Friday, July 31, 2009

Back Creek by Leslie Goetsch

Grace Barnett awakens early one Sunday morning in May 1975 to find herself the only witness to a fatal boating accident. This event is just the beginning of a difficult but life-changing summer for the eighteen year old who has spent her entire life on Back Creek. Grace will see her mother leave the family and her estranged sister return on the same day, with her father falling apart after his wife’s departure. Grace must keep him together while unraveling the mysteries presented by her mother and sister, as well as surviving her own coming of age.

A first effort for Leslie Goetsch, the book has a writing style evocative of the modern Southern novel. It is a quiet, gentle book that flows across the pages just as the fictional Back Creek wends its way through the Virginia Tidewater. Goetsch’s love for her roots shows through on each page, and Grace is someone that you want to get to know and support. The story itself has mystery, romance, and an appealing dysfunction that you can’t help but appreciate. Extended character and plot development would only improve the book; in many ways, it feels as if details are missing or omitted. That being said, it is a fine first novel and one that I would recommend for older teens and adult fans of Anne Rivers Siddons and Jill McCorkle.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Create Your YA Cover

From 100 Scope Notes. Fun stuff! He challenged people to make their debut YA cover. Here's what I came up with:

To check out the original photo, click here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One fingertip short of a full load

Smart cookie that I am, I chopped off a chunk of my fingertip last night. Nothing serious, but the giant bandage makes it hard to type. posts for a while. The irony is that I've been typing more than ever at work.

See you soon!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

2009 Eisner Awards

Hooray! The Eisner's have been announced. Take what you will from it, but I sure do love to see what gets picked.

Here's the youth stuff w/ the winners in blue:

Best Publication for Kids
Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic Graphix)
Cowa! by Akira Toriyama (Viz)
Princess at Midnight, by Andi Watson (Image)
Stinky, by Eleanor Davis (RAW Junior)
Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco (DC)

Best Publication for Teens/Tweens
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins Children's Books)
Crogan's Vengeance, by Chris Schweizer (Oni)
The Good Neighbors, Book 1: Kin, by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Scholastic Graphix)
Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)

Not much of a surprise for the kids publication. There's been a lot of talk about Tiny Titans, and the almost-6-year-old in my house loves it. I love Cowa! because it has a ghost named Jose Rodriguez. Genius. And Paifu is just so lovable.

For teens, I did not like The Good Neighbors. Laura reviewed it here. Jenn, here. I also didn't care much for Rapunzel's Revenge. So, good there. Coraline beat out Skim, which I thought was exceptional. (I did not read Crogan's Vengeance.) So a bit of a surprise, but then Gaiman is on a roll this year. Mark another notch in his prize belt.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I couldn't help but pick this one up. Written in Bone explores Colonial America through human remains found during anthropological digs. The author explains how the process occurs. Starting with how an excavation site is found, how the dig occurs, what processes occur after bones are found, right to the forensic science used to help discover what happened to these people. It is fascinating every step of the way.

I especially enjoyed the variety of stories the book contained. The author clearly went to great trouble to find a wide breadth of colonial lives. We are introduced to indentured servants, Captains, gentlemen, and slaves. We learn about what their lives were probably like, the work they did, the food they ate, the illnesses they suffered, and how they died. We've got natural deaths and unnatural (read: murder!).

The pictures and graphics were outstanding. There are photos from the digs, there are closeup studio images of bones and teeth, diagrams of graves, and recreated scenes of what they might have looked like alive. The images all complement the text and help to illustrate the point that the author is making.

The book really appealed to me both for its topic, clear writing, as well as its fantastic layout and photos. I've obviously been missing out, I need to read more non-fiction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Movie

Maybe it's just me, but are these movies getting more forgetable? I mean the books were so fabuluous but it seems that the movies are getting progressively worse.

Who are they making these movies for? The fans are disappointed because so much is being left out, while those who haven't read the books are completely lost. Nothing is explained. You are just supposed to know what's going on.

I mean, why leave out so many characters? Why condense the plot to the point that people are falling asleep?

At this point, I am really worried about the next two movies. Since the last book dragged some in the middle, how will splitting it into two movies work?

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The End of Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

Well, I finished it last week, but it has taken me a while to fully digest and accept that it is over.
I loved the ending! The breaking of the curse was so simple but I didn't even guess how it would happen. This series made me laugh, made me cry, and made me so angry. I felt like I knew these people. And I am going to miss them all, even Akito.
Also, I like that Takaya-san didn't seem forced to make sure that everyone ends up with someone. While the ending is happy, it is not pat or forced. It fits the lives of the people in the story.
I really fell in love with the side characters, especially Tohru's mom and dad and Shishou. It was great in a story with so many broken homes to see some responsible and loving parents. Oh, and Hiro's mom was loving and hilarious.

I forced myself to reread the rest of the series before reading the ending, and I noticed something. If you read it with some knowledge of future events, you notice that there is a ton of foreshadowing. Not to mention lyrical prose, consistent themes, and beautifully imagery, both drawn and written. This series could stand up against some classic literature for its use of the true literary elements!

So, go, reread the whole thing, and enjoy it on an entirely different level.....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

Emily is from the 'burbs. She hangs out with her best friend at the Starbucks, they spend most of their time poolside, doing regular everyday things. Then she gets into a summer art school in the city and her perspective begins to change. Should she try to keep flying under the radar or does she need to pursue a new way to express herself?

Emily is sort of wallflower and by that I mean she’s sort of bland, sort of blah, quiet and confused about whether or not she fits in. I liked that about her. Her confusion and her insecurity is very real, as was her tendency to get caught up in emulating her friends. She’s a follower through and through until she slowly realizes that she might be able to find her own path. Her attending art school out of her regular stomping grounds is definitely a catalyst.

“Everyone seems to have at least one creative detail on them, something that shows that they belong here. I’m plain by comparison. It’s embarrassing, how much effort it took for me to wear something that looks exactly like a blank piece of paper. No wonder no one is making eye contact with me.”

The thing that first struck me is that the writing is really dense for such a small book. Lots of description, lots of internal dialogue, which sometimes didn’t work for me only because I felt like Emily was being almost deliberately thick (and she’s not) so to be honest, it took awhile for me to get into the story. What started off as a slow read sped up considerably once I got into the style and rhythm of the book.

What I liked most about this story is how it took a girl from the suburbs that accepted the sameness around her without being able to pinpoint her discontent (because Emily was definitely not 100% contented) and interjected her into a new situation that opened her mind. She discovered that there are options. We get to choose our surroundings and our interest and can do so without having to completely negate who and what we were before.

Cover Cage Match

Which one do you prefer? I like the use of the earbuds on Nick Horby's cover, but still like The Wednesday Wars better. The cover seems more balanced or something.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Saci Lloyd

Shortly after the Great Storm hit London people realized that this whole global warming thing was serious. The UK decided serious action had to be taken and decided to put everyone on carbon rations. Everyone is issued a carbon card - sort of like a credit card - and when you want to ride the bus, buy a soft drink, take a shower, etc. you need to swipe your card. You only get a certain number of units per year.

Life as everyone knew it changed. Want a mango? Yeah right, like it's worth the high carbon rating from shipping it over from somewhere tropical. Want to travel? Sure, if you can live without points for food and heat the rest of the year.

Lloyd has done something pretty extraordinary in this book. She managed to write a really realistic story about global warming, the way that people might live when we can no longer ignore unpredictable and devastating weather, the things they will experience, the hardships they will face, and still amazingly kept the book funny.

I loved Laura and her incredibly dysfunctional family. Her descriptions of her dad were particularly amusing. I liked the way music was included, Laura's irritation, her fear, her bravery. I also thought that the challenges were super realistic. Power outages, water rationing, flooding, rioting, looting, pandemic illness...rats. Not all at once, but there would be drought in the summer, flooding in winter. The only thing that could be counted on was that some new emergency would come.

I really can't recommend it enough.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I picked this one up because of all the buzz it has been getting on blogs as well as the fact that our library system has picked it as part of our library's Mock Newbery. I generally don’t read as many books for the Elementary grade set so I wasn’t sure how I would like it. Turns out I really liked it, couldn’t put it down.

I won't go into the plot too much since everyone has been buzzing about this, but it is a story set in late 70s NYC about 12 year old Miranda, her friends, mysterious notes, and the $20,000 Pyramid.

Besides that, though, the writing is fantastic. Miranda has a strong voice, a compelling, funny, and totally believable voice - despite the fact that we’re dealing with some out-there occurrences. Like notes that show up in strange places…like other things I won’t mention in case you haven’t read the book. This is very much a mystery and the mystery is central to the story, but there are a lot of other things going on too. An important focus of the book deals with friendship and how it changes. The author does manage to tie this back into the mystery, which was pretty incredible and made for much holding-of-breath. All the characters were so full of life. Miranda’s mom, Richard, Jimmy, Annemarie, and others. I enjoyed hearing about their lives so much. It was a quirky story. Funny, but also heartfelt.

I must admit though, that I left the book on a down note. I forgive it because it rang so true, but Dang! Talk about injecting some realism into a story.... It is excellently written, has a complicated plot, but still manages to be very accessible.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises

Stella is the only daughter of two foodies. Her father is a world renown chef and her mother is the owner of Open Kitchen a hip restaurant where the patrons get to interact with a wide variety of celebrity chefs and eat their yummy chef food. Stella, however, is not a foodie. Nope. Stella likes Burger King and hot dogs and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Then she gets a sweet intern gig at a local paper. The catch? She’s got to write about food. Fancy chef food. Foodie food. Things are about to change.

Add in a love triangle and you’ve got the general idea.

I liked this book. It was sweet, made me really hungry, and had me rooting for Stella (even though on occasion I wanted to shake her). She’s got great parents, even though they aren’t perfect, great friends, and normal everyday girl problems. She’s a very relatable character.

It’s got a cute cover too, which doesn’t hurt. I think this one will be popular with your middle school and high school girls.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dinosaur Hour! by Hitoshi Shioya

This is one of a new crop of GNs for the younger crowd, and it has already acheived some recognition, including listing in SLJ's Good Comics for Kids Summer 2009 Reading List (

Short skits introduce various dinos from the Permian to the Cretaceous periods, and while educational, this is by no means meant to be a learning experience! It is pure comedy.

For example, "The Mystery of the Feathered Dinos" features two protoceratops (feature players in many of the skits) discussing what velociraptors look like. One points out that "recent studies" show that raptors had feathers. So they begin to draw the scary, meat-eating dinos in the sand, adding feathers here and there. They finally collapse in giggle fits. And when one of them venture to an area known for raptors, the "truth" is even funnier than their imaginings.

The artwork must also be discussed in this manga. As a comedy, there are of course exaggerations and comic versions of many dinosaurs, but what is surprising is the accuracy and detail of them when they are not comedic. In places, Shioya acheives a realism that is rarily seen in comedy of this kind and the detail on the dinos shows just how much he adores them.

So, if you know a young dino lover with a great funny bone, here is the perfect book for him/her. And this is just volume 1!

Other reviews:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

Aiden and his younger sister Maddy are barely alive, eating mud now that the food has run out in their drought and fire ravaged homestead. Their family is dead. Their neighbors are dead or have left for more promising areas. When Jefferson J Jackson arrives on a horse one day, although Aiden doesn’t trust him, he’s quick to grab on to a chance for survival. He joins a wagon train headed for Seattle and indentured work as a logger once he gets there to pay off his and his sister’s travel debt.

McKernan doesn’t pull any punches in this novel. Life was bitterly difficult and she makes sure the reader knows it. Hardships, frequent death, starvation, violence, disease…The west was truly wild. For some reason I thought this was a western, shoot-em-up type tale and so I kept it on my TBR pile for quite a long time. I’m sorry I did that as I could have enjoyed this story so much sooner.

The writing was gritty and full of terse humor:

“Lot of people don’t make it. There’s a hundred ways to die on this journey.”
“Well,” Aiden said, “I do appreciate some novelty.”

I really liked Aiden. He was a tough kid, made so from a tough life in Kansas, from everyone in his family dying, from trying to keep his last sister alive. He’s quick with a bow and even quicker with a fist. He’s a hard worker, honest, and morally upstanding – occasionally too much so to be believable (but that was just with the ladies of the night…I mean come on).

I loved Jefferson J. Jackson the hard man who rounds up and commands the wagon train that Aiden joins. I loved him especially. Gritty and realistic with a soft side that can’t help but be exposed on occasion.

In all honesty, this was quite a thrill ride of a book. Wholly unexpected and made so much more enjoyable for the discovery.


The only thing that gave me any pause was that the author did rather a close dance to the prostitute with a heart of gold cliche. I thought she narrowly avoided it. Narrowly. Squeaked by. In contrast, I loved Ruby.