Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Secret Life of Prince Charming

princecharmingThe Secret Life of Prince Charming is my first Deb Caletti book, and it won’t be my last. Funny that it’s taken me so long because her books seem to always be featured in the teen section at my local library. Now I feel like I’ve found something really good that has been in front of me for a long time and I wonder why nobody nudged me in Caletti’s direction before. It was the premise of Prince Charming that made me download the audiobook and I’ve been listening little by little all summer long on my morning walks with the pooch. I finally finished a few days ago and I’m already thinking about which of her books to read, or listen to, next.

Quinn has spent years listening to the women in her family complain about the men in their lives and make mistakes in love again and again. It would be difficult not to be jaded or at the very least wary of relationships when your mom has posted a list on the fridge of red flags and warning signs for dating, beginning with “He has a victim attitude” and ending with “Everyone but you sees his bad side.” Still, Quinn thinks she’s found a pretty good guy in Daniel, until he cheats on her. She certainly isn’t going to get any advice in the love department from her dad Barry, who has come back into her life only recently after a long absence. Barry has gone through a lot of women since Quinn’s mom, and Quinn hasn’t really stopped to think much of it until her dad dumps Brie, the girlfriend both Quinn and her little sister Charlotte really liked. Soon after this, Quinn realizes that her dad has stolen one important object from every woman he’s ever walked away from, and he’s assembled them all in this weird museum. Of course, he doesn’t know that she knows, so it comes as a big surprise when Quinn decides to take every single one of these prized possessions and return them to their rightful owners. Quinn, Charlotte and their wild half-sister Frances Lee set out with this stuff on a wacky road trip / quest, hoping to learn more about their dad and right some of his wrongs along the way.

I knew that I had found an author worth admiring when I kept on wanting to pause my iPod and write down perfectly phrased little snippets (pretty much impossible to do when you’re hanging onto a fast-trotting hound at the end of a leash). Eventually it got to the point when I knew I should be reading this book instead of listening to it, because I tend to appreciate the writing more when I read and have a chance to linger and go back again. Deb Caletti just knows how to put things. (I would have an example if I had a book in front of me. Instead, I have an iPod. Not as good). She’ll come up with a particular comment to reveal a character’s behavior or emotion and you’ll think, “Wow, I get it.” There will be phrases you’ll want to use for yourself to describe people you know and situations you find yourself in. All along, I was thinking that I was experiencing a story written by someone who really observes and knows people, and better yet, who knows how to pass on what she’s noticed and pondered in the characters she creates.

In my weekends this summer working at the bookstore (*sighing happily/nostalgically*), one of my fellow bookselling gals commented on how she liked the way Caletti allows her adult characters to feature prominently in her novels. I hadn’t really thought about that, but I completely agree. So often in YA, the grown ups are either barely there or they’re absent altogether. Some of my favourite characters, and some of the most complex characters, are the adults in this book. That’s a lot of what this book is about, the collective wisdom of a bunch of adult women on what it means to love and be in love. If you visit Deb Caletti’s site, you can read about what inspired this book, and you’ll understand just how personal a story it is. I think you’ll feel this in the writing.

Parents, take note. This is a book you want to give to your teenage daughter to get her thinking about that guy she’s dating and how she really feels about him in the grand scheme. Heck, I can think of a lot of thirty-somethings who could pull some right-on-the-money advice on men out of this book. There’s that, and then you’ll think a lot about choices, little and big, the people we call family, taking risks to find truth, and making things right.

You should listen to and watch this wonderful interview with Deb by Nancy Pearl – makes me want to read all the rest of her books really soon. Oh, and the audiobook is narrated beautifully by Jeannie Stith.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming is published by Simon Pulse.

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally)

bobbygirlsWowza! There are so many early chapter / middle grade series out there now, and it seems like more and more crop up all the time. I think that this is fantastic because this is such a critical stage for readers, when they first start reading more independently. We need good stuff to grab them, and finding a great series always feels that little bit more delightful because you know you’ve got a lot of great reading ahead. It’s wonderful to have an increasingly wide choice of titles of a really high caliber for these newer readers: Clementine, Alvin Ho, Moxy Maxwell, and now Bobby versus Girls (Accidentally).

This is Lisa Yee’s debut series for middle grade and it’s already grabbing lots of stellar reviews. Speaking of stellar, it will be one of Horn Book’s starred titles for September/October, and it deserves it. Bobby versus Girls (Accidentally) follows Bobby Ellis-Chan as he tries to navigate the beginning of Grade 4 without seriously embarrassing himself. This isn’t easy to you when your dad, a retired football star known as “The Freezer” also happens to be your stay-at-home mom, your best friend is a girl and has suddenly started acting like one, and you have a natural talent for making yourself look goofy in front of your whole class. Lisa captures perfectly that tricky time for kids around the age of 10 when boys and girls aren’t supposed to get along, let alone be friends. She shows how this time of figuring out friendships and taking chances with new people is not simple for a kid who has always had the same best friend since forever. I liked that the characters are well-drawn in not a lot of pages, and there’s a sweet sense of humour that will appeal to boys and girls alike. She’s got the up and down again dynamic of friendship at this age just right. It’s day-to-day life, captured with freshness. Plus Dan Santat’s bold and expressive illustrations looked pretty great even in draft form in my ARC, matching Lisa’s energetic and straight-up writing style completely. Put Bobby versus Girls (accidentally) into the hands of any kid trying to figure out a friendship gone wacky. Problem solved!

Bobby versus Girls (Accidentally) is published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic.

Zorgamazoo

zorgamazoo“Here is a story that’s stranger than strange
Before we begin you may want to arrange:
a blanket,
a cushion,
a comfortable seat,
and maybe some cocoa and something to eat.
I’ll warn you, of course, before we commence,
my story is eerie and full of suspense,
brimming with danger and narrow escapes,
and creatures of many remarkable shapes.
Dragons and ogres and gorgons and more,
and creatures you’ve not even heard of before.
And faraway places? There’s plenty of those!
(And menacing villains to tingle your toes.)

So ready your mettle and steady your heart.
It’s time for my story’s mysterious start…”

So begins Robert Paul Weston’s 100% delightful and over-the-top clever novel-in-verse, Zorgamazoo. I don’t see how you couldn’t fall head over heels for this book. It is pure fun. It’s like Roald Dahl with a sprinkle of Philip Reeve and of course, more than a nod to the big rhyme man himself, Dr. Seuss. It’s about Katrina Katrell, a bold little girl who escapes her nasty nanny, Mrs. Krabone (Krabby for short), and signs herself up for a wild adventure in which she helps a strange creature named Morty Yorgle to save the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.

And did I mention, it’s all in verse! Fantastic, I say! I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Mr. Robert Paul Weston probably writes verse that is mostly good, but who could keep up that rhythm for 283 pages?” Answer? Mr. Robert Paul Weston. There’s nothing forced or awkward about these rhymes, quite the opposite. You’ll start reading and you will have to start reading out loud. Have to. It’s that irresistible. This is probably why Zorgamazoo was named an E.B. White Read Aloud Honor book for Older Readers this year. I don’t see how it couldn’t have been. It’s kinda magical. It will remind you of your distant youth. It made me think of one of my absolute favourite books as a child, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

I plan to read Zorgamazoo aloud to approximately 31 nine year olds starting in about a week. I think it will make back-to-school just a little bit nicer for all concerned. All other Grade 4 teachers should consider doing the same.

Now check out these delicious Zorgamazoo goodies:

Zorgamazoo website, packed with great stuff.
Chapters 1 and 2, read aloud just for you
Just One More Book’s Conversation with Robert Paul Weston

Zorgamazoo is a Razorbill book, published by Penguin Young Readers Group.


Cybils 2009 Needs You!

It’s almost Cybils season again and I’m getting super excited already! In case you’re not in the know, the Cybils are the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards, presented annually. Here’s what the Cybils are all about, quoted straight from the Cybils site, where the magic is managed:

“Our purpose is two-fold:

* Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators – let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and “kid appeal.” What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.
* Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.”

So it’s all about highlighting the best books loved by kids and critics alike, all the while promoting the many outstanding blogs in the kidlitosphere.

It’s getting to be the time when the panelist and judging committees for every category are getting organized. If you blog about kids’ and/or YA books, and you’re interested (it is LOTS of fun, I promise!) then you can check out all of the details on applying for the job here and here.

If judging isn’t your bag, but you’d still like to be involved, you can make it all happen by nominating in every single Cybils category beginning on October 1st, 2009. Just keep your eye on the Cybils blog for every detail you’ll need.

(F.Y.I. I’ve heard the Middle Grade Fiction organizer this year is a cool gal, just in case you’re wondering which category to sign up for :) )

Secret Keeper

secretkeeperI was so impressed by Mitali Perkins’ Rickshaw Girl when I read it two years ago for the Cybils awards that I had a humming excited feeling as I prepared to read her latest, titled Secret Keeper. Today I turned the last page one very happy reader. This is a beautiful book that you won’t soon forget, a story about true sisterhood that is full of heart and heartbreak and characters you’ll care about.

Set during the political turmoil in India in the mid-1970s, Secret Keeper focuses on a family facing a major transition. Asha’s father loses his job and makes the difficult decision to leave his family behind to travel to America to look for work. He plans to secure a job and then send for them to join him. This means that in the meantime, Asha, her older sister Reet, and their mother must move from their home in Dehli to Calcutta to stay with Baba’s brother and his family. This is not something that anyone really wants. Even though Uncle is welcoming and quite kind to his relatives, since he is the man of the house, the three women are entirely at the mercy of his decisions. They wait for word from Baba, hoping that it won’t be long before they leave to start their new life in America. Things don’t progress quickly, however, and money starts to run low. Reet’s beauty attracts a lot of attention in the neighborhood, and soon there are marriage proposals. Asha doesn’t want to lose her sister, and she has never felt more confined by the traditions and expectations of her Uncle’s household and the community beyond. She dreams of continuing her education and having the freedom to do the things she loves, to play sports and enjoy herself like her cousin Raj. She escapes to the rooftop where she writes in her diary and steals some time for herself. In these stolen moments, she meets the boy next door, Jay Sen, and over time, the two begin to care for one another. Then news arrives from America that changes everything and sets Asha and her family on a course none of them ever imagined.

Secret Keeper is incredibly moving. It kind of sneaks up on you, because at first it’s just the story of a family, going through a lot of changes, but then it slowly becomes a lot more than a simple family story. Mitali creates the relationship between Asha and Reet so convincingly. I can’t think of a YA novel in which I’ve appreciated a depiction of sisterhood more than here. Their bond comes through on these pages with real intensity, which makes what happens in the later part of the novel heartwrenching, and really quite unforgettable. You will be inspired to imagine these characters ten, twenty, fifty years down the road in their lives. You will wonder what happened after. I love books like that. I think Mitali also has a talent for writing about the culture of distant places in a way that is fully integrated with the rest of the story. You will never feel like she’s just taking a moment to fill you in on Indian society before getting back to the narrative, and yet you finish her book feeling as if you have gained substantial insight into a different place and the people who lived there. Another thing I admire in this story is the ending. It’s hard, but it’s perfect. Mitali didn’t choose the easy way out. I kept waiting for something to happen to take the story towards a more conventional “happily ever after,” but it is just right.

I’d seen the book trailer for Secret Keeper when it came out earlier this year, and for some reason it left me with the impression that the story was middle grade, so it came as something of a surprise as I was reading along that this is definitely a book for teens that deals with intense emotions and issues.

Secret Keeper is rich and powerful and crafted by a writer of true talent. I’m not waiting two more years to read all the rest of Mitali’s books. I’m off to the library right now.

Secret Keeper is published by Delacorte.

Elf Envy: Random round up

The quote about Alcatraz that Beth Kephart shared at her blog made me want to read this even more. Thanks Beth!

Just One More Book gets some love from Quill & Quire. Way to go you two!

Look! It’s Mitali of Green Gables!

Take a few minutes to do the Teenreads.com and Kidsread.com 2009 Reader Surveys. Why? Well, because there are prizes my lovelies!

I really really want to read this:

And I don’t have an iphone, but maybe I want one so I can have this:

iphone-skins_3

(Thanks bookshelf blog for this pic!)

Guess who’s back in town? The kidlitosphere’s own starlet! Welcome back Miss Erin!

James Patterson Books for You!

MAX_PrizePack_Image_lores

*Note: winners for this contest have been selected and contacted. Thanks for participating!*

Are you a Maximum Ride fan? Then you’re in luck! Today you can enter to win a set of 8 James Patterson pageturners. All you need to do is drop off your name in a comment below if you’d like to enter (be sure you’ve left your email for contact purposes). It’s a draw and I’ll announce the winners at the end of September. I know so many teens – and adults too – who are crazy about this series.

Here’s a bit about the latest book, Max, coming in paperback on September 1 / 09.

MAXIMUM RIDE – IF SHE LIVES, THE WORLD LIVES, IT’S THAT SIMPLE.
Still reeling from their most recent adventure, Maximum Ride and the rest of the flock must head out to sea to uncover the secret behind a brand new series of disasters—fish are dying off the coast of Hawaii, hundreds of ships are being destroyed. As if that weren’t enough, they’re also being tracked by a criminal mastermind with, oh yeah, an army of mercenaries. Can the flock save themselves and the ocean, and the world, from utter destruction?

The suspense is killing me :)

So drop off a comment if you’d like to win a great package of books – all of the ones pictured above. Wow!

Note: Only open to US residents who are 13 years old as of today (August 24, 2009).

Continue reading

Gentlemen

gentlemenSummer is a great time for thriller reading. There’s something about the heat that brings out intense laziness that needs to be embraced. There’s no fighting it. What better way to say yes to lazy than by grabbing a great mystery and spending the whole day reading? Michael Northrop’s recent debut novel, Gentlemen, is the perfect title for exactly this sort of summer indulgence. Dark, thought-provoking and genuinely creepy, this story will grab you in a second, and leave you thinking when your reading marathon is done.

Micheal (yes it’s… Micheal, not Michael), Mixer, Tommy and Bones are the guys everyone at Tattawa High calls losers. Collectively, they’ve done some stuff to deserve the label, but a lot of things have been done to them, by their families and teachers and peers, that haven’t exactly inspired good choices and good behavior. So when Tommy loses it one day in class after their math teacher bullies him, the rest of the guys aren’t so surprised when he doesn’t go home that night. But when it turns out Tommy is officially missing, and the police get involved, everything gets complicated and confusing, especially when their English teacher, Mr. Haberman, starts acting even weirder than usual, making the boys wonder if he might be in some way linked to Tommy’s disappearance. Adding to the creep factor is the fact that they’re studying Crime and Punishment in Haberman’s class, or at least, Haberman is assigning chapters and lecturing on it, and Haberman is really into it, you might even say he’s passionate about it. It isn’t long before Micheal, the most academically minded of the crew, actually starts reading the book and wondering if Haberman might have more than a little in common with the murderous main character, Raskolnikov. What happens next proves that one half-thought out idea can turn ugly in a heartbeat and change lives forever.

Northrop’s book is gritty, and he’s got the messed-up-teenage-guy-with-heart character figured out just right. It’s gripping the way you find yourself so quickly seeing Haberman the way Micheal does. You’re just as suspicious as he is almost right away, and it makes you think how little it takes for suspicion to grow, even when the circumstance seems crazy and unbelievable when you really think about it. That’s one of the most interesting themes Northrop works on in his book. By the time the climax arrives, you’ll have plenty to think about: how even the most brutal crime can come practically out of nowhere; how friendship can form almost randomly and still produce powerful loyalty; the dangerous potential of suspicion.

And the cover? Holy impact. There could be some amazing conversation just about the cover design and how it relates to the narrative, I’m sure. I see a lot of covers, so it takes something to make me do a double take, which is exactly what happened when I got my copy in the mail. For a little background on the process of creating the cover, check out this behind-the-scenes feature at Melissa Walker’s blog. Warning – once unzipped, you’ll find it hard to put this book down.

Gentlemen by Michael Northrup is published by Scholastic.

This review is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.