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1. Review of the Day: The Red Hat by David Teague

51xONVs2CGLThe Red Hat
By David Teague
Illustrated by Antoinette Portis
Disney Hyperion (an imprint of Disney Book Group)
ISBN: 9781423134114
Ages 4-7
On shelves December 8th

There is a story out there, and I don’t know if it is true, that the great children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore had such a low opinion of children’s books that involved “gimmicks” (read: interactive elements of any sort) that upon encountering them she’d dismiss each and every one with a single word: Truck. If it was seen as below contempt, it was “truck”. Pat the Bunny, for example, was not to her taste, but it did usher in a new era of children’s literature. Books that, to this day, utilize different tricks to engage the interest of child readers. In the best of cases the art and the text of a picture book are supposed to be of the highest possible caliber. To paraphrase Walter de la Mare, only the rarest kind of best is good enough for our kids, yes? That said, not all picture books have to attempt to be works of great, grand literature and artistic merit. There are funny books and silly ones that do just as well. Take it a step even farther, and I’d say that the interactive elements that so horrified Ms. Moore back in the day have great potential to aid in storytelling. Though she would be (rightly) disgusted by books like Rainbow Fish that entice children through methods cheap and deeply unappealing, I fancy The Red Hat would have given her pause. After considering the book seriously, a person can’t dismiss it merely because it tends towards the shiny. Lovingly written and elegantly drawn, Teague and Portis flirt with transparent spot gloss, but it’s their storytelling and artistic choices that will keep their young readers riveted.

With a name like Billy Hightower, it’s little wonder that the boy in question lives “atop the world’s tallest building”. It’s a beautiful view, but a lonely one, so when a construction crew one day builds a tower across the way, the appearance of a girl in a red hat intrigues Billy. Desperate to connect with her, he attempts various methods of communication, only to be stumped by the wind at every turn. Shouting fails. Paper airplanes plummet. A kite dances just out of reach. Then Billy tries the boldest method of reaching the girl possible, only to find that he himself is snatched from her grasp. Fortunately a soft landing and a good old-fashioned elevator trump the wind at last. Curlicues of spot gloss evoke the whirly-twirly wind and all its tricksy ways.

Great Moments of Spot Gloss in Picture Book History: Um . . . hm. That’s a stumper. I’m not saying it’s never happened. I’m just saying that when I myself try to conjure up a book, any book, that’s ever used it to proper effect, I pull up a blank. Now what do I mean exactly when I say this book is using this kind of “gloss”? Well, it’s a subtle layer of shininess. Not glittery, or anything so tawdry as that. From cover to interior spreads, these spirals of gloss evoke the invisible wind. They’re lovely but clearly mischievous, tossing messages and teasing the ties of a hat. Look at the book a couple times and you notice that the only part of the book that does not contain this shiny wind is the final two-page image of our heroes. They’re outdoors but the wind has been defeated in the face of Billy’s persistence. If you feel a peace looking at the two kids eyeing one another, it may have less to do with what you see than what you don’t.

Naturally Antoinette Portis is to be credited here, though I don’t know if the idea of using the spot gloss necessarily originated with her. It is possible that the book’s editor tossed Portis the manuscript with the clear understanding that gloss would be the name of the game. That said, I felt like the illustrator was given a great deal of room to grow with this book. I remember back in the day when her books Not a Box and Not a Stick were the height of 32-page minimalism. She has such a strong sense of design, but even when she was doing books like Wait and the rather gloriously titled Princess Super Kitty her color scheme was standard. In The Red Hat all you have to look at are great swath of blue, the black and white of the characters, an occasional jab of gray, and the moments when red makes an appearance. There is always a little jolt of red (around Billy’s neck, on a street light, from a carpet, etc). It’s the red coupled with that blue that really makes the book pop. By all rights a red, white, and blue cover should strike you on some level as patriotic. Not the case here.

Not that the book is without flaw. For the most part I enjoyed the pacing of the story. I loved the fairytale element of Billy tossed high into the sky by a jealous wind. I loved the color scheme, the gloss, and the characters. What I did not love was a moment near the end of the book where pertinent text is completely obscured by its placement on the art. Billy has flown and landed from the sky. He’s on the ground below, the wind buffeting him like made. He enters the girl’s building and takes the elevator up. The story says, “At the elevator, he punched UP, and he knocked at the first door on the top floor.” We see him extending his hand to the girl, her hat clutched in the other. Then you turn the page and it just says, “The Beginning.” Wait, what? I had to go back and really check before I realized that there was a whole slew of text and dialogue hidden at the bottom of that previous spread. Against a speckled gray and white floor the black text is expertly camouflaged. I know that some designers cringe at the thought of suddenly interjecting a white text box around a selection of writing, but in this particular case I’m afraid it was almost a necessity. Either than or toning down the speckles to the lightest of light grays.

Aside from that, it’s sublime. A sweet story of friendship (possibly leading to more someday) from the top of the world. Do we really believe that Billy lives on the top of the highest building in the world? Billy apparently does, and that’s good enough for us. But even the tallest building can find its match. And even the loneliest of kids can, through sheer pig-headed persistence, make their voices heard. A windy, shiny book without a hint of bluster.

On shelves December 8th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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2. Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Razorbill. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

An Ember in the Ashes
The Plot: It's been 500 years since the Martials defeated the Scholars. At various times Rebellion has been threatened, but the Martials always destroy it.

Laia, 17, is a Scholar. The once studious and education people are now banned from anything hinting at learning. Laia lives with her older brother, Darin, and her grandparents, until the night their home is raided by the Martials and their terrible agents, the silver-faced Masks. Her grandparents are killed, Darin is arrested, and Laia flees into the night.

She stumbles upon rebels who agree to help her free her brother, for a price. Go into the heart of the Martial training ground and spy on their Commandment. To do so, she'll have to pretend to be a slave. But for Darin, she'll do it.

Elias, twenty, is a Martial who has been trained to be a Mask since the age of six. Except he has a secret, kept hidden and deep. He hates the death and torture and violence of what he his, of what he is trained to do. He doesn't want his face to be forever silver. He dreams of escape, even though it will dishonor his Grandfather, but anyone caught running away is brutally executed. As each day goes by, he finds himself increasingly bound to the Martials and to his friends and wondering if the only escape is death.

The Good: Read this book. Now. The only down side of reading this book ASAP is that the sequel is out next summer, and you're going to have to wait that long to find out what happens next.

Read this book. It is a wonderfully complex setting, influenced by the Roman Empire and other ancient cultures. Sometimes a cultural setting such as the one in An Ember in the Ashes either downplays or ignores the consequences and reality of its setting. This book does not do that; it is a brutal, violent world and both Laia and Elias have been shaped and formed by that brutality. (For those who wonder about the violence on the page, I'll put it this way. A book can describe a death in a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter -- this book goes for the sentence or two. Does it lessen the horror of that death? No, it doesn't drag it on for pages and pages.)

Laia masquerades as a slave, but, no, that's wrong. While Laia is spying, she is actually a slave and all that implies. She is owned by the Commandment, who can do anything she wants to the slaves she owns. Laia is beaten and whipped; her name is taken from her. Other slaves have been scarred, branded, mutilated. The possibility of sexual assault and rape is real. So she has to survive both the change in status from free to slave but also figuring out how to be a spy for the rebellion.

Elias has been trained since the age of six to become a Mask, like his mother and grandfather before him. (His mother is the Commandment.) He has seen children whipped to death; he has been beaten; he has killed. He has followed orders. He has become one of the top soldiers. And he hates it. One of the things I love about An Ember in the Ashes is that while it's easy to hate the Martial class and all that Elias is and represents, the reader can't help but like Elias and root for him. To like his friends and understand his loyalties.

If you're wondering, because there is a girl and a boy and it's a young adult book, whether there is a romance -- well, yes and no. Again, complexity! While Elias may look at Laia and see a pretty girl, Laia looks at Elias and sees a dangerous soldier. Elias also is the type who sees Laia as a pretty girl who is a slave so is someone who for that reason shouldn't be touched (not a sentiment towards slaves shared by others.) There's a young man who is a rebel who Laia begins to have feelings for, and Elias has feelings towards another soldier, a young woman, and he's trying to deny them. So this is more a rectangle than anything else, and very realistically done given the different positions of power people have.

The Martial Empire is HORRIBLE. I wouldn't want to live there. But, again with reasons I like this -- when Laia learns more about the history of the Scholars, she realizes that her history and society is more complex than good/bad, vanquished/conquered. Elias looks around him and doesn't like how the Empire treats people, and he may be alone in this. It's hard to tell, because to confess such things would to betrayal, punishment, torture, death. His friends, though, are also likable, though part of this may be that we only see them in a context where they aren't arresting and killing and torturing, though we know that is what they have been trained to do. And truth be told while the ways of his training are harsh and I'm running out of words that mean "brutal," it's also realistic in terms of what is needed to create the perfect killing machine -- and that appears to be the sole aim of Elias's training and schooling.

The ending -- the ending!!! Don't worry, it's a great ending for a first book in the series in that it both works well as an ending for this book but there is also a great lead in to what will happen in the next book. I don't feel cheated or frustrated; I just feel MORE MORE MORE.

And the plot is so great that I don't want to say a word about it.

One more thing. The women in this story! Of course, there is Laia, who will do anything to save her brother but has been fairly sheltered up to this point. Poor, sometimes hungry, but always loved and protected by her family. Her strength is in her ability to survive, to love, to do what it takes.

Then there is Helene. Female soldiers are only accepted once in a generation, and so she is not just the sole female in her class, she's the sole female in her school. She has to be twice as good, ignore twice as much, as those around her. The friendship between Elias and Hel is one of equality and respect.

And Elias's mother, the Commandant. She was the female soldier of her generation. And as the head of the school that trains and forms soldiers, she is the one that every student fears. She is the one every slave fears. And with good reason: punishments, torture, and death all take place at her whim.

There is the Lioness, a legendary head of the Rebellion, brilliant but ruthless and willing to sacrifice anything for her cause.

And there are Laia's fellow slaves, Kitchen Girl and Cook, who have survived years in the Commandant's house, watching other slaves come and go. (And by "go" I mean die, whether at their own hand or the result of the Commandant's brutality.) There is more to each of them . . . .

One more thing. With this book there is always one more thing. I recognized the ancient Rome references in names and family structure; Tahir's guest post at the Perpetual Page-Turner goes into that research, as well as the research needed for everything from weaponry to the names of the other nations and groups in the book.

ARGH. I want to revisit this world, even though I was so worried about Laia that at times I could read no more than a few chapters at a time. My heart just couldn't take it.

OF COURSE this is a Favorite Book of 2015.

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

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

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3. Review of The Inker’s Shadow

say_inker's shadowThe Inker’s Shadow
by Allen Say; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School, High School   
Scholastic   80 pp.
978-0-545-43776-9   $19.99   g

This “patchwork of memories” (“and memories are unreliable, so I am calling this a work of fiction made of real people and places I knew”) sequel to Drawing from Memory (rev. 9/11) takes the fifteen-year-old Allen to Glendora, California, where he is enrolled in what seems to have been a distinctly mediocre military academy run by one of his (miserable) father’s old friends. That doesn’t go very well, and Allen soon finds himself, happily, enrolled in a regular high school, taking classes at an art institute in Los Angeles, and working part-time in a printing shop. Throughout, Kyusuke, Allen’s scapegrace comic-strip alter ego created by his revered Sensei, accompanies him in his imagination. Befitting adolescence, the tone here is sometimes sulky, even sarcastic, but, truth be told, Say can be so deadpan that it’s difficult to know when he’s kidding. The illustrations are a pleasing combination of watercolor cartoon panels — neat and nimble executions of the teen’s days — and black-and-white sketches that evoke what he was drawing at the time. Together, the two combine to provide an engaging and thoughtful view of the intersection of art and life.

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

The post Review of The Inker’s Shadow appeared first on The Horn Book.

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4. Review: Kissing Ted Callahan

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding. Poppy. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)The Plot: Riley and Reid walk in on our their band mates Lucy and Nathan -- to their surprise, Lucy and Nathan are together. Together-together.

Riley is stunned, especially because Lucy is her best friend and Lucy never said a word. Riley and Reid both resolve to pursue love (and kissing and maybe even sex), and to share each detail, and to help each other out.

The top of Riley's list is her crush, Ted Callahan; Reid's is Jane.

How successful is their plan? Well, there will be kissing. Of Ted Callahan, and other guys.

The Good: This is primarily Riley's story, but because Riley and Reid share notes and progress reports and suggestions in a Passenger Manifest journal, and part of that is written by Reid, it's both their stories.

Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley shaking herself into action. Oh, she's hardly passive. Her goal is rock star, so her time has been taken up with the band. And her best friend is Lucy, and she's friends with Reid and Nathan, but she's been satisfied, kind of, with that.

Riley isn't satisfied anymore. And confiding in Reid, instead of her usual Lucy, helps push her to do things like offer Ted Callahan a ride home. Or kiss Garrick. Or call the number of the cute boy she met at the CD store. Riley goes from zero love interests to three. Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley (and Reid) navigating teen age dating, figuring out the difference between like and love and lust and love, wondering just what is right to tell someone if there isn't any real commitment yet.

Reid's story in some ways mirrors Riley's The first girl he pursues turns out to already have a boyfriend, and Riley doesn't really make the connection to her own situation. The next girl is -- well, it's a bit funny, because Reid makes a list of potential girls. Ones who talk to him, ones he likes, who has potential? Unlike Riley, he's not acting on a crush. It's more that he wants someone, and there is something very sweet and likable in how he keeps himself open to any possibility rather than requiring a crush first. It's also very honorable that he pursues a girl he likes being with, ignoring that his friends don't really like her.

At one point, rather late in the story, their Passenger Manifest goes missing and Riley and Reid have to deal with the consequences. For Riley, that ends up being the consequences of not having conversations and not talking. Kissing and sex may create a connection but it doesn't replace talking. Yes, there is a sex scene,  butwhile Riley may be kissing three boys there is only one that she really likes. No, I won't say who.

What's nice about the emphasis on communication is that it is clear from the beginning that Riley's failure at spoken honesty, and desire to not confront, isn't something that just happens with boys. Remember Lucy? Part of what drives the whole book is Riley's continuing inability to talk with her best friend, Lucy. Part of Riley's growth is realizing she has to have the tough conversations, whether it's about the status of a friendship or of a relationship.

I also like how this explores attraction and relationships (both friendship and more), and that Riley (and Tom and Garrick and Milo) is not just about who she is dating or kissing but is about creating real friendships and how those friendships are made. Lucy, Riley, and Reid have known each other since kindergarten and those types of friendships sometimes means someone has a hard time making new friends -- they don't have the skills. Riley is developing those skills, though admittedly mainly because she is seeking a boy. And mainly because she assumes that Lucy's changed relationship with Nathan means that Lucy's friendship with Riley is different.

Finally! It's also about a band, and I loved how being part of the band is used for the story, from being what ties Riley and her friends together, to her passions and interests, and also the time it takes outside of school. Their dedication is clear.

One final thing: this may be a spoiler, so stop reading if any type of spoiler bothers you. This is not the type of book where Riley looks at her good friend Reid and sees him in a different light while he has an unrequited crush. This is about two people who are friends, whose friendship grows stronger but whose friendship remains a friendship.

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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5. Review of Flop to the Top!

davis_flop to the topstar2 Flop to the Top!
by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing; 
illus. by the authors
Primary   TOON   38 pp.
9/15   978-1-935179-89-4   $12.95

Wanda is a superstar — in her own mind. Oblivious to her family’s dismay, she forces everyone within arm’s reach to endure invasive photos, rude orders, and diva-like dismissals. After posting a selfie taken with her droll and droopy-faced dog, Wilbur, she scores millions of online likes. Hordes of admirers fill her street, and Wanda receives her fandom, only to be swiftly snubbed by the crowd. They want “FLOPPY DOG!” Wilbur is swept away to party with the celebrity du jour, Sassy Cat, and Wanda, jealous, tails the duo. The blinged-out dog is offered a contract to leave his “old life behind,” but instead decides to devour the document after a heartfelt apology (of sorts) by Wanda. Wife-and-husband team Davis and Weing share author-illustrator duties (“Can you tell who drew what? They bet you can’t!”) for this expertly paced — and funny and topical — early-reader comic. The digitally rendered art is a departure from the pen-and-ink cartooning of Davis’s Stinky (a 2009 Geisel honoree) and more closely related to her Matisse-like work for adults. It is infused with so much warmth, color, and whimsy that young readers will gladly see this book through to its pleasing reversal of fortune.

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

The post Review of Flop to the Top! appeared first on The Horn Book.

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6. Review: A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove) by Tessa Dare. Avon. 2011. And sequels. Library copies.

The Plot: 1813, England. Victor Bramwell is a lieutenant colonel in the army, and he's been wounded, and all he cares about is getting back into the army. So he'll do anything to prove that he is fit to return.

The Plot: 1813, England. Victor Bramwell is a lieutenant colonel in the army, and he's been wounded, and all he cares about is getting back into the army. So he'll do anything to prove that he is fit to return to service.

Susanna Finch lives in Spindle Cove, along with her father. Spindle Cove has earned itself the nickname Spinster Cove, because it's so well known as a bit of a dumping ground for ladies who don't fit into society. It's full of spinsters, ha ha ha.

And Susanna wants to keep Spindle Cove that way. She doesn't want people to know the truth about Spindle Cove: it's not a last resort. It's the best resort; a place where women who don't fit into society, or have been excluded, find a home and acceptance.

Bram's mission to start a local militia is going to be tough -- even more difficult because, well, Spindle Cove is full of women. Not military service ready men. Will Susanna be able to get rid of Bram and his soldiers in time to save Spindle Cove?

The Good: Spindle Cove! The shy and the introverted, but also the outspoken. The brainy. They are welcome and embraced and accepted at Spindle Cove -- at least, for now. A Night to Surrender is the first in a series, each about a different woman of Spindle Cove. Each there for a different reason. And, because of these reasons, it means the heroines of the series are each pretty unique, and independent. And it means that the heroes are those who value the unique. Spindle Cove is about women learning to be themselves, to be confident, and finding men who prize that. It's a feminist series, set in a time that isn't very feminist. The combinations are also interesting, because what matters are who the people are not what they are. Examples: a beautiful young woman and the local blacksmith. A Duke and a serving girl from a pub.

Spindle Cove is also very funny. I confess, I didn't see it as much in A Night to Surrender, but the second, A Week to Be Wicked, had me laughing out loud. And after that, I saw a lot to laugh about.

Also: hot and spicy!

While Spindle Cove is about a safe place, it doesn't hide that the world itself can be harsh. There is a reason, after all, why a refuge like Spinster Cove is needed. The backstory in A Lady by Midnight shows what happens to a young woman without resources or family, who has no options, but who still has to live and to provide for her child.

I have really enjoyed this series; so far there are four books and two novellas, with another novella this December and a new book next year. One nice thing about my recent romance reading is finding series like these, in which there are plenty of books in the series so I can power read one right after another.

 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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7. Leaf

coverI am not sure how I found out about Leaf by Daishu Ma but I am glad I did. Such a gorgeous book. Have you heard of it?

Leaf is a picture-only graphic novel that tells the story of a leaf, or rather the story of a young man who finds an unusual leaf while out walking one autumn day. He journeys around his town trying to find the tree from which this leaf came but without success. He finds a woman who studies leaves and she does not know anything about it either. She puts the leaf in a special jar to preserve it. The young man carries the jar with him everywhere. But then an accident and the jar breaks and the leaf gets sucked up into a place where leaves from all over are collected and sent to be burned for electricity. He chases down the leaf, trying to save it. And something beautiful happens, I won’t say what, you will have to read the book and find out.

Because this is a story told completely without words, the art is extremely important. From small panels to large panels, from multiple pictures on a page to one picture that covers both pages, the detail is amazing. The pictures are done in pencil, mostly gray graphite, but then there are colors blended in to highlight: pale blue and yellow. These are used sparingly and create a richness and magic that is delightful.

The book itself is a lovely thing. Large-format, about the size of a piece of A4 paper, hardcover with thick matte-finished paper. The cover of the book has a cutout in the shape of a leaf through which the title and the author’s name appears.

For a taste of this book, visit Daishu Ma’s website. I don’t know much about Ma, only that she is Chinese. She completed a business degree in the UK before deciding to follow her childhood passion by attending Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. As far as I can tell, she does a lot of illustration but this is her only book.

Leaf doesn’t take long to read and that means you can read it several times. I recommend multiple readings and with much lingering over your favorite drawings. Also, if you have children around, I bet it would be really fun to read with them and ask them to tell you the story. It is clear what the story is, but at the same time there is lots of room for imagination. Don’t miss this book if you can help it. And let’s hope Ma gives us more.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Daisha Ma

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8. Review of Lost. Found.

arnold_lost foundLost. Found.
by Marsha Diane Arnold; 
illus. by Matthew Cordell
Preschool   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-62672-017-6   $16.99

A bear’s red wool scarf is carried off by a strong gust of wind (“Lost”). Two quarrelsome raccoons spy the scarf lying in the snow (“Found”); they get into a tiff and run off squabbling, leaving the scarf behind (“Lost”). Next, a beaver finds it and dons the scarf as headgear…until it’s snagged by a low-hanging branch and lost again. With one of the two title words on most pages (there are also some well-placed wordless pages), this effectively paced story plays out in Cordell’s lively but spare pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures (occasional silly sound effects included). The book invites participation, and young listeners will quickly catch on to the narrative pattern. The scarf is found and lost five more times by various woodland creatures who tug, pull, squeeze, swing on, jump on, and brawl over it. It’s at this point that the rightful owner re-enters the story: the bear finds the scarf completely unraveled but doesn’t lose hope. Along with some contrite-looking critters, the bear gathers the yarn and knits a new scarf, one that brings everyone together — in friendship. The final cozy, color-drenched scene (a departure from the preceding white-dominated pages) shows the characters sitting companionably around a nighttime campfire connected by the scarf, which fits everyone perfectly. Pair this with Kasza’s Finders Keepers (rev. 9/15) for more lost-and-found accessory fun.

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

The post Review of Lost. Found. appeared first on The Horn Book.

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9. Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song by Sara Bareilles

In her book Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song, Sara Bareilles proves to be just as candid and charming on the page as she is on stage. Whether it's talking about her grade school years, her anxieties, or the true story behind her hit Love Song, Sara is frank, funny, and open about her life, her career, her struggles, and her triumphs. Her very naturalistic, conversational writing style makes her comes across like a friend talking to you at the dinner table or over the phone, equal parts self-deprecating, hopeful, grateful, and humble.

Sara relates her stories in nine chapters - or essays, if you prefer - each bearing the title of a song she's written. (The section also begins with that song's lyrics, handwritten, which is a very nice touch.) As one might assume with a biography, the book begins with her childhood and ends with her current work on the musical Waitress and is lightly peppered with photographs. In-between, we get a glimpse into her early songs and shows, the year she spent in Italy in college, and her first love and heartbreak. Fellow performers will enjoy the details of life on the road, the gigs when she was just starting out as well as the times she performed in large arenas or on television shows, and so forth, but moreover, they will find connection and comfort in knowing the difficulties Sara faced breaking into the business (and the continued difficulties staying there) as well as the doubt, worry, and vulnerability she feels when writing new songs, collaborating with others, or trying to express her truest feelings in music and words.

Mid-way through the book, in the chapter Beautiful Girl, Sara writes letters to her younger self. This is possibly my favorite section of the book, and it serves as a reminder to be our own best friends, to stop putting ourselves down and to keep our chins up, because time and experience can truly make things better and clearer.

This book will be treasured by Sara Bareilles's fans. I also hope it reaches people who perhaps haven't heard her music, who find her through this book first, because what an amazing experience that would be, to be moved enough by this book and these words to go pick up her CDs. I only wish this book contained all of her albums - but, wait, I already have those. :)

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10. The All-New, All-Different Marvel Rundown #7: Still More Timely than SECRET WARS

The All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe is here, but the event that was supposed to kick off the brand new publishing line Secret Wars is still in production. We’re here to take a look at the brand new books in the line and tell you if they are worth the money. It’s week seven of the All-New, All-Different Marvel […]

4 Comments on The All-New, All-Different Marvel Rundown #7: Still More Timely than SECRET WARS, last added: 11/22/2015
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11. New Yorker Launches a New Digital Novella Program

New Yorker Logo (GalleyCat)The New Yorker has launched a new digital program to showcase long-form fiction called New Yorker Novella. The fiction editors of the publication will edit the pieces.

The first novella being featured, entitled In Hindsight, comes from writer Callan Wink. It will also appear in Cressida Leyshon’s forthcoming short story collection entitled Dog Run Moon.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece: “Lauren followed the drag mark for a mile down the gravel road and then another half mile down her dusty driveway and then parked her truck and cried. The bastard had shot one of her steers—one of six, red Texas longhorns—and dragged it down the road by its neck and deposited it here for her to find, practically on her front step.”

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12. Stephen King and Marissa Meyer Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Nov. 15, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #4 in Hardcover Fiction) The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King: “There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. ‘Afterlife’ is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors.” (Nov. 2015)

(Debuted at #4 in Children’s Fiction Series) The Lunar Chronicles: Winter by Marissa Meyer: “Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.” (Nov. 2015)

(Debuted at #15 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Troublemaker by Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley: “Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost. That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology.” (Nov. 2015)

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13. Review of the Day: Emu by Claire Saxby

By Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7479-3
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

Alas for poor emu. Forever relegated to be consider a second rate ostrich, it encompasses all of the awkwardness and none of the stereotypes. Does anyone ever talk about burying your head in the sand like an emu? They do not. Are schoolchildren routinely called upon to ooh and aah at the size of an emu’s egg? They aren’t. And when you watch Swiss Family Robinson, do you ever find yourself wishing that the kids would try to saddle an emu for the big race? Not even once. Emus are the second largest living bird in terms of height, coming right after the ostrich, and you might be fooled into believing that they are the less interesting of the two. There, you are wrong. Wrongdy wrongdy wrong wrong wrong. I do not wish to start a war of words with the prominent ostrich societies of the world, but after reading Emu by Claire Saxby (illustrated by Graham Byrne) I’m a bit of what you might consider an emu convert. Chock full of interesting information and facts about what a typical emu might experience in its day-to-day life, the book is full of thrills, chills, and a species that gives stay-at-home dads everywhere a true animal mascot.

Meet the emu. Do not be offended if he fails to rise when you approach. At the moment he is safeguarding a precious clutch of eggs from elements and predators. While many of us consider the job of hatching eggs to be something that falls to the female of the species, emus are different. Once they’ve laid their eggs, female emus just take off, and it is the male emu that hatches and rears them. In this particular example, the male emu has a brood of seven or so chicks but though they’re pretty big (ten times bigger than a domestic chicken hatchling) they need their dad for food, shelter, and protection. The chicks find their own food right from the start and within three to four months they’ve already lost their first feathers. They zigzag to escape predators, live with their fathers for about a year, and have a kick like you would not believe. Backmatter of the book provides more information about emus, as well as an index.

Emu2This is not what you might call Saxby and Byrne’s first rodeo show. The Aussie duo previously had paired together on the book Big Red Kangaroo, a book that did just fine for itself. Following a kangaroo called “Red”, the ostensibly nonfiction title was best described by PW as, “An understated but visually arresting portrait of a species.” For my part I had no real objections to the book, but neither did I have anything for it. Kangaroo books are not rare in my children’s rooms, though the book was different in that it was written for a younger reading level. That same reading level is the focus of Emu and here I feel that Saxby and Byrne have started to refine their technique. One of the problems I had with Red was this naming of the titular kangaroo. It felt false in a way. Like the author didn’t trust the readers enough to show them a typical day in the life of an animal without having to personalize it with faux monikers. Byrne’s art too felt flatter to me in that book than it does here. This may have more to do with the subject matter than anything else, though. Emu faces, after all, are inherently more amusing and interesting than kangaroos

In terms of the text, Saxby utilizes a technique that’s proven very popular with teachers as of late. When kids in classrooms are given open reading time there can sometimes be a real range in reading levels. With this in mind, sometimes nonfiction picture books about the natural world will contain two types of text. There will be the more enticing narrative, ideal for reading aloud to a group or one-on-one. Then, for those budding naturalists, there will be a complementary second section that contains the facts. On the first two pages of Emu, for example, one side introduces the open forest with its “honey-pale sunshine” and the emu’s job while the second block of text, written in a small font that brings to mind an expert’s crisp clean handwriting, gives the statistics about emu (whether or not they can fly, their weight, height, etc.). In the back of the book under the Index there’s actually a little note about these sections. It says, “Don’t forget to look at both kinds of words”, and then writes the words “this kind and this kind” in the two different fonts.

Emu3Artist Graham Byrne’s bio says that he’s an electrical engineer, builder, and artist. This is his second picture book and the art is rendered digitally. What it looks like is scratchboard art, with maybe an ink overlay as well. I enjoyed the sense of place and the landscapes but what really made me happy was how Byrne draws an emu. There’s something about that bright yellow eye in the otherwise impassive face that gets me. I say impassive, but there are times when one wonders if Byrne is fighting an instinct to give his emu some expression. There’s a scene of the emu nosing his eggs, his beak appears to be curling up in just the slightest of smiles. Later an eagle threatens his brood and there’s almost a hint of a frown as he runs over to the rescue. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but such images bear watching.

In comparing the emu to the ostrich I may have omitted certain pertinent details. After all, the emu doesn’t have it quite so bad. It appears on the Australian coat of arms, as well as on their money. There was an Emu War of 1932 where the emus actually won the day. Heck, it’s even not too difficult to find emus on farms in the United States. Still, culturally they’ve a far ways to go if ever they are to catch up with their ostrichy brethren fame-wise. Books like this one will help. I think there must be plenty of teachers out there a little tired of using Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse as their de facto responsible-dads-in-the-wild motif. Now kids outside of Australia will get a glimpse of this wild, wacky, wonderful and weird creature. Consider it worth meeting.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:


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14. Poetry is Useless

cover artI don’t know how I came across Anders Nilsen’s graphic collection Poetry is Useless. I do know I waited quite a while for it from the library. I don’t usually read author bios an this collection doesn’t have and “about the author” paragraph anyway so I was quite surprised when nearly at the end of the book one of the comic panels mentions a tiny independent bookstore in Minneapolis that specializes in progressive/radical literature, Boneshaker Books. How the heck does Nilsen know about them? Off to the interwebs! Where I discover that he lives in Minneapolis! Local boy!

Maybe that’s why I found his off-beat and sometimes dark sense of humor so funny? I read most of the collection before bed and I’d start laughing and Bookman would look up from his own book inquiringly, which of course is an opening for me to pepper him with all the funny things. He was very tolerant and even obliged me with a laugh now and then.

Here’s a couple examples of the humor:

Oh snowflake, how I wish to caress you. But every time you melt.


The benefit of having alienated God, having offended him, driven him away so that the two of you are no longer speaking is that at least he’s not telling you what to do all the time.


It’s also been said, however, that I am not flammable. In general this is true, except for my hair. My hair burns readily. In fact, once alight it is quite difficult to put out again.

You get the picture.

The art in this collection is really interesting. Each page is mostly what appears to be a scan of Nilsen’s notebook, a moleskine by the looks of it. The scans are surrounded by lots of white page space and sometimes this space has drawings or comics on it too. There is very little color, most things are in black and white. There are comic panels and these generally feature a single silhouette with a speech bubble in each frame. Sometimes there are two silhouette’s talking to each other.

Then there are pages of strange, abstract looking drawings that look kind of like root balls or plumbing gone wrong or some sort of weird organic alien spaceship. There are also representational drawings, most of people and these people sometimes have speech bubbles as Nilsen has overheard them taking in a cafe or on an airplane. People say some really weird things when they think no one is eavesdropping.

I liked the book and all its strangeness. Because it is made up mostly of scans from his notebook, there are errors in the text that Nilsen blacked out and even white-out and shadowy lines where the sketch originally began but then got changed. This tends to make it feel raw, unfinished, like a rough draft and I found that irritated me sometimes, which is kind of weird. But I think that is the whole point. This is a book that doesn’t want you to feel comfortable even when it makes you laugh. It is definitely a different kind of reading experience.

For more about Anders Nilsen and to browse some of his art, visit his website.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Anders Nilsen

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15. REVIEW: Why Batman: Europa #1 is a Gem, Despite Eleven Years of Development Hell

Sometimes great things are worth the wait.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Why Batman: Europa #1 is a Gem, Despite Eleven Years of Development Hell, last added: 11/22/2015
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16. Seeking advance reviewers for Hiding Magic

Hiding MagicI will soon publish a science fiction novel titled Hiding Magic, and am looking for people who will review it in return for an ebook copy. By the way, while I feel that it is science fiction, some see it as contemporary fantasy, perhaps because “magic” is in the title. Whatever.

I can email you a PDF, Kindle, or epub. Just specify which when you email your commitment to do a review.

I’m looking for honest reviews, of course. The most helpful places for you to post one are Amazon and Goodreads, but your own blog and other sites are most welcome.

Full disclosure: this is a new version of a previous title, Finding Magic, but it has been extensively revised. The old title was duplicated, and I think this cover is stronger. And, upon reworking it, I found it to be a powerful and touching story—but I’m just a teensy bit biased, I suppose.

From the back cover:

When is magic not magic? It is when the Hidden Clans control living energy to do things that appear magical to us—cure disease, slow aging, and heal a heart from the inside—or incinerate an enemy’s as it beats. And those abilities have deadly consequences for the Clans.

Annie, a gifted healer, has kin who were burned at the stake as witches. She must conceal herself from the lessi, “normal” people who would persecute the Clans. But she and many other clansmen also venture freely among us, in disguise, to satisfy their needs for art, entertainment, science . . . and for love.

Homeland Security breaks Annie’s cover—branded a terrorist, she runs, desperate to keep the secret of the Clans. And then a clan leader launches a horrific plague to end lessi tyranny by eliminating us—all of us, including people Annie loves. She has a chance to stop him, but Homeland Security is closing in . . .

The first page:

In keeping with what I do here, I’m posting the first page followed by the rest of the chapter. There’s even a poll. I’m always eager to learn about what works. For example, I suspect there will be readers who are put off by the use of present tense for the narrative, and there are folks for whom science fiction/fantasy is not their genre. So be it (BTW, I asked an agent about present tense and she didn’t care a whit as long as the narrative engaged her).

Here you go . . .

As I mount the steps to the Chicago Art Institute, the winter wind, called the Hawk by the people of this city, whips the long tails of my coat around my ankles and thrusts icy talons under my dress, greedy for my warmth. Last I was here it was a sweet summer breeze; today it is a harbinger of death.

Ahead, a massive bronze lion stands guard, a snow blanket white on its back. As I close on the beast, a lean man in a black overcoat steps from behind it and eyes me. Then he targets me with a video camera—fear clutches at me; his camera will see through my disguise.

Instead of my “Annie the tourist” glamère, the illusion of freckles and springy red curls I project when among the lessi, he will see the true Annie unmasked, milky white skin and straight brunette tresses.

I snatch the sides of my hood together to shield my face. Who will he tell if he perceives my truself? His tale of my two faces would ripple outward until someone took notice. I can’t let that happen. Since the horror of the Salem witch trials, the Clans hide from any exposure that could spark another pogrom. Pulling my hood tighter, I trot up the stairsteps.

Please, no trouble.

The lean man’s lips move and the wind carries his words to me. “I think I got one.”

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Please give comments.

The rest is after the fold.

Let me know if you’d like to give it a read and a review. I’ll appreciate it a ton. Email me here.


When I glance at him, he jerks the camera away. Bilious yellow-green threads stream through the aura around his head—his actions are a lie in full bloom. He seeks to hide his purpose.

But how can it have anything to do with me? I can’t be known to him, and I have done him no harm.

Besides, today I die.

Above my head, the Hawk tears at a banner strung across the front of the Institute. It announces a 19th Century American Art exhibit. I need to see a painting there—a portrait of Graeme and me done by the extraordinary John Singer Sargent in . . . was it 1874 that we did that? There’s no knowing if I will see Graeme on the “other side,” or even if there is another side, but I want to leave life with the image of that happy time in mind. A last comfort for my soul.

My soul. I have not felt alive in the months since my Graeme was the random victim of a crazed homeless man. I so miss my man’s little-boy-lost vulnerability, the hold-me look that made me want to wrap my arms around him.

But Graeme’s murder wasn’t random, was it?

I was there. I was more than there.

If only I had  . . . If only I had not  . . . They say pain diminishes with time, but I can testify that the ache of guilt grows until it eats your life.

Today it gets its last bite of mine. After my final look at Graeme, I will surrender to the winter cold and let the eternal chill that I brought upon my husband be the waiter that serves up my just deserts.

But that’s a lie, isn’t it? To die is not my punishment, it is my escape.

When I pass the lean man, he again trains his camera on me. This time the lessi doesn’t bother to pretend that I am not the focus of his interest. Burgundy tendrils of hostility join the nasty green of deception in his aura.

A sense of being prey prickles the back of my neck. I hurry up the steps. He tracks me with the camera, but I don’t think it has caught my face.


A tinny whisper shivers in KB Volmer’s earbud. “Hey, you hear me? I think I got one.” She steps out of the gallery of art by Irish kids. Their stuff didn’t look any better than the crap she’d done as a kid that her mom had taped up on the refrigerator.

Speaking just loudly enough for her collar mic to pick up her words, she says, “Again.”

“It looks like I got one.”

She snaps into focus. There’s only one thing he can be talking about.

The whisper comes. “It’s heading for the entrance.”

KB zings him. “It would be helpful if I knew who this was and where you’re stationed.”

“Schultz, by the lion outside the Michigan Avenue entrance.”

Does Schultz’s voice shake from the cold or from excitement? His words sure as hell send a thrill through KB. She hopes to be the first of the couple-hundred Homeland Security agents staking out museums across the country to catch one of the perps she calls Raiders—she knows in her gut that they are bad guys.

She says, “You’re sure it’s a Raider?”

“Gotta be. Compared to everybody else out here, infrared output looks like a bonfire.”

The thermal imaging cameras Homeland Security has been testing since a terrorist blew up a roomful of Goya masterpieces in Madrid’s Prado National Museum are about to pay off. Things got real exciting the day before when agents at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art spotted two bright infrared “blooms” strolling in—and then lost them in the crowd. KB isn’t going to make that mistake.

Excitement swells in her. Even Schultz sounds tight now; his voice has lost that lame whine—no more bitching about working in the cold, no more muttering that the Raiders haven’t done anything so why the big hunt?

Yeah, they haven’t done anything  . . . yet. That’s the way terrorists operate, staying low until it’s time to strike.

They aren’t going to get away with it on KB’s watch.

KB says, “What do you see? Did you look with your eyes?”

“Just a glimpse. Female. Red hair, curly. Tall and slender. Wearing a dress and a long black coat with a hood up. The camera just shows the glow.”

Oh, man, this is it. Reflex sends her hand inside the navy blue blazer. Just beneath the Art Institute logo, her Walther 9mm automatic waits, snug in its holster. Posing as an Institute security guard is perfect cover, but she hates the skirt—it makes her legs look heavy, and putting one on always feels like a demotion. Damn cold in the wind, too.

Her earpiece crackles. Schultz says, “It’s going in.”

Time to saddle up. She says, “I’m headed up to the lobby. All stations, be alert for a tall, slender female that lights up your camera.”


The Institute lobby welcomes me with an expanse of beige marble that prompts admiration for its grandeur, although I would rather see the meadow that once opened here, cloaked with snow in wintertime, its future a summer of green grass and golden flowers. There was a time I walked a deer path through that meadow to the lake beyond that seems as vast as an ocean.

Now the meadow is crushed by the Institute’s massive pile of stone, its future void of life. The lake no longer spills onto a sandy shore but lashes at concrete revetments, its waters the color of metal instead of crystalline blue. My old resentment at the unbridled swarming of the lessi rises in me—but soon it won’t matter anymore, will it?

A voice behind me calls out, “Jimmy! Stop!” A boy of about seven zooms past and glances back, grinning. His foot slips on a spot of melt from tracked-in snow, and I wince at the jagged red-orange burst of pain in his aura when his head slams the marble floor. Oh, poor baby!

Two quick steps and I kneel beside him. His eyes widen, tears spill, and a wail echoes from the marble walls. I cradle his head as I slip my sight under his scalp and locate a growing contusion. Gazing into his eyes, I say, “Shhh. The hurt will stop soon, sweet child.”

Drawing upon the golden streams of lledri energy coursing around me, I send my touch into the wound, stop the bleeding, and clear out the damaged cells. Soon pain nerves quiet and the injury is on the way to healing.

I stroke his hair and the boy stops crying just as his mother drops to her knees beside him. She says, “Are you okay?”

The boy sniffles, glances up at me—I smile—and he nods. The mother says to me, “Thank you.”

“I’m glad I was here.” And I am. A moment’s respite from my black life feels better than I’d like to admit. Blame my nature for that, the urge to help and heal that beats at my core. But this physician can’t heal herself.

I make my way to the cashiers. Having seen the boy fall, I instinctively take care on the slippery floor—and then grimace at the irony. What matters a bruise to a corpse?

I pay my admission and then find a sign for the early American art exhibit that directs me down the long hall that connects to the Institute’s other building.


Heading for the stairs to the main floor, KB aches to break into a trot, but she forces herself to keep to a hurried walk, as near as she can come to the dawdle of a real museum guard. But when she reaches the steps she charges up two at a time, electric with energy as if she goes into combat.

Who’s to say this isn’t combat? The war on terrorism is personal with her, and the enemy can be anywhere, is everywhere. She reaches the top and puts on the brakes. Now, if only Schultz is right about this.


Just ahead of me, a thick-bodied female museum guard bursts into the lobby from a stairway to the lower level. I have never seen an Institute guard hurry—they are usually older people who meander, wearing bemused half-smiles at their good fortune to be paid to spend their days surrounded by treasure.

This guard is younger than the norm. Thirtyish. Broad-shouldered. Short black hair. Like the thin man outside, her aura also radiates the yellow-green of dishonesty. And she too carries a video camera. A museum guard with a video camera? The woman sends her gaze prowling through the lobby.

Is she linked to the man out front? Did he see my truself with his camera and report my deception to her?

Shaking my head at my paranoia, I aim for the hallway lined with exhibits of medieval armor that look like little metal men.

My former father-in-law is much like them—short of stature and iron-hard. I wonder if Drago’s venom toward me has lessened in the last year. Though why should it? I led his son to his death, did I not?

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, I force myself to narrow my focus to this moment; Drago will have to find some other target for his rage and bitterness, and I’m sure that he will.


A tall figure in a long black coat, a hood hanging down the back, strides past KB. Curly red hair, a youngish woman, heading down the hall with the knights. KB follows.

She aims her thermal camera. A bright glow flares in the viewfinder. Gotcha! She hustles after her quarry. She wants to run, but doesn’t want to alarm her target.

When the woman gets close to the end of the hallway, she glances back and then increases her speed.

So does KB.


The guard moves toward me, leaning forward as if she runs even though she walks. Is she after me?

Nonsense, Annie. No lessi has known of our existence for centuries, and no word has come of a breach in our concealment. There will be no return of the persecution that took so many clan lives.

Unless I am exposed here.

My back tightens as if expecting a blow.

A sign directs me through the Sculpture Court to the second level. I need to thwart the guard’s unwanted attention, so after I turn the corner from the hallway I change my glamère to the regal dignity of a white-haired society matron I once chatted with in Brussels. Now the museum guard won’t know me.

I decide not to change the appearance of my clothing so there’s no risk of an accidental touch revealing that the reality does not match the perception. When my childhood playmates and I practiced our glamères, we longed to change our bodies to become real wolves and pumas, or, my favorite, a pony. To our regret, our true forms persisted underneath our deceptions. We were stuck with being human, no matter what our seemingly magical abilities were.

I stroll past a bronze replica of the Abraham Lincoln memorial statue in Washington. It captures the man’s strength, but not his wit. How his dark eyes had twinkled, what mischief his quick, playful mind had devised.

How like the lessi to kill the best among them.


After the woman rounds the corner, KB stretches her legs to close the gap.

She says to her collar microphone, “I am in pursuit of a suspect, a real hot spot in my camera. Schultz, move inside and guard the Michigan Avenue doors. Use the camera on people leaving.” She’ll need evidence later. “Did you record this one coming in?”

His “damn” answers her question. She says, “Don’t forget to record if you see something. Bailey, you on the Columbus Drive exit?”

KB would know Bailey’s voice anywhere, deep and full of the rhythms of Chicago’s black south side. She says, “Yeah. I got the doors.” A pause, then, “This really it?”

“Looks like. Be on the lookout for a tall, skinny female, long hooded coat over long dress.” Might be smart to have backup. “Martinez, where are you?”

He whispers, “Second level, main building. They got a painting with a locomotive steaming out of a fireplace. Weird.”

“Get moving to the other side. I’ll locate the subject, then we’ll take ’er.”

“Okay. But what’s the big deal about these hot people? They don’t do nothin’ but go to museums.”

“Are you walking or talking?”

“Walking. I’m walking. Jeez.”

KB passes a suit of armor and feels a connection with the soldier who had worn the iron uniform. Like him, she’s a protector with a mission to stand between her country and evil. She’s vowed to do anything to carry it out. She touches her pistol again.

She can’t hold back a tight little grin.


After I climb the stairs to the exhibit, I look down. The female guard rushes into the Sculpture Court. She peers at the people there.

She can look all she wants, she’ll never see the real Annie. Now I can visit Graeme in peace. That’s all I want—to see his face, and then find solace within winter’s chill grasp.


Movement on the second level catches KB’s eye—someone tall in a black coat entering the American art exhibit.

She pounds up the stairs.

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17. Review: Infandous

Infandousby Elana K. Arnold. Carolrhoda LAB. 2015. Review from ARC.

The Plot: It's the summer before senior year, and Sephora Golding is 17. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her mother, still model beautiful, and young -- only 35.

Seph is figuring out her way to adulthood. She's going to summer school because she failed geometry. She's considering her well off aunt's offer to move across the country for her final year of school. She's working on her art, and has a few pieces around Venice Beach. She's resisting her mother's suggestion that she get a part time job. And she's trying not to think about Felix, the older man she met earlier this year --

Felix. Who she is trying not to think about. Older, handsome, and it was her choice to spend the night with him....

The Good: A terrific book, with so much packed into it.

Sephora is telling us her story, but is also telling us fairy tales and myths, stories of lost girls and terrible things. She is telling us her own story, warning us that in real life fairy tales don't have happy-ever-after endings. She is telling us her own story  . . . . eventually.

Seph's story is of a girl born to a beautiful, single, teen mother who has made her own way in the world. Her own way is this rundown one bedroom apartment, going to night school. But here is one of the great things about Infandous: yes, it's the story of a girl with a beautiful mother. And a family that is living paycheck to paycheck. And it's also the story of a parent and child who love each other very much. There is no jealousy or hatred. And Seph doesn't complain, isn't bitter about where they live or how they make do.

But Seph is trying to figure out herself, her sexuality, her desire, and the person she has to measure herself against is a beautiful mother who still turns heads. And while she loves her aunt and her cousins, she sees what they have and thinks about how, when her mother was pregnant and unwed and disowned by her parents, her aunt picked her parents and didn't fight for her sister or her sister's child.

And meeting Felix -- meeting Felix was a chance for Seph to try out a different persona. So she said her name was Annie and that she was nineteen and a college student, adding years to her age. And she went to bed with him, willing and eager. "No one held a knife to my rib cage," she assures us. "I put myself in that room." And at the time, she thinks how different it is with Felix than with the other boys she'd been with, that there was warmth, that "I was a flower and I opened, I softened, and I ripened and warmed. I felt, I thought, like a woman rather than a girl, and as he found his way inside me, I wondered -- fleetingly -- if this was what sex was like for my mother." But now, with distance and knowledge, she is cold. And wonders about fault.

Seph is figuring out her life, and her friendships, and her own needs and feelings. Things happen, in life, like in fairy tales -- and you can decide what to do with that, with what happens to you. A person can be damaged, but a person can remain whole. And this perhaps is what I liked best about Infandous: that love cannot save one. And that bad things happen, or people do bad things, but one can still have that love that while it doesn't save, it keeps one whole.

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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18. Review of Inside Biosphere 2

carson_inside biosphere 2Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass 
[Scientists in the Field]
by Mary Kay Carson; 
photos by Tom Uhlman
Middle School   Houghton   80 pp.
10/15   978-0-544-41664-2   $18.99

Carson takes readers into Biosphere 2, the research facility designed to be a self-sustaining model of Earth’s environments. There’s brief coverage of the innovative engineering and original mission of the facility (complete with photos of the first jumpsuit-clad human “biospherians” who were sealed inside from 1991 to 1993), but the focus is primarily on current research under the direction of scientists at the University of Arizona. The ability to control environmental conditions within the contained rainforest, ocean, and giant soil laboratory allows researchers to investigate questions in earth science — prominently, those related to climate change — on a scale not possible in any other laboratory setting. Biogeochemist Joost van Haren has tinkered with the composition of the rainforest’s atmosphere for twenty years, examining the effects of excess carbon dioxide on the contained atmosphere, soil, and biomass. Hydrologist Luke Pangle built a huge artificial slope to study soil production and erosion. Sustainability coordinator Nate Allen researches the facility itself, examining how this “Model City” can reduce its energy footprint. Educational efforts at Biosphere 2 are also profiled, as the ocean biome is repurposed as a teaching and research lab. Plentiful photos of the researchers, facility, and surrounding environment capture the feel of a busy research center and show the nuts and bolts of maintaining controlled conditions. Uhlman’s photographs take us into back rooms and basements to see the wires, computers, pumps, and pipes that keep the place running. A glossary, index, references (including citations to the research papers produced by Biosphere 2 scientists), and places to read about the original project are appended.

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

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19. Jeff Kinney and Gregory Maguire Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 10 CoverWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Nov. 08, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #1 in Children’s Fiction Series) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney: “Life was better in the old days. Or was it? That’s the question Greg Heffley is asking as his town voluntarily unplugs and goes electronics-free. But modern life has its conveniences, and Greg isn’t cut out for an old-fashioned world.” (Nov. 2015)

(Debuted at #13 in Hardcover Fiction) After Alice by Gregory Maguire: “Down the rabbit-hole, where adventures await…When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #14 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Lights Out by Ted Koppel: “Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before.” (Oct. 2015)

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20. Review: Superman American Alien #1, Greatest Immigration Story Ever Told

Max Landis finds a new way to tell an old story.

5 Comments on Review: Superman American Alien #1, Greatest Immigration Story Ever Told, last added: 11/17/2015
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21. Review of The Day the Crayons 
Came Home

daywalt_Day the Crayons Came HomeThe Day the Crayons 
Came Home
by Drew Daywalt; 
illus. by Oliver Jeffers
Primary   Philomel   48 pp.
9/15   978-0-399-17275-5   $18.99   g

The personified crayons who revolted against their little-boy owner, Duncan, in The Day the Crayons Quit (rev. 11/13) are writing again. This time, instead of sending indignant resignation letters, they send indignant postcards from their various travels. The world outside the crayon box is harsh, and they would (mostly) like to come home. Neon Red has been forgotten at a hotel pool; Yellow and Orange have melted together outside in the hot sun; Tan (or possibly Burnt Sienna?) was regurgitated by the dog; and little brother’s BIG CHUNKY Toddler Crayon first had its head bitten off, then was stuck up the cat’s nose. Left-hand pages show the missives written (in crayon) on the backs of realistic-looking postcards; facing pages include illustrations (done mostly in crayon) that give the mail more context and humor. Pea Green — appropriately envious of the others — and Neon Red send multiple postcards, interspersed throughout, contributing a light plot to the mix, and Glow in the Dark Crayon provides extra novelty as that page really glows in the dark. Ultimately, Duncan does right by his neglected crayons and finds a solution to which any self-respecting art supply could aspire. Zippy and delightfully full of itself, this clever epistolary picture book could stand alone — for those few children who have not read the previous book.

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

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Came Home appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Came Home as of 1/1/1900
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22. Aurora

cover artI have never read Kim Stanley Robinson before even though I have heard good things about him. Now that I have read Aurora, I know I’ll be reading more.

This is a science fiction story that is often heavy on the science. I don’t mind though because I do enjoy thinking about the consequences of long distance space travel. Even though Aurora takes place several centuries in the future, it is not one of those science fiction stories in which the science is more like magic and solves all our problems. The book is about a generation ship, a ship consisting of ecological biomes and about 2,000 people who were sent out to settle the stars. Humans at the time the ship was sent out had begun having success settling the solar system and believed they were ready to expand further.

After 170 years of traveling to the distant Tau Ceti system, the ship has finally arrived. Of course those arriving were not the ones who volunteered for the trip and a good many on the ship are pissed off that their predecessors chose their lives for them. They have been in what has begun to feel like a prison for a very long time and are ready to leave and settle this supposedly dead moon that has still managed to have water and oxygen.

There is a lot they have to figure out. The days and nights are not equal to Earth days and nights but are much longer. How do they adapt the plants they brought with them to such a day/night cycle? The moon they are to colonize also has a constant wind blowing, not a gentle breeze, but often hard enough to knock people over. They are also beginning to suffer the effects of having such a small genetic pool. Not to mention the systems in the ship itself are showing larger and larger metabolic rifts. But these humans are determined to make a go of it for no other reason than they can’t bear to live on the ship any longer.

But it turns out the planet is not dead after all. One of the landing crew is infected with something after she sinks in some mud and cuts her leg. Soon all of the people who had been on the surface setting up the foundations of the new settlement are sick and dying. The virus is completely alien and no one knows how to stop it. Within a week all 70 of the people who were on the moon are dead. Those on the ship have a decision to make. There are those who want to stay in the Tau Ceti system and try again on another moon. The other half of the population wants to go back to Earth because this colonizing the stars things is a bunch of baloney. In the end half stay and half return to Earth. It is the group that decides to return to Earth that the book follows from here.

It took me a while to warm up to the book but I am glad I stuck with it. The reason it was hard is because the main narrator is the ship’s AI which came into “consciousness” because of one of the crew members. As the ship learns to tell the story of its humans there is much musing over language and how inadequate it is, about metaphors and how imprecise they are, that kind of thing. AIs trying to figure out human language is not all that interesting to me and it felt sometimes like it was just an opportunity for Robinson to do his own musing through the mouthpiece of the ship.

But then something clicked and I can’t say what. And Ship began to grow on me until Ship becomes a full character in its own right. The ship trying to figure things out doesn’t stop. Eventually the ship starts to wonder about what it means to be conscious and of course, by extension, what it means to be human.

There is also a lot in the book about ecosystems and balance, the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, about choices and who gets to make them and what the consequences of choices are and who has to face them. It is also really interesting that a book about settling the stars kind of ends up being against it. Not against exploration per se, but there is the suggestion that because humans evolved on Earth that is the place they are suited to live and no other. Sure, we may eventually create colonies on other planets in our solar system, but in the book even the people living on the colonies have to return to Earth every ten years or so for their mental and physical health. It is a pleasantly subtle and different way to emphasize that Earth is our home and we need to take care of it for all our sakes.

A good and thought-provoking book. Well written and completely plausible. I recommend it to anyone who likes think-y science fiction with actual science in it.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Generation ship, Kim Stanley Robinson, Space exploration

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23. New York Review of Books Archive Acquired by the New York Public Library

NYPL 42nd StThe New York Public Library (NYPL) has acquired the archive of the New York Review of Books magazine. This publication garnered great fame for featuring pieces by several beloved writers such as W. H. Auden, Joan Didion, and Norman Mailer.

The NYPL team estimates that the materials will require about three years to fully process before it can be made available to researchers. Some of the notable items from the archive include letters, telegrams, emails, drafts, manuscripts, and galleys.

Here’s more from the press release: “The archive includes a wealth of correspondence between editors Silvers and Epstein and The Review’s wide range of authors over the magazine’s 50-year existence. This outstanding correspondence provides unique evidence of intellectual life in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. In addition, letters to The Review detail the lively literary disputes that have long given the magazine its character of intensity and passion for factual correctness. The archive shows the evolution of the magazine as it took a vocal role in opposition to both the Vietnam War and later wars in Iraq.”

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24. Review of Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish

deutsch_hereville how mirka caught a fishstar2 Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish
by Barry Deutsch; illus. by the author; backgrounds by Adrian Wallace; 
colors by Jake Richmond
Middle School   Amulet/Abrams   141 pp.
11/15   978-1-4197-0800-8   $17.95

Mirka is stuck babysitting her pesky six-year-old half-sister Layele while the rest of the family is away from their all-Hasidic community. Fruma, Mirka’s stepmother, leaves strict orders to stay out of the woods, where bizarre magic always seems to happen (Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, rev. 11/10; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, rev. 11/12) and where Fruma saw “things” when she was Mirka’s age. Of course, Mirka does go into the woods, dragging Layele with her, and before long she’s wheedled the troll from the first book out of a hair elastic with time-travel capabilities (the illustrations denote the time travelers by superimposing them onto the landscape in transparent purple and white). The girls encounter a wishing fish, the same one who lost a battle of wits with a young Fruma (then called Fran and dressed in modern garb) and who now has a wicked plan to gain power by controlling and kidnapping Layele. Though the expressive and often humorous illustrations in this graphic novel do much to convey each scene’s tone and highlight important characters and objects, words make the world go ’round here. (Check out Mirka’s punctuation-marked skirt!) Speech bubbles wind in and out of the variably sized panels, and the eventual solution involves verbal gymnastics as much as heroics and compassion.

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

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25. The Republic of Imagination

cover artAzar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination is one of those not quite this not quite that sorts of books. By that I mean it is memoir but it isn’t and it is literary criticism but it isn’t. Sometimes it is more one than the other but throughout the personal is blended in with the literary. If you have read Reading Lolita in Tehran you will have an idea of what I mean. Only in this book, Nafisi talks much more in depth about the books.

Nafisi became an American citizen in 2008. I was surprised to learn she attended university in the United States, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. There she studied literature. She left her job teaching literature in Tehran in 1995 because she no longer felt she could teach it properly without attracting too much attention from the authorities. She remained in Tehran until 1997.

Republic of Imagination was inspired by a question she had from an earnest young Iranian man at a reading she gave in Seattle. He told her that Americans didn’t care about books and literature, that in Iran they cared much more and didn’t she feel she was wasting her time talking to people about literature? Nafisi of course disagreed and this book is her answer.

Nafisi focuses on three American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers with an epilogue in which she discusses the work of James Baldwin. She examines what each book says about the American character and mindset and why the book is important still. Into her examination of each of the novels she weaves personal stories about friends, attending university in Oklahoma, Iran. Some of her personal stories fit better with the book under discussion than others but they are all interesting even when there is a disconnect.

The chapter on Huck Finn is by far the longest, taking up nearly half the book. Nafisi is very attached to Huck and Mark Twain but she goes on far too long. Perhaps it is because she used to discuss Twain with a dear friend who died from cancer. Perhaps it is also because at the time she was planning on writing an entire book on Twain and Huckleberry Finn. As interesting as her discussion was, however, I felt myself drifting off about two-thirds of the way through the chapter, wondering what more she could possibly say that she hadn’t already and wishing we could just move on to the next book. Once she does move on, the pace picks up again.

As much as I enjoyed Republic of Imagination, and I did enjoy it very much, I don’t think Nafisi managed to provide a very good response to the Iranian man. If her intent was to prove the importance of literature to Americans, she failed completely. She does succeed in arguing that American literature has some important things to say and that it very often connects directly to real life.

Nafisi is clearly a woman who is passionate about books and literature and wants to share that passion with others. The book often reads like a conversation, though it sometimes veers into lecture. I can imagine sitting in a cafe with her talking books, her leaning forward and eagerly asking, oh what did you think about this part? and drinking way too much coffee in an attempt to keep up with her energy and leaps of thought. Not a bad book, not a great book but a good book, a very enjoyable book that makes you happy to be a reader.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Azar Nafisi, Babbit, Huckleberry Finn, James Baldwin, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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