Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Ruby Red

Ruby Red
Kerstin Gier; translated by Anthea Bell
2011; Henry Holt; ISBN 978-0-8050-9252-3 (hardcover)

Summary:  For the most part, Gwen doesn't mind being ordinary.  Her cousin Charlotte is the one in the family who inherited the gene for time travel.  This means that Gwen can attend regular school classes and spend time with her best friend Lesley.  Gwen isn't all that ordinary, though--she can see and talk to ghosts.  That turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg, though, when Gwen begins to travel to the past.  Now, Gwen has to navigate through the dangerous past and the equally tense present.  It doesn't help that Gideon, the time traveler helping her adjust, is obnoxious, arrogant and gorgeous.  Gwen feels surrounded by questions, and finding the answers could be the difference between life and death.

The first book in a trilogy originally published in Germany, Ruby Red is an intriguing combination of mystery and science fiction.  Gwen quickly feels overwhelmed by her new ability, especially since she knows so many compare her to the perfect Charlotte and find Gwen wanting.  Yet with a lot of moxie, Gwen does her best to take up her new role.  Gwen is engaging and realistic, a modern Everygirl in very unusual circumstances.  Whether she's complaining about her history teacher or describing the strangeness of the past, Gwen's voice rings true, assisted by precise prose.  Characters like Gideon, Lesley, and Gwen's mom feel true to life, while other character's motives remain mysterious for the time being.  Ending on a romantic cliffhanger, readers will await impatiently for Ruby Red's followup, called Sapphire Blue.

Other Reviews
Book Addict Katie:  http://bookaddictkatie.com/2011/05/11/review-ruby-red-by-kerstin-gier/
Book Yurt:  http://bookyurt.com/scouting/book-reviews/ruby-red-by-kerstin-gier-review/
The Norwegian Book Girl:  http://norwegianbookgirl.blogspot.com/2010/11/review-ruby-red-by-kerstin-gier.html

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Fun: Tumblr Time

Tumblr can be a very addictive site.  It's a quasi-blogging platform, one that seems to fit between the brevity of Twitter, the social connections of Facebook, and the lengthy text posts of Blogger/WordPress.  It's really great if you want visuals, music, or other media types.

Today, I'm featuring two sites that I follow on Tumblr.  First, there's Comically Vintage, which features panels from old comics, usually with snarky commentary.

Then, there's Better Book Titles, where all kinds of books are retitled for comedic effect.  This is an independent site that I happen to read on Tumblr.  My recent favorites have been new titles for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Anna Karenina.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens
Libba Bray
2011; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-439-89597-2 (hardcover)

Summary:  A plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants crash-lands on a desert island.(1)   The chances that they'd be able to survive seem slim.(2)  But survive they do--and what's more, these girls start to question so many of the things they never doubted before.(3)   Not only will this year's Miss Teen Dream pageant be the highest-rated ever(4), it will help bring down a candidate for president(5), expose an illegal arms deal(6), and change the lives of the contestants.(7)

(1) Yes, some of the girls pass away--or rather, are sent on to compete in a higher pageant.  Including Miss Delaware, much to my chagrin as a native Delawarean.  But at least she got mentioned, unlike poor Miss Maryland.  
(2)  There is a six percent survival rate for teenage beauty queens who crash-land on a desert island.  This statistic brought to you by the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics.
(3)  The Corporation is not in favor of self-reflection.  Maybe you should watch Patriot Daughters to see how a really brave girl should act.  
(4)  The Miss Teen Dream pageant, even with only thirteen contestants, saw a large ratings increase.  This was thanks in part to contestants from California and Texas being part of the Top Thirteen.  
(5) The Corporation disavows the actions of Ladybird Hope, former Miss Teen Dream and Corporation board member.  The Corporation cannot be held liable for any machinations, plots, or agreements made by Ladybird Hope.
(6) Learn more about dictator MoMo B. ChaCha's plans to destroy America, starting with taking our Elvis memorabilia, in the hard-hitting special The Republic of ChaCha: An Evil Socialist Evil!  Premiering next Thursday at 1:30pm EST, followed by a new episode of the popular daytime drama, As The B-Clean Bubbles Burst.
(7) Really, even with all the dying and the politics, the story has a happy ending.  Even for the gay and transgendered characters!  It's unknown how the author slipped that past the Corporation's censorsh--we mean, it's a daring literary choice.

The newest novel from Libba Bray is full of the same wit and social commentary as her Printz Award-winning novel Going Bovine.  In Beauty Queens, Bray takes aim at society's messages towards young women, going to an extreme that would be appreciated by Jonathan Swift.  As the characters explore the boundaries that society has placed on them, they learn that there's no reason to stay within those limits.  Readers will be caught up in each of the contestants' stories, whether it's Wild Girl Mary Lou, crusading journalist Adina, or ultimate pageant queen Taylor.  More than just a grown-up version of Toddlers & Tiaras, Beauty Queens uses black comedy to question what a girl can achieve.

Other Reviews
Reading Rants:  http://www.readingrants.org/2011/03/05/beauty-queens-by-libba-bray/
Waking Brain Cells:  http://wakingbraincells.com/2011/04/21/book-review-beauty-queens-by-libba-bray/
Letters Inside Out:  http://www.lettersinsideout.com/2011/05/review-beauty-queens-by-libba-bray-arc_11.html

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gaithersburg Book Festival

A great time was had at the second annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.  C-SPAN was there covering the event, so check out some of the videos that are available.

What did I do?  I admit, I didn't really see any of the teen/children's authors at the festival.  But the authors I saw were all excellent.

I've already got Susan Fraser King's latest novel, Queen Hereafter, on hold at the library, thanks to her great presentation on historical fiction.  Paula McLain, the author of The Paris Wife, was incredibly funny and passionate about her book.  Donna Andrews, one of my favorite authors, was witty and snarky and sounded just like Meg, the main character in her long-running series that started with Murder with Peacocks.  The tag-team pairing of Meg Waite Clayton & Caroline Leavitt was super-funny, and I'm looking forward to reading their books, particularly The Four Ms. Bradwells.  Last but not least, James L. Swanson gave a fascinating talk about how he came to write Manhunt and how Jefferson Davis is a forgotten man.

If there's a book festival near you, give it a try!  Even small events can let you discover great new authors.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Fun: Literacy, Book Festivals and Dolls

--Scholastic has just kicked off a global literacy campaign called Read Every Day.  Lead a Better Life.  It's always great to see such campaigns.  Best of all, there's an original art auction!  Twelve illustrators, ranging from David Shannon to Jeff Smith to Mary GrandPre, have offered up artwork that promotes reading.

--If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, why not check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival?  It will be held tomorrow, Saturday May 21, from 10am-6pm.  I plan to attend, to hear the great authors and take in a few panels.  Look for my report next week!

--Finally, this article has been making the rounds on the blogs, but if you haven't seen it, give yourself a few minutes of enjoyment by reading What Your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Steel

Carrie Vaughn
2011; HarperTeen; ISBN 978-0-06-154791-1 (hardcover)

Summary:  A tumble into tropical waters sends Jill on an unexpected voyage of discovery.  A talented fencer, Jill feels like a failure after losing an important tournament.  During her family's vacation in the Bahamas, Jill sulks and stays by herself.  Wandering on the beach, though, she finds the broken-off rusty tip of a rapier.  There's a tingle of power from the artifact--but Jill doesn't expect the rapier tip to send her into the past.  Rescued from the sea by a pirate queen, Jill finds that her fate is bound up with the sword that the tip came from.  Drawn into a war between two pirate captains, she will do whatever she can to find a way home.

This action-packed tale is full of intriguing details.  A pirate's life was full of backbreaking work and unhappy endings, as Jill experiences first-hand.  In a world where sword-fighting means surviving, not winning medals, Jill rediscovers her love of fencing--as well as learning that she's not capable of killing her opponents.  This fact, more than anything else, proves that Jill doesn't fit in among the pirates and should return to her own time.  Characters like Captain Marjory Cooper, the pirate queen, and Abe, the African quartermaster, provide a twist on the typical pirate seen in other books.  Anyone waiting for the next installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise will discover what being a pirate was really like by reading Steel.

Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers:  http://thebooksmugglers.com/2011/03/book-review-steel-by-carrie-vaughn.html
Novel Thoughts:  http://www.novelthoughtsblog.com/2011/03/reviewsteel-by-carrie-vaughn.html
Electrifying Reviews:  http://www.electrifyingreviews.com/2011/03/steel-by-carrie-vaughn.html

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Recovery Road

Recovery Road
Blake Nelson
2011; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-10729-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Falling in love while in rehab is against the rules.  But Maddie can't help falling for charming, sweet Stewart.  She leaves rehab first and works to put her life together, moving past her Maddie Mad Dog reputation.  Slowly, she starts focusing on school, makes a few friends, and sees Stewart as often as she can once he's out of rehab.  Yet every day is a struggle for both Maddie and Stewart.  When their paths diverge, Maddie has to choose whether to save herself or to save Stewart.

Written in short, episodic chapters, Maddie's story is not just her romance with Stewart but more about her first two years out of rehab.  Even harder than applying herself in school are Maddie's attempts to form real friendships, unlike the transient ones she had with her stoner friends.  Maddie slips, makes mistakes, and takes risks, but these chances help her become stronger and gain confidence in herself.  Her determination to not give in to addiction is inspiring to see.  While her romance with Stewart is a casualty of their different outcomes, such an ending gives added realism to the story.  Recovery Road is a welcome antidote to love-conquers-all novels, revealing the truth that sometimes love isn't enough.  Fans of Ellen Hopkins will enjoy this prose treatment of addiction and recovery.

Other Reviews
Whatchamacallit Reviews:  http://whatchamacallitreviews.blogspot.com/2011/03/recovery-road-by-blake-nelson.html
i swim for oceans:  http://www.iswimforoceans.com/2011/02/recovery-road-review.html
Friendly Reader:  http://friendlyreaderohyeah.blogspot.com/2011/03/review-recovery-road.html 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Fun: What's Popular at Librarian by Day?

I admit that I am rather compulsive about checking the statistics for this blog.  Thanks to statcounter.com, I have a great deal of material at my fingertips to indulge such compulsions.

For example, what are the most popular reviews here at librarian by day?
1.  Chasing Lincoln's Killer
2.  All the Broken Pieces
3.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson
4.  Escape Under the Forever Sky
5.  The Musician's Daughter

What's even more interesting about this list is that Chasing Lincoln's Killer is extremely popular, with the following four novels put together not having the equal of the hits of that book.

Other interesting factoids:
--Some of the search terms that have brought searchers to this blog are "easy steampunk crafts for teens", "book: quakan, twin boys from two brothers", and "how does carbon diaries 2015 end?".
--Visitors from the following five states are the most frequent visitors to librarian by day are Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
--Since August of 2010, I've seen at least 1000 unique visitors a month to the blog.

It's that last fact that I'm proudest of.  I'm so thrilled that so many readers have visited librarian by day, and that you enjoy my reviews.  I hope that I'll continue to entertain and inform for many months to come!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Fun: Unpopular Opinions

There's something liberating about expressing an unpopular opinion, in owning that you don't like something that everyone else likes.  Especially, I think, when it comes to books.  You don't want to rain on someone's parade, but sometimes, you can't help it, because you really don't understand why people like a certain book.

For example: I read Wither this week.  It's a book that's gotten quite a bit of buzz lately in the blogosphere, with several reviews posted--like at My Friend Amy, Galleysmith, and Backseat Writer.  It's gotten a big push from its publisher, one that has paid off in positive feedback from readers and reviewers.

I know that I say I strive to review positively, and that's true.  And I can't deny that Wither has an intriguing setup.  But it left me cold.  My biggest problem is that it felt padded.  It's the first book of a trilogy, and I know that naturally means there's a fair amount of exposition, of setting up the pieces for the eventual payoff that will come in future books.  Yet even with that being said, it still felt like there wasn't enough action to fill the pages.  The pacing moves in fits and starts, unable to gain momentum.

Other things bothered me as well.  Why did the females have a shorter life span?  Why was Gabriel kept out of sight for dozens of pages?  Why does Florida suffer from both devastating hurricanes and raging blizzards?

I know there's many people who greatly enjoyed this book.  But I forced myself to finish it, and it's unlikely that I'd read the next volume.  It can be difficult to venture that unpopular opinion, not only because you're going against the crowd but because you're making criticism of someone else's work.  I usually try to fall into the "If you can't say anything nice . . . " school of reviewing, so if I don't like something, I don't review it.  Yet I'm sure I'm not the only one to read something that everyone's raving about and go, "Really?"

So be brave and voice an unpopular opinion!  Any books that everyone love that you dislike, or vice versa?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Review: Okay for Now

Okay for Now
Gary D. Schmidt
2011; Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); ISBN 978-0-547-15260-8 (hardcover)

Summary:  For Doug Swieteck, the move from Long Island to stupid Marysville seems like the start of bad things.  Yet to his surprise, he finds that in Marysville there is Possibility.  In spite of the abuse he suffers from his father, Doug makes friends with Lil and gets a job delivering groceries for Lil's father.  He finally learns to read and is taught to draw by Mr. Powell, a kind librarian.  Best of all, he discovers the work of John James Audubon.  But every time things start going well, something happens to bring the bad back.  As the Apollo moon missions demonstrate the potential of mankind, Doug discovers just how much potential he has.

This companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, which won a Newbery Honor Award, might eclipse that first novel.  Gary D. Schmidt shows his gifts for voice and character in his tale of Doug.  Juggling topics such as baseball, abusive fathers, and Vietnam veterans could lead to a messy sprawl of a novel, yet in Schmidt's capable hands, all these aspects are well-handled.  Doug's hard work to not give up in the face of his father's disdain is equal parts heartbreaking and inspirational.  While slow to start, readers will soon be drawn into this novel, wondering what will happen to Doug.  Okay for Now is a coming-of-age story will be enjoyed by readers who seek realistic novels of survival.

Other Reviews
A Fuse #8:  http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production/2011/02/12/review-of-the-day-okay-for-now-by-gary-d-schmidt/
Seattle Times:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/books/2014714713_kidsbooks09.html?syndication=rss
Guys Lit Wire:  http://guyslitwire.blogspot.com/2011/04/okay-for-now-by-gary-d-schmidt_27.html
A Year of Reading:  http://readingyear.blogspot.com/2011/02/okay-for-now-by-gary-schmidt.html

Monday, May 02, 2011

Review: Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best

Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best
Maria Padian
2011; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-86579-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Henry and Eva are the best of friends, even though they have very different personalities.  Henry--don't call her Henriette--is a talented tennis player who wishes her dad/coach would ease up on the pressure.  Eva is a graceful ballerina who strives for control from her overbearing mother.  When they separate for the summer, for camp at a tennis academy and an intensive ballet program, these two Jersey tomatoes are determined for their friendship to remain strong even as they improve their skills.  While Henry finds her tennis game and her social life improving, Eva feels her future slipping away, especially when an accident reveals the lengths to which she has gone.  Eva needs her best friend more than she knows, and Henry will choose to value her friendship over tennis.

This novel in two voices showcases the strong personalities of Henry and Eva.  Henry's work to improve her tennis game by leaving behind trash talk is contrasted with Eva's desperate attempts to be the perfect, graceful, delicate ballerina.  Such contrast is done deftly, not descending into black and white simplicity.  Adding additional depth is the strong sense of place of the New Jersey setting and the authentic details of the competitive worlds of tennis and dance.  For fans of novels like A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, point them towards Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best for another stirring friendship tale.

Other Reviews
Eve's Fan Garden:  http://evesfangarden.com/blog/2011/02/28/book-review-jersey-tomatoes-are-the-best-by-maria-padian/
Sarah Laurence:  http://blog.sarahlaurence.com/2011/03/jersey-tomatoes-are-best-by-maria.html
Interview with Maria Padian at The Reading Zone:  http://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/interview-with-maria-padian-author-of-jersey-tomatoes-are-the-best/
My Words Ate Me:  http://mywordsateme.blogspot.com/2011/04/jersey-tomatoes-are-best-review.html