Monday, October 24, 2016

Movie and Book Wrap-up, Fall 2016



Every year, people ask me, the displaced Yankee, if Canada celebrates Thanksgiving. YUP, except they do it on a Monday -- still super weird for me and this is my 15th Thanksgiving here. But we cook on the Sunday so we can relax and chill and eat leftovers on Monday. We need a day of rest after all that good eating!

IN FACT: "The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October.

"The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England, arrived in Newfoundland in 1578. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World.

That means the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts!"*

(*Excerpted from

The more you know ... ;)



This sweet baby sea otter was found alone and in a rough surf off the coast of Washington State — on Rialto Beach in the Olympic National Park — on August 1, necessitating an urgent rescue. Thanks to the quick thinking of a National Park Service ranger (who then contacted the Washington Sea Otter Stranding Network), this little sweetie was brought to the Seattle Aquarium for care. Estimated to have been only around seven to eight weeks old at the time he was saved, aquarium vets found him to be in serious condition: underweight, malnourished, and battling pneumonia.

But thanks to the awesome twenty-four-hour care of the folks at the Seattle Aquarium, this little fella, named Rialto (after the beach where he was found!) has made an awesome recovery. He’s now well on his way to being a big, strapping boy and the pneumonia has completely cleared.

Best of all? HE’S HERE IN VANCOUVER, BC, AT THE THE VANCOUVER AQUARIUM -- and he is absolutely thriving! I am so stoked — we *love* the Vancouver Aquarium and donate regularly to their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Just absolutely terrific news that this baby has joined our resident otters (Elfin, Tanu, and Katmai) and has been welcomed by the people of British Columbia. He's not in the public viewing areas YET, but you can bet when he is, I'll be there to blow him kisses.

Frozen clam treats for everyone!

You seriously have to go to the Vancouver Aquarium's Facebook page and see the video of Rialto sleeping (this screenshot is from his adorable nap). It will make your day, I promise!



When I’m writing, I tend to read books in the genre I’m working on as it keeps my imagination on its toes. For me, reading isn’t just about enjoying someone else’s work; it’s truly about learning my craft and studying what other writers are doing so I can (I hope!) be a better writer myself.

The following are young adult titles I’ve devoured since we last spoke (summaries extracted from Goodreads). (Warning: This list is long, so scroll down if you just want to read the movie reviews or news of what's coming from Eliza Gordon!)
THE YOUNG ELITES, Marie Lu: I read a fair amount of YA fantasy this summer, mostly because it’s fun and I’ve always got my own projects stewing in the background that will be informed by reading heavily in the genre. Friends have extolled the virtues of Marie Lu’s books to me for a while, so I finally picked this one up. I was fresh off reading another series that I loved (Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns), so maybe my impression of Lu’s book was a little skewed—it didn’t feel enough different from what I’d just read to really excite me. But that’s totally my bias and does not have anything to do with the skill of the writer or the quality of the book, which, for the record, is excellent. You don’t get to be an international bestselling author without writing books readers love! This was a solid 4/5 read for me—check it out for yourself.

Summary: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

The great thing about this one? Both books #2 and #3 are now out!

THIS SAVAGE SONG, V. E. Schwab: Really liked this one—I read it in a single day! Schwab is awesome—I have two more of her books sitting right here waiting their turn at bat.

Summary: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

HEARTS & OTHER BODY PARTS, Ira Bloom: This book doesn’t come out until spring 2017 but you will definitely be hearing more from me about it leading up to publication. SO MUCH FUN, and so unique. Unlike anything I’ve ever read, which I don’t say very often (and lately, only about my hero, Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle)).

Summary: Sisters Esme, Katy, and Ronnie are smart, talented, and gorgeous, and better yet ... all three are witches. They have high school wired until the arrival of two new students. The first is Norman, who is almost eight feet tall and appears to be constructed of bolts and mismatched body parts. Despite his intimidating looks, Esme finds herself strangely—almost romantically—drawn to both his oversized brain and oversized heart.

The second new arrival is Zack, an impossibly handsome late transfer from the UK who has the girls at school instantly mesmerized. Soon even sensible Esme has forgotten Norman, and all three sisters are in a flat-out hex war to win Zack. But while the magic is flying, only Norman seems to notice that students who wander off alone with Zack end up with crushed bones and memory loss. Or worse, missing entirely.

Hearts & Other Body Parts is a wickedly addictive novel about love, monsters, and loyalty. And oh yeah, a Japanese corpse-eating demon cat.

ATTACHMENTS, Rainbow Rowell: This was a four-star read for me. A little slow, and the epistolary style can be confusing if you’re not paying attention, but the ending was TOTALLY satisfying. Definitely recommend.

Summary: “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you ... ”

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now—reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers—not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained—and captivated—by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say ...?

MOSQUITOLAND, David Arnold: Another one of my favorite reads this year. I actually started this book a few months ago and put it down because David Arnold’s talent is very intimidating. I know—I’m a weenie! But I restarted and finished the book in a cozy day of ignoring the world. Highly recommend—and while you’re at the library/bookstore, do yourself a favor and pick up Arnold’s latest, Kids of Appetite. That’s next on my TBR (to be read) list!

Summary: After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, “Mosquitoland” is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS, Rae Carson: I have been SO excited for this book to come out, and naturally, when I saw a bookstore in another city near mine had it on their shelves a few days before its scheduled Tuesday release, I zoomed my trusty minivan over there and made it my own. While I tried to pace myself when I sat down to read it, I failed and inhaled. Mmm, yummy book.

The first installment in the series, Walk on Earth a Stranger, was a favorite read of mine last year. I’ve recommended it a few times to friends who didn’t love it as much because they felt it was a slow read—and the first book does feel like a big set-up for the sequel—but I was super impressed by the author’s skill with research and character development. I really cared about these people, and the level of detail Carson provided to give readers a truly authentic feel for what life was like moving across America during this time in history was first-rate. Writing a compelling story about the Oregon Trail/California Gold Rush that we haven’t seen before is the real feat here, and Carson totally pulled it off. I love this series so far and am looking forward to the third book! (Also, her Girl of Fire and Thorns series is one of my favorite YA fantasy series ever. Check it out.)

Summary: After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

The second epic historical fantasy in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson, the acclaimed author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns

EVERY HIDDEN THING, Kenneth Oppel: I’m a big fan of Canadian writer Kenneth Oppel—his Victor Frankenstein duology is among my favorite YA reads. This is his newest release, touted as Indiana Jones meets Romeo and Juliet. Sold! Again, another example of stellar research and tight character building. Keep in mind, though—this book is solidly a young adult novel, due to sexual content, and not for middle grade readers, unlike some of Oppel’s other popular books.

Summary: Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth-century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt, it’s the “rex,” the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.

But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. And if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.

As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. Their flourishing romance is one that will never be allowed. And with both eyeing the same prize, it’s a romance that seems destined for failure. As their attraction deepens, danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light and forcing Samuel and Rachel to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry, and with it a new life together, or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, Mindy McGinnis: Wow, this was an edgy read with graphic sexual content, mature themes, violence, and coarse language—if you’re offended by such things, this book might not be right for you. However, I really liked it, maybe because the main character, Alex Craft, was such a damaged badass or maybe because I did my last 18 months of high school in a small town similar to the one in the book (I was the outsider city girl)—and I know how gossipy and tightly knit these communities can be. McGinnis nailed the almost incestuous atmosphere that comes from a small population, where everyone knows your business, where your dad probably dated your best friend’s mom at some point, where getting drunk in the woods is a common reality passed from generation to generation. Sometimes I struggle with books in which the story is told from a lot of different perspectives but McGinnis was adept enough with characterization that I soon heard the voices of the individual players distinct from one another. This is a tough skill to master, so kudos to the writer. I don’t want to spoil anything but the main character’s change from beginning to end was satisfying, unexpected, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Summary: Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

And a few “grownup” books too!

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?, Maria Semple: A number of my friends have bugged me for a while to read this—so I finally did, and what a hoot! Definitely enjoyed the style Semple used wherein the narrative was relayed through a series of emails, letters, and other correspondence. And the overlying mystery—where is Bernadette?—was great fun. These characters will stick with you for a while. Recommend strongly.

Summary: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

LEAVE ME, Gayle Forman: When I read the summary for this at the bookstore, I knew I had to have it. I have three kids at home, so life is busy all the time—I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to that occasional fantasy that finds me on a plane en route to a single woman’s life in the rolling hills of Scotland where I’d be free of carpool, beagle crap, and playdates. In Gayle Forman’s first novel for adults (she has a successful career as a young adult author as well), she gives us harried mom-of-twins-and-overall-superhuman Maribeth Klein who, after a heart attack and a family who just doesn’t get it, boards a train and doesn’t look back. Forman is skilled at dissecting the human condition and feeding it to us in nice bite-sized morsels, and the subplots and secondary characters are brilliantly drawn.

My only complaint: While I found myself angry at Maribeth’s family for not taking better care of her after a catastrophic medical event, and while I totally understood why she did what she did, the main character’s attempts to make her financial situation relatable to the common woman didn’t work for me, i.e., she’s lived in the same NYC rent-controlled loft for 20 years because she and her husband couldn’t afford anything else secondary to the exorbitant fees they pay for their twins’ private school. And yet, when she leaves, she can walk to the bank and withdraw $25,000 in cash for her “new life.” Meanwhile, those of us who live in the real world know that if we wanted to leave our families, we’d end up in a Motel 6 that offers a AAA discount two exits down and then we’d have to head home the next day, probably with bed bugs. ;)

Summary: For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, for every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention—meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.

Afterward, surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is so often the case, once we get to where we’re going, we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is finally able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from those she loves and from herself.

With big-hearted characters who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing our fears. Gayle Forman, a dazzling observer of human nature, has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head-on.



And when I'm not reading ...
I'm at the movies!

Now that the weather’s changing and the lawn furniture has been tucked away for another year, it’s time to watch some MOVIES! (And read books. But I don’t need to tell you that.) As I’ve gone on and on about before, I love movies. And I always make time to get lost in some cinematic bliss as a way to unplug and let my brain enjoy someone else’s reality for a while. Also: movie popcorn is straight-up awesome.
STAR TREK BEYOND, because Husband worked on it! I’m not a Trekkie myself (I’m more a Star Wars enthusiast), but once you let go a little and immerse yourself in the tech talk of the Star Trek environment (and forget that Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) is also Eomer from Lord of the Rings!), the dialogue is funny and the characters are likable. You can’t go wrong with Simon Pegg (who cowrote and stars in the film), and like I said, Husband spent a lot of grueling summer days working on those sets so of course we had to see it. It was fun—recommend!

JASON BOURNE: Meh. I love Jason Bourne. But this one didn’t bring us anything new, and in fact, the first 10-15 minutes felt like we were watching an acting workshop. I’m going to venture a guess that Julia Stiles wasn’t pleased about what they did to her character because she totally called this in. I like Stiles—she’s terrific in earlier Bourne installments as well as Ten Things I Hate About You and Silver Linings Playbook (one of my all-time favorite films), but this performance was lackluster at best. If you’re a Bourne fan, you’ll watch this anyway but if not, you’re not missing much—well, except maybe a hunky Matt Damon without his shirt. That was not hard to look at. Love you, Matty!

BEN-HUR: Ouch. I wanted to love this one because of the casting choices—Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell are two actors who are going to explode in the next few years (and is it horrible that I was lusting after the delicious Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus? I’m such a heathen. Fans of Love Actually will recognize Santoro as the hot dude Laura Linney’s character never seals the deal with because of her needy brother—MOST frustrating storyline EVER!!!). Unfortunately, this flick just didn’t have the oomph it needed to make a box office splash. It felt more like a TV movie; the script felt disjointed and the way the film was sold in the trailers (two brothers settling an old fight with one another in a chariot race to the death) … yeah, that’s not what the story is about, really, and the whole thing felt disingenuous. Seems I’m not the only one who thought that; of its $100M production budget, the film has only grossed $26M in ticket sales. Yikes. (If you want a Ben-Hur fix, watch the 1959 original.) The ONE REDEMPTION OF THIS FILM: the fantastic score by Marco Beltrami. If you’re a score junkie like I am, check this one out.

BRIDGET JONES’S BABY: I LAUGHED SO MUCH! I seriously was not expecting much from the resurrection of this series, especially after what I’d heard about the latest Bridget Jones book from Helen Fielding (I didn’t read it, guys—no Mark Darcy? WHAT?). I enjoyed the first Bridget Jones film but didn’t fall for the sequels, so I went to the theatre with pretty low expectations. (And my darling Husband was one of only two guys in the whole theatre, so thanks, GareBear! What a guy …) This film picks up ten years later with a still-goofy Bridget who has matured *a little* but she's still that silly thing we love from her earlier days. Colin Firth is back as the stuffy but stunning Mr. Darcy; the love triangle is completed by McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey. It's a fun way to spend two hours with some hilarious, over-the-top moments--exactly what we love about these rom-coms! And I don't care what the paparazzi says: Renee Zellweger has never looked better or more herself. Totally recommend!
FREE STATE OF JONES: Wow. Wow. I love that Matthew McConaughey is doing so many important films where he brings to light more than his six-pack. This is definitely one of them. Helmed by director Gary Ross (who we haven’t seen since 2012’s Hunger Games), this film was equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking, especially because it’s based on a true story—we were still talking about it the next day. This entry deserves the official summary:

Set during the Civil War, Free State of Jones tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.

If I were a teacher, I would make Free State of Jones part of my curriculum. This film serves as a beautiful testament to the human spirit when righteousness stands up to unfathomable hatred, even in the face of severe retribution. For those of us who naively thought life was improved for Black Americans in the 1800s after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed? Wrong x infinity. Wholeheartedly recommend.

THE NICE GUYS: Probably my favorite film of the year so far—and it hasn’t gotten NEARLY the attention it deserves. With a summary like this—A mismatched pair of private eyes investigate the apparent suicide of a porn star in 1970s Los Angeles—how can you go wrong? The on-screen chemistry with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is undeniable, and writer-director Shane Black’s dialogue and comedy had us laughing consistently throughout the film. Angourie Rice, the fabulous young actress who plays Gosling’s daughter, nearly steals the show from her older, more seasoned counterparts. This film was so much fun that I asked for it on DVD for my birthday and have since watched it again to pick up the stuff I missed the first time around. Super loved it. (P.S. Don’t watch with the littles in the room … fair warning.)

HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR: I was a fan of the first Snow White and the Huntsman film (it also has a terrific score by James Newton Howard), and as much as I love the actors in this installment (Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, and yes, yummy Chris Hemsworth (Thor)) … this film just did not come together for me. Blunt and Theron are sisters set against one another pretty early on, but the ongoing vengeance theme got lost in the mire of too much going on. Less is more—which is why the first film worked. One bad guy vs. Snow White. Here we have two bad guys who are also at war with one another, and two good guys who are also in love with one another but are also fighting that love, and it was just overly complicated. Have a watch yourself and see what you think. Personally, I wouldn’t watch it again, but it’s never a waste of time to watch Chastain and Hemsworth smooch on screen. ;)

MAGNIFICENT 7: While I’m not a huge fan of westerns, I do like Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke, and Antoine Fuqua is a terrific filmmaker—so I went for it. The storyline is pretty much what you'd expect it to be: bad guy terrorizes small town, bounty hunter comes to help and recruits a motley crew of gun-slinging, whiskey-swilling, tabacky-chewing assassins to defend the terrorized folks, big battle with lots of guns ensues. Fun times! The story didn’t spend too much energy on backstories for the main characters—just little peeks here and there—so it was hard to get attached to any one of them singularly, but come on, we always want good to defeat evil (and Peter Sarsgaard is SO good at evil in this one!). Denzel is his usual calm, cool, collected badass self (check him out in The Equalizer if you haven’t already, another Fuqua film), and who among us isn’t a sucker for that Chris Pratt side-smile? It was a fun night at the movies so check this out when it comes to DVD or OnDemand.

WARCRAFT: Husband worked on this one too but we were disappointed by the result. The story was all over the place—too many storylines intersecting one another and the casting choices were, to be frank, bizarre. The main male lead (Travis Fimmel) is the dude from the hit TV show Vikings (which is on my list to catch up on!), and he wasn’t bad, but the story where he and Paula Patton’s half-human/half-orc fall in love basically 40 seconds after meeting? Yeah. That fell flat. The CG characters weren’t the best I’ve seen, despite the fact that this was a HUGE project with a massive $160M budget (some estimates say it was even higher than that). The gossip around the movie people is that Blizzard Entertainment basically had a chokehold over this film—which sucks, because Blizzard makes video games and does not specialize in filmmaking, two very separate art forms. Also, director Duncan Jones is David Bowie’s son, and so I hate to bash this film because, let's be honest, he's had a shit year with his dad passing away. With that said (apologies to Mr. Duncan), I’d skip this one, unless you’re a hardcore fan of the video game.

OH! And as an added bonus, we went to see my #1 Muse and Boyfriend, Mark Strong, in a cinecast of the Arthur Miller play, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, as performed by the National Theatre at the Young Vic in London.

It's a really cool program wherein the National Theatre records the live stage performance and then offers the play to cinemas around the world. I have been looking forward to seeing this for MONTHS, and my darling Mr. Strong did NOT disappoint!

What are YOUR favorite films? Anything you can recommend? Anything you're looking forward to this fall/winter (ROGUE ONE, ahem)?



Movie and Book Wrap-up, Summer 2016 ...

Of all the things in the world to do, among my very favorites: going to the movies. I love the surround sound, the huge screen, the comfy seats, the popcorn (!!!). Yeah, sure, there are those morons who talk too much or pull out their phones, but when that opening scroll starts up for Universal or Village Roadshow or MGM or 20th Century Fox, well, my imagination catches fire. There’s just something about the movies that makes everything else okay. And right now, with the world in that hell-bound hand basket folks talk so much about, a little escapism goes a long way.
This entry is excerpted from my Eliza Gordon newsletter from summer 2016 and includes a movie wrap-up of some popular films I managed to squeeze into my eyeballs, both at the theatre and from the comfort of my not-so-comfortable couch. Maybe you haven't seen these yet, and with the Long Dark coming at us, movies are a great way to pass the time. Because movies are awesome!
Let's begin:
Captain America: Civil War – Team Winter Soldier forevah! Love me some Bucky Barnes. Fun movie but I’m a Team DC Comics girl, I think. Solid story and in fact, it provided some great talking points when I was engaged with the middle schoolers (see below) about what makes a protagonist vs. antagonist. Suffice it to say, you’re either Team Cap or Team Iron Man. Who will you choose?

Black Mass: Johnny Depp is creepy as hell in this but the movie never really got off the ground for me. None of the characters evolved; they were just sorta the same from start to finish. Solid performances, though—Depp is always strong when he’s playing someone a little weird (and evil). And I love Joel Edgerton. Check him out if he’s new to you.

The 5th Wave: I so wanted to like this film as I love YA (young adult) books and films and Chloe Grace Moretz is one of my favorite young actresses working today. Kid’s got moxie. But despite a strong start and a believable performance from Moretz, the film splits itself in two when it follows a predictable military storyline with a completely different character (Nick Robinson) who crosses paths with our hero, Cassie, in a manner WAY too convenient. Things become predictable, and Cassie isn’t the one who saves the day in the end. It’s not great this film didn’t do better (it made $35M gross, shy of earning back its $38M budget) because that means we likely won’t see author Rick Yancey’s sequels make it to the big screen—which sort of sucks because the film ends on a relative cliffhanger and I'd like to see Cassie step up and save the world.

Deadpool: RAUNCHY and HILARIOUS. I waited until this was OnDemand and man, it is so freaking funny. Ryan Reynolds is adorable, a natural comedian, and the supporting cast is all kinds of fun. Super inappropriate for the underage crowd, so do NOT let your little ones watch it!
Me Before You: OH MAN, I love Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin! I loved this book (by Jojo Moyes) and its sequel (AFTER YOU, which I found so satisfying). It takes a lot to get me to cry in a movie so I held steady with this but the theatre was filled with sniffles. It was awesome to see Clarke’s range, considering I know her best as Daenerys Targaryen/Mother of Dragons, and any time Sam Claflin is on a screen, I’m all in. (Check him out in LOVE, ROSIE, the adorable 2014 adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s charming novel, co-starring Lily Collins.)

Gods of Egypt: Just because you employ some of Hollywood’s best-looking leading men does NOT mean your film will succeed. Marco Beltrami's soundtrack for this is good but honestly, the white-washing of Egyptian history, the scattershot storyline, and the haphazard CGI makes this one to skip.

13 Hours: This ain’t the Jim from The Office you remember. John Krazinski is beefy and militarized in this taut but sometimes on-the-nose biopic about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, in which four Americans were killed (including Ambassador Chris Stevens). Solid military film, if not edging into cliche tropes, which has absolutely nothing to do with the actual event and everything to do with slippery screenwriting.

Sisters: Hilarious! Can’t go wrong with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. You’ll cringe at what they do to their poor parents’ house but you’ll wish you had a sister that crazy and cool by film’s end. Not their funniest turn in front of the camera but we definitely had a good night of laughs, which is the point, right?


Central Intelligence: MY BEEFY BEAUTIFUL BOYFRIEND IS IN THIS, so how could it go wrong? Dwayne The Rock Johnson and Kevin Hart are so fun together, and though I went in with few expectations, I came out with a Rock-sized smile. Super fun. You’ll leave hoping that your Sixteen Candles moment isn’t far behind! ;)

Batman v. Superman – Ultimate Edition: FUN! Lots of extra details that were deleted from the theatrical version. Adds about 30 minutes to the film but diehard fans will enjoy every second … especially that bathtub scene that is about five seconds more and shows Henry skin. Oooh la la.
Oh, and a brief shower scene with Batfleck. Batfleck Buns for the win.
Nice to see Jena Malone's (brief) addition to the film; I found a lot of the material added to this version filled in the gaps in my understanding of the storyline.

Tarzan: Umm, abs, anyone? Again, I didn’t go in with high expectations. TARZAN has been movie’d to death, but I actually found myself enamored with this one. Yeah, suspend disbelief for a while because the physics don’t always work with what a human body is capable of, but if that human body is a shirtless Alexander Skarsgård, well, it’s worth the price of admission. Christoph Waltz is menacing as usual (I’d like to see that guy play a nice-guy role ...) and Margot Robbie is a tough beauty with a likeable backstory. And the soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams is gorgeous.

Secret Life of Pets: A fun afternoon spent with my 11-year-old that was not short on laughs. This film runs at a breakneck pace that might exhaust younger viewers but they’ll be so enamored with the tiny angry bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart!) and the brave heroes—Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe—that giggles are assured all the way through. There was a daycare at the theatre the day we went, and those kids howled. Recommend!
Ghostbusters: This film—OH MY GHOSTS—so much fun that we’re going to see it again. I LOVE HOLTZMANN!!! It has just the right mix of camp and crazy that you’ll bust a gut laughing. Fun cameos, ghoulish ghouls, and all the slime you could ask for. Plus you can’t go wrong with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, two of my FAVORITE comedic actors, but this reboot absolutely sparkles with the fierce talent of SNL’s Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, who sort of steal the show, TBH. Believe the good hype: this film rocks. And for those haters, well, let them go find something else to hate on.

AND NOW, books!

When I'm not watching movies, I read, as much as I possibly can. When I'm deep in my own writing projects, I need to read to fill the word reservoir. Books have the same effect on my brain that the movies do, and I love working a long day and getting all the family stuff out of the way so I can FINALLY curl up and get lost in someone else's words for a while. Plus I read across genres, depending on my mood, so there's always something for everyone to latch on to in my recommendations.

These last few months, I've read ...

THE THREE, Sarah Lotz (thriller): Creepy and weird but it held me all the way to the end. Lotz will keep you guessing, and I love that in a thriller. It's told in brief chapters of interviews and news reports, so for folks who want a linear narrative, this might not work for you. But the creative way the author has woven multiple storylines into the main theme is remarkable. For fans of the TV show LOST and books by Stephen King.

, John Corey Whaley (YA): Heartfelt coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old agoraphobic named Solomon. Very well done—a compelling read. These characters were relatable and interesting, as is common with every Whaley project. Have a look.


THE SERPENT KING, Jeff Zentner (YA): Loved this one. About three best friends from very divergent backgrounds in rural Tennessee. You will fall in love with and root for Travis, Dill, and Lydia—and you won’t see that shocking turn of events that will undo everything, altering the future for our beloved characters. As I've never been to Tennessee, it was awesome to see the setting play just as much of a role as the characters themselves; fascinating part of the world, and native Zentner does his home state justice in his delicious descriptions.

, kc dyer (contemporary romance): For fans of Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, this is a must-read. It is so fun! A little slow in the opening chapters but once Emma Sheridan gets to Scotland in search of her own Jamie Fraser, the pages turn themselves. Funny, heartfelt, and charming.


GIRL of FIRE and THORNS, CROWN of EMBERS, THE BITTER KINGDOM, trilogy by Rae Carson (YA): I needed a good YA fantasy, and this series did not fail to deliver. Friends have been telling me about this one for a few years but I had a hard time finding it on store shelves (and then I'd forget to order it online!). I read the first book in two days and immediately went to the bookstore for the rest of the trilogy (thankfully, they were in stock! Miracles do happen, people!). Find yourself falling for Elisa and her colorful cast of characters, some friend, some foe, and all of them intriguing, well-drawn figures, a testament to Carson’s skill. Also check out her gorgeous book WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER about a girl who can divine gold hidden in the earth; the sequel, LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS, came out September 27.

What are you reading? Any recommendations for me?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HO HO HO - Who Likes Middle-Grade Books?

It's THAT TIME OF YEAR again (like you needed me to tell you). The mall parking lots are totally overwhelmed with morons who don't know how to drive, their angry faces throwing shade (and worse) at each other for the spot closest to the food court entrance. The television blasts Christmas programming interspersed with ear-splitting ads for must-have toys and gadgets that the kiddies will break/grow tired of thirty-one-point-two minutes after opening. The neighbors put up their Griswold Christmas-worthy lights and then launch preemptive strikes to outdo one another. Monday night, Neighbor 1 adds two strands around the naked maple tree; Tuesday, Neighbor 2 adds THREE strands to their fir tree and a blow-up snowman on the porch; Wednesday night, Neighbor 1 is again on the ladder with FIVE more strands, TEN of those light-up candy cane thingies stabbed into the yard, and two motorized, light-up wicker reindeer. By the time Friday rolls around, you have to put on sunglasses just to go into the kitchen for a glass of water. The glare -- it burns us. Don't blame Canada if there are power shortages this Christmas.

And the food -- don't get me started on the food. Every year, I'm like, okay, I will be calm with the cookie eating this year. I am a grown-up. I have self-control. And every year, I get so excited about the cookies that I have special pants to wear just for the months of November and December. WHY DOES CHRISTMAS TASTE SO GOOD? If Christmas would just taste like broccoli, I wouldn't need the special pants. Also, if someone could make broccoli taste like a cookie, that would be way better.

ANYWAY: You have readers. Young readers. Middle grade readers. For whom YOU NEED BOOKS. So, on with the show, then, Rambling Jenn.

Here are our top recommendations for this year's middle grade books, chosen by everyone's favorite curly-haired, book-loving chap, KennyG.


FOR 2014

(P.S. No, we have not read *all* of these. But most. Some are still sitting on the shelf, waiting their turn. And some of these were not published in 2014. We just happened upon them during this calendar year. Oh, also, the summaries were taken from Amazon.)

THE UNWANTEDS - series by Lisa McMann

(***Kendon's FAVORITE SERIES EVER!***)

Books 1 through 4 available now; Book 5, Island of Shipwrecks due Feb. 3, 2015 

Quill prevails when the strong survive

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their graves.

On the day of the Purge, identical twins Alex and Aaron Stowe await their fate. While Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted, Alex knows his chances are slim. He's been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt-and in the stark gray land of Quill, being creative is a death sentence.

But when Alex and the other Unwanteds face the Eliminators, they discover an eccentric magician named Mr. Today and his hidden world that exists to save the condemned children. Artimé is a colorful place of talking statues, uncommon creatures, and artistic magic, where creativity is considered a gift ... and a weapon.


THE BOUNDLESS, by Kenneth Oppel

Will Everett always wished for an adventure … but he wasn’t expecting it to start the moment he boarded the Boundless, the largest and most magnificent train ever built.

After a murder is committed, Will finds himself in possession of a key that has the potential to unlock the train’s hidden treasures. Together with Maren, a gifted escape artist, and Mr. Dorian, a circus ringmaster with amazing abilities, Will must save the Boundless before someone else winds up dead.

With villains fast on his heels and strange creatures lurking outside the windows, the train hurtles across the country as Will flees for his life. His adventure may have begun without his knowing … but how it ends is now entirely up to Will.


THE ABILITY, by M. M. Vaughn

(We shared this one last year, but the sequel is out -- see below -- so it's a good reminder!)

Delve into the extraordinary abilities of the twelve-year-old mind in this “fast-paced, superhero-tinged spy novel” (Publishers Weekly), the thrilling start to a middle grade series that expands the possibilities of power.

No one has any confidence in twelve-year-old Christopher Lane. His teachers discount him as a liar and a thief, and his mom doesn’t have the energy to deal with him. But a mysterious visit from the Ministry of Education indicates that Chris might have some potential after all: He is invited to attend the prestigious Myers Holt Academy.

When Christopher begins at his new school, he is astounded at what he can do. It seems that age twelve is a special time for the human brain, which is capable of remarkable feats—as also evidenced by Chris’s peers Ernest and Mortimer Genever, who, at the direction of their vengeful and manipulative mother, are testing the boundaries of the human mind.

But all this experimentation has consequences, and Chris soon finds himself forced to face them—or his new life will be over before it can begin.


Telekinetic preteens use their powers for good—and evil—in this mind-bending sequel to The Ability, which Publishers Weekly called a “fast-paced, superhero-tinged spy novel.”

Everywhere that Christopher Lane turns, he sees the face of the boy he killed. There is no escape from the guilt, not even on his return to Myers Holt—the secret London academy where he and five others are being trained to use their mental powers, their Ability.

But now that the threat of Dulcia Genever has been dealt with, his friends are too busy working for the police, entering the minds of some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, to sympathize. Chris’s teachers are already concerned enough about him, especially when Chris starts to wonder if the boy may not be a figment of his imagination after all.

Meanwhile, alone in Darkwhisper Manor, Ernest Genever is enjoying watching Chris’s torment. Yes, he will keep his promise—Christopher Lane will die—but not until he has watched Chris lose his mind waiting for Ernest to appear. For, if nothing else, Dulcia Genever did teach her son one valuable lesson:

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

JUST JAKE, by Jake Marcionette

Note: This book is written by a KID! Jake was 12 when he wrote the first installment. Very cool!

JUST JAKE introduces readers to sixth-grader Jake, whose life is turned upside down when his family moves from Florida to Maryland, where Jake must adapt to a new school. 

Jake has always ranked the kids at school in his hand-made, humorous “Kid Cards,” and when he arrives at his new school, Jake starts building a new collection, befriending as many people as he can while staying under the radar from the school bully.  

But what happens when the school bully decides Jake's next in line for annihilation and his Kid Cards get into the wrong hands?!!

JUST JAKE is a genuine—and as Jake himself would say, AWESOME!—world of school, family, friends, and teachers; it’s the product of a writer talented well beyond his years. 

And March 2015 will bring us JUST JAKE #2, DOG EAT DOG:

Sixth grader Jake Ali Mathews is slowly climbing his way back up the ladder of popularity. Increasingly settled in his new school and with a great new best friend, Michael, everything seems to be going okay for Jake. Until Jake's beloved teacher, Mrs. Pilsner, has a baby and the students in Jake's homeroom are handed off to the super-scary substitute, Ms. Cane.  

Rather than teach through traditional methods, Ms. Cane decides to have these go-getters help her with a fledgling pet-grooming company. Dogs, cats, and more get bathed, popularity struggles become boardroom struggles, and Jake's friendship with Michael is tested.  Even Jake's diabolical sister, Alexis, gets in on the puppy-cleaning action and hilarity ensues. 

But will Jake's brand of AWESOMENESS be enough to clean up this furry mess? 


SISTERS, by Raina Telgemeier

The companion to Raina Telgemeier's #1 New York Times bestselling and Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir, Smile.
Raina can't wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren't quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she's also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn't improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, something doesn't seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all. 

Raina uses her signature humour and charm in both present-day narrative and perfectly placed flashbacks to tell the story of her relationship with her sister, which unfolds during the course of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado.


by Shannon Messenger

Note: This is a fantastic series -- and Shannon Messenger is a VERY cool human being -- so interactive with her young fans. In addition to being an author for middle grade and young adult fiction, she is also an artist. Be sure to check out her Society 6 page!

Sophie uncovers shocking secrets—and faces treacherous new enemies—in this electrifying third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Sophie Foster is ready to fight back.


Her talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers—before they come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves her world teetering on the edge of war, and causes many to fear that she has finally gone too far. And the deeper Sophie searches, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that her most dangerous enemy might be closer than she realizes.

In this nail-biting third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion, before they destroy everyone and everything she loves. 



A breakout teen author explores the true meaning of popularity and how to survive middle school in this hysterically funny, touchingly honest contemporary memoir.  

Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help a shy girl become popular? Maya Van Wagenen is about to find out.  

Stuck near the bottom of the social ladder at “pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya has never been popular. But before starting eighth grade, she decides to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell.

The real-life results are hilarious, painful, and filled with unexpected surprises. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence, along with a better understanding of what it means to be popular.

SPARKERS, by Eleanor Glewwe

In the city of Ashara, magicians rule all.

Marah Levi is a promising violinist who excels at school and can read more languages than most librarians. Even so, she has little hope of a bright future: she is a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.

Then a mysterious disease hits the city of Ashara, turning its victims’ eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those whom she loves most fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together they pursue a cure in secret, but more people are dying every day, and time is running out. Then Marah and Azariah make a shocking discovery that turns inside-out everything they thought they knew about magic and about Ashara, their home. 

Set in an imaginative world rich with language, lore, and music, this gripping adventure plunges the reader into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the dark eyes.


UNGIFTED, by Gordon Korman

**Starred review from Kendon Himself**

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Gordon Korman comes a hilarious and heartfelt novel in which one middle-school troublemaker accidentally moves into the gifted and talented program—and changes everything. For fans of Louis Sachar and Jack Gantos, this funny and touching underdog story is a lovable and goofy adventure with robot fights, middle-school dances, live experiments, and statue-toppling pranks!

When Donovan Curtis pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, a special program for gifted and talented students.

Although it wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, the ASD couldn’t be a more perfectly unexpected hideout for someone like him. But as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything), he shows that his gifts may be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed. 


by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis 

For fans of The Chronicles of Narnia comes the the Wildwood Chronicles, the New York Times best-selling fantasy adventure series by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval—a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children's literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.



(A series -- three books available!)

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun.


Volume One, by Neil Gaiman et al

(Volume Two is now available! It's on my shopping list.)

The first volume of a glorious two-volume, four-color graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's #1 New York Times best-selling and Newbery Medal-winning novel The Graveyard Book, adapted by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by an extraordinary team of renowned artists.

Inventive, chilling, and filled with wonder, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book reaches new heights in this stunning adaptation. Artists Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, and Stephen B. Scott lend their own signature styles to create an imaginatively diverse and yet cohesive interpretation of Neil Gaiman's luminous novel.

Volume One contains Chapter One through the Interlude, while Volume Two will include Chapter Six to the end.


by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

Wherever you need to go—the Map to Everywhere can take you there.

To Master Thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation.

With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere—but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if they can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!

In Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis’s first installment of a fantastical new series, adventure, magic, and hilarity collide in the treacherous skies and dangerous waters of the Pirate Stream. Heart-pounding escapades and a colorful cast of characters will have readers setting sail through this wholly original and unforgettable tale.


THE LAND OF STORIES, a series by Chris Colfer

(Three books out in this series; #4 hits shelves July 7, 2015.)

Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales.

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought. 


JAKE AND LILY, by Jerry Spinelli 

Beloved Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli, author of Maniac Magee and Wringer, addresses issues of identity, belonging, family, and bullying in this humorous and heartfelt novel about twins.

Jake and Lily are twins. Despite their slightly different interests and temperaments, they feel exactly the same—like two halves of one person. But the year they turn eleven, everything changes. Their parents announce it’s time for separate bedrooms. Jake starts hanging out with a pack of boys on the block. And Lily is devastated, not to mention angry. Who is she without Jake? And as her brother falls under the influence of the neighborhood bully, he also must ask himself—who is the real Jake?

This is an often funny, poignant, and profound story of growing up, growing apart, and the difficult process of figuring out who you really are.


EL DEAFO, by Cece Bell

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers!

In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is.

After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.


by Lindsay Cummings

The Fires of Calderon is Book One in Lindsay Cummings’s epic Balance Keepers series. These exciting fantasy adventure books are full of magic, mystery, friendship, and humor and are perfect for fans of books like Brandon Mull’s The Candy Shop War or the Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann.

With themes of friendship, self-discovery, and courage; both boy and girl main characters; fierce creatures to battle; a mystery to solve; and a boarding school that could be described as Hogwarts underground, there’s something for every reader to enjoy in this contemporary—and fantastically imaginative—spin on the classic Journey to the Center of the Earth.

When eleven-year-old Albert Flynn follows a mysterious map deep into the woods, and then under the woods, he discovers he’s a Balance Keeper—someone with special magical skills for keeping harmony in fantastical underground worlds. Together with his teammates Leroy and Birdie, Albert must master his magical talents in time to stop the fires in the Calderon Realm from destroying New York City above.


by Kazu Kibuishi

Navin and his classmates journey to Lucien, a city ravaged by war and plagued by mysterious creatures, where they search for a beacon essential to their fight against the Elf King. 

Meanwhile, Emily heads back into the Void with Max, one of the Elf King's loyal followers, where she learns his darkest secrets. The stakes, for both Emily and Navin, are higher than ever.


PHEW! What a list. Okay, so you should be able to find a thing or two here for your eager reader. Be sure to pop by and let me know YOUR favorite reads ... there is no such thing as TOO MANY BOOKS.

Merry Christmas!
Joyeux Noël!
Happy Hanukkah!

Xs and Os, bookish friends ...