Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tidbit for Librarians

One of the more popular summer reading activities/displays is collecting postcards from areas around the country (or world) and displaying them with a map in you library. Since the national theme for the 2011 SRP is "One World, Many Stories", more libraries than usual are already thinking about such a display and looking for other libraries to exchange postcards with. To help, we have set up a Yahoo group with a simple database. Simple to join, then just click on "Database" and then "Contact List", and you are set to go!

Now to start collecting postcards...and begging for stamps...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Cybils Mini-Reviews

Cybils is done! Well, our part of it, anyway. Sunday night, the Round 1 YA Fiction panelists met virtually and held a spirited, sometimes silly, sometimes frustrating (technology - gotta love it) discussion narrowing the 182 choices down to the top (insert much smaller number). It took almost five hours, mainly because we have seven very different panelists with very different tastes and perspectives - exactly what every judging panel needs, I think. At long last, we came up with our final list, which is...

Top secret! You didn't think I would really tell you, did you? Nope, you will have to wait until Saturday, when you can go to and watch the results from all the Round One panels as they are revealed throughout the day. Librarians, have your order cards ready, because these will be the best of the best! We all had favorites that didn't make the cut for whatever reason (sniff), so you know the ones that did had some pretty strong backing all around.

In the meantime, we can all now get back to actually BLOGGING about some of those great books. We turtles have been so busy reading (not to mention all that holiday stuff), we haven't had time to scribble out more than a few words for our typist. We hope to begin making up for that, and we'll start here with a few more mini-reviews of Cybils contenders:

by Natalie Standiford
The Sullivan sisters have a big problem. On Christmas Day their rich and imperious grandmother gathers the family and announces that she will soon die . . .and has cut the entire family out of her will. Since she is the source of almost all their income, this means they will soon be penniless.
Someone in the family has offended her deeply. If that person comes forward with a confession of her (or his) crime, submitted in writing to her lawyer by New Year's Day, she will reinstate the family in her will. Or at least consider it.
And so the confessions begin....

We confess we were hoping for some secrets a bit darker and more shocking, but what we got was entertaining enough. We also toyed with the idea that grandma didn't know squat, and was just fishing for dirt. We won't say how right or wrong we were on that, let's just say everybody learned something new, and we don't necessarily mean a moral lesson! No, there wasn't much remorse except in getting caught, and not a lick of character development. But, still a fun, light read. We give it a

3 out of 5.
by Eliot Schrefer

Abby Goodwin is sure her sister Maya isn't a murderer. But her parents don't agree. Her friends don't agree. And the cops definitely don't agree. Maya is a drop-out, a stoner, a girl who's obsessed with her tutor, Jefferson Andrews...until he ends up dead. Maya runs away, and leaves Abby following the trail of clues. Each piece of evidence points to Maya, but it also appears that Jefferson had secrets of his own. And enemies. Like his brother, who Abby becomes involved with...until he falls under suspicion.

Is Abby getting closer to finding the true murderer? Or is someone leading her down a twisted false path?
Nice, dark mystery with enough plot twists and red herrings to keep readers guessing to the end. Most teens will love every bit of it. How far should Abby go to protect her sister? What - or who - should she be willing to sacrifice? What, ultimately, is the truth? Be prepared for some loud outbursts when readers get to the ending. We give it a

4 out of 5.

by Watt Key
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hal is no saint, and has some time to serve in a high-security boys' home. His plan is to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, so he can get out as soon as possible and rebuild his life with his father. Everything seems stacked against him, though, from the two gangs trying to force him to choose sides, to the warden who has no interest in letting any of his charges leave early.

A companion to Alabama Moon, which we hadn't read - and didn't need to. This one stands just fine on its own, although we will be going back to read Alabama Moon soon. A powerful story that sucks you in quickly, we became extremely frustrated with the trap Hal found himself in. Teens are usually quick to protest injustice, and this book is sure to get them riled up. We would have given in to despair early on, but Hal has more strength than we expect. This would make a great class read - if you have a supportive administration and parents! We give it a

5 out of 5.

Monday, December 20, 2010

by Mary Jane Beaufrand
Little, Brown and Company
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration.

Veronica Severance feels cut off from the world. Forced to move from the city to rural Oregon with her parents, she is haunted by loneliness and by the chilling sounds of the Santiam, the river that runs through her backyard.
Through the fog of isolation, Ronnie finds herself becoming close with Karen, a young girl who she babysits. But when she discovers Karen's body on the banks of the Santiam, the victim of a supposed accident, Ronnie feels compelled to uncover the truth.
As she becomes increasingly obsessed with solving Karen's death, Ronnie is led deeper and deeper into the woods surrounding the river and to the dark secret hidden within its midst.
Haunting. Compelling. Edge-of-your-seat reading. How many cliche terms could we come up with to describe this book? Probably a lot more! Fortunately, a) they are all true, and b) the book itself is anything but a cliche. Along with a good murder mystery, we have some fantastic character development and skillful writing.

Ronnie represents any of a million teens who find themselves suddenly out of their element, but never becomes a stereotype. She isn't thrilled about the move, but isn't so whiny and self-centered that she fails to see how it really was a good thing for her family. Despite being the girl from the 'big city', we discover she isn't quite as streetwise as some of her new friends. Readers might be able to see things a bit faster than she does, but it just doesn't seem important. We are drawn into her character, and perfectly content to experience things right along with her.

Other characters and the area itself are portrayed just as vividly, with more showing than telling (for which we are eternally grateful, after some of the describe-every-outfit books we have been forced to read lately). The atmosphere itself seems to become a character at times. This is a book that stays with you for a while, although you may not be able to put your finger on exactly why. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mini Reviews and Some Miscelleneous Notes

First, a big thank-you to our Blogger Secret Santa for the book and bookmark! We are looking forward to digging into the book once Cybils is over, and everyone wants the bookmark:)

Second, to the lady suing McDonald's:
a) It's not McDonald's fault if you can't say no to your children. Please work on your parenting skills before they become teenagers.
b) You can buy the toy without buying the Happy Meal.
c) An occasional Happy Meal will not hurt your kids anyway.
d) The toys aren't even advertised on commercials, so if your kids are pointing and asking for them, you must ALREADY BE AT MCDONALD'S.

Pick any of the above as a reason to stop wasting the courts' time.

Moving on, then! So many great books read lately, and just not enough time to give each a full review, so here are a few with a blurb or two about why you may want to pick them up:

by Lauren Strasnick
Simon Pulse
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration
 This book was a pleasant surprise, as it did not sound at all like the type of book we would enjoy. We completely ached with Holly, and despite knowing these were some pretty bad choices she was making, we were right there with her in making them. We got so sucked into her character, we didn't even feel any remorse until she did. In the end, of course, we got slapped in the face with the no-man-is-an-island fallout, but were still left rooting for her and hoping life will work out.
When Holly loses her virginity to Paul, a guy she barely knows, she assumes their encounter is a one-night stand. After all, Paul is too popular to even be speaking to Holly...and he happens to have a long-term girlfriend, Saskia. But ever since Holly's mom died six months ago, Holly has been numb to the world, and she's getting desperate to feel something, anything—so when Paul keeps pursuing her, Holly relents. Paul's kisses are a welcome diversion...and it's nice to feel like the kind of girl that a guy like Paul would choose.
But things aren't so simple with Saskia around. Paul's real girlfriend is willowy and perfect... and nothing like Holly. To make matters worse, she and Holly are becoming friends. Suddenly the consequences of Holly's choices are all too real, and Holly stands to lose more than she ever realized she had.

by Pegi Deitz Shea
PM Press
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration
 As with Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, this book delves into the issue of child soldiers, but is an entirely different experience. The settings and conflicts, of course, are different, as well as the age of the characters. Abe's voice may seem more familiar to teens, even as he begins remembering things they have no experience with. While the writing is not as taut as Perkins', and some of the revelations don't come as complete surprises, it is still a worthwhile addition to any high school library.
 Portraying the pressures of teens to live a normal life while facing mental illness, this suspenseful young adult novel follows the journey of success-bound Abe, who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A senior in high school, with a loving and wealthy adoptive family, Abe is on track for a big scholarship and an open future. Suddenly, horrific flashbacks rip him back to war-torn Africa, where five years previously he lost his mother, sister, friends, and almost his own life to torturous violence. During therapy, he uncovers even darker moments from his past that make him question how he survived. This action-filled thriller will open the eyes and hearts of teenagers to the lives of young people who have been exposed to profound violence around the world.

by Todd Mitchell
Review from publisher for Cybils consideration
James was the guy no one noticed — just another fifteen-year-old in a small town. So when he gets into an academy for gifted students, he decides to leave his boring past behind. In a boarding school full of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless pranks to invent a new James: fighter, rebel, punk. Everyone’s impressed, except for the beautiful "Ice Queen" Ellie Frost and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees through his new identity. But James is riding high, playing pranks and hooking up with luscious Jessica Keen. There’s just one thing awry: he’s starting to have vivid dreams of being a demon-hunting warrior, a thrill that is spilling over into dangerous and self-destructive acts while he’s awake. As he’s drawn deeper into his real-life lies and his dream-world conquests, James begins to wonder: What’s the price for being the coolest guy around?

This seems to be a "love it or hate it" kind of book. While we loved it, we concede that it is a bit of a strange book - especially the dream sequences. That part 'worked' for us, though, and we think it will work even better for teenage boys. This is another subject area (boys with possible mental/emotional issues) we don't see too much in YA literature, and this is solidly written enough to fill that niche nicely.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

by Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine books

Review copy received for Cybils consideration
This was one of the longest books we have ever read.

We don't mean by actual size, although it is a respectable 496 pages. We don't mean it's boring, either - it's quite intriguing, in fact. We mean it was long as in, there was so MUCH in it, we kept getting that nearing-the-end-of-the-story feeling, when it looks like things are going to be wrapped up tidily. Then we would realize there were still, say, a hundred pages to go.

Readers looking for a traditional ghost story will find the title misleading. Is there a ghost? Or more than one? Maybe. Sort of. Yes. No. There are many types of ghosts, you know? American teens may be put off at first by the format. Most of the book is written in the form of school essays and blog entries. One major essay assignment is supposed to be written in the style of old gothic novels, which leads to some very dramatic passages. Readers who aren't familiar with this style (or who don't bother to read the explanation) may wonder why everyone is suddenly so over the top. Once you get into the swing of things, however, the story draws you in to where you simply have to know what's going on - and don't even think of skipping to the end, you will just end up even more confused.

What amazed us about the book was how quickly the characters' voices became seperate in our minds. Each time the 'writer' changes, there is a heading with his or her name, but after a while we didn't need to read the heading to know who was talking. When your characters are all of similar ages and backgrounds, that can be hard to do, so a definite hats-off to Ms. Moriarty.

The way all the details come together (and at different intervals, not just the actual final ending) was also very well done. In the end (the actual final ending), things were wrapped up in nifty little packages, with some satisfying twists and a fair amount of humor. (The ghost! Who knew? We probably should have seen it, but...well, we didn't!) If nothing else, the whole book serves to remind us that we probably never see the whole picture on anything, and it's amazing how one tiny tidbit can completely reverse how we see any situation.

Do we recommend it? To individual readers, yes. If this description makes you intrigued rather than putting you off, you will probably love the book. To libraries? We're not sure. As we mentioned, fans of traditional ghost stories may not finish it. It's not a book for the masses. It is, however, a book for that small group of teens you have who want something outside the box, something that maybe takes a little effort and commitment from the reader, but promises great rewards at the end. If you are up to hand-selling it to those kids, and don't care if it doesn't get as many check-outs as Twilight, then by all means grab a copy! We give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Giving

We have been on an unintended break of sorts, due to some "stuff" going on. Many apologies! We should be back in the swing of things soon, but first wanted to pass on the very cool thing one of our favorite blogs is doing.

Last year, CakeWrecks hosted a holiday charity drive, with a different charity featured each day. They made it incredibly easy for readers to donate a dollar (or more!) to each charity, and through the combined efforts, thousands of people and animals were helped out last year. It was such a rousing success, they are doing it again this year, starting today.

Nobody has a ton of money right now, but surely we can at least scrape up a dollar. Seeing it added in with all the others gives a great sense of impact. We plan to participate each day, and hope you all will too! Just click on the word "CakeWrecks" above, and check back each day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bamboo People
Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge Publishing
Bang! A side door bursts open. Soldiers pour into the room. They're shouting and waving rifles. I shield my head with my arms. It was a lie! I think, my mind racing.
Girls and boys alike are screaming. The soldiers prod and herd some of us together and push the rest apart as if we're cows or goats. Their leader is a middle—aged man. He's moving slowly, intently, not dashing around like the others.
" Take the boys only, Win Min," I overhear him telling a tall, gangly soldier. "Make them obey."
This is still an area of current events many young people may not be familiar with, and whether as a private read or a class assignment, Bamboo People is an excellent way to bring them right to the heart of the conflict. In addition to the war in Burma, there are a myriad of other issues that could take hours of class discussion time.
Chiko isn't a fighter by nature. He's a book-smart Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. When Chiko is forced into the army be trickery, he must find the courage to survive the mental and physical punishment meted out by the training faciliy's menacing captain.

Tu Reh can't forget the image of the Burmese soldiers buring his home and the bamboo fields of his oppressed Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. Now living in a Karenni refugee camp on the Thai border, Tu Reh is consumed by anger and the need for revenge. He can't wait to join his father and the Karenni resistance in the effort to protect their people.

Chiko and Tu Reh's stories come to a violent intersection as each boy is sent on his first mission into the jungle. Extreme circumstances and unlikely friendships force each boy to confront what it means to be a man to his people.

The general attitude among some teens is still that being a soldier might be cool (and we do in fact think our American military members are pretty darn cool). Chiko's experiences, however, will take away quite a bit of the perceived glamour. And in a time when many young men - and women - are filled with feelings of anger and helplessness, it is Tu Reh's story in particular that may open a dialogue about what it in fact takes to be a man.

Perkins as usual conveys culture, politics, and history in such a way that readers never feel like they are being instructed. Characters are real and easy to empathise with from their first introduction. A must-have for any middle or high school library. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza, by Holly Clifton-Brown

by Holly Clifton-Brown
Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
Annie Hoot loves to knit. But the other owls refuse to wear her colorful creations. So Anie knits herself a hot air balloon and sets off to find some animals who will appreciate her talents. What can she make for the rainforest animals? African animals? Polar animals? And what will she discover when she returns home?

Originally published in the UK by Andersen Press, you will find a few words and spellings changed - 'scatty' becomes 'scatterbrained' (although we kind of like "scatty" better), and 'colours' of course becomes 'colors'. What bright, bright colors they are! While the story is simple and sweet, the pictures definitely make the book. Annie is a plump little bird with an expressive face, and a cute little acorn button on her sweater. Parrots happily admire their new knitted boots, and giraffes look serene in their (very long) new scarves. Children will enjoy poring over the details, and may be inspired to do some creating of their own - whether with yarn, or on paper.