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The Thing About Clownfish…

21 Mar

Ok, guys. I hardly ever recommend gift books. In fact, I can’t think of one I’ve ever mentioned but I want to RAVE about this little gem of a thing from Maja Safstrom. It’s amazing. And everyone, everyone should buy one and put it on their tables or by their toilets or in their nurseries or guest rooms. It is full of AMAZING animal facts that will delight child and adult alike.

illustrated

The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts comes out on March 26th and is a small (maybe 6in by 6in) hardcover full of these perfect drawing accompanied by tidbits of information, 90% of which I’m sure you didn’t know. The only image of the inside I could find came from Maja’s Instagram account and is this:

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Maybe you knew this, I didn’t! Here is my favorite tidbit. Maybe not favorite but one that surprised me the most: “All Clownfish are born male. When the female Clownfish in a group dies, the most dominant male will turn into a female to take her place.” Who knew? 5 very big stars.

 

Too Few Hours in the Day

12 Mar

If you thought this would be a post about how I have no time to read lately, you’d be wrong! I’ve been reading quite a bit, just can’t find the time to blog about it. Hopefully I can catch you up sort of quickly. No real order to these, except I’m saving my favorite of the bunch for last.

pax

Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a new middle reader, targeted towards the 8-12 age range. About a boy and his pet fox, Pax. At the start of the novel, the boy and the fox are separated – the boy’s father drops him off in the wilderness and drives away. Both creatures are devastated. Set during WWII, the chapters alternate between the domesticated fox surviving in the wild and the young boy, determined to find his pet/best friend again. Would it be weird to say that this story feels like the cover looks? Very burnt orange and brown. Probably a weird thing to say. Anyway. There are lots of things to love about this story, perfect for any serious young readers out there (meaning, lots of drama and character development, not a whole lot of funny). 4 stars

salt

I guess we’ll be moving up in age as this one, Salt to the Sea, is a young adult novel (ages 12+). Also set during WWII, based on the true story of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff. There are four narrators in this tale, alternating “chapters” (if you can call them that, each one is at MOST two pages). I can’t remember the names/particulars of each character  – two are young men/boys (one, a soldier aboard the ship who is the most weasel-y character ever and the other either a deserter or a spy, depending) and the other two are young girls (one, a nurse and the other a pregnant refugee). All four find themselves making their way towards the harbor and, eventually, the Wilhelm Gustloff. I’ve read all of Ruta Sepetys’ novels, and Between Shades of Gray is definitely the very best, but this is a close second. 4 stars.

ForAuthorWebsite.indd

Note to self: don’t take a novel based on Charles Manson and his “Girls” into the delivery room. I had the weirdest dreams thanks to this one, my poor baby will probably have dreams about joining a commune. This book comes out over the summer (June 14th) and has been getting insane amount of hype in the book world. To be completely honest, although I knew of Charles Manson before starting it, I had to google to find out exactly what his deal was. I think if I had known or had memories of this time in history, I would have loved this book a little bit more. I found it a compulsive read, but not one that particularly wowed me. Told from the point of view of a young girl from a breaking/broken home who finds friendship in the dirty commune ruled by a man named Russell. She is always kind of on the outside, but finds herself falling deeper and deeper into the messed up actions of Russell’s gang. 3 stars.

spill

This book is beautiful. The cover and the writing, so superb. But the story itself is a little bizarro. Spill Simmer Falter Wither (aka Spring Summer Fall Winter – how beautiful is that?) is the story of a Quasimodo-ish man and the only creature he’s ever loved – a one-eyed dog called OneEye. It’s a very dark, twisted story but if you love a beautifully written novel that’s a little heavy and a little sad and a little salty, you’d fawn over this. Ray, the narrator, lives in the house he grew up in, isolated from the world due to his humped back and swinging arms and “wonkety” legs. He adopts a similarly wonkety dog, OneEye, to ward off the rats he thinks are scurrying around the attic. Then a series of events occur that force the man and dog to flee the safety of their home and town. 3 stars.

beforethefall

Here it is, my favorite of this bunch. Noah Hawley wrote another novel I liked that didn’t do much. It was called The Good Father and was about the father of a young boy who shot up a school (if I’m remembering right). It was good, but a little less shocking that The Truth About Kevin, which I had read just before. This one is totally different. I didn’t know much about it before I started reading, and I was reading it on my phone courtesy of NetGalley, so after the private plane crashed in the opening pages, I had no idea what sort of story I was in for. A private plane crashes above the ocean, ten miles-ish off the coast of New York. On the plane was the well-to-do exec of a news channel along with his wife and two children, their body-guard, another wealthy couple, and a painter. The painter and one of the young children survive the crash And Then…. I’ll tell you that this story didn’t go where I thought it would, that where it went was unexpected and perfect and that this novel perfectly defines the phrase Literary Thriller. Not a thriller at all, per se, but with enough questions and twists to keep you guessing. 4.5 stars.

 

I have a lot of great things lined up that should keep me busy for the next couple of weeks/months, hopefully some REALLY GREAT things are to come but truth be told it’s been a slow start to the year in terms of the really amazing. I’ll also be adding a Book Club tab to the site so you can see what my two book clubs are reading as we read them. Mostly because by the end of the year we never can remember, this way they’ll all be in one place.

 

A New Project, Week 1

17 Oct

This past Saturday was my first back at the bookstore and boy was it glorious. 4 complete hours of talking to adults and thinking about books. In order to fill a Saturday gap, I’ve been asked to brush up on my Middle Reader (ages 8-12) and Young Adult reading so that I can help those customers on Saturdays. It’s nice to have a project. I came up with a big long list of books that piqued my interest and am setting about to read them week to week (at least for the first few weeks). I’m going to bundle them on here weekly, since most of them are fast and pretty much all of them are engrossing I think I can do one a night most nights.

jellyFirst, I tackled The Thing About Jellyfish, a debut by Ali Benjamin. The back flap on this one says that it’s about a 7th grade girl, Suzy, grieving the death of her best friend (who drowned over the summer). Really now why would you want to read about THAT?? it’s so sad sounding. But to write it off simply because of its tearful premise would be a mistake. It was awesome. And not so much about death and grieving as about figuring out who you are, how you fit in and what things inspire you. It all starts for Suzy when, on a school field trip, she reads about a certain kind of deadly jellyfish. Convinced that her friend died of a jellyfish sting, she starts her research. Along the way she discovers a passion for science and also a place in the crazy, awful world that Middle School can be. 5 stars, and my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to convince people to buy it this holiday season. It’d be a killer combo with Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (the YA version), as suggested by the author in the afterwards.

After a night off for one of my book clubs, I started Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger. A really great mystery for kids who love to read, who love ciphers and scavenger hunts.

bookscavengerThis is the story of Emily and her traveling family – her parents are on a quest to live in each of the 50 states. Emily, a middle schooler, is sort of fed up with the whole thing by the time her family moves to San Fransisco at the start of the novel. She really wants to grow some roots, make some friends, etc. She is involved in a nationwide game called Book Scavenger – a game in which books are hidden in public places and the players get points for finding a book (based on an often ciphered clue) and for hiding a book that gets found. Emily, her brother Matthew and her new neighbor – her first true friend – James accidentally come upon a hidden book that leads them on a wild treasure hunt. 4 stars.

CrenshawI had really high hopes for this one, as I loved loved loved The One and Only Ivan. However. It did not wow me. It has a great premise – a young boy finds his family on the brink of homelessness (again) and his old imaginary friend, a ginormous cat named Crenshaw reappears. I wish it had been more about Crenshaw, as it was I think it focused too much on being poor/hungry/nearly homeless and not enough on the imaginary friend (obviously the story is about poor/hungry/homeless, but it could have been something great instead of something just heavy). 2.5 stars.

warThis one is the best thing I’ve read so far. It takes place during WWII and should be more of the same war-story stuff, but wow was it different and good. It’s the story of a young girl named Ada, 11 years old with a club foot. Her AWFUL mother is just AWFUL and treats her HORRIBLY, making her stay inside their 3rd floor apartment, hitting her when she voices an opinion and locking her in a cabinet for minor mistakes. Ada’s younger brother Jamie is allowed to run wild with the neighborhood boys since he’s not “crippled.” When the war hits London, most of the children were evacuated to the country – thought to be a safer place to spend the war. Jamie is set to go, but the mother refuses to let Ada, saying that she can stay and be bombed. Ada, who you will love, teaches herself, painfully, to walk (something she has been forbidden to do, crawling instead) and sneaks onto the train with her little brother. They end up in the car of a woman named Susan and the story goes from there. It’s not so much about WWII as it is about Ada realizing that she has worth, that she has a brain, and that she is not the repulsive hindrance on society that her mother had led her to believe. 4.5 stars.

circusOHMYGOSH guys, this is it. I wish this book was 100000 pages longer. It was SO GOOD. And today was the perfect day to read it. Remember The Night Circus? Remember what a treat that was to read? Well tonight the Nelson hosted a Night Circus party – complete with performers. Looking at the pictures made me decide to start Circus Mirandus tonight when all the dishes were done and everyone else was asleep. I liked it better than Night Circus. I liked it so well that once I return my copy to the library I’m going to buy one for my own library. Here’s the story: Micah is 11 and living with his grandfather, Ephraim. Ephraim is dying. Ephraim is full of wonderful stories of magic and a secret traveling circus called Circus Mirandus – a circus he stumbled upon when he was a child during the war. In the waning days of his life, Ephraim calls in a miracle he was promised by the Lightbender – one of the circus’ star acts. And then the miracle unfolds. Gosh it was so good. 5 stars, plus a place on my shelf of favorites.

 

The ReadingMoon is Over.

16 Nov

We spent a wonderful week in Tulum, Mexico, getting back late last night. And guess what? We both read A TON. Loren actually read 3 books – 300% more than he’s read in a year and a half! Because the place we were staying didn’t have electricity (don’t worry – it was nice), we found ourselves going to bed soon after it got dark (8pm at the latest), and then waking with the sun around 5am. Since nothing was open until around 8, we had lots of good reading time in the morning. And once it got dark and we were in for the night, we could read on our porch with our headlight/flashlights. So romantic.

So I got through my travel-stack. Turns out I couldn’t wait very long to dig into Where the Moon Isn’t by Nathan Filer.

Where the moon isntI started reading this the Thursday afternoon before we left and by Friday morning, well. One less book to pack. I liked it. Yeah, I liked it. I can see why Mary loved it – it has one of those great, unreliable first person narratives that is just so different and enthralling. Think Room or How to Be a Good Wife. I just like Room  so much better. BUT if you’re in the mood for something with a different voice, and a fast pace, this could be it.  (3 stars)

blackmoore

This is the one I was excited for – Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson, author of my fav Edenbrooke. I liked it. Yeah, I liked it. But there were times when I thought Kate/Kitty, the heroine, was a bit silly. Not endearing silly, but roll-your-eyes-and-scoff silly. Here is the set up: Kate (trying to get rid of her childhood nickname “Kitty”) has decided that she never wants to marry. Her mother – a great Regency villain of a mother – is furious about this decision, and after Kate turns down an old geezer’s marriage proposal, the mother cancels Kate’s upcoming trip to Blackmoore. Blackmoore is an estate owned by Kate’s best friend’s family and for some reason Kate is ridiculously fixated on visiting it. Kate’s best friend, of course, is a hunky guy named Henry. So, because she is so obsessed with getting to Blackmoore, Kate agrees to a deal proposed by her mother: She can go to Blackmoore, but must receive (and turn down) three marriage proposals. If Kate does so, her mother will agree to her never marrying (and traveling around the world with an aunt). And the story goes from there. I will say that I loved the way it ended, I loved LOVED Henry. This was not a disappointing read, but I rolled my eyes a bit more than at Edenbrooke.                   (4 stars)

Guest on EarthSomething made me stick Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth in my bag. Not sure why, I know that my grandmother has read and loved many of her earlier novels, and this cover is so lovely. But I wasn’t a fan of this one. It seems like Lee Smith has tried to do something different in this novel – different from her others – by revolving it nearly around Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s told through the eyes of a young girl who is admitted to the mental institution that Zelda frequented. The institution where Zelda died in a fire. And it opens with a newspaper clipping about the fire and the deaths it caused. Then there were about 300 pages of a rambly sort of story about the young narrators life, in and out of the institution, in and out of love, running into Zelda now and again. And the fire is brought up again in the final chapter. I had a hard time completely engaging. (3 stars)

CircleI’d been hearing mixed things about Dave Eggers’ newest. Some totally completely loved it, others really really didn’t. Personally, I found it pretty interesting. It is basically about what would happen if one company (in the novel its sort of a mash-up of Google and Facebook) were to take over the world. It’s like the 21st century version of that movie The Net with Sandra Bullock (that I also loved). Except instead of being skeptical of the digitalized take over of the world, like Sandra in that movie, Mae (heroine) is 100% a believer in the product/company. There are a couple of sex scenes in it, but if there weren’t I’d recommend it to my Michael-Crichton-loving cousins.            (3.75 stars)

SomeoneThis was hands down, by far, my favorite read over the readingmoon. Remember Brooklyn by Colm Toibin? I loved that one, and this one is like its less charming but equally as divine sister. It takes place in Brooklyn and is a brilliant scattering of moments from Marie Commeford’s life. It opens when she is 6 or 7 years old, sitting on the front step waiting for her father to return home from work. She wears huge eye glasses and has a blunt haircut – awkward all the way around. I just loved every moment that we got to see. Once I got to know Marie, with her horrible eyesight and quirky personality, I thought she was so perfectly imagined. I think this is also nominated for the Nation Book Award, which Alice McDermott has won previously. (4.5 stars)

FangirlBy the time we reached the Cancun airport for our flight home, I had run through the books I brought. At the Mexican airport, the only books available in English were the books in the Twilight series and some other more contemporary thriller sorts. So I decided to download one on my iPhone – something I typically don’t do. When I was working at Rainy Day, Rainbow Rowell did a teeny tiny event with us for her first book, Attachments. Because she was a first time author and the event was sure to be itsy, I decided to read it. And I really enjoyed it – sort of a silly but wonderfully fun office romance story that made me laugh. Lately, she’s been getting tons of buzz for her YA novel Eleanor & Park (which is now next on my reading list). Fangirl is also YA – and it loved it. It was just the perfect take-me-home book. I got sucked in right away, right after meeting lovable/semi-crazy/totally-nerdy/completely-relatable Cather. The book follows her freshman year in college, navigation her English Writing major, her first love, her relationship with her wildly popular twin sister Wren, her father’s mental health, the mother who abandoned her. Man, it kept me hooked all the way home and through this morning when I finally finished it. Fangirl, the title, comes from the fact that a massive part of Cather’s life is spent writing fanfiction about a Harry Potter-like series about two magically inclined students named Simon and Baz. She posts her stories about these already developed characters and literally tens of thousands of people read them immediately. So on one hand, she is insanely successful. Anonymously. On the other hand, her life has all these sort of uncomfortable issues and she is, publicly, incredibly awkward and a little weird. (3.75 stars)

 

Librarians Read Challenge.

15 Jan

I am fairly new to the Johnson County Library – and have a fairly lowly position. Which is lovely because it gives me time to focus on the Librarians Read Challenge that started Jan. 1.

Every year, there is a county-wide challenge to see how many Young Adult/Juvenile books can be read. I guess the goal, broadly, is to familiarize everyone with different parts of the collection. Everyone is to keep track of the books they read during January and February, and whichever Librarian can read the most pages wins (just glory, no prize). As you can imagine, I am all over this challenge.

I can’t quite decide how to blog about this – I don’t want to post entry after entry of silly little books. So I think I will just write about the BEST things I read, the ones that I think would appeal to Everyone and not just Young Adults or Children. And I read one last night. That was so good. So, SO good.

the-wicked-and-the-just

I don’t remember where I read about this one – but if you love historical fiction – READ IT. Ah it was so good. It takes place in Wales in the year 1250. A young girl, Cecily, and her father move from a lovely estate in England (her uncle, back from the Crusades, is the rightful heir and kicks them out) to an English stronghold in Wales. Inside the castle walls, Englishmen live in relative peace and health. Outside the wall, the Welch are starving and sickly and poor – not to mentioned heavily taxed. Cecily is a bit of a brat – accustomed to great things and used to getting her way. Her “maid” at the new home, Ginny, is a poor Welch girl struggling to feed herself and her sickly mother. A revolution brews, Cecily realizes the error of her ways….oh it is good. I would even compare this, maybe, to Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, except that it is a little grittier and there is no real romance between any of the characters. Just has that time-period sort of feel.