Thursday, December 22, 2011

I almost peed my pants

This is the best audio book I've listened to in a long time. Jack Gantos has brilliantly written the experience of the awkward 11-year- old boy. Every character is meticulously flawed and charming. It's an obviously personal story.

The wide-eyed look at the quirky town of Norvelt will have you laughing out loud.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Prom

I'm on a roll with the prom books. I kind of love this whole one-night-story theme.

Au Revoir Crazy European Chick is not high literature but it is an intensely fun read. Perry's family gets a Lithuanian exchange student. His mom forces him to take her to the prom and she turns out to be an international assassin. Naturally. :)

The story that unfolds is a wild ride of violence through New York City (while wearing prom gear) -- kind of like Nick & Norah with guns.

There are a lot of holes in the story line, but if you can suspend your disbelief, it's a fun story. There are some interesting twists and you end up sympathizing with the gun-wielding European chick, but I wish there were more consequences in general.

This will make an adrenaline-rich movie.

I didn't know what to expect when I picked up Anti-Prom. I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of those Breakfast Club type stories with the princess, the wallflower and the scary chick all represented.

The way they're thrown together is a little thin, but once it gets started it's a good story of high school pain and bonding. A different take on the the whole, "we all suffer" theme.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Man Eating Horses & Chocolate

Let's start with dessert, shall we? I read this book because I love Gabrielle Zevin. Elsewhere is one of my all time favorite books. I had no idea what to expect when I read it and was pleasantly surprised.

The premise of this book is brilliant. Set in the near future, all the luxuries of the world are in short supply -- water, paper and phone calls are all rationed. In addition, chocolate and coffee have been banned (much like prohibition). This is the perfect setting for today's caffeine-addicted teens (and teen librarians). :)

Set in this slightly off-putting world, is a story of a mob family that deals in black-market goods. It's the story of a teenage girl who has to find her place in the world and in her family. She makes incredibly difficult choices for and sometimes, in spite of, the people she loves.

I found this novel incredibly powerful. There's nothing typical about this coming of age story. And by the end, you'll feel the pain of her difficult decisions. (The end is fabulous and heart-wrenching).

So maybe man-eating horses aren't the best topic for Thanksgiving, but you'll have to get over it.

I just finished this book and was a blubbering mess by the end. I had some trouble getting into it at first. I'm not very good at keeping track of characters and this story is set in a complicated world of horses, a tight-knit nosy community and family tragedy.

Once I got into it, though, the story blew me away. I'm usually disappointed when authors insert a love story into a science fiction/fantasy, but this one was so much more than that. It's about survival, family, brutality and pushing the limits of what these teens will do for love.

This story will especially appeal to teens who have known the love and loyalty of a horse. It's very touching.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Without Tess

Marcella Pixley is an amazing author. I will recommend Freak to kids for years to come.

Her new book, Without Tess, did not disappoint. Wow.

The entire book reads with a whimsical, almost dreamlike, childhood quality and the poetry sprinkled between the chapters cut right to the bone.

Lizzie is struggling with the death of her sister, Tess. She blames herself for her sister's death... but it's so much more than that. Tess struggled with mental illness masked by fantastical play and a magical connection with her devoted sister. How could her immortal, magical sister perish and leave her behind? It's all too much to take.

The story is told in short chapters going back and forth between memories of the past, therapy sessions and poetry from both girls.

I was pleased to see not only the frailty and flaws, but also the power and strength of the adults in Lizzie's life. This is a quick and satisfying read and will leave you with tears in your eyes.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

in Honor of Banned Books Week

It's been a busy month...

I got my very first written book complaint a few weeks ago. A former middle school teacher left a post-it on this book saying that it was inappropriate and should be removed.

So I read it and it was fabulous!

It's about a Muslim family who is torn apart by bullying, hate and Homeland Security. The characters are strong and complex and very empathetic. It's a compelling mystery and a chilling story of false accusations and assumptions in our society.

Now, this book may not be appropriate for middle school students, but it's an excellent choice for high school students and would be a fabulous book for discussion.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cover issues

Found this article; thought of Alissa.

I don't know that I have much to add to the conversation, besides agreement that, yes, it's creepy to look at a display of books and see only torsos, or feet. Lately, when we do get a face, there's a good chance that it's the same face on a different book. Book covers are supposed to be dynamic marketing tools, pulling potential readers in with an interesting image that will set that book apart from all the others.

(The reused-images things isn't limited to teen books, nor to covers of faces. But you knew that.)

So how do you get a teen interested in a book that looks just like all the other books? How do you convince someone that Sarah Dessen's books aren't as fluffy as the covers suggest? Or that House Of Stairs is still a creepy read and holds up well, even though the only in-print version hasn't had a cover re-design since 1991? It's easy when it's a teen who trusts your judgement--one you've recommended books to before--but when it's a teen who hasn't been in before, or hasn't spoken to you before, it can be hard to overcome the decisions of the publisher's art department.

And this isn't even getting into proper representation--the great Whitewashing debates, or the unwillingness to show overweight or unattractive girls, even on books about ugly and/or fat girls. That's a whole other issue that's been covered elsewhere.

So maybe this is more of a link round-up than any commentary on trends, or on the original article. But the fact that I can do such a link round-up--without much effort, even--says we have a number of problems that need solving.

Friday, August 12, 2011

some decent audio book selections

Let's start with my least favorite, shall we?

I didn't expect much from this story but it was such a mess of pop culture madness that I could barely finish it. I didn't find the narrator particularly engaging but the story read like a bad screenplay.

Maybe they'll make another mediocre movie out of it.

This one was awesome. I didn't know what to expect but what unfolded was a creepy ghost story. The audio book really emphasized the creep factor.

It reminded me of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- ever see the one with the haunted frat house?

What would you do if people kept disappearing from your school? What if you realized that the people who disappeared all used the same desk. And now that desk has messages carved in it...

Add to it the fact that Cryer's Cross is in the middle of nowhere. And the new guy in town doesn't speak. Good stuff.

This was the funniest thing I've listened to in a LONG time. Not since Catch the Fly have I laughed this hard.

The book starts off with a bang. Seth gets dumped in the middle of Applebees. Of course, while he's being dumped he notices that his father is with a strange woman. Eeek.

He tries to work through all of this in a "secret" podcast. Of course, it quickly becomes the hottest download at school. Whoops.

Seth is hilarious and his friends are an awesome collection of characters.

A must listen!

I expected this one to be another flimsy dystopian romance, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Cassia lives in a world perfectly crafted for everyone. The society has matched her with her best friend and they are slated to be married. Everything is planned for her... but one day there is a glitch. Could she be matched with an aberration instead of her best friend? Why are her food portions getting smaller? And what exactly is she being trained to do at work? Will Cassia trade her safe, perfect world for the possibility of freedom?

It all comes together beautifully in a creepy, futuristic way reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.

The author has clearly created a very complete and detailed world. I can't wait for the sequel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Revolution? Not so much.

Ok, so the cover of the hardcover wasn't thrilling, but the paperback is ridiculous! Is she going to eat the key? Is she smelling it? Is she using it as some kind of medium? Maybe they're trying to embody that wackadoodle time travel part of the book... personally I'm trying to forget that section so that I can love the rest.

Ok, rant over.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I didn't think I'd like this book. I'm sick of vampires and the cover looks like porn. Ew.

But, it was oddly fascinating. I expected the juxtaposition of epilepsy and vampirism to go somewhere creepier, but that's ok.

And maybe it's just my childhood love of astronomy, but the fact that most of the book took place on a NASA base was awesome. And her love interest is a NASA nerd. YAY!

Ok, so not a deep read but definitely amusing. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Let's talk about Books Sharon Could Not Finish

Before y'all get bent out of shape, this is just a few of the books that *I* couldn't finish. Just because I didn't like them doesn't mean that someone else didn't.

I tried really hard to get through this one. I really did. I just couldn't. The noir thing just doesn't do it for me and I really didn't see a lot of teen appeal. Plus, I had trouble following the story and caring about the characters. I think I got about halfway through this one.

I picked this one up because the kids were raving about it. I don't know if it's my age or what, but I just can't read books that have *that* many different fonts. I could barely see the emails let alone understand them.

I think I got through 2 chapters. I'll take the kids word for it!

I tried listening to this one because a friend recommended it. I got through a little more than half of it before I gave up. The problem is that I just didn't care. I didn't know for whom I should be rooting and why. And in the end, I decided that I just didn't care to see what happened.

I tried this one before I gave up trying Printz winners just because of the seal. I got through about a chapter of it before i gave up. I just couldn't follow the jumble of events. Maybe I'll try it again later. Or maybe not.

I tried this one mainly because it looked funny. It was a while ago, but I remember thinking that the author kept saying the same thing over and over again to explain the plight of vampires. Blah blah. Who else is sick of vampires? I think I got through 5 chapters.

Does anyone else have a list of shame like this? :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bitter End

Ok, I am really curious what other people thought of this book because I was extremely disappointed.

I LOVED Hate List but this story read like a sappy After School Special. The characters seemed two dimensional and predictable and the whole story line felt contrived.

Alex has just lost her mother and is flailing. Then she meets Cole, the handsome new student. They start dating, he fills her need to be loved and then he gets controlling and creepy. She brushes it off and the abuse escalates until he's beating the crap out of her in a dark parking lot. The whole thing read like a bad horror movie. I wanted to scream at her the whole time. NO, don't have sex! The monster will KILL YOU if you're not a virgin!

Her father was too tangled up in his own grief to notice that his daughter "tripped in a parking lot" and ended up with a black eye and broken tooth? And that the creepy guy was leaving roses on his daughter's car and screaming outside the house in the middle of the night?

I think the weird combination of self-aware on an adult level and adolescently oblivious really struck a bad chord for me. While I like the idea of dating violence in YA fiction, this isn't doing the trick. The whole thing seemed like a cautionary tale written by overzealous caretakers. I wouldn't be surprised to see this one made into a Lifetime movie.

I really would have liked to hear more about how she got rid of him, too. Hanging up on him didn't seem like a particularly good end to me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Other Side of Dark

I just finished this book while sitting here at the Children's Desk. Wow.

It's a combination of ghost story, historical fiction and modern tale of grief and ptsd all rolled into one. This author did a serious amount of research on Boston history, Olmstead and the history of slavery.

Told from alternating points of view, Law and Katie tell their stories of their relationship with a historical house in the Emerald Necklace of Boston. Katie is haunted by ghosts of slaves and Law is fascinated by the architecture and torn by his parents' clashing opinions on what should be done with the property. At the same time, Katie is dealing with the devastating loss of her mother and Law is struggling with his race identity. It sounds like a lot, but Sarah Smith really makes it work.

It's chilling and detailed and even has a saitsfying end.

Monday, May 30, 2011

a few new goodies

I absolutely loved Wednesday Wars so I was excited to pick this one up. Set during the Vietnam War in upstate New York, Doug Swieteck has moved to a small town with his troubled family. He has no friends and his older brother is off in Vietnam so he befriends the local librarian and learns to draw with the help of Audubon's inspirational artwork. When his brother returns, blind and missing both his legs, Doug has to figure out how to survive and connect with people.

This book reminded me a lot of Things a Brother Knows, but it also had that depth of adult-child connection as seen in the Card Turner. This is a very long book and I worry that it won't capture kids' attention, but it's very well crafted.

Carol Lynch Williams has a gift for capturing the raw, painful truth of a situation without losing the authenticity of the teen experience. This is a short and powerful story of 13 year old Lacey who has taken on the responsibility of caring for her mentally ill mother. They have just moved to a new town and she quickly discovers that she can't do it alone. Each character is carefully and artfully drawn and the conclusion is painfully accurate. You'll ride the roller coaster of emotions with Lacey as she swings back and forth between abandonment, fear, anger and loneliness. I would love to hand this book to every parentified child I meet...

I love Elizabeth Scott. I really do. This is a page turner. I read it in one sitting. Abby worships her older sister, Tess, and is haunted by the standard she set. When Tess is in a car accident and falls into a coma, Abby is smothered by surviver's guilt.

This story is a little heavy handed in the psychoanalysis department. I find it hard to believe that a teenager would have such deep meta-anlysis tools, but then again, I think too much. :)

I was frustrated, empathetic, annoyed and compassionate with Abby throughout the story. She really struggles to find her place in the world and to learn that she affects others. In her pain, she becomes unbelievably narcissistic which is so painfully accurate. This is a unique coming of age story.

Guess who snagged the new Sarah Dessen on her way to vacation? That would be me. :)

In true Sarah Dessen style, this story is readable, authentic and lovely. McLean is the child of an ugly divorce and is now moving from town to town with her entrepreneur father. With each town, McLean pulls out a completely different personality complete with name. She promises that she'll make no attachments and leave nothing behind when she moves again.

Of course that doesn't work. :) This story reminds me a little of Hope Was Here (one of my all time favorites). She finally faces up to her demons, makes some friends and comes into her own.

Look for the shout outs to her other books -- Heidi helps her buy a bathing suit from Clementine's, etc. Good stuff all around.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Keep Your Eyes Out For This One

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone releases in October and it is definitely one to keep your eyes open for. There has been buzz about this book since Midwinter and I have been dying to get my hands on it since the fabulous Victoria Stapleton at Little Brown told me about it. So imagine my surprise when I got an arc of it in the mail from Ingram (there was some jumpimg up and down and squeeling involved -- needless to say my staff think I'm nuts). It is everything I'd heard and so much more... interesting story, fascinating characters, outstanding writing. Put it on you to read lists now- it is definitely worth the wait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you mean you haven't read these yet?

Ok, first I have to say that in the interest of full disclosure, I have been dubbed by a certain friend (you know who you are) as the Master of Cheese.... So let's just say that I knew I would enjoy Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins despite it's cookie cutter, predictable romance plot. Yet, enjoy is not a strong enough description for how much I adored this book. Perkins has mastered realistic teenage voices with great snappy dialog. She absolutely captures scenes conveying a strong sense of time and place- I really felt like I was back in Paris while reading this- all while maintaining a steady pace. Etienne will be the next literary crush for many girls- he is completely swoon worthy.

I am not a runner. I see absolutely no appeal in it. I can't do it. I'm not even sure that I could run if someone was chasing me. Yet, something about Wendelin Van Draanen's The Running Dream completely captured me. This is a quiet and thoughtful look at a teen girl whose world is shattered when she loses her leg after a terrible accident. Running is such a part of Jessica's identity, that she struggles to find meaning in life after she loses her leg. Her growth from the deepest blackest pit of despair is beautifully and realistically handled and deeply compelling.

Kimberly Marcus's Exposed is a powerful verse novel about "forever best friends" whose friendship is shattered after one girl accuses the older brother of the other of rape. The verse is sparse and poignant. The narrative focuses on Liz, who struggles with the loss of her best friend, the tarnished image of her beloved older brother, and the gossip that comes from being the sister of a rapist.

I wondered how Jennifer Brown would top last year's Hate List. I should have known that her second novel Bitter End would be just as compelling, powerful, and heartbreaking. Alex is such a compelling character, even though as an adult reader I couldn't help but want to shake her silly as she continued to justify her boyfriend's physical and emotional abuse. Alex is aware of her situation, but refuses to admit to being "that girl" in an abusive relationship, so she clings to Cole's promises to change. Brown skillfully avoids falling into the afterschool special trap.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A random collection of girly books

Let's start with my favorite of the batch, shall we?

I didn't think I would like the Mermaid's Mirror. I am not usually a fan of girly fantasy and it started out so rooted in reality that I was worried it would be too much like Aprilynne Pike's Wings.

But I was plesantly surprised. Lena is a pretty normal 16 year old beach girl. She wonders about her biological mother and desperately wants to learn to surf. She has friend problems and boy problems. She also has a completely adorable relationship with her 6 year old brother, Cole. She's a regular kid, right?

Then she finds out that her mother is a mermaid. What unfolds is a beautiful allegory of family, identity and the choices teens have to make about their lives. The descriptions are wonderful and completely sucked me in. The end was a little anti-climactic but I'm always critical of endings.

Any book that opens with goat crap on the main character's shoe has my attention. Janie figures that she's ruined her life by convincing her parents to leave the suburbs to live on a farm on the outskirts of town. Well, what she discovers is that normal is overrated (I know, duh, but it's cute.)

This story is full of quirky and lovable characters like her mother who continually fails in her attempts to sew, her library friend Verbena who writes on her arm in Sharpie and Monster (his real name), the huge guy who teaches Janie to play the bass.

Woven into this book is a story about two fearless women who once started the Freedom School to help black people learn to read.

This is a very quick and enjoyable read.

I love Joan Bauer so I had high expectations when I picked up this book. I was nervous at first because the story seemed flimsy. Foster is 12 and wants to become a Food Network chef. She can charm anyone with her fabulous muffins and cupcakes.

She and her mom leave their home to escape from her mom's abusive Elvis-impersonator boyfriend. They end up in a tiny hick town in West Virginia.

But then, in true Joan Bauer fashion, we discover that Foster can't read! The story unfolds in a wonderful collection of characters and heart warming, small town antics.

I was not a fan of What I Saw and How I Lied. I just wasn't. But I figured I'd give Strings Attached a chance and I was glad.

Set in New York in 1950, Kit Corrigan is a dancer trying to make it on her own. As the chapters flip between past and present events (I worry that this will turn off teen readers), the mysteries of her boyfriend, brother and boyfriend's slick mobster-connected father unfold into a dangerous and intriguing tangle.

The whole thing turns into a creepy gangster murder mystery with a heart pounding ending. I wonder, though, if the appeal is really YA or adult. I suspect it will be well received among librarians if not among teens.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I was so excited to read this book that I actually snatched from a 15 year old's hands telling her that I'd "preview" it for her. HA.

And, true to form, Lauren Oliver has written a compelling and slightly addictive story of a world where love is considered to be a deadly disease. Much like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy, this world mandates brain surgery when kids come of age... and there's a small faction that refuses to live within this constraint.

There is something missing in this world, though. Whereas the world of Uglies is complete and believable, the world of Delirium seems more like a random departure from our current society -- an almost Nazi-ish regime complete with raiding parties and a hellish prison system.

Read it for the thought-provoking premise and for the beautifully crafted love story. Just don't put her science fiction under a microscope because you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Two lovely books

I was on a roll with these two. One Crazy Summer was AWESOME. I'm not sure how many kids will understand much about the Black Panthers and the civil rights movement, but the story is genuinely wonderful.

Delphine is the oldest of three sisters who go to Oakland to meet their mother in the summer of 1968. Their mother, Cecile, is completely disappointing as a mother figure. She sends them off to Black Panther summer camp everyday because she doesn't want them around. The girls are feisty and lovable and are trying to figure out who their mother is and how they fit into her crazy activist world.

The summer is crazy on so many levels. It's 1968 and American life is changing forever. But, for the girls, it's also about identity, family, sisterhood and figuring out what's "right." I'm critical of most endings, but this one was bittersweet and perfect.

Cynthia Lord hit one out of the park with Touch Blue. It's set on an island off Maine where the school is in danger of closing because there are too few children in attendance. The town comes together and welcomes foster children into their community. But, what must it be like for a foster child to know they were taken in just to keep their school open?

Thirteen year old Tess meets her new foster brother, Aaron, and deals with exactly that. Aaron wishes his biological mother was able to take care of him and Tess wants to make him feel welcome.

This is all set amid crazy small town antics, lobstering and musical magic.

This is a wonderful middle grade book... heartwarming and sweet.


I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this book. Then I met Amber Appleton, the main character. She's smart, spunky and very loveable. And she has lots of problems like most YA heroines. She lives in a school bus with her crazy mother. Amber volunteers in a nursing home and in a local Korean church and inspires everyone. It's all very Sarah Dessen esque until...


Her mother is raped and murdered by someone who should have been on an episode of SVU. Amber gets sorta depressed and angry and cuts everyone off. Of course this had to happen, right? I mean, a story without tragedy is boring. But, wait, wasn't she already homeless??


But then she turns into friggin Pollyanna and the whole town comes together to save her from her penniless existence.

I don't know, it all seems a little too candy coated to me. I loved Amber and her crazy friends and her wacknut dog, BBB, but I felt like I'd slipped into an episode of cheesy television by the end. I really wanted it to be more realistic and satifying ... more like Honey Baby Sweetheart. Alas, it just slipped into cheesy sweetness.

It was a light read and sorta funny, so I'd recommend it as a Sarah Dessen read alike or Deb Caletti- lite.