Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ashfall, by Mike Mullin (fiction) - volcano disaster, dangerous trek, epic determination

book cover of Ashfall by Mike Mullin published by Tanglewood Books
As volcanic ash fills the Iowa skies,
violent earthquakes rattle the cornfields,
booms louder than cannons go on for hours and hours,
it seems like the end of the world is now...
but the end is just beginning.

Yellowstone's geysers and fumaroles have always hinted at its geothermal potential for destruction. The supervolcano eruption long feared by geologists has come at last, and Alex's home 900 miles east is under attack from its furies.

The enormous ash plume will spread through the atmosphere, block out sunlight, cause sudden and long-lasting winter weather. No sunshine means no crops growing, no crops means no food, widespread famine and desperation. Imagine the damage that sharp corrosive ash will do to auto engine air intakes, aircraft jet engines, delicate lung tissue of people and animals.

And Alex heads out into this ashfall with meager supplies and no sunrise to guide him eastward, trying to reunite with his family, to survive.

Visiting Yellowstone National Park last September, I smelled the sulfur of its hot spring pools, saw entire forests killed by rising super-scalding water levels, watched Old Faithful geyser jet up hundreds of feet into the sky. Yep, this supervolcano potential is real, and scientists are closely monitoring it - but can't stop it.

First-time author Mike Mullin describes a perilous apocalyptic world which is all the more frightening because it really could happen at any moment. Book two in the series, Ashen Winter, will be published in October 2012 - pre-order it as soon as possible at your favorite independent bookstore because you won't want to wait a single extra day to read what happens after Ashfall!

Book info: Ashfall / Mike Mullin. Tanglewood Books, 2011. [author's website]    [publisher site]   [book trailer]  

My Recommendation:  Alex wants to skip visiting his uncle’s goat farm, and his parents finally agree to let the 16-year-old stay home alone this time, on that September weekend when the whole world changed, when a supervolcano eruption rocked civilization to its core.

It’s not like Alex was planning a wild party in his parents’ absence – just computer games and junk food on the menu. But those teen pleasures are gone now, like clear air and electricity and sunshine and phone service and clean water and trusting other people. Even 900 miles from the Yellowstone supervolcano, earthquakes throw houses around like kids’ blocks in their Iowa hometown. Then the ash begins to fall from the sky…and fall and fall and fall, clogging car engines, making it hard to breathe, getting into every crevice of his clothes.

Determined to get to his family, Alex gathers whatever food and gear he can, then heads east cross-country on Dad’s skis. Driving to Warren takes an hour and a half – how long will it take now? Slogging through ever-deepening ash, running short of water and food, he avoids farmhouses where he can see rifle barrels glinting in the windows, tries to find shelter in this flat farmland it gets colder and colder.

He keeps moving east, encountering very few refugees, some even less-prepared than he is, one much more dangerous than anyone he ever wanted to meet. Wounded, he stumbles into the first farmyard along the road and is taken in by Mrs. Edmunds and her teen daughter. Luckily, Darla has enough veterinary training to sew him up, and there’s corn to feed them for a while. Unluckily, trouble is coming down the road toward them, fast.

Can Alex really get to his uncle’s farm under his own power? Can he protect Darla and her mom if they go with him? What’s their biggest danger – the ash searing their lungs, the sudden heavy snowfall, or the viciousness of other people?

Vividly portraying a dystopian scenario that’s entirely too possible, Ashfall  is first in a series, followed by Ashen Winter (book 2).  (One of 5,000 books recommended on My personal copy of book. Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teen Boat, by Dave Roman & John Green (graphic novel) - high school & high seas hijinx

book cover of Teen Boat by Dave Roman and John Green published by Clarion Books
Fitting in at high school is rarely easy,
but when you start breaking out (with barnacles),
and the cute new girl asks you to demonstrate your skills,
of course Teen Boat will transform into a small yacht,
right there in the high school hallway!

Ignatz Award winners Dave Roman (writer - you remember his 2011 Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity graphic novel) and John Green (illustrator) have finally published their popular webcomic in a full-color hardcover edition, including over 30 pages of new story. Don't miss the "how we did it" section in the back of the book, detailing the creative team's writing and illustrating process.

Just published this week, if you don't find Teen Boat! at your local library or independent bookstore yet, be sure to ask for it!

Book info: Teen Boat! / written by Dave Roman, illustrated by John Green. Clarion Books, 2012. [Dave Roman's website]   [John Green's website]   [publisher site]   [book trailer]  

My Recommendation:
Sure, every high school guy has some worries, but not every guy can transform into Teen Boat! When cute foreign exchange student Niña Pinta Santa Maria arrives, TB wants to impress her, so he agrees to help Harry by becoming a yacht for his party. TB’s longtime pal Joey (the girl next door) warns him that the big jock is only using him for some shady scheme, but the infatuated young man/boat doesn’t listen.

Offshore gambling, the Totally Pirates (seeking the legendary Tiene Bōt), and an iceberg attack make Harry’s party more memorable than TB would have liked. After-school detention, emergency rescue, student elections, and a part-time job all become adventures when Teen Boat is involved. Just imagine what the Yacht Club field trip to Venice, Italy, is like with this crew!

Will Teen Boat ever get over his paralyzing fear of entering a “land vessel” long enough to get his driver’s license?
Will he ever find the girl or boat or girl/boat who will love him?
Will the pirates ever stop chasing after him?

“The angst of being a teen – the thrill of being a boat” jumps off the pages of this graphic novel in vivid color, with new pages extending the webcomic storyline and an informative appendix that shows the step-by-step collaborative process that Roman and Green used in creating this sharply clever graphic novel.  (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Calli, by Jessica Lee Anderson (fiction) - foster sister or rotten apple?

book cover of Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson published by Milkweed Editions
Her boyfriend Dub is sweet,
her moms are loving and supportive,
best friend Delia helps her keep away the blues,
so Calli thinks that having a foster little sister would just make things even better...

Until rebellious teenager Cherish comes to their Lake Charles home as an emergency foster placement,
kissing Dub in the school hall,
spreading lies about Calli,
alienating her friends and stealing Calli's things.

Now Calli wants to undo her wish for a foster sister and would turn back time in a heartbeat - but everyone knows that time only runs forward.

Jessica Lee Anderson brings us another highly readable story about a teen facing unusual challenges (see my no-spoiler recommendation of her Border Crossing here) and surviving, in spite of it all. Look for this 2011 book at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Calli / Jessica Lee Anderson. Milkweed Editions, 2011. [author's website]    [publisher site]  

My Recommendation:
Trudging home in the coastal Louisiana heat, Calli wonders why she ever wished for a foster sister. Everyone in the high school knows that Calli saw her own boyfriend Dub liplocked with Cherish, guesses he decided that he wanted action instead of affection.

Mom and Liz weren’t sure that they’d be certified as a foster family, but they’re such good parents that Calli never had a doubt (much better parents than her father who returned to France when she was born and never looked back). They’d requested young children, but consented to an emergency placement for “a teenager at risk.”

Whatever weird thing happened with Cherish’s family to get her into foster care, the ninth grader isn’t letting it stop her from hanging around with upperclassmen, wearing tighter shirts than Calli, more makeup than Calli, trying to get Calli to do her homework. The girls bicker constantly at home (thank goodness they don’t share a bedroom), which makes Mom’s lupus flare up. Verbal spats get physical, and now the whole family is at risk.

Cherish steals from Calli, alienates her friends at school – is there anything that Cherish won’t try to take away from her? Is Dub lost to Calli forever? Will Cherish’s willful behavior keep Mom and Liz from ever having a young foster child to care for and love? Is Calli going to stay “plain old Calli” with braces forever?

An insightful look at less-traditional family life from the author of Border Crossing, this novel takes readers into that humid South Louisiana spring semester when Calli’s life changes for the worse, for the better, maybe for always. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Circle of Gold, by Guillaume Prevost (fiction) - kidnapping, time-travel, treachery

book cover of Circle of Gold by Guillaume Prevost published by Arthur A Levine Books
A treatise on magic,
Seven special coins,
Stone statues as time-travel portals,
One villain intent using them to loot the world's treasures.

For World Wednesday, this concluding adventure in the Book of Time trilogy pits fourteen-year-old Sam against the shadowy Archos man in a final battle for control of the time-travel gateways that only a few can travel.

Sam always seems to be putting the safety of others first, from his cousin Lucy to the lovely Alicia to his grandparents and his father. Now he's determined to learn enough of  time travel's secrets to stop his mother's car before her fatal crash three years ago. Can the avenues of Time stand the strain of this potential paradox?

Whether visiting the vast tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor or walking through an Egyptian pyramid's secret passageways, author Guillaume Prevost's background as a history teacher brings fascinating perspectives to Sam's many journeys through Time.

Get the whole story at your local library or independent bookstore, starting with The Book of Time (book 1- my recommendation) and The Gate of Days (book 2 - my recommendation), then join Sam on his search for The Circle of Gold.

Book info: The Circle of Gold  / Guillaume Prevost; translated by William Rodarmor. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009. (Book of Time trilogy #3).    [author interview]    [publisher site]

My Recommendation:
The time-traveling talent shared by Sam and his father may be their undoing, as the Archos man tries to wipe them out and plunder all of Time’s riches for himself. But he underestimates Sam’s desire to make the world’s time-stream right again, even if the teen loses himself in the process!

Alicia, the girl that Sam adores, has been kidnapped from their Quebec hometown by the mysterious Archos man. Of course, the ancient book that the villain demands as her ransom is located far, far away in Renaissance Rome. Rescuing Dad from Vlad the Impaler’s dungeon and surviving the eruption of Vesuvius seemed difficult at the time, but this time, Sam will have to travel back in time alone, as his cousin Lucy is away at summer camp; her great problem-solving skills would help so much!

So Sam must use the ancient stone statue in the basement of his father’s bookstore to open the Gate of Days again, using a certain combination of special coins to land in Rome – just as a battle begins. The book is inside the city walls, and Alicia is being held prisoner by attacking forces who offer Sam a different option for redeeming her life.

Will her captors really try to double-cross the Archos man?
Could Sam’s collection of time-travel coins help him find another way to rescue her?
Does the gold bracelet really allow time-travel without having to use the stone statues?
Will he have to travel to future time to defeat the Archos man’s greed once and for all?

All of the time-journeys and trials which Sam experienced in The Book of Time (book 1) and The Gate of Days (book 2) lead him to this final race for The Circle of Gold. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Girls Don't Fly, by Kristen Chandler (fiction) - dreams, family, blue-footed boobies

book cover of Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler published by Viking A chance to study far away instead of babysitting all summer...
Maybe go to the university instead of dental hygienist school....
Prove to ex-boyfriend Erik that she's better off without him.

Myra imagines herself in the Galapagos Islands with its Darwin's finches and blue-footed boobies, famous tortoises and amazingly blue sea waters, even as her little brothers break things and mud-wrestle, her big sister drops out of college and moves back home pregnant, both parents work long hours, the family's carpool schedules look like battle plans - no wonder that Myra feels like she's holding everything together, even when Erik breaks up with her.

Visit Myra's study group site at Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake in the author's slideshow, watch for the next little brother disaster, and cross your fingers that Myra wins that scholarship!

Find Girls Don't Fly  at your local library or independent bookstore; if you order from the author's favorite  local indie bookstore, be sure to request an autographed copy!

Book info: Girls Don't Fly / Kristen Chandler. Viking, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Oh, how Myra feels trapped! Her perfect big sister is suddenly pregnant, her three little brothers are a constant noisy mess, and now Erik wants “some space” – this isn't how spring of senior year should go!

When their AP Biology teacher announces a scholarship to study birds in the Galapagos Islands, Myra decides to go for it, even if it does require early morning Saturday excursions to Great Salt Lake Marina’s bird observation area and a “high level” scientific study proposal write-up and… $1,000 toward travel costs. Maybe she can scrape together that much money in just 3 months working part-time at the ice cream shop, right?

Saturday 6 a.m. really is early, but the University of Utah graduate assistant who’s leading the bird studies is enthusiastic enough to wake everyone up. Pete is excited that two high school kids from his hometown have a shot at this scholarship, so he helps them all with their project proposals as much as the rules allow.

Erik makes yet another mistake at the ice cream shop and expects Myra to cover for him like she did while they were dating. When she doesn’t and the manager insinuates that she’s irresponsible like her big sister, Myra just quits.

Now she’s got to find another job in this little town. Mom and Dad think she’s saving money to go to dental hygienist school; Myra hasn’t exactly told them that the scholarship requires that $1,000 travel fee, and they don’t seem too optimistic about her winning it anyway, especially when future-dentist Erik is also a competitor.

When the marina secretary quits, the Lake ranger offers Myra the job, part-time till school’s out, then full-time in the busy summer. Alright! A chance to earn the money she needs, do some extra bird-watching for the seminars, and Pete is at the marina whenever he’s not in class.

But can Myra really get away from this town where her family is judged because they don’t go to church like everyone else? Can she come up with a scientific study idea that’s better than Erik’s so she can win the scholarship? Can she keep thinking of Pete as only the group’s study leader instead of something more?

Everyone knows that Girls Don’t Fly, but Myra is determined to change all that in this story of family, dreams, life, and longing. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - done and done (reflective)

Today's bonus post is about my recent experiences with the A to Z Blogging Challenge, so please skip over if you wish. Be sure to visit BooksYALove tomorrow to see why Myra firmly believes that Girls Don't Fly.

cartoon of woman chained to teacher desk stacked with papers
Clip art  © 1998 Mark A. Hicks*
Questions in bold were asked by the A to Z Challenge organizers (bless their hearts for putting up with hundreds and hundreds of random bloggers), with my reflections following each one.

How did your journey through the alphabet go? Doing 26 posts in April was difficult because I promised all-new content and didn't fudge along the way, despite hectic travel and conference schedule.

Did you meet new bloggers with similar interests? Not really, because there was no categorization of the blogs in the challenge & finding potentially worthwhile blogs was very hit-or-miss, based often on how well the blog name reflected its content and focus.

What were the highlights for you? (lowlights too...we want to hear it all) By posting all-new content twice as often as usual, I went through my To-Be-Reviewed shelf of books twice as fast as normal, but received fewer subscribers/followers than during other challenges. Many visitors were "drive-by" commenters who (like me) had landed on my blog even though it wasn't in their interest area. A glitch in Google Analytics wiped out my statistics for 3 weeks of the Challenge, so I couldn't even see if people visited other posts on my blog after landing there.

Did you enjoy posting daily? I wish that I hadn't chosen to do this Challenge during a hectic travel and conference month for me - I was delighted when April was over.
What was your biggest hurdle? Staying true to my commitment to provide 26 new book recommendations in April when I saw that others had opted for a different level and could use repeat posts, cute photos, short poems, and still feel satisfied.
What was your easiest task? The writing itself.

Was time management an issue? (I know, silly question, when isn’t time management an issue - but, it is worth reflecting on) Having to pre-schedule and write 10 days of posts in advance prior to travel and conference was stressful.

And what about your content - did you have a theme or did you wing it? BooksYALove is recommendations of young adult books beyond the bestsellers; A to Z Challenge didn't change that.
Was it easy to come up with ideas for each letter, or were some harder? Finding the right book for each letter was a pain. Being stuck weeks in advance with writing about those particular books when others came along - but didn't fit the alphabetic pattern - was an even bigger pain.

How about commenting - did you stumble upon lots of sites still using word verification? yes.
Did this prevent you from leaving a comment? Absolutely yes. If your blog is so popular that you insist on having word verification enabled to protect yourself from a spam deluge, then why are you in a blog challenge?
What worked for your blog? I don't use word verification or other sign-in stuff. Oddly, the first comment-spam that I ever received came during A to Z Challenge.

What will you do different next year? (Yes, you are doing this next year, you know you are, even if your brain is telling you to run for the hills - it appreciates the exercise) IF (big if) I decide to do A to Z next year, I will recycle some content instead of doing 26 new books. And I will be very, very selective about which personal creative writing blogs to follow.

What pearls of wisdom do you want to share with the Co-Hosts of this event? (We would love to hear from you and know what you think would make this awesome event even better) - (1) Have bloggers self-select into a category & list blogs under those categories (crafts, kids, health, books, writing, personal creative writing, art, etc) at A to Z.
(2) Provide brief description of each blog (written by submitting blogger) so we know what it's about! For instance, Michelle Rafter (WordCount Blogathon sponsor) had Jan Udlock help her make this useful list of 2012 Blogathon participants.

I know that it's TONS of work to organize and run a blog challenge, and I appreciate the A to Z folks for freely providing this opportunity to bloggers. For me, it was probably just not the right time to lock myself into such a rigid structure.

*Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on - clip art image of woman chained to desk Copyright © 1998 Mark A. Hicks

Lessons in blogging from classic movies (reflective)

Today's Blogathon2012 theme is "5 movies that have inspired my blogging," so here are 5 classic movies that remind me of what to do and what NOT to do on BooksYALove - the movie title links go to Internet Movie Database.

Coincidentally, these movie-based lessons also reminded me of Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science, the pithy truths that underpin everything I do as a "librarian-at-large" on BooksYALove, as a contributor to, and when I recommend books to family and friends.

image of old movie film reel
Clipart courtesy of
1) Blue Hawaii - yes, the Elvis movie. During a family visit in spring 1969, all the kids got packed off to see this movie so the grownups could have some time without us. It didn't matter if we liked Elvis or not, we had to go. Decades later, I still regret those 102 minutes spent at the Saturday bargain matinee when I could have been reading! So I want to make sure that I never say that "everyone will just love this book" on BooksYALove - because it just isn't possible! Ranganathan's Second Law states "Every reader his/her book."

2) Planet of the Apes - wow! Seeing this movie as a young teen in the late 1960s was powerful and disturbing- because I had absolutely no idea of what it was about until we were in the theater watching it (another well-meaning extended family outing with all the kids, regardless of their ages). Ranganathan's Fourth Law is "Save the time of the reader," so BooksYALove aims to give enough taste of each book that readers can decide whether or not it's one they'll want to try.

3) Star Wars - the first one, the real one, the one that I saw 7 times (twice in French!), and I still have the 1970s t-shirt. The power of story was evident in this movie (known as A New Hope to youngsters)- classic struggle between good and evil, between doing the expedient thing and the right thing, choosing friendship and loyalty over the easy way out. Hmmm... sounds like the best themes in young adult books today. Ranganathan's Fourth Law = "Every book, its reader."

4) The Empire Strikes Back - We took my youngest brother to see this movie for his birthday during its first theatrical release (long ago...). As the opening  filled the screen, he leaned over and whispered "You know that Darth Vader is Luke's daddy." No, I did not! Why would I want to know the ending? Ruined the whole movie for me (at the time, it was the last in the Star Wars saga). So I will never give away special plot twists or the ending in any book recommendation on BooksYALove - a no-spoiler site by design and choice! "Books are for use" says Ranganathan's First Law, not to stay on a shelf or be locked away - and I never want to make a book stay unopened because I spoiled that delicious journey of discovery for even one reader.

5) The Sound of Music - My Girl Scout troop went to see it on the big screen in the mid-1960s (and broke into song during meetings regularly thereafter - "the HILLS are aLIVE with the sound of muuuuuuusic") - we thought we were just going to see a nice musical. But we also got a glimpse into war's perils, not graphically or violently, but at age ten began seeing that there were many unfair things that happened to good people, that there was a big world outside our Air Force base housing, and that ordinary people can make a difference. "The library is a growing organism" is Ranganathan's Fifth Law, and I hope to help readers grow their personal libraries through BooksYALove, as we discover other worlds and other lives through books together.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Children's Book Week - for everyone (reflective)

Happy Children's Book Week!  Read-to-me kiddos and independent readers, little ones to teens - this week is for you!

There are so many great books - and great book blogs  - out there that readers can find great suggestions for what to read next, be it something brand-new or a classic. Give a try - take a short quiz to find out what Reading SuperHero you are or browse books for babies, kids, tweens, and teens by keyword, genre, and more. (Full disclosure - I contribute many recommendations to abookandahug, but receive no compensation for them).

book cover The Order of the Odd-Fish by James Kennedy published by Random House
courtesy of Random House
Even young readers can be reviewers as the hilarious family conversations about books captured on the Bookie Woogie blog show. Just "some kids and their dad, talkin' about books" their reviews even include the kids' art about the book they've read together. Enjoy their impressions of the wacky and inventive middle-grades book The Order of Odd Fish, by James Kennedy (Random House, 2008) here:

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I found an interview with Odd-Fish author James Kennedy on another blog last week, following his lengthy visit with the middle school and high school students of Springfield Township, Pennsylvania. He was excited to read what students had written, view their fan art based on his books, and talk with them about writing. 

Whether you're lucky enough to meet authors in person, enjoy a class visit through Skype, follow them on Twitter/their blog/their website, or just learn a bit about them through the blurb on their book covers, you'll find that knowing more about your favorite authors can enhance your reading experience.

Which authors have you met "in real life" and who would you like to meet next?
Happy reading!