"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Ever had to read a book that you were sure you wouldn't like; a book that you read more from a sense of obligation or duty than from a keen desire to read it for sheer joy of reading? Well, that was this book for me. I read this book, not because I wanted to, but because it on my list of ten preselected books for the up-coming Mock Printz Workshop I will be hosting in January. The book is touted as the best horror novel of the year. As one who does not usually read this genre of books I was shocked at how horrifying and frightening it really was. Surely I didn't have to read the whole thing to discover that it wasn't my cup of tea. Right? As I read on, however, I felt more and more compelled to finish it and the plot kept me on "the edge of my seat."

Written in a kind Dickensian style, one feels for the plight of Will Henry, the narrator, who is a 12-year-old orphan and the assistant to the monstrumologist, who not only studies monsters but discovers that the most gruesome of monsters are located right at the doorstep. While there are lots of gruesome details, and creepy, spine-chilling drama, there are also lots of poignant moments and an interesting mystery that unfolds.

I will recommend this book to my readers of horror fiction and those whose really like being scared by what they read. I understand that this book is the first in a new series by Yancey.

Older Teen to Adult. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Take a occult-obsessed teenager who is hearing impaired with brittle bone disease. Add in a set of quirky friends, a dead friend who seems to still be around, tarot cards, magic books, weird parents, and problems with the friends of the library and you have a small idea how different this book is than anything you've ever read before.

Andromeda Klein is an odd, sometimes dense book that delves deeper in magic and occult than I ever cared to go but Andromeda herself is a fun and sympathetic character that I found myself pulling for through out the whole story. My favorite part of the book is the Andromeda-lexicon. Because Andromeda is partially deaf she often mishears what is said to her. Often her hearing errors are hilarious and charming. The miscues that she likes best she adds to her lexicon of words and uses as part of her vocabulary. For example she might mishear vacuum for bathroom and for the whole rest of the story whenever she has to go into the bathroom she refers to it as a vacuum. This would be very confusing except there is a lexicon glossary in the back of the book for easy reference.

Even though there is a glossary in the book to assist readers I still felt confused by all the occult references, and tarot-card characters. If I am really in to a subject I don't mind working hard at my reading but when I am not, I don't so reading this book often felt more like a chore than anything. I stuck with it since we are considering this book as a potential Mock Printz winner. I'll be shocked if it wins but it may because it certainly is unique and inventive and would appeal to both boys and girls.

Older teens. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stitches by David Small

Another wonderful graphic novel/autobiography. It is the story of a young boy whose father gave him cancer from too many radiation treatments during childhood. He also is raised by a mother who teetered on the edge of madness and denied him medical treatment because of the cost or the bother.

I was so wrapped up in this book that I had to sit in my library after I closed it until I was finished reading it. It didn't take long, just an hour or so, but during that I time it had my rapt attention.

I've been thinking a lot about the power of pictures in conveying a story as I've been gathering information for a teacher to use with her creative writing class on graphic novels. Small, an award-winning illustrator, uses his images effectively to convey the horrors of his childhood and the healing that followed with a minimum of words. Jules Feiffer says of this author/illustrator: "David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem...We know that we are in the hands of a master."

I highly recommend that you go and visit Small's web-page where he has a short 4 minute slide show about the book. It is very powerful and will give you a good feel for the book.

Highly recommend teen through adult. 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I am currently on a mission to read ten preselected YA books before the ALA Mid-winter meeting when the next Printz Award books will be chosen. Over 20 students at my school are also participating in this challenge with me. (We're calling it the Mock Printz Workshop but more on that on another post.)

This delightful book is one of those preselected books and I found it enchanting. Set in the 1970s, each chapter is titled as if it might have been a category on the game show, The $20,000 Pyramid: Things in a closet; Things in a kitchen drawer; Things on a bus; Etc. I wonder if kids today even remember this show. I have a feeling that some of the symbolism will be lost on them.

Stead does a marvelous job of inserting just enough science fiction into this mysterious story to make it intriguing. The main character in the story, Miranda, has a favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, which was my favorite book in 6th grade. I loved Wrinkle so much I remember rereading it and doing all my projects that year somehow related to that book. Miranda comes to believe in the possibility of time travel through Wrinkle and this possibility colors the whole story right down to it's satisfying ending.

Though this book's target audience is really the middle school set I think it is deserving of all the accolades it is receiving and would guess that it is considered for a Newberry Award or Honor. I hope that it doesn't win the Printz award, however, because I want that winning book to be a truly teen or young adult novel. That said, it is still a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

Grade 5-8; 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Graphic Novel... a new genre for me

I have just discovered the joy of reading the graphic novel in an attempt to make myself a more "well-rounded" librarian. For those of you in my generation who may not know what a graphic novel is, it is a novel whose story is told through a combination of words and art, often in comic-strip form. Like all books, all graphic novels are not created equal. Kids at my high school mainly tend to read manga, or Japanese-style comics. I don't care for this style, personally, though I understand the appeal. I think it is similar in appeal to the comic books I used to devour as a kid, like Archie, Superman, or my old favorite, Mad Magazine.

The graphic novels that I prefer are the ones that tell a story, sometimes autobiographical and incorporate a variety of artistic styles. I do not prefer the ones that are too much like comics with small voice bubbles and lots of frames per page. It may be a function of my age, but I prefer to have larger frames and I like looking at the art as I read. If my eyes have to work too hard, I might as well be reading a regular novel.

Two graphic novels that I've recently read and enjoyed are Blankets and Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Blankets by Craig Thompson was recommended to me by a new student. It is a coming-of-age tale about a boy who is raised in a very strict, fundamentalist Christian home who is not encouraged by his family or his church to use his artistic abilities, but rather to give them up in favor of more holy vocations like being a minister. I could relate to many of the author's dilemmas and problems. When he went to school he was shunned or teased. When he went to church related events, he never quite fit in. And then there was the tender young love story that caused me to reflect back on my teen years. I was very moved while reading this lengthy graphic novel. The artistry is consistently good and moves the story along. Don't be intimidated by the size of this book. It reads very fast with so many pictures.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan is a series of fifteen illustrated vignettes. Each of the stories are "out there" but are fun, whimsical, or thought provoking. My favorite vignettes are Eric, an outer-space alien as an exchange student, and a poem about what happens to most poems. The artistic style changes with each vignette making each stand out in a very unique way. Tan won many awards for his graphic book, The Arrival, and I bet that this book will win a bunch also. It deserves it. It will take you less than an hour to read but give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the drawings.

Take time to enjoy a new genre along with me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teen Read Week...Top Ten Teen Books 2009

This week is the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Teen Read Week. At the beginning of the week a list of the top ten teen books, as voted by teens themselves, was published. Here is the list with a few notes from me. I've only read four of the books so I will comment on what kids are telling me about the books and what I've noticed about how the books circulate from my library.

1. Paper Towns by John Green -I really like this book. I really like John Green. His writing style is very inventive, hip, and funny. The characters in this book are well developed, likable and sympathetic. The scenes in the van are hilarious. Other scenes are poignant and interesting. I think this book totally deserved its number one spot on this list.
2. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer - the fourth book in the Twilight series. Many students have told me that they did not like this book as much as they liked the first three. Or maybe it was just that it was the last book and they were making room in their life for other literature after being consumed by Bella and Edward for weeks and months. I have two copies in my library and neither are currently checked out but all the other books in the series are, so students should be making their way back to this book again soon.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I blogged about this book and it's sequel, Catching Fire, a few weeks ago. This is the most exciting book that I've read all year. Students are telling their friends about this book and are waiting in line for the sequel. I predict that this book will continue to build up more and more fans over time. And there will be a third book though it doesn't even have a release date yet. If you haven't read this book yet, I recommend you do.
4. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. The second book in the Mortal Instruments series. Somehow I missed all the hype about this series until the third book, City of Glass, came out just recently. My students are just starting to read the series and seem to like the first book, City of Bones. I've placed it on my reading list and hope to get to it soon.
5. Identical by Ellen Hopkins. Girls, in particular, are crazy for Ellen Hopkins books which are all written in verse. I haven't read this one but I liked Crank, her first book about a girl sliding into Meth addiction.
6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I really enjoyed this Newberry Award winning book. Gaiman is a masterful writer and this book is quite unique in it's storyline and plot. Many of my librarian friends didn't care for it. But I think they were reacting to how scary this book is for a kids book. Teenagers do fine with it.
7. Wake by Lisa McMann. I've only had two kids tell me what they thought of the book. One liked it, the other didn't. The storyline sounds like something that teens would like...getting sucked into other people's dreams...Hum.
8. Untamed by P.C. and Kristin Cast. Once kids are completely finished with the Twilight series and are casting about looking for something else to read they quite often land on The House of Night series. (This is the fourth book in it.) They usually consume the books as fast as they can get their hands on them. Start with the first book, Marked.
9. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. This book is the only book on this list to win a Printz Honor this year and it deserved it. In fact, I liked it better than the Printz Award winner, Jellicoe Road. Frankie Landou-Banks is a very likable character who outsmarts a whole club of boys through a series of pranks and foibles. A fun and thoughtful book.
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I got this book for the library right at the end of last school year and kids were climbing over each other to have a turn at reading it before summer break. I just got the sequel, Fire, this past week. We'll see if it generates as much interest. This book has made it onto my reading list, but I will have to stand in line behind a long list of students waiting for it first.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things is an almost perfect book. I want to clutch it to my breast and not let the effects loosen their grip on me. One reviewer described it this way: “WHAT a story. WHAT a storyteller.” I’m almost at a loss of words to describe this masterful tale. So I am going to quote the information from the back of the book to get you started as you decide if this is the book for you:

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own – populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things. Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond the author, John Connolly, tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

Many of the challenges that David faces in the fantasy land are taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but all are fractured or different than I remembered. Some made me laugh aloud while others made me hold my breath in fear or horror. I was also reminded on the Wizard of Oz in that David encounters helpers along the way to find the King who might hold the key to the mystery of how to get home. But fear not, this tale is not another retelling of an old and tired tale. It is marvelously unique. And-spoiler alert- it ends, as all fairy tales do, with a happy ending.

Sigh*… that is me reflecting on the book and the powerful, enthralling hold it has on me right now. Read it yourself and see if you agree with me.

11th grade through adult level; Audio Book format; 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games, and its sequel, Catching Fire, are the most exciting adventure books that I know of right now for teens. They beg the question, what happens if we choose entertainment over humanity?

Hunger Games, which I read last April, is set in what is left of the United States. Twelve districts have survived the holocaust and the take-over of power by the "capitol". Every year each district must send two teens, one male and one female, to the Hunger Games where the twenty-four participants must fight to the death in a desperate attempt to be the sole survivor and thus the winner of the game. People in the districts watch the games like we might watch the Olympics and the sponsors of the games manipulate circumstance to make the games more interesting and exciting. Thrown in to spice up the plot are some romance and a little political intrigue.

Katniss, Peeta, and the other characters are all realistic and sympathetic. The plot is both brilliant and creepy at the same time. At times the plot moves at break-neck speed and other times it slows just enough to allow the reader to catch her breath before a plot twist occurs and more fast-paced action ensues.

I wondered if the sequel, Catching Fire, could possibly stand up to excitement of the first book. How could it even begin to match the action and surprises in the first book? Well, let's just say that I wasn't disappointed one bit. The second book, which definitely leaves the reader ready for the third installment in the series, is nearly as exciting and just as inventive as the first book.

Read them both. I highly recommend them. In fact, I'm not the only one. Hunger Games has been listed on at least 22 "Best Book" lists. With that many recommendations, how could you go wrong?

YA Science-Fiction; 5 out of 5 stars for both books.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rash by Pete Hautman

I really should read more Science Fiction because I seem to enjoy it so much. This book helps confirms this notion. Set in the U.S.S.A (not a typo) around 2075, Americans have given up freedom for safety. Children are not allowed to do anything that could possibly injure them without wearing protective gear such as helmets and padding. Things like bee-stings are worthy of a ride in an ambulance and saying mean things to another person could land you in detention center whose working environment could be called slavery. Football has been outlawed for 30 years because of it's potential for harm. Yet Bo, the hero of this story, finds himself playing an illegal game of football without any rules or referees.

I found this tale to have an intriguing and inventive storyline. Just the mention of this book to one of our school's football players generated interest and a "I want to read that book next" from him. Since I am always on the hunt for books that would interest teen boys, I am glad that I read this one so I have more material for recommendations. I also will explore other titles by Hautman.

I met Pete Hautman last year at the Washington Library Media Association's conference in October and I apologize to him (if he ever reads my blog) that it took me a whole year to finally read one of his books. I visited Hautman's webpage to see what he had to say about Rash and I was really intrigued by this quote: "Coming up with book titles can be difficult, but this one was easy—I knew what I wanted to call it from the outset. But then, as soon as I saw the first copy of the book, I wished I had titled it '2084.'" The whole senior class at my school was required to read 1984 this summer and now I find another connection to that book.

YA Fiction; 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Summer 2009 Top Fifteen Books for Teen Readers

At the beginning of each school year I create a display with the favorite books that I read over the summer. I rank the books 1-15 and try to generate interest in them through my descriptions and their prominent placement in the library. Here is a ranked list of my top 15 YA picks (or adult books that I think teens will like):

1. Tamar: a Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
4. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
6. Rebel Angel by Libba Bray
7. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
8. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
9. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
10. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
11. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohen and David Levithan
12. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthey
13. The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin
14. Impossible by Nancy Werlin
15. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

*The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was my favorite read of the summer but it didn’t make this list because the vocabulary would be too challenging for the average teen reader. Another book that should have made the list was Shakespeare: World as Stage by Bill Bryson. I left it off because I do not have a copy of it in my library.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I feel very emotional about this book. Not in a sad-weeping-despondent emotional way but more in a I-am-so-enraptured-that-I-can-scarcely-catch-my-breath sort of way. It is hard to compare this book to anything that I've ever read before. Reading it elevated my thinking to an aesthetic level seldom experienced by me, at least by literature. Perhaps I touched this level more often while listening to some classical piece of music exquisitely executed like Dido and Aeneas by Purcell (mentioned on page 275 by Renee), Suite No. 3 in D Major by Bach, or when my daughter and the Tacoma Youth Symphony play Jupiter by Holst. I was swept up in in the language. I was enraptured. This is a beautiful piece of work: literate, funny, and tragic by turn.

Here are a few quotes that I like a lot:
"Someone is playing a classical piece on the piano. Ah sweet impromptu moment, lifting the veil of melancholy- In a split second of eternity, everything is changed, transfigured." p.106

"Every time, it's a miracle. Here are all these people, full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles...- it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of brotherhood, of deep solidarity, even love..." p.185

"What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them..." p. 203

"Melancholy overwhelms me, at supersonic speed." p. 279

Though I have gushed about this book, I must caution that I recognize that this is not the book for everyone. It is full of "big words", many that I even had to look up in a dictionary. Also, the plot of the story is as much about language, literature, Art (capitalized), music, intelligence, and insight as it is about two females that live in the same building that are struggling with how to get along in the world.

I will definitely re-read this book some day.

Adult fiction, translated from French. 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Reading Lists and Challenges

My 2018 Reading Projects and challenges. 


Read the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction each year 
and catch up on identified books from previous years, only the ones I want to read

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead
Jul '17
Very thought-provoking.
The Sympathizer
Nyugen, Viet
Sep ‘16
Deep and thought-provoking while surprisingly humorous.
All the Light We Cannot See
Doerr, Anthony
Aug '15
My favorite book of 2015.
The Goldfinch
Tartt, Donna
Dec '14
One of my favorite books of 2014.
Orphan Master's Son
Johnson, Adam
The Snow Child (Runner-up)
Ivey, Eowyn
May ‘12
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Egan, Jennifer
Harding, Paul
Olive Kitteridge
Strout, Elizabeth
Mar '10
A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Diaz, Junot
Jan ‘16
The Road
McCarthy, Cormac
Brooks, Geraldine
Apr '08
Made me want to re-read Little Women
Robinson, Marianne
The Known World
Jones, Edward
Evidence of Things Unseen (Finalist)
Wiggins, Marianne
Mar ‘11
What a story. Unforgettable.
Eugenides, Jeffrey
Oct '06
Indescribably good.
Empire Falls
Russo, Richard
Apr '05
Amazing Adventures of  Kavalier and Clay, T
Chabon, Micahel
Interpreter of Maladies
Lahiri, Jhumpa
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Finalist)
Proulx, E. Annie
A favorite author
The Hours
Cunningham, Michael
The Poisonwood Bible (Finalist)
Kingsolver, Barbara
A top ten favorite and so well done.
Stone Diaries
Shields, Carol
Shipping News
Proulx, Annie
On my top ten favorites list
A Thousand Acres
Smiley, Jane
Depressing topic
The Things They Carried (Finalist)
O’Brien, Tim
Breathing Lessons
Tyler, Ann

Morrison, Toni
Astonishingly good.
Lonesome Dove
McMurty, Larry
The Color Purple
Walker, Alice
Such talent.
A Confederacy of Dunces
Toole, John Kennedy
This book is in a category of its own. Love it!
Roots (Special Pulitzer)
Haley, Alex
This book was a cultural phenomenon
The Optimist’s Daughter
Welty, Eudora

Angle of Repose
Stegner, Wallace
 I love this author!
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
 Can you believe I waited so long to read this classic?
The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway, Ernest
Read in junior high
Tales of the South Pacific
Michener, James
Apr '17
I am not a fan of this book.
The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck, John

The Yearling
Rawles, Marjorie Kinna
Jan ‘16
Gone with the Wind
Mitchell, Margaret
For many years this was my favorite book
The Good Earth
Buck, Pearl S.
Read in high school
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Wilder, Thorton

So Big
Ferber, Edna

Age of Innocence
Wharton, Edith
Apr ‘16
A delight