Friday, March 28, 2014

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

This is a re-read for me--read it back when it was published in the early nineties.  Wow--this book has been around since I was in high school!  Some of the stories are a bit dated, so I guess we can call this short story collection historical fiction. 

In typical Chris Crutcher fashion, he tackles racism, bigotry, homosexuality, weight issues, and about everything else teens deal with in a straight-forward, non-preachy way.  Some of these stories star characters from his previous novels, so it's familiar to find out more about them. You can't go wrong with the short story about Angus, which Crutcher turned into a screenplay for this movie from 1995:

And the short story about a teenage boy who meets a gay man who is dying from AIDS.  I forgot how much people feared AIDS back then--back when people died from it more often.

If you've never read Crutcher (and you should have), this book is a great introduction to some of his best characters--read it!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Lovely cover, isn't it? Victoria Darling is a young girl trying to become more independent, but she's been raised in an elite family in early 1900's London.  Her family is new money and she's been raised to marry well, not cause any trouble, and increase the family fortune by marrying up.  The only problem is that Vicky loves art and hopes to study at an established art school.  She's kicked out of her French boarding school when it's discovered that she posed nude for fellow artists during a class and her family has to try to re-establish her reputation by marrying her off soon.

This novel is full of contradictions to me.  I love that Vicky gets involved with suffragettes, even if it is just to draw them and increase her own portfolio.  Vicky never does really grow up--she's very selfish, so it's hard to like her. Even when she's trying to make it on her own, she can't get used to not having servants and not acting like the world owes her everything.  I always have trouble liking a novel when I don't like the main character. 

A Mad, Wicked Folly is a debut novel for Waller, and I am looking forward to her next one. If the main character isn't someone so stereotypical in behavior and thought processes, I think it will be a great read.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

To be published July 15, 2014.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a great adult suspense novel, and, boy, did Edelweiss provide me with one!

Back in the 80's, policeman Edward Shank became a hero and eventually the police chief for gunning down "The Beacon Hill Butcher." The serial killer targeted women and had a grisly signature--cutting off a hand.

Now it's modern times and Edward's grandson inherits the family home with the Chief moving into a retirement village.  Matt is a young chef focused on making it big in the foodie world of Seattle. He's already been on the Food Network for his food trucks and now hopes to have a reality show based in his restaurant.  He's dating Sam, who is writing another true crime book--this time about the Beacon Hill Butcher, mainly because she believes her own mother was killed by the Butcher a few years after he was supposedly killed.  What really happened that night?

This is full of tight twists, plenty of suspense, and will keep you reading until you finish it.  Plus, you'll like Matt and Sam, which makes the storyline move even faster!

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith.

To be published September 2014. 

That's right, folks.  The lovely Andrew Smith is publishing a second novel in 2014--yay! The first one, Grasshopper Jungle, will get some Printz award in January, I believe. This second novel, I believe, will be more popular with the masses, i.e. teenagers. 

Finn is a teenage boy who is coming-of-age with an awesome best friend named Cade and a move-in-from-Chicago love interest in Julia.

And that's all I'm going to tell you for right now until this book is published.  I will, however, leave you with some quotes from the awesome novel.  Don't forget I read the downloadable version of this novel from Edelweiss, so these quotes don't have page numbers and they may change with the final copy of the book.  But these are lines that made me laugh.  Smith is a genius with words and the teenage mind.

"Sometimes kids just have to write off lost articles of clothing at the end of a party."

"Markie was an okay guy, just a little tightly wound and twitchy. You get that way playing shortstop, where it is so easy to make costly mistakes, which are closely related to extinction."

"Julia Bishop was like an undressing, sleeping-bag ninja."

"The whole married-woman thing was a matter for ethics, which they do not teach teenage boys at Burnt Mill Creek High School."

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

To be published April 8, 2014.

Sigh. I really wanted to love this book because I enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (at least the first books in the series). But this fell flat to me.

Prenna Jones time travels from the future to contemporary America and tries to fit in. She is supposed to follow the rules (so as not to upset the future), but she falls in love with a boy and screws everything up! She also speaks her mind (that's a no, no) and tries to think for herself.  She rebels against her mom, the establishment, and, of course, ends up changing everything for the better.  This plot has been done before and often.

I'm all for reading books with similar plots if they are done well--like The Testing for The Hunger Games.

But I found myself wanting developed characters in this novel.  For example, Prenna's friend Katherine is just a dud.  We don't know her and don't care to. I didn't care too much about Prenna and her love interest, Ethan. The two of them set off on such an outrageous adventure that I kept rolling my eyes and saying, "Really?" And, like in many time travel novels, the coincidences just don't add up to me. 

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I raved over Whaley's debut novel, Where Things Come Back, and so did the rest of the world because it won the Morris Award AND the Printz Award in 2012.  That's a hard book to follow!

So you'll think this is a stupid book if I give you a one-sentence summary.  Ready? Here I go. 

Travis Coates is dying of cancer so he agrees to have his head chopped off and saved by science to be reattached five years later to the body of another teenage boy.

Okay, you think I'm crazy for loving this book, right? But you forget who the author is--this is JOHN COREY WHALEY. 
And he knows how to write.  Well.  He manages to take a crazy idea, make it seem possible, and take readers deep into the noggin of Travis, his family members, and friends.  This is a tale of heartache, coming of age and love and loss.  With a great cover.  Just read it.   And give it to fans of John Green, A. S. King, and Andrew Smith.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Top Ten Reads of 2013

Yeah, so I'm late with this. I just found it in my Draft box today. 

This post is always difficult to write. How do I look at my list of 5 star reads on Goodreads for the year and decide on ten? But, in no particular order, here you go.

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Read by Roy Dotrice.

Well, folks, if I have choose an audiobook to be the last one I can publicly blog about, I picked a good one, didn't I?

Whoa, is this narrator fantastic.  I don't watch Game of Thrones on TV (can't stand violence and rape on screen), but absolutely loved this book.  It really reminded me of one of my favorite historical series, Conquerer by Conn Iggulden. Genghis: Birth of an Empire won an Alex Award in 2008 and there are now five books in the series.

First of all, I want to name a cat Eddard. It reminds me of the the farm wife on the Will Smith movie who said that her husband wanted sugar water.

There are fantasy elements, but I'm treating this first book as historical fiction--straight out of ancient Scotland or Ireland with a twist of Norwegian thrown in there. It's difficult to know what characters to like--they are all power hungry in some form and even the most loyal man can have his mind changed by circumstance.  Life is rough in this land, and people are always getting injured and/or sick. I must admit that I'll be ready to get back to this series (and the wonderful narrator) after my term on the Odyssey Award committee is up.

Reading Slump

Sorry, folks, but I have been on a reading slump lately.  I'm teaching a course for Illinois State University entitled Selection of Materials for Secondary School Librarians, which means that I'm re-reading titles for class instead of reading new books.  Most of these titles I've already blogged about in the past and added to Goodreads, so it seems silly to write about him here.  As for audiobooks, today I'll write about the last one for the next year.  Starting this month, I'm serving on the Odyssey Award committee which means that I'll be listening to A LOT of audiobooks, but I can't publicly blog about them.  I'm sorry! But I will be saving my personal reviews of them so I can share them with you next year after our award is given out in January 2015. So, I'm sorry.  I swear I'm reading and listening! But I can't share too many things with you for the next year.