Books that kept me up past midnight.

As usual, things are busy here at Creative Chaos. The job with Islandport Press that I spoke about here, became a permanent part-time position. My new title is “Editor & Special Projects,” which means that each day comes with new surprises. I love the dynamic nature of my position as well as the creative and collaborative problem solving that goes on every day. I’ve feeling very lucky.

I also feel lucky to be amongst books every day. It often means that there is just one more book to put on my virtual To Be Read pile. (You can see all 403 of them here.)

Most of my reading happens at night once I’ve pulled up the covers and turned on my bedside lamp. It’s a chance to push aside the virtual, plugged-in world for a literary one. Usually I’m asleep after a few pages (sometimes with my glasses still on and the book slipping to the floor) so the reading is slow going. Sometimes, however, a story takes hold of me, and I am transported to those flashlight-under-the-covers moments I had as a child.

Recently, two books made me feel that I absolutely had to finish the story before sleeping.

51h1vdouv6l-_sx324_bo1204203200_The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

My take: I was so moved by Ada’s story, her strength, her heart, her head. Brubaker Bradley is an amazing storyteller who isn’t protective of her characters and we are the better for it. All the female characters are unique and strong (and flawed) in their own way. An argument could be made that even Ada’s despicable mother shows strength against impoverished conditions in the only way she knows how. In addition to well-realized characters, we also get treated to beautiful but spare description of the English countryside.

5138jx-gesl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ Wrecked by Maria Padian

From Goodreads: When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard are pushed to opposite sides of the school’s investigation. Now conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible—especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.

My take: Told expertly in alternating close 3rd person POV Richard and Haley meet, and become close while linked to a investigation for sexual assault at fictional McCallum college. Because neither of them are the victim or the aggressor, the reader gets a wider view of the issue of sexual assault on campus. Whether the character is a hippie, math whiz, bio geek, athlete, Dean, or parent the issue is complex and inextricably linked to narrative. This is an excellent book for starting conversations about sexual assault on campus. It’s one that will keep you turning pages until the story is complete.

What books should I add to my TBR list that keep you up reading?

Join me on Thursday when I interview Ernie D’Elia, cover illustrator of the Five Stones Trilogy. The Kinfolk, the conclusion of the #5stonesbooks, launches Tuesday, October 25th and the blog tour is going on all week long.

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Summer Reading Rocks!

I’ve tried all summer to pull away from the lure of the screen: lap top, desk top, and iPhone. Instead, I spent July teaching horseback riding, taking kids on creek hikes, picking berries, singing and more as a camp counselor at Eagle’s Nest Camp (a camp that I went to as a child and counseled at during my 20’s). June and August were dedicated to my client MaineShare as I helped them coordinate the MaineShare Fair an event that will take place next week (September 9th) in Portland, Maine.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time out on the Androscoggin River rowing and coaching others. Eagles, herons and leaping fish were a gift as I glided over some amazingly smooth water. I slipped my middle grade work in progress into sunny summer slivers of time thinking deeply and working on a revision that amplifies desire, conflict and tension.

Even with all this incredible activity I made time to read. I embraced audio books with the amazing FREE audio book summer reading program at SYNC. These books filled the time on the long drive from Maine to North Carolina and back. And without Facebook, I had plenty of time to sink into a book at night. At the beginning of the year, I’d challenged myself to read 26 books thinking that one every other week would be great, but I’ve already exceeded that goal. Now I’ve increased that goal to 40 (but really I’m hoping for 52).

I have a number of adult and poetry books on my list for fall but I’m super excited about Melanie Crowder’s next (her 3rd) novel A Nearer Moon that launches next week, and Meg Wiviott’s debut novel Paper Hearts that launches TODAY!

      

Congrats to Meg and Melanie!

Now on with my summer reading list! (Books are listed in the order I read them starting in June.)

MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers (audio book). This is an amazing full cast presentation with an extra from the author explaining his research process and his interviews with numerous incarcerated young men. Highly recommended.

BUDDHA BOY, Kathe Koja (audio book). Bullying and acceptance.

MATERIAL GIRLS, Elaine Dimopoulos (eGalley from Net Galley). More on this in a later post. Highly recommended.

CIRCUS MIRANDUS, Cassie Beasley. Gentle, loving, and magical to its core, this book is the one you want to read aloud to your students this school year. It will draw your too-big-for-read-aloud-books back to your embrace. (Evidence: my 6 foot 2 inch high school sophomore beside me nightly.) Highly recommended.

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND, Dan Santat. Caldecott winner 2015.

EL DEAFO, Cece Bell. Newbery Honor. I was especially interested in this because my major was ASL in college. I wanted to see how Bell handled the Deaf community. The book is about the main character’s struggles to fit in with her Hearing family and mainstream life even though her mother is eager to have her learn ASL. By the end of the book, her interest is piqued and I got the feeling that had the book gone on the girl may have explored the Deaf Community more. There is an excellent author’s note about the spectrum of culture and language in the Deaf Community. Highly recommended.

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Jacqueline Woodson. What can I say about this memoir in verse that hasn’t already been said? The book won the National Book Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and is featured on many many lists. Highly recommended.

CROWS & CARDS, Joseph Helgerson (audio book). A fun recording that harkens back to pre-Civil War days, river boat scoundrels, and Mark Twain language and humor.

THE CROSSOVER, Alexander Kwame. Newbery Winner 2015.

THE SKIN I’M IN, Sharon Flake. I picked this middle grade up at a library book sale and so glad I did. First pubbed in 1998, if you loved JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia you’ll be engaged by Maleeka’s struggle to love herself. Highly Recommended.

STORY OF A GIRL, Sara Zarr. A quiet YA novel that digs deeply into self acceptance, family and forgiveness.

#ireadYA Week Booklists, Badges and More!

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Click here to get your own badge (lots of pretty colors!) for all your social media #ireadYA love!

As a writer, I read widely: poetry, adult, children’s, nonfiction, memoir and despite the opinion of Slate’s, Ruth Graham (2014), I am not embarrassed to read (or write) YA. I often find the plotting more streamlined, the description more economical, the character development and their desire line more transparent and intense, the endings not happy but hopeful, and none of that is easy to do. I promise (she said glancing at the stack of revision notes beside her.) In fact, I recently read a review of an adult book that said, “if you can stick it out until chapter 13, things really get moving.” I’m still going to read that adult book because I’m interested in the topic and the writing but really? Chapter 13?

Here are some of my most recent favorite YA reads from my Goodreads list.
Audacity, Melanie Crowder
Fly on the Wall, E. Lockhart
How It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys
and I’m currently reading This Song Will Save Your Life, Leila Sales.

Here’s a great list from Book Riot that you might want to take a look at:
30 Diverse YA Titles To Get on Your Radar 

And the Spring 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List

Whatever you read, enjoy it.

This beautiful image used with permission, can be purchased from Abbie Smith on her Etsy Site: AbbieImagine. Click the image to see her many Typography Posters.

Book Review Wednesday: Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Over the last month or so, I’ve been able to make room in my life for reading. It has been so satisfying and fun to attack my TBR pile. STRANGE SWEET SONG has been calling to me since last summer when the author and fellow VCFA Alum, sweet Adi Rule, signed my book. Once I picked it up a few weeks ago, there were no breaks for cheese sandwiches. I’ll even admit that my children had to eat cereal for dinner one night because I could not tear myself away.

Strange Sweet Song

I was immediately hooked by the world of Dunhammond Conservatory (DC), a school for elite musicians that backs up against a mountain inhabited mystery, murder, and magic. Soprano, Sing da Navelli, is not only elite in her skill but she has an almost-royal music bloodline. Her mother is famous not only for her diva attitude and operatic achievements as a soprano, but also for the way she died on stage playing the role of Angelique in the opera by the same name. Sing’s doting father is a famous composer and big donor to the DC.

Sing’s bears the weight of her mother’s personality and larger than life last roll. While Sing is good at what she does, she isn’t great. Is she only at DC because of her lineage and her father’s contributions to the school? Sing struggles both to prove herself and to re-become the girl who loved singing for the joy of it. Who is the best person to help her find that joy–the handsome accompanist, Ryan or the odd apprentice Nathan Daysmoor?

Intertwined with Sing’s story is the story of the opera Angelique, written at DC, that tells the fantastical tale of a beast called the Felix that inhabits the mountain behind the school. Sing is driven to find out if the Felix is fact or fairytale. Is it true that its sadness and resentment leads it to tear out the throat of all who encounter it? Is it true that if your sadness touches the heart of the Felix it will grant you a wish? And those odd things on campus… are they the doing of the Felix?

These questions keep the story moving at a clip so it’s hard to slow yourself down to appreciate Adi Rule’s beautiful writing–but you must.The music scenes are so lovely even an opera averse reader will be mesmerized. I was especially impressed by the seamless weaving of plots and subplots: Sing’s journey to be the singer she wants to be, the fantasy/horror/magical realism of the Felix, the opera, and the story of the mysterious apprentice, Nathan Daysmoor.

I found Sing’s friend Zhin a little too convenient at times, and Lori Pinkerton and Ryan a little cliché but other more rounded characters far and away made up for them. Sing is sometimes unlikeable but just when we are about to lose faith in her, she opens in a way that allows us to hear her true voice and humanity sing.

So much of Young Adult is– how do I become the person I want to be–the person I am–while dealing with the expectations of parents, family, community, culture and society. Who am I? Where do I fit? I know that I gravitate to this category of books in my reading and writing because I am still defining my own path as well. Adi Rule develops this theme in all of the interwoven story threads in a lyrical must read. Brava!

2014 BOOKLIST ROUNDUP

This time of year I get a lot of requests for great gift suggestions for children’s and Young Adult books. The thing is, this year has been incredibly busy. My reading has included more nonfiction, personal, and adult titles (read: self-help) and my reviewing ground to a sad halt around Valentine’s Day of 2014. However, there is no need to despair. Below please find a round up of some of the best lists for children’s book in the #kidlitosphere and beyond! (If you have a favorite list that I don’t mention here, please note it in the comments.)

#weneeddiversebooks: Find a plethora of postings about books with diverse characters from characters of color, to those facing disabilities, to characters who are questioning or identify as part of the GLBTQ community.

The Brown Bookshelf: is always my go-to website when I’m looking for books with characters of color. Thanks to Don Tate and others for keeping this blog current and relevant!

Pragmatic Mom: Mia Wenjen is another amazing blogger with incredible multicultural lists. Don’t miss her list for children’s books that feature Asian Americans. She also has nonfiction, biography, and age specific lists.

Sporty Girl Books: Well of course I’m going to mention my group blog. This year, we are soliciting best sporty girl books of the year so add your own suggestions in the comments of yesterday’s post. We always have tabs on the blog menu for books that are age specific.

At Brain Pickings: Maria Popova has gathered a Best Children’s Books of 2014 that focuses on “Intelligent and imaginative tales of love, loneliness, loyalty, loss, friendship, and everything in between.” She has a very extensive post that shows interior illustrations and thoughtful commentary.

The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Gave us a long list, a short list, and a fabulous and lovely winner, Jacqueline Woodson for BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take a look.

Stuff for the Teen Age: The New York Public Library has lists upon lists for teen readers and if you don’t trust the lions in Manhattan, who can you trust?

Bank Street College of Education: Also in New York, this well-known and trusted program posts a link to their BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR PDF. They also sort the books by age.

The New York Time’s Best Illustrated Books: Also and again from New York…read: maybe I should move to Brooklyn… School Library Journal is reblogging this list on their own site.

Buy Books for Black Friday: Ingrid Sundberg has a great post at INGRID’S NOTES that features a number of my good friends and fellow alumni from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fabulously written books. Enough said.

The ALSC List: The Association of Library Services to Children division of the American Library Association creates a list of Notable Titles each year. Award winners are in this list as well. Don’t miss the YALSA (young adult) titles or the Graphic Novels appropriate for teens either. Just be aware that these are chosen at the 2014 Midwinter (January) conference so they focus on books pubbed in 2013.

Whadya think? Enough? I’d love to see more graphic novel lists. If you have or love a “best of children’s and YA books of 2014” let me know.

Revision Strategies over at Sporty Girl Books!

Hello wonderful followers. I know I’ve been MIA from my blog but there’s nothing like a deadline to make us produce. This week, it was my deadline for my group blog. I’ve posted over at Sporty Girl Books about my recent colorful, tactile revision technique using a plot chart. If you are a plotter or a pantser, this could be useful for you either as you revise or as you plan the initial draft. Please take the time to click, read, comment and follow over there. Hopefully, when I’m done with this revision, I’ll be back on a weekly blog schedule. See you then!

We Have a Winner: #roomiesbook

On Friday I posted about the new YA collaboration from Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, ROOMIES. The giveaway from LB Kids and Creative Chaos gets one lucky reader a signed-by-the-authors copy of the book and the chance at a prize packed shower caddy. I let my dog Lucy do the honors of choosing the winner from the three commenters: bn100, Shelby, and Courtney. Here are the results!

Turns out bn100 won ROOMIES on another blog (go buy a power ball ticket lucky one) so according to Lucy, Shelby is our new winner!

Book Review Wednesday: Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick

September started with a sprint that included sending my oldest to his first year of high school, both kids auditioning for school productions, my husband off to a full-time masters program and me trying to turn around edits on a manuscript.  It is only now, that I’m finding time to update Creative Chaos. Thanks for your patience.

If you are anything like me, amazing fall releases are pushing your “professional books” budget to the limit. I’ll be posting about two over the next two days!

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Last Thursday was the book birthday of A.B. Westrick’s, BROTHERHOOD. I was lucky enough to receive and advanced readers copy of the book from the author. From the website:

The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

Shadrach is caught between being a boy and a man. He is caught between the needs of his family and his own needs for self-actualization. He is caught between his allegiance to old ways and his desire to be educated, and forge a new world. He is caught between hating others and being able to live with himself.

This in-between place is the place of the Young Adult and A.B. Westrick writes it beautifully. I felt her characters and their conflicts deeply. My empathy for Shadrach fought with my own sense of right and wrong.

The setting, despite its grit and tension, is beautiful. Geographical details coupled with vernacular and emotions of the period bring the reader squarely into 1867 Richmond. The reader clearly experiences the “tensions ordinary, impoverished, and poorly educated white Southerners might have felt during the period of Reconstruction,” as A.B. Westrick writes in her author’s note.

I urge teachers to add this book to their Civil War & Reconstruction units. Will there be hard questions and difficult discussions? YES! But this is the purpose of good literature.

Book Review Wednesday: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best


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The summer 2012 Olympics in London are only weeks away. After the opening ceremonies, with its choreography and flames, the athletes will get down to doing what they do best– playing their sport. For most of them, it has been a lifetime of preparation and training. Before my son completed school this year, their class read an article about the olympic athletes and the teacher asked, “Do you think that the training the olympic athletes go through is worth it?”

Maria Padian’s Young Adult novel JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST gives readers an inside look at the training of two high-level female, best-friend, teen athletes. Henry (Henriette) is a tennis champ and Eva is a ballerina.

The book is told in alternating first person chapters with spot-on dialogue and voice unique to each character. Padian keeps the story moving forward, a difficult task with two narrators. She also captures the nuances of each sport beautifully with details that reveal a well-researched story.

The book is emotionally honest and at times, heart wrenching as Eva struggles with anorexia, Henry struggles to rediscover her love of the game, and both girls try to define themselves as separate from their “obnoxious parents.” The book, with themes of body image, family, sacrifice, secrets, and first love, is a thought provoking, page turner.

An amazing summer read. Don’t miss it!

Book Review Wednesday: The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind


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Sonia Ocampo’s birth coincided with a terrible storm, but as soon as she was born, the winds went away leaving her family and the village to believe that she had a direct line to God. Her miraculous ability to silence the wind is both her blessing and her curse. In “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind,” as in her middle grade novel, “Milagros” (Candlewick, 2008), Meg Medina, who has written for adults and children for 15 years, explores the power and pitfalls of the miracle.

At sixteen, Sonia has taken on the maladies, prayers, and dreams of the entire village. She is weighed down by milagros (tiny hand-forged prayer charms) which she wears on a shawl. While many people in Sonia’s fictional mining village make the journey North to pursue economic opportunity, Sonia is the anchor of faith for the village and is unable to explore her own dreams.

Sonia’s village might be in Mexico or Central America but the reader is often unsure. With lyrical writing, Medina creates a fictional world which skirts the edges of reality and magic. The reader is covered in the dust of the mountains, he can hear the promising whistle of the train that runs to the capital, and feel the weight of the milagros on Sonia’s shawl.

The range of female characters in the book is especially compelling. Sonia’s Tia Neli is strong and street smart. Sonia’s mother, while quiet, has a silent strength about her. Conchita Fo, the bar mistress is a wonderful mix of beauty and beast.

Sonia is the strongest of all. Throughout the book she struggles with her faith, with the lack of opportunities in her village, with love and with loyalty. Sonia journeys from her small mountain village to the capital city but ends up using knowledge from her village life and family to finally her solve her problems.  Intelligent, ethical, and empathetic, Sonia, who was born with the burden of a miracle, takes back her life and destiny.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, Sonia survives a storm, meets characters who challenge her values, journeys far away and back again only to learn there’s no place like home.