Monday, June 10, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

From the Publishers:

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

My Thoughts:

There are many impactful and beautifully written stories about the Holocaust. This is one of them. Based on extensive interviews with Tatowierer Lale Sokolov, this is a gripping story about love for humanity, love for a woman and hope. 

I used to watch these action movies and always think that I would probably be the first one to die because I am not sure I have the skills to not die in ultra violent situations of war, terrorism, random violence. But what struck me in this book is the amount of people, not just prisoners, but guards, who saw something in Mr. Sokolov and stepped forward for him, did favors for him and took care of him even though they knew they were probably not going to survive. He was smart. But he was also lucky. Although he was witness to the most horrific treatment of humans, he never stopped trying to live and trying to help people along the way. Perhaps through his story, trying to help other humans is a tool for survival and that is not about luck but about living. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dealing in Dreams

From the Publishers:

At night, Las Mal Criadas own these streets.

Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nalah quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city's benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything--and everyone--she cares about.

Nalah must choose whether or not she's willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she's created for good?

My Thoughts:

One reviewer said that this girl-power, dystopian YA novel is a mix of S. E. Hinton's classic, The Outsiders and Mad Max: Fury Road. I try not to read the publisher description, but I saw the bolded snippet of this review which meant that the whole time I was reading this book, I pictured Déesse, the matriarch of Mega City as Tina Turner/Aunty Entity, the ruthless leader of Bartertown in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. I do agree that Ms. Rivera does take a similar storyline to The Outsiders moved into a kind of future where girl gangs run the streets and drugs keep the masses "toiling." I think the premise is engaging, although as a YA reader who is not the typical audience of these authors, I need to be patient with the protagonist, Chief Rocka/Nalah, as she goes through her own identity crisis and social justice crisis. 

This is good for readers that are looking for Hunger Games kind of action.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

From the Publisher:

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman. Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

My Thoughts:

This was a book I requested this season based on the Fall/Winter Buzz Books for young adults. As always thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for letting me read an advanced digital copy so I can pass it along. This was published in March, 2019 so it is already available in stores, but let your librarian know that they should buy this. 

As an English teacher, this is an exciting possible mentor text for the middle school classroom. What I look for in mentor texts are evidence of intentional craft that seems seamless as well as a play with nontraditional forms. I also look for readability and a way in for student writers (so not too esoteric and cerebral). As a social studies teacher, I am not sure where in the curriculum this might fit as a text, but definitely as an alternative inquiry paper, this is a great mentor text. Mr. Elliott, in this historical fiction in verse offering gives voice to the questions that intrigue him about this young French martyr. Through his play with medieval poetic forms, he gives voice to Joan as well as the men in power who both helped and hindered her. Most powerful, though, are the concrete poems from the point of view of objects (the sword, the red dress, the armor, etc.). My favorite though is the personified fire that pops up repetitively in the book, using loving familiars towards Joan, calling her "my darling, and towards the end seems to get more frantic, more hungry, more yearning. 

Covering the last days of Joan, this is a powerful way to make history come alive for students.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Brightest Kind of Darkness, Book 1

From the Publisher:

Nara Collins is an average girl with one exception; every night she dreams the events of the following day. Due to an incident in her past, Nara avoids using her special gift to change fate...until she dreams a future she can't ignore.

After Nara prevents a bombing at Blue Ridge High, her ability to see the future starts to fade, while people at school are suddenly being injured at an unusually high rate.

Grappling with her diminishing powers and the need to prevent another disaster, Nara meets Ethan Harris, a mysterious loner who seems to understand her better than anyone. Ethan and Nara forge an irresistible connection, but as their relationship heats up, so do her questions about his dark past.

My Thoughts:

As far as supernatural thrillers/YA romance/serial novels go, this is about a 3 starts. It's intriguing enough to keep me reading, just perhaps not intriguing enough to look for/buy/wait for the rest of the books. Fast read, beach read. Just do not get too fussy about the whole Fate as a man thing (like I did). This book was free on Kindle, which I think is a steal. I just donʻt think I want to pay $2.99 for the prequel Ethan and book 2 Lucid. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Buzz Books 2019 Fall/Winter Young Adult

I use these Buzz Books from Publisher's Lunch to build my TBR list. Some of my TBR list books from the 2018 Fall Winter are actually being talked about now, especially The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. 

This time the excerpts seemed rather sparse, but here is what seems to have potential:

You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything?

Actually, a lot.

Thanks to “the incident” (don’t ask), I’m spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a “spring volunteer immersion project.” It’s definitely no vacation. I’m toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own…and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks…like flirting with Tati’s distractingly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I’m even exploring my family’s history—which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse.

You know, typical drama. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.

Lena and Campbell aren't friends.
Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she's going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.
When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.
They aren't friends. They hardly understand the other's point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they're going to survive the night.

The Larkin family isn't just lucky-they persevere. At least that's what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn't drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family: Tall, funny, musical Violet can't stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family's missing piece-the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

Review here
Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman. Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

Although I have not received an answer from these requests, I will keep an eye out for them.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Let's Talk About Love

From the Publisher:

Striking a perfect balance between heartfelt emotions and spot-on humor, this debut features a pop-culture enthusiast protagonist with an unforgettable voice sure to resonate with readers.
Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting—working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual). Alice is done with dating—no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.
Claire Kann’s debut novel Let’s Talk About Love, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, gracefully explores the struggle with emerging adulthood and the complicated line between friendship and what it might mean to be something more.

My Thoughts:

As far as contemporary YA romance novels go, Alice is a typical protagonist - trying to find herself, battling some inner and outer demons (overbearing mother, ambitious and overprotective siblings, adulting growing pains and oh yes, asexuality). 
Add in the romance formula of YA: multicultural hottie love interest and this book will do well and probably get some movie folks calling some pitch meetings. The asexual, bi character (ace) that loves aesthetically beautiful people, loves to flirt, cuddle, kiss, snuggle, but does not want to have sex is a new character for the YA romance genre. Because of that I think it will attract readers. What I wish it had at the end, though, is more information or links so readers can explore more information about being asexual, even about how to talk about it to others. 
Besides that, saccharine, beautiful young people, enough money to be independent, and a handsome boy/man with a Japanese name who adores his nieces and is masculine enough to wear onesies and take part in a sobfest. . .winner combination. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Artemis Fowl

From the Publisher:

Twelve-year-old Artemis is a millionaire, a genius-and above all, a criminal mastermind. But Artemis doesn't know what he's taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren't the fairies of the bedtime stories-they're dangerous!

My thoughts:

Artemis Fowl, kind of like a Richie Rich of the fantasy world (if Richie Rich lived in the future and if he were a criminal mastermind) is not a new story. I bought the original book for my middle school classroom library back in the early 2000s from a Scholastic book fair. I subsequently added to the series and even picked up some of the graphic novels like Artemis Fowl Arctic Incident in 2009.  What this means is that the author, Eoin Colfer, found a good character (like Rowlings and Harry Potter) to tell a great story, and he has been able to profit from that and leave his teaching gig behind. No shame in that. In addition, Disney has picked this up and there is a movie coming out to add to the other multimedia products Colfer has been able to conjure up from his main character. 

That being said, nothing was wrong with the story, so that is not different in this version. What is different is the artwork on the covers. The artwork too needed to be punched up and is a little closer to the graphic novels art. 

The Artemis story is almost 20 years old, which technology wise is jurassic, however, because Artemis' world is in the fantasy/fairy realm, although he is a tech genius, this story does not suffer from contemporary stories that take place in real time, like Laurie Halse Anderson's graphic novel Speak. The technology is not a hindrance to the plot like it is in Speak. Colfer successfully repackages Artemis for my grandchildren. That just goes to show that good storytelling is good storytelling. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Deepest Blue

From the Publisher

Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.
To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.
They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aid the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place—an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.

My Thoughts

Fantasy -- yaasss!
Girl power fantasy --- yaasss!
Standalone girl power fantasy --- yaassss!!!
But what is really great about this is that Mayara's power does not come from pain, betrayal, loss. Her power comes from love - love for her family, love for her husband, love for her community.  She has a keen sense of social justice that can only happen because she knows that her husband will support her, no matter what. He shows through his actions that he believes in her and knows that although he will help to protect her, she can protect him and many more so he just tries to make that happen, even to the point of being willing to let her go. How refreshing!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Maneaters, Vol. 1


Adolescent girls can be real monsters. Maude is twelve -- which is just about that age when some girls turn into flesh-eating wildcats. As her detective dad investigates a series of strange mauling attacks, Maude begins to worry that she might be the killer. From the creative team that brought you the groundbreaking Eisner-nominated series Mockingbird, this trade paperback collects the first story arc of the unconventional coming-of-age tale -- including the informative survival handbook, "CAT FIGHT! A BOYS' GUIDE TO DANGEROUS CATS" and all-new never-before-published extras! Collects MAN-EATERS #1-4

My thoughts:

In true Japanese manga style, this book is neither age appropriate to American standards nor is it really an easily marketable book. Saying that, the last Saturday in April is National Independent Bookstore day so this is a good book for my favorite neighborhood book store, Gecko Books & Comics in Kaimuki, Oahu. When my son was younger, our dream was to open up a comic and manga store in Hilo, Hawaii and this would fit right into our inventory of our overstuffed books of new and used comics and manga, comfy chairs wedged near the front window, my son's large cat wandering the aisles or sleeping amongst the stacks. 

I digress. Comics like this, at its best, are a mirror to our contemporary society so 12 year old Maude in a pussy hat puts this book in a specific time and place (Trump's America). The premise: the idea that girls who get their period sometimes transition to mauling cats during their monthly links in to the ancient traditions of many cultures worldwide that have always seen the female menstrual cycle as a time when women are dirty, evil, when women need to be isolated, and something to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, these women creators play into that but I have to see this as a way not to continue the marginalization of these young girls, but more to make a statement of empowerment. The solution that society comes up with (the blocking of nature to keep girls girls forever and thus tamping down both the murders as well as the ability to bare children) is only made ok because our heroine cannot be tamped down. 

I like that this book made me uncomfortable because being uncomfortable is a good way to face my own meaning making, cultural lens and societal lens. In short, I am not sure what reader I would give this to besides female. I can see it on our make believe shelves in our make believe store. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Drum that Beats Within Us (Poetry)

My Thoughts:

I saw this cover on Net Galley and I immediately grabbed it because I am always looking for poetry (not novels in verse). The power of poetry and books of poetry is that it immediately immerses the reader in a time, a place, and a message to chew on based on the poet's lens. Just looking at this cover, tied to the title, I thought Indigenous, land based, lessons learned through historical trauma and survivance.

This is not it which is both good and bad. Bond is not an Indigenous poet. That is a good thing. He does not have the right to speak for the land in that way and he wisely does not try to do so. I read the reviews. Yes, there is land in these poems, but the land is generic. these "Forests Dark of Elm" could be anywhere and nowhere. In the last poem that gives this collection its name, I realize that this drum could be any drum, "primitive as stone". . ."hunts the sorrowed unicorn beneath the laurel's shade."
This type of jarring mix of ancient and mythical takes me as a reader both in a place, and quickly within a few lines out of a specific place. Are we in Europe now? We are definitely not in America. Then in three stanzas, suddenly we see the metaphor of the drum again "steady as the Bear," capitalized when buck is not. Are we talking about Ursa major now in his "northern lair?" 

This jarring back and forth between naming a specific place ("Smith River") in Montana, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran, and a specific people Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Islands to creating generic places, anywhere places kills the power in poetry of speaking for your community, for your people, for your trauma. It waters down the message, and makes me angry when in the poem "Children Scalped" he lists tribes (including using the colonized spelling for Micmac) and uses the very Indigenous term "we" . . ."we ran frantically/we remember/name us all." The very positive outcome to this is that he has no real message to tell. His poems are just technique. That is much better than recolonizing through false empathy. 

Poetry is such a difficult road to maneuver. If this is what is published and lauded as "good," then I also say blow it up from within (and I am not speaking as a "literary mafia").  Bond says something interesting in his introduction. He says:
. . .let's make poetry ugly in the name of something new, as Le Corbusier did to architecture. And we can appoint ourselves the prophets of this revolution. Because even crap has value if it's marketed as new.

This is crap indeed. I think about these students I have mentored over the years in my classroom who have something to say, who have poetry in their blood, who continue to be edited and watered down and pushed aside in this system that we call school. Who will hear them if this is what we are listening to? 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass Book 6)


Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica--the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both--and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

My Thoughts:

If readers are set on seeing Aelin and Rowan, especially since Queen Maeve has Aelin captured in an iron coffin, this is not the book that you want to read.

However, the character of Chaol is finally interesting again because of this story. I was afraid that his blind stubbornness and sniveling attitude was going to be just too much to bear. However, that was not the case. In addition, these discoveries that are hinted at in the description are indeed worth it as this second to the last novel in this series starts to make more connections and pathways to the conclusion. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life


"I'm here to take you to live with your father. In Tokyo, Japan! Happy birthday!" In the Land of the Rising Sun, where high culture meets high kitsch, and fashion and technology are at the forefront of the First World's future, the foreign-born teen elite attend ICS—the International Collegiate School of Tokyo. Their accents are fluid. Their homes are ridiculously posh. Their sports games often involve a (private) plane trip to another country. They miss school because of jet lag and visa issues. When they get in trouble, they seek diplomatic immunity. Enter foster-kid-out-of-water Elle Zoellner, who, on her sixteenth birthday discovers that her long-lost father, Kenji Takahari, is actually a Japanese hotel mogul and wants her to come live with him. Um, yes, please! Elle jets off first class from Washington D.C. to Tokyo, which seems like a dream come true. Until she meets her enigmatic father, her way-too-fab aunt, and her hyper-critical grandmother, who seems to wish Elle didn't exist. In an effort to please her new family, Elle falls in with the Ex-Brats, a troupe of uber-cool international kids who spend money like it's air. But when she starts to crush on a boy named Ryuu, who's frozen out by the Brats and despised by her new family, her already tenuous living situation just might implode. My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life is about learning what it is to be a family, and finding the inner strength to be yourself, even in the most extreme circumstances.

My Thoughts:

YA authors are doing a great job of highlighting often marginalized protagonists and making them the moral center of the very diverse and booming multicultural YA literature scene. I am enjoying how books like To All the Boys I've Loved Before and this book, My Flawless. . .  highlight multicultural characters who seek to embrace and normalize their different cultural backgrounds and values as part of their coming of age stories. They are not trying to abandon one culture for another, but seek to understand as well as respect each side of themselves. This is not about melting into a generic American pot, but embracing and owning what makes each character special. Hooray!

This book could have been a Mean Girls in Tokyo, or ExPats (Ex Brats) behaving badly in a foreign country, or even Gossip Girl goes toJapan. I am glad it did not go in that direction. In fact it is almost flawless. My big hole in this story is that I really wanted to hear from the mother. Again, almost flawless.

A digital advanced copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

William Shakespeare Much Ado About Mean Girls

Publication date: April 23, 2019


Power struggles. Bitter rivalries. Jealousy. Betrayals. Star-crossed lovers. When you consider all these plot points, it’s pretty surprising William Shakespeare didn’t write Mean Girls. But now fans can treat themselves to the epic drama—and heroic hilarity—of the classic teen comedy rendered with the wit, flair, and iambic pentameter of the Bard. Our heroine Cady disguises herself to infiltrate the conniving Plastics, falls for off-limits Aaron, struggles with her allegiance to newfound friends Damian and Janis, and stirs up age-old vendettas among the factions of her high school. Best-selling author Ian Doescher brings his signature Shakespearean wordsmithing to this cult classic beloved by generations of teen girls and other fans. Now, on the 15th anniversary of its release, Mean Girls is a recognized cultural phenomenon, and it’s more than ready for an Elizabethan makeover.

My thoughts:

The 2004 movie Mean Girls is a classic hyperbole about the subgroups in a suburban high school. The story is about the innocent, sheltered Cady, fresh from her home schooling experience in Africa coming across the politics of this very vicious social experience that is called American high school where the haves and have nots exist best when everyone understands the role they play and no one tries to move amongst social groups. 

I think Shakespeare would love this modern take on his comedy and use of bawdy jokes built into this Shakespeare style rendering of Mean Girls. Although I think the original Much Ado About Nothing  still hold up after centuries as a classic comedy, perhaps this will bring more students to Shakespeare on their own. After all, who doesn't want to see the bullies taken down?

An advanced digital copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review