Hi, I'm Mrs. F-B!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I Meant - Marie Lamba

I got a nice note from the author of this book recently sugesting I might enjoy it, and she was right. It's a book that has a lot going on. There's a cultural element (the main character's father is Indian and her mother is American), there's a boy/girl element, there's a friend struggle, and there's a bit of self realization happening as well.

Interestingly, I expected the boy/girl element to do something different than it turned out to, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to be surprised. What did happen that's quite typical and annoying, but undoubtedly quite true to life, is that the girl went for the cute boy who's pretty much a jerk. WHAT was she thinking? But anyway, she did finally figure that out.

The Indian culture part (you DO remember I was from India in a former life, right?) was, as always, fascinating. The Indian aunt in this story, though, was unbelievable. Not that I didn't believe the writing, I just couldn't believe the nonsense she was pulling AND getting away with! The dad was too, in some ways, although I'm typically going to believe an adult over a child (sorry, kids), too, so his was easier to believe. Plus Sang, the main character, did do some stupid stuff she shouldn't have.

I felt really bad for Sang about the rift between her and her former bet friend. It was very strange, and sad, because her friend clearly needed someone, but she was hurting too much to really know what to do. At one point in the story Sang tells Gina's parents about something Gina has done, and Gina gets SUPER angry with Sang. But it was the right thing to do, and it took a lot of courage. Some really bad things might have resulted if she'd held back what she knew. Growing up can be really hard, because sometimes friends do things that might endanger themselves or others, and then you have to decided whether you can risk the friendship by telling. But really, you do, even if it's hard.

I will be ordering this book for the library in the future. For now it's available at the Multnomah County Library..

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Reading in full swing!

My husband just finished his summer reading challenge from the public library and turned in his paperwork. How about you? Are you participating in Multnomah County's summer reading program? And how about the WOMS program? If you're doing one, you should definitely be doing the other, because all the reading counts for both! Check out the WOMS library homepage if you need new forms or the rules or anything. there are lots of great book recommendations on my library page as well. Happy reading!

Every Last Cuckoo - Kate Maloy

I adored this book. It's a grown up book about a 75 year old woman whose husband has just passed away and she's a little bit lost. It kind of reminds me of the book I read earlier this summer called Hunting and Gathering. By creating a community, everyone gains. It's beautifully written with some chapters of flashback set throughout the story. It's interesting in that it's a coming of age story but for a 75 year old woman, whereas I usually read coming of age stories for adolescents. Every stage of life is a new beginning.

A wonderful, heartfelt book that had me laughing and crying. Beautifully done. Thanks to She Is Too Fond of Books for the recommendation. I'd also highly recommend this blog to grown-up book lovers who are reading MY blog :)

Happy reading!

The Chosen One - Carol Lynch Williams

This novel reminded me quite a lot of Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka which I read not too long ago. This book, however, was much more brutal in its portrayal of the poylgamist sect that Kyra's family belongs to than the group of polygamists in Sister Wife. In Sister Wife I was disturbed and angry about the fact that they have young girls marry much older men and give them really no choice in the matter. But things went much farther in this book. People were beaten and even killed for disobedience in this novel, and it was very disturbing. Even one of those topics, beating people for not agreeing with you OR forcing children to marry grown men would be a lot to take. Both in one story was really difficult to get through. There was quite a lot of suspense, which constantly made me want to listen to the next part (I had this on my iPod), but I couldn't necessarily listen to too much at once.

I longed for more closure to this story than the author gave. Perhaps it's for the best, because now I might have hope, whereas if she told me what really happened, it might not be the outcome I wanted. But nonetheless, I really wanted more closure for several of the things that happened near the end of the story.

Due to the violence in this story, I'd recommend it for 8th graders and above.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Death of a Witch - M.C. Beaton

This is a fun series kind of like Miss Marple, but set in Scotland with a young policeman as the detective. They're kind of slow, and not too gory. Just a nice, easy reading mystery. There's also a BBC series starring Hamish MacBeth, the police officer. Great summer reads for detective story fans. I actually listened to this one and have put several more on hold from the public library.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Alchemyst - Michael Scott

Not to be confused with AN alchemist, this is the story of THE alchemYst. This novel is a 2010 Oregon Battle of the Books novel.

This novel takes place in modern day, but involves a lot of characters who are somewhat older. As in hundreds or even thousands of years old! Yes, it's true. Nicholas Flamel, his wife, his enemy Dee, his cohort Scathach and many others who appear in this story are immortals.

The story is non-stop action beginning with the theft of the Codex from Nicholas Falmel's (not the name he is known to present day people by) book shop. The Codex has fallen into the hands of some pretty evil people, but teenage employee Josh happened to rip the last two pages out of the book as it was being stolen, and without it, the book is nearly worthless. The evildoers will stop at nothing to get the book back, including killing and murder of a witch who's lived for centuries.

Human boy Josh and his sister Sophie seem to be involved in this story by accident, but it turns out there's much more to it than that. Flamel believes that Josh and Sophie are the "two" spoken about in a long ago prophecy, and that they are destined for magical greatness.

I think middle school students will love this story, especially those who enjoy fantasy. I'm not the biggest fantasy fan, so I didn't LOVE this book, but darned if I'm not interested enough in what's going to happen next to have put the sequel on hold at the library. And guess what, I just got a notice it's in! Gotta go pick it up. See you later!

Ever - Gail Carson Levine

Know me, know I love fairy tale stories. so of course I enjoyed this tale by Gail Carson Levine, who I'm excited to get to meet in October at the Oregon School Libraries conference.

This story is told in two voices, alternating chapters - one voice is of a boy, Olus, and one is of a girl, Kezi. The boy is an immortal, Akkan god of the winds, and the girl is just a regular, although beautiful and wonderful, girl. I liked how she interwove their stories and their lives and made them seem nearly as similar as not, even though they obviously had some critical differences.

Kezi's father has unwittingly drawn a curse of death on her, and Olus is determined to find a way around it because he is madly in love with her and doesn't want to lose her. He figures the only way to save her is to turn her immortal, not an easy task. Both he and she must overcome difficult obstacles if they are to make this work, and there is a grat deal of tension to see if they can achieve what they've set out to do.

The one thing I didn't like about this novel was that Kezi simply gave up her final time with her family just in case it would be her last time with Olus. I would have liked it better if she'd shared her time between them or they'd both gone back to spend more time with her family.

A story for lovers of fairy tales romances. Available in the WOMS library.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen

OK, I'm back for my review, although I'm still mulling this one over.

If you've ever seen my READ poster outside the library, you know I'm a Sarah Dessen fan. And if you've ever heard me talk about books (which is basically anyone who's ever heard me talk) you know that character is my number one thing in writing, then plot. But give me good characters, and even with a mediocre plot, I'll probably still like it. And you may also know if you've read my reviews or seen my reading list, I'm a sucker for a good romance.

So here's the thing with Sarah Dessen: she's a queen of all three. Her characters are always full of depth, always learning about themselves, always experiencing new things. Her plots are always interesting and keep things moving. And there's always a romance. Of course there's not always a sa-woon (bonus points for you if you get this reference), but it always comes around. And I just thought of this - Sarah's main characters are always girls, but the boy really becomes a main character in her stories as well, and his voice seems as equally authentic as the girl's. I wonder if it's any more difficult for her to write the boy's voice than the girl's, seeing how she's a girl and all.

In this novel, the perfect and very grown-up Auden is sort of waiting around to go to college, a bit at a loss and feeling a little antsy. She decides she needs a change of pace, so she packs up and goes to stay for the summer with her father, her step-mother Heidi, and her new baby sister, Thisbe. She's not really that excited about going there - she doesn't like Heidi much, and she's not very interested in the baby, but she's hoping this will be a chance to connect with her father, and at least it's something to do.

As with all Dessens' novels, this is a journey of self-discovery for Auden, who although she hadn't seemingly noticed, basically missed out on being a child. It is Eli who teaches her it's never too late, but it's a wide variety of characters in the novel who teach her how to get back what she's missed. Strong friendships are formed with girls as well as boys. I really like this about Dessen's novels; the friendships with girls are always equally, if not more, important than those with boys. Sometimes it seems like when a girl meets a boy in real life, she forgets her girlfriends, and we all need our girlfriends. Absolutely.

I flew through this novel in one evening, but now I want to read it again, a little slower this time, to savor the strong writing, the strong characters, the lessons. Hmmm. Maybe I'll make a wordle of fun Sarah Dessen-isms. That would be way cool!

This book will be available at the WOMS library as soon as my first shipment comes in :) See you there to check it out!

After Tupac and D Foster - Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson is an amazing author who's incredibly gifted at creating characters who seem incredibly real. Probably why she's won the Margaret Edwards award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

This novel centers on three young African American girls, Neeka, D, and the narrator, whose name is never told. Neeka and the narrator have grown up across the street from one another and been friends forever. D appears from nowhere one day, and she melts into the pair almost effortlessly, creating a threesome that, in their minds at least, is forever. Yet, the first line of the novel, “The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet,” tells readers that this will not be the case.

Interestingly, as close as the three are, Neeka and the narrator know almost nothing about D, a foster child who does not live in their neighborhood and who earns their envy with her ability to travel around town anywhere she likes. All three of the girls long for something more and envision a future that is different from their present. They are searching for their Big Purpose, as adolescents do, and wondering what it is and how they'll get there.

The main characters are huge fans of Tupac, and although I am not a fan of his music, I can understand identifying with music and how it can seem like a musician is speaking directly to you, particularly as an adolescent. It seems that most people have a soundtrack from when they were young. For these teens, Tupac clearly would be part of that list.

The novel is filled with dialect and may be a bit challenging for some readers because of this, yet without it the story's authenticity would surely be lost.

As I write this entry, I find myself wondering what will happen to these three girls. Wondering and worrying. Remember what I said at the beginning about Jacquline Woodson being a genius at character development? That's how you know. You wonder and you worry.

Available at the WOMS library.

Schooled - gordon Korman

Really enjoyed this quick, fun Battle of the Books choice. How does this guy keep thinking up funny story lines? I mean, really. He's got like a zillion books out, well, OK, I just went to his website and he's only got SIXTY!! And the guy's only two years older than I am. Wow! Anyway, he just keeps cranking them out, and they're always good.

Cap is a hippie kid who lives with his grandmother as the only two remaining people on a former commune. He's always been homeschooled and hasn't really had much contact with other people for any reason. Suddenly, he's catapulted into "real" life when his grandmother falls and breaks her hip and there's no one to care for him. Cap is put into foster care and has to go to regular school (Claverage Middle School, lovingly referred to by the kids there as C Average MS). Imagine, if you will, you've never been to a regular school and suddenly you're plonked down in the middle of a middle school after the first week. Does NOT sound like fun to me. The thing about Cap is, though, he 's sort of like the kid in Jerry Spinelli's book Loser. He doesn't really notice what's going on, and he just goes along with it. Cap doesn't always get it, but he certainly doesn't think everyone's out to get him, which they actually are.

But here's the really great part. Cap just being true to himself and not reacting works in his favor. And suddenly where he'd been the king dweebie, now kids are getting on his bandwagon. It's awesome.

The story is fun and funny and pulls at your heartstrings all at the same time. You cheer for Cap the whole way because you just can't do anything else. Even the bully's won over in the end.

A great read. Available at the WOMS library.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stick Figure - Lori Gottlieb

This is a non-fiction journal of an eleven year old girl with anorexia. It is not broken down into individual entries like many diary books are, though, and reads really more like a novel. I found it to be fascinating and frightening because the little girl in this novel is SO young, and yet she already has a clear idea of the importance of women being thin in our culture. Most of the other anorexia stories I've read have been about older girls, and while I am still disturbed and distressed by anorexia in older girls, I'm not as surprised by it. My niece is eleven, and it sort of threw me for a loop that girls her age, little girls, are thinking the kinds of things Lori does.

However, from reading the book, it is clear that this little girl did not become so hyper aware of the importance of being thin just by reading magazines or watching TV. There were clearly family dynamics that were very unhealthy playing into this child's self image. She was trying to gain a little control and be who she thought she needed to be to get love. Food was where she could do that. I sometimes see students trying to gain control in whatever small way they can when they feel like things are spiraling away from them - they won't do their homework, they won't participate in class, whatever. This is the same, but its consequences are different, and for Lori they nearly killed her. At eleven years old she had to be in a full time treatment facility and nearly got to the point where she was on a feeding tube.

I thought this book was very powerful, but I wish it had had something more at the end that talked about how she had gone on to overcome the situation. The author found a publisher for these journals when she was in her thirties, and she did do a very short epilogue, but she really kept herself distanced from the issues in the book and that was disappointing.

Available at the WOMS library.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen

My fabulous friend Ms. Frisk loaned me her copy of Along for the Ride yesterday, and I sat down and read it in one sitting last night. I loved it, of course, but I'm still processing it, so I'm going to let it percolate a few days before I write my review.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Plain Janes - Cecil Castellucci

Just read the Plain Janes last evening. It's an Oregon Battle of the Books choice for grades 6-8. The Plain Janes is a graphic novel that revolves around a girl names Jane and the new friends she makes at her new school, Buzz Aldrin HS. All of them are also named Jane (in one form or another). Jane had to move to suburbia when there was a bombing incident in the where she lived city and she was hurt. Her parents freaked out (as well they might have) and took her away from everything and everyone she knows. Jane's lonely, so she is trying to get these new friends to do things together. To do this, she hatches a plan to create a group call P.L.A.I.N. - People Loving Art In Neighborhoods. The group's mission will be to do "art attacks" on the city. The girls love it, and all their friends (who don't know it's them) love it. The city, does NOT love it. This is a story of the power of art and the power of kids!

There's a discussion about this book happening right now at Readergirlz. Tune in if you're interested in learning more.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels because I really love to get deep into a story (I'm not a huge short story fan either), but as a librarian I really like them because graphic novels pull many kids in in ways traditional books do not.
I also love the message in this book and believe it's definitely true that art saves AND that kids have the power to make change. What better way to "illustrate" the power of art than through a graphic novel, too!

I am concerned, however, that this particular GN will not appeal to my 6th graders that much, and they are the main Battle of the Books competitors. I'll be interested to see how they like it. It felt like 8th graders and up would really "get" this book, but I don't know that 6th graders will. I'm afraid many of them are going to obsess over a few things that they're not mature enough to handle and miss the main points. We'll see.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Cubanita - Gaby Triana

I picked this book up at the public library hoping to find another addition the the Hispanic literature at my library, but the subject matter in this one is too old for middle school. It's about a girl who's getting ready to go off to college, and the things she's interested in just aren't really the things middle schoolers are interested in. I like how there was a lot of Spanish sprinkled through the text, but I speak Spanish, so it was ok for me. There weren't quite enough contextual clues sometimes, I thought, to make a non Spanish speaker comfortable.

A quick read good for older high schoolers.

The Summer I Turned Pretty - Jenny Han

Belly (Isabel) and her mom have been going to her mother's friend Susannah's beach house every summer since Belly was just a beach ball in her mama's tummy, and this summer, when Belly is 15, is no different. But at the same time things feel a lot different this summer. For one thing, Susannah's always tired. For another, Susannah's boys, Conrad and Jeremiah, who've never seen Belly as an actual girl seem to finally notice she IS one. One thing that's not different is that Belly still feels left out a lot of the time when the other boys, including her own brother, plan things that don't include her, and even sometimes purposely exclude her. The story is told in a mixture of present tense and flashback.

Belly finds acceptance through a summer romance with a really nice guy, Cam, but no matter how sweet he is, he can't seem to give her what she really wants. Jeremiah wants to be the one she wants, but it is Conrad who has always had her heart. Whether he wants to or even can handle a romance alongside other weighty issues facing him provides serious tension at the end of the story.

There are many issues wound together in this novel - divorce, coming-of-age, serious illness, and romance. Balancing all these and getting them to work together could not have been an easy writing task, but Jenny Han has done it quite successfully in this novel, which I read is the first in a planned trilogy. I will look forward to reading more about Belly and the rest of these important people in her life.

The Book Thief - Makus Zusak

Finally, I'm to the YA books, but interestingly I re-read this book for my grown up book club. and I wasn't even the person to suggest it! Love, love, love this Printz honor book by Markus Zusak, an Australian author. This book, however, is not an easy read. It is very long, over 500 pages, and it is a Holocaust novel, so the themes are challenging. And the narrator of this book is quite unique as well. The story is narrated by Death. This may make it sound even more ominous, but actually the portrayal of death is something we discussed at book club last night, and Death is actually portrayed as a kind, benevolent, and even thoughtful "being", not the Grim Reaper vision we often associate with death.

Liesel Meminger, who is only nine or ten when this book begins, is sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann as a foster child in Nazi Germany. She arrives there plagued by nightmares and behind in school, and is soothed and aided every night by the very caring Hans Hubermann. Liesel forms an incredible bond with Hans, and without him, I believe she would not have survived the emotional traumas of her young life. Not only did Hans provide her with shelter and emotional support, but he taught her, slowly, painstakingly, how to read, even though he wasn't the best reader himself. And of course a Book Thief would not have been able to survive without knowing how to read.

This, too, is a story of powerful character development, not only of Liesel and Hans, but of her foster mother, of the crazy mayor's wife, of Max who's a Jew hiding in teh basement of the Hubermann's home, of the boy next door (Rudy), of Death, and again, of many more minor characters in the story. But this story also has very strong writing, including amazing descriptions, and very strong plot development. It is an incredibly well rounded piece of literature which tells a similar story to others that have been written in the Holocaust genre, but in a different and very interesting way. Zusak pulls his readers in and pulls them along, uniquely using foreshadowing and interruptions in the text to increase tension and compel readers to continue the story.

I highly recommend this book to mature readers - YAs AND adults who have an interest in Holocaust literature. It's a fascinating book that will not disappoint.

The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen

I listened to this book on my iPod and I thought it was fantastic! It's another grown up book (I'm getting to the YA books though, I am, I promise!).

This story is by an author who wrote another book called Garden of Spells. I read that and I thought was pretty good, so when I read that she had a new book out, I decided to give it a try. This one is excellent. I was trying to decide what genre to call this, so I looked at another review and that person called it "magical realism romance." Now magic and realism don't really seem to go together, but that description does definitely seem to fit this fun novel. And although I certainly knew there were elements of magic in the story, books appearing at will, coffee pots boiling over when two people are together, a cold wind, etc., the full realization of the magic about knocked me over when it was revealed near the end of the book. Perhaps other readers might have figured it out sooner, but I was clueless. Interestingly, this other reviewer thought Allen's other book was stronger than this one, but I do not agree.

Character development is once again very strong in this book, even that of some characters who are more minor players, like bad boy Julian and the superstitious maid "Helena". Josey, the main character, still lives with her widowed mother who she is forever trying to please and forever failing. Josey's main comfort is candy, of which she has an entire closet full. Her other comfort is the mail. But it's not because of what's being delivered, it's the who in this case. Josey has fallen hard for the mailman, Adam, a man with deep secrets of his own. Then there's sleazy Della Lee who is hiding in Josey's closet full of advice, and Chloe who has books following her unbidden everywhere she goes and is in a desperate state about a break-up.

This was a great, light summer read/listen. Recommended to readers who enjoy light romance with an ability to suspend some disbelief. Available at Multnomah County Libraries.

Hunting and Gathering - Anna Gavalda

My friend Megan (who I used to TEACH in middle school and who's all grown up now!!!) loaned me this book saying it was one of her favorites. When I first started it, it was a little slow and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, but I am so glad I trusted Megan and stuck with it because this turned out to be a beautiful story that I have already recommended to some of my friends! The focus of this story was on my favorite element: character. There are four very different characters in this book, most of whom really have nothing in common. Their lives become intermingled, however, and all become, really, the saviors of the others.

The story is set mostly in modern day Paris, and features Camille, a poor, anorexic young artist; Philibert, a wealthy young man with a terrible stuttering problem and a penchant for ancient history; Franck, an angry, wild young chef who loves motorcycles and women; and Paulette, Franck's grandmother who is not well. Besides the obvious relationship between Franck and his grandmother, these four characters come together in unusual ways to live together in a grand old apartment (I believe they said it was four or five thousand square feet!!). Without each other they are all floundering, but together these quirky characters have something magical, and it was so much fun to watch it unfold.

I read a review of this book today to see what someone else thought of it, and they mentioned that it was a daunting 500+ pages. I thought that was interesting, because I would have said it was more like 200-300 pages, as it flew by for me.

This book is recommended for adults who enjoy strong character development and is available at the Multnomah County Library.

Something Borrowed - Emily Griffin

This is a grown up book that I won from Good Reads a social networking site about books. I had some struggle with this book because I found myself liking the main character very much and cheering her on even though I totally didn't agree with what she was doing. It was kind of interesting.

The main character Rachel ends up having a fling with her best friend's fiance. That is NOT ok. Usually if I don't like a character's behavior as much as I didn't like this character's, I'd immediately not like that character also. This time I felt like although her methods were awful, I felt like she and the guy, Dex, really did belong together, and that she was allowing her friend (funny, I typed fiend first - exactly the word to describe her!) to manipulate her and she should end that friendship. Should have done long ago, actually. But, she should NOT have done what she did.

It was an interesting read. Light enough so that I could read it by the pool with no problem, but with something to think about. And it did have a pink cover...

Available at the Multnomah County Library.