Category Archives: book review

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reality Shock!

Reality_ShockI find it rather amusing that my 9-year-old son can’t handle seeing tiny hairballs on the floor from his beloved pet cat but that he was completely enthralled by the FOUR POUND tiger hairball (picture on pg. 9) that was the size of a basketball!  Looking through these books with my son, I always alternate between fascination and disgust.  And even though my own disgust sometimes outweighs my fascination, there’s something magical about bringing home a book that makes your child jump up and down with excitement and beg for just a few more pages before he has to go to bed.

Some of the most fascinating items in this issue were:

  • the skateboarding mice who can even jump through a ring of fire (pp. 14-15)
  • a woman named Barbie Thomas who, despite losing both of her arms at 2 years of age, has gone on to compete in fitness contests (pg. 97)
  • the man who took a picture of himself every single day for 12 years — a total of 4,514 photos! (pg. 152)
  • the Canadian base jumper who, after becoming paralyzed in a 2004 BASE-jumping accident, now jumps in his wheelchair (pg. 175)
  • the pumpkin artists (pp. 208-209) who are capable of turning pumpkins into sculptures of ghouls, goblins, and monsters

And some of the more disgusting items were:

  • the bedside table made from an actual, stuffed sheep (pg. 29)
  • the Sufi holy man who used a sharp stick to practically gouge out his own eye during the Urs religious festival in Ajmer, India (pg. 41)
  • the short-horned lizards that quirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism to scare of predators (pg. 90)
  • the “snot shots” (pg. 201) from artist Ulf Lundin’s Bless You project, in which people sneezed at a camera without covering their mouth/nose… ack!

If you’re looking for a conversation-starting/engrossing book to share with a tween, the Ripley’s books are a pretty sure bet.

Happy Reading!

The Iron Trial: Book One of The Magisterium by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Iron TrialMy son and I both love fantasy fiction, and we’re both suckers for ARCs from beloved authors…  So, when I heard that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare were writing a middle-grade fantasy series together, I just knew I had to get my hands on a copy of this ARC.  (The good news for anyone reading this review is that the book came out September 9th and you can read it without scheming to find an ARC!)

And do you know what was even better than opening a random, unexpected package to find a copy of this ARC?  When it arrived in the mail on the very day that we were ready to start a new book.  Awesomesauce!  I knew these authors were awesome and that a collaboration between them was likely to be epic, but I also kinda expected that this book would be somewhat formulaic and predictable, like many of the other middle-grade fantasies I’ve read.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Although there were some parallels to other books we’ve read, the story was fresh and there were a couple of plot twists that blew our minds!

Callum’s father has always taught him that magic is bad and that the Magisterium, a school that teaches adolescents how to hone their magical abilities, is evil.  So, when Callum had to go in to test his magical acuity at the Magisterium, he did his best to fail.  For some reason, nevertheless, Master Rufus chose Callum to be one of his apprentices.  Even though neither he nor his father wanted him to attend, being selected meant that Callum had to go to the Magisterium…  As soon as he started to learn how to use his magic and began to make friends, though, Callum started to wonder if maybe his dad was wrong after all…

Happy Reading!

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Love StargirlThanks to this audiobook, I now know that September 8th is the anniversary of the day that Stargirl (aka Susan Caraway) first laid eyes on Leo Borlock.  As she strolled through the Mica High cafeteria with her ukelele and sang Happy Birthday to some other unsuspecting stranger, she saw the fear in Leo’s eyes as he worried that she might come and sing to him.  Of all the stuff that happened in this story, Stargirl’s remembrance of that day was a pretty small thing, but it really stuck with me.  Why?  Because *MY* birthday is September 8th!  Though I seriously doubt Jerry Spinelli wrote that into his book for me, I wonder if he’s friends with Jon Scieszka and used that reference as a shout out to him.  (Yeah.  I share a birthday with Jon Scieszka — and Jo Knowles – how awesome is that?!?)

Anyhow…  I like the fact that this book was written as a letter from Stargirl to Leo in diary form.  It was cool to see things from her perspective this time.  I mean, it was easy enough to see from Leo’s narration (in Stargirl) that she was a free spirit, but it was kinda cool to see exactly how her thought process worked.  I am most definitely a “Type A” personality, so it took a lot for me to get into her head and to understand where she was coming from, but it made a little more sense as she explained herself.  Living without clocks, for example, seems kinda cool — but I think I would go batty after only a day or two.

Happy Reading!

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landlineThis book is kinda hard to categorize by my usual standards.  First of all, it’s technically a book for adults, which I don’t usually read (let alone review on here).  BUT, Rainbow Rowell is a popular YA author and I think some older teens might check this one out after finishing Fangirl or Eleanor and Park.  I mean, if she got *me* to read a book for grown ups, anything is possible!  ;-)  But, I digress…  The main reason this book is hard to categorize is because it’s mostly realistic/contemporary fiction, but there’s a small science fiction/fantasy element wherein Georgie (the main character) is able to use the landline at her mother’s house to call her husband, Neal, back when he was still in college and hadn’t yet proposed.

I think this book resonated so much with me because I have been having a crazy time trying to find a good work/family balance in my life and Georgie’s life is my worst nightmare.  She’s in over her head with work, her kids don’t really seem to miss her when she’s not around, her husband is resentful that she often puts work first, and she isn’t even sure if it’s possible to turn things around enough to save her marriage.  As I read this book, I kept thinking about my own recent choices in which I put work first and wondered whether I had started straining my own marriage.  I must have asked my husband at least 15 times over the course of 4 days whether he was OK with how things are going, so I’m pretty sure he’s happy that I am done with this book and will stop projecting Georgie’s problems into my life!  I think my inability to separate the story from real life, nevertheless, is simply proof that Rainbow Rowell is a great author who knows how to write relatable and believable characters.  If I had had the energy to stay up all night reading, I definitely would have finished this book in one big gulp.

Happy Reading!

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Geography of You and MeWith her parents off traveling all the time and her brothers away at school, Lucy has learned to enjoy being alone much of the time.  Since she doesn’t really have a lot of friends, let alone a boyfriend, and rarely leaves her apartment except for school, her parent’s aren’t even worried to leave her alone in the apartment as they travel the world.  They figure, apparently, that she can’t get into too much trouble on her own.  Lucy’s whole world gets flipped upside down, though, the day she gets stuck in an elevator with Owen during a massive blackout.  Lucy had been heading up to her family’s 24th floor apartment and Owen was heading up to the roof to escape his basement apartment (he lives there because his father recently became the building superintendent).  After getting rescued, the two wander the dark streets of NYC and enjoy the fantastic world in which ice cream vendors give away their melting wares and stars are actually visible above the city that never sleeps.  When the power comes back on, nevertheless, they are jarred back into their very different realities.  Lucy is soon whisked away to live with her family in Europe, because her dad got a major promotion, and Owen ends up heading west with his father, after he finds himself jobless again.  Based on a conversation they had about cheesy postcards (during the blackout), they end up staying in touch via postcards instead of the standard text messages and emails most teens now use.  Fans of Sarah Dessen-style romances should definitely read this book.

Happy Reading!

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

schwa was hereAnthony “Antsy” Bonano was one of the few people in the world who ever noticed Calvin Schwa (aka The Schwa).  As Antsy said, The Schwa was “functionally invisible,” and it seemed that he was right.  Kids would walk right past him without seeing him, even if he wore ridiculous clothing.  Teachers would look past his raised hand or even mark him absent despite his presence/attempted participation in class.  And his own father would often not realize he was home.  Antsy first tested his hypothesis — with the aforementioned ridiculous clothing — and then he did his best to capitalize on The Schwa Effect.  He figured people would pay good money for someone who was able to spy without getting caught or who was capable of slipping a late assignment into a teacher’s bag unnoticed, and he was right.  The only thing he didn’t really consider was the fact that The Schwa was a person with emotions like everyone else.  Sure, it was cool that he could sometimes get away with things other kids couldn’t… but being invisible can get pretty lonely, too.

Fans of the Unwind Dystology might have a hard time believing that this book was written by the same author, but they won’t likely be disappointed — as long as they can appreciate a wry/sarcastic sense of humor, that is.  Here’s a little taste of Antsy for people who are on the fence:

“Life is like a bad haircut. At first it looks awful, then you kind of get used to it, and before you know it, it it grows out and you gotta get another haircut that maybe won’t be so bad, unless of course you keep going to SuperClips, where the hairstylists are so terrible they oughta be using safety scissors, and when they’re done you look like your head got caught in a ceiling fan. So life goes on, good haircut, bad haircut, until finally you go bald, and it don’t matter no more.
I told this wisdom to my mother, and she said I oughta put it in a book, then burn it. Some people just can’t appreciate the profound.”

Happy Reading!

Knockout Games by G. Neri [ARC]

Knockout GamesAfter reading and enjoying Surf Mules and Ghetto Cowboy, I was looking forward to seeing how Neri would handle this topic.  Once I downloaded the ARC and started reading it, though, I second-guessed my decision.  Some of the depictions of violence literally made me sick to my stomach.  When I got to the very first knockout, I had to put the book (well, Kindle) down and just read something else because I was so utterly disturbed.  I was talking to a friend about it and saying that I didn’t know if I could handle reading this story, but he reminded me that this is an important story to have available to teens and that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to finish this story would make me better able to recommend it to those who needed it.  After all, this isn’t a fantasy or science fiction story with gratuitous violence; this is a contemporary, realistic story about an actual problem in urban neighborhoods.  Real teens are “playing” the knockout game, and Neri’s story can help people — whether players or outsiders — better understand the factors that lead people to play and the faulty logic many players use to justify their participation.  People who don’t actually read the story might fear that Neri glorifies the game, but anyone who reads the whole book will understand that, though he humanizes the players and explains the motivations they might have in playing this deadly game, he makes it clear that their cop-outs and excuses do NOT justify their destructive actions.  So glad I made myself go back and finish this one.  Hopefully, the timely publication of this book will succeed in educating and deterring would-be players.

Happy Reading!