Archive for February, 2012

Review of A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

A Ball for Daisy

by Chris Raschka

Schwartz and Wade Books, New York, 2011. 32 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Caldecott Medal Winner
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: Picture Books #7

Here’s a truly wonderful wordless picture book. Chris Raschka portrays the heights and depths of emotion with simple painted lines and colors.

A Ball for Daisy features a little dog named Daisy. You can clearly see that Daisy loves her red ball. She plays with it, wags her tail when she catches it, and cuddles up next to it for a nap.

But when Daisy and her owner take it to the park, another dog begins to play, and he pops Daisy’s ball. Daisy’s sadness when this happens is unmistakeable.

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending as the other dog and its owner make things right the next day.

The pictures in this book are exuberant and varied, making the simple story great fun to read. The pages where Daisy’s trying to figure out what happened to her ball include shaking the limp casing, howling, and just being sad. The pages where Daisy is playing or sleeping reflect Daisy’s joyful and unworried existence. There’s a nice circular feeling as the end echoes the beginning, with Daisy cozying up to her new ball. All’s right in the world.

What child doesn’t know what it feels like to lose something? The story is universal, and can be “read” by the very young, yet will still fascinate older people with the beauty of the artwork.

I’m pleased with the Caldecott committee’s decision this year, as I have a feeling children will be enjoying this book for years to come.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press, New York, 2011. 293 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Standout: #4, Other Fiction

Lovely! A fourth Flavia DeLuce book! I am so happy with how quickly Alan Bradley is writing! And I was all the more happy when I saw this was a Christmas book. I thought it an interesting coincidence that I read two Christmas mysteries this year (The other was A Christmas Homecoming, by Anne Perry), and both involved a theatrical company secluded at an English country home at Christmas in a snowstorm, when a murder occurs. Honestly, I enjoyed this one more because it had Flavia deLuce!

If you haven’t met Flavia before, you will probably do fine just reading this one; you will get the idea. But all the books are so much fun, I do recommend reading them all.

Flavia is an 11-year-old chemical genius with a deep love of poisons. And she’s very good at solving mysteries, but not so good at leaving crime solving to adults. Her mother died years ago climbing mountains, and her father doesn’t pay a lot of attention to bringing up his three daughters. Flavia and her older sisters manage to torment each other rather mercilessly. I did like that it wasn’t quite as bad in this installment — they showed some affection for each other at Christmas.

I love Alan Bradley’s titles, and this one comes from Alfred Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott.” In this book, Colonel de Luce, still needing to raise money, has rented out Buckshaw to a film company. The family is still planning to use their own rooms. But then, with the village visiting to see the great film stars perform Romeo and Juliet, a blizzard hits and everyone camps out at Buckshaw — and someone dies. Flavia herself finds the body — in the middle of the night.

I’ve always said that a nice murder mystery makes the perfect Christmas reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you can’t be snowed in yourself, how nice to read about others being snowed in, anyway. And I still can’t help but love Flavia. In this book, she does some excellent deducing, and it’s her own home, so surely she can be forgiven for nosing where she’s told to stay away?

Here are some words from Flavia herself:

“Most chemists, whether they admit it or not, have a favorite corner of their craft in which they are forever tinkering, and mine is poisons.

“While I could still become quite excited by recalling how I had dyed my sister Feely’s knickers a distinctive Malay yellow by boiling them in a solution of lead acetate, followed by a jolly good stewing in a solution of potassium chromate, what really made my heart leap up with joy was my ability to produce a makeshift but handy poison by scraping the vivid green verdigris from the copper float-ball of one of Buckshaw’s Victorian toilet tanks.”

Flavia de Luce isn’t someone you forget in a hurry. This is a lovely addition to the series, and I hope that Alan Bradley continues to add books quickly.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Faith and Will, by Julia Cameron

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Faith and Will

Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives

by Julia Cameron

Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2009. 221 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Other Nonfiction

A big huge thank you to my sister Becky for giving me this book. It was kind of funny: I had already checked it out and was posting quotations from it in Sonderquotes when she gave me a copy. It was good to own a copy, because I think I have pulled more quotations from it than any other book I’ve read since I started posting Sonderquotes. So I’ve taken a very long time reading it, with all the time it’s spent in my Sonderquotes queue, and it’s good the library copies were available to others during that time.

Julia Cameron begins the book this way:

“I would like to begin at the beginning, but I do not know what the beginning is anymore. I am a person at midlife. I am a believer who is trying one more time to believe. That is to say I am caught off guard by life and by feelings of emptiness.

“I want there to be more reassurance than I currently feel that we are on the right path. By ‘we’ I mean God and me. I have been trying consciously to work with God for twenty-five years now, and a great deal has been made of my life that I think has a lot of value — but I am one more time asking for something to be made of me and it that I myself can hold on to. Me. Personally. Not as some abstract but as a genuine comfort.

“I am a writer and a teacher — “worthy” things, but I am not feeling my worth in them right now. I must again come to some relationship to God that will enable me to pursue my career as an outward manifestation of inwardly held values. In other words, what needs mending here is probably not the outward form — I suspect that after a great deal of soul-searching I would still come back to being a writer and a teacher — but the inward connection. I must feel I am doing what God would have me do.”

What follows is a book of musings and meditations, talking about faith, guidance, and choices. There are no chapter divisions, so the book rambles a bit, but I found the rambling tracked well with my own thinking. She reassured me and encouraged me that God is good and God’s will for us is good, creative, and joyful.

I pulled lots (and am still pulling) and lots and lots of quotations from the book that resonated for me. Read through some of these on Sonderquotes, and you will get a good sense of whether this book would delight you as it has delighted me.

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Source: This review is based on a book given to me by my sister.

Other Books from 2011

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I currently have 43 reviews I’ve written that are waiting to be posted, a stack of books waiting for me to review them, and more books I’ve read in 2012 now piling up. I began Sonderbooks when I was working half-time, and I reviewed everything I read (at least everything I enjoyed). I hate it when I can’t keep that up! However, now I’m working full-time, and last July, I had a stroke. Since then, I need more sleep than I did before. I also had more reading time, so I simply got farther behind. Worse, I still have not recovered. Last Thursday, I had a Transient Ischemic Attack (a mini-stroke) lasting only three seconds. But it means the Coumadin I’m taking is not effectively keeping me from strokes, and what’s more, now I feel awful and only lasted a half-day at work today. I’m up writing this in hopes it will make me tired enough to get some sleep when I go to bed.

Anyway, enough complaining! All that is to say that I read some great books that are sitting here waiting and waiting to be reviewed. I’m going to list them now with brief reviews, because they deserve attention and readers. But in the interests of catching up, I’m not going to give them their own pages on Sonderbooks. (Sigh.) I’ll go until my laundry’s done and see how far that takes me.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. 295 pages.

These first two books, I grant you, I read without having read the books that came before them. I read them anyway, because they were on the Heavy Medal blog’s Mock Newbery Shortlist. This book comes after The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.

Quite some time ago, I tried to listen to Penderwicks on audio and got several chapters in, but finally decided I simply couldn’t stand listening to the grandmotherly voice of the reader. Reading The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, at first I heard that same voice in my head and was very put off, but as I persevered, I got more into the story.

The basic story is the classic one of four sisters having fun together. In this book, the oldest sister, Rosalind, is having vacation separate from the younger three. So Skye is concerned about being the OAP (oldest available Penderwick). As someone from a big family, that bothered me a bit that one of the children should feel so responsible for her younger siblings. Parents, that is your job! Though their Dad is going on his honeymoon, so he’s not there, but they are staying with an aunt, for goodness’ sake!

However, that, too, I was able to get past. Once I settled in and enjoyed it, it was a lovely vacation story about three sisters having vacation adventures with their friend, a boy, and new friends they met in Maine. I have to admit I would have loved to read these books with my kids — if I had had daughters instead of sons. This is a nice solid middle grade story, but I do think better for girls than boys.

The Trouble with May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011. 204 pages.

The Trouble with May Amelia is a sequel to Newbery-Honor-winning Our Only May Amelia. This is another solid choice for middle-grade girls, this time historical fiction set in Washington State in 1900. With this one, I was put off by the present tense voice, which I’m prejudiced against, and I didn’t already know the characters like most readers would have. However, I was still quickly pulled into the story.

May Amelia’s the seventh child and the only girl in a Finnish family whose father believes that Girls Are Useless. May Amelia wants desperately to believe that she’s not, but there are some things she’s not good at — like cooking and mending. The book covers plenty of entertaining adventures of pioneer life on the Nasel River.

Then a man comes around who’s got an investment that’s sure to make the family millions. May Amelia’s father has her translate. She does her best, and the reader can see that she does yet be fully aware of impending doom. In fact, lots of troubles befall the family, but through it all we’ve got an upbeat, very fun book to read. I am looking forward to reading Our Only May Amelia when I get there on my quest to read all the Newbery winners and Honor books.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, by Michael Sims

Walker & Company, New York, 2011. 307 pages.

This one’s for adults. It’s a biography of E. B. White, and especially focuses on the parts of his life that contributed to the creation of his masterpiece, Charlotte’s Web. I wasn’t surprised to learn of the in-depth research he did on spiders while writing the book, and am all the more impressed by how well he wove those things into the story. I also was not surprised to learn that he had always loved farms and farm animals. That certainly is also obvious in his book.

Those who love children’s literature in general and Charlotte’s Web in particular will enjoy this book.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright, Drawings by Barry Moser

Peachtree, Atlanta, 2011. 228 pages.

Here’s another solid middle-grade choice, this time for boys or girls. This one’s definitely for people who like animal stories. It has a similar flavor to The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo.

The book is set at an inn which still exists today, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, at the time when Charles Dickens was a frequent guest. The main character is a street cat, Skilley, who loves cheese — and The Cheshire Cheese has the best cheese in England.

A resident mouse, Pip, and Skilley come up with a plan. Skilley will catch mice at the inn, but then he will let them go. In return, they will bring him cheese, and they will be allowed to stay at the inn. But this cozy plan has trouble when another street cat is brought into the inn. On top of that, there’s someone in the attic who claims the fate of the entire country rests upon his own fate. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens is looking for an opening for his novel about the French Revolution….

That’s all I have time for tonight, but I hope maybe I’ll have won these books some readers. Happy Reading!

Review of Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Ship Breaker

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2010. 326 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Printz Award Winner
2010 National Book Award Finalist
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Other Teen Fiction

Ship Breaker tells the story of a boy caught on the wrong side of progress in a future world after the Age of Acceleration has ended. The story is gripping, with Nailer in life-or-death danger on every page. Yet Paolo Bacigalupi builds a world that shows the consequences of society’s actions now, without ever letting the story slow down to tell us what’s going on. We learn through the eyes of the characters.

The book begins with Nailer crawling through the ducts of an old oil tanker, lit only by LED glowpaint on his forehead. He’s after the light stuff – copper wiring, steel clips, things that can be dragged out to his crew waiting outside.

The author doesn’t have to tell us they’re poor. He describes the wire being pulled out of the duct, “She sucked the wire out like a rice noodle from a bowl of Chen’s soup ration.” We begin to understand that he’s scavenging parts when we read about the new clipper ships: “Replacements for the massive coal- and oil-burning wrecks that he and his crew worked to destroy all day long: gull-white sails, carbon-fiber hulls, and faster than anything except a maglev train.”

Nailer was too slow in there, and he needs to go back in to get more scavenge before a big storm hits. He forgets to renew his LED paint, and gets caught in the dark. That’s okay, he’s finding plenty of copper wire that leads him out – until a duct collapses under him and he falls into a tank of oil.

“How could he die in such a stupid way? This wasn’t even a storage tank. Just some room full of pooled waste oil. It was a joke, really. Lucky Strike had found an oil pocket on a ship and bought his way free. Nailer had found one and it was going to kill him.

I’m going to drown in goddamn money.

“Nailer almost laughed at the thought. No one knew exactly how much oil Lucky Strike had found and smuggled out. The man had done it slow, over time. Sneaking it out bucket by bucket until he had enough to buy out his indenture and burn off his work tattoos. But he’d had enough left over to set himself up as a labor broker selling slots into the very heavy crews that he’d escaped. Just a little oil had done so much for Lucky Strike, and Nailer was up to his neck in the damn stuff.”

Then one of his crewmates, Sloth, finds him. He begs her to bring help, to get him out, but she can’t resist the thought of pulling her own Lucky Strike. But when Nailer does find a way out, even though the oil goes out with him, Sloth is exposed as a traitor, and Nailer’s new nickname is Lucky Boy, because everyone knows he should have died.

That dramatic incident is important, because after the storm Nailer and his crewmate Pima find a wrecked clipper ship with one lone survivor. The rings on the girl’s fingers alone would be enough to set them up for life. But Nailer doesn’t have the heart to kill the girl, because he now knows what it was like to be left for dead. That incident gets him thinking throughout the book about what it means to be family, what it means to be Crew.

The tension in this book doesn’t let up for a second, and it’s life-or-death danger on almost every page. Nailer and Pima aren’t the only ones to find the girl, and the group with Nailer’s father is not at all interested in keeping her alive, only in getting money from her.

They go from one danger to another, with Nailer trying to figure out not only what’s the right thing to do, but also how to stay alive.

This book is a thriller all the way along, with a never-flagging plot. And it presents hard-hitting commentary and questions about our way of life now.

I finally read this book when taking a class on the Printz Award. It definitely seems worthy of the award it won: Besides telling a rip-roaring story, it warns us that in our policies even now, we should look out for the little guys. We should think about the consequences of the things we do.

Here are my notes on his brilliant acceptance speech at the Printz Awards.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers

Saturday, February 11th, 2012


by Oliver Jeffers

Philomel Books, New York, 2011. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Picture Books

Reading this picture book made me laugh out loud, and then, of course, try to get everyone around me to read it.

“It all began when Floyd’s kite became stuck in a tree. He tried pulling and swinging, but it wouldn’t come unstuck.

“The trouble


began when he threw his FAVORITE SHOE to knock the kite loose. . .

“. . . and THAT got stuck too!”

Floyd throws more and more things up in the tree. The pictures help make the predicament hilarious. And there are some surprising reflections: “Cats get stuck in trees all the time, but this was getting ridiculous.”

There are a couple of times we think he’s doing something constructive, like fetching a ladder.

“. . . and up he threw it.

“I’m sure you can guess what happened.”

Floyd throws more and more things into the tree, getting bigger and more ridiculous things all along the way. My favorite one is “A curious whale in THE WRONG PLACE at THE WRONG TIME to knock down the lighthouse…”

The pictures remind me very much of the video game where you collect things by rolling over them as progressively bigger things get stuck.

Well, this is another book I don’t want to say too much and ruin it for you. Me telling you the story isn’t nearly as funny as the words and pictures of this book discovered together. Anybody who’s old enough to ever have gotten something stuck in a tree will enjoy this book.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

2012 Morris Seminar – The Alchemy of Book Evaluation

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

This year I got to be a part of the William Morris Seminar. The purpose is to train new people to be part of book and media evaluation committees for ALSC, the Association for Library Service to Children. This is the group that awards the Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, Siebert, Odyssey, and other medals. The seminar was made possible from a grant by William Morris, and is an invitational seminar presented every two years. I applied each of the three times it has been offered, and this time was selected to participate.

Part of the thrill was getting to meet and talk with a group of 30 people as excited about Book Evaluation as I am. Just like me, these people got excited talking about the strengths and weaknesses of children’s books published last year.

Our speakers were people who have served on multiple committees, and who have recently chaired committees. They have lots of knowledge of the process and lots of experience with making a good discussion happen.

The first speaker of the morning was Vicky Smith talking about “The Alchemy of Book Evaluation.” I’ll give some of my notes from her talk.

She said when you’re assigned to a book evaluation committee, first, you need to evaluate yourself. Because, after all, “Text is context.”

She did say that, as a former English major, she is hyperaware of the Intentional Fallacy – the false idea that anyone can know what the author originally intended.

You should know the sort of reader you are: Fast or slow? Easily distracted or easily submerged in a book? Do you read for language, character, plot, or theme? What books did you love when you were 12 years old?

When you’re on an ALSC committee, you have to transcend the reader you are. For example, if you’re a plot-driven reader, you’re good at seeing how the plot works – but you need to overcome that.

Do you have biases? Your biases can help illuminate a book, but also blind you.

What do you know? Use your expertise without Hubris. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Beware of Hubris!

Know what you don’t know and be open to the book. Understand your context. The book you are evaluating was not written for you. You are not evaluating the book for personal pleasure reading.

Understand who the book is for. Some books are specifically gender-skewed, ability-skewed, etc. You just need to understand who it’s directed for.

Books may not be literarily spectacular, but still important.

Who is the book for? What is the book for?

Is joy and fun any less important than big deep messages?

Why are you evaluating this book? Your committee’s charge is important.

You need to get over wanting a book you can use with your kids.

Greet the book on its own terms. Think about: What does this book do, as opposed to: What doesn’t it do?

Every book deserves the most open mind possible.

What does this book do? What doesn’t it do? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember that “offensive” has a million different definitions. What, in particular, do you think is offensive?

Does the book do what it does with integrity? If there are stereotypes, is that a bad thing?

Pay attention to your reactions to the book.

Don’t go into your encounter with the book looking for flaws. If you do find a flaw, you’re obligated to check. (Find an expert.)

Everybody has a different opinion of what is a fatal flaw. Why is it there? Is it really a flaw?

Book Evaluation is hugely relative. We can’t apply standards that give the same result every time.


That was the first talk we got to listen to. It made us eager to begin! We’d all read a list of books for small group discussion later.

This talk was interesting to me because it did point out to me that a Book Evaluation committee is very different than what I am trying to do on my blog. On my blog, I’m giving my own reaction to the book. But in a committee, you’re looking at a book as children’s literature. You want to observe your own reactions, but you’re trying to evaluate the underlying quality of the book for its true audience.

However, even though this isn’t what I’m trying to do on my blog, this is all very good advice for Readers’ Advisory on my job. It’s good to know a book’s strengths so I can figure out who would enjoy the book. Readers’ Advisory is also not about what I like or don’t like; it’s about finding the right book for the reader in front of you at this particular time.

Review of Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Midnight in Austenland

by Shannon Hale

Bloomsbury, New York, 2012. 277 pages.
Starred Review

I’m interrupting my posting of my 2011 Sonderbooks Stand-outs to write a review of a book that will most definitely be a 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out, if not my favorite book of the whole year.

Shannon Hale’s Austenland was a 2007 Sonderbooks Stand-out, though that was the year I was working on my Master’s in Library Science and didn’t get very many reviews written. The idea is a fun one, playing off all the Jane Austen frenzy that continues to happen in our time. It’s about a young woman who goes to what is essentially a Jane Austen theme park in England. Guests come to an English manor and are submerged in Regency culture and finish off their vacation with a ball. The original book parallelled Pride and Prejudice in many ways and was a fun and romantic read.

In Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale has surpassed herself.

Now, I should say that this book is particularly delightful to me because this time the heroine is a divorced mom whose husband cheated on her. I definitely related to her and her feelings as she worked through the divorce. She felt like a complete idiot because she hadn’t seen the clues that he was cheating, and as the book goes on, it dawns on her just how long he had lied to her. It’s very easy to see — when it’s someone else — that she should not beat herself up for believing someone who vowed to be true to her. But I completely related to all her turmoil about it.

I also loved this book because I am a Jane Austen aficionado. In college, I wrote my English Literature research paper on Jane Austen. I had more than a month to write it — so I spent the time reading ALL her novels and wrote the paper staying up all night the night before it was due.

Pride and Prejudice is definitely my favorite, but Northanger Abbey is the most light-hearted and just plain fun. Midnight in Austenland parallels Northanger Abbey in so many beautiful ways. In fact, the similarities enhanced the story. You see, Charlotte, our heroine in Midnight in Austenland is playing a “Bloody Murderer” game after the lights go out. In the dark, lit only by a flash of lightning, she is in a secret room and touches a cold hand attached to a covered dead body.

But when Charlotte goes back the next day, there is no body. Did she imagine it in the dark, in the night? In fact, is this book simply paralleling Northanger Abbey, in which silly Catherine Morland imagines a murder has taken place where there was none?

I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to give away any delicious details. I did like that Charlotte has been reading Agatha Christie, so there was still a tribute to novel-reading, as Catherine Morland had been reading The Mysteries of Udolfo. Again, we weren’t sure if Charlotte was drawing conclusions because she’d read too many detective novels.

I think I can stay spoiler-free if I simply comment that this book has the best heroine-escapes-from-deadly-peril scene EVER!

In short, Shannon Hale combines lots of humor with Jane Austen parallels, romance, suspense, mystery, gothic themes, and eerie atmosphere in a book that will make divorced women everywhere feel empowered.

You can read Midnight in Austenland without having read Austenland, though I do recommend reading both. The heroines and their stories are different — they are just at the same theme park with some of the same actors and the same administrator.

To get you in the mood, I’ll quote from some of the Prologue, where we’re told about Charlotte. It does echo Northanger Abbey:

“No one who knew Charlotte Constance Kinder since her youth would suppose her born to be a heroine. She was a practical girl from infancy, only fussing as much as was necessary and exhibiting no alarming opinions. Common wisdom asserts that heroines are born from calamity, and yet our Charlotte’s early life was pretty standard. Not only did her parents avoid fatal accidents, but they also never locked her up in a hidden attic room….

“We may never know what turned once-nice James away. Was it the fact that his wife was making more money than he was? (A lot more.) Or that his wife had turned out to be clever? (That can be inconvenient.) Had Charlotte changed? Had James? Was marriage just too hard to maintain in this crazy, shifting world?

“Charlotte hadn’t thought so. But then, Charlotte had been wrong before.

“She was wrong when she assumed her husband’s late nights were work-related. She was wrong when she blamed his increasingly sullen behavior on an iron deficiency. She was wrong when she believed the coldness in their bed could be fixed with flannel sheets.

“Poor Charlotte. So nice, so clever, so wrong.

“Charlotte came to believe that no single action kills a marriage. From the moment it begins to stumble, there are a thousand shots at changing course, and she had invested her whole soul in each of those second chances, which failed anyway. It was like being caught in her own personal Groundhog Day, only without the delightful Bill Murray to make her laugh. She would wake up, marvel anew at the bone-crushing weight in her chest, dress in her best clothes, as if for war, and set out with a blazing hope that today would be different. Today James would remember he loved her and come home to the family. Today she would win back her marriage, and her life.

“Eventually the time came when Charlotte sat in the messy ruins of her marriage and felt as weak as a cooked noodle. She would never be nice or clever enough. Hope had been beaten to death. She dried her eyes, shut down her heart, and plunged herself into an emotion coma. So much easier not to feel.

“Once numbness shuts down a damaged heart, a miracle is required to restart it. Things would prove rough for our heroine. Her only hope was Jane Austen.”

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Review of Drawing From Memory, by Allen Say

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Drawing From Memory

by Allen Say

Scholastic Press, 2011. 64 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Standout: #4 Children’s Nonfiction

Drawing From Memory is not quite a graphic novel (make that graphic biography). There are some speech bubbles, but the majority of pictures don’t have them. This is a remembrance with lots and lots of pictures. The pictures vary from drawings to photos to comics to realistic paintings.

Allen Say moved into his own apartment (from his grandmother’s house) when he was not-quite thirteen years old. Shortly after moving to the apartment, he read a story about a boy three years older, who was apprenticed to Noro Shinpei, one of the most famous cartoonists in Japan. Allen decided to find him and ask to be an apprentice as well.

The book tells the story of Allen’s years with his Sensei, learning and growing, and eventually getting the chance to go to America. He talks about the process of learning to draw, those who learned with him, and especially the close relationship with his teacher. Best of all is the wide variety of illustrations that accompany the story and make it alive.

This is one of those wonderful books in large format that may get hidden in the Biography section of the library. This isn’t the sort of story you’d want for a report, but it’s very much an inspiring story of someone’s life and about finding and following your calling. This is a delightful book.

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Review Copy I got at 2011 ALA Annual Conference.

Review of The Trouble With Kings, by Sherwood Smith

Monday, February 6th, 2012

The Trouble With Kings

by Sherwood Smith

Samhain Publishing, 2008. 325 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Fantasy Fiction for Teens

Here’s another book that I bought quite some time ago, as soon as I heard about it, and then didn’t get read because it wasn’t a library book with a due date. I recently made myself a rule to read a book I own after I finish any library book. Then I realized I could now read the books I’d been so wanting to read! I knew I would love a Sherwood Smith book, and I was absolutely right.

Okay, I will admit that this particular Sherwood Smith book has not one but two abductions of the heroine! I will also admit that I find her books, including the abductions, wonderfully romantic. I don’t want to think too hard about what that might say about me.

This book opens with Flian waking up from a head injury. A red-haired prince comes to her room. He tells her:

“I am Garian Herlester of Drath. You are Flian Elandersi, my cousin. You were on your way to visit me before your marriage. You rode in an open carriage, and you encouraged your driver to go too fast. The carriage overturned and your driver was killed.”

He continues:

“You have a father and a brother. They know. They wish you to stay here. You have never gotten on well with your father. He is old and autocratic, and favors your brother, who incidentally opposes your marriage because you are betrothed to a king. This will place you in a position of power. So you came here. We have always been friends.”

Garian is eager to help Flian’s marriage happen. She thinks it would be nice if she remembered her betrothed, King Jason Szinzar. But before the ceremony can happen, a dashing prince, Jason’s brother, breaks into the castle and abducts Flian. But then she begins remembering and thinks maybe she should be grateful.

This is a fun and romantic tale with political intrigue and danger and lessons in trust. There’s a touch of magic, as in all of Sherwood Smith’s books. Her books always make me smile. Read this book and enjoy another tale of a perfectly ordinary princess caught up in extraordinary events and trying to figure out what’s right and who she really loves. Definitely fun reading.

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