Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: "Defending Taylor" by Miranda Kenneally

In one instant, everything that Taylor has worked for is gone.  She has busted her butt at her elite private school for the best grades, near perfect SAT score and to be captain of her soccer team and is on her way to an early acceptance at Yale when she is expelled.  She didn't do what they think she did, but she doesn't want to be a snitch either.  Things keep going downhill though when it seems this incident is also having a damaging effect on her father's Senate reelection campaign.  She is forced to go to public school - Hundred Oaks High, and while she's lucky enough to get on the soccer team... it just isn't at all what she's used to.  The only friend she seems to have now is Ezra - her older brother's best friend and the first boy she ever wanted.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I just love this series of books!  This might be the first one to not feature any of the original characters... I mean, they are off having their adult lives now... but we do see glimpses of former friends.  Like Jack and Savannah from Racing Savannah and Jeremiah and Annie from Breathe, Annie, Breathe.  Oh and we get a little update on Maya from Jesse's Girl too.  So, if you've read all of these books, you'll know how fun it is to check in with these characters.  If you haven't read the other books - don't worry about it.  You probably won't even notice.

So in this book, we've got Taylor.  She's super motivated, super studious, and has all the answers that her equally driven family expects of her.  But she is far too wrapped up in what she thinks she's supposed to do and want than actually knowing what she wants to do.  She has been pushing so hard for a goal that isn't even really hers.  Ezra is on his own journey.  He has taken a leave of absence from college, which has made him an outcast in his family, while he figures out what he wants to do as well.  There's a twist for him though, and Taylor is there to help him work through that.  I didn't expect his backstory to be what it was, and I thought it was really well done.  The tag line on the cover reads "Is he playing for love or playing her?" and that is so false.  Ezra is pretty awesome, generally speaking, and this tag like is completely misleading.

I loved this contemporary romance as I have all of the others.  This is one series that stays fresh and interesting!

*****
Defending Taylor
by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016
290 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: "Trashed" by Derf Backderf

This graphic novel tells the story of the author's experience working as a garbage collector.  Throughout the book, factual tidbits of information on the history of the trash industry, how trucks work, the cross section of a landfill and terrible statistics on how much trash we (humans in general) generate.  It is truly disgusting how much trash is thrown out and how little our recycling efforts have helped overall.

To be honest, I've never really put much thought into the daily ins and outs of a trash collector.  I've always respected the profession and know that it is not an easy job by a long shot.  I didn't know how dangerous it is though.

The illustrations are Backderf's signature style which kind of reminds me of caricatures.  The cover might demonstrate what I mean by that I guess.  It is all pen and ink, with some blue coloring.  They suit the subject perfectly.

This might be well received by those interested in environmental issues.  The author's note at the end lists and describes the reports used to provide the data and statistics he quotes throughout the book, which I appreciated.  Overall, this satisfied my curiosity but, yeah.  That's about all I can say I guess.

*****
Trashed
by Derf Backderf
Abrams ComicArts, 2015
245 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book review: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain

Welcome to St. Petersburg, Missouri, home of Tom Sawyer and his Gang.  And in this book, we learn all about his adventures including becoming a pirate, attending his funeral, falling in love with Becky Thatcher, witnessing a murder, becoming lost in a cave for days and finding a treasure.  There is so much more, of course, as Tom is such a charmer/troublemaker.  It is a classic tale of youth on the Mississippi River filled with humor, suspense, friendship, and Twain's trademark commentary on society.

I know I read this years and years ago, I think for school one year, but it had been so long that I didn't remember all of it or the order in which certain things occurred.  Therefore, I'm glad I read it again - this time with the Serial Reader app.  (It's so handy - I explain it at the beginning of this post).

I know that I didn't remember all the childhood myths and legends, like the charms or incantations, that Tom and crew believed so heavily in.  Looking back on my childhood, I remember believing in such to a certain extent - but these boys take it to the next level.  I still really love Huck Finn though.  Sure, Tom might have been the "brains" but Huck has the heart.  It has been 5 years since I last read Huck Finn, but I still think I might prefer his story to this one.

I did appreciate seeing how Tom grows through this book.  He is really a brat at the beginning, but he matures enough so at the end, we can see what a great friend he is to Huck.  He also seems to appreciate his family a bit more and hopefully stops scaring Aunt Polly half to death every other week.

I do love Twain though, on the whole, and look forward to reading more of his works!
*****
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain
first published 1876
225 pages
Source:  Serial Reader
*****

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Book Review: "A Walk in the Sun" by Michelle Zink

Rose Darrow has no idea what the future holds, and that scares her.  It has only been a couple of months since her mother passed away, and she misses her so much.  But she's keeping the farm going while her father sinks into his own depression...  it is a lot of work and means that she won't be going off to college like her best friend.  She is deeply afraid of this being what her life looks like for the rest of her life.  Enter Bodhi Lowell, the farm hand hired on to help for the summer.  He is just about a year older than Rose, and is carrying more baggage than what's in the pack on his back.  He has a plan though - and it is generally moving on at the change of season, and not getting too close to anyone.  But Rose and Bodhi just cannot deny that there are sparks between them...

I was in the mood for a YA contemp romance, and I got it.  I thought this might be fun...  looking at the cover, it seemed like this could be set in the South or West.  Actually, it is set in Upstate New York which kind of surprised me.  I mean, I grew up in Upstate New York, I know there are farms there...  but still.  I ended up getting a kick out of it in the end.

This does end up being a cute romance, kind of exactly what you'd expect, and it was fairly enjoyable.  The pace is a little slow, kind of like life on a farm I guess.  There was definitely the cliche boy-next-door "problem" that was a little lacking in development, but we don't really care about him anyway.  Actually, now that I think about it, all of the secondary characters were pretty flat and inconsequential.  The big climactic scene was not exactly a surprise either.  OK, so all of this is starting to sound pretty bad and I don't mean it to be.  Or at least I didn't mind it as I was reading because I was reading for the love story... and that had its share of happy and cute moments.

OH, and I need to mention...  I was initially put off by the character name "Bodhi" because, seriously?  Ugh.  But, the story behind how he got that name does actually make some sense.  So I forgive it now.

*****
A Walk in the Sun
by Michelle Zink
HarperTeen, 2016
336 pages
Source:  ALAMW
*****

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: "Awkward" by Svetlana Chmakova

Penelope ("Peppi") Torres is the new girl at school.  On the very first day, she drops all of her books in front of everyone.  They all start to laugh at her, but one boy stops to help her.  She is grateful, until the mean kids start picking on him for being a nerd, and then Peppi too - just by association.  She does something then that she regrets instantly, but doesn't know how to make it right.  Later, Peppi gets involved with the Art Club, which has a long-standing rivalry with the Science Club.  And who's in the Science Club?  Yep, the boy.  So awkward.

This really is an adorable middle grade graphic novel all about just how awkward it is to be in middle school.  Everything between Peppi and the boy (whose name is Jaime, by the way) is not romantic, or anything like that really.  It is all awkward because life just is awkward right then.

When thinking about what I wanted to say about this book, I first thought I'd comment on how "effortlessly" diverse the cast of characters is but I don't know if that is truly correct to say.  I have no idea how "effortless" it was on the part of the author and illustrator to write a diverse cast, but I do know that it felt effortless to read it.  By that, I mean that it doesn't feel forced or cliche...  just normal.  And I think that is in itself, awesome.  The art in this book is pretty cool too.  There is some wonderful manga inspiration going on in these panels.  In the endpages, the author also includes a few pages on how she illustrates - step by step - with a sketch gallery of the characters and a couple settings.  This will be of great interest to the budding young middle grade artists who might read this.  Also - there are twenty hidden "Mr. Raccoon"s hidden throughout the book.  Have fun with that!

*****
Awkward
by Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press/Hachette, 2015
211 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: "Fat Angie" by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie is in her freshman year of high school (for the second time).  She couldn't complete the year the first time around after her much-adored big sister was captured with her unit by the Taliban in the Middle East.  Now, Angie refuses to give up hope that her sister will come home while dealing with school bullies, her mother who can't be bothered to even listen to her, and her weight.  When a new girl shows up a school and actually wants to be friends with her - Angie can't even believe it.  And when their friendship shows signs of possible being more...  will Fat Angie finally find the inner strength and fortitude to stand up for herself?

This book has been on my radar for a while now.  I don't even remember how long I've even had it in my possession!  But this is a character that will stick with you.  She's far from perfect, and does not magically fix all her flaws by the end of the book, but you can feel for her.  She is tormented by all the people all around her - even her therapist doesn't seem like much help or support for her.  So Angie needs to dig deep and figure out who she can rely on... who she can really trust.  There aren't that many people on that list.

The book itself has some issues, especially at the beginning.  It starts out a bit shaky and confusing, but the writing gets figured out after a couple short chapters.  This kind of coincides with the introduction of KC Romance, the new girl at school.  She is not without her own personal baggage, but I really get into the developing relationship between her and Angie.  It is kind of like an emotional roller coaster, but you really feel the confusion Angie feels as she is contemplating her own sexuality for the first time.  She has zero experience in the love department, so everything is new to her.   I did find it a little irritating that she kept describing herself and KC as gay-girl gay though.  Very annoying.  However, discovering this truth about herself helps build her confidence that benefits her in other ways.

*****
Fat Angie
by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Candlewick Press, 2013
264 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review: "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift

I recently found out about an app called "Serial Reader".  It is an interesting concept; you "subscribe" to a classic novel, and the app sends an "issue" daily to your device.  Each issue is approximately 10-15 minutes of reading, and covers the chosen classic work in its entirety.  It is a free app, or you can upgrade for $2.99 to get features like continue reading (so you don't have to wait until the next day if you have a little more time to read), the opportunity to read more than one book at a time, and the option to "pause" your subscription delivery if needed.  I immediately opted for the upgrade.

I chose A Modest Proposal to be my first subscription, to test out the app.  This very short work came in 2 issues.  I'll admit that I just swapped out a different Swift title on my Classics Club list to this one.  I hadn't read Swift before, and didn't know about this at all!

I'm not even sure what to call this - a novella?  A long essay?  I don't know, but it certainly makes an impact.  Not knowing anything at all about Jonathan Swift, I started to imagine how this piece came into being.  I kind of imagine Swift and his buddies down at the pub, complaining or getting vocal about the poverty issue in Ireland over a few pints.  And A Modest Proposal was Swift's tongue in cheek solution to the problem - sell the infants of the poor people as food for the rich.  The whole tone of the piece is of utmost seriousness, in which he lays out the problem, introduces his solution, and provides several points of support for his solution.  The whole thing is ludicrous, even though he makes his point clearly.  Check it out if you're looking for something short and very well written but cannot be taken as seriously as it is written.  It is a brilliant piece of satire.

*****
A Modest Proposal
by Jonathan Swift
First published 1729
Source:  Serial Reader
*****

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman

The best way I can describe Ove is that he is that he is partly that curmudgeonly old man who yells "Get off my lawn" and part Dwight Schrute.  All the poor man wants to do is kill himself and join his beloved wife in the afterlife, but he keeps getting interrupted.  It just doesn't work.  All all starts when the new neighbors back their moving trailer into his house and knock over his mailbox.

I just love Ove.  He is so frustrating and inflexible but good.  All he wants is to follow the rules; order is his jam.  He doesn't understand new technologies or new attitudes, but he knows what is right.  And this often leads to very amusing circumstances.

Ove reminds us that there are plenty of reasons to keep living, even if it is to make sure that the right thing is done.  And no one drives in the residential area where cars are prohibited.  Ove slowly opens himself back up to the people and world around him and as is often the case, enriches their lives as much as they enrich his.

Part of the fun of reading this book is that a co-worker was listening to it at the same time.  Each morning when we'd get into the library, we'd compare notes on where we were in the story, and what wacky thing just happened.  We agreed that it is just a wonderful story with so much heart.  And now three more co-workers are waiting to read it!  My co-worker is moving on to Backman's other books right away, but I think I'll wait a bit.  It's nice to have something waiting on the wings that you know is good.

*****
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press, 2015.  First published 2014.
337 pages
Source:  Gift
*****

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review: "The Unexpected Everything" by Morgan Matson

Andie Walker had the summer all planned out.   Her father would be in D.C., of course, doing his Congressman thing.  She would be in Baltimore at her Young Scholars program that would later help her go pre-med in college.  Her three best girlfriends had their things going on and everything was all set.  Then her father is rocked by a scandal which keeps him home for the summer... and her program is taken away as well.  Andie doesn't do well with the unexpected...  but she's going to have to figure it out.  Luckily, she has her friends, a few dogs, and that guy....

I adore Morgan Matson.  She writes these awesome summer romance books that I practically inhale.  Andie is a great character because right off the bat you can see what an organized planner type person she is who is subsequently rocked right off her rails.  She is very independent too, and has a great bond with her best friends who are all great characters.

In many YA books, the parent is largely absent.  However here, the absent parent is thrust back into the fold and it creates an interesting dynamic.   Dad turns out to be more fun than I expected, and keeps a few tricks up his sleeve.  Their relationship is a fun one to watch play out.

There is one kind of big cliche in this book, but I forgive Morgan Matson everything because the way it works out is not cliche at all.  It's fairly realistic and open to possibility and I really liked that.  Also, the ending was a clear send up to one of my favorite scenes in a rom-com which I loved and didn't at the same time.  Still a little conflicted on that...  but it is a secondary theme throughout the book, so I'm working on that myself.

Oh, and can I just say, that I completely forgot that this book is taking place in the same town that Matson's previous books did?  I was reading a description of the hang-out place and kept thinking that it sounded really familiar....  until I smacked myself on the forehead and realized it was because it was familiar!  Maybe I need to do a little rereading....

Great relationship book - relationship between friends, family, and a new romance.

*****
The Unexpected Everything
by Morgan Matson
Simon & Schuster, 2016
519 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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