Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drumroll, please!

The results are in (thanks to The winner of the autographed copy of The Goddess Test, by Aimée Carter is...

Alison M.!

Congrats, Alison! I've emailed you. Thanks so much to everyone who entered! That was fun, and I hope to do more giveaways in the future.

Audiobook Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Random House Audio Publishing Group. 2011. Audiobook $34.00. ISBN 9780307915313.

The third installment of the charming Penderwicks series is... oh, it's completely... just...


...okay, only in my dreams. Sigh. But yes, this book is truly a treasure. It makes you want to stay in a cozy cottage on the coast of Maine and eat lots of pie, just like the three youngest Penderwicks and their friend Jeffrey do. It's the perfect summer read.

For the most part, the book isn't exactly plot driven, but is thoroughly enjoyable due to the charm of its characters, with their quirky and relatable personalities, their worries and hopes, and their delight in the everyday. Like Elizabeth Enright's Melendy quartet, which is one of the inspirations for this series, this book is filled with small adventures-- the kind that make summer magical, and can be replicated by the reader. The Melendy kids inspired me to count shooting stars during the Perseids meteor shower, eat petits fours, and get the occasional manicure (hee, poor Mona!). Likewise, Penderwicks devotees will undoubtedly be moved to build a fire on the beach and roast marshmallows, go boating, learn to play the piano (or at least appreciate it), and maybe hunt for lost golf balls. Lovely stuff.

This the first Penderwicks book I experienced as an audiobook, and I wasn't sure I'd like it as well as the print version. One of the things I love best about reading this series is soaking up the language, and I didn't think I'd be able to do that with an audiobook. But Susan Denaker's performance is perfect for the Penderwicks. In addition to portraying each character with a distinct and believable voice, her narration has a gentle tone and precise diction, well-suited to the old-fashioned feel of the book. At first, I thought her pace was too slow, but as I relaxed into it, I realized the pace allowed me to soak up the language-- just like I wanted. Listening to this audiobook is like having a dear aunt read you a bedtime story. I wished it would go on forever.

I came to love Skye more and more in this book, as much of the story is centered around her learning to take confidence in her ability to take care of her family in her older sister's absence. I always liked Skye, but she really shines in this book, sarcastic and straightforward. Maybe, too, it was the audiobook reader. She gets Skye's deadpan skepticism just right.

Okay, now this next bit is only of interest to those of you who have read the series, but I have to get put it out there: I AM SO CURIOUS ABOUT WHO WILL END UP WITH JEFFREY. Because let's face it, somebody has to, right? Skye seems like the natural choice, but could Birdsall pull an Alcott and pair him with the youngest sister later on? According to this fascinating interview, the next Penderwicks book will take place six whole years (gasp!!) after this one, and the series finale will again jump forward in time, so it's possible. Batty and Jefferey do share a certain bond. OR... will Birdsall "fix" Alcott and pair the boy next door with the second-oldest, the sister he SHOULD end up with? (Because, seriously people, did anyone really like Amy with Laurie? Didn't think so!) Skye and Jefferey are so completely MFEO, in my opinion. I felt like there were definite hints at setting up a future romance in this book more than the others, but Birdsall is playing with us a little. AND I LOVE IT.

Hmmmm. Am I the only one shipping Penderwicks? Probably! Still. Your thoughts?

If you haven't read this series yet, and you've been wondering why nobody writes good, old-fashioned books for kids anymore... what are you waiting for? You'll love the Penderwicks, and the third book is no exception.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab

Schwab, Victoria. The Near Witch. 288 p. Hyperion. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9781423137870

So, I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book. It's puzzling, because it's beautifully written and so very atmospheric. Who knows why I didn't connect with it as much as I'd hoped to? I suspect I may be the wrong reader at the wrong time. Maybe it's a winter book when I wanted a summer book.

I kept quibbling with the setting at first. The descriptions of the moors are lush and lyrical, and but I couldn't quite get my head around the details-- is it historical fantasy set in our world? Or is it supposed to be another world entirely? If it's our world, what's the time period? Why is this village so isolated? Why do characters say "okay" while all of their other speech is fairly timeless?

I mean, honestly. Any other reader would probably not find these questions to be an issue at all-- I'm placing the blame squarely on myself, here. It's not YOU, book, it's ME! It really is.

Indeed, there's a lot to love about this novel. The plot is riveting, starting out as a whodunnit mystery, like Nancy Drew on the moors, when children start disappearing from the town of Near. Then it kind of turns into an awesome episode of Supernatural when it becomes clear to our heroine, the brave and headstrong Lexi, that the abductions can't be stopped by normal means. There's a well-paced, believable romance with a tortured, brooding hero, and the characterizations are consistently well-rounded-- even the antagonists are impressively three-dimensional. My favorite aspect of the book, though, is the stunning depiction of characters who are intimately connected with nature and the elements. I have several Pagan friends, and I kept thinking, "Oh, so-and-so would love this!" I really can't wait to share it with them-- I think they'd feel so at home with this book, and that makes me happy.

All in all, The Near Witch is a masterfully crafted debut novel, available in bookstores on August 2. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley. I'm purchasing a copy for my library and look forward to recommending it to fantasy fans who will absolutely love it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: The Goddess Test, by Aimée Carter

I am SUPER EXCITED, you guys. I'm doing my first ever giveaway on this blog! Author Aimée Carter was kind and awesome enough to send me an AUTOGRAPHED copy of her debut novel, The Goddess Test to give away to one lucky reader. So awesome!

I talked about how much I enjoyed The Goddess Test on the May edition of Authors Are ROCKSTARS!, and then we did a mini podcast later that month, featuring an interview with Aimée. If you haven't checked out those episodes, please do! It was such a pleasure to chat with Aimée.

So, The Goddess Test.... in this contemporary sequel to the Persephone and Hades myth, ordinary high-schooler Kate reluctantly enters into a bargain with Henry, the lord of the underworld. She'll stay with him for six months and endure a series of trials that will determine whether or not she is worthy of immortality. If she passes, she hopes he might save her dying mother... and it turns out she may be able to help shape his fate, as well. The stakes are high, though-- Kate's not the first girl to attempt the tests, and none of the others survived. This inventive premise hooked me in right away, and the excellent plotting and pacing kept me reading.

Why this book is so completely delightful:
  • It's full of references to Greek mythology (which I LOVE), but is not a strict retelling- it's fresh, charming, and creative.
  • There's a very engaging mystery element to the story, with Kate trying to figure out what the tests are and how to pass them so she doesn't fail Henry. And why did all those other girls die, anyway?
  • The gradual development of the relationship between Kate and Henry is fantastic. There's tons of chemistry between the two of them, and I have to admit I'm a bit of a sucker for those dark, brooding romantic heroes, so Henry as a modern-day Hades is quite swoon-worthy.
  • The setting is gorgeous- I'm also a sucker for grand manor type settings, and this one is perfection!
  • Kate's relationship with her mother is genuinely touching.

You'll definitely want your own copy of The Goddess Test, so here are the giveaway details:
  • Earn one entry just for leaving for your name and email.
  • Earn TWO bonus entry for following my blog. You don't need to follow to win! But I appreciate my followers, and want to show them some extra love.
  • Earn ONE bonus entry for tweeting the following: I just entered to win an autographed copy of The Goddess Test by @aimeecarter from @alli_librarian at! (Okay, okay, the exclamation point is optional. Personally, I'm an exclamation point kind of gal, but tweeting with just a plain old period is perfectly acceptable.)
  • Contest ends on Friday, July 22, at 8 pm PST.
  • Winner will be announced on the blog and contacted by email.

ETA: Contest is now closed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Run a Tween Book Group, Part 3

I'm wrapping up my series on running a successful tween book group with ideas for activities! If you missed the previous posts, here's part 1 and part 2.

To spice up an ordinary book discussion, you can incorporate an activity that happens separately from the book discussion (I recommend having it take place before the discussion, to break the ice), or a more low-key activity that can be done while the discussion takes place. Examples of the former:

The Hunger Games: Mini Games
Hold a 15 minute mock Hunger Games with some of the skills/trials mentioned in the book. I had great success with the following three competitions:
Identify the Root: set out a variety of root vegetables labeled with numbers, and make a gamesheet for the participants to write down their best guesses for each root. Provide a mix of easy ones (carrot, potato) and more obscure (rutabaga, burdock).
Hand to Hand Combat: aka thumb wrestling. Hee.
Target Practice: participants take turns with a Nerf archery set and a target.

I awarded the winner a bag of "poison berries" (actually: Skittles) and a Kit Kat bar (Kit KAT... KATniss... yeah, I know, I'm stretching with that one. But hey, chocolate!)

The Lightning Thief: Toilet paper toga game
Divide participants into groups of 3-5. Supply each team with a roll of toilet paper. One team member serves at the model; the others use the toilet paper to dress the model in a toga. Prizes can be awarded for finishing first, originality, creative design, etc. I gave the winning team blue foods, like blue corn tortilla chips and chocolate covered blueberries, in honor of the blue foods Percy's mom likes to make for him.

Here's an example of a low-key activity that can be done while carrying on a book discussion:

Rules: Create your own word cards
One of the characters in Rules communicates by pointing to cards with words on them, and the main character notices he doesn't have certain words that truly express who he is and how he feels, so she creates new word cards for him. Hand each book group participant 3-4 small squares of paper, some colored pencils, and ask them to think of words they can't live without. They can illustrate their own, personal word cards while discussing the book, and share at the end, if they wish. Simple and fun!

Well, there you have it: my best tips for running a tween book group. I'd love to hear yours!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Review: The Other Countess, by Eve Edwards

Edwards, Eve. The Other Countess. 352 p. Delacorte. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780385740890.

In 1582 England, two young people with noble titles but no wealth find themselves irresistibly drawn together, yet their growing attraction is complicated by the fact that the young man must marry for money to restore his family's fortunes... which were ruined by the destitute girl's father.

This cozy historical novel is unabashedly a romance. It's not gimmicky, it's not edgy-- it delivers exactly what you sign up for when you open the pages: a love story for teens set against a richly detailed backdrop of Elizabethan England. Honestly, as an infrequent reader of historical fiction, I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did, but I found myself completely enthralled and stayed up way past a sensible bedtime to read on as the characters faced one obstacle after another.

Eve Edwards skillfully brings 1580s England to life, depicting various levels of a very stratified society, from Queen Elizabeth's court to humble village life. The religious tensions of the time come into play, as do society's strict mores for young women.

A large cast of characters is introduced early on, which can be somewhat overwhelming. But each character is lively and multi-dimensional, with their own intriguing backstory and covert purposes, making the reader eager to read on and discover how their fates will end up entangled.

Through an omniscient third person narration, we shift between each of the main characters' perspectives, but we most often stay with the likable heroine, Ellie. She's realistic and easily relatable-- a well-rounded character who may be uncommonly well educated for a woman of her time, but is not above sneaking a peek at bare-chested boys (hee!). Many teen readers will empathize with her strained realtionship with her father who is the primary cause of her poverty and struggles in life. He means well, but it's like, "OMG my dad’s an ALCHEMIST and half the people we meet think he’s a nutcase, this is sooooo embarrassing." (Uh, only put that in Elizabethan diction.)

The love story is completely swoon-worthy-- there's just the right amount of tension between Ellie and her romantic interest, Will. I was utterly charmed by the banter between the two as their antagonism gradually leads to love. Just as Ellie is a well-developed character, Will is also multi-dimensional and very believable as an honorable young earl plagued with inner turmoil as he struggles between familial and patriotic duty and his own wishes.

My only complaint is that one of my favorite characters drops out of the narrative rather abruptly-- but I can't complain too much, because Edwards will be continuing her story in The Queen's Lady, expected to be published in Spring 2012. Yay! Or maybe I should say... huzzah!

The Other Countess is already available in the UK, and hits US bookstores on July 12. ARC for review was included in my swag bag from YA in Bloom-- thanks for the awesome read, guys!
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