Archive | February, 2016

Dealing with grief

29 Feb

I am slowly but surely reading some of the books of 2015 I missed. The Thing About Jellyfish,  Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, is one I am very glad I took the time out to read.

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Author’s Summary: Suzy Swanson is pretty sure she knows the real reason Franny Jackson died. Everyone says that there’s no way to be certain…that sometimes things just happen. But Suzy knows there must be a better explanation—a scientific one. Haunted by the loss of her former best friend — and by a final, terrible moment that passed between them — she retreats into a silent world of her own imagination.  Convinced that Franny’s death was the result of a freak jellyfish sting, she crafts a plan to prove the truth, even if it means traveling around the globe… alone. As she prepares, she learns astonishing things about the universe around her… and discovers the potential for love and hope in her own backyard.

There are several different kinds of grief in this book: the grief over the death of a friend, the grief over the end of a friendship, the grief over the divorce of parents. And Suzy has to deal with all of these. Reading The Thing About Jellyfish I remembered what it was like to be that 7th grade girl who felt on the outside of everything. We’ve all been there, though it isn’t always in middle school.

Benjamin packs a lot into the 320 pages of the book. Despite the emotional content, she never lets it get away from her; this is a well controlled novel and Suzy’s attempt to deal with her grief and regret unfold naturally. Although the story is painful, I highly recommend it. You will also learn a lot of interesting jellyfish facts!

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #5

28 Feb

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It was a good/bad week for the HUB Reading Challenge. I read a good book and listened to a not that great audiobook, both of which are parts of series.

This week, I listened to Half Wild by Sally Green.

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I read the first book in the trilogy, Half Bad, when it came out in 2014 and really liked it. Maybe it’s been too long since I read it, but I didn’t enjoy Half Wild  nearly as much. The narration by Carl Prekopp, was excellent. I just couldn’t get into the story and really only managed to finish it  because I was knitting while I listened. Nathan’s obsession with Annalise was not realign interesting to me, especially since I can’t really remember her from Half Bad.  There seems to be a lot of gallivanting all over Europe and shapeshifting in a stream of consciousness sort of narration, but overall I just didn’t love it. At this point, I don’t care about any of the characters enough to read the third book, Half Lost,  which comes out later this year.

On a happier note, I really enjoyed Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

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For the last few years, I’ve seen the books of  Bardugo’s first series, the Grisha trilogy, on the shelves of my local library. They’ve intrigued me, but I’d never read any of them, despite a strong fan base.

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I got an ARC of Six of Crows when I was in San Francisco this summer and finally got around to reading it.

I had a little trouble getting into it at first. I have this name issue and have abandoned books because I hate the pretentious names an author has given his/her characters. This happened most recently with Marie Lu’s Rose Society series. The names felt too forced to be believed. I abandoned the first book of the series and will probably never pick it up again.

I worried a little as I started Six of Crows that I would have the same reaction. I DO believe that reading it might have been made easier if I’d read the Grisha Trilogy, even though this is a separate first book in a series. However, as I got going, I got the rhythm of the world Bardugo had created and really connected with the characters.

Set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy, Six of Crows follows a group of six outcasts as they embark on deadly heist to break someone out of an impregnable prison. Bardugo is a compelling writer. What I really like is how she unfolds the story. The plot is set in motion and then, as events unfold, each character’s backstory is slowly revealed to deepen our understanding and connection to them. Bardugo suspends the plot in strategic places to reveal the backstory. Then, she suspends the backstory to move the plot forward. It is very effective and it certainly made me want to keep reading. I am looking forward to the release of the next book in the series, Crooked Kingdom, later this year.

Two hearts beating as one

26 Feb

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I’m reading Untwine by Edwidge Danticat. I might not have picked it up, but I can’t resist a good twin story.

Publisher’s Summary:Sixteen-year-old Giselle Boyer and her identical twin, Isabelle, are as close as sisters can be. They are each other’s strongest source of support even as their family life seems to be unraveling and their parents are considering divorce. Then the Boyers have a tragic encounter that will shatter everyone’s world forever.

Giselle wakes up in a hospital room, injured and unable to speak or move. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her sister, to her family, to herself. Trapped in the prison of her own body, Giselle must revisit her past in order to understand how the people closest to her—her friends, her parents, and above all, Isabelle—have shaped and defined her. Will she allow her love for her family and friends to buoy her and lead her on the path to recovery? Or will she remain lost in a painful spiral of longing and regret?

Untwine is a spellbinding tale, lyrical and filled with love, mystery, humor, and heartbreak. Award-winning author Edwidge Danticat brings her extraordinary talent to this graceful and unflinching examination of the bonds of friendship, romance, and family; the horrors of loss; and the strength we must discover in ourselves when all seems hopeless.

I first heard of Edwidge Danticat when I did a summer library internship at Benson High School. Much of the job was taken up with checking in and out the books the summer scholars were using in their English classes. Danticat’s Krik? Krak! was  a title a couple of teachers used. I’d never heard of it, so I gave it a read. There was some down time.

Untwine possesses some of the same characteristics I remember from Krik? Krak!: poetic language, poignancy, Haitian culture.

It reminded me a little of Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go  by Laura Rose Wagner.

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Goodreads Summary: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go follows the vivid story of two teenage cousins, raised as sisters, who survive the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After losing the woman who raised them in the tragedy, Magdalie and Nadine must fend for themselves in the aftermath of the quake. The girls are inseparable, making the best of their new circumstances in a refugee camp with an affectionate, lively camaraderie, until Nadine, whose father lives in Miami, sends for her but not Magdalie. As she leaves, Nadine makes a promise she cannot keep: to bring Magdalie to Miami, too. Resourceful Magdalie focuses her efforts on a reunion with Nadine until she realizes her life is in Haiti, and that she must embrace its possibilities for love, friendship, and a future.

Not really a dog story

25 Feb

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Paper Wishes  by Lois Sepahban first came to may attention at the Macmillan breakfast I attended at the ALA meeting in Boston. It really isn’t a dog book. The dog in the book disappears early, when the protagonist, Manami, is forced to leave him behind as her family is “relocated” from their home on Bainbridge Island to Manzanar Internment Camp.

Although it is set during the early months of  incarceration when Manami has become mute from the trauma, not so much because of the internment, although that certainly plays a part. No, Manami is haunted by guilt because, her dog Yujin was supposed to be left behind. Neighbors were going to come by later to pick him up and give him a new home. But Manami couldn’t bear to see him left behind and tries to sneak him along. When Yujin is discovered, he is crated and Manami’s last view of him is in a crate at a railway station. She is obsessively worried about what became of him and sends him messages on papers she lets fly in the winds of Manzanar.

Although Sepahban is not Japanese-American, she sensitively portrays the internment, which is really the vehicle for the story of a traumatized child who finds her voice. And it is Manami’s voice, Sepahban’s poetically sparse language,  that is the star of this book. It is a style reminiscent of Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan.

This is an excellent story for 3rd – 5th  grade readers and would be a fantastic introduction to the history of Japanese-American internment.

The Altercation

23 Feb

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It was the roar of the crowd that grabbed may attention.

It was 3:45 and I had stepped out of my room to collect the document I’d  just sent to the printer in our computer pod. I looked up and saw a gaggle of teens breaking apart. One young man came my way holding his face and I realized there was blood on his face.

“Are you okay?” I asked, a  little stunned. This was the first sign of violence I’d seen at this school.

“My mouth is bleeding. My tooth,” said the boy I’d never seen before.

“Who did this? What was his name?” I asked. I had to ask him three times before I got it. I was in a bit of shock. It had been a long time since I’d seen an altercation at school. I asked his grade and if he wanted to go to the health room, he declined. Did he need to catch a bus? He did not say, but promised me to avoid the boy who’d hit him and who was now long gone.

Letting him go, I returned to my classroom. Where would I find that form I was supposed to fill out? I hadn’t had to do one yet at this new school of mine. I found it then, as I filled the boxes, I realized I had never asked his name.

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

22 Feb

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America just announced their nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards , the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I am pleased to see that I have already read 4 of the 9 nominees, and have marked them with an asterisk below.

You can see the full list of nominees for adults as well as young adults on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America website.

Here are the YA nominees, in order of the authors’ last names.

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)

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Publisher’s Summary:The only thing worse than being a witch is living with one.

Camellia’s adopted mother wants Cam to grow up to be just like her. Problem is, Mom’s a seriously wicked witch.

Cam’s used to stopping the witch’s crazy schemes for world domination. But when the witch summons a demon, he gets loose—and into Devon, the cute new boy at school.

Now Cam’s suddenly got bigger problems than passing Algebra. Her friends are getting zombiefied. Their dragon is tired of hiding in the RV garage. For being a shy boy-band boy, Devon is sure kissing a bunch of girls. And a phoenix hidden in the school is going to explode on the night of the Halloween Dance.

To stop the demon before he destroys Devon’s soul, Cam might have to try a spell of her own. But if she’s willing to work spells like the witch…will that mean she’s wicked too?

Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)

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Publisher’s Summary:On the Fives court, everyone is equal. And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)

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Publisher’s Summary:The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late…

*Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)

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Publisher’s Summary:Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won’t survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.

*Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)

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Publisher’s Summary:A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.

Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)

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Publisher’s Summary:Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

*Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)

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Publisher’s Summary:Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

*Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)

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Publisher’s Summary:Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

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Publisher’s Summary: In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever – if it isn’t destroyed outright.

You can see the full list of nominees for adults as well as young adults on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America website.

2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #4

21 Feb

A few days ago, my twin sister sent me an e-mail telling me she’d just finished a great book called The Boston Girl and wondered had I heard of it? I laughed because I’d read it this week too! We don’t have many twin moments, but this was surely one.

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Sometimes you just want a good sweeping family saga and this one was really quite enjoyable.

Publisher’s Summary: An unforgettable novel about a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century, told “with humor and optimism…through the eyes of an irresistible heroine” (People)—from the acclaimed author of The Red Tent.

Anita Diamant’s “vivid, affectionate portrait of American womanhood” (Los Angeles Times), follows the life of one woman, Addie Baum, through a period of dramatic change. Addie is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the naïve girl she once was.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

My sister listened to it on an Audiobook narrated by Linda Lavin and I gave it a listen…Lavin is fantastic.

Additionally, I finished  The Notorious RBG a short but excellent biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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I’d read Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir a few years ago and was curious to read about another Supreme Court Judge, especially as things heat up over appointing Justice Scalia’s successor.

I knew she must have been appointed for a good reason, but I had no idea about how much she had done for equal rights for man as well as women. Having read this short book, I’d actually like to read something a little longer about her.

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