Life in the Short Stacks

I'm 5' 1&3/4". The grown-up books are "above me." A journey through the world of children's, middle grade, and young adult lit. (I might throw in a grown-up book here and there...if I can find someone to get it down for me!)

Mid-book thoughts

Charlie, Presumed Dead - Anne Heltzel

Started it yesterday & can't put it down!  Both equally likable & devious, Aubrey & Lena have some major secrets.  What they could be and what they could have to do with their boyfriend Charlie's (presumed) death remains to be seen.  Compelling read!

Are You My Mother? for a new generation

Max the Brave - Ed Vere

Vere captures the playful innocence of both cats and children in this tale of Max the brave kitten. Preschoolers will love correcting Max as he meets various animals on his hunt for the elusive mouse. Rich with color and feeling and just enough story make this a perfect read aloud. Max will be finding his way into multiple storytimes very soon.


And pick up a copy of Are You My Mother? while you're at it!  Always a classic, it has found its natural companion here.  


Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!


(Just ran across this charming book trailer by Animade.  Check it out!) Animade Max the Brave Trailer

A great little book

The Good Little Book - Kyo Maclear, Marion Arbona

A story about a boy and a book he didn't think would matter to him.


Ever seen that moment in life when a "reluctant reader" finds that book. The one that just clicks.  That finally makes them forget how hard reading is-because it is (See: Proust & the Squid); that becomes their almost constant companion; that opens the world of possibility and exploration that other Readers have been trying to tell them about.  This is a book about that book.  But what happens when that book is lost...? 


Lyrically written and intricately illustrated, this book has a long and glorious future in many a library collection and bedside table.  The joy of reading has never felt so uplifting.  Also a subtle lesson in book care.  Book jackets unite!   

Awake - Natasha Preston

This book has received rave reviews from many reader.  It is destined to find a beloved home on many a bookshelf and reading list.  I'll even be recommending it to my YA audience when the need for thrillers pops up in October.  But here's why it's not bound for my personal favorites list:



In this YA romance/cult thriller, 16 year old Scartlett has no memory of life before the age of 4.  Hunky Noah moves into the neighborhood and suddenly, she falls in love and begins to have fleeting visions of her past.  Trick is, Noah is really part of a cult with a link to Scarlett's past and bad intentions for her future. 

The less than stellar bits: (Let's get this out of the way, shall we?)  Sporadic plot rate.  (You know, the pace at which a plot builds, climaxes, and falls.  Plot rate.)  Both the romance between Noah & Scarlett and the return of Scarlett's memories are instantaneous and contrived.  Neither event has any real build up or believable trigger.  Just BAM!  We're in love.  BAM!  Memories back.  


The quite enjoyable bits:    Everybody loves a good cult story!  This one's pretty high up on the list of 'crazy beliefs.'  The cult members and rituals are rather scarily believable.  Awake makes you take a long pause to think about loyalty, family, betrayal, and forgiveness.  


So, while not the top of my list this fall, it's combination of romance, suspense, and cult oddities will certainly entertain.  And make you get to know your neighbors just a little bit better.      


3.25 stars. 



Breaking up (with books) is hard to do

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

That's right.  My särbo (Ahh, Swedish.  "Living apart together."  Couldn't have put it better myself.) John & I did not finish this book.  We gave it a shot, but in the end, we had to say our goodbyes.   


I'm fairly certain this is the first book I have ever not finished.  I've set things down for a time before eventually returning to them.  I've never started certain books, even books I've personally requested, because I was afraid I might not like it.  "Better to miss out on amazing than to admit you didn't like it," I thought.  I like an unblemished record when it comes to knowing myself.  I've pushed myself to the brink of insanity to finish every word of absolute mystery rather than admit defeat.  Gulliver's Travels.  15 years between us and it still puts me in a bad mood.  I am a reader, not a quitter.  I'm sure if I just give it another try, things will get better, right?  I have never not finished a book.       

But here we are.  2015.  Decades into my relationship with reading.  And I did not finish a book. Please allow yourself a moment to experience the gravitas of the situation.   


Now let's talk about why.  But first, an aside on audio books.  This was our first audio book together, so we really weren't sure what to expect of the experience.  Would it be able to hold our attention?  Would we get bored doing nothing but listening for hours on end?  What if we wanted to have a conversation?  Is that even allowed during the listening of an audio book?  Eek!  As you can tell, our nerves were already on edge.  Our verdict on audio books is almost in.  We think we like them.  It helped pass the time quickly, we were both able to stay focused enough to keep track of the plot, and he even drove the car without major incident!  A rule has been set in place that a book may be and must be paused in order to converse. We listened to several more over the course of the trip.  All in all, a hearty 3/4 thumbs up for audio books.  


Back to this one...It was an historical fiction murder mystery told from the point of view of an 11 year old chemistry enthusiast.  


The good parts:  Lots of clues sprinkled throughout the story that tie in nicely together.  They help keep you holding on through "one more chapter" and give reason for the large cast of characters.


The not-so-great parts:  Large cast of characters.  Not nearly enough action to move the story along and keep everyone straight.  Too much "chemistry" not enough "fizz boom bang."  We expected the chemistry to be a more integral part of the plot line.  It was an audio book.  Therefore, we couldn't skim quickly the way we could with an ink-and-paper publication.  It also very much sounded like it was being read by an 11 year old girl.  A narrator can really be the make-or-break factor in an audio book.  This one, for us, was a break.  It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't our favorite.                  


So, there you have it. I didn't finish a book.  One disc ended and we didn't put in the next.   And yet, my heart still beats.  I remember to breathe on a semi-regular basis.  I'm not even experiencing any crippling depression or guilt about the experience.  In fact, the whole thing has been rather liberating. 


I've decided a less-than-stellar book should be treated like a less-than-stellar significant other.  "Sorry.  It's not you.  I'm sure you'll make a wonderful book for the next person who checks you out."  I might even not finish another book soon!  Or two or three!  *deep breaths*  Golly, this is fun.  Look at all this new time I have to devote to books I'm truly connecting with. 


Best of luck with your own love/hate relationship with that book you aren't necessarily dying to return to.  Take my advice & don't be afraid to just walk away.  The sooner you do, the sooner you both can find your literary match. 

NetGalley Challenge 2015


Challenge Participant
A big thank you shout out to NetGalley for your services to the reading world.  It's such a privilege to be a part of this great community.  Can't wait to see what the 2015 Challenge has in store for us! 

A strong voice for those who might not be able to speak for themselves

M Is for Autism - The Student Of Limpsfield Grange School, The Students of Limp, Vicky Martin

This collaborative narrative from author Vicky Martin, illustrator Lunarez Visairas, and students from Limpsfield Grange School gives a voice to individuals facing the everyday challenges of life with autism. 


This book introduces us to "M," (a self-chosen moniker picked because, just as the letter M is stuck, squeezed in the middle of the alphabet, so she feels stuck, squeezed in the middle of a "tipsy-turvy, wobbly world") a 13 year old girl facing the everyday challenges of school, parents, boys...and autism. 


While this label brings comfort to those in her life, M realizes that knowing "what's wrong with her" doesn't make life any easier. With the help of an understanding counselor, M begins to accept that she is a strong individual, not a diagnosis.  She is encouraged to explore techniques that allow her to feel more control during the vicious, unpredictable moments in life.  


The pages are enhanced with colors, textures, and non-traditional print, giving readers a glimpse of how loud and distracting the world can be.  The first person narrative allows the reader to see M as she sees herself and the challenges and anxiety she faces each day.      

— feeling frankenstein
This should be required reading for every middle schooler, teacher, parent, lawmaker, scientist, environmental activist, anti-environmental activist...ok...everyone. Just read it.

Firstly, it's quite well written. As I said, Sachar. Can't go wrong there. Your reading brain will appreciate the experience. However, it is also incredibly difficult to force yourself through. Just because these particular "frankengerms" are imaginary, it doesn't mean they don't have real life cousins just waiting to eat me alive.

Sachar's relatable heroine Tamaya is the beacon of hope that keeps you committed to the end. While microbiology is the fastest acting villain of the story, the human bully is the all to realistic catalyst that sets our tale in motion. Tamaya takes on both with humility and determination, doing the right thing when things are most certainly NOT easy.

Read it and pass it on. The book, not your germs. Seriously. Go wash your hands.

Someone hand me the hand sanitizer...

Reblogged from Life in the Short Stacks:
— feeling frankenstein
Fuzzy Mud - Louis Sachar

A truly enjoyable, well-written (it's Sachar-of course it is!), yet utterly disturbing book. 


Deeper thoughts to come.  Stay tuned.  In the mean time, WASH YOUR HANDS and avoid fuzzy mud! 

Someone hand me the hand sanitizer...

— feeling frankenstein
Fuzzy Mud - Louis Sachar

A truly enjoyable, well-written (it's Sachar-of course it is!), yet utterly disturbing book. 


Deeper thoughts to come.  Stay tuned.  In the mean time, WASH YOUR HANDS and avoid fuzzy mud! 

Disney Hyperion has found a gem in Robert Beatty & Serafina

Serafina and the Black Cloak - Robert Beatty

Disney Hyperion publishing strikes again!  And, as always, they've struck gold. 


Serafina, though she calls herself a 'creature of the night,' shines brightly through this chilling, yet inspiring, tale.  Middle grade readers will delight in her spunk, tenacity, and loyalty. 


The 'scary parts' give you goosebumbs, but Beatty keeps readers coming back for more to see if Serafina can overcome the menacing terror of the Black Cloak.  


It's obvious that Beatty did his research through his accurately detailed descriptions of the estate from top to bottom. The Biltmore Estate and rugged Blue Ridge Mountains provide the perfect borderline-eerie backdrop for  this historical fiction-fantasy-adventure-mystery. 


Despite the lengthy genre description, this book truly knows what it wants to be.  And has succeeded, as is evident by it's numerous #1 standings on Amazon's Middle Grade Hot New Releases list. The fantasy is utterly original, the villain macabre, and the heroine deserves her title. 


Hope this is not the last we see of Beatty on Disney Hyperion!





A Happily Ever After to believe in

— feeling love
Off the Page - Samantha van Leer, Jodi Picoult

Becoming 3 dimensional was only the beginning... 


This followup to Picoult & Van Leer's Between the Lines brings to a close the story of Delilah and her storybook Prince Oliver. 


With a surprisingly original plot and large cast of characters, Picoult & Van Leer keep the reader on their toes till the end without allowing things to become convoluted or contrived.   Sincere emotions and down-to-Earth dialogue keep the fantasy believable.


Oliver & Delilah are the Romeo & Juliet who finally get their happy ending. 


It's no use crying over broken crayons

Snap! - Hazel Hutchins, Dusan Petricic

Tenacious Evan turns a broken crayon into a colorful world of whimsy.  The illustrations full of color, texture, and childhood freedom truly make the book.  A great discussion starter for the concept primary colors and color mixing. 


All readers will appreciate Evan's optimism in finding the bright side of a  broken crayon.  However, this book only receives three stars as the plot loses focus at the end.  While it is clear that Evan could use his three primary color crayons to create the world of his imagination, this point became quite muddled through a handful of rambling pages.    

A lesson in acceptable selfishess: Keep your cold to yourself!

Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo - E.S. Redmond

A tale of much sorrow accompanied with sniffles and sneezes.


Felicity Floo visits the zoo and gets a little too handsy with the animals after going achoo WITHOUT A TISSUE!!!  The ensuing chaos is reminiscent of an elementary school during cold & flu season. 


Redmond's lyrical rhyming text  ink & watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the misery of the common cold.


So...visit your local library, use a tissue, and wash your hands! 



Faking Perfect-An authentic look at strength through a character's imperfection

— feeling smile
Faking Perfect - Rebecca Phillips

Thanks to @KensingtonBooks and @NetGalley for the ARC.


Faking Perfect took me by surprise.  Expecting the typical 'good girl falls for bad boy' plot line, I instead met Lexi-an admittedly flawed, but strong, independent young woman who

discovers her own inner strength through her own (and others') imperfection. 


Less a story of inter-personal relationships than a heartbreaking coming of age realization from the mouth of a non-conventional heroine.


Currently reading

Charlie, Presumed Dead
Anne Heltzel
The Child Garden: A Novel
Catriona McPherson
Somebody I Used to Know
David Bell
Proof of Forever
Lexa Hillyer
The Last Leaves Falling
Sarah Benwell
Half Upon a Time
James Riley
Progress: 289/385 pages
Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaira
Rebel Angels
Libba Bray
Girls in Trucks
Katie Crouch
Progress: 175/256 pages
Robin McKinley