The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

2014
09.15



Most of us have heard of or read the story of the last royal family to rule Russia, about their immense wealth, sheltered lives and horrific end. But Candace Fleming tells the familiar history in a compulsively readable way, by including parallel narratives of real peasants and revolutionaries whose brutally poor lives provide a stark contrast to the opulence of the royal Romanovs. While the difference between the imperial family and the people they ruled seems cruel and extreme to us today, Fleming does an thorough job of showing that the Romanovs were products of their time period, who truly believed that the peasants were happy farmers who lived robust country lives. But this convenient belief couldn’t be “…further from the truth. Most peasants had never slept in a proper bed, owned a pair of leather shoes, eaten off of a china plate, or been examined by a doctor.” In fact, Fleming notes, “Many peasants were so poor, even the cockroaches abandoned their huts.” But Nicholas Romanov was willfully ignorant of the fate of his people because he had been raised to understand that his family had been divinely chosen to rule, an understanding that eventually led to the fall of czar-ruled Russia. I was surprisingly riveted by a story where the end is never in doubt. But Fleming’s detailed descriptions of the royal children (son Alexie was a holy terror in the school room, daughter Anastasia was nicknamed “dumpling”) and their luxurious surroundings juxtaposed against the rise of the disenfranchised revolutionaries made for obsessive reading. You also won’t want to miss the fascinating portrait of one of the most radical rock stars of history, the famous charlatan Rasputin, who wormed his way into the royal family and almost refused to die.  I finished the entire book in two days, and I bet you will too when you nab your own copy from the nearest library, bookstore or e-reader.

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell et. al.

2014
09.05



Neil Gaiman‘s Newbery award winning novel about a boy being raised by ghosts and a kindly vampire guardian has been transformed into an edgier, sophisticated two-part comic that captivates and surprises on every page. Haven’t read the novel yet? No worries, you can easily pick up the full story from Russell’s lavish adaptation (He’s the same artist who created the Coraline GN). This time Russell invited a small army of talented illustrators to join him, and the results are phenomenal. I especially loved Tony Harris and Scott Hampton‘s version of The Hounds of God, which was my very favorite chapter from the novel and stars the stalwart, secret canine Miss Lupescu. The full color spreads bring the busy graveyard and surrounding community to glorious, riotous life and quickly help readers differentiate the living from the dead. The beautifully wrought Danse Macabre chapter that finishes off the first volume is not one you will forget anytime soon. Don’t wait too long to dig it up at a library or bookstore near you.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

2014
08.25



In Scott Westerfeld’s marvelously meta two-books-in-one, you get to have your cake and eat it, too. First readers are introduced to Darcy Patel, the eighteen year old wunderkind who pens a fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo and quickly gets signed to an agent and hired by a publisher to write (what else?) a trilogy featuring a teenage girl who can see ghosts. Next, we meet Lizzie, the ghost whisperer of Darcy’s novel, or more specifically, a psychopomp. After faking her own death during a terrorist attack, Lizzie can now enter the afterworld and talk to dead people. She promptly falls for Yama, the sexy god of death, and attempts to avenge the murder of her mother’s long dead best friend, a little girl ghost named Mindy. Back in the real world, Darcy has moved to New York City, landed a Chinatown apartment and a new writer-girlfriend named Imogen and is working hard on her revisions of Lizzie’s story. As she continues to craft her novel, Darcy finds herself fighting  against the demons that are familiar to all writers: doubt, failure, insecurity. She worries about her shrinking book advance, whether or not she’s inappropriately stolen from Hindu culture and the fact that her publisher wants her to change her unhappy ending. How will Darcy end Lizzie’s story? In the best way possible for a sequel, of course! I can’t express how captivating it is to both read a story and also the story of the story behind the story at the same time! The parallels between Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds are fun to find and follow, and careful readers will also recognize some of their favorite real life YA authors personalities in some of Darcy’s new writer friends. This ambitious, high-wire act of a novel manages to be both an insightful and fascinating look into the working world of YA authors and a sly send-up of the field’s most beloved genre, paranormal romance. References to YA Heaven, the Printz Award and fantasy trilogies will read like delicious inside jokes and delight YA aficionados to no end. If you are dedicated YA reader, writer or lover of otherworldly romance with a healthy sense of humor, I can’t recommend this tome highly enough. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2014.

Feeling All The Feels IF I STAY Movie/Book Post

2014
08.24

The highly anticipated movie version of Gayle Forman’s heartbreaking novel IF I STAY opened this weekend and yours truly was there to feel all the feels and cry all the tears. I knew what to expect. I read and reviewed this tragically romantic tome back in 2008 and had no illusions about how much the movie was going to break my heart. But what I didn’t anticipate was just how hard I was going to crush on actor Jamie Blackely who played Adam. Oh my stars, talk about feeling all the feels–Jamie brought Gayle’s emotionally wounded rocker to nuanced and stunningly handsome life on the big screen in a way that felt entirely authentic. I’m still swooning over the way the tears gathered in his big brown eyes. That’s not to say that everyone else, including the talented Chloe Grace Moretz, aren’t also amazing, it’s just that I was distracted. So if you’re ready to swoon, weep, and swoon again, waste no time in securing a ticket to this sorrow-and-hope-filled film. Here are some additional IF I STAY vids & links to whip your tear ducts into shape.

“In a Balm of Space and Time, Healing” An NYT article where Gayle shares some of the real life inspirations for IF I STAY.

The NYT movie review of IF I STAY.

RogerEbert.com review of IF I STAY.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

2014
08.15


I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s–raised and fisted
or Martin’s–open and asking
or James’s–curled around a pen.

With a beginning that is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ DAVID COPPERFIELD, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson guides readers through her early life using lyrical prose poems that evocatively describe the people and places that influenced her illustrious writing career. As her family moves from Ohio to South Carolina and eventually Brooklyn, New York, young Jackie never loses sight of the one thing she wants more than anything else: to become a writer. Every heads-up penny found/and daydream and night dream/and even when people say it’s a pipe dream…!/I want to be a writer. Even when reading doesn’t come as easily to her as it does to big sister Dell, Jackie doesn’t give up and is encouraged by the picture books by John Steptoe she takes out from the library. I’d never have believed/that someone who looked like me/could be in the pages of a book/that someone who looked like me/had a story. When she can’t make the words work, (Words from the books curl around each other/make little sense/until/I read them again, the story/settling into memory.) Jackie memorizes stories and quickly moves on to creating her own. Her first book is a stapled collection of butterfly poems, but we already know it will not be her last. Even though Brown Girl Dreaming covers Woodson’s childhood, I don’t know if I buy that this book is only a children’s title. Her clean, lyrical poems have a classic feel that can easily be enjoyed by readers of all ages. And anyone who’s ever yearned to be a writer will especially appreciate the longing that comes through on every page. This achingly wistful, heartfelt tome is a both a personal story and a universal one. It is the origin story of one writer and all writers. And it pairs beautifully with Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry.

I keep writing, knowing now/that I was a long time coming.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

2014
08.05



Isla has been crushing HARD on cartoon-artist hottie Josh since freshman year at their French boarding school in Paris.  So when he finally asks her out senior year after they meet cute over the summer in a cafe in New York,  she can’t believe her luck. Is it possible to have a happily ever after with the boy she’s been dreaming about for four years? At first, YES! They explore Paris like they’re seeing it for the first time and make out like mad in every dark nook and cranny they can find. But then they get caught while sneaking away to Barcelona for the weekend, and are pulled apart by angry school administrators and their pissed-off parents. Isla has to stay in France while Josh’s parents whisk him back to the States. What’s worse is that Josh is the son of a US senator who is running for re-election. His face is popping up everywhere on the news, and Isla can’t help but notice that the way the press portrays the senator’s son seems a lot different from the quiet artist she fell in love with. Who is Josh Wasserstein, really? And who is Isla without him? The longer they’re apart, the more insecure Isla feels. Can their true love go the distance? Or will time and multiple misunderstandings break their magical bond? Master of the Swoon Stephanie Perkins gets better with each book, and while I have never been a huge fan of the romance genre, I happily admit to adoring all of her novels–although this one just might be my favorite. She nails the obsessive, all-encompassing nature of adolescent passion with fresh dialogue and deliciously sexy descriptions that will bring a little blush to your cheeks. Anyone who’s ever been in love will recognize Isla and Josh’s merry-go-round of emotions and root for them every rocky step of the way. How does it end? Well, what do you think? (Cue title) Whimsical, witty, seductive and definitely worth the wait!

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

2014
07.25



It is 1899 in New York City, a thriving metropolis teeming with the hopes and dreams of thousands of newly arrived immigrants. Among them is Chava, a chaste Jewish widow who keeps to herself and works tirelessly in a lower East Side bakery, and Ahmad, an aloof Syrian tinsmith who wears an iron band on his wrist and makes beautiful figurines out of precious metal. Each of them is hiding a terrible secret that if discovered, could lead to their destruction. Chava can plunge pins into her own skin and not feel pain while Ahmad can raise them temperature of an entire room by just entering it. Because beneath their ordinary exteriors, Chava is a golem formed from clay, while Ahmad is a jinni made of fire. Neither of them requires sleep, so they each roam the young city’s streets alone at night, Chava yearning to fit in with her human peers, Ahmad longing to escape from them. When they finally meet, they recognize the strangeness in each other and form a mystical bond that is tested when a mysterious figure from Ahmad’s ancient past appears with a plan to enslave them both forever. This impeccably researched, lushly written novel of identity, faith, free will and unlikely friendship will appeal to readers of all ages and any card-carrying member of the history or folklore fandom. It’s also a stunningly good New York story. I spent a very happy week immersed in the smoky, sooty atmosphere of the turn of the century Bowery and Lower East Side learning how to braid challah bread in a Jewish bakery and mend kettles in a Syrian tin shop. If you are seeking a book that will transport you far from the stinky bunks of your summer camp or overly-air conditioned office of your summer job, LOOK NO FURTHER. Summer reading satisfaction guaranteed!

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

2014
07.15



The troubling visions started when Ellie mixed the ashes of a long dead bat with some beer and convinced Glory to drink it. Suddenly both girls are seeing into the pasts and futures of every stranger they pass on the street, but it is only Glory who is getting terrifying glimpses of a second Civil War where women’s rights disappear completely and the entire United States is thrown into poverty and chaos. It doesn’t help that the visions start coming right on the heels of Glory’s high school graduation, serving as a further reminder that she has no freaking idea what to do with her life. Her best friend Ellie, a modern day hippie who lives on the commune next door, is too busy chasing boys and dealing with the unwelcome surprise of an STD to have an opinion, while Glory’s father, a virtual shut-in since Glory’s mother Darla committed suicide years ago, can’t move forward in his own life, let alone help Glory with hers. So Glory retreats to her dead mother’s photo developing darkroom, where she finds a hidden portfolio of pictures and starts to piece together the puzzle of her family’s past in order to make some sense of the dead bat visions and her own uncertain future. This is not a read-all-in-one-sitting story with a page-turning plot, but rather a novel of ideas that deserves patience and contemplation as readers ponder their own personal and intellectual journeys as they travel along with Glory on hers. In other words, it’s a novel that could only be conceived and written by the whip-smart A.S. King. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2014. While you wait, check out the rest of King’s semi-surreal backlist, along with the one of the most bonkers, bizarre road trip books ever, Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

Up All Night edited by Laura Geringer

2014
07.05



It’s summer and I’ve been cleaning out bookshelves and I came across this marvelous collection of short stories that had somehow drifted to the back. I’m shocked that I didn’t post about this title before, as it contains narratives by some of my absolute favorite authors, like Libba Bray and Patricia McCormick. I decided to rectify that immediately, since it’s also the perfect season for stories about being up all night. July and August are the months when schedules become fluid and the freedom of the warm weather lures us into all kinds of situations that we’d never even consider during the cold busy school months. In Libba Bray’s “Not Just for Breakfast Anymore,” Maggie and her friends try to forget all their troubles at a Cheap Trick concert, but discover that no amount of booze, drugs and rock and roll will erase the truth of their messy lives. In “Orange Alert” by Patty McCormick, a teen girl sneaks out of her house and practices driving at night in order to escape her lecherous stepdad, finding the strength to defy him on the road. David Levithan imagines a warm Manhattan night where a chorus of teens finally confess how they really feel underneath their carefully constructed public faces, while Sarah Weeks focuses in on an intimate interaction between two brothers over the death of the little brother’s pet mouse in “Superman is Dead.” Rounding out this stellar assortment is a paranormal family drama by Peter Abrahams and a short comic by rockstar graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Be sure to check out this awesome anthology as you begin to plan your own summer night excursions!

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

2014
06.26


When Deshi Li’s irresponsible older brother Wei is killed in a tragic accident, his parents charge Deshi with finding him a corpse bride, a dead female body to accompany him into the afterlife. Stricken with grief and guilt, Deshi complies, hiring a black market body dealer named Song to help him secure a girl who’s not too long gone in her grave. But when the two men are startled at the graveyard and become separated, Deshi runs into Lily, a rural girl desperate to escape an arranged marriage who’s looking for a free ride to Beijing. The two team up on the road, and Deshi finds his thoughts going to dark places. Should he just murder Lily and take her body home to his parents? But how can he, when each day he delays killing her in sleep he falls deeper in love with her? Meanwhile, Lily’s father and crooked Song are hot on their trail, each hoping to exact their own special brand of revenge. This beautifully illustrated modern fable of love and death hooked me from the very first sentence with an original plot grown from the rich soil of Chinese folklore. Author illustrator Danica Novgorodoff (Refresh, Refresh) tells Deshi and Lily’s story through sparkling, darkly humorous dialogue and lavish watercolor panels that take your breath away with each turn of the page. You’ll want to hightail it to a library or bookstore near you ASAP in order to experience this fantastic journey for yourself.

Contact

Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict
swampophelia27@yahoo.com