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Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

The Crown’s Game

In YA Book Reviews on May 22, 2017 at 8:49 pm

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by Evelyn Skye
Fantasy/©2016/Grade 7 and Up

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

My Thoughts:

A very unique reading experience! The setting was the first thing that captured my interest – an alternate 19th Century Russian historical setting infused with elements of magic. Then there was the fascinating mix of characters, with Vitka and Nikolai being the most interesting and quite memorable in their own way. The plot was full of edge-of-your seat twists and turns, and didn’t let up. When you reach the cliff hanger at the end, you just have to have the sequel (The Crown’s Fate) ready to grab. Even with all that, for me, the quality of the writing and the elements of magic really stood out. Highly creative and imaginative.

Sequel: The Crown’s Fate

Much darker than the first book, but equally great magical world, serious girl-power, epic sibling rivalry, deeper character development.

If You Liked This, Then You Might Like This:

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Series, Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo

Finding the Worm (Twerp Sequel)

In Middle Grade Book Review on May 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm

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by Mark Goldblatt

Realistic Fiction/@2015/Recommended for Middle School

Publisher’s Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Finding the Worm (Sequel to Twerp):

It’s not a test unless you can fail. . . .

Trouble always seems to find thirteen-year-old Julian Twerski. First it was a bullying incident, and now he’s been accused of vandalizing a painting. The principal doesn’t want to suspend him again, so instead, he asks Julian to write a 200-word essay on good citizenship. Julian writes 200 no’s instead, and so begins an epic struggle between Julian and his principal.
 
Being falsely accused is bad enough, but outside of school, Julian’s dealing with even bigger issues. His friend Quentin has been really sick. How can life be fair when the nicest guy in your group has cancer? Julian’s faith and friendships are put to the test . . . and the stakes have never been higher.

My Thoughts:

Though Finding the Worm is the sequel to Twerp, both books can stand alone. However, you won’t want to miss out on either one. Each one gives you great writing, unforgettable characters and engaging plots. Both are powerful stories that give you a realistic view of life in 6th and 7th grade as related through Julian’s (i.e. Twerp) journals, both bring you humor and tears, both bring you thought provoking issues of bullying and its consequences, of integrity, and of empathy. I think both books will give middle grade readers much to think about long after they have finished the last page.

 

 

Small Great Things

In My Book Club Books on May 15, 2017 at 1:52 am

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by Jodi Picoult

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

My Thoughts:

This is just one of those books I could not put down, and I can’t stop thinking about. In the course of a very engaging story told from the perspectives of three characters, the author raises major issues about racism, our justice system, and how we treat minorities. While it is a book of fiction, it is also a book that makes you think. The author’s note at the end was unlike any I have ever read before and gives me a whole new appreciation of Jodi Picoult.

Book Club Discussion:

We actually started our discussion by talking about the ending. The author is Jodi Picoult, after all, and she is known for her unexpected endings. We all agreed we liked the book for many reasons, but one member thought the ending came too fast, seemed rushed, and was just too tidy. At least one of us felt that it just wasn’t realistic to expect Turk to have changed so drastically in that short of a time. It also didn’t seem completely realistic  to us that things would have ended so well for Ruth. We all agreed with these observations, but most of us still liked the ending. We wanted things to end well for Ruth, and it gave us a sense of hope that someone like Turk could change so drastically, even if it wasn’t completely realistic.

All in all, the story made us think more deeply about racism and if we were totally sure we were not at all prejudiced. Like Kennedy, we believed that we fit into that category of people who don’t see color, but then we discussed this further. One member clarified her thoughts about this by saying that of course, we see color. How could you not? The thing is not to dwell on it, not to see it as what defines the person,  and not to use it as the basis of how we relate to him/her.

The book definitely made us think about and acknowledge our prejudices. One member shared her experience of having accrued a lot of information about a woman, and then being surprised to find out she was African-American, not white. It made her stop and thing about why she had formed that opinion, what prejudices she indeed had. She outlined her thought process on figuring it out, and went on to say that we all have prejudices and need to be more self-aware in order to monitor how we think and react.

We went on to discuss the parts of the story that really stuck with us. One member brought up how enlightening it was to find out how white supremacists think and the brainwashing involved to multiply their numbers.  One member cited the part of the story when Ruth had Kennedy go shopping with her and what an eye-opening experience it was for Kennedy. One member noted the court scenes as being truly memorable. Another found it interesting how Kennedy had her associate help with the background check of the prospective jurors and observe how each juror reacted to things said in the course of the selection process. Another member cited the scene that starts on page 407 where Ruth states her true, unrestrained feelings. That was so powerful.

All in all, we liked the book. It provided an engaging story and was seriously thought provoking. One member stated that it was the best book she has read that examines racism.  Because it is fictionalized and brought in characters who displayed many of the stereotypes of both whites and blacks, it helps you look at and be open and honest about your own prejudices. A special thank you to author for including a very detailed and heartfelt Author’s Note at the end of the book.

Discussion Resources:

Reading Group Guide

Booking Mama Discussion

Book Club Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars

Book Club Menu

An Appetizer Collection of Small Great Things

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Cheeses, crackers, olives, truffle salted macron almonds, crudités

Kennedy’s Dinner for Ruth

Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread

Lasagne

Cold Zabaglione with Berries

Well, That Was Awkward

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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by Rachel Vail
Realistic Fiction/Contemporary/©2017/Recommended for Middle Grade

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can’t breathe, can’t walk, can’t anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J.
It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie’s beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She’s had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best.
It s all good. Well, almost all. She’s trying.

My Thoughts:

Interesting take on the retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac for the middle school set. Gracie as narrator of her story was highly entertaining, and many of the other characters were equally unique and memorable. I think the use of text messaging in the story will also appeal to the intended audience. In addition to an engaging plot, there are important life lessons about family, friendship, bullying, love, and loss. All in all, a good addition to the middle school library.

The Storyspinner (The Keeper Chronicles, Book 1)

In YA Book Reviews on April 20, 2017 at 7:00 pm

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 by Becky Wallace

Fantasy (Young Adult)/©2015/Recommended for Ages 13+

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected.

In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure.

The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna.

With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.

What I Thought:

It was one of those books that I could not put down. It had an engaging plot, memorable characters, and a fascinating fantasy world. The author had an interesting way of building suspense. Each chapter was fairly short (usually no more than 3-5 pages), each of which focused on what was going on with a certain character and most ending with a bit of a cliff hanger. Joanna was the main character, but there were a host of other major and lesser characters, some better developed than others, but all quite interesting and all playing significant parts. I am looking forward to Book 2 and hoping that it is just as good!

If you enjoyed this, you would also appreciate:

The Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

The Winner’s Curse  by Marie Rutkoski

Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) by Mary E. Pearson

A Gentleman in Moscow

In My Book Club Books on March 30, 2017 at 3:49 pm

The Literary Epicurean Book Club Selection

March 29, 2017

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 by Amor Towles

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

My Thoughts:

This book is destined to be one of those books that I take out once a year to re-read and savor for the quality of writing, the truly unique characters, and the finely told story of the Count. I am in awe of Mr. Towles’ writing style. I had to stop time and again to reread sentences and paragraphs, each vividly descriptive in the most unique way. I adored the main character and fully appreciated all the other characters sprinkled throughout the book. And the plot was just so darn clever and well thought out, incredibly engaging and completely unpredictable. All 462 pages went by in a blur. It was just that good!

Book Club Discussion:

I think we all weren’t too sure about this book when it was first suggested. After all, how interesting a story can you tell when the whole thing takes place in a hotel? Yet, when all was said and done, we all agreed this was just the best book, and we couldn’t stop raving about! It was one of those rare books that hit the trifecta of literary elements – outstanding writing, outstanding characters, and outstanding plot. It is our hope that Masterpiece Theater grab the rights to this book immediately and produce the quality series it so richly deserves. But I digress…

This book was full of memorable and unique characters, but the Count (The Gentleman in Moscow himself) is just the most amazing of them all. He was just so darn witty and charming that we all liked him right from the beginning. He had an interesting personality and an enviable attitude toward life, very nicely summed up in this quote: “… a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them…”. He proceeded, as one member said, to make a nice lemonade of his life from the lemons he was given. Being sentenced to a life of confinement far from the comfort and wealth of his former life could definitely be defined as lemons. Yet, he wasn’t vindictive or distraught, he just adapted as best he could and got on with his life. He had so many layers, and they just kept unfolding as the story progressed. Those layers were showcased in the many interactions and relationships with other key characters. We learned early of his fine taste in wine and discriminating palate, which made for some interesting high points in the plot. The part involving the making and eating of the bouillabaisse, as well as all the parts that involved wine recommendations were particularly memorable.

The plot was very clever and well thought out. So many intriguing plot twists and turns.We appreciated the level of research that went into the planning of this book and how the different eras of the evolving Russian government were depicted through events happening at the hotel. The scene with Kruschev and the other dignitaries, how they came to be at the hotel, and how the seating at the table all played out was especially telling and memorable. Not everything was spelled out ( who was that willowy woman he met at the end?) and some times the plot was moved along by such phrases as “…ten years later…”. Nonetheless, it all made sense and those little discrepancies didn’t bother us at all.

Then there was the writing – so rich and delectable. We all kept sharing our favorite quotes and savored every word. He had the most incredible descriptions that just wowed us on practically every page.  Every so often, he added footnotes to the text which, as one member said, gave us the inside scoop so that we could better understand.

Our Book Club Rating: 5 STARS

Book Club Menu

White Russian

Small Plates

Russian Blini with Salmon, Sour Cream, and Chives

Zucchini Spread

Russian Dressing Dip with Crudite

Russian Cheese Spread

Olivier Salad

Dessert

Russian Cream

Various Russian Chocolates

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

In Middle Grade Book Review, Poetry on March 23, 2017 at 7:09 pm

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By Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth

Poetry/©2017/Recommended for Middle Grade

Publisher’s Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, present original poems that pay homage to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder.

My Thoughts:

What a brilliant idea to write new poems in the style of master poets! The original poets would be so proud. Each poem gets a two-page spread with the most breath-taking illustrations. The book also includes a mini-biography for each of the honored poets. After reading each, I just had to go back to re-read the poem written in his/her honor. Each does, indeed, capture the heart and soul of the original poet. All in all, a fabulous collection of poetry that will entertain and inspire.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2017 at 2:57 pm

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by Kelly Barnhill

Fantasy/©2016/Recommended for Middle School

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

What I Thought:

I had heard a lot of good things about this book, but I kept telling myself that I am just not a fan of witch stories and I probably wouldn’t like it. Then it won the Newbery Award. Not that I always loved their choices, but, still, a reason to give it a go. Must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it, witch and all. The writing was stunning, the characters were unique and memorable, and the plot was creative and engaging. It is a great addition to the middle school library and will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy.

If you enjoyed this, you would also appreciate:

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities #1) by Shannon Messenger

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

In Middle Grade Book Review, Non-Fiction Reads on February 22, 2017 at 11:41 pm

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by Kwame Alexander

Non-Fiction/©2017/Recommended for Middle School

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads)

You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

What I Thought:

I enjoyed Crossover and Booked by this author, so I couldn’t wait to read his latest one. It did not disappoint. This is an absolutely visually stunning book with its mixture of pictures and graphics, so it just grabs your full attention from the very beginning. It is not a story told in verse like his other books, but a piece of nonfiction full of short stories and quotes that are truly inspirational and thought provoking. I especially enjoyed reading the short pieces he wrote about himself, as well as the one about LaBron James that gave me a whole new insight into an athlete for whom I had had a very negative opinion. Scattered among these short pieces was a wide selection of great quotes from the likes of Steph Curry, Michael Jorden, and Sonia Sotomayo. It is a quick read, but it packs a punch. I honestly think it could be life changing for many. Great addition for the middle school library, but a worthy read regardless of age.

Undefeated Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

In Middle Grade Book Review, Non-Fiction Reads on January 29, 2017 at 11:03 pm

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by Steve Sheinkin

Non-Fiction/©2017/233 pages/Recommended for Middle School and Above

Publisher’s Comments (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in the history of America’s favorite sport. Called “the team that invented football,” Carlisle’s innovative squad challenged the greatest, most elite teams—Harvard, Yale, Army—audaciously vowing to take their place among the nation’s football powers.

This is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. It’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.

My Thoughts:

This is definitely a piece of history that needs to be told, and no one tells it better than Steve Sheinkin. His intended audience is middle school/high school, but it will appeal to adults as well. It is thoroughly researched and brilliantly written, and manages to focus on the inspiring story of Jim Thorpe and the obstacles he and the undefeated Indian football team faced, as well as the evolution of football in America. Equally important, he also included our country’s deplorable treatment of Native Americans. It is a quick read, but it packs a punch.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars