The End.

I think it’s time to officially bid adieu to my blog. If the extreme lack of posts hadn’t tipped you off that this was coming already, then I should also confess that I now have a Kindle in my possession—my only solace being that I’m using it for work. But as this blog started as a tirade against ebooks, this feels like the right time to make my exit.

But first, as it’s the season for Best Books lists, I’ll leave you with my personal favorites of the year:


Mabel and Meby Mark Sperring & illus. by Sarah Warburton

Rude Cakesby Rowboat Watkins

I Don’t Like Koala, by Sean Ferrell & illus. by Charles Santos

Interstellar Cinderellaby Deborah Underwood & illus. by Meg Hunt

Ace Dragon, Ltdby Russell Hoban & illus. by Quentin Blake

Orion and the Darkby Emma Yarlett



Diva & Flea Hands down, my favorite is The Story of Diva and Fleaby Mo Willems and beautifully illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi.

This early chapter book is the delightful account of a timid dog and worldly cat who become friends in Paris.





Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is not content “trailing around the castle all looking ethereal.” She would rather be fighting monsters, riding her quail, or going cliff-diving, much to her parents’ dismay. Harriet the Invincible is also a hilarious and smart retelling of Sleeping Beauty, sure to delight elementary-school readers.





If You Find ThisIf You Find Thisby Matthew Baker

Both thoughtful and adventurous, this middle-grade mystery involves a Goonies-style treasure hunt in order for a boy to save his home. The main character is a math and music genius, and written notations appear throughout the text, letting the reader experience the unique way he sees the world.




Dream On, Amberby EDream On Ambermma Shevah

In the Wimpy Kid tradition, this doodle-filled journal looks at one girl’s transition to middle school. Both funny and poignant, it takes on the challenges of being of mixed race, having a single parent, dealing with bullies, and convincing your mom that having an up-to-date cell phone is critical to having a social life.





Do you remember the Scary Stories books? Well, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods is their modern counterpart in bestiary form. Somehow tongue-in-cheek and terrifying, this collection of illustrated stories is amazingly imaginative, and kids will love the thrill that comes with reading about these North American monsters.






Kate Hannigan strikes gold again with The Detective’s Assistantwhich takes the true story of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s first female detective, and gives her an orphaned niece/sidekick.






Wolf Wilder

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

This magical blend of folklore and history will transport readers to the snowy wilderness of Russia, where a girl strikes out to rescue her mother with the help of a wolf pack she considers family. Strong characters, danger, and beautiful writing make this a standout.





I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through Itby A.S. King

It’s no secret that I love A.S. King, and her latest was stunning—though it may not appeal to everyone. You have to be okay with magical realism and reading with the faith that the author will make sense of things in the end. Which she does, beautifully. In alternating perspectives, it tells the story of 4 teens trying to escape from personal traumas, while dealing with the pressures of standardized testing and school bomb threats. Heavy, I know, but worth taking the plunge. You’ve never read anything like it.


Newt's Emerald Newt’s Emerald is the most fun I’ve had reading all year. It’s a Recency Romance with magic, farce, and an ensorcelled mustache. What more do you need?







ZFThe Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empireby Daniel Kraus

You may accuse me of being partial, as I work with Mr. Kraus, but this book is fantastic. It was just named one of Entertainment Weekly‘s Top 10 Books of 2015, so I promise I’m not the only one who thinks so. It’s a sweeping alternate history, beginning in 19th century Chicago, that follows resurrected teen gangster Zebulon Finch as he lives through different decades. Here’s a little Q&A I did with Dan earlier in the year.



Not enough books for you? Check out the Booklist 2015 Editor’s Choice List.

(“You’re Wondering Now” by The Specials)

So if you, too, are wondering what to do now that we’ve reached the end of this blog, don’t despair. You can still find the occasional post from me over at The Booklist Reader. Whew! Thanks for reading with me over the years!

It’s Not All Fun & Gaming

HELLO! I can’t believe I haven’t written anything since Pancake Day. I’ve read at least 50 books since then—I’m not even exaggerating, though a lot of those have been picture books—so it’s not like I have an excuse. I will say I was originally waiting to have read something that wasn’t for work (I’m looking at you, The Bone Clocksonly 200 pages to go!), but that’s a losing battle, I’m afraid. And, frankly, I’ve felt less compelled to write about books in my free time since it has become my job. Yet here I am.

And guess what? I did it! I read a book for myself! This was possible because I had the e-galley on my phone and could read on rush hour trains when it was too packed to have out a real book. I did end up getting the physical book, too, because a) it’s a real book, b) it has a shiny cover, c) the images were cut off on my tiny phone screen, and d) I wanted to support Felicia Day; but it sort of felt right to read some of this book electronically, seeing as the author has made a name for herself through her internet presence. I’m talking, of course, about Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)I was first introduced to Felicia Day through the amazing Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blogwhich spoke to my love of musicals and wannabe superheroes (or villains, in this case). My fondness for Day, however, exploded when I found her web series, The Guild. If you’re not familiar, The Guild is about a group of people playing an online game akin to World of Warcraft. Though my own video game experience doesn’t extend much beyond Spyro the Dragon and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (both excellent games), I still identified with the show’s characters, who are a weird, socially awkward, anxious bunch. Just like me! I felt like Felicia Day and I could be friends. So when I heard she had a book coming out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Even though I was ready to take the plunge into an ocean of quirkiness, part of me did wonder how someone only in her thirties would manage to fill an entire book. Let me assure you that she does it quite well. The introduction and early chapters come on a bit strong, with weirdness and neuroses at the fore, yet it doesn’t take long for these qualities to strike a balance with Day’s truly interesting upbringing and rise to become “Queen of the Geeks.” As a homeschooled violin and math prodigy who went to college at age 16, she has plenty of entertaining stories and unfortunate childhood photos to share. Her decision, then, to be an actress comes seemingly out of the blue, but it is in keeping with Day’s determination to follow her heart, which readers will see is precisely how she managed to carve out her own “weird niche…in life.” And that is inspiring.

She is cute and weird, yes, but this book really lets you see how intelligent and driven she is, as well—a bit like a neurotic Drew Barrymore for the online world. I identified most strongly with her struggle to find work after college, while she bemoaned that her “dazzling 4.0 GPA wasn’t the trump card in this new world” that she’d expected. Readers get to follow the inauspicious start to her acting career, her addiction to World of Warcraft—which served as fodder for The Guild, cutting edge entries into internet technologies, and the launch of her own web production company, Geek & Sundry. You’re mistaken if you interpret “quirky” as “fluffy,” because she packs in plenty of serious material, especially in the second half of the book. Most importantly, Day uses her book to encourage people to pursue their passions and have pride in what they create, and she does this in a way that is accessible and charming. If you like stories about the unflinchingly unique, this is one for you.

I thought it would be nice to make this post a pairing, so I bring to you my Booklist review The Unfortunate Decisions of Dalia Mossof The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Mossby Max Wirestone, which is coming out this October. This light, funny mystery also takes readers into the gaming world, and will especially appeal to the Stephanie Plum crowd. Enjoy!

Review originally published in the Sept. 1, 2015 issue of Booklist:

“For 26-year-old Dahlia Moss, the past year has been a blur of fruitless job interviews, breakup blues, and ramen dinners. So when Jonah Long approaches her at a party with a business proposition, she jumps at the opportunity, or at least the $2,000 attached to it. Her mission: recover a spear that was stolen from Jonah in Zoth, a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Professionally unqualified (“I’m not a detective. I’m an unemployed millennial with an overly expensive business degree.”), Dahlia does have gaming experience on her side; however, she has barely begun her investigation when Jonah is killed by a real-life replica of the digital spear she was hired to find. Undeterred, she plunges into the role of private detective with hapless enthusiasm, encountering bizarre characters, both in-game and out, who only complicate the mystery of the spear and Jonah’s death. Dahlia’s misadventures feel like Stephanie Plum meets The Guild web series, filled with comic circumstances and geek culture. A hilarious, delightful start to a new mystery series.”

I’ll try not to let another 6 months go by without posting, but no promises!


Pancakes? Yes, Please!

It’s almost time for my favorite holiday of the year: Pancake Day. Tomorrow gets more buzz as Mardi Gras or even Shrove Tuesday, but this leaven-using, pre-Lenten blowout is best observed by eating pancakes.

Some celebrate by participating in pancake flipping races–Olney, England claims to have originated this tradition in 1455 and now competes against flippers in Liberal, Kansas (“The Pancake Hub of the Universe,” with its own International Pancake Day Hall of Fame). While I hope to one day make it to one of these cities to see aproned individuals run down the street with their frying pans, I’m pretty satisfied for the time being to eat pancakes for at least one meal. At least.

Yes, whipped cream

I like to think that Leslie Knope would share my enthusiasm for the snack-based holiday, considering that we both love s’mores, whipped cream, and waffles. As such, I’m using that as a weak transition to talk for one second about Amy Poehler’s book, Yes, Please! Yes, Please! is a delight. Filled with photos, notes, and letters, Poehler’s memoir is easily the heaviest book I toted around last year. Luckily, it was also one of the quickest to read. A hilarious look back on her childhood and time spent in the improv trenches, what struck me most about Poehler’s book is how humble and grateful she is for her achievements. They are never described as something she deserved; rather, they are the product of extreme hard work and support and collaborative efforts of friends. She never stops appreciating what she has, and I loved that. Fans of her work or those trying to break into the industry will undoubtedly get a kick out of reading about her failures and successes, as will women who are after some refreshing lady inspiration. For those of you who would rather not carry around the dense hardcover, the audio version boasts an all-star cast and a starred review over at BooklistFrankly, I have a feeling both formats are worth experiencing. Yes, Please! certainly isn’t a life-changing book, but it’s one I came away from liking people a lot more. It’s an honest dose of humanity that could do most people good. I can also say, that Amy Poehler is someone I would like to eat pancakes (or waffles) with one day. See that? I brought it around full circle.

And to wrap up, I’ll mention my two current favorite cookbooks, in case you’re in need of a pancake recipe.


Coming in at polar opposites, are Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook (Eat Like You Give a F*ck) and Quirk Books’ Little Old Lady RecipesIf Irvine Welsh were to write a cookbook, it would be Thug Kitchen. Vegan recipes made edgy with ridiculously filthy language, this book is as entertaining as it is awesome, and it contains an easy recipe for whole wheat banana pancakes. Equally entertaining, but a bit more prim and proper, is Little Old Lady Recipes, which thumbs its nose at cooking shows and foodie culture by getting back to basics and a liberal use of lard. Pictures of little old ladies, both sweet and sassy, are paired with the recipes they’ve contributed, including classic pancakes for those who’d rather not go the vegan route. If you’re in Chicago, I got this quaint cookbook added to the public library’s collection. Don’t even worry about it.

Happy Pancake Day! Go eat some pancakes!

As Promised, “How to Build A Girl”

HTBAG If there’s one book it feels right to write about while drinking and listening to music, it’s Caitlin Moran’s How To Build A Girl.  Part High Fidelity, part raunchy coming-of-age story, How To Build A Girl might be the book I took most pleasure in reading in 2014.  Drawn heavily from her own life experiences, How To Build A Girl is the story of Johanna’s teenage struggles to extract herself from an impoverished life in a small English town by becoming a music journalist and escaping to London. Best known for her work as a journalist and feminist–you may know her from her book How To Be A Woman, this marks Caitlin Moran’s first foray into fiction.  I suppose I ought to mention that this is not a YA novel, though it’s about a girl from the time she’s 14 until she turns 17, which is not to say teens wouldn’t devour it.  Their parents, however, might take issue with the amount of sex and masturbation within its pages.  What else is on the mind of the average teen, though?  Johanna is overweight and oversexed and her primary concern from page one is losing her virginity.  Alongside this urgent mission, though, we get to know a girl who is smart, caring, poor, and incredibly awkward.  Her father is out of work on disability and her mother busy caring for a brood of children, leaving Johanna few options but escape through academia.  After winning a poetry contest, which involves a very embarrassing t.v. appearance, she decides to reinvent herself.

“I just don’t want to be me anymore.  Everything I am now is not working.   …And so, I just…start all over again.  I have read, many times, the phrase ‘a self-made man,’ but misunderstood what is meant.  I presumed it was describing not a working-class boy made good in industry—smoking cigar, in slightly overshined shoes—but something more elemental and fabulous instead.  Someone mage-like, who had stitched themselves together out of silver gauze, and ambition, and magic.   ‘A self-made man’—not of woman born but alchemized, through sheer force of will, but the man himself.  This is what I want to be.  I want to be a self-made woman.  I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast-moving thing I can see.  I want to be the creator of me.” (65-66)

And who doesn’t want to be someone else at some point in their life?  What teenager isn’t searching for an identity, a calling, or a community to be a part of?  At one point Moran states that the work of your teenage years is invention and reinvention.  This is the heart of the book, which given its title is stating the obvious; however, it is one of the first times I’ve seen this topic tackled so directly.  Johanna is aware of her method yet ignorant of her madness, making it impossible to tear your eyes from her as she manufactures an outer transformation and strives to match her insides to it with mixed success.  She dresses in black, dons a top hat, and flirts with joining the goth crowd before settling on becoming a music journalist.

“This is, apparently, terrible writing.  The music press is, obviously, some manner of Versailles, filled with decadent, lace-cuffed dandies trying grandiloquent nonsense about hardworking musicians in bands.  These are puffed-up fop parasites, riding on the mighty back of the noble rock beast.  Lollygaggers, poseurs—petit-maitres riffing toss late into the night, making no sense, making the world an infinitely worse place.  These people are, really no better than scum.   And I think: I love this stuff.  I could do this.  Fuck writing a book about a fat girl and a dragon.  I could be a music journalist instead….This is what I’ve been waiting for.   This is my way out.” (79)

And she does it–not with immediate success and not without repercussion, and all the while we watch Johanna with an almost morbid fascination as she hurls her new self, dubbed Dolly Wilde, at the world.  The world, it turns out, remains a hard place, but not nearly as hard as living through adolescence.  Johanna/Dolly is soul-crushingly hilarious and she gets into some truly outrageous predicaments with equally outrageous people.  Packed with 1990s pop culture and parties where the reader can relish being a fly on the wall, How to Build a Girl never fails to entertain, though it remains grounded by working-class issues and the trials of self-discovery.  You never stop hoping she’ll catch a break or stop screwing up because she pours her entire being into this dream, but it’s not until she pours Johanna’s soul into her Dolly Wilde persona that she finds herself on solid ground.

The first book in a planned trilogy, the following books will focus on new chapters of Johanna’s life.  Moran gives the following breakdown by title and theme:

  1. How to Build a Girl: Bad Sex, Masturbation, & Pop Music
  2. How to Be Famous: Creativity, Class, & Money
  3. How to Change the World: Forms own political party at 30

Was How to Build a Girl the best written book I read last year? Nope.  But it was the most fun to read.

Want to hear Caitlin Moran in conversation?  Take a listen to interviews on Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week? (skip to the 29 minute mark) or The New York Times Book Review Podcast.


The Tiniest News Flash Amid the Rambles

Good golly, where do I even begin?  Happy New Year?  Needless to say, I’m a bit late sending out those wishes, but I mean them with the utmost sincerity.  I’m pretty jazzed to be done with 2014, which I have dubbed My Worst Year So Far.  I made myself a bullet point list of all the things that went awry, and it stretched past the one-page mark.  I typed it in pink font.  This helped highlight its absurdity and the fact that it’s over now (thank goodness), and I’d post it here if I wasn’t worried it might make my mom sad.  I started reading Strong Lady books and paying attention to feminist discussions for the first time.  Hermione’s on board, so why not see what it’s about, right?  Just kidding.  I tried reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist* but put it down after she bored me with her Scrabble essay.  I already know how to play competitive Scrabble, Roxane, and that is why no one will play with me anymore.  My brother informs me that it might have more to do with the way I refer to other players as “opponents” rather than “friends.”  I don’t see why these terms have to be mutually exclusive, but I sense the root of the problem lies somewhere in that statement.  I digress, though.  All this should help explain why the last two adult books I did read were How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler, which I will hopefully create posts for in the near future.

The other reason I bring up last year’s nonsense is to emphasize how incredible 2015 has been in contrast: I’ve gotten an amazing new job.  Hurray!  I’m so pleased to announce that I have just finished my first week at Booklist as their new Associate Editor of Books for Youth.  Hurray again!  I can’t wait to figure out this means, but in general I will be reading, writing, reviewing, editing, and meeting people in the book biz.  What could be better?  The only negative I’ve found so far is that there is no good coffee near the office.  Luckily, my window ledge can comfortably hold a pour over bar.  So, yes, I’m thrilled and overwhelmed and have no idea what direction this blog is about take.  Don’t worry, it will still be book focused, but I may have to play around with the types of posts I’m doing as I settle in to my new life in this lovely new year.

*I think Roxane Gay is great and people should absolutely read her book. If you’d like a glimpse of her style, pop on over to The Toast, where she is editor of The Butter.

Small & Mighty: Early Chapter Books with Feisty Females

This post goes out to all the little ladies who maybe don’t want to wear dresses or matching shoes. Who have big, brave hearts. Who are excellent friends.

I had a friend ask me lately for recommendations of books to read with her 4-year-old daughter that are a little longer than picture books.  I thought it would be fun to look at early chapter books with empowered heroines.  These could easily work for girls (or boys!) from ages 4-8 and, while by no means a comprehensive list, they are some of my favorites.  Ordered roughly by reading level, easiest to hardest, here we go!

binkBink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee, Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink & Gollie are best friends, who are nothing alike but love having adventures together.  Divided into 3 short chapters with lots of illustration, Bink & Gollie is a sweet and funny friendship story.

Winner of the 2011 Geisel Award (best beginning reader)




The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia may appear pink and puffy, prim and proper, but she has a secret.  She is also the Princess in Black, a monster-fighting protector of people–and goats–who is unafraid to throw herself into a fray. Bright and charming illustrations bring to mind classic Golden Books, while showing that there’s more than one way to be a princess.



ivyIvy & Bean by Annie Barrows, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Neighbors Ivy and Bean can’t stand each other.  Ivy is neat, proper, and likes to read.  Bean’s a messy whirlwind of activity with a propensity for practical jokes.  One day when a trick goes awry, Bean gets help from the most unlikely of people: Ivy.  Backyard adventures, a surprising friendship, and charming illustrations make this a fun, endearing series.



clementineClementine by Sara Pennypacker, Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Confession: I haven’t read this one, but here’s an excerpt from Carolyn Phelan’s Booklist review:

“As Clementine says, ‘Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.’ All the better for readers who like to laugh. Reminiscent of both Ramona and Junie B. Jones, Clementine is an ingenuous third-grader with a talent for trouble and a good heart.


OttolineOttoline and the Yellow Caby Chris Riddell

I adore Ottoline. This quirky and often overlooked book tells the story of a young girl’s attempt to solve a neighborhood mystery with the help of her hairy companion, Mr. Monroe.  Riddell’s pen & ink illustrations boost the book’s whimsey, giving readers the chance to view Ottoline’s huge apartment, her odd shoe collection, and the interesting characters she mets during her investigations.



BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

When Sophie is carried off by the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), they team up to stop the other giants, who have less than friendly plans–namely, eating children. Dahl plays with language, making up words that kids will love to try to say.  Blake’s somewhat scribbly illustrations perfectly fit with Dahl’s off-kilter storytelling.  A classic.




floraFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

When cynic & comic book lover Flora revives a squirrel after an unfortunate encounter with a vacuum cleaner, it awakens with super powers. It has super strength!  It can write poetry!  It can fly!  Pencil drawings and comics-style panels reflect the warmth and spirit of the story, which takes a few serious dips but always manages to end on top. An unforgettable dynamic duo.

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Award.


This barely scratches the surface of the books that are out there, but they are the ones that sprang immediately to mind.  For more titles, pop over to and check out their Top Rated Read-Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls and feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comments!

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future


I told you I had a review in the works!  Here it is: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future.  I’ve not been shy in the past about proclaiming my love for A.S. King’s work and I’m not about to start now.  What I have come to find is that you are guaranteed a well-written and interesting read when you pick up one of King’s novels. She writes from unique perspectives, which serve as reminders that the world is a varied and complex place, as are the people who reside there.  Her new novel, Glory O’Brien, is no exception.

Days before her high school graduation, Glory O’Brien and her best–and only–friend Ellie mix a mind-altering cocktail of beer and powdered bat (yes, the animal) and are bestowed with the ability to see the past and future of living creatures, from birds to humans.  Sometimes these visions pertain directly to the person caught in their sights, but often it is their ancestor’s or progeny’s life that is revealed.  Interestingly, the girls never see the same things, and Glory consistently gets glimpses of a future war, which she begins writing down: her history of the future.

Couched within this wonderfully bizarre premise, are the inner struggles of Glory, herself.  Glory is an individual.  She doesn’t care what others think and generally steers clear of interacting with people.  As a photographer, she is an observer of the world, seeing things on a lighting scale of max white to max black and wondering what her place in it will be.  Early on we learn that her mother was a talented photographer who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool.  Her death haunts the O’Brien house in the photographs adorning its walls, in Glory’s father’s inability to move forward with his life, in never talking about what happened.  In her mother’s old dark room, Glory finds a book of her notes and pictures, which supplies as many questions about this woman as it does answers.  Glory’s head grows increasingly full as she fills in her personal history from her dark room discoveries and watches snippets of an as-yet undeclared war play out in the faces of those around her.

Garnering comparisons to The Handmaid’s TaleGlory O’Brien tackles women’s rights in Glory’s visions and the implications of what could happen if they are eradicated.  It is a sobering future.  King manages to raise readers’ consciousness to feminist issues without being preachy, and the subject couldn’t be more timely, considering today’s political climate.  However, unlike Handmaid’s Tale, this is not the dominant story of the book; it shadows a more intimate plot that is devoted to identity and a strained friendship.  I appreciate that King takes on politics and other important relationships in Glory’s life, rather than defaulting to teenage romance.  Sex, relationships, crabs–these all feature, but a romantic plot (or sub-plot) does not, making me a happy camper.  Another nice aspect to the novel is the way King’s own photography background is unitlized.  She studied photography as an undergrad, so the language she uses to capture Glory’s way of viewing the world as a photographer comes across as entirely authentic.

One of the most enjoyable parts of reading Glory O’Brien is that it offers so many insights from so many unexpected places.  It is thought provoking.  It is a book of surprises.  A.S. King has delivered once again, as she always does, and I am not the only person who thinks so.  I am happy to report that Glory O’Brien has made its way onto School Library Journal‘s and Publishers Weekly‘s, Best Young Adult Books of 2014 lists.  Kirkus will release its teen picks on December 1, so keep your fingers crossed that we see Glory there, as well!


Kicking Back with Children’s Classics


It’s time for a long overdue hello.  While I’ve got a review post in the works, I just wanted to take a quick moment for the classics in children’s literature, especially as publications and bloggers begin to roll out their Best of 2014 lists.  This is primarily due to the fact that I treated myself to a documentary double feature last night, both on children’s book creators, which served as a good reminder that as exciting and varied as children’s literature is today, contemporary books owe much to their predecessors: titles that pushed boundaries, treated kids like intelligent beings, and still can hold their own today.

The first documentary I watched was The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond ExpectationsThis film provides a charming look at the friendship between Norton Juster (author) and Jules Feiffer (illustrator) and how their classic The Phantom Tollbooth came to be.  Almost as wonderful as Juster and Feiffer’s personal stories is the commentary by figures, such as Marcus Leonard (children’s literature historian), David Hyde Pierce, Adam Gopnik, and Eric Carl.  I admit that I never read The Phantom Tollbooth as a child.  I came to it later in life and was utterly delighted by the way it played with language, its shameless use of puns.  For those of you unfamiliar, The Phantom Tollbooth is an Alice in Wonderland-ish tale of a boy who travels to another world characterized by language (Dictionopolis) and math (Digitolopis), where he must rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason.  Juster did not shy away from using challenging vocabulary or playing with the meaning of words, and as a result had a difficult time finding a publisher for his book; it was deemed inappropriate for children.  However, once it found its way to bookstore shelves, children adored it for its sense of fun and its challenges, raising the bar for “acceptable” writing in the realm of children’s literature.   Most importantly, the documentary highlighted how these things continue to resonate with children today.  It showed multiple generations at book signings and children cracking up over a turn of phrase or the realization that the dog with a clock in its side was a literal watch dog.

For its 50th anniversary in 2011, an annotated edition of the book was released, chock full of extras and insights by Marcus Leonard.  While the documentary is not available to rent, it is well worth the $10 for any children’s book or Phantom Tollbooth fan.  Also of interest may be Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker piece, “Broken Kingdom,” which also looks at the book’s 50 year history.

Speaking of anniversaries, my favorite book of all time turned 50 this year.  I am talking, of course, of the inimitable Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  A beautiful, hardcover edition was published this year in honor of the occasion, which brings back the original (and best) cover and includes essays from a wealth of authors, speaking of the important impact Harriet had on their lives.  For a more detailed look at the book’s history and essays, take a look at the Publisher’s Weekly article, “Harriet the Spy Celebrates 50 Years of Sleuthing.”  Nothing will ever compare to Harriet.

Next up on my documentary binge was Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story. This movie was utterly fascinating.  I knew nothing about Tomi Ungerer except that I had shelved some of his books when I worked at the children’s bookstore.  He was a man who went from revered to shunned in the course of an evening by daring to illustrate erotica and anti-war posters after making a name for himself as a children’s book author/illustrator. He defied his audience by daring to expand it.  If anyone was unafraid to push boundaries, it was Ungerer, and his praises are sung by Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer, and Marcus Leonard among others.  I loved hearing all the things this strange, passionate, somewhat tortured man had to say.  Not nearly as lighthearted as The Phantom Tollbooth documentary, it does have a happy ending, and I found myself entranced the entire film.  This one is on Netflix, so do yourself a favor and stick it in your queue if you can’t watch it immediately.

Ungerer collage

Excited for Fall

I can’t believe I’m writing about fall already, but I also can’t wait for it to get here because there are so many great writers putting out books.  Here are the ones I am most excited for!

Adult Books

MitchellThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Release: Sept. 2, 2014

My favorite author!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’m ignoring all reviews until I have this book in my hands.  It’s a big one and he can be dense, so it will probably be a couple of months before I’m ready to write a review of my own.  I can’t wait, though!



WolfWolf in White Van by John Darnielle, Release: Sept. 19, 2014

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, one of my all-time favorite bands, has written his first ever novel.  Eee!  Here’s a nice little write-up by his editor.

“John Darnielle’s novel moves through the mind like a dark-windowed car through a sleepy neighborhood: quiet, mysterious, menacing, taking you places you will never, never get out of your head.” —Daniel Handler

YA Books

A.S. KingGlory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, Release: Oct. 14, 2014

The incredible A.S. King’s latest has garnered a starred review from Kirkuswhich describes it as “An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism,” and School Library Journal describes it as “Handmaid’s Tale-esque” and “beautifully strange.” I’ll read anything King writes and suggest you do, too.  Just a note: Reality Boy sees its paperback release Sept. 23, 2014.

500500 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Smith is fast-gaining a reputation as an amazing and original writer of YA, though he remains slightly under the radar of the reading public at large.  Author of titles such as The Marbury Lens, Winger, and Grasshopper JungleSmith is sure to create a story you’ve never read the likes of before.



In the meantime

MurakamiI’m finishing up the new Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageI’m enjoying it so far.  My mood of late has been a bit sullen, so this book has complemented it perfectly.  It’s a quiet and reflective story of a man searching for answers about an event in his past.  He travels and talks to people along the way, hearing their stories as he pursues his own.  It hasn’t taken a bizarre turn yet, but you never can tell where Murakami will take things.


CarsickAnd if you aren’t quite ready to embrace fall, one of the best books I read this summer was John Waters’ Carsick.  It’s fast, fun, funny, and occasionally crude; in short, a perfect summer read.  Part fiction, part personal essay, Carsick is the story of Waters’ endeavor to hitchhike across the country from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.  The book is divided into three sections that are essentially novellas: the first, his imagined best case scenario for this trip; the second, the worst case scenario; and the third, the trip as it actually happened.  You don’t have to be a die-hard Waters fan to enjoy this book, though fans of his films will pounce on the myriad references throughout.  He even provides readers with a soundtrack, because what road trip would be complete without a mix tape?  I followed up Carsick with the I Am Divine documentary on Netflix, which was great and a pairing I wholeheartedly recommend.

Super Reads

A number of people have asked me if I have any say in the books I get to review for Booklist and Shelf Awareness.  The answer is, yes!  I give my editors a general idea of the type of book/age group I like to read, and they send me books based on this.  My main thing is that I don’t do romance.  As a result, I’ll often get war or sports stories–not my favorites, but still preferable to feelings-laden narratives. But I’ll also get superhero stories!  I’m always happy to find on of these in the mix. They run the gamut of action, adventure, humor, suspense, noir, social or political commentary, and light romance, which I can handle as a side story.

As any trip to the movies can tell you, the summer is a prime time to get lost in a world of supers.  If you’re looking for something beyond the box office, here are a few of my superhero picks for kids & teens:


Almost Super by Marion Jensen

In Brief: A fun and funny adventure for elementary to middle school readers in the spirit of The Incredibles

Review originally published by Booklist, Feb. 1, 2014

“In a family where your dad can fly and your great-aunt can breath fire, finding out that your superpower is worthless is, well, devastating. Such is the misfortune of Rafter and Benny Bailey. For longer than anyone can remember, Baileys 12 years old and older have been bestowed with a superpower on Leap Day (February 29) that is used to fight their nemeses, the Johnsons. But this year the Bailey powers, quite frankly, supersuck. Unsatisfied with being stuck on the sidelines, Rafter is determined to find out who is stealing the supers’ real powers. Together, he, Benny, and an unlikely friend turn up evidence that suggests there are new supervillains in town. Packed with action and humor, this is a superhero tale in the spirit of The Incredibles. Jensen’s wit and light tone give the story a playful quality while still managing to incorporate a healthy dose of suspense. Family dynamics and teamwork drive a plot that has, above all, a super amount of heart.”

IllusiveIllusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

In Brief: X-men meets Ocean’s Eleven for older middle-grade readers & teens

Review originally published by Booklist, May 15, 2014 Starred Review!

“In the not-too-distant future, the world is struck by the deadly MK plague. When a vaccine is created, it is rapidly distributed before thorough testing has been done. That is why no one is prepared for “the immune”: the .003 percent of the population that develops unusual abilities, such as levitation and mentalism. Seventeen-year-old Ciere Giba happens to be an illusionist—she is able to trick the human eye, altering her appearance or the space around her. As with any of the immune, she has only a few options available: work for the government, go to prison, or become a criminal. She chooses the harried freedom of being a thief, but after a foolhardy burglary leaves her entangled with a powerful crime syndicate, Ciere takes a job that leads to a dangerous discovery, one that not only puts her crew at risk but also could threaten the world at large. Boasting a complex plot, heart-stopping bursts of action, and questions regarding human nature, Lloyd-Jones’ thought-provoking, multifaceted narrative neatly sidesteps categorization as just another superhero or dystopian novel—though fans of both will be drawn to the material and be pleasantly surprised. An impressive debut guaranteed to disappear from the shelves before your very eyes.”

Hero Hero Worship by Christopher E. Long

In Brief: YA Superhero noir, where the heroes aren’t as heroic as they seem

Review originally published by Booklist, Dec. 15, 2013

“For his entire life, 17-year-old Marvin Maywood has idolized the Core, the squad of superheroes that protects his city from crime. Because his own powers are “dirty,” he knows he can never join their ranks; however, after committing a daring rescue, Marvin finds himself chosen as a potential recruit. It doesn’t take long for him to see that the Core is not the upstanding, heroic outfit he had always believed it to be. Faced with truths that put his convictions to the test, Marvin must decide what it really means to be clean or dirty, and what it means to be a hero. Long’s experience writing for Marvel and DC Comics lends this superpowered novel added depth and believability. Loaded with action and moral ambiguity, this is a classic superhero story with noir sensibilities. Sex, alcohol, and corruption feature in the narrative but never gratuitously so. At its heart, this is the story of a teenager trying to navigate relationships and find his place in the world—only supersized.”

FloraFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

In Brief: A cynical young girl befriends a squirrel with superpowers.  A charming, illustrated story for young readers.

See my original review here!



Have a favorite superhero story of your own? Leave it in the comments!