Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

St. Martins, 2013

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It’s the 1980s and Eleanor is the new girl in school. She has bright red hair and wears clothes that are completely out there. She couldn’t stick out more if she tried and is bullied because of it. Park is the boy who sits in the back of the bus with his headphones, reads comics and tries to be invisible. He saves Eleanor on her first day by letting her sit next to him. Riding the bus together everyday Eleanor and Park slowly fall in love.

Review: I finally got around to reading Eleanor and Park. I received the ARC at ALA Midwinter last year and just kept getting pushed to the bottom of my to read list. I had heard so many different accounts, that I wasn’t sure if I was going to LOVE Eleanor and Park or HATE it. In the end I felt a bit indifferent towards it. I liked the book, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary. I think the ending ruined it a bit for me. At the end of the novel, Eleanor’s character becomes whiney and annoying. I wanted to shake her and tell her to BUCK UP! Even with the problems with her family (a abusive stepfather, a mother who won’t stand up for her children, no money) I found Eleanor’s behavior at the end unbelievable or at the very least out of character. I liked that both of the character’s have reservations about their relationship. Eleanor has difficultly with her family that makes her flawed and doesn’t want to let people in. Park still cares about what people think and people don’t think highly of Eleanor. Struggling to overcome their own issues is what makes this love story a realistic one.

Besides the ending, I really liked that Rowell had Eleanor and Park relate their story in alternating turns. Sometimes each character only had a sentence or two before it switched to the other character. I thought this made the book feel more immediate to the reader. It made me feel like I was watching this happen in real time. In general, I think the book was beautifully written. The love story is heartwarming. The slow evolution of their love as they find they share similar interests. This is a book that teens will relate to and read over and over again.

**Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an ARC at ALA Midwinter 2013.**

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Folklore Collections – Book of British Fairy Tales & Tales From the Rain Forest

Garner, Alan. Alan Garner’s Book of British Fairy Tales. Delacorte, 1984. 160 pages. Grades 4th – 8th. (British Isles Folktales inc. Welsh)

fairyComplied by renowned children’s fantasy author, Alan Garner, Alan Garner’s Book of British Fairy Tales is composed of 21 traditional tales including: Molly Whuppy, Mossycoat, and The Castle of Melvales. These stories are kept in the tradition they were created and are best read aloud. They incorporate rhymes and rhythmic language. Garner also utilizes language of the past and includes unusual dialects and expressions, which adds to the authenticity of the tales. The woodcut illustrations that preface each story are gorgeous and intricate and add to the mystery of the tales. Many of the stories are of poor peasants who become wealthy and marry a beautiful woman, if not a beautiful princess. Witches, magic, and all sorts of supernatural figures abound throughout these stories. Sources are given for the tales at the end of the book. This is an excellent choice for a read aloud or for general enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Dorson, Mercedes. Tales from the Rain Forest: Myths and Legends from the Amazonian Indians of Brazil. Edited by Jeanne Wilmot. Eco, 1997. 133 Pages. Grades 4th – 9th (Brazilian Native Indian Folktales)

downloadTen compiled myths and legends from the Amazonian Native Indians share the wonder and world views of the Amazonian people. The stories give the reader glimpses of village life, and how the Amazonian people considered the world around them, most specifically animals. At the end of each story the authors included their own interpretations of the tale. The bibliography at the end of the book is lengthy and adds to the scholarly feel of the book. The illustrations used throughout the book are primarily 19th century lithographs and engravings of regional plant life, people (some are nude), and animals, which add to the authenticity and bring life to the tales. These stories are perfect to be read aloud or to be poured over by oneself. They are rich in detail and focus on a culture that is not often found in larger folklore collections. A must for any teacher or librarian.

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“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” — Lemony Snicket

Little Brown, 2012

AWQ1 cover final

13-year-old Lemony Snicket seems to always be asking the wrong questions. After an unusual education, Snicket is sent on an assignment with his chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, to a small seaside town that is no longer by the sea. They were hired to steal back the valuable statue of the Bombinating Beast, a local legend. However, not everything is as it seems and Snicket is preoccupied by what he left behind in the city. Through the help of Moxie and Ellington, Snicket tries to solve the mysteries and keep all of his various promises.

Review: I’ve always liked The Series of Unfortunate Events and I’ve been meaning to read this new Lemony Snicket book since it came out last year. Now I’ve finally got around to it. I thought Who Could That Be at This Hour? was a quick, fun read, filled with Snicket’s wry humor. What I like most is how Who Could That Be at This Hour? sets up the story for the rest of the series. In so many novels, there is an over load of information, with this book, it’s the exact opposiste. This novel is a fictional-autobiography of the author Lemony SnicketBecause the author is the main character, the main character already knows what happens and limits what the reader knows. There are many times throughout the story where this is apparent by saying. “I wasn’t going to see her again, but I didn’t know that then.” It makes the reader want to find out what is going to happen and really pulls the reader into the story.

This first installment of a four part series is less bleak and has a tiny bit more hope than The Series of Unfortunate Events. The illustrations are sinister. They are all done in blue tones with all the people in black.  The reader rarely sees anyone’s face, which serves to bring out the mystery in the text. Snicket still uses his traditional wit and pragmatism. Fans of The Series of Unfortunate Events and new readers alike will enjoy this twisty mystery.

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Grave Mercy — Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

grave mercy

Isme’s mother tried to expel her from her womb, but it didn’t work and she survived. She has been marked as the daughter of Mortain, God of Death. Saved from an abusive marriage and she is sent to the convent of St. Mortain. At the convent, she is taught hundreds of ways to kill a man. After her first two kills were successful, the Abbess sends Isme to Brittany’s High Court as the mistress of Breton noble, Duval. At the court, she is supposed to protect the Duchess and kill anyone that Mortain marks….even if she loves and trusts them.

Review: Grave Mercy is everything I have ever wanted in a book. There is history, magic, and romance. There are also assassin nuns, which I never thought I wanted but now I am not complete without.

Isme was delightfully real. She was insecure, and had intimacy issues, but she was also fierce, protective, smart, honest and merciful (for an assassin). I loved the Duchess, she was a brilliant character. Even though she was a supporting character, so much of the plot surrounded her that it made a huge difference that she was portrayed just as beautifully and fully as Isme. I appreciate the Duchess even more than Isme, because LaFevers had to keep Duchess somewhat historically accurate.

I really appreciated the historical accuracy. Even though this is a fantasy, it is rooted in history and the majority of the workings of Anne’s court were quite accurate. Granted Duval is a fictional character, as is Isme. I liked that LaFeavers picked a time in history where saints, gods, magic, and superstition intersected and were all very real. It made the novel more plausible.

On a side note…can you say swoon?! I absolutely adored Duval. He was so principled that he made a perfect foil for Isme, who was starting to figure out her own principles outside of the convent’s walls. I think their relationship was really well done. It complemented the other plot lines of the novel. There was so much going on with the court and the convent, the love story gave the novel a ray of light (and what can I say, I’m always a sucker for a good romance).

LaFevers weaves a darkly, elegant tale that leaves readers wanting more of castles, duchesses, assassin nuns, and subterfuge. This is a story that will captivate readers and leave them demanding more.  Continue reading

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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea — April Genevieve Tucholke

Dial, 2013

deep blue sea

Nothing exciting ever happens in Echo, Violet’s sleepy seaside town…until River West comes to town and rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling mansion. Weird things start to happen and Violet starts to wonder if they have something to do with River. Violet’s grandmother, Freddie, had warned her about the devil, but she never thought he would be a boy who kissed her in the cemetery and had a love for good coffee. Soon Violet is too much in love to be able to see what is really happening…which is just how River likes it.

Review: I picked up Between the Devil and the Deep Blue for two reasons: 1. The cover is gorgeous! How could you not want to pick this book up? 2. The author was going to be at the Austin Teen Book Festival. My goal this year was to have read at least two books from each panel, something I did not meet, but I got close!

Creepy and beautiful, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a compelling and quick read. I finished it in an afternoon. Tucholke weaves a evocatively eerie tale. It’s a bit of a mystery. The reader is trying to figure out who the devil is and who is behind the weird things happening in Echo. I got it wrong (not surprisingly, I really feel like I’m loosing my touch in this department). The imagery of Violet’s crumbling mansion by the sea and the sleepy town is done really well. It really set up the creepy-ness of the novel. The mansion became one of the characters, almost like part of Freddie hanging around. I liked all of the characters. Even if the majority of the characters are on the periphery, they served to enhance the small town feel of the book.

There is so much ambiguousness throughout the book, you never really know what is going on behind everyone’s facade. I liked that because of River, morality plays a big part in this book. River has a ‘glow’ which allows him to alter peoples thoughts and force them to do things. Violet really struggles to reconcile her attraction to River and what kind of person he is, especially once Neely, River’s brother, comes to town. Neely always picks up after River’s messes and doesn’t want River to hurt Violet. I desperately hope there is a sequel to this book. There is a bit of a cliffhanger and I’m interested to see Neely as a more prominent character.

This is a wonderful modern gothic novel for teens. I highly recommend this book! However, don’t read this book to be read at night if you are like me and are a total wimp and a scaredy cat. I don’t know if I would have been able to sleep if I had read it right before bed.

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Where the Stars Still Shine — Trish Doller

Bloomsbury, 2013

where the stars

Callie was stolen from her large Greek-American family by her mother when she was a little girl. She and her mom have been on the run for the last 10 years and she has no idea what a ‘normal’ life means. Callie has never been to school, has lived off of food from vending machines. Her dreams consist of real life nightmares that she would rather forget. When Callie’s mom gets arrested for kidnapping, she gets sent back to live with her father for the life she should have lived. She has to figure out how to become part of a family and learn to love.

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine is one of my favorite books of 2013. Doller doesn’t shy away from the tough subjects and manages to write a beautiful book. The pacing is a little slow, but it creates a more realistic story, taking the reader through life as Callie experiences it. She did a wonderful job with Callie. I never once got booted out of the story because something didn’t feel right in the narrative. The novel felt very real from start to finish. I thought the supporting characters were distinct and had strong personalities to compliment Callie’s journey. Kat, Callie’s mom and Dad, her step mom, and her grandma all felt authentic and that they had a back story as well. None of them felt flat.

More than just the supporting characters, I really liked Alex as the love interest, mostly because he wasn’t there to save her and pick up the pieces of her former life. His own subplot was, itself, a hard to wrestle with. With that being said, yes, he does help Callie come to terms with some of her problems from the past. But she does the same for him. Neither of them is perfect and both are learning how to be with someone. Even at the end, she doesn’t tie everything up in a little bow for them. Doller makes their relationship hard work.

Callie is a character that will resonate with you long after you have put the book down. Where the Stars Still Shine is a gritty, true portrayal of teenagers. This is a book I will recommend many times. Also, as a side note, Trish Doller was amazing at the Austin Teen Book Festival. I loved getting to hear her speak!

**I read an advanced reader’s copy. Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me a copy via NetGalley.**

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City of Ashes and City of Glass — Cassandra Clare

McElderry, 2008 and 2008

City_of_Ashes

The Saga of Clary, Simon, Jace and the Lightwoods continue in City of Ashes and City of Glass. I don’t want to give to much away, but things get kind of crazy. Simon becomes a vampire. There is more trying to stop Valentine from taking over the world. But, the story is compelling and fast paced. It’s not easy to put down once you’ve started.

I have to admit, I’m glad I continued reading The Mortal Instruments series.  To be perfectly honest, I only read the City of Bones because I wanted to see the movie. One of my ‘things’ is that I need to read the book before I see the movie. The only exceptions to this are The Lord of the Rings movies. I even tried to read those books and just couldn’t make it through them. I digress, I thought book 2 was much better and I enjoyed book 3 as well.

So what did I like about these books? I liked the character development as Clary realizes her own strength but also comes to terms with her weaknesses.

City_of_glass

To me these books are a better done version of the Twilight series. Clary is the center and two boys are fighting over, her original best friend changes into something paranormal. And there is a reason for during book 2 for why the guy she actually is in love with can’t be together. While the twists are different (brother and sister anyone?) the basic plot line is the same. Like I said in my review of City of Bones, I think this story is good, but it has been done again since it first came out. So while I liked the books and I think the second and third books were much better than the first, it still is not mind blowing for me.

I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with this series. I feel like City of Glass finished the series nicely for me and answered all the questions I had. If I read anything else by Cassandra Clare I will probably try one of her other series. Maybe The Bane Chronicles? I’m a pretty big Magnus fan.

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