April 26, 2015

10 Pictures from California

I recently went to the Third Annual ABA Children's Institute as a representative from the store. It was a good conference: I met a lot of authors (got to fan girl a bit!) and learned a few things. I do have one observation on bookseller vs. blogger conferences: while the swag is better at the ABA conference, I felt a little on the outside. Perhaps it was because it was my first conference, but I just felt like there was more connection at KidlitCon, like I fit better there. Maybe that's just me.

Either way, it was a good time.

So. Ten pictures from my weekend in California:

Santa Monica Pier

Have I ever mentioned how happy the ocean makes me?

Surfers at Venice Beach

Geoff Rodkey, Mo O'Hara, Mac Barnett, and Jory John at a humor panel at the LA Times Book Festival.

Oliver Jeffers sighting in the "wild". 
Bonus video of his presentation with Oliver Jeffers:

Since the conference was in Pasadena, I needed to drive by the Rose Bowl.

We stopped at Vroman's bookstore. I was in love with the chocolate display.

I managed to say hi to Jewell Parker Rhodes again.

Stopped at the 826LA store.

And since I was nearly there, went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

April 25, 2015

Roller Girl

by Victoria Jamieson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's in the middle grade graphic novel section.

It's the summer before sixth grade -- middle school (gulp!) -- and Astrid has things all Planned Out. She and her BFF, Nicole are going to hang out, go to derby camp, and have tons of fun!

Except. That's not the way things happen. Nicole is off to dance camp, and is becoming someone Astrid can't even relate to. And derby camp, well, let's just say it's a LOT harder than Astrid ever figured it'd be.

I picked this one up for K a while back, who really enjoyed it. But had some issues with it, especially with the friendship element. Why do things this happen, she wondered. It spawned a discussion about friends and change, and trying new things. So, I needed to see what it all was about.

And I loved it. I loved that Astrid was who she was, and while she changed -- she realized that she was being a bit self-centered and not a very good friend -- she still remained the same person she always was. I liked that it showed that things can pay off when you work hard at something. And that sometimes, it's okay when other people take the spotlight. The drawing's fun and colorful, and I love that Astrid is (at least) half-Puetro Rican.

It's a sold graphic novel, and one that I know kids will love. (K did!)

April 24, 2015


by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: "At the top of the key, I'm MOOVING & GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING -- "
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's poetry, which is a plus and a minus: plus, because it means it's a quick read. Minus, because you have to convince kids that it's okay to read poetry. There's some kissing, but I'd give this to kids ages 10+. It'll be in the Newbery section of the bookstore (yes, we do have one!).

I really didn't know what to expect going into this. I'm sure it would be good -- it won the Newbery, after all -- but is it one of those good books that are just all style and no substance?

Because this book does have style. You can tell that right from the first page. Alexander's not only writing a novel in verse, he's playing with form. There's style to these poems, it's not just words on a page; they sometimes (like in the opening poem) leap right off the page. (There's one poem, about 2/3 of the way though, that can be read in two different directions. I love that!) But, there's also substance as well.

Twins Josh and Jordan Bell are inseparable, both in life and on the basketball court. Sons of a retired (due to injury) Euroleague player, basketball is their Sport. Their Religion. Their Life. But, during their 8th-grade year, things change. They drift apart, mostly because Jordan -- JB as he wants to be known -- starts going out with a girl. And their dad has serious heart problems. All of this weighs on Josh, and he lets it interrupt his game.

It's a simple story, but one with tremendous amounts of heart. Josh is a complex character, who worries about his parents, misses the connection with his brother, and wants to be the top of his game. And yet, he has a temper, one that gets in the way of his wants and desires sometimes. There's a depth to him that makes him real, which I appreciated it.

I did have a couple of complaints... I didn't like the portrayal of the girlfriend, but I do understand it's from Josh's point of view, and he didn't really like her intrusion into the relationship with his brother. So, I can understand why she was a bit of a caricature.) The other thing I didn't really care for -- and this is a spoiler -- was the dad dying in the end. I did like that there wasn't a "neat and tidy" ending, but it was a bit, well, Dramatic.

But aside from those two little complaints, I loved this one. I loved the style and the characters and just immersing myself in this world. For the Bells, the highest compliment is that they are Da Man. And this book is definitely that.

April 22, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr
First sentence: "At dusk they pour from the sky."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some graphic (read: Nazi) violence and about a half-dozen f-bombs. It's not a difficult read, even for it's length, and if there's a teen interested in WWII, it would be a good one to give. It's in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I've kind of been avoiding this one. It was a slow build, but eventually EVERYONE was reading this. And we all know how much I love reading books that everyone is reading. (Not.) At least when it comes to adult books, anyway. I just don't trust Everyone. (No interest in Gone Girl. Or The Girl on the Train. At. All.)

But this was picked for my in-person book group, and so I was kind of obligated to read it. I didn't go in expecting much of anything, so I was pleasantly surprised when the chapters were short. And the story was engaging. And that the 500+ page book wasn't one that was going to bog me down.

In fact, if I dare say this: I enjoyed it. Immensely.

This is, at its simplest, the story of two kids, a blind French girl and an orphan German boy, during World War II. Werner, the boy, is an orphan resigned to growing up in this mining town, working the mines, even though he's a technical genius. Then, he gets drafted into the German Army, which in 1939 isn't the happiest place. Marie-Laure is a French girl, living in Paris, with her father who works at the Museum of Natural History. When the Germans invade, they end up in Saint-Malo with Marie-Laure's great-uncle Etienne. Then her father gets called back to Paris and goes "missing". Their stories meet, finally, in August 1944, when the town of Saint-Malo is set on fire.

The story, however, is immaterial in this book. No, what's important, I think are the characters. They way they interconnect with each other, with themselves. And the little acts of goodness -- of light -- that thread throughout the book. It's a very dark time, World War II, but this is an incredibly hopeful book. Its short chapters are lyrical and evocative, and the suspense building up to August 1944 -- every section or so, Doerr gives us a glimpse of what is happening -- is palpable.

My only real complaint is that I could have done without the two epilogues, one in 1974 and the other in 2014. I felt no need to know what the characters were up to after the story ended, and it felt forced and not nearly as emotional as the rest of the book. But that's a small complaint in the wake of the story.

April 20, 2015

Trigger Warning

by Neil Gaiman
First sentence: "There are things that upset us."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: This collection is fairly tame, ranging from simpler stories to more complex ones. I'd give it to anyone who has the attention span long enough to get through the stories and who likes short works of speculative fiction. It's in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

I like Neil Gaiman's writing. I do. I even actually think I like his short stories better than his longer works of fiction. But I think what I like best is listening to the audio of him reading his work. It's only then that I feel I "get" what he's trying to say.

Which means, that while I enjoyed this work of short fiction -- and I did love some of the stories immensely. Namely, "The Thing about Cassandra" and "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" and "A Calendar of Tales" (September fits me quite nicely) and "The Sleeper and the Spindle". All were elegant and lovely and charming and thoroughly enjoyable.

But there was something missing. And, thinking back on it, that something was Gaiman reading his own stories, enrapturing me with his interpretation of the written word.

Perhaps, then my enjoyment would have crossed over into love.