Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Carnival of Souls

Carnival of Secrets (Untamed City, book one)
By Melissa Marr, read by James Marsters
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Mallory knows little about The City, but the inhabitants of The City know all about her. Soon, she'll find out more than she ever wanted to know, as her path crosses dangerously with Aya and Kaleb, two desperate souls searching for better lives. Originally published as Carnival of Souls.

I will fully admit: the main reason I listened to this audiobook is because it was narrated by James Marsters (Spike from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer). I adore him and think his voice is lovely, so when I found out he was doing audiobook narration, I was eager to listen. I have read the majority of the Wicked Lovely series and enjoyed it, so I also had interest in reading something new from Melissa Marr.

What I liked most about this book is that it feels gritty and dark. I liked Wicked Lovely because it explored the darker side of fae and, in general, I'm a fan of dark fantasy and horror. There is quite a bit of violence in this novel and it all feels ever darker than the faeries in her previous books. I also enjoyed the multiple points of view. It was interesting to have a variety of perspectives in this world. I did find myself a bit frustrated by the lack of development of Mallory - it was my understanding from the blurb that she was really the main focus of the book, yet in actuality, we don't spend that much time with her. So, I wish either the blurb was different, or she had been focused on more fully. That being said, I think Aya was my favorite character - she felt more fully realized than Mallory and I found her story slightly more interesting than the others.

Where I found this book lacking was the romance and the lack of worldbuilding. The romance never felt genuine to me, and came out of nowhere, in a way that I found very unappealing. Maybe if we had spent more time with Mallory it would make more sense, but I don't think it rings true to Kaleb's character. In terms of worldbuilding, Marr has the beginnings of a truly fascinating world in play here but there is a distinct lack of information. There is little to no explanation of what the daimons and witches are, or why they don't get along. I don't want a big infodump explaining all that to me, but I would like something that gives me some insight.

I thought Marsters was a great choice for the audiobook. As I said, I think his voice is lovely to listen to, and he captured the darkness of the story quite well. I'm not sure how successful he really was at distinguishing the character voices, but I still enjoyed listening.

Final note: there seems to be some controversy surrounding this title, which is allegedly the first in the series. First, there was the business about the title (I think there was a lawsuit), which I don't care so much about. But there also seems to be something complex going on between the author and publisher as there is no information on when a second book might be forthcoming. I did find an indication of an e-novella being released this fall, but nothing beyond that, leaving me wondering if this series will continue anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Release Day Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow

House of Ivy & Sorrow
By Natalie Whipple
Expected publication April 15, 2014 by HarperTeen

Jo's grandmother is actually the witch that lives in the spooky old ivy-covered house. Jo is a witch, too, and she and her grandmother are the last two Hemlocks left. Her mother was killed by a terrible Curse and she's been on the run from it since. Now, it seems like all the magical barriers they've put in place are failing - the shadows have found Jo.

I could not resist a book with such an intriguing name and graphically pleasing cover. I whipped through the e-galley of this book recently. That was one of my favorite things about this book - quick and compelling read. I really wanted to get the whole story, so I would have liked to read this without putting it down if that had been possible. The chapters are short and the pacing is quick - the action comes at a pretty steady clip so this book is a really fast read.

I also really liked Jo - she is an easy girl to relate to and therefore, it's easy to get on her side. Yes, she is a pretty powerful witch, which is not typical for a teen girl, but she also has typical teen problems. She's funny and interesting with a touch of melodrama, which really works in this situation. I also really enjoyed Jo's grandmother - if there has to be another dead mom, then reading about this grandmother is a decent balm for that. She's quite amusing, though maybe a little much on the quirkiness scale.

The mythology is a bit different than what I've seen in other witch stories, though the female-only bit is pretty common. I really liked the Curse and loved discovering how it really worked and Jo's quest for answers propels the book along. I was expecting a bit more darkness from the title than the book actually delivers but, overall, I found it a fun and quick read.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Suitcase of Stars

Suitcase of Stars (Enchanted Emporium, book one)
By Pierdomenico Baccalario
Published 2014 by Capstone Young Readers

Finley's life is about to change. He's about to meet the Lily family, a pretty girl about his age and her father who've moved into a strange house in his town. They're about to make life much more complicated for him.

I'm lucky enough to be auto-approved for Capstone's titles on NetGalley, so when I spotted this one, I figured I'd give it a shot, part of my ongoing attempt to stay current with middle-grade lit. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to this one prior to its release date but I finished it recently, so now it's time to see what I thought.

Also unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy this book very much. The blurb makes it sound much more interesting than it actually turns out to be. You see, the blurb focuses on the Enchanted Emporium, the shop that Aiby Lily runs with her father. But, we don't find out about that shop until quite far into this book, and, as a whole, we don't find out terribly much about that shop. There is no mention of the magical artifacts that the blurb discusses. This is a huge disappointment, as that's the book I wanted to read. Instead, this book focuses a lot on Finley and how he befriends Aiby. There is a lot of annoyance from Finley as Aiby is a bit cagey with information for him and he becomes frustrated. It seemed like there was a lot of time spent on introducing Finley and making him a sympathetic character, which didn't really work for me.

Once Finley and Aiby start communicating a bit more, the action picks up a little. Unfortunately, by this point, I was already disappointed with the book and the whole thing felt disjointed and a bit all over the place. Nothing about this book was particularly memorable and, considering the plethora of other middle-grade fantasy out there, I don't see myself recommending it. It's the first in a series focusing on the Enchanted Emporium and, in all likelihood, the next books will actually talk about the Emporium in more detail. I won't be returning to find out for myself, though.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Program: Wimpy Kid Party

This is the second year I've run a Wimpy Kid party in the fall. The series is insanely popular, so it seems logical to do programming to go along with it. This year, I held the party the day that book eight was released, which I think definitely helped build excitement. Here's what we did this year!

Magic dice - this was a free printable that I found somewhere on the Internet that I decided to use for this program. It directly related to book eight, when Greg realizes he's made some pretty bad decisions in his life so he begins using a Magic 8-ball to make all his decisions for him. I've seen homemade Magic 8-ball instructions in the past but they all seemed a bit too time consuming, so when I found a simple cut, fold, and glue magic die, I decided to go with that. The kids really liked asking it questions and rolling their dice to find out the answer.

Make your own comics - yes, we do this every time we have an event similar to this, but that's because the kids never get sick of doing it. They love making their own comics and it's very easy to set up!

Trivia - this year, I made a Wimpy Kid trivia PowerPoint and we played individually. I awarded Mom Bucks to kids for getting the right answers, as well as giving each kid Mom Bucks for attending and completing each craft. I also had my teens handing out Mom Bucks when they saw kids behaving well in the first half of the program (when we were doing the crafts). I made sure that the kids hung onto their Mom Bucks. Anyway, the trivia was pretty straightforward and I was impressed by how much the kids knew. I had one boy who I'm pretty sure knew the answer to every trivia question.

Giveaway - and this is why they needed to keep their Mom Bucks. I had them write their names on the back of all the Mom Bucks they had gotten throughout the program. We dropped them all into a bucket and pulled two lucky winners for a copy of the brand new book, just released that day. They were very excited about it. I also encouraged all the kids who didn't win to put their name on the holds list for our library copies, which my coworkers told me many of them did immediately after the program.

The kids really liked the Mom Bucks aspect of the program, with many of them taking them home as souvenirs. A successful and fun program, which I'm sure I'll do again when the next book arrives!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Boys of Blur

The Boys of Blur
By N.D. Wilson
Published 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Charlie is returning to his roots. His stepdad's former coach has died, so the family attends his funeral. Soon, Mack is offered the coach position to finish out the season. Charlie's not sure how he feels about it, living in a town with so much family history - his mom, his stepdad, and his real father. Things are about to get more confusing when Charlie and his newfound cousin stumble upon a strangeness in the sugar cane. Charlie may need to become a hero.

I snagged a galley of this at ALA because I absolutely loved Wilson's Ashtown Burials series (though I haven't read book three yet - for shame!). Now, the buzz seems to be building around this book and Betsy Bird (of Fuse #8) is calling it a Newbery contender.

Now, for another edition of Librarian of Snark confessions: I've never read Beowulf. In any form or translation or reinterpretation. So, I might be missing something big about this book. I know enough to understand that, at least in some way, Wilson is offering his own interpretation of the epic with this book. A little crazy? Maybe. But, I also think this book works exceedingly well.

Though I'm sure I'm missing the subtleties and nods to the Beowulf legend, this is a mighty fine book regardless. If you had told me that someone - anyone - wanted to write a retelling of Beowulf for the middle-grade set, even without knowing the story, I'd have given you the side-eye. I suppose what we should be thankful for is that not just anyone chose to do this - Wilson chose it. Wilson makes an epic of English poetry insanely compelling for the youth of today. His writing is vibrant and colorful and it wraps this epic tale up so well. I think kids will have a hard time putting this story down.

Wilson manages to capture an exciting fantasy novel and an introspective hero dealing with the troubles of everyday life all in the same book. I was right there with Charlie every step of his journey and I rooted for him so much. I love that Wilson manages to write a book set in the South that's not dripping in charm, yet is still clearly of the South. This is just a lovely book and I'm so glad Wilson has come to my attention.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Here and Now

The Here and Now
By Ann Brashares
Published 2014 by Delacorte Press

Prenna is a time immigrant - she, along with many others, came to our present from a terrible future, hoping that they might figure out how to fix it. But Prenna has been forced to live according to a set of rules and they no longer seem worth following. Soon, her feelings for a time native - Ethan - will lead her on a path of rule-breaking that may just be the right path to follow after all.

Okay, I'm going to get my little bias out of the way right off the bat here: time travel. Quite frankly, it usually just bothers the hell out of me because I can't wrap my mind around how it works. I don't usually watch shows involving time travel or read books that include it either. To give a brief example, The Time Traveler's Wife made me angry most of the time and A Wrinkle in Time is one of my most reviled books from childhood.

So, maybe this book and I were not made for each other from the start. However, a little perusing of other reviews as well as the trusted opinion of a friend and colleague lead me to believe that, in this situation, it's not just me. It is this book.

This book is just all kinds of wrong. Thankfully, for me, Brashares doesn't spend time explaining how time travel works, instead relying on a fabricated set of rules that Prenna and the others must follow in order to keep history intact. What Brashares focuses on is Prenna and her intuition that she must be the one to do something, to alter the course of the future so that maybe it won't be as terrible as she knows it to be.

The entire premise of this book is really built upon some coincidences. For example, Prenna just happens to land in 2010 right in front of Ethan, the boy she'll fall in love with later on, despite the fact that none of the other 100 or so travellers were seen by anyone. Awfully convenient, no? Additionally, Ethan just happens to befriend a strange homeless man who ends up being someone Prenna should know. Yes, Brashares explains that he was staying close to Prenna to make sure she remained safe. But what high school kid befriends a weird homeless guy?

What really hurts my heart about this book is the dialogue. Brashares wrote the hugely successful Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, which I read and loved as a teenager. She clearly knows how to write teens well. You would never believe that from reading this book. The dialogue is stilted, forced, and completely unrealistic - no teenager talks this way. She tries to give a flimsy explanation - the people of the future have a completely different way of talking, so Prenna has taken her conversational cues from sitcoms and teen shows - but that really doesn't explain why her speech sounds the way it does. Additionally, Ethan, a "time native," sounds just as false as Prenna does. What happened here, Ms. Brashares?

Prenna and Ethan, of course, fall in love. I think we are supposed to believe that it's not an insta-love situation because they've been friends for sometime prior to the start of the novel. But since we don't see any of this friendship, it still feels like insta-love.

There are many more plot holes and gaps in explanation, both large and small, that make me question how someone thought this book was ready for publication. I can applaud Brashares for trying her hand at something different. It's unfortunate that she wasn't successful.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Release Day Review: Lost Children of the Far Islands

Lost Children of the Far Islands
By Emily Raabe
Expected publication April 8, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Gus, Leo, and Ila live in Maine with their parents, mostly normal lives. But then, their mother becomes ill and soon, the children find themselves whisked away to a mysterious island inhabited by someone called the Morai. Who is she? And what is making their mother sick? Can the kids find a way to save her?

I think I've said before that I'm a sucker for any book set in Maine; it's where I grew up and where most of my family still lives and, even if I never live there again, there's something magical about it. So, the setting of this book and it being a middle-grade title led to my requesting the e-galley when I spotted it.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I quite frequently see reviews which complain about authors who break the "show not tell" rule when conveying information in a book. I admit that I don't often notice this while reading. However, this book felt like it was telling me everything, and not in a particularly interesting way. I had a really hard time with the characters as well. None of the kids felt believable or sympathetic, which feels like a really weird thing to say about child characters. Ila was particularly troubling in the beginning.

This book also feels rather dark and hopeless a lot of the time. I don't have a problem with dark books for kids, but something about this one just felt off. The action moves along very predictably, which is disappointing. I enjoyed that Raabe chose to explore Celtic mythology, as one doesn't often see that in children's books, but even that felt pretty half-hearted. Overall, I feel like this book had potential, but didn't really capitalize on it.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.