Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Haul: Nonfiction And Children

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. These books are either nonfiction or involve children in some way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Series: The Arc of a Scythe #1
Pages: 435
Genre: Young Adult Dystopia
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 2016

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I’m pretty sure that Neal Shusterman is my favorite author of dystopias. I love his Unwind series, and I may have lost my chill a little when I first heard about Scythe. Shusterman puts so much thought into his dysfunctional worlds. They’re far-fetched, but they’re sooo complex.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Countries Where More Books Should Be Set

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is books that take place in another country. I feel like I’ve written enough posts that focus on non-US books, so I thought I’d try something different. It’s time for a geography lesson. We’re going to take a tour of those countries you’ve vaguely heard of but don’t know anything about. I think all of these would make excellent book settings. Here are ten countries where more books should take place.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Pages: 89
Genre: Middlegrade Contemporary
Publisher: Yearling Newbery
Publication Date: 1992
Since Summer was six years old, she lived with dear Aunt May and Uncle Ob. Now, six years later, Aunt May has died. Summer, who misses May with all her might, is afraid something will happen to Ob. Most days Ob seems like he doesn't want to go on. But then Ob feels May's spirit around him and he wants to contact her. Cletus Underwood, a strange boy from school, reads about someone who could help him do that. Summer wants to hear from May too. 

Ob and Summer don't know what to expect when they set off on their search for some sign from May. They only know they need something to ease their sorrow and give them strength to go on living—always knowing they will never stop missing May.
My mission to read all the Newbery winners continues with Missing May, the winner from 1993. This book is tiny—only 89 pages—but it has a lot of depth. The Newbery winners I’ve read so far have been hit or miss (mostly miss) with me. Sometimes, I have no idea what the award committee is thinking. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with Missing May. This little book deserves its Newbery.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Sunday Post #141

Reading while walking should be considered an extreme sport. That lady is about 2 seconds away from wandering into traffic. Sorry, lady. Been there, done that.

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Haul: Look What The Wind Blew In

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

Usually, I organize my book hauls into themed groups. For this haul, there is no theme. These are just some random books I picked up recently. I’ll let you come up with a creative title for the batch. *Update: Barb @ Booker T's Farm suggested the title "Look What The Wind Blew In." So, my haul has a name!

The “Look What The Wind Blew In” Book Haul

Far From the Tree – Robin Benway

Being the middle child has its ups and downs. 
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including: 
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs. 
And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

The Shadow of the Wind РCarlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it, his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

Bodily Harm – Margaret Atwood

Rennie Wilford, a young journalist running from her life, takes an assignment to a Caribbean island and tumbles into a world where no one is what they seem. When the burnt-out Yankee Paul (does he smuggle dope or hustle for the CIA?) offers her a no-hooks, no strings affair, she is caught up in a lethal web of corruption.

The Knowing – Sharon Cameron

Samara doesn't forget. And she isn't the only one. Safe underground in the city of New Canaan, she lives in a privileged world free from the Forgetting. Yet she wonders if she really is free, with the memories that plague her and secrets that surround her. Samara is determined to unearth the answers, even if she must escape to the old, cursed city of Canaan to find them. 
Someone else is on their way to Canaan too . . . a spaceship from Earth is heading toward the planet, like a figment of the city's forgotten past. Beck is traveling with his parents, researchers tasked with finding the abandoned settlement effort. When Beck is stranded without communication, he will find more in Canaan than he was ever trained for. What will happen when worlds and memories, beliefs—and truths—collide?

The Power – Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power—they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi

“Asta's Son” is all he's ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less—no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name—Crispin—and his mother's cross of lead.

Review: Can you believe I’ve gone my entire life without reading a book by Avi? He’s written, like, a hundred children’s books. I’ve seen them around, but this is the first one I’ve read. You gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Crispin is a little like Game of Thrones for kids. It’s book #1 in a series. It’s got the medieval setting, some royal scandals, some death, some fight scenes, some characters who can’t be trusted, some orphaned kids who need more parental supervision. Basically, it has all the elements of an excellent middlegrade adventure story.

Crispin’s name wasn’t always Crispin. He starts the book as “Asta’s Son.” He doesn’t know his real name, and he can’t read or write. Crispin and his mother are so poor that they’ve never left their village. One day, his mother is murdered, and Crispin is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. A bounty is placed on his head. The most powerful family in the village wants him dead. He flees to the woods and meets up with a traveling juggler, but can the juggler be trusted? And why do so many important people suddenly want Crispin dead?

I think I would have liked this book way back when I was part of its target audience. The beginning is a bit info-dumpy, but the action starts pretty quickly and doesn’t let up. Crispin is constantly surrounded by danger. Anyone who recognizes him can murder him on-sight and claim the reward. He has to be resourceful to get himself out of trouble. He has quite a few close brushes with death.

I’m definitely not an expert on 14th century England, but the setting seems well-researched to me. The info-dump at the beginning helps make peasant life accessible to young modern readers. (As long as the young readers have the attention spans required to plow through the dry information being forced upon them. It’s only a few pages, but I know that feels like an eternity to a kid.)

I like that this book doesn’t ignore religion. Christianity was a massive deal in 14th century England. The church basically controlled everything. Crispin is a Christian. When he runs away from his village, the only thing he takes from home is a lead cross engraved with writing (that he can’t read). Religion is an important part of Crispin’s life. As he begins uncovering the secrets that his mother hid from him, he starts to wonder if God has bigger plans for him than just being a peasant.

“I kept asking myself if I felt different, if I was different. The answer was always yes. I was no longer nothing.” - Crispin

This book might be fun for (very patient) children, but as an adult, I found it extremely predictable. Within the first few chapters, I knew what was written on Crispin’s cross, and I knew why the ruling family wanted him dead. It’s all painfully obvious.

I also think Crispin is a flat character. This novel is mostly all action and history lessons. The reader doesn’t learn much about him as a person.

However, I’m not the target audience, so my opinions probably don’t matter.

TL;DR: An adventurous way to learn history, but I didn’t love it enough to continue with the series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Disturbing Spring Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week I’m talking about the books I’m reading this spring. These books have been sitting on my shelf since last November. Probably because they’re all a bit disturbing, and you need to be in the right mood for that. Hopefully I’ll get to them in the next few months.

What I’m Reading This Spring

The Possessions – Sara Flannery Murphy

In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies,” wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients.  
But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls.  
After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.

The Cresswell Plot – Eliza Wass

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.  
Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.  
Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

Stranded – Bracken MacLeod

Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him.  
Dismissing Noah's warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.

A Head Full Of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.  
To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts' plight. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

The Last Harvest – Kim Liggett

“I plead the blood.”  
Those were the last words seventeen-year-old golden boy quarterback Clay Tate heard rattling from his dad's throat when he discovered him dying on the barn floor of the Neely Cattle Ranch, clutching a crucifix to his chest. 
Now, on the first anniversary of the Midland, Oklahoma slaughter, the whole town's looking at Clay like he might be next to go over the edge. Clay wants to forget the past, but the sons and daughters of the Preservation Society—a group of prominent farmers his dad accused of devil worship—won't leave him alone. Including Ali, his longtime crush, who suddenly wants to reignite their romance after a year of silence, and hated rival Tyler Neely, who’s behaving like they’re old friends.  
Even as Clay tries to reassure himself, creepy glances turn to sinister stares and strange coincidences build to gruesome rituals—but when he can never prove that any of it happened, Clay worries he might be following his dad down the path to insanity . . . or that something far more terrifying lies in wait around the corner.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War – Mary Roach

Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History – Bill Schutt

For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism—the role it plays in evolution as well as human history—is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we've come to accept as fact.

Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them – Jennifer Wright

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple – Jeff Guinn

In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader. 
In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

The Blood Of Emmett Till – Timothy B. Tyson

In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, Black students who called themselves “the Emmett Till generation” launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle for civil rights into a mass movement. Till’s lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history.  
But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, The Blood of Emmett Till “unfolds like a movie” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), drawing on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till’s innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed.

Have you read any of these? What are you reading this spring?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: The Shell Collector: Stories – Anthony Doerr

The Shell Collector: Stories – Anthony Doerr

The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr's acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape. Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties—metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts—and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.

Review: If I was forced to make a list of my all-time favorite books, All the Light We Cannot See would probably be on it. Since I love that giant novel so much, I wondered what Anthony Doerr could do with a short story collection. The Shell Collector was published over a decade before All the Light We Cannot See, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was (mostly) impressed. These world-spanning stories are beautifully written. They take place on beaches and mountains; in sunny Africa and snowy Lapland; in rivers and forests. Each setting is so precisely described that the reader can almost feel the fictional weather. An astounding amount of research must have gone into these stories.

Even though the settings are varied, the stories deal with similar topics. They’re about small mistakes that have dire consequences. The characters are all struggling to survive in a world that’s bigger and more powerful than they’ll ever be.

“Studying ice crystals as a graduate student, he eventually found the basic design (equilateral, equiangled hexagon) so icily repeated, so unerringly conforming, that he couldn't help but shudder: Beneath the splendor—the filigreed blossoms, the microscopic stars—was a ghastly inevitability; crystals could not escape their embedded blueprints any more than humans could. Everything hewed to a rigidity of pattern, the certainty of death.” – The Shell Collector

I know that this is a story collection, and that stories in a collection usually deal with similar topics, but most of the stories in this book are too similar for my liking. For example, many of them involve fishing. The only thing more boring than watching people fish is reading about people fishing.

Since most of the stories blurred together in my mind, there are only two that really stand out for me:

The title story “The Shell Collector” has everything I love in a short story. An unusual setting, an unusual protagonist, and a whole lot of secrets. It’s about a blind scientist and his guide dog who live in a hut on the coast of Kenya. They spend their days finding and cataloging different kinds of seashells. One day, the scientist stumbles across a snail that is thought to be poisonous. He inadvertently discovers that the snail’s venom may actually have healing properties. When news of the healing snail becomes public, chaos ensues.

“The shell collector was scrubbing limpets at his sink when he heard the water taxi come scraping over the reef. He cringed to hear it—its hull grinding the calices of finger corals and the tiny tubes of pipe organ corals, tearing the flower and fern shapes of soft corals, and damaging shells too: punching holes in olives and murexes and spiny whelks, in Hydatina physis and Turris babylonia. It was not the first time people tried to seek him out.” – The Shell Collector

My other favorite story is “The Caretaker.” A refugee from Liberia ends up in the US after losing his home and family. He accepts a job as a caretaker in a remote lodge, but he’s unable to perform his caretaker duties. He gets fired. Since he can’t get another job, he moves into the woods near the lodge and tries to rebuild his life from nothing. This story is realistic. It pisses me off when people are hateful and judgmental toward refugees. Most people have no idea what a refugee has lived through.

“‘It’s an issue of duty.’ Her voice tremors; inside, he can see, she’s raging. ‘I told him not to hire you. I told him what good is it hiring someone who runs from his country at the first sign of trouble? He won’t know duty, responsibility. He won’t be able to understand it. And now look.’” – The Shell Collector

TL;DR: Not as good as All The Light We Cannot See, but readers who love nature (and fishing) would probably enjoy this collection.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Sunday Post #140

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

Public Service Announcement

I’m hosting a giveaway! Click here to win a book of your choice from Book Depository. The giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to your country.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr.
  • On Tuesday I show you my disturbing Spring TBR.
  • On Wednesday I review Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Some Possible Solutions: Stories by Helen Phillips and Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Then I read Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson. Right now, I’m reading The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman.


In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Today is my birthday. If you want to celebrate with me, you could enter my giveaway. Please let me give you free stuff!
  2. Hamburgers!
  3. I participated in my first Twitter chat. It was intense. I can’t type that fast, people!
  4. I got new books. Not that I needed more books, but I got some, and I’m happy.
  5. The weather has been nice for running outside. It’s not snowing on me anymore.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!