Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl

When I visited London in 2011, a tour guide pointed out the location where a house once stood where William Shakespeare rented a room for a period of time, as evidenced by his signature on a court deposition regarding a domestic dispute involving the homeowner and his son-in-law. Charles Nicholl’s historical, practically forensic exploration of all the players even remotely involved in this drama, as well as the time period, and its cultural context, is stunning. If his research is exhaustive, his narrative is anything but. Fans of Shakespeare and English history like me will be unable to put this book down. From what would seem, at first, like a dead-end, four centuries-old historical Easter egg, Charles Nicholl the bloodhound sniffs out a drama laden with intrigue, and in so doing offers a far reaching, fully documented history leasson. I particularly enjoy historical works that allow me to see a period through a very narrowly focused telescope. You'll be amazed at what you'll learn of the early Jacobite period via "head-tires." Strongly recommended.

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street is available in hardcover, paperback, and audio. And can I just add, not that it matters, I love this cover. The cover gods were good to Mr. Nicholls, and he should thank them. Published in the US by Viking Adult.

Note: Since a majority of titles I blog about are written for younger audiences, it seems worth mentioning that this is a work for the adult market. Not that younger readers couldn't enjoy it, but many of them might find the extent of the scholarship to be a barrier.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. I cracked it open intending to read the first few chapters one afternoon, and stayed up until midnight to finish it. Meticulously researched and wholly authentic, Josie Moraine’s story had me glued to the page.

Fans of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY will find an entirely new story here, yet there are some common threads to appreciate. Once again Sepetys has placed a young woman in an historically accurate yet horrifically dangerous situation, with eroding support systems, and allies in the unlikeliest of people. She’s given us a heroine whose strength comes from daring to believe she can escape, survive, and thrive against terrible odds. Josie is conflicted but compassionate, lost but loyal. Compassion, loyalty, and hope, untinged by sentimentality, are what drew me into both OUT OF THE EASY and BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.

It's 1950. Josie is the 17-year old daughter of Louise, a New Orleans prostitute. Whenever she meets a kind, intelligent man, she adds him to her notebook of fantasy father candidates. Louise is narcissistic, vapid, treacherous, and self-destructive. (She’s the kind of literary mother who always gives me a warm feeling that maybe I’m not doing so badly after all.)  At age seven, Josie could mix martinis like a French Quarter bartender, and sleep in hotel lobbies while Louise turned tricks. In one sense Josie has raised herself, but she’s always had the protection of Willie, a Conti Street madam (and Louise’s boss), whose brothel Josie cleans each morning, and Charlie, an author and bookstore owner who lets Josie sleep in a back room in his shop. Josie reads in the shop and dreams of college, but the seamy French Quarter’s reputation hangs about her like bayou fog. Affluent businessmen who frequent the brothel know intimately whose daughter Josie is. It will take a college far, far away from The Big Easy to give Josie a chance to be her own woman, not Quarter trash, though leaving would devastate her patron and de facto mother, Willie. Josie is determined never to sell out like Louise did. But when Louise is implicated in a murder, and skips town owing a blood debt to the mob, Josie’s chances of freedom dwindle trigger-thin. Caught between death and betrayal, Josie realizes her mother has left her no alternative but to follow her, er, career path simply to stay alive.

My synopsis sadly lacks a mention of two conveniently gorgeous young men who take a close interest in Josie: Patrick, Charlie’s piano-playing son who works with Josie in the bookstore, and flower vender-slash-biker-turned-mechanic, Jesse. So consider them mentioned. Warmly.

OUT OF THE EASY is a gripping read. Willie, Cokie, Dora, Sweety, Sadie, and even Evangeline have stayed with me since I finished the novel. Ruta Sepetys has again introduced to us a young woman of substance who refuses to surrender her hopes for a full life despite the most depraved circumstances, one who finds flowers of affection and kindness growing in the most barren places. Strongly recommended. One to watch in 2013.

OUT OF THE EASY releases in hardcover February 12, 2013 from Philomel. Available to pre-order from your local store. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two poems for Sandy Hook School, Newtown, Connecticut

[for the parents]

Precious one, my heart’s delight,
I helped you choose your clothes,
Fed you, packed your lunch, zipped your coat,
And sent you on your way.

How far from me your way would take you
I couldn’t know.

Dear heart, sweet face, soft hair, wide eyes,
Never in my arms again.
Last night the hours crawled. How can I
Endure the years to come?

Bright laugh, young voice
Gone quiet now,
And all that’s left, a stillness bearing down
Like Atlas’s sky.  

[for the rest of us]

Not enough, the grief I feel.
Insufficient are my tears.
My sympathy is impotent,
Here where I sit, secure and safe,
Relieved that theirs was not my lot
While I muddle through my day’s work.
I am horrified for them,
But my feelings are inadequate.

These are my offerings:
Prayer that God be found at hand.
Gifts to causes that do good.
Support for justice, and for peace.
Pouring my heart in the words I write
So hope and dreams remain.
Above all, patience with my own,
So my actions teach and testify
Anger is best met in loving ways. 

© 2012, Julie Berry

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's an Author Invasion at the Chenery Winter Book Festival, Belmont, MA, 12/6

So excited to share info about this exciting upcoming event! I get to hang out with some *very* cool people. Come join us and we'll all be cool together. :)

Presenting the first annual             
Chenery Winter Book Festival!
Thursday, December 6, 4:30-6 pm @ Chenery Middle School Library, Belmont, MA
Introducing five local authors and the books they’ll be signing at the Chenery Book Fair. Signed books make great holiday gifts, and proceeds from the book fair support the library.

Meet Erin Dionne
Erin Dionne writes funny books that feature models, cookies, Shakespeare, crazy families, music, marching band, and the trials of middle school. She lives in Framingham with her husband, two kids, and a very demanding dog. She teaches English at Montserrat College of Art, in Beverly.

NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK: Elsie Wyatt is a born French horn player, just like her father and her grandfather before her. In order to qualify for the prestigious summer music camp of her dreams, she must expand her musical horizons and join--gasp!--the marching band. There are no French horns in marching band, but there are some very cute boys. Elsie is not so sure she'll survive, but the new friends she's making and the actual fun she's having force her to question her dad's expectations and her own musical priorities.

THE TOTAL TRAGEDY OF A GIRL NAMED HAMLET: All Hamlet Kennedy wants is to be a normal eighth grader. But with parents like hers - Shakespearean scholars who actually dress in Elizabethan regalia . . . in public! - it's not that easy. As if they weren't strange enough, her genius seven-year-old sister will be attending her middle school, and is named the new math tutor. Then, when the Shakespeare Project is announced, Hamlet reveals herself to be an amazing actress. Even though she wants to be average, Hamlet can no longer hide from the fact that she- like her family - is anything but ordinary.

MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES: Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harris is no string bean, but comfy sweatpants and a daily chocolate cookie suit her just fine. Her under-the-radar lifestyle could have continued too, if her aunt hadn’t entered her in the HuskyPeach Modeling Challenge. To get out of it, she’s forced to launch Operation Skinny Celeste, because, after all, a thin girl can’t be a fat model! What Celeste never imagined was that losing weight would help her gain a backbone . . . or that all she needed to shine was a spotlight.
Meet Erin E. Moulton
Erin E. Moulton is the author of Flutter, Tracing Stars and two forthcoming novels.  She is the teen librarian at the Derry Public Library.  She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two rascally dogs, Cali and Remington.  She likes to read, carve pumpkins, eat pomegranate seeds and learn new things. 
Find Erin online at

TRACING STARS:  Indie Lee Chickory is the fish freak of Plumtown. She's an expert at making fish faces and has a pet, The Lobster Monty Cola. When Indie accidentally brings Monty to school, to disastrous results, her sister Bebe almost dies of embarrassment. Indie is left with no friends, no sister, and no lobster.  One night, Indie wishes on her favorite star. She wants to find her lobster and be a better Chickory so Bebe will like her again. She searches for Monty by building a boat up in a tree with Owen Stone, who works in the props shop. Everything goes well--until Bebe and her gang make it clear that being friends with Owen is a ticket straight to loserville. Can Indie keep her friendship with Owen a secret? And will doing so make her a better Chickory--or a worse one?

FLUTTER, THE STORY OF FOUR SISTERS AND AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY: Big things are about to happen at Maple's house. Mama's going to have a baby, which means now there will be four Rittle sisters instead of just three. But when baby Lily is born too early and can't come home from the hospital, Maple knows it's up to her to save her sister. So she and sister Dawn, armed with a map and some leftover dinner, head off down a river and up a mountain to find the Wise Woman, who guards a pool with miraculous powers. But the dangers Maple and Dawn encounter on their journey make them realize a thing or two about miracles--and about each other.
Meet Diana Renn
Diana Renn writes contemporary mysteries for young adults. TOKYO HEIST (Viking/Penguin, 2012) is her first novel, and her next two YA mysteries will also feature globetrotting sleuths and international intrigue. She grew up in Seattle and now lives in Belmont with her husband and son. When she's not writing, she enjoys taiko drumming and bicycling, though has not yet figured out how to do both of those things at once.

TOKYO HEIST: When sixteen-year-old Violet agrees to spend the summer with her father, an up-and-coming artist in Seattle, she has no idea what she's walking into. Her father's newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone's lives are in danger--including Violet's and her father's.

Violet's search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet's not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery--before it's too late.

Meet Jack Ferraiolo
Jack D. Ferraiolo is the author of the Edgar Award nominee The Big Splash, which the New York Times called “entertaining and thrilling” and Publishers Weekly called “ingenious junior high noir.” His second book, Sidekicks, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Kids 2011. His third book, The Quick Fix (a sequel to The Big Splash) released in October 2012. Jack is also the developer and Emmy Award-winning writer for the PBS show WordGirl. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two kids. Find him online at

THE BIG SPLASH: The treacherous, hormone-soaked hallways of Franklin Middle School are the setting for this sharp, funny noir novel about tough guys and even tougher girls. "The Frank"is in the clutches of a crime syndicate run by seventh-grader Vinny "Mr. Biggs" Biggio, who deals in forged hall passes and blackmarket candy. Double-cross him and your number is punched by one of his deadly water gun-toting assassins. One hit in the pants and you are in "the Outs" forever. Matt Stevens is a proud loner with his own code of justice. He's avoided being pulled into Vinny's organization until now: Mr. Biggs has offered him a job he can't resist, even if it means bringing down one of his oldest friends. Nominated for an Edgar Award in 2009, The Big Splash revitalizes the noir novel while delivering a terrific, addictive mystery that crackles with wit and excitement.

THE QUICK FIX: In this much-anticipated sequel to The Big Splash, junior high detective Matt Stevens is back on the case, bringing us another hilarious middle school noir. When the star of the basketball team is blackmailed, it’s up to Matt, the lone voice for justice in a morass of middle school corruption, to figure out who’s behind the scheme. Is it eighth-grade crime lord Vinny “Mr. Biggs” Biggio, who has made his name peddling forged hall passes and leading a crew of social assassins who send enemies to the Outs with a humiliating squirt-gun blast below the belt? Or is it his lieutenant and Matt’s former best friend, Kevin? Or a pair of scheming twins who sell Pixy Stix to sugar-addicted classmates? One thing’s for sure: There won’t be a quick fix for the trouble at this middle school.

SIDEKICKS: Batman has Robin, Wonder Woman has Wonder Girl, and Phantom Justice has Bright Boy, a.k.a. Scott Hutchinson, an ordinary schoolkid by day and a superfast, superstrong sidekick by night, fighting loyally next to his hero.But after an embarrassing incident involving his too-tight spandex costume, plus some signs that Phantom Justice may not be the good guy he pretends to be, Scott begins to question his role. With the help of a fellow sidekick, once his nemesis, Scott must decide if growing up means being loyal or stepping boldly to the center of things. Great for boys, comics fans, and anyone looking for a superhero tale that’s also an insightful look at adolescence.

Meet Julie Berry
Julie Berry grew up on a farm in western New York as the youngest of a family of seven book-loving kids. She now lives with her husband and four young sons – she’s gone from farm to funny farm. She writes books for young readers and teaches writing to schools nationwide. This year she’s working with Chenery’s fifth grade classes to teach writing, revision, and book blogging throughout the year.

SECONDHAND CHARM: In a secluded village, magic sparkles on the edges of the forest. There, a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy's charms—no more than trinkets when worn by others—are remarkably potent when Evie ties them around her neck. Her talents, and charms, have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason's apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next-door. When the young king's carriage arrives one day, Evie might just get her chance. . .
THE AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT: When a mysterious piece of jewelry and a strange visitor arrive in the jewelry shop where she works for her evil aunt, Lucinda's course takes a surprising turn. With the help of the Amaranth Witch, a young (and harmless) con-artist, and a prince, Lucinda uncovers secrets about her own royal past.

THE RAT BRAIN FIASCO: When Cody Mack is called to the principal’s office yet again, he finds something far worse than detention awaiting him: Splurch Academy, a frightfully sinister boarding school for disobedient children run by a group of monstrous teachers.

CURSE OF THE BIZARRO BEETLE: With Cody’s archnemesis, Headmaster Farley, banished from the school, Cody should be celebrating . . . but something is bothering him, eating at him . . . literally gnawing on him. Dark forces are on the rise at Splurch Academy and Cody Mack isn’t sure which side of the battle he’s on.

THE COLOSSAL FOSSIL FREAKOUT: Headmaster Farley's back and he's ready for revenge, but an unexpected visit from his estranged sister brings monstrous results as she takes over Splurch Academy. Forced to retreat to his laboratory, he hatches a plan to reclaim the school. Meanwhile, Cody Mack and the other boys are pitted against their new classmates-the girls of Priscilla Prim Academy for Precious and Proper Young Ladies.

THE TROUBLE WITH SQUIDS: It's a squid invasion! The boys uncover an old forgotten swimming pool hidden away below the floor of the school's gymnasium?-and below the surface they discover a whole undersea world that might just provide them with a way to finally escape from Splurch Academy. However, they soon realize that the pool is overflowing with evil monstrous squids.

*** And that's the lineup! It's going to be a happening winter book festival. Come on down to Chenery Middle School Thursday, December 6, from 4:30 to 6 pm, to meet the authors, get books signed, and wrap up your holiday shopping while supporting a fantastic middle school library! 


Friday, July 20, 2012

Aurora Rising: a poem for 7/20/12

Aurora Rising
by Julie Berry

When murder stalks through midnight halls
To snatch from peace its grisly bite,
Drunk on its carnal hour, and fear,

Braver men and women
Will disperse murder’s dark --   
Swarm in to stanch wounds,
Pursue measured justice,
Pray for the dead, and the wounded,
Honor those gone,
Comfort the weeping,
Strengthen those left afraid.

(We cannot forget:
Lonelier are they whose oppressors are less in love with fame,
Who strike in alleys, or lit apartments for which they hold keys.
Justice and comfort keep full calendars.
They sometimes miss appointments.)

Those who’ve died are you and me.
My son, your daughter, our baby.
And so we grieve, and pray
A comfort broader than we can bestow
Will rest upon those left behind.

Even the murderer is my son, and yours.
Then let us be slow in our sprint toward hate.

In this may we take some peace:
Murder, that thought it could destroy,
Will see Aurora rising. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Red Riding Hood Romp

I was once part of a challenge given to authors to retell "Little Red Riding Hood" in 25 words or less. Competitive nut that I am, I was all over this task like a case of poison ivy. Here were my initial offerings:

Double haiku (22 words)
Ailing grandmother,
A wolf snack. Not appeased, Wolf
Gobbles Red. Dessert.

Snores lure Woodsman. 
Axe emancipates. Fill Wolf's
Greedy gut with rocks.

Red's Complaint (25)
I resent being eaten. And duped by a wolf wearing Granny's nightgown. It's embarrassing needing Huntsman to cut me free. Now my riding hood smells. 

Red Riding Nouns (25)
Cake, basket, hood;
Path, daisies, hut.
Door, nightgown, cap,
Clues, terror, meal.
Snooze, slumber, snore,
Ear, huntsman, axe,
Slit, release, joy!
Stitch, belly, rocks.

Well, after my 25-word awesomeness, apparently the other writers complained that the task was impossible. (Pah! I spit upon their wordiness!) So the bar was raised (or lowered) to 50 words. Not one to sit idle, I produced the following:

Limerick (33)
"Go to Granny's. Don't speak to rough strangers."
So with basket, and no sense of danger,
     Red gave Wolf the address,
     Fell for Granny's nightdress,
Was cut free by a lone forest ranger.

Double Double Dactyl (Learn more about this fantabulous whimsical poetic form, or else what I've written won't make sense)

Little Red Riding Hood
Toting her grandmother's
Luncheon did romp.

Failing to spot Wolf's crude
Red embraced "Granny" and 
"Granny" said, "CHOMP!"

[Alt ending 1]
Romulus Hunterman
Heard the wolf snoozing, and
Sliced that sly fox.

Granny and Red, now free
(Thumbing their noses at
Stuffed Wolf with rocks.

[Alt ending 2]
Romulus Hunterman,
Heard the wolf snoozing, and 
"Swish" went his axe.

Granny and Red, now free,
Groveled before the man,
Offering snacks.

Fun, fun. Now if I could just get someone to pay me to do this all day. Chime in & vote for your favorite, or leave your own LITTLE "Little Red." 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cow Breast Soup

My invitation to visit The Fenn School in Concord, MA, and conduct author presentations and workshops, unfolded in a roundabout way. I met a Fenn student, Johnny, at a local yard sale, where I happened to have a couple of my Splurch Academy books with me in my little lobster totebag, like so:

(My friends know I am never without my little lobster bag.)

Johnny's mother noticed my bag and said her son had enjoyed those books. I told her I'd written them, so she introduced me to her son whom, she said, was already a big Splurch fan. Later I sent this young man some Splurch tattoos and stickers, and told him that I'd be happy to visit his school. His teacher jumped right on it, and soon we'd scheduled a visit.

Johnny keeps a creative writing blog at Fenn (can I just pause to note how great that is?). His teacher shared with me the poem he wrote on his blog about my impending visit. With Johnny's parents' permission, I'm sharing his poem below:

She's Coming, by John 
What should I do  what should I do  
He's coming, I mean she's coming, she's really coming  
I read the book and now I'm going to have lunch with her what will it be pasta, salad, cow breast soup what if she doesn't like it she might get mad
and destroy the world she might kill zeus what should I do 
what should I do

I showed this to my husband whose immediate response was, "No wonder he likes your books."

I loved this poem. I like the nutty kind of brilliant creativity that inspired it. Personally, I'm fond of an epic struggle in my poetry when I can get it, and if it pits me against the king of the gods, all the better. World? You're goin' down. Cow breast soup? Titans have clashed for less.

So be forewarned, all ye Olympian gods and Fenn kitchen chefs: behold, I come quickly, trailing destruction in my wake. Feed me worthy victuals lest I smite you with the rod of my wrath. Kids, line up after class for stickers and washable tattoos. They're buried somewhere here in my lobster totebag.

P.S.: For some actual footage of author visits where no carnage took place, visit my YouTube channel.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recent reads (a rhapsody)

I'm always late. Late to blog, late to read the books the rest of the world raves about. Late to meetings, late with paperwork. Never late for meals. Here at last is a recap of some of my recent reads. More to follow soon. Judge for yourself whether I have good reason for chronic lateness, when such delicious distractions sit on my bedside table. 

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Another instance of being late to the party. This story kept me captive, and so did the writing. Either one would have been enough on its own, but the combination was compelling. I couldn’t put the book down. A tapestry celebrating the interconnectedness of nature and time, of living and dying, of love and pain, of relationships spanning generations, dramatized by a cast of creatures natural and mythical whose stories converged stunningly. Like a river that seems to meander on the surface, the poetic narrative often feels leisurely, yet an insistent undercurrent propels the players swiftly toward their fates. An impressive achievement; a piece of joy. Strongly recommended.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
In every school visit, I tell the kids that if they thing fairy tales are only for pink Disney princesses, they need to read their Grimm’s. Where else could so many body parts be hacked off and successfully reattached? Adam Gidwitz takes Hansel and Gretel on a dark, sinister journey through several of the original Grimms’ tales, where they test this limb-severing-and-grafting phenomenon to its ultimate limits. I’ve started mentioning this title now in my school visits. Strongly recommended, but maybe not for the squeamish.

I admire books that are unafraid to dive down deeply into strange territory and defy convention. Peter Nimble has a wonderfully trippy quality, with enigmatic settings, dark villainy, and a blind and gifted hero with the strangest of allies. A wooden box filled with eyes becomes a conduit to dark and perplexing adventures. So many memorable bits: the bay bobbing with bottles stuffed with unmet wishes; the teakettle rock; raven battles; the miniature horse-cat. (My sons have absconded with my copy so I’m sure my words aren’t spot-on.) Recommended.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The urge to reread this, for nostalgia’s sake, came upon me with, I expect, something like the yearning the Water-Rat felt for spring, or perhaps the call both Ratty and Mole heard from the piper at the gates of dawn. I know the story well, and I even understand how it works to uphold illusions of Edwardian English bachelor male gentility. Nevertheless, I just need to reread it now and then. In times past, Toad and his exploits have stolen stage center, for me, but this time it was the rhapsodic nature-bliss of Ratty and Mole that spoke to me. I had less patience for Toad this time around. The prose is lush; too lush, no doubt. But it was just what I wanted. I wish I had a Badger in my life, tucked in palatial underground Roman ruins, to turn to when times get tough.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
I’m an unabashed Adam Rex fan. If he’s going to write a book about an evil cereal company out to take over the world, featuring leprechauns and unicats and rabbit-headed men, and a genius girl wearing orthodontic headgear of such metallurgic beauty that orthodontists weep, and a boy whose name is Scottish Play Doe, and a secret, elite Masonic-like society of cereal cultists who chant about dragons, and movie stars who punch the queen of England, and children as experimental guinea pigs in the hands of men in pink suits, am I going to read it? You betcha. The start of a new series; sure to stay crispy even in milk.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
It seemed significant that I read this book on the day Dick Clark died, since his apparently agelessness was an important plot point. I’m always late to the party; the rest of the world knew this book was a treasure before I ever got around to reading it, but let me add my delight to the pile of offerings around this altar. I loved this book. Relativity and A Wrinkle in Time are both dear to me. A remarkable marriage of the realistic school novel with the fantastic, true to the essence of L’Engle’s book, which the novel frequently invokes. A novel fearfully and wonderfully made. My congratulations to Ms. Stead for every well-deserved accolade. Strongly recommended.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
** spoiler alert ** An escapist romp of a Regency romance! The main character, Elinor Rochdale, is excessively fond of exclamation marks! I was hard-pressed to find statements that did not employ them! Her favorite word was odious! She called the handsome, rich, imperious, undoubtedly well-washed and scented Lord Ned Carlyon odious on his every visit! Naturally he would insist on marrying her! What man could resist the allure of an exclamatory woman who finds him odious?!
 Forgive my snarking. A fun read, and a happy instance of a proud, poor, blue-blooded maiden boarding the wrong coach and ending up, not a governess, but a wife twice over.