Friday, September 28, 2012

YA Friday: GLASS HEART by Amy Garvey

Glass Heart by Amy Garvey (Sept 2012, HarperTeen)

Source: review copy from the publisher

Synopsis: Wren is enjoying using her powers to hover a few inches above the floor of the pedestrian tunnel under the train station when two teens notice her. Bay and Fiona are into magic in a big way, and Wren agrees to hang out with them before realizing Bay's powers might be evil. Until now, only her boyfriend Gabriel and her own family knew she could use magic. Even her best friends Jess and Darcia don't know. Over the course of one December, Wren's relationship with Gabriel is complicated by her secret friendship with Bay and Fiona and by Gabriel's insistence that she stop using her powers. Why can't he realize her powers are part of who she is?  

Why I liked it:  Amy Garvey makes magic utterly believable. It's easy to imagine that Wren would get a rush from using her powers, and for the most part she uses them in beautiful ways, like creating a gentle snowfall. I love all the characters in this book, but especially Wren, who touches me in a way few characters in YA do.  She's so real, you begin to feel if you put the book down and walked to the nearest coffee shop, you might run into her.

This is a sequel to Cold Kiss, so if you haven't read that, you definitely need to read it first.  (And here's an excellent write-up of both books by Donna Gambale from the First Novels Club.)

What powers would you wish for?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy Book Launch to Corey Rosen Schwartz, author of THREE NINJA PIGS!

Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat (Putnam, for ages 4 to 8)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Practice makes perfect in this kick-butt fractured fairy tale.

When the big bad wolf threatens their village, three pigs sign up for different martial arts lessons to prepare to take him down. Pig One and Pig Two don't stick with their training, though, and are no match for their foe. But after practice and dedication, Pig Three becomes great at karate (including perfecting the perfect pork chop!) and saves the day.

Why I liked it:  I rarely talk about picture books on this blog, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to wish Corey Rosen Schwartz  (Hop! Plop!) a happy book launch. I was privileged enough to read this clever tale in manuscript form. It's a fun and funny picture book with a rollicking and ingenious rhyme scheme.  A painless way to help kids realize practice is important. Plus there's plenty of martial arts action!  Go, Corey!

Monday, September 24, 2012

TRUE COLORS for MMGM -- and why the blog looks different

I rarely get personal on this blog. But I'm about to. So if you'd rather scroll down for my MMGM recommendation, TRUE COLORS by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, feel free.

Now that summer's over, I can tell you it wasn't the happiest of seasons.

For the past ten years, I worked in the Children's Department of Chester County Book & Music Company.

(Taken in September 2010)

A lovely young woman named Suzanne hired me and trained me (in fact, I was the only one there all these years who was hired and trained by her).  Everything I know about bookselling, I learned from this wise and funny gal.  She left the bookstore in 2003 to move on in her career, even owning her own store at one point.  I had dinner with her in Portland, Maine, where she was then working, in 2007. Years went by and we lost touch.

Suzanne and me in 2007

In mid-June of this year, I learned that she had passed away suddenly, senselessly, tragically, at the age of 39.  The family had a private funeral and promised a memorial service in Pennsylvania at a later date.

Then in mid-July bookstore employees, followed quickly by the public, learned that the bookstore has been operating on a month-to-month lease since January. A fitness center is interested in the space and it's only a question of time before the deal is completed and the bookstore will then close.

These two seemingly disparate events combined in my mind to make this a difficult summer.  I learned that some people in authority will stoop to nefarious means to find out what people said on their facebook page.  I learned who my friends were ( You know the ones who ask how your vacation was? Those are your friends).

I realized that life is too short and what I really want to do is write for kids.

So that's what I'm doing.  And yes, I am blessed to be able to afford to do this.  I gave notice at the bookstore and timed it so that my last day was Friday, September 14. The next day was the memorial service for Suzanne. It seemed entirely fitting to me that my career as a bookseller should both begin and end with Suzanne. Rest in peace, dear friend.

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What will I miss about the bookstore?

I will miss meeting people who love children's books.  I will miss recommending books to my favorite customers and talking about books with enthusiastic book lovers. Luckily, I can still do that with this blog!   I will miss unlimited advanced reading copies at my fingertips.

I will miss this:

(But I can still meet wonderful authors like Richard Peck at book signings anywhere)

I will miss this:

and this: 

and this:

What won't I miss?

I definitely won't miss this:

Yes, we were still using DOS computers

or this:

The ceiling leaked when it rained

I won't miss selling toys.  I won't miss shrieking toddlers.  I won't miss checking the public restrooms at closing time. And I won't miss working every Saturday for ten years. I won't miss that at all!

I'm now self-employed and loving it.  I figured the blog needed a facelift, so that's why it looks different.  And next week I'll be having a giveaway to celebrate my new status!

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Now for today's MMGM.  Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. For other participants, see my sidebar.  I think my friend Suzanne would have enjoyed this book about family and friendships and one summer of self-discovery for a sensitive girl.

True Colors by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (Coming November 13 from Knopf, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis (from Indiebound): One girl's journey to find the mother she never had, set against the period backdrop of a small farming town in 1950s Vermont. For her entire life, 10-year-old Blue has never known her mother. On a cold, wintry day in December of 1941, she was found wrapped in a quilt, stuffed in a kettle near the home of Hannah Spooner, an older townswoman known for her generosity and caring. Life with Hannah so far has been simple—mornings spent milking cows, afternoons spent gardening and plowing the fields on their farm. But Blue finds it hard not to daydream about her mother, and over the course of one summer, she resolves to finally find out who she is. That means looking through the back issues of the local newspaper, questioning the local townspeople, and searching for clues wherever she can find them. Her search will change her life forever.

Why I liked it:  This beautifully-written novel is a true middle-grade in the purest sense. There's not a lick of romance. Instead there's adventure and mystery. There are fascinating characters. And historical fiction fans will love this -- it's the summer of 1952, a time period not often treated in children's literature. It's also one of those quiet books I'm so fond of (see this post about another).  The synopsis doesn't tell you that an important part of the book is Blue's friendship with Nadine or that Nadine has trials of her own. It doesn't mention Raleigh, a man who suffered a brain trauma and now can only say a few words.  And it doesn't mention Mr. Gilpin, the newspaper editor, who offers Blue her first paying job.  Along with Hannah, all these people are important to Blue, for varying reasons. The only drawback is that this book won't be published until November! So add it to your TBR lists.

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is the author of The Canada Geese Quilt, Gifts From the Sea and many other wonderful books. Her website seems to be under construction, but this link should work.

Thanks for sticking with me. What middle-grade books are you looking forward to?

Friday, September 21, 2012

YA Friday - POPULAR by Alissa Grosso and PRETTY CROOKED by Elisa Ludwig

I was lucky enough to meet these two authors at this year's PAYA festival.  What's PAYA?  Bringing YA to PA is all about raising money for Pennsylvania libraries.  It was started by an ambitious high school student in 2008. There were over 30 authors at this year's festival, some of whom had already signed books for me at the bookstore (like A.S. King, Ellen Jensen Abbott, K.M. Walton, and Beth Kephart!).

Alissa Grosso is the author of POPULAR (and the more recent FEROCITY SUMMER, which I need to read next!).

Elisa Ludwig is the author of PRETTY CROOKED and the sequel PRETTY SLY (Coming March 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books/Harpercollins).

Alissa Grosso (from her website)

Elisa Ludwig (from her website)

Elisa Ludwig website (Check out her cool book trailer on the main page!)

I'd met Alissa and Elisa once or twice before, but never got a book signed by either, so this was my opportunity. And I'm thrilled that I did. Both books are about high school cliques, but take vastly different approaches.

Popular by Alissa Grosso (Flux, 2011)  

Alissa Grosso manages to pull off an amazing feat: juggling five different points of view from the five high school girls who form a tight clique at Fidelity High.  Hamilton Best is the queen of the clique, and her followers, Olivia, Nordica, Shelly, and Zelda, are squabbling among themselves and fighting to bring her down. Her boyfriend, Alex, seems moody and distant. Or maybe just confused.

But -- hold everything! -- this isn't just another Gossip Girls or Clique novel. The truth is not always what it seems in this fascinating psychological story. I read this in one day. And I was stunned.

Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig (Katherine Tegen Books/Harper, 2012)

Willa Fox's artist mom has finally sold some paintings and they can settle into a real house for once, with the opportunity for Willa to attend a prestigious private school in Arizona. She quickly makes friends with some of the Glitterati of Valley Prep and finds herself swept up in shopping sprees and parties (and attracted to a hot guy).  But when the popular girls prove to be the power behind a mean-spirited website that bullies scholarship students, Willa decides to even the playing field by turning into a modern day version of Robin Hood.  Steal from the rich and go shopping for the poor girls:  what could be so wrong with that?  This is a fun, fast-paced read that isn't afraid to delve into some social issues of class and race differences. 

What recent YA books have stolen your heart?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.  For other participants, see my sidebar or Shannon's links.

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver (coming October 2 from Harper, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher):  When Liza's younger brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: the spindlers -- evil, spiderlike beings -- have gotten to him and stolen his soul. And she is certain that she is the only one who can save him.

Why I liked it: This would make a terrific read-aloud!  Short chapters with cliffhanger endings, imaginative worldbuilding, a brave heroine, lots of action, and a heart's desire: what more could you want?  There were moments that made me gasp, and quite a few that made me smile. This book could easily take its place alongside Gregor the Overlander, James and the Giant Peach, and even The Wizard of Oz.  It introduces human-size talking animals inhabiting another world Below. And most of the book is a challenging hero's journey to save Patrick and get his soul back home. Liza is accompanied on the journey by a human-size rat named Mirabella, who agrees to be her guide.  So with two strong female characters, this is a must-read for girls.

Please be aware that some of the creatures Liza encounters might be a tad scary for younger readers.

What middle grade novels have you read that involve a hero's quest, or humans interacting with talking animals?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tired of rejections? Afraid of failure? Here's some wise advice from Jerry Spinelli!

The best quote I've ever found on dealing with failure is from none other than author Jerry Spinelli.

At a Highlights Foundation workshop in 2002, Jerry said: "...failure is not a pitfall or a pothole, but a stepping stone...  It is only after stepping from one stone to the next... and the next... and the next, that you look back and discover that on the stepping stones of your failures you have crossed the creek."

Here's to crossing the creek.  Maybe the next rejection or the one after that will be the stepping stone that gets you across.

Monday, September 10, 2012

MMGM -- Space Station Seventh Grade

First, I have a giveaway winner to announce:  The winner of the hardcover copy of IF I LIE by  Class of 2K12 author Corrine Jackson is:


Congrats and expect an email from me asking for your mailing address!

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Now for today's MMGM.  Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.  Visit her blog for the links, or see my convenient sidebar to the right (and if you're not in there and you believe you should be, let me know).

Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorite authors. And not just because I've met him and I've actually seen him shopping in the bookstore several times!  You may remember my interview with him and my review of Jake and Lily from May. My all-time favorite Spinelli books are Stargirl and Maniac Magee.

Jerry said his favorite, of all the books he's written, is his first. Well, I was embarrassed that I'd never read the man's first book (at least, the first one he published, after four novels were rejected).  So I recently bought a copy and read it that same day.

Space Station Seventh Grade by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown, paperback published 1991, hardcover published 1982, probably best suited for ages 10 and up)

Source: paperback purchased at the bookstore

Synopsis (from the book cover): Seventh-grader Jason Herkimer struggles with all that junior high brings: pimples, puberty, football, school dances, and most of all, girls! 

Why I liked it:  It's written in first person and that twelve-year-old (and later thirteen-year-old) boy voice is perfect.  The dialog between Jason and his friends (and between Jason and his parents) is hilariously realistic. Jerry might have delved into his own boyhood and recalled everything good and bad about being a seventh-grade boy in the suburbs.  Or maybe he simply listened to his own six children!  The structure is straightforward: it follows the school year, with chapter titles like Hayrides, Football, Girls, Snow.  This is very much a boy book, but girls could read it too.  It's a little dated, but I find it refreshing to read a book in which no one has a computer or a cell phone, and they all spend a lot of time outside!

Note that the space station of the title is a project Jason is building.  It's something he brags about to Debbie Breen, the cheerleader he has a crush on. 

(I'll warn you that I was surprised to find the "s" word sprinkled throughout this book.  Yet in ten years as a bookseller, I've never heard any complaints about it from customers.)

What's your favorite Jerry Spinelli book? 

And I hope you all saw the Los Angeles Times article (as mentioned by PW's Children's Bookshelf) proclaiming that the field of children's lit is still growing!  That's fantastic news for everyone who reads or writes children's books.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Compelling YA Reads -- for Random Acts of Publicity

Yes, I'm participating in Random Acts of Publicity, created by Darcy Pattison.  It's a public event on facebook and you can sign up here.  For this Random Act, I'm offering teasers about four new YA novels:

Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf, 9780307931887) -- With this beautiful and highly-imaginative novel about A, a being who wakes up in a different body every morning, David Levithan teaches us what it means to be human, and what it means to truly love someone. A has managed to drift through his many lives, never getting involved -- until the day he occupies the body of Justin, boyfriend to Rhiannon.  A knows he must see Rhiannon again, even if it means risking being caught by a preacher who warns of the devil taking over bodies.

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang (Harpercollins, 9780062114877, Coming Sept 18!)  --  In an alternate society where two souls exist inside every body, Eva and Addie started out like everyone else. Eva is the recessive one, the one who should have faded away by the time they were seven or eight.  In their strict society, it's mandatory that one soul become dominant.  But at fifteen, Eva's still there inside of Addie, weak and helpless, yet able to talk to Addie telepathically. Will Eva fade away for good or can she learn how to control their shared body again, despite the dangers?  An intriguing storyline and gorgeous writing. I read this in one sitting. 

Lindsey Lost by Suzanne Marie Phillips (Viking, 9780670784608, coming Sept 13) -- Lindsey's an Olympic hopeful, a star runner and the town's Golden Girl.  When her body is found in the woods, her brother Micah may have been the last person to see her.  But he can't remember what happened.  Did he witness the murder?  Or commit it?  There are at least four other possible suspects. A thriller so intense you'll be tearing through the pages to find out what happens.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (Simon Pulse, 9781442454132) *  -- Quinn is trying to survive her senior year in high school, shunned by everyone and tormented by the mean girl, because they all think Quinn cheated on her boyfriend, the town hero. But the truth isn't always what it seems.  In this well-crafted novel, Corrine Jackson paints a stunning portrait of a girl forced to keep a secret for a boy who's now MIA in Afghanistan.  

* See my interview with author Corrine Jackson in this post  -- and there's still time to enter the giveaway, but hurry!