Saturday, May 30, 2015

My True Love Gave to Me Review

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Book talk: Whether you love or loathe the holidays everyone can agree that it's a time of year when emotions run high.  That's why they make such a great backdrop for these short, romantic stories.  An all-star cast of authors brings variety to this collection from serious to sweet to laugh-out loud funny. The only thing they all have in common is a holiday setting from Hanukkah to New Year's Eve and a romantic plot line. A perfect pick to get into the holiday spirit any time of year.

Rave: Like any collection there were some stories I enjoyed more than others but there weren't any I disliked.  There were a few I absolutely adored by favorite authors or new ones I have to now investigate.  The stories do a good job representing a diverse range of characters and love stories.  Bonus hint: the couples in the stories are depicted on the cover of the book.  It's like a game trying to pick each one out as you read their story.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone 7th grade and up looking for a light, romantic read.

Topics and Trends:  LGBTQ, diversity, holidays, romance, short stories

Source: gift

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 3

Panic“Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.”  Panic is a game that can change your life or take it away.  Every school day every student pays a dollar to the pot for the winner.  On the first day of summer any senior can enter the game by participating in the opening jump.  For the rest of summer, participants compete in challenges like walking on a slippery board 50 feet up with no net.  Secret judges watch their progress and eliminate the slow and the scared.  The winner walks away with enough money to change their life forever.  The losers sometimes can no longer walk at all.  But for $67,00 many think it's worth the risk.
This book was certainly gripping and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  The characters are well drawn and are perhaps best described as living lives of frantic desperation.  After all, to participate in these stunts you'd have to be pretty desperate.  This goes way beyond your average game of truth or dare.  The main character's mother struggles with substance abuse and the effect this has on her daughters is shown in an unflinching and deeply moving way.  Every participant is broken in some way and hoping that Panic will be the answer to all their problems.  Which brings me to my main (SPOILER) issue with the book--it is the answer to their problems.  The game itself is completely unethical from the way that they collect money like some high school mafia beating up kids who don't comply (a dollar a day adds up especially in a town with such prevalent poverty and the source of the money is never questioned or depicted as problematic) to the game itself where at one point they have to cross six lanes of a highway blindfolded.  That is insane.  It's mentioned that there were some deaths in previous years but there's no real consequences for any of the characters during the novel.  In fact at the end their experiences brought them all closer together so they're all coupled off, richer, and happier than they were before thanks to their participation in this immoral, illegal, and completely insane game.  There's not even any mention at the end that Panic should stop.  It seems like all the characters are content to let it continue in perpetuity and why wouldn't they?  It worked out pretty darn well for them!  If you're just looking for a quick paced read then this will fit the bill but do not try this at homePanic by Lauren Oliver: buy it or check it out today!

Sway I was eager to read this story when I heard it was a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac.  That play is very near and dear to my heart, which might have made my expectations unreasonably high, but the fact remains that I was sorely disappointed. Cyrano is the story of a noble, heroic figure with a gift for sword fighting and poetry whose disfigurement leads him to believe that his love, Roxanne, would never return his affections.  So he agrees to the nearest thing he can get--wooing her for the better-looking but less-eloquent Christian.  Christian turns out to be a heroic figure himself with some integrity and after winning Roxanne through Cyrano's letters insists that Cyrano tell her the truth because he wishes to be loved for the fool he is or not at all.  In this version Cyrano is a drug dealer and swindler who accepts payment to stalk a girl so he can help a jerky jock woo her.  Not only does the Christian figure lack the complexity of the original instead filling the usual stereotypical jock role but Cyrano's (completely serious) closing advice to a kid who wants to become popular is that he should become a drug dealer.  This story has a vague resemblance to the bare-bones plot points of the original but has very little of the poetry, complexity, or heart. Sway by Kat Spears: buy it or check it out today!

Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle, #1) I read this book for my book club.  It was billed to me as similar to Buffy but the comparison did not serve it well.  Buffy is both a feminist and geek icon as well as a cheerleader. Her empathy and understanding of others helps her fulfill her destiny as much as her powers.  The main character of this book meanwhile spends most of the novel judging every other character for everything from wearing hipster glasses "I mean, it’s the twenty-first century. There are fashionable options for eyewear." to when she says "--ew--role playing games." None of the characters were really sympathetic or even believable to me.  The boy who teases her (because he likes her and is apparently five) is a journalist and reads biographies of the greats and tries to take his profession seriously.  Yet he has no trouble throwing journalistic ethics out the window when it comes to printing rumors about his crush. Her boyfriend meanwhile pulls a total jerk move towards the end of the book that seems completely out of character and whose only explanation seems to be because it was convenient for the plot. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins: buy it or check it out today!

The Song of the Quarkbeast (The Chronicles of Kazam, #2)This book was just as absurd and hilarious as the first.  It's like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for fantasy instead of sci-fi.  My favorite idea from this book was a light globe that runs off sarcasm.  If only I had one of those I'd never have to buy a light bulb again! Instead of describing the book I'll just share some of my favorite humorous quotes from it.
"The only time we get to fight the powers of darkness is during one of the kingdom’s frequent power cuts."
“If a shred of integrity fell into your soul, it would die a very lonely death.”
"'It’s complicated.' 'Love always is,' said the moose, sighing forlornly. 'I’m only a vague facsimile of a moose once alive, but I share some of his emotions. Ach, how I miss Liesl and the calves.'"
The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Thickety Review

The Thickety: A Path Begins

Book talk: When Kara was six, her mother was executed for practicing witchcraft.  She can still remember that terrible day.  Now her father is a shadow of the man he was and her family is ostracized by the community for the taint of sin upon them.  They can just barely scrape by in their miserable lives.  But when Kara follows a bird into the Thickety she discovers a book that belonged to her mother.  A book of magic.  The book could give her the power to make all their lives better, but if she is caught with it she'll suffer the same fate as her mother.

Rave:  The basic concept of a witch being persecuted by a religious community is pretty well-trod, but the setting and the style of magic in this novel are completely original.  The Thickety is an ominous presence full of unknown dangers and Kara's feelings of excitement and foreboding as she discovers her power are palpable.  The characters are layered and believable as their father copes with grief and members of the community are silenced by fear of persecution.

Rant: The rules of magic in this world are unlike anything I've read before and at times it can seem a bit confusing or arbitrary.  I'll be interested to see how the mythology and magic of this world develops in the second book.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students 5th and up looking for a fantasy adventure novel with strong characterization.

Topics and Trends: Magic, fantasy, witches, outsiders


The book's website has posters for some of the creatures found in the Thickety as well as classroom discussion guides:

The author has a website with interviews and other extras:

There's a book trailer by the publisher on YouTube:

Source: school library

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Greenglass House review

Greenglass House

Book talk: "There was a city that could not be mapped, and inside it a house that could not be drawn."  Milo lives with his parents in a rambling old inn filled with as many secrets as the smugglers that come to stay there.  The inn sits high on a hill overlooking a harbor with two ways up: a steep path, or a cable railway.  Tourist season was long over and snows were arriving to leave them stranded from the main town.  Milo didn't mind--he was looking forward to the time alone with his parents--which is why he was surprised and upset when the cable railway's bell rang to notify them of a waiting passenger.  Soon Milo's quiet holiday has turned into a loud and chaotic mystery as eccentric guests fill the inn and begin to sabotage it in their hunt for hidden treasure.  Milo joins forces with a new friend to solve the mystery and find the treasure the guests are after but what starts as a game to pass the time soon turns into a dangerous adventure.

The premise of the story is filled with intrigue and excitement and it only gets better from there!  An old inn in a smuggler's bay trapped by a winter storm--what more could you ask for from a mystery setting?  The characters are eccentric but instead of using these eccentricities as a cheap jokes they're another layer in these well-rounded characters. The story has a strong emotional core that holds all the adventure aspects together and makes them more resonant.  Milo is portrayed with all his flaws and frustrations and fears.  The way he works to get to know each guest and make their lives better despite the fact that he didn't want anyone to be there is touching.  Most touching is the way the book deals with Milo's feelings around his adoption and an author's note reveals that Milford wrote the book while going through the process of adopting a child herself.  Did I mention that Milo and his new friend  use the framework of a role playing game to provide a cover for and give them courage to investigate the inn's mysteries?  And in case I haven't made it clear yet the main plot revolves around a bunch of thieves competing to find a treasure hidden in an inn that used to be owned by an infamous smuggler.  So much to love about this book!

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a good adventure or mystery especially those with an interest in role playing games.  I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.

Themes, Topics, and Trends: Adoption, Smugglers, Treasure Hunts, Mystery, Competent Adults, RPGs, Ghosts


Kate Milford has her own website

You can find a fake website for the Nagspeake Tourism Board (the city the book takes place in) to find out more about the setting of the novel.

Source: ebook from public library

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: buy it or check it out today!