This is the sequel to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels. Kyle Keeley and several of his classmates are locked in the brand-new library for the night, and they have to solve clues to escape. The first one out becomes the new face of the Lemoncello game company. In Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, other middle school book lovers have demanded a rematch and a chance to participate. There are new characters from across the country, new games and clues to solve, and of course, more utter wackiness from Mr. Lemoncello. It's just as much fun as the first book in the series, as Kyle and his friends race to win the Library Olympics - and to save the library as well.
What if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down? And what if it now controls the dissemination of information to the entire world? What if real, paper-and-ink books are only found on the black market? Jess' family's business is exactly that - black market trading of books. But his family wants him on the inside, so he is sent to be trained to work for the Library. It turns out working for the Library is a lot more dangerous and full of secrets than you would ever expect. Rachel Caine has created an interesting alternate history, full of mystery and suspense. My only complaint is that it seems too much like a set-up for the rest of the series. It suffers from "second book of a trilogy"-itis, except it's only the first book. Despite this, I was definitely drawn into the world she created, and I'm glad the second book was just published so I can continue to follow Jess' story!
Have you ever dreamed of owning a bookstore? I most certainly have! So did Wendy Welch and her husband Jack. When they moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, they found a beautiful house that would work perfectly for a bookstore, and they dived in with both feet. They soon discovered they were a little in over their heads, but that didn't stop them from giving everything they had to keep their little bookstore going. This is a delightful book. It is chock-full of funny anecdotes and book love and crazy customers. It also is an ode to the power of both books and community, as Jack and Wendy slowly find their place in a small town. Read this book curled up in a comfy chair, sipping a mug of tea, and prepare to fall in love with the little bookstore of Big Stone Gap.
I am incredibly ignorant of Asian history. This comes home to me every time I read a book set in the Eastern Hemisphere. I remember taking a class in European History in high school, but I don't think there was even one offered for Asian history. How much we are missing out on.
When My Name Was Keoko takes place in Korea during World War 2. Korea is controlled by Japan at this point in time, and has been since 1910. (Fact # 1 out of many that I learned by reading this book.) In an effort to gain more and more control over the Koreans, Japan decrees that every Korean has to change their name to a Japanese name. Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul (who becomes Nobuo) take turns narrating this story.
While the battlefields of World War 2 never come to Korea, that doesn't mean their lives are unaffected. The Japanese take their food and metal for resources, and conscript their young men and women into the work force. And always, they suppress Korea's identity and culture. Sun-hee and Tae-yul are both incredibly brave in their own ways as they seek to stay true to who they are.
This is a very powerful book. Being told from the point of view of children makes it even more so. If you are looking to learn something about Korean history or if you are looking for an entirely different perspective on World War 2, you can't do any better than to read When My Name Was Keoko.
I usually wait a few days before writing a review of a book. I like to let the dust settle, allow my initial reactions to form themselves into coherent thoughts. But I couldn’t wait that long with this book. It’s been no more than half an hour since I finished reading, but I had to get my feelings out somehow! So the following thoughts may be slightly less than coherent.
Ruin and Rising is the third book of a YA trilogy. I’m not a huge reader of YA novels, mostly because of the angst and drama they usually include. Also because I am sick of the whole dystopian thing. It’s been done. And if you don’t have anything new to add to it, then let’s just leave it alone for awhile. But Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series isn’t really dystopian. It stands apart from a lot of YA out there, mostly because of its Russian-flavored setting. It’s refreshing and different, and gives you a whole new realm of culture and history to explore.
The plot is full of twists I never saw coming. I love it when I think a book is predictable, and then it makes all of my expectations crumble into dust. There are quite a few characters to keep track of, but they are all unique and full of personality. Bardugo includes just the right amount of comic relief, usually in the dialogue between her characters. And the comic relief seems to come naturally from the characters and their interactions, instead of feeling forced into the story. Since this is the third book in a trilogy, a lot is expected of it. And Bardugo most certainly delivers.
When I read the last page of Ruin and Rising, my overwhelming feeling was a desire to start back at book one and read the entire series through again. I reread books I like fairly often, but there are very few series I can think of that have produced such a desire in me. Harry Potter, of course. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Anne of Green Gables books. All of the series, in other words, that I would classify as some of my favorite reads of all time. Now I’m not sure I’m quite willing to add the Grisha series to that category. But I can say with certainty that I will be rereading this series in the future. Maybe even more than once.
I was thrilled to discover this book – another novel in my new favorite genre of magic realism. Anyone who has enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen’s books will enjoy this book. The Wishing Thread is the story of three sisters. Bitty, the oldest, has been practical with her life and married rich. Now she’s discovering that planning logically doesn’t always work out. Meggie, the youngest, follows her own unique path in life, although she’s hoping it overlaps with the path of their mother, who left them. And Aubrey, the middle sister, is in charge of the Stitchery. That’s where the magic comes in.
I honestly think I would have gotten more out of this if I were a knitter, but it’s not at all essential to be a knitter to enjoy the story. Van Allen has created so many lovable characters. You end up cheering for each and every character in this story, even the grumpy ones. She follows each of the sisters’ paths of discovery so believably. And she keeps you guessing on the happy ending to the very end. The Wishing Thread knits together all the parts necessary for a story that stays with you far beyond the last page.
I had heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. (It didn’t hurt that the main character was a writer. Those sorts of books just draw me in.) Wren and Cath are twins and freshmen in college. This means that a whole bunch of change is coming their way. Wren is ready to be independent, wholeheartedly embracing the stereotypical party life. Cath is ready to go back home. New people and new adventures aren’t really her thing. Instead, she throws herself into a world she knows – writing fanfiction about the Simon Snow series (think Harry Potter). There are a few things I wish I had known about this book before I dived in – the swearing for one, and the homosexual relationship between Simon and Baz. Neither of those were necessary in my opinion, and are sadly keeping me from buying a copy of this book. But everything else about this book I loved – the characters were so real, their experiences so genuine. That is what made this book. You could walk onto any college campus and find Wren and Cath, Reagan and Levi. And oh, how I wish I could! I’ll just have to settle for adding them to my long list of fictional friends.
If you like character-driven novels, then this book is for you. Honestly, the entire plot more or less takes place in the first ten pages. The town of Clarence, Minnesota, is home to a psychopharmaceutical factory. A factory accident spills a chemical called deletrium into the air, which makes the residents of the town remember in vivid detail anything that had ever happened to them. There’s a wide range of characters to follow – everyone from the widowed psychology professor to his eight-year-old daughter to the residents of a nearby senior citizen home. Plenty of story lines to keep a reader interested, and plenty of unique characters to keep a reader hooked. This is one of those books that I was often reluctant to pick up because I cared so much about the characters, and it was hard and often sad for them to relive all their memories. This is not a light read, but it is a good one. It makes you think about your own life and the nature of memory.
If you’re looking for an action story about a chemical spill, this is not it. However, if you’re looking for a book with characters that will live in your thoughts weeks after you finish reading, then this is the book for you.
I read The Last Dragonslayer, the first book in this series, nearly a year ago. I tried to write a review of it then, and couldn’t get beyond the first sentence (which, if you’re curious, was, “The Last Dragonslayer is the book I have always wanted to write.“). I read The Song of the Quarkbeast, the second book in this series several months ago. And there it sat in my review-to-be-written pile.
I’m not finding it hard to write reviews because I didn’t love the books. Because believe me, I LOVED these books. It’s just – how do you review, let alone describe, something that Jasper Fforde has written? The quirkiness is overpowering.
So here’s what I can tell you: if you have liked other books by Jasper Fforde, you will enjoy The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast. (If you’ve never read anything by Jasper Fforde, what are you waiting for??) This is his first series written for young adults. The heroine, Jennifer Strange, is essentially a teenaged Thursday Next. The series’ main focus is magic, which makes it slightly reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. (In fact, that’s probably my one and only complaint – the zany world of magic has been tackled before, by other authors. I’m used to Jasper Fforde’s books being totally unique). The books are clean and fun and punny and oh-so-enjoyable.
If you’re looking for a quick, quirky, escapist read, then these are the books for you. Enjoy your time in Jasper Fforde’s unbelievable imagination!
The Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier is a pretty popular YA series right now. It’s taken me awhile to get a hold of all three books in the trilogy, so most people who are fans of this series have already read them and posted their reviews. But I figure there may be a few people like me who are just getting around to reading them, or who haven’t decided it they’re going to read them or not. To help these people out, I’ve written two lists – one of why you should read the Ruby Red Trilogy, and one of why you should not. As with everything on this blog, these lists are entirely my own opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree, or to share your own opinion of these books.
Why You Should Not Read the Ruby Red Trilogy
- It takes quite awhile for the plot to do much. All three books only cover a few weeks of time (well, sort of, since the books involve time travel). The action parts are very action-y, but in between, not much happens.
- Gwen is a whiner. Especially when it comes to boys. Oh, my goodness, the teenage angst.
- The concept behind this series is great, but I felt like more could have been done with it.
Why You Should Read the Ruby Red Trilogy
- It’s about time travel. What fun!
- It’s a YA series that is not about a dystopian society.
- Xemerius, the invisible gargoyle that Gwen “adopts”, is absolutely hilarious. I laughed out loud at many of his side comments.
- The twists at the end of Emerald Green. A very twisty plot indeed.
- Gwen is a regular girl. Just a normal high school teenager. And she deals with the situations she’s thrown into like a normal teenage girl. It’s refreshing to read about a heroine that doesn’t have it all together.
- Gwen’s friends and family are just as fun to read about. Realistic, yet slightly exaggerated. At least one of them will remind you of someone you know.
Well, there are my thoughts about these books (I’ll probably have more thoughts as soon as I post this!). If you’re on the fence about reading the Ruby Red Trilogy, I hope my lists helped! If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought about it in the comments!
Reviewlets - 5* Atmosphere Edition [Auralia's Colors; The Solitaire Mystery; The Other Side of the Island]
At one point in my life, fantasy was about all I would read. That point was about fifteen years ago, but I still decided to pick up Auralia’s Colors because of the idea of colors saving the day. In the kingdom of Abascar, the king has declared that all of the colors belong to the palace. None of the “common” people, whether they live inside or outside the city walls, are allowed to wear or own anything with color. Auralia is the abandoned orphan destined to change all of that.
While I enjoyed living in the world of the Expanse for a little while, I can’t say as I fully enjoyed this book. Auralia drove me crazy. She didn’t do anything. She didn’t fight back; she didn’t stand up to anyone, even when it all went wrong. She simply discovered and collected colors. For a title protagonist, she was an extremely passive character. I just couldn’t summon any loyalty for her or even care about her all that much. The ale boy, on the other hand, I’m extremely curious to learn more about. But that would require reading the next three books in the series, and I don’t think I’m up for that. I can tell that there is a lot more to discover in the world that Jeffrey Overstreet has created, but Auralia’s Colors didn’t hook me enough to keep me reading.
This book is strongly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. It tells two stories – the real story of Hans Thomas and his journey to find his mother who ran away eight years ago, and the “real” story of a magical island where playing cards come to life as dwarfs. Hans Thomas is given a very small book that tells the story of this magical island, which he reads as he and his father traverse Europe. His father is an amateur philosopher, and they stop frequently along the road to discuss the meaning of life and reasons for existing. These big questions become the theme of the book and the purpose of both the real and “real” stories. The two stories are cleverly interwoven and come to have more in common than the reader might expect. This book provides an interesting way to look at philosophy at the same time as it tells an awfully good and touching story.
The world has flooded, and only a few hundred habitable islands remain. The Earth Mother has moved the remaining population there, and has created rules to keep them in line. Honor’s family moves to Island 365 when Honor is ten. When she enters school, she begins to learn the rules and history that Earth Mother wants her to learn. But her parents aren’t interested in the rules, and they have a different version of history than the one Honor is learning. Suddenly Honor is caught between believing those she loves or those she fears.
I’m not a huge fan of dystopia, but I found The Other Side of the Island better than most. A lot of it takes place when Honor is still young, before the rebellious, independent (drama-filled) teenage years that many dystopias seem to encompass. Goodman did a fabulous job of informing her readers about the world subtly. She truly embodies the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.” My one complaint about the book is that the ending felt rushed. The action had moved so slowly for so many pages, and then suddenly it all comes to a head and is over in fifty pages. It also seems (to me at least) to be left open enough for a sequel, but as far as I could tell, there isn’t one. Despite the loose ends, this is a well-written story with a very compelling main character. If you like dystopias, you should definitely give this one a try!
There are books that you enjoy reading and can think of one or two friends to recommend it to. There are books that you love and recommend to all of your friends. Then there are books like Wonder, that you are convinced everyone in the world should read and you would press it on random strangers, telling them how wonderful it was. Yup, Wonder is definitely one of those books.
August Pullman has a birth defect that caused his face to be deformed. People have difficulty looking at him, and he has become a master at noticing even the most subtle reaction. For the most part, he has been in a cocoon of love – his mother has homeschooled him, and his family loves him unconditionally. But then fifth grade comes, and his parents have decided that it’s time for him to go to school like everyone else.
Anyone who remembers their school days remembers that fifth grade was not an easy year. Kids are growing up, trying to figure out who they are, trying to fit in with the cool kids. And then along comes August, brave and terrified, and his classmates’ reactions to him are both typical and life-affirming.
As a teacher myself, I can vouch that this book is spot-on in describing life in a school. The students, the teachers, the parents – they are all out there, just as they are in Wonder. I’ve read plenty of middle grade fiction, but this one gets the prize for a realistic view of daily school life.
And one of the amazing things about this book is that we don’t just see August’s point of view. We start there; we can see life through his eyes. And then in the next section, we switch to his sister’s point of view – and suddenly everything is different from how we saw it at first. R.J. Palacio gets so completely inside the heads of her characters that you can’t help but see everything that way, too.
August is a wonder, and so is this book. So true to life, so poignant. So filled with hope. So inspiring. Family, friends, random strangers – please read this book.
Sometimes I’m way behind the reading trends. For example, pretty much everyone has read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell by now. So I’m not going to write a traditional review. I figure there might be a few holdouts like me who haven’t decided if they’re going to read the book or not. To help these people out, I’ve written two lists – one of why you should read Eleanor & Park, and one of why you should not. As with everything on this blog, these lists are entirely my own opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree, or to share your own opinion of this book.
Why You Should Not Read Eleanor & Park
- The swearing. It’s sprinkled liberally throughout the book, and if this is something you typically avoid, you might want to avoid this book.
- Verbal, sexual, and physical abuse. Not tons, but not really appropriate for younger readers.
- The ending. It satisfies, but barely. Though I’m not sure there’s a better one.
Why You Should Read Eleanor & Park
- The characters. Eleanor and Park are real and vulnerable. We all knew kids like them in high school. We may even have been kids like them in high school.
- True love. First love. Love that is not puppy love or just a hook up. Love that matters.
- The writing. Rainbow Rowell describes a situation or a feeling with just the right phrase. Every single time.
- The setting. How often do you get to read a book set in 1986?
- Dual points of view. You get the story from Eleanor’s angle and from Park’s angle. It makes you care about the characters just that much more.
- The ending. It’s brilliant. It’s realistic, and it leaves you wanting more.
You can probably tell by the fact that my shoulds outnumber my should-nots that I really enjoyed this book and am glad I read it. If you’re on the fence about reading Eleanor & Park, I hope my lists helped! If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought about it in the comments!
I picked up 3 Willows because it was by Ann Brashares,and I devoured the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series in about two days a few summers ago. The characters were what hooked me. I felt like I knew Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget. I desperately cared what happened to them in all of the ups and downs of their teenage lives. Of course I was hoping for the same sort of connection in 3 Willows.
3 Willows is written for a younger audience than the Traveling Pants books; it’s aimed more towards middle schoolers. The characters have just graduated from eighth grade and are trying to figure out who they are and who they will become. Polly is the daughter of a single mother who spends all day in her art studio. Polly is desperate for a past, since she has never known her father. She latches onto the idea of becoming a model because someone casually mentioned that her grandmother had been a model. Ama is a scholar, an over-achiever, someone who loves knowledge for the sake of achievement, rather than learning. Her older sister has set the standards high, having entered college at the age of 16. Ama has gotten into a prestigious summer program – except she’s assigned to the one that involves hiking and camping in Wyoming. So incredibly far outside her comfort zone. Jo is working as a busgirl in a restaurant by her family’s beach house. She is trying to get in with the “in-crowd”, especially since these will be the girls to know come the fall in high school, but she finds herself in way over her head.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the Traveling Pants books. I didn’t really get a sense of the friendship and connection between the girls before they were off on their separate ways and drifting apart. Without that foundation, the book lacks something. I loved Ama’s story as she struggled to adjust to a world with hiking boots and tents and without her beloved hair products. Jo’s story also caught me, because who hasn’t desperately tried to fit in with those the world has deemed “popular”? Polly’s story. . .I don’t know. I just never really got a grasp of who Polly was. She didn’t seem three-dimensional enough. Her personality traits kept changing. I did enjoy the casual entwinings of this book and the Traveling Pants series. They take place in the same town, and the Traveling Pants girls are somewhat of a legend to the middle schoolers. Lena even drops in for a cameo appearance at Jo’s restaurant. It’s nice to get even a small glimpse of them again.
The book ends as you would expect (no spoilers here): the girls all pull together and become the friends they need each other to be. It was a satisfying, but not especially profound, read. Just the perfect thing for a long train ride to Chicago. Everyone needs to be reminded just how important their friends are.
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.