September 30, 2014

September 2014 Wrap-Up

First things first! The Cybils nominations open at MIDINIGHT, pacific time. (Which is about 2 a.m. here. Is it bad that I'm hoping for a bout of insomnia?) Anyone is welcome to nominate their favorite book in our categories.... in fact the more nominations, the better! (I'm not a Round 1 judge this year, so I can say that.) You have your list ready?? I do! (And back-ups for my back-ups, in case my favorite books are already nominated.) Not sure what to nominate? Check out the category descriptions. I'm sure you've read one book that was published this past year that you'd like to nominate.

As for my reading this month, my favorite, hands down (which is eligible for nomination, by the way), no questions:
The Whispering Skull
SO good. Soooo good.

And the rest (all the kids stuff is eligible to nominate. I'm being nice and sharing.)....

Middle Grade:
The Night Gardner
Rhyme Schemer
YA:
Afterworlds
Belzhar
Chasing Before

Graphic Novel
Amulet: Escape with Lucien
Mr. Pants: It's Go Time!
Shadow Hero
This One Summer
Non-Fiction
The Boys in the Boat (audiobook)
Gulp

What did you like this month?

September 29, 2014

The Night Gardener

by Jonathan Auxier
First sentence: "The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's a very slow, very atmospheric book. Probably not good for those struggling, though I think it would make an amazing read-aloud. It's in the middle-grade section (grades 3-5) in the bookstore.

It's the late 1800s, and Molly and Kip are siblings are in England looking for work because of the potato famine in Ireland. They're desperate, so they'll take anything, even a job at the Windsor house... a place which many people say are haunted. Molly -- who is a storyteller at heart -- and Kip don't really have much of a choice, so they accept the job and head to the house, not knowing the fate that awaits them.

The family -- father Bertrand, mother Constance, and two children, Alistair and Penny -- is a strange one. Guarded, pale, and most of all, adamant that Molly and Kip stay away from the green door.

And then there's the tree: the gnarled, old, dead, black tree that takes up a good portion of the yard.

Of course, things don't go well for Molly and Kip: they soon notice that every night a tall, shadow man comes to water and take care of the tree. And to dig holes. And no, none of this is a happy thing. It comes down on Molly and Kip to figure out a way to not only get out of there, but to stop the evil from perpetrating.

The jacket flap compared this one to Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe, and I don't think it was that. (Maybe Irving; I haven't read him in a long time.) What it was, however, was a ripping good yarn. Auxier utilized storytelling in the writing of this, and it showed. I could imagine someone standing in front of an audience, spinning this tale out, having everyone on the edge of their seat: will they make it? It's a long tale, sure, one for multiple nights, but one that will have the listeners engrossed.

But as a reader? It was good, sure, but not great. I liked it, yes, but didn't love it. I was gratified that Molly (and Kip) ended up being heroes of their own story; there was a time I was worried adults would step in and solve the problem, but Auxier is smarter than that. It was a good read, but I think it'd be a better one if read aloud.

September 26, 2014

Rhyme Schemer

by K. A. Holt
First sentence: "First day of school."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Release date: October 14, 2014
Content: Aside from the bullying (which made me uncomfortable), there's nothing difficult about this book. It'll be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Kevin is the youngest of five brothers who are all a lot older than he is. He likes some of his brothers; others, not so much. His parents -- both doctors -- are gone a lot. So, somehow, he's become that guy at school who laughs when people fall down. He's the kind that gets in trouble for tripping a Loser. And he does, often.

But he has a softer side: one that writes free-verse poems (which is the format for this book). He keeps them in a notebook, that he takes with him. He also rips pages out of library books, creating poems by circling words, and sticks them up around the school.

Then his world comes down around him. The kid he usually bullies finds his notebook, and uses it against him, slowly making Kevin into the kid being bullied.

It's a quiet little book, but one that packs a punch. I appreciated seeing Kevin from both sides: the bully-er and the bullied. It was interesting to see his transition, and to realize that all people are just that: people. And with the backstory -- his parents really aren't the greatest -- it was easy to see where the bullying came from.

But what I loved (LOVED!) was the way the librarian (!) saw past everything Kevin was doing and made him feel like a person. Yay for librarians!

Compelling and engrossing and all those other good adjectives.

September 24, 2014

Belzhar

by Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: "I was sent here because of a boy."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 30, 2014
Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There's some talk of teen drinking and pot smoking, and some swearing (including a few f-bombs; I didn't count). But, because of the nature of the book -- it's just has a very "adult" feel to it, it will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. I don't think, however, it's beyond the reach of an interested 7th- or 8th grader, though.

Jam -- short for Jamaica -- is falling to pieces. Her boyfriend, Reese, died, and so she has no real reason for living. After trying everything -- pleading, therapy -- her parents decide to send her away to a special boarding school for those with issues called The Wooden Barn. Jam is expecting to behave much the same way at this school as she has before: detached, uninvolved, not caring. But then she's signed up for Special Topics in English and everything changes.

Special Topics is a teacher-selected class of only five students. They only study one author, and this semester it's Sylvia Plath. They're required to come to class, to discuss the works, and to write in their journals. But what Jam and the other students don't realize is this: their lives are about to change.

At first, I loved this book. I like the idea of studying one author in depth, and even though I don't know much about Sylvia Plath (I really ought to read her stuff), I was enjoying Wolitzer's writing about it. I didn't even mind the slight magical aspect of it: whenever the students write in their journals, they enter an alternate reality, a place where the worst thing hasn't happened. I thought it was a little weird, particularly since I was expecting a realistic fiction book, but it worked for me.

However, the book fell apart for me at the end. Especially with the twist. (I'm not going to tell you what that is.) I do think, though, that it'll hit the spot with it's intended audience; I think a lot of my reluctance to go along with it is just age and experience showing.

And the writing is gorgeous. Wolitzer really does know how to turn a phrase. And much like Katherine Howe, I found myself thinking that I really ought to read some of Wolitzer's adult stuff.

Not bad, in the end.

September 22, 2014

Audiobook: The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown
Read by: Edward Herrmann
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's a book about the 1930s, rowing, and Nazism. It's appropriate for anyone who's interested in reading about those things, and can handle a long-ish book. It's in the History section of the bookstore.

In the 1930s, 8-man rowing was one of the most popular sports (who knew). And the west coast -- the University of California and University of Washington -- was the hot-spot of the sport. And in the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Washtington team became the best of the world.

This is the story of how the Washington boys became the Olympic gold medalists.

I think this is one of those books that I really needed to listen to rather than read. While I think it would have been interesting, listening to it made it riveting. I enjoyed the stories of Joe Ranz -- who ended up in the number 7 seat in the Olympic boat -- and the other boys, and how they came to be at Washington. I enjoyed the conflict that coach Al Ulbrickson had with the California coach. I didn't enjoy the rehashing of 1930s Berlin, but I think that's because I listened to In the Garden of the Beasts and this is basically re-hashing much of that territory. For someone who is unfamiliar with Hitler's rise, it's pertinent information.

But what I  really loved was the bits about how the sculls were made, about the effort it took to row a race. And the races themselves? They had me glued to my seat, hooked on every word.

It was a remarkable event, a remarkable story. And I'm so glad I know about it, now.