Eating Stone by Ellen Meloy

MelloyE_eatingstoneThis author is really for e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e on your holiday shopping list. Warning: you will become the heroine dealer of literature. Friends will stalk you, shaky, half-dressed, begging, “Got any more of that?”

Meloy, Ellen. Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. Print.

Genre: nonfiction

Summary: Meloy spends a full season tracking the big horn sheep of the Southwest. The task is not easy. The animals are going extinct and can hide faster than dissipating smoke. She observes them while observing mankind’s tragic disconnect from nature and all things wild–the wildness outside and the wildness within the soul.

Critique: Meloy’s writing is powerful. Her imagery will intoxicate the reader. To see the world through her eyes is to see a fantasy land. In her prose, the desert is sexy, curvaceous, hot and heaving. Unassuming frost-covered bushes are silvery birdcages. And the big horns are everything from ghosts to popping toast!

Wolves by Emily Gravett

wolves_by_GravettNeed a gift for someone on the “naughty” list? No problem. My holiday gift guide excludes no one!

Gravett, Emily. Wolves. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2005. Print.

Genre: picture book

Summary: Rabbit gets a book about wolves from the library. As he reads, he gets more and more engrossed until the story actually manifests a real wolf! Snap-chomp-scarf! Rabbit is gone!

Critique: Received the Kate Greenaway Medal. Bronze runner-up for the Smarties Prize. Shortlists for the Hampshire Illustrated Book Award. This book is fabulously naughty! Rabbit is so cute, so chubby, with ears so long and flopsy! Is it any wonder the wolf turns him into a yummy snack?

Is this book likely to scare the wiz out of young readers? I doubt it. Gravett’s work operates under the premise of “safe danger.” Remember the sizzling thrill when mom or dad would transform into a hulking Frankenstein’s-monster-zombie-beast-thing, chase you, catch you, and “eat” you? That’s safe danger. Basically, this book makes me want to be Emily Gravett when I grow up enough to write picture books. I want to showcase this kind of wicked-fun danger, which is ultimately a show of respect for young readers!


The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination

Mad-Scientist-Cvr_091312Black Friday shopping? What could be better than a guide to world domination!? A perfect gift for the evil or ethically shady scientist and/or science fiction fan in your social circles.

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius. John Joseph Adams, Ed. New York: Tor, 2013. MP3.

Genre: Anthology, science fiction

Summary: A collection of 22 positively witty and wicked short stories from a slew of talented authors including Harry Turtledove, Diana Gabaldon, Carrie Vaughn, and Austin Grossman, to name only a few.

Critique: Throughout the collection, stories explore an intriguing hypothetical to its inevitably surprising conclusion.

What if your girlfriend discovers and breaches your your super-secret underground evil genius laboratory? Do you forgive the violation of your private space and adult autonomy (not to mention countless passwords) or do you seal her up and doom her to a cruel atomic death?

What if you are the success coach and motivational speaker to some of the world’s worst bad guys? You know, the really inept ones who just can’t get their evil sh*t together and make a decent headline? Do you suffer under a crummy 15% commission for those rarely successful heists or do you steal every trick of the trade and turn yourself into the Mother of All Things Evil?

Or, what if you’re the personal assistant to a super evil genius who totally neglects to appreciate all that you do while the superhero’s personal assistant gets flowers on her birthday and regular salary increases? Would you sell out your boss and botch his next evil plan to take over the world?

Count on each story to take a fresh approach to modern villainy. Depend upon your heartstrings getting plucked and your thoughtomaton brain to purr with rumination more than once as tough interpersonal and ethical issues are dealt out and duked over. Most especially, expect to laugh out loud a lot!

For best results: read (or listen) to this book in a crowded public place!

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt


In this edition of my holiday gift guide for book geeks and rabid readers, I bring you the perfect book for the young Tolkien fan, the Beowulf-to-be (boy or girl) who loves an epic tale with a teary twist woven in.

Schmidt, Gary. What Came from the Stars. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2013. MP3.

Genre: middle grade speculative fiction

Summary: Tommy Pepper is your average sixth grader dealing with your not-so-average sixth grader stuff. Tommy’s mom died in a car wreck he’s pretty sure he caused. The shock and the grief caused his little sister Patty to stop talking and his dad stopped painting. Now they might lose their house to a beach front condo project. To top it all off, Tommy finds a strange necklace that gives him some amazing powers. Little does he know someone from another planet is tracking the necklace — someone with malicious, deadly intentions.

Critique: Tommy’s story intersperses with the tribulations of Young Waeglim, who lives on a planet in another galaxy far far away. The evil Lord Mondus wants to steal the Art (akin to pure creative magic) of Waeglim’s people, the Valorim. Waeglim forges the Art into a necklace and hurls it out into space, where it eventually crash lands in Tommy Pepper’s lunchbox.

I know I know: all that technically falls under summary, but summarizing this book is complicated. Reading it, however, is NOT!

Tommy’s sections are written in a familiar, contemporary voice (except when the necklace influences Tommy’s perceptions, occasionally causing him to speak the language of the Valorim). Waeglim’s sections, however, are in an old epic saga style à la Beowulf, Njal’s SagaThe Song of Roland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

By mingling these two, very different “lingos,” Gary Schmidt opens up exciting, new literary territory for upper middle grade and younger YA readers! If parents are frothing-at-the-mouth Tolkien fans (and by extension, frothing fans of old Germanic cultures and literature) who desperately want their kids to become frothing Tolkien fans, this is the book to start’em on!

One of the great but unexpected benefits of this approach is how it teaches a younger reader to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words. Orulo. Honora. Resid. Words from another planet that mingle with English and enough contextual clues to allow for interpretation. The reader is continually challenged to participate with the text.

(For the more reluctant readers, I highly recommend the recorded version! Graham Winton is an excellent reader who aptly renders all the drama and nail-biting action out of the epic segments.)


Spots in a Box by Helen Ward

spots-in-boxI spotted this book a while back and have never forgotten its superb blend of crisp rhymes and powerful theme. Add this to your holiday shopping list as the perfect read-together book for little ones learning to embrace their own spots or not-so-spots.

Ward, Helen. Spots in a Box. Somerville, MA: Templar Books, 2015. Print.

Genre: rhyming picture book

Summary: What’s to be done when you’re the only guinea fowl without any spots? Well you write a letter and order some!

Critique: The rhyme schemes throughout this story are “spot on.” No, really, I’m not just waxing punnetic. War never overreaches or forces the meter with flimflam syntax or nonsensical words. (Just to be clear, syntactical gymnastics and mishmash words are allowed in creative writing, however, only a few authors have succeeded in deploying these tactics with any real skill. Seuss…Dahl…Twain…etc.) Instead, Ward keeps her language tuned up and the story drives itself!

And throughout all the guinea fowl fun had with clots, blots, inky-font dots, and i-topping spots, readers of any age imbibe a subtly conveyed powerful message about how self-expression can be the root of self-fulfillment when it is not designed to merely meet public expectation.

(Guinea fowl fun fact: a group of guinea fowl is called a confusion!)