Monday, August 18, 2014

Young At Heart: The Giver - This Thursday 7pm Bookmans Mesa

Young At Heart's August selection is The Giver by Lois Lowry!  If you aren't local, and are interested in a Google Hangout discussion about The Giver, drop me a note or leave a comment.  I'm very interested in doing on online version of Young At Heart for those that aren't local in Arizona.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Random by Tom Leveen

I used to think Tom's tagline should be, "Tom Leveen: Better Than Expected!"  After reading RANDOM, I'm pretty sure he's earned an upgrade to, "All Hail Tom Leveen: King Of Teen Contemporary."

If you ask someone what this book is about, they're likely to tell you it's about bullying.

But it's not.

It's about a girl's eight-hour journey to self-discovery.  Tori, on trial for aggravated manslaughter after making some crude jokes about a fellow classmate after he commented on one of her posts and then later commits suicide, receives a call at random from a guy threatening to drive himself off of a cliff. The story is about the conversation they have and the lengths which she goes to try to help him stay alive.

It's about Tori's struggle to find her center, and with a little support from a really good friend, she's able to have some breakthroughs that you normally wouldn't get the night before you are showing up to court to defend yourself for a crime you feel you didn't commit.  It's a beautiful lesson in strength and growth that we all can learn from.  And it's strangely uplifting with such morbid subject matter.

The writing is genius.  It shows the teen brain in a real light, with a heavy focus on fairness and self-preservation.  The use of the mourning dove as imagery is just, I don't even know.  Brilliant?  Epic?  Inspired?

It's a short book, but the character development is amazing.  The plot is easy to follow and the way the story weaves in the history that caused the current situation is flawless.  I honestly couldn't rave more about this book, its structure, or its execution.  The setting is appropriate, and Tom doesn't waste words on unimportant details.  It's concise and powerful and unputdownable.  <--that a="" mmkay="" p="" s="" word="">
I'm usually rather outspoken about the fact that I feel that the term "bullying" has been applied too liberally.  I don't think that saying mean things to someone is bullying them.  I think we have to develop a thick skin somewhere and as someone who was both bullied and did some bullying in my day, I feel like the spectrum I engaged in during my junior high and high school experience has made me a stronger, more compassionate person today.

But, this book turned my perception of bullying on its ear.  By showing me the psychology of the cyberbully, Tom opened my eyes.  And while I still don't think that saying something mean to someone's face should be means for expulsion from school, I do believe that cyberbullying is a real issue.  Deliberately making someone feel small is not okay, not in real life or in virtual life.  Cyberbullying and hiding behind a computer to say horrid things to someone is a real problem.  It's not one that I've faced, but it's one that my child may face.  And it all goes back to that whole thing I was saying a few weeks ago about content and parents managing what their children consume.  That has to stretch to social media as well.  If we want our children to be civil, we have to be involved so that we can teach them how to act in a real -or virtual- situation.  

PARENTS: The subject matter is heavy on bullying.  It has references to drugs (though not any active use thereof), strong language including many instances of the "f-word" and references to homophobia and hate crimes.  Like always, you know what your teen or child can handle, so you decide.  

Tom will be at Changing Hands Tempe tonight at 7pm for his book launch of Random.  You can watch the live stream of the launch here, and make sure you pick up a copy this week from your local Indie, or if you like, from Amazon.

Also, I really liked the first cover better than this one.  It was so much more appropriate.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Islands At The End Of The World by Austin Aslan

My immediate reaction to this book - about a girl and her dad, stuck on Oahu trying to get back to the big island - is that I just didn't know what I thought. It's a sci-fi dystopia.  Leilani, the main character, constantly info dumps Hawaiian lore and Hawaiian language on us.  That part?  I really almost hated.  I hate it when information doesn't come to light in original, creative ways, integrated into the plot.  But this plot was engaging enough to keep me coming back for more, wondering what might happen to the characters.

So let's talk about that plot.  It's a quest.  Leilani and her dad, a University of Hawaii at Hilo professor, have to get home after commercial flights are cancelled and they're stuck a few islands away from Leilani's mom, brother, and grandfather.  They encounter all kinds of obstacles while trying to get home when society and law have completely melted into something... just... ugly.  I found the situations in the plot quite believable and easy to understand the implications if they chose a different course of action.  About two-thirds of the way through the book, it takes a turn for the sci-fi.  A twist that you sort of see coming, but sort of don't because you don't know enough to put the pieces together.  Just take my advice that the seemingly irrelevant, info-dumped Hawaiian mythology does come into play and it becomes relevant, despite what your reader instincts might tell you.  And there's a lot of mythology to learn, which makes me want to make excuses for the info dumping, but I'm still not happy with that aspect.

As far as character development goes, Leilani, bless her heart, seems to act, then process, rather than having questions flying through her mind the entire time she's making decisions and making moves.  She doesn't recognize others' emotions until she has reflected on them. However, you see definite growth for her across the arc.  I really enjoyed that the characters didn't make every choice correctly.  They screw up.  And they try to correct their course before it's too late, but they don't always end up in peachy heaven.  In fact, I really like that.  Also, the fact that there are no throw-away characters earns bonus points.

The sci-fi element was really hard for me though.  It seemed forced and convenient, but then again, sci-fi twists usually feel that way for me.  But the setting, ohhh the setting.  It's almost poetic.  Which is a weird way to describe the setting, I understand.  But it is.  And most of the plants and geography are important to the story, so I really appreciated that it didn't meander and maintained purpose throughout.

As a reader, I'm satisfied with the first book in the series, but curious about book 2.  We had the opportunity to meet Austin at Phoenix Comicon, and that was really fun.  He was a great part of the Debut Authors panel bringing a much needed male voice and perspective to the room.  He's here in Arizona for the time being, working on a PhD in geology.  All of his education comes out in his writing, and you can tell he has a passion for learning all things sciency that have to do with nature (an affinity that I share), and that he's spent a lot of time in Hawaii.

I recommend that you give this book more than the customary 10 pages I usually suggest.  It does get better after the info dumps ebb, and the plot is almost magnetic, making you wonder what could conceivably happen next and how they can possibly get out of the situation they're in.

Parents: There is graphic gun violence inside.  Two instances jump out at me, both of which are reflected upon by Leilani later.  It's appropriate for the kind of book this is, but as always, know your child and how this will affect them.  There is also a scene where Leilani and her dad get high on a local plant they find in the jungle.  They use an empty tuna can to smoke it.  That high leads Leilani to her discovery and then segways straight into the sci-fi twist, so it's integral.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Artsy Book For Everyone: August Is Art Appreciation Month 2014

Did you know that August is Art Appreciation Month?  Neither did I until a few days ago, and that inspired this guide for the bookish family that would love to celebrate art appreciation month, with an art-themed book suggestion for everyone in the brood.

Baby-Age 2:  Our favorite of the Mini Masters series is Sunday with Seurat by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.  It has cute rhymes paired with Seurat's impressionist paintings to weave a relaxing and cute story in just a few pages.  The books in this series have remained favorites since before our little one was born, we all treasure these and the sweet little blip of art we get to share while reading.

Age 3-5: Vincent's Colors.  This is a gorgeous book compiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art complete with excerpts from Van Gogh's letters to his brother about his paintings.  I love it. A lot.  We've also had this on in our library since before the little one got here, but with page ripping ability at level maximum, we put this on the high shelf and only allow access when with an adult.

Age 5-8:  The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt is a really great introduction to Monet for any child who is interested in art, or any parent for that matter.  Laurence Anholt tells a cute story about a city girl visiting the countryside interweaving art history and language along the way.  It's adorbs, guys.  Adorbs. And there are other titles in the series.
Age 8-12:  Under The Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is a tale about a treasure hunt from a dying-grandfather that takes young Theodora all over Manhattan, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It's a mystery and a fun story for middle grade readers everywhere.

Age 13-18:  Try Zero by Tom Leveen.  Set in Phoenix with a main character who discovers both herself and blossoms her artistic talent, this coming-of-age story is sure to move and inspire.

Grown Ups: The Death Artist by by Jonathan Santlofer.  It's an art thriller by an in-real-life artist.  It's been out for over a decade, but give it a chance and see if you like the story about a former New York cop being framed for murders of people on the New York City art circuit.

Non-Fiction: Priceless: How I Went Undercover To Rescue The World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman.

Website: Saatchiart. It's a great way to discover new artists and peruse art that's on the market today - whether you're dreaming about owning a piece, or a serious buyer, this is the website for you to check out and view art that's new and exciting and maybe, perhaps, just discover an emerging artist you adore.

Now that you have a lead on some reading for everyone in your house, enjoy the rest of Art Appreciation month!   Come back and tell us what you thought, or leave another suggestion for any age group below in the comments. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5 Back To School Books For Grown Ups

Now that the kids are back to school, or very close to it, you might actually have some time to yourself.  You might want some titles that are new to read?  You might want to read something with adult characters?  You might want to know what's coming out that sounds fantastic?

I attended a panel with Colleen Lindsay and Ann Sowards with Django Wexler from Penguin books at Phoenix Comicon.  It was fab, a deck going at the side of the room, pub people talking about awesome books coming out soon or just released.  I couldn't write down titles fast enough!  It was a super great time, and you guys should definitely catch Penguin if they're at any of the Cons you're attending.

Titles that I personally preordered for this fall include:

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one....

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.
Okay, let's be real... a paranormal explanation for Lizzie Borden?  Who isn't on board with this one?  Release Date: September 2nd.

Free Agent by J.C. Nelson
When it comes to crafting happily-ever-afters, the Agency is the best in the land of Kingdom. The Fairy Godfather Grimm can solve any problem—from eliminating imps to finding prince charming—as long as you can pay the price…

Working for Grimm isn’t Marissa Locks’s dream job. But when your parents trade you to a Fairy Godfather for a miracle, you don’t have many career options. To pay off her parents’ debt and earn her freedom, Marissa must do whatever Grimm asks, no matter what fairy-tale fiasco she’s called on to deal with.

Setting up a second-rate princess with a first-class prince is just another day at the office. But when the matchmaking goes wrong, Marissa and Grimm find themselves in a bigger magical muddle than ever before. Not only has the prince gone missing, but the Fae are gearing up to attack Kingdom, and a new Fairy Godmother is sniffing around Grimm’s turf, threatening Marissa with the one thing she can’t resist: her heart’s wishes.

Now Marissa will have to take on Fairies, Fae, dragons, and princesses to save the realm—or give up any hope of ever getting her happy ending…
I'm told that Free Agent is for those who love fractured fairytales and for fans of Once Upon A Time.  The Grimm Agency sounds like a rad concept and this is the ground floor, ladies and gents.  This is your chance to get in on a fun series and be the one that says, "Yeah, oh, that one?  I preordered the first one."  Release Date: July 29th ON SALE NOW!

House Immortal by Devon Monk
One hundred years ago, eleven powerful ruling Houses consolidated all of the world’s resources and authority into their own grasping hands. Only one power wasn’t placed under the command of a single House: the control over the immortal galvanized....

Matilda Case isn’t like most folk. In fact, she’s unique in the world, the crowning achievement of her father’s experiments, a girl pieced together from bits. Or so she believes, until Abraham Seventh shows up at her door, stitched with life thread just like her and insisting that enemies are coming to kill them all.

Tilly is one of thirteen incredible creations known as the galvanized, stitched together beings immortal and unfathomably strong. For a century, each House has fought for control over the galvanized. Now the Houses are also tangled in a deadly struggle for dominion over death—and Tilly and her kind hold the key to unlocking eternity

The secrets that Tilly must fight to protect are hidden within the very seams of her being. And to get the secrets, her enemies are willing to tear her apart piece by piece.…
I'm told that fans of Firefly are going to totally dig this.  I'm thinking Matilda might be a little reminiscent of River and we can always use an intriguing character like her around, right?  Release Date: September 2

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. 
Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.
Patrick Rothfuss.  Novella. Kingkiller.   Need I say more?  No.  But I will.  Not for me. For the hubs.  Release Date: October 28

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover… 
Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…
It sounds like Harry Potter for grown ups.  I mean, I'm in.  Release date: September 2.

It just dawned on me as I was writing this that these are all fantasy of some sort.  Sorry about that.  But I'm excited to see these titles show up in my Kindle.  How about you?  What are you looking forward to this fall?

Friday, August 1, 2014

THE FAMILY ROMANOV: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming [Giveaway]

I remember watching a documentary on cable about the Romanov family when I was about ten years old.  After that, when I would catch a glimpse of the name Romanov, this gravitational force just pulled me in. Not too long after that, the animated Anastasia was released, and we learned about tsars in World History, and I think that cemented my interest in the subject.  That same pull grabbed me when I had the opportunity to feature this new release from Candace Fleming about the Romanov family!

What's not to love about intrigue and mystery about the fate of a royal family? 

New from Candace Fleming, THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA (Schwartz & Wade / On sale July 8, 2014 / Ages 12 up) offers up non-fiction at its very best. From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost and The Lincolns comes a probing look at Russia's last tsar, his family, and their crumbling dynasty. 
When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew.
Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants—and their eventual uprising—Fleming offers up a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts featuring period photographs and compelling primary-source material that brings it all to life. Tragedy, melodrama, and I-can’t-believe-it moments make this a read that both kids and Romanov aficionados will devour. History doesn’t get more interesting than the story of the Romanovs.

And even better yet?  We're doing a giveaway courtesy of Random House Children's Books.  Leave a comment below, and you're entered.  Simple as that.  No extra entries, though we'd be honored if you subscribe and follow us on various social media sites.  Ends 8.12.14 at 11:59pm MST (Arizona time).  Winner will be announced on Twitter and the sidebar at this site on 8.14.

You can find Candace on Twitter @candacemfleming, at, and on Facebook and Google Plus.