Monday, October 28, 2013

Fallout by Todd Strasser

In 1962, when the United States was basically freaking out about the possibility of a nuclear war, Scott's dad builds a bomb shelter in the backyard and stocks it with supplies to keep his family alive. With his family the talk of the neighborhood, Scott is slightly embarrassed of all the attention, but also a little apprehensive. Though the idea of a bomb shelter is cool and exciting, the idea
of actually having to use it is scary.

The shelter is given the ultimate test when the family is forced to use it. As their neighbors fight and beg for space in the shelter too, it becomes overcrowded and they quickly run out of the supplies Scott's dad chose to sustain his family of four. 

I loved the idea of this book. I've always been curious to know what it would be like to actually spend in a shelter like this and what people thought of those that used their yards as a place to build one. The historical aspects were woven into the plot very nicely and I found myself getting an excellent refresher on the crisis with Russia. It's not a time period I've spent much time reading about, so I really enjoyed that part. 

I can see this being a great read a loud for middle or high school teachers to use in their classroom, expanding upon a history lesson. The dialogue was great -- relatable for the age the book is marketed towards -- and the friendships were realistic. 

Overall, a solid read. 

Thanks to Candlewick for the review copy!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More Things in Heaven and Earth by Jeff High

Luke Brandford never imagined he would land in Watervalley, a tiny rural town nestled in the mountains of Tennessee. When he became a doctor, he always imagined he'd remain in a large city, conducting research to help find cures for the diseases he'd been taught to treat, yet the offer of a practice in this town made the ability to pay down the student loan debt he'd built up and Watervalley was where he landed. 

Adjusting to small town life proved difficult, with one mishap after another, typically ending in embarrassment on Luke's part and leaving the people of the town laughing at their new doctor. Challenge after challenge confronts him and though he does see the charm in Watervalley, it takes a long time before he's not wanting to run back to the big city. 

The residents of the town truly make this book what it is and I was reminded the entire time I was reading of Jan Karon's Mitford novels. Jeff High really hit some high points with his quirky cast of characters and their charming small town life, which was just what I needed in this reading slump. I found myself chuckling on most pages -- always a good thing when reading a book like this. 

My few criticisms really had to do with the chapter transitions. I hate to call them corny, but that's exactly what they came off as. I also felt the actual medical jargon sometimes felt forced. Jeff High has a background in the medical field and he obviously knew what he was talking about, but in the midst of  this particular plot, the language didn't quite feel authentic. 

I was definitely charmed by the story and the characters, despite the few flaws I found, and I'm anxious for the second book. Sometimes I really need a book with a homey feel and this fit the bill perfectly. 

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pop-Up Love

Pop-up books are addictive. I can slowly page through a pop-up book, looking at the intricate page designs and wondering how in the world the artist and author managed to make such a cool thing, while Elliott just wants to totally destroy the book. Pop-ups really shouldn't have made an appearance in my house quite yet, as they're not exactly toddler friendly, but I just can't help myself. These three have all made their way onto our shelves:

Spot the Dot by David A. Carter

This one is loaded with fun search-and-finds, pull tabs, bright flaps to lift, and a gigantic pop-up at the end. This one actually works great for us to read and play with together, with E being fascinated with pull tabs and fun, brightly colored pages. 

The size is great for little hands and so far, the tabs and flaps have held up to toddler fingers. With the big pop-up at the end, I make sure he's careful as we search for the dot, so we don't lose it from the page! It's a really cool piece of art!

I love that the book is based on an award-winning app, so we can take the play to the next level at some point. I haven't checked out the app yet, but if one of you have played, let me know how it is! 

Animal Opposites by Peter Horacek 

I think this is Elliott's new favorite book. At least for this week. He's been very into opposites lately, which is awesome (yay for educational!) and the illustrations and pop-ups by Horacek are just beautiful. 

The animals range from the typical dog/giraffe/mouse to much more fun and interesting animals that toddlers might not know about yet. There are meerkats, sloths, porcupines, and snails and it's fun to talk about each one, as E lifts the flaps or discovers the pop-up. 

My favorite page in this one the contrast between the Heavy Hippo and the Light Butterfly. It was done beautifully and the drastic difference is obvious. The clear differences between all of the animals was excellent and the bold illustrations made the book awesome to look at. 

Highly recommend this one!

Bugs by George McGavin and illustrator Jim Kay

So, Elliott isn't quite ready for this one, but I just bought it for a niece of mine who is in LOVE with all things insect. 

Each page is almost journal-like about different types of bug characteristics: how they work, why we need bugs, where they live, and the different kinds of bugs around the world. There's a cool pop-up bug on each page and flaps to lift to find more info. Sometimes I think books like this pack too much onto each page, making it hard to focus (i.e. Magic School Bus), but I loved this one. 

Even kids who aren't obsessed with bugs will have enjoy reading the facts and discovering all the cool fun stuff hidden throughout the pages. Definitely a great gift book. 

Thank you to Scholastic and Candlewick for the review copies!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

Corey and Holly are twins and best friends. Together with Corey's girlfriend Savitri, the trio spend their time freerunning all over the city of Chicago. Jumping off walls, rocketing from roof to roof, and constantly keeping their adrenaline high. 

The trio is splintered after a horrific act of violence and neither Holly nor Savitri knows quite how to recover. Grieving in different ways, the girls aren't even sure what their friendship means anymore, let alone how to serve their brother and boyfriend in the aftermath. 

Using both written word and graphic art (which was beautifully done by Craig Phillips) Avashti expresses a crazy amount of emotion on the pages of this book. After reading and absolutely loving Split, I knew this author had a talent I wanted to follow, but this book has taken it to a whole other level. 

Holly and Savitri are each strong in their own way, emitting a sense of independence perfectly mixed with vulnerability. Their grief is obvious and almost painful to the reader and I think for an author to get that authentic feeling off the page and into their audience is a true act of talent. 

It was a pleasure reading another Swati Avasthi novel and I can only hope her next will come more quickly than this one!

Thanks to Knopf for the review copy. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

As a young girl, Callie was taken from her family by her mother and made to live a life on the run. Moving all the time, not attending school,  living off the tiny bit of money her mom could manage to earn, never having real friends or a real life, all Callie can do is dwell in the memories t
hat haunt her.

When her mother is finally caught and arrested, Callie isn't sure how to live. She didn't love the life her mother chose for her, but it was really all she knew. Being loved the right way -- being part of a family -- wasn't something she really could understand. 

I had been in a reading slump for a long time when this book was finally approved on Netgalley. I fell in love with Doller's characters and the realistic emotions they all held. Though the situation Callie was in isn't one we hear about every single day, I totally believed her story and believed in her sense of loss when the only world she really knew fell apart. 

The love portions had their place and were so beautifully done. I wanted Callie to feel the love she deserved and was totally cheering for both her father and for Alex. Family love and romance love. Both were perfect. 

Definitely keep a box of tissues with you when you read this one and make sure you try to read slowly. You'll be so sad when it's over and ready to beg Trish Doller for another book. 

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the review copy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

I, like so many of you, loved The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. They were exciting page turners that fit really well into the dystopian genre. When the series ended, I knew it was going to be a tough wait until something new came out, but that wait ended yesterday! 

The Eye of Minds takes a different turn from the world of The Maze Runner and introduces us to Michael, a gamer/hacker. I got spun up into the gaming world and cyberterrorists, hacking, crazy technology speak, and the thin line between virtual life and real life. It was a lot of fun. 

I'm not typically into books that rely on techno-speak or even on gaming as a plot, because it's just not my thing, but I fell into this world Dashner created and really enjoyed it. The pacing was a bit off at times -- super quick in some spots and overly slow in others, but I didn't mind. 

All in all, a fun read. A few flaws with the pacing and occasionally forced dialogue, but an interesting, quick read. The first in another trilogy, by the way! Great for fans of Dashner's earlier books or even Ready Player One

Monday, October 7, 2013

Baby Bear Counts One by Ashley Wolff

In our house, Ashley Wolff's Baby Bear Sees Blue is a daily read. When it first showed up in my mailbox, I fell in love with the sweet illustrations and the unique way of teaching colors and just recently E started enjoying it too. He's finally getting to the point where he'll sit through longer books and it's definitely a favorite. 

Though usually pretty informed when it comes to new releases, I had no idea a companion book was being published! I was thrilled to see Baby Bear Counts One show up at my door and it's just as fantastic as its predecessor. 

A beautiful autumn theme is woven through the pages
as Baby Bear discovers different things around him. There's one woodpecker, two squirrels, three beavers, and so on, all getting ready for winter to come.

We're working on counting with E and this book is a wonderful way to point out new animals, while learning to count them. He's obsessed with squirrels, so I was very happy to see those acorn-gathering animals on one of the very first pages! Ending with snowflakes was perfect and is a great gateway to talking about the next season. 

I love Wolff's illustrations with their beautiful lines and the soft color palatte. I know Baby Bear Counts One will be another popular book on our shelves. 

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Tour with Swati Avasthi

You all know I've been waiting for this day for a LONG time. I fell in love with Swati Avasthi's first book, Split, and hand-sold it like crazy while still working at the bookstore. I gifted it to all the teens I knew and told every adult I knew to read it. It's still one of my very favorite YA books.

I've been waiting 3 long years for another book from Avasthi and my wait is over! Chasing Shadows came out last week! You'll have to wait for my review of that one, but trust me, the book is amazing.

Today, Swati Avasthi has kindly agreed to talk a little about how her latest book became something very different from her first. After you read this awesome guest post, head out and pick up both Split and Chasing Shadows. You won't regret it!

CHASING SHADOWS was supposed to be a prose novel. At least that was what I presumed when I started on book no. 2. After all, my first novel SPLIT was in prose, and I was in getting an MFA in fiction prose. Additionally, I'd hardly read any American comics. So how did CHASING SHADOWS turn out so differently - a graphic novel inside a prose novel?

Steven Johnson in his Ted Talk suggests when we create something new, we’ve had the ideas growing for years, but what makes us break into something new is a connection.  Connecting one disparate idea to another.  (Don’t mistake me. I’m not comparing myself to any of the geniuses in Johnson’s Ted Talk.  Rather, I’m talking about how I made something new for me and surprised myself into a new genre.) 
The idea to tell this story in part prose and part graphics came from five disparate places: 1) a book I was reading 2) a question 3) a story 4) a memory and 5) a challenge
The book
In 2007, about a year before I started working on Chasing Shadows, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  In it, there’s a scene where Hugo is trapped on a train track, and the train is bearing down on him.  On each two-spread page, the train gets closer, and closer, and closer each time I flipped the page, until the grill fills up the whole of the page.  Panic surged through me – a wholly visceral reaction, as if I were there, as if I was a part of the book. Which created my question.
The question
Could I get the same visceral response from a reader using words?  Prose writers manage time on the page by using subjective time (how long it feels like it takes), rather than objective time.  We speed through days, dismiss hours, upon hours.  Or, we slow time down for impact.  For instance, in Stephen King’s “The Body” (also made into the movie “Stand By Me”) there’s a moment when the protagonist is trapped on a train track. King slows time down and takes a long paragraph to explain in detail everything that happens.  And it does have an impact; it is powerful.  But it is a different kind of power – one that builds tension detail by detail, moment by moment.  Not the visceral response of feeling like you are in another world.
A story
I was working on a short story in which the girl, whose mother just died, loves comics for how they take on villains.  I began following her love of comics, began reading them. 
A memory
The summer I turned 18, I walked into our den to say a quick goodbye to my parents while they were watching the news. My mom stopped me because on the news was a story about an 18-year-old girl who'd been shot and killed in what was deemed to be a drive-by shooting. It was a girl who I'd known well when we were in middle school. Though we weren't friends anymore (we had gone to different high schools), we had done sleepover, and birthday parties, and middle school squabbling together. And I loved her family. I had a crush on her brother, greatly admired her mother, and thought her other siblings were practically perfect. 

When I found out she was killed, all my language left me. I was shocked of course. But more than that, I didn’t know how to respond, for years really, how to find the words to tell her family that I still think of her, still grieve for all that they lost.  It seemed wrong –invasive—to go to her funeral after we hadn’t spoken in so many years. So I kept silent.
A challenge
I love the word “can’t” because as soon as I hear it, I want to disprove it, especially when it comes from someone who is in a position of relative power over me. Someone who was in that position, told me SPLIT wouldn’t work because I couldn’t withhold a secret in a first person narrative.  Which of course, I did. **SPOILER** That same person in that position told me that writing a first-person descent into madness was impossible.  Hence CHASING SHADOWS.
The connection
The “eureka moment,” according to Steven Johnson, is a little false.  It is more of a slow hunch – something that gathers and grows, connecting disparate ideas. For me, all that gathering did lead to a slower understanding — an understanding that the strong image in my mind was the one that needed to be on the page, that to express how violence is visceral, how speech slips away, I needed to leave words behind. So, I started researching and taking classes on how to write a graphic novel.
The process
So I wrote the novel with the script in it (over and over and over xnth power). The script included the panel layouts, the panel descriptions/actions, and dialogue.  When I was finally finished, my editor, Nancy Siscoe, and I discussed the look we wanted.  Then she and Sarah Hokenson, the art editor, brought Craig Phillips on board. 
I’ve never spoken directly with Sarah or Craig, which sounds crazy, right?  He read the script, made character sketches, revised them according to notes, and did the illustrations, beautifully.  He also devised some elegant solutions to problems, like this page, which we really struggled with:

All my notes on Craig’s illustrations went to Nancy, who discussed them with Sarah, who discussed them with Craig. And vice versa when he had questions.  It sounds like a bad game of operator, but I think it was the right way to go. And because I trusted Nancy and Sarah, I felt very comfortable that every note was passed along and that we were all working to get a single vision for the novel, using prose and graphics, on the page.
Thanks for the opportunity to post and for making me feel so welcome.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Books I've been loving

As I mentioned last week, I've been really busy. Life has turned into a whirlwind of crazy and I'm loving every minute of it -- except that I can't blog nearly as much. I miss blogging, but I definitely AM reading in those few spare moments a day. Laundry is suffering, but I can live with that.

I've done these quick review posts before, but just as a reminder, I'm not giving synopsis, so if you've been in the dark on some of these titles, I've included a Goodreads link to each one, so you can find a plot description.

Hopefully you'll find something that peaks your interest!

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

I've loved every book Kate DiCamillo has written and this one was just as adorable. A quirky little girl having a squirrel for a best friend is fun enough, but make that squirrel write poetry and have superpowers and you have a hysterically charming story. The illustrations are fabulous, done by K.G. Campbell, and I was definitely left wanting more of this pair.

I think kids who love a little bit of strange will be eating this one up!

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I love historical fiction and I especially enjoy fictionalized accounts of historical women, so this story had me at the description. Though all the characters were written in a way that made them come to life, Elizabeth Keckly's actually made me want to know more about her story and how much of it was true. Everyone knows about the Lincoln's, though maybe not from this angle, but Keckly was a fresh face. 

I can't imagine having inside knowledge on someone as important to society as Mary Todd Lincoln and I enjoyed Chiaverini's spin on it. 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, Maggie. You can WRITE. Such beautiful words on these pages. The first book in the series, The Raven Boys was great, but this one went to a whole other level with depth of the characters. I loved the multiple perspectives and was really impressed with how much we actually get from each character. As someone who loves character-driven books, I was definitely into it. 

There are so many layers to this books, it seems I was constantly uncovering something new and I loved that. I can't wait for the 3rd book!

Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

I'm quite obviously not a guy, but I think the Josh's emotions were spot-on. The writing was beautiful and intriguing and Josh was a great main character. He was hurting from his decisions and his loss, yet didn't want to exhibit those feelings to the world. He just wanted to be alone with his thoughts. The secondary characters were perfectly done and the plot was relevant. One of my favorites this year. 

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Terrifying. Do I think this could happen? Absolutely. I think the realistic nature of a lack of water leading to a widespread devastation is what really drew me into the plot. Scary stuff! McGinnis helps us to build a world that we, as readers, could definitely imagine happening.

Lynn was a tough character to like and I had trouble connecting with her, but the actual story was incredibly intriguing. Dystopian fiction has taken over YA, but this one was fresh and so realistic that I find myself really into the story and much more appreciative of my water supply.