Illuminate by Aimee Agresti

Yes, the girl-in-an-opulent-gown book cover has been majorly overdone for some time now. But aside from that bit of unoriginality, which I know the author generally has little if any control over, this was a fast and fun and not unoriginal read.

Haven is a smart, quiet, driven high school student who lands a prestigious work-study position at the opulent Lexington Hotel in Chicago, along with her best friend Dante and their brilliant, shy-guy classmate Lance. The position seems too good to be true---which, of course, they find out not far into the book, it is. The ridiculously young and beautiful people running the Lexington (who call themselves "The Outfit") are in the business of collecting souls, working for the devil himself. And they hope to recruit Haven and her friends into their elite club. But Haven and Lance are harder to sway than The Outfit expected, and their hoped-for recruits fast become their most dangerous enemies.

Aside from the pacing being a bit choppy in places and the unanswered questions that readers will just have to mull over until the next book comes out, this was an entertaining, diversionary book. I was in a reading slump, and Alysa brought this new YA mod-fantasy to my attention. In the early stages of the book, I was afraid Haven was going to cave to the pressure of the glamorous, hedonistic lifestyle she was surrounded by and then have to spend the rest of the book trying to overcome her early bad choices. It was refreshing instead to have a leading lady who stuck to her moral, goody-two-shoes guns. I definitely wouldn't have liked the book as much if it had been the typical teen-has-to-learn-the-hard-way, dark-and-a-little-scandalous sort of read. It was dark, but it wasn't scandalous. Pretty much squeaky clean, actually. Maybe that makes Haven unrealistic. I thought it made her likeable.

In any case, if you're in a reading slump and are looking for a fun thriller to get lost in, this one gets my thumbs up.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

This is a wordless graphic novel about a dog and a robot. It is both adorable and sad. It's one of those books that makes you feel all the things.

Living in an animal version of our world, Dog builds himself a robot. The pair has such fun. A series of events and choices lead to their separation, and as the story progresses we are privvy to the robot's dreams. His imagined scenarios are denoted by wavy edged panels.

When I say the book is wordless, I mean that it has no dialog. There are, in fact, some words among the pictures. We're clued in to the library because it says "Library" out front, etc. Time passes and we get labels like "Two months later."

The book is appropriate for all ages. I read it with Benjamin, who is currently three years old. (He also loves Sara Varon's Bake Sale). He was attentive through the whole book and I pointed to panels and turned the pages, also explaining the action.

Benjamin was not quite satisfied with the ending -- it's a complex one, and that's something that I appreciate about the book. Together we got to talk about how the ending has its advantages. It was an exercise in perspective-taking.

Friendship and estrangement, betrayal and forgiveness, consideration and selfishness all play a part. Couched in Varon's gorgeous pastel illustrations, the story really is beautiful.

Alysa: Benjamin do you remember this book?
Benjamin: No. Yes! That's the one that we have!

What did you think of it?
Um, It's great! It was great, it was great, it was great, great, great!

Would you like to read it again?
No, thank you mommy.

Because I want to keep watching my movie.

It's just as well, since we've returned it to the library. :)  

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

I was totally immersed in this book. It is contemporary realistic fiction -- the story of a girl named Ruby discovering how to survive without neglect. Her mother, always neglectful and sometimes abusive, has flown the coop. Now Ruby struggles to adjust to life with her older sister who is both well-mannered and wealthy.

Details enrich the story and elevate it beyond just "cautionary tale." I was able to relate to the characters and could imagine them with unusual clarity. Dessen's descriptions are vivid and don't flower on forever and ever. The book has a very balanced feel.

I read it in basically two sittings (thank you, weather, for being so rainy!) and there's plenty of suspense. It is a stand alone novel (hooray!) does a good job both tying up at the end and realistically leaving the future open.

Profanity, drug use, and off-screen sex are part of the narrative. Like Ashley said in her 2009 review* of this same book, it's inspiring to see the way Ruby changes over the course of the story.

*Man, what is up with the fact that I'm just now getting around to reading these books that Ashley recommended years ago? Well. Anyway, I'm having fun. (See also Winter's Tale.)

Winter's Tail: How one little dolphin learned to swim again

Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again
by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff

I checked this movie out from the library in an effort to find something my 3-year-old and I could watch together (i.e. NOT a 30 minute episode of a girl/boy/anthropomorphized animal rescuing a monkey/jaguar/anthropomorphized animal).

Winter played herself in the movie. Because, you know.
Struck gold! We were both drawn into Dolphin Tale (2011).  I recognized the story when it came to film because Ashley reviewed this book and we did a give away of it back in October 2009I'll be the first to admit the film is rather cheesy. Still, truth be told, it did tug on my heartstrings a little. And seeing Winter swim on screen is completely absorbing. My curiosity was piqued, and I had to know how much of the movie-version was true. So, I checked out this book.

The title is a bit much, but the story is awesome!
It is the story of a dolphin named Winter who lost her tail but learned to swim without it. Then, when it became apparent that her new swimming style was damaging her backbone, she learned to swim with a prosthetic tail. (!)

So. Cool. Winter's real story is much more dramatic than it was in the movie (and the family drama of her trainers and handlers never comes up in this non-fiction work). The book gives the facts succinctly and they are awe-inspiring. Once I was distracted by some ambiguity - "wait, did her tail fall off?" but it was clarified. (Answer: Yes) A little bit of cheese makes it's way into the text near the end of the book, but overall it's solid.

The book is going to appeal to people of all ages -- it did in our family. Though Jacob was completely uninterested in the movie, he couldn't help but smile while reading the book. His favorite part was when Winter swished her new tail in Panama's face. I loved how people at Hanger Prosthetics offered to make her tail. Benjamin loves the photo series where Winter paints a picture.

Also, this book taught us new vocabulary. Benjamin learned the word prosthetic. I'm so happy that he knows it. It seems like respectful terminology goes so far in developing respect for others. A "fake leg" isn't a real thing, you know? Jacob and I learned the word peduncle. It is the narrow part of the body of a dolphin (or a fish) that the tail connects to.

Seriously, I'd be interested in a sequel to this book. Check it out when you get the chance.
Ashley's review of this book
Joy's review of the movie novelization

Tempest by Julie Cross


It is a testament to the popularity of this book that I have only just now gotten my copy from the library. I put it on hold back in January. Directly after the awesome release party I went to for the book.

So. It's time travel. It's romance. It's from the guy's perspective. It is action packed, but not violent. Well, I mean, there is violence, what with all the chasing and some shooting and such, but it's not gory. (On a scale from one to violent, it's less violent by far than the Hunger Games, and more violent than, say, The Adoration of Jenna Fox.)

I loved being in Jackson's head throughout the book. His reactions to the ratcheting tension are sometimes just what I would do and sometimes puzzling, but always real. I'm quite attached to him as a narrator, now, and love that he grew along with the book.

This book would definitely be a PG-13 movie (and I believe a movie is already in the works). Jackson is 19 and off at college, loving life with his friend Adam and girlfriend Holly. (Though time gets twisted a bit and we get to see them in high school, also.) Fair warning: there are swear words and intimate moments. Do I wish they had been left out? *shrugs* It really wouldn't be the same book, if they were.

Can I just say I love that our protag is in college? So often YA is set exclusively in high school, and I find it both refreshing and realistic that college is the main setting for this book.

This one is the first in a trilogy (and boy howdy do you know that from the way it ends). Can't wait to read the rest!
p.s. Julie Cross and I live locally to each other! What questions do you think I should ask her when I do an interview?

Vote for Everead -- send Alysa to NYC!

The Independent Book Blogger Awards are being decided over on Goodreads. Grand prize? A trip to Book Expo America in New York City this fall. 

Golly it would be so awesome to go to BEA.  I'm not getting my hopes up too high, but just thinking about all the authors to meet, book industry professionals to connect with and all the free books (hello!) has me drooling. I've been imagining myself at BEA for a couple of years but, alas, the stars have not aligned for me yet. 

Which is where you come in. Vote for Everead (in the Children's and YA category) between now and April 23!

The rules: The polls allow one vote per person in each of the four categories, and voters must be Goodreads members so that we can accurately tally the results. When polls close, the top 15 blogs in each category will become finalists.
Winners will be selected from among the finalists by a panel of industry judges. Each of the four category winners will receive a pass to BookExpo America (June 5-7, 2012) with airfare and hotel accommodation in New York City.
I got to choose 5 posts from between Feb. 2011 and Feb. 2012 to represent Everead. You can go to my entry page to see which blog posts I chose. :D

And, hey, now's as good a time as any to say this: Thank you for reading Everead. It means a lot to me, silly as that may seem. But I'm happy I can share reading with you, and hope that you get something good from this blog!


Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years

Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years
by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum

I picked up this book because Gretchen Rubin mentioned it in her book, The Happiness Project. Since I have a preschooler, I thought it might do me some good to read about what these two experienced preschool teachers had to say.

I loved it. I have a degree in elementary education, so I have studied young children before. However, I didn't have my own preschooler at the time.

As I would read, I would find a section that was particularly pertinent to us -- me and my three year old son -- and then I'd stop and try out their advice for a day or two. Fantastic! Like I said, it was never anything ultra-revolutionary, but it was solid advice at the right time.

The book is divided into two sections: School and Home.

The School section covers topics like Choosing a Preschool, What a good preschool will teach, Saying goodbye happily, and transitioning to Kindergarten.

The Home section talks about developing routines with your child, discipline and how to set limits, talking about difficult topics with kids, and my personal favorite section: Play! I loved the comprehensive list of toys they've got. They give toy shopping tips which I just really liked -- I want to buy toys for my kids that won't just entertain them but will help them learn and I certainly don't trust advertisers to clue me in on that.

I definitely recommend this book to parents of preschoolers. The book mainly focuses on kids ages 2-5, but parents with older kids can benefit from some of this practical advice. This book is not a discipline system, but a massive collection of helpful hints for parents.

If you'd like to purchase this book, here are my affiliate links. (If you make purchases through these links, I get a small commission.)
Amazon: Practical Wisdom for Parents (the same edition pictured above) or newer edition.

2012 Eisner Award shortlists

The Eisner Awards are the big ones for graphic novels and comic books. I haven't followed the Eisner Awards in the past, but I think will now. There are just SO many good graphic novels for kids. The Eisner award judges agree:
However, Estrada says, "the extent and quality of the material submitted in the Kids and Teen categories was so high that the judges felt dividing these books into three categories was warranted." Full press release here.
Of the books on the Eisner shortlist, there are four that the Cybils Graphic Novel panel also recognized:

Nursery Rhyme Comics edited by Chris Duffy
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogsol
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Also I love that Matt Phelan's Around the World was shortlisted in the YA (12-17yrs) section of the Eisners. (It was my pick for honorary mention.) We on the Cybils panel had it competing in the MG (8-12yrs) category, and I was like, "Hey, guys we should move this up to teen." It didn't go over. But now I feel validated!

Lots of people like these books!
Everead reviews of 
How have I not reviewed Level Up and Zita yet? 
Loved them both. 

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

We love Knuffle Bunny around here.

Trixie is a toddler, not quite talking yet, who loves a little bunny. When her dad leaves Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat, you had better believe things get hairy.

I adore the illustrations in these books*. Photos of real New York City with simple color drawings over the top. It just kind of boggles my mind, really. How does Mo Willems know just what photo he wants? How does he make the drawings fit in so well? Suffice it to say this is not a style I could duplicate with any success.

I adore the simple text. It's funny! The dialogue sounds just like a family.  And the descriptions are spot-on. We now talk about "going boneless" all the time. Just the other day I saw a friend's child go boneless and I said that. She was like "huh?" and I was like, "You know, when the kid just flops and turns into jello and for some reason you can't hold them..." and then I said, "I am going to lend you Knuffle Bunny."
Mo Willems blogged about this scene. :)
Benjamin says:

Who is in Knuffle Bunny books?

What does she do?
Um, her goes boneless when hers a baby.

What does she do when she's older?
Her goes to school.

Um, her can go with her daddy.

Do you like Knuffle Bunny?

How much?
Um, Pretty good.

How much good?
Super good. Super good, Mommy.

What would you say to person who wrote Knuffle Bunny? Did you know that someone wrote the words and drew the pictures?

What would you say to them?
*cookie monster voice* "me want to learn how to draw!"  That's what I'd say!

*Yeah, that's right, there's Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free. I really can't choose a favorite.
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