Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Take You - adult fiction review

If you'd like to read my full review of this novel for adults, please go to
      I Take You by Eliza Kennedy is a fast-paced edgy read. Authentic dialogue and witty descriptions kept me turning pages.
     As a young lawyer, the heroine Lily Wilder is well-written and believable, however, I didn’t find her particularly likeable. The jacket flap describes her as charming and irrepressible but the only thing that others seem to be charmed by is her willingness to act inappropriately. She lacks self control in every aspect of her life and the reader isn’t given any background for her behavior so she felt flat and one-dimensional. We learn in the final chapters that perhaps she is just a product of her environment as her family members gathered for the Key West wedding are equally free-spirited. Only her grandmother and childhood boyfriend have a lick of sense and brought a joyous feeling to the text. 
     The story is propelled by the question whether Lily will marry her brilliant, hunky fiancĂ©. Meanwhile Lily continues her antics and notes social mores that have held men and women to different standards. What’s good for the gander should also be good for the goose. She defends her lifestyle while seeming depressed by it. But what really struck a false chord for me is when Lily has a hissy fit on page 222 upon learning that her fiancĂ© is dabbling in the same kind of conduct. And then one day later both characters agree to convert to monogamy. What?
     The turning point didn’t work for me.
     Lily’s story wants to have it both ways. I’d recommend this book to readers that like Looking for Mr. Goodbar or Fifty Shades of Gray

Note: I received a review copy from Blogging for Books. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My PA SCBWI Pocono retreat round-up

     The PA SCBWI held another Pocono writing retreat last weekend, and I was fortunate to be in attendance.
     Every time a local writing conference is announced I look at the calendar and my budget. But there are a few that shout "don't miss me!" The Pocono is one of those. Held at The Barn in Honesdale, PA owned by Highlights/Boyds Mills Press, the bucolic setting is the perfect place to clear your mind and energize your writing.
     The weekend started early--with peer critique groups at lunchtime on Friday. For me, the physical act of sending off a manuscript jars loose the ideas for revision and it's always helpful to get fresh opinions on my work.
     Friday evening, former Bloomsbury editor Laura Whitaker described what makes a writer desirable to an editor. I highlighted (big letters!) that your title, hook, and pitch letter are your calling card. If these don't shine, your fantastic manuscript may not get read. Publishing is a fast paced world and these folks are too busy to wade through things that don't catch their interest FAST. Think about the title that's going to be the first thing an editor sees in their email subject line!
     The keynote speaker Saturday morning was author/indie publisher Darcy Pattison. Needing to sell 100 books per day (not a misprint!) for a mid 30K salary, she described how she has made indie publishing work for her. At times it sounded as if she never slept, doing all of the writing, editing, art decisions, formatting, marketing, and distribution--whew!--but the reward was the editorial creativity that gives her the ability to make her books connect with the right readers.
     I attended two of author Leslie Helakoski's workshops on Saturday. I practiced wordplay, looking for the rhythm in language and the essence of a picture book's emotional resonance. I dissected successful picture books. I wondered if I really could cut my word counts in half. I was sorry to hear that Big Chickens was no longer in hardcover! Sunday morning, Leslie powered the room with her message of positivity. Isn't it great that we get to do what we do? The rejections fuel and teach us. Aren't they great?!
     Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette took the reins after Sunday morning's keynote, reminding us that we don't have to write hook-driven, voice-driven, plot-driven, theme-driven, character-driven masterpieces. We just need to pick our superpower! Focus on one of those manuscript elements to strengthen the overall book.
     I got feedback on the first page of a draft manuscript. I enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner with the faculty and other writers. Critiques with Laura Whitaker and Heather Flaherty were sprinkled through Saturday, giving me advice to chew on when I got home, tired but ready to write more. Write better. Write with passion.
     The speakers' presentations are their intellectual property so if you want more specific information than this you'll have to come to hear them speak at a conference!
     Maybe I'll see you there next year?!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress - #PPBF

     Last week I shared the first of two posts about picture books on the theme of individuality. I hope you enjoy the second recommendation! I'll be away this weekend at the Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI Spring retreat, so I'll be reading comments (and catching up on the other picture books recommended this week!) next Monday.

TITLE: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
Author: Christine Baldacchino
Illustrator: Isabelle Malenfant
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, 2014
Intended Age: 4-7 (I think 3-10)
Theme: Individuality, Bullying, Gender Roles

Opening Line: "Morris Micklewhite has a mother named Moira and a cat named Moo."

Synopsis: The children in Morris' class tease him when he wears a dress from the costume box.

What I like about this book: The author tells us that Morris loves school and I believed it. I absolutely felt his pain when he stayed home because of teasing. The language is gorgeous. My FAVORITE lines:
"Morris likes the color of the dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother's hair."
Did you get chills reading that!?
The issue of gender roles and gender identity is dealt with in a way that all children can relate to. It shouldn't matter if astronauts wear dresses. Boys or girls. It is a story about being different. It is also a great resource for families looking to expand their diverse book collection.
  • View the book trailer for Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress here.
  • Read a review in the Wisconsin English Journal that includes this as a "controversial" book. Why anyone would label this book controversial is hard to believe. The book was a Stonewall Honor Book for 2015 (a honor given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience) but the book isn't a treatise about gender. It's about a sweet, gentle, imaginative boy. Yes, it raises gender issues and awareness, but it does it as part of Morris' story, without agenda. I wrote my review before the Jenner interview and the Gray arrest in Baltimore but now it feels particularly timely as we explain those events to older children and remind them that part of life is accepting and getting along with all the people around us because we're all just people.
  • Let children select clothes from the dress-up box. Talk about why they selected what they did. Would they want to switch with the child next to them? Why or why not?
  • Ask children what color reminds each of their family. Would they want to wear this color?
  • List character traits for a good astronaut. Go to Nasa's astronaut selection page. Does it say anything about gender or dress code?
  • For older readers, the author wrote a thoughtful post about bullying and being bullied.
  • For further reading, Joanna Marple's review of this book can be found here. 
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Thanks for stopping by! :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture - #PPBF

     I had to flip a coin to decide on this week's recommendation. I got lucky at the library this week. There are two great ones shouting for attention. :)
Interestingly, they are both on the same theme, but very different in style. I hope you come back next week for #2!
from Publisher's website
Title: Max and the Dumb Flower  

           Martha Alexander 
   with James Rumford 
 (Ms. Alexander passed away and Mr. Rumford finished the book from her sketches)

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2009

Theme: Individuality 

Intended Age: 3-8

Opening Line: "Max didn't want to color the dumb flower picture. 
                     Miss Tilley wanted him to."

Synopsis: When a boy's teachers asks the class to color a flower picture that she reproduced for all of them as a Mother's Day gift, the boy decides he wants to make his own picture instead.

What I like about the book: I was already hooked by the endpapers. Martha Alexander's family, friends and colleagues drew flower pictures that are scattered across the endpapers plus one additional spread.There is a square left blank on the opening endpaper for the reader to draw their own flower (amazingly, the library copy is still clean!). The small 7x7 trim size means it falls to the bottom of the picture book bins, and I hope it isn't passed over because of that. There is one scene when Max runs out of the classroom, out of the building that may require parental comment (don't do that!) but I think younger children who feel the urge to "color outside the lines" will identify with the emotion and resolution.

  • Take a page from a coloring book and color it how you think the creator of the book intended. Then color another picture with similar subject matter on a blank piece of paper. Which do you like better? Why?
  •  Make 3-D flowers with chenille stems and paper using a lesson on the Smile Makers website.
  • Go to the store and select cut flowers for a bouquet. Why do you select the ones you do?
  • Type flower crafts for toddlers in your search box and see hundreds of choices!
  • Bookit Program curriculum page available here.
  • Parents/teachers can talk to children about using words to express feelings (instead of running away!)
  • If you are a member of a Story Before Bed, you can access a recording here. (NOTE: I did not test this)
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Curious Mind - The Secret to a Bigger Life

     I am guilty of failure to post a Perfect Picture Book Friday post two weeks in a row!
     Not because I haven't read some great ones, in fact I am taking Susanna Leonard Hill's fabulous Picture Book Magic class and reading tons. Unfortunately, the writing has been homework, not picture book recommendations.
     C'mon, you're probably saying. You couldn't fit in ONE recommendation?
     In addition to reading boatloads of picture books, I read an adult title that has to get a shout-out first. A book that smacks you up-side-the-head with the power of possibility. This recommendation can't wait.

jacket image by Jeff Koons
Title: A Curious Mind - The Secret to a Bigger Life  
Authors: Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Theme/Subject: Curiosity
Publisher's summary: "From Academy Award-nominated produced Brian Grazer and acclaimed business journalist Charles Fishman comes a brilliantly entertaining peek into the weekly "curiosity conversations" that have inspired Grazer to create some of America's favorite and iconic movies and television shows--from 24 to A Beautiful Mind."

What I liked about this book: I'm not a movie buff. I don't watch a lot of television. So yes, I have a seen A Beautiful Mind, but I've never watched 24. So why would I want to read, and recommend, a book written by a movie producer?
     It isn't really about movies, television, or even Hollywood. It's about the benefits and process of being curious. My interest was piqued when I read that. But as a busy person, what made me go that step further? I didn't recognize the name Brian Grazer or Charles Fishman. Why would I want to spend my evenings reading something they wrote?
     I read in a promo that Brian Grazer had interviewed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and medical researcher and polio vaccine creator Jonas Salk. As a writer and someone with a MS in Microbiology, my inner geek screamed "I have to read this one!" And Malcolm Gladwell blurbed it on the back cover. Ooh, I'm a Gladwell fan.
     I plunged in.
    And I wasn't disappointed. I couldn't put it down. As a creative person, the reminder that our creativity comes from everywhere around us, and that we can take an active role in pursuing it is a great one. Its use may not be immediately obvious but ever interaction is growth. Brian uses his life experiences in Hollywood to illustrate concepts that apply to everyone, everywhere. You don't need to be interested in Hollywood. You don't need to be a writer. You don't need to know anything about microbiologists past or present. It's just a great read. Engaging. Inspiring. Energizing.
     And now I do know a little about what a Hollywood producer does. At least more than the zero I knew before. Bonus.
Go. Read. This. Book. Tell me what you think.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from Simon & Schuster through Shelf Awareness. No other compensation was received.  No review was required. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Randolph Caldecott - The Man Who Couldn't Stop Drawing -#PPBF

      The longer I participate in Perfect Picture Book Friday, the fussier I am about my selections. I've come to realize that the number of books is staggering, and since no one can read them all, I save my recommendations for the truly special ones.
     Why this prologue? Because my recommendation today is unusual. A picture book for grades 5-9 (NOT ages 5-9!). So if you're looking for something for the little ones, this isn't for you, but it is definitely a book for anyone interested in the history of children's books.

TITLE: Randolph Caldecott -The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing   

  AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Leonard S. Marcus 
from Macmillan Publishers

Publisher: Frances Foster Books, FS&G, 2013
Intended Age: 10-14
Themes: NONFICTION, Illustration
Opening lines: "
Two swans at the water's edge trade bewildered glances when they notice a little frog poking his head out of the river. The frog is clutching a paper--a letter it would seem--which he reads with a look of total absorption."

Synopsis: The biography of "the father of the modern picture book" (from the front flap copy).

What I like about this book:
As a picture book writer and enthusiast, I knew that Randolph Caldecott was an illustrator. I knew that we honor the best illustrators in the field each year with a medal given in his name. But I didn't know a whole lot more. This book is an "old school" comprehensive biography. A birth to death look at a man that accomplished volumes of work in the 39 years he lived. I connected with the fact that Caldecott started in one career--deemed to be a safe way to earn money--and found himself drawn to the second career that he loved.
     Reading the book I learned WHY Caldecott is viewed as the father of the modern picture book. He wasn't the first to illustrate books for children, but his focus on active rather than static illustrations, and the idea that illustrations could, and should, add to the text were revolutionary for the 1800's. The book is text dense, as you would expect a book for grades 5-9 to be.
Balance of text and illustration
  •  Macmillan Publishers provides a peek inside the book here.
  •  Make a list of the Caldecott medal winners. How many have you read?
  •  Treasure hunt! Look carefully at a picture book. How many things can you find in the illustrations that aren't mentioned in the text?
  •  If you're interested in reading more picture books on the subject of art and creativity, I found a wonderful list of children's fiction and nonfiction compiled on this subject by the Art Institute of Chicago.
  •  Try your hand at drawing something in motion. (It's in motion, not you! Although interestingly the book notes that part of Caldecott's style was developed by drawing on a moving train as he traveled from Manchester to London, England!)
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Mermaid and the Shoe - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

      I read about this book somewhere and put it on my "list." If you're like me, your list can be long! And my library doesn't have all of the books. And my budget for book buying runs out waaay before my list ends. So I'm pleased that I finally got this book through inter-library loan. It was worth the wait!

TITLE: The Mermaid and the Shoe   

Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2014
Intended Age:
Themes: Self-esteem/discovery, adventure
Opening lines: "
King Neptune had fifty daughters. 
                             They were his pride and joy."

Synopsis: When an unfamiliar item sinks into Minnow's world under the sea she sets off to find its purpose, and in doing so finds her own.

What I like about this book: It feels like an old fable. Going against current trends in picture books, the main character isn't introduced until the third page. First the scene, tone and mood are set. The muted underwater illustrations bring to mind the real-life shadowy underwater world, with bright colors saved for Minnow's peek of the world above water. But the bright colors don't signal a longing for another life or another world like other mermaid stories. Minnow's curiosity and fearlessness combine with an overlooked talent that makes this mermaid a happy one right at home where she belongs. One of my favorite lines is also one that may not be a favorite with everyone:

             "Useless!" hissed Calypso (for sisters can be mean that way). 
While I don't think all sisters are mean (!), for me it captured the tumultuous emotions of childhood, but others may feel differently. That's a good talking point below.
(Fun note: the author/illustrator also illustrated Kate Di Camillo's book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures)

  •  Take a walk and look for lost objects. Make up stories about where they came from and what they can be used for. Some of the stories can be realistic, some fantastical! (Bring heavy gloves and a bag if you want to pick the objects up--they may be dirty or sharp! Have an adult pick it up.)
  • Talk about brothers and sisters. Is this story an accurate portrayal of people you know? What could the older sisters have done differently? 
  • An extensive review (giving away the ending-spoiler alert!) in School Library Journal
  • Recycle an old pair of shoes as a planter, a jewelery box like Minnow tried, or some other idea you come up with!
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks again for stopping by!