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1. Between the World and Me

cover artBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a powerful and passionate book. As a white person in America, it was at times difficult for me to read. I found myself whispering I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry over and over. How do we make things different? What can I do? And at other times, reading the words of a black man talking about how white society does whatever it can to control his body and lets him know regularly that his body is not his own, I thought, yes, I understand from my place as a woman in a patriarchal society what it means for the culture and the law to always be trying to control your body. The control comes in different forms, but I too know what it’s like to walk down the street and be afraid. And so Coates’s book had the curious effect of making me feel guilt and sympathy and anger in repeated waves of various intensities.

Between the World and Me is a “letter” Coates wrote to his fifteen-year-old son. It is inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time, a book about what it means to be black in America. Certainly a great deal has changed since 1963 but so much remains stubbornly the same. I got the impression at times that Coates felt like nothing would ever change, that we will never see an end to racism, while at other times, especially when he was reflecting on his son’s life and experiences and how they have been different from his own, Coates seemed hopeful in a clear-eyed there is still much work and struggling ahead sort of way.

In thinking about the book and how I should read it and understand it, the best approach was to just listen. Don’t try to say, it’s not like that; don’t even think about suggesting things aren’t that bad. Don’t argue and critique or dismiss. Don’t compare my experience of oppression with his in order to determine who is worse off. Don’t go to an insensitive place and think, I have a black friend so I can’t possibly be racist. Don’t get defensive and definitely don’t try and claim I am not part of the system.

It is not always easy to listen, to refrain from Yes, but… I think I managed pretty well. Being open to Coates’s experience was unsettling at times. I caught myself thinking at one point when he was talking about slavery that my ancestors came to America after the Civil War, none of them owned slaves, my family had no part in it and can’t be blamed. But that is beside the point, isn’t it? While my ancestors may have had nothing to do with slavery they certainly reaped the benefits of a country made wealthy by the work of slaves. And they were definitely not immune from participating in casual and thoughtless racism.

It is hard to shut up and listen and not try to exonerate oneself, to think other people are like that but not me. When you grow up and live in a racist society, especially when you grow up and live with the privileges that come from white skin, you are not free from prejudice, I am not free from prejudice. And it hurts, I don’t want to be a “bad” person. And that is good. Because that is the only way we can move as individuals, as a culture, as a country, through prejudice to a society that is as free and equal as it imagines itself to be.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews

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2. Something Old, Something Lu 2/5/16 — Does MIRROR #1 Gleam? Do the PAPER GIRLS Stumble?

MirrorBannerWhat comics are worth your money this week? Managing Editor Alex Lu is here to let you know.

6 Comments on Something Old, Something Lu 2/5/16 — Does MIRROR #1 Gleam? Do the PAPER GIRLS Stumble?, last added: 2/6/2016
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3. Kiera Cass and Brandon Sanderson Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Siren Cover (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Jan. 31, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #2 in Young Adult) The Siren by Kiera Cass: “Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger…but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?” (Jan. 2016)

(Debuted at #9 in Children’s Illustrated) Ollie’s Valentine by Olivier Dunrea: “Ollie is looking. Looking for a valentine. Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, and BooBoo all have valentines, but Ollie wonders who will be his. His search leads him to a special valentine of his very own—a surprise for Ollie and readers!” (Dec. 2015)

(Debuted at #10 in Hardcover Fiction) The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson: “The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.” (Jan. 2016)

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4. The Martian Audiobook Receives 100,000 Fan Ratings

themartianThe audiobook edition of The Martian has drawn 100,000 fan ratings on the Audible website. The company released this audiobook back in March 2013.

Here’s more from the press release: “In addition to the 100,000 people who positively ‘rated’ the audiobook, it also enjoys a superb 4.8 out of 5-star average, and has had a continuous presence at the top of Audible.com’s bestsellers list. The Martian’s achievements demonstrate the burgeoning global popularity of audiobooks and their ascent as a rival to other entertainment mediums like books, television, and film.”

Andy Weir’s popular science-fiction novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie starring Matt Damon. Click on these links to watch the first trailer, the second trailer, and the third trailer.

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5. Thursday Review: SECRET CODERS by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Summary: I've been meaning to review this one for an embarrassingly long time. I had looked forward to reading it ever since first hearing about it—we are huge fans of our own (relatively) local Gene Yang here at FW and have not only interviewed... Read the rest of this post

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6. Review: Kelly Froh & Dan Mazur’s two non-fiction delights

The Weekend Casserole Collection by Kelly Froh Froh brings together a number of short pieces from various sources — anthologies she’s contributed to, some of her own minis, as well as some previously unseen work — Covering incidents from all parts of her life — childhood sleepovers, high school crushes, strangers on buses, work acquaintances […]

0 Comments on Review: Kelly Froh & Dan Mazur’s two non-fiction delights as of 2/3/2016 8:42:00 PM
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7. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem as of 1/1/1900
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8. Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem

viorst_what are you glad aboutWhat Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person Needs a Poem
by Judith Viorst; illus. by Lee White
Primary, Intermediate   Dlouhy/Atheneum   102 pp.
2/16   978-1-4814-2355-7   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2355-1   $10.99

Viorst’s most famous book is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and this collection of over fifty poems expresses the same wry humor and sharp observation about the range of feelings children experience in their everyday lives. Viorst plays with school subjects such as reading, writing, and “arithmetrick” (in the “School Stuff” section), and there are poems about competition with friends (the “Friends and Other People” section), bossy moms (“About the Family”), and the mystery of time sometimes seeming fast and sometimes slow. But the strongest poems go to the heart of feelings, such as worrying: “I like the sun hot on my back. / If killer sharks did not attack, / I’d like beaches.” One especially poignant piece deals with breaking up with a best friend: “We’ve never had an argument, or even a small fuss, / But I’m not my best friend’s best friend anymore.” White’s illustrations bring zany humor to the poems, and even sometimes add their own little twist, as in “Whoops,” where a poem about trying to reach something high up is pictured with someone reaching for a treasure chest on the back of a dragon. From a riff on The Sound of Music (“My Least Favorite Things”) to a clever poem pondering the purpose of toes, this collection will delight kids and the adults who read it aloud, too.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of What Are You Glad About? 
What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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What Are You Mad About?: Poems for When a Person 
Needs a Poem as of 1/1/1900
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9. Review: How It Went Down

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Henry Holt. 2014. Review copy.


How It Went DownThe Plot: Tariq Johnson, sixteen, dies from two gunshots fired by by Jack Franklin. Tariq is black; Jack is white.

There are many people who know Tariq, who know Jack. Who saw them before the shooting and after. Each has a their own story to tell, about what they know.

The Good: There is an old saying, that for every two people there are three sides to their story. Their versions, and the truth.

The problem, of course, is figuring out what that truth is and is not.

Here, there are those who say that Tariq was just a teen with a chocolate bar. And others who say he had a weapon. And some that say that Jack was justified. And others who say it was murder.

How It Went Down is told in many voices, friends, family, acquaintances. It's the story of Tariq's life and death and the aftermath, but we also find out about the lives of those who in telling Tariq's story tell their own. What I like about these multiple narratives is it doesn't give any answers of what really happened. It's up to the reader to decide who is right -- but the thing is, it's clear that everyone is right. Or, rather, everyone believes that they are right in what they know, what they saw, and what they believed.

And it's not just the shooting of Tariq, and whether or not it's the self defense that Jack claims. It's also whether, as the story unfolds, Jack's claim of self defense is made in part not because of anything that Tariq did or did not do but because Tariq was a black teenager and so Jack assumed and believed things about Tariq. And along with that is how the others react to Jack's claims, including the police who release him. And then the community reaction, because a black teenager is dead and the white shooter is released.

From the start, the reader knows that Tariq is dead. Knowing that doesn't lessen the impact of this death, or feeling the sorrow and grief of his family and friends. It does make one wish "if only, if only." And while this will be a good book discussion book because it allows for the readers to say what they believe happened, it's also a good book discussion book because it allows the reader to take a closer look at their own beliefs. Who do they believe? And why?

How does one's own perspective influence their memory? What they see? And what they believe?








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

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10. Fates and Furies

coverI’ve seen quite a few mixed reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and wasn’t so very keen to read it but I got curious about it and had to find out for myself whether it was brilliant or so-so or terrible. It seems that many people don’t like the first half but those who stick with it and get to the second half end up liking that part better. So I began reading with low expectations. Perhaps it was this that helped me fall into the book, I don’t know, but I certainly didn’t struggle to read it or like it. In the end, I didn’t find the book brilliant but I did like it very much.

The story is that of a marriage told from both sides. The first part is told from Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite’s point of view. He grew up in Florida in a wealthy family, his father, Gawain, having made a fortune selling bottled water. But his father died young and left Lotto and his sister to the care of an increasingly distant yet controlling mother and Aunt Sallie who ran the household. Left to run wild, Lotto turned to sex and drugs and alcohol and when his mother found out, she sent him away to an all-boys boarding school. There he had few friends, but this bright, very tall boy discovered the joys of Shakespeare and determined to go off to college and become an actor.

Near the end of his senior year of college he met Mathilde, statuesque, beautiful, smart. The charismatic Lotto gave up seducing women and decided to marry Mathilde. He believed her to be pure and because she was pure he considered her his savior. He failed in the real world as an actor but in a dark night of the soul moment, discovered he had a talent for writing plays. Soon he became a famous playwright and grew wealthy in the process. Until his mother died, he saw not a penny of his inheritance because she was so angry he had married without her permission that she cut him off financially.

In spite of his profligate sex life -pre-marriage, he remained loyal to Mathilde throughout, forever worrying that this pure, saintly woman would leave him:

If she was happy, it meant she wouldn’t leave him; and it had become painfully apparent over their short marriage that he was not worth the salt she sweated. The woman was a saint. She saved, fretted, somehow paid their bills when he brought in nothing.

Mathilde, of course, was no saint. Because of a terrible family tragedy when she was very young girl, her parents basically abandoned her. They shipped her off to a grandmother who didn’t want her and who then shipped her off to another grandmother who made her sleep in a closet. Mathilde was French, born Aurelie, and when she was a teenager she was shipped off to her uncle’s house. He lived in the United States and left her to raise herself. He was wealthy, however, so she was never wanting for anything but attention. Unable to make friends at school, she became Mathilde, a girl who was angry and hard, who would not let the world take advantage of her, and who was very, very lonely.

She was also terrified of Lotto abandoning her like everyone else in her life did. She never talked about certain parts of her life:

Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.

Any husband paying attention might wonder what she was hiding, but that is one advantage to being married to a charismatic, rather self-absorbed man. She did quite a few things he was never even aware of not least of which was edit his plays to make them better. And how she managed to hide the ongoing and ferocious war between her and Lotto’s mother without Lotto once suspecting a thing is beyond me.

As much as they both feared the other leaving them, in the end Lotto does leave Mathilde by an untimely death. She is devastated and her grief at losing her husband and once again being left is uncomfortable reading as well as heartbreaking.

I thought the book’s structure worked really well with clueless Lotto in the first half of the book and revelation after revelation from Mathilde’s part of the book. Still, as much as Mathilde knew and kept secret, Lotto had secrets too, though certainly not of Mathilde’s caliber. I liked getting both sides of the story and seeing how each one created and navigated their marriage. It is a more complete picture than we would ever get in a real life marriage and I found the completeness satisfying. From the outside, one would think their marriage would never work, and some of their friends even took bets on how long it would be before they were divorced and some, even after the pair had been married for years, tried to sabotage the relationship. The ending with an elderly Mathilde reflecting back on her marriage made me a little teary.

Contributing to my enjoyment of this book was a personal connection. Mathilde and Lotto were married at the age of twenty-two ( I was twenty-three when Bookman and I got married) and they married a year before my own wedding. So in many ways it felt like I was reading the story of a couple I might have known, except of course I didn’t and wouldn’t have known them if they were real, they not being the sort I would generally be friends with. Nonetheless, there was a certain happy friction, a bit of voyeurism and self-satisfaction regarding my own good fortune that smoothed away some of the annoying bits about the book (like the bracketed narrative intrusions, what the heck were those about?).

I’d like to say wow, you should read this book, but it isn’t that sort of book. I think it is one that will appeal to many, be enjoyed by some, and really liked by a few. Which one of those you might be, you’ll have to decide for yourself.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Lauren Groff, Marriage

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11. Review: Meags Fitzgerald continues to her autobiographical innovations with Long Red Hair

In Meags Fitzgerald’s previous book, Photobooth: A Biography, which documented just about anything you ever wondered about photo booths, she went far beyond her central subject, wrapping in segments of autobiography, making it a work about a wider swathe that her more intimate moments exist within. For Long Red Hair she does the exact opposite, focusing […]

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12. Monday Review: A MAD, WICKED FOLLY by Sharon Biggs Waller

The cover even LOOKS like a Libba Bray book...Summary: England in the Edwardian era…Besides bringing to mind a whole slew of fabulous Edward Gorey drawings, it was a time in which society was still stumbling out from under the long shadow of Queen... Read the rest of this post

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13. Review: Two rich offerings in Nobrow’s 17 x 23 series

Nobrow Press’ 17 x 23 series highlights accomplished smaller works in a pleasing package that speaks to graphic novel consumers who might not seek out short comics stories. Two recent releases are particularly success in the way they take story forms of old and present them through a modern lens, making traditional lessons applicable to […]

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14. Review of Dylan the Villain

campbell_dylan the villainDylan the Villain
by K. G. Campbell; illus. by the author
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-47642-5   $17.99   g

“‘Congratulations,’ said the doctor. ‘It’s a healthy little super-villain!’” Sweet, unsuspecting new parents Mr. and Mrs. Snivels are surprised by this development (and by the fact that they just “happened to have a baby”), but not disappointed. They tell their son Dylan, born wearing a purple mask and a fiendish expression, that he’s “the very best and cleverest super-villain in the whole wide world!” Dylan thinks so, too, until he goes to school and meets Addison Van Malice (sporting blue Princess Leia–style hair and a swashbuckling eye patch), who out-evils Dylan at every turn. Campbell’s soft-focus illustrations — rendered in watercolor and colored pencil on tea-stained paper — give all the characters personality, even those without speaking roles. The classroom of small villains is a hoot, and there are lots of dastardly details in the not-at-all-villainous art. The well-paced narrative’s comedic timing reinforces the absurdity of the premise. When a “most diabolical robot”–building contest is announced, Dylan seizes the chance to prove he’s more fiendish than Addison: “That hideous trophy…will be mine! All MINE!” And it is, after Dylan accidentally-on-purpose sends Addison and her menacing robot into space. And that’s that…or is it? In a satisfying twist, the final pages give Addison the last “MU-HA-HA-HA!!”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Review: The Lake House

The Lake House: A Novel by Kate Morton. Atria. 2015. Library Copy.


The-lake-house-9781451649321_hr
The Plot: 1933 Cornwall. A eleven month old baby disappears from his crib during a house party at an estate. He's never found.

2003. A police detective is visiting her grandfather in Cornwall. She stumbles upon an abandoned house and hears the local story: how decades ago, a child disappeared and the family left and never came back.

A lost child, deep family secrets, the ties between mother and child, the choices made. And a mystery that was waiting to be solved, by the person willing to ask the right questions.

The Good: I loved this book so much. It had everything I love in a book.

Their are three main narrators, and two main time periods.

Alice Edevane was sixteen the summer her brother Theo was taken. The summer on the Cornish estate was as magical as any Alice had ever had at the beloved family estate, Loeanneth, and even more wonderful because its the year she falls in love for the first time and the year she decides to embrace a life as a writer, and writes her first mystery.

In 2003, Sadie Sparrow's visit to her grandfather isn't entirely voluntary. There were problems for a recent case involving a young mother who disappeared, and Sadie refused to believe the woman left her small child behind. When faced with the truth of the woman abandoning her child, Sadie made foolish mistakes and now is waiting in the country for things to get resolved in the city.

When she starts to investigate the mystery of Theo Edevane, she finds out that the home is now owned by Alice Edevane, also known as A. C. Edevane, a famous mystery writer. After the reader encounters the young, brilliant, hopeful Alice on the brink of life, they next encounter her as woman pushing ninety, succesful, but wiser about people than she was as a child.

Then there is Eleanor Edevane, mother of Alice and Theo, and her voice joins the story.

The book jumps from time to time and narrator to narrator, and this flow of story is brilliant. Morton is careful about what and when she tells the reader, but part of the reason is because each person knows only their own story and is limited to their own impressions, their own memories, their own knowledge. As a mystery, Morton deftly guided me so that I was guessing "who" or "what" or "why" just pages ahead of Sadie, so that I felt as clever or more so than Sadie. And then, with Sadie, realized when I was wrong, because I learned something new.

The Lake House is a mystery, but it's also a story of family. Of the brilliant Edevanes who at first seem like something out of a PBS Miniseries. The family had once had a grand house, and Loeanneth, grand as it seems, is the small house that is all that is left of that manor. The house is important to Eleanor and her husband, Anthony; to their children, Deborah and Alice and Clemmie and Theo; and part of the punch in the gut tragedy of the present is how the house was abandoned after Theo's disappearance.

Pull back, and it's more than a handsome couple and their beautiful children and the fairy tale estate. Fairy tale in part because the child Eleanor inspired a beloved children's book.

But no fairy tale is all sun and sunshine. As Sadie delves further into the past, as Alice reexamines her own memories and impressions, and as Eleanor steps forward and shares her story, secrets are uncovered. Because as anyone who does the math can figure, the Great War had ended just 15 years before. And what was the far away past to a sixteen year old Alice was very much part of the lives of her parents.

I don't want to give too much away, because as I said part of the joy of this book is the structure of what is revealed when and why and how. I will say this about those reveals. They aren't "aha" moments of crimes and terrible deeds. Rather, they are about perspective and knowledge. Eleanor's children see her as a certain type of mother, and their father as certain type of man, and yes -- the father is the favorite. As the story unwinds, it becomes clear that part of this is because Eleanor did what was necessary to give her children a safe, happy, childhood, at any cost. And she was so good that Alice, decades later, still didn't quite realize what her mother had done -- how her memory of a wonderful, carefree day was, to her mother, a day fraught with danger.

One of my Favorite Books of 2016. I now want to read all of Morton's books.












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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16. Friday Feature: The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow (Review)



Fear Not the Unexpected.  


Eleven-year-old Fairday Morrow is less than thrilled that her family is moving thousands of miles from civilization to the quiet country town of Ashpot, Connecticut, where she’s absolutely certain she’ll die of boredom. 


As if leaving New York City and her best friend, Lizzy, the only other member of the elite Detective Mystery Squad (DMS), weren’t bad enough, Fairday is stuck living in the infamous Begonia House, a creepy old Victorian with dark passageways, a gigantic dead willow tree, and a mysterious past. 


Before she can even unpack, strange music coming from behind a padlocked door leads Fairday up a spiral staircase and into a secret room, where an ancient mirror, a brass key, and a strange picture of a red-haired lady are the first in a series of clues that takes the members of the Detective Mystery Squad on an amazing adventure. 

For the first time ever, I'm bringing in someone to help me review this book. My eight-year-old daughter, Ayla, and I read this book together, so I figured it only made sense to review it together too. So here are our thoughts on The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow.

We loved the mystery right from the start with the old newspaper article. The Begonia House really came alive for us. Ayla loved how the noises from the house and the woman who made an appearance in Fairday's room were really creepy. It really made her want to know what was going to happen next, so much so that we read the book in just three days. Without giving away spoilers, we'll just say that we really enjoyed how the setting came to life, adding to the mystery and excitement of the story. Ayla also would like a pair of those magical ruby sneakers. ;) Overall, this is a fast-paced mystery with just enough creepiness to draw readers in and hold their attention to the very last page. It's also a great story about friendship, both old and new.

Want your YA, NA, or MG book featured on my blog? Contact me here and we'll set it up.

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17. The Marvel Rundown: The Maltese Logan?

OML2016002-ChoVar-01a57In the wake of the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe, we’re taking a look at each and every #1 in the line. This week sees the return of Wolverine, but not the Wolverine you might immediately think of. Old Man Logan first debuted in 2008 in the regular Wolverine title. Author Mark Millar (Starlight) told a […]

2 Comments on The Marvel Rundown: The Maltese Logan?, last added: 1/28/2016
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18. Review: Whit Taylor’s Up Down Clown tackles mental health issues

The sad clown is a trope that has been well-used in every storytelling media there is, but Whit Taylor’s Up Down Clown from Ninth Art Press takes that trope further than usual. Rather than settling for the simple dichotomy of make-up and merriment hiding gloom, Taylor examines how a mental state might fluctuate with the […]

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19. Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

AirportBook1The Airport Book
By Lisa Brown
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook, an imprint of Macmillan
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6
Ages 4-7
On shelves May 10th.

Look, I don’t wanna brag but I’m what you might call a going-to-the-airport picture book connoisseur. I’ve seen them all. From out-of-date fare like Byron Barton’s Airport to the uniquely clever Flight 1-2-3 by Maria Van Lieshout to the odd but helpful Everything Goes: In the Air by Brian Biggs. Heck, I’ve even examined at length books about the vehicles that drive on the airport tarmac (see: Brian Floca’s Five Trucks). If it helps to give kids a better sense of what flying is like, I’ve seen it, baby. And I will tell you right here and now that not a single one of these books is quite as good at explaining every step of the journey as well as Lisa Brown’s brand new The Airport Book. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s more than just an instructional how-to. Packed with tiny details that make each rereading worthwhile, a plot that sweeps you along, and downright great information, this one here’s a keeper to its core.

“When you go to the airport, you can take a car, a van, a bus, or even a train. Sometimes we take a taxicab.” A family of four prepares for a big trip. Bags are packed with the haste that anyone with small children will recognize. Speed is of the essence. As they arrive at the airport we meet other people and families taking the same flight. There’s airport security to get through (the book mentions the many lines you sometimes have to stand in to get where you’re going), the awesome size of the airport itself, the gate, and then the plane. As we watch the younger sister in the family is having various mild freakouts over her missing (or is it?) stuffed monkey. The monkey in question is always in our view, packed in a suitcase, discovered by a dog during the flight, and finally reuniting with its owner on the luggage carousel. The family meets up with the grandparents and at last the vacation can begin. That is, until they all have to go home again.

AirportBook2The problem with most airport-related picture books is something I like to call the Fly Away Home conundrum. Originally penned by Eve Bunting, Fly Away Home is one of those rare picture books out there that deal with homelessness in a realistic way. The story features a father and son living out of an airport. Since it touches on such an important, and too little covered, topic, the book continues to appear on required reading lists, in spite of the fact that the very premise is now woefully out-of-date. There are few areas of everyday American life that have changed quite so dramatically over such a short amount of time as the average airport experience. That’s why so many things about The Airport Book rang true for me. When Brown covers the facts surrounding departures and goodbyes to family and friends, she doesn’t set the scene inside the building but rather on the sidewalk outside of ticketing, as people are dropped off. Later you see people at their gate plugging in their cell phones willy-nilly (something I’ve never seen in a picture book before). It lends the book a kind of air of authenticity.

The story’s good and the art’s great but what I liked about the book was the language. Brown never tells you precisely what is going to happen, but she does mention the likelihoods. “Sometimes the plane is bouncy, but most of the time it is smooth.” “Sometimes the sidewalks and staircases move by themselves.” “Sometimes there are small beeping cars driving through . . .” As you read, you realize that in a way the narration of the book is being created for us from the perspective of the big brother. He’ll occasionally insert little notes that are probably of more use to him than us. Example: “You have to hold your little sister’s hands tight, or she could get lost.” Mind you, some of the sections have the ring of poetry to them, while staying squarely within a believable child’s voice. I was particularly fond the of the section that says, “Outside there are clouds and clouds and clouds.”

AirportBook3With all the calls for more diverse picture books to be published, it would be noticeable if Ms. Brown’s book didn’t have a variety of families, races, ages, genders, etc. What’s notable to me is that she isn’t just checking boxes here. Her diversity far surpasses those books where they’ll throw in the occasional non-white character in a group shot. Instead, the main family has a dark-skinned father and light-skinned, blond mother. Travels through the airport show adults in wheelchairs, twins, women in headscarves, Sikhs, pregnant ladies, and more. In other words, what you’d actually see in an airport these days.

And then the little details come up. Brown throws into the book a surprising array of tiny look-and-discover elements, suggesting that perhaps this book would be just as much fun in its way as a Where’s Waldo? game for older siblings as it is their younger brethren. Ask them if they can find The Wright Brothers, Hatchet (don’t think too hard about what happens to the plane in that book), the mom’s copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the person looking for Amelia Earhart (who may not be as difficult to find as you think). There’s also a cast of characters that command your attention like the businesswoman who’s always on her cell phone and the short artist with the mysteriously shaped package.

There’s nothing to say that in five years airports will be just as different to us today as pre-9/11 airports are now. Yet even if our airports start requiring us to hula hoop and dance the Hurly Burly, Brown’s book is still going to end up being the go-to text desperate parents turn to when they need a book that explains to their children what an average airplane flight looks like. It pretty much gets everything right, exceeding expectations. Generally speaking, books that tell kids about what something is like (be it a trip to the dentist or a new babysitter) are pedantic, didactic, dull as dishwater fare. Brown’s book, in contrast, has flare. Has pep. Has a beat and you can dance to it. Like I said, this may be the best dang going-to-the-airport book I can name (though you should certainly check out the others I’m mentioned at the beginning of this review). A treat, it really is. A treat.

On shelves May 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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20. Review of The Red Hat

teague_red hatThe Red Hat
by David Teague; 
illus. by Antoinette Portis
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   40 pp.
12/15   978-1-4231-3411-4   $16.99

With a nod to Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon, and with much of its tenderness, this fable-like story tells of Billy Hightower, whose isolated life atop “the world’s tallest building” changes when another skyscraper is built alongside it and Billy catches a glimpse of “the girl in the red hat.” Billy longs to communicate with the girl, but his various attempts fail, repeatedly foiled by the wind. First the wind snatches away Billy’s words, then it derails his paper-airplane missive. Finally it pulls Billy himself (wrapped in a parachute-like red blanket) off his building and into the sky, and deposits the boy on a noisy, gritty, confusing city street. Undaunted, he finds his way to the girl’s tower and is united with her. The ever-present antagonist here is the wind, pictured as a glossy, lightly embossed, swirling pattern on each page, a turquoise line against the restrained palette of black, white, taupe, sky-blue, and crimson. Teague’s rhythmical and unadorned text is fleshed out by Portis’s graphically arresting compositions. The color red, for example, has its own character and plot: the temporary roadblock of a red light, the welcoming red carpet, the subtly recurring shape of a red heart. When this love story ends with the words “The Beginning,” we believe it.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review: 750 Years In Paris offers details within the broad stroke of history

Given the recent tragic events in Paris, Vincent Mahé’s absolutely stunning 750 Years In Paris is a sprawling reminder that this is not the first time darkness has been cast over that city, and it’s likely not the last. Paris has been home to bloodshed and destruction, as well as a site of rebuilding and […]

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22. Bill Bryson and Katarina Bivald Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Broken Wheel (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Jan. 24, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #5 in Hardcover Nonfiction) The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson: “Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to discover and celebrate that green and pleasant land. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a true classic and one of the bestselling travel books ever written. Now he has traveled about Britain again, by bus and train and rental car and on foot, to see what has changed—and what hasn’t.” (Jan. 2016)

(Debuted at #10 in Hardcover Fiction) Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin: “Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is feeling the heat. She’s investigating the death of a senior government prosecutor, David Minton, who has friends in high places. When one of their own is killed, the powers that be want answers fast. But Clarke is puzzled: if Minton died in a robbery as everyone thinks, why is nothing missing from his home? The answer may lie not in what was taken, but in what was left behind at the scene–an ominous note.” (Jan. 2016)

(Debuted at #13 in Paperback Fiction) The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald: “The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thoughts. A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.” (Jan. 2016)

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23. Review: The hilarious honesty of Jane Mai’s See You Next Tuesday

Jane Mai isn’t merely self-deprecating. That phrase doesn’t capture her at all. Actually, I don’t know what to call it instead, but it comes out in the form of See You Next Tuesday, her comics diary from Koyama Press that mixes self-loathing with sweetness, as well as a lot of going to the bathroom and farting […]

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24. The Water Knife

cover artI always thought the first Paolo Bacigalupi book I read would be The Windup Girl. I even have a copy of it on my bookshelf. But as these things usually work out, at least in my reading life, I was wrong. Windup Girl sits unread on my shelf still. After NerdCon in October and Bacigalupi mentioning several times his book The Water Knife, that is the one I ended up reading first.
 
You can’t really blame me. The book is all about water rights in the western United States; California versus Nevada and Arizona mostly. I wasn’t always a Minnesota girl. I was born and raised in southern California, the San Diego area to be precise. I went to college in Los Angeles. There were always droughts, though not as bad as the one going on right now, and there were always people arguing about water rights. And I remember wondering many times just how precarious the whole house of cards was and how long would it be before it all fell apart?
 
The scariest thing about The Water Knife is that Bacigalupi’s book is completely plausible. The story takes place in an undated but clearly not too distant future. Climate change has caused a series of huge weather disasters that have strained the resources of a federal government that now seems to be only nominally in charge in the western states. Between hurricanes and droughts and prolonged heatwaves Texas is entirely uninhabitable and refugees are streaming across the borders of neighboring states whose own resources are growing more and more scarce. Nevada and California have formed their own militias and closed their borders to anyone who does not have permits to cross. There is a kind of guerilla war going on between California, Nevada and Arizona over rights to the Colorado river. The war is being fought both in courtrooms and on the ground. Water pipelines to entire cities are shut off and hundreds of thousands of people are immediately turned into refugees with nowhere to go. The Red Cross sinks relief wells and tent cities spring up around it but the water is not free. Prices fluctuate daily and at one point in the book it costs $6.75 for a liter of water.
 
Meanwhile the Chinese are investing heavily in building arcologies in Las Vegas and Phoenix. An arcology is an almost self-contained living environment that recycles 95% of the water. And it isn’t just water that is recycled, pretty much everything is. In this way an arcology can be climate controlled, crops can be grown, the air can be filtered and kept clean and safe from the frequent dust storms outdoors, people living inside can almost pretend like life is normal. It is the poor and desperate who build the arcologies, the poor and desperate who never make enough from their work to live inside them. It is the wealthy and powerful who get to live in comfort and safety.
 
A Water Knife is one of those people only rumored to exist. A Water Knife is the one who does the dirty work for the people in charge of the water, the one who does what has to be done whether that is killing someone or blowing up an entire water processing facility. Angel is a Water Knife and he works for Catherine Case, the most powerful person in Nevada. She is in charge of the water and the existence of the state of Nevada, Las Vegas in particular, depends on her.
 
Arizona is pretty much a lost cause and the city of Phoenix is will soon be drinking its last glass of water unless someone can find some water rights that trump those belonging to California or Nevada. Someone does. Digs them out of some old dusty files, documents well over 100 years old that trump every other right in existence. The person who has the rights in his possession can make billions from their sale and he plays buyers from California and Nevada off each other and pays with his life. But no one knows what happened to the documents.
 
It is a life and death race to see who can get the documents first. Angel is on the hunt and so is everyone else it seems with no one sure who is working for who. Lucy, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has been living in Phoenix for a number of years documenting its decline gets mixed up in all of it as she investigates who killed her friend, the guy who had originally found the water rights. Maria, seventeen, a Texas refugee and orphan living with her friend Sarah and forced to prostitute herself in order to not be fed to the hyenas of the local gang leader for being unable to pay her rent, also gets mixed up in the business.

The Water Knife is a fast-paced mystery/thriller but also more than that. It alternates between the point of view of Maria, Lucy and Angel until eventually all their individual story threads come together. It wasn’t so long ago that life was normal, that there was enough water to go around, but each one is forced in their own way to come to terms with the world as it is now not as it once was and not as it could be. And when it comes down to your own personal survival versus the potential survival of an entire city, what choices are you forced to make and who can really blame you for them?

Also running through the book is a refrain about how those who knew and could have done something long ago to make sure the present day of the story didn’t happen did absolutely nothing, or worse, precipitated the disaster and even profited from it. Bacigalupi does a marvelous job at character development and it is fascinating to watch each of the three main characters change over the course of the novel as their personal beliefs and illusions, hopes and dreams, are ripped away. And while the ending provides a conclusion, it leaves much up in the air. I appreciated that because given everything that came before an ending that tied everything up nicely would have been false.

I am pleased with my first venture in reading Bacigalupi and looking forward to reading more of his work. Perhaps The Windup Girl will be next!


Filed under: Books, Clifi, Reviews

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25. #ReadYourWorld and Celebrate MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN'S BOOK DAY!

Hey everyone! It's Multicultural Children's Book Day, and in honor of that, I will be posting what I think is my FIRST EVER picture book review. First, though, I'd like to sincerely thank all the organizers of MCCBD, especially Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic... Read the rest of this post

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