2 Dec

A year ago, I blogged about the books the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut finalists. I was excited to be part of that committee and the thrill of meeting these finalists was inexplicable.


Our serious photo: committee in back, authors in front


Our celebratory photo

I have been anxiously scanning my news feeds for news about this year’s finalists. I know their announcement will come any day now, as will the announcement of the finalists for the YA nonfiction award.

I have been following the authors of the five books we chose as finalists and am excitedly awaiting the publication of their next novels. Let me tell you a bit about what each of them has been up to, in alphabetical order by title.

Leah Thomas, author of Because You’ll Never Meet Me has written a sequel which is due for publication in February 2017.


Publisher Summary:Following up her acclaimed debut, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, Leah Thomas continues the stories of Ollie and Moritz in another heart-warming story of unique friendship.

Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity–and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone.

Along the way they meet other teens like them, other products of strange science who lead seemingly normal lives in ways Ollie and Moritz never imagined possible: A boy who jokes about his atypical skeleton; an aspiring actress who hides a strange deformity; a track star whose abnormal heart propels her to victory. Suddenly the future feels wide open for two former hermits. But even as Ollie and Moritz dare to enjoy life, they can’t escape their past, which threatens to destroy Following up her acclaimed debut, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, Leah Thomas continues the stories of Ollie and Moritz in another heart-warming story of unique friendship.

Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity–and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone.

She has also recently submitted another novel which she calls an “alien parasite family drama”.

Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, has a forthcoming novel entitles Nothing Gold Can Stay. It is about a Chinese-American boy who uses research from his physicist father’s past to find his estranged sister on the other side of the country, a search which puts his undocumented parents at risk for deportation. I couldn’t find a cover or an anticipated release date, but keep your eyes open for it.

Becky Albertallli,the 2016 winner, has been hard at work on some sequels to Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The first  will be out in April 2017.


Publisher Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.


Stephanie Oakes, author of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, has also been busy writing. Her next book is due out in August 2017.


Publisher’s Summary: Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

And, Last but not least, Anna-Marie McLemore, author of The Weight of Feathers, has also been writing up a storm. Her second novel was published in October.


Publisher’s Summary:To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

She also has another book coming out in September 2017. No cover reveal yet, but here is a summary of Wild Beauty.

For generations, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant visitors from around the world. But for as long as their family has had a gift for flowers, the women have also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, the men they love vanish. Felipe Montego knows that legacy better than anyone. Ten years ago, his brother disappeared, and La Pradera left a curse on Fel that’s slowly been killing him ever since. Fel’s last chance to save himself is through Estrella, the rebellious Nomeolvides girl who defies both her family and the estate’s owners. But the closer they grow, the more they learn that La Pradera is as treacherous as it is magical, and that it’s bound them together in ways that grow more dangerous every day.

These five authors will always have a special place in my heart and I am excited to follow their careers.


How The Other Half Lives

1 Dec

Deborah Hopkinson’s newest middle grade novel tells the story of a young immigrant’s life in America.


Publisher’s Summary:Eleven-year-old Rocco is an Italian immigrant who finds himself alone in New York City after he’s sold to a padrone by his poverty-stricken parents. While working as a street musician, he meets the boys of the infamous Bandits’ Roost, who teach him the art of pickpocketing. Rocco embraces his new life of crime—he’s good at it, and it’s more lucrative than banging a triangle on the street corner. But when he meets Meddlin’ Mary, a strong-hearted Irish girl who’s determined to help the horses of New York City, things begin to change. Rocco begins to reexamine his life—and take his future into his own hands.

Like Eel in The Great Trouble, Rocco is a likable character who sheds light on the time in which he lives. I’ve seen pictures of tenement life, but Rocco works with Jacob Riis, the man who took these photos he made famous in his book How The Other Half Lives.



Baxter Street Court, in the Five Points slums of New York in 1895, as photographed by Jacob Riis or one of his four uncredited assistants.

In fact, Rocco is instrumental in helping Riis take one of his most famous photos, Bandit’s Roost.


Rocco’s story is full of ups and downs. Fortunately it has a realistic, but happy ending.



Observed and overheard on my annual trek to the Post Office

29 Nov

After a year in which the parcels I sent arrived on December 24th, I like to mail early, long before the December 10th deadline to Canada. And so, yesterday found me waiting in line at the main post office in downtown Portland. It was a longish line and they were understaffed. A clerk from another building had been called in to help out. The line was grumpy and the clerks were doing their best.

I knew the clerk I wanted: an African-American woman with hair extensions and fancy nails. We always laugh when I check out with her. She was working yesterday, but she was at the end of the counter where they take care of passports and business mailings. It might be possible to get her, but they only called people from the regular line when they weren’t busy. And that wasn’t today.

A young woman on a cell phone entered the line behind me with a bag carrying a couple of packages. She had clearly never been before because she was asking the person on the other end of the phone what she was supposed to do with the boxes. She seemed doubtful, so asked a passing USPS employee who told her she didn’t have to wait in line if they were relabeled. She still seemed unsure so caught the same employee on the way back who took her and showed her where to drop her prepaid packages.

I stepped to the side in line as the tall, elderly gentleman behind me breathed heavily on my head. Eww! Fortunately, he needed to write on his package so, once he’d found his pen, he leaned left to write on the counter showcasing stamps through the ages. I leaned right to avoid his breath.

The people in front of me had a couple of packages. She was lean, wore a cute crocheted hat and carried a small box. Her companion was also thin and had a long red beard. He was flitting about, holding a larger box. Their packages were labeled with an herbal medicine return address. Interesting. They looked sort of earthy.

A man stepped towards the counter and wanted to know would they cash his money order. He joined the line once he was told yes.

The line slowly edged forward and I saw a number of people in the passport line. Vacation travels? I wondered.

Finally it was my turn at the counter. I got the clerk who had snapped at me last time. Damn. She had chastised me for not leaving enough space for the customs form and had been rather grumpy. Today, she was all smiles. It was as though the busier the post office got, the more serene the clerks became.

I had three packages, so I had a bit of a wait at the counter. And that is when things got really interesting. The heavy breathing gentleman went to the clerk to my left. He had mail he was forwarding to his daughter. Apparently the post office doesn’t forward pre-sorted mail (formally known as junk mail) unless you pay to ship it. As he stepped aside to address the envelope he would use to ship all his daughter’s mail, Mr. Money Order took his place.

He was a loud talker so we all knew the money order was for $50.00. His clerk was the one substituting from another building and she was unsure of some of the rules at this PO. She asked my clerk several questions.  As my clerk was peppered with questions she apologized to me. Maybe she wasn’t as grumpy as I thought. Mr. Money Order was a little disgruntled that they had to call and verify it, but waited somewhat patiently. He was talking to the clerk and I, complaining a little about the wait. I offered him this bit of advice I learned from my mother: if you want an immediate answer, it is no, so be patient and you might just get what you want. When the clerk return from verifying, he got his $50.00.

Meanwhile, to my right, a curious incident was under way. A nicely dressed woman was arguing with my favorite clerk about her unsigned credit card. The post office has multiple signs saying they will not accept unsigned credit cards. This woman claimed her husband was a banker who had told her not to sign her credit card, and that it would be accepted, unsigned, with appropriate ID. Not at the USPS apparently, and she was angry, claiming she’d used it this way at this very post office before. My clerk asked me some questions and when I looked back at the woman, she was gone.

Thirty minutes after entering the post office, I left. Although I don’t know how all of these people’s stories ended, my heart was filled with happiness, knowing the packages were on the way.



High court drama

28 Nov

Several years ago, I had a 4th grader named Maria, who was obsessed with Imperial Russia. The fiction she wrote was always set there. She was a dramatic student, but I always enjoyed reading what she wrote. I thought about her as I read Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game.


Publisher’s Summary: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I liked this because of the setting. It was just real enough to feel authentic; just magical enough to feel unique. It includes all the romantic and dramatic things my former student loved about Imperial Russia: high court drama, St. Petersburg at its most glorious, and secret machinations behind the scenes.

The Crown’s Game is a wonderful place to lose yourself for a few hours, or a few days. Maria is a 7th grader now, but I hope she’s picked this one up.

Book talks for a short week

27 Nov

We only had 2 days of school last week🙂

I was Thankful for that.

As a result, I only book talked two books and I felt like I had to make them good ones.


I started the week with The Reader. I enjoyed it so much I felt I had to share it with my students. Thinking about the excellent world building led me to talk about Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.


First published in the US in 1996, most of my students were unfamiliar with the series, so I hope I have turned some of them on to it.


My take on Black Friday

25 Nov

Driving home from a delicious Thanksgiving meal last night, I passed a noticed all the empty parking lots and thought How nice, people are home enjoying each others company. Then, I drove past a Target. Illusion shattered.

I do not enjoy shopping on a regular day. Needless to say, I will not be joining the throngs of happy shoppers out looking for deals. My holiday gifts are ready. I’ve finished my holiday knitting and purchased the books that will be given. Allow me to smugly say that everything was purchased through independently owned shops.

My Black Friday will consist of three things:

  1. Poor Lucy has her annual vet appointment today. Because of timing this always seems to fall on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving. Poor baby. She will get her bordatella and rabies shots. Most dogs get the bordatella through the nose, but Lucy, feisty girl that she is, always fights it so she gets hers subcutaneously. She is also due for a heart worm recheck. She’s never had heart worm and heart worm never existed this side of the Rockies, but it has arrived in Oregon. If you have a dog, be sure you test and tae appropriate precautions. I suspect, once we are home, she will spend most of the day asleep. She doesn;t really enjoy vet visits, even Dr. Klau is very gentle.Lucy_Nose
  2. I will spend much of my day knitting. I am knitting a scarf with two yarns from my stash and one of them is black. This is an easy pattern that alternates two yarns for a lovely effect.img_2269
  3. I will finish reading The Star-Touched Queen  by Roshani Chokshi.


Publisher’s Summary:Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

I hope your Black Friday will be as enjoyable as mine (after I get home from the vet).




Our traditional holiday lies

22 Nov

“I’m worried about the package,” my sister told me when we Skyped on Sunday. “I had to go to a different post office and the clerk gave me trouble.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I lied, as always. Instead of saying the package contained tea, I said it contained chocolate. The clerk said it was a violation of Canadian and American law to send chocolate throughout the mail. So I said it was candy. I’m worried she flagged it for inspection.”

I laughed. We are always lying to federal officials on both sides of the border, about what our packages contain. They never contain anything illegal, but we lie just in case.

When I arrived home last night, I mounted the stairs chanting my new apres-knee mantra: “Good foot up, bad foot down”. I can walk unassisted, but am using a cane for security. As I reached the top step, I looked up and saw a small package at my door stoop. Oh, to be able to run or skip! It was, of course, my illicit Advent calendar.


I sent a quick message to my sister then opened this tiny cabinet of wonders.


One tea a day until Christmas! As a naturally curious person, I had to peek at my birthday. What tea would December 23 hold?


Organic Kashmiri Chai! I resisted the temptation to peek at any others. I just have to wait patiently for 8 days, until I can open the first drawer.




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