Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everything's Better with a Beard

Everything's Better with a Beard
By Si, Willie, Phil, Jase, Jep, and Alan Robertson
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience:  Ages 4 to 6
ISBN:  9781481418188
Publication Date:  March 14, 2014

Photoshopped pictures and rhyming text explain why beards are great and would make everything better from priceless art to semi-trucks.

You know by now that Duck Dynasty has a little extra drama, but I'm not that kinda of blog.  I'm just here to help you evaluate a book.  About beards.  On everything.  It's a fun idea and the pictures will get a couple of chuckles, but it's nothing special, to me at least.  The two-page spread with the dogs wearing beards is pretty great, but some dogs already have beards in a way.  There is a hint of religion in this book, which won't at all offend fans of the show, and likely if you're not a fan of the show, you'd never pick up this book to begin with.

But let's talk about the technical for a minute.  Rhyming texts are very fun and a great way to connect with readers, but it's harder than it looks.  Young readers and adults will notice when the rhyme skips a beat and is not smooth and there are a couple of skips here.  Let this be a warning to everyone out there that thinks it's easy to write a rhyming book:  read it out loud to yourself a dozen times at least to make sure the meter is correct!

Final verdict:  (shrugs) eh.  There's nothing especially entertaining here.  If you know a little redneck in training, it would make a good gift book.  I would think that most libraries can save their pennies for something with a little more substance, and interlibrary loan it for those patrons that would like to read it.  Fad books like this are tough.  Ducky Dynasty isn't a marketed children's show, although plenty of children watch it.  It's the type of book that will likely check out well for a year or two, shelf sit for five or six years, then land on a book sale.  If you do buy, the best you can hope for is two years of hard use, then weed it due to condition.  

Can you tell I base my purchasing decision on if a book will check out?  It's a good philosophy if you ask me.

Basically, if you like the show, you'll like the book.  If you don't like the show, ignore the book--this fad will pass soon enough.

Happy Reading

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Excuse me, what the what?

Hopefully you checked out the Youth Media Awards on Monday.  Since my office was shutdown due to the polar vortex, I was blissfully sound asleep, but then filled with excitement when I woke up!  Unfortunately, I'm woefully behind this award season.  You can see how your reading stacks up by checking out the full list of winners at the ALA website, but I did notice a couple of things that got me thinking.

1.  Navigating Early as a Printz Honor--When I finally read Navigating Early, I loved it.  It completely deserves the recognition, but the Printz is normally a Young Adult award, making this seem like an awfully young book for that category.  Despite that, I'm still very happy to see this great book get some respect.

2.  Far Far Away was shutout!  I understand that Far Far Away received mixed reviews with some people noticing more flaws than beauty.  I thought it was excellent and moving and magical without being fantasy.  Chilling really.  But shutout.  It's a shame.  I thought this was the little book that could.  I still think that.  Read it now and see for yourself.  

3.  Eleanor and Park with a Printz Honor.  Well, at least it didn't take the top prize.  I just don't understand people's adoration for this book.  I don't.  Will never get it.  Was my copy missing some pages?  Was there a redeeming dance number that was added later, just before press, after I got my ARC?  Seriously, people, I just don't understand.  And it's not because I've forgotten what it's like to be a teen--I'm still pretty much right there.  Will someone explain to me why this book has received such critical acclaim when I thought it was slow and predictable?

It's books like Eleanor and Park that kinda scare me as a reviewer.  If I were being paid to review Eleanor and Park for one of my gigs, I would have recommended without recommending it.  Using that secret language that only librarians understand to mean:  It's fine, but you're not made of money, so pass.  And I would have looked like an idiot saying that!  I would have looked like Anne Carroll Moore panning Charlotte's Web (obscure reference-ask a librarian!).

Here's my dirty little reviewer secret:  I check out other reviews before I publish my paid reviews.  Shh!  So far so good.  If I'm on the fence about a book, I'll just cruise the other journals or Goodreads for a second and make sure I'm not entirely missing something.  And one book I loved, so I checked out the competition to make sure that my love was justified (it was!).  Hopefully I won't someday completely rip a soon-to-be classic apart, but it might happen, and that is why I live in fear.

As for the three books in question today, you can check out my reviews by clicking below:

My heart-felt review of Navigating Early.

My glowing review of Far Far Away (I still love you!)

And my meh review of Eleanor and Park (seriously, someone explain it to me!)

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let's Pretend It's Spring for a Minute

Let's face it, winter is a disaster this year.  Two polar vortexes (vortices, vorti?) in three weeks, buckets of snow, dead car batteries, puffy jackets, multiple pair of socks, I'm just over it.  But at least there are some great new releases coming this spring that I can look forward to.  And if I'm really lucky, I'll be able to read on the deck because it will be at least 50 degrees outside come April.  Actually, I would take 40 degrees right now, or a 32 degree day with no wind.  Or a plane ticket to somewhere warm.

Anyway, Dreams of Gods and Monsters will be released on April 8, and we all have to hope that the weather will be less strumpety by then.  (I'm not exactly sure why cold weather is so "strumpey", but that's my word of choice, and just know that it's a bad thing!)  Until then I think that I'll catch up on other reading and maybe reread Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight, or at least sections to get me back into the world seraphim and chimera.  Hopefully it's less cold there.

While you wait, I suggest that you check out Laini Taylor's latest blog post on what the internet is doing to our expectations.  Check out this line:  "I know there are no dragons, but I still want one. I know there is no perfect, rich, organized, effortless life, but I still want it."  Well said.

And I know there is no 70 degree, sunny, picture perfect Illinois reality in January, but I still want it!  

Until then, stay warm and happy reading!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Too Much Adorableness

I hopped on today just to check out the sales and see what's happening over there.  I'm a big fan of the Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic family of stores.  My greatest wish is that somehow they would all end up in my tiny town-and that I made twice as much money to buy new clothes every season.  And while we're at it, could I get some superpowers over here, maybe the ability to read super fast and retain it all.  That would help out a lot!

But back to the Gap.  I got a little side tracked when I saw the Paddington Bear for Baby Gap collection.  Who wouldn't get side tracked by that kind of explosion of literary cuteness?

First row-girls, second row-boys, third row-day of the week onsies.  All images from

I think my favorites of the whole collection are the toggle coats.  Ridiculously adorable.   And so literary.  And you could put together a very warm and functional Halloween costume out of this stuff.  

What's bothering me most, however, is that there doesn't seem to be a Paddington shirt large enough for a 31-year-old woman.  Loving children's literature does not end with childhood, Gap.  Get on this please!  

If you need an insane dose of cuteness today, check out the Paddington Collection.  Meanwhile, I'm off to find a Paddington tee in my size.  I know it's out there!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Going Rogue

Going Rogue
By Robin Benway
Walker Children's, 2014
Reviewed from e-galley
Audience:  Ages 14 to 18
ISBN:  9780802736041
Publication Date:  January 14, 2014

After being a teen-aged spy, Maggie is settling into normal life in New York with her parents, her best friend, Roux, and her boyfriend, Jesse.  It's all SAT prep and sweltering summer heat when a new threat arises.  A member of the Collective has accused Maggie's parents of stealing evidence and it looks like their lives are about to change.  Maggie seems to be the only one that can prove their innocence, but it means going up against another Collective bigwig, Dominic Arment, who seems bent on repurposing the Collective for his own gains.  Unfortunately, Maggie is not alone and ends up bringing Roux and Jesse along on an adventure that no signed up for.  Slow to start but ultimately engaging, Going Rogue shows that Maggie and her crew aren't done yet.

I learned at ALA this summer that there would in fact be a sequel for Also Known As, probably one of my favorite spy caper books.  I was also really excited to be asked to be part of the Also Known As spy team, which you can tell took up a large amount of my time and energy and let me with little blog content.  Not really, it was all fun and games.  

Yes, slow to start.  Maggie is trying to be a normal teen, and even though the central conflict is introduced early when Maggie walks in on her parents and Angelo blaring classical music to scramble bugs during a private conversation, the action is slow.  And the whole episode with Colton Hooper is relived entirely too many times.  I do wish that I had kept track of how many times Roux mentioning breaking his nose, or Jesse mentioning that they were in mortal peril, or Maggie telling how she was chased by a helicopter, but let's just say it got old.  It was more than a recap for those that didn't read AKA or that had forgotten the conclusion, it was annoyingly repetitive.

But once we had a villain-Dominic Arment-and a purpose-steal priceless gold coins-and a shootout-more helicopters piloted by villains-where do they find these evil pilots?-, we had a story about half way through.  Then we're off to Paris, there is great doubt about everyone's safety, Roux falls in love (likely the most unbelievable event of the book) and dubious plots are foiled.  The end.

Again, the characters, not the plot, are the strong point.  Roux is again a star as she is tough yet vulnerable at points.  Jesse is a little lackluster, but he's just the boyfriend, so really compared to most literary boyfriends he has much more backbone.  And I seriously want an Angelo in my life.  Someone that randomly appears to give me impossible locks, perfectly forged passports and stunning Parisian flats, and look good doing it.  Maggie again must be her adorkable self, awkward and confident, talented with a safe, but not with people, and resourceful.  She turned fashion jewelry into a weapon.  When are the limited edition compass and knife necklaces going to be available, because I'll take one in silver.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book.  Maybe it's uneven pacing had more to do with the fact that I read it unevenly, meaning I read in fits and starts, hardly sitting to finish whole chapters.  I hate reading like that, but I have serious winter-induced ADHD this year.  Instead of hibernating with a good book, I'm just plain hibernating.  

Overall, Going Rogue is another great spy-caper and I can tell I'll stick around for this series, since I'm sure Angelo will be back with another assignment soon.  But what should I read to get myself out of this winter funk?  Any suggestions?  Maybe something beachy, or a reread from warmer times?  What are you reading to get through this winter?

Stay warm and happy reading!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trust Me, I'm a Professional

Look at those lovely books!  Don't look at the old clock radio, just the books.  Guess where I got those books?  Booklist magazine!  Guess why?  Because I'm a reviewer for Booklist!!

It all started back in August when I was reading a Booklist email newsletter.  They said they were looking for children's and YA reviewers.  And I thought to myself, I'm a children's and YA reviewer!  I sent off my resume and a couple review samples and hoped for the best.  Then I waited.  And waited.  I thought that they were probably looking for working librarians (which I am a working librarian, I'm just not working as a librarian).  And I waited some more.

Finally in October I heard back that I had been accepted as a Booklist reviewer!  Cue the screaming!  I review 6-8 books per month and get paid per book (not a lot, but I'm actually getting paid to read, so even a little is amazing!).  So far most of my books have been picture books, but you can tell from the picture above that I scored some chapter books and let me just tell you The Tyrant's Daughter is incredible.  

It's so wonderful knowing that librarians all over the country are reading my reviews and using them for book selection and collection development.  It's actually a lot of pressure.  I know when I was buying books that I had a close relationship with some reviewers-meaning that I didn't know them, but I trusted them completely.  On the flip side, I hated some reviewers and deliberately snubbed books they liked and bought books they didn't.  I could become someone's trusted source for book opinions!  Or, I could become someone's book archenemy, like an evil book pusher that wears a crimson cape forcing librarians to buy heavy-handed, poorly written historical fiction.  I think all this power could be going to my head.  I must remember to use my powers for good!

Plus, getting this package of books twice a month means that I have Christmas 24 times a year!  Plus, with this influx of books, I'm stockpiling for future littles, hooking up my nephew, and giving more books as gifts.  Everyone wins!

Okay, this might be a little why I've been neglecting the blog a little.  I'm reading for Booklist and I don't have as much free reading time.  And my reviews are the property of Booklist, so I don't feel right reviewing them here too.  But I'll try to do better as the weeks go on and get back to getting you reviews of all the random and fun things that I like to read.

Check out a couple of my reviews on Booklist that are available for free:

Bob the Bursting Bear:  Odd but interesting

Oh No, School!:  Heartfelt and encouraging

Foxy in Love:  Silly read-aloud for Valentine's Day

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recap of My Absence

So, it's 2014.  I haven't posted since before Christmas.  I would love to tell you it was because I was off doing something amazing, or holed up reading the classics for three weeks, but reality is much less exciting.  Allow me to recap.

Christmas was great!  This was the first year that we didn't travel (so there's blown excuse number one for not posting-I've been home for weeks!).  Since Doug and I will be renovating our half-bathroom in the basement this winter, we decided on stockings only, but you can still fit a lot of randomness in a stocking!  My favorite present was a super warm stocking hat with a faux fur lining.  It's so thick and so warm that it makes it hard to hear people talking.  We ate a lot, we hung out by the fire a lot, we slept a lot.  This is my new Christmas tradition!

Between Christmas and NYE, I had off work (blown excuse number two-not too busy with work to post!).  Instead of catching up on a ton of reading or prepping VBS like I planned, I took up my dog Lucy's daily schedule which looks a little something like this:  Wake up, have breakfast, sleep until noon, wake up, play, have a snack, sleep until four, wake up play, have dinner, relax with the people, go to sleep.  It's a great way to live but you get nothing done!  I actually did make significant progress on cleaning up our third bedroom which has become a total dumping ground (mostly mine) but there's more to be done before you can call it a proper room with a purpose.

On NYE, Doug and I managed to stay up late enough to watch the ball drop in New York, and we felt confident that 2014 would come to Illinois despite us being asleep.  But then things get a little exciting.

On January 2, we boarded Amtrak for Chicago and a weekend of fun camped out at my sis-in-law's condo.  She was sunning in Costa Rica, which was preferable to being in -20 degree Chicago with 8 inches of snow on the ground.  During our stay we jumped Kristen's car, took her dehydrated Christmas tree out of her third floor walk-up condo, and swept up three garbage cans full of needles.  We're still finding needles in our clothing, shoes, and such two weeks later.  

But the real reason for our stay was to see college friends.  About 17 of us got together for a fancy dress party to act like the adults that we pretend to be during the week.  It turned out great.  It was a ridiculously snowy night, but kinda pretty when you knew you didn't have far to travel and you were in a warm restaurant.  But we all paid the next day when the snow just kept coming down.  Couples came from as far away as St. Louis and Ohio, so some made it after hours of trying, others gave up and grabbed hotels half way, and some just stayed put in Chicago.  

But Doug and I played it safe and took Amtrak.  The train it totally better in the snow than a car, right? Maybe?  What normally takes 3.5 hours took us more like 9.5.  I had at least 3 panic attacks and we didn't get home until 4:15 in the morning.  We were plowing through snow drifts that were close to 10 feet high and it really felt like we were going to go off the rails.  I still think Amtrak is great, but I'm not riding it anymore from December to February.  Life's too precious!

I would love to say that with all of my free time, I did a ton of reading, but no.  I hibernated.  I'd been wanting to try it for a while, and it turns out that hibernating is just as fun as I expected, and I'm pretty bummed that there's still snow on the ground and that I have to function like a normal person.  Winter is totally not my scene!  

But I am slowly getting back to the reading thing and I'll have some cool reviews for you soon.  And I have some pretty awesome book news that I'll share tomorrow.  I apologize for abandoning you for so long, but I'm back now with plenty of posts to come!

Happy Hibernating!