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:

PICTURE BOOKS Picture Books

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

 

ELEMENTARY

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.

 

 

 

Harriet

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.

 

 

 

MIDDLE GRADE

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.

 

 

 

Lumberwoods

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.

 

 

 

 

9780316403511

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.

 

 

 

YOUNG ADULT

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.

cookbooks

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.

htbag

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)

 

 

pib

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 AMightyGirl.com 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

Glory

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!