Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: 'Beautiful Creatures' by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

There were no surprises in Gatlin County. We were pretty much the epicenter
 of the middle of nowhere... Turns out,  I couldn't have been more wrong. 
There was a curse. There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
I never even saw it coming.

'Beautiful Creatures' begins with an unoriginal premise, strange new teen moves into small town and the rumor mill begins to churn.  However, as soon as the reader meets Ethan and Lena, it is clear that this is a fresh conjuring of familiar themes.  The events are relayed to the reader primarily from Ethan's point of view, which is a nice change of pace from the majority of YA paranormal novels.

Ethan is a likable main character with enough emotional baggage to make him interested, but a personality that holds typical "emo teenage boyhood" at bay.  I quite enjoyed being in Ethan's head and watching the events of the novel unfold from behind his eyes.  Lena is a character with plenty of flaws, some controlled by her and others controlled by the secrets kept by her family.  Mrs. Lincoln makes a fabulous villain, convinced of her moral superiority and determined to "protect" the town of Gatlin from the "evil" of Lena Duchannes.  (On a side note, I'm very much looking forward to Emma Thompson's portrayal of Mrs. Lincoln.)

This novel falls more into the line of magical realism than full-blown paranormal/urban fantasy.  The supernatural elements are integral to the story but somehow don't seem beyond belief.  This easy suspension of disbelief may be due to the novel's setting.  'Beautiful Creatures' is set in a small Southern town where history runs deep, where the Civil War is still called the War of Northern Agression, and where Southern superstition thrives.  In such a setting, it is no stretch to believe that the town eccentric is actually a supernatural being from a family of the magically gifted.  Garcia and Stohl do a fabulous job of integrating aspects of small town life with elements of the paranormal to create a setting steeped in history, magic and tradition.

Themes of bigotry, judgement, fate, and redemption abound in 'Beautiful Creatures' which makes for a quite involved plot involving multiple storylines.  Past and present events collide to form a gripping climax that will leave readers with more questions than answers.  Since this is the first of a quartet, readers can expect more drama, action and mystery based in Gatlin.

Movie adaptation is due out in February 2013.

Book Source: Local Library
Reviewer: Rebecca

Recommended Ages: 14+ underage drinking, fantasy violence, profanity

Recommended for Readers of:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: 'Something Strange and Deadly' by Susan Dennard

"Dead!" a woman screamed. "It's the Dead!
...I'd heard of corpses awakening --- hungry and dangerous though still quite dead.
The purpose of bells in coffins was, after all, to warn us; but if the word on the
street was true, then in the last week more than a few bodies had escaped their graves.

Eleanor Fitt, of the Philadelphia Fitts, has a lot on her mind; her brother is missing and her mother refuses to recognize the truth about the family's financial situation.  And then there are the rumors of a Necromancer leading an army of Dead.  Animated corpses are nothing new, there is a reason cemeteries are surrounded by fences, but a Necromancer has the power to raise and control the Dead.  Eleanor is determined to track down her brother even if that means facing the Dead and working with socially "unacceptable" people - the only ones who can stand against a Necromancer.

Susan Dennard has crafted a wonderfully detailed and original novel that adds a new twist to the YA zombie cannon.  Readers will relate well to both the lead female and male characters.  Eleanor is a strong heroine who is not afraid to fight for her convictions, while Daniel is a multifaceted blend reformed criminal and absentminded inventor.  Several of the secondary characters are integral to the story and add an interesting multi-cultural element to the story.  Historically accurate details add to the story - Eleanor's internal monologue includes pondering the constriction of her corset and how it inhibits movement.

Dennard handles the "zombie" element in a way that blends traditional walking dead elements with modern twists.  In Dennard's world burial doesn't always mean a body's final rest - periodically the dead become the Dead, rising from their grave, driven by a supernatural craving for human flesh.  The Dead can only be controlled by a Necromancer who can use them for his or her own nefarious purposes.

Readers looking for an original novel filled with action and suspense will enjoy Dennard's 'Something Strange and Deadly' and will look forward to the next novel in the series.

Book Source: Local Library
Reviewed by: Rebecca

Recommended Ages: 12+ Zombie violence, paranormal elements

Recommended for Readers of:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking a break this week from blogging to complete my Alternate Teacher Certification homework by Wednesday and finish preparation for my craft booth
at the Moody Gardens Home for the Holidays Gift Market. 
So, if you are in Galveston, TX this weekend stop by my booth (Lunanshee's Lunacy) to say hello.  I'll be selling all sorts of handmade crafts as well as author-signed books.
Blogging (Book Reviews & YA Programs) will resume on Monday, November 26, 2012.
Wishing everyone the very best Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Laini Taylor Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: '172 Hours on the Moon' by Johan Harstad

It’s 2019 and NASA has decided to send another manned mission to a secret space station built years earlier on the moon. To sway public opinion, a worldwide lottery is held among all eligible teens, three of whom will be sent with a crew of trained astronauts to spend 172 hours on the moon. Now Mia, a Norwegian teen looking for free
publicity for her punk band; Midori, a Japanese teen obsessed with moving away from her traditional family; and Antoine, a French teen recovering from a bad breakup, must train and complete the mission while the world watches. Unfortunately, the moon holds one secret the crew wasn’t prepared for – a secret that is bent on killing all of them.

Science fiction horror novels aren’t my usual reading fare, but this book was so hyped, that I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, the hype was undeserved and the book suffered from a number of problems. First of all, this is the English translation of a book originally written in Norwegian. I have read translated books before that worked really well; this was not one of those. The translation seemed rushed, the sentences felt stilted, and the overall feel of the book was clinical. It was also obvious from the writing style that Harstad primarily writes scripts. The benefit of this was that I could practically see the second half of this novel as a movie, but I had
hard time appreciating it as prose.

Harstad also spent far too much time on set up, introducing the characters and the training program. The crew doesn’t even land on the moon until halfway through the novel. This would be fine if I actually felt like I knew and sympathized with the teens by the time the landed, but I didn’t. In fact, there is hardly any character development and none of the characters are likeable. Even though the book is told from all three teens’ points of view, Mia is arguably the main character. She is also the least likable and the least believable. It is hard to get pulled into the suspense of a horror novel when the set up takes so long and readers don’t sympathize with
the characters.

The horror and suspense elements were also lacking. It is hard to get pulled into the suspense of a horror novel when the set up takes half the book and readers don’t sympathize with the characters. The other problem is that the “bad guy” is never fully described and explanations about why or what was happening were left vague. Whether that was intentional or not, it made it difficult to understand what was actually terrorizing the crew. In the end, the book just wasn’t scary and the twist ending didn’t seem possible based on known plot events.

172 Hours on the Moon had so much potential and could have been a unique, thrilling, terrifying YA read. Instead it stumbles at every turn and, ultimately, leaves readers unsatisfied.

Book Source: my local library
Reviewer: Kimberly

Recommended Ages: 16+ for violence and horror elements

Recommended to Readers of:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Unforeseen Circumstances

My schedule this week has been thrown into disarray by a family tragedy.
Will be back to regular blogging next week.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

TEENS4TEENS: Peer Tutoring Program

One of the questions I have been asked constantly while working in a public library is: where can my child get tutoring for _________ (subject)?  Since my current library does not offer tutoring for children or teens of any kind, I decided to get a little creative and give my teens another volunteer opportunity.  Thus was born TEENS4TEENS (T4T).  I've been running this program for about two months now and have approximately 30 teens involved with the program.  So far, response has been overwhelmingly positive.

This is a low cost program but does require a substantial amount of time to set up and coordinate.  However, you are providing a great service for your teens who are struggling academically while allowing the teens who need volunteer hours a chance at earning on a weekly basis.  This program really is win/win for the teens involved.

How do I start a T4T Program at my library?

  • Set 2-3 specific times during the week as T4T official times.  Example: Mondays & Thursdays 6:30-7:30pm and Saturdays 10:30-11:30am.  I recommend limiting tutoring sessions to one hour, once a week so as to not overwhelm Teen Tutors.
  • Reserve a specific (public) meeting space for T4T - To protect both you and your teens you want the tutoring session to occur in the open, not in a closed room.  Example: My library's T4T sessions occur at the tables in the Teen Area.  I have signage posted that that are is reserved for T4T during the three days/times of official T4T tutoring sessions.  If someone is loud they are asked to move.
  • Limit ages for both tutors and students. Example: I only take 12-18 year olds in grades 6-12.
  • Develop both tutor and student application forms as well as signage for the program.  Example: See Files tab at top of blog.
  • Create form letters for First Meeting Introduction, Tutor Instructions and Student Instruction emails. Example: See Files tab at top of blog.
  • Contact local schools to let them know about the program and that you are looking for teen volunteers.
  • Set limit to number of times either a tutor or student can "no show" before being removed from the program. Example: My program has a three strikes rule. If a tutor/student fails to show three times (not consecutive) without contacting the library or the person they are meeting, they are dropped from the program.
  • Devise a way to track teen volunteer hours. I track mine on a monthly basis by having teens sign in and out each week and then entering the information on an Excel sheet.
I've done all that.  Now what?
Now comes the hard part - coordinating it all!
  • As teens begin submitting applications begin matching them based on meeting time and subject.
  • When parents submit applications for tutoring (i.e. needing tutoring) make sure they are aware that the tutors are volunteers and that it may take some time to match their child.
  • Prepare for the program to start off slowly.  As word spreads about "free tutoring" you'll likely begin getting more "needs tutoring" applications than you can keep up with. I just keep them on file and contact the teen/parent via email every week or so until I can get them matched.
Issues You Will Face:
  • As you know, teens can be notoriously flaky.  Tutors show and their students don't or students show and their tutors don't.  This is why I've developed the three-strikes rule and am very strict in enforcement.
  • Teens don't always check their email.  If I have sent an email and not gotten a response within 48hrs I call and leave a message for the teen to contact me.  (Training teens to check their email at least every other day is good for older teens as they begin applying for scholarships and colleges.) Feel free to point out that it is their responsibility to check for the message as you will not have enough time to call everyone involved in the program.
  • Pushy parents.  There will be parents who harass you about matching their students or who will have unreasonable expectations about what kind of tutoring is being offered.  Make it clear that this is a peer tutoring program and that teens are helping other teens.