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

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!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Brief Reviews Spring 2015 part 2

The Power and the GloryThis book is a masterful piece of literature and I enjoyed reading it.  There were passages of great beauty and I found it completely absorbing to be wrapped up so completely in the mind of the nameless whiskey priest at the center of the novel. It painted a complicated psychological portrait of the man. I wish that complex characterization was extended more to the various Mexican characters in the novel as well. Still, as an artifact of its era it provides plenty of insight and it has a message that even modern readers can get behind: "Hate was just a failure of imagination." The Power and the Glory by Graham Green: buy it or check it out today!

Old SchoolThe premise of this novel is that a private boy's boarding school hosts famous authors throughout the year and the students must compete for the honor of meeting them by submitting their own writing samples. The writing about the school children felt very layered and rang true to me, but when it came to describing the visiting authors (Frost, Rand, and Hemingway) Wolff tended toward caricature. I found the way the main character felt about Ayn Rand and how it changed hilarious. My favorite parts were reading about how literature had impacted these boys' lives. I was not a big fan of the ending, in particular the big time leap. I wish it had ended with the school year and not shown us the boys' futures. Still, it's an enjoyable read for fans of American literature and English teachers' pets. Old School by Tobias Wolff: buy it or check it out today!

The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1) Meghan has always felt different, especially since her father disappeared in front of her eyes when she was a child. But she's a pretty average girl going to school with her best friend who loves playing pranks. Then one day she discovers that surprise, surprise her missing father is a fairy king and her best friend is actually the infamous trickster Puck in disguise. Suddenly, the weight of an entire kingdom rests of her shoulders as she has to navigate a world she never knew existed right underneath her ordinary one. If this plot sounds familiar and predictable it's probably because it mostly is (I haven't even mentioned the inevitable love triangle!) While I was reading I kept getting deja-lu feeling like I've read this before. It was fairly enjoyable while it lasted, even if it didn't leave a big impression on me when it was over. If you're looking for a quick read set in a fairy kingdom this book should satisfy you. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa: buy it or check it out today!

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)This book is a Regency romance with magic and an extra dose of feminism added in. If that summary sounds amazing, then pick it up! You will enjoy it. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, then you probably won't enjoy it. This is a book that does what it says it will, and it does that very well. Personally, I absolutely loved it. How could I not when it combines two of my favorite genres? I will definitely pick up the other books in this series! Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: buy it or check it out today!

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation WhyMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal This comic is a breath of fresh air and I inhaled it in a single gasp. Kamala Khan is an excellent addition to the super hero cannon. She's fresh and hilarious and I like the way she transitions from fan girl to dealing with powers of her own. She's completely charming and relateable and she'll do a wonderful job introducing many readers to a culture that they might be unfamiliar with and finally providing a positive mirror in comic books for readers who are also Muslim.  I particularly liked how she dealt with aspects like her costume in a way that honors super hero traditions while being true to who she is. I'm looking forward to reading more about her adventures and I'm excited to share it with students as well! Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona: buy it or check it out today!

Through the Woods These deliciously creepy stories remind me of some of the bloodier fairy tales I've read. They'd be creepy enough on their own, but when combined with Carroll's black, white, and red illustrations they're positively chilling. I'm more than a bit behind in reviewing so it's been over 6 months since I've read this comic, but some of the images from it still readily spring to mind (for better or for worse, they're gorgeous but terrifying.) I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone with a taste (and the stomach) for the macabre. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: buy it or check it out today!
The Chosen Prince

 This ancient Greek historical fiction is based in part on the story of The Tempest. I always enjoy new takes on classic stories and Diane Stanley does a wonderful job painting complicated characters who are faced with heart-breaking situations. I cried at several points during the novel. However, for a book that's billed as a retelling of The Tempest they take a while to get to the island. The plot is rather sprawling and felt a bit meandering at times. I was also not a bit fan of the present tense narration style. Still, if you stick with it, it does a wonderful job exploring the themes of forgiveness and fate and provides a lot to think about and discuss. The Chosen Prince by Diane Stanley: buy it or check it out today!

The Shadow Hero This comic is everything I've come to expect from Gene Luen Yang: funny and engaging with great characterization and a subtle handling of complicated issues.  This comic is a great superhero origin story on its own with the Green Turtle's overbearing mother thrusting him into the superhero limelight.  But if you know the history of the original Green Turtle comics, it's even more fascinating.  The artwork does a great job paying homage to the retro superhero comics while still seeming fresh. Highly recommended!  The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Book talk: "The problem with my life was that it was someone else's idea" Ari never asked to be born into a family where everyone is bursting with words left unsaid. His father never left Vietnam behind and his brother is in jail, meaning that all the family pressure is on him to be the good kid. He never asked to be saddled with a name like Aristotle. But his life finally starts to make sense when he meets a boy named Dante. Dante is unabashedly himself--emotional, vulnerable, intelligent, beautiful. Aristotle never felt like he fit in before but he feels a sense of belonging when he's with Dante. Their friendship blooms until Aristotle's own secrets threaten the only happiness he has ever known.

Rave: This book was written by a poet, and that is immediately obvious because the prose is just gorgeous. The plot is fairly quiet, mostly dealing with the inner life of the narrator as he comes to terms with his various emotions, but I read it in a greedy gulp anyway. Not only are Dante and Aristotle painted in heart-breaking detail but the other characters such as their parents are portrayed with complexity and in a way that actually renders them helpful and meaningful players in their children's lives. Highly recommended!

Every book its reader: I'd give this to teens 7th grade and up looking for an emotional novel or a moving romance.

Topics and Trends: LGBTQ, romance, characters of color, poetry,

Bonus Quotes:

"The problem with my life was that it was someone else's idea"

"Yeah, I had all kinds of tragic reasons for feeling sorry for myself. Being 15 didn't help. Sometimes I thought that being 15 was the worst tragedy of all"

"We sat, drinking our tea and watching the rain fall on his front porch. The sky was almost black and then it started hailing. It was so beautiful and scary, I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break."

“Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.”

“But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.”

“Summer was here again. Summer, summer, summer. I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That's why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.”

Source: school library

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Imaginary Review

The Imaginary

Book talk: Rudger can be a bit shy but he's always willing to go on adventures with Amanda. Whether they're sailing the high seas on a pirate ship or exploring a jungle, Amanda knows Rudger will always be there by her side. That's why he's her best friend, even if he is imaginary. Rudger feels the same way about Amanda, but when a suspicious stranger comes knocking who can actually see him and Amanda ends up in the hospital, Rudger is left to face real danger on his own. He finds a haven for imaginary friends where he discovers that he's not the only one who has encountered this monster in a Hawaiian shirt, and he has all of them terrified. But Amanda is a special girl and Rudger will do anything to save her, even if the other imaginaries warn him that to do so is to face certain death.

Rave: This surreal horror story about a monster that eats imaginary friends is utterly bizarre and fantastic. The mythology Harrold develops around imaginary friends and how they work is wonderfully creative. I particularly like how they hang out at a library in-between gigs because they're hot spots for imagination. Of course I'm always partial to a nice talking cat sidekick as well. The imaginary friends are hilarious and touching and the monster is actually quite creepy. The illustrations just make it all the more wonderful with their fanciful details. The book is laced with humour and droll observations and the conclusion is surprisingly touching. A great book overall.

Every book its reader: It's hard to know who to recommend this to. The crowd looking for stories about imaginary friends and the ones looking for horror stories don't always intersect. But I think once kids started reading it they'd get into it. It would make a good read-aloud as well. I'd say fourth grade and up.

Topics and Trends: horror, imagination, monsters, friendship


You can find a reading guide at the publisher's website and more info at the author's website.

There's a great pair of book trailers showing a time-lapse of the author and illustrator at work.

Source: school library

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blackbird Fly Review

Blackbird Fly

Book talk: Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko moved from the Philippines to a small town in Louisiana when she was four, but she still doesn't feel like she fits in. She wishes her mother would cook normal meals while her mother thinks she's become too American. Things go from bad to worse when she ends up on the school's Dog Log, a list of the most unpopular girls. Even the few friends she has start to turn on her, afraid her Dog Log status will contaminate them. But just when she thinks she's lost everything she gains something new: she discovers a talent at the guitar that just might be enough to turn things around.

Rave: This book is a sweet story about friendship and finding your place in the world. Apple's struggles with bullying will ring true with many students and open the eyes and the hearts of others. The new friends that she makes are characters worth rooting for even as they struggle and make mistakes. Apple's passion for the guitar adds more appeal. Her struggles with her mother are deftly handled showing Apple's frustration without painting her mother as some unreasonable villain. The other children aren't portrayed as completely two dimensional either.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Wendy Mass and the like looking for a sweet school story. It's about middle schoolers but I wouldn't hesitate to give it to a fourth grader looking for a story about older kids.

Topics and Trends: guitar, music, diversity, bullying, the Beatles, immigrants, popularity


You can visit the author's website for more information

Source: school library

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hook's Revenge Review

Hook's Revenge (Hook's Revenge, #1)

Book talk: Jocelyn Hook knows that one day she will follow in the footsteps of her famous father Captain Hook: scourge of the seven seas! The only problem is that she's never actually met him, or set foot on a pirate ship for that matter. That, and her mother and grandfather who seem very determined to cinch her in corsets and stuff her with teacakes until she finally succumbs and turns into the meek lady of good breeding that they hope to marry off one day. But while suffering through the tortures of finishing school she finally hears from her father. The note promises danger, encounters with terrible beasts, and a wardrobe entirely free of corsets. Jocelyn doesn't have to think twice before accepting her father's request and jumping headlong into adventure!

Rave: This is the feminist retelling of Peter Pan that I didn't know I was waiting for. Jocelyn is a firey, witty, young girl who is full of bravado but still suffers from impostor syndrome. She's layered and extremely relateable because really who hasn't bristled at their parents' expectations and dreamed of escaping on a pirate adventure? This book is full of adventure and heart and did I mention the humour? Plus there's the appeal of Peter Pan, Smee, and all those other familiar never-land faces. This was one of my favorite books of 2015.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for humor and adventure in grades 4 and up.

Topics and Trends: Stories retold, pirates


Heidi Schulz has a pirate-themed author page you can explore.

Source: school library

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Shulz: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Brief Reviews Spring 2015 part 1

Farthing (Small Change, #1)Ha'penny (Small Change, #2)

I loved everything about Farthing. It's well-written and takes so many different themes and genres and weaves them together into something incredible.  The plot is a mystery that follows inspector Carmichael as he investigates a murder at party for the high society set in the English countryside. The setting is an alternate history where England has made an alliance with Hitler. The characters all have incredible depth and struggle with issues from antisemitism and homophobia to family pressures and political intrigue. The second book continues to develop the world and the consesquences of Carmichael's actions in the first book while centering on a different crime, one revolving around a theatre. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Farthing and Ha'Penny by Jo Walton: buy them or check them out today!

One Summer: America, 1927 I read this as an audiobook. It was narrated by the author, who wasn't quite as dynamic a reader as I would have liked, but the content was so interesting I kept listening. It covers a range of subjects, not all of which I'd normally read about on their own, but in this context I found them fascinating. This quote from the book shows just how much happened that summer: "Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence. The Jazz Singer was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flooded as it never had before. A madman in Michigan blew up a school and killed forty-four people in the worst slaughter of children in American history. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T and promised to stop insulting Jews. And a kid from Minnesota flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before.” Recommended for anyone looking for a narrative nonfiction history book. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson: buy it or check it out today!

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2) Perhaps my expectations were too high because I loved Seraphina so much, but I was not as big a fan of Shadow Scale. This book was on a much grander scale with different parts of the world explored and many new characters introduced. It was interesting to see more world building but it felt like a bit much at times, especially when what I really wanted was to see Seraphina and Lucian and the plot kept them apart for most of the novel. I missed the smaller, more personal scale of the first book. I feel like Hartman was trying to cover too much and please too many people. Still there was plenty to love about this novel and I enjoyed reading it. Hartman's writing is beautiful and she does an excellent job fleshing out the world and her new characters. I was definitely not a fan of the ending though, which felt too abrupt and was completely unsatisfying to me---which is too bad because it's the last book in the series. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman: buy it or check it out today!

Gilded Ashes (Cruel Beauty Universe #2)Another fun, fantasy re-telling of a classic fairy tale. If you enjoyed Cruel Beauty, you'll like this novella as well. I gulped it down in a morning. The setting is the same as her previous novel and the characters are pretty well-rounded. The step sisters avoid the over-the-top caricature they're given in many Cinderella stories and I like the dark twist on the fairy god mother. My favorite part was the relationship between Maia and the prince which is allowed to grow over time instead of magically happening over the course of a dance number. I wish it was longer and I'm looking forward to the next book in this world! Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge: buy it or check it out today!

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)
Something about this series just sucks me in, chews me up, then spits me out at the end. The political intrigue, the lush world building, and most of all the moral dilemmas and forbidden love that drive the plot. I like that there's often no clearly right choice and the characters are all completely cloaked in shades of grey. I'm definitely going to have to clear my day for reading when the next book comes out! The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski: buy it or check it out today!

Guy in Real LifeI really wanted to like this book, but sometimes I feel like I'm in a one-sided relationship with geek culture. I enjoy and respect it, but it often doesn't seem to value or respect me. For the record I have played both table top RPGs and MMORPGs (yes, despite my ovaries!) so I was excited to read this book, especially because it had a female DM. But then it gets everything about the female characters so wrong! Svetlana does not seem as fully fleshed and real as Lesh, and not just because his character puts her on a ridiculous pedestal. There's also a lot of aspects that are mentioned but never really explained or dealt with in a way that left a sour taste in my mouth. For example one character using 'homo' constantly or it never really being clear if Lesh wants to be Svetlana or date her.  Most unexcusable to me is the fact that Svetlana is stalked and assaulted and somehow the author makes that about Lesh. I mean really who cares how Svetlana copes with having her privacy violated and her life endangered what's really important is how that affected the guy who likes her. Ugh!  Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff: buy it or check it out today!

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within This book is a great introduction to writing and appreciating poetry and it's all narrated in the witty style of Stephen Fry. His humor turned what could have been dry discussions of the mechanics of meter into a delightful conversation. The poetry exercises were great as well and I enjoyed reading Fry's examples and trying them myself. I don't plan on becoming a poet, but it did help me appreciate the poetry of others better and it was fun to try. I'd highly recommend this to fans of either poetry or Stephen Fry. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry: buy it or check it out today!

Work Song I greatly enjoyed my trip back into the world of Whistling Season in this companion novel set in Butte, Montana.  Once again Doig does a wonderful job evoking a certain time and place and populating it with a varied cast of characters that alternately tickled my funny bone and pulled my heartstrings. This book was particularly enjoyable for me because I was reading a copy my great uncle had annotated with notes involving the book's similarity to my great-grandfather's time spent in Butte around the same time period. Even without the personal connection I would have enjoyed this thoughtful and witty work of historical fiction. Work Song by Ivan Doig: buy it or check it out today!