Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

Title: Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
Year Published: 2013

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 439
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Oregon)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ryan Dean West's life is complicated. He's a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a boarding school for rich kids. He's stuck rooming with the biggest jerk on the rugby team in the dorm for miscreants and troublemakers. And he's totally in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little kid. As Ryan Dean tries to get a handle on school, life, and rugby, he finds himself muddling through a lot of decisions and making some major mistakes along the way. But nothing can prepare him for what comes next. And when the unthinkable happens, Ryan Dean has to find a way to hold on to the important things--no matter what.

Review: I gotta' say that the first half of this book wass a 4 for me and I kept thinking, "if I were a teenage boy, this book would be much better. But, I am a middle-aged woman." Then all of a sudden I was sucked in and I couldn't put it down. That's the mark of a really good book: appealing to many different people.

Ryan Dean (yes, that's his first name) is both in his element at Pine Mountain and totally out of it. He is smart, has a few really close friends, and is on the Varsity Rugby team even though he has skipped two grades. But (and sometimes in this book that's a really big but) he keeps making bad choices, some of which are small and ones that are typical (fighting with friends, making out with the wrong girl, etc), but some of them are big (fist fights, getting drunk, breaking important things). Ryan Dean acts first and thinks later, which doesn't always work in his favor. However, along the way he makes some pretty important realizations: what it means to be a friend; there are consequences, often unintended for ones' actions; if you are open to it, there are some really great and fun people out there; and putting yourself out there can lead to something wonderful.

As with all YA literature, there are lessons learned by the characters. What I liked is that the author doesn't hit the reader over the head with them. We get it, but don't get overwhelmed by them and they don't get in the way. I smiled, laughed and even got choked up while reading this, definitely a mark of a good book. But yeah, it's definitely a boy-book.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

Title: The Chicago Way
Author: Michael Harvey
Year Published: 2007

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 303
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Illinois)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Private detective Michael Kelly is hired by his former partner to solve an eight-year-old rape and battery case long gone cold. But when the partner turns up dead, Kelly enlists a team of his savviest colleagues to connect the dots between the recent murder and the cold case it revived: a television reporter whose relationship with Kelly is not strictly business; his best friend from childhood, a forensic DNA expert; and an old ally from the DA's office. To close the case, Kelly will have to face the mob, a serial killer, his own double-crossing friends, and the mean streets of the city he loves.

Review: This book has been on my iPad for such a long time, but I guess I was just waiting for the right time to read it and so I started this book when we went to Chicago this weekend; it seemed fitting to read The Chicago Way while I was in Chicago and I was right. It was fun to read about the actions of the characters in places I had just been!

I am a sucker for a good mystery or detective novel and this one has all the right elements:

  • A detective who is smart and interesting. Michael Kelly reads ancient Greek texts for fun, is in his 30s and used to be a police detective
  • A love interest. Diana is a local news anchor, is strong and independent, and has more to her than meets the eye
  • A murder. Or two or three or five. This book has quite a few murders and they all end up connected (of course). The other main issue in the story is rape and the topic is handled well with discussions of forensics, therapy, and the impact of rape on the victim. Blessedly, the rapes are not described. Thank you very much to the author for that!
  • Good writing. Yep, this book flowed for me from the very start. Although there are a lot of characters it was never confusing, when you find out the truth of what has been going on it doesn't seem to come out of nowhere, and there is just enough description of Chicago that you feel like you are there.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Title: Say What You Will
Author: Cammie McGovern
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA Romance/Fiction
Pages: 343
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (California)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Amy and Matthew didn't know each other, really. They weren't friends. Matthew remembered her, sure, but he remembered a lot of people from elementary school that he wasn't friends with now. Matthew never planned to tell Amy what he thought of her cheerful facade, but after he does, Amy realizes she needs someone like him in her life. As they begin to spend more time with each other, Amy learns that Matthew has his own secrets and she decides to try to help him in the same way he's helped her. And when what started out as a friendship turns into something neither of them expected, they realize that they tell each other everything--except the one thing that matters most.

Review: What a lovely book! I didn't even read the description of this book before reading it; I read it for the first time as I typed it for this review. It's a good write-up. But there is so much more! This is one of those books that has a good story and good lessons (without being preachy).

Amy is a great character. She has cerebral palsy, uses a walker, cannot talk, uses a Pathway (computer that speaks for her), and is smart as a whip. She doesn't want pity and has high goals for herself. Her mother, however, has big social goals for her and hooks Amy up with peer helpers each day at school who are to introduce her to three new people each day. What I liked is that Amy has, in addition to her CP issues, all the regular teenager issues: homework, family expectations, friends, and crushes. Matthew is also a good character. He truly cares about Amy, wants to be helpful, and is struggling with OCD. Amy and Matthew help one another navigate their final year of high school, college applications, first jobs, dating, and complicated friendships.

I was caught up in the story from page one! I wanted Amy and Matthew to figure out their issues, find peace with themselves and each other, and I was inspired by the personal work they did even when things didn't work out the way they wanted things to. This book is inspirational, sad, funny, touching, and just so darn good!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Author: Ayana Mathis
Year Published: 2012

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 243
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Pennsylvania and Georgia)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia. hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Review: The Librarian at my school gave me this book just before I left on vacation and I never even read the description before I read it! I liked it, but didn't love it. The set up--twelve chapters, each about one of Hattie's children and or another main character--reminded me a bit of Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. Hattie is in each chapter, her character growing and revealing itself to the reader as time went on (the chapters also come forward from 1923 to 1980) and as we read of her children's experiences.

While Hattie escaped from 1920s Georgia, which we see through her eyes in flashbacks and through her son Floyd, a musician, she still lives an extremely difficult life up in Philadelphia. However, this is mostly of her own making. Eleven children, no skills and therefore no real job, and a husband who is a womanizer all contribute to Hattie's negative attitude toward life. This attitude finds itself pervasive in her children and colors their experiences and interactions with their mother.

The book is not all sad and negative; there are also moments of tenderness, love, and friendship. But, honestly, they are much less frequent. I think the author did a really good job of showing the impact of family on our lives, how much we need them even when a parent isn't a great parent, and what life was like for poor people, especially Blacks, throughout the twentieth century in America.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA fiction/mystery
Pages: 225
Rating: 4.5 to 5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Massachusetts)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, poilitical boy. A group of four friends--the Liars--whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth.

Review: Holy crap. That's really all I have to say about this book. Oh, and read it. If I say much more I'll ruin it for you.

But you need more than that for a review, so I'll give it a try. Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat are such good friends and cousins who meet every summer on the family's private island. They have fantastic summers together and we get to know them and their families. This part of the book is a 4.5 out of 5. They are teenagers, they have romance, family feuds, and the usual pains of growing up.

The summer they are 15 something happens and the narrator, Cadence, now suffers. She spends the second half of the book trying to sort out her partial memories while fighting off the physical pain. In the last quarter of the book, as Cadence's memories return, the book becomes a 5.

I can't say anything else without ruining it for you. Sorry.