Sunday, December 30, 2012

YA novels are getting creepier and creepier.

In Kim Harrington's The Dead and Buried, Jade is the new girl in town. She just moved into a lovely house, in an upscale neighborhood with her family, and can't wait for a fresh start. When school begins, Jade gets the typical new girl whispers, but they get unusually worse, fast. Jade quickly finds out that one of the students that went to the school died in her house just a year before. Kayla, who was very popular and pretty much ruled the local high school (think Regina George), was allegedly murdered in Jade's house. Awkward.

Jade's little brother Colby tells her that he sees a girl around the house with long hair. The family thinks his imagination is getting the best of him until Jade sees her too, and little Miss Kayla isn’t happy. Kayla wants to know who killed her, and will stop at nothing to find out. We are talking crazy bossy ghost teenage girl scorned over here. With the help of Kayla's diary (which we get to see), Jade is on the case to find the truth behind Kayla's death in hopes that she can have her own life back.

This novel hits the shelf on New Year's Day!

Friday, December 28, 2012

a very sweet story.

I am a cat lady for sure. Add Christmas to a sweet little kitty cat face, and I'm sold.

Exhibit A: Darrell on Christmas morning.

Exhibit B: Julia Romp's memoir.

Now, Romp's story isn't as simple as a cat wandering off and making it home for Christmas. It's so much more than that. Julie is a single mother to her 9-year-old autistic son, George. George had become progressively withdrawn from his mother, which took away their ability to connect and communicate as parent and child. Then a cute little cat strolled into their yard one day, and George's attitude instantly changed. He became much more engaged and full of life. It seemed like things were looking up for this small family until Ben (the cat) disappeared. It was terrible on George, and the progress that he had been making with Julie started to quickly unravel. Ben was gone for months, but a few days before Christmas, they got a Holiday miracle. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

quite the crossover project we have here.

Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson is a novelization of the rock band, Rush's new album by the same name. Let me break it down for you. We have a bestselling science fiction author, Anderson, and then we have Rush drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, a collaboration that created a full-length novel unlike any I have ever read.

Not only are the pages beautiful to look at, the lyrics intertwined in the story take this novel to a whole new level of originality. In general, Clockwork Angels is a coming of age story that revolves around the main character, Owen Hardy, who has grown up in a world where everything about your life is planned out for you by The Watchmaker. It is a peaceful existence where everyone accepts their place without question, until Owen, who longs for something more than his predictable life, goes out on a series of misadventures to find more. This leads to rapidly changing settings that put Owen in tough and different situations. The focus is really to show someone's journey to find themselves in a world where they're told what they are without their own exploration. The settings were well described and very different from modern life, always making it interesting.

Give-a-way: For a chance to win a SIGNED copy of this book, follow this blog and send your name, address, and this book title to:!

Monday, December 24, 2012

real heist fictionalized.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Novelist B. A. Shapiro bases her latest, The Art Forger, around the true tale of the 1990 theft of thirteen works of art from the Stewart-Gardner Museum in Boston. In this realistic-fiction, he focuses on one painting in particular, the Degas masterpiece "After the Bath"

In the novel, we immediately enter the world of art museums, galleries, forgeries, and stolen art. To keep us non-art history majors interested, Shapiro includes enough hint of mystery and danger to keep us excited, and constantly worried about the fate of the main character, a struggling artist named Claire.

Claire Roth is an artist that has been involved in an art work scandal and has found herself blackballed in the artistic world. She is forced into reproducing famous paintings to make a living. This career choice gives her an opportunity to salvage her reputation when she is offered the chance to copy a stolen Degas painting. Shapiro uses flashbacks very effectively. In bits and pieces we learn what happened to Claire three years ago and what led to her current situation. As that story unfolds, it seems that history may be repeating itself.

Give-a-way: For a chance to win a copy of this book, follow this blog and send your name, address, and this book title to:!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

from chocolat to peaches.

In her latest novel, Peaches for Father Francis, Joanne Harris gives us the true follow-up to Chocolat.

Peaches for Father Francis opens with Vianne receiving a letter from a deceased friend that appears out of the past. Armande (the role portrayed by Judi Dench in Chocolat) reaches out from beyond the grave in the form of a letter that asks Vianne and her family to return to the village of Lansquenet, which they had left eight years earlier. Vianne, accompanied by her children, arrives in Lansquenet where she learns her arch nemesis, Father Francis Reynaud needs her help as the Bishop has replaced him with a Microsoft priest.  Father Francis, who has always seemed to be her enemy, will now make an unlikely ally as they deal with the ugly changes in their beloved village. The narrative alternates through the viewpoints of Father Francis and Vianne, both of whom have the similar goal of bridging the divide in the village communities, however, their always vast differences are apparent.

You're going to need to be familiar with Harris' first two novels to really enjoy this one.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

a holiday tale.

One of my very good friends, Kristen and I have random girls nights where we usually do the following: drink and watch a movie, drink and cook a meal, drink and run around with crazy fur vests on, or drink while we relax with good books. We call the last activity "a nip and a tale"...which leads me to my next review...

The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd left me wanting only one thing, more. It's a tiny little tale, that packs a punch, but I would have loved a longer version. In this 1914 WWI military romance, Lady Elspeth finds herself in France caring for her dear friend Madeline, who has just learned her husband is being called up for duty and must leave just as she is about to deliver her first child. During her stay with Madeline, Elspeth becomes rather intrigued with Madeline's brother, Alain who she also learns is about to leave to join the war. On their last night together, Alain asks Elspeth for permission to court her when he returns from the war, and offers her his mother's ring as a token of their promise, which she accepts. Elspeth's journey home to England is not easy, she finds herself trapped on the French coast where she is almost killed until her childhood friend, Peter rescued her. Instantly there is a spark between the two, and as she makes her way to London, Elspeth begins to worry about her promise to Alain.

Back in London, Elspeth feels she can't return to her life of luxury while so many are in need. She decides to make herself useful and sign up as a nurse. This way she will be able to learn the fate of the men she is torn between.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

a series to consider.

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde is the seventh book in the Thursday Next series. A series that is sure to grab your attention and never let go.

Thursday Next, the series' heroine, is a librarian-detective in a world of multiple time dimensions and altered realities. Although nobody goes on any time-traveling adventures in this installment, time travel is the essence of this ingenious plot to stop a madman and his evil corporation destroying the world with a deadly asteroid. Meanwhile, something strange is going on in the newly discovered but very little understood field of Dark Reading Matter. That being said, if you haven't read the earlier books in this series, now's the time because you have no idea what I'm talking about. Fforde has created a crazy world that begins with the first installment, The Eyre Affair, so start there. For those of you who are already a fan? I'm sure you've read this by now, but if you haven't, you won't be disappointed.

Give-a-way: For a chance to win a copy of this book, follow this blog and send your name, address, and this book title to:!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

nonfiction that is short and sweet.

I feel that it would be wrong to ignore the tragedy of Friday, so I'm going to be quick. It is absolutely terrible what happened to those poor innocent children, their teachers, administrators, families and community. I get weepy whenever more news comes to the surface. I just cannot fathom such an act. Prayers and thoughts go out to everyone who was affected.

Review time...

I love books. Although I don't have a grand story of how someone gave me a book, and it saved my life. Books have saved my life, I just typically come across them myself, or they are borrowed from friends. Emily Giffin helped me get through a really tough breakup. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series helped me find myself as a very confused teenager. Water for Elephants taught me to fight for what I really want. The Notebook showed me that love isn't always going to be easy, but it's going to be worth it. Yes, these are fiction novels, but the ideas that went into creating those works of literature had to come from someplace real. I truly believe that.

Jen Adams has created a collection of over two hundred stories based around books that have affected peoples lives and relationships. This collection titled, The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit, features books from Harry Potter to Wuthering Heights, with a real life (short) story attached from the point of view of the receiver. I loved going through each story, seeing how gifts of literature impacted these strangers lives. I couldn't help but think about how much my stories belong in this collection somewhere. Adams, we need to have a chat.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the end of oz.

I was never a huge fan of "The Wizard of Oz" as a child. Visually, I thought it was rather creepy.  However, Wicked by Gregory Maguire is one of my favorite books. Go figure. Three books later, the Wicked Years series has come to an end with Out of Oz: The Final Volume in the Wicked Years.

In all of his books, Maguire includes a number of summaries and a timeline that will help you understand the ways in which these books intersect with L. Frank Baum's original series. In the final installment of the series, the land of Oz is in the midst of social unrest, once again. The Emerald City is preparing to invade Munchkinland, Lady Glinda is under house arrest as a possible traitor to Loyal Oz, and the famous Dorothy returns to Oz, where she is put on trial for the murder of the Wicked Witch of the East. The ending will leave some feeling a little conflicted. Let's be realistic guys, nothing can top Wicked, so don't go into this novel expecting it to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

set aside some time for this read.

The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg is literally 496 pages. That being said, it is a rarity in my current life as a first year teacher, that I am able to sit down and read through a novel so long. As soon as I opened to page one, and met fourteen-year-old Peter, I was hooked.

Peter and his two older siblings are looking for their parents who have mysteriously disappeared. They are both devout members of the one and only church on the fictional island of Fino, where all religions coincide peacefully. Until now it seems, to these three teenagers, desperate to find their beloved parents.

The eccentricity of the novel is apparent in the characters Hoeg as created, as well as the title itself. Peter and his sister, Tilte have a theory that their parents are “elephant keepers, although they don’t know it” this reference to an old Indian saying denoting that “they have something inside them that is bigger than themselves, and over which they have no control." It's really a crime thriller, yet filled with mystical characters and a surprising amount of laughs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

poetry from the past.

I have mentioned once or twelve times how much I love poetry. I would love to do a poetry unit with my students, but my school would rather me turn them into NYS Regent taking robots, than let them show anything even remotely close to creativity. I think that maybe I belong in a school of the Arts. I'd like to trade my principal in for Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, please.

Rumi was a 13th-century Perisan Muslim poet who's work has been translated into three books, the newest released back in September, and the perfect holiday gift. Rumi's Little Book of Life is a beautiful collection of 196 poems by Rumi, previously unavailable in English. Translated by native Persian speakers, Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin, this collection speaks to the inner journey that each of us experience through our lives. Many do not read like traditional poems, I'm sure the translation is to blame. However, the deeper meanings of Rumi's words are not lost on me.

"Tell me," my lover asked me tenderly,
"how could you live without me?"
I said, "without you I am lost
like a fish out of water."
He smiled, "This is only your own fault." 

Friday, December 7, 2012

christmas gift idea.

In my opinion, cocktails and cooking go hand in hand, I'm glad that Rachael Ray and I agree on that. She has created a fabulous collection of recipes that include both in My Year in Meals.

Many of you collect Rachael Ray cookbooks like you need oxygen, My Year in Meals will be a welcomed addition to your kitchen. The recipes are creative, festive, but may be more realistic on the weekends for working people like myself. You cooking veterans won't be able to get enough, while us rookies may need some guidance, or a dictionary, or just more wine. I can't pronounce some of the types of cheeses used and I am an English teacher - not that that says much. There are over 500 recipes to choose from, and one cookbook typically cannot give what Rachael Ray can.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

science, affairs, intrigue.

A man writing a biography about a woman...I'm sure it happens more than I notice, but it's still fun to see.

William Souder has written an engrossing new biography on Rachel Carson, the superstar of narrative environmental nonfiction, titled On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson. Souder draws a portrait of cultural and political life in the middle of the 20th century and places Carson squarely at the center of it. It was a different time for science and a different time for science writers. I find science rather boring, honestly, which is why I was extremely intrigued when I read on to find how spicy Carson's life actually was. In 1954, her and Dorothy Freeman began a very passionate relationship, that was anything but platonic. Carson wrote Silent Spring in which she meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage, WHILE she had cancer herself. This chick was wild, and I'm glad a voice that was so unpopular in her day, has become so popular now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the wisdom of jane austen lives on...

When the opportunity presents itself, which is more often than you think, I mention that I am related to Abraham Lincoln. One, because I am, and two because he was a relatively cool president, and no matter what your skin tone, you can agree. Author Rebecca Smith tops my family tree with her relation to JANE AUSTEN. Hello? Awesome. In Miss Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas, Smith channels her great-great-great-great-great aunt’s sense—and, of course, her sensibility—to help readers navigate their most pressing problems.

Austen was an author whose writing was much before her time, which allows Smith to easily answer tough modern day questions with Austen's very words. This "guide" is filled with lovely Austen-inspired color illustrations, as well as quotes from Austen’s various novels to support the advice given. This book is the ideal Christmas gift for the Jane Austen fanatic in your life, and I know that everyone has one.

Give-a-way: For a chance to win a copy of this book, follow this blog and send your name, address, and this book title to:!

Monday, December 3, 2012

laugh it off mom and dad.

I reviewed a Baby Blues comic collection back in October, but it is really nothing compared to the enormous BBXX: Baby Blues: Decades 1 & 2 by the ever popular Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott released last month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this beloved comic strip.


Kirkman and Scott share personal biographies and reflections, never-before-published drawings, and photographs, along with close to 800 of the best of the best Baby Blues strips from the last two decades. As most of you know, the comic follows the very relatable young parents Darryl and Wanda MacPherson as they raise children Zoe, Hammie, and Baby Wren. This family faces the most common of life lessons that are sure to put a smile on even the most overwhelmed parent's face.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

well that was fun.

I enjoy the occasional dark satire in a novel, when I'm in the mood. Author Jordan Okun sets every scene perfectly in his L.A. Fadeaway, which gives readers insight into what happens behind closed doors in Hollywood. The mix of fact and fiction makes me wonder which aspects are true and which are false. The unnamed narrator is absolutely hilarious as he drags us along through his rich and entitled life filled with drugs, alcohol, and a lot of raunchiness. The story is basically a satirical look into the window of the talent agency world (our narrator must start at the bottom, no matter who is daddy is) and Hollywood itself. Think Ari Gold in Entourage.