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provide context for readers unfamiliar with Kennedy, but not so much information as too bog down readers with a greater historical reference.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!