Saturday, March 30, 2013

Interview with Hilary McKay

YOU GUYS! So, I don't do that many blog tours, because they can be work. But occasionally I do, usually for an author I'm already a huge fan of.

The good people at Albert Whitman approached me for this one and it said I could interview the author. I COULD INTERVIEW HILARY MCKAY. Fortunately, they asked over email, and not in person, so they didn't see my stunned stammering followed by my ecstatic happy dance.

Then it took me FOREVER to come up with questions, because all I really wanted to ask was "what's your secret to being totally awesome?" and "Is Saffy real, and if so, can I be her second-best friend (after Sarah)?"

Luckily (for you), I pulled it together. I reviewed McKay's latest, the Lulu books, yesterday.

Questions about Lulu:

Lulu is known for animals. At the beginning of Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, she has "two guinea pigs, four rabbits, one parrot, one hamster, a lot of goldfish, and a rather old dog named Sam." She's also not your only character to have a backyard menagerie (the Cassons, for instance). How many pets do you have? What animal have you always wanted as a pet, but are unable to have?

At the moment I have only one cat and a lot of goldfish. I am looking out for a puppy but it has to be the right one. In the past, especially when my children were younger, we have had rabbits (several) hamsters (three) guinea pigs (two) dogs (two) hedgehog (one) tortoise (one). As a child I longed for a donkey, but I have got over this now.

What is Lulu's dream pet? Where would Lulu's parents draw the line at what she could adopt, even if she did clean up after it?

Well, Lulu isn't silly! I think she would probably like all sorts of wild and interesting animals in her life, but perhaps not as pets. Maybe she will end up working in conservation. She is very interested in animal welfare.

I think her parents might draw the line at snakes. In a later book in the series a snake is mentioned and her mother is not enchanted.

In the illustrations, Lulu is a person of color, even though this is never mentioned in the text. How did you convey this factor to your editor and illustrator?

I said "Let's make Lulu black." And they said, "Yes okay." So we did.

Will we see more of Lulu?

I hope so! There are six books out here and I have two more to write.

Questions about your work in general:

You've written for a wide variety of ages, from picture books to YA. What's your favorite age-range to write for? How hard is it to switch between age-ranges?

My favourite age range is the 10+ books, when you can be a bit more self indulgent with jokes and descriptions and hope the reader hangs on with you. I think books for younger readers are much harder- you need an equally strong plot and characters, but you have fewer words to achieve your end. Illustrations help. Priscilla Lamont's Lulu illustrations have been a wonderful asset to the stories.

Which one of your characters is your favorite? Whose voice refuses to leave your head?

I don't have a favourite character- or at least not a perennial favourite. There are some that I have become very fond of. Lulu is one (and Mellie is another). I have a grumpy young lad in my latest book who has stolen my heart at the moment!

English-English and American-English are not the same, which can cause issues for Americans, especially new readers. The Lulu books have been 'translated' into American. How much of your work in general gets this treatment? How do you feel about it?

I should say that at least three quarters of my work eventually makes its way across the water. The translations are minimal, and I rarely find them difficult. We have a lot of American culture over here, don't forget; films and tv and music, perhaps more than goes back the other way, so the American editions feel quite familiar. (I wonder a lot more about the translations into languages I have no hope of reading! Chinese, Korean, Arabic- I look at the pretty writing and hope for the best!) Also, I was brought up on American children's literature- everything from Alcott onwards. Laura Ingalls, Eleanor Estes, LM Montgomery (okay, Canadian there), Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and lots more. Ursula le Guin. So in some ways I feel quite at home.

How do I feel about it? Thrilled. Enchanted. Privileged.

Questions about you:

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were Lulu's age, what would say?

Things were not good for various small reasons when I was Lulu's age. I would say, 'It'll be all right in the end.'

What are you currently reading?

Sara Wheeler The Magnetic North

What are you currently watching?

Grey light across the valley. I wish Spring would come!

What are you currently listening to?

Nothing. I can hear a blackbird singing, far away traffic, my daughters flute, and the washing machine.

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Tomorrow, Hilary McKay will be at Bring on the Books. You can see her full tour schedule here. I especially want to highlight her excellent post about libraries that appeared earlier in the week on GreenBeanTeenQueen.

Want to win a signed copy of a Lulu book for your very own? (The answer is OF COURSE I DO, JENNIE!) Fill out the form below and I'll pick a winner next weekend!

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, March 29, 2013


Hilary McKay has a great new early chapter book series out.

Lulu and the Duck in the Park

Lulu is known for animals. The rule in Lulu's house is "The more the merrier, as long as Lulu cleans up after them!"

Every week, Lulu's class goes to the local pool for swimming and walks back to school through the park, where they take a small break. The kids love their time at the park, sitting by the pond. Lulu especially loves the area known as "duck row" where many ducks have made their nests under the bushes. This week, two dogs get loose and scare all the ducks. In the process, many of the nests and their eggs get smashed. Lulu notices one egg left unbroken, rolling away, so she scoops it up and takes it back to school.

Mrs. XXX has just instituted a rule saying that the kids aren't allowed animals in class, so Lulu has to keep the egg hidden, and safe, and warm, but what will she do when it starts to hatch?

Lulu: Lulu and the Dog from the Sea

When Lulu and her family go on vacation, she sees a dog that seems to come from the sea. Everyone know town knows about the dog from the sea-- he's the reason you have to take your trash can inside the house at night. Stealing hot dogs from the hot dog stand an understandable thing for a dog to do. Stealing (and eating!) a shovel (the most expensive, nicest shovel) from the postcard stand? That dog is a nuisance!, but the dog catchers can't get him.

Lulu wants to get to know the dog from the sea, so she breaks all the rules to lure him closer, to get to know him. I mean, the more the merrier, right? But another hamster or rabbit is one thing-- can Lulu really handle another dog?


I was a little apprehensive of this series-- I love McKay's Casson family books, so there were high expectations going into this-- could she maintain the same level of awesome for an early chapter book?

Short answer--yes.

I love Lulu's relationship with her cousin Mellie, especially because they don't always enjoy the same things or understand each other. I like how there's more to Lulu than animals (such as jumping off the swings at the highest point possible) but everyone remembers the animals.

As an adult reader, I love the adults. They're done with enough comic timing to make kids laugh, but adult readers will understand where the book adults are coming from and with sympathize. It's also the little touches-- Lulu's mom brings a book for every day of their vacation, plus War and Peace, just in case.

I loved a scene in the first book when Lulu's teacher tries to read the kids Harry Potter but they keep interrupting to tell her that that's not right, because that's not how the movie was, and that she was doing the voices wrong. McKay has an excellent touch for the small details of life.

This is an excellent series, up there with Clementine.

Come back tomorrow, where I'll actually be interviewing Ms. McKay! Squee! So exciting! Also, a giveaway!

Books Provided by... the publisher for blog review and book tour stop.

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, March 22, 2013

Once Upon Stilettos

Once Upon Stilettos by Shanna Swendson

Katie Chandler is back! Just a small town Texan girl living in the city. Her friends all think she's normal to a fault, but at work, her normalness is what makes her special. She's Merlin's Assistant at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. because she's completely immune to magic. She can see through illusions and glamors.

Phelan Idris may have been defeated, but he hasn't given up. In fact, he's now stalking Katie outside of work to try to get under her skin (it's working.) Plus, top secret plans have been stolen from Owen's lab, so no one at MSI is trusting, or talking to anyone else, let alone working as a team. Merlin puts Katie on the task of finding out who's the inside-man and finding a way to boost morale. Plus, she's dating Ethan and trying to have one date where magic doesn't turn it into a disaster. To top it all off, her parents are in town, and it turns out, her mother's also immune.

Katie's barely keeping her head above water, and that's when her immunity goes away. And doesn't come back.

So, Katie explained *why* it took her so long to tell anyone she lost her immunity, but I totally wanted to smack her the entire time about that-- such a stupid decision. I did like Katie's interactions with her parents and how she kept having to come up with new excuses to give her mother about what she was seeing. I also really liked the mystery at play. I was very surprised by who the culprit turned out to be and did NOT see it coming, even though, looking back, the clues were completely there.

I also just love this brand of urban fantasy. Despite the big bads, it's light and fluffy and very fun.

I want more Rod. He's a character that's growing on me and I'd like to delve into that a little more. I also really loved the hilarity of when Katie was no longer immune to him.

But overall, I just like Katie. She's full of plain common sense (except for the stupid decision above) and has a good head on her shoulders. She's a bit insecure around guys, but not in a "oh, I'm so boring and normal and plain but every guy in the world wants me" sort of way. I find her insecurity honest and it doesn't get in the way of everything else. Yes, guys are there, but she has bigger things on her plate, so they're not the major priority.

Overall, it remains a fun series that I'm excited about reading more of.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, March 21, 2013


Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

When I reviewed Cinder, my main comment was:

My big complaint is that I figured out all the twists about 1/3 of the way through. However, I liked the world enough that I kept reading. Only to find that nothing really resolves, the stage just gets set for the next big adventure.

Some of that "no resolving" is still true. I think this series will end up more like being one long book instead of four separate ones. The world-building and politics involved just keep getting MORE awesome and I did not figure out everything going on with this one.

You guys, it's sooooooooooooooooooooo cooooooooooooooool. We have a few storylines going on here--

1. Scarlet's grandmother has disappeared and the police have closed the case, refusing to see the foul play that Scarlet does, so it's up to Scarlet to find her. She gets help from a street fighter called Wolf.
2. Cinder has escaped from jail with an annoying American who happens to own a spaceship, which is helpful. Of course, the spaceship is stolen, which is why he was in jail in the first place.
3. Queen Levana is not happy about Cinder's escape and gives Emperor Kai three days to find her and hand her over. Kai doesn't understand what the queen wants with her, and grapples with his own feelings at betrayal at Cinder being a Lunar. But he must do what he can to stop a Earth/Luna war, which Earth would surely lose.

I love that Cinder put Iko's personality chip in the spaceship. I love Iko's take at suddenly being a ship. (Also, the ship is called the Rampion, and the next book is Cress which both make me think Rapunzel, but Rapunzel with a spaceship? Very, very intriguing.)

Scarlet lives in France, so we get to see more of Meyer's futuristic world, and get a broader sense of the international politics at play, as well as more the Luna threat.

Cinder is learning to use her Lunar mind-control and glamor gifts, but they always make her feel squeamy and guilty. Until she uses them, which just feels right. This is an interesting issue and I'm curious to see where it goes.

This one also has a lot more action-- more fights, more jumping from trains, more crazy spaceship rides, just a lot more action and movement than Cinder does.

While the immediate story gets (some) resolution, it really just opened up many more questions. This world is so intriguing and Meyer's take on fairy tales is so fresh, I really can't wait for the next one.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Week to be Wicked

A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare.

We first met bookish geologist Minerva Highwood and rakeish Lord Payne in the first Spindle Cove novel, A Night to Surrender.

Minerva's a member of the Royal Geological Society and has been published several times in their journal. And, she's just made a discovery that's sure to win a handsome prize at their next conference. A few problems:

1. She has no way to get to Edinburgh to present her findings.
2. The Society doesn't know that M. R. Highwood is a woman.

So, she enlists the help of Lord Payne. If he'll accompany her to Scotland, she'll pay their way and then she'll give him the prize money, which should be enough to keep him entertained in London until he has access to his fortune. He also has to agree NOT to marry her sister.

But Lord Payne has some of his own conditions-- he doesn't ride in an enclosed carriage, he doesn't travel at night, and he doesn't sleep alone.

So, they're off to Scotland, but from the start, nothing goes as planned. Who cares what the Royal Society thinks-- Payne and Minerva may never get there at this rate! Plus, back in Spindle Cove, their friends know that something about this journey doesn't quite add up...

We got a glimpse of Payne and Minerva in A Night to Surrender and so I was extremely happy to find this book was all about them. I love them together, I love how Payne coaxes Minerva out of her shell without making her feel bad about who she is and what her passions are. I love how Minerva has her mind made up about Payne and how every wrong she is. Also, this really is the worst road-trip in history-- the kind that you're so glad you're not on, but are hilarious to read about. The two of them together are so great.

This is my favorite of the Spindle Cove series. (So far, I see there's a new one coming out this spring! Yay!)

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, March 18, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Mighty Mars Rovers

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity Elizabeth Rusch

I'm back looking at more the books on YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults long-list.

This is another great addition to the always excellent Scientists in the Field series. Steven Squyres is a geologist who wanted to study the rocks on Mars. He came up with the idea to send a robotic geologist in his place. The Mars Rovers went up in 2003. Spirit and Opportunity were supposed to last about 3 months. They lasted for years. Opportunity is *still* going and doing science.

I really enjoyed the way the book follows the Rovers and the team on Earth. It does a great job of showing how the scientists on the ground had to often quickly build a "fake Mars" to figure out if there was a way they could get a rover out a jam-- up a hill, or out of a sand dune. It's also so well that I almost cried when Spirit went quiet. No little robot who's lasted years longer than you should, don't die!

It also does a great job of explaining why this type of exploration is important and why we're so obsessed with studying Mars.

You can follow the Mars Rovers on NASA's website.

Update: I forgot to link to today's Nonfiction Monday roundup! It's at Perogie's and Gyoza.

Book Provided by... the publisher, for award 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.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Last Apprentice: Lure of the Dead

Lure of the Dead Joseph Delaney

In the 10th book of the Last Apprentice series, we take a break from dealing with the Fiend do deal with an issue closer to home. Apparently, a large number of Romanian dark creatures have settled just over the county border. With the destruction of the Spook's library, they're at more of a loss in how to deal with them, as the Spook's notes and research into these spirits is long gone.

Yes, finally, we have a vampire, but these aren't sparkly hot guys. These are horrible, disgusting creatures that provide some the biggest danger we've seen so far.

We also get some horrible information about what Tom has to do next.

In ways, it's a place holder book. I do like that we get non-English creatures and there's the interesting twist of not having to travel to get them. We also really see how much the Spook has aged, and how Tom's apprenticeship is starting to come to an end, how he will soon be a Spook in his own right.

I still love this series (even if I'm a book behind) and OMG YOU GUYS!!! Did you see the movie comes out next fall? With JEFF BRIDGES as the spook? I'm excited, but getting nervous. Mother Malkin's a bit too pretty. And WTF is with this: "Based on the young-adult novel The Spook's Apprentice by Joseph Delaney,Seventh Son casts Bridges as Master John Gregory, a "Spook" who imprisoned the evil witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) centuries before." CENTURIES? Um, no. Spook's not THAT old! We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm going to curl up with the next book, Slither, which looks like an interesting departure. And, of course, counting down the days until September's release of I Am Alice.

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.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Dodger Terry Prachett

You know the Dodger from Oliver Twist, but this is a different side to him. One night, he's scavenging in the sewers (which is how he earns his living) when he witnesses a girl being beat. He comes to her aid and is immediately drawn into a different world. For Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew see Dodger rescue the girl, and help further, by finding her food, medical attention, and a place to stay. Dodger wants to find the people who did this to her, and why, but the answers draw in the biggest political names of the day. Dodger is called Dodger for a reason, and these skills have allowed him to survive on London's streets thus far. Will they also help him survive in the city's finest drawing rooms?

I love Prachett's Dodger. His Dickens is also great. Some of the book is a little Shakespeare In Love but the mystery and action won't let you dwell on that for long. It's a fun read. Knowing your Dickens and your Victorian London personages will be helpful to fully appreciate it, but not necessary. I love the way Prachett paints Seven Dials, it's rough and tumble and a hard life, but the people who live there are real, and just trying to best they can. I also loved his take on Sweeney Todd and what was really going on there.

It doesn't speak to the LARGER TRUTHS that a lot of Prachett's work does, but it's also not as zanily weird, as it's firmly set in and grounded in historical facts and realities.

All in all I loved it. It's a great book that reminds me that I really do need to be reading more Prachett.

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, March 04, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Invincible Microbe

Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank.

I'm back taking a closer look at the long list of this year's YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

Murphy and Blank do a wonderful job of weaving in multiple strands of the TB story. There's the story of the disease itself, starting in prehistory and going until today, how it affects the body, how it kills, and how we've come to the drug-resistant types we have today. There's the story of those searching for a cure, the doctors with medicine, the quacks with schemes, what has worked, what hasn't, and where we are today. Then there's the story of TB's role in pop culture and policy-- the romantic idea of the consumptive waif, border closings to quarantine areas, the way it spread through centers of urban poor. Lastly, but most importantly, it's the story of those who have suffered from this disease, from prehistoric times until today.

They dip in and out of these stories seamlessly and tying it all together as they follow TB across time and space. It gets scary at the end, when they talk about TB's comback and how what little we had to combat it is no longer working.

It's fascinating and medical and social history at its best.

Amazingly, after I read this, I discovered that I actually know several people with TB. I was even able to explain the reasons behind some of the more annoying parts of their treatment!

Today's Nonfiction Monday is over at Supratentorial. Check it out!

Book Provided by... the publisher, for award 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.