Thursday, February 27, 2014

Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates) by Caroline Carlson-Audiobook Review

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: 9/10/2013

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About the Book: Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. But when her application to The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates is rejected because she's a girl and Hilary discovers that her parents will be sending her off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School to become a proper lady, Hilary knows she must do something! When she sees an ad for a pirate crew, Hilary knows she must apply! Hilary and her talking gargoyle set out on an adventure on the high seas looking for treasure and encounter a terrible villain of the high seas!

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I love a good rollicking fun filled adventure and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates is the start to an adventurous series that is sure to delight middle grade readers.

Hilary is a spunky main character-just the sort of girl you would expect to sneak her way out of finishing school and join up with pirates. She's joined by a talking gargoyle who is very witty and has a soft spot for romance. The banter between the two characters is charming and hilarious and I loved the uniqueness of Hilary's sidekick being a talking magical object. Hilary has a delightful cast of characters around her-her governess who might just be up for some for adventure, her school roommate who aspires to be an actress, Jasper the pirate captain and his crew, her admiral father who wants to get rid or pirates and even the proper Miss Pimm. All the characters are well fleshed out and have a distinct personality.

The plot is fast paced and full of adventure. There are some great surprises and twists along the way and I loved how the author was able to weave the characters and storylines together. The ultimate bad guy is an interesting twist and I think it opens a lot for future volumes in the series. The writing is wonderfully funny and charming and Augusta is a very well drawn world in which magic is special-but currently being stolen-and pirates are determined by a Very Nearly Honorable League. It's a little bit historical and a little bit fantasy and a lot of action and adventure and fun.

What I especially loved about this one was Hilary herself. She wants to be a pirate and she won't give up on this dream. And she doesn't pose as a boy to make this dream come true. I feel like the girl-disguised-as-a-boy theme is often overdone and I was pleased that that didn't happen in this book but instead Hilary decides she won't take no for an answer and she'll be honest about who she is.

I first learned about this book thanks to the delightful Katherine Kellgren who narrates the audiobook, so I knew I had to listen to this one. I'm so glad I did! Kellgren is once again excellent and gives a rousing narration and you can tell she's having a blast telling this story. The writing is witty and the jokes come across wonderfully on audio. At the end of each chapter, the story is interspersed with letters and newspaper articles and Kellgren is given a chance to flex her narration skills by adding a breadth of voices to these sections. I especially loved her Miss Pimm voice and thought it had a great nod to Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey (I'm not sure if this was the intent but I loved it and thought it was perfect!) Kellgren gives Hilary a high energy and it balances well with Jasper's gruff pirate voice, Miss Greyson's (Hilary's governess) quiet sensibility, and her best friend from finishing school Claire, who is overly excitable and dramatic. This audiobook Katherine Kellgren doing what she does best-bringing a delightful cast of characters to an engaging story to make an excellent treat for the ears. I can't wait for the next book in the series.

Book Pairings: Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer,  Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from audiobook I purchased at Audible.com

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: R. J. Anderson

Why I Love Middle Grade Romance
By R.J. Anderson

 R.J. (Rebecca) Anderson is a UK-bestselling author for children and teens, including the Knife and Swift series of faery books for age 11 and up. Her latest book is Nomad (Orchard Books UK, January 2014), which may or may not include kissing. Visit her website (http://www.rj-anderson.com) or follow her on Twitter (@rj_anderson).

A few years ago, someone asked me whether I read romance novels. Well, I have read a few, and even enjoyed some of them. But I wouldn't consider myself a regular reader of the romance genre, so what I said was, "I don't read romances. I read mysteries for the romance."

What I forgot to add was that I read Middle Grade novels for the romance, too.

I can hear some of my audience sputtering already. Romance, in stories for 8-12 year olds? Inconceivable! Everybody knows that readers of this age deplore "kissing books". They want action, adventure, stories about pets and friends and family -- not a lot of drippy grown-up feelings. Oh, sure, a crush on the girl or boy next door might add a little something to the narrative, but anything serious means it's a book for teens or adults, not Middle Grade. How can anyone say they read MG for the romance, when it’s barely even there?

And yet when adult readers start talking about best-loved literary couples, it doesn't take long for someone to bring up Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time, or Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the original Anne of Green Gables trilogy [1]. And when those same readers reminisce about favorite scenes from the books, they're more apt to mention young Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert's head or the clumsy first kiss 14-year-old Calvin gives Meg in Wrinkle than any of the more conventional romantic moments that come later.

I think this shows that even when it comes to teens and adults, what grabs readers isn’t the physical payoff but the spirit of the relationship between two characters, the sense of chemistry and potential between them. [2] And MG novels can create that sense of deferred longing and anticipation just as well as any other genre -- or better.

Even in books for the youngest of MG readers, there are stories where the love of two children is a central and motivating aspect of the plot -- as in Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, where Hazel's yearning for her best friend Jack drives her to undertake a perilous journey to save him. [3] There are MG books that deal with romantic betrayal and heartache, such as The Penderwicks at Point Mouette where Jane falls for a boy who turns out to be less perfect than he seems (though as usual with the Penderwicks, there's a whole lot more happening in the book than just romance). There are MG novels where the attraction between characters, though understated, is powerful as any adult romance (as in Alan Garner's The Owl Service, where Alison, Gwyn and Roger find themselves unwittingly reenacting an deadly love triangle from Welsh legend).

There are even popular MG novels – albeit usually of the fantasy genre, which gets more leeway due to the faery tale influence – which feature older teen or adult characters who fall unequivocally in love with each other, kiss on-page and/or get married in the course of the stories. [4] When I wrote my debut novel Knife (known in the US as Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter), I thought the story's central romance meant it was only suitable for older teens or adults. But Knife and its sequels (which also feature teenage protagonists and strong romantic subplots) were marketed as MG on both sides of the Atlantic, and I've received e-mails from eight and nine-year-olds who’ve read and enjoyed the whole series. Some of the most enthusiastic letters were from boys.

To my mind the chief difference between MG romance and YA or adult romance is not its depth or seriousness, but to what extent it’s allowed to dominate the plot. To me, the most satisfying and memorable romances involve two people who care deeply about something bigger than each other, and are drawn together by a shared commitment to that common ideal or goal. In that sense, a great romance has the same basis as a great friendship -- and what genre places more value on friendship, or explores it more fully and frequently, than MG?

Ultimately the very constraints of the Middle Grade genre, in which plot is never an optional extra and characters are compelled to act rather than merely brood, make it ideally suited to creating the best kind of romance -- relationships based on the meeting of true minds and kindred spirits, not mere impulses and hormones. MG romances tend to develop slowly and subtly, sometimes over multiple books, which makes them feel more credible and leads to greater emotional investment than the "Boom! And they were in love" shorthand that's often found in YA and adult novels. It's harder work for the MG writer who’s actually trying to write romance, because it takes patience and a light hand. But as anyone who's visited a fan forum for the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl or Percy Jackson books can attest, even the tiniest hints of connection or attraction between characters can be enough to get young -- and older -- readers dreaming up a whole epic romance for themselves.

Some parents fret that including romantic elements in an MG novel is too much, too soon. I suppose that depends on the maturity of the child in question, and what kinds of conversations they've had with their parents already. [5] But I can't think of any MG romances I've read that struck me as potentially dangerous. Because the characters in MG tend to be younger and often going through an awkward phase of development, there's a lot less blathering about physical attributes, and more focus on the personality beneath. And what healthier message is there to share with young readers, than that loving someone means a lot more than just thinking they're pretty?

What about you? Do you have any favorite middle grade romances?




FOOTNOTES

[1] Which, despite Anne's growing up to marriageable age over the course of the trilogy, is far more of a "kindred spirit" to MG than YA on the whole.

[2] Case in point: Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, whose dance of love is almost entirely verbal, intellectual and conducted at arm's length. Yet they also invariably show up in readers' lists of top romances as well.

[3] Admittedly, we're never told that Hazel's love for Jack is romantic, and it may well turn out not to be; but there's no question it's a deep and powerful love, stronger than any of the "grown-up" relationships in the book.

[4] Proof that such stories appeal even to the youngest readers: a few months ago, as I was reading Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles to my eight-year-old son, he became more and more agitated and anxious to know how the story would end. When I asked him what he was worried about, I expected to hear about the dangers and enemies Taran was facing. But instead he burst out, "Are Taran and Eilonwy ever going to get married?"  We think kids, especially boys, aren't interested in the "mushy parts" because they squirm and make faces. But the truth is they're often keenly curious about romance, and just too shy or self-conscious to admit it.

[5] Though many young readers are already dipping into the YA and adult sections of the library and have probably read much more racy stuff than their parents realize. When I was attending sixth grade way back in 1980, half my classmates were reading Flowers in the Attic.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Awards Season

It's that time of year for book awards! Of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced last month, but there have been some other exciting award announcements in the book world recently.

I was lucky enough to be part of the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Second Round for the Cybils this year. Our winning title was Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. It's a delightfully fun-and sometimes chilling-read that I'm sure middle grade readers who love ghost stories, mysteries and adventure will enjoy.

The Audies are an award for audiobooks and I've never been disappointed by any of the titles chosen on the list. There are so many categories to choose from. The shortlists were recently announced and they are full of wonderful titles to listen to!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Flora And Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: 5/5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary 

Release  Date: 9/24/2013

About  the Book: Flora loves to read The Amazing Incandesto comics and she knows a lot about superheroes. But she never thought she'd encounter a superhero squirrel. Yet that's exactly whet happens when her neighbors new vacuum cleaner sucks up a squirrel-Ulysses the superhero squirrel is born. Not everyone loves Ulysses and he finds an arch-enemy in Flora's mother. Good thing Flora has read every issue of Terrible Things Can Happen To You. She's prepared to help Ulysses and along the way this self-described cynic might just discover new friends, poetry, and the love of a capacious heart. 

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: First off, let me say props to the Newbery Committee for choosing this delightfully quirky tale-what a great pick!

Flora And Ulysses is a classic Kate DiCamillo story-and if you've never read any of her books, remedy that right now because you are missing out. No one can write an eccentric cast of characters quite like Kate DiCamillo. Flora is endearing and while she might say she's a cynic, she grows and discovers friendship, family and love throughout the novel. And Ulysses is an incredible superhero squirrel. He's observant and all about food and I loved getting a peek into his head-the portions of the story that were about Ulysses cracked me up-just how I would think a squirrel would tell a tale. Rounding out the memorable cast of characters are Flora's parents-each with a few quirks of their own-her neighbors and their temporarily blind nephew, William Spiver, and Dr. Meecham, who has lots of oddball insights for Flora to think about. Individually the characters might seem strange, but wrapped up together as an ensemble they blend together marvelously and create many memorable scenes.  

The friendship between Flora and Ulysses is a great nod to the bond between children and animals. I loved Flora's developing friendship with William Spiver-it was one of the highlights of the novel for me. An adult reader might read both characters as being a bit odd and awkward, although I'm not sure if young readers will see that or instead just take their quirks with a grain of salt. I almost think kids will just think of them as just fun, silly, characters. But for me as an adult reader, I loved watching their tender, fragile, and yes a bit awkward friendship form. They discover-even if they don't realize it-that they're not alone and that they may just understand each other in a way no one else does. 

The novel takes place over the course of a couple of days and I really enjoyed how much Ms. DiCamillo could pack into a story with such a short time span. Nothing felt out of place and the pacing and timing was perfect. The language is fantastic and weaves in wonderful words like malfeasance and capacious without feeling pretentious. The book is very funny and full of humor and heart. The dialogue is witty as is the narration and I couldn't help but fall in love.  A great addition to the text are black and white comic panels of Flora and Ulysses's adventures-just perfect for a comic book fan and her superhero squirrel.

 This is the sort of novel I think is just begging to be adapted for the stage. Can someone please make a Flora and Ulysses musical??? 

A tender, charming, and quirky novel that would be a great read aloud, Flora and Ulysses are sure to find a place in your heart. 

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from library copy




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Angie Manfredi


So … you want to read middle grade.

Probably you should start by knowing what it is, right?

Only problem is, there’s no one simple definition of it. Middle grade is the literature for those in the middle: the middle of so many changes and the middle of their school careers. But middle school can be different grades by districts and middle grade titles can appeal to ages 9-14. That’s a pretty broad range and that makes middle grade, almost by definition, ephemeral.

So, where can you begin then?  Where can you, as a librarian, a writer, a reader, where can you start if you want to explore this genre, come to understand what it means and its impact? There are so many places you could dig in...but why not start with the best?



To me, the genre best example of middle grade fiction comes from Gary Schmidt; the writer who brings structure, definition, and yes beauty to all that is ephemeral about this genre.

In a handful of novels (several well-known and a few not-as widely known) Schmidt makes middle grade soar and exemplifies what the genre is all about.  Schmidt’s work illuminates how middle grade is not just stories about kids in middle school, but narratives about what it means to transition from childhood to adolescence. Schmidt’s middle grade books also, without fail, contain a quintessential hallmark of the genre: children coming to understand their parents - and the adults in their life - as humans with faults and desires of their own. It’s these transitions and these awareness that make middle grade different than children’s literature, different than young adult literature.  And it’s Gary Schmidt’s talent that makes these middle grade books so special.


It is no coincidence that one of Schmidt’s titles, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004), was both a Newbery and a Printz honor book - indicating that this was a book that straddled the worlds of young adult and children’s fiction that exemplified the very best of both and ended up as a benchmark middle grade novel.

It’s hard for me to sum up what makes Gary Schmidt’s work so amazing but if I had to narrow it down to just one thing it would be that Schmidt never talks down to his readers.  His books are rich with symbolism, historical world events, struggles with faith, and allusions to great literature, art, and sports.  Schmidt’s books challenge middle-grade readers to go farther - to think about Vietnam, racial prejudice, gentrification, abuse, and healing.  It is in these challenges that we see the fullest realization of what middle grade is.

Oh, and they’re very funny too, with occasionally slapstick humor and always featuring a frank, narrator whose honesty makes you smile. Schmidt’s books have a very solid voice and this translates well: they sound good read outloud. There are wondrous things in them in the most literal sense of the word.  This wonder is, for me, another middle grade staple: wonder at your first kiss, your first strides into independence, your ability to go beyond what you ever expected, your first losses, and the moment you know you’ll stand up for what you believe in. All of that, and even more, is in Gary Schmidt’s books.
So … you want to read middle grade.

Where could you possibly begin?  With the works of Gary Schmidt, who challenges middle grade to be all it can be and then more.

Recommended Titles Anson’s Way, 1997 - OOP but WORTH TRACKING DOWN!
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, 2004
The Wednesday Wars, 2007Okay For Now, 2011
What Came From the Stars, 2012

---
Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System.  She loves middle grade fiction and all it represents with a fierce passion and can’t wait to see where the genre will go next.  You can read more of her writing at www.fatgirlreading.com or follow all her smallest thoughts on Twitter @misskubelik

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cover Release: Feral by Holly Schindler

I am so excited to be showing off the cover of Holly Schindler's upcoming YA novel, Feral. Holly is a local author-yay!- and I can't wait for her latest release.

What's Feral about?

It’s too late for you. You’re dead.
Those words float through Claire Cain’s head as she lies broken and barely alive after a brutal beating. And the words continue to haunt her months later, in the relentless, terrifying nightmares that plague her sleep. So when her father is offered a teaching sabbatical in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out of Chicago, away from the things that remind her of what she went through, will offer a way to start anew.
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire quickly realizes something is wrong—the town is brimming with hidden dangers and overrun by feral cats. And her fears are confirmed when a popular high school girl, Serena Sims, is suddenly found dead in the icy woods behind the school. While everyone is quick to say Serena died in an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it—for she was the one who found Serena, battered and most certainly dead, surrounded by the town’s feral cats.
Now Claire vows to learn the truth about what happened, but the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to discovering a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley. . . .
With an eerie setting and heart-stopping twists and turns, Holly Schindler weaves a gripping story that will make you question everything you think you know.

 Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Check out this beautiful cover:


Want to read it? 

Feral will be released on August 26, 2014. 



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza by James Kochalka




Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Genre: Graphic Novel/Humor

Release Date: 3/25/2014


About the Book: The Glorkian Warrior received a phone call that was destiny-a pizza order! And it's the Glorkian Warrior's job to deliver that pizza. But where does the pizza belong? And what will he do with encounters with a giant, a spaceship, and a baby alien?  And will he eat the pizza along the way?

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: One of the fun things we do at our library youth services meetings is host a round robin for reader's advisory. During our graphic novel discussion, a co-worker recommended James Kochalka and I've been meaning to read one of his graphic novels ever since. 

The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza is a hilarious madcap adventure. The Glorkian Warrior is a silly alien who thinks he's knows everything, but is often mistaken and finds himself in crazy situations. It's a good thing he has his trusty Super Backpack around to guide him. Along the way to deliver his pizza of destiny, he encounters a giant, spaceship, a baby alien and magic robot-all of which the Glorkian Warrior gets very confused about which adds to the humor. 

The Glorkian Warrior is pretty clueless, but his ambition is endearing. His banter with his Super Backpack, who helps guide him to the correct path when the Glorkian Warrior wanders a bit, is witty and fun. ( There's tons of slapstick humor as well. The graphic novel has full color illustrations which are bright and comical. It's a quick read and great for younger graphic novel readers with only a few panels per page. The humor reminds me a bit of Captain Underpants, and I can see this graphic novel being a great read alike for fans of that series. 

Full of humor and madcap adventures, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza is a great for readers looking for graphic novel that will make them laugh. 

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from finished copy sent by publisher

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back to Blogging-and Baby GreenBean!

Baby GreenBean is now a month old and I'm finally getting into more a routine, so I'm back to blogging! I'll be posting here and there and hopefully get back to a regular posting schedule soon.

Thank you all for sticking with me through my blogging break. Now enjoy some adorable photos of Baby GreenBean:




 
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