Saturday, January 29, 2011

Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry
Bloomsbury, 2010
young adult fiction

Evie lives with her grandfather in a small village, where she has become known as a healer. What she wants more than anything is to travel to the city to attend the university and become a doctor.

When the king travels to Evie's village to take part in a local celebration, one of his men falls ill. Evie heals him, and the king, impressed by both her abilities and her studies
(she is second in her class), offers her a scholarship. Evie sets off for the city with her best friend and the boy next door on what becomes a challenging and exciting journey.

Full of action, adventure, a little romance, and a lot of surprises, I could not put this down. I constantly wanted to find out what was going to happen next. In the beginning, there are hints of magic and family secrets, and Berry knows how to draw these out in perfect timing.

This is Berry's second novel. The Amaranth Enchantment was her first, and it was great, but this is even better. I know this book just came out, but I can't wait to see what she does next.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Affirmation from Barnes & Noble

I recently placed an order from Barnes & Noble. They sent the confirmation email, and I scrolled through the thank you, how to check the status or change your order, and then I got to this sentence: "You've read this far into the email, which makes you a true reader." Oh, I am a true reader. Barnes & Noble, thank you for noticing.

And in case one of the three people that reads this blog is in cahoots with the FCC, I have no vested interest in where anyone buys their books. Actually, I'd like to encourage you to use your local library.

Currently reading: Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lisa Graff

Lisa Graff has officially made her way onto my list of favorite authors. Two of her previous books, The Truth About Georgie and Umbrella Summer*, have been featured on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master Reading List.

In her newest book, Sophie Simon Solves Them All, Graff writes for a little bit younger audience and gives us a little bit younger protagonist. Sophie Simon is not your average third grader. She's a genius, who is completely misunderstood by her parents. Her parents simply want her to be a well-adjusted kid. They would rather she speak Pig Latin than teach herself Japanese. They are absolutely horrified when they find a calculus textbook in her backpack. And, they want her to have friends. Sophie, though, isn't sure why she needs friends. She is content to read about civil disobedience and calculus, and try to figure out to get her parents to buy her the Pembo Q-60, a $100 graphing calculator which will come in handy for her calculus.

When one of Sophie's classmates comes to her with a problem, Sophie figures out a way to help her classmate and earn some money. Soon, she finds herself helping several other classmates, and comes to realize that maybe having a few friends isn't a bad thing.

One of my favorite things about this book? The terms of endearment Sophie's parents call her - things like walnut, snickerdoodle, garbanzo bean and lemon wedge.

Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff, pictures by Jason Beene
Farrar Straus Giroux  2010
grades 3-5
Reviewed from library copy

*Umbrella Summer manages to be both sweet and sad - it might make you cry, but it will also make you feel good and maybe even laugh. Read it.

Currently reading: The Confession by John Grisham and Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier

Monday, January 17, 2011


This is Paisley. She lives with me, and I love her, and, she has turned me into a Dog Person. (And, yes, the silver on the door is where she took the paint off.) If you had told me 3 or 4 years ago, that not only would I have a dog, but that she would be an indoor dog, and that not only would she be an indoor dog, but that she would be allowed on the couch, I would have wondered what you were smoking. And yet, all of those things are true.

As readers, we bring our lives and interests and experiences to the books we read. That's part of why some books resonate more strongly with some of us than with others. I spent a lot of time avoiding animal stories, because chances were, in my mind, pretty high those stories were going to be sad. But now, I'm reading dog stories like never before. And they're cuter and funnier, and I enjoy them probably more than I would if I couldn't relate on some level. Don't get me wrong - I'm still not going to read books where the dog dies (yes, I know that's an issue I will have to face someday, but today is not someday), and I don't even like books where dogs are abandoned or lost; in other words, I still don't want sad animal stories. However, there are so many great, happy dog books out there! Periodically, I'll post a "Paisley's Pick" to highlight some of my favorites.

We'll start today with an oldie but goodie - No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman. It's the perfect start to this series. Our hero, Wallace Wallace, writes a less than stellar review of Old Shep, My Pal for his English class. His teacher, who absolutely loves this book, is less than pleased. He talks about the sad ending, calling it a "heartbreaking surprise." Wallace replies that he knew the dog was going to die before he started reading the book. When asked how he knew, he says, "Because the dog always dies. Go the library and pick out any book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down." (p.5)

One thing you should know about Wallace Wallace - he does not lie. Ever. So when given the opportunity to do a rewrite, he doesn't change his opinion, and is given detention and forced to miss football practice. He finds himself serving detention at play rehearsals for a play based on...wait for it...Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace slowly takes over as director of the play, which grows seemingly more and more over the top each day. With a star of the play who writes diary-type letters to Julia Roberts, someone who is out to sabotage the play, and a football team that just can't win, this book is pure fun.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Russian Winter

Russian Winter: A Novel by Daphne Kalotay
HarperCollins, 2010

This is the kind of book you just sink start reading and don't want to stop. Russian Winter, at its most basic, is the story of a famous ballerina who used to dance at the Bolshoi, Nina Revskaya. As she prepares to auction off her impressive jewelry collection, she is flooded with memories of her life in postwar Russia. The book weaves these memories into her present-day life in Boston. Also woven into the novel are the stories of the young woman who works at the auction house that is auctioning the jewels, and a professor, who translated the poetry of Nina's deceased husband. Further tying the stories together is a necklace belonging to the professor, that matches a bracelet and earrings in Nina's collection.

The character development is wonderful and so real, and the writing is just beautiful and descriptive. Here's an example:
"And so this is a month of perfection, of leisurely freedom, of lazy afternoons spent on the terrace in long, wandering debates that spin off into the air without conclusion. Wildflowers sweeten the air, and butterflies tumble by..." (p. 226)

A story of secrets, of a time in Russia when one could never quite be certain who to trust, a tale of longing to know the truth of one's past, of love and forgiveness, this is not to be missed. It's certainly set the bar high for all other books I read this year; it will definitely be one of my favorites. And while I don't usually read short stories, I'm absolutely going to read Kalotay's Calamity and Other Stories.

On her website, you can read an excerpt of the book, and a interesting behind-the-book interview where Kalotay talks about spending years doing the research for this book - it certainly shows.

Edited to add: Reviewed from library copy

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts - 2011 ALA Youth Media Awards

These are just my quick thoughts about some of the awards announced today. For a complete list, go here: ALA 2011 Youth Media Awards.

The Newbery Medal, which recognizes the "most outstanding contribution to children's literature", went to Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. This was totally not anywhere on my radar - I had to look it up to see the cover and if it rang any bells.

Honor Books:
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm - loved this!
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of Night by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Rick Allen
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia - another book I have yet to get my hands on, but have anxiously been awaiting (This also won the Coretta Scott King Award (author), which recognizes an African American author of outstanding books for children and young adults.)

The Caldecott Medal, which recognizes the "most distinguished American picture book for children," went to A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by Philip C. Stead. Oh, this makes me so happy! This is one of my favorite picture books of last year! The illustrations are the kind that you can really just pore over, and notice all of the charming details. And it is a great story too!

Honor Books:
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Laban Carrick Hill (This also won the Coretta Scott King Award (illustrator), which recognizes an African American illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults.)
Interrupting Chicken illustrated and written by David Ezra Stein - such a fun book!

The Printz Award recognizes excellence in literature written for young adults. I will confess the Printz and I do not always see eye to eye. However, this year the award to Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, and thought was so well-written. I'm glad to see it win.

Honor Books (of which I have read exactly none):
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Nothing by Jane Teller

I would have liked to see The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson be recognized, but since I haven't read any of these honors, I don't know how it stands up to them.

Currently reading: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay and The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Books of 2011

My reading in 2011 got off to a slow start, thanks in part to Season 4 of Friday Night Lights, the very last episode of The Wire, and a free red box rental. I have managed to finish a children's book, What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb. I'd been waiting for it to come in at the library for ages now, and it was well worth the wait. It's gotten Newbery buzz in some circles - I can't wait for awards to be announced tomorrow. Meanwhile, with cold, wet weather here (even some snow!) I'm going to curl up and finish Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay tonight. Review to follow soon.