Friday, May 8, 2015

As Red As Blood

Since I love Scandinavian mysteries, I thought I would really like Salla Simukka's As Red As Blood. I thought, woo! Scandinavian mystery for teens! Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations. It read more like a dry adult mystery than something that would appeal to teens. The main character, Lumikki, is a high school student who lives on her own. It is clear that she is very independent. She finds bloodstained euros in the school darkroom and is pulled into a mystery of who, what, and why...but it's also a mystery of who cares? Despite her independence, Lumikki gets drawn in by a group of kids who she finds inferior. She decides to help them, but for what reason? I wanted to finish (Finnish, lol) the story to see what happened, but I was disappointed. There is a sequel coming out where we learn more about Lumikki, I'm assuming. She is the real mystery. Maybe the tension and intrigue that I associate with Scandinavian noir was lost in the translation from Finnish to English. Whatever the reason, while I wanted to like this book, I was bored.

Speaking of Scandinavia, I am GOING TO ICELAND in October! I'm so very excited!!! I've wanted to go since reading Grettir's Saga in Medieval Literature, and starting off the winding path of Scandinavian noir with Henning Mankell's Sidetracked (which takes place in Sweden) in Global Detective Fiction in college. Hurrah!

Since As Red As Blood wasn't what I expected, here's a GREAT book that I really enjoyed: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. And since I'm not reviewing it here, check out this review written by one of my teen library patrons.

Ex libris,

Marissa

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where gaming meets the real world.

I just finished Steve Brezenoff's Guy in Real Life this weekend. I picked it up because I purchased it for the library, it got good reviews, and I love the cover. I can say I really liked the book. Not the best, but an enjoyable read.
Lesh Tungsten is trying to figure out where he fits in. After an evening of drinking and a concert, he collides with Svetlana Allegheny as she rides by on her bike. Lesh is grounded for his antics (he's a sophomore in high school) and his best friend, Greg, convinces him to try the MMORPG while he's incarcerated in his bedroom.
In the game, Lesh can be whoever he wants. He chooses an orc character to start, but then creates another, a beautiful elf priestess named Svvetlana. As he gets closer with the real Svetlana, lines blur between fantasy and reality. Svetlana, for her part, is creative and quirky, and also a Dungeon Master, responsible for planning elaborate campaigns for the high school's gaming club. Lesh and Svetlana are both separated from reality, but come together in real life. But what happens if Svetlana finds out about Lesh's alter ego online?
The book is told in alternating chapters so the reader can see both sides of the story. It's not clear if Lesh is confused about his gender or sexuality-- as I read it, he's not, he just wants to have a different persona online. I love Svetlana's character. She is always embroidering or drawing, avoiding awkward family outings and spending time with her friends in the gaming club. It is an engaging, realistic YA story.

Ex libris,

Marissa

Friday, January 3, 2014

New year!

Happy 2014! Once again, I disappeared for awhile. Nothing bad happening, just very busy at work. I'm running programs, reading for book groups, and rearranging collections. I am a busy bee.
I try not to make resolutions because I usually don't fulfill them and then feel bad. That being said, I would like to read more books and watch less TV this year. There are so many good reads and I feel like I could do better with reader's advisory if I read more (obviously).
Every year I write down in a notebook the books I read. I don't count books I leaf through when they arrive in shipments, and I don't count books I read at story time. If I did, my total would be more robust, but there you are. In 2013, I read fifty books. That is thirty-three fewer than 2012. My commute is much shorter now, so I don't get through as many audiobooks as I did before. I was briefly on a Nutmeg Award Committee, so I plowed through the first selection of books, but I had to resign when I moved to Massachusetts. Not making excuses, just reflecting on my year of reading.
So what were my favorite books I read in 2013? Here is a list to add to your personal reading list:

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
3. Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith
4. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
5. Homeland by Cory Doctorow
6. If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
7. The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro
8. That's Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson
9. The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
10. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
11. The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler
12. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (in progress)

Have a fabulous new year! Happy reading!

Ex libris,

Marissa

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Suspension of disbelief

I hadn't read any of D.J. MacHale's books until his latest, Sylo. MacHale is probably best known for the Pendragon series, of which there are about ten, plus a set of prequels. He takes up a lot of library real estate. Sylo is first in a series too, and having purchased it for the library, I decided to give it a try.

Sylo, published by an imprint of Penguin Books, is a sci-fi thriller set on an island in Maine. Tucker Pierce is an average kid, having moved to the island from Connecticut with his parents. After witnessing the death of a classmate and seeing a strange explosion in the sky, Tucker and his friend Quinn are disconcerted that their safe haven of Pemberwick Island is no longer so safe. When a strange military outfit named SYLO invades the island and quarantines the place, effectively cutting off Pemberwick from the outside world, Tucker must accept that nothing is as it seems.

Running parallel to the military occupation plot line is that of a mysterious substance called the Ruby, which gives anyone who uses it superhuman speed and strength. It is unclear if this is why the island is quarantined, but a shady character named Mr. Feit gives it to residents prior to the military occupation.

Tucker, Quinn, and another classmate Tori are quickly in the crosshairs of SYLO's commander, Granger. They must try to escape the island and expose SYLO since they believe the quarantine is bogus and there is something fishy going on.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I liked it a lot-- I spent most of last night turning pages to see what would happen. It has gripping moments. On the other hand, it was farfetched and just ok. The drug pusher, Mr. Feit, is a poorly created character and is clearly a warning "Don't do drugs, kids!" The escape scenes are decent, as is the boating terminology, but it still seems contrived. Tucker's sort-of-infatuation with Tori is a convenient plot device, but there is no meat. Most of the characters are stock-- the brainy friend, the pretty tourist girl, the wealthy jock, the cold soldier. I came across two usage errors (taught instead of taut and mantle instead of mantel) which pulled me out of the story.

All that being said, I would skim the next two series installments to see what happens. Despite its flaws, I am curious as to what happens next. I classify this book as middle grade, so grades 5 and up. Not fabulous, certainly not flawless, but definitely intriguing.

Ex libris,

Marissa

Sunday, August 18, 2013

So realistic, I cried while stuck in traffic.

So here is some old news: If I Stay by Gayle Forman is a stunner. This book was originally released in 2009 by Dutton Children's, an imprint of Penguin. I listened to the audio version and finished it while stuck in bridge traffic headed to Cape Cod. I was such a soupy face afterwards, tears dribbling all over. I glanced around and everyone was in their cars, probably half irritated by the traffic and half "YAY CAPE COD!" And I looked like I had just had a very sad experience. Well, I did.

SPOILER ALERT. You find out the gist of the story very early on, but if you want to be surprised, don't read further. Although I imagine this book has already been widely read, I just didn't get around to it until now.

Mia is a promising cello player, on the cusp of getting into Julliard. Her punk-rock-turned-teacher-dad, tough-but-sweet mom, and ebullient little brother are all excited at the idea of a rare snow day and after breakfast, they go for a drive.

They get in a horrific accident. Mia has an out-of-body experience and sees her parents, dead and broken, on the pavement. (There is a reference to Mia seeing "what looked like cauliflower" on the pavement and realizing it is parts of her father's brain. Really.) It is not immediately clear what happened to Mia's brother. Mia realizes she's out of her body and goes with herself to the hospital.

Interspersed in the story are bits of Mia looking back on her life. For example, her friend Kim comes to visit her in the hospital and we get to learn how they became friends. However, a huge focus of Mia's remembrances are that of her musician boyfriend, Adam. Their whole story is beautiful but not saccharine.

The point of the story is that Mia must decide if she will stay and live out a very different life, or if she will die. It is poignant and sad and she has to weigh some tough choices...Adam and her friends and extended family versus going gently into that good night.

I like this story because it is realistic and mostly plausible, and it shows a family that is together, a strong network of family members and friends, and characters you can root for. I am looking forward to listening to the sequel and reading more of Forman's work. If I Stay is also going to be made into a movie.

Highly recommended, but have some tissues nearby, even in the car.

Ex libris,

Marissa