Review: The Hidden Gallery

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2011. Reviewed from copy from publisher. Sequel to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling.

The Plot: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling introduced readers to fifteen year old Miss Penelope Lumley, intrepid governess and recent graduate of  the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, along with her three young charges, the Incorrigibles. The three children had been raised by wolves (no, really) and Miss Lumley was hired to civilize them and teach them Latin.

Miss Lumley and young Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia now venture off to London, armed with a slightly-odd Guide Book. How much trouble can they get into, really? The three children wear their clothes, do their lessons, and only start howling when there is a reason to, such as the moon or a tempting squirrel. That incident at the Christmas ball — well, best not talked about, right?

It turns out that London has secrets of its own; or, rather, is an occasion for Penelope and her three charges to discover secrets about themselves.

 The Good: This series is so much fun! Penelope is a hoot and a half, especially because half the time she doesn’t quite realize either she or the children are funny. Or maybe she does? Here, from the start, as she begins her discussion with Lady Constance, the young, spoiled, and often ignored wife of the rich Lord Aston: “”Pardon me, Lady Constance,” she said, in the same soothing voice she used to calm the Incorrigibles when they were in the presence of a small, tasty rodent, or during a full moon, or when they had gotten worked up over a particularly thrilling bit of poetry.”

Incorrigible Children falls under the “better to read in order, but doesn’t hurt if you don’t” category. Each book, so far, has a standalone plot: The Hidden Gallery is primarily about the children’s London adventure, just as The Mysterious Howling was about Penelope and the children getting acquainted. However, there is a series mystery going on: the origins of both Penelope and the Incorrigibles. Tantalizing clues are given: after Penelope stops using the school-issued hair “tonic,” her hair color changes to one more resembling that of the three children. One character shows an odd reaction to the new moon.

Part of the brilliance of this series and the writing is just how all-ages it manages to be: Penelope is a teen, and she does have responsibilities appropriate for her age and role as a governess. She takes good care of Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia and does her best to teach them. At other times, she acts younger, such as with her continuing obsession with the Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! series about the pony-crazed Edith-Anne. This makes Penelope the perfect main character for kids (including tweens or younger teens) who want to read about teenagers. And even those who may find Penelope too young won’t find the narrator too young. The humor is the type that works on two levels, like a great kid’s movie: funny enough for those who don’t get the jokes, even funnier for those who do. There is a play on words with matador/minotaur/metaphor that was brilliant.

The Incorrigibles in London had me laughing out loud. Penelope’s former teacher and mentor, Miss Mortimer, sends her Hixby’s Lavishly Illustrated Guide to London: Complete with Historical Reference, Architectural Significance, and Literary Allusions. It is howling good fun, especially as the illustrations are all of wildflower meadows and snowcapped mountain peaks. Is it good as a guide, though, especially when the directions to the zoo are “The way to the zoo your nose will tell, [f]or elephants are not hard to smell“? As for any more plot detail, well, part of the fun is seeing the trouble that these four manage to get into, despite the best intentions.

And did I mention the pirates? Oh yes, pirates.

I’m happy I waited to read Book 2 until Book 3 came out, because now I can dive right into The Unseen Guest.

Other reviews: Emily Reads; Book Nut; Eva’s Book Addiction.

Boys, Girls, Books

There is an interesting article at School Library Journal, School Library Builds “The Cave” to Attract Boy Readers.

I could easily turn this into a tl;dr post about boys, girls, books, gendered reading, empowerment, equal opportunities, etc etc — but, well, that would become tl;dr. Plus, I’ve already commented (twice) at the original article, above.

Here are a couple of links about “the Cave” that I found of interest:

Gendered Reading and the Discomfort of the “Man Cave” at The Missouri Review

Library Introduces “Man Cave” Section for Boys Only at 41 Action News KSHB

Note that while the library may be playing with the “man cave” name, the library calls it “the Cave,” not the man cave or boy cave. Also, based on the article and videos at the library website, while this is called a “boys section” and boys only were involved in the planning, selection, creation, and ribbon-cutting, girls are welcome in the space.

From the second link, I want to highlight one quote: “Girls at the school have mixed feelings about the boys-only section. “I kind of wish it was a girl thing,” said student [redacted]. “I mean I wish there was something cool for girls, too. But, I don’t know. It’s cool.”

I love, love, love many of the ideas the library staff created and implemented. Listen to the videos at their website and how the grouped and labeled similar books to make them easier to find. Brilliant, inventive, ideas.
 
I just wish that it was done in a way that did not exclude girls from an opportunity for ownership and empowerment; and did not do it in a way that says, “this is a boys area but girls are welcome, also.” Because, personally, I find that not welcoming or equal. Labelling books as either “boy” or “girl” does a disservice to boys, girls, and books and limits rather than enhances reading opportunities. On that general topic, see He Won’t Read Books About Girls at the Shelf Talker blog at Publishers Weekly; and Sell The Girls, a blog post by Maureen Johnson.
 
Anyway, go, read, think, comment. I believe right now the comments at the SLJ article are 50/50 split.
 
 

Follow Up on Three Cups

Last April, I wrote about the allegations made about misstatements found in Greg Mortenson’s books and allegations about misuse of funds from his charities, both Central Asia Institute  (CAI) and Pennies for Peace. See: Three Cups of Pennies.

The Montana Attorney General has concluded a year long investigation into Mortenson and CAI. The result? Financial mismanagement, with Mortenson having to pay CAI $1 million dollars. Jon Krakauer, who broke the story, updated his Byliner article (Three Cups of Deceit) with the news (he has been updating throughout the year). Krakauer also provides a link to the actual report by the Montana AG, for those so inclined to read it as opposed to reading people (like me!) just talking about it. I continue to be both impressed and appalled at CAI’s inability to “reign in” Mortenson, his spending, and his accounting. From the AG report, as quoted by Krakauer: “It is, however, one more example of an organization that is controlled by people with personal affinity for, and loyalty to, Mortenson.”

In addition to the ordered reimbursement, CAI was ordered to increase it’s board members; get all new board members; and, while retaining Mortenson, change his role/position within the organization.

Additional reports: “Three Cups” Author to Stay with Charity He Founded at New York Times; Greg Mortenson, “Three Cups of Tea” Author, to Repay Charity at New York Times.

Fab Films: Acquiring Titles for Screening

Continuing my examination of the rules and procedures for the YALSA Fabulous Films Committee:

From the YALSA Website:

Acquiring Titles for Screening: The administrative assistant will automatically assign a committee member to view titles that meet list criteria which are favorably reviewed in Booklist, School Library Journal, Science Books & Films, SLJ Directory of Current and Forthcoming Videos or other professional journals. The administrative assistant will also automatically assign award-winning and notable titles that meet list criteria from regional and national film festivals. It will be the decision of the committee member viewing the item to determine if it should be nominated for the list.  Outstanding popular titles may be considered for inclusion – to be added based on responses from the committee.

Before any of you get all excited with dreams of mailboxes overflowing with DVDs, so far the way I get the films I’m watching is the old fashioned out of pocket way: my personal Netflix account and my cable on-demand package.

Next week: Creation of the List

Yes, I usually post this on Tuesdays and I like being consistent, but I wanted to post about the Hub contest, so switched some posts around.

Review: Pure

Pure by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. 2012. Holiday reads. (Here at Tea Cozy, holiday reads aren’t books about holidays; they’re grown up books for grown up readers to indulge in over the holidays.) Edited to add: Alex Award winner.

The Plot: Pressa, almost sixteen, was only seven when the Detonations happened. Her face has the burns and scars that mark her as a survivor; fused onto her hand is a doll’s head. She and her grandfather have somehow survived the years after, the violence, the hunger, the other desperate survivors. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, the danger grows: it’s the age that the OSR comes to take you. The lucky ones are trained as soldiers; the unlucky ones are the live targets for training.

Partridge, eighteen, is a Pure, raised in the protection of the Dome. He is the son of a leader, but that doesn’t protect him from the “coding” done to make people smarter, faster, stronger, more obedient. It doesn’t protect him from his father’s disappointment that the behaviour coding doesn’t take. His father blames his mother: “your mother has always been problematic.” With that statement, Partridge realizes his mother didn’t die during the Detonations.

Pressa, on the run from the soldiers. Partridge, lost in the nightmare that is Pressa’s world.

Their paths cross, and each are pulled into the journey of the other. Nothing and no one is safe.

The Good: Pressa’s and Partridge’s world is one destroyed and shattered; even the Pures untouched and isolated and protected within the Dome do not live in a familiar society. Pressa’s story of survival is told while Partridge dreams of a way to escape the Dome and his father and find his mother. Not only does the reader learn more about their worlds, just as important, the reader learns what they do and don’t know about those worlds. Pressa doesn’t know much beyond her tiny neighborhood, but she is knowledgeable about the dangers of that world. Partridge has no idea the reality of life outside the Dome, and what he’s been taught isn’t always accurate.

At first, I thought that their world was our world, but as Pure unfolds, as more is learned of the Before leading up to the Detonations and about what happened after, I realized that even more this was an alternate universe. Names and politics are different, but places and songs are the same. Never has a Bruce Springsteen song been so heartbreaking. At times, reading Pure was unsettling because I had to keep up with those changes, of what was different, but in a way, it’s the same sense of unfamiliarity that Partridge feels when he leaves the safety of the Dome.

Partridge and Pressa are the two main people telling the story, but not the only ones. There is El Capitan, about Partridge’s age, a member of the dreaded OSR militia. He joined as a child, after the Detonations, because it was safety and he had himself and his brother Helmud to take care of. Helmud, who is fused to El Capitan’s body. Lyda is girl from the Dome who pays a high price for dancing with Partridge.

The twists and turns of Pure surprised and delighted me. Even better, Partridge and Pressa are smart enough to figure out what is going on. Sometimes they are a step ahead, sometimes a step behind, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher. It’s no longer simply avoiding the OSR or finding a lost parent. Partridge, Pressa and the others realize that there is more going on in and outside the Dome than they ever dared dream.

Pressa’s world broke my heart. So much damage, so much loss. Pressa doesn’t want pity or sympathy; she is a survivor, she is smart, she is capable. But still, the loss. The loss not just of the Before, because as becomes clear the Before was not entirely safe or peaceful. Still, it was a world where a little boy could dream one day of flying, and now years later he knows that dream is dead and lost: “He used to know all there was to know about flying planes, and he knows he’ll  never get to. But maybe this will fell like it, just a little.”

The survivors are  not just physically changed; they are also forced to make hard choices to live. “In a different world, could he be a better person? Maybe they all could be. Maybe, in the end, that’s the greatest gift the Dome can offer: When you live in a place with enough safety and comfort, you can pretend you’d always make the best decision, even in the face of desperation.” I was reminded of a line from Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly that haunts me: “Once you were brave. Once you were kind. You can be so again.” Pure is about a handful of teens fighting for a world where they can afford be brave and kind.

The fusings — the ways the bodies of the survivors are impacted. Since reading this book, I think, if the Detonations happened now, what would I be fused to? A keyboard, a window pane, a cat?

Because I cannot stop thinking of that girl with a doll for a hand. Because the world building of Pure, Before, during, and after, is so wonderfully complex. Because Pure answered all the questions it needed to, and gave resolutions to Pressa’s and Partridge’s journeys, and then raised more questions and created a new quest. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Review: Wanderlove

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: What better way to reinvent oneself than travel? Bria Sandoval, 18, does just that, following a bad break up and disappointing college decisions. Carefree travel, seeing new places, meeting new people — heck, maybe she’ll even follow her friends’ advice and pursue a random, no-emotions-invested hookup with some cute guy who means nothing.

Perhaps all you need to know about Bria’s personality is that the way she implements her plan is by signing up for a guided tour.

Yes. An eighteen year old on a guided tour of South America.

I don’t have to tell you that she’s the youngest person, by far, on the tour — the brochure of young, smiling people lied. So now Bria is stuck, stuck on the tour much like she was stuck in her old life. Wishing for something different, wishing to be as carefree as the grungy backpackers she sees.

When Bria meets Starling and Rowan, two backpackers who invite her along on their journey, Bria decides to leave the safe, organized, structured tour and take a chance: a chance on traveling, a chance on life, a chance on friendship with two strangers, but, most important, a chance on herself.

The Good: I defy you to read this book and not want to immediately head out for the airport and go somewhere, anywhere, just go.

I have never been to the places Bria, Starling, and Rowan go to: Guatemala and Belize. Thanks to Wanderlove, I feel like I’ve been there and I also want to go, to see for myself the places Bria sees, to try the food she tries. Wanderlove is a love letter to those places. It is also a love letter to the spirit of traveling, to having all your belongings in one backpack and going where the day takes you, to a certain way of traveling. One of the best things about it, is it does so in an inclusive way. Oh, yes, Bria looks at these backpackers as free and cool and wonderful, and, well, idealizes them. As time goes on, she starts to see them as people; real people, with flaws.

Bria is not punished for her choices; and oh, I loved that so. much. The plot device of a teen girl being punished for seeking freedom (here, backpacking in Guatemala and Belize) by being assaulted, raped, or imprisoned is one that is all too often seen in books or film. Sorry if I just spoiled this for you, but Bria’s journey does not end up dark. Wanderlove isn’t glib or naive about the dangers of traveling; Bria’s camera gets stolen, for example. But it doesn’t over-emphasize such risks to the extent that the inadvertent message becomes, “stay home and be safe.” The message, if any, is “travel and be safe.”

Starling and Rowan become Bria’s travel mentors: what to do or not to do when traveling. (Letting your bag out of your sight? A “not to do.”) Rowan is about two years older than Bria, Starling a couple years older than that, and the two are experienced backpackers. They pass along their wisdom and experience to Bria, just like someone did with them when they started out. Bria is a “good girl” trying to break out of that mold and be “bad”; while Rowan is a bad boy, trying to resist the temptations that got him into trouble. I loved these two, all the more so because both are fully drawn. Bria imagines a life and past for both of them, part of her romanticizing of them and backpacking, and I love when she learns the reality to their lives and their relationship with each other.

Part of what Bria is running from is a bad boyfriend and distant parents. Bria is telling the story, and I have to say, I’m not sure what the true story is about her parents. What I like is that Bria herself begins to realize that how she sees things may not always be quite right.

Oh, and the bad boyfriend. Let me rant for a second. He’s the classic Nice Guy Who Is Bad. He doesn’t hit her, but the emotional games he plays with her — ARGH. I HATE men like that, especially because (like with Bria) the people around him think “oh, he’s such a Nice Guy.” Rowan may be a “Bad Boy” in that he made a few poor life choices, but he doesn’t play mind games. To me? That’s a nice guy, not whether or not someone lives in a perfect house with a good family and gets into a nice school and says “please” and “thank you” to parents.

Funny, but all this and I haven’t mentioned the art! Bria is, well, was, an artist. Yes, it has to do with the ex. No, it’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is; I guess it depends on how well you know those types of guys. Wanderlove is about Bria rediscovering her love for art, and as she does so, she shares her art with the reader. I love it!

More not to be spoilery but I have to say it: Rowan and Starling both have strong personalities. So strong, that given Bria’s personality, I wondered whether the book would be about Bria finding herself or finding a version of herself shaped by Rowan and Starling. Rest assured, that does not happen, and instead Bria decides, for herself, who she is and what she wants to be — not what boyfriends, parents, or friends want.

One last part: much as I was swept away by the backpacking method of traveling, I know that is not for me. Even when I was younger and did some traveling, I was never quite as carefree as the Rowans and Starlings of the world. In part, my own temperament: I just cannot imagine not being traditionally employed, with health benefits, for such a time period. Another reason? I need clean bathrooms. No, really. There is, of course, a happy medium between a sanitized tour and the way Rowan, Starling, and Bria travel. I’d like to think, from the way the story progresses, that they wouldn’t judge me too much!

Because Wanderlove let me live an experience I will never, ever, have in real life. Because Bria is a passive teen who takes charge of her life. Because Bria isn’t punished for becoming a doer. Because I half-fell in love with Rowan, even though I’m so over sensitive Mr PonyTail men. Because I want to embrace, a bit more, that Wanderlove philosophy, even if my traveling is to North Carolina for a family vacation. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

The wanderlove website, which has some gorgeous photos of “the places that stick in your heart.” From the website: “wanderlove is about celebrating our favorite places, and experiencing each other’s. take a photo, or find a photo (one you’ve taken yourself & have the rights to) of your favorite place. it could be a place you’ve traveled to, long ago or recently; a special spot in your neighborhood, city or town; or even in your house or backyard. be as creative as you want. include a few sentences about why the place is special to you – why you *get* it, why it sticks in your heart.”

Other reviews: Stacked Books; Sophistikatied Reviews; I Like These Books (guest post by author).

Best of the Best Challenge at the Hub

Over at YALSA’s The Hub blog, the Best of the Best Challenge just started!

From The Hub website:

” The 2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge will begin at 12:01AM EST on Sunday, April 1. Once the challenge starts, you’ll have three months (until 11:59pm on Saturday, June 30) to read as many of the 80 titles counted among YALSA’s 2012 Best of the Best as you can.”

The Hub has the detailed answers for the What books to read and how many have to be read to complete the challenge;

How to keep track  of and report back on the status of your reading;

Who can enter.

For full details, go over to The Hub and then start reading!

Big Kahuna

School Library Journal Battle of Books, Big Kahuna Round: Between Shades of Gray v Life: Un Exploded Diagram v Okay For Now. Judge : Jonathan Stroud

And it all comes down to these three books.

I’ll be honest; with Chime out of the running, I was all about “not Life.”

Stroud selected Okay for Now; and while Between Shades of Gray was one of my favorite books from last year, I see the strengths in Okay for Now and can cheer it’s win.

Also, it’s not Life.

Seriously, not one of the judges were bothered by the event at the end of the book and how it was used?

Oh, let’s forget spoilers.

Really? September 11 and the Twin Towers?

For those of you who want to see just how badly my guesses were: my original post with predictions.

Library Patrons and Self-Published Books

The other day on Twitter, a couple of librarians and myself were talking about kids and teens self-publishing, especially Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad) at The New York Times. Maureen Johnson responds to this particular phenomena at So I Read A Piece In The New York Times which sums up a lot of my own opinions.

One thought led to another. I thought about the libraries arguing that libraries should be more involved in self-publishing, including for teenagers, and thought about what Johnson said about whether a minor can consent to self publishing and the longer term implications (for example, no longer being eligible for certain debut-only grants and awards.) Some libraries are purchasing self-published ebooks for their collections.

And I began thinking about how ebooks make self published ebooks more easily available to readers, both for purchase at stores or for borrowing from libraries.

And I began to wonder, more so for purchasing than borrowing —

What types of things are libraries doing to assist their patrons in finding the best ebooks — “best” meaning the books patrons want to read or will want to read. Just because the books are “cheap” doesn’t mean that readers’ time is cheap. In my humble opinion, time is very precious. Books aren’t widgets; one cannot say “oh, any fantasy book” will do.

Some things are easy, of course, and patrons don’t need help with it. Authors they like or best seller ebook lists, for example. Actually, speaking of that — where does one find those best seller lists? Is it just looking at Amazon’s list?

Do your patrons understand the different steps in publishing and self-publishing to better create a search strategy for finding self-published books?

How does one discover what authors use editors and copyeditors and proofreaders? Or what authors don’t? (I’ve read blog posts where self-published authors say they don’t use editors because they wouldn’t make the cost back, and others that use several editors, and those in between, so yes, it’s something to discover.)

How does one find good reviews of self-published works? And by this I mean the difference between a review at a respected site such as Dear Author, or a review that may be a sock-puppet.

How can the casual reader tell when a book is self-published from the information online? Does who the author uses give more information to the reader about whether a book is the right one for them?

What else would you add to the list? What can help a patron find the self-published book that is right for them? And what libraries have programs or resources or booklists to help patrons?

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games. Lions Gate. Color Force. 2012. Saw in theatre; paid for my ticket.

Please, do I even have to give a plot description for this film?

Is there someone reading this blog who doesn’t know what The Hunger Games is about? I can understand not having read it; I can understand not seeing the film; but at this point, with all the news coverage etc., the basic plot is standard knowledge.

In a dystopia future, Katniss Everdeen, 16, volunteers to be a tribute to the “Hunger Games.” She does so to save her twelve year old sister. Twelve districts send two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight in the Arena.  It’s a punishment inflicted by the powerful Capital for a rebellion that happened over 70 years before.

Twenty four go into the Arena; there is only one survivor. It’s kill or be killed. Katniss has promised her sister she will return, but does she have what it takes to survive the Hunger Games?

Let’s cut to the chase: I LOVED this movie. Love, love, love. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I loved, loved, loved, and at this point, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

It’s been years since I read the book. I like to go into films based on books with as much distance as possible between me and the source material. That way, I’m not playing the “but they left out this scene/character” game; it also allows me to appreciate the visual storytelling.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence portrays Katniss perfectly, particularly the mix of fierceness and protectiveness. She zeroes in on the fact that Katniss’s concern for others in not a weakness, but is what makes Katniss a fighter.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark. Hutcherson sold me on a Peeta who knows he’s not physically tough enough to survive the Arena, so he’s going to use what he can: his brains. As with the book, I was uncertain of whether Peeta “loved” Katniss or if it was a game played for the crowds. Peeta’s ability to strategize, to read people, and to manipulate them is why I have a “Team Peeta” T-shirt. It has nothing to do with who I think Katniss should be with.

Katniss and Peeta’s chemistry fit that “are they or aren’t they” perfectly. They had to be careful not to have too much sparkage because of the “play acting” part of what was going on. Other readers may disagree, but I don’t think that type of chemistry happens until the later books. Theirs is a love born of shared experiences and they are not at that point, not yet. Also? They have no time for lust-sparkage.

I also loved just how strong Katniss was shown to be, over and over. Do I have to say how much I love that Peeta didn’t save her, but that she saved him?

Liam Hemsworth as Gale made me understand all the “Team Gale” members. The friendship — the trust — the easy way between Katniss and Gale? Loved. The way Gale said he’d take of her family? Loved. And knowing that what will happen will separate them in more ways than one broke my heart.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch captured the drunk and the former victor. I loved the scene were we saw Haymitch “working the sponsors” on behalf of Katniss and Peeta. I also loved the little moments when Haymitch realized that he had two tributes who would not be among the first to die; two who had a chance.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Let’s just say this: having watched the film, I now want to find Haymitch/Effie fanfiction. That is all.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna — with a movie already at over two hours, I understand why there wasn’t more Cinna. More so than in the book, I saw that Cinna stood for the fact that not all citizens were Effies. I hope that the DVD has some bonus footage!

The muttations? I screamed and jumped out of my seat, even though I knew they were coming.

I cried twice: during the reaping, and when Rue died.

I cannot wait for Catching Fire; I cannot wait for Mockingjay.