Some links and stuff: Cleaning out my bookmarks edition

I have a really bad habit of using xmarks to bookmark everything I find remotely interesting and proceed to not look at it for 6 months to a year. I’ve been having a problem putting together enough concentration to complete extended tasks, so I decided to make use of the short attention span by cleaning out my bookmarks. For your reading pleasure and general elucidation, here are some links that I decided needed to be added to my regular bookmark rotation (you probably know about all of them already because you actually read stuff when it appears instead of a year or so later!).

  • If you travel with people who like to micro plan, what better way to plot out all the details of your itinerary than with a Bathroom Finder site?
  • This might be old news but Library 101 is a project to help spread the word about libraries that are changing their profile (and how to do that). Not making much sense? They have a nifty song explaining it all.

Some other things worth seeing on Youtube:

Back to the non-Youtube stuff:

  • They Fight Crime! might give you the next great idea for a crime fighting duo. Bonus: librarians are sometimes mentioned. I have no idea why this site exists but I love that it does.
  • Spell With Flickr is pretty self-explanatory and generally amazing.
  • Save the Words by adopting a word at risk of being dropped from the English language.
  • I don’t really know anything about goby.com‘s capabilities, but it seems important so I’m posting it and maybe YOU can tell ME about it.
  • I haven’t spent enough time with The Usable Library as a librarian, but I plan to do better. I’m sure for all of my readers this is preaching to the choir, but it’s really nice to hear. Especially about the sane policies bit.
  • I leave you with a website that would have made my Sixth Grade math class a lot easier. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about what Floorplanner.com reveals about my math curriculum that year.

The Miles Between: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Miles Between by Mary E. PearsonOctober 19 is not going to be a good day.

For some people this would be an educated guess. For Destiny Faraday it is a bleak statement of fact. It is also part of why she tries so hard to never get attached. To anything or anyone.

October 19 has never been a good day for Des, which is why she crumples the day’s calendar page before the day has even started.

What was supposed to be a throw away day suddenly turns into something else. Thanks to an encounter with an odd stranger and the sudden appearance of a car, Destiny and three of her classmates start a road trip searching for one fair day–a day where the good guy wins and everything adds up to something just right. Which might be what will change everything in The Miles Between (2009) by Mary E. Pearson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Destiny is a broken, lonely character at the start of The Miles Between. Part road trip, part coming of age, this is the story of Des’ one fair day but also her own, literal and figurative, journey to healing. Pearson maintains a sense of wonder throughout this story to temper Destiny’s harsh reality and elevates what could have been a merely maudlin story to a charming, magically complex one filled with surprises where everything really does add up.

Destiny and her wacky classmates (Destiny does not waste time making friends) are lovable and utterly tangible as characters. So much so, in fact, that I hate the cover because it does not accurately capture any of the characters as I conjured them in my mind. So I am going to be a snob and post the cover from my advanced reading copy which I much prefer. Oh fine, the original cover can be found directly beneath the superior ARC version.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The Miles Between

My Heart is Like a Zoo: A Picture Book Review

My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael HallHundreds of hearts come together to shape some animals both familiar and exotic in this rhyming romp through the various phases of a child’s heart before they retire after a busy day (as busy as a zookeeper’s even!).

My Heart is Like a Zoo (2010) by Michael Hall introduces children to a variety of new concepts beyond emotions and feelings. The varied palette for both animals and backgrounds can introduce colors as easily as the animals themselves can be used for a counting exercise. Hall uses hearts and the occasional circle or rectangle to create all of the artwork inviting children to identify the various shapes and try to make some shape animals of their own. The large text and boldly colored artwork carry wide appeal as do Hall’s clever turns of phrase about steady yaks and happy hippos.

And, of course, as the cover shows very nicely the book is totally adorable! Hall’s artwork and writing is fantastic and elevates what could have been a twee, simple book into a complex and entertaining picture book for readers of all ages.

An attractive, versatile book My Heart is Like a Zoo is guaranteed to become a story time favorite.

Princess Academy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Princess Academy by Shannon HaleFourteen-year-old Miri wants a lot of things. She wants to be useful to her family. She wants to be taller and stronger. She wants desperately to work in the quarry and understand quarry speak the way everyone else on Mount Eskel does.

What Miri doesn’t want is to be a princess. At least, she doesn’t think she does.

There isn’t much room on Mount Eskel for princesses anyway. The mountain landscape is as beautiful as the linder stone the villagers mine for their livelihood but life there is hard. Lowland traders come to buy the mined linder, but it’s barely enough to secure food for the winter.

Be that as it may, the lowlander priests of the creator god read the omens and divined that Mount Eskel is the home of the Danland Prince’s future bride.

An academy is quickly established for the eligible girls to learn to be proper princesses. At the academy the girls will learn the finer points of commerce, politics, negotiation and the art of conversation. Poise, dancing, and etiquette will also be on the table among other things.

None of which interests Miri one bit. She doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to stay on Mount Eskel with her family. Except . . . Wouldn’t she prove how valuable she really is if she becomes princess?

It doesn’t take long for the other girls to have similar thoughts and competition soon becomes fierce. Miri is determined to prove herself but it might not take a tiara and a fine gown to do that, it might take a little thing called pluck in Princess Academy (2005) by Shannon Hale–a Newbery Honor book in 2006.

Despite what the title might suggest, Princess Academy is anything but girly. Miri and her friends are some of the toughest, most resilient characters around. The academy itself is also more than comportment and pretty dresses. There are arguments, bandits, and a very scary and very dark closet. No one said it would be easy becoming a princess.

Princess Academy is an honest, often funny book about learning that it takes more than physical strength to make a person strong. Miri is a real girl struggling to make sense of what it means to be a young woman instead of a girl while trying to make sense of what it might mean to be a princess. It is delightful to watch Miri’s world open up as she realizes there can be more to her life than Mount Eskel and see what this smart, brave character does with that knowledge.

Hale’s writing is snappy and engaging. Miri’s internal struggle with her desire to be a princess and her ties to Mount Eskel feel so real that most readers will not be able to guess  Miri’s true desires until the very end (let alone which girl will become the princess!).

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Some links, some promotions, some reminders

Whoo! Lots of stuff has been going on while I have been away from by RSS feeds and lots of reviews are getting written (I am already schedule posts for May . . . May!).

So, in convenient bulleted list form, here are some things I would like to share:

  • My “Finding the ‘Good’ Parents” in YA challenge is continuing until May. Please consider sharing your thoughts on the crazy article that started it all, making your own, and sharing the link to get other people involved.
  • Some of you might know about a blog called Fuse 8. If you read this post, you might also notice a mention of another familiar blog. (Hint: It’s this one. A special thanks to new commenter David Z for pointing this out to me. It is likely I would have missed it without the heads up because my bloglines account was out of control.)
  • I’ve shifted all of my blog type reading to Bloglines. I don’t know what works for you, but if you’re looking for a new feed reader, this one has kind of changed my life in a really good way. Just saying.
  • My good friend and fellow library school student, The Book Bandit has started a new book blog that might be worth your reading time.
  • I also recently discovered two new tumblrs that are ridiculous but surprisingly deep. (Okay, not really, but they are a lot of fun.) If you like Michael Buble and appreciate and fear Velociraptors, why not look at pictures of the two? It’s kind of like Where’s Waldo but with claws. Also, Hot Guys Read Books, who knew? (I feel like everyone knew about both of these but didn’t tell me.)
  • Finally, the current blog stats of this right now are 32,097. That is 64.2% of the way to 50,000 hits! Or 35.8% away from a really big giveaway! (Some of the books I have to give away include Our Lady of Immaculate Deception, Princess Pigtoria and the Pea, Hearts at Stake, and Goth Girl Rising.) Dear readers, you rock!

White Cat: A Review

White Cat by Holly BlackHands can become dangerous weapons with the right training. But what if the lightest touch was enough? What if a finger placed on bare skin could change a person’s luck? What if it could make a person fall in love? What if it could transform them? What if it could steal a memory? What if a single, slight touch was enough to kill?

In a world where curse magic is real a bare hand is more dangerous than any weapon.

Working is illegal, of course, but that doesn’t make it go away. Instead, the curse workers are just driven underground, tied to crime families and working from the shadows to protect themselves–or maybe everyone else.

Cassel Sharpe comes from a long line of con men, gangsters and workers. Except for Cassel. He might know the art of the con better than most, but he isn’t a worker. He is a killer. He killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. He loved her, but he killed her anyway.

Cassel thought Wallingford Prep–a normal school away from his criminal family–would be a place where he could become the person he wanted to be, or at least convince everyone else he was the person he wanted to be. That is until the white cat shows up.

It might want to tell him something. Or kill him. Maybe both.*

As Cassel tries to unravel the white cat’s intentions the facade of his normal life starts to crumble and nothing is what he expected. Cassel knows that being a con artist means thinking that you’re smarter than everyone else and that you’ve thought of everything. That you can get away with anything. That you can con anyone. But what happens when it starts to seem like you’re the one being conned?  What do you do when it looks like you’re the one getting conned?

Cassel’s about to get even in White Cat (2010) by Holly Black.

Find it on Bookshop.

White Cat is a total mind bender. Part mystery, part con game, part suspense, Holly Black has created a world like no other. The plot is filled with twists and unexpected turns but enough structure that readers will be able to keep ahead of (some) of the curves.

The story, much like its narrator Cassel, is simultaneously gritty and charming. Bare hands are simultaneously menacing and erotic. And lest being a worker seem too easy, every curse carries a blowback that turns on the worker itself, sometimes with devastating results. White Cat is a complex book that will likely leave readers with mixed feelings. Many of the characters, even the protagonists, are not nice people. Much of the ultimate resolution is messy. But life is not always nice nor neat, which is why White Cat is such a startlingly real fantasy that will leave readers wanting more.**

View the excellent trailer here: http://www.thecurseworkers.com/

*I greatly appreciate this book supporting my personal opinion that cats are scary. I also madly love the cover. Edgy, sinister, and fabulous.

**Always a good thing for the first book in a trilogy. There is no official date for the second Curse Workers book yet, but I can confirm from Holly Black’s livejournal and Sarah Rees Brennan’s twitter that the second book will be called Red Glove. Watch for it.***

***Any Cassandra Clare fans should also watch for a quick reference to Jace in this book. (Check around page 172 during a confrontation between Cassel and Barron–you’re welcome.)

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Money Wanders by Eric Dezenhall, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

The London Eye Mystery: A Review

Ted’s favorite thing to do in London is to fly the Eye. Specifically the London Eye ferris wheel where you are sealed into one of thirty-two capsules and can see twenty-five miles in all directions at the highest point. Ted also likes predicting the weather and listening to the shipping forecast on the radio at night. These are important things to practice because Ted wants to be a meteorologist when he is older.

Until then, Ted lives with his annoying older sister Kat and their parents. For the most part things are peaceful and simple in their household even if Ted’s brain operating on a different frequency sometimes causes more problems than anyone would care to admit.

Everything is turned upside down when Aunt Gloria and her son Salim arrive for a visit. Gloria is erratic and a bit too boisterous. But Salim is nice and seems to understand Ted better than most. Ted and Kat are eager to show Salim the amazing views from the London Eye, so when a free ticket is offered, the two immediately offer it to Salim. Everything seems to go well.

Except when the ride is over, Salim doesn’t come out with the other passengers.

No one understands how it happened, not even the police. Did he spontaneously combust? Was he kidnapped? Will the family be able to find him before it’s too late? Ted and his unique brain might have everything he needs to put together the clues and solve The London Eye Mystery (2007) by Siobhan Dowd.

Find it on Bookshop.

Throughout the book, Dowd makes references to Ted’s syndrome and the “different frequency” of his brain. That is, almost undoubtedly, a reference to Asperger’s syndrome. Ted’s narrative reflects his unique outlook and moves the story along as much with plot as with tangents about the weather (his favorite subject). At times Ted’s narration became a bit too chatty but for the most part the story moved along at a decent pace.

At the risk of giving too much away, The London Eye Mystery is one of those books that provides a mystery but without being too mysterious. There is a crime, more or less, and there is an investigation but it is not always the center of the story. Ted’s relationship with his sister Kat is as central to the plot as the search for Salim if not, at times, more central.

Being a book that features a character with a form of autism, comparisons between The London Eye Mystery and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time are inevitable (even though Haddon’s is technically a young adult novel and Dowd’s falls into the children’s category). Haddon’s story was interesting and often insightful. But the prose lacked any style and pizzazz it felt more like an exercise in what writing with autism would look like than an actual novel. Haddon’s narrator was also incredibly hard to like or care about.

Ted, on the other hand, is a very likable if eccentric character. Her prose is also much more carefully nuanced. Just because Ted has Asperger’s it does not mean he can’t turn a phrase along with the best of us. The London Eye is insightful on two counts: first showing readers into the mind of a boy like Ted, second offering unique views on life and the world at large–something all good books should endeavor to provide.

Possible Pairings: Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The London Eye Mystery

Finnikin of the Rock: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina MarchettaA long time ago, before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. Though only nine, Finnikin knew the dream was not to be ignored.

Frightened for his kingdom, Finnikin convinced his friends Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Mont to make a pledge with him. They climbed to the rock of three wonders and sacrificed flesh from their bodies and a hair from the head of a weeping princess Isaboe. Balthazar swore to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived.  Lucian vowed he would be the light whom they traveled toward in times of need.

That evening they slept easy knowing the land of Lumatere was truly blessed.

Until the five days of the unspeakable when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom walls while those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

But there might be hope.

A young novice named Evanjalin claims the true heir, Balthazar, is alive and that she can lead Finnikin to the prince. But Evanjalin’s machinations soon turn a journey to find the lost heir into a quest to break the curse and free Lumatere. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock in Finnikin of the Rock (2010*) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finnikin of the Rock is Marchetta’s first foray into the wide and wonderful world of fantasy, after writing three other critically acclaimed realistic fiction novels. In her author bio at the back of the book, Marchetta notes that for her the first step to writing this fantasy was knowing our own world well and finding a way to reflect that world–something Marchetta does expertly.

Marchetta’s world of Skuldenore is a place apart that still manages to feel very close to home throughout the story. There is something very natural in reading about this strange land of kings and magic. As always, the writing here is exceptional. The story blends humor, twists, romance, action and intrigue all with ease–sometimes even at the same time.

Fantasies are often the realm of strong women and brave men but this novel truly provides shining examples of both. Finnikin and Evanjalin are as powerful and brave a set of characters as any readers are likely to meet this year. Every single one of the characters, even the minor ones, that Marchetta conjures are truly original and memorable–even the dead ones.

English classes often mention Apostrophe as a literary device used to directly address an absent (or sometimes imagined) character, this book conjures the absent characters in their entirety. Finnikin of the Rock is a haunting novel about a cursed land and its pages are filled with ghosts and a palpable sense of what the Lumaterans have truly lost. All the same, Finnikin of the Rock is essentially a story about hope and rebuilding–with a nice dose of romance, action and intrigue thrown in (of course).

Marchetta won the 2009 Printz Award for her novel Jellicoe Road. It seems likely that this book is another Printz contender. One of the best fantasies I’ve read recently and one of the best books of any genre that I’ve read so far this year.

*Like Marchetta’s other novels this one was originally published in her native Australia. The original publication was 2008, 2010 marks the arrival of the first US edition. The cover shown here is the American version which I prefer to the Australian version.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Holes: A Review

Holes by Louis SacharStanley Yelnats IV is not a bad kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time which happened to lead to him getting arrested. In fact, all of the Stanley Yelnats right back to the first had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just being all around unlucky. Each Stanley Yelnats knows exactly where that unfortunate knack comes from. It comes directly from Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.

But most people don’t believe too much in curses that stem from stolen pigs. They also don’t believe Stanley when he proclaims his innocence. Arrested and found guilty, Stanley is given a choice: go to jail or go to Camp Green Lake. Stanley had never been to camp before.

But Camp Green Lake isn’t like a regular camp. This isn’t a girl scout camp. Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys. There used to be a lake and a town by the camp, but they disappeared long ago. Now there are only yellow-spotted lizards and heat. And holes.

The theory is that if you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy. So Stanley and the other campers dig.

But the more Stanley digs, the more he starts to wonder. What are the holes for? What could be buried by the non-existent lake? What starts as a search for answers might lead to a journey that will break the Yelnats curse once and for all in Holes (1998) by Louis Sachar.

Find it on Bookshop.

Holes was the 1998 Newbery medal winner for its “distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It is also, it must be said, strikingly similar in style and theme to Maniac Magee, the 1991 Newbery winner.

Sachar takes what could potentially be a bleak, mirthless story and instead delivers a darkly funny, intensely exciting one. It may seem that a story about boys digging holes would have little in the way of action. Far from it, Holes is filled with entwined storylines, witty dialogue, intrigue, and even some near-death experiences and commentary on discrimination.

If you enjoy Holes (as I’m sure you will), be sure to check out the movie adaptation (Spinelli had a hand in the screenplay and Shia Labeouf played Stanley) and the sequel Small Steps (featuring Armpit and Xray).

Possible Pairings: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Count Karlstein by Phillip Pullman, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Small Steps by Louis Sachar, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Holes (movie version)
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Holes

Finding the “good” parents: My list

Read about the original challenge here

View the Master List

My list:

  1. Suite Scarlett (and its sequel Scarlett Fever) by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett Martin and her family have nothing but affection for each other aside from the occasional bout of sibling disagreement. They might not know much about running a hotel, but the Martins know lots about good parenting.
  2. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt: Turner Buckminster’s mother is a regular moral compass, she always knows the right path and tries to show her husband where it is while encouraging young Turner to follow his own path which, eventually, might set his own father back on the straight and narrow.
  3. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: No one is going to agree with me on this. The Warden might be ruthless and cold and scary, but by the end of the story I defy you to tell me he did not have his child’s best interests at heart in a weird, ruthless, cold and scary kind of way.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: Trevanion went to prison for his son! And rescued him! And lots of other awesome things!
  5. Holes by Louis Sachar: Cursed, probably. Bad parents, no way. The Yelnatses are nothing but loving and supportive–even if they couldn’t stop Stanley’s dirty-rotten-no-good-pig-stealing ancestor from causing trouble.
  6. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Stargirl is a free spirit and her parents are cool enough to let her. This book is filled with delightfully odd yet authentic adult characters besides parents.
  7. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: Nothing speaks more to parental involvement and engagement like not telling your daughter she has the Sight. Lies aside, Jocelyn has Clary’s best interests at heart. And as a father figure it doesn’t get much more realistic than Luke–even when he’s swinging a knife fighting monsters.
  8. The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman: Sometimes being a responsible parent is just standing back while your daughters decide to pursue their own dreams instead of yours.
  9. The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander: Austin knows exactly what she wants. And her mom knows it might not end exactly as Austin plans. But she also knows that Austin needs to learn that lesson on her own. A realistic and often amusing depiction of a single mother at her best.
  10. The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga: I include this one to point out that sometimes the best parental characters are the ones that teens think they hate. The Step-Fascist is one of my favorite parents in YA because Fanboy hates him (thus the nickname) but the Step-Fascist still steps up repeatedly as a parent with no expectations of gratitude–totally real and totally awesome–because it takes a man to be a dad.