Archive for the 'Co-reviews' Category

Seven Impossible Tri-Reviews Before Breakfast #1: Featuring Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production

h1 Monday, August 20th, 2007

Random House edition with cover art by Peter BrownJules: We at 7-Imp, as you may know, are fond of co-reviews, our euphemism for flappin’ our gums about a book. We are happy today to have a guest co-reviewer – our tri-reviewer, we suppose – Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production. Yes, she agreed to be the the Mo to our Curly and Larry; the Groucho to our Chico and Harpo; the Bart to our Maggie and Lisa; the Harry to our Ron and Hermione; the Gleek to our Zan and Jayna. Oh, you get the idea, and someone stop us now . . .

And you may notice this is numero uno in a new series, ’cause we thought it was so much fun that we’ve got another one lined up soon. And another one after that. And another one. Someone stop us again . . . Really, the chance to talk books with some of our favorite bloggers? We couldn’t pass up the idea.

Back at the beginning of this year, I reviewed Barkbelly by Cat Weatherill and noted that a sequel would be forthcoming. Betsy read the review (indeed, she had reviewed the title herself) and left a comment, asking if we imps were game for reading said sequel, Snowbone (Knopf Books for Young Readers; July 2007; with cover and interior art by Peter Brown), when it was released. And, since I have the memory of an elephant when it comes to my to-be-read piles, I reminded Eisha and Betsy of this pledge these six months later, secured some review copies, and we all three read away at (about) the same time. And now we’re here to yak it up about performance storyteller and UK author Cat Weatherill’s sequel to her ’06 story (’05 in the UK) about a boy hatched from a wooden egg who flees his loving home (with human parents) after a dreadful accident at school, beginning a quest for his real home and family.

{Note: Snowbone Spoilers revealed below} . . . Read the rest of this entry �

Co-review: Knuffle Bunny Too and Peter Sís’ The Wall

h1 Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Knuffle Bunny Too:
A Case of Mistaken Identity

by Mo Willems
Release date: September 2007
(Advance readers’ copies)

Jules: Trixie’s back, and this time she knows plenty of words. She also has another dramatic epiphany: Last time it was realizing she left her beloved Knuffle Bunny in the washing machine at the laundromat. This time, hand-in-hand with her Daddy on her way to preschool, she comes to the harsh realization that her favorite plush doll is not as one-of-a-kind as she thought it was. Another girl in her classroom, Sonja, has a Knuffle Bunny as well. After lots of glaring and fighting over their dolls, including the correct pronunciation of its name (in what I suppose is a nod — and a very funny one at that — to the number of times Willems has probably been asked if it’s pronounced “Kuh-nuffle” or “Nuffle”), the teacher removes the dolls from their clutches and then — egads! — mixes them up when she returns them. And this time the “Trixie realized something” moment comes at approximately 2:30 a.m., making it an interesting night, indeed, for Trixie’s daddy, as they both attempt to return the right dolls to their rightful owners.

Eisha, what did you think? Is this not a completely winning sequel in every way? And I was worried, too, since sequels can be tricky things, but it totally delivers. And I’d like to quickly add that my three-year-old, when we first read it, immediately said “that’s not Trixie’s bunny” when the teacher returned them all mixed-up. I hadn’t even noticed this yet. Leave it to a child with their superpower-sharp observation skills.

Read the rest of this entry �

Co-Review: Margo Lanagan’s Red Spikes

h1 Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Allen & Unwin cover of Red SpikesRandom House cover; jacket illustration by Jeremy CanigliaJules: Here we are again with a co-review, this time of Red Spikes, a collection of ten short stories by Australian author Margo Lanagan. These stories were originally published last year in Australia by Allen & Unwin, one of Australia’s leading independent publishers (their cover is shown on the left here), and Random House/Knopf will be releasing them this October with the cover you see on the right (jacket illustration by Jeremy Caniglia). Eisha and I were thrilled to have an opportunity to read advance proofs of this collection of short stories.

And I have Eisha to thank for turning me on to Lanagan’s writing in the first place. She reviewed White Time here in February of this year, and we have an interview with Lanagan lined up for tomorrow’s “One Shot World Tour: Best Read with Vegemite!” — a focus on Australian writers, which will be happening at a handful of kidlit blogs, all organized by Colleen Mondor (go here to see the full schedule). I really enjoyed this collection of stories and Lanagan’s writing and am grateful to have finally read some of her stuff. I want to recommend this book to everyone I know — as in, shout-it-from-the-rooftops recommend — and I don’t normally read short stories. Get me.

Instead of trying to summarize the collection as a whole or summarizing each story, I’ll send you to this link. And I echo that woman’s sentiments about the story “Winkie” in this anthology. Holy crap. I don’t know which was scarier, though: “Winkie,” a horror fantasy story borne from the nursery rhyme “Wee Willie Winkie,” or “Under Hell, Over Heaven,” which brings the Catholic construct of Limbo to life for the reader. Yes, Lanagan takes you to the very edge of Hell. Did I already say holy crap? Lanagan really takes you to the settings of each of her fantasy/speculative fiction stories, and her writing is — at turns — eloquent and evocative and provocative . . . . and she really knows how to SCARE THE PANTS OFF OF YOU, as my middle-school self would put it. Read the rest of this entry �

Co-Review: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
by Lynne Jonell

h1 Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
by Lynne Jonell
Art by Jonathan Bean
Henry Holt
August 2007
(Review copies*)

Warning: A few minor plot spoilers included below . . .

Jules: I’ll try to briefly summarize the book here and then let Eisha begin with some thoughts on this intermediate-aged novel, the first novel written by picture book author Lynne Jonell.

“Emmy was a good girl. At least she tried very hard to be good,” opens the novel. She’s so good that she never talks back to her rather frightful nanny, Miss Barmy. And Emmy (age ten — but “almost eleven: hardly a little girl anymore”) is a bit disturbed that her parents — normally loving and affectionate — have changed so much, hopping from one vacation spot to the next, too busy to give her the time of day. “If you did better in school, I’m sure they would be pleased,” Miss Barmy tells her. Emmy just can’t win. And, since she really was a little too good, she likes to sit by the bitingly sarcastic, snarky Rat in her classroom. He talks to Emily. Yes, it all begins when she hears him snort one day and she wondered aloud, “Why are you always so mean?” She didn’t expect the Rat to answer, but he did.

Thus begins the novel. With the Rat by her side, Emmy embarks on an adventure to figure out why her parents have stopped talking to her, why the other children in school act as if she doesn’t exist, and why Miss Barmy forces her to drink and eat the strangest things.

Mommy Go Away!I Need a Snakeeisha: Well, I have long been a fan of Lynne Jonell’s picture books (especially Mommy Go Away! and I Need a Snake), so I expected Emmy to be quirky. But – dude. This was quirky, and dark, and original, and funny, and unpredictable, and just plain weird… I couldn’t really compare it to anything else, except maybe Roald Dahl.

Actually, yeah, that is a fitting comparison. It has Dahl’s edgy darkness in the twisted schemes of Miss Barmy. It has Dahl’s thinly veiled social commentary, in the neglectful behavior of Emmy’s parents and the other adults in their social circle toward their children. It’s got a wacky sense of humor – sometimes delving into a bit of gross potty humor, too. And it’s got a strong dose of the pseudo-scientific supernatural. Read the rest of this entry �

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books #3:
A co-review of Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of
Madness and Motherhood
by Adrienne Martini

h1 Monday, August 6th, 2007

It’s the first Monday of the month, and that means we get to highlight what we think is a Wicked Cool Overlooked Book. Colleen at Chasing Ray will probably have a round-up of other WCOB titles today, so — if interested — head over there.

How about we open this co-review (and, yes, brace yourselves: it’s actually a nonfiction title we have read here, people) with another review? ‘Cause, you see, we like this review and think it pretty much hits on the book’s good points. The book of which we speak is Adrienne Martini’s Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood (Simon & Schuster: Free Press; 2006; library copies), and in the interest of full disclosure, Adrienne is a friend of Eisha’s. And Jules also met her once through Eisha (and has corresponded with her just a wee bit since then). But, if you’ve ever read our review copy policy, you’ll know that we only review books we want to review and that we don’t just do favors for friends. Okay, so we got that out of the way. Onward and upwards then . . .

So, back to what I was saying: Since we usually like to begin co-reviews with a brief summary of the book, here is Publishers Weekly’s review of Adrienne’s book, which we feel succinctly summarizes what you’re getting when you read it (and, as we already mentioned, pretty much nails all the things we liked about the book):

Martini, a journalist and college professor, summons her blackest comedic chops to rehash her free-fall into postpartum depression—and the newfound understanding of her own upbringing that buoys her back up. Still mired in the oppressive Appalachia that chafed at her in childhood, she checks herself into the Knoxville psychiatric hospital shortly after giving birth, acquiescing to the “hillbilly Gothic patchwork” of suicides and manic-depression that scourge her family history. As her newborn daughter battles jaundice, her mother hovers intrusively as she awaits the mystical ability to breast-feed; Martini ponders her maternal fitness with a panicked despair nimbly rendered with dry humor and candid self-appraisal. Her misery, so jarringly at odds with the “bundle of joy” in her arms, throws open a window on her own mother’s severe depression, helping Martini to make peace with her family and its legacies. Unflinching honesty, mordant wit and verbal flair (she comes apart “like a wet tissue” after giving birth) save this memoir from soggy self-pity. In its humor and empathy, it’s a nonjudgmental resource for the thousands of mothers battling the “baby blues.”

Jules: I’m going to give Eisha the honor of launching into our commentary on this memoir, since she was the one who told me about it and since she finished it before I did. I will quickly say, though, that — although I think this Publishers Weekly review nails the book — there is a distinct difference between your average, run-of-the-mill “baby blues” and what Adrienne experienced. The reticence surrounding postpartum depression is what makes people make uninformed comments like the last one in this review. Okay. There. I said that. Don’t want to diminish Adrienne’s soul-wrenching experience by letting that sentence in the review go unnoticed before we’ve even said what we thought about the book here . . . Okay, hit it, E-dawg. Read the rest of this entry �

Co-Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

h1 Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

What: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy; published by HarperCollins, April 2007 (review copies)

About (without revealing too many spoilers): When twelve-year-old Dubliner Stephanie Edgley’s strange Uncle Gordon dies, she is thrust into a world of magic with Skulduggery Pleasant — a walking, talking, wisecracking skeleton who can throw fire with the snap of his bony fingers — at her side. The death of her uncle spawns an underground, frantic search — by inhabitants of a world Stephanie can hardly believe exists — for the Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon that mythology dictates will allow one to rule the world. And, as it turns out, Skulduggery’s nemesis, Nefarian Serpine, is the one after the weapon he believes can call forth the world’s original, rather baneful gods from their obscurity. Writes Kirkus Reviews: “A high-intensity tale shot through with spectacular magic battles, savage mayhem, cool outfits, monsters, hidden doors, over-the-top names, narrow escapes, evil schemes and behavior heroic, ambiguous and really, really bad.” Stephanie and Skulduggery, along with a few other noble and magical folks, struggle throughout the novel to keep one step ahead of Serpine and his evil lackeys — all within a world of magic; super, special-secret powers; lots and lots of witty, droll dialogue, and some kickin’ good action scenes. This is Landy’s debut novel, though he has written screenplays for horror films (and, hey, check out the Skulduggery movie news) . . .

eisha: Oh, this has a lot of potential as a movie. I mean, the book felt like a screenplay, didn’t it? The really standout feature for me was the dialogue. Stephanie and Skulduggery had that sarcastic banter thing goin’ on – it was like Moonlighting without the sexual tension: Read the rest of this entry �

Co-review: Polly Horvath’s newest (and upcoming) novel, The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane

h1 Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane
by Polly Horvath
(cover art by John Hendrix)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux —
Books for Young Readers

Set for a July ’07 release
(review copies)

Synopsis (straight from Horvath’s site, as we don’t want to slip and reveal plot spoilers for those wanting to read it): “When an accident leaves teenage cousins Meline and Jocelyn parentless, they come to live with their unknown and eccentric Uncle Marten on his private island. They soon discover that the island has a history as tragic as their own: it was once an air force training camp, led by a mad commander whose crazed plan to train pilots to fly airplanes without instruments sent eleven pilots to their deaths. Jocelyn, Meline, and Uncle Marten are soon joined on this island of wrecked planes and wrecked men by an elderly Austrian housekeeper {Mrs. Mendelbaum}, a very mysterious butler {Humdinger}, a cat, and a dog. But to Jocelyn and Meline, being in a strange new place around strange new people only underscores the fact that the world they once knew has ended.”

Jules: So, yeah, we just read an advanced proof of Polly Horvath’s newest novel, The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane. We thought it was a great premise and had some strong moments, yet we both found it to be somewhat unsatisfying. We weren’t sure if we were even going to review it here at 7-Imp, but 1). we both adore Horvath’s writing (Everything on a Waffle, The Canning Season, The Trolls, The Pepins and Their Problems — oh, the list of great books goes on and on); 2). the novel had its moments; and 3). as Eisha said, “Horvath can take it.” I mean, come on. She’s the Polly Horvath, well-known, well-loved, well-respected. Not to mention her National Book Award. She could squish us with her little ‘ol (and very talented) literary pinky.

Read the rest of this entry �

Middle-Grade Reviews: Joseph and Georgie
and looking beyond differences

h1 Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Here are two co-reviews of two books by two first-time novelists (one, a proud member of the Class of 2k7, and the other, a proud member of The Longstockings). And we know that practically everyone else has covered The Thing About Georgie — particularly, around the time that Lisa Graff conducted her entertaining blog tour — but we’re just now getting to our review. Better late than never, right? . . .

Kimchi & Calamari
by Rose Kent
HarperCollins Children’s Books
April 2007
(review copies)

This, Rose Kent’s first novel, is about fourteen-year old Joseph Calderaro, who was borne of a Korean woman but adopted as a wee babe into an Italian family. Considering himself “an ethnic sandwich,” he isn’t too terribly caught up in identity issues (he’s mostly consumed by the worries typical of children that age — girls, friendships, school, etc.), but when his teacher assigns a project in which the students must write about their heritage, he starts to become more aware of the holes in the story of his biological family and birth. His parents have little information about his birth, and his father almost refuses to discuss it, emphasizing that he became part of their Italian family and heritage the day they decided to adopt him. Read the rest of this entry �

Co-Review: American Born Chinese

h1 Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

So, we’ve finally read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, with color by Lark Pien, the winner of the 2007 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It’s the the first graphic novel to be recognized by the Michael L. Printz Committee as well as a 2006 National Book Award Finalist
for Young People’s Literature

For those needing a bit of summary, we’ll take the fine, fine one written by the folks at VOYA:

“Three seemingly unrelated stories blend into a memorable tale of growing up Chinese American. The book begins with the ancient fable of the Monkey King, the proud leader of the monkeys. He is punished for entering the god’s dinner party by being buried under a mountain for five hundred years. Second is the story of Jin Wang, the son of immigrants struggling to retain his Chinese identity while longing to be more Americanized. The final story is that of Cousin Chin-Kee, an amalgamation of the worst Chinese stereotypes. Chin-Kee yearly visits his all-American cousin Danny, causing so much embarrassment that Danny must change schools. The final chapter unifies the three tales into one version of what it means to be American-born Chinese. This graphic novel first appeared as a long running Web comic on the Moderntales {Professional Webcomics} website, where it enjoyed an enthusiastic following.”

Jules: I guess I’ll start by saying that one of the many things that makes this book so durn good (how’s that for review-speak?) is that Yang succeeds in welcoming us into the world of a Chinese-American student while, at the same time, bringing us tried-and-true universal themes, primarly acceptance of one’s self. I am normally graphic-novel-challenged, but I couldn’t put this one down and found it funny and insightful and quite poignant in just the right spots — poignant without being overbearing.

Read the rest of this entry �

Co-Review: A Drowned Maiden’s Hair

h1 Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

{Big ‘Ol Friendly Warning: Spoilers included. As usual, our co-reviews are really more well-suited to folks who have already read the novel and want to think further on it and, we hope, join in the conversation via the comments function} . . .

Jules: We’re beginning this co-review of Laura Amy Schlitz’s A Drowned Maiden’s Hair on the same day the Cybil winners are being announced. And — after reading the blurb about Schlitz’s title, which won the Middle Grade Fiction category — I’m feeling a bit daunted about reviewing now. I mean, just look at this great write-up:

“It’s a mystery story, it’s a ghost story, it’s delightfully gothic and eerie. In A Drowned Maiden’s Hair we have a protagonist with a very authentic child voice, and her motivations and feelings are described in clean, nuanced lines. Maud is also a person of her time and place; she never comes off as anachronistic. The story, too, is something of a time and place — the darkness of the Hawthorne estate was like an L.M. Montgomery novel gone delightfully to seed. The adoption of the plucky orphan by the wealthy lady is a trope of the Victorian novel, and yet does not come off as trite or formulaic. It is as if Schlitz had taken familiar characters and plotlines from Victorian fiction and injected them with a realism and emotional force that transcends its familiarity, making it seem new again. Truth — be it in the cries of a widower, or in a tearful confession — is what lets Maud see her true role and path, and ultimately brings redemption.”

Very nice. Read the rest of this entry �