Books read in February

Whoa, hey, I swear I did not forget about this blog…or maybe I did. I just always feel like I need to have something to say when I post here versus my usual ramblings about life, the universe, and everything over on my livejournal. I’ll try to get this blog back into the posting mix at some point.

But anyway, here are the books I read in February 2017:

In which I discover I like novels written in verse and then become a raving Neal Shusterman fangirl again:

Skip School, Fly to Space: A Pearls Before Swine CollectionSkip School, Fly to Space: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One too many Crocodile comics in this one for me as they tend to be my least favorite of the strips. Not sure why but this one didn’t have as many stand-out strips as the other two.

The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My uncle that worked in a bookstore gave me a copy of this quirky title back in 1990. I remembered loving it though I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. So when I found it in my parent’s garage, I decided to read it again to see if the magic was still there.

James Thurber’s humor is not for the uninitiated. He loves wordplay, rhyming and non-sequitur silliness. My Mom had copies of his short stories so I was familiar with his quirky sense of humor before starting this book, which reads like a blend of Dr. Seuss and Peter Beagle if they were both slightly tipsy.

It’s a children’s book but also not…you have to be old enough to get the nods and winks to how fairy tales work.

It’s an odd book, but I love it.

Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)Princess Leia: Royal Rebel by Calliope Glass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written as though it was a real biography, this book doesn’t really have any new information about Leia, which was kind of disappointing. The book is a short 125 pages which I guess all that is canon now according to Disney. Though this could be used as a good teaching tool for what a biography should look like since it includes a chronology, timeline and even an index!

Catching a StoryfishCatching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know why I always shy away from books written in verse. I don’t consider myself a fan of poetry so I suppose the idea of reading a story in that format doesn’t appeal to me. Yet the few times I have taken a chance, I have been very impressed. This is one of those times.

The short lines of verse are more powerful than any prose paragraph, capturing Katharen’s emotions in a way that a normal sentence might not.

This is a beautiful story about a girl who moves from Alabama to a town further north, where she hides her talent for telling stories after the other kids mock her accent. She finds solace with her grandfather, hanging out with him and talking about fishing – well, she thinks he is talking about fishing, but he is giving her little life lessons.

Great story for middle grade readers (4th grade and up) and this actually might be a good pick for someone reading out loud to a classroom of students.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book, it’s my favorite kind of science fiction – taking something to an extreme and playing out the consequences. In this case, we have The Cloud becoming the all knowing Thunderhead and science conquering death.

What I really liked about this book was that there were so many plot lines that could have been dragged out but instead were wrapped up by the end, leaving us with new options for book 2. There were plenty of loose ends but nothing so frustrating as to make you feel like you are being strung along as a reader. So if you are sick of series, fear not, you can read ‘Scythe’ and enjoy it.

I’m surprised this is a series because I think this first book wraps things up relatively well – but I said the same thing about ‘Unwind’ and that turned into an amazing series. So I will definitely pick up the second book when it comes out.

This Is Our StoryThis Is Our Story by Ashley Elston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great mystery thriller, definitely would be great for fans of shows like Riverdale or Veronica Mars.

I was a little annoyed by how often the author had characters roll their eyes or put their hands on someone else to “frame their face” – these were overused and I’m not sure why the editor didn’t flag them.

You’ll also need to suspend your disbelief for how much a high school student would be allowed to do in a criminal case, no matter how small the town.

But whatever, if you can overlook those things, the story was tight enough that I could not stop reading and I had to know what would happen next.

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights CaseLoving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t realize this was a novel in verse when I ordered it, but as I had just finished another fantastic book in verse, I decided to read it. I am so glad I did. The book and the illustrations weave a beautiful story about two people in love, just trying to live their lives while a racist world spins around them. The story is told alternating voices between Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving. The focus is on their relationship and personal suffering more than the actual Civil Rights case.

Powell conducted interviews and did lots of research to make the story as real as possible. I was really impressed and highly recommend this title. Sadly, it is still relevant in 2017. As we struggle for equality for all, it is good to read a story like that, about the people behind the headlines and what they might think or feel. The Lovings did not set out to be the poster couple for interracial marriage, they just wanted to be able to live their lives, unafraid.

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What I Read in April

What I Read in April

Not too shabby this month, all things considered (especially since the first week of the month I was out of town and not as much reading happened as I had hoped)

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book though I think having just seen the movie made it a bit easier to digest the “science speak” that happens a lot. Andy Weir’s writing reminded me of Michael Crichton, blending science fact with a little bit of science fiction. I feel like I learned a bit about surviving in a desolate Martian wasteland and had fun too!

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Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall!Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great book to suggest to fans of ‘Captain Underpants’. I mean, there are killer toilets so half of the book are the evil robots trying to convince Rocket to use the bathroom.

So, yeah, if that is your thing. Or your kid’s thing, there ya go.

Not Angleberger’s greatest, but perfect for the target audience.

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PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was beautiful and I’m not even referring to Jon Klassen’s illustrations (which were nice touches, scattered through-out). It was the language of this story, it flowed in such a way that it felt like an old story even though it was brand new. It is a story you will want to read twice, once for the surface tale of Peter and Pax looking for each other and then again for the story within the story, about growing up, moving on, and that we are all looking for something.

The ending is bittersweet but not as sad as it could have been (I know about halfway through I was getting concerned).

This book is for elementary and middle school readers who want a story with emotional depth.

Is it just me or are we entering the age of the great Middle Grade novel?

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To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path AdventureTo Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is ridiculous and I love it!

Whether you know everything there is to know about Hamlet or you maybe read it once when you were in high school, there is plenty to love about this silly retelling.

North does give you little *clues* as to which choices match the original story, though that doesn’t necessarily guarantee this book will take the same paths.

I was laughing out loud as I read this during my lunch break (note: this is a hard book to read during lunch break because you’re flipping back and forth between all of the 700+ pages) and even though I am marking it as “done” I have barely scratched the surface of the endings and paths that I can take. But I think i will return this copy to the library and purchase it for myself later on down the road because this is a keeper!

Can’t wait for the next book, Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure

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Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-StarsNathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: Nathan Hale books are DEAR to me, as in I Drop Everything And Read them as soon as they land on my desk. They satisfy the history nerd in me in a way that no other series has. I am in my mid 30s and I have learned more history than I have ever forgotten reading these books.

I grew up on the east coast of the US so my knowledge of Texas history is that Texas exists. The end. I’m sure someone who grew up in Texas might have a different view of this book, but for me it was all knew and fascinating, if a bit insane.

Get this into the hands of any kid who wants to learn about history. Sneak it into the hands of those kids that say they want a war book or a book with fighting (there’s plenty of it but it’s history so it’s good for them). Slip it into the pile of graphic novels that your comic book readers ask for.

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Amulet: Firelight (Amulet, #7)Amulet: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(completely different feels than Pax, but still, FEELS)
I read this book in a single sitting and now I have to endure the long wait for volume 8…UGH! NO!

Part of me wants the series to end so I can know what is happening. But another part is enjoying the adventure so much, I want it to go forever.

I need to start from the beginning though, it has been so long since I read the first few books.

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I also read Lafcadio Hearn’s “The Faceless Ghost” and Other Macabre Tales from Japan: A Graphic Novel but the GoodReads review wasn’t pasting right.

Review: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

World War I was hard to understand even for the people who were living through it. You sort of gloss over it in history classes because there is no clear-cut “bad guy” like in World War II. World War I was a mess, not only when it came to who was allied with who, but also because of all the new technology that was emerging so we had lots of different ways to kill each other.

Truthfully, everything I knew about World War I came from Blackadder Goes Forth and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. As you can imagine, that was not a very complete view of the situation.

Nathan Hale has managed to condense it all down to 124 pages and it works! I came into this book only knowing WWI from watching Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as a kid and basic high school history lessons. Even though it feels like he is being goofy, assigning different animals to each country really helped keep the players clear.

In a recent podcast on Comics Alternative, Hale mentions that his primary goal was to write a fun story. He doesn’t want these books buried in the non-fiction collection, but on a shelf where readers interested in war and history might find them and learn something new.

This is a fantastic introduction to The Great War, for kids, teens, or adults. I know I learned so much. I recommend this book and ALL of Hale’s books.

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Books read in January

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain, #2)The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, Disney really did butcher this series, didn’t they? I’m glad that Tim made me read them and I am looking forward to the next 3 in the Pyrdain Chronicles. I was surprised by how INTENSE the last few chapters were, with actual threats to our heroes lives and one character going off the deep end in a big way. Wow. Great for fans of the LotR movies who might not be ready to read those books, but want a good fantasy series.

Star Wars: Jedi AcademyStar Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a cute idea but it never quite pulled me in the way that “Origami Yoda” did. Both of them want to be a Star Wars Wimpy Kid but Roan’s story was missing…something. I’m wondering if it is because this was the first in the series and so many introductions had to happen and setting up the whole Jedi Academy plot line. I might pick up book 2 and see if it has a little more to it.

I did REALLY like that Brown has, as the final page in the book, instructions for how readers can start their own journal like Roan’s. He encourages them to draw and paste in newspaper articles etc.

I would recommend this to late elementary school aged Star Wars fans. I think anyone older would probably enjoy the The Strange Case of Origami Yoda series more, but this could tide them over while waiting for Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue: An Origami Yoda Book to be released.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve never read the original book but I thought this graphic novel was very accessible and it did make me want to read the other books in the series. I have been a fan of Hope Larson’s art style since I happened to pick up ‘Mercury’ randomly one day. I really like the whole feel of it. The blue-gray-black color scheme worked well too.

I think reading this as a graphic worked best when it came to explaining all the mathematical theories behind the tesseract and time travel.

Would definitely recommend this to someone who is a fan of Doctor Who and other science fiction/fantasy stories with lots of weird but also lots of heart.

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Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know absolutely nothing about the Boxer Rebellion so Yang’s “Boxers & Saints” is really the introduction to this part of history for me. I haven’t read “Saints” yet though, so I’m not quite sure how fair it is to review this book alone. But I loved “Boxers”. Beautifully drawn and easy to understand. I will post more once I have read “Saints”.

Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)Saints by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this in one sitting. It really is the companion to “Boxers”, you shouldn’t try to read it on it’s own because there will be several parts that don’t quite make sense. The ending, particularly, won’t pack as much punch if you haven’t read “Boxers”.

This book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but I still enjoyed it. While “Boxers” focused on one boy but ultimately gave you a view on why a group of Chinese wanted to rebel against the “foreign devils” and their religion, “Saints” is all about Four-Girl/Vibiana and I don’t know if it really explains why so many other Chinese converted to Christianity during this time, which by the end of “Boxers” I was really curious about.

I liked the story though and it was an interesting look at the other side of this conflict.

Year of the JungleYear of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I’m not sure what to do about this book. I’m not sure who to give it to. But it was an interesting peek into Collins’ childhood. I really liked the art style too. It would be a good conversation starter for kids who are becoming aware of the news going on around them.

…but I’m still not sure who I would actually give this book to…

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book thoughts: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

9781596439245_custom-c850444ef27fe186641710b62184d05e262b7e6a-s6-c30 I’ll be honest, before I read these graphic novels, I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion except that there was an event in history called The Boxer Rebellion. It’s sad but true. Luckily, Gene Luen Yang has helped dispel some of my ignorance with this beautiful set of books.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to talk about these two titles – do I talk about each individually and rate them on their ability to stand alone or talk about them as one “series” and how they work together? Hm.

I read “Boxers” first. Again, my knowledge of Chinese history was close to nothing so I wasn’t sure where it was all going. “Boxers” focuses on the life of Little Bao, a boy from a small country village in China. We trace his journey from a small, quiet boy to a man who helps start the Boxer rebellion by forming a group of fighters who go from town to town killing “foreign devils.” It’s a fascinating story and while Bao is not an innocent in all of this, you can see why he and the men and women who followed him felt compelled to fight back against the missionaries and their influence.

Oddly enough, very little of it has to do with religion even though they were attempting to wipe out anyone who was a Christian, but much of this hatred spawns from the abuse Bao and his friends suffered at the hands of missionaries and “secondary devils”, Chinese who claimed to have converted to Christianity.

By the end, I was very curious about the Rebellion, and found myself searching on Google, trying to get more historical facts on the events surrounding the start of the fighting. I hoped that “Saints”, being the companion story, would shed some light on the other side of the events.

“Saints” I read in a single evening. It’s about half the size of “Boxers” and, honestly, the story isn’t anywhere as compelling. “Saints” focuses on Four-Girl, a neglected fourth daughter of a Chinese family in a village probably not too far from where Bao grew up. In an act of defiance, she decides she is a devil (since her grandfather keeps calling her one) and she makes a creepy face anytime she is around people. Her family is disturbed and takes her to an acupuncturist. To avoid going back home, Four-Girl asks the doctor about the cross over his desk (which she assumes is an image of a patient) and soon he is telling her stories from the Bible (though she can hardly stay awake for them). She starts seeing visions of Joan of Arc, who gives her guidance in that vague way visions of saints do. Four-Girl ends up converting to Christianity and running off with the missionary and his group.

I was hoping the story in “Saints” would give me an idea of why so many Chinese were converting to Christianity, what the appeal was, in the same way “Boxers” gave me a general idea of why some people rose up against it all. Unfortunately, Four-Girl’s story felt far too specific, and she was a little too odd. I never felt that she truly believed in Christianity or even understood it. While Bao may have been naive, he was an intelligent young man. Four-Girl seems both naive and a bit slow.

The end of “Saints” gives us an “extended scene” from the end of “Boxers”, letting us know what happened to Bao after the final battle. It’s worth reading for that.

So, I would say “Boxers” get 5 stars, “Saints” gets 3 stars, so the set should get 4 stars. It is a great read and I think this could turn a lot of young adults and adults on to a part of Chinese history most of us are not taught about. You do need to read them in order and I would read them back to back so you don’t forget what happened in “Boxers” before getting to “Saints” finale.