Thursday, May 31, 2012

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Carley's step-father put her and her mother in the hospital. Before her mother regains consciousness, Carley is released into the foster care system. She's placed with the Murphys, a picture-perfect family. They're too good to be true and Carley keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, slowly and gradually, they worm their way into Carley's heart and Carley worms into theirs. But what's going to happen when her mom gets better and she has to leave?

I started reading this, thinking I'd get a few chapters in before bed and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I loved it. First and foremost, I adored Carley's voice. She uses a lot of sarcasm to keep people at arm's length but she's really funny. Even her interior monologue has this cutting wit that we tend to see more in YA fiction than middle grade (but still totally age appropriate.) The chapter titles, especially, were a nice touch. The Murphys were pretty dang perfect, but even then we see that fostering a child is a personal crusade of Mrs. Murphy and her husband and oldest son need some time coming around to Carley. But it's so nice to read about a positive foster care experience. There's this very bittersweet feel to the entire book-- the ending's a bit messy (in the best way).

I love how slowly Carley opens up. In a lot of books, something happens and suddenly the protagonist drops all of her anger and fear and relationships are perfect. Carley doesn't immediately warm to the Murphys and it's slooooooooooooooooow and happens one family member at the time, and for every two steps forwards, there's a step back. It is just so well done.

I was not expecting to love this book as much as I do. Even though I know she's fictional, I'm going to be rooting for Carley to make it for a long time to come.

ARC Provided by... the author, for review consideration

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Lily Pond

The Lily Pond Annika Thor, translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck

In this sequel to A Faraway Island, Stephie is on the mainland, studying at school and lodging with Soderbergs. Unfortunately, the Soderbergs aren't as warm as Stephie expected. She's to eat her meals in the kitchen and once Mrs. Soderberg keeps her from going back to the island one weekend because she's throwing a big party. Stephie's excited to attend, until she discovers that she's to be hired help, not a guest.

The one highlight of the Soderberg home is Sven, on whom Stephie quickly develops a crush (oh, such a painful storyline to read.)

In addition, on the mainland, Stephie learns that the Nazi threat grows ever closer and even though Sweden is a neutral country, there are more than a few Nazi sympathizers. And, of course, letters from home show how desperate the situation is getting for her parents-- for modern readers who know what the truth ends up being about the fate of some many European Jews, it is heartbreaking to read, and rage-inducing to read the reactions of the Swedish adults Stephie tries to get to help her family.

There are four books in this series and I cannot wait for the next two to come out in the US. Sadly, there was a two-year lag between the first and second one. Maybe they'll speed up the publication cycle because the first two have both won awards? I don't want to wait until 2015 to see how it all turns out!!!

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Name is Not Easy

My Name Is Not Easy Debby Dahl Edwardson

It starts with Luke and his younger brothers Bunna and Isaac leaving their Inupiaq village to go to Sacred Heart boarding school. Isaac is deemed too young to be there and taken to live with a "good Catholic family." His brothers (and mother) don't know where and have no way to get in touch with him or to bring him home.

Despite the bleak start, it's not nearly as dark or depressing as I thought it would be. There are multiple narrators.* In addition to Luke, there's Chickie, the white girl who lives in an Arctic village. Donna, an Indian raised by nuns, Sonny, the head of the Indian students, Amiq, the head of the Eskimo students, and Junior, an overlooked boy who makes a difference in the end.

The book covers four years of schooling and with the multiple points of view, it dips in and out of time, offering snippets of life. This gives the reader a bit of distance from some of the bleakness present in the school. The book focuses most of its attention on the relationships between the students, which is another reason it doesn't get as dark as it easily could.

There are some big historical events incorporated into the text-- military testing on Arctic students, plans to nuke Cape Hope to build a bigger harbor, the Duck-In protests, the Seward earthquake and tsunami.** There's a great author not explaining about what's true and what isn't. Most of the storyline involving Luke and his brothers comes from the life of Edwardsons's husband and his brothers and their time at a Catholic boarding school.

One thing that comes up often in the text and isn't covered in the author's note that I would like to know more about is the animosity between the Indian and Eskimo students. They sit on opposite sides of the cafeteria, have different leaders, and don't get along. There are a few hints as to why (conflicts going back generations) but I don't have the background to understand it completely and it's something I want to seek out a bit more information on.

Overall, it's a very powerful book, but one that readers will still enjoy. I liked the wide cast of characters and the how gently Edwardson treats her subject without shying away from it. I think this is one that teens will really enjoy, but it's going to take some slick handselling to get them to pick it up.

*Although some characters get to narrate and some are told in limited third person

**Although I didn't know about ANY of those historical events except the earthquake.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Mediator: Shadowlands

Shadowland Meg Cabot

This is Book 1 of The Mediator series.

Susannah talks to the dead--she's a mediator and helps them move on to the other side-- usually with a punch or, if that doesn't work, an exorcism. She's just moved to California from Brooklyn because her mom remarried-- she likes her stepfather but isn't overly fond of her stepbrothers or California. But, her new home has a few surprises-- Susannah's bedroom is haunted by Jesse, a super-hot ghost who's been hanging around for 150 years or so. Her school also has a ghost-- the very angry spirit of the it girl who's death opened up the enrollment spot Susannah filled. All Heather wants is her life back. Susannah's school also has Father Dominic, who just also happens to be a mediator but with a much more gentle touch than Susannah's.

Susannah is the epitome of Cabot's trademark sarcastic voice. Overall a nice girl, she does have an edge and doesn't have the time, energy, of inclination to deal with high school mean girl politics-- she has some ghost ass to kick. She always has the perfect one-liner comeback. There's some slight sizzle with Jesse and with Heather's ex-boyfriend (which just angers the ghost even more) but nothing too swoony. I expect things with Jesse will heat up over the course of the series. The final battle with Heather was a bit underwhelming BUT I think of this as more of a set-up novel for the rest of the series. I get the sense that Susannah's younger stepbrother David knows/sees more than he's willing to voice (even to himself.) Also, I think Susannah has a lot to learn from Father Dominic and I'm interested in seeing that relationship develop.

That, and I love love love love Susannah's voice-- she's now one of my favorite Cabot characters. Lucky for me, I have many more books in this series to read!

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Good Neighbors: Kind

The Good Neighbors: Kind Holly Black, art by Ted Naifeh

The faeries have taken over town. Rue's mother is in charge and keeping her (literally) underground. Amanda, the other folklore professor has created a human army to fight back. Rue has a plan to make it all stop, but at what outcome.

Someone I missed this one when it came out and it had been a looooooooooooooooooong time since I read Kith and it took me awhile to remember what was going on. I highly recommend that you read all three books together and wish they had been published as 1 book (maybe they will now that they're all out?)

It was a good and... interesting conclusion to the story. I was a little detached from the boy drama, but I think that's just because I had been away from the series for so long that I couldn't easily remember the relevant details, so that's all on me.

I like how Black's work returns us to the darker side of fairies (I mean, we never even remember that even Tinkerbell was originally not that nice. Pretty, yes, but also jealous and spiteful.) Naifeh knows how to draw a good glare.

Overall I really liked the series. I'm just having a hard time explaining why.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pennyroyal Green (double review!)

Pennyroyal Green is a village in Sussex with two aristocratic, powerful families-- the Everseas and the Redmonds. Of course, they are enemies. It is the these families and the other people in the village that the Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series of romances concerns itself. I've read the second and sixth book (as those are the only two my local library owns.)

Starting with the sixth and most recent book (Because that's the one I read first)

How the Marquess Was Won Julie Anne Long

Phoebe Vale is a teacher at Miss Endicott's Academy-- the girls school in Pennyroyal Green for recalcitrant aristocracy.
Over the holidays, she's invited to the Redmonds to be a companion their niece, Lisbeth, who has her sights set on the Marquess of Dryden. Dryden wants Lisbeth because her dowry contains land that made up his mother's dowry and was lost by his father's gambling--- it's the only piece of the estate that Dryden has yet to recover. Of course, the chemistry is between Dryden and Phoebe. Lisbeth does all she can to remind Phoebe of her place, and Phoebe just wants to survive long enough to catch her boat to Africa, where she'll be joining a missionary group in order to see more of the world.

I loved Phoebe's strength, voice, and wit. I also liked the slow burn of the attraction between her and Dryden. Even after it's there, it takes forever to act on. Long builds the heat and tension slowly and gloriously. I liked it so much I went straight to the only other book I could get my hands on.

Like No Other Lover Julie Anne Long

Miles Redmond is a scientist and renowned explorer of the South Seas and, since the complete disappearance of his brother Lyon, Miles is also heir apparent. Cynthia Brightly was the toast of the ton, but no she has a broken engagement to an Earl's heir and is down to her last few pounds. Her best friend, Violet Redmond, doesn't know how desperate she is, that she must find a husband at this house party, for when it ends, she has no where to go.

Cynthia immediately goes for Miles, but he's been ordered to woo someone else, someone who's father will fund his next expedition. Plus, Miles is still smarting from something he overhead her say years ago, when she was Belle of the Ball and he was still a second son. But of course, they're super attracted to each other anyway, even as they try to make matches elsewhere.

I didn't like this one as much. It took me a long time before I liked Cynthia and I was well into the book before I believed their attraction or relationship. Had I not enjoyed How the Marquess Was Won so much, I doubt I would have finished it. But, I'm glad I did, because I did end up enjoying it.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series-- they're all on their way via ILL. The two I've read are later, and there are many clues about Lyon Redmond in both titles--I want to learn more. Also, both of the ones I've read focus on the Redmonds, with heavy hints and clues about Eversea scandal-- I want to learn more about Pennyroyal Green's other prominent family. Plus, I really loved Violet in Like No Other Lover and I know one of the books is all about her. Now, I just have to wait for the ILLs to come int!

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Chime Franny Billingsley

Briony is a witch. It's her greatest secret, that and the fact that she's responsible for the head injury that led to her twin sister's mental issues* and the fact that she's the one the injured Stepmother. She didn't kill Stepmother, but she might as well have. She's the one who called up Mucky Face, who caused the river to swell and flood and knock Stepmother down.

Briony has the sight. She can see the spirits and creatures, she follows the Old Ones. The Boggy Mun is killing the town's children with the swamp fever. Her sister, Rose, is sick. The Boggy Mun tells her if she can stop Mr. Claybourne from draining the swamp, he'll make everyone well.

But things are complicated by Eldric, Mr. Claybourne's man-child son, with is mane of hair and easy ways. Things are complicated by Leanna, the new woman in town who captures Eldric's attention. Things are complicated by Cecil who seems to think he already has Briony's heart.

Things are complicated because Briony's a witch and has to take care for Rose.

Bad things first-- I had read a million reviews of this, so I knew going into it that Briony is well, HOLY UNRELIABLE NARRATOR BATMAN. On the other hand, I think I would have figured that bit out rather early on. As it was, I figured out what was happening and the truth of the situation pretty early on.

Also, Briony's ignorance and self-hatred gets really tiring. Not in a boring way, but her narrative voice mentally exhausted me. You know how after reading Junie B. Jones, you need some adult time because it's like talking to a hyper 6-year-old for the entire time you've been reading? Yeah, like that. But not a hyper 6-year-old (I'm not doing a good job explaining this.) I couldn't read it for long stretches of time because Briony just wore me out. Which was too bad because...

I FREAKING LOVE THIS BOOK. Just loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove. I just wanted to take Briony aside and sit her down and be like, GIRL! IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!

I loved the setting of Swampsea. Billingsley makes the haunted creepy swamp and thing of supreme beauty. It's also wonderfully atmospheric. I know the book takes place in high summer, but I wanted to read it on cold, misty, foggy days because they seemed to fit better. Briony hasn't been in the swamp, her beloved swamp for three years because, as Stepmother said, Briony plus the swamp plus the Old Ones led to bad things. But the death of Stepmother and the arrival of Eldric changes everything.

But more than anything, the language and the writing. If Billingsley wrote the manual that came with my paper shredder, I would reread that thing every week.**

Check it out:

The swamp hadn't changed... It was just as I remembered, a foreverness of mud and water, water and mud, and to the west, a blackness of trees.

"Rose left no tracks," said Eldric.

She hadn't, she couldn't. The swamp is too oozy and flowy and drifty to hold an imprint. In April, the swamp smells of winter, but the snow has melted; the season of mud has begun. Beyond the stretches of mud and water lay the end of the world, where the air turned blue.
p 26

How could I have forgotten that the swamp has no beginning? How could I have forgotten that the swamp simply seeps into exsistence? That it bleeds and weeps into existence?

The itch was gone--the itch of my scar, the itch of the swamp craving. How lovely to seep and bleed and weep into the swamp.
p 51

*it's never named, but she seems vaguely severely autistic?

**So, I just searched to see what else she had written. Um... Big Bad Bunny? That's a favorite of mine to read when I visit schools! Doesn't have quite the same dreamy misty lyrical quality but...

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Dan Eldon Safari as a Way of Life

Dan Eldon: Safari as a Way of Life Jennifer New

Dan Eldon was the son of an American mother and a British father and he grew up in Kenya. Throughout his life, he was always creating art, most notably in his journals (which have been published separately.) He traveled extensively throughout Africa and in the 80s, effortlessly crossed the continent's notable class and race lines. In 1993, while working as a photojournalist in Mogadishu, a mob killed him after an American airstrike killed many elders, women, and children. He was 22.

While writing this book and her previous biography of Eldon, Dan Eldon: The Art of Life, New interviewed over 100 of Eldon's friends and family. The young man presented in these pages is one of endless energy and impossible schemes that easily become reality, a talented artist who was just starting to really find his way.

What most readers will notice right away is the striking design-- laid out to mimic Dan's journals, it is filled with his artwork, photographs, page spreads, and words (in full color.) I was most struck by the ones that are mostly paintings, although many are collages of his friends and family, interspersed with ephemera, words, and drawings.

I would have liked a little more context to really paint how stark the race and class issues were when and where Dan was growing up. A little more explanation of what it was like to be white in Nairobi and going to a largely ex-pat school would be helpful.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at Apple with Many Seeds.

Book Provided by... the publisher, for Cybil's consideration.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Salon: Reviews that Made me Want to Read the Book

Here are a few reviews that I bookmarked because when I read them, I added the book to my TBR list.

Anne Boleyn by Evelyn Anthony

My friend sonetka (not her real name) just started a FANTASTIC new blog, The Head That Launched A Thousand Books, which analyzes and reviews various novels about Anne Boleyn. This one was the first one she read, and one of her favorites. As she says This is one of the comparatively few novels in which Anne the politician takes center stage. It’s not told entirely from her point of view, but takes frequent detours into other scenes and other people’s thoughts, notably Cromwell, Norfolk, and the demoted Princess Mary. Anne herself comes across as intelligent, brave to the point of being almost nerveless, and at first mainly concerned with seizing her moment both to advance her family and their views, and to do damage to Cardinal Wolsey, who thwarted her possible marriage to Henry Percy.

Vodnik by Bryce Moore

As Charlotte from Charlotte's library says: an immensely enjoyable journey to a place where old, strange, crazy magic fills the streets of a medieval city. It's part mystery, part the story of a boy finding magical powers (while dealing with culture shock), part an exploration of ancient stories, and altogether engrossing...It's funny, with flashes of dry wit that made chuckle. It's gripping, with some truly spooky moments. It was a treat, as well, to spend time with the magical beings of Slovakian folklore--it was refreshing to have a somewhat blank supernatural slate, and there was real uncertainty about which of the various beings were allies, and which enemies.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

The Book Smugglers tell us that this book is a vividly detailed Historical novel about the lives of these two girls in the tense early period of English occupation of Wales and the narrative alternates between their perspectives... There is very little in the way of an actual plot (it’s not until the very last pages, when the Welsh revolt, that something happens) and the novel focus on the relationship between the two girls and on their narrative. These encompass and mirror perfectly in a microcosms, the fraught relationship between Welsh and English at large. Sometimes that relationship is tense and full of distrust and resentment. Sometimes there is an almost truce that borders on friendship. Theirs is a relationship in constant motion, shifting accordingly to what’s happening in the world around them.

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Adult Books 4 Teens says Tied to the traditions of Korea, Jamie’s parents expect the world of her, and more. Her younger sister, Hannah, feels many of the same pressures, but doesn’t have the coping mechanism to deal with them. When Hannah packs up and leaves one day, leaving no note, Jamie is expected to find her and bring her back. Chung weaves haunting stories from the family’s past, of sisters from each generation who go missing...

No Safety In Numbers Dayna Lorentz

Our time in Juvie says: The tagline for this trilogy in “Contagion meets Lord of the Flies in a mall that looks just like yours.”

Lorentz really captures the tension and how young adults think in a situation like this. What I love about this story is each of her characters is unique and come from different multi-cultural backgrounds. This element is very hard to find in well-written young adult literature. The pacing of the story is right on target as the tension and fear ratchets higher and higher. I can’t wait for Book Two.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Akata Witch

Akata Witch Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny's parents are Nigerian, but she was born in the US and then they moved back to Nigeria when she was 9*. She's also an albino. Her classmates stare. Her father hates her.

She saw the end of the world in a candle flame.

And that's when she learns that she's a Leopard person. Leopard people work juju and have powers. They had their Leopadness from the Lambs (aka Muggles.)

And like that, Sunny enters a double life-- dutiful daughter, diligent student by day, Leopard person out to save the world by night.

Because there's a serial killer on the loose and he's been murdering children. The council knows it's a Leopard person and knows that Sunny and her friends have been chosen to deal with it...


First off, hey! It's a fantasy set in Nigeria! And the magic and magical world are ones with what I assume are Nigerian characteristics (I don't really know much about Nigeria, so I can't say for sure.)

Second of all, Sunny is awesome. She's smart and clever and nice without being too nice. She has some innate abilities and strengths but she also has to learn how to use them. She isn't instantly the bestest Leopard person ever. I think the supporting characters, especially her friend Chichi and Orlu are also really well drawn.

I like how Okorafor plays with Sunny's outsider status. In the Leopard world, she's a free agent, or one who isn't born in Leopard parents. She wasn't raised in the culture or the knowledge, which puts her at a disadvantage. In the Lamb world, she's between cultures. Her classmates call her akata which is a not-nice word for an African-American. The tensions here are played with even more when Sasha arrives from the States. Her skin color also sets her apart from her peers and family. Her in-between status makes her an excellent tour guide both to the Leopard world but also Nigeria.

There's so much going on here that I really hope this is a series. It stands alone, but the world is so complex and I want to spend more time in it. There's also a lot going on with Sunny's family's backstory that I'd love to explore further.

OH! And I liked that there was some super super light romance but NO instalove and NO love triangles and it was a really minor subplot that didn't hijack the story.

Overall a really excellent book. I che4cked it out when we got it in last spring, but didn't get a chance to read it before I had to turn in all my library books before going on maternity leave. Luckily, it stayed on my radar so I checked it out again and had a chance to read it this time. So glad I did.

*Usually. My one complaint with the book is that sometimes this shifted. Like, she moved back when she was 9, but at one point says she and Orlu have been going to school together since they were 5. I kinda got the sense that when she moved back changed in revisions but not all references to it were caught.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Is the End of the World Near?

Is the End of the World Near?: From Crackpot Predictions to Scientific Scenarios Ron Miller

This is a fun and scary book about THE END OF THE WORLD! AHHHHHHH!

It starts with a historical look at how we thought the world was going to end -- omens of comets and eclipses, to Cold War fear. It looks at religious takes on the apocalypse and famous works of fiction about the end of the world (including disaster films like Deep Impact). It also looks at famous end of the world prophesies, like 2012 and various pseudoscience predictions.

Then it looks at very real ways the early might/will end. Like the fact that in a few million years, the sun's going to explode. Or we might kill each other with nuclear warfare. Or a comet might hit and wipe us out like it did the dinosaurs. Or global warming.

I think in all the real ways the world might end, it takes a good look at the chances of that actually happening and what we as people can do to try to prevent them from ever happening.

Over all, it has excellent photographs and illustrations, a great lay-out, and a readable, conversational tone as it explores some heady issues. It might give more sensitive readers nightmares, but I think many kids will find it enthralling.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at Ms. Yingling Reads.

Book Provided by... the publisher, for Cybils consideration

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Salon: Fake Mustache

Have you been to the Spy Museum here in DC? I highly recommend it. Don't forget the gift shop, either-- they have a great selection of cool spy things, but also an amazing bookstore with fiction and nonfiction for all ages (seriously, excellent book selection).

How excellent? Well, they realize that a slapstick comedy about a fake mustache turning your best friend into an evil super-genius and the only way to stop him is to dress up like a tween superstar cow girl and then team up with that cow girl and her wonder horse is the PERFECT fit.

So, on Friday, Tom Angleberger will be there signing copies of Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind.

Here are the details:

Come to a fun-filled mustachioed family event at The International Spy Museum on Friday May 18th from 2-4 PM. Don’t have your own mustache? Not to worry, they will be handing them out free. Theirs won’t be the Heidelberg Handlebar #7 with special powers that stars in the book, but they will be hairy none the less.

Books will be available at the store. This event is free.

Here's the review I ran last month:

When Lenny's best friend buys a suit and a fake mustache for that "man about town" look, everything goes wrong. The Heidelberg Handlebar #7 has special powers and Casper (or, as he's now known, Fako Mustacho) becomes an evil mastermind. He robs banks for billions of dollars and rigs a presidential election. Only Lenny isn't hypnotized by the power of the mustache. But, with the help of Jodie O'Rodeo, a former TV Cowgirl sensation, they might just be able to save the world.

As you can probably tell from the plot description, this one is wackier, siller and more of a tall tale than the Origami Yoda books. As such, it wasn't really my cup of tea BUT it's one that middle graders will eat up. I liked the fact that Jodie O'Rodeo did all her own stunts, just not her own singing. I also like that both Lenny and Jodie narrate this one, but they don't alternate chapters--it's more or less in thirds. I also liked the crazy things invented by he Heidelberg Novelty Company.

ARC Provided by... the publisher, at ALA

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spell Bound

Spell Bound Rachel Hawkins

This is the third and final installment in the Hex Hall series. It opens with some big revelations-- Sophie's mom is actually a Brannick and many of the attacks by the Brannicks and the Eye have actually been the Casnoffs, trying to rule the Prodigium.

But when everyone gets magicked back to Hex Hall so the Casnoffs can perfect their evil plan, that's when things really start to heat up.

There was a little too much Sophie/Archer/Cal love triangle for me because (1) I never fully bought into the possible viability of Sophie and Cal as a romantic relationship. Too much chemistry with Archer. and (2) Ugh. Love triangle. Over it.

But, I continue to LOVE Sophie. Her voice is as hilarious and whip-smart as ever. I admire her strength in the face of fear and evil. Elodie continues to amuse and amaze and big bad final showdown lays everything on the line.

I also loved the running joke between the friends over who was the hero and who was the sidekick. (I mean, Jenna does have the angstier/more tragic backstory and Sophie does do all of the sarcastic wise-cracking, so I think Jenna does make a strong case for herself.)

On one hand, I'm glad that Hawkins knew when to wrap the series up and she does it well, on the other hand... I WANT MORE SOPHIE PLEASE.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sacre Bleu

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art Christopher Moore

Here are actual facts:

Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in a field and then walked a mile to his doctor's house before actually dying.

True Blue. A blue that wouldn't fade or distort over time was Sacred Blue. The church deemed that this blue was the only color that could be used for the cloak of the Virgin Mary. This blue could only be made from lapis lazuli, which could only be found in the mountains of Afghanistan. For centuries, blue was more valuable than gold.

Before you can paint, you need color. Artists originally were supposed to pick their own plants, grind their own minerals, make their own color. It's a wonder anything ever got painted. Colormen were professionals who made color-- they would sell artists the pigment, the powder, that they would then mix with oil or plaster or whatever they needed to get their preferred medium.

Here's the story that Moore sets forth:

The artist community of Montemartre is deeply shaken by Van Gogh's death, especially Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Towards the end of his life, Van Gogh had warned everyone to beware of the Colorman. There were several colormen around Paris at the time, but every artist in the area knew right away which one he meant.

Beware his blue.

There is a woman, a beautiful woman, that's always involved when the Colorman appears. Even as Lucien and Henri are unraveling the mystery, Lucien's becoming the next victim.

And it slowly turns more sinister as you're not entirely sure what the woman is, but it's becoming apparent that she's not human. And through it all is Paris, and the art, and the bread (oh! the bread!), and the drink.

It's hard to fully describe without getting spoilery. It weaves through time and art.

It's not as LOL as the other Moore I've read-- most of the humor comes from bawdy drunk comments by Henri. But it's wonderful. It gives a story to some of the world's most famous paintings, it gives a background and a life to the artists. It's a mystery and a love letter to the color blue.

Henri as a character is delightful. He's much more than the comic sidekick.

I loved the way the Impressionists and the new generation of artists mixed and mingled, fought and mentored, and all were affected by the Colorman and the blue.

Also, this is a book you need to read in print or on a color screen. As much as I love my black and white Kindle, this is not a book for that.

First off, it's printed in dark blue ink instead of black.

More importantly, it's illustrated. The paintings that are discussed, many of which capture important characters and plot points, are all real paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others and they're in the book, scattered in the text, in full color. It's a gorgeous design that doesn't interfere and works perfectly.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Princesses of Iowa

The Princesses of Iowa M. Molly Backes

As I have mentioned a few times this week, when it comes to this book, I am not an impartial reviewer. Molly and I have known each other since high school. I have read several drafts of this book and am mentioned in the acknowledgements. I believe in this book and in Molly. I'm not going to pretent to be unbiased on this one.

Paige and her friends have spent years getting to this point-- Homecoming, senior year. They have done all the right things to be the most popular girls in school, to guarantee them a spot on court, and the Homecoming Queen crown for one of them. But that was before the car accident last spring. Before Paige was shipped off so her mother could do damage control, before Paige could learn how badly Lacey had been injured, before Lacey and Jake started spending all their time together. And now it's senior year, but Paige is having problems stepping back into her picture-perfect life. Her friends don't seem to want her there and she's not sure she wants to be there. And when the town turns against the new Creative Writing teacher for being gay, Paige has to decide what's worth fighting for--the path and she's had laid out for her for years, or what's right.

Paige is a queen bee mean girl. You don't want to like her, but Molly paints her so fully that you can't help but root for her to find her own way. You don't want to like Paige, and every time you start to, she'll do something to make you want to smack her, but at the same time, she'll break your heart and make you proud. Her voice is clear and strong, and her path isn't easy or clear, but as she goes along, she grows on you something fierce. Her relationship with Lacey is so complicated-- part friendship, part competition. They say "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" and it's hard to tell with Lacey and Paige if they're close because they're friends or enemies.

More than anything though, I love Molly's writing so so so much. I've been quoting bits of it all week (all quotations are from the ARC and therefore not final) and she really has a way with language to paint a scene and a mood. But there's a way she can turn a phrase that will take your break away.

I am so very excited that Princesses of Iowa is out TODAY! Go read it!

Because I love this book and I love Molly so much, I'm giving away 2 copies that Molly's agreed to sign for the winners. You have until midnight tonight to get your entries in, by filling out the form below:

Book Provided by... the publisher, via NetGalley

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Interview with M. Molly Backes!

OMG YOU GUYS! The Princesses of Iowa comes out TOMORROW!

I've been talking about her and her book all week, and now it's time for the interview that Molly promised me 5 years ago...

General Questions about Molly

This is not your normal blogger/author interview. You and I go back to the days before blogs. Wanna tell the kids how we met?

I do! If I recall correctly, it was almost exactly mmrph years ago this month, at an admitted students weekend at Grinnell College, so we were both seniors in high school. One of us was wearing a UU chalice necklace, and the other was like, Hey, is that a UU chalice necklace? And then Necklace was like, Why yes, it is, and then Asker was like, I’m also a Unitarian and also I’m from Wisconsin! And Necklace was like, me too! We are the same person! Let’s be best friends!

I don’t remember which of us played which role in the conversation, but I’m fairly sure it went just like that. And then we went on to not actually hang out in college – but then, through the tight-knit (some say “cultish”) online community of Grinnell students &alums, we became besties. Awwww.

ed. note: That's how I remember it too. Also, I was the asker and you were the askee. 

When I lived in Michigan and worked at the co-op grocery store, people mocked my love of Iowa, except for one guy in the kitchen, because he used to live in Des Moines. One day, he decided to move back to Des Moines and everyone was like "ugh, why?" and then he came to me and I was super jealous and he said "you're the only one here who gets it." The Iowa-hate is even worse here on the coast. Tell the good people at home why Iowa is awesome. Please keep the Dar Willaims quotations to a minimum (Even though it's totally her fault that I ended up there.)

Yeah, when I was getting ready to go to school there, everyone was like, “Iowa stands for ‘Idiots Out Walking Around’!” and “Why does all the corn in Illinois lean to the west? Because Iowa sucks!” (Wisconsin’s state-bullying isn’t limited to Iowa; we also like to make fun of Illinois and Minnesota, and sometimes consider building a militia to take back Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)

The sad thing is that when I moved to Iowa, no one there seemed to know that they were basically universally hated & mocked by every other state in the Midwest. Iowa hates no one! They’re the nice state.

Seriously, though, a friend of mine once described Iowans as “lacking guile,” and I always felt that was such a great description. There’s something about Iowans… I’m nervous about making broad generalizations here, because I don’t want to pull a Stephen Bloom and become the next most hated person in Iowa. (Note: Iowa does hate someone! They hate Stephen Bloom.)

But look: Iowa is SO beautiful -- it’s much more than cornfields (though I happen to think the cornfields are very lovely, myself) – it’s also rolling hills and secret caves and winding rivers and stunning bluffs. The next time someone tells you that Iowa is flat, make them do a Google image search for “driftless area Iowa” and then stand over their shoulder screaming “ISN’T IT SO BEAUTIFUL????”

Despite our shared Iowa connection, we're both actually from Wisconsin. What do you think the Pack's chances are this year?

Chances are good that my best friend Cindy will yell at me if I call her during a game. Hey-o! But seriously, I have no idea. I’m more of a Badgers fan myself. I literally had a dream about Bucky Badger last night – my friend was mad because he thought I’d gotten us lost, and then we ran into Bucky Badger, and I was like, “See, if I hadn’t gotten us lost, you wouldn’t have gotten to meet Bucky!”

ed note: I think this really shows the difference between us-- you grew up outside Madison, I grew up outside Green Bay

You teach writing when you're not doing your own writing. Before that, you taught English and got your entire class to do the NaNoWriMo's young writer's program. What's your secret to being so awesome?

Ha. Mostly coffee, plus a short attention span and an unwillingness to be bored. I don’t know, I’ve always felt that I have the teacher gene, so a part of me is only truly happy when I’m teaching. A big theme of my life has been trying to find a balance between teaching and writing, which is why NaNoWriMo was so awesome – I got to do both! Incidentally, there was no such thing as a young writer’s program when I did it with my kids, but I emailed the headquarters to let them know I was planning to attempt it with 140 middle schoolers, and they sent me a bunch of swag.

ed note: So basically, you invented the Young Writer's program. I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Whatcha reading?

I just finished reading two manuscript drafts, one a MG from a student of mine, one a grownup novel from a friend. They were both great!

Whatcha listening to?

I’m trying to perfect my Peter Gabriel Pandora station. It needs a LOT of babysitting. This morning I added Everything But The Girl, and so I’ve gotten a bunch of early 90s ladyrock, which is awesome, but I don’t want my PG station to turn into my Chick Rock station, soooo….

Whatcha watching?

OMG I JUST FINISHED ALL THREE SEASONS OF VERONICA MARS AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Now I don’t want to watch anything else ever again.

If you could go back in time and talk to your high school self, what would you tell her?

1. Take it easy on yourself and consider getting more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night.

2. If your friends constantly make you feel like shit about yourself, find new friends.

3. Don’t quit dance classes. Are you crazy? Quit one of your five hundred other extra-curriculars instead. Turns out regular exercise makes you feel less insane. WHO KNEW.

4. Keep writing and keep listening to yourself. You’re actually doing a good job at life so far, all things considered.

I've mentioned a few times on the blog that you taught me how to apply eyeliner using only your words. Do you want to tell everyone your eyeliner tricks? (Sadly, only using your words means I can't Pin this.)

I’m pretty sure the main thing I told you was that you’re allowed to gently stretch your skin in order to make a straight line. Sure, we’ll probably have terrible crows feet eventually, but… worth it! Plus, then we’ll just fill in our wrinkles with more eyeliner and be old ladies who rock Amy Winehouse eyes.

Oh, I just searched for it in my email and turns out it was like 10 Steps to an Adequately Made-Up Eye. If your readers are actually interested, I will re-send and you can post it later.

ed note: Readers, if you've ever struggled with your eyeshadow, demand Molly pass this on. Seriously, we went to a hippie college where most of our classmates didn't regularly shower and Molly always had awesome eye make-up on.

Book Questions:

Give us your elevator pitch.

How long is the elevator? If we’re just going up to the third or fourth floor, I’ll say, “It’s a reverse-Cinderella story in which a homecoming princess who seems to have it all – perfect boyfriend, popular best friends, etc – starts to wonder if there’s more to life than being popular.”

If we’re still on the elevator after that? Like we’re riding all the way to the top of the Sears Willis Tower? I’ll start awkwardly shouting out other elements of the book. “Hot teacher who might be gay! Fake car accident! Real car accident! Sexy nerd! Angry alternateen! Jokes about Muttnik! Airbrushed rainbow t-shirt that says ‘I Love My Iowa Grandma’!” And then everyone will get off the elevator whispering “Did that girl have Tourette’s?”

If we were going to do a mash-up of your book a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, what supernatural creature(s) would be added in and how?

Birds! Like, Hitchcockian birds. Am I right? There are already a lot of birds in Iowa, so it wouldn’t take much to add a menacing crow or two to basically every single scene, and then whenever the characters are outside (which is often), they’ll just get divebombed.

OR evil cars, a la Stephen King’s Christine, or the one where all the machines attack and everyone ends up in a truck stop. Spoiler alert! Who crashed the car? IT CRASHED ITSELF!! EEEEEEEVIL!

Side note: Speaking of monsters, along the upper Mississippi River (that’s Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, for you geographically-challenged folks), there are these things called fishflies, which are SUPER gross giant bugs that smell like fish, and once a year they all hatch on the same day and SWARM the towns and cover all the windows and then die all over, to the point where people have literally gotten in car accidents because they slid on the insect carcasses, and the towns actually have to bring tractors out to shovel bug carcasses off the streets. It is truly horrifying. Don’t google it, I’m serious. You’ll never be able to unsee that shit.

ed. note: you know, having lived on the East Coast for almost 7 years now, I had managed to block that from my mind. THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME.

Using only fictional characters, cast the movie version of your book.

This is the hardest question ever.

Paige: Franny Glass
Lacey: The Red Queen
Nikki: Emma Woodhouse
Jake: Logan Echolls
Ethan: Marcus Flutie
Shanti: Rowie Rudra
Mirror: Daria Morgendorffer
Mr. Tremont: Henry DeTamble
Mrs. Sheridan: Ruth DeWitt Bukater

What else did I forget to ask? Ask it and answer it.

Q: Remember that time you interviewed me for your blog?
A: Why yes, I do!

HEY! Want to win an autographed copy of The Princesses of Iowa? Fill out the form below. Molly will even sign it for you!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Salon: Princesses of Iowa

So you've noticed that all week that I've been super-pushing The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes.

It comes out in 2 days! That's the day after tomorrow!

This is Molly's first book and I think it's wonderful. I'll admit that's not an unbiased opinion. I met Molly in the late 90s. We're friends. Before I was a librarian, before we were author and blogger, before everything. Back when we were still in high school, I met Molly.

And let me tell you, she's always been way cooler than me. When she first emailed me a few years ago to see if I'd read/edit the manuscript that she was about to start querying, I died a little. Like, in a good way. She says she was nervous about asking but I just thought "OMG Molly Backes thinks I'm worthy to read this draft! EEP!"

My opinion is COMPLETELY biased. I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements (EEP!)

Molly's a damn good writer. Hopefully you saw that with the bit of the prologue that I posted yesterday. But not just that, Molly taught me how to use eyeliner. I like makeup. I think it's fun. I like the fact that I don't have to wear it on a regular basis, so when I do, it's special. One day, I was lamenting (online) about how I am completely incapable of doing eyeliner. Molly told me how to apply eyeliner. USING ONLY HER WORDS. No pictures, no video, just explaining with her words. I am now fully capable of wearing eyeliner. And that's how good a writer Molly is-- she can tell you how to do eyeliner without pictures or video.

And now she's gone and written a book. A book about taking back your life. A book about standing up for what is right. A book about making amends, about change, about shedding off perfect and stepping into you.

I'm giving away two autographed copies. Fill out the form below:

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Win a book! An autographed book! A really good book!

Everyone knows you're not supposed to drink and drive. I mean, obviously. They start telling you that in fourth grade and you nod along, wide-eyed, because you can't imagine ever being stupid and awful enough to drink at all, much less drink and drive. You make posters about how dumb it is, drinking and driving, and they hang them in the elementary school hallway. You tell your parents to stop smoking and accuse them of being alcoholics if they have a glass of wine with dinner more than once a month, and in health class you take tests on drugs, where every single drug is listed with a bunch of outdated slang and possible side effects, with all include death. Tobacco (butts, heaters, cancer sticks): lung cancer, emphysema, DEATH. Alcohol (booze, hooch, sauce): impaired judgement, loss of consciousness, DEATH. Marijuana (ace, grass, hay): disorientation, paranoia, DEATH. Heroin (boy, horse, smack): euphoria, convulsions, coma, DEATH.


What they don't tell you is that sometimes you might not care about the side effects, that they might not be such a bad trade-off if it means you get to get the hell out of your own head for a little while and let go of the breath you're always holding, the tiny bit of pudge on your belly you're forever sucking in, if for one stupid night you can stop worrying about what people think about your and stop watching every word you say. And maybe that night, as you're holding an ugly plastic cup and listening to everyone have the exact same conversations as last weekend and you're inside your head thinking all the same thoughts, and sometimes you kind of hate your friends, sometimes you really kind of hate
yourself, and maybe you wouldn't mind getting hurt or going into a coma or something. Something.

And what they don't tell you in fourth grade is that if everyone's drunk and the least drunk person offers to drive, it will make a kind of crazy sense, and everyone might congratulate themselves on how responsible they are ...

You guys, that's just how The Princesses of Iowa STARTS. 3 days until it comes out! You know you want to read it! Maybe even have your own personal copy? Autographed? Fill out the form below for a chance to win.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Princesses of Iowa Giveaway

When did she stop forgiving people their mistakes? We used to tell each other every secret, but one day secrets turned into weapons and we brandish them back and forth to keep one another in check, walking along a perfect straight line, daring on another to fall.

What happens when you realize you don't like your best friend?

4 more days until The Princesses of Iowa comes out!

Wanna win an autographed copy? (The answer is yes) Fill out the form below!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Princesses of Iowa Giveaway!

After a car crash that should have been worse,

After the worst summer in Paris ever,

Paige Sheridan has returned to Willow Grove, ready to step back into her picture-perfect popular girl life.

But the car crash and that summer changed everything. Her picture-perfect life isn't so perfect anymore (was it ever?) and Paige isn't entirely sure she wants it back, anyway.

The Princesses of Iowa by my friend Molly Backes comes out in 5 MORE DAYS!

Fill out the form below for a chance to win your VERY OWN autographed copy. You know you want to.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.