Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Books into movies

Good news. Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist is about to become a movie. Check it out, but don't forget to read the book which is awesome.

On an off topic note, I've come to the conclusion that the more I write about other peoples books, the less I work on my own so an extended writing jag is in order. Be sure to check out the archives, other favourite book blogs, and check back here for occasional lapses whereby I can't help but talk about what I'm reading. And now back to work.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good News

A bit of good news arrived in the mail this morning. The Smell of Paint was included in The Canadian Children's Book Centre's 2008 Best Books for Kids & Teens.

Friday, June 20, 2008

on an adult mystery jag

I know I've been ignoring the blog lately so check out some past reviews while I continue with my adult mystery jag. Don't worry, I'll get back to kids books again soon. Sheryl

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tweaked by Katherine Holubitsky

I suppose I should be thankful that BC Ferries takes so much of my hard-earned money. After all, it frequently allows me a few hours of assured reading, especially while I wait for hours in ferry line-ups. So, yesterday on my way back to Victoria after a long weekend in Vanouver, I finished another of the young adult books my publisher sales rep. daughter has recommended. She had warned me that Tweaked, by Katherine Holubitsky, was not an easy read and she was right. It wasn't easy, but it was incredibly insightful.

Holubitsky wisely gives us a glimpse of normality before thrusting us headlong into hell. Gordie and his older brother Chase are every kid, building forts in the ravine. Holubrintsky hints that all will not be well when the oldest pushes the limit and clears a whole section of the forest. Still, it's hard to imagine the nightmare that lurks in the Jessup family's future.

Told from Gordie's point of view, the story vibrates with the rawness of the recently burned. Gordie's home is fast becoming a living hell that is known to any family living with an addict who will lie, cheat, or steal to get their next fix. Neither an assault charge (which later becomes a murder charge when the man dies) nor the self-inflicted death of one of his friends is enough to turn Chase away from the drugs he craves. Nothing is safe, including the $2000 Gordie loans his brother to pay off his brother's drug dealer, nor Gordie's prize base guitar which he discovers his brother has stolen, nor even the family home which has been mortgaged to get Chase out of jail and pay for his legal bills.

It's hard to watch a brother or a son disintegrate before your eyes, and just as hard to watch a family self-destruct trying to help them. Reading Tweaked was not easy. But then, it isn't meant to be. The author is no preacher. She paints a picture that is as stark as it is real. She tell a story that is harsh but gripping. However, I suspect, as she must surely hope, that if you follow Chase and Gordie's literary path, you won't be inclined to follow the real one. I guarantee that it's well worth the read, and it may just change the way you look at the world, or the choices your students or your kids make. Read Tweaked today.

Monday, May 12, 2008

You can count on these...

CLA Announces 2008 Young Adult Book Award Shortlist (13-18)
The Space Between Written by Don Aker (HarperCollins)

Mistik Lake Written by Martha Brooks (Groundwood Books)
For Now Written by Gayle Friesen (Kids Can Press)
The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane Written by Polly Horvath (Groundwood Books)
How It Happened in Peach Hill Written by Marthe Jocelyn(Tundra Books)
Another Kind of Cowboy Written by Susan Juby(HarperCollins)
Retribution Written by Carrie Mac (Penguin)
Eye of the Crow Written by Shane Peacock(Tundra Books)
Into the Ravine Written by Richard Scrimger Tundra Books)
Better than Blonde Written by Teresa Toten (Penguin)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lockdown by Diane Tullson

I finished Diane Tulson's Lockdown on the ferry while on route to speak at the Kamloops Young Author's Conference. What a dynamo writer that woman is, and prolific too! (See reviews of some of her earlier books on this blog) Books about high school shooters are mushrooming, almost as fast as the real life incidents that inspire them. Tulson's is specifically aimed at reluctant readers as part of the Orca Book Publishers Soundings series. I suspect it will find a wider audience given recent events, particularly in the U.S.

The thing that amazed me is how adept Tullson is at the telling of a complex story with few words. She wastes no time, drawing readers into the world of high school hurt where you can be sure that if one kid bears the brunt of a joke, another kid is just relieved it isn't directed at them. This is the breeding ground for one of the scariest phenomenon you can imagine in high schools today; school shooters. Even more impressive is the fact that Tullson works her magic with characters who ring true; whether it's Josh who tips over the edge after one more bullying incident, Adam who is a quasi friend who ends up on the wrong side of a locked door running for cover, Natalie who plays a part in pushing Josh over the edge, Zoe, the girl who lights up rooms but is caught in the crossfire, or Mr. Connor, the principal who'll literally go the extra mile to help kids get through torturous time.

Lockdown is a quick read, but I suspect it's chilling message will linger long after you've put it down, and so it should. Read it today.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I like books that get into the heads of characters; I like understanding what makes people tick, what makes them think the way they think, or act one way while someone with similar experience acts in the opposite. So when I saw Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult at the airport recently, I picked it up. I'd heard from more than a few kids my daughters' age group that Picoult has a real flair for understanding their generation. And after closing the cover on a gripping but terrifying read, I have to agree.

Ten students are gunned down in nineteen minutes in small-town U.S.A. Picoult's fictional account makes it clear that she gets exactly how such a tragedy might happen and why. She gets teenagers. Frankly, she gets adults too. She uses a multi-narrative approach to personalize what leads up to those terrible high school shootings that we read about in the papers. She exposes the terror that a little boy getting on a school bus feels every morning wondering what the kids who sit at the back are going to do to him today. We see that same little boy shrink further and further into himself, trying to make himself small enough that his tormentors won't notice him. With what he's experienced, it's easy to see how taking refuge in an artificial computer gaming world where he is the one in charge can warp him. Meanwhile, it's just as easy to sympathize with his parents initial protection and then blind hope that things are better even while it is clear that they are not. We even understand why his childhood friend take sides with his tormentors rather than risk remaining on the outside. Still, Picoult's characters are complex; even a boy like this can still hope for love. Even a girl who betrays her best friend might rethink her actions. By the time that small flame of hope is crushed though, we are afraid of what this last blow will unleash. Of course, the inevitable occurs; a trail of violence that few will be able to forget or forgive is the result. Wisely, Picoult doesn't stop with forgetting or forgiving though. She pushes us to understand despite the bewilderment and anguish that follow such an event. Nineteen Minutes is a work of fiction but Pictoult's fiction is wrapped in the fabric of a truth so real that it will make your heart ache. The question is, will it also open your eyes?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter

Good news; the second teen spy school novel by Ally Carter has hit book stores, although still in hardcover. I couldn't resist, and made the mistake of cracking the cover when I should have been working which can be translated as no work got done the rest of that day! It was unputdownable. I know...I know. Stop making up words Sheryl!

But seriously, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy was just as much fun as the first. The opening finds Cammie Morgan, girl-spy-in-training, back at school after the summer break along with her genius, code-cracking friends. Cammie is still recovering from the loss of her first boyfriend who had to be brainwashed into forgetting about the mission he interrupted in a heroic attempt to save her. While she settles into school and ponders if her ex will even remember her name, she notices that her mother, who happens to be the head of the spy school, is acting awfully strange. But, Cammie barely has time to figure out why before she is blamed for a security breach that puts her top secret school at risk. While trying to clear her name, she overhears her mother and one of the other teachers discussing "Blackthorne," which Cammie figures must be a code name for some mysterious covert op. Soon she and her friends are crawling through walls and surveilling the school to uncover the truth. What they discover will turn their world upside down and send them on a wild ride that you won't want to miss. Once you've finished Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, you, like me, will only be hoping that Ms. Carter has the third in the series is well under way.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Yikes. I can't believe that I haven't posted since the week before Easter. I meant to get one more post in but ran out of time. Since I've returned, I've been getting a project ready for a screen writers workshop I'm taking this weekend. Wish me luck. I'm heading out there shortly.

Something new coming next week. I promise. I have two books I want to talk about. Later. Sheryl

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

I was checking out the NY Times this morning and read that Arthur C. Clarke has died. A visionary who penned close to 100 books, I have been reading Clarke for as long as I can remember. Not surprisingly, he was in the middle of another novel. If you haven't read him, or seen the film classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" (based on his novel of the same name) by the equally great Stanley Kubrick, you are missing something special.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coming soon

Apologies for those niggling little mistakes in the Alfred Kropp post. One of the things I hate about this blog is that my editor isn't keeping me in check. (That's a hint Ann, in case you happen to read this!) Ann Featherstone, like other great editors is one of the unsung heroes of the book business.

So, coming up later this week (I really do have to do get that novel finished!) is Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter. I've already reviewed her first book which was totally awesome. Scroll down the author menu to your right to refresh your memory. More coming soon. Sheryl

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Alfred Kropp series by Rick Yancey

If you’ve been looking for an action packed adventure series with a hint of magic and serious boy appeal for grades 7 and up, look no further than Rick Yancey’s Alfred Kropp series.

Readers will be immediately drawn into Alfred’s extraordinary and somewhat haphazard adventures right from page one of The Exraordinary Adventures of Aldred Kropp. And what adventures! It all starts with Alfred stealing an old sword at his uncle’s insistence. The sword turns out to be the legendary Excalibur (of Arthurian fame) and it falls into the hands of the evil descendant of one of the original Knights of the Roundtable. Feeling responsible, Alfred tries to get the sword back, with the help from another modern day knight. They get the help of a mysterious international organization with serious firepower. Car chases, sword fights, and being falsely labeled an international terrorist make this a page-turner. Alfred’s bumbling but ultimately heroic sense of responsibility makes this accidental hero endearingly likable. The fact that he saves the world is a bonus.

However, the bigger bonus is that there is another Alfred Kropp adventure to crack open, Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon. In the capable hands of Yancey, this second adventure is as wild a ride as the first. It’s just as funny, and Alfred is even more lovable if that’s at all possible. It features an extraction (Alfred getting kidnapped from his not very likable foster parents house), betrayal, magical life-saving blood, jumping out of parachutes, seriously scary demons, rogue agents and yes, a plan to save the world.

More good news is that a third title in the series is about to hit the stores, Alfred Kropp: The Thirteenth Skull. Just having finished the advanced proof, I confess that I couldn’t put it down. This time Alfred himself is the target. After a close call in which his guardian is gravely injured, Alfred chases the culprit responsible. He ends up being falsely arrested for murder and his explanation lands him in a psychiatric hospital. It seems that no one believes he has twice saved the world, that he’s on his second life, and that his blood has magical healing powers. He manages to bargain an escape only to land into more hot water (actually snow and ice in Alfred’s case). With bad guys tracking him at ever turn, and no one to trust, Alfred searches for an honorable way to end the standoff, and survive. You guessed it; it’s another page-turner!

**A word of caution for the squeamish; if blood and gore make you queasy, give this series a pass. Personally, I loved all three and await book 4.

Monday, March 10, 2008

the Absoluely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Pick up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie at your peril. Once you meet 14 year old Junior Spirit who is as smart and artistic as he is medically challenged, once you meet his parents and his sister Mary Runs Away, once you get to know his best friend the fiercely protective Rowdy, once you enter the Spokane Indian Reservation and you experience the grinding poverty, the alcoholism, and an indestructible sense of Indian identity that has survived despite all the effort white men have put into pulverizing it, you will be hooked.

Junior Spirit, an off-beat, smart 14-year-old budding Indian cartoonist, makes a decision that changes his life and the lives of those around him when he decides to leave the Rez school for the sake of getting a good education. Accused of being an apple (red on the outside and white on the inside), he expects beatings, abuse and loneliness both on and off the Rez. What he doesn't expect is to find the sort of inner strength that his grandmother might be proud of had she not been killed in a hit and run by a drunken Indian. Nor does he expect to outplay his former best friend on the basketball court or to discover that he would always love and miss his best friend, his reservation and his tribe.

In the hands of a less able author, Junior's experience at the all-white school whose only other Indian is the school mascot, might have been predictable. But the integrity, honesty, insecurities and wit Spirit displays even in the face of terrible tragedy make you want to root for him when he is heaving before a basketball game or trying to hide an inappropriate boner.

This heartbreakingly honest and wildly funny story is possibly one of the best coming of age novels written since Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. The Absolutely True diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie's first foray into the YA world. I so hope he decides to give us more.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Smell of Paint short-listed

Good news. I just found out that my YA novel, The Smell of Paint, was short-listed for Saskatchewan's Readers' Choice Willow Award. This year's books aren't yet listed, but you can see the winners from 2007.

Support our libraries

Hello fellow book lovers,

Locked-out library workers in Victoria, BC are planning two upcoming events to continue to inform and mobilize public support, in order to achieve a fair contract and get our libraries re-opened.

Two upcoming events:

Thursday March 6, 7 pm
Windsor Park Pavilion, 2451 Windsor RD : Town Hall meeting on the subject of Pay Equity

Saturday March 8 1:15-4:00 pm
The library will be holding a rally on International Women's Day (next Saturday March 8), marching from Centennial Square down Government to the Legislature.The actual march is set to begin about 2:45 although there will be activities preceeding this, beginning at 1:15.

Speakers at the legislature grounds between 3-4 pm.

Not enough hour in the day

Back after a wonderful weekend with my even more wonderful editor, Ann Featherstone. Now I have even more books to add to my pile of "must reads". And then, of course, there's her sage writing advice and insight. Sometimes I wish we had more hours in the day...sigh

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More coming soon.

I know it's been a while, and I have read several wonderful books, but no time for reviews right now. When I return from Edmonton (where I'll be speaking at their Teachers Conference along with although probably not alongside Stephen Lewis) I'll write reviews of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist which I totally loved, and the first two Alfred Kropp books which I also loved. They're coming. I promise. Later. Sheryl

Monday, February 4, 2008

Baeh controversy

You may or may not have heard that an Australian newspaper reported has questioned Ismael Beah's facts in Long Way Home. I have been following the controversy with interest, especially after James Frey's eventual admission that parts of his A Million Little Pieces were exaggerated. Of course the thing about true stories is that there supposed to be true! If Beah made honest errors in his time line, why not just admit it and move on. After all, memory under normal circumstances; and war can hardly be considered normal, can be sketchy. If, however, he was exaggerating for the purpose of capturing our attention as was James Frey, this is a whole other matter. Still, if the latter is the case, then it says an awful lot about readers today doesn't it? A story can't just be terrible or tragic, it has to be so horrendous that it shakes us to our very core. Otherwise it simply isn't worth our time. How very sad for us.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tamar by Mal Peet

I've just finished Mal Peet's phenomenal novel Tamar which deservedly won the Carnegie Medal. It's one of those difficult to read but hard to put down World War II stories in which the writing is superb. The characters are complex and fully drawn, meaning that they are both heroic and fraught with human frailties. The story's twists, turns, intrigues, and deceptions will keep you reading late into the night. In fact, Peet's characters were so real that it was at time, difficult to believe I was reading fiction.

At first I thought the 400 plus page novel was totally about the Nazi occupation of Holland and the courageous resistance fighters who risked their lives to thwart them. It is such a compelling story that if that was all there were to this book, I would have felt satisfied. However, Peet sets his sights much higher, He doesn't just explore the tragedy of wars, but also of their after-math. Well into the novel, 15-year old Tamar, the granddaughter of one of the two surviving resistance fighters, drags readers out of the past and into modern-day England. I found myself resenting her intrusion into that other story. After all, I was totally caught up with Tamar (the resistance fighter), Dart, and Marijke and their struggle to survive, to resist, and to stand up to the Nazi's despite insurmountable odds. However, Peet so deftly intertwines the past and present that you are as compelled to follow the younger Tamar as she tries to make sense of her grandfather's suicide and her puzzling inheritance as you are compelled to follow the World War II story. What Tamar finds at the end of her journey is as much a surprise to her as it is to the reader.

Tamar is an intense and riveting tale of passion about the resistance fighters of World War II which truly demonstrates that war has far reaching heroic and tragic consequences. While it is beautifully written and rich in detail, it's length and it's subject matter might make it a difficult read for some. Still, if you can handle the scenes of stark brutality that Peet does not shrink from, Tamar is brilliant and well worth your time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

So, it's been a while since I've posted, but I have been busy, honest. I coordinated a book tour for Vancouver Island for The Canadian Children's Book Centre for illustrator, Ron Broda whose paper sculptures are totally awesome; check his site out if you have any interest in becoming an illustrator.

Then came Xmas, which meant lots of cooking, lots of bodies in my tiny tiny house, and reading for fun. I read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for one. It's a bit of a literary mystery and I'd totally recommend it, despite the slow start. Once you're into it, it's a great read.

I'm in the middle of Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (two of my favourite YA authors) which I am loving, and Tamar by Mal Peet, which is sooo well written, but is much heavier going given that it is about the Dutch Resistance in WWII. It was a Carnegie Medal winner which is not a surprise given the quality of the writing so far. I'll report back on both soon, but I am one of the judges for The Canadian Children's Book Centre' s national kid's writing contest so I have tons of kid's stories to read so it might take a bit.