Dear Secret Santa

Dear Secret Santa from the Book Blogger Holiday Swap,

I LOVED your package!  I got it well before Christmas, opened it to find three wrapped book-shaped things as well as a "READ" sticker, postcard, and two adorable finger puppet monsters.  Well.  Puppets and postcards are among my favorite things in the whole world!  Along with reading of course! I was so thrilled and satisfied by these unwrapped gifts (the sticker is going on our bumper as soon as the snow melts off of it, and the puppets were put to immediate use) that I put the books under the tree.  When I opened them on Christmas day, imagine my delight as, one after the other, they were all perfect picks!  Persuasion I was just finishing from the library and thrilled to get my own copy.  Mostly Good Girls I've been wanting to get my hands on because The Leila Texts blog cracks me up.  But my library system doesn't yet have a copy!  So thank you!  And I have been meaning to read the Emily Windsnap books ever since I first saw their gorgeous covers at a bookstore. So. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Christmas cheer to all!

Cybils round one concludes!

Ashley and I have finished our Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Round one panelist duties.  The shortlist is decided. The blurbs are written. We have acquitted ourselves well. (Can you tell by that last sentence that I jumped right in to reading Austen's Persuasion? For the first time, I might add. One does require a break from modern children's lit every once in a while.)

And though I am bursting with recommendations for you, we are taking something of an internet hiatus. No computer for two whole days (Christmas Eve and Christmas) -- except for webcam with family. For the two days following, only checking email and the bank. I think this will be quite a test of will for me. Wish me luck!


Two of my favs

I haven't read nearly as many books as the other panelists this time around the Cybils block, but that's okay, since Alysa and I are a judging team. But the two that have stood out to me most so far are Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze and Betti on the High Wire. Very different books; very good books. Both are applicable and would be enjoyable to more than just 8-12-year-old kids.

I agree with the School Library Journal on Milo: "Alan Silberberg has managed something that I would have deemed near impossible. He’s penned a funny novel that deals with the very real issue of how a family copes when one of its family members passes on and he’s done it with a combo of art and prose. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze combines interstitial comics with a fun text and a gripping story to come up with a book that manages to be all things for all readers. Humor fans will like it, but so too will those kids who need a little extra meat in their fiction."

Amen to that. Milo is a totally funny, dorky, clueless, hilarious middle-school boy. I loved reading this book through his perspective. His was a really fresh, really authentic voice. This one has stayed with me in a way that most of the other reads have not. Two thumbs up.

And Betti. Babo is a "leftover" orphan from a war-torn country who gets adopted by an American family and brought to live in the United States. She's never been in a car before, let alone an airplane. She's never left her village before, let alone her country. But leave she does, and is instantly welcomed into the loving arms of a family of three---for the first time in her living memory becoming a daughter and a sister, and for the first time having a roof over her head and plenty of food to eat. Though part of her likes her new life, she's determined she won't "adapt" to being adopted, and she lives from day to day plotting how she will go back to the family of other leftovers she left behind.

I loved experiencing our country and its peculiarities through Betti's fiery, entertaining perspective. This book, like Milo, was simultaneously heart-twisting and hilarious. Two thumbs up for Betti, too. I recommend both of these reads to any reader of any age.

On with the next!


by Leslie Connor

I picked this one up for the Cybils, and I'm so glad I did.

The premise of the book has provided me with thinking material for the last several weeks. It's about the Mariss family living through a fuel crunch.  The parents are away on their anniversary trip when, all of a sudden, their gas ration coupons are no good to get them home.  Fortunately the five kids at home, including our protagonist Dewey, have got things pretty well covered.  With no fuel available, however, the Mariss Bike Barn is suddenly a booming business.

I loved hearing about how the Mariss kids played the cards they were dealt.  And, of course, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what would happen to me in a similar situation.  The book also has a little mystery sub-plot that I liked as well.  I liked that it added tension to the book, but didn't overshadow the drama that is everyday life.  As one of the oldest of 7 kids, I can tell you there's a bit of drama in everyday life when mom and dad aren't home. And yet, Dewey manages to keep it positive, and himself positive.  It's admirable. It's real.

And that's probably the highest praise I can give this book.  It seems real.  When I stopped reading, I had to remind myself that I was back in my own life, and not one of the Mariss kids.  And I wish I was as well prepared for a "crunch" as they are.

Yes, yes, yes.

Just read this post over at Shannon Hale's blog.  I totally agree.  This is one of the reasons I don't give star ratings (or use a number system of some kind).  It's just not part of my reading process.

I do what I like here on my own blog.  I don't like being a literary critic, I like reading books and thinking about them and applying them to my own life.  I don't like reviewing books, I like recommending books.  If I read a book I don't want to recommend, I don't usually mention it here.

I especially liked this list of questions from Shannon's post:
Where did the story fail you? Where did it work for you? So, what does that say about you? What were you hoping for? What did you need from the story? If you're a writer, what does that tell you about what kind of a story you want to write? For me, this kind of responding is just about how I think about the book. Instead of thinking, "The author really dropped the ball on the ending," I try thinking, "What did I want out of the ending instead of what I got? Why did I want that?"
If you feel like chattering about questions like these about a book you've just read, and then you email that to me, I might even post your guest review. Just let me know. Email address is in the sidebar.

Pies and Prejudice

I find it funny that in middle-grade fiction this year, two totally separate authors published a book called Scones and Sensibility and a book called Pies and Prejudice. Both books are on our Cybils list. I just finished Pies and Prejudice, and I have to say that, like pie, the book was kind of a guilty pleasure for me. It doesn't make my shortlist of favorites, but I still really liked it, because it's my kind of book. A little unlikely romance, a few Jane Austen references (or a lot, in this book's case), and I'm hooked!

Pies and Prejudice is the fourth installment in the Mother Daughter Book Club series. Since I haven't read the other three, I know I don't have the proper background for judging it, but as a stand-alone novel, there were just too many characters! There are five girls, all of their mothers, and two older women in the book club, so that's twelve characters you have to try to keep straight, right off the bat. Then there are their fathers, siblings, schoolmates, teachers, and crushes. I felt like I spent half the book trying to figure out who everybody was. And then the story itself comes from four of the girls' points of view. So just when I was getting comfortable in one girl's head, the next chapter hopped into another's. But like I said. If I'd read the whole series, I'm sure I would've been introduced properly to all of these people. So maybe it's a moot point.

My final beef with what was otherwise a delightful, fluffy-easy kind of read, was that the story I found most interesting--the love/hate relationship between Cassidy and Tristan (the Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy of the story)--was totally glossed over! They apparently hated each other, and then we never got a chance to see Tristan act anything but the conceited snob, and then they're all pal-y at the end? I was so bummed about that. Anyway. Still a fun read. Though I guess my final final beef with the book is that it made me totally desperate to have a daughter. *sigh*

Recommended for mothers and daughters. :)

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

the strange case of origami yoda anglebergerI've been hitting the Cybils nominees hard and fast, but I just had to pause to mention this one.

So, so, so, so funny.  I imagine that anyone from fourth grade on up would enjoy this one.  It's got that same way of capturing the disastrous hilarity of early middle school that Jeff Kinney captures so well in his books.  Fortunately, most of the characters are more likable than Greg Heffley. I can totally imagine that if this one were out back when I was teaching fourth grade, the kids would have talked and laughed about it as much as they did the Wimpy Kid books. Now that I've compared it to the Wimpy Kid books you're all wondering if it has random comic strip panels.  No, it does not.  But it does have the occasional very funny illustration.

This book is the case file that Tommy put together to see if Origami Yoda (Dwight's finger puppet) can really predict the future.  I think my favorite piece of evidence is the story of Yoda saving one of the boys from looking like he peed his pants.  He leaned against the wet bathroom counter, and disaster struck.

Ah, just thinking about reading this book makes me smile.  Go read it and have a good time! :D
Here are a couple of affiliate links (if you purchase through these I will get a small commission): The Strange Case of Origami Yoda at Amazon; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda Series #1) at Barnes and Noble.

Dream of Night

My first Cybils book review! I've read lots, but this is the first I'm getting around to reviewing.

Another atypical horse book. The story comes from three points of view: Shiloh, a very angry young teen who was severely abused as a child and who's been shunted from foster home to foster home for years, Jess DiLima, a middle-aged woman who rescues abused and neglected horses and who has her own tragic past, and Dream of Night, a former racehorse whose last owner kept him locked in a tiny stall and beat him with chains. Their three stories intertwine when Jess takes both horse and girl in, though she's afraid she's becoming too old to help either.

This was also another book where I thought I could see the end from the beginning, and where the ending I imagined was fairly cliche. Troubled teen and wild horse come together, teen gentles horse who gentles her back, together they learn to ride again, and they win some big race and live happily ever after. This was not at all the direction the book took, however. Its real direction was far more believable, far less cliche, and far more moving.

The short, fragmentary writing style was a bit distracting to me at times, but it was effective most of the time in making the story feel more raw and exposed. I recommend this book to readers of all ages, really. Great read.

The Aristobrats (long overdue)

I received this book from a publisher ages ago and have been meaning to post about it since, but life and the Cybils got in the way. So here comes the long-overdue Aristobrats post.

When I first began this book, I felt totally detached from the characters. Theirs is an almost ridiculously privileged life that I just couldn't connect with. I'd never heard of most of the designer names these tweeny-bopper characters throw around. They seemed initially so shallow, I just couldn't see what kind of gripping plot could possibly develop with them at center stage.

But. As the book progressed, I was quite pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a typical popular-girls-realize-their-shallowness-and-reform kind of plot. It was different, and it was good in its own way, more believable in its own way. The four best friends, "Lylas" (love-you-like-a-sister-s), are at the top of the populadder when they begin their eighth-grade year at their over-the-top-prestigious private middle school. But then they're shocked, and bumped down a few rungs, when they are assigned to head the school's totally uncool webcast. Where I assumed the plot was headed after this revelation---popular girls decide to rock the webcasting thing and by virtue of their own popularity and general coolness turn it around and make it awesome, making them again the toast of the school---was not, in fact, where the plot was headed.

So yes. While it was not initially my cup of tea, I did appreciate it in the end. Maybe I was guilty of some bottom-up pride and snobbery of my own. So thumbs up for The Aristobrats' surprising fun and not-as-shallow-as-I-thought-ness. Recommended for middle-school-aged girls.

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (author of Babymouse, for you fans!)
2010 Cybils nominee, Middle Grade Fiction

It is so cool that this book was inspired by author Jenni Holm's family history.  The book takes place in Florida during the Great Depression.  Turtle is a sassy eleven year old, and because her mother's employer doesn't approve of the housekeeper bringing children along, she is sent to live with her cousins in Key West.  There she discovers what her rowdy cousins are up to, what an alligator pear is, and what can happen when you dig for buried treasure.

I loved Turtle.  She is so good at the quick comeback.  She's the witty part of me that was always either late to the scene or suppressed by my polite side. She's not just snotty, she's smart and well behaved, and easy to love.  I also loved a couple of the characters who love her:  Kermit and Slow Poke were my faves.  Anyway, obviously Holm did a great job making the characters seem real.

Many of the analogies in the book came from the popular culture of the time.  Turtle references Little Orphan Annie, Shirley Temple, Terry and the Pirates, and so on.  I was fairly familiar with all of the references made.  Would kids who don't recognize these icons be put off by these analogies?  I don't know.

Anyhow, great story.  Great writing.  Having hung out with a gang of cousins, I can vouch that the spirit of that craziness is well captured here.

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

"I'm kind of dying to know how it ends." I told Jacob in the middle of the book.  He did his "har-har-very-punny" laugh, but I hadn't actually meant the pun.  Leavitt just does a very good job of building suspense.

This is an original fairy tale, though it has the whole Arabian Nights thing going since Keturah manages to stay alive after a brush with Lord Death by promising him the ending to her story tomorrow.  She's known in her feudal village for her storytelling, and Leavitt gives her a beautiful voice.  The imagery in the story is just lovely, and where imagery is deliberately vague (what does Death look like, after all?) mood is there in buckets.

The pacing was spot on, too.  If this book had been written by another author it could have gone on and on.  As it is, you know that Keturah is thinking and scheming but she never shares her innermost thoughts.  Perhaps that helps with the suspense.  Anyway, it's a slim book, and not a word is wasted.

Ah! A new cover!
(B&N affiliate link)
This is one I want to add to my collection, and I think it would be fabulous if read aloud.  If you like fairy tales (the meat and cheese kind, not the bubblegum and lollipop kind), you'll like Keturah and Lord Death. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, too. Thanks to Shannon Hale for mentioning it on her blog.

Update, 9/17/2014: I love this book, still! And Ashley loves it, too -- she picked it for a book club. Man, the writing is so tight and the story is so good! Leavitt makes you want the impossible, just a little bit, before reminding you it is impossible. Ah. Care to shop for it? If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these affiliate links, I will earn a small commission. Support my reading habit! :D


Baby Baby Baby!

Baby Baby Baby! is a new board book by Marilyn Janovitz.

Alysa's take:
On the day my new baby was officially two weeks old, this review copy came to my door. How fun!  And I'm happy to say that it is just as fun to read with a two-year old as with a new baby.  The bright illustrations provide visual entertainment, and the baby is dressed in gender neutral colors.  The text is easy to turn into actions for a crazy toddler.  Also, something I find important with rhyming books, the meter is not stilted or difficult to figure out.

Ashley's take:
I have had great fun reading this book with my 8-month-old. The interactivity of it is so cute. He just grins and grins as we clap hands, "nuzzle baby's ears," "tickle your face," and "Dance, dance, dance!" The rhyming is sweet---no trite "nose" and "toes" combos. Totally cute board book. Definitely recommended for your bitsy bouncy baby. :)

Cybils judging!

We're in! Since Alysa just had a baby, and I've got two little munchkins keeping me busy myself, and through a fortuitous twist of fate, Alysa and I (Ashley) are going to be co-judges this year on the first-round panel for Middle-Grade Fiction. Fun times ahead! Be sure to submit your nominations starting October 1 of your 2010 book favs at the Cybils website. Let the games begin!

My Name Is Not Isabella

Isabella is a spunky combination of contrarion (as my husband likes to call our two-year-old on occasion) and dreamer. Young readers will love her spirit as well as her smarts. Her name is not Isabella, as she tries to convince her mother over the course of the book. Instead it's Sally Ride, Marie Curie, and Rosa Parks, to name a few. I think Mommy is the real hero of the book. I love the way she takes her daughter's imagination into stride and supports her play with affirmation and love. This is a sweet little book for boys and girls alike from author Jennifer Fosberry. I love the book trailer below, which shows how the colorful illustrations came to be---a process I think is fascinating. So enjoy! And while you're at it, check out this book for your dreamer son or daughter. And reading the brief ending bios for the historic figures mentioned, you just might learn something too! I know I did! (And sorry about the video being super wide ... anyone know how to fix that?)

Horrid Henry winner!

The randomly selected winner of our Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman giveaway is ...

#5 Sarita

Please send your mailing address to everead@gmail.com.
Thanks for entering, everyone!

Four Thumbs Up for Mockingjay

Since the much-anticipated sequel has been out for weeks now, I feel an Everead review is perhaps overdue. And as usual, a post from me is very overdue, so here goes!

It was with much trepidation that I opened my pre-ordered Amazon.com package to reveal the frosty-blue hardback. So many series seem to end disappointingly, and quite frankly I was scared. Not for Katniss. Not for Peeta. For me. I was scared of a letdown.

As I turned the last few pages of the crisp, new-book-smelling novel, I berated myself for my lack of faith in Suzanne Collins. She'd already given me two subliminal reads, and it just seemed impossible for a third delivery, but she did it.

The page-turning action sequences were there. One thumb up. The no-loose-ends, nicely-packaged ending was there. Two thumbs up. The well-rounded, fault-filled, but lovable characters were there. Three thumbs up (yes, I do realize I don't have three thumbs, but work with me here). And to my delight, the satisfyingly surprising plot twists were there. That makes a grand total of four solid thumbs up.

That, my friends, is about all I can say without commenting on details, which would classify me as a spoiler. Wouldn't want to spoil your fun, so I'll just say: hats off to you Suzanne Collins!

Horrid Henry #3--a giveaway!

This is the third Horrid Henry book I've received from Sourcebooks to read and review on the blog. Just like the other two (Joke Book and Christmas), this latest Horrid Henry installment delivers hilarious, too-rude-for-grown-ups stories that kids, especially boys, ages 7-12-ish are sure to enjoy. In Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman's four stories, Henry first sets out to build the biggest snowman on the block in hopes of winning a year's supply of ice cream (and his snowman is way better than Moody Margaret's). Next, on a boring, rainy day, he decides to write his will, then writes wills for other people whose stuff he wants when they die. Then he skives his mother's makeup to give makeovers to the neighbor girls in hopes of making big bucks for his art. And finally, that crazy Henry gears up for a classroom visit from his most favorite author in the world.

I love how unapologetically bad Henry is. I keep thinking, even though this is the third of these books that I've read, that Henry will have some kind of final upswing, some kind of redeeming act of goodness to finish the story. But he doesn't. He's just plain Horrid. Heaven help me if I have a child like that! But he is fun to read about. :)

So post your comment here by noon on Monday, September 13th, for a chance to win Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman. It really is an amusing book. Winner will be chosen at random and announced by Tuesday. Happy (or Horrid) reading!

Call for Judges

Cybils 2010 call for judges is here.  You have until Sept 15 to apply.  I've been a 1st round judge the last two years, and Ashley was a 2nd round judge last year -- so if you have any questions, we're happy to share our secrets (such as they are).

Sequel fun!

There seem to be a lot of exciting sequels that have just come out or are due to come out in the near-ish future. Here's my list:

and Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore (no cover available yet)

What titles am I missing? What sequels are you excited about?

Grab Bag!

You never know what you're going to get from the review grab-bag!

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker -- So I read (and loved) Clementine's Letter since it was a Cybils book a couple years ago.  I figured it was about time to read the original.  Clementine and her family are spunky and awesome as usual.  And of course Marla Frazee's illustrations bring the whole thing to life.  I took this one to the doctor's office and my doc saw me reading it.  He said he knew it, and that it was a classic.  There you go. Recommended reading by 100% of OB/GYN's (in our survey). :D

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate di Camillo --Adorable! An early reader/chapter book about a beloved pig who lives in the house.  When the old couple she lives with gets in trouble they send her for help.  Totally clueless, she manages to save the day and take the credit. :D  Fun illustrations, fun story, fun fun fun!  I definitely plan to read on in the series.

Austenland (again) by Shannon Hale -- I rarely re-read, but I'm just so darn excited about Midnight in Austenland!  I know, I know, it doesn't even have a release date yet. It will be a companion to Austenland.  That is to say, from what I've heard it will take place (at least partially) at Pembrook Park and may have some overlapping characters. Anyway, Austenland is a sweet escape. I started my re-read on a terrible horrible no good very bad day and it helped.  There was lots of funny I had forgotten.  (Speaking of funny, @haleshannon on twitter has the most hilarious pregnancy tweets. I wish I was so clever.)

The Ladies' Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis -- I read this one for book club.  It's one I never would've picked up myself, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  It reminded me a lot of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, in theme anyway.  (No one at book club had read Stargirl, sigh.) Of course the whole look into the world of orthodox Judaism was fascinating.  Mirvis did a good job giving the right amount of detail for me -- I wonder how other orthodox Jews feel about the book of course. I think it does a nice job of saying what we all (should) know: that there is good and bad in any community.  Kind of inspiring.

Jeeves and the Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse  -- another brilliant audiobook.  I've listened to so many of them, that all the Jeeves stories are getting blurry.  This is another with Gussy and Madeline, and was my introduction to Corky and Catsmeat (at least, it sounded like that was his nickname, and I don't put it past Wodehouse).  Highlight: the Village Concert - including a corny joke about the Russian Ballet and reference to what is an actual poem by Thomas Hood entitled Faithless Nelly Gray.

To Ride the Gods' Own Stallion

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don't know what I expected, but this was given to me by a publisher, from whom I understood mostly that it was a "horse book." The Black Stallion and National Velvet are what come immediately to mind when I think of "horse books." Those, and the juvenile kinds of series whose covers feature cutsie girls posing with their shiny-coated steeds with names like "Lucky" and "Penny."

This book is nothing like either. It's not about racing, and there are almost no adolescent girls (the main character does have an older sister, but she only makes a couple appearances).

Soulai is a young boy living in ancient Assyria. He is a skilled artist but a poor goatherd. When a lion attacks his flock while he's on duty, his father declares "Better that you'd never been born." Soon after, tragedy strikes his family home, and his father sells him into five years of slavery to pay off their debts. While working in the royal stables, Soulai meets a horse unlike any other---a stallion named Ti. But the stallion is owned by the spoiled prince Habasle who breaks the animal's spirit by forcing Ti to carry him against a lion. Soulai stays by the animal's side, however, and together the prince, Soulai, and Ti help one another to fulfill their destinies.

Pretty fun action book, quick read, might be especially appealing to boys, considering the general absence of female characters.

The Cardturner

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Alton's wealthy great-uncle has gone blind, but he can't give up bridge.  Alton becomes his cardturner with one major rule -- never ask "Are you sure?"  Alton knows nothing about bridge, and that's the way his uncle likes it.  But spending 12 hours a week as a proxy player changes that, and piques Alton's curiousity about his uncle's mysterious past.

It's Louis Sachar! Of course its good!  You know, Holes?  Wayside School?  Small Steps?

I found myself laughing while reading this book. Partly because there were some funny lines and scenarios, but also because the dialogue was so realistic.  I'd say "Hah! I can see those exact words going back and forth between my mom and my teenage brother!"  So very well done on that score, and on character development too. Leslie, the little sister, was my favorite.  She doesn't show up a ton, but she's great.  Since I'm a little sister, I can say that I guess.

There was a lot of "bridge gibberish" -- but it wasn't tough to get through.  Sachar gives you an easy out, if you want to skip the details, but for me the play-by-plays were no worse than they would be with any other game/sport.  And now I kind of want to learn to play bridge...

The Wide-Awake Princess

The Wide-Awake Princess
by E.D. Baker

After Sleeping Beauty is cursed at her christening, her parents are taking no chances with her little sister.  They consult a fairy with a good reputation before Annabelle is very old at all and she is given a strange gift: magic cannot touch her, for good or for bad.

Of course, this has interesting consequences when Gwen's curse comes true, putting everyone (except Annie) in a deep sleep for 100 years.  Annie sets off to find Gwen's true love and happens to find her own as well.

This was a very fun book -- just what I needed when I picked it up.  It has an easy humor and likeable lead characters. Some of the other characters were a bit two-dimensional, but the book was very much plot-driven, so that doesn't stand in the way of a good time.  In general I prefer character-driven fiction, so in the midst of all the action I occasionally wondered "but what does she think of that?"  Still, a fast paced and fun read.

There's a scene near the beginning that I think is my favorite:  Annie's first encounter with a witch in the woods, who ends up chucking Annie's lunch into a bush.  Cracked me up.

Recommended to fans of fairy tale retellings -- the book touches on more than just the sleeping beauty story.

Emma (and the Vampires)

Okay, let's make this quick. Like Bandaid removal time. I thought this book was A) Confusing, and B) a Travesty. Let's start with A.

A) All of the gentlemen in Highbury, except for Emma's father, are vampires. And all of the women, except the ones married to them, are oblivious, even though none of the men ever eat, they all have "cold, pale skin" (a phrase that was oft repeated in the book), they never age, they move super fast, they are strong enough to throw cows over fences, they avoid sunlight, they have black-out curtains in their windows, and a few of their eyes change from black to blood red over the course of the book. The gentlemen's agelessness was particularly confusing. How is it that Mr. Weston is stuck at 50-something forever, Knightley is stuck at 37, and Frank is stuck at 23?? And it's not because that's when they themselves were changed from humans to vampires, because Knightley (presumably) and Frank (definitely) were both born vampires! So Frank aged along until 23 and then stopped, and Knightley aged along until 37 and stopped. *deep breath* Anyway. Plot holes.

B) By inserting all these inconsistencies and weirdnesses, the author has shown that he thinks very little of Emma's mental faculties. He's made her completely stupid, in short. I was particularly blown away by her dumbness (in not noticing that her dear friend and lifelong neighbor, Mr. Knightley, is a vampire) at the scene where Knightley declares something like, "I was thirty-seven years old when you were born." To which Emma replies, "And you are still, haha!" Hello! Doesn't that seem a tad, I don't know, impossible to you, Emma?! Why, twenty-one years later, is Mr. Knightley still thirty-seven?? So the author made Emma stupid and Harriet really fat. So fat, she can't reach the wooden stake she's tied around her thigh when she's being attacked by vampires.

So. I can only conclude that the author's purpose in "writing" this book was to show his contempt for Emma in particular and Jane Austen in general. And since I love them both, I did not like this book. That's my take.

Bookshelf Review

At last! The long awaited review of the bookshelf.  You all can let out your breaths now.

June 23 -- bookshelf ordered
June 28th -- bookshelf arrives, so that's pretty fast, considering there was a weekend in there.
June 30th, 8:20 p.m. -- assembly begins.
8:47 assembly done -- only one "hold this for a second", no sounds of frustration or extra tools needed.  A screwdriver was listed in the instructions, but we didn't actually use it, only the included Allen wrench. Nice.

It's pretty cute, if I do say so myself.  Moderately sturdy -- not pressboard or something, but the shelves are thin.  It is a little bit smaller than I expected it to be (even though I measured out its dimensions before).  But, all in all, I like it.  Would I pay the price listed on the website for it?  Hmm... not at this point in my life. 

July 1-August 10 Procrastinate posting about said bookshelf because 1. I'm pregnant 2. I'm teaching the toddler not to throw the books on the new shelf down the stairs and 3. I can't seem to find the picture above on my computer.  Hadn't uploaded it yet. Go figure.  Ta-da!


So I just finished Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter.  Of the three of her books that I've read, it is the one she published first.  Freckles was quite the bestseller of its time (1904).  Personally, I liked A Girl of the Limberlost better.  

Freckles is about an orphaned young man who doesn't know his name or his heritage, but goes by Freckles.  By his hard work, honesty and sense of duty he builds himself up from penniless orphan to respected businessman. And, of course, he finds his true love along the way. :)

Such drama!  Porter really knows how to pack it in.  I was telling Jacob after finishing Freckles that "according to Gene Stratton Porter, if you don't end up in the hospital over it, it's not true love." heh.  It's fun to see the cultural differences in these books that were written more than a hundred years ago.  Heart-sickness was apparently more prevalent.  Now, Porter hasn't hospitalized anyone strictly for missing their true love, they always have another excuse (old ailment, fractured ribs, etc.).  But still.

The dialogue in the books is different, too.  For one, characters are much more likely to monologue for a page or two than they ever would be in a modern novel (I'm guessing authors like Fitzgerald and Hemingway had some influence on this).  For another, the characters come out with some fun turns of phrase -- some of which I've heard my grandmother use.  And my grandmother is also more prone to monologues than I, so, hey, there you go.  

Recommended, of course, though I'd probably start with A Girl of the Limberlost.

P.S. I despise the covers I see for this book, hence no cover image.

The Keeper of the Bees 
A Girl of the Limberlost

Despicable Me Winner!

And the winner of the Despicable Me book package is ...

#1 Letters to My Little Ones

So e-mail us at everead@gmail.com with your address info, and it will be in the mail in a jiff!

Despicable Me---A giveaway!

If you have seen any of the previews for the new movie Despicable Me, you have probably seen Gru, an ultra bad-guy villain, reading a bedtime story to the three little girls he adopts---a bedtime story called "Sleepy Kittens." Well, in conjunction with the movie's recent release, "Sleepy Kittens" has been made into a real book. I was sent a copy to read and review and was also given this awesome prize package to give away on our blog.

One (1) Winner will receive:
  • Sleepy Kittens
  • My Dad the Super Villain
  • The World’s Greatest Villain
  • Despicable Me: The Junior Novel
  • Despicable Me T-shirt
  • Despicable Me pencil

My husband has been showing my two-year-old previews for this movie for months, just to entertain him when he climbs up in Daddy's lap while Daddy is trying to check his e-mails. So we naturally had to take him to the theater to see it when it was released. The published book isn't quite like the one you see in the movie. The kittens are made of a stiffer material than they appear in the movie---a material that I find hard to manipulate, but I have smallish hands. There's no little hairbrush on a retractable cord to brush their fur. But in spite of the differences, it is a cute little bedtime book for those un-sleepy kittens in your home. So leave us a comment between now and noon, Central time, Tuesday, the 27th of July, and we'll randomly select a winner for this fun prize package.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Recently our family has been loving picture books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Namely the three titles, Bedtime for Mommy, Little Pea, and Little Hoot.  The prose is spare in all three, yet they manage to delight us with their wit.  So when I heard about a book for adults by her, I decided to check it out.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary LifeIS actually an encyclopedia type thing. (One never knows with all the novels named "how to..." this days. heh.) It begins with a Readers Agreement, which I loved, goes on to give a time-line of Rosenthal's ordinary life, and finishes up (after the Pause) with alphabetical entries (some illustrated).  These I read somewhat out of order, but then went back to A again to make sure I had got them all.  How could I not, when I might run into a gem like this?

The entry for 15 Minutes (as stolen from the website):
Entries like this cracked me up.  It's not all funny though, a range of emotions colors the book.  And I have to say that despite all the funny bits, I hope the author's ordinary life is a happy one.  I mean, there is a big difference between reading a regular encyclopedia and experiencing the world.  I wonder what the differences and discrepancies are between this encyclopedia and her life (or another "ordinary" life).  

Still, this is my kind of non-fiction.  I loved reading the little musings, the tiny anecdotes, and especially the descriptions of social experiments she performs. 

*If you make a purchase after clicking on this affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

The Dreamer and Jack Lime

Two totally different books, but each very unique and very enjoyable in its own way. First:

The Adventures of Jack Lime.
Jack is a high-school narcoleptic wise-guy detective dude. The story's written in first person and is very cool detective-y, evoking images of slowly spinning ceiling fans, striped shadows thrown through miniblinds, shady diners, and femme fatales. I loved the lines like,

The girl was nuttier than a pecan pie.
Sandra took my hand and looked deep in my eyes. "Be careful, Jack." We were having one of those moments between two people where the world stops and a classic love song kicks in, and you just melt into each other like two hot sticks of butter.

:) Even though it's modern, the main character seems straight out of a Hitchcock black-and-white flick. I think he might even call one of the female characters "doll." Not gripping, but an entertaining, clean, quick read. Recommended for teens to adults---any fans of mysteries.

And The Dreamer.
Neftali (picture an accent over the i) Reyes is a scrawny, distracted, painfully shy child who collects interesting rocks, shells, leaves, seedpods, pinecones, keys, words ... anything that touches his imagination and deepens his curiosity about the world around him. He dreams of becoming anything but the man his authoritarian father is trying to shape him into.

I won't tell you who the book is about, but he's a real-life figure whose work I admire very much. I hope you can read it without knowing his adult identity too, because that will make the revelation at the end all the more poignant. I unfortunately found out because of some blurb on Goodreads when I was only about a chapter away from when the book would've told me, and I was totally bummed.

I originally picked up this book because it looked really different, and I thought it'd be a bit of a stretch for me---maybe even a bit of a chore to work through. It wasn't a chore at all, however, and there was no "work" involved. Definitely recommended for adults and probably 14-and-up readers. There was zero questionable material---it just might not be action-packed enough to hold younger readers' attention.

And the winner is ...

Comment #8: Jill of the O.W.L.
Hooray for giveaways! :)
Just e-mail us your address info (everead@gmail.com), and we'll have the publishers send along your free copy of Dear Teacher.

Thanks, everyone!

Dear Teacher + a giveaway!

The first day of school is fast approaching, and Michael wants to be there, honestly, but what's a kid to do when he has been hired by the Secret Service to find a lost explorer, who gives him a treasure map that leads him from Egypt to the Amazon, where he gets attacked by a pirate king he must outwit if he's ever going to make it back in time for that start-of-the-school-year math test?

Dear Teacher is a series of letters from the unfortunate Michael that explain all the reasons why he just won't be able to make it back to school ("P.S. It's probably best not to mention this to Mom if you see her in the supermarket again."). It was originally published in England---hence the Dear Miss cover you see here.

I found this to be a cute and entertaining children's book---one that, even though there are more than one or two sentences on a page, my two-year-old was actually able to sit through. The illustrations are colorful and engaging, and the envelope-style of the book is fun. The publishers are generously offering a copy to one of our readers who comments on this post. So comment away!

Here are the details:

*One comment per person.
*No entries after noon, Central time, Wednesday, July 7.
*Winner randomly drawn and announced by July 8.

****Giveaway Closed****

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
by Kirsten Miller

So this was a fun adventure story.  In it, Ananka Fishbein tells the story of how she met the infamous Kiki Strike.  Along the way we meet the other awesome girls that become "the irregulars" Dee Dee, Oona, Luz and Betty.

Thing I loved about this book: it's just realistic enough.  I'm so glad that these girls, age twelve at the beginning of the book, don't get everything right the first time.  They get in a bit over their heads, and have to step back, learn, and grow a couple years older. Did I still have to suspend my disbelief?  Oh, yes.  But when a book has a realistic timeline, its so much easier to believe in an invention like the "Reverse Pied Piper."

I have to say, the characters were great, too.  I didn't realize how much I liked them until I typed all of their names just now. I love Ananka's spunk and ordinary-ness.  I love Betty's good attitude, (Luz's bad one is a nice contrast), and Oona reminds me a bit of my slick little sister.  They were all well done, really.  You know how it can be, when you've got a group of girls in a book.  They can become indistinguishable.  Not so for these ladies.

Anyway, this one will probably appeal most to girls, ages 10 plus.  Give it a go when you run out of Nancy Drew.

Salt Water Taffy

Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty (The Seaside Adventures of Jack & Benny)
by Matthew Loux

I grabbed this one off the shelf of my library cold.  That is to say, I had never heard of it before, but it looked like it could be fun.  It was!

Jack & Benny, brothers, aren't particularly thrilled to be spending the summer in Maine without a television.  At least the town has a store that stocks scrumptious salt water taffy. When all of the taffy goes missing, they team up with local fisherman Angus O'Neil to catch a thief.

Very cool.  Super quick, fun read.  We mostly stick with Jack & Benny, but we get a few other perspectives that enhance the story nicely.  I could see my younger brother (and other upper-elementary kids) enjoying the series.  Recommended.

Heist Society

Kat Bishop grew up in a family of high-end thieves. She tries to escape "the life," posing as a normal teenager at a normal private school, but her escape is short-lived. Her father's been pinned for a robbery he didn't commit, and only Kat and a handful of her friends seem to understand the danger he's in from the man who was robbed: a powerful mobster who demands the return of his artwork---or else.

Kat assembles her unlikely team of experienced but decidedly young criminals, and together they plan the craziest heist of their lifetimes---which for the Bishop family is saying something.

I liked this book. I knew I'd like it, and I was right. I liked it. I really hope there's a sequel, because the characters have loads of potential for future fun plots. No depth or profundity here. Just good, clean fun. Read, and enjoy!

A new kind of review...

So. I know that we here at Everead usually confine ourselves to reviewing books.  Occasionally we do audiobooks, or movie adaptations of books.  But we've never done a bookshelf before.

When the opportunity came up (i.e. I was contacted by Sean at CSN) I decided I just couldn't resist.  CSN apparently has all kinds of sites and sells everything from sectional sofas to luxury handbags.  But honestly I think a bookshelf is going to be the best fit for Everead, don't you?

So, after I get my bookshelf and test it out, you can count on a new kind of review.


A new Wendy Mass book. I've read and loved her Every Soul a Star, which Alysa reviewed here, and have wanted to read her 11 Birthdays (though Alysa beat me to it, here, number 7 in her flow-chart list). So I'm beating her to this one, by gumbo! ;)

Considering this book is also about a birthday, as evidenced by the cover, I wondered if it was somehow a sequel to 11 Birthdays. It happens chronologically after 11 Birthdays, but it's about an entirely new character, who also happens to be a classmate of Amanda and Leo, the main characters in 11 Birthdays. So you're not spoiling anything for yourself by reading this one first, because it's not related to the previous one.

So now that we've cleared that up ...

Rory is an almost-twelve-year-old who has a list accumulated over the past many years of all the things her parents told her she couldn't do until she was twelve---things like getting her ears pierced, shaving her legs, attending a boy-girl party, riding an upside-down roller coaster, and staying home alone. The magical day arrives, and out comes the list. Though at first reluctant, her parents are supportive and even have enough restraint to silence any "I told you so's" you know they're just dying to say as one item after another ends in hilarious disaster.

I was either smiling, chuckling, or outright laughing all through this book. I just loved Rory. I hope that someday I can have a daughter, and I hope that when I do, she will be just like Rory. Totally cute and fun book, though the ending tie-together felt the tiniest bit weak to me. Still, I give it two thumbs up.

New Look

Ashley has used her blog-savvy to update the Everead look.  What do you think?


Nation by Terry Pratchett has many things to recommend it.  First, it's by Terry Pratchett.  Second, it's a Printz Honor book (the little-bit-older version of the Newbery). Third, Jacob liked it (so, you know, it's not just me).  Fourth, it (on Playaway, read by Stephen Briggs) kept me awake in the middle of the night while I was driving through Kansas.  Hmm, I suppose it may have saved my life.

It's about Mau, an islander boy from the Pelagic Ocean.   And it's about Daphne, a city-bred girl who gets shipwrecked on Mau's island. It's about a wave that destroys the Nation, about the refugees that follow, and about all of the silly and interesting things that can happen when cultures collide.

This one is probably more serious than the other Pratchett titles I've read.  Still, its steeped in humor.  Daphne was my favorite character, but all of them seem like they could be real.  The plot clips along nicely, too.  Go ahead and give it a shot. 

The Maze Runner

(I don't feel like writing this up twice, so I'll just repeat here what I wrote on Goodreads ...)

I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it's a cool story. On the other hand, I just don't buy the whole purpose for the maze, so the big ending "reveal" fell flat for me. It's a Hunger Games-esque story, but in the Hunger Games, the games have a believable point. I just didn't think the point of the maze was believable. At least it wasn't explained clearly or well enough to be believable. I will still want to read the rest of the series as it comes out, to see if some of the ambiguity gets cleared up and the premise thereby gets strengthened. We shall see. Also I was a bit annoyed by the main character, Thomas. He's kind of emotionally constipated. I felt like we were constantly being told how he felt about this, that, and everything, like his heart was burning, exploding, bursting, melting, all the time. He kept resolving to feel one way or do one thing and then changing his mind, so you didn't feel like you could ever really trust him. Even so, I did enjoy reading the book. It just wasn't as strong as I'd hoped.

Magickeepers: Pyramid of Souls

Nick is part of a family of Las Vegas magicians who hide their real magic behind a fabulously successful stage act. When they're not performing, Nick and his cousins are in training in the deeper magical arts. When an important magical artifact gets stolen---the Pyramid of Souls---Nick sets out to try and retrieve it from the evil sorcerer he knows is behind it all: Rasputin.

This book was sent to me by a publisher, and I realized as I read it that I really should've read the first one first. Sounds like it was a pretty fun backstory, and if I'd known the characters, had their full, first-book introductions before reading this book, I probably would've liked it more. As it was, the odd thrown-in references to famous historic figures didn't seem necessary to the plot to me, and the characters' reactions to things weren't believable (why does Nick take off by himself without seeking help from his far-more-powerful uncles to retrieve the pyramid?). The whole plot felt kind of choppy, and I was left with several unanswered questions (e.g., if it's always snowing on their Winter Palace Hotel in Vegas ... don't the casual, nonmagical outside observers notice that and kind of wonder about it? Manipulating the weather seems a bit beyond acceptable stage magic ...). I was wishing for a little more depth, but it was a pretty short book intended for a younger audience. So ... not my fav, but it's possible that a younger reader who just loves stories that have anything to do with magic in them and who has read the first book in the series might like it. That's my take.
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