Friday, October 21, 2016

31 Days of Halloween (Books!) October 21, 2016: A Monster Calls (Spotlight)

"A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear."--Kirkus Reviews

Half a Creature by the Sea by David Almond

Release Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Candlewick
Paperback: $9.99 (Paperback)

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

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31 Days of Halloween (Books!) October 21, 2016: Half a Creature from the Sea

"fluidly blends past and future, the living and the dead, the ordinary and the transcendent."--Kirkus Reviews

Half a Creature by the Sea by David Almond

Release Date: April 7, 2016 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Candlewick
Paperback: $11.27

May Malone is said to have a monster in her house, but what Norman finds there may just be the angel he needs. Joe Quinn’s house is noisy with poltergeists, or could it be Davie’s raging causing the disturbance? Fragile Annie learns the truth about herself in a photograph taken by a traveling man near the sea. Set in the northern English Tyneside country of the author’s childhood, these eight short stories by the incomparable David Almond evoke gritty realities and ineffable longings, experiences both ordinary and magical. In autobiographical preludes to each story, the writer shows how all things can be turned into tales, reflecting on a time of wonder, tenderness, and joy.

I'm a big fan of the creative--being an English teacher, I often encourage my students to think outside of the box, to do what has never been done, to write in a way that blends genres. That is exactly Almond's strength in this book. Almond blends non-fiction with fiction and fantasy against a backdrop of illustrations. The very first page is poetry which moves into autobiography which then moves into fiction. Very clever and refreshing, and the short stories are more accessible to a wider audience. Let's face it--in today's technological world, our attention spans are pretty short; therefore, short stories (and beautiful ones at that) are perfectly appropriate.

I've already decided to use the book in my classroom the next time that I teach autobiographical writing as Almond excels at displaying the writing process. The multigenre approach highlights the poetry and prose after each autobiographical forward. There's monsters, magic, and adventure wrapped into eight masterfully told stories.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

31 Days of Halloween (Books!) October 19, 2016: Spotlight of A Darkly Beating Heart

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Release Date: October 25, 2016 
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan
Paperback: $17.99 

A troubled girl confronts her personal demons in this time-travel thriller alternating between present day and 19th century Japan.

No one knows how to handle Reiko. She is full of hatred; all she can think about is how to best hurt herself and those people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt at her home in Seattle, Reiko's parents send her to spend the summer with family in Japan, hoping she will learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping backward in time into the nineteenth-century life of Miyu, a young woman even more vengeful than Reiko herself. Reiko loves escaping into Miyu's life . . . until she discovers Kuramagi's dark secret and must face down Miyu's demons as well as her own.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. The story is that Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his revolver, but the more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.
The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.
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Publishers Weekly

Seattle teen Reiko is “mastering a path of hatred” in order to exact revenge for the betrayal, abuse, and humiliation she has suffered at the hands of those closest to her. She travels to Japan before college to live with her uncle’s family in Tokyo, where she finds another target: her self-absorbed, fame-seeking cousin, Akiko. While unhappily photographing Akiko during a shoot in a small town, Reiko finds a stone that transports her from present-day Japan into the life of an Edo-period girl named Miyu. Though Reiko loves escaping into Miyu’s world at first, she eventually uncovers—and must foil—Miyu’s own plan for vengeance. Smith’s (Dreamstrider) detailed descriptions of Japanese culture and the time travel element are the highlights of this novel. Reiko and Miyu come across as angry caricatures; Smith slowly and cryptically teases out their traumatic pasts, making it difficult to empathize with either of them. Beyond the “why,” Smith also does little to elaborate on the “how” of Reiko’s plot, and the conclusion is too neatly and unrealistically resolved given Reiko’s previous mental state. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Oct.)