Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Reading Updates

I'm a Cybils Judge


Just a quick update to let you know that I'm busy as a bee reading elementary/middle-grade speculative fiction for the Cybils Awards.  There were a little over 90 books nominated thus far.  The author and publisher submission period is currently open and then my reading will really be kicking into high gear.  I'll try to get some updates on the blog as soon as I get a minute and will link which books I'm currently reading via Twitter.  

Happy Reading!!

Monday, October 8, 2018

New cover reveals for The Lightning Road series by Donna Galanti!

Today I'm thrilled to have Donna Galanti revealing the awesome new covers for her Lightning Road series! Plus enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and get the first e-book in Donna’s series, Joshua and the Lightning Road, on sale now through October 15th for just $0.99cents. Donna shares how she harnessed her imagination to write the series plus an excerpt from Joshua and the Lightning Road. 



 




Harnessing the Power of Lightning with Imagination by Donna Galanti 

Storms have always fascinated me, and I vividly remember being nine years old when my intrigue with lightning began. We lived in rural New Hampshire at the time where the sky was vast and covered me in darkness. I felt so small in the world under that giant black sky – until it lit up with white fire power and sucked me into its energy.

I would sleep out on the screened-in porch to watch the big show, intoxicated by the smell of rain and electricity in the air – and I’ve never forgotten that smell. Smells can hold powerful memory triggers, and I wanted readers to see Joshua’s world as he experiences it with all his senses in Joshua and the Lightning Road. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to a person or event, right? Like how the scent of fresh cut grass can remind you of a summer day, even if it’s the end of autumn. And when you happen upon that smell again, the link is there, ready to pop that memory open.

When I got older the movie War of the Worlds fascinated (and terrified me!) with how the aliens rode blasts of lightning. I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to travel a lightning road to another place?” And the idea for Joshua and the Lightning Road was born.
I imagined a road of lightning that didn’t burn you but a road you could surf on to another world – a road that connected worlds. In the book, Joshua calls the Lightning Road a ribbon of cold fire, and in this scene, he encounters it for the first time when he’s stolen away:

“Yellow and white ribbons of fire snaked before us in a black tunnel, and I froze in absolute terror. Lights ricocheted through the darkness on either side of me like shooting stars. We moved faster and faster. Wind roared everywhere.”

I’ve always been a science fiction fan eating up shows and movies like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek the Next Generation, Stargate, and Star Wars, so the idea of a portal for transport between worlds was already rich in my imagination. This is where the Lightning Gate came into play as a doorway connecting the Lightning Road between worlds and realms.

And to make it more fun, I created a gate key that had to be used to activate travels through the gate. I envisioned the gate key like a jeweled Rubix cube that fit into the gate using specific combinations to travel to a desired destination.  In this scene, Joshua encounters a gate key for the first time.

“Leandro pulled his satchel from under his cloak and lifted out a flat square that gleamed bronze. He set it on a slab nearby and pushed at its flat surface. In an instant, the paper-thin sheet popped up into a wooden cube the size of a tissue box. Gold sparkles moved through it. In the gold flickered colored squares of rubies and emeralds like a sun in the dark cave.”


So, I didn’t base any of the lightning powers in Joshua and the Lightning Road on science but rather all on my own vision. Lightning is big and scary and full of power – and this fuels my imagination to harness its power in my stories.


EXCERPT FROM JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD 

       The trees crowded around us, the deafening quiet of the woods pounding in my ears. Sweat broke out on my lip and I wiped it away. The one beast licked its lips in return, then curled its mouth in an awful grin, exposing vampire dagger teeth. 
      The beasts inched toward us. “We don’t want to hurt you.” Bluffing still seemed the best idea. 
     “And you won’t, my tasty morsels.” The leader panted hungrily. 
     The lightning orb. I had to trust in Bo Chez’s story and believe all its stormy, electric power could help us. But Sam had said the Greek gods lost their powers. Let it do something! And if it breaks, I’m sorry, Bo Chez! 
     Charlie clung to my arm so tight it cramped. Fire flashed out of the leader’s mouth, and a long flame roared toward us, cutting through the mist like a fire sword. All three of us stumbled back. 
     The beast pack leapt toward us like hairy dragons. The moss beneath our feet snapped with fire and heat roasted my face and arms. Fire raced up the wizard trees, and their wood shrieked in splitting agony. 
     “Run!” Sam dragged Charlie and me back.
      Red eyes glared at me. 
     “Hi-yahh!” I flung the orb hard. 
     Blue light exploded into the space before us and knocked us all off our feet. I slammed sideways into a tree and slid down to the ground. The beasts were sprawled motionless before us on the blackened, smoldering moss. Trees smoked as flames flickered up them. Charlie and Sam lay a few feet away. 


                  

ABOUT JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD: Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. Armed with only luck and his grandfather’s mysterious crystal, Joshua must save his friend by traveling the Lightning Road to a dark world that steals children for energy. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life. 

PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD: "Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series

 Joshua and the Lightning Road is available now through October 15th for just $0.99cents on e-book from these booksellers:     Amazon      Barnes &Noble      Kobo      Apple iBooks 

ABOUT JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM: Joshua never thought he’d be called back to the world of Nostos so soon. But when his friend King Apollo needs his help in the Arrow Realm, Joshua braves this dark world once more in order to save him. With Joshua’s loyalties divided between Nostos and Earth, he must rely on his courage and powers to restore magic to this desperate world and to free its people. Abandoned by his friends in his quest, unarmed, and facing great odds, can he survive on instincts alone and not only save those imprisoned—but himself? 

PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM: “Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, this is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” –Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series 

Joshua and the Arrow Realm is available through these booksellers: Amazon  Barnes & Noble      Kobo      Apple iBooks

ABOUT DONNA: Donna Galanti is the author of the bestselling paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine, a writing contest judge at nycmidnight.com, and regularly presents as a guest author at schools and teaches at writing conferences. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna also loves teaching writers about building author brand and platform through her free training series at yourawesomeauthorlife.com. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.

 CONNECT WITH DONNA: 
Website   Facebook     Twitter        Goodreads  





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Monday, October 1, 2018

Category Description and A Few Possible Suggestions for Elem/MG Spec. Fiction Nominations for Cybils 2018


It must be Fall because our temperatures are a cold 35 degrees today.   Fall also means that Cybils book nominations opened and I love seeing all the books that get nominated.   I hope you'll consider nominating your favorites in children and YA published in the U.S. or Canada between October 16, 2017, to October 15th, 2018 (one book nomination per Category per person).  Nominations will only stay open until October 15th, so don't delay.     

 There are lots of different categories to choose from and you can get more information here.    I've got my coffee and am quickly getting my holds in for the books nominated thus far. 

I'd especially love to see more nominations in the elementary/mg speculative fiction category!  Here's the category description from Charlotte Taylor:



This past year has seen another excellent crop of wonderfully inventive speculative fiction books for kids! Along with the expected spells and space rockets and aliens, this is the category for books with talking animals, time-travel, ghosts, and paranormal abilities, and all the other books that might not have obvious magic on every page, and which are set here on Earth, but which push past the boundaries of daily life into what is almost certainly impossible. The two main criteria of the Cybils are excellent writing and kid appeal, and these come first and foremost when we assemble our shortlist. These books will be ones whose creativity, world-building, and characters fly off the rapidly turning pages and into our hearts and minds.
This category is for both Elementary and Middle-Grade books; that is, books written for eight- to twelve-year-olds. Some will be just a small step up from easy chapter books, perfect for the younger end, and others will fall into the “tween” category of books perfect for middle school kids not yet interested in full-blown YA books.


The two main criteria of the Cybils are excellent writing and kid appeal

With that in mind, might I make a few suggestions of books that haven't been nominated yet.  Some I've read and others I would like to read, or better yet, nominate your favorite!



35609868             37570452                 37827086


37811512             38595903                     35183477


37912471               37702173                   13612970



37811021              38256488                37584981


37564158                39951025                 36356692


                           
                         36301028                                36686072

Monday, September 24, 2018

MG Fantasy Review of The Collectors by Jacqueline West


34614114The Collectors by Jacqueline West
Format:  E ARC 
Publisher: Greenwillow Books 
Number of Pages: 304
Publishing:  October 9th, 2018 
Source:  E ARC from Edelweiss Plus 

Opening Line: "The spider dangled above the table."

 I'm a huge fan of West's Books of Elsewhere series and am always excited to hear when there is a new book coming.  West is one of my auto-buy authors.  Then I saw The Collectors pop up on Edelweiss, so I quickly requested it.  I can't wait to receive my hard copy when it comes out in October and read it all over again.  

One of the things that I absolutely adored about The Collectors was the first chapter.  The wonderful image of the spider dangling from the ceiling and our first glimpse at the premise.  Such lovely descriptive passages that really capture your interest.  The way the story has you questioning wishes.  Whether all wishes should come true.  Sure it's wonderful to wish for ice cream with dinner and have it come true, but what if a wish could be dangerous and needed to be stopped?

Coming from a background in speech-language pathology, I also really appreciated the inclusion of Van, a young boy who is hard of hearing and who wears hearing aids.  West accurately describes Van's difficulties in communicating with people when they, for example, don't face him as they're speaking or when they speak too rapidly making it difficult for him to read their lips.  There are many examples in the text of Van using the context of a conversation to decipher what the speaker is saying, thus giving the reader a better understanding of what it's like to have a hearing impairment.  

Eleven-year-old Van (short for Giovanni) currently lives in New York City with his mother, the famous opera singer, following their many travels all over the world.  Van's gotten pretty good at being the new kid at school and spending time on his own, but he still would very much like a friend.   Van loves to collect things that he finds, a blue glass marble, discarded toys, little things that go unnoticed by most.  Van's also really observant.  Like the day in the park where he was watching a man flip a coin into the fountain and a squirrel came flying out of the bushes followed closely by a girl.  Drawn to the girl, Van tries to strike up a conversation, only to have the girl and squirrel disappear when his mother comes calling after him.   Later Van sees the mysterious girl (Pebble) and squirrel (Barnavelt) from the park again and this time he follows them to an odd building belonging to the mysterious group called The Collectors.   After being caught trespassing, Van is tasked with finding out information about another collector, Mr. Falborg and reporting back his finding to Pebble. 

 Here's where the story gets really interesting.  Mr. Falborg invites Van to his home to view his many collections.  Once inside, Mr. Falborg shares one of his prized collections, his Wish Eaters, little creatures who have the power to make wishes come true by eating them.  Mr. Falborg gives Van his very own Wish Eater and cautions him about the Collectors wanting to imprison all of the Wish Eaters.  Now Van becomes very confused.  On the one hand, there are the Collectors who maintain that Wish Eaters are dangerous whereas Mr. Falborg insists he only wants to protect them.  There is lots of ambiguity regarding who's the good versus the bad guys, and whether all Wish Eaters are dangerous or not, which will hopefully be answered in the sequel.  Now if only I could figure out the wording to safely make my wish for news about its release date.  Guess I'll just have to be patient.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

MG Review of The Snow Witch by Rosie Boyes

41842568The Snow Witch by Rosie Boyes
Format:  E ARC  
Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services 
Number of pages:  183
Publishing:  October 1st, 2018
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review
Opening Line: "Ding! Ding! Next stop Bleak Street."


From Goodreads:  "A GRANDFATHER CLOCK. A GLASS LOCKET. A POWERFUL CURSE UNLEASHED ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

Twelve-year-old Kitty Wigeon can't wait for Christmas at St Flurries, a grand old manor house in the countryside until one chilly night she vanishes without a trace.

One hundred years later… Still grieving over the death of their mother, Kes Bunting, and his younger sister Star, are sent to live at St Flurries. They find a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets.

Who, or what is making footprints in the snow?

And what evil force is taking a cold grip on Star?

Wrap up warm as you join Kes, and a cast of eccentric snow creatures, in a race against time, to solve a hundred-year-old curse. Will he succeed? Or will the fate of his sister be decided by a shivery kiss from… the Snow Witch?"

The Snow Witch is the second book that I've read by Rosie Boyes, Clemmie's War being the first.  I've always enjoyed old houses filled with nooks and crannies, expansive libraries brimming with books, a ballroom, and parlor.  While I'm not quite ready for winter yet, I do love stories that give you that magical wintery feeling of swirling snowflakes,  ice skating on a frozen lake, and breath visible in the crisp air.  I was also really drawn to the premise of The Snow Witch, wanting to learn more about how the different components, grandfather clock, locket, and the curse were going to be linked together.  I mean mystery and an old manor, sounds right up my alley.   

I think the story touched on everything that I was looking for and then some.  I enjoyed getting to know the various characters that inhabited St. Flurries, everyone from Goldie the 7-foot tall handyman to Chat the Cat.  St. Flurries sounds absolutely adorable, despite it being rumored to be haunted, or maybe because of.  Even Lady Bunting sounds wonderfully generous and kind, having spent most of her money trying to find the siblings.  There's the mysterious disappearance of Kitty, the hundred-year-old curse, gypsies, and a riddle for Kes to solve.  Oh, this was such a delightful read.  I enjoyed how both sides of the story were reflected by splitting it into different parts, beginning in 2018  with Kes and Star, reflecting back to 1918 to tell Kitty's story and then coming back to the present.  And Kitty, she's such a sweet girl and I was so saddened by the events that led to her to be bound to the grounds of St. Flurries.  Overall, The Snow Witch was a delightful story of family, the bonds between brother and sister, and that "family always sticks together." Thank you very much to Rosie Boyes for the E ARC.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Judges for the Cybils announced today!!



Today's the day, judges for the Cybils were announced and  I'm very pleased to have been selected for the first round of Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction.   This will be my 5th year as a judge and I couldn't be more excited!!
 Our work starts on October 1st and runs until October 15th.  
Here's a link to information about the Cybils Awards and get your nominations ready for the opening on October 1st!   Rules for nominating are here. 

2018 ElementaryMiddle-Grade 
 Speculative Fiction Judges: 


First Round

Sherry Early
@Semicolonblog

Kristen Harvey
@TheBookMonsters

Katy Kramp
@Alibrarymama

Jenni Frencham
From the Biblio Files
@Jennifrencham

Beth Mitcham 
 Library Chicken
@Mitchambeth

Charlotte Taylor
@Charlotteslib

Dr. Cheryl Vanatti
@Tasses

Brenda Tjaden
@logcabinlibrary


Round Two Judges

Stacy Mozer
@Smozer

Rosemary Kiladitis
@Roselo

Mark Buxton

Jennifer Naughton
@Jennie_Naughton

Jenna Grose
@FallingLetters


Congratulations to all the judges!! 
 Looking forward to our discussions on the nominated books!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

MG Historical Fiction Review of Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr

9781760297879.jpgSwallow's Dance by Wendy Orr
Format:  ARC Paperback 
Publisher:  Pajama Press
Number of pages:  360
Publishing:  October 1st, 2018
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Opening Line:  "Nunu says that when the goddess belches, it means change is coming."  

One of the last books that I've read by Wendy Orr was Dragonfly Song, which is a lovely historical fantasy set in Crete during the Bronze Age and centers on a young girl who's only chance to be free is to become a bull-dancer.  Swallow's Dance takes place some 200 years before the events of Dragonfly Song and according to Orr's website, she was inspired to write Swallow's Dance after an archeological dig in Crete.   

At the beginning of Swallow's Dance, Leira and the other maidens of her village are participating in a ritual that will commence their journey to become women when a powerful earthquake strikes the village, destroying their homes and injures Leira's mother.  To search out a new place to live and healer for Leira's mother, the family flees to Crete.  Leira is from a noble-born family and her father is a renowned captain who travels around the world.  Initially, the plan is for Leira to take over her brother's duties watching over their trade deals on the island while her father continues to sail in search of goods to trade.  Shortly after their arrival, Leira is awakened by the loud sounds of a tsunami hitting the island.  Following the earthquake and resulting tsunami, food begins to dwindle and there's an increased fear of an uprising within the city.  Concerned for her safety, Leira takes her mother and Nunu (an elderly servant woman who tends to their family) and runs for the hillside.   In order to survive, Leira alters her appearance and tries to become a servant girl,  but will she be able to blend in with the rest of the refugees on the island?   

Swallow's Dance is the fictionalized story inspired by the real events of a hurricane that occurred in 1625 BCE on the island of  Thera (now known as Santorini) that resulted in a huge tsunami on Crete and the speculation of whether the people of Thera were able to flee to Crete before the city was buried.   Like Dragonfly Song, Swallow's Dance is told through a combination of prose and free verse.  It's a wonderful mix of survival and a coming of age story. 

Leira is a resilient young girl who endures so many hardships once she arrives in Crete.  One of her early concerns is that she will never be able to complete her learning to become a woman.  An idea that resurfaces throughout the story.  She's a maiden trying to trade among the sharks.  At the same time, she is trying desperately to care for a mother who has sustained a horrible head injury that has resulted in Aphasia.  At one point,  she's even forced to give up her identity and turn her back on her people.  Despite everything that she endures, she is still strong, fierce and strives to improve her living situation, to one day be free.  You can't help rooting for Leira as she vows to honor her people and claim who she is.  

One of my favorite lines from the story is when Leira takes her mother to a wise woman for healing.  It's a sad moment because Leira has just started to realize the gravity of her mother's injuries and that she doesn't know who Leira is.  The wise woman believes that an evil ghost has taken her mother's spirit away and in order to return her to who she was, they must surround her with their own memories through song to lead her spirit back to her body so she tells Leira to " Sing her life.  Sing of the life and love that only you know, the secrets that tell her spirit that she is its home."  

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

MG Historical Fiction/Adventure Review of Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher

38351755Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Number of Pages: 192 
Publishing:  October 2nd, 2018 
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "In the evening, as darkness falls, I return to the fortress."

The events of the story begin in the Spring of 1252 in Bergen, Norway.  Starving and desperate for food, a young boy steals a leg of rabbit off of a plate in a pub.  When the man notices his meal is missing, he chases Arthur into the city streets where he accidentally flees into a cage housing a great polar bear.  Arthur is saved by a Doctor who recognizes that the boy seems to have a way with the polar bear.  The two come to an arrangement, Arthur will travel with the Doctor aboard the Queen Margrette and tend to the bear and in return, the Doctor will help him locate his relatives in Wales.  As they set sail, Arthur learns that the bear is to be a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England.  It isn't long before such valuable cargo draws the attention of pirates and soon they are left defending off an attack.  Their journey is further complicated when a violent storm hits the ship.  Thinking they're in danger of being submerged, Arthur jumps overboard with the polar bear.  It isn't long until the sailors are able to recapture the bear and they are forced to bring Arthur back to the ship to ensure the bear is able to stay calmly in her cage.  Once the ship arrives in Britain, the bear is transferred to the Tower of London, and Arthur is able to have a letter he's been carrying with him from his relatives translated.  Arthur finds that his father's family does not want him.  Then news comes that the bear's health has been diminishing under the care of the keeper of the King's Menagerie.  Arthur is faced with the choice of returning to Bergen or helping determine what is ailing the bear.  

Journey of the Pale Bear is a beautiful story of a real polar bear that lived in the Tower of London and the fictional boy who went on the voyage with him from Norway to his new home.  I loved how the action starts off quickly and the short chapters lend themselves to be read aloud.  There are lovely descriptions of life at sea, with all the historical details and perils that one would expect.  My favorite parts are of Arthur taking care of a 1000+ lb polar bear aboard the ship, what to feed her and how to get rid of all of the excrement.  I can only imagine.  I really liked Arthur, he has such a love and passion for making sure that the the polar bear is safe.  His fear of going into the cage is realistic and even his being conflicted about his feelings toward the Doctor seemed authentic.  Especially when he refers to Arthur as "son," meaning it more as a term of endearment.  Arthur had every right to be mad at the doctor for all of the things that he demanded of him.   Arthur said it best, "The doctor had ordered me to go on deck alone with the bear.  I could have been killed.  A man wouldn't do that to his son."   A wonderful story that reflects the bonds that animals and humans can share.   

Monday, September 3, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review of Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

39217633Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Format:  ARC Paperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  240
Publishing:  October 2nd, 2018
Source:  ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Opening Lines:  "I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, my goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante?  Where did she go?  They will have an answer."  

Kate DiCamillo has written some of my favorite middle-grade books, The Tale of Despereaux,  Because of Winn Dixie, and Bink & Gollie just to name a few.  I have a particular fondness for The Tale of Despereaux mostly because of the characters and having read it aloud with my kiddo, so I was pretty excited to receive an ARC for Louisiana's Way Home.  Interestingly, Louisiana's character first appeared in another of DiCamillo's books Raymie Nightingale, a story which sadly I haven't read.  From what I can gather it didn't seem necessary to have read Raymie Nightingale first, though I do hope to get the chance to pick it up in the future.  

Late one night, Louisiana Elefante's Granny wakes her up telling her "the day of reckoning has arrived and they have a date with destiny."  At first, Louisiana isn't too overly concerned.  Granny always seems to have these fantastical ideas and middle of the night excursion's are nothing new.  As Granny takes them further and further away from Florida, Louisiana begins to question whether this is just one of their ordinary trips.  When Louisiana finally confronts Granny about when they'll be back home and who's taking care of her pets, she learns the devastating news that Granny has no plans to ever go back.  

For quite some time Louisiana and her Granny have been relying on the kindness of strangers to get by, or as Louisiana calls it "imposing on."  At first, Louisiana tries to come up with a plan to distance herself from Granny and find her own way back home, but Granny is a force to be reckoned with, especially when her mind is made up.  Shortly into their trip, Louisiana's Granny takes ill with a horrible toothache, which causes them to detour to Richford, Georgia and results in an emergency dental extraction of all of Granny's teeth.  So Granny can recuperate, they plan to spend a few days at the Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel, but only if they can figure out a way to pay the owner Bernice for a room.  

Louisiana has been told many stories about her past from her Granny.  For example, that her parents were the famous trapeze artists The Flying Elefantes and that their family has been under a curse of sundering ever since Louisiana's great-grandpa the magician sawed her grandma in half and refused to put her back together again.  While in Richford, Louisiana begins to question whether the real reason for their late night travel was really to deal with the curse over their heads.  And then Granny up and leaves her at the motel with nothing but a note and Louisiana's world comes crashing down leaving her wondering who she is and where she belongs.  I must say that I really disliked Granny and her reasons for leaving.  

Louisiana reminded me of Anne of Green Gables in so many ways.  Like Anne, Louisiana is a lonely girl who would give anything to have a home and friends.  She's wily, resilient, wise and resourceful.  When she exclaims that "the situation is dire,"  I couldn't help but hear Anne's voice.  This is such a sad but hopeful story filled with many memorable characters.  My favorite hands down has to be Burke Allen and his pet crow.  Burke is a boy Louisiana's age who is probably the first person who has ever shown Louisiana kindness.  Burke offers to get her anything she wants from the vending machine of the motel and later makes Louisiana a sandwich. Oh my goodness, these two are so adorable and Burke and his family are just the sweetest things ever.  Feeling Burke is someone she can trust, Louisiana starts to share with him the story about the curse on her family.   I loved how the story is written to reflect Louisiana's account of the events with her wry sense of humor.  Especially the scene in the dentist's office where Louisiana comes up with a creative way of getting the dental hygienist to give her Granny an unscheduled emergency surgery appointment.  Like I said before, this is a sad but very hopeful story, it covers issues of loss, abandonment, and searching for one's identity.  There are humorous moments, wonderful references to Pinnochio and an ending that highlights forgiveness and leaves you hopeful for Louisiana's future.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser


37570559The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser  
Format:  E ARC 
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers 
Number of Pages: 336 
Publishing:  September 25th, 2018 
Source:  E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:  "This is the most boring summer in the whole history of the world, nine-year-old Oliver Vanderbeeker  announced." 

The story begins as most summer vacation's do with a bit of boredom.  Isa is away at an orchestra camp and siblings Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney are trying hard to entertain themselves around their lovely brownstone in Harlem.  Their upstairs neighbor, Miss. Josie has been suggesting everything from reading a book to trying to get them interested in making a community garden in the unused land next to a church, but so far they haven't shown any interest.  When Mr. Jeets unexpectedly has a serious medical emergency, the children hatch a secret plan to create a beautiful garden for him as a special surprise for when he is discharged from the hospital. 

I must confess that I've never read The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall, but imagine them to be something like The Vanderbeekers.  A large tightknit family, with siblings who each have unique personalities and who despite an occasional bicker, love, and care for one another tremendously.  It's the kind of story that makes me very nostalgic about my own childhood, missing my extended family, friends, relatives, and neighbors.  It just gives you that warm feeling of family and community and is such a sweet story.  

This is the second book in the series, and it could be read as a stand-alone but I certainly would encourage you to start with the first book.  I really enjoyed how the book is formatted with short chapters consisting of mini outings where the children are planning and preparing their garden while also dealing with the challenges and obstacles that come up along the way.  Realistic problems like where to come up with the money to buy the plants and what to do when they find out that the land might be sold.  The illustrations are charming and the story would work really well as a read aloud.  There is some sadness when Mr. Jeets has his second stroke and has to go to the hospital, you can see how much the children care and worry about him.  However, Yan Glaser handles the subject with such care and sensitivity, even interjecting humor at just the right moment keeping things light.  

Oh, and The Vanderbeeker children, it's so difficult to come up with a favorite.  I think this time around I really enjoyed Hyacinth, how she seems to see the good in people.  Even recognizing that Herman Huxley has some wonderful qualities that her brother Oliver doesn't see.  Or maybe it's just because they both seem to bond over a shared enjoyment in knitting.  And who couldn't love Laney and her pet bunny Paganini?  Despite being the youngest, she's quite clever and has the biggest heart.   There's one particular moment of mischievousness that had me laughing out loud.   A truly cozy story with memorable characters and a classic feel that I won't soon forget.  Can't wait to read the next installment in The Vanderbeekers series, I'm hoping for something with a holiday theme.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

MG Mystery: Otherwood by Pete Hautman

38256488Otherwood by Pete Hautman
Format:  ARC 
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  320
Publishing:  September 11th, 2018
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Lines:  
"Years later, people still talked about it. 
It came out of nowhere, they said.
Middle of the day.
Black as night.
Sideways rain.
Trees bent and twisted like blades of grass."


The last book of Pete Hautman's I've read and enjoyed was Slider, it's a book about a boy who enters a competitive eating contest to pay off an online auction he entered but couldn't afford.  Not only was it a humorous story, I really liked the way that 
David's relationship with his younger brother Mal, who has autism was so realistically portrayed.   So, when I read the premise of how Otherwood is a "book about memory and loss and the destructive nature of secrets, but also about the way friendship, truth, and perseverance have the ability to knit a torn-apart world back together." Yep, I jumped at the chance to read it.  

When Stuey was eight years old, a terrible storm came through his town.  While Stuey and his mom went and hid in the cellar, Stuey's grandfather decided to wait it out in his cottage guarding a book he had been writing.  After the storm subsided, Stuey found the pages of his grandfather's book strewed around the room and that his beloved grandfather had passed away.  Since then, Stuey likes to explore the families orchard, wander through the meadow and spend time in his favorite spot within the poplar grove where nestled among the trees he found the remnants of a golf course, originally built by his great-grandfather.  Hidden even further in is also a deadfall or a group of five entangled trees creating a spot where just the right size kid can crawl inside.  A secret fort.   
        
Stuey is a slightly shy and lonely boy, until the summer he meets Elly Rose.  Elly lives on the other side of the woods and shares the same birthday as Stuey.  They both have quite the imagination.  At first, Stuey doesn't know what to think of Elly Rose, especially after she says they're to become "soul mates" and starts talking about a magical kingdom within the woods.  However, Elly's stories about Castle Rose win him over.  Not only does Stuey share his special spot with Elly the two quickly bond and become the best of friends.  Then one day while playing in the woods, Elly vanishes before Stuey's eyes. 

As the story progresses, we learn of a feud that existed between Elly and Stuey's family dating back to their great-grandfathers.  Stuey's great-grandfather was a bootlegger who tried to go legit by building a country club and golf course.  However, he had horribly discriminatory practices in his admissions to the club.  Elly's great-grandfather was a district attorney and sought to put Stuey's in jail.  In the end, both of them went missing following a horrible disagreement.  Thus, setting up the mystery surrounding what exactly happened to the two of them. 

The overall plot is slowly revealed with a huge twist somewhere around the middle that I never saw coming.  It totally blew me away with how the direction of the story changed from not just being a mystery about the past.  I really don't want to say too much more about it, cause spoilers, but wow Hautman had me guessing as to how things were going to resolve.  Otherwood's a much deeper read than I was expecting.  At first, I thought it was going to be along the lines of something like Bridge to Terabithia, a fantastical tale of kids creating a hidden world in the forest.  Which is a very small part of this story, but there are also ghosts, themes of the loss of a grandparent, discrimination, grief of a missing friend, mans impact on the environment, reality, perception, memory, secrets and holding onto a friendship.   Hautman's afterword where he states how the book was a "eulogy to the woods that live now only in my memory" leaves you with a lot to think about.