Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Brian's Return" by Gary Paulsen

144 pages

As readers of "Hatchet," "The River," and "Brian's Winter" know, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson survived in the Canadian wilderness for months after his plane crashed in the woods. Now he's back in civilization, but things just don't feel right. He finds that modern society overwhelms and overstimulates him now. Before long, he's yearning for the forest. At the advice of his therapist--a blind man who is the one person who understands Brian's "homesickness"--Brian heads back out for a canoe trip that will bring him to the middle-of-nowhere home of the family who found him after his first ordeal. 

There is something about Gary Paulsen's writing. I can't put my finger on's simple, but it really brings things to life. You can tell that he truly loves and understands nature. I loved "Hatchet" and all its sequels, but I'd often wondered what it was like for Brian after he came back into civilization. This story answers that question. However, I wish it went into more detail. I wanted to know more about what happened to Brian when he got home, and also about his trip. The book is just too short. Right when it's starting to get into things, it's over. Still, it's another fine piece of writing by Mr. Paulsen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Z" by Michael Thomas Ford

288 pages

It's been fifteen years since the zombie plague broke out, killing thousands of people before the preventative vaccine was developed. Josh was just a baby then, so he has no memory of real zombies. For him, they only exist in his video games. And Josh is really, really good at killing zombies in video games. So good, in fact, that he's recruited by an elite group of gamers who play in real life (IRL) with simulated living dead robots. He hasn't been playing for long, though, when things start to get dangerous. There's something sinister going on behind the scenes, and Josh has gotten himself mixed up in something worse than he could have imagined. 

The plot of "Z" is unique but ultimately predictable. Also, there are several significant holes in the story and I wish the characters were more developed. When I let go of those things, though, I enjoyed the book. There's plenty of zombie mayhem and a good message that makes a point without being preachy or cheesy. Though it's considered young adult, it's written at a lower level than most teen books. I'll be recommending this one to my tween zombie fans. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Happy Families" by Tanita S. Davis

240 pages

Teenage Ysabel and Justin have their share of adolescent problems, but their family life has always been great. The two of them are close friends, and their parents have a loving relationship and are supportive of both their children. Then, all at once, Ysabel and Justin discover a secret about their father that changes their world forever. They each tell their stories in alternating chapters as their family falls apart and tries to come back together again.

Spoiler alert: It's almost impossible to write this review without giving anything away, so stop reading now if you don't want to know what the big discovery is...anyway, I really like this book and it's going to stick with me for a while. In some ways, it feels like a pretty realistic portrayal of what a family goes through when one of the parents is transgender. Ysabel and Justin deal with it differently, but both of them struggle terribly with the news. They are totally confused and sometimes angry, but they still love their dad. At first I didn’t quite buy their parents’ behavior. Their mom is totally supportive and accepts her husband’s desire to live as a woman, and he still loves her and wants to be with her. This didn’t seem realistic to me at first, but when I thought about it I decided that it’s good for this book to defy stereotypes and show that people can be transgender and still be technically heterosexual, and for their significant others to accept them as they are. The ending is a bit cheesy, but overall this is an interesting story that addresses a very complicated issue in an entertaining way.

The Final Leap by John Bateson

309 pgs, 2012.

I will be talking about this book to anyone who will listen for the rest of my life. The messages it contains are that powerful. The sad thing is, when you tell people that you're reading a book about suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge most of them look at you in horror and ask why in the world you would read such a depressing book. My answer is simply "because suicide is an important topic and one that we as a society need to be talking about."

The Final Leap focuses primarily on suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge and includes information that would absolutely astound most people. Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge is the world's number one suicide spot? And that although the installation of a suicide barrier has been studied numerous times, the committee that governs the bridge has been reluctant to install one and refuses to fund the barrier it did finally approve?

Sure, the personal stories about those who took their lives are sad. But the depressing part of the book is what very little has been done to stop the 2-3 successful suicides that take place there every month. It is my sincere hope that John Bateson and others do not give up trying to spread their message about not only the bridge, but suicide in general. I firmly believe that if we start a public conversation  that someday people won't view suicide as their only way out. I know I'll be trying to do my part to encourage open and frank discussion.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Metro Girl

by Janet Evanovich 296 p.
           I have never read Evanovich before and this book did not make me want to read another book of hers. The story seemed really ludicrous. None of the characters were endearing enough to makeup for the faults. She gives unnecessary descriptions that just distract. I can't think much what I liked about it. I didn't hate it. It was just "meh." It is the first of the Alex Barnaby series. Alex is a former mechanic and race car driver who denies that part of herself to be more girly. She has a brother in Florida who has gotten himself into trouble again. She goes there to find him. Even though his place has been broken into a few times, she does not call the cops and comes up against many criminal types. She meets a playboy race car driver who had his boat stolen by her Alex's brother, Bill. It is one of those books that things get crazier and crazier as they go along.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

140 pgs., 2012

Full of practical tips, anecdotes and personal experiences, I would highly recommend this book for any artist - aspiring or accomplished. I think one of the best ideas in this book is that its okay to look to others for inspiration and ideas--there is no original idea, and the tips for overcoming writer/artist block. Looking for a gift for an artist? Get them a copy of "Steal Like an Artist."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

May 2012 Winners

Here's how we did in May:

Books: 69
Pages: 21,578
Participants: 9

Most Books
Jenny: 22
Heather: 16
Stephanie: 9

Most Pages:
Heather: 5749
Meggan: 4103
Jenny: 3884

Most Participation Points:
Jenny: 22
Heather: 16
Meggan: 14

Great job everyone...but we can do better! Feel free to put some peer pressure on your coworkers to participate, too :). Don't forget the upcoming challenges, which will get you extra points: 

June: Any book with "summer" or "night" in the title (in honor of the Summer Reading Program and this year's theme)
July:  Red, white, or blue cover
August: Missouri author

Thanks! Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

"Other People’s Rejection Letters" by Bill Shapiro

192 pages

The title pretty much says it all. This is a collection of letters that killed the hopes and dreams of celebrities (Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol as well as regular people. There are handwritten notes from former lovers, nasty e-mails from potential bosses, and passive-aggressive texts. Many of these rejection letters are hilarious, but they are also inspiring, as odd as that sounds. They remind us that everyone has been rejected at some point, even people who went on to become successful later one. In fact, make that especially those who became successful. This collection reminds us that persistence pays off and that we have to face some rejection in order to eventually get what we want.

"Bitter End" by Jennifer Brown

359 pages

When Alex falls for Cole, the cute new guy at school, everything seems perfect. Sure, he seems a little jealous of her good friend Zach, and any other guy who comes near her. But he's sweet, he loves her, and he understands her like no one else. As time goes by, though, it seems like something's wrong. Soon Alex can't ignore Cole's put-downs, threats, and increasingly violent behavior, but she can't seem to let go of her first love. As things get worse, Alex realizes she's going to have to make a big decision before it's too late.

I'm really happy to see a teen novel that addresses violence like this without being too preachy. That said, I didn't really enjoy the actual story very much. It felt very predictable to me and I thought several aspects were oversimplified. I wish there was more backstory on both of the main characters--Alex and Cole--to help me understand how they ended up in the positions they were in. Although limiting their stories emphasizes that dating violence can happen to anyone, as a reader I wanted more. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Calico Joe" by John Grisham

198 pages

There's a reason why John Grisham is so popular--he's really good at telling a story without too many words or extraneous details to get in the way. "Calico Joe" isn't my favorite of his books, but it's a fun, quick read that also has heart. The baseball scenes really jump off the page and are fun to read. I like the way the narrative goes back and forth from the 70s to today so it takes a while to figure out exactly what happened. The ending felt a bit too easy and cheesy as well, but overall I enjoyed the story.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

by Stephanie Perkins
394 pages

In this companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss, two teens discover that true love may be closer than they think. For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit - more sparkly, more fun, more wild - the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door. When the family returns and Cricket - a gifted inventor and engineer - steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Super cutie companion novel. Costumes + moon + automation + millions of bracelets = I love, love Lola & Cricket! Throw in the figure skating and I’m almost pushed over the edge :)

And I loved that I got to see that Etienne and Anna were still madly in love and moving seriously moving forward.

100 Unforgettable Dresses

by Hal Rubenstein
208 pages

100 Unforgettable Dresses is filled with the stories, secrets, intrigue, and insights behind the most indelible dresses in our collective memories. Featuring looks from the runway, film, television, the red carpet, and the worlds of royalty and politics, this book celebrates the staying power of these gorgeous, sleek, sultry, and outrageous creations as well as the lasting impact they’ve had in fashion, popular culture, and our own lives. More than two hundred images, a witty, informative text, and exclusive interviews with the designers and the women who wore the dresses reveal the initial spark and captivating drama behind the making of each dress. Also featured throughout are extensive anecdotes and observations about great style makers—Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Cate Blanchett—highlighting the conception of their most spectacular looks and examining their lasting influence.

Such a cool book! I remember seeing many of these dresses and reading about how they were significant. My favorite entries were the Revenge Dress Princess Diana wore the night Prince Charles publicly announced his affair, the pink Grace Kelly gown by Ralph Lauren for Gwyneth Paltrow, Mondrian dress  and the Safari dress by Yves Saint Laurent.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior and Set the Course of History
by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter
317 pages

This is a book about all of the influential characters throughout the history, through legends and literature.  It's very tongue in cheek and not scholarly at all, but that's why I liked it.  The authors lay out why they ranked the way they did and how they came to include the 101 characters.  Some of these characters include: Big Brother,  Lady Chatterly, Robin Hood, Don Quixote, Jay Gatsby, just to name a few.  It's a quick read and very insightful.