Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma


Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Source: Digital ARC Courtesy of Netgalley

Book Summary:(via Goodreads) The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Characters: Amber, Violet, Ori
What I Loved: There is a lot to love about this book, so I am going to try my best to do it justice without giving too much away (which is going to be difficult)!  First, I really like the multiple points of view.  I love hearing about an event from those involved, but when you hear it from two sides it really gives you a clearer picture of what is going on.  In the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Amber, who is an inmate in the Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention center. She tells us of life inside and how it changed when Ori arrived. Ori is the connection between Amber and Violet.  Her story is one that I still can’t forget.  Ori is just one of those girls/ characters that everyone loves.  She is well written, entirely believable, and kid that I could imagine at my school.  She is nice, thoughtful and someone who brightens the room when she walks in.  Then we meet her best friend Violet, who is the opposite in every way from Ori, and you are left wondering why, why would a sweet, nice girl be friends with someone who is obviously not.  Violet is hard, cold, and conniving-- a difficult character to connect with. But as her story is revealed, you are left to wonder, not why she was the way she was, but were the events that occurred to her what shaped her, and was this the person she was always going to be?  What surprised me was how big of a role bullying played in this book. It begins as teasing and then quickly escalates into much more.  It adds a sense of realism to the book-- a what would you do, how would you react type of situation. Although, personally, knowing Violet’s whole story does not make her in the least bit more likable for me.  I think that it will make a great book for discussion with my students.  What are you born to do, and how much of what happens to you in society changes you.  I also can’t wait for my students to read it because the ending….. OH MY!!!! I just need to talk about it with someone!!  
What I could have done without:.  The only thing I will say about this book is that at the beginning... it was confusing.  I won’t give it away, but I reread the first section of Amber’s story because I wasn’t getting it.  I think that when my students read it, I will just encourage them to keep going because it all does come together at the end!

Final Grade: B+

Review by Janine

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Big Books" Slatwall Display

"I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie"

I've seen this on several tee-shirts, especially at our yearly academic reading competition, so this display has been in the back of my mind for a while now.  I finally put it up for one of my April displays, and the kids (and teachers) love it.  The one problem is that the lettering is crooked and off-center, which as I sit here, is currently driving my bonkers.  I also feel like it needs "more." I don't know what kind of "accessories" you would add to this display, but it's a little too plain for my taste.

post by Nicky

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver


Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: This book a stand alone
Source: Digital ARC courtesy of Edelweiss

Book Summary: (Via Goodreads) New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.
Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.
In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

Characters: Nick, Dara, and Parker
Plot: Nick and Dara are sisters with a close bond.  Nick is the responsible older sister and Dara is the younger sister who is always getting into trouble, trying risky and dangerous things.  One night after a party the sisters are in a horrific car crash and after, nothing is the same.

What I Loved: There is so much to love about this book!!!  I would like to begin with a disclaimer that this book is awesome BUT it has some major twists.  However, I will not give any spoilers so if the review seems to be missing something, it is!!!!! This book is told in alternating points of view and at different time periods to you are getting the story of the sisters and what led up to the crash and the aftermath in bits and pieces.  As Nick tries to regain her life back by working and interacting with people again and at the same time trying to come to grips with the aftermath of the crash on her and her sister and her family you can see just how far she has slipped into despair and guilt over what has happened.  She begins working at the local amusement park at the insistence of her mother and even though she is hesitant she begins to come out of the shell that she has built up around her. She also at the same time is trying to find out what what caused her sister to go down the path that she did and what she could have done to help her.  This is part of the guilt that is very much destroying her.  This book is truly a psychological thriller so not only is it a little difficult to discuss without giving away a major plot point but it also makes you rethink (and in my case reread) everything in this novel.  I found myself going back to different points in the book and seeing things much differently!!!! Since I am a librarian in a school this book will not only be LOVED by my students but will make for a great discussion! I can’t wait for my students to read it.
What I could have done without: It is not that I could have done without it but at the beginning it was a little confusing.  The chapters alternate between different points of view (although each chapter is labeled with the person’s name) but what really got me was the different time periods for example some of them are labeled before and after and some have exact times.  Once you get into the story it is less of an issue but at the beginning I had a difficult time with keeping things straight.

Final Grade: A

Book Review by Janine

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

Title: The Cemetery Boys
Author: Heather Brewer
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Series: No
Source: Digital Copy Courtesy of Edelweiss (Release Date March 30th)

Book Summary: ( Via Goodreads) When Stephen is forced to move back to the nowhere town where his father grew up, he’s already sure he’s not going to like it. Spencer, Michigan, is like a town straight out of a Hitchcock movie, with old-fashioned people who see things only in black-and-white. But things start looking up when Stephen meets the mysterious twins Cara and Devon. They’re total punks–hardly the kind of people Stephen’s dad wants him hanging out with–but they’re a breath of fresh air in this backward town. The only problem is, Cara and Devon don’t always get along, and as Stephen forms a friendship with the charismatic Devon and something more with the troubled Cara, he starts to feel like he’s getting caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t fully understand. And as Devon’s group of friends, who hang out in a cemetery they call The Playground, get up to increasingly reckless activities to pass the summer days, Stephen worries he may be in over his head. Stephen’s fears prove well-founded when he learns of Spencer’s dark past. It seems the poor factory town has a history of “bad times,” and many of the town’s oldest residents attribute the bad times to creatures right out of an urban legend. The legend goes that the only way the town will prosper again is if someone makes a sacrifice to these nightmarish creatures. And while Stephen isn’t one to believe in old stories, it seems Devon and his gang might put a lot of faith in them. Maybe even enough to kill for them. Now, Stephen has to decide what he believes, where his allegiances lie, and who will really be his friend in the end.
Characters: Stephen, Cara, Devon, Markus, Harrold
What I Loved: I loved the super creepiness of the story. It begins about halfway through the book and there was a point where you didn’t have to rely on Stephen to tell you what was weird but you could feel it.  You could feel the secrets that were looming just below the surface which kept me on edge until the end. There are also these “friends” that Stephen makes, which seriously makes you question his decision making skills but they ramp up the creepiness factor to a ten.  Also I found the underlying theme of mental illness to a really unique twist in this story and it isn’t until after I finished the story and thought about it, that some of the things really started clicking.  Then there is the end!!!!! It was such a twist (and so twisted)!   I also loved the idea of a super small town with its unique superstitions and the lengths to which people will go to preserve themselves and their way of life and this town has the kicker of all superstitions.
What I could have done without:.  I was not a fan of the first half of the book.  Honestly I almost put the book down.  I just didn’t like Stephen and the more I read I still didn’t like him or his family and I just couldn’t make myself care. I wanted to care, really, I did but I just kept thinking what the heck is going on?? Things seemed disjointed in the beginning of the story

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton


Title: Seeker
Author: Arwen Elys Dayton
Genre: Sci Fi/ Fantasy
Series: Seekers Book 1
Source: Digital ARC Courtesy of NetGalley

Book Summary: Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.  Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin's new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.

Characters: Quin Kincaid, Shinobu, John, and Maud

What I Loved: I loved a lot in this book.  First I liked the set up of the book.  The chapters are set up so that each character is giving us their part of the story from their point of view and I like that.  It is clearly labeled at the beginning of each chapter who is speaking and more than that, it really works for this story.  I think the story would be confusing or take a lot more explaining (making it extremely tedious).  In this way the story can unfold naturally and often we see an event from multiple points of view which really helps in clarifying some things in the story that are initially confusing.  I also really liked the story.  It was different from what I have been reading and lately and was a welcome change. In its basic sense it is a story about following your dreams these three (Quin, Shinobu and John) are being trained to become a Seeker, something elite are revered only to find that they have been deceived. Now that they know the truth, what will they do and how will they come to terms with their choices.  Which leads to my next love of the story,the action! There was a ton and not all of it was expected or predictable but it was intense and (for lack of better term), hardcore!   There is also the love story part which I am not normally a fan of but for a few reasons ( that I will not elaborate on as to not give spoilers), it totally works (and I know who I am rooting for) and lets be honest, they are teenagers, if there wasn’t a little romance going on it wouldn’t be believable. There are family issues, trust issues, questions of morality and love, which makes it relatable to a lot of different students and I can think of a ton who are going to love this!  

What I could have done without:.  There isn’t much I didn’t like.   The most difficult thing for me is going to be talking about this book with my students without giving too much away!

Final Grade: A

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Author Skype with Ellen Hopkins

At the beginning of the year, I was fortunate to receive an email from a book publicist working for Ellen Hopkins.  She was looking for librarians who hosted book clubs who would be interested in hosting a Skype session with Ellen.  The only requirement, or fee, would be that the book club would have to show proof that they had purchased 10 copies of Ellen's newest book, Rumble. The copies were purchased, a copy of the receipt was emailed, and the date was set for January 8th, after school.

Ten copies of a book seems like a lot for a library to purchase, but I had no qualms about buying that many copies of any Ellen Hopkins book.  Her books fly off of my high school library shelves.  Rumble was extremely well-received by the students, they discussed the book frequently and I couldn't wait to see what questions they came up with for Ellen.

I held the event after school on a Thursday from 3 to 5.  We were to Skype with Ms. Hopkins from 3-3:30, then eat pizza (food is always essential for book club!) and discuss our conversation with the author and Rumble.  

The students were star-struck. Ellen was captivating.  I had suggested questions written out on cards in case any of the students wanted to talk to the author but couldn't come up with something to ask her, but the students never needed any suggestions.  They came up with a variety of questions on their own--everything from specific things from her books, to how she writes, to questions about her personal life.  I had one young lady who had read every one of Ellen's books--she was so excited that she was in tears!

Things that made this successful: 
Planning: I had the Skype account set up ahead of time, the projector ready, and I tested everything before the event.
Food: Always an important element.
The appeal of the author: Ellen Hopkins is one author who is consistently popular year after year!

Things I would do differently next time:
I had each student approach my laptop so as they came up to ask questions.  This created a lull between questions.  Next time, I would like to set up a camera, elevated, so that the author could see the entire group of students.

This was one of my favorite events in the entire history of my career.  The joy and excitement of these kids over the chance to talk to one of their favorite authors... that's the kind of thing that keeps me loving my job!

          Post by Nicky

Book Review: PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles

Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: Romance
Series: Perfect Chemistry

Book Summary: (via Goodreads) When Brittany Ellis walks into Chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.

Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.
Characters: Alex Fuentes, Brittany Ellis are the two main characters and make up the romance element to this book. There are a lot of other “extras.”
Plot: Alex is the bad boy-- a Mexican gang member from the poor side of town.  Brittany is her high school’s golden girl--popular, smart, from a wealthy family, and head of the cheer team. When Alex accepts a bet to get Brittany to sleep with him, and then the two are assigned to be chemistry partners, the obvious happens--they each realize there is more to the other than they first realized.  They fall intensely, passionately in love. Brittany finds out about the bet. Alex cannot leave his gang like Brittany demands. Can this relationship survive? (Do you sense my sarcasm here?)     
What I Loved: Admittedly, very little.  I can tell you, however that there are 2 things I liked about this novel:

  1. I like novels told in first-person from the point-of-view of varying characters. Elkeles writes back and forth between Brittany and Alex. (And, ok, I will admit it--Alex does seem pretty hot, which leads me to…)
  2. The fact that my high school kids (my high school girls) love, love, LOVE this book. Any book that gets my students this crazy and talkative is okay in my book. This one is also an easy sell with reluctant readers.
What I could have done withoutThe reason I read this book was that several girls in my monthly book club asked for a romance novel selection for February. I knew I was in trouble because I’m not a big fan of romance.  Still, I thought I’d give it a shot. Some of the dialog made me cringe.  The whole star-crossed lovers thing was so West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet, Outsiders, etc. etc., and it has been done over and over and over again.  I know Elkeles wanted to make these characters more complex and believable by making Alex close to his family and by giving Brittany a disabled sister, but both those issues seemed a little forced. Finally… the epilogue.  I am not a fan of epilogues, and this is one example of why they make me crazy.  Everything ties up so neatly, and (without giving too much away) a cure for Alzheimer’s?? REALLY??

Final Grade: C

Book review by Nicky