I listened to this book on Overdrive (and if you don't know about THAT yet, you need to get yourself a library card and check it out!) Overdrive allows you to check out e-novels and audiobooks from your library through an app, so great books at no cost--bonus!
OK, Overdrive advertisement aside, this was a book I just picked up because I was between books and needed something to listen to. Lo and behold, I've just found myself a new favorite author! Raybourn completely captures London in 1887, and her depiction of Vernonica Speedwell and her reluctant protector Stoker has definite overtones of Holmes and Watson--with the added fun of distinct sexual tension. Never fear--nothing happens in Book One on that front. However, much murder and mayhem ensue as Veronica seeks to uncover her true identity--and the identity of her father. A lot of great action forced me to once again miss my exit to work and have to backtrack, but it was definitely worth it. Since this was just published last year, I'm looking forward to more installments of Veronica and Stoker's adventures!
I'm checking this one off my 12 x 12 list as "a book that was banned at one time." I'll get to that in a minute. What you need to know about this piece of historical fiction is that it is based on the lives of the revolutionaries of the revolt against the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in the mid-1900s. Since this is based on true events, I don't consider it a spoiler by telling you that three of the girls--Patria, Minerva, and Mate Mirabal--are martyrs to the cause, leaving their sister Dede to tell their story. What I loved about the book was the author's depiction of each girl, following her from childhood through her dawning realization of the real events taking place in her country, and eventual decision to join the revolution. The chapters leading up to their crash were agonizing, while those following the death of the sisters, as Dede identifies their remains and washes her sisters for burial, were incredibly moving.
I will completely admit that my knowledge of Central and South America and the Caribbean is so completely limited that I knew nothing about this episode in history, nor of the horrors of the Trujillo dictatorship, which made it an educational read as well as an enjoyable one as I appreciated Alvarez's masterful characterizations. And the banned book part? The Port Washington School District in Port Washington, NY banned the book for its detailed drawing of the making of a bomb. Frankly, I think we have more pressing educational concerns.
I just got done "reading" this book for the second time, and I loved it just as much the second time around. With a new take on the "zombie apocalypse" genre, Carey hits all the right notes (and I'll try not to reveal too many spoilers). Much of the story concentrates on Melanie, one of a group of special children being educated by the military at a secure camp in England. When her teacher, Miss Justineau, rescues her from being dissected by Dr. Caldwell, it throws the remaining characters into a fight to the death with the "hungries"--those who have been infected by a world-ending, zombie-creating virus.
I loved the emotions of this book and the really inventive resolution to this much-visited genre. The action and adventure will suck in the most resistant readers. This should definitely be included in any list of teen dystopian novels.
Book 2 in the 12x12 challenge, and it's not even the middle of January! I'm going to list Grasshopper Jungle as my "book recommended by a local librarian or bookseller." Technically, it was recommended by Penny Kittle (author of Book Love) at the CEL convention. Penny maintains that we need to get kids reading, so we need to recommend books they'll love. If you're an adolescent male, you'll love Grasshopper Jungle. If you don't mind listening to the musings of a sex-crazed and sexually-confused 16-year-old narrator, then you'll enjoy Grasshopper Jungle. If you're offended by a line like, "Having balls with the same name as your best friend's is a serious social blunder," then perhaps Grasshopper Jungle is not for you.
I found the book surprising in a number of ways. I spent 27 years in the classroom with 16-year-olds, so I'm not surprised by anything they think (or will talk about out loud sometimes), and Rolling Stone's review starts with "raunchy," so I wasn't put off by the many, MANY sexual references and some profanity. I WAS surprised that I really enjoyed this narrator and his best friend Bobby--they're irreverent but at times hilarious. And they're trying to save the world, so you've gotta cut them some slack. I was surprised at the plot twists--things didn't go the way I expected them to go, and I love that in a book. I love it when books portray the messy, confusing, and realistic way our lives really evolve, so I was really pleased that this book didn't end the way I thought it would. Having said that, it is a book about the end of the world by way of 6-foot praying mantis monsters with razor sharp teeth on their arms who will pull off your head and then swallow you whole, so do be prepared to suspend your "reality meter" with this one. I would put this high on a list of YA books for teen boys (with parents who realize fiction is not going to corrupt them).
First book of the "12 x12" challenge down and it's only January 2nd. This one ticked the "book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF" box. So, first a little background into my knowledge of Amanda Palmer. Son Ben was home for a brief (usually less than 24 hour) visit last year sometime (it's hard to say when--the older I get, the more elastic time seems to become) when he asked me if I knew who Amanda Palmer was. My knowledge of music is limited to my early 80's high school years and Adele, so of course I didn't know Amanda Palmer. Since he knows his English-teacher mother, Ben first referenced Amanda's husband Neil Gaiman, who of course I did know. Then he had me listen to "The Ukulele Anthem." During one of our infrequent phone check-ins, he told me Amanda and Neil were expecting. He Facebooked when they had the baby. It's fair to say Ben is a big fan. So I at least had a passing acquaintance with Amanda Palmer when The Art of Asking showed up under the Christmas tree for me this year.
How many times can I say "WOW"? I cannot begin to understand the courage it would take to be SO brutally honest about one's life, warts and all. I immediately watched (and linked to) her TED talk. I loved the intermingling of her song lyrics, and it was especially poignant for me that she ended with the one song that I knew--"The Ukulele Anthem." The thing that made the biggest impression is that Palmer doesn't try to apologize, lay blame, justify or excuse anything--this is her life and this is what she's learned and she's still learning and that's life. This is exactly the book that I needed to read, because I am absolutely NOT an asker. I will KILL myself trying to do something alone before I'll ask for help. Loved it. Ben, you OWNED Christmas this year!
Somehow, in all of my reading, I have neglected to post about one of the greatest series of all time--Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I was introduced to the series by the mother of one of my students (thanks, Teray's mom!)--seriously one of the best recommendations of the century. I don't know that I would have picked the book up without the recommendation, as I'm not a big fan of romance novels, but that's the beauty of Outlander--it defies any one genre. It is certainly a love story, but it's also fantasy, AND historical fiction, AND adventure. The story follows Claire Randall Fraser as she travels back in time from the 1940s to the 1743 Scottish Highlands just prior to the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Culloden which wiped out the Scottish clans. There the married-in-the-present-time Claire meets the love of her life--Scottish outlaw Jamie Fraser. Once you get sucked in by this series, hold on, because you'll have to read them all.
Of course, by now everyone and her cousin has seen the STARZ Outlander series (which I must say is well-cast and follows the story pretty well). But I'll always be glad that I was first besotted by the novels. Of course, being of the romance variety, be aware of graphic love scenes (you can always flip past those parts)!
I read Levithan's young adult novel Every Day this summer while on vacation in Malta (which was experiencing its worst heatwave in 28 years). In the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel room, I could not stop reading the adventures of "A." Imagine waking up in a new body every day, one that you can only occupy for 24 hours and then it's on to the next body at the stroke of midnight (like Cinderella on steriods!) Levithan does a masterful job creating one life after another for A to inhabit (always the same chronological age, but that's the only similarity). Every size, shape and gender is a possibility in A's world. Then he becomes Justin and he meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon. As A struggles to find a way to stay in touch (and in love) with Rhiannon, his life becomes even more complicated as he finds out that there may be others like himself, doomed to shift from one life to another.
Book 2 - Another Day - is not a sequel, but rather a companion novel from Rhiannon's point of view. It was interesting to see the same events from another perspective, although personally I think Levithan did a much better job of capturing A's voice than he did that of Rhiannon. It seems clear at the end of Another Day that this is bound to be at least a trilogy, so stay tuned!
A great conversation last night at book club about a great author and a controversial book. Personally, I loved being able to revisit Maycomb with Scout. My viewpoint on the novel is that it really was a first draft, which eventually resulted in the final draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my favorite books of all time. Clearly, Lee did not ever consider publishing Watchman while she could stop it from happening. While the resulting novel may be the work of a publisher taking advantage of Miss Lee, there is a lot to learn about character creation and rewriting by reading the work. I think it also has important things to say about the experience of coming of age and that time when we have to break from the values and morals of our parents to create our own. I definitely was guilty of the same thing Scout was guilty of--putting Atticus on a pedestal and making him the moral compass of the Deep South. He shows us in this book that he is just a man, trying to exist and create a career under difficult circumstances. We don't agree with all of his viewpoints in this novel, and it's ok. I think Uncle Jack also has important insights into the Civil War and the Southern soldier which speak directly to the Confederate flag controversy of late. Harper Lee was certainly an author ahead of her time, and I for one am grateful for this intimate look inside of her work.
On a related note, that's me with "Scout Finch" at the NCTE convention (I hate flying, which is why I look like death warmed over!)
Teenage Jenna is determined to search for her mother, a scientist who studied grieving elephants and who disappeared one night from the hospital when Jenna was a toddler, after a terrible accident at the elephant preserve which left another handler dead. Jenna just wants to know if her mother is still alive, and she recruits psychic Serenity Jones and ex-cop-turned-detective Virgil Stanhope to help her. The story shifts chapter by chapter between different narrators, building to the big reveal which will leave you saying, "WHAT just happened here?" It has definite overtones of a particular movie that I can't tell you the name of or it will ruin the book, but once you read it, you'll understand. Another Picoult novel which threw me for a curve in the last three chapters (Full Disclosure--there has only been ONE Picoult novel I have EVER figured out ahead of time, and that was House Rules). The "aha" moment seems a bit contrived, and I'm not sure it works with the whole novel, but it does make sense of everything in the end. Definitely a book I'm glad I "read" (Thanks, Audible!)
Anyone who knows me know what a nut I am for Stephen King (I have most of his books in first edition hardcovers in my study), so as soon as he publishes another one, I'm online to Barnes and Noble! I'm doing these together because Mr. Mercedes introduces us to the characters and then Finders Keepers starts exactly at one tragic climax in the book and follows another character's storyline. Along the way we befriend a great cast of characters--Bill Hodges the ex-cop turned private detective, Holly Gibney his secretary who is definitely on the autism spectrum, and Jerome Robinson the neighborhood lawn boy now turned college student who comes back home for the fun. And it is fun watching these three in action; I hope Mr. King plans on writing more about their adventures. This is a cast of characters with whom I enjoy spending my time. Plenty of action and suspense thrown in (but no sci-fi creepiness, for other King fans who know his work!)