Dec 25, 2011

Happy Christmas

The book tree at the University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library.

Robert Gray: The Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come (From Shelf Awareness)

Marley was virtually dead: to begin with...

On the third night, as Scrooge lay in bed, double-checking accounts on his iPad, once again the Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached from deep within the dimly backlit touch screen. When it came, Scrooge tapped furiously, hoping to delete the specter, but to no avail, for in the very pixels through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come?" Scrooge asked. The Spirit answered not, but crooked its finger in a ghastly invitation that thrilled Scrooge with a vague uncertain horror, to know that in that dusky screen, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him.

The Phantom moved away as it had come toward him. Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which somehow bore him into this virtual world and carried him along.

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.

"No," said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, "I don't know much about it, either way. I only know the printed version of A Christmas Carol is dead.''
"Why, what was the matter with it?" asked one of the gentlemen. "I thought it'd never die."
"God knows,'' said the first, with a yawn. "Though it's likely to be a very cheap funeral, for upon my life I don't know of anybody to go to it."

The Phantom glided onto a crowded street and stopped before a shop's holiday window display. Scrooge looked about in that very place for his own image, but there was no likeness of himself there, nor any sign of Mr. Dickens's books. Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand, which made him shudder, and feel very cold. Was he as dead as Marley now, a mere digital specter himself?

They left the busy scene, and ventured into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, though he recognized its situation. Far in this den of infamous resort, there was an obscure used bookshop. Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of the bookseller, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop.

"Who's the worse for the loss of a few books like these?" cried the woman as she threw her bundle on the floor. "Not a dead man, I suppose."

Scrooge listened in horror. "Spirit!'' he said, shuddering from head to foot. "I see, I see. My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this?'' He recoiled in terror, for the scene had suddenly changed, and now he almost touched a bare bookcase, dusty and shrouded in cobwebs. Scrooge glanced toward the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the empty space.

"Spirit!" he said. "This is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!'' The Spirit was immovable as ever. In his agony, Scrooge caught the spectral hand. The Spirit repulsed him. But then, holding up his own hands in a reader's pose, Scrooge saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed and dwindled down into the iPad's screen, from which Scrooge had somehow emerged.

Opening his Twitter account, he called outward to @bobcratchit.

"WHAT'S TODAY?" Scrooge cried.
"Eh?" returned @bobcratchit, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" typed Scrooge.
"To-day? Why, Christmas Day."
"OMG! It's Christmas Day! I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night."
"LOL!!!!!" replied @bobcratchit
"Do you know the Bookseller, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.
"I should hope I do," wrote @bobcratchit.
"Tomorrow go and buy every copy of A Christmas Carol they have and give them away in the streets!"
"Great idea IMHO! Merry Xmas!"

Then Scrooge went to his shelves and found his own leather-bound volume of Mr. Dickens's fine story, which had been too long neglected after the introduction of an enhanced digital edition.

"I shall love it, as long as I live!" he cried, patting the book with his hand. "I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its cover! It's a wonderful book!" --Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

Dec 23, 2011

Friday Round-Up

Each week I round-up all the (mostly book-related) articles/blog posts/book reviews/websites/videos that entertained me during the week. Enjoy!


IndieBound Reader App!

My heart cries with Egypt: "Thousands of Rare Books, Journals, Writings Burned at Institute d'Egypt In Cairo"

My favorite type of list: "The Most Overrated Books of 2011"
My second favorite type of list: "The Most Overlooked Books of 2011"

David Foster Wallace showcases his early writing talents in a response to a fellow Amherst College student's Letter to the Editor back in the 80s: "Stick Them In Your Ear"

Suggested Chanukah romance novel titles, to compete with the onslaught of Christmas romance novel titles (sadly none of these actually exist): "Love Among the Latkes"

"Favourite covers of 2011" post from The Casual Optimist.

Book Fetish gift guide on BookRiot - what to get the booklover in your life. I'm going to ask the Chanukah armadillo for this literary pin-up calendar.


Okay, okay, I know - two weeks in a row of something not entirely book related, but I think I should just add "cartography" to the list of "other" things that might be mentioned on this blog and be done with it.

Matador has a great article featuring this blog that features amazing maps. That is all.


Thanks to Molly over at Adventures of a Blonde Librarian for recommending this quiz: Famous Female Heroines (in children's books). I got 9 out of 10, having never read the final book on the quiz. Obviously now I'll have to pick up some Robin McKinley.

Which Austen Heroine Are You?


Book TV - Top Nonfiction Authors and Books - premiers on C-Span this Saturday.

My personal favorite book trailer of the week.

Also, both of these things are not like the other - book reviews.


ReadIt1st is a website where you can sign up to receive newsletters about what movies coming out are adaptations of books. You can pledge to read the book first or read the book whenever you want, but either way, read the book and get the news about the movies.

BookSneeze is a way for bloggers to receive free books in exchange for a book review. While not for everyone, it IS another way to get some free books. The catch is you have to blog your review, whether good or bad, stating that you received it from the publisher, and you have to post it on a commercial site, and send these links back to BookSneeze. Lots of Christian/Religion/Spirituality-focused books, just FYI.

Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing

Ryan Gosling Likes Libraries

Ryan Gosling Reads YA

For New Yorkers: is a new website dedicated to bringing you "all things New York for readers and writers". I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it's the online offshoot of the former brisk & mortar in Rockefeller Center, as well as the online stomping grounds of Barbara Cohen, former owner & operator of said bricks & mortar.

The English Spelling Society. I want to be supportive, but reading over the site, I'm more than a little confused what exactly it, ya know, does. Maybe it's just me, but I was actually a little put off by its aggressive, almost anti-English, tone. Or perhaps I was oddly sensitive the day I discovered it.

Dec 22, 2011

Award-Winning Reading Challenge

I am so excited to announce that I will be participating in the

I figured it's about time that I actually read some of the books off the award lists (okay, other than the Newbery and Caldecott, because I read books off those lists all the time). This challenge allows me to pick and choose from when off which list I read, just the way I like it.

For this challenge, I will be doing a Full Frontal, with a little Genre Buster and Extra Credit thrown in (because I'm a hopeless overachiever).

Full Frontal:
You are not fucking around here—you want to read the best and the brightest, and a lot of them, even if it kills you. Your challenge is to read:

Genre Buster:
Hey, there are other awards besides literary awards. Read one book from each of the following lists:

Extra Credit:
Read one book from these random-ass awards that we found around the internet. This particular challenge may be subject to change as we find more oddball awards, but when/if I update, I’ll include the date so that you know if they were part of your original challenge or not:
I have not chosen a first book yet, because I need to spend a little time with these lists. Needless to say, I will be continuing to blog about my choices, and encourage you to sign up for this reading challenge, too.

Global Domination Challenge

I am so excited to announce that I will be participating in the

No, this is not cheating, but I may be able to satisfy my Around the World Challenge with my Global Domination Challenge, and vice versa. So basically, it makes total sense to participate in both. Right?

I will be a Day Tripper:
New to foreign literature? Short on reading time and need to be economical? Start with this challenge. Read the following for a total of six books:
  • 1 book from Latin or South America - Gabriela, Cloves and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado (Brazil)
  • 1 non-English book from Europe
  • 1 book from Africa
  • 1 book from Asia
  • 1 non-United States English book
  • 1 book from the Middle East
I will be blogging about the books I read for this challenge throughout the year, and encourage you to sign up at Insatiable Booksluts so you can be a part of this, too.

The first book I have chosen to read is Gabriela, Cloves and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado. This was a book my father wanted to read during his trip to Brazil. I had never heard of it before, but the story actually sounds really engaging:

Ilhéus in 1925 is a booming town with a record cacao crop and aspirations for progress, but the traditional ways prevail. When Colonel Mendonça discovers his wife in bed with a lover, he shoots and kills them both. Political contests, too, can be settled by gunshot...

No one imagines that a bedraggled migrant worker who turns up in town–least of all Gabriela herself–will be the agent of change. Nacib Saad has just lost the cook at his popular café and in desperation hires Gabriela. To his surprise she turns out to be a great beauty as well as a wonderful cook and an enchanting boon to his business. But what would people say if Nacib were to marry her?

Lusty, satirical and full of intrigue, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a vastly entertaining panorama of small town Brazilian life.

Dec 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Waiting on Wednesday (WoW) is a weekly meme hosted by

My posts about adult literary fiction are here:
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

My posts about my guilty pleasure reading (romantic, often paranormal, novels) can be found here:

My posts about YA/teen titles are here:
Kiss of Frost by Jennifer Estep 
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

My posts about middle grade titles are here:
The Pirate Captain's Daughter by Eve Bunting

And now for today's:

by A.C. Gaughen
9780802723468, Walker & Co (Bloomsbury, $17.99
Pub. Date: February 2012

A retelling of Robin Hood with "Will Scarlet" as a girl - so excited! This is my favorite type of retold story, with a new female character as the starring role; then throw in cross-dressing, thieves, and Robin Hood, and I'm hooked. Here's the publisher description:

Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

Dec 20, 2011

Chanukah Picture Book Round-Up

A round-up of new Chanukah-themed books out this Fall 2011.

'Tis the season, after all - Happy first night of Chanukah!

Chanukah Lights
by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
9780763655334, $34.99

From a pop-up master and an acclaimed poet and author comes a glorious celebration of the true spirit of Chanukah.

Open this beautiful gift book and follow the Festival of Lights through place and time -- from Herod's temple to a shtetl in Russia; from a refugee ship bound for the New World to an Israeli kibbutz. Inspired by Michael J. Rosen's reverent poem, Robert Sabuda's striking pop-ups depict each night's menorah in a different scene, using imagery such as desert tents, pushcart lanterns, olive trees, and a final panorama of skyscrapers. Sure to be a treasured family heirloom, this stunning collaboration showcases the spirit and resilience of a people in search of home.

That book is honestly the only new Chanukah book published in 2011 that's worth mentioning. And by worth mentioning, I mean is up to my personal standard for both beauty of illustration and enticement of story.

Luckily, there are some classic children's Chanukah books that I can include in this round-up (most of them by Eric A. Kimmel:

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
9780823411313, Holiday House

A traveler rids a village synagogue of ghosts in this Caldecott Honor Book. The best part is doing the different voices for the different goblins that appear to Hershel each night. That Hershel - such a trickster. (A childhood favorite.)

The Chanukkah Guest
by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Giora Carmi
9780823409785, Holiday House

Almost blind and deaf, a woman mistakes a visiting bear for a rabbi. Hilarity ensues. (A childhood favorite.)

Latkes and Applesauce: a Hanukkah story
by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Robin Spowart
9780590422659, Scholastic

A Hanukkah miracle occurs as a poor family opens their doors to those less fortunate than even them. (A childhood favorite.)

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story
by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown
9781932416879, McSweeney's Books 

Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukkah, and Lemony Snicket is an alleged children's author. For the first time in literary history, these two elements are combined in one book. A particularly irate latke is the star of "The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, " but many other holiday icons appear and even speak: flashing colored lights, cane-shaped candy, a pine tree. Santa Claus is briefly discussed as well. The ending is happy, at least for some. People who are interested in any or all of these things will find this book so enjoyable it will feel as though Hanukkah were being celebrated for several years, rather than eight nights. (An adulthood favorite.)

Top Ten Books I Want for the Holidays

The Broke and the Bookish, a brilliant book blog, 
hosts a weekly top ten list meme.

I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:

Top Ten Books I Want to Receive for the Holidays

1. The Next Always (Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, Book 1) 
by Nora Roberts
9780425243213, Berkeley (Penguin), $16

My favorite romantic fiction author's new book. I can't wait to curl up with this and read it in  one sitting.
The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it's getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett's social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there's another project he's got his eye on: the girl he's been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen...

2. Saints Astray (Santa Olivia, Book 2) 
by Jacqueline Carey
9780446571425, Grand Central Publishing (Hachette), $14.99

I fell in love with Jacqueline Carey's writing in high school. She seems to be fearless in terms of the tremendous scope of her work, covering time, space, topics, and creating worlds like few others before her.

Fellow orphans, amateur vigilantes, and members of the Santitos, Loup Garron-the fugitive daughter of a genetically engineered "wolf man"-and Pilar Ecchevarria grew up in the military zone of Outpost 12, formerly known as Santa Olivia. But now they're free, and they want to help the rest of the Santitos escape. During a series of escapades, they discover that Miguel, Loup's former sparring partner and reprobate surrogate brother, has escaped from Outpost 12 and is testifying on behalf of its forgotten citizens-at least until he disappears from protective custody. Honor drives Loup to rescue Miguel, even though entering the U.S could mean losing her liberty. Pilar vows to help her. It will take a daring and absurd caper to extricate Miguel from the mess he's created but Loup is prepared to risk everything... and this time she has help.

by Chris Riddell
9781405050593, Macmillan

I'm not sure what happened to this book. The first two books in the Ottoline series (Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and Ottoline Goes to School were both brilliantly illustrated, well-written, and overall darling books to hand to anyone, but girls especially, age 4-8. Though my sources say this was published by Macmillan in 2010, that may have only been in the UK as I've never seen this one a bookstore shelf and it's not available from Indiebound. But somehow, some way, I will get a copy.

Ottoline and Mr. Munroe do everything and go everywhere together. That is, until the day Mr. Munroe mysteriously disappears leaving a strange clue written in string...Armed with her Amateur Roving Collectors' travel pass Ottoline sets off on a journey over, under and on top of the sea to find her hairy best friend - and bring him back home.

4. The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1) 
by John Flanagan
9780399256196, Philomel Books (Penguin), $18.99

Oh John Flanagan - I loved your Ranger's Apprentice series, perfect for boy and girl readers age 10-14, and now, now you've begun another.

They are outcasts. Hal, Stig, and the others - they are the boys the others want no part of. Skandians, as any reader of Ranger's Apprentice could tell you, are known for their size and strength. Not these boys. Yet that doesn't mean they don't have skills. And courage - which they will need every ounce of to do battle at sea against the other bands, the Wolves and the Sharks, in the ultimate race. The icy waters make for a treacherous playing field . . . especially when not everyone thinks of it as playing.

by Taylor Stevens
9780307717108, Broadway Books (Random House), $14

A female Jason Bourne? (-ish.) Yes, please!

Vanessa “Michael” Munroe deals in information—expensive information—working for corporations, heads of state, private clients, and anyone else who can pay for her unique brand of expertise. Born to missionary parents in lawless central Africa, Munroe took up with an infamous gunrunner and his mercenary crew when she was just fourteen. As his protégé, she earned the respect of the jungle's most dangerous men, cultivating her own reputation for years until something sent her running. After almost a decade building a new life and lucrative career from her home base in Dallas, she's never looked back.

Until now.

A Texas oil billionaire has hired her to find his daughter who vanished in Africa four years ago. It’s not her usual line of work, but she can’t resist the challenge. Pulled deep into the mystery of the missing girl, Munroe finds herself back in the lands of her childhood, betrayed, cut off from civilization, and left for dead. If she has any hope of escaping the jungle and the demons that drive her, she must come face-to-face with the past that she’s tried for so long to forget. Gripping, ingenious, and impeccably paced, The Informationist marks the arrival or a thrilling new talent.

by Maggie Stiefvater
9780545224901, Scholastic, $17.99

This would be my first Maggie Stiefvater, and considering her reputation, I think it's about time.
Some race to win. Others race to survive.
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

by David Levithan
9780375860980, Knopf (Random House), $16.99

Dear David Levithan, you make my heart sing and hurt with every one of your books. Thank you. Love, me.

In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he's been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan's starting to believe it's Ariel that's behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author. 

by Kelly Milner Halls
9781452102641, Chronicle Books, $16.99

What do guys and girls really think? Twelve of the most dynamic and engaging YA authors writing today team up for this one-of-a-kind collection of "he said/she said" stories-he tells it from the guy's point of view, she tells it from the girl's. These are stories of love and heartbreak. There's the good-looking jock who falls for a dangerous girl, and the flipside, the toxic girl who never learned to be loved; the basketball star and the artistic (and shorter) boy she never knew she wanted; the gay boy looking for love online and the girl who could help make it happen. Each story in this unforgettable collection teaches us that relationships are complicated-because there are two sides to every story. 

by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
9780062121660, It Books (HarperCollins), $14.99

Because this sounds wonderful and looks adorable.

HitRECord’s collaborative coalition of artists and writers are making history with The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, a collection of innovative crowd-sourced creative projects that pushes the limits of originality, cooperation, imagination, and inspiration. HitRECord, a grassroots creative collective founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, known worldwide for his performances in (500) Days of Summer and Inception, is a forum where thousands of artists worldwide share work and contribute to their peers’ projects in writing, music, videos, illustration, and beyond. Alongside Dean Haspiel’s ACT-I-VATE, a groundbreaking comics collective, and the photographer JR’s Inside Out Project, hitRECord is a haven for budding creatives. Now, the collective has edited together its most promising stories and illustrations to serve as its face in introducing the world to a new generation of talent, in The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories. 

10. I'm leaving this one open-ended and hoping that someone actually does give me a book for the holidays this year, as that rarely happens, for some very odd and unknown reason. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Dec 19, 2011

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a meme hosted by
The Story Siren.
This week, I received:

 I Dreamt I Was in Heaven: The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang
by Leonce Gaiter
9780615490106, Legba Books, $10.99

Judge Isaac C. Parker's judicial tyranny over the entire 74,000-square-mile Indian Territory was coming to an end. Against this background, the multi-racial, teenaged Rufus Buck Gang--the last and most notorious of the Indian Territory badmen--embarked on their vicious, childish, and deadly 13-day rampage that shocked even this lawless land.

Thank you, Mr. Gaiter, for sending me a copy!

This week, I bought:

A Game of Thrones: Book 1: A Song of Ice and Fire
by George R. R. Martin
9780553386790, Bantam (Random House), $17.00

Figured it was about time to see what all the fuss is about:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

This week, I borrowed from the library:

Down These Strange Streets
edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
9780441020744, Ace Hardcover (Penguin), $26.95

In this all-new collection of urban fantasy stories, editors George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois explore the places where mystery waits at the end of every alley and where the things that go bump in the night have something to fear...
Includes stories by New York Times bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Diana Gabaldon, Simon R. Green, S. M. Stirling, and Carrie Vaughn, as well as tales by Glen Cook, Bradley Denton, M.L.N. Hanover, Conn Iggulden, Laurie R. King, Joe R. Lansdale, John Maddox Roberts, Steven Saylor, Melinda Snodgrass, and Lisa Tuttle.

I think this book wins the "busiest cover design" award. Just sayin'.

by Allyson James
9780425234693, Berkley (Penguin), $7.99

Janet Begay is a Stormwalker, capable of wielding the raw elemental power of nature, a power that threatens to overwhelm her. Only her lover, Mick, is able to calm the storm within her-even as their passion reaches unimaginable heights of ecstasy. But when an Arizona police chief's daughter is taken by a paranormal evil, they find themselves venturing where no human can survive-for only together can they overcome the greatest danger they've ever faced.

In my attempt to read more books featuring Native American characters, I stumbled across this series. I'm sure it's going to be well-researched and historically accurate (*cough*sarcasm*cough*), but I'm looking forward to it anyway.

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon
9780446574464, Grand Central Publishing, $24.99

Quietly enthralling. That's the first thing that comes to mind when trying to describe this book. The basic facts - the lives of 4 people interwoven over a period of 40 years - don't do justice to the elegant and simple way this novel unfolds and lays out the complexities of the plot. Rachel Simon exhibits true mastery in how her writing jumps from time, place, and point-of-view to paint a complete picture using pivotal moments, and her writing is lovely to boot: "What is the history of the word for 'child'? What is the future of the word for 'mine'?" (pg. 154).

The story begins on the doorstep of Martha's farmhouse in the late 1960s. A retired schoolteacher and longtime widow, Martha leads a simple life, her social life consisting of writing and receiving letters from her former students and hosting a yearly holiday party. When a deaf black man and a mentally-ill white woman show up on her doorstep with a newborn, Martha barely has time to feed them and clothe them before officials from the State School for the Incurable and Feeble-Minded knock on her door. Without really understanding what is happening, Martha lets the men in and they search her home to find Lynnie, the woman, hiding in a back bedroom. There is no sign of Homan, the man, and the officials apparently don't know to look for the baby. As Lynnie passes Martha, while being dragged from the house, Lynnie manages to whisper, "Hide her," and so Martha does. For the next 14 years, Martha will dedicate herself to the care, feeding, protecting, and loving of the baby, Beautiful Girl, Julia.

Meanwhile, Lynnie is brought back to the School, where she must endure the derision of the guards, and inattention of the doctors, and the loss of both Beautiful Girl and Homan. Not everything is horrible, however, and with the help of her friends - Doreen, a fellow "inmate" at the school, and Kate, a school employee - Lynnie is able to use her artistic ability to draw pictures depicting her escape, her return, and continue with drawing her life after. Over time, conditions at the School improve, Lynnie's own mind and abilities improve, and she is able to work on learning to speak, learning to communicate, and learning to take care of herself within assisted environments, ultimately speaking up in favor of legislation that would close all schools like the one she grew up in. Yet, despite her personal growth, she is constant in her memory of Homan and her baby.

Homan, deaf, scared, unable to communicate as no one understands his signs, he can't understand American Sign Language, nor can he read lips, runs from one situation to another - some of them bad, some of them good - but most of them taking him farther and farther away from Lynnie and Beautiful Girl. For a long time, he keeps the thought of returning to the School at the forefront of his mind, but it's the 60s, and then the 70s, and the introduction of smoking pot into his life makes it easy for him to live more complacently with people and in situations that don't push him to continue toward his goal. After many years of living an almost apathetic existence, crossing paths with someone from his past will bring about a change in him that has him looking toward a brighter future.

Ignorant of the circumstances of her birth, Julia has only known her grandmother Matilda (Martha) and the various aunts and uncles (Martha's former students) that have given them food and shelter over the years. It isn't until Julia hits her teen years that she begins to question, she begins to rebel, and Martha faces the tough decision of what and how much and when to tell Julia the truth of her birth.

Forty years brings about a lot of change in the world, and in the people involved, but certain constants - like love, and sacrifice, and caring for others as part of human nature - weave a positive thread throughout the opposition all four main characters face. The final scenes provide a clever glimpse into the future beyond the book without wrapping things up too carefully, so that Lynnie, Homan, Julia, and even Martha live on inside the reader long past the final page.

Dec 16, 2011

Friday Round-Up

Each week I round-up all the (mostly book-related) articles/blog posts/book reviews/websites/videos that entertained me during the week. Enjoy!


Publishing Perspectives talks about transmedia (no, not media about trans folks, publishing across platforms), as in what is it, who should use it, and when.

The Guardian hosts a series in conjunction with Hive Network that allows the average customer to ask hard-hitting book industry questions of independent booksellers. Fantastic, and so much to read through/listen to.

Flavorwire article of the week: "10 Awesome Books to Give Your Nonreading Friends"

The Casual Optimist publishes his "Favourite Covers of 2010" in preparation for a later post about his favorites for 2011.

Too beautiful to pass up, the 2nd Flavorwire article of the week: "15 Gorgeous Book Cover Redesigns"


Cheating a bit with this, as it's not even remotely book-related, but it was too funny to not share. Besides, it's my blog and I'll post about maps if I want to. :)

Children's Books

Publisher's Weekly covers the conversation between four picture book authors who discuss writing funny.


I will never, Ever, EVER get tired of looking at lists like this: "The 25 Most Beautiful College Libraries in the World"


Books Set In... is a fantastic website where you can find books, wait for it, set in specific countries! Super helpful for the "Around the World in 12 Books Challenge" I'm participating in in 2012.

Dec 15, 2011

Fall 2011 Picture Book Highlights: Candlewick Press

Previously in my capacity as Children's Department Manager for the Odyssey Book Shop, I had the opportunity to look over publisher's catalogues at the new books for each season. I was lucky enough to get my hands on some Fall 2011 catalogues, so decided to revive my seasonal picture book highlights series.

Disclaimer: I have not seen these books with my own eyes. So, these books have been chosen based on my knowledge of the author and/or illustrator's previous work, the catalogue description, and my own personal taste.

King Hugo's Huge Ego
by Chris Van Dusen
9780763650049, $16.99

From a master of visual comedy comes the royally satisfying tale of a head swollen out of proportion and a blowhard brought down to earth.

Hugo is a tiny king with a very large ego. But when he mistreats a villager who also happens to be a sorceress, the spell she casts causes his head to literally swell. The more he boasts, the bigger it gets, until it finally topples the mini monarch right off his castle! Who will cut this royal pain down to size? And, more important, will anyone live happily ever after? Chris Van Dusen’s hilarious story is matched only by his outrageous illustrations. Together, they make for a picture book that is sometimes fairy tale, sometimes cautionary tale, and always laugh-out loud funny.

Naamah and the Ark at Night
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade
9780763642426, $16.99

As Noah’s wife sings the animals to sleep, an age-old tale is told afresh in a soothing poetic form brought to life with beautiful collage illustrations.

Naamah is the wife of Noah, and her name means "great singer." For forty days and forty nights, as the ark tosses on storm-wracked seas, Naamah sings. She sings to the animals, two by two. She sings to her husband, her sons, and their wives. She sings, and they all sleep, finally at peace. Acclaimed author Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s rhythmic, lyrical text pairs with Caldecott Honor winner Holly Meade’s luminous collage for a cozy, tender lullaby, and an ode to the power of song.

Chilly Milly Moo
by Fiona Ross
9780763656935, $15.99

As a quirky cow discovers, when life gives you a penchant for cold, make . . . something delicious! A comical ode to individuality from a new talent.

Milly Moo wants only one thing: to churn out the finest, tastiest, creamiest milk around. But there's just one problem. She's always too hot! While all the other cows snicker and bask in the sun, Milly Moo's milk bucket keeps coming up empty. Nada! Zilch! Just when she's sure that the farmer will banish her, Milly Moo wakes to a freezing cold morning. It's her last chance! Will the icy temperature help her make the special milk product she dreams of? With slyly humorous illustrations and a fun final twist, this treat from Fiona Ross will have children begging for second helpings.

The Sniffles for Bear
by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
9780763647568, $16.99

The relentlessly cheery Mouse pushes a cold-suffering Bear to new heights of melodrama in a hilarious new adventure starring the unlikely pair.

Bear has a terrible cold. In fact, Bear is quite sure that no one has ever been as sick as he is. So when Mouse comes tap, tap, tapping on his front door eager to make Bear "as good as new" by reading a sunny story, singing a rousing chorus and plinking a twangy tune on her banjo, the pitifully coughing Bear - growing weaker by the minute - is convinced that his tiny friend does not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Can there be any saving Bear from his certain demise? Welcome the world's most lovable curmudgeon and his endearing, unstoppable sidekick in a wry new comedy sure to have even red-eyed, sniffly-nosed readers rolling with laughter.

Tales from India: Stories of Creation and the Cosmos
by Jamila Gavin, illustrated by Amanda Hall
9780763655648, $19.99

Discover a world of classic tales from India. Come on a journey with renowned storyteller Jamila Gavin as she writes of great floods, legendary romances, and epic battles between good and evil. This new collection of Hindu tales, including the birth of the gods, tales of creation, and the arrival of humans, is illuminated by Amanda Hall's exquisite artwork, which reflects the influence of both classical and contemporary Indian art.

Paul Thurlby's Alphabet
by Paul Thurlby
9780763655655, $16.99

You know I can't resist an alphabet book, so obviously I had to include this one on the list.

In his first picture book, graphic artist Paul Thurlby presents a stunning alphabet that helps to make the shape of each letter memorable. From an awesome A to a zippy Z, this is the perfect ABC book for the young and hip.

Around the World
by Matt Phelan
9780763636197, $24.99

Cheating just a bit here, with a historical graphic novel illustrated in the muted color palate with bursts of light that is so characteristic of Matt Phelan's work. A Scott O'Dell Award-winning graphic novelist follows three dauntless adventurers on a Jules Verne-inspired challenge: circling the world, solo!

As the nineteenth century wound down, a public inspired by the novel Around the World in Eighty Days clamored for intrepid adventure. The challenge of circumnavigating the globe as no one ever had before--a feat assuring fame if not fortune--attracted the fearless in droves. Three hardy spirits stayed the course: In 1884, former miner Thomas Stevens made the journey on a bicycle, the kind with a big front wheel. In 1889, pioneer reporter Nellie Bly embarked on a global race against time that assumed the heights of spectacle, ushering in the age of the American celebrity. And in 1895, retired sea captain Joshua Slocum quietly set sail on a thirty-six-foot sloop, braving pirates and treacherous seas to become the first person to sail around the world alone. With cinematic pacing and deft, expressive art, acclaimed graphic novelist Matt Phelan weaves a trio of epic journeys into a single bold tale of three visionaries who set their sights on nothing short of the world.

Dec 14, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Waiting on Wednesday (WoW) is a weekly meme hosted by

My posts about adult literary fiction are here:
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

My posts about my guilty pleasure reading (romantic, often paranormal, novels) can be found here:

My posts about YA/teen titles are here:

My posts about middle grade titles are here:

And now for today's:
Born Wicked, The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book 1
by Jessica Spotswood
9780399257452, Penguin, $17.99
Pub. Date: February 2012
"A Great and Terrible Beauty meets Cassandra Clare in this spellbinding fantasy."
Uh, yes please! Here's the rest of the publisher description:
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.

Dec 13, 2011

Top Ten Books I Want to Give as Gifts

The Broke and the Bookish, a brilliant book blog, 
hosts a weekly top ten list meme.

I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:

Top Ten Books I Want to Give as Gifts 

My parents are heading back to Brazil for the holidays, and I've chosen some vacation reading for them.

For my mother: a literary mystery:

1. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia deLuce Mystery #1
by Alan Bradley

Particularly because my mother loves science, history, and nothing too gruesome, this is the perfect blend of chemistry, post-WWII-history, and quizzical who-dunnit to keep her enthralled on the long flight. And, if she likes it, there are several more in the series to give her. My review:

Flavia De Luce could easily be the criminal mastermind of post-World War II Britain, despite being only 11 year's old. She's fascinated by all things chemistry, but especially the chemical properties of poisons. When a red-headed midnight visitor to her father is discovered dead in the cucumber patch below her bedroom window, Falvia sets out to solve the mystery of the stranger's death - partially to prove her father's innocence (he's been charged with the murder), and partially because she's fixated on the mysterious death and wants to unearth the chemical properties that might have caused it. Despite of (or with the help of?) the Inspector in charge of the investigation, Flavia manages to make her way around the English countryside with the help of her trusty bicycle Gladys. Searching people's rooms, breaking into the library archives, investigating her father's old boarding school, no place is off-limits to the insatiable curiousity of Flavia. And wouldn't you know it - by the end, murder solved.

For my father: a book in two languages:

by Jorge Amado

My father actually requested this, so I can't take credit, but I am giving him a copy of this book in both Brazilian Portuguese and its English translation. I hope to pick up a copy of this myself, as it sounds like an intriguing story: 

Ilhéus in 1925 is a booming town with a record cacao crop and aspirations for progress, but the traditional ways prevail. When Colonel Mendonça discovers his wife in bed with a lover, he shoots and kills them both. Political contests, too, can be settled by gunshot...
No one imagines that a bedraggled migrant worker who turns up in town–least of all Gabriela herself–will be the agent of change. Nacib Saad has just lost the cook at his popular café and in desperation hires Gabriela. To his surprise she turns out to be a great beauty as well as a wonderful cook and an enchanting boon to his business. But what would people say if Nacib were to marry her?
Lusty, satirical and full of intrigue, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a vastly entertaining panorama of small town Brazilian life.

Sometimes you see the perfect book for someone you will probably never give a gift to:

For an ex, with whom I shared a fondness for baseball:

3. Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure
by Craig Robinson, introduction by Rob Neyer

How many miles does a baseball team travel in one season?
How tall would A-Rod's annual salary be in pennies?
What does Nolan Ryan have to do with the Supremes and Mariah Carey?
You might never have asked yourself any of these questions, but Craig Robinson's Flip Flop Fly Ball will make you glad to know the answers.
Baseball, almost from the first moment Robinson saw it, was more than a sport. It was history, a nearly infinite ocean of information that begged to be organized. He realized that understanding the game, which he fell in love with as an adult, would never be possible just through watching games and reading articles. He turned his obsession into a dizzyingly entertaining collection of graphics that turned into an Internet sensation.
Out of Robinson's Web site,, grew this book, full of all-new, never-before-seen graphics. Flip Flop Fly Ball dives into the game's history, its rivalries and absurdities, its cities and ballparks, and brings them to life through 120 full-color graphics. Statistics-the sport's lingua franca-have never been more fun.
(By the way, the answers: about 26,000 miles, at least if the team in question is the 2008 Kansas City Royals; 3,178 miles; they were the artists atop the Billboard Hot 100 when Ryan first and last appeared in MLB games.)

For the boyfriend of a friend of mine who builds his own bikes:

4. Italian Racing Bicycles: The People, the Products, the Passion
by Guido P. Rubino

There are bicycles. And then there are Italian bicycles. As with high fashion or sports cars, when the world speaks of racing bicycles the conversation soon turns to Italy. Seasoned cyclists know that an Italian bicycle is more intimately yours, a more personal possession, than a bicycle of other origin. Italian bicycles are built to race with passion, and to win.
Italian Racing Bicycles traces the rich history of 40 landmark brands intimately connected with racing. Not surprisingly, the brands have deep roots, some tracing their lineage back more than 100 years to the early days of the velocipede. They also share a hunger for advanced technology, pushing engineering to new heights with exotic metal alloys, elaborate weaves of expensive carbon fiber, and aerodynamic studies that help their bikes and riders cheat the wind for greater speed.
Beyond these commonalities, though, the stories diverge. The restless inquisitiveness of Ernesto Colnago could not be more different from the methodical calm of Ugo De Rosa, for example, and yet these two iconic frame builders contributed immeasurably to the racing victories of the great Eddy Merckx. The passion for experimentation of Pinarello, the brazen creativity of Cinelli, the barrier-bursting hour machine of Moser—in search of racing victories, the volcanic inspiration of Italian artisans has repeatedly reshaped the dynamics of cycling.
Melding painstaking historical research with personal visits to each artist’s workshop, author Guido P. Rubino has unearthed the stories, the methods, the dreams, and the personalities of these cycling firms, large and small, that have contributed so fundamentally to the glory of the sport.

Moving on to books I would love to give but don't have specific recipients yet:

5. The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon

Just finished reading this one, hope to have my review up soon, but it's a beautiful love story that spans 40 years and four lives and despite the ups-and-downs, manages to have a happy ending:

It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia - lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

6. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman

This is my favorite book to give a kindred spirit reader in my life. Unfortunately, I've given it to everyone like that in my life already. Maybe in 2012 I'll meet someone new to share it with?

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's 22-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony--Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

Switching it up, the last books on my list are the favorite books I've received as gifts:

7. A Girl of the Limberlost
by Gene Stratton Porter

It was 1997. I had just won the Junior Bookworm Award at Girl's Inc. in Southern Indiana, and the woman who ran the program, Elaine, was a bit like a second mother to me. She hand-chose A Girl of the Limberlost for me, starting me on a life-long love affair with Gene Stratton Porter's books. 

Set amid Indiana's vast Limberlost Swamp, this treasured children's classic mixes astute observations on nature with the struggles of growing up in the early 20th century. Harassed by her mother and scorned by her peers, Elnora Comstock finds solace in natural beauty -- along with friendship, independence, and romance.

8. Letters from an Age of Reason
by Nora Hague

Thank you, thank you to my BFF for handing me this book. Several hundred pages, two continents, and a sweeping love story immersed in Civil War-era history later, 3/4ths of this book was impossible to put down. I immediately bought my sister a copy to pass on the favor.

Complex and sophisticated, sensuous and sexy, Nora Hague's eloquent debut novel, Letters from an Age of Reason, is set amid two historical hotbeds of racial tension, moral hypocrisy, and shifting sexual convention. The years in question are the tumultuous '60s - the 186os. And the landscapes are those of the Civil War-era United States and Victorian England.
Miss Arabella Leeds, the teenage daughter of a prominent New York family, and Aubrey Paxton, the pampered "high-yellow" house servant of wealthy New Orleans slaveholders, are destined to meet and fall in love. But before their paths can cross, and their romance commences in London, each must forsake complacency and comfort, the familial and familiar, for a journey toward self-discovery and the allure of the forbidden. Arabella must abandon the gentlewoman's prescribed path and redefine her convictions - particularly those regarding her own sexuality - while Aubrey must acknowledge within himself a growing awareness of race and gender politics, and his place in a culture determined to ostracize him.
The pair make their unknowing way toward each other, encountering en route high adventure, erotic awakening, long-buried family secrets, and the racy underpinnings of corseted nineteenth-century society. Coincidence and correspondence steer them into the company of morphine addicts and occult practitioners, proto-feminists and sexual outcasts, glib aristocracy and dire poverty. But for Aubrey and Arabella, the greatest challenge will lie in their passion for each other, which places them forever outside the mores and conventions of their time.
A romantic adventure rich with vivacity, humor, and historical detail, Letters from an Age of Reason is a beautifully tapestried tour-de-force whose exceptional depth, passion, and power are sure to resonate long after the final page is turned.

9. The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss

A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness.Leo Gursky is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But life wasn't always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn't know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories.This extraordinary book was inspired by the author's four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power.

10. The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant. An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.