Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (Random House/David Fickling 2008)

Cindy: From the haunting cover, readers are warned that this will be a novel of sacrifices. Fergus finds a body buried in the peat he is digging in Northern Ireland. It turns out to be from 80 AD, another body preserved in the bog. He begins to dream about the mysterious past of the girl, who apparently was murdered. Woven into this story is the 1980s politics of the Troubles, and the hunger strike by the political prisoners at Long Kesh, including Fergus's older brother. A romance with the archaeologist's daughter and Fergus's involvement in delivering secret packages that may contain bomb-making ingredients complicate his life. This is very different from the author's A London Eye Mystery, which I also loved. Fans of David Almond's books are going to admire this one for its magical realism bits, religious themes, and superb use of dialect. Even if readers have to scramble to research more about the Troubles, they'll have no trouble relating to Fergus's response to his first kisses: “Why wasn’t the whole world doing this all the time, why?”
Cindy has been after me to read this book for weeks and something always bumped it down the stack. Don't let this happen to you! I was prepared from the blurbs for this to be grim and while there are definitely dark and grim elements here, the overall tone is one of optimism and hope - despite all of man's idiocies, life is full of promise and with joy to be found in the most unexpected of places. Dowd weaves multiple plot threads effortlessly and the pace never falters. I was equally enthralled by the various stories, never impatient with any of them, and captivated by the beautifully developed characters. The cast is large from Welsh border guard to grieving mother to Iron Age girl and all spoke with convincing authenticity. The several mysteries are nicely resolved and the astute reader has all the clues needed. This is a beautifully crafted book that satisfies on multiple levels and deserves to win attention and awards. It completely won my heart and I am saddened again at the loss of this gifted writer.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, 1990)

Cindy: This post should have been up yesterday, but if I hadn't cleaned the kitchen instead we'd never have been able to get to the counters to stuff our own turkey this morning. Our plan was to each share a favorite Thanksgiving picture book, but Lynn was traveling over the river and through the woods to Lafayette, IN to bring her parents home for Thanksgiving, so I am flying solo this year. We'll plan ahead next year. Yeah, right.

'Twas the day before Thanksgiving
And all through the trees,
The fall leaves were spinning
Aloft in the breeze.

Eight school children take a field trip with their peace sign earring-wearing teacher to a turkey farm where Farmer Mack Nuggett calls his turkeys by name: "Now Ollie, now Stanley, now Larry and Moe, on Wally, on Beaver, on Shemp and Groucho!" The kids befriend the turkeys and come up with a plan to spare them from their Thanksgiving fate. Signature Pilkey humor, great comic illustrations that pay tribute to some famous paintings, and a message of peace. Great holiday fare. If you're not familiar with this 1990 Scholastic/Orchard publication, add it to next year's holiday traditions!

Now, football is also a part of many families' Thanksgiving weekend traditions, so I have another reading recommendation for those fans. It's The Sports Kid Blog written by my cousin, Jack, a 6th grader. Even if you are not a Miami Dolphin or football fanatic like he is, check out his great writing style and voice. We just recently discovered each other's blogs and I was very impressed with his and have added it to my reader feed. He asked how I read so many books. I said, "I don't clean my house, can't you tell?" He looked around and completely deadpan said, "Yes." Consider this a fitting coda to this post's opening statement!

Happy Thanksgiving from Bookends!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swim the Fly by Don Calame (Candlewick, 4/2009)

Lynn: I know it’s not nice to tease but we are going to talk about this laugh-out loud funny book even though it won’t publish till April. I think it is extremely hard to write humor but this first novel makes it look easy. Fifteen-year-old Matt and his two buddies have a tradition of setting a summer goal. This year’s is to see a real-live naked girl. Add barbell disasters, laxative and fart jokes, a nudist colony and three bumbling buddies who steal your heart and you have a book tailor made for teen-age boys. There is lots of crude snort-worthy humor here but there is also a sweetness to this story that will win over the most hard-hearted reader. It is definitely worth waiting for! My thanks to the generous folks at Candlewick for letting us have an early peek.
Cindy: Matt's efforts to get in shape enough to just finish the 100 yard butterfly for his team will have your sides hurting as much as his--but yours will be from laughing. And I just love Gramps. Truly. Every boy needs a gramps like him. Not only did we get an early peek at this hilarious title, but the arc features Lynn's and my first book blurbs, along with friend, Ed Spicer ( Two of our teen readers also have their comments in the arc. Here's what they had to say:

Nick A., age 16: "The book is incredibly funny, but I can still relate to those awkward moments....Had it not been for school and food, I would have read it straight through."

Leah M., age 14: "The main characters'...appalling cluelessness when it comes to girls will be sure to elicit a sympathetic cringe from the male population and a raucous laugh from everyone else. This book sped by with all the ease and grace of a truly amazing read, and considerably faster than most manage to swim the fly."

Finally, our teens were able to join us in providing feedback about the cover art. We love the final look--represents the contents very well and should be eye catching on the bookstore and library shelves for its target audience.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse, 2008)

Lynn: Scott's masterfully crafted book has to be the most emotionally challenging book I read this year with a storyline that troubled my sleep for many nights. Kidnapped at age ten, "Alice" has been sexually and emotionally abused for the past five years. With her body maturing despite near starvation, Alice knows that Ray will kill her soon but first he wants her to lure and train her replacement. This is definitely a book for only our most mature teens. So why blog about this wrenching book? First, this blog is about noteworthy books and the writing is extraordinary. The spare, matter-of-fact prose, while not graphic, somehow magnifies the horrifying impact. Skillfully sketched scenes reveal volumes about the characters. I can still feel Alice's paralyzing sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Secondly, there is an underlying reminder of how important it is to really see the people around us. Alice's extreme situation is fortunately rare but sexual and emotional abuse is far more common than most of us would like to believe. Living Dead Girl is a wake-up call for all of us .
Cindy: I agree with Lynn wholeheartedly about this book. She's been waiting for me to finish it for weeks, but as Chris Crutcher says on the jacket, it's a book you HAVE to put down but are drawn back to. Every few chapters I had to walk away from it. The writing in this powerful story is exquisite, despite the very grim nature. It's quite clear what Alice has been forced to endure for years without the descriptions descending into the gratuitous or salacious for shock value. Every word seems to be carefully chosen, and the story is spare in its eloquence. For me, it wasn't the sexual abuse that was so horrifying (as awful as that was) it was how broken and, as Alice says, how "wrong" she has become. It is impossible to imagine her ever recovering from the persistent psychological abuse she has endured. "I want to run but I can't. I can't. I tried and it didn't work, it never works, every day I am an open sore, a walking scream, and it doesn't matter. No one sees me. I want to run, but I know there is nowhere I can go."

When I was four, my mother left me locked in the car alone, in a K-Mart parking lot in Elkhart, Indiana while she went inside to pick up a few things. I had the window cracked to get some air and was startled when a man walked up to the car and started to talk to me through the crack. He wanted me to unlock the door, he asked other things of me, and even though I didn't know really what he was talking about, I knew it was wrong and I rolled the window the rest of the way up and kept the door locked. He fled when someone approached the area and my mother soon returned. She never left me in a car again, but I've often thought of that incident over the years, when I read a book like this, and am certain if I had unlocked the door that some harm would have come to me.

Lynn and I often talk about how differently adults read these types of books from the way teens read them. I loved horror movies as a teen, not so much as an adult after reading too many horrific news headlines. I read a book like this and think of my two teenage daughters and worry. Teens will read this book and perhaps take some caution from its story, but mostly they will read it for the horror of the story, just like they devour the Child Called It memoirs by Dave Pelzer. In some cases, I think it is a comfort as a teen to read about someone's life that is worse than your own. "I've got it bad, but not this bad." In other cases, there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone. This book is not for our middle school students, but one of our goals is to highlight the best books of the year, and this is one of them.

Next up will be a funny book--we need it after this one.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Likely Story by David Van Etten (Random House/Knopf, 2008)

Cindy: Written by YA author/editor David Levithan, playwright David Ozanich, and One Life to Live writer, Chris Van Etten, under the name "David Van Etten," the story is about a girl born (literally) and raised on a soap opera set, the daughter of a TV daytime diva who has never won the daytime Emmy. She blogs about how soap operas are so unrealistic and that there needs to be a show that is a likely story showing the drama of everyday teen life. Before you can say "Erica Kane," Mallory is pitching, writing, and casting her own tv drama and her life gets as complicated as the shows she mocks. Pure fun for this recovering All My Children addict. Our 7th and 8th grade girls can't get enough of this series and have kept me from the advance copy sequel, All That Glitters, while they pass it around. Book #3 is set to pub June 2009 so the fun will continue in Red Carpet Riot. Can't wait--a perfect start-of-summer read to anticipate.
Lynn: I can’t help it – mention soap operas to me and my eyes roll involuntarily. It is a direct result of overexposure to As The World Turns and their ilk in my formative years so I wasn’t exactly eager to read this despite Cindy’s enthusiasm. When our book club teens loved it I decided I needed to curb my skepticism and give it a try. What a treat! Mallory is a heroine after my own heart and this very affectionate spoof of the soaps is smart and charming. There’s enough satire to keep us curmudgeons smiling but it is never mean-spirited. And just like the soaps, this is addictive. I’m going to send my clairvoyant secret twin out to retrieve the sequel right away!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Book Award Youth Winner

Cindy: The Winner of the Young People's Literature National Book Award was announced last night....drum roll please....Congratulations go to Judy Blundell for her novel What I Saw and How I Lied. For more information about the award and the complete shortlist, head to the NBA website. You can check out our opinion of Blundell's book in our Nov. 12th post. I have to add a shout out to her editor, David Levithan! Congratulations all around to Scholastic.

Judges for the Young People's division this year were: Daniel Handler (chair--and the guy who claims to represent Lemony Snickett), Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, Cynthia Voigt. Our teen readers would do well to spend some time in the company of these authors' books. Voigt's Tillerman series, starting with Homecoming, remains one of my favorite series of all time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Today's BBYA Meeting Madness--ARC Giveaway Day!

Cindy: Santa came early to our BBYA teens today--it was ARC-giveaway day! More popular than the snacks, is the opportunity to snag a few free books that are being purged from our temporary BBYA collection. Earlier this week we showed one of our teens reading the advanced reader copy of Gone by Grant and an astute blog reader with much better eyesight than I have remaining sent a question about seeing a barcode and spine label on the book. Lynn sent her an explanation for our process, which we feel falls within the guidelines the publishers allow:
Lynn: It is a good question and I hope I can reassure you! We assign a temporary bar code and place all our arcs in a temporary collection called BBYA that is accessible to our book club members as well as all our students for just one year. We have already pulled out the books that didn't make BBYA nominations for this year and will give them away this week. In January after Midwinter, we will pull all the 2008 BBYA nominated arcs and give them away to our students. We have over 5,000 students so we needed to be able to identify and locate the arcs during the discussion season.

This bookclub came into being when Cindy and I were serving on BBYA. The kids loved it so much that we have kept it going. We do NOT put arcs in our permanent collections. We do buy lots of copies of the titles that the teens report as favorites during and after the BBYA year. We have one galley of Hunger Games, for instance, but Cindy purchased ten copies for the two middle schools and will probably need more after booktalking it on the weekly video announcements this week.
Cindy: As you can see, we have some enthusiastic readers in our after school club--who don't mind mugging for the camera, either. :) They helped restore order after the photo shoot and then helped themselves to more books. We also gave away some publisher book-related bling that we had picked up at conferences. The sturdy Penguin and HarperCollins book bags with book covers on them were a big hit. The Twilight canvas bag was used as a major prize LONG AGO and makes a daily appearance in the high school halls. We do have a fair number of boys in the club but they left before the final photo shoot but not before they snagged a few rounds of free books. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to the generous publishers for making these galleys available to teens and their librarians in addition to the bookstore buyers! We all enjoy the early peek at what you're up to next!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness-redux

Cindy: We learned today that Ness won The 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize for The Knife of Never Letting Go. As luck would have it, I finished the book very early this morning. I don't know how Todd managed to stay awake on the run for weeks with no sleep, I was paying for my late reading night all day. I updated our earlier post to add my opinion to Lynn's. Check it out and tell us what you think of this one when you get to it. No post is too tardy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

That's Not a Cookbook!

Cindy: My secretary's daughter, Jenny, one of our avid BBYA teen members, has set a goal of reading all of the BBYA 2009 nominations (224) this year. She's still chipping away at them and apparently found another way to use the cookbook stand while she was on dinner duty Friday night. Doesn't she look like a good BBYA member? When I served on the committee I turned all cooking over to my husband and daughters and am happy to let them continue whenever they want. I haven't read Gone by Michael Grant yet...have you? I'm closing in on the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go and can't turn the pages fast enough.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Lynn: A young girl disguising herself as a boy to escape desperate poverty, dragons with elemental powers, a kingdom in crisis – these plot elements make Eon sound like any other ho hum fantasy. Not so! I think this is one of the year’s best. Sadly it is not being released until the end of December so put this on your not-to-be-missed list. Goodman sets the story in a richly described Asian-style country in the midst of a power struggle. Vivid characters fill the complex plot and their struggles propel a pulse-quickening pace. Goodman takes standard elements and weaves straw into gold in this mesmerizing tale with plenty of thematic heft. I can’t say it enough: don’t miss this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone graphic novels adapted by Mark Kneece (Walker, 2008)

Cindy: I grew up watching Creature Feature and Twilight Zone...and checking out LPs from the public library so I could listen to Bill Cosby try to scare me to death with his "Chicken Heart" story. It's not cool enough that CBS and let us watch the many of the original Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes, but now Walker & Company is publishing graphic novel adaptations of eight of the classic shows! The first two are out and The After Hours is definitely the creepier one. A young woman shops for a gift for her mother in a department store but when she tries to return the damaged item the floor she visited doesn't exist, and that isn't the only strange thing about the store. This one brings to mind the vintage Richard Peck YA novel, Secrets of the Shopping Mall. The art is great and reflects the mood--and the story is faithful to the original television script. The introduction, notes from the author, and credits for the television episode add to the package. I want this episode adapted next: Time Enough at Last: "A bookworm yearns for more time to read - then a nuclear holocaust leaves him alone in the world with lots of time, plenty to read and one ironic twist!" Yours from another dimension...
Lynn: Start the theme music running in your head, open Walking Distance and settle in for a quintessential Twilight Zone experience. An over-stressed businessman has car trouble just a mile and a half from the hometown he hasn’t visited in twenty years. Nostalgic for a simpler time, he walks to town only to discover that he has walked back in time. Large, easy-to-read panels make this visually appealing and the introduction provides plenty of information for the newbie. I’m eager to hear what our teens think but I'm betting these will be popular.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008)

Cindy: What a year for first novels it has been! I don't envy the YALSA Morris First Novel Committee in making their choice this year of the award. We've already blogged about a few strong contenders and here's another that is already shortlisted for the National Book Award. Blundell has crafted an atmospheric, sensual, coming-of-age, historical mystery that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. The opening scene (filled with perfume and cigarette smoke and feigned recognition about what her mother and Evie are really doing) sets the stage perfectly for the events that lead to Evie's parents being tried for murder by novel's end. As Evie reflects that she saw much more than she realized while it was happening, the reader is warned to play close attention to the subtle clues as they unfold. Besides the mystery, the post-WWII setting with the lingering prejudice against Jews and Evie's smouldering infatuation with an older man keep the blood pumping and the pages turning. Can't wait to see what this author does next.
Lynn: I was starting to feel a little smug about keeping up with the reading this year until the NBA shortlist revealed my feet of clay. I dug this book out of a life-threatening stack and was hooked right from the first cinematic scene. The sense of time and place is so vivid that I could close my eyes and hear the rustle of full skirts and smell a hint of perfume and smoke. Blundell skillfully both tantalizes and reveals providing the reader with a sense of intimate involvement enhanced by the pitch-perfect narrative voice. Hats off to Scholastic for a fabulous cover too that is not only eye-catching but perfectly reflects the book.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

MAME Conference 2008

Cindy: We just returned from our state school library conference where we presented our favorites from 2007 and 2008 (email one of us if you want the handout). It was fun to hear from all of the MAME members who are reading our blog--be sure to post a comment on a book you've read--or tell us about one we missed in our presentation! I have to relate the first event of the trip, and then will leave the rest for Lynn to share. The bell hop who brought our luggage to our room said he loves it when library conferences come to town. "I've never met a librarian I didn't like. You have to be a real piece of work to not get along with a librarian." Now, that's the way to start off a conference! The Dearborn Michigan Hyatt knows how to hire 'em!
Lynn: It's always so much fun to booktalk to other book fanatics - you can't get a better audience! We also attended some wonderful sessions including two presentations by the amazing Gary Schmidt. Gary is a marvelous presenter, entertaining, inspiring and always thoughtful. What a terrific storyteller too! He talked about a question that drives his writing: what begins the change from childhood to adulthood. I'm eager to go back and reread some of my favorite Schmidt books with this theme in mind. My favorite Schmidt book has to be The Wednesday Wars. What is yours?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman

Lynn: Antsy Bonano is back in another wonderfully wacky adventure. When a friend confides that he has only six months to live, Antsy impulsively offers Gunnar a month of his life. Antsy creates a contract and, like so many things in Antsy's life, the whole thing takes on a life of its own. Subplots and complications pop up like dandelions while a terrific cast of secondary characters almost steal the show. Antsy's wise-cracking voice provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but keep a tissue handy. Shusterman skillfully gives us a touchingly real boy whose genuine, if fraught with disaster, attempts to help will touch your heart.

Monday, November 3, 2008

President's Daughter Series by Ellen Emerson White

Cindy: Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin have both made this presidential election year very memorable, but Author Ellen Emerson White wrote about a woman in control of the White House back in 1984. The series, about Meg Powers, the daughter of the first female President of the United States, has been revised for currency and re-released with the newest book in the series, Long May She Reign. I had somehow missed these the first time around, but discovered them when I was assigned this fourth book to review for Booklist. While the story earns its title, "Loooooong..." with a slow moving plot, the intricate details about life in the White House and having Secret Service men escorting Meg to college are fascinating. The emotional recovery from the stress of having been held captive by terrorists in book three and coming to terms with her mother's choice to refuse to negotiate for her release are events that would require a slow healing process, so the narrative pace is warranted. I still haven't read the rest of the series, but maybe I should take one home to read while I watch the election results roll in...I hope you elect to read these, too.
Lynn: Since the moment she read Long May She Reign, Cindy has been nagging me to start this series. I am hopelessly compulsive when it comes to reading books in order, so I ignored her and waited till this summer when the new editions came out and, darn, she was right again. I loved the first one and can hardly wait to read the rest. Yes, the political detail was fascinating but it was Meg's voice that really won me over. She sounded like a real teen to me: smart, sarcastic and a little self-absorbed, but very real. Meg's conflicted feelings toward her mother are so well portrayed that I found myself talking back to the book. Whatever your politics, this series is a winner.
Cindy: Lynn, You know I am ALWAYS right. :)


We've talked for a year about doing this blog but we suspected we might be our only audience. It has turned out to be soooo much fun to do and we are really excited by the wonderful feedback we are getting. Thank you VERY much to everyone for the kind comments, the humbling support and all your help spreading the word about our new adventure. We know booklovers are never short of opinions so post your thoughts and suggestions.