Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More about Bookroo: an Article, a Quiz and Review

So you remember a while back when I posted about Bookroo? I had Jane from the Bookroo team do a guest post for me, and I explained all about their subscription box.

Well I wanted to tell you a few other fun Bookroo things:

1. I also did guest post for Bookroo. It's called 3 Selfish Reasons to Read to Your Kids. I had fun writing it. :) I hope you like it. And I hope that your kids become learning zombies effortless learners.

2. Bookroo has a fun quiz I took with the kids. You have to guess which picture book is being represented by each of the minimalist posters. We did pretty good! I was super proud of myself for guessing some of the harder ones. *breathes on knuckles, polishes them on shirt*

I'll spoil this one for you. Now you'll know that it's not Runaway Bunny.

3. I got my first Bookroo box! Some people liked the previous post and subscribed through my affiliate link, so I got a free box. Thanks guys. We loved it!

We picked the 2 picture book box (instead of the box that comes with 3 board books) and we got Penguin Cha-Cha by Kristi Valiant which I had never heard of before but which is adorable (I especially love Julia's red dancing dress, which shows up at the end), and Say What? by Angela DeTerlizzi, which I had read and loved previously. In fact, we have a little paper copy of Say What?, which came free in a Cheerios box, so I could theoretically take advantage of Bookroo's policy and get a discount on my next box. But I actually like having the bigger, hardcover version, so I'm gonna keep it. I'll stick some amazon-affiliate links here in case you want to look further into the books we got:



It looks like if we had just bought these two books from Amazon, we would have paid $27.35 + shipping (because I don't have Prime and it's not more than $35). A one-time Bookroo box costs $19.99 and has free shipping. If you buy a few months in advance, the price drops even further. So, at least in this box, Bookroo is keeping their promise that the retail value of the books will always exceeds the subscription price.

I was interested to see that the books we got didn't come with dust jackets. That must be one way that Bookroo keeps costs low. I've heard friends say that they hate dust jackets. Too much fuss. Always getting torn or falling off or what have you. I like them, myself, because they help keep the book in good shape for longer. Regardless, the book is the same as it would otherwise be, and the kids didn't seem to notice. In fact, it has probably been easier for me that they didn't have jackets, because Jubilee has been requesting Say What? in bed, and she really does kind of mess up dust jackets. Since she's only two, I'll give her a pass.

I wasn't present for the Bookroo Unboxing, which is too bad. I had big plans about taking tons of photos and being like "ooh that wrapping paper is so cute." But what happened was our box arrived on a Saturday when I was gone from like noon to midnight, almost, chaperoning some of the young women in my ward (church congregation). We went to a big activity with a service project, workshops, dinner, and a dance. I have a special place in my heart for such activities, because I met Jacob at a church dance. Anyway, Jacob was at home with the kids all afternoon and evening, so they got the box and opened it up right away. I don't blame him. He said it was a great way to entertain the kids for a while, and that they had a lot of fun with it. I thought it was super cute how there was a personalized note on the inside of the box's lid. That's about all I can speak to as far as packaging. :)

If you want to look into Bookroo, here's my affiliate link. I still think it would be super adorable to have a book club centered around the Bookroo box. Put the kids on a webcam with their cousins or far-away friends who got the books and enjoy reading them to each other. Reading books to someone over webcam definitely works better if you each have a copy. :)




Thursday, September 24, 2015

Two Cool Things: Cybils and KidLitCon 2015

When I get asked for reading recommendations, I often go to the Cybils shortlists. If you've been reading Everead for a while you'll know that I love the Cybils. I recommend them highly as a place to find good books. They're divided into fifteen categories, and they make it easy for me to find what I'm looking for. An early reader? Yes. A YA realistic fiction book? Gotcha covered. New poetry? Yes! There is more than Shel Silverstein out there. All the books on the shortlists were published in the year prior. This is new, good stuff.  I like to think of the Cybils as the "bloggers choice" award. The criteria for winning are that a book have 1) strong kid appeal and 2) high literary merit. (Kind of like Kix. Kid-tested, adult approved.)

I have been selected as a Cybils judge again this year! Hooray! So from October 1-15 a form will appear on the Cybils site where anyone can nominate their favorite kidlit/YA book of the year (specifically published in the last 12 months). In fact, please do this if you can! Anyway, once all the nominations are in the first round Cybils panelists read all the nominees in a category and pick 5-7 of them for a shortlist. These are announced Jan 1. Then second round Cybils panelists decide which of the shortlisted book should be this year's winner, and those are announced on Feb 14.

This year I will be a Round 2 judge in the Graphic Novels category. So thrilled.




2. Speaking of thrilling stuff, I'm going to KidLitCon again this year! So memorize my face (above) and find me if you're going to be there.

I went a few years back when it was in NYC. It was a great experience. Though I never properly blogged about it (only wrote this excited bit and this recap of the first leg of my trip), I loved connecting with other bloggers, and hanging out with my brother Ransom who met me in the city.

This year is going to be even more awesome because I am on two panels! Whaaat? I'm pinching myself that I get to be presenting. And twice over! I will be on a panel about non-fiction and on this panel about judging book awards. I'm totally starstruck by the people I'll be presenting with. Wish me luck!




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New YA Non-Fiction: Symphony for the City of the Dead

When I think back on the reading I was required to do in high school, it's mostly fiction that comes to mind. The non-fiction texts I read back then were pretty much exclusively textbooks (though I did read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in 9th grade). Was the market devoid of YA non-fiction? It's possible. I mean, what's the difference between non-fiction for adults and non-fiction for "young" adults a.k.a. teens?

I don't know if I can fully answer those questions, but I have read a non-fiction book for teens I want to talk about.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
by M. T. Anderson to be released 9/22/2015
I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher, with the understanding that I would review it.


There are three main reasons I wanted to read this book, when the pitch for it came up in my inbox:

1. M.T. Anderson - The man won the National Book Award for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party (historical fiction) and I tried to read that book but I gave up on it. I also tried to read by him, Feed by him, but put it down early. (That one is YA sci-fi.) Anyway, lots of authors I like (including John Green and Shannon Hale) like M.T. Anderson's books and promote them, so I've been looking for one that works for me.

2. Shostakovich - I am not the Stewart family expert on composers. That would be my husband, Jacob. So when I read "Shostakovich" it rang a bell but I couldn't pull up any particular music in my head. And I wanted to fix that.

3. Cover Art - It has a really nice cover. I liked it even better, the further I got in the book.

So. Did Symphony for the City of the Dead work for me? Was it the M.T. Anderson book I could finish? Yes! A few chapters in I told Jacob, "reading this book is like listening to NPR." And by that I meant that 1. it was enjoyable 2. it made me consider political stuff and musical stuff from a new perspective 3. the human element was big, and 4. I felt smarter after doing it.

Anderson includes quotes, cites sources, adds maps and images, but successfully makes the book a flowing narrative. Admittedly, I couldn't see the maps. I got a galley, so I just got a grey rectangle with the words "Map to come" in it. But it was always placed right around when I was thinking, "you know, I could really use a map..." I'm confident that the finished book will have excellent visuals.

I appreciated that Anderson discussed the sources he was drawing from. In particular, he talked about a biography of Shostakovich that was once thought to be an autobiography, but has since been discredited a bit. "Take this with a grain of salt," is his basic message, but he goes into all the details. If the book were written with an adult audience in mind, would that be glossed over? I hope not. Would a discussion of the validity of the source throw off the pacing of the book? I've seen it happen. Anderson does a good job of hitting all the targets and still keeping things moving.

I was glad Symphony for the City of the Dead was written for a teen audience, because I think that kept it from being too gory. I super appreciated that. I'm the sort of person who avoids horror movies at all costs, and only watches war movies that are rated OK for 13-year-olds. Sometimes when you're reading a book that quotes from first-hand accounts of war, you get a detailed account of violence that becomes seared in your brain and haunts you. After reading this book I did not have nightmares. I did want to fill my basement with a year's supply of non-perishables, because Anderson did a great job of portraying the horrors of war and Hitler's siege of Leningrad (the longest siege on record). There was one passage that I skipped, I confess, which talked about the torture of one of Shostakovich's friends. But other than that, I didn't feel compelled to skip any of the book, despite all the sufferings described.

Do I now have a piece of music to associate with Shostakovich? Yes, I do. The book talks about several of Shostakovich's symphonies and other pieces in detail, and of course hinges around Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, which is the Leningrad Symphony. But it's actually a different piece of music I hear when I think of him. The day after I finished the book, I happened to watch Fantasia 2000 with my daughter, and when Bette Midler announced that the music for The Steadfast Tin Soldier animation was Shostakovich I cheered. I love that one! And holy moly I like it even more now that I know more about the man who wrote it.

For your listening pleasure, here's a video of two guys playing it (one is playing the orchestral reduction).


Besides gaining familiarity with Shostakovich, I learned irreversibly the difference between Lenin and Stalin (which I think someone had explained to me before, but the details had become muddy in my mind). I got that now. I know who Lenin is. I know who Stalin is, I know who Shostakovich is, and I already knew who Hitler was, too, but I learned more about him also. Speaking of which, Symphony for the City of the Dead gave me a whole new perspective on WWII since I've never read anything from the USSR at the time. They call it The Great Patriotic War, by the way, not WWII.

I highly recommend Symphony for the City of the Dead, if it sounds interesting to you. Here is a summary of each part of the book:

Part One deals with the situation in Russia/USSR before WWII and the early life of Shostakovich.
Part Two deals with the German invasion and the siege, and makes up most of the book. It discusses the later works of Shostakovich, his family life and his politics during the war. 
Part Three deals with Cold War and post-war stuff, and perceptions of Shostakovich after that. 

I wonder if the Fred Astaire movie I loved, Silk Stockings, was inspired by Shostakovich at all. If so, it's in very poor taste. Ha! It definitely features a composer with nervous mannerisms and wears glasses. It definitely simplifies the politics of the time, and insults the Communist Party. A product of it's time (1957), I'm sure. Still, I loved that movie as a child. Great dance moves.



Anyway, if you'd like to shop for Symphony of the City of the Dead, here is an affiliate link where you can do that. When you make purchases after clicking on my affiliate links, I get a small commission. Should I go back and link the other books I've mentioned? I'll go back and do that, too.

And, if you're looking for more YA non-fiction, I can recommend The Year We Disappeared. I mention it on my list of Books for a 14-year-old Boy.

Have you read any YA Non-fiction? Tell me about it. 
Share me your recommendations. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Books I've been reading lately

Wow, moving changes everything, doesn't it? We just moved from Georgia to Connecticut and, as I expected, it has thrown me for a loop. However, I didn't anticipate all the ways that life would change. I had guessed the big ones (new house, new climate, new schools, new doctors, new church assignments, new job for Jacob) but I feel like you can never know all the little things until they come up. New way of doing dishes? Unanticipated. New furniture arrangement that puts a damper on late-night blogging? Would not have guessed.

Thankfully moving doesn't really change everything. Same husband (nine years now!), same kids (cute as ever), same church, same blog, same love of reading.

Here's what I've been reading lately.*


Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory

This is a slim book that's out to get you making art. I admit I didn't take it as a workbook and do everything it said to do, but Gregory says in the book that that's ok. So basically the book begins by making the case for making art. It answers the questions "Why should I bother making art?" and "Why should I bother making art when I know I'll never be that good at it?" The answers to both of those were satisfactory for me, so I started making some art.

After that, Gregory delves into some basics of art-making. Different materials and techniques you can use. I had a lot of fun trying some of these out. The hands-down favorite was making a ketchup painting with my four-year-old. Yep, coolest mom ever status: achieved. The book also offers up some cool challenges to take (like drawing your breakfast every day for a month) some cool party ideas (definitely want to try these sometime) and general encouragement to make art. I give it the thumbs up.

If you want to read more about this one, I recommend Lisa Congdon's interview of Danny Gregory.




As You Wish:Inconcievable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

This is the story of the making of The Princess Bride, as told by The Man In Black, Cary Elwes. In fact, because I got the audiobook version, it really was told by him! And bits were narrated by other cast members as well.  We took it on a road trip, of sorts, and the whole family enjoyed it. I mean seriously. The first time we turned it on, Benjamin, now 7, whined about it. By the end of disc two he whined when we had to turn it off for a bit. And, cutest of all, he totally internalized all of Cary Elwes's talk about the rigorous training for the sword fight. "I'm so tired. When we get back, can I have a hot bath, like Cary?" Any book that teaches my kid how to chill out after a long day is cause for celebration.

Anyway, I grew up in a family where we watched The Princess Bride over and over. My mom was a fencer and she couldn't get enough of the sword fight. I now know all the details of how that was made. :) She sewed a custom Man In Black costume for my oldest brother, which the younger ones subsequently wore. I read the novel of The Princess Bride and adored it. What I'm trying to say is that I was pretty much destined to love this book. Jacob, however, first saw the movie after we met. He liked it, but had only seen it once. He still loved As You Wish, and instigated a movie party immediately after we finished it. And, superbonus, he kept saying "as you wish" to me for a couple weeks afterward.

If you'd like to read a couple more reviews of this one, I recommend Janssen's and Amy's.



The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I really loved Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, so when I saw this interview of him I had to listen to it. Then I had to read his new book The Buried Giant of course. It's about an elderly couple in ancient England. They're living in a cursed land where people forget important things. and they're trying to find their way to their son's village. As the novel goes on, you find yourself asking interesting questions: "Do they even have a son? Would they recognize him if they saw him? Would he recognize them? Would he be as happy to see him as they think he would be? What is going on with this mist of confusion?" Anyway, it's really fascinating. It's slowly paced, but rather than being boring it ends up being haunting. That Ishiguro. So good.



Fortunately the Milk by Niel Gaiman

This is a slim and silly story. Dad goes out for a gallon of milk and takes forever to get back. His kids ask, "What took you so long?" and he regales them with an epic story of what it took to get them some milk. I read it in one sitting, and it made me smile throughout. I fully intend to read this one aloud to my kids, and I think I miiiiight have to push it on some unsuspecting family members. (I'm looking at you, Grandpa!) The illustrations by Skottie Young were fabulously fit to the tale, and made me want to return to his renderings of the Oz books. Definitely pick this one up if you're looking for something fun to read to the whole family.



The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Jacob and I read this one to each other as we drove to and from Boston a couple weeks ago. Since Jacob is a scientist, I knew I couldn't give this one the thumbs-up unless he liked it, too. It's the story of eleven-year-old Ellie and her scientist grandfather, Melvin, who has discovered the cure for aging. Now that he is young again, a mix-up with the police has made it necessary for Melvin to attend middle school with Ellie for the time being. It has a set of deep themes that run through the book and make it more than just a fun read. Plus, Jacob laughed out loud at least twice at the insider science jokes. We each give it the thumbs up.




Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

You may have remembered me mentioning that I was starting this book? Way back when? Well don't let my slowness to finish deter you. It was a good one. I finished it the week after we moved in. I won't recap it here, instead I'll refer you to my review of the first book in the series, The Way of Kings. You'd definitely want to start there. I'm looking forward to book three.

Oh man, you guys. There is more where this came from! I think I should just stop here. But please:
Tell me what you've been reading lately!
Fill in the blanks: If you hate___ you'd hate this book

*As usual, the images of book covers here are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Just wanted to make that known. Thanks for supporting Everead.
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