Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen

Title: Wild Bird
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 311
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (Utah)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 3:47am. That's when they come for Wren Clemmens. She's hustled out of her house and into a waiting car, then a plane, and then taken on a forced march into the desert. This is what happens to kids who've gone so far off the rails, their parents don't know what to do with them anymore. This is wilderness therapy camp.

The Wren who arrives in the Utah desert is angry and bitter, and blaming everyone but herself. But angry ant' put up a tent. And bitter won't start a fire. Wren's going to have to admit she needs help if she's going to survive.

Review: I have really enjoyed Van Draanen's books in the past having read many of the Sammy Keys mysteries with my daughter when she was young. And I was very impressed with her YA novel, The Running Dream when I read it years ago. Wild Bird did not disappoint.

Wren is angry. So very angry. And Van Draanen does a great job of mixing the present when Wren is in the desert of Utah at wilderness therapy camp with Wren's past digressions. "Camp" is really not a great word for it; it's boot camp for juvenile delinquents. Jail would be another good word. Wren's past is pretty intense for a 14-year-old and the author showed how kids get pulled into bad behavior, how much they want to be accepted, to have friends, and to have people who understand them. And what is a parent to do? Wren's think they are handling it, but obviously they aren't. This camp seems like a last resort and I would agree.

Surviving in the desert, learning basic skills, dealing with anger, sadness, trust, and being honest about one's actions is tough at any age, but as a teenager it's probably especially difficult. The counselors and other girls help Wren (and themselves) deal with their problems in an honest way. I didn't feel like everything was going to be perfect for these girls, but I did feel hope. Hope that they learned about themselves and other and how to cope when they return to "normal" life. They seem stronger, more sure of themselves, and more aware of the pitfalls that they will face back in the world of school, family, and friends.

I also liked the inclusion of the Native American character who visits them, helps them connect to the earth, and see beyond themselves and their own problems. 

Challenges for which this counts:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction (romance)
Pages: 352
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): USA (Washington DC and Maryland)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love--she's lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can't stomach the idea of rejection. So she's careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie's orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly's cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness--except for the part where she is.

Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker Reid. He's an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review: Oh, this is a good one, people. Albertelli has done it again (the first time was with Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda, which it seems, I did not review!). I like everything about this book: the characters, the story, the mood, and the writing.

Most people understand unrequited [love, crush, etc]. I definitely remember being in high school and crushing on boys who didn't know I existed or if they did, who had no interest in me. But that feeling of crushing was so fun. And so devastating. These feelings are captured so well in Molly who has had so many crushes, but done nothing about any of them. And Cassie's emotions of her first girlfriend are spot on. She begins to leave behind her family to focus on Mina. Yep, been there, done that. Family and teenage emotions are captured well in this novel.

I also liked all the characters! I liked that we got to know the girls, their extended family (Grandma is a hoot!), and their friends. They all played specific roles for the main character in her quirks, neuroses, happiness, and figuring out what she wants.

If you want a feel good book that also deals with the tough parts of crushes and love, then you'll really enjoy this one.

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sunday Salon: October 1, 2017

My life in books:
Work has begun and so I have far less time to read these days. In addition, I had a 5-week no reading experience. What?! No reading? It was such a strange thing, but I am slowly creeping back. Since my last Sunday Salon on August 6, here's what I've read:
  • President's Day by Seth Margolis--an adult political intrigue/mystery
  • Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali--a YA book set during the Nazi era that takes a different twist
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows--a very fun historical fiction YA that reminds me of the Princess Bride in its attitude
I also did the Longest Book Tag, which makes me realize I don't read huge numbers of super long books.

I've been chosen as a Cybils Awards judge so my reading better be on track by January when I read round 2 books for junior and senior high nonfiction books! Nominations are now open until October 15.

Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal was to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 31, adding one in the past two weeks. I've been reading a bunch of books borrowed from the library so this challenge hasn't gone very far recently.
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. I have added no new countries recently.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. I have added no new states recently.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--complete
My life outside books:
Work started up again near the end of August and it's been go-go-go ever since. I am having a bit of a personal crisis about work. It's going well, but I feel like I am not being as effective as I could be so I need to work through that and figure out what to change.

An interesting tidbit is that I've been named chair of the teachers' union for our negotiating team. I've been on the negotiating team for 6 years, but this is the first time I'll be Chair. So far so good and I am enjoying it.

Today my daughter turns 17. Somehow that seems so much older than 16, which is silly, I know. Perhaps it's because she is a senior in high school, applying to colleges, and living 2 hours away at boarding school. Boy is it a stressful time!

Not much else to report, except we've got visitors from the UK this week so that's fun to see them as it's been far too long.

My biggest news is that I completed the AVON Walk to End Breast Cancer. What an incredible experience! You can read all about and see photos here.


I am still watching Criminial Minds and Project Runway. But, I am totally excited that fall TV is starting up. I've already watched the first episode of Will and Grace and I am looking forward to Young Sheldon (Big Bang spin off) and Madam Secretary!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I've been chosen as a Cybils Awards judge!

I am really excited to announce that I've been chosen as a judge for this year's Cybils Awards! What are Cybils, you say? They aims to "recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal."

I am a round two judge, which means I'll be reading like crazy in January and early February to whittle down the books for junior high/senior high nonfiction books. I am really looking forward to seeing what books make it to the short lists!

Nominating Books
If you have books that you would like to see nominated for this year's awards, here's the scoop:

  • Nominations are open October 1 to 5, 2017
  • Fill in the form that will be on the Cybils Awards site
  • You may only nominate one book per category
Happy reading!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Title: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 491
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Edward is the King of England. He 's also dying, which is inconvenient, as he's only sixteen and he'd much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown.

Jane is Edward's cousin, and far more interested in books than in romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there's something a little odd about her intended.

Gifford is a horse. That is, he's an Edian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed--but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It's all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the future of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it's off with their heads?

Review: Oh my goodness. I haven't read a book since August 15. That's 5 weeks of not reading! It has felt so strange and boy does it feel good to have read a book. I am hoping that means my book reading mojo is back.

This is a really fun book to read, all 491 pages of it. It is sarcastic, flip, funny, light-hearted, somewhat historically accurate (well, little bits of it are including the characters and general idea behind the plot), and a good read. I liked the characters, especially the strength of Jane and Gracie, the vulnerability of Edward and Gifford, and the quirkiness of Granny and Bess (yes, Queen Elizabeth I). 

The story is based in the 1550s when King Henry VIII has died (as had so many of his wives), and England was in need of a strong monarch. The battle for the crown between Edward, Bess, and Mary is woven among stories of people who can transform into animals (and normally I don't like this kind of stuff, but it fits the book really well) and various bad guys to keep the reader on his/her toes.

If you are in the mood for a quick, fun semi-historically based read, I definitely recommend this one.

Challenges for which this counts: