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1. Elizabeth Gilbert and Neil Gaiman Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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2. Review: Days of Rage

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough. Penguin Press. 2015. Library copy.

It's About: A look at the 1970s -- where a handful of groups believed that violent revolution was necessary. Bombings, robberies, murders followed.

The Good: Let's just say -- yes, it's complicated. Days of Rage starts with the groups of the 1960s that gave birth to the Weathermen / the Weather Underground, and then how the beliefs, rhetoric, and actions of different groups influenced others, in both theory and action. It ends in the early 1980s.

Days of Rage doesn't include all groups that engaged in robberies and violence in the name of perceived greater good. It concentrates on a handful, including the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the FALN. Depending on the group and the time, the reasons varied from racial injustice, the Vietnam War, Puerto Rican independence, corporate greed, -- the list goes on.

It's a fascinating look at the time, the actions, and the people. It covers many groups and many people -- there are going to be people or things that the reader will want to know more about. And for some of that, there are books and articles. For others? Not so much, because there are still things that are secret, unknown, with the keepers of the secrets unwilling to talk -- or dead. Days of Rage concentrates on these particular groups in part because of the links between them, either in overlapping participants or shared knowledge. Such as sharing safe bomb making techniques.

Days of Rage tries to explain why people - usually young adults - turned to violence. I say "tries" because while at times I understood, or came close to it, at other times -- no. I think it would be almost impossible to really explain it. While I was fascinated, at the end, it just seemed that a lot of people had gotten away with a lot of criminal activity because people romanticized violence. Because going underground was cool and sexy. And that the death and violence was viewed, even now, by those sharing their stories, as somewhat justified.

Actually, by the end, I was angry and disgusted with most of those talked about in this book. I would recommend this, absolutely -- because it does examine, and try to explain, why people do turn to violence and support those who engage in it. It's a great look at group dynamics, and control, and how and why such things happened. Days of Rage does not excuse what was done: I was thankful that one of the final chapters included the now-grown child of one of the victims of a bombing, someone giving voice to the horror and destruction that was done in the name of political beliefs. It's a voice that I think is still not heard by the some of those who engaged in or supported these groups... and it's one of the reasons I recommend this book.

And of course my thoughts turned to how these groups and their actions were and are presented in TV and films and books.

I can think of at least one YA book: Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer (1984), about a teenage boy whose parents are fugitive radicals.

River Phoenix starred in a 1988 film, Running on Empty, also about the teenage son of radicals on the run.

And yes, one of the parts of Days of Rage I found especially interesting was how as the people grew older, they became parents, and how that did, or didn't, influence what their parents did -- how the children were used as cover, or how someone could drive a getaway car and worry about making it home in time to pick up her toddler from daycare. While I respect the privacy of those now adult children, I do wonder what happened to them when parents were arrested.

The Big Fix was made in 1978, and I haven't watched it in decades, but the murder mystery involves former and underground radicals. And I also want to rewatch The Big Chill(1983) because it shows a group of people who were politically active but did not turn violent, and I want to see just how that is discussed, if at all.

As you can see, most of what I'm thinking of actually works made at the time these groups were still active; or within the ten years following, so that even if not active, people were still in hiding.

I'm sure I'm missing some -- I know the story of Kathleen Soliah/Sarah Jane Olson still finds its way into TV shows (suburban mom's criminal past is discovered!)

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

0 Comments on Review: Days of Rage as of 9/29/2015 6:02:00 AM
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3. Leaving Orbit

cover artWhat does it mean that America has done so much to advance space travel and now we have decided to stop? This is the central question governing Margaret Lazarus Dean’s book Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight. She asks the question to people who work at NASA, to astronauts, to space fans, journalists, her students at the University of Tennessee and discovers that no one has a single answer and most have none at all. Dean herself is not even certain what it means, even over the course of writing the book she can never pin it down. However nearly everyone she talks to expresses varying degrees of sadness, disappointment, confusion and anger that America is no longer sending humans into space on our own ships.

Since she was a child, Dean has been fascinated by space travel. She followed shuttle launches, even got to see one in person, remembers where she was when Challenger exploded and later Columbia. She knows the history of space flight from Gemini to Mercury to Apollo and the shuttle era. She knows the names of astronauts past and present. She even wrote a novel about the Challenger disaster and in the process made a friend of Omar, a NASA worker at Cape Canaveral.

Framed, no not framed, more like companioned, with Norman Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon documenting the Apollo 11 moon landing, Dean weaves together the heroic beginnings of space travel with the end of the shuttle program and thus the end of American space flight. Now all American astronauts going to the International Space Station get there on Russian Soyuz rockets. Far from being a recounting of historical facts, Dean also takes a page from Mailer and “new journalism” and places herself squarely in the narrative. This serves to make the book more personal and provides a high degree of emotional impact. Dean attends in person the final two shuttle launches as well as the installation of Discovery at the Smithsonian. She serves as a kind of witness to the end of an era. What does it mean to see the Discovery’s final launch into orbit and then several months later see it turned into a museum piece?

Dean often has more questions than answers as she moves back and forth through time, narrowing in on the incredible difficulty of getting to the moon and all the things that could have gone wrong and how none of the astronauts on that first flight truly believed they would all make it back to Earth. I was on the edge of my seat as she described the moon landing and I know that it had a happy ending! Then we zoom ahead in time to watching a shuttle launch or introducing Buzz Aldrin at a book signing. As nonlinear as the narrative is, there is a definite feel of forward momentum and as much as it jumps around, Dean handles it all so well that getting lost is not an option.

If you are looking for straight up history full of facts and technical details, this book is not for you. That is not to say there are not plenty of facts and technical details, there are, Dean drops them in throughout. But if you are looking for something a little different, a little less traditional and a little more human, than you will probably like this book very much.

I wouldn’t call myself a space fan, not like the avid people in Dean’s book, but I have a vivid recollection of reading John Glenn’s account of orbiting Earth in an elementary school reader. How it fired my imagination! I remember watching space shuttle launches on TV. I remember where I was when Challenger exploded. I have heard the double sonic booms when a shuttle had to land at Edward’s Air Force Base in California. The base is near Los Angeles and you could hear the booms in the San Fernando Valley where I attended university, they were that loud. And it was both exciting to hear them and also a matter of course, nothing so very remarkable. And yes, when the shuttles were retired I was sad. How could there be nothing to take their place? The Mars rovers are exciting but not in the same way as people going into to space is. Will NASA ever send people to space again? It is open for debate. They have big ideas but Congress has no plans to fund them which is sad in so many ways. Whatever happened to big dreams? To no longer reach for the stars kind of leaves me feeling diminished.

Leaving Orbit was published by Graywolf Press and won their nonfiction prize in 2012. The prize is awarded every 12-18 months to a previously unpublished work of literary nonfiction written by a writer not established in the genre. Dean is in good company as previous winners of the prize include Leslie Jamison, Kevin Young and Eula Biss.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Margaret Lazarus Dean

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4. Monday Mishmash 9/28/15

Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. YA Scavenger Hunt  I'm excited to share that I'm on Team Orange for the YA Scavenger Hunt. It will run from October 1st to noon on October 4th. That means' I'll be posting on Thursday instead of Friday this week. There are tons of books to win on this hunt, so be sure to stop back on Thursday. Oh, and in case you noticed, I am on Team Orange for Our Little Secret, my new Ashelyn Drake title too. :) I'll be sharing exclusive bonus scenes told from alternate POVs, but they'll only be online during the 72-hour hunt, so don't miss out.
  2. Editing  I'll be editing for Leap this week. This is probably the fourth time I'm reading this book, which is why an editor must LOVE your book, because I'll read this at least four more times before the book is published.
  3. Monthly Newsletter Change  I've decided to release my free monthly newsletter on the first of every month instead of the first Monday of every month. The reason is that some months begin on a Tuesday and I feel like it takes to long for that first Monday to roll around. So, expect my newsletters in your inboxes on the 1st from now on. If you aren't signed up to receive my newsletter but would like to, click here.
  4. I Wrote An Adult Novella?  You know me. I say I'll never do something and then, guess what? I do it. I said I'd never write for adults. I'm a children's author. Well, I am, but I just finished a novella for a boxset last week and it's a clean adult romance. So, I guess Ashelyn Drake writes romance for teens, new adults, and adults now. ;) 
  5. Our Little Secret  I want to thank everyone who has already posted a review of Our Little Secret on Amazon. Reviews are so important as far as Amazon promoting the book and placing it in the eyes of potential readers, so I really appreciate every review, whether the reader loved the book or it wasn't for them.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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5. Brian Selznick and Mindy Kaling Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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6. Review of the Day: Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin

By Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Books)
ISBN: 978-0525428879
Ages 4-6
On shelves October 20th.

When I whip out the old we’re-living-in-a-golden-age-of-picture-book-creation argument with colleagues and friends, they humor what I’m sure they consider to be my hyperbole. Suuuuuure we are, Betsy. Not prone to exaggeration or anything, are you? But honestly, I think I could make a case for it. Look at the picture books of the past. They were beautiful, intricately crafted, and many of them are memorable and pertinent to child readers today. What other art form for kids can say as much? You don’t exactly have five-year-olds mooning over Kukla, Fran and Ollie these days, right (sorry, mom)? But hand them Goodnight Moon and all is well. Now look at picture books today. We’re living in a visual learner’s world. The combination of relaxed picture books standards (example: comics and meta storytelling are a-okay!), publishers willing to try something new and weird, and a world where technology and visual learning plays a heavy hand in our day-to-day lives yields creative attempts hitherto unknown or impossible to author/illustrators as recently as ten years ago. And when I try to think of a picture that combines these elements (meta storytelling / new and weird / technology permeating everything we do) no book typifies all of this better or with as much panache as Robo-Sauce. Because if I leave you understanding one thing today it is this: This may well contain the craziest picture book construction from a major publisher I have EVER seen. No. Seriously. This is insane. Don’t say I didn’t warn you either.

We all know that kid who thinks pretending to be a robot is the most fun you can have. When the hero of this story tries it though he just ends up annoying his family. That’s when the narrator starts talking to him directly. What if there was a recipe for turning yourself into a REAL robot? Would you make it? Would you take it? You BET you would! But once the boy starts destroying things in true mechanical fashion (I bet you were unaware that robots were capable of creating tornadoes, weren’t you?), it’s pretty lonely. The narrator attempts to impart a bit of a lesson here about how to appreciate your family/dog/life but when it hands over the antidote the robot destroys it on sight. Why? Because it’s just created a Robo-Sauce Launcher with which to turn its family, its dog, the entire world, and even the very book you are reading into robots! How do you turn a normal picture book into a robot? Behold the pull out cover that wraps around the book. Once you put it on and open the other cover, the text and images inside are entirely robotized. Robo-Domination is near. It may, however, involve some pretty keen cardboard box suits.

So you’re probably wondering what I meant when I said that the book has a cover that turns into a robot book. Honestly, I tried to figure out how I would verbally explain this. In the end I decided to do something I’d never done before. For the first time ever, I’m including a video as part of my review. Behold the explanation of the book’s one-of-a-kind feature:

These days the idea that a narrator would speak directly to the characters in a book is par for the course. Breaking down the fourth wall has grown, how do you say, passé. We almost expect all our books to be interactive in some way. If Press Here made the idea of treating a book like an app palatable then it stands to reason that competing books would have to up the ante, as it were. In fact, I guess if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I think I’ve kind of been waiting for Robo-Sauce for a long time. Intrusive narrators, characters you have to yell at, books you shake, they’re commonplace. Into this jaded publishing scene stepped Rubin and Salmieri. They’re New York Times bestsellers in their own right ( Dragons Love Tacos) so they’re not exactly newbies to the field. They’ve proven their selling power. But by what witchcraft they convinced Penguin to include a shiny pull out cover and to print a fifth of the book upside down, I know not. All I can be certain of is that this is a book of the moment. It is indicative of something far greater than itself. Either it will spark a new trend in picture books as a whole or it will be remembered as an interesting novelty piece that typified a changing era.

RoboSauce2Let’s look at the book itself then. In terms of the text, I’m a fan. The narrator’s intrusive voice allows the reader to take on the role of adult scold. Kids love it when you yell at a book’s characters for being too silly in some way and this story allows you to do precisely that. Admittedly, I do wish that Rubin had pushed the narrator-trying-to-teach-a-lesson aspect a little farther. If the lesson it was trying to impart was a bit clearer than just the standard “love your family” shtick then it could have had more of a punch. Imagine if, instead, the book was trying to teach the boy about rejecting technology or something like that. Any picture book that could wink slyly at the current crop of drop-the-iPhone-pick-up-a-book titles currently en vogue would be doing the world a service. I’m not saying I disagree with their message. They’re just all rather samey samey and it would be nice to see someone poke a little fun at them (while still, by the end, reinforcing the same message).

As for Salmieri’s art, the limited color palette is very interesting. You’ve your Day-Glo orange, black, white, brown, and pale pink (didn’t see that one coming). Other colors make the occasional cameo but the bulk of the book is pretty limited. It allows the orange to shine (or, in the case of the robot cover, the limited palette allows for something particularly shiny). And check out that subtle breaking down of visual stereotypes! Black dad and white mom. A sister that enjoys playing with trucks. I am ON BOARD with all this.

I won’t be the last parent/librarian/squishy human to hold this book in my hands and wonder what the heck to do with it. What I do know is that it’s a lot of fun. Totally original. And it has a bunch of robots in it causing massive amounts of destruction. All told, I’d say that’s a win. So domo arigato, Misters Rubin and Salmieri. Domo arigato a whole bunch.

On shelves October 20th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus,

Misc: Still need some help figuring out the cover?  Check out the book’s website here.


3 Comments on Review of the Day: Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin, last added: 9/25/2015
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7. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

When Robyn Plummer walks into Room 13B, Adam falls in love at first sight. That may sound like a typical boy-meets-girl story, but, thankfully, this book is anything but cliché. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is refreshingly honest, anchored by a memorable main character.

Adam, age 15, is vulnerable, loyal, and sometimes confused by his feelings and by the actions of those around him. He is quieter than some, a little more in his thoughts, which are expressed in limited third-person narrative. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mom most of the time. She pretends everything is okay while enduring her own private struggle, something Adam tries to both respect and understand. Meanwhile, his father has remarried, and while Adam gets along all right with his dad and his stepmom, the member of that household that undoubtedly enjoys his visits the most is his little brother, Sweetie, who is full of life and full of love. (Kudos to Toten for creating a young, vibrant character that sounds and acts his age. Absolutely spot-on depiction of a preschooler.) It is interesting to note what (and who) each member of Adam's family clings to, and what they're willing to fight for when the going gets tough.

When Adam isn't in one of his two homes, he is usually in Room 13B. Room 13B isn't a classroom; it's a meeting place for a young adult OCD support group. This book gave me what I wanted but didn't get from the TV show Red Band Society: a realistic look at a diverse group of kids who meet due to a medical diagnosis but are not defined by their condition; people who are not the "worst" examples of their condition nor the "best"; characters who are relatable but not cookie-cutter. Each teen has a distinct personality, appearance, and medical history. Their bonding sessions both inside and outside of Room 13B are wonderful. They honestly try to help one another rather than sabotage or one-up each other. When Chuck, the friendly, caring doctor who oversees the group, asks the kids to adopt nom de guerres, almost all of them select superhero names. Robyn picks Robin, prompting Adam to immediately declare himself Batman.

Adam is determined to win Robyn's heart. He has never been in love before, never had a girlfriend, but he falls head over heels for Robyn. He is not simply on a quest for love, but actually fascinated by this specific girl. As the story continues, their friendship develops and deepens. Adam's unconscious need to protect others extends easily to Robyn as he learns more about her, and he tries to be a better person (and taller) so he can be worthy of her. His OCD rituals are both aided and exacerbated by his new goals and his growing awareness that things aren't entirely right at either of his homes.

This book is good. It's solid and it's interesting and it's realistic and it's good. It sheds light on a condition that many people suffer from in silence and shame, and instead of reducing OCD to a punchline or over-dramatizing it, Toten offers believable characters with various rituals and paths to healing. The story moves at an easygoing pace with decent plotting. And most of all, it has a realistic protagonist who is a truly good egg. Adam is dealing with that wonderful, frustrating time when you don't want to be treated like a child but you sometimes wish you were still a carefree little kid, when you want to be independent but you can't drive yet, when you realize your parents are people with their own histories and bad habits and secrets. Just as the author does with his little brother, Toten is also able to capture the appropriate tone for Adam's age and situation. Adam sits at neither hero-with-a-burden character extreme, not wallowing in unbearable darkness and cursing the weight of the world that sits upon his shoulders, nor grinning from ear to ear and boasting that everything's going to be fine. He's simply trying to live his life. As his heart gets broken and mended, so will the hearts of readers.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is a beautifully simple, steady coming-of-age story that I highly recommend, especially to fans of Jordan Sonnenblick and David Levithan.

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8. Review of Rhythm Ride

pinkney_rhythm rideRhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through 
the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Middle School   Roaring Brook   166 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-973-3   $19.99   g

As related by an irrepressible narrator Pinkney names “the Groove,” this history of Motown Records manages not only to smartly place the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America but to have a great time doing so: “Put your hand up like you’re halting traffic. Really flick your wrist, kid. Because stopping in the name of love needs to be strong.” Pinkney traces the success of Motown from founder Berry Gordy’s initial drive and doggedness through early success among African American audiences to the breakout worldwide fame of acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Jackson 5. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced, and how Motown both reflected and contributed to — as in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — the dramatic social changes of its heyday. “The Groove” (based, says Pinkney in an afterword, on the voice of a deejay cousin) is an energetic and amiable guide, but better at pumping enthusiasm than providing musical insight; there’s not much here on what made “the Motown sound” uniquely recognizable and distinct. That said, Pinkney provides an excellent discography that will lead young readers to the classic tracks, and, my goodness, they are many. Photographs throughout capture backstage moments as well as the full Motown glamour; appended material includes a timeline, thorough source notes and a reading list, and an index.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Rhythm Ride appeared first on The Horn Book.

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9. Salman Rushdie and Nancy Tillman Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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10. Toca Nature app review

toca nature title screenSiân ♥s Toca Band. While Toca Nature (Toca Boca, 2014) is more contemplative — no sunglasses-sporting emcee hollering “We rockin’ it!” here — it provides a similarly satisfying experience of experimental play.

As the app opens, you are presented with a square chunk of landscape, floating in pleasantly dreamy, starry space. A few trees and some shallow dips and low hills dot the landscape, but it’s your job to make this somewhat sterile bit of land into a thriving ecosystem. Create mountain ranges and bodies of water, and select from five kinds of trees to plant forests. Once these habitats are large enough, animals move in. One specific species is associated with each landmass or forest type: wolves in the mountains, beavers in the lakes, deer in the oak forests, etc. Mix and match, overlapping habitats, for a world that’s all your own.

toca nature start

toca nature lake

Tap the magnifying glass to zoom in and watch the animals up-close as they go about their days and nights, eating, sleeping (adorably, they snore), and interacting with their environment.

toca nature bear

As in the real world, different animals are active at different times. Gather food, such as berries and acorns, as you make your way around your mini-world and offer it to the critters; thought balloons with images of their preferred snack inside provide guidance. You can even take “photos” of the wildlife and save them to your iPad’s camera roll.

Modify your environment at any time by adding more mountains/lakes/trees, or by cutting down trees (although this may cause animals to vacate). Rotate your landscape for a different perspective by tapping a globe icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save your current creation once you exit the session.

The cute animals and their habitats are rendered in geometric, origami-like shapes and in a palette primarily consisting of warm pastels. During daytime, tinkly instrumental music plays; nighttime features a quiet soundscape of crickets and the occasional bird sound.

I found exploring Toca Nature to be meditative, somewhat like having a mini Zen garden. But for its intended audience of preschool and primary users, I imagine it’s very exciting to build a world and then watch it in action — especially given that each new environment will have its own unique mix of inhabitants and nuances. A parents’ section offers some usage hints and suggestions for discussion.

Available for iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

The post Toca Nature app review appeared first on The Horn Book.

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11. Review: Corset Diaries

The Corset Diariesby Katie MacAlister. NAL. 2004. Library Copy.

The Corset DiariesThe Plot: Tessa gets a weird call from a good friend -- an opportunity to make a lot of money. Is your hair still long? Do you have a valid passport?

Thanks to an old friend, she has the chance to be in a historical reality TV show, A Month in the Life of a Victorian Duke. She'll play the American heiress wife.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Good: What could possibly go wrong?

Tessa is doubtful that she is really the ideal person to play the role of Duchess: she's 39, she's not skinny (do not tell anyone she is a size 18) and corsets, really? But the money would help give her chance to pay debts occurred from her late husband's medical bills. Plus, it may be kind of fun, right?

But who can have fun in a corset?

I laughed a lot at The Corset Diaries, at Tessa's trying to stay on-script while having a hard time with eighteenth century manners, servants, and, yes, clothes.

Plus, romance! Max is the man playing the Duke. He's five years younger than Tessa, which Tessa thinks is too big a difference ("when I was a ripe, womanly twenty, . . . he was a spotty, adolescent fifteen. . . . In dog years, our age difference is thirty-five years.") And she may have accidently thrown up on his shoes when they first met.

Bottom line: a funny, hot romance with an older man and younger woman? And a story where they actually give a size to her shape? (No, seriously, usually body may be talked about with words like "curves" and "voluptuous" but it's refreshing to have an actual number mentioned). Plus tons of historical clothes and manners, with a modern attitude?

Yes, please!

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

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12. Review of Flutter & Hum / 
Aleteo y Zumbido

paschkis_flutter and humFlutter & Hum / 
Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales
by Julie Paschkis; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Holt   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-62779-103-8   $17.99

A turtle hides treasures in its shell. Whales dance with the ocean. A cat sleeps on a map and wakes to stretch across the world, from Arequipa to Zanzibar. These are just a few of the creatures that populate Paschkis’s animal poems. Written first in Spanish then translated into English by the (non-native Spanish speaker) author, each poem is intricately connected to its corresponding painting, with additional, thematic words found throughout the pictures. For example, the snake in “Snake / La Serpiente” slithers through blades of grass imprinted with English and Spanish words that begin with the letter S: serpentine, swerve; sombra, sorpresa. In “Fish / El Pez,” a boy sleeps on a boat that floats above fish swimming in a sea of lulling words: linger, flow; luna, burbuja. The colors and line-work of each gouache illustration vary somewhat according to the subject: the playful dog is all bright colors and curving, bouncy balls, while the crow is dark with sharp edges and straight lines. Readers will find themselves carefully studying every little detail of the illustrations while being charmed by the poems.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Aleteo y Zumbido appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Aleteo y Zumbido as of 1/1/1900
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But if it had to perish twice,I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.~ "Fire and Ice," by Robert Frost I was so impressed with newcomer Charlie N. Holmberg's Magician series last year that I... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on TURNING PAGES: FOLLOWED BY FROST, by CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG as of 9/15/2015 7:54:00 PM
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14. What Pet Should I Get?

It's been awhile since I last posted. What can I say? The summer got away from me. It didn't help that we moved house in July. Almost two months later, we're finally settled. So, it's fitting to start posting again with a review of the latest book from Dr. Seuss.

Latest book, you say? Yes. The manuscript, mostly likely from the late 1950s or early 1960s, was completed with the help of Random House art director Cathy Goldsmith and published in August of this year. Starring the brother and sister team from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, this work is most likely an early version of that book. But a new Seuss story is still cause to rejoice, and What Pet Should I Get? has all the Doctor's signature bells and whistles.

The narrator and his sister have an opportunity most kids would give their eyeteeth for: Their father has allowed them to get any pet they want. (We know we are in Seussland since neither parent accompanies their offspring to the pet store!) However, with this privilege comes a dilemma. Of all the animals that fill the store, which one should they choose? A dog, a cat, a bird, a rabbit, a fish? The possibilities are endless. As the narrator says: "Oh, boy! It is something to make a mind up."  He goes on to imagine the fantastical creatures that are out there. But at some point reality reins him in and he realizes: "If we do not choose, we will end up with NONE."

So they choose.

The ending is an ambiguously modern one and confirms Seuss as the mischief maker he was.

The book contains a postscript from the publisher describing the genesis of the book as well as a homage to Seuss the dog lover. All in all, What Pet Should I Get? is one for the Seuss canon.

What Pet Should I Get?
By Dr. Seuss
Random House  48 pages
Published: August 2015

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15. Review of Lair of Dreams

bray_lair of dreamsLair of Dreams: A Diviners Novel
by Libba Bray
High School   Little, Brown   691 pp.
8/15   978-0-316-12604-5   $19.00   g
e-book ed. 978-0-316-36488-1   $9.99

Seventeen-year-old flapper Evie O’Neill (The Diviners, rev. 11/12) and friends confront another supernatural threat. As before, Bray follows multiple characters, many of them also paranormally gifted; while Evie (now a radio star known as the “Sweetheart Seer”) is still a focal point, here dream walkers Henry DuBois and Ling Chan also come to the fore. Several plot threads intertwine when Ling and Henry begin dream-walking together (Henry hopes to communicate with Louis, the love he left behind in New Orleans; Ling meets another dream walker, a Chinese girl named Wai-Mae) and a frightening “sleeping sickness” descends on New York City, sending people into comas, then death. As the sleeping sickness spreads, Henry and Ling start to notice disturbing things about the dream world…and about Wai-Mae. Bray’s vividly detailed descriptions, which take readers from glittering high-society parties to claustrophobic tunnels filled with ghastly creatures, give the novel a sweeping, cinematic quality. Sweet relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial) and snarky banter filled with period slang balance and accentuate the suspenseful horror. Through it all, new questions arise as mysteries from the previous novel deepen. What is the connection between the Diviners and the government’s ominous Project Buffalo? Who is the man in the stovepipe hat lurking at the edges of all this supernatural violence? Despite its considerable length, fans will barrel through this second installment and emerge impatient for the next.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review: Love by the Numbers

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers) by Sarah MacLean. Avon Books. 2010. Library Copy. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord 2010; Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart 2011.

The Plot: Regency England. The St. John twins are scandalous, for reasons beyond their control -- their mother famously abandoned children and husband -- and in their control...they are young, handsome, and Gabriel, the elder brother and the Marquess of Ralston, is a rake of the highest level.

When the twenty year old daughter of their mother's second marriage, Juliana, shows up on their doorstep, they recognize her as their sister and will do everything to have her socially accepted.

Lady Calpurnia is 28, plain, and because she wanted more than a husband looking for her fortune, she is unmarried. She realizes life has passed her by, and writes a list of what she would do, if only... if only she was a man, who acts, instead of a woman, who waits.

She makes a list... of the things she wants to do. And while Gabriel isn't on the list, a kiss is, and why not try for a kiss from the man she's had a crush on since forever?

The Good: Nine Rules was fun and hot; Callie is so well respected that Gabriel gets her help in introducing Juliana to society. And Gabriel is such a rake that Callie keeps running into him as she does the things that, if known, would make her not respectable. I liked this book; I liked Callie and her desire for more; I liked the level of spice. But, I'll be honest: I never warmed to Gabriel. I don't think he ever appreciated just how society had boxed Callie in. Basically, this volume, and Gabriel, just wasn't feminist enough for me. Gabriel never really "got it," and it seemed a bit like Callie was doing this more from being single than from being unhappy with society's limits.

BUT. I loved Callie, I loved her list, I loved her chance at love, I loved the spice.

And I LOVED Ten Ways, about Gabriel's younger twin brother, Nicholas. Nicholas is chasing after a runaway lady and encounters Lady Isabel Townsend. Isabel has been keeping home and family together, after her gambling father took off, permanently, to London, her mother died, and now her father is dead as well. But Isabel isn't just taking care of her younger brother...

Long story short, Isabel has created "Minerva House," a place where women can go, women who need a place of safety. Abused wives, pregnant girls, women with no options or choices. And if anyone finds out the truth, it'll all collapse. And here comes handsome Nicholas....  I loved the romance, I loved the spice, and I loved that Nicholas totally got what Isabel was doing and why.

Juliana's story is told in Eleven Scandals, which is her love story with the Duke of Leighton. The Duke, who avoids any hint of scandal and looks down on everyone who isn't him. Since Juliana is half-English and half-Italian and is arguably illegitimate, and the daughter of a merchant, with no title.... well. Yes. She's a scandal just by existing. And Juliana, like her brothers before her, both hates that she's being judged and also fights back with outrageous behavior.

It would be really, really easy to hate the Duke because he's so superior. But.... I found myself feeling sorry for him. Because just as Juliana and her brothers were shaped by their mother, so, too, has Simon been shaped by a world that told him, constantly, he was superior. I loved Eleven Scandals because, well, it brought him down a peg or two; he was made to see that he, and those he loved, were human. And there's nothing wrong with that.

And now I can't wait to read MacLean's A Rogue by Any Other Name: The First Rule of Scoundrels (Rules of Scoundrels), both because I enjoyed these books and because I understand there is at least some overlap in characters.

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

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17. Karen Memory

cover artWhat a marvelously fun book is Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory! Steampunk meets the old west in fictional gold rush town Rapid City on the west coast of the United States. From the very beginning the book charges ahead full speed without hardly a lull. And the cast of characters! There is Karen, our narrator and heroine, somewhere around aged seventeen, who was raised on a ranch by her father (her mother died) who gentled horses. Karen herself is quite the horsewoman but when her father is accidentally killed while working with a wild colt, Karen is left orphaned and unable to run her father’s ranch alone. She sells it all to pay his debts and moves to Rapid City where she gets a job working at a high class brothel.

Madame treats the women well and they all get a share of the profits. Karen is saving up so she can one day have her own ranch. In the meantime, life isn’t so very bad. Madame’s is like one big family and the customers are mostly regulars with plenty of money and include the mayor of Rapid City and many of the police officers.

Peter Bantle runs a brothel too but he does not treat the women well at all. Many of them are “hired” under dubious circumstances. Bantle has a taste for violence and so do many of his customers. He also decides he is going to run for mayor. He has created some gadgets to fight his enemies including a glove that electrocutes people and a mind control machine.

Bantle’s enemies of course turn out to be Madame and her girls.

Also in the cast is U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves. Reeves is a freed slave. He comes to town with his posseman who is a Comanche Indian. They are on the trail of a murdered who has been killing women, specifically prostitutes, across the country.

All the storylines come together eventually to create one great fun climactic battle with horses and guns and dynamite and a submarine with octopus arms and a sewing machine that is like no sewing machine you can ever imagine.

In the midst of this story Bear manages to focus on creating some wonderfully rounded characters including Miss Francina who happens to be transgendered and is never called anything but Miss Francina and referred to always as “she” and no one ever remarks on it at all. There is even a wonderful romance story between Karen and Priya, a girl slightly older than Karen who is rescued from Peter Bantle’s brothel. Priya and her sister left India to come to the United States to work and send money home to their family after their father’s business disastrously falls to pieces. But they get cheated and swept up by a broker who sells them to Bantle. Priya ends up being a favorite of Bantles and becomes familiar with just how much damage his electrified glove can do.

Karen is smart and savvy and ever so practical and matter-of-fact. And she tells a great story in a most colorful manner. Here is a little taste:

I waited, counting Mississippis, and made it to forty-one before the back door came open. Bless city houses and brass hinges and capitalist pork-barrel bastards who can afford staff to keep them oiled. The leather hinges on Da’s kitchen door would of let the door drag and in the wet of Rapid most metal hinges quickly learned squeak and stick, but this door opened in silent as a jaw gaping. And weren’t that an unsettling image?

She comes out with some delightful turns of phrase throughout the book that left me giggling and clapping my hands in pleasure. I can’t recommend the book enough.

This is the first Elizabeth Bear book I have read and I can tell you, it definitely won’t be the last!

Filed under: Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Elizabeth Bear, Steampunk

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18. Monday Review: MAGISTERIUM: THE COPPER GAUNTLET by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Summary: Just out this month is the second volume of the middle-grade fantasy Magisterium series by the extremely talented Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. The Copper Gauntlet is that book, and it is not only a very satisfying second installment but... Read the rest of this post

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19. Review: The Mistress Trilogy

More than a Mistress and No Man's Mistress 2011 reissue. Mary Balogh. Dell. Library copy. The Secret Mistress (with bonus short story Now a Bride) (2012).

The Plot: Regency England. A series about the three Dudley siblings: Jocelyn, the arrogant Duke of Tresham; his younger brother, Ferdinand; and their sister, Angeline.

The Good: Confession: I thought I was borrowing Balogh's The Secret Affair and downloaded The Secret Mistress instead so got hooked on an entirely different series. I also started with the third in the series, but because it's the "prequel" that takes place before the other two, I think it's just as well.

The Dudley brothers are well known rakes, and let's just say the reputation is both inherited and earned.

Angeline adores her brothers, with all their foibles and brashness, dares and mistresses, but as much as she enjoys them, and as much as she recognizes that most rakes in London are just engaged in a flirtatious game she enjoys playing, she does not want one for a husband. No, no, no. So when she sees Edward Ailsbury, the Earl of Heyward, she sees the perfect husband: a true gentleman. Who cares if her brothers think he's a boring, dry stick? Who cares if he looks at her and sees a young woman who babbles away constantly and has the worst taste in hats? Angeline will convince Edward that they are perfect for each other.

Jocelyn is the hardest of the siblings to warm too: but then again, his name may be Jocelyn but his title is the Duke of Tresham and everyone, including his siblings and friends, call him Tresham. He's powerful and arrogant and let me say: it took me a while to get over just how entitled and privileged he was. His meet-cute with Jane in More Than a Mistress is that Tresham is involved in a duel (it involves a duel over a woman not his wife, actually, someone else's wife), she interrupts shouting "stop" and the end result is he gets wounded and blames Jane. Jane ends up loosing her job and gets hired by Tresham as his nurse.

While I wanted to just smack Tresh in his total not-caring about someone "lesser" than him -- who cares if she gets fired? Who cares if she's out of work? How dare she interrupt men at a duel! -- I gradually warmed to him. In part because while he is just that arrogant, he isn't possessive or physically abusive towards those working for him. In other words, he doesn't think, "oh she's my servant now I can do whatever I want." But of course they fall for each other! Oh, and Jane has a secret: she's on the run from possible murder and robbery charges but it's totally not her fault.

Jane's backstory is part of what I'm enjoying about Balogh's works: much as these Regencies are about the time, and are about people who are lucky enough to enjoy the fun and rewards of wealth and title, there are also people who are punished by the system and have to figure their ways around it. Here, Jane was unlucky enough to born in a time when she couldn't inherit outright; when she was dependent on the goodwill of her guardian; when the system failed her, she had few options. And to go back to Angeline: one reason I like Angeline is because she's like Cher (from Clueless, not the singer.) On the surface, a ditz who loves clothes; dig deeper, and that's true but it's also true she cares for those around her and looks beyond the surface. Angeline's immediate response to Jane, even before her full story is known, is of compassion.

No Man's Mistress is about middle sibling, Ferdinand. Second son, so no property or lands. He wins a country estate, goes to claim it -- and finds it is inhabited by Viola, who insists she owns the property. A rom-com battle of wills begins, with both stubbornly refusing to leave the house despite the fact that it means they are living together, unchaperoned (except for servants.) They are also both attracted towards each other and trying to deny it.

I admit to also getting annoyed with Ferdinand: I mean, he won the property by gambling. It's not like he paid for it. And it becomes clear that Viola is living there, and has for a while, and runs the property, and that she would be homeless and without income without it. He seems to think she has options, or that the options of  "oh, go stay with my sister in law" is a real plan.

OK, and now here's a major spoiler. But it's the reason I really like Balogh and can't wait to read her other books. As you may remember from my review of the Huxtable books, women willingly became mistresses; and one did so deliberately, as a means to make money because she had no options. No Man's Mistress also addresses this issue, exploring why, and how, someone would become a courtesan -- that is, a high priced whore. And it does so in a way that has compassion; that points out the problems inherent in a society like that of Regency England; and it allows for second chances and happy endings.

And Angeline once again puts compassion and love first.

Oh! And I nearly forgot. There is a final novella with extra chapters. Now a Bride (Short Story) (The Mistress Trilogy). For the record? For romances, I love epilogues/final chapters, with the couple still happy and still together.

The good news: there are plenty more Balogh books to read. The bad news: Where to start? Also, how many of these, if any, are connected?

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

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20. Get in Trouble

cover artI was so excited to read Kelly Link’s newest story collection Get in Trouble. I read Magic for Beginners a long time ago and really liked it. It was so quirky and strange. The stories would be perfectly normal expect for the zombies. Or the rabbits. Or some other weird twist that made everything shift just a little off the reality axis.

Get in Trouble has much of the same thing going on. I am reading and the story seems ho-hum and then a small detail slips in and — wait, what, did that just say she has two shadows? But as weird as a story might get, the characters in it find nothing weird going on and they have the most banal conversations. It keeps the stories grounded and prevents the slightly off-kilter from wobbling into the absurd.

I should have liked the collection. And I did like several of the stories. There is one called “The Summer People” that manages to be both innocent and creepy at the same time. Another, “Secret Identity,” is everyday enough. A teenage girl playing online pretends she is much older than she is, hops a bus to New York City to meet the guy who likes her in person only to end up at a hotel where there are two conventions going on, dentists and superheroes. Everyone keeps asking her if she is a sidekick or there to apply to be a sidekick. And the man she is supposed to meet? Turns out he is a superhero but she never meets him for various reasons. It’s a good story about the masks we wear and who we really are underneath.

“The New Boyfriend” is also pretty good. Teenage girls and synthetic boyfriends that you can buy — take your pick between vampire, werewolf, or a few others. The ghost version is no longer on the market because there were problems. But Ainslie always somehow gets what she wants and Immy just can’t stand it any longer. Not a story so much about boyfriends, Immy has had a real boyfriend and Ainslie has not, but more about friendship and jealousy, popularity and social power.

The rest of the stories were uninteresting to me. The humor and weirdness rubbed me the wrong way. The strange was expected instead of surprising and it was even at times boring; the charm and shine faded.

Overall I was disappointed. I seem to recall other folks reading the collection and finding it lacking a bit too. Unfortunately I don’t remember who they all are. If you have not read Kelly Link before and have heard what a good story writer she is and want to see for yourself, don’t choose Get in Trouble as your collection of discovery. Go for Magic for Beginners instead.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Kelly Link

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21. Through the Woods

cover artI must apologize for not remembering on whose blog I first learned about Through the Woods by Emily Carroll because I owe that blogger a big thank you. Through the Woods is a short story collection like no other I have ever read. Why might that be? It is a book of graphic short stories.

When I got it from the library I didn’t remember about the graphic part of it and I worried that perhaps I had made a mistake. How can you do a book of graphic short stories? Novel, memoir, biography, but short stories? But you know what? It totally works and it is great!

The stories are of the very short and ambiguous kind and they are successful because the art and the text work so well together to move the story along. They have a fairy tale quality to them and they all felt vaguely familiar because of that but they are completely original. They all feature girls or young women. They are about things like a cold snowy winter and dad has to leave his three daughters alone. He tells them if he isn’t back in three days they are to go to the neighbor’s house. Of course he doesn’t return. The eldest daughter refuses to leave, insisting that dad will be back any time. The youngest doesn’t really seem concerned about anything in particular. And the middle daughter, the one telling the story, insists they follow their father’s wishes because if they don’t they will be completely snowed in and without food. And then during the night someone comes to the door and the eldest sister goes with that someone and doesn’t come back. The night after that, the youngest sister goes with the stranger. The middle sister is left all alone. The food is gone. She walks most of the day through the deep snow to the neighbor’s house and…

Another tale is about a father marrying off his beautiful daughter to the richest man in the county. The house is huge and gorgeous but something is not right. Someone keeps her up at night singing a strange song. Her husband tells her she’s hearing things that aren’t there. One night while her husband is away, she goes looking for the source of the song and discovers more than she bargained for.

The art in this book is amazing. Stark, deeply saturated color in a limited palette of black, white, scarlet red and deep blue, creates high contrast and a rich lushness that magnifies the creep factor of the stories. I raced through them all in less than an hour one evening before bed. The final story gave me such chills that I told Bookman if I have any nightmares Through the Woods is at fault.

A perfect RIP Challenge read for sure, but guaranteed excellent for any dark night or stormy afternoon no matter what time of year.

Filed under: Challenges, Graphic Novels, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Emily Carroll, fairy tales, RIP Challenge

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22. Review of the Day: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton

JohnRoyLynch1The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
By Chris Barton
Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

“It’s the story of a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.” Come again? That’s the pitch author Chris Barton pulled out when he wanted to describe this story to others. You know, children’s book biographies can be very easy as long as you cover the same fifteen to twenty people over and over again. And you could forgive a child for never imagining that there were remarkable people out there beyond Einstein, Tubman, Jefferson, and Sacajawea. People with stories that aren’t just unknown to kids but to whole swaths of adults as well. So I always get kind of excited when I see someone new out there. And I get extra especially excited when the author involved is Chris Barton. Here’s a guy who performed original research to write a picture book biography of the guys who invented Day-Glo colors (The Day-Glo Brothers) so you know you’re in safe hands. The inclusion of illustrator Don Tate was not something I would have thought up myself, but by gum it turns out that he’s the best possible artist for this story! Tackling what turns out to be a near impossible task (explaining Reconstruction to kids without plunging them into the depths of despair), this keen duo present a book that reads so well you’re left wondering not just how they managed to pull it off, but if anyone else can learn something from their technique.

From birth until the age of sixteen John Roy Lynch was a slave. The son of an overseer who died before he could free his family, John Roy began life as a house slave but was sent to the fields when his high-strung mistress made him the brunt of her wrath. Not long after, The Civil War broke out and John Roy bought himself a ride to Natchez and got a job. He started out as a waiter than moved on to pantryman, photographer, and in time orator and even Justice of the Peace. Then, at twenty-four years of age, John Roy Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House. The year was 1869, and these changes did not pass without incident. Soon an angry white South took its fury out on its African American population and the strides that had been made were rescinded violently. John Roy Lynch would serve out two terms before leaving office. He lived to a ripe old age, dying at last in 1939. A Historical Note, Timeline, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Bibliography of books “For Further Reading”, and map of John’s journey and the Reconstructed United States circa 1870 appear at the end.

JohnRoyLynch2How do you write a book for children about a time when things were starting to look good and then plummeted into bad for a very very long time? I think kids have this perception (oh heck, a bunch of adults too) that we live in the best of all possible worlds. For example, there’s a children’s book series called Infinity Ring where the basic premise is that bad guys have gone and changed history and now it’s up to our heroes to put everything back because, obviously, this world we live in right now is the best. Simple, right? Their first adventure is to make sure Columbus “discovers” America so . . . yup. Too often books for kids reinforce the belief that everything that has happened has to have happened that way. So when we consider how few books really discuss Reconstruction, it’s not exactly surprising. Children’s books are distinguished, in part, by their capacity to inspire hope. What is there about Reconstruction to cause hope at all? And how do you teach that to kids?

Barton’s solution is clever because rather than write a book about Reconstruction specifically, he’s found a historical figure that guides the child reader effortlessly through the time period. Lynch’s life is perfect for every step of this process. From slavery to a freedom that felt like slavery. Then slow independence, an education, public speaking, new responsibilities, political success, two Congressional terms, and then an entirely different life after that (serving in the Spanish-American War as a major, moving to Chicago, dying). Barton shows his rise and then follows his election with a two-page spread of KKK mayhem, explaining that the strides made were taken back “In a way, the Civil War wasn’t really over. The battling had not stopped.” And after quoting a speech where Lynch proclaims that America will never be free until “every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic,” Barton follows it up with, “If John Roy Lynch had lived a hundred years (and he nearly did), he would not have seen that come to pass.” Barton guides young readers to the brink of the good and then explains the bad, giving context to just how long the worst of it continued. He also leaves it up to them to determine if Lynch’s dream has come to fruition or not (classroom debate time!).

JohnRoyLynch4And he plays fair. These days I read nonfiction picture books with my teeth clenched. Why? Because I’ve started holding them to high standards (doggone it). And there are so many moments in this book that could have been done incorrectly. Heck, the first image you see when you open it up is of John Roy Lynch’s family, his white overseer father holding his black wife tenderly as their kids stand by. I saw it and immediately wondered how we could believe that Lynch’s parents ever cared for one another. Yet a turn of the page and Barton not only puts Patrick Lynch’s profession into context (“while he may have loved these slaves, he most likely took the whip to others”) but provides information on how he attempted to buy his wife and children. Later there is some dialogue in the book, as when Lynch’s owner at one point joshes with him at the table and John Roy makes the mistake of offering an honest answer. Yet the dialogue is clearly taken from a text somewhere, not made up to fit the context of the book. I loathe faux dialogue, mostly because it’s entirely unnecessary. Barton shows clearly that one need never rely upon it to make a book exemplary.

Finally, you just have to stand in awe of Barton’s storytelling. Not making up dialogue is one thing. Drawing a natural link between a life and the world in which that life lived is another entirely. Take that moment when John Roy answers his master honestly. He’s banished to hard labor on a plantation after his master’s wife gets angry. Then Barton writes, “She was not alone in rage and spite and hurt and lashing out. The leaders of the South reacted the same way to the election of a president – Abraham Lincoln – who was opposed to slavery.” See how he did that? He managed to bring the greater context of the times in line with John Roy’s personal story. Many is the clunky picture book biography that shoehorns in the era or, worse, fails to mention it at all. I much preferred Barton’s methods. There’s an elegance to them.

I’ve been aware of Don Tate for a number of years. No slouch, the guy’s illustrated numerous children’s books, and even wrote (but didn’t illustrate) one that earned him an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award (It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw). His is a seemingly simple style. I wouldn’t exactly call it cartoony, but it is kid friendly. Clear lines. Open faces. His watercolors go for honesty and clarity and do not come across as particularly evocative. But I hadn’t ever seen the man do nonfiction, I’ll admit. And while it probably took me a page or two to understand, once I realized why Don Tate was the perfect artist for “John Roy Lynch” it all clicked into place. You see, books about slavery for kids usually follow a prescribed pattern. Some of them go for hyperrealism. Books with art by James Ransome, Eric Velasquez, Floyd Cooper, or E.B Lewis all adhere closely to this style. Then there are the books that are a little more abstract. Books with art by R. Gregory Christie, for example, traipse closely to art worthy of Jacob Lawrence. And Shane W. Evans has a style that’s significantly artistic. A more cartoony style is often considered too simplistic for the heavy subject matter or, worse, disrespectful. But what are we really talking about here? If the book is going to speak honestly about what slavery really was, the subjugation of whole generations of people, then art that hews closely to the truth is going to be too horrific for kids. You need someone who can cushion the blow, to a certain extent. It isn’t that Tate is shying away from the horrors. But when he draws it it loses some of its worst terrors. There is one two-page spread in this book that depicts angry whites whipping and lynching their black neighbors. JohnRoyLynch3It’s not shown as an exact moment in time, but rather a composite of events that would have happened then. And there’s something about Tate’s style that makes it manageable. The whip has not yet fallen and the noose has not yet been placed around a neck, but the angry mobs are there and you know that the worst is imminent. Most interesting to me too is that far in the background a white woman and her two children just stand there, neither approving nor condemning the action. I think you could get a very good conversation out of kids about this family. What are they feeling? Whose side are they on? Why don’t they do something?

And Tate has adapted his style, you can see. Compare the heads and faces in this book to those in one of his earlier books like, Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue, in this one he modifies the heads, making them a bit smaller, in proportion with the rest of the body. I was particularly interested in how he did faces as well. If you watch Lynch’s face as a child and teen it’s significant how he keeps is features blank in the presence of white people. Not expressionless, but devoid of telltale thoughts. As a character, the first time he smiles is when he finally has a job he can be paid for. With its silhouetted moments, good design sense, tapered but not muted color palette, and attention to detail, Mr. Tate puts his all into what is by far his most sophisticated work to date.

This year rage erupted over the fact that the Confederate flag continues to fly over the South Carolina statehouse grounds. To imagine that the story Barton relates here does not have immediate applications to contemporary news is facile. As he mentions in his Author’s Note, “I think it’s a shame how little we question why the civil rights movement in this country occurred a full century following the emancipation of the slaves rather than immediately afterward.” So as an author he found an inspiring, if too little known, story of a man who did something absolutely astounding. A story that every schoolchild should know. If there’s any justice in the universe, after reading this book they will. Reconstruction done right. Nonfiction done well.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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23. Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever Afterby Stephanie Perkins. Dutton Books for Young Readers. 2014. Library copy.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterThe Plot: Isla is starting her senior year at her boarding school in France. She's had a crush on Josh for ages and ages, but he didn't even seem to know she was alive. (Considering how small her school is, that seems impossible.... and yet.)

But this year... this year may be different. Isla may be getting her happily ever after.

The Good: ajdlkjas;djs;ldjf;sd

That's not a type.

Yes, this came out last year, but I was saving it. Saving it for when I needed it.

And oh, I'm so glad I did. This is a companion to Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door; it's a true stand alone. I confess, I remembered Josh from Anna; but I didn't remember Isla at all. I need to reread....

I also need to go to Paris, right away. Like, yesterday. So any advice on super cheap airfare, and super cheap yet still nice places to stay?

Oh, right, topic. So Isla. Isla is a middle daughter, a good girl, a top student. She has one best friend. And she's been in love with Josh for ages. Even though he's a slacker, and doesn't seem to care about the rules, and had a really, really serious girlfriend the previous year.

And what is beautiful and wonderful about Isla and the Happily Ever After is that it's about Josh and Isla seeing each other and falling in love.... In Paris. I'm so jealous I could spit.

He's a bit of the bad boy to her good girl, or at least that's how some see them. But really, he's the boy who isn't sure he even wants to be there, and she's the girl who does as expected. So he gets detentions and she gets As. And the main tension I felt, as this sweet, wonderful, love story unfolded is the fear of just what Perkins was going to do, what was going to be the problem that stopped Isla from getting her "happily ever after."

I feel compelled to say the next thing because it was a fear I had (and I'd avoided spoilers so...): NO ONE DIES. And there is something which separates these two, something out of their control. And what does one do, when there is a barrier to one's happily ever after? Do you go over, under, around...or do you quit?

Bonus: because this is at the same school as Anna, and Josh was friends with Anna and Etienne, there are a ton of references to them. And a couple, also, to Lola. And when Anne and Etienne do show up, just, sigh. Lovely. A wonderful end to the book and to the series.

Also? I really liked Isla's approach to sex, a mix of common sense and love.

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

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24. Dream Mandalas Coloring Book

Dragon in progress

Dragon in progress

The adult coloring book trend has been building up steam for a while now and seems to have reached full speed ahead. The number of coloring books available these days is astonishing given that only a couple years ago the only way an adult was going to be seen coloring was if there were small children present. On my plane ride to Albuquerque this summer there was a woman with one of the garden coloring books who spent the entire 2 1/2 hours happily coloring and chatting with her companions. I have given coloring books as gifts to adult friends. I have yet to try one myself. Until now.

When the publisher contacted me and asked if I would like to try out Dream Mandalas I thought about it for a day or two. Is this really something I wanted to try? I loved coloring as a kid, but do I want to do it as a adult? But then I thought, well why not? Maybe there is something to it. After all, what have I got to lose?

Dream Mandalas arrived and what a nice little book it is too. So much nicer than the coloring books I had when I was a kid. The paper is nice and thick and the pictures are printed on only one side of the page. This is really nice because there isn’t any bleed through from the design on one side to a design on the other side. Good as the paper is though, I wouldn’t use markers on it, but I have never been a fan of coloring with markers anyway.

The designs are varied and often intricate. Animals, people, things, abstracts. You will want to make sure your pencils are sharp!

So what about the whole coloring experience? I thought I’d whip through a couple of

Happy elephant

Happy elephant

designs before doing a post about them, how long could it take after all? Turns out, quite a long time! I still haven’t finished the dragon I started on. Unlike when I was a kid with my box of Crayola crayons and pictures that were simple with large single-color areas to cover, these designs take time. And instead of just grabbing any old color, I find myself contemplating the whole picture and considering color schemes and effects.

The coloring itself is pleasurable and relaxing. I thought I could do it while watching television but I get so focused on the coloring that I don’t pay attention to the TV. I also found I enjoy coloring for short bursts of time, no more than 30 to 45 minutes. After that I start to get sloppy. Since coloring with the TV didn’t work I tried putting on music and found that was a marvelous idea. And it doesn’t matter what sort of music, pop, classical, folk, they all work as a soundtrack.

I’d call the whole undertaking a success and understand now why it’s become a thing. It’s a relaxing chance to play with color and feel like you are doing something creative. Plus it is just plain fun. If you loved coloring when you were a kid and haven’t tried one of the new coloring books yet, give it try! And if you can’t decide which coloring book to choose from, allow me to recommend Dream Mandalas as a possibility. I’m really enjoying it and I’m sure it will provide much pleasure through the winter months, perhaps even more than it has during the summer.

Filed under: Reviews Tagged: Adult coloring book

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25. David Lagercrantz and Nicola Yoon Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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