Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell In Love

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis. Random House Audiobook, 2009. Reviewed from audiobook from publisher. Hardcover published by Dial, a Division of Penguin. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Emma-Jean Lazarus, an astute observer of her fellow seventh graders at William Gladstone Middle School, watches as her friends fuzz over the upcoming dance and worry about what boy they'll ask. She decides their behavior is a result of spring fever - and then realizes that she, too, has fallen prey to spring fever.

The Good: I adore Emma-Jean. Mamie Gummer narrates the audiobook version, and she captures Emma-Jean's view of the world perfectly. A clip can be heard at Random House Audio's website. Then, when the third person POV switches to that of Emma-Jean's friend, Colleen, Mamie's voice does an equally wonderful job at capturing the personality of this girl who is very different from Emma-Jean.

Emma-Jean fell in love is equal parts mystery (which boy left a note in Colleen's locker?) and middle school politics and friendship. Emma-Jean has a unique look at the world; from the first, I imagined her as mini Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones. Smart, logical, observant, removed; and like Brennan, with loving friends and family. Emma-Jean on seventh grade boys: "She had been observing her fellow seventh graders for many years, trying to understand them better and she had long ago concluded that it was simply the boys' nature to be rambunctious on occasion."

Colleen is the emotional opposite of Emma-Jean. On thinking about the upcoming dance, she "kept thinking of Noah's Ark -- about all the pigs and pandas and gorillas and ladybugs and how they'd all marched two by two, two by two, two by two onto the ark. Except for the unicorn, who couldn't find a boy who liked her, so she was left behind. To drown in the flood. Colleen was the unicorn."

Is Colleen boy-obsessed? Yes and no; she is a seventh grader, who wants a boy to like her and to feel special because one person likes her best. She and Emma-Jean balance each other; Emma-Jean is confident without a boy liking her back. She marches to her own drummer; yet Emma-Jean is not without emotion. She, too, gets swept into love. She just handles it differently than Colleen.

Readers don't have to have read Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree to enjoy this second story about Emma-Jean and Colleen; but Emma-Jean is so delightful, why not read both?

Emma-Jean is unique; the switch between Emma-Jean and Colleen helps the reader to see both how Emma-Jean sees her world and how others see her. To elementary and middle school kids, where "other" and "different" and "odd" are often "wrong," this is a great peak into how another person views the world and how "different" is just that -- different. Not better or worse; and equally able to be a great friend as the person who is just like you and does what everyone expects. The Emma-Jeans of the world are usually alone, and even though they may be happy enough being alone, how much nicer when they -- like Emma-Jean -- have friends. I'm not surprised to see that the author, Lauren Tarshis, has an anti-bullying guide at her website.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 29, 2009


Columbine by Dave Cullen. Twelve Publishing. 2009. Copy from library.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, high school seniors, entered Columbine High School. They killed twelve students and one teacher, and then committed suicide.

Dave Cullen has covered the story since day one. Columbine is about what happened on April 20th; what led up to it; and what followed.

In particular, it firmly ends many of the myths surrounding Columbine. Interestingly, the truth has been out there; Cullen wrote The Depressive and the Psychopath, published in Slate, in April 2004. Yet ask most people, and they won't say this was the case of a psychopath but rather the result of bullying and jocks and revenge and disappointments.

Why? Because it's easier to think that what happened was fixable -- "Let's not bully!" "We can stop bad things from ever happening by just being nice!" rather than admitting that at sixteen -- the age Harris, then a sophomore, first began planning his attack -- a teenager was a psychopath. Rather than addressing how we recognize and treat depression in teenagers. Rather than trying to know when a dark twisted story for creative writing is a sign of a future Stephen King or the warning (or boasting) of future killer.

It's easier to think Harris and Klebold snapped because of one incident, one loss, one act than to consider that as early as April 1998, police were aware of death threats, pipe bombs, and hate-filled websites to the point where a warrant was drafted for Eric Harris's house.

"Outcast" is a comforting label to use, because we can see those outcasts and tell ourselves, "not OUR kids." When the truth is, the two teenagers had jobs, friends, dated -- Klebold went to his prom the weekend before the attack -- and were intellectually gifted. Klebold was part of the "Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students" program in elementary school. Harris's teachers were consistently impressed with his knowledge and intelligence.

Columbine is not an easy read; and it's a book that cannot be put down. Cullen starts with weekend of the school shooting, then both backtracks to bring us fully into the heads of Harris and Klebold and goes forward, relating what happens during the attack and the years afterward. We uncover, slowly, what happened and why the teenagers planned what they did as well as see what actually happened and the aftermath, including how the media, investigators, parents and survivors reacted.

Both Harris and Klebold left a stunning amount of information about what they were thinking and planning, in journals, websites, diaries, diagrams, and school assignments. Cullen is especially effective when contrasting the face Harris presents to adults (counselors, lawyers, teachers) as having "learned his lesson" and saying all they want to hear with his private journals that spill over with hatred and contempt and amusement in having fooled yet another person. These teenagers had plenty of people who listened to them. Who wanted to help. Yet not many were in touch with one another to compare information to realize the full picture of what was happening; and Harris was a gifted liar.

This book does not glorify Harris and Klebold. Cullen shares minute by minute, second by second, their actions at the beginning of the book, with the first two students killed and the mayhem starting. But he does not continue the intimate timeline of what went on in the school until the end of the book -- when we have a better realization of what Harris and Klebold intended (blowing up the school to kill all inside, regardless of jock, friend, preppy, Goth) versus what happened (the bombs did not work). Then, the end -- and while some moments in the library are shared, including what happened to some individuals as well as refuting the Cassie Bernall myth, Cullen thankfully does not share a second-by-second account of the slaughter in the library.

Cullen keeps this book factual, without ever being voyeuristic. It is not a "true crime" book. There are no photographs of Harris or Klebold or their victims; no crime scenes; no diagrams of the school. We do not see photos of the guns they used or illustrations showing where the bodies fell.

Columbine does something else; it reminds us why we need good professional investigative reporters. This book reflects a tremendous amount of time, effort, work, dedication, talent, professionalism and caring. Newspapers, magazines and journals must find some way to survive their current crisis so that people like Cullen can continue doing their job.

What does the reality versus the myth mean? Especially for readers and reviewers of books where the myth of the bullied shooter crops up again and again? As I said above, I personally think bullying gives us the answer we want. We can use it to stop bullying (if you're mean, you could turn that kid into a killer); we give ourselves the illusion of control (I'll be nice to that loner and that will change his life); and it allows us to be "anti" the popular kid (we always knew those popular jock cheerleader preppies weren't as nice as they pretended). All which play out in books and novels and film.

I read Hate List by Jennifer Brown before reading Columbine; but I had read Cullen's articles on the shooting and reviews of the book. As I say in a review planned for later this summer, Brown does not go the "blame the bullying" route (though bullying takes place). Instead, she backs away from labelling that shooter at all; and the main character in Hate List reminded me of the numerous friends of Harris and Klebold who, while aware of their fondness for guns or a hobby of making pipe bombs, had no idea they were planning a massacre.

Links: Reading Rants review
A look at the Oprah taping with Cullen (ultimately Oprah decided not to broadcast it)

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Save Ohio Libraries

I just posted this at Pop Goes the Library:

As reported many places, including Library Journal, the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, has proposed a budget that slashes library funding in half.

The blog The Library is Now Closed has updates of the situation and actions being taken.

Save Ohio Libraries is also a great source for information.

A lot of library and librarian blogs and twitter accounts are involved with doing what they can; and for those of us outside Ohio, that involves letting people in Ohio know we care and are supporting them.

For those outside Ohio: of course, it can happen in your state, your county, your town. If Ohio is successful, other government entities will see this as a way to save money. "Penny wise, pound foolish" as the saying goes. So what can you do now? Let Ohio libraries and librarians know you support them; and start, now, getting your data, information, and stories together to be able to show the value of libraries and librarians to your community. New Jersey's Snapshot Day (Snapshot: one day in the life of New Jersey libraries) is an excellent example of such a resource (and no, I'm not just saying it because I am a Jersey librarian).

Note that I say libraries AND librarians. Because a building with books is just a warehouse; a collection of books that is based on someone else's donations is just a book swap; and volunteers cannot do what a librarian can.


Let me now add the book blog spin.

Not everyone can afford books, especially in today's economic climate. I hope that all Ohio book bloggers are involved in saving their libraries; and I hope that all non-Ohio book bloggers realize that this could happen to their local libraries and offer their support to their local library budgets and funding.

Edited to add (and will continue to add)

Book bloggers supporting Ohio libraries by blogging about the situation: Bookworm 4 Life; Vasilly at 1330v; John Green

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, June 26, 2009

I And I Bob Marley

I and I Bob Marley by Tony Medina. Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. Lee & Low. 2009. Copy Supplied by Publisher.

The Plot: The life of Bob Marley, told in verse.

The Good: Verse is the perfect way to tell the life story of a musician. "I am the boy/ From Nine Miles/ The sing/ Like three little birds/ In a reggae style."

Do you have to "know" Bob Marley to appreciate this book? No. Someone familiar with his life and music will recognize phrases and the chronology; but those not as familiar will follow along, as Bob is a small child living on a farm, a boy abandoned by his father, a teenager raised in a slum, all along music shaping him and his life.

Picture book biographies about adults are always tricky because the question is raised, how much do you tell? What is a necessary part of a story? So yes, we are told about Bob's white father who is missing from his childhood and then disappears from Bob's life. But we aren't told about Bob's children out of wedlock; actually, we aren't told about any of his children. And why should we? For those who want more than the sparse, world-creating poetry, there are notes that explain those details that adults care about.

The pictures -- wow. Look at that cover? Who wouldn't want to pick that up? The colors within the book are vibrant and alive; often playing off the colors of the flag associated with the Rastafarians (based on the old Ethiopian flag).


And how can I not link to a Bob Marley song?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Dell, a Division of Random House. 2001. Borrowed copy.

The Plot: Twenty-five year old Rebecca Bloomwood has a love affair with shopping. There's nothing like the rush of finding -- and buying -- that perfect sweater. Pair of boots. Mascara. Coffee. Dress. Notecards. But for some reason the credit cards won't leave her alone; they actually want to get paid. And, funny enough, Becky's job? A journalist. For a finance magazine.

The Good: OK, so yes, I am officially the last person in the entire world to read this series. A shout-out to my cousin Julie who handed all four to me and said (rightly so) I would love them.

I laughed at loud while reading this; kept on wanting to poke someone and say "listen to this line!" But, being by myself, couldn't do that. I love how perfectly Kinsella captures the joy of shopping: "For a moment we are both silent. It's as though we're communicating with a higher being. The god of shopping."

There's no getting around that Becky's problem isn't shopping; it's buying more than she can afford. I began reading this with an "uh oh, I hope the current financial circumstances don't make this a painful read." Far from it; it's a credit to Kinsella's talent that the book is funny and Becky is likable, despite the "sadder but wiser" reader vibe.

I'll be honest: while I'm not the shopaholic Becky is, I totally understand the "high" she gets, the way she imagines herself better, smarter, more liked with that new dress, makeup, sweater, scarf. Actually, upon finishing this book I really, really wanted to buy a new gray cardigan for the summer. Part of the attraction (for me) is to be able to think "well at least I'm not as bad as Becky is!" So far, I'm resisting the temptation to get that cardigan. (But I do have a 15% off coupon for the store it's at, so it would be like saving money, right?)

It's supposed to be funny that Becky, so bad at personal budgeting, is a journalist on a financial magazine. As she says, "I'm paid to tell other people how to organize their money." But about half way through the book, she gets angry (really angry) at someone for not taking her seriously; for seeing her as joke. And here's the thing; Becky is the one who is not taking herself seriously. As becomes apparent to the reader (and eventually Becky), Becky does know what she is talking about and reporting about. It just takes her a while to realize, because it's not the job she wanted, it's the job she ended up in. And Edmund Andrews has proven that managing one's own money is not the same as reporting on money matters. And, frankly -- while it may be made up and exaggerated for the story -- Becky's version of what happens at finance magazines (regurgitating press releases and attending press events where champagne is served) makes one more concerned about the overall finance industry rather than one twenty-somethings debt problems.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Brilliance Audio, 2009. Copy provided by publisher.

The Plot: Lia's best friend, Cassie, is dead. Before she died, Cassie called Lia thirty-three times. Lia didn't answer; the two had stopped talking, stopped being friends. But they had never stopped being partners -- partners in the race to see who could be skinniest.

The Good: Anderson captures the tortured thoughts and worldview of Lia, who, to put it mildly, has serious problems. She starves herself; cuts herself; berates herself (stupid/ ugly/ stupid/ bitch/ stupid/ fat/ stupid/ baby/ stupid/ liar/ stupid/ lost); sees herself as fat; and sees ghosts. Sees Cassie. Everywhere. Haunting her; taunting her; encouraging her. In audio, especially, Cassie's words twist into your heart and your head.

Lia and Cassie, now seniors, have been friends since they were little. Anderson doesn't point to any one point where the two went from "normal" girls to girls who didn't eat or -- in Cassie's case -- eats and throws up. There are a couple of flashbacks (Cassie learning to throw up at drama camp, the girls vowing to be the "thinnest" in school because it was an obtainable goal) to individual moments that reflect when they start being sick, but no answers as to why. This is an immersion into Cassie's life and struggle, including her sickness, with the constant question being -- is this it? Is this the moment she dies? Or is this the moment she decides to live?

The narrator and production team does a great job of signalling not just other people's voices but also Cassie's own voice -- both the things she says and the things she doesn't say.

Lia meets a boy, Elijah. And guess what? Elijah is not a love interest. Thank you, thank you, thank you. He does provide a perspective outside of a family dynamic that is all twisted around Lia and her problems; it's a great balance when he, who has been beaten by his father, asks Lia, why she doesn't want to live with her mother. What has she done, he asks, imagining the worst. You can tell that her answers don't satisfy him. But the thing is, Lia's problems have no real answer.

There has been talk about whether Wintergirls could be not only a "handbook" for girls with eating problems, but also a trigger. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on eating disorders; reading this, I did begin thinking about the calories I was eating. But I was also repulsed by the damage described to Cassie's and Lia's bodies; reading of Lia's starvation made me hungry. Wintergirls obviously describes a girl who is mentally ill, living an unhealthy life that is not to be envied. And it's a mental illness -- not a choice. Someone suffering from it will find their guidebooks and handbooks, either in books, TV shows, magazines, or from their friends. They will find their encouragement in articles like this one, where the author almost boasts about anorexia. Wintergirls provides a realistic, sympathetic, and frightening look at a very real illness. As a YPulse contributor said, "Laurie Halse Anderson’s exquisite novel provides a better understanding of the disease and is sure to spark further, much needed discussions the true causes, societal pressures, consequences, and ways to help and prevent."

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Crash Into Me Press Release

Crash into Me by Albert Borris. Simon & Schuster. Publication date July 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by Classof2K9.

I read Crash Into Me as part of MotherReader's 48 Hour Challenge; a full review is coming in July.

The Class of 2k9 sent me the ARC, along with the following Press Release. (Disclaimer: I edited this so that the URLs weren't being shown but were embedded in the text.)


Debut YA novelist Albert Borris has a way with words.

Or rather, had a way with words.

This past December, just months before the release of CRASH INTO ME (Simon Pulse), Albert suffered a stroke so powerful, his doctors told him he was lucky to be alive.

And alive he is, having made a full physical recovery, enough to roughhouse with his two young sons and work out at the gym. However, Albert is still working on recovering something else: his words.

To be sure, they are all up there in his brilliant mind. He just can’t get them out – verbally or on paper – in the correct order, yet. But he’s working on it.

Prior to his stroke, Albert was a full time teen counselor, husband and father. He also served as Co-President of The Class of 2k9, a group of 22 debut middle grade and young adult novelists banding together to promote their books. Words were his thing. Communicating with others, in person and on the page, was his specialty.

As his friends and fellow debut novelists, we, the Class of 2k9, are making it our business to get the word out about Albert and his novel, CRASH INTO ME. Here's a bit about it:

When Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae meet online after each attempts suicide and fails, the four teens mak e a deadly pact: they will escape together on a summer road trip to visit the sites of celebrity suicides...and at their final destination, they will all end their lives. As they drive cross-country, bonding over their dark impulses, sharing their deepest secrets and desires, living it up, hooking up, and becoming true friends, each must decide whether life is worth living--or if there's no turning back.

Won’t you join us in spreading the word?

Pass this on to every librarian, teacher, and teen reader you know.

Send him an encouraging note on our website.

Blog about Albert.

Pre order his book.

Anything you can think of to show your support would be deeply appreciated.

Thank you.

The Class of 2k9

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Reading, & the Reading is Easy

Or not.

Summer reading is the buzz worthy topic now, what with it being summer and all. Some schools and public libraries have reading lists. Just the other day someone asked me (interesting enough, not a parent or teacher or child) where was my summer reading lists? Don't I have a list of books that summer reading participants have to read?

No. No, I don't. Why, I wonder, do you need the list?

What's wrong with a kid picking their own books? Don't get me wrong; I love doing readers advisory with kids. I love talking with them about books that they love - or hate. I love doing booklists and displays. It is simply my most favorite part of my job.

What I don't love so much? Parents not letting kids pick out their own books. Oh, the reasons may vary. Too busy to come into the library is always a good reason; wanting to make sure the kids read the "good" books; not wanting their child to waste time with a book they find boring or to miss out on a really good book.

But you know what? Just as there is value in learning who you can turn to for getting a good recommendation for a book, there is value in learning how to pick out books for yourself.

To slowly browse the shelves, discovering on your own that your favorite author wrote another book.

To not find anything and have your Mom saying "pick something already" and to grab a book and then be really really bored six days later and find out OMG despite the awful cover it's a great book.

To think you're going to like something, to find out you didn't and realize that you don't have to finish it.

To start forming your own tastes and ways to pick books, rather than always having a parent, teacher or librarian telling you what your tastes should be.

If summer is about freedom --at least, for students if not for the rest of us! -- why not the freedom to pick your own books, including the freedom to fail at picking the right one?

My summer reading post from two years ago is still timely: Play A Half Hour of Baseball Every Day

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

My Japan

My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe. Kane/Miller. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: Yumi, seven years old, lives outside of Tokyo. She shares her life with the reader, from going to school to holidays.

The Good: Yumi presents her life in a matter of fact way, full of the details that readers love. Even the back cover gives information (Japan has over 3,000 islands).

Yumi's Japan is modern; when she shares the meals she eats, there is sushi, ramen, tonkatsu...and hamburger. And spaghetti. It is also traditional; during summer vacation at her grandparents, she wears a yukata.

The illustrations are bright and full of things to be discovered, some of which are explained (the process of taking a bath, where one washes before going into the tub) and some aren't explained (the kitchen shows storage in the floor, something I learned about from reading Apartment blogs.) Other details, such as those about the school days, are ones I've read in Here and There Blog, a snapshot look at Japan written for kids.

Kane/Miller publishes children's books from around the world. Guess where My Japan was first published? Wrong! France.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't Blame Kate

I'm sure it doesn't surprise readers that one of my TV shows is Jon and Kate Plus 8. J&K is what I call "easy watching" TV; I don't have to think too hard, I can do other stuff, and gosh darn it the kids are cute! And I love shows about large families.

Yes, Kate could be nasty, but I'm sure if cameras were following me around all the time my TWOP name would be Elizabitch. And yes, Jon can be too laid back, but man, with that many kids you don't want to be too hyper. And now this season, as anyone who reads People headlines knows, the usual marriage tensions escalated to rumors of divorce. No comment from me, except that it's heartbreaking, and it's no one person's fault.

Remember the Louds? In what some call the beginning of reality TV, PBS did a documentary called An American Family about the Louds. They (and America) got more than the bargained for when Pat asked Bill for a divorce; and son Lance's being gay? This was 1973. Groundbreaking.

Also groundbreaking has been the The Up Series (Seven Up / 7 Plus Seven / 21 Up / 28 Up / 35 Up / 42 Up / 49 Up) series; following Neil's mental health issues has been devastating and illuminating.

The question of children acting -- or being used -- has always been with the industry. Until actual actors aren't needed in order to make films and TV shows, children will be needed on stage, film, TV. Go back to pre-film days, and most of the great stage families had the younger members acting since (and before) they could walk. But some shows take the illusion one step further by having the viewer think they are "really" watching a "real" child's life, not too unlike the Gosselins.

Ozzie & Harriet Nelson used their own names, their own sons, and their sons' names for their TV show. It was a TV show, clearly, but it gave many people the illusion that they were watching a "real" family. Many people still believe that Desi Arnaz, Jr, played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, in part because of Lucy/Lucy and in part because in Here's Lucy Lucie and Desi, Jr. played her children (but with different names.)

So, what other early documentaries have given too-uncomfortable (and not planned) looks into the darkness of life?

EDITED TO ADD: Gail Gauthier at Original Content has a very interesting take on J&K; I especially like how she sees the story/myth that is involved.

One final note; I remember watching the Sonny & Cher show as a kid, and then how it split into two shows when they separated, and then one again because of ratings. Does anyone remember if the domestic problems between Sonny & Cher were as in your face as with Jon & Kate?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Tushy Book

The Tushy Book by Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Tracy Dockray. Feiwel and Friends. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: Oh, let's be real. There is no plot! It's just a love-fest to the tushy!

The Good: I saw the cover of this book and began giggling. The Tushy Book? Really?

Really. Because "when you're born, your tushy's there/ready to go anywhere."

And there's more: "Every tushy's in the back/ Every tushy has a crack!/ Where would you put underwear/ if your tushy wasn't there?"

And for those reading along, there's a part where we are all encouraged to say "TUSHY TUSHY TUSHY."

Yeah. Whether you're reading this one on one, or in story time, you're going to have a lot of fun and will need to allow extra time for giggles. As you can see from the quotes, this is told in rhyme; it's pitch perfect, giving a nice rhythm to the story, making it a great story time book. The illustrations are full of tushies -- babies, grown-ups, even animals; some in diapers, some in bathing suits, some in the bathtub. The children are all ages and sizes and ethnic backgrounds. Adults are old and young and in-between.

The Video:

And not just a video! A website with coloring sheets. And a "circle the tushies" activity sheet.

Poetry Friday Round Up

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Treasure Map of Boys

The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch--and me, Ruby Oliver by e. lockhart. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. July 2009. Reviewed from ARC. Copy supplied by publisher.

Companion to The Boyfriend List and The Boy Book.

The Plot: It's the second half of Ruby Oliver's junior year. Things seem better. She now has two friends (two!), Nora and Meghan. And Noel likes her, but because Nora likes Noel, Ruby has promised herself to stay away from Noel (even tho Ruby likes him, also.) And Jackson is back in the picture! And maybe Finn. And Hutch is still there, working for her father. Kim and Cricket still don't talk to her. Things should be better. But Ruby is lonely; it's been over thirty weeks of no boyfriend! And she's still getting panic attacks. And the rumors may be starting again.

The Good: I reread my reviews of the previous two books (linked above) and saw I'd written this: I'm not sure if another book is planned; but while Ruby has grown more by the end of this book, she does has further to go and I look forward to visiting with her again and seeing how it all works out for her. Ruby did have further to go and in this book she finally, finally, gets more in touch with herself, her friends, her world.

On the surface, this book is about boys. The boys Ruby likes, the boys she likes, Ruby figuring out when flirting is just fun and when flirting is something more. And you know what? That can be enough. Many teenagers share those same concerns and worries. Why not have a smart, funny book about navigating love and lust and friendship? It's a bonus that the treasure map of boys is about more than romance; it's about figuring out what one really wants and also owning one's own actions. And it's also about heavy metal music and cupcakes.

Ruby is a junior in high school. And as she talked about boys and boys she likes and boys she (maybe) flirts with, I had two thoughts. First, Ruby needs to get to college where it's not the same small group of people. Second, it's almost incestuous, this small school, and part of Ruby's problems arise from being in such a small, close environment. Ruby cannot date Finn who she's know since grade school because he used to date Kim; flirting with Noel is a no-no because Nora said she likes him. The threads of connectiveness go on and on, muddled and confusing. No wonder Ruby is having panic attacks! Whatever you do, Ruby -- do not go to a small college! Go to a big one where you don't have to worry about this type of stuff!

Ruby remains as wonderfully funny, delightful, and wry as ever in her observations and for that reason alone, I would read another book about her. But, honestly? Ruby's journey, as it has been played out in these three books, feels done. Finished. Resolved. I love that it took Ruby this long to really, truly find the answers within herself. While this works well as a standalone (Lockhart does a terrific job of quickly recapping past episodes, events and characters), the Ruby Oliver books are best read as trilogy.

Twitter Review

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Natasha Maw of Maw's Book Blog is holding a Bloggiesta blogging event.

If you sign up, what are you agreeing to? "The Bloggiesta will focus on blog content, improving/cleaning up your blog or working on your social network profiles. I’m pretty open on what you can do during the bloggiesta but reading actually won’t count! I know, I know. The point is to catch up instead of adding another book to the “to be reviewed” pile. Actual blog content is what I’m really aiming for with some technical/housekeeping bloggy stuff mixed in for good measure."

Yeah, I know, sounds like a typical to do list that never gets done! So why not sign up and get some of your blogging "to dos" crossed off your list?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Norman and Brenda

Norman and Brenda by Colin Thomspon & Amy Lissiat. Kane/Miller. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: Norman and Brenda live their own lives, waiting for life to begin, waiting for that someone. Will their paths ever cross?

The Good: I wanted to read this after reading Betsy's review: "Norman and Brenda ain't sexy, but they're hopeful."

Norman and Brenda's stories are told at the same time; Norman on the top of the page, Brenda on the bottom. Both alone; both waiting; both yearning. Norman felt as if life had started without him. "Everyone else was having theirs, but his hadn't arrived yet." Meanwhile, "Brenda felt as if life was always going on in the next room. If she went into the next room, it moved out into the garden."

Their paths always almost cross. Will these two ever find each other?

Like Betsy said, this is a book to give as a gift to grown-ups; especially grown-ups who need a little hope in their life; a reminder that happiness comes, just at different times for different people.

It was first published in Australia.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hannah Was a Junior

Wall Street Journal's It Was, Like, All Dark and Stormy had some factual errors in it. The article itself was discussed on this blog.

I emailed them (thrice) about these errors; I'm sure others did, also.

Guess what? The article now has 3 of the 5 corrections made to the article! From the article:

Corrections & Amplifications
In the novel “Thirteen Reasons Why,” published in October 2007, the main character kills herself when she is a high-school junior. A previous version of this essay said the book was published in March 2007 and said the suicide happened freshman year. Also, in the novel “Hunger Games,” one teenager of each sex from each district competes in a competition to the death. Previously, the essay incorrectly said one teenager from each district competed

What two things remain unchanged?

Saying Mary went blind in Little House On the Prairie, when the blindness occurred between two later books; and saying "1999 novel “Speak,” about a deeply miserable girl who is raped at a party." I can understand, kind of, why the didn't change the part about Speak, but leaving the LHOTP reference sustains the impression that the author is talking about the TV show, not the books.

Anyway, thanks WSJ for making these corrections!

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Teaser: Lips Touch

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. Illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. October 2009. Reviewed from ARC; ARC from BEA.

Three stories that hinge on a kiss. In Goblin Fruit, Kizzy wants to be someone different, somewhere different, she wants to be kissed; In Spicy Little Curses Such As These, Ana wants to be loved and accepted; and in Hatchling, Esme is haunted by memories that are not her own.

I love the twists to tales that Taylor gives; taking Rossetti's Goblin Market to modern times. Creating a Sleeping Beauty who can kill with a whisper -- or a shout. And lastly, a story that seems to be about Esme -- until we find out there is more to Esme than meets the eye.

The language is haunting and memorable. "She wanted to climb out of her life as if it were a seashell she could abandon on a shore and walk away from, barefoot."

What links these stories? Teen girls on a brink -- on a brink of something else, something more.

Twitter Review.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chatting With Brian

Brian Farrey of Flux Books interviewed me for the Flux Podcast.

It's up on the Flux Blog; and it's also here. And here.

I talk about my job and the Printz Award and other bookish stuff and how books were literally climbing my stairs. There may be a horror movie in that.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames

My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me by Bill Cochran, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. HarperCollins. 2009. Copy supplied by Raab Associates.

The Plot: Ted is made up of many things. His parents are divorced (but that doesn't make him weird.) He sleeps with one sock on (so maybe that's a little weird.) Sometimes when he answers the phone pretending he's a chicken (OK, so that IS weird.) Ted is Ted; he is who he is.

The Good: Kids, like adults, are made up of many things -- weird bits (eating cold spaghetti out of a jar) and not so weird bits (having your divorced parents on opposite sides of the soccer field.)

Cochran uses humor to address some not-so-funny issues, such as being angry about divorce and separate houses and stepparents.

Divorced parents (and the separate houses) is just one part of who Ted is; and this funny book is a gentle reminder to kids to think of themselves as a whole person (who may indeed have some strange habits!) instead of a person with a label ("parents are divorced.") And to embrace the part of you that wears your cape even when it isn't Halloween.

Book Trailer:

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Trailer That Makes Me Want To Buy The Book

Betsy's Video Sundays at Fuse #8/SLJ frequently include trailers for books. Today is the first time where, after watching one, I then ordered the book before finishing up her post.

It's for David Small's new graphic novel memoir, Stitches: A Memoir. The author's voice, remembering childhood, and slowly teasing us with what the book is about -- trauma, secrets, lies, a throat stitched together with the silent promise that this will be a book about a life stitched together -- made me want to reach into the computer screen and pull out the book and start reading now.

Not only does the trailer work well as what it should do -- get someone to want to read the book -- but it does something else, also. Shows how pictures are often more valuable than words. I love the written word; but sometimes a story doesn't need words. Sometimes it's stronger without words, or with an interplay between text and picture. Personally, I also think that decoding pictures (whether it's in picture books, graphic novels, comic books, movies, or TV) is just as important a skill as decoding words.

Anyway. Click over to her post and watch the trailer.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Did You Say Something?

I was too busy trying to figure out what I was going to say.

Roger Sutton at the Horn Book gives his two cents worth about blogs and reviews: I worry that Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners--that's what will kill criticism from wherever its source.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


One of my (many) pet peeves is treating reading like a race: children have to be reading at four!* Reading Animal Farm in 4th Grade! None of those babyish books, give them the books that can then be checked off the list, so that the parents can modestly brag about how their darling read Harry Potter at six and now at thirteen it, in its entirety, is just too childish for their genius. Reading books is a huge race to see who is going to finish reading all the books first.

So it was with great interest that I read Jen Robinson's Reading Ahead Of Grade Level, Or Not. Which led me to All in the Timing: Why Reading Ahead of Your Grade Level isn't Necessarily a Good Thing at Babble. Great conversations going on in comments to both Jen's post and the Babble article. I particular like the comments which admitted to "showing off" about their reading, and how they quickly gave up "showing off" when adults stopped reacting and the books proved boring.

My favorite quotes from All in the Timing: "But I'm cautious too, knowing that reading a book at the wrong time can be worse than not reading it at all." Talking about reading The Princess Bride at 11: "Golding's lampooning of fairytale conventions is hilarious for adults. But as a child, it just hurt my feelings."

Of course, the bottom line is two-fold: Don't make reading a race. Respect a child's reading choices.

*A whole other rant is the parents of said children insisting that this is a reflection of their superior parenting skills. They read to their child since the womb! Have many books in their house! Go to the library and bookstore and model reading and if you had only done all this, your child would be reading Charles Dickens at five, also, instead of those baby books. At which point the parent of the child reading on (or under) level thinks, "I did all that, also" and wants to resort to violence. And it's another rant on why we want all children to be lockstep; some people will discover the joy of reading at 5. Others at 25. It's all good.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What to Read Next

School Library Journal's BookExpo America 2009: ‘Catching Fire’ Tops the Kids' Books Buzz List talks to real! live! people! about what books they "have" to read.

Who are these real! live! people!? Well, me for one. "Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (Simon Pulse) also topped the list for Liz Burns, a youth services consultant for the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped. “Leviathan was one of the two books I waited online for to get signed,” says Burns, also the voice behind the popular kid lit blog, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy."

And lookee here...another familiar name to Tea Cozy readers, Carlie Webber. "By far, the book my colleagues and I talked about the most was Catching Fire,” says Carlie Webber, a young adult services librarian for New Jersey’s Bergen County Cooperative Library System. “We’re dying to know what happens next, and a lot of us librarians are having friendly arguments as to whether Katniss will eventually ride off into the sunset with her longtime friend Gale or with Peeta, her fellow Hunger Games winner.”"

And there is also Laura Lutz: Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte), who breaks out of her Gemma Doyle trilogy with her latest book, a laugh-out-loud comedy about a teen diagnosed with Mad Cow disease and whose quirky cover has “captured the attention of even the adult selectors I work with,” says Laura Lutz, a children's materials specialist at New York’s Queens Library and the blogger behind Pinot and Prose.

OK, I think any more quotage and I'll be in trouble with the copyright police. Go over and check it out for yourself. I know I'm shifting books on my TBR pile!

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's My TV Show & Magazine?

So My Friend Amy asked Who's Your Oprah? "Who, when they stamp their seal of approval on something, do you listen to? An author? An artist? A blogger, perhaps? I'd love to know!!"

And guess what? I'm someone's Oprah! Not just anyone, also -- Jen Robinson. It put a smile on my fave so since it's always all about me, I just had to share. Thank you, Jen!

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Teaser: Going Bovine

Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Random House. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher.

Sixteen year old Cameron Smith is just another slacker at his Texas high school. Until he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (aka mad cow disease), starts seeing angels, and ends up on a road trip to DisneyWorld with a dwarf, a yard gnome, and an angel.

That description cannot describe just how fantastic this book is. My full review will go into more detail. Bray has created one of those rare things in books. A character so fully realized, so alive that you know him. He's that real. And his adventures may be wacky and weird, but you believe in them, you believe in Cameron. At 480 pages, this is a book you never want to end. You want to savor the words, the humor, the language, the inventiveness of Bray ("the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl"), the ride; you don't want your time with Cameron to end.

Dig your ARC out from BEA. Put it on your "must get" list for ALA. Add it to your orders for when it gets published in September. Yes, it is that good. I am trying to compare it to something, in part because every plot synopsis I read did not engage me; rather, it was readers I respected saying "OMFG you must read this." Multiple readers. But this came to me this morning. Going Bovine is the heir to Douglas Adams. All those readers (adults and teens) who have adored The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for its mix of humor and seriousness and inventiveness will be reading and reading Going Bovine. Hell, Adams started with killing the population of the Earth and we laughed; so what's wrong with laughing as one teen struggles with mad cow disease?

I want to keep on talking about this... but that will have to wait until closer to publication date!

Teaser: A mini post about a book I've read that won't be published for several months. The full review will be posted closer to the publication date.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Get It Now: June 2009

The following books were reviewed from ARCs; the official publication dates are here so you can find them in stores and libraries.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lost In Austen

Lost in Austen. Image Entertainment. 2009. Copy via Netflix.

The Plot: Amanda Price is a modern girl whose favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. Modern day life and love pale in comparison to Austen's world. Until a door opens and Elizabeth Bennet finds her way into Amanda's world; and Amanda finds herself in Elizabeth's home.

The Good: Imagine being in your favorite book. Meeting the characters, wearing the clothes. Sounds great, doesn't it?

It's actually the basis of many a Mary Sue story. Living with those people! Making sure the right things happen! Being part of a story!

Except, adding something new doesn't make things right. It can make it worse. So. much. worse. Amanda is no Mary Sue; everything she tries goes wrong. See, the first problem is Amanda arrives at the beginning of the book. Which means Elizabeth isn't there to help Jane with Mr. Bingley or to meet Darcy. It's up to Amanda! Who knows everything. And messes it all up royally.

Part of why Amanda messes it up is because she knows the end of the story. And instead of letting things happen on their own, she's giving spoilers (which aren't understood) and pushing people together well before they want to be together.

I laughed; I cringed at Amanda's missteps; and I cheered when things finally worked out. And I especially liked how this wasn't exactly Austen's world and people. We see a fuller world; a different perspective; and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Those who watched via DVD and in America. Apparently, the rights to a certain song were not fully obtained. Which means the following scene does not appear on the DVD. Enjoy, Lost in Austen lovers. The setting: Amanda, trying to fit into the past/book world, gets put on the spot and has to sing.

Thanks to Monica for the recommendation.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, June 07, 2009

48 Hours: Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic. Publication Date September 2009. Reviewed from ARC from BEA.

What's there to say, really?

Have you read The Hunger Games? You really, really should. For purposes of awards and lists and the like, I can argue that Catching Fire stands alone.

For the potential reader? Read The Hunger Games, knowing you only have to wait a few short months to read the sequel, Catching Fire. It's a wonderful experience for a reader: great plotting, memorable plotting, a unique world. And in all honesty, once you've read the first, you don't need to read a review or recommendation to read the second.

On to the sequel. It delivers! Brings the reader up to speed on what is happening? Check. Ups the action and investment? Check. The main character grows, including becoming more aware of her world? Check.

Oh, you're that one person who hasn't even heard of The Hunger Games? Briefly, future world where 12 Districts pay tribute to the Capital each year; a tribute of two teens, sent to fight to the death. Twenty four enter an arena that is full of death-traps; in addition to surviving and outsmarting the traps and attacks of the manipulated environment, the rule is only one can leave the arena alive. So they also have to fight and kill each other. This is done each year to punish the Districts for a rebellion that occurred over seventy years ago, resulting in the virtual enslavement and poverty of the Districts, while those in the Capital live a life of pleasure and luxury.

Read for 48 Hours Book Challenge.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

48 Hours: Hate List

Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Little Brown. Publication Date September 2009. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Valerie Leftman was shot during a school shooting moments before the shooter turned the gun on himself.

She may have tried to stop him; instead of a half dozen dead, their could have been more.

Or, since she was his girlfriend and had helped write the "Hate List" he used to target his victims, she may not be so innocent.

Great read; I look forward to doing it more justice after the 48 Hour Book Challenge is done. Time spent reading: 5 hours.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, June 06, 2009

48 Hours: Crash Into Me

Crash into Me by Albert Borris. Simon & Schuster. Publication date July 2009. Copy supplied by Classof2K9.

Four teens go on a road trip to visit celebrity graves, pledging to commit suicide together at the end. Their obsession with suicide and their own attempts brought them together; and the friendship they form may save them all. Chilling, sad, and funny.

48 Hour Book Challenge: 4 hours. Longer review will be posted later.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

WSJ & Young Adult Fiction

Does the Wall Street Journal's latest YA article, Young Adult Fiction Takes a Dark Turn, (It Was, Like, All Dark & Stormy) disappoint?

It classifies Thirteen Reasons Why as being about suicide. Personally, I think it's more about discovering that people have lives you don't know about, about how your words and actions have an impact you don't realize.

Back to the WSJ article. There's a nice throwaway line about librarians who want to keep this book off the shelves. No, really! There may be parents who are alarmed that their 12-year-olds are reading about suicide, or librarians who want to keep the book off the shelves, but the story is clearly connecting with its audience—the book has sold over 200,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. I guess the WSJ fact-checker decided that "may" meant you didn't need an actual librarian to have actually said or done it. Then again, the WSJ fact-checker said Peeled won a Newbery Honor.

More good: this makes it sound like Melinda was depressed BEFORE the rape:“ Speak,” about a deeply miserable girl who is raped at a party. Bill Clinton knew the power of "is" versus "was."

But wait! There's more: it’s useful to consider the history of books read by young adults that traffic in death and cruelty and mental illness. Think of Mary going blind in “Little House on the Prairie” or the ultimate institutionalization of Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye.” With authors like Robert Cormier, the author instead goes to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the fact-based blindness of Mary, the result of an illness? Seriously, part of me thinks I missed the chapter where Laura stabbed Mary in the eye and blinded her.

Too bad about those missteps, because I actually agree with the author's thesis that teens identify with the "big bad" not because the "big bad" is happening in their lives, but because it feels like it is. See Buffy (High School, metaphor for hell).

Ouch. But she just lost more points for calling other YA books "fizzy escapism that long dominated the young adult marketplace." I like the "fizzy", just not the blanket description. Facts, please? Titles?

ACK! Spoiler alert for books mentioned at the end of the article. Thank God she hasn't read Liar, Going Bovine, or Catching Fire.

Ha. I actually agree with her last sentence.

Overall grade: Dude, so close to an A. But really, to omit Cormier? And use Ingalls instead?

This would have been better written and less a response piece if I weren't in the middle of 48 Hours of Reading.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

48 Hour Book Challenge. It's Begun

As you look across the sea of readers, if you see someone with 101 on the back of their shirt, that is me.

Wouldn't it be kinda cool if we were all reading in one place? As someone else brought us food and the laundry didn't nag?

My start time: 7:48 am Saturday. Yeah, I know I'm not going to win, but I'll have fun playing!

Links: MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. The Rules.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, June 04, 2009

If The Witness Lied

If the Witness Lied by Caroline B. Cooney. Delacorte Press. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: First, their mother dies. Then, their father. The four Fountain children are left alone, except for their Aunt Cheryl. Overwhelmed by grief -- by how and why their parents died -- the family cannot hold itself together.

Their mother was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with Tris, now almost three. She choose to have her child rather than have an abortion and aggressively treat the cancer; the press had a field day, as did protesters who called her choice suicide and criticized her abandoning the children she did have. Toddler Tris then kills his father. The little boy releases the emergency break on his father's jeep; and the jeep runs over and kills his father. The press once again and return to the house.

Maddy, the oldest and now a senior, fled to stay with family friends. Smithy found a boarding school and escaped that way. Jack, fifteen, was left behind to take care of Tris. To protect the child. But can he keep protecting Tris, when Cheryl decides to turn the little boy's life into a TV reality show? The baby who killed his parents. What can Jack do?

The Good:

If the Witness Lied takes place in less than 24 hours, on a Friday, the day after their their father's birthday. Or, as Jack thinks, "it was just another day. Dead people don't have birthdays." Jack muses, "around him, hundreds of kids are buying lunch, skipping lunch or finding lunch or finding lunch partners. His goal is to be normal, although the Fountain family stopped being normal a long time ago."

Told in the present tense, If the Witness Lied is unbearably suspenseful as the Fountain children realize the truth about their family. At first, it is Jack's story, the good child who has not only stayed home with his younger brother (the brother his older and younger sister cannot even bear to live with), but also given up everything -- friends, football, baseball -- to become his brother's primary caretaker. "Usually a two-year-old has parents to protect him, but Tris is not that lucky. He has only his big brother and his babysitter."

But then the point of view shifts, to also include Madison and Smithy. The two who ran away; who are now compelled, by guilt from ignoring their father's birthday, by a pull of family ties, to come home. Just at the worst -- or best -- time. When Aunt Cheryl has decided to invite in TV cameras.

While on the surface an attack on reality TV and those who see themselves as only existing via television, this is actually a heartbreaking look at grief and the destruction of a family. Three years ago, the Fountains were a family: two parents, three children. Then, suddenly, one parent, four children. Then no parents. Loss upon loss; and it's not only the children who cannot handle it. The adults, who should be protecting the Fountain children, the grandparents and godparents, and even their own parents, constantly fail these teenagers and baby. And, for the most part, it's because they are all wrapped up in their own grieving. Reed Fountain loses his wife, so does not realize that Aunt Cheryl cares more about the house than the children. When Reed dies, his friends and parents are so destroyed they don't know what to do.

And if the adults don't know, how can the children?

The intensity of the book -- the deaths, the risks to Tris, the grief and loss, the slow realization that there is more to the father's death than they knew -- could be overwhelming if it wasn't being told in such a short time period. It takes time for people to heal; and to realize certain things. By having this book told in just one day, we don't have to wait. We see it happening; and we have no time to be impatient, to get overly angry at Madison and Smithy and the grandparents for leaving Jack and Tris behind. We can concentrate on the reunion, on the return, on the forgiveness -- and on the secrets that the Fountain children discover.

Other reviews:
The Goddess of YA Literature
Collecting Children's Books (mostly on the heartbreaking dedication)

The Reading Zone
My Twitter Review

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy