Recap: - Several generations of loveless (or at least romance-less) marriages - Star-crossed young lovers - The Cuban Missile Crisis - Our world on the brRecap: - 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....more
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 delicRecap: 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." ...more
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,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, 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. ...more
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 thRecap: 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."...more
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 otheRecap: 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....more