Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Five chilling tales of gothic horror are what await you in this beautiful graphic novel by Emily Carroll.
The stories are claustrophobic, dark and mesmerising. Almost all of the stories revolve around young women being transformed in a traumatic, psychological way. It's a graphic novel you could read one hundred times and still find a little nugget of creepiness.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cure for the Common Universe by Chris Heidicker

 Boys meets girl. Boy gets girl. The end. Right?  Chris Heidicker's new novel Cure for the Common Universe is a novel take on relationships between kids who aren't exactly a-listers at their schools.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

FASCINATING: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

Because you're never too old for a picture book. And because Star Trek just turned 50 last week. And because it's Leonard Nimoy.

Today's review is of Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriquez. Apart from Nimoy's autobiography, I Am Spock, this appears to be the only book biography of the acting legend, poet, photographer, and musician (so far). Richard Michelson, the author, is also a gallery owner in Massachusetts, who got to know Nimoy in real life when Nimoy displayed his work at the gallery.

The book explores Nimoy's childhood as the son of Russian immigrants living in Boston. Nimoy's first big break was singing "God Bless America" at a local playhouse, when the manager needed someone to do it and remembered a kid singing the Shema (a Jewish statement of faith) at their synagogue. Young Leonard Nimoy was bit by the stage bug at that moment, and never let it go, despite being urged by his family to find something that was guaranteed to pay him an income. Like playing the accordion.

Full of wit and wisdom - some from the author, some from characters in the book (including both Nimoy's grandfather and John F. Kennedy) - this book is about more than the life of Leonard Nimoy. It's about what it is to be part of an immigrant family in this country, a bit about what it is to be Jewish, a story about never giving up your dreams, about giving back, and - oh yeah - about the origin of Spock's hand gesture for "Live long and prosper".

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

To quote its narrator, Mara, Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer is “boom-boom bonkers.” Students in Mara’s senior class are spontaneously combusting, not so much bursting into flames as bursting into bits. Viscous bits. And the beginning of Spontaneous bursts with crackling energy, energy built of the conversational quality of Mara’s glib voice, energy built of an undeniably original premise. Indeed, the first one hundred pages of Spontaneous were explosively funny. (Oh, you thought I was above such a pun? You were wrong.)

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

PROMISE by Judy Young


Kaden doesn't remember much about his dad. When the man went to prison years ago, Kaden ended up living with Gram. Although a bit different, life with Gram has been good. Now Kaden is starting sixth grade and hoping to find a new friend, but the return of his father might change everything.

Living out in the woods in a series of five small cabins gives Kaden a lot of freedom. Gram keeps tabs on him and so does their neighbor Emmett, but Kaden spends most of his time hanging out at the top of an old fire tower with his pet crow Kubla.

The new music teacher's son, Yo-Yo, turns out to be just the crazy friend Kaden needs to convince him that not all kids are annoying bullies. Gram even thinks Yo-Yo is ok, and she's pretty hard to please.

When Kaden's dad shows up at the cabins, he brings with him secrets that threaten to tear apart the life Kaden has always known. He wants to trust the man and hopes that he has been rehabilitated, but the suspicious activity and hostile attitude that surround the ex-con make Kaden extremely uncomfortable.

PROMISE by author Judy Young is at times heartwarming and also heart-wrenching. Kaden learns that families are not easy and dealing with disappointments requires a strong individual. Thank you to Sleeping Bear Press for providing a copy of this book for review.

Previously posted at

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar

When she's little, Laura's father tells her the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. She strikes up a deal with him: if she doesn't lie, she doesn't have to cut her hair. Fast forward to sixth grade: Laura has long hair and a bold attitude. She finds a hat at a garage sale that says PIG CITY on it and starts wearing it to school. No one other than Laura and her two best friends are allowed to be part of the Pig City club. Soon enough, her classmate Gabriel starts up a club called Monkey Town. The classic boys-versus-girls scenario plays out in the schoolroom and the schoolyard.

This is my favorite Louis Sachar novel, hands down. Kids in upper elementary school who can't wait to go to middle school will race through this book. Sixth Grade Secrets is both funny and realistic. It still holds up thirty years after publication. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Unstoppable by Bill Nye

I have been a huge fan of Bill Nye for a really long time. He has always seemed like a very reasonable voice for good in the world and as I read this book, that held true. In Unstoppable, he talks about the history of energy, our current energy crisis, and a ton of possible ways individuals can make a difference in the world through his "try everything all at once" attack on global warming. The faith in humanity that Nye shows is astounding, calling on the young people of today to grow into the next "Greatest Generation" and tackle head on the problem of climate change.
In order to achieve this he calls on nations to adjust their thinking and social structures to really focus on educating girls in the areas of science and technology because, as he points out, girls are half the population and why should we limit our problem solving minds to only one half of the population!?
Nye discusses the friendly competition he has with his neighbor and fellow actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. showing that change can be fun. I found this to be very inspiring and motivating to do my own part.
I may not agree with everything that he proposes, but I think that at least trying is better than the alternative - dying, as in our whole species.
This is funny, thought provoking and timely. Truly a great book for dreamers and doers, even those only wanting to do in their very own small scale changes. It all helps.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Child Soldier: When boys and girls are used in war by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine

 First person narratives are very powerful and more so first person narratives of harrowing experiences. We know there are conflicts going on all over the world but most of them hardly make the news cycle here in the United States. This site tracks some of them.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Grunt by Mary Roach

In the yawning dog days of Summer, last chance for those still on vacation for some lazy summer reading, and a perfect time for last-minute escape to those who might already be back to the school year grind. When you don't have time or energy or the concentration for a novel, nonfiction makes for a good choice.

Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and the book I want to talk about, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. If there was one word to describe Mary Roach's approach to her subjects I'm going guess... curious?

As you can surmise from the title Roach like to take her curious mind and delve into the more unusual scientific aspects of warfare and its side effects. Told with occasional humor but always tactfully factual, boys will no doubt go into the chapter on genital transplants with a smirk and come out sobered about exactly the sort of "collateral damage" you don't learn in a first-person shooter game. Along the way are chapters on testing shark repellent, how one learns to drive around and over bombs, and the medical benefits of maggots on wounds.

Not for everyone, but for that particular boy out there, this is a goldmine of great nonfiction.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016


If you read all the way to the very end of the Harry Potter series -- and I know some people did not, because they chose to skip the "epilogue" -- then the last time you saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione, they were adults sending their kids off to Hogwarts. Harry was sending his middle child, Albus, off - a kid in the same class as Draco's only child.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a form of continuation, but it is not a fully-realized novel with the sumptuous setting and details we've come to expect in Harry Potter novels. Then again, it's important to remember that this is not a novel. It is instead the script of a play in two parts. Pity the poor show-goers who got tickets for only one night and cannot see the entire play.

It came about because J.K. Rowling wrote a story, and John Tiffany and Jack Thorne turned it into a play. Which means there are slight set descriptions, stage directions, and dialogue. If you already know the world described in Hogwarts, including Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic and more, then this shouldn't post a problem to you. You don't need the full description of Platform 9-3/4 or the Hogwarts Express or the witch with the cartful of sweets who walks its aisles, because you can already conjure all that for yourself based on your knowledge of the prior books and the bits of setting and stage directions in the pages of The Cursed Child.

I'm not going to post any spoilers, which means I won't give you much in the way of details at all, except to say that Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and other characters from the original series are actual grown-ups in this book, and their characters (19-22 years after Voldemort's death) logically relate to how they were when younger, but are not precisely the same, just as occurs with real people.

This story is much more interested in the younger generation, and especially focuses on Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy who are, against most odds, the very best of friends. And on the adventure they undertake, which -- this being a Potter story -- turns out much different than they expected, and also manages to involve the parents in an adventure of their own: working together.

If you are lucky enough to have tickets to see this in London, then I won't presume to tell you whether you should read this beforehand or not (though I will say that I know two people in that position, and both opted to read it, since they don't mind spoilers). Otherwise, it seems likely to be a LONG time before this play arrives in the United States or becomes a movie.

So read it, by all means, just don't expect it to read like a standard novel. Because, after all, it is a play.

And this play's the thing.

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