Thursday, October 31, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters
Amulet Books, 2013
Audience:  Grades 8 to 12
ISBN:  9781419705304
Publication Date: April 2, 2013

Spirit photography, World War I, Spanish Influenza-oh my!  If that isn't enough to make you shiver, maybe the main character, Mary Shelley Black, will.  Mary Shelley has been sent to San Diego from Portland to not only escape the flu, but also hide while her father is on trial for being a traitor to the country.  Once in San Diego, she starts asking about her friend, Stephen, who recently went to war in France and has not written letters in months.  Instead she finds his brother, Julius scamming mourners with spirit photos, and worse, Mary Shelley is his poster child.  She sits for one final photo, but the spirit behind her is Stephen, and he starts haunting her, begging her to make them stop killing him.  Mary Shelley tries to put Stephen's soul to rest while trying to stay alive herself.


I first heard about at ALA while randomly chatting with another librarian.  It went on my to-read list and this felt like the perfect time of year to read a book full of spirits and hauntings and death.  Mary Shelley was named after the author of Frankenstein, but at a time when German hatred is high, she tries to hide that part of herself.  Also, her mother was a doctor and Mary Shelley inherited that passion for science and technology.  She is a curious, but compassionate girl.  The work that she does at the Red Cross Home is very touching since she refuses to treat the soldiers like invalids and instead tries to cheer them up.  She wants to treat them the way that Stephen should be treated.

In addition to all of the shivery plot points, there is a very real message about the effects of war.  Stephen suffered from shell shock or post-traumatic stress, as we would say today.  This was shameful to his family and difficult for him as well.  When he came back to Mary Shelley, he was angry and confused and it was very hard for her to help him.  They did love each other dearly, and all Mary Shelley wants is justice for Stephen, but that is not an easy task when he is terrifying in his fits and can give no real reason for why he died.

Once Mary Shelley starts to piece together the time line of Stephen's death, the reader will understand what happened, but there is still a last minute twist that will having readers shaking their heads.  It's that last little twist that makes it all so haunting and terrible.  Readers will be shocked for Stephen and Mary Shelley and all you can do it keep reading, hoping it will all work out.

My biggest problem with this book was remembering the title.  Honestly, I kept thinking it was A Cat Among Blackbirds, or Shadows of Blackbirds, or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Stephens (totally different person by the way!).  When you can say that the worst thing about the book is that you confuse the title, you know it's good.  

For a good spooky book for a dark Halloween night, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the perfect choice.

Happy Reading

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Dark Between

The Dark Between
by Sonia Gensler
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience:  Grades 7 to 10
ISBN:  9780375867023
Publication Date: August 27, 2013

Kate Poole finds herself without a situation after the medium she worked for threw her out.  Asher Beale has run from his family and finds himself at the doorstep of a family friend.  Elsie Atherton has been drugged to control a condition that embarrasses her family.  These three unlikely companions find themselves together at Summerfield College in the care of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, members of The Metaphysical Society.  Elsie can go into a type of seizure and commune with ghosts, which Kate believes is possible, while Asher remains a skeptic.  Once people start dying near the college grounds, and more members of the society become suspect, Elsie starts to seek out her abilities to talk with the dead and find out who killed them.  But the truth is especially difficult to hear.  Readers that enjoy historical fiction and romance will find enough to entertain them, while those looking for more paranormal fiction will be disappointed.

It started out well enough, honestly.  Kate was employed by a devious medium.  She was part of a network of detectives and "ghosts".  Her job was ruined by members of the Metaphysical Society who had come to discredit her employer.  Even after that, with Elsie's abilities, this still proved to be a serviceable paranormal story, but there is too much inaction between meetings with the dead to truly make this a shivery book.  Be warned, there are spoilers.

Since the story is told by Kate, Asher, and Elsie, there is not much consistency of voice.  I always prefer that when multiple narrators are used, that they each have their own chapters, but that was not the case here.  They wove in and out of chapters and sections with little warning.  Although this type of device can add greater depth, it can also leave the reader feeling unmoored, which was the case this time.

The plot was bland, which could be in part due to the setting.  Everyone is so worried about propriety that they cannot execute a proper plot to find the killer, not until the very, very end, when the rules suddenly no longer matter.  

Spoilers:  Let's talk about the killer-Simon Wakeham.  (I just saved you several hours of reading)  He is a likable gentleman, driven to madness by the death of his lover, but he also seduced Elsie for her abilities as well.  Granted, Elsie was a very willing participate in the seduction, but still.  Part of what he is doing is actual medical research that most readers will realize became lifesaving technology, but he just wants to contact his old flame.  Elsie, meanwhile, has forged some type of psychic connection to him after the fire that she hides from Asher and Kate, leaving this lackluster book wide open for a sequel.  Please no!  This book put me to sleep on several occasions (that and the world series-GO SOX!) so I cannot imagine what sluggish plot would surround the few remaining loose ends.  

Nope, just skip it.  I know this is commonly listed as a read-a-like for The Diviners, which is exactly why I read it, but it just doesn't live up to the excitement and intensity that fans will require.  It's more historical fiction for historical fiction sake.  And I never sign on for a book that is only historical fiction.  It has to have something else, like paranormal twists, steampunk adventures, wild romances, crazed mysteries, or cake.  Lots of cake.  

If you're a fan of the early 20th century London, then fine, give it a go.  If you want something spooky to keep you up at night, then pass.  The only this scary about this book is that I actually paid for it.  Booo.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Born of Illusion

Born of Illusion
by Teri Brown
Balzer and Bray, 2013
Audience:  Grades 7 to 10
ISBN:  9780062187546
Publication Date: June 11, 2013

Anna is a talented magician and she has always performed by her mother's side, whether the performance was a carnival, theatre show, or fraudulent seance.  But Anna isn't a fake, she can actually read people's emotions and she's had visions of the future all her life.  Now the visions have become more personal, and if she doesn't learn who to trust soon, both Anna and her mother could be in grave danger.  Set in the 1920's in fashionable New York City, Born of Illusion combines magic, spiritualism, and mystery into one satisfying story.

First, a confession.  I downloaded Born of Illusion months ago from Edelweiss and forgot.  I actually interlibrary loaned it from my local library.  At least I didn't buy a copy when I already had one, although that day will come.

This book has a full plot, but it works well.  The relationship between Anna and her mother is very difficult.  They love each other, yes, but Anna's mother is very jealous that she is so talented and growing up to be more than her mother could become.  Also, Anna has been told her whole life that Harry Houdini is her father.  Both the reader and Anna come to doubt that fact, but he does play a small, but inspirational role in the story.  

Anna also has complicated relationships with good-time boy, Owen, and more serious Cole.  Turns out one of these is a complete louse that botches a plan to do Anna ill, and that whole affair is honestly the most disappointing part of the story.  

Meanwhile, Anna is learning who she can trust with the information about her abilities.  Can she trust Cole, a fellow Sensitive, or Dr. Bennett, a researcher into the paranormal?  She also befriends the society girls, Cynthia, who uses her uncle to get her out of a couple jams.  

This books strengths are it's characters and dialogue.  The characters are charming and well drawn. I honestly liked everyone, until the very end.  They were complex and intriguing, and had some great lines.  The relationship between Anna and her mother is the most interesting, and at one point, Anna says her mother's words are like a mix of "carmel and arsenic".  Chilling!

To me, the plot falls short of the great characters and wonderfully descriptive writing.  There's little paranormal activity, just one kind ghostie who delivers a warning.  There is a little shivery action, but Anna is so accomplished and strong that she is never in real danger, and even when she is, her captors are so incompetent that it's not much of a fight.  I enjoyed it, I raced to the end once I realized what was happening, but I was ultimately let down a bit.

But, for those that want to walk with psychics and spiritualists through the jazz age, Born of Illusion is a good read-a-like for The Diviners.  Bonus, book two comes out in June, meaning you can be two books down in this series before Diviners two is released.  Think of it like this,  you can't get in to White Chocolate Grill tonight, but you still have to eat, and Ruby Tuesday is just down the road.  It won't be as good, but it's still yummy and you'll be satisfied.  That's Born of Illusion versus The Diviners

And now I'm hungry!  Worse yet, there's no White Chocolate Grill or Ruby Tuesday nearby.  So sometimes you just have to suck it up and eat Ramen Noodles.  What's the book equivalent of Ramen?  Good question for another day.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 28, 2013

I've Got You Covered

Happy Halloween Week!  All week I will be featuring spooky books to give you the shivers and that make great read-a-likes for my favorite spooky book, The Diviners.  So I thought I would start things off with a Diviners cover round-up. (Hence the bad pun)  I haven't featured a cover round-up in a while and thought this would be a nice way to introduce this week's theme and have a little fun.

These are four alternate covers in America that I pulled off Goodreads.  These covers have been used for paperback editions, e-books, and audiobooks.  I love the black cover, very mysterious.  I like the blue covers too, but prefer the bottom right since it looks more gilded and art deco.  I'm not a fan of the purple cover, which is problematic.  You'll see why in a minute.

These are some international translations.  From left to right they are Polish, Portuguese, and Italian.  I'm terrible with languages.  My original guesses were Polish, Greek, and Spanish, but my inability to speak or read anything other than English is not the point here.  My favorite cover of these is definitely the Italian cover.   It really captures the setting, but maybe not the paranormal plot.  

All this is a build-up for the book two cover reveal, Lair of Dreams, out August 5, 2014.  (Although the publication date has already been pushed back twice).

Goodreads is not happy.  I'm not sure what this book is representing.  I'm getting a little jazz age, if I squint my eyes and tilt my head, but mostly, I feel like I'm looking at an old Artemis Fowl book.  Of course this cover plays off the purple paperback cover, but I'm still not seeing the logic.  

I understand that the book packagers want to give a cohesive look to the series, but gilded age time-travelers does not seem to be the right message.  I also think something along the lines of any of the other covers would give more mass market appeal, not to mention cross over appeal.  This looks like cheap sci-fi and that's not at all what's between the covers.  The book doesn't come out until August, so there plenty of time for a cover recall.  Can we vote?  Redesign it to look more like the gilded blue cover?    Just give it a mysterious straight black cover with the title in glitter?  Or just a brown paper bag?

The cover doesn't matter so much to me anyway.  I'll either read it on my Kindle (no cover required), buy it in hardcover (those dust jackets slip right off--that sounds a little naughty!), or interlibrary loaned with a big due date wrapper covering half the jacket anyway.  But I fear that this tripped out cover will send new readers running.

Any thoughts on the cover?  Good, bad, what were they thinking?  Rest assured that the books I have to share this week all have alluring and spooky covers that are sure to delight!

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The In-Between

The In-Between
by Barbara Stewart
St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience:  Grades 7 to 10
ISBN:  9781250030161
Publication Date:  November 5, 2013

Elanor was declared dead at the scene of a car accident, but she wakes up in her new house with her father anyway.  Things are very strange there, but she soon meets Madeline, a girl so full of life and excitement that Elanor forgets about everything else.  But once her and Madeline begin their plan to stay together, Elanor is ripped from her home and comes back to reality.  Her mother survived the crash, not her father, and she has been caught between life and death for several days.  Now, Elanor must adjust to life with her mother, a new school, and new town all while struggling to keep her relationship with the ghostly Madeline whose intentions are darker than Elanor knows.  This book is troubling, dark, and suspicious, but excellent for a cool October night.

The In-Between reminded me of several books at once.  The entire first part of the book reminded me of the movie What Dreams May Come.  In the final scenes, Chris has passed away and been traveling through the afterlife, but his wife cannot handle his death, or the earlier deaths of her children, and commits suicide.  Chris goes to the darkest corners of the afterlife to save her, and that is what the in-between space feels like.  Life barely moves, existence is barely registered.  

The relationship between Elanor and Madeline reminded me of Pippa and Felicity from A Sweet Far Thing.  They love each other, and are quite connected as the reader will find, but cannot survive together and the relationship becomes very dangerous.  

Finally, Elanor as a narrator reminded me of Micah from Liar.  The reader is never 100% sure that Elanor is telling the truth or if Madeline and all her troubles stem from her mental illness.  And Elanor is obviously troubled, but the question of why is more complicated than a medical diagnosis.  Especially considering the strange resolution.  I won't give it away, but it's odd.

Despite reminding me of several books along the way, The In-Between had me hooked.  It was strange and dangerous and gave me a couple of shivers.  It's not the type of book that is outright scary, but it is understated and haunting.  You will be scratching your head trying to piece together what Elanor is telling you into something that makes sense.  Not all readers are willing to work hard enough to follow the broken train of thought, but those that are will be rewarded with a strange and intriguing plot.

This Halloween season, pick up The In-Between if you like your books spooky and thought-provoking.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Last Present

The Last Present
by Wendy Mass
Scholastic, 2013
Reviewed ARC
Audience:  Grades 4 to 6
ISBN:  9780545310164
Publication Date: September 24, 2013

After 13 Gifts, Tara had succeeded in bringing her parents back to Willows Falls, making new friends, and giving David a beautiful bar mitzvah.  However, all is not well in Willow Falls as Grace falls ill.  She suddenly freezes with a look of complete awe on her face.  Now, Leo and Amanda have been charged by Angelina to fix Grace's past birthdays and hopefully fix Grace herself.  This is a fitting conclusion to the Willow Falls series and fans of the last three books will certainly enjoy this one as well.

I said last week that I was getting a little fatigued by Willow Falls.  While that's true, I still loved the story.  I've said before that there is just enough magic in Willow Falls to entertain, but not so much to make it feel fantastical.  Like all the people say, there's nothing normal about Willow Falls.  

As for the plot, it was lovely.  Amanda and Leo time travel with the help of their friends and try to fix benediction that Angelina could never get right.  But are they saving Grace or hurting her by doing this?  They finally get the answer to that question by traveling all the way back to Angelina's birthday and seeing what she does to protect the town.  

There is really no stone left unturned in this finale.  There are little conclusions to small plot points that will delight fans of the series.  The way that Mass ties up ends that didn't even feel loose is beautiful and just adds to the fullness of the series.  For instance, readers will find out why David's father was sick, how Riley came to find a killer rabbit, and more.  

I'm happy for all the characters in this book.  The ending left everything open and hopeful.  They can all go about their lives again in a place where nothing is ever a coincidence   

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bluestem Round-Up: My Picks

I finally finished all 20 Bluestem Nominees and I am ready to make some predictions!  For everyone following along at home, the Bluestem Award is an Illinois Reader's Choice award for children in grades 3-5.  This award is in it's fourth year and it is still finding it's niche, but we have a great line-up of books.  As always, this is entirely unscientific and all my humble opinion.  Let's see the list!

20.  Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee
19.  Edgar Allan's Official Crime Investigation Notebook by Mary Amato
18.  Little Wolf's Book of Badness by Ian Whybrow
17.  A Strong Right Arm:  the story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson by Michelle Green
16.  Emily's Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
15.  Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka
14.  Cheesie Mack is not a Genius or Anything by Stephen Cotler
13.  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
12.  Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
11.  Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
10.  I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat:  history's strangest cures by Carlyn Beccia
9.  Pie by Sara Weeks
8.  Nubs:  the true story of a mutt, a marine, and a miracle by Brian Dennis, Kirby Lawson, and Mary Nethery
7.  The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins:  an illuminating history of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, artist and lecturer by Barbara Kerley
6.  Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan
5.  The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
4.  Calli Be Gold by Michele Weber Hurwitz
3.  Wonder by R. J. Palacio
2.  Bones:  skeletons and how they work by Steve Jenkins
1.  Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Just like my Monarch Predictions, I just sat down with the list after I had read all the books and just started ranking them based on my gut.  I first went through and marked where I thought each book would fall:  bottom, middle, or top.  Then I went through and gave them number rankings.

There are some surprises like always.  I gave most of these books 3 stars on Goodreads.  Meaning that they were good, but not awesome.  Very few received less than 3 stars so then it was up to thinking about the audience.  Little Wolf's Book was good, but seemed a bit immature for the audience-it would make a better Monarch.  I know that I said the reverse for Wonder, it would make a better Caudill, but I think it might benefit from the older sibling effect, i.e. the older sib is reading it and that makes the younger sib want to check it out too.

It came down to an oldie but a goodie.  I said before that Kate DiCamillo hits the Bluestem sweet spot.  Winn Dixie is a book that is perfectly written for the age group, it's got heart, dogs, great characters, and some good laughs.  It's also very appealing to boys and girls, making it a universal read.  If Winn Dixie doesn't win, it will at least have a strong finish.

With that, I set off for the Caudill list.  Soon that is.  I have some great spooky books to share for Halloween next week and I can't wait for you to read all about them.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Curtsies and Conspiracies

Curtsies and Conspiracies
Finishing School Book 2
by Gail Carriger
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience:  Grades 7 to 10
ISBN:  9780316190114
Publication Date:  November 5, 2013

After all of the girls are tested on their espionage skills, Sophronia learns that not only did she test highest in her grade, but she tested highest in the history of the school.  This leads to a shunning from the other girls, but Sophronia has bigger problems including analyzing the prototype with the help of Vieve and learning more from the sooties, like Soap.  Then, when the school learns that they will be taking on several male guests and traveling to London, the shunning is forgotten, although it was all part of the test, and Sophronia must learn why the school is taking this sudden trip and why are the hosting guests.  She does get herself in over her head, but she is learning more everyday what it will mean to be a fashionable lady in society and a deadly spy.

The second in the Finishing School series does a nice job of answering particular questions, while leaving others hanging, making readers want more.  All of the characters are back, and in some excellent cases, like with Monique and the psychic, they are getting exactly what they deserve.  The steampunk and supernatural aspects are sometimes a little much for me to take, but all in all, it adds to the sensationalism of the book.

I do enjoy the historical fashion and period sensibilities added with the espionage and supernatural characters.  It's all so very at odds with each other, but makes the characters that much more interesting.  The strained relationships between the Picklemen, vampires, and werewolves take a more central position in this book, with Lady Kingair taking an unlikely role as diplomat.  I love her character, actually all the girls are pretty compelling, and my heart even ached for a little mechanimal.

This time around there might be a little more love in the air between Sophronia and Soap.  Or is it Sophronia and Lord Mersey.  I do enjoy that Sophronia is so involved in her spying that she gives little thought to being courted, yet it's that very hard-to-get attitude that makes her all the more attractive to the gentlemen.  Let that be a lesson, ladies.  If you have interests other than boys, you are actually more attractive!

I have one big question with this book:  What is the audience?  I can normally predict the audience pretty easily, but this series has me stumped.  The girls are fourteen or so, Sophronia is just getting her first kiss, there's no real problematic plot points, so my gut says junior high level.  I'm sure that some high schoolers might enjoy these books too just for fun, but I feel like the books are being marketed to an older group.  The covers always remind me of Kiera Knightley for some reason.  Maybe because she does so many historical movies and her cheeks are always sucked in.  Not that she's not lovely, but she has a type of vixen look that they are mimicking on these covers.  Maybe I'm the only one that thinks that, but I still feel like the cover feels more mature than the plot.

This second book slumped just a bit.  I think since the world and social structure of the school was set up in the first book, and readers know this isn't the end, it's bound to be a little less exciting simply because it's all a review, with a bit more action.  The story is moving forward, with some laughable and gasp worthy parts, but the biggest mysteries are still unsolved.  I'm sure that I'll read the next in the series, but it won't be a pre-order or marked date on my calendar.  It will rather be a pleasant surprise for a nice day by the fire.  It's a good book that I enjoyed, not a series that has me begging for the next one.

All that said, if you liked Etiquette and Espionage, stick with the series, it won't disappoint.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Don't Push the Button!

Don't Push the Button!
Bill Cotter
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience:  Preschool
ISBN:  9781402287461
Publication Date: November 1, 2013

Larry is a star of a very simple picture book in which there is only one rule:  don't push the button.  That would be easier if the button weren't the real star of the show.  Larry speaks directly to the reader and asks, what could happen, just try it.  Then the real fun begins.  Readers must push, shake, and scratch their way out of trouble and help Larry get things back to normal.  And once they are normal again, you wouldn't want to push the button again, would you?

I personally love picture books that speak directly to the reader and ask for participation.  Some of my favorites include Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Can You Make a Scary Face?, and The Monster at the End of This Book.  Larry is your  typical narrator since he tempts the reader, and tries to stop them at the same time.  The button is a large red button, just waiting to be pushed.  It's no wonder readers cannot resist its siren call.  Once the damage is done, all that's left to do is push it again and see what else happens.  How many times have I done just that?  Gee, pushing ESC on my computer didn't do anything.  I'll push it eight more times, maybe that will fix it!  

Don't Push the Button shines a light on every person's desire to break the rules.  This book will be great for one on one reading, with parents playfully pulling the child's hands away from the button, and great for storytimes, with librarians screaming in surprise when dozens of Larrys appear.  Pair it with the previously mentioned titles for a whole story time on rule breaking and the hilarious consequences.  

Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bones: Skeletons and How They Work

Bones:  Skeletons and How They Work
Steven Jenkins
Scholastic Reference, 2010
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience:  Elementary School
ISBN:  9780545046513
Publication Date:  August 1, 2010

Blending information and creepiness, Bones is perfect for the young reader.  The function of bones is perfectly illustrated for both people and animals, and often comparisons are made between human bones and animal bones.  For instance, in one spread, a human arm, monkey arm, and fruit bat arm (or wing) are all shown.  Some bones are shown life-size, like the human hand or skull, while others are shown to scale.  Each time the bones is listed with the correct proportion and readers will love sizing their own body part to the skeletal figure.  With simple text and great illustrations, Steve Jenkins shows why he is a master of informative books for children.

I had so much fun with this book!  I immediately starting showing pictures to my dog, because there was a life-size dog rib shown, and judging by all the dog skeletons, I think he used a smaller dog like a beagle.  I was also completely sucked in to the life-size human bones, which are based on the average adult.  I placed my hand against the skeletal hand and compared my head to the skull.  It's a strangely interactive book.  

As I read the book, I randomly shouted facts at my husband and dog.  More than half the body's bones are found in the hands and feet--I think I knew that said my husband (Yeah right).  Giraffes and human have the same number of neck bones, seven.  Wow, says my husband, their necks are so much longer.  Exactly-that's why it's amazing!  See strangely interactive.

I love seeing cool, eye-candy filled information books on award lists.  They make up for all of the dry formula fiction that lines library shelves.  This has major Bluestem potential, so I'll just have to see where it lands tomorrow when I make my final picks.

It's true, I've finished all 20 Bluestem books!  Tomorrow I will unveil my predictions.  Which are quite scientific and nearly almost 100% accurate 43% of the time.  Figure out that math.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reader Fatigue

The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass has treated me very well.  It's happy, mysterious, and each book works reasonably well on its own.  So why have I had such difficulty getting into The Last Present?  

Simple answer:  reader fatigue.  I read 11 Birthdays a couple of years ago when it was a Caudill nominee, and then when I picked up The Last Present at ALA this summer, I decided I needed to catch up, so I read Finally and 13 Gifts pretty close together.  Then I immediately picked up The Last Present, but it just wasn't hooking me.  I put down, picked it up again, and reluctantly made my way through it, until about two days ago when I was finally hooked.  

I love this books, honestly.  They are all about a quaint town, great friendships, and a touch of magic, but after reading them in such close succession, I'm getting burned out.  Plus I am maybe a little over the action.  I just want the resolution already!  

A recent article in Publisher's Weekly just discussed the new trends in YA fiction and one thing that most publishers have had enough of is trilogies.  Readers are getting a little restless waiting for the next installment and by the end, you just want the resolution.  I read book seven of Harry Potter in 12 straight hours.  I think I finished Mockingjay in about 6 hours.  I hope that I can savor Dreams of Gods and Monsters a little longer, but who knows?  I might be up until 3 am finishing that book too.  

It's different when you are an adult reading juvenile or teen fiction.  Younger readers like the consistency and general comfort of a repeated setting and characters, whereas I am getting restless with the same old thing.  

While I am a little fatigued by Willow Falls, I'm still enjoying the book.  I'm hoping that I can finish it today on my lunch break.  A big plot point was just revealed and it left me reeling too, so you know it's good!

Are any books giving you fatigue?  Any books that you just have to read, or maybe a big final book that you blew through just because you had to know how it ended?  Personally, I'm super-fatigued by How I Met Your Mother!  If this entire season is just the three days leading up to the wedding, I'm going to scream!

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Calli Be Gold

Calli Be Gold
Wendy Lamb Books, 2011
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience:  Elementary School
ISBN:  9780385908023
Publication Date:  April 5, 2011

Everyone in Calli's family is golden.  Her brother is a basketball star, her sister is an ice skater, and her parents are convinced that Calli is exceptional at something, they just haven't found it yet.  What Calli does appear to be good at is noticing every little thing around her, a skill that leads her to Noah, a little boy hiding under the air hockey table at the ice rink.  Surprisingly, Calli's class becomes mentors for Noah's class and Calli volunteers to be Noah's mentor.  Everyone else is busy reading with their student while Calli is just quietly sitting with Noah under his desk.  When it comes time for the friendship fair, Calli and Noah come up with an idea that describes their friendship, but with her family's packed schedule, it looks like no one will come.  Calli is an amazing character that is a champion for all readers that are tried of being overshadowed by siblings.

I reacted very strongly to this book.  The first sentence hooked me "The way I look at it, you can divide all the people in the world into two categories:  the loud ones who shout about who they are and what they do, and the quiet ones who just are and do."  I love that!  I am definitely in the quiet category and that is why I am never on Facebook!  True, I have a blog, but in case you haven't noticed, the books are the star here, not me.  

Moving on.  Calli is a good kid, an average kid, and that is all she aspires to be.  That is so refreshing!  We keep telling our kids and ourselves that we have to be exceptional, but what ever happened to just being normal, quiet, useful.  Calli doesn't mind it.  She enjoys her walks to school, her few friends, her simple life.  

There are several themes are work in this story, but they manage never to compete.  There is the main plot of Calli's parents pushing her to find a passion like her brother and sister.  That whole family dynamic really takes center stage.  But the side plots are very interesting, like Noah's condition, which is only hinted at, and the changing friendships since Calli will be entering junior high soon.  Those are major plots by themselves, but since they are on the periphery, they never take away from the main plot.  

And what a main plot.  Calli is very observant and notices that her parents are pushing her and her siblings but are not happy themselves.  This all comes out in the end, and Calli and her siblings get to start doing their own thing, which makes Calli state "I am sort of a muse.  In my own way.  And that's a pretty good thing to be."  Calli inspires her family to slow down, have their own activities, and enjoy life a little more instead of rushing through it.

I loved this book.  Loved!  And despite that affection, I have to say that it's likely not going to score super high with Bluestem readers.  Not everyone is quiet and those "loud" readers likely won't understand Calli as well as I did.  Also, this is a pretty girl-centric book.  There is talk of bras and boys that might turn off some male readers.  The age group is perfect, but it doesn't have enough universal appeal to win the Bluestem, but I'm so glad that it is on the list and that I discovered it!

For a celebration of the quiet, average people, Calli Be Gold is perfect!

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Emily's Fortune

Emily's Fortune
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience:  Elementary School
ISBN:  9780385736169
Publication Date:  June 8, 2010

Emily was raised a prim and proper girl in Miss Luella Nash's manor where her mother was a maid.  But after the death of Miss Luella and Emily's mother, she is left all alone with nothing but advice from her neighbor's, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim, and Mrs. Fire.  The neighbor ladies are all ready to put Emily on a train to Redbud to live with her aunt, but the Catchum Child Catchers come a callin' and suddenly, Emily is on the run.  She meets up with another orphan named Jackson and the two work to evade the child catchers, and Emily's tough Uncle Victor.  There is plenty of rootin', tootin' fun in this book about the old west and finding family.

Emily's transformation from proper, quiet girl to brave and tough is quite remarkable.  Readers will be cheering toward the end, and thankful for all the help and lucky breaks that she gets along the way.  Each chapter ends with a bold faced cliffhanger in an old-west type of dialect.  This addition would make for a fun read aloud for classes.  Students could repeat after the teacher and learn a few interesting ways to express amazement.

This book reminded me somewhat of The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman with the mistaken identity and running from danger.  Plus, the covers are a little similar too.

See what I mean?

I like this book as a Bluestem.  It has plenty of action and appeal to both boys and girls.  Like I said, I think it would be a great classroom read-aloud too.  And while the history isn't entirely educational, the setting is fun and historic, so students could mix some parts of this story into a project on stagecoaches and the Wild West.  

All things considered, Emily's Fortune is a fun story, full of action, with a satisfying ending.  Readers will love it.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Waiting for the Magic

Waiting for the Magic
by Patricia MacLachlan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience:  Elementary School
ISBN:  9781416927457
Publication Date:  September 13, 2011

One day, Williams and Elinor's father just leaves.  Not like he's left in the past for just a short while, but really leaves.  Upset, their mother decides to get a dog and all three hop in the car.  Only four dogs are at the shelter and instead of leaving any behind, William's family takes the lot, and a cat named Lula.  Elinor, who is only four, can somehow communicate with the dogs Grace, Bitty, Bryn, and Neo.  Their grandmother can as well, and she says that only the very young, very old, and very brave can feel the magic.  William wants to feel the magic, but with so much going on in his family, he's having a hard time.  This is a truly special book with magic to spare and it will delight young readers.

As a dog owner, I loved this book.  The very idea of dog's talking, not outloud, but silently, magically, was very appealing.  There are many books that give the impression that the young are open to magic, but this book allows for magic to be felt by everyone-the young, the old, and the brave.  It is just as surprising to the reader that the dogs can talk as it is to William.  That first chapter when the dogs each have their say caught me off guard, but was a nice addition.  

The dogs are characters of their own.  Each one has it's own personality and is very protective of their family, shown very well when William's father returns.  But the dogs provide just want he was searching for, and now this family can be together again.

I like this as a Bluestem.  It's simple, short, has appeal for both boys and girls and I think even a fifth grader would pick it up.  Who wouldn't walk a talk that can talk to you?  I also think that this is a great book to read to younger kids too.  All those little magical Elinor's out there will love this book, even though they can't read it by themselves, yet.  Wonderful for everyone-beginning readers, seasoned readers, and non-readers.

This book made me feel warm and fuzzy.  I hope you feel the same way.

Happy Reading!