Thursday, December 31, 2009
But, back to the story (a finalist for the Quill Award and winner of many state awards). The alternating point-of-view of two girls from very different backgrounds thrown together at Los Alamos during World War II provides the reader with a more complete picture than could be achieved with just one narrator. The vivid descriptions create a spellbindly complete world for complete reader immersion.
I've not yet had a chance to read Klages' sequel, White Sands, Red Menace but I look forward to it.
I've read a mountain of books in 2009 (I'd guess somewhere around 125 since I average 10 a month) but I've fallen behind on sharing those.
I took the time today to figure out how to make doing that a little more simple and I'm all set to start out the new year - the new decade - with lots of children's book recommendations. I hope to also share a bit more of my own writing news throughout the year.
In the meantime, hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's Eve. Here's to writing and reading in 2010!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Elkeles has done a fabulous job in this modern take on the Romeo and Juliet story. Instead of Montagues and Capulets, she has Latino Blood and Country Club. She tells the story in alternating first-person point of view and both co-protagonists are fully fleshed out, intriguing characters.
Both characters grow and change, providing a strong internal arc. But the book also has a very solid plot.
Elkeles makes excellent use of foreshadowing. Doses of humor break up the tension. Thoughtful use of Spanish words and phrases in the text was extremely well done.
The sequel is due to come out in May, 2010. You can bet I'll be getting it.
Here's a sexy book trailer for Perfect Chemistry.
Enjoyed meeting authors PJ Hoover, Michele Bardsley, Jordan Dane and fellow Vermont College student Stacy Nyikos at the Red Dirt Book Festival in Shawnee, OK. The community coming together to talk about books can be very inspiring. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on their books soon.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
DiCamillo uses omniscient third to put the reader in everyone's mind, including the elephant. The vague location and lack of an exact time add to the fairytale feel of this story that is sure to charm readers.
Here is a video of DiCamillo reading the first chapter
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Told in first person, this story definitely falls into the category of suspense rather than traditional mystery as April and the reader wait for the hitman to catch up with her family. Following the story of a teen forced into the witness protection program because of her father's testimony is a compelling setup. April (who later becomes Valerie) makes several mistakes that results in the hitman finding the family's home.
I found this was also made into a TV movie starring Patrick Duffy in 1999. Several of Duncan's other books have also been made into movies including Hotel for Dogs.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
I feel like I'm a little behind in reading this book. I started to read it back in January when I attended my first residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Carrie Jones was one of the awesome graduate assistants who helped guide us during our stay in Montpelier. Well, during the course of the semester, I got sidetracked by reading all those mysteries. My primary creative project for the past year falls into the mystery genre, so I've tried to read as many of those as I can. And, unfortunately, Girl, Hero fell to the bottom of my reading list.
Now, I can't tell you how awful I feel about that.
Especially because, reading it could've really helped me with what I've been working on. It's not a mystery, but it does feature a girl who is trying to figure out who she is and also deal with Dad issues. Except, this girl-hero has multiple men filling that father figure position – talk about upping the ante! This book is great. It deals with about a dozen issues in a real life way (not like in a talk show, to quote Lily, the protagonist.) It is also incredibly creative. Throughout the book, Lily writes letters to John Wayne. Yes, that John Wayne. Lily's late step-father watched John Wayne movies with her. I think writing these letters helps her feel closer to the dad she's lost. But you should read the book and draw your own conclusions.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
In Iran, many people are using blogs, Twitter and Facebook to communicate their dissatisfaction about the recent elections. If you don't know about that, open up just about any news site, like MSNBC and you'll find plenty of articles about it.
But, back to the potential impact of US bloggers. The Iranian government has set out to censor the protest blogs in Iran. And how do they find those blogs among the gazillion in cyberspace? I'm told they do a search and check the time zone setting for the site.
So, until further notice Playing With Words, along with lots of other kidlit blogs is now set for GMT + 4.30 - Tehran time.
Also in solidarity with the Mousavi campaign, I've turned my avatar green as suggested by Faeirie Drink Review site.
And finally, I want to say Thanks to those dozen or so folks I saw holding "FREE IRAN" signs this afternoon when I left the State Capitol Builing in OKC. It takes alot of guts and stamina to stand out on Lincoln Blvd in the heat with the aim of moving Okies to action. You Rock! (and it worked on at least one person)
Monday, June 15, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
This is book is for younger readers and could be described as an early chapter book. There are about 14 books in this “young Cam” series at present, aimed at readers in first – third grades. Author David Adler also has a series featuring the same character for slightly older readers with nearly 50 titles published. He has great resources for classrooms and book discussions online.
I was surprised by how well Adler developed the characters in less than 30 pages. The story's protagonist, Jennifer, is nicknamed Cam (short for Camera) because she has a photographic memory. Her ability allows her to solve the mystery of where class clown Danny left his lunch during a field trip to the zoo.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
The protagonist in this mystery is a classics prodigy and solving the mystery revolves around him using clues discovered through his translation of ancient Greek plays. The setting is the underground of New York City, which just happens to be where recently deads – including Jack's mother – resides. All that, combined with a potential romantic interest make this a great read. This book won the Edgar award in 2008.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I love this book. It flows so well. I'm impressed with how much DiCamillo is able to convey about the characters and their relationships with her easy to read prose. It is clear that every word was chosen with great care. It won the Newberry Honor Award in 2001. If you haven't read this, you should. It is destined to be a classic.
Here's an interview with DiCamillo from 2007. I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I loved the language and adventure in this book. But it may not be what you expect.
Friday, May 15, 2009
This historical fiction starts off with a photographer trying to perpetrate a fraud by putting ghost images into portraits. But, in an ironic twist, real ghosts begin to show up in the photos taken by his apprentice, Horace, the novel's first person narrarator. I won't give it all away, but there's more to it than just the ghost wandering through while the picture is snapped.
I was attracted to the novel for the similarities to my current work in progress, a mystery with a ghost revealed in photographs.
Avi's story moves along at a good pace and the plot and characters are solid. Set in New York in 1872, the language is sometimes a little formal, but nothing insurmoutable.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The amazing illustrations in this book are masterpieces in themselves. Base cleverly presents several puzzles in Enigma, first the straightforward mystery withing the text, second, the clues hidden in the illustrations and finally, a secret to decode using the key at the back of the book. This decoding requires reading the story, finding a hidden clue in the picture and then turning three wheels to the correct position to unlock the decoding key. It was great fun.
This is the last Edgar finalist review in the "juvenile" category. Although this book was grouped with the others, it is definitely in a class by itself. The other finalists were all definitely middle grade novels, while this decidedly falls into the picture book category. Perhaps the Mystery Writers of America should consider adding a middle grade category or a picture book category to give these books a fair chance.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
I had very mixed feelings about this book. I kept asking myself why it was that I didn’t become emotionally attached to Sam, the protagonist and his new friend Caroline. Sam was likable enough and even appears to have dyslexia, something that would normally garner a reader’s sympathy. Sam discovers a newspaper clipping that said he was a missing child. He spends the book trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs.
I was also disappointed by Giff’s handling of the dyslexia. Although she does a superb job of describing it, “the words a bunch of loops and whorls that seemed to jump as Sam looked at them,” Giff misses an opportunity to really explore this topic.
I was also a little put off by they way she concludes this arc of the story. Sam decides he has to learn to read. He goes to the reading teacher who has been helping him. They talk about how much time he had spent building a castle for another class and that sometimes reading is also that hard. She says, “We’ll keep at it, work on it; we’ll really try.” I realize that she is acknowledging that he is making a commitment now too, but somehow it seemed dismissive of his learning disability. An implication that by putting some effort into it would make it go away.
This book is also a finalist for the Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I was captivated by the way this book switched back and forth from being a mystery to being a contemporary coming of age novel. Jason is coping with his father’s drinking, his parents failing marriage and the death of a grandmother he never knew.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I wrote a critical essay about Cemetery Street as part of my graduate studies at Vermont College. I've included the bulk of it here.
Writing a mystery’s conclusion may be the most difficult part. So much room exists for error, offering so many ways to disappoint the reader. A writer on deadline may scramble to wrap up the plot quickly to get the book sent to the publisher. A desperate writer will search for something, anything to solve her dilemma. Unfortunately, this can often result in rash decisions. If the author calls upon the reader to stretch too far in suspending their disbelief, the reader will feel like time was wasted on this protagonist. The reader thought this was a hero’s journey to solve the mystery and set the world right. But without careful attention, this journey may lead to nowhere. Hammering the last nail into her protagonist’s heroic coffin, Brenda Seabrooke summons up a deus ex machina to wrap up Cemetery Street.
In a fantastic twist, Seabrooke robs Courtney of the apprehension of her kidnappers. The publicity-seeking, demon-impersonating criminals who killed her brother’s puppy and locked her in a crypt are done in by organized insects. Courtney tracks down the kidnappers and chases them to their van, just as it pulls away.
The van’s doors opened at the same time. Dr. White rolled out one side, Leindorf the other. They rolled in the parking lot and screamed as they tore at their clothes (Seabrooke 184).
We learn shortly that “very angry ants” are the cause of all this rolling and screaming. As explanation, Seabrooke offers Bucky’s Halloween bag tossed in the back of the van.
Giant ants may work for Indiana Jones in South America, but Seabrooke made absolutely no mention of ants at any point in the previous 184 pages. If ants had spoiled the picnic, if Courtney had been bitten by an ant or if she had taken time to watch ants travel, then this might have had a whisper of credibility. But, as presented, it is completely fantastical.
Others may argue that this ending works. Perhaps Seabrooke was trying to counteract the darkness of the animal murder and the suspected Satanism in the book with a lighthearted approach to catching the criminals. At least a few notable people must have taken this position, Cemetery Street is a current finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Mystery presented by the Mystery Writers of America.
We will never know if Courtney was brave enough and resourceful enough to foil the criminals because Seabrooke snatches the opportunity away from her. When writers resort to outlandish means to resolve the situation, it undermines the entire book. Although the language, character development and pacing of Cemetery Street was excellent, this disappointing ending will be the thing readers remember most about it.
Here's a book trailer for it.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Neil Gaiman's Newberry winning novel, The Graveyard Book, opens with a man named Jack murdering an English family. But the youngest child, a toddler, escapes to a nearby graveyard. There he is taken in by the inhabitants of the graveyard who raise him as their own. This story is superb. The mystery is tight and the graveyard ambiance is maintained throughout the book.
I do wonder if Mr. Gaiman was inspired by the saying, “You don't know Jack.” He's right, we don't. (and aren't we glad?)
I listened to the audio version of this book, which is read by the author. If you pick this up, you are in for a treat. Not only do you get Gaiman's aristocratic British accent, you also get exactly the inflection he intended in writing the book. Directly from his lips to your ears – it doesn't get any better than that.
And with any luck, I'm all high-tech today and here is a book trailer for The Graveyard Book.
Plus, here is an interview with author Neil Gaiman on The Colbert Report.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
If you are a fan of the Addams Family, you will love this novel. It is a kooky story about witches and curses and awful aunts who kidnap young Elijah, hero protagonist. But I won’t tell you why. That’s part of the mystery.
McKenzie maintains first person narration throughout this novel through the point of view of Elijah. The story is creepy, but in a fun, lighthearted way and although there is the threat of serious violence, none of it is taken too seriously because the tone and humor are spot on and put the reader at ease.
This book has been nominated for an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America. I say it is a serious contender.
I’ll be reviewing all of the nominees in the juvenile category before the awards are announced on April 30.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
And, let me tell you, as a student in the MFA program at Vermont College, I've been doing A LOT of reading. Since I already have this huge store of books to share, I should be updating on a much more regular basis.
So, let's get started.
Clements, Andrew. Room One. New York: Simon & Schuster: Audioworks, 2006.
I listened to the audio version of this book and really loved it. The cover seems a little young for the story, I was expecting about a fourth grade book, but I found the mystery a very compelling middle grade read.
Clements used third person to tell this story and about 90 percent of the book is from Ted’s point of view, but he does shift to other points of view occasionally. Unfortunately, he didn’t take full advantage of the shifting view points by using them only to convey important information that the reader wouldn’t have otherwise. In fact, much of the resolution of the story is conveyed through the epilogue using various methods including news reports and articles. It seems entirely possible that he could’ve stayed with Ted’s POV, making the reader identify more with the character.
Clements also wove the family impact of the Iraq war into the story, making the book very topical. I was particularly interested in that aspect, since it is a subplot in the manuscript I am currently revising.
I highly recommend this book. While the protagonist is a boy, the story features a very strong girl, providing appeal for both genders. You can bet I'll be adding more of Mr. Clements books to my reading list.
This book won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2007.