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Code Name Verity

In YA Book Reviews on July 31, 2013 at 3:59 am


Title: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Yound Adult Historical Fiction/Thriller

Published: 2012

Length: 332 pages

Additional Details: Stand alone book (not part of a series)

 Publisher Blurb:

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun. When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

 My Thoughts: There has been a lot of buzz about this book, but I was hesitant to read it. I am not usually a fan of war stories, but this one took my breath away. It grabbed my attention with its opening line: “I AM A COWARD”, and I couldn’t put it down. It is a beautifully written story of survival and deep friendship, with the additional draw of being a female adventure story. It is divided into two parts, each told by one of the main characters. The plot is full of twists and turns, so I hesitate to say any more.

 Audience: High school students and adults, most certainly, but it will also appeal to mature 7th and 8th graders who enjoy historical fiction. There are some disturbing  parts related to Nazi treatment of prisoners.

 My Rating: 5/5

Other thoughts and Related articles:


The Human Comedy

In My Book Club Books on July 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm


July, 2013 Book Club Selection

Title: The Human Comedy

Author: William Saroyan

Genre: Novel

Pages: 192

Publication Date: February, 1943

Publisher Blurb:

The place is Ithaca, in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The time is World War II. The family is the Macauley’s—a mother, sister, and three brothers whose struggles and dreams reflect those of America’s second-generation immigrants…In particular, fourteen-year-old Homer, determined to become one of the fastest telegraph messengers in the West, finds himself caught between reality and illusion as delivering his messages of wartime death, love, and money brings him face-to-face with human emotion at its most naked and raw. Gentle, poignant and richly autobiographical, this delightful novel shows us the boy becoming the man in a world that even in the midst of war, appears sweeter, safer and more livable than out own.

My Thoughts:

There really isn’t a plot, per se. It is more like a series events in the Macauley family, a slice of life in a small town in America during World War II. The family lost the father three years ago, the oldest son is a soldier the war, and then there is Homer, his sister Bess, and his little brother Ulysses, who is quite the observer of life. There are 39 chapters, each with its own special story and each memorable on its own merits. Most of them involve Homer and his trials and tribulations at school, at home, and in his job. Some of the lighter ones involve his little brother, and some involve his life at school. His job brings him into contact with the elderly Mr. Grogan, an alcoholic by reason of pain who refuses to retire from his job since it’s the only world he knows and Mr. Spangler, who spends his days off in the company of his bride to be Diana Steed. Both are uncommonly good men and serve as his mentors, along with his family members and one of his teachers, in terms of teaching him the importance of hard work and integrity.

I really liked Mr. Spangler and Miss Hicks, but my favorite character is the main character, Homer. One of my favorite scenes involved Homer answering his ancient history teacher’s question about what have we learned. Homer answered with an impromptu speech about the human nose. It was very clever and very funny. He also touched my heart when he was telling Mr. Grogan that he wanted to grow up and do something decent. “I don’t like the way things are, Mr. Grogan. I don’t know why, but I want them to be better. I guess it’s because I think they ought to be better.Then there was Ulysses. He provided many light-hearted moments in this story, one involving a most unique animal trap. Other characters also invoked strong feelings: Miss Hicks and Mr. Spangler, because they were such compassionate, caring, no-nonsense people, and Coach Byfield, because his actions were so despicable.Then there was the letter from Marcus to Homer. It packed a punch on so many different levels.

In addition to the characters and events in the book, I appreciated his use of language and the depth of the themes in his book. This book definitely deserves the praise that is one of the most important novels of the the Twentieth Century.

Additional Book Club Discussion: We talked about the Armenian background of the author and details of his life that are reflected in the book.

Some of My Favorite Quotes:

“I never knew teachers are human beings like everybody else– and better too!”

“I didn’t know anything until I got this job. I knew a lot of things, but I didn’t know the half of it, and maybe I never will, either. Maybe nobody ever will. If anybody should, though,

I should. I want to know, and I’ll always want to know, and I guess I’ll always keep trying, but how can you ever know? How can any man ever really get it all straight so that it makes sense?”

“Lionel whispered because he was under the impression that it was out of respect for books, not consideration for readers.”

“I’m not going to try to comfort you,” he said. “I know I can’t. Nothing can. But try to remember that a good man can never die.You will see your brother many times again – in the streets, at home, in all the places of the town. The person of man may go, but he best part of hims stays. It stays forever.”

Other Opinions/Related Links

Book Club Dinner Menu for The Human Comedy

Carol hosted the event, which was an Armenian inspired dinner in honor of the author.

Appetizers served with Armenian Kiss Martini’s-armenian-kiss-martini/

Hummus and gluten-free tabuleh with pita bread

Chicken cilicia fillos

Main Course
Armenian tomato salad
Armenian pilaf
Lamb shish kabob
Fruit salad



Wonder by R.J. Palacio

In YA Book Reviews on July 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm


 by RJ Palacio

Contemporary Fiction/@2012/310 pages/Stand Alone Book*

Publisher Blurb:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Summary in a nutshell:

Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student.

 My thoughts:

I have read some great books in my day, but this one rises to the top of the list.  I really think it is the best book I have ever read. I don’t think I am overstating when I say it is one of those handful of life-changing books that I will always keep in my heart. I loved everything about it. I loved its message about kindness, compassion, integrity, and acceptance. I loved the characters and how different sections were told from their perspectives. I loved Mr. Browne’s precepts, as well as the ones his students came up with – especially Auggie’s which was “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.” I loved Auggie and Jack and Summer and Mr. Tushman. I loved the illustrations – so simple, yet so powerful. There are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, and there are parts that absolutely break your heart. It is an amazing book.

You might also like: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

 My Rating: 5/5 Stars (I loved it! I absolutely could not put it down. It was an outstanding read in every way. I will keep the book and buy more for gifts.)

Audience: Absolutely everyone – even though it was clearly intended for middle school students,this book deserves a wider audience

My Thoughts Exactly (but with more precise details) Review:


The Final Four

In YA Book Reviews on July 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The Final Four

Title: The Final Four

Author: Paul Volponi

Genre: Realistic Sports Fiction

Pages: 244

Published: 2012

Publisher’s Blurb (from the book jacket):

Malcolm wants to get into the NBA ASAP. Roko wants to be the pride of his native Croatia. Crispin wants the girls of his dreams. MJ just wants a chance. They have one thing in common: the will to win. Four guys meet on the court in a key game in the Final Four, college basketball’s answer to the NBA play-offs. As the last heart-stopping moments tick down on the game clock, you’ll learn how each of these players grew from a kid who loved to shoot hoops into a vital part of the most important games of the year. Which team will leave the Superdome victorious: the heavily favored Michigan State Spartans, or the underdog Trojans from Troy University? In the end it will come down to which players the most skill, the most drive and the most heart.

Summary in a Nutshell:

Four players at the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament struggle with pressures of tournament play and the expectations of society at large.

My Thoughts:

I chose this book to read because I was looking for a book that might appeal to boys in particular and reluctant readers in general. I didn’t expect to like it myself because I am just not a fan of basketball. But like it I did because it is well written and engaging. And, when all is said and done, Final Four was really not about basketball. It was so much more than that.

The book has a unique format, with chapters alternating commentary about the actual game in progress with flashbacks, journal entries, newspaper articles, and interviews involving four of the players, two from each of the competing teams (the Spartans and the Trojans).  Each chapter begins with a thought-provoking quote from a famous person (mostly from the world of basketball and with a bit of information about that person).

The author is truly a master in terms of making you care about each character. I took an immediate dislike to Malcolm. I wasn’t impressed with his trash talk and his goal to go directly to the NBA at the end of his first year in college. As the book progressed, I got his back-story and my initial reaction softened, and I came to understand what was driving him. Roko is on the opposite team and became my immediate favorite. He was originally from Croatia, experienced some major trauma in his life there, and conveyed his back-story in the form of a journal. His enthusiasm, positive attitude, and writing just grabs you. Then there is Michael Jordan who has also experienced hardship and is under constant pressure to live up to his namesake. You just have to appreciate his heart and passion for the game. The fourth character was Crispin who just wanted to impress his girlfriend. She was not worthy of his efforts. Just saying.

In addition to the interesting characters and story leading up to conclusion about which two characters ended up on the winning team, the reader will also become well informed about the way the NCAA operates with regard to the mega-bucks generated on the backs of student athletes. That should generate some interesting discussion.

Recommended for: 7th grade and up, especially fans of basketball

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Favorite Quotes:

“I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan (once cut from his high school varsity team as a sophomore)

“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

Related Link:

Paul Volponi – Notes from The Final Four

Other Opinions:

Read Many Books

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands Series #1) by Moira Young

In YA Book Reviews on July 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands Series #1) by Moira Young

Author: Moira Young

Dust Lands Series – the First Two in the Triology (Blood Red Road, Rebel Heart)

(Book 3 – Raging Star will be available in April, 2014)

YA Dystopian/459 pages and 418 pages/Series*

Publisher’s Blurb:

Blood Red Road (Book 1): Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when four cloaked horsemen capture Lugh, Saba’s world is shattered, and she embarks on a quest to get him back.

Rebel Heart (Book 2): It seemed so simple: Defeat the Tonton, rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, and then order would be restored to Saba’s world. Simplicity, however, has proved to be elusive. Now, Saba and her family travel west, headed for a better life and a longed-for reunion with Jack. But the fight for Lugh’s freedom has unleashed a new power in the dust lands, and a formidable new enemy is on the rise. What is the truth about Jack? And how far will Saba go to get what she wants? In this much-anticipated follow-up to the riveting Blood Red Road, a fierce heroine finds herself at the crossroads of danger and destiny, betrayal and passion.

My thoughts:

This is a well written series, despite the (albeit serving a purpose in the author’s mind) lack of proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, that will grab you and keep you reading to the end of the series. The main character and narrator is Saba. She has a lot of rough edges, but you have to appreciate her spirit and how she handles herself in the most difficult of circumstances. She is the poster child for outstanding character development. She continues to change and evolve as the story progresses. The secondary characters are equally compelling in their own right. There are a lot of strong female characters in this series, but there are some truly memorable male characters as well. In addition, there are a crow and a wolf that bring considerable humor to this intense story and they will steal your heart. Quite a mix! There is enough action, suspense, and romance to keep readers completely engaged from beginning to end. There are some incredible scenes in both books that will stick in your mind forever – they are that good. A very creative, well thought out series that I highly recommend.

Recommended for 7th grade and up

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Similar Books: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Other Opinions:

The Book Smugglers

Respiring Thoughts

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

In YA Book Reviews on July 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Genre: Mystery/fiction

Publisher’s Blurb:

A stolen flag, a secret society, and three complete strangers . . . Anna, José, and Henry have never met, but they have more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington, DC, airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have just announced that the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in, too, recruits Henry and José to help find the thieves and bring them to justice. But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there’s even more than a national treasure at stake. With unexpected enemies lurking around every corner, will the trio solve the heist before the flag is lost forever?

My thoughts:

As far as mystery stories go, it was fairly boring and predictable. The thieves are pretty obvious, but younger readers might fall for the red herring. I expected Capture the Flag to contain some history, which it does, but I didn’t expect (and was pleasantly surprised by themes and topics (government, election process, dirty politics, idioms, and such) that lends itself to discussion and research. There are some fun set pieces where the kids crawl around the baggage area, but I don’t think there’s much in in this book to interest older readers. It’s a good, timely read for young readers but too simple for a crossover audience of more sophisticated readers.

Recommended for Fifth/Sixth graders

My Rating; 3/5 Stars

Other Opinions:

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

In YA Book Reviews on July 5, 2013 at 11:06 pm

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

Title: My Most Excellent Year

Author: Steve Kluger

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Length: 408 pages

Published: 2008

Publisher Blurb:

Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Al‚. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Al‚ is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

My Thoughts:

I liked the format – three high school seniors recount the details of their most excellent year – their freshman year – via their diary entries, text messages, letters, and various other means of communication. The characters are unique as well, with a plot that involves musical theater, political organizing and social justice, baseball, friendship, and love. It is a feel-good story with important messages about opening your mind and making the world a better place. I really enjoyed reading it, but I do need to point out that there are some parts that are a real stretch in terms of being possible. I am fine with that, but if you are looking for a book that is closer to the real world, this probably isn’t it.

Recommended for: 7th grade and older

My rating: 4/5 Stars

Other Opinions:

Flip by Martyn Bedford

In YA Book Reviews on July 3, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Flip by Martyn Bedford

Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

Length: 258 pages

Published: 2011

Publisher Blurb: Fourteen-year-old Alex Gray wakes up one morning to discover he’s not in his own bedroom. More surprising is that he doesn’t recognize his hands, or his legs… When he looks in the mirror he gets the shock of his life. How is it possible that Alex has become another boy – a boy who everyone calls Philip?

My thoughts: The body swap stories have been done before, and I really wasn’t expecting much from this one, but I found it to be a very engaging read that I absolutely could not put down. This is a well written, well paced book. It is mostly plot driven, with excellent details and some great bits of dialogue. Switching from a skinny asthmatic boy to a fit, athletic one, Alex has to deal with an identity crisis like none other. Bedford’s skilled writing pulls the reader into the unfolding story and doesn’t let go. While he wants to find a way back home, he still worries about Flip’s family. This paranormal drama is full of mystery, suspense, and angst that focuses on Alex’s inner struggle with his identity and his drive to find his way back home. Stirring and poignant, Flip is unique and inspired. I highly recommend this book. It has widespread appeal, especially for boys.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Other Reviews: (includes book trailer)

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

In YA Book Reviews on July 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Genre: Modern Realistic Fiction

Length: 180 pages

Published: 2012

Summary: Seventh-grader Georges adjusts to moving from a house to an apartment, his father’s efforts to start a new business, his mother’s extra shifts as a nurse, being picked on at school, and Safer, a boy who wants his help spying on another resident of their building.

This story is told from Georges’s point of view and chronicles his middle-school experiences with making friends and dealing with school bullies. As to be expected in a book titled Liar & Spy, nothing is as it seems. There are some amazing plot twists that you won’t see coming. A must-read for sure!

Favorite part: Bittersweet chapter where Mr. Landau, who has been teaching about the science of taste buds, asks the students to ponder what is the taste of human experience. He then gives them the assignment to write about a memory that can be described using the metaphor of taste.This nudges Georges to remember a bittersweet memory.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Other reviews of this book:

The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli

In YA Book Reviews on July 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm

The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli

Genre: Historical fiction

The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, and there has been continuous speculation about who she was and why she is smiling. Perfect starting point for a historical fiction novel, and The Smile puts forth a very convincing tale to answer those burning questions. Readers are introduced to a young Elisabetta, the daughter of a silk merchant. Even though she does not feel she is a beauty, Elisabetta catches the eye of the famous painter, Leonardo and a young Medici prince. It is the young Guiliano de’Medici who calls Elisabetta Monna Lisa and remembers her smile. Although he is the heir to the most powerful family in Florence and the two fall in love, Elisabetta’s father finds a more suitable match for his daughter in his new wife’s brother-in-law, another silk merchant.

The author provides rich details of life and events during the Renaissance, as well as some of the very real people from that era. The romantic in me would have preferred a different ending, but I give the author credit for faithfully providing an ending that was more realistic and fit with the period. Through this deeply personal story, Napoli paints a magnificent portrait of the Italian Renaissance, both tragic and triumphant. All in all, a fairly reasonable depiction of life in those times. It is definitely a good read.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Pairing (Historical Fiction, similar time period)Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi, an action-packed historical narrative that follows the frantic flight of a 13-year-old peasant boy across 14th-century England.

Other reviews of this book: