Friday, June 28, 2013

ALA Annual: Prologue

Well, my week started with someone (a child, at least) pooping on the floor in the PreK area.

I am now on the Metra, speeding through peoples' back yards on my way to Chicago. I'm surrounded by Blackhawks fans, and am preparing myself for a madhouse with this celebratory parade.  I make this trip about once a month, for both business and pleasure.  I like to tuck myself away in the upper level with a book (not possible on this trip- as I had to bring luggage big enough for the ARC haul).  I also like to bring a large bag of Garrett's Chicago Mix popcorn home with me (half of it rarely makes it back).

I'm really looking forward to this- this is my first professional conference post-MLIS.  I got to attend the exhibits hall in 2009 (and meet Neil Gaiman!)

[Graveyard Book @ ALA 2009- Chicago; also 50 lbs ago]

And I was actually at PLA in Portland, OR in 2010 when I got notification that I passed my comp exams for my MLIS.

So, here I go.  Armed with color-coded exhibit hall maps, my session scheduler, and psyching myself up to be more extroverted (possibly handing out business cards like a Vegas strip club promoter?).  Surrounded by mentors, authors, publishers and all around library awesomeness- I am excited to make the most of everything this conference has to offer.  Annnd if anyone is around and wants to join me in eating my way through Chinatown on Monday...

[Not Chicago's Chinatown- San Francisco - but still delicious bubble tea]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Theory of Everything

Does anyone remember the show Wonderfalls?  With the French-Canadian girl that worked in a Niagara Falls gift shop, and random tchotchkes would come to life in front of her and give her cryptic messages? And Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies, etc) was her brother?  I loved that show.  Which of course means it got canceled too soon.

Reading the description for The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna, my thoughts first went toward The Big Bang Theory (String Theory and Physics and all).  However, when I got to the part about Sophie Sophia seeing things others don't see, and having a Shaman Panda to guide mind went straight back to Wonderfalls, and my thoughts went to "Read this. Read this NOW!"

Sophie Sophia is fourteen years old, and she sees things that others don't see.  Things like baby black bears raining from the sky, marching band pandas, and playing guitar with The Cure.  She listens to mix-tapes (late 80s bands) on a Walkman, and wears funky clothing with fun-shaped pockets.  Her father is a theoretical physicist at NYU who also sees things others don't see.  He left four years ago, and now it seems he's disappeared completely.  Sophie's Mom has settled them in Havencrest, Illinois (New York City it is not), where Sophie isn't exactly fitting in.  Armed with her new friend Finny and Walt, her shaman panda, Sophie tries to find her father.  Set to a soundtrack from The Smiths, The Cure, U2 and such, it is an adventure in string theory, friendship, the extraordinary, and most importantly- love.

The Theory of Everything is a smart, quirky, funny YA novel (with a bit of mystery thrown in).  I loved Sophie- she was such a charming, intelligent character.  She's an outsider, who's built up walls. Seeing her friendship with Finny develop was such a highlight of the story.  I just wanted to give her a hug.  I really connected with Sophie (quirky kids unite!), and there's a point in her friendship with Finny where walls come down and I just sobbed with her. 

As a chronic listmaker, I got such a kick out of the lists she creates throughout the book, like "How to Survive Going to a New School" and "How to Survive Going to School After an Episode."  And I enjoyed the evolution of those lists from the start of school to learning to let people in.

This was a fantastic book, and one that I would enjoy reading again.  Annnd it helped me, even after 6 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, sorta kinda understand String Theory (so yay!)  I would recommend it to anyone interested in String Theory, Late-80s music, Being Yourself, and Pandas (especially Shaman Pandas).

The Theory of Everything is published by Philomel Books (Penguin USA).  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 07.11.13

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Awaken by Meg Cabot is the third book in the Abandon trilogy...which I have really enjoyed keeping up with.  I love pretty much anything by her- and have you seen her YouTube Channel?  Dying!!! (in that Who Framed Roger Rabbit "laugh yourselves to death" kind of way).

As with most series installments, it took awhile for my brain to catch back up with everything that happened beforehand.  Ha, "previously on Abandon..."

So, without giving away too much, in this final book of the YA series:

We are again thrust into The Underworld.  Pierce Oliviera and John Hayden are together, herding souls onto ships on the River Styx.  However, John has broken a strict rule- he brought a human back to life.  Furies are furious, and the life-death balance is all out of whack.  Pierce has to go back to Isla Huesos.  We meet Thanatos, the personification of Death. There is an epic battle in a cemetery. Lobster Tacos are offered. All on the quest to restore balance to the Underworld.

I have always loved Mythology, and I like how Meg Cabot took the Hades/Persephone story and gave it an awesome twist.  The lead characters are interesting- flawed yet...noble? I think that's close to what I'm looking for.  And the supporting characters are very likable- I want Kayla to be my best friend.  They have some great one-liners and situations- I found myself snickering quite a bit.  There's also a lot of action, and Pierce gets to show off some pretty cool bad-assery.  

This final installment was an emotional roller-coaster for me.  It was very "Wait, what!?! NOOOOOO!!!! Oh yay!!!!! What the crap!?!"  So thumbs up Meg Cabot, two thumbs way, way up!

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Meg Cabot's other books (especially the others in the Abandon trilogy), mythology, fantasy, and Florida weather.

Awaken is published by Point, an imprint of Scholastic. Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 07.02.13

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let's Visit Istanbul!

-not Constantinople! [c'mon, you know you were singing it, too]

The Bella & Harry series, written by Lisa Manzione and illustrated by Kristine Lucco, is about sibling chihuahuas who visit different countries with their family.  In Bella & Harry: Let's Visit Istanbul, we join them on a trip to Turkey.  We visit various mosques, bazaars, and keep a lookout for magic flying carpets!

As someone who grew up traveling, I love how this series introduces different cultures and languages to young readers in a very accessible way.  Children learn basic words/phrases in context in the story, and are provided a glossary in back.

The beautiful illustrations give us even more context, from the beautiful colors of spices at the market to the Blue Mosque.  We also learn about things like Turkish Delight!  Which, of course, I knew about from The Chronicles of Narnia.  I tried making it from scratch having never tried it...epic fail.  I do see it at a local grocery store from time to time...should probably try it that way...

Even grown-ups can take something away from this book and others in the series!  I actually hadn't known about the Bosphorus Bridge, and learned that it's the bridge that connects Asia to Europe.  Let's Visit Istanbul is the ninth book in this series, and I look forward to reading the rest!  Even though I'm not the biggest chihuahua fan (I had a babysitter who had a very mean one- Bella & Harry seem legit, though).

I would recommend this to parents and children who are interested in travel, languages, cultures, and of course- dogs!

The Adventures of Bella & Harry series is published by Bella & Harry, LLC.  Digital review copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After Iris

After Iris by Natasha Farrant is the bittersweet story of Blue and her family in London.  Told through Blue's diary entries and screenplay transcripts, this middle-grade novel follows the Gadsby family as they continue to deal with the death of Iris- Blue's twin sister.  As parents become busier with work to forget, a Mr. Tumnus-esque au pair enters to deal with Flora (16), Bluebell (13), Jasmine (8), and Twig (10).  Anyone with siblings will appreciate the relationship these four share.

Don't let the heavy subject matter deter you.  Farrant manages to deal with the death of a sibling (or child) while still catching hilarious family moments.  I mean...really?  Pet rats racing around a schoolroom in RC Aston Martins?  The story has some very heartbreaking moments, but they are balanced with very heartwarming moments.  

It did take me awhile to get used to the screenplay format, but once I did *shrug*.  It helped paint the scenes!  While there is an overarching storyline, the different "scenes" had their own mini stories.  If anyone read something like McCloskey's Homer Price, it reminded me a lot of that.

I enjoyed After Iris very much (and not just because Iris is my grandmother's name)- and would recommend it to Jr. Highers who want to read about families, death in a family or England. Or who enjoy filmography.

After Iris is published by Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin USA).  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 07.11.2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Kami, Kendo, Yakuza...just the beginnings of INK by Amanda Sun- the first of The Paper Gods YA series.

Katie Greene is newly orphaned, and has moved across the world to Japan to live with her aunt.  She becomes attracted to the school's kendo superstar, Yuu Tomohiro.  However, when she's around him, drawings and doodles come to life (like, snails coming at her with snapping teeth from a homework page).  Turns out Tomo is connected to the kami, the ancient Shinto spirits. The Yakuza are after him, wanting to use his abilities.  As the two get closer, things get out of control.  The result is a power struggle that will stir the core of Japan, and the core of Yuu.


I really, really liked this book.  Having been on an obsessive (to my husband's chagrin) manga kick & K/J-Drama kick the past 8-or-so months, I kept comparing the story to those- and it totally lined up.  There's a Cherry Blossom viewing scene that could've been taken right out of Honey and Clover.  Plus, all of the awesome mythology!

Amanda Sun was great at bringing in cultural Japanese "stuff."  Honorifics, slippers, the Yakuza, school children cleaning the school, viewing the sakura when they bloom, after school activities, the crazy neon kanji on Japanese TV shows...and the food, oh the food!  Thanks manga for educating me on okonomiyaki, Anpanman [pictured in my Pictures page], etc- I didn't even have to check the glossary to know what they were eating.  It pretty much makes you hungry through the whole book.  And really makes you want to go eat your way through Japan.  Not in Godzilla fashion, though...

It is kind of your typical outcast girl meets bad boy story- however, bringing in the Japanese mythology and cultural dynamic gives it something extra.  Enough of a twist to make it interesting/different.

I love how Sun put the romanized Japanese in italics, and had a glossary in the back.  It was much more effective than not having ANY definitions, or inundating the page with parenthetical definitions.  The pages also have flip sketches at the bottoms that go along with themes in the book.  There are sketches and paintings included in the novel, bringing it even more to life.  The cover is just beautiful- I love the color scheme, and the dripping ink.  There's also a Q&A at the back, with the author and artists; book discussion questions are included.

[sidenote: You know when you're reading, and you come across something and are really excited because you already know what it's referencing?  I may have done that with the mention of dango.  I learned what this was after viewing the credits of the anime Clannad (and the song has been my ringtone for months).  So, for your viewing pleasure- The Happy Dango Family!]

This YA novel is great for those interested in Japanese culture, mythology and food; also for those who like supernatural romances and Manga.  I'm super-excited for the next installment!  

INK is published by Harlequin Teen.  ARC graciously provided by the Publisher.
Release Date: 06.25.2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Wells Bequest

This is how it happened-

Me: Hmmmm...this ARC looks really good!  Oh, it's a companion to another book.  Oh well, it should still make sense.
[60 pages in]
Me: Erm...oh wait, I did read the companion.  That explains a lot.

How is it I can remember all the characters and parallels in Stephen King's books over several years, but couldn't remember that I read The Grimm Legacy?  And I liked it!  And it was only two years ago!?


A library!  A library that lets you check out objects!  A library that lets you check out enchanted objects!

That is the premise of The Wells Bequest (and The Grimm Legacy) by Polly Shulman.

Leo comes from a family of scientists, but he's the more creative one.  One day, a six-inch version of himself, along with a girl he's never met, arrives in his bedroom on a tiny time machine.  Mini-Leo instructs him to read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.  His search for the time machine, and the girl, leads him to the New York Circulating Material Depository.  This fabulous library lends out objects- from fairy tales and classic science fiction novels.  He meets Jaya, the Head Page, and thinks there's something familiar about her.  What follows is an awesome story of history, time travel, adventure...and some amazing inventions.  And a nice little run-in with Nikola Tesla.

I loved this book.  As the humanities person in a family of engineers...I empathized a bit with Leo (though, he's still more mechanically minded than me).  I've also always had a fascination with H.G. Wells- in 3rd grade I picked up a copy of The Time Machine, because it was such a slim book.  It took awhile before I actually understood what was going on.  Then, in 5th grade I did a book report on War of the Worlds- I even created a board game as part of the project!  I remember, I used a "came with the frame" family as people watching the skies...

I love how these fictional inventions of authors like Wells and Verne are made non-fiction...or are they?  There's a very Schrodinger's Cat-esqueness about the whole Materials Repository that I can't think about too much, lest I get a nosebleed.  There are many references to automatons and other early inventions that I now have to look Rossum's Robot.  The writing is smart and fast-paced, and the characters are great!  Especially when having to give something up as collateral, when checking something out from the Special Collection.

Really, if 19th-century literature and The Big Bang Theory had a love-child...this novel would be it.  It's hilarious, smart, scientific and literary.  And just friggin' cool! 

I would recommend this to anyone who likes Wells & Verne, The Big Bang Theory and/or The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  And I'm hoping the next book has to do with Poe and Lovecraft.

The Wells Bequest is published by Nancy Paulsen Books.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 06.13.13 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Boxers & Saints (Part II)

Saints is Gene Yang's graphic novel that parallels Boxers.

It is the story of Four Girl- the fourth daughter born, on the fourth day of the fourth month, and the only one of her mother's children to live past a year.  Her grandfather refuses to give her a name, because "four" is a homonym for "death."  She is unwanted in her home, and finds solace (and food) from the Christian missionaries and converts.  She takes the saintly name Vibiana, and begins working at an orphanage in a Christian compound.  Throughout the novel, she sees visions of Joan of Arc.  Guided by Saint Joan, she becomes a maiden warrior, fighting for her faith against the Boxers.  

This graphic novel, as with its companion, is very well done.  It takes the alternate perspective- that of the Christians converts and foreigners- and contrasts it with those fighting to free China from them.  The book also does particularly well with highlighting symbolism in Chinese numerology, as well as showing the place of females in that society.  

The colors are mainly sepia, with visions of Joan of Arc in bright gold.  The gold gave a very ethereal feel, and more purposeful than ghastly.  Like "pay attention to me- I'm not haunting you, I'm actually showing you something very important."

One thing that really caught me was a layout-ish difference between the two novels.  In Boxers, the chapters are titled by years- in Saints, by Vibiana's age.  This was kind of a punch-in-the-gut for me, as I hadn't realized how young these characters were.  While reading Boxers I had assumed the characters were in their twenties.  I was wrong.

Maybe it's because I'm a girl, but I connected more with Saints.  However, I can't really compare the two volumes separately.  Together they tell the story of an important time in history, from two perspectives, and they do it in a way that is accessible- but still heart-wrenching.  They weave together the society, history, traditions, religions, arts and symbolism of that period in China.  The illustrations are fantastic.  

All in all, a perfect recipe for reaching kids and adults alike.  Boxers & Saints gets two thumbs up from this librarian!

For my review on Boxers, click here.

Saints is published by :01 First Second.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 09.10.13

Friday, June 7, 2013

Boxers & Saints (Part I)

Confession- when I get excited, I do this with my hands:

And this is exactly what happened when I got my hands on the review copies of Gene Luen Yang's Boxers & Saints two-volume graphic novel.  

When I was getting my MLIS, Mr. Yang's American Born Chinese was required for my YA lit class.  I read it twice in as many days.  I still grab it when I see it on the shelf at the library, and flip through at my desk or on breaks.  I just love the way this man writes and illustrates.

Boxers is the first in a two-volume graphic novel series about the Boxer Rebellion.  It is the story of Little Bao, a young man in 1898 China, who has had enough of missionaries and foreign soldiers hurting those he cares about.  A major breaking point leads him to form a band of common villagers. He trains them in kung fu- they are called Boxers (or "The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists").  They make their way to Peking, fighting to free China from the "foreign devils."

Little Bao's journey is one side of this historical uprising.  Yang's narration and drawing is...magical.  I had actually never heard of the Boxer Rebellion.  Well, I may have heard of it, but hadn't looked into it at all.  I loved the way this graphic novel wove together history, folklore, religion, and traditional arts.  The overlying colors are incredibly neutral, and then Chinese Gods and Goddesses, opera characters, and puppets come out in shockingly bright, beautiful colors.  It's this awesome punch that really shows what Little Bao is feeling.  There is laughter and heartbreak, all told beautifully.  It makes a pretty rough topic accessible to young adults.

Plus, there's a climactic library scene.

The main character's name has a place in my heart as well.  My sister spent a few months in China, and every morning went to the same bakery and ordered the same thing: Gai Mei Bao.  To the point where the ladies started calling her Bao (it is also one of the few things I can actually order in Chinese [and the extent of my Chinese is absolutely just food]).

I can't speak enough praise about this graphic novel.  I enjoy anything that makes me want to learn more about...anything.  Like how Mirror, Mirror made me go on a Borgia stint.  I have a feeling I will be researching this for the next few weeks.

I'll be reviewing Boxers' parallel novel, Saints, next.

Boxers is published by :01 First Second.  Digital Copy provided by NetGalley.
Release Date:  09.10.13

Thursday, June 6, 2013

45 Pounds (More or Less)

Oh my- this could have been written about me...

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson was a fun, relatable read.  

Ann Galardi is a 16-year old girl, who wears a size 17.  She has been in Weight Watchers four times since she was 10.  She's struggled through diet after diet, only to lose a little and gain the weight back (and then some).  Her mother is very thin, and her grandmother (jokingly) calls everyone "fat-ass."  When Ann is asked to be a bridesmaid at her favorite aunt's wedding, she decides something needs to change!  She ends up ordering a weight loss system off an infomercial, and gets a job at a mall pretzel shop to pay for it.  As she juggles diet, exercise, a summer job, friends (and ex-friends), and a very blended family, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin.

I devoured (pun?) this book!  From the infomercial product ordering (Nutrisystem didn't work for me...but Zumba and TurboFire did) to the embarrassing, dress debacle in the dressing room...I've been there.  I've struggled with my weight all my life, but hit my breaking point about 4 years ago and lost 50 lbs.  But I was that overweight 16-year old up through college and the first half of grad school- trying to shop in cute stores that didn't have anything in my size.  I was cheering for her, and empathizing with her, through the whole thing!  

K.A. Barson did a great job of portraying what a lot of girls go through in their journey to a healthier lifestyle.  From poring over product websites, looking at before & after pictures, to eating a bunch of crap in one-sitting, because "after tomorrow...".  She also did a good job portraying how relationships can change: mother-daughter, father-daughter, brother-sister, stepparent-stepchild, old friends, new friends.  

I appreciated, too, that it wasn't extremely focused on eating disorders.  While I also tend to be drawn toward those (Fat Chance, Wintergirls, The Best Little Girl in the World) it is nice to see a different perspective on weight loss.  Those books are very good, but can also be very...draining.  
I would recommend this to anyone who is struggling, or has struggled with weight.  I would also recommend it to those interested in mother-daughter relationships, and anyone who likes pretzels (cuz seriously, the whole time I was reading, I wanted a pretzel...with nacho cheese...and still do.)

45 Pounds (More or Less) is published by Viking/Penguin Group (USA).  ARC provided by NetGalley. 
Release date: 7.11.13

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Samurai Summer

So, I picked this book, because I tend to be drawn toward all things Asian.  And then I realized the author is Swedish (wha...???)  Then I actually started reading it, and learned it's about a summer camp.  Having spent many a summer at summer camp (and band camp, and theater camp), I was intrigued.

Sidenote: The term "camp" has actually been the base of many an argument between my husband and me.  I grew up in New England, where a camp- not a summer camp- is basically a summer home.  Or winter home.  Away from "it all." Nearness to a body of water is generally a given.  We have a nice one on Moosehead Lake. My husband says this is a cabin, and camp is where you play games with a bunch of kids, do crafts, and have counselors.  Deer/moose camps are something else, entirely.

Plus, the cover's pretty awesome, eh?

Samurai Summer by Åke Edwardson (translated by Per Carlsson) is the story of Kenny's last summer at camp.  Kenny's real name is Tommy- he renamed himself after ken (Japanese for sword).  He is obsessed with the ways of the Samurai, and is training himself to become one. It is set in Sweden in the early 1960s- families are just starting to get TVs and telephones.

The camp is run by "The Matron" and has visits from her creepy son, Christian.  Campers wash in a sludgy brown lake, and eat oatmeal that "tastes like chicken poop."  Dessert is similar to fruit cocktail syrup.  Campers only get to wash up with hot water and soap once, in the middle of summer, before parents come.  Counselors steal candy from the campers. There are 40 kids attending the camp, but there is no laughter.  

To escape The Matron and her counselor lackeys, Kenny and his friends escape to the forest, where they are building a castle.  As Kenny gets to know Kerstin, a girl at the camp, he toys with going against the rules, and showing her the castle.  When Kerstin suddenly disappears, Kenny teams up with his samurai "trainees" and they try to find her.  The result is a grim "us vs. them" battle.

I enjoyed Samurai Summer.  It wasn't a fun read- it actually got to be pretty disturbing- but it was very well-written.  There was a point I had to put the book down for a sec, because the description of the food was making me nauseous. It was like a darker, more disturbing, Holes (Sachar)

There is a lot of information about samurai.  Legends of famous samurai like Miyamoto Musashi, who beat his opponent Sasaki Kojirō with a boat oar; training one's thoughts toward that of a warrior; LOTS of romanized Japanese, especially for weapons.

There's an ominous feeling throughout the whole book- absolutely not happy.  There are entertaining moments, however.  One of my favorites is when Kenny and his friend Janne sneak into town and meet a couple of "Explorers" their age, paddling a canoe.  The Explorers want to travel to Missouri (remember, this takes place in Sweden).

I was also interested in the significance of the bag of Twist candy.  Like, it's mentioned in almost every other paragraph, and I was like "what the heck is this stuff?"  Thanks to Google, I found out it's a bag of different flavored chocolate candies from Norway.  Of course now I want to figure out how to get my hands on some...

As I said, it's not happy.  But it's very well-written.  I would definitely recommend it to boys- probably Junior High and up, anyone who was a fan of Holes, and anyone interested in Samurai culture.

Samurai Summer Release date: 6.25.13  ARC provided by NetGalley