Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SLJ Round Three, Match One

CharMa! CharMa! CharMa!

Sadly, all Megan Whalen Turner can say to me is LoCo! LoCo! LoCo!

Perhaps it is because Turner loves a book with conspiracy in the title.

Perhaps she and Fuse #8 are in a conspiracy for me to finally read the 576 page book.

Meanwhile, I am giggling madly thru Turner's entire decision. She, of the Thief books, does not like suspense yet delights in writing books that twist and turn! Confession: half or more of the books I read? I read the last chapter first. Second confession: I do not do that with Turner's books, and even if I did, it wouldn't tell me the ending.

And sigh... my favorite paragraph, which shows why I adore this writer: "The point of BoB, is that the judges have axes to grind, and I am happy to identify mine. (Besides the no-dead-dogs one, to which I’ve already confessed.) A writer who asks a lot from the reader is a writer who believes the reader can deliver. That’s a writer with a lot of respect for her audience. It’s a risk for an author to demand so much, and I want Hardinge to be rewarded for it."

OK, already! I am picking up The Lost Conspiracy and reading it as soon as I go offline.








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

SLJ Round Two, Match Four

Shannon Hale gets to look at a lot of pictures: The Storm in the Barn and Tales From Outer Suburbia.

Despite having quibbles with the cover of Tales from Outer Suburbia, and despite having love for The Storm in the Barn, Hale goes with Tales from Outer Suburbia. Hale says, "They’re both obviously terrific books, but that one just stuck to me longer. I’m sure another judge could easily rule the other way."

If there is one take away we have from this Battle, its that different judges can easily lead to different decisions.

Another is how well a book sticks. Sometimes, bloggers review books immediately after they are read. Sometimes, bloggers wait a bit before writing.

While when I write my reviews is usually based solely on when I have time (and how much time), waiting does allow a book to further prove itself by withstanding the passage of time. Or, sadly, shows that it was not perhaps as strong a read, if when one sits in front of a computer one can remember little about the book other than a certain fondness, like for a place one used to live but does not care to return to.


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

SLJ Round Two, Match Three

Christopher Paul Curtis's tough decision (and all of these have been tough): Marching For Freedom versus A Season of Gifts.

And this is the point in the Battle of the Kids' Books that I almost go completely off topic. Obesity? Really? And chubby? (Erase rant about health versus obesity and celebrity culture saying constant dieting, purging and excessive exercise is the desired norm, plus lets stop confusing obesity (with its implications of laziness and lack of self control along with the use of that term for anyone overweight) with health issues (about food and additives)).

Point.

Curtis praises both books, to the point where until I read "and the winner is..." I wasn't sure who he would pick. But Marching for Freedom continues to March on. Will its luck change once a decision is posted in April? Or will the appeal of Marching for Freedom combined with its educational value mean that it will April on?

Since Gifts has fallen by the wayside, I can now confess: I haven't read it. And I don't get the Grandma Dowdel worship. I do love that books for kids have a main character that is a senior citizen!





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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Dead-Tossed Waves


The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. Delacorte Books, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Review copy supplied by publisher. Companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Carrie Ryan's book tour.

The Plot: Gabry has been raised behind the safe walls of Vista. She lives in a lighthouse with her mother, Mary, gazing beyond the boundaries of her town, looking out to sea, but never wanting more than the safety she has. Beyond those safe borders are the Mudo. The border walls are secure against the Mudo and their bites that infect, kill, leaving the bitten to return as one of the Mudo.

One night, Gabry and a group of her friends slip over the protective wall to go to the abandoned amusement park. Whether its because the Mudo have always been so far away, or because they have never breached the wall, or because as teens they believe nothing can ever happen to them, they leave Vista for a few hours one night.

The Good: Do I really have to tell you that it does not end well? And this is only the first few chapters. It just gets worse from there... (or, actually, better, because this book is awesome and it is one of my favorite books of 2010, see sidebar).

And do I really have to tell you the Mudo are zombies? But, like Ryan's first book which told a teenage Mary's story (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), the "z" word is never mentioned. I wonder if, in a world where the unthinkable happened -- zombies are real -- to use that word would just be unbearable.

Gabry joins her friends in the ill-fated forbidden trip to the amusement park because of her crush on Catcher, her best friend Cira's older brother. This one action causes unforeseen consequences (and because they are unforeseen I don't want to give too much away here!). Those consequences include meeting Elias, a stranger who becomes a friend; Gabry fleeing into the Forest; and a love triangle between Gabry, Elias, and Catcher.

Zombies are fun because it can be such a great metaphor when done well. As in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, they reflect fear, of choices and life. Zombies are also the greater world; sometimes scary, sometimes threatening, but they should never be an obstacle to friendship, to family, to love, to happiness.

I love that this is not a straight sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. They are set in the same world, yes, but the story lines and character arcs are independent of each other. While The Forest of Hands and Teeth showed the zombie world from an isolated village, The Dead-Tossed Waves reveals a greater world, with remnants of government, of trade, of organized fighting forces and different religious reactions to the walking dead.


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

Friday, March 26, 2010

SLJ Round Two, Match Two

Oh, how a vowel will matter. The LAST Olympian versus The LOST Conspiracy.


Angela Johnson makes a decision that pleases Fuse #8.

Let's just say, that if this was being done in a arena, for the next match? Fuse would be on one side, face painted to match the jacket cover, chanting "LoCo! LoCo!"

While I would be cosplaying it up in my mid 19th century garb, dress and all, responding "CharMa! CharMa!"

Yes, I know this is brief, but better a short post than no post at all!










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

Wait Till Helen Comes


Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books 1986. Sandpiper Paperback Reissue 2008. Brilliance Audio 2009. Narrated by Ellen Grafton.

The Plot: Molly, younger brother Michael, and stepsister Heather, a newly blended family, have moved to a house in the country. Heather has never been the most likable child, and she gets even worse now that she has a friend. Helen. A ghost child only Heather can see. Heather's father, Dave, thinks his daughter is imaginative and doesn't understand Molly's concern.

Molly finds out that a nearby home burnt down over a hundred years ago, killing a young girl named Helen. Several children have drowned in a nearby pond. Molly becomes convinced that Heather is in danger. Can she save her stepsister?

The Good: Wait Till Helen Comes is a scary as hell ghost story about not one, but two, mean little girls. Is there anything more terrifying than an evil child? How about an evil child that everyone else thinks is young and nice and harmless?

Heather, seven, is a brat even before Helen enters the picture. She manipulates all those around her and is particularly gifted at getting her father to take sides against his new stepchildren, Molly and Michael, and against his new wife. Helen is not just the ghost egging Heather on; Helen is also a ghost responsible for the drowning deaths of several children over the years.

But that's not the scary part. Oh, it is scary, and kids looking to be scared will love this book. Creepy, atmospheric, spooky, with a very real danger.

That's not what scared me as an adult. As an adult reader, I was appalled at how the stepfather, Dave, treats his stepchildren, his wife, and his own daughter. No physical abuse; but enough nastiness and neglect that I couldn't help but wonder at what type of rebellions Molly, Michael and Heather would have in high school. Molly, given the model that to have a man, you put up with his garbage, is Most Likely To Be In Abusive Relationship. Scientist Michael stops escaping to woods and bugs and starts escaping with drugs. And Heather, looking for the love she doesn't get from Daddy, will be Sixteen and Pregnant.

Let me give some examples. Dave, talking to his ten year old stepson, Michael, says "what kind of little monster are you anyway." And the mother, hearing her child called a monster, does . . . Nothing. Instead, mom tells her children to be nicer. Basically, setting the stage of future dysfunction by modeling the "if you don't piss him off, he won't get mad, just be good so he will stay with us" relationship, rather than the "he's being irrational and over the top in his anger, and I won't put up with me and my kids being treated that way" relationship.

Frankly, it's upsetting. And honestly? Dave isn't that much better with Heather. He flips flops between spoiling her and ignoring her. No wonder Heather is obnoxious -- her father repeatedly rewards her worst behaviour and totally plays into a very uncomfortable wife versus child struggle.

And -- here is the best part -- probably because this is set in the mid-1980s, the book does not really question either parent. Some of the things that make me go "hmmm" are actually typical of child rearing twenty odd years ago. For example, all three children are left alone for long periods of time with limited supervision. Oh, Molly is told to watch the others -- and that, too, is accepted, that a twelve year old will care for a seven year old for hours. Even when everyone knows the two don't get along. Even when everyone knows the seven year old wanders away and does her own thing.

To be honest, Molly says that Dave didn't use to be so bad and blames the ghost. However, none of the ghost stories about Helen mention making adults behave irrationally, as if they were in The Shining. The reader only knows Dave as he is shown in this book. At the end of the book, the ghost is taken care of and some level of harmony now exists between the children. The implication is that Dave is now nice... now that his wife and children no longer give him reason to call them monsters, all is well.

Will kids pick up on just how awful Dave and Mom are? Or will they, like Molly, dismiss it as the influence of Helen? Or are kids so used to parents behaving badly that they won't pick up on it?

Oh! Another thing. Molly narrates the book; she's the main character. She is not a spunky kid. Looking for a girl who is fearful of her own shadow, whiny, clingy, dramatic and a crier? Molly is your gal! Most of this makes sense most of the time -- who wouldn't be freaked out at a haunted cemetery, haunted house, killer ghost? Not to mean mean stepfather and mom more concerned with that new sister? I sure wouldn't be going into that graveyard, and I've been known to cry from frustration or fear. Molly is ultimately driven to action -- her parents don't believe her about the killer ghost, so someone has to save Heather.

I know it may sound like I don't like this book; quite the opposite! I LOVE IT. So creepy, and it got my dander up. I was just so floored at the parents. Ellen Grafton is a terrific narrator; she captures Molly's hysteria and dramatics and fear perfectly.






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

Thursday, March 25, 2010

SLJ Round Two, Match One; CharMa and Calpurnia

Team CharMa versus Calpurnia

Real scientists versus fictional ones

And MT Anderson; oh MT Anderson; you do not disappoint.

Tho, to tell the truth, when I think of authors strolling and talking Lit'rary Talk, I don't imagine topiaries in the shape of characters from their book.

I always thought you had marble statutes with outfits that changed. Dress up the characters for seasons, holidays, special events...

Topic.

Anderson is the guy who I want to ask to the Prom. Because when he says "no, I have a date I like better than you" he will do it in such an awesome way that I will walk away with head high, pride intact, feeling just as pretty, smart, etc as his Prom Date, knowing it's just he likes another girl better not that the other girl is better.

Who did he pick?

Team CharMa! And I'm so disappointed more people aren't picking up Team CharMa as a rallying cry.

One final thing I loved about Anderson's review: I'm not the only one who read Calpurnia thinking the Grandfather would die! Oops, was that a spoiler?









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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Eight: Suburbia or City Living?

Tales From Outer Suburbia takes on When You Reach Me and this time, it's Julius Lester in the judge's seat.

Lester is up front about his likes, or should I say, dislikes: "There is an element of time travel in the novel, and I don’t like books or movies in which time travel is an important element." Dear Reader, this is NOT one of those reviews where the reviewer says, "I don't like time travel books but I loved this one!" (I originally wrote, "but OMG I loved this one" and then could not, in any, way, shape, or form, imagine Julius Lester OMG'ing.)

Tales from Outer Suburbia moves on; but it wasn't just time travel that worked against When You Reach Me. Quite simply, Lester liked one book more than the other. One book left him exhilarated and eager to read more; and that book, Suburbia, moved on.

And that, Dear Reader, is what happens in a Battle. One book wins; one book does not; and in the end... There Can Be Only One.





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

Please Comment...

To your legislators. Your mayor. Your governor.

This week in blog land was the Library Loving Blog Challenge (details at Writer Jen, the blog of Jennifer Hubbard.) Blogger blog about libraries and as an added bonus, make donations to libraries based on the number of comments they get.

Of course, being a librarian and a blogger, I think this is awesome. And I send a big "thank you."

And I just wanted to add one teeny tiny request.

As you are sharing your library love online, please look into your current public library and its funding situation and see if they need your help. While it may include actual fund raising, the help may also be as simple as your contacting government representatives (local, state, national) to let them know: you use your library.

How to find out more about the budget and funding issues that may impact your local library? Because this can be either a local or state issue, Google and find out what is happening in your state, town, and county and then act! Each state has a library association; find your state's association webpage for resources.

Thanks!!



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

Boys Are Dogs


Boys Are Dogs by Leslie Margolis. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. 2008. Brilliance Audio 2009. Reviewed from audiobook from Brilliance. Narrated by Ellen Grafton.

The Plot: Annabelle has moved to a new house. Because her mother has decided to move in with her new boyfriend. So now she has to go to a new school, a public middle school after years at an all girl's school. Also? Annabelle has a new puppy.

New house, new Mom's boyfriend, new school, new puppy, new friends, new boys. It's a lot to deal with and Annabelle does so -- sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes wholeheartedly, but always with humor and a unique, invidual outlook on life.

The Good: Annabelle is a terrific sixth grader. Boys are Dogs captures that perfect mix of excitement and fear over starting a new school in a new town where you know no one. Sometimes, it all goes wrong, like when the puppy eats Annabelle's back to school clothes. Other times, it all goes right, like when Rachel, a girl her age in her new neighborhood, invites Annabelle to eat lunch with Rachel and her friends. If you don't understand the importance of having someone to eat lunch with on the first day of a new school -- well, I can only assume you never had a first day at a new school.

Annabelle and her mother have always been a tight unit of two; the inclusion of Ted, Mom's boyfriend, is done both realistically but also, well -- in a nice way. While it's not easy and all Brady Bunch at the beginning, how refreshing to have a book where the grownups (Mom and Ted) act like, well, grown ups, thinking of Annabelle. Annabelle may not always agree, such as when she had to move away from her school and her two best friends.

A new school with boys... and this is where the book really kicks into gear. Whether it's because Annabelle had no father or brothers, or went to an all girl school, or is now a sixth grader in middle school (I know some teachers who really dislike middle schools), Annabelle has only just now encountered boys. This is not a book about tween romance. Annabelle is not boy crazy -- and before I continue, not every sixth grade girl is boy crazy and it's nice to see that reality reflected in a book. Sixth graders will like this book; but so, too, will younger kids.

Even if Annabelle wanted a boyfriend, the actions of the boys at this new school hardly scream "date me." They kick her chair, play practical jokes on her, call her Spanabelle and Spaz, hog the science equipment, ruin her homework, and I could go on and on. You know what is great about this book? No one ever says to Annabelle or the reader, "that boy is acting like that because he likes you." Hallelujah to at least one book that doesn't perpetuate the myth, "if a boy is mean or disrespectful it's because he likes you."

Annabelle puts up with it.... at first. But she has a secret weapon. Remember her clothes eating puppy? She's been reading how to train dogs. Annabelle puts two and two together and figures out she can train the boys to act nicer by treating them the way you treat a dog: speak firmly. Be strong. Be a leader. Trust me -- this works, not just for Annabelle, but also for the book. Because what is really happening is not that Annabelle is training boys like dogs; rather, Annabelle is learning to do what we want any child to do, girl or boy: she's learning to be assertive while being polite, to speak up for herself, to be strong, to not be pushed around.

Boys Are Dogs is also honest about friendship. It's a very realistic, sensitive look at Annabelle both finding new friendships and realizing that sometimes old friendships just don't survive a move.

One final honest word: maybe it was because Ellen Grafton did such a good, immediate job of narrating this book. Maybe because I'm over sensitive. But this book got me so mad! Mad at these boys who thoughtlessly treated others poorly. Mad at the teachers who didn't see it and didn't stop it. Oh, I know this is realistic. And I know an important point of this book is Annabelle growing and asserting herself and speaking up. And I know that readers will, hopefully, say to themselves "if someone calls me a name I don't like, I can tell them to stop. If someone teases me, I can stand up for myself."

But still. ARGH. I got so mad!!




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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Seven: Storming the Rhythm

Anita Silvey's choice: The Storm in the Barn or Sweethearts of Rhythm

And the book moving on up is....

But first.

Both of these books involve a marriage of text and illustration; and Silvey takes that element of the books very, very seriously. Talking about the font seriously. Silvey also shows how to write critically about a book; this is not a "bad review," but the best example of a review that examines the various parts of a book, from design to text.

But, most interestingly, Silvey says "I have very strong biases about presenting history to young readers. Unless a work is obviously historical fiction, I prefer for writers to focus on what we believe to be fact—rather than to blend fact and fiction. Because I grew up in a family than never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story, I myself from age three on wanted to know what was true and what was invented—both in my books and in life. I think many young readers, particularly the picture book set, have the same need."

First -- let me point out how Silvey explains states her bias, explains it, and then proceeds.

Second -- I have to say, I agree with much of what Silvey says.

Except that, for me at least, I don't mind the blending of fact and fiction (because, hello, we are talking fiction books!) as long as it's pointed out in end notes to the book. Otherwise, you get to the end and wonder -- what was real? Oh, you can assume perhaps that the child/teen lead character was invented. Figure out that some of the emotions and dialogue are guesses and conjecture. But if a time period is compressed? Figures that never knew each other meet?

Basically -- if a reader was to take a test (or be having a discussion with people they respected) and used their knowledge remembered from the book to answer the test (or engage in intelligent discussion) and it would turn out they were wrong? Because the book mixed fact and fiction? The reader should be told in an endnote.

Of course some things don't need to be explained! "Endnote: this book supposes that King Richard III was a warlock who time traveled to 1925. That is fiction" isn't needed. But to change King Richard's birthyear from 1452 to 1460 and his mother from Cecily Neville to Margaret of Anjou? That should be told.

Anyway.

Who triumphed? The Storm in the Barn, and Silvey nicely acknowledges both Matt Phelan and his team in reaching that decision.













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

Monday, March 22, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Six: Peace or Gifts?

Peace, Locomotion or A Season of Gifts?

That is the question judge Cynthia Kadohata faced. Kadohata speaks frankly about books, explaining that, for her, Peace, Locomotion tells instead of shows: "That’s the age-old problem of telling instead of showing, and it happens too often in what is overall a fine book." In his comment, Jonathan Hunt observes that the problem could be sequelitis; that what was told here was shown in the first book.

As for Gifts, Kadohata observes that Peck succeeds by playing to his own strengths: "It could be that Woodson took more risks than Peck, that he simply knows what he does best, and he did it in A Season of Gifts. But why not do what you do best? It’s a lovely, lovely book and a joy to read. A Season of Gifts it is."

It's a fascinating question, and one that arises often when talking about art. When someone does something well and they do that over and over, they are sometimes accused of not stretching enough, of not moving outside their comfort zone. When someone does do something different -- something risky -- and it fails, they sometimes are given more credit just for trying even if they did not succeed. Frankly, though, many readers don't care about the intent of the artist and want the book, the movie, the song to deliver, whether its what the artist does best or is something new and different. It's nice to see that Peck is rewarded for knowing what he does best, continuing to deliver, and continuing to write excellent books as he does so.

Kadohata does a fab job of giving us a question to mull over on our blogs.



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

Watch This Space


Watch This Space: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces by Hadley Dyer and Marc Ngui. Kids Can Press. 2010. Copy provided by publisher. Online teacher resources.

About: The history and value of public spaces.

The Good: A variety of information, colorfully illustrated with a lot of details, explains what public space is; its value; its multiple uses; and what teens and kids can do for the promotion of public space.

Public space is something that, for many people (not just kids) simply "is." There is a park; there is a sidewalk; there is a bridge with graffiti. Why do we have parks? How long have people had parks? What are some of the purposes public spaces serve? Art, relaxation, escape, sports, cultural events, health. Even design is addressed, along with an exercise on "how to build it" if you were designing a park.

Reading this as budgets are being slashed and cut right and left made me a bit depressed, in all honesty. Many of the concepts, ideas and suggestions are based on public funds and funding. As public money is cut back, the advertisements that Dyer deplores will only increase. While Dyer does not address the connection between mental illness and homelessness (see here and here) she does address other underlying causes of homelessness (such as abuse and addiction); as funding for social programs that address such issues get cut, it's not hard to speculate that the rates of homelessness will increase.

To be glass half full girl, Watch This Space offers important, constructive ideas about getting involved. It encourages and promotes grassroots efforts, which will be all the more valuable as funding goes away. In addition to these terrific ideas and suggestions (such as involvement in library teen advisory groups and government youth commissions), I would have liked Watch This Space to have included concrete resources (links to websites as well as books) about teen advocacy. Librarians, teachers, and parents can put together this information (including local resources) for their students and kids.





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

Friday, March 19, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Five: Marcelo Marching

SLJ made Gary cry! SLJ made Gary cry!

Let me explain.

Today's round at the School Library Journal Battle of the Books:

Marcelo in the Real World versus Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary.

Gary Schmidt decides, pointing out what is fab about each book. It's practically two love letters to the books, plus some pretty fine book reviewing.

For Marching for Freedom: "an astonishing achievement," "visually stunning," "compelling," "powerful," and finally: "Dang, that's good." Gary, Gary, Gary -- this may be about children's books but grown ups read it. It's OK to say "damn."

For Marcelo: "unrelenting," "convincing," "absolutely magnificent stuff." OK, I guess I agree with you on stuff being the better word her in contrast to , well, another word.

The trumping reason as to why one wins and the other doesn't? "If I could only pick one of these to put into the hands of kids everywhere in North America, which one?"

Wow. Gary, this is just a fun contest! It's not about trying to have a bigger impact on American school children than Texas! Dang it, chill. It's OK. Please, don't put such a heavy loud on your shoulders. The responsibility is not yours...

Aw, hell. Gary makes his decision, "And now, I think I’ll go cry for a while."

There's no crying in SLJ Bob, Gary. Here's a tissue.






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

Get It Now: March 2010

The following books were reviewed from ARCs and are being published in March:

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

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

Thursday, March 18, 2010

SLJ Round One, Match Four: Lips or Lost?

Lips Touch, full of kisses and longing and romance and fantasy.

The Lost Conspiracy, the book voted "most likely to be bought by fans of the TV show who cannot be convinced there is no hidden code in the book." (Psst... word on the street if if you read the 1st word twice, then the 2nd, then the 3rd, and so on through the Fib sequence you find the secret to the Island. Don't tell Sawyer)

The Judge: Helen Frost.

The fact that Frost chose The Lost Conspiracy to move on up is really beside the point.

Because here is how Frost ends her decision: "Christina Rossetti has not only rolled over in her grave, but climbed up out of it, and here she comes now, marching down the road with Cactus and Evie. They’re bringing her up to speed on the Internet, blogs, comments. . . . They keep walking, thinking. Where would Kizzy be? With the Beautiful Boy, Jack Husk, of course, but where? They need help. And look—someone is approaching to offer it. Who are these two? Ah…it’s Hathin and Arilou. Arilou is scoping out the cemetery, leading the others right to the young lovers."

Yes. Like any so many readers before (and since), Frost wanted a different ending. And wrote it. And then included characters from RL (real life) and The Lost Conspiracy. Friends, I give you: an alternate ending crossover fanfiction with real person fanfiction. I am just so happy!! If only I had had this example back when Carlie and wrote When Harry Met Bella. Because if Helen Frost does it, it has to be right!

Ahem.

Want to know what else is made of awesomesauce? Frost is such a good sport, she commented over at all our comments to the decision!



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

This Means War

This Means War! by Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. April 2010. Reviewed from Advance Reviewer Copy from publisher. Middle grade.

The Plot: Juliet, ten, has lost her best friend, Lowell. Why? Because Juliet is a girl. Six years of friendship mean nothing, now that Lowell is friends with Tommy and Mike. Boys do boy stuff, she is told, and girls do girl stuff.

GO. AWAY. is the message.

Patsy, Juliet's new friend, isn't afraid of anything. Or anyone. One thing leads to another, and suddenly the boys and girls are challenging each other to see who is better, faster, stronger, braver. No matter the risk. No matter who gets hurt.

The Good: This fifth grade battle of the sexes plays out in October 1962, against the backdrop of Cuban Missile Crisis. Wittlinger lets the reader connect their own dots about the motivations and fears of the various kids and parents. For example, Patsy. Patsy adores her father, but he prefers spending quality time with his son, Patsy's younger brother. Patsy loves her father, is interested in what he is interested he, but he cannot see how a girl would be interested in mechanics and airplanes. Patsy never says that the reason she is driven to best the boys in the challenge is to prove something to herself and her father. Juliet never connects those dots, either. Instead, Wittlinger respects the reader, letting them make this connection.

While this would be a good "fiction and nonfiction" match up with Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone, This Means War is about more than sexism and feminism in the early 1960s.

Yes, Juliet is frustrated at the boys who start drawing lines about what boys like and girls like. Yes, Juliet doesn't see the appeal of giggling over boys, like her older sister Caroline or two girls in school, Annette and Linda. Yes, Patsy's dad echoes these thoughts.

But, Patsy dreams of being a pilot (and, as we know from Almost Astronauts, it wasn't an impossible dream). Other adults voice the belief that it's about what people like, not boys versus girls. And (spoiler alert!), by the end of This Means War, the two groups of boys and girls have gotten to know each other and become one group of friends. Also? This Means War is not critical of those boys who happen to like go carts or those girls who like to dance and giggle about boys. Oh, at the start, Juliet in her unhappiness is critical of Lowell's new friends and of her default friends, Annette and Linda. This changes by the end of the book.

This Means War is not just about the war between two groups of fifth graders; it's the war against prejudices, against fear of change, against the unknown, against oneself. Juliet's parents are at war, with progress and each other. They own a small family grocery store and are losing business to the new supermarkets; money is a frequent topic of argument. Her father is frustrated with the economy and with politics and isn't happy with President Kennedy's leadership.

Meanwhile, there is the Cuban Missile Crisis. In reading historical fiction, especially historical fiction set against the author's own childhood and teen years, I always ask why? Why this time period and not today? Today, there are independent store owners battling for survival (and losing) against chains. Today, there are parents who work and worry about paying bills. Today, on the playground girls and boys sometimes segregate into two groups and battle. And, yes, today, there are still people who think "boys like cars" and "girls like makeup" and don't make allowances for those boys who don't like cars and the girls who do. And yes, today, there are children whose parents are fighting in the military, like some of the children in the book. So why not just set this book in the present?

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a much more defined event than today's always-there threat of terrorism and far-off war. It allows Wittlinger to provide a beginning, middle, and end of the tension and fear the children and their parents experience, providing a much-needed resolution for both Juliet and the reader. At the same time, the reader is left to draw their own parallels between Juliet's experiences and emotions and their own lives in today's world, with terrorist attacks and the ongoing war in the Middle East. Does Juliet hiding beneath her desk to survive a nuclear attack make any more sense than asking children to take off their shoes at airport security?

If at this point you think I've been too spoilery... No. No, I haven't. The boys and girls keep escalating the challenges they give each other, and the danger and risks keep rising. People get hurt and choices have to be made. At the end, can anyone be a winner in a war?



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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SLJ Round One, March Three: Frog versus Percy

What a match-up! Darn that alphabetical order. The Frog Scientist versus Mr. I've Got A Movie and You Don't, aka The Last Olympian.

The Judge who has to decide between the smarties and the populars? Candace Fleming.

So, was there a JUMP to win? Or an OLYMPIC sized win?

Alas, science no longer triumphs over myth -- one interpretation of yesterday's selection. Yes, my friends, Fleming has made my niece and nephew happy by selecting their favorite, Percy Jackson.

Tho honestly speaking? Niece is now a total fangirl of the Warriors, and had that been in the running that would have been her pick.

No, not this warriors:



The CAT warriors.

Point.

Fleming does a terrific job of advocating for each book; and if someone had not read either one before now, especially if that someone was me, now they would be tracking down copies to start finding out more about frogs and Roman zombies. It's pretty clear that Fleming realized what a tough choice she had; it had to come down to something, some reason to pick one and not the other. For her, the reason for picking Percy Jackson was....

...

...

...
...

click thru to the SLJ BOB site to find out.


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

Incarceron


Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Books. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from ALA Midwinter.

The Plot: Finn, seventeen, is a prisoner in Incarceron. A prison created generations ago, a prison that runs itself so needs no guards, a prison so large that no one knows all its secrets. Rumors and myths exist of one person, Sapphique, who escaped to Outside.

Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. The technology that created Incarceron is almost lost, because of the Protocol to create a Tudorish time period for the world to live in and freeze time at that moment. She is to marry the heir to the kingdom, but finds that the politics and machinations of her world includes lost heirs and conspiracies she doesn't fully understand.

Finn finds a Key. Claudia finds a Key. He wants a way Outside; and she is looking for answers in Incarceron.

The Good: Catherine Fisher does not disappoint!

The dual stories of Finn and Claudia twin each other; both prisoners, Finn literally, and Claudia a prison to her familial expectations. Both have pasts they don't quite understand. Finn is "cell born," with no true memories of his life before three years past when he awoke in a cell. Claudia is the Warden's daughter, with a mother never mentioned; she has been groomed to wed the Prince, the heir to the kingdom.

And Incarceron -- a prison unlike any other. Prisoners, descendants of those who first were condemned to Incarceron, live knowing Incarceron is always watching; it needs no guards. Sometimes the inmates are left to their fights and schemes and battles, other times it interferes to keep some type of order. Imagine dumping criminals into a prison and locking the door? Yes, it turns out about as well as you would imagine. Interestingly enough, Incarceron was created to be a paradise, to contain those the world did not want but not to punish. Whether it's peoples natures that cannot be changed, or that Incarceron operates outside its initial programming, the fact remains -- Incarceron is a hell of survival and brutality.

The Outside world is "frozen" in time, under the belief that somehow, by stopping progress, by removing fear of future, all will be well. While Fisher names no specific time, the descriptions seem to be that of the Tudor world, including the politics and double dealing of the Tudor court. One wonders if the person who selected that time only looked at paintings of castles and lush outfits and ignored the history of double-dealings, betrayals, and constant struggle for power.

Because there are two narratives, two stories, there is a fairly large cast of characters. Each one is fully drawn; very real; and I have to say, while Finn and Claudia are the main charactes, the two I really love are Finn's oathbrother, Keiro, and another of his companions, Attia. Keiro is charming and brutal, yet dedicated and loyal to Finn. Oh, I'll just admit it.... Keiro is the ultimate bad boy! And while Finn asserts some bad boy cred himself -- he has been living with a criminal band, so is no angel -- he just doesn't come across as the bad boy. Attia is loyal, also, to Finn, almost pure in her loyalty.

From the moment Claudia mentions a lost heir, who went missing at the same time Finn found himself in Incarceron, one begins to connect the dots. Finn has flashes of memory, memories that seem to match the lost Prince. But is he the lost Prince? Is Claudia looking to save Finn, or using him to save herself from a marriage to the younger brother of the lost Prince?

So many questions. So many secrets. So many surprises. Too many -- because there are only some answers, some reveals. While Incarceron's ending is satisfying and I would not call it a cliffhanger, it does leave the reader hanging and wanting more.

My reviews of Fisher's other work have noted Fisher's use of myths and legends. Incarceron uses existing myths and legends, yes ... Three Fates and Alice in Wonderland both are mentioned... but Fisher has created her own mythology and world. There are the beliefs of the prisoners of Incarceron, including the legends of Sapphique; and the beliefs and history of the world Outside.

Another favorite book of 2010! See sidebar. Wow, that list is growing fast.



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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Reviewer Bingo: I WIN

Playing Book Reviewer Bingo?

I'll make it easy for you.

SLOTAT is a beautifully written, powerful young adult novel is compelling in its artistry, a true tour de force of comic elements combined with heartfelt drama. It's John Green meets Lurlene McDaniel, with humor and angst. The main characters, Amy and Ricky, are nuanced and fully realized. The sweeping depiction of teen parenthood is pitch-perfect, unflinching in its portrayal of teen sexuality. It is truly thought-provoking as it examines modern day families and friendships. The lyrical language of SLOTAT is at once readable and riveting. Despite Amy getting pregnant her first time having sex, and Ricky's bad boy background, SLOTAT is cliche free. It is also timely, reflecting current stories of pregnant teens in the news. In the tradition of "message books," this haunting story of people struggling to do the right thing is unputdownable. At times, the plots were simply stunning, if not epic. A riveting tale for any reader. That said, your Twilight fans may not want something this gritty.

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

SLJ Round One, Match Two: Calpurnia on Fire

You'd think this would be obvious. In one corner, tween wannabe scientist Calpurnia Tate. In the other, Fire, a human monster with a side talent of mind control.

But Callie has spunk. And she's dealt with brothers. Multiple brothers. Plus a girl who doesn't want to cook or sew? Some may think that makes her a bad role model... but it's the type of role model that WINS HER ROUND OF BOB, BABY!

Nancy Farmer makes a tough choice. No doubt about it. But she not only has the guts to make that tough choice -- she also is unapologetic about why.

Are you sitting down?

No, really. Are you sitting down?

On Fire and why it lost: "It reads like a science fiction book, and that is a genre that depends on ideas rather than character. Even for a YA, though, Fire contained a great deal of violence, torture, mutilation and rape. I found the story depressing. If there had been one good friendship or love affair I could have forgiven it, but everyone seemed to suffer all the time. Fire should probably have been paired with another YA novel."

Whatever you do, don't send Farmer a copy of Tender Morsels. Meanwhile, violence, torture, mutilation, rape? Fire just jumped to the top of my "read it now" pile!



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

ALA Elections

It's that time of year!

ALA Elections. Voting ends April 23; and results are announced April 30.*

I am running for the NonFiction Committee; that is, the Committee that selects the YALSA Award for Excellence In Nonfiction for Young Adults. I am really excited about this opportunity to run for this Committee!

Here are the slates for YALSA and ALSC:

YALSA's 2010 Slate of Candidates

ALSC's 2010 Slate of Candidates

And, also, YALSA Members running for ALA Councilor at Large.

If you click through, you will recognize quite a few names from around the blogosphere.

And if you're here because you're looking up information on candidates and found me and my blog, welcome!




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

Monday, March 15, 2010

SLJ BoB, Round One, Match One: Charles v Claudette

And SLJ's Battle of the Books begins with a non-fiction versus non-fiction brawl: Charles and Emma take on Claudette Colvin. The decision-maker? Jim "Truce" Murphy.

And the winner of this round, after much rereading by Mr. Murphy? Why, it's evolution, baby, evolution.

My two fave parts about Mr. Murphy's decision:

His initial description of the triumphant Charles and Emma (CharlMa? Emles? If these two are advancing, we need to decide!): "Get over it you rich twits! There are people out there who are really suffering!” My confession, now. In reading Charles and Emma, especially doing so after watching The Hanging Gale, I kept wondering what CharlMa thought about the Irish Famine and Catholics. And then put aside that and read the book. An important thing... to read the book in front of you.

Mr. Murphy's observations of Claudette reminded me of questions raised recently by Colleen at Chasing Ray: "Claudette’s first-person accounts (gathered when she was an adult) present her fifteen-year-old self with immediacy and passion; but I kept feeling this youthful view needed more analysis and introspection from her adult self to make this more than a one note story (as important as that story is)."

So, one member of Team NonFiction advances! Go CharlMa, Go CharlMa, Go!


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

Peace, Locomotion


Peace, Locomotion by Jaqueline Woodson. Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Books. 2009. Brilliance Audio 2009. Reviewed from audiobook from Brilliance. Narrated by Dion Graham. Sequel to Locomotion.

The Plot: Lonnie Collins Motion, "Locomotion," is in sixth grade. He lives with his foster mother, Miss Edna; is adjusting to life with a new teacher who informs him he cannot call himself an poet until he's published a book; and tries to keep his close relationship with his younger sister, Lili, who lives in a different foster home.

The Good: I have never read Locomotion, the story of Lonnie as a fifth grader, who finds his voice, his confidence, his love of writing as a student to a gifted teacher at the same time that he deals with the aftermath and grief of the fire that killed his parents and orphaned himself and his sister. So, all I can say, is in this book I fell head over heels for Lonnie.

Lonnie and his younger sister, Lili, live in two different foster homes. The first reason I fell in love with this story? Both foster families love and care for their foster children. Both children love their foster families -- Lili more easily, Lonnie having more difficulty acknowledging to himself that Miss Edna and her sons, Rodney and Jenkins, are now his family and that is OK.

The second reason? Lonnie and Lili maintaining a close, sibling relationship even though they are in separate homes and families.

Next to love is Rodney and Jenkins, Miss Edna's two grown sons. Rodney lives at home and affectionately calls Lonnie "little brother" and is an awesome big brother. Jenkins is a soldier in the war. During the course of the book, he is first missing in action and later found, injured, and returns home not quite the person he was. Jenkins' path from injured to rejoining his family is not an easy one.

While there are dark things in these books -- the deaths of Lonnie and Lili's parents, the separation of the children, a thoughtless teacher, Jenkins' injuries -- there is never darkness. Love and peace, in words, actions, and thoughts, shines through.

Graham's narration brings Lonnie to life; his hopes, his fears, his dreams, his every day sixth grader life balanced with his concerns and love for Lili and their future.






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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Life Unexpected


Life Unexpected. CW. TV series. Monday nights. On TV now, I'm sure there will be DVD this summer.

The Plot: Lux, 15, is a foster child who wants to emancipate herself so seeks out her birth parents. They turn out to be young thirtysomethings who haven't seen each other since high school: Baze, now a struggling bar owner, Cate, a radio personality. Instead of emancipating Lux, the judge awards custody to Baze and Cate.

The Good: First, put aside the "but wait! would a white infant, even one with health issues, really be left in foster care her whole life? but wait! is it really that easy to track down your birth parents? but wait! everyone still lives in the same town?" Also put aside that even a regular name like Cate is spelled, well, in a unique way.

These three struggle with their new, unwanted yet welcomed, roles: Lux as wanted child, Baze as father, Cate as mother. Welcomed, but with absolutely no preparation, no training, no anything. Imagine becoming not just a parent, but a parent of a seemingly independent teen. Imagine yearning for independence (in part because no one ever wanted you) to being a dependent teen with the first two people who didn't want you. Add to it that these two parents are constantly fighting with each other and now in the mix is who can be your "better" parent. That is enough to watch this show, to see Baze, Cate and Lux work through these issues with a mixture of maturity and immaturity, selfishness and grace, wisdom and naivete.

The reason I watch it, though, is I'm fascinated by the road Cate is traveling. The smart, nerdy high school girl at the school dance who ends up losing her virginity to the popular football star. Of course she ends up pregnant. And of course he refuses to do anything, refuses to even to acknowledge a relationship. Fast forward these fifteen or so years and guess what? Baze is still a total asshole to her about it! In talking about that encounter -- about their time in high school -- he paints her as the ugly girl.

Cate is now outwardly successful but with issues. Issues of trust, and self confidence, and what it means to love and be loved. Cate had managed to live with (and ignore) these issues because she had confidently left the past in the past. The boy who had hurt her terribly? Never to be seen again. The child she carried? Given up for adoption and a better life. Except now she discovers that not only did Lux not get a better life -- Cate now has to have Baze back in her life. Reminding her every day of her mistakes and her past.

Part of Cate's success is her engagement to Ryan, her radio co-host. Problem is, when Baze reappeared, there was a night after a fight with Ryan when Baze and Cate slept together. While I understand why Cate did this, Ryan cannot.

What I don't like about the show, and am struggling with: part of the radio-persona for Cate and Ryan was that Ryan was the good guy and Cate the whiny, insecure single gal. Every possible worst stereotype of desperate slutty girl was thrown at her for a while.

Also? Baze is a good father under the traditional requirements of good fatherhood: he breathes, shows up half the time, and has good intentions. For all these, he, his daughter, his friends, society, applaud him. Cate is measured also by the traditional requirements of good motherhood. I'm sure you can all guess what they are and how she fails.

Frankly, those gender stereotypes are enough to almost make me give up on the show. Even if they are real, and we see and hear and read them every day.

But... But Lux is so engaging, so smart and hopeful, I want more of her story. Cate is so real, and my heart bleeds for her, and I want her to go to a therapist and work out how just because people hurt her doesn't mean she always have to be damaged. Ryan plays the role of Good Guy and I want to see him become more nuanced, more understanding, and less a white knight. And Baze? I want to see someone call Baze on his immaturity and hurtful actions and for him to actually listen.







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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Oh My Pretty

. Bass Shoes.

I love them.

Thus far have only worn with jeans.

Any other fashion suggestions? I am also looking for just the right socks to go with.









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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Teaser: Stranded


Stranded by J.T. Dutton. HarperTeen. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Publication date June 2010.

With great reluctance, fifteen year old Kelly Louise and her mother are leaving Des Moines for her mother's hometown of Heaven, Ohio.

Kelly Louise -- named for Tina Louise, of Gilligan's Island fame -- tells of being dragged back to the small town her teen mother escaped from years ago, to live with her cleaning-obsessed Nana and religion-obsessed cousin Natalie. Natalie, fifteen, seems to love unicorns and Jesus equally. Her mother promises it's just temporary, but it's the middle of the school year! It's going to be that much harder for Kelly Louise to get a boyfriend.

Kelly Louise tells this story; and her voice makes this fresh and different; she's funny and amusing, self-centered and a drama queen, and, like Lola from Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Alice from Alice, I Think, you're going to alternate between cringing, laughing, and loving her.

But there is a seriousness to this novel; a gravity. Because Heaven is best known for the recent news story about Baby Grace, an infant abandoned in a cornfield.

Dutton's story of the unthinkable -- a baby left to die -- is told against a setting of lost family farms, alcoholism, and second generations of teen pregnancies. Kelly Louise's voice brings humor, and she thinks of herself, first, most of the time. But she also thinks about Baby Grace, and family secrets, and what it means to do the right thing.


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.


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

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Conspiracy of Kings


A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. April 2010. Young Adult. Fourth in The Queen's Thief (aka Attolia) series. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Sophos is the unlikely heir to the King of Sounis. He knows he's not really fit to be heir; he actually hopes his uncle marries and has a child so that Sophos no longer has to worry about disappointing his family, his country, his friends.
Unfortunately, other people have plans for Sophos. Wars have made the country and and its governance unstable, so rebels plot to kidnap Sophis and make him a puppet king. Things don't go quite as planned and Sophos finds himself somewhere he never thought he'd be. Can he ever be more than a pawn in a conspiracy of kings?

The Good: You all know how much I adore this series; I've reviewed all three of the first books in this series, and yes, spoilers: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia.

To those who have not yet read this series: please do. You will not be disappointed. The characters are rich and fully drawn; the plotting is exquisite; the themes are serious; there is humor, adventure, love, and serious questions about politics, war, loyalty.

And, also? There will be spoilers in this review for the prior three books. So if you haven't read those three books and not being spoiled matters to you (and it doesn't to some readers), stop reading. And seriously, folks, I've been asking you for months to read the first three. So no excuses.

Turner continues to both deliver what fans expect (Eugenides, plot twists, Gen, characters who are three steps ahead of everyone, Gen) and also to do what is unexpected, keeping the series and her writing fresh. Here, after giving us a glimpse of what we want (Gen! Gen! Gen!) we are instead given Sophos. It's his story; and half the time he tells it, directly, first person; and part of the time, it's third person. The switch affects the reading, from automatic sympathy with Sophos to being a bit more removed, a bit more objective.

Remember how in The King of Attolia we were told that Sophos had disappeared after having been abducted by rebels? In A Conspiracy of Kings, we find out what happened to Sophos and why it takes him so long to reappear.

And reappear Sophos does -- older, wiser (sometimes), tougher (sometimes). At one point, early in his journey, he thinks: "I screamed at them every curse I'd ever practiced when I was alone, trying to imitate The Thief of Eddis, but I doubt I sounded anything but hysterical." At which point I thought, asking yourself "what would Eugenides do" can be a good (if very, very scary) thing. And I totally want that on a T-shirt. (Hey, I think I know what T-shirt I want to make to wear to ALA Annual!)

A Conspiracy of Kings has more of the feel of a traditional young adult book than the previous two books. First, Sophos is younger than Gen (or at least acts like it!); second, this book is as much about coming of age as it is about politics, war, and leadership. Gen may have hid things from the reader and had his own issues of loyalty and choice and free will, but at all times Gen was Gen. Sophos must become Sophos.

Sophos is struggling with following his fate as the heir of Sounis; and, later, struggles with what it means to be a leader, a ruler, a king. He has to figure out what is right for him and what is right for his country and whether he can have both. Sophos has to work towards being a respected equal of the Eddis and Attolia. And isn't that classic young adult? Working towards adulthood by actions and choices, rather than age?

The Queen's Thief series is, on one level, a helluva good read, pulling the reader along on a roller coaster journey with twists, turns, revelations, endearing characters. You get to the end, and want to go on the ride again -- and discover to your joy that it's even better than the first time, now that you know what is happening and why you can appreciate just how it is told (or, in some cases, not told).

On another level, The Queen's Thief has much more depth than "just" an adventure story, "just" a fully realized fantasy world. It is a brilliant look at politics. Which, believe me, is very interesting -- the duplicity of court, the wars, the smiling face hiding anger or hatred, power, prestige, independence, risks, ambassadors, never knowing who to trust.

Highly recommended for all ages. Of course it's a favorite book read in 2010 (see sidebar).



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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stitches


Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. W.W. Norton & Co. 2009.

About: David Small's childhood. As a young boy, he senses the unhappiness and secrets around him. At fourteen, he has an operation to remove a cyst. The aftermath involves scars and loss of voice. And loss of innocence, what is left, when he later discovers that the repeat X-rays given him by his radiologist father to cure various ailments caused the cancer.

The Good: In an interview with David Small at Smith, Small says "Ours may be the last generation to carry on the traditions of selfish, silent, confused and confusing behavior in our family."

The reader is introduced to the secrets of the Small family as six year old David visits his Grandmother. First we hear of her tough life; we meet her and find out she's not a sweet Grandma. Why are such secrets kept? Such silent pacts maintained? Fear? Shame? Or is it a twisted selfishness, because it seems easier to keep those secrets?

The ultimate combination of secrets and silence is the surgery on Small, for cancer, though its a year before he's told this. Literally silenced by the surgery (and accordingly silenced by his father, as it's the radiation treatments from the father that causes the cancer), Small has no avenue for his anger. Anger at his surgery and physical limitations, and anger at a mother who takes her unhappiness out in silence and slammed doors, and anger at a father who disappears into work and office. Scarred by their inactions and words, literally carrying the scar on his body.

Small is sent to boarding school and runs away; psychiatric help is advised, and, reluctantly and angrily his parents send him. It turns out to be the single best thing they ever done for their son, because it saves him.

At the end, even though Small has survived, and found art, and made a life for himself, there is a profound sense of sadness. Sadness for the child and teen David, who was failed by his family. Sadness for his mother, whose own mother was clearly mentally ill, who had ongoing physical problems from a birth defect (her heart was literally in the wrong place), who is a closeted lesbian. Sadness for his father, who did not mean to harm his child, yet almost caused his death; stuck in a marriage that will never bring happiness. As for Small's brother, he is practically a ghost in this book, not really present. Perhaps that is how Small felt as a child; or perhaps it is because this is a memoir, not an autobiography, and Small feels it's not his place to tell his brother's story.

While there is sadness for his parents... never does my pity trump the simple fact that both these adults failed their child. Failed in the lies they kept, and the silences, which in turn created a life and home with no emotional safety. Others can go into the art of this book better than I; but for me, part of the reason this story is so devastating and intimate is that it is told with pictures more than words.

What else? I love the idea of young David putting a yellow towel on his head and pretending to be Alice in Wonderland. Forget bibliotherapy where a book about an unhappy child is given to an unhappy child; the real escape for unhappy children is books like Alice in Wonderland. Books of fancy, adventure, fantasy, empowerment, escape.

This is a book for adults; older teens will also get a lot out of it. Because (to me) the heart of this story is about the parent/child relationship, I'm not sure how much younger or immature teens will get out of this. Too young, and all they will have is anger at the parents. Too young, and they may not understand that there are really people who live this way.

Stitches video:



As you recall, it was this video that made me want to read this book.


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

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Behind the Curtain


Behind the Curtain: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams. HarperCollins. 2006. I don't remember where I got my copy; probably the library. This review originally ran at the The Edge of the Forest.

Ingrid Levin-Hill, the mystery solving middle school student from Down The Rabbit Hole, returns in this sequel. This time around, the intrepid Ingrid finds herself in the middle of a mystery or two when she wonders about her brother's Ty moodiness and her new business associate that may be putting her father's job in jeopardy. Ingrid does what she does best – takes action! – and soon finds herself the victim of a kidnapping attempt. If only she knew who was behind it.

Behind the Curtain is a great mystery; there's no ghosts and the mysteries are ones that affect Ingrid, her friends and family – possible illegal steroid sales, shady business deals, a suspicious soccer accident. Ingrid remains a real treat; she's resourceful, gutsy, and hardworking; but she's also been known to sleep late and goof off in class.

Sixty years ago, Nancy Drew had the freedom to solve mysteries because Mom was dead and her father indulgent; Ingrid's freedom comes from two working parents. Yes, they love her; yes, the care about her; but there are bills to pay, jobs to keep, houses to sell; and while Ingrid is scheduled (soccer practice, play rehearsals, sleepovers) she also has the freedom to bike around town. Her parent's inability to pick her up on time is a running joke, allowing Ingrid the opportunity to sneak into janitor's offices and overhear suspicious things, all while still being chauffeured by Mom or Dad.

This is the second book in the Echo Falls series; and both books have stand alone mysteries. Yet, it's not all open and shut; Ty's odd behavior, the basis for one of Ingrid's investigations, was first mentioned in Down the Rabbit Hole; and Behind the Curtain does leave some questions unanswered, such as what exactly did Gramps do in the war? And why are so many people eager for the family to sell the farm? Is a new strip mall or McMansion development that important? I can't wait for the third book to find out what Ingrid is up to next – and to see if any of these questions get answered.

Edited to add: Book Three is Into the Dark (Echo Falls Mystery).


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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Before I Fall


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. HarperCollins. 2010. ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Samantha Kingston, 17. A typical Friday: laughing with friends, getting her due as one of the most popular seniors at high school, big plans with her boyfriend. It all ends in screeching brakes and pain -- a car accident. Sam is dead.

Except she wakes up and it's Friday again. And again. And again.

What happened? Why is she reliving her last day? Can she change anything about her life and her death?


The Good: Well, I may have a hard time with including all the quotes I want to because this has already been passed on to a teen who wants books that make her cry. A seventeen year old, dying over and over, who spends one of her days giving her eight year old sister a perfect day? OF COURSE I cried.

First things first. Sam is a bitch. No, really. She and her friends (Lindsay, Ally, Elody) are the four popular girls at school, laughing, best friends, having fun, and, oh yes -- sometimes making the lives of others hard. Why? Because. Because they can. Because it's something to do.

Dear Blog Reader, I hated Sam and her friends from the start. On page 5, Sam explains that "[t]here's always going to be a person laughing and somebody getting laughed at. It happens everyday, in every town in America. Probably the world, for all I know. The whole point of growing up is learning to stay on the laughing side." And by page 65, Sam was still justifying her meanness: "[i]t's like high school holds two different worlds, revolving around each other and never touching: the haves and the have-nots. I guess it's a good thing. High school is supposed to prepare you for the real world, after all."

Somehow, though, as the second day rolled around, Sam and her girlfriends grew on me. Part of it is that with each repeated day, Sam becomes more self-aware of herself, her world, her actions. Part of it is that often the girls were fun and funny and supportive of each other, to the point that you wanted to sit all four down and say, "you don't have to be so mean and cruel and thoughtless to others."

Let's be clear about one thing: the point is NOT why these girls are mean. Reasons are given, but it's hardly the A storyline in part because to make it too important gives them an excuse. What I like is that Sam doesn't obsess much about her inner child who is so afraid of being laughed at that she is the first to laugh at others -- instead, she moves to action and trying to figure out if in one short day she can undo, or fix, or help the damage she has done.

So yes, Sam starts as a bitch. But she changes. By living that day over and over, she is given the chance to grow up enough to leave that persona, that face, behind. It's gutsy, I think, for Oliver to have made Sam and company so casually cruel at times. It's true; but it's also hard to read, and your heart bleeds for those they hurt and you hope that more Sams stop inflicting their thoughtless hurts. It's gutsy, even thought it is true, because I'm sure there are some readers who may not hang in there for the whole story and Sam's own redemption.

Other things I liked: there is that "so cool and hot and young and kinda flirty" teacher. You know the one. The one that immature teens think is cool and hot.... and everyone else knows is pathetic because the teacher looks to teens for friendship and acceptance? LOVED Sam's journey in realizing he is that type of cool teacher.

There is also a love story... imagine falling for a guy and then waking up the next morning and its not the next morning, it's the same day, so that "almost kissing"? Never happened, almost or no.
And, of course, I loved what she could and could not change in her repeat days.


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

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