Saturday, July 9, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

In this dystopian novel, Beatrice, like all other 16 year olds must take a test which will determine what faction she will choose to live in for the rest of her life.  Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite are the options.  But when she is tested, it turns out Beatrice is different-she's Divergent- and she can't let anyone know or it could mean her death.  Despite a strange cover, that doesn't really give much idea of the story, this was a real page turner and I enjoyed it tremendously.  Like dystopian novels?  You really should give this one a try.
Kim F
487 really fast pages

“Fade” by Lisa McMann

248 pages

In “Wake,” the first book in this series (stop reading now if you haven’t read “Wake” and want to avoid spoilers!), we meet Janie, who can see other people’s dreams. In fact, it’s not just that she can see them—she’s involuntarily sucked into them whenever she’s in the proximity of someone who’s dreaming. For her while life, she’s just tried to get by without anyone discovering her secret or injuring someone when she blacks out to enter a dream. Then she meets Cabe, who makes her realize that she might be able to have a relationship despite her condition—and that she might be able to use her ability to enter dreams to help others. She begins to learn how to show people how to alter their dreams, giving them control of their nightmares, and she even starts working with a special team on the police department, using her ability to solve crimes. In “Fade,” Janie and Cade’s relationship is going strong and they’re working with the cops to bust a sexual predator at their high school. Things are looking great until Janie starts noticing some things happening to her body that might be related to her dream power.

I like the idea behind this series, but I haven’t enjoyed the stories themselves much. I feel like some parts of the plot are oversimplified while others are made more complicated than they need to be. The resolution of the sex predator storyline is really predictable, and the trouble between Janie and Cade seems forced and unnecessary, like the author just threw it in for dramatic effect. I don’t particularly like the characters, either. I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of this series.

“Starting with Alice” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

181 pages

This is the first of three prequels to the juvenile/young adult Alice series. Here, Alice is eight years old and in third grade. She’s just moved from Chicago to Takoma Park, Maryland, with her dad and 15-year-old brother, Lester (her mom died when she was four). As Alice struggles to fit into her new school, she finds herself getting into trouble at school for the first time and having difficulty making friends.

Alice is one of my favorite characters from my childhood books, and I like her just as much as a little kid as a pre-teen and teenager. I’ve recently read some of the latest Alice books, in which she is a senior in high school, and I’m amazed by how consistent some parts of her character are, while she still grows and matures throughout the series. As I’ve said in reviews of other Alice books, the secondary characters are phenomenal as well. I think almost anyone can relate to Alice and her friends’ struggles, insecurities, and awkwardness.

Friday, July 8, 2011


by Jonathan Franzen
p 562

Alright I'll admit Jonathan Franzen is an acquired taste. Anyone who had the stamina to weather his novel The Corrections will know that reading his fiction is much like a marathon. The point being not always the best time, but only to finish and survive.
In Freedom he puts the marriage of Walter and Patty Bergland under his adept microscope of human nature and examines the nuances of marriage and raising a family.
Franzen takes middle class hopes and dreams and places them in the blender of life, only to see his characters deconstruct. Some survive, like Walter and Patty, but only after detours that neither could ever have imagined. Adapting and compromising in today's culture is what Franzen does best. His observations are dead-on, yet can be painful and revealing to us all. This novel is not for the squeamish, but I'm glad that I read it and survived.
It deserves the full Rock Chalk Jay Hawk, if for no other reason than Franzen is one of today's best writers!


by Laura Hillenbrand
p 473

This fascinating story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic athlete, WWII bomber and Japenese POW proves once again that fact is if not stranger, at least more compelling than fiction. Told by expert non-fiction story-teller, Laura Hillenbrand is a page turner front the beginning to end. With unbelievable detail, she weaves a tale of one of the most amazing lives in modern history that has never been told - or at least to this generation of readers. Living with Louie from troubled youth, to Olympic runner (1936), to Army bomber in the pacific to his unbelievable survival of 43 days lost at sea only to be captured by the Japanese and imprisoned under the most brutal of conditions, is a testament to the worst and best of human experience. I found this history lesson to be not only unforgettable but ultimately inspiring. This is a must read!!!
Giving it a full blown ROCK, CHALK, JAY, HAWK.

Breaking Dawn

by Stephenie Meyer, 756 pages

In the final installment of the Twilight Saga, Bella and Edward face their most dangerous challenge from the Volturi.  They must rely on family, friends and allies to escape death.

Okay, so dork that I am, I caught a Twilight marathon on Showtime last weekend and decided that I couldn't just end the story there.  I spent the rest of the weekend reading Breaking Dawn.  Even though I've read it before, I have a remarkable talent for forgetting most of the details of a story a couple of months after I've read it.  The great thing about this is I remember enough to not have to suffer the initial shock of some more astounding plot points, but don't remember the minutia so the story feels fresh.  I'm going to be one of those little old ladies who has to keep a notebook of everything she reads or else she'll bring home a stack of books from the library she's already read... oh wait, I'm already there!  Anyway, I enjoyed the story more this time around than the first.  The characters face more grown-up decisions which provides a little more food for thought than the previous "he loves me, he loves me not."  There's also no shortage of threats and tension which makes for a page turning read.  Finally, there are a lot of pages which may help in the beat Jenny challenge! :)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

by J.K. Rowling, 435 pages

The muggle news is filled with stories about a dangerous criminal on the loose, but it isn't until his arrival at Diagon Alley that Harry learns Sirius Black is actually an escapee from the wizard prison Azkaban.  What's worse, it seems Black is after Harry.  Harry's friends and teachers are intent on keeping him safe in the school, which means he's the only student in his year not allowed to visit the magical village of Hogsmeade.  Added to that, Harry has to deal with dementors- the Azkaban guards, his divination teacher continually predicting his death, and sightings of the grim (the most ominous death omen).

It's been a while since I've read this one, so it's not too surprising that the movie version overrode a few of the finer points of Rowling's writing.  Once again, I'm impressed by the details, the humor, and the heart in this series.  Don't get me wrong- I love the movies, but rereading the books reminds me of how much more there is to writing than simply plot.  Something that I wish I could impress upon those poor souls who think they don't need to read the books because they've seen the movies!

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Sookie has a knack for finding trouble. So, it isn’t any big surprise to readers when Merlotte’s, the bar she works at, is firebombed while she is there. Sam, the bar owner, has just come out as a shape-shifter and it is suspected that those in the community who aren’t thrilled with his revelation might be to blame. In the meantime, Sookie learns more about her faerie family and is pulled into a vampire plot to kill the second in command to the King. Treason has never been so intricately planned.
I have really enjoyed this series and True Blood on HBO. However, this title reminded me of a Seinfeld episode. NOTHING happened. Yes, the blood bond between Eric and Sookie is broken so we find out if she really loves him. We also find out where Sookie’s ability to hear other people’s thoughts comes from. Otherwise, I’m not really sure where the author is headed with the series. I don’t like being negative about an author I’ve come to appreciate for her blunt and sexy humor but it can’t be helped. 2011, 325 pages.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Long John Silver I - Lady Vivian Hastings by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray

Set 20 years after Treasure Island, this French graphic novel focuses on Lady Vivian Hastings. Her long absent and despised husband has sent word through his brother that he has finally found the fabled city of Guyana Capac. He is to sell everything, including the manor, to fund the expedition. Lady Hastings has been far from saintly waiting for her husband's return but in realizing her husband intends for her to live in a convent, she starts scheming with none other than Long John Silver to replace the crew with his men and secure her passage with the entourage. What could possibly go wrong with a ship full of people most concerned with their own skin? 

This graphic novel is only 56 pages, but they are gorgeous pages that will slow down your read as you investigate all the intricate details of the art. The characters are vile and vicious but entirely engaging. Aren't all good pirate stories full of such characters? The story played out in a cinematic fashion. Volume II is out this July with Volume III out in the fall. Dorison and Lauffray make an excellent collaboration. 2011, 56 pages. 

Still Missing

By Chevy Stevens, 352 pages

This is one of those creepy books that makes you a little bit paranoid. The flashbacks take you through the amazing story of her abduction and her mental journey back to a regular life. It was nice to see the strength of the main character without it being over the top and unrealistic. It was an excellent read and I couldn't put it down - I was stunned how the story ended up - not the ending I was anticipating.

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen, 355 p.

I will admit, my secret nerd passion is fiction and non-fiction about traveling circuses during the Dust Bowl. Specific much? This novel has all the glamour and drama you might expect at the circus but it's set behind the scenes.

Jacob Jankowski is about to graduate veterinary school at Cornell and take over his father's practice when his parents are tragically killed in an automobile accident. He fails his final exams because he is unable to focus on anything but his grief. Fleeing town in angst, he finds himself by the train tracks when a traveling circus rolls by. Seeing it as a sign from the universe, he hops aboard and takes a job as the circus veterinarian.

Along the way, he falls in love with the beautiful performer Marlena - who is unfortunately married to August, the abusive, paranoid schizophrenic menagerie coordinator. What follows is your typical story of forbidden love, dashed with surprise, action, and oddly funny moments.

I'm not usually one for love stories but this one was charming and actually, although dramatic, quite believable. Predictable at some points, shocking at others, this one will have you squeezing in pages wherever you can to get to the exciting conclusion!

June Winners

June 2011 Winners*

Total books read: 103
Total pages: 30,189
Total staff contributing in June: 11

Most books read:
Jenny 26
Kristi 22
Heather 16

Most pages read:
Kristi 7559
Jenny 5671
Heather 5549

Participation points:
Chelsea 29
Jenny 26
Kristi 22

Random winner:

Favorite Review:
Smokin' Seventeen (not sure which one) 

*This is the first month we haven't been on top with our book total or pages read and our participation dropped.  Recruit, recruit, recruit! Be ruthless! 


by Orson Scott Card, 419 pages

This retelling of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty starts with a young boy whose parents are making arrangements to flee the communist Soviet Union.  Prior to their escape, they stay with a cousin in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, where ten-year-old Ivan stumbles across a hidden chasm in the forest.  It is here that he sees (or thinks he sees) the image of a woman lying on a pedestal covered by leaves and guarded by a monster.  This image haunts him throughout his life, and eventually as a grad student working on his dissertation, draws him back to the chasm in the woods.

This was a wonderfully imaginative retelling blending classic lore with historical details.  The characters are beautifully drawn and the plot is fresh and flows seamlessly between modern and medieval times.  This is a great pick for anyone who loves a good story with a little magic.

Smokin' Seventeen

by Janet Evanovich, 308 pages

Dead bodies start showing up in the burned out lot where the bail bonds office used to be.  Stephanie and crew are working out of Mooner's mobile home. Morelli's Grandma Bella has put the eye on Stephanie, and Stephanie's own mother, fed up with her lack of commitment to the men in her life, has decided to fix her up with an old high school classmate. Add to that an FTA who thinks he's a vampire and a dancing bear, and Stephanie's life is just a little too interesting for comfort.

Smokin' Seventeen was an entertaining read with a few funny moments, but not the best Stephanie Plum book I've read.  For one thing, it was pretty obvious from the start who the killer was- obvious to the point that it seemed odd that it took Stephanie so long to figure things out.  Also, her relationships with Ranger and Morelli just seemed a bit off in this one.  I don't want to say too much and spoil things, but I'm not quite sure where Evanovich is heading with this one.  Maybe the next book will clear things up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lost and Found

by Shaun Tan, 128p.

Three graphic stories by Shaun Tan.

While I wasn't as impressed by his writing, I really enjoyed the art.  Don't get me wrong - the stories were very inspirational, but not my cup of tea.  The visual stimulation, however, was superb. 

Astronaut Academy

by Dave Roman, 185 p.

I'll admit, I had a really hard time following this story.   I don't even want to grant this a whole blog posting...

It mainly consisted of short profiles about the main characters.


Anna and the French Kiss

 by Stephanie Perkins, 372 p.

When Anna's pretentious novelist father ships her off to high school in faraway Paris, she thinks her life is over.  She's leaving behind her best friend, baby brother, and the guy she has been dreaming about all summer.  Despite the fact that she doesn't want to be there, Paris holds some pretty amazing surprises for Anna - some that she will definitely never forget!

This book was amazing.  When it first came out, I really didn't think I wanted to read it (I mean, have you seen the cheeziness that is the cover?) but I was sorely mistaken.  This is one of the best teen novels I've read in a long time.  Kudos, Stephanie Perkins!  I can't wait for more!

July's challenge...what you need to know to win!

Jenny reads an average of 43.6 books in a month. This averages out to be 9307.2 pages. Let us pause for a moment of silent reflection and awe...

OK! Now that we've paid homage to the all mighty Jenny-let's crush her!!! Let the battle cries begin! Thump your chest and put on your war paint because we've got ourselves a competition.

This is Sparta!!!!! errr, not really, but you know.

Just incase you're feeling a little bad before battle, this is a Jenny approved challenge! :) 

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Ummm, I liked this book but I wonder how many children of Newbery reading age will think it's the "best book I've read in ages" as Patricia Reilly Giff apparently said.  (Her words are on the cover of my copy.)  It's good to see someone so geographically close to us win a Newbery award and it's cool that she mentions Joplin quite frequently and Springfield on occasion and maybe I read it too quickly.  I did like the story of a young girl who's wandering father sends her to Manifest, Kansas.  I liked her relationships with the town's various characters and I'm kind of a sucker for kids who've had it tough, but it felt a bit forced to me.  Still, I'm glad I read it and hope others will, too.  Don't kill me for not raving my love!
Kim F