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!!