Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin

I loved this book. That’s the first thought I had when I read the last word. How complete and satisfying.

First of all, where have I been? This book was published in 2016. How could I have missed it? Of course, we all have those giant TBR piles and that’s the only explanation I can come up with. Well, and 2016 was a difficult year, so there ya go.

There are really great reviews printed in the first few pages of this book and I’d love to post them all here since they did a great job. But, I will do it myself – sigh – and hopefully encourage you to pick it up.

Here is what the publisher says:
A long undisturbed bedroom. A startling likeness. A mysterious friend.
When twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov goes to live with his aunt at Falcon House, he takes his rightful place as heir to the Lvov family estate. Prince Lev dreams of becoming a hero of Russia like his great ancestors. But he'll discover that dark secrets haunt this house. Prince Lev is the only one who can set them free―will he be the hero his family needs?
From Eugene Yelchin, the author and illustrator of Arcady's Goal and the Newbery Award-winning Breaking Stalin's Nose, comes The Haunting of Falcon House, an illustrated middle grade story that'll both haunt readers and leave them knowing a little bit more about Russian history.
This title has Common Core connections.

This story is engaging in every way – the setting, characters, action, plot. I was taken on a ride of mystery, friendship, Russian history and the pain of facing the truth. The illustrations are disturbing, adding to the creepiness and intrigue.

What I treasure about this book is that it is different and unique, which isn’t always easy to find. Everything Prince Lev felt and saw, I did too. It was like I was transported right into Falcon House. Definitely worth the trip.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Book Review and Writing Exercise - a Twofer!

I thought it was time to do a writing exercise as well as a book review. I've been doing a lot of rewriting, to then turn into submissions, and then get back to my WIP. So first up, the book review. Originally published in Shelf Awareness and reviewed by Lynn Becker and available on her blog as well, link below. 

It took me a little bit to get into this book (I think I say that with all books!) but then enjoyed the ride of witches in training. Loved the characters. 

The Apprentice Witch--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: The Apprentice Witch

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol (Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9781338118582, July 25, 2017)

Arianwyn Gribble is mortified when her magical assessment by the Civil Witchcraft Authority goes horribly wrong. Instead of focusing on the four cardinal glyphs, her mind is taken over by a larger, bolder symbol, an impossible one that "didn't really exist except in her imagination." The evaluation gauge undergoes a power surge and fails to pick up the required level of magical energy. Arianwyn's humiliating result is officially classified as "ungraded." Instead of the bright silver star of a fully trained witch, a "dull bronze disc" is pinned to her coat. The moon brooch identifies her as an apprentice who "has not yet reached the maturity of her powers."

Nevertheless, her service is needed (it helps that Grandmother, on the Council of Elders, has some say in the matter). Arianwyn takes a position in the small town of Lull, near the Great Wood. Rich in natural magic, "a quiet and pleasant town to live in," Lull has been without a witch for many years and is willing to welcome an apprentice. Provided, as the mayor puts it, she can "fulfill her role without incident." But Lull is not as idyllic as Mayor Belcher advertises. En route to the town, Arianwyn finds herself fighting off a dangerous dark spirit creature. When she begins a spell to banish it, the mysterious glyph flashes before her eyes and her mind goes blank. Arianwyn and her fellow passengers scramble to escape, leaving the dark spirit stunned but not banished. Worse, she may have created a dangerous rift, an opening into the world "anything could get through from the void." Arianwyn is sure that her performance could not have been more pathetic.

Settling into her new home, a musty charm shop named the Spellorium, Arianwyn manages to make charms and deal with the less dangerous beasts that plague the neighborhood. Gradually, she grows more confident and the townsfolk come to accept her. She enjoys the staunch support of best friend Salle (who was involved in the initial melee with the dark creature), and a strange kinship with the other spirit creatures she encounters. Even her district supervisor, while initially skeptical, begins to understand that some great power lurks within the awkward apprentice. All seems to be going well until the mayor's niece arrives, none other than sneaky, cruel Gimma Alverston who taunted Arianwyn mercilessly in school. Something huge, dark and twisted is haunting the Great Wood, and dangerous patches of hex mold are spreading about the area. And why does Arianwyn keep seeing visions of that strange, "tempting and terrifying" glyph?

Feeling at once fresh and familiar, James Nicol's enchanting debut will charm fans of Jennifer Nielsen, J.K. Rowling and Eva Ibbotson. The world of The Apprentice Witch is comfortable, funny and well-imagined. Underneath all the magic, fey creatures and monsters, Arianwyn's struggles with self-doubt will ring true with readers. A few loose plot points hint at a sequel, but this one stands strongly on its own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Lynn Becker

Now for the writing exercise!

Words: clock, trouble, bed, coin

I rolled over, still awake. The clock hadn't moved. The digital numbers froze at 11:11. How was that possible?

I shifted again, away from the annoying red glow, pulling my night shirt out from under me. My bed sagged like a war-torn army cot. If you tried to bounce a coin off it, I'm certain it would roll down into the valley and never be seen again.

How could sleeping be this much trouble? I sighed. I flopped. I flopped. I sighed. 

Sitting up to read the clock again, it read 11:11. Now I was starting to freak out. Flapping noises began that were not there before. Giant winged shadows crossed in front of the light outside my window.

The very very scared part of me wanted so badly to pull the covers up forever. The other part that made incredibly brave and bad decisions sneaked over to the window for a peek.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Review Time!

So - I'm going to consider the past couple of months a hiatus. 
Sometimes life just takes over. It happens. Whatchagonnado?! 
I'm posting three wonderful books that were reviewed by Lynn Becker and I offer my two cents on the first one. The second and third books were originally published in Shelf Awareness. Everything Lynn reviews, I always want to read!
Then I will get back on track with writing exercises and I also want to post about the incredible writing retreat at Asilomar I recently attended. First, book reviews.

LONG WAY DOWN, by Jason Reynolds

LONG WAY DOWN was recently named a Newbery Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and the audio (narrated by the author) won an Odyssey Honor at the ALA Awards this year.

LONG WAY DOWN tells the story of fifteen-year-old Will, whose brother Shawn has just been shot. The sadness feels like a tooth, “somewhere in the back,/ one of the big/ important ones,” has been ripped out and now there’s a “new empty space,/ where you know/ a tooth is supposed to be/ but ain’t no more.” After all the screaming, and the sirens, and the questions, Will knows that it’s up to him to follow The Rules: no crying, no snitching, and, finally, “[i]f someone you love/ gets killed/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them.” Will finds his brother’s gun, and gets on the elevator to look for the kid he’s sure is responsible for his brother’s death. But on his way down to the lobby, Will is joined by some very important ghosts who make him question everything he thinks he knows.

I think the form of the novel is pretty brilliant. Telling it in free-verse and, for the most part, during a one minute elevator ride allows the author to cut straight to the heart of his story. The riders who join Will form a chain of violence, and readers will feel all the pain, panic, and despair that drive him to believe he must follow the same Rules that got these ghosts from his past killed. The ambiguous finish hints at a possible end to the seemingly inevitable cycle of violence. Hope is good.
Lynn Becker

Such a beautiful book. The words are so perfect. When I read verse like that I want to have all those incredible phrases written where I can see them all the time. But there’s so many! 
I wondered if he would not go and shoot the person he “thought” did it. I reread the last part of the book looking for definitive answers. 
I saw a lot of press and hype for the story and definitely wanted to read it. 
I found it interesting that there was quite a bit of story at the beginning before he gets to the elevator. I originally thought the entire book took place in it. 
Really good. 

MG Review: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Originally begun as a social media project during Black History Month, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History highlights courageous African American women who broke new ground by following their dreams--women who persevered, didn't listen to "no" and found success despite overwhelming odds. Bessie Coleman was denied entry to "every aviation school in America," so she moved to France and "became the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot's license." Phillis Wheatley was "the first African American woman poet ever to be published." Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who attended "a private school in Massachusetts," became "the first African American woman physician in the country." And, at 80 years of age, Alma Woodsey Thomas had her colorful paintings exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "the first-ever solo exhibition of an African American woman artist at one of America's most important art museums."

The short, engaging biographies are accompanied by charming portraits. Each woman, depicted in clothing and costumes reflective of her time and vocation, seems to be looking within, mustering the strength necessary to persevere in the face of daunting odds. Backgrounds are minimal, rendered mostly in pale shades, which leaves the focus on the women and helps ground them in history. Debut author Vashti Harrison created Little Leaders with her younger self in mind, but she hopes readers of every background will find these stories compelling. Little Leaders will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of high achievers. 
Lynn Becker

PB Review: A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert

This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.

Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.

The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.
Lynn Becker

Friday, December 1, 2017

Writing Exercise - November but technically December

Deck the halls with lots of crazy, fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season to be busy, fa la la la la, la la la la.

Ain't it the truth? I think that some sanity is preserved or created when doing something artistic. Which means, I should be doing these every day! haha.

Anyway, here is a new prompt to kick off the holidays, let it lead you where it may, saving sanity along the way. 

Words: spy, thin, kneel, imperfect

     Lizzie sat on the stairs weighing her options. Do I hide and spy or do I go to bed like Joshie? she wondered. Her tiny arms were visible through her thin nightgown. Lizzie shivered but didn’t complain.
     The makeshift Christmas tree made from a worn wood coat rack stood in the corner taped with homemade snowflakes. Lizzie was proud of the ones she and her younger brother had folded and snipped.
     In front of the tree was a shoe box on its side. Lizzie had glued a popsicle stick nativity scene. A cotton ball stuck on a stick for a sheep was her favorite. Imperfect as it was, she knelt down and stared at the manger and smiled. A chorus of O Little Town of Bethlehem grew in volume.
     She listened for a moment then flew to the door to thank the carolers. No one was there. Lizzie looked down. At her feet were two presents addressed to her and Joshie. She pulled them inside and closed the door to the cold.
     On either side of the manger, Lizzie set the gifts down. She wished there was a gift for her aunt who worked two jobs for them.
     Just then, Lizzie got an idea, and not just any idea, a brilliant idea. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

October-Adjacent Book Review

I should have been telling you about this book series years ago when it first came out. But maybe you're already a fan.

The Lockwood & Co series are some of the best middle grade books out there, written superbly by Jonathan Stroud. They are perfect for the season with ghosts, creepy things, humor, and suspense. These exciting adventures starring the Psychic Detective Agency are filled with great characters and incredible character arcs continuing throughout the series. Lucy, Lockwood and George are smart, have secrets, and fabulous paranormal talents. Not a series to miss, it’s one of my favorites!

From the Publisher: There is an epidemic of ghosts in Britain. Their touch brings death, and only children have the power to fight them.

Lucy Carlyle, a young psychic investigator, joins London's smallest agency, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood and his ever-hungry assistant George Cubbins. Together the trio must investigate some of the spookiest and deadliest spectral hauntings in the city, armed only with the tools of the ghost-hunting trade (magnesium flares, iron filings, chains and salt bombs), their courage and a thermos of tea.

Ghosts and ghouls beware!