Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another issue

Sorry guys...another family emergency has made it's way into my life. Not going into details at this point, but I'll be back as soon as I can. I'm out of state right now, will probably be home in a week or so. I'll try to post soon....still doing lots of Cybils reading, no worries.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bog Child

Talk about a rollercoaster of emotion while I was reading Siobhan Dowd's newest novel for teens! Bog Child had me both loving it at times and really not understanding it (both plot and dialect of characters) as well as being almost bored from it at times...all mixed into one novel. Yep, it was a doozy of a read for me.

In the bogs of Northern Ireland, we meet Fergus, along with his Uncle Tally who happen to be in the bogs illegally and find the body of what appears to be a child. Fergus makes a mental connection to this child, probably a murdered child, and she comes to him in his dreams, almost haunting him. While trying to deal with this girl in his head, whom he's nicknamed "Mel," Fergus is also hurting over his brother in prison, who has decided to join the hunger strikers and starve himself, as well as the "Troubles" his parents are constantly fighting over, and his growing feelings for the daughter of the woman working on the bog child.

In the midst of all the emotion, Fergus is blackmailed into becoming a courier for unknown packages, which deep down he feels are drugs, carrying them along the troubled border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, with the constant fear of being caught, but having no choice but to continue. Though very aware of right and wrong, Fergus knows that this is just another instance of complete "wrong" that has wormed its way into his life, with no sign of leaving anytime soon.

The Irish dialect is, at times, incredibly difficult to understand and though there is a huge dose of history in Bog Child, it's so blatant....too obvious for my liking. Which led to boredom on some pages. And that stinks! I wanted to love it it....

So how do I put a rating on Bog Child? How do I tell you all whether or not to go out and read it? Did I love it? No. Did I like it? Sometimes. Was it exciting? Sometimes. Do I think teens will read it? No. Do I think adults will enjoy it? Probably.

Dowd writes heavy, intense, books and that's really all there is to it. So if you're willing to wade through the heaviness, not to mention the language and dialects of the Irish she has written about, then I really think you'll enjoy her books. I, unfortunately, don't think I'm that reader. Especially when I'm reading with the hopes that I've found a great book to recommend to my teens at the library...this is not that book. Adults will get the recommending of Bog Child to them, teens, probably not.

It's very difficult for me to just not "get" a novel, when I've read plenty of other blogger's rave reviews, not to mention reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus....all loving this one. So take my review as you will.'t enjoy it. That doesn't mean you won't!

If you're interested in learning more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Comeback Season

Ryan is a freshman in high school and it's been over five years since her father passed away in an accident, though Ryan still feels freshly wounded from his death. When her dad was alive, their favorite past time was to attend Cubs games together at Wrigley Field and though her mother tried taking Ryan and her younger sister to a couple of games after the accident, it just wasn't the same and Ryan hasn't been to a game since.

On the fifth anniversary of her dad's death, Ryan finds herself taking the subway to Wrigley Field, determined to get into the game, though she knows she'll feel only disappointment, both in the Cubs and their repetitive losing and in the fact that her father won't be with her. Ryan does, however, find herself running into a boy she knows from school, Nick, who although she never thought she would ever be friends with, finds herself forming this incredible bond with.

Ryan and Nick's friendship continues to grow and strengthen, giving Ryan hope in life again...and even the Cubs start to play better. When even another tragedy throws itself in the mix, testing Ryan's newfound faith in life, she attempts to handle it better than she handles her father's death and shows just what a strong and wonderful girl she really is.

I really enjoyed this read, even though I'm not really a baseball fan in the least! I feel Jennifer E. Smith got the feelings and emotions of her characters spot on, especially those of Ryan. I also lost my father when I was nine and I remember feeling exactly as Smith describes Ryan feeling; lost, alone, disappointed constantly, even five years later. She definitely knew what she was doing when she wrote these kids. Very impressive!

Written for teens, adults can definitely enjoy The Comeback Season too! To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

On Tour with Jerry Camery-Hoggart

I can't resist a good, cozy Christmas story, especially around this time of the year. I'm one of those that will read holiday books any time, especially living in New Mexico, it often gives me a sense of home, however this one is definitely a holiday-time read. Running only 81 short pages, most of you can finish this in a single sitting and it will leave you with that gooey feeling inside, we all love so much!

A grandfather’s song turns a diner into hallowed ground, like a church. A contrary girl with a gypsy heart feels the tug of home. A mother, far away, confronts impossible expectations. And a truck driver named Jedidiah keeps his foot on the gas to sweep you into an unforgettable story of belonging and grace.

Readers looking for a meaningful, powerful read on a winter’s evening or with thefamily will love the rich 1960s nostalgia captured in the Midwest of Jedidiah’s and Ellee’s story; the peace found when family strife boils over, and the gentle reminders of the influence and effect every life has on another.

My Mother’s Wish
is an unforgettable, powerful tale that ends on a memorable Christmastime note, but will be cherished and reread year-round for its bold message of grand hopes, impossible expectations, and the gift of grace that comes in between.

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Holiday Gift Ideas: Keep it Green!

Ask my husband and he will tell you that his wife is obsessed with keeping our planet clean and running smoothly by recycling everything in sight (even if it means driving 20 minutes to drop off glass items), using products that are healthy both to our bodies and the environment, and by purchasing gifts that did not harm our Earth while they were being made.

This holiday season is perfect to get into being "green" in your home by buying some of the items I'm going to tell you about, as gifts. These are, of course, just a few things I thought were neat and someone in my family will be getting as a gift (so stop reading'll spoil the surprise)!.

The Melissa and Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set is seriously one of the COOLEST things I've ever seen and made me so glad I have nieces! The set includes 12 "sliceable" cookies that come in a tube, just like Pillsbury cookies and there is fun frosting and decorations, which attach with velcro, and utensils to "decorate" your "cookies." Everything is made of wood and earth-friendly paint and seems really durable. Much better than the plastic food I got to play with (and smoosh) when I was younger! Not a bad price either, Amazon sells it (and all the other super-cool Melissa and Doug sets) and their price is about $20.00, but you can always buy it from a different seller off that site too, for less.

My next suggestion is one for the adults (and one I want SO badly for myself...). They are amazing recycled mixing bowls, made of recycled melamine which is incredibly durable. You can throw them in the dishwasher, use them for about a bajillion things AND they come in such AWESOME colors. Talk about brightening your day! They are produced by a company called Zak Designs, but you can buy these on Amazon too (along with the whole line of Zak Design products) and they'll set you back about 30.00. Not too shabby!

Finally, I wanted to include a gift idea for something that I've actually had some experience with (nice of me, eh?), and I automatically thought of the candles that I burn, constantly. They are made of soy, which burns clean (and longer) and is safe for both the environment and kids/adults/pets to breath around, as normal candles are not. The soy candles are almost always more expensive than regular candles, as most "green" items are, but these ones I've found are a pretty good deal, especially considering the quantity I use them in. The Brand is Earth Scents and I've used the Cinnamon Sugar, which is pictured, everywhere in my house, and the Pink Grapefruit in my bathroom. Love them!

So, I've included a gift idea that I love for the little girls in my life, one that I want pretty badly for myself, and another that I've used and love. All are good for the environment and not-so-bad on your wallet.

If you're interested in learning more about any of them, or to purchase, click on any of the images to link directly to the page at Amazon. Doing this also helps to support my own holiday gift buying. Going cheap this year....

The Redheaded Princess

What a cover!! Goodness, I have to say, as one who firmly stands by the "don't judge a book by its cover" rule (though we all do just that), I would have picked this up and ran home with it, even if it wasn't a Cybils nominated title. The cover is just gorgeous! Oh...and did I mention it's written by a one Ann Rinaldi? Queen of Historical Fiction Ann Rinaldi? Well it is. Great cover, great author, pretty good book.

Rinaldi steps out of her typical American history comfort zone to tackle the life of Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII and eventual Queen in The Redheaded Princess. At the time in the book, Elizabeth is in her teen years; simply a princess and not a very honored one at that. Her father, the King, only loves her when he wants to and will only allow her in the actual court of his kingdom on occasion, leading Elizabeth to believe that the royal life is not a very pleasant one. She watches her father's wives come and go, often by the way of a beheading, something Elizabeth is threatened with many times. She must remain strong and positive during times when her siblings are on the throne and she does not agree with their decisions, as well as show her will and perserverence to the people of the kingdom, neither an easy task for Elizabeth.

I am not typically the first one to pick up a historical novel, especially if it is not one of American history, however I did enjoy The Redheaded Princess. I will complain that, at times, Elizabeth sounded as if she were much older than she actual was, especially when she was professing love at age 8, but I did learn a lot about the time period and the difficult lives royalty actually led.

If someone was coming to Rinaldi's work for the first time, I probably wouldn't recommend The Redheaded Princess as a starting point, but it's definitely worth reading if you've read the author's work previously. It's filled with historical elements and relationships, a combination which many enjoy.

If you're interested in learning more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Knit Two and a giveaway!

I don't review adult books often, but when I do, they're ones that I've definitely enjoyed very much and want to make sure you all know about them! Last year I was very into fictional accounts of woman knitters and found myself reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. Well I absolutely LOVED that book and when I got an ARC of the sequel, Knit Two, in the mail, I eagerly set aside all of my other reading to get back into the lovely women's lives of the previous novel. I can't say I loved the sequel quite as much as I loved the first, but it was still incredibly enjoyable and another wonderfully cozy read. Books that are cozy are my favorites!

If you haven't read the first, skip over this and go buy it, borrow it, whatever (trust need to read it, it's lovely), because I'm going to spoil some things for you in this next paragraph!

Five years have passed since Georgia Walker, the owner of the Walker and Daughter knitting store and leader of the Friday Night Knitting Club died. Her daughter, now 18 year old Dakota is now a freshman in college and continues to run her mom's store, with the help of the other members of the club, Catherine, Darwin, Lucy, and Anita. Each of the women are now facing new challenges in their lives and are all still relying on each other to not only keep the store running, but to keep each other going as well. For Dakota, she's still getting to know her dad, even after having lived with him for five years and she's not so sure she loves the store anymore. Catherine, is learning how to start over after a divorce, Darwin is now a mommy and trying to mold her family into what she believes happiness truly is, Lucy is faced with being a single career mom, wanting to continue to build her career up, take care of her daughter, and keep herself sane when she learns she must be the caregiver to her ill mother, and Anita is taken aback by a proposal by her "boyfriend"...and she's over 70.

All the elements of the original novel are there, the friendship, coziness, and of course, knitting are there and Knit Two focuses even more on the relationship aspect of the women. I found it a bit harder to get into than the The Friday Night Knitting Club, but I was determined to follow through and was not disappointed in the end.

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. Oh and did I mention you can WIN a copy? I am totally being generous and letting one lucky person have my ARC, so leave a comment on this post by Friday night and I'll pick a winner Saturday morning. YAY for giveaways!

Non-Fiction Monday: Gone Fishing

David McLimans, fabulous author of the Caldecott Honor book Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet has created a very cool new work entitled Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers. In the same style as Gone Wild, Gone Fishing is wonderfully creative, beautifully (and uniquely) illustrated and gives great information.

Done completely in bold blue, black, and white, each page consists of a single number counting up from 1-10 and then counting back down again from 10-1. The number is shaped like the animal the page is describing and includes information on its class, habitat, aquatic region, threats, and status on the endangered animals list. My favorite numbers were 8 (counting up) which was the Blue-Ringed Octopus and 5 (counting down) which was the Sloane's Viperfish, the illustrations were so cool!

All of the animals are unique and often were ones I had never heard of. Besides the two I previously described, the reader gets to learn about the Oarfish, the Tiger Tail Sea Horse, the Giant Tube Worm, and lots more. There is also an expansion paragraph on each animal in the back of the book, allowing a more in-depth look at different characteristics. The author also includes some general ocean facts, which are unique in themselves. For example, I never knew that it takes "about 1,000 years for a mass of seawater to make a complete lap around the globe." Again, very cool!

Though I don't think I enjoyed this one quite as much as I did Gone Wild, I was still incredibly impressed at McLimans ability to take ocean animals and shape them into numbers, all while giving the reader a lesson on this unique part of our world. Oh and I love the manner in which he used only three colors for the entire book. The end result was very striking!

I definitely recommend this title for all library collections. If you're interested in learning more or to purchase this title, click on the book cover to link to Amazon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sisters of Misery

I was actually pleasantly surprised by this one, if not a tad bit disturbed. After reading the book description on the back cover, it didn't sound like something I would typically pick up, you know rich girl with snotty rich friends, wants to be nicer to people, knows her friends will shun her if she is....Sisters of Misery was actually a lot more than that. More meat, more intrigue, and I may even have had goosebumps a few times. These girls were creepy!

Megan Kelley Hall introduces us to fifteen-year-old Maddie Crane, a girl with the right clothes and the right friends to be considered successful in her seaside town. Though Maddie doesn't always agree with the attitude of her friends towards other classmates or people in general, she goes along with pretty much everything they-or mainly their leader, Kate, says, not wanting to stray from the pack. When Maddie's eccentric cousin, Cordelia moves to town to live with her, Maddie loves her spiritual nature, her easy going attitude, and her free-spirit way of dressing. Unfortunately, the fact that Cordelia is different from the rest of them means that Kate sets her sights on ruining her life life, resulting in Maddie being forced to choose between her cousin and her friends.

Things soon get ugly between Kate and Cordelia and after a mean and torturous evening on an island, Cordelia disappears. Maddie has no idea what happened to her and cannot believe she allowed her friends to treat Cordelia the way they did. She knows Kate had something to do with Cordelia's disappearance, but knows if she digs deeper into what happened that evening, she'll be Kate's next target.

Sisters of Misery was pretty suspenseful the whole way through and definitely gave me goosebumps several times. I was impressed at how well Hall channeled teens and the emotion she put into the confrontations between the girls and in the reactions Maddie had to different situations throughout the story.

That being said, I do have a couple of complaints, though minor I think. On the cover, I was slightly irritated by the tagline under the title "Best friends-or worst enemies?" I felt it was cheesy and unnecessary and it made it sound like an R.L. Stine or Christopher Pike teen novel (not to offend those who love those authors!). My main complaint about the actual plot was the institutionalization of Cordelia's mother. I don't think it was necessary whatsoever and I don't think the inclusion of a strange and haunted mental institution was an asset to the story. If that had been left out I probably would have enjoyed it more.

Overall, I enjoyed Sisters of Misery and fans of slightly scary, suspenseful stories will probably enjoy it as well. If you're interested in learning more about the book, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Picture Book Saturday!

Four great picture book choices for you guys today, all of which I've really enjoyed in the last week. No theme for this Saturday, just some cute books!

Art's Supplies, written and illustrated by Chris Tougas is very amusing and filled with bright and bold colors. Poor Art's room has been taken over by his supplies when his sketch pad decided to have a party. Felt pens, squirty ink, lots of glue, and crazy paint all showed up to the party, creating quite the mess in Art's room. It wasn't his fault though. It was the supplies!!

Definitely not the best writing I've ever seen, but Art's Supplies is definitely funny and I think kids will enjoy the antics of all the art supplies. The glue bottles were hilarious! Most certainly a book to inspire creativity. Ask your kids to have their own "supply" party with their own art supplies. Just keep the mess to a minimum...supervision is key!

The Nice Book, written and illustrated by the ever-popular David Ezra Stein, is one of those cute, adorable, lovable books that the littlest ones are going to really love. The very vintage-look illustrations add to the text about cuddling, nuzzling, giggling, and not tickling (well...maybe a little tickling). Very sweet and kind words are written, instructing the reader to do good for others. "Sing a song to someone, or sing to yourself" and "If you have more than you need, share" are just some examples of how to be "Nice."

Short, sweet, and to the point, The Nice Book would be great as a one on one sharing title.

Cherry and Olive, written and illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe has some fantastic and detailed illustrations and the little girl, Cherry, definitely reminds me of my younger self. She prefers reading to playing with other kids, she gets made fun of for being a bit on the rounder side, and she's shy. When Cherry discovers a special dog in the animal shelter her father runs, also shy and unique, they instantly become best friends and that friendship results in Cherry learning a bit more about herself and her ability to have courage when needed.

Again, illustrations....fabulous! The plot was sweet and of course, we all know how I feel about shelter dogs, so I'm definitely recommending this one! Great for one on one, probably not the most exciting for reading aloud. I enjoyed it very much.

Finally, another magnificent book in the illustration department is Moonpowder, written and illustrated by John Rocco. This one may just have the best illustrations I've seen this year...simply amazing! Though the storyline was quite unique, if not a bit strange, in the fact that a Moonpowder factory wasn't operating correctly and they needed the help of Eli Treebuckle, the "fixer of all things fixable" to come save the day. Eli truly wants to help and is also hoping that the nightmares that plague his sleep every night will disappear in the process. As I said, unique, maybe a bit strange, but definitely enjoyable.

The illustrations truly make Moonpowder a winner, you must go turn the pages of this book! The moon Rocco has created is absolutely beautiful and amazing.

That's it for this week folks! If you're interested in learning more about any of the titles or to purchase, click on any of the book covers to link to Amazon. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Angel Girl

Angel Girl, written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Ofra Amit, is a beautifully displayed picture book, based on a tragic, yet hopeful true story. I saw that it's been nominated for a Cybil award and rightly so, but be prepared for a difficult conversation with the kiddos after reading this one.

Herman is a young Jewish boy sent to live in a Nazi work camp during World War II. He is separated from his mother, the only family he has left, he is starving, sick, and losing his will for life. While working by a fence one day, a young girl appears on the other side, a girl who begins bringing Herman an apple every day for him to eat. With that apple comes hope and compassion, Herman soon regains his zest for life.

Years later, after the war is over and Herman is a young man, he moves to America and is soon introduced to a young woman whom he quickly falls in love with. Herman has now formally met his Angel Girl, the girl who gave him apples so long ago and when the couple realizes who each is, their belief in hope and promises is unmatchable.

I was impressed with the beauty in such a tragic book, both in the sadness of the writing and the haunting aspects of the illustrations, however this picture book comes with a warning from Miss Amanda. It is written on an incredibly difficult subject and one that is inevitably going to raise questions from the children that read it or have it read to them. It’s a great ice breaker to teach those kids about some history, but just be aware of what you are reading them before you are in a discussion you weren’t quite ready for!

Ultimately, I will recommend Angel Girl to everyone, as it is, in my opinion, certainly a must read. The author and the real-life couple the book is based on are wonderfully compassionate individuals, which shines through the pages of this simple, short book. Loved it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Bear Called Paddington

I can remember being in either third or fourth grade and being taken to a production of Paddington Bear on the "big stage" in Syracuse, NY. An actor in a huge bear suit and rollerskates portrayed Paddington and though I can only imagine how terribly acted that play probably was to an adult, it was that day that I fell in love with Paddington Bear. I read the books about him like they were going to disappear any moment, I had a stuffed Paddington, and I always made my parents talk to the bear as if he were real.

Now, Paddington is 50 years old, having been created in 1958, and thus 8 wonderful Paddington stories have been put into this beautiful anniversary edition book A Bear Called Paddington. Michael Bond's adorable and lovable character comes alive with illustrations done by Peggy Fortnum. My favorite story will probably always be the first, "Please Look After This Bear," but all of the other stories included will delight as well.

Paddington Bear is a character from your past that you can share and enjoy with your own children. He doesn't age, as toys do, nor does he ever go out of style. Paddington will always be a winner in my house and this book now has a prominent place on my shelf. It will be well worn in just a few years, I can guarantee that!

If you're interested in learning more about my beloved Paddington or to purchase this book, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Charlie and Lola!!

Seriously, who doesn't need a little Charlie and Lola in their lives? Lauren Child has created these now infamous characters that are simply wonderful and SO addicting to read about. We actually have arguments over who gets to check the latest Child book out of the library once it's processed (last time I won, but I usually have to wait...)!

So for my first Holiday Gift Idea, I figured Charlie and Lola were the way to go. Both boys and girls love the sisters and there are two really cool new items featuring them that can work as pretty awesome gifts.

The first is...of course...a book! But this is a POP-UP and we all looooove pop-ups! This version of I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed! is a fabulous pop-up filled with all sorts of cute pull, lift, and pop-up pages, all featuring the lovely Charlie and Lola. Each page is done in the usual illustrations and features some sort of activity, making it a BIG book. Kids will love playing with it and having you read the text to them. I definitely recommend it for home, not so much for the library, only because pop-ups tend to get ruined quite easily in a library environment. Great for a gift though!
And to go with the wonderful pop-up book is a product I didn't even know existed until I saw my friend's daughter playing with it last week. It's the "Charlie and Lola Pink Milk" game! There's a game about Charlie and Lola! YAY! Very simple concept, be the first to get to the center of the board after collecting the appropriate number of pink milk cards. Tigers will try to interrupt your journey though, so watch out! The game is list for 2-4 players, ages 3 and up. I watched a 5 year old playing and she got the concept very easily. Plus...the game is less than $10.00 on Amazon!

If you're interested in learning more or to purchase either the book or the game, click on either image to link you to Amazon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye

This is Deb Caletti's fifth novel for young adults, but only the first I've read all the way through. I tried last year to read The Nature of Jade, but for some reason, it just didn't grab me at the time...I know, I know, I must go back to it...a lot of you really liked it and now, after finishing The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, I'm totally sold!

Indigo Skye not only has a slightly um....interesting name, she has an interesting and unique life. While finishing up her senior year of high school, she's dating a former addict, turned super-cool guy and she's a waitress at a small diner, where she loves, loves, loves her regulars and of course, her quirky bunch of co-workers. Indigo isn't planning to head to college after high school, a fact that is actually somewhat alright with her mom (a point you don't often get in books) and really just enjoys living her life in the moment. When a new customer leaves her an extra special tip after his meal, a 2.5 million dollar tip to be exact, all of those "living in the moment" aspects of life Indigo loves so much go out the window. Determined to not be one of those people that is instantly changed by money, Indigo wants to give the money back to the customer, but her family and boyfriend have already started spending it for her.

My poor husband wanted to kick me out of bed last night, as I was keeping him up with my constant chuckling while reading this. I flagged so many great passages, but these are a few of my favorites:

When talking about why she loves waitressing, Indigo says this:
"See, I loved being a waitress more than anything, but apparently, it's ok to work as a waitress, but not to be a waitress. To most people, saying you want to be a waitress is like saying your dream is to be a Walgreens clerk, ringing up spearmint gum and Halloween candy and condoms, which just proves that most people miss the point about most things most of the time. Waitressing is a talent-it's about giving nourishment, creating relationships, not just about bring the ketchup (3)."

When talking about her cat, Indigo describes him like this:
"Freud has some psychological issues-he's slightly sadistic and a merciless hunter. He once sat in a tree swiping at the air in the direction of a squirrel, his focus that of a hired killer, totally oblivious to the snow that was blowing around like mad and accumulating steadily on his fur like a layer of meringue. He brings you the heads of rodents and birds, lays them down in the kitchen or on your bedroom carpet. He should have been in the Mafia (21)."
When describing how she wanted to help one of her regulars feel better, she says:
"I put in Nick's order without asking him, add an order of toast that I'll take from my tips, or rather, tip, if necessary. I want him to have something to crunch, rather than just swallow down. You are not completely helpless if you can crunch. I also ask for a hot chocolate with whipped cream, because whipped cream can remind you why it's good to be alive (113)."

Finally, my favorite:
"I hate presumptuous, overachieving appliances. Toilets that flush before you're ready; automatic. attacking seatbelts; refrigerators that beep when the door is open too long. Melanie has on of those. For God's sake, it makes me feel like my inability to decide is a criminal act. To all the pushy appliances out there, back off (130)."
I really couldn't put this one down, for both a great plot and hilarious dialog. I loved it. I cannot recommend this enough and am SO excited I've found yet another wonderful teen novel to rave about! I'll definitely be putting Deb Caletti high on my list of must-read authors. I have some catching up to do...

To learn more or to purchase, click the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Oooh Christmas giveaways and NEW stuff!

How in the world I'm going to pack all this info into one post, I have no idea, but I'm giving it a shot. I have giveaways, different blogs have giveaways, joining a secret santa group, and giving to needy families. ALL HERE.

First things first. Over at the wonderful 5 Minutes for Mom, they are having a Christmas giveaway blowout. Lots of things to win for the kiddos, click on the button to head over and enter. Tons of great stuff! YAY!
Also at 5 Minutes for Mom, they are hosting an Under the Tree project in which they want to get great gifts for needy families under their trees. You can nominate families or just show your support by heading over to that page on their site and picking out a button. Click on my button below or in the sidebar to do so.
Next, I joined the awesome Book Bloggers Christmas Swap! Rules are very simple and can be found over at the Things Mean A Lot blog, which you can get to by clicking on the book swap button below or in the sidebar. It's a fun way to show your holiday spirit with fellow bloggers and to get some neat, small gifts! Finally, I wanted to let you know about something new I'll be doing around here, at least for the holidays. A couple of times a week I'll be posting about a game, book, toy, or other item that I think would make a great gift for the holidays. This is how I got a lot of my shopping ideas last year, simply perusing all of your blogs, so I thought it would be nice to offer my own opinion on cool items too! You'll be able to learn more about the items by clicking on a link, so if I don't give enough info, you'll have a way to find out more.

I'm also going to be offering giveaways, starting next week, so you can get whatever I'm giving away in time for the holidays, if you're wanting to regift (totally ok!). So keep your eyes peeled for some cool books in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

I LOVED this book! I think the writing, the characters, and the plot were absolutely brilliant and I can see myself raving about this one for a long time to come. You will walk away from this book cheering for the main character and wanting a sequel so badly, just so you don't quite have to let Frankie go. I was waaay impressed to say the least. Read it!

In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, written by E. Lockhart, the so-named Frankie Landau-Banks is a rich 16 year old attending an incredibly prestigious boarding school that both her father and her older sister have previously attended. Though not the most popular girl in school by any means, Frankie has a few good friends, a few past boyfriends, and lots of great wit about her. She's funny, smart, and has quite the chip on her shoulder, having always been considered in a lower status because she's female. When she discovers that her new boyfriend, big-man-on-campus, Matthew, is involved in the same, exclusive all-male secret society her father has always bragged about, Frankie is determined to find a way in...or make the boys involved realize just who they are dealing with.

The brilliance and wit of this novel are so refreshing and Frankie is just the girl that I always wished I could be. Brave enough to stand up to traditions she feels are unnecessary, yet likable enough to be friends with. I probably laughed out loud at every page, if not every other and wanted to kick myself for not thinking up the concept of the novel. I loved it through and through and feel it definitely deserves it's finalist status for a National Book Award. I loved, teens will love it, almost all of my adult friends are going to learn to love it! :-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday: Time Almanac for Kids

I always loved getting the kids' almanacs when I was younger and though, as an adult, I don't really enjoy adult almanacs, I still love the one's geared to the younger age groups! Go figure...anyhow, this week's Non-Fiction Monday selection would make an excellent holiday gift and would be a great circulator at libraries.

TIME for Kids Almanac 2009 is out just in time for the holiday gift-giving season (how many of you remember getting books like this for Christmas??) and I think this year's edition is one of the best yet. It is filled with educational facts and statistics on topics ranging anywhere from states countries, and animals to news releases on subjects such as the race for the Democratic slot in the Presidential election, the newest list of endangered animals, must read books of the year, new issues in energy and the environment, and of course, the all important celebrity info. There is also a cool question and answer section, trivia, games and a place for "lifestyle news."

The photographs and other graphics are bold and eye-catching and the facts are written in a manner that middle graders and teens will easily understand and actually find interesting. Ever-so important. It's a very fun, engaging, and educational book that will keep kids busy for a long time. A Christmas gift that has a long-lasting appeal! YAY!

For more info on the TIME for Kids Almanac 2009 or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shape of Water

As I have explained many times on this blog, books get the thumbs up from me for many reasons, but the single most reason they get a thumbs down is if I don't feel they will actually appeal to the audience they are meant for. A book can be wonderfully written and really speak to me, but if I don't think it's going to speak to a 6 year old or a 14 year old, it's not great. Unfortunately, this is how I feel about The Shape of Water. A beautifully written book, but I cannot imagine a teenager loving it. Being part of the young adult genre, this is SO important and in my opinion, the author did not quite get there, leaving me disappointed.

The Shape of Water is written by Anne Spollen and focuses it's plot on Magda, a girl trying to survive in her world of anxiety and loneliness after her mother has passed away. She feels as if she is trapped within herself, unable to feel anything but sadness, unable to take away the fog she constantly walks through. Magda slowly begins to open up to herself, through the outlet of arson. She starts fires in the woods and marshes near her home, perhaps not meaning harm, but healing for herself instead.

Throughout the story, the reader is going to be unsure of whether Magda is simply a broken girl, hurt and devastated from her mother's death, or whether she is truly mad. She is constantly imagining fish tormenting her, forcing her to deal with family secrets and ultimately resulting in these fires that she feels are theraputic. Are the fish a metaphor for something deeper or is Magda losing her mind? I honestly don't know.

Something must be said for Spollen's writing, as it truly is beautiful. It flows well and leads to imagery and magic in the reader's mind that many authors cannot quite accomplish. However, I cannot see many teens reading past page 10, unless this is being used for an English class. It's too heavy, to thick to see the real characterization or plot points. Almost too much imagery, too much "falseness." We can't tell what is real and what's not. Maybe that was Spollen's simply have us questioning Magda's mental state, but I really felt the novel focused on that aspect when it should have had us exploring the ideas of loss and loneliness instead. Adults may love it...teens, probably not so much.

Just eh.

If you're interested in learning more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Picture Book Saturday: Fairy Tales

For this week's Picture Book Saturday, I have a couple of newly released editions of wonderful, old, fairy tales. I love seeing the new illustrations different authors bring to these timeless stories, and trust me, these titles will be great as Christmas gifts. Each has something special about it that brings a freshness to the tales we have all heard since we were kids ourselves and each is filled with beautiful illustrations that only emphasize the magical nature of the stories. Enjoy!

Cinderella, retold by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Niamh Sharkey is a PERFECT gift book for those little girls that just love all things princess. The story stays true to the tale we all know (sad girl, evil stepmother/sisters, a ball, a slipper, a prince, a happy-ever-after), but the illustrations really make the book special. The cover has beautiful, sparkly stars and a gown, and pure "girl" written all over it, and the pages within the book are filled with beautiful pinks, purples, and blues, spattered with hearts, stars, and little swirly things as accents, and just plain girlicious. And yes, with this book, girlicious IS a word. Loved it!

Hansel and Gretel is retold by the wonderful, Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. This one is a bit long in the text (almost taking it out of the picture book realm), but also stays true to the story we all know and love. Morpurgo really draws on the idea of hope and courage within the story, making it much more than a simple fairy tale. The cover is wonderful (glitter lovers anyone??) and the illustrations are great and remind me of something I cannot quite pinpoint. The style is very similar to something I've seen before, but I can't figure out what it is! If you read the book and know what I'm talking about, please fill me in!

** Parents, just remember, in Hansel and Gretel there may be some slightly scary moments, if reading to a younger child. The witch in the forest does want to eat them....

If you're interested in learning more about either book, or to purchase, click on either book cover to link to Amazon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: T4

Holocaust books have always intrigued me and if I see one written for children, I definitely pick it up. T4, written in prose by Ann Clare LeZotte is one of those fantastic stories that just opens a reader's mind to the horrors that happened during that period in our history, but also to the compassion that was, at times, shown, and by the true love for one's family that withstands all evil.

Paula Becker is a thirteen year old girl residing in rural Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler. Though not Jewish, Paula has another problem that results in hatred by the German Nazis and puts her on a list of those to be destroyed in order to "purify" a nation. Paula is deaf. Her disability is considered damaging and therefore she is not clean and pure to her country, thus she must be eliminated. When Paula's family learns of the rumors to eliminate the disabled of the country, they are truly blessed when a priest arrives at their door and offers to save her from that fate. Paula moves from one hiding place to another, just trying to survive the Nazis, while also trying to understand why they hate her.

T4 is a wonderful little novel to share in a classroom of middle graders when doing units on WWII or on the Holocaust specifically. It's only 112 pages long and written in short prose, making it a quick, but extremely informative read. Though the characters are fictional, all of the facts presented are truth. I was very impressed with Paula's strength of character, as well as her need to understand why she was considered undesirable.

If you're interested in learning more about T4 or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An interview with the magnificent, Brie Spangler!

As I've mentioned several times over the past couple of months, my son Jacob absolutely loved the book Peg Leg Peke. We read it to him every day of his short, but wonderfully sweet life, and towards the end, when he learned the skill of smiling, he would always smile at silly Peke (at least when Daddy did his voices). Brie Spangler, the author of the absolutely wonderful and, for me, touching, picture book, agreed to do an interview for this blog. She is a kind and warm woman, that was honored our son loved her book as much as he did. Please enjoy!

1. Thank you so much for doing this interview Brie, I'm honored to have you on my blog! Before we get started, I would love for you to pick a place to have our "interview." We can be eating pastries in a French bakery, sharing some wine and cheese in Napa Valley, or candy canes at the North Pole. Your choice!
BS- Oh gosh, well it's already getting quite cold up here in New England so the North Pole is out and I seem to be packing on my winter padding so let's cross off the French bakery. How about a nice, sunny table in Napa? In fact, let's go right now because I see some flurries...

2. Can you share with us what led you to the world of writing and illustrating?
BS- I was more inclined to draw from the get go. By the time I got to high school, every single piece of paper I had was covered in drawings. If we had a test, I'd rush through it so I could flip it over and draw on the back. Every margin of every notebook was filled. Art History lectures at RISD were the best time to just sit back and draw, draw, draw. (But don't tell my parents!) To this day, I can't take notes or sit through a speech without doodling away.

As for writing, that came more slowly and I still wouldn't consider myself a writer. I feel like if there's a story there, it takes me a while to massage it along but the drawings help drive it home. If anything, my love of drawing gave me the impetus to move into storytelling and give all these little characters a voice.

3. How in the world did you come up with the concept for Peg Leg Peke?
BS- I'm afraid it is as advertised! I have a little pekingese and she needed an operation on her foot, it led to a long, fun month in a cast and Peg Leg Peke came soon after.
Oh, she was quite pitiful. When the book got picked up I bought her a great big peanut butter doggie-cookie.

4. Did the story or the illustrations come first in your mind?
BS- When she was clonking around the house on three legs and stump that gave me the story first and the illustrations came second.

5. How long did the book take you to complete?
BS- I came up with a rough draft of the story and submitted it to my agent in July of '06. She was so supportive in encouraging me to explore it, she saw something there and was tremendously helpful. Once I had it polished up, it didn't take all that long to find it a wonderful home at Knopf in November '06. The book was off to the presses by the summer of '07 and the first copies came out this past June 2008. And of course I remember all this stuff because it was my first book! I keep an updated Peke-A-Blog at and readers can drop by and see some of the fun stuff going on.

6. How does it feel to have your book nominated for a Cybil Award? The buzz the book will get will be enormous!
BS- It's very exciting, I can't even tell you. Thank you very much! As my first nomination, it's a big, big thrill.

7. Do you have any other titles in the works or books soon to be published that you can tell us about? Go ahead, talk them up!
BS- Thanks for the opportunity because I do have a new picture book coming out in July 2009 from Knopf called 'The Grumpy Dump Truck'. About a rather grumpy dump truck named Bertrand, who is very unpleasant to work with down at the old construction site, and his cheerful porcupine friend, Tilly. It was a real treat to do because I got to draw him as a crabby meanie among all his other happy
animal and machine co-workers. But all's well that ends well and everyone is smiling at the end.

8. What are some of your personal favorites in children's books? What about young adult titles?
BS- Oh man! So many to choose from. For starters, I'm a huge fan of Mo Willems and I'm ashamed to say I wasn't familiar with him until after I did Peke. Once I did the first draft of my story, I was directed towards 'Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus' and I loved it! I love the Pigeon stories and Knufflebunny, they are too fantastic. Also loved 'No, David' by David Shannon, he can really draw and I love his style. One of my recent favorites is Kadir Nelson's 'We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball' because I am a huge, huge, huge baseball fan and Nelson's paintings are achingly beautiful. He does stunning work.

As for young adult titles from middle grade and up, when I was a kid I read 'Skinnybones' by Barbara Park at least 592 times. It was a great baseball book that made me laugh and laugh. Can't say enough how much I enjoyed everything by Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, and also 'Hoot' by Carl Hiaasen. Right now I'm finally reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak and it's been wonderful, I'm about three-quarters of the way through.

9. Who are some of the authors you take inspiration from?
BS- The ones listed above are all world-class authors, so certainly their work has been inspirational from my childhood onwards. But I think it's fair to say that I draw from a little bit of everything, more so from music than from reading. Sometimes, and this drives my husband crazy, I pick a song and listen to it on a loop and then the ideas start to gel. That tends to help me focus because I am the woeful type who thinks every idea is a great idea and I get distracted easily.

10. Finally, if you could have any job besides being an author/illustrator, what would would you do?
BS- I'd love to be a sports reporter and follow the Boston Red Sox all season long. Then I'd never need a ticket! That or the time honored career aspiration of marine biologist because who doesn't want to play with dolphins all day.

Thanks so much for the chance to do this interview, Amanda. It was a pleasure.

If you're interested in learning more about Jacob's favorite book, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fanny....oh how I loved you....

Girly books are high on my list of loves, but they have to be great girly books. Too much of this or that and I'm waaay turned off. Fancy Nancy rocks, as does my new picture book girl hero, Fanny. I love her and I really think young girls are going to be just as impressed with this quirky new character as I am.

Fanny, written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie, features a wonderful little girl that really wants a specific type of doll as her Christmas gift. Her mother, not impressed with the doll's overly made-up appearance and skimpy clothing (Bratz dolls anyone?), informs Fanny that she will not be able to get this doll, even though all of her friend's own one and she is just going to have to deal with being the odd one out in this case. Fanny proceeds to take matters into her own hands and make her own doll, just like the one her friends have. Her doll, Annabelle, looks nothing like the infamous doll owned by all, but Fanny loves her! Even when her friends turn up their noses at Annabelle, Fanny realizes she loves the fact that her doll is different, embracing a new individuality.

Fanny may not be the best written book of the year, but it's adorable, has a great message, and the illustrations are just so darn cute. Plus, if you buy the book (if you get it from a library, you're out of luck), you get your own paper doll with it. You can make your own Annabelle!

If you want to learn more about Fanny or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fact of Life #31

I don't usually enjoy surprises....unless it's the surprise of loving a book I never really thought I would enjoy! Fact of Life #31, written by Denise Vega definitely had the teen romance vibe going on it's book flap description, but romance is so low on the totem pole of content, it may even be labeled as "subtle." Imagine that!

Kat's mom is the infamous home-birth midwife that goes only by the name of Abra. Abra, no-last name, best midwife in the state. Kat certainly admires her mother, but she doesn't understand why this woman who allows strangers to confide in her, can't make her own daughter feel comfortable enough to share any aspect of her personal life.

Her forever-crush on super-popular Manny Cruz is one part of her social life she would life to share with her how Manny might even really like her. HER. Kat. Not necessarily a nobody, but definitely considered the weird girl, due to her yoga-in-the-hall sessions. Certainly not Manny Cruz material.

And then, what about her desires to really connect with the women that come into her mom's clinic? Why does her mom have to screw those up too? Kat knows she's a klutz and she knows her self-esteem could use a slight boost, but these women actually LIKE her. Why doesn't her mom see that? Why does she just want her to be the office girl and nothing else?

Poor Kat has a lot of different issues showing up at once, all jumbling in her head and confusing her more than ever. Does Manny like her or doesn't she? Can she be confident in the midwifery field or can't she? Will the most popular girl at school ever notice she's alive or won't she. Will her mom ever be her friend or won't she. As Kat learns the Facts of Life, you will laugh hysterically and often cringe at the pain the poor girl faces. She gets herself into some interesting situations, but seems to find a creative and funny way out of each.

I really enjoyed this title and almost wish the publisher would re-work the jacket flap really turned me off at first, but once I hit page 2, I was hooked. Denise Vega has a talent for channeling a teen girl in her most vulnerable state, but still infuses strength and heart into the character. Loved it.

If you're interested in learning more about Fact of Life #31 or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

Election Day Read!!!

Have you been out to vote yet?? Let's all remember, you can't complain about the state of the nation, if you didn't vote for a candidate! Get out there and cast your vote!

Being a military wife, patriotism is very high on our family priority list and I definitely wanted to post about a patriotic book! I really think my selection today was perfect for an Election Day read....all about our wonderful country and just how it came to be.

America: The Making of a Nation, was created by Charlie Samuels and really gets down to the nitty gritty of the birth of America, through journal form. The reader is taken on a journey through history, starting at the very beginning and ending in the 21st century. Each page has different activities and accessories, like lift-the-flaps, fold-outs, and even a removable replica of the Declaration of Independence. allowing kids to have fun through the reading process.

Though libraries may not be thrilled with the format, only because the pieces have a tendency to get lost when checked out over and over again, I would definitely recommend this title for home use as a fun reference for school reports, simple teaching about our nation, or a homeschooling resource. The pages are bold and bright, the information easy to read and extremely informative, and really a good choice for a whole range of ages.

If you're interested in learning more about America: The Making of a Nation, or to purchase, click the book cover above to link to Amazon. Happy Election Day!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The windy city....

I'm in Chicago, visiting family for the weekend. I'll be back Monday with a bunch of reviews... and will make up Picture Book Saturday next weekend! Until then....