Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron

Cameron, Sharon. The Dark Unwinding. 318 p. 2012. Scholastic. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780545327862.

I was introduced to this book at the Scholastic brunch at this year's ALA Annual Conference, in which Sharon Cameron and other authors performed an excerpt, readers' theater style, to give the audience a taste of the story. She was fabulously funny and the scene piqued my interest, so I knew I had to read this one! And it did not disappoint.

This is a wonderful debut novel, filled with lush prose and a plot that stands out from the rest of the YA shelves these days. Young, orphaned Katharine finds herself saddled with the daunting task of checking up on an uncle to verify that he is insane, and have him committed to an asylum so he will stop frittering away the family fortune. Only, when she arrives at his countryside manor house, she discovers something quite unexpected: a workshop of wondrous clockwork creations and a community of people who desperately need her uncle to continue with his inventions.

The story is full of mystery, self-discovery, and romance set against a sometimes-cozy, sometimes-eerie English manor backdrop. It's an absolutely delicious setting, and I loved the book's period feel. The language is straightforward enough for a contemporary reader, but Cameron employs turns of phrase that ring true to the mid-1800s setting. Also, it's important to note that there's lots of gorgeous costume description. (I don't know about you, but when I read historical fiction, I want to read about the clothes!)

With the steampunk genre on the rise, Scholastic is really playing up the clockwork machinery aspects of this book in their marketing, but it's not actually a steampunk-heavy novel. On the whole, it's more like an Austen or Bronte novel that just happens to have some mechanical goodies in it. I would recommend this book for any fan of historical fiction who doesn't mind a dash of fantasy.

The story wraps up nicely, but a few hanging threads deliberately leave the door open for a sequel. It was so lovely I didn't want it to end, and I look forward to reading more from this promising new author.  

The Dark Unwinding hits bookstore shelves on September 1st. ARC for review received from Scholastic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy: Palace of Stone. 336 p. 2012. Bloomsbury. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9781599908731.

I was completely enchanted by 2006 Newbery Honor book, Princess Academy. I mean, let's face it-- when am I NOT completely enchanted by Shannon Hale's writing? Never, that's when! I adore anything she writes. So... Princess Academy-- I thought it wrapped up beautifully and never did it enter my mind that there could be room for a sequel. Thus, I was a little...surprised?... to hear there would indeed be a sequel published this year. But, I figured, it's Shannon Hale. She can do no wrong.


It's Shannon Hale! She can do NO WRONG! Princess Academy: Palace of Stone is an absolutely wonderful sequel. It was such a pleasure to welcome back characters I knew and loved in the first volume, delve deeper into the mysteries of quarry speech, and get to know more of the country of Danland as Miri travels beyond her mountain home.

This book is a bit more mature than its predecessor; there is more romance, more danger, and more complexity. The narrative involves self-discovery and romance amidst political intrigue and revolution. It's sort of... Princess Academy meets Catching Fire. In other words, thought-provoking and multi-layered while somehow cozy and, of course, beautifully written. As usual with a Shannon Hale book, I just wanted the story to go on and on; I wanted to live in it. Gorgeous.

Look for Princess Academy: Palace of Stone on bookstore shelves starting August 21st. ARC for review provided by Bloomsbury via Netgalley.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Famous for Thirty Seconds, by P.G. Kain

Kain, P.G.. Famous for Thirty Seconds. 320 p. 2012. Aladdin. Paperback $6.99. ISBN 9781416997863.

Instead of a typical life attending school and playing sports like most kids her age, thirteen-year-old Brittany has grown up on a steady stream of go-sees, auditions, and callbacks for national commercial spots. Her family's temporary move to Hong Kong put a halt to her acting career, but she's confident that she'll be back in the game as soon as they return to New York. Easy-peasy, right? Well... not exactly. She's about to find out that a lot can change in a year.

I have to confess something: I am a total ham. I used to pretend to do commercials in my childhood bedroom. I would have DEVOURED this book as a twelve-year-old! And I guess I've never really grown out of my fascination with commercials, because I had a great time reading this-- even though I'm well past the age of the target audience. Author P.G. Kain has personal experience in the world of acting for commercials, and has penned a very compelling look at both the glamour and competitive nature of the entertainment industry. Acting may sound alluring, but in reality, it's hard work that can involve a lot of heartache and disappointment.

Besides the appeal of reading about a young person's experience in the acting business, there's a solid story about friendship and self-discovery here, and the main character has a lively, engaging voice. I loved Brittany right off the bat-- she's overconfident, a little judgy, and totally self-absorbed. But she's likable! Her flaws are realistic and relatable (I mean, what thirteen-year-old isn't self-absorbed??), and it's fun to watch her evolve as the story progresses. As she attempts to scheme her way back to the top and knock out the competition, you just know it's all going to end in disaster... but she learns a few things and bounces back in her own way. Plus, there's a cute, well crafted romance, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (AND I DO).

Famous for Thirty Seconds is the first volume in P.G. Kain's "Commercial Breaks" series. This book is a lighthearted, engaging read, perfect for middle grade readers-- especially those who have been bitten by the show biz bug. I look forward to seeing what's in store for the rest of the series! A review copy of this book was generously provided to me by the author.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Teen Make-and-Take Crafts

I just wrapped up the Teen Summer Reading Program at my library last week. Whew! The teens did a lot of reading, and I think we all had a lot of fun. Just like last year, I hosted "Boredom Busters" as part of the program, which is a series of simple, fun make-and-take crafts that teens can do at the Reference Desk in about 5-10 minutes.

To go with this year's Summer Reading theme, "Own the Night," I adapted one of my favorite craft concepts: pocket shrines. Depending on your library's community, you may want to avoid the religious overtone of the word "shrine," so I called this craft "Constellation in a box." 

Altoid tins (or similar)
Acrylic paint
Paint brushes
Adhesive rhinestones (lots and lots)
Silver paint pens
Glitter pens
Sparkly ribbon
Sparkly pipe cleaners
Any other sparkly doo-dad you think teens might use creatively
Mod Podge - both sparkle and regular types
Paint sponges

I collected empty mint tins from family and colleagues during the months preceding this craft, and painted them black in advance of the Summer Reading Program. I've hosted an event where the teens painted the tins themselves, and that was okay, but the paint takes a while to dry, and can be messy-- since these Boredom Buster activities are largely unsupervised, I decided to simplify.

I printed out images of some well-known constellations for the teens to use as a reference. Participants chose their favorite constellation and recreated it using adhesive rhinestones and drawing the lines between the rhinestone with paint or glitter pens.

Other than the constellation element of the craft, the teens were free to decorate the inside and outside of the tins however they liked. I printed out star-related quotes and explanations of the constellations for them to Mod Podge onto their tin, but those weren't mandatory. The teens got creative and decorated according to their whims. Sparkly things are hard to resist, so they had fun!

The other craft I really enjoyed this summer was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest: book page votives!

I followed the directions from Sarah at Arrow and Apple, using small votive candle holders instead of mason jars.

Book page votives are a great way to creatively recycle pages from books you're going to weed from the collection anyway. I gathered a pile of damaged books and allowed the teens to cut out the pages of their choosing for this craft.

Votives (I found the best price at Quick Candles.)
Discarded books (manga too!)
Mod Podge
Paint sponges
Craft thread - the type used to make friendship bracelets (optional)
Small beads (optional)
LED tea lights (optional-- but it gave me peace of mind to supply a flame-free option.)

Now to start thinking of next year's crafts...

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