Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kraken by China Miéville

China Miéville is such a different author he has been given his own genre called New Weird. This book is a combination of fantasy, horror, police mystery, religion, and even humor. 

Kraken opens in the natural history museum in London where the curator is giving a tour of the collection of preserved specimens to a group including a class of students. After proudly showing them the collection preserved by Darwin himself, he proceeds to take them to see the real star of the collection, a giant squid, only to discover that the animal and the tank it was in had vanished. 

The book proceeds to follow Billy as he joins with Dane (the museum guard he had seen killed) and members of the FSRC (Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit) to chase down members of the squid-worshiping sect and find out how it had been removed from the museum. The reader is treated to amazing new characters and creatures as they chase around London.

I highly recommend this book to readers who appreciate a real challenge.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

It's been a while since I've read read a romantic story but here I am finally. 

Cather (Cath) is the twin sister of Wren. Their mother had abandoned the family when they were eight and they were raised by their bipolar father. Heading off to college Cath was concerned about him, disturbed that her sister didn't want to room with her, and pressured to finish writing her fan fiction story before the last episode of the original series is released.

She  has found great satisfaction and recognition for her stories about Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) on the website FanFixx. Having been allowed into the class Fiction Writing, she is shocked to find her teacher thinks fanfic is little more than plagiarism and she is finding it hard to create her own characters and situations.

Cath has more things to worry about as she starts college. From the location of the cafeteria to meeting new people she finds comfort in her writing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone going off to college.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Dead Mountain
I'll admit that I am not one to go hiking in the middle of winter to the middle of nowhere and I think that anyone who thinks this is fun has got to be crazy. However, there are those who do, like ten young people in Russia, and this is their tragic story.

They were students at the Ural Polytechnic Institute in 1959 and during their winter break they planned this hike so they could qualify for a Level 3 hiker's certificate. They were experienced and fit (except for the one man who had to turn back). What, then, made them leave their tent in the middle of the night, without their overclothes and boots?

Theories ran the gamut from escaped gulag prisoners to wild animals to aliens. The author, Donnie Eichar, decided to solve this real-life mystery. He got all the records, pictures, and logs he could find. He also went to Russia, met the lone survivor, and followed  in their footsteps.

The answer was surprising and rooted in advanced physics. The work to solve the mystery was very interesting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss

Salt, Sugar, Fat
This book is certainly an eye opener! When the powers-that-be look around and cry and wail about the dramatic surge in childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments, they conveniently fail to notice how the major food companies have profits that parallel their increasing numbers. Mr. Moss has produced mountains of hard evidence how these companies have used every trick in the book to get us to buy and consume their products while ignoring their effects on our health.

What was most disturbing was how the relationship and collaboration between food and tobacco companies evolved, both of them sharing tips and tricks on how to convince the consumer that the ingredients weren't so bad and how we had to eat more and more and more.

Any senior who is researching a food related topic for their senior project must read and use this book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets
James Whitman (no relation to Walt) lives with his parents, the Brute and the Banshee, who have recently kicked out his sister recently expelled from school for fighting. Now he enjoys all of the parental attention by himself. To use his phrase, "Yawp!" Now he suspects that he is suffering from depression and is toying with the idea of killing himself. He realizes he needs help.

His best friend is dating a 21-year old woman and is not a reliable source of empathy. He gains the attention of Beth, a girl at school who is trying to get him to look in his sister's room for some poetry she had written. He offers his own photography along with his own poetry and helps them develop an online publication. He tries to persuade the school to readmit his sister and allow her to walk the stage with the hope his parents would allow her to return home. He finds out that there was much more to the story than he realized.

Unlike most other young males who may turn to violence or drugs to deal with their issues, James turns inward with his problems.  His favorite way to cool off is to literally hug trees and he has an imaginary therapist, Dr. Bird, who talks out his problems with him.

I would recommend this book to readers who are dealing with 'stuff' like depression, thoughts of suicide, cutting, abusive parents, or leaving home.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing
When their friend, Tariq, is the victim of a hate crime, Craig and Harry (who used to be a couple) plan to set a new world record for longest kiss. They obtain permission to hold the event in front of their high school and Tariq sets up equipment to live stream. We also meet Peter and Neil who are in a relationship, Avery (a transsexual) and Ryan who are starting a relationship, and Cooper who is lost and feels totally alone. Watching over all of these young people is a host of dead AIDS victims who cheer and encourage them and are frustrated when their advice is not heard.

Of course these young men are not alone. We also meet their family and community members who have their own reactions and concerns for them. Luckily the ones with the bad reactions are in the minority and we see how the event does bring people together and  celebrate love. We also see how Harry supports Craig and helps in reach their goal. We should all be so lucky to have someone like him.

I highly recommend this book to YA readers.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
What could possibly go wrong when a group of nerdy robotic club members enlist help of the cheerleaders to bring their robot to a competition? 

This graphic novel follows Charlie who is dealing with an absentee father and a mother who lives in another state. His friend, Nate, who is the president of the robotics club, is trying to raise money for a field trip to a robot fair. Unfortunately the cheerleaders think they should have the money for new uniforms. The administration will leave the decision to the student council. Naturally that means Nate should run for president of the council. In retaliation the cheerleaders nominate Charlie as a candidate. Things escalate until the obvious solution was that they should pool their resources so they both win.

The first prize of a robot battle competition would be more than enough to meet both groups' needs. The cheerleaders are needed to front the money for the entry fee and gas and the club has the robot. Charlie has his dad's SUV with room for everyone as well as the robot.

Lots of fun for everyone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 YALSA Reading Challenge

Last year I participated in this challenge and read lots of books I probably would not otherwise have read. The rules of the challenge are that you can't include a book you have already read unless you reread it for the challenge. This means that some books I have read and really liked I can't include. The list of books is made up of the winners and honor books from the Printz, Shneider Family, Stonewall, Alex, Margaret A. Edwards, Odyssey, and William C. Morris awards as well as the ALA's 2013 Best Audiobooks, Fiction, Quickpicks, and Nonfiction lists. The challenge is to read or listen to 25 books before June 22, not really too difficult to accomplish. So far I have read the following books (highlighted books available at NHS Library - the rest were borrowed from the Napa County Library):

  • Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi - funny and scary
  • Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle - impossibly crazy book about chasing a dream
  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner - bizarre alternate history about a hoax moon landing
  • Scowler by Daniel Kraus - cruelty and violence that would challenge Stephen King
  • Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick - marvelous fantasy tracing soul mates backwards through 7 different time periods
  • Winger by Andrew Smith - rugby, bullies, private school - not a favorite
  • Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone - lots of pictures bring this nonfiction to life
  • The President Has Been Shot! The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James Swanson - another nonfiction made interesting with pictures and diagrams
  • Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool - reminded me of Holes in some ways
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein - sequel to Code Name Verity and just as amazing
  • In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters - excellent historical fiction/paranormal
The following are the books that I had already read. Even though they are excellent books, I have too many new ones to read to reread them. Know what I mean?
  • The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb - another interesting nonfiction book
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - screamingly funny retelling of Lord of the Flies
  • Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger - steampunk and girl spies adventure
  • Ash by Malinda Lo - retelling of Cinderella story
  • Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride- OK - chapter titles most fun part of the book
  • Out of the Easy and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - both are fantastic historical fiction with great female protagonists
  • Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang - two graphic novels depicting different sides of the Boxer Rebellion in China
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - do I really have to say how amazing this book is?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist
Brandon Sanderson is known for his collaboration with Robert Jordan on the epic Wheel of Time fantasy series. Here he has created a new world and a new system of magic that should appeal to that other epic series, Harry Potter.

Joel is a young man who was not able to complete the all important ceremony that would let him know if he was a rithmatist or not. A rithmatist is able to use chalk to draw figures on the ground to defend or attack other rithmatists. At the beginning of each chapter is one of these shapes with an explanation of the theory behind it.  Joel is not a rithmatist but that doesn't stop him from knowing as much about the art as he can.  He sneaks into classes and reads everything he can get his hands on.  After he becomes friends with Melody, who is a rithmatist, he persuades her to let him into the restricted section of the library for even more in-depth books.  They have both been assigned to Professor Fitch for the summer - Melody needs to practice her drawing and Joel needs to assist on a special project tracking down graduates and determining if they are dead, living, or missing.

What is determined is that there have been disturbing disappearances of rithmatics and the two students become instrumental in learning what is going on.

This system of magic lacks the glamour and excitement that readers of Harry Potter are more familiar with. It may take time to appreciate this method of casting charms. We will have to see with the next installment of the series.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Love in the Time of Global Warming
Francesca Lia Block is known for her edgy stories loaded with amazingly different characters and settings. And this book doesn't fail to challenge the reader.

It is a relatively short book full of genetically modified giants, magic butterflies, a transgender teen, an evil scientist, and characters straight out of the Odyssey. It starts with the bright young Pen (Penelope) left alone after a huge flood takes away her family and most everything else in the world. She survives due to the foresight of her father who stocked the basement with water and food. 

Pen is attacked by some marauders but is helped by one of them who lets her escape in his fully stocked van. He tells her to look for her mother in Las Vegas. On her way she meets/rescues more young people who join her on her odyssey (pun intended).

I recommend this book to fans of magical surrealism, action, and the story of the Odyssey.