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Giants Beware!

8 Oct

GiantsBeware!When your life goal is to battle giants, the existence of a baby-feet-eating giant in the nearby mountains is cause for celebration. Upon hearing a story from a village elder about said giant, Claudette answers the call to adventure and heads out to slay the giant. Her trusty pup, Valiant, joins her on her quest, and she also tricks her timid younger brother Gaston and her best friend Marie to join her. Tricking her friends into joining her, stealing a map and weapons from her father’s secret chest, and sneaking out of the guarded town walls is the easy part. Once on the outside, Claudette and crew then must make their way through the Forest of Death, across the Mad River, and up the Giant’s Peak to find and slay the baby-feet-eating giant. Phew!

Giants Beware! has plenty of action, solid pacing, an imaginative setting, and funny, clever dialogue. The characters and themes of friendship and bravery are especially well developed. As the village elder tells Claudette at the beginning of the story “you never know what you’re truly made of until you’re staring eyeball-to-eyeball into the face of fear.” (p. 9) This story of adventure gives the reader plenty of opportunity to learn just what our characters are made of. The characters’ faces are quite expressive and Claudette’s red hair stands out on each page, just as her personality and rambunctiousness makes her stand out in life. Yeah, you heard me right – red hair. We have a full color comic on our hands. There’s a bit of gross-out humor throughout the book – dog poop, stinky feet, nerve-induced-barfing – that will attract some readers, but may feel immature to others (I made it through just fine). Overall, Giants Beware! is a fun, exciting, and sweet adventure story with a cast of characters that you can’t help rooting for. Much love for this one.

Em’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Jorge Aguirre
Illustrator: Rafael Rosado
Publisher: First Second (April 2012)

I love Giants Beware! I suggest it to all the cool kids at the library and some of the adults too. I can’t wait for the next adventure with Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, Dragons Beware!, coming in May 2015. See description below!

dragonsbeware

Scrappy Claudette sets out once again with her pal Marie and her little brother Gaston to right wrongs and fight evil. And this time, it’s personal. Claudette is out to get the dragon who ate her father’s legs…and his legendary sword. But as usual, nothing is as simple as it seems, and Claudette is going to need Marie and Gaston’s help more than ever.

Funny, fast, high-energy storytelling in an inventive and perilous fantasy landscape makes Dragons Beware! a fantastic follow-up to 2012’s middle-grade hit Giants Beware!

TBR + Giveaway: Burn for Burn Trilogy

10 Sep

AshesToAshes“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating. This week I’m highlighting the third book in the Burn for Burn trilogy and offering a giveaway for those who still need to catch up!

It’s hard to discuss later books in a series without spoiling things for new readers. This is particularly the case with books in a series like the Burn for Burn trilogy from Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian where spoilers would ruin so much of the fun. I’m including the publisher’s description of Burn for Burn (#1) below to give potential new readers a sense of what this series is all about. I enjoyed Burn for Burn and I thought Fire with Fire was even better, and so I’m hoping that Ashes to Ashes will offer an exciting conclusion to this interesting, ever-surprising series. Ashes to Ashes will be released on September 16.

Postcard-perfect Jar Island is the kind of place where nobody locks their doors at night, where parents can sleep easy, knowing their daughters are tucked away safe and sound in their beds.

But bad things can happen, even to good girls . . . and sometimes, the only way to make things right is to do something wrong.

Lillia used to trust boys, but not anymore. Not after what happened this summer. And she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her little sister from the same fate.

Kat is over the rumors, the insults, the cruel jokes made at her expense. It all goes back to one person–her ex-best friend. Someone needs to teach her a lesson, and, with Lillia and Mary behind her, Kat feels up to the task.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she’s not the same girl anymore. Now that she’s got friends who have her back, he’s going to be in big trouble.

Three very different girls who come together to make things right. Will they go too far?

Still need to dive into the world of Jar Island? Enter the giveaway below. If you win, I’ll be sending you a paperback copy of Burn for Burn and an ARC of Fire with Fire

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You may also wish to enter the giveaway that SimonTEEN is offering on goodreads for 1 of 50 sets of the full series!

Sisters

8 Sep

SistersI love Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel memoir, Smile, a coming of age story that explores the impact of years of dental work caused by a fall in sixth grade as well as typical middle school stuff: crushes, changing friendships, school, pimples, self-confidence, and family. In the follow up to Smile, Raina revisits her childhood years and explores her relationship with her younger sister, Amara. With Sisters, rather than dental drama, a family road-trip provides the framework of the story. Raina, Amara, their baby brother, and their mom head off to a family reunion in the family van, traveling from their home in San Francisco to Colorado. Along the way the family survives life on the road with crazy storms, van issues, unwelcome creatures, and changing relationships. The story jumps in time between the road trip adventures and various memories from Raina and Amara’s childhood, showing the sisters at their best and at their worst.

In one of the flashbacks, we learn that as a child Raina wanted a baby sister (and playmate) more than anything, but then Amara arrived and she wasn’t quite what Raina had in mind. Amara was a grouchy baby and cried all the time, which is perhaps normal for a baby, but her mood didn’t seem to improve much as she grew older. The girls are very different from one another and though they share a love of art, they fight over art supplies and Raina feels some stress about her art skills being compared to her younger sister. But even with all the nagging, fighting, and angry glares, Telgemeier also presents some sweet moments where the sisters come together as a team.

SistersSarahEm

Here’s me and my big sister, Sarah, being especially cute together.

While my sister and I generally got along growing up – I would even go so far as to say we were friends – Sisters brought back plenty of memories from family road trips, both the good and the bad. Telgemeier’s “Anatomy of a Road Trip” illustration offers a great reminder of times past for anyone who grew up taking road trips with family in a mini-van. Many readers will relate to the dynamic between the siblings, and between Raina and her other family members, but even those who don’t will find much to enjoy here. And while technically Sisters is a follow-up to Smile, both books work well as stand-alones, so those who have yet to read Smile will not feel lost. (Though why haven’t they read Smile yet?).

Sisters is written for a young audience and I’m curious if young readers will pick up on some of the plot developments before they are announced – some family issues and a surprise road trip visitor – or if they’ll be surprised at the turn of events. The foreshadowing wasn’t especially subtle, but it didn’t negatively affect my enjoyment of the story or make the “big reveals” any less impactful. Telgemeier strikes a fine balance in her visual story telling offering both subtle details and exaggerated expressions, mixing quirky humor with emotional depth. Sisters covers some emotional territory, but never forgets the light moments along the way. Telgemeier’s artwork is expressive and she brings warmth and a sense of humor to the story of battling siblings who figure out how to get along…well, when it matters at least.

Em’s Rating: 4 out of 5
Title: Sisters
Author/illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Graphix (August 2014)
Note: Review copy received from publisher.

Middle Grade Read: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

1 Aug

DiaryOfAWimpyKid
I decided to finally read Diary of a Wimpy Kid because all the young men who spend time at my library can’t seem to get enough of the series and I wanted to know what all the hubbub was about. There was one young man last summer who would come by my office each day and read a few sentences from this book to me. He would do the whole finger traveling under the words as he read thing and it was just so sweet being read to by this young and eager reader from this super goofy story.

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, sixth grader Greg Heffley chronicles his experiences during his first year in middle school with stories and sketches. In this first volume of the popular series, Greg and his friend Rowley navigate the sometimes-scary middle school hallways and their changing relationship. The reader is also introduced to the wonderful world of being a middle child. Between Rodrick, Greg’s older brother and frequent tormentor, and Manny, Greg’s younger brother who gets away with everything because he’s three, Greg just can’t seem to win.

Greg isn’t a perfect person, and things don’t always go his way. I doubt many kids would strive to be more like Greg Heffley, but they may recognize some of their own flaws or tough luck in this character and feel a bit of relief that they are not alone. Kinney does a great job of depicting life at this age—when you’re not quite a kid anymore, but you still want to go trick or treating and your parents infuriatingly monitor your media use.

After reading the first volume, I can understand why these books are rarely on the shelves. The stories are quite funny and are fairly accessible for struggling or reluctant readers. The diary format with short entries and the inclusion of cartoons makes for an especially quick and fun read. While these books are definitely geared towards children, they’re cute and clever and readers of any age could easily enjoy them. I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll continue on with the series, but I’m glad that I gave the first book a chance, and not only because I now know what the deal is with “the cheese touch”.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jeff Kinney
Publisher: Amulet Books (2007)

The Shadow Hero

22 Jul

ShadowHero-Cov-final2Back in the 1940s, a new superhero was introduced who defended American Allies in China during World War II. He was called the Green Turtle and some speculate that the comic’s creator, Chu Hing, intended the Green Turtle to be Chinese-American and therefore the first Asian American Superhero. It’s further speculated that the publisher feared a Chinese superhero would not sell and so insisted that the character appear white. The Green Turtle’s run in comics was short-lived and so the audience, and his sidekick Burma Boy, never learned his true identity nor saw the Green Turtle unmasked.

Enter Gene Luen Yang, 70 years later, who offers both an identity and an origin story for the Green Turtle. In Yang’s story, a first generation Chinese-American named Hank Chu transforms from a neighborhood teen working in his father’s grocery store in 1930s Chinatown to a crime-fighting superhero who is invulnerable to bullets. It all starts when his mother is saved by The Anchor of Justice and becomes obsessed with the idea of her son becoming a great superhero. She signs him up for fighting lessons with Uncle Wun Too, makes him a costume, and gives him a superhero name (Golden Man of Bravery). While he does gain some fighting skills, throwing a few good punches in a costume does not make someone a superhero. Sadly, it takes a tragedy to give Hank both the super powers and motivation he needs to be a true masked crime-fighter.

One thing I appreciate about The Shadow Hero as an origin story is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While there is some heartbreak to help spur our hero into action and the racism of the era is not ignored, there is also quite a bit of humor as Hank survives his mother’s many efforts to have him stumble upon some super powers and as he figures out how to work with the ancient turtle spirit who is always just over his shoulder sharing his input like it or not.

ToxicSludgeIsGoodForYou

Hank’s mother and Uncle Wun Too are wonderfully entertaining supporting characters who offer the story a good dose each of humor and heart while also having a strong impact on the storyline. We’re introduced to a love interest for Hank – a beautiful, young woman named Red Center with special skills and family issues of her own. We also meet Detective Lawful, a lawman who isn’t quite up to the challenge of fighting a fight he cannot win, and the real “law” of Chinatown – Ten Grand, Mock Beak, and Big Cookie – who collect taxes from the people of Chinatown and deliver punches and bullets to those who disobey. And then there’s the ancient Chinese turtle spirit who inhabits Hank’s shadow, who is part sidekick, part guardian angel, but really neither of these two roles quite describes the relationship between him and Hank.

In addition to the strong ensemble, Yang and Liew offer action, romance, humor, suspense, and a desire for more adventures to follow. Whether there will be more Green Turtle adventures from Yang and Liew or not, I do not know. The end of The Shadow Hero suggests that the Green Turtle will be heading off to war soon (i.e. the adventures featured in the 1940s comics), so perhaps the idea is that what comes next has already been written and so need not be written again. All I know is that I would gladly read more from Yang and Liew and would be thrilled to see more Green Turtle stories in their (and my) future.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second (July 2014)
Note: eGalley received from publisher for review

Maddie Reviews: Emma by Jane Austen

9 Jul

9780143106463_Emma_ClaDlx.indd
Earlier this year, I decided to deviate from my usual reading material and go for something a bit different. I got a copy of Emma through a free book something-or-other, and decided- why not? I had been inspired to start reading Jane Austen because of Gwyneth Paltrow, The Mother Daughter Book Club series, and just because it sounded like something that would be more interesting to me. I figured that if I was going to finally start to brave literature from the early 1900s, why not start with something a bit gossipy and love triangle oriented?

You’ve probably heard of this book before. It was the last book that the famous Jane Austen published in her lifetime. Its heroine is the witty and intelligent but extremely nosy Emma, a member of the higher branch of English society from around the eighteen hundreds. As the publisher description adequately describes her, “she was beautiful, clever, rich, and single.” She is set apart from her peers (and, I think, other heroines of her time) by being content to remain perfectly clever and single. As she says in the book, “’I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature, and I do not think I ever shall.’” Certainly, the main plot point of the story is her delightful nosiness.

In the very beginning, she sets out to match her new charge/protégé, the young Miss Harriet, an orphan of unknown parentage, to the handsome, young, and wealthy Mr. Elton. Emma decides she must take Harriett under her wing after her main companion, the former Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston, is married. Making matches and getting into people’s business is our dear protagonist Emma’s favorite pastime. The story evolves to include the interesting twists and turns of Emma’s scheme, with some things extremely unexpected, and others that could be guessed from the beginning – for, really, what is a Jane Austen novel without romance?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I noticed how Jane Austen seemed to use some facts of English society in the story, remark about them in a clever prose, and then (very subtly) make fun of them, as if to say, through her characters and their actions, that some aspects of society were just plain stupid. To give a specific example I have in mind would spoil some of the book, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Another thing I liked about this book were all the different characters. There is the disagreeable friend of Emma’s, Mr. Knightly, her father, Mr. Woodhouse, who seems to have a rather stalkerish obsession with their town doctor, Perry (and health), the young, slightly dimwitted Miss Harriet, and the dapper Mr. Elton.

I also love her use of language. It was the kind of book that you are bursting at the seams to read in a British accent, and cuddle up with a cup of mint tea, a blanket, and a small dog by the fireplace.

There were things about this book that I wasn’t as fond of. First, there are spaces in places they simply shouldn’t be. The same can be said of the letter u, and other odd things that appear in places that they don’t in American English. The book, while much more interesting, than, say, The Scarlet Letter, is still a bit tedious and hard to read at times. The plot as well, or at least parts of it, was extremely predictable. For example, I knew that ______ would end up with ______ and that ______ would, like, NEVER work out, and they’d end up back with _______ . . . I think you get my point. Saying all of this, though, it was still readable.

If you struggle sometimes with regular English, let alone older English, and classics just aren’t for you, then you may want to wait a few more years to tackle Emma. On the other hand, I highly recommend this book if you like classics, or want to start reading them. This book is most definitely a great place to begin! Also, if you appreciate love complications and just all-around extremely satisfying (read for five hours straight in a very large generously stuffed chair) books, you’d definitely adore this one.

So, pick up Emma, by Jane Austen: It’s a great way to start reading classics, and to perfect that British accent.

Maddie
Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Originally published in 1815 by John Murray

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are also posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog.

Not So YA: Vegan Cookbook Edition

6 Jul

This is a YA blog and these books aren’t YA. I could make the connection to my teen years – that I went vegetarian when I was 15 and vegan when I was 18. I could talk about how much I would have loved these books as a young vegan and how glad I am that vegan teens today have so many more options in restaurants, grocery stores, and on the bookshelves. This is all true, but I also just wanted to highlight these two books because they’re awesome. The recipes are delicious, creative, and easy to follow. The design is eye-catching and informative. These two books are two of my new go-to cookbooks that I’ll be revisiting time and time again in the years to come. I can’t wait to see what my next great recipe is!

afro-vegan
Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry

Bryant Terry creates amazing cookbooks and delicious flavor combinations. His book Vegan Soul Kitchen is one of my all-time favorites. There are few dishes in my life that I have loved as much as his Cajun-Creole-Spiced Tempeh Pieces with Creamy Grits. But boy do I have a new favorite in Afro-Vegan with his recipe for Texas Caviar. mmmmMMMM. It is fresh and decadent and reason enough to buy this book (though there are plenty of other reasons).

In Afro-Vegan, Terry offers over 100 delicious recipes organized by staple ingredients such as “Grits. Grains. Couscous.”, “Greens. Squashes, Roots.”, and “Okra, Black-Eyed Peas. Watermelon.” Each section’s intro and each recipe’s blurb ties back into the central themes of the cookbook – building community around food and around the table, honoring personal history and food history, and celebrating the food and the people of ancient Africa and the African-diaspora and their contributions to New World cuisine and agricultural practices.

As he does with every book, each recipe comes with a suggested music track. For example, Texas Caviar is paired with Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids”. This recipe is absolutely divine and I feel like a super rich kid when I eat it. Other dishes from Afro-Vegan that I have made and enjoyed include Glazed Carrot Salad and Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Soup. The suggested tracks for these two recipes: “Sweet Bite” by George Duke and “Africaine” by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

The Glazed Carrot Salad is a delicious warm carrot salad with cilantro, mint, and peanuts. I’m always excited to find dishes that give me a reason to appreciate the mint that grows like a weed in front of my house. This recipe is a bit time-consuming prep-wise for a side dish, but the resulting dish is beautiful and offers diverse textures and flavors that I appreciate. The Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Soup recipe uses a great trick that I first learned in Vegan Soul Kitchen – soaking cashews and blending them with water to make a nice protein-rich alternative to heavy cream. I made this recipe for Christmas dinner and my non-vegan family members thought the creamed cashews idea was genius and the resulting recipe delicious. They were correct.

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The book design is also lovely, with food photography by Paige Green, artwork by Nick James and Keba Konte, and a textured cloth pattern along the spine. I literally pet the book when it showed up at my library and thought to myself “this will look great on my cookbook shelf”. Then remembered that the copy belonged to the library, not me. Oops! I quickly remedied that situation and bought a copy of my own. Doesn’t it look so cozy with its friends?

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Bryant Terry
Photography: Paige Green
Publisher: Ten Speed Press (April 2014)
Note: eGalley received from publisher.

“If A People’s History Of The United States and Joy of Cooking had a baby, Afro-Vegan would be it!”
—Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of Veganomicon and Isa Does It

Isa-Does-It
Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

What I love about Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipes is that they’re really easy to follow and the resulting dishes are always delicious. What I love about her latest cookbook (in addition to the tasty dishes she introduces) is that almost every recipe is accompanied by a mouth-watering photograph. While the photography doesn’t technically make the recipes any better, aside from offering a reference for what the dish should/could look like, it does help build the excitement for trying out new dishes.

With Afro-Vegan I offered Texas Caviar as the recipe that is reason enough to buy the book. Here I suggest Jerk Sloppy Joes with Coconut Creamed Spinach as the recipe that alone is worth the price of the book purchase. I’ve had several vegan sloppy joes over the past 20 years, but this one is by far the best and I will never go back. The Coconut Creamed Spinach is a delicious addition that I never would have thought to add to a sloppy joe. Other recipes that have become go-to recipes for me in this book are the Meaty Beany Chili and the Cornbread Muffins; both are simple recipes that offer a lot of flavor. Here’s a video of Moskowitz making her Meaty Beany Chili and Cornbread Muffins (the video is by Breville, so she uses their slow-cooker and toaster oven – I use a good old fashioned pot and oven for these recipes at home, but hey, options are always good):

Other recipes that I have tried include Norah’s Lemon-Lemon Cookies and Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl with Tofu & Kale which were both delicious. I’m excited to try out more recipes this summer with all the fresh local produce available! Yum! The only trick is trying to narrow down which recipe to try out next. They all look so good!

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Photography: Vanessa Rees
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 2013)
Note: eGalley received from publisher.

Maddie Reviews: Code Name Verity

4 May

Maddie
Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!


CodeNameVerity
Code Name Verity was an amazing and thought-provoking book. As I have said before to those I know (in post-novel babbling disorder), I love fantasy and science fiction, and yet, despite this love, the genres that really GET me. . . the genres that affect me and leave a lasting impact are realistic and historical fiction. Code Name Verity is, I believe, the epitome of why this is true.

This story starts out with the narrative of “Verity”, a prisoner of the Gestapo in Nazi occupied France during World War Two. The time is October of 1943, and “Verity” is a Special Operations Executive for the Allies. She was sent to France to help with the French Resistance, but in the first 48 hours of her mission, she looks the wrong way when crossing the street and someone notices, which leads to her capture. She arrived in France by way of plane flown by her best friend (Maddie Brodatt, an English First Officer with the Air Trasnsport Auxiliary), but their plane is hit by an antiaircraft gun and crash lands. “Verity” gets out by parachuting, but she never finds out what happened to Maddie before she is caught. She (and the Gestapo) can only believe that Maddie is dead. Through torture by the Nazis, she goes on to reveal her story to the captain. She tells much of it through the eyes of her best friend. The book has many, many, many unexpected twists and turns, and has so many delicious spoiling opportunities, I can’t even explain farther than the first 57 pages without giving away something you really wouldn’t want to know.

I loved this book.

It was brilliant. It was historical. It was heart-wrenching. It was heart-warming. . . it was, without a doubt, an illustrious, absolutely stellar novel. I loved the characters – Queenie, “Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous”. The one who you would normally think of as the character you hate, but. . . you just. . . can’t. Then Jamie, the favorite brother and subject of Fear Number Three. There was the Bloody Machiavellian Intelligence Officer, who really doesn’t have a huge role, but whose “name” is brilliant. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, the Nazi captain with a soft spot for children. They all resonated with me, in some form or another.

In this book, I also loved the historical aspect. Now, I know that it IS historical fiction, but this book seemed especially well-researched and thought out. It almost felt like you were reading an extremely descriptive biography. I don’t know that much about World War II, but I certainly learned a lot by reading this, especially about how women were involved, specifically in the UK.

This leads me to another thing about this book that I appreciated. It showed a different, less explored point of view. Regarding the second World War, most of the fictional literature that exists is about the Holocaust – or, at least, everything I have come in contact with. This book shows the different perspective of the people actually fighting in Britain. To tell the truth, I have never really thought about that viewpoint.

Finally, this book made me cry. All of the best books that I’ve read make me cry – and they are all historical or realistic fiction. You get so wrapped up in the story, and, as I mentioned earlier, it feels like you are reading a biography. The characters come to life, and it takes a few minutes when you’ve finished to remember that they’re fictional. Code Name Verity really provides some thought (and makes me appreciate my nickname).

I loved this book a lot, but there were a few things that were less perfect. I suppose that the time it took Verity to write her confession novel was a bit unbelievable. Would she really have gotten that much time? Probably not. Also, Verity’s many names were hard to either keep track of or adjust to. Right after you had just gotten familiar with calling her one name, she would introduce another, and you would have to re-order your picture of her in your mind to get familiar with it, just like some of the plot twists in the story. Oh, the plot twists! I sometimes pride myself in predicting what is going to happen in a book, for, really, I am usually right. But in THIS book, I was continually shocked and surprised, marveling at how I really didn’t see some of the things coming. I loved it. Nevertheless, as with the name changing, it got confusing, which I believe can be both good and bad. It is puzzling the first time around, and you may want to reread some paragraphs over again, but in the long run, it makes you want to reread the book. Basically, the quote from the New York Times on the front cover explains it nicely: it’s “a fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel.” I feel that it is one of the books that doesn’t get old very easily, and you can spot something new every single time. Lastly, I suppose the worst thing about this book was that it took me six days to read the first 84 pages. The start seemed very slow, and I kept reading it in little increments. I discovered that you have to start this book when you have a good long time to just sit down and READ. After you get over the initial hump, the plot drags you in, and then you’re glued until the finish.

I would recommend this book to absolutely EVERYONE to read. If you like historical fiction, then this is a must. Its plot, as well as its characters, are well-crafted, and it tells an inspiring overarching tale of friendship that makes you love it to bits. That said, though, you have to have tolerance for descriptions of things you may not know anything about, like wireless operators, Puss Moths, and Nazi officer rankings, so you might want to have an interest in the time period.

So, the bottom line is. . . READ THIS BOOK. It is amazing, thought provoking, and tells a tale of friendship that you simply cannot miss.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (2012)

War Horse (Audio)

7 Apr

War Horse
I’ve never been that into horses. Don’t get me wrong, horses are great. I mean they’re basically superheroes – they can run shortly after birth, they can see nearly 360 degrees, and they can sleep standing up (ok, maybe that last one isn’t the greatest super power, but it’s still very impressive). I know horse personalities vary, but in my limited experience with them, I’ve never met a bad egg. They’re beautiful creatures. And whenever I watch a battle scene with soldiers on horseback at the movies, I’m more sad to see the horses fall in battle than the soldiers. But somehow, I’ve never been drawn to horse stories and if I’m honest, would probably even go so far as to respond to them with a “this one’s not for me”. So it comes as no surprise that I was late to the party when it comes to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I still haven’t seen the stage performance or the Spielberg film adaptation, but I can now put a big check mark next to “read the book”.

War Horse follows Joey, a bay-red foal, from farm life to the war on the Western Front. As Joey is transferred from owner to owner, we see war from his point of view as well as from the perspectives of his various caregivers, on both sides of the war in England, Germany and France. The story is narrated using fairly simple language to match Joey’s limited awareness and the way he sees the war. Still, plenty of people talk to Joey, sharing their thoughts and concerns, asking things of him, and Joey communicates with people in his own way. While Joey has a job to perform at each stop along his way, it’s also clear that his value to his caretakers goes far beyond his contributions as a work animal. Joey also has some horse companions, Zoey and Topthorn – one a farm horse, the other a war horse. Unlike with many animal stories, the horses themselves do not have some special, secret horse communication, yet Joey still feels a strong connection with these two horses.

Morpurgo had several inspirations for War Horse, including conversations with World War I veterans and a haunting painting of horses charging into a barbed wire fence during battle. In a piece written for The Telegraph titled “War Horse: When Horses Were Heroes”, Morpurgo also shared a particularly touching inspiration for the story – an encounter he once witnessed between a boy with a debilitating stammer and a farm horse:

As I came into the stable yard behind the house I found Billy standing under the stable light, talking freely to one of the horses. He spoke confidently, knowing he was not being judged or mocked. And I had the very strong impression that the horse was listening, and understanding too. It was an unforgettable moment for all three of us, I think. It was that extraordinary moment that gave me the confidence I needed to begin writing War Horse.

That story alone moved me to tears. War Horse also moved me to tears several times. I’m sure if I ever get around to watching the movie, Spielberg will make sure to have the music swell just right at all the tearjerker moments. The story is moving, war is harsh, and the themes of family, friendship, courage, and communication across language barriers are explored in interesting ways. But it is the uniqueness of Joey as a narrator and protagonist that makes War Horse really stand out.

Through his performance on the audiobook recording, reader John Keating distinguishes between Joey and his various owners, giving each a distinct voice and accent. The audio recording is well paced and overall a short listen at just over four hours. I’m glad I finally gave this “horse story” a listen.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Reader: John Keating
Publishers: Scholastic Audiobooks (2010)

Maddie Reviews: The Diviners

25 Mar

Maddie
Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!

I have very interesting friends, and it is because of them that I read this book. My one friend was reading this in the library at school, when my other (slightly crazy) friend came up behind her and started reading her page aloud with various interesting voices. The next thing I knew, my slightly crazy friend was reading the book too, and giving more commentary. (“Ooo! I think Tommy’s going to die! DON’T GO IN THERE, TOMMY!”) They both talked about how good the book was, and had several silent screaming fests when they discussed it afterwards. . . So, my curiosity got the better of me, and I absolutely had to read it.

The Diviners
This book, The Diviners, by Libba Bray, primarily focuses on the main protagonist, Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill. It starts out with her being exiled to New York City to cool off (the reasons being along the lines of her accusing the town golden boy of knocking up a chambermaid at a particularly boisterous party). It takes place in the 1920’s, so as the cover remarks, New York is stuffed to the brim with speakeasies, pickpockets, Ziegfeld girls and silent pictures. “The city ran on corruption as much as electricity.” Evie’s only reservation about leaving her small town was that she’d be stuck living with her Uncle Will, who owned a museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, otherwise know by New Yorkers as the museum of Creepy Crawlies- a place “arrears on its taxes”.

Anyway, Evie, known to her small town as “that awful O’Neill girl” a flapper through and through, also had a gift- or rather, a supernatural power. She could take an object that was important to the person whose item she was examining, and get. . . sort of. . . transported to a scene in the person’s life when they possessed that object.

Also going on in this book are POV’s (points of view) from different characters, the other main POV being a character named Memphis, who was a numbers-runner for Papa Charles, “the undisputed king of Harlem”. Memphis too, had a gift- a different gift, though he hadn’t used it in a long time, for when he needed it most, his ability had failed him. There are other characters in this story, too, ranging from the reserved assistant of Evie’s uncle, Jericho, who (guess what!?) hides a secret, to Theta, a Ziegfeld girl and friend of Evie’s. She, (Theta) lived in an apartment with her “brother”, fleeing from her past-and, yes, her gift.

There are many interesting characters, but the main plot point of the story is about a series of murders, done by a serial killer whom the reader knows from the beginning, called Naughty John. The victims were branded with a cryptic, mysterious symbol and a note. Evie’s uncle was called to the scene by the police, as the killings seemed to be religious or occultish in nature, and the rest of the book unfolds with Evie realizing that her gift could help catch the killer. Evie, Sam, (another character; a NYC pickpocket), her uncle, and Jericho discover in the process of solving the case that the killings were the start of something bigger.

Personally, I enjoyed this book (for the MOST part). I loved the complicated weaving of the storyline. I loved the third-person storytelling, and how it switched POV’s constantly from a random aristocrat to the wind. I loved the names- especially me, being a name fanatic, encountering names such as Memphis and Theta gives me an embarrassingly large dose of satisfaction. Perhaps, my favorite thing, though, was the historical fiction aspect. I swear, I’ve learned more about the twenties, the Harlem Renaissance, and Prohibition than I have from ever watching a PBS special. Because of this book, I can recite ten examples of flapper slang off the top of my head. Finally, I started reading it the same afternoon I got it, and finished it the next morning. So, yes, it was THAT good- the kind of good that you sit and stare at for a couple minutes afterward, and get bug-eyed when you realize that THERE IS A SEQUEL.

There were things about this book that I did not appreciate as much. . . the main thing being the ending. It had a very last-minute relationship plot twist that I just did not like. Besides that, the only other real flaw that stayed with me was that the characters sometimes aggravate the reader- (Dude! Don’t go in there! Are you STUPID!? There’s a creepo! OR THERE! DON’T WALK INTO A RANDOM ABANDONED WAREHOUSE!!! OR under a creepy bridge! ESPECIALLY when the psychic ten-year-old told you NOT to!) . Lastly, depending on your perspective, you might think that the book talks a little bit TOO much about Prohibition and other subjects along those lines.

I would not recommend this book to someone who doesn’t like really creepy books-there are scenes from the POV of some of the victims (at one point, it seems like someone dies every other chapter). Also, if you do not like more complex plots or the whole Armageddon bit.

BUT, if you DO enjoy any of the above. . . or, well, even if you don’t, you should pick up Diviners by Libba Bray, because you can bet on your life-ski that you’ll enjoy it.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)