Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: A Northern Light

Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publish date: 2003
Source: Library
"Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

Set in 1906 against a backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original."

I'm conflicted about this book. On one hand, I loved the main character. Mattie was very smart and a feminist before her time, which I am all about. I loved that she loved books and it was interesting to see which ones she discussed within the novel. I also really liked the dialogue within the novel; it was very real, unlike some historical novels' dialogue can seem. The characters used slang and were crude, especially the teenagers, just like teens really are. The novel painted a very real portrait of what life in 1906 rural North America might have been.

That said, I found the novel to be very slow moving. I knew it was a mystery, so I kept waiting for the plot to pick up, but it never did. The narration switches back between spring and summer Mattie, which was kind of confusing at first, but it soon became easy to differentiate. Like I said, though, the plot never picked up, which definitely affected my enjoyment of the story. A Northern Light has very high ratings on both Amazon and Goodreads, so I guess it just wasn't my kind of book.

Next up: Jake, Reinvented (for school)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author: Rebecca Skloot
Publish date: 2010
Source: Purchased
"Who, you might ask, is Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) and why is she the subject of a book? On the surface, this short-lived African American Virginian seems an unlikely candidate for immortality. The most remarkable thing about her, some might argue, is that she had five children during her thirty-one years on earth. Actually, we all owe Ms. Lacks a great debt and some of us owe her our lives. As Rebecca Skloot tells us in this riveting human story, Henrietta was the involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumors that have been cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research. These so-called HeLa cells have not only generated billions of dollars for the medical industry; they have helped uncover secrets of cancers, viruses, fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. A vivid, exciting story; a 2010 Discover Great New Books finalist; a surprise bestseller in hardcover."

I remember hearing about Henrietta Lacks last year and being curious about her story, but I never acted on my curiosity and got the book. I recently looked it up on Amazon, and finding it for only $8, decided this was a book I needed to own and not borrow from the library. Boy, am I glad I bought it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of those books that made my jaw drop as I was reading and then turn to whomever was near and say, "Listen to THIS." I don't read too much nonfiction, but this book flowed just like fiction; I never wanted to put it down. I learned sciencey things, which is a shock, because I, uh, don't like science at all, but it didn't feel like I was reading a textbook. Ms. Skloot has a lovely writing style and I was never bored while reading, which sometimes happens to me while reading nonfiction.

Even if you aren't a nonfiction fan, I would definitely recommend picking this one up. You'll blaze through it because you don't want to put it down, and just learning about Henrietta's extended family and their lives is fascinating. I can't wait to lend this to people and to me, that is a sign of a great book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Author: Morgan Matson
Publish date: 2010
Source: Library
"Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew—just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road—diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards—this is the story of one girl's journey to find herself."

I kept reading on other book blogs that this was fantastic, but I was a little "eh" about reading it. I was browsing the new YA book section at my library when I found it and decided to try it out. I don't think I liked it as much as everyone else did. I like the premise of a road trip and I liked the pictures and lists and notes that were included in the story. The author includes black and white photos of receipts to show what they ate at diners and I actually thought the first one in there was a real receipt and tried to pick it up. I am smart.

The writing was excellent and the premise was good, but I just didn't find the love story believable. Yes, Amy thought Roger was cute and all that, but I did not sense a big emotional connection and didn't even find Roger's jealousy at Lucien that believable. At the end, it seemed like they made out, spent the night in the hotel "together" (left to the readers' imagination), and then it was time for them to go their separate ways. They have a short conversation about "what to do now," but it all seemed so rushed, like the author had to cram it in before the end of the book. Who knows, maybe I am too old and cynical to think something like that could happen. But that's the point of reading fiction, isn't it?

Currently reading: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty and Bossypants by Tina Fey

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Sisterhood Everlasting

Author: Ann Brashares
Publish date: 2011
Source: Library
"Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness.

Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected.

As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends,Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one.

I absolutely loved the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books when I was in middle school/high school. My friends and I all read them, saw the first movie together, and tried to figure out what article of clothing we could share like Tibby, Lena, Bee, and Carmen shared The Pants. We considered sharing some type of snazzy jacket, but eventually decided to pass a notebook around that we could fill with journal entries, stories, pictures, song lyrics, etc. Looking back on that, I think we were pretty awesome and wish we could still do something like that. Anyway...

The book! It was pretty good and not exactly what I expected, although it was a good ending to a good series. I don't want to spoil anything, but it was a bit sad and unexpected. However, Ann Brashares has such a lovely way of writing that I felt almost comforted as I was reading. Reading the book from the different perspectives of the girls, as usual, was almost like spending time with old friends again. I would definitely recommend reading this to anyone who has read the original Pants series and if you haven't read any of them, you should!

Currently reading: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
Next: good question. I have 5 books sitting in a stack from the library, plus I just got an email saying Bossypants and Thirteen Reasons Why are now in. I'll probably go for Bossypants first since I've been waiting so long!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: Paper Towns

Author: John Green
Publish date: 2008
Source: Library
"When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q. Printz Medalist John Green returns with the trademark brilliant wit and heart-stopping emotional honesty that have inspired a new generation of readers."

I ADORED this book. I'd been wanting to read it for a while but just kind of put it off, then I started it a couple days ago and did not want to put it down. I really enjoy books that have a bit of a mystery to them, which Paper Towns had a lot of, plus the characters were fantastic. I absolutely loved the dialogue and thought it was spot-on for high school boys, whom I am around rather frequently. The characters, and therefore the writing, were hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times while reading.

I really liked that the main character, Quentin (or Q) was a male. I find that most of the novels I read have female protagonists and are usually more geared toward female readers, which is fine for me, but not so great when male students ask me for book recommendations. This is one that I would most definitely recommend to all students, regardless of gender, and it is now my mission to add this to my classroom library (in addition to devouring the rest of John Green's books as soon as possible).

SPOILER: I also really liked learning what paper towns were. I find that concept fascinating and I now want to take a road trip "visiting" all the paper towns in the US. I love when I learn something nerdily interesting in a book and then become obsessed with it. Sidenote: I am also obsessed with really small towns, like somewhere in North Dakota with 3 residents or something. Love it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Wintergirls

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publish date: 2009
Source: Library
"Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way—thin, thinner, thinnest—maybe she'll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia.

This book was incredible. I have never read a book that had such an...intense narrator. She was powerless of herself, but felt so in control at the same time. I was amazed with how Anderson was able to just get right into the mind of someone struggling from an eating disorder. It really opened up my eyes to what someone suffering from that might be going through, and I think it will help me better understand students or friends who might have the same problems.

I would definitely recommend reading this book if you want to understand or empathize with what those suffering from eating disorders may be going through. I wanted to read it because I am always blown away with Anderson's writing (like Speak), so if you like her other novels, this is a must read. It's not necessarily a "happy" book, but worth it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Currently reading: Paper Towns by John Green (love it so far)
On hold still: Bossypants