Friday, May 30, 2014

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My thoughts: As I read this book, I was reminded of my time watching a orangutan at the local zoo. She and I had a baby at roughly the same time. We both looked tired. While her baby was swinging above her, doing a KAWABUNGA drop onto her, my baby was climbing all over the stroller, the benches, and me. I decided the only way to fairly write this book, the author must have spent hours and hours and days sitting and writing down the actions of a Silverback Gorilla and adding an internal dialogue. It is a wonderful dialogue. Ivan is not at all ferocious. Ivan is simply thinking about how much he likes mango.

The book contains environmental overtones but it doesn't upstage Ivan or his story. Ivan doesn't mind living in his domain until Stella and Ruby bring his memories back from when he was in the jungle and how he was captured. All of the main characters have redeeming qualities. Even Mack. Mack owns the Little Big Top. Even though he seems harsh at times, he's really just sad.

The best part about the book is Ivan's voice. All of the characters bring something significant to the story. I loved them all. This book would appeal to readers of all ages.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale

The Bully BookThe Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I will be recommending this book to the English department at the school where I work, as well as the media center. Loosely based on the author's experiences, the book dissects picking a target, keeping him submissive, but gives the story through the point of view of the Grunt, the victim. It's a more standardized approach to how bullying works and it is excellent, clear, concise, and accurate.

There is one area I thought could have been expounded upon. Eric concludes that the bullies grow up and move on with their lives without the damage the victim has suffered. In fact, Eric finds a former bully all grown up, and simply oblivious to the carnage he left behind. I think that is accurately portrayed. On the other hand, bullies don't quit being bullies just because they grew up. Often they continue into adulthood and terrorize their workplace.

This book is the most accurate portrayal of the different faces of bullying and I liked it much more than the other books with the proverbial suicide or homocidal rampage through a school for shock value. I believe this is the book that kids and adults will most relate with.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Deeper by Robin York

Deeper (Caroline & West, #1)Deeper by Robin York

Read it. Wished I didn't. The graphic sex scenes made a grown woman with four children very uncomfortable. TMI. Skimmed the book after that to find the thread of the story. There was very little beyond sex.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

4.25 stars

It reads on my mind like a screen play, although I don't know that I've ever read a proper screen play. It is consequently played in bits and pieces like a movie while I read it.

Screen black. Then words scrawled in cursive, written in as a raspy, old man says them, quietly,
"I am writing this for you,
My enemy,
My friend.
You know, already, you must know
You have lost."

Fade to black.

Open scene in foreign hospital. A man of indeterminate age lays on a bed, dying. A television plays in the background, giving clues for the year. A little girl, looking innocent and out of place, approaches the bed. Takes the man's pulse, checks the chart then whispers, "I almost missed you, Dr. August. I need to send a message back through time. As you are conveniently dying. . . The world is ending." She gives the old man a knowing smile. The old man looks back at the girl with recognition. Fade.

Open scene at Hulme House with Rory having a dalliance with the maid (without details), an intelligible argument through an open window with Mrs. Rory Hulme. Maid dismissed. Opening credits played here. Maid growing in girth, finding circumstances more and more dire, standing at train station, very pregnant and realizing she is in labor, in the bathroom with another woman, coaxing the young woman, a baby cries, the woman exclaims, "It's a boy!" To the lifeless woman on the floor.

Harry's lives always begin the same; born in a woman's bathroom, never sharing any of his life with his mother. He has an ordinary first life. He is adopted by Patrick and Harriet August, never knowing he was adopted. He serves in WWII, lives through it, grows old, discovers he has cancer, and dies. He is shocked, therefore, when death is not the end nor is he greeted with wings of angels. Instead, Harry begins again in the woman's bathroom in the same train station, his mother dead.

The next 14 lives are spent establishing and strong storyline and culminating into the beginning. A letter, written to someone and beginning, "I am writing this for you, my enemy, my friend..."

There are too many strands to fully explore this book, as it is covertly exploring string theory in some form. Many characters show up in Harry's life over and over again, playing more or less of importance in his life, depending on what he chooses to do. We meet others who are like him. We experience the time period between 1919 and the end of his life (sometimes sooner than later) in different geographical points in the world. I grew very fond of Akinlye, particularly after her big decision. I grew very fond of Charity, who enters Harry's life "sideways" in one life, another screenplay moment. It was a quiet yet powerful entrance.

I want to write more but less is best. It is he of my favorite books I have read this year. Very well written and perfectly timed. Dramatic at times, comical at others. The main story of Harry's first 15 lives is nothing I have revealed. I give it an A plus for originality and timing. An A for the ending of the book.

Highly recommend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Write Anything by Laura Brown

A practical guide to everything you’ll ever need to write—at work, at school, and in your personal life.

With more than two hundred how-to entries and easy-to-use models organized into three comprehensive sections on work, school, and personal life, How to Write Anything covers a wide range of topics that make it an essential guide for the whole family. You want your boss to fund a special project. How can you write a persuasive email that will win his approval? It's time to apply to college. How can you write an essay that will stand out? The mother of one of your co-workers has died. What's the best way to express your condolences?

Grounded in a common-sense approach, friendly and supportive, How to Write Anything is Internet-savvy, with advice throughout about choosing the most appropriate medium for your message: e-mail or pen and paper. At once a how-to, a reference book, and a pioneering guide for writing in a changing world, this is the only writing resource you'll ever need.

My thoughts: This book is comprehensive in scope yet detailed enough for the reader to copy the format and use for taking notes, writing a letter to a child's teacher, writing an apology, a college or scholarship application essay, a business meeting agenda, and way more than I can even begin to list. The instructions include Do's and Don'ts and a great collection of samples. Anything includes so many different categories that it might seem overwhelming except that much of it is so common during a lifetime, nearly everybody could use it.

Given the information provided, I probably could have extrapolated from the book and written what I needed at the time I got the book; a business proposal. It may be included but is under a different heading or it could be hidden under the Business heading under another subheading. I did end up having to go to the internet. Regardless, my proposal was accepted. So, Yay!

Because this is a book blog, I am including a section on How to Write a Book Review. Turns out I've done a fair job with writing book reviews having started a book blog not knowing how to write a book review. As a rule, I've followed the lessons I've learned as an educator - write a positive, if I didn't like the book, write the specific negative, end with a positive, give credit where the book was well written just unappreciated by me, and always remember that the author is a person and their books are their offspring. Never trash a book. Also, keep book reviews short. Ah, there's my folly. 

Here's the excerpt: 

The Do's and Don'ts of Writing a Book Review
By Laura Brown,
Author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide
Book reviewing used to the purview of the elite. Now, thanks to the Internet, everyone's a critic. Your online book reviews can make a real difference: people almost always scan the reviews of a book before they make a purchase decision, and your insights can be a big help.
We're all familiar with the rant review -- the one that either adores or despises the book. Writing a balanced review is more difficult, but it's also more helpful to your fellow readers. As you brainstorm, think from your readers' point of view. What information would be most useful to them? What do you wish you had known about this book before you read it?
These dos and don'ts can help:
  • Include some description of the book as well as your opinion. Put the book in context.
  • Be specific. Say why you liked or disliked the book. Throwing around adjectives like "terrific" or "disappointing" doesn't really tell the reader anything about the book. What exactly what terrific? What was disappointing?
  • Consider the projected audience for the book. Was it written for a specialist audience? A general reader? What kind of reader would get the most from this book?
  • Take a stand. The ultimate point of a book review is to make a recommendation. Your verdict doesn't have to be an absolute yes or an absolute no. Offering a nuanced opinion of a book often makes a more interesting review.
  • Give your review a title that reflects the content of the review. Don't just use the book's title as the title of your review.
  • Don't go on too long. Unless you're writing for the New York Review of Books or the Times Literary Supplement, your readers are probably not looking for an article-length review. Online book reviews should be brief and concise.
  • Don't fall into the trap of summarizing the book. Provide just enough summary so that your points are clear to your readers.
  • Don't trash the book because it wasn't what you expected. Unless the book was misrepresented, it's your responsibility to understand what you're buying before you buy it. Trout Fishing in America isn't really about trout fishing, and Fear of Flying is not for nervous travelers.
  • Don't spoil it. If you're reviewing a work of fiction, don't give away key plot points or the ending of the story.
  • Don't be nasty. If you didn't enjoy the book, don't be insulting or snide. Let your reader know calmly and unemotionally why you were disappointed.
  • Don't give the book a bad review if you're really mad about something else. If you bought the book online and experienced bad customer service, don't take it out on the poor author with a one-star review and a rant about shipping delays.
In this new, more democratized world of book reviewing, you have a big responsibility -- both to authors and to your fellow readers. Book reviewing online can be loads of fun, and if you provide really useful insights, you might even develop a following as a reviewer!
© 2014 Laura Brown, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide

Laura Brown, PhD, 
author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide, has taught writing to just about everyone -- from corporate executives to high school students. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has more than twenty-five years' experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University. She lives in New York.
For more information please visit and follow the authors on Facebook and Twitter

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 - 3 Stars

Bittersweet is the name of a cottage within a commune of cottages owned by an elite family. Mabel is a plain Jane, befriended by her rich roommate and brought for the summer to help her clean the cottage and play nice. Unfortunately, Mabel continues to stumble upon family secrets and opening closets where skeletons tend to lie.

I didn't find the protagonist particular lovely or noteworthy. In fact, I didn't care much for any of the characters. They were all very, very flawed. That said, I believe that was the point of the story. Because by spending a summer with the beautiful, rich people, the veneer slips and some of the characters hide their awful deeds behind their social standing and money.

The prose is beautiful and the author does a good job assessing character and flaws. It's a book to take to the beach but I don't think I will remember it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Books I've Read but Didn't Write a Review

Some of the books below were quite good but I just didn't get around to writing a review. A couple of them I really loved and I regret not writing a review. In particular, Reign of Error, Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office, Dept. of Speculation.

Cute and clean, a good, fun and quick read: On the Fence

Beautifully written but not appreciated as much as I think it was meant to be is All the Light We Cannot See.

Down further are a few of the books I really loved and can't wait until they are released to tell you about them.

 Upcoming that I'm excited to tell you about and reviews are forthcoming:


And that is the way I catch up.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Cress by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was not my favorite of this series, although I can't quite pinpoint the reason. Maybe my expectations were too high. Admittedly, I missed Scarlet and Wolf having more page space. Cress is just not very interesting. She is loosely based on Rapunzel and just a little blah. Slight spoiler alert; I am glad that Captain Thorne now has a potential love interest and I having more of the story surrounding Thorne because he is, as already established in Scarlet, the most colorful and enjoyable of the main characters.

The story continues to develop as the group of renegades travel to a satellite to rescue the brilliant, pint sized Cress, who happens to be a gifted hacker. This rescue is the pivotal point of the story as plans go awry and the group gets separated. I was bored with Cress very soon. Her saving grace was Thorn whose character is already established and continues with his great charisma and occasional acts of selflessness.

Meanwhile, Dr. Erland is in Africa, ground zero for Lumatosis, the deadly disease. Cinder is plotting to overthrow Levana and save Earth and Prince Kai, all while being a wanted fugitive. The main parts of this book, at least of continuing interest to me, is the revelations regarding Lumatosis, Dr. Erland, and the introduction of Jacin Clay, a peripheral character who quite endears himself to the reader.

Last, but hopefully most interesting, is the introduction of Princess Winter. She is devastatingly beautiful which likely drives her stepmother quite mad. Sound familiar? Speaking of mad, Princess Winter seems to quite so. But in a charming way. It will be interesting to see the development of that story in the next book. And I really want to see happier days for Scarlet and Wolf. I really, really hated how Scarlet was SPOILER! Can't say. But I didn't like the turn of events.

I'm still invested in the series but this one did not measure up to Cinder and Scarlet.

The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

The Missing OneThe Missing One by Lucy Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very beautifully written story about mothers and children,family cleverly mirrored in the Orca whale. Although I found Susanah's character to be superfluous, she was the author's chosen gatekeeper to all the secrets. She was a weird one, I'll give her that.

The main crux of the book is written first person by Kali, a 38 year old married woman, barely clinging to her career, her husband, and her sanity. She is sleep deprived and confused about her role in life. Her mother, with whom Kali has had a tumultuous relationship, dies of breast cancer, refusing treatment. Her issues with her mother unresolved, she simultaneously discovers suspicious texts on her husband's phone from his ex-girlfriend. She gathers her 19 month old son and rushes to her mother's death. Shortly after the funeral, Kali realizes she doesn't know her mother at all and makes a rash decision to go to Canada where she might find answers.

Kali's actions are pretty impulsive yet I can't quite fault her for making them. What I struggled with was the decision to continue on with Susanah. There was nothing redeeming about her at all except the possibility of truth about her mother. I don't know that even the promise of such warrants placing her son in the path of such a weird character.

Interspersed with Kali's narrative is a third person narrative about Elena, Kali's mother. Beginning in 1975, Elena is working on her Ph.D. in California on echolocation in dolphins in a theme park. I found Elena's life before children and domesticity fascinating. It is here that she veers sharply in a direction that eventually leaves her shattered, eventually dulling to a sad and distant mother to Kali.

There are many similarities that are not apparent between Elena, Kali, and the Orca whale. The real conflict is balancing the new life expectations and fitting what is needful into a mother's life. Both Elena and Kali focus more on one portion than another, leaving a part of them empty and wanting. The female Orca in the wild, seems to know how to keep order within her pod.

There is more excitement and I really did like the book which is why I give it 4 stars. It was, however, a little on the wordy side. Kali's thoughts are rehashed over and over again while describing exactly what she is doing and in what room and what color the walls are and the slant of the sun or whatever. Besides that part of it, I really liked it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

All That Is Solid Melts into AirAll That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

I don't know how to review this book. I don't know how many stars to give it. There is a certain beauty and artistry to the writing and the writing style that I can't deny. It is understated and leaves much for the reader to read between the lines. In fact, this book is a perfect example for burgeoning writers of how to show the reader rather than tell the reader. But I think that was my problem with the book. It was too understated for my tastes. I didn't want to think so hard about meanings and reasons for choosing a storyline or character, the common thread throughout the character's lives. I needed some telling. For instance, the conversations Maria had with Pavel were all very incomplete and unsatisfactory for me. What was with the cats? Why watch a movie without the sound? I didn't even have conclusions to draw because I didn't understand their meaning.

I used to have a great fascination with Russia and the Cold War. I grew up in that era. I understood the KGB could imprison for the smallest violations or inferences. So it was not surprising what Maria was blackmailed over. Yet it was so anticlimactic. In fact, most of the building to an end was anticlimactic for me. All but one character, although it was anticlimactic that he went with the thugs instead of going home. Why? How did that make him great? Yet the scene at the piano was touching and powerful.

So we have four main characters. Since their names are foreign, I won't use them except the ones I know. The book begins and ends with Maria. She misses her husband Griggory, a heart surgeon. It is 2011 and the weeks of the conflict for all of the characters is 25 years passed. Maria was a spunky young woman who sacrificed herself to save others from her indiscretions. She is now working in a factory job that requires no brain power. She lives with her sister and nephew, a prodigy. They are barely scraping by with both women working two jobs. She misses Griggory and did not tell him the truth. Whatever the truth is which is eventually revealed.

There is a 14 year old boy outside of Pipyat which is near Chernobyl. Through him, we experience the radiation fall out. What the air looked like, how it smelled, tasted, what happened to the people, the animals, the landscape, and his own family.

There is an 11 year old boy who is a piano prodigy. But he is poor and lacks resources. His only hope is to get a scholarship into the conservatory. At this particular moment in time, he is wavering on who he wants to be. He a boy who has to grow up too quickly, surrounded by both goodness and cruelty. He gives a brief introduction of the realities of life in the city where the government is corrupt.

Last is Griggory, a gifted surgeon whom is conscripted to clean up the Chernobyl mess. He is brilliant yet compassionate. The compassion is what brings him to the attention of many. He misses Maria and still questions what happened. He is the medical voice that describes the horrors of the radiation poisoning on the general population. He is also the jaded comrade who quickly loses his love for government he has always served. He reveals the bureaucracy that is pointless and harmful to helping the people. The haves and the have nots.

Bottom line is that the book is beautifully written but I didn't like it. I struggled to get to the end. The near end was a near payoff for a scene with a piano but I simply lacked the attention and appreciation for the detail and the understated references.

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson

Chateau of SecretsChateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have changed the rating between 4 and 5 a number of times so I think it is a safe assumption that it is definitely more than a 4 star book but doesn't quite reach a 5 star for me. The push to a 5 star is simply that it didn't move me so completely on a literary level. It's strong, just not that the 5 star strong. But close.

The book is loosely based on a woman who lived near Normandy during the German occupation. She lived in a family chateau and some of the experiences described are true events. The chateau was built over hidden tunnels where she hid people and helped in the resistance effort.

This book alternates between Gisele, young woman in France during WWII, and Chloe, her granddaughter from Virginia. Gisele has painted beautiful pictures of her childhood home, although she has not returned since emigrating after the war with her husband and small son (Chloe's father). Chloe, engaged to a politician and, not surprisingly, the engagement is doomed from the first sentence. She is summoned to the chateau to give an interview to a documentary maker. Gisele is no longer of any help since she has mostly lost most of her memory, is often confused, and asks for a little girl named Adeline.

Upon arrival at the chateau, Chloe meets a girl named Abigail who leads her to her great grandmother who seems to have her own secrets. She meets the documentary producer named Riley and is surprised by his humility and change of heart from previous years. Additionally, she discovers that Riley is finishing his grandfather's story; finding more about a chateau where he was hidden when his plane was shot down. He is also researching Nazi soldiers who were part Jewish.

As Chloe's story plays out in modern day, Gisele is dealing with Nazi occupied France, working the best she can within the new rules, and seeing through Gisele's eyes how others sacrifice much, including their ideals and beliefs to a certain extent in order to save those they love and the innocent.

What makes this book stand out is that, although it is a Christian semi-fiction book, the author does not shy away from the difficult subjects that encompass war. Survival and protection often come at a price. A price that is not always in agreement with the 10 Commandments. There are no easy answers and none of the characters make their decisions without some mixed feelings. The story itself does not give answers of right or wrong, simply the directive to be careful about judgment. Without knowing the circumstances and the heart of each person, it is impossible to judge. Much easier to accept and to forgive.

The story is engaging and the pace is well timed. The book is very well written and I look forward to reading more by this author.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anything I want to say about this book is best left unsaid. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I cheated and read the ending. I don't like surprises. However, I really, really liked the discovery process as Cady rebuilds the 15th summer of amnesia. I end up liking the what the four teens stand up for. It's not your usual, angsty YA novel. Family secrets are slowly exposed and new futures emerge.