Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck Dale E. Basye

Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck by Dale E. Basye
Blimpo the third circle of heck is where the overweight kids go. 11 yr old Milton and 13 yr old Marlo Fauster have already been introduced to Heck and seen the second circle Rapacia.

Milton has escaped from Heck, he snuck back in it to save his sister, Marlo and his friend Virgil. Milton must hide from principal Bea "Elsa" Bubb. The principal is out to get Milton because he's escaped from Heck twice and it doesn't make her look good. Milton is getting some help from the Phantoms of the Dispossessed or PODs. The PODs can't be classified so they wander through Heck. The leader of the POD's is Jack Kerouac

Milton sneaks into Blimpo because that's where Virgil is. The kids in Blimpo are forced to run on dreadmills, they are a new source of energy. Elvis Presley is the music teacher. Marlo is starting an Infernship for the Guy downstairs. In this book Marlo and Milton don't see each until close to the end. The chapters alternate between the siblings.

I like that the author decided to separate Miltion and Marlo. This way we get a better feel for their individual personalities and get to see more of Heck. Marlo and Milton are both have different perspectives thanks to their time in Heck. This is a very smart series. I appreciate the growth, even Virgil is changed by being in Blimpo.

I loved Blimpo as much as Heck. I enjoyed Rapicia, just don't think its as strong as the other two. Blimpo moves very well. There are some great visually creepy moments.

"Suddenly, a scream pealed from the mist shrouded herd of bewliderbeasts. In the blink of an eye, a swooping shape had attached itself to the creature charging toward Milton. The bewilderbeast screeched, the unmistakable shriek of something about to be killed. Nothing was as frightening Milton thought in the abrupt silence of the creature's scream, than some terrible creature terrified by something even more terrible."

Basye is doing an excellent job of keeping this series funny, entertaining, exciting and thought- provoking. One thing I really like, each book answers the initial questions it set out to answers. As the series continues its getting more involved, in a very good way.

There are a few famous people - Kerouac, Elvis and Nixon (the ethics teacher) in Heck, that adults will get a kick out. Though its always about the young reader. The author seamlessly adds in these names. So if a young reader doesn't know who any of these people are its not big deal.

I think Blimpo would work well as a stand alone. Though I highly recommend starting this series from the beginning. They would make a book club selection.
Read an excerpt

Friday, May 28, 2010

Escaping The Tiger Laura Manivong

Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong
It's 1982, 12 yr old Vonlai, his older sister Dalah and their parents must escape their home country of Laos, which was had a Communist government. In the beginning the family leaves in the night for Thailand. While in Thailand they must stay in a refugee camp. Vonlai's father tells the family they will only be there a few weeks. However, they aren't given an opportunity to leave for a few years. Escaping the Tiger centers around Vonlai and his families time in Thailand.

The author will hook many readers with the midnight escape. It moves at a good clip, there's danger and a little action. We get to know the family and what they are leaving behind, especially Vonlai. Young readers will be able to relate to Vonlai sadness at not being able to say goodbye to his best friend. Or never being able to play soccer with this friends again.

Vonlai's family must adjust to the hard life of living in a refugee camp. This is a visual story, readers will be able to easily picture Vonlai's new world. While playing soccer Vonlai becomes friends with, Kavin, an older boy. He was my favorite minor character. There were moments when the book crossed over into too much lesson not enough story. Except for the parts with Kavin. Vonlai was a strong enough character to over come this and keep my attention. Vonlai's relationship with his sister, Dalah was one of the stories strengths.

Escaping the Tiger is a good story with protagonist readers will want to follow until the end.

Kirkus and Booklist review via the author's site.

Read an excerpt

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Armchair BEA : Author Interviews

Book Expo America is taking place this week in NYC. A few bloggers put together Armchair Bea to allow bloggers to virtually attend. Find out more about it here

Yesterdays Armchair BEA blogger interviews got me to thinking about author interviews. I like doing interviews like some like doing giveaways (maybe not that much) I don't know how many people actually read them. Though I hope those that do will find like something enough to check out the author's book.

I do not like when bloggers have set questions. Asking all authors the same questions. It seems so impersonal. I don't feel like I am getting to know the author. When I read an interview I want to get to know the author, as much as I want to know more about their newest novel.

With set questions there's no back and forth between blogger and author. I'd rather watch two tennis players hit balls to each other, than watch one player hit balls from a machine. Besides my favorite part of an interview is thinking up the questions. I also like doing the research. I think a little research is required when interviewing an author. A quick look at the author's blog , facebook page would work.

After the author answers the my first few questions. I'll have a few follow up questions and comments. It takes at least 3 correspondences to take the stiffness out of a blogger interview.

I used to really not like author blog tours but I am coming around to understanding the necessity. An author must get the world out on their book. Though the generic questions still make me cringe. Back in March blogger Ah Yuan, did a post on YA author's Y.S. Lee's blog tour Ah Yuan's right that was an awesome blog tour, the best I've ever seen. If more blog tours were like that, I could really get behind them. I know that took some work by the author and bloggers but I think its worth it.

I like to think my interviews have gotten better from this first one with YA author Dream Jordan, to the most recent with YA author Karen Healey.

If you haven't already and you want to see some great interviews I highly recommend checking out the Summer Blog Blast Tour A few of the authors that particapted - Kate Milford, Rita Williams- Garcia, Lisa Mantchev and Nancy Bo Flood.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Perchance to Dream Lisa Mantchev

Perchance to Dream: by Lisa Mantchev
This is the sequel to Eyes Like Stars, one of my favorite YA books last year. 17 yr old Bertie has left theatre for the first time. She wants to rescue Nate, a love interest. She is accompanied by her friends the fairies from A Midsummer Nights Dream and Ariel another love interest.

Like, Eyes Likes Stars, the author throws the reader right into the story. This time I was ready for it. I enjoy Mantchev lets get right to it beginnings. Bertie's words have power, thanks to a magical journal. Whatever she writes becomes true. Bertie learns early on to carefully word everything.

This is the kind of novel should be read slowly. Too fast and you'll miss some beautiful word play. Bertie is caught between Ariel and Nate but never loses herself.

I was really looking forward to reading Perchance to Dream, it was worth the wait. I enjoyed losing myself in Bertie's world again. I love Mantchev very different writing style. I wish I had the words to explains how much the author's writing impressed me all I could think was wow. (actually now wow but I am trying to stay clean) Though I did find myself lost at times. As if I was no longer in sync with the author's rhythm. It didn't happen often but when it did I was worried I was missing something.

I loved the unexpected ending for the love triangle of Bertie, Ariel an air spirit and Nate a pirate. I enjoy reading a book where everything is new and unexpected. I highly recommend this series. You must begin with Eyes Like Stars.

Read an excerpt of Eyes Like Stars
An excerpt of Perchance to Dream

How often do I include two excerpts? One, often. Two, not often. So you know this is some seriously good reading.

Armchair Bea - Does Blogging Really Make A Difference?

Book Expo America is taking place this week in NYC. A few bloggers put together Armchair Bea to allow bloggers to virtually attend. Find out more about it here

"Today is ALL about things BEA oriented. Posts for today should be "bookish" in nature, the kind of things you'd find when looking through the panels and exhibits at BEA."

My topic - Does blogging really make a difference?
I love blogging and talking about books, though sometimes I wonder if people consider blogs reviews when deciding what new titles to read. If your a blogger or frequent visitor I am not talking about you. (of course the answer is yes) But what about people who simply enjoy reading?

One mark against blogs reviews (this is an assumption) is that its all personal opinion from non professionals. Professional or not, all reviews are personal opinions. To counteract this possible negative, I always try to link to an excerpt. If a visitor who discovered my blog when they googled a title believes my review is too nice or not critical enough, I say forgot me (its not about me its about the book) and go read the excerpt.

Sometimes I link to reviews by other bloggers and professional reviewers for the same reason.

Is that enough to get people to consider blogger reviews? What else do you think can be done?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle Deva Fagan

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle by Deva Fagan
This is a beauiful cover and fits the story perfectly. The artist behind it is Bradon Dorman. I love seeing a kid of color on a middle grade novel. I believe Prunella, mentions her brown skin once. This lone mention makes me appreciate the cover even more, the publishers Henry Holt could have easily pretended they didn't see

"Just the same clear brown skin and snub nose I'd always had. Blast it!."

Instead, they embraced and reinforced it with the cover. So much kudos to Henry Holt.

Prunella Bogthistle wants to be a proper bog -witch. She wants a few well placed warts on her face and the ability to curse like the rest of the Bogthistle's. When Prunella uses magic only good things happen. All bog-witches live in the bottomlands and its filled with magic. Prunella helps Barnaby, an Uplander trespresser, escape one of her grandmother's garden traps. Prunella's grandmother kicks her out. Prunella must prove before she can return.

Barnaby plans to become famous by finding and returning the Mirable Chalice to the Uplander Queen. Prunella joins Barnaby on his quest. She is determined to find Esmeralda's (an infamous bog witch) book of magic. Prunella believes with Esmeralda's grimoire, she will be able to curse properly and be welcomed back home.

On their journey, Prunella and Barnaby find themselves helping Uplanders. Something is out of sorts in each town they pass. Many Uplanders are too sick to get out of bed. Prunella starts to do a few other things that make her question her bog witch ness.

"Now that we were well on our way, walking under a cloudless blue sky through the green meadows, Barnaby had regained his airy cheer. Perhaps a bit too much cheer.
"Do you always whistle?" I asked.
"What's wrong with whistling?"
What was wrong was that his silly little tune made my steps bounce as if I were trotting across billowing clouds. I felt ridiculous. Who ever heard of a bog witch skipping along past meadows full of daisies and cornflowers? I forced my feet into a more appropriate stalking gait."

Prunella isn't bothered by dirt, instead of a hair clip she has a chicken bone. Barnaby does his best to stay clean and loves a good suit. The two are an odd couple playing off of each other very well.

From the beginning its obvious Prunella's has not mastered her magic. Its funny watching her try.

"I tried to slow my hammering heart. I was not going to let myself get riled up by a straggly snot of a boy. "It was supposed to be boils not oils!"
"But if it makes you happy, you did ruin my favorite jacket. "But I'll take that over boils any day."

I loved Prunella she's a misunderstood bog witch who wants to be loved by her grandmother. Fagan's writing is well layered allowing for Prunella's vulnerability. Visually this is a very fun read. Prunella and Barnaby run away from a crocodile in the bottomlands. (the cover). On their misadventure the two discover what's really going on in the Uplands. Barnaby has a story of his own, and its connected to the happenings in the Uplands.

I've read a few books this year that lost me with the ending. Whenever that happens I feel cheated. If a novel is going to turn on me I'd rather it happen in the middle so I can put it down. The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle was the complete opposite of that. The first part was very good though Fagan seemed to give a little more for the second half. This looks to be the first book in a series ( fingers crossed)

Kirkus Review and School Library Journal review via the author's site
Read an excerpt

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Do I Read Next?

So, if you visit my blog on occasion, you know I am constantly reading . I have a long mental to be read (tbr) list. I don't bother writing it down, since I know I won't be loyal to it. It's enough that I know what I want to read. Deciding what to read next for me is about balance.

There are books or authors I am looking forward to that won't wait long in my reading queue. Like Perchance to Dream: by Lisa Mantchev or Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck by Dale E. Basye or Keeper by Kathi Appelt

There are the books that simply catch my eye in the store Chances are it there won't be many customers looking for it. But I don't care. The best example I have of this is Out of His League A YA novel written by an Australian author about football. That is a serious trifecta for me. I think this category is very important since its about reading for self and not worry about who else will like it.

There are the books that look good to me and I think will be great to add to my hand sell repertoire. Like Dark Life by Falls. This is similar to books that catch my eye but I am thinking about customers.

There are the advanced reader copies (arcs) I request. Usually, I move requested arcs to the top of the queue and get to them before the release date. The unrequested I get to as soon as I can. I try and get to them before the release date.

There are the books that are getting a lot of great reviews. Or we have a lot of copies. I think reading too many of these books can bring about reader burnout quickly. Because you are allowing others to choose your titles. It nice to discover my own books or authors to love. Usually I don't get to these books that quickly. Its easy to fake the funk ( or act like I know) about them at work since they are so popular. I still haven't read any of the 39 clues books but I don't need to sell them. Plus these titles don't need much blogger attention.

There are the books that I discover from other peoples blogs.

There are the books with characters of color. I do practice a sort of readers Affirmative Action here (kind of ironic since this is the last category) but books with kids of color get the move to the head of the queue Though it still must be something I have an interest in. I am really looking forward to reading Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Rhodes is an award winning author. Many of her novels are set in New Orleans. Ninth Ward is her first middle grade title. Its about hurricane Kartrina. I will read as soon as it comes out. Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones, is another one that I won't wait long to read. I loved Jones YA debut Standing Aganist the Wind. Then there' s Mr. Mendoza Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea, illus. by Christopher Cardinale. The cover art of is gorgeous. The story sounds beautiful. These three titles and many books with kids of color trump many of the popular and best selling titles with ease. Notice, I said many not all. I am not immune to the goodness that is the Hunger Game series by Suzanne Collins. I will be reading Mockingjay as soon as it comes out.

Books with kids of color are not the only books to get this treatment. Any title that I think needs a little blogger attention and that I might enjoy can jump the tbr line.

Like girls sports novels Breakaway by Andrea Montalbano, came in last week. Its an middle grade title that features a girl soccer player. I will be read soon. or Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. Its a sports novel that features a girl, and its about another culture. (Philippine). That is a must read for me. So much so I am adding Tall Story to this post even though the release date has been pushed back to early 2011. (that makes me sad)

Some books with male protagonist can jump as well. The Lock Artist: by Steve Hamilton - This is an adult mystery, the protagonist is 18. So it may crossover into YA. Either way I it sounds like something I will like. Just came across it today will read soon

I know this sounds like a lot but many times books fit into more than one of these categories. Doing this keeps reading enjoyable. I would hate reading if I tried to keep up with what was hot. It would feel too much like work. There was a time when I used to finish every book I started. (especially best sellers or popular titles) Not anymore. If I don't like it, I am putting it down. I don't care how many people said they loved it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Red Umbrella Christina Diaz Gonzalez

The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez
14 yr old Lucia Alverez is excited about an unexpected break from school, thanks to Castro's revolution. Lucia's parents fear for her safety. Lucia and her younger brother Frankie can't leave the house. When Lucia and Frankie sneak out, they see their dad's boss interrogated and threatened by Castro's men. Slowly, Lucia begins to realize the Cuba, she knows and loves is changing. When Castro came into power, family and friends became enemies. Lucia and her best friend Ivette, grow apart. Ivette joins the Jovenes Rebeldes, a communist youth movement in Cuba. Lucia's parents won't let her join. I didn't instantly like Lucia. She fought her parents, and didn't understand why they were against Castro.

Somewhere along the way, I realized a 14 yr old who is forced to stay home (even if there's a good reason) will fight their parents. Also Castro's ideas looked good to Lucia because they differed from her parents. The early tension between Lucia and her parents, made it easy for me to imagine parents and children choosing different sides. If things had gone differently, Lucia could've run away and joined Jovenes Rebeldes. This was one of the books strengths. Gonzalez allows the reader to consider what if. What if Frankie hadn't gotten sick, and Lucia never passed that oak tree?

After the oak tree, Lucia has seen too much and trust her parents completely. Lucia's parents try to give the impression that they support Castro, in hopes that it will keep them safe. Its not enough. They are worried about the safety of Lucia and her younger brother, Frankie. They decide to send Lucia and Frankie to the U.S. alone. Between 1960 and 1962 ( Red Umbrella, 1961) Operation Pedro Pan was in effect. Many Cuban parents who were against Castro sent there children to the U.S. alone.

Lucia and Frankie are in Miami for a short time. The two are placed with a husband and wife in Nebraska. They keep in touch with their parents through letters and the occasional phone call. The author does of allowing the reader to feel Lucia's experiences. The Alveraz family connection and love is very strong. I thought the author could've developed certain aspects a little more. One day Lucia runs into Laura, a classmate. Her father was arrested for spreading anti -revolutionary lies. I thought Laura woud've made a good character I would've loved a conversation about Castro's ideology between Lucia and Laura.

The author used, Ivette to give a voice to Castro's belief, with letters to Lucia. They didn't feel natural to the story. It was the only time the Gonzalez faltered in blending fact with fiction.

The Red Umbrella is wonderful read. Gonzalez tells a great story. A red umbrella makes a few appearances, I especially loved the last one. The author has mastered the art of symbolism. There aren't many middle grade novels about how Castro's rule impacted Cuban families. I believe this is the first one about Operation Pedro Pan. Its a very good first.

Read an excerpt The Red Umbrella could be paired with Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines. It's a beautiful memoir about a boy growing up in Cuba when Castro came into power.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Countdown Deborah Wiles

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
The cover of Countdown caught my attention. When I quickly flipped through it, I saw old ads about a turtle named Bert who ducks and covers from atomic bombs, a photograph of President Kennedy as well as photographs with slogans. Wiles already had me and I had yet to read a word.

Its 1962, many Americans are worried about a nuclear war. I don't remember learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis (maybe I was absent that day) even though it was a major event in U.S. history. Countdown centers around that time of uncertainty. Like every other student 11 yr old Franny Chapman is learning to duck and cover like Bert the turtle just in case.

I absolutely loved Franny's voice, pure in its believably. She is a wonderfully realistic character. Franny is growing up during a time of change and her life must go on. Wiles has written a beautiful historical novel. Once, I started reading I didn't want to stop. The author easily explains the conflict between Russia, Cuba and the United States. For homework Franny is required to watch President Kennedy speech when he tells the country Cuba has missles.

The fear and tenison everyone feels can be felt through Wiles words. I was moved when the author took the time to make Cuba real and not simply a place to be feared. Franny's teacher Mrs. Rodriquez, tells her class about Cuba, the homeland of her husband.

Interspersed throughout are photographs, speeches and slogans of the time. Adding another dimension to the story. I found myself looking forward to these factual breaks. In 1962 many people were fighting for equality for all people in the U.S. Wiles addresses this as well. Frannie Lou Hamer story is featured. Franny's older sister Jo Ellen is working with CORE and SNCC organizations.

Countdown was entertaining, educational and a pleasure to read. I loved and highly recommend it. Franny Chapman is one of my favorite female protagonist of 2010. Read an excerpt

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dear Mr. Mosley

Dear Mr. Mosley

Hello, my is Doret but please feel free to call me a fan. I know you are a busy man so I won't take up too much of your time. I love your new mystery series staring Leonid McGill. All of my attention should be on the ex- boxer, PI who is trying to play by the rules again. Though I must confess I am distracted by McGill 's 16 yr old son Twill. I blame this on you, Mr. Mosley, you are simply too good at what you do.

"Once a week or so as a rule, I perused Twill's personal emails. I did this because Twill, for all his superior qualities was a natural born criminal. He didn't hurt people physically but he was a whiz at getting in and out of locked rooms, performing internet scames on children of his age. He had at least seventeen seperate email addresses"

"Twill had a small scar under his chin, a blemish from a tumble he took as a toddler. I often thought that that little protuberant flaw made him even more prefect telling the world that, this handsome representation of a man was human too."

As you well know you gave much more Twill than that, in The Long Fall and Known Evil. Maybe other readers won't see the goodness and potential that is Twill. But, I enjoy a good young adult novel as much as a good mystery.

So please Mr. Mosley consider giving Twill his own series. He would definitely stand out, a contemporary mystery featuring a mixed race teen. Before you say no, sleep on it and talk to your people. (with your extensive body of work, you must have a few people).

I do hope you will consider writing another young adult novel. Twill's voice would be new, exciting and much appreciated. Thanks again for the great new series. Leonid McGill is one of the best new additions to the mystery genre I've seen in awhile.


The Wonder Book - Amy Krous Rosenthal, Paul Schmid

The Wonder Book by Amy Krous Rosenthal illus. by Paul Schmid
Rosenthal has made poetry fun with this collection.

Tinkle ,Tinkle
In the sea
Don't look under
While I pee

One of my favorite poems is Brat City, (its 10 stanza's)

I'll be your tour guide today
But these sites won't be pretty
So get comfy, have a seat
We're about to enter Brat City

You won't hear cars honking
Nor the clatter of fancy dining
In Brat City all you'll ever hear
Is the constant drone of whining.

You'll see there are no city limits
(The parents never set them)
You'll find the kids running wild
(The parents always let em)

The speak their own languages here
I Want is what it's called
That's how they start every sentence
Most visitors are appalled.

The Wonder Book is all in black and white, giving it a very open feel. Rosenthal's poems and Schmid's drawing compliment each other very well. One of the great things about poerty books, you don't have to nor are you expected to like every poem. All of these poems didn't work for me but many did. I even loved a few. The Wonder Book would make an excellent read aloud.

Read an excerpt

I've linked this to poerty friday . This weeks round up can be found at Jama's Rattigan's

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scars C. A. Rainfield

Scars by C. A. Rainfield
15 yr old Kendra is being stalked by the man who sexually abused her as a child. Kendra doesn't know who abused her. She's talking about what happened to a therapist. Somehow Kendra's abuser knows and wants to scare Kendra into keeping quiet and not remembering. Kendra doesn't know who abused her. Kendra turns to cutting to cope

Kendra's voice is powerful. The author allows the reader to fully connect with and understand her fears. Right from the beginning when Kendra tells her therapist about being followed by her abuser, I was invested in her story.

Kendra's parents are worried about money. Kendra's mom has never been supportive always criticizing Kendra's only voice, her art. Kendra's dad is too busy worry about money to spend time with Kendra. He also feels shame over not being able to protect his daughter. Kendra doesn't have any emotional support at home. The same is true at school, until she meets Meghan. Kendra has been cutting for months, her parents never noticed. Meghan doesn't miss the scars. Kendra decide to trust Meghan with her secrets. Their friendship soon turns into a relationship.

There were many moments when I didn't think I could be any closer to Kendra. Her voice is sad beautiful and vulnerable. It easy to understand Kendra's need to cut. Kendra speaks through her art. On more than one occasion, the healing power of expressing oneself through art is mentioned. Reinfield doesn't realy on any tricks, she simply tells a story. Her writing is honest and real. Kendra's story will hit you hard.

Kendra's had some wonderfully tender moments with Meghan. In the beginning I didn't really believe in Kendra and Meghan's relationship. By the end I believed and loved it. When Kendra comes face to face with her abuser, I could almost feel her fear through the pages. That scene and Kendra will stay with me for a long time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dark Life Kat Falls

Dark Life by Kat Falls
The first time I remember seeing this book was at one of Charlotte's Science fiction and fantasy round ups. I must confess, I don't read all the summaries. Sometimes I simply look at the cover. That's what I did with Dark Life. It didn't stand out enough for me to stop. When I saw it in the store the next day, I did a double take. Some covers must been seen in person for the full effect. Dark Life has on of those covers. After, reading the first three pages, I was very excited. Why? - 1 male protagonist - not including continuing series there seem to be less middle grade novels with male leads this year. 2. Its an apocalyptic future story set in the deep sea. Apocalyptic tales are very popular right now but as far as I know no middle grade novels that explore humans living in the deep sea.

3 " But my trance was cut short by a series of green sparks bursting out of the gorge. I fell back, every muscle in my body tense. Only one fish glittered like an emerald and traveled in a pack: the green lantern shark. Twelve inches long and deadly as piranhas, they could rip apart something twenty times their size. Forget what they could do to a human. I should have seen it coming even this deep. I should have known the squid had squirted its radiant goo to diver a predator. And now my helmet's crown lights served as an even brighter beacon. With a jab to my wrist screen, I snapped them off, but it was too late - I couldn't unring that dinner bell."

That's from the first page. Its a very strong beginning. There's action, danger, science facts and great visuals. If a reader isn't sold on the cover, if you can get them to read the first page you might hook them.

In Dark Life thanks to global warming there's less land. People are forced to lived crammed together. Ty's parents were pioneers in the movement to living in the ocean. 15 yrs later the Benthic Terriory is establishing itself as a viable living option. Ty was the first child born in the deep sea. Dark Falls opens with Ty exploring and meeting Gemma, a topsider, (a person who lives on land) Gemma's searching for her older brother, Richard.

When Ty turns 18 he's going to claim his own land. His plans are threatened when the government forces the people of the Benthic Territory to catch outlaws raiding government supply ships. The outlaws known as Seablite gang are becoming more dangerous. Ty is willing to go up against the leader to protect his way of life.

The people of the Benthic Territory are struggling for independence, rights and respect. The deep sea setting is something very different, the author uses this to her advantage. Since Ty diet includes abyssal fish, his skin has a shine to it. As, Ty shows Gemma around the territory and his home, we learn how people are able to live and thrive in the ocean.

All children born in the deep sea have a special ability known as a dark gift. Ty has decided to hide his ability. Since he's the oldest the other children follow his lead. Falls explains the reasoning behind Ty's wanting to keep his ability a secret. Though I wished the author would've expanded on the idea of the dark gift.

Dark Falls has some nice action and close call moments. It's also a very visual story. Ty comes face to face with many different ocean animals. I am looking forward to seeing what the author does with Ty. At the end everyone knows about dark gift. I hope the author will explore the stories of the pioneers. I would love to hear Ty's parents tell stories of the first few years. Especially Ty's mother, who seems like a strong female protagonist to balance out Gemma.

Deep Sea life doesn't scare Gemma, she's fearless but that girl is not quick. At the end Gemma is used as a shield or a hostage twice. The first time I was like okay it happens. The second time I was like come on Gemma please be aware of your surroundings or have quick feet. Soon after the second time Ty must save Gemma again. The last incident Gemma couldn't have prevented but a female character having to be saved so many times by the male character rubs me the wrong way.

Falls has created a detailed world. The author does an excellent job of incorporating answers of how humans can survive in the deep sea. I enjoyed Dark Falls. It was an entertaining read with some serious growth potential. I think young readers who enjoy non fiction books on ocean life will really enjoy it. Read an excerpt

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Celia's Robot Margaret Chang

Celia's Robot by Margaret Chang
10yr old Celia Chow is not very organized. After everything goes completely wrong one school morning, Celia's dad thinks of the perfect birthday gift, a robot. Robot keeps Celia on task. Celia's mom is White and her dad is Chinese. There are moments when Celia wonders what others see when they look at her family. Celia worries her parents fight too much.

I really enjoyed this book. Celia was a very well drawn character. I thought it was pretty cool that her hobby was picking locks. The author does an excellent job with the Chow family relationships.

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover, there's a bad guy. Another computer scientist, Mr. Fisher wants to steal Robot. When Robot goes missing Celia is determined to get, her new friend back. There were a few exciting and scary moments when Celia confronts the men who took Robot.

"I reached into Robot's body and picked out the wire connecting the locator to the big battery. Fisher had left all his tools scattered around. It was easy to find the right one to splice the wire again. It was all I could do for Robot. I longed to make it whole, but I knew it was more important to find Dad's laptop. My legs felt weak and trembly, so I steadied myself by holding the edge of the bench.

The swish of an opening door startled me. I spun around to see a tall bony man coming through the door at the back of the lab. His curly blond hair framed a face that looked as if it had been colored with white chalk, and his eyes were as blue and cold as a winter sky. He could have been handsome, but he wasn't. He looked horrible. I started to run but he was too quick."

Read an excerpt. It gives a great feel of Celia's voice and her family.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stringz Micheal Wenberg

Stringz by Michael Wenberg
Jace Adams and his mom are never in one place too long. The only constant in Jace's life since he was six is playing the cello. Jace will be starting his freshman year at a new school in a new state.

"In fact, it's been so crazy the past couple of years I've barely had enough time to figure out the location of the safe bathrooms at a school before mom hauls me off somewhere new - again. But she always has a very good reason : better job, shorter commute, more money, nicer apartment, She even promised that this was going to be our last move - because she finally had a really good job" (from the arc)

Sometimes its the little things that stand out for me in a passage. Jace's wanting to find the safe bathrooms is one of those. In Seattle, Jace and his mom will be living will Aunt Bernice. Though they are living with a relative money is still tight. Jace decides to play his cello outside for money, like he did in San Diego.

Jace is mixed raced, his father is White, his mom Black. Thoughout the novel he identifies as Black. Jace has never meet his father and that's how people see him. He joins the school orchestra. The music teacher, Mr Whitehead doubts Jace can play the cello. Jace quickly proves him wrong.

I suppose it seems a little obvious for Wenbreg to put in a scene where the White music teacher doesn't believe Jace is a skilled cellist. But sadly people are placed in boxes of what we can and can't do, like and don't like. The author didn't overplay the interaction between Mr. Whitehead and Jace. It was simply a reflection of what a person faces when they do something outside of the supposed norm for their race or gender.

When Jace finally lets Elvis and Marcy, they become good friends. They are in the orchestra as well. The two convince Jace to enter the Volt competition. Its a national string competition for Black and Latino, high school students. Jace and Marcy get even closer when they take private cello lessons together.

I really liked Stringz and Jace. Though I wished the author would've slowed down a bit. The story seemed to move quickly towards the strings competition. Wenberg doesn't skip anything but there could've been more. I loved that Jace refused to be boxed in, besides playing the cello, he also surfed. It was pretty cool picturing Jace playing Jay Z on his cello. I appreciated that Jace's musical taste were very broad. The author did a good job connecting everyone close to Jace from his Aunt to his music teacher.

"When I woke the next morning, there were new clothes hanging on my door. Black suit, white shirt, black tie. New black shoes and black socks. I even had new boxer shorts. Damn. "Thanks for the, well everything," I said to Bernice. "No problem," Bernice said. "I didn't think you and your lunatic teacher would have thought about it. I called up your girlfriend and Elvis. We made a day of it. Decided to go for the Obama look." (from arc)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Compromised Heidi Ayarbe

Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe
This is Ayarbe's second YA novel. and the author has been honing are craft. It's always been just 15yr old Maya's and her dad a con -man. Maya has a mind for science, using hypothesis, to outline ways to keep her dad from getting caught. This time there is no getting away. Maya's dad is sent to prison and she's placed in orphanage.After Maya meets her potential foster parents she decides to runaway. Maya's searching for an aunt she's never known and is not 100% sure exist.

Maya's plan to go it alone is changed when Nicole, a girl who has always been in the system follows. The two walk and hitchhike to the state Maya's aunt may or may not be in. Maya formulates hypothesis that read like journal entries.

Nicole is still with me. I never really thought seh'd actually go through with it - running away for real. It's unlike her previous patterns of sticking around and waiting to be found. That's the thing about humans - highly unpredictable variables. I have to construct a new hypothesis, change the materials and variables. And that irritates me, because even my purpose has to change.

Maya's is book smart. Nicole can keep them safe and feed on the street. The two had the worst luck finding places to spend the night.

"I sigh. It's like we're doomed to share our sleeping arrangements with druggies. From the smell of things, we might as we have been lying on a bed of smoldering pot."

After Maya and Nicole feel each other talking becomes easier. I'd call what Maya and Nicole had conversations not dialogue. Ayarbe's has written a wonderfully realistic well layered novel. I loved Compromised, especially the ending, which Ayarbe crushed. Read an excerpt

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing - Smithsonian Books

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing edited by Richard Carlin and Kinshasha Holman Conwill

This book is amazing, beautiful and filled to capacity with information. Its the entire history of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. Even the tree of hope. At amateur night at the Apollo, kiss the tree hope stump before coming on stage for luck.

In 1965, the owners of the Apollo Theater donated $5,500 to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. The book highlights many Apollo theater acts like James Brown, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald Aretha Franklin and Pearl Bailey.

The history of Harlem is intertwined with the story of the Apollo. Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing tells the story of how Harlem became Harlem, beginning in 1905 with White tenants moving out. The struggles Black renters faced with higher rents.

The text is very readable. Including many quotes and references. There are also personal stories from the artist.

There are amazing photographs of every era at the Apollo Theater beginning in 1914. If this book had no text it would still be worth it. The pictures alone tell many stories.

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing is published by Smithsonian books. In Washington D.C. they've opened an exhibit with the same name to celebrate the 75 anniversay of the Apollo Theater

I've linked this post to Non Fiction Monday. The round up can be found at Bookends