Saturday, January 25, 2014

OCD, the Dude, and Me Review

OCD, the Dude, and Me

Book talk:  It's senior year and Danielle can't wait for it to be over. With her frizzy red hair, quirky tastes, and OCD she sticks out like a sore thumb.  Despite all the trauma she endures at school, she finds it comforting to catalog her days there.  She accomplishes this through a color-coded binder in which she keeps all her English essays, notes, important e-mails, and day-to-day journals.  Experience school through her eyes and find out if Senior year will be the disaster she's expecting.

Rocks my socks:  I loved the epistolary format as Danielle included not only letters but essays, her teacher's comments on the essays, and her own comments on her teacher's comments.  I found the effect that The Big Lebowski had on her and the fact that it apparently has such a cult following amusing.  I haven't read many books about someone coping with mental illness: regularly taking medication, attending therapy, social skills classes, etc.  I really appreciated reading about her experiences and the perspective it provided.  There were many great characters like her aunt who was always ready with words of wisdom, her friend Daniel who introduced her to The Dude, and her pen pal Justine.  What really made the book though was Danielle and her frank descriptions of her life, her dreams, and her worries.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to teens looking for a high school misfit story.  Anyone who has had to attend therapy or social skills groups themselves will particularly appreciate Danielle's experiences.  7th and up.


Lauren Roedy Vaughn has her own website.

Bonus Quotes: 

"Our mind is a crazy nightclub of cacophonous sound filled with strange images and one-night stands: our mind tells us lonely, loveless tales that leave us frightened but really have no lasting power." 

Source: school library

OCD, the Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn: buy it or check it out today!

Brief Reviews: Fall 2013 part 2

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2) (This is a review for the second book in a series and may contain spoilers for the first.  If you haven't read The Lies of Locke Lamora, read my review of it here.)
Locke and Jean are back and up to their old tricks.  This time they're targeting one of the most exclusive and richest places in the world: the Sinspire.  The casino is famous for its lavish ways as well as the way they deal with thieves: a long drop from the top of the tower and a bill for cleaning up the body from the courtyard below sent to the deceased's family.  Locke and Jean acquire a whole new crop of enemies while still fleeing from the last.  Once again the tangled web they weave left my head spinning as I tried to figure out who was betraying whom for what gain and how our boys could possibly make it out of the mess they got themselves into.  This time there was the added bonus of pirates!  I love a good sailing story!  What more could a girl ask for?  My only problem with the book was that I've grown overly fond of Locke and Jean, so after a while I started feeling awful for them as they narrowly escaped death only to face it once more.  Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch: buy it or check it out today!

How to Say Goodbye in RobotThere's a lot to love in this story about two quirky teens finding acceptance. Bea and her mom rent costumes and photograph themselves re-enacting scenes from classic movies.  Bea bonds with another outcast student by communicating via a late-night radio program.  Bea's often macabre sense of humor regularly had me laughing out loud right from the beginning as she told the story of how she tried to name a gerbil Goebbels.  But despite enjoying all these disparate parts, I didn't really like the book overall.  They didn't quite add up to a cohesive whole.  I wish that a few of these ideas had been explored in more detail instead of covering so many things so briefly.  The ending was also unsatisfying.  If you read a lot of contemporary misfit stories and are looking for another, then it's worth picking up.  But there are plenty of others in the genre that I would recommend before this one.  How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford: buy it or check it out today!

Forgive Me, Leonard PeacockI read this for my FYA book club, and I'm not sure that I would have picked it up on my own.  As it was I had no idea what it was about when I started reading it on a plane this Thanksgiving and ended up crying like a baby in my seat.  There's a lot of things I liked about this book: the footnotes, the Hamlet references, and the quirky characters Leonard meets, but overall I can't say that I really enjoyed it.  Everyone is so universally cruel to Leonard.  Despite all that happens in the course of the novel nothing felt really resolved to me at the end.  I didn't feel as attached to Leonard as I thought I would considering all he goes through and I didn't really like any of the other characters either because of how they treat him.  Still, the book tackles a difficult subject unflinchingly and it deserves some praise for that.  Forgive me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Operation Yes Review

Operation Yes

Book talk: This is a book about life in a military family.  Yes, and it's about improvisation.  Yes, and it's about a boy named Bo who is sick of being a Colonel's son. Yes, and it's about a girl named Gari whose mother gets shipped out to Iraq.  Yes, and despite all her efforts to prevent it Gari ends up moving in with her cousin Bo's family on an air force base.  Yes, and Bo and Gari do not get along.  Yes, and they are put in the same class with an insane teacher who tapes off part of the room and sticks a smelly, old couch in it.   Yes, and somehow she teaches them how to work together. Yes, and they find all the cracks in the school and try to fix them.  Yes, and it's about how learning how to take whatever life throws at you and say "Yes!"

Rocks my socks:  I think this is the first book I've read from the perspective of kids living on a military base.  It was an interesting window into a life I know very little about.  I liked that the story flipped back and forth between Bo and Gari's perspectives.  It was a great exercise in seeing how conflict can arise through miscommunication and bad timing.  I loved Miss Loupe and how she wove improvisation exercises into her class.  I've read a lot of theatre books, but not a lot that focus on improv.  I particularly enjoy how she took the improv mentality and applied to the real world.  It seems like a particularly useful skill to have, especially for kids like these that have to accept so many difficult situations that are beyond their control.

Rocks in my socks: The ending was a bit too pat for my tastes.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students 4th and up looking for a good school story.  Especially those with an interest in improv or military.

Sarah Lewis Holmes has her own website.

Scholastic has a page about the book complete with a book talk.

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

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes: buy it or check it out today!

Team Human Review

Team Human

Book talk:  Even though New Whitby is known as a haven for vampires, Mel hardly ever sees any.  The vampires stay in their part of town, and mostly only tourists go there.  There certainly aren't any vampires in the high school, which is why everyone is so shocked when Frances shows up in his UV protection suit. Cathy immediately falls for his sculpted good looks, but Mel recognizes him for what he is: a crazy astronaut suit full of trouble.  And she's determined to keep her best friend out of harm's way.  Unfortunately Cathy is just as determined to get to know the walking history book better.

Rocks my socks:  I was surprised by this book.  I was expecting it to be funny, and it certainly did not disappoint on that count: it cheered me up wonderfully when I was home sick.  I wasn't expecting it to be so affecting though.  At first Mel's sarcastic jabs at the vampires are just amusing, but as the book goes on she's forced to face her prejudice and re-examine it.  The way she struggles with supporting her best friend while trying to protect her carries real emotional heft, and when she meets a human boy raised by vampires with some interesting prejudices of his own things really start to get interesting.  This boy, Kit, is a great character and I appreciated that he respects Mel's independence and is quick to smile at her jokes and join in.  Of course Mel's wit and willingness to speak her sassy mind are what really made the book for me.

Rocks in my socks:  Cathy and Frances could have been fleshed out better.  It was hard for me to understand the appeal of either.  Which is saying something when Cathy is described as an intelligent bibliophile with a passion for life in previous eras.  If anyone was going to be able to relate to Cathy's character, it should be me.  But she just felt like a placeholder for a generic vampire romance lead.  I had difficulty understanding why Mel was friends with her to begin with.  Frances was much the same.  I've found plenty of vampire characters appealing, but I could not understand his appeal at all.  He mostly seemed to exist to provide fodder for Mel.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of paranormal novels looking for a humorous twist.  8th grade and up.


Both Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan have their own sites

Harper Teen has a page for the book with some extras

There's a book trailer in the style of a PSA about vampires:

Source: school library

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gunnerkrigg Court Review

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation

Book talk:  Gunnerkrigg Court is unlike anything Antimony has seen before.  Strange things are always happening, like the time when she discovered she had a second shadow and helped it to escape, or when she went to research Greek myths in the library and ended up finding the actual Minotaur.  Gunnerkrigg Court can be a dangerous place, but it was her mother's dying wish that she go there.  When she discovers that her parents met at this strange institution, Antimony becomes determined to get to the bottom of its many secrets.  Assuming she can survive the school year!

Rocks my socks:  I loved hearing the Minotaur's side of the story: "See, when I was young, it was hard to meet people my own age, being stuck in the middle of a giant death maze and all."  The book is infused with this dry humor and often satirizes the magical boarding school genre.  For example, at one point when Antimony is lost she conveniently finds a sign reading "Secret Train To Large Animal Holding Cells: Very Hush Hush. You know."  There are many other pleasant surprises that doubtless come from the fact that it was first published as a webcomic and so Siddell didn't have anyone telling him that he couldn't do this or that.  At one point a character appears for a brief storyline who only speaks Spanish without any translation provided.  Naturally my favorite character is the demon that ends up trapped in Antimony's stuffed animal and bound to her will.  He's so adorably evil! Siddell plays on the inherent comedy of his situation like a virtuoso.  The ever-optimistic robot comes in a close second.  Then there's the shadow many characters to love!

Rocks in my socks:  It was a bit hard to follow the over-arching plot at times.  There are so many stand-alone stories and the information about the world is given in drips and drabs.  I enjoyed all the stories so much though that I didn't really mind being a bit lost on occasion.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of fantasy and humor.  I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.


You can find the webcomic, with a free archive back to the beginning, at

Someone has animated the first chapter of the comic, and it makes a good, though long, book trailer:

Source: school library

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Railsea Review


Book talk: Life on the railsea is not easy: bad tracks, traps laid by pirates, and attacks from below claim many lives.  But Sham is grateful for his job aboard the Medes.  At least he is finally seeing the world outside his home town.  Hunting giant moles can be exciting and people say that he should be proud to serve under a captain with her own Philosophy--an ivory colored creature she pursues with a passion and who has already taken her arm.  Sham wants something more though and his vague sense of unease finds a focus when he discovers a picture of the impossible: a place where the great tangle of the railsea condenses into a single track. But while the captain's nemesis is certainly deadly, Sham soon discovers that secrets are the most dangerous quarry of all.

Rocks my socks:  The world-building in this novel was the most creative and thorough I have read in a while.  The way the environment has changed affects everything from how people earn a living to what creatures exist to the written and spoken language.  Whole industries have cropped up around salvaging technology from the more prosperous past and the pollution that has seeped into the ground has created mutant creatures that thrive in the empty wastelands between cities.  The captain is reminiscent of Captain Ahab, but the story isn't a simple re-working of Moby Dick.  In this world there are many captains like Ahab and it's become a trend to have a 'philosophy,' a specific creature that has wronged a captain and which the captain has sworn to hunt until one or both of them dies.  They often gather at pubs to tell their stories and there's a museum to chronicle the captains who have been successful in their philosophy hunts.  This is only part of the story of Railsea though, and Mieville mainly includes it to lambast the idea.  I am a fan of books that use slang and dialect to help set an atmosphere for a story so I loved the language in this novel and how connected it is to the world-building.  There were many distinctive characters to enjoy as well and I naturally enjoyed the fact that Sham nurses a bat that becomes his companion and helps him along the way.

Rocks in my socks:  Mieville is a wonderful and highly opinionated author, but he doesn't always weave those opinions in seamlessly.  He was far from subtle in the points he wanted to make, and it often felt preachy to me.  After a lengthy book where I got attached to the characters and lost in their world the end was basically just a cheap shot about the greed of big businesses.  I don't necessarily disagree with him, but making that the climax made the whole plot seem cheap and pointless.  Even though I absolutely adored most of the novel, the ending left me with such a bad taste that it soured the whole novel for me.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to science fiction fans looking for something with intricate world-building or those looking for a new take on Moby Dick.  The world-building, though wonderfully imaginative, throws you in the deep end instead of slowly acclimating you.  This, combined with the dialect make it difficult to get into, so I'd save it for more advanced readers. It can be violent at times, so I'd save it for 7th grade and up.


China Mieville has his own site

There's an interview with Mieville about the book on Boing Boing

There's a trailer for the book, although I'm not sure how well comparing the book to Moby Dick will sell it to teens:

Source: school library

Bonus Quotes: 

“People have wanted to narrate since first we banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There’ll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned-out lights.”

“Humans like nothing more than to pigeonhole the events & phenomena that punctuate their lives.”

“There was a time when wen we did not form all our words as we do now, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word "&" was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it.

Humanity learned to ride the rails, & that motion made us what we are, a ferromaritime people. The lines of the railsea go everywhere but from one place straight to another. It is always switchback, junction, coils around & over our own train-trails.

What word better could there be to symbolize the railsea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself? Where else does the railsea take us, but to one place & that one & that one & that one, & so on? & what better embodies, in the sweep of the pen, the recurved motion of trains, than “&”?

An efficient route from where we start to where we end would make the word the tiniest line. But it takes a veering route, up & backwards, overshooting & correcting, back down again south & west, crossing its own earlier path, changing direction, another overlap, to stop, finally, a few hairs’ width from where we began.

& tacks & yaws, switches on its way to where it’s going, as we all must do.”

Railsea by China Mieville: buy it or check it out today!