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Monday, November 12, 2007

Markus Zusak and The Book Thief

     Several of my writer/illustrator friends from the SCBWI Southern-Breeze and I attended Markus Zusak's book signing at the Marcus Jewish Community Center's annual Book Festival last night.
     An enormous crowd gathered in their gymnasium to hear Markus tell stories and talk about his path to writing the Printz award-winning novel, The Book Thief.
     He's been on tour for ages now (after two years, clamor over the novel has not quieted), but somehow managed to be energetic and entertaining. I asked him if he was able to write on the road ("not very well," he said) and if he felt he had another book in him of such importance. He very humbly replied, "probably not." He said he put so much into The Book Thief, he really feels it is his "big book."      Considering he's the recipient of two Printz Honor Awards (also for I Am The Messenger), I'm inclined to believe Markus has many more great things to share with us.
     And oh to have accomplished so much at such a young age! Wow. (And what a cutie too.)
     The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany during WWII and told through the voice of Death, so you can imagine this is no light read - but if you get the chance, it's definitely worth it.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Just finished a good one: Rules by Cynthia Lord

     Okay, no big surprise here because Rules has won countless awards, but don't you love it when the awards are well-deserved?
     Rules is about a young girl, Catherine, trying to be a normal kid while dealing with her younger autistic brother. I'll admit the subject is daunting when you first pick up the book, "am I going to enjoy this?"
     Well yes, you will.
     Catherine is an amazing protagonist. She has been forced to grow up quickly as much of the burden of caring for her brother falls on her. She is savvy, aware, and especially bright. Her vigilant (and necessary) attention to the things in her life, always watching out for potential difficulties for her brother, give us a strong vision of her world while showing just how mature (and naturally artistic) this young girl is. But she's also going through the typical angst of boys and new friends. The juxtaposition of these traits makes her one of the most multi-dimensional characters I've read in a long time. I was completely inspired by her bravery.
     The relationship she develops with Jason, a wheelchair bound boy who's normal mind is trapped in a body that doesn't work, is heart-warming. It develops with ease and a reality that makes any relationship with somebody different more accessible to all of us.
     In the end of the story, I do wish I knew if the new friend stepped up to the plate, it was the only thread that left me hanging, but maybe that's for the best. We are forced into the friend's shoes and left to wonder, would we step up to the plate with such grace and courage if we were in Catherine's situation?
     Wonderful, wonderful story. Beautifully written. I highly recommend Rules!


Monday, February 26, 2007


     I've gotta figure out how to add an accent to the "a" on my machine - hm.
     So! I have been going crazy for the last few months. When I started taking Spanish Lessons at the Latin American Association, I also started listening to the local Latino station for a feeble attempt at immersion, 105.7 (say it with me like a radio announcer - "cientos cinco puntos siete"!), (you can stream the station online, btw) and there was this one song that I completely flipped over. Unfortunately, my Spanish was so . . . green, I had no idea who it was.
     Well, I've come a long way, baby, and today I finally figured it out. And now there are two FAB songs: "Bendita Luz" and "Labios Compartidos" by Mana (accent on the second "a")!
     Okay, so they are not new, and certainly not news, but they are new to me - and I LOVE them!! The lead singer, Fher Olvera has a voice highly reminiscent of Sting back in the Police days (turns out The Police were one of their influences - ha!), slightly grindy, very sexy. Add to that a great beat, interesting chord changes, and awesome harmony, and you have ¡Mana!
And you can hear them for yourself - in fact, the two songs I mentioned are their two #1's right now. Snippets play automatically when you visit their website. The site takes a bit to load, even on high speed, but stick it out. It's worth it.
     I dare you to not totally love these guys, especially the gals. What a VOICE!! Ahhhhh.....

Note: To the person who keeps leaving notes in Spanish on my blog - I hope you read this! I'm getting closer to being able to understand what the heck you're saying to me! :)

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The Wee Free Men - Crivvens!!

     Well, I think that's what they say - I haven't seen it in print.
     Believe it or not, I am going to recommend you bypass reading the "Discworld Novels: Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith," written by Terry Pratchett, and go straight to the audio versions by Stephen Briggs.
     Stephen Briggs is a genius as he switches from voice to voice without missing a beat. And these aren't just any voices, the Wee Free Men shoot off an Irish brogue so thick, they're a bit hard to understand, hilariously so. "Sheep" are pronounced as "ship" and such. The personality Mr. Briggs brings to these characters is so vibrant and entertaining, you've got to HEAR them to get their full impact.
     Expect to laugh out loud throughout the reading as the wee free men do what they do best: "Drink! Fight! Steal! Drink and fight! Fight and Steal! Crivvens!"
     I'm on the second book and have been laughing my way all the way through. You've just got to HEAR the Discworld Novels!!!!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Edge Chronicles and Such

     I just got back from my very favorite independent children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories, where Paul Stewart and Chris Riddel were talking about their series, "The Edge Chronicles," and signing books like crazy.
     Diane (store owner) set up a "Boys Action/Adventure Reading Club" and the whole lot of six to ten-year-olds turned out to hear these talented creators.
     What an intelligent and adorable (don't tell them I said that) crowd! Most had read all of "The Edge Chronicles" and were moving on to the "Farflung Adventures." I waited in line, feeling very . . . tall, to get my copies signed as well. I talked to a few of the kids, but kept quiet for the most part. This was definitely THE KIDS' event!
     I finally read the first in "The Edge" series for the occassion and completely understand the obsession. Poor "Twig" is thrown into adventure after adventure, most taking him to the edge of death. I cried when the Banderbear . . . well, I won't spoil it for you.
     Paul talked about all his travelling adventures which inspired so many of Twig's while Chris drew a Banderbear.
     Oh how I coveted that drawing. Little Shop of Stories has quite the collection at this point (they have a few of my drawings as well) and they're trying to figure out something special to do with them.
     Anyhow, if "Fergus Crane" is anywhere near as fun as "The Edge Chronicles," I've got some great reading ahead of me! Wippee!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I was a reading FOOL!

   This past week. I read four Fabulous books I have to share with you.

   The first was "How I Live Now" (or "how i live now" if you have the hardcover) by Meg Rosoff.
   It deserves every bit of praise it is receiving. What an amazingly talented writer – and this is her first book! Not a word out of place, every idea was perfectly formed. Her pacing was perfect. I was truly awestruck. I HIGHLY recommend it if you haven't had a chance to read it yet.

   Next was "Millicent Min Girl Genius" by Lisa Yee.
   I hung out with the bright kids in school (I guess I hoped it would rub off). Actually, I love geeks, always have. But consistently, truly intelligent people have a hard time interacting socially.
   Millicent is off the charts intelligent. This is the funny story of how she learns to interact socially and find where she "fits."

   "Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech.
   Wow do I need to read more by this author. "Walk Two Moons" won the Newbery in 1994/5 (?) and I'm sorry I've only just now read it. It's a wonderful story. Funny and moving - the voice is fantastic. Yes, it has a dead mother, but wow is it handled well. It's a story of personal growth as Salamanca, "Sal," and her father heal from their loss.

   "The Rules of Survival" by Nancy Werlin.
   This is a disturbing book to read. These kids are stuck and leaning on their big brother who is really too young and stuck himself to know what to do about their abusive and dangerous mother. Until he sees Murdoch, that is.
   It's a well-written book and probably very important in the hands of the right child.

   So, all in all, I recommend these books highly. And what a great few days I had gobbling them up!


Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Octavian Nothing" - a review

     “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party,” by M.T. Anderson is not a thoroughly modern book. In fact its voice, amazingly accurate to the dawn of the revolutionary war, is the most intriguing thing about it. This flawless voice, so different from Anderson's other books, deserves admiration and makes for a captivating read along the lines of “Wuthering Heights” or “Jane Eyre.” But unlike both, its romance is not one of love and relationships, but a longing for freedom. Extremes of social standing and racial division define that freedom in vastly different ways, but remains the collective goal.
     The story of the atypical protagonist is secondary and quietly reveals itself with his growth and developing awareness of his extraordinary situation. I won’t drop any spoilers other than to say, it’s worth the wait.
     Set against an epic and insecure time in our history, we have the luxury of knowing how events turn out. This does not prevent us, however, from thoroughly engaging ourselves in the moment, experiencing the anger, paranoia, and fear of the time, and cheering for the main character’s ultimate success.
     Did "Octavian Nothing" deserve the National Book Award this year? Oh yeah.


Saturday, November 18, 2006


Wippee!!! The movie comes out this December and the trailer looks GREAT!! And what a great role for Jeremy Irons! I can't wait!!
You did read the book, right?

     Okay, well we saw "Eragon" last night, and while the die-hard Eragon fans will find some things to love about it, for instance, Saphira can make one heck of an entrance, overall the movie was disappointing. Young Ed Speleers career has been made though - within two weeks every teenage girl in America will have a poster of him in those low slung leather pants on their walls (woowee!).
     I've heard critics call the acting horrendous, which on some levels I'll agree with, Joss Stone - stick to music sweetie, but my biggest complaint was with the editing, the directing and the CGI effects (or lack thereof). Breaks came at strange places, shots were held too long, scene cropping was lazy, the fight scenes looked like about twelve men trying to fill a room, and the crowd scenes, my hubbie noticed, actually flickered. Set design looked small stage and underdone in some key scenes. I would have expected about the same level of production for a made for SciFi Channel movie.
     That said, I do think Saphira was handled well, and I liked some of the ways they adapted some hard to translate to film ideas. (Except, how did he suddenly know all the Elven words for vaious spells?) Overall, I wish more talented people (where's Peter Jackson when you need him?) had spent more time and money on the film - it had the potential to be positively epic . . . but wasn't.


Monday, October 02, 2006

King Dork!

     I just finished reading KING DORK by Frank Portman and I loved it.
     King Dork is a high school boy at the bottom rung of the social scale. He's just trying to make it through school without getting beat up, while trying to establish a band and figure out the death of his father six years earlier. This may sound heavy, but the main character (a.k.a. Chi-Mo) is intelligent, irreverent, and funny as all get out. I laughed out loud several times (often receiving funny looks in public places). Most of the story was about getting into this boy's head, which I found to be a very entertaining place to be. His voice struck me as extremely accurate. He does experience some sexual awakening, so this is definitely young adult, but I highly recommend it, especially to anybody who loves good music or ever felt picked on in school. KING DORK is a great read!


Monday, August 28, 2006

Karin Slaughter's "Triptych"

Hubbie and I are going to Karin's book signing tonight at Ansley Mall for her latest book, "Triptych." This one is outside the Grant County series, but knowing those, I'll start reading early so that I can read it straight through and hopefully finish before it gets dark out. *chills!*


     The thing about Karin's books is you have to leave a window when no commitments are looming on your schedule. I learned this the hard way when reading her first book, "Blindsighted." I couldn't put it down - not even when I reached the spine-tingling scariest part, realized it was dark outside (I'd started reading that morning), and my husband was out of town.
     So with "Triptych," I waited for the right window.
     Finally, with several pressing deadlines behind me, I treated myself. I began reading about 4:00pm yesterday . . . and kept reading until 1:00am when hubbie made me grudgingly turn off the bedside light. The characters wove through my dreams waking me at 7:30am. I picked the book back up up and read to the very end.
     "Triptych" is, in my opinion, Karin's best work yet. I hate the word "seamless" so I will call it "flawless." Karin says she thought about this book for almost four years before she started writing it, and the time she spent working out every detail is obvious. Not a beat was missed, no idea was left unfinished, no detail was left unutilized.
     The book is divided, as the title suggests, into three parts or points of view. The fascinating thing about her approach is with the different points of view, we learn how the characters see themselves and more importantly, how others see them (often very different from their self-perceptions). It makes you question your own abilities of perception and the assumptions we all make when given limited information.
     The story is, of course, violent but what I love about Karin's writing is that her stories are really more about the characters, the baggage they carry and how that affects their reactions to the battles they face.
     What I found most fascinating in "Triptych" was all the grey. Nobody was all bad or all good. Right and wrong blurred. While many of the characters judged themselves harshly (and some not harshly enough), the ultimate conclusions were really left up to the reader to make.
     The characters in "Triptych" were not cut-outs. They were complicated and multi-dimensional. I was reminded that you never really know what people bring to the table when they enter your life. Appearances are just that. Being allowed to peek into the consciences of these characters made this a complex read, and thoroughly enjoyable. I cared about them, I was fascinated by them, I wanted to know more about them. And while Karin never leaves you hanging, she does leave you wondering how the characters will move forward in their lives with the new baggage they are burdened with. It left me thoughtful, pensive, and anxiously awaiting Karin's next book.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Samurai Shortstop!!

I just had lunch with Alan Gratz. His new YA, "Samurai Shortstop," comes out Thursday (Dial). I got to read an ARC, and can I tell y'all - it is WONDERFUL. It is so well written and so well researched. It's placed in Japan during their industrial revolution, which happened kind of all at once vs. the day by day changes in the west. There was some serious culture shock at the time, with the dying era of the Samurai and the embracing of all things western, including baseball. The story is told through the eyes of a young private school boy who's father and uncle are both Samurai. In fact, the story opens with his uncle commiting seppuku - grabs you immediately! I learned about an interesting time in history while enjoying what is essentially a classic "baseball story" in reading Samurai Shortstop. Alan is a talented writer and I recommend the book highly. Go buy it (click the cover)!!
Oh, and visit Alan's groovy website HERE.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

FAITHLESS - OT from kids books!

     So, this is Completely off topic from children's publishing, but a good friend of mine, Karin Slaughter, has a new book coming out, FAITHLESS.Karin Slaughter (perfect name) is the mystery (gory) crime author giving Patricia Cornwall a run for her money (I think she's better). She just hit #2 on the London Times Best Seller List, and has gained quite the following in the USA.
     FAITHLESSis the latest book in her “Grant County” series. I had the good fortune to read the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy). Without giving anything away, I will tell you it kept me tense, guessing and even more curious about her complex characters, especially the tormented cop, Lena.
     As with her entire series, BLINDSIGHTED,KISSCUT,A FAINT COLD FEAR,INDELIBLE,and now FAITHLESS,start reading early on a day when you have nothing to do, it's light out, and you're not alone. I made the mistake of reading her first book, BLINDSIGHTED,when Stan was out of town. There I was at 11:00 at night, it was dark out, I couldn't put the book down until I finished reading it, and then . . . I couldn't move.
     FAITHLESSalso wouldn’t let me go, although I had the good sense to make sure Stan was around this time. I love a book that you know will hold you until it’s finished - it’s like a mini (gory) vacation. Ha!
     I highly recommend Karin’s books if you are looking for something good to read waaay outside the children’s book genre.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Star Wars Episode III

     Just got back from seeing "Revenge of the Sith." Parts of the movie were very, VERY good. It was incredibly complex. Foreshadowing was done very well. There was no black and white - lots of grey, lots of mistakes made by "people" on all sides. The case for Anakin turning to the dark side WAS made - his confusion was palpable.His visions twisted tragically. The scene where he is so horribly disfigured is disturbing - truly - but is also wonderfully done.
     However, parts of the movie didn't work. Unfortunately, some of those parts were key to the believability of the story. The scene where Anakin finally does go to the dark side was woefully underdone and unbelievable. The absolute, complete, and sudden change is too radical. He doesn't evolve into it, he is suddenly there. I didn't buy it. The time they should have spent making that scene more believable was wasted in a way too long battle scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Yes, that was pivitol too, but not nearly as important.
     Then there were the little bugs, like Padmé giving birth to full grown babies (I'm talking, long out of the womb sized babies), when she is hardly five or six months pregnant.
     The thing I found most amusing were the obvious references to the Bush administration: "If you are not with me, you are my enemy"; "So this is how liberty dies. With applause." Supposedly George Lucas wrote the lines long before he'd ever heard of George Bush. It's downright disturbing how well they fit as political satire.
     So, overall, I'm torn. I thought this one was MUCH better than I & II, and it prepared wonderfully for the original, or number IV, which of course I'm dying to go back and watch. Did it really first come out in 1977? Gese, I'm getting old. It did not wow my socks off, which I was hoping it would do.
     See it. Do see it. But don't set your expectations too high.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Robots - The Movie

We saw ROBOTS last night. This is the second movie by the creators of ICE AGE. While ICE AGE was wonderful, but obviously a beginners attempt (beginners - yeah - I'd like to see me do that), ROBOTS shows a huge leap in skill and story. It does begin with an opening cartoon with the hero from ICE AGE - the squirrel. Loved that squirrel.

It's amazing to me that I look at the computer animation as an afterthought. It's so amazing looking and yet I take for granted this has only been around for about 15 years. (I'm remembering the early days of Pixar.) Anyhow, while I don't believe any script could be more perfect than FINDING NEMO, this one comes close. It still relies on cliché a little more than I'd like. But I love these movies that obviously have intense brain-storming in the background, popping funny references in every other second. There are some hilarious moments in this movie. The greatest was when I found myself laughing out loud (couldn't stop), only to notice there was a little boy sitting close by laughing just as hard as I was - he was probably about 8 years old. This is a great movie. Your kids will love it, but so will you. I will definitely be buying this on DVD when it comes out.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Harry Potter 6

It's coming!! Here's a preview of the book cover (via Publishers Lunch).


Monday, January 31, 2005

His Dark Materials Trilogy, Philip Pullman

I've surfaced. May I recommend that if you buy these, you buy them all at the same time – they're sold as a group on Amazon: HIS DARK MATERIALS TRILOGY: THE GOLDEN COMPASS / THE SUBTLE KNIFE / THE AMER SPYGLASS by Philip Pullman. The story does not "end" sufficiently at the end of the first two books, you will immediately want to pick up the next book to continue.

At first I wasn't crazy about his writing style - I felt very distant from the characters and the action. But the story drew me in. It is EPIC along The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars scale. In fact, I hear there are attempts in Hollywood to make it into a movie. That would be no small task. About halfway through the second book, his true purpose behind the adventures start to reveal themselves. I don't want to tell too much, as I highly recommend you read them for yourself, but it involves the very essence of everything we are, including God and religion. This is a wonderful quote from the text that may give you a hint of what's in store:
"Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit." – Philip Pullman, THE SUBTLE KNIFE.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

The House of the Scorpion

I just finished reading THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer last night, and there's a reason it has so many awards on its cover. As I closed the book I wondered, "why was this book classified as a YA"? The only reason I can see is that the protagonist is young. The story speaks to so many modern issues and ideaologies - it's certainly good reading for adults as well. I was reminded a bit of THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood (not for kids). It's a scary editorial on where we as a society could end up if we keep going the direction we're going. It was a great read and somewhat disturbing. I'm sure I'll be "chewing" on it for a while (my mark of a good book).


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion

I just finished reading AN AUTHOR'S GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S BOOK PROMOTION by Susan Raab of Raab Associates. She is also the author of the "To Market" articles in the SCBWI newsletter.

There is nothing fancy about this book. It is a down and dirty guide to book promotion by a woman who does it for a living. What a fantastic resource. There's no flowery filler, just good information. Gotta love it.


All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba,  - Y'all play nice, okay?