Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: "Being Henry David" by Cal Armistead

When he wakes up in Penn Station, he has no idea who he is or why he's there, with nothing but ten dollars in his pocket and a copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden.  He doesn't know if he should ask the police for help or if he should be running from them.  Walden is his only clue...  so that is where he goes...  and as his memories slowly come back, he needs to decide if he wants to go back or break free and start a new life.

This book starts off with a bang and you feel the boy's confusion and bewilderment immediately.  It isn't long before he really is running from the police.  Taking a cue from his only possession, he names himself after the author - Henry David, or "Hank".  He comes across a few people that can't really help him discover his past but help him figure out his present and future.

This was a pretty engrossing mystery.  I liked how Hank was able to discover different parts of his true self.  I also liked the relationships he built with certain characters.  I don't live too far from Concord, MA or Walden Pond and have visited once or twice and the descriptions fit my memories perfectly.  In fact, everything fit perfectly and that might be the only thing that stops me from fully being a fanatic about this book.  Even the messier/scarier parts of the book end up fitting perfectly and everything gets tied up super neat and tidy.  There is a scene right at the end in which Hank is by himself in a life threatening situation - and I thought that was perfect and necessary to his character - but then it comes to its conclusion pretty easily and then another lucky twist of fate seals the deal for him.  I don't know.... it just didn't feel as satisfying as I'd hoped - even if it the outcome was what I was hoping for.  I am probably being a little too picky or something.  I did like this overall though, don't get me wrong.

I would give this to those who like realistic fiction, mysteries, and books that deal with family issues.  Thoreau fans will also enjoy the quotes featured throughout the text.

Being Henry David
by Cal Armistead
Albert Whitman Teen, 2013
304 pages
Source:  Friend's copy


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: "The Archived" by Victoria Schwab

Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, like her Da before her - but she can't tell anyone.  She's one of the youngest Keepers ever and now at age 16, she's already been doing this for four years.  What is a Keeper?  A Keeper is part of the Archive and is charged with chasing down Histories that wake up and return them to the Archive before they reach the Outer (the world as we know it).  It is a dangerous job, but Mac is well trained.  Or at least she thinks she is....  Her family, still grieving the sudden death of Mac's little brother, has just moved into an old apartment building for a fresh start.  The building seems well connected to the Archive, but also much much busier.  Is someone waking up these Histories on purpose?  Why?  The building is full of mysteries too...  and Mackenzie needs to figure it out before its too late.

I read this at the suggestion of a friend, who knows that I'm working on my "appreciation of fantasy YA" as I've started to think about it.  She thought I might like it because of the whole library aspect... which I admit, is kind of cool.  But it took me quite a while - like almost a third of the book - to really figure out what was going on.  There just seemed to be so many different angles going on, and I just could stay focused long enough to really get it.  I even went an entire weekend without picking it up - electing instead to watch terrible movies.  I gave it one last chance, and thankfully I did because that is where everything finally clicked for me and I actually became pretty involved in the story - enough to become curious about the sequel Unbound.  I'm not racing out to read it or anything...  but I am curious and that says a lot considering what I was thinking when I started this book!

Who would like this book?  I would hand this to those who like fantasy, strong female characters, a little bit of romance, and mystery/suspense.  This probably isn't great for a reluctant reader who probably wouldn't fight through the first third to get to where it really gets exciting.

The Archived
by Victoria Schwab
Hyperion, 2013
321 pages
Series:  The Archived #1
Source:  Purchased New


Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: "The Swap" by Megan Shull

The school year hasn't started out so well for either 7th grader Ellie O'Brien or  8th grader Jack Malloy.  Ellie has found herself dropped by her former best friend and now the subject of mean "jokes" by said ex-BFF and her new BFF.  Jack is the so-called "Prince of Thatcher Middle School" but few realize how strict his home life is, and how deeply committed he is to being a professional hockey player some day.  But him getting in a fight in school threatens to make some major problems for him - especially at home.  When Ellie and Jack have a chance meeting in the nurse's office, something strange happens - they swap bodies and are forced to live as the other as best they can.  They get to see how the other lives, and get to know each other like no one else can.  But how do they get to swap back?

Our library has partnered with our local Fun Hockey League for children for a program called "Skate and Read".  It is a great opportunity for kids to learn how to skate and get hockey coaching in a low cost and low pressure situation.  This is the "Fun Hockey League" after all.  But they are also required to read books during the program session, which is great!  At a recent planning meeting for next year, we worked on creating an updated book list for the players.  This was offered up as a suggestion, and as the YA Librarian of the group, I volunteered to look it over... and ended up reading it in a single day.  Not only is this perfect for the older kids in the program (6th -9th graders) but I think this is going to be a great add to our collection as well.

This entire story is adorable and sweet and perfect.  You cheer for our main characters as they battle their bullies, and you laugh as they try to navigate the other gender's position in the puberty experience and other awkward situations of adolescence.  Ellie is a stellar soccer player, but the loss of friendships that she thought were important undermine her confidence....  Jack helps with that.  Jack is a phenomenal hockey player, but doesn't feel loved or emotionally supported at home.... and Ellie helps with that. This was really fun to read!

The Swap
by Megan Shull
Katherine Tegan, 2014
400 pages
Source:  Borrowed ARC


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: "Positive: A Memoir" by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin

Paige Rawl has an important story to tell - her own.  She was born with HIV, though she didn't know that until she was in sixth grade and didn't really understand what it really meant until later.  Up until that point, doctor visits and daily medications were just a part of her life.  In fact, she didn't even really understand why it would be a big deal.  She mentioned her status to her very best friend - and in that instant, everything changed.  That best friend became her biggest bully.  The majority of her classmates started treating her differently, calling her disgusting names and slipping hateful notes into her locker.  Paige stopped doing beauty pageants, even though she had loved it.  Her teachers ignored Paige's pleas for help and in fact made her feel worse about herself.  Paige endured years of bullying before she was able to find real help, real friends, and figure out what she wants to do...  this book is just part of that.

Paige's story is heartbreaking, anger-inducing, and completely inspiring.  The writing is completely accessible for younger or reluctant readers.  I can't even wrap my head around the bullying that Paige was subject to...  that kind of behavior is unfathomable to me.  But it happens, and it continues to happen which is worse.  I want everyone to read this book - I already see myself becoming very vocal about this in my library and community - because everyone can learn from this.  Teens and adults alike.  Librarians and teachers will especially appreciate the listing of resources and facts at the back of the book related to HIV/AIDS and Bullying, though all readers will benefit from having that information readily available.

To Paige (though I'm sure she'll never see this) - You are such an amazing young woman.  Thank you for being so brave and for sharing your story with the world.  I wish you continued success in college and in life!

Positive:  A Memoir
by Paige Rawls with Ali Benjamin
HarperCollins, 2014
288 pages
Source:  ARC from a friend

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: "On The Fence" by Kasie West

Charlotte "Charlie" Reynolds is a sporty tomboy with four older brothers.  Well, technically three older brothers, but their neighbor Braden is practically her brother too.  Things are different the summer Charlie is sixteen though - sure, she's still playing football, soccer, basketball and whatever else with the boys - but she also gets herself a job and a little separation from the guy.  She starts to make friends who don't know that side of her, she starts to explore her femininity, other boys start to notice her (and not look at her like she's one of the guys for once), and she really really misses her mom.  The thing is, this boy that has noticed her?  She notices him back - but she also is becoming all too aware of Braden and his reaction to these new developments.  Especially because throughout all of this, Charlie and Braden have been becoming even closer with midnight talks through the fence.....

This right here is the quintessential YA Summer Romance novel.  If that is what you're looking for - you are all set.  Charlie is a strong, athletic girl who enjoys this part of her personality, but feels a little out of place in new situations (probably because she's never really been in a new situation on her own before).  I love the relationship she has with her brothers and Braden and I really like how she falls in with the people she meets at her new job.  Alert readers will recognize some faces from West's earlier book, The Distance Between Us.  (I love when that happens).  And oh my goodness, do I like Braden.  But really, this is a fun little beach romance that will give you the goofy smiles and make you want to hug a kitten.  Enjoy!

On The Fence
by Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2014
293 pages
Source:  Purchased New


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: "We Were Liars" by E. Lockhart

This is the story of Cadence Sinclair Eastman.  She is one of THE Sinclairs, who summer on their private island off the coast of Martha's Vineyard each year.  Granddad lives in the big house on the island, Cady and her mother live in one house, Mirren, Aunt Bess and the little cousins in another house, and Johnny, Aunt Carrie and Gat live in the last house on the island.  Cady, Mirren, Johnny and Gat are inseparable - they are The Liars.  Then, in their Fifteenth Summer - Cadence has a terrible accident and it seems no one will tell her all of what happened.  She is left with amnesia and horrendous migraines and doesn't get to go back to the island until her Seventeenth Summer when she unravels the truths, secrets and memories of what really happened to her.

I had heard so many good things about this book, that I was really excited to read it.  Then two of my co-workers read it and convinced me to move it up on the list - that I had to read this and soon.  I am so glad that I listened to them!  And kudos to them for not giving anything away either.  So I will extend the same courtesy to you....  I will not give this mystery away.  Just know that this is an incredible book - one that completely blew me away by the end.  I was so surprised and shocked and twisted up by it all that I really wanted to go back and read it again.  Such a great book, with great characters and development....  Go read this!!  Thank me later!!

We Were Liars
by e. lockhart
Delacorte, 2014
225 pages
Source:  Library


Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: "Isla and the Happily Ever After" by Stephanie Perkins

Sigh.....   I missed this.  I've been waiting a while for this book, and the wait was completely and totally worth it.

We return to Paris, and now it is Isla Martin and Joshua Wasserstein's senior year at School of America in Paris.  Isla has crushed on Josh since freshman year...  but never felt like she had a chance.  After all, he was very much with a girlfriend until last year.  But a chance meeting over the summer makes her think, maybe?  When they arrive at school, one thing leads to another....  and oh my goodness, just get ready to swoon!  Plus we get glimpses of our beloved characters from the previous books - Anna and St. Clair, Lola and Cricket.

Clearly, I love this book.  And if you enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss and/or Lola and the Boy Next Door then I know you will too.  I couldn't even sit still while reading this!  I just love Isla and Josh so much!  There's more to it than that though...  this is senior year, and the big question is what is going to happen next year?  It is assumed that they will be going on to college once finishing high school...  and while Josh has his plans pretty much all set - Isla has no idea where she wants to go or what she wants to do.  She certainly has options, but is she willing to take a risk or stay well within her comfort zone?  Josh, on the other hand, has not been looking forward to this school year especially since all of his friends graduated last year.  His father is up for re-election this year too, and while he wants his father to win he doesn't like what it does and what it means for his family.  Their relationship is already pretty distant and tenuous as it is. Josh does know what he wants to do with his life and where he wants to go after high school....  but is he really ready to take that step?  Is he ready to work for it?  Will his parents support him?

Don't wait to read this.  Just don't.  Grab a copy as soon as you can, get comfy and get ready to swoon.

Isla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2014
352 pages
Source:  borrowed ARC

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell

Georgie McCool knows that she and her husband probably would not have the same answer to the question "Are you happy?".  She knows there is something wrong...  but she is too involved with her work to properly address the situation.  When work gets in the way of the family's Christmas plans - and sends her husband Neal and their two girls off to Nebraska without her - she thinks everything is going to be fine.  Sure, Neal was upset that her work was keeping her home...  but it is going to be okay, right?  She'd know if he had left her, right?  She's not that unplugged from her relationship, is she?  In her loneliness and confusion, she starts spending the night at her mother's house where it seems like the only way she can reach Neal on the phone is through her mother's landline.  Only it isn't Neal that she's reaching - it is Neal from fifteen years ago, just before they got engaged.  What does this mean?

I am not shy about my undying love for Rainbow Rowell's writing.  I have loved each of her previous books madly, and have been looking forward to this one for a long time - never even knowing what it was about.  And this one is very different from the previous books.  There are more "awww..." moments and giggly moments and moments that make you want to give yourself a big hug in her earlier works.  And that's okay, because those don't really belong here.  I found this to be a darker story that was a bit more serious and, quite frankly, hit pretty close to home for me.  This addresses all those fears that you have in a marriage that is way past the honeymoon stage and struggling with the "staying connected to your husband while working and raising children" stage.  It isn't easy personally, and I think it is very difficult to talk about - even with close friends because everyone's marriage and situation is different.  You can try to relate, but I'm not sure how much that really works.

But it all gets laid out here...  Georgie is a hardworking TV writer on the cusp of the greatest opportunity she's ever had in her work.  And she loves her job.  Neal is a stay at home dad to their two little girls, and he is great at it.  But Georgie is selfish and self-absorbed and Neal is a terrible communicator.  I really wasn't sure through most of the book how I wanted it to end.  Do they work it out?  Do they go separate ways?  What really is best for them?  And there you have it - What is best for them is what is best for them - my thoughts aside - and it works out the way it should for them.

And before I start you thinking that this is a super serious book that contradicts what we know about Rowell...  there are plenty of quirky charm and kind and fun moments as Georgie recounts her past with Neal...  fans and readers new to Rowell won't be disappointed.

by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Press, 2014
308 pages
Source:  Purchased New


Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: "Sinner" by Maggie Stiefvater

Cole St. Clair is back - recording a new album, starring in a reality show and living in L.A.  But mostly, he wants Isabel and this is where Isabel is.  It isn't easy for him though, and the person running the (reality) show is famous for breaking down her stars and revealing their ugliest sides and pushing them past their breaking points.  Cole feels stronger than that though - he won't let this ruin him, not when Isabel is so close.  Isabel is not exactly in a good place herself though.   Her parents are separated and she has pretty much built the Great Wall of China to separate herself from feeling anything.  These two keep crashing into each other and you have to wonder, which one will break first?  And will the other still be around to pick up the pieces?

I wasn't going to read this book.  I really wasn't.  I even went on a long tirade to by book buddy/bully about how when I finished the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, I was really done with it.  Looking back, I was really quite meh about it and I cannot even tell you what happened.  Then the book arrived in the mail (I honestly don't remember if I had requested it.  I remember an internal debate, and I obviously went with "okay, I'll try it" and then forgot)....  and I started hearing some good things here and there about it...  so I picked it up.

I still can't really tell you what happened in the Wolves of Mercy Falls main series...  this one gives just enough background reminders as to what is important to Cole and Isabel, and therefore truly makes it a companion novel and not really part of that series.  I feel like there is a different air about it.  There is more tension and a hell of a lot more cynicism with a side of dark, dirty, twisted, fun sarcasm.  I liked the dual point of views going on....  they are both technically adults now, but still figuring themselves out.  People are pulling the rugs out from beneath them constantly, and they each just want to stand.  Together?  Maybe, but first on their own.  The ending was a bit of a whirlwind, but it fits I guess.  Its not that I'm not satisfied with how it worked out, but just that I feel like more could have been said in the epilogue or something even though I couldn't tell you what exactly I was missing.  But nonetheless, this story line has been concluded and has been done in such a way that now I might go back and read some of what Stiefvater has written since the end of the main series!
by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2014
357 pages
Series:  Wolves of Mercy Falls #3.5
Source:  Publisher for honest review

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