Saturday, October 30, 2010

Suzanne Weyn. DISTANT WAVES: A NOVEL OF THE TITANIC

I was really struck by the beauty of this cover. So I jumped right in without reading the book jacket or anything. I was blown away. It's a magical book!

It begins in 1898 in New York City. After witnessing their mom, Maude Taylor, contact the dead in a seance, the five Taylor sisters encounter an earthquake in the middle of New York City. Actually, what feels like an earthquake turns out to be a science experiment gone awry by the renowned scientist Nikola Tesla. The girls and their mother meet Tesla when he runs outside to save them from the "earthquake." They follow him upstairs to watch him crush his invention to stop the rumble of the city. After an interesting conversation with Tesla, the chance encounter becomes a turning point for their family. Since her husband died a year before, Maude had been struggling to make ends meet, so she decides to move her family to upstate New York to a town known for spiritualists and mediums called Spirit Vale. After a series of fortunate events, she's able to set up shop there to make a living.

Most of the novel occurs before the sailing of the Titanic. This is what makes it such an amazing novel. All of the events that lead up to it are what make the story so compelling. Even after seeing the blockbuster Titanic movie and reading several books about it, I was still entranced by this completely fresh telling of the events. The various historical characters intermingling with the fictional family made it a fascinating read.

The author did a stellar job of  weaving together so many cool aspects of this time period. There was a spiritual movement where many people took psychics and mediums seriously, while other were continually trying to prove them to be fakes. Some of the fascinating people we encounter are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, WT Stead and the aforementioned Nikola Tesla. The climax of the sinking of the Titanic made for an incredible amount of suspense.

I also loved the Author's Note chapter at the end that explained what was real and what was fiction in the book. I'm usually compelled to do a bunch of research at the conclusion of a historical fiction book, but this was way better, and saved me a lot of Googling at midnight after finishing the book!
I loved this book immensely and now want to read the author's other books.

I can't recommend this book enough! It's fascinating and and the characters are wonderful!

Click here for the author's site.
Check out this cool book trailer:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anne Mazer. ALL THAT GLITTERS ISN'T GOLD

Abby Hayes has never wanted a cell phone. In fact, when she notices how everywhere she goes, people are on their cell phone, it drives her crazy! She decides she really never, ever wants one! Her entire family agrees.

But one day on the bus, when fancy pants Brianna shows off her new mePhone, Abby is awestruck. She cannot believe a cell phone can be that shiny and wonderful. She instantly wants one.

Then her friends all begin texting each other and taking pictures on their cell phones. Abby is convinced that she must have a cell phone. The only hard part will be convincing her parents.

I heard about this series and thought it would be perfect for my school, since I noticed that we didn't have enough girl books. It's a great series for reluctant readers from around 3rd grade to 5th grade. There are about 20 books in the series. It will certainly fill a need! I know the girls will love Abby Hayes!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gitty Daneshvari. SCHOOL OF FEAR

SCHOOL OF FEAR is bizarre, witty and so much fun! Four kids with irrational fears are sent to this highly secretive school that professes to be able to cure kids of their phobias. Madeline is so terrified of bugs that she wears a veil and carries bug spray everywhere. Theo is so afraid of dying that he can spout off random safety statistics. Lulu is afraid of confined spaces, while Garrison is great at all sports, except water sports, because he's deathly afraid of bodies of water.

The four kids arrive at school of fear to discover that they are the only four kids enrolled. They expected it to be more like summer camp, with lots of kids. They also didn't expect a former beauty queen has-been to be their "teacher."
Lulu questions Mrs. Wellington by asking her about her credentials. Mrs. Wellington goes on and on about her resume that includes various titles to all types of beauty pageants.

    So Lulu interrupts and says, "I meant your credentials to teach us!"
    "Oh, you silly girl! Teachers don't need credentials. That's an old wives' tale."
    "So you have absolutely no credentials to teach us about fears?" Madeline says in shock.
And here is where the kids begin to get a glimpse into who they are dealing with when Mrs. Wellington replies
    "I assure you that one doesn't need credentials for fears when one has a Fearnasium."

The kids' anxiety grows when they learn about the school's library, which doesn't contain books at all. But of course, it's a Library of Smelly Foods! The school and their teacher grow more and more bizarre, and the kids really begin to question the validity of the whole experience. They wonder how this teacher can cure them when half the time she doesn't even make sense.They wonder why she continues to call them "contestants," why learning good posture has anything to do with fears and finally, why does their food taste so bad!

Two additional characters add to the mystery. Schmidty serves as Mrs. Wellington's butler and an English bulldog named Macaroni is treated very much like a person and gets to eat at the dinner table with everyone else.

The ending is unexpected and enjoyable. Really, you must enroll in the School of Fear! You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lisa Graff Interview & GIVEAWAY!!

Yay! Lisa Graff was kind enough to stop by on her Blog Tour! I got a chance to interview her, and we have a giveaway! Keep reading after the interview for your chance to win a FREE COPY of her new book SOPHIE SIMON SOLVES THEM ALL! (click here for my review of Sophie Simon).


Hello!! Thanks so much for your time. My readers & I appreciate it. I know you’re busy with the success of your previous books. How did it feel to have UMBRELLA SUMMER and THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE named to so many award lists?


Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! I’m thrilled to visit.

I can’t tell you how exciting it’s been to be on so many state lists. It’s a big, big deal for an author, because you know kids are actually reading your books, and that teachers and librarians are behind them, too. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have on my side than teachers and librarians! It means a lot.

I love to ask authors what books they read while growing up. Did you have some favorite authors or genres?

I really enjoyed funny books when I was a kid (and I still do!). A few of my very favorite authors were Roald Dahl (Matilda and The Twits were my favorites), Beverly Cleary, and Louis Sachar. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Louis Sachar, and I turned into a giddy fan girl. I could barely remember how to talk! The other books I absolutely devoured as a child were The Baby-Sitters Club books. I think I owned about 60 of them, and I loved them so much I wrote my name in all the covers. When I left for college, my mom made me donate them to the local middle school, which I was furious about at the time, although obviously it was a wonderful thing to do. Anyway, I think it’s funny now, because that same library has lots of copies of books I’ve written, too, so now kids can read books with my name on both the inside and the outside. :)

When did you start writing?

I’ve always written for fun, mostly because my older brother, Ryan, was such a good writer (he writes screenplays), and I wanted to be just like him. When I was in first grade I won second place in a writing contest at school for a story about a birthday party at the zoo which goes disastrously awry when one of the animals gets the hiccups. But I never really took myself seriously as a writer until my freshman year of high school, when two very important things happened. The first thing was that I joined the school writing club, which was lead by Mr. Harrison, who may very well be one of the top five awesome English teachers in the world. Being in that club was so wonderful because it encouraged me not only to produce a lot of work and look at it critically, but it also introduced me to many great friends who also took writing very seriously.

The second important thing that happened to me that year was that my half-brother, Robert, was born. This was important for many reasons, obviously, but in terms of my writing it was significant because I began writing a book for him (the first novel I would ever attempt to write). It took me four years to finish and was absolutely terrible—but terrible or not, it showed me that writing novels (and specifically novels for children) was a lot of fun, and something I might really want to do. That novel was never published (I’m very happy for that), but The Thing About Georgie, which was my first published book, is dedicated to Robert and my other half-brother, David, who is a few years younger.

Did you know you wanted to be a writer while growing up?

I really had no idea, actually. I liked books and reading (my mother is a librarian, so we always had a lot of great books to read), but my favorite subjects in school were math and science, and all growing up I thought I was going to be a doctor. I actually started college as a pre-med student, and it took me a few years to realize that I thought writing was more fun than studying protists (which are eukaryotic microorganisms, in case anyone was wondering. They are not very fun.).

If you weren’t an author, what would you be doing?

I think I would either want to be a children’s book editor (which I was for several years, until I left to write full time) or a high school biology teacher.

UMBRELLA SUMMER is a current popular title in my library, so I’d love to ask about that book first. I love Annie. Was there someone in your life who inspired you to create her? 

I’m so glad you love Annie! That character is mostly based on me as a child, although I wasn’t quite as feisty as she was. That book is probably the closest to my heart, since it came out of an experience I had as a kid. When I was nine years old, my older brother, Ryan, got very sick and was in the hospital for a long time, and even though he got better (thank goodness!) and is perfectly healthy now, I’ve always remembered how scary that time was, and how worried I was not only for my brother, but for myself, too. So it was wonderful to finally be able to write about all of those feelings, and equally amazing to hear that my book has helped some other families in similar situations.

Now about your newest book, SOPHIE SIMON SOLVES THEM ALL. You create the best characters. Sophie is super smart and knows what she wants. She wants to spend time learning, not making friends. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Thanks so much! Sophie Simon was a character I’d had in my head for many, many years, but I could never seem to find the right book for her. I loved the idea of this super smart little girl who knew how to do absolutely everything—except talk to people her own age. I used to put her into exercises we would do in graduate school (I got my MFA for Creative Writing for Children in 2005), and I even once had a professor say, “This character is wonderful, but you’ll never find a story for her.” It wasn’t until I started thinking of her as sort of a hired problem solver, someone who could solve other kids’ problems, even if she didn’t like the kids themselves, that the ideas really started flowing. Still, it took about four years after that for me to find the right story for her!

I think you’ve set up the beginning of a great series! Are you planning more Sophie books?

I would love to write more Sophie books! I have ideas and outlines for many more Sophie stories, but I’ve been so busy writing other books lately I haven’t gotten a chance to get to them yet. Hopefully soon!

What are you working on now? Can you give us any teasers for any upcoming publications?

Right now I’m revising my next middle-grade novel (for the same age group at Georgie and Umbrella Summer). It’s called Double Dog Dare, and it’s about two kids, a boy and a girl, who are mortal enemies and keep daring each other to do more and more ridiculous things—until they discover that they have something surprising in common. It’s coming out late next year.

On your website, you say that you wanted to legally change your name to Lisa Graff, Great Scientist. Can we hear more about that?

At some point when I was very young, someone informed me that you could change your name when you turned 18, and I thought this was the best thing I’d ever heard. I went through a whole slew of ideas (the only other one I remember is “Cupcake,” but my mother absolutely put her foot down at that one), but “Lisa Graff, Great Scientist” was the one that stuck. I think I even made people call me that for several weeks. My brother will never let me live it down.

Thanks again! I appreciate your time. J

Thanks to you for letting me visit! This has been a blast. I hope your school year goes wonderfully!

 HERE IT IS....for your very own copy of SOPHIE SIMON...


Farrar, Straus & Giroux is giving away a free copy of Sophie Simon Solves Them All to one lucky blog reader! Just send an email to graff.lisa@yahoo.com, along with the name of this blog (Mrs. Hill's Book Blog), for a chance to win (winners will be notified within the week). Or follow along on the rest of Lisa's blog tour for more chances. For the full schedule of stops, visit www.lisagraff.com.

Lisa Graff. SOPHIE SIMON SOLVES THEM ALL

Sophie Simon is a third grader who enjoys learning calculus in her spare time. That alone is pretty unusal. But the really unusual (and funny) thing about Sophie is her parents. They just want Sophie to be "well-adjusted." They feel like all her reading and studying is just not normal for a third grader. Here's one of my favorite parts

Her parents have found an offending item in her backpack:
   "Oh, Maxwell, you won't believe what I've found in our daughters bag! It's a..." She pulled out the item, and her husband snatched it from her.
   "No!" he gasped.
   "Yes!" Sophie's mother cried.
   "It's a textbook!"
   "A college textbook!"
   "Mom," Sophie said. "Dad. I--" But she didn't get a chance to explain.
   "Advanced Concepts in Modern Calculus." her father read. "Oh Aileen, just imagine! Our well-adjusted daughter, exposed to this....educational material! The kind of stuff most adults don't understand!"
   Sophie's mother put a hand on his shoulder. "Now Maxwell, calm down. We don't even know if this book belongs to Sophie. Someone could have slipped it in her bag without her noticing. Let's give her a chance to explain before we get worked up."

It's as if her parents have found drugs in her backpack. It's hysterical! Sophie's parents are obsessed with her making friends. But Sophie is perfectly fine without them. She's only interested in learning. But as she learns more about calculus, she realizes she needs a graphing calculator. Her parents refuse to buy her one. So, Sophie uses her genius brain to work on a plan to get one. One by one, she notices other students with similar  problems. Then her problem solving skills really come in handy. Sophie realizes that she can help other students and get her calculator at the same time.

What a wonderful, silly, smart book! Sophie is a fun character. All the additional characters are just as unique and enjoyable. The illustrations are perfect too! Kids will love Sophie and her creative schemes to help everyone. I know just the students who will appreciate her.

You may recognize Lisa Graff from her book UMBRELLA SUMMER (my review here). That was a great book (current Texas Bluebonnet selection). I look forward to more from Lisa Graff. (Check out her website here.) Her characters are endearing and real. I'm hoping that Sophie is the beginning of a series!
Here is the Book trailer for Sophie