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Category Archives: Book Review

Recent Reads (Memoirs)

Thus far this year, I have read quite a few memoirs and have been very satisfied with what they brought to my life.  I want to take some time today to highlight the ones that really hit the mark for me.

Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s

by John Elder Robison

One of my best friends works with autistic children every day and the stories she has told me made me interested in the subject of autism and Asperger’s.  This novel reveals so many of the struggles that children and adults have with these syndromes, sometimes in a light, narrative tone, and other times in a deep, introspective tone.  I walked away from this book with my eyes opened to have difficult life might be for Aspergians, thankful for the huge strides that have been made in the psychological field to help them become more socially adept and comfortable in their own skin.

Julie & Julia

by Julie Powell

Watching the movie rendition of this memoir was the inspiration behind my blog, knowing that if Julie could cook 524 recipes in one year and blog about it, I could certainly do the same with 100 great children’s books.  Unfortunately, it took me this long to pick up the actual book!  Snarky and honest from the beginning, I laughed out loud every other page, floored by how many difficulties she came across and how she handed a lot of those events terribly, yet still came out the winner, finishing all the recipes in time and having a greater self-esteem because of it.

Another Place at the Table

by Kathy Harrison

A foster mother for over 10 years and a biological mother to three boys, Kathy Harrison is more than qualified to share her experience of bringing child after child into her home, some abused beyond redemption, others that would eventually become a permanent part of her family.  The stories she has to share are heartbreaking, yet the time and effort she spent trying to put these children back together are inspiring.  She is honest about the state of most children in foster care, as well as the needs of the system.  Recommended for anyone wanting to know more about foster care and adoption.

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Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Book Review, Memoir

 

Book Review: If I Stay

Mia is on an everyday car ride with her parents and younger brother when a truck hits them from the side, killing her parents on impact and leaving her brother critically injured.  She finds herself observing unseen from a distance as her body is transported to an intensive care unit and doctors work hard to breathe life back into her.  The story progressives as she continues to watch her life in the hospital, struck with the realization that she is being given the choice to leave or to stay.

Through simple yet profound writing, author Gayle Forman gives us a story about life and love.  Met with the decision of her own fate, we follow Mia as she relives her past and comes to grips with what she has lost and what she has left.  The story flows beautifully between her time in the hospital in the present and what has happened in her past to bring her to this point, to the decision that she must make.

The stories of her past are filled with the reality of life and loss, seemingly preparing her for her present reality.  As you read, simple ideas and circumstances surrounding her stand out in your mind, helping to understand who exactly she is and why she must make the decision that she does.  Though we only really encounter her parents in the first chapter, before they meet their demise, they very much come alive throughout the rest of the novel, standing out as complex characters woven into Mia’s life.  A very deep and emotional contemporary novel, If I Stay is one that will stick in your mind and enable you to mull over your own fate and the decisions that you make every day.

If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

Published by Dutton

April 2009

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Book Review, Contemporary, Penguin

 

Book Review: Kat, Incorrigible

Twelve-year-old Katherine (Kat, for short) is the youngest of four children, including two older sisters could not be any more different.  Her mother having died soon after she was born, Kat was raised by said sisters, who continue to watch over her and chide her about her childish behavior.  The family is at a crossroads as their brother has racked up a tremendous gambling debt and it seems as if oldest sister Elissa must marry an atrocious older man rumored to have murdered his first wife.  Kat takes matters into her own hands, however, when she discovers her mother’s magic books and possessions.  She must think quickly on her feet and trust her instincts as she goes about trying to save her sister from martyrdom.

While it may seem as if the plot is serious and dramatic, this middle grade novel was fun, fun, fun.  The family dynamic and the relationships between the three sisters had me giggling and dying to find out how exactly they would stick together and protect each other, even in the midst of misunderstandings and dramatic emotions.  Kat is in the protagonist of the story but her sisters also show redeeming qualities and won my heart over with their individuality yet togetherness as sisters.

The plot moved at a fantastic pace, after a brief introduction of Kat’s past and their present predicament, including one interesting stepmother.  Though the novel is a short one, enough happened for the reader to feel as if they have taken a journey with Kat, a journey of self-discovery and a showing of bravery.

Kat, Incorrigible

by Stephanie Burgis

Published by Atheneum

April 2011 (in the US)

 

Book Review: The Mockingbirds

Alex is in her junior year at prestigious Themis Academy and has a lot going for her.  Older sister Casey was a star athlete at the school and Alex has extraordinary musical talent that might just be Juillard-worthy.  So when she wakes up in a boy’s bed knowing she was date-raped, her world screeches to a halt and and she must put her future and stability in the hands of a student organization formed to protect other students and insure that justice is achieved.

When I first read the summary of this novel, I assumed that it would focus on the student organization, The Mockingbirds, and be solely about the greatness that is achieved through what they do on campus.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the novel hones in on protagonist Alex’s emotions and daily life after the rape and during the trial process.  As the reader, you see life through her eyes as she struggles to understand what has happened and her role in it.  You see her becoming both weaker and stronger throughout the judicial process and her recovery from the rape itself.  Her past is revealed in a way that makes her truly come alive as a character.

While there is a fair amount of action in this novel, namely The Mockingbirds enacting their processes, it is not a novel that I would say moves in a fast-paced manner.  However, I found myself turning pages quickly and not wanting to put it down because I wanted to know how justice would be served and how Alex would come through it all.  Even through confusion and conflict, I found myself rooting for her and the students that came alongside her.  Although the ending seemed to resolve abruptly, I was still left satisfied in the resolution and the person that Alex had become.

The Mockingbirds

by Daisy Whitney

Published by Little, Brown

November 2010

 

Book Review: Beyonders

I am a sucker for a geographical journey in a book, especially a fantasy book.  Meeting new characters, facing challenges and developing as a person are all part of geographical journeys.  I was delighted to find that this was a huge part of the plot in this first book in the Beyonders series, A World Without Heroes.  Thirteen-year-old Jason finds himself in a whole new world when he is lured into a hippo’s mouth (weird, I know) and is sent down a mysterious tunnel.  There he first meets the loremaster, protector of knowledge, and mistakenly opens a book that sends him on a dangerous and necessary journey to being a hero.

I do not normally read fantasy novels, and am not familiar with the staple characteristics of this genre, but I will say that I enjoyed this book.  While the teenage characters fell flat for me in some places, the characters they meet along their journey just came to life before my eyes.  Even if the character was only around for 20 to 30 pages, I was fascinated with their place in the world of Lyrian and how they would contribute to Jason and Rachel’s journey.  The history and connections among the characters that are pieced together throughout the book are fascinating.

The world of Lyrian seemed a bit mysterious at times, which very well could be part of the set-up of the book series.  I didn’t have any specific questions that went unanswered, but I felt like there were some gaps in the history and in some of the characters.  The author did a great job of world-building and introducing us to this fantasy place, all while maintaining a tremendous amount of characters and the plot itself.  Brandon Mull’s novels are must-reads for the middle grade fantasy lover.  Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy of this novel.

BEYONDERS: A WORLD WITHOUT HEROES

by Brandon Mull

Published by Aladdin Books

March 2011

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Book Review, Simon & Schuster

 

Paranormal Week: Werewolves

Werewolf: a human with shape-shifting abilities after being bitten by another werewolf or put under a curse.  After said human is bitten or cursed, they shift into a wolf or wolf-like creature, usually with the cycle of the moon.  Werewolves are often attributed with superhuman strength and senses.

Okay, technically, I did read Sisters Red a while back, but I am featuring mostly book series this week and have really been wanting to read the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, so I did.  And wow, can Maggie Stiefvater write.

In this series, we meet Sam, a teenage werewolf with his eyes and heart set on a human girl, Grace. Grace has had a strange obsession with the pack of wolves living in the woods in her backyard ever since she was bitten as a child.  Sam and other werewolves are members of the pack that she has faithfully watched, but when human-form Sam enters her life and she falls in love, her world is turned upside down.  I will admit that I didn’t fall in head-over-heels love with SHIVER, but LINGER was a heart-stopper for me.  The introduction of Cole and the expansion of Isabel’s character were brilliant.  Stiefvater’s ability to create, maintain consistency yet allow elasticity with characters is something to be noted with this series.  Her poetic style of writing (not poems, but poetic) sucked me in, making me feel as if the book had no edges or folds, just flowing and flowing until the brilliant ending.   I love books that make you want to re-read them directly after finishing them for the first time, and LINGER was one of them.  The only downfall with this series is that the final book, FOREVER, doesn’t come out until summer 2011.

Reading about werewolves has generally left a good taste in my mouth, but it probably doesn’t hurt that I am featuring and “losing my paranormal virginity” with the most-recommended werewolf series in YA books.  I am interested in reading more books about werewolves and their packs, but not necessarily racing out to read every one.  Similar to my take on Richelle Mead’s writing, I am just a huge fan of Stiefvater’s writing.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Book Review, Paranormal, Scholastic

 

Paranormal Week: Vampires

Vampires: Beings who thrive and, in essence, live off of the blood or other life sources of humans. Vampires can be living or “undead” creatures.

For my vampire choice in “losing my paranormal virginity,” I chose to read the Vampire Academy series.  Well, I actually read the first two books in the series, but felt as if I got a good feel for Richelle Mead’s writing and the series itself.  Let me tell you, I LOVED THEM!  I will, most definitely, be finishing up this series soon. 

In these novels, the main characters are students at St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school at which both vampires and their future guardians, dhampirs, attend.  At this academy, the guardians learn how to protect and defend both themselves and their future charges, most likely royal vampires.  The students also learn about different types of magic used by vampires, animal behavior and physiology and other cultural and artistic subjects.  Upon graduation, the guardians are assigned to specific vampires, vampires which they will protect for the rest of their lives.

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir have been best friends almost their entire lives.  They have a special mental bond and know that it is pretty much inevitable that Rose will end up Lissa’s guardian because of that bond.  But Rose is not just your average student.  She assisted Lissa in escaping the Academy (a near-impossible feat) in order to keep her safe and has vowed in her mind to protect Lissa at all costs.  The series is told from Rose’s point-of-view and she is nothing short of an amazing protagonist.  She is tough, bold, mouthy and willing to sacrifice her life to protect Lissa.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

And Rose’s love interest, Dimitri?  Wow, just wow.  Also a guardian, he has been assigned to be Rose’s individual teacher and keep her well-trained and knowledgeable on protecting her charges.  Normally, as in, never, do I swoon for male characters in books.  Maybe it’s because I live with my favorite male character, I don’t know, but I just don’t get attached to male characters.  Dimitri is the exception.  Richelle Mead, you broke my norm and made me fall for Dimitri.  Girl. Can. Write.

Now that I’ve shared all the good news about this series and my foray into vampire books, here’s the bad news.  I didn’t walk away enjoying the vampiric world or the paranormal creatures themselves.  I would read anything that Richelle Mead wrote, but will never again consider any other vampire books or series.  Maybe it’s my aversion to objects puncturing the skin to draw blood.  Maybe it’s the constant reminder throughout the books of my tendency to get weak and pass out because I am a nimrod hypochondriac.  It doesn’t really matter to me what drives me away from them, I just won’t choose to read any more vampire books.  Hey, at least I tried.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2011 in Book Review, Paranormal