Friday, August 2, 2013

Diggin' for Dinos

Once again, I have neglected my poor, little blog. Since I’m a Youth Services librarian, summer is always the busiest season for me, as we get a huge influx of patrons for our Summer Reading Program. On top of that, I moved (again), went to ALA (which was awesome!), life was generally crazy, and my blog fell by the wayside. I’ve still been reading a ton, though, so I’m hoping to have some reviews posted soon. 

We just wrapped up our Summer Reading Program a few days ago, and while I’m exhausted, I’m happy to report that it was a huge success. To celebrate, I thought I’d share my favorite program of the summer. 

Since this year’s theme was “Dig Into Reading,” one of the first things that popped into my head was a dinosaur dig (to the surprise of nobody who knows me; dinosaurs are my favorite.) Who doesn’t want to get a little bit messy and play in the dirt? I found a tutorial on how to make dinosaur eggs, but because I’m me, I guesstimated the amounts for each ingredient, made them into muddy rocks, put them on the driveway to dry on a hot, summer day, and the result is pictured below.

I gave the kids a variety of “tools” to try to break open their "eggs," which included plastic forks, spoons, and Popsicle sticks. I also suggested that they just use their hands, and a couple were strong enough to do just that! One used a Popsicle stick as a pick, which I thought was absolutely awesome. Once they broke open their eggs, they were so excited to see the dinosaurs inside! 

After we found our dinosaurs, I pulled out some clay and allowed the kids to make fossils. Here’s the one I did, of just the footprints. The kids got really creative with this, and some even made the clay act as a rock and put their dinosaurs on top. 

This clay color is not flattering at all.

Our final step was to “dig” for cardstock bones. This is the template I used. We have trays that we use for various art projects, so I grabbed some of those, put the bones in, covered them with sand, and the kids reassembled the bones on a piece of paper. We got out the crayons and markers for this part, and they loved creating their own dinosaur habitats /coloring in the dinosaur bones. 
The trays with cardstock bones and sand.

What we found in the sand.

While this program was definitely messy, the kids had a riot and they all left with smiles on their faces.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

“Real relationships - the kind that were supposed to last but never did - were more trouble than they were worth.”

L.A. Candy – Lauren Conrad (L.A. Candy #1)
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance 
326 pages 

Summary: Jane and her best friend, Scarlett, have just moved to LA to pursue their dreams. All of their plans change, however, when a television producer discovers them at a bar and offers them the chance to audition for a reality television show that will chronicle their lives in L.A. Will it be more than the duo bargained for? 

Review: ::sigh:: 

I’ll start this review with a confession: I was a covert fan of both Laguna Beach and The Hills, and whenever there was a marathon on MTV, I felt compelled to watch it. Something about both shows was so addicting to me, and as much as I wanted to look away, I just couldn’t do it. Shame, shame; you know my name. 

Because of this, it probably isn’t really a surprise that L.A. Candy was on my radar. Much like the shows that Conrad was in, I didn’t really want to read this book, but because I was so curious about it, I decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, L.A. Candy wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. 

If you’re looking for an extended episode of The Hills or something similar, you’ll really enjoy this book. To me, it seemed like a “before they were famous” version of The Hills that recounted what it was like for the starlets as they rose to fame. It was interesting to see how the characters adjusted to all of the new pressure and attention they were receiving, though some portions did seem unrealistic. 

I also really liked that it provided the reader with a sort of “behind the scenes” glimpse into what being on a reality show was like. I’ve always wondered how much was scripted and how much was real, so it was interesting to see that concept explored in this book. 

The characters were rather one-dimensional, and I didn’t really bond with any of them. Jane made a lot of really questionable, dumb decisions, and her naiveté kind of drove me crazy. I did sort of like Scarlett, though, as she was the only one who wasn’t sucked in by her new circumstances, and she actively questioned what was going on. Perhaps both girls, along with their friends, are fleshed out a bit more in later books in the series. 

One of the things that really drove me crazy was the language in this book. There were so many instances of “OMG,” “BFF,” etc, that made my head want to explode when reading it. Do people really talk like this when they’re 19/in their early 20s, because I’m pretty sure my friends and I grew out of that by that point in time? There is a possibility that I may have bonded with the characters a bit more had the narrator’s voice not been so maddening. Seriously, it was like, totally, like, super annoying. Like, OMGWTF? 

If you like your books filled with life on reality television, drama, backstabbing, or are a fan of the Gossip Girl series, The Hills, or Laguna Beach, you may enjoy L.A. Candy

I’m going to go sit in my shame corner now and think about what I’ve done. 

Rating: 2/5 

Other Books in This Series: Sweet Little Lies, Sugar and Spice

Read-alikes: Gossip Girl series – Cecily von Ziegesar

Friday, June 7, 2013

“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It's called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don't do it halfway. Don't linger in whiner's limbo.”

Poison Study – Maria V. Snyder (Book 1 in the Study series) 
412 pages 
Genre: YA, Fantasy 

Summary: Yelena is about to be executed for murder, but at the last possible moment, her life is spared. While this should bring Yelena a sense of relief, she has no time to relax, as the only reason she wasn’t killed was because she is now the official food taster for the Commander. Will this arrangement prove to be more than Yelena bargained for? 

Review: I read Snyder’s Inside Out a while ago, and while that story wasn’t really my cup of tea, I absolutely loved the way she writes. Because of this, I quickly determined that I would read another of her books that better aligned with my interests. Fortunately, Fire Study was right up my alley, and I’m so glad that I read it. 

Fire Study opened with a bang and didn’t let up until the very end. When the book began, we met Yelena shortly before her scheduled execution for murder, and her life is spared because of a technicality in a law, as the next prisoner sentenced to death shall become the commissioner’s food tester, if that person so chooses. It made me put myself in Yelena’s situation and try to figure out what I would do if given this option, which was interesting to think about. Do you die quickly, or do you, perhaps, die an agonizing death by poison? On the whole, it seems like a no-win situation, but Yelena decided to take her chances and live, if only for a little while longer. 

Sometimes after an engaging beginning, books begin to lose speed, but that was definitely not the case with Fire Study. The plot continued to move quickly as Yelena adjusted to her new role, and it was so exciting to see what was going to happen next. Just as it seemed like things were finally settling down, a fight would break out that would have Yelena scrambling for her life, and it made perfect sense in the world Snyder created. It was also interesting that the reader couldn’t really tell where everyone’s loyalties were, and just as one thought one had it all figured out, another plot twist was thrown in that completely through everything one thought they knew out the window.

In the same vein, I really liked the way in which the reader was exposed to information about Yelena and other characters. Instead of laying everything out at the beginning of the book in a neat and tidy fashion, information was revealed in bits and pieces. At the story’s onset, I wasn’t very sympathetic to Yelena, as I believed her to be a cold-blooded killer, but as more information was revealed, I began to sympathize with her more and more. As information was revealed, the reader was definitely able to see justification in Yelena's actions.

Yelena was a wonderful narrator, and I really enjoyed reading the story from her perspective. In addition to having a complicated past that the reader had to piece together, she was also a complete badass that knew how to take care of herself. Many people in Yelena’s position would have cowered in fear, but she handled herself really well and was incredibly brave. 

Valek, the man in charge of Yelena’s training, was also an outstanding character. Their relationship did not get off to the best start, as I’m sure would be the case in any similar situation, but I loved watching it evolve over time. Valek’s loyalty to the Commander seemed so unwavering, and I would love to have greater access into his mind to see what made him tick.

Fire Study was a completely awesome book with complex characters, ulterior motives, and uncertainty. If you enjoy books featuring amazing females, definitely check it out! 

Rating: 4/5 

Other Books in This Series: Magic Study, Fire Study 

Read-alike: Grave Mercy – Robin LeFevers

Thursday, June 6, 2013

“This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it’s just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be.”

Every Day – David Levithan
324 pages 
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fantasy 

Summary: A lives a very unusual life: he doesn’t have a physical body, and every day, he wakes up in someone else’s body. While this doesn’t give A any sense of stability, he has accepted his fate and does his best to live his host’s life. All of that changes when he wakes up as a boy named Justin and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon. Will he be able to act upon these feelings? 

Review: I have heard a lot of positive buzz surrounding Every Day, so I went into this with all of the expectations. All of them! Fortunately, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting, simply because I couldn’t pull myself away. 

One of the most compelling parts of Every Day was definitely the concept. I tend to think about really strange things throughout the day, and one of the things I’ve given a lot of thought to is what it would be like to wake up in someone else’s body. This phenomenon was explored in such an interesting way in Every Day, and I was eager to see who A would be next. I really liked that A was easily able to pick up on cues that alerted him to what the expectations were in his host body, and it was great that he didn’t try to stray too far from what the person he was inhabiting would normally do, until he meant Rihannon. 

I’m referring to A as “he” here, but it’s only for simplicity’s sake (and the fact that his first host was male), as our narrator’s gender was never revealed. I really liked that A didn’t have stereotypical male or female traits, but was just a well-rounded human being. Every Day brought up interesting ideas about gender being a social construct, especially as it relates to being in love and just being human, and it was so well-done. I wish gender discussions were taken on by more authors. 

Speaking of love, A quickly fell in love with Rhiannon, and their feelings seemed so sweet and genuine. Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Justin, was not a good match for her, and when A was Justin, it was easy to see why. The relationship with Rhiannon also played into the whole “why does gender even matter” concept, and it was quite effective in its execution. 

Inhabiting other people’s bodies brings up many ethical dilemmas, of course, and Levithan handled these in a rather deft way. For example, when A would go out of his way to see Rhiannon, was that really the right thing to do, since he was living in someone else’s body? This was especially apparent with a character named Nathan, and I loved how things played out with that storyline. In the same vein, when A found out that there may be a way to inhabit just one body, would it be okay to sacrifice someone else’s life for his own? 

Every Day was a wonderful, unique read that will keep readers engaged from start to finish. If you enjoy contemporary books with a fantastical twist and gender bending, definitely give it a try! 

Rating: 4/5 

Read-alike: Slide – Jill Hathaway

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

“Herr Schiller? Are there really any such things as ghosts?' The old man did not even show surprise at the question. He heaved a sigh. 'Yes Pia, there are. But never the ones you expect.”

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden 
281 pages 
Genre: YA, Mystery 

Summary: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden begins explosively, as 10-year-old Pia’s grandmother dies in a completely combustible way that nobody could have predicted. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Pia’s schoolmates begin treating her poorly, thinking that what happened to Pia’s grandmother will happen to them, too, if they become friendly with her. Things get even stranger when children begin to go missing in Pia’s small, German town. Can these events be stopped, or will Pia be the next victim? 

Review: I was really looking forward to reading The Vanishing of Katharina Linden based solely on the description. While the book was enjoyable, unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet the expectations that I built up in mind. 

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden wasn’t a bad book by any means; rather, I just didn’t feel as ensnared in the plot as I would’ve liked. The book literally started out with a bang with the death of Pia’s grandmother, which pulled me in right away, but after that, it seemed as if the events slowed down quite a bit. It took me awhile to finish this book, which is surprising when one considers that it’s relatively short, and I would imagine it was because it wasn’t moving fast enough for me.

Things really began gaining momentum towards the latter half of the book, however, and I really enjoyed that portion immensely. When Pia and her best friend, Stephen, were trying to piece together clues, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping they wouldn’t get caught. There was so much intrigue, and I don’t want to give anything away, but as it turned out, appearances were quite deceiving. 

Pia wasn’t my favorite narrator ever, but it could be because I was picturing her as a much older girl than she actually was, and I wasn’t forgiving enough with her mistakes. The story was told from an older Pia’s reflection of what happened at the time, and instead of seeing a 10-year-old, I was seeing an adult. Stephen did read like a 10-year-old to me, however, and I really liked when he was in the scenes. These characters were forced together out of necessity because of their outcast labels, and it was interesting to see their friendship strengthen over time. 

One of the things I found most compelling about The Vanishing of Katharina Linden were the relationships therein. While I didn’t quite bond with our narrator, her relationship with Stephen seemed quite genuine. Another relationship that really stood out to me was the one between Pia’s parents. Pia’s father was German and Pia’s mother was English, and they often butted heads about where they would live, parenting styles, and a slew of other things. It was such a real, dysfunctional relationship, and I could really see the characters come to life through their actions, although they sometimes made me cringe. 

While The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was a bit uneven for me, fans of mysteries may really enjoy this one. 

Rating: 3/5

Monday, May 20, 2013

“I think honesty is important, like you said. But what I actually think is that the key to a good relationship is forgiveness, because without it we're all completely screwed. ...we're all human, and we all make mistakes. Without forgiveness, we'd all be walking this Earth angry and alone, and I think that would really suck.”

Notes from the Blender – Trish Cook, Brendan Halpin
240 pages
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction

Summary: Declan, a rebellious teenage boy who doesn’t really fit in anywhere in his high school, lives with his dad after his parents’ divorce. Neilly, a beautiful, popular girl in the in crowd of her high school, dates popular boys and lives with her mom. While these two teens seem to have nothing in common, their worlds collide when their parents announce that they’re going to get married. Will they all be one big, happy family?

Review: Notes from the Blender was a quick, engaging read that kept me entertained from start to finish.

One of the truly outstanding parts of this book was definitely the characters. Declan seemed like such an authentic teenage boy, as he was constantly thinking about girls. He also loved death metal and didn’t really relate well to his peers, which immediately made me sympathetic to his character. I really appreciated his “devil may care” attitude, and his reactions to everything going on his life were genuine. This was especially apparent as it related to the impending marriage between his father and Neilly’s mother. His life was changing rapidly, and as much as he tried to maintain his stony façade, it began to crumble when he was by himself.

Much like Declan, Neilly was also a wonderful narrator. Declan assumed she was perfect, and he actually had a huge crush on her. As time went on, however, and the duo began to talk more, Neilly revealed that there was much more to her than meets the eye, which isn’t a surprise as impressions are often deceiving.

Friendship was one of the primary aspects of this book, and watching Declan and Neilly’s relationship evolve was wonderful. The more they talked, the more they realized they had in common, which, in turn, developed into a genuine bond over time. If one was basing everything on outside appearances, these characters couldn’t have been more different, yet when the superficial layers were removed, everything changed.

Family was also of upmost importance in the book. Both Neilly and Declan’s parents were actively involved in their lives, and it was a delight to see them turn to their parents in times of trouble. If one of their family members were attacked, each character would step in to defend them. This doesn't always happen in a lot of books, but I'm very glad it happened here, as it is pretty true to life.

In addition to all of these great aspects, Notes from the Blender also brought a ton of issues to the table. Of everything presented, the ones that stuck with me the most were LGBT, the pitfalls that occur with divorce and remarriage, what being a high schooler is actually like, alcohol and drug use, and veganism. I especially enjoyed the portions dedicated to LGBT and veganism, even though the authors did get a bit preachy at times.

If you like realistic YA fiction, check out Notes from the Blender!

Rating: 4/5

Read-alikes: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You - Peter Cameron, Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

Sunday, May 19, 2013

“Most of what I say is complete truth. My edit button is broken.”

Hourglass – Myra McEntire (Hourglass, Book 1)
390 pages
Genre: YA, Paranormal

Summary: Emerson is your average 17-year-old girl, with one huge exception: she can see ghosts. If that isn’t strange enough, things take an even more bizarre turn when she starts seeing whole scenes from the past. At approximately the same time, she meets a guy named Michael, who was hired by Emerson’s brother to try and help her get rid of these visions. Will these efforts work?

Review: Like many of my YA reads, the cover was what initially drew me to Hourglass. I absolutely love the color combination, and her hair blowing around crazily in front of her face intrigued me further. While I had no expectations going into this, I’m glad I decided to read it, as it was pretty fun.

The biggest aspect of this book centered around paranormal abilities. I’m really drawn to books that have paranormal plot devices, and Hourglass certainly delivered. Emerson had the ability to see ghosts and impressions from the past, and it was fun to see everything through her eyes as she was seeing things. When her visions became more intense, she began to worry a bit, which seemed like a believable reaction if one was faced with these circumstances.

Similarly, time travel was also a crucial element to Hourglass’ plot. This component caused philosophical questions to be raised for both the reader and the characters as they struggled to figure out what they should do. Do they go to the past and alter a tragic event, in hopes that it doesn’t affect anything else, or do they leave it alone and accept what has happened?

As far as the characters go, I felt pretty meh about our narrator, Emerson. While I thought her abilities were really cool, I also thought that many of her decisions were absolutely terrible. This is especially poignant as it relates to her feelings regarding certain characters within the story. It seemed like as soon as one love interest turned his back, she was all over another possible love interest. I understand that it’s possible to be attracted to more than one person at a time, but really? Your feelings are that fleeting?

Ah, the romance. There was a love triangle very similar to the one that can be found in Twilight, and while I know love triangles exist in real life, I wasn’t really buying this one. This could be because crazy things would happen at just the slightest touch with one of Emerson’s love interests, so it didn’t really make any sense to me that she would be going after another guy when said things were happening. Also, what was with best friends going after the same girl? I’m sure that happens, too, but one would hope that when Emerson has clearly showed interest in one of the friends, the other would back off so they don’t ruin their friendship. Why was the best friend always trying to get the girl his friend liked whenever his friend left the room? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Much like romantic relationships were a crucial component of this book, familial relationships were just as important. Emerson was living with her older brother, Thomas, after their parents’ death. I really liked how Thomas was constantly trying to help Emerson overcome the problems she faced. He even went so far as to hire someone that she could talk to to try to work out what was wrong, and I thought that was awesome. It was easy to see how much they cared for one another

While Hourglass was a bit uneven for me, overall, it was an enjoyable read. If you like paranormal stories, give it a try!

Rating: 3/5

Other books in the Hourglass Series: Timepiece, Infinity Glass

Read-alikes: The Summoning – Kelly Armstrong, The Splendor Falls – Rosemary Clement-Moore, The Blue Girl – Charles de Lint