Monday, December 23, 2013

Country Christmas Tree

Despite my complete inability to post with regularity this month, I did actually get some stuff done, like putting up Christmas decorations.  The layout of our house doesn't lend itself to putting a proper tree on the main floor.  Instead, we have our big tree in the basement by the fireplace.  So last year, I picked up a shabby tree from Farm King.  

**Let's take a minute to realize that I live in such a rural area that there is actually a store called "Farm King" in my town.  It is a great store-you can even take your dog in, so Lucy goes occasionally and gets treats from the cashiers, but this is all beside the point.

Shabby Christmas tree from Farm King.  I sat this little beauty on a milk crate, and covered it with an old curtain to further drive home the shabby point.  Then, I decorated it with most of my country ornaments.  Now for a closer look.

Doug bought me this cowgirl when we were dating.  He thinks of my as his little country girl.  And I am, although horses are entirely not my thing.  I still love it though.

This shows off a couple of ornaments, but mostly the Country Skyscraper that my friend Sara bought me years ago.  I love it!  And the hand-colored gingerbread man in the corner is a present from my nephew Anthony.  All three of his creations are on this tree.

Finally, this lovely nativity scene ornament from my mom.  It's not so country, but I have enough nativity ornaments that I can divide them between two trees.  And it's pretty.

The funniest thing about this tree is that it's in what has become Lucy's pouting spot.  It's right in the little nook between the wall and the buffet, and this fall, Lucy has started sitting there while Doug and I have dinner.  She just stares at us and begs for food.  With the tree there now, she's a little lost and she'll sit right under it.  I keep saying that if we just put a bow on her, she'd be the perfect little christmas present.  I'll have to try to snap a picture of that tonight.  

What about you?  One tree, two, more?  Any book themed trees out there?  I have to admit to owning quite a few Dr. Seuss ornaments, but they were all gifts from friends.  

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Also Known As Spy Team!!

Sorry I've been so MIA lately, but I've been running a covert mission in Paraguay for the Collective.  If I tell you anymore, black helicopters are likely to rain down on your house and your internet provider is likely to cut your connection, so let's just leave it at that.

Actually, that's not true at all.  But I have become a member of the Also Known As Spy Team, which is almost just as good! (Except that they're not giving me assignments in lovely warm climates, and I don't get to run around wearing a black jumpsuit while cracking safes.)  What I do get is exclusive access to the second book in the AKA series, Going Rogue, and a sneak peek at a bridge story.  It's good to be a children's book reviewer!  

But I didn't forget about you!  You get to read an excerpt of Going Rogue right now!  Plus an excerpt of Also Known As, in case you need to catch up.  

Let's chat for a second about Also Known As.  You may remember that I reviewed it here, and it's a great story for fans of Ally Carter's books and budding detectives everywhere.  Maggie is just an ordinary teenage spy that is an excellent safe cracker, but she gets an assignment at a New York prep school and suddenly she has to be something she's never had to be before:  normal.  Luckily she makes friends with prickly Roux who at least helps her somewhat navigate high school, and she has her parents and mysteriously dapper Angelo to guide her as well.  Maggie is adorably awkward and highly relatable so readers should have no problem picking up her next adventure.  

The best news is that this book comes out in just a month.  January 14 to be exact, so I'll have my review for you a couple of days early, then you can run out and get your copy that day.  It feels so great to get a sequel without the year long wait, don't you think?  

What are you waiting for?  Read those excerpts, finish Also Known As, and get ready for another adventure with Maggie!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Night of Cake and Puppets

Night of Cake and Puppets
Laini Taylor
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
Reviewed from e-book
Audience:  Ages 16 to 20
ISBN:  9780316369855
Publication Date:  November 26, 2013

Do you remember Karou mentioning in Daughter of Smoke and Bone that Zuzana lured Mik to her with a treasure map?  Well, this is that story.  Told from both Zuzana and Mik's perspective, the reader gets to tag along as these two crazy kids who are already in love with each other actually meet and talk for the first time.  Zuzan, the rabid fairy, is unusually shy when it comes to Mik, mostly because he is kissable, and she has never given that designation to anyone ever before.  Mik is equally nervous around Zuzana because he sees her as an adventuring girl that is completely out of his league.  The end result is perfect and the whole story will make readers long for the final part of the DSB trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, out in April 2014.  Until then, this makes a quick read that will keep readers satisfied.

Of course I pre-ordered this title the minute I found out it was being published, but it's still taken me two weeks to read it!  Life can be an evil strumpet sometimes.

Moving on.  What started out as a short story I'm sure, actually became quite long.  It might actually be qualified as a novella, since it's around 100 pages.  Zuzana's whole courting strategy does make complete sense.  She can't talk to the guy, but she makes herself the treasure in this treasure hunt.  The whole story is rife with the type of lyric writing that Taylor is known for and that I can never give justice to.  For instance, once Mik and Zuzana have found each other and they are frozen from the adventure, Mik says this:  "I want to warm my face against her neck and steam her up like a mirror and write my name on her with my fingertip."  How lovely is that?  Excuse me while I go open a window!

As much as I love Karou and Akiva (and I do), Mik and Zuzana were the comedy relief that was necessary in Days of Blood and Starlight.  And you can already see that he is favorable toward the type of magic and mystery that Zuzana drags him into by taking him to Marrakech.

It's all so lovely!  The falling snow on a bridge in Prague, the hot tea from Poison, the rich chocolate cake, the puppets, the legends, and of course the kiss.  Just wonderful.

It's becoming a growing trend that authors release short stories or bonus scenes between books in a series.  I've read a few for the Lunar Chronicles, and Divergent.  What do you think?  Do you enjoy that authors are giving readers bonus content?  I have to say that I enjoy it.  Especially when it involves a biting puppet and cake.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


By Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof
Audience:  Ages 16 to 19
ISBN:  9780316217491
Expected Publication:  December 24, 2013

It's the summer after high school graduation and New Jersey native Elizabeth is looking forward to moving out to California to attend school at Berkley.  Meanwhile, San Francisco native Lauren is looking forward to the independence of college and escaping her large family.  When Elizabeth finds out that Lauren will be her roommate, an exchange of emails leads to what could be a great relationship, or complete roommate failure.  Both girls have hesitations about college, friends, and boyfriends, and it seems like the only person they can talk to is thousands of miles away.  Roomies captures all the highs and lows of preparing for college in one touching story.

Let's work piece by piece.  Elizabeth wants to get away from her mother-now!  She has some high school friends that are becoming more distant and she is so ready to leave her boyfriend.  Then a landscaping job leads her to Mark, a fun, attractive guy that she really falls for.  Elizabeth is at some points spoiled and whiny, but at others very vulnerable and honest.  She wants to move away from everything she knows, but it's terrifying at the same time.  Very true to life.

Lauren, on the other hand, is not at all spoiled.  As the oldest of five kids, she is used to playing parent, and she is working her way through college.  She thinks that Elizabeth must be some rich little snob coming out to California for school, but she does learn otherwise.  Lauren has always hidden behind her family in a way, but once she gets to know Keyon a little better, she can't hide anymore and realizes that she likes him more than she knows.  Again, all Lauren wants is independence until she has it, then she misses her large family terribly.  Also, very true.

I really do understand being able to communicate more honestly with someone that you do not really know.  There is something to liberating about sharing a secret, even if you share it with someone in a different time zone.  Both of these girls have secrets to share and struggles to work out.  Plus, starting college is very difficult and they are both dealing with the way that changes relationships.

When I told my husband how this book ended, he asked if there would be a sequel.  I sincerely hope not.  The main point of Roomies isn't the relationship between Elizabeth and Lauren or the girls and their respective boyfriends, but about discovering who you are in the space between the relative safety of high school and the independence of college.  Any continuation of the story would feel bland in comparison.

Here's another question:  Could Roomies be considered New Adult?  I say yes.  This book is about having a new experience and growing up considerably because of it.  Granted, there is a distinct lack of explicit sexual detail, but Elizabeth does responsibly have sex, and that's quite natural.  Rather than give all the saucy details, just let readers know this is what happened, these were the consequences, and now we move on.

I loved Roomies.  I truly did.  I felt like it captured the transition from high school to college very well, with plenty of other action added to the mix.  Give this to a reader about to embark on a new adventure.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Cozy Classics: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Emma

Cozy Classics by Jack and Holman Wang presents Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Emma.
Published November 20, 2013
Reviewed from NetGalley

Oh Cozy Classics, how I love thee!  Twelve words, twelve pictures, two minutes to read and appreciate each.  It's like Cliff Notes on speed!

Oliver Twist manages to hit all the high points with the darling felted characters.  You understand the trouble that Oliver went through and the pictures tell quite a story.

I think something was lost in translation with Jane Eyre.  It didn't make much sense, despite the beautiful felted pictures.  Maybe Jan Eyre is too complex to boil down to 12 words. Maybe they should shoot for 16 words instead.

Now Emma was adorable!  She gives you that sly little wink twice in the book and the adult reader will know exactly what's going one.  Again, this volume does a nice job of hitting the high points and leaves plenty more to tell in the pictures, which are perfect as always.

Of these three, Emma was by far my favorite.  But truly, these are board books that are going to be chewed up by little "readers".  This just gives parents something entertaining while they read and play with their children.  Reading Cozy Classics most likely won't result in your child being a Harvard grad, but it will give you a little something to chuckle about while your little is flinging the book across the room.  Maybe your kid just doesn't get Dickens.

Cozy Classics has already announced that they will do Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer next, so tiny literature fans will have more classics to look forward to.

See my reviews of Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, and War and Peace for more fun with Cozy Classics.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The House of Hades

The House of Hades
by Rick Riordan
Hyperion, 2013
Audience:  Grades 5 to 8
Checked out from the Public Library
ISBN:  9781423146728
Publication Date:  October 8, 2013

When we last left our heroes at the end of The Mark of Athena, the demigods have rescued the Athena Parthenos, but Percy and Annabeth fall into Tartarus.  The only way for them to make it out alive is the find the Doors of Death at the exact same time as the other demigods find the Doors on the mortal side. But the other demigods (Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, Nico, and Coach Hedge) have their own problems in the form of monsters, minor gods, and general nastiness.  Percy and Annabeth are being chased by every demon and monster they have ever killed and sent to Tartarus, but they are befriended by one mighty Titan that Percy defeated, Bob, who might just be the greatest character in this book.  For fans of the Percy Jackson series or the other Heroes of Olympus books, this is a must read.  Be warned, you cannot bat out of order, these books must be read in order or else you will be hopelessly lost, much like Percy and Annabeth in Tartarus, but with less monsters.

This is the first time that I felt like a Rick Riordan book was more character driven than plot driven.  Don't get me wrong, the plot is still intense and heavy, but the characters are really becoming the focal point.  Let's work on each one separately--and there will be spoilers.

Jason is starting to question his Roman roots and has decided to take the Greek path instead.  That is a huge decision that it weighs on him, and the team since he can't always get a handle on his powers because of his own internal conflict.  Jason just proves that you can be more than you were born into.

Piper becomes more than just a pretty face.  Sure, she still uses her Charmspeak, but she learns to be clever, and starts to search for her inner Annabeth to guide her.  She also learns sword fighting and really becomes her own person.

Frank might have undergone the biggest transformation.  He goes from being a timid, lumbering, lovable loser of sorts to an absolute general.  The physical transformation is what everyone notices, but his confidence in leadership is the real story.  Puberty is rough, and sometimes it feels like it happens just that quickly that a kid is a shy boy one day and commanding man the next.

Hazel changed little to me.  She comes in more control of her powers and she's more sure of her relationship with her father, Pluto, but there are few marquee moments with her.

Leo went from playful joker with no one to care for to man on a mission to save his love.  His time with Calypso really made him into a better character.  He grew up, found someone to live for, and now has the same type of determination as the others to protect someone beside himself.  And he got over Hazel and can cut Frank some slack.

Nico-wow.  Poor kid.  Hazel as the daughter of Pluto seems to fit in, but Nico seems to really push people away.  The horrors that he has been through are incredible and to know that he was harboring a secret crush on Percy does explain some things.  He is so complex that I can only hope that we get a little more back story and he starts to find some peace.

Percy and Annabeth were just trying to survive and after nine books, how much more can they develop anyway.  They are definitely better as a team and they are the couple that will survive.  They will have their love story, even if the others don't.

And Bob, formerly Ipateus the evil Titan.  After Percy wiped his memory and made him Bob, he was shuttled off to Hades to work as a janitor, but he is kind to Percy because of Nico's friendship.  Even when he starts remembering his former life as a Titan, he chooses to remain Bob, friendly, kind, and loyal.  And he sacrifices himself for Percy and Annabeth knowing that he is so close to seeing the mortal world again.  I'll miss Bob.

And now the wait for the final Heroes of Olympus book begins!  It will likely be another year, and another 600 page book.  Then what will Rick Riordan do?  We'll just have to wait and see.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

So I'm a Little Behind

If you've checked in during the past two weeks, you'll have noticed that not much has been going on around here.  Well, actually a lot has been going on, just not in the reading area.  I do have a life, you know.  And by "life" I mean a job, a husband who insists that cereal is not a dinner food, a whole house full of dust bunnies and Lucy hair, and assorted random happenings like Christmas shopping.  So, yes, I'm a little behind on my reading.  Case in point, I checked out The House of Hades two weeks ago and I'm still not finished!  Granted it's nearly 600 pages, but still.

So, I'm a little behind.  It happens.  Maybe this month I'll chat a little more about random stuff and a little less about books.  Or chat a little more about books and do a little less random stuff.  That's not likely since it's the holidays and random parties and excitement are what this time of year is all about.

Unless the random happening is a snow day in which you'll find me curled up with a book and the dog by the fire binge reading the day away.  Can I put that on my Christmas list?

Until then, happy reading!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


by Holly Webb
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013
Audience:  Grades 3 to 6
Reviewed from NetGalley
ISBN:  9781402285813
Publication Date: September 3, 2013

Rose is your typical orphan living in a Victorian era orphanage.  She is not found by her long-lost mother, nor is that her dream.  Rather, she dreams of being selected as a housemaid and earning a living, and that is exactly what happens when Miss Bridges comes to the orphanage and hires her to work at the home of famed alchemist, Mr. Fountain.  Once there, Rose discovers that the house is full of magic, although the other servants don't see it.  Rose starts to understand that she herself possesses magical abilities and she tries to use them for good when she discovers that her best friend Maisie has been taken from the orphanage.  Someone is stealing children, and Rose-together with the magical apprentice Freddie, spoiled Isabella, and charming cat Gus-decides to stop them.  Discreetly magical and quite fun, Rose will hopefully find an audience in America.

Another excellent book wasting away on my Kindle!  I saw a review of Rose on SLJ, more specifically on A Fuse #8 Production.  Betsy Bird's glowing endorsement of this book put this at the top of my list, and actually bumped what I was currently reading.  

I like Rose as the plucky heroine that is not set on unattainable dreams.  She knows that a long-lost mother is not coming for her, and she doesn't dream of being royalty.  Rather she makes herself useful and wants to live a simple life earning a living.  Wow, I need to learn that lesson too!  The supporting characters are also strong.  Freddie is not quite as talented as he would like, but after a while he can appreciate that Rose is talented and he advocates for her education.  Mr. Fountain is an intriguing character since he's not present in most of the book, but when he is around, he feels much more kind-hearted than a typical Victorian era character.  

The plot felt a little rushed toward the end.  The reader doesn't get involved in the kidnapping plot for quite a while and then it rushes toward a conclusion.  There is a lot of foundation work in this book because it is a series.  And actually it's a series that inspires another series.  Holly Webb wrote the Rose series, then wrote the related Lily series.  It's easy to forgive the busy feel of this first book because you know there is more to come.  

Since this is an American reissue of a British books, the following books in the series may be easier to come by in the following months.  You can buy the British editions on Amazon used, but that can be a gamble.  If you absolutely love Rose and can't wait, that's your best option, but if you have some other books to read before you continue with Rose, I'd recommend wait to see if the next books will be released too.

One thing is sure, Rose is a quick, fun book that is sure to engage readers.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2014 Caudill List: Snap Judgements and a Strategy

I've complete both the Monarch and Bluestem lists, but now it's the biggie:  the 2014 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award List.  As if that title wasn't enough to scare you.  I've said enough times that the Caudill is an Illinois reader's choice award for grades 4-8, but it is also the oldest reader's choice award in Illinois.  While this award has a little more street cred, I feel like this award is the most heavy handed.  I've often said that it seems like the award committee sometimes just puts books on this list so students will have to read them.  This is a list that is heavy with historical fiction and what I like to call "social issue" books.  Not that these books are bad, because they sometimes surprise me, but these books don't stand a chance!  The Caudill is normally pretty easy to predict because it's the middle reader sweet spot and anything that the students are reading for fun is guaranteed to win (see Smile, 2013, The Lightning Thief, 2009, Harry Potter 1, 2001).  I'm not sure why you would put such a weak field against such strong contenders, but there you have it.  So this year, I am employing a slightly different strategy when it comes to the Caudill.

In year's past, I've read Caudills at random.  Usually whatever was on the shelf that I could get my hands on, but the books that I actually wanted to read were picked up first.  Then after I'd read all of the books that I would read by choice, I'd just go down the list and finish up.  This is a bad system because you are ending with the books that you didn't want to read in the first place.  Plus, by the end of these 20 books you are a little burned out on Meaningful Books (or social issue books).  No, this year I'm mixing it up. I'm going opposite.  I'm reading the social issue books first, the books I don't  care to read.  The books that make me question why I do this because I'm not a working librarian and I don't have to do this.  But I do it for the glory!  Or just to say I did, whatever.

But how do you choose the books that look totally meaningful and marginal?  (Note:  by meaningful books I mean books that are heavy-handed and beat you with a message-I can't stand that in children's literature.  Kids aren't stupid and they know when a message is not authentic, so stop talking down to them!)  Only having read two of the books, I decided to unscientifically rank all 20 books by Top of List, Middle of List, Bottom of List based on my own snap judgements.  This shows where they will end up when the voting is done.  I bet I have an 80% success rate.  I have four books at the top, books that I think students are reading anyway, or that will delight them.  I have nine middles.  These books could go either way, for instance Okay for Now is a solid book that 's funny but it's a hard sell.  I think those kids that read it will like it, but it's going to be hard to get an audience.  And then I have seven bottom of list books or books that are only there to teach a lesson.  On it are the two obligatory WWII books.  You can't have an award list for kids without at least two WWII books.  It's like a birthday party without a scary clown-can't be done.

So, I'll be starting with my bottom feeders and working my way up.  But my prediction for the winner, even though I've only read two books on this whole list is Wonder.  This book has taken everyone by storm, and even though it could be defined as a social issue novel, it's so much more.  There are quotes from music and great literature, there's growth on the part of several characters, and you get so many points of view.  It's a rich book with a slight agenda toward kindness, but really it's just a great book.  Wonder is my pick.

Have you read the Caudills this year?  What's your reading strategy?  Any guesses about the winner?  We'll find out in March.  That's a long time to wait, but a short time to make it through 20 middle grade books that I'm less than excited to read!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Out of the Office

Sorry about the last couple days.  I was out and about and not tethered to my computer.  It was bliss!  I know that your normally get an "out of the office" message before someone takes off, but please accept my late notice.  

My hubby and I were actually traveling with the WIU Women's Basketball Team as honorary coaches. It was a pretty good time and the women even beat the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee team in an exciting game.  It's a lot more intense to watch from the bench!  Plus, the team is really great and they were very kind.  Doug even got to shoot with them at practice and made quite a few clutch 3's.  

And now it's back to reality and back to my working shelf, which you see above.  That's the physical working shelf.  There is also an "Unread" category on my Kindle which grows every time I turn around, and my growing Goodreads To-Read list, and my Caudill list, which I haven't start yet, but I at least have a game plan.  More on that tomorrow.

What have you been working on?  Reading, vacationing, lawn maintenance?  No, I haven't been paying any attention to that last one either.  I suppose I could listen to an audiobook while raking leaves, but that just sounds terrible!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Tell Tale Start

The Tell-Tale Start:  The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe
by Gordon McAlpine
Puffin, 2013
Audience:  Grades 3 to 6
Reviewed from NetGalley
ISBN:  9780142423462
Publication Date: September 12, 2013

Edgar and Allan Poe are twins that are quite clever, maybe too clever actually as they frequently pull pranks to make their lives, and the lives of those around them, more interesting.  Mostly they try to make life a little better for their classmates by getting field trips rerouted and stopping bullies.  Now they are in big trouble, actually suspended for cheating on a test, but what the principal, or anyone really, doesn't understand is that Edgar and Allan are two boys with one brain-everything they think and feel is felt and thought by the other.  This strangeness, and the fact that they are the many times great nephews of THE Edgar Allan Poe makes for an interesting storyline that involves quantum entanglement, wacky hijinks, a mad scientist, The Wizard of Oz, and a cat.  Readers that enjoy misadventures of miscreants will love this book!

I first heard of this book in Publisher's Weekly in an article about how the illustrator used the acknowledgements to propose to his girlfriend.  This is not the type of book one would normally use for an engagement, but I wish the couple nothing but happiness!

Why should reader's start another series about twins trying to escape, yet compulsively follow, a bad guy?  Mostly because it's funny.  And there are big time ties to greater literature.  The twins love the works of their namesake and his stories and poems are referenced often.  Now, Poe might be a little above the heads of the target audience, but it is still good to start influencing readers early.  Edgar Allan Poe is also a character in the book, who is working his way through the afterlife by writing fortune cookie fortunes under the supervision of Mr. William Shakespeare.  So even though this book has plenty of middle grade humor (although it's never crass), it also alludes to the greatest writers in history.

And the physics!  Of course there's physics!  The twins might be so connected due to quantum entanglement, a theory that states that two particles can act exactly the same despite a large distance.  Or, as Albert Einstein called it, spooky action at a distance.  (That's true!  I thought that sounded so ridiculous but I looked it up on Wikipedia.  Einstein derided the idea of  quantum entanglement, a term coined by Erwin Schrodinger, rather he said "spukhafte Fernwirkung"  which roughly translates to "spooky action at a distance".  It's sad that I find this interesting).  I haven't had a chance to ask one of the physics professors about this yet, mostly because I'm afraid I'll end up getting a big lecture, but I do indeed to learn more.

Of course there will be more tales of Edgar and Allan as they seek to find out more about their entanglement and such.  But it's nice to read a book that gives you answers to some questions and doesn't randomly pick up and leave off others.  For readers that find the evasiveness of the All the Wrong Questions Series or The Incorrigble Children of Ashton Place frustrating, The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe will leave them satisfied and looking forward to more.  

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience:  Grades 5 to 7
Reviewed from NetGalley
ISBN:  97814424558079
Publication Date: July 23, 2013

The trials and tribulations of middle school are told from the points of view of many students, and some dogs, in this sometimes convoluted but heartbreaking story.  It's the first year of middle school and even though everyone was friends just a short year ago, that is no longer the case.  Elizabeth is mocked for boarding dogs in her house.  Frieda is an outcast now even though she was once queen bee, Maggie's best friend.  Stewart talks a big game, but he has a disabled sister that is his hero.  Matthew just did what needed to be done, but he gets expelled for it.  Ethan just took a picture, but that picture caused a lot of trouble.  And on and on.  This book suffers from over ambition with too many narrators, plot points, and too much drama.  If only the relationships between Stewart and Matthew and Elizabeth and Maggie would have been included, Runt would have been full enough, but it is bursting and suffering for it.

The main thesis of Runt is completely lost by the 20th page or so.  There is supposed to be some type of animal kingdom hierarchy analogy with the dogs at Elizabeth's house acting like the students in middle school, but that thread is quickly forgotten.  Instead we're off talking about a poetry anthology, teacher's wedding, and hurricane.  And the title Runt suggests that someone is going to be the weaker, smaller party and that is half true for Elizabeth, but never fully realized.  

Also, there were some big formatting problems with this galley.  I reviewed it from a NetGalley digital ARC and there were no chapter breaks, no differentiation from one narrator to the next, and little attention paid to the passage of time.  That is the difficulty of reading a digital ARC as those small formatting changes that help a physical so much are often completely lost on a digital copy, especially for an old Kindle like mine, but still, there should have been more of a difference between narrators.  

For a book on middle school bullying, I would recommend passing on Runt.  It's over done and too ambitious.  Instead try Wonder or Schooled.  Or stay tuned.  For some reason there are several middle grade bully books on my Kindle and I'm going to binge read them and clear them off.  Later, Trash Can Days, then Twerp, finishing up with the Dirt Diary.  It's going to be like New Adult Week except with really insecure characters in middle school (instead of characters shacking up in a dirty room above a bar).

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library
by Chris Grabenstein
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience:  Grades 4 to 7
Reviewed from library digital download
ISBN:  9780675870897
Publication Date: June 25, 2013

Book nerds rejoice!  It's Willy Wonka in the library!  The small town of Alexandraville, Ohio hasn't had a library in 12 years, but one has been under construction and funded by game maker Luigi Lemoncello.  On the library's opening night, twelve 12-year olds are invited to a lock-in at the library, Kyle Keeley, game lover, among them.  This library is unlike any other and includes holograms, game rooms, computers, a cafe, and an incredible collection.  But the next morning, those wanting to stay are given a riddle and a challenge:  find your way out of the library in 24 hours and become famous!  The remaining children are scrambling to play the game, unlock the clues, and learn more about the library before time runs out.  

This book sounds like a little slice of heaven!  Lemoncello's Library went straight to my to-read list, then I found out a could borrow a digital copy from the library and that really seemed like the way to go.  Then I remembered that the author, Chris Grabenstein worked with (more like did all the work) on I, Funny with James Patterson.  I was not a fan, but it turns out that Grabenstein is quite talented when not hindered by Patterson.  

The mystery here is pretty impressive.  The participants are trying to solve clues to discover how to get out of the library, but not through the front door or fire exits.  At first, this seems nearly impossible, but by following clues and hints which are sometimes given outright and other times neatly hidden, the clue-hunters find a path to take.  Since the whole experience was designed by "world-famous librarian" Dr. Yanina Zinchenko, even Mr. Lemoncello is in the dark as he watches the competition from the monitors.  Participants use books, games, blueprints and gumption to solve the mystery.

But where there's mystery, there's double-crossing and one player, Chris, is only in it for himself, while the other players band together to form a team.  Will Chris' dishonesty finally catch up to him?  

Sprinkled throughout are little asides about books and reading that will make every reader swoon.  Mentions of When You Reach Me, The Red Pyramid, Huckleberry Finn, and others will delight readers.  Maybe I'll have to come up with Kyle's reading list, similar to my Wonder reading list.  Kyle is not much of a reader, but after describing a Sherlock Holmes book as "watching a 3-D Imax movie in his head", I think he's been converted.  

Plus, the mystery isn't over!  The afterword states that there's another mystery that hasn't been solved and if readers can solve it, they should email the author.  That's why I need to buy this book!  

I loved this book!  The descriptions were lush, the characters were maybe a little predictable, but they all worked together well, and the topic was just perfect.  Lemoncello's Library is now on my list of bookish vacation spots!

Caudill committee, I hope you are paying attention to this little book.  This would be a perfect addition to the next list!

Any book lovers, puzzle lovers, and game lovers will love this book!

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Five Things

Work is not particularly easy when you're a professional librarian working as a secretary.  This isn't exactly where I thought I would be, but it's where I am and I have to be thankful for that.  So, in that spirit, I started jotting down five things every morning.  But in a totally non-cheesy way.  I call my list:

Five Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS That May Get in Your Way

Catchy right?  I have a little notebook I keep in my bag and I write down five funny or touching or random things to keep me focused on being positive.  For instance, funny songs on the radio.  This morning I heard the super club remix of Roar by Katy Perry before 8:00 am.  That's odd.  I'm also often thankful for coffee.  Sometimes multiple times in one day.  Also making the list quite often my hubby (who just had a birthday!) and my dog.  Reading is also a big one.

To me it's not quite as hokey as  Gratitude Journal, which if that's what you like, cool, but I feel a little hippy-dippy doing those.  This is mostly just funny things that make me smile.  

So, when BS threatens to ruin your day, just remember that your favorite pajamas and a big cup of hot chocolate are waiting for you at home.  That's gotten me through more than one day!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Allegiant Featuring Spoilers

by Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegan Books, 2013
Audience:  Grades 8 to 12
ISBN:  9780062024060
Publication Date: October 22, 2013

After the bullets stopped flying in book two, book three opens with the factionless in charge.  But giving up on the old system does not sit well with everyone.  A small band of loyal faction followers, called the Allegiant, begin to take shape just as Tris, Tobias, and several of their Dauntless friends decide to travel outside the city and see what exists.  They find a compound for the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and discover that their whole lives, and those of their ancestors, have been an elaborate experiment to wipe out genetic damage.  Everything they knew-their entire society-was a lie.  As Tris is taken into the Bureau government, which her mother was also a member of, she learns about their plans for the experiment and the devastating consequences it may have.  Roth basically starts all over by writing a type of meta-dystopia and brings readers to their knees with an ending that is both shocking and sensible.  

People are mad about this book.  Really mad!  I knew that going in, and I'm sure you already knew that too, so when the ending came, I was sad, a little shocked, but not totally unprepared.  And honestly, you shouldn't be either.

But first, this book did not go well from the beginning.  This was the first book that was told by both Tris and Tobias.  I often found myself forgetting which character was the narrator as their narrative voice was too similar.  Maybe in the book it's noted by a different font?  Doubtful, but there was not enough difference for me to keep track.  I also kept wondering why we were getting Tobias' insights anyway.  

I also felt hyper aware of the author, a problem which I rarely have.  Since Tris and the gang (doesn't that make this sound like a happy sitcom, not dystopian?) left the city only to discover it has a name (Chicago) and it's kinda a big deal (knew that!), and oh, that thing with wings is called a plane (!), it felt like Roth was going backwards and starting at her world building all over again.  Although instead of building a new world, she was trying to recreate the old one (our current world-before the Purity Wars).  It just seemed a little contrived all the of Chicago references that Roth was inserting in the story this time.  Like when formula fiction books about trust fund babies work in needless details about Manhattan.  Whatever the reason, it came off as condescending.  

Again, the plot seemed to reset too.  Tris is now trying to overthrow the system in a new government, instead of in the city limits.  Again, we have to find the rebels.  Again, we have to know who we can trust.  Again, there's one failed attempt before we get it right.  Maybe Roth took the memory serum she writes about so much and forget that this was the plot of her first two books.

But, there's more sexy times!  Hooray NA!  It's not gratuitous, but I'm betting it's enough to make for some pretty spicy fan fiction.  

SPOILERS!! If you haven't read the book yet, please go away.  I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just trying to spare you some grief.  How about you go find a nice book about cake?

In the end, the hero dies.  I won't say who, but it wasn't who I thought it was going to be, and honestly I'm happier for it (once you realize who does die, that might make me sound really mean!).  There is no happy ending for Tris and Tobias.  An big sacrifice was made and because of it, Chicago, the experiment, continued and the Bureau was reset.  There was another way, but quite frankly, a happy ending to a dystopian novel has been done to death, and this was more reasonable.  

But people are mad!  Book Riot posted an article about what author's owe fans.  Honestly, nothing.  Right now we live in a time that is brimming with fan fiction.  You don't like the ending?  Rewrite it.  Let Tris and Tobias stay together and get married and have little faction babies, and zip line over the city.  But that's not the real characters.  The real characters were always about sacrifice the way that Roth wrote them.  Either accept it or rewrite it.  Those are your choices. 

Honestly, I was let down by this book.  I thought I would get something different and instead it was just more of the same.  The allusions to Chicago didn't make me feel nostalgic for the city, rather it just annoyed me that she was name dropping landmarks in a novel set generations in the future.  But fans need to read it, and will finish it in record time because it's a plot-driven novel.  No need to read every word, just finish it and be done. 

And I'm done.  On to a slew of middle grade fiction.  Because after reading Allegiant, I need some happy.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dining Chair DIY

Have I told you that my talented and hunky hubby made a farmhouse table and bench from scratch?  I thought I had forgotten that!  Well, he did such an amazing job that our old chairs were looking pretty shabby next to this gorgeous table, so I set out to make them over.

These chairs came with the table set I bought at Wal-Mart nine years ago.  This set served us pretty well.  It lived in six different homes in that time and had a couple of dings and dents, but held it together.  We gave the table away this summer, but I wanted to salvage the chairs, if possible.  Dining chairs are expensive!  And I couldn't bare to spend more money on chairs than we spent on the whole table and bench creation.

So, my super-limited DIY skills came into play!  First, I removed the cushions from the metal frame.  The chairs were a rough bronze/black color, and if I were an actual photographer with an actual camera, you would be able to tell that.  

Then I took the chairs outside for some spray painting.  I used a flat black spray paint and each chair got two coats and a little more for good luck.  Since the metal was rough, it was hard to cover everything the first time through.

Next up, recovering the chairs, which was the step that made me the most nervous.  I found this fabric at Hobby Lobby this summer, and I have no idea how much we spent on it, maybe $25 for two yards, which was plenty.    We picked this fabric because it was kinda country, pretty neutral, and just nice.  I was originally thinking something more match-matchy with the blue wall and brown couch, but this was definitely the right away to go.

I roughly followed a tutorial found on House Updated (which does a much better job of detailing this process that I do!).  Basically I just treated it like wrapping a present.  Lay out your cushion on the fabric and cut out a square.  Staple, staple, staple, while pulling your fabric tight.  And when it comes to the corners just mess with it until it works.  Done!

But it does help the process if you have a puppy acting as supervisor.  Or trying to eat your scrap fabric,  whichever.

Next up came the hardest part, which I do not have pictures for, because it was super hard, and that was reattaching the cushions to the newly painted chairs.  Since I don't use power tools, I was trying to screw the pieces together with a normal screwdriver.  It worked for a while, but just this weekend, two screws fell out of my chair.  Doug fixed that with a quick buzz of the drill, so no harm done.  But I was trying to get these chairs together the same day we were expecting some of Doug's friends over.  So, his friend walks in our house and I'm still screwing chairs together.  I'm a great hostess!

But take a look at that final product!  It was totally worth the paint fumes and staples and hand cramps from using a manual screwdriver to do a power tool's job!  I love the chairs and they look great with the table.  Plus, we can just keep painting and recovering forever!  I say why not when my chair's look this good!

How about some before and after shots?

Please forgive the poor picture quality.  I'm a reader, not a photographer.  But don't you love the contrast with the black chairs?  I do.  This is the one space in our house that feels really finished to me.  But don't turn around (or you're gonna see my heart breaking-shout out to Ace of Base fans!) or you're gonna get a glimpse of the kitchen, which is in serviceable, but not pretty, shape.  

And that is my completely easy and unscientific method for revitalizing cheap Wal-Mart chairs!

Happy DIYing!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trunk or Treat: Batty for Books

Last year it was owls, this year it was bats!  I went Batty for Books for Trunk or Treat at my church this year.  Unlike last year when I checked out owl (and assorted bird) books from the library, I used my personal collection this year.  But with the weather forecast being less than stellar, I decided not to risk my books, but instead used the dust jackets as decoration.

I decorated foam bat shapes from Oriental Trading to create my display.  Then, I strung them on yarn and used thumbtacks to secure them to the roof of my Subaru.  (My husband was not happy about that last step)  Then, I attached the duck jackets with blue sticky tack to make it look like the bats were flying away with my books.  

In addition to candy (because I'm not so weird), I gave out bookmarks from Demco and bat rings that I found at Wal-Mart.  They were both a hit and several kids told me that they needed a bookmark, so there are plenty of readers out there.  Also, the great bat-shaped treat bowls are from Wal-Mart too.  

It was a bad night for trick or treating, but a pretty great night for spooky Halloween activities.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, not exactly stormy, but dark, cold, wet, and windy.  Lovely right?  Who do I talk to in order to move Halloween to August?  I can start a petition if that will help!  

Anyway, I was only outside for a hour, which made all of this work kinda a bad return on investment, but the kids seemed to like it and they liked all the book covers.  

And a Halloween post just wouldn't be complete without an appearance from Scaredy Squirrel.  I was sure to follow his rules for Halloween completely and everyone at our event enjoyed a safe Halloween. Here's hoping that next year's weather is a little nicer!

How was your Halloween?  Did you brave the weather to trick or treat, or did you curl up by the fire with a good book?  I'm wishing I had done the later!

Happy Reading!!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters
Amulet Books, 2013
Audience:  Grades 8 to 12
ISBN:  9781419705304
Publication Date: April 2, 2013

Spirit photography, World War I, Spanish Influenza-oh my!  If that isn't enough to make you shiver, maybe the main character, Mary Shelley Black, will.  Mary Shelley has been sent to San Diego from Portland to not only escape the flu, but also hide while her father is on trial for being a traitor to the country.  Once in San Diego, she starts asking about her friend, Stephen, who recently went to war in France and has not written letters in months.  Instead she finds his brother, Julius scamming mourners with spirit photos, and worse, Mary Shelley is his poster child.  She sits for one final photo, but the spirit behind her is Stephen, and he starts haunting her, begging her to make them stop killing him.  Mary Shelley tries to put Stephen's soul to rest while trying to stay alive herself.


I first heard about at ALA while randomly chatting with another librarian.  It went on my to-read list and this felt like the perfect time of year to read a book full of spirits and hauntings and death.  Mary Shelley was named after the author of Frankenstein, but at a time when German hatred is high, she tries to hide that part of herself.  Also, her mother was a doctor and Mary Shelley inherited that passion for science and technology.  She is a curious, but compassionate girl.  The work that she does at the Red Cross Home is very touching since she refuses to treat the soldiers like invalids and instead tries to cheer them up.  She wants to treat them the way that Stephen should be treated.

In addition to all of the shivery plot points, there is a very real message about the effects of war.  Stephen suffered from shell shock or post-traumatic stress, as we would say today.  This was shameful to his family and difficult for him as well.  When he came back to Mary Shelley, he was angry and confused and it was very hard for her to help him.  They did love each other dearly, and all Mary Shelley wants is justice for Stephen, but that is not an easy task when he is terrifying in his fits and can give no real reason for why he died.

Once Mary Shelley starts to piece together the time line of Stephen's death, the reader will understand what happened, but there is still a last minute twist that will having readers shaking their heads.  It's that last little twist that makes it all so haunting and terrible.  Readers will be shocked for Stephen and Mary Shelley and all you can do it keep reading, hoping it will all work out.

My biggest problem with this book was remembering the title.  Honestly, I kept thinking it was A Cat Among Blackbirds, or Shadows of Blackbirds, or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Stephens (totally different person by the way!).  When you can say that the worst thing about the book is that you confuse the title, you know it's good.  

For a good spooky book for a dark Halloween night, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the perfect choice.

Happy Reading