Book review roundup

Another roundup of my latest book reviews, and all I can say about this bunch is: we need more Lumberjanes in our lives!

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson

A few months ago Jodi praised Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and I kept hearing about it from other people, too. I finally read it and I’m happy to say the praise is well deserved. Nimona is a damn good time.

I loved Nimona by the end of chapter one, which is actually only two pages. No exaggeration, two pages was…continue reading

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Andersallthebirdsinthesky

I started reading All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders while I was getting new tires put on my car and when they finished in under an hour, I was annoyed. I loved the 50some pages I had read and didn’t want to stop. I felt that giddy excitement as I continued with the story, but midway through it slowly started going downhill. I still don’t quite know how I feel about it, but maybe when I finish writing this I’ll have a better idea. …continue reading

thefloodgirls-185x280The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

I grew up on a farm, near very small towns, and small towns have their good and bad. We often hear about the bad, like gossip running rampant, but the good outshines that, like when people brought us weeks of food, pop, and supplies after my dad recently passed. That sort of goodness is why I’m drawn to stories about small towns, like The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield.

In The Flood Girls, Rachel Flood has returned to Quinn, Montana to make amends. …continue reading

Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Noelle Stevensonlumberjanes-vol-1-185x280

I wish I had the Lumberjanes when I was young. Following five girls – Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley – at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, Lumberjanes is a female-centric, girl-power, fantasy romp that is so much fun it’s ridiculous.

At camp, the girls continually sneak out of their cabin, and away from their uptight scout leader Jen, to have adventures in the nearby forest. They save…continue reading

thereadersofbrokenwheelrecommend-185x280The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is a sweet, small town story filled with secrets, romance, and a bunch of books.

Sara, a young, twenty-something bookseller from Sweden, has been carrying on a correspondence with Amy, an old, retired woman from a small town in Iowa, for years. Their correspondence started when one sold a book to the other and they have been writing letters to each other ever since, letters filled with book love…continue reading

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Riversthegirlinthewellisme-185x280

Taking place almost entirely inside the well where Kammie Summers is stuck, The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers is a great middle grade novel about bullying, family, friends, and being true to oneself.

11-year-old Kammie and her family moved to be closer to her dad, who is in prison. We don’t see this, but we learn about it after Kammie gets stuck in a well as part of an initiation gone wrong. …continue reading

theimitationgame-185x280The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottavani

I recently watched the movie “The Imitation Game,” and it’s a great movie, even if it’s not very accurate. For instance, did Alan Turing name his decoding computer Christopher after a childhood friend he crushed on? Nope. Did Joan enter Bletchley Park after solving Turing’s crossword puzzle? Another big nope. How about Turing proposing to Joan so she could stay at Bletchley? No again. They were engaged, sure, but that’s not why or how it happened. And did Turing know the Soviet spy at Bletchley? Another no-no. It’s still a great movie, but there’s a lot of Hollywood shine added to it.

I say all of this to tell you that if you want to know the true story of Turing and his computer (named Bombe), then you might want to start with the graphic nonfiction The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani. …continue reading

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fayejane-steele-185x280

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is being called a retelling of Jane Eyre, and in this retelling Jane is a serial killer. But I don’t think either of these things is completely true.

In Jane Steele we follow the Jane from the title. She has read and is a fan of Jane Eyre. Looking back on her life she makes comparisons between herself and Jane Eyre, quoting the book throughout the story. …continue reading

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More Than This & other book reviews

I reviewed a lot of books lately, my favorite being More Than This by Patrick Ness. He has solidified his place as an author I will automatically read, without even knowing a thing about the book. If his name is attached, I’m reading it.

Some other books in this group I definitely didn’t like as much as More Than This. Two of them completely disappointed me.

More-Than-ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness

I read this book in a day.

That could be my whole review, because even though I read a lot, I don’t often finish a book in one sitting, so you know it has to be good. Although now that I think about it, this is the third Patrick Ness book I have finished in a day. I just can’t put his books down.

More Than This opens with a death. Seth is in the ocean, off the coast in Washington state, waves throwing him against the rocks, and his skull fractures. He dies. It’s when Seth wakes up that the story begins. …more

days blood starlightDays of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Last year I read and loved Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone. The story followed Karou, a human raised by chimera, creatures from Eretz that have animal and human attributes. In Eretz, the chimera are at war with beautiful seraphim (or angels), one of whom Karou falls in love with, which becomes an issue when Karou discovers she’s a reincarnated chimera. Brimstone, the chimera who raised her, uses the teeth of humans and animals to reincarnate fallen chimera and he has been hiding Karou in our world.

When we last saw Karou, she and Akiva (the beautiful angel) are on the outs, Brimstone is missing, humans are made aware of angels, and Karou decides to enter Eretz to search for her family. Days of Blood & Starlight picks up right where Daughter of Smoke & Bone ended and we get the full picture of what has happened in Eretz. …more

BestOfConnieWillisThe Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Short Stories

I’ve been reading The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories for a couple months now. This isn’t because it’s bad; it’s because it’s so good. Each of these stories is award winning, so there really isn’t a bad story here, and I wanted to savor them. And even though there isn’t a bad story in these ten, I do have my favorites.

A Letter from the Clearys, a 1983 Nebula award winner, is a quiet yet powerful look at life after a nuclear war. A girl and her dog walk back to their home after visiting the post office to announce that they received a letter from the Clearys, but the letter was clearly written before it all happened. …more

sex and violenceSex & Violence by Carrie Mesorobian

Evan Carter is used to being the Eternal New Guy. Moved from school to school because of his father’s work schedule, Evan is never around long enough to make friends. He’s also not interested in relationships with women, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hook up. He knows how to find women for flings, and at his latest boarding school it’s no different. But this time, he runs into a problem – the ex-boyfriend. After he’s beaten to a pulp, Evan and his father move to a family lake cabin in Minnesota so Evan can heal, both physically and emotionally. …more

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl: a nice book about nice students doing nice things at a nice college. They have nice families, too.

That really sums up Fangirl, the book that was the biggest disappointment for me this year.

Maybe I put too much pressure on Fangirl. I had high expectations considering everyone was praising it and it comes from Rainbow Rowell, the author behind Eleanor & Park, one of the best books I read this year. I assumed Fangirl couldn’t be bad because Eleanor & Park was so good, but Fangirl isn’t. It’s so incredibly boring. …more

Bellman blackBellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I absolutely loved Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a great gothic mystery surrounding the details of a reclusive author’s life. I still recommend that book to people, so I was excited to finally have another book by Setterfield that I hoped would be just as fabulous.

Unfortunately, Bellman & Black completely let me down. I don’t know what happened between the The Thirteenth Tale and the release of Bellman & Black, but Setterfield lost her strong storytelling.

Bellman & Black follows the life of William Bellman and I loved how the story began with a young Will playing with three boys in the fields behind his house. …more

I needed Eleanor & Park

eleanorIn the past I’ve written of my love for the book Eleanor & Park. Other people love it, too, as seen in some awesome Eleanor & Park fan art. But there are some people who don’t love it so much.

This isn’t new news. Over a month ago the world was made aware that two parents in the Anoka-Hennepin school district started a crusade against Eleanor & Park. They were able to stop a visit by author Rainbow Rowell in the schools and in the Anoka County Libraries. For more information on how this came about, read the Rainbow Rowell interview at The Toast.

I’ve been stewing over this since I read that interview, and this article, and this one, and this one. It’s all over the news. But what is the most telling is reading the full report by the Parents Action League, the organization these parents use to strong arm county officials. You can find their full report and argument against this book on their website.

Besides the fact that they document how many swear words are in the book, making charts showing that the word “fuck” is used 35 times and “God” is used 67 times, what I found most interesting about their report is the information at the beginning. They give background on how they came to be aware that this book was used for a voluntary summer book club. Their 15-year-old brought it to their attention and they investigated. They state:

After being assaulted by 8 instances of “fuck” or “fucking”, 5 “shit”, 1 “dicklick” and 1 “bastard” in the first three pages of the book it was apparent that someone in the school district had a significant lapse in judgment by allowing this book to be put into the hands of our minor children.

This prompted us to spend roughly 10 hours reading the entire book cover to cover and documenting our findings regarding the content which we have included below. The amount of vile profanity used throughout this publication was absolutely astounding! Never in our 43 years have either of us ever read anything more profane.

Grammar mistakes aside, this is the most telling about the two people who brought this challenge forward. They are clearly not readers.

I say they are not readers because it’s hilarious that they think this is the most profane piece of literature. This book is so incredibly tame.

I like to read young adult literature. At least half the books I read are young adult, if not more. I love a good coming-of-age story where teens are faced with tough challenges and come out of them better and stronger than when they entered. I love a good piece of dystopian YA where teens take on the man because they aren’t yet jaded into thinking that they can’t fix injustices. Hell, I just love a good story, and I don’t care if that story involves teens or adults.

So as a person who reads a lot of YA, I can tell these parents that if their idea of profane is some silly swear words, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Swear words are extremely common in YA lit, and you know why? Because teens swear. I know it may shock these parents, but it’s true. On the school bus to and from school, students will hear more swear words in one day than they will read in this entire book.

I could easily name twenty YA books off the top of my head that are riddled with swear words. These books are probably in the Anoka-Hennepin school libraries, because they should be. Teens want to read stories about themselves. They want to see realistic portrayals of teenage life. And whether or not these parents want to admit it, teens swear.

They also fall in love, which seems to be another irritation for the Parents Action League. In Eleanor & Park, the two teens fall in love and kiss. And touch. But decide not to have sex.

Yes, that’s right, these teens decide not to have sex.

Here, again, is where this book challenge is ridiculous, because many teens do have sex, both in real life and in YA literature. I’ve read a book where a teen boy searches for girls to hook up with but not date. Where teens lose their virginity at summer camp. Where teens find solace in each other when everything else around them is crumbling. Yet the book where the teens decide they do not want to have sex should be called vulgar?

What makes me the most mad is that the teens in this book are so real and the Parents Action League wants to take that away from teens like me who needed a book like this.

I was Eleanor in high school, a chubby, insecure girl who bought into what I was sold about body image and beauty. Beauty was thin and thin is what you needed to be to be loved. There were very few people like me in literature and on television, so it was easy to buy into this construct. If we were in literature or on television we were the ones made fun of because we were disgusting. We were not worthy of love, at least not until we lost weight.

I grew up with “Married with Children” being a staple in my house. For some reason, my dad found Al Bundy funny, and he controlled the remote so I watched what he watched. Looking back on it, “Married with Children” was not something a 9-year-old should watch, but watch it I did, and whenever a large woman was on screen, Al Bundy made awful, horrible jokes about her, jokes that focused on her weight, because we women should be appealing to men, and being appealing meant we needed to be thin.

I needed more books like Eleanor & Park when I was young because Eleanor is worthy of love, even with her crappy home life, her worn clothes, and her chubby body. All of that doesn’t matter when it comes to finding companionship with someone else. That’s what Eleanor & Park teaches us, that above all the crap going on around them and the messages we are fed about beauty, they found each other and fell in love.

Isn’t that a message that parents would want their children to know? That no matter what we look like we are worthy of someone’s affections, someone that generally likes us for who we are?

I was so insecure as a teen, that I questioned or downright grilled a boy when he was flirting with me. Are you really flirting with me? Stop it, not me. Stop saying nice things to me. You’re joking with me, right? You’re pulling a prank on me? That’s nice, but stop it, because you’re clearly lying. I couldn’t accept that someone would actually find me attractive because I was not what attractive was supposed to be.

The parents who have started the crusade against this book are putting teens in a pretty, little, safe box, a box that doesn’t exist outside the minds of these parents. Every teen hears swear words every day at school. This is just a fact. Not every teen has sex or falls in love, but some do. These are the realities of the world in which we live. We are not the world of the “Brady Bunch,” a world that never existed when it was created and that doesn’t exist now.

Books like Eleanor & Park should and need to be on school library shelves for students like me. I needed Eleanor & Park as a teen. I needed to read it and I needed people around me to read it. Sadly, I know there are still teen girls who tell themselves some of the things I told myself as a teen, and they need to read it, too.

Lots of book reviews

I’ve reviewed a lot of books lately that I didn’t post here, so here’s a roundup of the latest ones. For each review, I grabbed the first couple paragraphs and then link out to the full review.

But warning: I didn’t really love any of these. I’m so happy that right now I’m almost finished with a book I absolutely love, because I was in slump.

theshiningirlsThe Shining Girls

I’ve had Lauren Beukes on my radar for awhile now, and I’ve even had a copy of Zoo City since the last Humble Bundle, but I knew I had to read The Shining Girls when I heard about its time traveling serial killer.

In The Shining Girls, Harper is a disturbing, terrifying hunter from the 1930s who stumbles upon a magical house that allows him to travel forward and backward in time. He goes through time to find “shining” girls, gives them a memento from a past kill, and tells them that he’ll see them again in the future. One of his shining girls is Kirby who he meets in 1974 and later tries to kill in the 1990s. Kirby drives this story as she tries to connect murders similar to her attack to find the culprit. …more

someday-someday-maybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe

I loved “The Gilmore Girls,” the smartly written series from the early 2000s featuring Lorelai Gilmore and her teenage daughter, Rory. Everyone watching the show wanted to be friends with this fast-talking duo and live in their quirky town of Stars Hollow. It was a charming show and I will never picture Lauren Graham as anything other than Lorelai Gilmore, which I’m sure she loves.

But if Lauren Graham wants to distance herself from Lorelai, she’s not doing so well by creating a character just as witty, sarcastic, funny, and charming as Lorelai. Franny is simply a younger Lorelai, minus the teenage pregnancy.

In Someday, Someday, Maybe, Franny Banks is a twenty-something struggling actress in New York in the mid-1990s. She’s working as a waitress, taking an acting class, trying to get an agent and auditions, dating the wrong guys, and hating on herself and her looks. This young-woman-trying-to-make-it story is one we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t charmed by Franny. …more

maggot-moonMaggot Moon

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner won the UK’s Costa Coffee Award and the Carnegie Medal, so I had to check out this alternate history about the boy with one brown eye and one blue.

It’s 1956 and Standish Treadwell is a dyslexic teen living in a totalitarian state in the UK, but an alternate universe UK where a Nazi-like group representing the Motherland rules with an iron fist. Anyone who questions the Motherland mysteriously vanishes, like Standish’s parents did years earlier. …more

lexiconLexicon

Wow, did I have a hard time with this book. I thought I would love it. I wanted to love it. I still think I’m supposed to love it. The premise is pretty amazing. The characters kind of fascinate me. So why did I moan every time I picked up the book to keep reading?

Max Berry’s Lexicon sounds like the coolest book. A secret society trains young people on a mysterious way to control others by using words. Not real words, a gobbledygook mishmash of sounds that are reminiscent of what an infant might express when trying to learn how to speak, but words nonetheless. I’m still not clear on why their gobbledygook can control minds, but just go with it, it can. …more

thespectacularnowThe Spectacular Now

The critics have been praising the movie “The Spectacular Now,” and after reading the book I have no idea why. I think this may be one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book.

The Spectacular Now is the story of popular teen Sutter Keely, the life of the party. He drinks daily, parties hard, gets along with everyone, is always looking to have fun, and seems like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Every guy wants to be his friend and every girl wants to be with him. …more

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

universe versus alex woodsIf you’ve ever been to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, you know there are winding walking paths that bring you through beautifully landscaped gardens. Typically on these paths you find people taking pictures, picnicking, or slowly meandering, but if you walked on them today you may have seen me wiping away tears. You’d think I would know better that when a book begins with someone in an urn that by the end I will eventually find out how he got there, but it’s the getting there that did me in.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence begins with 17-year-old Alex Woods being stopped at customs in Mr. Peterson’s car while trying to return to England. Mr. Peterson is in the passenger seat in an urn and Alex has a slight epileptic seizure. I’m not giving away major plot points here, because you find out about these things before chapter one ends. In chapter two the story jumps to when Alex is ten and a meteorite strikes him in the head.

You probably think it sounds very far-fetched that a meteorite actually hits him in the head, but Alex, and the rest of the world, are just as shocked by it as you are. Alex and his meteorite become famous overnight, but unfortunately Alex also has to deal with some major medical issues because of it. And as if a smart, geeky kid doesn’t already feel like an outsider and get picked on at school, throw in a freak accident and some epileptic seizures and Alex was bound to be a bully target.

But the real story takes place after Alex, getting chased and bullied by some awful boys, meets Mr. Peterson, a cranky, old, Vietnam vet. To pay back a debt, Alex has to start helping Mr. Peterson, but this help turns into a real friendship where they bond over classical music and Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not going to tell you any of the circumstances that lead to Mr. Peterson being in an urn, but you will find out by the end and it comes about in a very interesting way that may make you question what you’d do for friendship.

This book is very quirky. One minute we’re getting a lesson on meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites, the next we’re learning all about Kurt Vonnegut’s works, and the next we’re given a long treatise on tarot card readings. We’re in Alex’s head a lot in this book, so when he’s researching his meteorite and his condition, we’re researching it. Sometimes this slowed down the book, especially in pivotal moments where I wanted to find out what was going to happen, but it was also really interesting. I can’t say I’ve learned so much about such a weird combination of materials all in one piece of fiction.

The people in Alex’s life are also pretty quirky. Alex knows about tarot cards from his hippy, dippy, trippy mother who owns a shop where she reads cards and sells things like crystals, candles, and books about Wicca and astrology. She’s a really cool mother, even if Alex can’t always see it. Mr. Peterson is also pretty cool in that he’s at that great stage in life where he doesn’t give a damn what anyone think so he’s going to say and do any damn thing he pleases, including enjoying his daily dose of Mary Jane.

I really like stories of young people being taught lessons by ornery old folks. We’ve seen this before, this isn’t anything new, but for me it never gets old. The generational differences, the differences in experiences, and they way they grow and learn from each other is what draws me to these kinds of stories, and this is a great one. It’s about friendship, family, science, death, human rights, mathematics, religion, and a little bit of Kurt Vonnegut and I loved it.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.