Thursday, February 4, 2016

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

This book is incredibly powerful and beautifully written. I requested a desk copy of this book from my English Department to consider for my Young Adult Literature course. Other reviewers have said it -- this book is a must read, for so many reasons. Obviously the message is important and timely, that's a given. But what is even more remarkable is the way the book came to pass with these two authors, a black man and a white man, collaborating in a unique way. Each author providing the voice of the two main characters has produced a book that I'm not sure could have been as effectvely written by one single author of either race. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, I can assure you my future students will be reading your work, talking through its essential message, and, since many of them will become teachers, I predict this book will become a work talked about in so many classrooms in years to come. Thank you for this book that needed to be written by two authors like you!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi

Delicate wispy drawings evoke the stillness and quiet of a walk in the woods through the snow. This is a lovely almost mystical variation on a Red Riding Hood type tale. Kikko makes some surprising new friends and attends a most unusual tea party as she tries to follow her father through the forest to grandmother's house. Loved the choice of the last illustration in book. This book is beautifully drawn with the occasional splash of color against a stark background that is never dreary or foreboding. A special book for a winter's day reading!

Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon

Okay, seriously? Can I only give this one 5 stars? That's not fair! This collection of cartoons by Brian Gordon is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny. He takes us to the dark side (and the brighter side!) of parenting. Any parent or grandparent who doesn't see themselves in this book, well, in the words of Brian Gordon, is a big fat liar. One warning -- although some of these cartoons would probably make kids laugh too, this is a book for grown-ups. Gordon does use language you probably don't want to explain to your toddler, including the f-word, the s-word and more. But this was one of the most refreshingly honest looks at the trials and tribulations and joys of raising kids that I have seen in years. Buy this book for parents you know and for those who don't know what they're in for!

Friday, May 8, 2015

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Bodger – 5 to 1 The glowing cover of this novel is a better indicator of the content than the title: a pair of intricately painted hands hold a pair of fish. Bodger builds a dystopian world set half a century into the future where a long-standing preference for boy babies has resulted in a 5 to 1 ratio which leaves very few brides for young men. The system has gone from people in the past (our times) disposing of unwanted girl babies to a virtual captivity to breed more girls now. The men must compete, and win; the alternative is hard labor or death. A young man’s disability or injury can result in death. A kill or be killed barrier surrounds Koyanagar protecting the prized girl children in a gilded prison. The book is told in alternating points of view with Sudasa’s poems and Contestant Five writing in prose. To tell the truth, I’m not sure I would have understood what was going on at the beginning without a helpful description. Sudasa, which means “obedience,” writes in a restrained voice without giving us a great deal of information. Oh, but when we meet Contestant Five the reader is drawn into this complex story. The rulers of Koyanagar don’t play by the rules, including Sudasa’s own grandmother who works the system to get Sudasa’s smarmy arrogant cousin in the competition. By the time we are halfway through the book, the reader is compelled to follow both Sudasa and Contestant Five as we want them both to win, but win want? This is a competition where winning is really losing and the reader is pulled into this battle to the end. Nothing is quite as it seems and who can we trust? What is fair? Sudasa does not want the life her grandmother has chosen for her. For his own reasons Contestant Five does not want to win Sudasa. Both young people are fighting against this government which was meant to right a dreadful wrong, but now has tipped too far the other way into a different corruption and prejudice. Laced with the soul of poetry, this novel paints a path for the future for Sudasa and Contestant Five. This review would be incomplete without recognition for the lovely cover design by Jennifer Heuer and the chapter openings reminding us of the speaker. The fish motif illuminates the design and the story.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Melancholy:Episode One by Charlotte McConaghy

“Never stop questioning.” This quote from one of the characters we don’t even meet is the perfect profile for this novel. Set 50 years in the future, the human race is fragmented among the drones who live in the city drugged to avoid sadness; the barbaric and violent furies who hunt other humans; and those of the resistance. Josephine manages to get Luke far away to the resistance but he is unconscious and she must conceal her true identity. The novel slips back and forth in time and from various points of view, but it never gets confusing or slacks in the driving force of the plot. Many things are not told, not revealed in this novel but that only enhances the tension as we move among the various points of view. The title is a spoiler alert in that this is “episode one” and the novel ends on a cliffhanger but this one is so worth the ride. With minimal details McConaghy creates a ravaged world of the future and makes us care about these young people. The author, and the characters, play with the age-old question of freedoms. If you could erase pain and sadness, would you? Is passion the other side of melancholy? Would you give up passion and joy to avoid sorrow and despair? What if you didn’t have the choice? “It seems like madness, this blanket belief that everyone has to be happy all the time . . . . If we have the right to pursue happiness then we also need to have a right to frustration – to understanding what we’re deprived of.” Melancholy: Episode One is a thoughtful provoking dystopian novel that forces you to think about what you would choose. When does Episode Two come out!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Inherit the Stars begins in the middle of the action which creates a bit of confusion amid the chaos. Once I got engaged with the main character, Asa, I was hooked. I was a bit confused in the beginning about Asa, as I have only heard of males with that name but she is indeed an intrepid young woman, one of three sisters of the House of Fane who are integral to the story. Elwood does a decent job of world building without burdening the plot with the details of scientific elements. This is more fantasy than sci-fi and scientific elements are important but this is essentially a story about relationships: between sisters, between parents and children, and between a man and woman. Sustainable fuel and fuel shortages are at the root of the plot but it is character that drives this story. The beginning of the novel is a bit slow as we get to know the players, but stay with this one. There is much potential here. Of the three planet systems involved, the readers learn the least about Galton which becomes significant at the end of the novel leading one to expect a series. Inherit the Stars does finish with a satisfying ending but all is not resolved. My biggest reservations about the novel I hope will be improved before going to publication. The e-book I read was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest review. There were numerous formatting issues in the book; broken paragraphs, lack of clarity about the speaker since there are not new paragraphs for dialogue, and dangling first letters on the chapters that may be a design element that still needs tweaking. These were quite annoying at the beginning of the book and continued throughout but I am giving 4 stars since the story and Asa are worth reading in spite of these errors. The title I fear may cause some confusion among readers as there are so many “stars” books out there but I think fans of Anne McCaffrey and Tamora Pierce, who are both known for their strong female characters, would enjoy Inherit the Stars.

Secret Coders - a new series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

This new series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes is a great introductory mash-up of mystery and math. I could see this book being a hit in a gifted and talented math class or for any aspiring math geek. The book seems designed to appeal to both boys and girls. The main character is Hopper, a girl reluctantly entering a new school. Her new found friend is Eni, a whiz at mathematics, computer coding, and basketball. What a team! Secret Coders ends on a cliffhanger and lets the reader know that the mystery continues in the soon to come Secret Coders: Paths & Portals. So it seems there will be more mystery and decoding in store for this series. Hopper and Eni solve some of the mystery only to uncover deeper secrets. The book even begins with a mystery in the chapter numbers which are signified by very odd birds with multiple eyes, some open and some closed; a binary intrigue. Robots, strange birds, along with crabby and secretive school personnel abound at Hopper’s new school Stately Academy. The book pauses several times to give the reader an opportunity to solve the puzzles while Hopper and Eni are working too. This is a very different style from Yang’s previous graphic novels, but once again there is an almost magical mysterious element, although for a younger reader. This series looks like a fun read for any child who loves math puzzles and secret codes, or who is curious about how a computer really works. I could see it being a great way to liven up a math class beyond problem drills. The main characters, Hopper and Eni, are in seventh grade but I think math whizzes from fourth grade up through possibly middle school or junior high would enjoy the new Secret Coders series. It actually seems like it would appeal more to the younger end of that range. One element I enjoyed at the end was Gene Luen Yang’s short explanation of his introduction to computers and coding as a fifth grader. This personal note on the inspiration and idea for the book added authenticity and interest for an adult reader. The e-book I read was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest review.