Thursday, March 29, 2012

Into the Wise Dark - Neesha Meminger

Into the Wise Dark by Neesha Meminger
Zanum has been Pammi's second home since she first found it at the age of seven with her special ability. Pammi loves her mother but after being forced to see Dr. Mace she's kept her gift of traveling through time a secret. Pammi almost lost Zanum because of Dr. Mace. So Pammi pretends to be normal and not called to her other home. In Zanum she has a second mother and a boyfriend named Dhan. Pammi will be spending the summer before her senior year working as peer support counselor at a psychiatric facility. This unwanted position is a part of her everything okay cover. Pammi spends as much time as she can in Zanum. After a plot to destroy Zanum is brought to light, Pammi's distraught fearing she is responsible.

As with most fantasy novels the first half is dedicated to world building. I liked Pammi, even more so when I realized she was a secondary character from the author's previous novel Jazz in Love. Meminger's writing is fundamentally sound and I can't put my finger on why the first half didn't grab me like I thought it would. There was only one thing I could've done without, Dr. Mace's bad intentions being so obvious. It felt as if the author was forcing this truth on the reader and I don't think it added to the storyline.

Zanum was well developed and visualized. Also there were a few scenes in the first part that stood out. Actually one in particular I loved. It plays a pivotal roll so I won't reveal much. I will simply say its about life death, trust, sacrifice and faith, also the suspense of that scene was intensely beautiful. It also had the wow and pop I expect from Meminger.

Before I got to the second half which I absolutely loved, one of the main reasons I kept reading because of who wrote the story. I did the same thing a few years back with Marchetta's Jellicoe Road. Anyone who's read Jellicoe Road knows the first time in the beginning is very confusing. If it was anyone else I would've put the book down but I had faith in the author's writing and stuck with it and payoff was beautiful.

Jellicoe Road and Into the Wise Dark are two very different novels, the only common factor is me continuing to read because I trusted the authors to take me some where worth going. Like Marchetta, Meminger did not let me down.

The turning point in this novel comes for me, when Pammi learns the truth about the three teen girls she's suppose to mentor. They all have their own special ability and Pammi will need them to help save Zanum. Since the past impacts the present is Pammi and the girls do not stop Zanum from being destroyed girls like them will no longer exist.

I thought the author did an excellent job with the foursome dynamic, their abilities and personalities were well balanced. Dr. Mace didn't work for me, but the mastermind behind the plot to ruin Zanum more then made up for it. That was some good evil with a nice dash of creepy, leading to some visually amazing scenes, several times I was scared for Pammi's life. I really appreciated that I couldn't see the confrontations coming. One minute everything is okay, the next no so much. The threats coming at unexpected times drew me into the story even more There was a lot of goodness in the second half, everything came together and the author's world building paid off. Meminger's first fantasy novel was a wonderful success.

When was I finished Into the Wise Dark I wanted more. Since this is self published there's no guarantee that the author will get a chance to share another installment but I will keep my fingers crossed. If nothing else I am thankful for the chance to read this and lose myself in a wonderfully diverse YA fantasy novel that was not more of the same.

Read an excerpt

review copy courtesy of the author

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boy21 - Matthew Quick

Boy 21 by Matthew Quick
Finley McManus lives in the small Pennsylvania town of Bellmont with his father and grandfather (Pop). The town is ruled by the Irish mob and the McManus men have suffered for it since Finley was a little boy. The two things Finley has to keep him going are his girlfriend Erin and basketball. The only white boy on team, his teammates call him White Rabbit. Going into his senior year, all Finley wants to do his play basketball and plan his escape from Bellmont with Erin. His plans are changed when his coach ask him to help a new student who goes by the name Boy 21. After a recent tragedy, Russell one of the top basketball players take on a new persona of Boy 21 and moves to Bellmont.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this one. Firstly, Finley's voice. I loved how the author quickly established exactly who Finley is and why basketball is so important to him. Quick paints a great picture of a racially divided town that has little going for it. I could easily feel the harsh history of the McManus as well as their Irish blood. One of the stories many strengths are the relationships, do in part to the excellent dialogue. Even though Finley and Russ come from two very different world, at different points each must step up to emotionally support the other. Boy 21 is a wonderful story with many well worked layers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind - Meg Medina

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina
Sonia was born the night a terrible storm hit Tres Montes. Sonia's village should've been in ruins but it was fine and everyone was safe. The people of Tres Montes believed they had Sonia to thank for this miracle. Now 16 Sonia struggles to live up to the expectations of towns people and quietly carry all the burdens. that they bestow upon her.

Tres Montes is a small poor village most of the men of are miners including Sonia's father. Many of the young people are leaving to find jobs in the capital. Sonia 's older brother Rafael is desperate to get a good job in the capital but he's still Sonia when she gets her chance to leave.

The people of Tres Montes put all of their faith in Sonia and she never thought they would let her go. So she's very grateful to leave and for the new experiences in the capital. Everything is going well until, Rafeal goes missing. Sonia is determined to find her brother no matter the consequences.

I really enjoyed this story. Part of the beauty of Medina's writing comes from not trying to make things happen but rather letting them unfold. I couldn't help but be moved by the author's light touch. Medina does a wonderful job making Tres Montes come to life. Sonia carries the story with ease and the author surrounds her with a lot of great secondary characters.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GirlChild - Tupelo Hassman

GirlChild by Tupelo Hassman
Rory lives at The Calle de los Flores, a Reno Trailer park with her mother. While Rory knows what people think of her family and her future options or lack there of, she still dreams, including becoming a girlscout. She's read the handbook guide backwords and forwards since elementary. The story follows Rory through her adolescent years. The adults around Rory do not know what to make of her, girls who live trailer parks should not be so smart. Hassman's writing and Rory captured my heart. There's a beauty and honesty to both that I loved. Hassman's style has a beauitful rhythmic freestyle musical quality to it. At times my heart broke for what Rory had to experience, at other times I laughed at her funny depth description of living in a trailer park. I never thought of myself as a girl scout type of girl but it Rory was troop leader I'd take the girl scout pledge with a quickness. This is a ridiculosuly good debut and hands down one of the best of the year. And what I wrote doesn't do the story justice but its well worth checking out, especially for fans 2011 National Book Award winning novel, Salvage the Bones by Ward

An excerpt
NYT Review
Kirkus Review
Starred Publishers Weekly review

Monday, March 19, 2012

Zapato Power - Jacqueline Jules, Miguel Benitez

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash by Jacqueline Jules, illus. by Miguel Benitez

Freddie's shoes give him super speed. He uses his special ability to protect his community. This time Freddie's zapatos are missing and he encounters an older girl on a green bike who is a bit of a bully. After he overcomes his fear, Freddie once helps out but this time without his super speed. Another big part of this story are Freddie's swiming lessons. He is tenative about getting in the water at first but soon loves it. This is the fourth book in the Zapato Power series, and its as fun as the previous three. The Zapato Power series is an excellent early chapter series. The books are always very close to 100 pages, with short chapters and wonderful illustrations by Benitez. The first three Zapato Power books are available in paperback and possibly your local library.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Support The Rebuilding of a Community W/ Books and Art

Awarding winning illustrator R. Gregory Christie is embarking on a wonderful new endeavour. He is opening a Children's Bookstore/ artistic studio, in Decatur, GA. I am so pysched about this, Christie bookshop would be a much needed breath of fresh air for Decatur and Atlanta. You can help Christie get this off the ground by supporting his Kickstarter Campaign by March 31.

I am opening up a bookstore and gift shop in Decatur, Georgia (inside of North Dekalb Mall). Although the lease is signed as of a few days ago, the store will officially open up in April. It will feature my children’s books along with tangible handmade products for sale. It’s my desire to make the space as appealing as the trendiest sneaker store, but instead of the newest gadget or latest $30,000 pair of sneakers, I want to have a heavy focus on books.

I will use this space as a live painting studio to work on children’s books and canvases but I will also coordinate weekend workshops to be held right inside of the mall. Everything from quilt making to dj-ing , the focus is to make people of all ages appreciative of their inner artist and to give the many teens walking around the complex something to do.
Consider it a store, my own personal passion, and a community space. However, Georgia has quite an expensive process to open a small business. Although I have covered many of the costs, I’d like to make the space stunning. So I humbly reach out to you, hoping that you’ll be willing to be a part of this as a well wisher, sponsor, or promoter. Thanks in advance!R. Gregory Christie"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marisol McDonald no combina - Monica Brown, Sara Palacios

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match/Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown, illus. por Sara Palacios

Marisol comes from two cultures.When people tell Marisol she doesn't match, she's knows that their wrong and tells them so.

"I play soccer with my cousin Tato and he says, "Marisol your skin is brown like , but your hair is the color of carrots. You don't match!"

"Actually, my hair is the color of fine," I say and kick the ball over Tato's head and into the goal"

Marisol is not afraid to match by mixing. Though after a comment by a friend, Marisol decides no more mixing. When Marisol goes to school that's all the same color, Palacio's captures so much emotion in her eyes. its easy to imagine Marisol's broken spirit.

Brown's text is lyrical and endearing, I was easily drawn in by Marisol. Palacio beautiful and colorful illustration, fit Brown's text perfectly This is a fun story about a very imaginative and outspoken girl who loves to match by mixing

Sara Paracios received a 2012 Pura Belpre honor award for Marisol McDonald no combina.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Authors for Henryville (Auction and Raffle)

Earlier this month the small town of Henryville, Ind. was hit by a severe tornado, to aid the schools which were destroyed, YA authors Julia Karr and Ashley Hope Perez with the help of other authors kind enough to donate books to the cause launched Authors for Henryville. You can head over to the site and simply make a $10 donation and be entered into a giveaway. Also books authors have contributed will be auctioned off this week.

1:16 minutes into you can see where the schools used to be.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

2012 SJL Battle of the Books Round I Predictions

Round One of School Library Journal's Battle of the Books begins tomorrow and I am very excited. This is just the fourth year, the previous years. Battle of the Books aka Bob is set up in a bracket format, round one features 8 matches in which the 16 titles are matched up. Which ever book is chosen by the judge of that match moves on to the next round. The 16 contenders are a mixture of non fiction, fiction, middle grade and young adult titles. One thing they books all have in common is being well received in 2011, many have garnered multi starred reviews.

The judges are always authors with no ties to any of the contending books. This is the first year we don't get to guess who the judges are, which I am little sad about. I think someone at SJL started Battle of the Books as a fun way to keep people talking about books after award season is over. But really I don't care why, just happy Battle of the Books is.

My non scientific first round picks

Match 1 (March 13, Judge Matt Phelan) -
Amelia Lost vs Anya's Ghost - Amelia Lost

Match 2 (March 14, Judge Gayle Forman)
Between Shades of Gray vs Bootleg - Between Shades of Gray

Match 3 (March 15, Judge Sy Montgomery)
The Cheshire Cheese Cat vs Chime - The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Match 4 (March 16, Judge Sara Zarr)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone vs Dead End in Norvelt - Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Match 5 (March 19, Judge Barbara O'Connor)
Drawing from Memory vs The Grand Plan to Fix Everything - Drawing from Memory

Match 6 (March 20, Judge Sarah Weeks)
Heart and Soul vs Inside Out and Back Again - Heart and Soul

Match 7 (March 21, Judge Lauren Myracle)
Life: An Exploded Diagram vs A Monster Calls - A Monster Calls

Match 8 (March 22, Judge Jeff Kinney)
Okay for Now vs Wonderstruck - Okay for Now

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aristotle and Dante - Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
The story begins in the summer of 1987, 15 yr old Aristotle (Ari), has a good relationship with his mother, his father is a man of few words and the two don't know where to begin. Ari also misses his older brother, Bernardo immensely but since he went to prison no one in the family is allowed to speak his name. Ari is angry and always ready to fight, until he meets Dante at the pool Ari has no friends. 15yr Dante is almost the complete opposite of Ari, he's closer is father and unafraid to show kindness and is sure of who he is.

Somehow these soon to be men who are very different quickly become good friends, as the story evolves their bond gets even stronger. As the summers pass, the boys experince love, pain, heartache and loss, pretty much every emotion that will touch your heart. Saenz does it in such a poetic way, you can't help but be fully engaged and moved by the beauty of his words.

Reading Saenz is always a beautiful experience, he is one of my favorites. Every single time I read one of his novels, I happily lose myslef in his words. When I am finished the characters he's created will stay with me for a long time. If you've never read Saenz you are seriously missing out but Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a wonderful place to begin. A 2012 favorite.

An excerpt

Starred School Library Journal review

Starred Publishers Weekly review

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stars in the Shadows - Charles R. Smith Jr. Frank Morrison

Stars in the Shadows by Charles R. Smith Jr. illus. by Frank Morrison
Smith's newest book is play by play of the second Negro League All star game in 1934. A large part of the baseball experience is the announcer, from how they call the came to the chatter to fill the down time. Each chapter is a different inning. Readers will be able to easily follow the game thanks to the author posting the line up for each team in the beginning. Some of the Negro League players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell or Oscar Charleston may be familiar to readers. However highlighting this allstar game gives Smith the chance to introduce some players like Larry Brown, Willie Wells and Vic Harris who are less well known. I won't tell you the final score. However I will say that it was a low scoring game. Between chapters there are fun sponsor ads from local Chicago businesses including Sweet Amelia's Soul Cuisine and South Side Shears.

I am a fan of Frank Morrison work, I love what he's doing with the Keena Ford series, his cover art for the paperback edition of One Crazy Summer is gorgeous and I'll point out just one more, The Hat That Wore Clara B. its a great story and I absolutely love Morrison's illustrations.

I am a baseball traditionalist at heart. (anti designated hitter). This extends to my feelings about illustrations. While I enjoy Morrison's work a lot, for me his style didn't fit this story as much as I would've liked. With illustrated baseball books I prefer a more straight forward style in which I can make out the close plays at the plate.

Smith inculdes a lot of intriguing facts about the players. When readers finish Stars in the Shadows they will to know more about the Negro League and its players. Smith is a sport fan, who has once written a sports novel that other fans will enjoy.

An excerpt

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Guest Interview With Barbara Wright

Barbara Wright's middle grade debut Crow was released in January. It has received four starred reviews;Kirkus, Publishers Weekly Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal. My review.

Today I am sharing an interview author Carleen Brice did with Barbara Wright.

Carleen Brice: Your bio mentions that you are from North Carolina. Had you always known about the Wilmington Massacre of 1898? If not, when did you become aware of it? And what inspired you to write about it in Crow?

Barbara Wright: After I finished my previous novel, I was casting about for ideas when I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the newly-released Wilmington Riot Report funded by the North Carolina legislature. I have spent summers on the North Carolina coast near Wilmington my whole life, and I had never heard about the incident. My reaction was: how could I not know about this? I became fascinated, and started doing more research.

Carleen: This is your first middle-grade novel. Why did you decide to write about this historic event as a children's book instead of a novel for adults?

Barbara: I'm an accidental children's writer. I thought I was writing an adult novel, but my agent felt that, with a 12-year-old narrator, the book would fit well in the middle grade market.

Carleen: Did you find writing for young people different than writing for adults? If so, in what way(s)?

Barbara: When I write, I think of character, and not audience, so I was focused on what the world looked like through Moses's eyes. I made remarkably few changes to accommodate young readers. I changed a few words, such as "manumitted slave," a term I believe, Moses would have known, but why use a big word when "freed" works just as well?

Carleen: The novel has several instances where black characters are belittled, abused or attacked by white characters. What do you say to people who may say this isn't appropriate for young people to read? How does a writer balance the horrific truths of the Jim Crow South with the fact that young people are the audience for the book?

Barbara: I believe that young people can handle the truth. I would be dishonest as a writer if I portrayed a 19th-century Southern town in the midst a white supremacy campaign and pretended that prejudice didn't exist. In the book, Moses's father, a civic leader who believes fervently in democracy and equal opportunity, is taken aback when he realizes that he has raised his son to be naïve.

"I've taught you to live in a world I wanted to exist, not one that actually does," he says.
In sheltering his son from the truth, he has made Moses more vulnerable. George Santayana's quote is as true for children as for adults: Those who do not remember the past will be condemned to repeat it.

Carleen: Why did you decide to tell the story through the eyes of Moses Thomas, an eleven-year-old whose father worked for the Black Wilmington newspaper?

Barbara: I wanted to look at violence through the eyes of innocence, so I chose a young narrator. I also wanted to portray a strong family who was part of the vibrant black middle class that existed in Wilmington at the time. The father's job as an alderman and a reporter for the largest black daily in the south put the family at the heart of the action.

Carleen: In the climax of the story, Moses participates in helping the publisher of the black newspaper escape. He thinks he's being heroic, but his father, Jack, is angry at him for jeopardizing his life. Soon after, Jack Thomas makes several speeches to the white men who are terrorizing the city, putting his own life in danger. Why? Were you trying to say something about heroism or human nature or...?

Barbara: In my mind, Jack doesn't think in terms of putting his life in danger. At the train station, he speaks from the heart. And when he sees his wife needs help, he acts, not out of heroism, —he doesn't have time to think in such grand terms. He automatically goes to her assistance, because that's the kind of man he is.

Carleen: There's a young white boy named Tommy who engages is a friendship with Moses, which would be forbidden by Tommy's family if they knew about it. What role does Tommy serve in the story for you as the author and for the reader?

Barbara: Tommy and Moses' friendship develops when they are alone. Isolated from the expectations of family and society, they react to one another as human beings.

Carleen: Personally, I believe any writer can write about any ethnicity he or she chooses. However, books by white authors that are about black characters seem more easily accepted by white readers (ie The Help), and this bothers me greatly. I know it's a minefield. Do you want to weigh in on the topic?

Barbara: That's my specialty—plowing into minefields. (That's sort of my definition of writing.) So I'll give it a shot. In The Help, the main character is white, and I think this offered a way into the story that was comfortable for white readers. What Is The What, about a Sudanese boy escaping the war, was written by Dave Eggers, who is a best-selling memoir writer who brought his own audience with him. Other than that, I don't have a wide enough sampling to make a judgment.

In the end, books are intensely personal: one writer talking to one reader through the medium of words--what Tolstoy called the art of transferring one heart to another. The story either resonates or it doesn't, and the race of the reader or the writer shouldn't matter. While the titans of African-American Literature (or literature in general), such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Edward P. Jones, have garnered a wide white audience, I believe work remains in attracting a wider white readership for lesser-known and debut black authors.

Carleen: What do you hope people take away from reading Crow?

Barbara: I hope the reader, through getting to know one family intimately, will experience the true tragedy of hate and prejudice.

Carleen: What's next for you? Will you be writing another book for young readers?

Barbara: I'm working on a novel for adults set in mid-Victorian London.

Carleen: Thank you for your time!

Barbara: Thank you so much.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Crow - Barbara Wright

Crow by Barbara Wright
Set in 1898 North Carolina, only a generation after slavery ended and before the Grandfather clause was created. In Wilmington N.C, 11 yr old Moses dad is an elected official and a proud Republican, supporting the party of the president that ended slavery. Moses looks up to his dad who works at the only Black newspaper. Moses is also very close this grandmother, Boo Nanny who never learned to read or write but she still as a lot to teach Moses. When Boo Nanny and the dad argue Moses has learned to stay out of it like his mom.

Wright did a great job with Moses voice as he discovers the world around him. Moses relationship with his his dad and grandmother have a nice bit of depth. The author paints a clear picture of South after the 13 Amendment was enacted during Reconstruction period. The chapters read like interconnected vignettes, with some of the threads continuing to the next chapter. One thing I would've liked some more closure with a few of the threads. For instance Moses always lets the best friend, Lewis decide what they are going to do. Soon the best friend is hanging out more with Johnny, a boy Moses doesn't get along with, neither of these story lines never feel completely finished. While they are not important to the overall outcome of the story I didn't like the feeling of both being left up in the air.

I really enjoyed the second half everything seems to come together. An election is coming up and the democrats are using the threat of violence to keep Black men from voting. Moses along with everyone else in this small town witness what can happen when anger, hate and fear take over.

This is a very good middle grade debut and I am looking forward to the debates that will come about, when award season makes its way around again in regards to its five starred reviews.

An excerpt via authors site

Crow would pair nicely with Finding Family by Tonya Bolden

Monday, March 5, 2012

We've Got A Job - Cynthia Levinson

We've Got A Job : The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson

Levinson shares the stories of four young people in 1963 who participated in the Civil Rights movement. 9yr old - Audrey Hendricks, 14 yr old Wash Booker, 15 yr old James Stewart and 16 yr old Arnetta Streeter.

Their experiences are clearly stated in a concise and engaging matter. The author does an excellent job of describing the racial tension in Birmingham, from the segregation laws to the bombings. Allowing the reader to truly appreciate the world in which Hendrick, Booker, Stewart and Streeter lived and their desire for change.

We've Got A Job has recieved three starred reviews; Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. After reading it's easy to see way. It's intense, honest and overall a great piece of nonfiction. The author includes an extenisive timeline in the back.

An excerpt via publisher

Kirkus Review
Publishers Weekly Review
Booklist Review

I've linked this post to Non Fiction Monday, this weeks round up can be found at 100 Scope Notes

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blogger Credibility, Women's History Month & A Guest Post

This week Zetta Elliott's newest book Ship of Souls was released, my review. I loved the characters she created and the dangerous adventure they went on. Later this month Neesha Meminger's has a novel coming out called Into the Wise Dark. I will be reviewing this one soon. I loved the second half of the novel, and it help me appreciate all the world building in the first part.
While I look forward to mentioning both of these titles whenever I can (like I do all books I've enjoyed) I am not blind to the fact that my neutral credibility can come into question with both authors. I suppose I should've thought about not reviewing them (but I didn't, well unless I didn't like them that is) If you haven't notice in author's of color who write children's and young adult do not have it easy, and that's why it never crossed my mind to bypass reviewing Ship of Souls or Into the Wise Dark.
Some will question my neutrality as it relates to both of these reviews, which is cool because I would be a bit suspicious but all I can do is add a disclaimer and move on.

Last year Margo Tanenbaum, of The Fourth Musketeer, and Lisa Taylor, of Shelf-employed started Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. There were guest post by bloggers and authors throughout March. All are which are archived on the site and are definitely worth checking out. This month I am looking forward to reading new post recognizing the contributions of women in history.
Last Month author Carleen Brice was kind enough to let me post an interview I did with author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about her newest release No Crystal Stair at her blog White Readers Meet Black Authors. Later this week I will be posting an interview Brice did with Barbara Wright about her middle grade debut Crow. Prior to that I will share my review of Crow and since I am opening up my space for the interview, I hope it goes without saying that I enjoyed the novel.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Sale Now: New Releases

Below is a list of new releases for the month of March which feature characters of color or a diverse cast that I am aware of.

Freddie Ramos Makes A Splash by Jacqueline Jules (Feb.)

Explorer:The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle

Power Hitter by M.G. Higgins

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Beads, Boys and Bangles by Sophia Bennett

Into the Wise Dark by Neesha Meminger

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

Cali Boys by Kelli London

Cracking the Ice by Dave Hendrickson (Jan)