Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More from Meyer

Looks like Stephenie Meyer will be returning to the world of Twilight with her next release, just announced for June of 2010.  The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a novella based on one of the minor characters from Eclipse.  To me, at least, it feels like the equivalent of J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard; an opportunity to briefly dip back into something familiar, one last chance for fans to enjoy, and like Beedle the Bard, part of the profits for Bree Tanner will be donated to charity.  At 192 pages, it's a lot shorter than the rest of the series, but it should still be lengthy enough to sink your teeth into.

Check out more info on the Little, Brown website.  Superfans, go ahead and bookmark now -- there are plans to make the whole novel available online for a limited time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moomintroll Cake

To the untrained eye, these look like hippos, but I noticed this cake featured on a recent Cake Wrecks Sunday Sweets post is based on Tove Jansson's Moomintroll series.  Be sure and check out the rest of the cartoon inspired cakes!  There's a lovely Beatrix Potter cake, as well as Strawberry Shortcake and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

13th Child Review

Thirteenth Child
by Patricia C. Wrede

Set in an alternate historical, magical America, young Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child. Her twin brother Lan, on the other hand, is the seventh son of a seventh son -- destined for greatness. She and most of her immediate family move away from Helvan Shores for a fresh start on the magical frontier after her extended family refuse to stop harassing her for her supposed bad luck.

I had heard a lot about the controversy surrounding Wrede's alternative history frontier fantasy before I read it, so I settled down to read this book with some trepidation, even though I dearly love Patricia Wrede. Because her new Frontier Magic series takes place in an alternate American history, one where the United States never had a Native American population, many readers and critics were troubled. It seems deeply insensitive to eradicate a group of people who have already been through so much. And yet, reading the book, didn't feel as overwhelmingly uncomfortable as I would have thought. I'm also a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly, a science-fiction/Wild West type show, and I have to admit, the lack of Native Americans on that show never bothered me. It was unclear to me, reading Wrede's book, if slavery had ever existed in her alternate history. While Aphrikan people (and their magic) seem to be a rare minority, no further backstory is given.

I liked the idea of frontierspeople struggling to hold their own against magical creatures; mammoths, dragons, enchanted beetles. Magic, in this world, is commonplace and everyday. The Wild West twang to the character's speech added depth to the story.

Eff's continual low self-esteem became a bit wearing as the story went on. She is just as worried at age eighteen about inadvertently causing bad luck to befall her family and loved ones as she was at age five, when her maliciously bad-tempered extended family went so far as to outright suggest that her parents do away with her. Some of the terms like Mammoth River (for the Mississippi) or Columbia (for America) being thrown together with place names such as Philadelphia threw me a bit. I wish that this had been set in a completely new world altogether, kind of like Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.

I was fascinated with the Rationalists, Puritan-like settlers who eschew magic entirely. I was really rooting for them, especially after seeing how callously many of the magicians in the story treated Eff. Eff's older sister Rennie elopes with one of the Rationalists and her encampment is one of the only ones resistant to a particularly nasty strain of magical locust-like mirror bugs. So, I was disappointed when Eff finally has the chance to visit them and Rennie breaks down, admitting that life without magic is very, very hard -- so much so, that she's resorted to sneaking in a spell or two to make her hardscrabble life a bit easier.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I'll definitely put it in the hands of young fantasy readers who enjoyed Wrede's Sorcery and Cecilia series, or the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I'm curious too, how this book would fare as book club material for mature readers, considering there are so many different themes at play to provide fodder for discussion.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kindle DX Update

A couple of months ago, I wrote a rather lengthy review of the Kindle DX.  While I'd initially been quite pleased with the e-reader, I was totally dismayed when the screen died on me.  

I've gone over it in my mind a hundred times.  What did I do?  How could the screen failure have been prevented?  I did place a few picture books on top of it once, but I can hardly imagine that the weight of those kids books could have killed it.  By my own admission, I did repeatedly poke at the screen, mostly by instinct, being so used to the touchscreen on my iPhone.  I did leave the Kindle on the floor once, which was pretty cold, so maybe the temperature change did it?  The fact is, I'll never really know why the screen died, but happily, the dead unit has been replaced, free of charge, by Amazon.

In my earlier review, I brought up lots and lots of things I like about the Kindle... and a number of minor quibbles with it, including the following observation:

I noticed that out of all of the famous authors featured on the screensavers, none of them were people of color.  I would have loved it if Langston Hughes, Phyllis Wheatley, or other authors had been featured alongside Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson and others.

When my new Kindle arrived, I saw that this point had been addressed.  A new screensaver of Ralph Ellison was the first thing that popped up once it was powered up!  I'm impressed that Amazon so quickly addressed this concern.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Henkes Garden Review

My Garden
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books

Henkes' newest offering is in the same style as Old Bear and A Good Day, which in turn seemed to build on the black and white style of his Caldecott-winning Kitten's First Full Moon.  Lots of soft, sunny pastels of green, pink and purple, outlined in thick muted blue lines dominate this springtime story.  After spending the day in the garden with her mother, a little girl begins to imagine a fantasy garden.  In her ideal world, "flowers could change color just by thinking about it."  She also dreams of tomatoes as big as beach balls and flowers which grow back the instant you pick them.   This isn't explicitly an Easter story, but she does wish for chocolate rabbits (instead of the pesky nibblers of her real garden) and bushes of jellybeans.  When the girl gets ready to go inside for the night, she acknowledges that her dream garden probably couldn't really exist, but she does go ahead and plant a seashell... just in case.  The author's sly wink of an ending shows a cutaway view with the shell growing roots.

Henkes fans will not be disappointed with My Garden.  This book is sure to be a staple in children's book collections for many years to come.
I borrowed
a copy of this book.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Flash mob reading

Wow!  Talk about excitement to read.  These kids in Ocoee, Florida put together a phenomenal video showcasing their love of books.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One Year Anniversary

A year ago today, I started this blog!

How tremendous! I've really enjoyed doing it, and have learned so much and improved a lot about myself while putting it together. It's given me the opportunity to review books that I might not otherwise gotten the chance to. I've met new friends and, of course, have been able to to discuss any and all matters kidlit.  Blogging has opened a number of professional doors for me too... I've been able to meet and interact with authors that I ordinarily wouldn't have met.  Amidst all the doom and gloom of the recent tight economy, this blog has been a bright spot for me.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone, I look forward to another great year!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Early BBYA YALSA Nominations

Whoo-hoo!  It's early yet, but the first set of YALSA nominations for Best Fiction are already up.  I've got to admit, I haven't read or even glanced at a single one of 'em, although I do see some familiar names amongst the list of authors: David Almond, Gary Paulsen.  Lots of folks I've never heard of.  I can attest that the buzz for Rachel Ward's Numbers is already quite something.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wicked Lovely review

Wicked Lovely
by Melissa Marr

I devoured this book as quickly as if it were candy. I can't remember the last time I sat down and finished off a book in one gulp. From start to finish, Marr's urban faerie creation took me a little less than two hours to read. Riveting? You betcha.

Aislinn, raised by her grandmother outside
Philadelphia, harbors a secret. She and her family have the ability to see faeries. Cruel, strange and ethereal, the faery folk drive Aislinn to the brink of insanity. Her only hope is to keep a low-profile and stony face so they don't realize she can see them. Aislinn's grandmother has provided her with a lifetime of training in how to ignore the casual violence and malicious trickery that Aislinn is witness to each day. Craving some small amount of normalcy, she convinces her grandmother to let her go to a Catholic high school. Because faeries are allergic to steel, Aislinn feels most comfortable spending time with her friend and sometime crush Seth, an artist who lives in a converted steel boxcar.

When Aislinn finds herself being stalked by two members of the faerie court whom she initially nicknames Faery Boy and Dead Girl, her panic-mode goes into high gear. Turns out that they are Keenan and Donia -- the Summer King and Winter Girl. The Winter Queen, Beria, has enchanted her son Keenan to be cursed until he finds his mate. Any girl who attempts to take up the staff of the long-lost Summer Queen and fails is doomed to become the Winter Girl, a personal servant of the Winter Queen's until the next girl takes her place. Aislinn soon finds herself torn between the impossibly-patient and sensitive human Seth and arrogantly confident yet bewitching Keenan.

Each chapter heading includes historical quotes about faeries. I also really liked the balance of perspectives, between Aislinn, Keenan and Donia. One thing that bothered me was the spelling of the main character's name. Aislinn goes by "Ash" with her friends... otherwise I never would have guessed that her name is pronounced "Ash-lynn" not "Ace-lynn" Also, early on, cities are mentioned as having less faeries, as faeries are attracted to places with a lot of living greenery. But considering the swarms of faeries Aislinn sees every day, it seems impossible that there could be more. There are times when she literally has trouble walking down the street, or pushing her way through a hallway past the crowds of faeries; she's living outside Philadelphia, home of the steel industry, where faeries are supposed to be scarce. Still, these are only minor quibbles. The book has a very satisfying ending and includes an interview with the author and other bonus material as an addendum. This novel will appeal to readers who are looking for something along the lines of Meyer's Twilight, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series.  Otherworldly, with just a hint of romance.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Read-a-likes

Tim Burton's cinematic version of Alice in Wonderland is coming to theatres March 5 (today!). Naturally, all my editions of the original classic by Carroll are checked out, so I'm recommending the following books, for the following reasons.

Are you looking for that classic feel?

Try these:

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
A downed pilot in the Sahara encounters a young interstellar prince in this French fable about the important things in life.

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
Bored Milo takes a trip to the magical land of Dictionopolis where he attempts to rescue twin princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Mountains of Ignorance.

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodges Burnett
Ten-year-old orphan Mary Lennox, raised in India, returns to Northern England and discovers a secret garden hidden there.

A Little Princess - Frances Hodges Burnett
Young Sara Crewe survives her misfortunes in Victorian England by escaping to a world of her own imagination.

Pippi Longstocking (series) - Astrid Lindgren
High-spirited redhead Pippi lives a carefree existance with her pet monkey and horse in Villa Villekulla.

Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
Three siblings are whisked away to a Never-Never Land of adventure when they cross paths with Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up.

Do you enjoy the fact that Alice is transported to other worlds?
Try these:

Gregor the Overlander (series) - Suzanne Collins
Gregor and his baby sister are pulled down a strange rabbit-hole-esque underground where they battle giant talking bats, rats, cockroaches, and spiders while on a quest to save their father.

Peter and the Star Catchers (series) - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Based on the classic novel by J.M. Barrie, Barry and Pearson continue the adventures of Peter, Tink and a crew of "Starcatchers" who struggle to keep magical stardust out of the hands of evil-doers.

Larklight (series) - Philip Reeve 
Steampunk for the younger set. Reeve's books follow the adventures of Art Mumby, his sister Myrtle and space pirate Jack Havock travel through the British Empire's outer colonies of the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond. Check out my review of Mothstorm, the third and final installment in the series.

Need a story about brave, intrepid girls, calmly facing danger?
How about these:

Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Coraline must rescue her parents from the "Other Mother" in a mirror-world to our own. Adults will find the tale menacing, children see only the excitement and danger that Coraline faces. Check out the graphic novel, adapted by P. Craig Russell, as well.

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism (series) - Georgia Byng
Orphaned Molly discovers a book on hypnotism and begins changing her life for the better. This book has an English feel with plenty of over-the-top baddies.

For a little bit of an older reader, I'd try these:

Looking Glass Wars (series) - Frank Beddor
Directly inspired by Carroll's classic, here Alice must fight to return to Wonderland and claim her rightful throne.

A Great and Terrible Beauty (series) - Libba Bray
Gemma Doyle resists her role as meek Victorian debutante by escaping to a magical world called The Realms with three of her friends. Teens will enjoy this richly imagined gothic fantasy.

Down the Rabbit Hole - Peter Abrahams
13-year-old Ingrid finds herself amidst a murder mystery set in a small town, when one of the actors from the local production of Alice in Wonderland is found dead.

Alice, I Have Been - Melanie Benjamin
Historical fiction based on the life of Alice Liddell the real-life inspiration for Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Harriet the Spy Remake

I just heard about the new Harriet the Spy remake that Disney is releasing, Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars.  In this version, Harriet is a high-school student, competing with a popular girl for the spot of official school blogger.  I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty skeptical.  Part of Harriet's charm, at least for me, is she's part of that generation of urban independent girls with hands-off parents.  A bit geeky, and socially awkward, sure, but intrepid and loveable, just the same.

The upcoming film adaptation of Cleary's Beezus and Ramona also ages the characters by about five or six years, which, for some reason, doesn't bother me as much.  Even though Ramona is going from being a five year old, to a ten year old, she's still a kid.

Here's the Blog Wars trailer.


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