Woolly: A Book Review

Occasionally, publishers send me complimentary copies of books to review, or I’m approved for a title I’ve requested on Netgalley.com, like Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures (Simon and Schuster) I’ve got to admit: I thought this was a novel after I read the first few pages. Author Ben Mezrich is a really engaging storyteller, and this non-fiction book has a Jurassic Park quality that might make you think it’s all made up. But surprisingly, it’s not, and the way Mezrich writes about real-life scientists and their research work makes for a terrific read. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a woolly mammoth fan.

Book Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison

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What do you wish for?

In author Samantha Mabry’s debut novel, A Fierce and Subtle Poison, seventeen-year-old Lucas is drawn irresistibly to a mysterious house, said to be cursed, that sits at the end of a street in Old San Juan. Locals scribble their wishes on notes and toss them into the courtyard, which is filled with poisonous plants, and it’s rumored that a girl with green skin and hair like grass lives behind its walls.

While Lucas spends the summer with his father, a hotel developer, idling away his time and partying with friends, several girls from town go missing. One of them is pretty Marisol, whom he’s been seeing.

As Lucas starts to look for answers to the disappearances, he meets Isabel Ford, who lives in the cursed house. Isabel’s touch, he discovers, is poisonous. Worse, when Marisol’s body washes up on the shore, and her little sister also vanishes, Lucas becomes a suspect in the crimes.

Isabel’s poison affects Lucas, but it’s also slowly killing her, so the two join forces to find a way to end the curse.

Her book, Mabry says, was inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” She re-told the story, adding elements of magical realism like those used by Latino author Isabel Allende, and moved the tale to Puerto Rico. The result is a haunting novel that’s so rich with atmosphere, the reader can feel the humid, tropical air, and the cold sting of the sea that took Marisol’s life—and may have taken her sister’s.

The book is filled with romance and suspense, sacrifice and longing, and myth and mystery. Eventually, Lucas becomes the keeper of the written wishes, even as he spins a wish of his own. When the book ends, some readers will still feel a need for closure, but Mabry has crafted a haunting, exciting novel – with a stunningly beautiful cover – that will resonate with readers.

(Jacket image courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers)

Dogtology: A Bone-A-Fide Book Review

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Dogtology: Live, Bark, Believe, by J. Lazarus, is simply terrific. I loved this laugh out-loud look at canines and our obsession with them.

The author really has us pet-parents nailed. We are smitten with our fur-babies, and see them as our perfect companions because they’re non-judgmental, loving, playful, and accepting of all our human failings.

I like to say my rescue dogs rescued me, and they did. They pulled me out of my empty-nest slump and licked me into shape again (literally licked me, with their long, wet tongues). Four enthusiastic paws up for this book! I’ll recommend it to anyone, especially cat-lovers.

I received my copy of this book from Netgalley, but my opinions are bone-a-fide, so to speak.

Image courtesy of Greenleaf Book Group

 

Shopping for Someone Who Loves Books? Check These Out!

It’s easy for my family to shop for my Christmas gifts. Just give me a book–or a trip to the bookstore, with a gift card in hand–and I’m happy.

Kitty Cornered, by Bob Tarte. Courtesy of Algonquin Books

I’m also happy that several new books have come my way lately, thanks to publishing companies who have sent me advance copies to review. Are you buying for a bookworm this year? Check out these new releases:

The Future Of Us, by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler.  Young adults snapped up author Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why, and critics loved it, too. The book spent over a year on the NYT bestseller lists and has sold over 1 million print copies in the U.S. alone. While the premise might sound dreary–it’s about a teenage girl who leaves behind 13 clues to help a friend understand why she took her own life–it resonated with many readers.

Co-author Carolyn Mackler is an award-winning writer whose novels have been published in 15 countries. They include The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things; Tangled; and Love and Other Four Letter Words.

As you’d guess, these two authors have collaborated to produce another sure-fire hit. The Future of Us is set in 1996, when friends Josh and Emma receive an America Online CD-ROM in the mail and discover Facebook–except Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Suddenly the kids are looking at their profiles 15 years in the future, complete with info on their spouses, jobs, and innermost thoughts.

Miss Paws recommends The Future of Us, a new young adult book.

Every time Josh and Emma refresh their Facebook pages, they’re actually changing their own futures. Soon they’re confronted with some difficult choices. Can they be happy with what life holds–or will they risk it all, in order to change their destinies?

The Future of Us should appeal to anyone who enjoys resist a sweet, young-love romance, and the added element of time travel is fun for sci-fi fans. You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future of this book; I’ve heard it’s already been optioned for a movie.

If you’re a pet lover, don’t miss Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home, by Bob Tarte. The only bad news is that this book won’t be released until April of 2012–but you can go ahead and put it on your wish list, or preorder through Amazon.com.

Tarte is also the author of the hilarious Enslaved by Ducks, and his story of surviving in a household run by a half-dozen demanding felines is another laugh-out-loud tale. While I’m a dog person at heart, I’ve owned cats (I should say, I’ve been owned by cats), and I enjoy them. You’ll enjoy Tarte’s adventures with his complicated, diva-kitties.

Even my loyal rescue doggie, Miss Paws, gives Kitty Cornered a paw’s up!

(Click this link to see more about Enslaved By Ducks, while you wait for Kitty Cornered to be released.)

Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir – A Picture Book for Bug Lovers

Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir (Hyperion Books)

My son is grown up now, but sometimes I still wish I had a little one around the house, so I’d have an excuse to buy more picture books. I love the stories and amazing artwork.

Today I’ve got a treat for those of you who also love picture books–and it’s an even bigger treat, if you’re an aspiring children’s writer (like me!).  Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY, recently spent a little time answering my questions about her brand-new book and about the writing process.

Leslie, who is also a poet, sold the manuscript for BARRY, along with two other manuscripts, about three years ago–and yes, it took that long for the first one to be published. The good news is that Leslie’s other books are coming out soon, and in the meantime, she’s sold a fourth. (Big congrats, Leslie.)

And just who is BARRY B. WARY? He’s a hungry little spider who dines on click beetles and fireflies, as spiders do, but his dining habits leave him a little short on friends. Then he spots a passing butterfly, and….well, you’ll just have to read the story. Until you do, enjoy this visit with Leslie!

1. Leslie, how did you get into writing about bugs? Does this have anything to do with Bailey, your German shepherd, who enjoys munching on flies?

Well, my dog is a highly skilled fly catcher, but he was not the inspiration for this particular story. (German Shepherds are very sensitive, so please don’t tell him). I do find bugs and spiders endlessly fascinating. And their funny little features and quirky personalities make great fodder for picture book tales.

This is Bailey, Leslie's dog. Handsome, isn't he? Leslie says he's a good fly-catcher.

2.  Are your sons into bugs? What kind of stories do they like to read (or hear read aloud, if they’re very young)?

My nine and ten-year-old sons are into anything that flies kamikaze-like or thrives in dirt.

Much to my chagrin, my boys have moved away from picture books—though they still secretly enjoy them. I refuse to believe otherwise! They are both into middle grade fantasy (Tolkien is big with my youngest right now) and they adore graphic novels.

3. What made you decide to write BARRY B. WARY in rhyme? We know you’re a poet, but don’t publishers say they don’t buy many rhyming picture books anymore?

When I started this story, I was a member of an online poetry group, so most everything I wrote during that period was in rhyme. Because it’s difficult to do well, rhyme is always a harder sell. But fear not! Publishers are still buying rhyming stories. They just have to be exceptional.

4. Was this book hard to write? How many revisions did you go through?

BARRY B. WARY was originally a short poem and eventually evolved into a picture book. There were many revisions along the way. And in order to sell the story, I was asked to totally revamp the ending. My original ending was predictably sweet and romantic, but my editor thought it would be more interesting if Barry remained true to his darker, carnivorous nature. She was right. Last week, I read it to over 1.000 elementary school students and their reactions were comical.

5. How hard do you think it is for aspiring picture book writers to be published? Picture books almost seem like the hardest kinds of books to sell nowadays.

The picture book market is tough right now and publishers are responding by being very selective. Even proven authors are finding the waters difficult to tread. However, I remain a staunch believer that a worthy story will eventually find a home. These days, it might just take a little longer.

Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY

6. Any advice for wanna-be writers of children’s books?

Read widely. You never know where those precious jewels of inspiration will come from. Learn the craft and connect with fellow writers, editors and agents by joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and attending conferences. Join a critique group and let your stories be heard by objective ears. And finally, listen. Use constructive criticism as a tool to fine-tune your work.

7. What are you working on next?

Right now I’m in the middle of a picture book story about a mischievous (and highly annoying) fairy who decides to go to school. I’m having a lot of fun with this one—probably because it’s not in rhyme. : )

 

 

 

New Friends and a Mustard Plant

This has been a great week for making new friends. On Sunday, I met a wonderful group from Providence United Methodist Church, who treated me to a delish Southern-style lunch: a buffet at the historic Green Manor Restaurant in Union City, GA.

The ladies had read and discussed my book, Mustard Seeds, and presented me with my very own potted mustard plant to take home! Thank you all again. Here’s a photo–not of my plant, but of one that’s very similar:

And yes, to answer a question that comes up a lot, you really can grow mustard here in the South (and across the U.S.), and it can be both ornamental and edible. My new plant is an annual, but I’ll enjoy it indoors, by a sunny window.

Mustard plants also come in red-purple varieties, which are great colors for a fall garden, and especially beautiful as the weather starts to turn. You can find seeds for sale at local nurseries and garden centers, or buy potted plants like mine.

I’m surprised how often people tell me that they’ve never eaten mustard, especially here in the South, where we eat a lot of garden greens. Then again, maybe mustard is an acquired taste, because it can be pungent. If you’re willing to try it, toss the raw mustard leaves in your fresh salads. It’s also good, if a big stronger-tasting, when cooked and seasoned as you’d do with any other kind of edible greens, like spinach or turnips.

Thank you again, new friends from Providence, for the gift of the plant, the lunch, and the wonderful conversation.

Thanks, too, to the Georgian Garden Club of Villa Rica. I visited last night and read a devotional from Mustard Seeds (which is a collection of essays about faith, not gardening, in case anybody is confused by now). I couldn’t have had a warmer reception, and I enjoyed the delicious mango-passionfruit tea you served–can’t wait to try it again!