Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Year Reading

Goodness, it's already the new year! Make that 28 days until the Youth Media Awards. While I am looking forward to the new year of reading (ahem Sarah Dessen and Melina Marchetta) I still have a small mountain of reading to finish for 2012. Here's a terribly thrifty review list of what I managed to read recently. Happy New Year, Oops Readers!

Every Day by David Levithan
He pulled off what could have been a disaster. A little sci-fi, a little mystery, and chapters of great characters. This one made Patti's Mock Printz list and I would love to hear the discussion. It's still a distance from Stars and Verity for me, but dang, David Levithan is amazing. How does it do it all?

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I loved this book. I didn't burst into tears like I did for When You Reach Me, but I was with Georges the whole book. Reading as an adult, there aren't too many mysteries in middle grade stories, but they're not written for me so I overlook it.  Knowing that things are never what they seem in a Rebecca Stead book I still fell for this one hook, line, and sinker. The one about his mother I didn't even see coming. And I thought I had the title all figured out. Silly me.

One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath
A second Polly Horvath novel this year! A cause for celebration. A companion to Everything on a Waffle? Deliciously wonderful. Twelve year old Primrose continues to delight and we also have a return of chapter-ending recipes complete with our heroine's comments. I submit the final line of "Tater Tot Casserole", which, by the way, is in Primrose's charity cookbook entitled Just Throw Some Melted Butter on It and Call It a Day. :
On a cold rainy night when people are not participating in the better plan you have for them, this can be a comfort. (p. 116) 

Polly Horvath books are refreshingly strange. She makes you think with vocab like ersatz and adjudicator and references to Mary Oliver essays and French recipes. She's left of center with a big heart. And really, really funny.

A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Rowling is a bad ass. Case closed. A total departure from HP while also being completely great in its own right amazes and thrills me. She didn't have to write anything else, ever!, but she did and it is really good. The best book of the year? Nah. The most surprising? Probably.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Check another great Mock Printz book off the list. Margo Lanagan's stories embrace folklore, mythology (whether based on traditional tales or something she crafts herself), and fantastical imagery. And they've also given me some of the creepiest chills while reading.

I loved the movie The Secret of Roan Inish when I saw it back in college, so this summer when I heard about a Margo Lanagan selkie story I anticipated all kids of love. What would Lanagan add to the folktales?

My initial thought after finishing: this was pretty darn tame for a ML book.

I definitely found the weak-minded men leching after their stolen selkie brides creepy. I kept thinking that there has to be more to the story than the men leaving human women behind for these brides. Albeit brides given to them by a scheming witch. Still, a rather tame witch as witches come.

So where's the catch? These men must have repercussions for keeping their wives. I want justice for all the girls and women! But then, are the men bad? Am I starting to feel sorry for them? Might that be a glimmer of devistation on the horizon? Because that would be Lanagan style. Gently slip those chills in there.

I knew the brides would find their way back to the sea, but how and would it be terrible? By this far into the book readers will piece together potential for what may come. Brides makes for another excellent example of a storyline revealing itself in bits and making the reader stretch her mind back to previous names and details. When the revelations unfold, whoa. Chills! Thank you, author!

The verdict? I still have Verity and Stars on top of my list. I'm in the midst of a detour (Alice Munro's Dear Life) and then I'll dive into Every Day. A great list of reading so far!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

A Certain October made the Mock Printz list. Angela Johnson's 1993 novel Toning the Sweep remains one of my favorite YA novels. Also, if you haven't read the picture book Lily Brown's Paintings do so immediately.  My eyes would mist when I read it for storytime. Little brother stories always get me.

I looked forward to reading this novel in part because of Angela Johnson's talent for capturing complex and emotional stories within her short novels. This one takes 158 pages and that is generous considering the undersized physical book. Pick it up and go. Read it in a night.

Scotty and her friends hang out at a place called the Endangered Species Café. The metaphor for teenagers is apt and Scotty's life changes in both beautiful and terrible ways. Angela Johnson gives us this one month view of rather ordinary teenage life: homecoming dress shopping, caring for little brother, loving parents, BFFs, late night talk, boyfriends, girlfriends, all that in between mystery, school work. Then there's that tragedy that knocks Scotty hard. Take a look at that cover because it's going to be all right.

But if I'm ever asked if there was a time in my life that made me the person I am, I will point to a certain October that stays with me like a song played over the radio a hundred times at the start of the day. You can't get it out of your head so all you can do is go through it. (p. 1-2)

Short novels may get the short end of the award discussion much like early reader books for the Newbery buzz. It certainly isn't impossible as Angela Johnson won the award for The First Part Last at a whopping 132 pages. But they can be overlooked in favor of more complex plot-driven or world-building stories. The skillful language and nuances of the story are certainly exceptional and, in my opinion, a good reflection on teenage life.  That being said, as much as I admire what this novel accomplishes, I have a difficult time holding it up to Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars. I need to read a few more Mock Printz titles so my comparison list remains incomplete. (next up: Brides of Rollrock Island) ( soon as I finish Alex potential The Round House)

Three reading notes. 1) There's a character with a rollerskating Earth tattoo which made me smile thinking about. 2) Scotty's homework is on Anna Karenina which is perfect timing for the movie. 3) Mean librarian. Yeah, okay, they're out there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November Reads, Adult

I saw Penelope on a list of the year's best novels posted at Huffington Post. (The author works for the publication but the article insisted that wasn't a factor.) It seemed like good Alex Award material so I checked it out.

I think it could find a place on the Alex list. I am just not a big fan of the novel. While there were plenty of moments where I laughed out loud or was pleasantly shocked, Penelope is a tough character to get close to and in the end that kept me from enjoying the novel wholly.

On the other hand, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? had me from the hilarious start. Told mostly in email and letters with additional help from Bernadette's (delightful) young teenage daughter, the story is a mystery about Bernadette's sudden disappearance. There's quite a bit of adult drama but I am a little curious to see if it also makes an Alex nomination.

I was reading this at my son's baseball practice and one of the mothers immediately asked if that was "The Real Molly Ringwald" and then engaged me in conversation about our favorite Molly Ringwald movie scenes. So while not a contender for the Alex, it fits well with the YA theme of my usual reading. (Sam is my favorite, btw.)

Plus, I thought it was very good! A happy bonus. The story is about the successes and failures of a married couple told through individual short stories. I enjoy discovering characters pop up in different narratives so this worked well for me.

A friend recommended balancing out my 80's teen revival with Andrew McCarthy's The Longest Way Home memoir and I just couldn't finish it. Meh. Not my thing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November Reads, children's and YA

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage showed up on early Newbery prediction lists. I was drawn to it immediately because I love a good Southern novel and it sports a fantastic wrap-around cover by Gilbert Ford.

While I adored the characters of Mo, Dale, and the Colonel, I could not embrace the whole story. My particular thorn was when the relationship between Miss Lana and the Colonel was revealed. That whole resolution was anything but for me. Poor Mo, desperate to hear about her real parents, and yet knows nothing. This is supposed to be a contemporary novel and I just could not suspend my disbelief that no one knew who her mother is or where she came from. (Also, the book is too long and the story dragged.)

Oh Code Name Verity, you make reading such a rewarding experience. That nice artistic empty space on your cover will have a lovely medal on it for sure. Likely more than one so get used to it. It was worth the nearly 6 month wait for my local library to stock you.

To nit pick, (which is not a metaphor in the book. ugh.) I am not a fan of using a narrator's journal writing for an entire novel. You wrote that by hand, in the dark, injured, freezing, with a broken pencil, on music pages, in 15 minutes? Sure you did. But here, it works because it is so masterfully done. And with our unreliable narrator and twisted story, maybe it did and maybe it didn't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Everybody and their mother have been talking about this one. Even before it was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award it was getting a bunch of buzz.

What did I think? Wow, compelling non-fiction for sure. It read like a spy-story and it would make a thrilling movie. In fact, the chapters cut back and forth between the main characters just like a movie so it was almost like reading a screenplay. I was kind of in awe.

Like Nina at the Heavy Medal blog – (or probably more accurate because of her)I wondered about some of the quotes and the very specific descriptions of looks, actions, etc. Much of this I’m sure came from memoirs, etc., but some of it seemed as though the author was perhaps reaching a bit.  

Now, keep in mind I was reading and deliberately looking for flaws in an excellently written book. If I had to pick one thing that made me uneasy about this book it was the complete lack of mention about the Native Americans whose lands the bombs were tested on and around. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I read this, but I have a vivid memory of a firsthand account of the bomb testing where kids were playing in the atomic fallout like it was snow. Did I make that up? The memory I have of this is so real. I didn't really do any research to see if this was true or a false memory, but it made me uncomfortable all the same. 

I also think it understated the impact of dropping the atomic bombs in Japan. Why were there no pictures of the devastation? Not one. I found that a little shocking. Yes, he says this was serious stuff and he certainly doesn't make light of it – but images would have really driven home just how serious it really was. I would have also liked a little more on the long-term effects of the bombs. I don’t think there was one mention of long-term cancer rates? 

This was an excellent book – but I am certain it will not be getting my vote for most distinguished.


Mock Printz Titles: 

1. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
2. A Certain October - Angela Johnson
3. Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvator
4. Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanogan
5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
6. Every Day - David Levithan
7. Bomb - Steven Sheinkin
8. Never Fall Down - Patricia McCormick
9. Ask the Passengers - AS King
10. The Drowned Cities - Paolo Bacigalupi

Monday, November 5, 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I am deep in the throes of Mock Printz reading. So of course I spend my precious reading time reading things that aren't on there. Oy. This is a super duper fun book though - and was exactly the no-pressure type of reading I was craving.

Fiesty girl assassin? Check. Love triangle? Check. Big Bad...something? Check. It pretty much hit all the standard points and had some good writing to boot. And it was entirely entertaining. It did hit some of my biggest irritations though. Names I have no idea how to pronounce and that seem strange for no apparent reason? Um. Yeah, kind of. A protagonist that is pretty much amazingly smart, fierce, and deadly not picking up on things that are kinda sorta pretty obvious? Well, yes... But, was this fun, fun, fun? So much fun you'll forgive it any flaws? I'm venturing the answer is yes.

I will also say that it starts out super strong, but perhaps loses a little momentum by the end. I think this is purely because it has been set up to be a series and they didn't want to wrap too much up in the first book. That was probably my biggest complaint. It started with a bang and it would have been great to end it that way too.

Book Source = borrowed copy

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvatar

Hot dang, you guys! This was one heck of a book. It was a literary fantasy with some of the best use of tension and slow reveal that I have ever encountered.

We begin the story knowing that magic is real. At least that psychic ability is real, so there is no question as to whether or not things are happening. They are happening. We can trust that.

I really enjoyed the slow build up. We know that one of the main characters really wants to find the "ley line" a sort of magical line where a king who can grant a wish is supposedly buried. We don't know what drives him. We don't know why his friends are so driven along with him, but slowly and delightfully and ever so creepily we find out.

Characters were really strong. Blue, our girl who will kill her true love with a kiss (though luckily this doesn't occur in this first book), was strong, unique, and essentially the catalyst for this entire book. Blue has several interesting things about her. One is that she doesn't know who her father is (a mystery of the ley line?). Two, although she has no psychic ability of her own she makes "magic" for lack of a better term, stronger. Three, um, well, her true love will die if she kisses him.

There is a lot of playing around with the imagery and meanings of ravens too. There is an elite private boarding school and the students are known as "Raven Boys." Ravens are symbols of magic, one of the boys manages to adopt an actual raven. It really leads you to wonder why the school has the raven as its mascot. Is there a deeper meaning?  How does it all tie in?

There was also a lot of "class" issues in this book. Adam, a poor kid scholarship student who wants badly to make it on his own on his own terms. Gansey, an incredibly wealthy kid who also wants to make it on his own terms (although for very different reasons). At times the friction between those two characters and their class issues detracted from the story (I mean, give me a break Adam - Gansey is right all help is not charity). Adam's choices later in the novel gave me some pause (mostly with the teacher - but I assume these will be dealt with in the next book).

There is also Ronan, who has psychopathic tendencies and whom I really wanted to know more about. He was so interesting. I mean at the very end when he says where he got the raven I think I screamed! And poor Noah. Poor smudgy Noah.

The magic in this book was equal parts neat and totally creepy. I don't know how much they can trust it. They don't know how much they can trust it. The trees can talk! But they talk latin! I mean it is just such an imaginative book.

In comparison to some of the other titles we're reading, I would say that it holds up in comparison. The language was lovely and the author had some really neat turns of phrase that were beautiful and made this more than "just" a fantasy. The characters and plotting were extremely well done and as I said earlier, the tension in this book was top notch. You can feel it building from the first page.

Obviously the author has quite a bit planned, but I do wonder if this could have been concluded at the end of this title. That might be the only thing giving me any pause. Would this have been a stronger book had it been a standalone? Maybe. I'm not sure you can hold that against this because of that though, as it was it was still a really strong book. I can't wait until the sequel.

Book Source = Borrowed Copy

Friday, October 26, 2012

General News and Things

Wow! Has it been a month? About that. Time is not my friend lately and I haven't been posting about books like I'd like to be.

What have I been doing? Blogging for work, for one thing. What's awesome about that is you can actually do it on work time! You can see my posts here (and follow those if you'd like! I am experimenting writing about storytime and as always promoting our excellent Adult Craft Night).

Also Pinterest is a total time suck.

Another thing I've been doing is reading a ton of books for our annual Mock Printz. And we've finally decided on all 10 of our titles.

1. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
2. A Certain October - Angela Johnson
3. Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvator
4. Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanogan
5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
6. Every Day - David Levithan
7. Bomb - Steven Sheinkin
8. Never Fall Down - Patricia McCormick
9. Ask the Passengers - AS King
10. The Drowned Cities - Paolo Bacigalupi

What isn't on there that I sort of wish was? Well, Seraphina of course. And Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I LOVED every second of Tiger Lily, but hadn't read it recently enough to really recall all of its excellent details.

Look for reviews of the 10 mock titles soon. I just finished Raven Boys and was absolutely blown away. So. Freakin'. Good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

It surprised me to see Patricia McCormick's name as a finalist for this year's National Book Award. I missed this book when it came out earlier this year so I was excited to read it. Patricia McCormick books tackle tough and unusual YA topics so something new from her always piques my interest. I loved Purple Heart and here she is with another war story.

Never Fall Down takes place in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields in the late 1970s. The book is based on the experience of Arn Chorn-Pond who narrates the story. (See video below.)

In the Hunger Games kids are forced to kill kids for survival, but here in this book we have a real historical event of children forced to join an army. The only chance for survival is to join the Khmer Rouge where they are used as bait to flush out the Vietnamese. It's horrifying, brutal, and graphic. Arn reflects on how quickly he learns to adjust to the constant death, the constant threat of death, and witnessing and assisting the death of others. One boy accidentally shoots himself with his new gun and stands there, shocked, trying to put his guts back into his body as he is dying. Arn holds the boy as he dies and becomes covered in his blood.
I think maybe I should wash it, get rid of it. But I think maybe it can protect me, this boy's blood on my body, so I paint myself with it--wipe it on my face, my throat, my arms. I take his gun also and strap it across my chest, two guns on me now.

I go see Phat, the Khmer Rouge boy who say I'm not real soldier. So he can see what I am now. (p 122-123)

Since this is Arn's story, the novel ends better than I expected had it not been a true story. There a few moments of humor, particularly at the end when Arn gets a Star War comic and learns the phrase, "Let the force be with you!"

The end of the book includes an epilogue, author's note, and acknowledgements. Then National Book Awards Ceremony is November 14.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What We're Reading at Our House

The 9 year old discovered Bruce Coville.  Okay, not on his own. I picked out My Teacher Is an Alien to add a little funny sci-fi to his reading. I also wanted to introduce him to another series. He loves reading series books.

He really liked those books and started the Alien Adventures series. I never read Coville myself but so many of my students and librarian friends loved him.

Additionally, I started him on Rick Riordan's 39 Clues. This is his first exposure to Riordan and he devoured the books. He completed the first series and moved on to the Cahill vs. Vespers series. Rick Riordan is golden. Thank goodness he is a publishing machine.

The Almost-4-Year-Old and I discovered Tucker the dog. He's by Leslie McGuirk who wrote one of my favorite books last year: If Rocks Could Sing. We love that the Tucker books are small - 6"x6". It just adds to the cuteness.

 As a family we all enjoyed Dragons Love Tacos.  See that cover below? That sums up taco night at our house. Mmm. Tacoooos. Unlike dragons, we love spicy salsa.
The only thing dragons love more than parties or tacos, is taco parties (taco parties are parties with lots of tacos).
If you want to have some dragons over for a taco party, you'll need buckets of tacos. Pantloads of tacos.

Recently I read Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D Beil. Not as much fun as his Red Blazer Girls, but still a good mystery. Speaking of RBG, the new one just came out.

I also finished the excellent and award winning No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. The combination fact and fiction worked really well for me. It was serendipitous timing to read this right after The Mighty Miss Malone. Two perspectives on overlapping time periods. Two fascinating characters.

Lastly, a quick mention of adult books. I finally read Gone Girl. Great writing and a great example of disliking every single character in a book. I had to cleanse my brain afterwards with Next Best Thing.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Like my previous post, say hello to a beautiful cover. It is so compelling that I can't imagine someone walking by it and not wanting to pick it up. Yeah, she says, do I have a story to tell you.

This is Deza Malone, age 12, of Gary, Indiana. She had a presence in Christopher Paul Curtis's 2000 Newbery Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy. I honestly don't remember her character as it has been years since I read it, so while this is considered a companion to Bud, Not Buddy, I read it without influence of that book.

Deza excels at school. She has loving and supportive family (mom, dad, older brother who kept reminding me of Sammy Davis, Jr.) and a best friend. The story takes a drastic turn for the worse when Deza's father is involved in a suspicious boating accident and leaves Gary for Michigan to find work. This starts a chain of events that eventually find Deza and her mother fleeing a Michigan Hooverville camp.

There are some tough passages on poverty. Deza's family eating oatmeal that has bugs in it is one. Another striking passage comes when Deza meets two young boys just arrived in the camp with the goal trying to hop a train west so they can pick fruit. They came alone. No adults. If she is 12 and they are younger..?  11? 10? 9, my son's age? Cue heartbreak.
I still had my family, and like Mother always says, without a family you're nothing but dust on the wind.
I hoped he'd find kindness somewhere, but even  with my exploding imagination, I couldn't figure out where that would be. (p. 204)

The author provides a lengthy afterward on boxer Joe Louis and poverty, mentioning that even today we have 15 million poor children in this country. Expect this one to pop up in award conversation as the year ends.

[on a personal note: The book takes place in Gary just before my father was born there. This summer we drove through it. I wish I would have read this before our trip. The book also mentions Jacksonville as part of music's Chitlin' Circuit.]

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Long Lankin by Lindesy Barraclough

Doesn't this have a great cover? I love the tree hanging with objects, which I didn't notice at first as I was so focused on the two girls and the chilling tag which reads
Said my lord to my lady,
As he rode away:
"Beware of Long Lankin
That lives in the hay."

Oh goody! A fairy tale/nursery rhyme retelling. I love these books. Recently I went on a Margo Lanagan binge in anticipation of her new book. I also read the adult novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, which was good but not great.

Which is what I can say for Long Lankin as well. I so wanted to love it. The 1950s English countryside, the two sisters with an MIA mother and a dad who just can't take care of them sent off to live with a recluse great-aunt in a sinking old mansion out in the marsh, the adorable neighborhood brothers Roger and Pete who befriend the sisters Cora and Mimi, the abandoned old church and graveyard with the message Cave Bestiam (beware of the beast) carved all over it, a family curse, ghosts of little children and, of course, this creepy singsong rhyme about Long Lankin. Recipe for a chiller!

The book's 448 pages became a chore to get through and I will admit that at 2/3 through I started skipping to the end to get to where we finally get Long Lankin. In a horror/scary story I don't want to get bogged down in narrative. I want to be compelled to keep reading even into the dark and scary night. It was good, but not great. I do think that teens who love chilling reads and don't mind 400+ pages will enjoy it.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Wow! I would like to start by saying how riveting this book is. I was absolutely, totally, one hundred percent riveted when reading this book (at least until I got to something that pushed me out of the story, but we'll get to that later).

Dust Girl is a fantasy with an extremely accurate historical fiction aspect. It is set during the dust bowl and Callie is a girl who is suffering because of it. She's got dust pneumonia and is slowly dying and her mom won't leave because her dad said that he would come back to find them. Never mind their hotel doesn't have any paying customers. Never mind her dad said this before Callie was born. Never mind Callie is a bit of the outside of their Kansas town's "norm."

This all changes the day that Callie's mom has a bit of a breakdown and forces Callie to sit down at the piano and play a tune. You know what Callie's never done before? Play a piano. She is freaked out, but she sits down and lo and behold a whole song filled with want and anger and sadness pours out of her and onto the keys. Then everything changes. The worst dust storm ever (ever!) comes and Callie has to learn to function in a world turned topsy turvy with magic.

The setting is phenomenal and the author deals with Callie's mixed racial heritage in an awesomely powerful and subtle way. This book deals with race and prejudice on several levels. Not only is Callie part black, but she is part fairy too. An not only that, but now she's a transient dust-bowl refugee. Lots of stuff to deal with.

So what did I love? The creepy (and most excellently and hilariously named) Hopper family, Jack,  the also excellently named Shake and Shimmy, the language (so deliciously descriptive and colloquial and time specific), and really I loved too many things to list here.

What did I not love? Well, I may be overreacting or maybe I missed the context, but when the villain calls Jack "Jew-boy" for the first time it seemed way out of left field and totally pulled me out of the story. Do I think people of that era called people that casually? Yes (heck there are asshats that use that as a slur today). But it just seemed egregious. Yes, it is dealt with eventually and yes it fit in with the theme of being "different" and finding a place to fit. However, I couldn't help but feel like it could have been left out and the story would have been stronger for it.

Other than that (and maybe the story losing a bit of momentum at the end) I love, love, loved this book.

Book Source = ebook from library

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel - Martine Leavitt

Martine Leavitt's, author of Keturah and Lord Death (one of Joanna's top 5 YA titles  you may never have read) has written another phenomenal book.

It is not one that I would have picked up on my own. It's the story of a 16 year old prostitute named Angel, which, frankly, sounds like a downer to read about. It is because of books like these that I am so glad that I've served on various reading committees and why I think it is essential that librarians try to participate in them and on Mock Printz award discussions. Why? Well, because it pushes you to read things you wouldn't pick up on your own. It stretches you as a reader and that is a good thing. You suffer professionally (as in your reader's advisory skills) if you don't push yourself to read things that you dread. Which brings us back to the book. I dread reading about crappy-true-to-life things like teenagers and children forced into prostitution.

This book is written in verse, although I wouldn't really call it poetry. Rather it read to me more like spare-to-the-bone prose. And it works really well for this story, much in the same way it worked for Sold by Patricia McCormick. More words might have diluted the horror. This way it is more haunting.

Angel is addicted to "candy" introduced to her by her "boyfriend" who is really a pimp. She gets hooked and then forced to sell herself for drugs. She does this until one day her friend goes missing. Her friend who people say must have just left the life. Except she never said goodbye.  Except she left her running away money with Angel. Except other women have also disappeared. That's the day Angel decides to try to stop taking drugs and to write her story down.


This book felt so real to me. Angel felt so real. There were things I had a problem with - like her father who kicks her out and says, "come back when you're cleaned up" (or something to that effect). Angel has only been gone about 9 months, but he moves? Would you move if your child ran away? This is not a bad father, this is a father dealing with grief and the death of his wife. I have a hard time believing he wouldn't regret kicking his daughter out. I have a hard time believing he wouldn't stay in the same place so that his missing daughter could find him. I have a hard time believing he isn't mounting a campaign to find her. Maybe I'm naive, but to me that was a weak point in the story.

I loved Widow, the older prostitute who was not a cliche even though she had a heart of gold. I felt horror for Merri, and disgust for the men who paid for Angel's services.

An excellent book.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated by Gerald Morris

Oh yes, I snatched this book up as soon as I saw it on the library's new book display. The Knights Tales series reigns as a favorite for the 9 year old and for me and last year's title earned a prestigious spot in Heavy Medal's Mock Newbery shortlist.

What's that about the cover? No, not that Sir Balin has two swords, but that is a good story. The lady! She is Lady Annalise the Questing Lady. A Questing Lady "accompanies knights on quests" but dare not confuse them with Damsels ("simpering, moaning, pathetic") in Distress. More to the point, she is "a companion, not a personal maid." Let the adventure begin!

Shortly after his birth, Sir Balin's parents were visited by the Old Woman of the Mountain (Which Mountain? Some Mountain? A Mountain? - this is funny) who gives a bummer of prophesy. This news haunts our brave knight all his life and he and Annalise battle against his fate on his quests.

Once again we have a bit of a lesson. The prophesy tortures Sir Balin and in the end he learns that fate comes by with your own choices and actions, not by what someone says.

And once again we have great vocabulary for the middle grade reader: muddled, dolorous, marplot.

And still Gerald Morris achieves this with humor. Here is one aside about jousting.

(Really, people should have noticed early on how inefficient fighting with a lance actually is, but oddly enough, it never seemed to sink in. People kept pointing lances at each other, and mostly missing, for years and years.) p. 29

If I were an elementary school librarian I would book talk these constantly and suggest them to teachers for classroom read alouds.

Perfect illustrations by Aaron Renier.

Find this book at your library.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

This book bills itself as a Da Vinci Code for Teens. I can't remember (and am too lazy to check) whether this is the official publisher tagline or whether I read that on a blog somewhere. The verdict: oh boy, is it ever.

Lot's of fun this one. I liked Nora our main character's voice quite a bit. She's prickly, defensive, and desperately trying to appear jaded and blase about it all. She's also a bit of a phenom at Latin, which is what gets her into this whole mess.

Her best friend Chris and her begin an independent study translating some old letters and working on a coded book. As they begin to break the code Nora also is translating letters that are secretly the key to the whole shebang. Her professor suffers a mysterious "heart attack," her friend is murdered, and her other friend suffers a mental breakdown while covered in his blood.

Enter secret societies from stage left and you've got the set up pretty much figured out. I liked how the author made several people equally shady so that I ended up suspecting everyone and having a lot of fun discovering exactly who was the actual guilty party. It did require a bit of suspension of disbelief, but I was more than willing since I was having such a good time.

Book Source = e-book from Library

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The first time I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal was around 2006 when my boss read Little Pea as part of a storytime training exercise. It was love at first "pleh".

We first met Chopsticks in 2009's delightful Spoon. Little Spoon is feeling down and wishes he were more "exotic and cool" like Chopsticks.

That's Spoon up there in the corner of the book image. He says, "Not exactly a sequel to Spoon. More like a change in place setting." And that folks delivers a great introduction to what the book has in store for us.

Chopsticks do everything together and according to Spoon, Fork, and Knife, no one can remember them being apart. One tragic day one of our stick friends breaks. He's quickly whisked away (by a whisk - so many fun visual and verbal puns in this book) to the medicine cabinet where a bottle of glue mends him and orders bed rest.  Mending stick tells his partner to venture off on his own while he recuperates and his partner embarks on a journey of single-stick self-discovery that includes pole vaulting and symphony conducting.  Are you smiling? Because this stuff is delightful.

I recommended this book to a friend who has twins. I think the message of being apart and being an individual makes a terrific and loving sibling story. 

While I've raved about the writing, I must give equal credit to Scott Magoon. Every object in the story is animated and completely charming. The 3 year old in my house was particularly interested in the q-tips. Amy and Scott make a great storytelling pair. Not unlike... Chopsticks! 

Finally, AKR does a bit of everything and all amazingly well. In addition to her many picture books she had (has?) a great blog that encouraged random acts of art and kindness, she publishes nonfiction including pregnancy and baby journals (also check out the remarkable An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life) and then there's her hallmark art and community multiyear project called "The Beckoning of Lovely".  These days she's more active on Twitter.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Oh dragons, how I usually avoid you like the plague. Was it Eragon that finally pushed me over the edge? I’m not certain, but slogging through those probably didn’t help. It took several excellent reviews and a push from a coworker to finally pick this one up. I’m so so so glad I did.

It is an interesting take on dragons. In this world dragons are shapeshifters, able to take human form even as they eschew human emotions. And I mean they eschew them to the point where they have a group of censors that will literally subject them to an emotional lobotomy if they feel too many of them! After a long war, humans and dragons are at peace. It isn’t the most stable peace, but it seems to be holding. At least, it was holding until the human prince is found beheaded.

This is a very character driven story and the characters are fantastic. Seraphina is our heroine. She’s got a tightly guarded secret (and the way the author reveals this is an absolute delight) She’s hidden this secret her entire life making her a bit of an outsider, so when she takes a position as assistant music maker at court she has a unique perspective that allows her to see things that others choose not to. And she is inevitably drawn into an unofficial investigation of the prince’s murder.

It is also a very tightly plotted book. I got the sense that the author knew exactly where she was going. Luckily for us, the writing is so good it doesn't feel forced or contrived. It feels like an excellent journey full of delicious court intrigue, interesting fantasy elements, and a secret identity that made me shriek. As much as I loved this book, I think I would have loved it even more if I had been able to read it in one stretch instead of a couple pages everyday in between interruptions (not the book’s fault obviously).

Anyhow, I am fairly certain this one will be, at the very least, shortlisted for the 2013 Morris Awards. I think it also has some very strong Printz potential as well. It was so very very good!

Book Source = Library Copy

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

What happens if you have a monster for a father? What happens if your sister leaves you alone with him? What happens if on the same day you decide you’re going to kill yourself, there is a zombie apocalypse? I mean, really…what happens?

This was a neat twist on the usual zombie stories. Sloane is ready to die, she sees nothing getting better in her life and the one thing she had to live for, her sister, abandoned her several months ago. Then catastrophe! And she somehow ends up with a group of fellow students as they make their way towards the high school. There are some similarities to Trapped by Michael Northrop, but all in all I thought this was the stronger book. The social dynamics of the group are very well done, with tensions and emotions running high. It comes to a head in a drunken game of “I Never,” which as you can expect – does not end well. The book also explores what it takes to survive in horrifying circumstances (um. obviously, right?) and it is not awesomesauce.


I think it lost its focus a little in the second half, but I also think that it is hard to keep up the intensity of these types of stories. The story with Mr. Baxter could have been fleshed (haha) out a little more. I was wondering if there was a parallel story of abuse that got mostly edited out?

The other story that could have been expanded on and probably should have been, was the recorded message that they listen to over the radio. The kids do comment on its strangeness (medical processing? I mean, it just sounds super sketchy and full of ulterior motives), but then they decide to follow the instructions anyway. I’ll be honest – if I heard a similar recorded message I would think it was hella strange and probably stay where I was. Maybe the next message would sound better. Maybe the next message would actually explain something.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I read it in one day and didn’t want to put it down at all.

Book Source = Library Copy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Lull

We are in full summer lag here at our house. In the ultra hot mid-day you'll find us all inside reading, playing games, and just hanging out.  It's how summer should be.

There's less than one month before school starts and 2 weeks until the 8 year old becomes 9.  As summer '12 slips by I am happy to have days where we slow down and enjoy it.*

Here are my recent reads.

Drowned Cities - Finally finished this. I started before our vacation and had to turn it back in before we left. The story, while excellent, embraced so much sadness that it was almost a chore to read. I would see the book on the table and pass it by for later. What more could happen to Mahlia? Some pages I just didn't want to know. Tool also came off as too perfect. Yes, the ending amazed me and yes, I'll be waiting for book 3 where I will hope and pray that something decent happens to Mahlia or anyone. For once.

The Year of the Beasts - I'm not with Patti in the Printz Camp, but it is a unique and compelling read that I hope gets all kinds of attention. The graphic novel/text back and forth worked very well as did the mythology storyline. Cecil Castellucci always delivers wonderful storytelling.

Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland - Oh I liked this. Almost a graphic novel biography and it reminded me of Maira Kalman. I'm not sure the 2 page spread for galantine will resonate with young readers, but I do plan on making crêpes with my boys just like we made waffles for Everything On a Waffle earlier this year.

The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 by Deborah Kops - Molasses? The stuff used to make cookies?  Yes. Two million gallons of molasses unleashed on a neighborhood leaving utter devastation in its wake. Molasses was used to make rum and in the winter of 1919 alcohol suppliers were trying to make as much as they could before prohibition. Also, because of poor inspection standards so many buildings and structures collapsed or were destroyed in the molasses flood. Really rather interesting. Plus, the lawyers for the molasses company tried to pin the disaster on a little girl (who died in the event) who could have been a terrorist bomber for the Italian anarchists. Really! The book highlights other historical events like immigration, anarchists, and women's suffrage.

Currently reading: Home by Toni Morrison. And loving it. And it's only 144 pages! Genius.

*and then I have the Olympics! I love the Olympics. And this Voldemort vs. Poppinses business just increases my adoration. Please let it be true. Perhaps throw in a Tardis? Or Hobbitses?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol

My reader and Facebook list multiple postings about the passing of Donald J. Sobol, creator of the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries for kids. I read these as a kid and my son enjoys them as well. We took off on a 2.5 week cross-country family vacation last month and one of the books on CD my son picked out was a collection of Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. (the Cracks the Case pictured)

They were so. much. fun.

The stories pause at the end where you, the reader, are asked what you think happened. We all took turns guessing and some of them were not that straight forward.

It made for a fun day, driving through Kansas and solving mysteries with my son. Thanks, Mr. Sobol.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

I saw Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" on Thursday and fell in love. It wasn't too difficult as I am already a huge fan of his movies, but this one hit me square in the glittery pink YA book nerd part of my heart.

One of the main characters is a 12 year old girl named Suzy who is a reader (and school library thief!) of YA sci-fi/fantasy. The books are all made up for the movie and we get to see their covers and hear a few passages. Brilliant. Absolutely delightful. I didn't read reviews of the movie before seeing it because I didn't want to be spoiled and I had no idea this was part of the story.

Last week That Blog Belongs to Emily Brown! published a post about the movie and the books Suzy may have read in 1965. Please go check it out and then run out to the theater and go see the movie.

Also, Kara Hayward, the actress who plays Suzy, looks like the daughter of Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson. I mean this as a compliment. I couldn't stop thinking about it while watching her on screen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

First of all, this is Oops post 666. On Friday the 13th! Muahahahahahhaaaa!

On to the review.

Lunch Lady! How do I love thee! The 8 year old in my house is a big fan so I asked him to do this review. I gave him a short list of questions.

#1 What is your favorite part?
A: The Mutants! [of course it was]

#2 Of all the Lunch Lady books you have read, which is your favorite?
A: The Author Visit Vendetta because it has a lot of trap doors and stuff.

#3 How would you describe this book to a friend?
A: Cool and Creepy

#4 Come up with your own title for a future Lunch Lady school case.
A: Lunch Lady and the Thompson-Brook Takedown [T-B is the name of the school in the book.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

100 Best Blogs for School Librarians

A lovely little email came to me this week noting that Oops is included in the 100 Best Blogs for School Librarians. Aw, shucks. We're number 66. Okay, so 100 blogs is a lot of blogs, but I'll take it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton

Last year my youngest son and I loved Chris Haughton's Little Owl Lost. This year he is equally smitten with Oh No, George!

George is a tubby and loveable dog who really wants to be good for his owner Harry, but how can he when he loves to dig in the dirt and chase the cat?  What will George do? is the common refrain which begs kids to answer back. George is delightfully naughty and later repents, offering Harry his favorite toy as a peace offering. Harry takes George walking where he has a second chance to behave encountering more dirt and the cat. What will George do? Read along and have fun.

Also, there's a storytime waiting to happen if you can round up another dog-named-George-book.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Game of Thrones: Deep Thoughts

After waiting several months on the gigantic waiting list of doom for it to finally be my turn, I recently had the privilege of actually watching Game of Thrones. I had already read the first two books in the series so I was well aware of what I was in for. I am almost finished the third book and am still enjoying the series. Here are some of my thoughts:

The books have a lot of people in them. A lot. I couldn't keep up for the first two books so I just started ignoring people who didn't seem that important. You know what?  I think my strategy worked. The TV series wisely cuts down on them to the point where the show is as strong or maybe even stronger than the first book.

Peter Dinklage is awesome. He is everything Tyrion should be. And one of the most interesting characters both in the books and on the show. I am on tenterhooks in book three to see where his story goes.

What the eff is up with Daenerys hair!?! And her brothers hair? Holy mother of bad wigs. I was overjoyed when her brother finally died and I could stop looking at his hair. Daenerys has always been one of my least favorite characters. In the third book I can see she might have some potential, but not enough that I didn't wish she'd just go away.

Arya is going to be awesome in season two. She is one of my favorite characters. I love how tough she is even though she's just a young 'un. In the third book she starts spending time with the Hound and I CANNOT wait to find out where that goes. The Hound is so freakin' interesting. What is going on in that head of his? What are his motivations? You know, besides hating his brother for burning half his face off.

The Saturday Night Live skit with Andy Samberg was pretty on target.

The actor playing Jon Snow is dreamy.

I'm really happy that Martin kills off main characters. It is a pet peeve of mine where only secondary and unbeloved characters die. That being said, I'm awfully sad at some of the deaths. But then, by the end of the first book I wished some people dead and now in the third they've become some of the most interesting characters. Case in point: Jaimie Lannister.

Speaking of Jamie Lannister, the actor playing him looks exactly like Prince Charming in Shrek. It is uncanny.

Chris Van Dusen

I stumbled across this picture book author/illustrator when I picked up one of his newer books - Randy Riley's Really Big Hit. My son had just finished his first season of t-ball and so I was looking for baseball books to read with him. This one couldn't have fit the bill better. It is about a boy (Randy Riley, of course) who can't play baseball very well. He likes it. He has fun. But he just isn't all that good at it. Of course, when he spies a giant flaming meteor headed toward earth he has to combine his love of science, robots, and baseball to save the earth. This book is a blast. I loved reading it because it has a great rhythm and practically begs to be read aloud. And I loved that Randy Riley didn't let the fact that he wasn't good at something affect his enjoyment of it. He was good at other stuff, he didn't have to be good at everything. I really liked the illustrations too. Retro inspired robots, mid-century modern houses, it is quite a nice looking book. It is also obviously the author/illustrator's style because after reading this title we quickly moved on to the rest of them.

We particularly enjoyed Circus Ship. Once again, it is very fun to read aloud with a nice rhyming rhythm. And a very cute story where a big bad circus owner loses his circus animals in a storm. They wash up on the shore in a small sea-side town. At first the townspeople think the circus animals are pests, but they soon discover that they are actually pretty handy to have around. The image where the animals are hiding in plain site was a particular favorite with my son who poured over the pages and giggled when he discovered the camel hiding as as a heap of straw and the Tiger camouflaged with the hanging laundry.

The Mr. Magee books are also very cute. We particularly enjoyed Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee because of the huge ravine and danger. My son LOVED it when the moose was climbing over the "bridge" only to discover a very worried looking Magee directly underneath him. He was less thrilled with A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, but I attribute that a bit to his lack of understanding of how camping works and so the hijinx didn't resonate with him as much as it could have. I'm looking forward to reading Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee next.

If the artwork on these covers looks familiar, it might be because Van Dusen illustrates the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo!
Book Source = Library Copies

Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O Zelinsky

Z is for Moose is a title that I keep running into. My Goodreads suggests it, Amazon suggests it, my kidlit blogs suggest it, and finally my children's librarian handed it to me knowing my son would like it.

It's a hilarious twist on alphabet books. Moose just wants to be in the stage production. He jumps ahead of line into D and is told by Zebra, the director, that he is on the wrong page. Anxious Moose sneaks into letters H-L ready for his big entrance for M... except M is for mouse. Oh no, poor Moose doesn't handle that well at all and Zebra's solution, way at the end of the alphabet, makes for a great story of friendship.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones passed away last year. (Read Neil Gaiman's journal.) Earwig and the Witch , Greenwillow Books 2012, has the distinction of being her final book. It clocks in at a jaunty 128 pages, including full page illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky, and is marketed for ages 8 and up. It really would make an excellent read aloud for even younger children.

There is so much to love:
Earwig, a feisty orphan with and a penchant for getting people to do what she wants,
A mean witch for a foster parent,
A demon for the other,
Thomas the talking cat,
A house with magic rooms,
Spells gone awry,
Several references to (British) food.

As enjoyable as this story is on its own, readers will pick up on several loose ends like Earwig's witch parents who left a note about coming back for her, Earwig's BFF Custard who is still at the orphanage, and what will Earwig do now that she is also capable of magic. Perhaps Diana Wynne Jones planned a sequel. Maybe there's a manuscript somewhere out there. (Sing it with me Fievel .."beneath the pale moonlight. Some-one's thinking of me and loving me tonight." /silliness) Still, the story works on its own merits and kids can imagine all the future hijinks Earwig and her crew cook up.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen recently earned the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award. Visually the book is such a treat. I sincerely adore Jon Klassen and both of my sons loved seeing Bear and Rabbit make an appearance in this story. Sneaky!

Annabelle finds a magic box of never-ending yarn. She in turn knits sweaters for every one and every thing in her small woodland town. But lo, an evil archduke desires the yarn and Annabelle refuses to sell it to him. He puts a curse on her.

Which doesn't work.

I love it! I love that he can do nothing to her. Curses aren't real. If you currently have The Giving Tree as your book about selflessness and citizenship, toss it and put this one it its place. Barnett and Klassen offer a much better book to ponder.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things about Me

I first heard about Marcel when I caught a news interview with Jenny Slate, the SNL castmember who was fired in 2010 not long after dropping the f-bomb on live tv.  I immediately checked out the Marcel videos online to see what the fuss was about, and, well, then totally forgot about him.

I saw this book on display at my library and snatched it up. Sure, the videos were cute and odd, but how would that make for a children's book?

Both of my sons enjoyed this book.  The 8 year old gets the odd humor. He also likes reading the cursive.  The 3 year old likes pointing out what Marcel is doing even if he doesn't get why Marcel thinks playing is a soup ladle is fun.

Our favorite part? Going to bread. Both boys giggled over this and it became a nightly joke. "I'm going to bread! I'm in my breadroom going to bread!!" A bonus: The book may work as a before bed story because it ends with Marcel going to bed and asking the reader to close the book.  Another of Marcel's great qualities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two more great books

I've been reading up a storm. Somehow life arranged itself so I could read both of these yesterday and watch several episodes of Game of Thrones. What luck! Both were fabulous so that might have helped with the quick reading. I also managed to make dinner. How awesome am I?

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
A YA graphic novel that was fantastic. It looks like you can read the first 20 pages online! I loved the art, the kids were so expressive and everyone looked very hip and cool (and freaking adorable) regardless of what "type" they were. The story was really good too and it is basically a coming of age story with a couple of twists. I enjoyed following Maggie on her first day of high school after being homeschooled by her mother. Her older brothers are already at the high school, but this will be the first time she's ever gone to school with other kids. As you can imagine, it is a big changd. I really liked the family dynamic, the policeman father, the absent mother, the 3 older brothers who all had distinct and lovely personalities.I enjoyed her new friends as well (and her potential love interest). There was a secondary story throughout about a ghost that didn't work as well for me. I didn't hate it, it just didn't feel that well integrated into the story.
[library copy]

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (art by Nate Powell)
This one grew on me as I read along. It had a powerhouse of an ending that left me sobbing - so be forewarned before you read. I went into this knowing nothing other than the fabulous Castellucci wrote it. I think this is a possible Printz contender. The writing was top-notch, the story was tight, and it had a graphic novel interspersed that as you read you begin to understand its connection to the story. A story of two sisters, jealousy, love, regret, and moving on. It is an emotional read that I bet a lot of people will flip to the front to re-read as soon as they put it down.
[library copy]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

John Green's Competition

I said a little while ago I thought John Green's newest was the strongest book that I had read so far in 2012. I think he's got some competition.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Holy moly, this one is good. No. This is a great one. A solid historical fiction that kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire book. It is set in WWII England, the war effort is revving up and two women become fast friends. One is a pilot, the other a spy. The spy gets caught and we get her version of events first, then her friends version. I was captivated the entire time. The characters are extremely well developed, especially since we are getting a very one-sided tale that we can't quite trust. The action and the drama are front and center and I believed every word. I loved how the second version of events explains what really happened in the first - because it is obvious something is going on beyond what is being told to us (I mean things are underlined for goodness sake. And we aren't told why!!!).  Brilliant. I think this has a good chance to win the Printz. I would have read this one cover to cover if life hadn't of gotten in the way.
[publisher copy]

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
I love her books. I loved her Printz speech when she won her honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz. My love for this book is no different (I actually think this one might be more of an honor book, but I think it is one that the committee will be discussing and taking second looks at). I knew nothing about this book going in, but I can tell that A.S. King has some overarching themes. Poor parenting being one. Once again, we've got some clueless parents and their cluelessness is having a serious impact on their teenage child. Simply put, Astrid is a lovely character to spend some time with. She's aware of her environment, self-effacing, but not to the point where she hates herself (just to the point where she is a hyper-aware of her environment and how it impacts her). Anyhow, she has decided to send her love off because she doesn't need it. She sends it to the passengers on the plane, she gives it to the people she meets, and it has some interesting repercussions. Normally, this type of thing can bug me. I don't always get along with magical realism. But just like Everyone Sees the Ants it worked for me. I thought it was well integrated into the story, I liked the breaks where we visit the passengers on the planes that Astrid sends her love to. And I really, really liked Astrid. I read this in less than a day.
[publisher copy- ARC]

Friday, June 8, 2012

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey

A new Mini Grey book is a wonderful thing and a new Mini Grey Traction Man adventure is a cause for celebration with party hats and cake. You know how Traction Man loves any excuse to break out a new outfit. Patti wrote about the first two books and was my first heads up on this one.

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey (Brought to you by Beach-Time Brenda™ and the Flavor of Raspberry Ripple), published by Knopf, arrived the same day as Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo. That was a good day.

Traction Man, Scrubbing Brush, and family head out for a holiday at the ocean. Traction Man dons his new scuba suit to discover creatures of the rockpool, executes operation picnic, and spends quality time with Grandma's exuberant dog.

But alas, all is not calm in these seas. Soon our hero and his pet find themselves lost and in the strange company of Dollies, who turn out to be more tenacious than their sparkly pink appearance. It's a wonderful play on the image of ditzy Barbie lookalikes. Girls to the rescue!

The hilarious front end papers poke great fun at the dolls with quotes like "may disintegrate if wet" and "unrealistic vital statistics".  The manufacturer's description of the Dollies superficial potential versus what the girl and boy use them for is a great twist, the message being that what something looks like is not all it can be when you use your imagination. Like... Scrubbing Brush!

The back end papers include another comic strip that mimics the one from Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog. Reading all three books together will provide quite an activity for a child who can pick up on all of the inside jokes that Grey uses throughout the books. (For instance, they pack Hoopos snacks "ingeniously made of Potato! wear them or eat them!" for the beach which were used as medals in the first book.)

Brilliant and hilarious wonderfulness. A great addition to summer reading.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo and Jammy Dance by Rebecca Janni

I'm here with a belated double post today. Not only is a cousin of mine a children's book author, an author whose books can be purchased at Scholastic Book Fairs and Target, but she already released two books this year! Brava, Rebecca Janni!

First came Jammy Dance, published by FSG and illustrated by Tracy Dockray, which arrived on Valentine's Day. Jammy Dance began as a song Becky would sing to her kids at night to get them ready for bed. While the jumping and dancing don't exactly lend to sleepiness for my 3 year old, we do like reading it at night. The children at the end of the book snuggle together in bed and I love that image of sibling love.

The end of May brought the third book about our favorite cowgirl Nellie Sue. In Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo, published by Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin, spunky Nellie Sue takes Beauty to the county fair. She and Beauty enter a bike rodeo which, true to Nellie Sue style, results in wranglin' critters, a rescue, and a badge of honor. Nellie Sue's friend Anna returns and we meet a new boy, AJ, who is Nellie's competition in the rodeo. So lasso a youngster or two and give this one a read.

Today is the last day of school for the 3rd grader. Here's to a great summer and to lounging around reading!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've been reading up a storm, but don't seem to have the time or brain power to write up full reviews for all of these books. So mini reviews! Short and sweet.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I really liked it. I enjoyed Bitterblue finding her footing in the world, even if this wasn't the most inventive of the three books. I enjoyed her romance, the court intrigue, the secret (or as it turns out not so secret) ventures into her city. What I could have done without was the crew from beyond the mountains coming to visit. It felt rushed and unnecessary. Sure they discovered the world, but for my tastes it would have been better to end on a different note. Like maybe they show up on the last page or something, but we're not privy to what happens next. For how long it took Bitterblue to figure everything out, this last part felt rushed and crammed in. Regardless, I read it very quickly and enjoyed it quite a bit.
[Purchased  Book]

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Another one I had been dying to get my hands on. It was fantastic, but perhaps not as fantastic as Shipbreaker. And I only think that because I didn't connect to the characters quite as much as I did with those in Shipbreaker. That's not to say I didn't like them. Mahlia was pretty fantastic. I thought it was awesome to have a disabled main character and have her be capable, smart, and kick ass. We need more of that. I also loved having Tool as a main character, but I still didn't learn as much about him as I wanted to. I mean he is so crafty and such a rich character I wanted to get into his mind and really dig around. I am pretty much amazed at Bacigalupi's writing. It is stellar. I thought he did a fantastic job showing how useless violence is and how it can spiral downwards out of control until even children are forced to fight and no one even knows what they're fighting for anymore - only that they can't imagine any other way of life.
[Library Copy]

Double by Jenny Valentine
This was probably my least favorite of the three, which disappointed me because I've loved all her previous books. The ending was just too far fetched. And there was too much of "I'm a fake, they're going to find me out, oh no!" Without enough character development to back it up. And that ending. Mmmm. Did not work for me. I won't spoil it for you, but meh.
[ARC found on 4th floor]