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The Wonderling – An Interview With Author Mira Bartok

THE WONDERLING
Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)

Read Our Author Q & A Today
&
Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more! 

 

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok cover image


SUMMARY:


The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.

Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.

GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:

GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?

BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!

GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?

BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.

GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?

BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!

GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?

BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.

GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?

BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!

GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?

BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.

GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?

BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.

The Wonderling author Mira Bartók Photo Credit: Doug Plavin

Mira Bartók, Photo Credit: Doug Plavin

AUTHOR BIO:
Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir,
The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.
The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.

MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!

Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th

Event date:  Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060

HERE ARE MORE HELPFUL LINKS:
· Q&A
· Discussion guide 
· Chapter sampler
· Author video

Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone – A Giveaway Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

GET CLICK’D TODAY!

How exciting to be participating in this cool Click’d giveaway!
Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to
check out, and is partnering with us
on this great giveaway opportunity for readers!

 

Click'd by Tamara Ireland Stone cover image

 

Scroll down to get the lowdown!

GENERAL DETAILS …

Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Recommended for ages 9+

FIND OUT MORE …

Visit the Official Click’d Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion
on Twitter here.
on Instagram here.
Like Disney Books on Facebook.
Spread the Word Using Hashtag #ClickdBook

HERE’S AN EXCERPT TO GET YOU PSYCHED!

Read an excerpt from Click’d here. Get ready to see how Click’d will click with you.

ABOUT THE BOOK …

New York Times best-selling author Tamara Ireland Stone combines friendship,
coding, and lots of popcorn in her fun and empowering middle-grade debut.

Allie Navarro can’t wait to show her best friends the app she built at
CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d pairs users based on common interests and
sends them on a fun (and occasionally rule-breaking) scavenger hunt to find
each other. And it’s a hit. By the second day of school, everyone is talking
about Click’d.

Watching her app go viral is amazing. Leaderboards are filling up!
Everyone’s making new friends. And with all the data Allie is collecting,
she has an even better shot at beating her archenemy, Nathan, at the
upcoming youth coding competition. But when Allie discovers a glitch that
threatens to expose everyone’s secrets, she has to figure out how to make
things right, even if that means sharing the computer lab with Nathan. Can
Allie fix her app, stop it from doing any more damage, and win back the
friends it hurt-all before she steps on stage to present Click’d to the
judges?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author of Click'd Tamara Ireland StoneTamara Ireland Stone (www.TamaraIrelandStone.com) is the
author of Time and Time Again, a collection of her two novels Time Between Us
and Time After Time, and the New York Times best seller Every Last Word.
A Silicon Valley-native, she has worked in the technology industry all her life,
first testing Atari game boards in her parents’ garage, and later, co-founding
a woman-owned marketing strategy firm where she worked with some of the
world’s largest software companies. She enjoys skiing, hiking,and spending time
with her husband and two children. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

THE PRIZE …

One (1) winner receives: a copy of Click’d
Please note that this Giveaway is open to US addresses only.

The Rafflecopter giveaway will end on 10/11/17 at 12:00a.m. PST.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck!
If you’re not a winner, you can find this fab book for $16.99 at your local independent bookseller.
We know you’re going to love getting Click’d!!

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The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

THE EXPLORERS:
THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY
by Adrienne Kress
(Delacorte Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

THE BLOG TOUR

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley book cover image

 

Allow me to take the liberty, given the wit and wildly sassy style of Adrienne Kress’s fantastical middle grade novel, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley, to share with you, readers, the several unused openings that I toyed with before settling upon something completely different though perhaps a bit more mundane:

Can a pig ever be considered precocious?

Teeny hats off (and I mean that in the best possible way) to author Adrienne Kress for her latest novel!

Kress had me at Explorers.

REVIEW:
Now, all those intros aside, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken inside the thrilling walls, doors, rooms and slide (yes, slide!) of The Explorers Society, one of the most marvelous places I’ve been to in a long time, and the driving force (to say the least) behind this very imaginative adventure. Getting to know the cool cast of characters whose journey kept me turning the pages as more and more secrets were revealed, was also tons of fun.

The story of The Explorers unfolds with the rescue of a pig in a teeny hat by a 12-year-old, rule-respecting, STEM scholar named Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also got a photographic memory. The pig, it turns out, belongs to a member of The Explorers Society, located in a seemingly innocuous building in a back alley near Sebastian’s routine route home. Rather than being rewarded for his helpful deed as logic would dictate, logic being another characteristic that can be attributed to young Sebastian, he is punished by the society’s president. Sebastian must now, to avoid arrest (yes, arrest!), do chores daily after school at the society in order to learn to take risks and expand his limited horizons.

As he becomes familiar with the amazing interior of the society (trust me, it is absolutely unreal!), Sebastian, prodded by the president Myrtle Algens, seeks to do something inappropriate that only someone who thrives on appropriateness can do. Just what that is, he hasn’t a clue. So, while unsure exactly how to push these boundaries, Sebastian accidentally uncovers a small hidden door behind which sits a box. Sebastian takes this box home and discovers in its contents assorted articles, photographs and other information about a disbanded group of explorers called the Filipendulous Five. When he asks Algens about them he is less than politely asked to leave the society’s premises and never return!

Upon departing, Sebastian encounters a forlorn-looking girl sitting outside. The girl, we learn, is Evie, an orphan on the run from some scary-looking dudes, one with a jaw wired shut, the other with (I kid you not!), a partially melted face. According to a letter she was given before she escaped the bad guys, Evie discovers she has an important connection to the The Explorers Society. This letter, written by her grandfather who she didn’t know was alive, indicates he’s in grave danger. Somehow though, this information, when shared with Algens, has gotten her kicked out of the building despite believing it would be a place of refuge. Things become even more confounding for the poor girl when Sebastian explains that her grandfather is none other than Alistair Drake, the head honcho of the Filipendulous Five! Soon Evie and Sebastian team up and take off on a series of exciting and risky exploits (it’s true, Sebastian skips school!) at the local zoo, the university, as well as inside The Explorers Society, all in an effort to find a mysterious key mentioned in the letter and save Evie’s grandfather while trying to elude wired-jaw guy and melted-face man.

The Explorers is a fabulously funny, fast-paced read with 27 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter contains just the right mix of mayhem, dialogue, description and derring-do. Kress’s imagination is boundless, something I’m certain middle graders looking to lose themselves in an adventure/mystery will appreciate. Her sense of humor is also spot on. I must mention here that I had the good fortune to be sent an advanced readers copy for the blog tour so the artwork that is due to accompany the novel wasn’t included. But I can’t wait to see it since the story itself is quite visual and would lend itself well to film or TV.

Now dear readers, the story doesn’t end here because there is definitely more to come in an as yet unnamed sequel that, I have to admit, is the appropriate thing to do when the author leaves you with a cliffhanger making you wonder what’s to become of Sebastian, Evie and the rest of the characters you’ve grown to care about. I’m also very curious as to whether Sebastian’s school ever calls his parents, that is unless all the action occurs on weekends. That would certainly calm his nerves. Watch this space! 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

More upcoming stops this week and next for the blog tour include:

Tuesday 5/9/17 – Geo Librarian
Wednesday 5/10/17 – Life by Candlelight
Thursday 5/11/17 – Jumpin Beans
Friday 5/12/17 – Always in the Middle

Monday 5/15/17 – Librarians Quest
Tuesday 5/16/17 – The Book Wars
Wednesday 5/17/17 – Middle Grade Mafioso
Thursday 5/18/17 – Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Friday 5/19/17 – Tween You & Me

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

BLOOMING AT THE TEXAS SUNRISE MOTEL
Written by Kimberly Willis Holt
(Henry Holt and Company BYR/A Christy Ottaviano Book;
$16.99, Ages 8-14)

cover image for Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

 

In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motelwhen thirteen-year-old Stevie’s parents are killed in an accident, she’s uprooted from her New Mexico home and sent to live in the Texas Sunrise Motel with a grandfather she doesn’t remember. Though grandfather Winston is standoffish, Stevie quickly connects with the motel’s eclectic group of people, including a cute boy her age named Roy.

Living in the same room where her mother grew up sparks Stevie’s curiosity about her parents’ kept-quiet past; grandfather Winston coolly avoids personal topics. Instead of enrolling Stevie in public school, she’s sent to the same woman who homeschooled her mother—the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump. Here, Stevie finally begins to piece together the puzzle about what her mother was like as a girl.

In this moving middle grade novel, Stevie struggles to cope with choices that are being made without her consent. Just as she’s settling into Texas, an unknown aunt invites Stevie to Louisiana. Now it’s up to her to decide between living with fun and loud cousins or returning to her seemingly detached grandfather and the motel’s motley cast of characters. Stevie’s comfortable world has ended; she’s adrift in new beginnings and explorations.

Kimberly Willis Holt‘s effective use of plant imagery throughout will not be lost on readers. Stevie parents ran a fruit and flower stand, her Louisiana cousins are in the nursery business—digging in the dirt is in Stevie’s genes. Discovering where Stevie puts down roots is the heart of this gentle, character-driven, and finely crafted story.

Click here to see Holt’s book tour schedule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

 

BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

Big & Little Questions book cover image

 

Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!

Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.

At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.

Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.

Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”

Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Reluctant Readers Love Timmy Failure and Tom Gates Series

TIMMY FAILURE & TOM GATES
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR RELUCTANT READERS

Huzzah and hooray! A world class detective and a passionate doodler are back in the continuing series of two popular Candlewick Press middle grade books.

If you’re not familiar with either either Timmy Failure or Tom Gates, please take a look at earlier reviews of previous titles right here at Good Reads with Ronna (see below). Both series are a hit with fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and employ a diary or journal style novel filled with pen and ink illustrations. The illustrations not only add to both series’ humor, but, as one of my students, a reluctant reader (and now big fan) told me: the illustrations increase his understanding and enjoyment. Both are recommended for ages 8-12.
So check out more hilarious adventures– and misadventures– of Timmy Failure and Tom Gates.

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection (#4)Timmy Failure Sanitized For Your Protection book cover
Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

The young “ … founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc, the greatest detective agency in the nation …” is forced to go on a road trip to Chicago to help his mom’s boyfriend move, instead of working on his latest case: the theft of money from a school fundraiser. Extremely put out, Timmy endures miles of cornfields and country-western music with his mother, Doorman Bob, his polar bear ex-partner, Total, arch-enemy and “criminal mastermind,” Molly, and her family. Like the Pink Panther’s clueless Inspector Clouseau, the equally clueless Timmy accuses everyone but the actual thief and tries to elicit confessions from the innocent while advising them on their “Carmen Miranda” rights. Can Timmy solve the case while far away in Chicago? Can he trust Molly, one of his many suspects, to help him find the crook? Be prepared for “greatness!” Visit Candlewick Press for information on the books and see Pastis’ wonderful Timmy Failure website for more information on the series, the characters, trailers for each book, and activities.

Read Good Reads with Ronna’s past reviews of the Timmy Failure series here.
Tom Gates Everything's Amazing (Sort of) book coverTom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (Sort of) (#3) 
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Tom has a lot on his mind and some big problems. Not his usual problems: an irritating older sister, an obnoxious classmate who is always trying to get him in trouble, school, teachers, and math homework. Actually, any homework.

No, he’s got much bigger worries than that. His birthday is coming up and no one seems to notice the wish list he’s conveniently posted on the refrigerator door. His weird, but sweet grandmother has promised to whip him up a special birthday cake. Not so good … she’s been known to mix jello and peas together. His parents have promised to take him and four of his friends to Dino Village for his birthday (where his father works). Four friends? No problem, he’ll invite best “mate” Derek, Norman, and two others. Things quickly go awry, when Amy, the girl he has a crush on, sees the invitations and asks if she can come … and bring a friend. He agrees before realizing the numbers (there’s that pesky math again) don’t add up to four.

His band, Dog Zombies, which includes Derek and Norman, has been “volunteered” by Principal Keen to perform at the school dance. The inexperienced trio, with only one previous engagement under their belts, is going to need a lot of practice. A lot! Even worse, Tom’s father, a loveable and delightfully quirky man, has been hired to be the DJ at the school dance. He plans to wear his dinosaur costume from Dino Village … and silver disco boots. Positively cringe-worthy.

Will this doodler and homework dodger get what he wants for his birthday? Will he figure out how to include Amy and his four friends at Dino Village? Will the Dog Zombies go up in flames at the school dance? And then there’s his father … and his grandmother’s special birthday cake. Read the book and be prepared for a laugh-out-loud experience!

Oh, in case you don’t speak British (“choon” means an excellent tune), Pichon has included a British to American glossary. Don’t forget to check out the recipe for Tom’s “Doodle Toast” at the end of the story.

Visit Pichon’s and Candlewick’s websites for more information on the author and the series as well as fun activities.

Check out Good Reads with Ronna’s earlier reviews of previous titles in the Tom Gates series:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (#1)

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) (#2)

  • Reviewed by Dornel CerroVisit Dornel’s blog, Mile High Books, here.

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

THE PRINCESS IN BLACK
AND THE HUNGRY BUNNY HORDE 
Written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde

 

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s third book in The Princess in Black seriesThe Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, was released on February 9, 2016. This middle-grade illustrated novel continues Princess Magnolia’s masked superhero capers.

In The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, the princess and her trusty sidekick, Frimplepants the unicorn, skip breakfast in anticipation of a tasty brunch with Princess Sneezewort. On the way there, Princess Magnolia’s glitter-stone ring alerts them of trouble in Monster Land. After a quick change, the Princess in Black and her faithful pony, Blacky, find that the “worst monster invasion ever” is only some cute little bunnies. Well, LOTS of cute little bunnies.

The princess’s friend, Duff the goat herder, can’t understand why she is petting these monsters and making kissy faces. He wants her to bust out her ninja moves because they threaten his goats.

As the story develops, the princess discovers that the rapidly multiplying, eating-everything-it-sight bunnies aren’t as harmless as she first thought. When they start to chew on Blacky’s tail and annihilate entire trees, she takes action only to discover that her typical fighting techniques are ineffective.

Finally, Blacky steps in when the bunnies consider snacking on the princess herself! You’ll be devouring pages, eager to discover whether these ravenous little monsters are returned to Monster Land, and whether the hungry princess and her pony finally connect with Princess Sneezewort for some long-awaited goodies.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.write-for-success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
(Roaring Brook Press, $15.99, Ages 10-14)

 

Scandalous-Sisterhood-cvr.jpgThey say to never judge a book by its cover. Never! That said, go ahead and soak in the deliciously dark and clever art design on Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The artwork perfectly captures the mood of this caper: a rich, Victorian-era romp led by a cast of seven unforgettable students, topped with dashes of suspense and dark humor. Dark, because the caper revolves around the young ladies of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls discovering their irritable headmistress and her brother, murdered. Darker still, because for these girls, the thought of being sent away from school and each other is worse than the alternative: covering up a murder. 

Therein lies the heart of the story—the sisterhood. These seven spirited girls, living in 19th ,century England, have been made to feel like misfits. It’s why they were sent to boarding school. It’s why each of them was given their own demeaning moniker: Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Dear Roberta, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. While at school they found comfort in friendship, and strength in their alleged weaknesses. So keeping their sisterhood intact is worth a few morbid shenanigans.

“I suppose they’ll find other schools for us eventually,” Pocked Louise said. “New mistresses, new nasty girls to make us miserable.”

“We have gotten along so beautifully here.” Dear Roberta sighed. “It’s something of a miracle, really. We aren’t simply boarding school mates. We’re like a family.”

“We’re better than family,” Disgraceful Mary Jane corrected. “Families are full of aunts and brothers and parents. We’re sisters.”

But author Julie Berry does not make the cover-up easy on the girls. There are bodies to bury. Nosy neighbors to placate. Financials to attend to. And let’s not forget: their headmistress was murdered, so somewhere, someone is waiting for a sign the poison found its mark. The litany of challenges set before the girls is enough make the book a page turner, but it’s a rewarding read on other merits, too.

Berry does an amazing job with the Victorian period. The school setting, character mannerisms, attitudes, clothing, and dry (yet distinctly biting) humor all wrapped around the who-done-it plotline make it delightful for the senses, too.

The glue that holds this fast-paced romp together is the bond between the girls. They all have different personalities, and at times, have disagreements. As a reader you begin to feel like an unofficial member of the sisterhood, standing quietly by, privy to these high-stakes discussions. You understand the level of loyalty and respect they feel for each other.

For readers who crave a little romance, there are a few moments. There’s the neighboring farm boy, a broad-shouldered constable, and a mysterious newcomer.

But really, this story is about the sisterhood. That, and gasping every few pages, wondering how in the world they’re going to get themselves out of this. I really enjoyed tagging along with this Scandalous Sisterhood.

– Reviewed by Rina Heisel

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond

The Water’s Fine:
The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 8-12) by David Almond, is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

cover-image-piranhas.jpg

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, Candlewick Press

I knew that when I saw the cover of this book that I would love it. After all, with Oliver Jeffers of The Day the Crayons Quit fame (among many others) how can you go wrong with the illustrations? Yet, this book was so much more than just fantastic illustrations. David Almond has written a wonderful story about families, dreams of greatness, gypsies, and so much more. When Stanley Potts decides that enough is enough when it comes to his financially struggling Uncle Ernie putting his beloved goldfish in a can to sell, he sets out on a course of adventure that will change his life forever.

He decides to join a traveling fair, and he becomes quite attached to the fair’s “Hook-a-duck” proprietor, Mr. Dostoyevsky. All of the people who work at the fair take on Stanley as a sort of second son, but none more than Mr. Dostoyevsky who puts Stanley in change of all goldfish related rewards for winning his booth prizes. Little does Stanley know that his true fate is ready to meet him in the form of Pancho Pirelli, the man who can swim with piranhas! Is Stanley ready to embrace this new path that he feels is right up his alley, or will his aunt and uncle find him at the fair before he is able to decide for himself what his choice will be?

This book was funny, and poignant all at the same time. I found myself charmed by the life of freedom at the fair, and was as pleased as punch when Stanley decides for himself what his life will be. As an added bonus, the villains of the piece are the dastardly DAFT (“Departmint for the Abolishun of Fishy Things”) organization that operates to abolish all things they deem to be suspect. How can Stanley, his uncle, his aunt, Mr. Dostoyevsky, and the Great Pancho Pirelli himself avoid such comically ignorant baddies especially concerned with fish? What really makes these bad guys so very funny is that, of course, their inherent evil nature is caused by ignorance which always leads to poor spelling. I think we all knew that was true, but it’s nice to be reminded to be on your guard when dealing with such folks. Beware the ignorant souls who take justice into their own hands while butchering the English language in the most comical way possible!

What I liked most about David Almond’s writing is that it is full of wonder, imagination and humor. However, Almond never shies away from Stanley’s dilemma of being torn between his family and his extraordinary life at the fair. Family and forgiveness are at the heart of this quirky middle grade novel. This book is perfect for Roald Dahl fans, fans of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. Also, anyone who enjoys a book about the love of pets, particularly fish (I know you’re out there) will deeply identify with Stanley, goldfish aficionado! David Almond’s fantastic book earned starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist. And now, ditto from me.

 

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Enter the giveaway, too! Tomorrow we’ll be sharing a guest post by Carol Weston.

Ava-and-Pip.jpg

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, © 2014.

Ava and Pip(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99; ages 8-12), is a book rich with characters, storylines, and themes. It is simultaneously a word nerd’s vocabulary haven, a parent’s guide to sibling dynamics, and a cautionary (and ultimately uplifting) tale about the power of words.

Enter to win a copy of the book by clicking here. Please include your name and address and write Ava and Pip in the subject line. Giveaway ends at midnight PST, on March 13, 2014. Entrants from US and Canada only. Winner selected and notified on March 14th. Please like us on Facebook for an extra entry. Good luck!

Ava Wren is an outgoing ten-year old whose world is full of words. Her father is a playwright, and the whole family constantly plays palindrome and homonym word games. She even has a special souvenir pen that her father brought from Ireland. As full as Ava’s life is, all is not well. Ava loves her older sister, Pip, but is frustrated by Pip’s introverted nature and the resulting attention Pip receives from their parents. When a new girl, Bea, throws a party on the same night that Pip does, Ava decides to “help” her sister by submitting a story about a mean new girl who steals other people’s friends. What Ava doesn’t realize is that people aren’t always what they may seem and that her story is about to have bigger consequences than she imagined. Carol Weston does a wonderful job of seeing the world from a young female’s perspective. That’s no surprise, as Ms. Weston is an advice columnist for Girl’s Life. This insight allows her to present the situations, feelings, and vernacular of both the adults and adolescents authentically.

“Fine,” I said. But it wasn’t fine. Sometimes it seems as if Mom cares more about Pip than about me. Pip, her precious firstborn. Here are three pieces of evidence:

1. Mom always buys Pip her favorite snacks (like pretzels and mangoes), but doesn’t buy me mine (like grapes and cheddar cheese).

2. Mom gives Pip an allowance, but I have to take the garbage out for nothing.

3. Mom praises Pip’s sketches more than my writing—not that I ever show her my writing, but still.

I didn’t even tell Mom that I got another 100 in spelling (or that I got a 79 on the math quiz).

Told in a diary form, Ava and Pip explores many dynamics: parent-child, siblings, friends, enemies, and even first crushes. Even words have a life of their own, which is what Ava discovers when her story gets more attention and not in a positive manner. This is an excellent book for children to read by themselves or for parents to read along with their children. Teachers and counselors can use the book as a discussion builder on the power of words and of misinterpretation. I give a Y-A-Y for Ava and Pip.

AVA AND PIP by Carol Weston – YouTube

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano

Always looking on the dark side of life? Reviewer MaryAnne Locher says you’ll find that with The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield.

Cover art for The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano with illustrations by Sophie Blackall

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, Viking, 2013.

If you’re looking for a book with a happy ending, one where the protagonist learns a lesson or has personal growth, this may not be the book for you. However, if you like to read about things on the darker side of life, The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield might be the perfect book for you.

This is the story of the last in a long line of miserable bullying Baddenfields, as well as the only remaining servant in the kind and caring lineage of Winterbottoms.

We’ve all heard the rumor that says cats have nine lives, right? Who would ever think to test that theory? One very horrible rotten boy, that’s who. To make things worse, Alexander uses his own cat Shaddenfrood in his experiment. With the help of a mad scientist, Dr. Krastenenif, Alexander has the nine lives of his cat transplanted into his own body!

It would seem that nine lives would be sufficient to last well, nine lifetimes, and for any normal person they would. Not so for Alexander. Not even under the guidance of his faithful servant, Winterbottom. The boy was so reckless, so disobedient, and so foolish as to think himself invincible, that he used up his nine lives in less time than you or I would use just one.

Written by author John Bemelmans Marciano, The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield (Viking, $16.99; eBook, $10.99, ages 10 and up) will delight readers who love Lemony Snicket or who have an appreciation for grim humor. The black and white pictures by illustrator Sophie Blackall, scattered throughout the 135 page book, complement the contrast between darkness and light, evil and good, and Baddenfields and Winterbottoms.

This book comes with a warning to all readers about one-third of the way through, marked by a skull and crossbones. It reads: “You are about to embark on a tale that recounts the sometimes gruesome deaths of a young boy, and his not always pleasant rebirths.” It says more than that, something about “enjoying the story so far” and “being made of sterner stuff,” but I think you get the idea. In my opinion, this book is bad to the bone, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Hilary Taber tells us about Neil Gaiman’s newest book, Fortunately, the Milk with illustrations by Skottie Young, (Harper Collins Children’s Books, $14.99, Ages 8-12). Click here for Mouse Circus, the official Neil Gaiman Website for Young Readers.

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil GaimanA Tall Tale Well Told

“We have come to your planet from a world very far away,” said the people in the disc.

I call them people, but they were a bit green and rather globby and they looked very grumpy indeed.

“Now, as a representative of your species, we demand that you give us ownership of the whole planet. We want to remodel it.”

“I jolly well won’t,” I said.

One day two children are left alone with their father for the weekend. Their mother is gone on a business trip. The last thing their Mum told their Dad was, “Oh, and we’re almost out of milk. You’ll need to pick some up.” Time passes and suddenly the brother and sister duo inform their Dad that there is no milk for their “Toastios”. After waiting for Dad to come back with the milk, “For ages…” he finally returns with the milk and a tale to tell. This is a tale of high adventure involving aliens, pirates, a Professor Stegosaurus who pilots a floating balloon/time machine, and all of these combined together make for the perfect blend of humor, imagination, and two skeptical children who wonder if Dad is just making it all up. Maybe he is, and maybe he isn’t. You will have to read this wonderful book yourself to find out!

I found this book just cheered me up so much. Jumping from adventure to adventure was great fun, and Skottie Young’s illustrations make a wonderful second voice to all the incredible situations that could befall one father trying to get milk for
his “breakfastless” children. This book is sure to please younger readers, and their fathers (especially those fathers who like to tell a tall tale or two). You could not have picked a better book for an amusing read aloud that would please anyone in your family. In fact, I ended up reading it aloud to my family! Gaiman’s signature style shines through with a sly, humorous, but well intended wink to the reader, plenty of jokes, and plot twists galore. You can also purchase this as an audio book, and your family may sit together to listen to Neil Gaiman tell you his story himself. He even does the voices well, so you know you are in good hands. Fortunately, the Milk is an ideal audio book to take on a road trip for it will be sure to amuse everyone. Highly recommended reading! This book left me wondering if a bottle of milk, used correctly of course in all situations by a highly intelligent Dad, could actually save the world? Well, as Professor Stegosaurs says, “Where there is milk there is hope.”

Click here for Neil Gaiman’s blog.

An Interview With Kate DiCamillo

 HOLY BAGUMBA!  It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)

About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press

Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena.  It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.

GRWR: You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision  – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?

KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline.  I never know what’s going to happen.  The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two.  Or a voice.  Sometimes I hear a voice.  And then I just follow the voice or the image.

GRWR: In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?

KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story.  I set out to honor the world.  All of it.  All of us.  That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.

GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?

KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s.  It is surely possible.  But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.

GRWR: You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?

KD: What a lovely thing to say.  You are kind.  And would that the words flowed effortlessly.  Alas, they don’t.  I work and work and work.  I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?

KD: The two pages usually take me an hour.  Sometimes a little more.  Sometimes less.  And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.

GRWR: Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?

Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.

Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.

KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.

And I miss Ulysses.  And Flora.

And William Spiver.

It’s hard to say goodbye.

GRWR: Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?

KD: They weren’t!  I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that.  It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.

GRWR: Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?

KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories.  So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.

I’m also working on another novel.

GRWR: It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated.  Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?

KD: Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect.  Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.

GRWR: Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?

KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.

I thought that this was very funny.  Other people were not quite as amused.  So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.

GRWR: I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?

KD: I LOVE William Spiver.

Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.

GRWR: On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?

KD: I make time to read.  It is so important to me.  I can’t survive without a book.  Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.

GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?

KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat.  I really do.  But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat.  Or a dog.

But who knows?  Anything is possible, right?

###

 

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell – Review

Rooftoppers, (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12) by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan, is reviewed today both conventionally and unconventionally by Hilary Taber.

How to Live Just Below the Sky:

Rooftoppers is by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Rooftoppers is by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Sophie is a young girl with quite a past. Imagine if your life story began like this, “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.” Yet, that is precisely where, after a terrible shipwreck, Sophie found herself. Luckily enough, Charles Maxim found Sophie and became her guardian. Charles, a scholar, was on board the ship the night it sank. Since neither Sophie’s mother or father were thought to survive the wreck, Charles took her home.  Charles takes care of Sophie very well in many ways, yet a few social workers feel that a young lady like Sophie should be receiving a more proper education than she is getting from a mere bachelor.

A vital clue to Sophie’s parentage comes to the surface right when Charles is almost certain that he will loose Sophie to the buttoned-up views of Miss Eliot, the a social worker assigned to Sophie’s case. Miss Eliot is determined to see that Sophie is put in an orphanage.  Charles and Sophie decide to pursue the clue they find and that leads them to Paris! Only in Paris will they will find aid in their search from a very mysterious group of children. These children would have most certainly gone to orphanages if they had not chosen a life lived almost solely on the rooftops of Paris to escape the notice of interfering adults like Miss Eliot. Rooftoppers won starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly. This is simply a book that is not to be missed!

Now, let me mention here that I watched a video of the author addressing a young audience about reviewing her book for The Guardian in order to enter their young critics competition. In this YouTube video, Ms. Rundell asks that the review might be a little different, because the characters in this book, as the author says, “…do life slightly differently.”

How cool is it that she’s up on a roof?! Very cool!

So, even though this message was for a much younger reviewer than I currently am, I feel up to that challenge! Let the untraditional part of the review begin below!

If this book tasted like anything it would taste like dark chocolate. This book can’t be gulped down precisely because of all the lovely writing, even though you want to because of all the adventure. The wonderful, velvet-as-the-night-sky writing makes it less like candy you gobble down, and more like dark chocolate that you savor one piece at a time.

If this book sounded like anything it would sound like a cello and a violin playing together, just like when Charles and Sophie are together. However, Charles sounds like Yo-Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone #The Mission – Gabriel’s Oboe.

If this book/plot could smell like anything it would smell deep like chocolate and fresh like mint. However, it would have a tinge of smoke as well.

If this book could look like anything it would look just exactly like the cover art, which is a wonderful thing to know if you are at all drawn to the book by the cover. Also it might look like this:

VanGogh-starry night ballance1

Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night via Wikimedia Commons


Who I liked best and why
:

I believe that Charles is one of my favorite bachelors in all of children’s literature. Children’s literature is so full of wonderful adult characters, but Charles pulls at my heartstrings because he has a true gift of making sure that Sophie has her eye on the important things in life. Charles, the author writes, “…had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.” Charles is wonderfully caring about all the important things, while being at the same time so wonderfully uncaring about the things children usually get scolded about that are so unimportant. Sophie climbs trees, learns the capitals of every country in the world, and is taught important things by Charles such as, “It’s the things you read at the age you are now that stick. Books crowbar the world open for you.” He never wastes breath on things like, for example, the jam that is spilt down Sophie’s shirt when they are on their way to a concert for her birthday. You have to love a character like that.

What I liked best and why:

1) The Concept of the Rooftoppers

Sophie and Charles make an odd pair of runaways as they flee London to Paris, but compared to the tribe of rooftoppers they meet they are practically normal. These rooftop-dwelling children are wonderfully drawn characters. I’m reminded of Peter Pan when I read about them, but these children seem more real than Peter Pan ever did. They really do live on window ledges, drainpipes, rooftops, and just below the sky. Not having the ability to fly, but equally as homeless as Peter Pan ever was in this world, they have made a gritty Neverland of their own. The more I read this book the more I believed that it could be possible to evade most of the world by living on roofs, and certainly these children are trying to do just that. They are trying to avoid the social workers, and to live free from orphanages just like Sophie. The more I read about how hard, but wondrous it could be, the more I understood why Sophie could be drawn to knowing more about such a life.

2) Dizzy spells while reading a book? Cool!

I admit that my hands became a little shaky sometimes while holding the book every time someone jumped from one roof to another or even when that option was up for discussion between the characters, but it only added a sense of adventure to the whole scene. Adventure should leave you feeling a little dizzy and/or shaky, so I’m okay with that.

3) Matters of Importance

All in all, it was a book that spoke to my heart about all the things I always had sensed were the most important, and it did that poetically. Love, trust, music, mothers, and books are some of the most important things in life. I had always believed that this must be true, and it is nice to be reminded of that in passages like this one, “Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath.”

How was that, Ms. Rundell? I have to admit that this type of reviewing took more time, but I think it was worth it. Rooftoppers is a wonderful book that you simply must read right away!

A New Look For Good Reads With Ronna


WE’VE CHANGED OUR LOOK!
KEEP CHECKING US OUT DURING CONSTRUCTION BECAUSE
THERE’S LOTS GOING ON.

Under Construction, but still blogging!

Under Construction, but still blogging!

We’re almost done cleaning up our site. It was truly a case of out with the old and in with the new, and long overdue! Thanks so much for your patience during our blog remodel. Please let us know what you think about our updated look.

The current blog tour is for Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell along with an author signed book giveaway. Enter by clicking here now for your chance to win because that great opportunity ends this weekend.

Our next blog tour in conjunction with Peachtree Publishers begins on Friday, October 4th, so watch this space for more details about the surprise book review and giveaway. But in case you can’t wait, here’s a little preview:

Some other stops on the Peachtree Publishers Blog Tour & a chance to win a copy of the book!

Visit Blue Owl Reviews today to get a taste of what’s to come.

On Tuesday, check out Gidgets Bookworms and Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf

Wednesday stop by the Peachtree blog for the giveaway contest!

Thursday’s the blog tour is on Kid Lit Reviews

and Friday it’s here at last: Good Reads with Ronna.

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