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.