Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters

Love, Hate, and Other Filters
By Samira Ahmed
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Previewed courtesy of

I am surprisingly pleased how much I liked this book. I didn't know what to expect, and that may have helped -- so I didn't have preconceived notions of what was coming. Trying to represent a culture without making it stereotypical is difficult, and since I'm not Indian-American or Muslim-American, I have to rely on the author and editor to tell a truthful story. I feel like they did because the characters interacted so well with each other... believable dialog and plot made this an emotionally accessible story for many cultures to understand and relate to - whether through empathy or sympathy, the book's characterizations were well created. I believed their motives and their actions.

I enjoyed the thread of movie-making commentary throughout the story, too. It backed up Maya's hopes and dreams and how invested in them she was. It was sometimes corny, but even Maya acknowledged that, so it wasn't distracting. Maya's friends, family, classmates, and community all play a well thought out role in the story.

SPOILER ALERT: The only place I waivered was trying to believe that no one else knew about Phil's secret place.  END OF S.A.

I had a bit of a "Sixth Sense" moment at the end of the story when I wanted (and did) go back to the beginning and re-read the interspersed story to make sure I understood what I had read. This is a good thing, by the way... it meant I was invested in the story and cared enough to revisit it. I'm glad I did, too. It reinforced how connected we all are and how Maya and her family could have experienced what they did and how they did.

There are some good "lessons" from this story, and they are imparted without being preachy or distracting from the story. I think this book wou;d be a good book for a discussion in a classroom or book club. I will definitely be purchasing this book for my HS Library.

Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Publishing date: January 30, 2018
Previewed via

In all fairness, I have to begin with "I don't like fantasies." However, there are times when I can look past that prejudice and enjoy a story; this isn't one of those times. I found this story convoluted and unable to be untangled.  Some of the text felt trite and wooden. Much of the action or description felt like it was included because the author or editor felt the text was interesting enough in itself to include in the story, even when it did nothing for the plot or characterization. I don't want to include specifics in case they are spoilers for those who might enjoy this book. But these extraneous blurbs added to my confusion about where the story was going, and even where it ended up. Not a retold-tale, not a fairy tale,  just a fish-out-of-water tale that doesn't hold water for me. I probably won't include this in my HS Library collection because it doesn't stand up to tales like Miss Peregrine, Coraline, and other similar stories.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: The Silence of Our Friends

Pub Date   ,  graphic novel  , nonfiction 

The Silence of Our Friends sets us up for a very timely discussion. Although some reviews that I read about this graphic novel fault it on its one-sided perspective, I disagree. A memoir is someone's experience, and people can't change that to suit their own agendas. I thought the story was very well told in both words and drawings; it created mood and tone, empathy and sympathy, realization and disbelief. I think this would make a good book for a group discussion or book club, but it would not be a stand-alone choice for my high school graphic novels shelf due to the language as well as the need I feel it sets up to process or debrief the nature of the historic events and their implications to history and for today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Plague Land

Plague Land by Alex Scarrow
Read through NetGalley
publishing date December 1, 2017

No spoilers in this review...

Getting this review in under the wire! But.... Plague Land is GREAT! To be honest, I wasn't getting into it at first, but I soon couldn't put it down! And for those of you who don't like cliffhangers, this isn't one; though, it does leave itself open for a sequel!

Just enough science to make it scifi instead of fantasy, it is a story with a wide appeal. While the tension isn't too aggressive to scare off casual readers, avid fans of runaway virus stories won't be disappointed, either. The characters have depth - as far as the typical YA novel where the child is smarter than the parent goes. There is even international appeal as the virus goes, um, viral.

What's really appealing is the great descriptions of the evolving virus. Scarrow's adept as creating vivid images without details that drag down the storytelling.

I will definitely be getting this for my high school library!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

School librarians or Techbrarians

I publicly commented on this Facebook post, “Couldn't have made the argument without it being a sexist post?” and Nadine Bailey replied, “I’m not sure sexist - feminist yes. But backed up with data and taking about broad trends rather individual situations - and as I stated I’m in a fortunate position in my campus.” The Future Ready Librarians post was originally on
by Nadine Bailey, November 11, 2017.

In fairness to Nadine, she came right out and said,
And I’m wondering, not saying this is a fact, just wondering out loud, whether it has anything to do with the fact that so many of those leading this corner of the education landscape are male as are most of the leadership in schools?
Also in fairness and in resemblance to Nadine (and all of us), my personal background, too, affects my perspective.  First, I was biased since I just received my Google for Education Certified Trainer status on November 9, 2017. Secondly, I am a school librarian who is a past-president of my state’s school librarian association, and thirdly, I am a [probably] a member of what Nadine refers to when she said, “I’m not going to name names but it’s a biggie, and one of my fellow (male) librarians managed to convince the organisers to include a library strand.”

I’ll share how I began my own soul-searching about Nadine’s assertions: by looking up “sexist” vs “feminist.” My inclination was to think of ‘sexist’ as having a negative connotation, as representing an action as opposed to an idea, and as being oppressive, demeaning, and possibly illegal.  I viewed ‘feminist,’ on the other hand, as having a neutral or positive connotation, as suggesting a philosophy or morality to follow, and as being supportive, thought-provoking, and certainly not illegal. (11/12/2017) defined sexist as “pertaining to, involving, or fostering

  1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.

  2. The belief that one gender is superior to the other, especially that men are superior to women.” (11/12/2017) defined feminist (feminism) as “ A person whose beliefs and behavior are based on

  1. Belief in or advocacy of women's social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes.

  2. A doctrine advocating social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

OK. That felt better. I have no disagreement with Nadine’s proffer and premise based on her perspective.

I entirely agree with Nadine’s suggestion, “... that the decline in school libraries and school librarians is inversely correlated with the rise in EdTech or Digital Tech or Digital Literacy teams and resources.” I have a few theories why as well, though they are exofeminist. Primarily, ‘tech’ is the sexy buzz prefix of the era. Risking the ire of my school librarian colleagues, I’ve even begun to call myself Techbrarian. My students ‘get it,’ and my teachers embrace it. I really believe they are more comfortable with the ‘tech’ in my title, since they intuit that I’m more than the “Book Lady” but aren’t sure why. Another of my posits arises from my philosophy of my role as a school librarian; my job is to ensure that the teachers get the resources they need to ensure student success. That gives me 125+ patrons, who in turn have 1,500+ clients. Here’s the problem created: if I’m doing my job correctly, I am practically invisible because I’m making the teachers look good. (And before you panic, don’t worry; I facilitate student learning directly, as well; the above merely explains a philosophy, not a practice, since students, teachers, staff, and administrators are all my patrons.) To offset this self-imposed invisibility, I also create an environment of public praise when a teacher is successful using something I’ve helped them achieve (an email to their supervisor, a mention at a faculty meeting, a good word at the lunch table, etc.). In return, my teachers tell their supervisors how I’ve helped them, suggest to their colleagues to come to me for similar help, and tell administration to present professional development opportunities to spread the knowledge.

Like Nadine, I also
...could use every iteration of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet tools from the very first most basic types. When I say I can use, I REALLY can use. I know how to use templates, make an index, do auto-intext citation, add captions, make data tables, pivot tables, look ups, statistical analysis, import addresses into labels etc etc. And what I don’t know I know how to find out how to do, either online or because I know people who know their S*** around this type of stuff. People of my generation and younger. I also have an Education masters in knowledge networks and digital innovation [I have two Masters: one in Secondary Education and one in School Librarianship,] follow all sorts of trends and tools and try everything at least once.  I can use basic HTML and CSS and find out how to do anything if I get stuck. I know how to learn and where to learn anything I need to know and I’m prepared to put in the time to do so. This is in a “just-in-time-and-immediate-application-and-use-basis”, rather than a

So why did I pursue the “merits of becoming Google Educator certified?” Because I’m invisible. Whether I’m invisible because my job is to make others look good or because tech is the new sexy or because of some other reason, including the possibility that our schools don’t embrace feminism, becoming a Google for Education Certified Trainer makes me visible. As a Google for Education Certified Trainer, I cannot comment on Nadine’s description of the process or the result (“...a couple of hours of mind-numbingly boring and simple video tutorials and/or multiple choice tests with or without a cheapish fee and then to add a row of downloadable certs into their email signatures…”), but I can admit I “played the game.”

Because yes, Nadine’s right again. What Nadine calls advocacy, I see as the “push” industry mentality of school librarians, whereby our teachers run when they see us coming because we want to help them, and they just “don’t have the time.” I’m tired of us having to push ourselves on them to get them to use us, or even to keep us. Our industry should be a “pull” industry, whereby our services are so invaluable that teachers are clamoring at our doors to get to collaborate with us. I’m tired of school librarians being taught the how to collaborate with teachers, while pre-service teachers aren’t taught how to collaborate with school librarians. I’m tired of asking to be on the district’s tech committee, not only to be turned down, but to then have the committee disbanded. I’m tired of offering to provide professional development at the teacher-, department-, school-, and district-level only to be given five minutes at a faculty meeting. I’m tired of teachers going to the tech guy (with an Associate’s degree) to ask questions of how to integrate technology to make their lessons better rather than coming to me (with two Masters and National Board Certification). (Shoutout to my tech guy, though; unless they are asking an equipment question, he always refers them to me.😉)

Nadine’s more right than she knows. Not only are school librarians part of the Island of Misfit Toys and at the wrong table at the education conference, the parent organization of U.S. school librarians also seats us at the kiddie table. At their national conference one year, their get-to-know-you bingo card icebreaker listed every kind of librarian, including youth librarian (which is a public librarian moniker), with the exception of school librarian. This is even more heartbreaking considering I learn more relevant topics and issues at the national education conference than I do at the national school librarians conference.

Here’s where Nadine and I differ, though. Technology changed or eliminated many jobs over the years. We no longer need bowling alley pinsetters, switchboard operators, Daguerreotypists, town criers, or lamplighters. Likewise, think about jobs that didn’t exist 20 years ago until the technology developed, such as app developer, Uber driver, drone operator, and genetics counselor. Regardless of the gender neutrality of technology (or lack thereof), school librarians will either adapt or atrophy. I became a Google for Education Certified Trainer in order for the badge to speak for me when I’m otherwise invisible. Since our collective ability to advocate for ourselves isn’t working world-wide as Nadine acknowledged, I prefered to flourish rather than languish or perish. Although I played the game, I prefer to think of it as (11/12/2017) self-betterment: n. personal improvement in terms of education, prospects, etc.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Recipe for Hate

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to preview yet another YA novel. This one, Recipe for Hate by Warren Kinsella, will be published December 5, 2017.

Because it is set in and around Portland, Maine, which was a favorite vacation spot of mine for 10 years and is where my husband and I met the son we adopted, I really wanted to like this more than I ended up doing. I think it's because, as far as storytelling goes, the setting overpowered the narrative. While the plot could have happened anywhere, Kinsella made Portland practically one of the characters. I would feel much more comfortable recommending this to my high school readers if I didn't think they'd be bored by all of the setting descriptions interrupting the flow of the story.

Other than that, though, when I could downplay the interference of setting descriptions, the story itself was compelling. Part cultural history, part murder mystery, Recipe for Hate helps today's readers understand the punk rock movement and see that the racism of neo-Nazis has been around for a while.

I required a bit of suspension-of-disbelief with the main character X as the hero.  As a character, X was part The Outsiders and part Fonzie from Happy Days -- a tough underdog who was feared and revered by his peers and adults alike. The coincidences toward the end, of the punks using their acquaintances with bikers as allies and the police choosing to apply the law where it benefitted them, added to the surreal impossibilities of this being a realistic and not hyperbolic tale.

Readers will relate to the way the teens in this book think and are thought about by adults. They will be interested in reading how Kinsella describes the murders, the friendships, and kidnapping. This is where Kinsella's attention to detail allows readers' creative imaginations to flow - and Kinsella writes some great descriptive images. Unfortunately, then, the fact that this is all taking place in Maine intrudes on the narrative progression. I understood the importance of the plot occurring in "Small Town, USA." As a reader, though, I needed to know why it was so important that it happened in Portland. A map of Portland on the end pages would have been more useful, i.e., less intrusive, than precise details of streets in Portland.

As I said, I really liked the premise of the story  - I just wish I hadn't been grounded to Portland or encountered a demigod-like X. (p.s. - I'm still not sure why the book is entitled Recipe for Hate.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

NetGalley Badged Me!

NetGalley Badges!

My First Three Badges

10 Book Reviews... Frequently Auto-Approved... Professional Reader

10 Book Reviews Frequently Auto-Approved Professional Reader

Review: All the Wrong Chords

All the Wrong Chords 
by Christine Hurley Deriso
Publication date December 12, 2017

This book is spot on! I can't wait to get it for my high school library!  First of all, the characters had depth and believability. I understood their motives, which were well supported by the plot and background information. The main character, Scarlett, could be any teen who is drawn to the bad boy in spite of the overt and covert clues around her to stay far away from him. The storyline was well thought out and provided enough twists and surprises to maintain interest (hint, I speculated on the biggest surprise and was rewarded when I turned out to be correct.) The treatment of drug addiction and its stigma was well handled with sensitivity and a philosophy to not blame the victim. I highly recommend this title for all YA collections.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Review: Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink

Pub Date  

Read through

It took me a while to get "into" the story, but once I did, I was compelled to read. I think the fact that this is not only historical fiction but partially historical fact, as well as timely, makes it a good read.

I often wonder whether the notes afterwards should be read before or after reading the story. Since the book's syntax isn't too difficult, it might be a good suggestion for reluctant readers to read the notes as a motivator.

At the risk of making this into a book that teachers require in order to initiate discussions, I think it's subject matter might make for a good connecting read to studies of culture or terrorism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Wendy Project

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne; publisher PaperCutz/Super Genius on July 18, 2017.

Here's what I told the publisher...  "Highly dependent on knowledge of the original Peter Pan story, but made quite relevant to today's teenage experience. Multi-layered nuances will make for deeper exploration than this story could be told in just words. Sometimes over-exaggerates the "clueless adult" stereotype."

Familiar enough with the Peter Pan story, I got through this graphic novel unscathed. However, I'd like a couple of more read-throughs to get to the bottom of a few parallels...

  1. Peter Pan and Mr. Peters
  2. Tinkerbell and Jenny Wren
  3. Captain Hook and the police
  4. The innuendo of the Lost Boys
  5. Any connection with the rock-throwing kids
Yadda yadda...

I would also like to explore the use of color, where it was or wasn't used, as well as which colors were used when and why.

The reader roots for Wendy, partially because the adults have been stereotyped as clueless, inflexible, and distracted. But there were also many times where I thought to myself, "That's EXACTLY what a teenager would think!" This made Wendy's story fantastically realistic (fantastical realism).

Little things made this a fun visual read, such as the onomatopoeia of the siren sound and the gestures of our first encounter with the police.

In spite of all of these avenues to explore in this brief but compelling story, I'm still not sure to whom I would recommend this book. It's multi-leveled layers make it as easy or difficult as a reader chooses to make it, but I'm not sure who that reader might be... fairytale readers? graphic novel readers? fantasy readers? I'll try 'em all and see what sticks.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Comic Book Story of Video Games

The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack Mcgowan, published by Ten Speed Press, publication date October 3, 2017.
This is my first non-fiction review, so be gentle on me :o)  
I'll begin by saying how surprisingly interesting I found the subject to be; I intended to read this to see if my high school Manga-loving students would like this. I've decided that, even if they wouldn't, the robotics-, engineering-, and coding-type gamers would! There were so many interesting factoids in the telling of this history. (I'm tempted to leak a few to you here, but I wouldn't want a spoiler alert tagged to this review.) Suffice it to say, that in 181 pages of story, I annotated 24 or so places with 'interesting factoid.'

The vocabulary might be a bit elevated for some high schoolers, but those with an interest in this topic will probably glean or look up the meanings of the unknown terms; it doesn't happen often enough to turn off a reader. There were a few places where I felt a chronological disconnect to the unfolding of the history, almost as if the author thought the relevance of a fact was more important in deciding its placement than pure chronology; if only that were always the case... at least twice I needed to reread sections because I thought I had 'missed' something, but rereading didn't clarify the information placements. Still, it was historical, so I tried just to absorb the significance of the information without the need to strictly enforce the chronology.

The storytelling depends heavily on Moore's Law without ever explaining it. (see if you, too, don't know Moore's law.) There were also a few places where I would have liked to have been told the source of the information being touted as fact since I practice a healthy skepticism of weighted adjectives that appear alongside data.

The distractions described were fairly minor to my overall enjoyment of the history of video games (hint: my first personal awareness of video gaming coincides with page 87 or so). I thoroughly enjoyed the many pop culture, political, and historical gaming evolutionary connections the author made throughout the story. Psychology, marketing, politics, war, engineering, computers, electricity, culture... the author included something with which a multitude of readers could engage. (Simply put: something for everyone.)

My enjoyment was OBVIOUSLY enhanced by the clever, detailed, and engaging drawings in this graphic novel. At least twice I full-stopped reading just to appreciate the humor and allusions the drawing provided to heighten the experience. The pictures were not merely embellishments; they sometimes were the story! Some of the best pictures were enough to jog my memory, explain something new, or complete a written explanation. Note: The cover doesn't do the inside any justice:

I'm looking forward to recommending this title to my non-fiction readers as well as my computer, gaming, coding, and Manga-ing students (and teachers!)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Fix Me

From NetGalley:

Fix Me by Lisa M. Cronkhite; Publisher: North Star Editions; publish date: November 28, 2017

If Pen hadn't called Jenelle, how would Jenelle have gotten into the story? Was that a supernatural occurrence or coincidence?

Even simple things interrupted my flow of the story, like some problems with the school the author created:
  1. No punishment for cutting from school
  2. Baloney that the librarian would let Pen off without a pass - twice
Factual applications of the use of drugs, even a made-up drug - don't match what would be expected… Drugs don't last as long as the author purports (up to 8 weeks in bloodstream). Even though this is fiction, I was distracted from the more realistic time frame of 3-6 weeks in urine and 3 days in blood.

Other drug side effects the author created weren't used consistently: for example, recurring visions of unknown people, even when a person is not currently high. But Pen has been on for a year, so wouldn't that mean that Pen would have had extra-Nate visions before now? What about the inconsistency of when Pen becomes nauseous and vomiting?

The police scenes are so unrealistic. Pen and her friends are minors taken to the police station without a guardian or a lawyer!

And why would the rehab let Pen out immediately after she just had what they think is a reaction to the meds they’ve put her on?

I don't think the story knows what it wants to be. Ghost story? Mystery? Realistic fiction with hallucinations? It wasn't the story that was a mystery; it was the editing. Ouch...sorry...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Munro vs the Coyote

From NetGalley:
Munro vs. the Coyote by Darren Groth, Orca Book Publishers, publication date: October 17, 2017

I have to admit I'm not sure about the coyote. Why a coyote? Dunno. Don't care. (Well, I do, but ...) Regardless, I LOVE this book! Kept me interested the whole time. I loved going on Munro’s journey of wellness, of er . I enjoyed the characterizations of the main characters and the supporting characters; they all felt real and purposeful and relevant to the story. Darren Groth’s backstories and dialogue gave real dimension to each character’s role. Even Munro’s Canadian parents took the journey with him, and I rooted for them all to succeed. The storytelling provided real tenderness and conflict, doubts and supports, humor and fear. I highly recommend this book for high school libraries and public library YA collections. 

Friday, June 23, 2017


From NetGalley:

Contribute by Kristy Acevedo, published by Flux: Jolly Fish Press, SciFi/Fantasy, Teens & YA, Publish date: July 11, 2017

I read Consider, so I thought I'd see what's up in Contribute. Kristy Acevedo did some good things to help readers transition, i.e., remember, from one book to the next... but it took a while to get there. I was almost a third of the way through the book before I felt connected to this part of the story, and not because of a gap in continuity. There were just a lot of inconsistencies in this as a stand-alone story that made the beginning of this story drag for me. For ex., I got caught up in how the hologuides would know what a grain of rice is to explain nanoholocoms in that way. If Doctor A. arrived at about the same time Alex did (to be standing in line with her), then how did he know already what Skylucent was? Most importantly, how does an advanced society not know their 'guests' have disrupted the communication/tracking devices and believe that they are in sleep mode for such extended periods of time? Then Acevedo starts to hit her stride. I became engaged with the writing, "Soap doesn't equal tranquility," and "really down-to-earth"; I bet Acevedo couldn't wait to use that line LOL. Another great line is "Alexandra Lucas. Saved." Finally, I loved the author's play on the use of "Mississippi." Readers of The Hunger Games, who enjoy a young female protagonist, will enjoy this series as well. Alex is a humble and gracious heroine.

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

From Netgalley:
36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant, published by Perseus Books, Running Press, Teens & YA, Publish date: October 17, 2017

Love, love, LOVE this book! Great dialogue, humor, and unsappy pathos. Likable, well-fleshed out lead characters (supporting characters enough for their supporting roles) embody a truly engaging, relatable YA story. The author does a great job using dialogue to create mood, especially in the opening scene; adept use of sentence structure produces the scene's chaos. [A quirky side note: the word 'raisin' is used twice in this book.] The scene in room 417 reminds me of a two-person "Breakfast Club;" that's a compliment. The author's descriptions are good and supply vivid images to enhance the story. I'm seriously enjoying the level of vocabulary used in this book, too; it's elevated yet accessible. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Before I Let Go

From Netgalley: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp Published by SOURCEBOOKS Fire Mystery & Thrillers , Teens & YA Pub Date 23 Jan 2018

I'm surprised how disappointed I was with this title. I understand that the author is part of a diversity initiative, but the inclusion of some of the, um, inclusions seemed gratuitous. For example, in only one paragraph in the whole book was it thrown in that Corey had a black friend at school. It wasn't made relevant to the story; it wasn't necessary to the characterization or plot development; it was just thrown in for diversity's sake. That's not really my first disappointment, though. It's related to how many themes this one book tackles. Manic-depression, gays and lesbians, asexuality, suicide, the environment, precognition, superheroes, There were also a few Leitwortstils going on: the "endless day, endless night" song and "So be it." Nothing wrong with this device, but it felt excessive. The salmonberries motif was never resolved other than to allude to the fact that that "they don't grow here... The girl holds flowers that shouldn't be." The foreshadowing throughout the story was too obvious, too blatant -- luckily, none of the plot foreshadowing got mixed in with the prescient aspects of Kyra's malady. The superhero and the stars motifs left nothing to the reader's imagination; the author spelled out the metaphors through the characters' thoughts and dialog. I also had questions as to some of the characters' actions. For example, while I understand why a teen gets involved in life and cannot answer ever letter she receives, I don't understand why Corey didn't respond to Kyra's "I want to study myths, not star in one" letter. Also, how can the town folk keep accusing Corey of leaving when she was just a 17 year old girl who was moved by her mother's job situation and not someone who ran from the situation? How did Roshan, who didn't even know Corey seven months ago, know that the Hendersons "care about you [Corey], like a second daughter" ... Especially since Kyra was separated from her family for quite some time in the seven months since Corey left? Finally, was the seven months that Corey was gone enough time for the whole town to turn into the Stepford Wives? I guess I expected realistic fiction and got magical realism, which is irrelevant to my overall reaction to the storytelling. This would make a good book from which to teach metaphors and motifs, but it's not a must-have title for a school library.
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