Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio

In this cute but kind of preachy picture book, two young girl friends have an explosive falling-out over their very different lunches, but learn to appreciate their differences once they open their minds to new experience.

The illustrations by Tricia Tusa are soft with lots of white space, and executed in a loose, sketchy style. They're gorgeous, but the pastel colors and dainty drawings are rather ineffective in setting the dramatic tone for an escalating, full-school argument (although the food fight page is funny).

I know that in preschool, disagreements happen fast and are forgotten even faster. But I was surprised by the lighting-fast conclusion and set-pat resolution. Can you still be friends if you TRY your friend's sandwich and STILL think it's icky?

It's a great message, but ultimately I think it could have been done better. I'll give Queen Rania credit for trying, but it seems like this book proposal needed more work.

Binky Adventure series by Ashley Spires

If you've ever lived with and loved a feline, you'll appreciate Binky's cat-ness. Binky thinks he's a brave, adventurous, hero cat - which means in reality, he's a sleepy, crazy, and utterly normal kitty with a rich fantasy life. Much of his time is consumed by napping, eating, stretching, and chasing bugs - when he's not building rocketships, digging secret tunnels, and generally saving mankind. Holy fuzzybutt!

Each of these graphic-novel style books are only 64 pages long- but each page packs a wallop with anywhere from 3-10 panels in evolving and continually shifting configurations.

While they books are generally marketed to children, there's no way you adults won't find a few grins at Binky's expense. Great for reluctant readers of all ages!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Almost Final Curtain by Tate Hallaway

In volume two of the Vampire Princess series, Ana is caught up in three projects: trying out for the school play, writing a history paper about slavery, and trying to keep all of vampiredom from being enslaved.

Her sometimes-boyfriend and rock god/vampire hunter/witch Nik is doing the music for the school play. Her other sometimes-boyfriend and warrior/vampire is looking for the lost talisman to AVOID vampire enslavement by witches. Her mother/witch queen is trying to get the lost talisman to ENSURE vampire enslavement by witches. And Ana's trying to figure out if she's more witch, more vampire, or if it's possible to balance the two.

I'm kind of liking this series. Even though it's slightly overdramatic at times, it's in a realistic teenage-hormones kind of overdramatic way. But I have to say that the next book better start with Ana getting a complete history lesson about vampires - her blundering is becoming contrived.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

That thing called love

by Susan Andersen

Anderson weaves a story of the prodigal son and a woman who has made it past her days of hard knocks.  Said prodigal son just happens to have a child of his own, and that boy's guardian is none other than the tough girl who has made good.  Andersen concocts vistas of the Northwest that make a reader feel the mist of the ocean.  She also can write a steamy sex scene better than most.  This woman knows her foreplay and she can drag it out for an entire chapter.  It takes a while to get to that first hot scene, but then again, it takes a while to get through it, too.  Really, the blush on my face as I write this is all due to the hot coffee at my side.

The actual plot:
Jake left town shortly after his young wife died and her parents assumed responsibility for the baby that scared him to his toes.  The elder generation has also passed on though, and now he realizes that it is time to man up and become a father.  First he has to get past Jenny.  She's tough, and everyone knows it.  She also can't understand how the whole town can possibly regard her as sweet.  Worst of all is that Jake breaks through the defenses quickly in his attempts to soften both her and his son to the idea of taking the boy away from everything he has ever known.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Echo and the Bat Pack series by Roberto Pavanello

These illustrated chapter books are much like Scooby-Doo mysteries: without adult cooperation, three kids and their animal (bat) friend blunder and quake through scary (but not really) mysteries until they eventually unmask the bad guy. Zoinks!

I had a devil of a time figuring out in which order to read this series - I eventually gave up and assumed it didn't matter. Each book makes references to the fact that Echo used to live in the graveyard, a cousin who's an acrobatic flier, and his Mom bat. "Treasure in the Graveyard" is the book that best explains how the bat came to live with the family, but even when I got to that story I mostly I felt like I was missing too much information.

They're breezy, transparent stories full of sorta lame jokes. Perhaps kids will think they're lovely, but I found it a bit tedious. They're targeted at third-graders, essentially, but there's an advanced vocabulary that seems a bit of a stretch.

I'm not planning to add them to our library collection - I think there's better for this reading level.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

At seven, Libby Day survived an attack that left her two older sisters and her mother dead and put her brother away for life in prison. Twenty five years later, she never recovered: Libby can't hold a job, can't maintain a relationship - she can't even manage the where-with-all to keep the power on in her rental house. She's eeked out a life on her savings (thanks, murder-survivor donations!), but now the money's gone.

When a true crime fan club contracts her to for a speaking engagement, Libby find there's an underground network of theorists who believe her brother is innocent. And they'll pay her for access to people who may know the truth. Is visiting the "Darkplace" worth the cash? Does she even have a choice?

Like "Gone Girl," nearly every page-turn had me reassessing what I thought happened. I don't know how many books Flynn will be able to write in this dramatic style, but I'm aboard as long as it lasts: she's a master at manipulating the storyline and the reader.

Highly recommended. I consumed this book in just a couple days.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Have you read the other 2 books in Moore's vampire series? If so, skip the whole first disc of the audio - it's just review. I was a little annoyed by the length of "previously, in Bloodsucking Fiends & You Suck" summary that started this book. Sheesh. If you want to know all that, just go read the other books!

Past that, this is pure Christopher Moore genius: a new challenge for San Francisco's vampires, a couple wacky new characters, and the truly incomparable narration of Abby Normal - backup assistant mistress of the Bay Area darkness.

Narrator Susan Bennett does a notable job with the enormous range of voices and characters in this story: ancient multi-cultural vampires, angsty American goth teens, cops, kooks, several dogs, and even a huge vampire cats. And Moore's rapid-fire dialog can't be easy to record - sometimes I have to rewind and listen a couple times to catch it all.

Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss

When an "unconventially hot" girl invites him to come to her church youth group meeting, Phillip agrees for several reasons: she's HOT!?!; and his cross-country coach thinks it's a fake invitation; plus it'll probably make his atheist Dad unhappy. What more reason does a 15-year-old need?

This is a great, surprising book. Dad cautiously makes the church people out to be the "bad guys," but at the same time, he allows Phillip his own explorations of faith and belief - so while there's a lot of Christianity in the book, it's not all set down pat and handed to you as The Truth.

Phillip's challenges are universally teen - girl trouble, chafing against authority, changes in friendships, struggling with self-identity. And his quest for a belief structure helps him evaluate and work through these problems. I loved that the book's characters are realistically flawed - both Christian and non - making the whole thing very believable, not rhetoric.

I really thought this was a fantastic book - it certainly brings up more questions than answers, a trait I love in teen books. It would be an awesome discussion book for religious or secular settings, so long as there was open non-judgmental conversation encouraged.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater ... That Grandma Knit by Debbie Macomber & Mary Lou Carney

For his birthday, Cameron's Grandma Susan made him a bright, colorful sweater with big buttons. That he will never, ever wear. So he spends a lot of time over the course of the year trying to hide it, get rid of it, ruin it, and otherwise ensure that he'll never be seen wearing it.

Until Grandma comes, and he finds out why the sweater is so special. Carter gets a wider view of the love and care that went into his birthday present, and maybe a wider view of the world.

Sometimes your gifts aren't received with the grace that was intended, and this is a cute book with a lovely ending. But the text is a bit awkward in places, and once I was even convinced that I must be missing a page because the transition was so abrupt. Overall, it's an interesting book, but could have used better editing.

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

What does Carter (a 14-year-old high school freshman boy) finally GET? Well ... you know, it.

Carter's disappointed in his lowly status in the social hierarchy. He's already got several strikes against him (a nervous stutter, ADD, a bitchy older sister) and he's fighting to find his niche.Is he a smooth ladies man? not so much. Baseball hero? looks extremely unlikely. Academic star? not gonna happen.

Mostly this book is about Carter's blundering through the year. His bike gets stolen. He goes to a party that gets busted. He's not the best athlete on the team. He can't figure out the right question to ask pretty girls. But over the course of the year, Carter begins to learn about himself - who he's not, but also who he might be. And it's fun to find out with him.

Carter's an incredibly like-able character, even when he's acting like an idiot. His friends are just as clueless as he is - I mean, come on, they're all freshman! And so their teenage pain is fairly universal. The book's well written, and I'll recommend it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Have you ever read the old, non-Disney-fied versions of fairy tales? The dark, gothic ones the Grimm brothers actually collected from the oral tradition? This book of poetry is a spin on those horror-filled tales of morality.

Angsty, angry teen girls admit their attraction to the naughty, forbidden wolves and monsters. Minor characters in often-told narratives get their opportunity to tell the story from their perspective.

Many of the stories are a little naughty. Most are hilarious for the unexpected spin they put on familiar tales. Definitely not the kind of book for your toddlers - but teens and adults will enjoy revisting their nursery favorites!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lucky Harbor series

by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis' series is actually two trilogies.  Nearly all of them feature at least one main character who is native to the cozy Northwestern town.  All six are filled with far more traditional romance than other trilogies that have been making headlines this year.  Shalvis also manages to keep the steamy scenes hot enough to scorch the fingers that grasp the book.
Shalvis captures life in a small town with exquisite clarity as she brings many other locals along for the ride. The supporting characters make the stories more believable.  Every small town inhabitant knows life is more funny when it happens to someone else.  I literally stood at the stove stirring dinner with one hand while reading with the other (more than once). 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Almost to Die For by Tate Hallaway

Every 16 year old is struggling to find themselves - but on her sixteenth birthday, Ana is really battling. She's set to take the initiation test to become a True Witch (not wiccan religion, but the powerful magic kind of witch) - and she knows she'll fail because she can't do it. Then, her never-before-seen father shows up at the door.

So while she's trying to figure out what it means to be some kind of magical hybrid, suddenly more than one boy begins to notice this previously date-less girl ... and she has a fight with her best friend.

It's all very teenage drama with a supernatural flair - and strangely compelling. I'm actually embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed this book. And there are two more in the series, which I just placed holds on.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vampire a Go-Go by Victor Gischler

This is the kind of story that got me into vampires in the first place: contemporary, yet historical. Adventure and suspense, with a satisfactory ending. Plus, it's got vampires, zombies, an Indiana Jones-like storyline, and ass-kicking swearing warrior priests. (Although honestly, the vampire element is minor in the grand scheme of the story.)

A college-age research student is unwittingly drawn into the search for the fabled philosopher's stone. What power will it bring to the numerous supernatural beings fighting to acquire it? Will Alan survive the adventure?

The story's narrated by an ancient ghost and the history of the stone unfolds slowly, intersliced with the contemporary search and battles between witches, warlocks, priests and more. The crude, terrible secret our ghost reveals at the end made me actually snort out a laugh. Escapist fiction at it best!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

June Elbus is lost and lonely. It's tax season so her accountant parents are mostly gone. Her slightly older sister is busy with the school musical - plus, she hates June. The one persons she could always count on loving her exactly, perfectly, and weird as she may be - her uncle Finn - just died of AIDS.

So when a hand reaches out to offer friendship, June tentatively grabs on. It turns out Toby was Finn's partner - a secret kept so thoroughly hidden from June that she can hardly believe it. Together, this unlikely pair try to find truth and a place in the world.

While written about a 14-year old, the book's being marketed for adults - really, either teens or adults will find something of value here. June's search for friends and love are a universal plight. Her misperceptions will ring true for all readers. And while we don't all mutilate priceless art, don't we all struggle to leave a lasting mark on something?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams

You may be shocked, but no, every librarian has not read every book in the library.  That being said, I just read this book for the first time.  Typically, I don't think of myself as much of a science fiction reader.  It's a genre that struggles to hook me.  That's why this book works; the absolute absurdity of the events pulled me in.
Having waited thirty years since the original publication, I frequently found myself laughing over the gadgets that are now a commonplace part of life which were truly fictitious in 1980. The double talk, twists, turns and silliness are such a realistic part of the characters' lives that the reader almost feels bad laughing, almost.
If you've never read it, all I can say is, "You've never had a day as bad as Arthur Dent's. You've also never had quite the level of excitement."

Rescue Me

by Rachel Gibson

Gibson takes a slight veer from her Chinooks series by focusing on the sibling of a previous character.  Vince Haven has traveled many paths since leaving his medical discharge as a Navy SEAL.  Proprietor of a relative's small town Gas 'n Go was never even on the short list of possibilities.  Before he even makes his way into Lovett, TX, he encounters a notional lady that is bound and determined not to like him too much.
Sadie Jo left town years ago because she never quite seemed to fit in Lovett.  Now she and her nearly sacrilegious flat hair have returned for a cousin's wedding.  The plan is to get in and get out, but life has other plans for her.  Sadie spends much of the book coming to terms with her past and trying to outrun her emotions with Vince as her new distraction.  Predictably, two duo believes that love 'em and leave 'em will work as well as it always has, and, of course, it doesn't.
Gibson ties her characters to previous novels just enough to keep old fans happy without making new readers feel lost.  It's quick, just a little naughty, and filled with the kind of sweetness we often forget to see in our daily lives.