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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Book Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 2,290
26. Not-just-anybody

The Not-Just Anybody FamilyThe first time I read The Not-Just-Anybody Family, I knew I was reading genius. Betsy Byars uses exactly the right number of words to show her readers what is going on.   There was Junior on the barn roof; Maggie, his sister, was doing her toenails; Vern, his brother, was on the ground watching.  I have not picked up the book in twenty years but Maggie's lack of interest and Vern's almost ghoulish anticipation of a fall mixed with the hope that Junior really could fly are permanently imprinted in my brain.

Byars has won awards for several of her other books.  But for me, The Blossom Family will always be my favorite Betsy Cromer Byars titles.

So what is so great about Betsy Byars' books?  They are so accessible - which is a thing these days - accessibility.  They run the whole range from funny to heart-wrenching.  She writes for all ages but most impressively for that age group that can determine if a person becomes a life-long reader or not - middle grades.  Her characters are believable.  They get in trouble of all sorts.  They all learn something from their adventures - although not always what adults might want them to learn.

Herculeah Jones, Bingo Brown, Junior, Maggie and Vern Blossom, Cracker Jackson, Ant and his Brother, - these are just a few of the likable, quirky and totally normal kid characters that Byars created.

Pick up a Byars book next time you are in the library.  You won't be sorry.

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27. Booktweet: BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

What I just tweeted:

Just heard that BONE GAP made the 2015 National Book Award Longlist!

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28. Unexceptional?

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari is a welcome change.  No magical, undiscovered world-changing super-talented children here!  No half human, half immortal orphans!
Nope, this book revolves around two children so bland, so mediocre, so unremarkable as to be almost invisible to the world around them.

And that makes them PERFECT for the secret work that The League of Unexceptional Children does.

When the Vice-President is kidnapped in the middle of the night, Jonathan and Shelly are recruited to go undercover to find him before the VP can disclose the nation's most valuable nuclear codes.   Jonathan and Shelly don't actually need to go undercover.  They are so unremarkable that Jonathan's teacher thinks he's a new student almost every day.  No one even hears Shelly when she talks.

After a slow start involving an incompetent security guard and a short villain, the book turns into a spy thriller heavy on spycraft-ish talk and trappings and with more comic escapades than thrills.

To say much more will tell you almost all.  This is a quick fun read in which two ordinary kids fumble through saving the country.  They even compete with two superspy kids from Europe.

The best thing about this book - for me, anyway - is the way the characters of our heroes develop.  They may look and act boring to the world at large but, given a task that challenges them, they show some spunk, if not much talent.  Hmmmm, could there actually be a redeeming message in this silly book?  ....... Nope, probably not.

Key words:  Quick, Funny, Slapstick, Spies! 

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29. Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale

During a Melbourne heatwave, Hannah's family life begins to distort beyond her deepest fears. It's going to take more than a cool change to fix it, but how can a girl who lives in the shadows take on the task alone? 

Feeling powerless and invisible, Hannah seeks refuge in the two anarchists of her life: her wild best friend, Chloe, and her eccentric grandmother, Essie, who look like they know how life really works. 

But Hannah's loyalty to both is tested, first by her attraction to Chloe's older brother, and then by Essie's devastating secret that sheds new light on how the family has lost its way. 

Even if Hannah doesn't know what to believe in, she'd better start believing in herself.

I can't stop this amazing one-hit wonder from playing in my head while I'm working on this review (1999... what a year for music). Trouble is, that song isn't right for the tone of this novel. And now I'm trying to work out what song is right I've discovered that's an impossible task and I can't possibly find the perfect song.

You can't tell but I've just spent half an hour trying to find the perfect song to match this novel and it's just not happening. The best I can do is suggest a combo of One Crowded Hour by Augie March and Songbird by Bernard Fanning and hope that conveys it. Musically, rather than lyrically. It's got all this aching sadness, fairly heartbreaking in parts, but then that hope at the end. I guess I should write the review now.

Hannah is lovely: shy, uncertain and yearning, a character whom I think a lot of young readers will be able to relate to. Difficult family dynamics are explored with realism and subtlety, as Hannah's family crumbles around her. The characterisation is excellent - every character is unique and flawed, from Hannah's sweet and tortured dad, to her (understandably) rage-filled mum, to her out-there best friend Chloe. (I was furiously angry with her mother and brother, and their totally uncalled for meanness towards Hannah. Why would you be so awful? Hannah's a sweetheart, gosh.)

The unraveling of the mystery in Hannah's family, allowing Hannah to understand why things are so difficult between Essie and her daughter (Hannah's mum), kept me reading into the early hours of the morning. Essie is a wonderful character, and I could so clearly picture her and her house. Her story is the most compelling part of the novel, and reads as very authentic. It's incredibly tricky but important subject matter - single mothers being forced to give up their babies, something that occurred for decades in Australia's not-so-distant history - and is dealt with so well. Essie's narrative is at times harrowing, often heartbreaking, with a distinct and engrossing voice. It never feels like it's being educational, but I think it would be a great novel to study in school, and not just because of the historical content.

While there is romance (Hannah has a crush on her best friend's older brother, Evan), the romance isn't even really about the romance - it's about Hannah working out who she is and what she wants, instead of being a passive observer in her own life. I think it's a much more true-to-life depiction of teenage romance than a lot of YA. Similarly, her friendship with Chloe - and the subsequent breakdown of it - reflects the difficulties of real-life teenage friendships; where, sometimes, friends simply outgrow each other.

If you expect things to be perfectly resolved, you'll be disappointed; Steal My Sunshine is realistic in that it depicts the true messiness of life. Steal My Sunshine blends the historical and the contemporary perfectly. It's a novel with huge sadness and a lot of heartbreak, but it's ultimately hopeful. Immensely readable.

Steal My Sunshine on the publisher's website

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30. Jellyfish in the Sun

It's happening again!  Books with similar themes end up on my list right next to each other.

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is narrated by Suzy who can't believe that her oldest friend could just drown.  "These things happen" is NOT an acceptable explanation.  Suzy becomes convinced that a rare jellyfish is responsible for Franny's death. 

Suzy is a fact person who inundates the reader with math and facts about jellyfish and the people who study them.  But this book also chronicles the all too frequent trauma that occurs when one person outgrows another - as Franny outgrows Suzy by the end of 6th grade.  This relationship break makes Franny's death so much harder for Suzy to accept. 

Her search for someone who can understand the horror of jellyfish - as she sees it - leads Suzy to start out on a dangerous and possibly illegal journey.

Her parents, her older brother and an unexpected friend help Suzy to move into a life without Franny.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff    Ok.   In fifth grade, Trent killed someone during an ice hockey game.  Total accident.   Trent's parents and older and younger brother seem to think Trent should move on.  Trent's Dad, especially, has little patience for Trent's surly attitude.  Dad's new wife is expecting their first child any time now.  So, it was an accident. Get over it already.  (Not actual words from the book.)

Trent reacts to the guilt and the anxiety he feels by making sure he gets into trouble at school, and with his Dad.  He even refuses to enter into prank wars with his little brother.

Luckily, Fallon, a girl at school with a noticeable facial scar befriends Trent after she peeks into his Book of Thoughts and sees the pictures he draws there - pictures of what the boy he killed might be doing at that very moment.  Fallon wants Trent to draw a picture for her.

How Trent manages to make things worse and then how he manages to make them better - with the help of sympathetic outsiders - makes an engrossing and emotional read.

These books have totally different styles, despite their similarities - see below.  Jellyfish is awash with facts and musings on facts - the type of book that will lend itself to STEM curricula.  But there is an immediacy to Suzy's pain, even as she carefully plans her science report and her journey,  and her need to find explanations for her friend's death.

Sun, on the other hand, concentrates on Trent's emotional struggles.  Trent speaks in a matter-of-fact voice, referring to the accident almost casually.  And all the time he is seething and unable to see that he is till a worthwhile human being.  

Here is a list of other similarities:
New friends:  Both of the new frends have problems of their own that they seem to have overcome. 
Older brothers: Aaron - yeah, both of them.
Nice teachers:  Suzy likes her science teacher right away.  Trent hates everyone but his homeroom teacher really is pretty old.

Read 'em both, except you might want to read other books in between.  OK?

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31. Review: Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Oh this book is utterly glorious! I picked up Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth on impulse and am totally glad I gave it a chance. This book is so special and I’m squawking with the effort of writing a review to give it justice! It’s about Australian twins, Justine and Perry (who has autism), who […]

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32. A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

Rose didn't tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different now. Something had shifted inside her, a gear being ratcheted over a clunky cog, gaining torque, starting her up. But it didn't show. How could all of these feelings not show? She was a woman now but it didn't show and she couldn't tell anyone.

This book. Intense. Horrifying. Incredibly well-written. (It's the first time in ages I've read a YA novel where I had to look up words, which I love - learning new words is the best.) I think just as many readers of adult literary fiction would enjoy this as readers of YA fiction (I think a lot of YA fiction transcends what people stereotypically think of as YA fiction - this novel is a great example of that). I can't say I enjoyed it, because it deals with events that are downright awful, and characters that behave in some pretty horrendous ways, but it's an impressive novel.

Rose's best friend Liv is the most likeable character (and the most sensible). The actions of Rose herself are often incomprehensible (hence the 'madness' bit). Credibility stretches a little when it comes to the ignorance around sex and pregnancy displayed by the central characters, given they're seventeen-year-olds in modern Australia, who seem middle-class and not strictly religious. (It had a feel of being set in the past, though it wasn't; had it been, it might have been more believable.) It reads as a cautionary tale, but it's not at all moralising.

If you're sensitive to issues around teenage pregnancy and miscarriage, and you like your YA novels cheerful and uplifting, this might be one to miss. I'm not prone to recommending younger readers away from certain novels - I read YA fiction from the age of ten, and though I liked to steer away from dark, unpleasant stuff back then, but that might not be the case for all readers - as you'd know your own limits in terms of novel content better than I would, obviously. That said, I do think older teenaged readers and adult YA readers are much more likely to appreciate this novel. It's a very compelling read, and the writing is magnificent, but it's also incredibly confronting.

A Small Madness on the publisher's website

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33. Graphic Novel about Podcasting

Jessica Abel's new book "Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio" takes a fresh look behind the scenes at what goes into the making of your favorite NPR podcasts.

You might not think of podcasting as a visual medium, but it uses the mind's eye in a way that is suited to a graphic novel, and this non-fiction approach to the subject is surprisingly revealing.

Jessica Abel has a long association with podcasting, having collaborated with "This American Life's" Ira Glass many years ago to create a handbook about the making of the show that they could give to supporters.

That handbook grew in scope to explore the difficult process of creating narrative-driven audio documentaries. In the course of the book you meet the people behind favorite programs such as 99% InvisibleThis American LifeRadiolab, Invisibilia,
and Snap Judgment.

Woven throughout the presentation, there's useful information about how to record and arrange sound clips, how to use music, and how to edit the spoken word, even down to individual breaths.

One of my favorite parts of the book is about story structure. Abel presents a basic story template that many podcasters use, called the "focus sentence":

"Somebody does something because __________(a motivation for doing that thing) but __________(a challenge to overcome.)"

In other words, "A character sets out to accomplish something as a result of some motivating reason, but he has to face various obstacles along the way to that goal."

This focus sentence could be used by artists in any narrative medium to help them define their story.

Taking more than ten hours of sound clips and boiling them down to a ten minute segment that has a logical flow—and then adding voiceover and music—isn't always obvious. It often leads podcasters into what they call the "German forest," a zone of confusion that they have to work their way out of, generally with the combined brainpower of small committee meetings.

The book gives a deeper appreciation of the artistry behind this popular and fast-growing field of radio production.
Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio
Jessica Abel also wrote a classic textbook on comics called Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond

Jessica Abel's podcast "Out on the Wire"
Previously: The Best Podcasts

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34. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Genre: Contemporary

Release Date: 9/1/2015

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About the Book: Maddy has SCID, a disease which means she's allergic to everything. She never knows what could cause her to be sick, what could make her have an allergic reaction. She's been kept in her house with no one but her mom and nurse and her only access to the outside world is through the computer. Until the day Olly moves in next door, Maddy doesn't feel like she's missing out on much.  Olly and Maddy develop a friendship online and Maddy starts to wonder if there could be more to her life. But if there was, it wouldn't end well for Maddy.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I honestly don't know what it was about this book that made me devour it and enjoy every moment. I've thought about and tried to put my finger on it what it was exactly, but I can only guess. Nicola Yoon's writing is addictive and her characters are just so real that I cared about them from the very beginning. I loved Maddy from the start and I kept telling myself, "ok, just one more chapter and then I'll go to bed." Two nights of staying up way too late later, I had devoured this book. And after I read it, I wanted to talk about it, to tell everyone about it.

I think part of my addiction with this novel was that it hit at just the right time. I was wanting something I could just get lost in and want to gulp down in one sitting and Everything, Everything really fit that for me. I was immediately drawn into Maddy's story, her life, and just like Maddy, I wanted to befriend Olly too. The storyline was different as well which really made me want to keep reading. It's a teen sickness/romance/friendship book but it's also not and I loved that about it. I also love the fact that Maddy is biracial and that's just a fact in the story. This isn't an issue story about race and Maddy's African American/Asian American background is part of who she is and I love that.

I really feel like teens are going to go crazy over this one and absolutely love it. It will for sure appeal to fans of stories like The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, but I think even readers who don't typically read those books will enjoy this one-the hard part will be selling them on it. This is for sure one for readers who like sad books, but also for readers who like hopeful books and I hope readers won't shy away from it just because they think it will make them cry.

Sure, some of the story got a little silly, but that's also part of it's charm. Maddy and Olly are two teens who aren't always going to make the best choices and their actions fit with their characters. My heart broke and then was put back together and I loved every moment.

There's so much more I want to say about this book, but I feel like if I do, I'll ruin the experience for you and I want you to experience it like I did, so I won't say much more. Only that my warning is that if you pick this one up, you won't be putting it down until you're finished!

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from e-galley sent by publisher for review

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35. Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer

Will and Summer meet online and strike up a friendship based on coincidence. Summer lives in Will's old hometown, Kettering, a small Tasmanian coastal community. Summer isn't telling the whole truth about herself, but figures it doesn't matter if they never see each other in person, right? 

When Will returns to Kettering, the two finally meet and Summer can no longer hide her secret – she is deaf. Can Summer and Will find a way to be friends in person even though they speak a completely different language?

Talk Under Water is told through emails, letters, Facebook posts and the first-person narratives of both Will and Summer. It's an easy read, with straightforward writing. Summer's deafness is very well depicted, and the amount of knowledge by the author of sign language and Deaf culture is clear (Minor grammatical errors in Summer's writing, since English is her second language, was a great touch). It's the sort of novel I would have loved to have studied in the early years of high school - it's engaging, readable and there are so many interesting themes. As well as Summer's deafness, she's still grieving for her dad, and Will's dealing with family breakdown, too. It's a very accessible story, and includes a lot of information about deafness and sign language without ever being preachy or over-the-top; it's very much part of the narrative, and the story doesn't suffer for its inclusion.

The dual narrative allows the reader to empathise and connect with both central characters, and the secondary characters are well-developed and relateable, too - I really felt for Will's dad and Summer's mum, who have both lost their partners. Will's old best friend Cully is ignorant about deafness, and continues to be even once he meets Summer, and I think the difficulties of Will's friendship with Cully is something a lot of teenaged readers will be able to relate to - at least those that have experienced the shift in friendships as you get older as people change and grow apart  I was a bit concerned about how much information Will and Summer shared about their respective lives, where they lived, et cetera when they initially communicated online - even though I as the reader knew they were both teenagers, from their perspective the other could easily have been a middle-aged weirdo. My worries about stranger danger were probably my greatest concern with the novel (I don't want anything bad happening to the characters, gosh!).

Talk Under Water is an enjoyable read, where the stakes aren't ever really that high - the major problems stem from miscommunication between the two central characters, which resolves quickly - which lends it realism, though not a lot of conflict. I'd recommend it for younger teenage readers (perhaps even readers in the later primary school years); while there's a very sweet romance story at the centre of this novel, it's very much secondary to the friendship that develops between the characters, both of whom read as being quite young. It's a nice, thoughtful, heart-warming novel, and it wonderfully reflects the real-world diversity of young people, which is something we always need more of in YA fiction.

Talk Under Water on the publisher's website.

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36. Book Review 2015-002: Benchere in Wonderland by Steven Gillis

Gillis - BenchereBook Review 2015-002

Benchere in Wonderland by Steven Gillis

Copy via MS Word from Steve (wherein I disclose that I obviously know Steve)


This is the fifth novel of Steve's that I've read and the seventh book overall. It's the best of his that I've read, which is saying quite a bit, especially after the last trio of Temporary People, The Consequence of Skating, and The Law of Strings.

Benchere in Wonderland seems to "simply" ask What is Art? and What is Art's role in the world? I think it goes beyond that though and pushes the reader to think about what it means to be human--what it means to think, to act, to love, to grieve, to admire.

The Benchere in question is Michael Benchere--world renowned architect, and sculpture. I don't want to spoil anything for any readers of this wonderful novel and will simply say that Benchere ends up deciding to build a huge sculpture in the Kalahari Desert in Africa and while he simply wants/hopes to do it for the sake of the sculpture, it turns into much more--a media event, a place for people to converge, to make their own comments about art and about politics and love and ...

And Gillis has infused this novel with plenty of humor and entertainment. It's a novel that will entertain you greatly while causing you to think.

5 stars

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37. The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher

Here's the link.
 The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher

The first chapter is Zak's.  We meet his stepfather, Roger, and we find out that Zak is NOT into sports.  He's not into school so much.  He's into games, and comics, and stuff like that.  And he misses his Dad.

Then, in the next chapter we meet Ana.  Here's what we learn about Ana.  She does a lot of stuff and she does it all well and she does it ALL because it will look good on her college applications.  And she doesn't have time for fun.  Her sister was the fun one.  "I don't have a sister anymore."

If these two characters were a Venn diagram, their edges would barely touch.  That touch would be the fact that they go to the same school.  That is ALL they have in common. Oh, and they are both smart.

So, Zak lifts his health essay straight from Wikipedia.  And his flustered-seeming health teacher catches it.  And his punishment is to serve as the alternate at the Quiz Team - of which Ana is captain - tournament.  This is a HUGE punishment because the tournament is on the very same weekend as the Annual Washingcon - the comic con event that Zak has not missed in 5 years.

Then Ana's younger brother - also on the Quiz team - goes AWOL from the hotel.  And Ana - whose parents are kind of scary - has to find him.  And Zak helps because he knows that Younger Brother, Clayton, has run off to Washingcon.  So, Zak gets to go after all.  And there are a lot of people in costumes and some mayhem, and a wedding and a battle and an altercation with an underworld figure of the criminal persuasion - not of the supernatural sort.  And Clayton is Super at eluding capture.  And Zak is a Washingcon celebrity of sorts and Ana learns a LOT.  And, oh wookies! Are they in a bunch of trouble!

Also, some parental drama occurs in which things get dealt with.  'Nuff said.

The parent in me wants to add:  Do NOT try this at home.  But if you do and you find a lost valuable item, leave it where it is, ok?  Just report it to the front desk and go your merry way.

Cons look like fun.  For younger people.  I'll just don my Chrestomanci bathrobe and pour another mug of coffee, right here, at home.

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38. I am Princess X

No, seriously, I am.  Except I wear purple sneakers, not read ones.  So maybe I am Princess Y?  Or Princess...

Libby and Mai met in 5th grade, sidelined from gym.  Strangers at first - then Mai grabbed a chunk of chalk.  And Libby started drawing.   And Mai started telling stories.  Three years - and boxes and notebooks of Princess X comics later - Libby's mother drove her car, with Libby in it, off a bridge over the Puget Sound.

Now, Mai is sixteen and back in Seattle visiting her Dad.  The first Princess X sticker takes her by surprise.  And then, she sees another.  But, here's the thing.  All the notebooks, the boxes of comics?  They were all thrown away after Libby's body floated to shore.  So, who is drawing these comics?

Mai has never been sure that that body was Libby.  As she reads the webcomics about Princess X, Mai is thrilled to think that her best and truest friend might still be alive.  But, why has she kept her survival a secret - especially from Mai?

Princess Y - that's who I am.  I ask the questions.  Why?  Why is the computer nerd, Patrick, not going to UW in the Fall?  Why didn't Libby's father find Libby?  Why is that skinny pale skater watching Mai?  Lots of whys, here.

The graphics inserted among the text give the reader and Mai clues to what might have happened. This book is a bit creepy, suspenseful, and off the wall.

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39. No Parking at the End Times

http://645e533e2058e72657e9-f9758a43fb7c33cc8adda0fd36101899.r45.cf2.rackcdn.com/harpercollins_us_frontbookcovers_648H/9780062275417.jpgAbby and Aaron are living in a van in San Francisco.  The Rapture that their parents dragged them across the country to join was a bust.  Although they are twins, their reactions to this "disappointment" diverge.  Abby wants to keep the family together.  Aaron wants to go home.

Abby and Aaron aren't the only homeless teens in the Bay area.  And Brother John, the charismatic preacher that the twins' dad follows slavishly, is not the only cruel parasite in San Francisco.

Bryan Bliss tells a story of dashed hopes as Abby must deal with her growing awareness that her parents can't take care of themselves, let alone the family, anymore.  Aaron's desire to make money to fund his trip home leads him to disastrous choices. 

I don't enjoy making decisions but I don't understand the desire to abdicate all control over one's life.  Maybe temporarily, I'd like someone else to "take over" for awhile.  To follow blindly seems to have always been a lifestyle choice.  This book poses a question that I struggle with.  Why would Faith in anything ask people to seek the end of life on earth?

That's about as deep as I can go today.  No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss was a thought provoking read.  Don't do it!!! was a constant mental refrain as I turned the pages.  Don't do it, Dad!  Don't do it, Aaron!!  Abby, don't do it!  And Mom, how could you??

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40. Russian Books on Academic Drawing and Painting

The revival of academic drawing and painting in America and Europe has largely been guided by the republication of the book by Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme.

But there are other ways of approaching the teaching of academic drawing, most notably the Russian tradition, which has more of a focus on spirit and construction, rather than the outward appearance of the form. I discussed some of the differences between the two approaches in an earlier post when I interviewed Professor Sergey Chubirko who teaches at the Russian Academy in Florence.

For those interested in Russian academic methods, there are two recent books by a living Russian master named Vladimir Mogilevtsev. He is the head of the Drawing Department of the Russian Academy of Arts (also known as the Repin Institute) in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Mogilevtsev's primary books are Fundamentals of Drawing (first published in 2007) and Fundamentals of Painting (2012). They were published in Russian, but they have been translated into English, and I've had a chance to read through a PDF version of the English edition, alongside the Russian print editions.

I was interested in the drawings, of course, but even more interested in the thinking behind the drawings, and these books provide an excellent window into the mind of the Russian academy.

The way the book is organized is that there's a step by step sequence that plays out on the right hand page. On the left hand page is a commentary, along with examples by masters of the past, often including Russian artists such as Repin, Serov and Fechin. 

In both the drawing and painting books, Mr. Mogilevtsev places great emphasis on beginning with a strong concept of the subject, analyzing what feeling the subject evokes in the artist, and thinking how best that can be expressed.

He also analyzes the form into its blocky forms, the skeletal foundation, and the individual muscles beneath the skin. The examples from old master drawings, sculptures, and paintings clarify his observations, and deepen the appreciation of the way our predecessors solved similar problems.

Fundamentals of Painting follows a similar structure, with extended step-by-step demos, beginning with a head portrait, a half-figure portrait with hands, a standing nude and a copy of a Rembrandt.

The quotes from the text are refreshing:
"Sometimes students complain that they don't like a scene. This is a sign of laziness and limitation of an artist's imagination. There is a person, and a person is the whole world. Revealing this world is a huge task for any artist."

Sketches and finished portrait by Valentin Serov

There's a lot of emphasis on planning with sketches to capture the quality of the subject that attracted the artist, and in maintaining that perception throughout the arduous process. The text emphasizes seeing the whole, contrasting warm and cool, and establishing a hierarchy of details, with not all details being equal.

In their print form, Fundamentals of Drawing and Fundamentals of Painting  are available from Amazon, but the print copies are currently only in Russian. They're big books (13 3/4" x 9 3/4"), and the quality of the reproductions is outstandingly good. Currently, if you buy them in this form, they will send you the PDF of the English translation. The English translation is also excellent. I'm told the English print editions are soon to come, and I'll update this post when they become available. 

I have also been told by the publisher that the drawing book is in the process of being translated into French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish languages. They also already have a Chinese translation a Finnish version.

I also highly recommend Academic Drawings and Sketches (Fundamentals Teaching Aids) (shown at left). Instead of showing a couple of drawings taken through a long series of stages, this is a large collection of finished examples of Russian academic figure drawings. They're mostly nudes, drawn by the instructors and students over the last 25 years.

It also includes some more informal sketchbook drawings of fellow students and landscapes. This book is mostly pictures, with high quality reproductions. It has minimal text at the beginning, an introduction by Vladimir Mogilevtsev in both Russian and English. The captions in this book are in both Russian and English. Academic Drawings and Sketches  is 168 pages, softcover, 9.5" x 13.5".

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41. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Genre: Contemporary

Release Date: 8/4/2015

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About the Book: Bridge survived an accident and as she left the hospital she was told she must have survived for a reason. Emily is embracing a new found popularity with boys at school and a crush on an older boy. And Tabitha is the friend who tells people like it is. Sherm is writing letters to his grandfather-but not sending them. And an unnamed narrator wanders the neighborhood on Valentines Day wondering about what makes a true friend. This cast of characters will connect and their lives will entwine and they'll figure out middle school together. 

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Librarian confession-sometimes I feel like I'm the only non Rebecca Stead fangirl. I mean, I liked Liar and Spy well enough and I When You Reached Me was ok, but I felt like the only person who didn't gush over it. Yet there's something about her writing-and the mad devotion from librarians all over-that keeps me reading. 

I was actually very intrigued by this book because it's older middle grade/younger YA and I had a feeling that in Miss Stead's hands, that would be something magical. Then I read this quote that my friend Angie posted and raved about and I was hooked-I had to read Goodbye Stranger.

"That's what life is. Life is where you sleep and what you see when you wake up in the morning, and who you tell about your weird dream, and what you eat for breakfast and who you eat it with. Life isn't something that happens to you. It's something you make yourself, all the time."

Told throughout the course of several months (with one character's narration taking place all in one day), the novel takes interwoven storylines from a group of friends, and those that surround them, through their struggles with middle school. Seventh grade is a rough year. It's a time when friendships can change, relationships can blossom, and life can feel like it's turning upside down. And middle school is a time when life feels as though life is in a constant state of confusion. Growing up is hard and Rebecca Stead captures the awkwardness, confusion, and growing pains perfectly. As an adult, reading this book was like stepping back in time and remembering what it was like to be 13 again. As a young teen, I think readers will relate with the characters very strongly and with such a wide cast, I think they'll find someone they can identify with. 

Bridge is struggling with trying to figure out who  she is-she's been away from school and while her best friends are there, they seem to be changing around her and she's changing too, but she's not sure what that means. She's also becoming friends with Sherm which makes her wonder how can you be friends with a boy and what does that mean? Bridge is also struggling because she's taken the words of the nurse that she survived her accident for a reason to heart and she wants to discover what that reason is. I loved Bridge's shyness and her tentativeness into finding a club to join at school and how she slowly discovers where she belongs and that she fits. 

Emily gets caught up in a texting-turned-sexting relationship and decides to send a photo to her crush which then gets sent around school. I loved how Miss Stead deftly handles this plotline. It's easy to see how Emily can get caught up and how she trusts those around her. It also discusses how society views girls and how girls are treated in situations like this and how often their treatment is unfair and their reputation is harmed while boys reputations are intact. It's a great commentary and something that is a must read and should be discussed with middle schoolers. 

There's also the unnamed narrator, who is struggling with trying to let a best friend go because the truth is there about who the friend really is, but it's hard to say goodbye. And can you stop being friends with someone and have a new best friend? And can secrets really hurt friends? 

Bridge's search for her identity and who she is, Sherm's broken relationship with his grandfather, Tabitha's struggle to grow up, and Emily's crush on an older boy. There is so much wonderful fodder here for great book discussions. And the writing is fantastic. Things are presented in a way that readers will understand, will relate to, and won't feel like an adult is talking down to them or doesn't understand. I think Goodbye Stranger could be a pick for a parent/child book discussion as well. 

Rebecca Stead has finally won me over with this one. I really loved it. I kept wanting to go back to it, wanted to keep reading, and I was interested in all the characters. Everyone was well developed and the plot wove together wonderfully. I think Goodbye Stranger is an absolute must read of 2015 and a book that older tweens and young teens-and their parents-should get their hands on and hopefully read together.

Full Disclosure: Reviwed from e-galley received from publisher for review

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42. Finding Serendipity

Finding Serendipity (Tuesday McGillycuddy #1)Tuesday McGillycuddy hopes that her mother has finally finished the very last Vivienne Small book.  But when Tuesday gets home, her mother is gone.  The attic window is open and a small box with silver words "The End" sits on the table next to her mother's typewriter.

Denis, Tuesday's father, doesn't seem concerned.  But Tuesday is afraid her mother is lost somewhere out there in the night air.  She sits at the typewriter and types out the beginning of a story about a girl who lost her mother.  The next thing she knows, Tuesday is in a magical library which leads to the land of Vivienne Small, the Peppermint Forest and the evil pirate Mothwood.  Tuesday is sure she will find her mother here.

Davis' setting reminds me of Never Never Land.  There is a sweet quality to the forest, the treehouse and even to Vivienne and Tuesday - to say nothing of shaggy dog, Baxterr.  Do NOT be fooled.  The adventure is not saccharine at all.  As soon as we meet Vivienne, she is shooting arrows and throwing knives and felling pirates left and right.  The sweetness helps as the action switches back and forth from Vivienne's land of imagination and Tuesday's home where her mother - now returned - must find a way to bring Tuesday back.

The book pays homage to the imagination required to create a new world and a story from start to finish.  Other authors gather in the magical library to find food for thought and inspiration.  The librarian forces Tuesday to finish what she has begun.

Although this is an action-packed fantasy-light with a super hero and a noxious villain, anyone who has written or tried to write a story will love Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks.  And Baxterr - who is an awesome dog of hidden talents.

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43. Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Genre: Mystery

Release Date: 8/4/2015

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About the Book: After her parents divorce and Zoe moves with her mom to upstate New York, the last thing she expected was to meet someone like Digby. No one really likes Digby when they first meet him-he's eccentric and annoying and only shows up when he wants something. Zoe just wants to survive her junior year with good grades and no problems so she can move back to NYC with her dad and attend a private school for her senior year. But Digby will change all of that. When you're with Digby, you can't help but get pulled into his madcap schemes and (sometimes illegal) hijinks. Digby's on a planet all his own and Zoe can't help but get pulled in as Digby tries to solve the mystery of a local missing girl and discover if it has any connection to the disappearance of his sister years before.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: The book marketing this meets that for this book is perfect-imagine Veronica Mars mixed with a John Hughes movie with a touch of Sherlock. That pretty much sums up Trouble is a Friend of Mine perfectly. There's lots of razor sharp dialogue and wit, plenty of pop-culture references, an amateur teen detective who somehow continues outsmart everyone around him, and a mystery to be solved. All that wraps up into a pretty hilarious and totally fun package and you just know going in, from the very first page, that just like Zoe, you're going to end up on Planet Digby too.

Tromly is a former screenwriter and that really comes across in her writing. The plot is very fast paced and the dialogue is snappy. It also reads like it could translate to the screen very easily (which I would love to see happen-this could be a great teen movie!) Zoe isn't the most well developed character. She's actually a bit bland, but I think part of that is purposeful for the novel as it allows the reader to jump right into Zoe's character and experience Digby for themselves. The rest of the supporting characters are funny, but a bit typical of teen novels-the cute popular boy, the mean rich girl, and the nerdy outcast. Yet all together, they do make for a pretty funny group and it works.

Digby on the other hand is such an enigma that you can't help but want to know more about him and follow along on his crazy escapades to solve whatever mystery he's surrounded himself with. The main focus of the novel is mystery and friendship and while you could read it as a romance (very slightly) that's not a main focus at all, which I really liked. This is one of those books I can hand to readers looking for a mystery and I know they'll be engaged with a great mystery without having to wade through lots of additional subplots about love triangles or family drama or forensic or paranomal elements. There's also plenty of humor and with the contemporary setting, so I think even non-mystery readers would be willing to give this one a try. And with the John Hughes comparisons, I also think Trouble is a Friend of Mine has great crossover appeal!

I had a ton of fun reading it and there were several points in the book where I was disappointed my lunch break was up and I had to stop reading because I just wanted to read one more page. The story especially picks up speed once the group goes to the school formal, and the mystery solving really takes off. Sure the situations the teens get themselves into can be far fetched, but that's part of the fun. The ending is left very open, so fingers crossed we get to hear more from Digby soon!

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from book sent by publisher for review

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44. Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

Molly has a strange life. Her mama collects herbs at dawn and makes potions, her father and brothers have gone away, and her house feels like a gypsy caravan.

Molly doesn’t want to know anything about herbs and potions. She wishes she could be more like her best friend, Ellen, who has a normal family and a normal house. But she is also secretly interested in Pim, who is inquisitive and odd and a little bit frightening.

When Molly’s mama makes a potion that has a wild and shocking effect, Molly and Pim look for a way to make things right, and Molly discovers the magic and value of her own unusual life.

This novel is The Loveliest. Sweet and splendid and magical, while still being of-this-world. Molly longs to be as normal as her friend Ellen (who gets muesli bars in her lunchbox and doesn't have a mum that wanders about the woods barefoot, collecting herbs for potions) and this is something I think young readers will definitely relate to (everyone has thought at some point "my family is the weirdest" - eventually you realise everyone's family is weird and that's okay and sometimes even great).

Molly does work out that she's pretty lucky to have her slightly odd mum, but only once something pretty terrifying happens. I don't want to give anything away (I think it's better when stories are surprising), so I'll leave it at that. Even though Pim features in the title (and Pim, with his interesting trivia and perspective of the world, is a great character), he doesn't heavily feature in the book. It's a story about friendship, but most of all it's about Molly learning to appreciate her mum and their strange life. (The fact that her father and twin brothers had mysteriously vanished in Cuba was such an odd but intriguing detail, and one that makes me hope there'll be another book about Molly, in which she finds them!)

There are so many sweet characters (apart from the incredibly horrendous neighbours, Ernest and Prudence Grimshaw), but I especially love Molly's mum, and Ellen (I would be friends with Ellen. She is so nice and sensible). The lovely little illustrations and glossary of herbs and such at the end of the book are a beautiful touch. I really quite enjoyed it, and I would've absolutely adored it when I was ten.

(How splendid is the cover? It's got lovely sparkly bits, in real life - have a look at Cait's review at Paper Fury for some lovely photos of it. Am I overusing the word lovely? That's what this book is. The Bookish Manicurist's painted a gorgeous manicure to match it. And now I'm linking to other reviews, I can't really stop myself: I love this review from a 9-year-old reader, as well as Danielle's thoughts at Alpha Reader on this book and middle-grade fiction in Aus.)

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars on the publisher's website

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45. #BookADay: CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley (Dial Books For Young Readers)

‪#‎BookADay‬: CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley ( Dial Books for Young Readers, June 2015). Finished this middle grade book on the weekend. It was one of those experiences where I was enjoying the book soooo much that I began reading slower when I got to the last few chapters because I DIDN'T WANT IT TO END. This would make a fantastic read aloud.

I was also lucky enough to meet Cassie at Nerd Camp in June. She's so easygoing and friendly, plus drew me a picture of an elephant butt! She says it's the only thing she knows how to draw. grin emoticon I keep her drawing in the front of my copy of her book.

More about the book - More about Cassie

p.s. If you have a copy of the book, don't forget to look under the dust jacket!!!!


More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts


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46. Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that's not rational, not right, and you're becoming somebody you don't recognise, and certainly don't respect, but you don't even care. 
And this person you like is unattainable. 
Except for one thing . . . 
He lives downstairs.

Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane. But since Kane's been back, he's changed. There's a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.

A Gothic story about the very dark things that feed the creative process, from the winner of the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for young adult fiction.

This is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. The novel is atmospheric and spooky and the cover suits it perfectly. This novel is weird, which I love, dark and strange and interesting. Abbie is not always a likeable character, or a good decision-maker (she is obsessive to an incredibly worrying degree), and Kane, with whom she is obsessed, is often downright awful. It's paranormal, I suppose, but not your typical paranormal - there's not clear-cut romance or predictable plotlines. It is both real and unreal (and quite surreal, too, now I think about it).

It's distinctly different from both of Eagar's previous novels - Saltwater Vampires is more paranormal and more humorous, and Raw Blue is much more realistic and written in a more straightforward style. I think there are quite a number of writers from whom you can generally expect something similar with each book - whether that's the writer's doing or the publisher's is hard to tell. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good in that if you discover a book you love, then there's more where that came from in the writer's back catalogue, and it makes it easier to clearly define a writer's style. It's bad in that some writers can become predictable. What I think is obvious from Eagar's novels is that she's a writer who is constantly developing and challenging herself, and as a result each of her novels published so far is unique. So I can't necessarily say if you loved Raw Blue, you'll love Night Beach, too - the writing style is more complex, the plot is supernatural, and the central character is far less sympathetic - but I can say that Night Beach is brilliant.

My greatest disappointment with the novel (look away now if you want to avoid a spoiler, though it's not a major one) is that a dog is killed, which I didn't think was entirely necessary. There are certain things in novels that I can't stomach, and this is one of them. (Though it speaks to how involved I was in the story that I found that event so horrendous; if it were a poorly executed novel and it had felt inauthentic, it wouldn't have bothered me as much.)

This book was published three years ago, so I'm a little disappointed I didn't read it until just recently - I think I have a tendency to favour contemporary in my YA reading. If this sounds like the sort of novel you'd like (weird/dark/intense) then do not skip over it. It is beautifully written, and very compelling, and different and strange and so worth reading.

Night Beach on the publisher's website.

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47. #BookADay: NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children's)

#BookADay: NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson (Alfred A. Knopf Books For Young Readers). Such a fun picture book with adorable and eye-catching illustrations. Also love the underlying positive message about collaboration and friendship. A great read for little ninjas everywhere!


More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts

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48. A School for Brides

 Patrice Kindl's A School for Brides was the inspiration for my 5 Things That Make Me Happy post.

 Eight young women have been sent by their families to a school in Yorkshire, far from anywhere, to prepare for their eventual role as wives and mothers of gentility.  The oldest is 19, almost an old maid.  The youngest is 12.  And they despair of ever meeting dashing, well-bred, financially secure young men of the appropriate social class.

Then a young man falls off his horse and must be rescued by these young ladies.  (The old-young- gentleman-falls-off-horse-trick is well played here.) Luckily, he is well-mannered, titled and has lots of eligible friends.

Meanwhile, one of the girls is receiving ardent notes from an unknown admirer.  The Baron's daughter is threatened by the return of her feared and truly despicable governess.  And a necklace disappears!!

 That's a lot of action conveyed to the reader in a most genteel and Austen-esque manner. 

I had hoped that Robert, the extremely decorative footman, would be revealed to be the lost son of someone quite high in society.  He is a foundling, after all.  He seems happy where he is so perhaps we should just let him be.

Read the book. 'Nuff said.

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49. The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.

Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.

And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.

A novel very unlike anything else I have read, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sad. Tom has an innocence that is both lovely and heart-wrenching. So many tragic things befall her (losing her family in a flood is only the beginning), it's amazing that the story manages to be uplifting, in the end. Tom is a character with whom I sympathised, and I loved that she spoke to fish (it reminded me a little of Big Fish, the poignancy of it, or the surrealness, or maybe the use of fish as metaphors, or all three. That was my favourite film when I was ten. I must have watched it a hundred times). Her grandmother is the sweetest, and so is Jonah. Mrs Peck is horrendous, but Bill is most horrendous of all. The town itself is beautifully drawn and distinctly Australian, but still with a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world (likely due to Tom's perspective).

It's authentic despite the surreal aspects, but if you come to this novel expecting standard contemporary YA, you'll be disappointed. It doesn't moralise or offer life lessons or clearly explain particular situations (many, many details remain vague, like those of the flood or how Tom came to live with Bill). The plot is not clear or neat. The voice of Tom and her journey are compelling enough. It reminded me of As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman, which was published around the same time and has a similar slow-burning moody atmosphere and surreal aspects expertly weaved into a realistic story.

The Minnow is original and unconventional and exquisitely written and heart-breaking/mending. It tackles huge, difficult events with aplomb and subtlety. This is, again, one of those novels that should hardly be limited to teenage readers. I think many adults will enjoy this, even those that don't fancy themselves as readers of YA.

The Minnow on the publisher's website

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50. The Book of Dares for Lost Friends

The Book of Dares for Lost Friends

The Book of Dares for Lost Friends by Jane Kelly.

Best friends, Val and Lanora, meet in Central Park to plan their entrance into M.S. 10.  Lanora has plans that don't include Val.   Lanora decides to use middle school as a chance to re-invent herself.  (My hopes were on the high side.)  She intends to fill Val in on what is going on, eventually.  There is a road paved with good intentions.

Val, in the meantime, has plenty to do while she misses Lanora.  She follows the park's feral cat to a dusty antiques store, owned by an old coot and staffed by an odd young boy.  She plays soccer - constantly and well.  She joins a group of word obsessed self proclaimed outsiders.

When Lanora's plan leads her off the straight and narrow, Val tries to find a way to save her old friend.  With the Book of Dares for Lost Friends, that strange boy, a pair of feathered wings and a midnight excursion, Val tries to bring the old Lanora back.

A great cast of characters, a hint of magic, superstition and the setting of a vibrant city add up to a suspenseful middle grade read.  Readers will moan in disappointment and lean forward in hope as these kids muddle through adjusting to a new school and family drama.  Questions remain about some of the characters.  So maybe??

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