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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

It's picture day at Thompson Brook, but the students are plagued by a freak acne epidemic. While the Breakfast Bunch scrambles to put their best faces forward, their hifalutin photographer raises Lunch Lady's eyebrows. She suspects the photographer may have an underhanded plan to break into the world of high fashion that puts the students in danger! Will Lunch Lady be able to storm the runway and stop the vogue rogue without blowing her cover? 

Holy jalapenos! How have I never heard of Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady graphic novel series before?!? After all, Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril  is already #8 in the series. I've seriously been missing out, but I can only hope that the rest of you MG readers, parents, and educators out there weren't as ignorant!

I've never been much for comics and graphic novels centered around superheroes, but Lunch Lady is a whole different story. I have very fond memories of my own childhood lunch ladies and I had fun imagining them as Lunch Lady and her sidekick, Betty, routinely rushing to the aid of students and solving silly mysteries. I definitely would have had fun reading about this superhero as a kid. On a side note, I found Betty's weakness for gossip magazines hilarious!

I loved that the kids in the novel were both proactive and smart. They often chimed in with witty remarks and interesting ideas. For me, the children were quite realistic. They made mistakes (sometimes big ones) and were sometimes clique-y, but they always set aside their differences when it mattered. 

One of my favorite characteristics of the Lunch Lady series is how seriously clever and funny it is. Lunch Lady's conversation is always peppered with references to cooking and her gadgets are linked to the culinary as well. You may very well have a Whisk Whacker and Fish Stick Nunchucks in your very own kitchen! 

I've only read one book in the Lunch Lady series and I'm already in love. I sincerely hope school libraries are carrying Krosoczka's fantastic series and kids are falling for Lunch Lady, Betty, and their students as well!

Knopf, September 2012, Paperback, ISBN: 9780375970351, 96 pages.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest Post: Laura Harrington (Alice Bliss Blog Tour)

Today I have Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss, taking over The Hiding Spot. Below is a quick note from Laura, 10 Life Lessons (per her character Ellis Bliss), and more information about the novel itself!

I had so much fun writing the character of Ellie Bliss. One of my inspirations for Ellie was Anne Fadiman’s memoir “Ex Libris” and the fact that when Anne was a child, she herself was a collector of long, rare words. I was also inspired by the teen fashionista, Tavi who, when I was writing the book was still a pre-teen. If you want to see some of the images that inspired Ellie’s character, check out my Pinterest board

And what fun it was to write in Ellie’s voice again. I hope you enjoy it. Here she is: 

Ellie Bliss’s Life Lessons

Okay, so I know you’re thinking, she’s only eight; what does she know about life? But maybe that’s a kind of preconception you have about little kids, not that I’m that little. Don’t you think I’ve learned a few things in my eight years on this earth? Wouldn’t it be hard not to? I’ve got my eyes open, I read. A lot. I’m very observant and pretty precocious; which drives my sister Alice crazy, but might help me make a good list. Have you noticed that everybody in the Bliss family loves lists? Except for my mom, but she is her own very special category. She doesn’t even need a list at the grocery store. 

So here it is. Ellie Bliss’s Life Lessons: 
Please note: I limited myself to ten items. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. 

1) Sing in the shower.
2) Learn one new word a day. 
3) Say please and thank you a lot. 
4) Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards. 
5) Send lots of Valentine cards. Homemade cards are best. Sign them: “Someone who thinks you’re terrific.” 
6) Have a dog. (I hope my mom reads this because we don’t have a dog. Yet.) 
7) Be able to keep a secret if someone asks you to. 
8) Wave at kids on school buses. 
9) Keep your promises. No matter what. 
10) Make friends with your dictionary. You will be richly rewarded.

More About Alice Bliss:
Tomboy Alice Bliss is heartbroken when she learns that her father, Matt, is being deployed to Iraq. Matt will miss seeing Alice blossom into a full-blown teenager: she'll learn to drive, join the track team, go to her first dance, and fall in love—all while trying to be strong for her mother, Angie, and her precocious little sister. But the phone calls from her father are never long enough. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving story about those who are left at home during wartime and a small-town teenage girl bravely facing the future.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson & Dan Jolley

My parents are gone, so I'm responsible for my little brother Todd. I have to make sure we stay alive. Many kids are sick or starving, and fierce gangs are stealing and destroying everything they find. Lots of people have given up, but here on Grand Avenue, some of us are surviving. Because of me. 
I figured out how to give the kids on Grand Avenue food, homes and protection against the gangs. But Tom Logan and his army are determined to take away what we've built and rule the streets themselves. How long can we keep fighting them off? We need to find another place for us to live safely. 
A strong place. A secret place. 
In a world like this, someone have to take charge. 

I'm relatively new to the world of graphic novels, having only read one other prior to The Girl Who Owned a City, but I was intrigued by the title and cover of this novel when I stumbled across it in a Chicago bookstore. Like many readers, I've had a recent love affair with all things post-apocalyptic and this graphic adaptation of O.T. Nelson's novel by the same title appeared to fit into that category nicely.

First, it seems appropriate to note that I have not read the original version of The Girl Who Owned a City, so I can't say how closely it follows the original text. The graphic adaption, however, doesn't waste time and immediately plunges the reader into the situation at hand. A virus has killed everyone over the age of 12, leaving Lisa, her little brother Todd, and the rest of kids in her neighborhood (and presumably the rest of the world) to fend for themselves. Luckily, it appears the virus has run it's course and the children now nearing the age of 12 are safe. This novel has an interesting vibe and was reminiscent of Michael Grant's Gone series. 

I was interested to see how certain issues would be resolved, but many of them ended up being glossed over or ignored completely. At one point, a boy ends up with a badly burned face, but, all things considered, he recovers quite easily. Seeing as none of the characters are over the age of 12, I was a bit distracted by this. At the same time, I could see reading this novel at a younger age and not seeing this as a huge issue. I think I would probably be more interested in the big events (and shocked of the burn) to pay much attention to details like that, but I can't necessarily say this would be true of all younger readers.

Even though the premise of The Girl Who Owned a City is pretty far-fetched, it definitely sends a message of empowerment to younger readers. Each of the main characters has a specific focus (agriculture, military, medicine, etc) and important function as the children try to build themselves a community. 

I didn't necessarily everything in this novel to be all that realistic, but the voices of the characters rung true. Lisa is a savvy and strong heroine, but she's often childish. She's being forced to grow up and take care of her brother (and many of the kids in community), but she routinely falls back into selfish behavior, claiming things, like the city, as "her's." The kids are being faced with a difficult reality, but they're still kids... they play, they joke, they fight. This aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me.

The characters looked a tad bit old, but other than that, I loved the illustrations. I'm unsure how the characters were described in the original novel, but I loved the diversity of the kids involved. A wide range personalities, ages, and cultures are represented. The placement of the panels and the color choices accurately reflected the novel's tone as it progressed, giving the reader an overall impression of the events, even before reading the text. The facial expressions - particularly the eyes - of the characters were all fantastically depicted and conveyed a wealth of emotion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Sure, the plot was slightly lacking in detail at times, but I'm fairly certain this was the fault of the original text, rather than a result of adaption into graphic narrative. In my opinion, the story conveyed through the images themselves more than makes up for the sometimes weak plot.

Graphic Universe, January 2012, Paperback, ISBN: 9780761356349, 126 pages.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Interview: Robin Bridges (The Unfailing Light Blog Tour)

Today the fabulous Robin Bridges is at The Hiding Spot to promote her new novel, the sequel to The Gathering Storm! Find out more about Robin, The Gathering Storm, and The Unfailing Light below!

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 
The title for Book Two, The Unfailing Light, never changed. The original title for the first book was “Forestalling the Morning,” named for an Orthodox chant, much like The Unfailing Light. The first book was also titled “Tempest” for a period, before changing again to “The Gathering Storm.” 
What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 
Before I start a new story, I love to reread Stephen King’s book On Writing. It’s kinda like getting a pep talk before the big game." 
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 
I’ve been a grocery store cashier, a concession stand cashier, a secretary, a reading teacher, a nursing assistant, and a nurse. I think I’ve written characters who have held each of these positions at some point or another. Except the concession stand cashier. Hmmm. 
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 
Thaumaturgic. It means “performing miracles.” I also like the word “shigella”. More for the sound of it though, than for its meaning. 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 
I love to escape into books too! I have a paperback or my Ipad in my purse at all times. (More than likely both.)

More about The Unfailing Light:
Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

If you haven't read Robin's first book, The Gathering Storm, I recommend you check out the fantastic book trailer below:

Be sure to check out the rest of the Blog Tour as well, which goes through Oct. 20th:
October 1stMom Reads My Books
October 2nd: The Book Review Club
October 3rd: The Book Review Club