Monday, October 25, 2010

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

AR Reading Level: 5.9
On the library stacks: YA Fiction
Awards: YALSA Top Ten; Booklist Editors' Choice
Series: Book 1 of 2
Recommended for: Grades 6+

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Steven is an 8th grader. He wants to be cool but he's kind of a geek. He has a crush on the hottest girl in school and he plays drums for the All-Star Jazz Band.  He has a 5-year old brother named Jeffrey, who he has always found kind of annoying. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's whole life changes.

This book is everything I think a YA book should be. Steven is not perfect--far from it in fact. But we get to watch him grow through an extreme life challenge. He has his ups and downs. He's selfish and funny and genuine. I laughed and cried right along with him as he tried to keep his family together through an extraordinarily difficult time while also navigating the murky waters of his adolescence.

I think that this book will resonate well with many teens, regardless of their own personal challenges.  Steven gains perspective on what really matters in life, and he does so in a way that is honest and full of heart. I will definitely be reading more by this author. Highly recommended.

Also reviewed by: Ticket to AnywhereIn the Pages... ~ Becky's Book Reviews ~ Ms. Yingling Reads ~ my thoughts exactly ~ So Many Books, So Little Time ~ Your link here? 

Book 98 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 43 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge
Source: Library

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And the Pursuit of Happiness - TLC Book Tour

And the Pursuit of HappinessAnd the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin Press HC
Publication Date: October 14, 2010
Hardcover: 480 pages
ISBN: 9781594202674
Price: $29.95
Author's NYT blog

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Energized and inspired by the 2008 elections, beloved artist and author Maira Kalman traveled to Washington, D.C., on inauguration day, launching a national tour that would take her from a town hall meeting in Newfane, Vermont, to the inner chambers of the Supreme Court. This book is the result of this wholly idiosyncratic journey, a yearlong investigation of democracy and how it works.

With the delightful Kalman as our travel companion, we fall in love with Lincoln as she imagines making a home for herself in the center of his magisterial memorial; ponder Alexis de Toqueville’s America, witness the inner workings of a Bronx middle-school student council; take a high-speed lesson in great American women in the National Portrait Gallery; and consider the cost of war to the brave American service families of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Democracy, Kalman discovers, is at work all around us.
My thoughts:

Oh, how I adored this book! It's like a grown-up graphic novel/memoir/history book. The artwork is stunning and the photography is gorgeous. The words are spare, but just right. It's full of little anecdotes and trivia and reflections on day-to-day life. I think I read the entire book with a smile on my face.

This book is really a celebration of America and everything that this republic stands for. It's optimistic and full of hope. There were just a couple of times the author got a little partisan in her politics, but for the most part, she stayed neutral and true to what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they organized this great country. I highly recommend checking this book out!

Other tour stops:

Thursday, October 14th: Suko’s Notebook
Monday, October 18th: Rundpinne
Friday, October 22nd: Chaotic Compendiums
Tuesday, October 26th: 1330v
Wednesday, October 27th: Daydream Believer
Wednesday, November 3rd: sfgirlbybay
Thursday, November 4th: Eleanor’s Trousers
Wednesday, November 10th: Til We Read Again
Thursday, November 11th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, November 15th: Books Like Breathing
Wednesday, November 17th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Thursday, November 18th: Joyfully Retired
Friday, November 19th: Drey’s Library
Friday, November 19th: Nonsuch Book

Book 97 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Source: I received this book from the publisher as part of the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

AR Reading Level: 6.2
On the library stacks: Adult Mystery Fiction
Series: One of many Hercule Poirot novels
Recommended for: Grades 9+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this is where I admit that I don't think I have ever read an Agatha Christie novel. I don't really understand why since I was raised on a steady diet of Nancy Drew. And despite spending many of my teenage years in England watching many TV adaptations, I do believe this is my first exposure to the written word.

Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective on his way from Istanbul back to England in the dead of winter. The train is unusually full for the time of year and a wide variety of people are on board, both in terms of nationalities and social classes. In the middle of the night, the train stops unexpectedly when it runs into a huge snowdrift. A few hours later, a passenger is found murdered. Hercule is given the task of solving the crime, and assumes that the murderer is still on board.

Reading this was so fun and is perfect for this time of year. I don't like my books too scary or spooky, but the mystery kept me riveted. I loved how it all ended and I was pleased that I didn't see the twist coming. I will definitely be reading more of the adventures of Hercule in the future.

Also reviewed by: Piling on the Books ~ Reviews by Lola ~ A Book a Day ~ The Library Ladder ~ A Reader's Journal ~ Your link here? 

Book 96 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Source: Library

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Girl in Translation

Girl in TranslationGirl in Translation by Jean Kwok

On the library stacks: Adult fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah-Kim immigrated with her mother to Brooklyn from Hong Kong in the 1980s. Kim's aunt and uncle, who own a clothing factory, have paid their way, and now Kim and her mother are heavily indebted. Her mother works tirelessly in the clothing factory, while Kim struggles through 6th grade and works in the factory in the afternoon. They live in utter poverty, but Kim was a brilliant student in Hong Kong and she is committed to taking full advantage of the opportunity she and her mother have been given to make a better life for themselves in America.

This was a beautiful coming-of-age story. Kim learns about true friendship and love as she grows and matures. I was immersed in Kim's world--her joys and her struggles. I liked how she valued her cultural roots, but also knew when she needed to break away from some of her traditions. The story felt so authentic because the author went through many of the same struggles herself.

I felt like the story had a great flow, although I wasn't a huge fan of the ending. I also kind of wished that it had been a YA book instead of adult fiction. But, I think this would make a great book club selection, and I definitely recommend this one.

Also reviewed by: Book Nut ~ Bibliophile by the Sea ~ Book Addiction ~ Capricious Reader ~ The Book Nest ~ Reading Extravaganza ~ Thoughts of Joy... ~ Your link here?

Book 95 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Source: Library

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Maniac Magee

Maniac MageeManiac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

AR Reading Level: 4.7
On the library stacks: Children's/YA Fiction
Awards: Young Reader's Choice Award/Nominee; Newbery Medal; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award/Honors; State Award
Recommended for: Grades 4+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My 5th-grade daughter Coco is reading this book at school right now. I wanted to read it so that I can talk to her about it--not just so that we can bond over it, but also in case there are any thematic issues that I want to discuss with her.

Jeffrey Magee is an orphan who has run away from the oppressive atmosphere of his aunt and uncle's home. He can outrun everyone, hit any baseball, and untie any knot, earning him the nickname of "Maniac." He is able to cross the racial divide from the East Side of town to the West Side of town, but there are those who are not too happy about it. Ultimately, Maniac confronts racism head-on as he learns what "home" truly means.

I thought this was a sweet and heart-warming story. Poverty and racism are certainly the main "issues" in this book. But I think that it is handled in a way that is appropriate for middle-graders. I'm definitely a Spinelli fan, and this book was well-written and quick to read. Coco read the first 20 pages last night and already we found some stuff to talk about, so I think this will be a fun experience for both of us.

Also reviewed by: Tiny Little Reading RoomBookworm Burrow 

Book 94 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 42 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge, Book 25 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge
Source: Library

Monday, October 11, 2010


ImpossibleImpossible by Nancy Werlin

AR Reading Level: 4.6
On the library stacks: YA Fiction
Awards: SLJ Best Book; Booklist Editors' Choice; Kirkus Editors Choice
Recommended for: High School +

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Lucy Scarborough is a 17-year old girl who lives with her loving foster parents. Her biological mother is insane, but does occasionally appear in Lucy's life, usually singing her own rendition of Scarborough Fair.  On prom night, Lucy is date raped. As time moves on, Lucy realizes that this singular defining event is part of a centuries-old curse.

All Scarborough girls give birth at age 18 and go insane, unless they complete three tasks as outlined in Scarborough Fair. She must made a shirt with no seams without using needles. And she must plow an acre of land with a goats horn located between the ocean and sea strand, and then sow it with a grain of corn.

I like the idea of using an old folk song as the basis of a book. I thought the author's interpretation of the song was clever. I also thought the romance element in this book was really sweet, and it definitely kept me turning pages. I appreciated that Lucy had a support network of people who believed in her, and that her parents were involved in helping her accomplish her tasks. I didn't love how the ending was executed. It seemed awkward, clunky and anti-climatic. But overall this was a fun and entertaining read.

Also reviewed by: J'adorehappyendings ~ Fuzzy Cricket ~ Stark Raving Bibliophile ~ Books & other thoughts ~ Capricious Reader ~ Becky's Book Reviews ~ In the Pages... ~ Teen Lit Review ~ Your link here?

Book 93 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 42 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 41 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge
Source: Purchased

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Engine 2 Diet

The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the PoundsThe Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds by Rip Esselstyn

On the library stacks: Adult Non-fiction

After suffering from heartburn nearly every day since January, I finally figured out it was dairy--specifically lactose. After chatting about it with my mom, we both decided to read this book. The author's first recommendation is to rid your diet of dairy, so it seemed like a book I could relate to.

Rip is a hard-core athlete who decided to make some changes in his diet. After having so much success himself, he decided to run a little study with the guys in his firehouse to see if they could achieve similar results. Those results, combined with a second study, proved that Rip's diet can help people lose weight and drop their cholesterol levels significantly.

The basic tenets of the diet are these: No dairy. No oil. No meat. No fish. No eggs. Rip calls it a plant-based diet and I think that sums it up well. He encourages whole grains, nuts, soy products and other milk substitutes, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Will I become a vegetarian after reading this? Nope. But I will eat less meat. Already I have chosen the vegetarian options the last few times I ate out. I will also read labels more. (That was probably my favorite section. I learned 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. Sheesh!) And I will be more vigilant about whole grains and fruits and veggies.

I do have to mention that I found this book horribly written and I wish his evidence was a little more substantial and scientific. I don't have high cholesterol and I don't need to lose weight. But I do think Rip's approach is a common-sense and healthy approach to eating.

To learn more and see some of Rip's recipes, visit The Engine 2 diet website.

Also reviewed by: A Bookworm's World ~ Books Ahoy! ~ Wendi's Book Corner ~ Your link here?

Book 92 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge 
Book 24 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge
Source: Library

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Only Alien on the Planet

The Only Alien on the PlanetThe Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle

AR Reading Level: 4.6
On the library stacks: YA Fiction
Award: State Award
Recommended for: Grades 8+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ginny's parents decided to move to the opposite end of the county right before her senior year of high school. Her older brother has just left for college and her parents are busy starting their new business. Ginny is lonely and homesick for her old friends and her old life.

But then she meets Caulder, a boy who lives next door. They become best friends and spend all kinds of time together. Caulder has always had an interest in another boy who lives on their street named Smitty. Ginny had noticed gorgeous Smitty the first day of school, but she didn't know then that Smitty had not said a word to anyone since age 2, despite being a genius. Caulder pulls Ginny out of her comfort zone and the two of them develop a relationship with Smitty that will change their lives.

This is a book about friendship and what true love really means. But it is also about abuse and how it can impact so many lives. The abuse element is handled extremely well with little detail, making this an easy book to recommend. It's not a perfect book--there were some cheesy moments and some things that didn't ring true for the average teenager in my opinion. But this is an uplifting read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Recommended to me by: Good Clean Reads

Book 91 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 40 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge, Book 23 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge
Source: Library

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

AR Reading Level: 6.0
On the library stacks: Adult fiction
Awards: Booker Prize/Honor Book; ALA Notable/Best Books; Alex Award

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I knew absolutely nothing about this book going into it and I think that's the way it needs to be read. Without pre-conceived notions, I was sucked into a beautifully crafted story that I won't soon forget. It is moving but uncomfortable and slow-paced yet compulsively readable.

The central feature of this book is Hailsham, a boarding school in England. Told in a conversational tone from the perspective of a former student named Kathy, she details life at the school growing up with her two friends, Ruth and Tommy, where they were sheltered from normal society.

This novel is dystopian literature with a science fiction bent, but set in the recent past. I haven't read any of Ishiguro's other novels, but it seems so different from The Remains of the Day that I'm very intrigued to read more of the author's work. This book is deliberate and thought-provoking, and I would recommend it for book clubs because I'm dying to talk to someone about it!

Also reviewed by: things mean a lot ~ Becky's Book Reviews ~ A Life in Books ~ Ticket to Anywhere ~ Book Addiction ~ At Home With Books ~ There's a Book ~ Your link here?

Book 90 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 41 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge
Source: BookMooch

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Alive: The Story of the Andes SurvivorsAlive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read

AR Reading Level: 7.7
On the library stacks: Adult non-fiction
Recommended for: Grades 9+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago I saw this movie. I'm not sure I knew it was a book until recently, but reading this book is just as eye-opening as watching the film.

In 1972 a plane carrying a team of Uruguayan rugby players crashed in the Andes mountains on their way to Chile. 16 of the 45 people on board survived for 70 days on the snow-covered mountains by resorting to cannibalism. Eventually, the snow melted enough that two of the men were able to climb out and find help.

This is an incredible story. It is a little grisly, of course, but inspiring as well. I liked that it was written in the tone of a newspaper article. The author stuck with the facts and left moralizing out of it. This story is an amazing testament to our human will to survive and helped me to appreciate the gift of life even more.

Also reviewed by: The Book Nest ~ Your link here?

Book 89 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 50 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Source: BookMooch