Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

Navigating Early

In YA Book Reviews on July 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm


By Clare Vanderpool

Adventure/Mystery/Historical Fiction/©2014/Stand Alone/Recommended for Middle School Students and Above

Publisher Comments (Goodreads):

At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.

Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.

But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.

First Line: “If I’d known what there was to know about Early Auden, that strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others.

My Thoughts:

In a nutshell, this is a welcome addition to the coming of age stories, filled with great life lessons and insights. The story line is intriguing, the characters are fascinating, and the writing is just exquisite. On one level, it is an adventure story that middle grade readers (especially boys) will get caught up in. On another level, it has extremely deep and powerful underlying themes and values that just beg  to be discussed. This is an absolutely outstanding book.

Just one of my favorite lines:The song wound its way around me with echoes of gloom and sadness and ghosts of yesterday. A yesterday that was gone and wasn’t coming back.”

My Rating: 4/5 Stars



Orphan Train

In My Book Club Books on July 26, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Book Club Selection for August 2014


 by Christina Baker Kline

Historical Fiction/©2013/273 Pages

Publisher’s Comments (Goodreads):

Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.

Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse… As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those books that I couldn’t read fast enough. I found the story engaging and the information about the orphan train enlightening. I liked how the author alternated between Vivian’s earlier life and what was happening in the present. I liked Vivian and Molly, especially with how they managed to get through all they did and still retain a good sense of themselves,  and I liked the ending, even though some would say it was as neat and predictable as can be. It was an informative, satisfying read. It was rich in details and emotions and thoughtful quotes. It is a book that I think I could get even more meaning from with a second read.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Club Thoughts and Insights:

We all agreed that it was a great choice – compelling plot, interesting characters, well written. None of us had been aware of the history of orphan trains before reading this book. We were shocked by how long it lasted and just couldn’t figure out how our country had been able to justify it. We had a long discussion about that and how we, as a society, value children, then and now. We went on to talk about the characters.  We didn’t have anything nice to say about the social worker, Mr. Sorensen. How could he have left Vivian with the Grote family and then seriously considered taking her back there after she had run away and told him exactly what had happened? Though we did acknowledge what a difficult job being a social worker is now and so it most likely had similar restraints then. Still…

We really liked Molly and Vivian and ached for all both had been through. We admired their strength for being able to get through it all and not give up. An added plus for us was that both Molly and Vivian were avid readers. We loved that connection between the two characters. We talked about Duchy and how heartbreaking it was to have found him and then lost him again. We tried to understand how she could give up her child, especially considering her earlier situation, and could only come up with the unbearable grief she was going through after the loss of her husband.  We talked about Molly and how she thought it important to reunite Vivian with her daughter, but how she was wasn’t ready to reunite with her own mother. Considering the circumstances of both situations, we agreed it was a smart move on her part.

We totally got drawn into the story and the characters and definitely considered this a very good read.

Book Club Rating; 5/5 Stars

Related Links:

Book Club Menu

A Bounty of Choices That Vivian Would Have Enjoyed

Vegetable Tray with Green Hummus and Irish Cheese Spread

Fig andArugula Salad

Fruit Tray with Bailey’s Irish Cream Dipping Sauce



The Knife of Never Letting Go

In YA Book Reviews on July 22, 2014 at 9:35 pm


by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking Book 1)

Dystopian Sci-Fi/@2008/479 pages/Recommend Ages 12+

Publisher’s Comments (Goodread):

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

First Line: “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don;t got nothing much to say. About anything.”

My Thoughts:

This book is well written and engaging. It starts off fairly calm and then the reader is catapulted into a plot of practically non-stop action. It does have a good deal of violence, including one particular scene with the dog, that drives the plot and ignites the reader with a barrage of feelings and reactions. The dystopian setting with its Noise and people who can read each other’s minds is unique and thought provoking. The story is narrated by Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prestisstown, who is on the brink of becoming a man and running for his life. It makes for quite the story!   With its amazing cast of  characters  and so many life lessons, this book really packs a punch. I can’t wait to read the remaining books in the trilogy.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Other Books in the Chaos Walking Series: The Ask and the Answer (Book 2) and Monsters of Men (Book 3)

Other Reviews:

I Kill the Mockingbird

In YA Book Reviews on July 14, 2014 at 11:40 pm


by Paul Acampora

YA Realistic Fiction/©2014/ 163 Pages/Recommended Ages 10 and Up

Publisher’s Comments (Amazon)

When Lucy, Elena, and Michael receive their summer reading list, they are excited to see To Kill A Mockingbird included. But not everyone in their class shares the same enthusiasm. So they hatch a plot to get the entire town talking about the well-known Harper Lee classic. They plan controversial ways to get people to read the book, including re-shelving copies of the book in bookstores so that people think they are missing and starting a website committed to “destroying the mockingbird.” Their efforts are successful when all of the hullabaloo starts to direct more people to the book. But soon, their exploits start to spin out of control and they unwittingly start a mini revolution in the name of books.

My Comments: A gem of a book! The characters are charming, and the story is well written with a wealth of literary references and life’s lessons. There are many memorable scenes, especially the one where Lucy’s mother tries to convince her to stop worrying so much. Their are also some great conversations. The dialogue is masterful and quite often downright hilarious. I especially appreciated those conversations that involved thoughts about To Kill A Mockingbird. This is a quick read, but it is one that will stay with you.

My Rating:4/5 Stars

Other Reviews:


The Unwanteds

In YA Book Reviews on July 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm


 by Lisa McMann

Dystopian Fantasy/©2011/390 Pages/First in a Series/Recommended for ages 10-14

Publisher’s Comments (Amazon):

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation. But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

My Thoughts:

This book is a hit, I am sure, with middle school students. It is not as complex as Harry Potter,  by any means, in terms of plot, character, and writing, but it has a fair amount of magical elements that will appeal especially to the reluctant reader and those who enjoy fantasy. It is also a good introduction to the dystopian genre. Overall, it is a fun read.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Other Reviews: