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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Book Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 2,243
26. A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

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About the Book: Felicity Pickle is tired of moving around is hoping that Midnight Gulch will finally be the place where her momma's wandering heart will settle down. Felicity is a word collector and she sees words floating all around the people and places of Midnight Gulch. It used to be a magical place, but the magic is long gone. But Felicity and her newfound friend Jonah just might be able to stir some of that magic back into Midnight Gulch-and into everyone who lives there.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says:  Sometimes a narrator and a book were just made for each other and I think that's the case of Cassandra Morris and A Snicker of Magic. I mean, there's a reason that this book is an Odyssey Honor Book! Just listen to the preview from Audible!

Natalie Lloyd's debut novel oozes charm in such a good way that you want to curl up with Snicker, a bowl of delicious ice cream and read (or listen) all night long. This book has magic in it and it's the kind of magic that makes your heart sing and you just have to smile after you put the book down.

Felicity is the type of person who I want to be friends with. She smart and has some spunk, but she's also a bit shy, as being moved around has made her grow more into herself. She's nervous to get close to those around her because she knows her family may just up and leave again so it's hard to make friends. But she can't resist Jonah-and really, who could? If I want Felicity to be my friend, then I want Jonah there with us leading the way. Jonah is wonderful and funny and is the perfect pull to Felicity's shyness and they compliment each other beautifully. It's a fantastic friendship and I loved every moment of it.

The rest of the cast of characters are eccentric and delightful and the town of Midnight Gulch is a character all its own. I wish Midnight Gulch was a real place because I would love to visit-especially for that ice cream! (Did I mention there was ice cream that sounds so good it will make you so mad that it's fictional in this book?) Felicity and Midnight Gulch are a wonderful next step for readers who are looking for something after Anne of Green Gables or The Penderwicks. I think if they could, Anne and Felicity would be great literary kindred spirits. Reading A Snicker of Magic brought me back to those books I grew up on with the characters I wanted to be and I can see a young reader out there hoping she can grow up and become just like Felicity.

Cassandra Morris has a sweet voice with the perfect southern accent to really bring Midnight Gulch to life and her slow deliberate narration and drawl add to the atmosphere of the book. I loved this one on audio! If you have families looking for a great listen on a car ride, I would give this one a try.

If you read it or listen to it, A Snicker of Magic is an adorable and a splindiddly turn of words and phrases. Felicity is a word collector and Natalie Lloyd is a master of words herself. I can't wait to get lost in her book.

Book Pairings: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from audiobook sent by publisher for review

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27. Glass bird


The Girl with the Glass Bird: A Knight's Haddon Boarding School MysteryIn The Girl with the Glass Bird, we meet Edie Wilson just as her awful cousins have caught the pet goldfish Edie brought with her to Folly Farm.  What they do to the goldfish and to Edie is gross and cruel.  But like many stereotypical upper class British parents, Edie's aunt writes it all off as "Boys will be boys".


Meanwhile, Edie's older cousin, Charles has been handed an assignment by one of his biggest clients and oldest friends.  Charles has to plant a girl in the client's daughter's boarding school to find out if the client's daughter IS being tormented as she claims she is.  Well, well, well, how convenient!  When he decides to drop in on Folly Farm, who should he find but an 11-year-old  girl whose aunt could care less what happens to her - as long as Edie is "safe", that is.

And Edie enters the world of Knight's Haddon.  No cell phones, no TV, very little computer usage -  the school is exactly as it was when Edie's mother went there.  From the start, Edie knows that Anastasia, her charge, is being manipulated.  But are the students behind the pranks or are the adults to blame?

Princesses and bullies, spies and secrets, The Girl with the Glass Bird by Esme Kerr mixes all these things together to produce a page turner.  Is Anastasia crazy or is someone just trying to make her seem that way?  Who can Edie trust when her grandmother warns her away from everyone?  Little events build to a grand crisis.  And Edie may not be able to move fast enough. 


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28. Book Review: Calvin and Hobbes Exhibition Catalog

My first thought was: Do I really need another Calvin and Hobbes book?


Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue
I'm a fan of Bill Watterson's comic strip about the boy and his tiger friend, and I already have all the other books. So when I heard about the new exhibition catalogue, I wondered, does this book offer anything new?


Watterson created the strip in 1985. Wanting to keep his life private, and to maintain his relentless pace of dailies and Sunday strips, with a few exceptions, he has always been reticent about interviews.

So the mind behind the comics has always been a bit of a mystery. Who were his influences, and what was he thinking while he was writing and drawing?


Watterson retired the strip in 1995, after only 10 years. His art had kept getting better, and the quality of the strip was at its zenith when he ended it. Since then he hasn't done any new Calvin and Hobbes work.

Other than the Tenth Anniversary Book, there isn't much published about his life or choices or approach or philosophy. So without new cartoons, what could the new book possibly offer?


The book is an exhibition catalogue, instigated by Watterson's donation of 3,000 originals to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at the Ohio State University. The book reproduces a lot of his artwork from the originals so that you can see the rare bits of white-out, pencil lines, and paste-up.


The book also includes a display of his tools, which were pretty simple and straightforward
1. Strathmore bristol board 3-ply
2. Circle template
3. Red mechanical pencil with 2H lead
4. Rapidograph #2
5. Ames lettering guide (which Watterson calls "clear plastic thing with holes")
6. Crow quill pen
7. Small sable brush
8. White-out

But the real core of the book is a 35-page interview with Watterson where he opens up about his beginnings as an artist, his influences, his travails with deadlines, his thinking about character and story, and his musings about comics on the Internet. This will surely stand as the definitive Watterson interview.

As an interviewee, he is everything you would have hoped for: funny, honest, self-deprecating, intelligent, and perceptive.

Here's just one example: Comparing doing coming strips and easel painting (which he has been pursuing in recent years for his own pleasure), he says:

"Since leaving the strip, it's been strange. In painting, there are virtually no constraints at all, and that leaves me completely flummoxed. I could paint something fifteen feet high or six inches high. I could blend and glaze and make it look like a photograph, or I could apply the paint with a trowel. I could work on a picture for a year, or I could finish it in two hours. I could paint what I see, or paint from my imagination, or paint abstractly. I can do anything I want, and the more I learn, the more possibilities I have. That much choice incapacitates me. Every option has some benefit and some drawback, and I change my mind every half hour. In hindsight, then, I have a lot more appreciation for the severe limitations of newspaper comics. It's going to be black and white, it's going to be ink on paper, it's all got to fit in this teeny little space, and it has to be done by yesterday. Okay, thank you, now I can get to work!"

Online article in the Washington Post with more quotes from the interview:
"Bill Watterson talks: This is why you must read the new ‘Exploring Calvin and Hobbes’ book"Book

Book on Amazon: Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue

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29. #BookADay: CITY OF SAVAGES by Lee Kelly (Saga Press, 2015)

#BookADay: CITY OF SAVAGES by Lee Kelly (Saga Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). I just finished this strong debut from YA author Lee Kelly; I *loved* the focus and development of the sister relationship throughout, and the dual-narrative works really well. Add a suspenseful plot with some unexpected twists, and it's a book that would make an excellent summer read, especially for sf fans.

Synopsis:
"After the Red Allies turn New York City into a POW camp, two sisters must decipher the past in order to protect the future in this action-packed thriller with a dual narrative.

It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual POW census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past."

 

 

 

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30.


The Unmapped Sea (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #5) 

Dear Maryrose Wood,
    I finished The Unmapped Sea, early Monday morning and I have just one or two little questions for you.

1.  WHAT!!!!????

2.  Are you kidding me?  Please, say you are kidding me!

Oh and this one.

3.  How could you do this to your loyal readers?

Sorry.  I do have another question.  It's actually the most important question.

4.  When is the next book coming out?  I hope it will arrive next week, because I can handle this sense of fraughtitude for maybe a week.  But not much longer than that.  Then I explode and start telling people what happened.  Or not.

The Incorrigible children and Miss Lumley accompany Sir Frederick and Lady Constance and the Ashton household to the beach at Brighton - in January.  The doctor ordered it.  But this works to Miss Lumley's advantage because the only person who has any clue as to the nature of the Ashton family curse lives in Brighton.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Time is running out.  Lady Constance will bring forth generation #5 of cursed Ashton's in May.  The curse must be dispelled before the baby arrives or..... (falls into a Lady Constance-ish swoon!!!)

Alexander, Beowulf and Casseiopeia meet the Babushnikov children.  Isn't that sweet?  (Simper and smile.)  They go skating and share dinners together and visit a most unusual Museum and it's like a walk in the sunshine... A very cold, argument-wracked walk in the winter blustery sunshine - with clouds.

And that is really all I can tell you.  Don't ask.  If you need to know more you can read the book yourself.  I am returning my copy to the Bethlehem Area Public Library this weekend.

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31. #BookADay: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood/House Of Anansi)

#BookADay: THIS ONE SUMMER written by Mariko Tamaki​, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki​ (Groundwood Books​/House Of Anansi, 2014). Bought this at The Beguiling Books & Art​ a while back after hearing it won the Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration. I found that the book perfectly captured the feeling of summer in both the text and illustration (the latter made me swoon) and there were so many "omigosh I have so felt like that" small and not-so-small moments of truth throughout.

From the publisher's synopsis:

"Rose and Windy are summer friends whose families have visited Awago Beach for as long as they can remember. But this year is different, and they soon find themselves tangled in teen love and family crisis. From the creators of Skim comes an investigation into the mysterious world of adults.

"Sure, Rose’s dad is still making cheesy and embarrassing jokes, but her mother is acting like she doesn’t even want to be there. Plus, being at the cottage isn’t just about going to the beach anymore. Now Rose and Windy are spending a lot of their time renting scary movies and spying on the teenagers who work at the corner store, as well as learning stuff about sex no one mentioned in health class.

"Pretty soon everything is messed up. Rose’s father leaves the cottage and returns to the city, and her mother becomes more and more withdrawn. While her family is falling to pieces, Rose focuses her attention on Dunc, a teenager working at the local corner store. When Jenny, Dunc’s girlfriend, claims to be pregnant, the girls realize that the teenagers are keeping just as many secrets as the adults in their lives.

"No one seems to want to talk about the things that matter. When the tension between Dunc and Jenny boils over, Jenny makes a desperate and destructive move and Rose's mother is galvanized into action. In the aftermath, nothing is completely resolved, but secrets have been aired, which means that things are at least a bit better for everyone. For Rose and Windy, the end of summer brings the realization that, while Awago Beach might always be the same, they have both been changed forever.

From Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, creators of the multi-award-winning graphic novel Skim, comes a stunning and authentic story of friendship, illustrated with subtly heart-breaking moments and pure summer joy."

 

 

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32. #BookADay | THE YETI FILES: MEET THE BIGFEET by Kevin Sherry (Scholastic)

Yetis! In Canada! What's not to love?

More info about Kevin Sherry.

More info about the book.

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

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33. My Sister Sif by Ruth Parks

Fourteen-year-old Erika and her older sister Sif are desperately homesick and want to flee their life in the city. Their island home, Rongo, and their family are calling them. 

Arriving on Rongo, a green dot in the Pacific, they find the locals frightened by the changes to their world, and cracks forming in their once-perfect home. Even in this paradise, Erika and her family feel the threat of the encroaching world. And it isn't only Erika's home that needs her attention. Henry Jacka, a young American shell-collector, catches Sif 's eye and uncovers a long-guarded family secret. Only the determined Erika can prevent him from revealing it. 


Ruth Park's prophetic tale, My Sister Sif, is a distinctive, much-loved classic by one of Australia's most highly acclaimed authors. It will appeal to a whole new generation of young Australian readers.


My Sister Sif
is a beautiful, fable-like speculative story - a small, lovely novel that mixes fantasy into reality so well it feels like it really could have happened. 
I'm not going to give away what those fantasy aspects are, in case you decide to read it - I think it's nice to be surprised. I came to it not knowing very much about the story itself, and I was very quickly swept up in it. The magical aspects of the story are perfectly ordinary to the characters, making the story feel very much of our world.

I always love stories about the bonds between sisters.* Sif is my favourite - she's shy and a dreamer. Erika is more practical, and despite being the younger sister she feels she must look after Sif. Erika is so sure that she knows best she can be obnoxious, but she's ultimately an endearing character, despite her mistakes (she is fourteen, after all). Her relationship with Pig is adorable. Their island home of Rongo is well-drawn and realistic,** and I think the young narrator and the magical, childlike freedom of the story will appeal to younger readers (I would've loved this even more if I'd read it when I was ten or twelve), while the thoughtfulness and relevance of the issues raised in the story will interest adult readers of YA, too. It's easy to read and authentic and just the sort of book you want to hug.***

The issues raised in the novel are even more important now than when it was first published, but the story has a real timeless quality. There are parts of My Sister Sif which remind me that it was originally published in the 1980s, aspects of the story that speak of a different generation (things I can imagine in my parents' childhoods which don't exist in mine): Erika having a secret hideout that no grown-ups know about, the girls being able to just roam about and leave Australia on their own, Erika seeing adults as this entirely separate species who just don't understand kids. It adds to the charm. Despite the environmental protection message and fantastical creatures, the central themes of My Sister Sif are the same as a lot of YA: characters trying to become independent, relate to their family, figure out who they are and where they belong. It's a gorgeous little book.

My Sister Sif on the publisher's website

*I am the eldest of two! Sisters are the best! I really liked Frozen, like a lot, mainly because sisterly love saves the day.

**When I'm reading, I tend to fill in the detail places described with places from my own memory. I've been to Vanuatu a couple of times, and once swam in a very lovely lagoon on the island of Efate, so I kept imagining that. I don't think Rongo is a real place, but it'd be nice to visit if it were.

***You hug books you really love, right? Or is that just me?

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34. FLAVIA!!! and Giveaway deadline







Tomorrow is the last day for the Fog Diver giveaway.  Comment here or on the original post and your name goes in the Oracular Yogurt Cup from which a winner will emerge.   It's a fun Sci-Fi novel for middle grades with a steampunk edge.  I will announce the winner here by noon Eastern time tomorrow and it's up to you to email me at bookkm@gmail.com with your snail mail address.

And what have I been doing this past week?  Visiting with relatives and reading the latest adventures of pre-teen sleuth and chemist, Flavia De Luce.  When last seen, Flavia found out that she was to be sent off to boarding school in Toronto, CA of all places - far, far from the field of the ancestral De Luce home in merry old England.  Since then, she has starred in a short story - The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse - in which Flavia is called to the local boarding school to figure out what happened to the teacher found dead in a dorm bathtub and plated with copper.  

After that, she is banished to Toronto.  The very first night there, she is assaulted by a classmate and a dessicated corpse rolls out of the dorm room chimney. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is Flavia's most recent foray into detection.  Far from home, dealing with unfamiliar routines and unwritten rules, given contradictory directions at every turn, it is no wonder that Flavia is often close to tears.  WHAT!!!!???  Not redoubtable Flavia De Luce!  Scourge of older sisters!  Dissembler extraordinaire!  Yes, Flavia ends up sobbing in this novel and, personally, I would have been wailing before the 3rd page, if I was she.  (If there are tears can hormones be far behind?  Perish the thought!)


Luckily, for readers everywhere, I am NOT Flavia.  Flavia fans may have trouble following this book because no one is entirely trustworthy at Buncombe Academy - especially the staff.  There is a lot of cloak and dagger-y spyish stuff.  Flavia gets a little bit closer to what her mother might have been involved in before her disappearance and death.  Don't expect anything but hints and rumors though. 

The mystery at Buncombe involves disappearing students, suspicious Board members, a chemistry teacher suspected of murdering her husband - with poison to Flavia's delight.  That Academy is a hot mess, all the way around. 

The ending made me happy and that is all I will say here. 

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35. Just a Queen by Jane Caro

Just a girl to those around her, Elizabeth is now the Queen of England. She has outsmarted her enemies and risen above a lifetime of hurt and betrayal – a mother executed by her father, a beloved brother who died too young and an enemy sister whose death made her queen.

Not knowing whom she can trust, Elizabeth is surrounded by men who give her compliments and advice but may be hiding daggers and poison behind their backs. Elizabeth must use her head and ignore her heart to be the queen her people need. But what if that leads to doing the one thing she swore she would never do: betray a fellow queen, her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots? 

My entire knowledge of Tudor England has been sourced from two TV shows: The Tudors and Horrible Histories. Being that The Tudors ends pre-Mary's rule (and employs creative license pretty liberally), and Horrible Histories is a comedic kids' show (the best ever, but pretty light on for detail), I came to this novel knowing not very much at all about Elizabeth I. So I can't comment as to the historical accuracy of Just a Queen, but I can say it read as very authentic. I'm really interested in reading more about Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart - historical fiction, non-fiction, anything! - which hopefully conveys how much I enjoyed this novel, despite not being a great reader of historical fiction. (Lately, I am not a great reader of anything other than legal cases, unfortunately. I'm very much looking forward to binge-reading all the novels in my to-read pile over the summer.)

Just a Queen recounts events from Elizabeth's perspective in the aftermath of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, retelling her reign from her coronation through to her decision to have Mary executed thirty years later. Mary is a central focus for Elizabeth - her only real peer, but also someone she is forced to compete with and whom she felt threatened by - and the way she tells it, events conspired to lead inexorably to Mary's death, despite Elizabeth's desires to the contrary. The narration is at times unclear - jumping from the present, where Elizabeth is middle-aged and wracked with guilt over killing a fellow queen, to significant events in the past - but reflects her mindset from the point at which she's telling the story well, I think. The large time period being covered in a relatively short book means that there is depth and insight when significant events are retold, but other aspects can feel like they were covered in only a cursory fashion. The good thing about this is that it's inspired me to read more. I think it'll be great as a historical resource for young people to be introduced to this era.

Despite Elizabeth not always being a likeable character, she makes for an engaging narrator. She's nuanced: I love her aggressive independence, but not her narcissism. As I mentioned, it's told from the perspective of an ageing Elizabeth, and recounts her reign which began when she was twenty-five - so though the preceding novel, Just a Girl, is a YA title, I'm not sure the same can be said of Just a Queen. It's historical fiction that's accessible to young readers, but not exactly YA. It's a very interesting, thoughtful exploration of what it is to be a powerful woman in a sexist society. I would love to read Mary Stuart's version of events, as written by Jane Caro.

(Though I love the cover, the girl pictured seems a little too glam and blonde to be Elizabeth I, going by her Wikipedia page. And her depiction on Horrible Histories, obviously.)

Just a Queen on the publisher's website

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36. Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

  Twig is an only child as far as the townspeople know.  They don't realize that her older brother James lives in the attic, out at Fowler Farm.  Twig's mother returned to the family farm late at night when Twig was small.  The rules were set right then and there.  The Fowlers kept to themselves; made no friends; excepted no visitors.  200 years before, Agnes Early, who lived in abandoned Mourning Dove Cottage, put a curse on all the men in the Fowler family.

The town of Sidwell accepts their own, no matter how strange they behave.  Besides, with a series of small thefts, reports of strange things flying at night and weird graffiti, the townsfolk can't worry about the Fowler women.

Then, one day, Mourning Dove Cottage is no longer abandoned.  Twig finds a friend.  James finds a reason to come out of hiding.  And the Fowler family finds themselves in the spotlight.

The story is compelling.  The characters well-drawn and sympathetic.  The dilemma faced by all the young people in this book is troublesome.  How do they protect James from people who might misunderstand his differences?  How can they break the curse?

I never felt that the book was written for young people.  There was a measured pace - not that things didn't happen quickly enough.  They did.  But the pace seemed better suited to more seasoned readers.  As things became complicated, though, I felt the author explained feelings too much.  I wasn't sure she trusted her audience.  These two things made a stellar book a little less starry.

The story is the kind we fall asleep dreaming of - possibilities, hopes and moonlight.  Enjoy.

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37. Fog Diver Giveaway

This has been the Week of ARCs.  I received TWO copies of Fog Diver by Joel Ross and I'd love to gift one to somebody.

Chess is a tether diver.  He dives from an airborne salvage raft into the Fog that covers the earth. The Fog eventually poisons humans exposed to it, forcing people to live on the sides and tops of mountains.  The remains of human civilization lie beneath the Fog, just waiting to be retrieved by tether divers like Chess.  But Chess is different.  One of his eyes has Fog swirling inside it.  He hides this disfigurement the best he can with the help of the salvage raft's crew - Hazel, bossy, clever and brave; Swedish, the best pilot a raft could have but a wee bit paranoid; and Bea, the sweetest little gearhead around.  Chess's eye makes him the prey of the evil Lord Kodoc of the Roof-toppers and puts his crew mates and their foster mother, Mrs. E, in danger of capture, slavery or worse.

Set far in the future - the origin of the Fog is technical and strained this reader's credulity - the crew's conversation is peppered with pop culture references from the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ross mixes facts and fiction in these references in a humorous diversion from the fast paced action of the plot.

The crew flies, crashes and tumbles from one dangerous situation to another for the ENTIRE book.  And there are enough questions left at the end of the book to make a sequel, maybe more than, one a probability.  I say, a sequel is a necessity.

Ross designs a clever future world, laid waste by technology run amok.  Chess and his crew are a likeable close-knit family and Ross gives each character specific talents and personalities. 

Young readers won't care how the Fog began.  They WILL LOVE all the action and last-second escapes in this book.

If you'd like a copy of Fog Diver, which, alas, does not have any art or cover design on it, please comment below.   The book is due out on May 26th.  I will do my best to get it to you before then.

This giveaway offer ends on May 18th.  Remember, I choose the winner by putting your comments in the Oracular Yogurt Container and picking one.  So comment away!!

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38. Listen!




   I rarely - if ever - email authors.  Today, I emailed Thanha Lai with a suggestion for a spin-off from her book  Listen, Slowly.  Before we go any further, I must apologize for not using diacritical marks in this review.  Diacritical marks are VERY important in Viet Namese, as Lai's book shows.

First, the review.  All the reviews tell you that 12-year-old Mai is a California girl through and through.  When she is chosen to go with her grandmother, or Ba (there should be an accent on that "a", slanting down from left to right, I think.) to Viet Nam to learn what happened to Mai's grandfather in THE WAR, Mai is furious.  She has a life, right there in Laguna, with a BFF and possible boyfriend.  Middle school rants ensue.

But Ba, quiet, peaceful, fragile Ba, how can Mai say no to Ba?  She can't.  The two of them travel to the village where Ong and Ba grew up; where Ong and Ba were betrothed, he only 7, she just 5; where they married and started a family; where Mai finds strangers who think of her as family.  It is all so odd.

The description of village life in North Viet Nam is delightfully confusing, full of details of what people eat, how they socialize, their dress, their formal and consistent good manners, even their fulsome speech.  The village seems to operate with one mind. Everyone is very careful of each other and of the things they use.  And they are curious about the larger world and about strangers and customs. 

This description led to my suggestion.  Lai describes a facial treatment that one of the Aunts forces Mai through and how it restores Mai's skin to beauty.  Then there is the lice treatment; and a potion to thwart intestinal microbes that Mai accidentally swallows.   Although Lai describes what Mai sees as these concoctions are made, wouldn't it be awesome if there was a book about these remedies?  I'd buy it.

Back to the book.  Ba's search takes so much longer than Mai hoped.  Her infrequent forays on the Internet make Mai more homesick than ever. (Is BFF Montana really making a move on the boy that Mai likes????)  One of Mai's big lessons is to learn not to worry about things she can't change.

I want to tell someone the whole plot - the trip to Ha Noi, with her new friend, Ut.; the HUGE frog that Ut totes with her; Anh Minh, the serious, hard-working, teen translator - and the two girls who compete for Anh Minh's attention.  The wordy detective, the reluctant guard, and Ba, strong Ba, who can not be at peace until she knows.  And then... and then...the ending, heart-breaking, calming and true.

Yep.  This book goes on my Best of the Best list for 2015.  Cheers for Mai, who grows so much in this book.  Cheers for Ba, who never wavers in her search for acceptance.  Cheers for the guard and the detective, who did their very best.  Cheers for Mom and Dad.  Cheers for Anh Minh and Ut and the whole village.  And cheers for Thanha Lai for such a wonderful book.









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39. Pulling a scam & learning to be Popular

Jackson Greene has spent four looooong months behaving like a model citizen since he was caught lip-locking Kelsey in front of the Principal's door. (He was trying to pick the lock.  The kiss was a cover-up.) BUT when he hears that Keith Sinclair is running for Student Council President against his ex-bet friend, Gaby de la Cruz, he assembles a team and gets to work.

Varian Johnson has written a guidebook to pulling scams in his book The Great Greene Heist.  Jackson's team of middle school nerds, techies, cheerleaders and chess champs manages to uncover a plot to fix the election so that Keith will win.  There are references to Jackson's older brother, Samuel, and a criminally inclined grandfather that makes ME hope for more about the Greene family of rapscallions.



Maya Van Wagenen was an 8th grade Social Outcast at her middle school.  Even the sixth graders insulted her.  When she found a copy of Betty Cornell's Teenager Popularity Guide circa 1951, her mom suggested that Maya follow the guide as an experiment and journal about it.  The result is Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, a clever, funny and moving adventure into the social jungle that is Middle School.  Maya followed advice that is timeless AND dated in her attempt to be popular.  And what Maya learned is a lesson we can all use.



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40. Knitting, Pinkerton's, Finishing School, & a Princess

I finished three books since this weekend.  No, make that four. The Detective's Assistant




 And here they are:

The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan.   Just plain fun!  Cornelia Warne is dumped with her uncle's widow, Aunt Kitty Warne, after everyone else in her family has died.  Aunt Kitty blames Cornelia's father for the death of his brother Matthew, her husband and does not want a 12-year-old hanging around.  Kate - as Aunt Kitty prefers to be called - is Pinkerton's first woman agent.  Based on the real Kate Warne, this book is a romp!  Traveling around the eastern US in the days right before Abe Lincoln's inauguration,  Nell, as Aunt Kitty decides to call Cornelia, ends up helping the Pinkerton's in several cases.  Nell's letters to and from her best friend, Jemma, who fled to Canada to escape slavers, add background painlessly.  American history delivered up with a lot of fun and some suspense and sadness, too.

Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger.  Sophronia Temminick has a new weapon, the steel bladed fan - so fashionable!.  She also has a dilemma of the heart.  Should she choose Shoe, the sootie of entirely the wrong social class and race?  Or go with Lord Felix Mersey - he of the influential Papa and Pickleman leanings?  When Sidheag, one of Sophronia's closest friends at Madame Geraldine's, runs off to Scotland because of a huge family crisis (involving the death of a Beta werewolf and a renegade pack), Sophronia, Dimity, Soap AND Felix steal a steam train to help Sidheag's journey.  Things get drastic and deadly serious toward the end. 

Boys Don't Knit by T. S. Easton.  Through no fault of his own - well, hardly - Ben Fletcher is on probation.  He has to "keep a journal" - which he already does! - learn a craft or trade, and do community service.  The craft class offerings at community college are a bit slim.  He chooses knitting since the teacher is the hottest single female teacher at the high school.  And he finds that he is a natural at knitting.  It's so calming.  What Ben needs is calming.
Ben's parents, extremely messy home and daft friends, stress Ben out in a major way.  Add to that his tendency to take AS courses in math and science and his OCD leanings and you have one anxious teen.  And then there is Megan!  Does she like him or not??  He likes HER!  He has to keep his growing knitting mania a secret from his dad and everyone else.  But he's just sooooo good at it.
After you get past the corny behavior of Ben's dad and mom, this book is laugh out loud funny.

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot.  Olivia Grace Clarice Mignonette Harrison is about as normal as a 12 year old girl can be - except for the dead mom and invisible Dad and incredibly long name.  Dad writes every month but Olivia has never met him.  Ever.  When the sixth grade queen bee, Annabelle, challenges Olivia to a fight after school and accuses Olivia of being a princess, Olivia is stunned.  But, yeah, she is a princess and half-sister to Princess Mia of Genovia.  And, there are some allegations of serious wrongdoing on the part of Olivia's aunt and guardian.
       The premise of this series is every bit as awkward and unbelievable as the premise of the Princess Diaries but, you know what?  The audience for these books will not care. In. The. Least.  Cabot's writing is effortless; the pages turn themselves.  If you want to escape from middle school worries, girls, here's the book for you.
 From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess

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41. Audiobook reviews

I recently reviewed two audiobooks with a peculiar connection.  Masterminds is a thriller set in the seemingly perfect town of Serenity, New Mexico.  The Way to Stay in Destiny is a character-driven novel set in the woefully imperfect town of Destiny, Florida.  Neither town is quite what it seems.  Click the links to read the complete reviews.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman.  Read by a cast of five(2015) 

[http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/98783/]
A contemporary science thriller set in New Mexico - a real page-turner!  This is the first in a planned series.  I'm not sure how he can top this one!



 [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/99246/]
Historical fiction set in 1970s Florida by the author of Glory Be. Another paean to the power of music.  (Try Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, too!)




I'm confident that either of these is great in print as well.

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42. Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center {Review}

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A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother’s even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen’s well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen’s own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.

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I loved this book! I picked it up for two reasons: one, it reminded me of WILD by Cheryl Strayed (but fiction), and two, I have loved Katherine Center’s previous novels. This woman can write! She pulls you deep into the heart of her characters and has you not only routing for them every step of the way, but also learning things about yourself, as well. Her books and her writing always seems to have a hopeful, positive spin on life. Even when her characters are facing tough situations and their lives seem to be turned upside down, she brings that silver lining into every moment. Helen Carpenter was a relatable, likeable heroine and the love story wasn’t predictable, saccharine, or aggressive. This is the story of a woman discovering herself, discovering what she’s capable of and learning to love her life, even the ugly and difficult moments, because it all makes up a rich and interesting life. Brene Brown has written a quote for the cover of the book, “This wise, delicious, page-turning novel won’t let you go. Katherine Center writes about falling down, grwoing up, and finding love like nobody else.” I couldn’t agree more with her sentiments. Happiness for Beginners is thoughtful, sweet, and inspiring.

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43. Reading update

I finished these books in the last few days:

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner.  This book is very "Matilda"-ish.  Emily, a baby found in a hat box, is adopted by a quite fashionable couple. When the couple have their own triplets, Emily becomes the housekeeper, nanny and laundress - all at the tender age of 6 (?).  Luckily, Emily's neighbors, a pleasant old woman and a large tortoiseshell cat, help Emily get her work done and teach her to read and write - in four languages - including Middle English.  An accident, a daring escape and lots and lots of brightly colored bunnies add up to truly magical adventures. 

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire -  An imprisoned monk tells a tale of swapped identities, witches, firebirds, ice dragons and Tsars.  Historical fiction meshes with Russian folklore in this cautionary tale.  It's hard to do this book justice in a few sentences.

Egg & Spoon
I LOVE this cover.

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi.  Baseball, hard boiled detectives and Joe McCarthy tangle with each other in this page turner.  I loved it.  Avi draws the period so well in this book, the mistrust, the bullying, the radio shows, the family drama.  I think I will buy this book. 

Where Things Come Back  By John Corey Whaley.  Just exactly what the large reputedly extinct woodpecker, the Lazarus bird, has to do with the other events in this book is a mystery to me.  No matter.  In the space of one summer, 17-year-old Cullen has to identify the body of his druggie cousin, figure out what to do with very attentive girls, and search for his suddenly missing younger brother.  It is Gabe's disappearance that absorbs the reader's attention against the backdrop of Lazarus Bird mania.  The way Whaley plays with timelines of different people's stories kept me turning pages.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy.  Although this appears to be fourth-grader, Eli's, story, his three brothers get a lot of attention as well.  This family of four adopted boys and two loving fathers deals with new schools, fractured friendships, secrets and grouchy neighbors in this fun family novel.

And I think there was another book!.  More later.

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44. Treehouse series

This is NOT Mary Pope Osborne's Treehouse.  You will see what I mean when you visit this site.
This series is so BOY that I - not being a BOY - had trouble reading the first book.  Andy and Terry started with a 13-story treehouse.  Then they added 13 more stories in the second book, The 26-Story Treehouse.  Can you guess the title of the forthcoming book?*

This treehouse does not have magic time-traveling powers.  It DOES have the scariest roller coaster in the world and a baby dinosaur petting zoo, 2 or more swimming pools, and an anti-gravity chamber.  Among other things.

Check them out.  Click here.

* Here's a hint:

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45. The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in March

Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief. Get FREE shipping when you use the promo code bookbrief at checkout Fiction Books Touch by Claire North The premise alone of this book is enough to give you goosebumps. The main character, who we become to know as Kepler, is […]

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46. Children of the King

The BoB competition starts on Monday, March 9th, with Brown Girl Dreaming facing off against Children of the King.  I have chosen which book I hope will win but it is not an easy choice and I won't be surprised if my choice bites the dust early.
Brown Girl Dreaming             The Children of the King

Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett offers, at least, two story lines.  Cecily and her older brother Jeremy accompany their mother, Heloise, to the family seat, Heron Hall, to wait out the War.  Their father stays in London to do "important work". They arrive with scores of evacuee children and end up taking home 10-year-old May.  Uncle Peregrine answers questions about the castle ruins on the estate by telling a story about an historical Duke's rise to power. The stories intertwine as the German assault on London begins and worsens. 


 May, whose audacity surprises, maddens, and delights Cecily, discovers two boys hanging around the castle ruins.  Who are they?  What are they doing in a centuries old ruin?  Why do they speak so imperiously?

Meanwhile 14-year-old Jeremy is tortured by his inactivity.  The pressure of duty - to help in the war effort, to behave nobly - makes him irritable and demanding.  His mother refuses to listen to him - or to hear what he is actually saying.

I sometimes wondered for whom Hartnett wrote this book.  The sophisticated language hints at so much more than it says.  Hartnett offers the most insight into two characters, childish Cecily, and controlled Heloise.  Cecily is the main character, although she seems to fumble along after other people. But the glimpses behind icy Heloise's composure enlarges the audience to adults who enjoy historical fiction and stately language.

I will tell you if I believe this book will rise BoB victorious in a future post.  In the meantime, compare Children of the King to The War that Saved My Life for two different experiences of WWII young evacuees.

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47. Can't wait to buy my copy of WHEREVER YOU GO by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler!

 

I recently had a chance to read the f&gs (which stands for "folded and gathered", an unbound galley) for WHEREVER YOU GO, a new picture book coming out from Little, Brown in April, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler.

LOVE THIS. When I read picture books for the first time (and second and third...) I usually read them out loud, and this one was so fun to read aloud with its rhythmical prose.

Young readers will appreciate the fun journey and look-more-closely-what-do-you-see gorgeous artwork. Adults will also appreciate the multi-layered interpretation of the prose. The following (especially when combined with the beautiful artwork on that spread) is just an example:

"Roads...remember.

Every life landmark, the big and the small.

The moments you tripped,

the times you stood tall."

*snif* (this wasn't the only page spread that made me teary-eyed)

You can read the STARRED review of Wherever You Go on Kirkus Reviews.

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48. Moonpenny Island

Moonpenny IslandI hated growing up.  And that time - just before the world turned upside down - when I was still a child but I felt it all leaking away - I fought that time with every sobbing breath.  It took me a while to realize that you don't just - poof! - grow up.  It happens bit by bit.  I didn't like learning about adulthood's inevitability.  (There are those who think I fight it still.)



In Tricia Springstubb's Moonpenny Island, Flor and Sylvie are perfect friends.  This is a good thing.  They are the only 11-year-olds on Moonpenny Island.  But the end of summer brings enormous changes.  Sylvie leaves to go to school on the mainland and Flor is alone.  Flor's older sister, perfect Cecelia, has started acting strangely.  And her parents, well, they should not be acting that way at all.

On a small island, it can be easy to put people in slots. Flor must open her eyes.  She needs to see people as more than just labels.  Ceclia is not "perfect".  Perry is more than just the "bad boy".  Joe Hawkes is not "trash".  And her best, best BEST friend, does not have to stay the same always.

A young visitor to the island - a paleontologist's daughter - a family crisis, and her own impetus nature force Flor to truly see her island, and her family, for the first time. 

Good book.  Read it. 

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49. Theme Reveal - Blogging from A to Z 2015 Challenge


To keep with the theme of my blog, Write What Inspires You, my theme for the A-Z 2015 Challenge is....

Books, Reviews and Inspirational Thoughts

I am looking forward to engaging with visitors and as I surf cyberspace to visit with fellow A-Z 2015 Challenge participants!

Thanks for stopping by!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!

Connect with

A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

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50. Read a Vacation!

I took a book vacation over the last few days.  I traveled to Enchantment Lake in the Minnesota North Woods. 

As Francie was waiting for her turn to audition for a play, her Great Aunt Astrid called and told Francesca to "Come quickly." 
  17-year-old Francie is on her own - sort of - since her father died in an accident 7 years before.  Her grandfather keeps watch on Francie.  So, of course, Francie calls her grandfather about this mysterious phone call and he just laughs.

Huh!  Francie races home to Enchantment Lake, where her great-aunts live without electricity or a road and the story these two women tell Francie is both unsurprisingly confusing and unexpectedly frightening.  People along the undeveloped side of Enchantment Lake (where the great-aunts live) are meeting with strange accidents - FATAL accidents.  Dum dum DUMMMMMM!!

Reading this book was like taking a vacation.  I loved the setting - and anyone who has spent time on a wooded lake as a child will love this setting, too.  And I loved the set-up; including Francie's estranged-in-a-friendly-negligent-sort-of-way family AND where Francie is when she gets the garbled phone call.  I truly enjoyed the characters, people Francie has known all her life, changed and grown older; the batty great-aunts, the handsome lawyer-to-be, her old friend Ginger and the little brother, T.J., the sheriff, the resort owner, the fat real estate developer - yep, all of them.

BUT, best of all, is this.  Margie Preus asks a lot of questions about Francie's family and doesn't answer a single one of them!! You know what that means, right?  She's planning a series about Francie and this little community.  I am so excited!


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