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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,483
26. The Miracle of Mindfulness

A month or so ago when I came upon a book at the public library called Mindfulness in the Garden: Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt I thought it would be something I’d like very much. And it is. But, the book turned out to be nothing except meditations to do in the garden. They are lovely, for instance:

Looking deeply at the tree,
I feel its presence.
In its stillness,
I find my true being.

And

Dear garden,
you mirror my heart.
With each beat,
a flower blooms.

Each meditation has a short explanation following, telling how you are supposed to do the meditation, when you are supposed to breathe and whether it should be an inhale or an exhale, that kind of thing. And reading this I realized I knew pretty much nothing about zen meditation. Sure I’ve meditated before but nothing so directed or specific. So, as things happen, one book took me to another and I borrowed The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh from the library.

Oh what a lovely book this is. Thich Nhat Hanh is Vietnamese and now lives in France. He is a Zen master and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. He is not the sort of spiritual leader who advocates withdrawal from the world to seek enlightenment by sitting under a bodhi tree like the Buddha. He is a peace activist and believes in being engaged in the world. And it turns out the thing about meditation is, it can be practiced any time, and any where for an hour or more or for five minutes. It can be done while in the garden or washing dishes or waiting for the bus or waiting in line at the grocery store.

Of course, Nhat Hanh advocates a practice of regular, long, quiet sessions the short ones worked in throughout the day. The Miracle of Mindfulness was originally written as letters to Brother Quang at the School of Youth for Social Service in South Vietnam in 1974. The style is friendly and matter of fact, easy to read, hard to put into practice. The essence of Zen meditation is breathing. The amazing thing is something as simple as paying attention to your breathing is really hard to do! The mind wanders and before you know it you are writing your grocery list in your head or thinking about what book you are going to read when you are done meditating.

The subtitle says manual and it really is, explaining how to breathe, how to sit, how long one should sit, how often, what to do when you realize your mind has wandered away, and why anyone might want to try meditating to begin with. There are also a number of guided meditations for walking, washing the dishes, even cleaning the bathroom. And of course there are meditations for relaxation.

It is a short book that will take a couple hours to read and a lifetime to master should you choose to pursue that goal. It helped me make sense of the meditations in the garden book. And while I haven’t been diligent at practicing meditation every day, the time I have given to it has felt good. It really does help one pay attention, be more mindful. And in these days of multitasking, being always connected and perpetually in a hurry, it is amazing how paying attention to your breath for five minutes brings focus and clarity and relieves stress. It’s the best kind of self-help.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Thich Nhat Hanh, zen

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27. FILM REVIEW: ‘Rocks in My Pockets’: A Deeply Personal Film About Depression

Can an animated feature about depression be entertaining too?

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28. Call for Submissions: The Four Quarters Magazine

The Four Quarters Magazine 
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS : December, 2014.
Theme : NO MAN’S LAND
Deadline: 20th October, 2014
Guest Editor for the Issue : Dave Besseling

More than an excellent, absurdist 2001 film set during the Bosnian War, “No Man’s Land” is an idiom overused to in utility. It was a cliché long before I was born and learned what it meant or what a cliché was.
It’s one thing to dress-up a cliché, it’s another to reclaim it. So wax your mind clean, Mr. Miyagi-clean, and what does “No Man’s Land” come to reflect?

Is it that piece of geography where two gubernatorial borders don’t quite meet, or where they overlap?
The Age of Discovery was 400 years ago. You can barely outrun googlemaps lens these days. Is No Man’s Land somewhere unfound? A tribe brandishing spears on the beach as the motorboat approaches?

How rare and valuable are then these last pockets of “undiscovery”? And what does “discovery” mean in this digital age anyway?
Is it a “No Man’s Land”, that which lies outside the current boundaries of science?
Are we talking about a lesbian commune living off the grid somewhere in the mountains?
Is this void a philosophical concept to be appropriated by some kind of post-scientology or gone cult?
Something else entirely?
You tell us. In writing. And if we like your pitch we can all have fun with all the mindgames that result.
Eat a peach,

- Dave.

The deadline for submissions is 20th October, 2014. For submission guidelines, please refer to our submissions page.

contact email:
Only queries :

fourquartersmagazineATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )


Only submissions:

submissionsFQMATgmailDOTcom  (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )

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29. Review of I’m My Own Dog

stein im my own dog Review of I’m My Own DogI’m My Own Dog
by David Ezra Stein; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6139-7    $15.99

“I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself.” This independent, self-starter narrator looks down on ordinary pups, the ones owned by people. This dog will not sit for anyone, even if a bone is the reward. But one day, when his legs prove to be too short to reach an itchy spot in the middle of his back, our canine actually lets someone scratch it. That someone is a mustachioed man who scratches the dog’s back and then follows him home. Soon the dog is taking his “good boy” on walks, teaching him about chasing squirrels, and showing him how to throw sticks. Stein’s gestural watercolors are the perfect foil for the droll text. As the story unfolds, young readers will begin to understand the humorous tension between what the text says and what the pictures show (and what they know to be true about dogs and their owners). When the dog complains about having to “clean up after them,” one can imagine a child laughing at the scene of spilled ice cream. Dog-loving parents will be reading this one over and over — and will never tire of it.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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30. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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31. Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood

BadByeGoodBye Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah UnderwoodBad Bye, Good Bye
By Deborah Underwood
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-547-92852-4
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

As a mother who recently spent the better part of twenty hours in a car with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby, I feel a special kinship with parents who have also engaged in the ultimate endurance sport: travel with children. If you feel no particular sympathy for those engaged in this activity that is because you have not experienced it firsthand yourself. But even when my daughter was projectile vomiting regularly and even when the breast pump tipped to one side spilling milk all over my pants and EVEN WHEN I found myself wedged in the backseat between two car seats trying to change my son’s diaper on my lap while parked, I could still feel grateful because at least it was just a vacation. It wasn’t like we were moving to a new town or anything. Because if I’d had to deal with the abject misery of my three-year-old on top of the vomit/milk/diapers I don’t know how my sanity would have remained intact. And yet, other parents do it all the time. Every day someone somewhere packs up all their worldly possessions, their pets, and their miserable offspring and heads for a whole new life. It’s daunting. You can’t help but admire their guts. And boy, you’d sure like to hand them a book that they could use to show their kids that as scary as a move like that can be, ultimately it’s going to be okay. Enter a book so sparse and spare you’d never believe it capable of the depth of feeling within its pages. Deborah Underwood lends her prodigious talents to Bad Bye, Good Bye while artist Jonathan Bean fills in the gaps. The effect is a book where every syllable is imbued with meaning, yet is as much a beautiful object as it is a useful too.

“Bad day, Bad box” says the book. On the page, a boy wrestles with a moving man for possession of a cardboard box, doomed to be loaded into the nearby moving van. The boy, we see, is in no way happy about this move. He clearly likes his home and his best friend, who has come with her mother to bid him goodbye. On the road he and his little sister pitch seven different kinds of catfits before sinking into a kind of resigned malaise. Time heals all wounds, though, and with the help of a motel swimming pool, diners, and multiple naps, they arrive in their new town in the early evening. As the family and movers pile boxes and other things into the new house, the boy meets another kid who just happens to live next door. Together they collect lightning bugs and star gaze until that “bad bye” at the beginning of the book morphs into a far more comfortable “good bye” when the new friends bid each other goodnight.

This isn’t Underwood’s first time at the rodeo. The art of the restrained use of language is sort of her bread and butter. Anyone who has seen her work her magic in The Quiet Book is aware that she says loads with very little. I sincerely hope someone out there has been bugging her to write an easy book for kids. The talent of synthesizing a story down to its most essential parts is a rare one. In this book there is a total of 57 words (or so). These usually appear in two word pairs and by some extraordinary bit of planning they also rhyme. We begin with all “bads”. It goes “Bad day, Bad box / Bad mop, Bad blocks / Bad truck, Bad guy, Bad wave, Bad bye.” The book then slips into neutral terms as the initial misery wears off. Then, as we near the end the “goods” come out. “Good tree, Good sky / Good friend, Good bye.” Such a nice transition. You could argue that it’s pretty swift considering the depths of misery on display in the early pages, and that’s not too far off, but kids are also pretty resilient. Besides, motel swimming pools do indeed go a long way towards modifying behavior.

Jonathan Bean’s one to watch. Always has been. From the moment he was doing Wendy Orr’s Mokie & Bik books to the nativity animalia title “One Starry Night” to all those other books in his roster, he proved himself a noteworthy artist. Watching his work come out you have the distinct sense that this is the calm before the storm. The last minute before he wins some big award and starts fielding offers from the biggest names in the biz. In this book I wouldn’t necessarily have said the art was by Bean had I not seen his name spelled out on the cover. It’s a slightly different style for him. Not just pencil and watercolors anymore. A style, in fact, that allows him to try and catch a bit of Americana in the story’s pages. When Underwood writes something like “Big hair, White deer” it’s Bean’s prerogative to determine what that means exactly. His solution to that, as well as other sections, is layering. Time and landscapes are layered on top of one another. America, from diners and speed limit signs to windmills and weathervanes, display scenes familiar to traveling families. A great artist gives weight and meaning to the familiar. Jonathan Bean is a great artist.

Now the cover of this book is also well worth noting. I don’t say that about a lot of picture books either. Generally speaking a picture book’s cover advertises the book to the best of its ability but only occasionally warrants close examination. Jonathan Bean, however, isn’t afraid to convey pertinent information through his cover. In fact, if you look at it closely you’ll see that he’s managed to encapsulate the entire story from one flap to another. Begin at the end of the book. Open it up. If you look at the inside back flap the very first thing you’ll see underneath the information about the author and the illustrator is the image of the boy in the story straining against his seatbelt, his face a grimace of pure unadulterated rage. Now follow the jacket to the back cover of the book and you see the boy crying in one shot and then looking miserably back in another. The weather is alternating between a starry night sky and a windy rainy day. Move onto the front cover and the rain is still there but soon it turns to clear skies and the boy’s attitude morphs into something distinctly more pleasant. In fact, by the time you open the book to the front flap he’s lifting his hands in a happy cheer. The attitude adjustment could not be more stark and it was done entirely in the span of a single book jacket. Not the kind of thing everyone would notice, and remarkable for that fact alone.

People are always talking about “the great American novel”, as if that’s an attainable ideal. We don’t ever hear anyone talk about “the great American picture book”. I don’t know that Bad Bye, Good Bye would necessarily fit the bill anyway. This is more the picture book equivalent of On the Road than To Kill a Mockingbird, after all. It’s a road trip book, albeit a safe and familiar one. For children facing the frightening prospect of the unknown (and let’s face it – adults hardly do much better) it’s good to have a book that can offer a bit of comfort. A reassurance that no matter how things change, good can follow bad just as day follows night. They are not alone in this uprooting. Somewhere out there, in another car, with another family, there might be a kid just as miserable as they are and for the exact same reason. And like all humans this knowledge ends up being comforting and necessary. Therefore give all your love to Bad Bye, Good Bye. It has necessary comfort to spare.

On shelves now.

Like This? Then Try:

  • A New Room for William by Sally Grindley
  • Herman’s Letter by Tom Percival
  • The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon
  • Alexander, Who Is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
  • Tim’s Big Move by Anke Wagner

Misc: And I interviewed Ms. Underwood about the book here.

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32. Review: Brazen

Brazen by Katherine Longshore. Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: England. 1533. Fourteen year old Mary Howard is being married to Henry FitzRoy, also 14 but already the Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Henry FitzRoy (Fitz to his friends) is the only living son of Henry VIII. That he is a bastard means that he can never inherit his father's throne, but he is important and Mary's marriage to him is important. She, now is important.

Only -- not so much. Henry VIII doesn't want the marriage consummated - both from a belief that it's not healthy for the young teens, as well as knowing that such a marriage can easily be annulled if necessary.

If the king's new bride, Anne Boleyn, delivers the longed for legitimate son, Fitz's role remains the same. But if not.... well, what if Fitz was made legitimate?

What is it that the young and noble do with their time? Mary and Fitz and their friends form a circle of teens whose time is dedicated to sports, and flirtations, and poetry and song and dance. The most important dance being, of course, keeping the King happy.

The Good: I loved the first of Longshore's books set in the court of Harry VIII, Gilt. Gilt, set in 1539, is the story of Henry VIII's wife Catherine Howard, told from the point of view of one of the queen's friends. I didn't read the next book, Tarnish, about Anne Boleyn coming to Henry VIII's court for a very simple reason.

Anne Boleyn breaks my heart. Every time. And I didn't know if I could read about her, young and hopeful. So I avoided Tarnish.

Longshore fooled me, though! When I heard about Brazen, I didn't think about years. I thought, oh, an interesting look at the young Tudor court. And since Reign is one of my current favorite TV series (all about the young Mary Queen of Scots) and because I loved Gilt, I said yes.

I'm glad I did. Even though Anne turns up, a new mother, with all her future yet to come falling apart. Because I loved Brazen. I loved young Mary, wanting to have fun but also knowing the seriousness of her situation, the need to successfully navigate the Tudor Court. And I loved reading this Anne, an Anne who is smart and strong and fights as best she can, having done her own dance of destiny -- and who, despite her best efforts, has it all crashing down on her. Because Henry VIII is a man who is ruined by the power he has; and Anne does not give him a son quickly enough to satisfy him. I love how despite the danger and risks, Anne insists on her own autonomy and personhood.

Early on, Mary overhears an argument between Anne and the King. He tells her, "You should be content with what I've done for you. And remember I made you what you are." She responds, "I am myself! I am Anne Boleyn. You have not made me!"  And he says, "I can make you nothing." And this is where I knew Longshore got Anne, her "I am myself," her belief in herself.

I loved Brazen so much that I'm willing to have Gilt rip out my heart.

But now, back to Mary. I love the friendship she shares with Madge Shelton and Margaret Douglass. I love how Brazen shows the importance at that time of family, titles, money, and access to the king. Or rather, the danger.

Brazen captures the always-moving court and what that means to the members, to never stay in one place, to have their lives be spent in the rooms that are not their own, with rank and location determining where one sleeps for those weeks or months. Each section is titled by where the court is currently: Hampton Court Palace, 26 November 1533; Greenwich, December 1533; Greenwich Palace, 1534; Whitehall, 1534; Hatfield Palace, 1534. And that only brings us to page 72!

Brazen is also about being young. And wanting to be in love. And being in love. And not wanting to repeat the mistakes of parents. And it's also about words: Mary and her friends like songs and poetry, and one way they communicate with each other is by a shared book (based on the Devonshire Manuscript).

And yes.... it's a Favorite Book Read in 2014.

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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33. Friday Feature:


9256414
Summary:
Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she's dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she's trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.

Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world . . . forever.

My thoughts:
The opening of this book hooked me right away. Amelia doesn't remember her life or her death, yet she keeps almost reliving her death, waking up in the murky water that took her life. She's stuck in between life and death and can't seem to move on. Then when Joshua almost dies in the same river, she tries to summon all her strength to save him, which isn't easy considering she's dead. By some twist of fate, he sees her and she's able to save him. The two form a bond right away, which is understandable since she did save his life. He's even accepting of the fact that she's a ghost.

But as Amelia finds comfort in Joshua, she finds torment in another. Eli is a spirit like Amelia and he knows about her death. Eli tries to manipulate Amelia and get her to become something she isn't willing to be. I loved her struggle with Eli and how Joshua was able to help her just as much as she helped him.

This was a very enjoyable read.

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34. WELCOME HUMPHREY!: BK Launch!

We at CAT agency are so happy to help Launch the wonderfully friendly new series about the Hamster Humphrey and his Tiny Tales from Penguin Putnam!  See his first two books here, and a little video about how he is created by our artist PRISCILLA BURRIS         https://vimeo.com/104481200

Humphrey1 (3)

Humphrey2 (3)


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35. Review of Buried Sunlight

bang buried Review of Buried Sunlightstar2 Review of Buried Sunlight Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang
Primary    Blue Sky/Scholastic    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-57785-4    $17.99    g

In the latest of Bang and Chisholm’s excellent books on the role of the sun’s energy in powering life processes on Earth (Living Sunlight, rev. 5/09; Ocean Sunlight, rev. 5/12), the production and consumption of fossil fuels are explained, along with the sobering — and overwhelming — evidence for the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun itself serves as narrator of the process termed the “Cycle of Life”: the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy. A slight imbalance in this cycle produces the fossil fuels — i.e.,“buried sunlight” — so dear to modern civilization. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers, and the tiny black and white molecular structures of oxygen and carbon dioxide spread across the sky like no-see-ums on a summer night. The sun gets stern as it turns to modern-day fossil fuel consumption, explaining human contributions to global warming: “Will you humans keep burning more and more fossil fuels…or will you work together?” Extensive end notes provide a deeper explanation of the science of climate change.

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36. Review: Hate To Love You

Hate to Love You by Elise Alden. Carina Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher. New Adult.

The Plot: Paisley has a "slutty reputation" (her words) but is still "technically" a virgin. Technically isn't good enough: Paisley is pregnant.

Paisley meets her sister's fiance, who is as snobby as Paisley's sister. It's mutual annoyance (but also attraction) from the start.

Which is why Paisley pretends to be her sister and sleeps with the fiance, James.

Paisley doesn't have a supportive or loving family. Which may explain why she slept with James. It also explains why Paisley decides to share the truth - she slept with James - at the wedding reception. It also explains why she decides to tell a lie -- that James is her baby's father.

All hell breaks lose, helped along by the cell phone videos of her epic announcement. In the aftermath, Paisley gives her baby to James and leaves.

It's seven years later, and Paisley is back. Determined to establish a relationship with her son. But will James forgive her?

The Good: Let's start with I LOVED THIS BOOK. If the plot sounds like twelve kinds of soap opera meets a Lifetime movie meets a Syfy show, you'd be right and that's what makes it AWESOME and AMAZING.

First, yes, it's a traditional New Adult book which means plenty of sexytimes.

Now, as I get into things, you may be saying, but Liz, you're telling me too much! Spoilers, sweetie. Actually, all the information above? The reader knows that from the start! Part of why I loved this book is even thought I knew what was going to happen, I still had to turn the pages, wanting to know why and how it was going to happen. About half of the book is explaining just how James and Paisley ended up in bed together; and half is Paisley, seven years later, trying to get her life back.

The first half: I won't go into too many details about the epic night, except to say heavy drinking and black out curtains so that the bedroom is total darkness. (I KNOW.) (And if right now you're thinking about things like logic, like "wait, how can he be so drunk that he can't tell this isn't his fiance's body, that's just not making sense," part of the answer is "Caroline is such a good girl that he wasn't getting any action before this so he didn't know.") (I KNOW.)

The kind of middle, the wedding reception where she announces she slept with James and is having his baby, is noteworthy because of the videos people take of her. Not only does the video go viral, but it inspired a lot of people to use important family occasions to announce secrets to their families. Also on video. EPIC.

In a nutshell, first-half Paisley is a bit of a mess. There's a reason why she has a "slutty reputation" (I really hate the word slut, but Paisley uses it, so it's here in quotes), and that is slowly revealed. (Semi spoilery - there is a tragic backstory AND her family is just awful.) (No, seriously, so awful that by the end, any sympathy I had for Caroline was gone.) In a way, the disaster of the wedding reception and losing her son and her family wanting nothing to do with her is the best thing to happen to Paisley. She leaves England and in the seven years (which aren't shown in the book) Paisley sobers up, continues her education, and gets her act together.

Once back in England.... let's just say this is the type of book that the only job in the entire country that Paisley can get is at the place where James works. Working for him. (I KNOW).

So the second half is Paisley trying to prove to James she's changed, yet there's the attraction with James, and FEELINGS and SEXYTIMES.

But Liz, you may be saying. I get the soap opera and Lifetime references, but Syfy?

Did I mention the kind of psychic powers that Paisley has, and the sort of psychic connection she has with James?

Yes, this book had a lot going on. But you know what? I kept turning the pages. I wanted, no, needed, to find out what happened next and why and how. Paisley was working against such a stacked deck, was such an underdog, that I was understanding of her self-destructive behavior and hopeful that she'd have a happy ending. And at the same time... this was a roller coaster of "what the hell just happened" and I really enjoy that type of book!

Other reviews: Dear Author; Harlequin Junkies; Shh Moms Reading; Confessions from Romaholics.







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37. Review of The Madman of Piney Woods

MadmanPineyWoods Review of The Madman of Piney Woodsstar2 Review of The Madman of Piney Woods The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School   Scholastic    370 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-15664-6    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-63376-5    $16.99

In this companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07), it is now 1901, and for thirteen-year-old Benji Alston of Buxton, Ontario, the American Civil War is ancient history — great material for war games, but tedious when the Buxton elders harp on it. Life for this African Canadian nature lover involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings, spending time with his best friend Spence, and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. In nearby Chatham lives Alvin “Red” Stockard, a scientifically inclined Irish Canadian boy whose borderline-abusive grandmother tells horrific stories of the Potato Famine and coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River, tales that, in her mind, justify her inflexible hatred of Canadians and “anyone whose skin is darker than [hers].” The two boys eventually meet and become friends, discovering unexpected similarities in each other and their family histories. And then there is that supposedly mythical woodland monster — called the Madman of Piney Woods by Buxton residents and the South Woods Lion Man by Chatham folk — who tragically and irrevocably brings the past into the present for both boys. Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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38. The Memory Garden

I was really excited when my turn for The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert came up at the library. I had read a few blog reviews of it (I’m sorry I don’t remember who!) and knew, as a first novel, it was a bit uneven. Still it sounded good and I was enchanted by the prospect of the shoe garden.

The book was a bit bumpy. There were moments when it had an identity crisis. It flirted with being a YA book. It thought about being a coming of age story. Sometimes it wanted to be a mystery or a ghost story. What it finally ends up being is a story about friendship.

Nan, Mavis, Ruthie and Eve were best friends. They were always together and not only was their friendship special, they were special too — an unusual knack for gardening and herbal lore, a special ability to heal through the art of cooking, a certain charisma that made everyone listen and follow orders. Nothing so very strange but strange enough for their peers to notice and whisper “witches” behind their hands. But being special does not make one exempt from tragedy. The four are sixteen, seventeen, when Eve dies. There is a secret around Eve’s death that is slowly revealed as the story progresses, and it is that secret that spilt the remaining three friends apart.

Years have passed, they are now all old women in the their seventies. They have not seen each other in that long time. Now Nan, feeling her age and worried about her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bay, invites Mavis and Ruthie for a long weekend visit, hoping for, she is not quite sure what.

Bay is not Nan’s biological daughter. Nan never married. Nan was well known as an herbalist who could help women out of difficulties, and one day a baby in a basket was left on her porch. In the basket with the baby was a caul. Babies born with a caul are witches by default. Nan has kept this a secret from Bay but recent incidents compelled her to tell Bay about the caul and what that means. But Bay, being a teenager who wants nothing more than to be “normal” refuses to believe anything. She is used to hearing Nan called a witch. People come by in the night fairly regularly and throw shoes at the house or yell or, on Halloween, smash all the pumpkins. Nan has turned all the shoe “donations” into a garden that passersby stop to admire. Bay loves the garden and her Nan while, in typical teenage fashion, is utterly embarrassed by her and her ways.

And then Mavis and Ruthie arrive. The three friends carry their old resentments and anger just below the surface where it frequently bubbles up and burns anyone who happens to be around. When they finally begin to see each other as the people they are now, the old women they have become, they are able to let down their walls, talk about what happened to Eve, and forgive themselves and each other. It is this story, the story of three old women and the ties of friendship that stretched so thin they almost broke, this story is what the book finally decides to be about. We don’t get to read stories about elderly women and friendship very often. Sure there are some unusual elements, but the witch thing is so very minor, and really, when you think about it, women are often accused of being witches. You can embrace the light fantasy aspect of it or you can stick with the light social commentary on women’s friendship and behavior that the label plays with. Of course you can also enjoy both, which I did.

The writing is sometimes rough but it moves along at a good pace and the description of the flower feast is really wonderful. The Memory Garden isn’t a great novel but it is an enjoyable one. It will make you think of your own best girlfriends and remember just how special their friendship is.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Mary Rickert

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39. Call for Submissions: Restless from Wild Age Press

Wild Age Press is starting a new daily e-zine, but Restless isn’t going to be just any lit mag. We’re going to focus on the edgiest work being written today, the things more conservative journals are too scared to touch. We want your best, scariest (but not in a Stephen King kind of way), most experimental work. We want work that’s going to keep us up at night.

Send us:

prose under 750 words
poems one page or less
visual art, color or b&w
photography, color or b&w
comics, color or b&w
audio less than 2 minutes
video less than 2 minutes

postcard lit — send us your handmade postcards, with or without a poem or story written on the back, or mail us a postcard from an interesting place in the world with a poem or story inspired by the image(s) featured on the front
mini reviews (under 750 words) of books published in the past six months
short interviews with authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, or other cool people
See our full guidelines here.

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40. Review of Quest

becker quest Review of QuestQuest
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6595-1    $15.99

Journey (rev. 9/13) introduced a girl with a magic red crayon who could draw her way into an adventure and back home. At the end of the book she met a boy with his own purple crayon. Quest — the second in a planned wordless trilogy — opens where we last saw the friends, in a present-day city. While sheltering under a bridge during the rain, they are surprised by the arrival of an old man who gives them an orange crayon, a colorful map, and a holster with six small chambers. After the man is seized by soldiers, the children follow them into the same land we saw in Journey. Reading their map, the kids go on various quests (each lasting two or three spreads) to collect different-color crayons that fit neatly into the holster. Along the way they use their own purple and red crayons to draw objects that help them escape baddies in steampunk dirigibles. They make their way back to the Journey city and save the old man with their now-full holster, creating a magic rainbow. Becker’s illustrations are satisfyingly lush and full of subtle clues that will reward multiple readings. Compared to Journey’s simple yet mysterious story line, however, Quest seems overly complicated and, after the first reading, predictable — particularly for those familiar with the Myst computer games. Nevertheless, fans of the first book will probably be happy to explore this fantastical world in more depth.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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41. Down Under Calling by Margot Finke Book Review and Penpal Activity

Send to Kindle

I first became acquainted with Margo Finke via our Google + circles. There, we shared our love of kid lit, writing, and of course our love of Oregon. Margot, a native of Australia lives in Oregon which is also my home state. 

margot finke

If you only know one thing about Margot Finke let it be that she is a brilliant writer who grabs the readers attention from the first word.

Down Under Calling is a poignant story about Grandma Rose who lives in Australia and her grandson Andy Fraser who lives in Oregon. Reaching out over the miles through letters, Grandma Rose weaves heartfelt stories and memories which create a connection to her grandson so far way.

Down Under Calling by Margot Finke

As the letters go back and forth we learn of Grandma Rose’s attempts to save a joey (kangaroo), of Andy having to move to a small apartment because his father loses his job and of the many childhood memories that Grandma Rose has of Australia.

At the beginning of the story Andy’s mom has to force him to write a letter to his grandmother. But thanks to Grandma Rose’s very entertaining letters, Andy is soon converted into an ardent letter writer himself. Grand Rose inspired Andy to explore nature around him with his friend Kelly and to share his adventures with her. 

We greatly enjoyed the very humorous letters between Andy and his grandmother. It brought back memories I shared with my own grandma. Another element we greatly enjoyed in Down Under Calling is learning about Australia. Margot Finke through her character Grandma Rose shares many delightful details and the sheer beauty and diversity of Australia. The natural life, geography, and traditions are all wrapped up in this beautiful story.

We were sad to see this book end. It left us wanting to go to Australia but more importantly it had us looking for people to write letters to. This is a page turner of a read which is not to be missed. Margot also offers up great teacher resources and a “fun facts” for kids page based on all of her wonderful books.

 

 Something To Do

Let’s write some letters. You can choose a favorite relative and/or choose a pen pal who lives somewhere else on the planet. Here are a couple of safe kid pen pal sites.

Students of the World

 

Friendship By Mail

 

To know more about pen pals and how to make sure your children are safe, here’s a great blog post from Kid World Citizen. It has some amazing ideas and insights on how to keep your children safe while connecting with the world through mail.

 

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42. 3 Sections

Until Vijay Seshadri won the Pulitzer for poetry earlier this year for his book 3 Sections, I had never heard of him before. Born in Bangalore, India in 1954, he came to the United States when he was five. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He teaches poetry and nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. I am really glad he won the Pulitzer because otherwise I might never have heard of him and his book, 3 Sections is well worth reading.

It is not a mystery why the book is called 3 Sections because it actually has three sections. The first and longest section is poetry, mostly one to at most two pages long. The second section is a prose essay about salmon fishing called “Pacific Fishes of Canada.” The third section is one long poem called “Personal Essay” which is, perhaps, an essay in the form of a poem. The Pulitzer committee describes the book as a “collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia.” They make it sound as though the book has a progression of some kind beginning with birth and ending with dementia. But this is not the case. I am certain there is some kind of logic behind the arrangement of all the pieces in the book, there generally always is, but it is not something I found especially noticeable. I just liked the poems a lot.

I also like Seshadri’s voice. It is firm, assured, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. His lines have a pleasant pacing, slow, but not so slow they become plodding. The slow movement of his lines serves to soften the firmness of his voice. He is not melodic but he is at times soothing. Seshadri’s language is straightforward, everyday. Though this does not mean that he doesn’t have some fantastic and startling images:

Therefore is he choked in the coils
of his being’s enormous Ponzi scheme
(Yet Another Scandal)

And:

Self-esteem is leaking and oozing
over the concrete floor to pool around the feet.
Its color is the pink color of anti-freeze. The air is stringent
with the smell of anti-freeze.
(The People I Know)

And while Seshadri’s voice is firm and his language plain, one could even say grounded, he manages to write a number of poems that approach the spiritual. Here is the entirety of a short one, “Imaginary Number,” to give you an idea:

The mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
is not big and is not small.
Big and small are

comparative categories, and to what
could the mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
be compared?

Consciousness observes and is appeased.
The soul scrambles across the screes.
The soul,

like the square root of minus 1,
is an impossibility that has its uses.

One of my favorites in the collection is called “Memoir.” Here is a taste:

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.

And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Humiliated by joy. But isn’t it true? Those moments of pure joy when we are and aren’t ourselves, should someone see us in such a moment, we are so very embarrassed by it. I wonder why that is?

I am not quite sure how the second prose section fits into the book. The narrator gets a job on a fishing boat during salmon fishing season. There is one sentence that really stood out for me:

my duties were light enough to give me plenty of time to indulge my invented self, my sea-going fictional self, and wallow in my version of the well-documented affliction that causes people to live in literature rather than life.

Heh.

And the final section, “Personal Essay,” is a marvelous, somewhat meditative poem on consciousness, identity, and reality. One of my favorite lines in the poem is this:

Clouds oversized, exaggerated in the pale sky, drawn with a crayon by a kid,
which confirms that we are in a fabrication, maybe even in a mistake,
maybe even in a cartoon.

There is a wonderful poem called “Rereading” in which David Copperfield is taken to task for dismantling the lives of the Peggotys in their cozy beached boat upon the strand. And I was also pleased about “Three Urdu Poems.” I love ghazals, a poetic form in which the couplets tend almost towards aphorism at times. I love trying to puzzle out how the seemingly unrelated lines actually do relate and form a whole. It is not a form that those who write in English use very often so they always get my attention when they turn up.

3 Sections is a great collection, full of all sorts of gems. And for those who don’t really consider themselves poetry readers but would like to read poetry now and then, I bet you’d like this one too.


Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reviews

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43. Review: Feral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn, those feral cats are scary.


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44. Review: Amity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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45. Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions

look alvin ho great wall Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist AttractionsAlvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions
by Lenore Look; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    163 pp.
8/14    978-0-385-36972-5    $15.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-36973-2    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81986-9    $7.99

Alvin Ho, who’s afraid even when safe at home, faces previously unknown fears when his family travels to China to introduce his new baby sister to relatives. Forget fear of flying (“small enclosed spaces filled with strangers, hurtling across the sky at 600 miles per hour”); Alvin’s afraid of his own passport photo — in which he looks like he “robbed a bank and got run over by the getaway car.” The hilarity (for readers, that is) begins at airport security, when Alvin’s ever-present Personal Disaster Kit is found to contain, among other things, forks and knives (he’s “allergic to chopsticks”) and a rope (“for climbing the Great Wall”). As usual, Pham’s many illustrations capture the “fun” being had in Look’s action-packed story, this time most especially by Alvin’s long-suffering dad — all while wearing a crying infant strapped to his chest. First, Dad’s hauled away by federal air marshals (Alvin’s panicked and repeated use of the call button), then he accompanies his son up and down thirty-two flights of stairs (no elevators for Alvin), and then he must hurl himself onto a toboggan when Alvin instantaneously decides that riding down the Speed Chute is less scary than standing around on the Great Wall. This series entry’s heartwarming moment involves Alvin’s idea to grant some Christmas wishes to a group of orphans, including someone’s wish for a friend. Alvin may be full of fear, but he’s also got loads of empathy.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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46. Review of At Home in Her Tomb

liu perkins at home in her tomb Review of At Home in Her TombAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins; 
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School    Charlesbridge    80 pp.
4/14    978-1-58089-370-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-615-9    $9.99

Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb, 
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s 
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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47. A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit has gone on my list of authors whose work I’d like to own and read all of. It started off with her newest essay collection Men Explain Things To Me and was cemented by A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Field Guide was on my TBR list for years but I just never got around to it. Why did I take so long? I am a believer that every book has the right time and for whatever reason the right time wasn’t until now.

How to describe the book? Essays? Yes but not really because each one is connected. But it isn’t straight up nonfiction either because there is no real “plot” other than the theme of getting lost. Which makes it very much a long meditation. But yet there is a direction of sorts because four of the chapters/essays are called “The Blue of Distance” and these alternate with chapters called things like “Abandon” and “One-Story House.” The blue chapters all tend to be outward facing, about someone — the artist Yves Kline for instance — or about something — a certain color of blue or country western music. The other chapters tend to be more personally reflective and wide-ranging discussing things like leaving the door open for Elijah during Passover dinner, hiking in the wilderness, and family history. But even the distinction between the blue chapters and the named chapters blurs as Solnit will include personal reflection in the blue chapters and quotes Meno, Simone Weil, and a Tibetan sage in the personal chapters. I found all this intermingling to be satisfying and wanted the book to be longer than it is. A Good sign, right?

A Field Guide to Getting Lost is about many things, but at its core it is about stories:

A story can be a gift like Ariadne’s thread , or the labyrinth, or the labyrinth’s raving Minotaur; we navigate by stories, but sometimes we only escape by abandoning them.

Stories anchor us, tell us who we are or point to who we want to be. We can become lost in our stories. We can also be oppressed by our stories and only find out who we are by giving them up and losing ourselves. Trouble is, we think of being lost as a bad thing, but when we are lost we are more open to possibility than we are when we are sure of ourselves and our stories:

Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra icognita in between lies a life of discovery.

Even when we are sure of our stories, we still change over time and lose the person we used to be. When it happens so slowly we don’t even notice it we are not bothered by it until we are startled into awareness by an old photograph or letter, or a person we haven’t seen in many years. Sometimes, of course, loss happens very fast and unexpectedly and we are thrown for a loop. Not only do we write the story of our past but we write it well into the future and a sudden loss throws us into uncertainty, a place in which we do not feel comfortable spending time. And so we worry:

Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t — and it surprised me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying they too contain the unknown.

In the last chapter there is a beautiful piece of a lecture Solnit shares that she heard given at the Zen Center in San Francisco. Zen, you may know, is all about mindfulness, paying attention, living in the hear and now not dwelling on the past or projecting into the future. And this lecture coming as it does nearly at the end of the final chapter, serves to sum up much of the whole book. It is such a wonderful story it is hard to pick out an exact sort of summary quote, but this might give you and idea:

‘Maybe if I really paid attention I’d notice that I don’t know what’s going to happen this afternoon and I can’t be fully confident that I am competent to deal with it. Maybe we’re willing to let in that thought. It has some reasonableness to it, I can’t exactly know, but chances are, possibilities are, it’s not going to be much different than what I’ve usually experienced and I’ll do just fine, so we close up that unsettling possibility with a reasonable response. The practice of awareness takes us below the reasonableness that we’d like to think we live with and then we start to see something quite fascinating, which is the drama of our inner dialogue, of the stories that go through our minds and the feelings that go through our heart, and we start to see in this territory it isn’t so neat and orderly and, dare I say it, safe or reasonable.’

The story goes on to remind us that it is okay to not know; okay to be uncertain; okay to run into a barrier and ask for help. It is okay to be lost. Because we can only really find what we need if we are lost:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Rebecca Solnit

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48. Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece Bell

ElDeafo1 198x300 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellEl Deafo
By Cece Bell
Amulet (an imprint of Abrams)
$21.95
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1020-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 2nd

We appear to exist in a golden age of children’s graphic novel memoirs. Which is to say, there are three of them out this year (El Deafo, Sisters, and The Dumbest Idea Ever). How to account for the sudden tiny boom? If I were to harbor a guess I’d say it has something to do with publishers realizing that the genre can prove a profitable one (hat tip then to Smile). We’re beginning to enter into an era where the bulk of the gatekeepers out there, be they parents or teachers or librarians, are viewing comics not as a corrupting influence but rather as a new literary form with which to teach. Memoirs are particularly interesting and have proven to be a wonderful way to slowly ease kids into the big beautiful world of nonfiction. That said, not everyone’s youth is worthy of a retelling. To tell a memoir well you need to have a narrative arc of some sort. One that doesn’t feel forced. For CeCe Bell, her first foray into graphic novels is also telling the story of her youth. The result, El Deafo, is a remarkable look at a great grand question (What to do when you can no longer hear and feel different from everyone you know?) alongside a smaller one that every kid will relate to (How do you find a good friend?). Bell takes the personal and makes it universal, an act that truly requires superhero skills.

Until the age of four CeCe was pretty much indistinguishable from any other kid. She liked her older siblings. She liked to sing to herself. But a sudden bout with meningitis and something changed for CeCe. All at once her hearing was gone. After some experimentation she was fitted with a Sonic Ear (a device that enabled her to hear her teacher’s voice) and started attending classes with other kids like herself. A family trip to a smaller town, however, meant going to a new school and trying to make new friends. When faced with problems she reverts to her pretend superhero self, El Deafo. With subtlety Bell weaves in knowledge of everything from reading lips and sign language to the difficulties of watching un-captioned television. At the same time the book’s heart lies with a single quest: That of finding the absolute perfect friend.

ElDeafo2 327x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellThe rise of the graphic novel memoir of a cartoonist’s youth with a child audience in mind really hit its stride when Raina Telgemeier wrote, Smile. That dire accounting of her at times horrific dental history paved the way for other books in the same vein. So where did my library choose to catalog that graceful memoir? In the biography section? No. In the graphic novel section? Not initially, no. For the first year of its existence it was shelved in nonfiction under the Dewey Decimal number 617.645 T. That’s right. We put it in the dental section. So it was with great trepidation that I looked to see where El Deafo would end up. Would it be in the section on the hearing impaired or would the catalog understand that this book is about so much more than the Sonic Ear? As it happens, the book appears to be primarily cataloged as a memoir more than anything else. Sure the information in there about the deaf community and other aspects of living as someone hearing impaired are nonfiction, but the focus of the story is always squarely on CeCe herself.

The real reason I found the book as compelling as I did was due in large part to the way in which Bell tackles the illogical logic of childhood friendships. So many kids are friends thanks to geographical convenience. You’re my age and live within a certain radius of my home? We’re besties! And Bell’s hearing impaired state is just a part of why she is or is not friends with one person or another. Really, the true arc of the story isn’t necessarily CeCe coming to terms with the Sonic Ear, but rather how she comes to terms with herself and, in doing so, gets the best possible friend. It’s like reading a real life Goldilocks story. This friend is too bossy. This friend is too fixated on Cece’s hearing. But this friend? She’s juuuuuust right.

ElDeafo3 329x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellSo why bunnies? Bell could easily have told her story with human beings. And though the characters in this book appear to be anthropomorphized rabbits (reminding me of nothing so much as when guest stars would appear on the children’s television program Arthur) there is no particular reason for this. They never mention a particular love of carrots or restrict their movements to hop hop hopping. They are, however, very easy on the eyes and very enticing. This book was sitting on my To Be Reviewed shelf when my three-year-old waltzed over and plucked it for her own perusal. The bunnies are accessible. In fact, you completely forget that they even are bunnies in the course of reading the book. You also fail to notice after a while how beautifully Bell has laid out her comic panels too. The sequential storytelling is expertly rendered, never losing the reader or throwing you out of the story. One librarian I spoke to also mentioned how nice it was to see that the dream sequences with El Deafo are always clearly delineated as just that. Dream sequences. Fantasy and reality are easily distinguishable in this novel. No mean feat when everyone has a twitchy little nose.

Maybe we’ve peaked. Maybe we’re seeing as many graphic memoirs for kids as we’ll ever see in a given year. But that can’t be, can it? We all have stories to tell, no matter what our upbringing looked like. There’s always some element in our past that’s relatable to a wide audience. It’s the clever author that knows how to spin that element into a storyline worthy of a younger audience. There isn’t a jot of doubt in my mind that CeCe Bell’s book is going to be vastly beloved by nearly every child that picks it up. Engaging and beautifully drawn, to say nothing of its strength and out-and-out facts, El Deafo is going to help set the standard for what a memoir for kids should be. Infinitely clever. Undeniably fun. Don’t miss it.

On shelves September 2nd.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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49. Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

bill nye desk Bill Nye the Science Guy app review2013 was an anniversary year for the live-action educational TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy. In honor of that occasion, developer Disney Education created the Bill Nye the Science Guy 20th Anniversary App.

Welcome to Nye Labs, where you’ll discover on the main screen (a.k.a. Bill’s retro-looking desk) an assortment of objects that when tapped lead you to different sections of the app, all narrated by Bill himself.

Learn about telling time with a sundial on Mars versus on Earth (Martian minutes are longer) or enter the “Whorl of Illusion!” to learn about different types of optical illusions. When you tap the Bill Nye bobblehead on the desk, he provides science trivia (e.g., “Humpback whales can go without eating for six months”). In the TV portion of the app, you can watch episodes of the show in which Bill teaches you about chemical reactions, the heart, the planets and sun, gravity, earthquakes, magnetism, friction, light optics, and mammals. NB: Each video costs an additional $1.99 in the app store. “The Book of Do-It-Yourself Experiments” provides instructions for hands-on projects, such as testing eggshell strength and cleaning pennies, to try at home.

bill nye book Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Two games are included in the app. One is an “Archeology Dig of Science” with robot Diggity and his dog Rocky in the yard behind the lab. Complete three levels (crust, mantle, core) by having the robot dig down into the earth to discover artifacts worth points. You need to earn a certain number of points within the time limit to advance to the next level. In the other game you are looking for signs of life on the Plutoid Pluto — but you have to travel there from Earth in a rocket ship. Along the way you’ll pass other planets and learn facts about each one. You must figure out how to use each planet’s orbit to move you forward in space when you launch your rocket; timing is everything here. You also must complete missions along the way, such as photographing each planet and launching satellites. Engaging in missions will earn you “money,” which you need to continue playing the game (launching rockets is expensive!). But remember to save some missions for the end so you can drop a probe on Pluto and get back to Earth. And don’t get lost in space!

bill nye space Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Both games were a bit tricky to master and certainly not designed for the youngest users, but with a little practice they were fairly enjoyable.

Inside the desk drawer on the main page, you’ll find a few little extras, including a step-by-step guide on “How to Tie a Bow Tie” — so you can wear one like Bill Nye — and a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements with facts about some of the elements. There’s no way turn off the sound effects or Bill’s narration in any of the sections, so they got repetitive after a while.

This app contains a random assortment of science facts and experiments… but it’s just that sort of variety that made the show so interesting to watch when it aired on PBS Kids in the 1990s and that makes the app, with its impressive and responsive graphics, an informative and entertaining e-introduction to Bill Nye’s approach for making basic science concepts accessible to kids.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free with in-app purchases. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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50. Friday Feature: Catch Me When I Fall Review


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Recruited at his death to be a Protector of the Night, seventeen-year-old Daniel Graham has spent two-hundred years fighting Nightmares and guarding humans from the clawed, red-eyed creatures that feed off people’s fears. Each night, he risks his eternal life, having given up his chance at an afterlife when he chose to become a Protector. That doesn’t stop a burnt-out Daniel from risking daring maneuvers during each battle. He’s become one of the best, but he wants nothing more than to stop.

Then he’s given an assignment to watch over sixteen-year-old Kayla Bartlett, a clinically depressed patient in a psychiatric ward. Nightmares love a human with a tortured past. Yet, when they take a deep interest in her, appearing in unprecedented numbers, the job becomes more dangerous than any Daniel’s ever experienced. He fights ruthlessly to keep the Nightmares from overwhelming his team and Kayla. Soon, Daniel finds himself watching over Kayla during the day, drawn to why she’s different, and what it is about her that attracts the Nightmares. And him.

A vicious attack on Kayla forces Daniel to break the first Law and reveal his identity. Driven by his growing feelings for her, he whisks her away to Rome where others like him can keep her safe. Under their roof, the Protectors discover what Kayla is and why someone who can manipulate Nightmares has her in his sights. But before they can make a move, the Protectors are betrayed and Kayla is kidnapped. Daniel will stop at nothing to save her. Even if it means giving up his immortality.


My thoughts:
Vicki is my agency sister, so yeah, I was excited to read this book. First, the cover is awesome, and second the blurb let me know this was my kind of read. Daniel is someone I liked from the start. He's very real and so are his feelings. He felt for Kayla just like I did. The poor girl is in a psychiatric ward and being tortured by nightmares. I loved how the nightmares were physical things. Seriously LOVED that. I could almost feel their hands reaching for me while I was reading. Creepy and awesome!

There's a twist with Kayla that I really enjoyed and didn't see coming. I won't give spoilers though, so I'll just say it was a great addition to the plot. The dynamic between Kayla and Daniel felt very genuine to me. They both are dealing with a lot. Daniel wants out of his job as a Protector, and Kayla has a tortured past. I think this really draws them to each other and gives them common ground.

I can't wait to see where the story goes in book two.

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