Tuesday, December 23, 2014

YA Pick: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton
Candlewick Press
2014
301 pages
ISBN: 9780763665661

View the book trailer

Breathtaking, mesmerizing and stunning, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a brilliant debut! The prose dazzles off the pages and reads like a lyrical musical score. It's as if Leslye Walton was able to sprinkle fairy dust throughout the pages. This book makes my top four books of all times joining literary tour de force novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shadow of the Wind and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Twins Ava and Henry Lavender are born into a family of strong women who sadly make terrible and often tragic mistakes in love. Maman, the matriarch of the family line, comes from France to make her home and fortune in a new land. Arriving in Manhattan, she is disappointed to find crowded and dirty tenements. This is certainly not her American dream. She finally is able to move the family to the Northwest. Maman loses her husband and sisters, but they continue to follow her dogged steps as ghosts.  Her daughter Emilienne gives birth to baby Viviane and loses her husband shortly after. Because the town's people think she is a witch, she is unable to make a living at the bakery her husband cherished. Until a Native American woman named Wilhelmina shows up, that is. Wilhelmina sees herself in Emilienne. She says, "Death just seems to follow some of us, doesn't it?...It's easy to spot your own kind. That kind of sorrow you can't just wash away; it sticks to you." She shows Emilienne how to perform a cleansing ceremony at  the bakery and promises that business will explode. The next day, the bakery sells out.

Baby Viviane  grows up and becomes friends with Jack, her first and only love. It is Jack who moves the plot along throughout Viviane's life. She is heartbroken when he leaves for college and returns married to another woman. Viviane births  twins Ava and Henry. Both children are fiercely loved by their mother and Wilhelmina. They are sheltered at home and rarely leave the property. Henry develops late and is a strange child, avoiding people and speech. Ava has an even stranger trait that will prove her undoing.

Viviane is blessed with certain gifts. Her sense of smell is amazing. She can tell when a woman was pregnant or how a person was feeling just by her scent. "Happiness had a pungent scent, like the sourest lime or lemon. Broken hearts smelled surprisingly sweet. Sadness filled the air with a salty, sea-like redolence; death smelled like sadness." She also knows when rain is on the way or when one of her children is in danger.

The bakery is perhaps the most important place in the book. It is where Emilienne is able to work and feed her family. It is where Viviane grows up. It is where the town people go for sustenance. Emilienne's pastries are magical. The wedding cake of Ignatius Lux and Estelle Margolis was so delectable that, "After this wedding unmarried women woke in the night with tears in their eyes, not because they were alone, but because there wasn't any cake left."


Sorrow follows each generation of the Roux family. The females seem destined or cursed to choose the wrong man and the wrong man always shows up. My favorite quote of the entire book comes from wise Wilhelmina, "Just because love don't look the way you think it should don't mean you don't have it." In other words, love comes from your work, your friends, your world, and does not have to involve a couple. Love can be found in other things.

This is one book I absolutely will read more than once, just to savor its flavor. In one sitting, you simply cannot take in everything: the story, the sadness, the fantasy, the painted masterpiece of magic which soars off the page. The story builds to a cacophonous crescendo that you won't easily forget. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

I will not forget Ava Lavender and her strange and beautiful sorrows any time soon. It's a story that I continue to think about.

This novel gets the HIGHEST recommendation I could ever give a book. I simply LOVE it. Do yourself a favor, get this book today.

Suitable grade 9-up. Some mature content. Pre-marital sex.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)







Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show
by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton
Scholastic Press
2014
32 pages
ISBN: 9780545708227

Max is a mighty magician and a little too--tricky. He uses his grand magic show and top hat full of tricks to make his  bed time later and later. He'll do anything to stall for just a few more minutes. So, take your seats, ladies and gentlemen, for the greatest show on earth.

Max can make cookies disappear (by eating them), he can tame savage beasts (his family's pampered pup), he can disappear (running and hiding), he can even pull out rabbits, bears and raccoons (stuffed toys).

When he finally gets into bed, Max demands not one story...not two stories...but ten stories! Finally, even a great magician like Max gets tired...and sleeps.

Vibrant  art in reds and yellows capture the activity and excitement of Max's "tricks." Young readers will see themselves in Max and probably dream up some new "tricks" of their own.

Recommended for pre-school and beginning readers. Sure to be a bedtime favorite.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the F & G  from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.



YA Pick: All Fall Down

All Fall Down
An Embassy Row Novel (Book 1)
by Ally Carter
Scholastic Press
320 pages
2015
ISBN: 9780545654746

Available January 20, 2015

Another exciting series by Ally Carter hits shelves in January. All Fall Down (Book 1) will likely find new fans of Carter as she begins the saga of Embassy Row in the make believe country of Adria.

Grace Blakely remembers the day her mother died because she was there. Everyone, including her grandfather, a powerful ambassador from the United States, tries to convince Grace that her mother died in an accident. It was a fire, they say. Grace knows differently. She saw the man who killed her mother as he fled the scene. A bald man with a scar on his face. It's a face she'll never forget.

Grace is forced to move back to her mother's childhood home on Embassy Row in Adria, a Mediterranean country; she must follow the rules and play nicely or face international shame and incident. Her country is counting on her. Her grandfather is, too. Alexei, her new next door neighbor, is watching over Grace. But he's not the only one. There are others who are keeping track of her for their own reasons.

When a few of the Embassy Row kids get involved in solving "The Case of the Man With the Scar," Grace is afraid to include them but does so, grudgingly and against her better judgment. The kids explore the underground passages that connect all the embassies, and Grace comes face to face with Dominic, the bald man with the scar.

When the American President shows up for a summit at the U.S. Embassy, the group of kids knows that they must protect him above all people. Grace is getting closer to answers about her mother's death but she's putting herself in grave (literally) danger. Grace's circle of friends is about the expand, and she's not going to believe who the good guys are.

Book 1 sets up for the second book nicely. Grace uncovers  more grisly details of her mother's death, forms a new alliance, and discovers more than one secret.

Highly, highly recommended for Ally Carter fans and fans of spy and espionage. Suitable for grade 7-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)


Monday, December 15, 2014

YA Pick: What Waits in the Woods

What Waits in the Woods
by Kieran Scott
Point
2014
288 pages
ISBN: 9780545691123

Available March 31, 2015

Novice hiker and camper Callie Velasquez agrees to go on a four day camping trip with her BFFs Penelope and Lissa. Her new boyfriend Jeremy tags along and the group sets off into the woods. Callie is unsure of herself and terrified to admit it to the others. After a spooky story around the campfire, Callie hears a maniacal laugh coming from the woods. They aren't the only ones out in the dark--they have company.

The next day after a frightening accident, they lose their cellphones and food. A stranger appears out of nowhere and says he can help them find their way. Ted lives in a cabin a few miles away and promises to take the campers there where they can use the phone, take showers and wait for their parents to pick them up. Callie and the others are leery. Is Ted to be trusted? Why was he so far from his cabin? How did he suddenly show up where they were?

Someone is trying to scare the kids. There's a doll with blood on it. Next, there's some voodoo-like twig dolls left at their campsite. And the laugh. Someone is following them.

Plot twists and dark secrets complicate the trip until Callie isn't sure what to believe. Could someone in their group be the real killer? Can she trust Jeremy?

A few problems with believability: Why do the parents of high school girls allow their daughters out into the woods for several nights ALONE? None of them have a weapon. None of them was ever an Eagle Scout or a master tracker. None of them knows the woods like the back of their hand. They don't have the proper equipment for emergencies. They have no backup plan. Also, would a new girl like Callie trust near strangers enough to agree to go on an unsupervised camping trip? It's not like she knew any of her group for very long. If you can suspend disbelief about all of that, What Waits in the Woods is an easy read with a twist or two.

Recommended grade 9-up. Murder, suspicion, stolen moments in the woods, mental illness.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teen Pick: Backlash

Backlash
by Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press
2014
336 pages
ISBN: 9780545651264

Available March 31, 2015



The trouble with the Internet is that in the click of a mouse, you can ruin lives. One click, and someone can die. One click, and someone is destroyed. One click, and someone can crack. On some sites, you can disguise who you are. You can pretend to be someone that you're not. With no repercussions unless...someone is hurt or someone dies. Then there's an investigation. As in police investigation.

Teen  neighbors Lara and Bree were BFFs in middle school, but Bree joins the ranks of the popular kids in high school and all but ignores old friend Lara completely. Bree becomes a cheerleader and Lara gets lost in the shuffle. At the next year's tryouts both girls try out. Lara is picked for the squad and she's over the moon with happiness. Bree is not picked for the squad and she drips jealousy and is out for revenge. Who knows Lara better than anyone else? Her old BFF, and she's up to no good. She begins her revenge using the Internet and it becomes bigger than her. Now she can't stop the repercussions of things she's posted, and the saddest thing is--she's not all that sorry for the fallout she's caused.

It's neighbor against neighbor and the press and police are now involved.

A cautionary tale that is all too true in today's society of "post everything" and try to get more hits than anyone else. Popularity is defined by how many followers you have. Teens are thrilled when their tweets are re-tweeted and to be "trending" is their ultimate obsession.

Recommended grade 9-up. Really, really bad behavior and bullying.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

YA Pick: Jackaby

Jackaby
by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers
2014
299 pages
ISBN: 9871616203535

Remarkably novel, sincerely charming, and full of cheeky dialog, Jackaby is written  by an American debut novelist. William Ritter pulls off this trick by inventing an enigmatic character who harkens back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with a bit of Doctor Who and a bit of Grimm thrown in.

R.F. Jackaby is a young detective who is interested and specializes in "unexplained phenomena." In 1892, Miss Abigail Rook leaves port in Europe and sails to America. She is running from a life of boredom as an English housewife and running from her parents who want her to be a good girl and settle down. Abigail arrives with little money and must look for a job and a place to stay immediately. Lucky for her, Jackaby is looking for an assistant to help him pay bills, keep his correspondence, and be a sounding board during cases.

Their first case together is a bloody one. They sneak their way past the police and onto a crime scene where a man has been attacked and killed. Jackaby's keen eye and intellect spot things others miss. Abigail picks up clues as well. Together, they make a great team. Abigail's placement as a "partner" allows Jackaby to explain details of each scene and what they mean.

Soon, other murders occur and the two realize the killer may be someone close to them. Strange characters and happenings occur and only Jackaby can explain the various fairies, goblins, gremlins and beasts.

The mystery unfolds like an intricate origami masterpiece. One fold at a time. One book will not quench the reader's thirst for Jackaby. I want more! Much, much more Jackaby!  Jackaby is such a puzzle, such an enigma, such a riddle that readers will want to discover what makes him tick.

Highly, highly recommended grade 7-up. No profanity, no sex, gore and blood only. This book gets my #1 pick of the 2014 year! I'm sure it will take top honors from many publications and ALA and YALSA.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)




Monday, December 8, 2014

YA Book Giveaway: Jackaby

Jackaby
by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers
2014
299 pages
ISBN: 9781616203535

I LOVE this book, and you will, too! Jackaby is an enigmatic character who is a mash up of Sherlock, Dr. Who and "Grimm."  Imagine the skills of Sherlock Holmes and sixth sense for paranormal--that's Jackaby.

I have FIVE FREE copies of this magnificent debut up for grabs! Simply post a comment to the blog and be sure to include your first name, city, state, and email address (U.S. addresses, only). Deadline for posts is at noon MST on December 17. Winners are chosen randomly by Randomizer. Please check your email on the afternoon of December 17. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from Algonquin. Good luck and start posting!

Praise for Jackaby:

"The rich world of this debut demands sequels." --Kirkus reviews, starred review


“Smooth writing and inventive . . . background touches (like Jackaby’s tenants and pocket contents) characterize this supernatural riff on the typical Sherlockian murder mystery. For a lighter read-alike, try Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecilia (2004); for a darker tone, perhaps Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries.” —Booklist

“Toss together an alternate 19th-century New England city, a strong tradition of Sherlockian pastiche, and one seriously ugly hat, and this lighthearted and assured debut emerges, all action and quirk.” —Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase will appreciate Ritter's initial foray into the realm of supernatural . . . Avid lovers of fantasy will enjoy this quick read.” —School Library Journal

Friday, December 5, 2014

Percy Jackson PIck: Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods
by Rick Riordan
Illustrated by John Rocco
Hyperion
2014
311 pages with index
full color illustrations
ISBN: 9781423183648

Visit the world of Rick Riordan



Told with humor and a healthy helping of snark,  Percy Jackson--hero of the Lightning Thief series and demigod  son of Poseiden,-- tells the story of the Greek myths. Percy is a lovable narrator, making fun of the ancient myths at every turn. Mixing the old myths with teen humor and pop culture references makes this retelling fresh and compelling.

Beginning with the time before the gods, Percy tells of the creation of the world and the Titans. It all begins with Chaos and Gaea. A sky is formed and names itself Ouraos, Percy says, "...and, yeah, that's another spelling for Uranus. There's pretty much no way you can pronounce that name without people snickering. It just sounds wrong." Percy wonders why a god didn't choose a more palatable name "like Deathbringer or Jose..."

Kronos and the Titans rule in a time Percy calls "The Golden Age of Cannibalism." Kronos not only is in control, he is also associated with time itself. Although, "He couldn't pop around the time stream like Doctor Who or anything...," he does rule the earth and sky until the rise of the Greek gods.

Zeus and the others defeat Kronos with the help of the Hundred handed Ones,  and Zeus becomes the leader of the gods taking Hera as his wife.

Each Greek myth  is told in detail by Percy and peppered with hilarious barbs and comments. Percy opens the chapter on Demeter (goddess of the fields and wheat) by saying, "Try not to get too excited, because this chapter is all about the goddess of wheat, bread and cereal. Demeter just flat out rocks when it comes to carbohydrates."

Readers will be entertained and laugh out loud as they read each chapter. The lively street banter between Zeus and Poseidon sounds like an 80s comedy skit from SNL. Chapter titles are cute, too. "Poseiden Gets Salty" for the god of the sea. "Ares, The Manly Man's Manly Man" for the god of war. "Dionysis Conquers the World With a Refreshing Beverage" for the god of wine.

Highly, highly recommended for fans of Rick Riordan and the Percy Jackson series. Mythology lovers will want to add this to their mythology collection. A must have for library collections. Book lovers will fall in love at first sight.

When I saw a display of this book at the local Barnes and Noble, I was impressed. And kids will be, too! It's oversized, colorful, and beautiful and a copy would be an impressive thing to own. Fans of the Percy Jackson series will have to have a copy of this book. Illustrations by John Rocco are outstanding.

Grade 4-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for the school library. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Book Giveaway: The Long Haul

I have FIVE FREE copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul up for grabs!!!!! Simply post a comment to the blog and be sure to include first name, city, state, and email. Deadline for posts is noon MST December 10. Be sure to check your email after 12:00 p.m. on that date. Winners will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. Winners will be notified on December 10. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from New York courtesy of Amulet. Good luck and start posting! Pamela

See my review of this exciting book. See previous post.

Here is The Long Haul bus in NYC

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wimpy Kid Pick: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
Book 9
by Jeff Kinney
Amulet Books
2014
217 pages
ISBN: 9781419711893



The funniest times and most memorable times any family can spend are road trips gone wrong, horrible vacations and tragic yet hilarious  family reunions. No matter how well planned, no matter the amount of hope going into a trip, no matter the careful list making  of the mother or father, everything that can go wrong usually does.

Greg Heffley's problem is that his mother puts her faith in "Family Frolic" magazine, a colorful if untrue portrait of how honky dory every family moment can be if only you follow the Family Frolic way. Greg's mom lives and breathes this magazine and somehow thinks that through magic the Heffleys can become the perfect Family Frolic family. She decides that a well-planned family road trip is just what her family needs to be the ideal American family, one that she aspires to be.

Greg's father decides that his old wreck of a boat--complete with a hole in its hull--should be towed behind them the entire trip. Somehow, again by magic or wishful thinking or both, the boat will be seaworthy. The family stashes all their extra vacation junk in the boat.

Greg's mom decrees that the family should play a game called Alphabet Groceries, a game she read about in, yep, you guessed it, Family Frolic. Each player will say the letter of the alphabet and then something they could buy in the store that begins with that letter. Obviously, the first choice is "A" and "apple." Next, it's Rodrick's turn. He says he can't think of anything that starts with a "B," so he's out. Greg knows that Rodrick is playing dumb--maybe for the first time of his life. Greg later relates a story showing Rodrick's intelligence. When he was supposed to read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings for a school assignment, Rodrick realizes he'll never read it, so he rents the video "Lords of the Ring," a pro wrestling video! Imagine that book report!

The family has car trouble, hotel trouble, pig trouble, county fair trouble, swimming pool trouble, and road trouble before it's all over. This edition of Wimpy Kid is way more fun than earlier ones. The Long Haul is the real deal--this is the best book of the entire series. Buy this book immediately! Buy this book for any kid of any age. It's a treasure.


Highly, highly recommended for ALL ages!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stephen King Pick: Revival

Revival
by Stephen King
Scribner
2014
403 pages
ISBN: 9781476770383

Masterful in weaving an epic tale of good versus evil,  Stephen King delivers a fine story like no other writer is able to. Revival is a story of a long ago--long ago though not forgotten time--of small towns and even smaller churches, of prayers and praying, of preachers and church going, of church suppers and sing-alongs, and hymns on Sunday, funerals and baptisms, and a mountain of human suffering. The past is not all rosy and bright Garrison Keiller and Lake Wobegon.

 In small town Harlow,  Jamie Morton grows up in a loving family with older siblings, a doting mother and hard working father. This was a time when boys played with plastic soldiers and set up battlefields all over the dirt yards and fields. A time when the family ate supper at the same table, where children were expected to eat what was put on their plate and be thankful for it. When Jamie is six, a new preacher comes to town. Reverend Jacobs  is young for the job, but the town is happy to have him and soon they are captivated by his youth and charisma. His pretty wife and young son complete the Norman Rockwell family portrait.

When a terrible accident happens, the community shaken. The young pastor's world is rocked and he forced to leave  town after giving a sermon criticizing God. Blasphemy being preached in the church by their very own pastor? In small town New England, this is the worst sin.

Years and years later, miles and miles of honkytonks,  the bottom of too many bottles, and at the end of too many needles, Jamie wakes up in a heroine hell. Outside of Tulsa and nearly broke, he knows he needs to score in order to feel better. He wastes time until dark and goes in search of a fix at the local carnival. It is here he runs into the pastor of his youth.  This second encounter with the man who gave up on God will change both of their lives forever.

After getting clean Jamie takes a job in Colorado with an old "friend" of  Charles Roberts (aka Reverend Jacobs). Befriended  and taken in by Hugh Yates, Jamie begins to investigate the life his savior/nemesis Charles Roberts. While it is true that Roberts has "cured" many a sick person, others he has helped  have exhibited strange behavior and suicidal tendencies. Just what is it that the "pastor" is delivering? What is Roberts gaining from his strange studies?

King delivers an epic tale of religion and sin, of redemption and forgiveness, of pain and suffering, of love and hurt, and of the survival and revival of the human spirit. In The Stand (1978), the end of the world is near and armies are being formed for the good and the evil. In Revival, the same struggle is again visited by King on a much deeper level. In fiction, you may never see a character as charismatic and evil as Reverend Jacobs/Charles Roberts again. Real life, however, is full of examples of enigmatic, maniacal egotists. Just pick up any history book--you'll see them there.

King relates his own love of music and playing live through Jamie. I loved King's asides about age, getting older, and young people looking younger., and I love that King says, "Key of E. All that xxxx starts in E."

Highly, highly recommended grade 9 and up. Recommended for any King fan and any book club.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)