Monday, November 30, 2009

Are You My Newbery?

Some of you know that I've been working with two book clubs as we try to determine what the ALA committee will pick as the January 2010 Newbery Award winner. Last year I not only hadn't read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I hadn't heard of it! This year, I'm determined not to have that happen. So we've scoured review lists looking for books that have received starred reviews or have received a lot of buzz. They can also be books that were put out by established authors. We ahave to be sure the author meets the ALA residency requirements and the books haven't been published somewhere before. The books also have to be published in 2009.

This experience has exposed me to a lot of good reads that I may have missed and I'm on the hunt until The Newbery's are announced on January 18, 2010. That's only 47 days! I've read 32 books so far and have about 60 more I want to read.

So, for the next 47 days I will be hijacking The Brain Lair. I'll make frequent but short posts to keep you updated on how my search is going.

Here's the list as it stands today - KBNewlist - if you think there are titles I'm missing let me know. If you want to find your own Newbery let me know and I'll link to your post.

Happy Reading!

Other Newbery Finders
Goodreads Mock Newbery 2010 group (thx for pic!)
Eva Perry Mock Newbery
ACPL Mock Newbery (i'm registered to attend their meeting which is right after my last Teacher Mock Newbery club meeting)
SJCPL Mock Newbery (I get to help out with this one. We are skyping with Jacqueline Kelly on December 10th!)

My Mock Newbery 2010 Guesses
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
When The Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
SLOB by Ellen Potter
Neil Armstrong is My Uncle by Nan Marino
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review - Joey Fly, Private Eye by Aaron Reynolds

JoeyFlyJoey Fly, Private Eye: Creepy Crawly Crime
Aaron Reynolds
Henry Holt and Company
96 p. (author supplied)

Joey Fly attempts to solve the mystery of the missing pencil box with the help of his un-helpful sidekick, Sammy Stingtail.

Neil Numberman illustrates this graphic novel in an eye-catching way: monochromatic coloring. This gives the book an old-fashioned feel - fitting in with the story of an old time private eye, very film noir-ish. I loved it. At the end of the book there's a list of 16 things readers can find throughout the book. A very nice touch!

My Thoughts
Joey Fly is funny in a Sam Spade-ish way: snappy one-liners and lots of wordplay. The story moves quickly. Joey hires an assistant, gets a client and goes about teaching Sammy all the rules of being a detective. Along the way, we are able to fit the pieces together, just as Joey and Sammy are solving the crime. I thought there was just enough bug humor to be funny but not tiring.

Since the characters are bugs, you can't really get to know them. But Numberman's drawings were able to portray a little sense of each bug. Joey was stern but soft-hearted and you could see that in the shape of his eyes. Sammy's eyes made him look like he would get in trouble as soon as you turned your back on him and he does. Each of the women in the story, Delilah, Gloria, and Flittany, had eyes and body shapes that mimicked their character traits. I thought Numberman did a good job of matching the drawings to the story.

I would give Joey Fly 3 copies. It would work with some of my younger students or for students to read when they visit the elementary school. We use Don't Feed the Bully for our 6th grade anti-bullying program and I think this book would be a good follow-up novel for some of the students because they use a similar humor style. There's also a teacher's guide!

About the Author and Illustrator
areynoldsAaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of Chicks and Salsa, Superhero School, Buffalo Wings, and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels. Visit him at his website at
Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye is his first graphic novel, but he is also the author/illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein. Stop by his website at

Joey Fly Book Trailer

Fun with Joey and Sammy
Joey and Sammy are on Twitter! Click the pictures to follow them!

Would you like to know how a Graphic Novel is made?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review - Soccer Sabotage by Liam O'Donnell

Soccer Sabotage
Liam O'Donnell
Orca Book Publishers
unpaged, Graphic Novel (LibraryThing)

Devin is the water boy for an all-girls soccer team. With the assistance of Stewart, the coach's son, he attempts to solve the mystery of who pushed Coach down the stairs and who is now trying to ruin their team's chances at the championship.

This graphic novel has great coloring. The illustrations are vivid with fluid lines that give the sense that the players are actually in action. The book also has soccer tips interspersed with the story. To distinguish the tips from the story they are enclosed in rectangular boxes that have a picture of the coach's head.

My Thoughts
Soccer Sabotage is great for soccer fans who want a little story with tips. I found the story was predictable and some parts left me with questions. How did the soccer team, who are all under the age of 18, get to and from the hospital and other places without their coach? Who took care of Stewart while his dad was in the hospital? Why did the other girls suddenly start following Nadia when they disliked her so much?

Although I enjoyed the artwork, I felt the story was lacking. It might work for students who don't really enjoy reading all that much. This would be a good way to keep them entertained. I also think that the tips and information were well integrated into the book. They weren't at all intrusive. Using the differently shaped boxes would help readers who need text support to follow along.

I'll get 2 copies to see if I can find an audience. If it works out, I'll invest in the next book in the series and see what else O'Donnell produces.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Challenges Can Be Challenging and More to Read- November 22, 2009

extra creditChallenges
I have one month left to read but I also have my Mock Newbery books to read so my plan is to finish the DystopYA challenge and the 50 Books challenge since each of them only require me to read one book. I will rejoin the Diversity Challenge in 2010 and that's it. I plan on doing some sort of Mock Printz 2011 club so I'm thinking of focusing on that beginning in February and possibly doing some Steampunk... and of course I will try to review more in 2010.

Recently, over at twitter, I asked What's the best book you've read so far this year? I'm looking for awe and beauty and joy and sorrow and thought-provokingness. Here are the answers - I'll be adding the ones I haven't read to my Christmas break reading list!

stephxsu @thebrainlair Wow, tough question. One of my favorites was ASH by Malinda Lo. Also loved FIRE by Kristin Cashore.

Miss_Tammy @thebrainlair I adored LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor. As soon as I was done I wanted to start over again.

thebookcellarx @thebrainlair Definitely Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

cindypon @thebrainlair i loved eyes like stars by @lisamantchev flash burnout by @lkmadigan king of attolia by megan whalen turner

vasilly @thebrainlair August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. It's like reading a soap opera but way better.

@thebrainlair Best book of the year for me: A tie between The Book Thief, Someone Knows my Name, Chains!

MaryAnnScheuer @thebrainlair have you tried Lips Touch by Laini Taylor? I am so gripped (with wonderment and fascination) by the stories.

@thebrainlair Best book so far this year - Paper Towns by John Green. Loved it. Now making students read it and they're loving it too.

@thebrainlair How to Say Goodbye in Robot is one of my favs of the year.

@thebrainlair Couple more The Hate List/Brown, Ash/Lo, Twenty Boy Summer/Ockler, Beautiful Place to Die/Nunn

Have you read any of these? Do you have any other suggestions? I've read the ones in bold so you see I have some reading to do and I cannot wait. Makes me look forward to the holidays even more!

Newbery Update (as of 11/22/09)
We are counting down the days until the Newbery award is announced in January. I'm hoping they tweet the announcements again this year.

Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman
Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari
Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon
Mother Poems by Hope Anita Smith
Heart of A Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle

I'm going to be reading like crazy for the next two months. Luckily, I have some time over the holidays. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog Tour - Thirsty by Tracey Bateman

ThirstyThirsty: A Novel
Tracey Bateman
Waterbrook/Random House
376 p. (PB, discussion questions)

Nina emerges from rehab and decides she needs to start over. She heads home to Missouri dragging her daughter Meg behind her. She meets Markus, her sister's gorgeous neighbor, re-unites with her parents, and finds out all she believes is a lie. Of course.

My Thoughts
Thirsty is about more than being drunk. It's about self-control, overcoming demons, and finding there may be a higher power after all.

Tracey Bateman's novel builds slowly but not boringly. Each chapter has an italized little forward that sounds like we're reading Nina's diary. It's a nice way to get the character's thoughts without clogging up the story. I thought the intros gave an insight into Nina's behavior and helped us see how she got to where she was. Having Markus tell her the legend of the vampire was, while not new, a good way to get the reader info about him. I wanted to know more about Meg, Nina's daughter. We get a glimpse into her personality but only in relation to Nina. She was starting to step out on her own and I would like to see how she battle her own demons.

Bateman doesn't bring God fully into the story until almost the end. Thirsty isn't overly religious. We know Nina is waiting for God to make a move in her life and that foreshadowing gives us a sense of mystery and suspense because something has to happen! The murders in the small town continue; leading closer and closer to home.

The end wrapped up neater and quicker than I liked. Nina made amends and the murder case was solved with a sense of finality.

I thought Thirsty was well-written and solid. The pacing was perfect for the story and Bateman introduced another aspect of vampire lore that makes things more interesting. Although it has some vampire touches Thirsty deals more with Nina and I hope Bateman continues with stories of Meg.

About the Author
TraceyBatemanTracey Bateman is a slightly neurotic mother of four, wife of one, and owner of three dogs, two blue bloods and one mutt (the mutt is the only one who will come to her when called). Lifetime movies, chunky monkey ice cream, and frantic late night Instant message chats with friends, who are only slightly less neurotic, keep her moving forward when deadlines loom and insanity is nipping at the heels of her mind. Being president of American Christian Fiction Writers gives her the chance to give back to a community of writers who have helped shape her career and her writing style.

As a kid, Tracey whiled away the hours with such treasures as Trixie Belden, Bobbsey Twins, The Pam and Penny Books and any other books by Rosamund du Jardin. These are still favorite reads to this day. Favorite authors include Kristin Billerbeck, Francine Rivers, Susan May Warren, Karen Kingsbury, Shelley Bates, and Deborah Bedford.

More reviews
Books, Movies, Chinese Food rvw Thirsty by Tracey Bateman
My Friend Amy's rvw Thirsty by Tracey Bateman
All About {n} rvw of Thirsty by Tracey Bateman
Books, Movies, Reviews, Oh My rvw Thirsty by Tracey Bateman

Touched by a Vampire

Touched by a Vampire examines the Twilight Saga by comparing what happens in the book with what the Bible says. Although many parts of the book were simplistic I was able to glean some useful information. Most of the interesting questions were focused on Bella and Edwards relationship which I'd already found unhealthy. It was nice to see how that parlayed into religion.

Do you want to read Thirsty yourself? How about Touched By A Vampire? I'm giving away both of them to one lucky commenter.

Just leave a comment with your email address. Open to US residents only. 1 entry per person. Contest closes
Thursday, December 3, 2009, 11:59 pm.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review - The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon

The Rock and The River
Kekla Magoon
283 p. (HC, author notes)

13 year-old Sam is caught between his father, a nonviolent Martin Luther King, Jr. supporter and his brother Stick, and 18 year-old member of the Black Panthers.

Sam relays events that lead up to and follow the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the beating of Stick's friend, Bucky. He tells how these events affected someone who was connected to diametric factions that ultimately really wanted the same things.

My Thoughts
In the beginning, I had a little trouble getting into The Rock and The River. The voice was uneven, wavering between an adolescent and an adult sound. But as I continued reading, I realized that a 13 year-old IS wavering between those worlds. Just like Sam. As Sam learns more about the Civil Rights Movement, the voice starts settling and I "hear" more of him. The pace of the story moves quickly. We are instantly into the action and then pulled back and then back into the action. Sam wants a girlfriend and he wants his dad and his brother to stop fighting. He wants to stop having to choose between them.

Sam's brother Stick's voice was harder to get into. Of course, we only know of him through Sam. We know what Sam knows about Stick. And that's the part of Stick's life that affects him. Stick wants change, he wants his dad to take him seriously, he wants to make his own choices.

"It's the rock and the river, you know? They serve each other, but they're not the same thing." (233)

The Rock and The River was all about choices: how they affect everything - whether you choose to do something or do nothing. Choose to demonstrate, ride the bus, drink from that fountain, go down that particular street, sit at that store's counter, say yes sir or yes ma'am, answer to girl or boy - no matter your age, fight, resist, sing, cry...these are just a few of the choices that had to be made. Some are still being made.

The Rock and The River will grab you. I liked how Magoon showed the nonviolent movement as well as the Black Panther movement without too much romanticizing of either. I thought the emotions were true and the characters, especially Sam, believable. I look forward to sharing this one. 4 copies.

Other Reviews
Fuse 8s rvw of The Rock and The River
Color Online's rvw of The Rock and The River
TheHappyNappyBookseller's rvw of The Rock and The River

Blog Tour - Now and Then by Jacqueline Sheehan

Now and Then
Jacqueline Sheehan
384 pgs. (author info)

Anna's brother, Patrick, gets into a car accident on his way to pick up his errant son, Joseph. Patrick is now on life support so Anna is volunteered to retrieve Joseph from jail. Later, Anna is awakened by some weird sounds which turn out to be Joseph going through her luggage. This leads to an unexpected trip for them both. In Ireland. 164 years in the past...

My Thoughts
Now and Then starts off slowly but soon the voices of the characters take on a life their own and you find yourself transported into the past and lost in the story, just like Joseph and Anna.

The writing is a little formal at first, beautiful, but stilted.

"She did not want to be the dreadful price that the present owners had to endure."

"Time bent and folded like a piece of string looped around a stick."

I think this is done to show how formal Anna has become since her divorce because the language changes as the story progresses. Once Anne and Joseph are transported to Ireland, 164 yrs in the past (interesting #), things start to pick up.

I found the two major characters believable and likable. Joseph, the 16 year-old, crushed by being an outsider at school and pushed away by his single-dad father longs for love and acceptance and is not sure how far he will have to go to find them. Anna, desperately wondering why she is always the one left behind hopes to find herself again and escape from the fog her life has become.

I thoroughly enjoyed Now and Then. Once you're in the story, you're in it till the end. The action is fast, without being rushed, and although parts of story were predictable, you never felt like you had all the answers.

About the Author

Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a fiction writer and essayist. She is a New Englander through and through, but spent twenty years living in the western states of Oregon, California, and New Mexico doing a variety of things, including house painting, freelance photography, newspaper writing, roofing, clerking in a health food store, and directing a traveling troupe of high-school puppeteers.

Her first novel, Truth, was published in 2003 by Free Press (Simon & Schuster). Her second novel, Lost & Found, was published in 2007 by Avon (HarperCollins). She has published travel articles (”Winter in Soviet Georgia”), short stories (most recently in the Berkshire Review), and numerous essays and radio pieces. In 2005, she was the editor of the anthology Women Writing in Prison. This anthology is the culmination of eight years of writing workshops sponsored by Voices from Inside, an advocacy group for incarcerated women.

Jacqueline currently offers international writing and yoga retreats and teaches writing at Writers in Progress and Grub Street in Boston. She is working on her next novel that will be published by Avon.

Tour dates
Monday, November 23rd: Stephanie’s Written Word

Monday, November 30th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Tuesday, December 1st: The Tome Traveller

Jacqueline on the internets
Jacqueline Sheehan
Jacqueline Sheehan's HarperCollins page

Book provided by TLC Book Blog Tours and the publishers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review - Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari

borntoflyBorn To Fly
Michael Ferrari
Delacorte Press
224 p. (lib)

All of her life, Bird has wanted to fly. Her dad has been very encouraging and teaches her quite a lot about flying. He gets called as a fighter pilot during the war (WWII) and Bird is left to try and fit in with the other town children, who all think she is weird.

My Thoughts
Although Born to Fly is a WWII novel it focuses on another aspect of the war. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Kenji, a displaced Japanese American, joins Bird's school where he is immediately the outcast. The two loners don't get along until they are forced to evade the town bully. They hang out and discover that evil forces are at work in the town. Kenji and his uncle are put on trial and only Bird can save him. But if she saves Kenji she puts her family in danger. What choice does she have?

Michael Ferrari captures the voice of a young girl and makes her sound believable. I thought the story moved quickly and the ending wrapped things up nicely but it wasn't too overdone. 4 copies.

Review - Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman

dreamstealerDream Stealer
Sid Fleischman
Greenwillow Books
96 pg. (lib)

Susana is having a great dream about her best friend who's moved away when the dream suddenly disappears and she wakes up. She finds out about the dream stealer and she's determined to track him down and get her dream back.

My Thoughts
The Dream Stealer has one of the most un-appealing covers I've seen in a while. I was determined not to judge a book by it's cover and decidedly opened the book. Unfortunately, the cover reflected the story for me, appealing.

The story centers around Susana who, after losing her dream, finds out through family members that someone takes children's nightmares. But she wasn't having a nightmare and she wants her dream back - it's the closest she's been to her friend in weeks. She tricks the dream stealer into revealing himself and taking her back to his castle where she has to fight off giants and turn lightning bugs back into dreams.

Fleischman "tells" the reader this story as if he's sitting across from us. This supposedly pulls us into the story and keeps us waiting to see what will happen to Susana. I was not intrigued but it might be a good one to read aloud.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blog Tour - Limelight by Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson
376 pgs (pub supplied)

Claudette is 82 years old and feeling every day of it. The IRS has taken all she had leaving her destitute and depressed. Claudette has to go home and try to start over and she's wondering if it's worth it or would it just be easier to give up.

My Thoughts
Limelight follows Claudette as she tries to convince herself that life is worth living and that it's not all about the money. Claudette finds herself back in her childhood home in Silverton where you can walk to almost any place in town. Claudette does not want to go back to the place she spent so much time trying to escape. She settles in amid many mishaps including a backed up toilet, a broken furnace, and a car that doesn't like cold weather.

Throughout Limelight, I kept reminding myself of Claudette's age. She continually whined about not having money and/or people to do stuff for her. She spent very little time dwelling on the rift between her and her sister, Violet. All the drama and story happened in the last 100 pages of this book. Suddenly, Claudette was reminded of why she left home and she wanted to talk to her sister about it. Claudette also found some old letters that her deceased husband had written to her mother many years ago. She learned things in the letters that she didn't know in over 40 years of marriage.I thought Limelight was slow and somewhat unrealistic. Or, maybe the slow unwinding of the story represented Claudette's reluctance to leave her old life and embrace her new one. I don't know. Or maybe it was realistic and I just need to expand my schema of "elderly women".

I've read several of Melody Carlson's young adult titles including The Chloe and Caitlin books in the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and I'm a huge fan. So, I came into this with pre-conceived notions and found this highly, different book for an entirely different audience. That could just be it. It just wasn't for me.

About the Author
Melody Carlson has published over ninety books for adults, children, and teens, with sales totaling more than two million and many titles appearing on the ECPA Bestsellers List. Several of her books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Gold Medallion and the RITA Award.

Although Limelight was not my cup of tea you might like it. To find out, leave a comment telling me your favorite Christian fiction title for adults and why you like it.
I'll give away my copy of Limelight to one person.

Giveaway ends Thursday, November 12, 2009, 11:59 pm EST

Also, here's an excerpt!
Excerpt, Chapter 1

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Review - Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle

Tropical Secrets
Margarita Engle
Henry Holt Books For Young Readers
198 pgs (Author notes included)

Daniel's parents get enough money together to send him to America to escape the Holocaust. His ship gets turned away from New York and he ends up in Cuba. In Cuba, he meets Paloma and David, two people who help him keep hope alive that one day he will be re-united with his parents.

My Thoughts
Tropical Secrets is a verse novel told in alternating voices. We hear from Daniel, the main character, David, an older refugee, Paloma, a Cuban who tries to help the refugees, and El Gordo, Paloma's father.

Tropical Secrets is historical fiction that takes place over almost three years. We arrive in Cuba with Daniel in June of 1939. He slowly learns to fit in: accepting clothing and food from David and Paloma. David has been in Cuba a long time and sells ice cream while Paloma's father is a crooked official who takes money to let the ships land in Cuba.

The alternating voices were jarring to me. I felt that once I was "into" a character and hearing their voice, the story shifted to someone else and I would have to work my way back into that voice. It was helpful that the speaker's names were listed when they spoke but it was also intrusive because even if the next page was the same speaker, the name was listed again.

The story itself was fascinating. I hadn't realized how many people were turned away from the USA and Canada during the war. Can you imagine if your boat was sent back? Margarita Engle was able to extract some beauty from this tragedy. Here are some lines that resonated with me:

"...there are always the drums of passing footsteps..."

"Joy and truth both have a way of peeking through any dark curtain."

"...the boy lost somewhere between the torment of memory and a few fragile shards of hope."

Overall I found this short tale engaging. It offers another view of the Holocaust which I believe students will want to read. Eighth graders will read Night by Elie Wiesel and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I'll offer this one through book talks. I give it four copies.


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