Tuesday, July 8, 2014

11 OVERLOOKED BOOKS

I love reading books, suggesting books, talking about books, having books suggested to me- you name it. But for some reason, some of my favorite books have gotten lost along the way. My fellow readers seem to have heard little of these books (or not at all!) and/or are not interested in reading them. Well, NO MORE! These books deserve, nay, DEMAND to be read, and are worthy of your time. Maybe these books aren't truly overlooked. Maybe they are. But they definitely deserve your notice! Here they are- 

(Hint: click on the title of the book to find your copy in the OWWL catalog)

1. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Mariller

Wildwood Dancing is a wonderful, beautifully descriptive retelling of the Brother Grimm's The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This is also possibly one of my favorite fairytale retellings (And I read a lot of them!). This story fallows the second eldest of five sisters Jena who spends her time exploring the Transylvanian woods with her constant companion: the unusual frog Gorgu. Every full moon, the sisters alone travel to the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom to dance the night away with the fey creatures of the realm. But trouble arises when their father falls ill and their cousin takes over the estate. Meanwhile her sister falls in love with a dangerous creature from the Other Kingdom- this forbidden union Jena must stop. Soon Jena is tested in ways she never thought imaginable. Tests of trust, strength, and true love. At stake is everything she cherishes: her family, her home, and the Other Kingdom she has come to love. Find out what happens…. By reading it!

2. Airhead by Meg Cabot

Any book by Meg Cabot is overshadowed by the ever popular Princess Dairies series. I personally loved this trilogy just as much as the expansive saga that is Princess Dairies. This series is a little more dark and mysterious, but if you love the witty, snarky and a little bit awkward heroines Meg Cabot writes about, you are sure to love Airhead, no problem. This book definitely is underrated and shows Cabot's versatility as a writer. Plus Airhead just has a great story! When tomboy Em Watts has bizarre accident she wakes up no longer herself. Literally. Em Watts finds herself in the body of the teen supermodel, and party girl Nikki Howard. Problem is, everyone thinks Em is dead and Nikki is alive. Read the amusing, and often time humorous experience of Em coping, navigating this foreign life, and finding out what really happened that life changing  day. No doubt worth your time.

3. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

I cannot stop raving about this book. This book is pretty much equal parts Lost and Miss Congeniality. This book is a splendid satirical take on the world of pop and consumer culture. It's just so darn funny! And don't get me started on the hilarious footnotes! When an airplane of fifty pageant constants crashes on a deserted island, things gets real. As the teens try to survive, or continue to practice for the pageant they still intend to win once they're saved, there is adventure, mystery, and a tad of romance. There are also key messages here about survival, friendship, beauty, acceptance, independence, and what it means to be a woman. Hilarious and empowering, this book is defiantly worth a read!


4. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

I really enjoyed this book. It is multi-layered and really well written. The story is about the suicidal Andi's trip to Paris over winter break. She's not likable at first, but that's sort of the point. Stick with it! When she discovers a diary from a girl from over two centuries earlier, Andi feels connected to the girls words and is moved to the point obsession. As she reads the diary, Andi goes on a journey of discovery about her future and about France's past. There is history, fantasy and some romance which makes for an all-around good read. I don't want to give too much away because there is mystery in this novel, but it defiantly deserves to be checked out!



I can't really say this book is truly overlooked because it was made into a TV movie (which did not do it justice, of course!), but still not many people seem to have heard of it! If you like the glamour of Lauren Conrad's L.A. Candy and you like Meg Cabot's different perspective and writing style, with no doubt you will love True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet. A la Lindsey Lohan, this teen star is fresh out of rehab and is about to take a really big step. And it's not back into the spotlight like she believes! Meghan Carter is sent to rural Indiana undercover to recover. This means a serious lifestyle adjustment for this teen star. Her plan is to write all her experiences down in the diary (that is the book we’re reading) and then publish it as a tell-it-all book to make the perfect comeback. But she didn't see coming how her life would change and she would start to enjoy a "normal" life out of the spotlight.

6. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

I love this book and its series! Yelena, the main character, just gets better and stronger as the book goes on. She is determined, stubborn and I love her. The book opens with Yelena in prison about to be executed for murder. But Yelena is offered a way out. She is offered fine meals, rooms in the palace- but to have this she must be a food taster for the Commander of Ixia, testing his food for poison from assassins. As Yelena tries to escape her new situation, calamities continue to rise. There is the threat of rebels seizing Ixia, the constant danger upon Yelena's life, and Yelena also develops magical powers she can’t control. Now Yelena is faced with life altering decisions and her future is as unclear. The world Snyder created is so lush in this series, so much so, if you didn't read it you'd be missing out. There are so many high points to this novel: friendship, romance, assassins, fire festivals, and a kick-a** heroine! You have to read it!

7. Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

I love Disney with a fierce passion so naturally I was drawn to this book. It defiantly is geared towards a middle-school audience, but don't let that deter you! I'm in high school and I am still enjoying this series! If you love Disney and/or its theme parks, you're bound to enjoy it. This book is a fantastic representation of the Disney World with a darker side. Five teens are each given the opportunity of a life time to become a DHI, or Disney Host Interactive, a hologram guide for guests in the parks. But once they fall asleep after the becoming DHIs, they wake up in their hologram bodies in Disney World after the park closed. The five teens find out that they have been chosen for a mission to save the park from the Overtakers, a group of once-harmless Park characters ranging from the dolls on "It's a Small World After All" to Maleficent, who have taken on  an evil power and are intent on spreading their it outside of the borders of Disney World. This book is fantastical at the same time it's suspenseful and it masterly blends science with the magic of Disney. Get reading!

8. Austenland by Shannon Hale

This is for any girl that has ever fantasized about Mr. Darcy. For Jane Hayes, border–line spinster, ONLY Mr. Darcy will do. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her an all expensive paid trip to a English resort that caters to Austen-Addicts such as Jane. Donning an empire-waist gown, Jane struggles to master Regency-era etiquette while flirting with the gardeners and the gentlemen… or maybe the actors who are playing them. It's quite a game, Jane knows, and as her fourteen day vacation draws to a close, the more Jane wonders: is she able to kick her Austen obsession for good? Or could her dreams of finding her own Mr. Darcy become a reality? It's a super light read (only 197 pages) and is a perfect romance. This book may not be truly overlooked (it just was made into an independent movie. Of course the book is wayyyyyy better!). But, Austenland is so short and fantastic what excuse do you have NOT to read it?

9. Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

This Dorian Gray-ish, gothic paranormal romance is quite different from anything you find on the Dystopian laden shelves that fill the Young Adult section. That is one of the reasons I believe it has been wrongly overlooked. Different is good! Refreshing even! I devoured this book in a matter of hours. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it. In Darker Still, Natalie Stewart future looks grim due to the fact she was rendered mute after witnessing her mother's death at a young age. When working in the acquisitions department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art she comes across a supposedly haunted portrait of the missing Lord Denbury. Mystery, romance, and intrigue ensue after Natalie falls into the painting. This book is a definite page turner that appeals to the reader's sense of drama and controversy. It may even inspire you to read the Gothic classics it was inspired by!

10. Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

This is possibly the most overlooked book of all. NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD OF IT. WHY????????? As mentioned before, I'm a Disney-phile. Fairest of All tackles the unknown back story of the Evil Queen from Snow White. This is literally the ultimate fan fiction. THE COVER'S SO GOOD. IT WAS SO GOOD! This book is one of the few books I have ever read in one sitting. I LITERALLY COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Valentino perfectly portrayed the characters from Disney's adaptation of Snow White and wrote a wicked good story. If you love fairytales, Disney, and/or a good old-fashioned misunderstood villain, this is for you. If my writing in all caps has not swayed you to run out and read this book yet--READ IT.

11. Kill Me Softly by Laura Cross

I know, I know. Another story about fairytales. Sensing a theme yet? But this one is more edgy. I read this on a recommendation and wasn't disappointed. This isn't your average fairytale retelling. It’s based on the original fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, so it is darker. Nearly-sixteen Mirabelle decides to take her fate into her own hands by running away to the town of Beau Rivage--and gets more than she bargained for. In the town of Beau Rivage, people are cursed with a fairytale. They have to live with knowing their fate before it happens. Such as, but not limited to, coughing up jewels, falling into an enchanted sleep, biting a poisoned apple... you name it. It’s original and frankly addicting. If you love fairytale retellings like me, or are just looking for something original, this is the book for you.


If you have read these books or will, please let me know!!!! Maybe I'm just talking into the void, but I would love to discuss them! Leave a comment below (If you can. How does one internet?)!

Happy Reading!

-PG

Book Report: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

 The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

To be perfectly honest, this book was one I got only after I couldn't get one that I actually wanted.  I had low expectations before and after reading the synopsis and fully expected it to be a mediocre read, one I would forget about soon after I had finished.  It pleases me to say, however, that my low expectations were easily met and surpassed as this book quickly became one of my all time favorites.

The book is narrated by Ava Lavender, a girl born in 1944 with wings like a bird.  Aside from the wings, Ava is a completely normal girl.  Ava starts the book by telling of her grandmother's story, starting when she was a little girl and finishing when she was a young mother.  Next, Ava proceeds to tell her mother's story before she finally reaches her own.  As far as a plot beyond that I can't say much.  There is no single conflict with rising and falling action.  There is no set goal a character is working toward throughout the entire book.  There is no mold that the events of this book could fit into.  Despite all this, the story line still manages to draw you in and keep you enticed until the very end.

Rather than base the book on a set plot, the book relies heavily on recurring themes. Themes like love, loss, pain, and sorrow that are intricately woven throughout the story.  This book has been categorized as "magical realism" which fits the story perfectly. It takes place in the same world we live in with the same natural laws and everything.  The magic and seemingly impossible portions of this book were presented in such a casual way that I accepted most of them without thought, which gave the book an overall more true and organic feel. This isn't to say that most of said magical portions weren't totally weird. They were. They definitely were. But rather than being weird to the point where you either put the book down or started treating it like a comedy, the magical weirdness added to the beauty of the book and gave you a new appreciation for the writing. 

I can't say enough good things about the writing of this book.  It was absolutely stunning.  The poetic feel of this book introduced you to new settings and characters in such a lyrical and flowing way that you couldn't help but slip into the story.  The places of the story, whether it be the house at the end of Pinnacle Lane or the little French bakery, were presented with such fantastic imagery that I feel like I know exactly what each one looks like; I feel like I've been there myself.  The characters were so real and raw I felt I knew them personally.  Each one was new and different with their own unique back story that enabled you to delve deeper into their character and increase your understanding.

Ultimately, I absolutely loved this book. It was beautiful yet slightly haunting and even now that I've finished it I can't get it out of my head.  Leslye Walton's debut novel will not disappoint, and I would recommend it to just about everyone.

Sherman Jefferson 




Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Report: Plus One

Today's Book Report comes to us from Paige the (former) Page, a member of Wood Library's Teen Advisory Board. Paige is just wrapping up her Junior year, and I'm looking forward to hearing her sing along to Les Misérables later this month.

Without further ado, here's Paige's review of Elizabeth Fama's new novel Plus One.


Plus One By Elizabeth Fama
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

What first enthralled me about this book was the cover. I mean, isn't it absolutely beautiful? When I saw it, I knew I need to know what was inside. I know, I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but I had to recognize its beauty before I begin the proper review. Halfway through the book though, to my surprise, I had read a book by Elizabeth Fama, and hadn't particularly enjoyed it. Last year I read Monstrous Beauty hoping to find a good, clean mermaid young adult romance. I wasn't asking for much, right? Sadly, I was left confused and not particularly satisfied. In some ways, Plus One, left me wanting more and a tad confused, but I liked it a whole lot more than Fama's last book!

The book has a very interesting premise. Following the Flu Pandemic of 1918, society is divided into people that live either during the day, Rays, or those who live during the night, Smudges. This story is all set against the back ground of this dystopic Chicago. The Rays are allowed outside only during the day, while the Smudges only during the night. The Rays are exalted, while the Smudges are seen as inferior. This book tackles issues such as discrimination through this division of the Smudges and the Rays. Obvious a relationship between a Smudge and a Ray would be seen as taboo, forbidden even, which makes for a good romance.

I loved the main characters. Sol, a Smudge, was real and impulsive. She had real motives and deep loyalties that blinded her at times. She wasn’t perfect for once. And I liked that. On the other hand, D'Arcy, a Ray, was perfect (in a swoon worthy way!) which I was okay with because Rays are supposed to “better.” They’re polar opposites.... almost like night and day. 

Our main character firsts meet when Sol purposely injures herself so she can get into the hospital to steal her estranged Ray brother’s baby so her dying grandfather, Poppu, can hold her one time. Sol falls under a Ray medical apprentice’s care while she is in the hospital: D'Arcy. Soon he is entangled in her mischief and they are swept up in an adventure as they unearth a conspiracy that will rock their whole world.

This book was overall an enjoyable read, but it is not without its flaws. If you go into this book expecting romance of the bat, you will be disappointed. The romance doesn't start until about three-quarters of the way through, but you won’t be disappointed! It’s sizzling! But there are intercalary/flashback chapters that some times threw off the flow of the book for me. Fama's writing also at times tries to hard to be poetic than switches to frank, plain statements. This book is a little choppy. Also, everyone speaks French? But it’s set in Chicago? That really confused me. In addition, the tech talk and the medical talk was nonsense to me. It wasn’t needed. I also wished the ending gave me more. I loved these characters and felt a tad robbed.

I feel though the good outweighed the bad I have mentioned thus far in Plus One. This book is worth the read and deserves a chance. 

Happy Reading!
PG

Friday, June 6, 2014

The 2014 Middle School Summer Reading List is Alive!

Happy Friday. For the 2nd year in a row, an ambitious (and charming) public librarian and a brilliant (and noble) school librarian have come together to bring you the ultimate Summer Reading list for grades 6-8 (and beyond). Behold:


Here is the lists' logic: organized alphabetically by genre, then by author, all the way from Adventure to Steampunk. We strive to pick new books, published in 2013-2014, so that each year's list is always fraîche

Find these books at your local library. All. Summer. Long.


Kelley Blue, Teen Services Librarian @ Wood Library, Canandaigua
Melanie Dyroff, School Library Media Specialist @ Canandaigua Middle School Library

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Report: Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like, wow.

"All good books are about everything, abbreviated" (Grasshopper Jungle, p.332).

Austin Szreba has a healthy preoccupation with the intersection of histories. He believes that the roads of coincidence cross back and forth across time, right in front of us. As a self-made historian, he writes these observations down. Grasshopper Jungle is Austin's recording of the end of the world. While the world is ending, our narrator is also authentically struggling to separate hormones from love and friendship, and human stupidity from beauty. It happens like this...

A gang of total oafs beat the crap out of Austin and his best friend, Robby, in the nowhere town of Ealing, Iowa, in an alleyway affectionately referred to as the "Grasshopper Jungle". Later that night, the same gang of total oafs breaks into the office of Austin's boss, an office that Austin and Robby have also just broken into. Inside they have discovered the most messed up treasure trove of Cold War era stuffs ever seen. While Austin and Robby are smart enough to stand in fear and awe of the glowing blue orb of "Contained MI Plague Strain 412E", the total oafs decide it would be fun to take it for a stroll...

It was not a good idea. You know what I mean.

The joy of the rest of this book is in letting Austin tie all the ends together while hell breaks loose in Ealing. In his own meandering, often gross, and truly funny way, Austin discovers what MI Plague Strain 412E is, what it does (bad stuff), and where it came from (totally bizarre). While he's figuring this all out, he has the unfortunate fate of being a teenage boy made horny by nearly everything, which is inconvenient when the world is ending. Incessant male teenage arousal can also be inconvenient when you're trying to figure out your feelings for your girlfriend and possibly your best friend, too. Female characters, like Shann, seem a big thinly drawn, but that may be appropriate considering the narrator, who happens to be preoccupied by unstoppable, giant mantises bent on devouring the entire human race. And other stuff.

This book is anticlimactic (in a good way!), hilarious, and somber all at once. It is certainly the most unique end-of-the-world fiction I have read in maybe ever. -Kelley, (Your) Teen Services Librarian

Thanks, GoT

I have developed a theory recently that Game of Thrones (known simply as "Thrones" in my house, and known properly as A Song of Ice and Fire) has turned me into a much stronger reader. [Aside: the series has also devoured most of my free time. Do you have a life? You may want to consider putting it on hold. The series is not exactly "YA" either, so it also puts me in a professional bind; think about all the new YA titles I could be reading instead of hiding out in my bedroom with 900 pages of death, scheming, partial and not-so-partial nudity, more scheming, gasp inducing brutality... but did I mention there's dragons?] 

Despite it's ability to disrupt a life and derail a profession, my relationship with GoT has increased my stamina and engagement with other books. I swear! When you get into a relationship with an epic, thousands-of-pages series, following a myriad of characters who require you to periodically refer to family trees and maps in the oh-so-necessary appendices... well, this is a reading experience that changes you. Need proof? I made a deal with myself that I can't read anymore Thrones until I read at least 3 YA books... and I polished off 2 of those YA books in a week. Shazam! That's science. Game of Thrones is good for your brain.

I just wanted to say, "Thanks, GoT". You're the greatest... I'll see you soon. Love, Kelley

It's sad but true.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Don't Drink the Tea! (Book Report: Midwinterblood)

Midwinterblood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm seeing the phrase, "I don't get it" out there when it comes to this book. It's not that I don't get it, I just don't get why it is YA. (Midwinterblood, as many may know, won the Printz this year for excellence in young adult fiction.)

I hope I am not selling teen readers short, but this book will be "just right" for only the rarest of porridge eaters. When I tried to explain the plot to one of my most avid and adventurous teen readers, she just smiled and nodded at me politely. Now, maybe that's my fault, but the entire time I was reading Midwinterblood, my Teen Librarian brain kept asking, "where's the teen appeal here?" (Also, it is false advertising to throw "vampires" and "vikings" around when talking up this book, because that's not what's really going on here.)

That said, I believe Midwinterblood is a rewarding read for that right reader. The chapters are broken up into pithy, digestible bites that make it a quick read. There are seven interrelated vignettes going back in time sequentially; so, we begin in 2073 and end before recorded time. Starting in 2073 was a good choice for me; Sedgwick's version of the future coupled with the creepy, timeless qualities of Blessed Island really pulled me in. (Also, screaming "just stop drinking the tea!" got me engaged with the first story in a very active way.)

The sections are interrelated by just a few elements, and picking up the threads of how is the real pleasure of this book. I often found myself going back to a previous vignette when I realized a connection. Man, this book is smart! The threads are woven masterfully. For example, not each element appears in each story; rather, they are peppered, and sometimes so different that you don't immediately catch them.

I can't delve too much further because I would give away all the lovely weirdness. I said this book didn't have immediate teen appeal, but I think it would make for an excellent discussion with older teens about the concept of self (Are we more than just this? Are we greater than ourselves? Is there such a thing as destiny? Do we have any control over it?). Deceptively simple, there is a lot to ponder here. Or just leave it be and enjoy this haunting Ouroboros of a novel.

Bonus factor? This book got me to use "Ouroboros" in a sentence.
Second bonus factor? This book was partially inspired by this crazy painting.