Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scones and Sensibility

Author: Lindsay Eland

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Pages: 320
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years

As a big Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables fan, I was immediately intrigued by the description of Lindsay Eland’s Scones and Sensibility and wanted to read it. Eland tells the story of 12 year old Polly who is a hopeless romantic and the quintessential present day embodiment of a Jane Austen character. Polly’s parents own a local bakery and during her summer break they ask her to deliver baked goods to local businesses and customers. Since Polly can’t get out of this job, she begins to see this as an opportunity to do some matchmaking. The targets of her matchmaking are her sixteen year old sister, Clementine; her best friend’s father; and a local widower and the town’s curmudgeon. With Polly on the job of Cupid, the fun begins.

In starting the story, I was impressed at how well Eland was able to capture the language and rhythm of an Austen novel or the voice of Anne (Green Gables). When reading Polly’s dialogue, I could easily imagine that I was reading Austen or L.M. Montgomery. However, I was surprised that after awhile, Polly's constant use of this manner of speech was somewhat exasperating. Though Polly slips into modern vernacular on occasion, she remains true to the language of her literary idols. Surprisingly her parents, and neighbors seem to accept this archaic dialect from Polly and it isn’t until almost the end that her sister and best friend really express their frustration with her speech and of course her behavior.

Unfortunately, Polly’s speech wasn't the only thing that wore on me but her interfering and meddling in the lives of other felt a little excessive. I found that somewhere in the middle of the book I wanted to shake Polly and tell her to “listen” and “wake up”. I gave Polly’s sister, Clementine and her best friend, Fran kudos for accepting Polly’s eccentric manner as well as they did. However at this point in the story, I was pretty committed to seeing what happened with all of her matchmaking, and I kept reading. My persistence was rewarded with some of the best scenes of the book, and I found myself laughing out loud in several places. When I came to the conclusion, I felt that Eland had done a nice job of wrapping up the story and helping Polly learn some important life lessons.

I can imagine middle grade girls who do love Anne of Green Gables or Elizabeth Bennett thoroughly enjoying Polly’s story. Though this book may have a specific niche – pre-teen or early teen girls who are fans of 19th century romance novels, I plan on sharing it with my students. I would like to gather their thoughts about the book since many of them are not familiar with the stories that this novel ties into. I am hoping that as they read the story it may prompt them to seek out one of the stories referred to in the novel.

Overall, Scones and Sensibility is an enjoyable read and a solid debut novel by Lindsay Eland and I look forward to future offerings from this author.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and wonderful reading in 2010,
- Aly

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beautiful Creatures Swag Winners - Congratulations!

We are excited to announce that we have two winners in the Beautiful Creatures Swag Contest. All of the names were assigned a number and then the numbers were put into a container and two were selected. Winners were number 4 (Tiffany) and number 7 (Mitsie). Congratulations to our lucky winners. Your packages will arrive as soon as I can make it to the post office (hopefully on Monday if the snow doesn't have me stuck somewhere). Thank you for everyone who commented and waited patiently. This was our first contest so we are learning. We are hoping to have some new contests in 2010. Keep following along for more reviews and more contests.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Let it Snow

Let it Snow, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Publisher: Speak
Pages: 338
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

More holiday spirit... This book is three stories in one from three wonderful authors. Although, before this, I've only read An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, and nothing from the other two, knowing that the three of them are all over the teen fiction world, I did expect a lot from their stories.

What I didn't realize (because I didn't bother reading the back of the book first) was that each of the novellas takes place in the same little town around the same snow storm. I read John Green's bit first, even though his was the second story, then I moved on to the last story before reading the first one. So you might say I was out of order. And I swear I don't usually take so long figuring things out, but it took me a few pages into the last one to realize that everything was connected.

I love that they're all connected, though. It adds more depth to the characters and to the town. It was also nice to see the differences and similarities in writing styles from author to author. Each story adds a layer, especially since the first is more pre-snowstorm, the second is during, and the third is after. In the third (Lauren Myracle's, "The Patron Saint of Pigs"), all three sets of characters come together in the end. I love that.

My favorite story out of the three is Lauren Myracle's. I found the main character to be more empathetic than the others, and I like that there's a real change in Addie from beginning to end.

John Green's ("A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle") was fun for the adventure aspect of it, more than simply the romance. Hash Browns!

Maureen Johnson's ("Jubilee Express") had that very nice, warm romance that was great to finish off, even though it's actually the first story.

As holiday romances go, these are light, and yet they also have a lot of Christmas spirit. They're quick reads and very fun to delve into. If you need more to get you in the mood for the holidays, pick this book up. You won't be disappointed!

Until next time, snuggle up and read a good book!

~ Vilate

Monday, December 14, 2009

Middle Grade Mondays: Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally)

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 160
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years

Summary of Book (Amazon’s Description):
Meet Robert Carver Ellis-Chan -- a perfectly normal fourth-grader who gets into perfectly crazy situations! Like when he was running for class president and discovered his big sister's panties (static-) clinging to the back of his sweater. Or when he got stuck to the rare sticky (and stinky) Koloff tree on a field trip. . . . Then there's his family -- busy mom, ex-pro football player dad, a bossy older sister and an adoring younger one -- and best friends (one of whom is a secret, because she's a *girl*). Life may be complicated for Bobby, but it's going to turn out just fine.

During the spring, I had an opportunity to meet Lisa Yee at the UCLA Festival of Books. After hearing Lisa speak, I was interested in reading her most recent book, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally). Bobby is a fourth grade boy sandwiched between his football playing older sister and his princess accessorized little sister. His father is an ex-football player turned “PTA lady” and his mother works out of the home full-time. Life is about to change for Bobby. He doesn’t understand why his best friend Holly doesn’t want to hang out with him anymore. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Bobby wants a dog for a pet but instead he acquires a goldfish. If that wasn’t all, Bobby and Holly end up facing off against one another for fourth grade class president. Now the fun has begun…

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) is an enjoyable, if somewhat quirky read. The dialogue between students seems genuine and Bobby’s confusion over the situations he finds himself in is typical of this age group. Fourth grade is the time when children begin to change in their relationships to parents and peers. Parents are now the source of embarrassment, and understanding the evolving relationships between boys and girls can be confusing. Yee tells Bobby’s story with humor, and tenderness.

Lisa Yee has also developed some great characters, which could seem comical and over the top, but work in this story. Though this is considered a Middle Grade fiction book, I would recommend Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) for the younger end of the age range (3rd to 5th graders). My 3rd grade niece and several of my students not only found Bobby’s predicaments humorous, but loved the references to local establishments which were recognizable despite some minor name changes (we live one city over from the town that the fictional setting was based on). Additionally, the story is simple and Bobby is very easy to relate to making this tale particularly good for reluctant readers.

As the holiday season and winter vacation is quickly approaching, I encourage you find a book and a child and read together.

- Aly

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

More Christmas Spirit!

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

Like many others, this is my first year to participate in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap (what an awesome thing to put together, by the way!), and I'm so happy I was able to do it. It's been rough getting laid off, so I've been working extra hard to make sure I've got the Cmas spirit.

I didn't let my own Secret Santa recipient know it was me when I sent her the package, but I had Julia (www.julia-hunter.com). I tried to get her a couple of things she'd enjoy! I hope she gets the package okay. :)

I received my package yesterday from Carey who's at thetometraveller.blogspot.com. She sent me a lovely card as well as a book that hasn't even been released yet! I'm really excited to read Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. I might even have to review it.

Thanks, Carey, for a wonderful gift! And thank you, Book Blogger Holiday Swap for helping us all enjoy the season a little more.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Ex-mas

Ex-mas, by Kate Brian

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 216
Reading Level: 13 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

It's not always easy to find good teen books for Christmas, but as I was browsing Target yesterday, my eye caught the lovely green and candy cane cover of Ex-mas, by Kate Brian. As I was in the Cmas spirit, I thought I'd take a shot and went through my usual book-selecting routine. Needless to say, this one ended up in my shopping cart. And since I just got it yesterday and I'm blogging it today, that should tell you something about what I thought about the book before I even get into the review...

Some of you may recognize Kate Brian's name from the Private series. While I've never read any of those, I do often think that I probably should, since they are quite popular at the moment. I might have to seriously consider it after reading Ex-mas, too.

The novel follows a girl, Lila, who is so devastated that a certain party is canceled, that she takes it out on the tattle-tale who ruined it all: her 8-year-old brother, Cooper. Being vindictive, she makes him believe that Santa is in danger due to Global Warming and, being eight, Cooper decides it's his job to save Santa. He takes off and Lila has to follow him to try and bring him back before their parents find out. But, never fear. Lila isn't alone. Her mad-at-the-world ex-boyfriend joins her, since his brother has accompanied Cooper on his all-important mission.

Although there are several points in the story where it's easy to see that the author wrangled the plot to fit a plan, the writing, overall, is smooth and it captures the attitude and personality of a modern teenage girl. The dialogue flows well and most of it feels very natural for the story and the characters.

Lila has just the right amount of angst mixed with the desire to be popular. She got a lot further in her popularity goal than I ever did, but I identified with her desire to have the social life that only comes to the very lucky or hard-working kids in high school. I enjoyed following her on her journey and her ultimate understanding of her place and her life. The hot guy in the book didn't hurt, either. ;P

The ending was a bit rushed for me (but those of you who've followed the blog or podcast should know by now that *most* endings are rushed to me) and I would've liked to see more of Lila's thought process as she came to the conclusions she needed to come to. However, I really like the fact that her development followed a nice, logical progression without being completely predictable.

I usually like my Cmas books to have a strong holiday theme. Even though Ex-mas is light on the theme, it still gave my own holiday spirit a push. The good thing about this one, is that it's still an enjoyable read even if you don't celebrate Christmas.

This is the perfect book for anyone who wants a little romance, a little adventure, and a little Christmas all at once. The only really bad part is that I finished it all in one night!

So Merry Christmas, because I've got a case of the anti-bah-humbugs. Go read something merry to yourself or to a child and enjoy the season!

~ Vilate

Friday, December 4, 2009

Beautiful Creatures Release Party

In all the excitement about reading the book and talking to Kami and Margie, Aly also went to the Beautiful Creatures release party.

On December 1st, I had an opportunity to participate in the Beautiful Creatures' Launch Party. It was held at Diesel's Bookstore, an indie bookstore in Santa Monica. I arrived early and had an opportunity to watch as the store was transformed with black tablecloths, lavendar tulle, and containers of lemon candy. There was an incredible team of family and friends who came out to help set up for the party and to be there for support.

When Kami and Margie arrived, it seemed as if they were like kids on Christmas day. Margie commented a couple of times that they didn't know if they were doing it "right". They joked about never having signed books before and that they would be happy to sign other people's books too. :-) As I looked around, I noticed that in addition to friends, family, and readers interested in Beautiful Creatures, there were several teen bloggers that I recognized from Twitter. It was fun to meet Khyrinthia, Senfaye, and Dream Reader in person.

Kami's two small children were bouncing with as much enthusiasm as their mother. The party flowed out of the store and into the courtyard. There was a table set up with champagne punch, a beautiful cake, and tiny little desserts. People gathered around socializing with people they knew and meeting new people. I chatted with some of the other bloggers and also with some of the book sellers and Librarians that I knew who were there.

Here's a beautiful shot of the cake.

I was also glad to see that Kami and Margi's fear about no one showing up was completely dispelled. The tiny bookstore was filled with supporters, and well-wishers, and a great testament to the community that Garcia and Stohl have created through their debut novel.

Thanks everyone for joining us in our past few posts while we discovered Beautiful Creatures! And now, for a little more fun stuff...


We've got swag from the party! If you want to get one of two sets of swag, leave a comment on this post including the following:

1. What Caster power you'd like to have and a brief explanation why you'd want it.
2. Your email address.

You have until Tuesday, December 15th to get your comments in. We'll choose the best two answers and email the winners by the end of next week!

We've been very excited about Beautiful Creatures. Thank you so much for joining us for the past few posts. Until next time, go read something good!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Written by Aly

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to spend several hours over breakfast with the fabulous authors of Beautiful Creatures. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl took time out of their busy schedules to meet with me for an interview. Wonderfully enough, the formality of an interview was replaced by open and friendly chatting amongst girlfriends. Our conversation wandered around all over the place including discussions about books, publishing, the world of YA, teaching (all of us share a background in teaching), and, of course, Beautiful Creatures, the book.

As we sat down at a corner table in the restaurant to chat, Kami immediately ordered a Diet Coke. For any of you who were wondering if all the comments about Kami drinking lots of Diet Coke with ice were real, I am here to testify that they are.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not going to be your typical interview. Despite having prepared questions, the direction of the conversation moved from a traditional question & answer to a free flowing dialogue. What I have written below is an organized account of our time together and hopefully reflects the essence of our conversation.

Two Authors, One Voice:

Even though I had read about Kami and Margie’s writing process, I was still curious about how two articulate and independent women were able to tell a story as one. During my morning with them, I found myself chuckling when one would finish the sentence for the other or how they easily played off of each other’s comments. From watching their interactions, I came to see why they have been so successful at creating one authorial voice.

The two met several years ago when Margie’s oldest daughter was in Kami’s class. They quickly found a kindred spirit in one another, and their friendship was born. The initial friendship expanded to include the sharing of books and a writing partnership, first as critique partners and eventually as story collaborators.

When they talk about their writing style or process, they use the phrase “writing over one another’s work” (the process of editing each other’s words until you have no idea who wrote what) and how the idea of this often times freaks out other writers. And yet for them, it works. They write sentences, paragraphs and chapters in this fashion, until it is truly a blend of the both of them, sans ego.

The Evolution of Beautiful Creatures:

From scanning through articles and interviews about Beautiful Creatures, I had learned the basic story of the Caster Girls and the role they played in the development of the book. However, I wanted to hear more of it from Kami and Margie. According to the duo, the story of Beautiful Creatures developed after being challenged by the teenage girls in their lives. Basically, the girls issued an ultimatum that if the pair were going to talk about writing, then they needed to “put your pen where your mouth is,” so to speak. Garcia and Stohl began writing and, week after week, chapter after chapter, they shared with their daughters, sisters, friends, and family the story of the Ethan and Lena and the supernaturals of Gatlin County, which would later become the manuscript for Beautiful Creatures.

Initially, they considered putting it on the web, but instead, gave it to their friend, author Pseudonymous Bosch (The Name of This Book Is Secret, from The Secret Series). Margie, then, shared about how she received the phone call from agent Sarah Burnes, who loved the manuscript and wanted to represent them. When Stohl got off the phone with Burnes, she told Garcia “I think we have an agent?!" (Sounds a little like magic to me?!?)

Once they had acquired an agent who believed in the book, the next step was to secure a publisher. It was fascinating to hear about how the manuscript auctioned off. With the guidance of their new agent, the manuscript found a home with Little, Brown and Company, a publishing company who understood the vision and direction of Beautiful Creatures, and have worked with Garcia and Stohl to see that vision come to fruition.

The Story of Beautiful Creatures:

I have to admit that when I first read the quote from author Holly Black describing the book as “A lush southern gothic…” I was intrigued. What was a Southern gothic tale anyways, and why bother writing one? Yet, in speaking with Garcia and Stohl, it is clear that they both knew they wanted to write a Southern gothic tale - something big and lush with a sense of history, the significance of family, and community. It didn’t end with just the idea of writing a southern tale. There were several other qualities they wanted the novel to possess. Between Garcia and Stohl, they have six brothers and they believed that the story would be better served by having a male narrator. Additionally, they were also adamant that there would be an empowered girl character who resembled in many ways the fantastic girls in their lives.

Garcia and Stohl also made a conscious decision about the choice of new names for their supernaturals. They wanted something different than vampires, werewolves, and traditional magical creatures – although they love novels featuring these as well. Not only were they intentional about the names for their supernaturals, but as they built their universe in which to tell the tale, they created a unique set of powers for these characters. Finally, no Southern gothic would be complete without traditions, secrets, and eccentric characters.

The People of Beautiful Creatures:

One of the elements that I enjoyed when reading Beautiful Creatures is the characters, both major and minor. I was curious how they developed their characters and were they based on anyone specific. According to Garcia and Stohl, Ethan and Lena were not created from specific individuals from their lives. However, many of the other characters are a compilation of the people who they have known. With genealogy trees in hand, names and people were modified or adapted to fit the needs of the story.

When I heard this, I couldn’t help asking, “So who inspired the milk duds and popcorn?” Margie laughed and explained to me that her friend Kerri was the inspiration behind that particular food combo. This lead Kami to talk about how one particular story in the book about Ethan’s three aunts and a baby squirrel was modeled on an experience she had with her mother who frequently rescues animals in need. I also discovered that Link and Ridley’s characters were influenced and developed through the feedback of the Caster Girls (a group of girls that read through the original chapters) who demanded more of these two characters.

Supernatural Powers:

In talking about some of the characters in the book, I mentioned that I was curious about the powers that their supernatural beings possessed. I began campaigning for a lexicon of the powers included in the book to be developed. Kami laughed about the request, and both agreed it would be a good thing to include on the website. They promised that once things settle down that one would be created.

Of course, my curiosity was piqued, I had to ask both Kami and Margie which powers they would want.

Kami: Cataclyst or a Sybil – She spoke about how she would love to be able to manipulate the elements or read people’s faces.

Margie: Palimpsest – She shared about how she would like to be able to walk into an old house a see its history. I had to admit that was one gift that thoroughly confused me, but Margie can definitely explain this gift better than anyone else. *smile*

If you were wondering, they did manage to get me to tell them what powers I would want. After joking about how I would never be mistaken as having the power of a “siren”, I decided that the power to heal was a cool gift to possess.

The Portrayal of the South in Beautiful Creatures:

One of my friends has asked me to see what reactions that the duo had received about their portrayal of the South. Garcia shared that most of the Southerners that they know who have read the story have appreciated how the tale seems to capture the essence of the South. Kami’s family is from North Carolina, and Margie has studied the South for years in college, so they both have a deep love for Southern culture. There is both a respect for the people and an understanding of the quirky characteristics that make the South the South. They were particularly flattered when authors like Carrie Ryan, a Southern writer, and Melissa Marr, an author who also taught Southern literature, felt there was authenticity in the world they created.

Beautiful Creatures – The Story Continues:

Now, I would have been remiss if I didn’t try to extract some information from the two of them about the next book. Both are extremely adept at not giving away secrets, nor did they reveal much about what would happen in the second book (which has recently finished revisions and back in the hands of their editors). However, I was able to garner from our discussion that some of the questions that arose in Beautiful Creatures will be answered or expanded upon. Such as Ethan’s mother’s death, and if and what powers if any Ethan actually has. Rest assured, the world of Beautiful Creatures has many secrets yet to be explored.


Somewhere I had read that Kami considered herself to be superstitious, and the book definitely has its share of superstitions in it. So when I brought up the topic, I wasn’t surprised that this was nearly as lively of a conversation as the book discussion (see below). Margie basically indicated that if there is change on the ground she feels compelled to pick it all up. However, Kami’s list was significantly longer than Margie’s. Some of her superstitions include, not knowingly stepping on a grave, and “knocking on wood” to avoid a jinx. Kami also doesn’t like crows, harbingers of bad omens.

Books Outside of the world of Beautiful Creatures:

I couldn’t have breakfast with two authors and not ask them about books. But be prepared if you are going to ask this question, because they are well read in the area of YA fiction. The conversation around books flowed at an amazing pace. Though I had not read quite as many of the titles they had, I was glad that I was at least familiar with the authors and titles that came tumbling out. Kami’s tastes tend to lean slightly more toward fantasy and sci-fi, with a few realistic fiction novels thrown in. Margie is a fantasy reader, who also reads a great deal of the realistic fiction available today. However, both Stohl and Garcia agreed that there were some more recent titles “you really should read,” which included:

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis
Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Upcoming releases, such as White Cat by Holly Black, Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus, and The Body Finder by Kim Derting are getting early praise from one or both of them (depending on who is hiding the advanced copy), though these books will not be available to the general public for several months.

In thinking back on my morning with Kami and Margie, I realized what a unique experience I got to have. With the recent release of Beautiful Creatures, their lives are going to be rapidly changing. At least, I can say that I met them “when”. I had an exciting morning with these amazing ladies, and truly appreciated getting to know them better as authors and individuals. I wish them the best with the official release of Beautiful Creatures.