Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.

 

 

 

 

What Good Writing Looks Like

I read a great many books during a year, largely because I review children’s books for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, but also because I love to read.

I don’t just read books published by the “trade” and “indie” publishers, but also self-published books that I find at conferences and book-signing events.

Generally speaking, the trade and indie books have some merit, though they may be in need of a more thorough edit.

Sad to say, a large percentage of the self-published books should never have seen the light of day. That may be an arrogant thing to say, since I self-published my first novel, Terror’s Identity, but I did have two professional editors critique and edit the book to a fare-the-well. And I used much of their editing input to improve the story.

Anyway, the two books I’m commenting on this week fall into the trade publisher category and are well worth the money or trip to your library.

It is amazing the number of gifted writers floating around in our universe.

Cherry Money Baby

John M. Cusick, whom I had the pleasure to meet the past August at the SCBWI-Carolinas’ annual conference, has written an interesting book about a teen-aged girl who loves her small town and her family. She has no ambition other than to graduate high school, marry her boyfriend, and live happily ever after. That is until she meets a movie star not much older than she, who is filming an historical-fiction movie in Cherry’s hometown.

The movie star befriends Cherry and turns her upside down by introducing her to drugs and wealth and the playgirl life. All of this causes Cherry to pause and reevaluate who she is and what she should do with her life. The story is well told and intriguing, reminding us that things frequently are not what they seem to be. In the end, Cherry solve the puzzle of who she is and where she wants to end up.

BIBLIO: 2013, Candlewick Press, Ages 14 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-557-0

Orbiting Jupiter

Gary D. Schmidt is not only an astounding teacher, but an exceptional author. This book will stay in your mind and heart for a very long time, filling you with heartbreak and joy. The story is told by Jack, who is the son of a local farmer in a small northern town. His parents take in foster children to give them a loving home, at least for a while.

Their latest foster child is 13-year-old Joseph, who has already fathered a child with the love of his young life. But he’s never seen his daughter and mourns the death of his girlfriend. He is sullen–or so it would seem–angry, but turns out to have a way with cows. He goes to school with Jack, who becomes fond and protective of him.

Joseph hasn’t had a happy life since his mother abandoned him and his father abuses him.

The story blossoms into the bond between the two boys and then Jack’s endeavor to help Joseph find his young daughter, Jupiter, named for Joseph and his girlfriend’s favorite planet. The end of the story is bittersweet, with Joseph dying and Jack’s family adopting Jupiter. Definitely worth reading, if you haven’t already.

BIBLIO: 2015, Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 13 +, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-544-46222-9

ISBN: 978-0-544-93839-7

 

 

 

 

Local Authors Are Varied and Prolific

New Bern, North Carolina, is a pretty little town set on the confluence of the Trent and Neuse Rivers.  It’s full of history, such as being the First Colonial Capital, complete with a mansion, and later the site of an important Civil War battle .  It is also full of artists who either write stories, or draw and paint, or create beautiful music.  So, I thought I would introduce you to some local authors.

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The first author, Laura Beth, lives on a boat on the Trent River during late spring, summer and early fall.  After that she and her husband sail to Florida. She publishes her books through CreateSpace.

She writes “magical mysteries,” about young cousins in a family that has ancestral ties to Native Americans who used to roam the land. The first story, 2 Girls, 2 Cats, A Magical Mystery, introduces the reader to the characters in the stories.  Lacey is living in her grandparents’ farmhouse that is next door to her great-grandparents’ house.  When she notices lights appearing late at night in the older, supposedly deserted, house, she gets in younger cousin, Jillie, to help her investigate. Turns out the girls’ long lost uncle Jake was never really lost, he just lives in a different time period and now he comes back to feed a magical cat who has a litter of magical kittens when the farm is in danger. Lacey and Jillie each inherit one of the cat’s kittens. The saga continues in Lacey and her Tigers, Jillie and Her Sassy Cat, Graduation Summer, and the latest book, Nadia’s Sweet Tea, which is about a younger cousin who is given another magical kitten.  The stories are enjoyable reads with good messages about protecting our land and honoring Native American input into our heritage.  But Laura Beth used “CreateSpace” to publish her books and quite obviously didn’t hire a professional editor before publication. I say this because of the egregious grammatical and spelling errors in her books.  Such lack of attention to such details is what gives Self-Publishing a bad name.  For instance, in the last book, the family ends up owning a magical horse and when Laura Beth tells us that one of the girls is stopping the horse, rather than writing rein in, she writes reign in.   Still, if you like magical stuff and horses and land preservation and Native American history, the books are fun reads.

BIBLIO: 2014 (org. 2010,) Ages 10 +, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult, New Adult

ISBN: 1499760728

ISBN: 978-1499760729

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Tom Lewis, the second author’s widow is selling his books, because what else is she going to do with them.  These books are all set in real places around Eastern North Carolina.  Other books of his are My King the President, Lucifer’s Children, The Pea Island Trilogy, 50 Years to Midnight, Short Tales and Tall, and Chains.

 

Zena’s Law

Tom Lewis

This is a well written novel about a registered nurse in her 30s who moves with her daughter to Tryon’s Cove to be the nurse for a young doctor.  It’s part romance and part mystery, with plenty of intrigue and evil characters running around. But there are good characters, including her boss and fiancé, Jim O’Brien.  The book also includes sexual predators and plans for revenge. The main character, Zena Carraway, is believable and likeable and the story flows nicely.  Once I find out how to get to Tryon’s Cove, I think I’ll wander over to take a look around.  Mr. Lewis published all his books here in New Bern at McBryde Publishing.  He uses good imagery throughout the book.  The story starts at Zena’ trial for the murder of the local bigshot who raped her. She watches as “Judge Booker Taliaferro Washington Freeman clumped in like a black-draped Clydesdale…

‘Be seated,’ Judge Freeman’s gavel fell once, dropping Zena back down into her chair like a clubbed seal…” This is the only book of his I’ve read, but I would be happy to read more.

BIBLIO: 2009, McBryde Publishing, Ages 21 +, $10.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Adult

ISBN: 978-0-9758700-8-2

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The third author, Sam Love, is well known for his poetry, but is now branching out into fiction.  He wrote a picture book about the damage plastic bags do to our planet and to us.  The book of poems I have is entitled Converging Waters and is collection of humorously philosophical poems, most them only one stanza long.

My Little Plastic Bag

Sam Love

Illustrated by Samrae Duke

Young Amy throws a plastic bag out of the car window without a thought to where it will end up. But we follow its journey.  After Amy lets go of it, the bag settles in the roadside grass.  A few days later the mower comes by and chops the bag into little pieces.  When the rain comes, the pieces of plastic are washed into a roadside ditch.  From there, the plastic flows into a stream where it is washed into a tidal marsh. Eventually the plastic reaches the ocean, where it is further degraded until it is tiny enough for a small fish to find appetizing, mistaking it for some of the fish’s natural food.  A bigger fish eats the smaller fish and the chemicals in the plastic are concentrated in the bigger fish’s stomach, possibly making it sick. The big fish is caught by a fisherman who sells it to the fish market in Amy’s town where Amy’s family buys it for supper. They take the fish home in a new plastic bag.  There is a discussion section at the back of the book which teacher will find helpful.

BIBLIO: 2016, Sam Love sam@samlove.net, Ages 7 to 10, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 1534622640

ISBN: 978-1534622647

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There are many more local authors, so I’ll let you know about them at a later date.   Sarah