Review of Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl

Keeping the Castle

A Tale of Romance, Riches, and Real Estate

by Patrice Kindl

Viking, 2012. 261 pages.
Starred Review

I was so delighted to discover a new Patrice Kindl book coming out. I love her earlier books without fail. With the title Keeping the Castle, I expected this to be a fantasy novel. However, it turned out to be a straight — but incredibly funny — tribute to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, with just a touch of Cinderella (two not-so-nice stepsisters).

This is a historical romance, set during the Regency era. Althea needs to marry well in order to keep the castle her great-grandfather built on a cliff by the sea. Her four-year-old brother will inherit the castle, but without money soon, there will be no castle to inherit. The opening scene will give you an idea of the humor in this book:

We were walking in the castle garden. The silvery light of early spring streaked across the grass, transforming the overgrown shrubbery into a place of magic and romance. He had begged me for a few moments of privacy, to “discuss a matter of great importance.” By this I assumed that he meant to offer me his hand in marriage.

“I love you, Althea — you are so beautiful,” murmured the young man into my ear.

Well, I was willing enough. I looked up at him from under my eyelashes. “I love you too,” I confessed. I averted my gaze and added privately, “You are so rich.”

Unfortunately, I apparently said this aloud, if just barely, and his hearing was sharper than one would expect, given his other attributes.

The gentleman in question does withdraw his proposal. But then Lord Boring comes into the neighborhood and promises a ball. Hijinks ensue.

I think my favorite sentence was this one, that shows how she is playing with even the names:

From Lesser Hoo to Hasty, and from Little Snoring to Hoo-Upon-Hill, nearly everyone under the age of ninety was looking forward to the event.

Yes, it’s quite predictable whom Althea will end up with (by whom she doesn’t like; this is a tribute to Pride and Prejudice after all), but getting there is so much fun, and some surprises are definitely included along the way.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Death Comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley

by P. D. James

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. 291 pages.
Starred Review

When I heard that a stellar and distinguished British mystery writer was going to tackle a mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I knew I had to read it! I’ve read a lot of Jane Austen knock-offs and love them (see the Austenalia category), but not all the authors were ones I’ve heard of before.

I will confess that I’d never read a P. D. James book before this one. I’d long meant to, and saw a movie based on Children of Men, but have never quite gotten around to it. Still, I was surprised when I liked the Pride and Prejudice sequel aspects of this book more than I did the mystery.

Before I criticize, let me say that I loved reading this book. It was a delight, and I recommend it to all other Jane Austen fans. I’m going to point out some ways it wasn’t perfect, but it was still very very good and tremendously enjoyable. So please keep that in mind!

I do think I liked it more than Carrie Bebris’s Jane Austen sequels. In those, I didn’t really appreciate the paranormal element she brought in, and P. D. James did a better job imitating Jane Austen’s style. (Though I thoroughly enjoyed Carrie Bebris’s books as well.)

I admit I was delighted with her choice of victim and suspect. P. D. James brings back most of the important characters from Pride and Prejudice. The Prologue nicely sets the stage, and fits absolutely well with what Jane Austen said at the end of her book about how her characters’ lives continued.

A couple things I would have liked to be different:

Preparations for a ball at Pemberley are interrupted by a murder. Shucks. It would have been fun to get to read about a ball at Pemberley.

Georgiana is considering two suitors, but her choice is settled very easily. Some romance and romantic scenes and misunderstanding and revelation would have been nicely in the spirit of Jane Austen.

My biggest objection is that the mystery was not solved by our main characters. When all has been resolved, Darcy is simply informed of the resolution. Sure, we had some clues and some suspicions, but not really enough to solve the crime, and it ended up pretty much being luck that let the truth come out. I would have liked it much better if Elizabeth had solved the crime, coming up with the crucial information, or, next best, Mr. Darcy.

I also was kind of annoyed by an ending talk between Elizabeth and Darcy. They discussed things that they’d already cleared up at the end of Pride and Prejudice. This was unnecessary.

However, some things I loved:

She really got the spirit of the characters and the society. Without petty tricks like imitating Pride and Prejudice‘s first line.

She brought back so many characters from the original book. Even Mr. Bennett visits for awhile, just as Jane Austen mentioned he was wont to do.

She made the legal process at that time, with magistrates and the inquest and trial process, very clear and easy to understand.

Most of all, I felt like I was spending time with my beloved characters again. Definitely a treat for fans of Pride and Prejudice!

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Sonderling Sunday – Chapter 10 – Back with the Belgische Scherzkeks

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday – That time when I let you know the German translation of various bizarre phrases using the book Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, the translation of The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy.

I left off at the start of Chapter Ten, 10. Kapitel, page 101 and Seite 129. The start of this chapter is a good way to start the blog post.

Das alles ist ja nun ganz gut und schön, aber was hat es eigentlich mit dem Belgischen Scherzkeks auf sich?

In English, that is:

This is all well and good, but what about the Belgian Prankster?

Now, I won’t answer the question, but I’ll give you some phrases that pop up:

“hottest controversy” = hitzigsten Diskussionen

“sprawling” = ausgedehntes

This one’s much longer in German:
“interlinked airborne platforms” = miteinander verbundener schwebender Plattformen (“with one another bound together floating platforms”)

“a terrifyingly scarred Icelandic assassin” = ein schrecklich vernarbter isländischer Meuchelmörder

“steel-toothed” = Stahlzähne

“a noseless Nigerian explosives expert” = einem nasenlosen nigerianischen Sprengstoffexperten

“massive-headed” = mit einem Wasserkopf (“with a water-head”)

Why did I never learn this? “men’s toilet” = Männerklo

Oh, I’m afraid I don’t think this line of translation is up to snuff:
“And you are a Boobly-Boobly-Boo-Boo” = Und du bist ein alter Schaumschläger

And here’s something of a tongue-twister:
»Ein Schaumschläger!«, schäumte der Chinese. = “‘A boobly-boobly-boo-boo?’ raged Ken Kiang.”

Based on Google, that’s something like “a foam-batter!” foamed the Chinese.

I like this one:
“corner booth” = Ecknische (“corner niche”)

“audacious” = abgebrühter (“hard-boiled”)

“vengeance” = Vergeltung (“payback”)

“fluorescent lights” = Neonlampen

“tiny paws” = winzigen Pfötchen

“fate’s plaything” = ein Spielball des Schicksals

“satanic roar” = satanischen Brausens

“jokester” = Witzbold

“inscrutable” = undurchdringlichen

“errand boy” = Laufbursche

Here’s a fun one:
“Well, la-dee-da.” = Na gut, heiliger Bimbam.

Well, that’s all for tonight!

My thought for today: If I’m in a special corner booth, then we must have:

Sondra Eklund in einer Sonderecknische.

Tune in next week for more handy-dandy things to know!

My Prime Factorization Scarf

I finished it! Last week, I finished sewing the ends in on my new Prime Factorization Scarf.

The scarf is similar to my Prime Factorization Sweater, using a new color for each prime factor. For the scarf, though, instead of making a grid of squares representing each number, I used two-row stripes for each factor. I separated each number with two rows of black, which represented the number 1 (since 1 times anything doesn’t change the value.)

I like the way the scarf gives the flow of the numbers. You can look closely at the blue color for 2 and watch it repeat. Then notice how the pink color for 3 repeats a little more slowly. And 5 a little more slowly than that. The scarf goes all the way up to 50.

Here are some sections up close. First, this picture shows 1 through 21:

2 is blue.
3 is pink.
4 = 2 x 2, so it’s two stripes of blue.
5 is yellow.
6 = 2 x 3, so it’s a stripe of blue and a stripe of pink.
7 is purple.
8 = 2 x 2 x 2, so it’s three stripes of blue.
9 = 3 x 3, so it’s two stripes of pink.
10 = 2 x 5, so it’s a stripe of blue and a stripe of yellow.
11 gets a new color, green.
12 = 2 x 2 x 3, so it’s two stripes of blue and a stripe of pink.
And so on….

Here is a picture showing 17 (light pink) through 35:

And finally, 33 to 50:

My earlier posts explained why I chose the pattern I did. I wanted the scarf to be reversible, but it’s not quite as easy to read as plain garter stitch stripes.

What’s next? A cuff-to-cuff cardigan! Only, I want to go higher than 50, so I decided to combine factors in one stripe — unless you have perfect powers of a number. Here’s a preview. I’m working on 33 now. (You can see that since 32 = 2^5, it’s 5 rows of blue.) It’s going to be flamboyantly bright, but I plan to wear my primes with pride!

My posts on Mathematical Knitting and related topics are now gathered at Sonderknitting.

Review of Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex

Cold Cereal

by Adam Rex

Balzer + Bray, 2012. 421 pages.
Starred Review

I’m going to give Cold Cereal to all the kids waiting for the next Rick Riordan book, at least, if we can keep it on the shelf. (I hope it will soon be as popular.)

Scott thinks he’s a normal kid who’s simply moved to Goodborough, New Jersey, because of his mom’s new job with Goodco Cereal Company. “There’s a Little Bit of Magic in Every Box.”

Biking to school, Scott sees some strange things in the park. A rabbit-man. A unicat. Scott’s sure it’s some kind of aura, a neurological event related to his migraines. The only people who are nice to Scott at his new school include some twins, Erno and Emily, and Emily is seriously strange (and super smart). Later, in a restroom, a little man that no one else can see tries to steal his backpack.

What emerges is that the Goodco Cereal Company is imprisoning magical beings and putting their magic in its cereal. As well as doing experiments on Emily, preparatory to putting dangerous ingredients in cereal to feed the children of the entire country.

Only Scott, Erno, and Emily can stop the evil cereal company, but it won’t be easy!

This book plays off Celtic mythology in a story where three kids need to save the world (and themselves). There’s lots and lots of humor, with Adam Rex poking fun at consumerism, at parents who will do anything to make their children smart, cereal slogans over the years, and so much more. This book is the first volume of a planned trilogy, but it does have a satisfying ending on its own.

I will definitely want to read the upcoming volumes.

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Review of The Mind’s Eye, by Oliver Sacks

The Mind’s Eye

by Oliver Sacks
read by Oliver Sacks and Richard Davidson

Random House Audio, 2010. 8 hours, 30 minutes on 7 discs.
Starred Review

This was perhaps not the best thing to listen to after having had a stroke, since it told me things that could have happened to me and made me hyperaware of new symptoms. However, this book was completely fascinating, and I found myself talking about it to people the whole time I was listening to it.

Richard Davidson read most of the audiobook, but Oliver Sacks gave introductions to each chapter, and completely read the chapter about his own experience with vision problems and the tumor he had growing on one eye. Both narrators were excellent, though I was a little jarred when Oliver Sacks’ section ended. I would have preferred that to be the final section, though he did follow a logical progression from vision difficulties on to complete blindness.

The book talks about vision and the brain. He begins describing cases where people suddenly lost their ability to read, because of a brain injury. They can still recognize letters of the alphabet, but not put them together as words unless they spell them out or write them out. Many of these people can still write, but they cannot read. Oliver Sacks delves into several different cases and how the people found ways to cope.

He progresses to people with face blindness, who can’t recognize people or places. I was very surprised to learn that Oliver Sacks himself has a certain amount of face blindness. He has, on occasion, failed to recognize himself when passing a mirror. I thought it was even more striking that one time he looked through a window, saw a tall man with a beard, and started trying to groom his beard, thinking it was a mirror. He talked about people with much worse disability in this area, who had to figure out how to cope without being able to recognize commonplace objects by looking at them.

And there’s more. He talks about several different variations of problems in the visual cortex. When he had cancer and lost vision in one eye, he said it wasn’t just as if half his visual field were cut off; it was as if people who went into his large blindspot actually disappeared.

The final section on blindness was also fascinating. Some people get extra good at visualizing, including an engineer who could now visualize going inside an engine to repair it. Another person lost the ability to visualize at all, but gained an enhanced ability to sense things in other ways.

This entire book is fascinating. The mind is amazing, and we can learn much about how it works by seeing how people cope when a small part is damaged. This is a fascinating look at vision and perception and the way we relate to the world around us.

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Sonderling Sunday – Chapter 9 – Yet More Silliness

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That’s the post where we take a Sonderfahrt, a special trip, through the pages of Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, the German translation of James Kennedy‘s The Order of Odd-Fish, and glean from it a collection of delightfully useless German phrases.

You do not have to speak German to enjoy Sonderling Sunday. You should be able to enjoy the sounds of the language and the alternate way of thinking of things.

You do not need to have read The Order of Odd-Fish. I will not include spoilers, but I do hope that the phrases selected will intrigue readers enough that they will decide to get a copy of the book and read it.

The point? To be pointless! This seems delightfully in keeping with a book about an order that prides itself on researching an Appendix of unreliable and useless information.

We left off on page 90 of The Order of Odd-Fish and Seite 115 of Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge.

The first interesting translation that catches my eye is the imaginary country of the “Glovians” is translated die Handschuträger (“the glove carriers”)

Going on, some interesting words:
“slippery” = glitschig

“unexpectedly light-headed” = überraschenderweise schwindlig (“surprisingly dizzy”)

“backyard” = Hinterhof

“blueprints” = Blaupausen

“outsiders” = Au?enstehenden (“out standers”)

“unassuming” = unauffälligen

“disbanded” = Gerichtsverfahren (“legal proceedings”)

“It had a nice ring.” = Es klang irgendwie hübsch.

I like all the alliteration in the German sentence here:
“What manner of world were we passing on to them?” = Welche Welt würden wir ihnen hinterlassen?

“inconveniences” = unliebsame Vorkommnisse (Note: A couple of sentences ago, “inconvenience” was translated Ärgernis, so I suspect this translation is for variety. It literally means “unwelcome events.”)

“feed it to a walrus” = verfüttert es an ein Walross (There! Didn’t you want to know how to say that?)

“marvelously irksome” = bewundernswert ärgerlich (“wonders-worth annoying”)

“exquisitely obnoxious” = ausgesprochen nervenaufreibend ärgerliche (“very nerve-wracking annoying”)

“It annoys with panache.” = Es verärgert mit Verve.

“spluttered” = platzte

“you took an oath” = haben Sie einen Eid geleistet

“trombones, drums, violins” = Posaunen, Trommeln, Geigen

“greasy sheet music” = fettiges Notenblatt

“I’d’ve tied his arms and legs in a knot and used him as a tuffet!” = Ich hätte seine Arme und Beine zu einem Knoten gebunden und ihn als Muff benutzt!

“I’d’ve swung him around by his hair until I took off like a helicopter” = Ich hätte ihn an seinen Haaren herumgeschleudert, bis ich wie ein Helikopter in die Luft gestiegen wäre

“deflate” = zusammenzusinken (“together to sink”)

“blithering like a madman” = herumzuschreien wie ein Verrückter

“we butlers are run off our feet” = wir Butler haben uns Fü?e wundgelaufen

“curled up” = zusammengerollt (“together rolled”)

“orchestra of cockroaches” = Kakerlakenorchesters (I wonder if that word has ever been used before?)

“doze” = Schläfchen

“flailing limbs” = herumfliegenden Gliedma?en

“whirled away in the shouting, stomping throng” = von der grölenden, stampfenden Meute weggerissen

“clumsy and exhilarated” = ungeschickt und berauscht

“were smashed” = zerbarsten

“unchallenged” = unbehelligt

“ungainly” = ungelenker

“unruly” = ungebärdigen

“quietly filed out” = verlie?en ruhig im Gänsemarsch (“left quietly in goose-step”)

So, many of those phrases klang irgendwie hübsch, don’t you think? I find I’m not stopping as often, since I understood more of the sentences, so perhaps I’ll finish the book sometime in the next decade after all!

Now, which of these phrases can you work into everyday conversation in the next week or so? I’m going to try überraschenderweise schwindlig or perhaps zusammenzusinken.

And let me leave you with this thought: Welche Welt würden wir ihnen hinterlassen?

Review of Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone

by Shannon Hale

Bloomsbury, New York, August 2012. 321 pages.
Starred Review

This year, I keep changing in my hopes about the Newbery Medal:

First, I read Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and hoped it would win the Medal. Next, I read The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, and hoped it would win the Medal. Then, I read Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker, and hoped it would win the Medal. Finally (???), I read Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, and hoped it would win.

I think this will be my final choice, but I’m proving awfully fickle. I’m not sure I completely trust myself over Palace of Stone, because I like Shannon Hale’s writing so much, and I’ve met Shannon and like her so much, and she sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book with a tremendously nice inscription and signature, so I may well be biased. But I am going to have fun making a case for Palace of Stone for the win on the Heavy Medal mock Newbery blog, and maybe I can partially express here why I think this book is outstanding.

Palace of Stone is the sequel to Newbery-Honor-winning Princess Academy. Princess Academy on the surface seems like a trite idea: A bunch of mountain girls training at a school because one of them is going to be chosen by the prince to be his princess. But Shannon’s books are definitely not trite. She paints a picture of Miri loving her mountain yet wanting to learn more, of Miri learning how to help the village get out of poverty, of Miri learning to be a friend, and of Miri figuring out the magic in the stone of the quarry on Mount Eskel.

In Palace of Stone there’s also a rich mix of things going on. Miri is going to the capital city, along with some other girls from Mount Eskel, to help her friend prepare to be the princess. She gets to study at the school at the Queen’s Castle while she is there. Peder is going at the same time, to be apprenticed to a wood carver.

But when Miri and her friends arrive, they learn that rebellion is brewing. And when the king’s advisors tell him that now Mount Eskel is a province, they should be taxed, Miri can’t help but have sympathy with the rebels. A kind fellow student introduces her to a Salon of plotters, and that handsome student seems to have a lot more time for Miri than Peder does.

In both books, I’ve been a tiny bit annoyed with how simplistic Miri’s thinking is at times. But on reflection, she has lived on the mountain without any education at all except the one year in the princess academy. It would be silly for her to use sophisticated concepts.

And Shannon Hale weaves sophisticated concepts into the setting of this book. Why does a king rule? What right does he have to tax his people? How does government work? There are also implications about the Palace of Stone. Only the king’s quarters are made from linder blocks from Mount Eskel, and common people are not allowed to go there at all.

Like before, Miri still characteristically pulls big ideas from books:

Timon had said first Asland; the rest of Danland would follow, and then all the world. His promises felt as real as paper in her hands, just awaiting the ink strokes of action.

But Miri was not the only one who took sick that winter, and revolution proved no match for a head cold. Salons emptied, as did the Queen’s Castle. Now Miri found time to haunt the palace library.

Master Filippus had said they needed to study History to understand what had worked in the past. Miri found the Librarian’s Book and started to read all she could on tributes, hoping for clues on how to defend Mount Eskel. There were laws that limited how much tribute a noble could take from a commoner, but as Miri had seen from the Grievance Official’s ledger, if they took more anyway, no one could stop them. And no laws limited the king.

This is a sequel to Princess Academy. I think you’ll enjoy it more if you read the first book first, though I’m sure you can understand what’s going on even without that. But as with all of Shannon’s books, why would you want to? In fact, I used this as a delightful excuse to reread Princess Academy. I enjoy her books more every time I read them, and now here’s one more to return to again and again.

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Review of The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot

by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Mark Fearing

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2011. 36 pages.

There’s a nice tradition of three little pigs take-offs in picture books. My favorite is still The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, by Eugene Trivizias and Helen Oxenbury, but another fabulous choice is The Three Pigs, by David Wiesner, which won the Caldecott Medal. At our library, a recent summer reading favorite was The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark, by Ken Geist and Julia Gorton, and this book is in that vein.

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot is simply fun. From the beginning, it makes me want to read it aloud:

Once there was a mama alien who had three little aliens. They were called Bork, Gork, and Nklxwcyz.

Mama sends them off into the universe to find a planet of their own (but urges them to call every once in awhile), but she warns them to beware of the Big Bad Robot.

Where this book will especially please young outer space buffs is when the little aliens go looking for a home. They pass all the planets in our solar system. The artist uses coloration from NASA photographs, and though the Author’s Note at the end does make no claims that this is a science book, they did try to portray the planets as accurately as possible.

Now, never mind that they are going at the speed of light, yet the Big Bad Robot keeps gaining on them. Never mind that the sizes of the aliens and planets are all out of proportion. This is a fun story with cute aliens, and a nice message: Always stick together.

And it’s fun to read aloud! Here’s the part where the little aliens are together, being confronted by the Big Bad Robot:

No sooner had Bork and Gork slammed Nklxwcyz’s solid space-rock door than they heard the Robot rumbling.

“Little alien! Little alien!” he queeked. “LET ME COME IN!”

“Not by the slime on my chinny chin chin!” cried Nklxwcyz.

“Then I will smack and crack and whack your house down!” zeeped the Robot.

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Conference Corner — Morris Awards and YALSA Nonfiction Awards

The final event of ALA Midwinter Meeting that I attended was the Morris Award and YALSA Nonfiction Award ceremony. I like the way those two awards announce a short list, so that the winners can be there for the ceremony. This year, it turned out that Morris Award Winner John Corey Whaley also won the Printz Award. He was a happy man. I spotted him in the exhibits after the award announcements.

Those are the Morris Award stickers for his book.

Of course, I had to get a picture with him, as did many other youth services librarians. We wanted him to know that to us, he’s a rock star.

At the Award ceremony, some of the authors spoke by video, but I took notes for the ones who spoke in person.

First was Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Morris Honor winning author of Under the Mesquite:
She got the news of winning the Honor while teaching, which was so appropriate, because she wrote the book while teaching.
She remembered being hungry for understanding. Books showed the world to her, empowered her.
She wrote, not to be published, but to be read.
She wrote this story for young people who can’t talk about this. They have great strength within them.
The most important destination of all: Young Readers’ Minds
ala means “wings” in Spanish. So appropriate!

Ruta Sepetys, Honor winner for Between Shades of Gray:
History has secrets.
Through stories, these people become human.

John Corey Whaley, Morris Award Winner for Where Things Come Back (He also learned on the same day that he won the Printz Award.):
Thursday was his birthday. He feels sorry for all his other birthdays.
“I get to be a writer. It means so much to say that.”
“My life is a constant state of shock.”
“There’s no other community I’d rather be part of than the People of YA.”
“…the cool kids who run into things because they’re walking while reading books.”
“I had given up hope that I could be a happy adult.”

Then were the YALSA Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction:

Karen Blumenthal, Honor Award for Bootleg:
One of the strengths of nonfiction: Real stories and real consequences.
“Nonfiction provides a context for a complicated world.”
“In real life, the girl doesn’t always end up with the sparkly vampire.”
The world isn’t black and white, but many shades of messy.
Those who passively observe get to live with the results.

Sue Macy, Honor Award for Wheels of Change
As a teen, her favorite books were This Fabulous Century. She imitated these books.
She takes a thematic approach to this era of history.
There was lots of serendipity in her search.

Steve Sheinkin, Award Winner for The Notorious Benedict Arnold
“Benedict Arnold made people nervous.”
This is a straight-ahead action-adventure rise and fall story.

Afterward, we were given free copies of many of the books and got them signed. Here’s Sue Macy signing Wheels of Change:

This award ceremony isn’t nearly as fancy as the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet or as the Printz Reception, but I think with first-time authors winning the Morris Award, and nonfiction authors who don’t always get as much recognition, it’s guaranteed that the Morris and Nonfiction award ceremony will always be deeply heartfelt.