Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star by Joyce Raskin

Alex is kind of a nobody. She's not that popular and not that stylish, and isn't really sure who she is. Then her brother gets the wild idea that she's going to take over for him playing bass in his band (he's going to college). It doesn't come easy to her; she has to practice and practice and then practice some more. But slowly, she gets the hang of it, and starts to really enjoy making music and being in a band. Over time, she writes songs, makes friends, has adventures, and somehow manages to come out of it all in one piece.

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

This is kind of a strange novel. It's written in style that reminds me of Jeffrey Archer; it's very tell, don't show. It's a short book and a lot of stuff happens, and sometimes it just gets mentioned by Alex. For example, when she breaks up with her first boyfriend, it's really kind of like, "well, this happened," rather than spending any time on her reacting to it. It really does read like an autobiography, only it's the autobiography of a fictional character. This leads to a number of interesting developments, like when her parents won't let her go on tour with her band. Most books (or movies, or TV shows, or anything) would tell the story of the girl who DID go on tour, rather than the one who was still at home, but that's exactly what happens in this book. It's kind of refreshing to read about a teen rock star who achieves some kind of local or regional or even genre recognition, without having her become the hottest international star. In the end, this was a book that I really liked reading, and a great introduction to Joyce Raskin. I was excited to see that she has written a non-fiction book about herself, and that's one that's now definitely on my to read list.

Here's a video of Joyce Raskin in Scarce with the song All Sideways:

My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star is scheduled to be published in June 2011. I read an advance review copy at NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Aching to Be by Joyce Raskin
Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway
Cringe edited by Sarah Brown

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ballroom! by Sharon Savoy

Ballroom dancers all over the world dream of competing - and winning - at Blackpool. It's one of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world, and only a few dancers have ever had the experience of winning. In Ballroom! Obsession and Passion inside the World of Competitive Dance, Exhibition dancer Sharon Savoy takes readers behind the scenes of the Blackpool competition and right into a high-pressure world of competitive dance.

I've been clamouring for a teen novel (or even adult novel) set in the world of ballroom dance, so when I had a chance to read this book, even though it is non-fiction, I jumped at the opportunity. I have to confess that I didn't know anything about Sharon Savoy or her dance career, or anything about exhibition or adagio dancing. I am a big figure skating fan, though, so I had a bit of background when she was talking about lifts, moves, and dance styles, as well as sport politics. Rather than being a memoir that spans an in-depth look at her entire career, it focuses in on the Blackpool experience in 1990. This book is one that I think benefits from the existence of youtube, because after I read it I could go and look up several of Sharon Savoy's dances, including the Bolero number that she details in the book. This enhanced my reading experience tremendously. There were a few points where I wished for a bit more editing (usually to clear up unclear passages), such as at the beginning of chapter four where there is an awkward transition from talking about gay men to "real men" (I hope as opposed to boys). This story, though, could not have been told by a professional writer, as it needed Savoy's experience and observations to make it the story that it was.

Find this book at University of Florida Press.

Read it with:
Ice Dancing by Nicholas Walker
Ballroom Dancing by Paul Bottomer
The Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin
Let's Dance! by Cal Pozo

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

The alphabet book is a staple in children's picture book publishing, so writers, illustrators, and publishers must always find something new to do with it. In The Hidden Alphabet, cut-outs show the picture of a letter, but when you raise the page flap it reveals a larger picture of an object htat begins with that letter. Flaps are a great way to make books seem like toys (and in turn help them to be more likely chosen by kids to read), and they work well in this book. It doesn't have the same imaginative whimsy that One Boy does, but it's still a solid alphabet choice.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
One Boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Look Book by Tana Hoban
The Painted Circus by Wallace Edwards

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Amos McGee faithfully takes care of all of the animals at the zoo. He looks after the elephant, the tortoise, the penguin, the owl, and all the rest. All the animals love him, and it works out very well for everyone. Then one day, he wakes up with a cold and has to stay home. What will the animals do? They miss him! So they decide to take care of him as well as he has taken care of them. This is a very sweet book with interesting illustrations that seem to suit exactly who Amos McGee is. I had a strange moment while reading this book where the animals get on a bus, and I wondered how they had the bus fare for it - before I caught myself and let myself get back into the story. It's a great book to curl up with on a sick day.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Pssst! by Adam Rex
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo by Ayun Halliday
Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo by E.S. Redmond
Berenstain Bears Sick Days by Jan Berenstain

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Todd and Viola faced many hardships together in The Knife of Never Letting Go, but since the establishment of New Prentisstown, nothing has gotten any easier. In fact, things have gotten worse, because they are now separated and having to face things on their own. Todd finds himself working for Prentiss on a special project involving the Spackle, while Viola is in a house of healing surrounded by other women. As the revolution heats up, can they find their way back to each other - and can they trust each other either way?

As the middle novel in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Ask and The Answer has a tough role - it needs to maintain the momentum from the first book while building toward the final book. I think I actually liked The Ask and The Answer better because it was less about the chase and evasion and more about the politics of war. There are also a number of really interesting male/female politics threads running throughout the book, and I like books that deal with that. Overall, this book made me more excited to read Monsters of Men and see how Patrick Ness wraps this whole thing up.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
The Disreputble History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Manifest by Artist Arthur

Krystal Bentley is not a very happy girl. She feels like an outsider at her new high school - and she doesn't even want to be there. She'd much rather still be in New York, living with her Dad. Well, she'd like her parents to get back together, but if she has to choose, she'd rather be with her father. She doesn't like her stepfather. And she's started hearing voices - particularly the voice of a dead teenage boy. Then she discovers that two other students at her school also have the same birthmark that she does - a letter M - and together they try to figure out what it all means. It's a nice twist on a supernatural story and brings lots of intriguing elements into play.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Ghost Whisperer by Barbara Kesel
Darkest Hour by Meg Cabot
Dark Flame by Alyson Noel

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fifty Dresses That Changed the World by Michael Czerwinski

Has any dress really changed the world? I admit, I was skeptical before I picked up this book, but it does a good job explaining why this might be the case (particularly in regards to the material from the industrial revolution and from a social point of view). Starting in the early part of the 1900s and working its way toward the early 2000s, Fifty Dresses That Changed the World neatly summarizes how fashion and fashion designers have changed what we see has desirable. It's a slim text (each dress has a full page picture and a few paragraphs of text) but written for even non-fashion-literate people to understand. It's a fun read that should be required for anyone who's considering going on either Project Runway or America's Next Top Model.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Fifty Shoes That Changed the World by the Design Museum
Inspired Jewelry from the Museum of Arts and Design by Ursula Ilse-Neuman
Audrey Style by Pamela Clarke-Keough
The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake
Fashion by Jennifer Craik

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

Noah, Lily, and Simon make up a tight unit. Their friendship helps them deal with the rest of the world. But nothing stays the same forever. Each one of them has to deal with their own personal issues - money, divorce, illness, abuse, death, the future, crushes, sex. As each person changes, their joint connection changes, too - and it usually happens that with a group of three, one person will be left out.

I've discovered that I'm really attracted to stories that tell the same events from multiple characters perspectives, and that's one of the things at play here in The Absolute Value of -1. Right after I'd finished it I wanted to start over again to read it knowing everyone's perspective. The finely layered details allow for the multiple discoveries. Simon in particular is one of the most intriguing YA characters that I've found recently. This is Steve Brezenoff's debut YA novel, but I was really happy to see on his blog that he has another one coming out next year.

Find out more about this title.

Read it with:
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

Loa barely even recognizes her own life anymore. It's not like everything was that great before. But at least her sister was alive. She had a best friend. And the accident had never happened. The terrible accident that claimed the life of a girl she had known her entire life. Loa starts wondering what would have happened if small things over time had changed; would they have added up to a different future? Deeply hurting from the loss of her sister and the distance she feels from her parents, Loa turns to physics and science to try to understand the actions of the universe.

Everything about Loa just drips with pain. Her words, her actions, everything about her just quietly screams 'help me.' Some parts are difficult to read because of the weight that accumulates from seeing everything through Loa's eyes, but it's definitely worth it to keep reading. I really enjoyed the physics/math questions before each chapter; they didn't take me out of the reading experience but gave me a window into how Loa was processing things. This is Blythe Woolston's first novel, and I can't wait to read more.

See more about the book at Carolrhoda Lab.

Visit Blythe Woolston's blog.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff
Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick
Chuck Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Lisabeth's world is closing in on her. Her mother is distant, her father oblivious. Her boyfriend doesn't understand her. Her old best friend has accused her of being sick, being anorexic. Her new best friend is so controlled at binging and purging that Lisa feels inadequate. There's a voice in her head that's telling her she'll never be thin enough, never be good enough, never be strong enough. Life is just too hard to deal with, so she chooses death. But on the night that she attempts to overdose on pills, Death gives her another option, and Lisa becomes Famine, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Reading this book made me think of the Ted Leo lyric "But don't forget what it really means to hunger strike
when you don't really need to" (and actually all of the song "Me and Mia"). This story is so claustrophobic that I had trouble catching my breath while reading it. Jackie Morse Kessler depiction of the inner voice of Lisa's anorexia was so painful to read; I wasn't surprised to learn that she had had her own past to draw from. The voice just doesn't leave Lisa alone, and it damages her relationships, her health, and her identity. The story clipped along at a fast pace, and I found the ending to be quite realistic (which is a nice feat, considering the supernatural elements of the story). This book left me eager to read the next book about a Horseman of the Apocalypse; according to Jackie Morse Kessler's website, it will be call Rage and will be about War. I can't wait.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Even if it Kills Me by Dorothy Joan Harris

Saturday, October 16, 2010

PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren

Just as on the PostSecret blog, Confessions on Life, Death, and God features a number of postcards filled with people's carefully guarded secrets. Some of them are funny; some of them are heartbreaking. There are secrets that you might immediately identify with; there are secrets where you can't imagine someone actually living like that. There were ones that made me smile and ones that made me tear up. Based on the title, I expected it to be a lot more about 'religion' specifically than it actually was. The secrets are more closely connected through identity and spirituality. If you've read the other PostSecret books (or the website), this will be more of what you're familiar with, but if they're new to you, the layout of this book (a single postcard per page) makes it a good one to dip into.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
My Secret: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren
Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure edited by Smith Magazine
The Healing Flow by Martina Schnetz
Found by Davy Rothbart
Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF by April Winchell

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crunch by Leslie Connor

Fourteen-year-old Dewey Marriss should be enjoying his summer. But when a gas shortage leads to a complete shutdown of all vehicles, stranding his parents far away from the family, Dewey and his older sister Lil find themselves in charge of the Marriss household - including a 13-year-old brother, five-year-old twins, two dogs, chickens, a cranky neighbour, and a bicycle repair business. Balancing everything is tough, especially because the Bike Barn's business is booming with so many people using bicycles to get around. Dewey can barely handle the responsibility, and when parts (and money) start to go missing from the store, he's afraid he might be in over his head.

There's such a nice matter-of-factness about this book. In other books, something like a fuel shortage would be a cue for the world ending. In this book, life goes on somewhat as usual: the twins keep going to day camp, groceries and parts can still be bought (you just need to carry them home on a bike), the police are still the trusted law enforcers, and families stick together. None of the Marriss siblings are perfect, but their flaws are so naturally built into realistic characters. The family loves each other and even when they're arguing, they're still coming from an organic place.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Arthur is a great painter. He usually paints portraits. Max wants to paint, too. He's never done it before and isn't sure how it all works, but he's got lots of speed and energy. Maybe too much energy - Max starts painting ON Arthur and, through a series of techniques, accidentally makes him disappear. How can he get Art back? There's only one way - through the power of art.

I love David Wiesner's books. The illustrations are amazing and there's such cleverness and wit in how the story is presented. When I first saw this title, I was afraid that it was going to be a story about how an uptight artist is shaken up by a free spirit and how that makes everything better. I was nervous because that's a storyline that I don't really like, whether it's in books or movies or TV. Art & Max isn't really like that at all, and if it is, it's just a tiny part of the story. It's much more about the power of art and illustration, the artistic process barriers and boundaries, and even problem solving and remembering the small details. It's funny, colourful, and perfect for sharing with the young and young at heart.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Flotsam by David Wiesner
Chester by Melanie Watt
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Art's Supplies by Chris Tougas
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Can you fight your destiny? Henry Whelp isn't sure. Everyone around his is expecting him to be a big, bad wolf. That's not who Henry is...or who he wants to be. Henry Whelp is the son of the Red Riding Killer - the wolf who committed one of the most horrific, violent murders of a girl and her grandmother in Dust City's history. His father is behind bars, and Henry is in a juvenile detention centre for violent incident. He's desperate not to be like his father. But when Henry's therapist dies in what looks like a staged suicide, Henry starts to learn more about what really happened with his father and the whole fairy dust conspiracy behind it. With the entire Dust City underworld out to get him, will he be able to find out the truth?

I enjoy stories that play with already established characters. One of the strengths of Dust City was that it didn't hit me over the head with "hey, look, that character is Cinderella!" Small hints were dropped, but woven into the bigger story. I liked Henry as a character and understood why the quest was so important to him, and there was a nice gritty realism in this magical, made-up world.

See more at

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Beastly by Alexandra Flinn
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
What Really Happened to Humpty? by Jeanie Franz Ransom
Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chowder by Peter Brown

Chowder is an exceptional dog. He doesn't really do normal dog things. When he digs up a bone, it's on an archaeological dig. When he goes for a walk with his owners, the Wubbingtons, he rides in a carrier on Mr. Wubbington's back. He loves his life, but he wishes he could make friends with other animals. When he sees there's a new petting zoo at their grocery store, he's sure that this is his chance to make friends. But when he accidentally loses the petting zoo's ball, how can he make it up to them?

I love Peter Brown's writing and illustrations. The picture of Chowder standing over an excavated dinosaur is definitely one of my new favourites. I was completely willing to suspend disbelieve over some parts of the story (why does a grocery store have a petting zoo?) because the illustrations and characters were just so wonderful. Peter Brown and Chowder also have websites that are definitely worth checking out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder by Peter Brown
Grumpy Gloria by Anna Dewdney
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Monday, October 11, 2010

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Ben wasn't sure what to expect when his parents brought their new bundle home. He had been an only child, but now there was...Zan. No one asked him if he wanted Zan, or what it would mean for his life. And his life is definitely going to change, because Zan is a chimpanzee. Ben's parents are researchers. His father wants to know if chimpanzees are capable of language. His mother is studying what happens if a chimpanzee is raised as a human in a human family. Ben knows that Zan is used for research, but he also starts to see Zan as a part of their family, and he loves Zan very much. Then the funding for the project runs out, and Ben is shocked to learn about the darker side of animal testing - and that not everyone in his family sees Zan as part of the family after all.

Half Brother is such a great book. It's a funny story but also a sad story, because you know that it might not end happily for Zan. It's set in the 1970s, so it makes a lot more sense that Ben is only finding out about the complicated side of researching animals. The book, though, is really balanced, and although animal testing plays a role in the drama, it's less about that than it is about the brotherly relationship that Ben and Zan develop and about the way Ben struggles with growing up. Definitely check this one out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Into the Minds of Babes by Lisa Guernsey
Baby Signs by Linda P. Acredolo
Laika by Nick Abadzis
Chimpanzees by Rebecca Stefoff
Dusk by Kenneth Oppel

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins

When Megan starts at a new summer school, everything seems a The kids are too cheerful and too obedient. When the kids get sick, no one seems to care. She acts out and tries to start a food fight, and her father takes her to see a therapist. That's when everything starts to unravel, and Megan learns about the strange experiments that are taking place at her school. With the help of Raf and Bradley (a talking dog), Megan is determined to get to the bottom of things. Of all the pet supply stores in all the world, she had to walk in to Raf's mom's store in Chicagoland. That's how Megan and Raf met - but little did they know that one day they would be saving each others' lives!

With the name of Stepford Academy, you know that free-thinking, Haiku-writing, vegetarian Megan is going to run into some trouble. Megan is an exciting and character, and I love the way Bradley talks. The book feels like a big extended set-up, almost like a prequel rather than the first book in the series. I'd like to see how the next book goes once everyone's been introduced.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Faith Erin Hicks
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner

Carrie Pilby is complicated. At 19, she's a Harvard graduate and is saddened that she's usually the smartest person in the room. She does temp work as a legal proofreader but is supported by her wealthy father. She's never really had a boyfriend, but she had a relationship with one of her university professors. She prefers staying in to going out, but doesn't like being lonely. Her therapist gives her a five point plan to work on: list ten things you love, go on a date, join an organization, make plans for New Year's Eve, tell someone you care about them. Reluctant at first, slowly Carrie sees that by following through on this list her life is starting to change, and she's not sure how she feels about that.

Carrie can be a hard character to read about, because at time she pushes the reader away in the same way that she pushes the people around her. She's smart and sheltered, naive and experienced at the same time. It took me awhile, but Carrie eventually won me over, and I found myself caring about what happened to her. The characters that she meets are colourful but never detract focus from her. One of the strengths of this book is the conversations that Carrie has with practically everyone. These are conversations that span many pages, and Carrie just tears into them (even when she's not being particularly confrontational). People have different views, and there are all kinds of shades of gray. I was surprised to see that this book was originally published in 2003 and reprinted in 2010 (with the great cover seen above) because it doesn't read as dated at all; the characters and questions and topics (faith, spirituality, intelligence, sexuality, faithfulness, identity, friendship, romance, reality) are just as relevant today.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Starting from Square Two by Caren Lissner
The Daughters by Joanna Philbin
Manifest by Artist Arthur

Friday, October 8, 2010

Easy Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Money. People want more money, but not everyone understands money. How can you make more? How can you save what you have? What can your money do for you? Easy money is usually an indication that something is too good to be true, but in this book, written specifically for people who struggle with literacy, Gail Vaz-Oxlade tells people how to start taking control of their money. The lessons in this book will be familiar to anyone who has seen Gail Vaz-Oxlade's TV shows (Til Debt do us Part and Princess) or has read any of her other financial books. This book, though, is short (86 pages) and direct - telling people how critical it is to take control of their finances, no matter how much money they make. I think that there are people out there who can find financial books overwhelming, and I hope that they find this book. This book is like a great little appetizer, introducing some of the important themes you'll need to know if you reader more on the subject.

Find out more about this title.

Read it with:
Debt-Free Forever by Gail Vaz-Oxlade
The Hangman by Louise Penny
The Ultimate TFSA Guide by Gordon Pape
397 Ways to Save Money by Kerry K. Taylor
Personal Finance for Canadians for Dummies by Eric Tyson

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Yes She Can! Women's Sports Pioneers by Glenn Stout

Many women have faced a difficult time in the world of sports. This was true for Trudy Erdele in the 1920s when she was trying to swim across the English Channel. It was true for Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett, the first African-American women to make the US Olympic team in 1932. It was true for Julie Krone, a jockey who faced down male opponents in the 1980s and 1990s. And it is still true for Danica Patrick, competing with men in Indy races in the 2000s. These five women lived in different times and have different stories, but in Yes She Can!, their stories are brought together to inspire children of today to not give up on their dreams.

Danica Patrick was the only sports figure here that I had heard of before picking up this book. At 120-some pages, none of the stories goes really in-depth, but there are a number of further resources listed at the back of the book for kids who are interested in learning more. The book was engaging and well-paced and shared messages about gender, race, politics, and sports without being preachy. The sections for each story aren't that long, which make this a great book for reluctant readers as well as sports fans and feminists.

Find it at IndieBound.

Yes She Can! will be released in April, 2011. The copy that I read is available for review through NetGalley.

Read it with:
Baseball Heroes by Glenn Stout
Riding for My Life by Julie Krone
Their Day in the Sun: Women of the 1932 Olympics by Doris H. Pieroth
Danica: Crossing the Line by Danica Patrick
America's Champion Swimmer by David A. Adler