Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Audiobook reviews: 5-star MG novels for family listening

by Susan Chapek

Today I'll piggyback on the recent post in which Kitty Griffin suggests two "musts" for selecting audiobooks.

The audiobooks on this list meet both of her criteria, and I found them all on my neighborhood library shelf. 

I'd recommend any of them for a family car trip with middle graders as the youngest passengers. I chose novels I consider new classics—honored books that some kids might postpone reading on the page ("too serious; too long; too literary"). But for a read-aloud? They're the audio equivalent of page-turners. And that would go for most adult listeners, too. 

I list them in order of original print edition publication date.

The versions I recommend are performed by narrators on my personal 5-star list. 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred Taylor; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Lynne Thigpen) 

The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin; Recorded Books edition narrated by Jeff Woodman) 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by LeVar Burton) 

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Cynthia Holloway)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Story Starts From Images

by Cynthia Light Brown


I'm vacationing on Bald Head Island, NC (a truly lovely place). There's a golf course on the island, weaving between the maritime forest here and ponds. At one pond there's always a large alligator, above. Couple of days ago, there was a smaller one - about 4' long, swam out to the center, and this guy swam after him and attacked. There was a ferocious rolling....and then there was one. I didn't actually see it - arrived that evening - but talked to a guy who saw it.

The alligators sometimes stroll on the greens, so maybe your mc is out for a round of golf, and....
Or your mc is fishing...
Or in your picture book, an alligator waits perfectly still, only his nostrils flaring.

Or how about this? Two friends:

This is a snowy egret and an ibis, although it's hard to tell. Someone walked by and they both flew off....to the same tree a hundred yards away.

Or put all 3 together for an interesting tale.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Happens on the Playground Stays on the Playground by Andrea Perry

Are any of you familiar with Iona and Peter Opie's The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren?
Taken directly from the oral tradition of British schoolchildren, 5000(!) of them during the 1950's, the Opies compiled a unique anthology of children's games, punishments, wishes, beliefs, and regulation.  From 70 varied schools in cities as well as remote rural areas, Iona and Peter worked independently with no grants, no funding, and no publishing advances to provide an amazing view of the "unadulterated" lore of the schoolchild.  This encyclopedic text is exhaustively indexed by general category, contributing schools, geography, and first lines. I have had this book for months and still am only about a quarter of the way through it, delighting in every detail.
The chapters of the book include  Riddles, Topical Rhymes, Nicknames and Epithets, Children's Calendar, Pranks, and Unpopular Children: Jeers and Torments to  name but a few.
Though nursery rhymes pass from mother to child, school rhymes circulate from child to child and are not intended for adult ears.. All of the rhymes were generated by and for children only.  I doubt there is anyone who would read this treasure and not recognize something:

In Pranks:  Bell Ringing
"Me don't know, me can't tell,
 Me press a button and run like hell"

Children's Calendar:  Pancake Day ( Shrove Tuesday)
"Tippety, tippety tin
 Give me a pancake and I will come in
 Tippety tippety toe
 Give me a pancake and I will go"

Nicknames and Epithets:  School Food
"Say what you will,
 school dinners make you ill
 And Shepherd's Pie
 Makes Davy Crockett cry:
 All school din-dins
 come from pigs' bins
    -that's no lie"

 Unpopulare Children: Lament
"Nobody loves me
 everybody hates me,
 Going in the garden to eat worms.
 Big fat juicy ones
  little squiggly, niggly ones
 going in the garden to eat worms."

Skipping Rope Rhynes:
"I like coffee
 I like tea
 I like radio and tv"

"Marilyn Monroe
 Fell in the snow
 Her skirt blew up
 and the boy said, "Oh!"

Though the topics and terminology have changed with the times, there is much here that we all remember.  As a matter of fact, some of the rhymes used for counting-out or skipping are practically identical to rhymes known 130 years ago. 
Even if you are not a hopeless rhymeaholic like I am, you will find something to love in this encyclopedia of childhood.
I will leave you with a favorite tongue twister:

"A woman to her son did utter
  Go, my son, and shut the shutter
  The shutter's shut, the son did utter
  I cannot shut it any shutter."

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Friday, July 11, 2014

Building Balance

The Good, the Bad, and the Clunky  Audiobook Reviews
 By Kitty Griffin 


I’ve become infected. I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories read aloud, so this isn’t a new infection. It’s just an old one reestablishing itself.

I’ve just joined Audible.

(And it’s good. Not as comfy as my dear Grampy’s big lap. I don’t smell Old Spice. I can’t feel his whiskers, but I’ve found comfort.)

When teaching, I often encouraged my students to look at a story from as many angles as they could. In fact, the mid-term was to take a beloved book, one that had been turned into a movie, and compare every creative aspect of it, determining what worked and what didn’t.

It’s wonderful to read stories.
It’s wonderful to listen to stories.
It’s wonderful to see them (unless Hollywood does what they did to Ella Enchanted then it’s not wonderful, it’s sickening—but that’s another review).

Let’s start with what makes an audiobook work.


There are two voices in an audiobook. The voice of the main character and the voice of the reader. Those two voices have to be in harmony for things to work well. They need to balance, with one side not heavier/lighter than the other.

So I’ll give you a story that became C, or CLUNKY for me. A story that didn't balance.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.
Reviews of the book are quite good. Folks loved it. I had the chance to get the book and the audio version for a very decent price (like two bucks).

I didn’t listen to the sample. BIG BOO BOO.

So, I get to the gym, turn on my player and
Thunk. Clunk.

The voice I heard was so harsh it was like fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears.
It made me hate the main character, Celaena Sardothien. I mean hate her so much that after an hour of listening I was done. Later, I tried to read the story but that harsh voice scraped my brain and that was that. My money was wasted.

Go and listen to the free sample on Amazon. See what you think. The narrator, Elizabeth Evans, has read quite a few books. I find it interesting that in the review for a book called “Jesus Land” the writer said this: “She afforded the mother a sharp, intolerant voice that I may not have been as affected by.”

Exactly. A sharp voice.

Even a soothing, mellow voice of Scott Holst couldn’t help Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for me.

When you keep saying to yourself, “Is he serious?” until that phrase separates you from the story, it’s time to give up.
So, good voice, story stretched beyond my very pliable “suspension of disbelief” boundary.
(I know, a lot of folks loved this book. Shrug. It’s all personal taste and this one just didn’t work for me.)

So that’s an audiobook that got a B. Bad story didn't work for me. 

Now we come to G for good.  

We’ll start these reviews with A FOR ADVENTURE!

Airman by Eoin Colfer

This is ADVENTURE ADVENTURE! Yes. I’m shouting that. Fourteen year-old Conor Broekhart dreams of flying, for these are the early days, before man has figured out how to do it. After a horrible series of horrible events (warning: if you have a sensitive child, you may want to read this book first, Colfer doesn’t hold back with violence). Conor ends up in prison where he must find a way to break out if he is to save the princess and keep his beloved country from being ruled by a madman.
(I told you it was an adventure!)
The reader, John Keating (who also reads many of the Ranger’s Apprentice series) is very skilled at changing his voice. The prison guard has a whine, the old magician’s voice is thin and scratchy, the tutor has a French accent, and Conor speaks with a wonderful Irish brogue, the timbre of his voice is like a lovely Irish tenor, smooth and so delightful to listen to.
G for good, yes, very good.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima is part of a quartet calld the Seven Realms.

The Exiled Queen
The Gray Wolf Throne
The Crimson Crown

If you go to Good Reads you’ll see that this book has 24,894 ratings and it’s earned a 4.22 out of 5.
Seriously superior, and it has the awards to prove it.

This is a YA, Young Adult book, but easily readable for younger readers who are skilled. 

This series involves a number of characters and the story switches between them.

The two main characters are Princess Raisa and Han Allister.
It is adventure, it’s fantasy, and it’s romance. More of a girl’s book, but it wouldn’t surprise me if boys might not secretly enjoy it, too. After all, there’s plenty of adventure, battles, one on one combat.

I really enjoyed the series. I’m not sure I would’ve been caught up with the stories had I chosen to read the books.

The reader, Carol Monda has a smooth, wonderful tone. She changes into various characters with ease. She makes these changes with accents or adding gruffness, whatever the changes are so believable that without a doubt she adds to the story.

I loved listening to these books and I forgave the over-writing and story stretches. 
G for good, wonderfully good.

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Queen

Again, adventure and fantasy, this pair of books by the fantasy master, Tamora Pierce.
With nearly 30,000 ratings on Good Reads, this book has a 4.24.

It's considered YA, Young Adult. It's adventure and coming of age, and there's romance that buds and leads to marriage and kissing that leads to a bit more. It's high fantasy on a world that has gods and magic and mystery, which all leads to mayhem! 

This story dances with one of Pierce’s liveliest and fiercest girls, Alianne, the daughter of the Lioness and the Trickster. At the start of the story, Ali is bored. She seeks adventure, and it’s what she finds when she takes a little boat planning to prove to her parents…well, whatever she wanted to prove is lost when the pirates grab her.

The reader for this set is Trini Alvarado. Again we have a voice that is flowing, charming and inviting. She makes changes with such subtlety that it becomes musical.

I was really quite enchanted with the fantasy, the mystery, and the excitement.

G for good, great, glorious!


Monday, July 7, 2014

First Friday Five Favorite Things - Nil

by Lynne Matson

This past Friday, July 4, 2014, Marcy and I posted our answers to Lynne’s debut novel, NIL. We would like to congratulate Lynne on her debut novel and for providing us with her responses which will give you terrific insight into her intricate characters.

BIO: Lynne Matson grew up in Georgia in a house full of books and a backyard full of gnarly pines. Back then, Lynne would stay up late, reading Nancy Drew books under the covers (with a flashlight . . . a weak attempt at ninja stealth). Now she still stays up late reading books and writing them. When she doesn’t have a book in her hand, you’ll find her listening to music, messing around with paint, or hanging out with her husband and their four boys. Cookies are her kryptonite, especially Thin Mints.:)

Thank y’all so much for having me! I love the format of this interview, and the questions!

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth? 

I chose the following paragraph (okay, I cheated, because it’s actually a few paragraphs :D) from Charley’s point of view. Charley is the newcomer. She’s still putting the pieces of Nil together, and the following excerpt shows how she thinks: how she both sees the island and questions it at the same time . . . even as she struggles to figure the island out. The following excerpt also highlights the beauty and horror of Nil, a dual vibe running throughout the novel.

The sun sparkled, rising into a cloudless sky. The ocean lay ahead, stretching until it met the horizon, blue kissing blue. Close to shore, the waves broke and retreated. But for the first time since I’d set foot on Nil, the beach was full of people and activity. A firepit wafted lazy smoke into the air. Around the fire, kids laughed ad talked. Two shirtless boys were playing catch with a coconut, their shoulders and backs rippling under a sheen of sweat. The girl built like a Playboy bunny was sprinting down the beach beside a tall boy with dreadlocks, like an advertisement for island athletic wear. Other kids floated on surfboards past the whitewater. It looked like an island retreat, like the perfect Hawaiian vacation spot.

Something twanged, like when a violinist strikes a sour note.

“Natalie,” I said, turning, “where are the adults? The little kids?”

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Oh, great question! And tough. :D Probably the very last one, but since I don’t want to give away the ending, I’m going to pick one of my absolute favorites from early in the novel. From Charley’s point of view, and it’s the same one Marcy picked! Why? Because this chapter ending drives home how surprising Nil is at the most unexpected moments…and how frightening too.

I took another step and my toe hit something hard. My sandal caught and stuck. I looked down, and when I realized what I’d kicked, I screamed. 

It was a human skull.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Nil has a full cast of secondary characters, and this question is like asking me to pick among my children!  (I have 4 boys btw…so I know all about large casts of characters. :D)

Rives is one of my absolute favorites. He’s strong, a Leader-in-waiting, and he’s not only one of Thad’s Second, he’s Thad’s undisputed wingman, the one Thad trusts most. He’s close to Thad, and Charley, and he’s clearly the glue of the City in Thad’s wake. Through his relationship with Talla, the reader learns that Rives is more than he appears, that pain lurks beneath the easy-going exterior. Plus, he’s got the most international background of all the teens on Nil, giving Rives depth that Nil barely scratches the surface of.

Another favorite secondary character? Dex. I love Dex. How he arrives, and grows as a character. Dex provides much needed humor at just the right moments. Other faves? Ramia, because she’s creepy and mysterious. Jason, Li, Natalie….I’ll stop.:)

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

I have so many! I love the one that y’all both picked, the one from Thad’s point of view.

Here’s another. From Thad’s point of view as well, but Charley is the speaker. It captures the tick tock of Nil, the sense that it’s temporary--that everyone arrives with a personal expiration date already stamped in invisible-yet-permanent ink. That even though it’s gorgeous, danger lies beneath Nil’s beauty:

She shook her head. “I’ve never seen such beauty. The black sand, the Crystal Cove. The Flower Field. Even the red lava field was beautiful in its own freaky way. But it’s not really real. Because in three hundred fifty-two days, it will all disappear, right?” Charley turned to me, and her golden eyes were haunted.

The façade was gone. For Charley, Nil’s mask had finally cracked, this time for good.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Again, I have many.:) But I’ll pick one where Natalie, a veteran and former Leader, is talking to Charley in their hut one night. The dialogue comes in the contest of a conversation about Thad, but the implications are much broader.

Twisting her covers between her fingers, she spoke quietly. “I know this sounds old school, but don’t waste a minute. Not one. Time flies here, faster than you’re ready for. No regrets, okay?”

Time does fly fast on Nil, and the idea of “no regrets” plays a big role. Time flies fast everywhere, actually. :D #deepthoughtfortheday

Thank for having me! Welcome to the #NILtribe, Marcy and Dave!

To read more about Lynn Matson’s debut YA novel Nil, please go to:

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LSMatson        
BookMark (signed copies):  Atlantic Beach, FL. (http://www.bookmarkbeach.com)

Friday, July 4, 2014

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz and
Marcy Collier

Happy Fourth of July Readers! Independence Day typically means that summer is half over, but we optimists at Route 19, say the summer has barely begun. If you haven’t made your summer reading list yet, don’t fret. Marcy and I have a great lineup of summer books for you to enjoy on this long holiday weekend. Check out today’s post as well as past First Friday reviews.

Welcome to July’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Lynn Matson and her novel, Nil, a compelling story about a girl who’s transported from the Target parking lot to an unknown land called Nil. It’s packed with adventure, love and heartache as the young people living on Nil try to escape – the catch – they only have 365 days to get out. The book is told from alternative points of views (Charley and Thad), which gives the reader a terrific perspective into these two complex main characters.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – Charley has not been living on the island long in terms of days, but she grew quickly to understand its force, its power… and perhaps more importantly what she believed were the secrets needed to escape. The following section gives some of that insight.

And now that I'd seen the Woman in the Maze for myself, I was more convinced than ever that the carvings provided not only the start of the gate wave, but something deeper, something more personal. Something each person had to figure out before he or she could leave.

Marcy –Thad is a veteran on the tropical island of Nil. He leads the people on the island, but he never stops working long enough to get close to anyone, that is until Charley arrives. This paragraph shows Thad doing something he typically wouldn’t.

It was a serious WTF moment in my own head.

I couldn’t believe I’d just offered to comb her hair. But she did look ready to take a header any second. Make that another header. She still had a nasty lump from yesterday. Her coloring had paled, or maybe that was because I’d just offered to comb her hair. Seriously, Thad, WTF?

Charley’s eyes were glued to the comb, like she was weighing whether to say yes. Like she was wondering why the hell I’d asked.

Maybe she thinks my post-Nil plan is to become a professional hairstylist.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - I picked this chapter ending from early in the book. To me, it set the scene and described so well in so few words what the main character was feeling at that particular time.

The noise intensified, then stopped. Silence rushed in, louder than before. Pressed tight to my rock, I listened. A twig cracked, then another, snapping as crisply as the break of dry bones. A whoop, guttural and plaintiff, reverberated through the night air.

Something was moving through the trees behind me. Something that didn’t sound human.

Something that just might be as hungry as me.

Marcy – I will let this scary chapter ending speak for itself.

I took another step, and my toe hit something hard. My sandal caught and stuck. I looked down, and when I realized what I’d kicked, I screamed.

It was a human skull.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave - One of the younger residents of the island, Jason, is my favorite. He’s quiet and unassuming but he’s always there for Thad, and for everyone for that matter, giving unselfishly of himself as a spotter, the person with the vision needed to search for the wave that would take them home. Although he could’ve hopped a number of waves himself and left the island earlier, he respected the rules of “the city”. He allowed those there the longest the opportunity to leave first.

Marcy – I would choose Natalie as my favorite. She befriends Charley when she needs a girlfriend the most. She takes her into her cabin as a roommate. In this scene, Natalie is doing a makeover on Charley.

Using two thin sticks, she’d swept part of my hair into what Natalie assured me was a very fashionable ‘do. The rest trailed down my back. Then she smudged my eyes with charcoal and glossed my lips with something that tasted like pomegranate. Stepping back, she looked at me like a painter studying her canvas. 

“You look amazing. I’d kill for your coloring, not to mention your legs. There’s just one thing missing.” She raised one finger and grinned. “Got it.” Reaching over, she broke a single white blossom off a wreath by her bed and tucked it behind my ear. “There,” she said, nodding. “No bunches of flowers in the hair, too fussy for you. “But this” – she adjusted the flower – “is perfect.”

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave – I believe this short paragraph describes perfectly the life they faced living on the island of Nil. (And once again I picked the exact same quote that Marcy has chosen. Usually, when we do something like that I'll choose another. But this paragraph of description is so right-on that I think I’ll leave it.)

Nil’s like that girl you spot in the Lodge after a full day of kick-ass boarding, when you’re stoked and high on life.

She looks good, freakin’ hot. Long hair, tight body, killer smile. Has a name like… Mallory.

But once you really get to know her, the truth rips your guts out. The truth is, she’s cruel. Heartless. The kind of girl who sleeps with your best friend when your back is turned. And once the mask falls off, so does the glamour. That’s the island of Nil in a nutshell. Blow-your-mind gorgeous, until you peel away the façade and see who she really is.

Marcy – Nil is paradise with a catch. It’s as if it’s a breathing, living person who can give and take away from each of its inhabitants. Thad’s description of Nil is powerful.

Nil’s like that girl you spot in the lodge after a full day of kick-ass boarding, when you’re high on life.

She looks good, freakin’ hot. Long hair, tight body, killer smile. Has a name like...Mallory. 

But once you  really get to know her, the truth rips your guts out. The truth is, she’s cruel. Heartless. The kind of girl who sleeps with your best friend when your back is turned. And once the mask falls off, so does the glamour. That’s the island of Nil in a nut-shell. Blow-your-mind gorgeous, until you peel away the façade and see her for who she really is.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave – This particular line of dialogue was used often throughout the story as both internal thought and dialogue. I chose it because I believe it aptly describes the thought everyone who ever lived on the island would have. It’s the perfect dilemma that pretty much sums up everything about the island of Nil.

“I’m glad you’re here, even though I’m sorry you’re here.”

Marcy –  I won’t ruin the line with backstory, but Johan has strong beliefs and doesn’t hold back telling the others the right thing to do.

“No offense, but you two should leave. Thad makes three, and right now we need all the luck a trinity can bring.”