Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bling Reviews Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
Dial (May 2012)
Ages 10 and up

Reviewed by Blingin' My Game

"Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage is about a girl named Moses Lobeau (they call her Mo for short) who was just a baby when a hurricane hit North Carolina and she was separated from her mother. During the hurricane, she was found by a man (the Colonel) who kept Mo and eventually married Miss Lana. It’s now eleven years later and Mo and her best friend, Dale, are working at a cafe when they hear about a murder. They decide to put their business, Desparado Detectives, up to the big test of solving the case.

When Joe Starr, an official detective, comes to town to solve the murder, Mo doesn't like him. Neither does Dale, who just doesn't like any teacher or law official. Starr brings along his partner, Deputy Marla, which turns out to be not such a great idea. Murder is bad enough, but Mo and Dale are not prepared an unexpected kidnapping and every other twisted detail that will leave you wanting more.

I liked the point of view of the story, which is told by Mo. I felt like I was in her place and could imagine what was going through her head the whole time. It was written in a way that was mysterious and a little scary at times, making me think, "Whoa, what if this happened to me?"

I feel this book would be great for middle schoolers because they could relate to the main character, Mo, who is around a middle-schooler's age. When I was reading the book, I couldn't stop reading! I would read this book at school and every time I had to stop, it would leave me wanting more. It’s one great story.

I give "Three Times Lucky" 3 thumbs up!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Haunted Waters

I'm pleased to have my story, Skin of the Duppy, included in this gorgeous Fall issue of From the Depths by Haunted Waters Press. The story is loosely based on my years as a teen, living in a basically abandoned hotel that was rumored to be haunted because it had been built over a swamp. From what we were told by locals, swamps were breeding grounds for duppies (patois for evil spirits). The hotel was situated right beside a slow moving river on one side and the sea on the other, just like the locale in this story. The tide from the sea pushed the river backward, except during storms when it turned into a nasty rush of debris from the mountain—coconut husks, limbs, banana plants, and mud. Lots of churning mud. It was the perfect setting for a ghost story. And a personal redemption of sorts.

(If the embedded issue doesn't appear below, click here.)

Picture of me beside the stagnant river that inspired this story:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Spider and the Fly...The Yummy Edition

The Spider and the Fly 10th Anniversary Edition
based on the classic 1829 poem by Mary Howitt
illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Shuster (August 2012)
Ages 6 and up

It's true, I was reading-deprived as a child; however, not until I read the 10th anniversary edition of Mary Howitt's 1829 poem, illustrated Tony DiTerlizzi, did I realize just what an abomination that was. For crying out loud...this little masterpiece has been around since 1829? Of course, maybe if DiTerlizzi had been there to illustrate it sooner, there's a good chance we would have crossed paths. Thankfully, a 10th anniversary edition just came out and I was ready for it.

In this thinly veiled morality tale about the perils of vanity, self-absorbed little Fly is courted by silver-tongued master manipulator, Spider, who preys on Fly's superficiality. Spider plies Fly with fanciful promises and compliments, slowly drawing both Fly and reader into his web. Meanwhile, the illustrations tell the real tale as the ghostly apparitions of past victims try to warn her away (a really lovely touch).

DiTerlizzi has created a delicious visual feast with classic Hollywood horror film flair. I do believe this is the first Gothic-style picture book I've come across, and if that's not already a thriving genre, it should be. (Gris Grimly has illustrated some rhyming collections of macabre, but I can't think off the top of my head of a picture book with this sort of vintage horror quality to it.)

A big bonus in this 10th Anniversary edition is the movie poster printed on the inside of the dust jacket:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Twisted Tombstones

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
Written by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Charlesbridge (July 2012)
Ages 7 and up

Can a book of epitaphs for animals really be all that funny? Why, yes it can, especially if you combine the pithy wit of Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis with the playfully dark illustrations of Jeffrey Stewart Timmins.

For the most part, this picture book of sly final farewells delivers on its twisted promise to delight in the animal kingdom's dearly departed. While I felt a little let down with a few of the them, the many brilliantly (ahem) executed epitaphs more than make up for any lost momentum. Among my favorites, Lewis' "Chicken Crosses Over" puts to rest any notions about the endlessly debated road crossing, and Yolen's "Hen's Last Cluck" makes mischief with a beautifully rendered nine-word, two-line salute to fowl behavior.

The epitaphs, while delivered tongue-in-cheek, are so wide ranging in their subjects—from the farm to the sea and all points high and low—that Last Laughs is a sneakily tender tribute to the animal kingdom. Truthfully, I never thought I'd feel for an eel or regret a piranha's sudden passing.

Last Laughs has a life beyond its reading, offering inspiration and prompts for young writers to pen their own animal epitaphs. In fact, I took a stab at this (poorly rhymed) epitaph for several crows:

Look no further.
This was a murder.

A great gift for Halloween.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Wonder(ful) Book

R.J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 2012)
Ages 8 and up

Contributor: Blingin' My Game

Wonder caught my eye by the cover, which shows a boy with a truly unusual face. When I started reading the book, I absolutely loved it!!! The story is about a boy named August Pullman who was born with a deformed face and has been home schooled his whole life. By the time he reaches fifth grade, his mother decides that it’s time to go to a private school. 

August faces lots of challenges and has some good and bad moments. When his middle school principle, Mr. Tushman, introduces him to his new school, August isn’t sure that he wants to be there, knowing that the students and teachers will stare at his one-of-a-kind face every day where it can't be hidden. He has to deal with the whispering, laughing, staring and pointing at him as he walks by in the halls. He goes to sleep every night, thinking about having to go through it all over again the next day. Through it all, his sister Olivia and his mom and dad don’t want him to give up going to school, so he has to dig deep to keep going. I don't want to give away the ending, but I will say that after readers get done with this book it will make them think about how they treat others they meet and if they have treated them in the right way.

I would recommend this book to anyone from 5th grade to as old as you can read. A wonderful book that I find very inspirational, especially for anyone that has had to deal with life’s challenges. It teaches people that everyone is different in their own special way, and everyone should be treated the same even if they look different. 

Happy Reading!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Simply Devine

Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books (June 2012)
Ages 12 and Beyond

As soon as I finished Martha Brockenbrough's debut novel, Devine Intervention, I rushed to type out my thoughts before they evaporated like the last hope of a delinquent dead kid and his luckless charge. Words like smart, insightful, fast, funny, fresh, poignant, surprising, layered, and utterly satisfying came to mind, but even those sentiments don't quite capture the essence of what makes this book sing. It's a cliche to say it, but I laughed, I cried, and if I hadn't acquired a new fear about being watched by disembodied souls with no boundaries and poor social skills, I would have even danced.

Want more? Devine Intervention is a brilliantly-constructed, sharply-written, well-paced, beautifully-conceived and deftly-executed piece of work. But a debut novel? Motherflasking* impossible. If John Green and Libba Bray had a love child, she would wish she could write like Martha Brockenbrough. It's true, I've been a fan of her writing for some time (her articles read like a modern day Erma Bombeck and her SPOGG posts are cringeworthy-hilarious), but Devine Intervention sealed the deal. It's a rare breed of book that has both heart and humor, skillfully delivered in a tightly woven narrative that really shoops along (to borrow a phrase from the book's many freshly imagined phrases).

Before I get into why I feel so strongly about this gem of a story, allow me to reveal a bit of the plot, which in itself should give any reader a taste of the glorious ride ahead: A wayward teen soul (Jerome) is serving time in heavenly rehab and has to earn his way to Heaven's main gate (instead of one of the seven levels of hell that await him should he fail rehab). His one task is to assume the role of guardian angel to a child (Heidi). It is, in his mind, a simple matter. Certainly not worth cracking open his Guardian Angel Handbook, Soul Rehab Edition. Apparently, he's not much of a linguist because he misunderstands the tiny bit he did manage to flip through. That commandment about not discoursing with the living? Well, let's just say dictionaries should be read and not used to balance uneven table legs.

Poor Heidi grows up with Jerome's voice in her head and an extra helping of social awkwardness that makes regular high school hell look like a vacation hot spot. In short, while avoiding the seven levels of Hades for himself, Jerome inadvertently sentences Heidi to a living one on Earth. But that's just the beginning. Things go from bad to worse to oh-no-he di'int. And, when Heidi gets a taste of just how inept Jerome really is, and her soul has to pay the price, that's when the story really soars.

Any decently drawn main character has a core flaw that drives decision-making and, as a result, worsening conditions/interesting plot, but Jerome's core is chock-a-bloc full of 'em. Despite it all, and despite everything he does to Heidi, he's hard not to love. A big reason for this is that Brockenbrough finds a way to show, over time, the reasons why he is the way he is, and she does it without contrived sentimentality. Heidi, in contrast, doesn't have a core flaw so much as a uphill battle trying to make her way through the levels of teen hell, which makes her immediately sympathetic.

The chapters alternate between their two points of view—Jerome's first person and Heidi's third—each with a distinct and vibrant voice that further develops their characters. Just like their conflict-ridden relationship, the narrative structure keeps the plot engaging and lively.

It would have been easy to chart a predictable trajectory as Jerome tries to redeem himself and save what he can of Heidi's dubious existence, but Brockenbrough throws so many plot twists and turns—which I am dying to reveal but am forcing myself not to...except that some of it involves a dog, a squirrel, an action figure, and an evil, pizza-huffing angel—it's nothing short of amazing that she was able to tie every loose thread together. From the get-go, she leaves such casual clues and foreshadowing details that are so ordinary they don't give even a little hint as to what wicked things Brockenbrough has in mind. So don't bother looking for them. Just trust that there's a greater mind at work here, and I'm clearly not talking about Jerome's (or even His). The ending is so flasking satisfying, I don't want to risk ruining it. Let me just say this: I rarely cry at the end of a book (unless it's just so bad, I cry over the loss of coffee money), but this one hit me in that soft spot, right where rumor has it my heart should be. So, bravo for that, Ms. B.

There's really only one question that's left hanging at the end of this heavenly read: When does the movie come out?

*One of the Ten Commandments for the Dead that Jerome tries to observe is the prohibition against swearing. Instead, he invents replacement words like motherflasker, Chevy (if you've ever owned one, as I have, you know what a piece of Chevette looks like), and applehat. It's not only a smart way to avoid the sticky issue of language, it also gives Jerome's personality a strong voice on the page.