Book of the Week: Hopper and Wilson

Hopper and Wilson by Maria Van Lieshout

Published: 2011 by Philomel

Reasons why I liked this book, and chose it as Book of the Week:

Hopper and Wilson, a blue elephant and a yellow mouse, look like stuffed animals. You kind of want to cuddle with them.

Hopper is an inquisitive elephant. I think he’s an example to young readers, encouraging them to question and to stretch their imagination as far as they can.

Wilson, the tiny yellow mouse, has an apparent sense of humor.

This book asks what every kid at some point has always wondered: what’s at the end of the world? Hopper and Wilson hope there’s lemonade and a staircase to the moon. I kind of hope that’s what there too.

They are adventurous, and aren’t afraid to get up and try new things.

They set out to find the end of the world in a newspaper boat. Classic!

I love how this book shows the bonds of friendship. And how, even in the worst of times, friends will always be there.

Wilson is a loving, sensitive mouse who worries about his friends.

It really shows that home is where the heart is. It is the beginning and the end of the world.

The illustrations are lush and calming. Maria Van Lieshout uses colors to show the shift in action. For example, when they’re sailing calmly along, the colors are muted blue, yellow, and green. But when an ugly storm rages, the pages are swiftly turned to dark colors of blue, black, and green.

The writing is simple, yet really thrusts the story forward.

It’s a story that a kid of any age can and will appreciate.

I really loved how this book shows the importance of having at least one good friend. And the things you could accomplish with friends – like journeying to the end of the world.

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Possess

Possess by Gretchen McNeil

Bridget Liu’s life used to be normal. Sure she wasn’t popular, but she had a few reliable friends. She had a strong family that was always there for her, no matter what. But when her father was murdered almost a year ago, Bridget’s life was turned upside down. And now, all she wants is some peace and quiet.

She’s tired of her mother always nagging her about school and friends. She’s tired of handsome Matt Quinn butting into her life any chance he gets. But above all, she’s sick of a new “talent” she’s developed – communing with demons. Some talent, it’s more like hell.

Enlisted by Monsignor Renault to help perform exorcisms, Bridget is thrust into something she’s not really sure she wants to do. But when she receives a message from a demon, she heeds it. If she doesn’t, Bridget won’t be the only one in trouble.

Possess, a debut novel for author Gretchen McNeil, is a thriller unlike any other thriller. Possess will both engage and scare readers simultaneously.

Full of demons and exorcisms readers will appreciate the amount of research that McNeil must have put into this book, making it an even better read. Examining the ins and out of exorcisms and demonology, Possess isn’t weighed down by facts. Instead, McNeil skillfully weaves pertinent information seamlessly into the strong plot.

At it’s core Possess is about good versus evil, and the place both of those elements have in our very own world. Quick paced and smoothly told, McNeil’s writing thrusting the strong storyline forward. Full of authentic characters and dialog, readers will be able to relate to, not only heroine Bridget but the raw emotions pulsing through this book.

Extra! Extra!

I recently had the opportunity to ask author Gretchen McNeil a few questions about her first novel Possess. Please read on to find out all about Gretchen and her amazing her book, Possess!

BookBandit (BB): Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background as a writer, and why you wanted to be a writer?

Gretchen McNeil (GM): Funny story.  I never actually wanted to be a writer.  I was a performer – a singer, to be exact – and my dream was always to be an opera singer.  Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.  It happens.  Then about four years ago I was going through a very difficult personal tragedy, and I just woke up one day and said, “I’m going to write a novel.”

Totally ridiculous, I realize.  And it was a horrible novel.  But I was hooked.  Totally hooked on writing.  The story telling, the plotting, even the
revising.  HOOKED!

BB: Possess is your debut novel, correct? How did you come up with the storyline? What was your inspiration for Possess?

GM:Yes, POSSESS is my debut and it was inspired by the books I loved to read as a kid.

Some of my fondest reading experiences from my childhood and teen years involved scary stories.  Horror, gothic, ghost stories – anything that would send a chill down my spine, make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and force me to sleep with the light on.  I wanted to write
that kind of story.  And when I thought about what scared me the most, exorcism and demonic possession was at the top of the list.

BB: What was the most difficult part of writing Possess?

GM: Getting the pacing right.  There’s a balance in POSSESS of tension and light heartedness, but always with an underlying sense of foreboding and danger.  I wanted that tension to always been increasing – the turn of the screw, so to speak – and it took a lot of work to get it just right.

BB: A lot of demons are named in your book, were they solely made up or were they ancient demons of mythology and/or religion?

GM: There’s a mix.  I did a lot of research – ancient texts, modern angelology, etc.  Some of the demons, like the demon kings,
were taken straight from these texts.  Others I made up, but tried to keep their names as authentic as possible.

BB: What kind of research did you have to do to write Possess.

GM: First off, I read a lot of first hand accounts of demonic possession and exorcism.  There’s sort of a bell curve of believability in what’s out available.  With some books, I found myself rolling my eyes a lot, but with others, I was totally hooked.  I also read a lot about demonology, medieval witch hunters, and old texts on summoning and controlling demons.

BB:  Bridget is a really strong character. What was the best and hardest part of creating her?

GM: There’s a fine line between snark that comes from being wounded and guarded with people, and snark that’s just…snark.  Bridget is definitely the former, but I had be sure to show enough of her vulnerability, enough of her pain and sadness, to make her relatable.  Otherwise, she might just come off as a wise-cracking pain in the ass.

BB: Not only is Bridget a strong character, but I imagined her to be a really hip funky kind of girl. What music would be on her iPod?

GM: There’s a playlist of Bridget’s favorite songs on my blog (http://gretchenmcneil.blogspot.com/2011/08/countdown-to-getpossess-day-4.html).  Her favorite band in the world is Franz Ferdinand, and she also loves Florence + the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Foster the People, Muse and Arctic Monkeys.

BB: Possess has a real thriller, horror vibe to it. There a moments when, I think, readers will be scared. Do you watch horror movies? If so, which are your favorite, and which would you say inspired Possess?

GM: I don’t like slasher horror, but I love a good suspense-filled horror movie.  The Exorcist, obviously, is a huge favorite of mine.  Also The Omen, The Birds, Silence of the Lambs, Poltergeist and The Ring.

BB: As a writer, why do you want to write for a young adult audience? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons?

GM: I think my “voice” lends itself to YA.  My first novel was chick lit for the adult market, but agents I queried kept telling me it sounded like YA.  So in that way, I’m a perfect fit.  The struggle for me is in getting into the mentality of a teenager.  Their wants and needs, fears and insecurities are different that mine, and I have to recall that time in my life to remember what it feels like.

BB:  A lot of writer’s say that in order to write, you have to read a lot. What are some of your favorite young adult novels?

GM: My YA reading kind of stalled out when I was about 14 when I read Wuthering Heights.  After that I didn’t want to read anything
that wasn’t written in the 18th or 19th century.  However, I loved the Anne of Green Gables series and all of the Little Women books.  I went
from Emily to Charlotte Bronte and fell in love with Jane Eyre, then naturally picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice.  All favorites, to this day.

BB: If any, what advice would you give to up and coming/aspiring writers?

GM: There’s no finish line to this race. When you’re unagented,
to you think “If I can ONLY get an agent.”  Once you land one, you think “If I can ONLY get a book deal.”  Once that’s signed you think, “If I can ONLY have great sales.”  At every level there’s a new challenge, a new set of pressures.  Be prepared for that.

* * *

I just want to send out a big THANK YOU to Gretchen for taking the time to talk and answer some questions for the BookBandit Blog! Want to know more about Possess and Gretchen McNeil? Check out these links:

Gretchen McNeil’s Website

Get Possess on Amazon

Book of the Week: Migrant

Migrant by Maxine Trottier Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Published: 2o11 by Groundwood Books

Reasons why I liked this book, and chose it as Book of the Week:

The end papers are beautiful, and leave readers guessing as to just what is this book going to be about. It adds an element of mystery.

It seems like every color of the rainbow is present – but they aren’t bold or obnoxious, they’re inviting and calming.

I loved how all the illustrations appeared to look textured, as if I could touch the page and feel something different from glossy paper.

I love how Anna, throughout the book, compares herself to various animals depending on how she’s feeling.

This, I think, shows readers that animals have feelings too.

The book is captures the spirit of a child’s vivid imagination.

The book has a whimsical feel to it. And as appreciated as that it, it doesn’t take away from  the serious story it’s telling – a story of immigration.

I really loved tha this book was about immigration because we all know someone who has immigrated to this country.

But it doesn’t sugar coat many of the realities new immigrants had to face: learning a new language, finding safe living and working conditions, fitting their culture and lifestyle into a new and sometimes un-accepting one, etc.

Even though Anna experiences a lot of changes, she’s not a pessimist, she’s always looking up, and learning.

Maxine Trottier’s writing is solid and fluid.

I really liked how the illustrated people featured in the book are almost  ambiguous, making readers feel that those people could be anyone – even themselves.

It shows the struggles being the youngest person of a big family. As Anna shows, it has its ups (being able to fit snug in a bed, all warm with her sisters) and it’s downs (not being able to help when you feel you should and could).

Trottier does a great job at not just telling us a story, but showing readers the story.

Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator of Migrant, makes this story come alive and flourish in front of readers eyes.

The story is relatable on so many levels.

Going Bovine

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith, average teenager, is content to go through life a loner and a social misfit. A social misfit means no one ever noticing you, not living up to anyone’s expectations, even your own. It means not caring about, well, anything. But when he starts experiencing uncontrollable fits and strange hallucinations, he chalks it up to some bad weed.

When one of those fits leads to him flipping out and punching a fellow classmate in the middle of class, people seriously start to take notice of him. Is it drugs? Is he psycho? No, it’s worse. Cameron has Mad Cow disease. A disease that has caused all of this, a disease that ultimately will kill him.

Unless he listens to the pink haired, punk rock angel Dulcie. Dulcie tells him the only way to save himself and the entire world is to find Doctor X. Who’s Doctor X? A doctor that disappeared ages ago, and hasn’t been seen since. So, with the help of Dulcie and a dwarf named Gonzo, Cameron sets out on the road trip of all road trips in the hopes of finding the doctor, in hopes of finding himself before it’s too late.

Only author Libba Bray could write such a book as Going Bovine. She manages to take something so serious, something so scary and spin it into a laugh out loud book full of memorable moments and unforgettable characters. Moments like Cameron and Gonzo getting picked up by a smoothie drinking cult, and characters like a Norse god disguised as a garden gnome.

Going Bovine is seamless written, and realistic, almost to the point of being too realistic. Emotions ride high in this book, and readers will experience all the ups and downs right alongside Cameron.Bray challenges readers to step into Cameron’s shoes to better understand what he’s going through. But still, she manages to  weave fantastical moments and elements that make the book stand out from other young adult novels.

Misfit

Misfit by Jon Skovron

Soon to be sixteen year old Jael Thompson has spent her life moving and running, but moving and running away from what she’s really  not sure of. Until she turns sixteen and her father gives her a blood-red ruby necklace, a necklace that belonged to her deceased mother.

This is more than a precious jewel, it’s the key to who Jael is and who she will be. It’s through this radiantly beautiful stone that Jael learns the truth about who, or rather, what she is – a halfbreed. Half mortal girl, half powerful demon.

After learning how to harness her powers and abilities, Jael thinks her hardest task is trying to figure out how she, a halfbreed, fits into a mortal world that believe demons are evil. But figuring out where she belongs is the least of her worries. Belial, a merciless Duke of Hell is hot on her trail, and ready to put an end to this halfbreed’s life.

Jon Skovron’s Misfit, at its surface is an exciting read that will instantly pull readers in.But upon further reading and examination readers will quickly come to realize that was makes this book what it is, is the commentary of good versus evil.

Skovron stirs  up things up with Misfit that no other young adult book has. Readers will find themselves questioning what is good and what is evil and why good and evil is important even necessary in our world? Skovron’s way with words makes even fictional characters pop off the black and white page. Jael, for example, is so real that even this kick-butt halfbreed has her flaws. There are many moments that Jael slips from powerful demon to annoying teen girl.

Misfit isn’t a book for the faint hearted. Full of action packed, but gruesome moments, Skovron keeps readers gripping the edge of their seats. Just when you’re sure you know exactly where the story is going, he throw you for a real loop.

Shootin’ The Breeze With Tara Altebrando

Dreamland Social Club Questionnaire:

What’s your earliest memory?

I’m not sure. Possibly standing up in my crib crying? But I see the memory as if it were a photo of me, so probably not. I went to Disney World when I was like three and have weird memories of the Electric Water Pageant, just images of flashes of light on water and my own excitement and wonder.

What sound makes you happy?

My oldest daughter has this particularly delicious squeal when she’s laughing.

What is the last dream you had that you remember?

Last night. Dreamed I got up and fed the baby. Then woke up and had to get up and feed the baby.

Name one thing you want to do before you die?

As ridiculous as it sounds, I’d like to swim with dolphins. I keep trying to talk my four year old into doing it with me, when she’s a little bit older, because then I could blame such foolishness on her, but she’s firmly against the idea.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Because I said so.

What is the best thing about being you?

Wow! Too many to choose among. That I am married to my soul mate. That I was blessed with two lovely children. That I get to write books for a living. That I have wonderful and varied friends.

***

The BookBandit (BB): What inspired you to write Dreamland Social Club? What was the best, and the most challenging part of writing it?

Tara Altebrando (TA):  I was inspired by the history of Coney Island’s old amusement parks. Once I learned about Dreamland and Luna Park, especially, where there were midget cities and crazy attractions like premature babies in
incubators and simulated boat rides through hell, I knew I had to find a way to work a book around all that. The best part about writing it was really being able to delve further into Coney island history—and learn so many amazing things—and the most challenging part was probably selecting what elements of history to use and what to leave
out. It’s a novel, not a history book, so I had to be selective.

BB: What’s the best part of Coney Island? What is the most magical part of it, and why should everyone experience it?

TA: The best thing about Coney Island is that it’s a beach that’s right there, on the subway line in New York, accessible to everyone who can pay train fare. This makes it a very accepting and anything-goes kind of place in the world. Everyone fits in there. The Wonder Wheel is pretty magical, I think. And everyone should experience riding it,
traveling way high over the sprawl of New York, with the water right there. It’s lovely.

BB: A lot of research must have went into the writing of Dreamland Social Club. Of all the facts you found, what is one of the most interesting facts you found? Why did this information stand out, and did you work it into the book? What are some facts you wished you could have worked into Dreamland Social Club but just couldn’t?

TA: The fact that premature babies in incubators were put on display in amusement parks definitely tops the list, along with the fact that an elephant once escaped Luna Park and swam fives miles to Staten Island. Those both got worked into the book in big ways. For example, Jane’s grandfather, who she inherits the house in Coney from, was actually one of the “Preemies” at Dreamland and was rescued from his incubator on the night Dreamland burned to the ground. I somehow never found a place to talk about a ride called The Witching Waves in the book. See below!

BB: Would you say that any of your characters are based upon real people?

TA: I think I’ve grown out of writing characters based on people I know. Maybe I used up most of the interesting people in my life? I don’t know. But this cast felt entirely new and fresh and fictional to me, which was fun and freeing. Also, I don’t know any giants or dwarves or contortionists. 🙂

BB: If you were to write something about one of the many characters in Dreamland Social Club (besides Jane that is) who would you want to write about and why?

TA: I sort of love Babette. I’m not sure I have it in me to write a whole novel about a Goth dwarf but I think she’s sort of the star of Dreamland Social Club, so in some ways I guess I already have. I just think she has such a unique perspective.

BB: Leo really intrigued me. He’s only sixteen and already the tattooed boy. How many tattoos does he have, and what are they?

TA: Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on his leg. And some mermaids, serpents, and stuff  on his “sleeves.” I guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

BB: Dreamland Social Club is a great name for a book title, and a name of a high school club. What does the title say about the overall book and the people in the club?

TA: The name comes from an old photo of an annual dinner held by the sideshow workers of the Dreamland amusement park. And the club in the book is a sort of mirror image of that group of people, and its ideal is acceptance. Though in the book, the members of the club realize that saying you accept anyone is actually harder than it sounds, which I think is an interesting sort of life lesson. We’re not all as inclusive as we’d like to think we are.

BB: If you could go back in time and travel to Coney Island’s past, which ride would you want to experience?

TA: I’d like to spin around on the human roulette wheel and go on Trip to the Moon, which was a simulated ride to the moon where you’re greeted by alien creatures who serenade you. Gosh, this is so hard, though, because I’d also love to ride the signature ride of Steeplechase Park, where you got to ride a mechanical horse as if you were a
jockey. Also, the Witching Waves sounds awesome. Imagine standing on and driving a sort of first cousin of a bumper car around a circular track that itself undulates under your car. Frankly, if I traveled to old Coney I’m not sure I’d ever come back. 🙂

BB: What was your writing process like for this book? How was it different from writing your previous books?

TA: This book took me a lot longer to write than my others. And what was different was that it required research. A lot of it. I set out to write a book in which my main characters is really dealing for the first time with issues outside of her self, related to the world and her community, so that was a fun challenge.

BB: What advice could you offer to up and coming, aspiring writers?

TA: Read. As much as you can. Write. As much as you can. And don’t be precious about what you’re writing. A lot of it probably isn’t that great, but it doesn’t matter. You can make it great, if you set out to study the craft and apply it to your own work.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

Dreamland Social Club

Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando

Jane’s used to moving around and never settling down in one place for too long. But when she and her older brother Marcus inherit a house – the same house their deceased mother grew up in – from the grandfather they’ve never met in Coney Island, Jane’s intrigued by the idea of getting to know who her mother was, and more importantly, who she is without her mother.

Never really fitting in any place she’s lived, Jane sets out to start a life of her own in Coney Island. A life where she tries to retrace her mother’s steps in the hopes of finding her own. But she finds a whole lot more than just herself in Coney Island. In her own attic she’s found Coney’s past. In her basement, she’s found a (practically) brand new vintage wardrobe that belonged to her long gone grandmother Birdie.. And at school she found a group of people who seem vastly different on the outside, but just like her on the inside that she calls friends. But above all these things, Jane’s found Leo, a beautiful tattooed boy who will change her life forever.

Dreamland Social Club, written by author Tara Altebrando, is an unforgettable read that will transport readers back in time to Coney Island’s past while closely examining the happenings and politics of today. Well developed and well written, it’s a realistic book that feels a lot like fantasy. There’s something magical about this book. Readers will be able to see the famed Wonder Wheel, to hear the lapping waves upon the shoreline, and even taste the piping hot knishes Jane and Leo love.

Altebrando excels at painting a beautiful portrait. Instead of just telling her audience she shows us. It’s amazing how seamlessly she combines Coney Island’s past and present by interweaving facts, rides, and various happenings. In many ways, Dreamland Social Club is like a history book. Only it’s far more exciting.

Featuring an extraordinary cast of characters, Dreamland Social Club is a book that anyone could relate to. From Legs the giant to Babette the Goth dwarf, each character has their own unique story to tell, adding a layer of depth to an already deep story. Of all the characters though, Jane is the one character that readers will find a little bit of themselves hidden within. She’s a heartfelt character who struggles with the same thing we all struggle though: finding who we are in a crazy mixed up world.