Friday, December 30, 2011

Cinder (fiction)

As a plague rumbles across the Earth,
the Lunars' queen plans conquest.
Can one teenage cyborg-human make a difference?

On this Future Friday, we get a new look at an old story as Marissa Meyer takes Cinderella's tale into the celebrations commemorating the 124th anniversary of the end of World War IV (yep, more World Wars). Damaged body parts can be replaced with cybernetic-mechanical ones - although most full humans consider cyborgs to be lesser-class citizens. Across the earth, letumosis plague fells rich and poor, young and old, as scientists race to find a cure for the Blue Fever.

Those humans who colonized the Moon centuries ago are Lunars now and have developed mysterious powers. The Lunar queen wants to expand her kingdom, but needs an heir related by blood. Her relentless messages asking for an alliance with Prince Kai's realm escalate into a personal visit to New Beijing's palace. Can the Earthers resist her mind powers?

Hurry to your local indie bookstore to get the first book in The Lunar Chronicles series - Cinder will be published on January 3, 2012. In the meantime, you can listen to chapter one of the audiobook version free, and read the prequel story "Glitches" on Tor Books' website now.

We'll have to wait for the sequels, of course: Scarlet in 2013 (based on Red Riding Hood), Cress in 2014 (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

Book info: Cinder (Book One of The Lunar Chronicles)/ Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, 2012. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [fan-made book trailer]

Recommendation:When the prince brings his android for repair, Cinder wonders if he suspects that she’s a cyborg. She’s the best mechanic in New Beijing, but must avoid public notice so she can keep her job. Otherwise, her stepmother Adri will sell her to doctors testing plague cures on cyborg teen girls.

Up on the Moon, the Lunars under Queen Levana’s mind control never catch the fatal letumosis. The ruthless Queen continues to hammer at the Eastern Commonwealth for an alliance by marriage, even as its King suffers with the plague’s agonies. Peony also falls ill with letumosis, and Adri blames Cinder for her stepsister’s illness.

If Prince Kai chooses an Earthen bride at the Spring Festival Ball - that would stop the Queen’s plans of conquest. Every young woman in the city prepares her gown for the ball – except Cinder. Her stepmother removes her mechanical foot and turns her over to the research lab; no cyborg has ever come back out.

Queen Levana is coming to New Beijing – in person! Will she be able to control every Earther mind? Can Prince Kai find a way to keep their kingdom free? Will Cinder escape the research lab? Why can’t she remember anything before the accident that led to her body being repaired with mechanical cyborg parts?

This fascinating retelling of the Cinderella tale is the first book of the Lunar Chronicles series, with many secrets underlying the familiar story. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nowhere Girl, by A.J. Paquette (fiction) - born in Thai prison, American girl seeks home

Far, far from anyone who knows her.
Far from the crowded streets of Bangkok.
A single twisted tree visible through the prison bars.

Luchi's mother refused to contact anyone in the USA when she was transferred to Khon Meung prison in northern Thailand, so the sweet blond baby born to her there was raised by the women who shared their cell.

Imagine being 14 years old and riding in a car for the first time! Windows with glass and computers are equally new technologies for Luchi, as she travels away from the only place she's ever lived, following the wishes of her mother who died just before she could give her daughter any concrete information about their family in the States.

Beautifully written and satisfyingly original, you'll remember Luchi's difficult journey long after you finish reading Nowhere Girl. Find it today at your local library or independent bookseller.

Book info: Nowhere Girl / A. J. Paquette. Walker & Company, 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Luchi Ann must leave the prison where she was born. As her American mother died, she told the blond teenager to “go home”, leaving scraps of information. Questions about her father always sent Mama into bleak depression – Mama, who was so glad to be relocated to this remote women’s prison in rural Thailand before Luchi’s birth, who warned her to stay safe from danger outside the prison. Oh, the inmates educated Luchi with every book they could find so she knows math and literature in three languages, but very little about the current world outside the prison walls.

So now she’s headed for Bangkok with an old list of phone numbers, a discarded letter, and her mother’s US passport. First time to ride in a car, first time to eat with strangers, first time to see buildings reaching to the sky… Trying to find answers to her mother’s past, to her own identity – this is no easy task for someone who has never before traveled wherever she wanted, never touched a computer.

Can Luchi discover the location of her mother’s home in America? How can she travel half-way around the world with no money and no passport? What is the danger outside the prison walls that her mother always warned her about?

A stirring tale of self-discovery and unexpected adventures, readers will be enthralled with Luchi’s reflections on life in Thailand as they root for her to succeed in her quest to fulfill her mother’s final wish. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bunheads, by Sophie Flack (fiction) - dance, dream, stretch, strain, strive, dance

If you sleep under a ballerina blanket,
practice second position waiting for the schoolbus,
live and breathe ballet - then you're probably a bunhead.

On this Fun Friday, we catch up with 19-year-old Hannah, who's living the dream of many a young girl, dancing every night (and weekend matinees) in pointe shoes and tutus, a professional ballet dancer while still in her teens.

But those cute little grade-schoolers can't know the realities of being a corps de ballet dancer - sewing yourself into your shoes before every performance, dieting constantly, plagued by bunions and muscle strains, worrying about being promoted to soloist or being cut from the company roster.

Listen to the author talk about her recent experiences in the corps de ballet and you'll know that Hannah's story may be fiction, but it's also very true.

Read Bunheads along with Audition (review) for a deep journey into the world of teen professional ballet dancers - you'll never look at those dancing Snowflakes in The Nutcracker quite the same way again.

Book info: Bunheads / Sophie Flack. Poppy Books, 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Hannah is a ballet dancer, not a ballerina – not the star…yet. Moving to New York at age 14, she’s danced with the Manhattan Ballet Company for 5 years, doing homework between performances, stretching tired muscles and massaging her bunions after twice-daily practices, striving for perfect technique and lithe flexibility.

When the calendar turns to fall, it’s time to begin rehearsing The Nutcracker. A holiday favorite of audiences from Thanksgiving to New Year, it’s merely part of the routine for the dancers who perform over 50 different ballets in the Company’s repertoire.

Excitement builds as the director choreographs a new ballet for the Company and selects dancers for each piece. Hannah is thrilled to become Lottie’s understudy, practicing the lead ballerina’s dances as her alternate, less-thrilled to see that Zoe is also chosen as Lottie’s understudy. Competition is an integral part of Company life; friendships are often optional.

Sometimes she escapes the endless cycle of studio to apartment to studio by visiting her cousin’s restaurant, journal in hand. A chance meeting with singer-songwriter Jacob after his guitar performance there shakes up Hannah’s perfectly orchestrated life – could she really find time for a relationship?

When Lottie is hurt and Hannah suddenly steps into the spotlight, will her performance get her promoted to soloist? Can her body cope with the demands to be ever slimmer and stronger? How much of real life is Hannah willing to sacrifice to remain a dancer?

Personal dreams and performance realities dance their erratic and realistic duet in this well-crafted debut novel, as the author’s own experiences as a professional ballet dancer provide behind-the-scenes details. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Brother's Shadow (fiction)

To keep your family alive...
would you lie?
would you cheat?
would you steal?

Germany's people go to sleep hungry in 1918, as young men and old men go to fight in the Great War. Kaiser Wilhelm assures them that the war is almost won - his lies do not fill empty bellies or heal maimed soldiers.

Moritz does all he can to support his mother, sister, and grandmother with his older brother Hans still fighting in the trenches, their father dead in the war. What about his dreams of becoming a writer?

We stand in the ration lines with Hedwig, hear the radical speeches at secret meetings, and see protesters cut down by government police as Moritz struggles to make sense of his world. Schroder, author of Saraswati's Way (review), accurately portrays defeated Germany as the seeds of its future actions toward Jews and the rest of the world are planted in the bitterness of the War's closing days.

Book info: My Brother's Shadow / Monika Schroeder. Frances Foster Books/FSG, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Moritz knows he’s lucky to work at the printers – Berlin in 1918 is a place of hunger and desperation. Older brother Hans is now fighting on the Western Front, leaving the 16-year-old as head of their household; Father died at Verdun in the early days of this Great War.

His mother and sister trudge home day after day, reeking of chemicals from the munitions factory, chilled to the bone from standing in ration lines that shortchange them on food. The British have successfully blockaded all German ports for 4 years now.

The Kaiser says that Germany is winning the war, but secret meetings of the social democrats call for public demonstrations to end the fighting. Moritz discovers that his mother not only attends these forbidden meetings, but is a leader in the anti-war movement, now hunted by the police.

Desperate to feed his family, Moritz is pulled into his brother’s old gang of thieves, stealing from rich men’s brimming pantries and bakers’ dwindling supplies of chalk-tainted flour. He meets a young lady in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wonders if there will ever be a peaceful time to discuss books with Rebecca Cohen.

A letter in unfamiliar handwriting arrives – Hans has been wounded badly. Will he survive? Will the Kaiser really agree to an Armistice to end the war? Can mother and Hedwig stay safe in the protest marches? Revolution? Is more fighting the answer to everything?

This compelling story takes readers into Germany’s dark times during the closing months of World War I, when anti-Semitism began to take root and the massive reparations demanded by the Allies would cripple the Germany economy for decades. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (fiction)

One dream.
One chance.
One life, forfeit if the secret is discovered.

To be chosen to assist a Dragon in protecting their land from disastrous typhoons, Eon struggles to master the intricate swordwork that will win a place at the annual competition.

She cannot deny the pull of dragon-spirit that whispers through her veins, risking execution for daring to compete in this men-only world of the Dragoneyes.

Strongly echoing the customs and traditions of ancient China, Eon's world is swirling with intrigue and treachery, even before the long-absent Mirror Dragon roars in from the Spirit World to upset the order of the Imperial Palace.

Now available in paperback, the tale of Eon is continued in Eona - don't miss either volume of this fascinating adventure!

Book info: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn / Alison Goodman. Viking, 2008 (hardback), Firebird, 2010 (paperback). [book website] [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Only one chance to become Dragoneye apprentice… Soon Eon’s years of training will be over as he competes against 11 candidates. Perhaps the Dragon’s spirit eye will overlook his crippled leg?

Eon feels the mighty Rat Dragon’s spirit ripple through his blood, even after the swordmaster’s ambush on the competition field. Ten dragon brothers and the whole empire watch as the ascendant Dragon selects Dillon as his apprentice. Eon now must run away before anyone discovers that this 12-year-old boy is really a young woman who risked execution for a chance to serve the Emperor as Dragoneye!

Suddenly the long-dark twelfth dragon mirror brightens. For the first time in living memory, the Mirror Dragon has appeared to select an apprentice – and chooses Eon. In this imperial court of protocol and ceremony, no one knows what to do with an apprentice who has no master to train him or how to deal with two ascendant dragons in one year.

Soon, the ascendant Dragoneye and his dragon must travel north to help control the weather – for the Dragoneye Lords serve during their Dragon year to keep the empire safe. But the angry Rat Dragoneye doesn’t want to share power with Lord Eon, who might discover his plans to use dragon power to overthrow the Emperor!

Will Eon’s secret stay a secret in the rumor-filled Imperial Palace? How can Eon practice working with the Mirror Dragon without the correct instruction? Why do the dragons agree to help the Empire year after year?

This thrilling adventure set in a land much like ancient China reveals the rippling scales of dragons in the storm clouds overhead – and the bitter venom hiding in human hearts. First in series, 531 heart-stopping pages. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Amplified (fiction)

Amazing rock guitar skills.
Determination to make great music.
Seriously paralyzing stage fright.
Two out of three, okay??

The band members are skeptical about whether anyone from ritzy Westside can really play authentic lead guitar. What would a rich girl know about true industrial rock?

Throw in the synth player's bright blue hair (his tutu doesn't clash), the lead singer's habit of chasing cute girls just before going on stage (it's her life, but gotta be on time), and Sean's hostile attitude toward Jasmine - well, stage fright might be the least of her worries... not really.

Tara Kelly effortlessly brings readers into the highs and lows of the C-Side band. On this Fun Friday, root for Jasmine to break through her fears and play what's in her soul.

Book info: Amplified / Tara Kelly. Henry Holt, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Well, that’s that. Thrown out of dad’s house because she wants to play guitar for a year before going to college, Jasmine has to find a job and somewhere to live – now.

When her old car dies in front of a repair shop, she hopes that’s a good sign; an encounter with a scowling dude who works there convinces her otherwise. So with the car in the shop till she can pay for parts, Jas is forced to carry her electric guitar everywhere as she searches for a non-crazy roommate (why is this so hard in coastal California?) and competes with every high school kid for a no-experience-required job.

An ad seeking a guitarist catches her eye – hmm, room to rent included. “Guys only” or not, it’s her best hope, so she puts on her best rock musician face and asks for an audition. The band’s singer helps her get a job in a psychic’s shop, while Jas tries to steady her nerves before the tryout. And in walks the guy from the car shop, bass player for the band and the singer’s brother, ready to toss Jasmine out without even hearing her play…

Is Jas really good enough to be in C-Side? Will Sean ever get over his attitude toward her? Can Jas get over her stage fright and actually perform on stage (or is her dad going to win the argument about musicians being losers)?

Musicians will love the swooping descriptions of the indie rock music that Jas and her new friends create, while readers less familiar with musical vocabulary will find new ways to explain what they hear in their favorite songs, thanks to the author’s lyrical ability to turn melodies, harmonies, and rhythms into evocative printed words. Come on over to the club scene of Santa Cruz and the raw world of industrial rock – Amplified. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Between Two Ends, by David Ward (fiction) - jumping into the world of 1001 Arabian Nights

Can you truly dive into the pages of a favorite book?

If you remember the stories of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, then you know about the cruel king, the murdered wives, and clever Scheherazade who kept herself alive by telling the king stories each night.

And you know about the brutal world into which the modern Shari has gone, bewitched into the pages of the "unexpurgated" Arabian Nights, where the king's wicked behavior was not sugar-coated or glossed-over.

So on this World Wednesday, it will take a pair of bronze pirate bookends, a long-dormant wishing well, and all of Yeats' courage and ingenuity to set Shari free from her enchantment and bring her back to her grandfather... will it be enough?

An exciting tale from the author of The Grassland Trilogy (reviewed here, here, and here) - are you ready to go Between Two Ends with Yeats?

Book info: Between Two Ends / David Ward. Amulet Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [author video]

Recommendation: Yeats wonders why his depressed father insists on returning to Gran’s house now – something dreadful happened there 20 years ago, something that is never discussed with him.

Meeting eccentric Mr. Sutcliff, stumbling upon that old wishing well in the garden, and uncovering a bronze bookend suddenly takes Yeats into the heart of his family’s mystery.

When his dad was a boy, he and adventurous Shari explored every inch of the garden and read every book in his poet-grandfather’s library, including one special copy of Arabian Nights. One terrible day, Shari was kidnapped from their garden, and William couldn’t stop the men as they escaped with her down the well. Losing his friend has kept him on the brink of madness for years and has turned her grandfather Mr. Sutcliff into a recluse, both certain that their Shari had been taken back in time, back into the oft-told story of her namesake Shaharazad, back to the realm of a king who killed his bride on their wedding night, night after night, bride after bride.

By finding the long-lost pirate bookend and sending a wish into the well, Yeats has reopened the portal into Shaharazad’s world. Does Yeats have the courage to venture into the realms of story and imagination with the pirates? Can a modern boy survive in that brutal ancient kingdom? Can he find Shari and convince her to come back to her grandfather?

This skillful combination of now and way-back-when will keep readers turning its 304 pages, traveling with Yeats to a far-off time and place where danger is the only certainty. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Line (fiction)

Does a fence keep enemies out or keep its citizens in?
Who controls the truth?
Can people truly do what's right in defiance of their own society?

Welcome to a possible future on this Metaphysical Monday, to the "Unified States" where Rachel and her mother need to be unremarkable, to not draw the attention of government agents who are looking for any reason to remove possible security risks.

Imagine - agents having the power to imprison people who can't pay a random tax on the day it's enacted, to strip a family of all its possessions and force them into the perpetual poverty of the Labor Pool, to make people just disappear ...
Her mom still has a copy of the original rights bill, even though it's treason to mention it.

The peacefulness of propagating orchids with Ms. Moore in the Property's greenhouse won't last long when the message arrives from The Others across The Line - how can the mutated former citizens talk like regular people?

A chilling look at an all-too-plausible dystopia where government boundaries and policies determine everything - except compassion. Rachel's story continues in the newly published sequel, Away.

Book info: The Line / Teri Hall. Dial Books, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Rachel wonders about The Others, the mutated creatures that exist across The Line. That invisible barrier still protects the Unified States from the results of a terrible war. No one crosses it now; no one worries about the Unified citizens who were trapped outside The Line when the experimental bombs landed.

She and her mother are safe here on The Property, working for Ms. Moore, growing orchids. After Rachel’s dad was lost in the war, they were lucky to find Gainful Employment away from the city – where joining the ranks of the Labor Pool means inescapable poverty, where government agents remove those who are “security threats”.

But when a voice recorder gets past The Line with a plea from The Others for medical assistance, Rachel must decide if she can help – and how she can get the medicines through The Line. Her mother reminds Rachel that the government-controlled news isn’t always the truth and reveals secrets about her father’s past. Ms. Moore explains her connection to The Line as they try to work out what they can do to help The Others without alerting the government agents.

Why did the government close The Line so fast that many of their own citizens were trapped outside? How did anyone survive those attacks? Why doesn’t anyone come back when the agents take them away?

Join Rachel in this dystopian future as she weighs the options – stay safe on her side of The Line or do what’s right despite the danger. First in a series, followed by Away. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Same Difference (fiction)

Sort of rude,
Fairly crude,
Still totally inept at social interaction.

It's Fun Friday for us, but not so much fun for mid-20s Simon, as a fleeting glimpse of an old high school friend sets off a chain of reminiscences and regrets.

Simon's high school acquaintances couldn't even remember that Koreans weren't Japanese - why did he expect them to show a little respect to Irene who was trying to make her way through the sighted world?

And you've got to wonder why Nancy decided to open the letters addressed to the former tenant of her apartment. Did this Sarah really move without a forwarding address to avoid being contacted by Ben? Did Nancy really write back to Ben, pretending to be Sarah!?

Derek won the 2004 Eisner, 2004 Harvey, and 2003 Ignatz Awards with Same Difference as a self-published book; it's even better in this hardback reissue, published this week with spiffed-up art and Derek's notes about how he used sites he knew to create an authentic setting for this mostly-not-autobiographical story.

If your local library doesn't have it yet, head for an independent bookstore to get Same Difference - hope your copy has the cool acetate cover with the fish! Proof again that comics ain't just for kiddies.

Book info: Same Difference / Derek Kirk Kim. First Second Books, 2011. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [author interview]

Recommendation: Regretting the past is familiar for Simon in his mid-20s, but worrying about his pal Nancy’s offbeat response to misdelivered mail is new territory.

Unexpectedly catching sight of an old friend from his small-town California high school, Simon explains to his friends why he just can’t go talk to her. Even several years after graduation, he feels the pain of being an outsider, a grunge-rock Korean surrounded by waves of belligerent Anglo blockheads.

Irene transferred in during their senior year. Since they had two classes together, sometimes Simon would walk with her to class. Oh, and she was blind, so the local yokels loved to make stupid jokes about that, too. When she hinted about going to the dance together, he bailed out, made an excuse about visiting relatives…but didn’t.

Nancy finally lets Simon know about the mail that’s been coming to her new place – mail from Ben Leland to the last tenant, mail that professes his undying love for Sarah, mail that Nancy opens, week after week, and then answers!

When a package arrives from Ben, Nancy decides that she has to get an actual look at him and wrangles Simon into driving her to Pacifica – Simon’s hometown.

Can they find Ben? Will Nancy really try to take a peek at him? Or contact him? Will Simon cross paths with Irene again and get the nerve to apologize? Sometimes growing up is a lot more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Derek Kirk Kim has successfully melded several episodes of his famed webcomic into a single graphic novel which won several awards as a self-published work. Enjoy this new edition with wacky introduction by fellow West Coast cartoonist Gene Yang, plus Derek's notes on creating his characters and setting. (Review copy courtesy of the publisher.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hannah's Winter, by Kierin Meehan (fiction) - Japanese ghosts, ancient puzzle mysteries

book cover of Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan published by Kane Miller
Winter in Japan.
Hot Australia far away.
Ghosts throwing donuts?

A mystery in the snow-shrouded town of Kanazawa is not what Hannah expected when she came to Japan. High school for her, horticultural field study for her mum, and then a ghost who tosses donuts and writes on Hannah's mirror with sunscreen??

The town's winter festivals and historic sites draw Hannah and her new Japanese friends Miki and Hiro further and further into a ancient mystery.

Dire visions foretold by three old women and dragons hidden in plain sight - could they be relevant to the task that "the ocean boy" begs them to accomplish? Dive into the puzzles of Hannah's winter in Japan at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Hannah's Winter / Kierin Meehan. Kane Miller, 2009. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Going to school in Japan instead of starting high school in Australia with her friends worries Hannah; her height and auburn hair will really make her stand out. But a mysterious message from the past sends her exploring her new city quickly.

Her host-father translates the ancient kanji on the fragile paper – it’s a puzzle, asking the finder to “help the ocean boy” by following the cryptic instructions. After “the first snowfall,” Hannah, host-sister Miki, and neighbor Hiro travel to “the temple of secrets” and see a vision from the past!

A boisterous ghost in the house, donuts tossed in the air, messages on her mirror, that recurring dream of the tunnel, a house of cards… Hannah finds they’re all pieces of the puzzle (except the donuts). A suit of samurai armor is delivered to Miki’s shop and puffs out incense with no fire. Japanese school is interesting, but waiting until time to “go at sunrise to wake the dragon” is hard.

Why has the “ocean boy” chosen Hannah to help him finish his task from the past? Is the man suddenly appearing all over their neighborhood “the one who does not want the boy to go”? And why has the samurai armor’s incense smoke changed from blue to yellow?

You’ll get peeks into modern Japanese culture as well as older folktales and traditions as you visit Kanazawa’s festivals and parks with Hannah, Miki, and Hiro to solve the mystery before it’s too late for “the ocean boy.”(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Audition (fiction)

Can Sara stay slim enough?
Can she stretch far enough?
Can she pirouette fast enough?
Does she have what it takes to become a true ballerina,
or will she remain just a corps de ballet dancer in the back row?

Dancing for hours daily despite bunions on her feet and muscle injuries, sneaking time alone with Rem, enduring his professional detachment at dance school... How much can you give of yourself before there's no "you" left at all? That's what Sara has to discover for herself, alone amid the competing dancers of the Jersey Ballet's school.

A compelling novel-in-verse, Stasia's first work of fiction is enriched by her background as a professional dancer and choreographer. Look for Audition at your local library or independent bookseller.

Book info: Audition / Stasia Ward Kehoe. Viking, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: A dance scholarship takes Sara from Vermont to the Jersey Ballet – can she polish her small-town technique enough to stay there? Perhaps this is her chance to become a true ballerina instead of just a ballet dancer.

Taking the city bus from her host family’s house to dance class to private high school to dance class and dance class and dance class, Sara has never been so tired. The competition is intense, as she must master enough skills to move up to the next level in a short time. No scholarships for those who progress too slowly here.

Her eyes are always drawn to strong, intense Remington, choreography contest finalist, principal male dancer at Jersey Ballet, part-time teacher at age 22. And eventually Rem is drawn to 16-year-old Sara, taking her to small restaurants in stolen moments away from the studio.

As the girls compete to be soloists in the Nutcracker and Rem’s version of Goldilocks, each battles with herself to stay slim enough, to be flexible enough, to be good enough. As Rem and Sara create a very private dance in his apartment, she wonders if she’ll ever partner with him on stage as well.

This strong novel-in-verse gives very mature readers an open window into Sara’s longings and fears, her worries about succeeding in this immense opportunity that her parents are struggling to afford, her wonderment over how differently Rem treats her when they’re in public and when they’re alone. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Misfit (fiction)

Never fitting in.
Moving all the time.
World's grumpiest dad.
A long-lost uncle who's a demon?

Jael had hoped for an old clunker car or even a cellphone for her 16th birthday, but her dad didn't even leave her a birthday card on the breakfast table. Just a note, "Come home right after school. We have to talk."

Who would ever imagine that she was half-demon? Or that someone on the faculty would attack her at their Catholic school? Or that a cute skateboarder guy would think she was worth talking to? Jael's hair becomes her crowning glory - just like her mother Lilith's was - and things get really complicated.

Flashbacks are written in the expected past tense, but the author has chosen to have Jael's story lurch along completely in simple present tense - a bit odd, but soon the gripping pace of the story lets readers slide over this unconventional writing tic.

Book info: Misfit / Jon Skovron. Amulet, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Jael’s dad is so strict that she’s never been on a date, never been kissed, never fit in at school. Her mom died when Jael was a baby, but is that any reason for her ex-priest father to keep dragging them from town to town? Always she’s enrolled in a Catholic school, but he forbids her to talk about angels or heaven or hell…

On her sixteenth birthday, he reluctantly gives her a pendant from her mother, but only because it was her deathbed wish. Suddenly, Jael’s dreams are filled with visions of mystical creatures, and she discovers that her mother was a demon – the infamous Lilith – who was killed because she tried to defect from the most ambitious duke of Hell.

Now her uncle-demon warns her that Belial can sense her through the pendant and is coming to exact his final revenge against her mother. Jael has a short time to learn what powers she may have as a half-demon and how to use them to defend herself and her father and her first-ever friends at school.

Can Jael’s uncle cram a lifetime of training into a few days? Will he be able warn her before Belial’s attack? Does Jael truly have the seductive beauty of her mother hidden under the frumpy clothes her father chooses? And Dad was really a demon-hunter?

Flashbacks to the past adventures and perils of Jael’s parents give the reader insights into the story that are later revealed to her. She never thought her life was easy, but now the fate of humanity may be at stake. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Withering Tights, by Louise Rennison (fiction) - theater camp, boys, and more drama

Performing arts school!
Taught by real actresses and dancers!
Far in northern England, on the Yorkshire dales...

It's Fun Friday, as Tallulah searches for her time in the spotlight, on stage, away from her silly little brother. She's off to Dother Hall and a chance to audition at the end of summer for a permanent spot at the school.

Such *dramatic* drama instructors... and weird improv exercises... and strange interpretive dance classes. How is it that she suddenly can't dance or sing or act?

Throw in a brooding mother owl, the nearby boys' school, various odd villagers, worries about casting for Dother's all-girl version of Wuthering Heights, and Tallulah's concern that her legs will keep growing (and the interesting parts never will), and you can see why Georgia's cousin (as in the hilarious "Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" series) is a just trifle worried about passing her audition.

So what will Tallulah be doing on stage next? Watch for book 2, A Midsummer Tights Dream, due out in February 2012.

Book info: Withering Tights (Misadventures of Tallulah Casey #1) / Louise Rennison. HarperTeen, 2011 [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Tallulah knows that summer drama school will be better than bug sandwiches with her crazy little brother. With her parents overseas pursuing their own interests, it’s certainly time for her to dance and act in Yorkshire. Her just-older cousin Georgia promises to write with advice about boys – surely, there are boys nearby…

Rooming in the village with the wacky Dobbins family (they’re keen on squirrels), she and Vaisey (staying with the pubowner’s family) walk past millions of sheep on their way to Dother Hall, where improvisation and dance and art and the rest of the students live.

The full-time girls perform strange plays with confusing dialogue, the handyman plays heavy metal music in the workshop, and the instructors tell the girls to act without any scripts. Their modern version of Wuthering Heights is, um, uh, different.

Things start looking up when the boys from Woolfe Hall invite Tallulah and friends to the cinema. The school director says it will help them look through the inner darkness; the girls just want to be with the boys.

A local band is performing at Dother so they can get a live recording – and village badboy Cain is the lead singer. How many hearts will he break over the summer? If he’d just stop harassing the owl nest and killing foxes…

Will Tallulah pass her auditions to become a permanent student at Dother Hall if she can’t tap dance or sing? Can a knobby-knees girl who’s waiting for the rest of her body to grow up to match her 14-year-old heart find happiness on stage? Is a first kiss too much to ask of this summer?

More laugh-out-loud fun from the author of the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series, who brings readers along on Tallulah’s bumpy ride through a summer that’s much more dramatic than she dreamed it could be. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zahra's Paradise (fiction)

Fraudulent elections.
Violence against protesters.
Hospitals invaded by the Revolutionary Guard.

World Wednesday takes us to Iran in the bloody days following the June 2009 elections which were manipulated by the powerful Supreme Guardian Council. Hundreds of thousands of students descended on Freedom Square in Tehran to demonstrate - many never returned home.

This unflinching graphic novel began as a webcomic about an anonymous Iranian blogger attempting to let the outside world know how Iranians felt about the election results. His family's search for Mahdi represents all the missing students and the agonies suffered by their families while searching for them. Two chapters are still available on the book's website with translations in ten languages.

Amir and Khalil also include information on the Omid Memorial, "hope" in Persian, which collects the names and stories of those who have perished in Iran while standing up for human rights since the 1979 Khomeini revolution.

Strong feelings, unfettered language, detailed black and white art - Zahra's Paradise is not for the faint of heart, but is a call for human rights and freedom.

Book info: Zahra's Paradise / written by Amir; artwork by Khalil. First Second, 2011. [book website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Iran, summer 2009 – students protest against rigged elections, and Alavi’s brother doesn’t come home. It makes no sense; Mehdi was studying for his final exams so he wasn’t out partying. As Alavi and his mother search Tehran’s hospitals in this graphic novel, their despair deepens – is Mehdi one the many who have disappeared into Evin Prison, that horror of abuse and degradation?

Alavi prints up missing person posters with Mehdi’s picture, meeting a sympathetic copy shop owner near the university and a beautiful woman who reminds him of well-respected Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. In 2003, Zahra was taken into Evin Prison for questioning and came out in a coffin. Chief Justice Mortazavi said she had tripped; an autopsy showed that she had been tortured and raped.

Swirling connections of corrupt officials and powerful politicians continue to block every avenue that the Alavis pursue in search of Mehdi. The few people who dare to help them are well aware of the risks involved, but what decent person wants another dead son dumped into an unmarked grave in Lot 309? Ah, Zahra’s Paradise, the cemetery named for the wife of the Prophet, has a growing hidden section that no one publicly mentions.

This intense graphic novel about struggle, power, and loss is a brutal testimony to the thousands of Iranians who asked for free elections and were silenced. The closing pages of the book contain their names, page after page in the smallest readable font, as part of the Omid Memorial, so that they may not be forgotten, even though their final resting places be unknown. It is no wonder that the author and artist published this compelling story using only fictitious first names.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Legend (fiction)

Elite soldiers and expendable worker drones.
Iffy electrical power and repeated plagues.
Endless slums and a handful of luxury apartments.

Future Los Angeles is a far cry from today's sunny tourist destination. Most of its 20 million people are doomed to slums because of their mediocre Trial scores at age 10. Those who score too low are removed by the Government as a useless burden on society.

Scoring well on the Trial means high school and college and a good position in the Elector's own police force. June is the only person who ever made a perfect score and has raced through all her classes in just four years, getting ready to stand as an officer on the front lines with her brother Metias.

When he is murdered by the notorious teen-criminal Day, who's survived on his own since escaping from prison after his failed Trial, June's hunger for revenge and Day's drive to protect his impoverished family set the pair on a collision course with consequences that no one could envision.

Scheduled for Nov. 29 publication, so grab the first book in the Legend trilogy at your nearest indie bookstore tomorrow!

Book info: Legend / Marie Lu. Putnam, 2011. [author's website] [series website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: No one expected a 10-year-old to break out of prison like Day did. No one expected a 10-year-old to get a perfect Trial score like June did either. Future Los Angeles only educates the very brightest – the middling ones become drudge labor, the Trial failures are turned over to government prisons or research labs.

Now 14, June is bored with her military college classes and longs to be on active duty full-time like her older brother Metias. Her parents would be so proud of them both, if they were still living… When Metias is killed on a routine patrol, June is not sure she can keep on living, but duty to the Elector keeps her going.

Day moves along the fringes of underground society, stealing supplies to keep his family alive in the slums, even though they think he’s gone forever. Fleetingly captured on security cameras, Day’s exploits against government stations are becoming legendary, even though no one knows exactly who he is.

Another plague is stalking the poor areas of the city, and Day spies as his family’s house is marked with the infected-quarantine mark. Now, getting the plague suppressant for his brother is Day’s main concern – and that means infiltrating high-security hospital labs undetected.

As Day searches for the medicine, the police continue searching for Day. June is assigned to the case and takes to the streets in disguise, trying to capture this renegade before he becomes more of a folk-hero in the slums.

The more Day learns about this plague, the more worried he is for his family. The more June learns about Day, the more she questions the Republic’s actions.

Was Day involved in Metias’s death? Why are the plagues so common in the City? Will June find answers in her brother’s journals or just more questions?

Leap into a gritty future adventure with Legend, recounted by Day and June in alternating chapters, first in a series. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Life Undecided (fiction)

Welcome to Fun Friday (for us) as Brooklyn is not having any fun anymore -
grounded by her parents forever,
shunned by her so-called friends at school,
performing community service to make up for her stupid decisions...

Why not let others decide everything for her for a while? As her blog readers' choices lead her through experiencing a macrobiotic diet, getting bruised up at rugby tryouts, and being unexpectedly good at debate, Brooklyn has a chance to be herself instead of society-queen Shayne's primped and painted sidekick.

And you can visit - yes, Brooklyn's blog - right now if YOU want blog readers to help YOU make a choice! But remember that there are some decisions that you really have to make for yourself...

Book info: My Life Undecided / Jessica Brody. Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Brooklyn didn’t think throwing that party in her mom’s new model home was a bad idea – she just didn’t think at all. Firetrucks, underage drinking, destruction of property – she’s lucky that her parents found a lawyer who got her off with community service. Helping clear the debris of the burned-down model home fits her dumb offense, but 200 hours volunteering in a Denver nursing home? Auggghhhh….

In desperation, Brook decides to anonymously blog about it all – and let her blog readers vote on what she should do next. After all, when was the last time that she made a good decision on her own?

Before the fire, Shayne directed every fashion and makeup choice, since they were both at the top of Parker High’s social ladder – now she snubs her at school. Her older sister Isabelle is perfect at everything. And 10 years after she fell into an abandoned mineshaft as a toddler and was rescued, she’s still recognized as “Baby Brooklyn.”

Eleven people vote in her first poll, and Brook is relieved to go with the majority choice of The Grapes of Wrath for English class. At the nursing home after school, she’s assigned to read to Mrs. Moody, who adores the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Maybe letting others make her decisions will be better after all!

Since she’s letting her blog readers vote on every choice, soon she finds herself trying out for rugby and debate, going to a diner instead of a swanky club opening, and becoming part of a hostage situation (well, she chose that minimart herself). When her blog goes viral, she suddenly has 800,000 readers telling her what to do about the overnight debate trip and which guy to date!

What’s up with Mrs. Moody and that collection of kids’ books? Should Brooklyn decide on her own about going to the Winter Formal? Wait, is Shayne really apologizing for snubbing her?

Brooklyn has to discover some answers for herself in this hilarious, timely, and oh-too-true teen novel. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paper Daughter (fiction)

When what you "know" about your family isn't true,
When the person with the real answers is gone,
How far can you search back into the past without losing yourself?

Maggie knows that she wants to be a reporter like her father, recently killed by a hit-and-run driver. But when investigations get too close to home, when the truth upends everything she thought she knew about her family background...

Her hometown of Seattle has always been shaped by immigration and change - from its wild days as a frontier logging town through the countless immigrants from China who made one corner of the city their own, despite the strangling restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

So what does Maggie discover about her family's past and her own future?
Find out at your local library or independent bookstore on our World Wednesday - and remember to share family stories around the table this Thanksgiving.

Book info: Paper Daughter / Jeannette Ingold. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [student video book trailer]

Recommendation: As a young journalist, Maggie Chen has her late father's writing skills and reporting instincts. His recent death has left a gaping hole in her life, but she is determined to complete the summer internship he helped her arrange at the local newspaper.

That Jillian rushed in and grabbed photo desk before Maggie could even open her mouth - good thing Maggie won't be working directly with the other intern, who is all talk and nosiness. But internship means trying every aspect of the job, so she'll start at the sports desk and move to other assignments as the summer goes on.

Maggie and her professor mom start to notify Dad's out-of-town contacts about his death, about that hit-and-run driver. When one call connects Maggie to Dad's best friend in college, pieces of his life story begin to crumble as the truth about his past erases the family stories that he'd always told them. Now she's wondering about the unfinished articles in her dad's files.

If Dad wasn't from a well-to-do family, then where did he come from? Why did he contact so many people in California just before his death? Was he in Seattle's old Chinatown on the day he died for a newspaper story or on a personal investigation?

During her first "hard news" assignment, Maggie learns that someone else was killed in the same area on the same day, someone who might have been ready to blow the whistle on corrupt land development deals. Was her father's death connected to that, too?

Murmurs of Chinese immigrants' stories thread through Maggie's search for answers, stories of "paper sons" claimed as blood relatives on immigration applications, of changed names and unchanged resentments. Can she ever know who she really is? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tag! (reflective)

Hmm... what's the trend?
Recent themes of books recommended here?
Top tags and noteworthy notes?

Wordclouds can give a graphical look at patterns in information.
Try Tagxedo or Wordle to make your own free wordcloud of a passage from a favorite book, your Facebook posts, Twitter feed -
do you see any patterns that surprise you?

And watch for upcoming books on BooksYALove - with familiar subjects and new horizons for us to explore together.

Which recently recommended book intrigues you most?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Am Tama, Lucky Cat (fiction)

Wait a minute... a picture book on a YA blog?

Yes, of course! Picture books are great for all ages and every interest. That's why Picture Book Month reminds us of the wide range of stories where the pictures make the tale come alive, from Where the Wild Things Are to Grandfather's Journey.

Today's picture book theme celebrates folktales, so we look to a Japanese legend. Now you can discover why Lucky Cat became the friendly image that so often greets you in Chinese restaurants and oriental markets.

A charming book to spice up your world geography report or to share with younger friends. What do you wish the Lucky Cat could bring to you?

Book info: I Am Tama, Lucky Cat / Wendy Heinrichs; illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi. Peachtree Publishers, 2010. [publisher site]

Recommendation: Arriving at an old Japanese temple, the bobtailed cat raises his paw in greeting. The monk brings him in from the snowstorm and calls him a lucky cat. So Tama strives to make life better for the monk in this beautiful retelling of the lucky cat legend. But with no money, how can Tama and the monk repair the temple and help its worshippers?

Watercolor images of the flowering trees and carp pond surrounding the rundown temple evoke the serenity of its setting near a holy mountain. This beautiful picture book for all ages includes short historical notes about the legend’s origins.

You’ll look for new details in the illustrations every time you read about Tama, and you’ll smile every time you see a ‘lucky cat’ in a store window or restaurant, his paw raised in traditional greeting. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Future of Us (fiction)

Oooh, tell me about my future!!
I'll have hundreds and hundreds of friends!?
I'll look like that in 15 years?
I'll be incredibly... miserable?

Seeing into the future is a form of time travel, and best friends Josh and Emma have stumbled onto a window into their own destinies through an AOL disk and a dial-up modem.

Somehow, the view from 1996 (when getting online is new to most teens) into their adult lives isn't as rosy as they'd hoped. Emma decides to try and tweak her future by making some changes right now, checking that Facebook thingie to see how it works.

There are two distinct voices in this book, as Carolyn Mackler writes Emma's chapters and Jay Asher writes Josh's, alternating to tell their story.

You can become a fan of the book on Facebook, of course! The Future of Us is being released on Monday, November 21, 2011, and Warner Brothers has already purchased the film rights.

Book info: The Future of Us / Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler. Razorbill, 2011. [Jay's blog] [Carolyn's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Events from 15 years in her future are the last things that Emma expects from her new computer in 1996! A birthday gift from her dad and stepmom, it even has an internal modem to dial-up and “get online” so her best friend Josh brings over an AOL install CD-ROM.

After dialing up on mom’s phoneline, Emma gets an AOL “welcome” message and something called Facebook with pictures of all these people she doesn’t know. Curious, she searches for other Emma Nelsons on the Facebook and finds one, someone who went to her high school, who has the same birthday, whose picture looks exactly like Emma…15 years older! This Emma has a rotten husband – you can tell by her messages to her “friends” (who could have hundreds of friends?). And the future Josh is married to the most popular girl at their high school! Josh, who’s too shy to talk to anyone except Emma and his best friend Tyson?!

Getting ready for the track meet, telling her boyfriend Graham that it’s all over, Emma wonders if she’s been pranked somehow with this Facebook thing. But when she tears up her application to the college that the future Emma attended, suddenly the Facebook entries are different. The future Emma is less-stressed about her husband (a different one!), but unhappy about her work… hmmm.

As Emma’s updates on the Facebook site change, Josh decides that he’d better start making his big-house-and-a-boat future come true, so he gets up the nerve to ask beautiful Sydney on a date. Never mind his long-hidden feelings for Emma and that awkward try at kissing her a few months ago.

So, can Emma completely alter her own destiny just by changing a few things now? Is Sydney going to be the best thing that ever happened to Josh? Do they really want to know ahead of time about their futures or would they rather go back to the way things were before?

Josh and Emma react to their view into the future in alternating chapters written by Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Carolyn Mackler (Vegan Virgin Valentine and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things) - would you want to know about your future? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Timbuktu, by Casey Sciezka (nonfiction) - art, teaching, love, travel

Nine countries,
Two people,
One true story.

Travel the long route To Timbuktu with Casey and Steven on this World Wednesday, sharing their everyday joys, occasional mishaps, and adventures on their two-year journey together.

Steven's charcoal sketches perfectly complement Casey's retelling of their experiences as teachers of English in Beijing (becoming residents instead of visitors that cold winter ), as travelers in Vietnam and Thailand (paradise of warmth and way too many tourists), and as observers in different towns of Mali, including the remote and legendary Timbuktu.

Returning to the US, they've established the Local Language Literacy foundation to provide humorous books to African students in their native languages. Casey's first LLL book was translated into Bamanakan by a teacher they worked with in Mali, and 1300 copies are now in the hands of Malian high school students. Currently, she and Steven are working with author Daour Wade to create books in French and Wolof for students in Senegal.

What an adventure Casey and Steven had as they traveled together! You'll be glad that you came along on their winding journey To Timbuktu!

Book info: To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story / Casey Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg. Roaring Brook, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: World travel – that’s the plan for Casey and Steven after graduation. Now, actually getting jobs overseas – that’s another thing...

When they met in Morocco during junior semester abroad, the pair tried to just live in the moment, as they’d be in college on opposite coasts when they returned to the US. But they couldn’t let each other go and kept up their long-distance romance through that long, difficult year before graduation.

Casey dreams of living overseas and writing the stories told by Muslims who live in different cultures, examining how Islamic schools differ from others in the same country. Steven’s art is his passion; what career that will lead him to is still uncertain. As Casey writes grant applications for her research, Steven wonders how his future fits into hers…

When Casey finally gets funding to live and write in Mali – a year from now – she and Steven decide to travel and work in other countries along the way. Teaching English in Beijing, touring Southeast Asia, grabbing a quick rendezvous with their families in Paris, a detour through Morocco to see their host families again, then they’re finally in Mali!

But can the couple stay in love through traveler’s flu, bureaucratic red tape, and erratic train schedules? When Casey is piled-up with research, will Steven have enough to do? And once you’ve gone all the way To Timbuktu, what do you do next??

This autobiographical travel memoir leaps off the pages, thanks to Casey’s evocative narrative and Steven’s many sketches, taking us from their Beijing neighborhood to the schools of Mali and everywhere in between. And, yes, Casey is the daughter of author Jon Scieskza. (Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hothouse (fiction)

Hero dads?
Reckless heroism?
Negligent heroes?

Losing your dad is difficult at any age; losing the dad you idolized and emulated, just as you're about to join him in an amazing career together is terrible.

But to have your hero dad suddenly called a villain by the same people he protected and served as a firefighter his whole life? Devastating.

How will Russ and DJ cope with the loss of their firefighter dads during their senior year, especially now that the whole town has turned against them?

Hothouse packs so much emotion into its 208 pages that this intense story has been included on several recent booklists for older teens - catch it at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Hothouse / Chris Lynch. HarperTeen, 2010. [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer/recap]

Recommendation: Two dads – best friends forever, their sons named for each other, firefighters together, dead in a flash.

Their sons must start their senior year of high school without them, their wives wish they could hear the phone ring again from the “Hothouse” fire station. Their community honors the memory of David and Russell as “Outrageous Courageous” heroes and treats sons Russ and DJ like heroes, too.

Russ had always planned to be a firefighter like his dad, practicing his skills at Young Firefighters, ready to graduate from high school, enter the Fire Academy, and work alongside his dad to keep their city safe.

But a house fire rescue gone wrong has changed that, at least the part about working with his dad. No one at school knows how to talk to Russ about it, and now the investigation into the firefighters’ deaths is raising questions about whether they were really fit to work that rescue call.

The danger and stress that firefighters face every day can be so hard on them and their families. What is courage? When are heroes not heroes? How can Russ keep going when old questions get new answers? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Drowned Maiden's Hair (fiction)

Seeking answers from The Beyond.
Unwilling to wait until Heaven to see loved ones again.
Willing to pay anything to hear their voices now...

On this mysterious Monday, welcome to the early 1900s during the height of Spiritualism, when bereaved people became convinced that the chasm between this world and the next could be crossed during seances, that someone could connect them with a loved one for just a little time more together. For every truly gifted medium, there were countless charlatans and tricksters who took advantage of immense grief for large profits.

Seances and bringing forth voices from Beyond are just "the family business" for the genteel spinster Hawthorne sisters, now fallen on hard economic times. Who would guess that a child was suddenly living in their attic bedroom, an orphan child with a heavenly singing voice, an unwanted orphan child who can fit in hidden cupboards and manipulate the ghostly vapors and set chandeliers to swinging?

Wondering how long this arrangement can last? How long the illusions will hold? If there are any true connections to the Other Side? Come back to 1909 with Maud and find out for yourself.

Book info: A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama / Laura Amy Schlitz. Candlewick, 2006 (paperback, 2008). [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Locked in the orphanage outhouse, Maud never imagined that she would be rescued by spinster sisters to become a séance angel…

Suddenly Maud has lovely new dresses and books with all the pages and a bedroom of her own! The Misses Hawthorne have all the “modern conveniences” in their large, remote house – this is 1909, after all. They teach Maud new hymns, buy her a blond wig to cover her flyaway brown hair, have her practice tricks for making chandeliers sway and hiding in secret compartments.

Yes, the Misses Hawthorne are no longer wealthy, so they hold séances to make a living. They help grieving people “hear” their lost loved ones from The Beyond, now assisted by Maud acting as any child who died young. If truth from the doctors and religion from the preachers won’t satisfy a wealthy patron that someone dear has indeed died and gone to heaven, then the Misses Hawthorne are more than willing to act as go-betweens with the Spirit World on their behalf…for a fee.

Moving to a seaside villa to be closer to a grief-stricken mother whose daughter drowned is another new experience for Maud – ice cream! The sea breeze! Sneaking out in the night to play in the sand! For no one outside the house must ever see her, must ever know that a child lives with the Hawthornes…

So, will Maud always have to live hidden in the attic bedroom? What does Muffet, their deaf and mute servant, think about all this trickery? Why does pretending to be dead Caroline feel different from acting as the other child spirits? Is Caroline really speaking to Maud in her dreams?

Go behind the scenes with Maud as she is swept along with the Misses Hawthorne during the height of the Spiritualist movement – and listen for Caroline’s voice…
(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Lost My Mobile at the Mall (fiction)

Cellphone lost at the mall.
Home computers stolen.
How can Elly cope with losing constant contact with her friends?

Elly's terrible luck doesn't make high school life easy in her all-things-British Australian suburb, as she's not sure where her surfer boyfriend is after school, she doesn't know when friends are getting together for pizza, and she has to use the public computer to log on to her favorite social sites... finding out everything - good or bad - well after everyone else does.

Well-known for her humorous adult books, Australian Wendy Harmer is spot on with Elly's dismay over being out of touch with the rest of Oldcastle High School in her first young adult novel on our Fun Friday. Hope to see more of Elly in future books!

Book info: I Lost My Mobile at the Mall: Teen on the Edge of Technological Breakdown / Wendy Harmer. Kane Miller Children's Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [author video]

Recommendation: When she loses her cellphone at the mall (again), Elly can’t even report it missing until her Mum gets home from some fancy event she’s organizing - no landline at home, of course. When her parents refuse to buy Elly another cellphone, she finds herself completely out of the loop, unable to text her friends or send photos or talk to her cute surfer boyfriend. Time slows down to a crawl with every minute that she’s out of contact…

Not that life in Oldcastle is at all exciting. Everything in their Australian coastal town has a British name – the shops, the pubs, even Elly and her sister and her parents and her pets! With the Pickering family coat of arms hanging on the bathroom wall, who can take all this seriously? Now, not having a cellphone in ninth grade – that’s serious! She can’t even talk to her best friend about it – no mobile phone means no calls to far-off Queensland where Carmelita moved last year.

When the family’s home computers are stolen, Elly feels fully cut off from everyone as planning for the ninth grade dance goes into overdrive.

Why do her big sister’s new silver sandals fit Elly better than they fit Tilly? What is boyfriend Will doing in that photo on Bianca’s phone? Does her grandmother really want to learn how to use a computer? When will Carmelita’s advice letter arrive? And where’s the Post Office anyway?

Australian comedienne Wendy Harmer’s first book for young adults brings the effervescent Elly to life as a “teen on the edge of technological breakdown.” (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Payback Time (fiction)

What's going on at Lincoln High?
Coach is keeping a talented player on the bench?
A gifted athlete refuses interviews?
His "previous school" history is... blank?

Mitch, stuck as sports reporter instead of newspaper editor his senior year, is puzzled about the new guy on the football team after accidentally witnessing his amazing catches and footwork at the park. Coach says to forget that and just feature the quarterback in every story to help his college scholarship chances.

Trying to find out the truth stirs up more than Mitch could have imagined.
Can he and newspaper photographer Kimi stay out of danger? Is he right about Angel's past? Is Coach covering up so they can win the state championship?

A compelling mystery-action story that you'll enjoy, whether you're a sports fan or not, especially as we go into high school football playoff season, just like Lincoln High...

Book info: Payback Time / Carl Deuker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010 (paperback Feb. 2012). [author's website] [publisher site] [book recap video]

Recommendation: Sports reporter instead of editor? Mitch isn’t sure he wants to work on the school paper his senior year, even though he’s planning to major in journalism in college. Well, he can write some great articles for his portfolio since Lincoln High is predicted to have a winning football season. And as photographer, Kimi will be with Mitch on most assignments. Maybe it’s time for him to lay off his parents’ fabulous bakery creations and start doing a little running…

When a new transfer player stays on the practice squad despite his obvious talent and the football coach won’t comment, Mitch’s reporter instincts sense a deeper story. Injuries during a crucial game bring Angel off the bench, and he leads the team to victory. But the next game, he’s riding the bench again – is he an undercover cop?

As Mitch and Kimi investigate the story, they receive anonymous threats and begin to worry for Angel’s safety. Lincoln’s football team is headed for the State playoff game, and the midnight caller promises that Angel won’t make it home on the team bus…

Full-contact football games, hard-hitting news investigations, and a cute girl who actually talks to Mitch – will everyone come through safely, now that it’s Payback Time? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.