Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brief Reviews Summer 2015 part 2

Among Others“There are some awful things in the world, it's true, but there are also some great books.” This book is part memoir and part fantasy and all wonderful. I was completely absorbed by the setting and characters. I felt a strong kinship to the main character's love of literature. I was equally fascinated by the historical aspects of life in Wales and at an English Boarding school in the 70s and by the fairies and their magic that the narrator describes. I absolutely adored this book and I cannot recommend it enough-especially for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider and sought comfort in the pages of a book.Among Others by Jo Walton: buy it or check it out today!


The Song of Achilles I read this book while I was travelling in Italy and I was so absorbed by it that I found it difficult to put it down even with the temptations of Venice awaiting me. I've always been a fan of retellings of well-known stories but this one really goes above and beyond. The characters were so fully realized that I found myself worrying about them when I put the book down even though, of course, I already knew how their stories would end.  When that inevitable ending did arrive I was completely shattered. Whether you've read a dozen versions of the Trojan Wars or you've never heard of the face that launched a thousand ships, this book is sure to pull you in. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: buy it or check it out today!


Cousin KateThis book is a cross between the fun, light romance that Georgette Heyer is known for and a Gothic Tale. There's a spunky but penniless heroine, first impressions that turn out to be wrong, and of course true love triumphs in the end. The Gothic aspect was uncomfortable from a modern perspective. It largely revolved around a mental illness that was portrayed in a way that shows a clear lack of understanding. I'd stick to Heyer's more traditional romantic fare. Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer: buy it or check it out today!




The Amaranth EnchantmentThis is a fun, light, fairy tale read but not in any way memorable. I remember enjoying reading it on the train, but a week after I finished it I couldn't tell you what it was about. I'm pretty behind in my reviews so at this point I would have forgotten that I read it entirely if it wasn't for Goodreads. I really should have written down my impressions sooner but the fact that I have so completely forgotten it says something in and of itself. The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry: buy it or check it out today!




The Shiralee This book is considered a classic of Australian literature and I can see why. The prose is gorgeous and it evokes a time and place so well that the outback is practically a character in the novel. The plot revolves around a tough man and his 4 year old daughter whom he takes custody of just to spite her mother. Watching him be affected by this child that he at first sees as no more than a burden is genuinely moving and there's plenty of humor provided by the juxtaposition of this spunky child with a hard man. The book had me crying more than once as it portrayed the hard life endured by these people. The only caveat I'd give is that the book is a product of its times and there's plenty of sexism and racism, especially against indigenous peoples. Still, it's unfortunately an accurate representation of the period and the main character isn't always supposed to be sympathetic. It's a moving novel and it captures its setting beautifully. The Shiralee by D'Arcy Niland: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes, #1)

Book talk: You may think you know the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel but don't believe everything a bard tells you. And what about those nameless Princes Charming? Read this book to get the low-down: the pampered, sheltered life was not enough for Cinderella. Rapunzel saved herself and her prince never lived it down. Sleeping Beauty is a spoiled brat. Snow White's prince can't be left unsupervised. Somehow this unlikely band finds themselves thrown together on a quest to save each other, defeat an evil witch, and show the world that they're more than their stories.

Rave: This book is a hilarious take on classic fairy tales. Having the various Princes Charming meet and lament over their plight at being looked over for their princesses adds a fun twist. Each have very distinct personalities and watching them interact and learn to get along is both entertaining and touching. It contains a lot of great lessons ranging from how to be a good friend to how to be true to your self. I particularly appreciate that there's male characters who are hopeless with swords and fierce female fighters and vice versa. I read this out loud to my 3rd graders and they loved it! The illustrations throughout only add to the already ample humor and had my kids cracking up all on their own.

Rant: There are a lot of characters and this can bog down the plot a bit. It takes a while just to introduce everyone and even then my kids needed clarification sometimes to keep everyone straight.

Every Book its Reader: I'd give this to students 3rd grade and up looking for a funny fractured fairy tale.

Topics and Trends: fairy tales, humorous stories,

Extras:

The author's website has a lot of great extras including a fan art gallery: http://christopherhealy.com/the-heros-guide-to-saving-your-kingdom/

There's a pretty funny book trailer that should peak students' interest:



Source: kobo ebook

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shadow and Bone review

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

Book talk: Alina has always hidden her magic. She knew that her powers would set her apart. They'd take her away from her best friend, Mal, and the closest thing to family she had left. So she pretended to be normal, and she had everyone fooled. Until the day Mal got injured and only she could save him. Suddenly she's thrust into a world of magic and politics for which she was never prepared. With her country's fate in the balance, Alina needs to decide where her loyalties lie: with Mal and the other common soldiers, or with her fellow magic-wielders led by the mysterious Darkling.

Rave: Alina is a compelling protagonist and the choices she faces are complex and thrilling. The characters make mistakes and change and grow and people aren't always what they seem to be. The world is a fantasy one, but rooted in Russian mythology which makes for a refreshing change of pace. There's many different factions at play which make for a complicated political situation as alliances are formed and broken and corruption is discovered in various guises. So many characters want Alina to advance their own causes and watching her defy all of them to fight for herself and what she believes to be right is inspiring. An excellent series from start to finish!

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fantasy fans grades 6 and up.

Topics and Trends: Magic, Russian Mythology, Political Intrigue

Extras: You can find lots of extras over at http://www.grishaverse.com/

Source: kobo ebook

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chocolate review

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat

Book talk: Have you heard of the great chocolate strike where children took to the streets to protest the rising cost of a chocolate bar? Do you know the difference between the varieties of cocoa bean?  How scientists are working towards producing better tasting, more sustainable chocolate? What role does chocolate play in history? How does it influence cultures all over the world? If you like learning about history, science, social justice, and of course chocolate--then this is the book for you!

Rave: I love all the different topics this book explores under the unifying umbrella of one of my favorite treats. It is absolutely jam-packed with interesting tidbits and poses many important and eye-opening questions about the future of chocolate and how it is produced today. Plus it includes a few recipes in case all this reading activates your sweet tooth. Don't feel guilty for indulging--there's plenty of health benefits to chocolate that Frydenborg is sure to point out!

Every book its reader: I'd give this to chocoholics and anyone looking for a fascinating, transdisciplinary nonfiction read. 5th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: nonfiction, science, history, social justice, chocolate, transdisciplinary

Source: school library

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Brief Reviews Summer 2015 part 1

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)
I appreciate the inherent humor of a wizard living in modern times and I always love a good detective story. The main appeal for me here though is that the audio books are narrated by James Marsters (who you may know as Spike from Buffy.) The plot was well-paced and the mystery intriguing, although I found the main character's attitude towards women concerning at times. I'm not sure that I'd continue reading them as regular books but I'll keep listening to the audiobooks as long as Marsters is narrating them! Storm Front by Jim Butcher: buy it or check it out today!

P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #2)This book was just as delightful as the first. There was a bit more emphasis placed on romance than family this time around but it was still a pretty good balance of the two. Once again her family is fun to read about and the boys are endearing as they vie for her affections. I particularly enjoyed Lara Jean's volunteer work setting up dances for the retirement home and the game she revived with her former friends. My favorite aspect of the story was they way it explores bullying as rumors circle campus about the ski trip from the previous book and she's forced to confront the girl who started them and learn more about her perspective. Humor, heart, and fully realized characters make this a satisfying read on multiple levels. P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: buy it or check it out today!

White is for Witching I didn't always know what was happening in this book, but I did enjoy the ride. It's a very atmospheric novel and reminds me of gothic literature. The language is absolutely beautiful and I appreciated that it focused around a girl and her female ancestors. At times it felt like a regular contemporary novel with the protagonist worrying about her twin getting ahead of her in school and regular issues with friends and relationships. Then the novel would just go completely sideways as she talked about the strange house and spells and her compulsion to eat chalk. It was an occasionally bumpy ride but a fun one! White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi: buy it or check it out today!



Crazy Mountain Kiss (Sean Stranahan, #4)This novel read a bit like a cross between a western and a hard-boiled detective novel. The setting was well depicted and the author's knowledge and love of the outdoors is clear. The characters were diverse and fascinating and the mystery took a lot of interesting turns. I haven't read the other books in the series, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage at times. I muddled through but I'd recommend reading them in order. The only part of the book that I didn't like was the way it enthusiastically embraced the kinky librarian stereotype. For obvious reasons that particular stereotype gets on my nerves and I'd like to see it put to rest. The subplot that revolved around that stereotype wasn't my favorite part of the novel, but the rest more than made up for it. Crazy Mountain Kiss by Keith McCafferty: buy it or check it out today!

Vengeance Road I like westerns and I was excited to read this gritty book with a female lead. I enjoy writing in dialect so I thought the narration was fun. I didn't mind the slow-burning romance either. The portrayal of native peoples left me uncomfortable though. It switched from the bloody warriors to the nobles savages stereotypes without much nuance. The book in general seemed to rely on tropes a bit too much and didn't have the depth I wanted it to have. I appreciated that Bowman included a native character in her main lineup, but I wish a bit more care and thought was put into her character and especially the overall portrayal of native cultures. Still, if you're just looking for a quick, gritty western this should satisfy you. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: buy it or check it out today!




Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Art of Secrets Review

The Art of Secrets

Book talk: Saba never imagined as she watched her apartment go up in flames that it would be the beginning of a grand mystery that would change her life for the better. Her school community rallies around her, led by two new kids who seem eager to make their mark. Saba's family moves into a luxurious apartment and an auction is organized to raise money for them. When the donation of a weird piece of art found in an alley turns out to be the work of a famous artist, tensions rise. Who should keep the money: Saba's family? The kids who found the art? The school? And just who set the fire in the first place? Read a series of notes, articles, and testimonies, put together the clues, and find out for yourself!

Rave: I am a complete sucker for epistolary novels, so I naturally loved the format of this book! I find it especially effective in mystery narratives where not all the characters can be trusted and you have to be on a sharp lookout for red herrings. The characters are wonderfully diverse and layered and even the teachers are portrayed like real people--shocking I know! A major subplot of the book involves outsider art, an area that I found fascinating and was compelled to further research on my own. The final conclusion was perfect and a completely satisfying ending to a compelling mystery.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 6th grade and up looking for a good mystery novel.

Topics and Trends: Chicago, outside artists, epistolary novels, mysteries, diversity

Extras: The author has his own website with more information about the book and links to websites about outsider and folk art.

Source: school library

The Art of Secrets  by James Klise: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More than this Review

More Than This

Book talk: Seth feels the impact of a rock against his head as the waters close in around him and he drowns. He dies in America, but he wakes up again in his childhood home in England. His neighbors' houses are exactly how he remembers them, except that nobody's home. He ventures into town for supplies and finds that nature has begun to reclaim the town with wild plants and animals. It's like nobody has lived there for years. He thinks he's in his own personal afterlife until he finds two others like him and a mysterious enemy that is hunting them all down.

Rave: I always go into Patrick Ness novels expecting death, so I was actually a bit relieved when it came at the very beginning. I had hoped that would remove some of the suspense and eventual emotional devastation--oh how wrong I was! I think talking too much about the plot will just ruin it for people who haven't read it yet so I'll just say that I love the diversity of the characters, their layers that are revealed as the plot progresses, and the mind-trip that was the ever-twisting plot.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of both plot-focused science fiction like the Matrix and fans of realistic books about teens dealing with surviving all-too-real trauma. It can get pretty intense at times so I'd say 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: death, abuse, trauma, science-fiction, immigration, guilt, post-apocalyptic, thriller, diversity

Extras:
There's a website for the book and a couple of great videos





Bonus Quote:
“Know yourself and go in swinging.”

Source: kobo ebook

More than this by Patrick Ness: buy it or check it out today!