Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Isabella: Girl on the Go by Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin

It's a beautiful day out, and Isabella's father is looking for some help in the backyard from his favourite little girl. But Isabella isn't a little girl - she's an archeologist, and the hidden treasures in the sandy pyramids call out to her. No, wait - she's an artist, drawing inspiration from the streets of Paris. But she's also an astronomer, peering up into the night sky at all the unknown mysteries of the world. She can travel all over the world - but there's only one place that's her most favourite place of all.

Isabella: Girl on the Go is a fun picture book that looks at how a child's imagination can inspire a whole host of creative expeditions. The illustrations are very clever, playing with tone and perspective to show how the world can change depending on how Isabella is experiencing it at that moment in time. There's lots of fun stuff to look for in the pictures, too, like how her stuffed friend transforms from page to page. I really like the character of the Dad, who indulges and supports his daughter's imagination while still getting his yardwork done. Isabella could definitely hang out with other spunky picture book girls like Stella, Olivia, and Lilly.

Check out Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin's websites for more information about their other projects.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Sourcebooks.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
My Name is Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
When Stella Was Very Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay

Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

In the mid-2000s, actress and writer Mindy Kaling was hired as a writer for an NBC mid-season replacement based on a hit British sitcom. That show was The Office, which became one of NBC's biggest shows. In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), she writes about her childhood, her early auditions and successes, behind-the-scenes stories of Hollywood, and, best of all, her opinions on almost anything.

In a year of strong writing and performances by very funny women (Bossypants, "Bridesmaids"), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? easily sits alongside the best. Mindy Kaling is funny and smart and conversational in a great way. The pieces are short and precise and have both humour and heart. It's been awhile since I've thought "Man, that celebrity and I could be such great friends!" but I kind of think that about Mindy Kaling. There are some times where I would roll my eyes and be like, "Whatever, Mindy" (like the piece in here about how indignant she got when a cupcake store approached her about promotional tweeting) but then we would watch a Will Farrell movie and go get some donuts and talk about awkward dates. I listened to the audiobook, and the chatty, breezy tone of the book contributed to this thinking. I've heard that the audiobook of Bossypants was like inviting Tina Fey to your bookclub; listening to Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was like riding the bus with Mindy Kaling and being confident that you were the funniest people on board.

Want more? Mindy Kaling had a website!

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Matt and Ben by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Seriously, I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Day in the Office of Doctor Bugspit by Elise Gravel

Welcome to the office of Doctor Bugspit! Have a seat - the doctor will be right with you. He's a little busy at the moment, but don't worry - his super-secret Fix-It-Up syrup will have his patients cured in no time!

With a zany free-for-all quality to the writing and illustration, Doctor Bugspit is a wild look at a doctor's office you probably wouldn't want to visit in real life. Just as in Adopt a Glurb, Elise Gravel has taken something with roots in real life (there, a pet; here, a visit to the doctor) and has spun it into something completely imaginative. The graphic novel-style makes it perfect for kids transitioning out of picture books. I get so excited when I see new Balloon Toon titles, so I hope we see a lot more from Elise Gravel!

See more of Elise Gravel at her website. Learn more about Balloon Toons at Blue Apple Books.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Adopt a Glurb! by Elise Gravel
Zoe and Robot, Let's Pretend by Ryan Sias
Doggie Dreams by Mike Herrod

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It's 1996 and Emma's family has just gotten a computer that can connect to The Internet. It's a great distraction, especially because things with her longtime best friend Josh have gotten a little weird lately (he tried to kiss her). But when Emma puts in the America Online CD, something strange happens. She's looking at something called Facebook...and it's showing her what her life is like years in the future! Someone has to be playing a joke on her, but how do they know so many details? Emma becomes obsessed with her future and is determined to make sure that she gets her happily-ever-after...but where does that leave Josh?

I really liked the premise for this book. My family first got the internet in 1998, so there were a lot of details that I remembered about those days (making sure no one else had to use the phone before I went online, the screech of a modem, the relative rarity of having the internet). All of this nostalgia made me wonder if the best audience for this book wouldn't be young adults - people who would be Future Emma's age now rather than Past Emma's age now. Would teens and tweens be interested in the premise? But I think they will be. I know that I used to think of what future me would be like - and I still do now. I shared Josh's frustration at Emma's determination to shape her future and the way she didn't really realize that even if she got the future lined up that she wanted, there would be millions and millions of small choices that would shape her future between now and then. I appreciated that the jokes about Facebook were kept to a minimum (I have so many friends, I must be super popular! I wouldn't share it with everyone if it wasn't really important!). I think the book also can be a good opening for talking about the way that Facebook has shaped how we share our lives. If you saw a Facebook slice of your life (like the new Timeline feature, I guess), how accurate would it be? Do we exaggerate - the good and the bad - what we share? I liked the male/female back and forth of chapters from Josh and Emma's point of view and think that this is a good semi-supernatural story for teens and tweens who like thinking about time travel, technology, and identity.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mylnowski

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Sea of Bath by Bob Logan

The captain was asleep on his boat when the tide carried him out to sea. He never knows how he ends up on the Sea of Bath, but once out there he sees all kinds of strange sights: ducks that squeak instead of quack, rain that comes and goes, an odd little boat named Soap. Then, as suddenly as it came, the tide goes out and the Captain can go back to sleep until his next journey on the Sea of Bath.

I was enchanted by this book. That's the best way I know how to describe it. The art, the text, the idea behind the book - I just found it to be the perfect amount of cleverness. I love that it takes something so ordinary - bathtime - and turns it into a celebration of storytelling and possibility. It's just the kind of book that will spark creative ideas in children who tend towards creativity and can show others just how much fun imagination can be. Definitely do not miss this book.

Check out Bob Logan's website for other examples of his artwork.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter
Pirates Don't Take Baths by John Segal
Rocket Town by Bob Logan

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee and Matthew Forsythe

This little girl's name is Elizabeth. She loves her name! She loves that it has nine letters; she loves that there's a Queen with the same name. She loves the way it sounds and the way it makes her mouth feels. But she doesn't love it when people call her something other than Elizabeth. Her grandfather calls her Lizzy, a friend calls her Liz, and the crossing guard calls her Betsy (which isn't even close). Doesn't anyone understand that her name is Elizabeth?!

I really identified with this book, both because I love my name and because it's often mangled by other people. It's such a simple concept but I think that even as a small child I would have cheered as Elizabeth stood up to the others and insisted on being called by her full and proper name. Even those who don't suffer from forced nicknames will still see a small child making choices about her identity and that's a very powerful message. The blue-based illustrations by Matthew Forsythe were right on point and helped to make this a book for kids and adults alike. This one was on all kinds of "Best of" lists for 2011 so make sure to check it out for yourself.

(Also, it amused me that the French-language version of this book is "Je m'appelle Catherine!" What? Her name's Elizabeth!)

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Ojingogo by Matthew Forsythe
What Shall We Call Wibbly's Puppy? by Mick Inkpen
Olivia by Ian Falconer

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Juggling Pug by Sean Bryan with drawings by Tom Murphy

A juggling pug? Who's heard of such a thing! But when this little pug starts juggling, he becomes an international sensation! Fame starts to go to his head: he gives curtains a tug, destroys plates and mugs...and sometimes he even poops on the rug. The townspeople enable his behaviour because he's so famous until finally one says "Enough!" Will that be the end of the juggling pug?

I was enchanted by the lovely cover of this book. I love how it plays with conventions like "The title should be easy to read" and incorporates the juggling theme from the very beginning. I can see this book going over very well with children: it has an animal protagonist, funny rhymes, there's juggling (which always seems like a really impressive feat to me, even when it's done by people), and there's even a mention of poop! This was the first Sean Bryan/Tom Murphy collaboration that I read, and it had me quickly setting off to find more. I did read an eBook version of The Juggling Pug and it didn't always look just right in the Adobe Digital Edition viewer, but maybe it looks better in other readers (and of course the physical book).

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
A Boy and His Bunny by Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy
A Girl and Her Gator by Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy
The Usborne Book of Jugging by Clive Gifford

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Degrassi Junior High: Shane by Susin Nielsen

Shane has never been the kind of guy who stood out in a crowd. He was never all that popular or the best at anything. That's why he was so surprised when he started dating Spike. She was so confident and popular; everything seemed pretty great. Then Spike got pregnant and Shane's world turned inside out. He tried avoiding her (and the pregnancy) for awhile, but that didn't change anything. His deeply religious parents  barely speak to him, Spike doesn't want anything to do with him, and he has no friends to turn to. Shane feels like his life is out of control. Is there anything he can do to get back on track?

In many ways, Shane is a companion book to Spike, another book in the Degrassi series. Shane starts after Spike is pregnant and opens with him finally telling his parents what's going on. There are some continuity errors and inconsistencies between the two books (and a bit with the TV series), but nothing that really changes anything too much. Shane's story, though, isn't singly defined by his teenager fatherhood. After his daughter is born (when he's only fourteen), Shane gets a job to make more money and makes a new friend who's the classic definition of a bad influence. Shane lies to his parents, blows of his parental responsibilities, and starts experimenting with drugs and alcohol. While Spike has more of a hopeful optimism, Shane reads a bit more like a cautionary tale. Also, I find it very interesting to read about attitudes towards teen fathers and parenthood; more than one person, including adults, tell Shane that it's best for him to just forget about his child, to act like she doesn't exist and move on with his life, and that he's not responsible for any decision Spike makes because that's her life. I love exploring these concepts and how they're presented in books for teens.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Degrassi Junior High: Spike by Loretta Castellarin and Ken Roberts
Degrassi Junior High: Snake by Susin Nielsen
Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ice Dreams by Lisa Papademetriou

Rosa Hernandez is still adjusting to her family's move from Miami to Chicago. She's not looking forward to cold winters with lots of snow - but she is looking forward to more opportunities to develop her figure skating. In her new skating class she meets some really great friends...and one girl who's practically an Ice Queen! Jacqui Darcy is really competitive and not always that nice. Rosa would love to avoid her altogether, but Jacqui's brother Anton is really cute! There's a big competition coming up that's putting a lot of stress on the skaters. Can Rosa find new music to skate to, win over Jacqui, spend time with Anton, and land her jumps?

There's a lot of really great stuff in Ice Dreams. There's a strong female protagonist with a Hispanic background being raised by a single parent (and she loves and respects her family). She doesn't always make the best decisions but she learns from her mistakes and apologizes when she's wrong. She learns a lot about family, success, friendship, and honesty - but all of this comes out organically and it never tips over into preachy territory. Plus, there's lots of figure skating details (which is a big plus for me!). This book is a "Candy Apple Book," but I don't think that that means that it's in a series of related books. I read it without having read any other Candy Apple Books, and I could follow it just fine.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner
Babymouse: Skater Girl by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Again! by Emily Gravett

A little dragon loves one story so much that he just wants to hear it again and again. Reach the end? Again! No more words? Again! Time for bed? No - again! And you should watch out, because if he doesn't get his way, there's no telling what could happen!

Emily Gravett is so ridiculously talented that there are almost no words for it. She's one of my absolute favourite picture book authors/illustrators and I love seeing how what she comes up with each time. I picked this book up on the strength of her name alone. The illustrations are playful and appealing and the story (of a story that gets shorter and shorter as patience gets thinner and thinner) is one that I think both kids and adults will relate to. It would work as a lap book but I think also as a storytime pick. I don't want to give too much away, but please - if you see this book, don't turn it over and start reading the back cover. Just start reading the book. That's what I did and was so happy that I did.

Also check out Emily Gravett's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett
Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Degrassi Junior High: Spike by Loretta Castellarin and Ken Roberts

Spike is used to people looking at her because of her hair, but now people are starting to look at her for a different reason: she's pregnant. Only fourteen years old, she and her boyfriend Shane got carried away in a dark bedroom at a friend's party. Now she must deal with her changing body, classmates' reactions, an unsupportive boyfriend, and a disappointed mother. Will she be able to figure out what the best decision is for herself and the baby?

I remember the original Degrassi (Junior High and High) airing on CBC while I was growing up, but I didn't really get into it until I watched reruns after school in 10th grade. I love the drama of it all and the way that serious storylines, like teen pregnancy, are woven in with storylines about sexy dreams or walking naked through the cafeteria. Anyway. Spike picks up after Spike and Shane "did it" at Lucy's party and early on she discovers she's pregnant; it ends just after the birth of her child. Much of the book, certainly the main storyline, sticks very closely with the TV series; it's been awhile since I watched my Degrassi Junior High DVDs, but I think even whole bits of dialogue are straight from the TV scripts. Does the book stand alone if you haven't seen the TV show? Probably, although it definitely would be a different reading. What I like about this book is that it fills in a bit of background information that doesn't come through in the show, mostly about Spike's relationship with her mother. These books were out of print for a long time but then recently were available again, so if you have a fond memory for Degrassi or are curious about the series, give these books a look.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Degrassi Junior High: Shane by Susin Nielsen
Star in the Middle by Carol Larese Millward
Butterflies in May by Karen Hart
Degrassi Generations: The Official 411 by Kathryn Ellis

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are You in the House Alone? by Richard Peck

Gail's life is pretty ordinary. She gets decent grades, has a good relationship with her boyfriend, and makes money by baby-sitting on the weekends. But then she finds a strange note in her locker. It unsettles her, even as her best friend tells her to just forget about it. Then the phone calls start, and it's clear that someone isn't just joking around. Is there anything Gail can do...before it's too late?

(Spoilers below)

This book is two scary horror stories in one. The first part seems like it's a standard thriller: obscene phone calls, random notes, a young girl left alone. But then partway through the story changes - or rather, continues. It doesn't stop with Gail being heroically rescued at the last minute. Instead, she's raped by her stalker and ends up in the hospital. Then there are pages and pages spent talking about how futile it would be to press charges against her assailant - a man that Gail knows and can easily identify. In addition to his being from a prominent family, Gail was on the pill and had previously had sex with her boyfriend, so arly she's unrapable. Not only that, but if she does press charges, her lawyer cautions her that the accused would likely turn around and sue her.   These passages were so infuriatingly frustrating, and made worse because I knew that it was not that exaggerated to how real life was (and, in many ways, still can be). This book doesn't flinch from showing how Gail's rape affects her family and relationships or from how the world pigeonholes women into certain roles. It's a book I came across sort of by accident at the library but it quite an interesting read.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Babysitter by R.L. Stine
Amanda, Miranda by Richard Peck

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Fishy Business by Maxwell Eaton III

Ace and Bub are back! This time they're hanging out with their new friends, Bob and Bob, and trying to enjoy some delicious pancakes. But a strange volcano catches their attention - they don't remember a volcano there before. Or a factory that produces Fish Styx - wooden toys that are environmentally friendly! There appears to be a logical explanation for everything, but it all just seems a little off...will Ace and Bub be able to put it all together and get everything back to normal?

I really enjoyed The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan, but I think I liked The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Fishy Business more. Maybe I was more used to the humour and the style; maybe it was because I read it on my Kobo and I read the first on my computer. They're both both very strong books, though. This one was packed with lots of jokes about spokespeople and environmentally-friendly products, visual jokes and callbacks, and a fair amount of action. This is definitely a series that I want to see more of, and I think there are a lot of young readers who will feel the same way.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House Children's Books.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton III
Two Dumb Ducks by Maxwell Eaton III
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Midway Monkey Madness by Sarah Hines Stephens and Art Balthazar

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai

A young bunny wakes up one morning to a world covered in snow. It's amazing! And even better, school is cancelled and it's a snow day! The day belongs to playing cards with Mom and watching the snow fall outside. There's so much snow that it delayed his father's plane. Will the snow ever stop falling?

This is just a lovely, lovely book. The illustrations are just gorgeous. Done in shades of brown, black and grey, the pages are muted but never boring. One of the things that I love the most is that it depicts winter in a city. The little bunny lives in an apartment building; he goes outside and plays in the snow on his balcony and watches the snow fall from a window high above the ground. So many books that look at snow and winter look at it from a rural point of view, and it's refreshing to see this urban setting. But whether you live in a city or in a town, there's still so much to enjoy about this book: the bunny's excitement at the snow, the hushed quiet to the city, the sweet relationship between the bunny and his mother. Don't miss this book.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai
Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Inside Edge by Christine Brennan

Figure skating is a sport that captivates it audience. Behind the sequins and glitter there is hard work and strength; behind the perfectly made up faces there is heartbreak and sacrifice. In Inside Edge, journalist and author Christine Brennan goes beyond the surface to profile skaters - veterans, stars, up-and-comers and a year in the life of figure skating. Beginning where the 1994 Olympics leave off and culminating with the 1995 World Championships, this is a book that figure skating fans cannot miss.

I received this book as a young figure skating fan in 1996 and immediately read it from cover to cover. When I was at home over Christmas, I picked up my dog-earred hardcover copy and read it again. I was amazed by the level of detail in this book and how candidly some of the people involved spoke about the sport. Some of the chapters become interesting because of what came later - Tara Lipinski is profiled as a young junior skater who might be trying to do too much too fast (she would win the 1998 Olympic gold medal, although in 1995 she was not able to win the junior national title), while Rudy Galindo is looked at as a perennial also-ran who was destined to anonymity (he would win the 1996 national title and the 1996 world bronze medal). This book is a snapshot (or maybe a series of time lapse photographs) of a particularly interesting time for skating. Post-1994, skating enjoyed some of its highest levels of popularity, so there were incredible outlets for skaters to develop their art, perfect their skills, and earn money.  It was also a time of a number of different threads that would shape the sport for many years to come: the shift of the top women skaters from young women to young teens to even younger teens, the portrayal of masculinity shown by Elvis Stojko and others, the necessity of having the top triples and quads to compete, the conflict between the sport's professionals and amateurs. Beneath all of this is incredibly solid writing and a skill at asking the right questions. Even though it's now more than fifteen years since it was published, Inside Edge still stands as a must-read book for skating fans.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Edge of Glory by Christine Brennan
Figure Skating: A Celebration by Beverly Smith
A Year in Figure Skating by Beverly Smith
A Passion to Skate by Sandra Bezic
Stars on Ice by Barry Wilner

Monday, January 16, 2012

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

Austin is seventeen, but he's never going to be eighteen. He's dying. But he's determined to also make the most of the time that he has left; he doesn't want his life to have been lived in vain. Over the course of one momentous weekend, he will do things he's never done before, visit favourite places one last time, reach out to old friends (and old enemies), and do everything in his power to make sure that he when he does pass away, he will have no regrets.

(Spoilers below!)

It took awhile for me to get into the story. I warmed to Austin almost immediately, but his relationship with Kaylee confused me. She was so angry with him most of the time, pissed off at his behaviour. Then, once Austin started making his rounds, the issues that he was confronting were almost at Degrassi High-levels: death, grief, homosexuality, rape, abortion, divorce, bullying, drugs, abuse. But somewhere for me, the story clicked. The story never lagged; time was at a premium and, just like in Austin's life, every moment counted. Kaylee wasn't there to be be Austin's yes-girl; she had emotions that she was dealing with regarding Austin that left her conflicted. It also clicked on a personal level. It had me reflecting on what what I would do if I was in Austin's position, who I'd want to see, what I want to do. By the end of the book I cared enough about the characters to be deeply moved by Austin's death and how the other characters reacted. There are readers who love books that make them sad, and this is exactly the kind of book that I would put in their hands.

(One minor quibble, based on the way that the cover looks before publication: so much is made out of the redness of the car, I would have loved to have seen that shown on the cover image.)

Don't miss checking out Megan Bostic's website.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Deadline by Chris Crutcher

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Snow Happy by Patricia Hubbell and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata

There's a feeling that you get when you're having fun being outside in the snow. You're snow happy! It's the way it feels to be having fun with your friends and family. It's the way it feels when it's cold outside but you're nice and warm. It's building snowmen, skating, and catching snowflakes on your tongue. What makes people feel so happy? Snow happy!

This book is a fun celebration of the best parts of winter. The illustrations are light and fun and as bright as freshly fallen snow. There's a rhyme to the lines, but there are also lines that stand on their own, which keeps it a bit unpredictable. If you're a fan of winter (or even just cheery picture books), this is a book that will make you happy.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Shaggy Dogs, Waggy Dogs by Patricia Hubbell
The Snow Day by Komako Sakai
Snow Day by Patricia Lakin
Perfect Snow by Barbara Reid
All of Baby Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Rory is really looking forward to starting her new life in London. Wexford Academy promises to be an incredible scholastic environment and she's sure to meet lots of new friends. But she didn't count on London being in the grips of terror. A murderer is terrorizing the city by reenacting the Jack the Ripper murders. As the violence gets closer and closer to Wexford, Rory discovers that she might have a deeper connection with these murders - and that no one around her is safe.

It was quite easy to forget about the Jack the Ripper aspect of the book when I started reading. The first third of the book involves a lot of scene building and introductions: Wexford, students and teachers, London details. This makes sense, because this is the first book in the Shades of London series. But Maureen Johnson has a talent for changing the atmosphere at a moment's notice; one minute there's a school dance and everything's fun and light, and the next minute there's a life and death situation. It's not that it's jarring; the lack of a set-up sometimes enhances the drama, like anything can happen at any time. Speaking of jarring, though, I was listening to the audiobook and when the narration (Rory's voice when not in actual dialogue) has no accent, but Rory's voice has a strong Louisiana accent. So every time she actually started speaking, it felt a bit off. But the book itself was a fun adventure and I'm interested in seeing where the series goes from here.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Portrait of a Killer by Patricia Cornwell

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

Esther Kohler has just graduated from college - Northwestern, to be precise - and her life has run out of momentum. She majored in acting; she's sick of people asking if she has a fallback plan. At the moment, though, she doesn't really have any plan beyond living with her parents, rereading her favourite books from childhood, and maybe writing a screenplay about pandas. Her mom gets her a job as a nanny for a local family. Soon Esther finds herself as a mother to the little girl, a confidant to the mother, and in a strange relationship with the father. But what does that leave for Esther?

I was so impressed by this book. It just kind of slithered into my brain and wouldn't let go until after I'd finished it. I love the way Leigh Stein writes; Esther's voice started on page one and didn't waver for the entirety of the novel. Although I'm a few years past the recent college graduate stuff (and in a different employment stage), there was so much that rang true for me in Esther's contradictions. She hates being at home, but she doesn't want to leave; she likes being taken care of but also wants her freedom and independence. Her low-key adventures make for an engaging story and a solid debut for author Leigh Stein.

I love this booktrailer:

Also check out Leigh Stein's blog.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Melville House.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Graduate by Charles Richard Webb
Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Out of the Box by Michelle Mulder

Ellie is nervous about spending the entire summer at her aunt's house. She gets along fine with her aunt, but she's only ever spent a couple of weeks there - and that was when Alison, her aunt's partner, was alive. Will Jeanette be different this summer? But even worse than that are Ellie's worries about her parents. They need her at home in order to keep the peace; without her, they could be headed for a divorce. When Ellie arrives at Aunt Jeanette's, she isn't sure how to act, but it isn't long before she settles in, making friends and having fun. She even discovers a rare Argentinian musical instrument with a mysterious past. But no matter how much fun Ellie has at her aunt's place, she can't shake the fear of what's happening at home. Is her family falling apart? And is it all her fault?

It's difficult to read a book where a character as likeable as Ellie has been so thoroughly damaged by a troubled family relationship. Her mother treats her like an adult and expects her daughter to provide support for her issues; her father is emotionally checked-out and spends most of his time avoiding the family altogether. At the same time, though, Ellie has been conditioned to think that any individual thoughts or wants are an indication of a familial rebellion, and her self-esteem is almost nil. Watching her sabotage her friendships and chances at happiness is heartbreaking. The story has many serious elements - Ellie's family trouble, Jeanette's grief and mourning, a subplot about the people who disappeared in Argentina in the late 70s and early 80s - but there's also many fun and sweet elements. It's not a long book, but there is so much power packed into its pages that it would be shame for people to miss this story.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
After Peaches by Michelle Mulder
The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne M. LaFleur

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Flying Beaver Brothers and The Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton III

Ace and Bub, the Flying Beaver Brothers, have different interests. Ace wants to practice and the upcoming surfing competition. Bub wants to nap. And then nap some more. But when Ace's surfboard is stolen by some penguins - or are they puffins? No, they're penguins - Ace and Bub are drawn into an evil world of undersea mysteries, world domination, and surfboard theft. Will everything turn out okay? And what about the surfing competition?

I had no idea what to expect with this book when I picked it up (well, technically, I read it on a screen, so I guess I mean "when I clicked on it") and I really enjoyed it. There's a cleverness to the book that comes through in both the art and the text. Pacing is key to this book; jokes last for just the right length, setups are drawn out with the right amount of payoff. While reading this book, I felt I was in the hands of an author and illustrator who knew exactly what he was doing. Plus, it was a fun read! Definitely check this book out.

Find it at IndieBound.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House.

Read it with:
The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Fishy Business by Maxwell Eaton III
Two Dumb Ducks by Maxwell Eaton III
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Midway Monkey Madness by Sarah Hines Stephens and Art Balthazar

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Darlings in Love by Melissa Kantor

Victoria, Jane, and Natalya are The Darlings - three best friends who've grown up together. They've always been there for each other, and now things are only getting more complicated. Victoria has an amazing boyfriend, but she doesn't always feel close to him. She loves him, but is that enough? Jane has a chance to play one of her favourite characters on stage opposite one of the hottest guys she's ever seen, but are they right for each other? And is it worth putting up with a very annoying director? Natalya still worries about fitting in at her exclusive private school, but things seem to be looking up for her when she reconnects with someone she thought she'd lost forever. But will reconciling be as smooth as she hopes? In order to get through all of these questions, the Darlings are going to need each other more than ever before.

 The Darlings in Love is a sequel to The Darlings Are Forever, but it's possible to get into the book without having read the first one. Any large bits of necessary plot seem to be filled in fairly early on, with the only puzzling bit of information really being how the girls became friends in the first place since they all seem to have very different lives and attend different schools (I've since found out that this is, in fact, covered extensively in the first book - a book that I plan on picking up). Even that, though, isn't really a problem, because when the girls are together it's clear that they have a deep friendship with each other; this comes through with the characterizations and dialogue. Of course, if I had read the first book, I think I would have been more closely connected to the characters.Victoria suffers from this the most; I was about 100 pages into the novel before she did anything that captures my attention (even now, I had to go back and check that her name was even Victoria). While all three of the girls make questionable moves in the name of love, at least Jane and Natalya actively threw themselves headlong into their bad decisions (not such a great thing in real life, but wonderful to have in a character); Victoria was just so passive. But really, even not feeling connected to her didn't stop me from appreciating her storyline; it might be the one that's most relateable for readers (how do you not lose yourself in a relationship, how do you find balance between your friends/his friends/each other, what happens when you have little in common). There have been a number of books about teens in New York learning about life, love, and friendship, but with its humour, honesty, and strong writing, The Darlings series definitely stands out.

See more at Melissa Kantor's website. There also seems to be a major web presence for The Darlings series at the Disney site.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Darlings Are Forever by Melissa Kantor
Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor
Ditched by Robin Mellom
The Daughters by Joanna Philbin

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom

Justina never saw herself going to the prom. She definitely never saw herself going in a big, poofy, satiny prom dress. And she certainly never saw herself going with Ian Clark, her best friend and the one person she can always count on. But of all the things that she never thought about, she never imagined that she'd be ending the night in a ditch! Now, with the help of some women at the 7-Eleven, she must piece together - bruise by bruise, stain by stain - exactly what happened and how she ended up ditched on prom night.

I had a hard time getting into the story at first. It was difficult to wrap my head around a teen girl climbing out of a ditch, bruised and with a torn dress, and be in the mood for a comedic romantic story (I had a similar reaction to Caroline's subplot in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, where I was so worried about a drunk girl in a van with strangers that it was hard to keep my mind on the main plot). But as the story went on, I saw that nothing terrible had happened (at least not in the way that I was fearing) and I could settle in and enjoy the story. And I did enjoy it. Justina is an engaging narrator and protagonist and I really did want to know what happened at the prom - but even more than that, I wanted her to have her happy ending. The back-and-forth between the morning and the night before broke up the narrative in a way that kept the story moving and allowed for lots of dramatic tension in a Hangover sort of way. The ending might come across as a little neat but, after all of the drama in getting there, it felt very satisfying.

Don't miss Robin Mellom's website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Classroom by Robin Mellom
The Darlings Are Forever by Melissa Kantor
Prom by Ellie O'Ryan

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

 Grandpa Green has had an amazing life. When he was little, he lived on a farm. He got chicken pox (but not from the chickens). He was a soldier; he went to France. He got married and had a big family, including a great-great grandson. Sometimes he has a hard time remembering everything that's happened in his life, but when he needs to remember, he just heads to the garden.

Another book that has shown up on several Best of 2011 lists is this latest picture book from Lane Smith that celebrates families and history. It's a lovely picture book that strikes just the right notes. It's sentimental without being sappy, sweet without being cloying. It takes a very sure hand to create a picture book that balances everything as well as Grandpa Green does. Make sure to check this one out.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
It's a Book by Lane Smith
My Garden by Kevin Henkes
My Great-great-great-great-great Grandfather...Was a Warrior! by Riccardo Francaviglia

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Make it Fair! by Frieda Wishinsky

Emily and Matt have a magic sled, the Canadian Flyer, that can take them back in time to experience the past. In Make It Fair, Emily and Matt have landed in Winnipeg in 1914. There, they befriend Florence, a young girl who turns out to be the daughter of Nellie McClung, a political activist who is working towards gaining voting rights for women. Can Emily and Matt help Florence and her family and take part in an important part of Canada's history? It might be cold outside, but the fight for women's rights is just heating up!

Few things are as wonderfully Canadian as a book about two kids flying around on a sled (with a maple leaf!) to learn about Nellie McClung. Just throw in a beaver playing hockey and you'd be all set! I wish I'd had a series like this when I was growing up, because I would have loved to learn more about Canadian history through books like Make It Fair. The child protagonists are inquisitive and friendly and the story, while told from a child's point of view, brings in a lot of important historical points. This is the first Canadian Flyer Adventures book I've read, but I think it'll be a good go-to book for people looking for fun, historical-based time travel adventures.
Read more about the Canadian Flyer Adventures Series.

Find it at IndieBound

Read it with:
Beware, Pirates! by Frieda Wishinsky
Danger, Dinosaurs! by Frieda Wishinsky
Keeley, Book Four: Keeley Carries On by Deborah Ellis
Nellie L. by Connie Brummel Crook

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Gus loves his dog Ella. When she dies, he doesn't feel like doing much of anything anymore. He gets dressed up as a skeleton and goes out for Halloween, but his heart isn't in it. He comes across a group of other skeletons - real skeletons! It seems like Halloween is taking a bad turn. Then, out of nowhere, comes a skeleton dog that looks kind of familiar... This is shaping up to be a Halloween that Gus won't ever forget.

Every time I start reading an Eric Rohmann book I'm blown away by the depth in the artwork. The line, the shading, the colours all create such a rich set of images. I was surprised when the storyline veered away from the very real (the death of a pet) to the supernatural (skeletons on attack), but as a whole it works; it allows for a slight separation from a story that would otherwise be very, very sad. This book ended up on many Best of 2011 lists, so don't miss checking it out. And don't let the Halloween setting fool you - this is a book that can be read and enjoyed at any time of the year.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann
Skelly the Skeleton Girl by Jimmy Pickering
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

The last place Hadley wants to be is on an airplane. If her fear of enclosed spaces wasn't reason enough, she is also on her way to London to attend her father's wedding...to a woman she's never met. Even worse, she was four minutes late for her flight and had to take the next one, which will mean she might be late for the wedding she didn't want to go to in the first place. But this change in plans means that she meets Oliver, the friendly British guy who's sitting in seat 18-C. She's in 18-A. The next few hours are going to be very interesting.

This is an engaging book that balances heavy family dynamics with an incredible meet-cute between two teens. Set over a twenty-four hour period, the storyline jumps around enough to keep it interesting but not so much that it gets confusing. Hadley and Oliver are both strong characters; either of them could easily carry their own book. There's a lot going on with these two in terms of their families; both of them are kind of messed up in terms of relationships, and they could probably benefit from some therapy, yet it's hard not to root for them from the get-go. I don't want to give away too much of the ending, but let's just say that when I set down the book after finishing it, I was very satisfied.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Party by Tom Leveen
You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick

 Many people make New Years' resolutions about their body. They want to get in shape, lose weight, or otherwise do something about their physical fitness. Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick have another idea: why not make 2012 the year you get to know your vulva and vagina? In Read My Lips, almost no vaginal topic is left uncovered: menstruation, health, hair, fashion, sex, pop culture, and much more.

When this book first came across my email, I saw it and thought "Huh. Who wants to read a book about vaginas?" Then, as a few moments passed, I realized that I wanted to read a book about vaginas. Despite having had a vulva for my entire life, I've only recently learned much about them (including the difference between a vagina and a vulva). There is a lot of information packed into this book, and while it comes backed up with citations and resources, it never feels too clinical or academic and is often balanced out with crafts, anecdotes (my favourite was the one about the glitter rag), or references to vulvas and vaginas in popular culture. It's not every book that has photo portraits of many different vulvas.  This won't be a book for everyone, but the information that's inside of it really should be shared by as many people as possible.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Redd
The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki

Tina doesn't exactly fit in at her exclusive private school. The other students don't know exactly what to make of her Indian heritage; she's lost count of how many times she's been asked if she has an arranged marriage. She doesn't always fit in with her family, either; she doesn't like going to the big Indian parties that her parents' friends throw. Her English class introduces her to Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism, and things start to make sense to her. This is her existential diary; this is life through Tina's eyes.

I sat down and read this book the moment I downloaded it from NetGalley. I liked Tina as a character; I was drawn into her world and her point of view. There's so much going on in this story: finding your own personality, friendship breakups, making new friends, the confusion around entering into romantic situations, balancing cultural identities with social realities, relating to siblings, dealing with parents. I enjoyed this book very much and hope to read more from both the author and the illustrator.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Read it with:
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
How I Made it to Eighteen by Tracy White
Letters to Sartre by Simone de Beauvoir
Skim by Mariko Tamaki
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Monday, January 2, 2012

Faith and the Camp Snob by Jen Jones

 Faith is kind of quiet and shy - not your typical cheerleader! But she's determined to find a place on the cheerleading team. Cheer camp is a perfect opportunity to learn some new skills, practice some cheers, and build her confidence. But some of her teammates aren't acting like good team members; they're playing pranks and embarrassing her. Is Faith strong enough to rise above the snobs and be the best cheerleader she can be?

It's a bit surprising to me that there aren't more cheerleading books out there. It seems like an obvious opportunity for a popular series, but maybe it's thought that young readers (this is suggested for grades 3 and up, ages 8 and up) aren't interested in cheerleading? Faith and the Camp Snob has lots of cheerleading details, but it also has a lot of other relevant content, including fitting in, making new friends, and what it means to be a good team mate and a good sport. There are few parts that made me feel my age (like when Bring it On was referred to as an old classic movie), but that won't be an issue for the intended audience. This is the first book in the Team Cheer series, and it looks like it'll be a good series for young readers who like to read about other graceful and athletic endeavors like dance, gymnastics, ballet, and figure skating.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Brooke's Quest for Captain by Jen Jones
The Competition for Gaby by Jen Jones
Confessions of a Wannabe Cheerleader by Zoe Evans

Sunday, January 1, 2012

From Typewriters to Text Messages: How Communication Has Changed by Jennifer Boothroyd

There are so many ways these days to stay in touch with someone. You can call them on the phone, send them an email, write them a letter, or send them a text. This hasn't always been the case, of course; things like email and phones that can text are relatively new in the history of communication. But what came before them? How did people communicate in the past? From Typewriters to Text Messages will take you on a journey of the different ways that people have shared news, ideas, and their lives.

One of Lerner's continued strengths is that it packages its books in ways that will appeal to readers. It's easy to see this book being used for school projects, but I can also see it being picked up by non-fiction readers, particularly those who like history or technology. The fonts, pictures, and colours all work toward making this an appealing book without de-emphasizing its credibility. How long will it be before the book needs to be updated to show a further change in communication? Only time will tell, and in the meantime this is a solid book for young readers and learners.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Publishing.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Mindset Lists of American History by Tom McBride and Ron Nief
From Chalkboards to Computers: How Schools Have Changed by Jennifer Boothroyd
From Marbles to Video Games: How Toys Have Changed by Jennifer Boothroyd