Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Midwinterblood

Unbelievably, this marks the 25th book of the YALSA challenge!  While I will continue to read as many of the list as I can, this book was truly the perfect note to end the challenge.  Each chapter reads as a stand-alone short story, yet each one is interconnected as the reader is steeped further and further into the history of this remote norther island, following the ancient roots of the complex relationship between Eric and Merle.  With inexplicable sensations of déjà vu for the characters, the reader is given small clues to help weave the experiences together, making the book captivating as well as haunting, a love to withstand the test of time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Zombie Baseball Beatdown

This peculiar story of the zombie apocalypse stemming from contaminated cow livestock is laughable and oddly lighthearted.  Still, Paolo Bacigalupi captures the frustration many children feel regarding mean, foolish, or absent adults as well as highlighting the much more serious societal issues of illegal immigration and the food industry.  Listening to the audio book of the story only added to the humor and enjoyment of the book.  While definitely geared towards younger readers, it was definitely a fun read.

Winger

While not my typical book selection, Winger by Andrew Smith was impossible to put down.  Beyond the rugby team nuances of boarding school culture, Ryan Dean is an instantly likable character with problems any teenager can relate to.  Making choices that are sometimes foolish and sometimes selfless, the journey of Ryan Dean and his friends is an emotional one.  Mixed with funny cartoons and drawings, Winger is a special book that shouldn't be missed!

Etiquette & Espionage

What a delightful combination of supernatural characters, nefarious behaviors, and a steampunk setting!  Add the British accents for extra enjoyment in the audiobook, Gail Carriger has created a work that will have you circling the block just to hear more.  Saphronia is a clever and curious girl whose bravery helps her accomplish more than she ever thought possible.  One of my favorite aspects to her character is her ability to see beyond social and racial boundaries in order to forge real friendships, which often come in handy during her adventures!  I will definitely be listening to the second book.

Audrey, Wait!

Robin Benway has created a fun and entertaining look at teen life through her character, Audrey, who unwittingly becomes famous after her ex-boyfriend writes a song about their breakup - and it becomes a huge hit!  Despite the outlandish scenarios, the overall ideas hit home for a lot of teenagers.  While sometimes you just want to shake Audrey into making smarter choices, the story is heart-warming and engaging and I love it even more for being a stand-alone book!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Proxy

In a world divided between the haves and the have-nots, Syd is a Proxy who struggles to make ends meet while keeping a low profile whereas Knox is the Patron who owns him.  Obvious mayhem ensues, rebels attempt to rise, and Syd and Knox become entwined despite their opposing worlds.  Though it follows the general dystopian fiction rules, London creates a plausible (albeit worrisome) future US populated by realistic characters who make mistakes, learn from their errors, and make interesting life choices.

Ash

Ash by Melinda Lo is an interesting retelling of the traditional Cinderella story - though with more magic and an unexpected prince charming and fairy god mother.  Consistent with the quick pace associated with fairy tales, Ash moves very quickly - perhaps too quickly since there was not much connection to the characters.  Still, it was a good twist with a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Boxers and Saints


Boxers & Saints are two graphic novels created by Gene Luen Yang.  While I defend the benefits of graphic novels, I am not very well-versed with the nuances of the genre.  It did not take long before the flow of the storyline and images became familiar and I found both books to be beautifully drawn and hauntingly written.  It was fascinating to watch the story unfold from the two opposing perspectives, both so convinced of the right path.  With the addition of mystical elements, the story remains relatively true to the historical timeframe - down to the disheartening conclusion.  While I liked Boxers more than I liked Saints, I would recommend the pair to students as well as to teachers for incorporation into the Social Studies curriculum.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Out of the Easy

It seemed natural to read Out of the Easy by Ruth Sepetys after having read her book Between Shades of Gray.  These books were quite different, and yet both provide a captivating story with relatable characters.  Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, Josie perseveres in building a positive future for herself.  With tormenting twists, Sepetys crafts an incredible story - I would definitely read any book she publishes!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Between Shades of Gray

I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a satisfying addition to the genre.  Sepetys provides a gut wrenching account of Lina's capture, persistence, and survival as a Lithuanian during World War II.  This is an aspect of the war that is not often discussed, and in fact was a secret punishable by death for as long as the Soviet Union existed.  With historically based stories like this, who needs dystopian fiction?!?

                    …..just kidding, I'm a sucker for dystopian fiction!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Testing

In the midst of the Hunger Games and Divergent dystopian craze, it's tough to conceive of an innovative addition to the genre.  Still, Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing is a creative story that has the reader questioning relationships and constantly on edge as the story unfolds at a quick, addictive pace - leaving you reaching immediately for the sequel!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beauty Queens

Libba Bray's Beauty Queens is such an outlandish and ridiculous commentary on society today that unfortunately hits pretty close to reality!  As a plane carrying beauty contestants crashes on a seemingly deserted island, the few surviving girls find themselves trying to maintain their perfect composure and beauty despite facing the extreme wilderness, a corrupt company trying to kill them, pirates who are actually reality TV stars, a gun-running dictator, and a former beauty queen winner who wants to rule the world.  On the island, Bray also explores issues of racism, sexual orientation, transgenderism, and a general pressure of double standards that often forces young women into an impossible box.  This book is laugh-out-loud funny and full of heart-warming hope as they discover the liberation of being separated from people telling them what to do.

Verily, A New Hope

Ok, so this sounds a little strange, unorthodox at the very least.  And yet, Ian Doescher's Shakespearian rendition of Star Wars is unbelievably entertaining.  The classic story of good-versus-evil told through iambic pentameter gives a fun and creative spin to what some may see as a lost art.  In Verily, A New Hope, characters come alive with newly voiced monologues - including Darth Vader and even R2D2.  Listening to the book furthered the enjoyment since the storyline was enhanced with a host of voice actors and the traditional Star Wars sounds effects and music.  This audiobook will undoubtably be the next favorite of every Star Wars fan!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

eleanor & park

Attempting to describe the plot of eleanor & park by Rainbow Rowell seems to be a disservice to the incredibly sweet, gut wrenching, powerful story of an unlikely pair of teens.  Rowell's prose perfectly captures the confusion and warmth of new love.  Serious issues are wrapped with humor, making the characters instantly lovable and realistic.  Here's hoping for more novels from Rainbow Rowell!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The President Has Been Shot: The assassination of John F Kennedy

James Swanson's work is incredibly successful in creating a riveting account of Kennedy's final days as well as aftermath of the attack. Swanson also provides enough background information on Kennedy's family and presidency to provide context for readers unfamiliar with Kennedy, but not so much information as too bog down readers with a greater historical reference. The diagrams, posters, and images were especially haunting, giving the reader a true feeling of being part of history.  While there have been many volumes written about Kennedy, this work stands out as especially readable and enjoyable for adults and young adults alike.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

This book was simply outstanding!  What a delectable blend of mystery and historical fiction with the perfect dose of supernatural. This debut work by Cat Winters is a must read page-turner!!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Anticipated Books of 2014

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Go!

Chip Kidd definitely knows his stuff!!  Go: A Kidd's guide to graphic design is an awesome introduction to an often overlooked art form.  I have a greater appreciation for all the work and creativity that goes into designing even the simplest of things.  Kidd's writing is as understandable as his graphic design, making this book perfect for anyone looking for an introduction to the subject - child and adult alike!  I especially love the projects listed at the end, which are entirely manageable for any age.  Since I am stuck inside on this snowy day, I just may start one of these projects myself!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. Bird

Ok, so Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos is a surprisingly satisfying read.  It is, at times, dark and bleak, but offers a silver-lining of hope and independence.  I love that James can find such confidence in learning to embrace himself, stand up to his parents, understand his sister, and be a better friend.  If only more people had a helpful imaginary pigeon therapist to guide through life's ups and downs!

Sex & Violence

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian is simply not my cup of tea…  Obviously there is a lot of sex and violence, but I was still shocked by the extreme casualness associated with the sex and the lack of any real recourse.  I was also taken aback by the glorification of drug use and the extensive use of curses.  Ultimately, while the characters were lovable and well-developed, the story line was lacking.  This left me frustrated that I had endured the sex, violence, drugs, and curses for nothing - with the story hanging mid-thought without any conclusion.  It not only saddens me that there are (probably many) teenagers who live this lifestyle, but it is beyond upsetting that teenagers may rationalize these life choices when they are provided with role models in books who make these same choices.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Charm & Strange

After the marathon of WWII titles, it is time to take a break from the Nonfiction Challenge list and take on a title from the Morris list.  Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn is exactly that: charming and strange.  This novel is definitely a page-turner that had me constantly questioning Andrew Winters' reality.  The traumatic experiences revealed throughout the book are reminiscent of works by Laurie Halse Anderson such as Speak, Twisted, and Wintergirls - yet with its own unique spin. 

Imprisoned

Wrapping up the WWII books for the Nonfiction Challenge, Martin W. Sandler's Imprisoned: The betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II provides an account of the experience facing this segment of the American people.  With vibrant photographs and moving primary sources, Sandler allows the reader to envision the despair as well as the championing spirit of the interned.  It is amazing, as with Stone's Courage Has No Color, that despite the cruel treatment from the American government and society, these marginalized groups can still prove their resiliency and patriotism time and time again.

It was a little difficult to find a reading rhythm since the story was often interrupted by side stories and photo spreads.  In terms of the actual narrative, I understand that the focus was on the 100,000 Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII.  However, I was disappointed in the allusion to the lack of internment of Italian and German Americans whereas in reality, there were still another 13,000 or so Americans from these backgrounds who were also interned.  I liked the description of the legacy of internment, but I expected to read more about democratic actions taken by the Japanese Americans such as the lawsuit Fred Korematsu filed against the United States.

Overall, this is a good introduction to this aspect of WWII and an important reminder of an aspect of our history I'm sure we would rather forget.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Courage Has No Color

So in sticking with the WWII theme, I turned to Courage Has No Color: The true story of the Triple Nickels, America's first black paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone. As a pretty quick read, the story of the Triple Nickels is beautifully written and peppered with powerful images. Stone's work highlights an often overlooked aspect of American history. It is so disheartening to read the account of how African American soldiers were treated by their fellow soldiers, even in comparison with German and Italians captured by Americans as prisoners of war. Despite the huge inroads this group started towards integration of the military, the conclusion of their story is beyond as frustrating as it is inspiring. Stone says it best in the when she says, "What is courage? What is strength? Perhaps it is being ready to fight for your nation even when your nation isn't ready to fight for you."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Nazi Hunters

As a Social Studies teacher turned librarian, WWII is a very familiar topic. And yet, there is always more to discover about this horrific time. Similar to my experience with Unbroken, Neal Bascomb's The Nazi Hunters: How a team of spies and survivors captured the world's most notorious Nazi reveals an often overlooked aspect of WWII. This story provides the account of the fledgling Mossad in the years after the war had concluded. Since no nation was willing to accept responsibility for hunting down Adolf Eichmann, it fell to a group of Mossad operative volunteers. This group, including a number of Holocaust survivors, were quietly sanctioned by the Israeli government, without any protection if caught in their mission.

Despite knowing the historical outcome of the events, Bascomb's account was an intriguing page-turner. It is filled with personal details and nail-biting tension reminiscent of the movie "Argo". It is strangely bitter sweet to read as roles reversed and the once powerful Eichmann was brought to trial by those who once suffered under his orders. With little substantial character development, I found myself somewhat disconnected from the individual people in the book. Still, the infamy of Eichmann and the riveting account of this momentous mission makes Bascomb's book a must read.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter Break

Nothing goes better with softly falling snow and a crackling fire than a good book! Granted, this winter break busier than past years, filled with winter wonderland activities in breathtaking Whistler, British Columbia. Still, I was able to read Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Unbroken: A World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, and The Chaos Code by Justin Richards. These titles cover a range of incredibly different genres, including both adult and young adult, fiction and nonfiction.



I was pulled into Bad Monkeys by happy accident. With a riveting story about a young woman who is an assassin for a secret organization that fights evil, Matt Ruff offers a refreshingly different book. Throughout the entire read, I couldn't decide if Jane Charlotte was really an assassin or just plain crazy. Even with these predictable options, the story took unexpected twists and was a very satisfying book.

Sharp Objects, like other titles by Gillian Flynn, was immediately engaging, impossible to put down, and horrifying to read. As a relatively short book, Flynn packs in the not-stop action with detailed (tormented) character development. The story follows Camille Preaker, a reporter sent from Chicago to return to her small town, and her troubled past, to cover a series of grotesque murders. The more she uncovers in this dead-end case, the more she learns about herself and her family. While the end wasn't entirely predictable, it was one of the many guesses I had made along the way.

Shifting gears to Unbroken was surprisingly easy. Hillenbrand provides a riveting account of the unbelievable life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track runner who was a POW in WWII. With every struggle, it seemed impossible that Zamperini's situation could worsen - and yet it did! Despite every challenge, Zamperini's story is one of not just surviving daunting odds, but of faith and rising above worldly strife. As a history lover, I was familiar with the terrifying situation in the Pacific theater of WWII, but the personal details were both shocking and educational.

The lightest of all the titles was Chaos Code, which reads like a junior version of Indiana Jones. It was a fun book, albeit a quirky storyline with strange characters that were never really developed. Still, perfect for a cozy winter break read!