Thursday, July 28, 2016

Children of Icarus



     In the begging, there were Gods and there were Angels. The Gods were jealous of the beautiful Angels and so they tricked one young Angle, Icarus, by telling him that the sun was actually a gateway into the world of Gods. Icarus was horribly burned, but a woman, Daedala, took pity on him and buried him in the ground until such a time as his wounds could heal. To mark his grave she built a beautiful city of towers, and around this city, a labyrinth.
    This is the myth that kicks off Caighlan Smith's upcoming title, Children of Icarus.  The full story begins many, many years later, in the society that presumably now thrives in that very city. It is a city that each year, chooses several children, all under the age of 17, and sends them into the labyrinth, with the promise that when they reach the center of the maze, they will be greeted by Icarus and turned into Angels. I think you can all sense just exactly where this is going, can't you?
    Our major protagonist is almost 17, and incredibly relieved because after this year she never has to worry about going into the labyrinth, which she does not want to do, even though her society considers this a great honor, and most people, including her best friend Clara, desperately want to be chosen. Clara wants to go into the maze because years ago her brother Collin was chosen, and she wants to join him as an angel.
     Of COURSE, both girls are chosen, and HELLO... absolute hell breaks loose the SECOND they go inside the maze. Clara is almost instantly killed by giant, scary, angry bird things and our protagonist BARELY survives.
     Notice I keep calling her "the protagonist..." well, an interesting feature of this book is that we never learn the girl's name. She is also mute for almost the entire book, because even though she CAN talk, she is so horribly traumatized by the events of that first day that she very rarely says more than a few words.
    I don't want to give too much more away, but the gist is, she eventually becomes a member of a group called Fates, made up of other kids who manage to survive their first few days in the labyrinth... but then THAT goes horribly, horribly wrong.  Then there is a shadowy, possibly mythical figure known as "The Executioner,"  and a whole mess of nasty, horrible monsters, most of them modified from real Greek and Roman mythological beasts. There's blood, guts, death and horror, and amazingly, this was all written by a 20 year old!
   Caighlan Smith is TWENTY. Sheeeeeeeesh! I can't even.
    I was HOOKED on this book almost from the word go, and the ONLY reason it is not getting all 5 bookmarks is because the ending of it destroyed my mind-hole by leaving SO MUCH STUFF unanswered (in the best way possible though, I promise!) and forcing me to wait goodness knows how long for the sequel!
   The book is out August 1st and you can (and totally should) pre-order it from Amazon. I received the digital ARC from Netgalley in June, so I have to wait even LONGER than you guys to get my hands on a hard copy. Sigh.

Final Rating: 4/5 bookmarks for forcing me to wait for the next one to answer any of my billion questions!

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Last Temptation


    Any time I see Nail Gaiman's name on anything, I have come to expect awesome. I was therefore very disappointed with The Last Temptation.
    The story sounds kind of awesome: a young boy gets a ticket to a creepy and rundown old theater, called The Theater of the Real, which promises to show him the truth and nothing but the truth. Of course, you know stuff is going to go very wrong when the person in charge of the theater is freaking Alice Cooper.
   Of course, visually, the graphic novel is stunning, I mean this is Michael Zulli illustrating, the man who worked on so many issues of Sandman so of course it looks amazing. My problem was that there was almost no story to this story. Everything about it felt rushed in the worst way, and it didn't help at all that the very British Neil Gaiman was trying to write dialogue for an American kid here. His use of language is adorably antiquated and not at all what an American kid would ever sound like in modern times.
    It was also almost impossible to tell how old this kid was supposed to be... at the start of the story you think maybe he's a teenager, but then Gaiman sort of ages him down to a tween, or maybe even younger... he sleeps with a teddy bear, for goodness sakes. And what kind of school makes their students do a town wide costume parade after about 1st grade anyway? (Because of COURSE this has to be set on Halloween, because oooooh, scaaaaaary.)
   Overall, what I thought would be awesome and creepy and frightening turned out to be a confusing yawn fest. Not cool, Neil. Super not cool. You too Alice.
    Final Review: 2/5 bookmarks for far too much wasted potential.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Selection



   Ok, so this is one that I totally judged by its cover. I thought The Selection by Keira Cass was going to be a boring story about a bunch of debutantes in pretty dresses being shallow at balls. Needless to say I was wrong, and was actually quite pleasantly surprised by this dystopian novel.
    The story takes place in the distant future, after World War 4 has come and gone. America was invaded by China, then Russia, and eventually became a country known as Illea which is now run by a royal family (for some inexplicable reason). Society is made up of 8 castes which are determined by the work they do, or rather, the work their ancestors did, because you are born into your caste and can only move up in the world in the rare event that someone from a higher caste marries you. 1's are, of course the royals and leaders while 8's are the homeless, drug addicts, orphans or various other "undesirables."
    Our main character, America Singer is a 5 - the caste of the artists. She is, as her name would imply, a singer, though her father and a couple of her siblings are painters, and her mom is a fellow musician. Despite the fact that her family doesn't have a lot of money, and food can sometimes be scarce, America is happy with her life and doesn't want anything more. In fact, she is secretly dating a 6 (the caste of service, comprised of maids, janitors, etc.) and hopes to marry him some day even though she knows her controlling mother would NOT approve.
   One day, however, a letter arrives for America, stating that any female ages 16-21 is being "encouraged" to enter into The Selection... a sort of reality show/competition that is tradition in Illea: any time there is a male heir to the throne and he comes of age, he invites 35 randomly chosen young women of the lower castes in hopes of finding a suitable bride. America's mother, who is kind of a gold digger, wants her to enter, and she does, assuming she will never be picked from among thousands of girls, but of course she DOES get picked and is forced to move to the castle, where she figures the stuffy prince will boot her out after a week or so.
    This book is sort of one of those Jane Asten/Dowton Abbey type stories where nothing much happens and yet you just can't put it down. It is the first book in a fairly lengthy series (if you count novellas and prequels) and it really only begins to set up the story, but not in a way that feels forced or obnoxious. Yes, it's a dystopian version of The Bachelor, but dammed if I didn't plow through it in less than a day and can't wait to get my hands on the second in the series The Elite. 

Final Review 3/5 bookmarks.

Monday, July 18, 2016

45 Pounds (More or Less)



    Before I begin discussing 45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson, I feel I should make a bit of a disclaimer/disclosure statement: I am the same clothing size as Ann, the protagonist of this book (though 2 inches shorter than she) and I have had this same body shape my entire post-pubescent life. However, though I am a short, overweight little woman, I don't share one very important personality trait with Ann: for her, her weight is a source of shame and trauma while for me, it has never been an issue that has caused me much stress.
    Of course, Ann has other pretty typical teen girl issues to deal with other than her weight. Her parents are divorced, have re-married and have had younger children with their new spouses. She has almost no contact with her dad and her stepmom and step sister are kind of awful. Her brother, who she used to be very close to has basically cut himself off from the entire family; and her best and really only friend is now going to a different school and involved in sports and new friends so they rarely see each other anymore. And her mom... well, we'll get to her mom in a bit.
    As the story begins, Ann is asked to be a bridesmaid in her aunt's wedding, which would be great news except that Ann is horrified at the idea of having to fit into a fancy dress (Juniors size 17) and stand along side her super thin, control-freak of a mother who monitors every morsel of food that goes into her or anyone else's mouth and appears to be in deep denial about how her constant whining about being fat (at a size 6) is affecting not only Ann, but her 4 year old sister as well.
    Having grown up with a control freak, yoga three times a week type mother myself, I can painfully relate to THAT part of Ann's life... but I think I am just too different of a person to empathize all that much. Even though I personally have always known I was "fat" I tend to suffer from what my mother refers to as "too much self esteem."
   Ann is a girl who is afraid to talk to people, afraid to dance or bike or do much of anything in public for fear that the world is watching and judging, while I have never let the number on the scale or on my clothing tag stop me from doing any dang thing I please up to and including talking to hot boys, wearing a bathing suit in total public, and being in every high school play we staged at good old Kofa High (home of the Kofa Kings! YEAH!).
    I realize this all makes me a weirdo freak... but here's the thing - that's so freaking SAD! It's so damn sad that the vast majority of overweight women in this country feel like Ann does: ashamed, disgusting, judged and ridiculed for something as stupid as a couple of flab rolls or cellulite on their bums. And ******spoiler alert***** it kind of pissed me off that Ann didn't start feeling like she was an ok person until 1) she lost 25 pounds and 2) a cute boy asked for her phone number.
    Yes, I know, it can be unhealthy to be overweight, and it is certainly a good message to give to girl that they need to eat well and get off the couch once in a while, I would like to give women like me all over the world my own message, which is: you are perfectly fine.
    Look in the mirror, and find something you like about yourselves that has NOTHING TO DO with your weight or clothing size and tell yourself you are beautiful because you are (I happen to have excellent skin, lovely hair and mad makeup application skillz, but that's just me tooting my horn). How you feel about yourself has nothing to do with your size! It has nothing to do with what some GUY tells you! Yes, eat well, exercise, lay off the "diet" food (because it's just making you fatter, people!!) and ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Like Ann, the only thing stopping you from being happy is YOU.

End of rant.
But seriously, you are freaking beautiful and I love you if you are a size 0 or a size 99!

Final review: 3/5 bookmarks, because it was a nice try at a positive message, but your self esteem should not be wrapped up in whether a boy thinks you are cute or not!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Librarian Post: True Tales of Library Programming #1 - CLUE Live!

    As some of you may know (if you are a librarian, a parent or have recently ventured into a public library) each year libraries around the country feature a themed, multi-week program called the Collaborative Summer Reading Program, sometimes referred to as SRP or CSRP. There is a theme each year, and this year's theme was sports and exercise....
   Well, it's not secret to anyone who has ever met me that I hate sports, so I decided to sort of blur the theme a little bit and create programs based around fun games, rather than sports. One of these programs was a live-action game of Clue. Several people have asked me to share what I did, so this post will cover that as best I can describe. Please feel free to post questions below and I will do my best to clear up anything that was confusing. 


Here we go.

First off, I modeled a lot of what I did on the original game, but I wanted to give it a literary twist. I chose 6 characters from books I personally enjoy, 3 males and 3 females. They were: Harry Potter, Hamlet, Bilbo Baggins, Katniss Everdeen, Arya Stark and Dorothy Gale. I also chose 6 weapons which would have been used by these characters: the elder wand, poison, Sting (Bilbo's sword), a bow and arrows, Needle (Arya's sword) and a bucket of water. The locations on the board were the lands or places each of the characters came from or were deeply associated with: Hogwarts, Elsinore, The Shire, Panem, Winterfell and the Emerald City. Each location had a portal (specifically assigned to one of the other lands) and two doors. The center location on the board was my branch library, which also contained a portal to any land the player chose. I also printed and laminated dozens of footprint tiles, so in the end the board looked like this, but larger:

Testing out the Clue board for SRP

I created my own detective's notes sheets, which looked like this:
Detective's note sheet I created for Clue Live! (Coutesy: Vanna Bells)

    I also made a set of game cards, each featuring a weapon, location and character from a half-sheet of laminated card stock paper.  These were our playing deck.
    On the day of the program, when patrons came in, they were given a piece of paper and a writing implement. I placed 2 jars on a table, labeled "male character" and "female character" and asked each patron to write their name on the piece of paper and put it in their preferred jar. I then picked 3 names from each jar and the patrons were able to pick their character in the order their names were drawn. Those who were not chosen to play characters were also given detectives notes sheets and were able to play along from the audience. In fact, 2 games were played, and in both cases, the winner was a member of the audience, not one of the live action charter roles.
    At the start of the program I read a short story I had written about the murder that had occurred. It was a simple, one page thing which only served as a background to the game we would play.

   The rules of the game were pretty basic, and somewhat modified from the original Clue game.

 1. Each character starts the game in his or her own space. No weapons or character pieces need to be placed on the board. Instead I made pockets from pieces of card stock paper which the players could wear around their necks. The pockets had each character's picture and profile on them and the pockets served as a place where they could hold their cards.
2. A volunteer from the audience chose 1 card from each stack of character, weapon and location cards, which were placed in the secret envelope. The rest of the cards were shuffled together and distributed around to the character players.
3. Each character player rolled a giant die and the one with the highest number gets to go first. Game play then proceeds clockwise around the board. It is important to remind the players to be mindful and try to remember which character they play after.
4. First player rolls the die and moves that number of spaces. When a character lands on a location spot on the board, they can either a) choose to teleport to another location, b) make a suggestion on the murderer, weapon and location or c) end their turn and pass to the next player.
5. If a player chooses to teleport, their turn ends, but they can make a suggestion at the start of their next turn.
6. To make a suggestion, a character will choose another player and say something like "Bilbo Baggins, I suggest to you that it was Harry Potter in Panem with a Bucket of water." If Bilbo has any of the 3 suggested cards in their hand, they show ONE of them to the room. If not they can say something like "that sounds like a fine suggestion," or "that suggestion might be true."
7. Play continues this way until someone is ready to make an accusation. The accusation can only be made from the center square, and if the accusation is wrong, that player forfeits their right to make any further accusations.
8. A member of the audience may make an accusation at any time, however, though if they are wrong, they also forfeit the right to make any further accusations.

   Additionally, I made sure to have prizes available for those who made correct accusations. I also prepared a small bag of candy for each of my 6 players. We ended up playing twice in one hour though, so I made extra candy bags just in case. Since my program was open to ages 8 and up, I made sure to have a mix of prizes that would appeal to tweens, teens and adults. I had a good mix of all age groups, including two complete families. Many of the prizes were ARCS, which were quite popular.

   So, that's all I can think of for now. Again, if you have any questions on this program please comment below and I will be happy to answer you as soon as possible. Below are some pictures of the program for you to enjoy. All photos courtesy Vanna Bells.






Monday, July 11, 2016

Series Review - Confessions


    Have you ever read a book, and kind of hated yourself for how much you enjoyed it? That's exactly how I am feeling right now, having plowed through Louise Rozett's "Confessions" trilogy. It's a series written for high school students, about high school students, and yet this 30-something lady could not put it down.
    Let's start with at the beginning, with Confessions of an Angry Girl. As the series open, high school freshman Rose, the titular angry girl has some pretty valid reasons to be angry: her brother, who was once very close to, has just left for college, her mother is basically a zombie, her best friend will NOT STOP TALKING about wanting to lose her virginity to the biggest jerk on the planet, and worst of all, her father has just been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
     Basically, the only bright spot in Rose's life is that for a little while each day she gets to stare at her crush Jamie in homeroom. Of course, Jamie is dating the biggest bitch in school, who might literally murder her if Rose even so much as looks at Jamie too long. So of course Rose kisses him. And all high school hell breaks loose.
    I think that's the main reason I enjoyed this book and the rest of the series so much... nothing very special happens here except high school stuff. Realistic, dirty, sad, horrible high school stuff that anyone who was not one of the "it" crowd in high school can certainly relate to. Rose is an extremely well developed character, as are all the rest of the players here, and the author's writing style makes it a fun, fast and appealing read.

****Warining!! Minor Spolers for the rest of the series ahead!!!*****


     After spending her Freshman year as a complete social outcast and trying not to get killed by Regina, her crush Jamie's pissed off attack dog of a girlfriend, Rose is SURE she can turn things around Sophomore year. 
     So of course she completely blows it before the first day of classes even begins. 
     Now, she not only has Regina pissed at her, but Regina's younger brother Conrad wants her dead too. And the entire swim team. And the cheer-leading squad. 
    On top of everything else, her mom is actually considering dating someone new, and there might be something very seriously wrong with her brother and his new annoying hippie girlfriend. 
    The only things keeping Rose sane are the fact that she has decided to become a singer (even though she has absolutely no idea if she can actually sing, but you know, minor details) and she might possibly maybe be kind of dating Jamie. Or maybe not. She's not really sure.
    Rose thinks maybe Jamie likes her, but she just can't understand why he is still so loyal and protective of Regina, especially since Regina has a new boyfriend she is constantly sucking face with. It's not until she finds out what is really happening in Regina's life that Rose begins to realize a couple of important things we all eventually learn in high school: 1) someone's life always sucks a little bit more than yours, 2) even beautiful, popular people have problems and 3) sometimes loving someone is not enough to save them from themselves. 


    Well, so much for Junior year not sucking for Rose. This time, she is trying to deal with the fact that her mom is dating a super cheesy movie star. Her brother has turned into a complete stranger who a) got booted out of college and b) is in rehab and c) might be dating her best friend. But the thing that makes Junior year suck more than anything imaginable is when Rose learns that someone has actually posted a video of her dad's death online. 
    That revelation is even worse than the fact that Jamie is not even speaking to her anymore, and may even be dating a pretentious (and totally hot) college girl. Even her dreams of being a bad-ass rock star are going kablooey and Rose has officially had it... until it dawns on her that Jamie may be in some serious trouble. The kind of trouble that could get him killed or at least land him in jail. 
   It's at this point that Rose has to come to grips with the fact that, despite what fairy tales may tell us, love doesn't solve all, and high school and heartbreak always go hand in hand, even when you think you might be the exception. 

Final review: 4/5 bookmarks. A solid series, which I would love to see continue for at least one more volume. Sadly, book 3 is only available in e-book format because of issues with the original publisher, and it's not looking like a #4 will be coming. (Sad panda.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Ophelia Adrift



   I honestly decided to read Ophelia Adrift by Helen Goltz because I thought from the title and description that maybe this would be some sort of retelling of Shakespeare. Well, it kind of is... but it mostly isn't. And what it REALLY is, is a big fat mess of a book.
   Our main character, Ophelia Montague (yeah, I know. I can't even either), has just moved away from her home in Brisbane, Australia and in with her uncle Sebastian after the death of her parents (how they died is never really explained, other than to say it was an "acident"). Uncle Seb lives in a large house by the sea clear on the other side of the country. All we know about Seb is that he's a widower and he does some kind of work involving ships and shipwrecks (what exactly he does is never explained either). Also living in the home are Adam, an older teen boy who works as an apprentice ship builder and was basically left to his own devices by his nomadic, hippie parents, and two large Great Danes.
   Ophelia starts school and immediately fits in perfectly and has no problems other than the fact that every boy in school wants to date her, and she is occasionally kind of sad about her parents dying, but only kind of. She almost immediately meets a boy named Jack, who does not go to her school but is of course, extremely cute. Because the story it told from the point of view of several different characters, we also know that Jack has been pretty much stalking Ophelia since she moved to town and believes that she is his soul mate, because that is not at all creepy and in fact totally romantic and junk, right? (Let's all take a moment to gag.... aaaaaand moving on).
   Of course, it is also heavily hinted at that Jack is more than what he seems to be. Which of course he turns out to be... and for some inexplicable reason when Ophelia finds out what he actually is, she is STILL madly in love with him, even though they have never really had anything resembling an actual conversation and mostly just sit on a rock staring out to sea on their "dates." Then some super dramatic and messed up stuff happens, and the book ends with Jack telling us that this story is not over, because of course, sequel!!!
   Oy. Vey.

Final rating: 2/5 bookmarks ONLY because I liked Uncle Seb and the dogs a few of the side characters, plus, it did not make me LITERALLY vomit on my shoes, and I actually finished the stupid thing.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Gated


    Why would seemingly normal, intelligent, educated people choose to give up their lives and join a doomsday cult? What happens to children who are raised inside these groups? These are two of the questions tackled by Amy Christine Parker's Gated. 
    The story is told from the point of view of Lyla, who has been living in a cult known as The Community, run by a charismatic leader called Pioneer, since she was 5 years old. Two things caused Lyla's parents to give up successful lives in New York and join the Community: first, Lyla's little sister Karen was kidnapped while playing in front of their house... then just weeks later, 9/11 happened. These two incidents combined to convince Lyla's parents that Pioneer's visions of the end of the world and the evils of mankind were real, so they packed up everything and moved in to the Community.
   On the outside, the Community is just a small gated development where people live a simple, organic lifestyle, growing all their own food and rarely interacting with outsiders. But inside the community is a hidden underground silo filled to the brim with food, supplies and weapons. This silo is where Community members plan to live when according to Pioneer, the Earth's rotation will change and civilization will be destroyed, This day is only a few months away as the story begins, and Lyla is grudgingly preparing to go underground with her family and friends... until she meets a couple of outsiders, the local sheriff ans his son, who make her begin to question her lifestyle and raise questions about pioneer that no one has been willing to ask before.
   I found the book much more enjoyable than I expected to. I normally don't read much modern realistic fiction so this was a new experiment for me. It was interesting to experience the life of a cult from someone who lived in it from their early childhood, and had known basically no other life than the Community and its bizarre belief system. My only major gripe is that in this case, the ending of the book makes the story feel very much finished, but of COURSE there is a sequel, because these days everything has to have a darn sequel. I won't be reading it, because as far as I am concerned, this story is done.

Final rating: 4/5 bookmarks.