Sunday, July 25, 2010

Robin Brande. FAT CAT

Imagine cutting out all modern technology (cell phone, TV, computer, cars) AND all junk food (including all pre-made food) at the same time! I'm sure I could handle this for maybe a few days. But imagine doing this for an entire school year!

This is what teenager Cat Locke intends to do. She's determined to win the science fair this year and beat Matt, her nemesis and former best friend. To make a huge impression on the science fair judges, she decides to make herself the experiment. She wants to know if people would be healthier today if we lived as the early hominins (Homo erectus to be exact) from 1.8 million years ago did. If she eats what they did and engages in more physical activity like they did, will she be a healthier person. Would we be a healthier society?

It certainly won't be easy for her. But, since Cat can cook, she plans to cook all her food from scratch using only ingredients available to the ancient hominins. She begins walking to school and work. The withdrawals from sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeine are rough at first, but she hangs in there. Her revenge against Matt fuels her in the beginning. She's been mad at him since the 7th grade for betraying her. Luckily she has an amazing best friend named Amanda who supports her 100%.

Cat has always been a little overweight. When the healthy eating and exercise cause her to slim down, the boys begin to notice her. Cat decides to take on an additional angle in her research. Are the guys noticing her because of the weight loss or is it her new found confidence?

There are so many wonderful things going on in this book, it's really difficult to articulate it all in this review. Cat is an intelligent, likable character, Her friend Amanda is an incredible best friend and seems like she'd be a lot of fun to hang with. Matt is a neat guy too. Even Amanda's boyfriend is written well. Cat really inspired me, and I hope that she inspires teen girls to think about their health and their bodies. I love the way science, health, confidence, friendship and love are all intertwined in such a smart and wonderful book!

I've heard a lot about the author's other book:

I think I'll have to read it now!



Click here to see more about the book and the author.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Author Interview: ADAM SELZER

Yay! I scored an interview with one of my favorite authors - Adam Selzer. You know him from HOW TO GET SUSPENDED AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, ANDREW NORTH BLOWS UP THE WORLD, I PUT A SPELL ON YOU, as well as his newest I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT.
So without further delay...

My readers & I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few burning questions. I’ll begin with a few of the typical author-type questions.

Did you read a lot as a child/teen? Who were your favorite authors then?

Of course I did! In grade school I was into Daniel Pinkwater, Gordon Korman, Judy Blume and Barbara Park. In middle school I went through a brief Christopher Pike phase before moving onto Dean Koontz, Harlan Ellison, and the Beat Generation guys.

Who are your favorite authors now?

I tend to breathe better when I’m reading Dickens – I’ve read just about all of his stuff now. But I went back to some old Barbara Park lately and couldn’t believe how hilarious it was. Writing funny stuff in middle grade is extraordinarily hard, and she just makes it look effortless. I’ve also been reading the Captain Underpants series with my stepson – I love how many “big” words are in there.  I’ll take my hat off to anyone who can use the word “gastrointestinal” in a chapter book.

I agree that it takes a lot to make middle schoolers laugh. When did you start writing? Tell us about the first story you remember writing.

The first real story I remember was one called Vampires in the Woods that I wrote in second grade – it was about a friend of mine and I going camping and being harassed by a vampire. Everyone in class had to write a story, and we all sort of tried to outdo each other in terms of creativity (a pretty wonderful sort of competition to have).  Every kid in the school had to write a story that would be in a big book that everyone got at the end of the year – I still have my copy!

Wow, so really it was YOU who started the big vampire trend, huh? 
Was HOW TO GET SUSPENDED the first book you tried to get published?

Nope – the first one I tried to publish was called INSTANT KARMA, back when I was a teenager. It was a Dean Koontz-type metaphysical thriller.  I still have it around here, but I’m tempted to destroy it. I don’t think I’m famous enough that people will want to publish every extra scrap after my demise, but better safe than sorry!

How did you realize that you wanted to write for young adults? (It’s way cooler, of course, but are there other reasons?)

When I got started with writing, I thought the YA scene was much more exciting than the adult books that were coming out – and it seemed like they needed more funny books to go along with all of the books about issues. It’s also more of a subversive thrill to be a smartass in a book for younger readers, really.

I bet you have a lot of characters floating around in your head that you haven’t been able to use yet. Describe one for us.

I’ve got this one idea for a kid called Brendan Butte The Poop Salesman. He takes some snake poop to school for show and tell, and some kid offers him a buck for it, giving him the get rich quick scheme of the century…

Now that I'm in an elementary school, I can say with certainty, Brendan would be a huge hit! Do you base your characters on people you know? (we promise not to tell)

I have a t-shirt that says “careful, or you’ll end up in my novel,” but in reality I try to bury anything autobiographical.

Are you as funny in person as your characters?

I have my moments, but most of the time I’m pretty quiet.

You seem to really like history. Was that your favorite class in school?

A couple of semesters it was – it really depended on the teacher and what the assignments were like. It’s very easy to make history boring.

I’ve heard you say that high school really isn’t the best years of your life. Well, if my high school experience was more like HOW TO GET SUSPENDED AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, it might have ranked higher. What was high school like for you? What “group” did you hang out with?

I went to high school in Snellville, GA, when it was in sort of a transition period between being a total hick town and a middle class suburb. I’d just moved to Georgia from Iowa and going through some culture shock – I didn’t realize that ‘y’all’ was singular (the plural form is “all y’all”).  I got picked on by hillbillies a lot, and no one else seemed that bothered by the fact that the health teacher used his whole class to preach at us. I had plenty of friends (mostly smart, left-of-center sort of kids), but I never seemed to have any classes with them.  In my senior year I switched over to the local “alternative” school twenty miles away – they ran it like a college there. They treated the students like adults and expected us to act like it – and we did. The school had a reputation for being the place where the bad kids, stoners, and pregnant girls went, but in those days it was actually wall-to-wall smart kids.

You grew up in Idaho, right? But you’re in Chicago now? Why did you move?

Iowa, actually - then I did high school and college in Georgia. Georgia never did grow on me, so I left for Chicago right after college. I loved the idea of living in a city where I wouldn’t need a car. I think of moving back to Iowa now and then, but I love that I get paid for talking about Chicago history. No one’s going to pay me to talk about Iowa history. They might pay me to shut up about it, though.

Oops, my bad on the geography, sorry! About the ghost hunting… are you still doing that? Or is writing keeping you busy full time?

For those who don’t know, I worked professionally in the ghost busting industry for a several years – primarily doing historical research and running ghost tours, but with plenty of actual investigating thrown in. I still do it occasionally. I’ve never found anything that really made me believe in ghosts, but poking around old buildings looking for cool stuff is great fun. You’re apt to find plenty of cool stuff besides just dead people – at one old theatre, back in a little alcove we found several lip prints on the wall, which were signed and dated in the 1930s by a vaudeville dance troop.

That does sound fascinating. One more occupational question: If you weren’t a writer, how would you spend your days?

I’d probably still be in retail or restaurant gigs – that’s about all most college degrees qualify you for nowadays.

According to your website, you have a book coming out next year tentatively called Fairy Godmother. Is this a sequel or simply a book with characters we know from Cornersville Trace? Can you tell us about it?

It’s a sequel to both I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT and I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. It’s a comic noir mystery set in the same world as ZOMBIE, featuring musical theatre, vampires, magic spells, con artists, and a whole lot of unicorn poop.  I’m working full time on it lately.

Will you give us a peek into any other books you’re working on?

I’m a bit superstitious about talking about books that haven’t sold yet, but I can tell you about one called TANGLED UP IN BLUE that I think will be out in 2012 – it’s John Hughes-esque story about a girl who gets over an unrequited crush by embarking on a “holy quest” with a couple of misfits who have invented their own religion.

Wow, there's not a topic you won't tackle!

To take a look at all of Adam Selzer's books, check out his website.


For more kicks and giggles, go to the website dedicated to I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT. You will find interviews, reviews, pictures and other goodies. Like this:
<--The pamphlet that Alley reads about converting - it's really too much. LOL!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adam Selzer. I KISSED A ZOMBIE, AND I LIKED IT


What a hoot!! I've loved all of Adam Selzer's books so far, and this one is no exception. His sense of humor is unique and surprising.

This is another book set in the fictional suburb called Cornersville Trace. (I think all his books are set there, and I find this fascinating and totally something I would do if I was an author). Alley the main character is a smart, witty girl who would never date a guy her age, because they're all idiots. She hangs out with a group called the Vicious Circle. They all write for the school newspaper (actually an online blog). It's called the vicious circle because they make fun of people in brilliant and witty ways. Oh, and they now live in the post-human era. There are still humans, of course. But now all the vampires have come out of the closet, or "coffin" so to speak. It all happened after the Megamart created a bunch of zombies to work as slaves for them. It became such a big deal that the vampires advocated for them and in the process made themselves known, along with the werewolves.

Obviously, all the girls would die to date a vampire or zombie. It's a major status symbol. Alley thinks it's all so stupid...until she meets one herself. She doesn't realize that Doug is a zombie at first. (And I guess this would be a spoiler, if the title didn't already give it away). But after she's already fallen hard for him, she realizes the truth and doesn't care. She even begins considering wildly different options for her life than she had planned all along - all for love.Will she come to her senses or will she be like all the other girls who lose themselves for a guy?

This is a hilarious satirical look at the huge popularity of the undead out there including vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. I found it to be the perfect combination of sweet romance and funky paranormal. Alley is an intriguing character. And the jokes and funny lines! I could go on and on. But you should just read it for yourself!

For more on Selzer, go here for his website. And be sure to check out this website for more about the book (and tons of funny bits). And go here to see all the books I've reviewed by Selzer, which should be all of his books. I think I've read them all; someone let me know if I've missed one!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gary Paulsen. MUDSHARK

When I think of Gary Paulsen, I think about the outdoors as in HATCHET or his Iditarod books. But Mr. Paulsen has quite the funny bone too. Exhibit #1: MUDSHARK. This is a terribly funny book! I love it!

Mudshark (or properly Lyle Williams) is a talented twelve-year-old. He can find anything. If a kid lost his homework, Mudshark can remember exactly where the kid was 3 days before and what he was doing and therefore place exactly what the kid did with said homework. He's known as the local detective, but Mudshark simply pays attention - way more than anyone else, so he remembers everything. All the kids come to him to find their missing balls, pets, a parent's car, etc.

But when an even bigger mystery begins to develop in the school, the principal himself has to enlist Mudshark's help. Will Mudshark come through on his biggest case yet?

There are so many hysterical aspects in this book, I'm not sure where to begin. Let me just say that among the smarty-pants parrot, the multiplying crayfish, the hidden art connoisseur, the mysterious faculty bathroom and triplet sisters of Mudshark, you will find much to laugh at!

Entertaining and unique! Highly Recommended!

Go here for more about the talented and amazing Gary Paulsen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lisa Graff. UMBRELLA SUMMER


Annie Richards lost her brother suddenly. He died from a rare heart condition that no one could have known about. That event caused Annie to because extremely cautious in everything she does. When she bikes she wears not only her helmet, but also various pads and tape for her her ankles. She's even been caught wearing her helmet while walking down the street. She becomes engrossed in a book about preventing disease. She figures since they didn't catch what was wrong with her brother that she could easily catch something too. If she feels slightly bad, she fears she has various conditions like African Sleeping Sickness. Plus, she avoids foods she used to love like hot dogs, because they may have e coli. She doesn't see how this is causing her to miss out on her life and normal 10-year-old fun. Her friends and family notice her caution, but aren't able stop her behavior.
Then a very special neighbor moves in across the street. Mrs. Finch has recently lost someone too, so maybe that's why Annie listens to her. They become friends and Mrs. Finch is able to help Annie see how to embrace life again. And maybe Annie can now help her parents learn to move on after her brother's death too.
This was a lovely, charming and funny book. Annie is quite the character. She is able to make you see how all of her precautions make perfect sense. Her voice fells like an authentic 10-year-old girl.
I also love the sense of community and friendship in this book. You won't regret reading this sensitive, hopeful book.

Click here for more about the author & to check out her other books.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tom Dolby. SECRET SOCIETY

The prologue intrigues you immediately. A body turns up dead at Cleopatra's Needle in  Manhattan's Central Park. Maybe not so unusual in New York City? However, the small tattoo on the back of his neck in the shape of an ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, is sort of unusual.  

Three juniors at Chadwick, an exclusive private school in Manhattan,  become friends because they all receive the same cryptic text message directing them to show up at an address at a specified time. 

The find out they've been invited to a special club. They aren't sure why they were picked. The also get the impression they weren't really invited, but actually have become members through coercion. 

Pheobe is new to New York and Chadwick. She figures that it might be a way to make some friends. Nick has heard about this society from his dad over the years and realizes that it's probably his destiny to be a part of the exclusive organization. Lauren is thrilled at first because the society begins granting her secret wishes. However, after a few months of secrecy and hidden agendas, the three teens begin to ask questions. Questions that are looked upon unfavorably by the society. When one new member ends up dead, the three get worried. 

To add more drama, Nick's friend Patch wasn't invited to the society. Patch is a video blogger and decides that he will infiltrate the society. Will this put Patch's life in danger or worse - will all of the teens be in danger when Patch does his digging? 

This was definitely a page-turner! It kept me up late at night. I enjoyed all of the main characters, especially Nick & Phoebe. The ending left me wanting to read the sequel. And I recently found out that it is due out next February.

Click here for more about Tom Dolby and all of his books.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rachel Vail. JUSTIN CASE: SCHOOL, DROOL, AND OTHER DAILY DISASTERS

The last book I read from Rachel Vail was a YA called LUCKY. I loved it! (I still need to read the sequel). When I saw the cover of this one, I was immediately drawn to it, especially since my move to elementary librarian.

Justin is a bit of a worrier. A week before third grade begins, he cannot sleep. He worries about not getting into a good schedule. He worries about what teacher he'll get and whether or not his best friend will be in his class. When school starts, the kids notice his worrying one day when he's devising a back up plan for their project and they nickname him Justin Case. Justin had always wanted a nickname, but not anymore.

The novel is written in a diary format, so we really get to know Justin and all of his idiosyncrasies. He has a community of stuffed animals and they are fighting over who will be mayor. He is terrified of dogs, yet he is more terrified of robbers, so he still begs his parents for a dog. He is an adorable, funny kid, with an equally adorable family. His sister is precocious and sweet. Here is an example of her personality:
After her mom tells her that there are no boyfriends or girlfriends in elementary school, she says, "I know that, Mommy, but I have three boyfriends anyway."

Because Justin is such a worrier, this leads him to believe that he isn't brave. He encounters several situations in the book that cause him to grow and become the boy he needs to be.

I loved Justin, his family and everything about the book! The illustrations were delightful and totally matched the mood of the book! I hope Rachel Vail writes more children's books. I would love more about Justin!
Click here for my review of her YA book LUCKY. Click here for her website.