Monday, March 30, 2009

Pamela Lowell. RETURNABLE GIRL

Ronnie Hartman’s mom left her behind when she moved to Alaska with her boyfriend. She took her two brothers, but not her. So since then Ronnie’s been in several different foster homes. She’ll stay with a family for a while, but after she acts up, they return her. She’s never felt unconditional love. Now at thirteen, she’s living with a wonderful woman named Alison. She’s also making headway at school with the popular crowd. But some of the things she has to do to remain in the popular crowd are causing her to struggle with trying to be a better person. Can she turn her back on her only true friend? Then to make things worse, Ronnie gets a letter from her mom, and she must make the toughest decision of her life.
I loved how I felt so connected to Ronnie that I completely understood when she made bad decisions. She was in a position where the decisions made sense to her. That’s great character development. The story was gut-wrenchingly realistic and sad. I enjoyed the story and felt I read a true snapshot of what it must be like for far too many kids in foster care. I’m constantly amazed at what parents will put their kids through. What’s so sad about this book is that the author has seen these kinds of experiences in her daily life as a social worker.
You won’t soon forget this one. And like me, you may feel like you need to make a case for adoption here. Not around the world, but right here, where so many kids need to be adopted and loved.

Here’s the author’s website.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wendy Mass. A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE

After being called a freak in third grade, Mia Winchell has hidden something from everyone in her life. When she hears sounds, she sees geometric shapes and colors. Each letter in the alphabet has its own color. Names do too. When she realized in the third grade that no one else sees these colors, she decided to keep it to herself so people wouldn't think she was crazy. Then she begins failing math and when the thought of summer school looms over her, she decides to tell her parents. They take her to the doctor and Mia eventually learns that her “colors” are a condition called synesthesia. The best discovery for her was that other people have it too! She’s not crazy or alone. Although, when the kids at school find out, she begins to feel like a freak again. On her course of self-discovery, Mia has some challenges and losses to overcome. Does she really want to be normal or does she want to just be herself?
I loved this book. I really loved the characters and the unique story. Mia’s family is wonderful. Her older sister Beth is just the right amount of weird & caring. Her little brother Zack is adorably quirky and funny. Here’s one of the scenes that made laugh out loud. It’s when the family sits down for an important meeting:
“It has come to our attention,” my mother begins, “that some serious misconceptions are floating around this house.”
“Somebody better catch them because I might be allergic,” Zack declares. (so cute!)
Other great characters are her best friend Jenna. They go through some pretty realistic relationship ups & downs. Roger is also a pretty great guy that Mia becomes friends with. Even with all of the losses (several characters lose important members of their families), the story still manages to be uplifting. There is something about the author's voice - a tenderness that really comes through. I can’t say it enough; I really love this book.

Other books by Wendy Mass:
HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL
My review is here



Also her website is here.
Wow, she has a new book out that looks amazing! Another one for my "to read" pile!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lisa Yee Interview!

I was lucky enough to score an interview with Lisa Yee. I asked her about her new book ABSOLUTELY MAYBE (reviewed here) and other questions about her life as a writer.
Here we go:

You seem to always write such quirky, interesting characters. Do you have a lot of quirky people in your life for inspiration? Or are you just real creative?

I think my family considers me the quirky one. However, I believe that everyone has their little quirks and that’s what makes us all different. When I develop my characters, I’m always interested in the small details. For example, if a person ate Corn Nuts at every meal that would reveal much more to me than knowing they were a dentist.

What was your inspiration for Maybe’s story? Someone you know? An event?

The book started out as a funny middle grade novel called CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT. But as I started developing the story, it began to change. It went from a spoof about beauty pageants to something deeper and darker . . . although still funny. And Maybe morphed from a middle schooler to a 17-year old.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles and love it here. I also lived in Orlando, FL for a good chunk of my life. However, I was always homesick. Maybe’s story is about her homecoming (to LA), a place she had never been before.

You are awesome at describing characters. I could see Maybe, Hollywood, Ted and even Chessy in complete detail in my head. Does that come naturally for you or have you honed that talent over the years?

Even when I was a kid, I was wondering about the lives of others. I’d make up stories about people I’d see. I still do that. Before I start any book, I usually take a week or two just figuring out my characters--who they are, what they like, what they’re scared of. All my books are character driven, and they dictate the storyline.

Your blog is very entertaining. I love the way that authors today are so accessible through so many places online. Do you find that being on the computer a lot distracts from writing?

Yes. No. Sometimes.

To me, the computer is a necessary tool. I don’t think I could be an author if we still used typewriters. I love blogging and am on Facebook too much. But it’s also part of the process. Writing is a very lonely business, so with the internet I feel connected to the rest of the world.

I noticed in your bio that you’ve had a wide variety of jobs in the past. If you weren’t a writer, what career do you think you would have enjoyed?

Hmmm . . . I’ve often thought that I’d like to make jewelry. Being Brad Pitt’s stylist wouldn’t be a bad job either.

Is being a published author all you thought it would be? Any surprises? Favorite parts?

It’s better than I could have ever imagined. I was surprised, however, by all the public speaking. I had never equated that with being an author.

My favorite part is meeting my readers. When a kid tells me that one of my books changed their lives, well, that’s what makes all of this so worthwhile.

When do you write? Do you like mornings? In the middle of the night?

My best writing is done after 10 p.m. When I’m on a deadline I’ll stay up until 3 a.m. or so. That’s when the house is quiet, and I’m not distracted by e-mail or the laundry calling me.

What’s next for you? Any works in progress you can talk about?

The first of a chapter book series is out in September. It’s called BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY) and it’s with Arthur A. Levine Books. I also have a short story in the YA anthology, GEEKTASTIC: STORIES FROM THE NERD HERD. And just this week I turned in a sequel to the MILLICENT MIN series. That will be out next spring.

And finally, inquiring minds want to know, how did the fascination with Peeps begin?

NPR is to blame for that. I was listening to a program about blowing up marshmallow Peeps and just had to try it. Then I got hooked and started blowing up Peeps all the time and taking photos for my blog.

I believe it was a fan who sent Peepy to me. Now she travels with me everywhere. She even has her own fans who give her presents!

Thank you so much for your time! My students thank you also! We'll be looking for your upcoming novels!

Find out more about Lisa Yee and her books at her website here.
Her blog is here.
Also, her newest book ABSOLUTELY MAYBE has its own website here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lisa Yee. ABSOLUTELY MAYBE

You could say Maybelline Chestnut, Maybe for short, has a unique life. Her mom named her after her favorite mascara. Her mom was a beauty queen who begrudgingly gave up all her dreams of becoming a big star to have Maybe, which didn’t set Maybe up to feel “wanted.” Her mom owns a charm school to groom girls for beauty pageants. Maybe doesn’t want anything to do with it or any of the men her mom brings home. She’s about to marry again for the 7th time. He may be the worst of all. After he turns her mom against her, Maybe has had enough. Her friend Hollywood has just been accepted to college at UCLA film school, so she leaves her mom and joins him. She realizes that her real dad lives there, and she figures finding him will be just what she needs. They also bring along Ted, Maybe’s best friend in the world. The three of them begin an adventure in Hollywood. Of course, finding her dad isn’t as easy as expected, and Maybe & Ted don’t have anywhere to live or any money, so the challenges begin right away. In the end, while trying to find her dad, Maybe finds herself and some other unexpected joys in her life.
I’ll remember this one for a long time. I love when I finish a book and feel like I spent time with some amazing people. I truly enjoyed hanging out with these people. The characters are witty, fun and unique. They aren’t your normal stock characters. Each character was a fully formed person with many delightful details. The relationships are true to life. Plus the story was absorbing; I really felt the ups & downs of Maybe’s emotional ride.
Highly Recommended! I’m looking forward to reading Lisa Yee’s other books.

Oh, and as a former student of Dr. Teri Lesesne, I loved seeing her name in there! That was a hoot. And yes, she is totally a celebrity!

For more about Lisa Yee & her other awesome books, click here for her website.
For ABSOLUTELY MAYBE's very own website, click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sarah Mlynowski. BRAS & BROOMSTICKS

Fun, sassy and a wild ride! This story begins when freshman Rachel Weinstein discovers the new shoes on her feet. They are the exact green suede designer sneakers she begged her mom for the other day. But they were too expensive. She wonders how in the world they ended up on her feet! Then she’s called home for an important meeting with her mom & sister where they break the news. Her mom & sister are witches. (that explains the new shoes.) After the initial shock, Rachel realizes that her sister Miri now has power. The power to grant her all the things she wants: popularity, a cute boyfriend, etc. Miri really isn’t supposed to cast any spells until she gets through all of her training. But even Miri agrees that something must be done about the awful woman their dad is planning to marry. They must find a way to cancel it before she becomes their evil stepmonster. Of course, both girls quickly forget that the most important thing to remember when casting spells is that every spell has a consequence – usually an unintended one!
This was fun and totally relatable. Rachel’s teenage desperation and suffering was completely realistic. I enjoyed the sister bond between Rachel & Miri.
Loved it! The sequel is on my list!


The first book I read by Sarah Mlynowski was HOW TO BE BAD (review here). I’m glad I’ve discovered her other books. There are four total in this BRAS & BROOMSTICKS series. Click here for her website.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Neil Gaiman. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

Sometimes the Newbery award book perplexes me or makes me wonder why it was chosen. Not this one. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is truly deserving of all the honors it is receiving.
Nobody Owens was named by his parents. Not so unusual. Except Nobody’s parents are ghosts. Nobody, or Bod as his friends call him, wandered into the graveyard as a baby after his family was murdered. The inhabitants of the graveyard had a feeling he was in danger and adopted him. Mr. & Mrs. Owens became his parents, while someone named Silas became his guardian. Bod grows up in the graveyard, learning from ghosts teachers and playing with ghost children. Except for the ghouls, witches, dreamwalking and trickery, Bod has a perfectly normal childhood. But one day Bod learns that the man who killed his family is still after him. He will never truly be free to live his life with that man after him. So, he must make some difficult choices.
This book is filled with adventure, intriguing characters, spookiness and dread. It is the quintessential children’s book that will be adored by all ages. I love the way Gaiman writes. There is something about the way he describes things. Whereas normally I’ll get annoyed at an overly descriptive scene to the point where I begin skipping over stuff, here I relished every phrase, every well-chosen word. For example:

“The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.” and…

“The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.”

I mean, really, don’t you have distinct pictures in your head after reading these excerpts? Don’t you want to read them again? That’s just the beginning. When we’re introduced to the different characters from such wide-ranging time periods, we get to enjoy an array of dialects and quirky people.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Newbery and really want to read more by Gaiman.

But this book trailer does a much better job of creating the mood of the book. Check it out. It has the illustrations from the book (which are stunning, by the way) created by Dave McKean.
Press play & be patient, it takes a moment to start.

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean from booksamillion.com on Vimeo.

More on the book and video of the author reading the book click here.