Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye (fiction)

Shhhh... it's my first Sneak-in Saturday, when I bring you a book that I read, loved, and reviewed BEFORE it rose to the bestseller lists. But it's not fair to tell y'all about books months and months before you can buy them in your local indie bookstore or find at your library, so I have to wait till release date is near. And sometimes the darn pre-orders take a book to superstar status before it's even published. Sigh.

So as a moving-all-the-time-kid myself, I really could identify with Mclean's wish to just stop packing up and going away. Moving during high school stinks, let me tell ya.

It's nice to find that Dessen is not a "formula" writer, that her situations and characters aren't just carbon-copies from one book to the next. Her funny tweet today: "Most surreal experience: half asleep in terminal bookshop, hearing commercial for my own book on store TV. Whoa." on her way to Houston.

Identity, family, friendship, and the future - one of the books y'all will love (even if it did wind up a bestseller, darn it). And some great insights into the restaurant industry and college basketball fandom, too.


Book info: What Happened to Goodbye / Sarah Dessen. Viking Children's, 2011. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher website] [book trailer one and two]

Recommendation: Eliza, Beth, Lizbet –at each new school, Mclean uses part of her middle name to reinvent herself after the horrible divorce, as she and her dad travel from town to town so he can help failing restaurants. After Mom left Dad for the basketball coach at the university, their favorite team and shared passion, how could she stay in her hometown?

So she’s the drama rebel in one town, the joining-every-club girl in another, but never makes close friends because they’ll move again soon. She keeps Dad organized while he saves or closes down each restaurant - that and her schoolwork are enough.

Until this time, when she introduces herself as Mclean to the guy next door and winds up with a circle of unlikely friends at school. Getting involved with a community project being built in the restaurant’s upstairs room was a fluke, but what about getting involved with David next door?

How can she avoid her mom’s requests that she visit her new baby brother and sister at the coach’s big new house more often? How long will it take Dad to fix or shut down Luna Blu? When they leave this time, will she be able to just vanish from school again, without any goodbyes?

Another great story with heart from Sarah Dessen - 402 pages. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fish (fiction)

Ahoy, and welcome aboard on Fun Friday! But 'twere no fun for Maurice Reidy to give up country life and become an errand boy for his uncle in Dublin. The only swimmer in his large and impoverished family, he's known as "Fish" and would certainly rather swim than fight.

How was Fish to know that he'd be kidnapped by pirates during his very first errand? And what a crew of pirates! A captain who'd rather search for treasure than capture other ships, a gunner who's expert in cannons and cheese, and a girl cook!

Life on board a pirate ship challenges both Fish's swimming skills and his conciliatory abilities, as he tries to stave off mutiny while the captain solves an intricate puzzle, then "The Scurvy Mistress" must outrace other would-be pirates to the treasure.

A rollicking read on the high seas, and a great addition to any pirate's library of fantastic fiction - with nary an Arrrggh in sight!

Book info: Fish / by Gregory Mone. Scholastic, 2010. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [book trailers one and two]

Recommendation: Living in bustling Dublin or a poor country farm? At age 11, Fish (nicknamed for his swimming skills) will soon find out which he prefers as he leaves his large family's small farm to work for his uncle as a courier. But his first parcel is snatched just as he is delivering it to Mr. Swift on the city dock! Chasing the thieves, Fish watches them row toward a menacing ship across the harbour and decides to swim after them to recover the bag of coins.

The sailors aren't going to give up their prize easily, and Fish finds himself kidnapped - aboard a pirate ship! A good captain (and his wife!), a skilled ship's cook (a girl!), a silent giant, a first mate plotting mutiny, and Fish's own determination to survive without fighting make life aboard ship complicated. The coins are part of a treasure map that must be unpuzzled...

Ahoy! "The Scurvy Mistress" is being pursued by Mr. Swift and his ship full of treasure hunters who shoot first and talk later! And they want those coins so they can complete the treasure map!

As they race to find the treasure predicted by the mysterious coins, Fish and crew must overcome treacherous waters, nefarious plots, and terrible smells. Who will discover it first - the honest pirates or the dishonest treasure hunters?

Travel the high seas with a young man who's true to himself in this tale of adventure and danger (and really funny characters!). (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fool's Girl (fiction)

Hmm, so the kingdom of Illyria was where? Oh, yes, just down the Adriatic coastline from Venice. No wonder that attacks by the powerful Venetian Empire sent the young Duchess fleeing for her life, searching for the stolen relics which must be returned to Illyria's cathedral if her homeland is ever to be safe again.

We know this story as Shakespeare told it in Twelfth Night, with its mistaken identities, the evil Malvolio, and the jester/fool Feste.

Imagining that Violetta and Feste meet Shakespeare himself and travel with his theater troupe in search of the Illyrian relics brings us another side of the story, full of intrigue and danger. Whether you've read the play or not, you'll be captivated by this tale well-told by Celia Rees.

Book info: The Fool's Girl / by Celia Rees. Bloomsbury, 2010. (paperback Nov. 2011) [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Young Violetta is a duchess of Illyria whose enemies will pursue her to the death. But if she and Feste, royal Fool and jester, can rescue the holy relics stolen from Illyria’s cathedral by Malvolio, they can outwit her late father’s rival and restore the well being of the kingdom and its people.

Disguising themselves, Violetta and Feste follow Malvolio and the relics from Italy to London, where they meet an author who believes their story. William Shakespeare helps them as they travel in his Company, Feste as a player, Violetta as costumer, searching for Malvolio before he sacrifices the relics.

Can Violetta truly see part of the future? What of the secrets that her father sought in mystical books? Will the Illyrians escape the notice of the Queen’s churchmen who are hunting down Catholics in England? Is Feste truly a fool or truly wise?

A memorable retelling of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night where the Bard himself plays a lead role. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This Thing Called the Future, by J.L. Powers (fiction) - tradition, love, AIDS, hope

Tomorrow is South Africa Youth Day, celebrating the 1976 youth protest in Soweto. Khosi's mother and father were among the many who fought for freedom from apartheid, the South African government's brutal racial discrimination policy.

Although apartheid has crumbled, Khosi and Zi are growing up in an era of changes, as traditional beliefs clash with Christianity, and new menaces stalk the villages and cities of Africa. "The disease of these times" Khosi calls it - HIV and AIDS leaves many children orphaned.

I visited with author J.L. Powers at TLA, and she told me of life in today's South African townships, the funeral bells, the push for education. Reading this strong book, we can believe that Khosi will stay in school and find a way to balance her beliefs, avoid threats to her health, and see a bright future.

Book info: This Thing Called the Future / J.L. Powers. Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Khosi wants to do well in school, keep her family safe, escape AIDS, “the disease of these times” in South Africa. Life can be so confusing at 14, as she prays to the great God-in-the-sky at the church and also honors her ancestors with traditional ceremonies, uses herbal cures from the sangoma as well as modern medicines from the clinic. Born on the day that her grandfather died, Khosi often has vivid dreams – are they merely warnings from her ancestor or dire predictions of the future?

She and her little sister live with their grandmother in Imbali township, while her mother teaches in another city, coming home on the weekends; their father lives so far away that they see him only on holidays. Khosi wishes that Mama and Baba were married, but during the struggle for Liberation who could afford the lobolo, the bride price?

A widowed neighbor accuses Mama of stealing her late husband’s money, a drunken man near Gogo’s house follows Khosi and Zi home from school every day, and the witch woman calls out that she will take Khosi’s spirit! How Khosi wishes she could just ignore these things and plan her future as someone who heals or dream about her crush on Little Man at her school …

When Mama comes home, sick and skinny and weary, Khosi fears that the neighbor and the witch have cursed her family. What can she do?

Author J.L. Powers’ time in South Africa has given her great insight into the lives of its girls and women, ever-shadowed by HIV, neighborhood violence, and the struggle to rise above poverty, as she brings us a powerful story that still holds hope for This Thing Called the Future. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Visconti House (fiction)

Out of place. The house is out of place in their small Australian town, and Laura is, too.

Since her dad's writing can be sent from anyplace, the family moved away from the small house in the big city to this huge old house in the small town, so her mum would have more room to create her enormous sculptures.

Of course Laura explores the house's many rooms, with their fading hand-painted murals and dilapidated velvet curtains and wants to know why... why Mr. Visconti came all the way from Italy to this particular town, why he built this unusual house, why he spent his life here alone, why the cellar door is wallpapered over, why...

This debut novel by an Australian librarian is a charming story of lost loves, found friendships, and a search for understanding.

Book info: The Visconti House / Elsbeth Edgar. Candlewick, 2011. [author interview] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Laura loved the elegant old house that she and her parents moved into, but she hated being different from everyone at school. Who else’s mother makes huge sculptures in the dining room? What other dad stays up all night writing?

Exploring the falling-apart rooms and imagining their former beauty is interesting, and soon Laura is trying to find out more about why there's an Italianate villa in their dusty Australian town. Mrs. Murphy said that Mr. Visconti built it for his bride-to-be who never got to live in it.

When Leon moved in with his grandmother and joined Laura’s junior high class, he ignored the teasing better than she could. As she tracks down Mr. Visconti’s history, Leon’s viewpoints lead to other clues.

Can they discover why Mr. Visconti’s beloved never got to live in the beautiful house? Where is the statue which once stood in its gardens? And why did Leon suddenly move here, anyway?

Mystery, misunderstandings, and maybe a ghost! Plan on visiting The Visconti House with Laura and Leon soon! (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vespertine, by Saundra Mitchell (fiction) - visions at sunset, perilous forecasts

Mysterious, metaphysical Monday, and we look to the Sunset, the beginning of evening, those bright moments before dusk and the fall of night... In those fiery glows, is there perhaps the thinnest opening from the spirit world into our own?

In Amelia's day, spiritualism was a popular pastime with society ladies and their daughters, who enjoyed visits to mediums as part of their social calls. But I don't think they honestly expected Amelia's visions to come true...neither did she!

Mitchell is busy on a companion novel, The Springsweet, which will take us west to Oklahoma - due out in Spring 2012.

This is a delightfully spooky tale with a psychic gift that's rather out of the ordinary and definitely beyond Amelia's control. Would you believe the Vespertine's visions?

Book info: The Vespertine / by Saundra Mitchell. Harcourt Children's Books, 2011. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Sunsets brought the visions to Amelia, unasked for. She’d come to Baltimore to finish school and perhaps find a husband, not to capture visions of futures good or bad.

Amelia’s never had a friend her own age or traveled away from her tiny Maine town, so she has much to learn about party manners and calling cards and everything that Zora considers vital for them as well-bred young ladies of 1889. Her cousin soon whirls her into the dances and dinners and archery and park outings favored by the young people of the city. Amelia looks forward to seeing Nathaniel, even though the painter is not in their social class, according to Zora’s mother.

When the red-orange flash of sunset causes a prediction to fall from Amelia’s lips, Zora is intrigued; when it quickly comes true, she’s enthralled. Word spreads among their friends, then among the society ladies of Baltimore, and Amelia is hailed as “Maine’s Own Mystic” for her visions of the future, seen only at the hour of Vespers, at sunset.

But when one vision becomes a perilous reality, Amelia’s world is torn apart. Will she ever stop seeing the future? Can she and Nathaniel find a way to stay together? Will "the Vespertine" be forever entranced and ensnared by the sunset?

Hopeless and hopeful, gloomy and gleaming – sunset may be the finale of one day or the beginning of tomorrow in this stunning book. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A day for this, a day for that (reflective)

Time to put a little structure into BooksYALove (but promise me that you'll try some titles outside your "favorite" genre):

Mysterious Mondays - because there's not a day that starts with P for paranormal! Books featured on Monday will have elements of the supernatural, mystery, magic, or other paranormal characters and situations. Quite a few recommendations recently in this category, like Awaken (futuristic), House of Dead Maids (ghosts, mystery), and Kat, Incorrigible (magic, alternate history).

World Wednesdays - getting away from the confines of home. Find a different place in the world with every Wednesday book, set in a country outside the USA. Recent recommendations in this group include Mamba Point (Liberia) and Stolen (Australia).

Fun Fridays - going into the weekend with a grin. Friday books will range from humorous ways that characters cope with life (Ten Miles Past Normal) to crafty books (Little Green Dresses) to graphic novels (I Love Him to Pieces).

Oh, Tuesday and Thursday? Gotta have time for books that don't fit in these three boxes, although sometimes they'll have books with theme-day elements (especially when a series is covered over successive days). Lots of realistic fiction here, like Zen & Xander Undone and Last Summer of the Death Warriors.

Watch for some Reflective Sundays, like last week's post on YA Saves! and perhaps the occasional Sneak-in Saturday, where I discuss a book that - dang it - has gone shooting toward the bestseller lists before I got a chance to showcase it here, and I just love it too much to leave it off our lists here.

Think this'll work? Any "hidden gem" titles that I need to include on BooksYALove?