Showing posts from October, 2014

Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy: Book Two) - Deborah Wiles

A National Book Award Finalist review:
"There is no state with a record that approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. It is absolutely at the bottom of the list."
Roy Wilkins, Chairman of the NAACP  (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) 

Deborah Wiles' second book in The Sixties Trilogy focuses on the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Greenwood, Mississippi—the summer when volunteers came down and "invaded" the state in order to help back individuals register to vote and better understand their rights as citizens. At the centre of the story are Sunny Fairchild (a white girl who tells of how the town goes haywire in the wake of change), and Raymond Bullis (a black teen who just might become someone others won't be able to ignore.) Other secondary characters round out the novel to great effect, bringing to light a range of opinions, prejudices, and desires.
There was a colored boy in our pool. A colored bo…

Port Chicago 50 - Steve Sheinkin

A National Book Award Finalist review:

Now, two and a half years into World War II, more than 200 black sailors had died in service at the segregated base of Port Chicago. "Ought not this sacrifice," the paper asked, "touch the conscience of America? Is one to assume, as the nation continues to ask the Negro to die for less than the white American dies, that the national conscience of America is at such a low moral level that most Americans are satisfied that the blood of Negroes is worth less than that of whites?" (74)

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion killed over 300 dock workers at Port Chicago. Less than a month later, 244 men refused to go back to work unless work safety conditions were improved. Fifty men were charged with mutiny, facing decades in prison. Port Chicago 50 is a fascinating and enlightening book about a tragic yet crucial moment in civil rights history, highlighting to prejudice which black men and women faced in the armed forces during WWII.…

The Lonely - Ainslie Hogarth

Just to warn you, I die at the end of all this. So don't get too attached to me or anything. I bleed to death, and it's gruesome. So if you're squeamish or don't like to see bad stuff happen to kids, then you should probably just stop now. Because what happens is I bleed slowly all day long. I get pale and desperate and cry and throw up. And I'm just a kid so I don't deserve any of it. I'm "too young to die." Even though I'm just as susceptible to being crushed by a giant rock as anyone. (1)

Thus begins the tale of Easter's death alone in the woods, her legs crushed under a boulder, her blood slowly seeping out at her as nature slowly swallows her up and she is forced to confront her past, her lies, and her relationships. Easter suffers from The Lonely. The Lonely makes people sad and it makes them lie, and it seems to affect the women in Easter's family. This is an truly bizarre tale with a lot to like and a lot to question. Though not…

Blue Lily, Lily Blue - Maggie Stiefvater

NOTE: This is a book that very much relies on the first two in the series (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves), so if you haven't read them yet, I highly recommend that you do!

There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel. 

(Description courtesy of the inside jacket flap)

I truly admire Steifvater's ability to create dynamic, thoughtful, and nuanced characters. Blue, Ronan, Gansey, and Adam are stellar. And Noah, though very much secondary in this particular book, is still integral without being ignored or showing up like some sort of deus ex machina. Ronan…

Althea & Oliver - Cristina Moracho

I won't lie, this is a difficult book for me to review. I'm conflicted on many fronts in relation to the content and themes. One thing I can say is that the writing style is pretty solid. Moracho knows how to write prose in a way that can keep readers attentive, which is always a good thing when it comes to books for young adults. I also don't have trouble with much of the premise, except for one, pivotal moment that makes me question the entirety of the novel's themes. Before I bring that up (it's a bit of a SPOILER), I'll provide the synopsis first:
Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no mem…

Black Swan, White Raven - Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (Eds)

Black Swan, White Raven is Datlow and Windling’s fourth collection of once-familiar and much-beloved bedtime stories reimagined by some of the finest fantasists currently plying their literary trade—acclaimed writers like Jane Yolen, John Crowley, Michael Cadnum, and Joyce Carol Oates, who give new lives and new meanings to the plights of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and more.

Hansel and Gretel make several appearances here, not the least being at their trial for the murder of a supposedly helpless old woman. The shocking real reason for Snow White’s desperate flight from her home is revealed in “The True Story,” and the steadfast tin soldier, made flesh and blood, pays a terrible price for his love and devotion.

The stories and poems in this collection run the gamut from triumphant to troubling to utterly outrageous.... All in all, the reimagined fairy tales and fables in Datlow and Windling’s literary offering mine the fantastical yarns we loved as children for new and darke…

Greenglass House - Kate Milford

A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer series.

It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves. 
(Description courtesy of Clarion Books)

Another really interestin…

Skink - No Surrender - Carl Hiaasen

I haven't read any of Hiaasen's other novels starring Skink. I feel as though many reviewers had, and therefore were probably biased due to a history with the character. Some seem to feel that this book tones things down for a younger audience, though I don't see how that's possible, unless the more "adult" novels are entering the realm of fantasy. I had no such previous introduction to the off-the-wall ex-Governor of Florida, with his penchant for vigilante justice and his activist tendencies, and I found myself drawn to him within moments of his explosive introduction (literally, the man bursts out of the sand while protecting turtle nests!!)

[A]s I was peering at the spot where the soda straw had been, the turtle nest basically exploded. A Full-grown man shot upright in a spray of sand, and my heart must have stopped beating for ten seconds. Built like a grizzly, he was coughing and swearing and spitting through a long, caked beard. On his chiseled block of…

Fly! - Karl Newsom Edwards

While this book is brief, the illustrations are delightful and the exploration of the fly's journey to understanding how he can move through the world allows the child reader to learn about small organisms and their ways of moving around int he world. I can honestly say I haven't seen a fly this adorable in a while. Normally I just want them to fly back out the window or disappear in some other way, but in this particular case, the illustrations really bring the brief text to life!

There is also an informative two-page spread about the various organisms discussed in the text: worms, grasshoppers, snails, etc. It's a great introduction to the world of bugs and will give children an open door into the world of biology and nonfiction. This is a wonderful primer for young readers and parents of small children. I could totally see this is a Geiser contender in much the same way that Ball! was this last year.


Moon at Nine - Deborah Ellis

    We are human beings with a right to choose for ourselves how we want to live. All we have is our lives. Each person gets just one. We owe our parents and the revolution our respect, but we don't owe them everything. And everything is what they want.
    I choose you, not just because you are wonderful and not just because you love me.
    I choose you because the act of choosing you belongs to me. It is mine, my choice, my free will.

Ellis's new novel, Moon at Nine, follows Farrin and Sadira as they meet, fall in love, and suffer the consequences under the conservative and fundamentalist rule of Iran. Though their parents, teachers, and classmates are all against them, their persistence leads them to try for a better life. But when Farrin is betrayed and the two girls find themselves facing the possibility of the death penalty, they need to decide if love is worth the cost.

The writing in Moon at Nine is solid. I use this word for a specific reason; there is nothing particular…

Evil Librarian - Michelle Knudsen

This book is just plain fun! There is so much to enjoy, and even though the plot sometimes gets a bit out of control, in my humble opinion, Knudsen's novel is delightfully campy in just the right ways.

    "John Gabriel, the new librarian," Mr. Gabriel says brightly. "Pleased to meet you!"

    "But you're—you're not—" Ryan stops, swallows, starts again. "You're not human," he says....

    Mr. Gabriel's terrifying grin grows even larger, stretching impossibly across his face. He begins to laugh. Then he stops laughing and winks at us.

    "Strangely, the job description did not specify that as a requirement."

Cynthia and Annie are very good friends. Or at least, they used to be, until the new librarian arrives at school and seduces Annie, practically turning her into a zombie in the course of a few short days. Cynthia isn't surprised at first, but when she finally meets Mr. Gabriel in person, she starts to suspect the…

Girls Like Us - Gail Giles

I have now gone out and made sure that I have all of the books longlisted for the National Book Award. I read and reviewed a number of these previously, so now I have five left to read and review. This is one of those five (but would I expect anything less from the fabulous team at Candlewick?)

Girls Like Us is a unique novel in a number of respects, most notably in the fact that both protagonists are identified (and self-identified) as mentally disabled in some way. Biddy has a learning disability that she was born with, while Quincy is a young girl who is disabled due to the fact that her mother's boyfriend hit her in the head with a brick, disfiguring her and damaging her brain. Once the two girls graduate from school, they move into a house together, becoming caregivers for both each other and an older woman, Elizabeth. The two must rely on each other for comfort, knowledge, and emotional strength, and Elizabeth manages to help them along the way.

While I had moments of wonder h…

The Island of Excess Love - Francesca Lia Block

The very young alchemist stared at the people flying off the buildings on the TV screen. For one heart-banging beat he wondered if they had discovered the magic spell to make them fly.
    It was not that.
    The plane had crashed through the buildings.
    His mother came in, turned off the TV, and told him to go to his room and get ready for school.
    Instead he went to his sister's room; she was seated on the floor, her three black hound dogs sitting upright behind her, her black, red, and yellow-striped snake asleep in its cage.

Block's novel opens with this revelatory glimpse into the past, before the Earth Shaker occurred, the tsunami destroyed most of the coast(s), and the giants and witches began to hunt. Pen and her friends, Hex, Venice, Ash, and Ez, have managed to survive and have set up a home in Pen's old three story pink house near the ocean. They receive mysterious gifts of food and take time to meditate and garden in order to thrive, until one day a haunted s…