Tuesday, May 31, 2011

thxthxthx by Leah Dieterich

Did you grow up being forced to write thank you notes? Did you get away from it when you hit your mid-teens? Do you write basic, generic thank yous for birthday and Christmas presents? Do you ever thank the ordinary, daily, intangible things in your life? Thxthxthx takes a look at those ordinary things that make life special and thanks them for being just what they are.

Before reading this book, and not knowing thxthxthx.com, there were two ways that I was afraid might go. I was worried that it might overdose on sarcasm and there might be a mean spirit running through the book. On the other hand, I thought it might be too wholesome, and ultimately offputting. I was so happy to see that it was neither of these two things. It is such a balanced book, and Leah Dieterich comes across as such a genuine person - a person who likes embarrassing songs, burns rice, gets cramps, and has a hard time keeping plants alive. The possible gimmickiness of the book didn't bother me (maybe because I had a mother who instilled in me the importance of thank you notes), and more than that, I really enjoyed this book. Check it out.

To get a sense of the letters that are in the book, visit Leah Dieterich's website.

Find it at the Andrews McMeel website.

I read an advanced copy at NetGalley.

Read it with:
Thank You Notes by Jimmy Fallon
5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth by The Oatmeal
This is Priceless by Steven Melcher

Monday, May 30, 2011

He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti

If he has a lot of sex, he's a stud; if she has a lot of sex, she's a slut. He's a bachelor, she's a spinster. When he runs for office, they talk about his politics; when she runs for office, they talk about her appearance. How do these double standards exist today - and what can be done about them? Jessica Valenti breaks these models down and combines them with steps to stop them from continuing in the future.

I remember when Julia Roberts appeared in public with an unshaven armpit, and I remember the outrage that followed it - yes, outrage. I remember reading letters to the editor to some magazine that talked about how dirty it was, how unhygienic it was, and how men didn't like it. I also remember thinking, 'If it's so unhygienic, why is it okay for men to have hair there? And do women's bodies really only exist to please men?' The Julia Roberts incident makes an appearance in He's a Stud, She's a Slut... , along with lots of other stories. There were so many parts in this book where I was nodding, agreeing, and saying 'Yes!' in my head. It takes feminist issues (and human rights issues) and puts them in a modern, practical context. Only in a few sections did it seem slightly dated, even after a couple years (like the occasional references to MySpace). But on the whole, very little has changed since this book was written, and some things have even gotten worse. Judges and public officials have said that if women didn't dress like sluts, maybe they wouldn't be raped. I was recently at a conference where a keynote speaker linked high numbers of women in higher education to the 'threat' that men are under attack. I've wondered why, after having a baby, some women are completely erased from their own Facebook profile - except as the role of 'mom.' I've had people to tell me to smile, to look happier, in public. This book helped me to articulate to myself why all these seemingly small things can be so frustrating: they're part of a larger picture and they aren't happening in isolation. This was one of the few times that I wish I hadn't been reading a library book, because I wanted to highlight pages, make notes in the margins, and hand it off immediately to some of my friends.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read more at Seal Press.

Read it with:
Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
Big Girls Don't Cry by Rebecca Traister
BITCHfest by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglas
Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Piper is pretty convinced that her life sucks. Her best friend (her only friend) just moved away. Students and teachers ignore her. She dreams of going away to university in a year, but her parents just spent her college fund on a cochlear implant for her baby sister. This hits Piper particularly hard because she, too, is deaf, and sees her parents as wanting to ‘fix’ their other daughter so she won’t be an embarrassment to them like Piper is. Then she sees Dumb perform. They’ve recently won a Seattle Battle of the Bands, but no one is sure why. Twin brothers (one a silent perfectionist, the other the egomaniacal front man) and a punk bassist make up the band. In a rare moment of bravado, Piper volunteers to manage them, promising to get them a paying gig within a month. Soon, two more members join the group: a nerdy drummer and a hot girl who can’t really play guitar. It will take all five flavors of Dumb to get them – and Piper – on the right track.

The ways that relationships play out over the course of this book are what make it so strong. The family dynamics in particular are so complicated - Piper feels hurt and betrayed by her parents, her brother has his own issues, and her parents are trying to do what they think is best for all of their children. Piper isn't always easy to get along with, but I was able to empathize with her. This is a great choice for people looking for a music-based book, a book with a deaf protagonist, or just a good book, period.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Rock Star Superstar by Blake Nelson
Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon

Cat has come to visit Chicken in the city, and they're both pretty excited about it. But Cat can only see the bad parts of the city: the mice, the crime, the dirt. Chicken really wants Cat to feel at home - but how?

This is such a fun book. I love the humour, like Chicken and Cat's bathing suits, the monkey in the row boat, and all of the details in the background. I could very well be reading too much into this, but when reading this, did anyone else think that Chicken and Cat are moving in together - like a couple? The jacket copy only refers to it as a visit, but I definitely got a feel of something more permanent, which kind of makes the resolution of the story even sweeter.

Find it at Indiebound.

Read it with:
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Chicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon
Town Mouse, Country Mouse by Jan Brett
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
The Boys by Jeff Newman

Friday, May 27, 2011

Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes

This little white rabbit loves to imagine things. What would it be like to be green? What would it be like to be tall? What would it be like to fly? This is a lovely story that celebrates imagination and creative play. It also has a sweet message about being loved. The colours pop off the page, and there are so many details to pore over; it'd be a great book for a parent/caregiver and child to read together. This is a great book to read at Easter, in the spring, or at any time of the year.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Birds by Kevin Henkes
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unthinkable by Shirley Duke

Omar loves writing stories, and he's started to get a bit of attention for them. People at school are paying attention to him and his writing. But then he writes about a girl going missing...and then it happens in real life, just like in his book. People are wondering if he's somehow involved with it. Omar is desperate to prove his innocence, but the truth might involve some otherworldly dealings. Unthinkable is a good pick for reluctant readers; it's short, fast-paced, and has an intriguing supernatural story. Definitely worth checking out for reluctant readers or fans of the supernatural.

Find it at IndieBound.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Recruited by Suzanne Weyn
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
Look for Me by Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hoop Queen by Marci Peschke

Kylie Jean is good at so many things...why is basketball so hard? She's going to have to work really hard in order to win the free throw competition and become the Little Dribbler Queen. It's a good thing that Kylie Jean isn't afraid of a little hard work! Kylie Jean won me over in the first book I read (Blueberry Queen), and I enjoyed reading all four of the books I've read so far. Hoop Queen, even with the princess/queen/tiara angle, is also a sports story, and might attract readers who are more interested in that than in the queen-ness.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Rodeo Queen by Marci Peschke
Blueberry Queen by Marci Peschke
Drama Queen by Marci Peschke
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Brooke Berlin's life is almost perfect. Her father is Hollywood legend Brick Berlin. Fellow students at her exclusive Prep School either love or fear her. She's about to have an epic birthday party that is sure to land her in the paparazzi photos that she so desperately wants. But all of that is threatened with the discovery that Brick has another child - a daughter who's been living in Indiana and is the same age as Brooke. Molly, her half-sister, is now coming to live with Brooke and Brick, but things don't start off smoothly. Can the two girls find a common ground, or will their relationship be permanently spoiled?

I almost feel like I should say something in terms of full disclosure. I don't know either Heather Cocks or Jessica Morgan personally, and they don't know me. But I have been fans of theirs for years - at Go Fug Yourself, definitely, but before that, at Television Without Pity. I first found it back when it was Mighty Big TV (to give you a hint of the time frame, I was looking for recaps of episodes of Making the Band. Remember O-Town?). I know with certainty that both Jessica and Heather are funny, funny women. (Jessica's recap of the Dawson's Creek episode "Downtown Crossing" should be required reading.)


I had an advanced copy of the book sitting around for awhile, but it was like I was too nervous to actually read it; I wanted it to be as good as I hoped it would be. Turns out, I shouldn't have worried. This is a very funny, smartly written book that has a lot of satirical observations but also a strongly relatable core. I was skeptical when, on the first page, I met a character named Arugula, but the outlandish Hollywood details are really just a background that lets the Berlin family shine. (Also, with the Arnold Schwarzenegger secret child news coming out recently, could this book BE released at a better time?) While I wouldn't want to have Brick Berlin as a father, he's very amusing in Spoiled. (Sharing some of Brick's plans for marketing himself would run the surprise of discovering them). I empathized with both Molly and Brooke at different times, but neither of them are perfect characters, and there are enough mistakes to go around. Spoiled leaves lots of opportunities for the sequel, and I'm already looking forward to the next book.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Go Fug Yourself: The Fug Awards by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Elixir by Hilary Duff
L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad
Why Girls Are Weird by Pamela Ribon
Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bitter Medicine by Clem and Olivier Martini

Bitter Medicine, written by Clem Martini with illustrations by Olivier Martini, is a book that is really three things: a glimpse into how a family struggles when someone is diagnosed with mental illness, a memoir of what it's like to suffer from a mental illness, and a picture of the past and current health systems and how it treats - and fails - those sufferers. While the physical size of the book made it awkward to hold at times, the layout just works so well with the illustrations and text that I can't really picture it any other way. Bitter Medicine is a finalist for the Alberta Readers Choice award - definitely check it out.

See more at Freehand Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Tangles by Sarah Leavitt
Letters from the Lost by Helen Waldstein Wilkes
Too Bad by Robert Kroetsch
The Grizzly Manifesto by Jeff Gailus
Cinco de Mayo by Michael Martineck

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Julia has always loved spending time with her best friend Eliza. Technically, she and Eliza are aunt/niece (Eliza is the daughter of Julia's much older half-sister), but they've always been more like cousins. Now Julia's spending the summer with Eliza's family while her mother is serving in the National Guard in the Middle East. Things are about to get more complicated, though, because Julia can't stop thinking about a boy who's hanging around the resort where Eliza's father works. How will this change Julia and Eliza's relationship?

I love how Nora Raleigh Baskin plays with the idea of growing up. It's not so much a straight line of progression as it is a couple steps forward, a couple steps back, on and on until you're at a place where you can look back and recognize your childhood as something you're not in anymore. When's the last time you played with dolls? When's the last time you pretended to be an imaginary character? When you're doing it, do you know it's the last time? Do you know you're having the summer before boys until after, when you've had a summer with boys? Amplifying these themes are the questions of life, death, duty, and family that surround Julia as she's away from her father, living with her sister/aunt and niece/cousin, and dealing with her mother serving in the military.

I read an advance copy through the Simon & Schuster Galley Grab.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Things haven't been the same for Sophie ever since she found out that she is a witch. After casting a love spell that goes horribly wrong, Sophie is sent to Hecate Hall (nicknamed Hex Hall by the students) a special boarding school for Prodigium - witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. Sophie, who was raised by her single (human) mother, is frustrated by her lack of supernatural knowledge, and before long she's inadvertently made enemies of cliquey witches, teachers, and the hottest guy at Hex Hall. But all of that pales next to the mysterious attacks on other students. Who is causing these attacks and why? And is Sophie in danger?

The basic plot frames (a mysterious boarding school for supernatural beings, a young witch, etc. coming into their own about their powers, finding out truths about yourself and your ancestors) have been covered in other books, but this book stands apart on the strength of voice of the main character. Sophie has a strong sense of humor and uses a lot of sarcasm; the book has a lot of action, but it's also very funny. I loved the relationship between Sophie and her vampire roommate as well as the way that Sophie and Archer (the hottest guy at Hex Hall) develop their relationship (saying anything more would give away too much). The book has a satisfying conclusion while also setting up the action for the next book, Demonglass.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Friday, May 20, 2011

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems

Elephant and Piggie are back - and this might be their biggest adventure yet. Gerald feels like someone is looking at him, and he and Piggie discover that they are in a book! They can make the reader say words, including really funny words. But then Piggie tells him that the book has to end, and Gerald starts to worry what will happen to them then. Will they be able to find a way to stop the book from ending? Turn the page and find out!

I think this is my favourite of the Elephant and Piggie books (who are my favourites of Mo Willem's characters). It's just so clever and smart and funny. I love meta books that play with their own bookiness. I was very pleased to see that this book won a 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Medal.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems
Do Not Open This Book by Michaela Muntean
Chester by Melanie Watt

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Face Book by Star Bright Books

Baby's first face book? Not their first social media account, but a board book filled with great photographs of lots of baby faces. Babies love looking at other babies. One of the first things we do after we're born is start looking for faces, so a book filled with faces can be a source of endless fascination for young children. My Face Book has ten pictures of babies (plus the cover) with lots of different emotions and expressions: silly, serious, laughing, crying, sleepy, and more. One of its strengths is the diversity of the children featured. It's a fun book for young babies who just want to look at faces but also for toddlers who are learning more about emotion and expressions.

See more details at Star Bright Books.

My Face Book will be published in August 2011. I read an advance review copy at NetGalley.

Read it with:
Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp
Hip, Hop by Catherine Hnatov
What's Up, Baby? by Kathleen Rizzi
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox
Baby Faces by Margaret Miller

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Drama Queen by Marci Peschke

Aspiring beauty queen Kylie Jean is back, and this time she has a new plan. Her class is putting on a play, and one of the roles is the Queen of Hearts. Kylie Jean thinks that this is an excellent way to get to wear a crown, but it might not be as easy as she thinks it will be... Once again Marci Peschke has created an enjoyable book that features a well-meaning (though single-minded) girl and her family. If you've enjoyed the other Kylie Jean titles, this one keeps the series going nicely. Tuesday Mourning's illustrations also play a part in giving these books their spark.

See more information at Marci Peschke's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hoop Queen by Marci Peschke
Rodeo Queen by Marci Peschke
Blueberry Queen by Marci Peschke

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Recruited by Suzanne Weyn

Kadeem is destined to be a star. He's a fantastic football player and has nabbed the attention of the recruiters from several top schools. Teller College in particular seems like a dream come true: hot cheerleaders are paying attention to him, he's getting the star treatment, and the recruiter is definitely making it worth his while. At first Kadeem is thrilled...but then he learns that not everything that's going on is above board. If he does the right thing, he might miss out on his chance to play college football. What is Kadeem going to do?

Recruited is another strong title in the Surviving Southside series from Darby Creek (Lerner). The books feature teens who act like teens and face troubles that are realistically depicted. At around 100 pages, it's not a long look, but it might be just the book for someone who hasn't found the right book yet.

Find more information at Fantastic Fiction.

See the title at the Lerner Publishing website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Beaten by Suzanne Weyn
Shattered Star by Charnan Simon
Plan B by Charnan Simon

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Not by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock

Evelyn, the best friend of this book's narrator, is a lot of things. Circus performer. Arctic explorer. Really good at roller skating really fast. Up on the latest fashion trends. The narrator is not. Sometimes it seems like they don't have very much in common. But then the narrator realizes that she is things that Evelyn is not, and that there are lots of things that they can do together. I'm Not is a lovely book that celebrates friendship and individual strengths, and is a great book to share with any kid (or adult) who feels like they don't always measure up. I love the message of the book as well as the illustrations by Robert Weinstock. I love his style and how he captured so well the personalities of these two dinosaurs. I highly, highly recommend this book.

Find it at Random House.

Read it with:
George and Martha by James Marshall
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Can You Dig It? and Other Poems by Robert Weinstock
I'm the Best by Lucy Cousins
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Love is a disease. That's why the government has cured it. Society is more orderly, more secure. No one falls in love anymore - and if they do, everything is fixed on their eighteenth birthday, when they take the cure. Everyone takes the cure; that way everyone is safe. Lena has been looking forward to her 18th birthday. She's been looking forward to getting the cure, growing up, and moving on with her life. But then, just three months - 95 days - before her birthday, something terrible happens: Lena falls in love, and everything changes.

I was hooked as soon as I heard the premise of the novel: love has been cured. On the surface there's the happy, perfect, highly functioning society that's found in so many dystopian novels, but Lena (and the reader) soon finds out the cost of this safety and order. Fans of Oliver's first novel Before I Fall will find lots to enjoy in this book. Before I Fall dealt with matters of life and death, and Delirium's subject matter (love and choice) are no less affecting.

Find it at IndieBound.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Matched by Ally Condie

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

This bear has lost his hat, and he wants it back. One by one he asks the other animals if they have seen it, and one by one they tell him know. Then, suddenly, he realizes he knows where his hat is - and how to get it back.

Books like this are why I started using the tag "delightful." I fell for this book the moment I read it. The illustrations are wonderful and the text works with them perfectly. I just love Jon Klassen's style and am so glad that he was able to create a title like this. I can't wait to show this book to everyone I know, but that'll have to wait until the fall (it's scheduled to be released near the end of September, 2011). In the mean time, put it on your to read list and see more of Jon Klassen's work here.

Find it at Random House.

Read it with:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers
Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten

There's a new guy in town. Adrien is hot, brooding, and everyone is in love with him. Heather is thrilled that he lives next door to her, because that makes her feel even closer to him. But Heather's twin sister Meredith doesn't feel the same way; in fact, she doesn't like Adrien at all, and she's not happy to see Heather falling in love with him. As Adrien and Heather's relationship gets more serious, Meredith becomes more determined to find out who Adrien really is. Is he the good guy Heather sees, the bad guy that Meredith sees - or is he something more, more monster than 'guy' at all? Things will never be the same after Meredith finds out what's going on in the cellar.

The Cellar is described as "Romeo and Juliet meet the living dead," so it's not surprising that this is a very dark, sometimes disgusting story. 'Good girl falls for bad guy' is a staple of teen fiction, and 'good girl falls for bad guy who's more than he seems' makes for a supernatural twist. The climax of The Cellar left me completely going "oh, no, it's not going to go there....", and the fact that it did left me conflicted; I couldn't tell if this made the book stronger to took it over the top. I do, though, want to read The Well, the other book by the mother-daughter pair who comprise the pseudonym of A.J. Whitten.

See more at A.J. Whitten's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

I read an advance copy through NetGalley.

Read it with:
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Romeo's Ex: Rosalind's Story by Lisa Fiedler

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow

Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang have had enough: they're ready to be popular. Sure, they're best friends, but they've come to the decision that this is the year that they will finally infiltrate the popular groups at school and become popular kids themselves. In order to keep track of what they learn, Lydia writes it down and Julie illustrates it - and that's what makes up The Popularity Papers. But will Lydia and Julie be able to balance being popular with being themselves?

This book is delightful. Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. The 'morals' behind the story (it's more important to be yourself than to be popular, and it's better to have a really good friend than a bunch of shallow friends) aren't new, especially in middle grade books, but it's how the story is told that makes it so wonderful. I love the art style and how its worked seamlessly into the story - it's completely organic and never feels like a gimmick (it feels like this is the only way that this story could be told). I love both Lydia and Julie (two very different girls) and their families. I can't wait to read the next book, and to see more from Amy Ignatow.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell
Beat the Band by Don Calame
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Babymouse: Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm
The Popularity Papers: The Long-Distance Dispatch Between Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

How much does one day of the year show where we are in our lives? For Dexter and Emma, one day can tell us a lot. One Day follows them from year to year, checking in on them on July 15 - the date of their would be one night stand and university graduation. From there they go their semi-separate ways through jobs and other relationships, but they always end up back in each others' lives.

I was mostly intrigued to read this book because of the 'one day' hook, but as I was reading I started thinking less of it as a gimmick and more as just a part of the story. As they grew up and began their post-uni lives, their fortunes sometimes seesawed. Some years Dex was on top of the world and Emma was struggling; some years Emma was doing well while he was not doing so well. Some years I really wanted these two crazy kids to work it out; other years I just thought they were toxic for each other and decided the best thing for them would be to never see each other again. One Day's strength are these two characters, and they end up making the story funny, sad, and touching.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Understudy by David Nicholls
A Question of Attraction by David Nicholls
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

For The Win by Cory Doctorow

People all over the world play games online; many of these people are teens - or younger. They play because they love the game. They also play because they can make money at it. There's practically no end to the number of ways that money can be made in these games: hiring yourself out to help new players to the game, working for the game creators to fill in holes in the game, working for private contractors to farm gold from the virtual currency (and redeem it for actual currency). For The Win follows a number of people all over the world - including China, India, and the United States - as they try to navigate the new world order of gaming.

The word that comes to mind when I think about For The Win is sprawling. There are a lot of characters in a lot of places - and most of them end up meeting at some point in the book. I was listening to the audiobook, and I think if I was reading the print book I might have had an easier time learning who everyone was at the beginning, but I gradually got used to the cast of characters. (And I really enjoyed George Newbern's narration - this would not have been an easy book to narrate.) In between some of the narrative passages are interludes that talk about the math and economics behind the gaming industry (and these passages reminded me a lot of The Accidental Billionaires, where it talks about how people can make money off of Facebook.) I can't pick out my favourite characters, because I felt so deeply for so many of them over the course of the book. For The Win is a book you have to make a commitment to, but in my opinion it was definitely worth it.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Ocean Story by John Seven and Jana Christy

Earth is covered in water, and most of it is from the oceans. But what is the ocean? Who lives there? What does it do? And why is it so big? Follow along as a young child learns all about the wonders of the oceanic world.

From the cover, you can tell that this is going to be a modern ocean story; Behind the blue waves sits evidence of an oil rig. The story gets to that eventually, but first it spends time dealing with the wondrous creatures and science of the ocean. I was intrigued by the perspective of the art. In many pages, the ocean looms large, as if it could form a destructive tidal wave at any moment. I enjoyed the bright colours and colour combinations for the undersea pages. The writing on some pages can be a bit hard to read, but I was reading an eBook off a screen; maybe it would be clearer in a paper version. The pages on oil and pollution, while having a clear environmental message, are really rather balanced. I think a book like this could be useful for helping explain to children what an oil spill is and how it's fixed.

Find it at Amazon.

I received an eBook copy for review from NetGalley. It was published by Capstone.

Read it with:
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry
Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins
Oceans by Johnna Rizzo

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

I have them. You have them. We all have them: awkward family photos. They might have everyone wearing identical clothing. They might involve costumes. They could be taken on a holiday, a family reunion, or a child's recital. People could be looking away from the camera; everyone could be staring intently at the camera. There are any number of ways for a photo to turn awkward (even if it was trendy at the time, like my school pictures with a laser background). These photos have been collected on the Awkward Family Photos blog, which turned into this book. The book takes the best parts of the blog - the pictures, the commentary, and the readers' submissions explaining (but not always defending) the awkward backstory. It's a quick read, and definitely amusing.

See more photos at Awkward Family Photos.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates
That is Priceless by Steve Melcher
Passive Aggressive Notes by Kerry Miller

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Butterflies in May by Karen Hart

Ali hasn't been feeling well, and she's afraid she knows the reason. A trip to the doctor confirms it: she's pregnant. With her world turned upside down, Ali isn't sure where to turn. She plans on an abortion, but decides against it - and her boyfriend and mother think she's making a big mistake. Over the next months, Ali must face her own fears and make her own decisions for herself and for her baby.

I called Plan B "16 & Pregnant" in book form, but I think Butterflies in May is actually a closer analogy to the TV show. Where Plan B leaves off with the news of a pregnancy still sinking in, Butterflies in May follows Ali through her pregnancy: attending school, thinking about marriage, dealing with disapproving teachers, watching her boyfriend pull away, thinking about college, finding out how much a baby costs, deciding what would be best for her child. Complicating things are the family secrets that her pregnancy brings to light. Teen pregnancy is not a new subject for teen books, but Butterflies in May tells the story from Ali's point of view, making it a much harder book to put down.

I received an eBook to review from NetGalley.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Too Soon for Jeff by Marilyn Reynolds
What's Happily Ever After, Anyway? by Michelle Taylor
Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala
Jumping Off Swings by Joanna Knowles
Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rodeo Queen by Marci Peschke

Kylie Jean is back, and as determined as ever to be a beauty queen. This time she has her sights set on the rodeo - she knows she can become the rodeo queen. After a number of false starts, she settles on barrel racing, and with the support of her family prepares for the big day in true Kylie Jean fashion. Kylie Jean, Rodeo Queen fits nicely in with the other Kylie Jean books, and it has great activities to do at the end of the book, appealing to both fiction and non-fiction reading skills.

I read an advance copy from NetGalley.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Drama Queen by Marci Peschke
Hoop Queen by Marci Peschke
Blueberry Queen by Marci Peschke

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Plan B by Charnan Simon

Lucy has some plans for her future and she knows exactly what she wants to do. She wants to go to college and become a Spanish teacher; she knows she and her boyfriend - a high school baseball star - are going to live happily ever after. Everything is all planned out - but one thing Lucy didn't plan on was getting pregnant. Now she doesn't know what to do - but she's going to have to switch things over to Plan B.

(Semi-spoilery from here.)

Parts of this story felt like "16 & Pregnant," only in book form.The first half of the book focuses on Lucy's plans for the the future - hers and her boyfriends. She has sex for the first time about halfway through, and almost immediately (in page terms) realizes that she's pregnant. The rest of the book follows Lucy as she breaks the news to her boyfriend (who's initially not that supportive) and her mom (disappointed, scared, and hurt). There are tiny touches about the book that I really love: for example, Lucy tells her boyfriend "it's not babysitting when it's your own baby." That's a message that needs to be said over and over. Also, even though it's a short book, abortion and adoption are considered as real options. The book has an open ending, leaving the reader to guess about what happens next.

Find out more about the series at the Darby Creek page.

I received an advance review copy through NetGalley.

Read it with:
Reaction by Leslie Choyce
Glitter by Babygirl Daniels
Hanging On to Max by Margaret Bechard
Slam by Nick Hornby
Jane Addams: Pioneer Social Worker by Charnan Simon

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff


The name brings to mind a number of things. Sexuality. Sensuality. Theatricality. Duplicity. Elizabeth Taylor. In this comprehensive biography/history, Stacy Schiff calls up all of these ideas and then breaks them down. In their place, she creates a picture of a smart, resourceful, resilient Queen who understood how to use imagery and ceremony to win over her subjects and how to position herself in strategically favourable ways.

This book was like a bowl of fiber cereal that also tasted delicious. Schiff's writing was so strong; it was impossible for me to read quickly, because there was so much detail. Every page had to be savoured and digested. I had vague memories of studying this period of history at some point in time (I know I memorized the members of the first and second triumvirates, although I can't now say who was in either) and, although I had never seen the movie Cleopatra, the same Elizabeth Taylor-fueled image that many people have. I was learning things from page 1, not only about Cleopatra, but also Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavian, and Cicero. As I said, it's not a quick read, but I found it very readable and rewarding.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Vera (Mrs. Vladomir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff
St-Exupery: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Murder, She Wrote: Coffee, Tea, or Murder? by Donald Bain

World-famous mystery writer J.B. Fletcher is on the move again - and this time, to London! She and several other Cabot Cove locals have the opportunity to fly in a fancy luxury aircraft on its first cross-Atlantic voyage, courtesy of the owner, a former Cabot Cove resident. But the trip proves to be more work than pleasure for Jessica; they've barely landed in England before the body of the owner is discovered. His wife, crew, and business partners all have motives for wanting him dead - but who was the one who killed him? And are the rest of the passengers at risk? While in many ways a standard Murder She Wrote novel, Coffee, Tea, or Murder? has many things going for it. There's old favourites from Cabot Cove, an exotic location, and, most exciting for me, an appearance by Jessica's Scotland Yard beau, Inspector George Sullivan.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Nashville Noir by Donald Bain
Murder Never Takes a Holiday by Donald Bain
Panning for Murder by Donald Bain
Dying to Retire by Donald Bain
The Maine Mutiny by Donald Bain

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It was not Anna's idea to go to boarding school in Paris. She would much rather be back in Atlanta, enjoying her senior year with her best friend, her mom and brother, and the crush that looks like it's going to blossom - finally - into a full relationship. But her father insists that she'll spend the year in Paris. So that's where Anna goes, alone and not knowing any French. Soon she meets a group of friends and things are looking better - especially as she gets to know Etienne St. Clair, the English-accented American who knows Paris like the back of his hand. The only problem? He has a girlfriend - and she still has that almost-relationship back home. Things are going to get messy!

This is the sweetest book I've read in a long time. It just has a sweetness to it that was sprinkled throughout, like powdered sugar. Like Anna, I was intrigued by St. Clair as a character. He's driven by romantic frustrations, father issues, a passion for art and culture, and his fear of being alone. He, like Anna and most of the other characters, makes bad decisions now and then, and I wanted to shout at them "Just talk to each other! This can easily be sorted out!" This is a fun read that goes well with springtime - just like Paris.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti
Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Trouble With Chickens by Doreen Cronin

J.J. Tully used to be a search and rescue dog. Now he's living out his retirement on a quiet farm in the country. Everything is perfect - everything except the chicken that he can't get out of his yard. Her name's Millicent, and she's desperate to hire J.J. Two of her children are missing, and he's the only one who can help them. Before he knows what's happening, he's on the trail of the missing chicks - and it's going to get dangerous.

I was immediately hooked by the tone of this book. It's told (mostly) from J.J.'s point of view, and he has this no-nonsense weariness that's common among PIs. I believe him when he says stuff like "I'm no stranger to tears. The sad thing about search-and-rescue work is that there isn't always a rescue. So I'd seen tears before." Part of the joke, of course, is that's he's a dog, but somehow it always falls on the right side of absurdity. The story has lots of twists but it's not gimmicky. I thought it was a very satisfying story that could easily take place in the same part of the world as Cronin's other book Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type.

Find it at IndieBound.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley.

View the book trailer/interview with Doreen Cronin:

Read it with:
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins
The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler
Bunnicula by Deborah Howe