Posted in Children's Lit

Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai

listenListen, Slowly
Thanhha Lai
2015 by HarperCollins
ISBN – 9780062229182
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Mai is looking forward to her summer at the beach with her best friend, and the boy who she has a huge crush on when she gets terrible news. She will have to spend the summer with her grandmother in Vietnam. Her grandmother has never been able to accept the disappearance of her husband during the war, and may finally have the opportunity to find out what happened to him. As much as she screams and cries it is unavoidable, and before she knows it she is in the hot and humid climate of Vietnam. She is figuring out how to make friends and survive in a completely different world, but will they ever find out what happened to her grandfather?

This book is a very sweet portrayal of a young and selfish girl, who is made to think of someone other than herself. Mai starts off spoiled and sullen about the whole trip, but eventually she realizes that some things in the world are a bigger deal than the beach, and the boy who she pines after. She does an amazing amount of growing up in such a short time! I loved the setting of Vietnam, it is obvious that the author has first hand experience. She paints a picture that makes me feel like I am there, or at the very least that makes me want to be there. She talks about the culture with such love and beauty. I thought that the lesson that friendship and family go beyond the boundaries of language was important. I loved the examples of communication that parted from our typical ways of speaking. Also, I must say, I probably wouldn’t have read this book if not for the beautiful cover, but I am glad that I did.

Posted in Young Adult Lit

Fragile Bones: Harrison and Anna, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

fragileFragile Bones: Harrison and Anna
Lorna Schultz Nicholson
2015 by Clockwise Press
ISBN – 9780993935107
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Middle School, High School
3 Stars

Harrison’s family thinks that it would be good for him to join the Best Buddies Program at his high school. It is a program that pairs two students together in hopes to make unlikely connections. Harrison recites the bones in the human body when he gets nervous, he loves to watch reruns of Grey’s Anatomy every day after school, he doesn’t understand why anyone would wear high heeled shoes, and he is super sensitive about germs. Anna is super concerned about grades and college applications. She is sure that joining Best Buddies will look good on her “résumé.” She doesn’t expect it to change her life in very drastic ways.

This book is told from alternating perspectives. One is Miss Perfect, trying to please everyone, and the other a high-functioning autistic student. I think the book is a great idea, and at times is written really well. The author is able to make you feel like you are viewing the world from both Harrison and Anna’s point of view, which by the way are very different! My main issue with the book is that at times their views overlap too much without much variation. It succeeds in showing that no matter how different two people are, they can still relate to situations similarly. However, it just made for a redundant read. This was a very sweet and at times emotional read, but that’s it. I didn’t feel much at all after reading it.

Posted in Children's Lit

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro

OdditoriumAlistair Grim’s Odditorium
Gregory Funaro
2015 by Disney Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484700068
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Grubb has been working as a Chimney Sweeper for a horrible man ever since the woman who cared for him died. He was abandoned at his doorstep when he was an infant, and is now about twelve years old, he doesn’t know exactly. His luck seems to be changing when he escapes from his master and catches a ride with Mr. Grim. He seems a bit worried when the carriage that he has stowed away in starts to fly, but he holds on for better or for worse. When they arrive at their destination, Grubb finds himself in a place full of mystery, magic, and wonders. Little does he know that the Odditorium, his new home, is about to be attacked, and he may be integral in helping save it!

It seems as if these kinds of books are quite plentiful recently, you know, the ones set in historical England full of magic, and wizards, and spunky little apprentices. They may be splitting the fine line of overdone, but I didn’t feel that way about this one. I liked that it was magic without your stereotypical wizard, although I am not sure what I would call Mr. Grim. I loved the setting of The Odditorium. It was such a fantastical building, with amazing creatures like fairies, and banshees, and samurais, oh my! It seems to me that with all of the insanity smashed into such a small book, it would be nothing but chaos. However, Funaro manages just fine. The characters run the gamut between bad, good, and evil, and everyone seems to find their place perfectly in the story. This is definitely a good one for fans of Harry Potter and The Magic Thief.

Posted in Young Adult Lit

Before I Die, by Jenny Downham

beforeidieBefore I Die
Jenny Downham
2007 by David Fickling Books
ISBN – 9780385613460
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – High School
4 Stars

Tessa is dying of cancer, there is no way around it. She decides to make a list of the things that she wants to do before she dies. The thing that tops the list is sex, then comes drugs, and breaking the law. She tries to make the most of the time she has left, but the path that she is taking seems to be leaving quite a mess behind.

This book is heartbreaking. It is the first book of the year that made me cry. From the very beginning we know exactly what is going to happen in the end. There is no hope. Instead of this book being about the end, it is intrinsically about the journey. Tessa is very much a teenage girl despite her illness. She is selfish, destructive, and angry, and honestly these are all within her right. At times I got so mad about how she treated her father, and the little thought she had for how her actions would affect him. She didn’t seem to realize how hard the whole situation was for him. However, what else would we expect from a teenage girl who knows that she will never get to live the life she should have? This is a great story about how relationships are grown, broken, and mended when people are pushed to their physical and emotional limits. I laughed, I cried, and I yelled, and I am sad all over again just writing about it.

Posted in Picture Books

Supertruck, by Stephen Savage

Stephen Savage
2015 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN – 9781596438217
Genre – Picture Book
Age – Toddler
4 Stars

All of the brave trucks have different duties. The fire truck puts out fires and the tow truck saves other vehicles. But the garbage truck just collects trash, but maybe he has super powers that only come out when it snows! I love the illustrations in this book. They are bright, bold, and clear. Each page has very little to focus on, so the trucks really become easy to point out. The text is simple as well. There are just a few words per page, and they are very cut and dry and easy for toddlers to understand and learn from.

Posted in Young Adult Lit

Every Last Word, by Tamara Ireland Stone

23341894Every Last Word
Tamara Ireland Stone
2015 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484705278
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – High School
4 Stars

Samantha may play it off as one of the popular girls in her high school, but under her well groomed appearance hides a girl with OCD. She has a thing with the number three, her thoughts can quickly spiral out of control, and she constantly worries that everyone will find out her secret. She tries to pretend that everything is alright, but the reality is that she is just not happy. Then one day she makes a friend, who changes her life for the better. She teaches her how to express herself through poetry, and how to be herself, but what happens when Samantha’s two worlds collide?

I loved the characters. I loved that there was a variety of the good, the bad, and the ugly. They reminded me that everyone has their own battle to fight, no matter what appearances put forth. They reminded me to be kind to everyone, and if you can’t be kind, walk away. They just reminded me of all the good things we were supposed to learn at a young age, that sometimes people forget. I am not a fan of a large amount of poetry, but I love that for some people, poetry can save lives. This really is not the type of book, I would normally rave about, but this one was good. It was real, it was brutal, and it had some very unexpected points. I’d also like to note that I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of multiple supportive adults. This is not a “woe is me” novel in which no one cares about a struggling teen. It is the story of a girl and her family who have to fight every day to just float, but they fight together. The subject matter was compelling, and the way in which it was written may make it appealing to a larger audience than it seems at first glance.

Posted in Children's Lit

The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and John Jory

terribleThe Terrible Two
Mac Barnett and John Jory
2015 by Harry N. Abrams
ISBN – 9781419714917
Genre – Humor
Age – Elementary School
4 Stars

Yawnee Valley is a small town with not much going for it, except for cows. Miles Murphy is not very happy when his family moves there. He was quite comfortable with his old home, school, and friends. Most importantly he was the uncontested best prankster at his old school. Now he has to start all over. It gets worse when he gets to his new school only to find they already have a prankster, and he is quite good. In order to take the lead spot, Miles must engage in an all out prank war!

I am not generally a fan of this genre, but Mac Barnett is one of my favorites when it comes to picture books so I thought I would give it a try! I was pleasantly surprised. While it has everything kids, especially boys, are looking for at this age, it also carries a bit of cleverness. Sure the two young boys are a bit obnoxious, but they actually use their brains to solve their problems! The illustrations are simple, yet they add to the imagination and hilarity of the story. On top of that, there is a positive message lurking in the background. Finally, if you want to learn wacky facts about our favorite mooing animal, this is the book for you! Would be great for book talking to elementary aged kids.

Posted in Young Adult Lit

The Vanishing Season, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

vanishingThe Vanishing Season
Jodi Lynn Anderson
2014 by HarperTeen
ISBN – 9780062003270
Genre – Mystery, Realistic Fiction
Age – High School
3.5 Stars

It is fall when Maggie moves to Door County from Chicago, and all she wants is to go back home. At least she is finally making friends. Pauline and Liam seem to be making her otherwise mundane life bearable. When girls in town start to go missing, everything changes. Pauline is sent away and Maggie is left lonely. She learns how to cope and begins to understand that nothing lasts forever.

Told by an ephemeral narrator, the story takes on an eerie tone. From the outside in, we learn about friendship, love, and betrayal. I loved how the narrator can completely change the feel and meaning of a book. What otherwise could have been a bit of a snooze, turned into quite an interesting read/listen. In other ways, this book made me super angry. It made me really dislike everything. I spent the last quarter of the book waiting for everything to be redeemed. Usually I hate books that are tied up into a neat little package, but apparently I also get frustrated when they are not. It seems like the more distance I have from this book, the more I like it. I appreciated that the end was sudden. There really wasn’t much time for a wrap up, no time to dwell. The mystery is solved(ish), and the book is over. Kudos to not lingering. The audiobook was solid, it was not too little and not too much. There was nothing special, but that allowed for the story to tell itself. Oh such mixed emotions!

Posted in Young Adult Lit

Shine, by Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle
2011 by Amulet Books
ISBN – 9780810984172
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – High School
4 Stars

Cat’s best friend is in the hospital in a coma after being beaten almost to death for being gay. Convinced that the sheriff will not try to solve the crime, she takes to investigating it herself. This includes asking questions of her friends, her family, and even of herself. Through her journey she finds out answers to questions that she didn’t ask and didn’t want to know, but will stop at nothing to find out who hurt her friend.

This book seemed very honest to me. The characters weren’t all nice, and even the ones that were, weren’t all that likeable, but then again not everyone is. This is a great exploration of a southern community that has been plagued by poverty, hate, and drugs. This story is heartbreaking and for more than just the obvious reason. There was mystery without overwhelming the main story and message. Cat was a strong lead female character, which is always nice to see. She was able to admit her own weaknesses and her own downfalls in order to grow. She was strong even if at times that only meant recognizing she was weak. She depicted an honest girl dealing with real struggles, and thus I felt for her. The audiobook was excellent, I really enjoyed the narrator’s thick southern accent. It really helped me to transport me to the setting. I felt the emotions in her voice, and the story was more alive with her reading. This sat on my TBR list for so long, I am glad it finally made it to the top.

Posted in Children's Nonfiction

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, Susan Buckley

road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March
Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, Susan Buckley
Illustrated by Pj Loughran
2015 by Dial Books
ISBN – 9780803741232
Genre – Nonfiction
Age – Middle School
3 Stars

Lynda Blackmon Lowery had been marching for civil rights for sometime before she became the youngest person to march in the Selma Voting Rights March. She been to jail multiple times and was no stranger to mistreatment of African Americans. She shares her memories of the times before and during the march, and how she was involved in the nonviolent Civil Right Movement. Although this book was inspiring, it just wasn’t amazing to me. It was told in such a casual voice, that it seemed to lack passion. While it is hard to not be moved by the events surrounding the march, this book did not evoke the emotions that I expected. I loved the illustrations, as I thought those did a better job of conveying the gravity of the events than the text did. Overall, a bit disappointing, but still a worthwhile text.