Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Sky is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson

Published in 2010.
Audiobook performed by Julie Whelan.

Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

YA author Gayle Forman picked The Sky is Everywhere as one of her five "The Year's Best Teen Reads" for NPR last December. I'm glad I finally found time to "read" (via audiobook) this lyrical, tender story of grief and loss. I loved that Lennie is a bookworm and a clarinetist (just like my older daughter), and I especially loved that the audiobook included clarinet music. I also think that the cover is fabulous!

Melissa at One Librarian's Book Reviews thought The Sky is Everywhere was "absolutely beautifully written" but that the love story aspect of the plot fell flat. Suey at It's All About Books raves, "How could I not love this book?"


Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Published in 2010. 235 pages.
2010 National Book Award.

(This is the cover of the paperback version, which I own.)

(This is the original cover.)
In Caitlin's world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That's the stuff Caitlin's older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon's dead and Dad
is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it,
but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger's,
she doesn't know how. When she reads the definition
of closure, she realizes that is what she needs.
In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not
everything is black and white. The world is full of colors - messy and beautiful.

Tender. Touching. Moving. Meaningful.
That's Mockingbird in four words.
I'm eager to read more by Kathryn Erskine!


Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool

Published in 2010. 351 pages.
2011 Newbery Medal.

Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past.

I loved this book! It is well deserving of its Newbery Medal, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys children's literature and/or historical fiction. "Vanderpool illustrates the importance of stories as a way for children to understand the past, inform the present, and provide hope for the future," said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Cynthia K. Richey.

Moon Over Manifest was the pick for the April meeting of Natalie's Book Club. As individuals we've enjoyed many of the Newbery winners, and this is the second we've read as a group, the first being the 2009 winner Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

Tricia at Library Queue says that Moon Over Manifest is "heartbreaking, heartwarming, witty, and well-written." Melissa at Gerbera Daisy Diaries - who adored the book - suggests, "This is a book that needs to be read in a day or two to fully embrace the richness of the narrative." The book's website is here.


Friday, November 25, 2011

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Published in 2010. 339 pages.

Daisy Whitney's "Twitter version" of her debut novel (as revealed on Elana Johnson's blog) is as follows:

The Mockingbirds is the story of an underground student-run justice system at a prestigious boarding school and the date rape case they try.

Thought-provoking and highly readable, The Mockingbirds addresses an important concept for teens - girls and boys - to fully understand:
If a person does not say 'no,' that does not mean he or she said 'yes.' Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no.
The book includes resources in the back, and there is a Reading Group Guide here.

A sequel to The Mockingbirds, titled The Rivals, is due out next year. I'll definitely be visiting Themis Academy again!


Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Published in 2007. 295 pages.
Audiobook read by Polly Stone.

Sarah's Key is a historical fiction novel set in Paris. It alternates between 1942, during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Round-up of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France, and 2002, during the sixtieth anniversary of the event.

I read Sarah's Key with my long-time book club. Overall, I think the group enjoyed the book. (I know I did!) But I think the consensus was that the historical sections were better than the contemporary ones.

The contemporary sections, however, did emphasize the importance of telling stories from the past. Here are two quotes I particularly liked:

"Oh Father, please," interrupted Laure. "What Julia did was pathetic. Bringing back the past is never a good idea, especially whatever happened during the war. No one wants to be reminded of that, no one wants to think about that."
William, the son of Sarah, said, "Chirac gave a speech. I did not understand it, of course. I looked it up later on the Internet and read the translation. A good speech. Urging people to remember France's responsibility during the Vel'd'Hiv' roundup and what followed. Chirac pronounced the same words my mother had written at the end of her letter. Zakhor, Al Tichkah. Remember. Never forget. In Hebrew."


Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Published in 2010. 307 pages.

This memoir-style novel was a great read! I enjoyed the voice of main character Kimberly, and I loved watching her grow from an 11-year-old immigrant child into a confident, successful woman. A phrase from the back cover blurb says it well:

In time, Kim learns to translate not just her language but herself, back and forth between two worlds, between hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Girl in Translation was the winner of the July-October 2011 Salt Lake County Reader's Choice. It also was one of the ten winners of the 2011 Alex Award (which is given to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18); because my 15-year-old daughter liked Girl in Translation as much as I did, I think the award is well deserved.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Published in 2005. 288 pages.

I found Never Let Me Go to be a compelling read. Though it's actually quite slow moving, it is hard to put down. Ultimately it is an exploration of what makes us human.

At Library Queue, Tricia - who found the book "deliberate and thought-provoking" - asserts that the book should be read without knowing anything about it. Nymeth agrees but presents a quite detailed (yet relatively spoiler-free) review at Things Mean A Lot.

At the risk of creating a spoiler, I'm posting a quote from Ishiguro from the Reader's Guide at the back of the book:

There are things I am more interested in than the clone thing. How are they trying to find their place in the world and make sense of their lives? To what extent can they transcend their fate? ... Most of the things that concern them concern us all, but with them it is concertinaed into this relatively short period of time. These are things that really interest me and, having come to the realization that I probably have limited opportunities to explore these things, that's what I want to concentrate on." [Interview with Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian, February 2, 2005.]

A movie version of Never Let Me Go was released in 2010. I haven't seen it, but I'm curious. Have you seen it?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

Published in 2010. 435 pages.
Audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell.

Barbara Delinsky is a new-to-me author. Perusing the audiobook shelves at the library, I recently happened upon Not My Daughter, one of two of Delinsky's books that I had previously put on my to-read list. (The other is Family Tree.) Reminded of the 2010 Lifetime movie The Pregnancy Pact (which featured the incredible Camryn Manheim), I decided that I was in the mood to listen to this book while providing "mom taxi" services. Within a day of beginning the audiobook, I was back at the library to pick up a paperback copy because I realized that I wasn't going to spend enough time in the car to move through the story quickly enough!

Not a knitter, I nevertheless loved the symbolism provided by this hobby of the characters of the book. The emotions connected to both "being knit together in love" and "coming unraveled" are depicted well in the story.

I found Not My Daughter extremely compelling, and ultimately thought-provoking on both a personal and a societal level. How does a mother deal with her unfilled expectations of her child? How much is a mother responsible for the (bad) choices of her child? What does it mean to love - and to forgive? What is a family? Are the changing definitions and configurations of "family" positive developments, or do they undermine what family is supposed to be?

I'd like to read another book by the prolific Delinsky, but which one should I read next? Have you read any of her books? If so, what do you recommend?


Saturday, November 12, 2011

The King of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner

Published in 2006.
Audiobook performed by Jeff Woodman.

The King of Attolia is the third installment of Megan Whalen Turner's series The Queen's Thief. As I did with the two previous books, I listened to this one on CD - and Jeff Woodman is an exceptional narrator. (I reviewed The Thief here and The Queen of Attolia here.)

I am still loving the thief Gen (short for Eugenides), even in his new profession and even though this installment is told from the perspective of the soldier Costis. I didn't like this book as much as The Queen of Attolia, but Megan Whalen Turner is a great storyteller! I will certainly be reading the next book in the series, A Conspiracy of Kings.

Turner has a discussion guide for the series (at least of the four books so far) here.


Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Published in 2007.
Audiobook performed by Carine Montbertrand.

Extras is a follow-up to Scott Westerfeld's Uglies Trilogy (which I reviewed here and here and here). Set in Japan several years after the "prettytime," the book's main character is fifteen-year-old Aya Fuse, who wants nothing more than to be famous.

Overall, this was worth the time I spent listening to the audiobook. I really liked the first half or so, with its excellent commentary on social media and fame. Toward the end, though, despite some commentary on war, I found myself mostly just wishing the book was over.

Despite the lag in my interest toward the end of this book, I have enjoyed the world of the "uglies." Westerfeld's website includes a summary of all four books (featuring awesome, new covers) and an interview he did about Uglies with Simon & Schuster. I am curious, too, about his reference book Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies, for when I want to return to that world.


Friday, November 11, 2011

The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum

Published in 2010. 373 pages.

First sentence: Karena Jorge's birthday starts as a quiet affair, but she doesn't mind.

Plot summary: Karena and her bipolar twin brother Charles share a violent secret. After twenty years of estrangement, Karena receives a call that leads her - quite literally - into the eye of the storm, back into Charles' life and on the road toward love and redemption.

Why I read this book: The Stormchasers was a Salt Lake County Library Reader's Choice nominee for July-October 2011.

What I thought: Jenna Blum provides a fascinating look at storm chasers as well as a heart-breaking view of bipolar disorder. I couldn't help but think of the musical Next to Normal (which I recently saw) as I read. Storms are a great metaphor for the novel's themes. I'm eager to read Blum's first novel, the bestselling Those Who Save Us.

A favorite passage:

[The sun] appears first as a gray patch in the east, then shoots white rays over the buildings across the highway. Finally, when it casts a fine gold net over the Sandhills lawn, they get up to go back to their room. Karena is stiff from sitting, and chilled and damp with dew. But while they are crossing the grass their movement startles a flock of birds in the vacant lot next to the motel, and she stops to watch them rise as one and circle into the sky. It seems an omen of something. Karena just doesn't know what.

For more information: Discussion questions can be found here. Susan at Bloggin' 'bout Books interviewed Jenna Blum here. The Stormchasers page of Jenna Blum's website is here.