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1. Micol Ostow Blog Tour for Amity -- Interview


As you know, I really liked Amity by Micol Ostow. And by "liked" I mean "had the heck scared out of me."

So when I found out about the Blog Tour for Amity, of course I said I wanted in!


You know what I like about doing author interviews, like this? I get to ask questions! Which means that the things I wonder about, I can get the answers to.

I hope they are things that you also find interesting!

First, here's a short bio of Micol Ostow (from her publisher):

Micol Ostow has written dozens of books for children, tweens, and teens, but Amity is her first foray into horror. I turns out, writing a ghost story is almost more terrifying than reading one. (In a good way.) Her novel family was called a “Favorite Book of 2011” by Liz Burns at School Library Journal, and her illustrated novel, So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), was a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens.

In her spare time, Ostow blogs with the National Book Award-winning literacy initiative readergirlz.com. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, her (utterly fearless) daughter, and a finicky French bulldog named Bridget Jones. Visit her online at www.micolostow.com or follow her on Twitter @micolz.

Liz: I vividly remember the first time I read THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and the first time I saw the original movie. When were you introduced to the story? The book or one of the movies?

Micol Ostow: Actually, my first introduction to the Amityville legend came via my favorite master of horror, Stephen King. In his early nonfiction treatise on horror, Danse Macabre, he dissected what he felt worked and what didn’t work in the movie, specifically. Ironically, if I recall much of his criticism of the original movie had to do with its focus on the physical manifestations of the house’s evil spirit rather than a build of psychological terror or dread. I didn’t end up seeing the movie until the 2005 remake, which I found really effective. Afterward, when I was kicking around ideas for my follow-up to the novel family, that remake was on tv and sparked something in me. That was when I went back and finally watched the original movie and read the book. So it was a surprisingly long time coming for a horror buff, in addition to my coming at it with a weird amount of preconception and bias given my total ignorance of the original subject matter!

Liz: While AMITY is a scary haunted house story about the supernatural, it's also a scary haunted house story about a very real haunting: the very real family dynamics that trap people, as well as the evil that people can do even without ghosts or hauntings. What type of research did you outside of the AMITY references and homages?

Micol Ostow: The “research” question is always hard to answer because the answer is slightly embarrassing: I’m very drawn to dark stories and I’m fascinated by the question of evil from within versus evil from without, so much of the research I did both for family and Amity was actually just background reading I’d done before I even had the slightest notion to write either book. Putting aside the obvious Amityville source material, though, I’d say the book’s most clear-cut influences to me are The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House.

To me, Connor is basically Jack Torrance – a flawed character who is driven to evil deed via the energy of the house, the way Torrance is driven mad by the Overlook Hotel. And Gwen is a successor to Hill House’s Eleanor, the fragile, overlooked (no pun intended) woman whose history of madness renders her fear unreliable. Both are to some extent tropes of the genre and there are plenty of examples of each throughout pop culture, but those two are my very favorite iconoclasts. I probably reread The Shining in particular at least twice a year. Does that count as research?

Liz: What was the scariest book you read as a teen?

Micol Ostow: The Shining! (That was a gimme.) I wasn’t quite a teen though, and definitely wasn’t supposed to read it. My mother was a Stephen King fanatic and kept those terrifying 1970’s library hardcovers on her nightstand, perhaps unaware of how they were imprinting on me (or maybe that was her plan all along?...) Pet Sematary made an impression, but The Shining was the one I actually snuck out of the children’s room to read in furtive fifteen-minute increments. I think I was maybe twelve? At most.

Liz: What was the scariest movie you watched as a teen?

Micol Ostow: Again, I wasn’t quite a teen – maybe eleven-ish? – but my younger brother had been home sick with something icky and lingering, and as some kind of pity-bribe thing my mother, I guess, allowed him to rent A Nightmare on Elm St. #s 1-5. I stumbled in as they were queuing up the first movie and got sucked in. TERRIFYING. That one and #4 are the two that still get me, every time.

Liz: Thank you so much!

Check out all the stops on the Amity Blog Tour.

Two stops for tomorrow: readergirlz and Little Willow.







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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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2. Film Review: If I Stay

Saturday morning I decided to cry my eyes out at an early showing of If I Stay.



Any money saved by going to that early show was quickly spent on eating my feelings afterward, and buying a feel-good book to counter all the sad.

That's good, by the way. In case you were wondering.

If I Stay is the film based on Gayle Forman's book of the same name. Earlier this summer I reviewed If I Stay, and it's companion, Where She Went.

If I Stay is the story of a Mia, a seventeen year old girl whose family was in a terrible car accident. She is in a coma, yet can still observe the world around her, including learning what has happened to her parents and baby brother. Should she fight to stay alive?

Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet.... I cried through the whole film.

Why?

Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching. Plus, Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia was stunning -- the perfect portrayal of not just Mia, but of a teenage girl, with insecurities and faults, strengths and passion. She made Mia so real that my heart broke, yet again, as I saw Mia realizing what she had lost and trying to decide if what she had left was enough.

As in the book, If I Stay introduces us to Mia, a teenager who is fairly typical. She has a good family and friends and a boyfriend. She loves them; they love her. That's big. That's huge. And it's a huge thing played out against a life that is not much different from the viewers. That Mia is "just another teen" is the strength of this movie. Oh, yes, she's also a cellist who wants to go to Julliard, and I'm not diminishing her talent or her dream but really -- she's not a superstar. She's not performing in front of crowds from the time she's five.

Even in Mia's music, which yes, matters to her -- it's hers, and it's something she loves and is passionate about, but it's also something that she's not sure of. Is she good enough? It's a question any teen asks themselves, as they try to decide what to do with their life. It's a bit heightened in that Mia's father is in a band, and she's grown up around music and musicians (even if it's not her type of music), so she's well aware -- even if its never outright stated -- that a person can love something and it not mean they are the best at it.

One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but it's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.

The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED.

There were a couple changes that I thought made the movie stronger. Slight spoilers, here --

In both, Adam and Mia's other friends at first cannot visit her because of hospital rules limiting visitors to immediate family. So, of course, they decide a distraction is needed -- and it's changed in the movie. Personally, the book-one was one that I had eye-rolled at but that's because I found it too over the top for my tastes; and I think the movie-one makes much more sense and is more "real."

My only slight problem with the movie -- and this I think is editing -- also has to do with the visitor rule. (Spoilers, again.) While the viewer can infer that a family friend who works at the hospital stepped in to allow visitors despite the rule, it's not explicitly said, and I can see some viewers thinking "wait, look at all those visitors now? why?" (And if it was explicit and I didn't hear that line in my crying, let me know and I'll remove this paragraph.)

One last personal observation: the book was fresh in my mind. So I cannot write to the experience of someone who has no knowledge of the book -- whether, to them, the movie worked as well as it did for me.

So overall: thumbs up!

Now, on to quibble about other people's reviews. In part because for both of them, I wondered how much it was about teen girls, and films for teen girls, than this particular film.

While The New York Times review is overall good, why the hell does any review of If I Stay need to include a The Fault In Our Stars reference? Maybe I'm being a bit sensitive, but it seems like many other films, for other genres and audiences beyond teen girls, get reviewed without including references to other films for the same audience.

Also calling Adam a bad boy...where in the film does it say he is? Adam is only a "bad boy" for a viewer who assumes, from the start, that any teenage boy in a band is "bad." Which just leaves me annoyed, because "bad" is about actions, not about liking to play punk / rock music; wearing leather; and having a less-than-perfect family. Also, why not just praise Moretz as a good actor? Saying she's good at this role because it somehow reflects something in her own diminishes Moretz's accomplishments, even if its meant as a compliment. It's called ACTING.

I'm also less than a fan of the School Library Journal review, but that's more because I disagree that Moretz's performance made Mia into a girl who was "taciturn and a bit sullen." (Yes, Mia is shown to be a private and quiet, but especially combining taciturn with "sullen" leads me to think this isn't using the tern taciturn in a positive way.) That and other ways the review talks about Mia makes me think "ok, so Moretz is playing a typical teen...and that's somehow not good?" I also have to rewatch the film because I thought the point of their car trip was visiting friends and family, not snowboarding, but I may have missed that reference. And I think paring down Mia's circle of family and friends is necessary for a film; too many people can be too hard to keep track of. But that's just me.











Movie poster from Gayle Forman's Tumblr.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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3. Review: Feral

Feral by Holly Schindler. Harper Collins. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Two girls: one dead, one left for dead.

Serena is the dead girl, but it's her story that starts the book.

Claire is alive, having survived a brutal attack months before. She's the new girl in town, arriving at the same time Serena's body is found.

Claire finds herself drawn into the mystery of Serena's death: was it an accident? Or was it murder?

The Good:  The cats. Oh dear lord, the feral cats.

I thought I was going to say that the scariest scene was Claire's attack. A confident teen, walking home alone in the dark, chased and surrounded and beaten and left for dead.

But then I think of the feral cats, the ones that went after Serena's dead body and that scene, and the later scenes were the cats seem to come after Claire, and I think, no, that's the scariest scene.

This is a mystery, yes, about what happened to Serena. The reader, from the start, knows what has happened: "The body belonged -- or really, the body had once belonged -- to Serena Sims, a B average junior who loved her best friend, the sound of the rain, writing for the school paper, and her mother's chocolate mayonnaise cake with homemade icing, a family specialty. . . . Seventeen and dead: it was the worst kind of vulnerable." Serena is dead, but she is somehow still present, still feeling everything. And sharing all that, every bump and thump as her killer drags her body and dumps it. And then the cats come.

But there is only so much that Serena shares with the reader.

Then there is Claire: still recovering, physically and psychologically, from her attack months before. She is drawn to Serena's death for many reasons, one of which is that everyone else seems to believe that Serena's death is accidental. It turns out that Claire's new house was one that Serena lived in years ago; the first teens she meets are friends of Serena's; the local feral cat is the cat Serena fed.

As the story progresses, as Claire chases down the truth, Serena's ghost -- if that's what she is -- grows unhappier and unhappier with her own death, and more dangerous.

One more thing: the setting is fabulous. The town, Peculiar, Missouri,

How all this comes together was something I didn't expect, and made me go back and reread the first few chapters to see what clues were there. Part of me doesn't want to give away what that is, but part of me wants to give it away so you can understand when I say: Brilliant. You had me, you convinced me, and when I realized the truth of what was happening -- yes. That's true and real. Well, maybe not real, because at the end? I'm not sure what was real or not, what was Claire's fears, what was a haunting. But I do know this:

Damn, those feral cats are scary.


Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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4. Dolls or Action Figures? Hints or Hacks? Inspiration or FanFic?

One of the things that interests me is the way that language and words get gendered, and how that influences how we talk about things, what gets celebrated and respected, and what is "cool." And how often that if it's something that is coded masculine it's cooler, de facto, and somehow better than when it's feminine.

The two obvious examples are that girls play with dolls, boys with action figures. And when movie tie ins are created, the female characters are sorely lacking in the action figure area because, well, action figures are for boys and that's where the money is. Don't believe me? Look at what is being sold for Guardians of the Galaxy, and what those toys are called, and what is available. Even T-shirts are "boy" or "girl."

Or "life hacks." Disclosure: hate the term. As has been pointed out by many others, it's basically Hints from Heloise with a cool computer (i.e., male) word added to it so now suddenly such hints are not relegated to home ec classes (if they even still exist) or "ladies" magazines, but are now cool trending pieces online.

So all this was on my mind when I read Lev Grossman's op ed for The New York Times about writing fantasy. It's a good piece -- Finding My Voice In Fantasy.

And what I'm about to say has nothing to do with Grossman, his books, The New York Times. 

Here are the paragraphs that made me sit up and go "huh":

"It began almost as a thought experiment: I wanted to write a story like “Harry Potter,” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or “The Golden Compass,” a story about someone who discovers power he didn’t know he had, and who finds his way into a secret world. But as much as I loved Harry, and felt deeply connected to him, I was also painfully conscious of how different my life was from his. I was in my 30s and dealing with different problems from Harry’s. I wondered if there was a way to make my magician’s life look more like my own.

"So I made my magician older. I made him American — he doesn’t talk in the crisp, correct manner of English fantasy heroes. I gave him a drinking habit, a mood disorder, a sex life. I wasn’t going to give my magician a Dumbledore or a Gandalf. There would be no avuncular advisor to show him where the path was. I wanted my magician to feel as lost as I did."

I half joked to myself, "ha, sounds like alternate universe fanfiction to me."

And I stopped laughing.

Note: I'm not saying what Grossman did is or is not fanfiction. But as a reader of fanfiction, let me say -- you get into reading alternate universe works, and those AU stories get so far from the original source material that it's barely fanfiction anymore.

And I began to wonder at the mostly women who've written and published many "a story like" and been criticized because the source material was Twilight or the inspiration was One Direction. And how, because those women didn't have a background in publishing or knowledge of how it works from their life or educational experiences, their starting place is not an agent, and their explanation of origins was not "thought experiment" or "a story like," but rather the online community of lovers of the source material/inspiration -- fandom. So fanfiction. And so they are haunted by that past, and no amount of "thought experiment" or "story like" forgives them; instead they are told that it's "not original." (Of course, some of the most well known examples of this are writers laughing all the way to the bank. But still.)

And I think of how the "baggage" of being a fanfic writer can follow the writer (often female) into present works, with those writers getting a heavier dose of criticism / suspicion of originality. I saw a throwaway joke in a story get attacked as not being original, and the p-word mentioned, because the writer (female) has fanfic origins, and the joke was one that was so old that variations of it were probably around before Guttenberg. But because she was known to be in fandom, and a similar joke had been made in that source material, it was suspect.

And so I'm wondering.... it this an example of male writers being allowed to be "inspired" by other works when creating stories, where women are sighed at for not being "original"?

Or is this more to do with privilege -- that those who, whether because of family, education, geography, or profession, "know better" about how it all works so can set up their writing career in a way that avoids the fanfic stigma?









Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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5. Reunion - Saint John Vianney High School Class of 1984

So, this past weekend I went to my 30th High School Reunion.

I KNOW.

Also, Hallmark and Lifetime Channels lied -- no grand romances begun, and no murders.

Here are some photos:


Included in that are both my high school graduation photo, as well as photo of me from fifth grade.

I KNOW.

It was fun seeing old friends again. Especially since the last time I saw many of them was at graduation from high school.

I am now at an intense level of nostalgia -- right now I'm listening to songs from the 70s. Which is before I graduated high school, yes, but was the soundtrack to my life for my first fourteen years.




Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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6. Review: Amity

Amity by Micol OstowEgmont USA. Reviewed from ARC; publication date August 2014. My Teaser from April.

The Plot: Two families, years apart, move into the same house.

A house called Amity. A house in the middle of nowhere. A house with secrets, dark and deadly.

The Good: Amity is about a haunted house; a house that is both haunted and that haunts its unfortunate inhabitants. It is told by two seventeen year olds, Connor and Gwen. Both have just moved into a new house. It is the same house, ten years apart. And both see what those around them cannot, or will not: that there is something terribly wrong with the house. Something supernaturally wrong.

As I said in the teaser, this scared the hell out of me. The title, Amity, refers to another story about a haunted house, The Amityville Horror. I read that original book at age thirteen, believing every word. Specific details have changed: the location of the house. The time period. The families. You don't have to read that book to "get" this one. That one book lead to several movies, several versions of the story, but all about a haunted house.

"Here is a house of ruin and rage, of death and deliverance, seated atop countless nameless unspoken souls." Connor's story is the earlier story, when he and his siblings move into the empty house. Connor's family is one that looks so pretty on the outside (mom, dad, twins, little boy), much like the house they move into: "Probably from the outside it looked like we were doing better than we really were. That was Dad's thing -- make sure we looked like we were doing better, doing well." What scared me about Connor's story was not so much his realizations that something was wrong with his house, but that he welcomed that darkness -- that Connor came to Amity with something already missing from his soul.

The present-day Gwen has a different set of problems than Connor, but part of those problems means that when she begins to see that something is wrong at Amity, people don't believe her. For Connor, the reader wonders how far he'll go; for Gwen, it's wondering whether she'll be able to stop history from repeating itself. And if she can, what will the cost be?

I love how the stories went back and forth between Connor and Gwen. I loved the various references to the original story. I loved how isolated and strange Amity was, further isolating Connor and Gwen's families. And I loved as both madness and haunting settled into both timeframes, those times began to merge.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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7. Review: Ketchup Clouds

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Little Brown. 2013. Reviewed from ARC. (Note: the paperback is coming out in Fall 2014, and will be renamed Yours Truly; the book will also have a new tagline, see the second image.)

The Plot: Zoe is writing letters, letters to America, to a man on death row.

She is writing him, because "I know what it's like. Mine wasn't a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him three months ago exactly."

No one knows. So Zoe is at home, going through the motions of her life, being the daughter her parents expect, the older sister her younger sisters expect, the person her friends expect.

But it's eating at her, what she did, what she didn't do, what happened three months ago. She has to tell someone.

So Zoe picked someone like her. Someone who knows what it likes to have killed someone. Someone who is being punished.

The Good: I have to admit, the "writing letters to a convicted killer in prison" was not the pitch that won me over.

What won me over was hearing it was the winner of the 2014 Edgar Award. I love a mystery!

What made me fall in love with this book was the sympathetic, tragic, and realistic triangle between Zoe and two brothers. It's the type of thing that on paper, that intellectually, you can say doesn't make sense; shouldn't happen. But Ketchup Clouds takes us, slowly, through Zoe's life, through the year, and it breaks my heart. Because it not only makes sense -- at each point, I nodded, agreeing fully with Zoe's emotions and choices.

Max Morgan is popular and handsome and cool, and Zoe is smart enough and self aware enough to know that the attraction is partly being flattered, partly lust. There's a hot boy who likes her, and she likes him back. "He actually sounded nervous. Max Morgan. Nervous because of me."

What Zoe doesn't know is that the handsome mysterious boy she has been flirting with is Max's older brother, Aaron. Aaron is just an boy she's seen and been attracted to at a party, and really, that moment of flirting isn't reason to not kiss Max. When she doesn't know Max is Aaron's brother. And of course, by the time she knows, it's too late. She's kissed Max, she's enjoying whatever it is she has with Aaron, she doesn't know what to do, she doesn't even know if Aaron likes her back

And it's Zoe's first boyfriend, her first relationship. And I just loved it, even forgetting every now and then that it would end in death.

I also liked Zoe's family: Zoe's mother is overprotective, meaning she's not someone Zoe can confide in. Zoe's family was so fully and lovingly drawn, and complete, with it's own story. As Zoe lives with her secret, the two brothers and what happens, she learns about some family secrets and gains a better understanding of her parents' lives and choices. And how you can live, eventually, with the things you think would break you.

There was such a sense of sadness, and living with grief, that I'd hand this to anyone looking for If I Stay readalikes.

Cover change: I love that they kept the design. As for the title, Ketchup Clouds is one of those titles that makes perfect sense after having read the book, but I think Yours Truly with the line "some girls get away with murder," better sells the book to readers.


Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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8. Review: United We Spy

United We Spy by Ally Carter. Final book in The Gallagher Girls series (and oh, how it pains me to say that.) Disney Hyperion. 2013. Personal copy.

Previously, in The Gallagher Girls:

In I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You, Cammie Morgan had to balance boyfriend and school. Not too simple when you're at the local snooty private boarding school and he's a townie; when your mom is the headmistress; and, oh, yes, when the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is actually a school for super spies.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy introduced a new layer to Cammie’s world: boy spies from the Blackthorne Institute including a maddening, heart pounding, annoying, (and so cute!) Zach. Cammie and friends prevent a kidnapping in Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover.

More secrets about the Gallagher Academy, Blackthorne, spies, family and friends are uncovered in Only the Good Spy Young. Cammie believes she has to figure out what's happening on her own, and has to deal with that aftermath, in Out of Sight, Out of Time.

The Plot: United We Spy is Cammie's final year in school, and the final book in the series.

The Good: The previous book, Out of Sight, Out of Time, was intense. Cammie was recovering from amnesia following a kidnapping, as well as dealing with the aftermath of having run away.

Long story short: the entire series has been about Cammie and her friends uncovering and fighting the mysterious and old secret society, the Circle of Cavan. All that comes to a head in the final book. Cammie also has to figure out what graduation will mean, for her -- what will her next step be? Will she remain in the world of intrigue and spies, and what exactly does that mean?

This series is best read in order, because it builds on previous books in terms of plot and character development. And while I'm sad to see the series end, because I love these young women, I love this world, I love Ally Carter's writing, I know that there are a good number of readers who like their series complete. (The cool new term for this, from what I understand, is "binge reading," like binge TV watching, where you can power through the whole thing at one go.)

I refuse to give away any more details -- you need to read and discover that by yourself.

Just know this: I have invested my own money and shelf space in making sure I own each book, in hardcover.

And now, some United We Spy quotes -- because I just love the writing.

"Cambridge is nice. It could use some better locks, though." Said as Cammie & friends are breaking in. For reasons.

"The first rule of running, Sir Walter," I told him. "Never go anyplace familiar." I remain half-convinced that reading these books (as well as watching The Americans) means that I, too, could be a successful spy.

"The jump didn't kill us. At least, my first thought was that we hadn't died. But I didn't let myself get too cocky about the situation. After all, we might have been off the mountain, but we were anything but out of the woods."

"Spies aren't like normal people. No one expects us to have houses and mortgages, tire swings and barbecues on the Fourth of July. But every spy is somebody's child."

"Women of the Gallagher Academy, who comes here?" "We are the sisters of Gillian."

Other books in the series, in order:
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (2006) My review
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (2007)
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (2009) My review
Only the Good Spy Young (2010) My review
Out of Sight, Out of Time (2012) My review

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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9. Over at SLJ: The Story Behind Addison Stone

Adele Griffin's newest book is The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone (Soho Press, 2014).

I had the privilege of interviewing Griffin, and writing up a little something about the book and how it was created, for School Library Journal.

You can go read my article at The Story Behind Adele Griffin's Hybrid Novel, 'The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone'.

I promise to write up more of my thoughts on Addison Stone here -- the short version? Loved it. This is the type of creative, inventive story telling I love, and Addison herself is a fascinating young women. Love her or hate her, you'll remember her.





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10. Review: Where She Went

Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Dutton Books, 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Sequel to If I Stay.

So, um, spoilers for If I Stay.

Three years ago, Adam's girlfriend, Mia, was in a terrible accident.

And now? It's been years since they've seen each other. Mia left for college, and moved on with her life. Adam eventually did the same. Now, they are both successes, he a rock star with an actress girlfriend while Mia is a rising cellist. They haven't spoken to each other in years.

And then they meet. Almost strangers.

The Good: If I Stay was told from Mia's point of view, in a place between life and death, as she struggled with the question of whether or not to stay with the living, despite the tremendous loss of her family in a car accident.

I loved If I Stay: I cried, cried about how perfect and flawed Mia's family was, cried at the decision she had to make, cried at her choice to go on, alone. I picked up Where She Went expecting it to pick up Mia's story and to find out about what happened when she woke up.

Where She Went was not what I thought it would be, but instead was what I needed it to be.

It is Adam's story, after three years have passed. To my shock, Adam and Mia have broken up. And as I read and found out more, it clicked, what Where She Went was about:

Grief. And living with loss. And rebuilding. And those things, those are terrible, horrible, the world has ended moments. Just because Mia chose to go on, didn't mean that she woke up and was the same person. It didn't mean that it was somehow easy to know how to navigate having no mother, no father, no brother. And just because Adam and Mia were everything to each other, it didn't mean that they were, at that moment, the best thing for each other.

So Mia walked away from Adam, because her grief and loss were hers. And if I had to place a bet onto why this is three years later, and why it's not by Mia, my bet would be that what Mia went through was too raw and awful and confusing. Where She Went is a punch in the stomach, and had it not been told when and how it was, it would have been even more overwhelming. Instead of being hard to read, it would have been impossible to read.

With Where She Went being Adam's story, the reader can also see and experience and appreciate Adam's own loss. No, it's not the same as Mia's, but it is a loss. He loved her family, he loved Mia, and then he was left without that and without knowing who he was without her.

Sometimes people are meant to be together, but that does not mean they are meant to be together always. Or forever. And I'm glad that not only does Where She Went explore that, but it also gives two people a second chance. They needed to be apart. But can they come together, again?

In many ways, I liked this book better than If I Stay. So, yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2014.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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11. TV Review: The Musketeers

BBC America's The Musketeers. Sundays, 9 pm.

Such pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty boys.



I cannot understate just how pretty these men are. For those of you who don't care about watching four very attractive men dressed in leather, don't worry, there's more!

There is BANTER. Delicious one liners. And ACTION. Because, you know, swords.

And there is just the right updating. Oh, the series is set in Paris in 1630 and the basic characters from the book are the same -- D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Artemis; Milady; Cardinal Richelieu; Constance. Confession, I haven't read the book (I know! Tried once and it didn't take), but I adore the 1973 film so, so much. So, between that and wikipedia I know the basics of the source material.

What The Musketeers has done is updated certain aspects for modern viewers (and I don't just mean the leather.) Yes, Athos's tortured backstory is all about Milady, but some of specifics of her crimes and how he discovered it have changed. (Her husband never saw a brand on her? How did that work, exactly?) D'Artagnan meeting the Musketeers has been altered. Porthos's mother was a freed slave, a bit of a nod to Alexander Dumas's own heritage. (Yes, Europe wasn't all white in the seventeenth century).

But my favorite part so far is what The Musketeers have done about the central female characters. Now, so far, they haven't really interacted with each other so I'm not getting into the Bechdel test here. Rather, on their own Milady, Constance, and Queen Anne are fully created characters, independent of the men in their lives. They exist for reasons other than being supporting characters in the Musketeers lives.

Milady is still a villain, deliciously so, and is often the smartest person in the room, but her path towards being this is still unclear. She is probably closest to the original Milady, in that Milady was always the scheming bad guy. What I hope to see more of, thought, is her backstory of who she was before and after her marriage to Athos. While I don't want or expect redemption on the level of Regina from Once Upon a Time, I still hope for more than "oh, evil woman."

Constance, though -- Constance! My memory from the film is that Constance is primarily the love object of D'Artagnan, and is more of a prop in the lives of the Musketeers. The BBC version delightfully makes Constance her own person, with her own desires and wants. She's also given funny lines, and isn't just the foil for the Musketeers. She and D'Artagnan don't have insta-love based on mutual good looks, but instead a developing affection.

And Queen Anne! What that actress can do with a look. It's clear that she sees her husband as immature and spoiled, but heis still the King, and so she has to put up with him and do her best. I'm only four episodes in and often I think there's a permanent thought bubbly over her head going "I should have been king. Really, Louis?" And man, those looks she gives him.

And if The Musketeers follow the book in terms of what happens to Constance, I will be PISSED beyond the telling.

What else? Did I mention banter, action, and some pretty, pretty men?





All images from BBC America.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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12. Review: Second Star

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2014. Review copy from publishers.

The Plot: Six months ago, Wendy's younger brothers disappeared. Everyone is convinced they are dead. Not Wendy. She doesn't care what the police, her parents, or her best friends think.

John and Michael loved surfing; and when Wendy meets Pete, a surfer, her instinct tells her following Pete may lead her to her missing brothers. She'll do whatever it takes to find John and Michael, including leaving home to join Pete and his band of carefree surfers.

The Good: Of course it's a retelling of Peter Pan!

I love the story of Peter Pan and what it has to say about embracing and rejecting adulthood and growing up. Sheinmel doesn't shy away from her source material: Wendy Darling is looking for her missing brothers. She has a dog named Nana. Pete's name, is, well -- Pete. Pete's girlfriend is Belle. And Pete's nemesis is Jas.

Surfing is the stand in for flying away to Neverland. Michael and John, like Pete and his friends, believe that the only thing that matters is the next wave. Wendy, the good daughter and good student -- she's on her way to Stanford after graduation -- didn't share her brothers' obsession and passion. In trying to find out what happened to her brothers, she enters their world -- and Pete's world.

Jas is the local drug dealer, dealing in "fairy dust", and Wendy's journey, her following in her brothers' path, brings her into Jas's world. Pete and Jas used to be friends, but the friendship ended when Jas started selling drugs.

As I said, I love the story of Peter Pan. I adore the 2003 film. I also love what Once Upon a Time did with their Peter Pan retelling: making Peter the villain, full stop. For the most part, thought, I've stayed away from sequels and retellings because of some of the elements of the original story, particularly Tiger Lily. Sheinmel's version avoids those problems by using Peter Pan as an inspiration, not a blueprint, and omits those parts of the story.

The essential part of the story is about growing up, yes -- and Second Star explores what it means to grow up, to embrace adulthood. Pete and Jas and the others have decided that there is only one particular way of moving forward, and that is to build their world around surfing. For Pete, that's living in abandoned homes and stealing to eat; for Jas, it's dealing drugs to buy surfboards and get money to travel.

Wendy is in search of her missing brothers, but she's also in search of herself. There is the pathway she has always been on, the one leading to Stanford. She jumps into Pete's world, into the world of her brothers -- and finds she loves surfing. Later, she finds herself with Jas, and finds herself falling for him, as she fell for Pete, and is confused by her emotions and desires. She's seeing two different pathways for her future, and has to figure out what is right for her, not her parents, not her brothers, not Pete and Jas. Those struggles are complicated, of course, and not simple -- and it's not as simple as "be a boring grown up" or "be self indulgent."

What else? There is a lot about surfing in this book. It's not just a device; it's a critical part of the story. I love that the "pirates" are drug dealers. Addiction and mental health issues are also touched on, especially as it becomes unclear how much of Wendy's search is real and how much is wish fulfillment.

Other reviews: Book Swoon; Beauty and the Bookshelf.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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13. KidLitCon 2014

KidLitCon 2014!

It's time for KidLitCon! Believe it or not, it's the 8th. Yes, the 8th!



It will be held in Sacramento on October 10th and October 11th. I'm afraid that this year, I will be missing it, but I wanted to remind you all that it was happening and what you need to know.

More information is at the Kidlitosphere website, at the KidLitCon webpage.

KidLitCon is an independent event, volunteer run and organized. It floats around the country, which changes who, each year, are the volunteers putting it together. That means each KidLitCon is a unique experience. It also makes it that much more excellent that it's been going on for eight years.

What is KidLitCon? From the website: "KidLitCon is a gathering of people who blog about children’s and young adult books, including librarians, authors, teachers, parents, booksellers, publishers, and readers. Attendees share a love of children’s books, as well as a determination to get the right books into young readers’ hands. People attend KidLitCon to talk about issues like the publisher/blogger relationship, the benefits and pitfalls of writing critical reviews, and overcoming blogger burnout. People also attend KidLitCon for the chance to spend time face to face with kindred spirits, other adults who care passionately for children’s and YA literature."

What I love about KidLitCon is it's about the bloggers. Full stop. That is the primary purpose and mission of KidLitCon. It's about what the bloggers care about. Oh, there may be authors and publishers there, presenting, and that can be great and amazing. But it's not about them. They are there to support the blogging community: they are not there saying, what can the blogging community do for us.

This year’s theme for KidLitCon is: Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?

Here is the link to Registration. It includes the tentative schedule, registration costs, what is and isn't included in costs, information about lodging. When you look at the price, remember: this is about volunteers. It all goes into making the con happen. The deadline for registration is September 19.

The link to the form to submit a proposal to present is also at the Registration page. That deadline is August 1. At this point, there are no discounts offered to people presenting.

One of the reasons that the KidLitCon floats around the country is that gives more people the opportunity to attend, present, and network.

Two of the reasons I love attending KidLitCon are presenting and networking.

KidLitCon offers a great opportunity for people to present. Have an idea? Submit it. You're the expert. You know your stuff. You just haven't had the time or money to travel to BEA or ALA or NCTE -- but because of KidLitCon now being closer to you, here's your chance. And honestly, KidLitCon needs you to make it wonderful.

KidLitCon is also the time to put faces to the people you've always known. My best memories of KidLitCon is getting to meet people in real life, and have conversations, and hang out talking and talking and talking. It deepens friendships and relationships. As great as the Internet is, allowing us to have a common space online to talk and connect, it's so terrific to be able to meet in person.

And sigh as I'm typing this I so wish I could go!!

Other posts about KidLitCon:

Tanita Davis talks about KidLitCon, and this year's them of Diversity, at what it means when we talk about Diversity

At Nerdy Book Club, Jen Robinson talks about why she loves attending KidLitCon










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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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14. Review: If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Dutton, a member of Penguin 2009; SPEAK, imprint of Penguin 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Mia is in a coma.

There was a car accident.

She can see what is happening around her, but she cannot interact. She is not dead but she is not alive.

Her family is dead.

It's all her choice, whether to stay with the living. But what will her life be like, if her family is gone?

The Good: Confession: I did not read this when it first came out, in 2009. I skipped to the end of the book to find out her choice, then read other things.

Then I saw the trailer. And Chloe Grace Moretz's performance as Mia. And just from the trailer, I cried more than I cried in The Fault in Our Stars. Even though I have a pretty firm rule to not read books before movies, I broke the rule. In part because the trailer already seduced me into wanting to see the film version, and in part because even though that "read the end" moment had told me the ending, I wanted to know more about Mia and how how she got to that moment.

Looking for a book to make you cry buckets? Then this is the book for you. Yes, from the start you know there's been a car accident and her family is dead. You'd think that would mean, no tears because you already know the worst. So, why cry? Because If I Stay proceeds to flashback to Mia's family and OHMYGOD I love her parents. I want them to be MY parents. Mia is a teen who had a great, supportive family. Page after page just shows you the depth of what she has lost.

Page after page of If I Stay is also showing the depth of what Mia has to keep going: her best friend, her boyfriend, her music, her other family members. Her boyfriend! Adam, like Mia, is a musician, but entirely different music so that music isn't necessarily something they share. What they do share is respect and love and fun, and wow, Adam. I just loved him.

Seriously, Mia before the accident had a great life.

Reinvention and starting over is often the subject of novels, and there is something curiously appealing about suddenly having a clean slate. Typically, though, this is a fairly positive process in that it's a character's choice and what they are leaving is a place and people that they can return to. Vacations, holidays, changes in mind, all that means that what is left isn't really gone.

Mia is faced with a choice: does go back to a world where her life and the people in it will always be "behind" her? She was worried about the impact and changes leaving for college was going to be, and suddenly she has to face a life where those she thought she was leaving have left her.

Mia's going to be facing a life where no one shares her childhood memories. Or family jokes. Without the love and support of her parents.

Is that a life she wants? Is what she has left enough reason to stay?

I LOVED this book. Love, love, love. Who cares if its a 2009 title? It's a Favorite Book Read in 2014. Also -- I can't wait for the movie.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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15. TV Review: MTV's Finding Carter

New teen show alert! MTV's Finding Carter! MTV, Tuesday, 10 p.m.

Carter is out one day, having fun with her friends, as one will. Which includes breaking into a carousel, as one will. The police come and bring everyone to jail. Carter is the cool one, shrugging it off as no big deal. Except, when her friends are released into their parents' custody, her mother is no where to be seen.

Instead, Carter is taken aside by the police and it's patiently explained to her how her photo and fingerprints were entered into the system. Carter isn't fazed, since she has no priors.

What the police tell her does faze her: her parents, her mother and father, are on their way.

Her real parents.

Over a decade earlier, three year old Linden Wilson was kidnapped.

Carter is Linden.

Carter's going home, to people she doesn't remember.


Finding Carter is about teenage Carter, adjusting to this new knowledge and new family. The added complication? In Carter's view, she had a pretty great life, including a wonderful mother. The opening scene between mother and daughter was very Gilmore Girls, in how the two interacted. So now? Now, she views the Wilsons as people who have removed her from the life she loved.

So far, it's just been a handful of episodes. Carter, and Finding Carter, is very much a young adult novel, with Carter and her wants and needs at the focus. I love Carter: she's fun and confident and self-assured. I also am frustrated with her: she has absolutely no sympathy for the loss that the Wilsons suffered and sees this entire thing only through her own point of view. I both admire that the show is willing to be so dedicated to Carter's truth, while wanting to throw things because would it really hurt Carter that much to realize that this family lost a child?

And, well, the answer to that question is yes. I can see that yes, it would hurt Carter -- it would destroy Carter -- to acknowledge that the woman she adores and calls "mom" could have done something so terrible to someone else. So, instead, Carter is focused on one narrative, her narrative, where she has been kidnapped -- but from the mother she knows and loves.

Part of Carter's intense rejection of her mother's crime is to focus her anger on her birth mother. Again, while this pisses me off tremendously I love how real and true it is. The other members of her blood family are people who didn't have counterparts in her life, so she can let them in and let herself like them: father, sister, brother, grandparents. Mother, thought? That role is taken, so Carter pushes back. Sometimes brutally. I am really, really looking forward to Carter both coming to terms with her "mom's" actions and letting her blood mother in -- even if it takes a season or two.

Carter, Carter, Carter. Because Carter insists her name is Carter, and they all must call her that, not Linden.

The Wilsons have been scarred by the loss of their daughter. Linden's twin sister, Taylor, is a "good" girl but it's also clear that it's a reaction to not just her over protective parents but also her fears. She knows the worst that can happen. It did, to her family. Then there is Grant, a sibling born after Taylor's disappearance. The father wrote a book about Linden's disappearance -- and, unknown to anyone, is writing a sequel about finding Linden. Right now, Carter sees her father as the "good" parent -- a role he embraces -- and I can't wait to see her find out about this betrayal.

Which brings us to poor Mom. Who may be one of my favorite characters, probably because Carter dislikes her so much. Her main crimes: she's not Carter's "real" mother. She's a police officer. And she's not "real" in the way Carter insists a person should be "real": she doesn't show her emotions in the way Carter thinks "real" people do.

Yes, I do want to rant at Carter for judging this poor woman who lost a child. I want to rant at how Carter has such a narrow view on what a good, real person is, and realizing there are many ways of loving. That being a mother is not about baking cookies and someone has to pay the bills. And I want to rant at Carter, about how can she judge a woman so critically when that woman was shaped by the loss of her three year old? A kidnapping that Carter so easily forgives?

One last thing about Carter: she is the "cool" girl. She has the eyeliner and black clothes, the friend with benefits, the casual drug use and drinking and that breaking into the carousel thing. But the thing is? It's also clear that she's a good person. She's not a "bad" girl, just the cool girl. And I really, really wonder about her relationship with her "mom." Some of Carter's actions with the Wilsons are clearly oppositional, done to piss them off and establish her own identity. So, then, what about her "mom"? Is it that she had a "cool" mom who also did this stuff? Will we at some point see something other than Carter's loving memories?

And yet. And yet. Carter is still a teen. A teen who has lost her mother, her home, her life, even her identity. She has some pretty good reasons to be bratty and self-centered and self-destructive.

So, yes, I'm loving this show and am frustrated and can't wait to see where they are going to be go with this.

Anyone else watching?


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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16. Flashback June 2012

A look back at what I reviewed in June 2012



The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos. From my review: "Houston, 1968. Two stories are intertwined; the story of a white family and a black family. Jack Long is the race reporter for the evening news. Larry Thompson is a local activist and college professor. They reach out and develop a friendship, based in part because both realize that “men of conscience have got to get together . . . , or nothing is going to change."

Gilt by Katherine Longshore. From my review: "England, 1539. Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard are two teenage girls, living at the home of Cat’s grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess may be rich and powerful, but she is also old and absorbed in her own affairs. Kitty, Cat, and the other girls who live crowded together in the maiden’s chamber are there because they have no where else to go. No one is really interested in them. . . . . Young, pretty, bored. Dreaming of life at court, with dances and pretty clothes and handsome men. In the meanwhile, making their own fun, in ways not quite proper. Late night festivities that include dancing and drinking and boys. Kitty, abandoned by her family, values Cat and her friendship more than anything, because it’s the only thing Kitty has. She’ll do anything for Cat, follow her anywhere, help her with anything. All of Cat’s dreams come true when she captures the eye of the King, and she brings her friends along for the good fortune. Dreams sometimes turn to nightmares; how far will Kitty go to help her friend?"

My Sister's Stalker by Nancy Springer.From my review: "When sixteen-year-old Rig’s parent’s divorced, he went to live with his mother while his sister, Karma, stayed with their father. The two haven’t really kept in touch in the four years since, especially since she left for college. One day, Rig, missing her, searches the Internet for her rather distinct name. What he finds chills him: a website by someone obsessed with his sister. Photographs that could only be taken by someone watching his sister. Will Rig be able to convince his parents that his sister is in danger? Will he be able to save his sister?"

New Girl by Paige Harbison. From my review: "A re-imagining of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When a space opens up in the prestigious Manderley Academy, the “new girl” from Florida finds herself in a complex situation. The reason for the opening? The disappearance of Rebecca Normandy the previous spring. Becca had herself been the “new girl” the year before; despite being at school just one year, Becca made an impact and impression on all she met: her grieving roommate, Dana, who resents being given a new roommate; Max Holloway, Becca’s boyfriend; Johnny, Max’s former best friend."

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin LaFevers. From my review: "You know, “nun assassins” is enough, isn’t it? (Or is it assassin nuns?)"

Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel by Candace Bushnell. From my review: "Seventeen year old Carrie Bradshaw is in New York City for a summer writing program. She’s just been mugged and has called the only number she has, a cousin of a semi-friend. Carrie goes with Samantha Jones to a party, and thus begins Carrie’s introduction to New York City in the 1980s."


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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17. Review: And We Stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: January, 1995, and Emily Beam has just started at the Amherst School for Girls to finish her junior year. Before this she went to her local high school, and she isn't going to talk about why she is now in this boarding school in Massachusetts.

It was because of a boy. Not just any boy, her boyfriend. And the gun he took to school. And what happened. And why.

The Good: "Before Boston, before ASG, Emily had wanted nothing more than to be loved by a boy. When she was fourteen, sixteen, she had watched girls on the cheerleading squad sprout wings with each boyfriend. They became more beautiful, the beauty of confidence. For four months, Emily had it, too."

Emily had it with Paul, a senior. Paul, who took his grandmother's gun to school one day and killed himself.

And now Emily is at boarding school.

Why the setting of 1995? Because what happened with Paul, with Emily, at the school is Emily's secret. Or, not so much secret, as thing she cannot talk about. In today's world of social media and easy Internet access, the "why" of Paul would remain hers but the facts of it would be known.

And why Amherst? Because Emily becomes fascinated with another Emily who lived in Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Emily writes poetry, and it's in these poems that she gradually comes to terms with the boy she loved and what happened.

OK, Spoilers. Sorry, but this is one of the times when I want to talk about those secrets and yes.... for an original read of the book, it is best to discover it on your own.

Paul and Emily's relationship is what the Emily at 14, at 16, had wanted. And at first, Paul is what she wants and she loves him. But as time goes by -- and yes, it's only a handful of months but it's still time -- Emily realizes she wants more. When she gets pregnant, she tells him she's getting an abortion. The scene, later in the book, is heart breaking. At first she tells him it's because her parents say she has to, even though they haven't, until she owns that she doesn't want a baby. And she breaks up with him.

Maybe today Paul's reactions, wanting to marry Emily, being against her having an abortion, would be different than in 1995. Or, given some recent news stories, maybe not.

But And We Stay is about Emily living with, and surviving, what happened: Paul, being in love, not being in love, and how quickly it all happened: the break up, his suicide, her abortion. She is sent to boarding school in part so she doesn't have to go back to the whispers and bad memories of her old high school, but also about giving her a blank slate against which to come to terms with what happened. It is only her memories, her emotions, she has to think about.

It's told in the here and now of Emily at ASG, and so it's not just about Emily coming to terms with her past. It's also about her connecting, despite herself, with those around her. It's about finding her voice through her poetry.

My favorite line in the book is practically the last one: "It does not have to define who Emily is, was, or will be." And this is the heart of the book -- deciding what does, or does not, define us.

Other things that I like: Emily's parents. They do their best for her; she is not "sent away" to boarding school but sent to, for herself, not as punishment. That while the story is told in present tense, it still creates a distance between the reader and Emily, reflecting the distance Emily keeps between herself and the world. The friends she meets at ASG. And that there is no new boy or new romance.



Other reviews: Wondrous Reads; Kirkus; Finding Bliss in Books; Stacked.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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18. Echo Company

Great news!

The Echo Company books by Ellen Emerson White are available to buy!

White wrote these books back in the early 1990s, under the name Zach Emerson.



The Echo Company books are set during the Vietnam War, told from the point of view of a young soldier, Michael Jennings. A follow up book, The Road Home, is about a young nurse Michael meets and is about both Rebecca's time in Vietnam and her homecoming. I wrote a pretty in-depth look at these four books, as well as a couple others that refer to the characters in these books, in my 2007 post, Ellen Emerson White: Vietnam.

At the moment they are only available as ebooks from Amazon.

The titles, in order:

Welcome to Vietnam (Echo Company Book 1)

Hill 568 (Echo Company Book 2)

'Tis the Season (Echo Company Book 3)

Stand Down (Echo Company Book 4)

The Road Home (Echo Company)

As I said back in 2007, "It's real. It's death and dying and blood. And Ellen Emerson White doesn't shy away from any of it. And what she has done is take you into the experience; just as Michael (and the reader) has the lull of "ok, this isn't so bad after all, I can make it" BAM. No. It's not OK. It is that bad. This is one of the few war novels I have read that respects the soldiers and their experiences; that doesn't play politics about the issue of war. And is brutally honest about the soldier's experiences."

And about The Road Home, "By exploring the Vietnam War thru the POV of a female, and of a nurse, there is the horrors of war combined with the healing of medicine; the mixed emotions of saving the lives of soldiers, only to have the soldiers go out, risk their lives again, or to kill. And the details, of triage, of deciding who lives and dies, who gets morphine and who doesn't, who dies alone or dies with lies of "it's going to be OK. Rebecca goes from naive and hopeful to scared, afraid, bitter."

Trust me: you will love this series. And since it is historical fiction, you won't have to worry about anything seeming "dated."

If you haven't read any Ellen Emerson White before? Go, read.

And if you have read Ellen Emerson White, what's your favorite book?

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19. Because It's A Day Ending in Y

I wasn't going to weigh in on the latest article about adults reading YA, and saying how terrible it was that grown ups weren't reading the "right" books. Because I've seen this before, and the various ways it's worded. And I don't want to add clicks to something written to get clicks. And many others were already responding and saying what needed to be said.

But, well, so much for that vow.



The article in question: Against YA: Read Whatever You Want. But Adults Should Feel Embarrassed When What You're Reading Was Written For Children at Slate. Responses include A Young Adult Author's Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature's Most Maligned Genre at Nerve.

And Roger Sutton at Read Roger at The Horn Book also weighed in, at Why Do We Even Call It YA Anymore.

Adults reading YA and what that means about adults and the genre is something that has been discussed for years. Years. Just to pick on Roger, he addressed this in 2006 and 2008. (I'm sure there have been other times.) (And I'm linking to my own posts responding to Roger's arguments.) (And it's not just adults reading YA -- it's that adults are the gatekeepers for YA, as writers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, etc.)

Here's what I believe:

Read whatever you want, when you want, how you want. The books one reads does not define who one is; I prefer to judge whether someone is an adult by how they live their lives and treats others than the books they read, music they listen to, clothes they were, TV they watch -- well, you get the picture. So what if someone reads "only" YA? Do we really think that means they aren't living grown up lives, meeting their financial and work and familial responsibilities? That they aren't engaged in their world as an adult? And what is the timeline to judge "only"? One month? Two? Six?

I have to confess: It annoys the hell out of me when I read people saying they won't grow up or become adults. I call bullshit. Being a teenager has its good and it's bad, but to glorify adolescence as a period better than adulthood? Nope. Being an adult may be scary and tough at times, but it's a pretty darn good place to be. But here's the thing: the people I see or hear who truly act or represent this way? Aren't the people reading YA. So, yeah, I don't see the link.

I think there is a very legitimate question to ask about who is buying and reading YA, and how that affects what is being published, and whether adults reading YA is changing the genre. Examples of questions I think are worth considering include whether what adults are buying for themselves means we are seeing less books for that tricky 12 to 14 age group, where some of the kids in class are couples and make up and all of that, and others are still giggling and whispering and thinking kissing scenes in movies are gross. Where some are having great school experiences, and others are living through mini hells.

What I have a problem with are some of the things Roger throws out in his latest blog post, particularly:

"YA literature  is still more thematically and linguistically narrow than people invested in it like to admit. But I would argue that both the narrative variety and thematic thinness of current YA stem from the desires of its adult fans, not from the limitations of being books “for kids.”"

At first glance, not problematic. I can even agree, to a point, because there are certain things that I like to read about that, well, typically aren't in YA. If one wants to say that means it's "narrow", fine -- narrow doesn't have to be negative. It can mean targeted. Now, saying that is "thin" - well, that didn't set off any bells, either, to be honest, because I was thinking, well, I do see some very similar readalikes so maybe that's what it is.

Roger clarified in the comments, though: "But I think everybody would be better off if we viewed YA as a subgenre of popular fiction for women rather than as a genre for teenaged people."

Yes. THAT I found troubling -- because within the context of the entire post, it now reads, to me, as not so much defining the adults reading YA as dismissing them. "Popular fiction for women" tends not to be something said in a positive way.

It was this that led me to tweet, "One could see a cultural narrative that women reading YA ruins it while men writing it saves it."

When asked about this in the comments, Roger confirmed: "I think a large proportion of today’s YA fills a reading niche that used to be filled by chicklit and is read by the same demographic."

Historically, "chicklit" is not something said in a positive way.

Yes, Roger is being provocative and says as much. And yes, Roger is writing based out of an in-depth understanding of children's and teen literature and how it is historically treated.

But, here is what it sounds like to a civilian: Ladies are reading YA and just want less-than-great books and they're ruining everything.








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20. Film Review: The Fault in Our Stars

So, like many of you, I went this weekend to see the film The Fault in Our Stars, based on the book of the same name by John Green.

The plot: teenagers Hazel and Gus meet, fall in love, and go on an adventure. The meet at a support group for teens who have cancer. That both complicates and deepens their relationship.

Warning: there will be spoilers.

I am one of the handful of people who have not read the book. I didn't get it for review, and when it became so popular, I decided it didn't need me -- not the way that other books may.

And, of course -- I don't like books about dying kids. No matter how it's dressed up or done, they're not for me. Oh, as a teen I went through a phase that included titles like A Summer to Die and Beat the Turtle Drum, but now? As an adult?

Books like The Fault in Our Stars are the type of book where I read the end first, so I know who lives and dies. And it's the type of film where I look for the spoilers so I know, beforehand, what happens.

My fourteen year old niece wanted to see The Fault in Our Stars, not because she's read the book, but because so many in her eighth grade have read it and planned on seeing it. So, off we went! For the record: I cried. She didn't.

It's a good movie, with a good cast. I can't speak as to how well it was adapted, having not read the source material. I can say that the film made perfect sense to me. I also feel like my seeing the film opening weekend was a political statement: much as I love watching superhero films, Hollywood needs to be shown, with bodies and money, that other films will bring in money and should be getting made.

Gus and Hazel's friendship and romance is touching and lovely. They share a passion for a book, and travel to Amsterdam to ask the reclusive author about the ending. It's the type of trip that makes one want to go Amsterdam, and stay where they stay, and to go with someone you love.

Yes, this is love story about two teens. I wouldn't call the movie itself a "romance" because under my definition of that term, at the end of the movie the couple is together. Had this movie ended five minutes before it did, my definition would have been met. But, it ends with Gus's cancer returning, and Gus dying.

Of course, I cried. I cried not so much for Gus or Hazel, but because I am reminded of other deaths and other funerals, and other losses. And I picture those real-life people. I cried for the loss of the parents who shouldn't have to bury a son. I cry because I'm being manipulated to cry, but I know and accept that, because that's what fiction does.

Hazel and Gus are smart and funny, and their love, I think, is more than a "typical" teen romance because of the knowledge that, at least for Hazel, who is terminal, this will in all likelihood be her only romance. Teens in love may frequently believe that to be true, but for Hazel and Gus it is true.

The characters that interested me the most, though, were not Hazel and Gus who, for all their smart wordplay are still teens (Gus, in particular, I thought, was a bit too smug and puppy dog) (The plane scene? I'm sorry. Just, no. Was that real or fake?). Instead, the people who intrigued me were adults: the reclusive author, Peter Van Houten, and Hazel's parents.

Van Houten, a cranky, mean drunk, was my favorite character, followed by Hazel's parents who have half-reconciled themselves to the death of their only child. (Half reconciled, because who is wholey reconciled?) Van Houten I loved because he didn't treat the two teens any differently than he'd treat any adult, and isn't that what teens say they want? And he didn't pity Hazel or Gus and didn't change just because two kids with cancer were in the room. I liked him all the more when I realized, at the end, that he was not so much the author who doesn't want to interact with readers -- which, let me tell you, is reason enough because I don't think an author owes their readers anything, not handshake, photo, autograph, or visit -- but that Van Houten represents Hazel's worst fears.

Van Houten is her nightmare about what will happen to her parents after her death: that they will be broken by it and unable to go forward. The death of a child may indeed do that to parents, and The Fault in Our Stars ups that manipulation factor (what will happen to them?) by making Hazel an only child. As much as Hazel says she worries about her parents and what will happen when she is gone, as much as she looks for answers in literature (Van Houten's book is about the death of a child with cancer and Hazel wants to know "what happens next" to the fictitious child's loved ones), when confronted with the reality -- Van Houten's book was about his dead daughter -- she runs. And when she finally confronts her parents about her worst fear, about what will happen to them once she's gone, they reassure her. Are they telling her the truth, or lies to ease her worry?

The truth is, there are more people who go on after the death of loved ones than those who are destroyed by it. And Hazel is aware of that, on some level -- she is the one who stands up in group to say, well, everyone dies eventually and we are all eventually forgotten. What she doesn't say or realize is that death is not new, even if with our first loss it seems something never felt or experienced by any one else. And something that shatters in such a way that there is no tomorrow. But there is, and Hazel learns that for herself, when Gus dies: experiencing a loss she never thought she would, experiencing what she imagines her loved ones will.

Of course, this is an adult watching this film. But that's OK: different people experience things like books and TV and film differently. What I like about the film, The Fault in Our Stars, is that it does work for both teens and adult viewing it. The teens in the back row of the theater probably hated the author and swooned over Gus.

So, what about you? Am I the lone person who likes Van Houten? Do I not give Gus enough credit?



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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21. In Defense of CSLP

CSLP is the Collaborative Summer Library Program.



From their website: "The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) is a consortium of states working together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children, teens, and adults at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries. . . . Participants have access to the same artwork, incentives and publicity, in addition to an extensive manual of programming and promotional ideas. . . . CSLP continues to evolve, but its guiding principle remains the same, librarians sharing ideas, expertise and costs to produce a high-quality summer reading program for children."

From spring to summer, I see or hear some negative comments about the program. (Note: while my state is part of the consortium, I, individually, have not been a state representative or on the board, or on any type of official affiliation.)

The complaints run the gamut, as complaints are wont to do. Their kids/teens don't like the art, the incentives, the programs, etc. etc.

So, in defense of CSLP:

Congratulations! You and your system are so well funded and well staffed and talented in all the ways that nothing in the manual or resources are ever of use to you. Your department is full of like minded individuals who you can share ideas and brainstorm. Go, you. I'm happy for you. You're in a fortunate place, professional wise.

The there are the rest of us. In my prior place of employment, I was in a well funded library with many branches and was lucky enough to work in different sized branches in different socioeconomic areas. Even though I was there only about five or so years, and it was still all within one county in one state, I learned something very valuable: communities are individual. Teens are different. They are not cookie cutter.

And neither are the librarians who serve them. Or the libraries. Budgets vary, so what can be bought or planned vary. Staffing levels vary, and so do staffing talents. Just because a person is brilliant at storytimes for the under fives doesn't mean that person is also brilliant at all programming, or graphic design. And if that person is brilliant at all that, they may not have the time to be hunting up incentives and promotional materials.

For those librarians like me? CSLP is a life saver. A time saver.

CSLP is like a one-size fits all item of clothing. No, it's not going to be perfect for everyone. Some will have to let it out; some will have to take it in; some will bedazzle the heck out of it.

It's like any other library programming and materials someone else does: look at it, and instead of reinventing the wheel take that wheel and do what works for you and your community.

As someone who was around pre-CSLP for my state, I personally can attest to the time saving CSLP offers. It doesn't stop me from doing my own thing, but oh, the time it saves so I can focus on what matters to my patrons, my library, and me. And as someone who is now the sole librarian, it's like having a virtual brainstorming session whenever I need it.

CSLP isn't an "it" as much as a "they." And they are your state representatives who do the hard work of putting this together; and at least in my state, repeatedly ask for input and feedback. They work under various constraints and have to compromise. One person is contributing from a state where "teen librarians" primarily focus on middle school, another from high school, and another from teens don't participate in summer reading.

As someone whose summer reading program doesn't start until July, and whose summer program is entirely by mail for print-disabled children and teens, trust me, I get it: there are many things in the manual that make me go "nope, won't work for me." But I can tinker and change things. And it's much easier starting with that manual than starting with tons of books and internet searches to create summer reading materials.

So, from me: a thank you to the CSLP and to my state for participating. It saves me time, which means it saves money, and it makes my job easier and allows me to concentrate on other things.

Your thoughts -- do you like CSLP or hate it? What do you miss from pre-CSLP days? Does CSLP inspire or is just a manual you never look at?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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22. ALA 2014

My schedule for ALA 2014.


This is a partial schedule, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know! I am being a bit flexible about some things, especially when there are multiple things going on at the same time that look interesting. Right now, what I do on 8:30 on Saturday may depend on a flip of the coin!

Also, this is my very first time in Las Vegas, so any suggestions for where to eat or things to do, please share.

Friday:

21st Century Teens: Literacy in a Digital World, a YALSA workshop.

Opening of Exhibits

Saturday:

Margaret A. Edwards Brunch

BFYA Teen Feedback Session

Sunday:

YA Author Coffee Klatch

The Future of Library Services For and With Teens

ASCLA All Committee

Monday:

Conversation Starter

Deciding What's Next for YALSA

ALSC President's Program

Odyssey Awards

Tuesday:

Inaugural Brunch


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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23. Flashback May 2012

How did it get to be June already?!?

Well, that's what happens when you take a mini holiday from posting.



So, here is what I was reading in May 2012:

The FitzOsbornes in Exile (The Montmaray Journals) by Michelle Cooper. From my review: "The FitzOsbornes have lost their home; they are now royalty in exile. Aunt Charlotte’s good fortune to marry well means, well, they can depend on her large fortune to take care of them. Clothes, good food, servants — all are theirs. But what is the cost? . . . Cooper doesn’t rush the story; just like in real life, things take time and it takes awhile to find one’s footing. Sophie and the others have a new home and country to adjust to, as well as trying to figure out what they can do regain their home from the Germans. They may have titles, but it’s from a powerless nation. They don’t have money and are financially dependent on Aunt Charlotte. With the exception of Simon, who is a commoner with no connections or cash, they are teenagers. I adore Sophie, as well as Veronica. These two are fantastic! The only reason I’m glad that the laws prohibit Veronica from inheriting is I’m not sure she’d do well with the politics needed to be a ruler; she sure has the knowledge and history and integrity. I’d follow both of them anywhere, in exile or not."

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book III: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood. From my review: "The three Incorrigible children (Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia) and their governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have returned from their London adventure and are happily ensconced in Ashton Place. Nothing ever remains safe and comfortable for these four, and unexpected guests of both the animal and human kind lead to new adventures and new questions about their mysterious origins."

Black Heart (The Curse Workers) by Holly Black. From my review: "Cassel Sharpe, 17, couldn’t stay out of trouble if he wanted to. (Now that’s a question; given his talents, his family, and his background, does he want to?) The Feds are forgiving his past crimes if he works for them, using his unique talent as a transformation worker, someone who can transform whatever he touches. His mother is in big trouble with the local crime boss, and all will be forgiven if Cassel does him one little favor. Cassel knows there is no such thing as one favor. It’s complicated by the fact that neither the mob nor the feds can know he’s working for the other. Oh, and another thing — the crime boss just happens to be the father of the girl Cassel loves. Just to make things all that more simple — not — Cassel has to worry about his senior year in high school. Classes, avoiding demerits, friends, and a possible blackmail scheme. It’s all in a day’s work for someone with a black heart like Cassel."

Ashesby Ilsa Bick. From my review: "One minute, Alex is hiking, trying to figure out her future and deal with her past. Sounds typical for a seventeen year old, but her future is complicated by an inoperable brain tumor and her past by the death of her parents four years before. An electromagnetic pulse changes that.
Suddenly, the world changes. No electronics are working. Alex find herself responsible for Ellie, an angry eight year old who just saw her grandfather die from the pulse. At first, they think the dangers they face are low supplies, a rough trek to the ranger’s station, and wild dogs. Then they run into two teenagers. Unlike Alex and Ellie, these kids are changed. They eat flesh. Human flesh."

Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand. From my review: "1977. Merle, 18, is in Washington DC to attend the Corcoran School of Art. Art is her ticket out of nowheresville Virginia — but not the way some would think. Not in a make money or become famous way. Art is her way out because art is her life, it’s what she lives for, it’s what drives her. 1870. Arthur Rimbaud, 15, is running away from provincial Charleville, France to Paris. Poetry is what drives him and pushes him. Separated by contents and a century, two artists struggle to find a way to express themselves, to leave a mark, to become."

The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods by Claire Earner. From my review: "Aimed at a middle grade audience, The World in Your Lunch Box is to the point, providing quick facts and history. It’s a clever way to organize the information; instead of alphabetically, or by types of food, by typical lunches. I imagine the author had fun as she decided on what lunches to use! It’s quite interesting just how many foods are found in a week’s worth of food, and how much history can be learned, and how many cultures are represented."

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. From my review: "France. 1943. Verity, a British spy, has been captured by the Nazis. “I AM A COWARD,” she explains. She has given the Nazis the wireless codes they wanted; she is now writing out her confession, explaining how and why she ended up in Ormaie in Nazi-occupied France, why she has the identify papers of Maddie Brodart, and why she is telling the truth and telling the Nazis every little thing. How much time has Verity bought for herself? A handful of days to write her confession; and after that, what? . . . . As the pages go by, the reader falls into the past. The horror and disgust at what Verity has done — given the Nazis the secret wireless codes in exchange for the return of her clothes — slowly fades away. Partly it  is because Verity is equally disgusted with herself, and had, as a child, thought she’d be as brave as her various ancestors such as William Wallace, and she cannot believe she hasn’t lived up to her ideals. Partly it is because, while Verity never gives direct descriptions or details because, of course, Von Linden knows what was done to her so why tell him, she gives enough sideway hints and references to burns and bruises and pins for the reader to realize that more was involved in the questioning of Verity than taking away her clothes. But, for me, what most led to my forgiving Verity is that, as she recounts her past, I can’t help but like her. . . . Oh, kiss me, Hardy."

Marvel's The Avengers. From my review: "When Loki steals the Tesseract and threatens to take over Earth, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. has only one option. Assemble a group of super heroes to defeat Loki and recover the Tesseract. The problem is, most of those he wants to recruit for “the Avengers” don’t play well with others. “The Avengers” have to become  a real team, which may be almost as difficult as beating Loki."

The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greenland. From my review: "Elizabeth Margaret’s life has been planned to the smallest detail. Do well in school, go to an Ivy League college, got to law school, marry well, get a good job. She’s done all that has been expected of her. Valedictorian. Summer internship at a law firm. Harvard in the fall. So what if her only close friend is her younger sister, Gwyneth? Or that she hides cookbooks like they’re drug paraphernalia and has to sneak into the kitchen to cook? Her life is planned and Elizabeth Margaret complies, doing what pleases her parents and grandmother. Until now. A mysterious letter arrives from Aunt Tilly, a relative she didn’t even know existed, inviting her to spend the summer at her bed & breakfast in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. For the first time, Elizabeth Margaret does what is neither planned nor expected: she tells her family “no” and herself “yes.” She goes into the unknown, to meet this stranger, and — as the title says — her life begins."

Out of Sight, Out of Time (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter. From my review: "Cammie Morgan awakes to find herself in a strange bed, in a strange country. Worst of all? A several month block of time is missing from her memory. The last thing she knew, it was the end of the school year and she was leaving, on her own, without telling anyone, to discover more about the secret Circle of Cavan that had targeted her. The wounds on her body tells her things may have happened that she doesn’t want to remember. Cammie’s going to need all her strength, all her spy skills, all her smarts, and all her friends to figure out what happened to her. Only problem is — when you run away from home, even though people are happy you’re alive, they’re still mad that you left."

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani. From my review: "When eleven-year-old Sonia’s father loses his job, she has to leave private school for public school. At her old school, everyone knew her; now, they wonder if she’s Indian like her father or Jewish like her mother. She’s trying to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones. To make matters worse, her father’s unemployment is taking more than a financial toll on her family. It’s also emotional. One day, he just doesn’t come home."

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter. From my review: "Orphaned Roo goes to live with her newly discovered rich uncle. Neglected and wild, she loves nature and the out of doors. She prefers being alone. Her uncle lives on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, in a former children’s TB clinic. Roo is now cared for, but isolated, seeing only a handful of her uncle’s employees. Roo hears a mysterious humming, and it leads her to a secret garden."

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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24. Libraries: More Than The Common Core

Listen, I get it.

I understand the attention that school and public libraries are giving the Common Core. As professionals who deal with information and research, we know that schools, teachers, and parents will have questions and that we need to support that. As with other things, we need to support it regardless of our own feelings about the Common Core, how it was created, the process behind it, how it's being implemented, etc.

"Support" means knowing what it is and knowing, and determining ahead of time, what types of resources will be needed in a library or school.

One thing that's interesting: when you start looking into who questions the Common Core -- well, there are many people who aren't thrilled with it, for many reasons. I think public and school libraries should have a general understanding of this, if for no other reason than to recognize that those challenging it, and it's implementation, are diverse in their reasons.

So, yes, that's my paragraphs in understanding and defending the role that libraries have in the Common Core.

As that support gets rolled out, I just want to throw out a simple reminder.

Libraries are more than the Common Core. We are more than supporting the stated educational goals of a school.

We are also about enjoyment. Reading for pleasure. (This is true even for school libraries, who may not be part of an institution that explicitly states this, but who understand that an element of literacy, even when unsaid, is that reading is and can be something that is fun. And it's OK to encourage and celebrate fun reading.)



As libraries, especially public libraries, take a look at programs and resources and books within the context of the Common Core --

Remember. We are more than the Common Core. We are also about escaping into literature. We are about the joys of getting lost in a book. We are about celebrating the act of reading for the sole reason that some of us like to read. Or, rather, love to read.

And that simple pleasure, well, sometimes, it does get attacked. Is the person reading the right books? What are they learning from those books? Is it making them a better person? Is it uplifting? Does it have a moral? Is deep reading going on? Is the reading being done the "right" way? Will this make someone a better employee? Is reading too passive? Isn't it better to be making something than reading? Isn't it better to be talking to people? Don't people have better things to do than read? Than read that book?

I think one of the wonders of libraries is that it is still a place for the person who loves reading. Libraries are more -- we are the sum of our parts, more than any one part of our mission. And part of that more is, and should continue to be, celebrating reading and being there for readers.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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25. AMC's Turn

This past week's viewing obsession has been AMC's historical drama, Turn, about the spies of the American Revolution.


I am so happy to find out that this has been picked up for a second season, because while a lot happens in the first season, the upcoming seasons are the ones that will be about John Andre and Benedict Arnold. (Let's be clear: historical fact doesn't count as spoilers, OK?)

What the first season does spectacularly is examine the formation of the spy ring. Oh, yes, it's fictionalized and adjustments have been made for making this a visual story. (For more on the real history versus the television history, check out J.L. Bell's posts at Den of Geek.)

Abraham Woodhull is a young farmer living on Long Island during the British Occupation. He appears to be, like his father and brother before him, a Loyalist. Instead, for various reasons, he becomes a spy for the Continental Army. Season One is primarily about Abe's motivations and in a way, Season One is a slow burn of character growth: why will Abe end up risking everything to spy for a cause? If his sympathies are not with the British, why didn't he join up at the beginning, like his two friends, Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster?

Without giving too much away, there are reasons! And feelings! So. Many. Feelings. Abe's older brother, Thomas, died, and Abe did the "right" thing by breaking off his engagement with Anna and married his brother's fiance Mary. While he appears to be happily living with his wife and baby son, the truth is he still wants Anna, even though Anna is now married herself.

Abe's own choices are second to what he thinks he should be doing as a loyal son to his father. And yet, what he wants bubbles to the surface: he refuses to live off his father's money, in his father's house, instead doing a (rather poor) job farming. He cannot help his continued love for Anna. And there is more to it, but that's not until about episode 8 or so. (See the metaphor there? Abe's conflicted feelings towards his father, love and resentment, wanting to make his own choices instead of following his father's wishes, mirrors what is happening in his country: loyalty to England, or independence?)

And so it's about Abe, going from unwilling to willing spy. But it's also about the others in his circle, Ben and Caleb and Anna, who while all are stronger (and more vocal) in their political stance, there is still the mechanics of just how a spy ring is put together.It's watching not just a puzzle be put together, but a puzzle be made. And just because I'm talking about the character growth over episodes, and how the building of a spy ring isn't something done in five minutes, there is plenty of action. This is 1776, after all, and there are battles and skirmishes and betrayals.

Slavery factors in: Abe's own slaves are shown so matter of factly that at first I didn't realize that was what was happening. Two of Anna's former slaves factor into the story, also: Abigail and Jordan. Abigail has a son who has been taught to read, and one of the reasons I want another season is to find out more about her and her son. Jordan was born in Africa, and was trained as a Maasai warrior -- and his chance at freedom is offered him not from the Continental Army, but from the British.

The British Officers are interesting, yes -- but here the person who really intrigues and captures me is Major John Andre. He's handsome and cultured and smart. I admire smart in a character. Major Hewlett is a bit of the stereotypical by the rule soldier; and Captain Simcoe is scary-crazy-ruthless; but Andre  . . . Andre is one major reason I want to see more seasons. Because I cannot believe that Andre would ever do something as stupid as get captured; yet history tells us that happens.

What else?


Jamie Bell grew up mighty fine. Even though it's like impossible to find a photo of him from Turn of him smiling, because he always has so many feelings. So, many, feelings. Also, hats.












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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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