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.