Monday, September 27, 2010

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella - Review

Mini Shopaholic
Sophie Kinsella
Bantam Press/Random House UK
September 2010

Mini Shopaholic opens with letters from Minnie's playgroup, including one telling Rebecca that there won't be any dress up clothes for adults.  We then move into our very first Minnie vs. Rebecca showdown where she's trying to convince herself that Minnie is NOT difficult and can't have everything she wants.  Rebecca institutes "pocket money" for two-year old Minnie and precedes to give Minnie "advances" so she can learn the value of budgeting.  HA!  Minnie's behavior is so out of control that she gets ousted from her fourth Santa's wonderland type place and they decide to call in "Nanny Sue" the equivalent to our Super Nanny.

In the meantime, The Bank of London crashes and everyone has to cut back. Rebecca has agreed to wear everything in her closet THREE times before she can buy anything new.  And she can't believe some of the things she's bought.  Rebecca also wants to throw Luke a surprise birthday party since he never celebrates but she has to do so on a budget.  She starts planning by going to the pound shop (dollar store here) and getting party invites. Too bad they already have a  name written on them and it's not Luke!

All the while, Becky and Luke are trying to find a house and each one they love falls through for some reason, including having "stolen" bedrooms.  They live with Rebecca's parents, who look forward to the day they move out.  It's gets so out of hand, Becky pretends they find a house and decides they should move out.

It's really difficult to relay the fun, witty tone that runs throughout Shopaholic.   I mean, Becky comes up with this Shop in Private plan that allows women to shop and have their purchases sent home in a computer paper box or delivered to the house at a "suitable specified time (i.e. when no one else is in.)"
"Is this how he thinks a marriage works? With one person knowing a movie star and not telling the other one?"

There are also letters throughout the text that are replies to Becky from a variety of places including the Central Departmental Unit for Money Policy since she keeps trying to give them tips on how to run the country.  I wish I had read the other ones in the series because I really enjoyed this one.  I will look for Kinsella's Undomestic Goddess because that sounds like a lot of fun, too. I recommend this to anyone looking for a good time, with a book.

Thank you to Random House UK for this ARC.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sunday Salon - Mock Newbery Club

I'm running my first student Mock Newbery book club this year.  I went on our school news, WDMS, and directed students to a Google Form on my staff blog.  I have 17 students signed up so far!  I'm so excited.  This will be my second year assisting Kris Springer, Children's Manager, at St Joseph Countly Public Library with her Mock Newbery club and last year I did one with some of the teachers at our school.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this will work.

Since Kris has actually been on the Newbery Committee and has done her club for five years, I'll be running my club very similar to the way she does hers!  I've only changed a few of the main reading selections.  We will meet once a month until December and then twice in January for voting.  

Here are our selections:

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
The Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Keeper by Kathi Appelt
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Saving Sky by Diane Stanley
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata
Scumble by Ingrid Law
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Students read at least 3 books per month and there are more titles on an extras list. Students are encouraged to read as much as possible from all lists! I will try to read ALL of the titles from both the main selections and the extras list.  

Are there any crucial books you think I've missed?  Students can suggest additional titles and I'm asking that you do that too!  Please remember that books had to be published in 2010 and are for children up to ages 14.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I am super excited to announce I will be a second round judge on the Cybils YA Panel!  Yay!! 

What are the Cybils?  It's the Children and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards.  The cool thing about the Cybils is they look for books that have both child appeal and literary merit.  These are the books I KNOW my students will read and enjoy. And so will I!

What Now?
Book nominations will run from October 1 - October 15.
You can nominate one book in each genre.  Books should be published from October 16, 2009 to September 30, 2010. 

What is the best MG and YA books you've read that fit those criteria?

Round 1 judges will be reading like crazy and announce their short list on New Year's Day! Happy New Year, here are some books to read!

Round 2 judges will read those books and announce the winners on Valentine's Day! I Love You and I love these books!

This is truly an honor for me.  I've followed the Cybils longer than I've followed the Newbery or Printz awards! And as a past NF MG/YA panelist, I know how much time and attention these bloggers put into finding the best books! That's one of the reasons they post all the past finalists on the right hand side of the blog, these are the books you want to buy for your library or classroom.  Print out one (or all) of the lists posted in the Cybils right side bar and start shopping! 

Don't forget to nominate some books!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amigas: Fifteen Candles by Veronica Chambers - Review

Amigas: Fifteen Candles
Veronica Chambers
May 2010

Alicia Cruz never had a quinceaneras, the traditional cultural ceremony that many Latinas participate in to celebrate their daughter's becoming fifteen, and therefore, becoming a woman.  Alicia instead chooses to go on a trip with one of her best friends.  As quinceaneras, or quince, season gets underway, Alicia starts to realize all she's missed so when the opportunity to participate vicariously in a quince, by planning one, arises Alicia jumps on it.  She decides to bring her buddies; Gaz the hottie musician, Jamie the designer, and Carmen the cool-setter along for the ride.  With all of their talents, and Alicia's talent for business, there's no way Sarita can have anything less than the fiercest quince in all of South Miami.

As Amigas, Incorportated, Alicia's new business, gets underway, she's determined to keep things running smoothly and decides to combine her internship with her quince planning.  The internship at City Hall is a major coup and will look fantastic on her Harvard application in two years.  She's working in the Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and learning more and more about the city as well as being able to make sure she has the space she needs for Sarita's quince.

As the Amigas get closer to the quince date, Alicia finds it's way more work than she anticipated and she's starting to get overwhelmed.  Also, working with Gaz has uncovered deeper feelings for him than she's ready to admit.  What if he just wants to be friends?  But that's the least of her worries as things start to fall apart on both the internship and Amigas, Inc. side.

What I'm Thinking
The writing in Amigas: Fifteen Candles was at times, contradictory.  We'd see Alicia full of self-confidence on one page; "Alicia stopped just short of high-fiving herself..." and feeling like a loser two pages later, "...she was feeling like a big, giant loser."  Alicia would diss a chica for name-dropping during her quince vows but name-drop herself every time she mentioned getting something "slighty worn" from her mother.  Throughout the book we aren't sure of Gaz's feelings for Alicia and then he drops a huge bomb at Sarita's quince. This was very out of character for him as he seemed reserved throughout the book.  I liked Alicia's parents as they seemed to struggle between giving their daughter everything and encouraging her to earn her way.  They wanted what was best for her and wanted her to appreciate what she had.

Alicia's friends were interesting and I hope they each star in the successive Amiga books.  We were given just enough background information about each to want to learn more.  I would especially like to see more of Jamie, the transplant from Brooklyn.  She's fiesty and I'm hoping she stays that way.

Amigas: Fifteen Candles is a decent start to a middle grade series. It will give readers some insight into Latino culture as well as encourage them to follow their hearts.  It would be a good read for students in beginning Spanish too, as there are Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout.    I give this 3 copies until I see how student's react.  I'll be sure to booktalk it to 6th graders and give it some publicity.  It would pair well with Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader as well as the Aristobrats by Jennifer Solow.

Thanks to Hyperion for the opportunity to read this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter - Review

The Kneebone Boy
Ellen Potter
Feiwel and Friends
September 2010

Otto, Lucia, and Max Hardscrabble live in a small town with their Dad, Casper.  Mom disappeared years ago.  Lucia thinks she's dead because the alternative, that she left, is just too hard to fathom.  Lucia takes care of Otto "an avid collecter of the strange and unusual" who stopped talking soon after their mom left and has a reputation for being strange and unusual himself.  The youngest, Max, is a genius and he makes sure everyone knows it!  Their Dad is always on the go, painting the portraits of deposed royals.  Each sketch he brings home is an opportunity for the Hardscrabbles to make memories as they gather around to hear the story of the pushed out king or queen.

In the Kneebone Boy, Casper has to go away suddenly and sends the Hardscrabbles to stay with their cousin Angela. When they arrive in London they find that Angela is gone! They use this mix up to embark on an adventure that ends with them running for their lives!  They finally get to Snoring-On-The-Sea and start to search for their great aunt Haddie.  And that's when the real adventure begins!

The Kneebone Boy has this wonderful, dark humor combined with a great mystery.  Or many great mysteries!  The voice is snarky but fun and the Hardscrabble's word choice demonstrate Ellen Potter's belief in the intelligent reader.  "I honestly think kids are getting stupider by the year." This story proves that she really doesn't feel that way.  The chapter subtitles are like little stories themselves "In which" Potter gives a tiny glimpse into the future or at least the chapter.  The characters were just that, characters.  Great Aunt Haddie sounds like the relative we all want to go visit, an adult that doesn't try to be your friend by making jokes and being corny but becomes your friend for that very reason.   And just when you think you can't possibly keep snickering aloud, Potter throws in something that makes you sigh and possibly tear-up.

I must say, If I didn't know Ellen Potter wrote SLOB, I wouldn't believe the books had the same author. The tone and voice were so different....although both stories do have missing moms...  I give this 4 copies.  It's a must read! I really loved it! Give it to the students in 6th who need a challenge and one's who like their mysteries smart.  I'll put it right next to The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom by Stephen Giles.

Ellen Potter talks about the book jacket
Ellen Potter website
Ellen Potter twitter

Thanks to Feiwel and Friends for this ARC. 

Guest Post - “The Familiars” by Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson

The Familiars
Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
HarperCollins Children
September 2010

Today is the release day for The Familiars! As a special treat I have the authors, Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson as guests on The Brain Lair.  

“The Books on our Nightstand”

Adam is Reading
“Westmark” by Lloyd Alexander
It’s a book I started when I was younger, but because of one assignment or another, I got sidetracked and never finished it. Set in vaguely colonial times, it tells the story of a young printer’s apprentice who goes on the run after his master is murdered. Alexander influenced writers like JK Rowling, Piers Anthony, and Holly Black.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick
It’s big, thick, and filled with pictures. I like comic books. I like YA. I like a combination of the two. And it’s going to be a Martin Scorsese movie.

“Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse” by Rick Riordan
The third installment in the Olympians series. I’m half way through this book, and so far it’s on par with the others. Which means incredibly enjoyable.


Andrew is Reading
“Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow
A cautionary YA tale about a kid who gets mixed up with a terrorist attack on San Francisco. This book came up multiple times during our pre-pub tour while meeting with independent booksellers. Their word of mouth truly drives the buzz on what books to read. Neil Gaiman’s blurb is also so glowing that it made me buy it.

“One Day” by David Nichols
Episodic story that takes place on a single day over two decades between Dex and Em. I’m trying to get this in before the movie comes out. Sounds charming and like a fast read.

“What to Expect when you’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
One of the dozen baby books piled high on my nightstand. Yes, I am expecting. And no, I have not started reading any of the baby books.

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins (not on my nightstand yet, but pre-ordered)
Add me to the list of people who simply can’t wait for this final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy.


I totally loved Little Brother, Percy Jackson, Hugo Cabret and now, Mockingjay! These guys know their stuff.  If you are looking for a new book to read, please pick up a copy of The Familiars by Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson.  Meanwhile, check out this great video from their website, The Familiars.

About the Authors

ADAM JAY EPSTEIN spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, while ANDREW JACOBSON grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the two met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles. They have been writing for film and television together ever since. The Familiars is their first book.

One day, Adam asked Andrew, “Are you familiar with what a familiar is?” And from that simple question, Vastia was born, a fantastical world filled with the authors’ shared love of animals and magic. They wrote every word, sentence, and page together, sitting opposite each other.

Adam Jay Epstein lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jane, their daughters, Penny and Olive, and a black-and-white alley cat who hangs out in their backyard. Andrew Jacobson lives with his wife, Ashley, and their dog, Elvis, four traffic lights away.

THE FAMILIARS will be produced for film by Sam Raimi and Sony Animation.

You can follow Adam and Andrew on Twitter -  and Facebook -!

Happy release day guys!


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