Spotlight: The Venetian Job: Bad Guys and Action by Sally Gould

Title: The Venetian Job: Bad Guys and Action
Series: The Max Books #3
Author: Sally Gould
Illustrator: Dane
Publication Date: March 2015
Publisher: Orbis Media
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure
Pages: 108

Synopsis (from Author): In 'Mafia Encounter', when Max is on a family holiday in Sicily, he and Charlie notice the mafia seem to be following them. Are they related to the mafia boss? Will they have to learn the business? Will their lives ever be the same? 

In 'The Venetian Job', Max desperately wants bad guys and action, so he’ll have a good story to tell when he goes back to school. He and Charlie hang out with their policeman uncle, but there doesn’t seem to be a bad guy in Venice. Then in a Palace on the Grand Canal, Max notices something that doesn’t make sense. Will Max get bad guys and action after all?

 Sharing a hotel with a mafia boss – even if he was a little old man – didn’t make me feel safe and warm inside. I could feel my stomach doing somersaults while we waited for the elevator. I wondered if Charlie was nervous too. He wouldn’t admit it, even if he were.
Eventually there was a ping and the doors of the elevator opened. It was empty. That was good. Well, it was good as long as no mafia guys got in before we got out.
“I think I’ll do fifty laps,” said Charlie, after the elevator doors closed.
“What about Marco Polo? I want to say we played Marco Polo in Italy.”
He looked at me like I was stupid. “Marco Polo came from Venice; Italy wasn’t a country back then.”
Trust him to turn something fun into a history lesson. “Yeah, whatever.”
The doors of the elevator opened and we followed the signs to the pool. It was an indoor pool, there were three lanes and it was probably about fifteen metres long – long enough for races. I knew as soon as I saw it that Charlie would want to race.
At first I didn’t see anyone in the pool, but then I noticed a figure push off from the edge. Geez, I wanted to have the whole pool to ourselves. Then I saw two men in black suits sitting at the side of the pool. The bad feeling in my gut came back. At first I didn’t recognize them because they weren’t wearing sunglasses. One of them got up and came over to us as Charlie and me were stripping down to our swimmers. I could barely take off my shorts, I was shaking so much.
The man in black was tall and he had big shoulders. He said something to us in Italian.
Charlie said, “Parla inglese?”
I knew that meant, Do you speak English? I hadn’t worked out how Charlie could say four English words in only two Italian words.
“Come back to swim later,” ordered the man in black.
“Sure,” I said and began to put my shorts back on. I wasn’t stupid. I knew from school that if someone three times bigger told me to do something, it was best to do it.
“We’re staying at the hotel. We’re allowed to use the pool.” Charlie folded his arms.
Was he crazy? “We can go back to our room and watch the wrestling,” I said to him. “Let’s go.”
The man in black leaned toward Charlie and said very softly, “Mr. Petruzzelli owns hotel.”
Mr. P must’ve been Mr. Mafia in the pool. That was good enough for me. I was out of here. If Charlie wanted to stay and get his head blown off, that was his business. Real casual, I began to walk back toward the elevator.

I heard a voice behind me. “Boy! You stop!”

Sally Gould loved books from a young age, but never considered writing them. While she was busy getting up to the mischief that teenagers get up to, she forgot about books all together. Then total insanity took hold and she became a corporate lawyer. 

Fortunately, she had two sons and they inspired her to write stories for children. Of course, her oldest son is responsible, logical, studious, considerate, grateful and even makes his bed. The youngest one is only interested in having fun - lots of it. And, except for his teachers, he makes everyone laugh. Their antics have inspired many of Sally's stories. Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her family and two dogs - Pebbles, who is sensible, and Jade, who just wants to have fun.


Review: Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka by Lisa Anne Novelline *LIMITED EDITION*

Title: Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka (Limited Edition)
Author: Lisa Anne Novelline
Cover Designer: Ryan Jude Novelline
Illustrator: Phillip Light
Publication Date: May 2014
Publisher: InterPress, Ltd.
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller
Pages: 52 
ISBN: 9780983531111
Source: Hardcover from Author

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka is a life-affirming and fanciful fairy tale about a spunky little girl enchanted with the coming of summer. On a very special sunny afternoon Piccadilly is convinced that she has uncovered a magical and most delightful secret. Readers are invited to join the fun, celebrate the whimsy, and decide for themselves. What is real? What is fantasy? And ultimately, how much does it matter?


Lisa Anne Novelline is a former mathematics teacher and problem-solving coach. She has written several children’s books including Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka and is currently working on a novel for young adults as well as authoring the blog HolidayAndHearth.com dedicated to helping families and friends rekindle or deepen their personal and collective connections to the seasons of nature. All of her projects are inspired by her profound commitment to the cultivation of critical-thinking and creativity. 

She holds a Master of Education degree in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Northeastern University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Lesley University. 

She is a mother of four and lives with her family in Massachusetts.

About the Cover Designer / Art Director:
Ryan Jude Novelline is a Boston-based contemporary artist whose experience includes: Diane Von Furstenberg, GAP, Harvard University, & Walt Disney Imagineering. He has shown work in Boston, Providence, and New York, and has has been featured both domestically and internationally by the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Hewlett Packard, Yahoo News, Asian Geographic, and a host of others.  He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design. RyanJudeNovelline.com

About the Illustrator:
Phillip Light is currently a Color Stylist at Dreamworks Animation Television and formerly a Freelance Character Designer at Walt Disney Television Animation. His celebrated art has already been featured digitally on blogs and sites across the web and in print in Taman Ria Disney Magazine (Malaysia, June 2012). He is an alumnus of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. PhillipLight.blogspot.com

"Each dew droplet captures a sun twinkle, which triggers a golden spark, which activates a speck of summer delight...which inspires the glow of the fairies!"
-Lisa Anne Novelline, Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka

I've been following Lisa Anne's Facebook page for a while now, and I'm convinced that it's one of the most magical places on the internet. Aside from having similar names, we share a fascination and love for nature's beauty. As I kept seeing posts for this lovely little gem, I knew I had to review it. I contacted Lisa Anne and asked, almost begged, for a copy...the packaging was the most magical packaging I've ever received:

Needless to say, I was very excited for this book, and it did not disappoint. 

Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka is a dazzling little number that will awaken the inner depths of your childhood imagination. Piccadilly comes from a loving family that let's her fascinations soar. On the summer solstice, she is awoken to quite the epiphany...fairies like cake! So what does she want to do? Make cupcakes for the fairies that are supposedly dancing around in her backyard. However, did she really encounter a little winged creature preparing for a party, or was it all just a dream? That's up for the reader to decide.

This is an enchanting story that will warm your heart and make you want to join the fairy polka, too. One of my favorite features is that it allows for varying interpretations and themes. Provided by Ms. Novelline's husband, here are some possible themes that can be found in Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka:

1) Loving family relationship that does not try to stifle Piccadilly's imagination 
2) It inspires love of nature and finding joy in its beauty 
3) It triggers an appreciation and insight for the way children think...even though sometimes their behavior is erratic, it makes sense in their little minds 
4) It is possible that Piccadilly imagined the whole thing for various reasons
5) But then again...maybe she didn't

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. You can see the movement of the story flow through the swirling colors. The magic dances right off the page and surrounds you in its beauty. It will definitely capture your child's eye and allow them to exercise their visual skills. This is a great book for identifying colors and story, as well as picking out different shapes. It can be educational on several different levels!

Lastly, the binding for this book is also very lovely, as you can see described below:
Piccadilly and the Fairy Polka is a charming tale, and I hope we get to see more adventures with Piccadilly and the fairies! I think this would make a great childrens series, like the beloved Pinkalicious! and Fancy Nancy books. I would love to see a series like that, but focuses on more fairytale-type themes such as this. Until then, one can dream that more fairies will meet her in the garden!


Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller
Pages: 336
ISBN: 1616203722
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.  

Nova Ren Suma is the author of the YA novels THE WALLS AROUND US as well as the YA novels IMAGINARY GIRLS and 17 & GONE, which were both named 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound by YALSA. Her middle-grade novel, DANI NOIR, was reissued for a YA audience under the title FADE OUT. 

She has a BA in writing & photography from Antioch College and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has been awarded fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Millay Colony, and an NEA fellowship for a residency at the Hambidge Center. 

She worked for years behind the scenes in publishing, at places such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Marvel Comics, and RAW Books, and now she teaches writing workshops. She is from various small towns across the Hudson Valley and lives and writes in New York City. 

Two words: BOOK HANGOVER. Ever since I've finished this book I've been begging everyone I know to read it so I can have someone to discuss it with. It was just that good.

May it be noted that you will either love this book or hate it. If you don't mind being confused the majority of the book because you're trying to figure out what exactly is happening..then you'll enjoy the mystery and intrigue that keeps you unsettled throughout the entire storyline. Here's how I sum up the plot:

You have two ballerinas, Ori and Violet. Ori has a natural-born talent for her craft, but Violet is the big green jealousy monster who stands in Ori's shadow. Violet might be crazy, but we aren't sure. Violet may have murdered two other dancers out of blinding fury, or maybe Ori did it. Perhaps they both worked in tandem, but we aren't sure of that either.

Then you have Amber who's the longest standing resident of the juvenile detention center that Ori is sent to (even though she might be innocent), and she may have killed a guy, but then again, maybe she didn't.

Then there's a mysterious mass poisoning that may have killed everyone. Oh, and there might be ghosts. But we don't know if that's the reality or just hallucinations.

Frankly, we aren't too sure of anything. Maybe the reader is the crazy one? The plot thickens...

The Walls Around Us reads in the context of maddening confusion, and I loved every moment of it. It kept me turning pages so I could hope to find answers, and even now I still have questions. The reader is left to determine how exactly the book really ended. It was just so good!

Nova Ren Suma's writing is exquisite, but not complicated. Her execution is artful without taking away from the story. The writing itself is easy to understand, while the movement of the plot is what keeps the mystery hanging around the text.

This book is entirely character driven, so most of our time is spent watching the characters develop during and after the action, and it is their thoughts that reveal to us what is happening.

You will like this book if you like mystery, focusing mostly on the characters, enjoy realistic fiction with a touch of (possible) paranormal, and enjoy a novel that does not tie a neat little bow at the end.

You will not like this book if you want a more plot-driven storyline, too much character insight bores you, you don't like being confused during the majority of the book, and you want to have all the answers by the time you close the cover. That's just not going to happen.

If you do decide to read this book, tell me your thoughts, because there are so many more aspects that I would like to discuss with someone! Anyone. Seriously. Even if you didn't like it, I just need to talk about it. And you probably will too, because you will no doubt have a book hangover in some capacity like I do a whole week later.

But really, someone please read this book,


Review: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

Title: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy
Author: Terry Brooks
Publication Date: August 27th, 2002
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 1200
Source: Hardcover from Amazon.com

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
THE SWORD OF SHANNARA: Long ago, the world of Shea Ohmsford was torn apart by war. But the half-human, half-elfin, Shea now lives in peace - until the forbidding figure of Allanon appears, to reveal that the long dead Warlock Lord lives again

THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA: Ancient evil threatens the Elves and the Races of Man. For the Ellcrys, the tree of long-lost Elven magic, is dying - loosing the spell of Forbidding that locks the hordes of Demons away from Earth. Only one source has the power to stop it: the Elfstones of Shannara.

THE WISHSONG OF SHANNARA: Evil stalks the Four Lands as the Ildatch, immemorial book of evil spells, has stirred to eldritch life. Once again Allanon, ancient Druid Protector of the Races, must seek the help of a descendant of Jerle Shannara.


TERRY BROOKS was born in Illinois in 1944. He spent a great deal of his childhood and early adulthood dreaming up stories in and around Sinnissippi Park, the very same park that would eventually become the setting for his bestsellingWord & Void trilogy. He received his undergraduate degree from Hamilton College, where he majored in English Literature, and went on to earn his graduate degree from the School of Law at Washington & Lee University.

A writer since high school, he wrote many stories within the genres of science fiction, western, and fiction but was unable to finish any project. Then one fateful semester early in college he was given The Lord of the Rings to read. That moment changed Terry’s life forever. In Tolkien’s great work he found all the elements needed to fully explore his writing combined in one genre.

He then wrote The Sword of Shannara. It took him seven years to finish it. It became the first work of fiction ever to appear on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list, where it remained for over five months.

During the spare time he could afford from his law practice, Terry wrote The Elfstones of Shannara, which followed in 1982 and once again brought the literary world an epic novel of wonder and adventure in the eagerly awaited sequel to The Sword of Shannara. The Wishsong of Shannara, published in 1985, finished the remarkable trilogy.

After publishing his first three Shannara novels, even though he was hesitant, Terry quit his practice of law to pursue a full-time writing career. He began writing Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, which began a bestselling new series for him in 1986. After moving to Seattle where he wrote two more Landovernovels—The Black Unicorn and Wizard At Large—he wrote The Heritage of Shannara, a four-book series returning to the very heart that had made him such a success.

The publication of The Talismans of Shannara in 1993 concluded that storyline.
Terry is unable to write in one series for long. He needs, as a creative writer, to take time off from a project which inevitably allows him to recharge. Rather than start a new Shannara novel after he finished The Heritage of Shannara series, he wrote two more Landover books—The Tangle Box & Witches’ Brew.

Once done with the Landover books and another foray into Shannara with the release of First King of Shannara, Terry decided to create something new. Since the beginning of The Heritage of Shannara series in 1990, Terry had been thinking of a new series—a dark, contemporary fantasy set in a town similar to the Illinois hometown he grew up in. The idea for this new series grew, expanded, and grew some more over the next several years and, in September 1997, Terry released Running With the Demon, his darkest most complex masterwork yet.

The story of Nest Freemark and John Ross continued in A Knight of the Word and Angel Fire East in what has been tentatively titled the Word & Void trilogy.

In the midst of writing the Word & Void trilogy, George Lucas—the esteemed creator of Star Wars—personally asked Terry if he would write the novelization to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Being a Star Warsfan Terry agreed easily and soon found himself travelling to Skywalker Ranch to discuss the project with Lucas. A month before the theatrical release of the movie the book was published with #1 bestselling success.

It was during this time that Terry decided to have an official website, one that a dedicated fan would devote time towards to ensure that the latest news, touring information, and book summaries could be available to his fans. Terry found his fan.

During the six years that followed the website’s inception, Terry wrote two Shannara trilogies: 

The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara and High Druid of Shannara. The six books take place 130 years and 150 years respectively after the events of The Talismans of Shannara, where Walker Boh is still a Druid and is still trying to form a new Druid Council.

Taking a bold new direction, Terry wrote the Genesis of Shannara series, which begins with Armageddon’s Children. Set 80 years after the Word & Void trilogy, it undeniably answers a long-standing fan question and connects that series with the Shannara series.

In 2009, Landover fans rejoiced. Terry published A Princess of Landover, returning to the Landover series after a 14 years hiatus. It features Ben and Holiday’s willful daughter Mistaya in an adventure of her own.

This year’s release of Bearers of the Black Staff, Book I of the Legends of Shannara series, marks the thirty-third year Terry has been a published author. It begins a two-book series set 500 years after the events of The Gypsy Morph.

The Measure of the Magic, the second book in the series, is finished and will publish in August 2011.

Terry Brooks lives with his wife Judine in the Pacific Northwest and on the road meeting his fans. 

The Sword of Shanara trilogy written by Terry Brooks is about a mythical world rooted in the tension between old-world-magic and, what could be seen, as rational thought.  We are taken on an expansive trip through the three separate generations of the Ohmsford family.  This is a family of elven children who are actually teenagers, who unknowingly possess magical skills that can unlock some of the great events threatening the world they hold dear.  The adventures in this quasi-medieval world involve the conflation of the races of men, elves, dwarves and, yes even trolls and gnomes.  All of the inhabitants of this world are pawns in a struggle between the forces of magic and the books present, which smacks of an emerging modernity.  Forged from an intricate history involving ancient wars and what we could see as geo-political conflicts, there emerges a sprawling epic not too different from what we experience in our own world.  The author uses the character of Allanon, a man symbolizing a race of men called the druids, to parcel out historical lessons to these protagonist young people as he leads them through dangerous adventures.  At one time the druids mastered the mysteries of using magic to try and better the human condition, but the intertwining epics of three generations makes the reader understand that the wielding of magic and power can have devastating effects.  Absolute power tends to absolutely corrupt. 

I found the work, although somewhat wordy, a wonderful read.  Brooks’ power of description to the many environments, the descriptions of character emotions, and the varied monster and beast creatures, made this a treasure-trove of description.  Although the two maps provided general locations to the many rivers, mountains, cities and castles, I did wish, however, that the map could provide more detail to the narrative.  I believe the work was worthy of some illustrations and relief maps.  I wanted to follow the treks, particularly of Jair Ohmsford’s party and his sister Brin Ohmsford and her party.

The power of the work was manifest in how the protagonist’s inner-monologue worked while confronted with flagrant evil.  The young adults were driven by restraint and circumspection about what they felt they needed to do to save their selves and their kind.  Their self-doubt, introspective thoughts were refreshing in an age of computer games where kids feel that destructive force is always justified.  Make no mistake violence forces are afoot, but so is the power of reason.  I found the young protagonists were governed by a higher power mitigating against blind rage and thoughtless action.  Our protagonists in all three epics do what we all should do, question ourselves, gather some facts and have the courage to carry out our mission.  We all face forces that loom bigger than what we are capable of handling. 

Of course, sometimes the nature of faith enters in as well.  There are no theistic components here that I can see, but there doesn’t need to be.  Faith in a common good, free will and understanding that there is good and there is evil pervades these stories.  The characters learn to trust one another and value each other’s purpose.  There is the threat of holocaust, destruction and chaos at every turn, but this world is also governed by the forces for good.  The players have stakes, experience death, separation and suffering, but all for the welfare and preservation of family and tribe. 

This is a must for your library.  There is a powerful imagination residing in this work.  I am entertained, but I am also edified by the lessons that are so abundant in this work.   


Storytime: Outer Space and the Solar System

This storytime was SO much fun to plan! Space is just so cool, no matter what age you are. I did this for our Pajama Storytime and our regular Racing to Read Storytime. The ages ranged from 0-6.

Sheep Blast Off! by Nancy Shaw
Papa, please get the moon for me by Eric Carle
A Brave Spaceboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith
How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (optional)

I got the idea for this rhyme from a few different blogs, but the original version didn't really work with our space, so I altered it. Only about 3 of the lines stayed the same.

Up to the Ceiling
Up to the ceiling, (stretch both arms overhead)
Down so you’re small. (bend at waist and touch floor)
Right to the bookshelf (stretch arm to right)
Left to the wall. (stretch arm to left)
Right hand, left hand,
Turn them around. (spin hands around each other, 'wheels on the bus style')
Fold them together
And now sit down

BOOK Sheep Blast Off! by Nancy Shaw

BOOK Papa, please get the moon for me by Eric Carle
The Moon is Round
The moon is round
As round can be (draw circle around baby's face)
Two eyes, a nose,
And a mouth like me
(touch baby on eyes, nose, mouth and give a hug).

BOOK A Brave Spaceboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith
BOOK How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (optional)
To "The Really Cool Space Team" by the GiggleBellies


Star Walk Kids app on the iPad $2.99
If you haven't used this app before, it's an absolute must. I have the adult version on my own phone because it's just so cool! In a nutshell, you can move your tablet or smartphone around and the app will show you where the stars/planets/satellites/etc. are in relation to where you're standing. 

Doodle on the Moon via mrprintables

Space Sensory Box via Life Over C's

Constellation Telescopes via The Homeschool Scientist
You can make your own, or use this printable to show them what constellations are what and poke the holes accordingly: Constellation Patterns


RECEPTION: Everyone LOVED the Star Walk Kids app. The parents kept asking me to write it down for them (usually I provide print outs of the apps I use and their prices, but I guess I forgot this time!). The kids had a lot fun with the parachute and even the sensory bin. This was probably my favorite storytime so far!

See my Space Themed Storytime Pinterest board HERE.


Event: Young Adult Sci-Fi

Science Fiction is the hottest genre right now. Add in some best selling authors and Young Adult books and you have an event not to be missed. So come celebrate these awesome YA Science Fiction Authors with us! Giveaways, book exclusives, games and more! Young Adult Science Fiction Multi-Author Event March 19th from 5:30-9PM. You can enter the big $100 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway at the bottom of this post!  Don't miss it!

Join the event!

The authors are excited to see you on the 19th but in the meantime, check out these amazing titles!

Schedule of events!

5:30-6:00 – Angela Scott 6:00-6:30 – Laxmi Hariharan 6:30-7:00 – Theresa Kay 7:00-7:30 – Lee Strauss 7:30-8:00 – Pavarti K Tyler 8:00-8:30 – Susan Kaye Quinn 8:30-9:00 – Joel Ohman 9:00 – Pavarti (Announce Rafflecopter winners - Enter at the bottom of this post!) a Rafflecopter giveaway