Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Audio Book Review: The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh Plague is a book I would categorize as "apocalyptic-light." While our characters are trying to survive after a war and a plague have killed most of the population and all government and any other services are gone, the story is more about relationships and building trust after surviving for a long time trusting no one.

Stephen has no one except his father left. They travel a trading path back and forth throughout the year, working as scavengers, and trying to survive on what little they can find or trade for. Stephen has lived this way for years; he knows no other life.

When he and his father encounter slavers (those who are trying to capture people and sell them into slavery), his father is severely injured and they are rescued and taken in by people from a town called Settler's Landing. Stephen's father is in a coma, and the doctor is doing the best she can to take care of him and also to make Stephen feel welcome and secure. But it isn't easy for Stephen. He has been taught to trust no one, and to stay away from people. This town has a school, and a park, and enough food to eat, but Stephen can't believe there isn't more to the story.

There are the "bad guys" in the town, who run everything and don't think they need to contribute. They are opposed to the town taking in any new citizens, and think that Stephen must be a spy. Stephen eventually gets to know Jenny, who is Chinese, and therefore is discriminated against (the war was with the Chinese.) She's rebellious and defiant, and she and Stephen have a strange bond. Because of a prank that Stephen and Jenny play, all hell breaks loose, and Settler's Landing is at risk.

The beginning of The Eleventh Plague is exciting and tense. But after that, it's just a story of a kid, torn from everything he knows, trying to fit into a new environment. The progression from distrust to trust is realistic. The relationships that Stephen eventually forms are true. I just didn't find The Eleventh Plague to be all that exciting. It's not that it is a bad book, it just wasn't what I was expecting from an apocalyptic novel.

There's some more tension at the end when the town is fighting against all odds for survival, and of course, Stephen turns out to be the hero. But it was rather cliche.

The Eleventh Plague is more likely to entertain younger, middle school kids. It is simply written and easy to follow. Even though every minute isn't life-threatening, there's plenty here for kids to grab onto.

The narrator, Dan Bittner, does a good job. His voice changes for different characters enough to decipher whose talking, but not in an annoying way. I would recommend this audio as an easy one for kids to listen to.

Published by Scholastic, 2011. Audio by Scholastic Audiobooks.
Audiobook obtained from Sync YA Literature
304 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Flutter, by Gina Linko @GinaLinko

Flutter is absorbing and contains some surprises, but I got frustrated with the main characters, and in particular, the romance.

Emery has always had seizures. They are getting worse, and now her father insists that she stay in a hospital because the seizures are slowly killing her. But, these aren't just ordinary seizures. Emery time travels to different places from the past or the future every time she seizes. She may see people she knows during her travels, but not always. She seems to go and see "the boy" a lot. She doesn't know who this little boy is, but he's trying to tell her something.

The worst part is that her father and his team of doctors don't believe Emery.

Emery just wants to be a normal teen and Gia, her best friend, is happy to sneak her out of the hospital to attend a party. But as her seizures get worse, Emery knows she must figure out what the messages in her travels mean so perhaps she can save herself. Gia turns out to be a great friend, and probably my favorite character.

Emery sneaks away to a town in the upper peninsula of Michigan because she's heard about this place in her time travels. It's a very small town and she begins to ask questions and do some research about things she has seen. She also meets Ash, who becomes her protector. He sleeps outside her cabin in a tent in the freezing cold to make sure she is safe. But Ash has secrets too.

I found Emery's life "on the lam" a bit too easy. She had plenty of money, she finds this cabin that she can walk to everything easily, the townspeople all love her and help her, and there's always a bus to take her where she needs to go. The cabin is cold and rustic -- and she needs to keep a fire going in the winter in the UP, but she never complains or laments her difficult situation. And, she always has plenty of clothes to dress appropriately to the events she gets invited to.

I also didn't like the love/hate relationship between Ash and Emery. There was a lot of talking and then storming off and disappearing for a couple of days. Only to fall into each other's arms after. There was just too much tension and back and forth. I didn't think the relationship developed realistically. Ash, with all his mysteries, was also accepted into this community without question. Once again, a little too convenient.

It sounds like I didn't enjoy Flutter, but I really did! The premise is enticing -- it's different -- and Linko's writing is well done. The pacing is great. It's hard to put down. You might think you can guess the secrets, and some of them you will, but I think you will still be surprised by the way several things turn out. I certainly wasn't expecting the ending -- but I think it's appropriate.

Besides everything being a little too easy, and the romance being frustrating, I think Flutter has great appeal to teen readers, with its exciting pace and twists and turns.

Published by Random House, October 23, 2012
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 3.5/5





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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Other Side of Life -- A Good Recipe!


I'm using these posts to occasionally describe other things I enjoy (besides books.) I used to post these projects on my other blog, but I posted so seldom that I decided to include them here. Feel free to skip this one, if you are strictly in it for the books.



I made this Spinach, Caramelized Onion and Feta Quiche this week and it was delicious! I particularly loved that the crust was made from refrigerated breadstick dough. It was chewy and good, and I'm going to use this idea when making other quiche recipes. I stuck to the recipe pretty close on this one, except I used Egg Beaters -- and I think I used too many, or the recipe calls for too many, because there was too much filling, and this one ran over in my oven. Hate that...

I highly recommend this recipe. Great for vegetarians too!





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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stacking the Shelves - It's About Time!

After 3 or 4 weeks with NO Stacking the Shelves post, this week was STELLAR! Here's my haul:

Won:

The entire set of Lois Lowry's The Giver Quartet series. I've already read and reviewed The Giver this week, since I had never read that award-winning book before. Can't wait to read the rest. Aren't the new covers beautiful? I like that the new cover of The Giver still has the same old man as the classic cover. Won from Teen Librarian's Toolbox. These are going in my library and I'm certain they will be well read!

Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin, ARC from Jen at Makeshift Bookmark

A Want So Wicked, by Suzanne YoungARC from Jen at Makeshift Bookmark

Over You, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, ARC from Jen at Makeshift Bookmark

A Fractured Light, by Jocelyn Davies, ARC from Jen at Makeshift Bookmark


For Review:

Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, from the publisher, Random House.
I don't often get solicited by a publisher, and this is such a beautiful book. I'm so excited to read it. Thanks!

See what I mean? My mailbox was absolutely overflowing this week! Thanks to Tynga's Reviews for hosting STS, and thanks to you for stopping by! Let me know what you got this week....





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Friday, October 26, 2012

Follow Friday - Irritating Plot Devices

Happy Friday again, everyone! Hope you had a great week, and are looking forward to a great weekend.

This week's question from Parajunkee & Alison is:


Q: What writing device or trick most irritates you when reading a book? For example, if an author employs an omnipotent narrator that is sometimes considered bad form.

I have trouble with high fantasy sometimes because I feel like the author can just make up any fantastical creature or magical abilities to help get out of dire situations. I don't like when the magic is too convenient. I don't think all fantasy is like this, and I've certainly enjoyed some fantasy, but sometimes this is why I don't like books in this genre.

This is a really interesting and thought provoking question. I'm really looking forward to exploring what I assume will be a wide variety of answers!

Thanks for visiting. Please come back soon.





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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

There's a reason The Giver is a Newbery winner. And, I can see why this book is read in classrooms all over -- there's much food for thought here.

Dystopians are pervasive now, but back in 1994, when it won, I suspect this book was unique. And, I suspect The Giver was labeled "Utopian." I'm ashamed to say I've never read The Giver before. For some reason I read Gathering Blue when it came out, but never went back to read The Giver until now. I won the entire Giver Quartet so I was motivated to read it. And, aren't the new covers beautiful?

Jonas, the main character, lives in a community where no one has to worry about anything. All decisions are carefully made by the committee -- your occupation, your spouse, even your children -- are "given" to you by the Elders. You don't have to worry about choices.

Jonas is perfectly happy with this until, at the Ceremony where he becomes a Twelve and gets his occupation assignment, he is singled out and given a very special occupation. He's to be the Receiver of Memories. The current Receiver is very old and needs someone to take his place.

Receiving memories from the old Receiver (who Jonas calls The Giver) doesn't turn out to be as special as Jonas had hoped. It makes him unhappy and restless. Because he now realizes what he is missing, he wants to change things for everyone, but how?

Jonas makes a bold move to help change the way the community exists. It's dangerous, daring, and frightening.

The Giver is a relatively quick read that is powerful and moves quickly. It is interesting that we are introduced to this society so quickly that the reader really doesn't have time to think. We are almost lulled by the peace and tranquility and seemingly "perfect" existence of the people in this community. The reader only begins to realize right as Jonas does, how totally WRONG everything is. I think this pace is what makes The Giver very special. You really barely catch your breath from the first page to the last. And, the last page leaves many questions as well. Then, you close the book and start thinking....

I'm sure I'm not the first to categorize The Giver as a "must read," but I will jump on that bandwagon. It only takes a few hours, and it's really captivating. Enjoy!

Published by Houghton Mifflin reissue Sept. 25, 2012. Originally published 1993.
Copy won from The Teen Librarian's Toolbox
225 pages (qualifies for my Books You Can Read in a Day Challenge!)

Rating: 5/5





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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: The Crown, by Nancy Bilyeau

The Crown is a historical fiction that fulfilled my need for a story about England in the 1500s. The atmosphere and politics of that time fascinate me.

Joanna, a Dominican novice in 1537, escapes from Dartford Priory when she discovers her cousin and dear friend is going to be burned at the stake in London for being a traitor to King Henry VIII. Joanna is surprised to find her father there, and both she and her father end up in the Tower of London as prisoners for interfering in the execution.

Joanna is eventually release back to her convent after promising Bishop Gardiner that she will secretly search for a mysterious crown with great powers that is supposedly hidden at Dartford. Gardiner is holding Joanna's father at the Tower until she finds the crown. Joanna returns to Dartfort with two displaced monks, Brother Edmond and Brother Richard. Joanna knows the crown was worn by King Athelstan in 937 but not much else.

The Crown becomes a mystery after a murder is committed at the Priory, and an adventure as Joanna, with the help of Brother Edmund, travels the country in search of clues about Athelstan and his crown. The plot weaves expertly from one situation to the next, never confusing, but with subtle complexities and several surprising twists. My only complaint is that too much time is spent on Joanna's internment at The Tower. Nothing that happens during this part has much significance for the rest of the plot, so some of that could have been edited.

All is not what it seems at Dartford.  You would think nuns would be boring, but not these nuns! The Crown  is further complicated by the fact that Cromwell's men are threatening to shutter the priory, as they have done throughout the country. Time is running out, and it seems there is no one Joanna can trust.

I liked Joanna and Brother Edmund. Joanna is clever and brave, but confused and understandably frustrated at times. She's so naive when it comes to the real world because she has been so sheltered. I haven't mentioned Geoffrey Scovill, but he's the "perfect" male character that you wish Joanna would be interested in. There's not much romance, but you definitely WISH there were.

I was excited to find out that The Crown is the first in a series about Joanna Stafford. The next book, The Chalice, is releasing in March of 2013, and it will be at the top of my list!

Fans of historical fiction, and in particular Tudor England, will enjoy The Crown. I would recommend this to teens as well as adults.

Published by Touchstone, September 4. 2012
Copy won from The Broke and the Bookish!
448 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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Monday, October 22, 2012

Audio Book Review: Great House, by Nicole Krauss

Great House just isn't the book for me. I read a great review of Great House, and I know it was a finalist for the National Book Award and has won some other awards, so I wanted to read it.

I don't read much literary fiction, and I could really appreciate the beautiful language and descriptions Krauss uses. Great House is beautifully written, there's no doubt about that. I don't think anyone would disagree with that fact. This is one book that I would have enjoyed being able to re-read certain phrases and descriptions. I found myself listening to the audio, and then thinking, "Wait. What did she just say? I need to hear that again." But I didn't rewind, since I was listening (and usually driving.)

However, if I were reading this book instead of listening, I don't think I would have finished it. The story was confusing and excruciatingly detailed. There are three different stories that are seemingly unrelated. Eventually we realize that these three people are connected by a huge antique desk with many drawers. Each person has an attachment to the desk. (I wondered why the book wasn't titled "Great Desk.")

They are interesting people. There's an author who has written all her novels at the desk. There's an antique dealer from Jerusalem who is looking for the desk. And, there's a lawyer in London whose wife has Alzheimer's  and also used the desk to write. Every story goes into great detail, flashes backwards and forwards, and involves much flowery prose.

I was really looking forward to these relationships all making sense and coming together at the end, which they do -- sort of. The ending just fizzled for me. I needed more explanation and wrap up. After contemplating my feelings, I realized that Great House requires the reader to make connections and draw conclusions on their own. Krauss just doesn't spell everything out for the reader. And, I feel kind of stupid, because I didn't "get it" or, at least not all of it. But, like I said, I don't read a lot of these types of books, so maybe my brain needs some exercising. I probably would have made more sense of the book if I had been able to flip back and forth and do some re-reading.

Each perspective has a different narrator and they were all excellent. I would recommend the audio for that reason, but perhaps having a print copy as back up might be helpful.

As always, this is only my opinion, and I'm giving Great House a rather low rating. But, as I said at the very beginning, I realize this isn't my type of book. Great House was definitely out of my comfort zone, so keep that in mind, because this book has garnered much critical acclaim.

Published by W. W. Norton & Co, 2010 Audiobook by Recorded Books
Audiobook obtained from the library
289 pages

Rating: 2/5




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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do I have Anyrthing to Discuss? I Need to "Back Off"

I've been re-evaluating my reading and blogging. I still love them both, but a couple of things happened that have made me reconsider my blogging habits. First of all, I read this post at Tiny Library about reading very long books. Then a few minutes later, I read a review of For Darkness Shows the Stars, and she talked about how it was a retelling of Persuasion, which I've never read. Then, I started stressing because I was going my state school librarian conference for the weekend, and WHEN was I going to have time to read and blog??? I was really looking forward to that conference. And, I shouldn't have the stress of blogging ruining my conference experience.

As I commented on the Tiny Library post, I have always wanted to read Pillars of the Earth. And there are several other "mammoth" books that I would like to read. I'd also like to read both Persuasion and For Darkness Shows the Stars. I work in a library. Lately I have AVOIDED browsing the shelves, because there are so many books that I wish I could read.

Whaaaaattt?? Why can't I read books I "want" to read? Well, I have this "list" of review books that I "need' to read. Why? Because of some stupid parameters I've set for myself about reading and reviewing new releases.

So. Why did I start to blog? I'm not one of those people that did a lot of research and checked out a lot of other book blogs to figure out how to best design and market my blog. I just did it. I had another blog about my hobbies, and decided I wanted a blog dedicated to books. For me. Because if I write about books, I remember them. And I like reading what others have to say about books. (And, I like being able to read some books before they are released.) But that isn't the main reason I blog. Lately, I've found myself obsessively checking my page views each day. Ugghh. I never wanted to be like that.

There is a happy medium, and I"m going to work harder to find it. I still enjoy reading some ARCs, but it can't be at the expense of reading books I really WANT to read, even classics. I have to stop worrying about posting 6 days a week. Most weeks I post at least 3 reviews, and I really strive for 4. That LIMITS my reading in a way that I don't want it to. So, I have to BACK OFF. I'm going to read and blog. But I'm going to make sure I don't give up reading older books or longer books because of an artificial schedule. So, I'm sure I'll post a lot. But I may skip some days (The horror!!)

I hope you all hang in there with me, and enjoy what I DO post, even if it's not daily. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts.




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Friday, October 19, 2012

Follow Friday--Unusual Genres

Today's question: When you step out of your USUAL genre, what is it you read? Best books in that genre?
Well, since I usually read YA, and I'm a very eclectic reader, I guess "stepping out of my genre" is reading adult books. There are many adult books that I love, Recently I've read 11/22/63 by Stephen King and really enjoyed it. I've enjoyed a few books by Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna and Poisonwood Bible.) Those are a few that come to mind immediately.
This is kind of a hard question because I read almost anything!
I hope you have a great weekend. I'm at my librarians' conference, so commenting may be limited! Thanks for stopping by. I'll catch up next week.
Oh, and thanks to Parajunkee and Alison for hosting! I'm on blogsy on my iPad and I have no idea how to make those hyperlinks. So, hopefully you can find them by googling, if you don't already know them.






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Thursday, October 18, 2012

I'm Off to the ISLMA Conference!

2012 Conference
October 18 - 20, 2012
Pheasant Run Resort
St. Charles, IL

The Illinois School Library Media Association conference starts today. I will be leaving this afternoon and spend the next two days in Librarian Heaven! I love getting to network with other school librarians and the sessions are always great. We have Doug Johnson giving a keynote address. Joyce Valenza will also be speaking.  And a bunch of authors, including Christ Barton, Tom Lichtenheld, James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederic-Frost, and Mathew Cody will be there. Mostly lower grade authors, but that's OK.

I will probably be a little sparse in the blogosphere -- I can't stay totally away, but I'll be tending to other things. I'll fill you in when I get back.

Have a great weekend!




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