Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 301
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Netherlands

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the author's website): Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small act of rebellion against the Nazis.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants her to find meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but it ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations--where the only way out is through.

Review: I am always game to read a good World War II or Holocaust novel; I never seem to tire of the genre and this one didn't disappoint, especially since it takes on a different viewpoint. I like that it is set in the Netherlands because everyone only thinks of Anne Frank and hiding in an annex when they hear World War II and the Netherlands. Instead, this novel follows a non-Jewish young woman and her attempts to foil the Nazis through acts of rebellion.

What does it mean to rebel? Do you have to save lives? Break the rules? Endanger your life and those around you? Or can it mean wearing resistance newspaper clippings in your shoes to stay warm, finding black market goods for your neighbors, and taking covert photos of Nazi activities. All of these ideas come together in this novel, showing various rolls that ordinary people played during the occupation.

I cared about the characters in this book and wanted them to rescue those for whom they were searching. I wanted them to survive the war, fall in love, and meet up with friends who had disappeared. And reading the Author's Note at the end of the story made it all mean more to me, as it always does in historical fiction. I was especially intrigued by the idea of photographers taking secret photos of round ups, deportations, and every day life during the years the Nazis were in the Netherlands.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Salon: October 23, 2016

My life in books: 
In the past week I've read the following books:
  • Spot 12 by Jenny Jaeckel--a non-fiction graphic novel about one woman's experience with child birth. It's intense and interesting
  • What Life by Jay Asher--a sweet romance about a girl whose family runs a Christmas tree farm
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara--wow! This 814 page novel is a study in character and friendship
I am currently reading Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse and next up is Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez. Two very different books!

My life outside books:
This week seems to have gone fairly quickly though it didn't feel that way on Tuesday (for no particular reason).
  • Work is humming along. This week I've been mostly working on organizing my first all-social studies teacher professional learning day that takes place on Halloween. I feel pressured to make the day really worthwhile for the teachers!
  • Last night I watched the movie "Now You See Me," which was okay. Not great, but okay.
  • Today I spent time at my favorite pumpkin patch, Lane Farms. I love our annual trip to the patch I've been going to since it opened when I was ten years old. The children of the owners were in the first class I taught and are now my colleagues so that's fun, too. I did something different this year: rather than just buying gourds for my table and a few "standard" pumpkins for the front step, I put them all on the front step. I like how it looks.
  • As I type this I am watching the PBS show Hamilton's America. I have yet to see the live show, but this history of the show is making me really motivated to buy tickets. 
I hope you are having a great weekend!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 814
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the author's website): A Little Life follows four college classmates--broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition--as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara's stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

Review: I am drained. This story and these characters have been haunting my thoughts for about two weeks as I worked my way through the book. It is 814 pages after all. I will be honest and say that I wasn't sure I was going to get through this book: the length was intimidating and the first 30 to 50 pages were slow for me. But all of a sudden I found myself absorbed in the characters. Because, really, this book isn't about the story, but rather about people and friendship.

The men in this book, the main four friends and those in their extended lives, care about one another so much it is painful at times. They have history, secrets, and love. To have friends that care as much as these friends do is something we should all be so lucky to have.

There are scenes in this book that are not for the feint of heart. Jude ends up being the center of the characters and he has not had an easy life. it takes hundreds of pages for the horrible details to slowly be revealed to both the reader and his friends. But what's interesting is not the details of his experiences, but how they affected his life, his personality, and those people around him. This book is beautiful, I don't really have another word to describe it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: What Light by Jay Asher

Title: What Light
Author: Jay Asher
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction (romance)
Pages: 251
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (OR, CA)

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

Summary (from the author's website): Sierra's family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It's a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other.

Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other. By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. Sierra sees beyond Caleb's past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. But as disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra can't help but wonder if love really is enough to overcome every obstacle....

Review: I loved Asher's novel Thirteen Reasons Why (this is a link to when I met Jay Asher since I read the book before starting this blog) and have been eagerly awaiting his next novel. It's finally here! Yay!

While I didn't love this book as much as Thirteen Reasons Why, I did enjoy it. And they are very different from each other. What Light has such an interesting setting: other than migrant farming families who travel with the seasons, I have never thought about people who spend a finite chunk of each year away from home. Sierra's holiday time in California seems so idyllic in some ways--who wouldn't want to spend the holidays somewhere where you have friends and know the community? And surrounded by Christmas trees and that holiday smell? Sounds wonderful. I love going to my local farm to get our tree each year. I taught the daughters and they are now my colleagues and that sense of community is fantastic. So I got to hold those fond memories in my mind while I read this book.

Besides the interesting and different setting, Sierra and Caleb's story is one that will resonate with many teens: he has a troubled past (well, one troubled incident), she's a good girl, and they really, really like one another. Her parents are worried and caution her against getting too attached. No huge surprises there, but Asher has a way of writing that works for me; I get pulled into the story quickly and it holds my attention. I stayed up late two nights in a row to read.

I think the fact that Christmas is the setting really worked for me as well. I love Christmas: the smells, the lights, the food, time with family, visiting that one house in town that has thousands of lights and decorations. It just makes me feel full and happy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Spot 12 by Jenny Jaeckel

Title: Spot 12: The Story of a Birth
Author: Jenny Jaeckel
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult non-fiction graphic novel
Pages: 111
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Canada

FTC Disclosure: I was given this book for a review

Summary (from the author's website): Spot 12 delivers the gritty details of a mother, a newborn, and a five-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in a visually gripping graphic memoir. A routine prenatal exam reveals a dangerous problem, and first-time parents find themselves thrust into a world of close calls, sleepless nights, and psychological crisis. Surrounded by disagreements, death, extended family tensions, and questions of faith, the mother struggles to maintain a positive frame of mind.

Against the anti-septic, mechanical reality of the NICU, the dedicated doctors, nurses and therapists are drawn as sympathetic and wry animal characters. Doctor Eyes and Nurse Gentlehands are two of the care providers that do all they can to take care of Baby Asa. But even the best hospital staff make mistakes, and Jaeckel and her husband's vigilance must be acute. At times they battle feelings of helplessness, but their determination, insight, bravery, and connection ultimately helps keep their little one alive.


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Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Author Links: Website and Twitter

Review: I have signed on for quite a few TLC Book Tours this fall and was looking forward to this one not only for the topic of the story, but also since it is a graphic novel and it's been far too long since I've read one. I love that in a graphic novel you get a good story, amazing artwork, and it's quick. I fit this one in while reading a very long novel (814 pages) from which it felt good to take a one-evening break.

Jenny's birth story is one that I wouldn't wish on anybody; her pregnancy was going fine until week 38 when they discovered she had far too much amniotic fluid. That began the nightmare of 5 or 6 months in NICU with her daughter. I am extremely lucky: I had an easy pregnancy, an easy birth, and my daughter had no health problems (she just couldn't latch). When your own children are born with no problems it is easy to forget that other parents are going through hell just to keep their newborns alive. Jenny's story pulled me in from the first frames and kept my attention throughout.

I think it was effective that the artwork in this book is all in black and white as that makes the starkness and the difficulties seem more real. I think color would have detracted from the seriousness of the story. I also think it was good that the author talked about her relationships with her mother and with depression as she was fighting for her daughter's life. I kept hoping Jenny would get more help so that she could cope. I do think it's interesting that the story happened in Canada to an American couple. They realized that with the Canadian health care system they could afford the care their daughter needed and chose to remain in Canada instead of returning to the US where the bills would have been astronomical.

It definitely helped me read this book knowing that there is a happy ending; Jenny's daughter is alive and doing well though it hasn't been easy. I love that at the end there are photos of the family showing life beyond the trauma of NICU. Kudos to Jenny for writing about such a harrowing experience and for using the form of the graphic novel to do it. I think it's really effective.