Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part IV: "Den of Shadows" series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Title: Den of Shadows Quartet
Author: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Publisher: Laurel-Leaf/Random House, 1999
Where I got it: I bought this at Barnes & Noble.

In the Forests of the Night (Den of Shadows)Set in modern-day New England, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ Den of Shadows Quartet follows various characters who are either a part of or are involved with the vampiric community in Atwater-Rhodes’ world. The first volume, In the Forests of the Night, tells the story of (and is narrated by) the vampire Risika. Alternating between colonial America and present-day Concord, Mass. and New York City, Risika recounts how she transformed from Rachel into the violent being she is today—a powerful and cold predator who holds a grudge against another vampire more powerful than she—the one who began her crossing into the vampire world, and attacked her mortal family. A climactic battle and a surprise reunion keep the plot moving, and add more depth to the characters.
Demon in My View (Den of Shadows)

Subsequent books deal with human and witch characters as well as other vampires, some mentioned in previous volumes. Each one reveals a bit more about the world Atwater-Rhodes has created, but the lives of some characters are only hinted at. It is clear that Atwater-Rhodes has created rich histories for most if not all of her characters, yet we as readers don’t get to see all of them and it can get frustrating.

Another disappointment was the difference of the quality of the books as the series progressed. In the Forests of the Night was told by an introspective character that did not have many relationships, and so the book was not at fault for poor development in that area. In the following volumes, though, the forming of relationships were key plot elements, and they all seemed rushed and unrealistic, especially in the books that can be classified as “school stories.”

Shattered Mirror (Den of Shadows)Atwater-Rhodes gives us an entire underground community of vampires, witches, and humans who are “blood bonded” to vampires (a vampire drinks a human’s blood but not enough to kill him/her, and the human won’t age). Pride is an extremely important aspect of their lives, and the powerful will always try to exert their control over others, often other powerful beings who will fight back. Revenge is also a huge part of their lives, as when a being is beaten or a member of their family hurt, they will seek to regain the upper hand. There is also an intense loyalty between family members, especially siblings.

Midnight Predator (Den of Shadows)Though Atwater-Rhodes was only about 13 years old when she wrote the first volume of the series, it doesn’t really matter. The books don’t deal with the grown-up world, as most of the characters are stuck in their teen years, and so maturity is not an issue. The characters are also all complex, which is an impressive feat for such a young author. The female characters are mostly strong and fierce to contend with, no matter what the competitor’s gender or “race” (be it witch, vampire or human). It’s refreshing to find female characters who don’t depend on anyone but themselves for survival, and who also prove to be dangerous enemies.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin

Before I get down to business, let me just tell you about my most recent bit of press (yes, I said press!). I wrote a Top Ten feature for the Burlington Union, my town's newspaper, and today is the day it was printed! You can check out my picks here. (And I just want to say that I haven't read all the great books out there for teens and younger readers, so I'm sorry if I missed a favorite of yours! Let me know in the comments if you have one you'd put on there.)

Okay, review time. This is a book I read in 6th grade, and I actually don't think I read the whole thing back then. At least, I couldn't remember it very well, though I found that I knew most of the answers and remembered key scenes, so I must have read some of it.

The Westing GameTitle: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publisher: Puffin, 1979
Where I got this: I bought it for my brother years ago and we still have it.

Sam Westing, millionaire, has died and has called together 16 heirs to solve the mystery of the one who took his life. And it was one of those present! The winner receives the inheritance of his entire fortune, $200 million. Paired up and given a set of clues, the heirs must scramble to find the answer before the others in order to win the money.

The set of characters is really quite diverse, and all are quirky and original. All are well rounded and have layers (except maybe Doug Hoo, who is a jock through and through). You might think you know a  character, but then you realize you misjudged them. There is no real main character, though Turtle gets close. We know more about her than any of the others, and follow her story most closely.

The mystery itself is complex and not necessarily a whodunnit. It's obvious Raskin planned out the sequence of events very carefully—it will certainly keep you guessing, and the reader has to be pretty clever in order to figure it out. That said, it IS possible to solve the mystery if you follow the clues closely enough. Watch out for misleading statements if you do try to figure it out!

All in all, this is pretty much the Ultimate mystery for middle grade readers (and probably younger and older ones too). As I was reading, I remembered a lot of the answers, but I don't think I'd have figured it out on my own. Maybe the first answer, but not the ultimate one.

Did you read this when you were younger? How did you do when you tried to solve it, or did you even try to at all?

"Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic, 2010
Where I got it: I borrowed a loaner nook from work (we can do that—more perks to being a bookseller) and I downloaded it onto there. So, e-book.

If you've never heard of this series, and haven't heard anything about the anticipation for this book, you don't pay attention to the book industry. This has been one of the most eagerly awaited books of the year, probably right behind Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Long story short, everyone who keeps up with YA has read, is reading, or is planning to read this last book in Suzanne Collins' bestselling series.

I promise I will not give out any spoilers without making it completely obvious beforehand, but I do think you might be wondering why I am only giving it three stars.

But first: plot summary. By the way, **POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR FIRST TWO BOOKS IN SERIES**. Katniss Everdeen, after being taken out of the custody of the Capitol, is taken to District 13, long believed to be obliterated. What she finds is a strictly organized society and rebel movement. Now the face of the cause, Katniss is the one crucial element the rebels and rebel leaders need for their plan in a Capitol takedown. Katniss needs to figure out where she stands, on all counts.


I think part of the reason I didn't particularly care for this one was the buildup and the hype surrounding the entire series. Yes, it is provocative and addictive, violent and slightly philosophical, but I was never really wowed by anything. There was way too much explanation in the beginning; all exposition, barely any showing as opposed to telling. It fell a little flat for my tastes, and despite the constant action I rarely felt energized. I wasn't attached to any of the new characters introduced, and I slowly stopped caring about a lot of the old characters too, which is never good.

I also thought it got way too preachy at the end. There was absolutely no subtlety; everything was spelled out in black and white, kind of like this comic by Kate Beaton. We understand, it's bad to kill children. You don't need to tell us fifty times in a few different ways.

As for the ending, well, I won't say much, but it's lackluster. I felt it climaxed too soon, and Collins was scrambling to tie up loose ends toward the end. I'm satisfied, but feel like it could have been more. Like most of the book, it fell short.

Now after all this criticism, don't think I hated it. No, I liked it well enough; there were certainly points where I couldn't put it down, one of which almost made me late for work today. If there's one thing Collins knows how to do, it's create suspense. She likes to end her chapters on crazy things that happen out of nowhere, forcing you to turn the page in order to find out how the heck they're going to handle each disaster.

I'm sorry to those of you who are offended by my less-than-stellar review, but I just don't think this book is as great as it's made out to be. It's certainly a worthwhile, thought-provoking and discussion-generating read, but it's not the best book I've read this year. Let's just say that if you had to pick one book to read this year, I'd suggest you not pick this one.

What do you think? Was I unfair, or do you agree?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I've Never Read

Tuesday again! This is a late post, but it's not midnight yet. Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this weekly event gives a rundown of our favorites and... not favorites, I suppose. This week: top ten books I can't believe I've never read. Oh, let me count them.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I know, I know, how can a future children's librarian not have read this? I'll tell you. I've tried to get through it twice, but it never really happened. I now own it and plan on forcing my way through, because it just feels like something I need to do.

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell: It's so short I feel bad not having read it. But it just never came up in school and I always had other things on my list.

3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: I've pretty much been assaulted with this book from every side, what with working in the book industry and all. OH MY GOSH YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BLAH BLAH BLAH. I'm amazed I've held out this long, but it'll happen soon, I wager.

4. Persuasion by Jane Austen: I can't believe I haven't read the shortest book Austen wrote, and one of her better ones to boot. I hope next month I'll get around to it.

5. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: Again, poor excuse for a children's librarian. It will happen someday.

6. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: I feel like everyone has read this but me. I don't really have any desire to read it, but maybe I should.

7. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding: This is the one everyone thinks everyone has read and then they throw out spoilers. I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALA. I don't want to know who dies and how, people.

8. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: I have heard that I must read this from a lot of people. I have it. I have yet to read it. Someday.

9. Shel Silverstein's poetry books: I'm going to make a bad children's librarian if I don't read at least SOME of these classics.

10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster: Another one I feel like every person has read and made a big impact on their childhood. I own it, but I haven't felt the desire to pick it up.

That's it! Most are children's books, and I know I need to get on that. The to-read list just keeps on growing! What are your top ten?

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Monsoon Summer" by Mitali Perkins PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Title: Monsoon Summer
Author: Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Delacorte Press/Random House, 2004
Where I got it: The Barnes & Noble where I work.
Why I read it: I've met Mitali Perkins and thought I should probably read one of her books, especially right before going to one of her signings. Plus I wanted to read it.

15-year-old Jazz has just found out some big news. After receiving a grant, Jazz's mother will finally have the chance to pay back the orphanage in India where she spent her first years by building a clinic. The problem? Jazz, and the rest of her family, will have to join her, spending the entire summer in India and away from her best friend/secret crush Steve, not to mention the booming business they've created. She'll be halfway around the world from everything she knows in Berkeley, California—she knows it's going to be a rough summer, especially with the constant rains of the monsoon season.

But the more time she spends in the country, the more she learns about the culture and half of her own background. She has taken after her large, white father more than her petite Indian mother, and she begins to notice the attention she receives in India as a result. She also forges friendships with girls from different social classes, giving her a larger (and harsher) perspective on the situations that some girls must deal with.

Perkins managed to make this a book about poverty, class, Indian culture, body issues and love, seamlessly weaving all these themes together into one lovely coming-of-age story in which many young adults will see themselves. Jazz deals with all the issues you might expect a teen to encounter: being uncomfortable in her larger body, having a multiracial background, trying to live up to the legacy her mother has created, falling in love with her best friend, and fitting in to a new and foreign environment. Jazz's voice is also just spunky enough while staying realistic.

I love the lush descriptions of India and its people. As someone who has never been to Asia, I appreciated all of the details and explanations Perkins included. She doesn't shy away from describing the poverty in the country, mentioning children suffering from malnutrition and including a scene of a teen mother mourning the choice she must make to give her newborn child to the orphanage.

Yet this is certainly a hopeful story, one that encourages generosity and giving of yourself to make the world a better place. I know Mitali wants to make a difference with her literature, and this will certainly inspire at least some readers to think about what they can do for those less fortunate than they are. At the very least, it will provide a great story with real, likable characters.


If you have been looking at my number of followers, you'll notice that, oh my goodness! I finally have 50!

This calls for a celebration. I will be giving away a SIGNED copy of Monsoon Summer, which I got at the book launch party for Mitali Perkins' newest book, Bamboo People (look out for a review on this one too). Not only did she sign a ton of books, she was kind enough to give everyone a lovely bamboo bookmark from Thailand as well. (It has an elephant plated at the top—it is quite nice!) I will be giving away this copy, along with the bookmark, to thank you all for following. This giveaway will end at 11:59 p.m. ET on September 1, 2010.

To enter, just fill out the form below.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "The Boy Who Owned the School" by Gary Paulsen

You know when you're little you don't really pay too much attention to authors unless you really love the book? Or at least don't know who the authors are? This was what happened with me when I read The Boy Who Owned the School. I hadn't read any Gary Paulsen before and thus it didn't register that, hey, this book was written by the guy who wrote Hatchet (which I only read recently).

I think I originally read this for a book report on a humor book. Remember those? Vague descriptions of what type of book to read for the report? Yeah, that stunk to wade through everything to pick something that fit the teacher's idea of what a humor book (or whatever) should be. I didn't remember a whole lot of this, except for the climactic scene which I remembered with perfect clarity, for some reason.

I found this again at the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale (which, if you're near Ithaca, NY you should totally check out) and picked it up on a whim.

Without further ramblings from me, here is this week's Throwback Thursday:

Author: Gary Paulsen
Publisher: Dell Yearling, 1990
Where I got it: As I mentioned above, the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale.

Disaster seems to follow Jacob Freisten around, especially when people pay attention to him. As a result, he does his best to stay unnoticed at all times, with mixed results. This is all complicated by the fact that a) his sister is a drop-dead gorgeous beauty queen who calls him Buttwad (gross), and b) he is in love with the most popular girl in school, Maria Tresser.

Unfortunately, he is noticed by his English teacher, who tells him he's in danger of failing her class. She gives him the chance to save himself with extra credit by working the fog machine in the school's production of The Wizard of Oz, for which Maria just happens to be playing the Wicked Witch. He just wants to get through this without humiliating himself in front of the girl of his dreams (again), but he worries he's destined for failure in all he does.

I didn't remember this story being so dark. I don't know if it was because I didn't notice it when I was younger, or if I even understood what was happening, but there are a lot of questionable elements in Jacob's family life. Jacob lives in the basement, which is usually so humid that his posters refuse to stay on the wall, while his sister gets a huge room upstairs, not only with a real bed (Jacob has a cot) but with a couch too. His parents concentrate almost completely on his sister, and sort of neglect Jacob. I know it was meant to be presented as humorous, what with Murphy's law reigning supreme, but still. I certainly wouldn't want to be Jacob.

I also was disturbed by the light way in which Paulsen throws in certain issues. Jacob's parents have a certain penchant for drink ("Not enough to be alcoholics, and they didn't abuse him, but it was enough so that he didn't really know them except as drinkers" [7]). They pretty much drink all the time. I like wine as much as the next person, but I'm not constantly with a glass in my hand. Paulsen also throws in (so quickly you almost don't catch it) that Jacob has thought about suicide (51).

Again, I know this is meant to be an exaggeration and that it's meant to be funny because EVERYTHING goes wrong for him, but it still just rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not saying don't let your kids read this, I'm just saying I didn't care for it that much.


Just so you know, everything turns out just fine in the end, with some minor (okay, maybe major) mishaps during the performance. He gets the girl, his mom pays him some attention, and he has a better life than before the play. Everyone is happy.

This was kind of funny, but not one I'd recommend, to be honest. Paulsen has written some great stuff, but I just wasn't feeling this one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Days of Little Texas" by R.A. Nelson

Title: Days of Little Texas
Author: R.A. Nelson
Publisher: Knopf, 2009
Where I got it: My local libary.
Why: I saw it on the horror shelf, read the flap and was intrigued.

Little Texas is not a place, but a person—16-year-old revivalist preacher Ronald Earl, hailed as a boy wonder and a faith healer. Since the age of 10, he has been preaching as part of the Hand of God ministry, headed by his great-aunt Miss Wanda Joy and in the company of Sugar Tom, an old evangelist preacher, and Certain Certain, descendant of slaves and Ronald Earl's confidante and best friend.

During one healing, he is struck by a girl in a blue dress he heals. She looks like a girl from dreams he's been having and can't shake the thought of her after they leave that small town. But then he sees her at the next meeting, and again, and again. Is she following him? Who is this mysterious girl in blue? And the question that plagues Ronald Earl most of all: is she even human?

The plot is what drives the story of Ronald Earl (aka Little Texas) and Lucy (the girl in the blue dress). The descriptions of the scary bits are great and definitely get your heart pumping. There were parts where I couldn't put the book down. But then again, once I did put it down I didn't feel too compelled to pick it up right away. I don't know if it was just my mood or the fact that I didn't necessarily have large chunks of time in which to read it. I broke it up too much and disturbed the flow of the story, making it less of a compelling read for me.

I am happy to say there are deeper issues and themes present within the story. Mainly a horror story, we follow Ronald Earl through his realizations of his own beliefs and his doubts of his faith. He is certainly a devout Christian who believes everything very strongly, yet he is growing into a man and, as it happens, begins to get urges that he sees as sinful and unholy.

I wasn't sure how Nelson would handle the Christian aspect of this book, especially once it's clear that it has a number of supernatural elements, one of which is the presence of ghosts. Yet Nelson never demeans Christianity, which I was afraid he would do; on the contrary, he seems to hold Ronald Earl up as a hero of the light. He certainly takes liberties within the story, as is the case with supernatural novels, but he is never condescending. Ronald Earl's faith is quite inspiring, though I wouldn't go so far as to say this book is a good example of Christian fiction (it's not at all). I think there is some doubt at the very end in Ronald Earl's mind about his faith, which just confused me; it is so out of place in the context of Ronald Earl's previous actions and thoughts.


Nelson also delves into issues like racism, as slavery plays a huge role in the plot. It almost bordered on saccharine toward the end, but there were some good messages about owning some of the responsibility for what happened in the past. As Certain Certain says, "It's what we all owe, Lightning [his name for Ronald Earl]. You know what I'm sayin'? Ain't enough just to say, 'Wasn't me, wasn't you'" (69). Lucy agrees later on: "I know, we didn't do it, we weren't alive back then...but we've benefited, right? From what our ancestors did? Even all these years later?" (371). It's at least an acknowledgement of white privilege, even if it gets a little schmaltzy. That, I think, is a start.

As for the characters, I felt they could have been more rounded out. Ronald Earl is kind of boring, to be honest, despite all the praise he gets from EVERYONE, including the ghosties. He's full of light, but he's still kind of dull. And the romance between him and Lucy was just so unbelievable to me. I still don't understand why Lucy loves him—where did she even get the information about him? Is it just because she's a ghost and knows stuff she wouldn't otherwise? And does Ronald Earl's love for Lucy just stem from his lust for her? I just don't buy it, and that's after I've suspended my disbelief to a large extent in the first place.

Miss Wanda Joy is pretty transparent. She claims to be a firm and devout believer, but it's clear she doesn't have the conviction Ronald Earl has. She's out to get enough money for them to live comfortably, especially toward the end. She is not a very good example of a Christian, in my opinion.

Also, what the heck was up with Faye? She was ALL OVER Ronald Earl and, after her role was played in the plot, she was barely mentioned again. I felt like she was just a plot device and had no value to the book other than as a source of information.

ANYWAY. I think that sums it all up. It was enjoyable, though I had trouble getting through it for whatever reason; I just wasn't feeling it at the time. But if you're looking for a ghost story with a different flavor, check this one out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Top Ten Book Blogs

It's Top Ten Tuesday again! Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, for which I am a writer, it's a time to reflect on favorites and unfavorites (new word). This week: top ten book blogs! (Psst... you should go to The Broke and the Bookish to link back to your own list, using Mr. Linky!)

This is going to be a little difficult, but here I go.

1. what claudia wore: This blog is hilarious. Here, blogger Kim revisits our favorite babysitters and the fashions they wore, with Claudia being the hero of the day.

2. Are you there, youth? It's me, Nikki: Another blog hearkening back to yesteryear. Nikki recaps old series favorites (like BSC and spinoff series California Diaries) and then snarks about it afterward. Posts are long but so worth it.

3. The Broke and the Bookish: You know I had to. Plus this is actually very fun to read; lots of different views and genres here.

4. Good Books & Wine: April gives fantastic reviews (mostly YA, which I love) and manages to do it in her own style without compromising. She's also really funny.

5. A Mug of Moxie: Another great YA review blog. Short reviews that are both engaging and informative. Hooray!

6. Writing From the Tub - My Life as a Writer In Bath: Great reviews and analysis. It's in-depth without being boring.

7. Forever Young Adult: Reviews of YA books for adults, yaayyy!! It's a very clever blog with a really unique way of reviewing titles—rating them as if the reader and the book are in a relationship. Plus, again, it's hilarious.

8. Boston Book Bums: These people are just awesome. Outstanding reviews from all different genres, not to mention they're from my hometown. :) Plus they're awesome to talk to on Twitter!

9. YA Highway: This not only has great reviews, there are posts that make you really think about the book industry and issues that go along with it. Most recent in my mind is the post "Windows and Mirrors: Stories Without Borders" (see here:

10. To Read or Not To Read: I just really like this one. :) The reviews are great and I hear about books I wouldn't otherwise know about.

BONUS: You should all read Dibbly Fresh, which looks back and snarks on all sorts of things from the '90s, including books. Especially the movies in a minute, which are not only hilarious but explore the '90s culture a bit.

Of course there are many more blogs that I love, but I only had room for 10. Do you have any book blogs that you love?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On The Broke and the Bookish: "Sisters Red" by Jackson Pearce

Today is my day to review on The Broke and the Bookish! Here is my review reposted here for all you readers who don't yet follow The Broke and the Bookish (if that's the case you should fix that now!).

Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pearce
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Where I got it: I got it through InterLibrary Loan.
Why I read this book: I read about it in a Ypulse interview with the author and liked the sound of it. Fractured fairy tales have always been an interest of mine.

Sisters Scarlett and Rosie March are hunters. They track and kill the Fenris, werewolf-like monsters that hunt and prey on young women (obviously not Twilight-esque, dreamy werewolves). Ever since one attacked her and Rosie as children and took her eye, Scarlett is determined to kill as many Fenris as she can. Rosie feels it's her duty to her sister to fight alongside her, even though she longs for a life outside of the hunt. Meanwhile, their friend Silas, a woodsman who has been their neighbor, playmate and fellow hunter through the years, returns from California to join them again in their self-appointed quest.

Yet all of a sudden, more and more wolves are found in their small Georgia town of Ellison, and even more in nearby Atlanta. Why are they coming back in such numbers? They're looking for something, or someone, but what? A determined Scarlett, somewhat reluctant Rosie, and loyal Silas decide it's their duty to find out and hunt them all down. Things get even more complicated when Rosie discovers she's falling for the woodsman, her sister's partner and only friend, aside from her.

This fractured version of "Little Red Riding Hood," narrated alternately by Scarlett and Rosie, has a whole lot of action. From the very beginning, we get to the wolves and the fighting, and it doesn't really stop until the end. Scarlett and Rosie are some pretty awesome butt-kickers—they're deadly with their weapon of choice (Scarlett a hatchet, Rosie daggers). Silas is also someone not to trifle with.

The characters are all believable, though they seemed a little underdeveloped to me. I could see why Scarlett is the way she is, all fight and passion when it comes to the wolves, but a little distant when it comes to people. Rosie is a sympathetic character, someone who feels obligated to a certain way of life because she was saved by the one she follows, yet wants something more. It's hard to judge Silas in the same way, however, since we are never inside his head. I never really understood him completely; it would have been nice to get more information about him, like about his relationships with his siblings (who no longer speak to him) and with his father. But for the purpose of the story we get enough.

My problems with it start from maybe 50 pages in. Yes, there's a lot going on, but I didn't feel like there was any real point or direction in which the story was headed until about halfway through. It just seemed like Scarlett wanted to kill Fenris and Rosie didn't really, but went along with it anyway, and that would be it. It finally all came together, but it took too long in my opinion.

I would also have liked more information on the mythology of the world in which the book takes place. We keep hearing that Pa Reynolds (Silas' father) knew everything there is to know about Fenris, but we don't really hear any legends. Just that they lure and slaughter young women, don't have any souls, and travel in packs. It would have been nice to know more about them. I also got super frustrated with how long it took them to figure out what was going on; but that's just a pet peeve of mine. I hate knowing the answer and waiting for the characters to figure it out too.

Even though there are some flaws in the plot, the main characters are strong and admirable women who don't need a prince to save them, and that always wins points in my book. They're their own people and don't take anything lying down.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part III: "Peeps" by Scott Westerfeld

Here's another review from my vampire project!

Title: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin Group, 2006
Where I got it: I borrowed it from a friend.

In Scott Westerfeld’s vampire world, vampirism is not some mystical transformation and existence. Vampires aren’t seductive, they can’t control the minds of their victims, and their beauty is quickly outweighed by the repulsiveness that surrounds them. In Peeps, vampirism is caused by a parasite. It turns the infected into insane cannibals who, through some scientific explanation, are repulsed by anything familiar to them (called the anathema) and therefore try to get as far away as possible from the life they led pre-parasite.

The first book follows Cal, a 19-year-old guy who was infected with the virus but is only a carrier—he gets the benefits of the parasite (night vision, super strength, and can eat as much as he wants without gaining a pound) without the anathema and the whole eating-humans thing. Now he works for the Night Watch, an underground government agency that tracks down parasite-positives, or peeps. Unfortunately, Cal has given the parasite to every girl he’s been with (it’s passed on through kissing and intercourse) since he caught it the night he lost his virginity—and because of this, he has to remain completely celibate or create more peeps. But recently there’s been a spike in the amount of peep sightings, and Cal’s not really sure why. Not to mention some strange cats that seem to have the virus, and rumblings from deep within the earth that are not just from the subway…

Vampire folklore is explained quickly by Cal toward the beginning. Peeps can see their reflection, but because of the anathema, they can’t stand to look at themselves (they’ll smash all mirrors and reflective surfaces near them to avoid their own faces); the anathema also explains peeps’ cruciphobia (fear of crucifixes), since back in medieval times church was a major part of everyone’s life; and it’s pretty easy to see where the blood-drinking idea came from.

Westerfeld’s scientific explanation of how vampires are created can be summed up in a word: sick. I mean that in both the original meaning of the word (disgusting) and in the more modern slang (incredibly awesome). He alternates chapters that deal with plot and chapters about different parasites, obviously relishing in delicious details of what makes us sick, and how it relates to Cal’s discoveries. This is a great read not only for vampire fans, but for anyone interested in biology or just a good mystery.

A note on Peeps’ sequel, The Last Days: It’s nice to see the aftermath of what turns out to be an apocalyptic event and to see returning characters, but it’s easy to get bored with the plot (five teens make up a new band) and to get annoyed with the new main characters and their made-up slang. It was a disappointment, to say the least.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "Bunnicula" by Deborah and James Howe

So, here we are in another Thursday. So close to the end of the week! And to help you through it, here's my latest Throwback Thursday:

Title: Bunnicula
Authors: Deborah and James Howe
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Aladdin Paperbacks, 1979
Where I got it: I got this one from Barnes & Noble, originally to reread for a vampire paper I wrote in college (I've mentioned it here before).

I know you're all dying to know my history with this book, so I'll give you a quick summary. I read this for the first time way long ago, I don't even remember when, and read some of its sequels. I then used it in a paper I wrote about vampires and children's/young adult literature in my junior year of college, thus reacquainting me with the lovable vegetable sucker. Today? I needed a beloved book from childhood that was super short because I had to read it in a morning in order to get this post up. Hooray for Bunnicula and less than 100 pages!

This is the peculiar story of a dog, a cat, and a newcomer with extremely strange eating habits. Of course, I am talking about Harold, Chester and little Bunnicula, the suspected vampire bunny.

Harold tells this story to us from his own perspective, as true as he can remember all the details. He doesn't mind the newcomer, but Chester, being a remarkably well-read cat with a highly active imagination, begins to suspect what Bunnicula could be almost from the moment he is brought home by their family (the Monroes) after they find him in a movie theater (showing Dracula). What else could explain the bunny sleeping through the daylight and the drained, white vegetables all over the kitchen? Chester is dead set on proving to Harold and his family that Bunnicula is, indeed, a creature of the night. His attempts, taken straight out of vampire lore (garlic is his first idea), get Chester into some fine messes, as well as completely failing to accomplish anything. In the meantime, Harold becomes quite fond of Bunnicula. The dog eventually decides he must protect his new friend from his old one.

I honestly love all of the animal characters in this book. Harold describes himself as "smart—but just not the scholarly type" (39-40). This is pretty perfect. Harold is quite intelligent and dignified—he is able to translate the "obscure dialect of the Carpathian Mountain region" (9) in which the note found along with Bunnicula is written, but he has to ask Chester what a parrot is. He is the lovable, dignified and kind-hearted one, honest in his descriptions and looking out for everyone's best interests. Chester, on the other hand, consumes himself with proving his theory, which he formed through his extensive reading. How often in your reading travels do you find a cat who is also a bookworm? I love that.

Bunnicula is also adorable. It's impossible not to love him. Yeah, he might be a veggie-sucker and can creepily get out of his cage without opening any doors, but come on. COME ON. He's a bunny! With a twitchy nose! And he is nothing but gentle and considerate to his new family, even if he is a little boring to play with (according to Harold). Plus, the illustrations! Go take another look at the cover and tell me you don't just want to hold him.

This book is really funny, too. Stake ≠ steak, Chester. Harold's narration also provides a lot of humor, since he tells it from the perspective of a dog—he often mentions his love of food (especially chocolate cupcakes) and his complete incomprehension of the way cats and humans go about their business. Plus, Chester and his therapy at the end is priceless.

As far as actual analysis goes, I really love the element of the uncanny here. We never really find out if Bunnicula is actually what Chester and Harold suspect he is (though one could probably assume). Is it just Chester's completely overactive imagination? Or is there more to this little guy that the Monroes don't see?

This is definitely a great read-aloud or gift for kids. It's short, funny, unique, and just plain fun. Plus there are six more books after this one. Hooray!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith" by Deborah Heiligman

Author: Deborah Heiligman
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co., 2008
Where and why: I saw this on display at my local library. I heard it had won a few awards and was curious about it, so I checked it out.

Deborah Heiligman takes on the challenge of writing a biography of one of the most famous scientists in history and his beloved wife, for young readers. But this isn't just a cut and dry book about science and religion—it's a love story that succeeded against all odds.

This was a great overview of the Darwins' life together. Emma was a devoted Christian, and Charles was a devoted scientist with serious doubts about God; yet they managed to make it work, so great was their love for each other. We start off with Darwin's famous pros and cons list of marriage, moving on to his first failed engagement, and finally into his marriage with Emma. Heiligman shows her readers why Emma was such a devoted Christian, why Charles couldn't believe like she did, and how they somehow met in the middle. We share their joy in the births of the children and their sorrow during death, up to the end of their own lives.

It is aimed at the young-adult reading level, and the writing was spot-on for that demographic, but I'm just wondering how many sixth-graders are going to want to read an entire 232-page book about Charles and Emma Darwin. It took me a while to get through it, and I'm in my 20s.

I did really enjoy how Heiligman delved into how the Darwins dealt with the fact that their spiritual beliefs differed so greatly, and yet they were so in love for the duration of their lives. It's a beautiful story, really. At the time I read it I could identify with some aspects of it too, and it really put my own situation into perspective.

Heiligman also does a wonderful job at characterizing these historical figures. We see Darwin's brilliance and his humor, his virtues as well as his faults; we see Emma's passion and devotion, her love and loyalty for her family. It's clear she wants her readers to get to know her subjects, instead of just learning about them.

All in all, this was a great biography for younger readers—the only problem was that it dragged a bit in some places for me, and so I immediately thought of how middle schoolers would take to it. Provided they can get through it, they'll certainly learn a lot about the Darwins and what they put themselves up against. I would even recommend this to adults who are interested in learning more about the famous couple.

My very own Top Ten Tuesday!

Well hello there! Nice to see you all again after a few days. Today is my Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish, and I know you're all dying to know my top ten hated characters.

Instead of reposting my list, I thought I'd just let you all check it out straight from the source.

Let me know what you think! Also, don't forget to share your own top ten list. Just use Mr. Linky at the bottom over there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part II: "The Silver Kiss" by Annette Curtis Klause

Time for my second Vampire Weekend book review! This week:

Author: Annette Curtis Klause
Publisher: Random House Laurel Leaf, 1992
Where and why: I bought this from Barnes & Noble. I originally read this for a paper I wrote on teen vampire novels for my Gothic Lit class when I was a junior in college, a paper which eventually grew into an independent project the next year.

Simon is the last thing Zoё expects to enter her life. Trying to cope with her mother’s illness and the inattention of her grief-stricken father, Zoё mechanically goes through her daily routine of school and returning to the solitude of her empty house, always waiting for the phone call informing her of her mother’s death. But when she sees the silver boy at the park and later downtown, she allows herself to get caught up in another’s past and pain.
After centuries of hunting, Simon is nearer to carrying out his revenge on the monster that killed his mother. But he can’t let go of the fact that he is one of these same monsters—a vampire. When he meets Zoё, however, he is able to feel an emotion other than the hatred he’s carried with him for so long, one that could put her in much more danger than she would ever dream possible.
Ultimately about grief and the acceptance of death, The Silver Kiss is a love story between a mortal girl and a creature of the night, something typical in the teen vampire genre. Perhaps not so stereotypical is Zoё’s complexity—she has problems of her own, and her interactions with Simon allow her to come to terms with them. Neither of the two main characters is perfect; both are flawed and on occasion lack common sense (especially Simon during his final attempt at vengeance).
It may be because The Silver Kiss is one of the earliest teen vampire books I’ve found, but the vampire lore in this book closely follows old stereotypes, something I've noticed isn't usually the case in the genre. Vampires drink blood, can’t stand sunlight, shape-shift, mesmerize victims, need to be invited inside a house in order to enter, and are repelled by crucifixes, among other things. A difference that seems to become common in more recent times is that fangs are retractable, only emerging when a vampire is about to feed.
What makes this book stand out to me is the vampire’s desire to reenter the human life cycle. Simon is tortured by the fact that he can’t die and must live with himself, trying to live off of animals but sometimes killing humans in order to survive. It has a bittersweet ending that gives the characters (and the readers) a sense of closure that other vampire books don’t. Despite some hiccups in the development of the relationship and of the plot, The Silver Kiss is a good contribution to the genre and an alternative for readers who wanted a bit more depth from series like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "Sarah Bishop" by Scott O'Dell

Time again for another Throwback Thursday, my own creation in which I look back at books I read when I was little. This week's selection:

Author: Scott O'Dell
Publisher: Scholastic, 1980
Where I got it: The first copy I got from when the site was new and exciting. The second copy I got from the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale. (It was as many books as you could fit into a plastic shopping bag for a dollar. I saw it and had to, since I think it's out of print.)
Why I read it: I was a huge Scott O'Dell fan and read a lot of his books when I was younger.

Sarah Bishop is a 15-year-old girl caught in the middle of the Revolutionary War. Not for one side or the other, she is full of anger at the deaths she has had to endure and the war that caused them. Alone, she sets off as there is nothing left for her at her farm on Long Island. But she is soon accused of a crime she didn't commit and, on the run, decides to survive in the wilderness with nothing but her musket for company. Sarah decides that she will create her own fate.

This is a war story, a survival story and a coming-of-age story all rolled into one neat package by O'Dell. What I love most about his writing is that it's very blunt and to-the-point without sacrificing style, suspense or characterization. He manages to keep you riveted without long, unnecessary descriptions or flowery language. Simple sentences with complex themes, perfect for a younger reader.

Sarah is a strong heroine who knows her own mind and isn't afraid to protect herself, no matter who she's dealing with. She tends to distrust people, often a little too late, but manages to keep herself out of life-threatening danger (for the most part). I recognized a lot more in this reading than the first time I read it, mostly that Sarah is not as tough as she portrays herself to be. She is really very lonely, and frightened most of the time; she just hides it well. We only see this because she is telling us her story.

I really liked that there isn't a romance in this, though one could argue there is an interest later on in the book, but I wouldn't go that far myself. O'Dell excelled at writing strong female characters that don't depend on men to support and protect them, women who were fine on their own. A romance would have gotten in the way.

The thing I remembered the most before my rereading was how Sarah's father is a Tory. This had been completely new to me—I had always learned about the Revolutionary War from a fairly biased viewpoint. It was the first indication that Tories existed as good people and not as triators to the Revolution. But this book is not for any particular side in the war; in fact, it is largely anti-war. It reminds me a lot of My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier in that respect, which would be a good choice for a reader who liked the Revolutionary War aspect of this book.

This isn't my very favorite O'Dell (that one is reserved for Island of the Blue Dolphins of course, though I might have to do a Throwback Thursday for that one and see), but it is still exceptional in the historical fiction genre. It's based on a true story, as Sarah Bishop was a real girl, and O'Dell puts this in an author's note at the beginning, which wins him major points. I would have liked to know more about her actual life, but I guess that is what research is for!

Sorry this TT post is a little late, but hey! I made it on Thursday still! Hooray for me.

Throwback Thursday delay

Hi all, just a quick note to say that I do plan on posting a Throwback Thursday selection (this week: Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell), but it will be a little late. I haven't finished rereading it yet, and I have super limited Internet access since I'm visiting an uncle in Michigan who doesn't even have a computer, let alone wi-fi. I managed to get to a Panera to post these, so hooray. Hopefully I'll find another site with wi-fi soon and I can post it!

"The Poison Diaries" by Maryrose Wood

Title: The Poison Diaries
Author: Maryrose Wood
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2010
Where and why: I got this as an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) from the Barnes & Noble I work at. I read it because I’ve heard about it through the blogosphere, and since it was a new release I thought I’d check it out.

Jessamine Luxton lives with her father, a plantsman, as he refers to himself, and their many gardens. Among these is a dark and dangerous chained-up apothecary, where her father keeps his most deadly specimens, and where Jessamine has been forbidden to enter for as long as she can remember. But things change when a strange and beautiful boy named Weed joins them at their cottage, a boy who seems to have passionate sensibilities when it comes to plants. Who is this boy, and what is his secret? Could it change the way Jessamine sees the world forever?

I had quite a few issues with this book, the foremost of which is the pacing. This book is incredibly slow and there isn’t any rising action until about halfway through. I’ve read in reviews that it picks up, so I kept at it, but I was never really interested in what was happening. It all just seemed dull, even when someone’s life was on the line. It probably didn’t help that I knew Weed’s secret before it was revealed—I can’t remember if I read it in a synopsis or a review, but that large mystery was just something for me to be impatient about. It would have been much better if I was forced to wonder about it before the revelation.

The language itself was lyrical and gentle, which I enjoyed at first, but I think this was part of the reason why I felt it was so slow. There was hardly any tension, and no suspense. Not to mention there were FAR too many plant similes. It was cute at first, but it’s unnecessary to do it every time something is described.

The characters weren’t developed enough, except for maybe Jessamine, who tells the story through most of the book. I didn’t see enough layers in the characters to be satisfied, and as a result I wasn’t very invested in their fates. And even so, the ending was largely unsatisfactory for me. The romance was also pretty predictable and schmaltzy.
I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it. If I were a botanist I might enjoy it more, and if I hadn’t known a huge plot point ahead of time I’m sure I’d have been more entertained and curious. But as it stands, though it has a unique and intriguing concept, this was a largely unremarkable book.

EDIT: I just found out this is the first in a trilogy, which makes the ending better for me. I'm not sure if I'll continue, but maybe it will get better with the next installment.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Peace, Locomotion" by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Peace, Locomotion
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Putnam, 2009
Where and why: I got this from my library when I saw it on the shelf, because I loved its predecessor, Locomotion.

This book continues the story of Lonnie Collins Motion, or Locomotion, told in the letters he writes to his younger sister, Lili. He has been living with Miss Edna, his foster mother, for 2 years at the start of the book, and is starting to feel more and more like he is a part of the family; yet, this causes him to begin questioning the meaning of family, and whether his old one is more important than the new one. This is all happening while his foster mother's youngest biological son, Jenkins, is fighting in the Middle East. When Jenkins eventually returns, broken in body, mind and spirit, Lonnie is forced to confront the issues of war, trauma and acceptance.

I originally was going to rate this lower than Locomotion because of the lack of verse, which I still think causes this book to lose some of the sparkle Locomotion has. However, as I got further and further into this short volume, I couldn't bring myself to give this less than 4 stars. The prose is so beautiful, and Lonnie is one of the most gentle and understanding characters I've come across in YA literature. He is incredibly perceptive, and has wisdom beyond his years because of everything he's seen and been through. He understands Jenkins' post-traumatic stress, as he went through something like it after the death of his own parents.

It's clear how much Lonnie loves Lili in the language he uses when speaking to her through his writing. He protects her, sees their mother in her, watches the goodness she radiates and relates it back to her in a touchingly loving way.

Yet, despite all the beauty and sensibility of the language, Woodson manages to give Lonnie a voice that is believable as well as profound. He sounds exactly like a 12-year-old who is confronting the meaning of family, peace and moving on.

Lonnie continues to explore the meaning of family, and what constitutes one. He fears forgetting his parents and wishes for his old life with his biological family, yet he hates the idea of never being a part of the one made up of Miss Edna, his foster brother Rodney, and eventually Jenkins.

Woodson deftly and delicately discusses the consequences and ethics of war through Lonnie, with her perfect audience being those in late elementary and middle school. What is just? Is war ever okay? Lonnie struggles with this, knowing that praying for peace is all he can do. As Rodney tells him, "You pray for peace, all the rest of the stuff comes. If there was peace, nobody would be getting hurt or killed or jacked up in a war, right? ... Peace covers everything, Little Brother. Everything" (40-41). Lonnie prays for peace and advocates peace, to his little sister, and to us.

Though I did miss the poetry present in Locomotion, this companion novel delves into heavy issues with grace and language that young readers can understand. With a harsh background of loss and violent pasts, Peace, Locomotion is beautiful in its spareness and simplicity, making it a worthy addition to any library.
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