Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jack Strong Takes a Stand

"Couch potatoes unite!"

A lot of kids have participated in extracurricular activities, both in and outside of school.  But what happens when those activities become too much?

In Jack Strong Takes a Stand, by Tommy Greenwald (of the Charlie Joe Jackson series), we see what happens when activities run (and ruin) a kid's life.  Jack is a middle-school kid who is involved with tennis, baseball, cello, karate, and Chinese language all his school work!  His parents just want him to be "well-rounded" for college, but Jack just wants to be a normal kid- video games and all.  After missing a crucial social event, and not being able to take a breath from yet another activity, Jack decides he's had enough.  He decides he will not leave his couch (besides bathroom and the occasional food breaks).  As Jack sits, the community watches him take a stand.

This was a fun, funny read.  It was mostly light-hearted, but made a good point.  I reviewed Jason Odell Williams' book Personal Statement earlier.  This was similar- kind of like Personal Statement for Jr. High...but Jack is a bit of the antithesis of most of the characters in the other book.  The illustrations also add to the story- I loved the diagrams of the couch and Nana's Tongue Sandwich (it's not as dirty as it sounds).

Jack's narration is great- something I think many middle-grade boys will relate to (especially if they like a girl who's "so pretty it makes [their] eyebrows hurt."  I read bits and pieces out loud to co-workers, because it was making me chuckle.

This book takes a good look at family: parents doing what they think is best for their kids; talking things out; reaching compromises; and pulling together in scary/tough times.  As Jack's father puts it "never say anything bad about your family.  We stick together through thick and thin."  I like that it shows the family with flaws.  The parents aren't perfect, Jack isn't perfect, but they love each other and worked together as a family.

Jack Strong made me grateful for parents who didn't make me do activities I didn't want to do...except basketball.  I'm not athletic, and I was made to play basketball through Jr. High.  That took some arguing, but I got to quit.  

It's interesting to see how competitive things have gotten in children's futures: that your preschool determines your college/university; that over-involvement in every activity known to man will give you an edge.  While yes, it will give you an edge, is it worth it to not let kids be kids?

I'd recommend this to both kids and parents.  It's an easy read, and the character is likable enough that I think reluctant readers would enjoy it (and the Charlie Joe Jackson series).  It does a good job of showing both sides of the situation, and does so in a funny way.

Jack Strong Takes a Stand is published by Roaring Brook Press (a division of Macmillan).  ARC generously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 09.24.2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

1st Anniversary: Paper

One year ago today...the morning was rainy, but turned into a bright, sunny sky by 2:30 PM.  My closest friends sleevelessly braved the autumn chill on Lake Michigan, my now-husband battled a bout of the flu, and my father walked me down a stone path in a memorial flower garden.

Corey Beth Photography
Corey Beth Photography
One year ago today, I danced on the beach; I danced with my husband; I danced with my father...I even polka'd.  I gained a second sister, and a second family.

Corey Beth Photography
Corey Beth Photography
Corey Beth Photography
Corey Beth Photography

It's been a year full of awesome: a honeymoon to Napa, a road trip to Niagara Falls, visits with friends & family.

It's been a year full of not-so-awesome: Flu, Bronchitis...a big ol' Lab who decided to get into lemon cookies and spent his birthday throwing up in the bathroom...

I can't wait for many more years of awesome, and knowing that I've got a rock through the not-so-awesome.

The First Anniversary tradition is Paper.  After hearing me talk for years about writing a book, my husband got me a beautiful, personalized notebook--now I better start formulating thoughts!

I Love You, Mister!!!

Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland

I was late to the Hello Kitty party.  Like...just within the past year.  And while I own some HK apparel, it is all pajamas and workout gear so I don't feel quite so weird about being near-30 and sporting the awesomely cute little cartoon.  I also get to play it off a bit with my friend's daughters who LOVE that adorable feline.

That being said, I would totally go to the Hello Kitty cafe in Seoul.  I wouldn't even try to come up with an excuse.

Now, this summer at ALA Annual, I went to the Viz Media Book Buzz and was really impressed with what they are doing with their children's publishing.  One of the things is a new series of Hello Kitty: Here We Go graphic novels!  I got to meet Jacob Chabot, one of the illustrators, and Traci N. Todd (editor) and got an autographed poster...which is now hanging in my office.  I'm a children's librarian.  I can play that one off ;-)

Viz sent me a review copy of a Hello Kitty graphic novel (I don't think it's from the Here We Go series, though) and, as is expected, it's ridiculously cute.

Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland is created by Jacob Chabot, Victoria Maderna and Ian McGinty.  It's wordless and contains three short stories about, um, Wonderland! The first story takes place at a fashion show, and explains how Hello Kitty gets her adorable pink-pigtailed wig.  The second is a story of HK's rise to fame- from karaoke to famous star, and her relationship with Dear Daniel.  The final is a HK take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Bright, cute, and uber-girly, Fashion Music Wonderland makes me want to get my hands on all forthcoming GNs in this series...and all things pink.  The stories are great for young ones, promoting kindness, helping, and friendship.  "Wonderland" has an especially friendly twist ending.

I liked how the pigtail wig gives Hello Kitty a Jem-like alter-ego.  This is particularly true in "High Note," the second story about music.  However, the wig also helps her in the other two stories.

The details throughout the book are great, but I especially liked a two-page spread in "Wonderland" where HK is helping Dear Daniel find some items.  It promotes interaction with the reader, and something new always catches your eye.

The book also includes paper doll cut-outs and love note templates.  I, of course, couldn't bring myself to cut them out (*cringe*)- but, maybe the reader could get two copies of the book? (I'm sure Viz would be okay with that).  

All in all, an adorable, wordless graphic novel.  I look forward to telling many little girls I know about it...and seeing Hello Kitty's other adventures in Hello Kitty: Here We Go!

Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland is published by Viz Media.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 11.05.2013 (the day before my birthday!)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Will in Scarlet

I've never read Robin Hood.  I tried watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves once and fell asleep quickly.  Which is pretty darn sad, because I have a loosely contained mega-crush on Alan Rickman (I mean, seriously, Colonel Brandon?  and have you heard him read Sonnet 130- "My Mistress Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun?" or heard him sing "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore?" Pure ear bliss).

Everything I know about Robin Hood, I learned from Disney/Roger Miller and Mel Brooks.  Incidentally, my crush in Robin Hood: Men In Tights was not dear Cary Elwes (oh, sweet Wesley), but Will Scarlet...O'Hara.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody, tells the story of the boy behind the Robin Hood legend.  Will Shackley is a 13-year old boy whose father is on the Crusades with King Richard.  Treason and loyalties cause Will to separate from his mother, and run into Sherwood Forest.  It is there he meets orphan girl (disguised as a boy) Much, the giant John, drunken Rob, and others.  As these bandits band together, we see the rise of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

This was an interesting backstory to the Robin Hood tale.  To be honest I was surprised at how mature it was...not in a sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll kind of way- but the dialogue was very High English, and Will has to approach things like betrayal, revenge, etc.

This is most definitely a "guy" book.  While the language may be a throw-off for more reluctant readers, if you're recommending it throw in the fart jokes and nods to bodily functions.  There's a bit of a love story thrown in, but I could argue it's really just a friendship story (and we are free to speculate where that will go).

The first chapter caught me, as it read similarly to the first chapter in Game of Thrones- wolves, winter, fighting.  Again, though, much more middle-grade appropriate.  There are also some similarities to The Runaway King trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen.  Kind of High Fantasy without any magic/mysticism.

It was interesting to see the development of Robin's band of Merry Men, and Robin himself.  I loved the description of the camp they stayed at, which also caused me to look up Herne the Hunter.  So, I got a double-dose of folklore reading this.

I'd recommend this to any boy (or girl) who likes the tale of Robin Hood: hunting and bows, fighting and swords, and justice versus revenge.  Also anyone who liked the series I mentioned above- Game of Thrones, The Runaway King.

Will in Scarlet is published by Random House Children's.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 10.08.2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mishan's Garden

What an awesomely crazy week it's been!  Filled with new hires, book exchange brunches, makeup parties, and cooking up a here I am, back to blogging; 30 years to the day after my parents got married...5 days before my one-year anniversary.  This is how awesome my parents are, guys...Smokey Bear came to their wedding!

Okay, okay.  Now back to bookishness :-)  I loved Mishan's Garden by James Vollbracht, illustrated by Janet Brooke.

In a cold, barren village where nothing grows, and no one is happy, lives a little girl named Mishan.  Mishan wants to grow a beautiful garden in this cold area, but is mocked by the villagers.  Eventually, the villagers soften, touched by Mishan's gift of spreading kindness and seeing what is best and unique about each person.

To be honest, I wasn't blown away by the cover.  I do tend to pick books (especially picture books) with some regard to the cover--I know, I know, bad librarian.  I had actually put off reviewing this book, because the cover didn't catch me.  That being said, I'm glad I opened it.  The story was beautiful.  The illustrations going with the story are also beautiful.  So much so that I went back and read the book two more times, and showed my husband different pictures.  

The artwork differs, alternating between full page illustrations and smaller drawings inserted into text.  And it's gorgeous.  My favorite illustration is toward the beginning- it shows Mishan up in the mountains, it's snowing, little boys are pointing and laughing at her.  The snowflakes in the picture break the 4th wall, and beautiful little Mishan, her black braid blowing in the wind, her cheeks rosy from the cold, still kneels- burying the seeds.  The beautiful blues, browns, and purples combine to make you feel the chill of the air, to picture a sun above...most all of the pictures feel as if they're moving.

I'd put this as allegory.  Mishan plants her seeds in the cold ground, and also spreads kindness around the cynical village.  Her kindness has a ripple effect resulting in a warmer, flourishing village.  It's got a bit of a sad, but very poignant ending. It conveys the message Mishan's father teaches her at the beginning, "...things are not always what they seem!" this book, to yourself, to a anyone.  Then, go and spread seeds of kindness and see what grows!  (and wow that was cheesy...but I meant it!  Go! GO!)

Mishan's Garden is published by Wisdom Publications.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 10.15.2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Do blondes really have more fun?  Not in Scarletville!

Red, a new YA novel by Alison Cherry, takes place in the Iowa town of Scarletville. In this town, red-heads hold all the power.  Felicity St. John is a creative, popular Junior, on her way to winning the Miss Scarlet pageant.  She has a dark secret, though...her hair color "comes straight from a bottle!"  If her secret is revealed, she'll lose her friends, her boyfriend, and her social status- but someone has found out, and is blackmailing her into social suicide.  In the weeks leading up to a pageant that could help her fund art school, Felicity weighs the choice to be Red, or be herself.

You KNOW I pictured Emma Stone in the movie in my mind (and she's a bottle red-head, too, so double the appropriateness).  This was an enjoyable read- it was clever and funny.  It took a serious issue to such a ridiculous level the reader knew the point being made, but it wasn't preachy.  

It's your typical "coming-of-age-be-yourself" YA novel, but like I said- cleverly done with its over-the-top-ishness.  For example, a fun little thing about Scarletville is the underground hair-dying salon; the prominent sunblock vendor; the high school class: History of Red-Headedness, where students learn about historical figures like Queen Elizabeth the First.  

Downside to this novel- there's a scene with a restaurant.  I read it after an intense workout.  They had waffle fries with cheddar jalapeno sauce, and sweet potato waffle fries with cinnamon BBQ sauce.  Seriously, I'm still drooling about this.  I love cheesy waffle fries.  Here's proof:

This was right before my husband pushed my face into the neon cheese.

Funny and thought provoking, I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who has been afraid to show their true colors.  And on that note, I'm going to go pick out some hair dye.

Red is published by Random House Children's.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 10.08.2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fairy Tale Comics

As has (I hope) become apparent- I love fairy tales.  And graphic novels.  Particularly :01 First Second's graphic novels (which currently make up about 90% of my graphic novel collection...cuz they're freakin' awesome).

I received a copy of Fairy Tale Comics (edited by Chris Duffy) awhile ago, and am psyched that I got the chance to review it!  I reviewed The Storyteller GN awhile back, and while this is's so. much. better.

Fairy Tale Comics is a collection of fairy tales, re-imagined (and re-imaged) by various cartoonists- Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Craig Thompson (Blankets), and Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events) to name a few.

The tales span from Grimm's Fairy Tales to Russian and Japanese folktales to Bre'r Rabbit tales from the South.  The variety of illustrations is amazing, each with its own qualities.  Some are narrative, some are mainly dialogue, some are wordless. Speaking of dialogue, "Hansel & Gretel"- illustrated by Gilbert 'Beto' Hernandez- is least I thought it was.  It was...I don't quite know how to explain it.  The only way I can think of is, like, overdramatic overacting.  LOVED it!  Luke Pearson's "The Boy Who Drew Cats" also had me chuckling- in a more adorable "Bartleby the Scribner" kind of way.

I went in not knowing much about certain cartoonists.  When I got to "The Prince and the Tortoise" I thought "this is really similar to classic comics- like Prince Valiant or something."  Turns out Ramona Fradon illustrated Aquaman in Super Friends.  The same happened with the story "Sweet Porridge."  "Hmmm...this is kind of nostalgic cartooning...reminds me of Popeye."  Again, Bobby London illustrated the Popeye comic strip from the mid-80s to early 90s.  I'm actually both proud and ashamed of myself for placing (yet not placing) these cartoonists.  There's a great list of contributors in the back which is helpful for both recognizing artists, and noting future works of theirs to look into.

One of my favorites was Gigi D.G.'s interpretation of "Little Red Riding Hood."  The artwork was beautiful and adorable.  Like, in the event of future Little Sare-endipities...I'd love to do a nursery in this style.  There was also some girl power in this version, which I am always happy about!  I won't give the twist away, though!  The same with Raina Telgemeier's "Rapunzel" [cue Spice Girls!]

The range of stories, the range of artistic styles and talent, the range of humor...this has something for everyone.  If you love fairytales and folktales, bright colors, humor, and pure awesomeness- get this graphic novel.  I have a feeling this will become as treasured as my Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (and has much better illustrations!)

Fairy Tale Comics is published by :01 First Second.  Review Copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 09.24.2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013


So, I love all things carnival-related.  Specifically side-show histories/biographies.  I went through a period of reading only non-fiction books about Tom Thumb, Schlitzie, Daisy & Violet, et al.  I watched Carnivale compulsively (don't get me started on my "WTF!?!" toward HBO canceling like it did...*shaking head*).  And made my family watch Freaks...multiple times.  "One of us, one of us..."  AND visited the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI.

This interest led me to requesting Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst.  

Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program and that she escaped a magical serial killer who is still after her.  She tries to appear normal as she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her powers, she blacks out and has horrible visions.   When she comes to, she finds that days, even weeks, have passed and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her.

I'm still not quite sure what I thought of this book.  I didn't dislike it...there wasn't a lot of carnival-y stuff til the last quarter.  However, the events leading up to it are definitely interesting!  It's kind of Memento meets Mirrormask/Coraline/Stardust (so...lots of Gaiman-esque overtones) meets, I don't know, CSI?

It does have insta-love between Eve and a co-shelver.  I prefer more of a relationship development other than--eyes lock, you're hot, we're soul-mates.  

Because it was similar to Memento with the short-term memory loss, it took me awhile to get into it.  I spent the first quarter of the book very confused- but in a good way.  Well, first it was frustrating, but then I figured "this is what Eve is feeling, too!"  So unraveling her past is all part of the fun!

There was a stretch about 3/4 of the way in, where I rolled my eyes...then the story got really cool again.  I realize there are magical elements in the story, but it got a little ridiculous and seemed like an easy way out of every obstacle.  That said- it wasn't enough to make me dislike the book.  And after that it REALLY got into the magical carnival "stuff" and was right up my alley!  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

It's definitely an interesting concept, and if you're into magic, carnivals, and such, you'll probably enjoy it.  I can't say it's very genre-specific, definitely runs the gamut as far as action, horror, suspense, fantasy, some romance.  Plus, you know, there's a library!  Try it! You may like it!

Conjured is published by Bloomsbury.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Released: 09.03.2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper

As I'm drafting this post, I am waiting for my husband to jump out of a plane.  Our friend turned 30 in May, and has decided to experience something new EVERY day of his 30th year.  Follow his adventures at:  Never365.  He's done some amazing things in just a couple of months.  Annnd here's hoping everything turns out okay, because our one-year anniversary is in a couple of weeks...

So! Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper is the second in the Kat McGee series, and is written by Kristin Riddick.  I haven't read the first's called Mrs. Claus and the School of Christmas Spirit, and is by Rebecca Munsterer.

Kat McGee is a spunky girl.  She isn't the smartest or most athletic, but she is the BEST at Halloween!  She looks forward to it all year; but this year, Mr. S is threatening to take the day away.  Kat is magically transported to Treatsville, where Halloween costumes live for the rest of the year.  But someone has been kidnapping the costumes there.  With the help of the sweet witch Dolce, her cat deLeche (yep, they went there) and her costume pals, Kat faces a series of tests to prepare her to take on the evil Snaggletooth.  As she is tested, she learns to face fears, and that she's a winner- not just on Halloween.

I love that this book encourages young girls to be inquisitive and to work together.  It teaches girls to take their fears head on, and that it's okay to make mistakes.  

Kat's quest reminded me a bit of Sarah's quest in The Labyrinth- I kept expecting Hoggle to pop out of the Haunted Forest somewhere.  I could definitely see this being made into a Nick or Disney made-for-TV movie (like the Halloweentown series!)  There's also a hint of the Bailey School Kids series- if anyone remembers those...

I was a bit put off by Snaggletooth's accent- it was just inconsistent.  Sometimes Boris-y, sometimes Pepe Le Pew-y, sometimes...I don't know.  But! If that kind of thing doesn't bother you- and for the ages this was written for, I'm sure it won't be an issue- it was a really cute story.  Kat is a great character for young girls to look to; she faces problems like bullying and feeling insignificant, but she's strong, courageous, and a leader. 

Note: My husband is safe and sound, and has a certificate to prove it!

Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper is published by In This Together Media.  Digital ARC provided by the publisher.
Released: 09.01.2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Uglydoll: Goin' Places

I remember the first time I saw an Uglydoll.  November of 2006; I had just flown into LAX, and my friend who picked me up took me to Chinatown to walk around.  One of the stores we went into had this, well, ugly doll.  Sadly, I can't remember which one it was- I think it was Little Ugly Big Toe.  Anyhoo, I wandered around the store clutching it and, remembering my scant budget, had to put it back before leaving.

Now!  Fast forward a few years, I'm at ALA 2013 in Chicago, and Viz Media is having a Book Buzz session on their Children's Publishing!  I geeked out a bit, because, of course, all the manga I read is through them!  One of the new products?  Uglydoll graphic novels!

The running theme for all the vignettes in the graphic novel is..."goin' places!"  Which would have worked so well for our "Have Book, Will Travel" summer reading theme!  Their adventures lead them to the sea, into space, back in time...and to a library!

The first thing you notice is the bright, fun colors.  And the kooky characters. They instantly draw you in!  There are many talented authors and illustrators- Sun-Min Kim & David Horvath, Travis Nichols, Phillip Jacobson, Ian McGinty, James Kochalka and Mike LM Kelly.  They provide so many little details and jokes throughout the stories that you may not catch the first time. 

The stories are great.  I was chuckling reading the whole GN...actually I think a few guffaws made it in there ("We're SO bats right now!" did me in...I ended up reading it out loud to my husband after).  Two of my favorites were "Get Lost" and "We're So Bats Right Now."  Babo was just adorable, trying not to lose his stuffed bear when he traveled, and Ice Bat & Ninja Batty Shogun were hilarious, honing their radar (oops, I mean sonar) skills. [sidenote: as I'm typing this there's a bat outside my window chittering EXTREMELY loud.]  Babo's postcards are super-cute, too. trying to remember the first Uglydoll I saw, I went to the website.  Um...guys? I don't care if I'm almost 30, I would be stoked to get either of these:

[the mugs are pretty cool, too!]

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes these dolls- young and old alike.  As I mentioned before, there are lots of jokes that will appeal to all ages.  The colors are fun, and the Uglydolls are adorable.  Definitely planning on getting this for the library.  It would also be good for those who enjoy humor and adventure.

Uglydoll: Goin' Places is published by Viz Media.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Released: 07.02.2013