Friday, April 29, 2016

Book review - Tell the Wind and Fire

Title: Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genre: dystopia
Similar books: Inked by Eric Smith
                     Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
not bad, but could have been better

Summary(provided by publisher): In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.
Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.
Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.
Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

My Opinion: Magic adds a decent twist to dystopian fiction. This book asks a not entirely unexpected question: what makes a person or a thing 'good'? I liked that while it was clear that government under the Strykers was more interested in power than what was actually best for society, it is quickly apparent that the revolutionaries have similar goals in mind. They aren't interested in fixing society, simply in seizing control from the Strykers. The discerning reader will recognize the influence of A Tale of Two Cities early on, which makes the plot rather predictable. While this one addresses some interesting questions, like what makes us human, I'm not sure  those big questions are given enough attention. There is plenty of description of people and places but this is a complex world. We have two kinds of magic and a sizeable population with no magic at all but the entirety of the plot is focused on the magical power struggle. What role do the non-magicians play in society and it's ultimate fate? We don't get a clear picture of how all this magic works either. I admire an author who's willing to buck a trend and write a stand-alone dystopian novel but I really feel like this story would have benefited from being divided into two volumes so there would be more space to address all of the issues.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Chickenhare

Chickenhare by Chris Grine

Chickenhare is certainly unusual. Chickenhare, a chicken/rabbit hybrid, and his best friend, a bearded box turtle named Abe, find themselves about to be sold to a taxidermist named Klaus. Klaus is, to put it simply, insane. He's obsessed with a lost pet goat called Mr. Buttons. The plot centers around Chickenhare and Abe's attempts to escape from Klaus's clutches. Along the way they meed a quirky krampus named Banjo and a mysterious figure named Meg. For such an odd concept, it's surprisingly atmospheric and carefully plotted. It's bizarre and hilarious and wonderful This is not a book for everyone, certainly, but if you're willing to head down a weird road Chickenhare is a delight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Non-fiction book review - That's Not Fair!

That's Not Fair! by Danielle McLaughlin

This book is halfway between a picture book and a non-fiction. Each section addresses a basic right, using a story to explore what it means to have, say, freedom of the press. Each story starts with a proposed law which, in the context of the current discussion, makes sense but somehow infringes on the citizen's rights. The stories serve as a starting point for discussion. This would be a great book to use is a classroom setting to supplement a more traditional text.

Monday, April 25, 2016

24 Hour Read-a-thon reflections

This was my first time participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon and I'm pretty pleased with my results. I lasted the full 24 hours and far exceeded my book goal. Here are some general observations I've made about the experience:

1)For me, it's better to over-plan for these events. When I've done the 48 Hour Reading Challenge, I pent weeks picking out books and rearranging my planned reading order for optimum length and genre assortment. This time I just picked the next ten or so books on my to-read list which lead to some genre-clusters and topics that I was not thrilled about in the very early morning hours when I needed engaging books to keep me going. I also usually swear off caffeine for a week prior to a reading challenge, which I did not do this time and sorely regretted.
2)British voices make me sleepy. Or at the very least, the don't keep me awake. I'd selected the audio of Arthur and the Minimoys for those times when I couldn't read print and as funny and adventurous as that story is, Jim Dale's soothing voice didn't help me stay awake.
3)I liked having the mini-challenges available. While I didn't participate in most them, they helped mark the passage of time and helped me estimate my progress/potential need for more books.

My favorites from this weekend:
Both of these book surprised me. I had anticipated Girl in the Blue Coat being my favorite read. And I did enjoy it. But When We Collided surprised me with it's depth, humor, and heart. While the first book is more serious and contemplative, When We Collided charmed me to no end.
Weekends with Max and His Dad was my favorite juvenile read. I only read three books this weekend that I would qualify and juvenile fiction, but Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw was one of them and I'm a big fan of her work. I only even included Weekends with Max and His Dad on my list because I knew it would be quick and a nice change of pace in the late evening hours when I needed refreshing. This book used humor and innovation to bring a young boy through a potentially traumatic time - his parent's divorce. There is a notable lack of drama, just typical kid situations with a quirky perspective and loads of fun details.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

End of Challenge recap

It's 8am and that marks the end of the 24-hour read-a-thon. I'll be posting a full reflection but for now, here are some quick stats.

Total hours read: 24
Audio books: 1.5 discs of Arthur and the Minimoys
Total pages read  in challenge (presuming I've done the math right): 3346
Total books read:  12

Book review - No Love Allowed

No Love Allowed by Kate Evangelista

Not the ideal book to end this challenge. It's not terrible, just utterly expected. Uptight priveleged boy meets free-spirited underpriveleged girl. Hilarity and love ensue. Fluffy enough to understand in my sleepless state but nothing that really stands out to me.

Pages in this book: 256
Pages read so far in challenge: 3346

Total books read:  12

Book review - Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

My love for Katherine Applegate's work is no secret. I named my blog after one of her books. So this one has been in my to be read pile for a while now. It's definitely unique. The concept doesn't seem like it would work. Jackson begins seeing his old imaginary friend, a giant talking cat, again when it looks like his family might be evicted from their apartment. Yet, somehow, it works. The voices are so genuine, the story all too real. It might put the willing suspense of disbelief to a test but it holds up in the reading.

Pages in this book: 256
Pages read so far in challenge: 3090

Book review - Surviving High School

Surviving High School by Lele Pons and Melissa de la Cruz

Sometimes a person you admire from some other medium puts out a book that is a major disappointment. Their regular voice is dynamic and funny but on paper they're dull and painfully awkward. Not so here. Lele's voice really shines in this book. Reading it is like listening to her talk for a couple of hours. Great for when you need a laugh or 20.

Pages in this book: 272
Pages read so far in challenge: 2834

Book review - Superman: Before Truth

Superman: Before Truth by Gene Luen Yang

Normally I don't read DC or Marvel graphic novels. It's not that I have anything against superheroes. Actually, I'm a big fan of the tv shows and movies. It's just that the comics are all interwoven. It feels like you have to read every single title, every hero, to have a clue as to what's going on. I mostly picked this one because of the author. I'd hoped that it would stand alone more. It has a plot of it's own, sure, but it references some previous events for which I have no frame of reference. A decent plot and well drawn but somewhat hard to follow on its own.

Pages in this book: 146
Pages read so far in challenge: 2562

Book review - Railhead

Railhead by Philip Reeve

I encountered two problems with this book: 1) it's pretty hard core sci-fi (space, robots, all that jazz) which is not my usual fare 2) It was incredibly complex and very difficult to process at this point in the reading-challenge. I should have attempted it earlier.
This really is a fascinating book. I liked the juxtaposition of train travel (which we tend to view as old-fashioned) with the high-tech stuff like sentient robots and direct-to-brain computer interfaces. It is perhaps overly complex for the target age range but serious sci-fi fans will appreciated it's devotion to detail.  

Pages in this book: 353
Pages read so far in challenge: 2416

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book review - Weekends With Max and His Dad

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

I like that this book focuses primarily on the adventures Max has with his dad rather than the drama of having divorced parents. This is all about getting used to new surroundings: meeting new neighbors, exploring the neighborhood, that sort of thing. That sort of experience is more universal. The writing is accessible to kids without being condescending and remains halfway engaging for a parent who is reading along or aloud.

Pages in this book: 159
Pages read so far in challenge: 2063

Book review - Falling Into the Dragon's Mouth

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth by Holly Thompson

I'm a huge fan of verse novels. They don't pop up often enough for my tastes, especially for a middle grade audience like this one. The verse style really suits this story. Jason is a fish out of water. Sure he's lived in Japan for three years. That doesn't mean he fits in. He doesn't always have the words to express himself. In school, this is a literal lack of vocabulary. He doesn't always know the Japanese to express himself. And like many preteens, he can't always express his emotions effectively. He's also hindered by a desire to fit in. He can't turn in his bullies because, in the culture of middle school, he can't be a snitch and risk losing the few friends he has. Now, the verse style can be a little distancing, especially in action scenes, but overall I think this book is a great choice.

Pages in this book: 352
Pages read so far in challenge: 1904

Book review - Dream House

Dream House by Marzia Bisognin

This was my first real disappointment of the challenge. It's not a bad book, just not a great one. There wasn't great deal of depth, not much in the way of character development. I felt like Amethyst was just floating through events, barely questioning what was going on around her. It wants to be a horror novel but the atmosphere just isn't there. It could have been delightfully creepy. I could envision this as a halfway successful horror movie were the presentation stronger.
Pages in this book: 224
Pages read so far in challenge: 1552

Book review - Burning

Burning by Danielle Rollins

This was a good choice for this point in my line-up. The sci-fi/horror vibe was a nice change of pace. The trend of solid reads continues. Firstly, the world of the detention center is solidly portrayed. I liked that while each girl is individual, has her own quirks, personality, and habits, Rollins doesn't try too hard to make them vastly different. There isn't that "Breakfast Club" vibe that some books try too hard to build. In the end, the girls are just girls, brought together by bad choices and circumstance. while there are sci-fi elements (pyrokinesis, specifically) they aren't the main focus of the novel, making it readable even for those who don't typically read genre fiction. While the ending was a little less than satisfying, the majority of the book is well worth your time.

Pages in this book: 352
Pages read so far in challenge: 1328