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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 5,062
26. Thursday Review: THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN by Amber J. Keyser

Summary: Full disclosure: Amber Keyser is an author I met at a past KidLitCon; her editor Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab I also know from KidLitCon (a different one) and I'm in contact with both of them online. They sent me my review copy of The Way... Read the rest of this post

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27. Review: The Scorpion Rules

The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace) by Erin Bow. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Our world, about 400 years in the future. For various reasons (wars, water shortage, environmental changes) an AI (artificial intelligence) named Talis seized control of, well, everything, and first forced peace on the world by blasting a few cities.

Then Talis realized there was a better way. That destroying towns wouldn't create world peace. But hostages would. Child hostages, to be specific. It's simple: take a child of each leader. Hold onto them until they are 18. If the leader declares war, the child hostage's life is forfeit.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of Pan Polar Confederacy. She has been a hostage since the age of five. She is now sixteen; if she can make it until eighteen....

But her country has water. And others don't. And she knows that one day, sooner rather than later, war may be declared and her life may be forfeit.

The Good: Alright, let's cut to the chase: this is a Favorite Book of 2015. Hell, I'll go on record and say this is easily a top ten book. I'll go even further: I'll be damn disappointed if this isn't on awards lists and best lists at the end of the year.

And to say why this is so, why I am so passionate about this book, I'll be talking spoilers. So fair warning: stop now if that bothers you, read The Scorpion Rules, then come back.

The Scorpion Rules is a dystopia, or, at least, a dystopia for those children of rules and leaders who are sent away to be held hostage, knowing that if their parents pick country over blood they will die. They have been taught history to understand their role and their history, including ancient history to give a broader, perhaps colder, perspective on people and war and violence.

Greta, like her friends and fellow hostages, have been taught about their role; have been taught to accept it; have been taught to not fight back. To not resist. To not escape.

And then a boy comes to their school, a boy whose grandmother just gained power so he's been sent as hostage, a bit older than most, and less royal, so less prepared. Elian.


Yes, it's dystopian; but like I said, at least for this book, it shifts the burden of the dystopia to the upper class, to the privileged. And the Children of Peace, the hostages, realize both their burden and their privilege. And it's grounded in real history -- the exchanging and taking of hostages has historic basis. (Fans of the TV show Reign will remember King Henry saying he and his brothers where hostages in the Spanish Court. That was true.) I say at least for this book, because we haven't seen much of life beyond where Greta lives, so I can't be sure of how others live. There is a hint that Talis controls and meddles with the lives of others, but it's unclear just how much of an impact that has.

This dystopia also makes sense; it's coherent, enough is given to explain why and how this system was accepted and evolved. It's also thoughtfully and realistically diverse. The Children of Peace come from all over the world, from all types of countries. Some, like Greta, are their for hereditary reasons -- she is the crown princess, born into this world, born to be a hostage. Others, like the Children from what was the United States, are there because parents have been voted into/taken charge by other means. They have no titles; they may arrive at the school older, with their status sudden and unprepared for. That is Elian.

And it's also grounded in science fiction, not fantasy -- the AI that controls the world, Talis, and the link between humans and computers is a scientific element of the story, not a fantastical one, and it's not just the push for the story. Talis is present throughout, lurking in the background, moving to the forefront.

Also, the threats are real. The Scorpion Rules starts with a child hostage being taken away because his country declared war. There is a graveyard by the school. There is torture, there is manipulation, not nice things happen again and again.

Now, on to the love triangle. Which isn't. There is new boy Elian and there is some sort of connection or attraction between him and Greta, but more important than that, is that Elian shows Greta another way. That submission and acceptance is not the only path in life. That no matter what, there is choice.

And then there is Greta's best friend and roommate, Xie. Greta has not just accepted the way she has been raised, the future she's been told to expect. She has also buried most of her emotions and feelings, avoiding emotional risk. And yet when Elian helps provide the catalyst for her to open up, and change, and question, it also helps her unlock her frozen feelings for Xie.

See? It sounds like a triangle because there are two people -- but it isn't. It so, so isn't.

One last thing: Greta may have accepted her part in life and politics; she may have tried to avoid certain deep attachments; but she is also a royal. Born to be a hostage, born to live a role, but also born to take her place if she lives past 18. Born to be a leader, and at her school, she is a leader. She's not a follower. She's not passive, even if to someone like Elian, the Children of Peace hostages look passive and accepting.

So, go, read it, and like me, look forward to the next book. Because I have no idea what will happen next -- and that? That is a great feeling to have.

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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28. Review of The Book Itch

nelson_book itchThe Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s 
Greatest Bookstore
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Primary, Intermediate   Carolrhoda   32 pp.
11/15   978-0-7613-3943-4   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4618-2   $17.99

If the central character of Nelson’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Award-winning No Crystal Stair (rev. 3/12) was the author’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, this picture book adaptation of the same source material shifts the focus just enough to give younger readers an introduction to his singular achievement: the National Memorial African Bookstore, founded by Michaux in Harlem in the 1930s. Where No Crystal Stair had more than thirty narrators, this book has but one, Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, whose assassination provides the emotional climax of the story. Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. While middle-graders might need some context to understand that the book is set fifty years in the past, its concerns remain: as Michaux “jokes” to Lewis, “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” Nelson provides full documentation in a biographical note, and some of the bookseller’s best slogans decorate the endpapers.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of The Book Itch appeared first on The Horn Book.

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29. Review: How to Love

How to Love by Katie Cotugno. Balzer & Bray. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Three years ago, Sawyer LeGrande ran away, leaving behind family and friends. Leaving Serena Montero, his girlfriend.

His pregnant girlfriend.

Reena has put the pieces of her life back together, including making peace with her disapproving father. Instead of her dreams of college, she's raising a two year old, going to the local college, working. She has a new boyfriend, she has good friends.

And Sawyer comes back to town.

The Good: A romance with a lot of appeal.

The story flips back and forth between Sawyer and Reena's intense, high school love three years ago and the present reality of betrayal, hurt, and attraction. So the reader gets two stories, one of first love and one of second chances.

I liked Reena because, well, she was in a tough place and she did what she had to do. When she got pregnant, and decided to have and keep the baby, she reorganized and adjusted her dreams. Though I kept thinking, if she had had more support from the families, if there was less judging and more compassion -- but there wasn't. And she's at a good place when Sawyer returns.

Sawyer, who by leaving town managed to escape the consequences Reena had to face and had to live with, is back. As I said, this is also a second chances love story, with Sawyer and Reena working through their feelings and family complications, as well as learning about who each other is now, not who they were. Not who they remember them as.

With the ages of the main characters, and the two stories at two time periods, this has appeal for both teen readers and New Adult readers.

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

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

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30. Review of The Emperor of Any Place

wynne-jones_emperor of any placestar2 The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
High School   Candlewick   328 pp.
10/15   978-0-7636-6973-7   $17.99

“So much of grief is unlearning,” observes Wynne-Jones in this perceptive and 
multi-layered page-turner. When Evan’s single father, Clifford, dies suddenly, the high-schooler must work through his own grief while dealing with Clifford’s estranged father Griff, a military man who Clifford had claimed was a murderer. Griff’s also a control freak and is somehow tied to the strange book that was sent to Clifford just before he died. As Evan reads the book — the translated journal of a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a mystical island with an American Marine plane-crash survivor — he experiences a strange sense of déjà-vu. Wynne-Jones skillfully weaves the World War II journal into Evan’s own story, building suspense and keeping Griff’s part in the proceedings just obscure enough to create a cracking mystery. The author’s conversational tone provides occasional comic relief when things start to get too sinister, and the immediacy of his writing leads to some evocative descriptive passages (such as when Evan and his father listen to Miles Davis: “A night breeze stole into the room and was doing a slow dance under the jazz. Evan could feel it on the back of his neck, the sweat on him cooling. He shivered”). There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of The Emperor of Any Place appeared first on The Horn Book.

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31. Review: The Bunker Diary

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. Carolrhoda Books. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Linus, sixteen, wakes up, alone, in room. No good deed goes unpunished: he was helping a blind guy get some stuff in the back of a van, and, well, turns out the guy wasn't blind after all.

And now he's in this bizarre place, with six bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and an elevator. There is no way in or out except that lift. And there are cameras and microphones. And he's being watched.

And then someone comes down in the elevator: a nine year old girl. And he realizes that there will be more, to fill those bedrooms....

The Good: The Bunker Diary takes place in the secure bunker where Linus finds himself trapped. One of the few things that is there is a journal, and Linus writes in it, and that's what we're reading.

The diary of his days, trapped. His memories of how he got there, his life before.

I'll be honest; this is not usually the type of book I'd read because, well. Sometimes I think I know what I like. But then I listen to other people rave about a book, people I respect, and I say, OK, let me try it. And usually I'm glad I did. This time? So glad I did.

The Bunker Diary is stunning, unforgettable, unpredictable, depressing, sad. While gradually we learn more about Linus's story, at the start he's a runaway who has been living on the streets. So he's a bit street smart, and has guts, and isn't stupid, even if he has been very alone. He's resourceful.

But the person who kidnapped him, and the five others who end up joining him, is also resourceful. And a planner. Because this is always Linus's story, we never find out the motivation of the kidnapper, of the person who put this all together. We can only guess.

In some ways, this is a depressing book. Because these people are trapped, stuck with each other, and with no real hope of escape. Part of the book is just the monotony of these people, in a small space, trying to get back and survive one more day.

And in some ways, it is a book that is not without hope. Which is funny to say, because this is a hopeless book. But Linus, who is no saint, is also no sinner. And he is kind. When nine year old Jenny shows up, Linus looks after her, does his best to protect her.

But there's only so much he can do. About being in the bunker. About Jenny. About the others who join them, who bring their own dangers. About the man who has trapped him there. Who watches. So he writes down what is happening and what he remembers and what he thinks he remembers.

Despite how heart breaking this was (or maybe because of it?), 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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32. Lumberjanes, Volume Two

cover artI was very much looking forward to the second volume of Lumberjanes having enjoyed the first one so much. I didn’t love the first one but I quite liked it and was hoping volume two would see the story hitting its stride and really doing something. But instead it just got really weird.

At first it seemed like Rosie, the tattooed and somewhat mysterious owner of the camp would get more story time as she goes off with her axe and leaves counselor Jen in charge. Jen wants to make sure everyone stays safe and isn’t all that confident she can manage it so she keeps all the girls in camp making friendship bracelets. But trouble does not take long to find Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley. Molly needs to go to the outhouse and when she arrived there is an out of order sign on the door. She opens the door anyway and out burst three — velociraptors? Through teamwork and ingenuity the girls are able to neutralize the dinosaurs and save the day.

Rosie returns with some kind of mysterious crystal and doesn’t blink when she learns about what happened. The crystal of course turns out to be important later.

There is a rousing game of capture-the-flag. Jo might be some kind of alien or something. She has a magical amulet she buries in the woods that turns out to be important for later. Of course.

Then everything gets really weird as we learn that fellow camper Diane is really Diana/Artemis and she is in a race against her brother Apollo who has the boys’ camp in his thrall to put together all these artifacts in order to be gifted with all kinds of power from Zeus.

The friends of course save the day and Jo is not an alien and the best thing about this story was Bubbles the raccoon.

It was all very disappointing. I am not certain I will read volume three if there is going to be one. The art remains marvelous but the story just had too many elements to it that seemed to be there just to add some craziness. And while I am all for craziness, craziness for its own sake just doesn’t do it for me. Oh well.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews

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33. Monday Mishmash 11/9/15

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. Leap News  I've signed another author to Leap Books Seek. I'm so excited about this book and can't wait to share the news. I'm just waiting on the Publisher's Weekly announcement. :)
  2. Editing  This week I'll be editing the new book I acquired. 
  3. Drafting  I'm a little jealous of all the people writing away for NaNoWriMo, so I may attempt to get some words in on my adult thriller this week. I had to put it aside to edit for clients. And yes, you read that correctly. I'm writing an adult thriller.
  4. Review Opportunity  I'm looking for a few more readers to review Our Little Secret. If you're willing to read the book and review it on Amazon, let me know in the comments, or email me at khashway(at)hotmail(dot)com and I'll send you a review copy.
  5. Huge Multi-Author YA Giveaway  I'm teaming up with a bunch of amazing YA authors to bring you a huge giveaway. There are tons of prizes and tons of chances to win! Here's what's up for grab: 

2 $40 gift cards
eBook of PERFECT FOR YOU by Ashelyn Drake
eBook of FINE ART OF PRETENDING by Rachel Harris
eBook of SOMETHING ABOUT LOVE by Elana Johnson
eBook of ELAVATED by Elana Johnson
eBook of PLAYING WITH FIRE by Sherry Ficklin
One of the GUARDIANS OF GALAXY books by Ednah Walters
RITE OF REJECTION by Sarah Negovetich
4 copies of THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill
eBook set of THE DARK BETRAYAL Trilogy by Nichole Chase
eBook of TOUCHING SMOKE by Airicka Phoenix 

The giveaway is international and will run from November 9th through November 15th. Enter on my Ashelyn FB page or on the rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecop-ter giveaway

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

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34. All-New, All-Different Marvel Rundown: Week Five

The Marvel Universe has moved on, but it’s left the rest of us behind. This is the fifth installment of the ongoing series where The Comics Beat looks at each new title in the All-New, All-Different Marvel line and tells you if these titles are worth your hard-earned dollars.

7 Comments on All-New, All-Different Marvel Rundown: Week Five, last added: 11/9/2015
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35. Johanna Basford and Gloria Steinem Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Lost-OceanWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Nov. 01, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #1 in Paperback Nonfiction) Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford: “Through intricate pen and ink illustrations to complete, color, and embellish, readers will meet shoals of exotic fish, curious octopuses, and delicately penned seahorses. Visit coral reefs and barnacle-studded shipwrecks, discover intricate shells and pirate treasure.” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #3 in Hardcover Nonfiction) The Witches by Stacy Schiff: “It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #8 in Hardcover Nonfiction) My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem: “Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.” (Oct. 2015)

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36. The Red Badge of Courage

When I wrote about The Scarlet Letter I mentioned that is was part of a project I began (and then ended) to reread a number of the books I read in high school and have not read since. Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane was the other book I read in the project. When I began reading it I was already wavering on the project and the book cemented my decision to not continue. I figure if I have not read a book since high school there was probably a good reason for that.
So, Red Badge of Courage. One of the few books I read in high school that I recall not liking at all. I hoped with time and maturity the reread would reveal the book to be amazing. Nope. While I can certainly appreciate it in a way I did not when I was 14, I still found it to be a very dull book.
First published in 1895, the book is a shining example of realism. Told from the limited third person perspective of Henry Fleming, a young man who joins up to fight in the American Civil War. His idea of what war is does not match the reality. Before he leaves, and even for a long time before he experiences battle he thinks,

It must be some sort of a play affair. He had long despaired of witnessing a Greek like struggle. Such would be no more, he had said. Men were better, or more timid.

When his regiment is finally sent out into the field they spend quite a lot of time walking and walking and walking, camping, walking some more as they are ordered to a new position, camping, waiting, waiting, waiting, only to have to move again. It is a tedious affair and the longer Henry has to wait for a battle the more he begins to worry that he will be a coward and turn and run. He becomes so obsessed by this worry that he starts asking his comrades probing questions in an attempt to find out what they think of the matter and succeeds only in annoying them.

When the battle finally comes, Henry does fine on the first assault but the enemy regroups and charges and breaks part of the line. Henry, seeing some of his comrades falling back in retreat, panics and turns tail and runs as fast and far away as he can.

He spends quite a long time wandering and berating himself for running while also trying to justify his actions. Eventually he falls in with wounded soldiers who are moving away from the lines because they can no longer fight. Among them is his friend Jim Conklin who was badly wounded, delirious, and eventually dies. During this time Henry is repeatedly asked where his wound is but avoids answering the question.

He does eventually get a wound but it doesn’t come from battle. He is whacked in the head with the butt of a riffle when he gets mixed up in a column of retreating soldiers. When he makes it back to his own regiment they all think he has been grazed in the head by a bullet and treat him kindly. Henry does not tell them the truth.

All this takes up a large portion of the book and I was beginning to think that perhaps this was an anti-war novel since the horrors are so brutally graphic and revelatory in just how much the lives of men like Henry are mere fodder.

But then the final part of the book is battle after battle and Henry, in an attempt to atone for his previous cowardice and desertion, fights valiantly and even becomes standard bearer when the previous one falls, leading his regiment to victory. During this time Henry acts almost entirely on fear, adrenaline and rage. He needs to prove himself and prove that he and his comrades are not useless and good for nothing like he overheard some officers saying they were.

And suddenly the book does not seem so anti-war any longer. It is blood and courage and glory. Henry survives the battle. His regiment regroups and gets new marching orders. As they march off, Henry thinks:

He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.

And it rains. And they trudge through mud. And the book ends:

Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks–an existence of soft and eternal peace.

Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.

What the heck are we supposed to make of that? Is Henry just as delusional now as he was before he went to join the army? Does he think the tranquility is going to be real? Or has he faced death and, knowing there are more battles ahead and he is likely to die, looking forward to a heavenly reward? I apparently am not the only one to wonder as the interwebs tell me scholars have been debating the ambiguous ending for a very long time. Well and so.

The thing I remember most from high school about this book was my teacher going on and on about Christ figures. I had misremembered it as being Henry and while reading I was so confused because I just could not see it. Turns out, the Christ figure is supposedly Henry’s friend Jim Conklin, the one he finds wounded and delirious. I am almost 100% certain that when I read that, I made the same face I did in high school when my teacher said as much.

The difference between then and now (ok there are a lot of differences, but don’t quibble with me on this) is that then there was only Cliff’s Notes and now there is the all-knowing Google. I don’t recall Cliff as being especially helpful in this case. Google, however, tells me this whole Christ figure thing is hotly disputed because no one seems to know what the book means and so a group of scholars decided it was an allegory even though the evidence for this is thin. I don’t remember if says Cliff anything about this or not, but since my entire class realized early on in the first semester that the teacher was cribbing almost everything from Cliff, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

It also goes a long way in explaining why I was so garsh durned baffled about this idea and how it set me up for repeated “Christ figure” traumas throughout my freshman, and most of my high school, English classes. When mixed with the basic narrative conflicts drilled into my head (man against nature, man against society, man against man, man against self) it made for a pretty murky five-paragraph essay soup. How I survived high school English and majored in English literature at University is a mystery I will never be able to solve. My only guess is that I loved reading and books so much before I got to high school that there was nothing they could do ruin it for me. And thank heavens for that!

Filed under: Books, Rereading, Reviews Tagged: Civil War, Cliff's Notes, Horrors of high school English, Stephen Crane

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37. REVIEW: Mora’s and Morrison’s KLAUS #1 Makes Our Holiday Spirits Run Red

Does KLAUS bring tidings of joy, or is the series full of coal?

1 Comments on REVIEW: Mora’s and Morrison’s KLAUS #1 Makes Our Holiday Spirits Run Red, last added: 11/5/2015
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38. Review of Breakthrough!

murphy_breakthroughstar2 Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Intermediate, Middle School   Clarion   128 pp.
12/15   978-0-547-82183-2   $18.99   g

Murphy (An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, rev. 7/03; Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, rev. 7/12) here again focuses on the history of science and medicine. “Blue baby syndrome,” the result of a congenital heart condition, was a significant medical problem in WWII-era America: it killed seventy percent of affected children by the age of ten. This is the story of the Johns Hopkins University medical team that researched and solved the problem, culminating in the first successful 
operation on a critically ill infant. Dr. Alfred Blalock had already made a 
name for himself with his pioneering research on the causes and treatment of shock, and pediatrician Helen Taussig was the worldwide expert on congenital 
heart problems, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field. The final member — and arguably the most crucial one — was Vivien Thomas, Blalock’s African American lab assistant, who developed and refined the surgical procedure. The synthesis of their stories is illuminating, serving also as a commentary on the social status of women and minorities in the mid-twentieth century. If the biographical vignettes interrupt the narrative occasionally, the inherent suspense and drama make up for it. Numerous black-and-white photographs are incorporated into the main narrative, while sources notes, a bibliography, and an index (unseen) are appended.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Breakthrough! appeared first on The Horn Book.

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39. Review: Of Monsters and Madness

Of Monsters & Madness by Jessica Verday. Egmont USA. 2014.

The Plot: It's 1824 and Annabel Lee, 17, has moved to her father's death following her mother's death. The world of Philadelphia, and her role of daughter of a doctor, is very different from a childhood spent in Siam. She lacks the freedom she had there.

There are secrets in her father's house -- including her father's two assistants, handsome Allan and cruel Edgar. Including her father's scientific experiments.

And there are the gruesome murders....

The Good: I'll be honest: I read Of Monsters and Madness about a year ago, when it first came out, enjoyed it, but just didn't get around to writing anything up.

Then I saw the movie Crimson Peak (review tomorrow) and began to wonder about possible read-a-likes for teens who may go see the movie and want a taste of Gothic horror and romance. And I remembered Of Monsters and Madness.

The setting, early nineteenth century Philadelphia, is wonderfully shown; Annabel is a strong young woman who has been raised away from her father and his family. She wants to connect with them and please them, but her desire for independence and to pursue studying is at odds with their perceptions of what a proper young lady is. Plus, Edgar Allen Poe as a hot young man!

And plus there are references / homages to works by Poe as well as other writers. So this can lead to wanting to read more Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde.

Of Monsters and Madness was published by Egmont USA, which, sadly, no longer exists. So when I went to the author's website to write this post, I was very pleased to learn a few things: first, that it's available on Kindle; second, that for a limited time it is $1.99; and third, that Verday has included the sequel, Of Phantoms and Fury, in the Kindle edition so you are getting two books for one.

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

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40. Writer Wednesday: Goodreads

Recently, I've seen quite a few authors comment about Goodreads, and not in a positive way. So today I want to talk about Goodreads. As authors, we tend to look at review sites as places we should be, but in actuality these sites are for readers to share their opinions. You have to remember that.

Here's how I use Goodreads. I have my blog linked to Goodreads, which means I get comments on my posts there. I happily go on and respond to those comments. I also have the "Ask the Author" section activated so readers can communicate with me. I love talking to readers this way, and it's great because Goodreads emails you to let you know you have a message. These are my favorite features on Goodreads.

Now let me tell you how I DON'T use Goodreads. I don't ever comment on negative reviews or ratings. Have you ever noticed that books tend to have more reviews on Goodreads than on Amazon or any other site? Goodreads is for reviews. But those reviews aren't there for the authors. They're for other readers. We all know there are a lot of people on Goodreads who simply rate books without reviewing them or who really slam authors. Do I like this? No, of course not. But don't engage with those readers who rate your book before it's out just to give you a low star rating. Or with those readers who hate your book with a fiery passion. Don't do it.

So this is my plea to please use Goodreads in a good way. It has some great features, but it can also be a potential setting for bad blood. Don't fall victim to the latter.

If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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41. Review of All American Boys

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of All American Boys appeared first on The Horn Book.

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42. Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Gallery/Scout Press. 2015. Library copy.

In-a-dark-dark-wood-9781501112317_hrThe Plot: Nora cannot believe it when she gets an invitation to Clare's hen do (aka, bachelorette party.) Yes, they had been best friends ten years ago, in school. But that was before, before college, before, well, everything. They haven't even talked since then.

And now, this invitation.

Nora decides to go. She's just too curious, both to see Clare again but also to discover why Clare invited her. And while Nora is happy with her life, part of her thinks she needs to make peace with her own past.

So she goes.

And things go terribly wrong.

The Good: In a Dark, Dark Wood is an updated, modern version of a cozy mystery that isn't that cozy. It's bloody and violent and nasty. Clare's "hen do" (her pre-wedding weekend party) brings together a handful of her best friends in a remote area of the country. They're in a gorgeous, glass-walled modern house in the middle of nowhere, with just each other for company. Perhaps it's the remoteness, but the party is made up of just about six people. It's small and intimate, which makes Nora being there even more weird.

This is the type of book where you want to discover what's going on on your own; that's part of the appeal. So what can I tell?

The atmosphere is wonderful: partly claustrophobic, because they are all in the vacation house together. But even before then, Nora's life is small. She's a novelist, working at home, so there's no workplace and coworkers. She has few friends. Even her flat is small; she can reach the coffee maker without getting out of bed.

It's also an atmosphere of not knowing. It's Nora's story, and she won't share with the reader why she left school and walked away from her best friend. Not yet, anyway. But it's not just what she won't tell, it's what she can't remember. The story starts with Nora running through the woods and then in the hospital and she knows something bad happened during the hen do but she doesn't remember what. Or to who. And even as she starts to tell about the hen do, these are people she has no history with, save one friend, and of course Clare.

This is creepy and scary. And it's also about manipulation and lies. And the masks we wear.

And about a hen do gone terribly, horribly wrong.

So OF COURSE it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015. 

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

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43. Review of the Day: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

GoneCrazyGone Crazy in Alabama
By Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad (an imprint of Harper Collins)
ISBN: 978-0062215871
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

I’m a conceited enough children’s librarian that I like it when a book wins me over. I don’t want them to make it easy for me. When I sit down to read something I want to know that the author on the other side of the manuscript is scrabbling to get the reader’s attention. Granted that reader is supposed to be a 10-year-old kid and not a 37-year-old woman, but to a certain extent audience is audience. Now I’ll say right off the bat that under normal circumstances I don’t tend to read sequels and I CERTAINLY don’t review them. There are too many books published in a current year to keep circling back to the same authors over and over again. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule. And who amongst us can say that Rita Williams-Garcia is anything but exceptional? The Gaither Sisters chronicles (you could also call them the One Crazy Summer Books and I think you’d be in the clear) have fast become modern day literary classics for kids. Funny, painful, chock full of a veritable cornucopia of historical incidents, and best of all they stick in your brain like honey to biscuits. Read one of these books and you can recall them for years at a time. Now the bitter sweetness of “Gone Crazy in Alabama” gives us more of what we want (Vonetta! Uncle Darnell! Big Ma!) in a final, epic, bow.

Going to visit relatives can be a chore. Going to visit warring relatives? Now THAT is fun! Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern have been to Oakland and Brooklyn but now they’ve turned South to Alabama to visit their grandmother Big Ma, their great-grandmother Ma Charles, and Ma Charles’s half sister Miss Trotter. Delphine, as usual, places herself in charge of her younger, rebellious, sisters, not that they ever appreciate it. As she learns more about her family’s history (and the reason the two half sisters loathe one another) she ignores her own immediate family’s needs until the moment when it almost becomes too late.

I’m an oldest sister. I have two younger siblings. Unlike Delphine I didn’t have the responsibility of watching over my siblings for any extended amount of time. As a result, I didn’t pay all that much attention to them growing up. But like Delphine, I would occasionally find myself trying, to my mind anyway, to keep them in line. Where Rita Williams-Garcia excels above all her peers, and I do mean all of them, is in the exchanges between these three girls. If I had an infinite revenue stream I would solicit someone to adapt their conversations into a very short play for kids to perform somewhere (actually, I’d just like to see ALL these books as plays for children, but that’s neither here nor there). The dialogue sucks you in and you find yourself getting emotionally involved. Because Delphine is our narrator you’re getting everything from her perspective and in this the author really makes you feel like she’s on the right side of every argument. It would be an excellent writing exercise to charge a class of sixth graders with the task of rewriting one of these sections from Vonetta or Fern’s point of view instead.

As I might have mentioned before, I wasn’t actually sold initially on this book. Truth be told, I liked the sequel to One Crazy Summer (called P.S. Be Eleven) but found the ending rushed and a tad unsatisfying. That’s just me, and my hopes with Gone Crazy were not initially helped by this book’s beginning. I liked the set-up of going South and all that, but once they arrived in Alabama I was almost immediately confused. We met Ma Charles and then very soon thereafter we met another woman very much like her who lived on the other side of a creek. No explanation was forthcoming about these two, save some cryptic descriptions of wedding photos, and I felt very much out to sea. My instinct is to say that a child reader would feel the same way, but kids have a way of taking confusing material at face value, so I suspect the confusion was of the adult variety more than anything else. Clearly Ms. Williams-Garcia was setting all this up for the big reveal of the half-sister’s relationship, and I appreciated that, but at the same time I thought it could have been introduced in a different way. Things were tepid for me for a while, but then the story really started picking up. By the time we got to the storm, I was sold.

And it was at this point in the book that I realized that I’d been coming at the book all wrong. Williams-Garcia was feeding me red herrings and I’m gulping them down like there’s no tomorrow. This book isn’t laser focusing its attention on great big epic themes of historical consequence. All this book is, all it ever has been, all the entire SERIES is about in its heart of hearts, is family. And that’s it. The central tension can be boiled down to something as simple and effective as whether or not Delphine and Vonetta can be friends. Folks are always talking about bullying and bully books. They tend to involve schoolmates, not siblings, but as Gone Crazy in Alabama shows, sometimes bullying is a lot closer to home than anyone (including the bully) is willing to acknowledge.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about needing more diverse books for kids, and it’s absolutely a valid concern. I have always been of the opinion, however, that we also need a lot more funny diverse books. When most reading lists’ sole hat tip to the African-American experience is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (no offense to Mildred D. Taylor, but you see what I’m getting at here) while the white kids star in books like Harriet the Spy and Frindle, something’s gotta change. We Need Diverse Books? We Need FUNNY Diverse Books too. Something someone’s going to enjoy reading and want to pick up again. That’s why Christopher Paul Curtis has been such a genius the last few years (because, seriously, who else would explore the ramifications of vomiting on Frederick Douglass?) and why the name Rita Williams-Garcia will be remembered long after you and I are tasty toasty worm food. Because this book IS funny while also balancing out pain and hurt and hope.

An interviewer once asked Ms. Williams-Garcia if she ever had younger sisters like the ones in this book or if she’d ever spent a lot of time in rural Alabama, like they do here. She replied good-naturedly that nope. It reminded me of that story they tell about Dustin Hoffman playing Richard III. He put stones in his shoes to get the limp right. Laurence Olivier caught wind of this and his response was along the lines of, “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?” That’s Ms. Williams-Garcia for you. She does honest-to-goodness writing. Writing that can conjure up estranged siblings and acts of nature. Writing that will make you laugh and think and think again after that. Beautifully done, every last page. A trilogy winds down on just the right note.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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44. Amity by Micol Ostow

Looking for a book to give you goosebumps this Halloween? Check out Amity by Micol Ostow. Inspired by the house on 112 Ocean Avenue - the Amityville Horror - this work of fiction follows two teenaged protagonists who moved in the same house ten years apart. Gwen and Connor narrate alternating sections in first person, making readers privy to their innermost thoughts as they begin to see and hear things which are out of the ordinary: faces in mirrors, dirt and blood on their own hands and faces, whispers in the night. Objects appear and disappear from different rooms in the house; the air thickens and chills. Yet no one else seems to see and hear these things. No one, except...

Each protagonist has a sibling that is (or was) close to them: Connor has a twin sister, while Gwen has a brother who is barely a year older, a brother who has become more distant and hostile since they moved into the house. Meanwhile, ten years earlier, Connor had a similar temperament, giving into dark thoughts and violent urges, seeming to feed on the evil energy of the house while simultaneously it fed on him.

The parallels between the two stories grow more evident as the story continues, and then things begin to line up, overlap, and explode.

The dual narrative definitely works in this scenario, with Gwen's fear that she is going crazy (again) contrasting effectively with Connor's unapologetic enjoyment as he embraces his darkness. Gwen thinks she's pathetic, but readers will find her sympathetic; Connor is twisted, and he likes it that way. It is interesting to note that both characters are trying to be happy in their own ways and both are pretending to be something they're not.

With short, unnumbered chapters - sometimes no longer than three-quarters of a page - the action moves quickly, and the format and plotting of the story should attract and intrigue horror fans, even those with shorter attention spans.

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45. Review: Jane-Emily

Jane-Emily: And Witches' Children by Patricia Clapp.

The Plot: Louisa and her nine year old niece, Jane, are visiting Jane's paternal grandmother for the summer. While there, Jane learns more and more about Emily, her aunt, who died at age twelve.

Is Jane becoming obsessed with Emily?

As Louisa learns more about the long-dead child, she finds out that the dead girl was willful, spiteful, bratty, mean.

And she begins to realize that it's not Jane who is obsessed with Emily. It's Emily who is obsessed with Jane. And Emily won't take "no" for an answer.

The Good: Jane-Emily holds up remarkably well -- incredibly well - it is still as spooky and scary and terrifying and creepy as it was when I first read it, years and years ago. 

Part of what makes Jane-Emily so brilliant is that it creates a feeling of doom, of suffocation, of fear, with very few actual occurrences. It starts with a young girl who seems to know more about a long-dead aunt than she should, and gradually and slowly that becomes more. A poem she shouldn't know about, a broken doll, a torn dress. But more than anything else, all the people who knew Emily can't seem to stop talking about the dead child. And none of it is good. We aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, especially dead children, especially your own dead child, so that it's done here again and again, just adds to the myth of Emily. Because if someone is speaking ill, it has to be true, right?

What's also terrific about Jane-Emily and who is telling the story (an adult) is that it allows the book to tease with the idea that there is a logical explanation up until the very end, when everything goes dangerous, wild, and out of control on a rainy night. As an adult reading it, I could almost argue that even then, there is a logical reason for all that happens, with a bunch of emotional caught up in their own myth-creating around a sad, long-dead child.

Almost. But it is so much more delicious to instead believe as Jane and Louisa and the others believe. Once upon a long time ago, there was a strong-willed girl named Emily who always, always got her own way and was never told "no." Being spoiled led to great unhappiness for all around her, and her own death. Angry and frustrated to be dead, she came back to haunt the living, punishing her mother, and driving her father to his death. And now, with a new child living in her house, her room, with her family, Emily wants a playmate. One she'll tease and torment -- and want forever.

Much like my rereading of Wait Till Helen Comes was influenced by now modern sensibilities, so I viewed the parents as almost as bad as the ghost, my reading of Jane-Emily is viewed through a modern eye. I confess, I don't think many children or young teen readers will care that Adam is arrogant, controlling, and obnoxious -- because I think he's clearly an adult and children know adults can be all that, but, like Louisa, they love them anyway.

But what do kids think about the continuing message that the problem with Emily was not that she was some sort of bad seed, but, rather, the results of being spoiled and never disciplined? That a permissive parenting style was the problem? That a child-centered marriage was at fault? (And in a way, being child-centered continues as they all talk about Emily.) I don't think they are going to pick up on it as I did; but I do think that they all know "that kid." The one who gets away with everything, at home and at school, and is a bully and mean and a bit horrid. One reason we don't need many details about what Emily has done is the reader can fill them in, based on the Emilys they know. A kid may not want to be punished or reprimanded themselves, but they see, in playgrounds and classrooms and neighborhoods, what happens when other kid aren't. So I think that is why they will accept the origin story of what created Emily -- and why it is just so scary.

Emily is the kid next door, who is now in your house, and won't go home or go away. And while you try to make her happy, you hope that eventually someone will tell her "no". And that she'll listen.

OF COURSE a Favorite Book Read in 2015.

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

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46. Review of the Day: One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

OneDayTheEnd2One Day, The End
By Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Fred Koehler
Boyds Mills Press (an imprint of Highlights)
ISBN: 978-1-62091-451-9
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

Last evening I was reading Quest by Aaron Becker to my daughter for bedtime. It’s a good book. I’ve read it approximately 20 times by now, so I should know. Anyway, we’re reading the book, which is wordless and requires that the reader really pay attention to the story, and as we start I point out to my daughter some feature at the beginning involving statues. Immediately she countered with a different statue detail at the back of the book that I, though having read this story over and over again, had completely and totally missed. That’s the cool thing about child readers. Not only do they find the details the adults are completely oblivious to, but on top of that they’re coming up with cool narratives and storylines of their own, on spinning off of the ones conceived of by the author/illustrators. So when I see a book like One Day, The End I just wanna put my hands together and applaud. Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a genius (and Fred Koehler ain’t sleeping on the job either). She figured out that for kids a story is just as much a product of the relationship between a child and a book’s pictures as it is between a child and a book’s words. Sometimes more. Sometimes much more. And sometimes they’ll be handed a book like this one that lets them examine and indulge to their heart’s delight.

Do you know how to tell a story? It’s easy! Listen to a couple of these.
“One day… I felt like stomping. Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.”
“One day… I lost my dog. I found him.”
“One day… I ran away. I cam home.”
A small girl tells her tales with a minimum of words. Yet hidden in these words, sometimes literally, are epic narratives. The most ordinary of actions can turn into huge adventures. By the end, the girl is writing whole books out of what could normally be seen as mundane everyday actions. Yet two sentences can yield a whole lot of action.

These days the buzzword of the hour appears to be “visual storytelling” or “visual learning”. And why not? We live in a world of constant, perpetual, enticing screens (or “shiny rectangles” as my brother-in-law likes to call them). Graphic novels have achieved a level of respect and quality hitherto unknown in the history of publishing and I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that there are more picture books being published today than ever before. Into this brave new world come the kids, their minds making connections and storylines. They mix reality and fantasy together with aplomb. They give their toys lives and thoughts and feelings. So to see a book that sets them free to give these imaginings a little form and structure? That’s great.

OneDayTheEnd1On the most basic level, the book is perfect for class writing prompts. The teacher tells the kids to pick a two-sentence story in the book and expand upon it. It works to a certain extent, but I wonder if in some ways it sort of skips the point of the book itself. One of the many points of One Day, The End is that when it comes to picture books, storytelling can be more than simply whatever it is that the words say. Another point is that you don’t have to be loquacious to tell a story. Two sentences will do. It would be fun to do an exercise with kids where they tell two-sentence stories. Two sentences takes off a lot of pressure. There’s no need to include a rise and fall to the action. Anyone can tell a story (a valuable lesson). This book shows you how.

All that aside, the ending of the book was particularly interesting to me. Picture book authors that can stick the landing (as it were) when they finish their stories are rare birds. Such books don’t necessarily come along every day. That said, the ending of One Day, The End is rather magnificent. The whole book until this point has been showing the reader that in the shortest of stories there can be whole epic narratives. So when our young heroine begins by saying “One Day… I wanted to Write a Book” the accompanying picture shows her at a typewriter (a retro move) imagining a whole host of new situations. Turn the page and the following “So I did” shows a line of thick books, each one with a title that relates to the tiny two sentence stories we witnessed before. The implication at work here for kids is that even in the briefest of moments of our lives, which adults might hurry through or remember in abbreviated ways, there are untold tales just waiting to be told. This book is for the five-year-old burgeoning writer. This character wanted to write a book and did. Who’s to say you couldn’t do the same?

OneDayTheEnd3I didn’t recognize Fred Koehler’s style the first time I read through this book. Maybe this is a little more understandable when I mention that he only just debuted this year with his own picture book, How to Cheer Up Dad. That book starred affectionate pachyderms. This one, all too human humans. In order to bring Dotlich’s story to life, Koehler sets the action in a kind of timeless past. Cell phones computers, and even televisions are not in evidence. There’s one sequence when our heroine is playing hide-and-go-seek with her brother and we see a large swath of their home together. It’s rather technologically barren, a fact drilled home later when the typewriter makes its somewhat inexplicable appearance. Fortunately, Koehler has a lot going for him, beyond this attempt at timelessness. The font of the story is practically a tale in and of itself, always shifting and changing to suit the described action. And the layouts! I don’t mind saying that part of the reason this book feels so fresh and interesting and fun has a lot to do with Koehler’s layouts. The words that make up the stories appear as part of the illustrated scenes, sometimes dominating the action and sometimes playing a role in it. For example, the story that begins with “One day… I wanted to be a spy” actually shows the girl peering between the letters of “spy”

I also loved that Koehler wasn’t afraid to reward rereadings. Attentive readers will be able to witness the smaller sub-adventures of a cat, a squirrel, a bird, and a little white dog that appear in the periphery of all the action. Then there are even smaller details that you wouldn’t notice on a first glance. The story, “I went to school. I came home” shows our plucky young gal dilly-dallying on her way to class (following a cat that will come up again in a later tale) only to accidentally leave her books somewhere en route. She runs to her classroom, but sharp-eyed spotters will note her missing backpack. Next thing you know the class is following instructions on doing science experiments and she peers at her neighbor (every kid doing the experiments is looking at their book, save her), and accidentally pours her solution into the wrong beaker. And there are other details about the characters themselves that are worth discovering, like that our storyteller always wears mismatched socks. As for the callbacks, if you pay attention you’ll see that an element that appears in one story (like a rubber boot placed over a flower in the rain) may later crop up again later (that same flower grows out of the boot a little later).

To sum up, why not take a page out of this book?
One day… I read a picture book. It was great.
The End.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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47. John Grisham and Robert Galbraith Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Career of Evil US Cover (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Oct. 25, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #1 in Hardcover Fiction) Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham: “Sebastian Rudd is not your typical street lawyer. He works out of a customized bulletproof van, complete with Wi-Fi, a bar, a small fridge, fine leather chairs, a hidden gun compartment, and a heavily armed driver. He has no firm, no partners, no associates, and only one employee, his driver, who’s also his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddy.” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #3 in Hardcover Fiction) Career of Evil by J.K.Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith: “When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible–and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #15 in Young Adult) Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: “This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.” (Oct. 2015)

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48. Review: Harlot

Harlotby Victoria Dahl. 2015. Reviewed from electronic ARC.

HarlotThe Plot: Caleb Hightower went to the California gold fields to earn his fortune; two years later, he's back, to marry the sweet girl he left behind.

And discovers that Jessica Willoughby, the beautiful innocent he left behind is now a notorious prostitute.

A whore.

The girl he barely dared kiss -- the girl who he wasn't good enough for, so he went to earn the right to court her --  is selling her body to others.

Caleb is hurt and furious and angry. And he'll get his revenge. He'll pay for what she's sold to other men. He'll make her sorry.

The Good: So it's Victoria Dahl, so of course it's hot, hot, hot. And hell the title is Harlot; Jessica has sold her body to pay her debts; so you know this, up front. You know what type of hot you're getting.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Harlot; but wowza, it was both what I expected and also not what I expected. And, also, it's a quick read, less than two hundred pages.

So if you're a fan of Dahl's writing, like I am, all you need to know is yes, it delivers.

And if you haven't read her work, this is a good introduction because it's a standalone, and as I said, it's short, so you can fall for Dahl in a couple of hours.

So now that that is out of the way, the observations that I'll add, the particular details that I adored.

Caleb has been gone for two years, but he hasn't really written to Jessica in that time because he's dyslexic. Oh, given the nineteenth century setting, he doesn't have a name for why it's so tough for him to read or write, but that is the issue. And let's just say that the people he is relying on to keep up his connection and correspondence with Jessica are less than trustworthy, for reasons. I think it's a great way to explain the lack of communication between the two, that led to Caleb riding into town not knowing about Jessica, and Jessica thinking Caleb had abandoned her.

Jessica did what people say. But, of course, there are reasons; there is a story. So part of what is explained is why Jessica did what she did. Which, long story short, if you create a society where you don't expect a woman to earn a living, if you have a world where a woman's options to earn a living are extremely narrow and limited, if society says that a woman without a man (no father or husband or brother) is vulnerable and a target -- well, when a woman has nothing and no one and few resources, she sells the one resource she has. Her body.

But Dahl takes this a step further, which is why she's Dahl, and fantastic. Because what Dahl does next is use this story of Caleb and Jessica to examine views toward sex and sexuality, lust and love, and the virgin/whore complex. Caleb isn't excused for his attitudes; Jessica has her own learning curve. And perhaps because her virtue is gone, Jessica -- who had been raised to think good girls don't like sex because of the time and her class --  is now open to the idea that sex can be pleasurable.

Anyway. Trust me. Read Harlot.

And then, if you're like me, get angry that now there is no new Dahl to read. And look at your bookshelf, at those handful of Dahl books that you deliberately aren't reading so that you still always have an unread Dahl book for when you really, really need it. It's like that piece of chocolate you don't eat, because one day, you'll have to have it.

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

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49. Review of Tiptoe Tapirs

kim_tiptoe tapirsstar2 Tiptoe Tapirs
by Hanmin Kim; illus. by the author; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee
Preschool, Primary   Holiday   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-8234-3395-7   $16.95
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3495-4   $16.95

First published in South Korea in 2013, this pourquoi tale explaining why animals move stealthily begins in the jungle long ago when animals were all quite noisy (“The elephant went BOOM-BOOM! The rhinoceros went BAM-BAM!”), except for quiet Tapir and Little Tapir. The tapirs tiptoe through their lives, enjoying themselves, sharing the jungle, and bothering none of the other animals — until one day a leopard attacks. The leopard’s noisy pursuit of the tapirs attracts a hunter with his loaded shotgun: “BANG! BANG! BANG!” Little Tapir, risking her own life, helps rescue the frightened leopard by teaching him to use quiet steps to escape the hunter. Impressionistic paintings created in watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen provide a scenic and imaginative jungle setting with amusing details to notice throughout. The characters’ expressive faces and their body language bring to life pleasure, fear, and compassion, while the spare text generates momentum with repetition and opportunities for audience participation. Together, words and pictures provide excellent pacing, heightening humor, drama, and wonder to create an outstanding tale for sharing aloud.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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50. Review of Elephant in the Dark

Javaherbin_elephant in the darkElephant in the Dark: Based on a Poem by Rumi
retold by Mina Javaherbin; 
illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Primary   Scholastic   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-545-63670-4   $17.99   g

Merchant Ahmad brings a mysterious creature to his village, “all the way from India!” While Ahmad sleeps, the curious villagers climb through a window in his barn and feel around in the dark, each touching just a part of the creature and leaping to conclusions about what it might be (“a fan!” “a snake!” “a tree trunk!”). The adult villagers begin to fight: “Into the night no one listened, but everyone shouted and shoved.” With a portraiture style drawn from Persian miniatures, Yelchin uses a variety of skin tones to portray the villagers, who wear brightly patterned and individually distinctive clothing. The story is much like Ed Young’s classic The Seven Blind Mice (rev. 3/92), but the emphasis here is on quarreling over small pieces of the truth rather than sharing knowledge 
to create a whole. The last (and wordless) spread, however, shows a group of children — with Ahmad — gathered by the river the next day to watch the creature (an elephant) bathe. Yelchin’s gouache, acrylic, and ink paintings balance the repetitive patterns characteristic of the Persian style with lots of open space. Javaherbin’s author’s note and additional appended information explain that she based 
her work on poet Rumi’s version of a story that goes back to the oral Buddhist tradition; the book should provide opportunities for rich discussions about perception and about advocating for what you believe to be true.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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