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Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan
Pub. Date: June 3, 2014
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rec. Age Level:12+
Pages: 208
More by this author: N/A

Goodreads / Buy It

Everyone knows Alice… and they all know what she did. She slept with two guys in the same night. She’s the reason that the town’s star quarterback is dead. Alice is the school slut; there’s even a bathroom stall covered with her sexual exploits to prove it. In Jen Mathieu’s debut, four teens tell their version of the truth regarding the notorious Alice. Of course, only one person knows the real truth about Alice: herself.

The Truth About Alice is an undeniably powerful novel about small towns, labels, and bullying. The majority of the novel is told from alternating points-of-view, switching between four of Alice’s peers. Though the narrators are telling stories about Alice, it soon becomes clear that their stories reveal much more about themselves than their intended subject. If Alice is the school slut, each of the narrators fulfills a clich├ęd high school stereotype as well, from queen bee to school outcast, but, of course, each character is so much more than the box their stereotyped label creates.

I’m very sensitive about words like “slut,” so this novel really resonated with me. Its connotation is horribly demeaning and the term is so widely used – from a backwards term of endearment to a disgusted label – this term is widely and carelessly flung around. In The Truth About Alice, the dangers of such labeling, labeling that often occurs from gossip and mean-spirited name calling, is clearly and compellingly illustrated. As I read, I so terribly wanted to defend Alice and to prevent further humiliation and harm. Now, obviously, Alice is not a real person, but there are girls just like Alice out there. Girls who have been shamed and bullied for something they didn’t do. Or maybe something they did do. It shouldn’t matter whether something happened or didn’t or whether it is regretted or not… Girls in Alice’s position deserve to be respected and bullying is never acceptable. And, as readers will surely find, no person is ever so simple that a singular label, like slut, could accurately define or describe them.

In The Truth About Alice, Mathieu portrays the darker side of the high school experience with raw honesty and realism. Alice’s story is important, as is the conversation this novel is sure to provoke.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Storytime + Crafting: Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman

Book: Chu's Day
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Adam Rex
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub. Date: 01/08/2013
ISBN: 9780062017819
Pages: 32
Rec. Age Level: 4-8
Rec. Grade Level: P-3
Themes/Lessons: Small actions can have big consequences, Sneezing etiquette

In Chu's Day, bad things happen every time Chu sneezes. Throughout the story, Chu will build up to a sneeze, then stop at the last moment.  I love this book for storytime because it lends itself well to interaction and discussion. The text is fairly minimal, but the illustrations are rich and detailed, plus guessing whether or not Chu will sneeze kept listeners engaged. We had fun discussing the small details that foreshadow Chu's real sneeze and reactions from other characters within the illustrations. After the story, we discussed proper sneezing etiquette - something Chu doesn't practice - and tried it out for ourselves. The shorter length of this pick leaves plenty of time for our more time intensive craft: making googles just like Chu's!

This goggle craft is fairly simple, but it can be time consuming depending on how able the kids are. As is, I'd recommend at least preschool aged, but you might be able to rework the activity for younger kids if necessary.

The goggle template found here is very straightforward and easy to use. The only item you might struggle to find is the colored cellophane, but I was able to track down a variety of colors at my local Michael's. I now have an entire roll of purple cellophane, but I'm sure I can incorporate it into another craft. With a bit of guidance, the kids were able to cut out the goggles themselves, even the inner part of the goggle where the "lens" was affixed. In an effort to keep sticky glue out of hair, we used tape to attach the strap portion of the goggles, which worked well and made adjusting a cinch.


Stop in for storytelling and crafting at 10 am every weekday at Brilliant Books.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Recently Read: Upcoming Titles to Add to Your TBR Pile

If you follow me on Goodreads and Twitter, you might have noticed that I'm one of those lucky readers who sometimes receives review copies of upcoming novels early. I won't lie, there are many really great things about advanced reader copies, but there are also negatives... namely being unable to finish a book and go out and encourage others to read it immediately. So I've decided that the next best thing is to feature these titles here at The Hiding Spot, no matter how early I've read them. Then you can add these books to your ever expanding to-be-read pile. Of course, nearer to the novel's release, I'll post my full review!

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Available September 8, 2014 from Flux
Grief and guilt are powerful forces. Powerful enough to transform how you see the world, and, even, how the world sees you. Anna O’ Malley has been transformed by these forces, touched by death and plagued by her belief that it was her doing. Once a talented and promising writer, she now devotes herself to coffin yoga and selecting the perfect Patti Smith quote to inscribe on her skin. It’s Mateo, a boy who sees the real Anna, despite the guilt and grief that consume her, who slowly leads her back to the land of the living. But death isn’t done with Anna yet. When her grandfather’s health begins to fail and she discovers a shocking secret written on an origami swan, she sets out to uncover hard truths about the people she loves. In the process, Anna must learn to accept the past and face the future. Words and Their Meanings is a beautifully told story about family, love, loss, secrets, and, above all, forgiveness and acceptance. 

Jackaby by William Ritter

Available September 16, 2014 from Algonquin BFYR
Goodreads / Preorder
Abigail Rook defies convention when she flees her stifling home and lands in New England, looking for adventure and in desperate need of a job. R.F. Jackaby is an investigator specializing in cases odd and supernatural and in dire need of an assistant (as his previous assistant was rather unceremoniously transformed into a duck). When a serial killer begins stalking New Fiddleham and the police hit a dead end, Jackaby and Abigail take on the case, convinced there's something supernatural afoot. William Ritter's debut is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, but with a delightful paranormal twist. With a fresh cast of characters, a compelling, bloody mystery, and witty banter, Jackaby will leave readers asking for more.

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

Available August 14, 2014 from Dial/Penguin
Goodreads / Preorder

When Rupert Campbell answers a curious posting for a witch's assistant, he directly defies his mother's command to stay far, far away from any and all witches. But Witchling Two doesn't seem very scary... Apart from being a terrible spell-caster, she's actually quite nice and quite possibly the best friend Rupert's ever had. But humans and witches aren't meant to mix and soon the two friends find themselves in deep trouble. Will Witchling Two be able to pass the tests required to become a full-fledged witch? Will Rupert survive his terrifying and distinctly witchy teacher, Mrs. Frabbleknacker? And can Two and Rupert's friendship survive the forces that threaten to keep them apart? Humor, a smart lesson about friendship, and an evil witch or two makes The Only Thing Worse Than Witches a middle grade win! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Title: We All Looked Up
Author: Tommy Wallach
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 15, 2015
The lives of four teens intersect and overlap several weeks before a meteor is set to pass through Earth’s orbit – with a 66.6% chance of striking and destroying all life on the planet.
Add to Goodreads

Reasons I'm anxiously awaiting this one:

The description for this book is only one sentence and I'm already hooked... Just imagine how excited I'll be when there are even more sentences. And then a whole book

The cover art is stark and freaking creepy, which I seriously love. That red cooler feels so oddly mundane in comparison to the rest of the image and the description. Plus, I was just directed to Tommy's blog which explains the seriously awesome & unique cover design! The image on the left with no words? That's the cover. The image on the right with the title and author tag? Totally the back cover. How cool is that!?

What are you waiting on this week?! Let me know in the comments!

Review: Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Title: Love and Other Foreign Words
Author: Erin McCahan
Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Pub. Date: May 1, 2014
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rec. Age Level:12+
Pages: 336
More by this author: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

Goodreads / Buy It

Josie's older sister, Kate, has horrible taste in men. She's forever choosing unbearable boyfriends and Josie is certain that everything would be remedied if only Kate would allow Josie to choose for her. And then the worst happens: Kate comes home with a new guy and announces they're getting married. Josie can see how horrible he is, but Kate is blinded by love - though Josie is certain Kate must be mistaken, how could she possible love someone as loathsome as Geoff? She's determined to stop Kate from entering into this surely disastrous union at any cost, though her efforts and Kate's preoccupation with the upcoming nuptials are putting decidedly negative strain on the sisters' relationship. Could Kate really be in love with a guy like Geoff? And, furthermore, is it Geoff or love that has transformed Kate into someone Josie barely recognizes? Love is supposed to be magical and grand and perfect, right? And when will people stop telling Josie she couldn't possible understand, as she's never been in love before. Because she knows what love is.... right?

This book is, largely, about love - romantic love, familial love, friendly love, love for words, and love for the musical phenomenon Styx - so it makes sense that I absolutely loved this book and main character Josie.

Josie is one of those awkward, often unintentionally funny characters that constantly offers a witty one liner or sarcastic, smart observation. She's has a genius IQ (though it's rude to bring such things up in casual conversation) and is infinitely curious about the world around her, though, like many, emotions and nebulous ideas like love often elude her. So, she observes and questions and is determined to figure out what love is and why it always seems to turn things completely upside down.

I can also happily report that there are couple different love interests for Josie, which were delightful as a reader and, of course, imperative for Josie's research. I knew who I felt was the perfect match for Josie, but, as Josie learns, it's difficult for the outside observer to connect the dots that form a couple's love and relationship, so I tried to put myself in Josie's position and not exclaim "HE'S SO PERFECT FOR YOU!" on every other page. I can tell you that I practiced much more restraint than Josie would have in my position.

This novel has been compared to the popular writing of John Green and Rainbow Rowell and I suppose those comparisons are apt, but I also believe that this book stands on it's own merit because it's smart, compulsively readable, and oh-so-relatable. I hear it's been optioned for film already, which is really fantastic. I think it'd translate to film well and I'm definitely in favor of more people becoming aware of McMahan's writing and YA contemporary fiction in general.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Interview with Jess Keating, author How to Outrun a Crocodile When When Your Shoes Are Untied {Blog Tour}

The wonderful Jess Keating is at The Hiding Spot discussing her debut entitled How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, her writing process, and her inspiration behind main character Ana!

About the Author

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her debut How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is out now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, with a sequel to follow. Her nonfiction picture book, Pink is for Blobfish, will be published by Knopf in 2016.

She has a Masters degree in Animal Science and a growing collection of books that are threatening to take over her house. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves hiking, watching nerdy documentaries, and writing books for adventurous and funny kids.
Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Alternately, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 
Like all books, this one was a labor of love and there were definitely growing pains. I had to work very hard to keep my 'adult' brain out of it, especially in scenes where Ana and Ashley are interacting. For example (without spoiling things), I can say that in book two, we learn a lot more about Ashley. But to 12 year old Ana, she's just a Sneerer. It was so important for me to let Ana's view (however clouded it might be by her hurt feelings!) run the show, because I wanted to let the story unfold without me oversteering.

On the other hand, any scene with Daz came quite easily for me. I'm not sure what that says about me! It's possible I'm a criminal mastermind?

Ana, your main character, is a whiz with animals, but she’s also painfully shy and insecure. Did you have a specific inspiration for Ana’s character and the situations she encounters in the novel?

Yes! Although I'm not shy like Ana, many of her experiences were amplified versions of things that have happened in my own life. Most of my childhood was surrounded by animals, and then I went to university to study zoology. Obviously many of the things I've learned have found their way into the book! Thankfully though, I've never embarrassed myself on live TV. *knocks on wood*

I do think that, shy or not, we all feel like Ana does at some point or another. The struggle to fit in while still being yourself is something that feels universal to me, so getting to write about Ana's journey somehow made me even braver.
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end? 

Most of my books start with the character and the setting. I love voicey characters and unusual, quirky places. This part involves mainly research, and I bury myself in facts until I get a feel for how a character would relate to it. This is also the point where I start to conjure up the character's overall arc, and where I want them to end up after I've put them through the ringer.

Once I know the voice I'm aiming for, that's where the hard work of plotting and drafting comes in. I do outline, but often find I have to shift gears as I learn more about the character's growth. I spend a lot of time working on the beginning, which is pretty ironic considering I normally end up changing it anyways! (CROC used to start with Ana waking up with a five foot snake in her bed!)

As far as writing in sequence, I tend to go all over the map, particularly when I'm just starting to draft. If a scene hits me that I know will have a place, I usually trust myself and write it, hoping that it will make sense in the end when I puzzle-piece it all together. This does mean I have some scenes that get cut, but I don't see it as wasted writing, because I've learned that much more about the character!
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 

The title is pretty much the only thing that hasn't changed about my book! The moment it popped into my head, I knew I was on to something. The rest of the story came later, through a lot of work!
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 several jobs, most of which revolved around science and animals. One of my favorites was at a wildlife rehabilitation center, where I spent all day chasing animals and doing outreach and education. I also wrote nonfiction articles for magazines and led zoology workshops at university, where I got to yammer on about animal bones and kooky behaviors. The biggest thing I have in common with Ana is a love of the natural world, and a really deep desire to express that to anyone who will listen. She looks better in the safari hat, though.  
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 

Ooh, tough question! Zephyr is one of my favorites. It means 'soft breeze', and I love it because my best days are spent outside. I also love the word 'nefelibata', which is super weird, but means 'cloud walker', or, someone who lives in the clouds of their own imagination. Beautiful, right? 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 

I have so many! Like every writer I know, I love escaping into books, especially funny ones, or anything that takes me to a magical place. I keep a copy of INKHEART next to my bed just in case I need a fast escape. 

And, as nerdy as it sounds, I actually love escaping into research. The world is JUST SO COOL. I can spend hours poring over books, watching documentaries, and often get lost in so many blogs I need to remind myself to get back to work. I get a big thrill every time I can add something I've learned into one of my books. For example, I just discovered there is a fish whose scientific name is Boops boops. Tell me that isn't hilarious!

What can readers look forward to next?
More books! The second book in the My Life is a Zoo series, called How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel is coming out in January, 2015. I'm really excited for people to read this one, because we get to learn more about Ashley. She's a total pill in CROC, but as always, there are two sides to every story. 

I've also got my first nonfiction picture book coming out in 2016, from Knopf! It's called Pink is for Blobfish, and it's all about subverting the gender expectations of the color pink, using cool animals to tell the tale. As you can tell from the upcoming titles, animals are still going to play a major role in my writing!