Friday, January 29, 2010

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss, Read by Barbara Rosenblat

I know I don't usually review children's books on my blog, even though I read plenty of them with my seven-year-old daughter. But the audio recording of this book won the 2010 ALSC/Booklist/YALSA Odyssey Award and was announced at Youth Media Awards two weeks ago. A friend of mine was on the committee and they know they listened to hours and hours of audiobooks to find the best ones. Of course, I had to listen! So last night my daughter and I listened to the CD as we followed along in the book.

And, wow. What an awesome audiobook! The sound effects were marvelous and the narrator's voice was amazing. The different characters' voices were so distinct and Addie and I were anxiously awaiting the turn of each page. Louise goes on three adventures--a ship, the circus, and a Middle Eastern bazaar. And Louise is one tough chicken. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Nothing like a good young adult tearjerker to cheer you up, right? This was on the short list for the 2010 Morris Award and I can see young teenage girls flocking toward it. Sara Zarr and Elizabeth Scott blurbed about it on the back cover, so it's got to be good!

Caitlin is a teenage girl grieving because her best friend committed suicide. Because of Ingrid's unexpected death, Caitlin feels guilty because she didn't "prevent" her friend's downward spiral. While tentatively trying to make friends and reach out for help, Caitlin discovers her best friend's journal that was hidden under her bed. The journal entries are haunting and Caitlin eventually realizes that her friend suffered greatly. Caitlin's new lesbian friend Dylan helps her through her suffering, as does her new love interest, her art teacher, and even (gasp!) her parents.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

This YA steampunk novel has been calling to me since it's arrival earlier in the school year. With my Alex committee service over, I'm finally able to read YA again! Yay! So my "to read" list should start shrinking soon, and you'll be reading lots of blog postings about YA books that have been the talk of the library world lately. Westerfeld is best known for his Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras series, but my fav is Peeps. I think it's one of the best vampire books out there.

I read somewhere that Westerfeld put a lot of money into this book to make sure the illustrations and design were exactly what he wanted. It reminded me a bit of Hugo Cabret because the illustrations really help tell the story. It's 1914 in an alternate Europe. Some things are the same--countries are at war, etc., but there are Darwinists and Clankers on the continent. Darwinists use evolutional theory to combine animals. The Leviathan is a huge airship that is really a whale that has its own ecosystem to survive. Celia help it steer and metal-eating bats and honey help it live. The Clankers are machinists who think Darwinists are crazy. Clankers believe that machines hold the key and invent huge fighting machines. Alek is the heir to the Austrian (Clanker) throne, even if he technically shouldn't be since his mother was common born. He is forced to go on the run in a Walker with a few instructors and servants and has to grow up fast. Deryn is a girl disguised as a boy because she wants to fly. She joins the crew of the Leviathan and the two main characters come together to save each other. The sequel is coming....

I was kinda disappointed that this book seems to be geared toward younger teens. I was hoping for a more adult-like romp for older teens and can see why some of my high school readers weren't too excited when I recommended this one. I think now I'll recommend it more to my freshmen readers.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan, Read by Jesse Bernstein

I swear I've read or listened to all the books in this series, even though I didn't blog about Book 2 for some reason. Here are my glowing reviews for The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Titan's Curse (Book 3).

I can't WAIT until The Lightning Thief comes out on Feb. 12! I keep making my daughter watch the preview so she gets excited about it, too. She thinks it looks a little scary, but, hey, it's PG and she's watched Harry Potter before! So she's going....

I was a bit disappointed in The Last Olympian. The dreaded prophecy finally comes true, although not how we think. For years, Percy has known that at the age of 16, he'd have to save the world or die in the process, so he has known things were going to get difficult. The entire book is essentially the last battle, and my mind was wandering some as I listened. But things were wrapped up neatly with the hint of more books to come, so I'm sure the movie world is anxiously awaiting how well The Lightning Thief does at the box office. Is it the next Harry Potter?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

2010 Alex Award Winner!

Some of you may remember the book Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green where I started a blog comment war with a friend of the author. I just couldn't stand the attitude of the writer and didn't believe that it was a true memoir. I just didn't think that the war in Afghanistan was really what he said. So I wasn't looking forward to reading this novel by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, because I figured it would be another liberal take on why war is bad.

But, oh, I was wrong. This is one of the finest pieces of war journalism I have ever read. I cried, I laughed, and I felt like I was truly in the head of the commander of the Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. Finkel was with the unit from the start of their fifteen-month tour in Kansas to their homecoming. The chapters were headed with quotes from President Bush, as the battalion helped enforce "The Surge" in Iraq. Their biggest enemy? IEDs. The 2-16 is constantly attacked on patrols and always on the lookout for explosives. The photographs throughout the book bring the reader closer to the soldiers.

Mr. Ogle took the book to read and I can't wait to hear his prospective since he served a tour in Iraq a few years ago.

Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti

I've always been a fan of Colasanti's works. I usually recommend her to girls who like Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti. I've already reviewed Colasanti's When It Happens (my favorite teen romance!) and Take Me There. I'm sad to say that her new novel, due out in May, didn't impress me as much as her previous novels. The romance between Jason and Lani rings true, but the girl friendships didn't. I just can't believe that Lani and Erin's friendship would be completely destroyed over Jason and then miraculously cured after a few tears. The mean girl characters seemed a little toooo mean. In other words, I think she made this book too over the top for me, using young adult novel stereotypes to create her characters instead of creating characters the reader want to know and love.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo, Read by Kathleen McInerney

I read a positive review of this adult novel somewhere and was happy to find it in the audio version. Kate is the police chief in her hometown, which is a combination of Amish and "the English." Kate was Amish until she chose not to follow her family into the faith, so she speaks Pennsylvania Dutch and it's easy for her to communicate with her constituents. When she was a teenager, Kate was attacked and raped by a man who was killing other women. Her family takes care of the problem and it has haunted her ever since. But now the killer is back and Kate is afraid. Did they not take care of him twenty years before? How can he be back? How many more women will have to be tortured? If you're into murder mysteries, this one will suit your fancy!

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

The sequel to Perfect Chemistry has ooooo, so much teen appeal! Carlos Fuentes is back, strutting his stuff around Boulder, Colorado, acting tough but trying to stay out of trouble. His mom has sent him to live with his brother, but that doesn't work out very well when he's caught with drugs in his school locker. "That's not mine," says Carlos, but someone planted it and someone wants Carlos, even as he's trying to escape his former gang life. He doesn't quite fit in in the Boulder world of preppy kids, but Kiera helps. She is his peer leader the first week of school and eventually her father takes Carlos in. Nothing like having a cute boy living in the next bedroom, right? The romance in this novel is mesmerizing and I was cheering for Kiera every time she took a stand against Carlos and his tough-acting ways.

Monster by A. Lee Martinez

I enjoyed Gil's All Fright Diner, so I figured I would enjoy this supernatural romp, too. Martinez is one of those authors that you either like or don't like. He's inventive and different without being gross.

Monster first meets Judy when a yeti is eating all the ice cream in the grocery store where she works. He takes care of the problem (with her help) but informs her that she'll soon forget the magic--most humans do. But Monster's job is to capture magical creatures, and there seem to be more of them lately. And Judy is always involved. The two make an odd couple, but Monster has to rescue Judy when Lotus kidnaps her. If you like your fantasy books with a little snarkiness, Martinez is for you.

Soulless: an Alexia Tarabotti novel by Gail Carriger

2010 Alex Award Winner!

Rude vampires are the worst. Alexia was just trying to enjoy her tea and instead had to stab a rude vampire with her parasol. Horrible! This little adult paperback novel cracked me up. What a refreshing vampire/werewolf read! Alexia has a love/hate relationship with a werewolf, is good friends with a gay vampire, has a mother and two sisters who wish she would marry and act like a good woman, and is considered a spinster by everyone in London. She's old (like 26!), unmarried, smart, mouthy, and just doesn't care too much about what people think about her. But, oh, she's awesome. Can't wait to read the sequel!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

2010 Alex Award Winner!

It's always fun when I go against the reviews of the people. :) Amazon readers LOVE this book. Reviewers LOVE this book. I was bored to tears as I read it. Why? First, it's a feel good story. I usually don't like those. I don't like Mitch Albom, Dave Pelzer or self-help books. Secondly, I felt like I was reading a nonfiction title on a classroom science reading list. That's where this title will go in my library. Sure, the reader learns about physics and electronics and wind power. But, um, that bores me. Thirdly, I felt like I was watching an infomercial on television. "Send money now to help Africans build more windmills!" Oh, that sounds cynical, doesn't it? I know that isn't why the book was written. It was meant to be inspirational and to show how one unschooled boy could change his town and his country and inspire people all over the world. But it just didn't work for me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms by Ethan Gilsford

I can't help but think of a few friends as I read this adult book. I mean, really, what makes someone talk like a medieval knight on a Saturday night, roll dice, and play make-believe? What makes someone play Lord of the Rings Online for weeks on end? Gilsdorf tries to answer these questions. He grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons and does a great job explaining how his mom's aneurysm drove him into escaping reality. Now as a thirty-something-year-old, he involves himself in role-playing games and other fantasy/gaming gigs and writes a book. I may have saved the princess from the castle back in the day and spent hours playing Below the Root in junior high, but I'm not a gamer. My attention wandered a bit, but it seems like the target audience may be gamers or their spouses anyway!

Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink by Jeff Johnson

So it's true. I won't allow my daughter to date a tattooist. :) Johnson tells the tale of his career in tattooing, and, um, he doesn't hold anything back. On the one hand, it's great that I now know to check out the bathrooms. Clean bathrooms mean good tattoo parlors. But, ewww, now I know what happens in there!

For those into tattooing, this might suit your fancy, but it isn't the best read. Tighter editing would have helped and I wanted to know more about Johnson's transition from wild bad boy to tattoo shop manager who scares new interns.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Kids Are All Right: a memoir by Diana, Liz, Amanda and Dan Welch

2010 Alex Award Winner!

How often do you see memoir written by four siblings? This one strongly reminded me of the fiction novel Three Girls and Their Brother, mainly because of the sex and number of the siblings, I guess. Each chapter is headed by the author so the reader is never confused. Liz is the main author (her chapters are usually longer), but it's interesting to see how the facts change with each sibling's memory.

It's the early 1980s and their father dies. Then their soap opera star mother struggles with cancer for years and the kids have to raise themselves and each other. The book reads like fiction (which is a plus for me) and I really grew concerned for all four of the teenagers. I connected with all four kids and truly appreciate the editing that probably went into putting this book together. Lots of siblings could tell stories about their childhood, but I don't think many could tell the story this well.

The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

2010 Alex Award Winner!

Meg Rosoff won the Printz award for How I Live Now and I wasn't a fan of that title. So I went into this book half-halfheartedly and was pleasantly surprised. I liked the fable-feel to the book and how there isn't much description. It's short (214 pages but a small book) and a quick read.

Pell runs away on her wedding day, taking only her white horse and her adopted brother Bean, who is mute. She isn't sure where she is going or what's she is going to do, but she's good with horses, and that counts for something in her time and place. If it weren't for the first sentence of the book stating the time as 1850-something, I would have guessed an earlier time. The book has a quest feel to it, but Pell doesn't really have a goal in mind. But Jack (the horse) and Bean disappear and then she has her goal--find Bean and her horse. I liked the quiet feel to the book and the Grimm's fairy tale vibe.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly, Read by Peter Giles

I love a good serial killer/thriller/techie book every now and then, and this adult audiobook helped me drive to Florida over break! Even my daughter was listening to it, and I was a little worried that I was corrupting her with the swear words and violence. I guess it's not any worse than Star Wars and Harry Potter, right?

Jack McEvoy just got pink slipped from the LA Times as a crime reporter and he hopes to go out with a bang. He innocently starts researching a inner city kid accused of murder and finds out the kid is innocent. But then Jack and his replacement at the Times find another eerily similar murder in Vegas and things start to happen. People are murdered and Jack is reunited with his old FBI girlfriend. The two work together to solve the case and I found it pretty fascinating. As the reader, you know who did it. But you don't know how the killer is going to get caught. He hasn't been caught for years and things he's perfect. But something has to slip him up. And it does. The case wraps up pretty neatly for Jack, like in most suspense crime books. That's why they are such satisfying reads!

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, Read by Paul Michael

Sometimes I read books because I know I should. And Dan Brown is one of those authors that "everyone" reads, so I feel like I must, too. Years ago I enjoyed Angels and Demons, but now I think his books are so much alike that I feel like I already know the plot. And now I can picture Tom Hanks running around solving riddles so it desensitizes me.

Robert Langdon is back in this unabridged audiobook has to save the life of his rich friend, Peter Solomon. He's been kidnapped and Robert and Peter's sister (there has to be a girl in the movie, right?) go on a wild goose chase in Washington DC. It's the Masons this time and the secrets of our country's forefathers--Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc.

The Library of Congress scenes were pretty cool though. Can't wait to see how they duplicate those in the movie!

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: a Memoir by Elna Baker

I love when books make me giggle. And I giggled my way through this memoir about a Mormon girl living in New York City and trying to find a husband. Technically this is an adult book, but I think high school girls will totally relate to Elna, even if they aren't Mormon. Or a 26-year-old virgin. Elna tackles dating, major weight loss, parent struggles, acting jobs, and all other issues teens usually face so it's almost like she is still a teenager in her early 20's. She's trying to find her way. Her faith is important to her, except for when she's doubting. She thinks she wants a Mormon boyfriend, although she seems to only date non-Mormons. She just doesn't have a good handle on things. But, oh, is she funny! And my heart broke with her several times, too.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin

Obviously, I'm interested in reading about Type I diabetes because of my daughter's diagnosis. We are able to keep her sugar levels under control very well and are lucky that she never tries to sneak food or do anything she shouldn't. But, oh, after reading this book, I realize I am a very, very, very lucky mother. This book follows two stories--Elizabeth Evans Hughes' personal fight with diabetes and the scientists who discovered insulin.

Elizabeth was a healthy girl in 1918 but soon was thirsty, urinating frequently, and eating like crazy. Yep, it's diabetes. But diabetes in the early 1900's led to death. Elizabeth began following a starvation diet--the only thing proven to prolong death. She ate 400-1000 calories per day, instead of the 2,000 calories most young girls were eating. She grew so weak that she couldn't go to school or socialize with her parents. She was the daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State and had to spend time in Bermuda with her nurse because stress affected her sugar levels. A simple illness almost killed her. She was dying, just like most people after a few years of having juvenile diabetes.

But Canadian scientists were researching with dogs and extracting things from cows and pigs and anything else. Insulin didn't just magically appear. It was trial and error, mostly error, but eventually the scientists won the Nobel Prize and Eli Lilly was able to mass produce the insulin. Elizabeth was one the several people involved in the initial trials. The injection sites in her hips were sore and infected a lot, but she magically improved. She was able to adjust her doses of insulin according to her diet and exercise, and gained 30 pounds in three months on insulin. She was finally able to act her age and mature like a normal girl.

Insulin saved Elizabeth's life. And has saved millions of lives since. I can't imagine watching my daughter die of starvation because eating food would kill her. I'm so thankful for the discovery of insulin! Amen!