Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta: Down Under Down-to-Upper

The Piper's Son
Melina Marchetta (ARC - Official release March 2011).
Candlewick: Boston. ISBN 978-0-7636-4758-2

In this follow up to Saving Francesca, five years have passed since Thomas Mackee became friends with Frankie Spinelli and the other girls from St. Sebastians. Following the tragic death of his uncle in the London terrorist attacks and subsequent implosion of his family, Tom has grown apart from the group in a downward spiral of self-medication and self-loathing. Kicked out of his apartment, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt Georgie, equally distraught over the death of her brother and fighting her own demons. Tom can’t forget his feelings for one of the girls in particular, or forgive himself for how he left things with her. But just as Tom starts to get back on his feet, working in a pub and playing music with his old friends, his alcoholic father returns and moves into Georgie’s too, and Tom and Georgie are forced to face some of their demons and try to move forward. This beautifully written story is much more adult than Marchetta’s earlier works, if only because our protagonists themselves are adults. Her themes of love, friendship, forgiveness, and recovery are prevalent but don’t feel forced. She has crafted a gorgeously tangible tragicomic world with realistically troubled but inherently lovable characters. Best for older teens and adults. Can be read as a stand-alone, but having read Saving Francesca makes the change in Tom all the more poignant.
And now I gush: This book is bloody brilliant. I mean, pretty much everything Melina Marchetta has written falls into the bloody brilliant family. But my gosh. It is gorgeous, filled with comedy, rage, fear, heartbreak, and ultimately love at the heart of it all. This story doesn’t feel phony or even plotted, nor do the personal tragedies large (London terrorist attack, Vietnam, cheating, out of wedlock kids) and small feel contrived as plot devices to make us emote. Rather, it’s as though these characters are really out there, wandering the streets of Sydney, pulling pints at the pub, playing music, taking their kids to the park, going grocery shopping. It makes my heart sing, and makes me want to call up my friends and tell them how wonderful they are, and then get them to read this book so we can talk about it. You might say I loved it, and you might be right. Fans of some of Marchetta’s earlier stuff will enjoy a squee-worthy shout out to a certain other book. I totally did a reading triple take, and then proceeded to giggle for about ten minutes. Loved it! There really isn’t much else to say, except please keep writing, Melina Marchetta. I will keep reading for as long as you keep writing. And then I will keep foisting your books off on others in the hopes that they will love your books as much as I do. It’s a win win for both of us! Also, if you come to Boston to promote this book, my fangirl heart may not survive the excitement. BUT DO IT ANYWAYS. I cannot wait to make this book a member of my super cool First Editions Shelf. March 2011, you cannot come soon enough!

* As an afterthought three days after writing this, I'd like to give some serious kudos to Melina Marchetta for what she's done here. As much as I love revisiting old characters, I'd rather revisit said old characters in a completely new context. Sure, it felt lovely that we get to know that Frankie & family are great, the girls are all doing well, and that the boys minus Trombal are not so great. Sad face. BUT. Well played on not rehashing every little thing, constructing a completely new story, showing that theirs is a friendship that lasts the test of time, and giving us even more closure. The only thing remaining unsorted is Jimmy Hallier. What's up with him? DO I SMELL A SEQUEL TO THE SEQUEL (pleaseohpleaseohplease?)??

Case of the terribles: the universe called to say happy birthday.

Naturally, I picked up. Friday was my birthday. The universe was all about my birthday, thoughtfully scheduling the Harry Potter 7 release for my special special day. But then. BUT THEN. As I was tidying up the library, about to head out to go see my magical high school dropout friends, I came across a folded up note which quite possibly could be called the best thing I've ever found abandoned in a library ever. I should preface by saying I was really sad when I stopped working in a children's room mostly because I thought my days of finding weird yet wonderful notes from the weird yet wonderful minds of children were over. But no. The teens have stepped up the game and the wit. Behold, the best thing I've ever found in a library ever:

Universe, I dare you to outdo this.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blink and Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones: Canada - Land of Adventure, eh?

Blink and Caution,  
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press ARC - Publication date March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3983-9

Blink and Caution are two invisible Canadian runaways living rough in Toronto. Blink, actually homeless, has run from his abusive family and finds himself living day to day, surviving by playing The Breakfast Game, or sneaking into hotels to eat leftover room service. A fateful round of the Breakfast Game game leads Blink to witness what appears to be a crime, and leaves him chasing lose ends and a photo of the alleged victims daughter. Caution has been living running from her own demons and living with a drug dealing older boyfriend. She realizes he's cheating and makes off with his stash of money. Both on the run, the two meet when one robs the other but has a change of heart. It's not long before these two are reliant upon each other when they find themselves in cottage country Canada in this fast paced, high stakes adventure. Tim Wynne-Jones makes us feel their pain, shame, and pride in being strong enough to run away, but shows us they need to be lost to help each other find themselves. This Canadian thriller has a surprising ending, and is best for teens aged 13 and up for mild sexual references, business lingo, and some philosophical soul-searching.

While I enjoyed reading this book, I thought it would be a lot crazier in the action/adventure department so I'm in turn pleased but not extraordinarily enthused. Except about the Canada parts...which I will get to. I think it's because the stakes seem high until they are laid out and because SPOILER ALERT: nobody gets hurt at all. It's more a story of kids with nothing and nothing to lose finding themselves; like I said in the review proper, these lost kids needed to lose themselves to find themselves and recover from their respective pasts.
I personally enjoyed the Canadian scenery; as an alumni of a certain university in Kingston, Ontario, I spent a goodly portion of the first half of the book eagerly awaiting their arrival. Having lived there in fall and winter, I assure you that when Tim Wynne-Jones describes the desolate color of the sky ("The sky over Kingston looks like someone stuck a giant syringe into it and sucked out all the color," p 181), he is not exaggerating. Nor is he exaggerating when he describes the location of the Sleepless Goat and the Army Navy Surplus! It was like strolling down memory lane. Snaps for your invocation of vivid walks down Princess, Senior Wynne-Jones! You saved me a seven hour car ride and a trip through customs!

All in all, this is a fun book and while it may not be for everyone (judging from the somewhat anticlimcatic yet satisfying climax), it would be best for the 7th-9th grade crew (some mild sexuality and the need to understand why someone would choose to be lost required), and may be sellable to the type who only reads thrillers.

Book Talk Hook: Read the passage about Blink sneaking up to the lodge at the tail end of Chapter 29 - cliffhanger!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Apocalypse NOW! The Joshua Files: Invisible City

The Joshua Files: Invisible City. M.G. Harris (July 20, 2010).
Walker & Co: NY. ISBN: 9780802720955.
ARC Copy from ALA Midwinter 2010.

Josh may be just your average English schoolboy, but his dad is a renowned Mexican archaeologist working on finding a lost ancient Mayan scroll foretelling the end of the world in 2012. But when he is killed in a very suspicious plane crash on a fact finding mission in Mexico, Josh is left with more questions than answers about his father’s work, his dealings with a beautiful young woman in Mexico, and most importantly, about whether or not the crash was actually an accident. Josh sets off to find the answers to his questions in Mexico with two of his friends, but things get fishy almost immediately and he is separated from them and on the run for his life in the Mexican jungle. Josh discovers not only what his father was looking, but also a city lost to the known world deep in the Mexican jungle, and more shockingly that his family is deeply entwined in the prophecy regarding the end of the world in 2012. This story is an adrenaline filled adventure with a several jolting pensive moments, and is peppered with interesting historical facts about Mayan civilization (like how to read hieroglyphs) and fun sci-fi twists. It is recommended for boys in grades 5-8, particularly series readers, as this appears to be the first of at least two (The Joshua Files).

I procured my ARC copy of this book back in January at ALA’s midwinter, when the pub date of May 2010 seemed a long way off. And look at todays date, when I am finally posting the review I just wrote. Well played, madam. Since I figured I needed to read more books clearly marketed to boys, it was the first in my giant stack I picked up, and I was actually pleasantly surprised, largely because the writing, unlike many of the boy market generated books, is actually pretty solid, and the story, while somewhat predictable at points, manages to feel original and exciting! The author isn’t afraid to shock his readers; I actually got a little teary after the loss of a certain character. Allegedly. With 2012 and the predicted end of the world around the corner, I think this is a fun book to pick up, and easy to sell to boys of the upper elementary/middle school years. Mostly, I really want to see the real cover. My ARC cover promises me that the “final cover will include special effect.” Like WHAT. Because magpie that I am, I like me some shiny things, Walker & Co.!

In related but not news, while going to post this, I discovered that it is not actually coming out until July 20th, and that the author is in fact a woman. To which I say well played, because I really thought that with the way this character thinks and talks, said androgynously named M.G. Harris did not possess a Y chromosome. Well played Lady Harris! Finally – what is up with the new cover? The art is really gorgeous...but my ARC cover is much more cool grown up thriller book looking. Behold:

If you are an eleven year old boy trying to look cool, which are you going to pick up? I think my point makes itself. But more importantly: Where are those promised special effects?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I need a hair cut

I have recently begun a project at work to film our book talks to help kids choose which books (from off of our 71 page summer reading list) to read for summer reading. It is a slightly more personalized way to get an idea or feeling about a book. Great idea, right? I KNOW. That's why I thought of it!

Except one small problem. I am now on the interwebs. And high def is unforgiving. And now I am well aware that the back of my head has hair that is doing crazy gravity-defying things. Today's book talk(s) for Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, made this sad fact abundantly clear. Also, now you can make fun of my acting skillz. Or lack thereof.

Moral of the story: I need a hair cut (or them all cut, right Popstar?).

It only took three months!

I have been meaning to post these since the dawn of time. Lies. Really though, since February 23rd, whence I first actually wrote them. SO. Here are some very brief annotations for two books. This was done for my work summer reading list. Liked later, and was impressed by the writing skillz on the first...but I'll just say that I really only recommend one of them. The one I liked. That is all.

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn

On a small island nation that reveres the English nation, tragedy strikes when a sign with the country motto “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” begins to loose its letters. With each fallen letter banned from being spoken or written under the fear of banishment or death, the islanders are in a race to find a new motto including every letter in the English language – before they are silenced all-together!

(Good for high schoolers who can appreciate the wordplay and/or are learning about exile).

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

A young man sets off on a quest into the walled off world of Faerie to find a fallen star for his beloved, who has promised him a kiss if he brings it back to her. This new fairy tale is filled with adventure, humor, danger, romance, wit, and magic; in short, just what every non-Grimm fairy tale needs!

(Fun! Fun! I love fairy tales! Great for 8th-10th graders and older; some sexytimes if that is a concern for you. Probs an easier sell to girls than boys, but the added perk of a movie may sway reluctant readers.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Most Grevious Library Errors

I found this in my school library catalog while trying to help a student find a book on Edward Hopper. There was a double take, stunned silence, mad cackling, and then a rapid email to coworkers. Wethinks the ISBN # was wrong. BUT MY GOSH. What a magnificent error.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly: Charles Darwin v. Texas

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Jacqueline Kelly (2009).
Henry Holt: NY. ISBN:

It is 1899 in Texas, where Calpurnia V. Tate, 12 years old and the only girl in a family with as many children as there are days in a week, begins a scientific journey into the natural world when she starts to take note of the wildlife in her yard. Nobody can tell her why animals behave in certain ways, and she is directed to her gruff and reclusive Granddaddy, who challenges her to figure it out on her own. When she does, he recognizes in her a fellow naturalist at heart. He takes her under his wing, sharing in particular the works of the scandalous Charles Darwin. Meanwhile, as the womanly arts of her era are being forced upon sweet and spunky Callie, she begins to realize that what she wants (to be a scientist when she grows up), and what is expected of her in her own natural world may not add up.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
is an extremely well rounded story, with well-developed, likeable characters in realistic situations . I found myself particularly amused by Granddaddy, a seeming curmudgeon with a heart of gold and wicked sense of humor. Callie Vee herself is totally personable; you can really sympathize with her being the only girl in a family filled with boys who keep falling in love with her friends! Callie Vee’s heartbreaking realization about her probable future is keenly felt, especially knowing that women today have options Callie could only dream of. This book is probably best for middle schoolers, but high schoolers and adults will probably dig it too (especially if you like historical fiction and/or science!).

And now, a few off the cuff thoughts about this book. First, this book gets lots of snaps for having a fabulous, gorgeous, oh-so-pretty cover. Snaps! It features two of my favorites: yellow and silhouettes. I DIG IT.* In fact, the first time I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf way way back in winter times of ought 8 or ought 9, I thought "that book is BEGGING for a medal to be stuck on it and ruin the cover." AND WASN'T I RIGHT, NEWBURY AWARD RUNNER UP? WASN'T I? I mean, everything about this book screams "A book adults love for kids to read." However, having read it, and definitely having enjoyed it, I'm still struck by the fact that it is just that: a book adults love and earnestly want kids to love too. It touches on some big issues in a safe way, like feminism, equality, science, evolution...a lot of things. But what adults fail to recognize is that it operates on a plateau of nostalgia and perspective...which kids get...but don't totally get...largely because all 12 years of them hasn't lived all that long to have all that many memories. Which is not to say that they don't, but just that in this story, there is a lot of that in the narrators voice. And adults just get it, better than kids. However, it is definitely charming, and I kind of hope it becomes one of those middle school staples, like Tuck Everlasting or Bridge to Terabithia, books that I find feel similar. LASTLY: Granddaddy and his pecan whiskey distillery experiment. LOVE. I'm pretty sure we'd be besties. That is all.

* But not as much as I love the cover of
Marcello in the Real World or The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (before they released that horrorfest paperback cover that gives me shivers even to think about. POORLY PLAYED.). This is why I think illustrators/artists need to sell more of their illustrations. BECAUSE I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE THEM. I'm looking at you, Mo Willems and estate of Trina Schart Hyman.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Princess ap-Pea-ls to me

The Princess and Pea. Child, Lauren (2006).
NY: Hyperion. ISBN: 0786838868

Lauren Child is best known for her Charlie and Lola series of picture books (and television show). Her version of the Princess and the Pea is a definite departure from these, artistically, in genre, and in style. This mixed medium work (photographs of collaged dioramas) aims for and reaches an older audience than that of her hit series. A grade 2 and up audience can appreciate the complexity present in the juxtaposition of miniature 2-dimensional characters with miniature 3-dimensional environments, and may also enjoy seeing doll house furniture used this way. Curious readers will be pleased to find the creative process detailed in the back end papers. The hybridization of styles greatly enhances the story, drawing the reader further into Child’s imaginary world. This playful and fanciful retelling of the classic fairy-tale, the Princess and the Pea maintains this fun tone from the illustrations on down to the text and even to the font, which changes periodically when it comes to a word that is key to the telling of the story. Older readers will enjoy the conversational (“You know what parents are like, and a prince’s parents are no different.”) and often comically mocking (“No, if he couldn’t marry for love, then he would rather live alone for all eternity, gazing at all the stars in the night sky. Not only was he romantic but also a little dramatic.") tone of this work. This beautiful book is for people young and older who enjoy witty dialogue and innovative eye-catching illustrations.

In related news, I totally love this picture book, and not just because I have a bit of a thang for fairy tales (in related related news, read Fables, by Bill Willingham if you are a grownup who likes fairy tales. You're welcome). Any author/illustrator who can make me laugh while reading a picture book deserves a high five. The illustrations in the Princess and the Pea are gorgeous and memorable but what really makes this book is the cheeky tone carried throughout in both prose and illustrations. Kids will dig this book, but methinks their parentals will dig it more. Lauren Child, could you please illustrate my life?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Making Lady Gaga proud

I've made the executive decision to start posting about the moste amusinge thingse that happen to me at work, because really, these gems should not go to waste. Particularly because it is only a matter of time before I make a clean dissociative break and start living under the name Shanequa D'nt Liveherenomo on my yacht in the Mediterranean, and FORGET THEM ALL! What a loss to all humanity that would be. A great and terrible tragedy, indeed.

SO. Today at work the following things happened to me, which helped me live up to one of my life goals. Specifically, to live by the song lyrics of Lady Gaga songs. You know, as they make so much sense and all. In this instance, a little ditty called Poker Face comes to mind.


- A mother and son duo chose to have a moste serious discipline conversation about said sons overdue fines while checking out, effectively making me the uncomfortable third party. Why do you do that parents? I mean, come on. Not cool.
- A lively lad of approximately 10 minced about the library wearing a skunk-skin cap for approximately an hour. Yep. SKUNK-SKIN CAP. Upon check out, he stashed his videos in his Lady Grace plastic bag. Lady Grace, you guys. POKER FACE. Can I adopt you, awesome kid?
- While his mum was checking out, a young lad of about three decided to tell me that he really needed to change his pants. Well, I needed to change my face. Thank you to Lady Gaga, I'm 99.9% sure that he couldn't read my, can't read my, no he can't read my poker face. In fact, I'm pretty sure homeboy can't read at all.

Need I mention it was a full moon? Because I just did.
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