Monday, May 30, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures

Konieztko, Bryan & DiMartino, Michael Dante. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures. 240 p. Dark Horse. 2011. Paperback $14.99. ISBN 9781595827487.

Whenever a kid asks me if the library has any Avatar books, my response is, "The Last Airbender one, or the blue cat people one?" And I know librarians are supposed to be impartial about information requests and all, but... okay, confession time: I'm always a little disappointed if it turns out to be the blue cat people one. Don't they KNOW how awesome Avatar: The Last Airbender is? I mean, guys. It is REALLY awesome.

My Avatar preference being obvious, you can guess I was totally excited to get an early look at the Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures graphic novel. It contains twenty-eight stories, some original and some that were previously published in Nickelodeon Magazine. Since I was late to the Avatar party and never read the Nick Magazine stories in the first place, it was all new to me. Score!

The bulk of the stories are brief vignettes, no more than two to four pages long, meant to induce a chuckle. Several stories are longer, with more involved plotlines, heavier on the action or character development. All stories are set during the original animated series, filling in missing moments.

In keeping with the multilayered feel of the original animated series, many of the stories in this graphic novel are lighthearted and endearing, while others touch upon darker themes. There's a little romance, a good amount of humor, and plenty of action, making for a charming collection on the whole. Some of the art is a little uneven as the stories are drawn by different artists, but it's generally of high quality, with wonderfully rich colors.

A few of the standout stories include:
  • "Relics," a heartbreaking story where Aang finds out how the Fire Nation wiped out a few remaining Airbenders.
  • "Going Home Again," in which we find out more about the relationship between Zuko and Mai.
  • "The Bridge," a story from Katara's point of view that shows the events that took place between the TV show's second and third seasons.
  • "Swordbending," which is rife with hilarious Sokka and Zuko interaction and great visual gags.
  • "Dragon Days," for the flashback appearance of Aang's Fire Nation friend, Kuzon, who was referenced often but never seen in the show.
So many good stories... I could go on and on, really. I think I was smiling the whole time I was reading-- well, except for the parts that were meant to be sad, I mean! This graphic novel is a true treat for any fan of the animated series. Only drawback? I feel it needs more Uncle Iroh. But then, can we ever really get enough of Uncle Iroh? Tea and sage advice, please!

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures will be available in stores everywhere on July 27th. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Armchair BEA: getting personal

What a fun week this has been! I've found some great new blogs to follow, met some awesome bloggers, and feel really energized and motivated about my own blog. Armchair BEA is almost over for this year, and today's topic is blogging about blogging.

In yesterday's #armchairBEA twitter chat, Suey of It's All About Books mentioned that she prefers blogs that include a personal touch. I completely agree-- I'm more likely to get invested in a blog that balances information about the blogger's day-to-day life and thoughts along with their book reviews. I want to feel like I know that blogger as a person. Blogs that solely focus on book reviews are useful to me as a librarian to refer to when making purchasing decisions for my library's collection, but the ones I really get hooked on always have a little personal stuff mixed in.

I know this. Yet I have a hard time doing it myself.

So! Let's chat.

Right now, I'm seriously wanting to go to ALA Annual in New Orleans. My baby will be 8 months old next month, and probably not yet able to walk (though she's crawling!) so theoretically, this would be a good time for travel. But then I hear horror stories of babies who get their sleep thrown out of whack by taking a trip and they NEVER GO BACK to their former good sleep habits. And my baby girl, she's a pretty decent sleeper these days. So. Since I don't have an "official" reason for attending ALA New Orleans (other than: "I wannnnna!"), I guess I should count myself out this year.

But even though I may not be able to get to ALA this time, I'm SUPER excited about next year, because ALA coming to me! The Annual conference will be in Anaheim, and I've been appointed chair of YALSA's Local Arrangements Committee. I served on ALSC's Local Arrangements Committee last time ALA Annual was in Anaheim, and I had a blast. ALA is a pretty huge conference, but serving on that committee gave me a way to feel connected and feel a part of things. I met all sorts of cool librarians and got to help out with some amazing events, like the Newbery-Caldecott banquet. It was an incredible experience, and I can't wait to get started on the tasks for YALSA's Local Arrangements Committee. I'll be working with an excellent team of librarians- my husband says I should call it a LIBRARIAN STRIKE FORCE- and I am really looking forward to doing some cool things for YALSA.

That's what's going on with me right now!

So, blogosphere: yay or nay on the addition of personal chitchat on a book blog?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA: nurturing relationships

Today's Armchair BEA topic is all about nurturing relationships we make through our blogs.

But, well, I'm still a newbie at blogging, having only been at this for about five months now, so I don't think I have any wisdom to impart on this topic. Part of the reason I started a blog was to become a part of the community of book and library bloggers, but to be honest, I often find myself hesitant to really jump in and join the ongoing conversation in the blogosphere.

So, a question for YOU, my fellow bloggers: how do you put yourself out there and get more interactive?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA: blogger interview

Today's Armchair BEA activity is blogger interviews! Although we may be virtual, we can still get to know each other better, just like we would if we met in person at a conference, so bloggers have been matched up to conduct interviews and share them. I had the pleasure of interviewing Carrie, from West Virginia Red Reads! (Cute blog title, no?)

So, Carrie, what compelled you to start blogging about books?

I have always been a hard core reader. I love words and will read just about anything. After I became a Mom and certainly after I stopped working, I never had time to read. I missed it terribly as books were my saving grace for many years. About 2006 I found a group on LiveJournal called 50books (I think). I decided to challenge myself to read at least that much. I got to 93 books that year.* I kept track of them in a written journal as well as posting reviews to the LJ group. I did that for the next few years but found that books were taking over my journal. A year ago in April, I started West Virginia Red Reads to keep up with a Read Along hosted by Tif from Tif Talks Books. It has grown from there.
*I have never been that successful again.
I see you're participating in a lot of reading challenges, and it looks like you're aiming to read in a wide variety of genres. Very cool! Left to your own devices, though, what genres do you gravitate toward most naturally?
I need to update my challenges. That is one of the major things that falls away as I try to keep up with the blog. But to answer your question, in February I tried to post a quick review every day of a book that I loved. I called it Five Star February. It really opened my eyes to the genres that I read. Mostly these days it is some variation on Fantasy. I adore dystopian lit and post apocalyptic lit (and I do think they are different).
That's a great point- dystopian and post apocalyptic are definitely two different concepts. Life as we know it doesn't need to have ended for society to get really creepy, right?

I notice you read both adult and youth literature. Do you tend to prefer one over the other?
Not really. I think that Young Adult books are my dirty little secret. I would love to read “Literature” but honestly there are days where it is all I can do to finish the chapter in the beginner chapter book I am reading as a bedtime story to my 7 year old. YA is easy, it is quick and I really think that there is a huge amount of talent out there these days. So I am leaning toward that. Add to those arguments a voracious 11 year-old and I need to be on top of what is out there for her.
What is your favorite book you've read this year?
Ouch! Just one? I have a few 5 stars this year; Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon; Locke & Key, vols. 1-3 by Joe Hill; Incarceron by Catherine Fisher; The Passage by Justin Cronin, and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. But I think if I had to pick one it would be The Magicians (The Magicians Trilogy: Book 1) by Lev Grossman. Just an amazingly told tale.
Heh, I know, I can never pick just one favorite either. You made some great choices! I've been meaning to read Incarceron forever...

From one mom to another, I have to say that my biggest challenge with book blogging is finding the TIME to read and write reviews! What are your strategies for carving out reading and blogging time for yourself?

It helps that my girls are both in school. I have set a schedule for myself which at the end of the school year is hard to keep. I try to get at least 3-4 posts in a week. Sometimes it is just a quick meme but I am trying to work on having a back log of reviews so that I am not so pressured to post. Generally, I try to prep reviews on the weekend. Monday is my big push day where I try to organize the blog, update lists, etc. One of the biggest things I have done recently to give me more time is join a meal co-op. I cook huge on Sunday and then package up 3 meals and trade on Monday morning. Big time saver.
Wow, you've really got your system perfected! I am taking notes.

So, we're participating in Armchair BEA because we're not at the real BEA. Do you think you might eventually go to BEA at some point? Have you ever gone to any kind of blogging conference or meet-up?
I would love to go to a meet up or conference and BEA would be heaven. BEA is more doable than others since I am originally from NY. I could have a place to stay if I wanted to go.
When I worked I would go to a conference every year for my profession and as much fun as they were they were also serious work and a great networking tool.
I live in a fairly small city where there are not book signings or meet ups. I am still trying to find like minded readers to get together and have a book club. ;-)
Thanks for sharing about yourself, Carrie! I hope you do make it to BEA one of these years. It was a pleasure getting to know you, and I look forward to continuing to read your blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA: Best of 2011 (so far)

Today's suggested topic for Armchair BEA is Best of 2011: favorite books we've read so far this year. In no particular order- because I love them all- here are my top five:

Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
It sounds like a simple story-- a kid gets transplanted to a new town, hates it, and eventually finds his place there... but I'm still in awe of the range of emotions this book takes the reader through. Newbery, please!

Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
If I had time to re-read anything these days, I would choose this book, no question. I got completely immersed in it! I can't stop raving about it, honestly. It's going to be my new go-to recommendation when someone asks me for a good read.

Orchards, by Holly Thompson
A gorgeous novel in verse that explores a couple of my favorite themes-- healing from grief and finding a sense of belonging. And the beautifully-depicted setting of rural Japan makes me love this book all the more.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon
This retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is so delightfully cozy... it's a book I want to curl up and read on a cloudy day, in front of a fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, with a mug of hot cocoa.

Art and Life in Rural Japan: Toho Village Through the Eyes of its Youth, edited by Cyrus Rolbin
The young people of a tiny Japanese village introduce their hometown through their own words and photographs. Addressing the issue of Japan's rural depopulation while highlighting the beauty of one community's heritage and history, this book is a treasure.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA self-introduction

Although it's lovely to dream of jetting off to New York for BEA this week, I will just have to live vicariously through tweets. And I'm excited to participate in Armchair BEA, a virtual book blogger conference! For any Armchair BEA participants stopping by my blog for the first time-- welcome. Thanks so much for visiting!

Today's topic is: who are you, and how do you Armchair?

So, who am I?

I'm a teen services librarian in Southern California. I never really grew out of reading children's and young adult literature, so I made it my career! I absolutely love what I do. I get to keep up with the coolest books and make sure they end up in the hands of the right readers. I get to meet my favorite authors, and even better, I get to host events so their young fans get to meet them, too. I get to help students discover that real research goes way beyond Google or Wikipedia. It's all incredibly rewarding.

I'm also a wife, and the mom of a baby and a toddler, who are, in my very objective opinion, completely adorable and brilliant. Between my family life and my professional life, I have a pretty full plate, and I love every minute of it.

As for how I'm participating in Armchair BEA, I'll be posting on several of the suggested topics, including a blogger interview. I started blogging earlier this year because I wanted to contribute to the community of book and library bloggers, and this seems like a great way to do some virtual networking. I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini

Starcrossed. Angelini, Josephine. 496 p. HarperTeen. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780062011992.

There's a lot of hype in the publishing world about how Josephine Angelini's debut trilogy was purchased by HarperTeen for seven figures, and believe me, this thoroughly enjoyable book lives up to the hype. It deserves to become the Next Big Thing. I totally LOVED this book. I just wanted to keep reading, and reading, and reading!

The author's agent pitched the manuscript as “Percy Jackson for teenage girls,” and I think that’s a perfect description. Angelini knows her mythology well enough to put her own spin on it while incorporating essential elements of The Iliad. This story isn't a strict retelling, but an inventive "reimagining" in a contemporary setting on Nantucket Island. There's an appealing mix of everyday teen life, romance, action, and fantasy that hits all the right notes.

In a refreshing contrast to so many teen paranormal romances out there, the mysterious supernatural abilities are not the sole domain of the male love interest-- this time, the protagonist is something extraordinary, too! How great is that? Helen is a strong, well-rounded character. Aside from her incredible abilities, she's an everygirl grappling with her own identity. Anyone, especially teen girls, can relate to her.

Angelini has mentioned in various interviews that the other inspiration for this novel besides The Iliad was Romeo and Juliet, so naturally, there's a fantastic forbidden romance element to Helen and Lucas' relationship-- but the stakes are upped in a major way here. It's not that they're a danger to each other, or they're already spoken for... no, the FATE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD depends on the ability of these two teens to restrain themselves. No pressure! I like that the two characters are very intensely drawn to each other but make an honest effort to behave. The relationship between Lucas and Helen is believable, with some great banter between the two. The reader is definitely rooting for these two crazy kids by the time the book ends.

Angelini has created a large cast of unforgettable characters that I became quite attached to throughout the course of the story. I personally couldn't get enough of Lucas' big, tough cousin Hector- a sort of bad boy with a heart of gold. And Helen's feisty, loyal best friend, Claire, has some of the best one-liners in the book. Love her! The adult characters are nicely fleshed-out, too. Lucas' mom and Helen's dad are so endearing.

The storytelling is well-structured and nicely paced, with subtle but effective foreshadowing of important plot elements. The third-person narration allows for multiple points of view, including the antagonist’s. Angelini handles the shift in voice from character to character with finesse, and the portions from the antagonist’s perspective are genuinely chilling.

Don't miss Starcrossed when it hits bookstore shelves on May 31st! ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley. And if you haven't listened yet, be sure to catch our supercool interview with Josephine Angelini at Authors are ROCKSTARS! (Oh, and there's a GIVEAWAY.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What I've been up to

Oof, I think I almost fell off the face of the blogosphere there for a minute. But with good reason-- the May edition of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast is up, and we've got an amazing interview with Starcrossed author, Josephine Angelini. She rules. Check it out!

Other things keeping me busy?

Well, I helped host an author visit with Candace Bushnell at my library to celebrate her fabulous new book, Summer and the City, which tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw as a teen. She was very glamorous in Kate Spade, and was kind enough to call me a "chic librarian" even though I was only wearing... H&M. *cough* I didn't mention that at the time.

Also, School Library Journal keeps sending me the most amazing books to review, so I've got my nose buried in those.

And my youngest child has learned to crawl!

So, yeah, kinda busy these days. More to come soon!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

This is my first time participating in Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. I couldn't resist this week's topic: Books I'm glad people recommended to me!

1. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

My friend in the third grade was reading this intriguing book about kids who get transported into a magical world, and I just HAD to get in on it too. I can't count the number of times I re-read the Narnia books as a child. (And kids, a love of books can lead to a great career-- my friend grew up to be a super cool literary agent. Check out her blog!)

2. D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire
My mom bought this for me when I was nine, and I don't remember whether she bought it in response to the fact that I was obsessed with Greek myths, or if my mythology obsession was stemmed from this beautiful book. Either way, it was the first book I bought upon becoming pregnant with my first baby-- that's how much I love it.

3. Tryst, by Elswyth Thane
An old-school paranormal romance recommended by the wise ladies of MAUD-L, a mailing list for Betsy-Tacy fans where we often discuss other books. This ghostly love story was written in the 1930s and it's utterly captivating.

4. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
I also discovered this series via MAUD-L, and will be forever grateful. They kept talking about it and enthusing over someone who had snagged a Hogwarts t-shirt as swag from some conference. I was like, "Hogwarts? Um, ew." But I kept the series in mind, and when I was feeling desperate for English-language reading material during my year teaching in Japan in 1999, I asked my parents to send me the first Harry Potter book from America. And, oh, how completely enchanting is the first entry into that amazing world? I still get excited when I find Sorcerer's Stone for a kid who's beginning the series for the first time. What a fantastic journey they're about to embark upon!

5. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
I took my YA literature class in library school shortly after this one was published, and my professor raved about it. Hey, I'm no fool- when a professor says "Read this book," well... I read it! And I liked it.

6. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
I had recently given birth to my first baby, and was in a sleep-deprived new mom haze when friends and co-workers started recommending this book to me. Uh! A book about teens fighting to the death? Seriously people, what is WRONG with you!? Right? But I dutifully read it and was, OF COURSE, blown away by its sheer awesomeness. Ha! It made for the most successful tween book group meeting ever.

7. The Dragonfly Pool, by Eva Ibbotson
I'd been hearing about Eva Ibbotson forever, but somehow hadn't managed to read one of her books until the children's services manager for my previous library system recommended this one. What a shame I'd missed Ibbotson's work up till that point-- she's wonderful! This book is completely charming.

8. When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
Recommended by the blogosphere in general and basically all librarians everywhere. And with good reason! If you haven't read this one yet, what are you waiting for? So amazing.

9. Little Princes, by Conor Grennan
I reviewed this memoir last month, and am constantly recommending it to patrons at the reference desk. Thanks for the great recommendation, YALSA-BK!

10. Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
My friend and podcast co-host, Michelle, told me I HAD to read this one. Not that I needed much convincing- as mentioned above, I love Greek mythology and of course I love romance, so it sounded good to me! But I shudder to think that I might have missed it if Michelle hadn't told me what a great read it is. I'll be posting a review soon- I'm crazy about this book!
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