Friday, May 31, 2013

Review - The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls

I received an advanced copy of this book from the Penguin Debut Authors program. This book has a lot of positive buzz, all completely justified. Kirkus (which I've always found to be the most critical and therefore most trustworthy review journal) gave it a starred review.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton diSclafani. 400 pages, publication will be on June 4 by Riverhead Hardcover (a division of Penguin).

Bottom Line: Highly recommended. Should be picked up by all public libraries. Would be a good choice for book clubs. Reminds me a bit of The Secret Life of Bees. (Strong, female relationship centered Southern character driven drama.)

It might be the depression (1930), but wealthy 15 year-old Thea Atwell has been sheltered from that and many harsher other aspects of life in her extremely insular family. However after a family tragedy which Thea can't bear to think about or acknowledge her role in, she has been cast away from her parents and twin brother for the first time in her life.

Specifically they send her to an exclusive girls summer camp/finishing school in the Appalachian mountains. There, for the first time, she must learn to create friendships with those outside her family, and navigate the tricky waters of teenage girl social interactions. All while she denies and then comes to terms with her family situation.

Books like this are a very special type of crack to me. If you love books with A THING, a big unrevealed secret or past event that is hinted at and gradually revealed, you'll like this. The secret is not what I expected and reveals a great deal about the era, her family, and provides an interesting mirror into our own world. In other words, it is the best example of this type of book.
I was worried about this one because I don't like horses and much of this book is centered on the narrator's love of riding and horses. (I think I missed that part of the girl gene that likes horse books.)  However while the horses and riding were expertly used to help portray character growth and as a window into the souls of the girls at school, it was never beat over our heads.

Characters and their growth are at the heart of this novel. For a large cast (and in a girls school none the less), I never got confused as to which girl was which. And more impressively, I never felt like any of the characters was a stock character/stereotype.

Setting and historical element was well developed. The effects of the depression, even upon the wealthy characters at the heart of the novel. It was subtly but wonderfully done to place and then hint at the irony of an enclave of wealth and exclusivity in the heart of crushingly poor Appalachia. A couple of times the author seems a bit prescient in her awareness of the lack of equality and education for women, but those rare and fleeting moments of high handedness are among the few blemishes of this otherwise extraordinary work of fiction.

Overall, I am highly recommending this book. I already passed my copy onto a friend and plan to continue to spread the word about it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review - The World's Strongest Librarian

I (and almost everyone there) grabbed this advanced copy at ALA Midwinter because we're all librarians and suckers for books about our kind. However I think there is plenty here to charm the non-librarian as well.

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagrne. Published May 2013 by Gotham Books. 288 pages.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended for all libraries to own (duh) and for readers of memoir and inspirational stories and humor.

Josh Hanagarne is a librarian. He's also 6'7", weight trains, and has spent a lifetime coping with Tourette's. And for what it is worth, he was raised as a Mormon. He blogs at

There is a lot here, a lot of really great stuff. We meet Josh's family, get an introduction to Mormonism, watch as his Tourette's becomes more pronounced, and see him find his way through the world.

I love memoir, especially the non-celebrity kind, but a lot of it seems to dwell in the world of the sensational or horrific, exploiting the love of humans to stare at a train wreck. (Think about The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls or Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.) Those books are great and have a wonderful place on our shelves, but a book like this stands as a welcome contrast.

Even at the lowest point of this story, when the Tourette's so overcomes him that he can't go to school or hold down a job and wallows in depression, you as a reader never lose hope. And at the end, hope is the message of this story. Hope is in his family, in his attempts to use weight lifting to combat Tourette's and reclaim his life, and in his work as a librarian.

This memoir is also frank and honest, refreshingly so. Josh (I feel like since we're colleagues I can call him by his first name) discusses his faith and his doubts, his failures and successes equally without self-pity or self-aggrandizement. 

And sprinkled throughout the book are what I call "crazy patrons" stories that will be familiar to any one who has ever worked in a public library. Those stories and Josh's own perspective are humorous, enough so to laugh out loud at times, and to draw in the reader so that we feel as though we are chatting with Josh over a cup of coffee.

This book is funny, heartwarming, inspiring, and such a unique perspective on the world, that I will be recommending it to several people individually.

I don't often quote from books, but this passage so summed up librarianship for me that I thought I would share it:
Those four million circulations represent people taking action. Four million times that someone got something from the library. Even if the circulation simply means that someone requested something on her computer, came in and picked it up, then left right away, she still came. She still used the service. She still took a chance on getting distracted by something else in the building.

The four million small acts lead to members of the community gathering in the same place. People who might never lay eyes on one another elsewhere. In this digital era when human contact sometimes feels quaint to me, this is significant. If libraries themselves become quaint because they house physical objects and require personal interaction at times, so be it. For that reason, I believe physical libraries always need to exist in some form.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry, to be released June 18, 2013 by Penguin Press.

Before I went to grad school for library science, I got an undergraduate degree in Linguistics. There was a brief period of time when I strongly considered becoming a linguist. It was only a few weeks long because it is hard to beat back a lifelong dream. Thrillers aren't usually my favorite genre, but I could not resist the linguistic twist.

Bottom Line: Exciting fun book, recommended for most library collections. Will appeal to fans of "smart" thrillers with a bit of a sci-fi element (in movie terms Inception and The Matrix).

In Lexicon, Barry creates a secret organization acting behind the scenes of our own world to control us all. The "poets" use linguistic control, specifically words at the root of language, to manipulate people and events. They maintain a school to train the most gifted students to be future poets, a school of extreme intelligence, competition, and unrest. It's a fascinating concept and the linguist/scifi reader in me really wanted it further fleshed out. We get the sketches of how it is used on a one to one level, but not how it could be implemented on society on a broader level.

The story begins with one normal man kidnapped at an airport parking lot by two poets fighting other poets. His story, the in-fighting, and the fall from grace of one of the most talented students are all interwoven as they all try to locate and control a word with the same power as a nuclear weapon.

Very exciting book. Perhaps I should read more action packed/thriller style books because I could hardly put this down as we raced from one confrontation to another. I would recommend this to anyone who likes smart-action with a slight sci fi bent (think Jason Bourne or Michael Crichton). My only complaint (besides wanting the concept better fleshed out) is that we switched back and forth through timelines (much of the story is told in flashbacks) quickly and I was confused once or twice.

Overall it's a great choice for a summer read, better option for travel then carrying the latest Dan Brown like everyone else. It was the first adult book I read post-Newbery, I actually read it on the plane on the way home from the conference. I happily passed along my advanced reader copy (picked up in January at ALA Midwinter) to several people who all enjoyed it.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Review - The Caged Graves

The Caged Graves by Diane K. Salerni. Publishes May 14, 2013 by Clarion books. Appropriate for 7th grade (age 12) and up. 336 pages.

It's 1867 and Verity Boone (what a great name!) is coming home to Catawissa, Pennsylvania after spending most of her childhood back East being raised by relatives following the death of her mother. She is looking forward to reconnecting with her father and getting to know the fiance whose proposal she accepted after a courtship conducted entirely by mail. (Yes teenagers that is a thing that used to happen. It's the 19th century precursor to online dating.)

However when she gets there, all is not as expected. She finds it hard to reconnect to her father and even harder to reconcile the charming man in the letters with the somewhat stiff young farmer she meets. A handsome young doctor tries to claim her attention. Amidst all this relationship drama, she finds that the graves of her mother and aunt are outside the consecrated church yard and encased in iron cages. Trying to sort out rumor, malicious townsfolk, conflicting feelings, and hints of a long lost treasure will make her return more than a little problematic.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended for all libraries. Will appeal to teens who enjoyed last year's The Wicked and the Just or historical fiction/light romance in general.

This is one of those books that I stayed up late to finish. The caged graves aren't about what you think they're about. The rival suitors aren't what you think either though I am happy to say I got that one right. Salerni perfectly manages those hints that could lead you on multiple paths without so littering the ground with red herrings that you get disgusted with the entire effort. It's a beautifully crafted plot.

Post-Civil War life in America is richly portrayed here. The book is sprinkled with lovely little details (such as the lingering resentment of some townspeople over the richer citizens who were able to pay another to go to war in their place) that bring the time to life without drowning you in the author's research.

Sometimes in books, especially those aimed at teen girls, if there is a love triangle (and isn't there always?), the only characters that are fully developed are the triangular three. That is not the case here. There are complexities and surprising depth to many of the secondary characters. And that is what distinguishes this from being a good book into a great book.

I received a free ebook advanced copy of this title for the purposes of review.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Review: The Silver Dream

I picked up this advanced copy at ALA-Midwinter because it said Neil Gaiman on the front in big letters and I'm a sucker for that. However it is a bit of a lie. While the original Interworld novel was by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves, this sequel is actually written by Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves with Neil Gaiman credited for the story. I'm not entirely sure what that means. That bit of information should not deter anyone who enjoyed the first book from reading this one.

The Silver Dream: An Interworld Novel by Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves (and Neil Gaiman). Published April 23, 2013 by HarperTeen. 240 pages.

Bottom Line: Fast paced, action filled book that will be enjoyed by readers of the first Interworld novel but probably not independently. Recommended for libraries who own the first book.

This is a case of a sequel absolutely not standing on its own. If you haven't read Interworld, go read it, it's fantastic. Then come back and read The Silver Dream. The story began in the first novel of a teen who gets lost on a class field trip and in his confusion "walks" between worlds continues here. Joey Harker has the ability to travel between parallel dimensions as do all the incarnations of him on all the possible Earths. Together they form a sort of interdimensional police force trying to keep the worlds balanced between the all-magic worlds and the all-science worlds in the war between those of magic and science.

(Side note: I'm on a rewatch of Sliders on Netflix and this is an interesting book choice while watching that show. Sliding between parallel worlds where humanity has gone a slightly different direction in two very different visions of the same premise.)

While out on a training mission, Joey, or rather Joey plus his team of versions of himself, meet a new person, Acacia, the first person who isn't a version of Joey they've ever met with the ability to walk between words. As they try to sort it all out and go on a mission to rescue a newly discovered walker, things start to go very wrong. Joey quickly needs to decide if he can trust Acacia or anyone before it is too late for everyone.

All the J names make keeping characters straight difficult, even with the cast of characters introductory pages. There is only the briefest of overviews to the premise/technobable and thus anyone who has not read the first one will be at sea. I read the first one in 2007 when it first came out and needed a brief refresher (courtesy of wikipedia) before tackling this novel.

If you liked the first one, you will like this book. However, I did not think it was as strong as the first book. There was a lot of action, a nice strong plot, but it kept rushing from point to point without focusing on the world/character building that made the first one so enjoyable. Personally I am the type of reader that enjoys a good world build, a solid setting with lots of details, and really complex characters. The first book had more of that. This book has a lot of plot. And plot is good, but it isn't my favorite thing. Other readers will love it.

Kids will like this book. I can see it appealing to both boys and girls. the main problem is the first book came out in 2007 and 6 years is almost a generation in kid time. Those initial readers may have moved on. If you were 11 and read Interworld, you're 17 now and probably not as interested. However, there's no time like the present to bring a new reader into the fold. It's a great concept and the series should be an easy sell for book talks and on the fly reader's advisory.

I'm glad I read this book. I will recommend it. There's a set up for the next book at the end. I don't know if I will read that one.