Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Book: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Princess Levana has always been overlooked. The second daughter of the Lunar royal house, scarred and ugly, overshadowed by the glittering heir, she yearns for oh so many things. She wants her thoughts and ideas to be taken seriously by the court. She wants people to admire her the way they admire her sister Channary. Most of all, she wants Evret Hayle, the handsome royal guard, to look at her the way she looks at him - with love and longing.

She gets her chance when Evret's wife dies in childbirth, and she takes it, magically brainwashing him into marrying her. When her sister dies, leaving Levana to rule, everything she wants is within her grasp.

Really, though, it's not. Evret only loves her when she's forcing her own will onto his. Levana isn't the queen, only the queen regent, standing in until her young niece Selene is of age to take the throne. But she's gotten this far. Why stop now?

When I heard the next book in Lunar Chronicles series was coming out in January, I was delighted. Cress left us with a doozy of a cliffhanger. When I heard it was not going to be Winter, but instead Levana's story, I was bitterly disappointed and a little cynical. Ridiculously popular series tend to bring out the spinoffs and tie-ins. I wanted to read it, of course, because Meyer does write an interesting story, but I wasn't sure what I would get.

What I found most interesting was that Levana actually is, for some values of the word, a good queen. She's interested in more than flirting and glittering. She thinks carefully about the problems facing Luna as a nation, and she dreams up smart and savvy methods of solving those problems. Of course, smart and savvy do not mean good or even conscionable. One of her first breakthrough ideas is for the deliberate spread of a virus that will weaken Earth's defenses and put Luna into a position of stronger political power. This will, of course, become the horrific letumosis epidemic that haunts the other novels in the series.

The saddest part is how you can see where she went wrong. She has good aims, understandable motivations. She wants to be loved. She wants to be a good queen. She wants constant, never-ending affirmation that she is good enough. She is very young at the beginning of the novel, just fifteen, and she falls prey to the flaws that often plague that age - self-centeredness, thoughtlessness, and a tendency to blow things out of proportion. But the reason she turned out the way she does (and will), is because nobody has ever taught her that love means putting other people first, or that anyone besides herself is more than a tool or an obstacle.

As a standalone novel, this would not hold up. It isn't meant to, really. There are too many references to other characters from the series and their origins for the new reader to make sense of it. (Why, for instance, is the toddler son of her husband's friends given so much page space? Unless you know him as Jacin Clay, the hero of the last book, it makes no sense.) I also wish we'd gotten more of Evret than just the handsome love interest, because it would have made his decisions and his eventual fate more tragic. But as a peek into the workings of a powerful villain that we already know and fear, this book is fascinating.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Book: Evil Librarian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Cynthia doesn’t want much out of life, really. She wants the school production of Sweeney Todd to be the best ever. She wants super-cute Ryan Halsey to notice her. She wants to get through Italian class.

Now there’s something else to add to that list. She wants her best friend to stop acting like a zombie space cadet around the new librarian. Sure, he’s young and hot, but he’s still an adult and a teacher. Eww. And now Annie is swearing that she’s in love with him. Cyn knows there’s something seriously wrong with this picture. But she’s not prepared for the truth, which is that Mr. Gabriel is a demon who’s bent on sucking out the souls of the student population as part of his quest to rule hell.

That’s not good.

Luckily, she’s got some advantages in this fight. Such as, she seems to have a resistance to demon mojo. Also, super-cute Ryan Halsey is actually helping her out. Still, that’s not much help against a demon. And now there’s more than one. Uh-oh.

With a title like that, you know I had to read it. I mean, come on. I’d gone through several DNFs before this one (at least one of them throw-it-at-the-wall bad) and I was ready for a funny, entertaining paranormal romp. This fit the bill.

Cynthia is smart and self-aware, but still recognizably a teenager. The plot rattles along with good humor and a certain wink at the reader as to the unlikeliness of this whole thing. At times the light and funny tone wavers, particularly with the deaths of several teachers. These are all off-screen, but at least one was an important ally to Ryan and Cyn. Still, this is 98% rollicking fun.

In her review, Ms. Yingling mentions that for her middle-school population, Cynthia’s lusty yearning for Ryan was a little too old. Myself, I liked that a lot. It’s a nice thing to see a teenage girl frankly acknowledging her sexuality and how that feeds into romantic feelings without being branded a slut or a bad girl.

Though the story is complete (no cliffhangers!) the door is also left open a crack for a sequel, or perhaps two.

Monday, February 02, 2015

2015 Youth Media Awards: Newbery! Caldecott! Printz! All of the Shiny Medals!

John Newbery Medal
for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature
The Crossover - Kwame Alexander
(H) El Deafo - Cece Bell
(H) Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson

Randolph Caldecott Medal
for the most distinguished American picture book for children
The Adventures of Beekle: the unimaginary friend - Dan Santat
(H) Nana in the City - Lauren Castillo
(H) The Noisy Paint Box: the colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art - ill. Mary GrandPre, written by Barb Rosenstock
(H) Sam and Dave Dig a Hole - ill. Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
(H) Viva Frida - Yuyi Morales
(H) The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus - ill. Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant
(H) This One Summer - ill. Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki

Michael L. Printz Award
for excellence in literature written for young adults
I’ll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
(H) And We Stay - Jenny Hubbard
(H) The Carnival at Bray - Jessie Ann Foley
(H) Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith
(H) This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki, ill. Jillian Tamaki

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
for the most distinguished beginning reader book
You Are (not) Small - Anna Kang, ill. Christopher Weyent
(H) Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page - Cynthia Rylant, ill. Arthur Howard
(H) Waiting is Not Easy - Mo Willems

Coretta Scott King Awards
for the best book about the African-American experience
Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
(H) The Crossover - Kwame Alexander
(H) How I Discovered Poetry - Marilyn Nelson, ill. Hadley Hooper
(H) How It Went Down - Kekla Magoon
Firebird: ballerina Misty Copeland shows a young girl how to dance like the firebird - ill. Christopher Myers, written by Misty Copeland

John Steptoe New Talent Award
When I Was the Greatest - Jason Reynolds
(H) Josephine: the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker - Patricia Hruby Powell, ill. Christian Robinson
(H) Little Melba and Her Big Trombone - Katheryn Russell-Brown, ill. Frank Morrison

Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime Achievement
Deborah D. Taylor - Enoch Pratt Free Library

Schneider Family Book Award
for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience
Picture Book
A Boy and a Jaguar - Alan Rabinowitz, ill. Catia Chien
Middle Grade 
Rain Reign - Ann M Martin
Girls Like Us - Gail Giles

Alex Awards
for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Bellweather Rhapsody - Kate Racculia
Bingo’s Run - James A Levine
Confessions - Kanae Minato, trans. Stephen Snyer
Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
Lock In - John Scalzi
The Martian - Andy Weir
The Terrorist’s Son - Zak Ebrahim, w/ Jeff Giles
Those Who Wish Me Dead - Michael Koryta
Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle

Andrew Carnegie Medal
for excellence in children's video
Me … Jane - Weston Woods, based on a book by Patrick McDonnell

Margaret A. Edwards Award
for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
Sharon M. Draper

May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award
recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site
Pat Mora

Mildred L. Batchelder Award
for an outstanding children's book translated from a language other than English and subsequently published in the United States
Mikis and the Donkey - Bibi Dumon Tak, ill. Philip Hopman, trans. Laura Watkinson
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust - Loie Dauvillier, ill. Marc Lizano, trans. Alexis Siege
Nine Open Arms - Benny Lindelauf, ill. Dasha Tolstikova, trans. John Nieuwenhuizen

Odyssey Award
best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults
H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination - Christopher Myers, narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers
(H) Five, Six, Seven, Nate! - Tim Federle, narrated by same
(H) The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place - Julie Berry, narrated by Jayne Entwhistle
(H) A Snicker of Magic - Natalie Lloyd, narrated by Cassandra Morris

Pura Belpre Awards
For the best books about the Latino cultural experience
I Lived on Butterfly Hill - Marjorie Agosín, ill. Lee White, trans. E.M. O'Connor
(H) Portraits of Hispanic-American Heroes - Juan Felipe Herrera, ill. Raúl Colón
Viva Frida - Yuyi Morales
(H) Little Roja Riding Hood - ill. Susan Middleton Elya, written by Susan Guevara
(H) Green is a Chile Pepper - ill. John Parra, written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
(H) Separate is never equal : Sylvia Mendez & her family's fight for desegregation - Duncan Tonatiuh

Robert F. Sibert Medal
for most distinguished informational book for children
The Right Word: Roget and his thesaurus - Jen Bryant, ill. Melissa Sweet
(H) Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
(H) The family Romanov : murder, rebellion & the fall of Imperial Russia - Candace Fleming
(H) Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker - Patricia Hruby Powell, ill. Christian Robinson
(H) Neighborhood sharks : hunting with the great whites of California's Farallon Islands - Katherine Roy
(H) Separate is never equal : Sylvia Mendez & her family's fight for desegregation - Duncan Tonatiuh

Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award
Books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.
This Day in June - Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., ill. Kristyna Litten
(H) Beyond magenta : transgender teens speak out - Susan Kuklin
(H) I’ll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
(H) Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress - Christine Baldacchio, ill. Isabelle Malenfant

William C. Morris Award
for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. Finalists are announced in December.
Gabi: A Girl in Pieces - Isabel Quintero
(F) The Carnival at Bray - Jessie Ann Foley
(F) The Story of Owen, Dragonslayer of Trondheim - E.K. Johnston
(F) The Scar Boys - Len Vlahos
(F) The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - Leslye J Walton

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year. Finalists are announced in December
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek - Maya Van Wagenen
(F) Laughing at My Nightmare - Shane Burcaw
(F) The family Romanov : murder, rebellion & the fall of Imperial Russia - Candace Fleming
(F) Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman who Challenged Big Business and Won - Emily Arnold McCully
(F) The Port Chicago 50 : disaster, mutiny, and the fight for civil rights - Steve Sheinken

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Reading Roundup: January 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 9
Tween: 4
Children: 3

Review Copies: 7
Library: 6

Teen: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
This is what a relationship story looks like, as opposed to a love story. Perkins explores how a relationship changes and impacts the people in it, particularly their flaws and screw-ups.
Tween: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I've been over the written-in-verse thing for awhile, but this one (and The Red Pencil, mentioned below) were exceptions. Woodson takes us through her young life, with all its trials and joys, in a story worthy of the National Book Award it garnered.
Children: The Mighty Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch
Did you know how much geology went into interplanetary exploration? Because I didn't. This book goes behind the scenes of the little-rovers-that-could to show the humans that worked their butts off. Another worthy entry in the long-running Scientists in the Field series.

Because I Want To Awards
Come Here, I Need to Smack You: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
This book is a worthy successor to one of my very favorite books of 2014, with its twisty plot and its heroine trapped between a rock and a hard place. But boy, did I spend a fair amount of time wanting to smack its hero. (Out in March)
Personal Connections: The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
I work in a library where many of my patrons, large and small, are refugees from the kind of situation that this book explores. As such, it was very difficult to read, because I kept seeing people I knew in the story. But oh, so good.