I tend to review books from the more select small presses, but every once in a while, a mass market release catches my attention. Such is the case with Not So Normal Norbert, a fun summer read for middle graders. Patterson and Green’s science fiction fantasy is full of quirky humor and adventure and takes a stand for being different and creative, especially where homogeneity and conformity are championed. Norbert Riddle lives in the United State of Earth and being normal there means following the rules. But thanks to a lapse in youthful silliness, Norbert gets caught doing a funny impression of the dictator, Loving Leader, and is exiled to Astronuts on planet Zorquat 3, a camp where kids who break the rules can express themselves. Patterson’s collaboration with Joey Green, a long-time humor writer for adults, brings fresh ideas to the Jimmy Books series and a playful whimsy to the narrative that will win readers over.
Dr. Aihan Kuhn brings Western and Chinese medical sciences together in this remarkable new book on the brain and aging. She makes a strong case for using the refined movement in tai chi or qigong to keep the mind sharp and prevent memory loss. Her extensive experience as a medical doctor and master instructor gives her a wealth of case studies to draw on, and the results are compelling. In addition to providing an excellent overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and qigong philosophy, Dr. Kuhn outlines a specially designed exercise routine that will help readers to sharpen their thinking, improve memory and attention span, and increase learning capacity on both sides of the brain. Having practiced qigong for years, I can attest that these exercises will enhance energy levels, mental clarity, emotional balance, and immune system response. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in improving brain function and delaying the aging process in body and mind without medication.
Abby Cooper's BUBBLES is the follow-up to her strong debut and surprisingly takes every aspect to the next level. I was amazed, chapter by chapter, just how good Cooper’s new middle grade novel truly is. BUBBLES has all the humor, magical whimsy, and lovable characters that were notable in her first outing, but manages to exceed expectations in terms of style, voice, and concept.
12-year-old Sophie has a lot on her plate: her mother is single (again), unemployed and depressed, her teacher is making her do a challenging project on risk-taking, her best friends convince her to do a triathlon with them, and she’s getting a crush on her childhood friend Rafael. To make matters more interesting, Sophie starts to see other people’s thoughts in balloons over their heads and finds out there are definite pluses and minuses to knowing what on people’s minds.
The concept works really well and draws the reader deeper into Sophie’s inner world with every revelation. Most of us can relate to thinking we can read other people’s minds at times, and it’s never more important than when in our young teens. The plot moves along nicely and gathers momentum with every relational complication. In the end, it comes down to learning about communication, and without saying too much more, the results are surprising, funny, and touching. I highly recommend this wonderful and inspiring novel.
I received an advance copy of The Castaways and liked the premise right away. To escape the torment of bullies in high school, Olive jumps from the frying pan into the fire of a parallel world, an island where a war between two rival factions of teens is raging. The Castaways is an exciting YA contemporary fantasy with a nice romantic complication between Olive and Will, a dashing, stoical teen commander. The story could have transitioned to the island world a little sooner for me, but once there, the action-packed pacing kept the pages turning. I also liked the many secondary characters, who were well-drawn with compelling backstories for the most part. The ordeal of surviving on the island undeniably transforms Olive’s character, and the resolution is both dramatic and unexpected. An absorbing read.
I had fun previewing an advance reader copy of K.L. Hallam’s suspenseful debut novella, THE UNMOVING SKY. It was a quick read that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. From the start, the set-up is ripe for action: brothers Jackson and Artie run off into the woods to escape their drunken dangerous father, but they get lost and take refuge in a cave to wait out a storm. I won’t recount much more to avoid spoilers, but someone else is hiding out there, too, and the tension ratchets up further. I liked how Hallam keeps increasing the stakes and the pace to create a page-turner. She also explores several serious themes, from alcoholism and domestic abuse to teen pregnancy and terrorism, in the course of the adventure.
Editors Wendy Vierow and Anne Fliotsos break new ground with this collection of essays on international women stage directors. As with their first collaboration, this very readable resource is the first ever published of its kind on the topic. Each essay is organized in a uniform way that allows the reader to find information quickly and to make comparisons between countries easily. The foreward by Roberta Levitow of the Sundance Theatre Program provides an insightful commentary. The 24 chapters cover the status of women's theatre in countries on every populated continent. The final chapter that Vierow and Fliotsos co-wrote on the US is a tour de force summation on the topic at home, which reminds us that there is much innovation and progress being made by women directors in this fiercely competitive field. This is a must-have for anyone interested in theatre, women's studies, or world cultures.
I had good fun previewing an advance reader copy of Jen Malone’s WANDERLOST. It’s the perfect contemporary YA summer read: light, breezy, funny, and filled with sightseeing for the vicarious traveler. The lovable Aubree Sadler goes on a whirlwind trip through Europe, taking over her older sister’s summer job as the tour leader for a group of senior citizens. She complicates things when she also pretends to be her sister, and the problems snowball from there. The tour company owner’s son Sam is particularly well depicted and good for several laughs. Complete with charming romantic interest, mistaken identity, dreamy settings, and a few plot twists that ask for a suspension of disbelief with a wink, WANDERLOST is an entertaining read that’s told with a delightful voice.
I had the good fortune of previewing an advance reader copy of COUNTING THYME. Thyme Owens’s life is turned upside down when her younger brother needs a new cancer drug, and her whole family moves from San Diego to New York City for his trial treatment. Although she’d do anything to help her brother recover, Thyme’s character is tested and revealed by such a big move in the midst of middle school. Melanie Conklin’s debut novel is powerfully written with fine attention paid to the emotional details. The characters feel real and believable, and the central crisis of her brother’s illness is handled with skill to avoid sentimental melodrama. COUNTING THYME is a moving and engaging read that delivers in the end.
Abby Cooper’s STICKS & STONES really takes you back to what life was like in middle school: it’s so on target. The insecurities, the social pressures, the first crushes, the approval seeking are all so well-depicted. At the core of Elyse’s story is a wonderfully creative look at name-calling and negative self-talk among middle schoolers, and how these messages can hurt. While unconditional positive regard is a nice idea, it simply doesn’t happen in the real world. Elyse learns that being afraid of bad names is no way to live and pushes herself to find self-acceptance. I love stories like this that embrace our differences, whether they be social, mental, or health matters.
This book is a first: no one has ever written a book solely on women theatre directors before. From Minnie Maddern Fiske (b. 1865) to Tina Landau (b. 1962), Wendy Vierow and Anne Fliotsos have written fascinating essays on fifty women's careers in directing for the stage. What is unique about these accounts is that they focus on the subjects' accomplishments as directors rather than on some of their other better-known achievements. For example, much has been written about Ellen Stewart as the founder of La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, but never before has anyone explored in depth her innovative skill as a stage director. In each essay, the authors describe not only the subject's career history, but also her individual approach to the craft. Reading through the lives and accomplishments of these women is not only interesting, but also inspiring. American Women Stage Directors is a must-have for anyone interested in theatre, women's studies, or the creative process.
Ruby Reinvented is a wonderful middle grade novel on so many levels. Arno did a good job of drawing me in with the shocking revelation and the very real relationship dynamics of Ruby confronting her parents. Then I was sold on the complication: her decision to switch schools and then getting herself into a pickle that just snowballs on her. It's a high-interest page-turner with a strong story, delightful characters, and a sense of humor. Really fun and heartfelt, a thoroughly enjoyable read.