Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Home    Challenges    Reviews    Features    Contests    Review Policy    Contact

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Storytime: New & Notable Picture Books (15)

Home Tweet Home
Written & Illustrated by Courtney Dicmas

Add on Goodreads
In Home Tweet Home siblings Burt and Pippi decide their nest is just too small for a family of ten, so they set out to find a new place to live. But finding a new home proves no easy task! The world outside of the nest is exciting, but also scary and often hungry. In the end, the siblings' adventures serve as an important reminder that the grass isn't always greener and that sometimes, there's no place like home. Dicmas' bright illustrations encourage reader interaction; readers will fun guessing which animal Pippi and Burt have stumbled in their adventures.

Written & Illustrated by Jeff Mack

Add on Goodreads
Jeff Mack's work is always fantastic, but I especially love Look! In this newest offering, gorilla tries desperately to pull the boy's attention away from the television, balancing books on his head and nose and performing bookish acrobatics, all the while exclaiming 'Look!'. It isn't until gorilla knocks over the television and the boy yells 'Out!' that the television's spell is broken. The boy finally picks up a book, discovers its magic, and shares his experience with the gorilla, exclaiming 'Look!'. The story, told through entertaining illustrations and the minimal use of the words 'look' and 'out', will stick with readers and serve as a gentle reminder to turn off the television, pick up a book, and engage.

Yard Sale
Written by Eve Bunting; Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Add on Goodreads
In this collaboration from Eve Bunting and illustrator Lauren Castillo, Callie struggles with the difficult and confusing situation of moving to a new house and leaving home behind. Callie and her parents are having a yard sale in preparation of their move to a smaller apartment. The young narrator doesn't completely understand why her family is moving - she only knows that it has to do with money. As strangers come, asking questions about her belongings and taking them away, Callie's discomfort and sadness grows. And, when a woman (Nana of Nana in the City!) teasingly asks if Callie is for sale, she runs to her parents in alarm, fearful of being left behind too. This book is a great fit for any family going through a move and/or dealing with financial difficulties, but it will also easily resonate with many types of readers, serving as a reminder that home is less about place and more about the people that surround you.

Written by Shutta Crum; Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Add on Goodreads
In Uh-Oh! readers will find a beachy adventure with little text other than the intermittent 'uh-oh!' This fantastically illustrated adventure will delight even the littlest readers, who will love mimicking 'uh-oh' and will surely recognize sandcastles, slides, and more from fun-filled days at the beach.

My Grandma's a Ninja
Written & illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Add on Goodreads
There's No Such Thing as Little challenges readers to think big! Creatively placed die-cut holes reveal that things that seem small are often part of something more - something welcoming or unique or important. A thoughtful book about perspective told through bold illustrations, this newest read aloud from LeUyen Pham is a treasure.

Love any of the books featured this week? Want to see a certain theme, author, or illustrator explored in an upcoming Story Time post? Let me know in the comments!

Audiobook Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman, read by Jorjeana Marie

Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: January 27, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 12+
Length: 7 hours 42 minutes
More by this author: If I Stay, Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
I first read I Was Here as an early review copy back in 2014. Of Gayle Forman's handful of books, I had only read If I Stay previously, but I recalled liking it and I know many readers who speak highly of her writing, so I was looking forward to I Was Here. I ended up enjoying - or perhaps relating - to it so much that, when offered an audiobook version of the book, I felt compelled to return to the story and characters.

The novel follows Cody, a college freshman who's best friend, a vibrant, whirlwind of a girl named Meg, has committed suicide. Though Cody and Meg have grown apart in the year since Meg moved away for college, leaving Cody in their dreaded dead-end town to attend community college, the suicide blindsides Cody who cannot reconcile her idea of Meg with a girl who would take her own life. Troubling emails and an encrypted file on Meg's laptop push Cody into looking deeper into Meg's life at college and the people, online and off, that may have affected her life and the choice to end it.

The audiobook of I Was Here was narrated by Jorjeana Marie, who I thought did a phenomenal job. I liked Jorjeana Marie's voice right from the start, but it was her treatment of male characters that really won me over. Her narration has an effortlessness that I really appreciated, especially when it came to characters like Ben. You can tell she's speaking as a guy, but it doesn't sound silly or overdone. This is so, so important to me because I'm often really distracted by things like that. I also loved when she read lines in which Cody or another character was especially emotional. There is this one passage in particular, where Cody is near tears, when Jorjeana's voice so perfectly captured that. The only downside is that, when I hear tears in someone's voice, I start to cry, too! I loved Jorjeana's narration so much that I ended up looking into other books she's narrated, 21 of which are YA. I immediately purchased three - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Some Quiet Place, and Liv, Forever - and I fully intend to pick up a few more!

Though I loved reading this novel, I think I enjoyed the audiobook more. When I read I Was Here, I felt really connected to Cody, but the audio allowed me to connect more deeply with Meg and the secondary characters. Perhaps this was, in part, because I was experiencing the story for the second time and noticing details about characters other than Cody that I'd missed the first time. Regardless, I think it was Jorjeana's stellar narration that made the secondary characters pop and fleshed out Meg, who the listener only knows through the memories and interactions with other characters.
I'm a huge fan of this book and the audio. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cover Reveals - XXV

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones
The ghosts of war reverberate across the generations in a riveting, time-shifting story within a story from acclaimed thriller writer Tim Wynne-Jones.

When Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.
Starflight by Melissa Landers

Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She's so desperate to reach the realm that she's willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he's been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world--and each other--the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe...
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers a brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony.

In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched by National Book Award–winning author M. T. Anderson.
MARTians by Blythe Woolston
In a near-future world of exurban decay studded with big box stores, daily routine revolves around shopping—for those who can. For Zoë, the mission is simpler: live.

Last girl Zoë Zindleman, numerical ID 009-99-9999, is starting work at AllMART, where "your smile is the AllMART welcome mat." Her living arrangements are equally bleak: she can wait for her home to be foreclosed and stripped of anything valuable now that AnnaMom has moved away, leaving Zoë behind, or move to the Warren, an abandoned strip-mall-turned-refuge for other left-behinds. With a handful of other disaffected, forgotten kids, Zoë must find her place in a world that has consumed itself beyond redemption. She may be a last girl, but her name means "life," and Zoë isn’t ready to disappear into the AllMART abyss. Zoë wants to live.
Are You Still There by Sarah Lynn Scheerger
After her high school is rocked by an anonymous bomb threat, "perfect student" Gabriella Mallory is recruited to work on a secret crisis helpline that may help uncover the would-be bomber's identity.

Gabriella Mallory, AP student and perfect-daughter-in-training, stands barefoot on a public toilet for three hours while her school is on lockdown. Someone has planted a bomb and she is hiding. The bomb is defused but the would-be-bomber is still at large. And everyone at Central High School is a suspect. The school starts a top-secret crisis help line and Gabi is invited to join. When she does, she is drawn into a suspenseful game of cat and mouse with the bomber, who has unfinished business. He leaves threatening notes on campus. He makes threatening calls to the help line. And then he begins targeting Gabi directly. Is it because her father is the lead police detective on the case? Is the bomber one of her new friends. Could it be her new boyfriend with his complicated past? As the story unfolds, Gabi knows she is somehow connected to the bomber. Even worse she is part of his plan. Can Gabi reach out and stop him? Or will she be too late?
The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet
How hard can it be to write a fantasy trilogy? From Carnegie Medalist Mal Peet comes an outrageously funny black comedy about an impoverished literary writer who makes a pact with the devil.

Award-winning YA author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip—allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien—is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences. The Murdstone Trilogy is a richly dark comedy described by one U.K. reviewer as "totally insane in the best way possible."

Which new covers are your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Interview with Nikki Loftin, author of Wish Girl

Today MG lit author Nikki Loftin stops by The Hiding Spot to chat a bit about her newest book, Wish Girl, how her past jobs have influenced her writing, and more! Be sure to check out my review of Wish Girl, too, which you can read here.

The valley where Peter and Annie meet is a character in its own right. Can you speak a bit about the valley – its inspiration and personality? 

Sure! The valley is based on a real place I visited most summers when I was little. My parents were trying to build a house out of scraps of lumber and free stuff on the top of a hill in Texas. My older sister and I ran wild in the uninhabited valley every summer while our parents worked. It was paradise plus rattlesnakes. In my mind, the valley I loved as a child was alive somehow. I felt protected and safe when I was there. I tried to put that feeling into my book, giving Peter the same geographical “friend” that I’d known, and added a little more overt magic – in a more overt way – to the fictional place.
I loved Peter and Annie, of course, but, when invited to interview you, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask you about the Colonel’s wife. Again, can you speak about this character’s inspiration and inclusion in the novel?
Oh, hooray! Nobody asks me about Mrs. Empson, and I love her so much! She’s like Yoda, with better grammar. :)  Actually, at one end of the real valley I knew, there was an A-frame house, just like in the book. A widower called The Colonel lived there. I didn’t know him very well, and his wife had been dead for years. So the Colonel’s Wife, in my story, is entirely fictional, but she is based on a conglomeration of characters I’ve known in my life in Central Texas. My world is full of these capable, independent, gruff women who do for themselves, don’t fit into “polite” society, and have hearts as big as the Texas sky.

As a side note, Empson is my grandmother’s maiden name. Growing up, I always teased my grandma that I’d use her name in a steamy romance novel someday… this is probably better.  
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration? 
I had the standard odd assortment of jobs as a young woman: waitress, hostess, popcorn seller at the theatre, bookstore clerk, salesperson. But after college, I lucked into an alternative certification program to be a teacher, and got hired at the most magical school in New Braunfels, Texas. I practically danced my way to work every day – I loved the kids, the other teachers, the principal, and the work itself. I never knew how much fun working with kids could be! So my next job, as a Director of Family Ministries, was a continuation of that career. In that job, I was given the task of thinking incredibly deeply about topics like grace, love, redemption, sacrifice, good and evil – and asked to speak to the kids of the church every Sunday morning in the children’s sermon in a way that made those topics meaningful and relevant to their lives. A big job! I think I still do that, in the back of my mind, all the time, and that’s what inspires me when I wrote my books – wanting to explain those “big” things in ways that appeal to kids, and help them to navigate this complicated world.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
Murmuration. I love the sound of it, and I love what it means: either a murmuring sound… or a flock of starlings. And how they fly!

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
Books are the perfect hiding spot. But, aside from books, my escape when I was a little girl was my valley. Now? It’s still the natural world, but the best place I’ve found to really retreat is Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Magical, strange, and perfect for writing. I make sure to spend a week or two out there every so often.
What can readers look forward to next?

I’m in an anthology of scary stories in September! It’s called Guys Read: Terrifying Tales, and I wrote a horrifying story for it. I think fans of my first novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, will love it. It’s super creepy.

More about the author

Nikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, goats, and rambunctious boys. She is the author of the multiply starred-reviewed Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publisher’s Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible.” Her newest novel, Wish Girl, was published on February 24, 2015. Visit her website, here.