Tea Party Rules: A Picture Book Review

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. CampbellCub follows his nose through the woods all the way to a backyard party–with cookies! But this isn’t any party. It’s a tea party. A fancy one. And the little girl hosting the party has some very specific rules about how tea parties should go. Cub is willing to go through a lot for cookies. But how much can one bear take? And will the little girl realize a friend is just as important as a properly executed tea party?

Tea Party Rules (2013) by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. Campbell is a delightfully fun read about how sometimes breaking the rules can be just as important as following them. Both Dyckman and Campbell received the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Author and Illustrator Award for this title.

In her sophomore picture book, Dyckman once again uses sparse, well-chosen text to tell a whimsical story of two unlikely friends. Campbell’s detail-packed illustrations bring Cub and the little girl to life with vibrant colors.

You can also check out my interview with Ame Dyckman about this great book.

The Glass Sentence: A Review

The Glass Sentence by S. E. GroveBoston, 1891: Nearly a century has passed since the Great Disruption remade the world and threw all of the continents into different Ages. While Boston and the rest of New Occident moves forward in the 1890s, other parts of the world reside in drastically different Ages including some from the near past, prehistory and others that are entirely unknown.

Thirteen-year-old Sophia Tims knows all about maps thanks to her uncle Shadrack Elli, one of the most renowned carologers in New Occident. With the borders closing any day and Sophia’s parents still missing after ten long years with no word, Shadrack and Sophia prepare to leave New Occident and mount a proper search expedition.

Unfortunately in midst of their preparations, Shadrack is kidnapped. With no idea how to find him beyond one small clue and a basic knowledge of what to expect in the Baldlands, Sophia sets off with an unlikely traveling companion and little else. As Sophia and Theo journey toward the Baldlands’ capital of Nochtland they will uncover shocking truths about the Great Disruption and find themselves at the center of a vast conspiracy that could change the entire world in The Glass Sentence (2014) by S. E. Grove.

The Glass Sentence is Grove’s first novel. It is also the start of the Mapmakers Trilogy.

Groves presents a rich fantasy with gorgeous world-building. Maps at the beginning of the novel introduce readers to Sophia’s world as well as the outlying regions. The story opens right in the middle of the action as New Occident’s borders are closed and never lets up.

The story expertly plays with readers’ ideas of history and causality imagining, among other paradoxes, a world where John Donne is known through his works before the Great Disruption as England has not yet reached (and may never reach) the time of his birth. These details lend a haunting quality to The Glass Sentence allowing readers with knowledge of the related world history to imagine what might have been.

However readers who lack the historical background (due to youth or lack of interest) will still find an engrossing fantasy here. Sophia and Theo travel across New Occident and into the wilds of the Baldlands where they encounter outlandish travel companions and chilling villains.

Chapter epigraphs from Shadrack’s published works as well as other sources further the world-building and explain key details of this alternate history to readers while a narrative structure reliant on clocks and time-keeping help keep readers grounded in the story.

With so many vivid and evocative details in the world-building and backstory, The Glass Sentence is decidedly lengthy at 493 pages. Although the arc of this novel is resolved in this story, the over-arching story of Sophia’s missing parents will likely span the rest of the trilogy. Readers who enjoy thick, intricate fantasies will undoubtedly find a new favorite in this promising start to a series with both middle grade and young adult appeal.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Now and Forever: A Review

Now and Forever by Susane ColasantiEven before he started to blow up, Sterling could not believe that Ethan picked her to ask out. Even before he hit a million followers, before his single started airing on the radio, before the concerts and the sold out tour destinations, Sterling knew she was so incredibly lucky to have Ethan Cross as her boyfriend.

Ethan and Sterling click in a way Sterling didn’t think possible. As much as she loves performing culinary experiments and correcting egregious grammatical errors in signs, Sterling loves spending time with Ethan more. As great as hanging out with her friends is, hanging out with Ethan is better.

Then Ethan’s music starts getting noticed and suddenly Ethan is a hot commodity thrown head-first in the world of fame and celebrity. Sterling, much to her initial dismay, is thrown in right beside him.

Ethan is getting compared to Michael Jackson and getting more famous by the second. Meanwhile Sterling finds herself appearing next to Ethan in countless tabloid photos, traveling around the country to catch his sold out shows, and even garnering a small following of her own.

Between her hot boyfriend, the sudden fame, and the free couture, Sterling should be living the dream. The only problem is Sterling is no longer sure whose dream it is in Now and Forever (2014) by Susane Colasanti.

Find it on Bookshop.

Now and Forever is a bit like an exclusive trip behind the velvet rope; a look at exactly what being famous might mean. Unfortunately, unlike other titles in a similar ilk, this book fails to offer a nuanced picture instead focusing on the glitz and glamor. While Ethan does change as he gains fame throughout the story, the implications of that change or what caused it (privilege, growing up, celebrity in general) are never discussed anymore than Sterling’s own relationship with her fame by association.

While this is a sweet romance, a lot of the story is spent on a bad relationship. Although this focus on the bad makes the second romance that much sweeter, it simultaneously raises questions about why the novel’s plot focuses where it does for so long.

Like all of Colasanti’s heroines, Sterling is adorably romantic. While her absorption in Ethan’s world and identity are troubling, it is an issue that’s addressed before the story ends.

Now and Forever is a must read for any readers who are super into the latest boy band or music in general. Bonus points for anyone who is a celebrity news junkie.

Possible Pairings: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Say You’ll Remember Me by Katie McGarry, Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoy, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

Blind: A Review

Bline by Rachel DeWoskinWhat starts as an ordinary fourth of July watching the fireworks becomes something much worse in an instant when Emma Sasha Silver is blinded by a stray firework at the age of fourteen.

A year after the accident, Emma is still learning how to negotiate her large family, school, and everyday tasks without her vision when one of her classmates in the suburban town of Sauberg is found dead. As she struggles to make sense of this sudden death and her own drastically changed life, Emma wonders if losing her sight means she has also lost her chance at a bright future in Blind (2014) by Rachel DeWoskin.

DeWoskin offers a well-researched and much needed story. Emma is a capable heroine who negotiates her disability with the expected dejection as well as sudden moments of grace. The narrative is well-informed with Emma learning how to organize her life as well as travel with a cane as she begins to accomodate for her lost vision.

While this is a valuable story, DeWoskin’s efforts to describe Emma’s world in the form of sounds and textures can feel excessive. Similarly, side plots involving tested friendships, a large family, several crushes and musings about the death in town make this contemporary story convoluted and detract from Emma’s growth in the final quarter of an otherwise lengthy novel.

Although Emma is fourteen going on fifteen, she often feels and sounds younger giving Blind crossover potential (aside from some kissing and bad language) as a middle grade as well.

Emma remains strong and resilient during the story and gives a face to an often under-represented group in YA stories. Blind is also a positive portrayal of blindess without any negative tropes (such as being “cured” or somehow being “punished” in relation to a disability.)

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*

The Impossible Knife of Memory: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse AndersonHayley and her father Andy have been on the road for the past five years. Sometimes riding in Andy’s rig. Sometimes laying low while Andy tries to hold down a job and Hayley does her version of homeschooling. But then everything stopped and Hayley has been moved back into a life she doesn’t want in a childhood home she refuses to remember.

Being home gives Hayley a chance at a normal life with friends and maybe even a boyfriend. Unfortunately the more the Hayley lets down her guard and allows herself to imagine a future, instead of living day-to-day, the more obvious it is that Andy is still haunted by memories of all the demons and friends he left behind after his last tour over seas. With monstrous memories looming for both of them, Hayley begins to wonder if having a normal life is something she and her father are even capable of in The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Hayley is an unreliable who lies both to the reader and herself as pieces of her past unfold in memories that cut like knives and unwanted visitors from her past. Slowly, with flashback-like memories from both Hayley and her father, the story of how they returned home unfolds. At the same time, Anderson manages to ground this book in the present with a fledgling romance and a grocery list of other problems that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, would feel trite as the perfect facades of Hayley’s friends also fall apart.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an interesting book. But it’s also an incredibly difficult read at times. My mother was very sick last year and it took a toll on both of us–so much so that, as I read this book, I saw much more of myself in Hayley than I would have liked. That said, Anderson’s writing is excellent and returns here to the quality found in Speak with the same surprises and another fresh, surprising narrator. Although Andy is deeply troubled it was also nice to see a parental figure in a book with genuine affection for his daughter and interest in her well-being–even if it is mostly mired in the hardships that come with dealing with his own psychological traumas.

On the outset The Impossible Knife of Memory sounds like an issue book with its focus on Hayley’s father’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anderson, however, brings her usual skill to this topic offering a well-rounded story that encompasses more than this one timely topic. I probably won’t re-read this book because of the personal slant that made it hard to read. I am actually painfully certain I don’t even want a copy in the house. That said, The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that is never heavy-handed or obnoxious. Instead Anderson offers an honest, unflinching portrayal of one family’s difficulties with PTSD as well as the promise of not just a way through but also even a chance at a happy ending.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut