Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bluefish Review


Book talk:  All Travis wanted was to survive the school year.  Not make any friends or pass his classes with flying colors: just survive.  The one thing he had learned was not to expect much from anyone.  His parents died long ago and his grandfather is barely there.  Even his dog disappeared before the move.  He knew that his life would be awful and he had almost even accepted it.  But this year life would surprise Travis.  This year Travis's secrets will be revealed, and for good or for bad it will change his life forever.

Rocks my socks:  I love the sparse narrative of Travis's chapters.  A lot is left unsaid but so much is communicated.  Travis's emotions and his voice feel very authentic and Schmatz deals with a lot of difficult issues without descending into the saccharine or the cynical, which is no easy feat.  I also adored the contrast of Velveeta's narratives with her distinct flair and strong personality.  I appreciated that the friends that Travis made among his peers helped him out a lot, and that there were also adults who really came through in the end.  Of course the fact that the main helpful adult figures were a librarian and a reading teacher appealed to me.

Rocks in my socks:  none

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to teens looking for a quick and touching read.  It's high interest and low reading level, but there's plenty for advanced readers to grapple with and enjoy as well.  I read it for a book club and it made for an excellent discussion.  Some of the issues explored get intense, so I'd save it for 6th grade and up.


Pat Schmatz has a website

There's a discussion guide for the book at Candlewick's website

There's a good video book talk for this from 60 second recap:

Source: copy provided as part of faculty & staff book club

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Midnight Palace Review

The Midnight Palace (Niebla, #2)

Book talk:  Ghosts stories tend to gather in areas filled with sadness and Calcutta has known more than its fair share of misery.  Perhaps that is why there are so many tales of the supernatural associated with the town. Siraj knows all of them.  He often researches them for the other members of the Chowbar society: Isobel the fearless actress, Roshan who grew on the harsh streets, Michael the quiet artist, Seth the scholar, Ben the mercurial leader of the group, and Ian the one destined to escape and tell the tale.  The group is bound together by misery, all residents of the local orphanage, and in the absence of family they swore to protect each other.  But they never imagined how much those loyalties would be tested or that one of Siraj's ghost stories would came to life and stalk them.

Rocks my socks:  I'm always fascinated by stories about close groups of friends.  The relationships between the various members of the Chowbar Society interested me far more than the supernatural elements.  Zafon, as always, has a wonderful way with words and does an excellent job creating a spooky atmosphere and establishing a good sense of place. The characters are each fascinating on their own as well, and I became deeply involved in their stories.  I appreciated how diverse the group was in many ways from personality to ethnicity, and it makes sense for a story set in Calcutta where so many cultures have converged.

Rocks in my socks:  My timing in reading this novel was not great.  I didn't realize when I picked this book up it was by the same person as The Shadow of the Wind, which I read recently.  I was quickly caught up by the story, but I was plagued by a sense of deja vu.  Zafon has a very distinct style and uses similar themes in both stories.  I could see where this book was headed from a mile away.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Raven Boys or general fans of supernatural tales and books about group dynamics among friends.  The horror elements are rather strong at points, I'd save it for at least 7th grade and up.


Carlos Ruiz Zafon has a website with a page for the book.

There's an atmospheric book trailer from the publisher:

Source: school library

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tokyo Heist Review

Tokyo Heist

Book talk:  What would you do if you found yourself living the kind of adventure you normally only find in a book?  Violet loves reading manga and has been working hard on making her own.  She thought her biggest problem this summer would be the fight she got in with her best friend.  Then she goes to stay with her father, an artist, and ends up in the middle of a high-stakes art theft case in Japan.  At first the unexpected trip to somewhere she's always longed to go is exciting, but as the yakuza get involved and her friends and family are threatened she starts to wonder if she should have stuck to making up stories and not living them.

Rocks my socks:  I love the premise that an average geeky girl obsessed with a certain type of media ends up in a situation very much like the ones she's always read about.  Her obsession with manga is a key part of the narrative from the way that she analyzes real-life people by imagining how they'd be represented in a manga to her knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that comes from reading it.  I don't like manga as much as Violet, but I know enough about it that I was able to appreciate the references (I particularly enjoyed Violet's friend's apt description of her relationship with the main love interest: "the two of you are like in episode seventy-eight of a manga series with no climax.")  It makes sense to me that Violet would find it helpful to storyboard ideas in manga form to help organize her thoughts about who might have committed the actual art heist.  It was also pretty meta, which I always like.

Rocks in my socks:  The book doesn't feel like a very authentic representation of Japanese culture to me, but then again it's not really claiming to be.  It's clearly about a manga-obsessed foreigner's view of the culture.  There are plenty of aspects of the plot that strain credulity, but if you can put that aside it's good, clean fun.

Every book its reader:  Despite the action-packed cover image I'd be hesitant to give this to the average heist fan.  There's a lot of quieter moments and manga plays such a big role in the narrative that if you don't know anything about it, it might be hard to appreciate the novel.  I'd be more likely to recommend it to manga or anime fans looking for something in novel form.  There will be plenty here for them to enjoy.  The romance and violence are relatively minimal for a thriller.  I'd say it's fine for 6th grade and up.


Diana Renn has a website with more information about her and her books.

There's an official book trailer:

Source:   school library

Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lincoln's Grave Robers Review

Lincoln's Grave Robbers

Book talk:  In 1875 counterfeiting was a big business.  So big that a new government agency was formed with the responsibility of tracking down counterfeiters: the Secret Service.  The key to counterfeiting is good plates, and for that you need an expert engraver.  The best in the business was Benjamin Boyd.  He was so good that when the Secret Service caught him, his friends were willing to do anything to bust him free.  Even if it meant stealing the corpse of President Abraham Lincoln.

Rocks my socks:  The book read like an old-fashioned heist film at parts as the criminals plotted out their crime and the Secret Service men set their trap.  I enjoyed all the slang and other details that made me feel like I was experiencing life at the time.  Some of the scenes seemed to be straight from a movie, like the story of famed escape expert Pete McCartney breaking out of jail to visit a Secret Service man, make a few glib comments, and then walk right back to prison.  It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would happen in real life, and I'm delighted to know that it did.  I particularly appreciated all the photographs, paintings, and copies of primary source documents included throughout the book.

Rocks in my socks:  I would have liked the book better if it had a different title.  It never lives up to the promise of Lincoln's Grave Robbers.  I suppose The Coney Men Who Attempted to Steal Lincoln's Body doesn't roll off the tongue though.  The Secret Service agent is aware of what's happening the entire time, so I never felt any concern that they'd pull it off. Some of the details added to focus it more on Lincoln dragged the pacing down--the exact layout of the tomb, etc.  I would have liked it better if it was a more general story of the dawn of the Secret Service or the lives of Coney Men.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to kids 5th grade and up looking for a real-life criminal adventure story and fans of American history.


Scholastic has a page for the book with a discussion guide

I love this student-made trailer for the book:

Source: School library

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bushman Lives! Review

Bushman Lives!

Book talk:  Have you ever played a musical instrument?  Are you musically talented? Harold Knishke isn't.  He is terrible in fact.  So terrible that one summer day his flute teacher asks him to quit, and even offers to buy his instrument off him.  With money in his pocket and new-found free time Harold hits the streets of Chicago in search of some entertainment.  He ends up at the Art Institute where he decides to become an artist.  Chicago in the 1960's is an exciting time for aspiring artists and Harold soon blends in with the beatnik crowd where he learns that not everyone is as crazy as they first seem, and some are even crazier.

Rocks my socks:  This book is full of a wonderful, dry humor and a strong absurdist sensibility.  Harold wanders around Chicago running into one bizarre character after another.  They're not entirely realistic but they are highly entertaining and they teach him real lessons in art and acceptance.  To get a sense of the playful tone of the novel, read this excerpt from a book that Harold receives entitled Modern Art, An Invention of the Devil?:

"The reader will no doubt be aware that the Impressionists were nothing but a bunch of unwashed wine-swilling Frenchmen who sat around in cafes or pursued dirty women at the end of the nineteenth century...The activities of these parasites and degenerates give rise to Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Pointillism, Constructivism, Orphism, Surrealism, Dada, and also Impossibleism, Supersurrealism, Dynamic Double-Dog Realism, Ishkabibbleism, and Mama, which is like Dada only nicer."

Of course our protagonist Harold soon sees that the author "was a raving lunatic and a nutbar.  But that did not mean it was not a useful book."  Indeed Harold learns many things from people who fit that description.  The idea that everyone has something to teach you is an important theme in the novel, and Pinkwater shows that in the most delightful way.  On a more personal note, the Gorilla has long been my favorite animal, so I appreciated the sympathetic view of them in the novel.

Rocks in my socks:  There wasn't much of a story arc.  It felt like the narrative just meandered along the streets of Chicago with Harold and then, eventually got tired and stopped. Even though this annoyed me a bit it matched the tone of the story well.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of comedy and art 7th grade and up who are willing to suspend disbelief.  A lot of the novel doesn't exactly make sense so if that would bother you, then this is not the book you are looking for.  But if you're willing to follow Harold's lead and just accept things as they come then you're in for an entertaining and ultimately touching ride.


Daniel Pinkwater has a website with photos, podcasts, and more

Here's a video of Bushman's remains in the Field Museum:

And here's a more recent video from the Licoln Park Zoo with baby gorillas (because baby gorillas!)

Source: school library

Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Brief reviews: Fall 2013 Part 1

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)(This is a review for the second Flavia de Luce book, if you haven't read the first you can find my review of it here)  You have to love an eleven year old who observes: "How exciting it was to reflect upon the fact that, within minutes of death, the organs of the body, lacking oxygen, begin to digest themselves!"  and who can then go on to describe the exact chemical processes at play.  Flavia is just as spunky and delightful as she was in the first mystery and this time there's the added excitement of puppets.  I loved the new character of the former German pilot obsessed with the Bronte sisters!  The way Flavia's sisters continue to taunt her by saying that she's adopted makes me uneasy though.  Still it was a great, quick mystery for a lazy afternoon.  The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley: buy it or check it out today!

Cow Boy I have mixed feelings about this comic.  The art and the design are absolutely gorgeous.  From the endpapers to the title page to the art in the comic itself, there is a wonderful style that evokes old westerns.  The premise of a child cow boy rounding up his outlaw relatives for bounty is funny and they add little touches like a gun that looks like a hobby horse to take advantage of the absurdity of the situation.  I loved the brief interludes between chapters, particularly the one about the female cowboy and the penguin.  I'd love to read a full-length comic based on this premise (and based on my students' love of penguins stories, so would they!)  But despite everything in this comic's favor the pacing felt a bit off to me and the moral ambiguity of the tale left me thinking that it would be better for an older crowd than it's aimed at.   The interludes break up the flow of the story and the plot and motivations seem really bare-bones.  The idea of a boy that age hunting down his family and often threatening them with a gun or injuring them to bring them to justice isn't fully dealt with.  There's another scene where he stands up for a run-away slave only to have the slave say that he would have preferred to be beaten without intervention because now he'll have to run to avoid a lynching.  As an adult reading it, I can fill in the complexities of the situation myself but I think most children would have difficulty understanding what happened in that scene.  Especially because it's just something that happens in passing.  The ending is also troubling to me for something branded as all ages.  The moral of the story seems to be that you can't trust anyone, even your own family.  It's better to live a life alone even if it means you'll never be happy.  Perhaps if the story was better fleshed out, his actions would make more sense, but as it is the cow boy just seems oddly cold and jaded. Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos: buy it or check it out today!

Goliath  I love classic stories that are re-told from a non-traditional perspective, especially when it re-casts the villain in a new light.  In this version Goliath would rather do admin than patrol and is an all-around soft spoken, nice guy.  When an ambitious captain comes up with a plan to end the war with a battle of champions, he's banking on the fact that no one will take up the challenge once they see Goliath.  Goliath is quick to point out that he's much better at paper work and the fifth-worst swordsman in the platoon, but there is no reasoning with authority.  So he resigns himself to wait for a rival champion he hopes will never arrive.  It's a sparse but beautifully told tale that would work great in a unit about multiple perspectives.  There's a subtle humor and a strong sense of irony throughout as Goliath plays with pebbles and sympathizes with a fighting bear.  When the inevitable happens and David finally comes along the suddenness and pointlessness of it gave the story an existential feel. Goliath by Tom Gauld: buy it or check it out today!

Hilda and the Midnight GiantThis is a fantastic, imaginative story for children.  Hilda gains the ability to see a race of tiny people that have been living outside of her house for years and sets out to make peace between them and her family with the help of a giant.  The varying sizes of all the characters set up parallels in the plot and allow for the exploration of multiple perspectives.  The world created by Pearson is populated with wonderful creatures and the large physical size of the book allows for a close-up view of the many delightful details in the artwork.  There's some light satire of politics as Hilda tries to make peace with the little people, but a knowledge of politics isn't necessary to appreciate the humor and heart of this comic.  I'd recommend it to fantasy fans of all ages.  Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson: buy it or check it out today!

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1) I hated the beginning of this book.  It kept making vague references to what had happened and jumping around in time instead of clearly explaining what had lead to the current situation.  There didn't seem to be any reason for this other than creating cheap tension by alluding to awful things and then postponing the explanation.  The narrator seemed to revel in every gritty detail of the apocalypse and addressed the reader like some sage describing what happens when you face death, etc.  I imagined her talking in Batman voice the whole time.  Plus she uses 'decimate' incorrectly which is enough to set me off.  The book picks up a bit once other narrators are introduced, but it is still full of unanswered questions.  Why do the aliens use so many waves if their technology is so advanced and what exactly their endgame is to name a couple.  I can't get too much further into how little sense the book makes without revealing spoilers, but suffice it to say that the plot does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny.  On top of all that I have major issues with the romantic plot.  The male love interest stalks the female love interest, violates her privacy by reading her diary among other things, and worst of all their kisses often start with the girl actively resisting him and telling him no only to melt into the kiss and enjoy it.  Perpetuating the idea that a girl could say no and fight physical affection but secretly want it is unconscionable as far as I am concerned. I won't be reading the sequel. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

H.I.V.E. Review

H.I.V.E. Higher Institute of Villainous Education (H.I.V.E., #1)

Book talk:  Otto is one of the chosen ones.  He is plucked out of his life as an orphan and taken to a school that few even know exists.  There he takes specialized classes different from any normal school curriculum with a group of kids with special abilities who are destined to change the planet.  But H.I.V.E. is no Hogwarts.  Though the school often seems magical, it is technology that runs it.  Otto and the others are being trained not to save the world, but to terrorize it.  The Higher Institute of Villainous Education is where the world's best evil masterminds and henchmen are trained.  Otto isn't just a student, he's also a prisoner.  You cannot refuse an invitation to H.I.V.E., and once you're in there's no escape or communication with the outside world.  But Otto isn't used to taking orders or doing what he's told.  Soon H.I.V.E. will realize that when they recruited Otto, they got more than they bargained for.

Rocks my socks:  I love the way the novel takes super hero and fantasy tropes and turns them on their head.  Otto and his friends are picked up because they have a potential for evil, but they aren't plain villains.  They're being held against their will in many cases and they struggle to fit in without allowing the darkness of the place overwhelm them.  Just like Harry Potter and his friends, they learn to trust each other and use their various strengths to work together; but they do it while fighting the evil tendencies that are being cultivated in each of them.  I love the computer intelligence of H.I.V.E. mind and the way the students recognize and value its emerging intelligence.  It reminded me of poor Dobby.  Hopefully H.I.V.E. mind fares better because I get overly attached to fictional artificial intelligences.  The book is fast-paced, humorous, morally complex, and still manages to drive home some positive messages about friendship and acceptance, which is no easy feat.

Rocks in my socks:  The book felt a bit formulaic at times with the headmaster giving an evil is just misunderstood ambition speech that I felt I had heard dozens of times.  Plenty of well-used tropes from magical boarding school fiction are trotted out.  It's meant to be a quick, fun read though so none of that bugged me that much.  What really annoyed me was all of the fat-shaming it did around the character Franz.  A lot of cheap jokes are made at his expense and in a narrative that otherwise makes a point about accepting others and not judging based on appearance, I found this particularly disappointing.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of superheroes or spies.  There's a lot of fast-paced action and high tech gadgets that are sure to attract readers.  Fans of Catherine Jinks's Evil Genius will enjoy this take on villainous education.  I'd give it to grades 5 and up.


Mark Walden has website with more information about him and his books.

The series has its own official website with an oddly entertaining evil laugh generator, a grapple game, and a test to see which stream you'd be in.

It also has an unofficial wiki page

Bloomsbury also has a page for the books

There's a trailer for the book:

And a video interview with the author:

Bonus Quote:

“Life at H.I.V.E. may have its attractions after all, Otto thought. Friends, as they say, may come and go, but high-powered laser weapons are forever.”
Source: school library

H.I.V.E. The Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Angelic Layer Review

Angelic Layer: Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1

Book talk:  Misaki has just moved to Tokyo, but she's already involved in the craze that's sweeping the city: Angelic Layer.  Advanced robots born from eggs, these are far more than toys to those in the know.  A headset transmits its controller's will to the robot, which determines how it fights in the ring.  Misaki is new, but with the help of a mysterious scientist and her natural battle instincts she takes the world of Angelic Layer by storm.  But who is her strange benefactor, and how long will her natural talent and luck last?  In the layer, anything is possible.

Rocks my socks:  There's so many things to love about this series!  The premise itself is engaging and as someone who always has a soft spot for robot characters (I'm looking at you Data!) I appreciate the way Misaki cares for her robot and is concerned for her well-being.  Both Misaki and her robot, Hikaru, are great fighters and there's a wonderfully strong female presence throughout.  The male characters are great too and the romance between Misaki and her friend is sweet, although I appreciate that it's just a sub-plot to the main action.  Icchan the scientist had me cracking up with the way he constantly strived to make weird entrances and his intense orders to his assistant.  The creators clearly had a lot of fun with him and even throw in jokes about how much time it takes for him to come up with such elaborate and increasingly ridiculous entrances.  While Misaki and Hikaru both kick some serious butt they also are realistically portrayed as having doubts and weaknesses.  The importance of teamwork is emphasized despite the seemingly individual nature of the game.  Plus, who doesn't love robot fight scenes with elaborate costumes?

Rocks in my socks:  nothing

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of science fiction and battle tournaments 5th grade and up.


Head over to IMDB to watch a trailer for the anime version that works just as well for the comics:

Source: school library

Angelic Layer Omnibus volume 1 by CLAMP: buy it or check it out today!

All Hallow's Read free spooky poem books

Last year I was inspired by Sarah Richardson's free foldable book of "The Raven" to make some books of spooky poems for my students.  My students enjoyed folding the sheets to make their own zines, and they were a great Halloween giveaway for the library.  If anyone else wants to make these to give away, I've included the images and pdfs of the mini books below (the pdfs are slightly better quality for printing.)  Please print them out and share them with anyone you would like. I love any excuse to spread poetry around!

The first one is "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes

The second one is a collection of three short poems: "Hist Whist" by E. E. Cummings, "The Fairies" by William Allingham, and the traditional ballad "Old William's Ghost"  

You can find instructions on how to fold the books here

For more information on All Hallow's Read, visit their website or watch the video below:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig Review

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage

Book talk:  Flora is a pig, but she tries not to act like one.  While her siblings are all happy to stay safe in their pen, Flora dreams of adventure.  One day she sneaks out and sees the dogs training to pull a sled in the South Pole.  They look so noble as they race by, working together to pull their load.  From that day on Flora is determined to join them.  She runs as fast as she can and builds up her strength. When the farmer goes to pick a pig to send away with them, Flora is quick to volunteer and leave the pen and her family behind. Everyone thinks that the idea of a sled pig is ridiculous, but Flora knows that soon she will get her chance to prove just how strong and brave she is.

Rocks my socks:  I fell in love with this book on the first page and it only grew in my esteem from there.  It reminds me of Charlotte's Web and A Tale of Despereaux and I easily see it joining their ranks as a children's classic.  Flora is wonderfully plucky and I love the way she is ready and eager to face danger.  Perhaps even more admirable than her at times foolhardy courage is the way that she is so open and friendly to everyone, even if they give her reason not to be.  The dramatic irony was almost too much to bear at times as Flora continued on blissfully unaware of the fact that she was brought on the voyage not to pull but to be eaten.  When she finally finds out, Kurtz allows her to be sad and doubt herself for a while, which makes it all the more moving when her friends rally around her and she regains her faith in herself.  This isn't the story of one brave soul succeeding despite the odds, it's a story about the value of working together and inspiring others to hang in even when times get though.  Flora isn't the only one who has troubles, and she gets to use her own story as inspiration for others.  On top of all of that, the illustrations are delightful.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  This book would make an excellent read-aloud to a class.  The language is simple, the animals are appealing, and there is a lot of heart and wisdom in the book.  Children will easily be able to relate to the way everyone underestimates Flora because of her size and will root for her and be eager to hear what happens next.  The reading level puts it at around third grade, but it could be read aloud to a first grade class.


Chris Kurtz has a site with more information about him and his books.

Bonus Quotes:

"How unlucky she was--born with adventurous hooves that were stuck inside a pen.  But she wasn't giving up.  If there was a way out, Flora said to herself, she would find it."

"This was a cruel world she had been born into, all pink and squirming.  She'd never wanted to see reality.  Now, like the cold, it was impossible to ignore."

"You'll never make it out there.  You weren't made for South Pole adventures."
Flora gave her an icy look.  "I think I know by now what I was made for."

"I used to be a fool...A stubborn fool.  I didn't know enough to stand by my friends.  Now I'm just stubborn."

"Cats may have nine lives, but pigs . . . don't . . . give . . . up."

"I think we're all aiming to be something better than what everyone thinks we were born to be, and that makes us even more of a team.  We have to stick together."

school library

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seraphina Review

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

Book talk:  What would you do if you had a secret that could endanger your life?  Would you live alone, far away from anyone who could possibly discover it?  Or is there something that could tempt you out of hiding, and into danger?  For Seraphina, that temptation is music.  It leads her to take a job at court, where she'll be under closer scrutiny than ever before.  Everyone is tense as the forty year anniversary of the peace treaty with the dragons draws near.  Seraphina tries to stay beneath the radar, but quickly finds herself embroiled in a plot to sabotage the peace and start another, bloody war.

Rocks my socks:  I cannot say enough about how much I loved this book!  The characters were complex and endearing, the plot mysterious and compelling, and the world building fantastically detailed.  My heart broke for Seraphina as she lived with her secret and the guilt of having to hide it.  The themes of prejudice around the dragons and humans learning to live side by side moved me.  The many references to music and how it affected each character were fascinating (even to someone like me whose knowledge of musical notation is basically that a doe is a female deer and so on.)  The political intrigue was exciting and the way they tried to solve their problems through diplomacy reminded me of Star Trek in the best possible way.  The dragons reinforced this comparison as they reminded me of the vulcans with their insistence on reason and distaste for emotion.  They had great lines like "I bear you an appropriate interest, within accepted emotive parameters."  I absolutely loved being lost in this world and I can't wait until I can go back to it with the sequel!

Rocks in my socks:  none

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of traditional fantasy, and fans of dragons in particular.  Lovers of math, music, and outsider stories will find plenty to love.  I'd say it's fine for 6th grade and up.


Rachel Hartman has a site with information about herself and her books, as well as a page with more details about the Saints from the novels

Random House has a site for the book with reviews, excerpts, and more information

There's a great, live-action trailer for the book:

Bonus Quotes:

"That's the secret to performance:  conviction.  The right note played tentatively still misses its mark, but play boldly and no one will question you.  If one believes there is truth in art--and I do--then it's troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying.  Maybe lying is itself a kind of art.  I think about that more than I should."

"Someone should love you.  I will bite him if he will not."

"Ah, I could last a long time on those smiles.  I would sow and reap them like wheat."

"Once I had feared that telling the truth would be like falling, that love would be like hitting the ground, but here I was, my feet firmly planted, standing on my own."

"We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful."

“And I realized a wondrous truth: that knowledge could be our treasure, that there were things humankind knew that we did not, that our conquest need not comprise taking and killing, but could consist of our mutual conquest of ignorance and distrust.”

Source: ebook from public library

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Diviners Review

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)

Book talk:  'That awful O'Neill girl' is at it again.  Evie's got herself caught up in another scandal and she refuses to apologize.  So her parents have shipped her off to spend the summer with her uncle, who runs a museum of the supernatural in New York.  Evie doesn't mind one bit.  She is too much for her small Ohio town and eager to try life in the big city.  She finds all of the temptations she was looking forward to: speakeasies and hard dancing, short bobs and shorter skirts, sloe gin and fast jazz.  But she also finds dangers that she never expected.  A serial murderer with ties to the occult is terrorizing the city.  With her uncle's expertise and her secret talents they begin to track the killer down, but their efforts draw his attention and soon they become his next targets.

Rocks my socks:  This novel has all the excitement of a jazz-age adventure with the added thrill of murder investigation.  The vast cast of characters represents people from various walks of life to capture some of the complexity of the era: a socialite, a socialist, a Harlem numbers runner, and a Ziegfeld girl to name a few.  Reading the dialogue is like watching a fencing match as the characters swap witticisms and take jabs at each other.  I read it in my head in the fast, clipped accents of His Girl Friday.  The characters are well-drawn and engaging and I was easily swept away by their stories.  All the historical details were fascinating and I pos-i-tute-ly loved all the lingo used throughout.

Rocks in my socks:  The narrative felt overly ambitious.  There were a lot of characters and plot threads to follow.  Sprinkled among the chapters from all the varying characters' perspectives were chapters talking about the country and the decade in sweeping descriptions that felt a bit pretentious.  The supernatural aspects were my least favorite parts and there were so many supernatural threads on top of all the other plots: there's the occult killer and the special powers of certain characters emerging like a 1920's Heroes, not to mention Ouija boards and the whole museum of artifacts.  By the time Jericho's mysterious past was revealed I had had enough.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of mystery, supernatural, and historical fiction looking for a sweeping tale to take them away.  The length and the copious use of period slang may turn some off, but those willing to dive in and immerse themselves in an era and a story will be well rewarded.  The murders have some pretty gruesome details so I'd save it for at least 8th grade and up.


There's a whole site devoted to the book with character bios, Diviners Radio, and more

Libba Bray has her own site with the usual fare as well as a media section 

There's great, chilling trailer for the book with a creepy song that will unfortunately probably be running through my head as I try to sleep tonight:

Source: ebook from public library

The Diviners by Libba Bray: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Eleanor & Park Review

Eleanor & Park

Book talk:  Have you ever heard a song that changed your life?  Did you ever listen to something on repeat until the batteries gave out?  There's a world of music Eleanor always wanted to listen to.  She'd write down the lyrics on her notebook and dream of owning her own music player.  But she never heard them, until she met Park.  Now she can't get enough of him or his music.  But Park looks like a protagonist from a story; everything seems to go right for him.   While Eleanor looks like she'll never fit in and knows just how hard life can be.  She knows it would never work out between them.  But she might just be crazy enough to try.

Rocks my socks:  I absolutely adored this novel and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing it (despite the fact that I had to wake up early for a road trip.)  Eleanor and Park are both such endearing characters.  I couldn't ask for more delightfully quirky protagonists.  The author had a unique style as well and instead of the usual endless and cliche comparisons of eyes to oceans or galaxies she chose to describe Park's eyes as "so green they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen."  I love it!  Instead of the same, worn-out references to Han and Leia she lets Eleanor boldly claim that she's Han Solo and Park decides "I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you."  *Swoon!*  On top of all that, Eleanor is not classically beautiful and does not have to undergo a make-over to become so before she can win Park.  He appreciates her for the unique person she is thinking "She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something."  Then there's all the wonderful references to music and mix tapes.  Tapes were a bit before my time, but I clearly remember the thrill of getting a mixed CD from a boy and playing it on repeat.  Rowell captures this perfectly.  The whole novel captures the feelings of a passionate first love and bottles them up so that those who are too young to have experienced it can, and those for whom it is a distant memory can re-live the experience.  On top of all of that there is a lot of substance to the story ranging from themes of prejudice to abusive families.  Rowell deals with these topics deftly and provides the reader with hope without resorting to unrealistic miracles.

Rocks in my socks:  I wish Rowell had ended the story at the end of the school year.  Instead the last few chapters are a kind of epilogue that give a brief sketch of the following year.  These detracted from the story and I would have much preferred it if I had been left alone to decide what happens to Eleanor and Park for myself and debate it with other readers.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a good misfit story or an atypical romance set in a high school.  Audiophiles, particularly those who enjoy 80's punk will enjoy the music references throughout.  The novel deals with some dark issues around Eleanor's family, so I'd save it for at least 7th grade and up.


Rainbow Rowell has a great site with a blog, information about her and her books, and upcoming events.  Don't miss out the post with her playlists for Eleanor and Park.  It includes embedded videos with the songs and Rowell's commentary on why each song is there.

Macmillan has a page for the book complete with a discussion guide.

The book has not one, but three official trailers!  They're all short so you can easily watch them all:

Source: school library

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Mostly True Story of Jack Review

The Mostly True Story of Jack

Book talk:  People are always forgetting about Jack.  He has no friends, no enemies, even his family usually looks past him.  So he's not surprised to find out that his mother forgot to call ahead when she drops him off at his aunt and uncle's to spend the summer.  They make room for him, but he can tell he's not wanted.  But there's something strange about this town.  Not only do the people here notice him, but the pets and even his aunt and uncle's house seem to be watching him.  He's excited to make his first friends, but not as thrilled to meet his first bully.  He soon discovers that he has bigger problems though.  Someone dangerous is coming back, and the town has a history of children disappearing.

Rocks my socks:  I enjoyed the fairy tale atmosphere of the story and all the magical elements woven into it.  The way the magic worked so that the town forgot entirely about those who went missing was heartbreaking.  I loved Wendy and how feisty she is and fiercely protective of her brother.  Her brother was an interesting character, you don't read about many elective mutes in children's literature.  The pacing of the novel is fast and a delicious sense of mystery permeates everything.

Rocks in my socks:  There's a lot of troubling implications in the narrative.  Jack's parents divorce just before the story starts and Jack fears that they will forget all about him, a common enough fear for a child going through that.  Except in this story that literally happens.  By the end his family has entirely forgotten that he ever existed.  To make matters worse, it turns out that he was adopted into the family and the portrayal of adoption in the story is absolutely awful.  His adoptive parents don't seem to care about him at all, he never fits in, and eventually Jack sacrifices himself to save the town and goes back to his abusive birth mother, who has been terrorizing the town and stealing children's souls for decades.  Despite this his uncle acts like it's a good thing because 'his true mother is restored to him.'  People often use this language around adoption asking adopted children who their 'true' or 'real' mother is as if the mother who has raised them all of their lives is false.  It's possible that I'm reading too much into this, but it just didn't sit right with me.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of fantasy and fairy tales 4th grade and up.

Source: ebook from public library

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brief Reviews: Summer 2013 Part 2

Fearless (Reckless, #2) (If you haven't read the first book in this series, read my review of Reckless) This book picks up where the last left off with Jacob dying from the fairy curse he received when saving his brother in the last book.  Naturally he won't just take this curse laying down, so he sets off to find the treasure that will be able to reverse it.  I enjoyed this book as much as the first if not more.  There's more of the vixen in this novel, and she is my favorite character.  I found the new characters introduced intriguing, especially the goyl rival.  More classic fairy tales are explored with a particularly terrifying version of Blue Beard.  I was surprised when discussing the novel with my friends that several of them hadn't even heard of this fairy tale before.  Admittedly it's not one I'd read a child before bed, but it's a classic Perrault story.  I continue to be impressed by Funke's storytelling and I eagerly await the next novel. Fearless by Cornelia Funke: buy it or check it out today!

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)  This novel grabbed me by the shoulders, threw me into its world, and held me there until I emerged shaken but thrilled at the end.  The world-building is some of the finest I have ever seen and I became lost in its history and politics.  The characters are a group of gentlemen thieves reminiscent of Robin Hood and his merry men, except that they settle for stealing from the rich without going on to give to the poor.  But in a world where the rich have a pact with criminals so that they normally only prey upon the lower classes, this act is in itself revolutionary.  The main attraction is Locke, a talented and intelligent thief who leads a small pack called The Gentlemen Bastards.  For their work in confidence tricks they have to be able to take on personas from all ends of the social spectrum and watching them as they make these transformations and following their intricate plans was fascinating.  Soon they became embroiled in so many different schemes that trying to follow all the plot threads was dizzying but exhilarating as I wondered how they could possibly get themselves out of the intricate web they were in.  Locke has a quick wit that never failed to amuse me.  While he can seem glib at times, he naturally has a heart of gold.   Each turn the tale takes leads Locke into darker and darker situations and soon what started as an amusing tale of confidence tricks turned into a heartbreaking and relentless thriller.  I couldn't put it down for long (I actually stole it from my friends in Scotland because I started it just before I left) and rushed out to buy the second as soon as I finished.  The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: buy it or check it out today!

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)  I listened to this audiobook during my trip to Barcelona this summer.  It was a lot of fun to hear places mentioned that I had just visited and really helped me immerse myself in the city, even when I was taking a break back at the hotel waiting for the restaurants to open for dinner (which wasn't until around 8:30!)  The plot is wonderfully crafted and the writing is absolutely gorgeous.  For obvious reasons I found the idea of a cemetery of forgotten books particularly appealing and I loved to see how much a book touched the characters' lives.  I enjoyed learning about Barcelona's history and culture as well and it allowed me to linger there a bit longer in my mind as I finished listening to the story after my trip was over.  The narrator for the audiobook was fantastic, and his voice for Fermin made his character instantly recognizable.  It was a great book and I read it at just the right time.  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: buy it or check it out today!

Stargazing DogThis is the most depressing comic I have ever read, and I recently reviewed one about the Lebanese Civil War.  At least that comic had some hope and humor in it.  This one is relentlessly depressing from the first page, which begins with police finding the corpse of a man and a dog in an abandoned car.  Don't be fooled by the adorable dog in a field of sunflowers on the cover.  When the back cover says that this man and his dog stay together until the end, what they mean is until they both die early and pointless deaths after being completely rejected by society.  The name of the dog that watches maggots eat his former master until he himself is beaten to death? Happy.  I kid you not.  After they die a social worker is assigned to their case to try and find their family for a proper burial.  He is inspired to go to great lengths because he's depressed from his dog dying (another sad story they don't miss the chance to describe.)  Still, he cannot find them and they are ultimately buried in an unmarked grave without their family knowing their fate.  The end! Seriously.  This was on a list of good comics for kids and received great reviews (the starred Publishers Weekly one on the back says that it is not "too sweet or sappy" in the understatement of the year.) But I would never recommend this to a child, or a teen, or adult for that matter.  It's apparently a best-seller in Japan and is being made into a film, but something has clearly been lost in translation.  The only people I'd recommend it to are those with an interest in modern Japanese culture who may find it interesting to try and discern why this story is described as 'inspiring.' Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami: buy it or check it out today!

The Far West (Frontier Magic, #3) (This is the conclusion of a trilogy.  If you haven't read the others, check out my review of book one and book two)  I'm sad that this series is over because I've enjoyed reading about the combination of frontier spirit and magic that it embodies.  All good things must end though, and this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  Eff was able to come into her own and mature. I'm confident that she has a great future ahead of her, even if I won't get to read about it.  This volume revealed more about the other types of magic and the connections among them, which I found interesting.  It's not particularly fast-paced but I cared so much about the characters that I kept quickly turning the pages anyway.  It was a great comfort to me when I was stuck sick in my room during my trip to Monterey.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Wrede will write next!  The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Game for Swallows review

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return

Book talk:  Zeina was born into a civil war, and it is still raging on.  Beirut is divided into the Christian East and the Muslim West, and Zeina lives in an apartment overlooking the demarcation line between them.  She is used to the sounds of shelling and the constant blackouts. This day is different though.  Her parents have gone out to visit her grandmother, and they haven't returned.  It's not far, and it should be an easy trip, but even the simplest trip can turn deadly when snipers  who fire at any civilians they see are stationed on the roofs of the buildings.  Her neighbors have gathered around to wait with her for her parents to return, and in the midst of tragedy they chat and laugh and live their lives.

Rocks my socks:  This comic isn't really about the war or the soldiers or the history behind it.  It's about regular people trying to live normal lives in extraordinary circumstances.  So many stories about war involve broad, sweeping narratives and flashy heroic deeds.  This is just about a small group of people spending an evening together.  But the war is inescapable.  It permeates every aspect of their lives in incredible ways.  At one point someone takes out their wedding photos and describes how everyone had to run to the church amid sniper fire.  I can't even begin to imagine what that must be like. Despite all this, they still do what they can to take care of each other and try to make each other laugh.  My favorite character, Ernest, has Cyrano de Bergerac (my favorite play!) memorized and performs bits of it for the children.  The panels for when Cyrano lists off different insults about his nose are beautifully designed and hilariously depict the different metaphors Cyrano employs.  The artwork is gorgeous throughout.  It's simple black and white drawings, but wonderfully creative and expressive.  The background of the panels is mostly pure black and whether it's to convey the blackout or the general atmosphere, it gives the comic a unique style.  It's easy to read about a war and its battles and soldiers and forget about the everyday people and the children who are constantly in fear, committing small acts of bravery all the time just by living.  I'm glad that Abirached shared their story and hers with us.

Rocks in my socks: none

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Persepolis.  I think that everyone could benefit from reading about what it's like to live in a war zone, and this comic is so wonderfully done that it's an enjoyable and touching read for anyone.  While it doesn't graphically depict much violence, there is a lot mentioned.  I'd save it for 6th grade and up.


Lerner and Scholastic have pages for the book

This video and article about how Beirut is recovering from the civil war is a nice, hopeful counterpart to the book:

Source: school library

A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hikaru No Go Review

Hikaru no Go: Descent of the Go Master, Vol. 1 (Hikaru no Go, #1)Hikaru no Go: First Battle, Vol. 2 (Hikaru no Go, #2)Hikaru no Go: Preliminary Scrimmage, Vol. 3 (Hikaru no Go, #3)Hikaru no Go: Divine Illusions, Vol. 4 (Hikaru no Go, #4)Hikaru no Go: Start, Vol. 5 (Hikaru no Go, #5)

Book talk:  Hikaru was just a normal kid, until he discovered a haunted go board.  Now he is possessed by the spirit of an ancient go master named Sai.  Hikaru tries to go on with his life like normal, but Sai won't let him.  So Hikaru seeks out go matches to calm the angry spirit.  At first, he had to be forced to play, but now he's starting to enjoy it.  Hikaru vows that some day he'll be strong enough to play against his rival by himself, but in the mean time he has to keep living his life as if he is a normal kid.  If anyone ever found out about Sai he'd be called a liar or freak or worse.

Rocks my socks:  I'm not a big chess player.  I don't like games that are all strategy or all luck.  I prefer games that balance the two evenly.  So, I didn't think I'd be that drawn into this story.  I'm happy to report that I was completely wrong.  The characters are interesting and the game is explained slowly instead of getting bogged down with exposition.  By the time the little lessons in how the game is played arrived I was eager to better understand what I had been reading about.  The games themselves are illustrated like epic battle scenes and the relationships between the characters are compelling.  I enjoyed reading about Hikaru as he grew as both a go player and a person.  He learns lessons in empathy and struggles with the morals of allowing Sai to play and learns how to take pride in the progress he makes even if it's no where near the level he can be at if he just allows Sai to take over.  What starts off as an annoying hanger-on girl character begins to evolve as she starts her own girl's go club and learns along with Hikaru.  Even the rival character is portrayed sympathetically as the reader discovers the kind of pressure he's under.  I gobbled up the five volumes I had quickly and am eager to read more.

Rocks in my socks: nothing

Every book its reader:  The battle scenes are all over a go board and the romance is minimal, so it's fine for anyone old enough to have an interest in the comic.  I'd say that's probably third grade and up, but if a younger kid wanted to try it I wouldn't stop her.  Fans of Pokemon, chess, and of course go will enjoy this tale of a kid training for tournament battles.


Viz media has a page with information on the comic and the animated series

Sensei's library has a page with lots of extras and information about the series

You can watch the entire animated series online for free on Hulu

Here's a brief introduction to how to play the game for those that are curious:

Source: school library

Hikaru No Go vol. 1- 5 Story by Yumi Hotta Art by Takeshi Obata Supervised by Ukari Umezawa [5 Dan]: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Broxo Review


Book talk:  Princess Zora risked it all to prove herself and help save her kingdom by finding the reclusive Peryton clan.  But it was all for nothing.  There is nothing left of the clan but a boy named Broxo who doesn't have any memory of the past.  In the clan's place is a horde of walking dead.  As Zora and Broxo fight for their lives they try to get to the center of the mystery of what happened to the Peryton clan, but it looks like Zora might have to go back empty-handed, if she survives to go back at all.

Rocks my socks:  I like the atypical relationship between Broxo and Zora as they fight side by side and save each other's lives.  Both are skilled warriors and spar with each other verbally and physically, but slowly grow to understand each other despite their differences.  I enjoyed the witch character as well and the fact that she was such a morally complex character instead of a simple villain.  Even the zombies were acting beyond their control and were eventually revealed to be more than just mindless killers.  Of course I also loved Migo, the giant wolf-like character that watches over Zora and Broxo.  The comic has excellent fight sequences and a lot of action, but in the end it goes beyond that to a moral about acceptance and living in the present.  Peppered throughout all of that is a great sense of humor that leads to a well-rounded and engaging tale illustrated with beautifully detailed artwork.

Rocks in my socks:  Without giving too much away, I was a bit disappointed in how the witch's storyline concluded.  Her costume bothered me as well.  She wears what is essentially a fuzzy strapless bra and nothing else on her torso--even in the middle of a storm.  Besides being uncomfortable it's highly impractical for wearing in an area so full of dangerous creatures.  Even when she knowingly heads into a battle she doesn't bother to put anything resembling armor on or change her outfit in any way.  Who is she dressing up for anyway?  She's alone on the mountain except for Broxo and a bunch of zombies.

Every book its reader:  The book is action-packed and full of zombie fights, so it's naturally a bit gory.  I'd save it for 5th grade and up.  Fans of action-adventure comics and zombie battles will be sure to enjoy this tale.


Zack Giallongo has a deviant art page

Macmillain has a page for the book where you can read an excerpt

You can find interviews with Zack Giallongo here and here

There's also a video interview of him at SDCC:

Source: school library

Broxo by Zack Giallongo: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dawn of the Arcana review

Dawn of the Arcana, Vol. 01 (Dawn of the Arcana, #1)Dawn of the Arcana, Vol. 02 (Dawn of the Arcana, #2)Dawn of the Arcana, Vol. 03 (Dawn of the Arcana, #3)

Book talk:  One island, two kingdoms engaged in a long and bloody war.  Princess Nakaba is from Senan in the North while Prince Caesar is from Belquat in the South.  Their marriage finally brings peace to the land, but Princess Nakaba knows better than to think it will last.  Now she's a hostage in enemy territory with only her faithful Ajin servant beside her.  She expects to wake up with a dagger at her throat every day, and she is prepared to fight to save herself and her kingdom.  But she isn't prepared for the kindness Caesar shows her, and the feelings she starts to develop.  Or for the mystical powers she develops that she cannot control.  Now her heart is being torn in two.  How can she do what is right when everything is so wrong? Will she remain true to herself--even if it means betraying others?

Rocks my socks:  There's a lot of great themes in this series that take it beyond the usual shojo fare.  Princess Nakaba is a fierce and unique protagonist.  She shows her regal authority as she takes control of difficult situations, even as others try to disempower her.  She isn't afraid to risk herself and head into a fight to stand up for her friends and what she believes in.  There's an overarching theme of discrimination and prejudice with a race called the Ajin: part human and part animal that are treated as servants and feared and hated by many. Princess Nakaba herself is hidden away by her family for her red hair because black hair is a mark of royalty in the land.  Her two closest friends are both Ajin and she tries to aid their cause.  One of these, Loki, is also a main love interest in the story, and his loyalty to her is impressive as is his revolutionary zeal as her comforts her by saying "The trouble, princess lies not with you.  It's the world that's not right.  That's why I'm going to change it."  The prince, while problematic at times also has great moments where he recognizes Nakaba for the strong woman she is and loves her for it, defending her from an assassination accusation by saying "My wife would never plot to murder me...and if she did she wouldn't waste her time with venom and vipers.  She would face me head on with a sword in her hands.  That's the sort of woman she is."  The world-building grows more complex and interesting with each installment and the political intrigue and overarching themes keep the plot moving just as much as the romance and even eclipse it at times.  The drawing is exquisite with wonderfully expressive faces and gorgeous costumes.

Rocks in my socks:  While Caesar and Ajin both have great moments, they have troubling aspects as well.  Nakaba's romance with Caesar is a classic Beauty and the Beast scenario and while I enjoy seeing the tough exterior thawed by a caring and intelligent woman, it also sets some troubling precedents.  In real life jerks mostly stay jerks and far too many women think they can change them after being raised on stories like these.  He has a creepy Jareth moment where he says "When I'm king, I will make you happy.  I ask only one thing in return.  Surrender yourself to me." I wanted Nakaba to scream "You have no power over me!"  Far too many of their kissing scenes start as fights where he eventually forces himself on her.  Still, when she does tell him to stop he respects that, so I have to give him credit for that.  The facts that Loki was a father figure to her and is currently her servant both make me a bit uneasy about that romance.  As for Princess Nakaba, while she is feisty she still faints regularly and blood sets off her powers so that the men try to hide it from her and mostly when she tries to help in a fight she only ends up hindering.  Even when she does defend herself, it's only a temporary measure until one of her love interests comes along to save her.  Still there's enough that the comic gets right, especially considering the conventions of the shojo genre, that I was still able to enjoy the series immensely.  I do hope that Princess Nakaba will grow stronger as the series progress though.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a fantasy comic that is character and relationship driven.  The romances have yet to heat up that much, so I'd say it's fine for 5th grade and up.


There is an official page for Dawn of the Arcana on Viz Media 

Source: school library

Dawn of the Arcana by Rei Toma: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ariol #1 Review

Ariol #1: Just a Donkey Like You and Me

Book talk:  The days are shorter than recess and Ariol would like nothing better than to migrate South like a bird.  But instead he has to leave his warm, comfy bed to go to school every morning.  School's not all bad, there's his best friend Ramono who always comes up with cool games to play and pranks to pull.  And Petula, who is the prettiest cow Ariol has ever seen.  On the other hand there's also Mr. Ribera, the gym teacher who, in fact, has no sense of humor and Bizzbilla who won't leave him alone. If Ariol was Thunder Horse he'd show them all. He'd be the best in gym and always know what to say and no one would be able to tell him what to do.  But he's not Thunder Horse, he's just a regular guy like you and me.

Rocks my socks:  This comic is hilarious!  It captures so many moments of childhood perfectly from when Ariol plays a game by himself while providing his own running sports commentary to his reluctance to leave his warm, cozy, bed in the morning.  Any teacher will be able to recognize the truth and humor in the story where Mr. Blunt tries to come up with a clever story to teach his students prepositions.  Ariol leaves class remembering the funny parts of the story without remembering anything about prepositions at all.  There's plenty that made me recall my own childhood as well.  Like Ariol, I used to stare out my mother's car window and pretend there were bad guys following us that we had to shake.  In the midst of all the humor there's some real heart too.  The story "As Dumb as a Donkey" deals with prejudice and stereotypes in a sweet way while maintaining the humorous tone of the collection.  The drawings are simple, colorful, charming, and expressive.  While they satirize childhood, the characters are still drawn with plenty of warmth and love.  They made me laugh in recognition of myself and others because they really are just like you and me.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader: This comic reminded me a lot of another French school comic, Le Petit Nicolas.  I'd give it to anyone looking for a humorous comic set in a school.  There is one instance of the word 'dumbass' but it is referring to donkeys and it's used in the context of the story about stereotypes so it's discussed and dealt with well.  I'd say it's fine for second grade and up.


You can find an interview with the author here

Ariol has an official site with lots of goodies, but it's in French and it seems like you need to log in to access any of them.

There's a Ariol cartoon translated into English on YouTube:

Source: school library

Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Will & Whit Review

Will & Whit

Book talk:  Do you like to get your clothes new from the mall?  Or would you rather find something vintage in a thrift shop?  It's an easy choice for Will.  She prefers things with a bit of history to them, and it makes sense.  She lives in an antique shop with her aunt and a dog passed down from her grandfather when he died.  Even her name is second-hand, from her great-great-grandmother Wilhelmina.  But Will doesn't mind.  The antiques give her plenty of opportunity to indulge in her hobby of making lamps from objects ranging from teacups to parasols.  She's had a lot of free time this summer and she likes to stay busy, so she's been making a lot.  Summer is almost over and she's determined to make the last few weeks count.  But when a storm comes that knocks out power to the town, everything changes.

Rocks my socks:  The best thing about this comic are the characters.  I want to bring them out of the book so that they can be my friends in real life.  Will has a wonderful old soul and I want her to make me that lamp out of tea bags!  Autumn and I would make great puppet show partners and Noel could test his cookie recipes out on me anytime!  Each of the characters have their own quirks and even the ones that are standoffish at first are nice by the end.  I wish everyone got along this well in real life! Even her aunt sounds fun to hang out with and is supportive while allowing Will her space--which is refreshing to see considering the treatment adults usually get in YA books.  On top of that the details are wonderful from the little references to Doctor Who she slips in to the fact that the gutters and edges of the pages that take place during the black out are entirely black so you can see the effect of the storm even on the closed book.  Gulledge even adds extras to the back--a page of her inspiration for the novel, the cookie recipe from the book, an 'artistic license' and more.  I can get behind the ethos of the book from the DIY mentality to the arts carnival the teens put on to the way everyone's quirks are accepted by everyone else.  This book gave me the warm fuzzies.

Rocks in my socks:  The end was a bit pat for my tastes.  Everyone was paired off and happy and all of the difficulties were completely resolved.  Especially considering how short the comic is and how brief the timeline of the narrative it seemed a bit too easy and everyone was a bit too nice and quick to understand and forgive.  It wasn't realistic.  It didn't bother me too much though--I loved the characters so I was glad to see them happy.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a realistic, character-driven comic.  Fans of Gulledge's other comic or the comics of Raina Telgemeier will be sure to enjoy this one. There's no more romance than a bit of kissing and no violence so while it would be best appreciated by an audience of at least 5th grade and up if a younger kid was curious and wanted to read a comic about high schoolers I'd feel comfortable giving this to them.


Laura Lee Gulledge has a blog where you can find plenty of pictures of her handsome cat, follow the adventures of Mr. Duck, and you know, find out information about her books and creative process etc  (the cat and duck are adorable though, be sure to check them out!)

She also has a flickr account where you can see photos of preliminary sketches and ideas for the characters

There is a page for the book that includes information about an intriguing musical based on the book complete with videos of songs and a hurricane experience.

I love the song in this book trailer (bonus points if you find the hidden dalek!)

Source: school library

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Scarlet Review

Scarlet (Scarlet #1)

Book talk:  What with King John demanding higher and higher taxes every day and the Sheriff finding more and more awful ways of gettin' people to pay 'em, times haven't been good.  Families are starvin' and innocent people are gettin' themselves thrown in jail or worse.  That's where we come in.  I reckon there's not a soul in Nottingham whose heart doesn't give a little flutter of hope when it hears the name Robin, excepting the Sheriff's men of course.  Everyone 'round here knows about Robin, Little John, Much, and me--Will Scarlet.  What they don't know is that I aint really a Will at all.  I'm a woman.   If they knew the one fightin' with guards and stealin' food and wearing trousers was a woman I doubt they'd be so fond of me.  But in dark times like these we all do what we got to do and we all have secrets to hide.  Things are changing though.  The Sheriff has ordered a special thief-taker in from London, Sir Guy of Gisborne, and if he finds out about me, I'll be done for.  I should really run, but how can I turn my back on people who need me so badly?  How can I turn my back on Robin?  I can feel it in my bones: these are dark times--and they're about to get even darker.

Rocks my socks:  Robin Hood has always been one of my favorite legends and girls cross dressing as boys to have adventures is one of my favorite tropes.  So it would be hard for me not to love this novel.  Scarlet is a wonderful, strong protagonist taking her lumps alongside the boys and proving that she's just as tough as they are.  I know it will annoy some people, but I enjoyed her colloquial, sassy first person narration.  The romantic plot was terribly cliche with its love triangle and protagonist attitude of "no one could ever love me so I will pine hopelessly" which naturally turns into "my bad: every guy in the story apparently wants me." Yet even though I knew it was cliche and I shouldn't like it I just couldn't help myself from squeeing over every innuendo and longing gaze.  The basic archetypes from the legends are re-imagined and fleshed out wonderfully by Gaughen with new, gritty back stories that add substance to the tale.  There's plenty of white-knuckle encounters and adventuring and outwitting of sheriffs to keep the reader turning pages.

Rocks in my socks:  About halfway through I reached a point where every time I read another simile involving Robin's eyes and the ocean I wanted to throw the book at a wall.  There were 6 similes or metaphors involving Robin's eyes and the sea or ocean and as the book went on they became longer and more detailed until it was a whole paragraph describing a stormy sea then likening it to Robin's eyes.  We get the point--if you don't have anything new to say, then don't say anything at all!  On top of this, as much as I love Robin and Scarlet they both have guilt complexes that got on my nerves.  They were both forced by circumstance to do things they regret so despite all the good they've done they both keep banging on about how they're really awful people and don't deserve to be praised or called a hero etc.  I suppose it provides motivation for why they go to such lengths risking themselves for others, but when it got to a "I'm the worst person" "No, I'm the worst person!" battle between them I had had enough.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a dark adventure story or fans of fairy tales and other classic stories retold.  Naturally fans of Robin Hood and women cross-dressing for adventure stories like myself will enjoy this as well.  It is rather dark and violent so I'd save it for 7th grade and up.


A. C. Gaughen has her own website with the usual blog, bio, etc

There are not one but two official trailers for the book.  One's a half a minute and the other a minute and a half so you can choose the length more convenient for your purposes:

Source:  ebook from public library

Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Splendors and Glooms Review

Splendors and Glooms

Book talk:  Have you ever seen a puppet show so convincing that the puppets seemed alive?  What if they were?  Gaspare Grisini is a master puppeteer with a dark secret.  Everywhere he goes children love his shows, and every once in a while a child disappears.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are his orphan apprentices, and they have learned that disobeying the puppet master can have terrible consequences.  But when Clara goes missing after one of their performances, they risk everything to uncover the truth behind their master's success.

Rocks my socks:  Splendors and Glooms has an appealing Dickensian theme with resourceful but unlucky orphans using their wits to defy the evil master they work for.  The idea of an evil puppeteer turning children into puppets has a great, classic fairy tale feel to it that I enjoyed.  The three main child characters were well drawn and nuanced with complicated pasts that were slowly revealed and informed their actions and attitudes.  The combination of Victorian setting, magical elements, and dark comedy isn't one commonly seen in modern juvenile fiction, so I can see why this book has received so much attention and acclaim.  It's a refreshing change from the usual fare.

Rocks in my socks:  Schiltz didn't play up the most appealing elements as much as I had hoped.  The idea of turning children into puppets is delightfully imaginative and creepy and could have been the main idea for a book, but alas it was not the main idea of this one.  It takes a long time to even reach the point where this happens, and then there's so much else going on that it's easy to forget at times.  One of the things drawing attention from this plot is the puppeteer's rival, a witch on her deathbed looking to rid herself of a curse.  There is a lot of time spent on this character and she's not particularly sympathetic or interesting and I doubt the intended audience for the novel will be able to relate to a mean old witch who is in constant pain and about to die but first looks to foist her curse off on some innocent children.  She's a perfectly fine villain, but so much time was spent on her story, including chapters from her perspective, and I think that time could have been better spent.  I generally have a fondness for witch characters and even I got sick of hearing her moan about a curse that was her own darn fault.  The pacing was uneven in general and could have benefitted from cutting out some of the side plots and being shorter.

Every book its reader:  Fans of fairy tales and historical settings looking for a dark story will be likely to enjoy this.  It's harder to pin down a grade recommendation though.  The School Library Journal puts it as low as 4th grade and with its young protagonists and lack of romantic subplot I can see why.  But I'm not sure I'd be comfortable giving it to someone so young.  The book is dark, disturbing, and violent.  The pain of the witch is graphically described, the puppeteer is brutally tortured, the orphans are physically abused by their master and Lizzie Rose is molested by her landlord's son to name a few of the darker elements.  I'd save it for 6th grade at least.


Candlewick Press has a page for the book with reviews, an excerpt, and a Q&A with the author

Splendors and Glooms was a competitor in the 2013 Battle of the Kids Books, so you can find some fun reviews and graphics for it there.

This video of traditional Victorian marionettes is absolutely delightful:

Source: ebook from public library

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz: buy it or check it out today!