Thursday, March 31, 2011

Read in March

This month I read the following books:

1 Goose Chase - Patrice Kindl

2 Wither - Lauren deStefano
3 Angel Burn - L.A. Weatherly
4 One Hundred Candles - Mara Purnhagen
5 Bumped - Megan McCafferty
6 Eliza's Freedom Road - Jerdine Nolan
7 Firelight - Sophie Jordan
8 Alchemy and Meggy Swann - Karen Cushman
9 The Help - Kathryn Stockett
10 Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream - Jenny Han
11 The Iron King - Julie Kagawa

Picture credit: Lady with tablet and stylus from Pompeii, artist unknown

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wanda Gag review

Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw
by Deborah Kogen Ray
Viking Juvenile
October 2008

This is a nice picture book biography portrait of the author/illustrator of the beloved Caldecott winner Millions of Cats. Wanda Hazel Gág had a very hard life, losing her father to tuberculosis at age 15. Despite the hardships, she managed to support her six younger sisters on an artist's salary, retaining her cheerful disposition. Her exposure to German fairy tales, and the cozy family times inspired a lot of the tone and feel of her picture books.

I think Ray may have exaggerated with the claim that Millions of Cats (first published in 1928) was "the first modern picture book." What about Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit (1902)? Randolph Caldecott's The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878), although it is in a now-familiar picture book layout, is debatable as a "true" picture book since the storyline, about a drunken horse ride by the title character could arguably said to appeal to adults more than children. Nevertheless, it is the very book that inspired the Caldecott award which Gág was to later win. I also wondered about the claim that Gág invented double-page spread illustrations. Interestingly, the mixed media full-color soft charcoal illustrations in this biography were all single page, with accompanying wordy text opposite. These minor quibbles aside, this is a lovely book, and serves as a rallying call to anybody who has ever wanted to make a life for themselves in the arts.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Word Nails

Aren't these cool? I totally want to do this. It's like decoupage... for your nails! Full instructions on how it was done are here. This example is done in news print, but your imagination is the only limit of what you could do. You could choose any image, or what about a reversed white print on black background? I bet that would look awesome. The only part of the instructions that I might change is that I would recommend putting on a coat of clear nailpolish first, as I'm pretty sure applying the paper directly to your nails, and then lacquering it on will leave your nails looking janky and weird when you finally decide to take  it off.

(Thanks, Foxy Grandpa, for the link.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Across the Universe review

Across the Universe
January 2011

Across the Universe offers a uniquely wonderful blend of hard science-fiction and mystery with a bit of romance. 17-year-old Amy is faced with the decision of a lifetime, when her scientist parents eagerly accept positions on the colony ship Godspeed, heading to another planet. The plan is that they will remain cryogenically frozen for the 300 year long journey while the crew of the generation ship navigates them there.

The story starts off on an ominous note as Amy is undergoing the scary and uncomfortable freezing process being run by a couple of bored lab technicians. She overhears them admit there have been budget problems on the project, and the colonists will actually spend a year in cold storage, waiting for the ship to be ready. As Amy waits to go to sleep she comes to the horrifying realization that she remains conscious, yet immobile.

The chapters alternate between Amy, intially caught in nightmares and trapped in her own mind, and Elder, who, well over 200 years after the ship has set course, is in training by his mentor, known only as Eldest, to take over the ship one day. Their paths cross when Amy is awoken, 50 years too early. Other frozen colonists are being murdered, one by one, and Elder and Amy set out to discover who is behind it.

The passage of 250 years has created a completely new society on-board the ship. A few generations of intermarriage have erased any racial or cultural boundaries. Eldest rules the ship with an iron fist. Most of the crew readily comply with Eldest's every command with  simple-minded devotion. Those who don't are committed to a mental ward. Procreation is only allowed within a "season" so that the different generations all age uniformly.

I was glad that although they are the only two individuals approximately the same age on the ship, Elder and Amy don't instantly fall for each other. As another bonus: there's no love triangle! Elder has an unfounded jealousy of the friendly conversations his friend Harley has with Amy, but this is not a major plot point.

It seems that Amy has always been highly dependent on her parents; she's extremely unsure of herself, and has been thrust into a situation where she's essentially orphaned and has to come to terms with that. The fact that her parents freeze her and bring her aboard as "non-essential cargo" - wow, could anything in the world be more demoralizing than that? I found it interesting that a colony ship would find her utterly useless. As a young woman, in great health (she loves to run) with skills in photography, Amy seems observant and smart, picking up on things that Elder misses. Surely, any new space colony would welcome her contributions?

I loved the reversible cover. Both covers are equally arresting. I'm surprised that more attention hasn't been paid to the racefail of the cover. I liked Elder better with ethnic features, and it's truer to the story!

The final couple of chapters of this novel were, in a word, awesome. The stunning revelations of the last few pages will have you wanting to turn directly back to the first page for a re-read so you can pick up all the amazing clues you probably missed. This was a terrific book that totally lived up to the hype.

I borrowed this book.
I read this book for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Enclave trailer

I hadn't been planning on reading this book Enclave by Ann Aguirre... but I think this trailer may have changed my mind. It sounds like just the thing for Hunger Games and Forest of Hands and Teeth fans.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bridget's Beret review

Bridget's Beret
April 2010

In this cute picture book story, Bridget is afraid that her artistic inspiration will be gone forever after she loses her sassy black beret. After sulking for quite some time, her friends finally convince her to help them out with the sign for their lemonade stand because, "it's not a drawing, it's just a sign." Sure enough, that's enough to get her inspired again and soon, she's adding plenty of artistic flourishes to the sign. The book features an interesting little sidebars about writer's block, as well as running commentary from a tiny bunny. As a nice easter-egg, if you look closely at the horizon on the last picture, you'll see Bridget's dog running to bring her back the lost beret. Mixed-media illustrations using ink, colored pencil, watercolor and sidewalk chalk have a light, cartoony feel. An afterward featuring photos of famous works of art from various well-known artists paired with informational, yet silly text follows. Once you've read the book, you'll want to go back and see how Lichtenheld has paid homage to various artists throughout the pages. Very educational, and possibly inspiring to young artists everywhere, I would recommend this book for ages 3-8.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 4

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is: If you could physically put yourself into a book or series... which one would it be and why?

Easy peasy! I'd go to Hogwarts, of course! I'm still convinced there's been some kind of mix-up. I should have gotten my owl with letter of acceptance for Hogwarts ages ago! (Never mind that as an American, I'd probably be more likely to end up at the Salem Witches Institute.) I can't wait to hang out in the underwater common room in Slytherin.  I guess I'll have to settle for the next best thing for now...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trading out paperbacks

One of the most satisfying things to do as a librarian is to bring in new books! But, with the shelves at max capacity, something has got to go. It's time to give some of these well-worn paperbacks a much-needed retirement. Adios, ratty paperbacks, and hello beautiful new replacements!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Secret River review

The Secret River
January 2011

I am a huge, huge fan of Leo and Diane Dillon's artwork, so I was excited to see that they were releasing a new book this year. The text actually originates from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 1956 Newbery Honor winning book. I wasn't sure how I felt about the fact that the text is abridged... but then much like when Rachel Field's 1930 Newbery winner, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years was abridged by Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers amidst much controversy a few years ago, I figured, well, why not? If it brings a forgotten classic to a new generation of readers, that can't be a bad thing, right? While The Secret River is in a picture book format, it's roots as a chapter book are evident in wordy pages with expressive language appropriate for second to fifth grade readers.

"There is a dark forest far away in Florida," the story begins. Young Calpurnia lives there with her parents and pet dog named Buggy-horse.

"At breakfast Calpurnia's father said, 'Hard times have come to the forest.' She said, 'What are hard times?' 'It means that everything is hard, and especially for poor people. She felt the table, she laid her hand on Buggy-horse's hard back and it was true: Everything seemed harder than usual. She asked, 'Are we poor people? I don't feel poor."
Worried that her father won't be able to sell fish at the market, Calpurnia makes pretty pink paper roses to bring to Mother Albirtha, who advises her to go to a secret river. Sure enough, Calpurnia finds it, and catches an absurd bounty of fish. Traveling home, she is accosted by an owl, a bear and a panther who each demand their share of the fish. Even though her supply of fish is now greatly reduced, Calpurnia doesn't forget her promise to Mother Albirtha, and brings her a fish as well, prompting Albirtha to exclaim, "Oh my goodness to the may-haw bush. Oh my goodness to the swamp maple."

She gives the rest of the fish to her father to sell to hungry people, "And so hard times in the forest turned to soft times." The Secret River has the cadence and feel of a long-forgotten fairy tale - the brave young girl with a soul of a poet, a magical solution for hard times, the repeating refrains, and incidents grouped in threes. The paintings are luminous. Endpapers feature two-tone catfish line drawings. This book is a must have, especially for audiences hungry for stories featuring African-American characters who are not dealing with antebellum or civil rights issues. During these tight financial times, Calpurnia's adventures may especially resonate with readers. The Dillons have successfully breathed new life into what is a timely and welcome return of an old classic. I highly recommend this book.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cover Trend: Lips

I'm seeing a trend... lots of covers featuring lips.

Bitter Frost
by Kailin Gow
The Edge
June 2010 

All her life, Breena had always dreamed about fairies as though she lived among them... beautiful fairies living among mortals and living in Feyland. In her dreams, he was always there the breathtakingly handsome but dangerous Winter Prince, Kian, who is her intended. When Breena turns sixteen, she begins seeing fairies and other creatures mortals don't see. Her best friend Logan suddenly acts very protective. Then she sees Kian, who seems intent on finding her and carrying her off to Feyland. That's fine and all, but for the fact that humans rarely survive a trip to Feyland, a kiss from a fairy generally means death to the human unless that human has fairy blood in them or is very strong, and although Kian seemed to be her intended, he seems to hate her and wants her dead. -from Goodreads

by Lili Wilkinson
February 2011

Ava has a secret. She is tired of her ultracool attitude, ultra-radical politics, and ultrablack clothing. She's ready to try something new - she's even ready to be someone new. Someone who fits in, someone with a gorgeous boyfriend, someone who wears pink. Transferring to Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence is the perfect chance to try on a new identity. But just in case things don't work out, Ava is hiding her new interests from her parents, and especially from her old girlfriend. Secrets have a way of being hard to keep, though, and Ava finds that changing herself is more complicated than changing her wardrobe. Even getting involved in the school musical raises issues she never imagined. As she faces surprising choices and unforeseen consequences, Ava wonders if she will ever figure out who she really wants to be. Humor, heart, and the joys of drama - on- and offstage - combine in Ava's delight-fully colorful journey of self-discovery. -from Goodreads

The Lipstick Laws
by Amy Holder
April 2011

At Penford High School, Britney Taylor is the queen bee. She dates whomever she likes, rules over her inner circle of friends like Genghis Khan, and can ruin anyone's life with a snap of perfectly manicured fingers. Just ask the unfortunate few who have crossed her. For April Bowers, Britney is also the answer to her prayers. April is so unpopular, kids don't even know she exists. But one lunch spent at Britney's table, and April is basking in the glow of popularity. But Britney's friendship comes with a high price tag. How much is April willing to pay? -from Goodreads

Bad Taste in Boys
by Carrie Harris
Delacorte Press
July 2011

Kate Grable is horrified to find out that the football coach has given the team steroids. Worse yet, the steriods are having an unexpected effect, turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless flesh-eating zombies. No one is safe - not her cute crush Aaron, not her dorky brother, Jonah... not even Kate! She's got to find an antidote - before her entire high school ends up eating each other. So Kate, her best girlfriend, Rocky, and Aaron stage a frantic battle to save their town... and stay hormonally human. -from Goodreads

Putting Makeup On Dead People
by Jennifer Violi
July 2011

It's been four years since Donna Parisi's father passed away, but it might as well have been four days. Donna makes conversation and goes through the motions, but she hasn't really gotten on with life. She's not close with anyone, she doesn't have a boyfriend and she's going to college at the local university with a major that her mother picked. But one day Donna has an epiphany. She wants to work with dead people. She wants to help people say goodbye and she wants to learn to love a whole person - body and soul. She wants to live her life and be exceptional... at loving, at grieving and at embalming and cremating, too. Even as she makes the decision, things start to change. Donna makes friends with the charismatic new student, Liz. She notices the boy, Charlie, at her table and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too. And she begins to forgive the rest of her family for living their lives while she's been busy moping. Jennifer Violi's gentle, moving story of a girl who finds a life in the midst of death will appeal to any reader who's felt stuck and found inspiration in an unexpected place. -from Goodreads

Any that
I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Minder review

June 2010

As I've mentioned before, one of my very favorite stories to read is: Young person discovers they have paranormal powers. Adventures ensue. This book fits the bill, exactly. I was delighted and charmed by this book. As a bonus, it takes place at a boarding school, another favorite setting of mine.

After fending off an attack by would-be-rapists, 16-year-old Maddie Dunn is shocked to discover that she has telepathic powers - which she has just used to overload her attackers' minds and kill. Dr. Williamson, basically a Professor X type character, shows up to rescue her from the ensuing police investigation and explains that Maddie is what's called "G-positive" - she has special abilities that can be honed further at a special academy in Vermont called Ganzfield. With the use of dodecamine injections, the students' abilities will be quickly enhanced.

Once at Ganzfield, Maddie quickly learns that cliques at school have formed, based on student's abilities. Maddie is a fairly rare type, a minder. The two main groups are: charms, who bully the other students with their ability to compulse people into doing whatever they want, and sparks who can control fire. RV's or "remote viewers" and healers are a little less common; they mostly align themselves with the sparks, or try to stay unnoticed.

Trevor Laurence is the only student with telekinesis and he forms an instantaneous connection with Maddie. And that's really the bulk of the story, right there. Being able to share their thoughts, Maddie and Trevor immediately fall madly in love, without any of the misunderstandings or hedging typical in a new relationship. The thing that I found very clever about this novel was the explanation for why, despite the depth of their feelings, the characters don't immediately jump into bed together. Trevor is the product of a teen pregnancy himself, and he has grown up self-concious about this. It's hurt his self esteem, and causes him to feel extreme caution about getting into a relationship.

Because Maddie is immune to the charms' powers, she uses her new influence at the school to turn things around and reign in the worst of the bullies. Both Maddie and Trevor know that their protectiveness of each other borders on stalkerish, and when Trevor is kidnapped by enemies of the Ganzfield school, Maddie springs into action. The ending lines up Maddie's team of fellow "G-positives" for what is sure to be a serial set of adventures.

As I've said, I really enjoyed this book. I had a few things to quibble over, though. There were a few typos, and the cover was uninspiring. I thought the figures on the Rubin's vase cover look lumpy and unappealing - an odd choice for what is supposed to be a sweeping YA romance. The cover is so heinous, it actually inspired one fan to start a cover redesign contest, with very pleasing results.


Don't all of these look about a billion times better than the original?

One major point of conflict for many paranormal romances is if the main couple will get together or not - with that source of tension gone, Kaynak does an admirable job of finding other dramatic issues for the main characters to contend with. The romance between Maddie and Trevor is saccharine sweet at times, and with Maddie being so talented even among the super-rare minders, she skates the fine edge of being a special snowflake. Still, the book offers plenty of adventure and solid world-building. It's attractively priced as an e-book - for only $2.99, why not give it a try?

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In My Mailbox 4

Wow! I got a fantastic package in the mail this week. Thank you so much, Kane Miller, for this awesome selection of 2011 kids titles.

Here's the list of titles:

The Dog Who Loved Red - Anitha Balachandran
Dorje's Stripes - Gwangjo and Jung-a Park, illus. Anshumani Ruddra
Hush Little Beachcomber - Dianne Moritz, illus. Holly McGee
Rope 'Em! - Stacy Nyikos, illus. Bret Conover
Seasons - Anne Crausaz
What Does the President Look Like? - Jane Hampton Cook, illus. Adam Ziskie
The Bloomswell Diaries - Louis L. Buitendag
Anna Hibiscus #3: Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus - Atinuke, illus. Lauren Tobia
Anna Hibiscus #4: Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus - Atinuke, illus. Lauren Tobia

Can't wait to read all of these!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wither review

March 2011

I have been looking forward to this book for ages, and was so, so excited to finally get my hands on it. It's one of those books that I was almost afraid to begin reading. How could it possibly live up to my expectations? Yet, somehow, it did. This book was amazing, probably one of the best that I've read all year. Set in a not-so-distant dystopian future, genetic tinkering has caused an incurable virus in humans, shortening men's life span to 25, and women's to only 20. "First generation" humans are currently in their 50's, with the potential for long, healthy lives ahead of them, while their children are the first wave of people who are starting to die off. While anarchy and chaos reign the streets, a select few wealthy patrons kidnap young brides for polygamous marriages in hopes of keeping the human race alive.

16 year-old Rhine Ellery and her twin brother Rowan manage a hardscrabble existence in a basement apartment, sleeping in shifts so they can guard against pillagers. With her two-colored eyes and pretty blonde hair, Rhine is prime pickings for The Gatherers, a group that arranges child-bride marriages. One day, she's captured, and brought to stay on the Florida estate of Linden Ashby, a young man distraught over the imminent death of his true love, Rose. Except for her unusual eyes, Rhine bears a striking resemblance to Rose, something which she quickly uses to her advantage, hoping to lull Linden into a false sense of security so that she can make her escape. Rhine quickly falls into a rhythm with her two sister-wives, Jenna and Cecily. Jenna has been rescued from a bordello life, and with her 20th birthday not far away, she is more than content to spend her final years in a gilded cage. Cecily is only 13, but very excited about the prospect of becoming a mother. She's certain that a cure will be found within their lifetimes, and she too, is delighted to have left her orphanage for Linden's mansion.

I was curious why Rhine was so very eager to leave. Her life before sounded nightmarish, constantly having to remain on armed guard against attack, barely getting enough to eat. Of course, being separated from one's twin sounds very upsetting, but Rhine only has a few years left anyhow. Despite having a creepy father-in-law, Linden sounds young, handsome, and somewhat sensitive, a not altogether disagreeable choice for a husband. I was surprised that more of the 50 year old men didn't use the crisis as an excuse to gather up underage harems for themselves. That, to me, would be a clearly odious, yet believable thing to happen. I also thought that in a world where the lifespan was limited to 20-25 years, it seemed natural that the age of adulthood would be lowered. I expected that 13 would be the new 30. Children are a lot brighter and more capable than many people give them credit for, so it wasn't surprising to me that most of the servants in the house are smart, enterprising 8 or 9 year olds. It seemed a reversal of the natural paradigm, having men outlive women. I questioned too, the idea that women pass away at exactly 20 years of age. It's implied that it pretty much happens on your birthday. If this is a virus, wouldn't people have a variety of resistance to it? Wouldn't it fall within a natural range, say 19-22 years, with folks not certain of when exactly they'd fall prey to it? I wondered if Rhine's heterochromatic eyes provide some kind of clue to the cure. Or maybe she's immune? I was surprised too, that so many people seemed to feel that the human race was doomed, and actively hoped for the end of humanity. It seemed to me that with a greatly shortened lifespan, more girls would feel like Cecily does, eager to get their families started in their early teens, as that might be their only chance. I also wondered, with the future of humanity hanging in the balance, why on Earth would the Gatherers choose to murder any of the fertile young women that they've kidnapped. Ultimately, the thing that strained my suspension of disbelief the most was the fact that Rhine is kept in Linden's house for nearly a year, and out of deference to his late wife Rose, Linden never consummates their marriage.

Linden's father, Vaughn, is a truly terrifying villain, and the forbidden romance between Rhine and servant Gabriel adds a wonderful hint of danger. Fans of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games will go for this dystopian novel which careens between scenes of action-packed violence and scenes of glamor and beauty. The first in a series, the ending resolves some important questions, but leaves a lot more to be answered. I highly, highly recommend this novel.

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

I read this for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 3

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is: Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?

I've always liked to be reading a couple of different books at once. I think the maximum that I can really successfully juggle is about 4. More than that and I start to get the plotlines mixed up. It's funny, I'll go through a period where I'm zipping through books really quickly, then I'll have one that just seems to take me forever to read, which slows me right down. I'm in a slow spot right now, after a feverish start to the reading year. I'm reading Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman, which is awesome, but I'm reading it slowly to savor the Shakespearean style insults in the book. I'm also reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I've been meaning to check out for a while. I don't read much adult fiction, but this book is excellent. It's already so sad, though, and I'm only on chapter 4! If it gets much more tragic, I'm not sure if I'll be able to finish it.

What are you reading right now?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tell Me a Secret video

I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction, but after seeing this mesmerizing video for Tell me a Secret by Holly Cupola, I know I'll have to give this book a try. Check out the sample chapters on the author's website, you'll be hooked, like I was! Not convinced yet? Okay, then you simply must check out the free audiobook podcast, also on the author's website.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thank You, Miss Doover review

This book is supposed to convey the values of revising and editing one's work. Miss Doover has assigned her classroom the task of mastering the art of the 'thank you' note. As Jack writes and re-writes his thank you card to his fussy great-aunt Gertie, slowly the true story emerges... his unwanted gift of stationary turned out to be very useful when it served to mop up a mess left by his not-yet-housetrained puppy. The story ends with a not-so-subtle nudge to the reader, pointing out "Miss Doover" is equivalent to "Miss Do Over." The book is appended with a humorous collection of 'correctly' worded, yet not polite thank you notes the other children in class have written. 

Discerning readers will doubtless be aware that the boy's original, simply worded note was actually far more effective than any of his later efforts - which I'm not entirely certain is the message that the author meant to convey. Attractive mixed media illustrations using colored pencils, acrylic paint and cardboard heighten the kid appeal of what is otherwise a somewhat didactic book.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

False Princess review

The False Princess
January 2011 

I loved this book, which turns the traditional story of a simple girl who discovers that she's secretly a princess on its head. Nalia, princess of the kingdom of Thorvaldor, finds her life turned upside down when just after her 16th birthday she is summoned before the King and Queen who deliver the shocking news that she is not their daughter. Because of a frightening prophecy that the princess would be killed before her 16th birthday, the monarchs decided to swap their daughter for a decoy, raising the real princess in obscurity and safety. With the help of wizard advisors to the court, they have been casting spells on Nalia her whole life, unbeknownst to her, to strengthen the disguise. Hastily removed from the only life she's ever known, Nalia, now called by her birth name of Sinda, is forced to rely on the mercy of her only living relative, a distant aunt, who is none too pleased at the intrusion in her life.

While Sinda is devastated at losing her best friend, Kiernan, and the comforts of court, she isn't as hurt on one might expect by her adoptive parents rejection of her, which made sense, as they are busy with affairs of state and have mostly left her upbringing to tutors and nannies. She even reasons that it's understandable that they would give her so little to live on after leaving the royal palace, since they may fear she would attempt some kind of revenge after their poor treatment of her. 

Living with her aunt Varil proves to be a disaster right from the start. When her aunt asks her what sort of useful skills she has, Sinda replies that she can speak several languages, knows the history of Thorvald and its neighboring kingdoms going centuries back, is familiar with courtly dancing and fine embroidery, her aunt rolls her eyes in disgust that the girl can't even handle simple cooking and cleaning. Sinda's simplest dresses brought from court are considered too fine for everyday wear in the hardscrabble peasant village she finds herself in. For me, the story really gets going when Sinda discovers that as the dampening effects of the wizard's spells on her die off, she has a wild, untamed magic of her own, something that she must quickly learn to control, lest she endanger others with her runaway magic. It was satisfying, if a bit unbelievable, when she confronts her aunt, who offers an apology and explanation for her gruff behavior, before parting company.

Returning to the city, Sinda hopes to gain admission to the wizard's college, and is shocked when she learns that places at the school are reserved for the wealthy upperclasses only, despite the dangers of having magically gifted peasantry around. Eventually, Sinda secures employment as a scribe with unconventional female wizard, Philantha, who agrees to tutor her on the sly. The final third of the book races to a breakneck conclusion, as Sinda and Kiernan uncover a vast conspiracy involving the prophets, the wizards and the royal family. Sinda's hurt pride is apparent as she attempts to redeem herself and prove that she has more value than just as a decoy. Her rude introduction to how the other half lives is something which may open the royal family's eyes to many social injustices in the land.

The ending of this book was a little convoluted, but Sinda is eventually able to wade through all the court politics to a satisfying conclusion. I only felt sorry that the ending does not obviously seem to invite the possibility for a sequel! The False Princess has got to be one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a while, full of magic, intrigue, and just the barest hint of romance. I highly recommend it.

I borrowed this book from the library.
I read this book for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cover change: Witches War

I must say, I'm very disappointed by the cover change for Andrea Cremer's second book in the Witches War trilogy, Wolfsbane. Here is the cover for Wolfsbane, as originally proposed:

I love it! I love also that it matches the original cover for Nightshade, the first book in the series.

I have to admit, that I like the UK cover for Nightshade even better, though. I like the slightly darker hue (more appropriate for the story, I think) and I like the vegetation-inspired font better.

Just for fun, let's take a look at a couple more cover designs. Here is what was probably an early design for the paperback edition of Wolfsbane, as it has the same cheesy tagline as the first book, "She can control her pack, but not her heart." 

I like the font better, but I can't say that I care for the way they've cropped the photo. Without seeing the forest around her, it makes the yellow flower near her eye look a little more random. Like, is it supposed to be part of her hair, or what? Photoshopping out that branch that whips across her face has made the whole picture look blurrier than it should. And I don't like the way the tagline covers her whole forehead. On the whole, it's not a bad cover though.

And here's another design I found and I'm not quite sure where it's from. Maybe it's an early Australian version of Nightshade? I thought that the Australian cover ended up being the same as the UK cover.

Okay, brace yourselves. This is the new cover, which is designed to match the new paperback cover for the first book in the series.


Ugh! I can't stand it. This picture looks so bad. They're worse than the Vampire Academy or House of Night covers and that's saying something. I would be embarrassed to be seen reading this.

What do you think? Which cover do you prefer?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Georgia Children's Literature Conference Day 2

I should probably start out by saying that I neglected to mention one of the highlights of my first day at the conference... Gail Gibbons gave the closing speech that evening, and it was amazing. As you can imagine, Gibbons was full of energy and excited about so many different topics whether it was animals, weather, geography, plants, any kind of science-related topic you could think of. She talked about her illustrating process, and how she might travel, or consult with experts on her latest book, while her husband photographs whatever she's researching, and she bases her artwork off of that. She paints her work at 125% so that she can get all the details in, and then they shrink the images for final publication.

Gibbons also spoke at length about how magical it is living on a 300 acre farm in Vermont, close to nature, and her passion for preserving the land. I hadn't realized that she had started her career in television production. Working as a set designer on tv shows taught her how to work quickly under a deadline. Gibbons breezily whipped through her backlist of titles, explaining how she'd written one book after another, on nearly every non-fiction topic you can imagine. The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree was inspired by her son, although she did change the name for alliteration in the title. Someone in the audience asked her if there was ever a book that a publisher had suggested she write that she turned down, and interestingly, she said that she'd never write a book on hospitals, because it just didn't appeal! She did mention a few books that she's working on now. She's been working on a book on gorillas, which is coming out later this month, and another book on ladybugs -- I'm excited about that.

I started my second day at the Georgia Children's Literature Conference by attending a talk by M.T. Anderson. M.T. Anderson is the author of Thirsty, a riveting novel about doomed suburban teen vampire, as well as Feed, a sci-fi dystopian. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation., Volume I: The Pox Party, and Volume II: The Kingdom of the Waves, were both award winners. I didn't realize that he is also the author of Pals in Peril, a humorous middle-grade fiction series.

Anderson was a fantastic public speaker, and I really enjoyed his talk. He was so funny. He talked about growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, and told many entertaining stories about traveling the world, including a silly anecdote about trying to obtain a decent meal in Asia during the avian flu epidemic, which involved him fighting off a horde of stray cats for the last frozen chicken around. He also shared some of his hilariously disastrous attempts to learn French - by studying Baroque French Opera he ended up being fluent in mostly useless overly dramatic phrases. Anderson discussed his inspiration for Octavian Nothing, saying that during the time of the American Revolution, the people involved did not have the benefit of hindsight. They honestly didn't know how things would turn out - and they lived in a world very different from ours with a king, castles, and so on... so he wanted to make the time period fresh by not telling the readers where the story takes place at first. It's true, without the exposition, you start the book wondering if it is a fantasy novel or historical fiction or what? He also showed us some features from his beautifully designed website, including a "tourist's guide" to accompany his book Pals in Peril: Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware. Anderson seemed like a fascinating man with interests in history, classical music, geography, and of course, literature. I'm going to have to start recommending his Pals in Peril series to Lemony Snicket fans, and get caught up on reading his books.

After that I went to a presentation by Rob Cleveland, a local African-American storyteller and author. He talked about the importance of storytelling, and about how teaching through the use of a dramatic, memorable story will often yield better retention than other methods. Presciently, he talked about how the folk legends of the indigenous "sea gypsies" saved lives during the Indonesian tsunami, as they knew to flee to higher ground when the waves initially receded. He also shared (complete with hand motions) the tale of a boy who trades one item for another, until he gets the drum he's been hoping for, and illustrated how you could tie that in to lessons about sharing, without seeming didactic. A lot of his talk seemed geared for older Baby Boomers in the room, especially his good-natured complaints about raising teens, and distrust of government spending, but on the whole, it was a very engaging presentation.

Next, I went to see Karen Beaumont. Louella Mae, She's Run Away! and Duck, Duck, Goose! (A Coyote's on the Loose) have got to be some of my favorite books to share at storytime. She accepted the award for I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, winner of the 2009-2010 Georgia Picture Storybook Award. She had initially planned to talk only about her work, but inspired by earlier presenters, she went into a bit of detail about her personal life as well. Beaumont talked about the difficulty of making a living as a writer, describing a grueling schedule in her early days of working two jobs, raising a family, and staying up all night to write, getting perhaps 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. She also read some rhymes from some of her upcoming books. In Shoe-La-La, four girls go on a massive shoe shopping expedition - but find out the best shoes are ones from home that they redecorate themselves. Beaumont said she thought it was important to write a book with girly appeal that had a subtle message against consumerism. She has two more books slated for release, No Sleep for the Sheep, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic, out on March 7 and Where's My T.R.U.C.K., illustrated by David Catrow, coming out in September.

I was also lucky enough to be invited to the Storyteller's Luncheon, where Susan Liverpool regaled everyone with stories from her collection called Little Liverpool Diaries about growing up in Chicago.

What a terrific conference this was. Of course, it was fantastic to be able to hear so many famous authors, and it was great to be able to attend panels with inspiring ideas for everyone to take back to their libraries or classrooms, but it was really nice also, to be able to meet and chat with so many teachers and librarians from all over the state.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Georgia Children's Literature Conference Day 1

Last week I attended the Georgia Children's Literature Conference for the first time. What a fantastic weekend it was. Librarians, school media specialists and educators from all over the state converged on the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center in Athens, GA.

The conference opened with a talk by Mary Downing Hahn, the author of The Doll in the Garden; A Ghost Story; Time for Andrew; and, most recently, Deep and Dark and Dangerous. She has also won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for her book Stepping on the Cracks. I was so excited to see her speak, because one of my favorite, favorite books was Wait Til Helen Comes. As a child, I must have checked that book out from the library at least a half dozen times.

Hahn talked
about her childhood, growing up in the 1950's (she assured us that the '50's wasn't as rosy and safe as we seem to think nowadays.) What I didn't know was that she actually had wanted to begin her career as an illustrator. She shared some of her earliest grade-school efforts, picture books that she had created, and humorously told us about the moment when she realized that the way to get around the perspective problems in some of her drawings would be to use words to describe what was happening, rather than pictures. And that was the moment she became a writer! She shared about how got involved with the writing club in college, writing somewhat autobiographical pieces, and drinking coffee in order to try to fit in with the beatniks there (although she wasn't hardcore enough to manage drinking her coffee black.) I also didn't know that she went on to spend many years working as a children's librarian!

After Hahn's talk there were over a dozen interesting panels to choose from, and I went to none of them, because I was busy preparing for my own presentation, announcing the Georgia Picture Book Award Nominees for 2011-2012. What an interesting process this was, working with this committee. I was surprised and pleased at how quickly we were able to decide on our top picks for the list. There were many books, too, which were easy for us to put aside. It was the books that were in the middle, especially if they were a "love it or hate it" sort of book that gave us the most trouble. Some compromises were made, but on the whole, I am really, really pleased with the selection that we decided upon. It felt like a really nice balance too, a diverse representation of cultures, of reading levels and of subjects. Now it's all in the kids' hands as they read and vote upon the final winners this school year!

After we presented the list of finalists, I was able to make it to a panel on middle-grade science-fiction and fantasy presented by Dr. Edie Parsons. She talked about themes drawn from various titles, and ways to use science-fiction to get a new perspective on history, social issues, or to promote critical thinking. I was familiar with a number of the books that she discussed, such as DiTerlizzi's The Search for WondLA or Phillip Reeves' Larklight series, but some of the books Parsons booktalked were new to me, such as Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey -- I'll have to add that to my ever-growing list of books to be read.

Athens is a great little college town, and I ended the night by meeting some friends at this amazing vegetarian restaurant, The Grit.

More tomorrow on how day 2 of the conference went!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 2

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is: "If I gave you £50 (or $80) and sent you into a bookshop right now, what would be in your basket when you finally staggered to the till?"

Oooh... tough
question! Only $80? I'm ashamed to say that I could probably blow through a book budget of $1000 or more without blinking. With a budget of $80, I'd have to pick a mix of some of my favorite picture books (ones that I love enough to want to own) and novels that I'm dying to read, that I've grown impatient waiting for them to come in at the library.

Okay, let's
see how far $80 takes us on my wishlist:
Pete the Cat - Eric Litwin and James Dean - $16.99
Afterlife - Claudia Gray - $16.99
A True Princess - Diane Zahler $15.99
A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness $28.95

Grand Total: $78.92

Wow, that went fast. I suppose I should have left myself more wiggle room for tax and whatnot, but that's what librarian discounts are for, right?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trapped trailer

Spring is in the air, but I'm still thinking about this past winter's big storms with this book trailer for Michael Northrup's Trapped, about 7 kids who get snowed in at school.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu review

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
January 2011 

I really enjoyed this realistic fiction middle-grade novel about Chinese-American middle-schooler, Lucy Wu and her family. There are plenty of books out there about a put-upon kid who has to cope with sharing a room, or giving up a room to a newly moved in senior citizen family member. This book succeeds in making all of the involved parties sympathetic and well-realized. Even though she's extremely short, Lucy has a passion for basketball, something her traditional (read: scholastics obsessed) parents simply don't understand.

Lucy's been
living under the oppressive perfection of her snotty older sister Regina for years and can't wait until Regina takes off for college so she can finally have her own room. Unfortunately, her plans are foiled when her parents inform her that her grandmother's long-lost sister from China will be coming to stay with them. Enraged, Lucy decides to erect a "wall" consisting of her bookcase, desk and bureau clearly demarking her space. As the year goes on, and her parents insist that she take Chinese language lessons (further cramping her schedule and endangering her ability to stay active on the basketball team) Lucy really begins to grow frantic with the pressures that she's put under.

Lucy and her parents seem to be gearing up for an all out war. But, a sensitive, reasoned look at things eventually brings both sides closer together. 
I was heartened by Lucy's sincere concern about having her father leave on an extended business trip to China. She's quite ill at ease until he's safely home again. Lucy realizes that after school Chinese lessons turn out to be more fun than she thought. Lucy's mom comes to see that Regina has been far more insufferable than she had originally supposed, and sympathizes with how Lucy must feel about having her sixth grade school year turned topsy-turvy. And Lucy's great-aunt, although mostly silent throughout the book, also shows some spirit, not letting Lucy push her around, but realizing what a big adjustment this is for her, too. The Chinese phrases incorporated into the book add a lot, and this is a realistic middle-grade fiction that with broad appeal - to any kid who's ever felt academic pressure (and who hasn't these days), to any sports fan, anyone who's ever had to measure up to an older sibling, to anyone who is interested in reading about how it feels to grow up in a multicultural environment, this book is a real winner.

I borrowed this book from the library.
I read this book for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Georgia Picture Book award nominees

I've been serving on the Georgia Picture Book Award committee this year, and this past weekend was the culmination of months of effort. Having read dozens and dozens of picture books for potential nominees, and debated with committee members, we presented our final list of 20 books at the Georgia Children's Literature Conference. These books will then be read by children all over the state who will cast their votes and make the final determination as to the winner. Below, I've listed the five books that I presented at the conference... you can read the complete list on the newly revamped Georgia Children's Book Award website.
Forever Friends
by Caroline Berger
Greenwillow Books

A blue bird and a bunny form a fast friendship. Over the course of the year, they enjoy spending time together, until the fall, when blue bird must fly south for the winter. In the spring, they are joyfully reunited, with another pleasant year ahead of them. Berger’s collage technique uses sharp, precisely cut, paper with found media to strong effect. Short declarative sentences, paired with several pages of wordless frolicking make this book a natural for very young audiences, although the classic theme of friendship despite their obvious differences makes this book valuable for all ages.

The Umbrella Queen
by Shirin Bridges, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Greenwillow Books

A young girl in an small village in Thailand marches to the beat of her own drummer, and stays true to her vision. While it's traditional to paint flowers on umbrellas, instead Noot sees elephants -- beautiful elephants! -- marching across her delicately painted umbrellas. When the emperor comes to visit (riding an elephant), he's intrigued by Noot's tiny umbrellas that he spies in a window and declares Noot as that year's Umbrella Queen because she paints from the heart. Yellow, orange, blue lineleum prints with pencil illustrations lend a sunny and joyful air to this book.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry, Holt & Co.

An inspiring story about a young female scientist, Maria Sibylla Merian, who in the 1600’s overturned years of medieval thought about the origin of butterflies, then known as ‘summer birds.’ Through simple observation she discovered the process of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Beautiful painted illustrations inspired by medieval woodcuts in bright, rich colors are paired with an appealing, easy to understand text. "Today as a result of [her] careful studies, we know that butterflies, moths and frogs do not spring from mud. We also know that they are not evil, but natural and amazing."

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This book is everything one could hope for in a picture book biography, distilling the life of the subject into a few passages of beautifully sweet, lyrical prose celebration. Helpfully appended with additional biographical information, photographs and a bibliography this book features warmly hued watercolor and charcoal illustrations masterfully paired with informative and rhythmic text. A triumph. "Big. Black. Beautiful. True./That was Sojourner... Down came Sojourner’s hand, an iron fist, smashing the lies of the day." An inspiring look at a famed American abolitionist.

El Barrio
by Debbi Chocolate, illustrated by David Diaz
Henry Holt & Co.

A young boy proudly shows off his barrio, where the preparations for the celebration of his beloved older sister’s quincenera are well underway. "This is el barrio!/My home in the city/with its rain-washed murals/and sparkling graffiti." Diaz’s trademark illustration style with bold black outlines and luminous color uses woodcuts, painting and collage to capture the feeling of stained glass windows. Whether this neighborhood is as familiar as home to you, or an exciting, vibrant place to visit, Chocolate’s words convey a strong sense of the community of "Aztec eyes and Mayan faces" in el barrio.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Seuss Cake

Maybe in belated celebration of Dr. Seuss Day, Cakewrecks has featured with their "Sunday Sweets" a selection of scrumptious looking Dr. Seuss inspired cakes. Do check it out!

This reminds
me of one of my favorite cakes I ever made for my younger sister's birthday. We had baked a cake, and unfortunately, it came out all wrong. It was a bit lopsided, and burnt on one end, and once we'd cut away the burned portions of the cake, it was even MORE lopsided. As you can imagine, everyone in the family was in a panic. There were plans afoot to try and fill the lopsided portions with extra icing as to hide the spectacular failure of this cake, but in a stroke of inspired genius, I insisted on taking over the decorating project myself. After setting the cake at it's most jaunty angle, I mixed up some food coloring, making the cake yellow, and then applied bright purple polka-dots. The finished cake looked EXACTLY like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. Triumph, snatched from the jaws of defeat!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

XVI review

January 2011

Nina Oberon dreads the day that she turns 16 and will be tattooed, as a sign that she is now sexually available to any man who wants her. In 2150 Chicago, citizens are assigned numbered tiers based on their social class. Although Nina and her family were born to a higher class, after the disappearance of her father, her newly-single mother, Ginnie, takes a demotion to tier 2. Nina's grown up trying to avoid her mother's odious boyfriend Ed, who likes to leave sex-teen vids around the house, and beats her mother from time to time. Nina's very protective of her little sister, Dee.

Things change quickly when Ginnie is killed, and her dying words to Nina suggest that her father may still be alive, as one of the "NonCons" leading the resistance to the current authoritarian regime. Nina then meets love-interest Sal, a cute guy, (who we know is a good person because he doesn't pressure Nina.) Poor Nina is really terrified of intimacy, mainly because between her mother's abusive boyfriend and the stories in the news about teenagers who are raped and murdered with impunity, she has no positive role models to look up to. Nina also befriends Wei, an older girl whose parents were friends of her dad's, and who provides an alternate career possibility - getting a "creative" designation so she can work as an artist. We see Nina's mother in a different light when it's revealed that she'd only been dating Ed in a "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" kind of way.

It's hard to understand why Nina puts up with her annoying best friend Sandy, who is obsessed with turning 16, can't wait to have sex and desperately hopes to join the FeLs, or Female Liason Specialists, a supposedly elite group of women who work in space. If that doesn't sound disturbing, I don't know what does. It's obviously a cover for some kind of government-run prostitution or unsavory sex slavery scheme. I was shocked by how long it took the main characters to figure this out. I felt that the search for Nina's father was a little drawn out. Nina's hopes and fears about ensuring she is not chosen for FeLs and how she hopes to get a "creative" designation make up a major portion of the book, and the ending felt a little anticlimactic. Sure, Nina is able to squeak by and get things set up well for herself. But what about all the other girls who aren't as lucky? I thought there would more of a massive change to the world by the story's end. Still, this gritty, dystopian novel with mature themes was hard to put down.

I purchased a copy of this book.
I read this book for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Delirium review

February 2011

Set in a not-too-distant future, Lena Holoway can't wait until the operation that will remove any possibility of being infected by the disease amor deliria nervosa. Lena is fairly unique amongst her peers in that she's always tried to suppress her emotions, feeling incredible shame after her mother, immune to the operation and hopelessly emotional, abandoned her and left her in the care of her aunt, a disapproving and fussy woman. Lena completely buys all the propaganda that experiencing falling in love will only cause heartache in the end. Her older sister also proved an embarrassment by falling in love and provoking an emotional display when it came her turn for the operation. Lena secretly worries that because of her family history she may be more susceptible to hysteria and loss of reason than most. There are little hints and clues that all is not as tranquil as one might guess, however. The fact that Lena's best friend Hana also expresses her doubts about the operation, and that Lena stumbles upon an active, forbidden nightlife scene is a sure sign that she's not as aberrant as she thinks. Even the state-approved fiance chosen for her privately confesses that before his operation, he had stirrings of feelings for a girl down the street. Chillingly, all gays and lesbians are "cured" of their feelings as well, and matched with opposite sex partners.

The book has a very strong sense of place. If you're going to set a novel in a dystopian, carless future, Portland, Maine is the perfect locale. Situated on a peninsula of the rocky southern Maine coast, it's a very compact, walkable, beautiful oceanside city full of notable landmarks. I attended college in Portland, Maine for a few years, and it was really fun to recognize all of the street names and landmarks that Oliver uses. Munjoy Hill, Back Cove, The Eastern Promenade, Old Port, Congress St., Fore St., Deering Oaks Park. I wondered why Longfellow Square was so conspicuously absent... until it's revealed much later in the story, that in this world, poetry has been banned.

When Lena bombs the personality test administered to all young adults, she gets a rare second chance... the facility was victim of a prank by protestors who let loose a herd of cattle into the auditorium, invalidating her results. She also rather fatefully meets a mysterious young man, Alex, who turns out to be an undercover operative from the resistance. He hasn't undergone "the cure" and is able to show her that maybe falling in love isn't such a bad thing after all. The two of them enjoy several steamy make-out sessions, made all the more enticing by their forbidden allure, as Lena struggles to decide what she will do. The two of them leave messages for each other, hidden in a statue on Monument Square. I must confess I found this portion incredibly distracting, as I couldn't match the description to any particular statue that I remembered. Oliver describes the statue as:

...Striding forward, one hand holding his hat on his head so that it looks like he is walking through a horrible storm, or a headwind. His other fist is extended in front of him. It's obvious that he was, in the distant past, holding something - probably a torch - but at some point that portion of the statue was broken or stolen. So now the Governor strides forward with an empty fist, a circular hole cut in his hand, a perfect hiding place for notes and secret stuff.
Despite the above description, whenever the Governor was mentioned, I pictured this statue instead, the Maine Lobsterman, about half a block south of Monument Square.

I had a few questions about how things came to be in their current state. Did a group of heartbroken people initially agree to have the operation and then impose the cure by force on others? In a world where all of the adults have rendered themselves emotionally flat, would that lend an even stronger intensity to childhood friendships? Portland is kind of a far-flung city - where's the center of government? Who's benefitting from all of this? Do people work harder and more productively when they don't love their families? There's plenty of thought devoted to the excitement and rush of young love, and parental love is also mentioned in the book. What about long-term affection? Sure, love can be painful at times, but on the balance, life is pretty empty without it. I was surprised that more people weren't actively fighting back. I also wanted to throttle Lena at times, as she deliberately put her head in the sand for a good portion of the book, and took a long time to slowly and carefully make her decisions, but given her background, perhaps it was understandable. This was an amazing book, one that lived up to my every expectation. A thrilling, romantic journey with a riveting conclusion, I highly recommend it.

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


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