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1. If I Stay movie review

if i stay movie poster If I Stay movie reviewSo, I saw that movie based on a YA novel about teens in love who are faced with questions of life and death. No, not that one, at least not most recently. I’m talking about the New Line Cinema/MGM adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel If I Stay, directed by R. J. Cutler and released August 22, 2014. (Warning: If you stay with this post, you’ll find some major spoilers.)

When I went looking for a viewing companion, the premise produced shudders from more than one friend. For the uninitiated, the title refers to seventeen-year-old Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz)’s wrenching decision to go on living — or not — as she observes her comatose body after a car accident that left her critically injured and the rest of her family even worse.

In case you haven’t noticed, YA movies are hot these days, and studios seem to get that the books are hot, too. Like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and other recent movies based on YA novels, this one keeps its story very close to the original text. Mia’s cello playing is important in the book, and so it’s important in the movie, too, even though it’s not as “Hollywood” as her boyfriend Adam’s (Jamie Blackley) rock band.

If I Stay is a cinematically paced book, which helps. Forman alternates between scenes of Mia’s pre-accident life and the post-accident drama. This structure saves both the book and the movie from long strings of hospital scenes and breaks up the emotional intensity with happier moments that increase our emotional investment in these characters. Mia’s rocker parents, affably performed by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, and little brother Teddy, played by a sincere Jakob Davies, are simply fun and lovable characters; we want to spend time with them and understand why Mia does, too.

Though the movie mostly adopts the book’s pacing, it does make a few significant tweaks. In the book, Mia and the reader find out very quickly (and slightly more graphically) that both parents have died. The movie ratchets up tension by revealing her mother’s death later and having her father live long enough to arrive at the hospital. The change creates more reasons to keep watching the hospital scenes: Mia has hope for her family early on, and viewers who haven’t read the book (or, well, seen the trailer) might be on the edge of their seats. Teddy’s death comes later in both the book and the movie — but as movie-Mia stays in the same hospital instead of being helicoptered out, she finds out much more directly and it’s more of a defining moment.

If you thought Mia and Adam’s undying-unless-she-goes-to-Julliard love was a little cheesy in the book, you’ll find the same goops of cheddar in the movie. But neither book nor movie pretends their relationship is perfect, and the movie makes their conflict harsher but bases it on the same issues. Although the ending is essentially the same, Adam’s promises leading up to it manage to make the love story more sentimental. (These changes in Mia and Adam’s relationship also make it seem less likely that the studio plans to film the 2011 book sequel, Where She Went.)

Just like that other tear-jerking YA movie about love and mortality, this one emphasizes the choices its characters get to make. Even before Mia must decide whether to live, she’s deciding what to do with her life. Maybe that’s what so many teens like about these kinds of stories. Teens are at a time in their lives when even ordinary decisions start to have higher stakes. There’s something validating about stories that acknowledge that, in some cases, a teenage life is an entire life, and maybe something reassuring about seeing teens confronted with questions so big that choices about school and relationships seem lighter.

Yes, these tragic tales show that some things are beyond teens’ control, but they also make it clear that some things aren’t.

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2. Thursday Review: GIRL ON A WIRE by Gwenda Bond

Right--in the interests of full disclosure, Gwenda and I have the same agent, and we've been blog buds for a number of years, so be aware that any viewpoints herein may or may not be free of personal bias. :) I received a review copy of this book... Read the rest of this post

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3. After-school activities

barnhart dazzling card tricks After school activitiesBarnhart, Norm Dazzling Card Tricks
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Barnhart, Norm Marvelous Money Tricks
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Edge Books: Magic Manuals series. Accessible step-by-step instructions, clear demonstrative photographs, and “what you need” sidebars teach readers to master simple but impressive magic tricks with cards or money. Tips for performing the tricks effectively and smoothly in front of an audience are worked into the narrative. These books will be appealing and useful for anyone interested in magic.  
Subjects: Games, magic, and riddles

bolte oil paints After school activitiesBolte, Mari Oil Paints
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Bolte, Mari Watercolors
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Snap Books: Paint It series. These useful books familiarize readers with two types of artists’ paints. There’s a bit of history (oil paints were first used in the 1300s), a little chemistry (watercolors contain pigments mixed with gum Arabic), information on surfaces and brushes, and much about techniques and effects. Step-by-step projects that are not overly complex will nevertheless challenge and satisfy dedicated art students. Reading list.
Subjects: Visual arts; Painting

brown little golden book sof jokes and riddles After school activitiesBrown, Peggy The Little Golden Book of Jokes and Riddles
Gr. K–3   24 pp.  Golden

Illustrated by David Sheldon. “Why did the girl throw the clock out the window? To see time fly!” These mostly familiar standards may be new to beginning readers, who will enjoy learning and sharing them. Humorous color illustrations fit the mood and match the subject.
Subjects: Games, magic, and riddles; Jokes

 

hamen how to analyze the films of the coen brothers After school activitiesHamen, Susan E. How to Analyze the Films of the Coen Brothers
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Hermansson, Casie How to Analyze the Films of Clint Eastwood
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Essential Critiques series. These volumes introduce cinematic criticism, provide summaries of the filmmakers’ famous works, and offer lightly annotated essays modeling the application of criticism through different approaches. Each book leads readers through key steps of analysis and encourages readers’ own critiques. Featuring the work of currently popular directors enlivens these suitable overviews of film interpretation and essay construction. Reading list, timeline, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Visual arts; Coen, Joel; Coen, Ethan; Eastwood, Clint; Writing; Motion pictures

kidd go After school activitiesKidd, Chip Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
Middle school, high school   160 pp.  Workman

Kidd makes graphic design immediate and accessible to middle schoolers and up by posing questions and answering them in engaging ways. The first four chapters — “Form,” “Typography,” “Content,” “Concept” — tackle design essentials and some advanced ideas. The final chapter presents “10 Design Projects.” The book’s inside back cover provides resources including websites, museums, and design organizations.
Subjects: Visual arts

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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4. Careers and community helpers

buckley the arts Careers and community helpersBuckley, A. M. The Arts
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Freese, Susan M. Fashion
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Hamen, Susan E. Engineering
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Lusted, Marcia Amidon Entertainment
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Inside the Industry series. Each book describes four careers; for example, Arts covers artist, dancer, photographer, and curator. Readers learn what each job entails (e.g., “What Is an Artist?”) and what they can do to prepare for these competitive professions (“Would You Make a Good Artist?”). The somewhat bland texts, accompanied by young-person-heavy stock photos, could be useful as general introductions to the title careers. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and Careers; Artists; Dance; Photography; Museums; Fashion; Clothing; Engineering; Performing arts

curtis animal helpers Careers and community helpersCurtis, Jennifer Keats Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Sylvan Dell

Appealing close-up photos of wild animal orphans being fed and cared for by specially trained people show how injured or abandoned creatures can thrive with extra intervention. The goal is to reintroduce them into the wild once they are physically fit. Large photos without busy backgrounds and limited text target younger audiences. Appended activities include more detailed information about caring for injured wildlife.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Wildlife rescue; Animals

goldish doctors to the rescue Careers and community helpersGoldish, Meish Doctors to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

Goldish, Meish Firefighters to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

White, Nancy Paramedics to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

White, Nancy Police Officers to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6    32 pp.  Bearport

Work of Heroes: First Responders in Action series. This well-organized series explores the education, specialized training, and daily responsibilities of the featured first responders. Photographs capture the action and enhance the accessible texts, which include details about routine as well as extraordinary incidents, notable rescues, and firsthand accounts. Rescue fans will find much to pore over in these engaging and age-appropriate volumes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Police officers; Doctors; Hospitals; Medicine; Firefighters

oxlade firefighters Careers and community helpersOxlade, Chris, and Thea Feldman Firefighters
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Kingfisher/Macmillan

Kingfisher Readers series. Thirteen two-page chapters introduce newly independent readers to components of firefighters’ jobs, addressing procedural variations and lesser-known aspects such as service at airports and on “fire engines at sea.” Bright, action-filled stock photos are strategically positioned to illustrate new information and support in-text explanations of subject-specific terms (breathing apparatus, hydrants, nozzle). Fact boxes appear throughout. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Firefighters; Fire

rhatigan people you gotta meet before you grow up Careers and community helpersRhatigan, Joe People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow Up: Get to Know the Movers and Shakers, Heroes and Hot Shots in Your Hometown
Gr. 4–6
   128 pp.  Charlesbridge/Imagine

Each section in this guide introduces an everyday “difference-maker” and offers strategies for how to meet one locally along with questions to ask and websites to visit; interviews and mini profiles conclude some chapters. The subjects (judge, crafter, “someone from a different religion”) are a random assortment and the design is rather busy, but the energetic tone sets this title apart from other community-helper books. Ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; City and town life; Community helpers; Work

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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5. Performing artists

cardillo just being audrey Performing artistsCardillo, Margaret Just Being Audrey
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray

Illustrated by Julia Denos. From Audrey Hepburn’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Europe, to a film career, motherhood, and role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, this picture book biography encapsulates Hepburn’s “certain something.” Cardillo’s prose is focused and elegant; Denos’s paintings perfectly depict the delicate beauty and iconic style of her subject. Author and illustrator notes detail the lasting influence of Hepburn’s achievements and charisma. Timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Women—Biographies; Hepburn, Audrey; Women—Actors; Actors

cline ransome benny goodman and teddy wilson Performing artistsCline-Ransome, Lesa Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Holiday

Illustrated by James E. Ransome. Goodman grew up in Chicago, a working-class Jewish boy; Wilson lived in Tuskegee, Alabama, a middle-class African American boy. The story of how the two jazz musicians met and formed the Benny Goodman Trio (the “first interracial band to perform publicly”) is recounted in short bursts of text, almost like jazz riffs, accompanied by pencil and watercolor illustrations that capture distinctive moments. Timeline.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Wilson, Teddy; Goodman, Benny; Bands; Musicians; Music—Jazz; Race relations; Jews; African Americans

ko from iowa to broadway Performing artistsKo, Alex Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story
Gr. 4–6   328 pp.  HarperCollins/Harper

Iowa native Alex Ko trained in gymnastics and competitive dance before focusing on ballet at his dying father’s insistence. Eventually, overcoming injury and financial struggle, Ko went on to star as Billy in Broadway’s Billy Elliot at the age of thirteen. Readers will find this look at the demanding process of making it onstage (and backstage) both insightful and inspiring.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Sports—Gymnastics; Iowa; Performing arts; Plays; Autobiographies; Theater; Dance

powell josephine Performing artistsPowell, Patricia Hruby Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Gr.  4–6   104 pp.  Chronicle

Illustrated by Christian Robinson. This distinguished biography conveys dancer Josephine Baker’s passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page. Powell doesn’t shy away from the challenges (including racism) Baker faced but emphasizes that Baker never let them overwhelm her joy in performing. Robinson’s highly stylized, boldly colored illustrations are at once sophisticated and inviting to young readers. Reading list.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Race relations; France; Women—Biographies; African Americans; Women—African Americans; Baker, Josephine; Dance; Women—Dancers; Entertainers; Women—Entertainers

robertson legends icons and rebels Performing artistsRobertson, Robbie, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson, and Jared Levine Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World
Middle school, high school   128 pp.  Tundra

In this oversize, weighty volume, music-industry-veteran authors offer collected anecdotal sketches, including personal memories, of twenty-seven music “risk-takers” such as Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Their meteoric careers, many touched by tragedy, are justly celebrated. A timeline of these artists’ first recordings (1925–1968) ends the book, which includes two CDs of sparkling audio quality with one iconic song by each artist.
Subjects: Collective biographies; Musicians; Music

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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6. Disasters

goldsmith bombs over bikini DisastersGoldsmith, Connie Bombs over Bikini: The World’s First Nuclear Disaster
Middle school, high school   88 pp.  Twenty-First Century

This book offers a riveting tale of the aftermath of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. The tests themselves and the lives of the Marshall Islanders directly affected by the resulting radiation contamination are described in engrossing detail. Sidebars, quotes from primary sources, and period photographs supplement the informative and thought-provoking narrative. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; Disasters; Marshall Islands; Atomic bomb; Nuclear weapons; Pacific

hopkinson titanic DisastersHopkinson, Deborah Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
Gr. 4–6   290 pp.  Scholastic

Hopkinson provides young readers with a basic introduction to the event without overdramatizing, drawing unwarranted conclusions, or prolonging the ordeal. Her “characters,” real survivors whose voices relate many of the subsequent events, include crew members as well as travelers in first, second, and third class. Appended material includes chapter notes, sources, archival photos, and short biographies of those mentioned. Timeline. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; Titanic (Steamship); Disasters; Shipwrecks

rusch eruption DisastersRusch, Elizabeth Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
Gr. 4–6   76 pp.  Houghton

Scientists in the Field series. Photographs by Tom Uhlman. This terrific series installment features the dedicated geologists of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, which provides technical expertise in eruption prediction. The portrayal of scientific investigation is exceptional: scientists build and monitor equipment, interview residents, and collect ash and rock samples. Photographs not only feature awe-inspiring shots of volcanoes but also depict human vulnerability to these natural disasters. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Earth science; Natural disasters—volcanoes; Scientists

rustad hurricanes DisastersRustad, Martha E. H. Hurricanes
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Capstone

Smithsonian Little Explorer series. Lots of photographs, diagrams, and charts support a brief, accessible text to introduce hurricanes, their behavior and characteristics, and the destruction they cause. A world map covers different hurricane seasons, and “famous” storms are briefly profiled. The back matter includes “Critical thinking” questions designed (“using the Common Core”) to encourage further exploration of the topic. Reading list. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Earth science; Natural disasters—hurricanes

sheinkin port chicago 50 DisastersSheinkin, Steve The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Middle school, high school   190 pp.  Roaring Brook

The Port Chicago 50 was a group of black navy recruits assigned the dangerous job of loading bombs onto battleships. When an (inevitable) explosion left hundreds dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. An unusual entry point for the study of WWII and the nascent civil rights movement. Photographs are helpful, and documentation is thorough. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; United States Navy; Trials; Mutiny; California; African Americans; History, Modern—World War II; Sailors; Prejudices; Race relations; Civil rights

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. All about animals

disiena chickens dont fly All about animalsDiSiena, Laura Lyn and Eliot, Hannah Chickens Don’t Fly: And Other Fun Facts
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Little Simon

DiSiena, Laura Lyn and Eliot, Hannah Hippos Can’t Swim: And Other Fun Facts
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Little Simon

Did You Know? series. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. Each volume presents select trivia about a variety of creatures. For example, the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth, diving at two-hundred miles per hour (from Chickens); and ants take about 250 one-minute naps a day (from Hippos). While the cartoon illustrations make no attempt to be accurate, they add even more humor to these jocular, enjoyable collections.
Subjects: Animal behavior; Humorous stories

jenkins animal book All about animalsJenkins, Steve The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth
Gr. 4–6   208 pp.  Houghton

This thoughtful and coherent book begins with a survey of the animal kingdom, then covers “Family,” “Senses,” “Predators,” and “Defenses.” A section on “Animal Extremes” provides Guinness Book–type facts kids love, and the concluding section, “The Story of Life,” explores evolution. The paper-collage art throughout is taken from Jenkins’s many previous books; each image is recontextualized to serve the book’s purpose. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Natural history; Animals

johnson Animal Planet Atlas of Animals All about animalsJohnson, Jinny Animal Planet Atlas of Animals
Gr. 4–6   128 pp.  Millbrook

Johnson, Jinny Animal Planet Wild World: An Encyclopedia of Animals
Gr. 4–6   132 pp.  Millbrook

These two different ways of organizing animals worldwide both begin with overviews of the animal kingdom; Atlas groups animals by continents and regions, Wild by five major types. Both books are lavish with photos, illustrations, and descriptive captions, and colored borders and headers keep things organized. Overlap is inevitable, but the writing is clear, intelligent, and unsensational. Atlas contains a glossary. Ind.
Subjects: Natural history; Encyclopedias; Animals

roop extreme survivors All about animalsRoop, Connie, and Roop, Peter Extreme Survivors
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Sterling

Stewart, Melissa World’s Fastest Animals
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Sterling

American Museum of Natural History Easy Readers series. From fastest runners and swimmers to deep-water and desert dwellers, these volumes present some extreme traits and habitats of animals ranging from the familiar (cheetahs, polar bears) to the unusual (giant tubeworms, microscopic water bears). The striking color photographs and astounding facts delivered via engaging prose (“It can grab an insect faster than you can blink your eyes”) will captivate beginning readers.
Subjects: Animals; Habitats; Animal behavior

ziefert does a bear wear boots All about animalsZiefert, Harriet Does a Bear Wear Boots?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Beaver Sleep in a Bed?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Camel Cook Spaghetti?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Panda Go to School?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Woodpecker Use a Hammer?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Think About series. Illustrated by Emily Bolam. These animal behavior/social studies hybrids follow a similar pattern. Silly animal questions (“Does a squirrel cook?”) and informative answers (“A polar bear sleeps on the snowy ground inside a den”) are followed by simple discussions of human customs. Bolam’s inviting illustrations make the most of the premise and reflect the text’s informal tone. Prompts for further investigation are appended.
Subjects: Clothing; Customs; Animals; Animal Behavior; Sleep; Cookery; Food; Schools; Tools

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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8. Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

breathe think do menu Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app reviewSimple app Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (Sesame Workshop, December 2013), starring a blue, horned Sesame Street monster, models the “Breathe, Think, Do” problem-solving strategy for the very youngest (ages 2-5): “First…breathe to calm down after facing a challenge; next, think of plans to solve the problem; and then choose one of the plans.” (From the “About This App” note in the “For Parents” section; useful “Tips and Strategies” are also offered).

The opening screen shows the smiley monster looking up at five easy-to-identify icons (sneaker, backpack, block, slide, bed). The eager narration — in English or Spanish — urges: “Go ahead, tap on ones of these.” Each icon then takes us to a kid-centric scenario; selecting the backpack, for example, brings us to school. The narrator calls attention to visual cues about the monster’s state of mind: “Oh, no. The monster is frowning and it looks like he might cry. He feels sad because he’s not happy that it’s time to say goodbye to his mommy.” (The “sneaker” scenario models frustration at not being able to put on his own shoes; the “block” scenario models disappointment when the monster’s block tower topples over.)

Step 1: Breathe

The next screen shows the still-frowning monster against a red background. “Tap on the monster’s belly to help him put his hands on it. / Tap slowly on his belly.” The monster breathes in and out, and the background color lightens as the monster’s face relaxes (“Look! The monster is calming down. He needs to take another breath. Tap on his belly again”). After three slow breaths: “Yes! He looks much calmer.”

Step 2: Think

On the next screen we “help” the monster think of a plan. Bubbles appear over his head, and kids tap to pop them (the popping sound effects, along with monster-thinking noises, make this extra-fun) while the narrator says: “Think think think…Aha!” In the “Personalize This App” section (in the parents area) you an record your or your child’s voice to encourage the monster: “Think of a plan! Keep thinking! You’ve almost got a plan!”

 Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

The app then presents three problem-solving ideas; in the case of school: 1. find a friend to play with; 2. draw a picture of someone he loves to look at during the day; 3. ask a grownup, like his teacher, for a hug.

breathe think do school plan Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

Kids pick one of the choices, which brings us to:

Step 3: Do

The monster successfully implements the chosen plan. The narrator does a quick recap (“remember: breathe, think, do; you can always ask a grownup for help”), then the monster celebrates with confetti (which kids can tap).

Learning life skills and having silly fun — this is a child-friendly, research-based app that could be very useful for a variety of settings.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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9. Review: Falling Into Place

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Liz Emerson, a high school junior, has crashed her car into a tree.

She planned it, oh so carefully, to look like an accident.

It wasn't.

Now, as she lies in the hospital, hovering between life and death, Falling Into Place examines just what led her to that fateful moment.

The Good: Falling Into Place has some seriously beautiful writing. I dog-eared (yes, dog-eared, don't tell) so many pages to mark passages where the language knocked me off my feet.

"But that afternoon, in the abandoned field by the elementary school, Liz pretended that they were. In love. She lied to herself. Her world was almost beautiful. She didn't care that it was false."

"Had the world always been like this? Why had it seemed so much kinder when she was younger? Why had it ever seemed beautiful?"

In some ways, Falling Into Place is the mirror-image of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah explains her suicide by naming the people who hurt her, who let her down, her gave her no reason to live. Liz's story, also is a list of the reasons she gives herself for aiming her car at a tree... except her reasons are not things done to her. No, Liz's reasons are the things she did to others.

A small aside: if you don't like any spoilers, go no further. Because my conversation will be mainly about the characters and who they are, and aren't, and for some that may be too much.

I'll be honest: Liz is a difficult person to feel sympathy for. Or, at least, it was difficult for me to feel any sympathy for her. I began liking her, the way you would any character, but as the way Liz treated others piled up, action upon action, I just -- couldn't. I felt sorry for her mother, as her daughter's life hung in the balance, because that is a terrible situation to be in. But Liz herself.....

Liz is the type that hurts people because she can. Because she feels it's better to hurt others first, before they can hurt her. Because she has some own deep childhood wounds -- a father who dies tragically, a distant mother who cannot connect either emotionally or physically with her only child. She is, inside, a hurt and jealous child: "It made her remember that there had once been a time when she was in love with the sunshine and the wind and each brief flight. It was like watching the sky change colors, his playing. And then it made her jealous, because Liz Emerson was never at peace like that. Not really. Not anymore."

Liz both recognizes what she does and hates what she does yet cannot stop herself; she knows she does hateful things but does nothing to stop or make amends. She thinks she cannot fix what she does, so she doesn't even try. Instead, her solution is to end herself. "She looked around and saw all of the broken things in her wake, and then she looked inside herself and saw the spidering cracks from the weight of all the things she had done. She hated what she was and didn't know how to change, and half an hour before she drove her car off the road, she that despite all of that, she didn't have enough force to stop the world from turning. But she had enough to stop her own."

And... despite the glimpse into who Liz is, and seeing those who both love her and forgive her, despite not wanting her dead, I find I cannot feel much for Liz. I feel for those who she breaks: there's at least one suicide, plus a handful of teens whose lives get sidelined with pregnancy, drug use, failures. It's nice that we see at least one of her victims put aside Liz's actions and words, see her vulnerability, forgive her, and get on with his own life instead of letting Liz ruin his whole future -- but it wasn't a real balance. Not to me. And Liz herself had nothing to do with it. One of her good friends thinks, "she doesn't remember when she turned into such an awful human being" and the friend is thinking about herself, but it could be about Liz, and the thing is -- they are awful. And they feel bad about it, when it all comes crashing down....but where do they go after that?

These are the teens who I hope against hope that the real life teens I know never, ever encounter. And that if they do -- they are the type who don't care what the Lizs of the world think or do.

What is frustrating about Liz is the obvious: her world, the world she wants to escape, is her own creation. She sees a cruel world because of who she is; and that Liz has shaped her reality to be her is something she doesn't recognize. She doesn't see that she can stop it by changing how she sees the world: by looking, once more, for the beauty she saw as a child.

But what matters about Falling into Place is not what Liz learns or does not -- it's what the reader figures out. That the reader realizes, like one of Liz's targets, that just because someone like Liz is "never careful with her life or anyone else's, and in her disregard was a coldness, a deep cruelty, a willingness to destroy anyone, everyone", there is no reason to let Liz destroy everything: "he found that there were still beautiful things in the world, and nothing could ever change that." What the reader can also see, as Liz's full life comes into view, that Liz's world is also the sum of her own choices, her own times of going for cruelty and power instead of understanding and kindness.

What also matters about Falling into Place is the language. It's beautiful writing, that makes the ugliness more bearable -- much like Liz herself looks for beauty, yearns for it. I look for the beauty in Falling into Place. And I find it, in how the story was told. In how the pieces fall into place. And how, finally -- I do find, underneath it all, that I have sympathy for Liz, after all. In how she and her world spun so far out of her control that she felt like there was only one answer.



Other reviews: Scott Reads It; The Perpetual Page-Turner; Queen Ella Bee Reads.




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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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.




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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20. 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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21. 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.

2 Comments on Finder: Third World is a Travelogue of a Wonderfully Fictional Place, last added: 9/5/2014
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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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