Category Archives: book review

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

great and terrible beautyFrom looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel.  I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix.  And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off.  Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life.  While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!

Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace.  Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide.  Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit.  After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy.  Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.

Happy Reading!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate‎

One and Only IvanWhen this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it.  It just sounded too depressing.  Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp.  (We share a parking lot with the Y!)  This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit.  So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.

Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny.  The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light.  My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?”  Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course!  ;-)  He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals.  The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan.  I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.

Happy Reading!

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Tiger EyesAs a child, I definitely read — and loved! — Judy Blume books.  Freckle Juice was probably the first of my “favorite books that I could read to myself.”  I think it may have been the fact that I was so sympathetic to Andrew’s plight, as I *desperately* wished that I could have freckles, like my sister and cousins, but was stuck with skin that tanned instead.  Then I found Superfudge…  I was in stitches over his crazy antics and sometimes got in trouble for reading when I should have been doing homework!  I was thrilled when, as a relatively new YS librarian, I discovered that Blume had continued the story with Double Fudge, and vowed to read these stories to my baby when he got older.

Yet, I missed something MAJOR along the way.  Somehow, I managed not to read any of Judy Blume’s YA books when I was a teen!  WHAT?!?  Surely, some of my friends must have read them…  But, for whatever reason, they never passed them along and I never found them on my own.  When I was in library school, I was made aware of the egregious error and read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  Oh, how I wished someone had given me that book when I was a pre-teen!  I also read Forever and thought, “This is another book I will have to be sure to own before my kids become teenagers.”  I mean, Judy Blume just *gets* kids and teens; she deftly handles topics like puberty, teen love, and sex without shame or sounding like a textbook.

Last summer, when Tiger Eyes came out in theaters, I added the audiobook to my OverDrive wishlist.  The wait list was pretty long, and I wanted to give my library teens a chance to read it first, so I didn’t make an actual request at the time.  I figured I would wait for the demand to die down and then make my own request later.  Sadly, I forgot about it until I was looking for an audiobook on my phone last week.  I got sucked in so utterly that I found myself popping in my earbuds for more than just my daily walk; I listened when I was prepping dinner, folding laundry, mowing the lawn, and even at bedtime on a night when my husband was out with friends.  It usually takes me much longer to get through a YA audiobook in summer, since most of my commuting time is dedicated to the audiobooks I share with my [now, 9-year-old] son… but I finished this audiobook in only three days because Davey’s story grabbed my by the heart and refused to let go.

After listening to Tiger Eyes, I was extremely disappointed that none of the adults who were in my life during my middle and high school years thought of this book (or bibliotherapy in general) as a way to help me combat the anxiety and depression from which I suffered after my best friend’s sudden death.  I was only in 8th grade, but I was expected to simply get on with my life and to “get over” her death.  I was instructed to stop dwelling on it and to stop worrying all the time, though I was never offered therapy or medication [or anything, really] to help with the process.  And while my friend’s death was not the result of an act of violence like Davey’s father, Davey’s feelings of helplessness, despair, depression, anger, and anxiety mirrored those that consumed me for many years.  On Blume’s website, she makes the statement that “Tiger Eyes isn’t about violence. It’s about the sudden, tragic loss of someone you love.” And I could not agree more.  This story further solidified my theory that Blume’s books are accessible and universal enough that they should probably be required reading for tweens and teens everywhere.  You’d better believe I’m adding a copy of this book to my home bookshelf…  I’m just going to pray that my kids never need to read it.

Happy Reading!

Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

RoomiesI think this would have been an excellent book to have read the summer before I went away to college.  Although I am not an overly shy person, I was kinda freaked out about the concept of rooming with someone I had never met before. I find it odd that it never crossed my mind to try to get in touch — and that my college didn’t really try to foster early communications either.  Things may have been strained that first semester, but I still lived to tell the tale.

Aside from the obvious worries about classes and living with a stranger, Elizabeth and Lauren also have family relationships and friendships that are about to change.  Lauren is only moving about an hour away [from San Francisco to Berkeley] so staying in touch with family and friends should, theoretically, be easy enough.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is going to be moving across the country [from New Jersey to California], so she won’t be able to take any quick visits home to see her mom or her friends.  Still, distance is not the only factor that determines how hard a move will be.  Lauren is leaving her tight-knit family full of younger siblings whom she typically helps to care for and worries that she will miss them too much or that they won’t be able to manage without her.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is all too used to being alone in her house and is excited to get away from home.  She is also hoping to spending some quality time with her father [who owns an art gallery in San Francisco], but doesn’t really know how to start up a relationship with the father who’s never really been there for her.  Readers get to peek into the minds, and emails, of each of the girls as she prepares for moving in with her new “roomie.”  I’m certain that fans of Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, How to Save a Life, Lucy Variations) will love this, and I’m desperately hoping for more YA from Tara Altebrando.

Happy Reading!

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

NogginWith all of the attention The Fault in Our Stars has been receiving lately, many people are looking for read alike books.  I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the same category, since it is magical realism as opposed to contemporary realistic fiction.  (If you’re looking for another realistic contemporary read alike, you should check out Somebody Up There Hates You.)  Despite the magical realism, though, I think many TFiOS fans will find that Noggin is “close enough” in that it’s a smart and funny book that challenges your preconceived notions of the world around you.  Also, Travis Coates is a teenager who had cancer.

Because Travis Coates’ body was riddled with cancer and the treatments weren’t proving to be effective, he didn’t really have many options left.  He could continue trying every experimental treatment possible, which often left him weak and ill; he could give up fighting and try to enjoy the time he had left; or he could go rogue and let some scientists cut his head off, cryogenically freeze it, and hope they could develop the technology to successfully reanimate his head on a donor body.  Although they didn’t think they would have the technology to reanimate him before all of his friends and family were very old or gone altogether, Travis liked the idea of dying on his own terms.  Potentially living again would just be a bonus.  Imagine his surprise, then, when we wakes up and finds out that it has only been 5 years since he “died.”  He’s still 16, but everyone he knows and loves has aged 5 years, and nothing is at all as he left it.

Happy Reading!

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Killer PizzaToby really wants to become a chef and often fantasizes about becoming famous like the people he watches on the Food Network. He doesn’t exactly have any cooking experience, though, and recognizes that as a major barrier to his dream. So, he decides to apply for a summer job at a new restaurant called Killer Pizza. Working in the KP kitchen is fun and, in addition to making new friends (Annabel and Strobe), Toby gets major satisfaction out of knowing that he has some natural culinary skills.  It seems that this is definitely the perfect job… until he is let in on a little secret; Killer Pizza is actually just a front for a monster hunting organization!  There’s nothing quite like hearing that MONSTERS ARE REAL and that some of them have taken up residence in your town.  And, as if learning about the monster infestation wasn’t scary enough, Toby, Annabel, and Strobe find out that they’re being recruited as MCOs (Monster Combat Officers) to help actually hunt down and kill the monsters.

This book was not quite as gruesome as The Monstrumologist, but I could see fans of that book choosing this for a light summer read.  It’s probably somewhere between R.L Stine’s Goosebumps series and his and Fear Street series.  I would definitely recommend this to fans of Cirque Du Freak because it’s a little funny, just a bit creepy, and even a little gross, but still tame enough that it didn’t give me nightmares (which is all too easy a feat).  If you’d rather have a horror story that might give you nightmares, though, you should head on over to read Ashes by Ilsa Bick.  [shudder]

Happy Reading!

The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

26 story tree houseSomehow, my son and I didn’t hear about The 13-Story Tree House until after we already had our hands on this book… So, we went ahead and started this one with hopes that we would not be too confused.  The good news is that a lack of familiarity didn’t take away from our enjoyment of this story.  The bad news is that we had too little self-control to make this book last!  ;-)  We read this book in only two sittings.  Granted, there are a lot of interior illustrations; but, we also read for about twice as long as normal for each of those two sittings.  It was just so funny that we didn’t want to stop reading!  Although it’s much sillier and more fantastic than the Wimpy Kid books, I think fans of that series should definitely check this one out — and to stay tuned for news about when The 39-Story Tree House and The 59-Story Tree House will make it to the US.  (The 59-Storey Treehouse will be released in Australia on August 26th.)

Happy Reading!

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr

loki's wolvesArmstrong and Marr have done for Norse mythology what Rick Riordan has done for Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology.  So, Riordan fans who need something to read while they anxiously await the final Heroes of Olympus book [The Blood of Olympus, coming October 7th] should definitely check out Loki’s Wolves.  Much like the Percy Jackson books, all the action and humor easily disguise the fact that you’re learning a metric ton of information about mythology.  My only complaint is that there’s not a glossary and/or pronunciation guide.  I mean, lots of kids have heard of Thor and Loki… but that might be as far as their previous knowledge of Norse mythology extends. And, even as an adult with a pretty decent grasp of language, I had a hard time figuring out how to say some of the more exotic names.

Matt Thorsen lives in a small town called Blackwell, South Dakota.  He is extremely familiar with the legends of Norse mythology because his family are *literally* the descendants of Thor.  Matt has never been as successful as his brothers in school, but he is becoming a pretty awesome boxer — which should come in handy now that he is responsible for saving the world.  Seriously!  Ragnarok (basically, the apocalypse) is approaching and Matt is going to have to find a way to work with the descendants of other Norse gods — some of whom haven’t traditionally gotten along with Thor, like Loki — if he wants to find a way to save himself, and the rest of the world, from sure death.

Happy Reading!

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

We Are the GoldensNell and Layla were extremely close when they were little.  So close, in fact, that Nell got confused and started calling her sister and herself by the collective name Nellaya.  Now that they’re both in high school, things have started to shift.  Though they attend the same school and play on the same soccer team, Layla has become more closed off and secretive.  Nell is doing her best to be her own person instead of living in her sister’s shadow, but she misses the closeness they once had.  Though Layla used to tell her everything, she feels like Layla isn’t telling her *anything* anymore.  Nell wonders what could be causing this change in her sister and fears it has something to do with the rumors that Layla is dating the cute, young art teacher whose supposed conquests of students are frequent fodder for gossip.  She wants to know the truth, but she is also afraid of what she might learn.  After all, what will/should Nell do if she finds out the rumors are true?

Though I don’t think this book was written as well as The Things a Brother Knows or Harmless, I thought Reinhardt did a good job writing about the struggle between loyalty and honesty.

Happy Reading!

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup CloudsAfter her boyfriend’s death, Zoe is so overcome with guilt that she finds it hard to function.  People assume that her reclusive behavior is owed to the fact that she’s grieving for Max, and she finds that their sympathy actually makes her feel even more guilty.  In an attempt to unburden herself, Zoe decides to confess to Stuart Harris — a Death Row inmate in Texas who was listed on a website of prisoners seeking pen-pals.  She thought writing to Stuart would be a good idea for a few reasons — 1. he killed his wife and would likely understand what she’s going through, 2. he is in the United States while she is in England, and 3. she could use a false name and address to avoid being turned in to the police.  (Yeah.  Her name’s not really Zoe.)  Through her letters to Stuart, which she writes while hiding out in the shed in her backyard, readers learn about the events that led up to Max’s death and why she feels responsible.  I’ll admit that I found myself getting a little frustrated at times, but I don’t think it was poorly done or anything.  I was just too impatient and wanted to know what happened!  I recommend this one to people who enjoy a little romantic drama with their mystery.

Happy Reading!