Sunday, November 28, 2010

Georgia Book Award

Exciting news!  I have been hard at work on a seekrit project.  I've been chosen to be on the awards committee for the Georgia Book Award!  Myself and a panel of Georgia librarians and teachers will be reading dozens (and dozens) of picture books, winnowing it down to a "short list" of twenty titles that  schoolchildren across the state will read and vote on in the 2011-2012 school year.

Best of all, I'll be attending the
Georgia Annual Conference on Children's Literature, next March in Athens.  Guest speakers include some of my favorite children's and YA writers ever, Mary Downing Hahn, M.T. Anderson, Alma Flora Ada, Karen Beaumont, and Gail Gibbons.  What an incredible line-up.  I'm swooning a little, just thinking about it.  And now, it's back to the books -- my "to be read pile" (never a tiny thing, even in the best of times) has now grown to truly alarming proportions.  I'm excited to be looking at so many books that might otherwise have slipped me by - I know it's going to be pretty tough to make our final selections, as there are so many wonderful stories out there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ratfink review


Fifth-grader Logan's new and all-consuming worry is that his friends will find out about his embarrassing grandfather. Logan is determined to keep his social circle and his grandfather (suffering from Alzheimer's and prone to random and bizarre outbursts, such as streaking the neighbors) as far away from each other as possible. That's an increasingly difficult task to undertake when his grandfather's deteriorating condition has just necessitated moving in with his family.

Meanwhile, at school Logan is bullied by bossy new girl Emily "the Snot" Scott, who wants to know what mysterious artifact Logan's best friend Malik is carrying around in his backpack. If Logan won't snoop for her, she threatens to publish photos of his grandfather running around in his boxers. I found Logan a bit hard to sympathize with at times, as his obsession with keeping his poor grandfather under wraps struck me as a bit self-centered and shallow. On the other hand, it was an honest portrayal of what a lot of popularity-obsessed middle-schoolers might actually feel in that situation. This is a perfect snapshot of that time in lots of boys lives, before girls are on their radar. It's clear that Emily is only an annoyance to Logan, nothing more. Logan struggles with his loyalties, but after plenty of build-up, finally decides not to betray Malik's trust. And we never do find out what is in Malik's backpack. Lame! I was very curious! Was it a stuffed toy that Malik would be embarrassed to be seen carrying? A weird science contraption that he's working on? Medical supplies for asthma, diabetes or the like? We'll never know!

Logan's parents briefly consider an assisted-living situation, something which Logan views with dread. In his grandfather's lucid moments, it's clear that Logan and his grandfather have a very warm relationship. His grandfather gives him sage advice about how to handle a few sticky situations at school, and manages to deliver the book's message about sticking up for yourself and ignoring the crowd when necessary without sounding too preachy or corny, a laudable feat. I wanted to see more moments like this -- where our protagonist is a bit less neurotic.

For such a well-drawn sketch of family life, I found the ending a bit unrealistic and a little too pat. Still, the issues of loyalty, friendship and family are well-explored and Bailey School Kids author Marcia Thornton Jones shows a more mature, well-rounded side in this middle-grade offering. I would recommend this to readers aged 8-12.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nightshade review


As soon as I heard about this book, I knew that I had to get my hands on it. High-school student Calla lives in an isolated Colorado mountain community, with other hereditary werewolves such as herself. As daughter of the pack leader, she is considered an "alpha" among her peers. Her upcoming arranged marriage to Ren, son of one of the neighboring wolf clans is something that has been carefully planned for nearly all of her life. Together, they will start a brand-new pack, a very rare opportunity. As magical and otherworldly as all of this sounds, all of it is played out in a relatively normal high school. There are some human students, but the wolves and their liege lords, cruel wizards known as Keepers, mainly keep to their own cliques.

For a group of werewolves, these guys sure act a lot like vampires. They go to exclusive nightclubs, wear beautiful clothing, appear to live upper-middle class or better, they bare their fangs in human form when annoyed, they scorn most humans as being beneath them, and they even drink each other's blood when they need healing. I liked the fact that when the wolves change back and forth into their human forms, it is more magical than physiological, allowing them to work around the whole clothing issue. Their clothes remain a part of them, and changing back, they remain clothed in whatever they had on before.

Cremer plays with a lot of gender roles and expectations here. Calla is continually chided by her mother - she must look more feminine and enticing. But she mustn't do anything unladylike, either. Ren runs around like quite the man-whore, but only receives the lightest of warnings. Calla, on the other hand, is expected to enter their union totally pure, something which causes the members of her pack to keep her at arm's length.

Of course, in a world so focused on breeding future wolves, and selecting appropriate mates, it only goes to reason that the difficulties of being gay are exacerbated. Calla is shocked when she learns that her friend Mason has been hiding his relationship with Nev for quite some time. There is an additional storyline about Calla's younger brother, Ansel who has been crushing on his big sis's best friend Bryn for a long while.

This is a much spicier read than I am used to. It verges on romance novel territory. The only explanation that I could find for Calla's quick arousal at the touch of any guy is that she must be in heat! Ren came off as a gross jerk to me. He sleeps around, he's pushy and bossy, he insists on "re-naming" Calla, calling her "Lily" even after she tells him not to. Yet, every time Ren manhandles her, Calla swoons. It's clear that Calla prefers new guy, human Shay, but she just has a lot of difficulty putting aside the duty she feels she has to her family, especially as she's been planning on getting married to Ren for so long.  Not to mention, she's fearful of the undead wraiths the Keepers may sic on her if she doesn't comply with their plans for her union.  Curiously, a lot of the reviews I'm reading seem pretty split between the two guys, with some readers seeing Ren as the guy she "should" be with, and Shay as the random interloper.  Put me on Team Shay, for sure.  
I am already eagerly awaiting the sequel, Wolfsbane coming out next July.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Happened to see these two books together like this at the foot of my nightstand and it kind of freaked me out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cats' Night Out review

Cats' Night Out

"In the city, windows light/How many cats will dance tonight?" As the sun goes down over the city, somber-eyed cats come out two-by-two to practice their dance steps. Each group of cats, appropriately attired in poodle skirts, red capes, pink tuxedoes, rhinestone boots and more, either boogie, tango, tap dance, foxtrot or conga on rooftops and through city alleyways, until finally, the neighbors call for some peace and quiet, "No more dancing on Easy Street!" The following page is punctuated by the startled cats now wide-eyed surprise, as they quietly slink away... at least, until the next night.

The digital illustrations are reminiscent of mixed-media watercolor and the brown, grey and muted tones capture the nighttime urban landscape perfectly. The cats, with their serious expressions as they sashay across the pages, are adorable. Truly eagle-eyed readers will spot hidden numbers woven into each picture, on signposts, above windows, carved on doorway lintels and the like. I found the "14" hardest to spot, but it is there. The rhyme is clever and infectious, keeping the story moving along nicely.  Cats' Night Out makes counting by twos incredibly fun and would make a fabulous bedtime read.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Harry Potter site

Bloomsbury has updated their Harry Potter website, and is offering a new edition of the entire Harry Potter series with new "Signature" covers.  I am enchanted, and seriously considering replacing my current mismatched set of HP's.  Gorgeous!  I am especially fond of the Dark Mark featured on the Goblet of Fire cover, but they all look terrific.  Check out the whole set on Bloomsbury's webpage.  They are beautiful, no?

The style looks a little bit retro, but reminds me somewhat of Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard illustrations, too (especially the glowing little stars).  The artist, Clare Melinsky says, "I was delighted and excited to be asked to illustrate the covers for such massively famous books—and seven of them! It was top secret for the best part of a year."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spirit Bound review

Spirit Bound
by Richelle Mead

In this fifth installment of the Vampire Academy series, we catch up with Rose and Lissa, a few months after the end of Blood Promise when Rose failed in her attempt to save her former instructor (and secret boyfriend) Dimitri from being turned into a Strigoi, or evil vampire.

I was transfixed in a can't-look-away-from-a-trainwreck kind of way by all the havoc that Rose inflicts on herself. First thing she does when returning to St. Vladimir's Academy is to start dating Adrian. I felt like Rose needed a sassy gay friend to tell her, "Stop! What, what, what are you doing?" because a lot of her decisions made no sense. She's pining for Dimitri, so she decides to date a surly alcoholic jerk? She's like a bull in a china shop!  I was glad at least, when Adrian pressured her for unprotected sex, Rose had the good sense to turn him down, since she's definitely not ready for an unplanned baby.  She does let him bite her though, something she quickly comes to regret when she's left with embarrassing bite marks that she has to explain the next day.

Dimitri, in the meantime, hasn't given up on Rose. He's determined to hunt her down and turn her into one of his own kind. She's safe behind school wards for the moment, but graduation is very close, and she can't stay on campus forever.  Of course, Rose's stress increases when she realizes the graduation exam is being run by her mother, who has no intention of taking it easy on her estranged daughter.  Rose is also fearful of not getting a permanent assignment as her best friend Lissa's bodyguard (despite the obvious advantages of their unusual psychic link) and getting stuck with a desk job instead -- a possibility that looks more and more likely, the more people she manages to rub the wrong way in the royal court.

Lissa's character has always underwhelmed me... why is Rose so protective of her, other than the fact that she's been told to all her life?  But, in this book, Lissa finally steps up to the plate, using her much misunderstood Spirit powers to achieve a few miracles.

I'm mystified as to why the Moroi (the good vampires) seem content to sit around like cows for the slaughter. The Queen and her court refuse to use their magics defensively against Strigoi attacks, instead, using the dhampirs (half-vampires, like Rose) as meat-shields, even lowering the graduation age and using undertrained children when they need to beef up their security forces before they stoop to consider other options.

I'm itching to see Rose finally get over this whole, "dhampirs are second class citizens" thing. Be warned, Spirit Bound ends with a huge cliffhanger.  Now that Lissa's finally of age, she thinks that she's going to be able to vote on the Royal Council.  But, it turns out she actually needs a quorum (one other family member) in order to get her vote.  With the revelation that she may have an illegitimate half-sibling waiting to be found, the direction of the next book seems clear.  There's only one book left to go in the series (although, Mead is considering a spin-off series) so I might have to read Last Sacrifice when it comes out next month, just to see how it ends.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Desk of Books

Check out this fabulous carved wooden sculpture/functional desk by Luciano de Marchi of Italy.  It's designed to look like a stack of books.  Could be yours, for the cool asking price of 25 grand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Linger review


I raced through this sequel to Shiver. The story continues with Grace enjoying her relationship with Sam, newly cured of his lycanthropy, while Grace's best friend Isabel still grieves over the recent death of her brother. Sam is struggling to deal with the permanence of his new situation, while still worrying over which of his wolf "family" will return to human form in the spring. In the meantime, a few of the new wolves that Sam's adoptive dad Beck recently created are having troubles. Recovering addict and famous rocker Cole is angry that his wolf change doesn't seem to be sticking... he'd been hoping to escape his human life by turning wolf. Cole's friend Victor, unwittingly turned wolf, seems to be having trouble staying in one form.

Sam is, in every way, the perfect boyfriend... sensitive, poetic, genuinely thoughtful, undemanding. There is some tension as he's been sneaking into Grace's bedroom every night, not for prurient reasons, but just to snuggle. It isn't explicitly said, but implied, that despite their attraction, their frequent kisses and and despite their absolute rightness for each other, Grace and Sam are probably still virgins. When Grace's parents discover him in their daughter's bed they react with feelings of hurt and rage. They promptly assume the worst and ban Sam from their household, letting Grace know in no uncertain terms how disappointed they are in her. In the meantime, Grace and Sam both feel strongly that they want to get married. I thought this was interesting, because it's plenty common for high school girls to fantasize about marrying their boyfriend... but I'm not sure if young men usually harbor those same thoughts.  Grace, predictably, feels embittered that her neglectful parents choose to get involved in her life at this late date.

I was a little surprised at how very desperate Grace, and to some extent, Sam, become during their enforced separation. With Grace's 18th birthday only a few months away, they have very little to lose by simply lying low and waiting a little while until they can be together, even without Grace's parents blessing. However, they both feel the pain of separation keenly, and unable to bear even a few days without him, Grace runs away to stay with Sam at Beck's place at the edge of the woods.

Linger adds the viewpoints of Cole and Isabel, who play counterpoint to Grace and Sam.  While it's clear that Grace and Sam are meant to be, together forever, soulmates; Cole and Isabel, on the other hand, have a purely animal attraction, lending a dangerous feel to most of their interactions.  Cole questions the whole premise that the change to wolf is caused by cold temperatures... he sees too many exceptions to the rule.

I will say that all the foreshadowing in the book in regards to Grace's exposure to a werewolf bite as a girl made the ending totally predictable, but surprisingly I didn't mind.  Even though I knew, pretty much from the second page, where the book was going, I still enjoyed the journey.  There is a cliffhanger, and I am very curious to see where Stiefvater will take us next.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Banned Books week was last month, but I couldn't help sharing this hilarious video that I recently ran across entitled, "Protect Yourself... With Censorship!"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hereville review

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

This wonderful middle-grade graphic novel covers the adventures of Mirka Herschberg, "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl." Mirka, a bit of an imaginative tomboy, doesn't feel that she fits in amongst her nine sisters. She's terrible at knitting and most household chores, and longs for adventure, preferably slaying dragons or the like. Sadly, her greatest enemy (besides a basketful of knitting, of course) is a local wild pig, fond of pushing her over on her hike through the woods to school.

One of the things that really struck me about this book was the seamless blend of ordinary life and the fantastical. Mirka lives in a world where she knows trolls, witches and dragons must exist... yet, her warm and loving family and the ordinary daily tribulations she must handle at school are so expertly drawn, you nearly wonder if she's only imagined the fantasy elements. When Mirka approaches her stepmother with her worries that her mother may be a dybbuk (a restless, wandering spirit) her stepmother reassures her, "I live in the family your mother made, surrounded by her children and under her roof, I think I'd know it if she were still here." Unobtrusive footnotes for many of the Yiddish phrases were most welcome.

After meeting a mysterious woman in the woods (she must be a witch, Mirka decides) she manages to get directions to a hidden (magical?) sword. The adventure is on! Armed only with the knowledge that the sword is guarded by a troll, and that trolls are often easily outwitted, she sneaks out prepared to do battle. When she goes to challenge the troll (brilliantly rendered as an odd cross between a grumpy middle-aged man and a gigantic spider) the last thing that she is expecting is for him to threaten to have her for dinner, unless she can knit a beautiful sweater that very evening. It's a knit-off, as Mirka and the troll furiously clack knitting needles to see who will be victorious.

Deutsch really plays with the graphic novel format, breaking up the panels in many different ways, lending a lot of visual interest and an easy flow to the story. This book is worth a read, and then a re-read to pick up all of the tiny little details hidden in the illustrations.  I highly recommend it.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.


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