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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger (Gold Seer Trilogy) by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: 1849 Georgia. Leah Westfall lives with her parents, and together they hide her secret: she can find gold. It calls to her. To the rest of the world, her father is lucky; a luckiness that the family has to hide.

Her world comes crashing down when her parents are murdered and Leah finds herself running for her life. But where to go, what to do?

She can find gold. So she decides to go where everyone who has gold fever is going in 1849: California.

The Good: Oh, so much to like about Walk on Earth a Stranger!

First is, girls getting stuff done. At the start of the book, Leah is 15. She is devastated by the murders of her beloved parents, especially when she realizes who is behind it and that she is not safe. As a minor, and a woman, she has few options so she runs away. Dressed as a boy, and calling herself Lee.

So yes, this becomes a girl dressed like a boy story! Love. Leah binds her breasts and pleads modesty to explain her needs for privacy. And yes, Walk on Earth a Stranger is the type of book that doesn't shy away from things like Lee having to figure out what to do when she gets her period.

Lee's journey across the country is quite the adventure, by horse, by boat, by wagon. Pretending to be a boy gives her a level of safety and independence in her travels, but it doesn't totally protect her. It's still, at times, a struggle, and there are things -- there are people -- to fear.

Lee meets a wide assortment of people during her travels. One friend from the start is a neighbor and quasi-romantic interest, Jefferson. What I like about Jefferson is that he doesn't save her, and Lee doesn't need saving; they are friends, who may become something more, but they are equals. At times there are secrets and misunderstandings between the two, but the friendship is constant.

At least half of the book is the journey to California. It's not easy; there are difficulties, based on the method of travel, the ignorance and naivety of some of the travelers, and problems with some of those they are traveling with. Lee sees firsthand the hatred and fear of those in their party towards Indians, ranging from malicious actions to making up stories. She also sees it in how Jefferson (whose mother was Cherokee) is treated and talked about.

The people traveling to California are an odd mixture, bound together mainly by need and timing. It includes families and young men; people hoping to make their fortune finding gold and people hoping to make their fortune off of the gold seekers.

The Joyner family is the one that Lee travels with the longest, and so perhaps that is why the Joyners, and Mrs. Joyner especially, fascinates me. The Joyners are a well off family, bringing their furniture with them, insisting on tablecloths and china at meals. They have prejudices and biases typical of their time. (The interactions, or lack of interactions, between families based on religion and background is another fascinating part of the story.) The trip itself takes the family physically out of their comfort zone, and as the story continues Mrs. Joyner is continuing pushed beyond her comfort zone. Her character trajectory, when she rises to the occasion, when she falls, makes me hope to see more of her in the second book. Once in California, will she fall back to who she was? Or continue to grow and adapt?

Finally, what I like is that Lee's gift is not an easy answer. "Finding gold" sounds wonderful but the reality, not so much. Her parents, for example, knew that they had to be careful about who knew how much they had found; and also to take a care of whose gold is found. I liked the way that Lee used her gift in ways other than prospecting.

Walk on Earth a Stranger ends with Lee in California, and I liked that resolution, that the book was all about Lee's journey and about her gathering around her a small group of people she can trust. I'm looking forward to the next book, not just to find out more about Lee and her friends, but also to see if some of the many questions raised in the first book get answered.

And yes, I adore Rae Carson and her writing, so of course this is a Favorite Book Read in 2015.

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

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

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2. Review: Axcend #1 Game On

Axcend from Image comics smashes two different story telling worlds together, but is it worth pushing start?

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3. SUPPORT AUTHORS--Buy Direct from Them!

AUTHORS your kids will READ

 Authors have terrific imaginations, a love of words, and a passion for creating 
wonderful stories. Unfortunately, this rarely translates into buckets of money.

We write because we love to weave words into stories
 that capture children's imaginations.  

The idea of kids eventually reading our stories to 
THEIR children is our kinky kind of immortality.

Don't laugh. . . I am SERIOUS! 

Authors only need two things from READERS:


Tell others if you (or your child) enjoyed the read. . . or NOT.

Buying from an author's website helps 
YOU and the AUTHOR.

Authors make more from the books THEY sell, and
YOU often  get DISCOUNTS and much CHEAPER postage.

Authors love to AUTOGRAPH the books you buy.
This makes your GIFT of a  BOOK  extra special.

The Authors listed in the panel on the RIGHT have
private websites, where you can BUY DIRECT from
them, and even ask about their plots and characters.

Their books are also available on
Amazon, bookstores, and other places

More author names and links will be added
as they are discovered.

Margot Finke 
Skype Author Visits

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4. Review of Out of the Woods

Out of the Woodsstar2 Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
by Rebecca Bond; illus. by the author
Primary   Ferguson/Farrar   40 pp.
7/15   978-0-374-38077-9   $17.99

Bond relates a story from 1914 Ontario, during her grandfather’s childhood, when he lived at a lakeside hotel run by his mother. Art and text describe young Antonio wandering the hotel, intrigued both by the “travelers” and “outdoor sportsmen” and by the loud, lively “men who worked in the forest” — trappers, lumberjacks, silver miners. Antonio also roams the woods, catching only disappointing half-glimpses of wild animals. One day, a forest fire breaks out, 
driving everyone toward the only safe place — the lake. As people stand in the water watching the fire rage, animals, too, make their way out of the woods and into the lake. It’s a dream come 
true for Antonio, who gets a close-up look at every forest creature imaginable as they slowly parade by. Like a woodland version of Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom, “wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” Bond vividly conveys the nearness and wonder by describing what Antonio experiences: he “smelled the steam 
rising off the animals’ wet fur, saw their chests lifting and falling in steady rhythm, and felt their hot animal breath.” As the fire subsides, all creatures leave the water — and “miraculously,” the hotel has escaped untouched. The endpapers feature realistic drawings of forest animals against a sepia background, the vintage-children’s-book vibe setting the tone for this historical tale. Throughout, Bond’s detailed sketches tinted with muted browns, greens, blues, and oranges create a dreamlike mood, a fine match for the mesmerizing story. An appended note includes a photo of the author’s grandfather as a child.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Out of the Woods appeared first on The Horn Book.

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5. Portrait of a Lady

I know Henry James is not everyone’s cup of tea but I love the long sentences, the way the story kind of oozes along, the psychological analysis, it’s good stuff! James was well aware what people thought of his stories. In the introduction to Portrait of a Lady he writes,

I’m often accused of no having ‘story’ enough. I seem to myself to have as much as I need — to show my people, to exhibit their relations with each other; for that is all my measure.

And that is what he does, examines relationships.

In Portrait of a Lady we have the young American Isabel Archer whose father has just died. Her two older sisters are married and Isabel is left with only a small income and no idea what to do with herself. He aunt swoops in from England and whisks her to Gardencourt where Isabel meets her uncle, Mr. Touchett and cousin Ralph. The Touchett’s are American expats who have more or less gone native, so to speak.

Isabel is naive and energetic, she wants to live life to its fullest on her own terms. She is without guile and so utterly charming that all the young men seem to fall in love with her. She left a suitor behind in America who eventually follows her to England in hopes of getting Isabel to marry him. Ralph’s friend and neighbor, Lord Warburton, is smitten and within days of meeting Isabel proposes. Isabel turns them all down because she is too well aware of the trap marriage will make for her.

Ralph loves Isabel too but keeps it to himself. Instead of asking her to marry him, when Mr. Touchett dies, Ralph asks that he settle a large part of his estate on Isabel. Ralph wants to see what kind of person and life Isabel will have when she has the money to do whatever she pleases.

At first it all goes well. But then Isabel falls into the clutches of Madame Merle who is nothing but gracious and perfect on the outside but a wicked schemer on the inside. Madame Merle sets up Isabel with Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate living in Italy. He has a young daughter, Pansy, and a sad story of his wife’s death. He has no money but exquisite taste revealed in his collections of art and other items. Isabel is such a unique piece of work herself, plus she has money, so Osmond turns on the charm and adds Isabel to his collection by convincing her to marry him.

Of course it is not a happy marriage. Isabel refuses to properly fit into Osmond’s collection. There is much that happens with Isabel and Lord Warburton, with Pansy and her suitors, with Osmond and Madame Merle. Many times Isabel is offered the chance to escape her marriage but she refuses to leave out of sheer stubbornness and a belief that she made her bed and now she has to lie in it.

There are exciting secrets revealed. Marital arguments. Threats. For nothing happening there is quite a lot that happens! The ending is infuriatingly ambiguous. Isabel went to England against Osmond’s wishes to attend Ralph on his deathbed. Afterwards she returns to Italy but we are not sure if she returns to Osmond or if she returns to rescue Pansy from the convent Osmond has put her in as punishment.

Isabel is a frustrating character. She is independent and smart and speaks her mind. Yet she is always trying to be the good wife. She submits to Osmond as best she can, but her nature will only allow her to bend so far before she rebels. So she suffers both mentally and emotionally. It is well within her power to do something about it but she refuses. I wanted to yell at her. Ralph and Lord Warburton do. Well, they don’t yell, they are gentlemen after all, but they express their concern and strongly urge Isabel to leave. But the ending leaves us hanging. Will she go back to Osmond? I like to think she won’t but I don’t feel confident in that.

Isabel’s marriage is in direct comparison in many ways with the independent Henrietta Stackpole, feminist, journalist, and friend of Isabel. Henrietta and Ralph’s friend Mr. Bantling hit it off and begin traveling together. It is an entirely unconventional relationship but it works. Eventually Henrietta and Mr. Bantling get married but it is on Henrietta’s terms and we can believe that theirs will be a successful marriage. I loved Henrietta, she is what Isabel wanted to be (kind of) but couldn’t manage. The novel would be fun to reread some time and compare the two women and their marriages more carefully.

I read Portrait of a Lady along with Danielle. I liked it a lot more than she did but I think we both enjoyed it. It is one of James’s most popular long novels and if you are wanting to try Henry James and are a bit nervous about it, I think Portrait of a Lady is a good place to start.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Henry James

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6. Review of Sunny Side Up

holm_sunny side upstar2 Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; 
illus. by Matthew Holm; color by Lark Pien
Intermediate   Graphix/Scholastic   218 pp.
9/15   978-0-545-74165-1   $23.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-74166-8   $12.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-74167-5   $12.99

Set largely during the summer of 1976, this semiautobiographical graphic novel from the brother-and-sister team behind the Babymouse series includes an amiable grandfather, U.S. bicentennial festivities, and a trip to Disney World — but it is much more than a lighthearted nostalgia piece. Ten-year-old Sunshine “Sunny” Lewin had been looking forward to spending August at the shore as usual, but her parents have suddenly sent her to Florida to stay with “Gramps” instead. Her less-than-thrilling days at the retirement community, complete with early-bird specials and trips to the post office, improve after she befriends the groundskeeper’s son, comics-obsessed Buzz. The two spend their time doing odd jobs for spending money and mulling over age-old superhero dilemmas (“But they’re heroes. Why can’t they save the people they love?”). These discussions, and the series of flashbacks they often elicit, ultimately lead readers to the truth surrounding Sunny’s visit: back home in Pennsylvania, her teenage brother is struggling with substance abuse, and Sunny is convinced that she made the problem worse — a misconception Gramps lovingly corrects. Matthew Holm’s loose, less-is-more cartooning is easy to read and expressive, if occasionally unpolished. Straightforward dialogue, captions establishing time and setting, and extended wordless scenes swiftly propel the narrative and will be appreciated by Raina Telgemeier fans. An affirming author’s note delves further into the Holm siblings’ personal experience with familial substance abuse and encourages young readers sharing a similar struggle to reach out (as Sunny eventually does) to the responsible adults in their lives.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Sunny Side Up appeared first on The Horn Book.

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7. Cemetery Girl, Book Two: Inheritance by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

Cemetery Girl: Inheritance
Last year, I devoured the first Cemetery Girl graphic novel, The Pretenders, in one sitting. I am not always "into" stories in which the main character has amnesia - I am impatient and want to know what happened to the character, and I also really wish I could help them/heal them/restore their memories immediately - but the quick pace of this story offered intrigue and action rather than hemming and hawing, plus I liked the full-color illustrations...and I still felt the urge to help the protagonist and learn more about her.

Today sees the release of Book Two in the Cemetery Girl trilogy, Inheritance. Here's the cover summary:

She calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill. She has been living - hiding out - in Dunhill Cemetery ever since someone left her there to die. She has no idea who wants her dead or why, but she isn't about to wait around for her would-be killer to finish the job.

Despite her self-imposed isolation, Calexa’s ability to see spirits - and the memories she receives from them - guarantees she'll never be alone, even among the deceased. The only living people she allows herself to interact with are Kelner, the cemetery's cantankerous caretaker, and Lucinda Cameron, an elderly woman who lives in an old Victorian house across the street. With their friendship, Calexa has regained a link to the world beyond tombstones and mausoleums.

Until the night she witnesses a murder that shatters her life - a life now under a police microscope - as their investigation threatens to uncover Calexa’s true identity...

Cemetery Girl: Inheritance was written by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden and illustrated by Don Kramer.

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8. Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano. Bloomsbury USA Children's Publishing. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

Media of A Curious Tale of the In-BetweenThe Plot: Pram Bellamy has been raised by her two aunts, Aunt Nan and Aunt Dee, in the Halfway to Heaven Home for the Aging. Pram has been homeschooled, which means she has been able to keep her secret -- she talks to ghosts. Oh, it's not scary or creepy; her best friend, Felix, is a ghost. But it is something she knows she has to keep secret.

But a person cannot hide forever: and when Pram is sent to school, she meets Clarence. Like Pram, Clarence's mother is dead. As Clarence and Pram's friendship grows, he shares with her his own secret: his desperate need to find his mother -- his mother's ghost. Clarence is unaware of Pram's secret, but she couldn't help him anyway. Sometimes ghosts come to her, sometimes they don't. She doesn't see Clarence's mother; she's never seen her own mother.

Lady Savant is one of the spiritualists a searching Clarence goes to. She doesn't give Clarence any answers, but she does recognize Pram's power. And she wants it for her own.

The Good: A wonderfully creepy book -- not creepy because ghosts. To Pram, ghosts are not much different from humans. Felix is her best friend, even if she's the only one who can see him.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between starts as an exploration of Pram: telling us a bit about her distraught mother, who took her own life while pregnant with Pram. Telling us a bit about the strange home Pram has been raised in.

And then it turns to creepy and to terror, not because of ghosts or the supernatural, but because of one person who craves the power Pram has. Lady Savant, who is willing to say anything and do anything. People, not what lurks between life and death, or what happens after life, are the threat. But people are also what can save us.

This is a great middle grade book: it's about Pram learning more about herself and her world while making closer connections with friends and family, living and dead. It's also got a sense of place I found delightful even while being scared. Pram's aunts and the home they run are almost like something out of Dickens; the mystery of Pram's parents, even the names used (Pram, Clarence, Felix) make this reminiscent of older stories. Yet it's more that it's a timeless story, not a historical story. And the horror is just enough -- just enough to scare the reader, to make one turn the pages even faster, even, perhaps, to make one skip to the last page just to make sure it ends well.

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

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

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9. Review of the Day: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

hiredgirlThe Hired Girl
By Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0763678180
Ages 12 and up

Bildungsroman. Definition: “A novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.” A certain strain of English major quivers at the very term. Get enough Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man shoved down your gullet and you’d be quivering too. I don’t run across such books very often since I specialize primarily in books for children between the ages of 0-12. For them, the term doesn’t really apply. After all, books for kids are often about the formation of the self as it applies to other people. Harry finds his Hogwarts and Wilbur his spider. Books for teenagers are far better suited to the Bildungsroman format since they explore that transition from child to adult. Yet when you sit right down and think about it, the transition from childhood to teenagerhood is just as fraught. There is a beauty to that age, but it’s enormously hard to write. Only a few authors have ever attempted it and come out winners on the other side. Laura Amy Schlitz is one of the few. Writing a book that could only be written by her, published by the only publisher who would take a chance at it (Candlewick), Schlitz’s latest is pure pleasure on the page. A book for the child that comes up to you and says, “I’ve read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. What’s new that’s like that?”

The last straw was the burning of her books. Probably. Even if Joan’s father hadn’t set her favorite stories to blazes, it’s possible that she would have run away eventually. What we do know is that after breaking her back working for a father who wouldn’t even let her attend school or speak to her old teacher, 14-year-old Joan Skraggs has had enough. She has the money her mother gave her before she died, hidden away, and a dream in mind. Perhaps if she runs away to Baltimore she might be able to find work as a hired girl. It wouldn’t be too different from what she’s done at home (and it could be considerably less filthy). Bad luck turns to good when Joan’s inability to find a boarding house lands her instead in the household of the Rosenbach family. They’re well-to-do Jewish members of the community and Joan has no experience with Jewish people. Nonetheless she is willing to learn, and learn she does! But when she takes her romantic nature a bit too far with the family, she’ll find her savior in the most unexpected of places.

I mentioned Anne of Green Gables in my opening paragraph, but I want to assure you that I don’t do so lightly. One does not bandy about Montgomery’s magnum opus. To explain precisely why I referenced it, however, I need to talk a little bit about a certain type of romantically inclined girl. She’s the kind that gets most of her knowledge of other people through books. She is by turns adorable and insufferable. Now, the insufferable part is easy to write. We are, by nature, inclined to dislike girls in their early teens that play a kind of mental dress-up that’s cute on kids and unnerving on adolescents. However, this character can be written and written well. Jo in Little Women comes through the age unscathed. Anne from Anne of Green Gables traipses awfully close to the awful side, but manages to charm the reader in the process (no mean feat). The “Girl” from the musical The Fantastiks would fit in this category as well. And finally, there is Joan in The Hired Girl. She vacillates wildly between successfully playing the part of a young woman and then going back to the younger side of adolescence. She pouts over not getting a kitten, for crying out loud. Adults reading this book will have a vastly different experience than kids and teens, then. To a grown-up (particularly a grown-up woman) Joan is almost painfully familiar. We remember the age of fourteen and what that felt like. That yearning for love and adventure. That yearning can be useful to you, but it can also make you bloody insufferable. As such, adults are going to be inclined to forgive Joan very easily. I can only hope that her personality allows younger readers to do the same.

My husband used to write and direct short historical films. They were labor intensive affairs where every car, house, and pot holder had to be accurate and of the period. It would have been vastly easier to just write and direct contemporary fare, but where’s the fun in that? I think of those days often when I read works of historical fiction. Labor intensive doesn’t even begin to explain what goes into an accurate look at history. Ms. Schlitz appears to be unaware of this, however, since not only has she written something set in the past, she throws the extra added difficulty of discussing religion into it as well. Working in a Jewish household at the turn of the century, Joan must come to grips with all kinds of concepts and ideas that she has hitherto been ignorant of. For this to work, the author tries something very tricky indeed. She makes certain that her heroine has grown up on a farm where her sole concept of Jewish people is from “Ivanhoe”, so that she is as innocent as a newborn babe. She isn’t refraining from anti-Semitism because she’s an apocryphal character. She’s just incapable of it due to her upbringing, and that’s a hard element to pull off. Had Ms. Schlitz pushed the early portion of this book any further, she would have possibly disinterested her potential readership right from the start. I have heard a reader say that the opening sequence with Joan’s family is too long, but I personally believe these sections where she wanders blindly in and out of various situations could not have worked if that section had been any shorter.

But as I say, historical fiction can be the devil to get right. Apocryphal elements have a way of seeping into the storyline. Your dialogue has to be believably from the time and yet not so stilted it turns off the reader. In this, Laura Amy Schlitz is master. This book feels very early 20th century. You wouldn’t blink an eye to learn it was fifty or one hundred years old (though its honest treatment of Jewish people is probably the giveaway that it’s contemporary). The language feels distinctive but it doesn’t push the young reader away. Indeed, you’re invited into Joan’s world right from the start. I also enjoyed very much her Catholicism. Characters that practice religion on a regular basis are so rare in contemporary books for kids these days.

As I mentioned, adults will read this book differently than the young readership for whom it is intended. I do think that if I were fourteen myself, this would be the kind of book I’d take to. By the same token, as an adult the theme that jumped out at me the most was that of motherhood. Joan’s mother died years before but she has a very palpable sense of her. Her memories are sharp and through her eyes we see the true tragedy of her mother’s life. How she wed a violent, hateful man because she felt she had no other choice. How she wasn’t cut out for the farm’s hard labor and essentially worked herself to death. How she saw her daughter’s future and found the means to save her (and by golly it works!). All the more reason to have your heart go out to Joan when she tries, time and again, to turn Mrs. Rosenbach into a substitute mother figure. It’s a role that Mrs. Rosenbach does NOT fit into in the least, but that doesn’t stop Joan from extended what is clearly teenaged rebellion onto a woman who isn’t her mother but her employer. Indeed, it’s Mrs. Rosenbach who later says, “I felt her wanting a mother.”

Is it a book for a certain kind of reader? Who am I to say? It’s a book I’d hand to a young me, so I don’t think I can necessarily judge who else would enjoy it. It’s beautiful and original and old and classic. It makes you feel good when you read it. It’s thick but it flies by. Because of the current state of publishing today books are either categorized as for children or for teens. The Hired Girl isn’t really for either. It’s for those kids poised between the two ages, desperate to be older but with bits of pieces of themselves stuck fast to their younger selves. A middle school novel of a time before there were middle schools. Beautifully written, wholly original, one-of-a-kind. Unlike anything you’ve read that’s been published in the last fifty years at least, and that is the highest kind of praise I can give.

On shelves now.

Professional Reviews:

Interviews: Laura speaks with SLJ about the book.


More discussions of the book and where it came from!


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10. Oreo

cover artOreo by Fran Ross. Completely and delightfully meshuganah! Remember how excited I was about the beginning? How I wondered if it could possibly keep up for an entire novel? Or would it get old fast? The hilarity remains high throughout and not once does it get old or irritating. In fact, it is continually surprising.

Christine Clark, the offspring of a black mother and Jewish father, is raised by her black grandparents because her father abandoned the family after her brother was born and her mother is constantly traveling. Oreo is Christine’s nickname. It was supposed to be “oriole” but no one could understand her grandmother’s deep and peculiar southern accent and they all thought she said “Oreo.” Of course the name has a double meaning. It is a cookie, but it is also an insult for people who appear to be black but act white. Christine may be called Oreo but an oreo she is not.

What she is is a whip smart, linguistically talented, self-confident, take charge and take no crap young woman. The story is a kind of coming of age quest feminist satire. Christine is Theseus gone in search of her father who has left her clues. She overcomes obstacles, performs deeds, faces dangers, and makes her way through the labyrinth that is the New York City subway system. She finds her father but the story’s end is not one in which our heroine is richly rewarded as Theseus was. This is not that kind of story. Stereotypes and expectations must be subverted, and are.

A big part of the pleasure of this book is the language itself. I am going to have to find a way to work I had “more fun than a tornado in a trailer park” into a conversation some time. It is filled with Yiddish and black vernacular and a made up language and standard English and southern something or other, and puns and puzzles and jokes and word play of all sorts:

As Oreo walked up the street, she saw a pig run squealing out of a doorway, a bacon’s dozen of pursuers pork-barreling after it.

Oreo is sadly Ross’s only novel. It was first published in 1974 to very little notice. Ross worked as a freelance editor and writer, wrote articles for magazines, worked as a proofreader and copyeditor for a couple big publishers and was part owner of a mail order educational supply company. In 1977 she moved to Los Angeles to work as a comedy writer for The Richard Pryor Show. The show did not last long and Ross returned to New York. She died of cancer in 1985 at the age of fifty.

I can understand why Oreo did not get much attention in 1974. It was far ahead of its time and the places that did review it were not sure what to make of it. Thank goodness for independent publishers, because time has finally caught up with the book and New Directions has done us all a service in reprinting it.

I haven’t really told you all that much about the book, but I am not certain I could really do it justice even if I went on and on about it. It is one of those books you have to experience for yourself. Don’t expect realist fiction and well-rounded characters. Don’t expect a linear plot, heck don’t expect much plot at all. Do expect much absurdity, mayhem, and lampooning of everyone and everything. Oh, and expect to giggle, chuckle, guffaw, and laugh out loud.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Fran Ross

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11. Monday Review: THE SCORPION RULES by Erin Bow

Summary: While you can certainly characterize all of Erin Bow's books so far as speculative fiction, they aren't easily categorized within that, nor are they similar to one another in any way—and I like that. Her first book Plain Kate (reviewed... Read the rest of this post

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12. Horn BOO! 2015

Don’t be frightened. The ten (not-so) terrifying tales reviewed by the Horn Book staff in our annual Halloween roundup are only make-believe. (Wait, what’s that behind you?)

horn boo_day_carl's halloweenCarl’s Halloween
by Alexandra Day; illus. by the author
Preschool   Ferguson/Farrar   32 pp.
8/15   978-0-374-31082-0   $14.99

When Mom blithely announces that she’s going over to Grandma’s for a while and that Rottweiler Carl and his girl (Good Dog, Carl and sequels) can hand out the candy to trick-or-treaters, well, you can see from the September/October Horn Book’s cover illustration that things don’t go exactly like that. Carl and the little girl take over the action in a series of wordless, sumptuous double-page spreads, donning the most minimal of costumes (a necklace for Carl; a hat for the girl) to join the Halloween festivities. Gratifyingly, Carl never looks anything but doglike, although his facial expressions belie his care for the girl as he gently guides — and eventually carries — her about the neighborhood. Per usual, the watercolor illustrations are gloriously hued, the red feather in the girl’s hat gorgeous against the October evening sky. ROGER SUTTON

horn boo_kimmelman_trick arr treatTrick Arrr Treat: A Pirate Halloween
by Leslie Kimmelman; 
illus. by Jorge Monlongo
Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-8075-8061-5   $16.99   g

Six young swashbucklers — including Toothless Tim, Rude Ranjeet, and “pirate chief” Charlotte Blue-Tongue — plunder their neighborhood for candy on Halloween. The digital palette of oranges and purples grows darker as the evening advances and the trick-or-treaters’ imaginations grow. The young pirates continue “a-romping” until a mysterious shadow that may or may not be a “big black monster, sly and cunning” gets “the frightened pirates running.” With its kid-friendly rhymes and abundance of pirate lingo (“TRICK ARRR TREAT!”), this appealing mash-up of Halloween and pirate themes captures the lighthearted fun of the holiday. Nothing can deter a band of pirates…as long as those pirates are home before dark. MOLLY GLOVER

horn boo_lester_tacky and the haunted iglooTacky and the Haunted Igloo
by Helen Lester; 
illus. by Lynn Munsinger
Primary   Houghton   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-544-33994-1   $16.99   g

Tacky the Penguin and pals (Happy Birdday, Tacky!, rev. 7/13, and others) get into the Halloween spirit by decorating their igloo and preparing trick-or-treat goodies. Actually, his penguin friends do all the work while “Snacky Tacky sampled the treats,” etc. On Halloween night, the haunted igloo is a spooky success, until three hunters dressed as ghosts arrive and demand “all yer yummy treats / Or we do something skearies.” Not a problem, if there were any treats left. But wait! Who’s this “skeary” hunter at the door? Is he the biggest hunter’s “twin brudder”? Tacky’s fans will recognize the odd-bird hero, but it’s enough to scare off the real hunters. The affectionate text and nonthreatening illustrations play up the absurdity of the situation. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_long_fright clubFright Club
by Ethan Long; illus. by the author
Primary   Bloomsbury   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-61963-337-7   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61963-418-3   $9.99

The first rule of Fright Club: don’t talk about Fright Club. The next rule? Only the truly scary can be members. Discrimination! cries a bunny, who wastes no time seeking representation, then organizing a demonstration. “HISS, MOAN, BOO! WE CAN SCARE TOO!” chant a butterfly, ladybug, turtle, and squirrel. And scare they do, disrupting the Fright Club meeting and proving their fearsome bona fides just in time for “Operation Kiddie Scare.” It’s a funny Halloween concept that delivers, through Long’s spry text — Ghost: “What are we going to do?!?” Vampire Vladimir: “NOTHING! If you ignore cute little critters, they eventually go away!” — and cartoony digitally colored (but very sparely, it’s mostly all shadowy grays) graphite-pencil illustrations. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

horn boo_masessa_scarecrow magicScarecrow Magic
by Ed Masessa; illus. by Matt Myers
Primary   Orchard/Scholastic   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-545-69109-3   $16.99   g

Stripping off his layers of straw and clothing, a skeleton finishes his workday as a scarecrow and meets up with “ghoulies and ghosties” to “dance under the moon.” A large cast of monsters (furry, scaly, two-headed, or giant) spend all night with the scarecrow, playing games (including hide-and-seek and jacks) and fighting mock battles until the sun starts to rise. Myers’s inventive “troublesome” creatures and ecstatically animated skeleton are depicted through strong black outlines and thick, bold strokes. The rhyming (though occasionally stumbling) text and playful illustrations make this a festive read-aloud. SIÂN GAETANO

horn boo_mcgee_peanut butter and brainsPeanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale
by Joe McGee; 
illus. by Charles Santoso
Primary   Abrams   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-4197-1247-0   $16.95

While the rest of the horde demands “BRAINSSSSS” for “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” all zombie Reginald wants is a good ol’ PB&J. After striking out at the corner café, the school cafeteria, and the grocery store, Reginald lurches toward a little girl and her paper-bag lunch — sending the townspeople into a panic. But this humorous story ends happily for everyone once the other zombies get a taste of the classic sandwich. The illustrations’ rounded shapes and pastel watercolor washes portray zombies who are more cute than scary, and full of personality. Signs and balloons with images of brains inside cleverly communicate the zombies’ food preferences in a nonverbal way — after all, zombies aren’t very articulate. KATIE BIRCHER

horn boo_munsinger_happy halloween witch's catHappy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
by Harriet Muncaster; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Harper/HarperCollins   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-06-222916-8   $15.99

In I Am a Witch’s Cat, readers first met the imaginative little girl who enthusiastically maintains, “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” In this outing, Halloween approaches, and the mother-daughter team heads to the costume shop, where the girl gives an array of options a whirl: “Maybe a silver skeleton? / Too bony! How about a pink ballerina? / Too frilly!” Her final decision is a satisfying, gentle twist on the story’s premise. This book’s standout feature is Muncaster’s unique, endlessly perusable art: three-dimensional scenes combined with mixed-media flat illustrations and textured fabrics, photographed and digitized. KATRINA HEDEEN

horn boo_patricelli_booBoo!
by Leslie Patricelli; illus. by the author
Preschool   Candlewick   28 pp.
7/15   978-0-7636-6320-9   $6.99

In this board-book treat, Patricelli’s diapered baby picks a “just right” pumpkin, helps Daddy carve a familiar-looking jack-o’-lantern (a pumpkin selfie, if you will), and chooses a scary costume: “W-w-what’s that? Oh. It’s only me.” Trick-or-treating with Daddy is a bit spooky, too, until the little ghostie discovers there’s candy involved. The lively color-saturated illustrations play off the simple, direct text, adding humor and silliness to the mix. Two interactive double-page spreads — “How should we carve our jack-o’-lantern?” and “What should I be?” — involve young listeners in the fun and prep newbies for these holiday highlights. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_stine_little shop of monstersThe Little Shop of Monsters
by R. L. Stine; 
illus. by Marc Brown
Primary   Little, Brown   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-316-36983-1   $17.00   g

Two children’s literature icons team up to create this funny-scary adventure. “If you think you’re brave enough, then come with me” to the Little Shop of Monsters. Two children — a boy, reluctant; and a younger girl, more daring — view the shop’s merchandise, from the Snacker (whose favorite treat is hands) to the Sleeper-Peeper (who hides under kids’ beds). The litany of introductions settles into a predictable pattern — until the clever twist at the end, which will have readers quickly turning the last page (“Phew! You just escaped!”). Stine’s direct-address text is pitched for delicious thrills and chills, while Brown’s cheery palette and over-the-top depictions of the monsters offset the terror just enough. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

horn boo_ward_there was an old mummy who swallowed a spiderThere Was an Old Mummy 
Who Swallowed a Spider
by Jennifer Ward; illus. by Steve Gray
Preschool, Primary   Two Lions   32 pp.
7/15   978-1-4778-2637-9   $16.99   g

“There was an old mummy… / who swallowed a spider. / I don’t know why he swallowed the spider. / Open wider!” Anyone familiar with the original folksong can guess what happens next in this twisted twist: the mummy’s belly (or what used to be his belly) is soon full of things that go bump in the night. The new rhymes have a few bumps, too, but this mummy tale is wrapped up perfectly. (Ironically, the macabre ending of the original would be redundant here.) Cartoonish digital illustrations use lots of wide, fearful eyes and luminous backgrounds to make the graveyard and haunted-castle settings glow with Halloween anticipation. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Review of Waiting

henkes_waitingstar2 Waiting
by Kevin Henkes; illus. by the author
Preschool   Greenwillow   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-06-236843-0   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-236844-7   $18.99   g

Waiting is a huge part of every child’s life, and Henkes uses a light touch to address the topic. Five toys wait on a windowsill. An owl waits for the moon; a pig holding an umbrella waits for rain; a bear with a kite waits for wind; and a puppy on a sled waits for snow. The fifth toy, a rabbit head on a spring, “wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just liked to look out the window and wait.” Henkes’s five friends are drawn with confident brown outlines filled in with a muted palette of light greens, blues, and pinks in colored-pencil and watercolor. A straightforward text sets up predictable patterns, while the design is varied, with horizontal and oval vignettes and full pages showing the entire window — including an especially striking sequence of four wordless pages. Time passes slowly, day to night, through wind, rain, and seasons, while small changes in the characters’ body positions and eyes show a range of emotions, from dismay (at lightning) to curiosity (at small trinkets added to the sill). Near the end, a large, rounded toy cat joins the quintet and waits for — what? Suddenly, we see that she has four smaller nesting cats inside. The book ends as quietly as it began, with welcoming acceptance of the five new inhabitants on the now-crowded windowsill. Henkes provides no deep meanings and sends no messages; he’s just showing what waiting can be like. Perhaps listeners will find a model for making long waits seem less tiresome: be still and notice what’s around you.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Monday Mishmash 10/5/15

Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. Our Little Secret Feature and Review Opportunity  Limitless Books is organizing a feature and review opportunity for bloggers. We're looking for people to feature the book and possibly review it on November 6th. If that's you, sign up here.
  2. Editing  I'm editing for Seek this week. I have two books on my plate and both are amazing.
  3. Revising  I have an emotional hangover from revising an Ashelyn Drake new adult title last week. Seriously all the feels! This week, I'll be revising another Ashelyn title, and it's adult. I'm still getting used to the fact that I wrote for adults.
  4. Reminder to All Readers  I want to remind everyone to please, please, pretty please review the books you read. I'm so grateful for every review that pops up on Amazon. Yes, even the not-so-stellar ones. Why? Because reviews get Amazon's attention and then Amazon makes the book more visible to readers. So please, if you love books, help the book community by posting a review.
  5. The Case of the Washed-Up Warlock  I'm so excited to announce that the first book I edited for Leap will releases today! It's a great middle grade book by Patrice Lyle and it's absolutely gorgeous too. up tomorrow. Order it here.

    That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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15. Elizabeth Gilbert and Neil Gaiman Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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16. Review: Days of Rage

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough. Penguin Press. 2015. Library copy.

It's About: A look at the 1970s -- where a handful of groups believed that violent revolution was necessary. Bombings, robberies, murders followed.

The Good: Let's just say -- yes, it's complicated. Days of Rage starts with the groups of the 1960s that gave birth to the Weathermen / the Weather Underground, and then how the beliefs, rhetoric, and actions of different groups influenced others, in both theory and action. It ends in the early 1980s.

Days of Rage doesn't include all groups that engaged in robberies and violence in the name of perceived greater good. It concentrates on a handful, including the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the FALN. Depending on the group and the time, the reasons varied from racial injustice, the Vietnam War, Puerto Rican independence, corporate greed, -- the list goes on.

It's a fascinating look at the time, the actions, and the people. It covers many groups and many people -- there are going to be people or things that the reader will want to know more about. And for some of that, there are books and articles. For others? Not so much, because there are still things that are secret, unknown, with the keepers of the secrets unwilling to talk -- or dead. Days of Rage concentrates on these particular groups in part because of the links between them, either in overlapping participants or shared knowledge. Such as sharing safe bomb making techniques.

Days of Rage tries to explain why people - usually young adults - turned to violence. I say "tries" because while at times I understood, or came close to it, at other times -- no. I think it would be almost impossible to really explain it. While I was fascinated, at the end, it just seemed that a lot of people had gotten away with a lot of criminal activity because people romanticized violence. Because going underground was cool and sexy. And that the death and violence was viewed, even now, by those sharing their stories, as somewhat justified.

Actually, by the end, I was angry and disgusted with most of those talked about in this book. I would recommend this, absolutely -- because it does examine, and try to explain, why people do turn to violence and support those who engage in it. It's a great look at group dynamics, and control, and how and why such things happened. Days of Rage does not excuse what was done: I was thankful that one of the final chapters included the now-grown child of one of the victims of a bombing, someone giving voice to the horror and destruction that was done in the name of political beliefs. It's a voice that I think is still not heard by the some of those who engaged in or supported these groups... and it's one of the reasons I recommend this book.

And of course my thoughts turned to how these groups and their actions were and are presented in TV and films and books.

I can think of at least one YA book: Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer (1984), about a teenage boy whose parents are fugitive radicals.

River Phoenix starred in a 1988 film, Running on Empty, also about the teenage son of radicals on the run.

And yes, one of the parts of Days of Rage I found especially interesting was how as the people grew older, they became parents, and how that did, or didn't, influence what their parents did -- how the children were used as cover, or how someone could drive a getaway car and worry about making it home in time to pick up her toddler from daycare. While I respect the privacy of those now adult children, I do wonder what happened to them when parents were arrested.

The Big Fix was made in 1978, and I haven't watched it in decades, but the murder mystery involves former and underground radicals. And I also want to rewatch The Big Chill(1983) because it shows a group of people who were politically active but did not turn violent, and I want to see just how that is discussed, if at all.

As you can see, most of what I'm thinking of actually works made at the time these groups were still active; or within the ten years following, so that even if not active, people were still in hiding.

I'm sure I'm missing some -- I know the story of Kathleen Soliah/Sarah Jane Olson still finds its way into TV shows (suburban mom's criminal past is discovered!)

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

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17. Leaving Orbit

cover artWhat does it mean that America has done so much to advance space travel and now we have decided to stop? This is the central question governing Margaret Lazarus Dean’s book Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight. She asks the question to people who work at NASA, to astronauts, to space fans, journalists, her students at the University of Tennessee and discovers that no one has a single answer and most have none at all. Dean herself is not even certain what it means, even over the course of writing the book she can never pin it down. However nearly everyone she talks to expresses varying degrees of sadness, disappointment, confusion and anger that America is no longer sending humans into space on our own ships.

Since she was a child, Dean has been fascinated by space travel. She followed shuttle launches, even got to see one in person, remembers where she was when Challenger exploded and later Columbia. She knows the history of space flight from Gemini to Mercury to Apollo and the shuttle era. She knows the names of astronauts past and present. She even wrote a novel about the Challenger disaster and in the process made a friend of Omar, a NASA worker at Cape Canaveral.

Framed, no not framed, more like companioned, with Norman Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon documenting the Apollo 11 moon landing, Dean weaves together the heroic beginnings of space travel with the end of the shuttle program and thus the end of American space flight. Now all American astronauts going to the International Space Station get there on Russian Soyuz rockets. Far from being a recounting of historical facts, Dean also takes a page from Mailer and “new journalism” and places herself squarely in the narrative. This serves to make the book more personal and provides a high degree of emotional impact. Dean attends in person the final two shuttle launches as well as the installation of Discovery at the Smithsonian. She serves as a kind of witness to the end of an era. What does it mean to see the Discovery’s final launch into orbit and then several months later see it turned into a museum piece?

Dean often has more questions than answers as she moves back and forth through time, narrowing in on the incredible difficulty of getting to the moon and all the things that could have gone wrong and how none of the astronauts on that first flight truly believed they would all make it back to Earth. I was on the edge of my seat as she described the moon landing and I know that it had a happy ending! Then we zoom ahead in time to watching a shuttle launch or introducing Buzz Aldrin at a book signing. As nonlinear as the narrative is, there is a definite feel of forward momentum and as much as it jumps around, Dean handles it all so well that getting lost is not an option.

If you are looking for straight up history full of facts and technical details, this book is not for you. That is not to say there are not plenty of facts and technical details, there are, Dean drops them in throughout. But if you are looking for something a little different, a little less traditional and a little more human, than you will probably like this book very much.

I wouldn’t call myself a space fan, not like the avid people in Dean’s book, but I have a vivid recollection of reading John Glenn’s account of orbiting Earth in an elementary school reader. How it fired my imagination! I remember watching space shuttle launches on TV. I remember where I was when Challenger exploded. I have heard the double sonic booms when a shuttle had to land at Edward’s Air Force Base in California. The base is near Los Angeles and you could hear the booms in the San Fernando Valley where I attended university, they were that loud. And it was both exciting to hear them and also a matter of course, nothing so very remarkable. And yes, when the shuttles were retired I was sad. How could there be nothing to take their place? The Mars rovers are exciting but not in the same way as people going into to space is. Will NASA ever send people to space again? It is open for debate. They have big ideas but Congress has no plans to fund them which is sad in so many ways. Whatever happened to big dreams? To no longer reach for the stars kind of leaves me feeling diminished.

Leaving Orbit was published by Graywolf Press and won their nonfiction prize in 2012. The prize is awarded every 12-18 months to a previously unpublished work of literary nonfiction written by a writer not established in the genre. Dean is in good company as previous winners of the prize include Leslie Jamison, Kevin Young and Eula Biss.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Margaret Lazarus Dean

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18. Monday Mishmash 9/28/15

Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. YA Scavenger Hunt  I'm excited to share that I'm on Team Orange for the YA Scavenger Hunt. It will run from October 1st to noon on October 4th. That means' I'll be posting on Thursday instead of Friday this week. There are tons of books to win on this hunt, so be sure to stop back on Thursday. Oh, and in case you noticed, I am on Team Orange for Our Little Secret, my new Ashelyn Drake title too. :) I'll be sharing exclusive bonus scenes told from alternate POVs, but they'll only be online during the 72-hour hunt, so don't miss out.
  2. Editing  I'll be editing for Leap this week. This is probably the fourth time I'm reading this book, which is why an editor must LOVE your book, because I'll read this at least four more times before the book is published.
  3. Monthly Newsletter Change  I've decided to release my free monthly newsletter on the first of every month instead of the first Monday of every month. The reason is that some months begin on a Tuesday and I feel like it takes to long for that first Monday to roll around. So, expect my newsletters in your inboxes on the 1st from now on. If you aren't signed up to receive my newsletter but would like to, click here.
  4. I Wrote An Adult Novella?  You know me. I say I'll never do something and then, guess what? I do it. I said I'd never write for adults. I'm a children's author. Well, I am, but I just finished a novella for a boxset last week and it's a clean adult romance. So, I guess Ashelyn Drake writes romance for teens, new adults, and adults now. ;) 
  5. Our Little Secret  I want to thank everyone who has already posted a review of Our Little Secret on Amazon. Reviews are so important as far as Amazon promoting the book and placing it in the eyes of potential readers, so I really appreciate every review, whether the reader loved the book or it wasn't for them.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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19. Review: Corset Diaries

The Corset Diariesby Katie MacAlister. NAL. 2004. Library Copy.

The Corset DiariesThe Plot: Tessa gets a weird call from a good friend -- an opportunity to make a lot of money. Is your hair still long? Do you have a valid passport?

Thanks to an old friend, she has the chance to be in a historical reality TV show, A Month in the Life of a Victorian Duke. She'll play the American heiress wife.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Good: What could possibly go wrong?

Tessa is doubtful that she is really the ideal person to play the role of Duchess: she's 39, she's not skinny (do not tell anyone she is a size 18) and corsets, really? But the money would help give her chance to pay debts occurred from her late husband's medical bills. Plus, it may be kind of fun, right?

But who can have fun in a corset?

I laughed a lot at The Corset Diaries, at Tessa's trying to stay on-script while having a hard time with eighteenth century manners, servants, and, yes, clothes.

Plus, romance! Max is the man playing the Duke. He's five years younger than Tessa, which Tessa thinks is too big a difference ("when I was a ripe, womanly twenty, . . . he was a spotty, adolescent fifteen. . . . In dog years, our age difference is thirty-five years.") And she may have accidently thrown up on his shoes when they first met.

Bottom line: a funny, hot romance with an older man and younger woman? And a story where they actually give a size to her shape? (No, seriously, usually body may be talked about with words like "curves" and "voluptuous" but it's refreshing to have an actual number mentioned). Plus tons of historical clothes and manners, with a modern attitude?

Yes, please!

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

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20. Toca Nature app review

toca nature title screenSiân ♥s Toca Band. While Toca Nature (Toca Boca, 2014) is more contemplative — no sunglasses-sporting emcee hollering “We rockin’ it!” here — it provides a similarly satisfying experience of experimental play.

As the app opens, you are presented with a square chunk of landscape, floating in pleasantly dreamy, starry space. A few trees and some shallow dips and low hills dot the landscape, but it’s your job to make this somewhat sterile bit of land into a thriving ecosystem. Create mountain ranges and bodies of water, and select from five kinds of trees to plant forests. Once these habitats are large enough, animals move in. One specific species is associated with each landmass or forest type: wolves in the mountains, beavers in the lakes, deer in the oak forests, etc. Mix and match, overlapping habitats, for a world that’s all your own.

toca nature start

toca nature lake

Tap the magnifying glass to zoom in and watch the animals up-close as they go about their days and nights, eating, sleeping (adorably, they snore), and interacting with their environment.

toca nature bear

As in the real world, different animals are active at different times. Gather food, such as berries and acorns, as you make your way around your mini-world and offer it to the critters; thought balloons with images of their preferred snack inside provide guidance. You can even take “photos” of the wildlife and save them to your iPad’s camera roll.

Modify your environment at any time by adding more mountains/lakes/trees, or by cutting down trees (although this may cause animals to vacate). Rotate your landscape for a different perspective by tapping a globe icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save your current creation once you exit the session.

The cute animals and their habitats are rendered in geometric, origami-like shapes and in a palette primarily consisting of warm pastels. During daytime, tinkly instrumental music plays; nighttime features a quiet soundscape of crickets and the occasional bird sound.

I found exploring Toca Nature to be meditative, somewhat like having a mini Zen garden. But for its intended audience of preschool and primary users, I imagine it’s very exciting to build a world and then watch it in action — especially given that each new environment will have its own unique mix of inhabitants and nuances. A parents’ section offers some usage hints and suggestions for discussion.

Available for iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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21. Salman Rushdie and Nancy Tillman Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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22. Review of Rhythm Ride

pinkney_rhythm rideRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through 
the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Middle School   Roaring Brook   166 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-973-3   $19.99   g

As related by an irrepressible narrator Pinkney names “the Groove,” this history of Motown Records manages not only to smartly place the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America but to have a great time doing so: “Put your hand up like you’re halting traffic. Really flick your wrist, kid. Because stopping in the name of love needs to be strong.” Pinkney traces the success of Motown from founder Berry Gordy’s initial drive and doggedness through early success among African American audiences to the breakout worldwide fame of acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson 5. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced, and how Motown both reflected and contributed to — as in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — the dramatic social changes of its heyday. “The Groove” (based, says Pinkney in an afterword, on the voice of a deejay cousin) is an energetic and amiable guide, but better at pumping enthusiasm than providing musical insight; there’s not much here on what made “the Motown sound” uniquely recognizable and distinct. That said, Pinkney provides an excellent discography that will lead young readers to the classic tracks, and, my goodness, they are many. Photographs throughout capture backstage moments as well as the full Motown glamour; appended material includes a timeline, thorough source notes and a reading list, and an index.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

When Robyn Plummer walks into Room 13B, Adam falls in love at first sight. That may sound like a typical boy-meets-girl story, but, thankfully, this book is anything but cliché. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is refreshingly honest, anchored by a memorable main character.

Adam, age 15, is vulnerable, loyal, and sometimes confused by his feelings and by the actions of those around him. He is quieter than some, a little more in his thoughts, which are expressed in limited third-person narrative. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mom most of the time. She pretends everything is okay while enduring her own private struggle, something Adam tries to both respect and understand. Meanwhile, his father has remarried, and while Adam gets along all right with his dad and his stepmom, the member of that household that undoubtedly enjoys his visits the most is his little brother, Sweetie, who is full of life and full of love. (Kudos to Toten for creating a young, vibrant character that sounds and acts his age. Absolutely spot-on depiction of a preschooler.) It is interesting to note what (and who) each member of Adam's family clings to, and what they're willing to fight for when the going gets tough.

When Adam isn't in one of his two homes, he is usually in Room 13B. Room 13B isn't a classroom; it's a meeting place for a young adult OCD support group. This book gave me what I wanted but didn't get from the TV show Red Band Society: a realistic look at a diverse group of kids who meet due to a medical diagnosis but are not defined by their condition; people who are not the "worst" examples of their condition nor the "best"; characters who are relatable but not cookie-cutter. Each teen has a distinct personality, appearance, and medical history. Their bonding sessions both inside and outside of Room 13B are wonderful. They honestly try to help one another rather than sabotage or one-up each other. When Chuck, the friendly, caring doctor who oversees the group, asks the kids to adopt nom de guerres, almost all of them select superhero names. Robyn picks Robin, prompting Adam to immediately declare himself Batman.

Adam is determined to win Robyn's heart. He has never been in love before, never had a girlfriend, but he falls head over heels for Robyn. He is not simply on a quest for love, but actually fascinated by this specific girl. As the story continues, their friendship develops and deepens. Adam's unconscious need to protect others extends easily to Robyn as he learns more about her, and he tries to be a better person (and taller) so he can be worthy of her. His OCD rituals are both aided and exacerbated by his new goals and his growing awareness that things aren't entirely right at either of his homes.

This book is good. It's solid and it's interesting and it's realistic and it's good. It sheds light on a condition that many people suffer from in silence and shame, and instead of reducing OCD to a punchline or over-dramatizing it, Toten offers believable characters with various rituals and paths to healing. The story moves at an easygoing pace with decent plotting. And most of all, it has a realistic protagonist who is a truly good egg. Adam is dealing with that wonderful, frustrating time when you don't want to be treated like a child but you sometimes wish you were still a carefree little kid, when you want to be independent but you can't drive yet, when you realize your parents are people with their own histories and bad habits and secrets. Just as the author does with his little brother, Toten is also able to capture the appropriate tone for Adam's age and situation. Adam sits at neither hero-with-a-burden character extreme, not wallowing in unbearable darkness and cursing the weight of the world that sits upon his shoulders, nor grinning from ear to ear and boasting that everything's going to be fine. He's simply trying to live his life. As his heart gets broken and mended, so will the hearts of readers.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is a beautifully simple, steady coming-of-age story that I highly recommend, especially to fans of Jordan Sonnenblick and David Levithan.

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24. Review of the Day: Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin

By Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Books)
ISBN: 978-0525428879
Ages 4-6
On shelves October 20th.

When I whip out the old we’re-living-in-a-golden-age-of-picture-book-creation argument with colleagues and friends, they humor what I’m sure they consider to be my hyperbole. Suuuuuure we are, Betsy. Not prone to exaggeration or anything, are you? But honestly, I think I could make a case for it. Look at the picture books of the past. They were beautiful, intricately crafted, and many of them are memorable and pertinent to child readers today. What other art form for kids can say as much? You don’t exactly have five-year-olds mooning over Kukla, Fran and Ollie these days, right (sorry, mom)? But hand them Goodnight Moon and all is well. Now look at picture books today. We’re living in a visual learner’s world. The combination of relaxed picture books standards (example: comics and meta storytelling are a-okay!), publishers willing to try something new and weird, and a world where technology and visual learning plays a heavy hand in our day-to-day lives yields creative attempts hitherto unknown or impossible to author/illustrators as recently as ten years ago. And when I try to think of a picture that combines these elements (meta storytelling / new and weird / technology permeating everything we do) no book typifies all of this better or with as much panache as Robo-Sauce. Because if I leave you understanding one thing today it is this: This may well contain the craziest picture book construction from a major publisher I have EVER seen. No. Seriously. This is insane. Don’t say I didn’t warn you either.

We all know that kid who thinks pretending to be a robot is the most fun you can have. When the hero of this story tries it though he just ends up annoying his family. That’s when the narrator starts talking to him directly. What if there was a recipe for turning yourself into a REAL robot? Would you make it? Would you take it? You BET you would! But once the boy starts destroying things in true mechanical fashion (I bet you were unaware that robots were capable of creating tornadoes, weren’t you?), it’s pretty lonely. The narrator attempts to impart a bit of a lesson here about how to appreciate your family/dog/life but when it hands over the antidote the robot destroys it on sight. Why? Because it’s just created a Robo-Sauce Launcher with which to turn its family, its dog, the entire world, and even the very book you are reading into robots! How do you turn a normal picture book into a robot? Behold the pull out cover that wraps around the book. Once you put it on and open the other cover, the text and images inside are entirely robotized. Robo-Domination is near. It may, however, involve some pretty keen cardboard box suits.

So you’re probably wondering what I meant when I said that the book has a cover that turns into a robot book. Honestly, I tried to figure out how I would verbally explain this. In the end I decided to do something I’d never done before. For the first time ever, I’m including a video as part of my review. Behold the explanation of the book’s one-of-a-kind feature:

These days the idea that a narrator would speak directly to the characters in a book is par for the course. Breaking down the fourth wall has grown, how do you say, passé. We almost expect all our books to be interactive in some way. If Press Here made the idea of treating a book like an app palatable then it stands to reason that competing books would have to up the ante, as it were. In fact, I guess if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I think I’ve kind of been waiting for Robo-Sauce for a long time. Intrusive narrators, characters you have to yell at, books you shake, they’re commonplace. Into this jaded publishing scene stepped Rubin and Salmieri. They’re New York Times bestsellers in their own right ( Dragons Love Tacos) so they’re not exactly newbies to the field. They’ve proven their selling power. But by what witchcraft they convinced Penguin to include a shiny pull out cover and to print a fifth of the book upside down, I know not. All I can be certain of is that this is a book of the moment. It is indicative of something far greater than itself. Either it will spark a new trend in picture books as a whole or it will be remembered as an interesting novelty piece that typified a changing era.

RoboSauce2Let’s look at the book itself then. In terms of the text, I’m a fan. The narrator’s intrusive voice allows the reader to take on the role of adult scold. Kids love it when you yell at a book’s characters for being too silly in some way and this story allows you to do precisely that. Admittedly, I do wish that Rubin had pushed the narrator-trying-to-teach-a-lesson aspect a little farther. If the lesson it was trying to impart was a bit clearer than just the standard “love your family” shtick then it could have had more of a punch. Imagine if, instead, the book was trying to teach the boy about rejecting technology or something like that. Any picture book that could wink slyly at the current crop of drop-the-iPhone-pick-up-a-book titles currently en vogue would be doing the world a service. I’m not saying I disagree with their message. They’re just all rather samey samey and it would be nice to see someone poke a little fun at them (while still, by the end, reinforcing the same message).

As for Salmieri’s art, the limited color palette is very interesting. You’ve your Day-Glo orange, black, white, brown, and pale pink (didn’t see that one coming). Other colors make the occasional cameo but the bulk of the book is pretty limited. It allows the orange to shine (or, in the case of the robot cover, the limited palette allows for something particularly shiny). And check out that subtle breaking down of visual stereotypes! Black dad and white mom. A sister that enjoys playing with trucks. I am ON BOARD with all this.

I won’t be the last parent/librarian/squishy human to hold this book in my hands and wonder what the heck to do with it. What I do know is that it’s a lot of fun. Totally original. And it has a bunch of robots in it causing massive amounts of destruction. All told, I’d say that’s a win. So domo arigato, Misters Rubin and Salmieri. Domo arigato a whole bunch.

On shelves October 20th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus,

Misc: Still need some help figuring out the cover?  Check out the book’s website here.


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