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1. How (un)Smart Should a Writer Be?

How unSmart 3If you’ve been reading my deep travel tales, you’ll know how un-smart I am.

Count the times I’ve been run down on the road less traveled!

I was barely home from my travels in Africa and Asia when the gods pulled a U-turn and made roadkill of me yet again.

I was filming in the Canadian Rockies

I was shooting a film on the geomorphology of the high country. Think erosion. Even solid granite breaks up over time and washes to the sea. Everything disintegrates, including the human psyche.

Especially mine.

After an exhausting day filming on scree slopes above a chain of turquoise lakes and then debriefing the tapes over dinner with the sound tech we drove to Lake Louise to be closer to our next location. It was midnight by the time we found a tent site on the perimeter of a campground.

We pitched our tent and fell asleep.

I woke at dawn with rain drubbing softly on the sagging canvas.

I heard something else.

FuzzyWuzzyI crawled half out to peer around the tent—

Grizzly! Not six feet away from me.

Front paws on the picnic table, she sniffed our cooler, our food supply. Last night we had unloaded the jeep and then hastily secured one end of our pup tent to the table before passing out.

I’m sorry! I told you, I’m not that smart!

The bear took a second to fix me in the cross-hairs of her cold gaze.

I nudged Ken and whispered, “Grizzly.” He wanted to see. I shook my head furiously. He stuck his head out, withdrew, looked at me: “Three cubs.”

Worst case scenario. Now what?

Now what?

The tent collapsed.

The weight of the cooler and everything spilling out—bacon and steaks and yogurt, and bread, coffee, apples, raisins, nuts and milk and a week’s supply of Snickers Bars—it flattened the tent with us beneath it.

Four bears were sitting on us, eating. And not quietly, I might add.

While we lay still as death.

I thought of Fred.

Fred and I had played hockey at university. He was 6-3 and damned good-looking before he met the grizzly who left him minus one hip, a broken back, no scalp, half a face, and a chewed elbow, and those were just the physical injuries.

I was eroding inside, already.

I’d been here before, my life stopped dead in its tracks. (The cheetah comes to mind, remember?) My granite sense of self becoming “Fred,” I couldn’t muster the necessary thoughts to convince myself that life had meaning.

There was nothing left to obscure the fact that life has no meaning.

There was nothing left.

Hold that thought.

If you’ve read Story Structure Expedition, you’re familiar with how I recruited authors more eloquent than myself to do the heavy explaining through moments like this. Well, here we go again:

John Gray (The Silence of Animals), he sounds like he’s been under a grizzly’s picnic tablecloth:

“Accepting that the world is without meaning, we are liberated from confinement in the meaning we have made. Knowing there is nothing of substance in our world may seem to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may be our most precious possession, since it opens to us the inexhaustible world that exists beyond ourselves.”

That’s it! What every crisis has taught me.

If Mr. Gray moves over we can squeeze physicist, Alan Lightman, into this dilemma:

In our constant search for meaning in this baffling and temporary existence, trapped as we are within our three pounds of neurons, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real. We often invent what isn’t there. Or ignore what is. We try to impose order, both in our minds and in our conceptions of external reality. We try to connect. We try to find truth. We dream and we hope. Underneath all of these strivings, we are haunted by the suspicion that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the whole.”

Lightman is describing the fictional protagonist waking up in the Act II Crisis.

At the heart of the story, heroes see the world as it really is.

Un-smart like me

I’m not saying I’m a hero, but I certainly have been serially un-smart. My talent for not being too smart for my own good has earned me the moral authority to enter the Act III of my life.

And now, writing from the perspective of the final act, I want to share with you some of my discoveries (however arguable they might be):

  1. The meaning of a human life is to realize—by whatever means possible—that nothingness is our most precious possession 
  2. The best fictional protagonists do just that
  3. Which aids and abets our own struggle to see the world as it really is
  4. And that’s why we read fiction
  5. And perhaps why we write it.

CUT BACK TO ACTION:

Behind the falling rain, low voices. The canvas was suddenly snapped back to reveal a uniformed park official standing over me with a rifle. He shook his head in dismay, or disdain.

I know, I’m an idiot, I’m sorry.

Mama lay in a heap, tranquilized, while her three cubs found refuge up a tree. Campers, soggy in the early morning rain, watched in disbelief.

I know, I know,  I’m sorry! It’ll happen again, I assure you.

Because:

Good writers—like good protagonists—are never too smart for their own good.

[POST SCRIPT: All this “meaning” business notwithstanding, I didn’t sleep well in a tent for a few years after that.]

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2. New Beginning 1028


Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school. She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.

Nothing’s more important than an education.

The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother's new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before. Her father brought it home for her to play in.

The nicest thing he's ever done.

Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off. She lived in the next house up the hollow. Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities. Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.

All she needs is a little motivation.

Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, "The place of all things possible -- especially you passing the fifth grade so we'll be together in the sixth."

Please concentrate, Faith. Try this one.

"Armadillo."

"A, R, M, … A … D, I, L, D, O," Faith demonstrated her intellect.

"That's weak. This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points. Come on."

Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.

I’ll trick her by going out of order – a word she can't turn into another punch line.

But something had changed.

Faith began rattling off the vocabulary words: "pianist," "Uranus," "mainstream," while Lacy Dawn did her best to make them funny: P, E, N, I, S . . . . Y, O, U, R,   A, N, U, S . . .  W, A, N, K, C, H, E, E, S, E.

They stopped.

"We've switched bodies," said Faith. "Hey! Now I can pass math!"

Lacy Dawn nodded. She suddenly saw her future. Now she was dumb enough for the boys to like her.


Opening: Robert Eggleton.....Continuation: Khazar-khum


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3. Comics Illustrator of the Week :: Tom Neely

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This week we celebrate the Popeye-obsessed, Metal-warped mind of Tom Neely! His new series The Humans, with his pal Keenan Marshall Keller, has become a sleeper hit for Image Comics and is the perfect vehicle for Neely’s action-packed, skull-rattling artwork!

I first picked up some of Neely’s comics(The Blot, Your Disease Spread Quick, a Melvins comic book) at San Diego Comic Con about 10 years ago and I have to say that his comics career has been one of the most interesting to follow. Tom Neely has shown great range & versatility as an artist, from creating the cult-classic underground series Henry & Glenn Forever with The Igloo Tornado artist collective to his time campaigning for, then drawing for IDW’s new Popeye series(a life long dream of his) and then his recent 228-page graphic novel The Wolf, a beautifully raw, bloody acid trip of a story!

With The Humans comic book Neely has(hopefully)found his long-term happy(biker-ape-loitation)home to stretch his ink brush arm in!

Neely earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the University of Tulsa & Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute. He was born in Paris, Texas and now lives in Los Angeles, CA.

His 2007 graphic novel The Blot won him the Ignatz Award that year and was named one of the “Best Graphic Novels of the decade 2000-2010″ by The Comics Journal. He’s done many illustrations and album covers for the music industry including Green Day’s Demolicious, last year.

You can check out more of Tom Neely’s website here, and for fresh updates on The Humans go “like” the official FB page here.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com – Andy Yates

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4. Picture of Grace, by Josh Armstrong | Dedicated Review

Picture of Grace, by Josh Armstrong, is certainly moving and will be well received by families who are suffering or have suffered from loss.

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5. LGBT in Middle Grade

The world of middle-grade aged children provides many opportunities to introduce an LGBT character.

http://www.leewind.org/2015/05/mary-e-cronins-workshop-on-gay-lgbt.html

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6. The Skunk

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

The Skunk is a book I’ve been wanting for ages but I had no idea that I was.

I’m going to spoil this podcast interview for you, and you should still listen to it anyway, but when asked where he got the idea for this book, Mac said it was a writing prompt on an old poster in a school library:

A skunk won’t stop following you.

A fun thing is knowing Mac, and hearing his booming and contagious laugh, and picturing his long, lean self hunched over a desk with eight-year-olds hunched over their desks, writing about a skunk who won’t stop following you. I think Mac would love that too, because there’s a thing that resonates in all of his work for kids, which is a true and uncanny understanding of kid-ness, and a willingness to give them stories that grownups can’t observe in their own natural habitats.

(Sidenote: I wrote a whole thing about this recently, about honesty as a necessary thing in picture book writing and a necessary part of understanding the audience. Check it out here!)

I’m also going to spoil a big design piece of this book, so if you like to read things untainted, unspoiled, and fresh, bow out now. You’ve been warned!

But: the skunk and his man. A story you didn’t know you were dying for.

Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell didn’t collaborate on this book; rather, in publishing’s traditional sense, Mac did words and Patrick did pictures, and they didn’t speak of it until it was finished. In that same podcast, you’ll hear them speak of what an honor it was to work with lumps of clay the other had thrown down.

That, of course, is the very nature of a picture book. The text is incomplete without pictures; both parts are needed for the dance. 100

Here’s how I read a book.

First the endpapers.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThen the case cover. (Have I told you how angry my students get when a book does not have a secret underneath?! Also, see Travis Jonker’s latest post on this for more. A treat for sure.)

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellAnd the title page.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThis is so interesting to me, this differently styled skunk here. His etched-ness gives me pause, and is a little bit dizzying. Because here’s the thing: this small moment gives the whole story true plausibility. This skunk, this real skunk, did all of the things in this book. But I’m seeing it through an artist’s lens who might have represented it in a way that I can understand, that I can see.

Curious.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThe color palette here is a smart choice. It maintains this noir experience, but also serves to connect the duo physically: the skunk’s red nose, the man’s red bowtie. The skunk’s black and white tail, the man’s tuxedo tails. (Both of those with a flip and a flourish.)

There is no other color, save for a muted peach, a brightness in the shadows.

Soon, the man understands what’s really happening. His eyes speak fear.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThis standoff is one of my favorite parts. The offerings here–an apple, a saucer of milk, a pocket watch–are of no interest to a skunk. But it’s a moment of connection, the first time the man has turned to face his follower. That’s some bravery.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThen things get dire and the pace quickens, and if you haven’t felt it by now, we’re talking some serious Twilight Zone stuff.

This man moves to a different part of the city, buys new things, and perhaps breathes a bit easier.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThe Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnellThe man misses the skunk, because things like that worm and weasel and skunk their way into your routine, and all of a sudden, the missing it part is very real.

And here’s what else you probably noticed. The color!

Without the skunk, in a new house, with new things, the man is different. Transformed? Suddenly aware? What’s happening?

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

As he searches for his skunk, the colors mute. The world returns to whatever that normal was before.

My skunk.

And the endpapers again. Bookends, that duo.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

There’s a thing that happens with books when your eyebrow wrinkles and you’re not quite sure where you are anymore. Those are the best kinds of stories–the honest and the daring ones and the ones that make you look at your own world with a mix of wonder and skepticism.

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Thanks to Mary Van Akin at Macmillan for the images!

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7. Theatre Review- Luck of the Draw

Title: Luck of the Draw
Writer: Michael Smith
Director: Matthew Dye
Performed by: Renegade Theatre Company and VF
Cast: Neil Brown, Claire Deards, Tom Hurst, Niven Willett, Grace J. Willis, Hayley White, and Zac Abbott 
Seen at: Duke Street Theatre
Review:  Six friends, getting ready for a night out, with Papa John's pizza, waiting for the lottery results, and plenty of alcohol. It's funny, it's dirty, it's crazy. But then there's an accident which throws suspicion into the group, and by the end, the night has gone horribly wrong.
I wanted to see this because I love the  Renegade Theatre crew, and this was being advertised as a black comedy, which is definitely my cup of tea.
The humour was just as good as I'd hoped. Yes, you can think badly of me at laughing at various parts of it, because, as I said on the night, the majority of jokes are centered around things that cause people to go to hell (the effect of sexual favours for animals on a career in TV, potential necrophilia, what appeared to be multiple stabbings whilst everybody panics (I'm not sure about that one, I was laughing too much)) but at the time, in context, with the characters and the delivery, it was perfect.  I also enjoyed the running gags- it's a menorah is probably one of Tom's greatest lines. 
The writing, despite the mild bigotry that came in-character from some, is excellent. It's sharp and funny. Relationships and characters are established really quickly. The cliffhanger before the interval is huge, and act 2 went in millions of directions, expected and unexpected, bringing in things you thought were throwaway lines but turn out to be very important indeed.  I didn't really enjoy Neil's philosophising in act 2, though, but the poignancy of the phone call was a poignant breather before...everything else. 
The cast was brilliant. Everybody was completely in character, and they complemented and interacted with  eachother like a real group of friends would. The improvisation especially was on point (I only saw one show, but I heard an usher saying he noticed some parts improvised. The Star Wars lines between Grace and Tom! Perfect!)
The set and tech is very different to Spring Awakening. It's just a mess. There's nothing else to call it. Reflecting Niven's personality totally, made with little details like a Katy Perry poster and a full book/dvd case where you sat close enough to be able to see some titles.   I love how completely versatile Duke Street Theatre is, and how well they transformed the space for Luck of the Draw.  

Overall: Strength 4.5, just a 4* to a fast, funny, filthy show that I wish I'd seen multiple times. 
Links: Company

*If I hadn't had other theatre reviews with ratings, this would have probably been a 5. However, the last two shows I reviewed with a 5 were on a level that transcended every single expectation and left me breathless in awe, so that's my standard of strength 5 theatre shows.  The problems of having a numerical rating system that you can't extend upwards!

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8. Al Fresco

As a New York City dweller,
I don't often have the chance
To enjoy a meal al fresco;
You might look at me askance...

Thinking, outdoors in Manhattan,
Where's the dining out appeal?
On the sidewalk, with the traffic
Zipping by throughout your meal?

Being gawked by passing strangers,
Hearing belches from a bus,
Shooing sparrows seeking tidbits,
Is it worthy of the fuss?

But that answer's very easy
As I'm sure that you can guess.
Do I love to eat al fresco?
All that I can say is YES!

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9. Getting ready to head to SDCC!!

Fine me at SDCC Small Press with lots of SDCC Exclusive Goodies!!  

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10. Hannah Wood Wins The Ashmead Award

Hannah Wood, an Associate Editor at Harper, has won The Ashmead Award. The publishing prize honors book editor Lawrence Peel \"Larry\" Ashmead, who passed away in 2010.

Wood began her publishing career as an editorial intern at W.W. Norton, following by stints at two literary agencies, and worked as an editorial assistant at Doubleday.  In 2013 she joined Harper where she now works as an Assistant Editor with Claire Wachtel. As a reward for The Ashmead Award, Wood will attend the Yale Publishing Course:  Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing, July 19 – 24 in New Haven, CT.

“We had a superb field of candidates this year, but Hannah so impressed us with her dedication, skills and passion, her supportive interaction with authors, and her sharp wit and sense of humor, we knew that Larry would have loved working with her,” stated Brenda Segel, HarperCollins Sr. VP of Rights who spoke on behalf of the selection committee.

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11. Consult with Me in LA at the SCBWI Summer Conference



For the second year in a row, I'll be offering social media consultations at the big old SCBWI Summer Conference. If you're attending the event (and it's a great event), you can add me on just like you would a manuscript consultation. Last year, I filled up... but as of now, you can still sign up (until July 20th) as long as you're registered.

You can read all sorts of details about the consults courtesy of Lee Wind's posting at the SCBWI blog.  The short version is that the consult is designed to help you use your time online efficiently and effectively (and without stress, if possible). If you have unlimited time in your life, don't sign up. But if time, money, energy, and frustration levels are limited... this could be for you!

(In any case, by the way, if you're at the Conference, please say 'hi'!)

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12. Dark Horse Comics Offers Video Games-Themed Humble Bundle Deal

dark horse logoDark Horse Comics has formed a partnership with Humble Bundle. The two organizations have crafted a digital comics package tailored for video games fans.

Here’s more from the press release: “Customers can name their price for Fallout: New Vegas, Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon, EVE: True Stories, Tomb Raider: The Beginning, and The Art of Remember Me. Those who pay more than the average price will also receive The Guild Volume 1, Halo: Initiation, The Art of Bioshock Infinite, and Valve Presents Vol. 1: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories. Customers who pay above the average price by $5 or more will receive all of the above plus Mass Effect: Foundation Volume 1 and Dragon Age Volume 1: The Silent Grove.”

More titles will be added to the package on July 8. This Humble Bundle deal will be made available until July 15. Readers can choose between two recipients for their money; either the publishing house or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

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13. ‘Dream Defenders’ Brings International Exposure to Singapore’s Tiny Island Productions

Tiny Island founder David Kwok talks about Discovery Family Channel's pick-up of "Dream Defenders."

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14. How To Catch A Mouse (2015)

How To Catch a Mouse. Philippa Leathers. 2015. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is Clemmie. Clemmie is a brave, fearsome mouse catcher. She is excellent at stalking and chasing. She is patient and alert. She knows everything about how to catch a mouse. In fact, Clemmie is such a fearsome mouse catcher that she has never even seen a mouse. All the mice are afraid of me, thinks Clemmie. 

Premise/plot: Clemmie is confident that she knows everything about how to catch a mouse. But does she know as much as she thinks she does? Could a mouse be right in plain sight and Clemmie not know about it? Perhaps! Hint: The illustrations are EVERYTHING to the story.

My thoughts: I loved the story. I did. I thought it was wonderful. I loved how the illustrations tell so much of the story. The illustrations communicate a lot to the reader. In addition, the illustrations are just so precious and adorable. I loved Clemmie as a character as well. And I loved the "new trick" that she learned towards the end of the book.

Definitely recommended to cat lovers!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. An Action-Packed Day at American Heritage Summer Camp in Delray Beach, FL

I had the pleasure of visiting American Heritage Summer Camp in Delray Beach yesterday, where I was welcomed by many friendly staff members and hundreds of campers. The library there, which was built two years ago is the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen in any school, with it’s beautiful resin trees and skylights that change colors. There’s even a choral reef story time room! Who wouldn’t want to read in here?!?!?!?!

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Thank you  Sally Schleifer and Ally Stein for inviting me and making me feel very welcome at your beautiful school. And an additional thank you to the extra friendly Mr. Jim from the library for helping me carry my props out to the car.

 

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16. Mini-Reviews: First Jobs by Merritt Watts and The Job by Steve Osborne

From Goodreads:
Steve Osborne has seen a thing or two in his twenty years in the NYPD—some harmless things, some definitely not. In "Stakeout," Steve and his partner mistake a Manhattan dentist for an armed robbery suspect and reduce the man down to a puddle of snot and tears when questioning him. In "Mug Shot," the mother of a suspected criminal makes a strange request and provides a sobering reminder of the humanity at stake in his profession. And in "Home," the image of his family provides the adrenaline he needs to fight for his life when assaulted by two armed and violent crackheads. From his days as a rookie cop to the time spent patrolling in the Anti-Crime Unit—and his visceral, harrowing recollections of working during 9/11—Steve Osborne's stories capture both the absurdity of police work and the bravery of those who do it. His stories will speak to those nostalgic for the New York City of the 1980s and '90s, a bygone era of when the city was a crazier, more dangerous (and possibly more interesting) place.
Writing
Nothing spectacular here, but solidly done.  I really appreciated reading the book from Osborne's voice and not from the voice of a ghost writer.  It meant that the book really captured his voice - I could basically hear the New York accent through the page.  It wasn't overly polished, but it sounded like the voice of a NYPD cop.

Entertainment Value
Osborne got started with storytelling on The Moth and you can see that storytelling is really where he shines.  I loved each anecdote and think I would have enjoyed them even more in audio format.  If you're a fan of podcasts like The Moth or This American Life or Story Corps, this is exactly the same kind of stuff you'll find there.  Anecdotes of personal life, told well, and reflecting Osborne's personality.

Overall
I think something about the format translates better when you can hear the storyteller speaking than just in reading, but this is definitely worthwhile in print format too.  I'll be looking up the author's stories and trying to find them in the Moth's archives so I can hear them as well.

A future mayor shining shoes, an atheist shilling Bible, a housewife heading to work during World War II, a now-famous designer getting fired - we all got our start somewhere. A first job may not have the romance of the first kiss or the excitement of a first car, but more than anything else, it offers a taste of true independence and a preview of what the world has in store for us. In The First Job, reporter Merritt Watts collects real stories of these early forays into the workforce from a range of eras and industries, and a diversity of backgrounds. For some, a first job is a warm welcome to the working world. For others, it's a rude awaking, but as these stories show, it's an influential, entertaining experience that should not be underestimated. This book transforms what we might think of as a single, unassuming line at the bottom of a resume into a collection of absorbing tales and hard-earned wisdom to which we can all, for better or worse, relate. Perfect graduation gift; Picador True Tales is a new series of books in which reporters select short, candid, as-told-to, first-person narratives, and curate them in fascinating anthologies. The stories you'll discover within these books will be by turns hilarious, wise, and heartbreaking.
Writing
Much like The Job, this book consists of persona essays from various people about the first jobs they ever worked - from the horrible to the inspiring.  Some have a better quality of writing than the others, but the true standout here is in the personal anecdotes, not in the writing itself.

Entertainment Value
Again, I'd highly recommend this to those who enjoy hearing personal stories along the lines of Story Corps or This American Life.  These are short and easy to read and have a pretty broad appeal.  And like a podcast, you can read just one at a time here and there or you can binge on them.

Overall
Worth checking out, especially if you had a terrible first job and can identify with some of the madness these people dealt with.  It's not something that I think people will be itching to get their hands on, but I think it's a pleasant diversionary read.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these titles to review!

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17. SQUIRREL GIRL Cosplay by BelleChere

This one is for Subzero. And his very long post ;-)

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18. Rob Liefeld and his HIDDEN Deadpool Art!

 Rob Liefeld posted this on his Face Book page.  Sounds interesting!

"Hey!! I'll be placing original ‪#‎Deadpool‬ artwork in hidden spots all over Comic-Con and the surrounding Gas Lamp District during the show! Full story at Comicbook.com ‪#‎robliefeld‬ ‪#‎xforce‬ ‪#‎newmutants‬ ‪#‎marvel‬"
Rob Liefeld's photo.

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19. Funny Face, Sunny Face (2015)

Funny Face, Sunny Face. Sally Symes. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. 2015. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence:
Bunny face, sunny face, wake up...
with a funny face!
Bear hair, fair hair,
hardly any there hair.

Premise/plot: A day full of rhymes: morning to evening. This one is all about the rhyme. Also the rhythm, I suppose. But essentially it's a feel-good-to-read-aloud rhyming book for young children. Probably toddlers and preschoolers more than older ones.

My thoughts: This one is a cute book. I liked the rhymes for the most part. There weren't any that didn't work for me. And there were a handful that I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED. For example:
Sticky lips, licky lips
love-you
kiss-me-quickly lips.
and
new teeth,
chew teeth,
only one or
two teeth.
I didn't just love the text of , however. I loved many things about this one. It started charming me from the start. I really LOVE the endpapers of this one. It's a beautiful design. And the illustrations are precious as well.

This one would pair well with the sadly out-of-print Grump which I reviewed earlier this week.

Text: 4.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Trailer: ‘Top Cat Begins,’ Another Top Cat Film From Mexico

"Top Cat Begins" arrives October 9 in Mexico from Warner Bros. Pictures.

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21. Lee & Low Books named Indie Publisher of the Year 2014

We’re just back from the ALA Annual Conference, and kicking off the long weekend with some happy news: Lee & Low Books was named Indie Publisher of the Year 2014 by Foreword Reviews! Lee & Low Books Foreword Reviews We are so thrilled, overjoyed, and humbled by this honor. Here’s what Foreword Reviews said about us at the Award Announcement:

Foreword presented Lee & Low Books with its Publisher of the Year award for the minority-owned company’s commitment to diverse voices in children’s literature. Lack of diversity in children’s literature has been a recent topic of discussion in the publishing world, but Lee & Low has focused on filling this void for a couple of decades. “For more than 20 years, Jason Low and his talented team have continued an honorable mission of increasing the number of diverse books available for children,” said Foreword Reviews Publisher Victoria Sutherland. “They are being honored by Foreword for more than books, however. We admire their leadership role in the indie publishing community.”

Thank you all for the outpouring of love and support. We are lucky to have such passionate fans, partners, and readers. Happy Fourth of July weekend, and we’ll see you next week!

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22. life drawing

compressed charcoal on paper 35x50cm

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23. ‘Loop Ring Chop Drink’ by Nicolas Ménard

The mundane story of a heartbroken man, an online gambling addict, an alcoholic kleptomaniac, and an anxious loner living in the same apartment building.

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24. U.S. Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz Attempts ‘Simpsons’ Impressions

Rule #1 for being U.S. president in 2015: Do good cartoon impressions.

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25. The Great Good Summer (2015)

The Great Good Summer. Liz Garton Scanlon. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don't know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.

The Great Good Summer reminded me, in a way, of Because of Winn Dixie. Ivy Green is almost as lovable a heroine as Opal herself. Her narrative voice is certainly strong throughout. Ivy's narration made the novel work well for me.

So Ivy's story, on the surface, is simple: her mom has recently left them (her and her dad) without a word as to where she's going and if she'll ever be back. Ivy and her Dad struggle with their new reality. Some things remain the same: Ivy's babysitting, weekly attendance at church; but some things are VERY different: her mom being gone, her never-subsiding-ache of wanting her mom back, her new friendship with a boy, Paul Dobbs, who most decidedly does NOT believe in God.

One of the book's greatest strengths is in the writing itself:
But the thing is, ideas are my talent. My only talent, really. My voice isn't right for singing, I freeze up in the spelling bee, and I can't shoot a basket to save my life. If I stop coming up with ideas, I'm not gonna have anything left to do or talk about. (5)
Personally, I think if you're an only child, you should automatically be issued a dog when you're born, as a consolation prize, but my mama and daddy disagree. (6)
"Daddy, what are we gonna say when people ask us about Mama?" I stir my bowl of milk. Daddy's right. I'm dawdling. "The truth, baby. They're church folks. Church folks understand other church folks." (23)
Paul isn't a redhead like his mama and sister, and he isn't exactly distinguished-looking either, but he is nice to look at. For a boy that I'm always getting a little mad at, I mean. (44)
I do find it interesting that faith in God is such a big part of this book. Not every character even believes in God. As I mentioned, Paul doesn't. And he challenges Ivy in several scenes, for better or worse. Why do you believe in a God you can't even see? Why do you think there is a God in the first place? How do you know he's real? Why aren't you more skeptical? But there are a handful of characters that do believe in God that do define themselves by their faith in God. And Ivy herself as emotional as she is, as angry as she becomes, does still believe in God.

Does the book get Christianity right? That's hard to say in a way. If your impression of Christianity is that it is a do religion: a do this, this, this, and that religion--a religion defined by things you do and things you don't do--I'm not sure there is enough gospel, enough grace, in The Great Good Summer to change that impression. If you (rightly) hold that Christianity is a done religion: what Christ has done for us, on our behalf, the price he paid to redeem us, to deliver us, then there aren't any passages that scream out heresy either. Though this passage makes me sad:
I hope you can forgive me sometime, Ivy. In the meantime I have to work on forgiving myself. And then it's up to God. That's the really awful thing about this whole mess--I was just trying to get closer to God, which makes it even bigger shame that I messed up as badly as I did." (183)
There were so many things I wanted to say to them both. Like it isn't about trying: trying to be better, or trying to do more. It's about trusting in what God has already done. It's about trusting that Jesus is enough. That God could not love you more than he already does. That he could not love you less either. That he really and truly has paid it all. 

I didn't quite love, love, love this one. But it certainly was worth reading.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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