Saturday, May 30, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle

I was fortunate to receive a copy of Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino from Roaring Brook Press. This is a sweet, funny story set in upstate New York just before the moon landing, focusing on a group of neighborhood children who have their own hierarchy and rules. Tammy, the narrator, can't stand the newcomer to the neighborhood, a scrawny boy she mockingly dubs "Muscle Man." He tells outrageous lies, the most recent of which is that Neil Armstrong is his uncle. The other children let his lies slide, which infuriates Tammy, who continues to pick on Muscle Man. It gradually dawned on me that Tammy is a bully, and the reason I didn't notice immediately is that Marino draws her so sympathetically. She's grieving for her best friend who moved without a forwarding address, and she resents Muscle Man as the newcomer. Muscle Man responds to Tammy's mean comments with kindness that only angers Tammy further. The impending moon landing, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War hover mostly in the background (with the exception of a touching subplot involving a neighbor whose son is serving). I found myself utterly swept up in the naive world of these children in the summer of 1969, and hoping that Tammy and Muscle Man would find solace in friendship with each other. This is the perfect book for teaching children how to understand another person's point of view and that everyone has his own problems, and I recommend it to adults and children alike.

YA Weekend

Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop by Jennifer Allison: This is the fourth in an entertaining mystery/paranormal series for the 9-12 crowd, featuring Gilda Joyce, who is practicing for her chosen career as a "psychic investigator." I've enjoyed this series, and the fourth is an excellent entry. Plan on significant suspension of disbelief, and not from the ghost trying to communicate with Gilda: Gilda's mother lets not-quite-fifteen Gilda go off and live in Washington, DC for a summer to intern at the International Spy Museum. Mmmhmmm. And Gilda is sharing an apartment with a twentysomething. Mmmmhmmm. But if you just accept that and settle into the gripping ghost story and more hilarious internship story, this is a fun, fun read, and the strongest plot in the series.

Anyone following Gilda's adventures, with her penchant for wacky disguises and her handbooks on psychic investigation and spying, will understand why she's so excited about her Spy Museum internship. She ends up in charge of a group of children attending "Spy Camp," teaching them important spy skills like detecting lies, concocting a good cover story, and playing Wigball. A Russian spy appears to be haunting the museum (and Gilda's dreams), and Gilda is led by a dream of Abraham Lincoln to a "dead drop," a location where spies leave messages for their handlers. Cold War history, double-agent intrigue, and the mysterious Russians make this a blast to read, and the mystery is very well done. Gilda's work with the Spy Camp children is hilarious, and while I could have done without the brief scenes from the point of view of the "psychic spy," the surprise appearance of a new character near the end made them much more tolerable. I loved the surprise character! This could be read alone, but for maximum enjoyment, I'd read the first three books before picking this one up, just to watch Gilda's skills develop.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake and Gilda Joyce: The Ghost Sonata

Oh. My. Gods by Tera Lynn Childs: This book was rather disappointing for me, as the premise (high school girl whisked off to live in Greece and attend a special school for descendants of Greek gods) sounded great. The execution didn't live up to the promise. There are many ways to set up this sort of book. You can have your character encounter the paranormal out in the normal world, making it impossible for him to deny the unbelievable (Percy Jackson), you can have a messenger give him the information, which is backed up by past strange experiences that are now explained (Harry Potter), etc. Childs chooses the weakest setup I can imagine. We barely meet Phoebe in her normal life before her mother appears with a fiance and announces that the family is moving to Greece to live with him. Phoebe will attend the only school on the remote island. On the ferry ride to the island, Phoebe's mother reveals the truth about the school: it was established to educated the children of gods. Phoebe's response is strange; she thinks this is crazy, but is inclined to believe her mother and new stepfather, who provide proof. If something strange had happened at Phoebe's old school, or if we had simply met Phoebe while she was already on the island, I would have been drawn into the story much more readily. As it was, I didn't feel particularly engaged until the Academy life is in full swing. There really isn't much Greek mythology in this one. I really thought the Percy Jackson series did a much better job of incorporating the Greek myths and making them fresh. In Oh. My. Gods, we just have a description of the various cliques, which are all along ancestor lines (so the Ares kids are the jocks, etc.). Phoebe, as a nothos (or normal, non-divine person), is an outcast, but is befriended by two students there who don't care about her humble origins. Phoebe is a runner, and she tries out for the track team at the Academy, and falls for a jerk (I can't tell you how much I hate this plotline in YA books), while struggling to keep her place on the track team.

There's really too much going on here, and if the set-up had been different, it would have been easier for me to enjoy the story. As it is, Phoebe is dealing with 1. leaving her California friends thousands of miles away and being unable to tell them about the island's secret, 2. a new stepfather who is also her headmaster, 3. a wicked step-sister with supernatural powers, 4. the sudden marriage of her mother, 5. isolation at her new school, where most students hate or ignore her, 6. keeping up her grades so she and her California friends can all go to USC together, and 7. awareness of supernatural forces. That's a lot to balance, and I didn't really find the ties to her California friends all that interesting (especially when described in IM transcripts). This was a cute summer read, but I had been hoping for more. I am mildly interested in reading the follow-up, Goddess Boot Camp, but I won't rush to buy it in hardcover.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Bookish Question for YOU

I'm planning on doing a little reorganizing around here (or rather, I'm enlisting my husband to lug around our bookshelves in the house until I'm satisfied with a new setup). ;-)

This will require me to take ALL my books off the shelves and it gives me an excellent opportunity to start over and maybe sort them a little differently. I tend to start off with fairly organized shelves but then I have that darn problem of acquiring more and more books. So they end up getting shifted around; some shelves end up organized, others are hodge podge just stuffed together.

So, my question to are your books organized? Do you organize by subject (literary fiction, mystery, historical fiction, romance, etc), fiction vs. nonfiction, simply alphabetize by author regardless of subject matter, paperbacks together/hardcovers together? Please leave me a comment with your system if you happen to have one. Perhaps everyone else in the world is like me and their shelves are just a hodge which case, please leave me a comment with how your dream bookshelves would be organized. ;-)

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This was our book club pick for April (I'm a little behind...hee hee). It took me awhile to get in the right mood to read it. But once I started it, I really enjoyed it.

The novel flip-flops between two stories. Julia Jarmond in 2001, a journalist who is assigned to write an article about the Vel d'Hiv roundup in France during WWII. Julia is an American married to a Frenchman living in Paris. She writes for an American magazine there. Through her investigation and research, she discovers that not many people are aware that Jewish families were arrested in Paris and sent to camps and eventually Auschwitz. It's a dark time in French history that seemed to be swept under the carpet.

This brings us to the second part of the novel, Sarah's story. Sarah is a young girl whose family is arrested for being Jewish and sent to a camp in the French countryside. When she hears the police coming to round them up, Sarah locks her little brother in a secret cupboard to keep him safe. She doesn't realize that she will not be able to return to get him until its too late. She frets for weeks about her brother and whether anyone had discovered him or if he was still stuck in the cupboard all this time without food and water.

The two stories eventually come together when Julia discovers a connection in her husband's family to Sarah's life. She becomes obsessed with the story and goes to great lengths to find out more about Sarah and what happened to her.

I really liked this book. Granted, I believe I was intrigued by Sarah's story much more than Julia's. Julia was quite a bit obsessive, moreso than I think a person would be in reality. And I felt like a few of the characters were a bit overdramatic. But overall, this was a good book and if you like the subject of World War II and how it affected people, be sure to check this one out.

I have found the novels I've read lately with WWII as a backdrop to be very interesting and informative in providing new viewpoints of the war. Growing up, I mostly learned about the political/logistical aspects of the War and how our country was specifically affected. Never gave much thought to how other countries in Europe were dealing with things. Even though these are fictionalized accounts, I think they provide great stepping stones for thought on the war.

Other novels reviewed with WWII as the time period:
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Lily's Crossing
The Boy in Striped Pajamas

Monday, May 25, 2009

YA Weekend--Memorial Day Edition

I think I could almost start a "World War II Wednesday" regular feature here. I cannot believe how many books there are based during WWII. I never had a particular fascination with WWII or cared to learn more about it other than what I was taught in school. But books on the subject keep popping up and sound good to me. A bit ago, I finished two juvenile fiction books set during WWII: Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff and The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Both were interesting and worthwhile reads.

Lily’s Crossing: Lily finds herself with her grandmother at their oceanside summer home in 1944. She always looks forward to her summers in Rockaway, but this year is different. Her father was shipped overseas to help with the war effort and her best friend moved away so her father could help build planes in Michigan. Just when her summer looked like it was going to be the worst ever, Lily meets a Hungarian boy named Albert. They forge a friendship throughout the summer. This sweet book depicts wartime in America with rationing, a town’s reaction to their own missing in action, and just simply the unknown during war. The pace is a little slow, but that seems to reflect the pace of Lily’s summer days and also the patience for waiting for a loved one to return home from war. This is a middle-grade Newbery Honor Book and I think it definitely fits the age group well. You learn about the war, but it is a bit censored and appropriate for a younger age. I wonder if this book might be a bit boring for the younger set, but I liked it.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas: We meet nine-year-old Bruno, and his family who all of sudden must pack up their house in Berlin because his father has gotten a new assignment. They all move to an undesirable house at Out-With. From Bruno’s bedroom window he can see a fence with many people behind it. They are all wearing the same outfit: striped suits with matching caps. Bruno does not understand why his family has left Berlin and everything they know, but he knows his father is an “important man who works for the “Fury” and is going places.” The book goes on through Bruno’s days at Out-With and he can only accept so many “Don’t go anywhere near the fence” statements before he goes exploring. He follows the fence for quite a while, not seeing a soul, until he comes upon a little boy named Schmuel. The two form an unlikely friendship never playing and only talking to each other with the fence between them. This book is written from Bruno’s very ignorant and na├»ve point of view. He does not understand at all what is going on on the other side of the fence and in fact, never does quite figure it out, even at the end (which is incredible, but not all together shocking—I saw the end coming as soon as Bruno crossed the fence line). He spouts some of the rhetoric he hears coming from his house from the Nazi soldiers. And all he knows is that his father is a great man. The author purposefully omits the word Auschwitz in the book, instead sticking with Bruno’s mispronunciation of Out-With so that the book could really be about any war atrocity.

I actually think Boy in Striped Pajamas would make a good book club book just because there is much to discuss. Just from reviews I have read on and other sites, this book sparks many lively discussions, for example here on LibraryThing. I keep going back and forth on my rating for this book. I give it four stars just for the thought-provoking ideas, but maybe only 3.0 for the execution. In the LibraryThing discussion, there was some negative reaction to this book as historical fiction. They felt that a nine-year old growing up in a household with visits from Hitler would probably know more about what was going on than Bruno. Also, that maybe some of the depictions of Auschwitz were not accurate. However, the cover of this book states that it’s a fable. I actually give it a bit more leeway knowing that (and hoping that came from the author and not the publisher) because then its not based so much in fact, but in what the moral of the story is.

Bruno’s naivety bugged me quite a bit. I think he actually acted more like a five or six year old. And I felt the first half of the book was a bit dull. Schmuel does not even appear until more than half way though the book. The second half does pick up and I think you just need to take the story with a grain of salt. It is what it is. And yes, even though maybe history did not happen just as Boyne has stated it, he paints an interesting picture of what happened during the Holocaust and may help bring it to a more real level, especially for a young adult who may not have the same amount of knowledge as adults reading the book.

I think the right age for this book would be around 13-14 years old. Any younger than that probably would not understand. I know I didn’t truly learn about WWII and details of it all until freshman year of high school or maybe Eighth grade when we read Anne Frank. This book is definitely not appropriate for younger than that based on subject matter.

Hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day Weekend and please take a moment to remember the soldiers who have fought and are fighting for our country and those who gave their lives. We came back from vacation on Saturday and encountered many, many military men and women in the airport. And in particular one army soldier getting on our plane saying good-bye to his wife and two young sons. Everyone was hugging and crying and you could see just how hard it was for him to stop hugging them and get on the plane. It was quite poignant. And a nice reminder of what this weekend is really about (besides the relaxing and grilling).

Mystery Monday

While on vacation last week, I finished up the last two books currently out in the Ophelia and Abby series by Shirley Damsgaard.

#5 The Witch is Dead: In the fifth installment of this fun series, Great Aunt Dot visits from Appalachia adding a new character and some fun. Although, she's not quite as crazy as Grandma Mazur from the Stephanie Plum series, she adds a bit of humor to the story. Her particular talent is seeing fairies and tippling homemade elderberry wine. Aunt Dot joins Tink and Ophelia on their latest adventure trying to figure out who killed the local undertaker. Tink also winds up kidnapped throwing Ophelia into a hysterical mess. Our friendly Federal agent Cobra/Ethan (from #4) makes an appearance again.

Although I liked Aunt Dot's character quite a bit, this storyline didn't grab me as much as some of the others. I'm hoping the series continues to hold my interest. I've found that it's at about book 5 or 6 where a series starts to go downhill a bit or the author has a hard time coming up with new ideas that are really good. I think Damsgaard has kept the series fresh and interesting, but this one was probably one of my least favorite.

#6 The Witch's Grave: This is the most recent in the Ophelia and Abby series. Ophelia meets a wonderful man (an author) at a fundraising event and winds up going on a walk with him where he gets shot right in front of her! She is very attracted to him and feels awful about what happened. She becomes quite obsessed with figuring out who shot him and two other people as well.

This book also takes a little different approach than the rest and has a second storyline set during WWII. It's the story of a couple working to help people during the war. This story comes to Ophelia in her dreams and Abby explains that perhaps reincarnation is at work. Abby must make a change in the present to help fix what went wrong in this person's past life. It was an interesting concept and the reincarnation story took place in France and discussed how Jews were gathered and sent to camps from France; first to Drancy and then to Auschwitz.

Ironically, I'm currently reading Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay which tackles this very subject. Anyhoo, I liked this last chapter of the Ophelia and Abby series and I sort of enjoyed that the story wasn't as much about Tink.

Allison's review of #6 can be found here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

YA Prize Packs from Presenting Lenore

Presenting Lenore has TWO YA prize packs up for grabs!

Enter the reality prize pack draw right here and enter the fantasy prize pack draw right here!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - Gilda Joyce and the Dead Drop

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I actually started The Girl Who Stopped Swimming yesterday, but couldn't get into it. Fortunately, USPS brought me the latest Gilda Joyce just when I was deciding to switch to a different book. So my Teaser today is from Gilda Joyce and the Dead Drop by Jennifer Allison (page 40):

"I actually think she summed up the Cold War pretty well," said April. "Just throw in the threat of nuclear war and it was basically the high school lunchroom."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mystery Monday!

Internal Affairs by Connie Dial: In general, I'm more concerned with the story than the biography of the author telling it, but in this case, Dial's twenty-seven-year career in the LAPD is relevant because it lends tremendous credibility to her debut novel, a police procedural set in the sprawling bureaucracy that is the Los Angeles Police Department. When a female police officer, Alexandra Williams, is found dead in the trunk of a car parked outside Deputy Chief McGann's home, it's a foregone conclusion that the investigation is going to be a mess. No one wants to deal with it, but it must be dealt with. When it turns out that McGann had been having an affair with the dead officer, Internal Affairs launches an investigation into the illicit relationship, while a parallel investigation in the Robbery Homicide Division teases out Alex's other relationships. Burned-out Sergeant Mike Turner, serving his time in IA and waiting for a promotion, ends up working the murder investigation, re-igniting his passion for police work and jeopardizing his relationship with promotion-minded girlfriend Lieutenant Paula Toscano. Turner is afraid that the police chief will protect McGann at the expense of the truth, so he walks a fine line between doing the right thing and keeping his job.

Dial's police officers run the gamut from decent people who make decent cops to a self-involved Chief of Police, to a spineless Captain, to cops who abuse their power. She doesn't give all the women in her fictional LAPD a pass, either, and I found that aspect of the novel particularly interesting. Sally uses her sex appeal to go after promotions, Captain Connelly was promoted only because she's a woman and can't make a decision to save her life, Paula is determined and hard-working. I found Dial's portrayal of female police officers intriguing, and the diversity in quality really rang true.

This is the most illuminating police procedural novel I have ever read. Dial's long experience in various capacities with the LAPD puts the investigation in a solid context of bureaucracy that sometimes has to be finessed to serve justice. By the time Turner makes his decision to basically lie to his superior officer to keep working on the murder investigation, the reader understands why this is necessary to bring the truth to light. The particulars of the investigation detail dedicated surveillance, scanning of telephone records, and witness interviews that lead to the truth. This murder mystery is the perfect choice to make use of Dial's knowledge; since a cop is involved, Internal Affairs must be involved, complicating matters, and the department is caught between its mission of truth and justice and its desire to protect itself. The officers involved in the investigation have complex motives, and the backstabbing, promotion-mongering, and various relationships ring true. One wonders how many of these characters are based on real officers in Dial's past. She also portrays both sides of the bureaucracy; on the one hand, it provides the structure needed for such a massive organization to function, but it can also impede officers who are just trying to do what's right. Turner has to navigate the bureaucracy carefully, stepping outside it when necessary. Dial walks the civilian reader ably through the web of bureaucracy without being patronizing. An organizational chart and list of characters are very helpful to keeping the various departments straight.

There are certainly trade-offs in a novel that so elegantly portrays bureaucracy, organization, and structure. While I liked Mike Turner, I didn't feel particularly emotionally invested in him or the other characters. Part of the problem was a wandering point of view. Multiple points of view were necessary, but establishing Turner as the protagonist from the beginning would have been helpful. The novel begins from McGann's point of view, with Mike's point of view becoming dominant with the second chapter. Often, long sections of exposition substituted for more evocative scenes, especially when complex relationships were involved. Confrontations would be summarized instead of shown through dialogue, which would have been more powerful. Many of Turner's motivations are told, rather than demonstrated. In fact, when forty pages before the end, Turner is shown making an omelet for Paula and reflects that cooking relaxes him, I found myself wishing that more of these personal details had been revealed throughout the novel. I would have felt more connected to the characters as people, rather than as cogs in a wheel of bureaucracy.

That said, this was a cracking good read. The mystery was satisfyingly complex, with plenty of suspects and investigative threads that either didn't pan out or led to other clues. As the killer becomes more obvious, the focus shifts to Mike finding a way to prove it to the satisfaction of his boss, and that process, too, is interesting. I highly recommend this book to fans of police procedurals, anyone interested in an insider's look at the LAPD, and hard-boiled mystery readers. Available June 1.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

YA Weekend

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: It took me a while to read this book, even though I've had it for months. I picked it up some time ago and started reading and didn't make it past the creepy, disturbing intro. It's told from the point of view of "the man Jack," who has just stabbed to death three members of a family and is looking for the baby. I tried again, and I am so glad I did. There's a reason this book won the Newbery Award. Gaiman is basically telling the story of The Jungle Book using a graveyard as a setting, and his imagination makes it seem plausible that Bod (short for Nobody) Owens would be adopted by a ghost couple and raised in the graveyard, learning tricks of the dead, like Fading, that allow him to escape the notice of the living. Predictably, Bod leaves the safety of the graveyard and the protection of Silas, his not-exactly-dead guardian, and finds danger in the new world. Bod is sweet and sympathetic, even when he defies Silas and his adoptive parents and the slightly clueless ghosts. The Graveyard Book is an imaginative, beautiful coming-of-age tale with a paranormal setting that spurs an apt allegory for growing up.

Percy Jackson: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan: Here it is, the last book in the Percy Jackson series. It was an excellent end to the series. The full prophecy is finally revealed, we learn the identity of the spy at Camp Half-Blood, and Percy's romantic dilemma is resolved. Even better, while the cycle of the first five books ends in a satisfying way, Riordan hints at future books set at Camp Half-Blood. If you've read the first four books, you'll almost certainly appreciate this final chapter, and if not, I don't want to spoil anything for you, so go pick up the first book, The Lightning Thief, which introduces Percy, a twelve-year-old boy who learns that his father is a Greek god. He joins the other demigods at Camp Half-Blood to learn to manage his powers. Naturally, strange happenings tend to follow demigods out of Camp Half-Blood and into New York, where Olympus now resides. The mix of Greek mythology and coming-of-age story is very well done, with abundant comic relief from all the action.

Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers: I love reading about ancient Egypt, so this seemed a sure bet for me. However, it took me a bit of effort to get into this book about Theodosia Throckmorton, the eleven-year-old daughter of archaeologists who bring Egyptian artifacts home to their museum in Edwardian England. Since she was little, Theodosia has been able to see the curses on the artifacts, and, finding that the rest of her family doesn't notice them, takes it upon herself to learn how to lift the curses. When a particularly dark curse is brought back on an artifact called the Heart of Egypt, which then disappears, Theodosia joins forces with a little brother, a pickpocket, and a stranger who notices her special abilities. In the end, it was a fun read, but it doesn't evoke its setting quite as well as, say, Percy Jackson or the Sisters Grimm. Theodosia's voice seemed uneven, with too many deliberate Britishisms and a mix of child-like and very adult thoughts. The betrayal and the identity of the villain seemed obvious. Still, there's a lot to like about a spunky girl with a mission, and the Egyptian mythology woven into the tale is a good touch.

The Bard Academy series by Cara Lockwood: These fall into the definite "guilty pleasure" category for reading. I wish I could remember which book blog reviewed this series. The review made me immediately look for used copies of the three books, Wuthering High, The Scarlet Letterman, and Moby Clique, but I can't seem to find it again. In Wuthering High, fifteen-year-old Miranda totals her (mostly) absentee father's car and maxes out his latest wife's credit card buying push-up bras. Her parents agree that something has to be done, and Miranda is sent to Bard Academy, a boarding school on an island off the coast of Maine. Her iPod and cell phone are confiscated, there is no internet access, and her Goth roommate has taken a vow of silence and has a poster of Satan on the wall. It's not all bad, though. Ryan, the cute jock from her previous school, actually notices her existence at Bard, and the dark, broody guy who says his name is Heathcliff can't stop staring at her. She meets some great new friends and settles into Bard life, such as it is. She soon learns that strange happenings at Bard stem from its status as a kind of purgatory for authors who died before their time was up. Her teachers are all ghosts, which explains a lot. And Heathcliff is THE Heathcliff, escaped from Wuthering Heights. Jasper Fforde this isn't, but the mix of fictional, ghostly, and teen delinquent characters is fun, and the mystery kept me guessing. There is a bit too much brand name-dropping for me, and the constant pop culture references (I had an AHA! moment when I noticed the publisher was MTV Books) mean that teens five or ten years from now will be pretty lost. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had.

The second book, The Scarlet Letterman, focuses a bit more on teen-angst and a love triangle (OMG, how can Miranda choose between the missing Heathcliff and hunky Ryan), but the growing friendship among Miranda, Blade, Samir, and Hana feels genuine, and the search for the Hooded Sweatshirt Stalker is fairly interesting (though it has boyfriend Ryan walking popular-girl Parker everywhere for "protection"). I wanted to smack Miranda for being so dumb about Ryan, but other than that, it was a fun follow-up.

The third book, Moby Clique, brings Lindsay, Miranda's annoying, suck-up of a little sister to Bard after she crashes their dad's car into his latest wife's boutique. Lindsay, who has always gotten out of trouble by blaming Miranda, attaches herself to Parker and starts drooling over Miranda's ex, Ryan. Miranda is distracted from all this drama by rumors of pirates on Shipwreck Island. I thought the villain was a bit obvious in this one, but it was a fun entry nonetheless. Miranda and her odd group of friends set out on an adventure to the other side of the island when Lindsay goes missing, presumably kidnapped by pirates.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Children's Book Week - A Little Late

I just discovered that it is Children's Book Week according to the Children's Book Council. Fortunately, it's always Children's Book Week around here, so Lilah and I have been reading quite a bit as usual. Her best trick is responding to "One more book before it's bedtime" by selecting a treasury of Little Critter or Sesame Street stories, either of which takes 20-30 solid minutes of reading. The CBW site has the winners of the Children's Choice Book Awards and some local events, including the Kids Otter Read Day this Saturday, May 16 if you live in the Bay Area.

Picture Book Thursday--Me With You by Kristy Dempsey

Father's Day is coming up and maybe you're looking for something to give a Grandpa? Well, Me With You by Kristy Dempsey just might be what you're looking for!

In this sweet picture book, a little girl goes through all the things she loves doing with her grandfather: tea parties, watering the garden, singing, playing baseball and more. She also talks about how her grandfather supports her, helps her, and forgives her grumpy moods. My favorite line from the book is the last one:
And though I'll find new ways of being me my whole life through, my favorite me will always be....when I am me with you.

Kristy Dempsey's words fall into the short but sweet category with this one. Perfect for the younger preschool set with short rhyming phases. And Christopher Denise's illustrations make this book a true winner! Every page is full of wonderful detail bringing the girl bear and her granddad to life. I love how expressive the bears are and the background details are fun. In one image, there is a doll house with Goldilocks and the three bears as dolls for the house.

This is a wonderful little gift for a granddaugther to give a grandfather for Father's Day. The book could stay at Grandpa's house so they could read it together when she visits! The book hits bookstores today, May 14th, if you want to rush out and get a copy for you or as a gift.

Thanks to Jess from Penguin who sent me a copy of this one to review! My girls and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

About the author: Kristy Dempsey enjoyed swinging from trees and splashing in the creek as a child on her grandfather's farm in South Carolina. These days, she lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where her favorite moments are spent with her husband and three children. In addition to writing, Kristy enjoys running and hand-painting glass tiles. And as often as possible, she still makes time to swing from a tree or two.

About the illustrator: As the father of two young girls, Christopher Denise knows about the special moments that children share with their loved ones. In Me With You, he brings that feeling to life with his beautiful, warm illustrations. Mr. Denise has illustrated many books for young readers, such as Pigs Love Potatoes, The Great Redwall Feast and A Redwall Winter's Tale. He has also exhibited his work at the annual Society of Illustrators show in New York City. Christopher lives with his wife, Anika, and their daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island.

(image courtesy of Barnes & Noble)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski

In Smolinksi's novel, we meet June Parker about six months after a tragic accident in which a young woman she just barely met (Marissa) is killed. And June is responsible because she was driving the car involved in the accident. She finds a list in Marissa's purse that lists the 20 things she'd like to accomplish before her next birthday. June feels it is her duty to complete Marissa's list for her and hopefully finishing this task will relieve some of the guilt she feels from the accident.

Some things on the list are relatively easy (going braless for a day, boogie boarding, kiss a stranger) and others prove difficult (change someone's life, show brother gratitude, find a guy named Buddy Finch and "make him pay"). Along the way June just may encounter romance and learn a few things about herself as well.

While certain things were predictable about the story, I enjoyed reading about June's journey. I'm not entirely sure I feel satisfied by the ending, but I was not surprised by it. There was a bit of romance going on with Marissa's brother that bothered me a bit. And I was a little annoyed at who June ends up with at the end of the book. But, the idea to have a list and push yourself to accomplish something instead of idly watching life go by is an interesting one. There is a note at the back of the paperback from the author thanking all the people who wrote to her with their own stories. So this book really spoke to people! Though I have yet to go to my book club meeting and discuss this book as a group, I do feel there's potential for some good discussion. I breezed through the novel. It would make a fantastic beach/vacation read (hmm...maybe we should start a new category here on On My Bookshelf!).

Teaser Tuesdays - The Graveyard Book

I've enjoyed other bloggers' Teaser Tuesdays, but I've never gotten around to joining in before now.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser is from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (page 153):

He could hear music. Bod had listened to all kinds of music: the sweet chimes of the ice-cream van, the songs that played on workmen's radios, the tunes that Claretty Jake played the dead on his dusty fiddle, but he had never heard anything like this before: a series of deep swells, like the music at the beginning of something, a prelude perhaps, or an overture.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mystery Monday!

She Shoots To Conquer by Dorothy Cannell: I love Dorothy Cannell's Ellie Haskell mysteries, but some are not quite up to par. This one is fantastic. Cannell mixes reality television with gothic mystery in this clever 13th entry. Ellie, Ben, and Mrs. Malloy take a wrong turn on a foggy night and end up at Mucklesfeld Manor, a crumbling estate owned by the financially strapped Lord Belfrey, who has decided to offer himself up in marriage for a reality television show in hopes of reviving the old estate. Our group arrives just before filming is to begin, and discover that a contestant has died in a tragic car accident. Mrs. Malloy is eager to roll up her sleeves and join the fray, competing for Lord Belfrey's heart (and title), while Ben is roped into cooking for the snobby faux-French director. Mysterious connections between various contestants abound, and Ellie finds both Lord Belfrey and a visiting black Lab besotted with her (Ellie resembles Belfrey's second wife, who had disappeared with the family jewels). I had a great time reading this one.

Death of a Tart by Kate Borden: This series sounded great: I love mysteries set in New England, for whatever reason, and the volunteer mayor of a small town sounded like a fun amateur sleuth. This debut was okay enough that i wanted to read the rest of the series, but the series really grew on me. PJ (sometimes called Peggy in an annoying inconsistency) Turner lives hand-to-mouth on the proceeds from Tom's Tools, the hardware store she and her late husband had started. She and her eleven-year-old son are just hanging on in financially strapped Cobb's Landing when Max, the mysterious new owner of the bank, proposes that Cobb's Landing turn itself into a colonial village to attract tourists, turning the long-closed button factory into a hotel, and having residents hide their satellite dishes and don period costume all summer long. The desperate residents agree, and the transition seems to be going smoothly when the town tart turns up dead on the old water wheel. Since the entire police presence in Cobb's Landing is one man, PJ and her best friend since childhood decide to look into the death. The Max angle seemed rushed (not to mention unrealistic): he turns up in town and in a speech worthy of the monorail guy on The Simpsons, instantly convinces the whole town to go along with his colonial village plan. The integration of past (witch trials) and present (the murder) was interesting, but the resolution was a bit far-fetched, and I guessed the murderer. It was engaging enough that I picked up the other two books in the mystery.

Death of a Trickster by Kate Borden: Someone is playing Halloween pranks in Cobb's Landing. The high school's science class skeleton keeps turning up, frightening people into thinking a real murder has been done. Then Papa Luigi goes missing under strange circumstances, his granddaughter acting scared of something. When the new police chief's son turns up dead beside the bound Papa Luigi, Peggy and Lavinia break out their investigator hats once more. This entry felt like it further developed the characters and the town, and I enjoyed it more. Very cozy, cute small-town mystery.

Death of a Turkey by Kate Borden: This is the third and last Cobb's Landing mystery, and it was the best yet. PJ has a new neighbor, the appalling Prunella and her ill-mannered cat. Meanwhile, Max is pushing for a colonial Thanksgiving to bring in tourists off-season. Peggy isn't thrilled about having her family Thanksgiving plans pushed aside, and no one wants to wear their colonial costumes off-season. But she's soon distracted by the mysterious death of Prunella and a break-in at her shop. The resolution was telegraphed and a little strained, but the New England charm distracted me from that a bit. It was a cute holiday read.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

YA Weekend--Part Two

Melissa J. Morgan wrote this middle-grade trilogy about a professional surfer girl turned camp counselor-in-training. The main character Cassie decides to take a break from the stresses of professional surfing and joins her cousin at Camp Ohana, a water sports camp in Hawaii. Sixteen-year-old Cassie has been surfing as a pro since she was twelve and never experienced the normal fun of summers and camp, including boys! But there is a reason Cassie wants so desperately to take a break from the pro circuit and hide out at Camp Ohana. She has lost her confidence and isn't sure she wants to keep surfing.

The usual camp characters can be found here: the "mean" girl Danica who has been coming to the camp forever and rules the roost (with her two groupie friends Sierra and Sasha), cute, sweet irresistable Micah, Ben the obnoxious hottie, Charlie the loveable geek, Andi the cute friendly girl, etc. And because these are teenagers, crushes and emotional outbursts ensue. Cassie tries to learn the ropes of being a normal teenager and deal with having her first boyfriend while trying to figure out her surfing future.

Thank you to Samantha from Penguin Young Readers who sent this series to me for review. I breezed through it reading one book each day the last couple days. But really it only took me an hour, maybe two to speed through each of these.

This is the perfect series for the middle school set looking for a beach/vacation read. VERY fluffy and not deep at all. Very Sweet Valley High. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this series for adults looking for a fun series to read. But I think there is definitely an audience for this. Of note, this is VERY PG-rated. Only kissing among the teenagers and barely any of that. Also, no bad language that I can recall. Might also be good for reluctant female readers who just want something very light about relationships. Morgan also writes a young adult series called Camp Confidential that I'll be reviewing in the near future.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

YA Weekend

Okay, they're really books rated for the 9-12 crowd, but there's no day of the week that starts with the letter 'J' (unless I do Juvenile Jeudi or something), so here are my recent children's reads:

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull: I really enjoy the Fablehaven series, and this entry was only disappointing because I have to wait a year for the next entry, and Mull likes to torture readers with cliffhangers. This one begins with a doozy of a plot twist that will bring us to Kendra's funeral, and ends with a shocking betrayal. In the middle, Kendra and Seth will have to fight their way through a dragon sanctuary to reach one of the artifacts before the Evening Star. Seth has grown considerably in wisdom and patience...but not so much that he's predictable and boring! Do you really think he'd be left out of the dragon sanctuary adventure? Kendra has really blossomed with her gifts and is still cautious, but very brave. The supporting cast are delightful, as usual, and there's a "trust no one" undercurrent since the Fablehaven team know there is a traitor among them. Nevertheless, there's a job that must be done. The tension is perfectly balanced and this is an excellent entry. Start with the first and have the rest on's hard to stop with just one!

My review of Fablehaven
My review of Fablehaven Book 2
My review of Fablehaven Book 3

The Sisters Grimm Book 7: The Everafter War by Michael Buckley: The first thing I did when I received this book was to flip to the end to look for the "to be continued" because I wasn't sure if it was the last book. It's not, and I'm delighted, though also a little angry at Buckley for his mastery of the cliffhanger. This entry in the clever fractured fairy tale series raises the stakes with a prologue that promises a shocking betrayal, which ends up being subsumed by a more obvious betrayal, making it all the more shocking in the end. The Grimm parents are awake, which is all Sabrina and Daphne have wanted for the past two years. But Mr. Grimm is ready to move the family out of Ferryport Landing just when they're needed the most, and the Grimms are trapped in their house without supplies. Fortunately, there are other ways out of the family home. The Puck/Sabrina relationship continues to develop, with one hilariously over-the-top prank standing out most in my mind. The family assists in the Everafter War, which has escalated, with Charming ordering his "troops" into battle. This was an excellent entry, and I can't wait for #8.

My past reviews of Sisters Grimm books

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil: Holly's review here! I really don't have much to add. Holly really covered it with "delightful," but I found this book so thoroughly enjoyable that I'll go on a bit anyway. Sophie and her friends were fun, Sophie's non-relationship with Raf was really funny and reminded me of "going out" in junior high. I really liked that the girls were portrayed as being good at math. In fact, Raf has to have the geometry problem explained to him. Given that many girls lose interest/confidence in math around this age, I thought it was a great touch. The girls are very capable but know when to turn to adults for help. This is an updated Nancy Drew-type series for children today, and it's fantastic!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: It's taken me forever to read this very large book, but I finished it in just a couple of hours. More than half the pages are gorgeous, plot-advancing illustrations. Selznick tells a sweet, sad story about Hugo, a young boy who tends the clocks in the train station, living on stolen croissants and milk after his uncle disappears. He feels certain that if he can repair the automaton that had obsessed his father in life, everything will be all right. Encounters with a toy maker (who unwittingly provides Hugo with parts for the automaton) and his young ward lead him to an amazing story involving the history of French cinema. This book is gorgeous, the illustrations amazing, the format innovative, and the story simple but well-told. This is a keeper for when my daughter is older!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Words Unspoken by Elizabeth Musser (Review and Giveaway)

This is the story of a nineteen-year-old girl struggling to overcome her mother's tragic death. Eighteen months earlier, Lissa Randall and her mother were driving on the highway when a freak hail storm showered down on them. Lissa skidded and stopped the car safely, but when her mother got out to switch drivers, she was struck down by another car. Lissa feels like a failure and at fault for her mother's death. She searches for a way to overcome her grief and deal with her father's attitude toward her. The book follows her journey trying to get in the driver's seat again and get her license so she can have a renewed sense of freedom from her father, feelings of failure, and self-doubt.

But this book is not just about Lissa. It's about several other characters as well. Two sisters, an older husband and wife who run a driving school, a hot-shot stock broker, and a young publisher's assistant who is looking to get to the top. By the end of the book you understand why all these characters are involved, but for the first half or a little more you sit wondering why you're reading about all these characters when really it's Lissa's story you want to hear. The beginning was very disjointed for me. I didn't really understand why we were meeting all these new characters or why we cared about their story. But as I continued to read, I began to realize how they all related to each other.

I received this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program and I wasn't aware that it was Christian fiction when I requested it. The book description sounded interesting to me, I didn't bother to check the publisher's page (I've learned my lesson there) and there was nothing overtly religious in the book description. I fully admit, I am not a regular church-going gal so I had to go into this book with an open mind. I think if you enjoy reading Christian fiction, you might really enjoy this story. It shows how when people hit rock bottom, their faith can really pull them through. And I can appreciate that sentiment. It wasn't until the second half of the book that the truly Christian nature of the book came out. I have to say for me, it was a bit much, but for others they may truly enjoy it.

I've decided to giveaway my copy of this book! If you are interested in receiving this gently read ARC copy of Word Unspoken, enter by leaving a comment on this post. For three extra entries follow our blog or become a new subscriber. Sorry this one is only open to the US and Canada. I hate to do that, but my postal budget is low right now. We'll have more contests open to international entries in the future! I'll leave this contest open until May 23rd at noon.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Reviews and Giveaways!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: History grad student Connie Goodwin has a busy summer ahead of her. Fresh from passing her oral exams to continue in the Ph.D program at Harvard, she is under pressure from her adviser, Manning Chilton, to make progress on her dissertation and her mother has asked her to prepare her grandmother's house for sale. Connie finds the house in much worse shape than she had expected, but she finds a way to combine her two summer jobs when a crumbling book reveals a strange key containing a slip of paper with the words "Deliverance Dane." Connie discovers that Deliverance is a forgotten Salem witch, and sets out to investigate her history, as well as to find her spellbook, which would assure her academic success. While researching, Connie meets handsome Sam who is very interested in her research. The story shifts between present-day Connie's research and the stories of Deliverance and her descendants with ease, and I found the seventeenth-century portions to be very well-written and engaging. Connie's story is quite a page-turner as well, as her research leads her from one clue to another, Chilton becomes more and more fervent in his insistence that Connie find the spellbook, and Sam falls mysteriously ill.

This is an excellent summer read. I love fiction that also teaches me something, and I learned quite a bit about seventeenth-century life and the Salem Witch Trials. Connie was engaging, if a bit slow on the uptake at times, and I thought the supernatural element was handled okay. There were two "revelations" that I thought were perfectly obvious, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. Anyone involved in academia will enjoy the portrayal of grad student life, and anyone interested in research will enjoy Connie's slow but steady uncovering of facts. I wonder if this book were pitched to the publisher as "The DaVinci Code meets the Salem Witch Trials," but it's far better written than The DaVinci Code, and I think it stands on its own quite well. It avoids the high body count/number of explosions of Interred With Their Bones (which has a similar past/present setup, but deals with Shakespeare). It's a breezier read than The Historian, which I thoroughly enjoyed but would certainly not haul to the beach! I recommend this to anyone interested in the Salem Witch Trials, fiction with a touch of the supernatural, or fiction based on historical research--it was a fun, gripping read!

Available June 9.
Holly here. :-) I really enjoyed this book too! I am prone to liking most books that have something do with witches either in a fictional/supernatural way or historically speaking. For some reason this subject sort of fascinates me. Like Allison, I felt like the book moved back and forth between the two time periods with ease. I also saw the revelations as quite obvious, but no less entertaining. I really enjoyed the scenes set in the library and various archives, but that's my museum geek side coming through. Overall, this was a very entertaining novel as well as interesting!

Now, as much as I think most people would like this book, there were couple things that bothered me. Not enough to really take away from it for me. They are quite piddly but bothered me nonetheless. The author made a habit of phonetically writing out the old Boston accents of some of the characters. This sort of got on my nerves. I would rather have her describe the accent and then just write the conversation normally leaving the accent up to my imagination. I've seen enough movies to know what that accent sounds like. It just sort of slowed my reading down.

There is also a tiny bit about alchemy toward the end. I won't say too much more about that because I don't want to give too much away. But I sort of rolled my eyes. Perhaps, I just tend to be drawn to treasure hunt/puzzle/mystery type books so that I read an overabundance of books with a slant toward alchemy as a subject (The Alchemist/Michael Scott, The Eight, The Fire/Katherine Neville, The 39 Clues series, and I'm sure there are more that I'm forgetting about). But I think I'm growing tired of the subject. And I sort of felt like it didn't have to be in this book. Maybe Alchemy is just an en vogue subject right now? Who knows. Just my own personal gripe that really doesn't have anything to do with how this book was written or what other people might think about the book. And really this section is quite short and a somewhat insignificant side story. Hopefully my knitpicking won't deter anyone.

I think most people who pick this one up will find a thoroughly engaging read!
And now for the giveaway. Holly and Allison each have an extra ARC of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane to give away! This contest will only be open to the U.S. and Canada (with apologies to international folks - we'll have more worldwide giveaways in the future!). For one entry, tell us your favorite summer read. For three more entries, follow this blog publicly (of course, current followers count!). For another three entries, blog about this giveaway. There's no need to post each entry on a separate comment, but do give us the link to your blog entry, tell us how you follow, and make sure we have a way to reach you (if your profile has an e-mail address, that's fine). Entries are due Wednesday, May 20 at 9:00 a.m. EDT.

Nonfiction Roundup

Always Looking Up: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox: I'm not ordinarily a celebrity memoir reader, but this, Fox's second (after 2003's Lucky Man), just jumped out at me. It would be a good choice for a number of people: Fox's many fans, people affected by Parkinson's Disease, people interested in the stem cell debate and a look at the clash between politics and real people's lives, and people who are looking for a little inspiration. I found this book to be fascinating and inspirational. It focuses on the past ten years of Fox's life as he founded what would become the largest Parkinson's research foundation, struggled to control symptoms while making public appearances (including one which would prompt Rush Limbaugh to mock Fox's symptoms on television while insisting that he must be playing them up to get sympathy), revisiting the world of television in appearances on Scrubs and Boston Legal, and entering the political fight over stem cell research. I really enjoyed Fox's appearances on Scrubs and I knew at the time that he had PD, so I found his discussion of how difficult it was really interesting. I found the whole memoir difficult to put down, actually. The central theme is obviously optimism, and he organizes the book into the four pillars of his optimism: Family, Faith, Work, and Politics. He does not gloss over the horrors of Parkinson's and its medication, and that part is an eye-opening read in itself. Fox readily admits that he's luckier than your average Parkinson's patient, not only in his fame and financial situation, but in his family, but he uses this luck to improve the lives of Parkinson's patients everywhere, which is very inspiring.

The Green Beauty Guide by Julie Gabriel is a useful resource, but the organization is a disaster. I was very interested in learning how to "green" my beauty routine (which is pretty much just washing and moisturizing twice a day--hey, I have a toddler), and this book will help you do that. Eventually. I would have enjoyed a more positive tone, a "let's look at how easy and economical it is to make your own products for a fraction of the cost, or to change to gentler, greener products" attitude, but the first part of the book drags with negativity. Still, some of the information is good to know (for example, the complete lack of FDA oversight of the cosmetics industry is terrifying, and I had no idea they only investigate an ingredient if they receive numerous reports of problems), although this first section is very long and can be summed up as "the cosmetics industry only exists to sell you stuff, not care for your skin, and they use ingredients that are carcinogenic and have unknown health effects." Again, the information is helpful, but I think if you're cracking open a book called The Green Beauty Guide, you're already on board with using greener projects and you don't need the litany of complaints and the scare tactics she uses. She also goes on and on about the lies of the cosmetics industry, but then quotes extensively from "green" cosmetics industry people. Apparently, I'm supposed to believe that "green" means "not just intent on selling products," but I'm not buying it. They have an agenda, too, but it's one she doesn't mind overlooking.

Gabriel isn't a scientist or a doctor, but she cites many, many scientific papers to back up her claims. One of the problems with this approach is her inconsistency: in one chapter, she goes on and on about how animal studies don't reveal anything about a product to be used on humans (which I happen to agree with), but many of the studies she cites indicting particular chemicals as possible carcinogens are...wait for it...animal studies. So the research is fine when it serves her purpose, but not when it doesn't. The book is huge, unnecessarily packed with information, and the organization doesn't serve the reader. To compare to another nonfiction "how to" book: When I finished Mrs. Meyer's Guide to a Clean Home, I had an action plan and shopping list, plus checklists in the book to use as my reference. I finished The Green Beauty Guide and thought, "I have to go back through this whole giant book and make notes of the page numbers I actually need." It's organized by type of product (facial cleansers, toners, body moisturizers, etc.), which makes it hard to figure out what kind of regime you want to start as a newbie. That's why I need to flip back through and make a list of which products I want to buy and which I want to make, which page numbers have the recipes, etc. This book is just crying out for some kind of bulleted lists or checklists or something to make it user-friendly. All that said, there is good information here; it's just not easy to find. There are many simple recipes that sound fun and easy to make, and an "at-home facial" how-to sounds like a cheap but fabulous spa trip, a nice little indulgence that doesn't cost a fortune. Gabriel's favorite "green" skincare products are often very expensive, but she has some inexpensive alternatives. You'll want to check The Green Beauty Guide website for updates: the current entry is about potential danger from colloidal silver, which is used as a green/healthy preservative in her recipes in the book (and in the products in her own skincare line). Here, too, is a contradiction: she seems to dismiss the claims about colloidal silver based on the type of research resulting in the claims, while grudgingly concluding that she's eliminating it since the FDA banned it from OTC medications. However, this kind of research is EXACTLY what she relies on to indict common chemicals in the book! Not only that, she's all about "better safe than sorry" when recommending against a chemical that hasn't been definitely proven harmful, but when it's one of her natural darlings, she defends it as not proven harmful. It's an annoying inconsistency, but the recipes and discussion of skincare regime outweigh it. Barely.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mailbox Monday--My 'Major Prize' and More

A major prize! A major prize! I won! I won! I won! Tonight, tonight tonight, hot damn, tonight! It's coming tonight!

What is it?
I don't know.
What's in it?
I don't know.

Bring it right on in. right here. straight on in. little more...little more...that's it
Watch the lady.

Get the crowbar and the hammer Ralphie.

Okay, I know, I know. I'm a dork. But A Christmas Story is my favorite holiday movie and one of my all-time favorite movies anytime. So I had to do that.

So why am I sharing this tidbit of information with you? Well, because I just so happened to win a 'major prize'! Marta over at Marta's Meanderings hosted a GIANT giveaway back in March to celebrate her 100th post. Hachette gave her FIVE bundles of about 15 books to give away to lucky winners. And would you believe it?! I was one of the five winners! My jaw nearly hit the floor when she emailed me. I've entered countless contests and only won maybe three the whole time I've been blogging. So to win a WHOLE BOX of books really thrilled me. I received them in the mail two weeks ago.

Here's is what was in the box:
My Little Red book by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
See Jane Lead by Lois Frankel
Galway Bay by Mary Kelly
Mistress Bradstreet by Charlotte Gordon
Dream in Color by Linda Chachez, Lorretta Sanchez, Richard Buskin, Nancy Pelosi
Kiss Off by Mary Esselman
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Gilman
Put Your Dreams Firsy by Thembisa S., Vanessa Williams
Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke (I didn't receive this at first, but it slowed up a few days later)
No Matter What! by Lisa Nichols
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home by Thelma Meyer
The Power to Change Today by Gregory Dickow
Work In Progress by Kristin Armstrong

I'm happy to send along Galway Bay to Allison as she expressed interest in that one. And I'm most looking forward to Mistress Bradstreet, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, My Little Red Book, Mrs. Meyers Clean Home and Throw Out Fifty Things. Some of the others I have a feeling I may skim through to glean their point, but I'm not sure I'll read ALL of these. But I fully appreciate the chance to take a look at them.

A HUGE thank you to Marta for hosting the awesome giveaway and to Hachette who always seems to have fun, large prizes to win! :-)

Also in my mailbox the last two weeks:

From Shelf Awareness:
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (an ARC). We read The Shadow in the Wind for my book club a couple years ago and I really enjoyed the story and Zafon's writing. So I was particularly excited to receive this one in the mail. I'm actually not entirely sure this came from Shelf Awareness. I don't remember requesting it there. But unless a random person at Random House just decided to send it to me (in which case thank you, THANK YOU!), it must have been a Shelf Awareness book.
The Blue Notebook by James Levine (an ARC). The description of this one sounded interesting to me. I look forward to getting to it in the near future.

From LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program:
The Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey (an ARC). I received this as a bonus book for April. I'm looking forward to it as I've really enjoyed other books I've read centered in Africa. I find the culture very rich and interesting. I did try to jump right into this one. But was more in the mood for a really fast read. I will be getting to this one in the next day or so though.

The Next Thing on my List by Jill Smolinski. This last book actually didn't arrive in the mail. It walked down the block. :-) I borrowed it from my friend to read for our next book club meeting at the end of May.

Mailbox Monday is a weekly feature hosted by Marcia from The Printed Page. Be sure to head over there and check out what other fun books people are receiving in their mailbox this week!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

YA Weekend

I read these two little book gems in no time at all. Fun quick reads. They are actually middle-grade fiction, but we haven't had a YA Weekend feature in a while, so here you go.

In the first book by Lauren Tarshis, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, we meet the title character. She's an interesting seventh grader with a mind of her own. She does not go along with the crowd and in fact, often does not understand her peers' behavior. Emma-Jean has a most logical and literal mind. She is still mourning the loss of her father two years earlier. He seemed to be the only person besides her mother who really understood her. She tends to live in her own little world filled with scientific wonder, analyzing the trees and flowers around her. Until one day, she happens upon Collen Pomerantz crying in the girl's bathroom. Emma-Jean is not entirely sure how to handle the situation. Usually, she refrains from interacting with her peers. But for some reason, she is drawn to Colleen and asks her what is wrong. Colleen bursts telling Emma-Jean all about her friend problems. In one fell swoop, Emma-Jean's world changes and she vows to help Colleen with her problem. This is the beginning of Emma-Jean's new-found interest in helping those around her, sometimes unbeknowst to the person she is helping. In the end, Emma-Jean's help ends up hurting Colleen unintentionally and everyone learns some valuable lessons about friendship, helping others, and figuring out their true-self.

I really enjoyed this book about seventh graders. I found Emma-Jean amusing (if maybe slightly unrealistic--it's hard to believe someone so detached from the emotional world and so literal can exist--but maybe I just haven't met anyone like Emma-Jean yet). Also, I found Tarshis' seventh grade world very realistic. Emotions were central to the story, not so much the academic side of school. This is so true in middle-school where every little thing between friends gets blown out proportion and seems like the end of the world. I also really liked how Tarshis portrays Emma-Jean as a bit odd and the other kids sort of accept her at face-value. They do not really taunt her or tease her for being odd. She definitely could have been socially tortured if Tarshis chose to write the book that way. But instead, this is a very positive portrayal of a child going against the current. I also found the character of Colleen to be very well-written. She is a very typical seventh grade girl who wants to fit in with the popular girls, but isn't sure she really wants to go along with the crowd. She is trying to figure out how to fit in, but still be who she wants to be and she's figuring out who that person.

Just a very charming book! This would be an awesome gift for a middle-school girl who is maybe feeling like she doesn't quite fit in. But really a nice gift for any middle-school girl, I think anyone could get something out of it.

The sequel, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love is due out sometime this month! So those of you who read the first one and loved it can now rush out and buy the sequel!

Emma-Jean is trying to negotiate her new world of friendship with Colleen and a few other girls. She also realizes that she has a crush on a boy! Emma-Jean is not sure what is going on at first, but every time she looks at Will Keeler her heart jumps into a predictable beating rhythm. After discussing this with her mother, she learns she is experiencing her first crush! To top all this off, the kids at school are all suffering from Spring Fever thanks to the Spring Fling dance coming up. The girls are supposed to ask the boys to the dance. You can imagine all the discussion among the girls and plotting this creates. Emma-Jean is new to this social world and tries to figure it all out. She still continues to try to help people, though more learily ( that a word?) after what happened with Colleen the first time she tried to help her. Emma-Jean also deals with her mother's impending engagement to one of Emma-Jean's favorite people. There is romance in the air all throughout this novel.

Again, Tarshis creates a very acccurate and fun account of seventh grade life. And although, I enjoyed this book very much, I believe I liked the first one just a bit better. The issues in this book seemed just a bit more superficial, but just a tiny bit. 4.5/5 stars for Emma-Jean Fell Out of a Tree and 4/5 stars for the sequel.

Thank you so much to Samantha from Penguin for sending the sequel to me! I borrowed the first one from the library so that I could be properly introduced to the world of Emma-Jean. I hope there are more books in this series in the future. I'll be sure to read them!

Other reviews: Abby (the) Librarian, Bending Bookshelf, A Patchwork of Books