Book Review: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Liz Prince and Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir. I highly recommend the book for two reasons: it’s an interesting story with great graphics to help tell it, and it can generate a discussion about the expectations others put on us to behave in certain ways. I have one copy to give away to a reader with a U.S. address. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment below about why Liz’s story appeals to you. Just be sure to comment by midnight (PST), Tuesday, November 4.

Check back in tomorrow when author Liz Prince stops by for an interview. And if you’d like to see other stops on the tour, visit the blog tour page at Zest Books.

Here’s my review:

Tomboy cover imageGrowing up, Liz Prince was considered a tomboy. She liked to wear boys’ clothes, keep her hair short, and she was the only girl in her local Little League. Liz was just behaving in a way that felt right for her, but other kids didn’t like the fact that she didn’t fit into her expected gender role, which meant she was bullied. While she avoided doing “girly things,” she was also attracted to boys, a combination that didn’t often work out for her. With the support of a core group of friends, and her discovery of comics and zines that speak to her creativity, she forges a path of acceptance for herself.

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir is Prince’s story about her experiences growing up. It shows that even with supportive parents and close friends, life can be difficult when you don’t conform to people’s expectations. Prince reveals her struggle with candor, and I expect that many readers who feel like they don’t “fit in” in some way will relate to her experiences. Her illustrations create scenes from playgrounds and in classrooms that do a great job of capturing how she thought and acted through the year.

Tomboy should be a great way to start a conversation about gender expectations, both for boys and girls (Prince’s younger brother was bullied for growing his hair long like a girl’s). I highly recommend it for book clubs with members aged 14 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Close by Erika Raskin

Close cover imageThe Marcheson family is slowly coming undone. The parents are divorced, and Kik, the mom, is afraid she’s about to lose her teaching job. The oldest daughter is skipping school, doing drugs, and angry most of the time. The middle daughter is cracking under the family stress, and the youngest is precocious. Grasping at straws, they turn to a TV psychologist for help. Just as they are beginning to see improvements, one of the girls goes missing. The crisis will either tear the family apart forever or help them bind together.

Close by Erika Raskin, looks at the fragile link that holds families together. The unraveling of one thread can rapidly lead to the disassembling of the whole unit. Parents and children may have the best intentions, but they don’t always let their true selves be known. Instead, they may hide sadness and insecurity behind a mask of anger, sarcasm, disorganization, and overwork. Finding a way out is difficult, because someone has to know how to take the first step. But if they can find a way to express love and trust with each other, they may be able to carve a path to a brighter future.

Close switches back and forth between the Mom’s point of view and that of each of the two oldest daughters. This lends a little perspective that helps readers understand each of their stories and makes it readable by a wide range of ages from 15 up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Interview with Colleen Gleason, Author of the Stoker & Holmes Novels

Yesterday I featured a book review and giveaway of the newest book in Colleen Gleason’s Stoker & Holmes series. Today, the author drops by to answer a few questions for readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com.

Colleen Gleason photo

Colleen Gleason photo by Kate Co. Photography

The Spiritglass Charade is the second in your Stoker & Bram series, following The Clockwork Scarab. What did you find most challenging about writing a sequel?

CG: I would say that the most difficult—but yet most important part—of writing the sequel was to make sure both main characters showed some sort of character growth. They have to change somehow between the beginning and the end of the novel, and they will have to continue to change throughout the rest of the series (a planned five books). So not only am I working on significant character development for one character, as in most books, I really have to focus on two of them. So it’s twice the fun!

What did you like the most about writing the sequel?

CG:  I loved revisiting the girls and the other supporting characters (Dylan, Pix, Grayling). With each book (I just finished writing the third), they become more familiar, and I learn more about each of them—and about their world. It’s like a discovery and I just love it.

And then there is the whole aspect of creating a steampunk amusement park, which I do in the book. While we don’t spend a lot of time there, the concept is introduced and I can tell it’s going to be a lot of fun to revisit it in future books.

Spiritual mediums and séances to contact the dead play an important role in the book. Was there a particular reason you chose to make them part of the story?

CG: Séances and spirit-talking were such a fad in Victorian times that I thought it would be fun to incorporate such a popular topic in the story. As well, it fit with my two characters and their backgrounds: Mina, who of course doesn’t believe there is such a thing as a ghostly presence, and Evaline, who—being a vampire-hunter—is very open-minded. So not only was it relevant to the time period, it also worked really well for their characters and their interaction.

How do you see Evaline and Mina evolving in their partnership?

CG: They are evolving in what I hope is a natural fashion—from competitiveness and mistrust of the other along with the desire to do things “her” way, to grudging admiration and the beginning of a respectful connection. Maybe they will someday consider themselves friends, and not merely partners. I do think each of them has learned to accept and respect the other’s skills—and maybe to even begin relying on that by the end of this second book. There is also an important moment at the end of the book that will really change the way they think about the other.

You mentioned there are five books planned for the series. Can you tell us anything about what to expect next?

CG: In the third book, tentatively titled The Chess Queen Enigma (Oct 2015) our heroines will find themselves looking after a princess from the country of Betrovia and on the hunt for a lost chess queen. The Ankh will return in this story, and, I’m sorry to say, there will be two deaths. But at least we will see more of Angus, and the girls will attend a ball.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Spiritglass Charade: A Stoker & Holmes Novel by Colleen Gleason

Don’t miss this delightful second books in the Stoker & Holmes series. As part of the blog tour, I have one copy to give away to a reader in the U.S. To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what you love about steampunk; get your comment in by midnight (PST) on Saturday, October 25. Visit again tomorrow for an interview with author Colleen Gleason.

Other stops on the blog tour:

Here’s my review:

The Spiritglass Charade cover imageEvaline Stoker and Mina Holmes are back on a case. The vampire-fighting sister of Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) and the niece of Sherlock Holmes team up in the second novel of the Stoker & Holmes series for young adults, The Spiritglass Charade. This time they are tasked with investigating the case of a young woman obsessed with spiritual mediums and séances. Willa Ashton’s mother has recently died and her younger brother, Robby, has disappeared. Willa is convinced her mother speaks to her and that Robby is alive. Evaline and Mina quickly discover that someone seems to want Willa, herself, out of the way, and the culprit is willing to make Willa seem mad in the process.

As in the first book of the series, The Clockwork Scarab, all the delightful details of an alternative, steampunk London of long ago are here. Electricity is outlawed and most things run on steam, with cogs falling into place to turn wheels. The atmosphere is dark, and gritty, with levels of sidewalks built upon one another. The lower levels, of course, are where the riff-raff and the action are, and the two crime fighters have plenty of reason to find both.

While Evaline and Mina are a mismatched pair, they have learned to expect each other’s strengths, and they are settling into an easy partnership. Things are also heating up with the romantic interests from the first book: Dylan, a time-traveler who seeks to get back to his own time, Ambrose Grayling, a young Scotland Yard inspector, and Pix, a master of disguise who seems to know everything that goes on in the underworld.

The Spiritglass Charade successfully uses an obsession from the real historical timeframe—the popularity of spiritual mediums and talking with the dead—to create an imaginative, action-filled story that never stops delivering. I recommend it for readers aged 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee cover imageCandice knows she sees things a little differently than most people. She also knows she’s a truth teller—she says what needs to be said whether it’s polite or not. When she gets an assignment to write about something that happened to her in the past, using every letter of the alphabet to start a new paragraph, she decides to expand on it and use each letter to write a chapter of what is happening in her life to help her make sense of it all. Along the way she discovers the formula for fixing what’s broken in the lives of everyone important to her.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg features an endearing title character facing a lot of issues. The kids at school make fun of her. Her pen pal in America doesn’t answer her many letters. Her new best friend believes he’s from another dimension and wants to return to his own time. Her father and uncle have been feuding for forever. And her mother frequently doesn’t feel up to leaving her bedroom. It’s up to Candice, the truth teller, to get them all to see that life could be so much better.

Chapter by chapter, alphabetical letter by letter, Candice works her way into your heart and takes up residence there. I highly recommend The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 13. It’s funny and thought provoking, and the story will touch you long after you have turned the last page.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Rhyme Schemer by K. A. Holt

Rhyme Schemer cover imageKevin is the youngest of five boys, and it seems to him that his parents have no time to think about him. One of his brothers bullies him, and he in turn takes it out on other kids in school. When the class nerd ends up finding Kevin’s lost notebook that contains poetry he’s written, the bully becomes the bullied. His situation starts to turn around when a perceptive teacher figures out how to help him address his issues and acknowledge his strengths.

Rhyme Schemer by K. A. Holt examines how a sensitive soul can go off track. Kevin is smart and insightful, but he acts out at school hoping it will get him the attention he craves at home. His parents aren’t bad, they’ve just fallen into a pattern of believing certain things about each of their children and stopped noticing anything that doesn’t reinforce their perceptions. They’re also a little overwhelmed working and raising five sons.

Told in free verse, Rhyme Schemer shows the importance of having someone believe in you and recognize the strengths you have. While the free-verse format makes it easy to read quickly, the text begs for lingering over or even a second reading to get the most out of the meaning. Here’s an excerpt from one of Kevin’s notebook entries:

“There are people who talk

so much

all the time

forever

with words falling from their mouths

like crumbs

from a sandwich.

 

But then there are people who never talk

hardly ever.

Except with their eyes

and their head-tilts

and their lips that can smile and frown

at the same time.

 

Mrs. Little says so much

without ever

ever

SHOUTING ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY.”

I highly recommend Rhyme Schemer for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 10 to 14. Issues to discuss include why kids bully and what can be done about it, from the perspective of all involved, including bystanders. Club members could even try their hands at writing poetry to share with the group.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys by Barbara Dee

The Almost Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys cover imageFinley and her best friend Maya thought it would be a cute idea to categorize the boys in their middle-school classroom according to how they behaved. Tadpoles were boys who still acted immature for their age, croakers were showing signs of maturity, and frogs were fully-developed, able to talk to girls without their voices breaking or making some insensitive remark. But things get confusing for Finley when Maya doesn’t seem to be interested in the list anymore and a boy she thought was kicked out of school the year before returns. In Finley’s opinion, Zachary jumped from tadpole to frog in the time he was gone. But when Finley’s list goes public, war breaks out between the boys and the girls. Finley will have to get creative to bring peace back to her school.

The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys by Barbara Dee does a good job capturing the confusing time that is middle school. Boys and girls who used to play together in elementary school suddenly find that the rules have changed as they become interested in each other in a whole new way. But it’s confusing to both sexes. They are likely to wonder how to act around each other.

The boys are understandably outraged at being categorized just for being who they are. The girls wouldn’t like it if they were treated the same way. On top of that, a mean girl just wants to stir up trouble. Finley and Maya go through some difficult times in their friendship before realizing what’s most important to them. It all makes for an interesting look at relationship dynamics among 12 and 13 year olds. I recommend The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Interview with Julie Sternberg, Author of Friendship Over

Julie Sternberg photo

Julie Sternberg photo by Meredith Zinner

Yesterday I posted a review of Friendship Over by Julie Sternberg and offered a chance for readers to win a copy of the book. Today, I’m Julie is stopping by for an interview. Here’s her short bio followed by the interview questions.

Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School’s MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website: juliesternberg.com.

You’ve launched a new series for young readers called The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. What do you like most about writing for kids?

JS: I still have trouble believing that I get to spend my days in the world of children’s books. I’ve always felt so happy there, first as a reader and now as a writer. And sometimes I hear from kids who seem to feel about one of my books the way I felt about my favorite books. There’s nothing more rewarding.

In this first book of the series, Friendship Over, Celie’s dad gives her a diary and a punching bag for her 10th birthday. Why do you think each of these things may be important for a girl her age?

JS: Life can get so complicated for kids Celie’s age. Friendships can start to feel unsettled. Family dynamics can, too. Celie, for example, can’t understand why her best friend, Lula, has suddenly turned mean. Her older sister, Jo, has turned twelve and is making decisions that mystify and annoy Celie. And their grandmother’s health is starting to decline. It’s natural to feel scared, confused, frustrated, and maybe angry in the face of all that change. Punching bags are the perfect way for kids like Celie to take out their frustrations and anger, and diaries are the perfect place for them to try to sort out their feelings.

Friendship Over is not only about Celie’s friendship with Lula, but also her sister’s friendship with Trina. Why did you decide to highlight two very different types of friendship issues in the book?

 

JS: Friendships can be challenging in different ways. Sometimes two friends are good together generally, but something goes awry. They need to work to get the friendship back on track. That’s the case with Celie and Lula. In other instances, friends are just not well matched. Celie senses immediately that Trina is bad for Jo, Celie’s sister. (Celie thinks Trina is bad for practically everyone.) I like considering a range of friendship problems and acknowledging that a solution that’s good for one might not work well for another.

 

Readers also learn a lot about Celie’s family, including some concerns about her grandma’s health. Why would you say it’s a good idea to include characters of an older generation in books for young readers?

 

JS: I like stories that feel real. And most kids in fact spend plenty of time interacting with adults—their own parents; their friends’ parents; grandparents; teachers; neighbors. A story without grownups wouldn’t feel true. And though a children’s story of course has to focus on the interests and concerns of kids, I think grownups qualify. Celie, for example, adores her grandmother. So she is absolutely interested in and concerned about her grandmother’s health.

 

Is there anything you can share about what’s next in the series?

 

JS: I’m just finishing the second book, SECRETS OUT, now! Celie is still struggling with changes around her. Her sister, Jo, is starting her first relationship with a boy—and being annoying as a result. Celie’s best friend, Lula, has become close friends with another girl in their grade, making Celie a little jealous. Celie behaves badly as a result, then tries to hide what she’s done. She’s keeping other secrets, too, about her grandmother’s troubling behavior. It’s been fun to write; I hope it’s fun to read.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com?

 

JS: I love that you’re reading books together. I recently learned that a book I adored as a kid, HANGING OUT WITH CICI, by Francine Pascal, has been re-issued. I shared it with my older daughter, who loved it, too. We’ve talked about its strengths and weaknesses and our reactions to the characters’ decisions; we’ve both now read the sequels; and we’ve talked about them. I can’t think of a better way for mothers and daughters to connect.

 

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