Sunday, March 22, 2009


THE UNINVITED, by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick 2009)(14+). Mimi Shapiro is coming off an intense freshman year at NYU, where she just broke off an affair with a married professor who won't leave her alone. So when her father, the famous artist Marc Soto, offers her the use of his remote Canadian cottage, she jumps at the chance. But when she gets there, she finds it's already occupied by a young grad student musician named Jay. Worse, there's a mysterious and unseen intruder who's been leaving Jay strange gifts (a snakeskin and dead bird, and the like) and now he seems to have turned his attention to Mimi...

THE UNINVITED offers an intriguing premise, well-drawn characters, and a fascinating setting. Altogether, it's a richly atmospheric story of stalking, suspense, lies, and family ties.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL, by Michael Harmon (Knopf 2008)(14+). Skater punk Ben (Ian's best friend from SKATE) is causing trouble, like he's done ever since the day three years ago that his dad announced he was gay and his mother left. Now, Ben's dad and his partner Edward have decided that what seventeen year old Ben needs is a change of scenery. So they pack up and move back to Edward's hometown of Rough Butte, Montana (population 450, give or take)...

There, things aren't quite what Ben expects, as he clashes with Miss Mae, Edward's mother; begins to date a pretty girl; encounters a friendly cop (of all things); befriends the abused neighbor boy; and he and his father finally begin to come to terms with who they are separately and what they are together.

In THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL, Harmon eschews cliches and portrays each of Ben, his father and stepdad, and the people of Rough Butte as authentic, realistic, and rounded. Ben's voice is wry, unaffected, and occasionally surprising as Ben ultimately finds his own way in a believable and satisfying fashion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


SHIFTY, by Lynn Hazen (Tricycle Press 2008)(ages 10-14). Fifteen year old Soli, aka Shifty (because of his survival skills), tries to help out his foster mother, seven year old foster sister and infant foster brother as much as possible. It's not his fault this involves marginally legal activities, like driving without a license or picking up a homeless woman to pose as their grandmother...

SHIFTY is an engaging, heartwarming, and sometimes funny story of growing up, responsibility, and what makes a family.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


SKATE, by Michael Harmon (Knopf 2006)(14+).

Fifteen year old Ian McDermott has a lot on his plate, what with his Spokane school's administration being against him and with his mother's disappearance on one of her crack binges and having to take care of his ten year old brother Sammy.

When Ian finally loses it and decks the gym teacher, he grabs his brother and flees on foot through the wilderness to Walla Walla to try to find their father, their last, desperate, and only, hope of keeping the brothers together.

Dramatic, compelling, at times tragic and yet hopeful, SKATE is a remarkable novel of responsibility, family, and self-reliance.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING: MARIE CURIE AND RADIUM, by Carla Killough McClafferty (FSG 2006), tells the story of Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel science prize and the only person to have won in two different sciences (chemistry and physics).

SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING provides a fascinating portrait of the woman who discovered and named radium and polonium. From her roots in partitioned Poland and her clandestine efforts to obtain an education; through her study in Paris, and her scientific breakthroughs both alone and with her husband Pierre; and to her ultimate fame, Curie's life is a remarkable story of hard work, perseverance, and triumph over nearly impossible odds.

McClafferty's volume also weaves in the cultural impact of the discovery of radium: its widespread and casual uses as a medical cure-all and the subsequent realization that it is, in fact, highly toxic.

Altogether, SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING provides excellent coverage of the life and times of one of the giants of 20th century science.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Literary Coincidences

This post on David Lubar's blog got me thinking about cannibalism (no, really).

Which led, of course, to the case of R. v. Dudley and Stephens, in which Dudley and Stephens were cast adrift in a lifeboat and so killed and ate the cabin boy. The case established that necessity is not a defense to murder. More colorfully, as A.W.B. Simpson put it in Cannibalism and the Common Law, the case held that one may not kill and eat another human being, however hungry one may be (this may be a paraphrase).

It also got me thinking about strange literary coincidences: The 17 year old cabin boy aboard the Mignonnette who was killed and eaten by Dudley and Stephens (and another survivor who may not have participated in the murder) was named Richard Parker.

In 1838, Edgar Allen Poe published a novel called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in which three shipwreck survivors cast adrift in a lifeboat kill and eat a fourth, whose name is, of course, Richard Parker.

In 1898, Morgan Robertson published a novel called Futility or Wreck of the Titan, in which an "unsinkable" ocean liner named Titan strikes an iceberg and sinks in the north Atlantic. Fourteen years later, the White Star liner Titanic strikes an iceberg in the north Atlantic.

In 1963, Morris West published a novel called The Shoes of the Fisherman in which the first non-Italian in hundreds of years is elected to the Papacy. He is a Slav from Soviet-dominated Ukraine. Sixteen years later, of course, Pope John Paul II, a Slav from Soviet-dominated Poland, becomes the first non-Italian pope in hundreds of years.

Any more?

Saturday, March 07, 2009


THE BOOKS OF PELLINOR, by Alison Croggon (Candlewick 2005-2009)(12+), comprise THE NAMING, THE RIDDLE, THE CROW, and THE SINGING. Framed around the conceit of lost (and recently translated) archaeological writings, THE BOOKS OF PELLINOR have an unusual freshness and depth. Appendices at the end of each volume (not unlike those at the end of LORD OF THE RINGS), provide additional background and layers.

In THE NAMING, Croggon introduces us to orphaned sister and brother Maerad and Hem, who, unbeknownst to them, are the last survivors of the sacking of the bardic school of Pellinor; and at least one of them may be destined to save Edil-Amarandh from the Unnamed One.

THE RIDDLE follows Maerad and the bard Cadvan to the north, where they seek the solution to the riddle of the Treesong, sundered long ago and at the root of many of their difficulties. In the meantime, Hem travels with the bard Saliman to the city of Turbansk, soon to be facing the armies of Dark.

In THE CROW, Hem and Saliman withstand the siege and fall of Turbansk, and discover that Hem's role in the defeat of the Unnamed One may be larger than any had suspected.

THE SINGING, the final volume in the series, follows Maerad, Cadvan, and Hem as they seek to find one another and re-join the Split Song, in the midst of civil war and as the Unnamed One grows stronger.

In THE BOOKS OF PELLINOR, Croggon has created a truly epic and compelling adventure in a richly-textured and believable world. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 06, 2009


A KISS IN TIME, by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen 2009)(ages 12+). Three hundred years ago, the Princess Talia and the entire kingdom of Euphrasia fall into a cursed sleep, and the kingdom disappears from the map (somewhere near Belgium).

Now, in 2009, a pair of teen-age boys from Miami on a month-long European tour stumble across it. Then one, Jack, wakes the princess (and the kingdom) with a kiss...

But when Jack is thrown into the dungeon for "defiling" the princess, Talia helps him escape and flees with him (because her father is not happy with her, either -- he blames her for pricking herself on the prophesied spindle). Together, they travel to Jack's home in Miami, where Talia's perspective on modern times opens Jack's eyes as well.

But the evil witch Malvolia, who placed the curse, is still around, too, and she insists the curse is still valid, since Jack isn't Talia's "true love." Is this true? And can Talia and Jack defeat Malvolia so Euphrasia isn't doomed for another three hundred years of sleep?

A KISS IN TIME is a fun, new take on Sleeping Beauty. Told in alternating viewpoints, the voices are fresh and textured, with both Talia and Jack having satisfying arcs showing growth and change.

Monday, March 02, 2009


BULL RIDER, by Suzanne Morgan Williams (McElderry 2009)(ages 10-14). Fourteen year-old Cam O'Mara would rather do stunts on his skateboard than ride bulls like his grandfather and older brother Ben, both former Nevada state champions. But when Ben comes home injured from Iraq, Cam decides it's time for him to test the O'Mara luck and take up the family sport -- both to give his brother hope and for the $15,000 prize, money they need to keep the family ranch afloat.

In BULL RIDER, Williams effectively captures the feel of a small, close-knit ranching community, delivering believable and likeable characters and an affecting arc. In short, BULL RIDER is a moving novel of hope, recovery, and family.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS, by R.L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin 2008)(ages8-12). Theodosia Throckmorton is back, at home in London, but mysteries abound when mummies keep appearing in the foyer of the museum where her father's curator. When her father is suspected of stealing the antiquities, and when her grandmother insists on finding her a new nanny, Theodosia must use all her wits and forces at her command to prevent another uprising by THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS.

THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS is a fun, exciting adventure through a London that will feel familiar to readers of Conan Doyle. Theodosia's efforts to thwart evil while at the same time keep her secrets from her parents and those at the museum are engaging and entertaining.

And there's a very special cameo by HMS Dreadnought...
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