You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2009.

The Amaranth Enchantment The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars What a fun, quick read. While not explicitly based on any fairy tale, it has that feel, and I would recommend it to fans of Ella Enchanted and Shannon Hale. Although the heroine is fifteen, the story is fairly simple and sweet in a way that makes it appropriate for younger readers, but would also give it appeal to teen girls looking for a fun rags-to-riches fantasy. I had wondered, ordering it, if it would be age appropriate for my 4th-8th grade collection, and it seems like a perfect fit. I have a few minor quibbles – a too-perfect prince, for example, while the thief boy was delightfully flawed. It also didn’t have quite as much emotional depth as something like Beauty A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s one of those books where you don’t quite notice that until you’ve gulped it down. I’m just waiting for a young patron to ask for fairy tale retellings so I can point her to this one. View all my reviews >>

Also – I noticed a few reviews on Goodreads that gushed over the cover, but I think it’s hideous.  Okay, not hideous – just dull.  It doesn’t tell you anything about the story that the title doesn’t already cover – magic and amaranth flowers.  The cover model looks slightly bored.  Or maybe I just dislike photographs on the covers of fantasy novels?  I think photos are better suited to comtemporary fiction.  I’d much rather see an illustration of Lucinda.  And behind her – is that supposed to be a forest?  The whole story is set in a city, for crying out loud.

I’m inheriting two programs as the new children’s librarian – a weekly toddler storytime, and a monthly bookgroup for ages ten and up.  I had a sort of trial run for storytime this week, filling in for someone on vacation.  It was actually one of the preschool storytimes, but still – it warmed up my muscles.  I did a fish theme and read Fish is Fish, Clara and Asha, and Fish Eyes, along with a flannelboard version of The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile.  It all went over swimmingly (haha) and I was delightfully surprised to see how entranced the kids were by Clara and Asha, which I’d worried was better suited to a cozier setting and fewer children.  But they lapped it up – and according to one of the other librarians, they even squealed at a few points.  I read Fish is Fish first, since it was longest and I was worried about attention spans.  Fish Eyes was great towards the end, because I didn’t have to worry about losing the threads of a story as they interrupted and crowded around to point out their favorite fish.  Have I mentioned that I love reading aloud? I’ll have my regular storytime starting in October, when our next cycle starts up.

The book group is a more challenging crowd.  They don’t squeal.  I’m taking over starting in September, so I sat in on this month’s discussion.  There were five kids, and I’m terrible at guessing ages but they looked like a range from ten to fourteen or so.  It had been free choice month, so they each talked about some of the best things they read over the summer – everything from Harriet the Spy to Specials.  I loved hearing their reactions to things.  For September, the librarian currently running the show booktalked three titles and then opened the floor for nominations, and then they voted for their top three choices. 

Eragon won out by one point over Shakespeare’s Secret, so it looks like I’ll finally have to tackle that dreaded title.  The boy who nominated it was super excited, since he’s been trying to get the group to read it for ages but is always outvoted.  Me?  I tried to listen to the audio version a few years ago and didn’t even make it through a whole cassette.  The way I figure it is that I’ll either give up partway and run next month’s discussion blind, or it will be so terribly bad that I’ll get a good laugh and make it through.  The one-star reviews on Goodreads are making me think it could go either way.  How much am I willing to suffer for the bookgroup?  Stay tuned – I’ve got until the 15th.

Well Witched Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Surprisingly creepy, with fantastic imagery. I loved the juxtaposition of ancient well spirits, possessed shopping carts, nightmares about such innocent things as fogged-over glass, and the trials of adolescence. The relationships – between the three children, in their families, and with various other adults – were just as compelling as the fantasy plotline, where the task of granting wishing-well wishes is forced upon modern kids. The way Ryan and Chelle interact with the more controlling Josh rang so true as to middle school behavior, and Hardinge makes the resolution work. But don’t forget the creepy – I won’t be forgetting the eyes on Ryan’s hands anytime soon. So while I love this cover, I wish it had something that said less “fun fantasy!” and more “creepy but still funny fantasy.” Recommended for less easily-frightened readers, 4th-middle school.

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Hardinge has a new one coming out September 1st – The Lost Conspiracy, which I look forward to snagging when my order comes in at work.  Fuse #8 has a nice long review, which of course makes me want it NOW.  As is often the case with her reviews.  Oh, and here’s her review of Well Witched from last year, which makes me wish I’d noted down some of my favorite lines, and she mentions a line that made me laugh aloud when I first read it:

“Ryan had always thought that carts had far too much body language for objects with no heads or limbs.”

Yeah, it still makes me laugh.

How much do I love these (alas not really available) new covers for The Chronicles of Narnia?

So much that I want to reread – particularly The Horse and His Boy after looking at this picture, but they’re all pretty fabulous.  Although I’ve reread them many times, I vividly remember my mom reading the series aloud – and the day when I realized I was a strong enough reader to read ahead on my own, and I snuck The Horse and His Boy up onto my bunk bed.  Funny how it seems so illicit in my memory – I’m sure my mom knew all about it in reality.  I think The Last Battle was also the first book that made me cry, but let’s not talk about that.

The copies I own are the boxed set of paperbacks, the ones with the truly horrific 70s covers, all garish colors and blocky illustrations.  I admit to a fondness for these covers simply because they’re MINE – I think I received them for my 8th birthday.  If I’m right, that means they’re turning 20 this weekend, so this post is quite timely.

Yikes!  I can’t imagine getting a kid to pick these up after looking at this cover.  I am quite fond of the newer Chris Van Allsburg covers, and I’d probably go for that set if I were buying them to give away.

He makes Narnia look appropriately mysterious and evocative, and I like that the illustrations stretch to the edges of the cover, rather than being bordered – it makes me feel like I’m looking at that sea painting in the Scrubb’s spare room and any moment I might step right into Narnia.

Have I ever mentioned how, as a kid, I used to imagine that one day I’d run into the Pevensie children?  They’re not supposed to talk about Narnia to other people, but I’d of course recognize them, and go up to them and say, “It’s okay, you can talk about it with me – I know all about Narnia.”  Yeah.

Let’s not even talk about the blah-blah 2005 covers.  Ugh.

Crowns?  Bonus excerpts?  Huh?

Anyway, I first saw those reimagined covers at 100 Scope Notes, and you might also want to check out the other covers at M.S. Corley’s site, including Harry Potter and His Dark Materials.

Mistress of the Art of Death (Book 1) Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you want forensics and historical fiction all in one place, this is the book for you. While I was occasionally distracted by wondering how historically accurate Adelia really was, the story was fascinating enough that it didn’t bother me. Franklin did, however, seem to go to great lengths to show how and why Adelia was unusual for her time – she was not depicted as just some strong, educated, un-superstitious fluke but a product of an unusual upbringing. There were also frequent mentions of how if the locals knew what she was really getting up to, she’d be hung or tossed in the river with little debate. Apart from that issue, it was a fascinating depiction of life in medieval Cambridge. The plot does deal with some horrific violence against children, which to me was worse than the descriptions of examining corpses. Still, the characters were nuanced and flawed and compelling, and I’ve already got the next book (The Serpent’s Tale) waiting for me.

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Recommended by Leila.

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel The Forgotten Garden: A Novel by Kate Morton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A big, fat, delicious novel. Although I’m giving them both four stars, I think this was a stronger book than The House at Riverton, or perhaps I was just more attached to this set of characters and places. Three story lines, ranging from the present to the early 20th century, are tied together to create a suspenseful story of a family over several generations. While some of the twists aren’t too difficult to guess, if you like to do that sort of thing, half the fun is finding out if you’re right and the other half is seeing which unanticipated twists Morton will throw in. The characters were vivid, wounded and flawed in interesting ways that felt more Gothic than depressing – I suppose the story could be described as a combination of Daphne du Maurier and The Secret Garden (although it was strangely jarring to find Frances Hodgson Burnett put in an appearance in the story). The places are often as vivid as the characters, whether it’s the garden and cottage, Nell’s home in Australia, or a flat in London. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a big, old-fashioned novel to sink into.

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Thanks for Babelbabe for turning me on to Kate Morton – I’ll definitely pick up anything else she writes!

The Wild Girls The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A lovely, realistic story about friendship and growing up. While I wasn’t always convinced that the 1970s setting was necessary, perhaps it enabled the story to exist in a world where there’s a little more wild area for these wild girls to wander. They’re the kind of girls I don’t see enough of in realistic fiction (is it just me, or do they tend to live more in fantasy stories?) where they enjoy the outdoors and live vividly in their imaginations. The fact that they both love to write, and that this development as writers is key to the story, is an added bonus. I can see this appealing immensely to girls who want realistic stories with a bit more substance, but which are still fairly innocent at heart. There are some family issues, but the girls don’t obsess about boys or appearance or growing up too fast.

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Last night I started reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.  It came in on hold, for the second time, and I thought I’d better start it right away.  Sometimes it’s hard to get books back off the shelf once I bring them home – it can turn into a black hole of Things I Want to Read.  At any rate, I’m a little ways in and simultaneously interested and repulsed.  Repulsed isn’t quite the right word – I’m not irritated by Anderson’s style (the use of strikethroughs and various text sizes mostly works for me) and I’m finding the characters intriguing.  I think it’s mostly that I just don’t get anorexia.  I can’t even imagine having that kind of relationship with food.  That, in turn, makes it hard to empathize with Lia.  At the same time, it’s like a car accident – it’s hard to look away.  I’m curious to see how I feel as I get further into the story.

Speaking of things I’m reading, I need to work fast and clear some space on my To-Read shelf, because there are a lot of books coming out soon that I want to read.

  • Top of the list is the sequel to Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, which is coming out in September.  I might go so far as to purchase this one for myself – The Ask and the Answer – just so I don’t have to wait for the YA librarian to order it , which of course means I need a matched set.  Which means I need to reread the first book.  Talk about cliff-hangers!  I’d better prepare myself for what I’m sure will be another.  Also, why isn’t there an audio version of The Knife yet?  Seriously.  September 8.
  • Everyone’s all buzz buzz buzz about Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.  And I’m definitely looking forward to this, but not with the same intensity or cliff-hanger-resolving anxiety.  I’ve got it on hold, and I’m willing to wait a bit before devouring it.  September 1.
  • Same thing goes for the Graceling prequel, Fire – I want to read it, but I’m not biting my nails.  October 5.
  • Katherine Sturtevant, author of the wonderful At the Sign of the Star and it’s companion, A True and Faithful Narrative (both excellent historical fiction) has a new one coming out, which isn’t another book about Meg, but I trust Sturtevant’s style enough to be looking forward to it.  It’s called The Brothers Story, and don’t you wish it had a better title AND a better cover?  Sheesh, don’t the publishers want people to read it?  Also, shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in the title somewhere?  November 10.
  • Speaking of bad title decisions, the third installment in Linda Buckley-Archer’s Gideon trilogy is due out – Time Quake.  The first book was originally called Gideon the Cutpurse – doesn’t that just scream fabulous historical fiction?  Then, when the second book came out, the title was switched to The Time Travelers.  Yawn!  Book two is The Time Thief and the new one is Time Quake.  Sure, sure, this is a nice sort of branding and the whole series is unified, blah blah blah.  But I had to look them up to make sure I had the right name for each book – the titles aren’t distinct or memorable.  True, the books focus less on Gideon himself than on the children, but the switch did the whole series a disfavor.  Nice covers, though.  October 6.
  • Speaking of new covers, I’m not too much in love with the cover for Shannon Hale’s new one, Forest Born.  I liked the style of the original covers of The Goose Girl, etc., much better.  This one looks less old-fashioned and distinct and more like it could belong on any girly fantasy story.  Which isn’t to say that I won’t read the book.  But this series is more companion-y and less of a build-up from one book to the next, which means it probably won’t be at the top of my pile – I ordered it, and I’ll let the kids have at it first.  September 15.
  • Al Capone Shines My Shoes.  I feel like I need an exclamation point at the end of the title.  I can’t wait to see what Gennifer Choldenko does with this sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts. It’s been a while since I read the first one, but I have fond memories – and it’s historical fiction that won’t scare off boys.  Can’t wait to unpack it when it arrives.  September 8.
  • I already mentioned Richard Peck’s new one a while ago, A Season of Gifts.  I highly recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder on audio – so hilarious and still sweet at the same time.  So of course I ordered the new one.  And speaking of covers, I have no doubt who’s driving that car.  September 17.

What am I missing?  I know there’s a new Kate DiCamillo, and a Neil Gaiman novella, and Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware – what else?

Edited to add:  Duh.  Sacred Scars, the sequel to Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey.  My hold just came in and reminded me.

Second duh: Front and Center, the sequel to Dairy Queen and The Off Season.

Thursday nights are my reference desk nights – I’m the one sitting in the main area of the library, answering questions and helping people with the internet stations.  I’m getting to know the regulars – the guy who wants you to google something very specific and then print out the results page.  Not the actual webpages, just the list of results from google.  Um, okay.  Easy enough.  There are always questions about making computer reservations, and about how the new computer system works, and can I put such-and-such book on hold.  Is this movie in on DVD, and where are your audiobooks, and is there a travel guide for Spokane.

Then there are the fun ones, like the phone call I got tonight.  He wanted the lyrics to an ACDC song, and he knew the title.  Fantastic.  (The other day I had a similar request, only she didn’t know the name of the song or who sang it – only that it had been in a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie.  Which movie?  Who knows.  To my surprise, I found the song.  Sweet victory.)  So I search for the song and find the lyrics, and in the meantime the guy on the phone is talking about what he thinks one of the lines is.  Okay, I think, he wants me to clarify that he’s hearing it correctly.  I find the line and read it to him.  Twice.  Three times.  He repeats it back and messes it up.  A fourth time.

“What do you think that means?” he asks. When I say I have no idea, he proceeds to tell me how he think the line applies to his relationship with his girlfriend.  “She just takes and takes and takes.”  Um.  Fortunately, he didn’t drag it out once I repeated that I didn’t have an interpretation handy, just the lyrics.

I guess people think we really do know everything.  Including the meaning of song lyrics.

I’m going to watch Desk Set now – I bet no one asked Katherine Hepburn for ACDC lyrics.

Ottoline Goes to School Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An excellent choice for readers just moving to chapter books, reluctant readers, or anyone looking for something quick and entertaining. Told through both text and pictures, this sequel to Ottoline and the Yellow Cat has all the same charms – quirky characters and situations, pictures that form part of the story and beg to be examined in detail, and an excellent sense of the absurd. This one features a boarding school plot that pokes nice fun at the genre.

Shadowed Summer Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A very summery, spooky story that’s much stronger than the cover suggests. The sense of place and heat is vivid, which makes a nice contrast when things get turned upside down and Iris is shivering from her encounters with the ghost of a boy who disappeared years before. The characters are another strength of the story – both the present day teens and the adults who were around when Elijah disappeared. I’d recommend it to 7th graders and up looking for a ghost story.

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August 2009

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