Friday, September 29, 2017

Book review - The Exact Location of Home

Title: The Exact Location of Home
Author: Kate Messner
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones by Wendelin Van Draanen
                      Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
an emotional journey

Summary (provided by publisher): Kirby "Zig" Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people—especially his father, who he hasn't seen in over a year. When his dad's latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo—a garage sale GPS unit—for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren't always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there's more than one set of coordinates for home.
An important story of love and hope that will capture readers' hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.

My opinion: While geocaching is an unusual focus for a middle grade novel, homelessness is the more interesting element. Messner really puts us Zig's place. We feel what he feels, his shame and desperation. I loved how being forced into all of these situations opened his eyes to the complexity of his peers and of the world in general. There are subtle messages about judgement and the value of hard work. A few of the plot twist were rather obvious, but overall its a pretty complex and enjoyable book.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Non-fiction book review - The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters

The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters by Sean Connolly

Each section of this book follows a pretty simple formula: introduce the events of the disaster, give history of the structure/area, explore what caused the failure and how it could have been prevented, one or two experiments that illustrate the principles at work. In this case, repetition is a strength. Its pleasantly predictable. And while many of the disasters in this book were of passing familiarity, a few were brand new to me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book review - Under the Bottle Bridge

Title: Under the Bottle Bridge
Author: Jessica Lawson
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
                      Finding Fortune by Delia Ray


Summary (provided by publisher): In the tradition of Rooftoppers and Three Times Lucky, critically acclaimed author Jessica Lawson returns with her fourth whimsical, lyrical, and heartfelt middle grade novel about a girl who’s desperately trying to keep her life together, when everything seems to be falling apart.
In the weeks leading up to Gilbreth, New York’s annual AutumnFest, twelve-year-old woodcraft legacy Minna Treat is struggling with looming deadlines, an uncle trying to hide Very Bad News, and a secret personal quest. When she discovers mysterious bottle messages under one of the village’s 300-year-old bridges, she can’t help but wonder who’s leaving them, what they mean, and, most importantly…could the messages be for her?
Along with best friend Crash and a mystery-loving newcomer full of suspicious theories, Minna is determined to discover whether the bottles are miraculously leading her toward long-lost answers she’s been looking for, or drawing her into a disaster of historic proportions.

My opinion: At first, artisans seem an odd topic for a middle grade novel, even with artisanal products being trendy. That craftsman lifestyle lends a strangeness to the plot at first. But, these crafts and their roles in the town and in families are well explained so we quickly accept them as the normal of this world.And once we can accept that normal, its a surprisingly universal story of searching for the way you will define yourself, your understanding of family and parental and societal expectations. While the particulars are a little unusual, in the end we have the story of three kids facing parallel issues.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Since I started experimenting with polymer clay, I've grown familiar with miniatures. But after I got a good deal on some inch tall glass vials, I found myself trying out micro-miniatures. I've got a notion these might make good pendants for necklaces at my next craft fair.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Graphic novel spotlight - Castle in the Stars

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

If you're big on atmosphere, this is the graphic novel for you. Especially if you're also a fan of steampunk. The art style is fantastic, soft and incredibly detailed. Adding to the appeal is the highly innovative plot. It's a tad on the wordy side, relying heavily on narration even more than dialogue. With a little patience, though, it's a delight.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Non-fiction book review - The Booth Brothers

The Booth Brothers by Rebecca Langston-George

It can be challenging to present a familiar event in a fresh and engaging way. Langston-George accomplishes this feat. Most of us know quite a bit about the assassination itself. What makes this book interesting is its focus on the rivalry between John and his brother, the ideological differences that separated them all their lives, and the long term affect on the lives of those that knew him, involved in the plot or not. And she does all of this while keeping the book quick and easy to read. A great choice for young middle-graders.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Custom phone case

I tend to be thrifty, so when I decided I needed a case for my phone, I shopped at the dollar store. I found an understated black case with a textured back. Once I started using it, I discovered that the texture was actually a piece of adhesive backed fabric that started fraying almost immediately. So I pulled off the fabric, leaving me with a rather boring case.

I can't leave well enough alone, so I painted the back of the case. By painting it a solid color I had a canvas for customization with a Sharpie. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pick 6: Art

Have you ever noticed that characters in novels tend to have the same hobbies. They're either athletes, aspiring writers, or musicians. For this list, I gathered titles where being an artist plays an important role in the plot. Here are six books published in the last six months focused in some way on art and artists.

6 new books about artists

1. Zenn Diagram by Vendy Brant

2. Love and Vandalism by Laurie Boyle Compton

3. It Started With Goodbye by Christina June

4. Antisocial by Jillian Blake

5. Glow by Megan E Bryant

6. The Mosaic by Nina Berkhout

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Engineered!

Engineered! by Shannon Hunt

While each section of this book is brief, its packed with information. We're given a brief overview of each type of engineering and examples of how they are used in our daily lives. It's a great choice for young readers with any interest in math and science.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book review - Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Title: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Author: Ben Hatke
Genre: graphic novel/fantasy
Similar books: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
                      The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

Summary (provided by publisher): Like a bolt from the blue, Jack's little sister Maddy is gone—carried into another realm by an ogre.
When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive.
Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below.
But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

My opinion: Hatke never disappoints. This is a great follow-up to what begain as an exiting series. Now, Mighty Jack has a slightly more mature look and feel than Zita the Spacegirl and as such it may not resonate with the same readers. Zita was more of an elementary series. Jack skews more towards middle grade. I was a little unsure of this series at first, in part because I so dearly loved Zita, but it has grown on me over time especially as I began to notice the thematic parallels. In this series, Hatke uses familiar stories as a broad framework but truly makes the plot his own. If you have even a slight interest in fantasy and fairy tales, give this series a look.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Fanstastic peg

In my continuing effort to celebrate female superheroes in peg doll form, I've created this Sue Storm peg. She provides a nice visual counterpoint to my other peg dolls.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Book review - Shadow Warrior

Title: Shadow Warrior
Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Genre: historical fiction/creative non-fiction
Similar books: What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein
                      Arcady's Goal by Anton Yelchin

Summary (provided by publisher): It’s 1558, and warlords across Japan are battling for territory and control. Into this setting, award-winning author Tanya Lloyd Kyi weaves the stories of three people: Mochizuki Chiyome, a young woman determined to become a ninja whose plans are thwarted by an arranged marriage; Takeda Shingen (The Tiger), a fierce warlord seeking a new weapon to outsmart his enemies; and Aki, an orphaned tavern girl whose destiny is changed by a mysterious woman. As their stories intersect, the three characters become key players in an elaborate network of undercover female ninjas who will eventually shift the balance of power in Japan. Based on the true story of Mochizuki Chiyome and her all-female spy network, Shadow Warrior takes readers on a journey through feudal Japan, from villages to castles to battlefields. Stunning illustrations by Celia Krampien, interspersed with archival Japanese art, vividly depict the rigors of ninja training, the struggles of village life, the intensity of battle, and the thrill of accomplishing a secret mission.

My opinion: A quick, highly readable book with a compelling story. It has two major selling points: girl power and spies. Yes, it's an historical setting and is told with more formal language. In fact, stylistically it comes closer to creative non-fiction than a true novel. These might be significant barriers for young readers. But, its a relatively short and compelling read if you're willing to put in a little effort and could spark some good non-fiction reading as well.

More information: Shadow Warrior release September 12.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Picture books for everyone

Polly and Her Duck Costume by Leanne Louricelle

At first glance, this is a fairly niche book. It's a sweet little story with soft, almost pastel illustrations, about a goat who overcomes fear. In other words, a book for little kids. What makes it multi-age is the last few pages, which detail the true story of Polly and the other rescue goats.  

More information: Polly and Her Duck Costume releases September 12.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Science Comics: Plagues

Science Comics: Plagues by Falynn Koch

This volume of the Science Comics series is a particularly good one. It uses a plot to convey scientific information but doesn't push that storyline too hard. It knows that it's intended to inform more than entertain. The plot is only intended to make the information easier to digest. Yet it is entertaining. The illustrations are fantastic - nuanced and entertaining. Readers will learn not only about plagues but also about a variety of infections, vectors, and the innerworkings of the immune system. A solid choice for fans of biology (but good for non-scientists too!).

Advanced Reader copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book review - Genuine Fraud

Title: Genuine Fraud
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
                      One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
good, though not what I'd anticipated

Summary (provided by publisher): From the author of the unforgettable New York Times bestseller We Were Liars comes a masterful new psychological suspense novel—the story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.
Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

My opinion: I remember being blown away by We Were Liars. Lockhart was experimenting, pushing the boundaries of what can be done in teen fiction. And when I realized that this book, too, played with nontraditional formatting I got excited. Here's an author doing new and exciting things, I thought. The reality is less thrilling than I'd hoped. Yes, the story is told in reverse. And its easy enough to follow. In spite of knowing how it will ultimately end, there is interest and intrigue along the way, a few surprising twists. All of which tells me just how masterful a writer Lockhart truly is. I just didn't love this book the way I did Liars. It's clever and worth a read, just didn't connect with me in that real, visceral way.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.