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1. Edwards Award: Definitions

And a little more about the Edwards Award, from the YALSA website.



Definitions

"Author" may be an individual or a co-author. The author must be living at the time of the nomination. In the case of co-authors, one must be living. If an author continues to write books of interest and appeal to young adults, then he or she may receive the award more than once as warranted, as long as it is not more frequently than every six years.

"Book or books" indicates either a title or titles written specifically for young adults, or those titles written for adults, which continue to be requested and read by young adults. The title or titles must be in-print at the time of nomination. Only those titles of an author's work which meet the criteria of the award will be cited.

"Over a period of time" means that the book or books must have been published in the United States no less than five years prior to the first meeting of the current Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee at the Midwinter Meeting. The five year period is stipulated so that the book or books have had enough time to filter down, i.e., reach a wide level of distribution, and to be accepted by young adults.

"Continues to illuminate their experiences and emotions" means that the book or books have become a literary cornerstone for young adults.

As you can see, the author must be living at the time of nomination; and that an author may receiver the award more than once.

Also, the books must have been published "no less than five years" prior to the first meeting of the Edwards Award.



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

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2. Edwards Award: Terms and Committee Makeup

And a little more about the Edwards Award, from the YALSA website. While this may be the boring stuff, it's still important to know how this all works. For example, that it's virtual and there are five members; and the other YALSA policies that apply.




Terms

The award is given annually to an author whose book or books, over a period of time, have been accepted by young adults as an authentic voice that continues to illuminate their experiences and emotions, giving insight into their lives. The book or books should enable them to understand themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationship with others and with society. The book or books must be in print at the time of the nomination.

Members who have served two consecutive years as a member and/or administrative assistant may not be appointed to the same committee for three years from the conclusion of their last term. This guideline will not apply to the Chair.  In extreme circumstances, and at the President’s discretion, an exception may be made if a committee member resigns suddenly.  The President, after discussion with the Committee Chair, may determine that the best course of action is to fill the vacancy with an experienced committee member, and appoint a member in good standing who successfully served on the committee in question during the previous three years.

Committee Makeup

How many members, length of term, etc.

Edwards is a virtual committee.  Two committee members are appointed by YALSA's President-Elect and three are elected to serve a 18 month term. There are 5 voting committee members, including the chair. Each term begins Feb. 1st and ends the following June 30th. If someone resigns, the current President of YALSA may appoint a new person to finish out that particular term.

Responsibilities of regular committee positions

Additional information about committee member responsibilities is available from YALSA's Handbook.  All committee members must comply with YALSA's Policies, as presented in the online Handbook, including: Social Media Policy, Ethical Behavior Policy for Volunteers and the Award Committees Conflict of Interest Policy.


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

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3. Review: Gone Crazy in Alabama

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2015. Reviewed from ARC. Companion to One Crazy Summer (2010) and P.S. Be Eleven (2013).

The Plot: It's the summer of 1969, and sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are back. This time, they're off to spend the summer in the south, in Alabama, with their grandmother and great grandmother. They will learn about the things that keep family together, and what keeps family apart. And they'll have fun and tears along the way.

The Good: When I wrote about One Crazy Summer, about the sisters spending the summer of 1968 with their estranged mother, I said, "I want a second book. I want to spend more time with the Gaither sisters. I want One Crazy Summer to be the start of a new series, like All Of A Kind Family / Betsy-Tacy / Little House on the Prairie."

Confession: when the second book, P.S. Be Eleven, was published in 2013 I didn't read it. I have a copy, it was just... I haven't read it. Yet. Which right now I'm actually glad about, for two reasons: it means I still have an unread book about the Gaither sisters, and it means that I can say with full confidence that these books stand alone.

The girls are now 12, 10, and 8; their father has remarried, his new wife is expecting (don't worry, the girls love her and she loves them), and the girls are going to Alabama to visit Big Ma, their grandmother.

The things I love about this book: the three girls are sent, alone, by bus, from New York City to Alabama. Delphine has the responsibility for getting them all their safely, but their father also relies on the other children and families who are traveling from the city to their families and relatives in the south. Here is a glimpse at a different time and place, where the father trusts his daughters (and the other travelers) yet at the same time cautions his daughters -- Alabama isn't New York. Be careful what you say to and around white people.

Once in Alabama, the action is mostly with family members. You see, Big Ma's mother, Ma Charles, has a half-sister Miss Trotter who she never speaks to. Miss Trotter's great-grandson, JimmyTrotter, is a friend to all three girls. The family secret is this: Ma Charles and Miss Trotter were born the same year. Their father married both their mothers. It's a complicated situation, learned through the eyes of twelve-year-old Delphine. Jealousy and other things keep these two women apart, yet geography and blood and shared relatives keep them together.

And it gets an additional layer of confusion when Delphine finds out that the Charles side of her family is related to a white family in town. Or, as Ma Charles puts it, "the white side." A family who is clearly racist, and maybe worse. And everyone knows about it but few people talk about. There are no easy answers or explanations; instead, it's presenting matter of fact truths: the ways that people talked to each other. The things that could and could not be said. The words used. The frustrations and fears.

Since this is about the Gaither sisters, once again Williams-Garcia captures sisterhood perfectly. These are sisters who fight fiercely and love even more fiercely. Who crave both independence and support. The way these girls interact is real and true; and also, look at that cover! Who wouldn't want to be them? To be friends with them? To have those amazing 1960s clothes?

And heck yes, a Favorite Book in 2015. With fingers crossed and much hope that this is not the last time we visit with Delphine, Vonetta, Fern, and the rest of their family.








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

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4. Review: All The Rage

All the Rage by Courtney Summers. St. Martin's Griffin. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Romy is an outsider in her small town for so many reasons. Her father, the drunk; her mother, who married too young and just moved in with her new boyfriend. The new boyfriend who has never really held a full time job, living off government checks in the shabby house he inherited from his mother.

And at school, Romy is known as a liar, a target for ridicule and mockery.

She can escape to her work in a small diner, where people know her and like her and she doesn't have all the baggage of who her family is and isn't and what Romy did and didn't do. Where she can be herself; or at least, one version of herself. A version where people don't know about her and her family and her past.

Until the day Penny, one of Romy's tormentors, shows up at her work and refuses to leave.

The next day, both Romy and Penny are missing. Romy is found, with little or no memory of the night before. Penny is missing, and that just brings more torment to Romy because anyone looking for her meant they weren't looking for Penny.

What did Penny tell Romy? And what will Romy do now?

The Good: All the Rage is so good! It's a painful story because Romy's story is painful to read, but it's an important story because her pain, her anger, her age, her story is not unique.

This is not an attractive look at a small town and it's inhabitants, in part because it is Romy's story and she sees the worst around her. Yes, her father is a drunk who got fired, but the story behind shows a man in pain who didn't know what to do. Yes, her parents were young teenagers when they had Romy, but her mother is a kind and compassionate woman who is doing the best she can for her daughter. The new boyfriend is actually an old friend of her mother's, who is kind and loving. These are people without much money, and with no power, but they love Romy.

Sometimes, love isn't enough.

Romy had had a crush on a boy, back when she still had friends. The boy was popular and well liked, and his family was well connected in the town. And because she liked him, and dressed up for the party, because she wanted to be kissed, no one believed her when she said she said no. And so she became the liar, the outcast. Penny went from being a good friend to one of those siding against her. Until the day Penny came to see Romy.

Romy is angry but trying to contain her anger, trying to survive it by going to work at the diner but that illusion disappears when Penny shows up, when her work-self and home-self can no longer be kept separate. Her anger is fierce and sad and lonely; it comes out in many ways. Upon learning that a friend has had a baby, her first thought is please, let it not be a girl. It is a girl. When she holds the child for the first time, she thinks of how hard her life will be, how hard a girl's life always is.

Because all Romy can think of is how she was hurt and betrayed: how the price for having a crush on a boy, for wanted to look pretty, was to be called a liar who was trying to ruin a poor boy's life. Of course, both those things meant she had to have said yes to him; she could not possibly have said no. How can she not be angry and full of rage, to live in a world where the default view of a woman is that a boy has a right to her body, based on her clothes and her crush?

My heart was broken again and again for Romy, for the pain she was in, for her isolation. For how the world turned against her, because it was easier to not believe her. Because not believing her meant that the world still made sense. Because it's not real until it happens to you.

But Romy is one thing, besides being angry and full of rage. She's a survivor. She will survive, even if it takes time. She will survive, even if it takes her time to heal. And she's going to have hard choices to make, not only because of what happened to her, but also because of what happened to Penny.

This is a Favorite Book of 2015. And I wish I could say more about Romy and her journey, and about Penny and what happened to her, but this is about getting you to read the book, and go on Romy's journey with her. Not to judge her.

One last thing, but in a way an important thing: Romy wears red lipstick and red nail polish. She puts it on with care, with dedication. The lipstick and nail polish is sometimes to establish her identity, "I'm still here and real"; sometimes it's a protection, a wall of defense to hide behind; and sometimes it's armor, to give herself strength. I'm not much of a nail polish person, I go in cycles with using it (I have bad nails and little patience, not a good combination for painting one's nails), and this book made me dig out my nail polish, and to see it as something more than a way to be pretty.



















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

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5. Edwards Award: About and Justification

Why, what is the award about?

"The Margaret A. Edwards Award, established in 1988, honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. The annual award is administered by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.  The Edwards award celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013."

And the justification for the Award?

"ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), on behalf of librarians who work with young adults in all types of libraries, gives recognition to those authors whose book or books have provided young adults with a window through which they can view their world and which help them to grow and to understand themselves and their role in society."


You can see why the Edwards Award is sometimes referred to as a Lifetime Achievement award,

All quotes from the YALSA Website

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

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6. Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee

This year, I am on the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee.

What this means for this blog: I will not be reviewing or writing anything about the Committee, books read, or authors considered. I will avoid reviewing or writing about any eligible titles or authors.

Given the scope of the Award, that means that there is still plenty of titles I can write about (especially new and recent titles).

I will also be blogging about the rules and polices for the Edwards Award.





Image from the YALSA Edwards page.


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

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7. Happy Birthday to my Mom!



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

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8. Short Review: Laughing At My Nightmare

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane BurcawRoaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

Burcaw's memoir, based on his tumblr of the same name, is a humorous look at his life with spinal muscular atrophy. It's told in short, episodic chapters -- while it's roughly chronological in order, it doesn't have to be read in order or even all at once. This structure is both a weakness and a strength: those wanting an in depth, detailed examination will be disappointed. But, that's looking for this bok to be something it isn't. It is, instead, a funny, hilarious look at life. And that is it's strength: the short chapters means it's easy to read, and also easy to read over an extended period of time. A few chapters here, a few chapters there, is, a think, the best way to approach Laughing at My Nightmare.

While Burcaw's memoir is uniquely about his own experiences, it's also universal. Starting middle school, worrying about making friends, anxious about a first kiss -- Burcaw isn't the first person to worry about these things. Burcaw is funny and blunt: he knows teen readers will wonder "but how does he go to the bathroom?" and so he addresses those questions. And the humor is such that will appeal to a lot of teen readers.


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

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9. Review: The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. Algonquin Young Readers. 2015. Reviewed from electronic galley.

The Plot: Amber is telling about the night her world went wild because the doors opened and the guards were missing. Amber is locked up in a juvenile facility for girls and the electric went out and the generator didn't kick in and all the girls are let out and free and running wild.

Violet is getting ready to go on stage. It is her final dance before she leaves for Juilliard. She is thinking about this final, home stage ballet dance and leaving this town and her family and her memories. It's like escaping a prison, she thinks, realizing it's a terrible thing to think considering what happened three years ago, when her what happened happened, when her best friend Orianna was sent to juvenile detention.

The Walls Around Us is about these three girls, Amber and Violet and Orianna, and how their stories overlap and weave together in a tangled mess of walls and doors, expectations and fears. And anger. Always, anger.

The Good: I'm a fan of Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls and 17 and Gone. The Walls Around Us doesn't disappoint; it may be my favorite one yet. Like those books, The Walls Around Us does many things: there is a surface story but there is also a story underneath, there are observations about how the world views teenage girls and how the girls view themselves, and there may or may not be a ghost story. Then there is the language, creating a world and a setting and a tone that wraps around us -- like walls wrap around us.

As with Suma's other stories, I don't want to give too much away, but at the same time, I just want to talk about what happens and what does not. So the short version is, drop everything and read The Walls Around Us.

The longer version, which some spoiler-sensitive won't want to read.

Amber is a long term inmate and introduces us to her world, starting on that night when the doors opened, to her world and the other girls. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? Why did they end up there? Does it matter, now that they are locked up, what came before or what will come after? As the chapters go back and forth, it is revealed that Orianna has not yet arrived at the facility which means all Amber says happens three years before Violet's story.

And something terrible is going to happen at that place, and Amber's role as observer and watcher and eavesdropper means she is going to tell it to us, best as she can. Orianna never speaks for herself: instead it is those who knew her who describe her.

For Amber, Orianna is the new girl who has to learn the ropes. But Amber is also puzzled by something else, because Ori seems somehow familiar. And that night of almost-escape, has it happened before? Is it happening again? Why do things yet to happen seem familiar?

For Violet, Orianna was her best friend. But also her number one competitor in ballet; even now, years after what happened and Ori was arrested and tried and sent away, it is Ori's easy accomplishments that drive Violet's own path. Vee is still competing. Violet's life has gone on exactly as it should, with her place at the ballet school, and her boyfriend, and a new best friend, and best of all she'll be leaving all this behind her shortly when she leaves for Juilliard.

What did happen? What did Ori do? What did Vee do?

Violet's story seems straight forward enough, even though she's reluctant to say what happened years before. And frankly Violet seems a bit hard, a bit of a bitch, but is wanting to leave your home and start the new life that college promises such a bad thing? Is wanting to forget painful memories bad, and don't some build a hard shell to deal with the past?

Violet wants to go see where Ori was sent, even though now the place is in ruins and no one is there. Or is it it abandoned? Do all the dreams and hopes and fears and anger of those girls just -- disappear, go away, when those girls go away? When Violet walks into that broken, abandoned place, does she see ghosts or is it her own guilt haunting her?

Anger. As I write this, I realize that if there is one thing that The Walls Around Us is about, it's not about ballet and friendships; it's not about murder and punishment; it's not about escape or justice.

It's about anger. Anger that girls feel for all the right reasons, anger at abandonment and betrayal and abuse, anger that is denied because society doesn't want to see it, anger that is denied because girls aren't supposed to be angry, anger at why some girls are punished and some are not. Anger at why some girls have things so easily and others do not. And being angry is hard work, no matter how much a girl tries to deny it and keep it in control. Eventually, the walls holding the anger in, the walls holding the anger out, have to come down.

Yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2015.








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

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10. Review: Mistress Firebrand

Mistress Firebrand: Renegades of the American Revolution by Donna Thorland. New American Library, published by the Penguin Group. 2015.

The Plot: Manhattan Island, 1775. Actress Jenny Leighton wants to meet the influential General John Burgoyne. Jenny is an aspiring playwright, and hopes that Burgoyne will become her patron, opening up the world of London theater to her.

American born, British intelligence officer Severin Devere's job is to protect Burgoyne and keep him safe from the American rebels. He's suspicious of the young American actress -- and also attracted to her.

The Revolution violently separates the two -- and when they meet up again, they are both in Manhattan. Jenny is still writing plays. Severin is still a British officer. But both are hiding secrets and playing a dangerous game. Where do their loyalties lie?

The Good: Part of the reason I love Mistress Firebrand is because so much happens, and it happens over a couple of years, starting in 1775 and ending in 1777. That also means that a lot happens, and some of them are twists and turns and I'm here, as usual, fretting over how much to tell you.

So the short version: well developed characters! Action! Romance! Hot sexytimes! Interesting history! Plays and prisons, riots and attacks, escapes and captures and escapes.

And the history. As readers of my blog and twitter feed may remember, I'm a fan of AMC's TURN: Washington's Spies and Mistress Firebrand is the perfect historical romance for fans of that show. (I'm also eager to read Thorland's other books; and, it turns out Thorland is a writer for another historical TV show I've been watching, Salem.) Saying that may make you realize one of the things in Mistress Firebrand that I don't want to spoil and it's something that rhymes with "spies." In other words, SPIES. And I'm not telling you who or what.

I like historical fiction that introduces me to areas, or adds to what I know, or brings to life areas. I loved all the information about the American theater, and how it worked, and the business of it, and performances being banned, and how actors and actresses were viewed -- it was just wonderful diving into Jenny's world. I also like historical fiction where people are not ignorant or innocent about sex. Jenny in the acting world is not naive; and I know more about the logistics of French letters (eighteenth century condoms) than I did before. Bows, who knew?

Jenny herself is a terrific character, who wants more out of her life and that more is to write. She has an aunt who is a famous actress, who is a mentor. Jenny comes from the New Jersey countryside, but thanks to her aunt, she wants more out of her life. She has her own ambitions and drive and it's just such a fresh and refreshing view of women in the eighteenth century. Based in part on what happens in the first part of the book, Jenny shifts her talents and becomes the mysterious "Cornelia," writing anti-British propaganda. She has a price on her head.

And Severin! Severin is legally the child of a British nobleman, but in truth is the son of an English mother and a Mohawk father. Severin's relationship with his natural father, and his Mohawk family and culture, is presented in a nuanced way. At first, for various reasons, Severin has decided he has to be the ultimate Englishman to prove himself. Severin begins to see the reality of the situation around him, and he shifts in his views and beliefs, about himself, about the Revolution, and about his own background.

As I said earlier, one thing I liked was that Mistress Firebrand took place over two years. Jenny and Severin's relationship grows from attraction and lust to love and respect. They also have their own individual involvement with the Revolutionary War: what side, why, what they are willing to do, why. Those journeys complement each other, yes, but they are always their own independent journeys.



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

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11. Short Review: The Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve SheinkinRoaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Port Chicago 50 tells a story that I was not familiar with -- actually, many stories I was not familiar with. The Port Chicago 50 are fifty African American sailors accused of mutiny in the aftermath of the Port Chicago disaster. I don't want to go into the details of the disaster or the mutiny accusations or the aftermath -- read the book!

The story of these fifty men is not just about allegations of mutiny and these fifty individuals; it is also bout the segregation of the Navy and other armed forces before and during World War II and the efforts to end it. It's about just what it meant, to have segregated troops, and institutionalized racism both within and without the armed forces. Segregation and racism, and the actions at Port Chicago and by the sailors, cannot be viewed in isolation of each other.


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

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12. Short Review: The Iron Trial


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra ClareScholastic. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Iron Trial starts a series set in the modern world, where magic is real -- but hidden. Twelve-year-old Callum's father has done everything possible to keep Callum away from this world. Call is supposed to do everything possible to fail his entrance tests to the Magisterium, a school of magic hidden in the United States. Instead, Call finds himself in the Magisterium, studying magic, and finding out his father hasn't been totally honest with him. Magic isn't the big, dangerous, evil he's been told about.

Most of this book is the "forming" part of an adventure story: Call discovering the truth about magic, that it's not a simple matter of good or evil, and Call forging friendships and allies (and sometimes enemies and frenemies) with his fellow students. He also has to study magic, and it's not all fun and games -- it's also hard work. (And, well, fun. Because magic!)

Part of what Call learns about are some epic battles from over ten years before, including those who fought on the good side and the bad side. (Magic is neither good nor bad, but those who practice it -- they fall on those two sides.) Call is sometimes frustratingly ignorant about magic and his own family's connection to it, but it works for the book -- the reader learns as Call learns.

The ending of the book -- oh, the ending! Personally, I felt as if the story was just truly beginning with the ending, and that the real story will be next year, now that the reader, and Call, has the full knowledge of what is going on. Or do we know as much as we think?




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

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13. If You're An ALA Member -- Please Vote!

I'll be attending ALA's Annual Conference in San Francisco. I have meetings to go to, and programs I want to attend, and with your help I may be able to present!





Right now, voting is up for ALA's Conversation Starters and Ignite Sessions.

I submitted a Conversation Starter, so please go to the page for my suggestion conversation starter, Beyond Print: Audiobooks, Large Print, and Braille, and vote by signing into ALA Connect and liking it by clicking on the thumbs-up.

The description of my program: "If you think your audiobook collection is meeting your community’s needs, think again! Discover the audiobooks that you can’t find at the bookstore or on WorldCat, so you can turn your “no” into a “yes” for patrons who need audiobooks. Learn about why kids need large print books and how to meet that need. Find out about available Braille books so that you can make your library Braille-reader friendly. And then, let’s start brainstorming ways so that more people learn about this hidden library of titles."

Look through all the conversation starters and ignite sessions -- you can vote for as many programs as you want to (but you can only vote once for each individual program).

And if you have a program up there, please leave a link in the comments to the direct page so that we can all go and vote for it.

Thanks, and hopefully I'll be seeing you in San Francisco!



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

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14. Short Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue


The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterScholastic, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to The Raven Boys (Book 1) and The Dream Thieves (Book 2).

This continues the story of the search in Virginia for a missing Welsh king. The searchers are prep school students Richard Gansey III (the driving force behind the search), his friends Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny, and local girl Blue Sargent.

By the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I'm not going to lie: it's complicated. There are a mess of characters, plus the search, plus the issues that the characters are dealing with in the present. Gansey is driven by his search; Ronan discovered dangerous family secrets, including his own ability to pull things out of dreams into the real world; Adam is a scholarship student with the drive for more and a serious, well earned chip on his shoulder. Noah has his own issues.

And Blue: Blue is from a family of psychics, without any real power herself, and with a curse upon her: her kiss will kill her true love. And since she's falling hard for Gansey, and since one of her aunts foresaw Gansey's death, it's, well, messy. Like life. Now take life and add in magic and history, myth and legend.

Readers know that I like when teen books have interesting adult characters: well, this has them and then some. The enigmatic Mr. Gray -- I mean, how often is a hired killer so sympathetic and likable? (And yes, I keep picturing him as Norman Reedus). Blue's mother has disappeared, but this allows other adults to move center. And Mr. Gray's boss also enters into the picture. It's not just magic and myth that is a danger.

The only frustration with Blue Lily, Lily Blue is there is still one more book in the series. So while the adventure moves forward, and questions are answered, there's still so much more to find out


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15. Short Review: Salt and Storm

Salt & Storm by Kendall KulperLittle, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

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

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16. Short Review: Blood of My Blood

Blood of My Blood (I Hunt Killers) by Barry LygaLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to I Hunt Killers and Game.

The I Hunt Killers series is the story of  Jasper Dent, son of the infamous serial killer Billy Dent. It asks the question -- is the son condemned to follow in the footsteps of his father? If nature (the son of a killer) and nurture (raised by his father to hunt and kill) conspire to create a path for a child, will the child follow that path? And what is the cost of not doing so?

What I liked best about Blood of My Blood is that it showed the trilogy to not be three connected stories about Jazz solving crimes, using his first-hand knowledge of serial killers (though it is that) but one story, told in three volumes, about Jazz coming to terms with his past and figuring out what his future should be. And, yes -- solving murder mysteries.

Also -- and I almost hate to say it -- twists! That I didn't see coming! And that were so satisfying as a reader! (I hate to say it because sometimes saying a twist means one expects and looks for any twist so it no longer is a surprise twist.)


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17. Short Review: Unmade, The Lynburn Legacy Book 3

Unmade (The Lynburn Legacy Book 3) by Sarah Rees BrennanRandom House. 2014. Sequel to Unspoken and Untold. Review copy from publisher.


I feel like I can't talk too much about the plot in Unmade because I don't want to spoil new to the series readers; and I don't want to spoil those who haven't read the final book yet.

Short version: Kami Glass discovers that magic is real and her small English village is the center of a war involving powerful witches. And I use the term "war" deliberately, because important things are at stake. Lives are at stake. Should someone take a stand and risk their own lives and the lives of those they love? Are some lies OK to tell, to try to protect others? When can those lies be forgiven?

I can also talk about characters more easily than plot, and I just love Kami and her friends and their growth during the series. I also love Kami's parents; the Lynburn Legacy series does a terrific job of incorporating adults into a teen-centered drama, in a way that is realistic yet keeps the spotlight on the teens. Plus -- there's a terrific mix of adventure, humor, love, friendship, twists, turns, and all the things that make a story worth reading. Because this wrapped up the series so perfectly, and because I want to be friends with Kami despite the risk to life and limb, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2014.

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

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18. Review: Kingsman

Some folks went to see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie this weekend.

I went to see Kingsman: The Secret Service, taking my niece and nephew (ages 14 and 12).

It was so much fun! Kingsman is about an independent spy agency, Kingsman, and how a street-smart kid is recruited to be a part of a group that so far has been strictly upper upper class.

What makes Kingsman entertaining are the performances and the action sequences. It's also got humor and fun references to other spy films or tropes.

Colin Firth is "Galahad" (all of the Kingsman Knights have names from the round table; the head of the agency is Arthur, the one responsible for training is Merlin) who recruits the son of a former member. Eggsy's father died in the secret service of being a Kingsman. Even back then, his father's admittance was a bit of a test, of whether or not someone of a lower class belongs.

Seeing Colin Firth as an action hero? Doing some amazing stunts and fights? Was terrific!

Harry bringing in Eggsy is more than just guilt over the death of Eggsy's father. While Eggsy doesn't have the credentials of the other Kingsman trainees, he does have the raw talent and the unpolished skills. One thing I like about Kingsman is how smoothly these things are shown or told: his driving skills and nerve and loyalty in a sequence where Eggsy steals a car and drives it backwards in a high speed race with the police; mentioning how Eggsy did well in school and initial military training before family complications (his mother's criminal, abusive second husband); his street smarts.

While I loved the movie trailers, part of me eye-rolled at the apparently all-boys club. Yes, I get that it's partly a love note to classic spy films and tropes, but still. Luckily, the movie addressed that within the text. The origins of the group are indeed exclusive, and people like Harry are trying to make changes. Eggsy has to go through an intensive training program (part of the post-movie talk about the movie was trying to figure out how long the program was), and there were two women among the nine trainees.

The big bad is played by Samuel L. Jackson and you can tell he had as much fun filming as the audience had watching. His evil plan is --  well, let's just say that he seems sympathetic until the bodies pile up. One of the bits of dark humor is that while he's the evil genius, he's a billionaire tech genius with big ideas who hires people to take care of business -- he doesn't kill himself, because he just doesn't have the stomach for it.

Kingsman is rated R mainly for the violence, and it's action-movie violence with spectacular fights and methods of people dying. There are also some sexy things. One bit I liked -- and I hope this isn't a spoiler -- is that Eggsy develops a friendship with his fellow trainee who is female, Roxy. It was actually respectful and nice to see.

BUT. BUT. At the end, there were a few jokes (based mostly on some Roger Moore Bond films) that were bothersome. Not because they were about sex or sexytimes, but because the "funny ha ha" was about offering sex to Eggsy as quid pro quo/ reward, eliminating any respect one could have for the character speaking. It turned what had been a strong, moral character into a sex toy. She was just there to be the prize, and the last images reinforced that.


Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) Poster


So, yes, there a few flaws with the film  -- but overall, it was fun and action filled. I'm hoping there's a sequel!



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19. Review: The Story of Owen

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston. Carolrhoda Books. 2014. Library copy. Morris Finalist.

The Plot: Siobhan, 16, explains how she met Owen, a dragon slayer in training, and became his bard.

Oh, and did I mention -- the setting is modern day Canada? It's a world where dragons are, and always have been, real. Real, dangerous, and deadly.

Being a bard is more than singing songs or writing ballads; it's becoming so close to the dragon fighter, and the dragons, that the bard can accurately portray what happens: both the actual truth, and the emotional truth.

Which means Siobhan, an introverted musician, is going to have to get close to Owen...and the dragons. Which are real, dangerous, and deadly.

The Good: Love!

This gets on my Favorite Books of 2014 easily, because it has so many elements I just adore.

First is the alternate universe Canada, and seeing how The Story of Owen takes familiar history and culture (from Dracula to World War I) and having dragons be part of those stories. It made the dragons and Siobhan's world more real; it was fun; and it was impressive to see just how deep a backstory and world had been created. For example, the United States' "don't ask, don't tell" policy exists in this world and it means that Hannah, a talented blacksmith (and Owen's aunt by marriage, she's married to his aunt Lottie) defects to Canada.

Second is the relationship between Siobhan and Owen. This is going to be a bit of a spoiler, so sorry -- but this is a story of friendship not romance. It's about Siobhan and Owen becoming friends, and about Siobhan's growing friendship with other people at her school. Before Owen comes to town, before Siobhan agrees to be his bard, all Siobhan needed was her music. Becoming Owen's bard doesn't just mean she becomes closer to Owen; she develops relationships with more people in her community.

Third is that while this is a story about Owen, it's also about a society that needs dragon slayers but for reasons the book explains, the majority of dragon slayers are working in the military or being paid by corporations. They aren't local; they aren't taking care of smaller communities; and they aren't really emotionally connected to the average person. In The Story of Owen, Lottie has realized the flaws in this system and is using her nephew and Siobhan to correct it.

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Sense and Sensibility and Stories; Quill and Quire.






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20. Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Candlewick Press. 2014. Reviewed from ARC. Morris Finalist.

The Plot: To understand Ava Lavender and her wings, you have to understand her mother and her grandmother before her. So Ava tells the story of the three generations of women in her family, of their loves, and how they survived heart break and loss.

And how Ava was born with wings, and how that shaped her life.

The Good: Yes, Ava was born with wings -- The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a beautifully written work of magical realism. Ava's being born with wings is something obvious to the world, but there are other things throughout the book, from a sister who turns herself into a bird to ghosts to how the women in Ava's family sometimes see or hear or smell the world around them.

I loved the language of this book, and began jotting down phrases almost from the start: "Foreseeing the future, I would later learn, means nothing if there is nothing to be done to prevent it." "My whole heart for my entire life."

When telling the story of her mother Viviane and grandmother Emilienne, the women who raised her, Ava concentrates mostly on their loves and lost loves and betrayals of their teen years. And while the introduction mentions things that Ava does as a grown woman, the story in the book -- like the stories of Vivane -- takes place during Ava's teen years. Obviously, Emilienne and Viviane grown older, but the most important part of their lives -- the part that Ava talks about -- are the parts when they are young women.

I mention this in part because, given the multiple generation storytelling and that Ava's own story doesn't start until half way through, it's tempting to wonder why this is a young adult book and not an adult book. I know I did -- but I think it's because, in part, the most important things that happen in Emilienne and Viviane and Ava's lives, the things that shape them, the things the book are about are all events from their years as young women.

I can easily see who I would recommend this book to -- the language is lovely and lush. Readers who like magical realism. Teens who want something different from a reading experience. And book discussion groups -- there is a lot to talk about and examine and analyze.

I have to confess something, though. This is the book that shows I can read not just as a reader, but as a librarian, looking to see who would like a book and also recognizing just how great a book. But. And sorry -- but this isn't a book for "me", as a reader. If I were on a committee, I would be open to persuasion and open to arguments about why to vote for this book. But for me, the way that loss and despair practically broke Emilienne and Vivianne for so long -- it just was too depressing. And (more spoilers) there is a violent attack at the end that bothered me not so much from the realism of the violence and hatred, but for what was behind it. Again: this is a personal, reader reaction. That's about me, not the book.

Other reviews: the School Library Journal Someday My Printz Will Come blog; Steph Sinclair at the Tor blog; A Book and a Latte.



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21. Review: Perfectly Good White Boy

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian. Carolrhoda Lab. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Sean's starting his senior year at school not quite sure about, well, anything. He and his mom had to move out of their home into a crappy rental, so "home" isn't really home. His amazing summer girlfriend has left for college, breaking up with him first.

He has a few good things in his life. Like his friendship with his coworker, Neecie. And he's figured out how an average student with no hopes for any type of scholarship can get out of town: join the Marines. Which no one expects, in part because Sean isn't telling anyway.

A year in the life of an average, not so average teen boy.

The Good: Sean, Sean, Sean. I just -- he's just such a teenage boy. And that's what is so terrific about him: he's no one special. And in being no one special, he's very special.

Sean's family has fallen apart, including the move into the rental, and Sean does the best he can. He's neither super son nor super slacker.

Sean's summer relationship with Hallie is amazing and sweet and so obviously a summer romance and here's where things get interesting. Because Hallie breaks up with him because COLLEGE. So of course she does. And Hallie is -- a good girl. Excited about school. And here is where I love the writing, because of what becomes obvious about Hallie even though this story isn't about Hallie, it's about Sean. But -- and it takes a long time for Sean to realize this through his own pain and hurt and want and lust -- it's clear that college isn't what Hallie thought it would be or should be, and at first she comes home to use Sean and physically connecting with him, and later it's clear that she's even more lost than that. And even through Sean's pain and anger, and even when Sean sees Hallie as much as a source for sex as anything else, Hallie is always a whole and complete teenage girl. Even when Sean doesn't see it, the reader does. (I mean, at times I hated Hallie for hurting Sean yet at the same time..... I want more of her story, of the stories for kids admitting that college is not the happy-ever-after that people think it is.)

And then there is Neecie, and Sean's becoming friends with her, and maybe something more. And it's just another example of complex people, and Perfectly Good White Boy having even the secondary characters be whole people.

One more thing: I also love Mesrobian's way with words. "It was like she'd never been caught at anything and didn't know how to be sneaky, almost." And it's clear that she's a good girl but who thinks she is being bad, and that he's gotten away with a thing or two, and it tells so much in so few words.

Oh, I lied. One more one more. I also love how matter of fact Sean's choice of joining the Marines is. I'm not sure what other books takes the reader through all the steps that a high school senior takes in joining up, and does so in a non-judgmental way.

Yes. A Favorite Book Read in 2014.

Other reviews: Cite Something; Just a Couple More Pages; Bibliodaze.


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22. Nonfiction Reviews

Two of the finalists for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Port Chicago 50 tells a story that I was not familiar with -- actually, many stories I was not familiar with. The Port Chicago 50 are fifty African American sailors accused of mutiny in the aftermath of the Port Chicago disaster. I don't want to go into the details of the disaster or the mutiny accusations or the aftermath -- read the book!

The story of these fifty men is not just about allegations of mutiny and these fifty individuals; it is also bout the segregation of the Navy and other armed forces before and during World War II and the efforts to end it. It's about just what it meant, to have segregated troops, and institutionalized racism both within and without the armed forces. Segregation and racism, and the actions at Port Chicago and by the sailors, cannot be viewed in isolation of each other.

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw. Roaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

Burcaw's memoir, based on his tumblr of the same name, is a humorous look at his life with spinal muscular atrophy. It's told in short, episodic chapters -- while it's roughly chronological in order, it doesn't have to be read in order or even all at once. This structure is both a weakness and a strength: those wanting an in depth, detailed examination will be disappointed. But, that's looking for this bok to be something it isn't. It is, instead, a funny, hilarious look at life. And that is it's strength: the short chapters means it's easy to read, and also easy to read over an extended period of time. A few chapters here, a few chapters there, is, a think, the best way to approach Laughing at My Nightmare.

While Burcaw's memoir is uniquely about his own experiences, it's also universal. Starting middle school, worrying about making friends, anxious about a first kiss -- Burcaw isn't the first person to worry about these things. Burcaw is funny and blunt: he knows teen readers will wonder "but how does he go to the bathroom?" and so he addresses those questions. And the humor is such that will appeal to a lot of teen readers.






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23. Review Round Up

I'm behind in reviews, so I'm doing a few round ups of titles -- better a couple paragraphs than nothing!

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to The Raven Boys (Book 1) and The Dream Thieves (Book 2).

This continues the story of the search in Virginia for a missing Welsh king. The searchers are prep school students Richard Gansey III (the driving force behind the search), his friends Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny, and local girl Blue Sargent.

By the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I'm not going to lie: it's complicated. There are a mess of characters, plus the search, plus the issues that the characters are dealing with in the present. Gansey is driven by his search; Ronan discovered dangerous family secrets, including his own ability to pull things out of dreams into the real world; Adam is a scholarship student with the drive for more and a serious, well earned chip on his shoulder. Noah has his own issues.

And Blue: Blue is from a family of psychics, without any real power herself, and with a curse upon her: her kiss will kill her true love. And since she's falling hard for Gansey, and since one of her aunts foresaw Gansey's death, it's, well, messy. Like life. Now take life and add in magic and history, myth and legend.

Readers know that I like when teen books have interesting adult characters: well, this has them and then some. The enigmatic Mr. Gray -- I mean, how often is a hired killer so sympathetic and likable? (And yes, I keep picturing him as Norman Reedus). Blue's mother has disappeared, but this allows other adults to move center. And Mr. Gray's boss also enters into the picture. It's not just magic and myth that is a danger.

The only frustration with Blue Lily, Lily Blue is there is still one more book in the series. So while the adventure moves forward, and questions are answered, there's still so much more to find out!


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Scholastic. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Iron Trial starts a series set in the modern world, where magic is real -- but hidden. Twelve-year-old Callum's father has done everything possible to keep Callum away from this world. Call is supposed to do everything possible to fail his entrance tests to the Magisterium, a school of magic hidden in the United States. Instead, Call finds himself in the Magisterium, studying magic, and finding out his father hasn't been totally honest with him. Magic isn't the big, dangerous, evil he's been told about.

Most of this book is the "forming" part of an adventure story: Call discovering the truth about magic, that it's not a simple matter of good or evil, and Call forging friendships and allies (and sometimes enemies and frenemies) with his fellow students. He also has to study magic, and it's not all fun and games -- it's also hard work. (And, well, fun. Because magic!)

Part of what Call learns about are some epic battles from over ten years before, including those who fought on the good side and the bad side. (Magic is neither good nor bad, but those who practice it -- they fall on those two sides.) Call is sometimes frustratingly ignorant about magic and his own family's connection to it, but it works for the book -- the reader learns as Call learns.

The ending of the book -- oh, the ending! Personally, I felt as if the story was just truly beginning with the ending, and that the real story will be next year, now that the reader, and Call, has the full knowledge of what is going on. Or do we know as much as we think?



















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24. Review: Home Cooking

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries) by Laurie Colwin. Illustrations by Anna Shapiro. Personal copy: Vintage, 2010. Originally published in 1988.

It's About: Part memoir, part cook book.

The Good: I read Colwin's Happy All the Time around when it first came out -- and it's stuck with me all these years. Since I was only in early high school at the time I read it, I thought that Happy All the Time, and Laurie Colwin herself, was my book, my discovery. While I bought a new copy when Vintage did its 2010 reissues, I still haven't brought myself to read it: would it be as perfect as I remember? Would it be as meaningful?

For how I read then, in high school and later, and well, for various reasons, despite loving that book I didn't read other Colwin titles. The good news about that is that now I can read them.

Home Cooking is a like a wonderful visit with a friend, making dinner and having laughs with a bottle of wine. It makes me hungry from the recipes; it makes me feel capable, because Colwin presents them as if they were easy to make. Her first kitchen, her first resources, are small and simple, making it that much more accessible to any reader. There's also an emphasis on fresh ingredients - seriously, it's as if were written today.

I also want to track down a copy of The Taste of America by John and Karen Hess.

Of course, the best way to show how this book is like hanging out with a friend is to highlight a few passages:

"Some diehards feel that to give a dinner party without a starter is barbaric. Mellower types want to get right down to the good stuff and not mess around with some funny little things on a small plate. Some hosts and hostesses are too tired to worry about a first and a second course and wish they had called the whole thing off."

"After you have cooked your party dinner six or seven times, you will be able to do it in your sleep, but your friends will be bored.You will then have to go in search of new friends..."

I now have to read More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen -- but I don't want to, not yet, because I still want to be looking forward to reading it.

Links about the amazingness of Home Cooking:

Laurie Colwin: A Confidante in the Kitchen by Jeff Gordinier, The New York Times; "there is something about her voice, conveyed in conversational prose, that comes across as a harbinger of the blog boom that would follow."

Decades Later, Laurie Colwin's Books Will Not Let You Down by Maureen Corrigan, NPR.

Because my "favorite books" list is about when I share it on the blog, not when it was published or when I read it (technically, this was during vacation last September), this is a Favorite Book of 2015.





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25. Review: Ida M. tarbell

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business--and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Library copy.

It's About: Ida M. Tarbell, born in 1857, who became one of the first American journalist and also helped found investigative journalism. Her noteworthy articles included a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and an expose of John D. Rockefeller and his company, Standard Oil Trust.

The Good: I really enjoyed learning about Ida M. Tarbell, whose name seemed vaguely familiar from history class.

I was impressed with Ida's many accomplishments and the things she did -- starting with her love of the sciences, attending a co-educational college, her start in journalism, traveling to Paris, freelancing, and then joining the staff of McClure's Magazine, where she wrote her most memorable articles.

One of the things that struck me is how matter of fact it was, how "of course this is what Ida is going to do" it was. While Ida was a pioneer, her story is also a reminder that her life, while not typical of the time, was also just that -- her life. She, with other women, did go to college. She, as others did, created a career, lived away from her family, traveled to Paris, working, having her own home.

I confess: that part of Ida's life, the pre-McClure part, fascinated me the most. I wanted to know more about those things, and those people in her life.

Of course, then, there is Ida's actual journalism, a career she came to sort of sideways. She began loving science, thought she'd be a teacher, and found herself working as an editor at a magazine. It wasn't until her early thirties and her trip to Paris that her work as a journalist really began. So, you can see all the reasons I kept turning the pages -- here, a women in the nineteenth century, having multiple careers. Pursuing her dreams. Living her life on her terms.

One cannot make generalizations about people: for all of Ida's accomplishments, which resulted from drive and determination, she had what seems to be mixed feelings about women's suffrage and equality. McCully explores this area in detail, noting that Ida's being against women getting the vote is probably one of the reasons she is a bit forgotten. What struck me was how modern, actually, Ida's beliefs were: I could easily imagine her in the present, being someone explaining how she didn't need feminism and wasn't a feminist because look at what she accomplished, on her own, and if she did it anyone can so stop with the feminism already.

I would like to learn more about Ida, and her life -- always a good sign in a biography, being left wanting more! I wonder if the things I want to know more about are things that McCully didn't cover because of length (this is a long, detailed biography) or if it's because there aren't the source documentation to answer the questions. For example, I wanted to know more about Ida's unnamed roommates during her 20 but imagine that was left out because of space. I also was curious as to Ida's relationships with her family and those family dynamics. Ida loved her father dearly, and ended up being the main provider to her mother, sister, brother, and brother's family. And yet certain things here left me asking for more and wondering things like whether her father was as wonderful as she painted him, for example. Is that not explored more because of space? Or because there is very little surviving from that time that would fill in the gaps about Ida's family?

Being left with questions, wanting more -- excellent. Learning more about Ida M. Tarbell, and also about what it was like for a woman pursuing a career over a hundred years ago? Even better. I'm so happy that this is a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award! I read it because it was a finalist, and I'll be chatting it up because it's a finalist.




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