Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nostalgia: Sweet Valley High

I've read several articles lately about ghost writers, and the most often pointed to series is Sweet Valley High.  Amy Boesky wrote this great piece for The Kenyon Review about her time as a ghost writer. Now, if you weren't aware that Francine Pascal was not chained to a typewriter churning out hundreds of Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley Junior High books and I have just ruined your childhood, I'm sorry.  It's a little like finding out about Santa.  And by that I mean that Santa's a great guy, and red is very slimming, and please bring me signed box set of Daughter of Smoke and Bone for Christmas!

But at least Francine Pascal was a real person.  If you were a Nancy Drew devotee, finding out there was never an actual Carolyn Keene could be heartbreaking.  Ghost writing is a serious business, still very much in use today.  Honestly, as much fun as it would be to talk about this dirty little secret of the publishing world, I would rather talk about the product:  The horrible deliciousness of Sweet Valley High.

Imagine it:  1980's suburban California, in a picturesque small town, two perfect blond twins with vastly different personalities that everyone either completely wants to be-daring Jessica or entirely relates to-good-girl Elizabeth.  And everyone at their school seems pretty perfect too, all tan, athletic, and charming.  The girls-mostly Jessica-get into some trouble-usually caused by Jessica-and then work their way out-meaning Elizabeth solves the problem-then Jessica pouts.  Pretty simple plot line considering the hundreds of books it inspired.

Let's look at some the finer points each of the first three books.

Double Love-Elizabeth likes Todd, but Jessica kinda likes Todd too and convinces him that Elizabeth is seeing so many other guys that he doesn't have a chance.  Meanwhile, Jessica gets caught at a skivvy bar with what's-his-name and gets picked up by the police, and she tells them she's Elizabeth and rumors run wild, but Elizabeth gets it all cleared up in the end, gets Todd, and gets Jessica thrown into the school swimming pool.  Jessica pouts.

Secrets:  Elizabeth's best friend Enid is worried about secret that will drive her and her boyfriend apart.  Jessica finds out about this secret and uses it to clinch a homecoming queen win.  Elizabeth is blamed for the breach of trust, rumors run wild, Elizabeth figures it out, and Jessica wins homecoming queen, but instead of dancing with dreamy Bruce Patman, Jessica's king is lovable nerd, Winston.  Jessica pouts.

Playing with Fire:  Jessica finally gets Bruce Patman, but he's distant and cold to her much of the book. She sits idly by the phone waiting for him to call.  Elizabeth is worried that the fire has gone out of her sister.  Elizabeth discovers that Bruce has another woman on the side and when she sees Jessica pouting at his birthday party, she decides to call him out.  The leave the party, come back later, see Bruce with another girl and Jessica dumps soda all over him and lets the air out of the tires of his sleek black Porsche.  Jessica doesn't pout at the very end, but there's still lots of Jessica pouting time in the book.

See pretty basic.  Jessica creates trouble, Elizabeth finds out and makes Jessica pay, Jessica pouts.  Formula fiction at it's best!

After the first two books, I was pouting.  Why?  Because I didn't have a third SVH book on my Kindle.  First world problem, I know.  But wonder of wonders, I did have the third book.  And this is how I've spent my free time lately.  Reading about southern California 30 years ago and honestly, loving every minute of it.  How can something so mindless as SVH be so satisfying?  Maybe because it's all fantasy, or that all the characters eventually get what they deserve.  Plus there are some great eighties references that are just cringe-worthy, like Todd saying to Elizabeth "You don't look too happy for a girl who is going to the dance with the greatest guy on the West Coast." to which she replies "Oh, Burt Reynolds is taking me to the dance".  Um, eew.  Or the description of the fashion that alternates between leg warmers and big hair, and dress suits with shoulder pads--in mauve.  Mauve is no longer a color.  It was discontinued in 1994.

It's just all so bad it's good!  So very, very bad.  And I would caution parents that want to pass judgement on the young adult literature of today, remember SVH.  That's what we read, it was dreadful, and we became productive members of society.  In a way.  Well, I'm productive when I'm not reading SVH.

All this to say, if you are looking for a quick trip down memory lane, I do recommend that you re-read some classic 80's formula fiction.  It will have you laughing, at inappropriate moments maybe, but laughing none-the-less.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We Were Liars

We Were Liars
By E. Lockhart
Delacorte, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Gr 9 to 12
ISBN:  9780385741262
Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Cady is a Sinclair, part of a grand American family that summers on their own private island in the cape and has the kind of old money that keeps them afloat, despite no one really working anymore.  But this type of life has disillusioned the grandchildren, namely Cady, her two cousins, and their friend Gat.  Told in Cady's voice and various fairytale retellings, We Were Liars will leave readers breathless.

And that's all I can say.

Really-that's all.  I'm glad that I don't have to professionally review this book because it is so wrapped up in this one big event and you cannot give away that event.  But it will haunt you.  The realization of this event comes at you in waves.  Reading other reviews, I knew there was a bombshell, and I tried to guess it, but I didn't get it.  Not at all.

And that's all I can say.

Meanwhile, I can't help but feel very lucky with my librarian-reviewer-blogger position and the fact that I get some amazing free previews.  This is hands down the best book I have ever read as a galley, especially an e-galley.  If I had to wait like for the release of this book like a normal person, I would be in shambles.  Granted, I have to wait for the release for plenty of books like a normal person, but sometimes you get a gem that makes you feel especially lucky.  Chosen even.  Part of an exclusive club.  (I'll try to sneak you in past the doorman later.  The code word is sassy-pants.)

I apologize for making the wait for this book even more difficult than it already is, especially since I really can't tell you anything about it.  Oh, yes I can, there are golden retrievers everywhere.  Didn't see that coming, did you?  Just trust me that the wait will be worth it.

Happy (waiting?) Reading!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Diamonds and Deceit

Diamonds and Deceit:  At Somerton Book 2
By Leila Rasheed
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Gr 8 to 12
ISBN:  9781423171188
Publication Date: January 7, 2014

Picking up where we left off in Cinders and Sapphires, Ada and Rose have returned to London for the season, but Rose especially is having a difficult time adjusting to being aristocracy after being a maid her whole life.  She is despondent until she meets the mysterious Duke of Huntleigh, a royal bad-boy that loves art and spitting in the face of convention.  But Rose isn't the only woman with her eyes on the duke, as Charlotte is trying to snare him as well.  Charlotte is still chasing after Lord Fintan, who is still engaged to Ada, who is still in love with Ravi despite his complete absence from this book.  In other news, the lady maids, Charlotte and Stella, have an agenda of their own, Michael is mad about governess Priya, who is deflecting the advances of her employer, and Sebastian is madly in love with Oliver and trying to clear him of murder.  And there's a hot new best-seller called The Duke and the Dairymaid whose author will surprise you.  Fans of Cinders and Sapphires and other period dramas will delight in the latest At Somerton.

Did you follow all that?  I'm not sure that I did either.  Just like the last installment of At Somerton, Diamonds and Deceit employees several narrators, engages multiple characters, and leaves small but nagging plots completely open.  I have to admit that when I first came to the end, I wondered if At Somerton had wrapped up.  The ending isn't tidy, but it's not difficult for the reader to imagine a satisfying conclusion, but then, a metaphorical bomb is dropped and suddenly there is much more at stake.  I have a feeling that the next At Somerton may just be the most explosive yet.

Diamonds and Deceit makes for a great vacation read because it is plot driven, intense at times, but never overly serious.  It's like a classy version of The Real Housewives of Wherever.  Plus, when you read it on the Kindle, you can read by the pool or in the bathtub and not worry about the pages getting wet, just don't drop your Kindle in the water!

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Break Out!

It's Spring Break Time!!  Soon, colleges and universities across the country will be will releasing winter -weary students to sunny destinations.  And this winter-weary secretary is hoping to soak up some sun too.  That means, next week will be very quiet around here….as if it's not quiet around here already.  It's a reading and library blog, and I always use my library whisper.

And because soaking up the sun means reading in the sunshine, here are some books that I'm hoping to get to in the coming week.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I actually started reading this a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't gain much momentum.  It's good, in a quiet way, so I just have to give it some time.  Plus, it's an adult novel so it counts double.
 We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I've heard so much buzz about this book, which hopefully will be a good thing, and it seems like the perfect steamy, surprising read.
Diamonds and Deceit by Leila Rasheed

I enjoyed the first At Somerton book and again, I started this one, but quickly got lost in the huge cast of characters.  I'll print off a character list for this Downton Abbey-like beach read.

Any books that you can't wait to read in the sunshine?  Or maybe you just have a long nap in sun planned.  Either way, remember your sunscreen and a bookmark!

Happy Reading

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Buddy Books for All Young Readers

I've reviewed some great buddy books recently, namely Scribbles and Ink:  Out of the Box, and Okay, Andy?.  That got me thinking about all of the great buddy books out there for readers of all ages.  Because everyone needs a buddy!

Picture Books:

Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  Only this duo could come up with such a lively and unlikely pair.  This book is hilarious to all readers as these two friends share some laughs, and baked beans.

A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom.  This book is sweet as sugar and will have even the most curmudgeonly reader cracking a smile.  There are five Bear and Goose books so the fun doesn't have to stop!

The Adventures of Max and Pinky:  Best Buds by Maxwell Eaton, III.  Simple drawings, silly story, and lots of marshmallows, what's not to love?  Three in this series.

Duck and Goose by Tad Hills.  Learning to share never looked so sweet.  Plus there are ten Duck and Goose books between picture books and board books, so keep feeding that reading addiction.

Easy Reader Books:

Elephant and Piggie:  Today I Will Fly! by Mo Willems.  20 Elephant and Piggie Books!  The best part is watching your beginning reader read these to themselves.  The dialogue is very funny, and I always encourage readers to read it with some feeling!

Dog and Bear:  Two Friends, Three Stories by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  What's better than a wiener dog and a patchwork bear?  The two being friends and sharing adventures!  Four of these books for interested readers.

Scribbles and Ink by Ethan Long.  Cats and mice can be friends, once they realize how to work together.  Plus, the art possibilities with this book are endless.  Three in this series.

Bink and Gollie by Kati DiCamillo and Allison McGhee.  One's all serious, the other's all silly, but together they are all good.  I wonder which character represents Kate and which represents Allison?  Three so far, hopefully more to come!

Ling and Ting:  Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin.  These twins are quite different and make great characters for an easy reader book.  Only two so far, but let's hope there are more.

Thanks to some amazing animal friendships, there are even great non-fiction buddy books!

Owen and Mzee by Craig Hatkoff.  This friendship started after the tsunami of 2004 and a baby hippo and 130-year-old turtle became inseparable.  You are learn more about them in the two following books.

Tarra and Bella by Carol Buckley.  A retired circus elephant and stray dog become best friends at an animal sanctuary.

Two Bobbies by Kirby Lawson.  A dog and cat stick together to survive after Hurricane Katrina and tell an amazing story.

What did I miss?  What are your favorite buddy books?  I'm a big fan of Elephant and Piggie, but I have a soft spot for A Splendid Friend, Indeed too.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Under the Egg

Under the Eg
By Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Dial, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Gr 4-6
ISBN:  9780803740013
Publication Date:  March 18, 2014

Theodora Tenpenny comes from a great family, but they have fallen on hard times.  They still own their brownstone in a trendy part of Brooklyn, but the house is crumbling, and without her grandfather to keep it together, Theo is losing her home.  Just before her grandfather's death, he told her to look under the egg for a treasure and Theo hopes that this will help her keep her home.  She searches all over the mantle place where they put the best egg of the day from her chicken coup, but can't find anything, until some rubbing alcohol spills on her grandfather's painting and reveals what Theo believes to be a Raphael painting.  She unexpectedly makes a friend with Bodhi, the child of movie stars, and the pair set off to authenticate this painting, and clear her grandfather's name if it was stolen.  But their journey leads them to much more than money or fame, it leads them to a legacy that her grandfather never shared and oddly reunites a family.  An original and powerful mystery for young readers that will have them engaged and cheering for Theo until the last sentence.  

I have loved similar art mysteries like Chasing Vermeer, Masterpiece, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, so I knew I would like this book.  I didn't know I would love it.  Theo is such a strongly independent character, raising herself while her mother is working on her math theorems.  Theo was mostly raised by her curmudgeonly grandfather, but even he wasn't as difficult as he seemed.  As the story unfolds, you see Theo trusting others more and getting, at least some, of the help that she needs.  

Her grandfather's backstory is pretty incredible, and that they are able to uncover so much of it might seem unrealistic, but we are talking about finding a Raphael in plain sight.  Theo gets to know and understand her grandfather in a way that she never could when he was alive.  

I've read enough circular chapter books that I did guess the ending, which was a little disappointing.  I can't say why I was so disappointed, because that could easily give it away, but the very last chapter completely redeemed itself and this book just left me glowing.

After reading this and Ophelia, my faith in humanity is completely restored.  Both were beautifully written works with a darkness that was swept away in the end.  They are both hopeful and lovely and all the pretty adjectives associated with happiness.  

Now, if only spring would take the hint and get her little heiny over here, all would be perfect in my world!

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 3, 2014

2015 ISLMA Award Master Lists

I have been so busy hibernating that I completely forgot that the Illinois School Library Media Association 2015 Award Lists were announced--more commonly known as the Monarch, Bluestem, and Caudill Awards.

But first, let's look back and see how I did with last year's list.

Monarch List:  Nailed it!  I read all 20 books and picked I Wanna a New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff as my winner.

Bluestem List:  I did it!  I read all 20 books and picked Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo as my winner.

Caudill List:  Let's not talk about the Caudill List.  I only read three, and not because they were on the Caudill, because I wanted to.  So, dropped the ball, but I think that Wonder by R. J. Palacio is a very strong contender, mostly for the same reasons that I read it.  If a book is getting buzz and readers without being a Caudill, it is vastly more likely to win.

Even though it's only March (but feels like January), it's already time to start looking ahead to 2015!  (Librarians are horrible about living in the moment, by the way.  Everything we do has to be scheduled at least six months in advance.)  I'll link up to the 2015 award lists and tell you how I'm doing so far.

The 2015 Monarch List:  Books Read-0,  Books I'm Excited to Read- 4 (Creepy Carrots, The Day the Crayons Quite, A Little Book of Sloth, and Mo Willems Presents That is Not a Good Idea).  Outlook- Postive!  It's picture books and simple chapter books which equals a busy reader's jam!

The 2015 Bluestem List:  Books Read-7!! (Dunderheads, Frindle, Gregor, Liar & Spy, Lunch Lady, Ivan, Wonderstruck)  Books I'm Excited to Read-1, Shiloh (My Lucy is a beagle and I feel like I should read it for her).  Outlook-Pretty good.  Again, these are quicker books, and I'm already 1/3 of the way there.

The 2015 Caudill List:  Books Read-5 (Ivan, Tuesdays, Ungifted, Slob, Early-already more than last year!)  Books I'm Excited to Read-Um, maybe the Joan Bauer book and Legend.  Outlook-probably won't make it any farther than the five I've already read.

Now I just have to sit back and wait for the 2014 winners to be announced in under two weeks.  How are you doing on your award reading?  Anyone out there reading all the Newberys or Caldecotts?  Or maybe your school does it's own reader's choice award!  Let me know all about it.

Happy Reading!