as a YA "When Harry Met Sally."  Now, I happen to consider WHMS one of the best movies of all time (I blame both TNT for playing it in constant rotation throughout my childhood and my mother) so it automatically had pretty big shoes to fill.

I wasn't as thrilled with this book as other comedic, realistic teen romances that I've read recently.  Don't get me wrong - it was perfectly fine.  But it moved slow enough that I had a hard time actually finishing it.

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak, 552 p.

Out of all of the books I've read on Germany during World War II (I had a strange obsession with the Holocaust as a child), I had never read such a poignant book from the perspective of a German child.

All I can really say without getting too choked up is that this is, quite possibly, one of the best books I've ever read.  Ever.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fables: Volume 1: Legends in Exile

by Bill Willingham (story), Lan Medina (pencils), Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton (inks), Sherilyn van Valkenburgh (colors), Todd Klein (letters), and James Jean and Alex Maleev (original series covers), 127 pages

When all the different kingdoms of folklore and fairy tale are overrun by an avaricious enemy only known as the Adversary, the denizens of the old worlds regroup in the mundane land of New Amsterdam. In order to survive, they must pull together, so they sign accords granting amnesty for all their past deeds and forge ahead for centuries as carriages give way to yellow cabs and New Amsterdam becomes New York. Things are going as well as they can when Rose Red, civil servant Snow White's wild-child sister, goes missing, leaving a bloody mess behind in her apartment. Bigby, once a scourge of civilization as the big bad wolf, is now a lawman of Fabletown and sets out to solve the mystery before it stirs up too many past grudges and tears their delicately maintained society apart.

Cheezy noir with semi-familiar personalities all tossed together for a somewhat fun, if a bit hokey, entry into a fairy tale-infested universe. Golly, it's been a long time since I read an American-style comic book á la Marvel or DC (the latter's Vertigo imprint, in this case). It'll take me a while to get reacquainted with the color palette and the drawing style, which are not my cup of tea, but I enjoyed aspects of the hammy, tongue-in-cheek story. Philandering playboy Prince Charming (ex of several of the leading ladies), irresponsible slacker Jack of Fables, Beauty and her Beast (in marriage counseling--again), and newly-engaged Bluebeard all make appearances this volume and help fill out this world of literary and cultural refugees. It'll be interesting to see who else shows up in the future and how well they do or do not fit our expectations from what we remember of their sources.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
387 pp                                                                                      

I can't believe this is a first novel! Beautifully written, every word in place, it's an engaging read and I couldn't put it down. Mystery, magic, love,'s all in there but it isn't overstuffed.  It's paced and measured perfectly.  I loved it!
Kim F.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


by Jennifer Donnelly, 471 pages

I saw the print edition of Donnelly's book on the shelf and eventually got it on audio. Andi Alpers is an angry, grieving teen from a posh school in Brooklyn. Alexandrine Paradis is a young player who becomes involved in the lives of the royal family during the French Revolution. Andi lost her young brother Truman to a random act of violence, and Alexandrine must watch Louis-Charles suffer the brutality of the Terror. Their lives intertwine when Andi finds Alex's lost diary and she reads the gripping account of the attempts Alex makes to to save the doomed Dauphin, Louis Charles.

Why I picked it up: I thought it would be a time travel novel set during the turbulent era of the French Revolution.

Why I finished it: While I know a fair amount about the French Revolution, I was intrigued with the character sketches of real figures from the time. It is not really a time travel novel, but through Alex's eyes you get a level of detail about the lives of the royal family and their tragic ends.

Overall, I liked the book, though Andi's rebellious teen posture became a bit annoying by the end. It would appeal to people with musical interests since that is the main focus of Andi's character, especially when she talks about the history of rock music. The epilogue was a bit over the top, but given the fantastic elements of the story, it didn't seem that out of place.

by Cate K

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 20: Demon Lair

by Hiroaki Samura, 280 pages

Rin forges ahead alone, desperate to see Manji and know that he's alive. All the suffering she's witnessed along the way only fills her with more fear and anger. Woe to the fool who stands in her way.

Oh, my heart hurt and then jumped up and down with woo-hoo! this volume. Such a nice, fat book full of Samura goodness. Rin gets maaaaad and kicks some behind, which makes me so very happy. Now if all these idiots would just get out of her way. She's not a little girl anymore (not entirely, anyway) and doesn't settle for being defended when going on the offensive will yield better results--much to Manji's surprise. :) On a less pleasant note, even though he doesn't get a mention this volume, the reader knows the cockroach is somewhere beneath the castle, too, the prison cells of which are swinging wide.... *clenches fists and looks around warily*

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 19: Badger Hole

by Hiroaki Samura, 162 pages

Rin and Dôa break into the sprawling Edo Castle complex to find missing Manji and Isaku. But surviving long enough to find their friends, let alone make it back out again, may be harder than they thought.

Rin has grown from the naive girl she once was. She tries to rein in Dôa's kill-first-and-dispense-with-the-questions instincts and protect her at the same time. She plans things out a little more before jumping in head first. She understands the consequences of what she has done, and is willing to do, in her quest for revenge for her family and now for Manji's sake. I just hope she doesn't grow up too much anytime soon, because her idealism and optimism are much-needed rays of sunshine for the reader and Manji and everyone else around her. Chin up!

Skip Beat!: Volume 26

by Yoshiki Nakamura, 175 pages

The deviously scheming agency president gives the three Love Me division members comfort-zone-pushing assignments. But when Kyoko's gets adapted to coincide with Ren's latest homework, will the two be able to handle being in character, in close quarters, 24/7?

Hee!! Ooh, that president is a meddlesome genius. These two are serious about acting, but I've the feeling that the more they give themselves over to their characters in pursuit of their craft, the more they'll be discovering about their real selves, too. So awesome, this series. Smart and hilarious and creative and thoughtful. The acting business is not just a convenient device to bring these people together. Their coming together is a by-product of how seriously they take their work. Without the one, I don't know that they could ever achieve the other. Baby steps it may take, but the progress in both their professional and personal lives reads believably (despite all the utterly outrageous ridiculousness in-between) and I am happy to watch it all unfold in its hysterical, touching, fascinating little increments.

Ouran High School Host Club: Volume 17

by Bisco Hatori, 184 pages

Tamaki fights to mend his family while his friends fight to help him. With so much love to go around, how can they fail to succeed?

Good-hearted people going out of their way to make one another happy--that's what the Host Club is all about, especially when it comes to each other. They're Tamaki's own little family (though the dynamics are not quite what he imagined at the beginning...hee hee) and no way in heck are they gonna let him deal with his problems all alone. He's trained them too well for that. :)

Only one volume left...*sniffle*


By: Kiersten White
335 pages

Paranormalcy is a YA horror about a teenage girl who has the power to see through the glamours of supernatural beings. Her talents were discovered and put to use by an underground (literally) organization based in Canada that catalogues, monitors, and tries to keep track of supernatural creatures. While hunting vampires and hags, the main character dreams about being a normal girl without the hassle of dangerous but 'controlled' fairy ex-boyfriends that also double as transportation.

As the novel moves on she finds out that she was made for a certain purpose, and that she is not the only one of her kind.

I highly recommend this book, even though there are parts that become sort of cheesy near the end. I thought the main plot, setting, and characters were pretty original. I don't know that there is a sequel or what it would be about if there was one, but I really liked the world that the author was creating.

Labels: Young Adult, Horror, Fantasy, fitting in, high school

Outlaw Brides

Authors: Elaine Coffman, Ruth Langan, Mary McBride
378 pages

Outlaw Brides is a novel containing three short historical romances by three different authors. I thought that this book was interesting in the way that it was put together. The first story in the book takes place in Europe with a supernatural element of old ghosts, drafty castles, and superstitions. It was much different from the other two stories which were both set in a wild west 1800's setting.

The Magic of Recluce

The Magic of Recluce
by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
501 pages

Lerris is a teenager struggling with boredom and unanswered questions.  He lives in a land of order, known as Recluce, where these faults are considered unacceptable.  Lerris is sent to the outside world on a "dangergeld" in order to determine who he really is and what he really wants.  If he can prove himself, he may return to the ordered world of Recluce.  If he can't, then he will never be allowed to return to his home, and will be forced to live out his days in the chaotic world outside of Recluce.  Of course, there's a strong possibility he will be killed before he's even ready to make that decision.  Will chaos or order win in the end?

Overall, this is a good coming of age story, and Lerris is a very relatable protagonist.  The battle between chaos and order and their extremes is a good overall theme for this novel; however, this is a book that you almost have to read multiple times to fully understand.

"Boom!" by Mark Haddon

208 pages

Jim and his friend Charlie aren't very good at staying out of trouble. When Jim's older sister, Becky, tells him that the teachers at school have been talking about kicking him out, he's nervous even though he and Becky have never got along and often play practical jokes on each other. If it turns out that she's right, he'll have to go to the dreaded alternative school. In order to find out if she is serious, Jim and Charlie plant walkie talkies in the teachers' lounge in order to listen in on a faculty meeting. What they hear is far more serious than a suspension, however, and it sets off an adventure involving a motorbike, Scotland, laser beams, and aliens from outer space.

Although I didn't enjoy this book as much as the author's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I thought it was a fun, quick read. The overall plot is pretty predictable, but the characters are charming and witty enough to make up for lack of suspense. It seems like Mark Haddon really remembers what it was like to be a kid, and it comes through in the narration.

Walking Ollie

by Stephen Foster, 177 pages

Another dog memoir along the same lines as Marley and me, but set in England. Foster describes his rescue of a lurcher (sighthound mix, in this case, a Saluki) and the resultant mayhem this leggy puppy brings into his household. Ollie is a nervous wreck and impossible to control. Foster doesn't pull any punches, and I was sometimes horrified with his methods and Ollie's wildness. Foster has a lot to learn about owning a freakishly fast dog, and there are some dark moments before Foster and Ollie come to a loving (though still stressful at times) relationship. Still I had an optimistic feeling at the end of the book--there was definitely hope for Stephen and Ollie.

So when I went to find a cover image for this blog post, I was heartbroken to learn that Ollie had to be put to sleep when he got bone cancer a few years ago. By the time I listened to his story, he was already dead! I got all teary as I read Stephen's blog about Ollie's diagnosis. He tried so hard to keep Ollie well, but osteosarcoma is lethal and all too common in large sighthounds. Ollie didn't stand much of a chance, and Stephen would not let him suffer. I realized that around the same time our greyhound Rocket was diagnosed with bone cancer, and even though he was operated on and the tumor hopefully excised, we lost him the next year. (see above picture, right) So I could actually say I felt Stephen's loss.

Someone posted this poem on Stephen's blog:

Epitaph to a Dog by Sir William Watson

His friends he loved.
His fellest earthly foes–
Cats–I believe he did but feign to hate.
My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
Mine eyes that tail that wagged contempt at Fate.

Westu hal, Ollie!

"Dead of Night" by Jonathan Maberry

358 pages

Jonathan Maberry, master of zombie lit, is back with yet another intriguing story. Desdemona Fox ("Dez" to her friends) is a beautiful army veteran-turned-rural cop with a pretty messed up life. Desert Storm made her bitter and damaged, so she uses sex and alcohol to numb herself. Her partner, JT, is an older cop who loves her like a daughter and therefore worries about her a lot. Despite the drama in Dez's life, her job is relatively calm because Stebbins County is so small. That all changes suddenly on one particularly bizarre crime scene--one at which the victims don't seem to be staying dead. In fact, they are starving for human flesh, and their numbers are growing. As the mayhem spreads, it becomes clear that Dez and JT are dealing with something out of nightmares. Dez's ex, reporter Billy Trout (who happens to still be in love/a bit obsessed with her), tracks down the truth: a prison doctor injected a death row inmate with something that was supposed to keep him alive and conscious but paralyzed in the grave. Obviously, something went terribly wrong. When the inmate's body was removed from prison, he woke up, setting off the horrifying series of events. The truly devastating news, however, is that it seems there are people in the government who were involved with the doctor's project, and they will do everything in their power to cover their tracks.

The Maberry books I've read most recently are young adult titles "Rot and Ruin" and "Dust and Decay," and he has such a great teen voice that I'd forgotten how well he does darker adult novels as well. In my opinion, "Dead of Night" certainly lives up to the high standards of his other work. Maberry does a great job developing his characters by showing rather than telling. I liked and related to the them almost instantly, even Dez with all her flaws. I also enjoyed the action; it's written so clearly that I could almost see it, like a movie. My favorite thing, though, is that this book made me think, as do many of Maberry's novels (and some other zombie authors as well). I was left wondering who is worse: the actual zombies, or the politicians and scientists who create them and then try to deny their responsibility. We'd like to think that no government would do such a thing in real life, but history has shown that it does happen. On a more personal level, it's interesting to speculate what would happen to individuals in such a massive crisis. As other disasters have shown, desperate times bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Maberry realistically portrays characters from both camps, in a pretty darn entertaining way. I say this is a must-read for zombie lit fans.

Monday, January 30, 2012

May B by Caroline Starr Rose


About the Book: May has been sent to a neighbor's homestead to help out. It's only for a few months and it's a way her family can earn some extra money. Plus, it's not like she's doing much in school anyway-she's having trouble reading, so why does she need school? The neighbor's new bride isn't liking life on the Kansas prairie and she needs help cooking and cleaning. But when a tragedy leaves May alone as winter approaches, May must rely on her wits to survive.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: May B is a book that appeals to my tween self. If I had read this as a tween, I would have devoured and loved. I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and living on the frontier (of course it was much more glamorous in my mind!) so this book was right up my ally.

May's story is told in verse which packs a powerful punch to May's journey. It works well because for most of the novel, May is alone, trapped in a snowstorm and trying to survive. I tend to not like books with little dialogue and with May on her own for most of the story, there's not a lot of dialogue happening in this book. But the verse format worked well for the story. It shows the seriousness of May's situation-she is alone and trying her best to survive. I felt May's emotions and related to her more with the verse poetry. Each poem was like a glimpse into her thoughts instead of reading one long passage of her internal narration. I'm probably not describing it very well, but it worked wonderfully to help tell this story!

There's also a storyline that deals with May's dyslexia. May dreams of growing up and becoming a teacher, but she can't read. She's always had trouble in school and she had one teacher who has encouraged her dreams and one who has not. May has a difficult time trying to figure out who to believe and if she should hang onto her dreams of teaching. The nice thing is that her struggle with dyslexia isn't laid out all at once and told to us. We're shown slowly throughout the novel that May is struggling in school. This works well because we come to discover May's dyslexia by it being shown to us instead of being told.

The frontier aspect of the story will have lots of appeal to fans of historical fiction. May describes the household, the landscape and her struggle to survive. I would hand this book over to readers of Little House on the Prairie who I'm sure would love it.

"Fake Mustache" by Tom Angleberger

208 pages

Lenny Flem, Jr., is a pretty regular sixth grader. So how does he end up being the only thing standing between an evil genius and the destruction of the country? It all starts with a fake mustache. A very special fake mustache, which his best-friend-slash-evil-genius is using to take over the world. With a little help from Jodie O'Rodeo, the TV cowgirl of Lenny's dreams, he just might be able to save the planet.

A friend/coworker went to ALA Midwinter and picked up this advanced reader's copy for me because she knows how much I love Angleberger's Origami Yoda (thanks, Sarah Bean Thompson!). I don't think "Fake Mustache" quite lives up to Origami Yoda, but that's a pretty stinkin' high standard and I loved this book just the same. I think Angleberger really remembers what it's like to be a kid, so reading his books makes me feel like I'm inside the head of my 11-year-old self and I love it. Many adults will enjoy it for that element of nostalgia, while it's funny and wacky in a way that kids will like.
Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch
Rob Dobrenski, PhD
201 pages

Rob Dobrenski is a licensed psychologist and the creator of

This book is a collection of his experience as a psychologist, starting from his years as a graduate student still learning to his first few years as a licensed psychologist. He works with all types of people: grieving widows, victims of sexual abuse, sexual offenders themselves, and even other mental health technicians. 

Each client Dr. Dobrenski profiles is different and unique, and he explains their illness or situation in a way that the general public can understand. I ended up learning so much more about how the brain works from this one book than from any of my undergrad psychology textbooks.

I loved this book just for this one line from the prologue:

"You can ask for help when your feelings are broken"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where She Went

by Gayle Forman, 264 pages

The sequel to the heartwrenching novel If I Stay. Three years ago, Mia survived a horrific accident that killed her family, and after her recovery, left her boyfriend Adam alone, confused, and heartbroken. Now, Adam is a successful rock star and spiraling out of control, never having come to terms with the death of Mia's family and their eventual breakup. When Adam and Mia connect unexpectedly in New York, Adam must face his heartbreak and do his best to understand this new Mia and relate her to his memories.

While this was riveting and emotional, it was on a different level from the anguish of If I Stay. Between the two books, Forman has managed to portray two types of grief: the sudden, horrifying pain of lives taken too soon, and the long, devastating pain of unexplained heartbreak.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

by Maureen Johnson, 319 pages

The death of Ginny's aunt sends her on the ultimate journey to discover herself when she receives thirteen little blue envelopes. Inside are instructions and funding for an amazing jaunt around Europe as Ginny struggles to figure out why her aunt would go to such trouble to plan this elaborate scheme during her final weeks of life. Ginny meets interesting characters, has a number of firsts, and learns that she is capable of much more than she ever believed. The mystery is only slightly solved by story's end, paving away for the sequel.

The Demon King (Seven Realms # 1)

By Cinda Williams Chima, 506 pages

I love fantasy, and this book was right up my alley! This is the story of two citizens of the Fells, Han, a former gang leader trying to scrape an honest living, and Raisa ana'Marianna, the princess heir of the realm. The two are from completely different walks of life, yet by the end of the first installment of the series, will both be thrown into a quest with the future of the Fells hanging in the balance. Full of magic, wizards, greenwitches, dark amulets, lies, and deceit, this book has left me excited to read the next!

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale

By Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright, and illustrated by Barry Moser, 228 pages.

This is the story of Charles Dickens' favorite inn, and the cat and mice that live there. Skilley, a street-smart alley cat, has a plan to begin a life of comfort as the mouser of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn, home to the best cheese in London and as a result, a multitude of mice. Skilley makes his entrance and immediately puts on a good show by catching a mouse. What the humans don't know is that it is all show and Skilley lets the mouse go immediately informing him that he has no taste for mice, but he does have an unnatural affinity for cheese. A partnership is struck which leads to an unlikely friendship. A fun story for anyone who enjoys animal tales.

The Near Witch

By Victoria Schwab, 282 pages

The line between fact and children's story is blurred in this haunting tale. A mysterious stranger is spotted one night in the village of Near, an untrusting community. When children begin disappearing the next day, the stranger is the number one suspect, but Lexi disagrees. Suddenly, Lexi is on a desperate mission to learn the secrets of the town, the background of the stranger, and solve the mystery of the Near Witch in order to save the children of the town.

Inside Out and Back Again

By Thanhha Lai, 272 pages

This is the story, told entirely in verse, of a young girl whose family is forced to flee Saigon after the Vietnam War. Ha finds herself in the foreign land of Alabama, where not only does she not understand the language, she doesn't understand the customs, traditions, or day-to-day life. There is help, however, from friendly benefactors and neighbors, and somehow Ha and her family begin to not only adapt, but also heal from their harrowing experiences. A 2012 Newbery Honor.

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair

By Elizabeth Laird, 420 pages

When Maggie's grandmother is convicted of witchcraft and put to death, her life will never be the same. She quickly learns that many of her acquaintances in her small Scottish village well sell her out, either for profit or simply because they are caught up in the hype. She is forced to grow up quickly, fleeing the coast for her uncle's manor. Once there, she is immersed in a complicated religious and political environment that will teach her that there are always choices to make.

This didn't appeal to me very much, I found Maggie to be a weak character who was very easily influenced and never really seemed to attain any higher levels of thought. Also, the end of the book seemed pretty unlikely with little resolve. I'm sure many will find this book enjoyable, but it really wasn't for me.

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak, 550 pages

Death meets Liesel Meminger three times. The first will be the experience that will define the rest of her life and set her on the path of being the Book Thief. Stealing books provides much more for Liesel than simply obtaining the item, it gives her life meaning and serves as a coping method for coming of age in Germany during World War II. This is a powerful book, highly deserving of its Printz Honor.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

By Ransom Riggs, 352 pages

Jacob's life is turned upside down when his grandfather is suddenly and disturbingly killed in the woods. The aftermath of the tragedy sends him on a quest to Wales to figure out what truth, if any, is behind his grandfather's old stories and photographs. What he discovers in the abandoned ruins of a bombed out children's home is more than he could have ever imagined. The vintage photographs of "peculiar children" add special intrigue to the story. This is for anyone curious about mystery blended with the paranormal.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices 1)

by Cassandra Clare, 476 pages

Tessa Gray's entire life changes when she travels to London to be with her brother only to be kidnapped upon arrival by two terrifying...and unusual...women. She discovers quickly that not only do creatures like vampires and warlocks exist, but she is in fact a Downworlder as well, although she doesn't quite fall into a neat category. She is rescued by the Shadowhunters who are those responsible for keeping balance between the Downworlders and the rest of the world. During her stay with the Shadowhunters, Tessa has to find her missing brother, figure out her complex feelings for the difficult Shadowhunter, Will, assist with solving the mystery of the Pandemonium Club, and try to determine just how she fits in to this strange new world.

This series precludes Clare's first series, The Mortal Instruments, and there are definite parallels between the two. I found the characters to be a bit too similar to Jace and Clary of the first series, but fans of Clare will most likely enjoy this series as well.