Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Red Sun by Alane Adams

The Red Sun by Alane Adams (Book 1 of Legends of Orkney). August 4, 2015. Spark Press. 346 pages. Fantasy. Ages 10 & up.

Sam Baron's normal life starts to take a strange turn when he has a substitute English teacher show up, dressed all in black, telling the students that their regular teacher has been turned into a lizard. At first they all think it's just a joke, but as strange things begin to happen and the sub seems to take special interest in Sam, he begins to suspect that it was not just a joke.  

Then Sam comes home to find a dwarf named Rego in his house, who tells him that he is in danger. Rego proceeds to completely blow Sam's mind by telling him that his mother is a witch, his missing father is a descendant of the Norse god Odin, and they are all from magical realm called Orkney, to which Sam must return. In the meantime, the witch Endera has kidnapped Sam's friends Howie and Keely and taken then to Orkney, leaving Sam no choice but to follow to save them.

Once in Orkney, Sam finds that things are even more dire than he knew, with a curse causing the sun to gradually turn red, poisoning first the crops, then animals, and ultimately the people. He begins a quest to save his friends and save Orkney, joined by a young witch named Mavery. The journey proves dangerous, and Sam discovers he has a deeper connection to the Red Sun.

My Thoughts 
This is a fast-paced fantasy-adventure rooted in Norse mythology with a fairly likable protagonist and a cast of interesting characters. It will inevitably be compared to the works of  J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, particular his new series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. The Red Sun is similar; however, the pace is much faster than in the Harry Potter series. While the pace is similar to Riordan's, there are some differences. Riordan's The Sword of Summer is longer, has more action, and has an older protagonist (16 verses 12). Also, Riordan's style is more humorous, and has the characters spending more time in the earthly realm. The Red Sun is a bit darker, and rather than simply a battle between two sides, it is a struggle between good and evil, as was Rowling's Harry Potter series.

I would recommend this book to a tween who likes fantasy and adventure, and fans of Rick Riordan's works would most likely enjoy this is well. Harry Potter fans would probably like it also, though the pacing is different and I don't think the character development is nearly as deep. Another series that might interest fans of mythology-based fantasy is The Blackwell Pages series by K. L. Armstrong & M. A. Marr, also inspired by Norse mythology.

Personally, I enjoyed Riordan's The Sword of Summer a little more. I think partly because it was longer and just had a more detailed story and more action. Plus I really enjoyed all the humor, and the Norse gods being aware of our pop culture and technology. The Red Sun was okay, but even though it's darker, it stills reads younger to me. But, my 13-year old son, who was a big fan of Riordan's Percy Jackson series, actually liked The Red Sun much better than Riordan's take on Norse mythology.

Thoughts of an Actual 13-Year Old 
"The book, The Red Sun, was very good. It had tons of adventure, and the word choice made it feel like you were there. Within the plot, there were miniature twists that ended up connecting in the end. I would recommend this book to fans of Percy Jackson, and other series by Rick Riordan."

Other Books by this Author
This is Alane Adams' first novel, the first in a triology. The second book, originally titled The Moon Pearl, has been re-titled Kalifus Rising and is due out in September of 2016. She has also written a picture book called The Coal Thief, with a second one titled The Egg Thief due out in early April of 2016. In contrast to her middle-grade books, her picture books are historical fiction rather than fantasy.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review of "Leroy" (Coming Out series #3)

Leroy (Coming Out series #3) by Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny. August 15, 2015. EPIC Press. 208 pages. Ages - Teen to Adult.

Seventeen-year old Leroy is a quiet, sensitive artist with a deep secret he is keeping from the kids at school, his girlfriend, and most of all, his domineering mother.  The only person that knows is his older brother Kendall, who is now in jail and seems to have been written off by their mother.  

One day his mother announces they are moving from Dallas to Taos, a small town in New Mexico.  Leroy is upset at leaving Kendall behind and fears that keeping his secret will be impossible in such a small town like Taos. Much to his surprise, he finds that despite being a small town, Taos in much more open and tolerant than he could have imagined, and he finds support and friendship from his employer and co-worker at the local coffee shop.  However, he still struggles with finding the courage to come out to his mother.

My Thoughts
At first, this book struck me as strange, with it's large print and spacing, it reminded me of a beginning chapter book, rather than a teen novel.  However, after I finished it and tried to find out more about the series, I found that the publisher specializes in "hi-lo" novels for teens, that is books with a high interest level that will appeal to all teens, but that are quick and easy to read with a lower reading level, so that they will be more appealing to reluctant readers as well.  I think this is definitely something that is needed and I would like to see more of, for teens as well as adult readers.

When I first started reading, I was really turned off by what seemed to me as the author portraying the main character with every gay stereotype out there.  As a child Leroy dressed up in his mother's shoes and make-up, danced to Beyonce, and wanted a doll to play with. He was very sensitive, artistic, cried about everything, and had girlish mannerisms, all which resulted in the other kids calling him a sissy.  It almost seemed like she was confusing gay with transgender at some points.  But, once I realized this was one of a 6-book series, each about a different teen struggling with LGBTQ issues, I recognized this was just one portrayal of a gay boy who happened to have some effeminate characteristics, and that the series as a whole provides a more balanced picture.

As I continued reading and Leroy's character became less stereotypical and more well-rounded, I really started to get into the story.  It is fairly fast-paced and follows his struggle with being gay and his fear of people, especially his mother, finding out and finally starting to be able to accept himself.  The story alternates viewpoints between Leroy and each of the people in his life, so the reader can understand a little more about all the other characters and what they are thinking and feeling.  

Leroy's mother is definitely the least sympathetic character in the book, and comes across as an intolerant woman who dislikes men in general, and whose first instinct is to cut people, even her own children, out of her life the moment they show any imperfection. Samantha, the coffee shop owner who served as a surrogate mother to Leroy, was my favorite character.  I also liked the secondary story of Leroy's brother Kendall, how even though he tried to have this tough-guy thug image, he was still very supportive of Leroy, and how he was working through his own issues and mistakes.

I would recommend this book (or others in the series) for teens who are struggling with or interested in LGBTQ issues, and especially those who are reluctant readers.  I would also recommend this for parents, other family members, or friends of LGBTQ teens in order to help them better understand the emotional struggle coming out can be for teens, and how frightening even the possibility of being rejected by their loved ones is.  I think books like this can provide valuable insight for everyone.  I would like to read some others of this series for comparison, but unfortunately this is the only one of the books my library currently has.

Other Books By This Author
Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny wrote all six books in the Coming Out Series, but is primarily known as a Spanish-language author.

More About The Publisher
EPIC Press is a brand-new company focusing on easy-to-read, high interest books for teens that they will want to read, released as complete 6-part series.  They have books in every genre, including action, drama, sci-fi, sports, and cover many teen topics. I find their approach interesting and I'm curious to see if they catch on.  I can see these books being a good addition to a school library or public library with a significant teen demographic, but they do seem rather pricey, at $19 each or $114 for the set of 6 when purchased straight from the publisher's website, retailing for $27 each or $155/set from Amazon.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Today At The Desk...

Today was definitely a strange day at the desk, but I don't think it had anything to do with it being St. Patrick's Day.  First off, it was unusually slow and quiet, most likely due to the opening of a brand new branch this week pulling people away from the branches they normally use so they could check it out.  But, even though it was slow and quiet, I ended up leaving exhausted due to sensory overload!

As luck would have it, I had a patron hang around almost the entire shift, using the computer and talking on her phone the whole time.  She was agitated and angry, so though she wasn't yelling, she was speaking louder than necessary and in an angry tone of voice.  Even when it isn't directed at you, having to hear someone speaking that way takes a toll, both mentally and physically.  Also it always makes me a bit uncomfortable to hear every detail of someone's personal problems, even if they don't seem to mind everyone hearing it, and it was impossible not to hear every word with it being so quiet otherwise.  I did feel bad for the patron, as it became obvious she was dealing with one of those online for-profit schools that is known for taking advantage of people who are just trying to better themselves.

In addition to this, I had to figure how to extricate myself from a bizarre conversation with a patron that had some serious paranoid delusions.   Nothing about this person's appearance or initial demeanor gave any indication that anything was off about her.  It started out as a perfectly normal conversation about an impressive display of art by area school children, then about a grant the city is trying to get to help rejuvenate the downtown area and make it more family-friendly.  That is when it took a turn for the worse and she began tell me bizarre stories about people kidnapping her, multiple serial killers stalking her, etc.  Yet she remained completely calm and polite the whole time.  

I kept trying to think of a way to politely end the conversation or walk away, but without other patrons around to interrupt needing help, I was basically a captive audience.  Fortunately, my co-worker came out to get something off the printer, so I pretended like I needed to give her a message and was able to step away.  Interactions like this are always disturbing to me, not because they scare me, but because it is just so sad to see people affected by mental illness like that, and it's a little disconcerting when the conversation starts perfectly normal, then suddenly becomes startlingly bizarre. 

On a lighter note, I got the shelves all straightened up, filled all the display gaps, cut out stuff for storytime, took care of some phone calls and e-mails related to my outreach storytime program, pulled all the materials for holds or transfer, and withdrew a cartful of weeded books.  Plus, I came across this video after work:  The Bold Librarian.  

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Review of "The Last Boy At St. Edith's"

The Last Boy At St. Edith's by Lee Gjertsen Malone.  February 26, 2016.  Aladdin.  272 pages.  Ages 8-12.

Jeremy Miner find himself in the unfortunate position of being the only boy, not only in the seventh grade, but in the whole school, a result of St. Edith's failed experiment at going co-ed in an effort to boost their declining enrollment. Initially there were around fifty boys, but one-by-one they left, leaving Jeremy as the only boy among 475 girls.  His mother says transferring is not an option, as she does not want him in public school, and they could not afford to pay tuition at any of the other private schools.

But Jeremy is desperate to get out of St. Edith's and go somewhere else where he could have guy friends, play sports, and do "guy stuff."  He finally decides his only recourse is to get kicked out of school.  He rules out setting a fire (too dangerous), starting a fight (who's he going to fight in a school full of girls), and flunking out (would take too long).  Finally, his friend Claudia comes up with an idea and offers to help:  pulling pranks.  But they have to be sure the pranks would get Jeremy in enough trouble to get kicked out, but not enough trouble to keep him from getting into another school.  Additionally, Jeremy says they mustn't hurt or humiliate anyone, or cause any permanent changes or damage.

Claudia comes up with the first prank, "borrowing" garden gnomes from homes all over town and putting them all in front of the school.  But their pranks begin to go awry, causing property damage and putting people in serious danger, and then someone else pranks them, exposing their involvment.  Now Jeremy finds the prospect of getting expelled all to likely, and begins to reconsider if that's what he really wants.

My Thoughts 
This book is okay, but it didn't "wow" me.  It is a decent light read for a tween audience, but it seemed a little too superficial, and had some points that really bugged me.  I would recommend it for a tween who just wants a quick, light-hearted read, though many might have a little trouble relating to the whole private school thing, particularly in my area, as most kids here go to public school.


At first I found the main character to be likable, but as the story progressed I found myself disgusted at his cowardice in letting his sister and her volleyball team take the blame for one of his pranks gone wrong, and at his lack of sense in thinking locking people IN the classrooms and bathroom was a harmless prank.  I also didn't like how he took his long-time friend Emily for granted, and let his other, new and "cooler" friends make fun of her and didn't stand up for her.  

The ending also just seemed a bit ridiculous.  He is about to get expelled or worse, then Claudia rushes in to take the blame for everything.  And she just gets a smack on the wrist, for the exact same thing he would have been expelled for!  It is explained away as being because her family is wealthy and donates a significant amount of money to the school.  It was just all too easy and neat.  There should have been more conflict and angst and they both should have gotten more serious consequences considering how much damage they caused and how much danger they potentially put people in with their last pranks.

This is Lee Gjertsen Malone's debut novel.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Today At The Desk.....

Today, it was somewhat unpleasant working at the desk.  Not because of difficult patrons or anything like that, it was just miserably hot!  We've had an unseasonably warm spell this week, and our HVAC system just isn't able to respond very quickly, so it was still in winter mode.  Thankfully I had anticipated it and dressed for summer; some of my co-workers had to be on the verge of heatstroke in their long sleeves and sweaters!
It was not super busy, but the list of items that needed to be pulled and processed for holds and transfers was uncharacteristically HUGE!  It took at least an hour, maybe more, to get them all pulled and processed, and that was with my co-worker checking them in as I pulled!  At first I could not figure out why it was SO long; then I realized it most likely had to do with one of our branches being closed.  We are opening a brand new, larger branch to replace the oldest branch in the system, and the old building closed last week, but the new one won't be open until next week.  So I imagine many patrons that normally went to that branch are having to request materials from other branches.
After all that was done I had an interesting patron who wanted to see version of C. Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas", including parodies.  I found him several to look at, and he explained he wanted to write a parody of his own, based on lore of ancient Egypt, which was another interest of his.  He proceeded to tell me many interesting facts related to the original poem.
Then I had a chance to help a sweet older lady who needed help finding directions to a nursing facility where a friend of hers had been admitted.  The patron had impaired vision which she said made it difficult for her to use the computer.  So first I looked up the facility and made sure I had the right location and I pulled it up on Google maps and was able to zoom in enough for her to see it.  I pointed out the route and major roads and landmarks to help her get her bearings and be sure she understood where it was and what the nearest bus stop was.  Then I was able to print it out for her large enough that she could see it, and made sure that she understood and had all the information she needed.  She was very appreciative and I was glad I was able to help her.
And of course just as my shift was ending, the air conditioning finally kicked on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review of "The Summer I Wasn't Me" by Jessica Verdi

The Summer I Wasn't Me  by Jessica Verdi.  April 1, 2014.  Sourcebook Fire.  352 pages (paperback edition).  Teen & Adult.

During the summer before her senior year, seventeen year-old Lexi finds herself on the way to a conversion camp for gay teens.  Not because she truly feels bad about being gay or really wants to change, but because she fears what will become of her mother and their relationship if she doesn't.

Just when her mother seemed like she might finally be starting to recover from her deep depression following the death of Lexi's father six months earlier, she discovers Lexi's secret, and is devastated by it all over again.  Fearing that this may completely destroy her mother, or at least their relationship, Lexi agrees to go to the conversion camp suggested by their pastor in a misguided attempt to preserve what's left of her family.

At first Lexi wants to believe conversion is possible, and really makes an effort to do everything the camp's director, Mr. Martin, and the counselors tell them, even though she can't help but feel like some of it is ridiculous.  She bonds with her group members Matthew, Daniel, and Carolyn, who have each come to the camp for very different reasons.  As the summer progresses, Lexi continues to question whether real change is possible, while she continues to hope that it is, and eventually to question the ethics and motivation of the camp director himself.

My Thoughts
This is a fairly well-paced book about self-discovery, and learning that while you may be willing to go to great lengths to protect and please those you love, in the end you have to be true to yourself.  While I would expect this book to appeal to teens who are in the LGBTQ community, I think it would have a broader appeal as well, as many of us sometimes struggle with figuring out who we are and what we want, especially when that doesn't necessarily fit in with what is expected by our families and/or community.  It might also be of interest to those who are curious about these "conversion camps" are like, though the author doesn't really mention what kind of research she did to support her portrayal, and I think would be a good first book for someone who hasn't read any LGBTQ fiction before.

Overall, I thought it was a good story, though it did have some weak points I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a little more.  I did really like how the four characters each came from different backgrounds and had very different reasons for being at the camp and very different views of homosexuality in general, and their own sexuality specifically.  One thing that bothered me was that Lexi was portrayed as thinking of herself as Christian and attending church regularly, but there was no mention of how she reconciled that with being gay.  She is shown to be uncomfortable with some of the sermons and teachings, but not with being gay.  It just seems to me that someone who was religious would at least have some inner struggle with reconciling that with being gay at some point, and I think including that in her story would have made her seem more real.

I felt that Carolyn's character was not as believable or as well-developed as the others.  Her whole story and reason for being there just didn't really make sense, and it seems her character's only really purpose was to be hot and serve as Lexi's same-sex crush at camp to cause her to doubt the possibility of conversion.  I loved Matthew's character the most, and found him to be the most "real", and I was left still worrying if he was okay and wondering what happened to him after camp.  I felt the most sorry for Daniel, being tortured by his deep-seated religious beliefs and self-loathing, and I worried about him throughout the whole story.  I really wish there had at least been an epilogue that summarized what happened with each of the characters and their relationships with each other and their families after they left camp, or better yet, a longer story with a more complete ending.

Other Books By This Author
The Summer I Wasn't Me is Jessica Verdi's second book, with her most recent being What You Left Behind.  My Life After Now was her debut novel. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Summary & Review of Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  January 5, 2016.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  320 pages.  Ages 8-12.

Twelve-year old twins Nick and Eryn have had a pretty uneventful childhood.  Though their parents divorced when they were young, it was very amicable and they have been able to remain friends and continue to co-parent together. 

Then one morning their mother announces she is getting married.  Though the twins are only a little surprised; after all their mother and Michael have been dating for a couple of years.  They like Michael, so at first they are okay with the idea, until their mom tells them they are going to move into a new house.  Then she drops a real bombshell:  Michael has two children of his own, Ava and Jackson, that they have never even heard about, much less met, before now.  Even stranger, their mom tells them that they will never meet their new step-siblings, even though they will share a house, just not at the same time.

Nick and Eryn and very perplexed by this strange arrangement, and become intensely curious about Ava and Jackson.  How old are they?  What do they look like?  What kind of things do they like to do?  Why are their parents so determined that they should not meet?  None of it makes any sense.  The twins take advantage of an unexpected snow day resulting in them being home alone to break into their step-siblings locked bedrooms, finding them almost eerily similar to their own.  In one, they find the address to Ava and Jackson's home with their mother. 

Nick and Eryn sneak over to the house in hopes of seeing and possibly meeting Ava and Jackson.  What they end up seeing leaves them shocked and feeling frightened and betrayed.  As they search for answers, what they find turns their world upside down. 

My Thoughts
This is the first of a 2-part sci-fi mystery that is very fast-paced and starts with what seems to be a typical family, but the mystery develops quickly, with some very surprising discoveries.  This book is written in similar style to the author's previous works, and will not disappoint fans of her other books.  I would recommend this for ages 10-12 primarily, though some younger and older readers might enjoy it as well, and those who are fans of science fiction or mystery fans who are open to trying sci-fi.

On thing I found interesting about the story was that an important scene was set in Mammoth Cave National Park, which is in my home state.  What was even more interesting to me was the story behind how the author chose that particular setting.  As it turns out, the author had been invited to visit two elementary schools in the nearby city of Bowling Green (where my daughter's college happens to be), and her visit coincided with a sinkhole opening up under the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green and swallowing up eight classic Corvettes.  This drew her attention to the abundance of caves and sinkholes in the area, including Mammoth cave, and led to her using it in her book. 

Other Books by This Author
Margaret Peterson Haddix has written many popular books for middle grade and young adult readers, both stand alone stories as well as the well-known Missing and Shadow Children series. 

The story of Under Their Skin is concluded in the sequel, In Over Their Heads.