Monday, December 29, 2014

"The President Has Been Shot!" The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson

"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've studied history, but never liked reading about JFK's assassination. The modern day Bush family reminds me so much of the Kennedy family--too much money and too many legacies.

As I was reading this, I was SHOCKED about how the Dallas police and the Secret Service handled things. Absolutely mortified. Procedures surely were in place, right? Then why weren't they followed? Ugh....

The second half of the book reads like a mystery novel--I was fascinated. The source material at the end is way too much information for me, but great for students.

This would be 4 stars if it weren't for the first 45 pages. I understand that young people don't know much about JFK's presidency, but I'm wondering if that material could have been worked into the fascinating assassination section?

This is a 2014 YALSA's Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist and I see why!

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Okay, so people are raving about this book. I loved The Secret Life of Bees so I had high expectations as I approached this one.

But, wow, I really felt like I was reading a book that was supposed to teach me a lesson. Repeatedly.

The book consists of two inter-connected story-lines. Sarah Grimke is one of many children in Charleston, South Carolina, and she is an oddball. She wants to become educated and would love to follow in her father's steps and become a judge. But she's female. She also is against slavery, even though that's how her family made their fortune. At the age of 11, she receives a slave for her birthday present, Hetty.

Hetty, known as Handful to other slaves, is headstrong and smart, and then Sarah teaches her to read. Of course, she yearns to escape.

I feel like I had read this book before. It was nothing new to me--just another book about the relationship between a white woman and her slave. I think this is the problem when I've read a lot of books--I read something that non-readers love and I don't see the attraction. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the language, especially the paragraphs at the end of chapters when everything was supposed to be dramatic.

"I was relieved and terrified in the same moment. I studied the compact defiance that made up so much of what she was" (353).

"I squatted down and stared her in the eyes. 'Don't you spare me. I've seen my share. I know what the world is'" (271).

The chapters are many and short and all of them end with some important quotation from one of the characters. It's almost like reading a Dickens serial that was created for the masses to read in short chunks.

I did read some adult book club books that I enjoyed this year: My Name Is Resolute, Bellweather Rhapsody, and The Word Exchange.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Like No OtherLike No Other by Una LaMarche
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sweet little forbidden romance read about two teenagers in New York City (of course). Jaxon is a nerdy, smart African-American boy who is usually too tongue-tied to speak to girls. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew and I loved leading more about that conservative religion. She and Jaxon end up stuck in an elevator and fall in love. The two meet secretly until her family finds out and all hell breaks loose.

Love how the book ended, although I know some other readers would disagree with me. Go Devorah! Not sure if this book represents a way to make her sect more lenient or not? Could the ending of this book really happen?

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondhei by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen (Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, #1)The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazing world--the dragons are amongst us! Siobhan was just a budding musician in Ontario when the nephew of a famous dragon slayer moved into town. Next thing you know, she is his bard and the two are determined to save their small town from a recent infestation of dragons.

I have to admit that it took me awhile to read the last half of the book--and that's what keeps it from being 4 stars. Love the world and the characters, but I guess I wanted more action! I loved the Canadian setting and how the name-dropping occurred--everyone from Lady Gaga to famous authors in English class.

This is definitely an author who is one to watch!

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance

War Brothers: The Graphic NovelWar Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this graphic novel reads like a memoir, it is based off interviews that the author completed for her book by the same title.

The child solider problem is real and Americans need to realize what's going on. So for that, I'm glad I read this book. It's graphic, but tweens and teens need to understand how child soldiers happen and that there are grey lines between and good and bad in the world. We all have a breaking point.

I could help but think of the Alex Award winning title A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier--the two books could be paired in a World History class very easily.

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Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in PiecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks, Morris Award peeps, for putting this debut novel as a finalist. Because it rocks! And, honestly, the cover kinda scares me so I wouldn't have picked it up without it being on a list.

Gabi is a senior and her life is complicated. Just like real life. Her gay best friend comes out, her other best friend gets pregnant, her meth head dad is swirling down the deep end. And she's never been kissed. And she's fat. And she's becoming a poet.

This has Printz Honor potential. A lot of unique voice here in Gabi--she's a girl I want to know. Her poetry is moving and her ups and downs are so realistic. Her struggles with Catholicism, race, self esteem, morals, etc. are so spot on. Love how the author tackles sex in this book, too. I giggled through the live birth scene.

It's rare that an author can combine poetry and pretty words with realistic, contemporary characters. Conservatives won't like this book. But, whoa, teens will eat this up.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. Written by Matt Fraction. Illustrated by David Aja, Javier Pulido and Alan Davis.

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a WeaponHawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And I don't usually read comic books, but this was actually darn good! I like Hawkeye from the Avengers SO MUCH MORE after reading this. He's cool. And hot.

If you haven't read comics in awhile, take a look at this one.

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Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charlie and Nate are great friends, even though one is captain of the basketball team and one is president of the robotics club. When it's decided that the class president will be able to direct class funds to buy new cheer uniforms or fund a trip to the National Robotics competition, both end up running for class president. The election gets dirty as cheerleaders bully nerds and embarrassing pictures are unearthed and posted at school. Eventually, the two groups must work together to win a prize at a robot wars meet since the prize money could fund both groups.

Nothing heavy here, just a light high school read, although one of the characters is dealing with his parents' divorce.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks. Colors by Cris Peter.

The Adventures of Superhero GirlThe Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Superhero + new adult + reality = awesomeness.

I giggled at several parts, smiled at some, and related to many.

A graphic novel for all ages--Superhero Girl is a college-aged girl just trying to find her arch-nemesis. And trying to come out from under her superhero brother's shadow. And trying to find a boyfriend. And trying to afford the rent. The author of Friends with Boys and Zombies Calling has another winner here.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Strobe Edge, Volume 1 by Io Sakisaka

Strobe Edge, Vol. 1 (Strobe Edge, #1)Strobe Edge, Vol. 1 by Io Sakisaka
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was listed on the 2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association.

So I'll say it's okay. It's popular. But I have issues with it. Ninako is ignorant when it comes to love. At first, she thinks she may be in love with her friend Daiki because "he's a nice guy, and it's fun being around him." But then the hot guy of the school, Ren, talks to her after he bumps into her on the train after school. And, from then, on, it's all about her catching his eye and realizing that she's in looo---ve.

So evidently I'm not a fan of manga chick lit, but I know there is a HUGE fanbase of this stuff all over the world. But at least I'm trying to read things out of my comfort zone!

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this is the perfect book for middle-aged female book clubs, but it's not the type of book I like to read. I felt like I was reading a Hallmark movie.

First, the obligatory goth teenager who befriends the orphan because they have so much in common made me sigh. And, of course, she ends up un-gothing herself once she has someone to love. Sigh.

Now the chapters about Vivian and the orphan train were great--I love historical fiction. Take out the modern day parallelism and I would have enjoyed this novel more.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Popular: a Memoir Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya van Wagenen

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern GeekPopular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow...this author has talent. Fifteen years old and she writes like this? She is one to watch!

Maya Van Wagenen was in junior high when she decided that she wanted to popular. On a whim, she settled down with an old copy of Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide from the 1950's and maps out her school year--hair in October, good grooming in February, clothes in January. Every month got a chapter and Maya settled in to improve herself. She started walking taller, wearing powder on her face, and pearls around her neck. She wore more skirts, flats, and brushed her hair a hundred times a night. And what did she learn? She learned that being popular is all about taking risks and saying hi to strangers. It's about getting the nerve to sit with other people at lunch. It's about realizing that junior high students admire kids like Maya who have the nerve to do things they don't.

Love this story--it's readable, funny, and her family is wonderful, normal, and supportive. It's also up for the Morris award this year--I think it's a strong contender. Love that Dutton/Penguin snatched this author up.

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Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)Just One Day by Gayle Forman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THIS is the book I needed as a teenager. Because it sure is the book I need as a thirty-something woman!

Some of you may know that I travel by myself quite a bit. This year I went to Scotland. Last year I went to Germany and Slovenia. These trips were big for me--it's a huge decision to travel as a single woman. And I really connected with Allyson as she steps off the train in Paris. I've taken so many wrong directions, followed the wrong steps (even with wifi and Google Maps on my iPod Touch), and taken trains and buses in wrong directions. But there is an empowerment to traveling alone and being independent. Honestly, I can do almost anything because I can travel by myself. And survive. And have fun.

But I have to admit that I was looking for my Willem, too. I've seen too many books and too many movies where the woman meets someone on the plane or at the bar or at the cafe and falls in love. Unfortunately, that didn't happen on the two trips I went on. But I looked. And I tried. And I did meet a cute German who looked just like Jon Bon Jovi. And another man who was so nervous about talking to an American librarian that he had to introduce me to all his friends so he knew I was real. That was fun.

Go to Europe, girls. Travel by yourself. Get some balls, as someone says to Allyson in this book. No regrets.

Allyson has a boring tour-guided trip to Europe, but things pick up when she decides to travel to Paris for one day with a man she just met. They fall in love (for one day) and it's magical. But she wakes up and he isn't there. She makes it back to London on her own and lives a year haunted--why did he leave? Was she just a one night stand? Finally she decides to take the bull by the horns--learn French, work and save money to travel to Paris on her own, and change from her pre-med major that she hates. She travels and hunts him down. But sometimes things don't work out perfectly. But, oh, love is good.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't write prettily enough to give this book justice. First, the magical realism is beautiful--heart wrenching and the world in this novel is better than in any fantasy novel. Magic lives in that house at the end of the lane in Seattle. Magic. And I want to live near it.

I didn't cry, but I really felt like putting my head on my desk and weeping when the principal does. There are moments of pure horribleness and goodness and everything in between.

Teen appeal? I know a few I could give this to. The ones who aren't afraid of being called weird. This book is for them.

I hope it will see some Printz love in January 2015. At least I'd be pushing for it if I were on the committee this year! Voice, structure, atmosphere, poetry in prose....

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Monday, December 8, 2014

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book more, but it fell short. First, yay for the Iranian setting! And the main character is a teenage girl who is in love with her best friend. They spend most of their time kissing, even though homosexuality is illegal in Iran. When Nasrin's marriage is arranged to a handsome young doctor, Sahar must try to figure out how the two of them can be together--perhaps Sahar needs to become a man?

Turns out that becoming a transexual is okay in Iran--who knew? But Sahar never really thinks things through, which I didn't get. She's so concerned about trying to figure out how to "keep" Nasrin to herself, that she doesn't make much sense. If Sahar really is the top of her class at school, I think she would use her brain a bit more.

I never felt attached to Sahar and I really wondered why she liked shallow Nasrin. Nasrin seemed to be using her constantly--just a girl to kiss, but not really a girl to love. Their love didn't seem real, and that is really disappointing in a teenage romance, but at least it makes the ending more realistic!

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Boy21Boy21 by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wasn't what I expected. It wasn't like Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock or The Silver Linings Playbook, but Quick does know how to pack an emotional punch!

First of all, I had no idea that the Irish mob was alive and well in Philadelphia. I guess I only see that stuff on TV, but, if things like what happens in this book happen in real life, then, whoa.

Finley loves basketball. He even breaks up with his star basketball player girlfriend before the season so they both can concentrate on ball. When his coach asks him to befriend a new guy, Finley isn't sure what to think. Finley has enough problems being the only white guy on the basketball team. Now some crazy kid moves into town and Finley is supposed to help him?

Turns out Coach was right. This is one of the best male friendship stories I've read in awhile.

The ending was a bit unbelievable, but, hey, I'll take it.

Give this to teens who want to read about basketball, friendship, romance from the guy's point-of-view, gangs, and escaping.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Tomboy: A Graphic MemoirTomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Totally cool graphic novel about a young girl coming to terms with wanting to dress like a boy.

Discusses gender issues and stereotypes in a good way and made me wonder again about the phrase "like a girl."

Here's to hoping I'm raising my daughter to be proud of the person she is, even if she wants to wear Under Armour and ponytails all the time.

Recommended for high schools and up, unless your junior high is cool and doesn't care about cuss words.

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The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious NaziThe Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating account of the hunt for Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader of the Jewish extermination during World War II. I had never heard of this hunt, or how some countries harbored Nazis after the war. I didn't know that Eichmann was the first and only man ever sentenced to death in Israel.

Eichmann took pride in doing his job well--one of his last sentences was "I had to obey the laws of war and my flag." Ugh. I kept thinking of the two soldiers who followed the Code Red order in A Few Good Men--this is a few million times worse. So sad that one of his sons is still a neo-Nazi in Argentina.

Includes photographs, illustrations, author's note, bibliography, notes, and index. Good non-fiction read for junior high and up.

Pretty cool that the book was printed and bound by RR Donnelley in Crawfordsville, Indiana, too.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Reconstructing AmeliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate is a successful lawyer, and her day is interrupted when she is asked to pick up her daughter from school because of a suspension. But when Kate arrives at the prestigious private school, Amelia is dead. While it first is labeled a suicide, Amelia's death soon is under investigation. Scores of Facebook statuses, text messages, and emails are found by Kate, and secrets are uncovered.

This book is a breeze--I read it in two sittings because I was intrigued. Who was Amelia? How well do mothers really know their daughters? And how well do daughters know their mothers?

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #4

Serenity: Leaves on the WindSerenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ahhh, I didn't know these graphic novels existed! They fill in the blanks after the Firefly TV series and Serenity movie are over.

Zoe is dealing with the death of her hubbie in the best possible way. Romance is blooming ALL over the ship, and the Alliance is still after Malcolm and all of his crew.

I find it odd how Kaylee and Inara look alike--I was a little freaked during the some of the scenes because I couldn't figure out which character it was.

But, hey, read these if you're a Firefly fan and find out the rest of the story.

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