Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shutter by Courtney Alamenda

Genres: Horror, Thriller, Young Adult
Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Source: ARC from Publisher

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Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

Shutter has left me in a turmoil because I am not exactly sure how I feel. It’s safe to say I enjoyed reading it but at the same time, I did not like the characters.

Our main character, Micheline is really self-absorbed at times. She seems to make everything about her, including the lives of her fellow team mates and I am not sure how I feel about that. Considering the fact that they work as a team, the fact that she keeps secrets from them, secrets that could possibly endanger their lives, just doesn’t sit right with me. She is a 17 year old with a superiority complex and she just reallllly bothered me at times with her self-pitying.

The rest of the characters are not much better and at one point Micheline calls one of her friends emo just because she thinks that some of his characteristics are ‘emo’. It’s so offensive and throughout the story, Oliver seems to be separated from the group because he is the brains and not the brawns and I don’t like this distinction. No matter what role they play, as a part of their team, all members contribute to the well-being and should NOT be put down because of that.

I don’t know what was happening with Jude either, he was kind of a sexist jerk and said things like “you punch like a girl” and I was just like whaat? What does he mean, Micheline punches like a girl? Is he putting her down because of the fact she is a girl? Even though she is a lot more successful at exorcising ghosts than he is? I think the author may have been trying to make him seem like a bad boy who was a puppy at heart but let me tell you that that did NOT work. He just came off as a jerk most of the times.

Ryder, the love interest, is pretty much the only character that didn't really bother me. He was, for the most part, respectful of Micheline and it was only his 'golden boy perfectness' that bothered me at times.

As a team, they aren't much better and at one point Micheline mentions that the boys have this ‘macho’ thing going on where they won’t really talk about their injuries in front of one another. SERIOUSLY? You are a team. You work as a team. The fact that you get hurt is completely normal and this should not be something to hide from your team. I really just don’t understand the dynamics within their team. They are called a team but they don’t seem to work as one and that was a huge issue with me.

I want to give them credit though and I like that when Micheline’s dad slapped her and she refused to acknowledge it, her friends told her to stop because it was abuse. He slaps her and breaks all of her cameras and she cannot just keep making excuses for him! Her friends realized that and that made me feel a lot better about them.

Her dad has some serious issues and I don’t think there is enough words to talk about what kind of a jerk he was to his grieving young daughter. He is not fit to be a father and should have his parent card revoked. I do not kid.

The romance within the novel was kind of awkward and given the nature of their situation, I just wished it would go away.

Now, I am done ranting about the things I didn’t enjoy and I can finally move on to the good stuff. The horror aspects of this novel were so incredibly well done and they were the reason why I could continue reading even though I wasn’t getting along with the characters.

The author really knows how to create a creepy atmosphere. Plus the way she incorporated the Van Helsing/Dracula stuff within the story made it so enjoyable. More than that, she also has an original take on the whole idea of ghost hunting where the main character hunts the ghosts with her camera.
At first, I admit I was a little thrown off (for some reason I had missed that part in the blurb), but it’s clear the author has done her research and isn’t just randomly throwing something like that in for the purposes of originality.

The plot is also well paced and the mystery aspect is well done. I was scared for these characters’ life (hey just because I wasn’t their biggest fan doesn’t mean I want them dead). She had me on the edge of my chair, flipping through the pages, trying to figure out why all of this was happening.

The twist towards the end was one that I only guessed at and so it managed to take me off guard. I had no idea that was the direction the author would head down and that just made me so much more interested.

Going back to the character’s for a moment though, seeing them in all these scary situations really helped me understand them better which was why, in the end, I was able to still enjoy the story in spite of the drawbacks.

I genuinely hope there will be a sequel because I want to see where the author can go with this and I am curious to see how things will change and develop in future books.

This may not be a perfect book but it is fantastic brain candy and if you’re curious, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to give it a shot.

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

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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.