March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)

Non-fiction

IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)

Standalones

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?

 

 





Read in January and February 2015

22 02 2015

It’s an absolute disgrace, but I haven’t read much this year so far. Here’s a brief overview:

The crossover by Kwame Alexander, which won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, in which 6 transgender teens tell their stories. I didn’t read much Middle Grade last year so I can’t say whether The crossover was “the best” MG of 2015. It was certainly different (told mostly in verse) and a punch in the gut. I liked this better than He Said, She Said, but I wasn’t wild about it either. It was good,… but not *wow* good for me. *** 1/2

Beyond Magenta, on the other hand: an eye-opener. Definitely worth that Stonewall Honor Award. ****

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The Alex Crow by the inimitable Andrew Smith. Yet again we get so many stories in one and yet again, Andrew Smith managed to pull everything together at the end.Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write a real review of this one. Maybe when it comes out (I read the ARC), I’ll re-read and write that review then. ****

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, a story of disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights in the Second World War. This was really well-told non-fiction. I can’t wait to read Bomb, now! ****

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The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi, the love story of 2 teenagers in modern-day Afghanistan. It pains me to say this because I really “like” the story and the topic of this book, and I thought the way Atia Abawi told her story of living in Afghanistan for 5 years was really fascinating…but the writing style of this book feels a bit amateur. It’s very ‘in your face’, almost portraying black-and-white figures, rather than the ‘complexity’ of the people that Atia Abawi refers to in the acknowledgments and the way she talked about it at NCTE. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.40Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. BIG disappointment. It has all the signs of a writer of “adult” fiction trying to write YA and thinking they need to ‘dumb it down’ somehow. Blèh… hate it when that happens. * 1/2

BTW, I didn’t know that Meg Wolitzer actually wrote “adult literary fiction” before I finished this book. So yeah, this one is a fail for me.

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: a very typical Telgemeier book. Sweetly drawn and with a recognizable story, albeit somewhat ‘short’. ***

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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, and with drawings of his son Brendan. A story of mental illness. A very harsh and confrontational read, but excellent to get an insight into the mind of so many people (teenagers especially) who suffer from mental illness. This book by Shusterman impressed me more than his Unwind series. ****

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Also read in January:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – which I actually liked a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a sweet romance but really well done. *** 1/2

Reading now:

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos and with the kid, I am reading the Zita the Spacegirl series. Really great!

2015-02-11 09.27.29

 





Read in November 2014

3 12 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in November. I also don’t have the time right now for more than sketchy impressions of the books I read, rather than the full reviews they rightfully deserve. So here goes nothing…

Power books by power women, or also: books that will kick your ass as they rightly should:

GloryOBrien

 1) Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (by A.S. King aka the most missed author at NCTE/ALAN 2014)

I really hope to write a longer review of this, because this book and this author so deserves all the praise! This is a veritable horror story too. And can I be shallow and say how much I love my signed copy? Look at it!! But seriously. Read this!ASKingNCTE2014

4 stars (but really, it already has 6 starred reviews!)

2) The Truth about Alice (by Jennifer Mathieu)

There’s definitely an overarching theme in my November reads and that is cruelty. In this particular case, it’s cruelty in the guise of ‘slut shaming’. The Truth about Alice is Jennifer Mathieu’s debut YA novel and I was completely and shamelessly sucked in by it.

I “loved” every bit of this book: the multiple perspectives, the ruthless investigation of stereotyping people (and characters in a book), the way it unflinchingly shows how boys and girls are seen and judged in a completely different light. I also “hated” everything about this book: the way the boys and girls are shown and how stereotypes are reinforced. How some people have (too) loud voices and others don’t have a voice at all.

This is such an important book. For boys and for girls. And not in the least: for the adults raising those boys and those girls.

4 stars

3) Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (by Meg Medina)

This is a book from the heart. It’s not a ‘nice’ story, though. On the contrary, Meg Medina wrote a harsh psychologically layered story about bullying and female relationships. It’s edgy – and I’m not even talking about that title (which, by the way kicks so much ass 😉 – and I’m sure not just girls will identify with Piddy Sanchez or possibly even the mysterious Yaqui Delgado. If there’s one thing that’s abudantly clear after reading this provocative little book then it’s that everyone has a story: the victim, but also the bully, even if we don’t know what that story is, as is the case with Yaqui Delgado. And more than being ‘just another bullying book’, what really stands out is Medina’s great rendering of female relationships.

3.5 stars

Power books by power men

1) Knockout Games (by G.Neri)

Based on true events, comes G. Neri’s Knockout Games. I read this one right before Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and what the two definitely have in common is the violence. This one is a ruthless book. Set in St. Louis it’s all about a knockout club, a group of middle and high school kids who basically get into random violence (knocking out random people on the street for the fun and thrill of it). When Erica is uprooted to St. Louis after her parents’ divorce, she gets mixed up with the game (she’s good with a camera) and its leader, K (Kalvin), the Knockout King.

The narrative and the language are very straightforward. There’s no needless fancy talk, which wouldn’t really fit with the book’s topic anyway. Also like Yaqui Delgado, I see this being liked by a younger audience (Yes, yes, I know: there’s violence. And sex. Bite me). There’s also the same trope of the outsider trying to fit in, which that age group really seems to appreciate a lot. In this case, the protagonist is the white Erica who moves to a predominantly African American neighborhood and who’s trying to keep her head above water after her parents’ divorce.

3 stars

nctereads1

2) He Said, She Said (by Kwame Alexander)

This is described as a ‘hip hop’ novel and the language use of esp. the male protagonist Omar or T-Diddy (I did the same eye-rolling as the female protagonist!) in the book also reflects this. However, I can’t really say I was into it all that much. I also don’t like hip hop, so maybe it’s that. The story is too stereotypical for my taste: a good looking star football player (a real “player” too, of course) and a studious and responsible girl. Of course they’re destined to meet. Mixed in with this tale of destined yet too good to be true romance is a fight for social justice at the local high school.

I don’t know, it’s all very much in your face. I just couldn’t see past the shallowness of it all (maybe that’s the point?) and I just like my stories more nuanced and my characters with a lot more depth.

2.5 stars

Graphic novels:

1)  The Silence of our Friends (by Mark Long)

This graphic novel – also drawn by Nate Powell – is another (historical) graphic novel/memoir in the same vein as March Book One. It’s not quite as powerful as March Book One, but I can see this being liked a lot by my reluctant readers who’re really into history and the Civil Rights Movement.

3 stars

2) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (by Stephen Collins)

GET THIS BOOK NOW. GET IT! NOW! Absolutely brilliant graphic novel. What can I say? There’s the neat and orderly island of Here. The threat of a chaotic There. And there’s a *gigantic beard*. I repeat: there’s a gigantic beard. What more do you need? Brilliant artwork? It’s all there.

Gigantic Beard 1

Gigantic Beard 2

It’s the ultimate surrealist and eerily honest truth metaphor about the state of man in our current society (unfortunately it’s probably also the ultimate hipster book). This book is  awesome. Did I mention there’s a gigantic beard? That is evil?

5 stars

 

Up next: photo impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014





Read in September 2014

27 09 2014

Due to severe lack of time, here’s a photo impression of recently read books:

  • Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: All the rage in London, so I decided to check it out. It’s not even half bad 😉 Of course, it’s utterly predictable, but it’s an easy read which will please a lot of my reluctant readers. 3 stars
Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

 

  • Michael Grant’s Messenger of Fear: another new series by the author of the Gone series. It’s no Gone, though, but luckily no BZRK or Eve & Adam, both of which I just couldn’t get into. This one shows some promise. Will check out the next book in the series! 3 stars
Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite 'first in a series' flaws. Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite ‘first in a series’ flaws.
Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

 

  • Andre the Giant by Box Brown: a graphic memoir of Andre the Giant. Nice enough, although it lacks some depth. 3 stars
Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

  • The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz: bought this solely because Andrew Smith told me to. Yvonne Prinz tells the tale of a music (vinyl) obsessed girl in Berkely, who works at a legendary music store. Although the (love) story in itself is one I’ve read before, there’s a melancholy sweetness to this book that makes it really hard to resist.  3 stars
The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob's record store, aka Amoeba ;)

The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob’s record store, aka Amoeba 😉

 

 

Currently reading:

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel... will let you know what I think later.

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel… will let you know what I think later.

 

Also, coming soon: a review of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles… (thanks Amy Del Rosso)!

 

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!





B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars

 

2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars





Spanking Shakespeare (by Jake Wizner)

7 06 2014

20140607_140412Spanking Shakespeare is everything a certain R.G. over at Slate says an adult who’s reading it should be embarrassed about:

a)      It is to be situated in that genre “realistic fiction” about “real teens doing real things”, like say high school for a 17-year-old guy.

b)      It is escapist and offers “instant gratification”, there’s a whole lot of sex talk going on, see my a).

c)       It aims to be “pleasurable”, see my b).

d)      It sort of asks its readers to “immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life” but it is obvious we should “abandon the mature insights” that we “(supposedly) have acquired as adults.” Because adults clearly don’t know what it is to have hormones raging through their bodies, or to have sarcasm as a life-saving mechanism, or even what it is like to navigate between different relationships (friends, parents, potential girlfriends) or how to be embarrassed about something… anything.

e)      Its ending is “uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering” (here it is cheering). Spoiler alert: Shakespeare gets a girlfriend!

f)       Also, it does not have any “Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love.” No it does not, but it has some great potty jokes, though… Oh and it has Shakespeare on the cover.

Spanking Shakespeare is a perfectly entertaining, funny escapist YA novel. I read it. I am not embarrassed about that.

And you know what, the next book I took up after Spanking Shakespeare was Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s also YA. It’s incredibly touching. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. And the next book I’m taking up? James Dashner’s The Scorch Trials. I do not feel embarrassed about that either.

I am 36. I read YA.





Something for the reluctant readers out there.

27 05 2014

Mojo (by Tim Tharp)

mojoTim Tharp scored a bit of a minor hit there when his The Spectacular Now got nominated for the National Book Award. It had a certain something that also James Ponsoldt (director) and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (screenwriters) noticed. The result: a critically acclaimed indie-feeling film with the now almost omnipresent Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

Mojo, however, is a completely different type of story than The Spectacular Now. It reads a lot younger, for one. At the same time, it might appeal a lot more to reluctant readers because of its fairly straightforward whodunit premise.

In order to find ‘mojo’, Dylan starts investigating a case involving the disappearance of a rich and beautiful girl, Ashton Browning. His investigation brings him to a world almost unknown, that of an elite private high school and an underground club called Gangland. It’s also a spider web of lies and deceit and obviously Dylan gets caught up in it.

Mojo isn’t very ‘subtle’, and as such its plot is also rather predictable, the characters fairly one-dimensional, stereotypical even. But if the mystery doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat enough, Tharp has infused his book with a dose of healthy humor. It’s this mix of reasonably undemanding plot, a bit of mystery and a dash of humor that makes this an ideal book for lots of reluctant readers.

3 stars

 

Notes from the Blender (by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin)

notes from the blenderEven though the plot is completely different than Tim Tharp’s Mojo, Notes from the Blender might appeal to the same type of reluctant reader, and if nothing else, it will make you grin and chuckle at the sometimes silly and often confusing things its main characters experience. Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin, is the story of Declan and Neilly and how their respective separate family become a blended family.

Declan lost his mom about 6 years ago and has spent the time not getting over that. Now as a healthy teenage boy (!), he’s obsessed with (Finnish black) metal, violent videogames, doesn’t have a lot of friends and fantasizes about hot girls like Neilly. Neilly is in the in-crowd: she has a popular boyfriend, a best friend, goes to all the hip parties, is beautiful and the object of Declan’s obsession… sort of. Then Neilly finds out her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend, so she’s now date-less for her father’s wedding ceremony – after her parents divorced, her dad’s now marrying another guy. And now her mom is also getting married again. As if things couldn’t get any worse, her now also pregnant mom is marrying Declan’s dad. Lives get turned upside down: new house, new family, new church, new people to hang out with… Things aren’t so hot for Neilly now and Declan too can’t stop feeling let down by his own father for trying to replace his mother. In a sort of reversal of Parent Trap (the movie is even referenced in the book) things get all complicated, but work themselves out by the end of it all…

Notes from the Blender is a fun little book, which – despite its complicated relationships and friendships – isn’t that complicated at all. And it has the kind of life-affirming message we wish everyone believed in: that love and family are positive things, in whatever size or form or blend they come.

3.5 stars








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