Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2

The first volume of this supernatural manga series by the author of the wonderful Dramacon books mainly served to set up the complex premise and supernatural world of the story. The main focus of the story is on teenage Alex, who is a weirn (a sort of witch who possesses a delightful kind of magical familiar called an astral).

Alex's sister, Sarah, had been hired to work at the Nightschool - a nighttime school for supernatural beings - but she has disappeared.  Not only that, but no one seems to recall Sarah's existence at all.  For some mysterious reason, not yet revealed, it was necessary to keep Alex apart from others, so Alex was home schooled, taught by her sister, who was her sole guardian.  In this second volume, Alex enrolls in the Nightschool in an effort to locate her sister. The more Alex investigates her Sarah's disappearance, the more she discovers what a mysterious and amazing place the Nightschool is.  But her search is sidetracked by the actual realities of being a student there.

Meanwhile, the hunters are trying to find a way to save their comrades who were attacked in the first book.  This storyline is still a bit unclear - as far as who exactly the hunters are, and what their purpose is.  The story ends on cliffhanger, but don't worry - Volume 3 has already been published, so there won't be any frustrating wait.

I continue to enjoy this series and find the mix of action/adventure, mysterious atmosphere, and laugh-out-loud humor to be a perfect combination.  My 13-year-old daughter is enjoying the series too, and it's so fun to hear her hoot with laughter as she reads through the books.  This would be a great fit for fans of Gunnerkrigg Court and the graphic novels of Faith Erin Hicks.  Can't wait to read the next volume!

Books in the Nightschool: The Weirn Books series:
Nightschool: Volume 1
Nightschool: Volume 2
Nightschool: Volume 3
Nightschool: Volume 4
Nightschool: Volume 5

Also by Svetlana Chmakova:

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2 by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press, 2009)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Use Your Brain to Change Your Age

I don't review a whole lot of nonfiction on this blog, mainly because I don't read that much nonfiction, but also because writing reviews of nonfiction usually isn't as much fun.  I did want to take a moment to mention this one, which I downloaded as an audio book from my library's website, because it was interesting, and while most of the information as far as healthy living goes wasn't new to me, what was new is how living a healthy lifestyle relates to the health of the brain.

I guess I'd been under the impression that there wasn't a whole lot I could actively do to prevent senility, particularly Alzheimer's disease - I thought that was really genetics and the luck of the draw.  But I am now aware that there is a whole lot I can do - and best of all, most of it I'm already doing.  Yay!  I had read about learning new skills - languages, instruments, etc., later on in life - but that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Basically, anything that you do that increases blood flow - oxygen - to your brain is a huge help.  Aerobic exercise, getting more sleep (that was one that I hadn't been too good about, but now that I'm making a more concerted effort, I've noticed that I do think more clearly, and that I have even more sustained energy throughout the day when I make sure to get a lot of sleep), and eating a diet that is conducive to making your body more efficient at delivering brain-healthy nutrients where they are needed - these are all important things.

It was interesting to think about the fact that when we deprive our body of necessary nutrients that make the brain work less efficiently, our decision-making skills will suffer.  And that as people gain more weight, their brains actually shrink in size - and this impairs the brain's ability to work well and make good choices.  It's a downward spiral, and it's a bit scary.  As with all books about health, I take what is said with a grain of salt - there are so many conflicting studies out there, so I always try to approach books like this with common sense and moderation.  Speaking of grains of salt, I was surprised to hear that salt and high blood pressure are still a firm and obvious connection in the author's mind, despite many recent studies that appear to be disproving that link.  Still, what Amen says makes a lot of sense, and I have to say it feels good to know that while there are many factors I cannot control about how my body will age, I can certainly take ownership of the ones I can.

I liked many things about this book - and the audio reader did a great job.  What I most decidedly did not like was the blatant advertising for additional services (for a fee, of course) through the author's web site.  That bugged me.  Still, his goal of disseminating important health information is a good one, and he makes his case with clear language and plenty of interesting examples.

Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Make You Look, Feel and Think Younger Every Day by Daniel G. Amen; read by Marc Cashman (Books on Tape, 2012)

Also reviewed at:
Bibliophile by the Sea: "I found a lot of what the author says about diet and exercise to have been things that I've read previously in other articles from various health publications I read, but I did find many of the case studies pretty fascinating."

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Liar Society

Feisty, pink-haired Kate is still reeling from the death of her best friend Grace, but she's trying to pull her life together. Then she receives an email purportedly from Grace, and it becomes clear to her that Grace's death wasn't the tragic accident everyone believes it to be.  So Kate determines to discover the truth of it once and for all, but soon she finds herself in danger of suffering the same fate as her friend.

I checked this one out from my library's digital media catalog without knowing much about it. I think I was expecting a supernatural mystery, but there were no actual ghosts or otherworldly elements. I found Kate's voice to be engaging enough, but I never really connected with her - I found her attitude to be rather alienating, actually, particularly the way she treats the boy who has a mad crush on her.

This novel should appeal to teens who enjoy conspiracy novels, private school stories, and mysteries. The setting is evocative, particularly the secret parts of the campus, and the twisting and turning plot is sure to keep readers guessing. I found it entertaining, but don't feel the need to continue reading the series.

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker (Sourcebooks Fire, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Proud Book Nerd: "This book sounds so exciting. But it’s not. And I really didn’t like Kate’s voice. I don’t know what it is, but it just annoyed me quite a bit."
Small Review: " I didn't like a book that everyone else adores. I really wanted to like this book but unfortunately every area fell flat for me."
The Story Siren:  "The story itself was a big guessing game. Whenever I thought I had something figured out, I didn’t. And the ending totally threw me for a loop."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Diary of a Dr Who Addict

David is a teenager who is in that memorable and rather frightening middle ground between childhood and adulthood.  The book is set in in England in the 1980s, and David's story is told in a leisurely, episodic way that gives it the feel of a memoir (and I'd be surprised if much of this book wasn't inspired by Magrs' own life experiences).  David's honest storytelling style makes this book a compelling read.

The book is divided into months and covers about a year of David's life.  As the book opens, he is in his first year of secondary school. His American step-grandmother has come to live with David and his family, and while he enjoys her company (and her interest in his life), the dynamic at home has changed as a result.  His best friend is changing, too, becoming more interested in girls, lifting weights, and music and less interested in what David simply calls The Show: Dr. Who.  David is an enormous Dr. Who fan, and he spends hours reading the books and speculating about the plot of the next episode, not to mention writing stories of his own.

Magrs does an excellent job capturing the mindset of adolescence.  Even though the story is told through David's first-person narration, the reader is able to understand certain aspects of the things David relates that David doesn't quite comprehend himself - which lends a certain amount of humor to the novel, but also made me even more sympathetic to David's situation.  While it's definitely an introspective, quiet book, there is an interesting story here, brought to life through realistic dialogue and the strength of David's emotions and keen observations.  This book should have strong appeal to many different kinds of readers - anyone who loves Dr. Who, of course (although being a fan is not a prerequisite to enjoying this book), but also those who have any show or film or book they obsessed about as a teen, music lovers, and to anyone who enjoys a sensitive and intelligent coming-of-age tale.

The Diary of a Dr Who Addict by Paul Magrs (Simon and Schuster, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Cathode Ray Tube:  "It's a beautifully observed, witty and warm book."
I Was a Teenage Book Geek: "I'd recommend this book to teens who are questioning their own identity, and to anyone who has a nostalgic love for classic episodes of Dr Who."
Wondrous Reads: "Even though I'm not a teenage boy living in the 1980s, I still related to The Diary of a Dr. Who Addict much more than most of the other books I've read."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Liesl & Po

Liesl's father has died, and she is confined to an attic room by her stepmother, where Liesl daydreams and draws and sorely misses her father.  She is very much alone - until one night when a ghost appears in her room.

Will is an alchemist's apprentice, and while his master is unkind and impatient, Will tries his best to do his job, hurrying through the city streets on various errands. The one bright thing in his life is when he hurries down Liesl's street and sees her framed in the attic window.  He's never met her, has no idea who she is, but he knows right away that she is a kind person, someone who would never call him nasty names.

When Will makes a mistake during one of his delivery errands, a box of important and powerful magic becomes mixed up with the box that hold's Liesl's father's ashes.  An adventure ensues, full of mad escapes, magical mishaps, interfering old ladies, and most important of all, the ghost of a boy named Po.

This is an enchanting story that reads like a fairytale, and the illustrations are a perfect complement to the atmospheric text.  There is a touch of humor as well, and while the characters are not very complex, they are certainly engaging.  The story itself is one that will hold readers' attention and keep them guessing the outcome until the very end.  Young readers who enjoy fantasy, adventure and/or ghost stories will find this one very appealing.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver; illustrated by Kei Acedera (Harper, 2011

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Restorer

The Restorer is the first in a series featuring Amelia Gray, a young woman who lives in Charleston and restores dilapidated old cemeteries. This might seem an odd profession for someone who can see ghosts, but given that she grew up in and around cemeteries with a father who worked as a cemetery caretaker, it seemed like a natural step to her.

In this first installment, a murder takes place in the cemetery where Amelia has been working, and Detective John Devlin asks for her help because of the extensive array of photographs she has taken in preparation for her restoration work there, which may contain valuable information. She agrees to help and finds herself very attracted to him, but soon realizes he is haunted by his own ghosts, and as the murder investigation progresses, it becomes clear that her involvement is pushing her into the web of the murderer's schemes.

I found the southern Gothic atmosphere to be compelling, with its old houses, dank and humid cemeteries and ancient gravestones with inscriptions that are clues to the murders. I also liked the parasitic nature of the ghosts, which was a refreshing and unusual twist that fit nicely into the eerie  mood of the narrative. I did feel a certain amount of distance between myself and Amelia, though, who seemed to waffle between keeping herself apart from everyone and throwing herself into things, which made her actions not always believable to me. I was frustrated by the fact that she never really made an effort to look into the reasons her father gave her such dire warnings about ghosts, and so she repeatedly put herself into danger, but we never really know what the actual danger is, which diffused the tension for me as I read.

I did enjoy this one, though, and it certainly leaves a lot of room for further exploration. The mystery is wrapped up fairly satisfactorily, but there are plenty of loose ends that should make for some interesting reading in future books.

Books in The Graveyard Queen series:
1. The Restorer
2. The Kingdom
3. The Prophet

The Restorer (#1 in The Graveyard Queen series) by Amanda Stevens (Mira, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
My Need to Read"Protagonist Amelia Gray is one complex individual; amiable as far as protagonists go, but clearly haunted (literally and figuratively). That she finds herself drawn to an equally haunted man will provide a lot of arresting emotional material in upcoming installments."
Scooper Speaks: "The entire time I read this book I felt like there should be eerie piano music playing...Instead of the music playing for a few seconds before exploding into action, it built and built until I almost couldn’t stand it."
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:  "The Restorer is not for the faint of heart and speaking of hearts although a very good urban fantasy/ghost story, I was disappointed by the lack of romance in the book."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Legend of Spud Murphy

This series by the author of the Artemis Fowl books is geared toward younger readers, those who are ready for chapter books that aren't too dense.  The lighthearted illustrations are a wonderful complement to the humorous text, and once I flip open the book to reveal the lack of tiny intimidating lines of uninterrupted print, this is a quick sell to kids at my library, particularly for (but not at all limited to) boys.

This first book in the series features a nine-year-old named Will who has four brothers, and he is the second eldest. When school is out for the summer, Will's parents come home to find the boys rampaging through the house and generally running amok.  Of course they don't blame the three younger brothers, who just have to bat their eyes and look sweetly angelic to escape all criticism.  The consequences apply only to Will and his ten-year-old brother, Marty.

Their parents decide the two boys must do something productive this summer, and they determine to drop Will and Marty off at the local public library for several hours a few days a week, and they will work on their reading and improve their minds. It wouldn't be such a bad thing at all, if it weren't for the fact that the boys - and every kid in the neighborhood, in fact - are terrified of the librarian, a woman known as Spud Murphy.  Her nickname comes from the rumor that she has a gas-powered potato gun that she uses to shoot kids who misbehave in the library, which squishes their faces up and turns them ugly.  Does she really have a spud gun?  Or is there something worse up her sleeve?  One thing's for sure: Will and Marty are in for an interesting and eventful summer!

This is a funny book that is so very appealing to its audience.  I wish we had dozens more like it at my library, because I know they would get snapped up as quickly as this series does.

Books in the Will and Marty series:
1. The Legend of Spud Murphy
2. The Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth
3. The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World

The Legend of Spud Murphy (#1 in the Will and Marty series) by Eoin Colfer; illustrated by Glenn McCoy (Hyperion Books for Children, 2004)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Perfect Blood

In this installment of the Hollows series, there is a series of ritual murders that has local law enforcement baffled.  Rachel is called to the scene, and she quickly discovers that with each murder, the perpetrators are getting closer to generating demon blood, which they will use to destroy the supernatural beings that populate their world. Rachel's own blood is the key to the success of their plan, so the challenge for her is to stop the hate group without putting herself within their reach.

It's always fun to return to the world of The Hollows and revisit beloved characters in one of my favorite series.  We are now up to book ten, and I was pleased to see that the intrigue and drama are still going strong - and most important (to this reader), the characters and their relationships with each other continue to develop in new and interesting ways. This particular aspect of the series, combined with an intriguing mystery at the center of each book, creates a fresh and gripping tale every time.

Books in the Hollows series:
10. A Perfect Blood

A Perfect Blood (#10 in The Hollows series) by Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager, 2012)

Also reviewed at:
Amberkatze's Book Blog: "This series is still on my reading list but it is starting to get old. I like catching up with the Hollows gossip but somewhere along the way things have gotten complicated and monotonous."
Musings of a Bookworm "I have had this book a while a little scared to read it as most of the series I have read get to book 10 and bomb. How relieved was I to start reading this one and find I am back with old friends who are as strong and brilliant as ever. "
A Wandering Weyrcat:  "It's a great piece of writing. There are juuuust enough threads to leave me with the sense of "omgosh.. what's going to happen with THAT next time?" and I love it!!"