Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Review: The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman

Book: The Year My Sister Got Lucky
Author: Aimee Friedman
Published: 2008

Michaela and Katie Wilder aren't just sisters, they're best friends. They tell each other everything, attend the same ballet school, and share the same dreams. They even love the same pieces of New York City. Kate thinks that this is the way it will always be.

Then their parents announce a move away from their beloved city to a tiny town in upstate New York. That's just the beginning of the horror. Katie sticks out like a sore thumb in Fir Lake--her fashion sense is weird, her new ballet school is frankly a joke, and there isn't one person she's willing to be friends with. But worst of all, Michaela seems to fit in just fine.

Suddenly the sister Katie always knew so well is becoming a stranger, with new friends and startling secrets. Will Katie ever get her sister back?

My favorite part of this book were the characters of the two sisters, who are complex and layered, not always likeable, but always real. Katie in particular really shoots herself in the foot a few times, but not to the point of eye-rolling. Freeman pulls us so deep into her point of view that even the times that she's annoying and snobby, you're willing to keep reading to see what she'll do to redeem herself.

More than city and country, this book is about the love between sisters, and how that love endures even as the sisters themselves transform.

ETA: to correct the spelling of the author's last name. Ooops.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Whoa! Did You Guys Know About This?

Robin McKinley has a blog. And she has a new book coming out, titled Chalice. It's like the Trifecta of Awesome (because Robin McKinley counts as an Awesome all by herself).

Now normally I would have a gander at the flap copy sample up on her blog before putting it in my Blue Journal of Stuff I Gotta Read Before I Die, but who are we kidding? It's Robin McKinley. I'd read an account of her hernia surgery.

I did go back and look at the flap copy after that, though. Key quote that makes me want it to be September now:
. . . she is to be the new Chalice, and it will be up to her to bind the land and its people with a Master the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone. . .
No pressure or anything, right?

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the heads-up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: Red Glass by Laura Resau

I wrote most of this review a long time ago, directly after finishing the book, but it's been languishing in my drafts file for a couple of months now.

Book: Red Glass
Author: Laura Resau
Published: 2007
Cybils Finalist

Sixteen-year-old Sophie has always worried. What if her mom doesn't pick her up from school and she gets kidnapped? What if the radon detector runs out of batteries? What if there's a car crash and they all die?

Now she's really got the chance to worry, because she, her great-aunt, her great-aunt's boyfriend, and his teenaged son are all taking Sophie's foster brother Pablito to Mexico to see the family he left behind. Food poisoning! Germs! Corrupt police! And most importantly, what if the little boy she's come to love decides to stay in Mexico instead of returning to the States?

To Sophie's astonishment, few of her worries come to pass, and those that do can be handled. In the bosom of Pablito's family, she finds herself capable of more than she ever imagined, even if everyone calls her Sophie la Delicada--the Delicate. When she receives bad news, she has to decide whether Sophie la Delicada can transform herself into Sophie la Fuerte--the Strong. Because she's the only one who can.

The tone of this book veered between the mystical and the hard-edged, and they meshed surprisingly well. Resau shows poverty, violence, and fear on virtually the same pages as warm family scenes and emerging love.

For my money, however, the truly neat thing about this book was that everyone in it had some kind of story in their background. Dika isn't just the crazy aunt: she survived a Bosnian refugee camp. Angel isn't just the cute boyfriend--he's going to Guatemala to find out if his missing mother is still alive. Yet it's not just a collection of tragedies. Each of these stories is a testament of survival, and it's these that Sophie draws on for her strength.

While the story can be slow-moving in parts, the atmosphere and lyrical storytelling will appeal to patient teens who look for the feel of a book rather than an action-packed storyline.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Can Haz Wardrobe?

Sarah Beth Durst, of Into the Wild fame, is running a contest on her website to promote the publication of an upcoming essay collection about The Chronicles of Narnia called Through the Wardrobe.

The book sounds very cool, and the contest even better. You've heard of LOLCats, right? (Just nod. It'll make it easier on you. Now go Google it.) Anyway, we have to make up some LOLAslans for the delight and edification of Sarah Beth and all her readers. Winners get a copy of Through the Wardrobe. It only runs through March 30th, so brush up on your LOLspeak and find a good picture to caption.

Need More Blogs?

So Anastasia Suen, the woman responsible for the Picture Book of the Day blog, has gathered together as many kidlit blogs as she could get her hands on (i.e., everyone who answered their email and wanted in).

Find them all here, at the Blog Central: Children's and YA Lit page. Get yourself some new blogs, add yet more books to your list.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Match It For Pratchett

A few months back, one of my favorite-ever authors, Terry Pratchett, announced that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Here's one of the first interviews he's done since breaking the news. Alzheimer's or not, he's funny and sharp as always.

When I was going in for the tests, they asked my wife and PA to say what they had noticed in my behaviour. They jointly wrote a letter saying, 'Like any author who's in the throes of writing a book, Terry probably shows all the signs of dementia: he's unworldly, he doesn't pay attention to things, he's antisocial, grumpy.' I'm a typical bloody writer. Maybe all of us have had Alzheimer's for years without realising it.

As a fan, you can greet this kind of news one of two ways. The first is to stand outside in the thunderstorm, shaking your fist heavenward and screaming, "Whyyy?" But after awhile, the rain starts to run up your nose.

His fans, being the stellar people that they are, have taken the second way. They've cooked up a charity to raise money for Alzheimer's research. Pratchett himself has donated a million dollars, and these fans are determined to at least match that sum. You can show your support by spreading the word, buying a t-shirt, or donating outright.

And just because I think they're cool, I'm posting some fan-made buttons from the website. The artwork is apparently that of a fan, and I love Moist Von Lipwig's expression especially. It's sneaky and smirky and I'm not so sure I'd actually give him money.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book Review: Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier

Book: Millie Waits for the Mail
Author: Alexander Steffensmeier
Published: 2007

Millie the cow loves one thing more than anything else. Is it grass? No. Is it mooing? No.

It's scaring the mail carrier!

But the farmer keeps getting broken packages, and the mail carrier has cow-filled nightmares. They both decide it's time to do something about Millie's bad habit. So on the same day, they both carry out their respective plans. Can anything change Millie's ways?

It's always fun to see one animal behaving like another (with resultant havoc). Millie sneaks around the farmyard, hiding in the most unlikely places, tail all but wagging in the anticipation of the fun to come. The mail carrier, for his part, looks like a nervous wreck (as well he might, with a one-ton animal scaring the bejeebers out of him on a daily basis).

This book was especially fun to read over again because of the illustrations. Steffensmeier draws with a gleeful energy that perfectly matches the offbeat story. I loved the omnipresent chickens, which pop up everywhere. My favorite was the one perched with admirable sangfroid on the back of a speeding tractor, with a cup of something-or-other at its side.

If you're the type who's fond of a moral, you can use this book to talk about the consequences of our actions, and how what we consider good clean fun might be very harmful to others. Luckily, it doesn't beat you over the head with a Message for the Kiddies, and you can read about Millie, the mail carrier, and the (female!) farmer for the giggles that are sure to come.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dewey Donation System

The Dewey Donation System 2008 Book Drive is happening now through March 12. This year, they've turned the force of their philanthropy on schoolkids in Jamaica and at-risk children in L.A. County.

Donate now! How, you say? Check out the How to Donate page to see the wishlists from the two institutes. (And seriously, folks, check out those detailed wishlists from the Children's Institute in LA. They've got some damn fine early-childhood advocates putting those together.)

What are you waiting for? Go! Go! Go!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Book Review: Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready

Book: Buried
Author: Robin Merrow MacCready
Published: 2006

One morning, 17-year-old Claudine wakes up to find her mother missing. She stays calm, though. Erratic behavior from her alcoholic mother is not unusual. Odds are she’s taken off with a new boyfriend.

So Claudine goes to school, pretends that her mother has checked herself into rehab, and keeps up the facade of “just fine, thanks” that has always gotten her through. But as the days go by with no word from her mother, Claudine’s facade begins to crack and crumble. She can’t remember a test in her favorite subject, she forgets to put the cat out, she can’t even remember to take a shower. Something’s very wrong here. Where is Claudine’s mother?

And what does Claudine know that she’s pretending she doesn’t?

MacCready comes at the story of child-of-an-alcoholic from a different angle than most writers, showing how even as Claudine hates her mother for screwing up her daughter's life in addition to her own, she loves her for being dependent. She likes to know that she’s the strong one, the one who’s got it all figured out.

Everything comes out--the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. Claudine is at least as much of a mess as her mother, albeit in a different direction. In situations where her mother would take a drink, she writes lists and obsesses over chores, organizing via a complex system of color-coding Post-Its, trying to keep everything under control. Of course, with her mother gone, her own reason for existence has vanished. Who is Claudine without her mother?

Read this book once, then read it again. You won’t be sorry.

It's Time for a New Book Award

And that award is . . .

The Gilderoy Lockhart Medal (tin with a thin sheet of goldish metal) for Most Fictionalized Memoir.

Like everyone else on the blogosphere, I am rolling my eyes over the latest faked memoir news. Seems a woman wrote an affecting and deeply moving account of her past life, running drugs in South-Central L.A. Too bad she made it up.

Somebody should tell her about this red-hot new style called fiction. You can make things up and nobody gets mad! In fact, they expect it! Whoaaaaaaa.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Reading Roundup February 2008

For whatever reason, this wasn't quite as good a reading month as January. Not sure why. Still, there was some good stuff in there.

By the Numbers
Total Number Read: 54
Teen: 10
Tween: 12
Children: 17
Preschool: 29

Teen: Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready (review to come!)
Tween: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins
Children: Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty (ARC)
Preschool: Big and Little by John Stadler (review to come!)

Because I Want To Awards
Most Unsettling: Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss
Booktalked to Everyone Including the Janitor: I Am Invited to a Party! and There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems
Most Likely to Provoke a Lump in Your Throat: A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley
Totally Lived Up to the Hype: Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary by Beverly Donofrio
Awwww-Inducing: The Police Cloud by Christoph Niemann