Books read in December

As I doubt I will finish reading anything tonight, I think it’s safe to post this. đŸ™‚

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really cool spin on the YA dystopian fantasy genre. It has a few of the cliches (though thank goodness what could have been a love triangle was a red herring!) It ends on an epic cliffhanger too, so be warned!

I listened to the audiobook and Julian Elfer did a fantastic job with all of the voices and accents. Impressive.

Hope the rest of the series can live up to this one.

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Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven ThreadBlack Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great collection of ‘Black Widow’ stories. I only really know Natasha from the movies and her cameos in other Avengers comics so it was great to read her adventures on her own.

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The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is so much to say about this wonderful book. When I read the premise, I was expecting something very goofy. The basic story is that these are the people, the teens, who are going about their lives while our Heroes run around fighting the monsters. So, instead of reading Buffy’s story, we’re reading about the rest of the students at Sunnydale High, the ones who wander the halls in the background of shots while the Scooby Gang discusses the Big Bad they are fighting.

Ness could have just written a screwball comedy, but instead he takes patience and care in crafting a story about real teens who are dealing with real issues, like fears about going off to college, crushes on friends, alcoholism, anorexia and anxiety that leads to OCD behavior.

And Ness does it right, because the story is still a joy to read, even with all of these serious topics. I really missed all the characters by the time I closed the book. I was sad I wouldn’t see them again but very satisfied with the ending.

One of the best YA books I’ve read this year.

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I Really Like Slop! (Elephant & Piggie #24)I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fantastic edition, letting kids know they should TRY things and it is okay not to like the same things as your friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. Valuable lesson.

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The Story of Diva and FleaThe Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adorable story about a small dog and a large cat that become friends. I love the bits of French tossed in, that bit of Paris flavor. This is the kind of book that you give a child who is just starting chapter books with the hopes that when they are older, they will want to go explore Paris with you!

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books read in July

Hm…not as many as I thought…you know why? Because I signed up to be a moderator at a book conference in October, got the list, checked out all those books…and then immediately set out at finding other books to read instead. Because that is what happens when I get any kind of assigned reading, even when I assign it to myself!

ANYWAY, it’s a short list. I’m including a couple picture books because why not?

Wolfie the BunnyWolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fun, fantastic book about family, specifically dealing with siblings. Because when your parents bring home a little brother, you assume he is another species. Great for a school visit.

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I Am Princess XI Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what this book was about and it was a pleasant surprise the whole way through! Very quick read, just enough suspense to keep you reading one more chapter and I love the Princess X comic! Highly recommend it!

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Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern GeekPopular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Really cute book, perfect for geeky teens who want reassurance that popularity is more about point of view. I don’t think this was works as well for an adult read, but I think middle schoolers (Maya is in 8th grade when she write this) will identify with Maya and her classmates and her grand experiment.

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Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book gets an extra star for being such a surprise! I’ve read plenty of books by comedians and usually they end up either being transcripts of their stand up acts or a strange mix of memoir and gag chapters. Aziz Ansari was smart. Instead of just signing a book deal and taking the easy way out of copy+pasting his jokes, he instead decided to use this time to dig deeper into something that has inspired much of his observational humor – dating and relationships in the modern, mobile phone world. He teamed up with a sociologist, did his homework, and created a fascinating book about the pros and cons of dating in 2015, about how much has changed in the world of relationships and how things have stayed the same. A really fun read!

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The Princess and the PonyThe Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is going on the school visit list for sure! I love Kate Beaton’s adult comics and she managed to write a children’s book that is just as much fun. LOVE IT!

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Book Series Thoughts: Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

Book Series Thoughts: Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

unwind dystology

When I read Unwind in 2009, I had no clue it was going to be a series. The book was published in 2007 and the story seemed to end on the final page. At least, I felt like Connor and his friends would keep fighting and surviving even if I wasn’t reading along with them.

Then in 2012 I saw Unwholly on the new books cart. I was skeptical – was Shusterman just cashing in on the “YA series” craze? Could the story still be as powerful in a second time?

I was not disappointed, with Unwholly, Unsouled, and Undivided raising even more questions and issues. It was the kind of Science Fiction I loved – one that takes ethical dilemmas we are dealing with right now and throwing them to an extreme, but an extreme that doesn’t seem too far off (as Shusterman regularly points out by including actual articles from the past few years, complete with URL information in case you wanted to follow up).

The Unwind Dystology, as it has come to be known/marketed, is the story of the near future. After the Heartland War, a war that came about because of the abortion debate, a truce of sorts was reached – parents had until the age of 18 to decide if they wanted their child or not. If a parent no longer wanted a child, they could be unwound, a process by which the body parts are extracted and sent somewhere to be used. No waste, the child is technically still “alive” but their body is being “put to good use”. Connor Lassiter makes several mistakes and pushes his parents to the point that they feel he should be unwound. Connor manages to escape from the transport when he takes a hostage, Levi Calder. Levi is a tithe from a very religious family who has been raised to be unwound as a sacrifice. While on the run, they also meet Risa Ward, a girl from a state orphanage who is being sent to be unwound because the government can no longer support the funding.

There is a WHOLE lot more to this story, especially now that it spans four book, but it is better to read it and experience it than me spoiling it for you. You will be confronted with issues like biomedical ethics, terrorism, politics, propaganda and more. I was on the edge of my seat, up until 2am reading the finale and it was worth it. The scene from that final page will stay with me. Actually, there are several moments from this series that will haunt me.

A recent Huffington Post article compares it to The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, though I would not pit the two against each other. While both have to do with the aftermath of war and it’s effects on the next generation, Collins and Shusterman are focusing on completely different issues beyond that.

This is a must-read series for anyone over the age of 16. There is SO much to discuss here. And while the last two books falter a little bit (I think Shusterman could probably has published a HUGE third book and gotten away with it but he clearly had one too many ideas he wanted to get down so the fourth book came to be as he hashed out the details) this series is one of THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES.

book thoughts: UNWHOLLY by Neal Shusterman

UnWholly (Unwind, #2)UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I heard Shusterman was writing a sequel to UNWIND, I cringed.  It was not supposed to have a  sequel.  I was concerned that Neal had fallen upon hard times and his publishers were just trying to milk his award-winning book book for more…

WOW, was I wrong.

UNWHOLLY was fantastic.  I haven’t read a book that kept me on the edge of my seat in a long time.  We find out about the aftermath of the Happy Jack Harvest Camp showdown and how it effected the rest of the world.  And we finally get some insight into how Unwinding came to be.  We meet up with favorite characters from UNWIND but we meet several new ones. 

The book cover is devoid of color, a boy’s face in shadow, and it fits – this story is all about navigating gray areas and trying to bring the truth to light.  What makes it all so eerie is how plausible it still seems.  How easily something that sounds horrific can become the status quo.  How history is written by the victors.  And how easy it is to bury the truth.

If you’ve read UNWIND, you NEED to read UNWHOLLY. 

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book thoughts: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2011)

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The plot of Beauty Queens sounds very simple on the surface: a plane full of teen beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island and must work together to survive.  This could easily have just been an over-the-top comedy or book of catfights, but Bray uses her amazing skills as a story teller to turn this book in to so much more, using her sharp wit as a weapon to fight the battle for young girl’s minds.
 
A small group of Miss Teen Dream contestants survive the plane crash and find themselves without their coaches, parents, or Corporation products, stranded on an island.  Miss Texas takes charge and attempts to organize the group.  She’s a hardcore pageant girl and even after the crash, she has her eyes on the prize.  Mixed in with the survivors is Miss New Hampshire, Adina.  She is a journalist at her high school and signed up for the pageant as part of an elaborate scheme to expose it for the shallow, sexist event that it is.  As the book goes on, we begin to discover the secrets and dreams of all the other girls on the island.  None of them are just “pretty girls”.  Each of them has a life and decisions that has brought them to this point.  And they will have to find their strength to survive what the island is about to throw at them.
 
I don’t want to give to much away as this book was full of lots of wonderful surprises.  At times, I found myself laughing out loud as Bray poked fun at our materialistic and beauty obsessed culture…though beneath that laugh was the sadness of how much damage has been done to women when it comes to this constant judgment put upon them.  Other times, I found myself overwhelmed by the message of the book – the idea that young girls can work together, that young girls should take pride in every part of themselves, embrace their minds and bodies and be happy.  It’s a hard lesson that many of us still struggle to remind ourselves of every day.

Beauty Queens is an intelligent and fun read that went beyond my expectations (though I don’t know why I was surprised, Bray’s Going Bovine was one of my favorite books from 2009).  Due to some of the content of the book, I would recommend this for readers 16 years and up.  But I highly recommend getting this book into the hands of any young woman you want to learn to think outside the box and question what is sold to them on a daily basis.  Bray’s book is about acceptance – accepting yourself and accepting other.  About separating what is sold to us with what we actually need to be happy. 

book thoughts: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell (2011)

Strings_attached_by_judy_blundell

  What?  A YA book that is not a “sequel” or a “compaion” and doesn’t involve vampire fairy zombies?  I wasn’t sure they would still publish something like this, especially since the writing is so good.

I loved Judy Blundell’s first YA book What I Saw and How I Lied (and I wasn’t alone, it received the 2008 National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction).  Strings Attached is another historical fiction novel with that bit of a mystery noir twist.  It’s 1950 and Kit Corrigan has run off to New York City to try to break into Broadway.  When we join her, she is a chorus girl dancing in a production that is about to open and sure to close within the month.  She is trying to figure out how to survive on what little money she gets, living with another dancer, whose mother is a penny pinching nag.  After rehearsal, there is a bit of a blow-up between the two girls and Kit realized that she can’t stay there any longer.  She sets out on her own and happens to run into Nate Benedict, the father of her ex-boyfriend from back home.  Odd coincidence.  What’s even stranger is that Nate has an apartment all ready to rent…and he gives it to Kit.  Kit, being a combination of naive and desperate, accepts the place, not thinking about the complications that could quickly arise.

Blundell opts to tell the story out of order and the non-linear way the plot unfolds keeps readers wondering what exactly is going on – why did Kit leave home?  Why is Nate so quick to offer her this place?  What happened to her ex-boyfriend? 

You won’t want to put this book down because Blundell carefully hands you each piece of the puzzle, but then holds on to the final bit, that middle piece that brings it all together, until the last page. Her well researched writing brings 1950s Manhattan back to life and the reader gets a great feel for the city and what was going on behind the scenes. 

Fantastic and one of my favorite reads of 2011 so far!

book thoughts: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: the birth of an American terrorist group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist GroupThey Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti<br/>
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had come up on several “best of” lists and it was one of those morbid topics that everyone is a bit curious about but isn’t sure how to find out more.  The K.K.K., one of the darkest bits of American history, a homegrown terrorist group that is still active today. 

Bartoletti’s book focuses on the founding of the organization and it’s original rise to power after the U.S. Civil War during reconstruction.  Glossed over in most history textbooks, Bartoletti makes the terrifying true story of the Klan hard to put down.  She uses excerpts from real interviews with freed slaves of the time, images from newspapers, and a concise prose to portray the full spectrum of injustices done. 

Though the target audience for this book is young adults, if you have any interest in American history, the good parts and the bad, you need to pick this book up.  It’s hard to read about how these people convinced themselves it was right to do this, but even more amazing are the men and women that stood up to the Klan, even when they knew no one would protect them. 

This is an important book for so many reasons an I really hope it doesn’t get lost in the stacks once the teachers and librarians are done with it.  If we don’t learn about this part of our past, we are doomed to repeat it. 

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