Friday, February 27, 2015

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

From the publisher:

For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried—some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive.

Only Thomas Ward is left. He's the last hope, the last apprentice.

Galesburg Public Library's Chapter Chompers Teen Book Club read The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch as its February selection.  Overall, the seven teens who attended our discussion of the book had some very mixed opinions.  First, the positives: book club members really enjoyed drawing comparisons between the characters in the book and various historical figures (16th-17th century European "witches") and even mythological figures (one book club member compared the Spook to Hermes, the Greek conductor of souls into the afterlife).  The teens were really intrigued by the character of Mam and had lots of questions about who she really is: is she good or evil? What is her connection to the Spook?  In general, she was the teens' favorite character in the book, a real "boss mom" according to one teen.

The teens had a lot of complaints about the book as well, though. First and foremost: they didn't really like Tom, the main character, all that much. When asked to describe him, book club members first couldn't remember his name ("easily forgettable!" proclaimed one teen), and then listed such attributes as "boring," "possibly an idiot," and "horrible with babies." It seemed like a number of plot contrivances came together to make things reeeaaaallly convenient for Tom. Tinderbox, anyone? The teens also did not like how girls and women were treated in the book, with one teen reader describing the Spook as "sexist as heck."

The Chapter Chompers 5-point book rating system is as follows:
1 (lowest ranking) = 1 pizza
2 = 2 pizzas
3 = 3 pizzas
4 = breadsticks
5 = unitado

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch achieved a rating of 1 pizza. It is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Backyard Witch by Christine Heppermann

Series: Backyard Witch #1
Genres: Magic Realism, Childrens, Middle Grade
Release Date: July 21st, 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Add on Goodreads
Sadie has two best friends: Jess and Maya. But Jess can only take one friend on vacation with her, and Sadie is the one who gets left behind. How will she ever survive the days of loneliness and boredom? But wait . . . what is that in her old playhouse in the backyard? A witch has moved in! A kind and funny witch, who's looking for her own two lost friends. Together, Sadie and the witch have a curious adventure, one that makes Sadie see her neighborhood--and herself--with new eyes.
I went into this expecting it to be a cute little read, and it was that, but at the same time, it was so relateable. That sounds funny coming from an almost adult but as a kid who had been a third wheel to her friends and sometimes still is, I found an instant way to connect with the main character.

This short book isn’t about a young girl moping around after she is left behind by her friends though, it’s about her finding new friends (whilst keeping her old ones) and it’s about her finding something that is solely hers.

It breaks my heart to admit this but this book isn’t actually about witches *cries* but it’s still amazing and there is some magic involves (both metaphorical and literal).

This is a cute little book about a young girl named Sadie who realizes that there is a lot more to the world than she thought there was. She finds out how fun birdwatching can be and makes friends with an eccentric old woman all the while realizing that being left out doesn’t make her any less special and awesome.

This is a cute little book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants a cute little books about little girls and old eccentric women who think they are witches (and might actually be). Read it, whether you are 7, 17, 27, or 107 because it will still be worth it!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Make It Mighty Ugly by Kim Piper Werker

Are you in a creative rut? Kim Piper Werker’s book Make It Mighty Ugly might just give your creativity a boost.

The author calls her work “A Handbook for Vanquishing Creative Demons,” and it is full of suggestions, exercises, and advice to help you break through your creative blocks and fire up your imagination. The basic premise is that creative demons – self-doubt, perfectionism, fear of failure, and the like – keep us from trying new things, forging ahead, and being as productive as we can be. A slim book (only 205 pages), Make It Mighty Ugly can be skimmed, sampled or read straight through. You can faithfully do all the exercises or just read and think about them.

Although the author talks a lot about knitting, crocheting, and crafting, the principles of the book can apply to work and life generally. The spotlight is on the Mighty Ugly project. In this exercise, you pull together random stuff and create an ugly creature from it. Anything will do – old fabric, bottle caps and popsicle sticks, items from the recycle bin, broken jewelry. By purposefully planning to create something ugly, the hope is that you will tame some of those creative demons. “Making ugly things reminds me to pay attention to the process of making, rather than obsessing about the product,” Werker writes (p. 3).

Werker includes links to a lot of websites and online videos that help make her points. Her writing style is breezy and familiar. In the section Establish a Regular Practice, she notes, “Bear in mind that what works for one person is sure to drive another mad, so read up on famous people’s habits while remembering that whiskey and a pack of cigarettes at seven every morning may not actually be the best path to take.” (p. 133) She offers advice without being a cheerleader. She recognizes that everyone struggles, and that those struggles can’t be entirely eliminated.

I found Make It Mighty Ugly to be an easy and thought-provoking read. If you are in the mood for a self-help challenge or need to spark your creativity, I recommend it.

To make it mighty easy for you, the Galesburg Public Library is hosting a Make It Mighty Ugly workshop on February 25 at 6:30 pm. All you have to do is show up prepared to make something ugly from the materials we supply. You can see the Mighty Ugly creatures made by library staff at their own workshop in the curio cabinet in the library's lobby through the end of February. 

The library also has a book club kit containing 10 copies of the book available for checkout by private book clubs. Call 343-6118 or email for more information. If you'd like a copy of the book to read before February 25, stop by the Reference Desk.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a beautifully written but heartbreaking book about Chechnya in the 20 years between 1994 and 2004. There are several sets of main characters - two sisters, a child and her father's best friend, that man and his sick wife, an elderly man and his son - that cross over into relationships with other characters. The character development is good.

The dialog is believable. The descriptions of life in Chechnya and of the choices real people living there had to make can be very hard to read, but this is a beautiful book if you can deal with those realities. The book contains great moments of despair and hope. The plot does rely a little heavily on coincidence, although most of the coincidences are not revealed until the book's final chapters.

The author jumps around in time, but a helpful timeline appears at the beginning of each chapter. The author has an odd habit of suddenly revealing a character's situation years into the future, at times acting as a spoiler to his own plot, but these passages also reassure the reader that at least some people had futures after the atrocities.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena will make a thoughtful reader consider many issues - what it means to be family, the importance of home, how ordinary people survive and make decisions in terrible circumstances. One of the sisters, a doctor, has a useful but shady contact in Grozny whose least-liked brother Alu she saved in the first war (p. 188):

"Poor, berated Alu, whose name was beaten more than a donkey's ass. Six months after they met she had learned his brother's name was Ruslan, but she would always think of him as Alu's brother. She knew he had amassed a small fortune smuggling arms, heroin, and luxury goods for warlords, and had used that fortune to rebuild his ancestral village after the first war. ... When his ancestral village was destroyed again in the second war, she knew he had paid passage to Georgia for his parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, thirty-seven in total, even the oft-cursed Alu, plus the neighbors on either side of every uncle, cousin, and in-law, one hundred and seventy-four in total, where the lived in the Tbilisi apartment block he had purchased for the occasion, neighbor by neighbor, his ancestral village saved for a second and final time."

It can be a challenge to finish a book about a difficult subject, but I definitely recommend A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It was hard to read at times, but I'm glad I read it. The Galesburg Public Library has the book in regular fiction and large print, and as an audiobook and ebook.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Series: Red Queen Trilogy #1
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy, Young Adult
Release Date: February 10th, 2015
Publisher: Harperteen
Source: ARC from Publisher

Add on Goodreads
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard's sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king's palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?

Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood--those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.

To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard--a growing Red rebellion--even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
This is an incredibly hyped book but lately, some negative reviews have been popping up that had me worried. One of my friends adored this book though so I knew I had to at least give it a shot. Was it worth it? That’s a hard question to answer. This is one of those books in which the ending plays a major part so for some people, there feelings towards the book could be completely changed by the ending and for some people, the ending might come too late. I was somewhere in the middle.

You see, this is a perfectly good book but the reason it’s good and not great is that so much of it feels like I am reading some variation or another of books I've already read. With elements reminiscing those of The Hunger Games, The Selection (from what I hear) and even elements of Divergent (and probably some other dystopias I cannot think off at the moment), it feels slightly unoriginal but I have to give Victoria credit, she does make the story her own in ways. The problem was that some of the similarities were obvious and so that hindered my enjoyment of the book. 

Mare is not a character I can say I love but one that intrigues me. She makes a lot of questionable decisions but for some reason, I still liked her. There is something about her that made me feel like I could understand her. She is desperate to find some comfort in this unfamiliar world that has been thrust upon her and it makes sense that her need for comfort will make her blind to certain obvious truths. Certain things that happen towards the end of the book definitely make me think that she is someone who is going to undergo a LOT of development over the course of the series and someone who will manage to win our hearts. I am looking forward to seeing her develop and shed her naivety. 

The secondary characters are all an interesting bunch and I will leave it at that for reasons you may better understand once you have read the book.

I will; however, talk about the two brothers, Maven and Cal. Nothing as is seems with these brothers. Anything could be true and as a wise man one said, trust no one. The brothers are an interesting bunch and I liked getting to see the kind of people they were deep down but more importantly, I liked that neither of the two were perfect! 

The thing more of you will be intrigued about is how these two brothers are involved in the romance. The romance is… interesting but more importantly, it’s not a romance. It’s politics. And no, Mare is not necessarily the victim in this case. It’s very complicated and there isn’t technically a romance in this book. Romance takes place but there is almost no development so I never saw it as a romance (no matter the fact that a certain word was used).

The world building is interesting if not entirely unique. I wanted to know more about the silvers, these god like creatures who hold power over the reds. I want to know more about the war. Really, I just want to know more and I hope that in the books to come, we will get to find out more!

The plot was also set up in an interesting way but one of my major problems were the rebels. Not the idea of them but rather their drive. There was something about them that just didn’t work for me and for that reason, I wasn’t entire sold on the idea of the rebellion.  

It was the ending that made me see what the big deal about this book was. I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised by the ending, I KNEW something was off but at the same time, I was very interested in the affect the ending had on our characters and that’s what made me incredibly happy. The way it brought them together is interesting and I won’t say more because spoilers.

This may not be what I had wanted it to be but at the same time, I thought it was a good read and if you’re curious but scared of the hype, I’d still say to give it a shot since I ended up quite liking the book.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Stranger Thing by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Series: The Ever-Expanding Universe #2
Genres: Science Fiction, Humor, Young Adult
Release Date: November 12th, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Library

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In this witty, adventurous sequel to Mothership, which Publishers Weekly called “a whole lot of fun” Elvie Nara is back on earth—but her life (including her new baby) is still pretty out there!

Pregnancy was pretty rough for sixteen-year-old Elvie Nara, what with the morning sickness, constant food cravings, and the alien race war she found herself in the middle of. But if she thought giving birth to an extraterrestrial’s baby would be the hard part, she was sorely mistaken.

After Elvie somehow has a baby girl, the always-male Almiri completely wig out. Suddenly Elvie’s supposed allies have shipped her—along with her father, her best friend, Ducky, and her maybe-boyfriend, boneheaded Almiri commando Cole Archer—off to a remote “retention facility” (aka alien jail) in Antarctica. Talk about cold. But things really get complicated when a new group of hybrid aliens arrive with information that sends Elvie’s world spinning. Before long, Elvie is trekking across the bottom of the Earth with a band of friends and frenemies to uncover the secrets of her own origin. Will Elvie ever be able to convince the Almiri that a conspiracy to conquer the planet is a greater threat than a sixteen-year-old girl and a newborn who won’t stop crying?
This book was not a large improvement over it’s predecessor and I’d go so far to say that it was actually slightly worse but there is something about this series that makes you want to keep reading in spite of its shallowness. Sometimes we just really need is a nice fluffy read that doesn’t make us ask all the important questions and still manages to entertain us. 

Most of A Stranger Thing takes place over a short period of time and I think that’s one of the things that works for this book. Its fast pace makes it so that the reader just wants to continue reading without any interruptions. The pace makes it easy for the book to suck you in.

Elvie remains the fun witty character she was in the previous book but with the added advantage of being more mature because of her new mommy status. Elvie is a fantastic character to read about. Its just so much fun to watch her deal with problems, both external and internal.

One of her internal conflicts in this book is her relationship with Cole and I find that I like that she is questioning if she wants something long term with him. She loves him but considering how he can be completely irresponsible and immature at times, it’s nice that she isn’t going all ‘I love him and we’ll work though everything’. She has a kid to think about now and is Cole really ready for the kind of responsibility that comes with being a parent?

On that note, I am quite interested in the potential growth Cole might undergo. I’d like to see his character develop from the dumb jock he seems to be. He is a nice change from the usual ‘misunderstood jock’ stereotype but at the same time, I really want to see another side of him, something that’ll make me really connect with his character instead of just laughing at his antics. Elvie deserves better and loving her doesn’t quite make up for the fact that he can be so silly at times. Especially considering the seriousness of the situations the two tend to find themselves in.

That said, I don’t want a love triangle and I don’t think the author will introduce one in the final book (that would just kind of be pointless). What I want is to see crucial character development.

Something else I had a problem with was how certain characters were introduced in this book and after the initial ‘get to know you’, they weren't brought up until the ‘twist’ moments. One of the characters is there with Elvie for a good part of the book but they are almost completely forgotten about until necessary to the plot. What were they doing all that time?!?!?!?! 

There are also some twists in this book and while none of them are unpredictable, I have to say, they weren’t all that bad either. They weren’t in your face obvious and even if I saw them coming,  I think the author did a good job executing them.

If you were to look closer at the plot, you would find that it’s actually not perfect (SURPRISE) but at the same time, it works for this story. I liked what was happening. I liked the way the author introduced us to new concepts and I liked how the author developed the story.

This book is not even close to perfect but in spite of all of its fault it’s such a fun and likeable read and if you want something really fluffy, I’d encourage you to pick the series up (so long as you’re prepared to deal with certain annoying things).

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World is the second book in The Shattered Sea fantasy series. It picks up where Half a King finished up, but Yarvi has become a secondary character in his own tale. The new main characters are Thorn and Brand. Abercrombie is a little heavy handed with Thorn’s name, as she is a thorn in everyone’s side.

Brand and Thorn are teenagers trying to become warriors for Gettland. Due to a series of connected circumstances, they fail at passing their tests and become part of a crew on a ship with Yarvi. Yarvi is trying to find allies for Gettland against the High King.

I enjoyed Half the World but not quite as much as Half a King. It’s one long set up for the climax. A misunderstanding keeps two lovers apart for longer than was believable. I expected to see more of King Uthil, and he is a minor and ineffective character. I hope he returns in glory in the third book.

Abercrombie is a gritty, realistic writer, which I like most of the time although he seems a little obsessed with snot. (There are multiple references to people picking their noses or expelling snot.) Thorn’s inconvenient menstruation is a plot point early in the book – refreshing to find in a fantasy novel - but it never comes up again.

Thorn is not as sympathetic a character as Yarvi and definitely not as likeable. Brand is much more so but the focus is on Thorn. Yarvi is clever, a man of deep cunning, and a master manipulator in a complicated relationship with his fascinating mother the Queen. I would have liked to have seen inside their heads more.

I like Abercrombie’s world and his way with words. I like that he has strong female characters and thoughtful male characters. Brand and his sister have lived in poverty and struggled to survive for many years. When he returns from his long voyage with his pay, he finds that his sister has become a swordsmith and now lives in a fine house.

“Gods,” whispered Brand. “I was going to change your life. You did it by yourself.” (p. 231 of the advance reader copy)

This entry in the series feels less original than the first, but it’s packaged in an entertaining way. There are many echoes of Tolkien (including a warrior who says “it has been foreseen that no man can kill me”), but that’s not a bad thing.

If you enjoy gritty high fantasy with well developed characters that is thoughtful about the “glory” of war, I recommend Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series.

I read an advance reader copy from It is scheduled to be published February 17. The Galesburg Public Library owns the first book in the series, Half a King, in book and audio formats.