Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

I have been on a middle grade reading kick lately and Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder is the book that got me going. This is a smart, poignant story of growing up and realizing that happy endings are not always easily found.

Synopsis: A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It's too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents' separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran's house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder's most thought-provoking book yet. (Goodreads.com)


I really enjoyed the thoughtful use of magic in this book. Magic starts off as this great hope for Rebecca, who is going through a rough time as her parents have separated and her mom has taken her, along with her younger brother, Lew, to their mom's hometown, Atlanta, which is definitely as far as it's possible to be from Baltimore, particularly when you're just twelve. Magic can do anything! Or that's what we are led to believe as kids but Rebecca is getting to that stage in her life where magic isn't a cure-all. Even though I figured out the obvious twist with Rebecca's magic bread box, I liked seeing her discover it and become perhaps more aware that once again in life, nothing comes for free. Everything has a price, whether it is losing a new friend, making a mom happy, or realizing a bus ticket back to Baltimore really will not bring your parents back together.

This is a rather melancholy story. Rebecca is having a difficult time in Atlanta. She misses her father. She misses her parents together. She is very angry with her mother. That is another well written dynamic in this story because even at the book's end, while there is some resolution between Rebecca and her mom, it's not a clear cut answer and there is still friction. I liked how Rebecca was portrayed when it came to her mom. She is still a young girl in many ways and feels guilty for forgetting her mom's birthday but then she gets so very angry when she starts to miss her dad or when her mom doesn't give her the answer she wants as to when they can go home. There is a very visible back-and-forth of emotions that Rebecca goes through in regards to her mom and it feels incredibly authentic. This is how many young tween girls are feeling when it comes to their parents.


This reads like a very authentic and emotional story that is going to be very easy for young girls to empathize with. Readers will pick up this story (despite the rather blah cover). There is a magical element but it is not the focus of the book. Rather, the family and social problems Rebecca goes through are the focus of the story. She is a character that will make you remember your own inner tween and the conflicted feelings you felt during that time in your life. Bigger than a Bread Box is highly appropriate for elementary and middle school collections, along with public library collections. There is high appeal in this story and it can be book talked very easily because readers are going to care about what Rebecca is going through.


I will say, the one point of contention I had with this story was the overly dramatic ending. It didn't mar my reading experience but it also didn't mesh as well with the rest of the story. Yes, Rebecca was definitely going through much conflict, but the climax towards the end relied less on the emotional for me and it rang a bit false. 

You MUST read the author's acknowledgements in this book. They were top-notch and include this wonderful gem of a book summary: "A middle grade book about Bruce Springsteen songs and seagulls and divorce and a magical bread box." What can beat Bruce Springsteen in a middle grade novel?? Nothing I tell you!


Bigger than a Bread Box is available now.


Other reviews:
Stacked reviews Bigger than a Bread Box
100 Scope Notes reviews Bigger than a Bread Box
A Patchwork of Books reviews Bigger than a Bread Box

Reviewed from public library book. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Picture Book Saturday (01)

Picture Book Saturday is a new feature here at YA Librarian Tales but it is not a new blogging feature at all! Picture Book Saturday is the invention of Amanda of A Patchwork of Books who posts very regularly on Saturday about fun picture books she has been reading.While this won't be a regular feature for me, I do hope to do it once or twice a month.

Since I'm now working with children from 0-18, I wanted a handy way to talk about some of the fun picture books that have come across my desk, that may be good for story time, or are just fun books to read with children! Amanda kindly has let me hop along on her feature so be sure you visit A Patchwork of Books on Saturday to get the full dish on other fun picture books.

Where's My T-R-U-C-K? by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow. This is a fun book because it's about trucks and if you know little boys, this is the kind of book they will love! Plus, it focuses on letter knowledge with the repetition of T-R-U-C-K. By the end of the book, your little ones will be spelling truck very easily. As the little boy in the book searches for his truck, the little details in the illustrations come alive, particularly the little dog who is on every page, making some type of mischief. Little eyes are going to follow that dog and some of them may just connect the dots about where that darn truck is. This is a guaranteed enjoyable story for little boys but girls and boys are going to definitely understand what it feels like to lose a beloved toy and not have any other toy quite make do.


A Dog is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan. The rhyming text, the fun pictures, and the fact that there are some interesting animals used in the rhyme scheme that will get kids chatting. There's not necessarily a real story here, not like in Where's My T-R-U-C-K? but that doesn't make this book less. Kids will be able to chatter about what makes a dog a dog, what makes a squid a squid, or a moose a moose. The pictures are bright and clear and mimic the words, adding a double layer of meaning for kids and adults. This would work well for a story time or for a one-on-one reading session. It's a conversation starter of a picture book.

So, there you go, two new picture books to consider adding to your library collection or perhaps giving as gifts this coming holiday season!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Romance alert! Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

Elizabeth Hoyt's Scandalous Desires was one of my must-read romance books of 2011. Ever since I read the excerpt, way back in August 2010, I had to get my hands on this book. I re-read that excerpt over and over again.

Finally, finally this book is out. I was really pleased with this book (you can read my review of it here at Romance Junkies) and it definitely lived up to expectations. There have been mixed reviews of this around romance land (Dear Author's review of Scandalous Desires and All About Romance's review of Scandalous Desires are just two other examples) but for me, I truly enjoyed this book. Silence in particular was a stand out woman.

Synopsis: Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back...and he's asking for her help.
"Charming" Mickey O'Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London's criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he's never been able to forget the naive captain's wife who came to him for help and spent one memorable night in his bed...talking.
When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn't resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence's doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he'd also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.(Goodreads.com) 

Scandalous Desires is the third book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series and while it doesn't have to be read in order necessarily, there is definitely a certain richness that comes with seeing Silence and Mickey's relationship develop over the first two books. You can see a full list of Elizabeth's books at her site but just in case, the first book in the series is Wicked Intentions followed by Notorious Pleasures.

So why, do you ask, am I telling you all this?? Well first, because I need more romance readers out in the world! And second, because I really would love more people reading this series. Elizabeth Hoyt is one of the best historical romance writers out there right now. Her language skills are beautiful and it shows on every page. She doesn't shirk on researching and those skills come into play when scenes come alive with beautiful details that set them apart from other historical romances.

If you'd like to learn a bit more about this book you can see a very cool behind the scenes video of the making of the cover of Scandalous Desires. But more importantly, you HAVE to watch this cheeky and hilarious book trailer! I am not a fan of book trailers by any means but Elizabeth Hoyt made me laugh quite a bit in this kind of snarky look at the historical romance. 

Now here is the best part!! I'm giving ONE WINNER a chance to read this book, for totally free! The only caveat is you have to be willing to read an ebook copy. It will just be easier for me this way but if you have a Kindle, a Nook, a Kobo, whatever, or you're willing to read it on your computer, please enter. Also, in this contest, you have to write a review for the book to be posted on my blog by November 30, 2011.

I don't care if the review is positive or negative or a little of both, as long as you give reasons why the book worked or didn't work for you.

So... in order to enter, you have to be a US resident, you have to be willing to read the ebook, and you have to agree to post a review by November 30, 2011 or be banned from future contests on my site. Does that make sense? If so, click the link below to enter to win! Contest ends November 6, 2011 at 10 PM central time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver is the follow-up to Delirium (read my review here) and continues the story of Lena. She has successfully escaped into the Wilds but all is not well. Alex didn't make it and she really has no chance of surviving on her own until she is rescued by Raven and a group of Homesteaders. What follows SHOULD have been the story of Lena's continued growth and survival but instead turned into yet another YA love triangle.

Synopsis: I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame. (Goodreads.com)


This book jumps between the Now and the Then. Now is Lena, involved in the resistance efforts, trying to acquire intel about the DFA (Deliria-Free America) and Julian Fineman, the son of Thomas Fineman, DFA's leader. It's all very Alias of her. Then, just as a chapter set in the NOW starts to get interesting and you want to keep reading to find out what is going on, Oliver jumps to the THEN, where we find out what happened to Lena after she escaped into the Wilds. Her struggles for survival, building strength, meeting new people and trying to make ends meet in a world where she is now unwanted. Just as the THEN starts to get interesting, BOOM, Oliver throws readers back into the NOW. It became very annoying to me as a reader, this back and forth tug of war. I can only think she thought it was a way to build tension and interest in the inevitable climactic moments but to me, it was like getting a small taste of something and then having it cruelly withheld. It was not good story telling for me at all. I'd much prefer a NOW section and a THEN section rather than this indecision as to where to lead readers. Now, this is just my reading preference and I'm betting not every reader is going to have this same problem with the back and forth as I did.

My other major, major problem with this book is that I found it utterly predictable from start to finish. I could easily foresee the twists and turns that were coming for Lena. That certain characters were not as they appeared and that loyalties would definitely be tested. I am an end reader but for this book I did not have to read the end at all because I knew exactly what would happen and lo and behold, I was almost one hundred percent correct. Suspense just was not possible for me because I wanted to tell Lena "don't you see these connections?? I can tell you what is going to happen girl!" but of course, since I can't talk to fictional characters, I could not quite do that.


That being said, I did like the images Lauren Oliver painted in my mind, particularly of NYC. Times Square was utterly spooky and devoid of the life and sparkle it is now in present times in Pandemonium. It fit the mood of the book. This was a very different United States and Lauren Oliver made that very, very clear.


Finally, the third most disappointing aspect of this book is that a love triangle was set-up. And this grates on my nerves to no end. I loved seeing Lena in the THEN portions of the story because it really showed how she had to grow up and frankly man up in the Wilds. She had made her choice and now she had to live with it or basically die because those were her only two options. She had to contribute by making their homestead a liveable place and she did. She grew stronger, both physically and mentally, and really became a character I admired because she had to deal with a lot of harsh realities. Then, throw her into the NOW portions of the story and she becomes a lovesick fool (which I realize, given that deliria is a disease of love is a horrible comparison to make) but she truly does. It became more about the new guy than about her own safety and survival. I guess I seem a bit uncaring here and maybe I'm more hardened than Lena but I thought it had to have been possible to see her character melded from both these different situations, rather than falling back to someone I didn't recognize.


The ending was incredibly anticlimactic (again because I knew what was going to happen). The only way I can see to fix this is to stop reading so many books I guess? But sometimes, I'd like to see characters who are supposed to be dead stay truly dead (and yes, I'm looking at you Vampire Diaries TV show. Did Vicky really have to come back??).


I will finish off the trilogy when the final book comes out but my expectations are going to be nil. That seems to be the best way to approach a lot of these dystopian stories that are currently flourishing in YA world. However, when it's all said and done, if Delirium was popular in your library and is still circulating well, this is a natural purchase. And in some ways, I think this fits the bill nicely of sci-fi romance readers too. While I may be burned out on love triangles, not all readers are, and teens are notorious for choosing sides. This will have many fans, I'm just not leading the pack.


Pandemonium comes out in March 2012 from Harper Teen.


Other reviews:
Starry Sky Books reviews Pandemonium


ARC provided by Around the World Tours.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Sign Language by Amy Ackley

Sign Language by Amy Ackley is the third book I have read recently that dealt with cancer. (The Probability of Miracles deals with the protagonist having cancer. I'm Not Her deals with the sister of the main character having cancer.) In Sign Language, Abby's father has cancer.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Abby North's first hint that something is really wrong with her dad is how long it's taking him to recover from what she thought was routine surgery. Soon, the thing she calls "It" has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence, the boy across the street. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore.(Goodreads.com)

This book is an odd little book, for me anyway. The writing seems very simple. I don't mean this as a criticism, just an observation. In the beginning of the book, when Abby is only twelve, I thought that worked well for her character. But by the end of the book, she is fifteen going on sixteen and I think I expected the writing to reflect this more complex time period in a teen's life. But yet the writing remained very straightforward and to some points, short and to the point, almost terse. This worked well for the mother but it didn't quite convince me of Abby's age. In fact, there were definite points in the story where I didn't feel like I was reading about a teenager at all.

The issue of God and religion was also rather touch and go in this book. Abby's father is agnostic but as his time draws to a close, he renews his faith in religion. This I can buy but it was Abby's spirituality that was more questionable. She talked to God through her magic 8 ball (hence the cover I guess) but at one point in the story, she chucks the magic 8 ball out, not believing in its powers anymore. Religion was used so sparingly with her character that I did not understand the connection or find it believable. God could have easily been her diary she was talking to, this nameless force that barely had any presence in her life other than when it seemed like the author thought it was necessary to invoke a little religion.

Despite these things however, I did enjoy Sign Language because I got to see Abby on her journey, from a twelve-year-old to a sophomore in high school. She went through some very tough things (losing her dad, losing her mom, losing the house she grew up in) but she survived, even if she wasn't always wiser for it. I liked her evolving relationships with her family members, and her best friend, Spence. Even her relationship with her older brother Josh changes in a realistic fashion. Death does draw them together but sibling teasing is still present and accounted for. There was something very real about Abby's grief and even her brief forays into God kind of made sense when put against the backdrop of how grief-stricken she was. This was a coming-of-age story to a certain degree because Abby's life changes and she has to adjust or give up and fortunately, she finds ways to adjust and move forward. Her dad's presence is felt throughout the novel and is a powerful testament to Abby's love for him. 


Sign Language didn't leave me breathless but it was an extremely readable novel that will appeal to fans of Lurlene McDaniel, Janet Gurtler, and even Sarah Dessen (who is in fact quoted on the back).


Other reviews:
Fictional Distraction reviews Sign Language

Reviewed from my local library copy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Audio review: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick ; performed by Peter Berkrot

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick is a 2011 Printz Honor book. I had the pleasure of hearing Marcus Sedgwick speak at ALA 2011 this summer and it got me more interested in his book. I've been doing a lot of traveling back and forth between my home and the Twin Cities lately and since it's a 2 hour drive each way, I get a good listen in. This audio CD was just on display and I grabbed it and I'm glad I did.

Synopsis: A LOADED GUN. STOLEN GOLD. And a menacing stranger. A taut frontier survivor story, set at the time of the Alaska gold rush.
In an isolated cabin, fourteen-year-old Sig is alone with a corpse: his father, who has fallen through the ice and frozen to death only hours earlier. Then comes a stranger claiming that Sig’s father owes him a share of a horde of stolen gold. Sig’s only protection is a loaded Colt revolver hidden in the cabin’s storeroom. The question is, will Sig use the gun, and why? (Goodreads.com)


This book did not captivate me right off the bat. I felt it was slow going and did not really pick up in intensity until Wolff arrives. (Spelling wise, I'm not sure if I'll be spelling any of these names correctly since I listened via audio and did not read the book. Spellings based on Amazon reviews which are not... always correct to say the least.) He is a stranger with a vendetta and fourteen-year-old Sig has to find a way to put aside his grief for his father's recent death and confront a man who is bent on getting his stolen gold back and is not afraid to use violence to get it.

I think the narrator, Peter Berkrot, did a good job in this book. Honestly, I probably would not have picked this book up on my own, Printz Honor or not but it just happened to be the right length for my card ride. I'm glad I did because I was drawn into the struggles of Sig and Wolff and Sig's sister, Anna. Though the story is set in 1910, that detail itself doesn't become fully realized, at least not in the audio version. You know it's set then but aside from the flashbacks, there just isn't a lot in the narrative to make the time period stand out. I'm fine with that however.

The characters did come alive through the audio, particularly the gruesome Wolff. He is a mean and callous man who has no problem hurting anyone and whose gaze basically rapes Sig's older sister, Anna, throughout the story. These details come alive in the audio and I was creeped out every time Wolff was speaking. Sig also comes alive, as a naive teenager whose only problems thus far have been isolated from the local community and being cold, unbearably cold. Suddenly there is this man in his home. A man out for vengeance and Sig's father, the protector in the family, is dead. Sig must step up and become the man of the house (to use a tired cliche) and through the course of the story, he does. The narrator makes Sig become more confident and more grown-up as the story continues. He starts off as an unsure young man who is thrust into the role of leader.

Guns play a large part of this book and I found the various history snippets of guns used throughout the narrative very compelling and interesting. This is a very boy friendly story, even if it does start off rather slow. I think this could be a great starting point for building interest in gun history or even a history of the gun in the United States or world. The quotes used are sometimes shocking, at least to me. There was one from Thomas Jefferson that particularly stood out



"As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives [only] moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion to your walks."
-- Thomas Jefferson, writing to his teenaged nephew.


(Quote from here so I can't vouch for its accuracy.)

Revolver is the title after all and the gun does come alive throughout the audio version, in a way perhaps that it doesn't when just reading it. There is true personification of the gun through Berkrot's narrative and it proves to be chilling and thrilling.

I was a bit let down at the ending of the book and would have preferred that the postscript chapter had been skipped entirely, but that's just me. On the whole, I found this to be a very invigorating and downright unnerving story at times. It is a more sophisticated story for those readers who have grown up with Gary Paulsen, Will Hobbs, or Jack London. There is violence and a definite atmosphere of threat and distrust in this story that lingers until the last page (minus the postscript). Parents, as per usual, prove to not be flawless yet again and this book illustrates that in a way that is filled with adventure.

Revolver is a production of Brilliance Audio and is a 3 CD audiobook, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes.

Reviewed from library audio CD.

Monday, October 24, 2011

YALSA's Readers' Choice Booklist

 
You don't have much time left to nominate a title for YALSA's Readers' Choice Booklist. ANYONE can nominate, it doesn't matter who you are! Librarian! Teacher! Reader! Lawyer! If you like YA books, you can make sure your voice is heard.


Nominations close on November 1st so you have now until October 31st to get your nomination in. Here's what's been nominated already. Don't see a title you love and want to promote?? Nominate it! You want to know WHY it's so important to nominate a title? Read all about just why you should be nominating at YALSA's Hub.

So I ask you, have YOU nominated a title yet??

Friday, October 21, 2011

Visit me at the Hub!

I got the chance to interview author Simone Elkeles over at YALSA's Hub. Head on over and see what she has to say! In case you don't realize it, Simone is the author of Perfect Chemistry, Rules of Attraction, and Chain Reaction.

(And beginning next week I'll be back to some original content here at the blog, rather than links just sending you all elsewhere.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Follow me to The Hub!

 
I may not be posting here much this week but I have written a post for YALSA's Hub blog! Where's the contemporary??? is today's topic and I'd love if you'd head on over and perhaps leave a comment.


And stay tuned at the Hub tomorrow for an interview I got to do with Simone Elkeles!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Birthday Blogging Break!

 
Next week is my birthday. While I can't say I'm thrilled about it this year, it is nonetheless something to celebrate. As part of that, I've decided to take a week off of blogging! It's my birthday treat to myself, something that costs no money or no calories. I want to just be able to read for a week, without thinking about reviews or posts or anything. I know I'm going to be busy both this weekend and NEXT weekend with various friends and relatives so I won't even have my usual weekends to write some posts.


But have no fear, I'll be back and likely very refreshed! So, don't desert my blog forever please. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Chain Reaction is the third book in Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry series. It is Luis Fuentes story and it, like it's predecessors, is incredibly readable.

Synopsis: Luis Fuentes has always been sheltered from the gang violence that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. But that didn’t stop him from taking risks—whether he’s scaling a mountain in the Rockies or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis can’t stop looking for the next thrill.

Nikki Cruz lives her life by three rules—boys lie to get their way, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you,” and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Her parents may be from Mexico, but as a doctor’s daughter, she has more in common with her north-side neighbors than the Latino Blood at her school. Then she meets Luis at Alex’s wedding, and suddenly, she’s tempted to break all her rules.

Getting Nikki to take a chance on a southsider is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by Chuy Soto, the new head of the Latino Blood. When Chuy reveals a disturbing secret about Luis’s family, the youngest Fuentes finds himself questioning everything he’s ever believed to be true. Will his feelings for Nikki be enough to stop Luis from entering a dark and violent world and permanently living on the edge? (Goodreads.com)



If you own the first two in your library and they do well (as they seem to do at most libraries) I cannot stress enough that you need to purchase this book. I'm sure your customers are clamoring for it anyway. There is a lot your teen readers are going to find to like in this story.

Plenty of cameos from Alex and Brittany, Carlos and Kiara, and their mom. Now add in Luis, who is frankly a totally hottie (yes I just said that in a review but it's true) though very much a daredevil, and Nikki, who has been burned before, and the stage is set for a conflagration. It is no wonder these books are so popular with both guys and girls, and adult women. Luis is starting to get involved with the Latino Blood gang and this plays a significant role in the book. Guns, fighting, drugs, and danger are just as much a part of the pages as the romance itself. 

The romance itself is definitely one of the hotter romances in YA land but it's not really any more sexual than what has been in the pages of her previous books. It's not romance novel sex but there is sex, make no mistake. These aren't books for middle grade readers.


Mostly I just had fun reading this book. Simone Elkeles writes in a way that I find to be so easy to read and that makes the pages fly by. Some of it is cliche or over the top but it's just plain fun too and that I think is what makes her books so popular with teens and so easy to market. Her characters are never fully fleshed out, at least not in this book, but they are alive and real on the pages too. However, we don't really dig past their main problems to truly see them become fully realized people. 


All in all, Chain Reaction is a must-have for public libraries who are shelving the other two books in the series. Expect this book to fly off the shelves, to maybe get stolen a time or two, and to go "missing" all too easily. It's a book teens are going to connect with, even if the romance and the danger are amped up a notch that doesn't seem quite real life. It is exaggerated but it's also exaggerated well, if nothing else. I'm excited to see what Simone Elkeles has up her sleeves next and am kind of hoping for a new family of brothers to be introduced to.


Other reviews:
The Compulsive Reader reviews Chain Reaction
Girls in the Stacks review Chain Reaction
I Eat Words reviews Chain Reaction


Copy reviewed from my local public library.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Free ebook alert!

If you're anything like me, you really enjoy Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant series. Well here is your chance to get Scepter of the Ancients free! It's available, free and clear for Nook, Kindle, and Apple's iBookstore until Halloween, 10/31/11!

United States residents only is the caveat. I downloaded it for both my Kindle and my iPad!

Story Time!

So, I'm winding down my first big story time session at my new job. Just two more weeks and then I take a break through most of November. It's been a great experience thus far and I've learned a lot about the kids and they've learned a lot about my storytelling style. Here is what basically happens during my story times:
Welcome song
Talk about theme and ask kids about it
First book
Song
Second book
Fingerplay
Song
Third book
(And sometimes a fourth book!)
Craft

My predecessor always showed short little films made from books (like The North Star and more stories about following your dreams but so far I haven't followed in those steps. I just cannot conceive of bringing TV (even if it's based on books) into my story times since I just think kids get too much TV at other points in their day. 

My themes the last month and a half have been:
Back to School
Dogs
Autumn
Colors
Transportation
Bears

Upcoming themes include Smell and Halloween of course! I've found some great crafts via Story Time Katie, Awesome Story Time, Pinterest. I really want to go to a craft every other week but I don't think my supervisor wants me to do that so I may have to fight it out.

I also started a Mother Goose story time on Friday's at my library. This is NOT based on the Mother Goose on the Loose story time program. Instead, it's based on what I learned at my last library where Mother Goose story time was a very big deal. So far, I've had moderate success with baby story time. It's brand new at my library though so I'm hopeful it will grow and expand. The more babies the better!

And I am working on getting teen programs going at my library but I will save that for another post. 

Some of my most successful story time books so far have been:
Bark, George (one of my very favorite story time books!)
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (they had great fun looking for the animals and shapes in the book)
Lemons Are Not Red
Who Is Driving? (They loved guessing who was driving the cars and then making the noises accompanying each car.)

I've been relieved stories have been going so well and are ridiculously fun I must say. I always come away revved for the rest of the day. And, as a great plus, my Tuesday night story time has been growing each week. I actually love my night time crowd best because they are all relaxed and just ready to have fun. There is a lot of socializing amongst the parents and if books aren't working, sometimes the kids and I just break out in dance and it's been fun. I also tend to get a bit older crowd, parents who haven't quite let go of story time yet, so I can often read a bit more advanced stories and have them do well with the kids.
The one thing I'm most having trouble with is working in music CDs. I have no trouble singing songs myself but I want to be able to use our music collection better and I just haven't found a comfortable way to do it. But I'll get there (though if you have tips, please share!)

So, I hope to make story time posts a more regular feature here on the blog, sharing favorite stories, songs, and crafts (because man oh man, I'm going to need inspiration for weekly crafts).

Do you have a favorite story time book that works well with preschoolers (or babies!)? Please share!



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Audiobook review: As Simple As It Seems by Sarah Weeks

Sarah Week's As Simple As It Seems is a story that benefited from an audio reading. The story is simple enough, pleasant enough, but the audio version made it something a bit more special.

Synopsis: Verbena Colter knows she's bad news. Trouble from the get-go. How could she not be, with parents like hers? Her mother practically pickled her before she was even born, leaving Verbie to struggle with the effects of fetal alchol syndrome. And her father was just plain mean. Verbie wishes she could be somebody, anybody other than who she is. Enter Pooch, a flatlander boy visiting for the summer. When Pooch and his mom rent the house next door, Verbie takes the opportunity to be someone else entirely. And what starts out as a game leads Verbie into a surprising and heartwarming journey of self-discovery. (Goodreads.com)


As Simple As It Seems is read by Rachel Gray. She has a very babyish voice which, when I started this book, did not bode well for me. I was a bit turned off but then I got into and her voice turned soothing and worked for the story. In particular, the dialogue scenes were fantastic because her baby-soft voice really worked for twelve-year-old Verbena and nine-year-old Pooch. Obviously that is why this person was chosen to narrate the story. 

While the narration itself wasn't that exciting to me, Rachel Gray had such a great voice for the characters. She gave Pooch's mom just the right amount of snootiness. She made Verbena's mom a true tender-heart with soft inflections but just enough anger when Verbena went off the rails and really hurt her mom's feelings. 


Verbena and Pooch's first meeting in particular was hilarious and really had me laughing in my car. Pooch believes Verbena is the ghost of a girl who drowned in the lake. Rachel Gray, with the great help of Sarah Weeks well-written book, give Pooch just enough innocence to make this a believable scenario and not a scenario where Pooch just seems stupid or gullible. He truly believes and that belief comes through. Additionally, Verbena's off the cuff imagination is well represented throughout the story.


The author also manages to make Verbena's up and down attitude towards her mother not as whiny as it could have been. She is just a young girl who finds out something major in her life and it changes how she feels. She cannot always control what is coming out of her mouth unfortunately or how she will react in a given situation and that is unpredictability is reflected in the narration as she is happy and giddy one minute but then sad and melancholy another minute. 


This book didn't totally read like a middle grade novel to me at times however. Verbena mentions that she must have had the same "fourth grade curriculum" as Pooch and well, I don't know many soon to be sixth graders who would ever use that word. There were a few other phrases that rang false for me too. However, in the grand scheme of things, these were small quibbles. There is also an unfortunate scene involving the decision whether to use Indian or Native American, as detailed in this review.


Rachel Gray made this story which could have been rather tepid and just okay into something a bit more special for me. Pooch and Verbena's conversations sounded so much like the little kids I hear speaking in the library. There was excitement and curiosity and hurt and bravery. This was a fun middle grade book to listen to overall. The kids came alive as did the setting of a rural small town. 
 
Simple As It Seems is a production of Listening Library/Books on Tape, read by Rachel Gray. It's 3 discs, totaling 3 hours and 43 minutes of listening time.


Reviewed from a copy checked out at my local library.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Author signing! In which Sarah gets to meet Bakerella!

This past Saturday, October 8, 2011, I was very excited to an author event! This was NOT a YA author event but I was totally fine with that since it's a lady I greatly admire. The creative and sweet Bakerella was in Minnesota, signing her book Cake Pops. I've been a fan of her blog for years now, way back when cake pops were just cake balls. She was originally scheduled to appear in Minnesota in February but her health was not good. However, I'm so glad she decided to make up for the trip.

She talked for about 20 minutes at first, tips and tricks about making cake pops, taking questions from the audience, and just telling us her story, things like inspiration, all the fun candy she buys, and just the process she goes through when making cake pops, how she chooses candy and what not. She was a fun speaker and it's obvious she is passionate about what she is doing. She also gives plenty of kudos to her talented fans and is really proud of her Pops Stars section of her website. It's definitely good for new ideas!

I have been unsuccessful with making cake pops in the past but I am inspired to try again. I bought a few little candies at Williams-Sonoma to try and I plan on trying to make the pumpkins again. We'll see how it goes but seeing how many other people are doing this, I know I can do it too!

Then, I (along with my awesome blogger friend who attended with me!) waited in line to have my book signed. Her mom was at the signing and wow do they look alike! Her mom, like Bakerella herself, is a total sweetheart, and was busy snapping photos throughout the event. She was just as excited as Ms. Bakerella!

 
I had a great time at the event and really enjoyed meeting Bakerella. It may not have been a YA writer but let me just say, if you get the chance, she is a total joy to meet! (AND there were delicious cupcakes after!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A day in the life of a youth librarian...

A Day in the life of a Librarian is a feature I discovered on Abby the Librarian's blog. I love seeing what others do at their own jobs so hopefully this feature doesn't seem too boring to you readers out there!

8:30 AM: Arrive at work. Turn on the lights and computers in the youth area. Make sure the games computers are running okay because I've been having problems with them lately. They are OLD so I'm not surprised.

9:00 AM: A little cataloging! Mostly books on this day because I have a back log of books I have to get out onto the shelves since I got tons of nonfiction books in recently.

10:00 AM: Head into the big meeting room to make sure everything is set up for story time. Have to rearrange a table or two but it's mostly good to go.

10:15 AM: Clean up the displays in the meeting room and put out the name tags for the Wednesday story time kids.

10:30 AM: Story time starts. This week is a transportation theme so we get to talk about trains, cars, tractors, planes, and boats. The kids love it and they really like pretending to be airplanes as we "fly" about the room.

11:20 AM: Story time and craft is over. Cleaning up because I have a class from the local community college coming in.

12:00 PM: The local Lit and Language childcare class from the community college stops by for a lesson on doing a story time, how I choose books, how I allocate my money, and then, a tour of the youth area along with a bit of a scavenger hunt the teacher devised.

1:15 PM: Heading home for lunch. I'm hungry!

2:15 PM: Back from lunch. Hard to find a parking spot because unfortunately they've been working on the parking lot for the library/community center, making it a big mess.

2:30 PM: Register a few more families for my upcoming family pumpkin carving evening on October 20. So far 12 out of 30 open spots are filled but we've been getting more calls each day.

3:00 PM: Ordering a few more wall decals to decorate the children's area: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Strawberry Shortcake.

3:15 PM: Find a craft for my bear story time next week. Finally found this craft on Pinterest. I've done puppets too often lately so I needed something else.

4:00 PM: After helping pull some books for a local teacher, I'm back to do more cataloging.

5:00 PM: Heading home! It's been a long and productive day, the best kind in the work week.

And hey, you can see me in Publisher's Weekly (well, their website!) for the new iPad I won last week. I'm the fifth picture down, the girl holding an iPad. Woo!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Let me tell you, this reading things I truly want to read thing?? It's going gangbusters! I've read a string of really fabulous books (and one not so fab) but it's just been refreshing because these were all books I CHOSE and not ones that I felt I had to read by some undetermined deadline.

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab is a story of old. It it set in some undetermined time. It doesn't feel like years ago but it doesn't quite feel like contemporary times either. This helps build the eerie atmosphere that makes The Near Witch unforgettable.

Synopsis: The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget. (Goodreads.com)

Can I just say WOW! This book engaged me from the get-go and I was really sad to have to put it down to go to work or bed. It is downright eerie and spooky in a way that many of the YA paranormal titles being written today have no hope of ever achieving. But, and this is a big but, I don't really consider this a paranormal. More like a gentle horror story built on the stories we hear as children, passed down from generation to generation. The stories get so old to the point where they don't seem like they could have even been true. They have taken on that fairy tale quality and that is perhaps the closest thing Schwab has written, a fairy tale of sorts.

And it is an utterly lovely story. The language! Victoria Schwab has some impressive writing skills. Words were used sparingly, to create chills up the spine and fear in the heart. And then you're hit with this WHAM when the true evil finally appears. And it's not even the witch, though of course she has her own vendetta. I think the power in this story is the power of words itself, how the town is turning against its own in the hunt for answers that do not fit at all.

I really liked Lexi, the main character. She is protective of her younger sister, Wren. She is sad and misses her father and wants to emulate him but is being held back by her Uncle. She just wants to wrap herself in his memories, to use them to move forward but then discovers she has to use her memories of him for a higher, more dangerous purpose. This is not a stupid character. She is wily, cunning, and ready to tackle danger head-on. She faces challenges, threats of banishment, and ire from her fellow villagers in her quest for the truth.

And back to the language because I think more than anything, the language is what sold me on this story. This could have been a very mediocre story but in the right hands, it takes off and is thrilling. There are so many passages I wish I could quote but I think they are best experienced in the heart of the story itself. Here is one small example, from page 118 of the finished book:

"It is a strange thing, the way the world goes quiet when we hear our own name, as though the walls grow thin to make way."

SERIOUSLY, this rang so true for me. I mean, who doesn't feel this way when they hear their name?? It's like Victoria Schwab was inside my head and pulled that thought right out and made it better with her writing. There is something old-fashioned to the writing that makes it stand out in a sea of other YA novels right now.

If I had one (or two) small criticisms, it would be that at times, the action just wasn't swift enough. There were a few portions, particularly scenes from in the woods, where I was skimming. All the talk of wind became kind of mind-numbing after awhile. I also found the romance to be rather lackluster and would have been happier if they had just joined in their quest as friends because even the kisses they shared seemed kind of forced.

However, that's it. I can say wholeheartedly I enjoyed this book from start to finish. The town of Near and its moors come to life with intriguing descriptions and characters. This is a book I'll be nominating for the Morris Award (if I still can!) because I think it has that complex combination of brilliant writing and well done storytelling just right.

Other reviews:
Ticket to Anywhere reviews The Near Witch
Steph Su Reads reviews The Near Witch
Early Nerd Special reviews The Near Witch

Reviewed from my public library book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Author Interview: Catherine Greenman

Hooked is the debut novel from author Catherine Greenman. You can read my review of Hooked for more information but I'm very happy today to bring you a Q&A with author Catherine Greenman. She has some interesting things to say about Hooked, so read on!

Q: Teen pregnancy has become something of a fifteen minutes of fame thing for some teen girls today, with the rise of some of MTV's shows. How did you avoid making this book rife with sensationalism?

A: I started this book a few years ago, before many of these shows took off the way they have. Teenage pregnancy has taken a different route via the media since I started Hooked. Believe it or not, I didn't exactly set out to write a novel about pregnancy. I was interested in what happens to a family when children are faced with circumstances that force them to grow up at an early age. In a sense, it could have been a death in the family, or a difficult divorce. But somehow I ended up with pregnancy.

Q: As it's said, a picture tells a thousand stories. What kind of message do you think the cover of your book sends to readers?

A: I was a little concerned initially that it was too 'racy,' but I think there are elements that keep it from being that. The wallpaper, for example, is cheerful and colorful! I think the idea was to show that this character is in a bind. She's obviously young.

Q: I'm so glad to see another realistic fiction title being published! Did you have an easy road to publication?

A: Thank you! Although it took a long time for me to write Hooked, the road to publication was relatively straightforward. I sent it to about ten agents and a few responded positively. I signed with the one who was the most enthusiastic and she sold it a few months later.

Q: Were you like Thea at all in high school, sharing many of the same hopes and dreams?

A: I was definitely obsessed with boys in the same way Thea is, and it interfered with my school work and grades! I wish I could go back and do it again and be more serious.

Q: I'd love to see more teen boys reading books like Hooked. Any thoughts on how to accomplish that?

A: That's a tough one. Maybe ask them if they would have responded to the situation the way Will did? Could they ever imagine loving someone so much that they'd take a risk like that? Have they ever imagined what it would be like to be in college with a baby?

Q: How does it feel to be a debut author? Did you do anything fun to celebrate your book's publication?

A: My husband threw me a little party and my friends showed up with copies for me to sign. It sunk in that night and it felt great!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder is the second recent story I've read about a teen suffering from cancer. It is just as heartfelt and sad and hopeful as Janet Gurtler's I'm Not Her but in different ways.

Synopsis: Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals. The last thing she wants to do in the short life she has left is move 1,500 miles away to Promise, Maine - a place known for the miraculous events that occur there. But it's undeniable that strange things happen in Promise: everlasting sunsets; purple dandelions; flamingoes in the frigid Atlantic; an elusive boy named Asher; and finally, a mysterious envelope containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As Cam checks each item off the list, she finally learns to believe - in love, in herself, and even in miracles. (Goodreads.com)


Let me just put it out there, I do believe in miracles. I am a rather optimistic and hopeful person in general. I was definitely bordering more on the Perry (Cam's sister) side of believing in unicorns than not believing in them. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it may just turn out to be one of my favorites of 2011.

Cam is sad, she is angry but I think more than anything, she is resigned. She knows her body's battle with cancer isn't getting better and when she receives those horrible words directly from her doctor, well, what more is there to do except pack it all up and head to Promise, Maine, where she can be healed by the miraculous town? It's not Cam's idea, but rather her mother's idea. No one is giving up on Cam yet, except Cam herself.


There is quite a bit of dry humor in this book as Cam uses humor to distance herself from her family, from making new friends in Promise, and from the fact that this may be the end for her. I think I'm making Cam to be this truly depressed person but she isn't. She is in fact filled with life and though she doesn't acknowledge it, she has some hope left in her.


There was a somewhat otherworldly, unreal quality about this story that really worked in its favor. The many coincidences, the many miracles Perry records in her notebook, all of it could have ended up on the too cutesy side. Cam's Flamingo List? Saving a puppy that was the runt of the litter? Having her pet bird show up in Maine after it flew away way back at her Nana's house? It could have been unbelievable but Wendy Wunder writes so that I believe in these things. I believe in what is happening to Cam one hundred percent. I don't have the words to truly describe what I liked about Wunder's writing but for me as  reader, it just worked. There is a nice balance of humor, honesty, the improbable, and the all too hard-hitting reality of what Cam is going through.


I love the cliches that were explored in this book too. Asher, the town football hero, having a seedy affair with a thirty-year old. It just reminded me of Pacey in Dawson's Creek so points to Ms. Wunder again for playing into my TV show nostalgia. Even the somewhat out there characters of promise, the Catalog kids, all very Gilmore Girls or Dawson's Creek. And it worked! Cam knew these teens were somewhat of a joke, at least initially. She stereotyped them as surely as the Make a Wish Foundation stereotypes what kind of wishes they grant. But these were real teens and she fortunately had the strength to get to know them on a more personal level.


I also enjoyed the exploration of Cam's Samoan background and heritage. At first, I thought it was kind of shoved into the story rather awkwardly. But as the story progresses, the flow of how she lets herself explore dance and her heritage worked in the story's favor. The celebration of life through dance was beautiful and Wunder does some great things with language as she describes how Cam moves, particularly in a wonderful scene where she discovers Asher's background.


I cried several places in this story. I cried for Cam as she struggled with her disease. I cried with her as she imagined a future where she isn't part of her family anymore. But it's surprisingly not a depressing book. If anything, this is a book about celebrating life, the little miracles to the big miracles to the most fun moments of just being a teenager. This debut from Wendy Wunder is rather magical.

The Probability of Miracles comes out on December 8, 2011 from Razorbill. This is one book I can't wait to own the finished copy. I love the cover (I really like pink!) and it fits with the story very well I think.


Other reviews:
 The Flashlight Reader reviews The Probability of Miracles

Monday, October 3, 2011

Romance Round-up: October 2011

Since September was a slow reading month for me, I don't have a whole lot of romance reviews to link to, but there are a couple! Here's what I reviewed for October:

Serpent's Kiss by Thea Harrison (LOVING this series. Great stuff!)
Prey by Linda Howard (Don't let this book be the first Linda Howard you ever read. It's not all that great.)
A Matter of Scandal by Suzanne Enoch

Do you have any romance books you'd like to share? Something that was really, really good?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Contest winners!

 
Several contest wins to announce!


The two winners for Amulet: The Last Council are:

Sandy H. and Ashley B.

The winner for Hooked is:

Clementine B.

Many congratulations everyone and thanks for entering!!

Nominations are now open!

Just in case you needed ANOTHER reminder...

Cybils nominations are now open! Head on over with your titles and nominate away!

May the best books win!

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