Recap: - Several generations of loveless (or at least romance-less) marriages - Star-crossed young lovers - The Cuban Missile Crisis - Our world on the br...moreRecap: - Several generations of loveless (or at least romance-less) marriages - Star-crossed young lovers - The Cuban Missile Crisis - Our world on the brink of destruction - A look at the role both politics and religion play in the end of the world - Some pretty life-changing explosions
Review: Oh, what to say about Life: An Exploded Diagram... It has received all kinds of glowing reviews. It bested Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls in the first round of the BOB. Author Mal Peet excelled in revealing a very specific world through the use of the characters' dialect. One example: "You put that ole coat on, if yer gorn out. There's a wind'd cut yer jacksy in half." As I read, I was struck repeatedly with the thought, "Wow. This man can write." There are tons of writers who can tell a good story, but Mal Peet has a particularly affecting way with words. All things considered, I can appreciate Life: An Exploded Diagram.
But did I really enjoy reading Life? That's a different story. My major issue is that I sincerely feel that this is an adult novel. The vast majority of the characters are adults. The narrator is an adult, reflecting back on a certain period in his teen years. The issues and themes that many of the adults dealt with felt completely out of place in a YA novel. When the story focused in on Clem and Frankie's teenage forbidden love, it felt a little more YA, but then the ending wandered back into adult territory again.
And does the YA/Adult distinction matter so much? Perhaps not. But. It just won a round in the Battle of the Kids' Books. And this is not a book I would hand to most kids.
The overall mood of the story felt gloomy to me. Every scene I envisioned was brown, gray, and dreary. I found myself looking forward to the scenes with the different political leaders during the Cuban Missile Crisis because those were the only passages that hinted at any action. And because I thought Peet's sense of humor really came through as he described different conversations and reflections that were had by Kennedy, Castro, and Kruschhev.
And the end. What in the world happened there? Bizarre.
If you've read Life: An Exploded Diagram, I would love to talk to you about it. Please leave a comment and let me know!
Recommendation: I would recommend Life to mature readers who appreciate adult, literary fiction or historical fiction.(less)
Recap: Skilley is a cat. Pip is a mouse. Both have a great big secret.
This is a story of secrets revealed, unlikely friendships, and some really delic...moreRecap: Skilley is a cat. Pip is a mouse. Both have a great big secret.
This is a story of secrets revealed, unlikely friendships, and some really delicious cheese - with cameos by Charles Dickens.
Review: Look at this cover. Does that make you want to read this book? No? Me neither. I had put off reading it for weeks, until the BOB was only a few days away and I knew I just couldn't procrastinate any longer.
Well guess what... The Cheshire Cheese Cat is actually pretty darn charming!
I'm always curious about books written by two authors: Did either take responsibility for a certain character? Who came up with the title? Who first said, "Let's write a book together!"? After reading, it's clear that Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright were a well-matched team. The voice is strong and consistent throughout. This PW interview gives some insight into their teamwork.
I don't particularly like animals, so I don't particularly care for animals as the main characters in my books either, but Skilley and Pip were almost like furry people. Pip is the more quick-witted of the two, always ready with a giant vocabulary word and an eager teacher. Skilley is accustomed to the life of an alley cat, so a warm cozy home at The Cheshire Cheese seems pretty much like heaven to him - especially with all of the yummy snacks he gets from the mice each night.
Charles Dickens was a fun addition to the plot, and he was even the first to discover Skilley's secret. "Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese" was actually one of his favorite haunts in London, and I loved imagining him there in the pub, writing away with a little cheese plate at his elbow.
Cheshire Cheese is going up against Chime in the Battle of the Kids' Books tomorrow. I didn't care for Chime at all, which is why you won't find a review for it here, but I have a feeling that Briony will win out over Skilley and Pip tomorrow.
Recommendation: The Cheshire Cheese Cat is a fun "historical fantasy" for upper elementary students and beyond. Animal lovers or fans of Charles Dickens should absolutely give this one a shot.
Quotable Quotes: "You want the truth, Master Skilley? Then find out just what manner of cat you really are... and brazenly, unabashedly, boldly, be that cat." (less)
Recap: Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer. The whole summer. The only way that he can get out of the house is to write obituaries for Miss Volker,...moreRecap: Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer. The whole summer. The only way that he can get out of the house is to write obituaries for Miss Volker, because her arthritis is so bad she can't hold a pencil anymore.
At first, this sounds like even worse torture than helping his dad dig the bomb shelter in their front yard, but once all of Norvelt's old ladies start dropping dead, things get downright interesting.
Review: Initially, Dead End in Norvelt suffered because I read it immediately on the heels of Okay for Now - both "funny books" with strong male narrators. And in a direct heat between the two, Okay's Doug would win out over Dead End's Jack every time - not that the Newbery Committee seemed to notice. (And have you noticed that the two covers are strangely similar?)
But once I got about a third of the way through Jack's story, I warmed up to him. I think this had less to do with Jack himself, and more to do with the hilarious people in his life - particularly Miss Volker, his best friend Bunny, and the tricycle riding Mr. Spizz. Bunny was aggravated that Jack would rather spend his summer examining bodies and writing obits with Miss Volker than playing baseball with her, but I was just thankful. A summer with Miss Volker surely makes for better reading than a summer of baseball!
Dead End was even more appealing because it is partially a reflection of author Jack Gantos' real life. I mean... the main character is named Jack Gantos! All throughout I kept trying to figure out which pieces of the fiction might actually be fact. Here's one bit of trivia that happens to be true: Norvelt is a real town which was named after First Lady EleaNOR RooseVELT, the town's planner and supporter throughout the Great Depression. Evidently, Mrs. Roosevelt planted a string of these towns across the United States.
Dead End in Norvelt goes up against Daughter of Smoke and Bone in the BoB tomorrow. I am now officially a fan of Dead End, but I'm holding out hope that Laini Taylor wins the round!
Recommendation: If you like to laugh, and appreciate a little bit of history mixed into your novels, Dead End in Norvelt is for you. Appropriate for upper elementary and above. (less)
Recap: Bootleg travels all the way back to the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower with their casks of beer and hard liquor. Then it works its way th...moreRecap: Bootleg travels all the way back to the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower with their casks of beer and hard liquor. Then it works its way through the events leading to the 18th Amendment - aka Prohibition - and finally winds up with the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th.
All along the way, Bootleg is spiked with liquor-related trivia, and insight into the minds of those who fought so hard to free America from the grip of alcohol.
Review: Oh BoB, I just never know what kind of book you're going to deliver. Graphic novels, fantasy, contemporary, NIVs... and always a few volumes of that divisive genre: nonfiction. Nonfiction can be so hit-or-miss for me. Some texts, like Amelia Lost, turn out to be surprisingly entertaining and revealing. Others, like Bootleg, not so much...
Bootleg covers a lot of ground - literally working its way from the Pilgrims up to MADD and Red Ribbon Week. But the vast majority of the text is focused on the 1920s, the era of Prohibition. Honestly, I learned a TON. Now I could tell you all about Al Capone, the bar smashing Carrie Nation (aka Mother Nation aka Carry A. Nation), and the role that mothers played in passing the 18th Amendment. I was especially interested in how the amendment completely backfired - rather than putting an end to the nation's widespread drinking problem, it did quite the opposite. Not only did "wets" get much more creative in their brewing, their children got in on the act too. Breaking the nation's highest law became a game for the whole family!
If Bootleg had just been edited a little further, I think I would be a big fan. But there were many chapters that just seemed redundant, and the passages that detailed the long, drawn-out political process quickly lost my attention. To be truthful, I really just skimmed the entire second half.
This book is going up against Between Shades of Gray tomorrow in the BOB. Do I really have to tell you that I'm cheering for BSoG? Lina for the WIN!
Recommendation: Bootleg is a book that I think would be best read in bits and pieces, rather than straight through. Readers who enjoy learning about history, and drinking, would definitely be engaged here.
Did You Know?: - When George Washington ran for the House of Burgesses, he brought beer, wine, rum, cider and brandy for those who came out to vote at the polls. He won.
- Soldiers in the Continental army had a daily ration of hard liquor.
- NASCAR racing started with the gutsy drivers who had practiced racing by driving loads of moonshine through the back country of the South.
- In the years leading up to prohibition, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) helped get a law passed that required all schools to provide "temperance education." Their Science textbooks contained "scientific facts" like "This alcohol [wine] is liquid poison," and "It will make a good and kind person cruel and bad; it will make a bad person worse."(less)
Recap: Anya just wants to blend in. She's lost her Russian accent, lost all kinds of weight, and is scrupulously sure to stay away from Dimi - the othe...moreRecap: Anya just wants to blend in. She's lost her Russian accent, lost all kinds of weight, and is scrupulously sure to stay away from Dimi - the other Russian in her class - just to make sure that none of his "fobby-ness" rubs off on her. But Anya is still pretty much a nobody at school.
That is until a ghost follows Anya home. Anya's ghost knows how to raise her grades and grab the attention of her crush. All of a sudden, Anya's life is looking good! But no favors come for free, and this ghost is asking for more than Anya is able to give...
Review: Anya's Ghost is a Cybils Winner and a Round 1 Contender in SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books (BoB). So it's got to be good, right?
Eh... I'm not so sure. Let's start with what I liked. The art throughout this graphic novel was outstanding. Honestly, I think Anya's Ghost has the best illustrations of any graphic novel I've read. The moody color palate perfectly matched the tone of the story, and Vera Brosgol did an amazing job of conveying emotion and personal transformation through each tiny square.
I thought the plot had a lot of promise. The ghost was initially completely loveable, and Anya's dismissiveness made me root for her even more. Then Brosgol did a great job of slowly, subtly showing the reader that the ghost isn't quite as innocent as she had made herself out to be. By that point, I had switched over to Team Anya and couldn't wait to see how she would react.
But that's point in the story where, unfortunately, Anya's Ghost started to lose me. A) It left me with a lot of unanswered questions. How did the ghost get so strong? And did Anya seriously think the ghost would kill her, even though it was only able to float through her? B) I felt like the tone changed super suddenly from moody and a little dark to just downright sinister and malicious. The shift felt too abrupt for me. And finally C) the sprinkles of profanity and constant cigarette smoking just rubbed me the wrong way. They didn't add a thing to the story, and really... is it even cool for kids to smoke anymore? I didn't care for that at all - even though there is some redemption in the end!
Anya's Ghost is up against Amelia Lost on March 13 and I feel pretty confidant that Amelia will be the one advancing to Round 2. Can't wait to see the judge's verdict!
Of course, this is only my 2 cents! Tons of people have clearly loved Anya's Ghost. Here are just a few second opinions: - Devour Books - The New York Times
Recommendation: If you're a big fan of graphic novels or ghost stories, you'll probably have a lot of fun with Anya's Ghost.(less)
Recap: Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters both have cancer. They meet in support group in the Literal Heart of Jesus Christ.
The story that ensue...moreRecap: Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters both have cancer. They meet in support group in the Literal Heart of Jesus Christ.
The story that ensues is probably one of the best you'll ever read. Ever.
(I know that's not really a recap - but seriously, how else can you recap a book like this one?)
Review: John Green has managed to write a book about kids dying with cancer that still caused me to laugh out loud enough times that my husband started shooting weird looks at me across the room. But I couldn't feel offended by the weird looks because (a) some of those lines were seriously hilarious and (b) Hazel and Gus's love made me so very nostalgic for the days that we spent falling love. And so very thankful for all of the days we have left to stay that way.
If you have already read The Fault in Our Stars, you will understand why I strongly considered ending this review with the third sentence of the Recap. If you have not yet read The Fault in Our Stars, you have no doubt heard mountains and mountains of hype about it. And you're thinking, "There is no way this book could ever live up to my expectations." Guess what. You are right. It will surpass them.
Yes, people will die in this book. And they will break your own heart a little bit, even though you see it coming. But Hazel and Gus and Isaac and Hazel's parents and even Peter Van Houton will also make you so very thankful for this world we live in and the people we get to share it with. And not because this book is full of "Encouragements" - because it's not (only Gus's house is). These characters will remind you with sarcasm and sincerity and weird literary allusions that "You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!" Thank you. Amen.
Recommendation: Just read it. All of you. And then pass it on.
Quotable Quotes: "You can't know, sweetie, because you've never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness." - Hazel's Dad
"You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are." - Augustus
"For a moment he said nothing. 'You do know how to shut me up, Hazel Grace.' 'It's my privilege and my responsibility,' I answered." - Hazel and Gus
"Oh, I wouldn't mind Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you." - Augustus (less)
Recap: *Spoiler Alert* If you haven't read Matched, you might want to stop now and take care of that!
Cassia and Ky have both been taken away from each...moreRecap: *Spoiler Alert* If you haven't read Matched, you might want to stop now and take care of that!
Cassia and Ky have both been taken away from each other and from their families - one by force and the other by choice. But they are determined to do whatever it takes to find their way back to each other.
But of course, Cassia is still matched with Xander, and he isn't about to let her just slip away.
And what about The Rising? Is the anti-Society rebel force real, or just another myth? And why does it seem like both Ky and Xander are keeping secrets from they girl they love?
Review: Oooooh boy, Crossed is one good book! I know I mentioned a few days back that Crossed is pretty much exactly like another YA novel, but that didn't lessen my love for it a bit.
I think I had gone into Matched with my hopes set just a bit too high, because I came away from it feeling a little let down. Crossed was exactly the opposite. I started it without any real expectations, and ended up finishing in just a day or two. Cassia has toughened up! And Ky has finally started growing on me. But that Xander... he is a charmer. He didn't end up with a whole lot of screen time in Crossed, but the big "Xander reveal" gave me high hopes for him in Reached.
So why did I enjoy book #2 so much more than #1? I think it was partially due to the Pilot/Rising storyline. I know I'm a sucker for storied subversive forces and an impending rebellion. Plus, Crossed had so many more unexpected plot twists. *Spoiler Alert Again* Could Ky really be the Pilot? And what the heck is going on with Xander and The Rising? And what will happen to Cassia now that she's back in the Society... but undercover? And did anyone else guess that Cassia might have been talking about Xander, rather than Ky, in the last couple of pages?
Recommendation: If you are a fan of dystopian and/or romance novels, read this trilogy! Right now! (less)
Recap: Amelia Lost traces both the life and the disappearance of one of the world's most renowned fliers: Amelia Earhart. Dispelling myths and includin...moreRecap: Amelia Lost traces both the life and the disappearance of one of the world's most renowned fliers: Amelia Earhart. Dispelling myths and including quotes and stories from primary sources, Amelia Lost helps readers to find the truth behind the daredevil aviatrix.
Review: I did not want to read this book. At all. In fact, I probably never would have, except it's the very first contender in the very first round of SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books. And I know that the BOB doesn't do bad books. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Betsy Bird is pretty much obsessed with Amelia Lost. So, I read it.
And guess what? It's actually pretty darn fascinating.
Amelia Lost is like two books in one: the white pages give her basic autobiography, from childhood right up until her final flight. These pages are broken up with a number of photographs, news clippings, and anecdotes, all of which made my eyes bounce around like ping pong balls because I could never decide what to read first. Finally, I made a promise to myself that I would finish reading the paragraphs on each page before digesting the yummy little text features sprinkled about.
And you're probably thinking now, "Uh, didn't she say there were two books? What about the second?" Ahhh, the second story was my favorite. The second story was set apart on gray pages, interspersed throughout the white. It told of Earhart's initial missed landing and the following days of searching - a search that covered 250,000 miles and required today's equivalent of $58 million. A search that - if you know your history - never turned up a body or even a piece of a plane. And the most baffling part of the whole thing? These gray pages of the second story revealed that time and again regular citizens heard Earhart's cries for help and snatches of a possible landing location via the radio, but they were always ignored. Wow.
I am definitely not a big biography reader, but both the white story and the gray story had me completely engrossed in the life of Amelia Earhart. All throughout dinner tonight I kept feeding my husband bites of Amelia Earhart trivia (Did you know she was a professor at Purdue?!), and I have a sneaking suspicion that she's going to find her way into my day-to-day conversations for many days to come. I absolutely love fiction, but there's just something amazing about an adventure story/mystery that's actually TRUE.
Cheers to Candace Fleming for spending two years knee-deep in Amelia Earhart lore, sifting through it all to find the difference between fact and fiction, and then piecing it all together into this truly outstanding biography.
Amelia Lost is up against graphic novel Anya's Ghost. Who will come out on top?? Anya's Ghost is next on my reading list, and then I'll be back with my prediction!
Recommendation: If you are at all interested in adventure stories, mysteries, history, or real-life fearless females, read Amelia Lost!
Quotable Quotes: "'Why do you want to fly the Atlantic?' he asked her. Amelia looked at him a moment, then smiled. 'Why does a man ride a horse?' she replied. 'Because he wants to, I guess,' answered George. Amelia shrugged. 'Well, then.'" -----
"Ever after he would remember his wife's eyes, 'clear with the good light of the adventure that lay before her.'" (less)