Sunday, December 28, 2014

Random Cat Videos III

Jake and Elwood
The thing about being a cat person is that you can't go very long without a cat. So when our beloved Pablo passed away earlier this year, it wasn't too long before we went to the local rescue.

These are the new kittens, Jake and Elwood. Pretty cute, huh?

And if that's not enough cuteness, here are some random cat videos for you:

Cat Man Do:

Sad Cat Diary:

Trololo Cat:

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mayday Book Review

Title: Mayday
Author: Jonathan Friesen
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: April 10, 2014

320 pp.

ARC provided by author

The premise for Jonathan Friesen's Mayday is pretty intriguing. Eighteen-year-old Crow tries to protect her sister Addy, but ends up in a coma. During that coma, she has the chance to go on a "walkabout," an opportunity to go back in the past and change things. Except she doesn't go back as herself. She goes back in a loaner body known as Shane. The first time Crow goes back, Shane is a 13 year old girl, the second time, Shane is a 19 year old guy. Shane is able to interact with Crow and begins to see situations and people in new ways.

Intriguing, right?

Except the execution wasn't quite there for me. The first time Crow goes back as Shane, there is a slow burn of a reveal about what happened to Addy, but it was pretty heavily foreshadowed and not much of a surprise.

The second time Crow goes back as Shane, what's supposed to happen to Addy is never made entirely clear, though one could guess, but there's not the urgency of stakes as in the first walkabout. Certainly nothing that really warrants Crow ending up in a coma. And there's a lot of backstory in Crow's life leading up to the coma that is never fully explained, either.

I didn't mind Crow ending up in a guy's body. It raised some interesting questions and brought some humor to the story. But male Shane's involvement in Crow's life is way too convenient and strains credulity. Especially since the way that Shane's presence is explained is that someone thinks Shane is really an angel. Wha...?

And I have to mention Sadie, Crow's guide while on walkabout. Sadie is every Mammy stereotype turned into the wise, black spiritual figure. It's obvious the author wants Sadie to impart profound insight, but she's too much of a caricature rather than a character. Where are the editors to stop this sort of thing? *sigh*

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just Don't

I've written before about stop words, those words which are so common we don't notice them.  These words can clog up your story and they're insidious because you don't realize they're there. There's a bunch of them, including "really," "very," and "even."

But the worst is "just."

I was reading an ARC recently and there was a "just" on almost every page. One page had six ... Six!

Since it was an ARC, I hope that these were caught by the author, the editor, or the copy editor before the book hit publication.

But overuse of "just" is not that unusual. I've seen published books with too many just's. "Just," for some reason, seems to be invisible.

I don't know why that is. It just is. *sigh*

So I am asking, pleading, beseeching, begging that you writers out there take responsibility for your just's. Use the word search function. Chances are you can cut 90% of them. Chances are you can substitute "only," "merely," or "simply" for another 9%.

I'll let you have a few because there are times when "just" actually works. But it's way less than you think it is.

Because even though you may not see all your just-abuse, your reader does.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook Review

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Narrated by: Ari Fliakos
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: February 26, 2013

Listening copy via local library

I know I'm not the first to call this a mash-up of Umberto Eco and Doug Coupland because that's exactly what Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is.

It's a mystery about manuscripts and codes, it's a humorous social commentary on Silicon Valley, it's Old World technology meets New Media crowdsourcing. It's a delightful journey on all these levels.

It starts with Clay, a victim of Silicon Valley lay-offs, who finds a job working at a quirky bookstore in San Francisco. What's even more interesting than the odd books are the odd customers, people who come in all hours of day and borrow the books rather than purchase them.

Clay gets his friends to help him figure out the mystery of bookstore, which uncovers a secret world of codes and codex, and maybe even the secret to immortality.

Narrated ably by Ari Fliakos, Clay and the various other oddball characters are believable, charming, and fun.

I'd recommend to readers who enjoyed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline or The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Book Trailer:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Days of Blood & Starlight Book Review

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 6, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0316133975

528 pp.

Reading copy via public library

I didn't do a review for the first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which introduces the reader to Karou. Karou is an art student in Prague. She has blue hair and portfolios full of drawings of monsters. Not that out of the ordinary for an art student. Except Karou's hair really is blue and the monsters are her family.

Laini Taylor establishes some first-class worldbuilding with the first book on how Karou's family of monsters are chimera, creatures from another world, locked in a interminable battle with the seraphim, who are angel-like in appearance only.

Karou finds herself attracted to Akiva, a soldier in the seraphim army, as the portal between their worlds is discovered.

So go and read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'll wait.

Wow, that was fast. It's that good, right?

Days of Blood and Starlight picks up right where the first books ends. Karou is trying to save the chimera army and Akiva is forced to fight for the seraphim side. I don't want to get all spoilery, so I'm not going to discuss the plot.

In addition to the exquisite worldbuilding, it's the characters who make this series so addictive. Karou is smart, but vulnerable, and achingly human. Akiva is anguished by the war, but despite the odds, hopeful.

And the supporting characters are brilliant, too. Karou's friend Zusana brings much needed comic relief and a dose of reality. The chimera general, Thiago, is downright chilling. Other characters, even throwaway ones, are given personality and depth.

This middle volume does not disappoint, as middle volumes often do. It continues the storyline of the first while raising the stakes and leaving you gasping for the final volume, Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rotters Audiobook Review

Title: Rotters
Author: Daniel Kraus
Narrated by: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Listening Library
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0449014950

Listening copy via Sync

I know it's past Halloween, but seriously, Rotters by Daniel Kraus is pretty much the perfect Halloween read (or in this case, listen).

Joey Crouch lives in Chicago with his mom. He's somewhere on the autistic spectrum, he's probably a little too dependent on his mom, and they live a somewhat isolated life. But he's got one good friend and he's got his trumpet and life is fairly normal for Joey.

Then his mom dies.

Joey is shipped off to a small town in Iowa to live with his dad, a man he's never met or given much thought to. Ken Harnett is known to the locals as "The Garbageman" and the squalid living conditions Joey now calls home seems to validate that name.

Except what his dad really does is so much worse than anything Joey could ever imagine. Harnett is a Digger, a graverobber, part of a secret brotherhood of Diggers, a world that Joey finds himself joining. Because in this world, he isn't bullied by the local jocks or sadistic teachers. In this world, there's beauty in the macabre. In this world, he is the heir apparent.

Kirby Heyborne does a sublime job narrating the stomach-churning passages, not just of the decomposing bodies, but of the many humiliations that Joey's bullies inflict upon him.

Joey's narration, given his autism, is often flat, and it was a bit off-putting at first. But then I understood more about Joey and I was okay with it. Harnett's gravelly narration sounds a lot like Batman, but I got used to that, too.

Other characters, especially the variety of Diggers, are distinctive and colorful.

Joey's story is a deeply twisted coming-of-age and not for everyone. But for those looking for a good shudder, I highly recommend it.

Rotters by Daniel Kraus Book Trailer:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When to Abandon a Book

Now I'm not talking about abandoning a book that you're writing. There's a time for that, sometimes, and that's for another post. I'm talking about when to abandon a book that you're reading.

When you're in school, you're required to read books that you wouldn't normally choose on your own. And that's what school is for. To challenge you, to get you to think critically about things you wouldn't normally think about.

Even after college, I felt that if I started reading a book, I was making a commitment to finish it. No matter how boring, awful, or predictable it was. I sloughed through some real stinkers, just because I felt it was my obligation as a reader to finish it. And maybe, I had some small hope that it would get better.

But you know what? Life is too short for bad books.

That's not to say that sometimes you don't take a chance on a complex book. But when you're reading for pleasure, you should be reading things that you enjoy. Duh.

Yet it took me years -- YEARS! -- to feel comfortable abandoning a book that I had started. Some say you should dump a book after fifty pages if you're not feeling it. I still give books a hundred pages, sometimes two hundred, before I close it for good. But I'm feeling less and less guilty each time I do.

As a writer, as a reader, as a librarian, as a former bookseller, as a former English major ... I want to love a book enough to finish it.  But there are too many books in my TBR pile to waste time on a book that's not grabbing me.

This shift in my reading habits has really freed me. I try more books outside genres I'd normally read. I'm often pleasantly surprised. I have more depth of knowledge on books to recommend. I might not have finished a book, but I know enough about it to share with a patron who may be a better fit for it.

And that's what has been key for me. Realizing that not all books fit all readers. I am not obligated as a reader to finish it. Just as I am not obligated as a writer to write something that will appeal to everyone. Because I can't. Someone out there will hate it, but someone else will love it. (Even if it's just me.)

So I am giving you permission to stop reading books that you don't like. Give it fifty or so pages. Maybe come back to it in a couple of years. But it's okay to stop reading it. Even if it's the bestseller that everyone loves, a prize winner that was adapted into a movie, the latest book by your favorite author. If you're not feeling it, put it down and try the next book.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dangerous Book Review

Title: Dangerous
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1599901688

416 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I hadn't read any Shannon Hale novels before (although I did enjoy the Austenland movie), but I knew she was a writer who used humor and girl power in her work.

And Dangerous did not disappoint. In fact, I freaking loved Dangerous. The heroine is Maisie Danger Brown (Danger really is her middle name) and she goes to space camp where she meets a cute boy and gets infected with alien technology. It only gets wilder from there (That's a pun; the cute boy's name is Wilder. I crack myself up.).

In fact, four other teens are also infected with alien technology and they're supposed to do save the earth ... from what exactly or how exactly they're not entirely clear on. But things go horribly, horribly wrong as the changes in the teens lead them to make some very bad decisions.

Dangerous is a sci-fi/superhero romp with plenty of action and twisty turns. There's some humor, some romance, some stretches of believability that you either go with or don't. I went with it and I'm glad I did.

There's also some diversity in the characters (yay!) and in addition to being half-Latina, Maisie has a physical disability that doesn't stop her from being totally kick-ass.

I'd recommend Dangerous to readers who enjoyed Wildfire by Karsten Knight or Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Dangerous Book Trailer:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Panic Book Review

Title: Panic
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HaperCollins
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0062014559

416 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Panic by Lauren Oliver is a YA contemporary about a group of teens in a high-stakes game of dares. They live in a crappy town and the money that seniors are forced to pony up throughout the school year goes to the winner of Panic. Because, apparently, in this town, no one is smart enough or athletic enough to get a scholarship. Or, you know, a part-time job.

I know that sounds harsh, but if you're willing to buy into the premise, Panic is a fast read. It's told from the POV of Heather, a girl who's trying to protect her sister from their druggie mom, and Dodge, a guy who's out for revenge.

There are secrets among the players, most of them obvious. But there is also action, as the players have to go through contests that test their fearlessness. These are probably the best parts of the book, as I caught myself holding my breath through some of them.

The characters are also another strong part of the book. Heather and Dodge are well-rounded and have clear arcs where they change. Again, if you can get past the premise, then the characters will engage you to read to the end.

I'd recommend Panic to readers who enjoyed Dare You To by Katie McGarry or Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher.

Bonus video: Lauren Oliver discusses the inspiration for Panic

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Before My Eyes Book Review

Title: Before My Eyes
Author: Caroline Bock
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1250045584

304 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Caroline Bock has written a compelling YA contemporary that hits a lot of hot button issues -- gun violence, pill popping, mental illness -- as well as personal issues -- loneliness, loss, identity -- in a way that brings its well-rounded characters together in a believable climax.

She does this by alternating chapters between the three main characters: Claire, an aspiring poet who must take on more family responsibilities after her mom has a stroke; Max, a state senator's son who's forced to play a role he never asked for; Barkley, a loner who believes the voice in his head that tells him he needs to buy a gun if he wants to make the world a better place.

The chapters alternate the POV's, but they also countdown over a Labor Day weekend to the moment Barkley fires that gun. During these chapters we learn about the characters, their hopes and fears, their secrets and their desires. And we understand more what those shots fired mean to each of them.

Before My Eyes is an excellent discussion starter for all the issues raised in the book. The author doesn't talk down the audience by offering easy answers, but rather, asks questions about why people do the things they do.

I recommend Before My Eyes to readers who enjoyed Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick or Names Will Never Hurt Me by Jaime Adoff.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Yes, it's that time of the year where I take some time off from the blog.

ALA Amazing ARC Giveaway books have been mailed to the winners, so if you received an email from me that you were a winner, check your mailboxes soon!

I hope you enjoy the last days of summer.

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

ALA Amazing ARC Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to the ALA Amazing ARC Giveaway Winners:
  • Erin D.
  • Tracy B. 
  • Devera N.
Look for an email from me requesting your address so I can mail your prize to you!

Thanks to everyone else who entered! I hope you'll come by the blog often for book reviews and librarian writer musings.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Boys in the Boat Book Review

Title: The Boys in the Boat
Author: Daniel James Brown
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0670025817

416 pp.

Reading copy via local library

If you're looking for a historical nonfiction title that will appeal to teens as well as adults, then The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is the one.

Don't let the subtitle, "Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics" fool you too much. The Olympics is the climax, but certainly not the whole book. The heart and soul of the book is the story of Joe Rantz, a mechanic's son who was abandoned by his family during The Great Depression.

Joe is forced to survive in the rough-and-tumble backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, finally finding his way to the University of Washington. He tries out for crew only because it'll help him get a job on campus. But rowing ends up being so much more for him, and for the other boys in the boat.

The book has plenty of action-packed rowing scenes as the scrappy Washington crew proves their mettle again and again, but there's also the historical sweep of the Depression and the rise of Nazism. There's the drama of learning to trust one another and work as a team. There's the craft of boat building and the physics of rowing. There's even romance as Joe courts his high school sweetheart.

The Boys in the Boat is at times poignant, even heartbreaking, but it is, ultimately, an inspiration.

The Boys in the Boat Book Trailer:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Lost Planet Book Review

Title: The Lost Planet
Author: Rachel Searles
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
ISBN- 13: 978-1250038791

384 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles is a rollicking sci-fi adventure for middle grade readers.

A boy wakes up with a blaster wound to the back of his head and no memory except the phrase, "Guide the star." He's told that his name is Chase and he's on the planet Trucon. Chase begins a search for who he is and what "Guide the star" means. Helping him are an orphan named Parker and his caretaker, Mina, who have secrets of their own.

The action is virtually non-stop as the trio make their way across space, making friends and enemies along the way as an interstellar war looms. The stakes are high and the pacing keeps the reader turner pages.

However, there is a lack of character development, especially in Chase. A lack of memory also makes him without much of personality. In fact, his lack of memory seems to be his only distinguishable characteristic. This is a two book series, so hopefully, Chase will develop more as a character instead as a plot device in the second book.

I'd recommend The Lost Planet to readers who enjoyed Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke or Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard.

Full Disclosure: Rachel Searles and I were in the same writing critique group where I read an earlier version of the opening chapters, but my review is based on the ARC. Updated 7/27/14 2:47 pm

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pretty Deadly Volume 1 Book Review

Title: Pretty Deadly Volume 1
Author: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Illustrated by: Emma Rios
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1607069621

120 pp.

ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

Pretty Deadly Volume 1 collects the first five issues of the Pretty Deadly comic, which is an Eisner Award nominee. Kudos to Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios for creating such a complex series with intriguing, badass female characters.

The framing device is a butterfly telling a story to a skeleton bunny (and we see the bunny getting killed very graphically) about a little girl named Sissy, who has two different colored eyes and wears a vulture costume. She and her guardian, a man named Fox, are being hunted by Death's handmaiden, Alice. So they end up joining forces with Death's daughter, Ginny, to try to conquer Death himself.

To be honest, I found the beginning very confusing. But the mythology of this world is slowly teased out throughout the issues and came to a satisfying conclusion. Of course, with enough open for more issues.

Normally, I prefer artwork with very clean lines, but there's a rough-hewn brutality in the artwork that works for this mash-up world of western lore and mythos. Also, I noticed how the layouts are framed to be scrolled, which was nice since I did read it on a device.

And the fact that this a series created by women with strong female characters can't be emphasized enough. More, please.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

ALA Amazing ARC Giveaway

I was fortunate enough to go to the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas this year. Loved the Printz Awards where Marcus Sedgwick became my new author crush. Loved the sessions, especially this one on reinventing summer reading programs. And, of course, loved the ARCs that publishers so willingly hand out to eager librarians.

I have some of the bounty to share with you! I am giving away Advance Reading Copies to three lucky readers. The titles available are:

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper by Elizabeth Kiem

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy

The Fire Artist by Daisy Whitney

I'm trying out Rafflecopter, and it looks pretty simple. You can enter simply by telling me your first and second choice in the comments, and don't forget to leave your email. If you want additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (3 entries), tweet about the contest (3 entries), and subscribe to the blog (10 entries!).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest runs through 2pm (PST) on August 10, 2014 and you may enter once a day.

Good luck!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Leftovers Audiobook Review

Title: The Leftovers
Author: Tom Perrotta
Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: August 30, 2011

Listening copy via library

This isn't YA by any means, although older teens might be interested in it because of the upcoming HBO television series.

I was interested in it because I grew up in a house where the Rapture was a given and I wanted to see what Tom Perrotta did with it.

What he did with it was to make it clear right away that it isn't the Rapture. Some people, readers as well as characters, may argue otherwise, but I think Perrotta wants this to be SOMETHING ELSE.

SOMETHINGE ELSE is more challenging than the Rapture because there's no Biblical guideposts for what happens next, no Mark of the Beast, no Anti-Christ, no Apocalpyse.

SOMETHING ELSE means life will go on, pretty much as before, if you can get over the loss.

And that's what the story is really about. Loss. How people cope, or don't cope, with losing something. Could be losing your whole family. Could be losing a way of looking at the world. Could be losing a future you thought you knew.

There's social commentary and there's even humor, but the pervading drive of the story is people choosing how to deal with their loss. The main characters center on the Garvey family, none of whom disappeared in the Sudden Departure, but all of them cope with the disappearances in vastly different ways.

Dennis Boutsikaris gives a pragmatic, almost casual, reading, which underscores the everydayness of the lives' of the characters. Because even after 2% of the world's population disappears, the trashcans still need to put out on the curb.

Full Disclosure: I have a friend who worked on the HBO show.

Also: If the HBO show does take off, I have already have prediction for how the series ends. (Are you listening, Damon Lindelof?) There's another Sudden Depature. Cue end credits.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Save the Enemy Book Review

Title: Save the Enemy
Author: Arin Greenwood
Publisher: Soho Teen
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1616952594

288 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I think the marketing department got this one wrong. If you look at the cover, you'd think it's an intense thriller. But, really, it's a comedy.

Zoey Trask is a senior at a private school in Washington, D.C., but she's the New Girl, and she's also the Tragedy Girl, since her mom was recently murdered during a mugging. She has a younger brother who's a somewhat high-functioning autistic and a kooky libertarian dad. She's crushing on cute boy Pete and wondering if she'll get into Berkeley when her dad is kidnapped. The kidnappers are demanding the J-File, although Zoey has no idea what that is. Except her brother has been getting messages in his dreams from their dead mother that help might explain what and where the J-File is.

That synopsis sounds like a thriller, right? But Zoey has an oddly snarky tone, and kidnappers are oddly inept, and even the fight scenes are oddly comical. It's definitely a comedy posing as a thriller. Marketing should have gone with a cover similar to Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series and they would have done a better job of finding their audience.

If you go into this thinking it's a straight-up thriller, you're going to be annoyed by Zoey's ongoing inner monologue. But if you like snarky, oddball girls who are as worried about what to wear to a party as they are about their kidnapped dad, then Save the Enemy is for you.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Peanut Book Review

Title: Peanut
Author: Ayun Halliday
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: December 26, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0375865909

216 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Peanut by Ayun Halliday is a graphic novel about a girl transferring to a new high school and who decides to fake a peanut allergy.

Why? Because she's the new girl. Again. And a lie gives Sadie a chance to create a persona that fits in. Really, the lie could have been anything, but Sadie thought a peanut allergy would be easy enough to fake. Except it's not.

Sadie uses the lie as an opening to talk to others at her new school and finds a group of friends, including cute boy Zoo. She's fitting in and getting comfortable. And that's when the problems start.

Her friends are more vigilant about protecting her from her allergy than she is and the school's nurse hounds her for medical information. Sadie wants to come clean, but she's afraid she'll lose everything.

Peanut is a funny, savvy look at the extremes teens go to when they're unsure of themselves. The artwork by Paul Hoppe is clean and contemporary. The pop of color in Sadie's clothes in the otherwise black & white illustrations is a nice touch visually, as well as thematically, as it literally sets her apart.

The dialog is realistic for teens, which means there are insults and bad language.

I'd recommend Peanut to readers who enjoyed Smile by Raina Telgemeier or Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Once Audiobook Review

Title: Once
Author: Morris Gleitzman
Narrated by: Morris Gleitzman
Publisher: Bolinda Publishing
Publication Date: February 2, 2006

Listening copy via Sync

Once is the first in a series following Felix, a young Jewish boy, during World War II. But, of course, it's more than that.

Felix is living in a Catholic orphanage in Poland when the novel begins. His parents were booksellers and left him at the orphanage while they ... well, Felix isn't entirely sure about that. He makes up stories about how his parents are having adventures and trying to get back to him.

And he is positively, absolutely sure that they have sent him a sign that they are going to pick him up. Except that they don't. Instead, Nazi soldiers arrive at the orphanage and burn books that the nuns had been hiding. Now Felix is convinced that his parents are in danger because Nazis hate books so much. He runs away from the orphanage to save them.

As an adult, I know what Felix is heading into, even though he clearly doesn't. But that's really the beauty of the book. Morris Gleitzman captures Felix's innocence and his imagination and how he interprets the world around him.

Felix meets a girl named Zelda, whose parents had been killed, and eventually they are forced into the Polish ghettos. As he begins to realize that the stories he has created are all wrong, he also learns the power that storytelling can bring to those in pain.

The author's Australian accent initially put me off a bit, but then I got into the story and characters. He reads well, bringing the right emotions and tone to all the characters, from Felix and Zelda to the Nazi soldiers and the kindly dentist who protects Felix in the ghetto.

I'd recommend Once to readers who enjoyed Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Free YA Audiobooks! Yes, I Said Free.

The good people at Sync are at it again ... offering free YA audiobooks and pairing them with audiobooks of classic literature. A new pair is released once a week throughout summer.

Sign up and download free audiobooks all summer long. Sync will even send you a text or email reminder when the new audiobooks are available. Easy peasy, right? And, hells yeah, it's free!

This year's line up is pretty awesome:

May 15 – May 21
WARP: THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN by Eoin Colfer, Narrated by Maxwell Caulfield (Listening Library)
THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells, Narrated by Derek Jacobi (Listening Library)

May 22 – May 28
CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge, Narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden (Harper Audio)
OEDIPUS THE KING by Sophocles, Performed by Michael Sheen and a full cast (Naxos AudioBooks)

May 29 – June 4
CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, Narrated by Emma Galvin (Hachette Audio)
THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE by Agatha Christie, Narrated by Richard E. Grant (Harper Audio)

June 5 – June 11
ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill, Narrated by Meredith Mitchell (Tantor Audio)
JULIUS CAESAR by William Shakespeare, Performed by Richard Dreyfuss, JoBeth Williams, Stacy Keach, Kelsey Grammer, and a full cast (L.A. Theatre Works)

June 12 – June 18
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, Narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell (Bolinda Audio)
THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom, John Sherrill, Elizabeth Sherrill, Narrated by Bernadette Dunne (christianaudio)

June 19 – June 25
I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter, Narrated by Renée Raudman (Brilliance Audio)
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery, Narrated by Colleen Winton (Post Hypnotic Press)

June 26 – July 2
FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick, Narrated by Noah Galvin (Hachette Audio)
OCTOBER MOURNING: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman, Narrated by Emily Beresford, Luke Daniels, Tom Parks, Nick Podehl, Kate Rudd, Christina Traister (Brilliance Audio)

July 3 – July 9
TORN FROM TROY by Patrick Bowman, Narrated by Gerard Doyle (Post Hypnotic Press)
PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Narrated by Jim Dale (Brilliance Audio)

July 10 – July 16
CLAUDETTE COLVIN: Twice Toward Justice by Philip Hoose, Narrated by Channie Waites (Brilliance Audio)
WHILE THE WORLD WATCHED by Carolyn Maull McKinstry with Denise George, Narrated by Felicia Bullock (Oasis Audio)

July 17 – July 23
THE CASE OF THE CRYPTIC CRINOLINE by Nancy Springer, Narrated by Katherine Kellgren (Recorded Books)
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES II by Arthur Conan Doyle, Narrated by David Timson (Naxos AudioBooks)

July 24 – July 30
HEADSTRONG by Patrick Link, Performed by Deidrie Henry, Ernie Hudson, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Scott Wolf (L.A. Theatre Works)
THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson, Narrated by Scott Brick (Tantor Audio)

July 31 – August 6
DIVIDED WE FALL by Trent Reedy, Narrated by Andrew Eiden (Scholastic Audio)
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane, Narrated by Frank Muller (Recorded Books)

August 7 – August 13
LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS by Ben Lesser, Narrated by Jonathan Silverman and Ben Lesser (Remembrance Publishing)
THE SHAWL by Cynthia Ozick, Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson (HighBridge Audio)

Happy listening!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales Book Review

Title: Rag & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales
Edited by: Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316212946

368 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

This anthology of science fiction and fantasy tales is edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt. They challenged 10 other authors to create a short story based upon a classic story that influenced them. These authors included Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Carrie Ryan, and Rick Yancey.

As with any anthology, there are some hits and some misses. Neil Gaiman's fairy tale mash-up of Sleeping Beauty, "The Sleeper and the Spindle," and Melissa Marr's selkie interpretation of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, "Awakened," are among my favorites. I thought that these stories honored the originals while giving them completely original twists.

But you don't have to be familiar with the classic story to appreciate the interpretation. I never read Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, but Holly Black's "Millcara" is wonderfully creepy on its own.

Some of the other stories dragged on for me, whether or not I was familiar with the source material. I didn't feel a YA vibe for most of the stories since most of the protagonists are adults, but it's definitely worth recommending to older teens who are fans of featured authors.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Jessica Darling's It List Book Review

Title: Jessica Darling's It List
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Poppy
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316244992

240 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I haven't read the original Jessica Darling books, but this first in a prequel series is a sure-fire hit for tween girls.

Jessica Darling is about to start junior high when her older sister gives her list of things to do to be popular. Jessica wasn't worried about starting junior high until she reads the list because she has no idea how she's going to manage do any of it.

Further complicating matters is that Jessica's best friend has turned pretty over the summer and doesn't know it yet. But Jessica knows that is about to change and change everything about their friendship.

Jessica is tries her best to fit in, but often finds herself in the absolutely wrong place at the wrong time. Eventually she finds out that fitting in may not be as important and finding out who you really are.

Megan McCafferty writes with humor and honesty about the transition to junior high with new friends, new classes, and new rules.

I'd recommend Jessica Darling's It List to readers who enjoyed Smile by Rana Telgemeier or Peanut by Ayun Halliday.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Infinite Moment of Us Book Review

Title: The Infinite Moment of Us
Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1419707933

336 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Confession time here. This is the first Lauren Myracle book I've read. I know her books have been banned a gazillion times, and more power to her for not being afraid to write about things she knows will offend some readers in order to reach those readers who connect to the material.

The Infinite Moment of Us is a romance about a Wren, a sheltered good girl, and Charlie, a foster kid who had a rough start in life. The book starts with them just before high school graduation. They run in different crowds, but they have secret crushes on each other. An accident gets them together and they have a blissful summer romance.

But once fall comes, Wren will be off to Guatemala for a gap year and Charlie will be going to college. This is the biggest conflict in the book, and the ending was no surprise. (There is conflict between Charlie and Wren via a psycho ex-girlfriend of Charlie's, but it only serves as a plot point to separate Charlie and Wren at a crucial time.)

There is also sex. There are girls as sheltered as Wren who would appreciate a graphic step-by-step description of Wren's first time. Such girls would probably also appreciate a step-by-step description of how Wren managed to get on birth control without her parents knowing, but Myracle only has Wren casually mention to a friend that she got it.

The Infinite Moment of Us is mostly an undemanding story of first love, but the explicit sex isn't going to be for everyone. Know your reader before you recommend.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Teens' Top Ten Nominees 2014 and Book Review Musings

Celebrate Teen Literature was on Thursday, and YALSA announced this year's nominees for Teens' Top Ten.

This is a teen choice list, selected by participating teen book groups throughout the country, and their top 25 titles are this year's nominees.

Starting in August, any teen can vote online for their favorite nominee and the final Top Ten will be announced during Teen Read Week in October.

I promote Teens' Top Ten nominees as much as I can in the library because I know these are books that teens already love. I already had most of the nominees on the shelves and only had to order a few to round out the list.

But what I found interesting is that the few I hadn't ordered had mixed or even bad reviews from the publications I use most to select books - Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and VOYA. The main complaint with the reviewers was that they couldn't connect with the main character, and therefore, couldn't connect to the story.

Yet these teen reviewers had no problem connecting with either the character or the story. What could cause this divide between adult and teen reviewers? Are adults too sophisticated and teens too naive? If the story is good enough, are cliched characters worth putting up with? Do characters that are considered underdeveloped by adults give teens an opportunity to better see themselves in that character?

As someone who reviews books, I think these are important questions. When I review a book, I try to make clear that my perceptions of the book are my own. Then I try to think of who else might have the same feelings about the book as I did. One size does not fit all when it comes to books.

That's why I think a teen review list like the Teens' Top Ten is so important. Because sometimes the adults get it wrong.

2014 Teens' Top Ten Nominees:

  • The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
  • Of Triton by Anna Banks
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
  • Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
  • The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
  • Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
  • The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
  • Maybe I Will by Laurie Gray
  • The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry
  • Splintered by A.G. Howard
  • Teardrop by Lauren Kat
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
  • Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne
  • Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  • This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
  • Winger by Andrew Smith
  • A Midsummer Night's Scream by R.L. Stine
  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke
  • In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Bonus Video: Teens' Top Ten Nominees

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reality Boy Book Review

Title: Reality Boy
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316222709

368 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I've worked in "reality" television, so I know there's a lot of manipulation in creating what the audience sees.

Sometimes it happens during production by influencing what participants are doing or saying. Sometimes in happens in post-production by changing context during editing. It's usually done to build a narrative arc, to streamline the messiness of real life into a half-hour or hour format.

But at least on the shows I worked on, it was never done maliciously. Reality Boy, however, imagines a show that does. Gerald was on a Supernanny-like show when he was five years old and became known as The Crapper because he defecated all over the house, including the dining room table. Millions of television viewers think he's the problem child.

What the camera doesn't show is that Gerald's psychopathic sister, Tasha, brutalizes him and crapping is his way to get attention. All he gets is the wrong kind of attention. The show comes and goes, but the stigma of being The Crapper stays with Gerald. Worse yet, Tasha stays, continuing to terrorize Gerald.

Now Gerald is sixteen years old, full of rage that has him going to anger management, and his parents are still clueless about Tasha. Gerald tries to control his anger by boxing, but he figures he'll likely end up dead or in prison in a couple of years.

Then he meets Hannah, a girl who has problems of her own and who sees beyond The Crapper. How these two people gain strength from each other to change their lives is a compelling read.

I recommend Reality Boy to readers who enjoyed Tangerine by Edward Bloor or Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown Book Review

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316213103

432 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Tana wakes one morning to find that while she was passed out in the bathtub, everyone else at the party has died.


Well, not everyone has died. There's her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, tied to a bed. And a cute boy she doesn't recognize is chained up.

She decides to rescue them even though Aidan is clearly infected and the cute boy is clearly insane. She decides to rescue them because it gives her something to do instead of going insane herself. Because there's a pile of corpses who used to be her friends in the next room. Because there's a terror of vampires waiting for the sun to go down in the next room.

There's only one place Tana and the boys can go. That's Coldtown, a barricaded city where vampires, the infected, and the desperate go. Tana knows chances are she'll never get out. Chances are she's infected, too. But it's a chance she has to take.

But Tana doesn't know that the mystery cute boy she rescued is an ancient vampire with a vendetta. And surviving has become that much more dangerous.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a fast-paced romp of terror and romance. Tana is no Bella Swan. She is terrified half the time, but she uses the adrenaline to act and she's smart enough to come up with a plan when she's not terrified. Her only weak spot is Gavriel, the mystery cute boy.

The horror is chilling and portrayed realistically. The romance is a little too instant-attraction, but the romance is secondary to Tana just trying to survive. The ending is open-ended enough that a sequel seems likely.

I recommend The Coldest Girl in Coldtown to readers who enjoyed The Diviners by Libba Bray or The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown Book Trailer:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Audiobook Review

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrated by: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperAudio
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0062263032

Listening copy via public library

I've written before about my love for Neil Gaiman (and Doctor Who) and fans will not be disappointed by Neil's latest work.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane has tropes familiar to both the author and the Doctor: a thing that is bigger in the inside, transformation of a harmless thing into a creature of terror, an offer to help that is spurned and will lead to the creature's ultimate demise.

And while it is not a groundbreaking work, it is still a delightful mix of the eerie and the everyday.

The unnamed protagonist remembers a time when he was seven years old and he meets a strange girl under strange circumstances who lives at the end of the lane. She has a pond on her farm that she calls an ocean, and the little boy almost believes her.

Together, they come across an ancient thing, a thing that the boy unwittingly unleashes into his own world, a thing that seeks to stay in this world at any cost.

Read by Neil Gaiman, the story unfolds at a leisurely pace. He is an amiable narrator, his placid tone only dropping during the moments of terror.

Highly recommended.

Bonus video: Neil Gaiman discusses audiobooks & The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock Book Review

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316221337

288 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Matthew Quick has had a lot of heat since the film adaptation of Silver Linings Playbooks came out, and I was as eager as anyone to read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.

It's Leonard Peacock's eighteenth birthday and he plans to go to school and kill his former best friend and then commit suicide.

As the day progresses, we learn why Leonard has decided this is the best way to escape the loneliness and hopelessness of his shitty life. His self-absorbed Mom doesn't even remember it's his birthday, so he knows he's not going to get any presents, but he gives presents to four people he thinks of as friends, although he doesn't really have any friends.

These four people react to Leonard's gifts in different ways, including anger and suspicion. But one person, a teacher, realizes what Leonard's gift means. And that one person tries to give the gift of hope back to Leonard.

Although Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock can be bleak and intense, it is ultimately about hope. It is not a book for everyone, but it will be the book to make a difference to many.

I recommend Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock to readers who enjoyed Blankets by Craig Thompson or Winger by Andrew Smith.

Bonus Video: Matthew Quick introduces Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling Audiobook Review

Title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
Author: Maryrose Wood
Narrated by: Katherine Kellgren
Publisher: Books on Tape
Publication Date: 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0307711229

Listening copy via Sync

I downloaded The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood last summer as part of Sync's audiobook promotion, and I finally got a chance to listen to this delightful novel.

The Mysterious Howling is the first in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, a rollicking good read for children through younger YA. Penelope Lumley is the fifteen year old governess from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females and her first job is to teach three children who were literally raised by wolves until discovered by Lord Ashton and brought to Ashton Place. The children, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, are given to howling at the moon, eating their food uncomfortably rare, and chasing squirrels.

But Miss Lumley has the pluck and good sense of a Swanburne girl to take on this challenge and make sure the children learn their manners and the proper use of a globe. The writing gives more than a nod to Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl, with winking prose that acknowledges the reader.

Narrator Katherine Kellgren admirably captures the essence of the different characters, whether it's the sensible Miss Lumley, the aristocratic Lady Ashton, or the wild Incorrigible children who punctuate their words with howls and growls.

Absolute fun from beginning to end!

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling Book Trailer

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking Ahead to 2014

Happy New Year!

Here's to making the most of 2014!

I like that the New Year allows me to reboot my plans and think about what I want to achieve for the year.

This year, I'm looking forward to ALA Annual in Las Vegas this summer (Las Vegas in summer?!? Actually, I'm a desert girl, so I'm not fazed by that.) I'm anticipating some good professional development, networking, and freebies!

I'm also looking forward to becoming more active locally with other YA librarians.

In my writing life, I am revising my novel (again!). This is a pretty big rewrite as I decided I didn't need a supporting character after all. I realized that the tension and stakes are higher if she isn't around. So she's going.

I'm also looking into rewriting a couple of my screenplays into graphic novels. Inspired by my friend Kelli Bennett's philosophy of creating from what you have, I think it's worth a shot to see if I can make this happen.

And speaking of Kelli, here's hoping that 2014 is the year that our movie, Collusions, finishes post-production and gets distribution!

I also hope to grow this blog. I tend to write book reviews, library stuff, and writing tips. If there's a topic you'd like to me write about, let me know!

Have a happy and healthy New Year!


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