July 21, 2017

Figuring out who you are

The only exposure I've had to roller derby is through the film Whip It which admittedly is more than some people. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to read more about it especially when I saw the cover of today's book. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson follows a middle schooler named Astrid who (after going to a roller derby bout) decides that she will be an all-star roller derby girl. However, there are a few hiccups in this plan. (I was going to tell you what they are but I decided it would be better for you to discover them yourself especially since they make up the backbone of the book.) This is a story all about discovering what you're made of, adolescent friendship, and perseverance. It's pretty much middle school wrapped up in one volume + crazy rollerskating antics. I should also mention that it's a graphic novel with truly epic illustrations which were done by the author (I love when that's the case). Overall, I thought this was a fast paced, angsy book that captures what it's like to be a preteen girl who is obsessed with <insert hobby>. It's a fun book, guys. If you have any middle grade readers in your life that love sports I think they'd really like this one. 8/10

And since I've done this with a few other author/illustrators I thought I'd include a blog post that Victoria Jamieson did with some sketches from the book. Here's a sample:

Source: Victoria Jamieson Illustration
And here's what you can expect from the finished product:

Source: books4yourkids

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 14, 2017

Activism in India

Like those of you who come to my blog looking for book recommendations, I often check out book vloggers/bloggers and 'what's new in children's lit' to see what I should be checking out next. That's how I heard about Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami. Firstly, I don't think I've ready any children's books from an Indian author before so I was interested to see if the styles would be at all similar and what kind of themes would be explored. Secondly, this book is about two of my favorite things: books and community activism. :-D Our main character, Yasmin, is a voracious reader and she gets all of her books from a lending library run by Book Uncle who sets up his 'shop' on the corner by her apartment building. There is no price for these books and if you want to keep it then that's perfectly okay. Yasmin and many members of her community come to see this little library as a constant in their lives but one day their world is upended because Book Uncle has been told that he must leave. What transpires next is nothing short of inspiring and that's just what I think is so phenomenal about this book. It teaches children that their actions matter and that activism can be accomplished by every member of the community. It's a great way to talk about 'doing your part' that doesn't make it overbearing or heavy-handed. It's also a great way to expose children to a different part of the world. 8/10

Note: This book will also make you extraordinarily hungry.

Source: Bright Group International

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 7, 2017

Long overdue + Anniversary!

"...the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between..."

There were several lines from The Phantom Tollbooth that I could have chosen to start this blog post but this one really stuck with me. It might come as a surprise for you to learn that this was the first time I had read Norton Juster's classic work for children. It has been on my TRL for years and I finally knuckled down and checked out a copy. I'm glad that I did because it was just what I needed. For those who haven't been initiated, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a little boy named Milo who seems to make his way through the world with a listless, bored attitude...until a mysterious package appears in his bedroom. What happens next is a pun lovers' dream. (If you're a fan of grammar and word play then this is the book for you.) Milo goes on an adventure which will totally change the way he looks at the world. This is the perfect book to create lifelong learners because it's all about critical thinking. (I realize that I'm making this sound like homework but I swear it's fun educational learning.)

A/N: Today marks 6 years that I've been posting my book reviews online. I can't believe that something that started as a fun little side project has turned into my second job (albeit unpaid). I feel very proud of how far I've come and I am very much looking forward to the future (and all of those books!). Thanks to those who have been around from the beginning and those just now discovering me (hello!). I hope that in some small way I've helped you to find your next great read and somewhat brightened your day.  Here's to the next 6 years! :-D

Our protagonist, Milo. Source: Book Jacket Letters
To give a hint of the word play. Source: you-books
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 30, 2017

Slow on the uptake

Alright, I'll admit it. I'm often drawn to a book because of its cover. There's nothing wrong with that. Why else would they hire people to make them attractive and spend so much time designing them to be eye-catching? And then there's the blurb on the back of the book. These can range from evocative, cringeworthy, perplexing, or in some cases spoiler-y. Even after reading the back of the book jacket of today's book and seeing the title and looking at the cover image I was still surprised to discover just what this book was about. Maybe you're all smarter than me. Can you guess what Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings is about just from the name? What if I told you that it was about a little boy who had 7 little monsters accompanying him on a rescue mission and each of them had a very separate personality? The main character of Deadly 7 is Nelson who comes across a machine which creates 7 monsters that only he can see. One is always sleeping, one is angry about pretty much everything, one keeps stealing everything in sight...have you figured out what they are yet? I almost hope you haven't because then I won't feel like such a dolt. This is Garth's debut novel but he's no stranger to writing as he was the genius behind the movie Sing. However, this book is pretty much nothing like that movie. This story feels like it could be rooted in our present but with a decided twist. There's an ever-present feeling of dread while flipping the pages of this book which honestly I think that a lot of kids feel at this age. Remember the anxiety and fear when you realized that you were changing and you didn't know into what? Jennings taps into that and uses the monsters as a way to illustrate it which I think is rather brilliant. I have to say that the plot of this is kinda all over the place but the writing is solid so I have hope that further books by him will be tightened up and be even better. Nonetheless, it was a quick read and entertaining and I think it would be a good springboard for conversation. It's a solid 6/10.

PS Here's an article where Jennings talks about writing the book.

Source: Garth Jennings on Twitter

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 23, 2017

I'm conflicted

I am struggling with how to express my feelings about Grandpa's Great Escape by David Walliams. This is due to the fact that this man might actually be a bigger Roald Dahl fan than myself and his writing definitely reflects that. I don't think that Walliams makes any bones about this but I do think that if you've read Dahl's works it will be difficult not to compare the two which leaves Walliams falling a bit short. (Sorry!) Read on its own merit, it's a great little book which touches on topics which I think are really important in middle grade fiction. Our main character, Jack, has a very special relationship with his grandfather who was a fighter pilot in WWII. Their relationship is a unique one which is further complicated by the fact that his grandpa has Alzheimer's disease and believes he is once again in the midst of the Battle of Britain. Jack's parents are torn about what to do with the old man but Jack is adamant that he continue to spend time with him...until the vicar puts an idea into their heads about the old folks home beyond the moors. In typical Dahl fashion, Walliams fashions a slapstick comedy amidst flashbacks to WWII and serious discussions over elderly care and familial loyalty.

What I didn't care for:
  • What felt like blatant ripoffs of Dahl's works as well as his illustrator, Quentin Blake
What I legitimately enjoyed:
  • The approach and handling of serious discussions revolving around elderly care and Alzheimer's
  • The glossary at the back which discussed in more detail the topics touched on in the book such as the Royal Air Force, Battle of Britain, etc.
To get an idea of what I mean in reference to the illustrations I'm going to put an example of Quentin Blake's work for Dahl and following that a look at an illustration by Tony Ross for Grandpa's Great Escape. They definitely have different styles but they somehow evoke the same kind of whimsy and emotion. This is why I'm so conflicted about my feelings because truly it's like they're doing an ode to their heroes but...hmmm.

I'd love to know what you guys think so please check the book out and leave a comment below. :-)

Source: Yard Gallery
Source: World of David Walliams
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 16, 2017

Am I no longer afraid of robots?

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown has both fascinated me and frightened me for at least 2 months now. I kept seeing the cover when I was shelving or visiting other branches and the image of the single robot standing on top of a pile of rocks kept leaping out at me. I finally gave up the fight when I decided that middle grade fiction was the way to cure my book reading blues. I'm glad that I did because The Wild Robot was a lot of fun to read (and it turns out it's the start of a series!) made even more amazing by the superb illustrations supplied by the author. [A/N Peter Brown is no stranger to creating books as he's a well-known children's picture book author/illustrator but this is his first attempt at middle grade fiction.] This isn't your standard 'robot story' but instead it's a look at climate change, the ever-evolving landscape of our world with the advent of technology, and what it means to be truly alive. In short, it's beautiful, thought-provoking literature. The illustrations peppered throughout enhance the story by adding depth to the characters (I love that they're black and white.). Roz is doing the best she can given her circumstances which is really all that anyone can do. The only difference is that she's an artificial lifeform living on an island without any humans. How will this shape her? Will her presence have any effect on the local fauna and flora? Brown's commentary on our world is perfectly geared for a younger audience but it wouldn't go amiss for the adult crowd either. ;-) I can't wait to see how this story continues to develop as Peter carries on with the series. 10/10

For a look at the book from the author's perspective check out this awesome post written by Peter about his process of getting his book published: "The Wild Robot lives!".

The haunting cover. [Source: Amazon.com]
Source: New York Times

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 13, 2017

Newly Released: That Crazy Perfect Someday

The lovely folks over at Wunderkind PR were kind enough to reach out to me and ask if I'd be willing to let you guys know about a new book coming out just in time for summer. I happily told them yes. :-)



Synopsis:
The year is 2024. Climate change has altered the world’s wave patterns. Drones crisscross the sky, cars drive themselves, and surfing is a new Olympic sport. Mafuri Long, UCSD marine biology grad, champion surfer, and only female to dominate a record eighty-foot wave, still has something to prove. Having achieved Internet fame, along with sponsorship from Google and Nike, she’s intent on winning Olympic gold. But when her father, a clinically depressed former Navy captain and widower, learns that his beloved supercarrier, the USS Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to be sunk, he draws Mafuri into a powerful undertow. Conflicts compound as Mafuri’s personal life comes undone via social media, and a vicious Aussie competitor levels bogus doping charges against her. Mafuri forms an unlikely friendship with an awkward teen, a Ferrari-driving professional gamer who will prove to be her support and ballast. Authentic, brutal, and at times funny, Mafuri lays it all out in a sprightly, hot-wired voice. From San Diego to Sydney, Key West, and Manila, That Crazy Perfect Someday goes beyond the sports/surf cliché to explore the depths of sorrow and hope, yearning and family bonds, and the bootstrap power of a bold young woman climbing back into the light. 


Excerpt:
Google Mafuri Long.
Click video.
And voila!
Thats me, surfing the monster of all wavesan eighty-foot beast. Im like a tiny knife slicing through a gigantic wall of blue thats rearing up behind me, a total H2O Everest. Scale? Picture me standing next to an eight-story building. In 2023, I became the first chick to win the Nike XX Big Wave Classic: one of the few women in history to surf a wave that big, the only one to do it officially. I followed Daddys advice before we left the dock for the open sea. Dont ride that horse with half your ass, he said, sending me off with a fist bump. Go after it, cowgirl.
The freaky part is that the wave is a hundred miles off the San Diego coast in the middle of nowhere. The surf spots called the Cortes Bank, where the fish around you are the size of Volkswagens and very big things can swallow you whole. The only way out there is in a decent-size boat, and the only way to be saved after a serious wipeout is to be rescued by that decent-size boat or plucked up by a Coast Guard helicopter, which one big-wave legend experienced firsthand after a three-wave hold-down. The bank sits just under the water and can kick up epic hundred-footers. Its one of the biggest, scariest waves in the world, and I mastered it: little five foot three sandy-haired me.
Youd usually have to wait until winter for a wave like that, but weather patterns are so crazy with the globe heating up the last few decades, its monumentallike, who can predict? I had no clue how ginormous the wave was. I mean, nobody anticipated itnot my surf coach, the safety team, the other surfers, or the pilots in the choppers circling abovebut a tiny voice inside and the never-ending elevator ride up confirmed it was going to be borderline cataclysmic. When the wave hit its peak, I was staring down a seventy-five-foot vertical drop, fear shrieking inside me. Ride or die, thats what I thought. Like, seriously, flinch on a wave like that and its bye-bye girly-girl. I went supersonic after that, faster than I had ever gone before, my legs feeling the boards feedback full force, completely in the zone, focused, the entire ocean an angry fist beneath me . . . Then I pulled out of the wave.
When the video hit social, it ping-ponged around the world, out into space, and back again, sending up a collective girl-power supercheer, pretty much locking up a ton of cash in surf-sponsorships and placing me on every news feed from here to Alice Springs. Jaxthat's what people call my dadsays I have a gift. He says he noticed it the first time I stood up on a wave in Sendai, Japan, back when I was five and we were surfing together, years before that tsunami leveled the place.
The sponsorship money let me set my marine biology degree aside for a while. I couldn't find a job in the field anyway. Let me restate that: I was offered one at SeaLand San Diego straight out of UCSD, basically to put on a carnival show with a thirteenth-generation orca after her act was reintroduced, but I passed because that isn't science, and a creature like that should be ambushing seals out in the ocean and not squeaking for mackerel treats in a man-made swimming pool for some spoiled kids' amusement. So the money lets me spend my days training, and my eyes are on the big prize when the Olympics begin on August 4.


© 2017 Michael Mazza, with permission from Turtle Point Press




Author Bio:
Michael Mazza is a fiction writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. His stories have appeared in Other Voices, WORDS, Blue Mesa Review, TINGE, and ZYZZYVA. He is best known as an internationally acclaimed art and creative director working in the advertising industry. Along with being named National Creative All-Star by Adweek, his work appears in the Permanent Collection of the Library of Congress. He has lectured throughout the country and abroad, most notably at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He has attended the Iowa Summer Writers’ Workshop, the Stanford Creative Writing workshop, and the Wharton School Executive Education MBA program. That Crazy Perfect Someday is his first novel. Connect with Michael at his website: www.mazzastory.com or on Twitter and Instagram: @mazzastory

**You can pick up a copy of That Crazy Perfect Someday June 20th at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.**