February 15th, 2010

smile, Alicia Silverstone

What Makes Courtney Summers Smile

I love those little moments when you and the person you're with are so in synch, they start humming the song that's in your head. Or they ask the question you're thinking. Or they finish your sentences. Or you say something ridiculous like, "Remember that time with the thing that did that other thing?" And they know EXACTLY what you're talking about. My sister and I have those moments quite a bit, and they never fail to make me smile!

- Courtney Summers

Read my full-length interview with Courtney Summers.
Read my review of Cracked Up to Be, which won the Cybils Award for Teen Fiction.
I also enjoyed Courtney's second novel, Some Girls Are, which was just as engrossing and realistically blunt as Cracked Up to Be.
Read my review of Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers.
Read my review of This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.

Want to know what makes other authors and readers smile? Follow the series of interviews.

Enter the Smile giveaway!
Lucy Woodward, happy

Manic Mondays: Jen Calonita Book Giveaways

Mark your calendars for Manic Mondays! Starting in March and going through June, I'm going to be giving away one book by Jen Calonita on the first Monday of the month. The giveaways will be open to all residents of the United States and Canada.

It's free to enter and easy to win. On those first Mondays, I'll post the contest announcements here at Bildungsroman, and the first person to comment wins a free book! Here's the giveaway schedule:

March 1st: Broadway Lights (Brand-new hardcover! The newest in the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series.)
April 5th: Family Affairs (Paperback. The third in the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series.)
May 3rd: Sleepaway Girls (Paperback. Stand-alone title.)
June 7th: Reality Check (Brand-new hardcover! Stand-alone title.)

Not only do I read Jen's books, but I'm also her webdesigner & webmaster. Visit jencalonitaonline.com to learn more about Jen and her books!
Lucy Woodward, happy

Vote for the Jumpstart Campaign Book!

Jumpstart's Read for the Record needs help selecting its official campaign book for 2010. This is Jumpstart's fifth annual Read for the Record, which they describe as "a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the crisis in early literacy through celebrating the joy of reading with children."

Four classic Penguin picture books have been named the finalists:
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Voting only takes a minute, and it's so easy to do. For every vote received, the Pearson Foundation will donate $1 to Jumpstart to support, and I quote, "[Jumpstart's] yearlong efforts to help preschool children in low-income communities develop the crucial language and literacy skills they need to succeed in school and life."

Click here to vote now!

You may also vote via a text message sent from your cell phone. You may vote up to 5 times via text message. Here are the text shortcuts:

BLUE to 90999 – to vote for Blueberries for Sal
DUCK to 90999 – to vote for Make Way for Ducklings
PETER to 90999 – to vote for Peter's Chair
SNOW to 90999 – to vote for The Snowy Day

Book voting will close February 28th, 2010. The winner will be announced March 2nd.

Thanks to Jennifer Stone for the link!
books

A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

As Gracepearl Coal approaches her sixteenth birthday, she yearns to leave Miramore, her lifelong island home. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, but she feels like there's somewhere out there, beyond the borders of Miramore, somewhere she's destined to be. Anyone who has ever felt that pull to travel beyond their backyard will understand:

I have been happy here, well provided for and lucky in the love of my father and my friends, but this past year something has changed. I have changed. [...] My life must have greater purpose than digging coal and peeling potatoes. There is a longing, a rising, a storm-surf pounding, foaming in my heart. I want something meaningful, more useful . . . more. But what will I be? Who will I be?

For her entire life, Gracepearl has been in love with one boy: her best friend, Mackree*. He is an honest, hardworking local boy who returns Gracepearl's affections, but insists that she find someone else to love, someone who can take her away from Miramore - someone like one of the princes.

Every summer, princes from the twelve branches of the Order visit Miramore to study the charming arts. A group of professors - made up of both male and female educators - teach the young men manners, etiquette, and other such things relating to courtship. Some of the girls on the island get all dressed up and giggly when they try to woo the princes. Gracepearl and her two closest female friends, Lu and Nuff, also watch the princes when they arrive at Miramore, but they'd rather talk about the boys amongst themselves than throw themselves at them. While they wouldn't mind catching a princely eye, the girls have bigger priorities and family obligations to fulfill: Nuff assists her mother with her laundry work; Lu helps with her family's cleaning work, though she'd rather be baking; and though Gracepearl has a talent for making windchimes, she isn't talented at cooking, but she helps her father, the town cook, as much as possible. This summer, the pool of princes include Sir Richard, a handsome soldier who proves to be a very nice soul; Sir Humbert, a conceited boy whom the girls dub Sir Humpty (as in Dumpty); and Sir Peter, another nice fellow, who looks like a pirate with his pierced ear and long ponytail.

As Mackree pointed out, Gracepearl could leave the island with one of the princes. She is torn - the classic "should I stay or should I go?" conundrum. She wants to stay with Mackree, with her father, with her friends, but also keeps having dreams of her being elsewhere, somewhere that she's providing help to those who need it. She has no desire to marry a prince, but she realizes that could be the way she uncovers her destiny:

I know now that I want something more than the wifely life on Miramore, cooking and cleaning and such. I want to make a difference out there in the world beyond, serve in some purposeful way. I want to mark my footprints, my handprints, on a bigger beach.

Later:

If I marry a prince...I'll have to take his name. That gives me an unpleasant feeling. Why does a girl have to give up her name? Is a girl's name less important than a boy's? I think not.

Gracepearl's mother instilled wonderful values in her only child. She told her what really mattered was "[y]our presence, not the presents." Sadly, she died when Gracepearl was only eight years old. Before she passed away from consumption, she prepared ten gifts for her daughter, each with a letter attached, one for each year up to Gracepearl's eighteenth birthday. These gifts are locked away in a special trunk to which only her father has the key, and she's never tried to open it, never having felt the need to ruin the surprises her mother so lovingly and carefully set up for her. Little does she know just how surprising the last three gifts in the trunk will be, and what they will mean to her and for her.

Gracepearl is a gentle girl with a good head on her shoulders. Her appreciation for her parents and her friends is admirable. When her father has a health scare, she is right by his side. When Lu and Nuff express interest in some of the princes - princes who have shown their interest in Gracepearl - she tries to pair those princes up with her dearest friends rather than courting them herself. Her mother is often on her mind, as she speaks to her mother in her thoughts and thinks of the nursery rhymes they loved to recite. (Each chapter also begins with a piece of a nursery rhyme.) She finds solace while talking walks by herself or collecting skipping stones and shells on the beach. Where, though, will she find herself at summer's end?

A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore is perfect for fans of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale and Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It's also a good recommendation for a young reader who wants a book with a little bit of romance, because this is clean and age-appropriate. With short chapters, a straightforward plot, and a diverse cast of memorable characters led by a kindhearted protagonist, what's not to love?

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

* Mackree is pronounced muh-kree. In Gaelic, "mo chroi" means "my heart."

Read my reviews of The Funeral Director's Son and Kip Campbell's Gift by Coleen Murtagh Paratore.

I very much enjoy Paratore's series of books called From the Life of Willa Havisham, aka The Wedding Planner's Daughter books, and intend to write a review of those as well. I also like her Sunny Holiday series for younger readers.
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