Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ABC is for Circus by Patrick Hruby

There's a whole alphabet to be found at the circus. A is for acrobats, for example, contorting their bodies. B is for big top, the centre of all the action. C is for calliope, creating that familiar circus melody. In ABC is for Circus by Patrick Hruby, the circus is the backdrop for a familiar kind children's books - the alphabet book. But the bright, high-contrast images lend themselves well to the circus concept, and the primary shapes found in the pictures are perfect for sparking discussion with children. My favourite page was "N is for Nighttime," but I also loved "F is for Fireworks" (and there's something so nice about the bear on the unicycle). It's the kind of work that looks deceptively simple but likely is the result of a meticulous attention to detail. This book made me want to learn more about Patrick Hruby - see more of Patrick's work at Patrick Draws Things.

Find the book at AMMO. (ABC is for Circus will be available in November)

Read it with:
Jason d'Aquino's Circus ABC
Alphabeasts by Edward Wallace
Who put the B in the Ballyhoo by Carlyn Beccia

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I'm going to put a spoiler warning in here, just to be safe.

In the third and final book of the Hunger Games series, Katniss doesn't know what to do. She's just been lifted out of the Quarter Quell. She was rescued; Peeta was not. District Thirteen exists; District Twelve has been destroyed. The rebels want Katniss to be the face of the rebellion - they want her to be their Mockingjay. She is reluctant to do it, but determined in her desire to bring down the Capitol.

I picked up my copy of Mockingjay on the release day and had it read before I went to sleep that night. I couldn't wait to find out what happened to Katniss and the other characters, particularly Peeta. I must confess, I identify with "Team Peeta," but not really in a romantic way; it's not that I wanted Katniss to chose him or be with him, he was just the character I found most interesting. I was worried for him at the end of Catching Fire, and he suffers a lot in Mockingjay. At times I had to keep reminding myself that Katniss had grown up in a different world, so sheltered and (although she's seen so many things) naive in many ways. I was often frustrated with her, particularly when she was interacting with Peeta. I wondered what the book would be like once it left the arena, but there was lots of action and moral dilemmas, and heartbreaking deaths. I enjoyed the book and was both happy and sad when it ended, and now that I know the end, it makes me want to go back and relive how Collins got there.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Fire by Kristin Cashore

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Bryce thinks that Juli has been a pest since the first moment they met. Juli thinks that she's been looking out for Bryce for his own good. Bryce knows that Juli has a crush on him and hates how she's always paying attention to him. Juli knows that she flipped for Bryce but she's hidden it from him pretty well. They've been friends - or at least neighbours - for six years, but Bryce and Juli are about to learn that maybe they don't know each other as well as they think they do.

There's something really interesting about dual-narrator novels. I love getting different perspectives on the same situation, maybe because in real life we only ever have our single perspective on things. I wish there was a sequel, maybe when Juli and Bryce were 18ish and graduating from high school. (It's times like this that I totally understand why people write fan fiction) Even so, the book ends at such a good point that I'm happy to leave Bryce and Juli there at that moment.

Find it on IndieBound.

Read it with:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Appetite for Detention by Sloane Tanen
Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley

Saturday, August 28, 2010

America's Next Top Model: Face Value by Taryn Bell

Get ready for Top Model Prep, the most prestigious modeling camp in the country. Forty girls have been chosen to compete for prizes, photo shoots, and the chance to join the Top Model agency. Four young women are convinced that they have the looks, the attitude, and the drive to take it all the way to the top: Alexis, a middle-American beauty who is also has kleptomania; Chloe, the daughter of a supermodel who knows she could win the competition but wonders if she wants to; Lindsay, a former child actor who is looking for a chance to get back into the limelight (and is willing to do anything it takes); and Shiva-Rose, an Israeli stunner whose sensitive romantic side might be her downfall. These girls think they're ready for anything, but that's before they've checked into Top Model Prep.

Why did I not know there was an America's Next Top Model teen novel series? How did I not know this? These books are pretty much like the TV show: house drama, clash of personalities, name-dropping, photo shoots, challenges, and eliminations. I think of them like a food you just want to curl up with: they're cheesy in a delicious way, a bit sugary, and light like cotton candy. Just like when I watch the TV show, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next one.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin

Pete the Cat has some brand new shoes, and he's so happy! He's so happy that he sings about them. But - oh no! He gets them dirty. Will that ruin his day? Goodness, no! He just keeps on going and keeps on singing, changing the words as he keeps stepping in things and changing his shoe colour. This will be an amazing book to use in storytimes, but it's fun all on its own. The phrases "Oh no!" and "Goodness, no!" are repeated, which might stick in your head. Really, there are some youtube videos that could summarize this book better than I can:

Find this book, read it, sing it, love it. Goodness yes!

p.s. This is my 200th post! Thanks, everyone, for reading.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Shoe Bop by Marilyn Singer
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and John Archambault

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Lester Trapp is Alton's favourite uncle. That's what Alton's mother has always told him, at least. Alton thinks that that's because Lester is also his wealthiest relative. So his mother jumps at the opportunity to have Alton spend more time with his great-uncle Lester, as his cardturner when Lester (who is blind) plays bridge. Alton knows nothing about bridge and even less about Lester, but as they spend more time together they start to form a strange bond.

I loved this book. I wasn't turned off by the premise of it being a bridge novel; I love books that are set in non-typical real-life worlds (there was a brief moment at the start where I confused bridge and cribbage, but once I got over that I was okay - and then started longing for a cribbage novel) (and I still want a ballroom dancing book). I've never played bridge, but I used to spend lots of hours in our high school caf playing lots of different card games, so I can understand its appeal to teenagers. Alton's voice grabbed me and kept me, and I started rooting for him, for his uncle, and for Toni. About two-thirds of the way through the book the story flips around and goes off in a very different direction, but because of the strength of the the first part, I was willing to go along with it. I wish I knew more about bridge so that I could end with some sort of bridge pun, but I don't, so I'll just go with, this book won its way into my heart.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Holes by Louis Sachar
The Next Competitor by K.P. Kincaid
Bridge by David Bird
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
The Devil's Tickets by Gary M. Pomerantz

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

It's Not Summer Without You picks ten months after The Summer I Turned Pretty Left off. So much has changed. Belly is not at the summer house for the first summer of her life. Susannah, her mother's best friend and Belly's own surrogate mother, has passed away. Her relationship with Conrad developed over the winter, but then fell apart. Now Conrad is missing, and his brother Jeremiah (who also has feelings for Belly) enlists her help in finding him. There's really just one place he would be: the summer place. Does Belly have the strength to go back there? Can she help Conrad? And where does Jeremiah fit into all this?

I can practically smell the sunscreen with these books. They evoked such a powerful summer-memory reaction from me that ran parallel to the actual events of the story. My favourite parts of this book were the sections where Jeremiah's voice took over and he narrated chapters. I think he's my favourite character in these books, and I would love to read more from his perspective. At some points I felt my age while reading these, watching teenage Belly caught between two gorgeous young men, and I wanted to step in and give her some "wisdom" about secretive brooders, but mostly I was content just to watch the story unfold. I have to wait another year now to read what happens next, but I think having to wait in real time might just add to the experience of the story.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Zen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Shug by Jenny Han
Dishes by Rich Wallace
Maine Squeeze by Catherine Clark

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

It looks like it's going to be a long summer at their grandmother's Vermont inn for Travis and his sister Corey. They're the only kids around, and there are a lot of senior citizens who stay at the inn. But then they hear rumours of ghosts that haunt the inn, and they decide to play some tricks on the gullible tourists. It quickly gets out of hand when their pranks awaken some real ghosts, and these ghosts need Travis and Corey to solve a century-old mystery so that they can finally rest in peace.

Even though this book was published in 2008, it seems almost like a throwback to an old-school type of mystery (and that's not a dig at all). I don't remember ever really going through a mystery phase in my reading (other than a deep love of Lois Duncan), but there were always the supernatural Sweet Valley books where Jessica or Elizabeth would have an encounter with a ghost. This book seems to be more in line with those books than the recent supernatural vampire/werewolf books. It seemed like it would be a great book for young readers or tweens ready for something more but not looking for anything too explicit.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

How does someone live forever? I guess that depends on how you define living. Henrietta Lacks, in many ways, was not immortal. She did not live forever; she died in the 1950s. But scientists took some of her cells, and HeLa, as the cells are called, continued to live, grow, divide, and be studied. Scientists all around the world studied HeLa. It was part of the development of the polio vaccine. But the contributions of Henrietta, the woman, did not receive acknowledgment; her family had no idea that cells had been taken, that they had been so important to science, and that people had made large amounts of money off of these cells. Her family (husband and children, and now grandchildren) struggled and faced a number of hardships throughout their lives, including going without medical coverage. When they learned about the contributions that their mother's cells had made, they didn't really understand all the scientific implications, and were angered by the way their mother had been treated, and wanted to know if they would see any of the financial benefit from HeLa.

Rebecca Skloot managed to balance a story of science with a very interesting human story. Class, race, politics, gender, and education all play a part in this story. It's incredibly readable, even to someone (like me) with very little scientific or medical understanding. There was a point in the story, after talking about how the Lacks family had been exploited, that I wondered if Skloot was engaging in some kind of this herself for the purpose of the book, but that's when she stepped in and talked about The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which made me see how aware she was of this perception. Visit Rebecca Skloot's website for more information about Henrietta Lacks the book and the person.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Swann by Carol Shields
Bad Blood by James H. Jones
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is a human monster, born of a human mother and a monstrous father. She can read and control minds, a talent that many would like to exploit. When she can no longer allow her mind to be used against others, she breaks away - and into a dangerous new world.

I was hesitant going into Graceling, and then I loved it, and I was sure that Fire wouldn't be able to live up to it. But then I ended up loving Fire - possibly even more than Graceling. I loved Fire and Brigan just as I loved Katsa and Po. These are relationships that I cared about because the characters were original and complex. Definitely check out these books, even if Fantasy isn't usually your thing. I read Graceling first, because it was published first, but I think you could probably start with either one.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglas

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Todd is just a few days away from being a man. He's the only boy left in Prentisstown, the youngest one left after the sickness killed all of the women. He lives with two close friends of his mothers, and his beloved dog, and is surrounded by the Noise, the thoughts of all the other men in town. Then he finds something...strange: a girl. And she doesn't have a Noise. Before he can even process what's happening, his guardians are sending him out of town, telling him to run and never come back. As Todd and Viola (and Todd's dog Manchee) start out, they want to know: what are they running from? Where are they running? And what is the secret about Prentisstown that everyone else seems to know?

This book has some amazing cliffhangers, the kind you might find in a serial novel, like something Dickens was writing. In the interest of trying to go to bed earlier, I tried to restrict myself to reading only one section per night, but often, the section ended on such a cliffhanger that I just had to keep reading. Todd and Viola are both such strong characters, Todd especially as he struggles with trying to keep going when everything he's ever known is falling down around him.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Salt by Maurice Gee

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris

A giraffe in Paris?! That's the story behind this sweetly illustrated story of Belle, a giraffe given by an Egyptian dignitary to King Charles X of France. A giraffe is a pretty fancy gift, but how did you fit one onto a boat? Cut a hole in the roof! How do you make sure the giraffe's feet are okay? Make her some shoes? How do you protect her from the rain? Get her a raincoat! In with the illustrations are artifacts from the actual giraffe's journey in 1827. Told through the eyes of Atir, Belle's companion and caretaker, it's a great blend of truth and fiction, and a fun book to read.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Zarafa: The Giraffe Who Walked to the King by Judith St. George
Zarafa by Michael Allin
The Story of Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff
Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey
My Travels with Clara by Mary Tavener Holmes

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Zen & Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan

The death of their mother affected sisters Zen and Xander in different ways. Xander, the older of the pair, acts out, turning to partying and guys to escape her life. Zen, on the other hand, throws herself into her Shotokan training, determined to gain control of her life through control of her body. They're curious about their mother's life, and their father (who's in a walking grief coma) is no help. But when they start digging into her past, will they be able to handle what they find?

I like stories that focus on sibling dynamics and ones that realistically show that parents are human, too. Zen is a type of character that I wish I saw more of in books. The romantic subplots didn't really stand out to me, but they didn't detract or distract, either. A solid read.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers
Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time to Sleep Sheep the Sheep! by Mo Willems

I love Cat the Cat. She's the main recurring character in Mo Willems' most recent series of picture books. The Cat the Cat books nicely slip into the space between the Pigeon books and the easy readers of Elephant and Piggie. In Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!, it's bedtime, and it's up to Cat to make sure all of the animals (like Sheep the Sheep and Giraffe the Giraffe) are ready for bed. But when she comes across Owl the Owl - well, he's just waking up and ready for checkers! The pictures are brightly illustrated with vibrant blocks of colour, and the print is thick and perfect for reading either one-on-one or with a group of children. There's no shortage of picture books about bedtime out there, but don't miss out on this one.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems
I'm Not Sleepy! by Jonathan Allen
Back to Bed, Ed by Sebastien Braun

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

Maddy and her cousin Rogan have always been close. The youngest ones in their families, born on the same day, they've always had a special bond. It's a bond that scares most of the family, who worry about it turning...physical. Too late. When their high school puts on a production of Twelfth Night, it's a perfect opportunity for both Maddy and Rogan to explore what acting and performing means to them...and what they mean to each other.

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the incest angle of the book, and after reading it, I'm still not sure. The incest is very upfront; it's not something that the book builds to at the end. Maddy is very matter-of-fact about it: she loves her cousin, they have this bond, of course they want to be together in that way as well. The book feel claustrophobic, like people are closing in on each other; it's a book that creates a very strong atmosphere in not a lot of pages.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
Jonathan's Story by Julia London
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Night My Sister Went Missing by Carol Plum-Ucci

Who brings a gun to a party? That’s what the people of Mystic want to know after one teenage girl goes missing. Everyone saw her at the party. Everyone saw the gun. People heard it go off, and they saw her go over the dock into the water. But they didn’t hear her hit the water. Kurt is desperate to find out what happened to his sister, and everyone has conflicting stories. As more people share their version of events with the police, things just get more and more complicated, and soon there are a lot more mysteries floating around than just a missing girl. How do they all fit together? Where did she go? And is she still alive?

Even though the book seems to be about Kurt, who narrates the story, and his sister, the one who disappeared, it’s really more about Stacy, the semi-queen of their social group. Everyone’s story really revolves around Stacy: what they know, what they think they know, what she’s said, how she lied. It was her gun at the party, and everyone claims she’s the one who brought it. And Casey, the missing girl, was dating her ex-boyfriend, who many point to as the father of Stacy’s recent pregnancy. But what does Stacy have to do with this? In the book, Stacy rarely speaks for herself; others speak for her and about her, which would be plenty sad even if the real story didn’t overwhelm that sadness with even greater tragedy in her life. Woven through the story, too, is the idea of how people can outgrow their friends as well as a dash of post-graduation “I’m not ready for the rest of my life!” I think this is a book that would benefit from reading in a single sitting, so that the story can overwhelm the reader in a way that mirrors how the characters feel. It reads very much like a 2 hour TV movie (although there are few red herrings in the story, just confused momentary misdirection) with twists right up until the end.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:

The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand
Party by Tom Leveen
Paper Towns by John Green
Dawn by Kevin Brooks
What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

1962. JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis provide the backdrop for Franny Chapman's life. Her father is a pilot in the Air Force, and the reality of war is one that she lives with every day. Her mother tries to keep the family unit functioning when her husband is out of town. Her great-uncle Otts seems to dip in and out of reality and becomes something of a neighbourhood joke. Her younger brother, Mr. Perfect, is astronaut obsessed, and other college-aged sister is starting to break away from the family. Adding in classroom worries, friendship troubles, the return of a really attractive guy, and the constant threat of imminent nuclear danger, and Franny has a lot of things going on in her life.

I was really looking forward to picking this book up because it has been getting a lot of great press (and even has been mentioned as a possible Newbery contender). I loved Franny's voice and perspective as she tries to deal with the very grown up things happening around her. I have never had to live in a place where I felt constantly under threat. The closest I felt was in 2003, when the US was going to war in Iraq, and there was such uncertainty over what was going to happen. I remember waking up in the morning and being scared about the possibilities. And I was much older than Franny at the time. I loved the individual relationships she has with everyone in her family, especially with her sister and her brother. The book itself is interesting as an object; the text often cuts to photographs, news headlines, and song lyrics from the time. The book indicates that this is book one in a trilogy, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the next chapter.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your President by Josh Lieb
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Ellen Emerson White
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
The Fire-eaters by David Almond
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Snow Apples by Mary Razzell

A small B.C. town feels too small for Sheila now that she's growing up. She wants to finish school, but her mother needs her to quit school and start working to help support the family. Her mother has been supporting the family single-handedly since Sheila's father has been fighting in World War II - and even before then, it wasn't easy. Sheila also has been starting to spend a lot of time with a local boy, and her mother doesn't approve of that, either. Sheila desperately just wants to have a life of her own and be her own person, but she will have to struggle through a number of things in order to find her way.

I think what cinched picking up this novel for me was Mary Razzell's dedication to Carol Shields, who is one of my all-time favourite writers. This was a very interesting look at two women (one a teenager, one a mother) living in a time that wasn't very kind to women, especially in rural areas. The path that Sheila takes sometimes made me want to step in for her own good (especially as she got more serious with Nils), but I think the journey she was on (as terrifying as it was at times) was one that will make her a stronger (fictional) person in the (fictional) future. The edition I read was a 2006 reprint of the 1980s original, and I'm really glad that this book was repackaged for a new audience.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston
Runaway at Sea by Mary Razzell
Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt
Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

Susan has worked hard to overcome other people's perceptions of her. As the high school principal in a small town, her life is under a microscope. Her life is thrown for a loop when her daughter announces she's pregnant. Susan might be able to handle that - but then two more girls, her daughters' best friends, also announce that they're pregnant. The whole town is buzzing that there was a pregnancy pact and that Susan - who was a young, unmarried woman when her daughter was born - is responsible for it.

This book made me so frustrated. Who did these girls think they were? They decided to get pregnant but were not prepared to shoulder any of the responsibility, blindly and naively assured that their parents (their mothers) would take care of everything. Also not on their radar were the guys involved with the pregnancy. Ugh. This just made me sad. And I guess that means that Barbara Delinksy was doing a good job, because I think that was the point. I would be happy to think that it was a figment of her imagination, but it's what I see on things like MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I really liked the cover of the book, especially after reading the story. The women could be the teens, or the parents (or maybe even both). It's probably just a stock photo, but it's very well chosen.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey
Reaction by Lesley Choyce
While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky
Girls in Trouble by Caroline Leavitt

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Acorns Everywhere! by Kevin Sherry

I know, I know. It seems way too early to be thinking about the fall. When I was a student, I hated how early the 'back to school' commercials would come on, because I just wanted to enjoy the summer and not think about fall. But if you are ready to transition into the next season, keep in mind this great book by Kevin Sherry. This squirrel loves acorns, but once he hides them, he can't remember where they are! I love Sherry's colourful pictures and his deceptively simple illustrations. See more of his work at www.squidfire.com.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean! by Kevin Sherry
The Princess and the Pea in Miniature by Lauren Child
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Summer has always been Belly's favourite time of year. Her family has been sharing a beach house with her mom's best friend's family since before she was born. She's always been the younger sister to her older brother Steven and their older friends Conrad and Jeremiah. This summer, though, things are different. Steven leaves early on to look at colleges, and then it's just Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah. They've always looked at her as a little sister, but now they can't ignore how she's changed. And other guys can't, either. It's the summer where everything is going to change.

I love books about summer. When I was growing up, I spent my summers away from home at our cottage. I had a summer life and a winter life, and would spend time waiting impatiently for my summer life to begin. So, in that way, I could relate to Belly. I also have a hard time with change, so I could see her unease when things started changing (even though change was in some cases exactly what she wanted). I thought that Jenny Han did a great job balancing Belly's point of view so that she seems mature and wise in some ways and young and naive in others. Conrad and Jeremiah are interesting characters that I wish I knew more about, so I'm glad I can now dive in to the sequel, It's Not Summer Without You.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Zen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
Shug by Jenny Han
Dishes by Rich Wallace
Maine Squeeze by Catherine Clark

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers

Johnny's life has been kind of spiraling lately. Ever since his father passed away, his mom has been living in her own world, removed from the daily realities of paying bills and looking after her son. Then Johnny suffers an overdose at a party, and his mom just can't deal with him anymore. So Johnny is sent to live with his uncle and has to face a new school, new bullies, and a new sober life. He starts finding comfort in the music of Debbie Harry - and in the presence of Maria, who encourages him to explore what his Debbie Harry attraction means to him. At first it's just her music, but then he wants to...be more like her. And that takes him down a road he's never been down before.

Are there many YA books that focus on guys experimenting with dressing up like female performers? Are there any set in the drag world? I think I really want to read one (and one set in the world of competitive ballroom dancing, but that's not really related to this). But focusing on Debbie Harry Sings in French, it's a strong depiction of a guy who is confused and assured at the same time. The rather scary mother is nicely balanced out by the uncle, who is supportive and caring and clues Johnny into a connection with his father that Johnny never knew about.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner
No Girls Allowed by Susan Hughes
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Monday, August 9, 2010

Zero is the Leaves on the Trees by Betsy Franco

Numbers are easy to count. You can see them everywhere. But what is zero? How do you count zero? Where is zero? In this book by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Shino Arihara, zero is everywhere...if you know how to look for it.

The concept of this book reminded me of the Mad About You episode where Yoko Ono wanted Paul to film the wind. How do you film the wind? You can feel the wind, but can you see it? Film it? Here, you know what zero is, but can you point it out? What does it mean to have zero of something? Has it gone or ended? Or has it not happened yet? Is it missing? Was it ever there? Zero opens up a lot of questions about how we see and experience everyday situations.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco
A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco
Counting on Zero by Highfield Junior School
CeciAnn's Day of Why by Shino Arihara

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Raina just wants to have fun with her friends and be a normal kid. But when a freak accident causes her to lose her front teeth, she ends up with a seemingly endless parade of braces, retainers, operations, and embarrassment. Her friends aren't much help, either, making fun of her and teasing her - but she doesn't like it anymore. Add in an earthquake and Raina's world won't just seem turned upside-down - it actually is!

I loved this book. I never had braces, so even though I couldn't physically relate to the pain Raina was going through, this book made me wince along with her. I loved the colourful art style, the way that Raina Telgemeier draws and styles characters, the message about self-esteem and friendship, and the family relationship between Raina and her parents as well as with her siblings. I was familiar with her style through the Graphix adaptations of the Baby-Sitters Club series, but I really think that this is a great breakout for her, and I hope this is a book that many, many people read.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier
Smile by John A. Rowe
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Coping with Braces and Other Orthodontic Work by Jordan Lee

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Miles Between by Mary Pearson

It's the perfect plan for an escape. Destiny is desperate to get away for a bit, so when she sees an opportunity to steal away in an available car, she does - and she takes three other students with her. Running on the cash they found in the glove box, the students are determined to find a "fair day" where everyone gets what they deserve. As they travel though different places, Destiny slowly starts to reveal some of the secrets that she's been hiding from everyone, including herself.

When I first started reading, I was a little unsure of how 'on the nose' everything seemed: the main character is Destiny Faraday, there's a character named Mr. Guardian. But as I kept reading, these conventions sort of twisted around and in on themselves. I liked the idea of playing with concepts of luck and fairness. I wasn't 100% shocked by the ending of the novel (and I don't know if I was supposed to be), but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the ride.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The Karma Club by Jessica Brody
They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney
One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke
Finally by Wendy Mass

Friday, August 6, 2010

Contents Under Pressure by Lara M. Zeises

Lucy is thrilled when she finds out her brother will be coming home for a little while. They've always been close, but since he went away to school, and she hasn't been able to talk to him about starting high school, she feels like they've been drifting away. She's not as happy to learn that his girlfriend is moving home with him. As she explores her own relationship with a hot junior, she's shocked to learn that her brother is going to be a father - and saddened to realize that he's not really stepping up and accepting his new responsibilities. Torn between loving her brother and seeing him as a different person, Lucy feels like there's so much pressure in her life she just might explode.

I liked the teen pregnancy spin on this story (even though Hannah, the girlfriend, is 20, it's still basically a unplanned teen pregnancy). Jack, Lucy's brother, isn't a bad guy, necessarily; as the characters point out, he just doesn't know how to be a good man. So many characters are either good or bad and they rarely deal so fully in the shades of gray. Hannah is a character I was rooting for, as was Lucy. A few references now seem dated (the book was published in 2002), but it was a great introduction to Lara M. Zeises.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
Fact of Life #31 by Denise Vega
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

Thursday, August 5, 2010

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

Cathy just wanted to take Latin in summer school. But now her life is completely different. Another student has ID-ed her as his long lost cousin Murielle, a claim Cathy vigorously denies. Murielle was the daughter of two financiers who bolted rather than facing criminal charges, leaving their daughter behind. Is Cathy this cousin? Where is Murielle?

I was expecting that to be driving narrative force to the story, but it's actually resolved rather quickly. The rest of the book focuses on the issue of right and wrong, identity, family, and responsibility. Can a person outrun his or her past? Are we the same people we were as children? What is a family? The story is interesting (and timely). Some of the writing is a bit thin, especially when it's being twisted around into an awkward pun. The ending left me kind of questioning what it says about the 'realness' of foster families (I think there were a few threads that didn't get wrapped up), but it's a good story for people who enjoy plot-driven mini-thrillers.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
If The Witness Lied by Caroline B. Cooney
Friend is not a Verb by Daniel Ehrenheft
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

Detective Nikki Heat is one of New York's finest cops - she's smart, tough, fearless, and she always gets her man. Jameson Rook is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer looking for background for a new article. When he's assigned to Heat's squad for an extended ride-along, tempers (and egos) will flare. And when a local businessman is thrown from his balcony, can they work together to find the culprit - or will all of the sexual tension get in the way?

I enjoy ABC's TV show Castle (I'm both an episodic mystery and Nathan Fillion fan), and I think it's such a smart idea to have a tie-in real-life mystery novel. I often wish that fake things on shows or movies were real, and a Nikki Heat book certainly qualifies. I'm not a huge mystery reader, so while I enjoyed the twists and turns, I was more into reading between the lines based on the TV show. I'd love to hear what a big mystery fan thought of the book, but as a fan of the original source, I definitely enjoyed it.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Madison Avenue Shoot by Donald Bain
Glee: The Beginning by Sophia Lowell
I, Alex Cross by James Patterson
The Prostitute's Ball by Stephen J. Cannell

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter

Garbage! Hot, stinky, smelly, dirty garbage! Who wants a big pile of garbage? Not the town of Islip, New York. So a few businessmen come up with the idea to ship their garbage to another place - using a garbage barge! But once word gets out, no one will take their garbage. Will the garbage barge ever be able to come home?

I picked up this book because it's already being mentioned alongside the ALA awards of next January, and after reading it, I can see why. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the pictures at first. They're photographs, I think, of model sets made out of tiny miniature objects. The details in the pictures are amazing. The people remind me of scary wooden puppets, but there's personality to them, character to their expressions. I can't imagine the book with any other illustrations; they're something you kind of have to see to belief, so I definitely recommend checking out this book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
I Spy: A Picture Book of Riddles by Jean Marzollo
I Stink! by Kate McMullan
Trashy Town by Andrea Griffing Zimmerman

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Unity isn't like other places. Celeste has lived her whole life in Unity's Movement and she knows what to expect; now that she's nearly 15, soon she'll be married off to an older man and join her sister-wives, she'll be expected to have a number of children and submit to her husband, she'll be expected to leave her old life and her parents and siblings behind. Taviana didn't grow up in Unity. She lived a wild secular life until one of the men found her and brought her to Unity, where she's been experiencing safety and security for the first time. When Celeste starts questioning her future and her father, though, Taviana is blamed for filling her head with ideas of the outside world. Things are starting crumble, and no one knows who will be left standing when it all ends.

When I picked up this book, I was expecting it to have a Jodi Picoult-type of vibe (maybe it was the book cover). It's wasn't like that, though, really. By focusing on teens (Celeste, her sister Nanette, Taviana) the book is able to tap in to the rebelliousness and uncertainty of other YA books while adding the element of religious sects and polygamy. Some parts of the book were infuriating (Celeste's mother - one of her father's five wives - is having a hard time with her 8th pregnancy, and all of the medical decisions are left up to her husband), some sad (Nanette is basically a tween but wants to be married to a man as old as her father). The book had a nice readability to it that kept the story moving. The ending seemed kind of quick and neat, but it hinted at the complications that would likely continue for the characters' lives.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Dancing Naked by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Keep Sweet by Michele Greene
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Road to Bliss by Joan Clark
Faith Wish by James W. Bennett

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn

Josh and his family have no idea what kind of house they've moved into. All the floors are slanted by three degrees (it's not a construction problem; they were designed that way). There are rats in the house - rats that make demands from the new owners. There's a growing powder that can make anything many times its normal size. There's a switch that makes the house invisible. And there's a mystery to the house - one that Josh will have to solve in order to save their family.

I had no idea what I was getting into with this book, and after having read it, I'm still not sure! Some of it dealt in puns (the house is called Tilton House) and wordplay. Some of it read episodically, with nice stories that tied up in the chapter. Some of it was just strange, like the funeral directors who come looking for customers in advance. Some parts had a David Lynch-like creepy-quirkiness about it. I was a little taken aback by how matter-of-factly death was dealt with. When a friend's stepfather dies, it's no more than a plot point. Parents are often dead in kids books, but they don't usually die mid-book! All of these are reasons why this book was one I couldn't put down. It has a very fresh voice and style and I'm very curious to see more from Tom Llewellyn in the future.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson
Rat Trap by Michael J. Daly
Tilting by Robert Mellin
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket