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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,499
26. Review of Neighborhood Sharks

roy neigborhood sharks Review of Neighborhood Sharksstar2 Review of Neighborhood SharksNeighborhood Sharks:
Hunting with the Great Whites
of California’s Farallon Islands

by Katherine Roy; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Macaulay/Roaring Brook    
48 pp.
9/14    978-1-59643-874-3    $17.99    g

Look closely at the cover of this impressive account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast: that bright red in the illustration is blood trailing from a chunk of freshly killed immature elephant seal — and a signal that Roy’s book will fully examine the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes this animal a predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting, while well-integrated information-rich sections tell more about the biology and ecology of these sharks and about the scientists who study their role in the Farallon Island ecosystem. The explanations are thorough, even, and informative and benefit from excellent analogies (in both text and illustration) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ color and perspective: blood-reds flow through the blues and grays of the sometimes calm, sometimes roiling ocean. Don’t skip the endnotes, which include behind-the-scenes information on Roy and the research she conducted for the book.

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

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27. How Should a Person Be?

Have you ever watched the television show Girls written by and starring Lena Dunham? If you have and if you like the show, you will like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. It is like Girls in a book. According to a review in the Sunday New York Times, the reviewer felt the same. He even quotes Dunham saying that Heti is one of her favorite authors. Heti herself said she modeled the book after an MTV reality show called The Hills. Having never seen that program, I can’t remark on any similarity.

What I can remark on is how there seems to be a certain tone and persona that young female novelists have in common. Heti has it, Offil has it in Department of Speculation and Kushner has it in The Flamethrowers. Young, smart woman, fairly self-aware but a bit lost for some reason, looking for something, she is not always sure what. There is a wry sense of humor, the story has something to do with art or artists in some way, there is growth in the protagonist but one is not sure just how much, and the ending is rather open-ended giving you to understand that the story continues but the book does not. Does this count as a trend or just a coincidence? Or is this just the common experience of what it is like to be a young woman in 2014? I’m not certain since I am wandering in the desert known as middle age where I am neither young nor old.

The book is a “novel from life” whatever that means. The narrator and person trying to figure out how a person should be is named Sheila. Most of the characters in the book have the same name and occupation of friends of the real life Sheila. And many of the conversations between Sheila and her best friend, Margaux, are copied from actual conversations they had in real life. In the book Sheila starts recording their conversations in an effort to discover the mystery of what it means to be Margaux and in the process figure out what it means to be Sheila.

In the novel Sheila is writing a play commissioned by a feminist group. She has been working on it for two years and is getting nowhere with it. The problem, with the play and with Sheila, is that she wants both to be a work of art. She believes she has a destiny and she wants her play to be so good it brings some kind of salvation to the masses. But while she wants to be god-like in this respect, she, at the same time, worries that she is not human, worries that somehow she is missing out on what it means to be human. She flip-flops back and forth worried she can’t fulfill her destiny, worried she is just like everyone else, worried that she isn’t like everyone else.

Such worrying could get old fast but somehow it doesn’t. Sheila worries about not being human but that worry itself reveals just how human she is, she just can’t see it. Eventually she figures out a few things.

The novel has no real plot. Things happen but they don’t especially pull the narrative along. The one event that does is a an almost friendship ruining argument she has with Margaux brought on by Sheila buying the same dress Margaux does when they are at an art festival in Miami where some of Margaux’s paintings are being shown. The argument is sparked by the dress, but of course it isn’t really about the dress at all.

There is also an ugly painting contest between Margaux and their friend Sholem. Which of them can paint the ugliest painting? Sholem ends up in a rather depressed place after completing his painting but this not being a tragedy kind of book, his situation is darkly funny and he is eventually brought back to a sunnier frame of mind.

How Should a Person Be? is well written, kind of quirky, sometimes grim, and occasionally uncomfortable. It has an honest quality about it. The pacing is perfect, it never bogs down even with the lack of plot. I’m not entirely sure how Heti manages to make it all work but she does.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Sheila Heti

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28. Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

berry scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow place Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
by Julie Berry
Middle School    Roaring Brook    354 pp.
9/14    978-1-59634-956-6    $15.99    g

This airy confection could not be more different from Berry’s most recent (and pitch-black) novel All the Truth That’s in Me (rev. 11/13). Part murder mystery, part girls’-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy (think Edwin Drood, Arsenic and Old Lace, or the 1980s movie Clue), the novel opens in 1890 England at Saint Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies. The seven students — our heroines — are known throughout the book as Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. Their headmistress is Mrs. Plackett, but she’s dispatched in the second paragraph (by poison), followed soon afterward by her ne’er-do-well brother, Aldous. The young ladies spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whodunit while also concealing the deaths (burying the bodies in the vegetable garden; having Stout Alice impersonate Mrs. Plackett; bilking their parents for tuition) in order to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details (a Strawberry Social is the unlikely occasion of a late-in-the-story death). The young ladies, too, are products of their time: each one’s burgeoning independence and coming-into-her-own — largely gained through the murder investigation and/or cover-up, some also through snagging a beau — is satisfying without being too anachronistic. An immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.

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

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29. Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu-Perkins

AtHomeTomb Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu PerkinsAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Trasures of Mawangdui
By Christine Liu-Perkins
Charlesbridge
$19.95
978-1-58089-370-1
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

When I say the word “mummy” what springs into your mind? Movies starring Brendan Fraser? Egypt and scarabs and rolls of crumbling papyrus? Absolutely. But what if I told you that recently the best-preserved mummy in the world was found? And what if I told you that not only was she a woman, not only was she surrounded by treasure, but she was also Chinese. Now I’ve known about mummies in South America and frozen on mountains. I know about bog bodies and bodies that were dried out naturally in deserts. But I had no idea that there even was such a thing as a Chinese mummy. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins breaks everything down for you, bringing us a story that’s part forensics, part history, part family story, and all interesting.

Same old story. One minute you’re happily munching muskmelons. The next you’re dead and your corpse has been interred with miniature servants, silk paintings, scrolls, and countless other treasures. And the story might stop right there, except that in two thousand or so years nothing changes. Your body does not rot. Your treasures stay complete and unchanging. So when archaeologists excavated the tomb of Lady Dai, they can be forgiven for being completely astonished by what they found. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins takes you not just into the mystery surrounding Lady Dai’s astonishingly well-preserved body, but also into ancient China itself. A more complete and exciting (and I use that word sparingly) glimpse into Qin and early Han Dynasties for children would be difficult to find.

Why do we love mummies as much as we do? I think it might be a mix of different reasons. Maybe we’re so attached to our own bodies that we find a weird bit of hope in the fact that they might last beyond the usual prescribed amount of time allotted to an average dead carcass. My husband, I should note, hasn’t been completely thrilled with the fact that I leave this book lying about as much as I do. As he rightly points out, what we have here is a bloated corpse book. He’s not wrong and it’s not a particularly attractive dead body either. So why the fascination? Why should I care that her joints were still movable when they found her, or that her fingerprints and toe prints were clear? I can’t rightly say, but it’s a curiosity that kids share with adults. We want to know what happens beyond death. The next best thing, it seems, is to find out what happens to our bodies instead.

AtHomeTomb2 500x204 Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu PerkinsThere was a time when the television show C.S.I. inspired whole waves of kids to dream of jobs in forensics. Naturally the real world applications are a lot less fast-paced and exciting than those on television. At least that’s what I thought before hearing about forensic anthropology. Author Liu-Perkins brings it to vivid, fascinating life. It’s not all that’s alluring about this title though since the layout of the book is rather clever as well. Rather than just stick with a single narrative of the discovery of the body and tomb, the author punctuates the text with little interstitial moments that talk about what everyday life for Lady Dai might have been like. Liu-Perkins allows herself a bit of creative freedom with these sections. Obviously we have no idea if Lady Dai “sigh[ed] in weariness” while tending her silkworms. To eschew accusations of mixing fact and fiction without so much as a by your leave, Liu-Perkins begins the book with an Introduction that sets the stage for the interstitial Lady Dai moments. She writes how the artifacts from the tomb caused her to imagine Lady Dai’s life. From there it seems as though the historical fiction sections are directly tied into this statement, clearly delineated in the text from the longer factual sections. Authors these days struggle with making the past live and breathe for their child readers without having to rely on gross speculation. This technique proves to be one answer to the conundrum.

Admit it. A lot of booksellers and librarians are going to be able to hand sell this book to their customers and patrons by playing up the gross factor. Just show that shot on page 24 of the corpse of Lady Dai and a certain stripe of young reader is going to be instantaneously enthralled. Maybe they’ll take it home for closer examination. Maybe their eyes will then skim over to the text where phrases like “her eyeballs had begun falling out” lead to the factors that explain why the decay in the body stopped. They may then flip to the beginning and start reading front to finish, or they might skim from page to page. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to read a book of this sort. When you’re dealing with a title about the “best preserved body in the world” you’re already in pretty awesome territory. Credit then to Christine Liu-Perkins who gives the subject matter her full attention and presents it in such a way where many children will willingly learn about Chinese history in the process. A beautiful book. A heckuva mummy.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy checked out from library for review.

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30. Review: Poisoned Apples

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. HarperCollins. 2014. Reviewed from electronic galley.

The Plot: Fairy tale retellings, in poetry and photographs.

The Good: Seriously, I just adore retellings. Whether it's looking into the historical origins of fairy tales, modernizing them, twisting them -- I just love what people can do with the familiar and the unknown, making them new and fresh.

Poisoned Apples approaches fairy tales with a particular question: what do they say about what it means to be a woman? What does it mean in today's world?

"The action's always there
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor's office of the back of the bus
where bad things can also happen?"

Where bad things happen. There, right there, it shows that the darkness of the fairy tales is what will be examined.

So many good, tight poems, and each is independent, so it's hard to write about because how to select just one or two.

Some are cynical -- the "Prince Charming" who is charming to parents but says to the girlfriend
"Girl,
you look amazing. That sweater
makes your boobs look
way bigger."

Others are not. "
Retelling" says, "What the miller's daughter should have said
from the start
or at any point down the line is,
no."

And then offers a better solution:
"Once upon a time
there was a miller's daughter
who got a studio apartment
took classes during the day."

"Retelling" may be my favorite because it says, you can say no. You can put yourself first. And that means a happier ending for everyone.

Poisoned Apples is a short book but not a quick read. There is a lot here to discuss; a lot to think about it; a lot to question. And the questions are not just about fairy tales and the poems. It's about what it is to be a woman, what that means, what society and family and friends say it means.

I reviewed this from an electronic galley; and let me say, I want to get my hands on the final print version because I think it's going to be an even more intimate reading.

Other reviews: Sense and Sensibilities and Stories; Kirkus Reviews.

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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31. Call for Submissions and Chapbook Competition: Mohave River Review

Our fall 2014 issue features our very first chapbook contest! Our illustrious chapbook finalist judges panel includes Susan Tepper, Matthew Burnside, Allie Marini Batts, and Michael Dwayne Smith. You can read the judges' bios (and our previous issues) on our fall masthead.

MRR will publish four small chaps (20-25 pages each) within the fall issue of MRR; categories are poetry, flash fiction, hybrid, and flash non-fiction. Our issues are typically 220+ pages, so the plan is to publish four winning chaps within the issue, along with 100+ pages of general submissions, art, and interviews. Fun!

All entries will be read by MRR staff, and final determination of contest winning submissions will be made by our panel of judges: Allie Marini Batts, Matthew Burnside, Susan Tepper, and Michael Dwayne Smith. The chapbook guidelines and contest entry fee for each genre are on the Submissions page. 


Entry Fee: $5.00 per category

Contest entries close 10/1.

Here's the info about the general submissions:

In February, June, and October we publish poetry, fiction, non-fiction, hybrid works, chap/book reviews, plus articles or interviews relevant to arts and letters in the southwestern USofA. Please reference below the specific parameters for each category (max length, etcetera). And remember: if you wish to submit quality creative work that doesn't fit guidelines, we're always open to conversation about innovative goodness; please do contact us at:


mojaveriverpressATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )

We're genuinely eclectic, open to all styles and topics, but are especially interested in poets, writers, and works related to southwest/desert culture(s). Read issues of Mojave River Review and dig for yourself. They're online and free. Works deemed by MRR as hateful and/or mean-spirited (misogynistic, racist, etc.) will be rejected without further consideration.

Simultaneous submissions are fine. Previously published work is not.

Here's the submissions website.

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32. Calll for Submissions: Weave Magazine


Weave Magazine is now open for submissions through May 31, 2015. We are a print publication dedicated to promoting cultural diversity, accepting the best works of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, drama, and visual art that transfix, transport, and inspire. Currently, we are seeking more submissions for the genres listed below. More information about how to submit can be found on our submissions page.  
 
Deadline: May 31, 2015  
 
Poetry: 3-5 poems
Flash Fiction: 1-3 stories, each 1000 words or less
Fiction: 3,000 words or less
Nonfiction: 3,000 words or less
Drama: less than 4,000 words
Reviews: 500-800 words
Comics/Illustrations/Visual Essays/Stories/Poems: Black and white only
 
 
More about Weave at our website.

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33. Annihilator #1: Where the Personal Meets the Weird

ann 01 cov promo lr 1600x1068 Annihilator #1: Where the Personal Meets the Weird

By Matthew Jent

Annihilator #1

Writer: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Frazer Irving

Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Book & Logo Designer: John J. Hill

Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror

 

“Get this black mass on the floor.”

Annihilator begins with a black hole, but the thrust of its story concerns Ray Spass (pronounced space, as in outer), a screenwriter whose big hits are a few years behind him. He still gets “paid to be weird,” but nearly everyone he meets — his new landlord, his agent, the FBI — is gently prodding him to produce something now, something new.

But like a ray of light trapped by a black hole’s gravity well, Ray’s creative process is slow and stuck. He keeps turning in rough act ones to his agent, unable to get any closer to what his story is really about.

So Ray does what anyone would do. He moves into a haunted house.

Well, maybe. Ray’s not the most reliable point of view character, so those voices, those fleeting glimpses of figures and boots and hands reaching out from the dark? They might be real, they might be ghosts, or they might be his own imagination running away with him.

Hey, I like it when Morrison writes about the Justice League. But I’d much rather spend time in a world like this, where the personal meets the weird. That’s what Morrison does best.

Ray’s screenplay-in-progress, also called “Annihilator,” is about Max Nomax, a prisoner on the edge of a black hole seeking “the cure for death.”  Ray’s girlfriend has left him (or died, or disappeared), and Ray writes his own emotional wasteland into the screenplay. When Max meets Baby Bug-Eyes, a walking, talking teddy bear and “artificial emotional companion,” he kicks him across the room.

Ray is writing a story about being trapped at the edge of a black hole from a house with a growing sinkhole in the yard. Ray thinks of himself as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, writing his own unfinished Kubla Khan. Ray’s work is interrupted by a party of prostitutes he’s invited over himself, creating his own obstacles to prevent his self-perceived work of genius from being completed. Because it can still potentially be a great work of art if it’s never properly finished, right?

The meta-masterstroke for this six-issue series would be to release everything but the final issue, freezing it in time. We’ve all heard about Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Gilliam’s Don Quixote, Moore and Sienkiewicz’s Big Numbers — unfinished projects with so much potential for greatness they have their own gravity. But part of their mythology is that they remain undone. They don’t have to stand up to the same kind of critique as finished projects, because their endings live in our imaginations.

Frazer Irving’s art is reminiscent of 90s Vertigo comics, but without the muddy rushwork that could populate some of those monthly books. Ray is drawn as moody and darkly attractive, with a tuft of black curls erupting from one quarter of his otherwise shaved head. The art loops and curves, drawing the eye, possessing a gravity of its own. Sometimes it’s like looking through a distorted peephole or an iPhone panorama picture. Sometimes it’s like being on a rail or a rollercoaster that pulls you along. Sometimes it’s like a shifting floor, using your own sense of balance to push you in the direction you should go.

Irving’s style is a nice mashup of some of Bernie Wrightson, ghost-bear-style Bill Sienkiewicz, and Jim Starlin at his cosmically most alluring, especially when Max Nomax flashes his spooky smile. Even without Morrison’s big ideas, that’s a visual space opera I would sign up for. With Morrison, I’m trusting that Annihilator is going to get even weirder, and I’m excited to see what Irving can do.

Sinkholes. Black holes. A black mass. This is Morrison’s best, most confident book in years.

Maybe the “cure for death” sought by Max Nomax is actually an eternal pause button, becoming frozen in space and time, at least to the perspective of an outside observer. We see the light slowing down, but to the light itself? It crosses over that point of no return. Do you want to be frozen, or do you want to see what’s on the other side?

The light knows things we do not.

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34. THE COPERNICUS LEGACY: RELIC HUNT IN NEW YORK CITY!

Looking for a fantasy read that’s great for the classroom this fall? One stellar recommendation is The Copernicus Legacy: The Forbidden Stone by bestselling author Tony Abbott – now in paperback!

9780062194473_p0_v2_s260x420

A perfect pick for kids who love Percy Jackson, Kingdom Keepers, or Seven Wonders series, The Copernicus Legacy is a Da Vinci Code-style story for young readers. The book follows four kids who stumble upon a powerful ancient secret of the famous astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus. Protected by notables throughout history, it now falls to our young heroes to become guardians of Copernicus’s secret, racing across the globe, cracking codes, and unraveling centuries-old mysteries in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of a vast and evil shadow network called the New Teutonic Order.

It’s the worldwide adventure and historical scope that makes the series both page turning and educational, earning it many great reviews including a starred review from Kirkus: “With engaging characters, a globe-trotting plot and dangerous villains, it is hard to find something not to like. Equal parts edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartfelt coming-of-age.”

There’s even a downloadable Common Core-aligned activities guide and star map poster so you can bring the adventure into the classroom.

Veteran children’s book author Tony Abbott is no stranger to epic adventure series having written over a hundred books including The Secrets of Droon. The Copernicus Legacy will include six full-length novels and six shorter novellas, each told from the perspective of one of the kids. The first novella, The Copernicus Archives #1: Wade and the Scorpion’s Claw, is available now and the next full-length novel, The Copernicus Legacy #2: The Serpent’s Curse, will be out on October 7.9780062194466_p0_v1_s260x420

9780062314727_p0_v1_s260x420

To celebrate the launch of the next books in this exciting series, on Saturday, September 13th, Tony Abbott will be leading a scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where four lucky winners of a national sweepstakes will work together to find hidden clues amongst the exhibits, crack codes, and earn prizes. You and all readers across the country will have another chance to win a trip to New York for the second Relic Hunt starting October 7 at www.thecopernicuslegacy.com!

After the Relic Hunt, Tony Abbott will be signing copies of The Forbidden Stone at 2:30pm at the Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Broadway in Manhattan.  The Barnes & Noble event is open to the public, and we invite you to join us there for a pizza party! It’s no mystery—the whole family will be in for good food and fun!

 

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35. Prometheus #1 Doesn’t Ask The Big Questions

23594 Prometheus #1 Doesnt Ask The Big Questions

By Matthew Jent

Prometheus: Fire and Stone #1

Script: Paul Tobin

Art: Juan Ferreyra

Letters: Nate Piekos of Blambot

Cover: David Palumbo

Variant Cover: Paul Pope, with colors by Shay M. Plummer

Genre: Sci-Fi/Movie Tie-In

 

Last year, Dark Horse announced they were rebooting their licensed Aliens and Predator comics, launching the first Prometheus series, and tying them all together in a shared universe. That shared universe has arrived with Prometheus: Fire and Stone #1, to be followed by three more Fire and Stone series for Aliens, Predators, and Aliens vs. Predator, respectively. Each series will run four issues, and will conclude with a single, double-sized wrap-up issue.

Reaction to the Prometheus film was divided. It stands at 73% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a little surprising. Most folks I’ve talked to personally hated the movie, especially fans of the Alien series. But for me, it was a return to form for the series (and universe) launched by Ridley Scott’s initial Alien film in 1979. Prometheus, the film, had retro space suits paired with modern moviemaking sensibilities, themes of cosmic dread and cosmic creation, and questions about where are we going and where we have been. It was majestic and daring science-fiction, populated with compelling characters.

I loved the movie, and I was ready for more.

Prometheus, the comic book, captures the look of its motion picture predecessor, but the first issue isn’t clear about what questions this story is asking. The film wondered where humanity came from, and how its characters  would react to the answer. Fire and Stone introduces a new ship (the Helios) and a new crew (including salvagers, documentarians, and an android) who are en route to Moon LV-223, the setting for Prometheus the film. Most of the crew thinks they’re looking for a crashed ship, which the reader knows is the Prometheus of the title. Angela Foster, the Helios’s captain, knows that Peter Weyland himself was aboard Prometheus, and presumably died on LV-223 seeking Engineers, who he believed were the creators of mankind. Angela wants to complete Weyland’s mission.

But why? Captain Foster announces her intention to find answers to one of the many cameras aboard the Helios, but we don’t know why it matters to her. It’s true that Fire and Stone is simply the first issue of not only a four-part series, but also of an entire line of shared-continuity books, but in the first act of Prometheus the film, we understood that Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, had a belief in God that was sometimes in opposition to her scientific beliefs. Meredith Vickers, played by Charlize Theron, was a Weyland Corporation representative there to enforce the rules even as she clashed with David, Michael Fassbender’s android, who chased after human affectations and modeled his speech patterns after Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia.

In contrast, Fire and Stone’s characters sometimes reveal bits of backstory — the captain keeps her true purpose on LV-223 a secret, the astrobiologist has a mysterious illness, the documentarian is romantically involved with a member of the crew — but there are no compelling character moments in this issue. Even if Captain Foster’s job is to simply complete Peter Weyland’s mission, an implied “me too!” is not a very compelling character motivation.

But at least in the absence of rich characters worth investing in, Fire and Stone offers an interesting plot. After a one-page prologue set in the time period of the film, the comic jumps ahead to the year 2219, roughly 130 years after the Prometheus the film and about 40 years after the events of Aliens and Alien³. When the salvage crew of the Helios lands on LV-223 — though there is some uncertainty on their part if they’ve landed on the right moon  — they find a world that has been irrevocably changed by the events of the film. It’s different from the LV-223 we’ve seen before, but it’s still recognizable as existing in the Aliens universe. The Helios crew explores with even less care than their Prometheus counterparts, which will surely enrage the same segment of the audience who thought the Prometheus crew were crazy for taking their helmets off, breathable atmosphere or no. But this seems consistent with the Weyland-Yutani protocols (or lack thereof) for exploring new worlds that we’ve seen in the films. The characters make bad decisions, which leads to dangerous situations, which is another hallmark of stories set in an Alien universe.

Juan Ferreyra’s art is another high mark for the book. There are a lot of Helios crewmembers introduced in just a few pages, and their depictions remain clear and consistent throughout. The illustration and coloring styles (and the spacesuits) remind me of European sci-fi comics in the vein of Métal Hurlant. The colors in particular are crisp and bright, which is something I’ve come to expect from recent Dark Horse books. Once the Helios lands and the crew leaves the ship, the book reveals LV-223 mostly through two-page spreads, breaking away from the single-page claustrophobia of the scenes set on the ship, an effective way to pull the reader’s attention across the expanse of a strange and unexplored world.

Paul Tobin is the only credited writer in the advance review copy I received, but much of the press for this shared universe reboot talks about the “writers room” approach to all of the books. Tobin is joined by Chris Roberson on Aliens, Joshua Williamson on Predators, Chris Sebela on Aliens vs. Predator, and Kelly Sue DeConnick on the crossover finale issue, and as the group’s lead writer. Tobin’s Prometheus is designed to be “the warm, beating heart of all of these books,” according to AvP’s Sebela in an October 2013 interview with io9. Which might be true, but in addition to jumping the Prometheus story into the timeframe of the Alien films, the tone and atmosphere of this issue is much closer to stories about xenomorphs than the one we’ve seen about Engineers. “Why are we here?” is replaced with “Get out of there fast!” as the “beating heart” of this story’s engine.

That could be great news if you loved the Alien quartet of films and were disappointed in Prometheus’s ties to the series. But for anyone looking forward to Prometheus, the comic, carrying on the spirit of Prometheus, the film, it’s a disappointment.

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36. Thursday Review: CONSTABLE & TOOP by Gareth P. Jones

This was one of those total surprises for me. I found the book in my library's ebook selection and thought: ghosts? Victorian London? a murder mystery? Sign me up. And then, all through the book as I kept getting more and more absorbed, I kept... Read the rest of this post

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37. Review of Poisoned Apples

hepperman poisoned apples Review of Poisoned Applesstar2 Review of Poisoned Apples Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
by Christine Heppermann; 
photos by various artists
High School    Greenwillow    106 pp.
10/14    978-0-06-228957-5    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-06-228959-9    $9.99

For this poet, there is no dividing line between fairy tales and reality: “You can lose your way anywhere,” claims the poem with which she begins this collection of fifty pieces on the devastating conjunction of girls’ vulnerability, the rapacious beauty industry, and fairy tales. Caustic, witty, sad, and angry, Heppermann (a former Horn Book reviewer) articulates what some of her readers will no doubt perceive already but what may be news to others: the false promises, seductions, and deathly morass of popular culture’s imagery of girls’ bodies. What makes Heppermann’s poetry exceptional, however, is not the messages it carries but the intense, expressive drive that fuels it. In “The Anorexic Eats a Salad”: “Mountains rise, fall, rise again. / Stars complete their slow trek into oblivion. / A snail tours the length of China’s Great Wall / twice. / All those pesky cancers — cured…She has almost made it through / her first bite.” Or, in “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”: “It used to be just the one, / but now all mirrors chatter. / In fact, every reflective surface has opinions / on the shape of my nose, the size / of my chest…” These poems dwell fiercely and angrily within the visual and verbal cacophony heard and seen by girls, offering an acerbic critique, mourning, and compassionate, unrelenting honesty.

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

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38. The Troll Garden

For some reason I don’t read short stories very often. I’m not sure why, I have nothing against them. I think of essays as the nonfiction equivalent of short stories and I love reading essays. So I am always baffled why I don’t feel the same about stories. Until I read Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden and Selected Stories, I had not read a story collection in well over a year. First published in 1905, this is Cather’s second book and her first of fiction. Her first book was poetry published in 1903.

The first story, “On the Divide” made me really worried I was going to hate the book. Sure, it had great descriptions of the landscape but the story itself is pretty caveman: the hard drinking Canute Canuteson decides he is tired of Lena Yensen’s flirtatious ways so he is going to marry her. It doesn’t matter that Lena doesn’t want him. Canute shows up at her family’s farm in the middle of a snow storm and drags her away to his house. Then he goes to the minister’s and forces him out into the blizzard to marry him and Lena. And somehow, in the end, Lena is pleased with the outcome even though she won’t admit to it.

Ugh! This made me want to barf.

But the story that followed this unfortunate beginning ended up being one of my favorites. Eric Hermannson was a free spirit, young and strong and gifted on the fiddle/violin. But his mother and others in town had been drawn in by the Free Gospellers and their leader, Asa Skinner. The preacher’s beliefs are strait-laced and buttoned up, no music, no dancing, no mirth; God was vengeful and the only way to being saved was strict obedience to His will. Skinner has his eye on Eric. Converting him would be a triumph. Somehow he manages it. But as soon as Eric gives up his violin he gives up his soul and his spirit dies. He trudges on through his now unhappy life until he is reawakened by a young woman staying with relatives on her way through to somewhere else.

Margaret Elliot is on her last fling as a free woman. When she returns to the city in the east, she will be married to a man she doesn’t exactly love and she is determined to break through the walls Eric has built around himself. There is going to be a big dance and she taunts Eric into making an appearance. And you know from the start Eric is doomed:

Something seemed struggling for freedom in them tonight, something of the joyous childhood of the nations which exile had not killed. The girls were all boisterous with delight. Pleasure came to them but rarely, and when it came, they caught at it wildly and crushed its fluttering wings in their strong brown fingers. They had a hard life enough, most of them. Torrid summers and freezing winters, labour and drudgery and ignorance, were the portion of their girlhood; a short wooing, a hasty, loveless marriage, unlimited maternity, thankless sons, premature age and ugliness, were the dower of their womanhood. But what matter? Tonight there was hot liquor in the glass and hot blood in the heart; tonight they danced.

But of course the reader does not see Eric as doomed. We see him as being saved even though the preacher is quick to promise him sulfur and brimstone.

And it turns out the first story is an anomaly, the one that is not like the others. “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” sets the stage for all that follows. Story after story of a hard life on the plains being saved by music. Some of the characters are allowed to escape to the city — Denver Chicago or New York — and one is allowed to escape to Europe and the opera. But not all the stories are about artists or musicians and while some of them are happy, a good many are tinged with sorrow and a few are downright tragic.

The stories weren’t amazing, not like reading Song of the Lark or My Antonia, but they are good, competent stories with moments of beauty in which is glimpsed the writer that Cather becomes. And since I like Cather very much, it was a pleasure to discover her young voice and the seeds of the themes and motifs that play out in her later fiction.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Willa Cather

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39. Finder: Third World is a Travelogue of a Wonderfully Fictional Place

ThirdWorld_cover

By Matthew Jent

FINDER: THIRD WORLD

 Story, Art, & Cover: Carla Speed McNeil

Colors: Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron

Genre: Science Fiction

 

“You consider where you are as shaped by how you got there.”

Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is self-proclaimed “aboriginal science fiction,” which McNeil explains on her website as being about “People who lived close to the earth, or whose ancestors did. People travel, people settle; people look at each other and embrace or else fight…Aboriginal science fiction deals with alien societies. FINDER’s aliens are all one family, but their coming to understand that isn’t going to come easily.”

Finder was first published in 1996 from McNeil’s own Lightspeed Press. The series has since moved to Dark Horse, which has just published Finder: Third World, collecting a story serialized in Dark Horse Presents, with the addition of 17 new story pages and extensive footnotes that have long been a trademark of Finder collections.

Every volume of Finder explores a different facet of a large and complicated science fiction world. It’s presumably set on a future Earth, and technology is sometimes strange but usually recognizable. Society and cultural norms are the same — recognizable but exaggerated versions of the real world. Readers have to pick up a lot through context clues or through McNeil’s extensive footnotes at the end of the book. A given volume’s protagonist may only appear as a background character in another volume. Or he or she may not appear at all.

Third World sees the return of Jaeger, the series’ first protagonist, its most persistent character, and the titular finder of the title. We become reacquainted with Jaeger as he’s interviewing with a job placement agency, trying to move away from a life spent throwing drunks out of clubs, cleaning up dead bodies, and sin-eating — ritualistically taking the pain and guilt from other people into himself. Jaeger takes a job as a package courier, which allows Third World to become a tour of the city of Anvard.

It reminds me of From Hell’s fourth chapter, in which Gull takes Netley on a carriage ride through London and instructs him in the architectural and symbolic history of the city. Except Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell had real maps and real history to rely on and stay true to. McNeil, through Jaeger, is taking us on a tour of a city she’s invented. Jaeger knows nooks, crannies, and secret passages of Anvard like no one else. He has a preternatural inability to lose his way, and this provides the best introduction to Finder’s world that I’ve seen over the eleven collected volumes of the series. If you’ve never read Finder before, you can pick up Third World and become easily acquainted with an always dense and sometimes intimidating story. When Jaeger, carrying a lost old woman on his back, gestures to dirt roads and says, “Farmland, if anybody can still afford sunlight,” McNeil reveals the depths of a science fiction world with an impressive economy of language and art.

Third World is the first volume of Finder to get the full-color treatment, and the colors by Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron are dreamy and resemble watercolors in their brightness and clarity. It brings a sharp distinctness to the world that greatly enhances McNeil’s illustration. McNeil’s art has always looked clean and deceptively simple — she does more with subtle facial expressions than animated equivalents can accomplish — but Lee and Mudron’s colors bring her work to a whole new level. This is easily the prettiest to look at of any Finder volume so far, and Finder is always a really pretty series.

I came to Third World with no foreknowledge of where the plot would go, so I was happy to follow Jaeger around Anvard for the book’s first act. I assumed this volume would be a picaresque journey through the city, introducing different clients and packages (who are sometimes people). I was happy to take that journey, but I was even happier when a sudden narrative turn takes Jaeger out of Anvard and into unexplored territory. The question of Third World becomes, can you get lost if you don’t have a destination? And can you have a destination if you’ve lost track of the road?

Third World is so good that it appears structureless, until you get to the end and realize where it’s been driving all along. I don’t want to say anything specific about the third act of Third World, because it was frankly as thrilling and surprising as anything I’ve read in comics. Simply put, there are more ideas in six pages of Finder than you’ll find in entire films, where they say they need 2+ hours just to set up the rest of a trilogy.

Read this book. Then, go back and read the rest of the Finder library. You might not know what you’re looking for at first, but by the end of Third World you’ll have found something great.

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40. Thursday Review: THE WRENCHIES by Farel Dalrymple

Click to embiggen. Totally worth it.Two things to get out there right away: 1. I received a review copy of this book from First Second, and 2. I'd definitely recommend this one for an older YA/crossover audience, due to some fright/violence/swearing... Read the rest of this post

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41. Review: It Happens

It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader by Kelly Jensen. VOYA Press, an imprint of E L Kurdyla Publishing, LLC. 2014. Personal copy.

It's About: Don't you just love non-fiction books? They have the entire pitch in the subtitle.

Disclaimer: I am good friends with the author. I am quoted in It Happens. And I'm in the Acknowledgments.

The Good: It Happens is organized into three sections: Real Tools; Real Reads; and Real Talk.

The first part defines what, exactly, is contemporary YA fiction and why it matters to readers. As a former lawyer, I love that Jensen does this. I believe that it's hard to have conversations and discussions when we aren't beginning from the same place; and the way to know where that same place is by doing what Jensen does in Real Tools. I think even those familiar with YA fiction and contemporary YA fiction will appreciate what Jensen says.

Next is what is the heart of the book: Real Reads, extensive lists of contemporary titles. The lists are broken into fifteen themes. There are tons of books here, including books from 2014. Of course, I did what I always do when given lists . . . quickly skim to mark what I read, then actually it to discover books that I haven't read.

Real Talk, the final part, is basically "lists plus." Now that Jensen has provided the plethora of titles, with themes (so that they can quickly be used for booklists, booktalks, and displays) Jensen provides the "plus" -- how to use the titles to start conversations, especially tough conversations on topics like bullying and sexual assault.

I'll conclude with some reasons about why I think contemporary YA fiction is loved by readers. I believe that YA readers, like adult readers, should have the books they want and need to read. And so that includes contemporary books. I think that sometimes contemporary books can be easier for readers because they go in "knowing" the world and the characters, but the setting and people are familiar. It's the towns they live in, the families they live with, the friends they go to school with. I think that familiarity is very important to readers -- and it's why I think contemporary realistic fiction has to reflect the contemporary world, in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, economics, family -- well, you get the idea.

I think that too long, the default for books have been that anyone can and will identify with the middle class white main character so that it's OK that the majority of books that show only that world. And I think that is a ridiculous reason to not have the diverse books readers want and need. To bring this back to It Happens, Jensen includes diverse books in her lists, not just in her section about The Diverse World but in other sections. Books about sports includes books with characters that have obsessive compulsive disorder; books about best friends include books about people of color. Multiple entry points are included for each book.

Other reviews and links: Jen Robinson's Book Page; Circulating Ideas Podcast interview.

And a bonus -- a giveaway! Kelly Jensen is having a giveaway of her book over at her blog, Stacked. A winner will be picked later this month.




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

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

Can an animated feature about depression be entertaining too?

0 Comments on FILM REVIEW: ‘Rocks in My Pockets’: A Deeply Personal Film About Depression as of 9/2/2014 7:14:00 PM
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44. 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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45. 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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46. 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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47. 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.

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48. 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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49. 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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50. 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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