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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Almost Super

Title: Almost Super
Author: Marion Jensen
Publisher: HarperCollins BFYR
Pub Date: January 21, 2014
Genre: MG
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
More by author: n/a
 Picture Me Gone

Rafter and Benny Bailey have been waiting for this day, February 29th, since the moment they learned their family was made up of superheroes. The moment the clock hits 4:23pm, Benny and Rafter's lives will forever change as they inherit the superpowers that will allow them to protect their city from the villainous Johnsons. their dreams take a nosedive, however, when the boys end up with rather useless powers, crushing their dreams of supersuits and heroics.

After an encounter with classmate and nemesis Juanita Johnson, they learn Juanita was also unlucky in the power department. To top it off, their conversations with Juanita brings new truths to light and challenges everything the boys believe in. They're forced to ask: which family is the real threat to their town? The Johnsons...? The Baileys...? Or someone else entirely?

I can't stop talking about Marion Jensen's debut, Almost Super. Hilarious and packed with unforgettable characters, this book has immediately found a place in my heart and, best of all, into my everyday life. After telling various people about the book and the obligatory fist shake by the Bailey's upon mentioning the Johnsons, we've developed a bit of a habit of blaming the Johnsons when things go wrong, accompanied, of course, with a fist shake. But Almost Super reminds readers that first impressions and secondhand accounts aren't always the best source of information and, perhaps, the Johnsons aren't truly the rightful recipients of our blame.

A fantastic adventure with a great message about the true meaning of bravery and heroics, Almost Super is a must read!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Featured Five: Illustrated Children's Books

 Each Wednesday, I'll feature five books that I'm currently loving. This week, all my picks are illustrated children's books - perfect gifts for the young book lovers in your life!

Title: Too Much Glue
Author: Jason Lefebvre
Illustrator: Zac Retz
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Age: 5-7 (K-2)
Too Much Glue is too much fun. Young Matty is a glue enthusiast; he firmly believes you can never have too much glue. After finding himself in a sticky situation, literally, things may have gotten a tad out of hand. Great fun!
Title: My Pen Pal, Santa
Author: Melissa Stanton 
Illustrator: Jennifer A. Bell
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Age: 3-7 (P-2)
In this delightful story Ava sends Santa Claus a letter, thanking him for her gifts and inquiring after his New Year plans. Surprised that someone is thinking of him after Christmas, Santa writes back, beginning a year long correspondence with Ava that leads right up until following holiday season. Ava, full of curiosity and questions, asks many of the things children will often ask of their parents, but receives answers directly from Santa himself! I loved that this story addresses the tough questions - How does Santa get into houses without chimneys? How does he even fit down those chimneys? And does Santa know the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? - while encouraging kids who still believe in Santa to hold on to the magic and keep believing, nevermind the older siblings and peers who might say otherwise!

Title: Snatchabook
Author: Helen Docherty
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Age: 3-6
In cozy Burrow Down, the rabbit Eliza Brown and her book-loving neighbors are without books to read at bedtime. Someone, or something, has been stealing books right from under their noses and Eliza is determined to find out who. When Eliza sets a clever trap for the book snatching thief and discovers the culprit is a Snatchabook, an adorable little imp, she quickly comes up with a plan to set things right. A beautifully illustrated story about sharing, forgiveness, and creative thinking, The Snatchabook is a fantastic read aloud story sure to enchant your readers.

Title: I'd Know You Anywhere, My Love
Author: Nancy Tillman
Illustrator: Nancy Tillman
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-8 (P-3)
Nancy Tillman has done it again! An incredibly touching and moving portrait of the bond between parent and child, I'd Know You Anywhere, My Love belongs in every young reader's library. Children will love the cadence of the story and the beautiful illustrations featuring children as animals of every shape and size and the parents who will "know them anywhere." As always, I highly recommend this Tillman offering.

Title: Princess Tales: Once Upon a Time in Rhyme with Seek-and-Find Pictures
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Gail de Marcken
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-6 (P-1)
Perfect for anyone who loves fairy tales, this interactive book is sure to provide entertainment for both parents and children. Ten retellings are featured in Princess Tales, from the well-known story of Cinderella to the lesser known Twelve Dancing Princesses. What I loved most about the stories themselves was the diversity represented throughout the stories, as each takes place in a different part of the world or in an entirely new fantasy landscape. The tales are told via lengthy poems, making it a great book for parents and children to read together. After parents and children will have fun working together as they search for the items hidden within the illustrations.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Things You Kiss Goodbye

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine!

Title: The Things You Kiss Goodbye
Author: Leslie Connor
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Bettina Vasilis can hardly believe it when basketball star Brady Cullen asks her out, and she just about faints when her strict father actually approves of him.

But when school starts up again, Brady changes. What happened to the sweet boy she fell in love with? Then she meets a smoldering guy in his twenties, and this “cowboy” is everything Brady is not—gentle, caring, and interested in getting to know the real Bettina.

Bettina knows that breaking up with Brady would mean giving up her freedom—and that it would be inappropriate for anything to happen between her and Cowboy. Still, she can’t help that she longs for the scent of his auto shop whenever she’s anywhere else.

When tragedy strikes, Bettina must tell her family the truth—and kiss goodbye the things she thought she knew about herself and the men in her life.

Leslie Connor has written a lyrical, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about family, romance, and the immense power of love.
To be honest, I feel in the with the font used on the cover of The Things You Kiss Goodbye before I read the description, but the mention of a cowboy, a tragedy, and the immense power of love reminded me of my favorite things about country music and I was hooked! I've got high hopes for this one!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: 45 Pounds (more or less)

Title: 45 Pounds (More or Less)
Author: KA Barson
Publisher: Viking/Penguin
Pub Date: July 11, 2013
Genre: YA 
Rec. Age Level: 12+
More by author: n/a
 Picture Me Gone

When Ann's aunt announces she's getting married - and that Ann will be in the wedding party - she knows that it's now or never to lose the weight that's been holding her back her whole life. Ann's mother is a svelte perfectionist who, for years, has been pushing Ann to take control of her weight. Ann has tried every diet fad and tactic out there, all under the supervision of her mother, but this time things are going to be different. She forks over her savings for an infomercial diet that promises to be foolproof, finds a job to fund her weight loss method (she's determined to do this without poking and prodding from her mother) and waits for the weight to melt away. But things aren't so simple, not when it comes to changing her body... and not when it comes to changing what Ann sees every time she looks in the mirror. And, as she soon realizes, Ann isn't the only one in her family with an unhealthy body image and relationship with food. It's going to take more than five payments of $19.99 for Ann to achieve her happy ending.

Ann from 45 Pounds (more or less) is, more or less, me. Well, my high school self anyway. I like to think that I've achieved much of what Ann achieves by the end of the novel. But, all of the ups and downs regarding her weight - the self-loathing, the grudging acceptance, the moments of grim determination, and the times when weight loss seems impossible - were all too easy to relate to. I spent the entire book rooting for Ann and a fair amount feeling frustrated when she turned to bad habits (but only because I'd been there before and wanted to shout "Put down the french fries, Ann!! It's not worth it - you have more to live for!" Ahem.). 

What I love most about this book though, is the positive changes that Ann and her family begin to accept after having meaningful and honest conversations. I truly hope that those who read 45 Pounds (more or less) will apply some of these changes (like positive language regarding food, weight, and eating) to their own lives. 

45 pounds (more of less) is, in my opinion, a must-read with an important message about adopting positive language and ideas of self-worth and being healthy in a society obsessed with shallow and unrealistic images of beauty.

Notable Quotes:
“And while the shape of my family might not match other families - or even what I imagined it should be - some pretty amazing people make room for me, watch out for me, and love me. Sometimes, even when I don't know it. Make it so I fit. No matter what.”
“I change the channel to another movie. An old one, but new to me. And, ironically, a thin, gorgeous blonde—Meg Ryan, maybe—rides her bike on a country road. She smiles like she has no cares in the world. Like no one ever judges her. Like her life is perfect. Wind through her hair and sunshine on her face. The only thing missing are the rainbows and butterflies and cartoon birds singing on her shoulder.

Maybe I should grab my bike and try to catch up with Mom, Mike, and the kids. They can't be going very fast. I would love to feel like that, even if it's just for a second—free and peaceful and normal.
Suddenly, there's a truck. It can't be headed toward Meg Ryan. Could it? Yes. Oh my God. No! Meg Ryan just got hit by that truck.

Figures. See what happens when you exercise?”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Pub Date: August 15, 2013
Genre: YA 
Rec. Age Level: 14+
More by author: Between the Spark and the Burn
 Picture Me Gone

Violet White comes from old money, but that money has run out, along with her artistic, free spirit parents, who have left Violet and her brother living penniless in the faded family estate. When Violet decides to take on a renter for the guest house behind the estate, she doesn't expect it to be filled so quickly, nor by someone as magnetic and mysterious as River West, the new face in Echo . In spite of the odd and terrible events that seem to follow in River's wake, Violet finds herself pulled to this boy with his lazy charm and unreliable stories. But River isn't what he seems... or perhaps he's exactly what he seems. The devil takes on many forms and, in Echo, he just may be a teenaged boy with a crooked smile. A gorgeous setting and lush writing coupled with the horror and a mystery that spans decades makes Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea impossible to put down, even when the suspense of what might be lurking on the next page grips the reader with fear.

Oh my goodness, I adore this book. Beautifully written with dangerously flawed (and sometimes ridiculously terrifying) characters, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea kept me mesmerized from the very first pages until the thrilling, heart-pounding conclusion. And finding out that there's another book has left me so excited and distracted that I'm having a hard time writing a coherent review. 

I spent most of the book just waiting to see what card Tucholke would deal readers next. Like Violet, we readers are simply along for the ride, watching with horror as things spiral further and further out of control in the sleepy town of Echo. The setting, crumbling mansions and the ghosts of an opulent past populated the spoiled, reckless wealthy, is both striking and lends itself perfectly to the story, with its mystery and dark family secrets. If you haven't read this debut yet, make time - you won't regret it.

Notable Quotes:
“The Citizen's attic was, objectively, breathtaking. The place was littered with trunks and old clothes and wardrobes and pieces of furniture and strange metal toys no one had played with in sixty years and half-painted canvases and on and on. There were several round windows to let in the sunlight, and I loved how it raked its way across the floor as I watched, dust dancing like sugerplum fairies in the bold yellow glow. If attics could make wishes, this one would have nothing to wish for.”
“River's kiss tasted like coffee and storms and secrets.
And slowly, slowly he began to move faster, and then faster...
And then he stopped.
River let go of me, just like that. Just about the time I'd forgotten who I was, just about the time I'd forgotten we were even two separate people anymore and not just one glowing, quivering, ocean of kissing... he let me go. He stepped back and took a deep breath.”
“I coughed and choked, and drowned on moonlight, which tastes like butter and steel and salt and mist. And then, just like that, just when I thought she was going to kill me, suck the air out of my lungs and make me a ghost too, she lifted her hand, and... faded away.”
Check out the book trailer:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: Where the Moon Isn't

TitleWhere the Moon Isn't
Author: Nathan Filer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press/Macmillan
Pub Date: November 5, 2013
Genre: Adult (Crossover)

Rec. Age Level: 16+
More by author: n/a
 Picture Me Gone

Where the Moon Isn't begins with the recounting of a childhood memory by the 19-year old narrator Matthew. This memory, which may seem, to the reader, odd at best and unimportant at worst, has stayed with Matthew his entire life as a defining moment that set in motion a choice that ended in the death of his older brother, Simon. Now, Matthew is telling his story - and his brother's story - as he attempts to bring his brother back. Matthew is convinced he's found a way to do this: by going off the meds that keep his schizophrenia - and his brother - at bay. As Matthew tells his story, the reader struggles to unravel the truth from Matthew's story, which one can never take completely at face value, as it meanders through past and present, sometimes linear, sometimes repetitively, but always with a steady, persistent goal: finding Simon.

I cannot stress how much important I think this novel is. It deals with a myriad of topics, most notably mental illness, in a raw, honest way that readers won't soon forget. I was incredibly moved by Where the Moon Isn't... not just by Matthew and Simon's story, but by the stories of even the secondary characters. I can't talk about this book without my heart breaking and my eyes filling with tears because it's obvious that Filer has first hand experience with the issues he writes about in this book. My mother has spent most of her life working with for Community Mental Health of Michigan, so throughout my life I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most absolutely wonderful people who are saddled with mental and physical deficiencies. Filer gives these individuals a voice with Where the Moon Isn't. This book is a compelling mystery with engaging psychological elements, but, because of the author's heart and deft hand, it is also so much more.

While Where the Moon Isn't is technically adult fiction, it has definite crossover appeal. The main character, Matthew, is only nineteen and much of the novel focuses on his childhood.

Notable Quotes:
"I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that."
“I decided each name on each spine was the person who the book had been written for, rather than who had written it. I decided everyone in the world had a book with their name on, and if I searched hard enough I'd eventually find mine.”
"But there are different versions of truth. If we meet each other in the street, glance away and look back, we might look the same, feel the same, think the same, but the subatomic particles, the smallest parts of us that make every other part, will have rushed away, been replaced at impossible speeds. We will be completely different people. Everything changes all the time.

Truth changes.
Here are three truths.”
"What happened next is less clear in my mind because it has merged into so many other memories, been played out in so many other ways that I can't separate the real from the imagined, or even be sure there is a difference. So I don't know exactly when she started to cry, or if she was crying already. And I don't know if she hesitated before throwing the last handful of dirt. But I do know by the time the doll was covered, and the earth patted down, she was bent over, clutching the yellow coat to her chest, and weeping.

When you're a nine-year-old boy, it's no easy thing to comfort a girl. Especially if you don't know her, or even what the matter is.

I gave it my best shot."
 Check out the Youtube video inspired by Where the Moon Isn't:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Interview with Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of the Lost Cities & Exile

Today Shannon Messenger, author of two series (one MG, one YA) visits The Hiding Spot to chat about the most recent release in her MG series, Exile. Keep reading to learn more about Shannon, including the MG authors that inspire her writing, her favorite happy word (which gives a sunny description to something not-so-sunny), and her personal non-spot hiding spot.

Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 

It’s funny, because the answer to both questions is the same: Keefe scenes! On the one hand he’s an incredibly easy character to write dialogue for. I could write page after page after page without needing to pause. But that’s also extremely problematic, because he’s a side character and rarely the focus of a scene. So I have to constantly go back and chop so I can actually advance the plot.
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 

Oh titles… why can’t we be friends? Don’t get me wrong—I love my titles. But they were NOT easily come by. Keeper of the Lost Cities took us six months and hundreds of rejected titles to come up with. And  was Exile the same—which is especially crazy considering it’s only one little word. All I can say is: titles are haaaaard. And thank goodness for patient marketing departments who slog through my horrible lists of suggestions.
What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 

Hm, that’s hard, because I can’t really say there’s any ONE book or author who influences me. I think I’m more of an amalgam. For middle grade, I love the way Rick Riordan uses humor to temper the brutal things he puts his characters through. I love the worlds Brandon Mull creates, how they’re both so incredibly fantastical and yet feel so plausible and real. I love the whimsical feel of Roald Dahl. I could go on and on, but I think that gives you an idea.
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 

I had two kinds of jobs: the steady, I-need-a-paycheck jobs, which involved exciting things like answering phones and making copies and filing. And I had the chasing-the-wrong-dream jobs when I was trying to work my way into Hollywood. I hated both—for different reasons of course. But they were also what pushed me to stay up late writing, and not give up during the long road toward publication.
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 

Kerfuffle! It’s such a fun word to say. Plus I love that it has such a sunny, happy feel despite describing something stressful and rather unpleasant.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 

This will probably sound weird but… pretty much anywhere. I’m a huge daydreamer—which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great as a writer, because I’m always imagining new things. But it’s bad when I have to be a functioning human being, because I get called out a lot for tuning people out without meaning to, or staring into space.
Find out more about Shannon and her books here!