Tag Archives: book review

The Tyrant’s Daughter

10 Apr

tyrants daughter

The Tyrant’s Daughter

J. C. Carleson

 

I never really thought about the children until I read this book.  I mean, the kids who survived their father’s death, assassination.  What happens to the wife and children left behind when a father, a dictator, is killed in a coup?

 

Laila is 15 years old when she and her mother and younger brother are relocated to the US.  Laila has many challenges as she adjusts to a new culture, a new language, new social norms, new school.   It fascinating to see our society through her eyes.  We touch.  We show skin.  We have cereal readily available.  But it is witnessing her understanding the truth of her father’s role in their country that we see Laila struggle and mature.  Her father comes crashing down off the pedestal she put him on.   Things she never thought about, like money, alcohol, and peer pressure, become front and foremost in her thoughts.  Through it all we hear Laila’s voice and we share her struggle.  Laila has to figure out dating norms when she falls for a boy.  She has to decipher prom – what’s OK to wear and what’s not.  She has to figure out when her friends are being sincere and when they are making fun of her.

 

In many ways, Laila reminded me of what it was like to be 15 years old.  She taught me what my grandparents must have gone through when they moved to America when they were young.  She taught me that there’s a lot I take for granted that I shouldn’t.  She taught me about family and loyalty and survival.

 

I recommend this book to students in middle school and up.  I enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

 

I received a copy of this e-book free from www.netgalley.com but that did not influence my opinion.

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The Swap

10 Apr

the swap

The Swap

Megan Shull

 

Jack and Ellie are two typical tweens. In 8th and 7th grades, respectively, they are struggling with adolescence, school, friends.  They are typically typical.  And predictable.  Or that’s what I thought when I began to read this book.  Jack has lost his mom, Ellie’s parents are divorced.  And both kids think the other gender has it easy.  So they are swapped by an interesting school nurse.  Jack become Ellie and Ellie become Jack.  The Swap gives them insight and they see that the grass isn’t always greener.  We gain that insight too.

 

This book had my interested from the beginning.  Although it was predictable it has enough twists and turns that it kept my attention.   More than just keeping my attention, I found it difficult to put it down.  I began this book on a flight and although I arrived at my destination late in the evening (actually it was early in the morning) I continued to read long after I should have been asleep.  It’s a fun book with a lesson that all parents could benefit for hearing. Kids will like this book too. I’m sure they will be able to relate to it.

 

I recommend this book to kids age 12+.  There is one brief reference to an erection. The girls in the book are, understandably, concerned about menstruation.  Neither of these concern me.

 

I received a copy of this e-book free from www.edelweiss.com but this did not influence my opinion.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

10 Apr

ophelia

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Karen Foxlee

 

 

While I’m not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, this book, which is a little of both, was delightful.  It’s a combination of A Night in the Museum, Rumpelstiltskin and all stories with evil queens.  This book is a quick read and is sure to entertain both young and young-at-heart.

 

Ophelia and her sister, Alice, move to a new home after the death of their mother.  Their father’s new job is to curate a sword exhibit at a famous museum.  It is while wandering through the museum that Ophelia finds the Marvelous Boy.  She has challenges that resemble quests, mysteries to solve and a sword to find.  She also needs to protect her older sister, and convince everyone that she can and will save the world from the Snow Queen.

 

I was moved by the flashbacks of Ophelia and her mother.  Her mother always told Ophelia to “be brave,” which is one of my mantras. I tell my children, grandchildren, students and pretty much anyone who will listen to me that they need to be brave.  “Be brave for 30 seconds, just 30 seconds, and you’ll see amazing things happen.”  I didn’t invent it, I heard it somewhere but I can’t remember where.  It’s the truth, Ophelia’s mom reminded me that bravery is important, and so is knowing there is someone who believes in you.

 

I wish there were more positive interactions between Ophelia and her father.  That’s the only thing I would change.

 

I recommend this book to all readers.

 

I received a free copy of this e-book from www.netgalley.com.  This did not influence my opinion.

The Here and Now

10 Apr

here and  now

The Here and Now

Ann Brashares

 

A dystopian novel that set in the present time?  I have been addicted to dystopian voles, like most everyone else, but this one is different.  Prenna (what a cool name) is your typical 17 year old, except that she’s not.  She falls in love with Ethan, but she not permitted to do that.  It isn’t because her family won’t allow it, it’s because her society won’t allow it.  Prenna is from the future, a survivor of a pandemic who is chosen, in spite of her asthma, to time travel back to 2012.  The goal of the time travelers is to save the world, the future world, that is.

 

Prenna and Ethan are star-crossed lovers.  I found myself cheering for them, encouraging them and desperately wanting them to end up together.  I want them to find a way to make it work in spite of the obstacles and societal objections.  Because time travel is complicated, one wrong move can wipe out your own existence.  We’ve all seen Back to the Future.  We know how it works.  And yet, in spite of knowing this, I needed it to work out.  I wanted Prenna to fix the future and the present too.  That’s a pretty big order, but I knew that if any author had the skill and gift to make it happen, it was Anna Brashares.

 

I LOVED this book and was sorry when it ended.  This is one of the few books that gave me a book hangover. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read the book and I still think about Prenna and Ethan.

 

Give this book a read.  It’s not too long so it won’t take you forever to get through it.  If you’re like me and unable to put it down you won’t have to stay up half the night to finish.  One word of caution:  there is a minimal amount of sexuality but nothing graphic of blatant.  I would recommend this book to mature middle schoolers and all high school age + readers.

 

I received a free copy of this e-book from http://www.netgalley.com.

Far Gone

10 Apr

far gone

Far Gone by Laura Griffin

 

 

 

A moment’s hesitation, a second of compassion mixed with doubt, causes Andrea’s career to derail.  While on leave pending an official investigation, Andrea gets a call from her kid brother who needs money.  While that’s nothing new, Andrea soon finds that her brother might be involved in terrorist activities.  Unable to believe that of him she struggles to uncover the truth while clearing her brother’s name.  Andrea’s love interest comes in the form of an FBI agent, Jon North.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was interesting and the main characters were well developed and realistic.  This was not a book I obsessed about, nor was it one that I was unable to put down.  Still it was entertaining and I am glad I read it.

 

There is some graphic profanity and some sexuality.  Because of this I would not recommend it to my middle school students.  Their high school siblings, however, will enjoy it.

 

I obtained a free copy of this e-book from www.netgalley.com.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

10 Apr

Continue reading

Torn Away

17 Mar

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Torn Away by Jennifer Brown was one of the books that sucked me in and didn’t want to turn loose (pardon the pun). From the opening page, I was hooked. Who can’t relate to a pesky little sister bugging you when all you want to do is watch TV? But using past tense “I loved my little sister” and reading the publisher’s synopsis of the book made me realize that this book would be full of regret.

I actually considered not reading it when I got my advanced readers copy from NetGalley. There’s so much depressing stuff going on in the world right now, I didn’t need any more tear-jerkers. I told myself I would just read a couple of pages, that’s all. But I found myself devouring the book. Having lived in Chicago for half my life and in Phoenix for the other half, I knew all about tornadoes. I knew about the tornado alarms. I knew about going into the basement. I knew about opening the windows a bit so your roof wouldn’t get sucked off (at least, that’s what they told us when we were kids). But I couldn’t remember actually being in a tornado. We don’t have them in Arizona, although we do have other bad weather experiences. When I teach the tornado section of my curriculum to my science classes, I always kind of fake it. Now I don’t have to. My students are going to have Torn Away on their reading list for next year.

Jersey survives her run-in with the tornado. Not everyone else in her town, in her school, in her family is as lucky. Jersey’s description of what it is like to be in a tornado is uncanny. (Since I have not had that experience I asked someone who had. They said her description was spot-on.) This description is a perfect way to get my students to really understand not only the physiological impacts of the tornado on the body (the sound, the ear pressure, the hair-raising electricity, the smell) but also the psychological effects. If Jersey was not a real person before the tornado, she came alive after it. Her struggle to meet basic human needs – shoes, food, water, a bathroom – made me want to go and find her and bring her here so that she could be taken care of.

After the tornado, amid the chaos and destruction, Jersey is a lone, lost soul. She is sent to live with a father she never knew (along with the wicked stepmother and ugly step-sisters) and later with grandparents she didn’t know any better. She’s tougher I first thought. Through it all she learns much about her mother, her biological dad, and a lot about herself. She redefines the word family. Just like I have learned family is not just the people who share your blood, they are the people who share your love so does Jersey learn the meaning of the word “family”. (In my family we say that genes are inhaled.)

When we hear that someone lost everything as a result of a tragedy out in most cases, something is gained too.

For a long time I have been searching for a book like Torn Away for my science classes. I wanted some good, scientifically accurate fiction that is be entertaining, will teach a life lesson and keep all of the science straight. Torn Away by Jennifer Brown hit the target again and again. I can’t wait for it to come out in print on May 6, 2014.

What is the measure of a person?

17 Mar

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As I read Sarah Mlynowski’s book, Don’t Even Think About It, I was fascinated. The premise of the book is terrific. If you were able to read the minds of other people — and they could read yours – what kind of chaos would ensue? In this book we meet some delightful characters who all happen to share a homeroom at school. They share other things as well. Things all teenagers share. They worry about their weight. They worry about their grades (a little). They worry about how popular they are. They worry about giving speeches. They worry about their parents. They worry about parties. They worry about each other. Only now, the result of a contaminated batch of flu vaccine (which, by the way, I did not appreciate since so many people already have unfounded issues about flu shots) they know what other people think. You may tell me I look fine and I don’t need to lose weight but if I could read your mind I might find out something else And secrets? They are a thing of the past. The twist is that not only can I read your mind but you can also read mine. Not everyone, of course, only those students who got the contaminated flu vaccine.

The question arises, do you want to get rid of this ability? At times their ability has come in really handy. At times it has caused much pain. If an antidote can be found they can get rid of their mind-reading gift. But do they want to? I’ve always wanted to be able to read people’s minds, but I want the ability to turn it off and on at will. Oh, and I don’t want anyone to read mine.

I always thought that the true measure of a person is what they do and not what they say. But this book gave me pause. Where does what a person think fit in? Is what you think a truer measure of you than what you do? I discussed this at length with some of my current students. They are in 8th grade which makes them 13-ish. The discussion was fast, furious and engaging. I know what my personal conclusion was — but I pondered it for days. I know that my students did not agree with me or with each other. What do you think? What’s the true measure of you — what you think, what you say or what you do?

I would not recommend this book for my current students for two reasons. There is some sexual activity described in the book, and while not graphic, it is a bit too advanced for my middle school students. My current demographic is relatively conservative and this book pushes the sex card a bit too far for my families. For myself, other adults that enjoy YA literature, for more mature teens, go for it. It’s a book that I truly enjoyed and I think you will too. Let me know what you think.

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

5 Mar

the_husbands_secret

I’ll be honest. I couldn’t follow The Husband’s Secret at first. It seemed like two totally different stories. But I’ve read books like that before and they always come together — and The Husband’s Secret did too. I had heard a lot of good about this book – read a few reviews and talked to a friend. I was not disappointed.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty had me interested from the start. A letter from a husband, written long ago, “To be opened only in the event of my death” was found. Should the wife open it? Would you? That’s the question I wrestled with as I read this book. Cecilia is a likable character. To see her struggle, to see her look at the pros and cons is frustrating. I wanted to rip the letter open and to slap her silly at the same time. But I kept coming back to me — would I open the letter? And I couldn’t blame her for any of the choices she made.

Then the book jumps to Tess and Will and Felicity. I related to Felicity having recently lost 65 pounds myself. I reveled in descriptions of Felicity like her “brand-new slender neck.” And once again we find a husband with a secret – but one that can no longer be contained. Again I found myself doing some pretty intense introspection. Given a similar situation, what would I do?

But the book wouldn’t be much without Rachel – poor Rachel. She’s got a delightful grandson who is the apple of her eye and brings joy to her life. I’ve got some of those too. But she’s also got a daughter-in-law who is a go-getter, a professional woman with a career. That’s not a bad thing, but it adds some angst when the wills of the children are completely opposed to the will of the parent.

To watch these situations unfold and to compare my reactions with Tess’ and Cecilia’s was engaging. My heart bled for Rachel. She hasn’t had an easy life. And it looks like that isn’t going to change anytime soon — at least not for the better. I like a book that will pull me in and not let go. I like to be sad that a book has ended and to have a book-hangover. I want to read a book that will make me think about it days, weeks and even months after I have finished the book. This book was all that and more. Many nights I stayed up way later than I should have because I couldn’t put the book down.

My husband always figures out the twists and turns of a story right from the start, but I never do. It’s probably no surprise that I ever saw what John-Paul’s secret was. I didn’t have a clue, but there were plenty there.

And the ending of the book — man, every book should end like this. You have to read it to appreciate it.

I heard that CBS Films may be making a movie from this book. That would be a great idea. Go for it, CBS. I don’t think there’s any room for disappointment with this one.

A trio of JFK wonders

5 Jul

Serendipitously I read 3 books about JFK — one fiction, two non-fiction. Together they gave me a good idea of Camelot and the public (and private) life of JFK.

I began with the Stephen King book 11/22/63. I am not a fan of time travel, but this book hooked me from the beginning. Maybe because the main character, Jake Epping, was a teacher, or maybe not, but I was hooked. Jake’s friend Al (and I use the term loosely) is dying and he wants to share his secret with Jake. If you go into Al’s pantry, and walk forward a little bit, you will travel back in time to September 9, 1958. Al wants to stop the assignation of JFK. It’s as simple as that. But i typical Stephen King fashion, it’s anything but simple. Anyone taking that step in the pantry into the past resets the past. Al has done it lots of times. But now that he is ill he wants Jake to take over and save Kennedy’s life.

This book does a terrific job of mixing fact with fiction. If you don’t know a lot about the assignation of JFK, you will. And interesting book, it kept me engaged and holding my breath on more than one occasion. Should the past be changed? And if it is, what changes occur in the future? This is what plagues Jake, and me too.

The second book I read was Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. This is all fact — no fiction — but it is easily read and digested. Since the same characters are in both Killing Kennedy and 11/22/63, I felt like I was seeing old friends. The questions about conspiracies and exactly what happened on that day are investigated by O’Reilly and Dugard. In my mind they put to rest any questions about what happened and how it happened and why it did so. The book is delightfully easy to read and held my attention throughout.

Finally I read Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath by Mimi Alford. This book puts a human face on both Kennedy and those around him, although that face is not always flattering. This book is not one for kids, nor should it be. It tells the story of JFK from the viewpoint of one of his female friends. Interesting to note the comment about 11/22/63 and why Jackie was in Dallas with JFK. Put together with the other two books, it ties them all together with compassion, and passion, and wit. The book is a quick read, in fact, I had trouble putting it down. For a teacher this could be a problem were it not for the fact that this is summer break.

Why it was not by design that I read these books, I am glad that I did. I am not overly fluent in history, but I feel like I now can carry on a descent conversation on this topic. Give them a try. Let me know what you think.

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