Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Josephine (A memoir in verse)

Author: Patricia HRuby Powell
Pictures: Christian Robinson

In short: This memoir-in-verse relates the story of Miss Josephine Baker, her rags-to-riches rise, her entertainment career and mostly her passionate work for equality and an end to segregation.  This book is a Coretta Scott King Book Award, Honor, for the Illustrator, a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nonfiction Honor.

 My thoughts:  I am always looking for memoirs in verse. I think as a reader, putting the story in verse, especially for a musician, helps the reader feel the rhythm of that person's life. What I especially thought was a nice touch was how Powell used some actual quotes from Ms. Baker and put that prose into poetic form.

"I improvised, crazed with the music. /Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever./I leapt to touch the sky./When I regained earth/it was mine alone."
As a children's book or tween book, it does not shy away from the controversy and racism of that time. It does a good job of recording the ways that Ms. Baker tried to integrate herself into white society. However, I was left with more questions about this controversial figure. I still wanted to know why she continued to bleach her skin to fit in with high society. In other words if she was so interested in integration, why was she trying to look more white?

Another thing I wanted to see was how she was as a mother. Yes she adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds to make her "rainbow tribe" but then she is seen abandoning her husband for long stretches in Paris, coming back to divorce  him, and nowhere is there a mention of the children. Did she leave them with her husband, take them with her? I could not tell if the adoptions were for show or what she was like outside of the limelight.

I think as a memoir in verse, these types of questions left at the end are great for readers who want to know more and it will encourage them to seek more answers. The author does give references for further reading at the end so it is a place to start.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Classics: The Giver Quartet

When I was a high school teacher, I always thought The Giver was too low level for students. When I was an 8th grade teacher, I thought The Giver was too low level for students. I had read it early on in my career, but 23 years later as I am planning my college-level introduction to teaching course I figure I want to read something light and fast and the whole Giver quartet popped up on my Oyster list.

If you have not re-read or read this book, no matter what age you are, READ it. This is what dystopian literature was about before dystopian literature was relegated to the upper teen YA authors who wanted to put sex, lust and model-licious heroes and heroines into dystopian literature. 
 I mean seriously, are there no ugly people in fiction anymore? I guess that is why I really like Girl of Fire and Thorns mostly because she is fat. But that is one reason why I really liked this series. The characters were not all beautiful, the characters had gifts, but they had to work together, and there was a large amount of compassion. Plus, Lois Lowry as an author has racked up a fair share of awards because, simply, she is a great writer. As an adult I love her writing style, but even for upper elementary and tween readers, she writes well without dumbing down vocabulary, concepts or themes.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Old Brown Suitcase

In America, when we think of immigrants (both legal and illegal), we think of Mexicans, Southeast Asians, Micronesians. But Europe is struggling with their own immigrant challenges and the atrocities of mass refugees trying to find safety and "home," has resulted in stories coming out that highlight the underbelly of society. 

I listened to the Audiobook of this story by Lillian Boraks-Nemitz, narrated by Sofia Bunting-Newman in half a day. It is the story of Slava, a fourteen-year old who survives the Warsaw ghettoes of World War II Germany and is able to escape to Canada. She struggles with the horrific memories, the challenges of creating a new identity and the challenge of acclimating to a new country. She also has the typical teen issues - friendship, love, parents, school. 

I though that the story was well read. The writing drew me in and I wanted to make sure that this young woman found some kind of peace in her life. The only issue I had with the book was that some of the words fit into the understanding of the young teen audience that it is intended for, but the words did not seem historically accurate, especially for adults. Otherwise, great historical fiction read and I appreciate that the narrator has historical notes about the Warsaw ghetto and in the book there are further resources for continued reading.

Book pairings:
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Maus: a survivorÊ»s tale by Art Spiegelman
Night by Elie Wiesel

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Graphic Novel Thursdays: Tabatha

Author: Neil Gibson, Caspar Wijngaard (contributor)
Publishers: TPub
Publication Date: November 3, 2015

In short: Luke works as a mailman in Los Angeles and moonlights as a thief - the empty houses on his postal route are rich, easy pickings for him and his friends. Everything goes as planned until one house turns out to not quite be so empty. The situation spirals out of control, leaving the happy-go-lucky thieves battling for their lives. And all because of Tabatha.

My thoughts: I really thought that I liked the cover until I saw the cover art by Leonardo Gonzalez. This cover captures the LA scene with the movie reels, but I don't think it does enough for Tabatha or for the dark intrigue that makes up most of the book. I still need to know, did she really move or not? What is with the moving eyes?

This is a teen and up graphic, and not meant for tweens (mostly because of the swearing, but some sexual content). If you are a reader that doesn't bother with introductions and bonus content (maybe it's just me that doesn't read those things), make it a point to read the bonus content for this book. Neil Gibson gives some pretty interesting insight in the process that he and Caspar took in writing this book. Somehow, the story about their collaboration on the train ride to Margate made this graphic novel more appealing. If you want to be creeped out, this is a great read for you.

Source: advance reading of this graphic novel made possible by Net Galley(dot)com and Diamond Book Distributors.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Sequential Art

If I could only own one genre of books, I would hoard graphic novels/manga/comics/sequential art. There is something about the collaboration of art and words and placement on a page. The artwork creates a tone and voice all its own which brings depth to the story. There is also something darkly poetic about succinct, well chosen words on a page. Seriously, who would not want to own a comic book store? 

I also love sequential art books because it allows me to read an adapted book that I bypassed (usually by choice) in its strictly prose form. My latest read falls in that category. Maybe you saw the movie version of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I just cannot get into rambling, drug-addled, or alcohol-addled memoir-ish stories so this was a perfect read. I can still say that I got the gist of the book without having to read or watch the movie. The movie, especially, is a bit of a "cult classic" or on its way to being such, so at least I can say, yep, I read it.

Long story short, I read it. It was a boozed out, drug infested, violent ride through Las Vegas. Did I understand how that was a journey to the heart of the American dream? Maybe I don't know what the American dream is. Still, the art work did a great job of setting the tone. It's not really for my audience, but I still read cult classic. I was waiting for a cameo of Chili Palmer. Wrong time period, I know, but there was something very Tarantino-ish about the melding of artwork and words.

This book comes out on October 1 by Top Shelf Productions. Early e-book read provided by Net Galley (dot) com and the publishers.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Classics: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller

This book was first published in the year I was born, and I am OLD, so it qualifies as a classic and I am glad that I picked it up again because all I remembered from my little girl at the Manoa Public Library in Honolulu memory is that I liked the book, but I could not have said anything about what it was about all of these years later. I think good books are like good teachers. What you remember is how they made you feel, not necessarily the specific lessons they were trying to teach.

In short:
When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn't just want to run from somewhere she wants to run to somewhere--to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother, Jamie, has money and thus can help her with the serious cash flow problem she invites him along. 

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie, find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn't it? Claudia is determined to find out. This quest leads Claudia to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

My thoughts:
At the end of my book is a piece that E.L. Konigsburg writes in 2002 at the 35th anniversary of the book. She talks about what still exists in the Kincaids' New York and what exists now in the post-9/11 New York. I guess that students reading this now will find the life of the Kincaids somewhat dated, but to me I could visualize my recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and I could vividly imagine how two kids could hide out in a city like New York and not attract too much attention. Most importantly, the message is timeless. It reminds me in an odd way of Paradise Lost by Milton. The situation and the outcome is nowhere near, but the conflict within Satan and within Claudia are very similar in that they must come to realize that they carry the secret to their happiness (and their personal hell in Satan's case) within themselves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


The last book in Oliver's Delirium series leads Lena eventually back to Portland. The chapters alternate between Hana and Lena until they eventually collide. The whole romance thing sort of gets resolved by just ending, which I am fine with, but if readers are on some kind of "team," they may be disappointed.

Like I mentioned in the first review of book one, I don't have any desire to read the other sub-books that came out about some of the other characters. I'm just going to let these characters go and I will believe what I believe as far as what happened after the end and what happened when the characters were not part of the immediate storyline.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


This is the second of three books and it started with Delirium.

So in the blog post for Delirium I said that the second book is always a disappointment, but I'm going to read it anyway. Well, I devoured this book and I take back what I said about the "second book blues." Lauren Oliver is smart. She changed up the formatting of the second book to keep me in suspense. Lena, now in the Wilds, is seen in both flashback and present so it is jarring in the beginning and then it is a great suspense tool. It took me all day to cook Sunday dinner because I needed to fit the cooking in between chapters. And the ending. . . I saw it coming, but it was still good when it came. 

Monday, August 24, 2015


The Hook: 
In an alternate United States, love has been declared a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure. Living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Portland, Maine, Lena Haloway is very much looking forward to being cured and living a safe, predictable life. She watched love destroy her mother and isn't about to make the same mistakes.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the Wilds who lives under the government's radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
My thoughts:
The problem with trilogies (and YA authors, especially YA dystopian authors, love to commit to trilogies) is that the first book is always the best book and those of us that read a lot of these dystopian YA books (well I will speak for myself) expect the first one to be the best and wait to be disappointed, but read the second book anyway. Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Bones, Girl of Fire and Thorns. . .

That said, this is a good first book to this trilogy. The dystopian society, Portland, has a cure for love and all of its horrible side effects so Lena looks forward to this procedure until she meets a boy. Yes, you know the rest, but it is still worth reading and the two bombshells at the end of the book are worth reading the second book Pandemonium

I will not, however read the 1.5, 0.5, 1.1, 2.0 books that came after the trilogy. I think young readers who are really hesitant to let go of a world find value in authors who continue stories through other characters. I'm old and although I enjoy YA books and teach teachers who need to understand the YA genre, I believe that there is power in inference and letting readers have more autonomy to create the lives of characters that belong now to the reader rather than the author. Isn't that what reading is all about?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

LOVE volume 2: THE FOX

Author: Frederick Brremaud
Publisher: Magnetic Press, Diamond Book Distributors
Publication Date: November 10, 2015
Hardcover: 80 pages

In short: A day in the life of the fox, a one-eyed survivor on an island that is literally blowing up as the day progresses. In this wordless, lushly illustrated book, will the fox survive the avalanche, lava flows, predators?

My thoughts: This book "reads" like an HD nature documentary, except that the animals on this island seem like they were just thrown together by some mad scientist trying to collect a menagerie of assorted animals who seem to be out of their element. I can see the fox with the brown bear, rabbits and porcupine, but with the killer whales and polar bear too? Who attacked the fox so that it is blind in one eye? And when the fox goes to the old tree, is the baby fox her baby?

Throughout the book, I kept asking myself why is this series called Love? Where is the love y'all? At the end is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson which is also curious, "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." Does the universe conspire to help this fox survive and live another day? Is that love?

See what you think.

Pre-published e-edition made possible by Net Galley and the publisher.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson

I have no excuses, but here are my excuses - I finished my doctorate a year ago and was in an administration job,  while also trying to do research and publish as well as get my abstracts chosen for research conferences. So, my reading is behind.

The great part of being behind on my reading is that I am not waiting with bated breath for these authors to pump out the next book in their trilogy. 

This trilogy is another badass girl is gonna save the world all by her damn self trilogy (Hunger Games, Divergent, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera).

What I like about this chosen girl, Elisa, is that she is fat, like seam busting fat. She is the chosen one, but she doesn't know why and no one really clues her in so she needs to rely on her own wits and her heavy body to not betray her.

She is nowhere near perfect, but she transforms herself and she thinks about her people first. Nice.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Mortal Instruments

The Mortal Instruments 6-pack by Cassandra Clare is so addicting, so heart breaking and nerve wracking, and it all hinges on the strength of wit of Clary. Yes this is another beautiful people with immortality story. Yes this is another mutliple love story. Yes this is another strong female protagonist story. I don't care. Clary is not perfect, but she is learning, and frankly, I cannot get enough girl power books. It's about time that the hero genre finally started tipping towards the girls.

Girl power!

Cassandra Clare has found the formula: create characters that people want to love and root for and cry for.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Don't Die Before You're Dead

When I feel like giving up, this is my mantra. Don't die before you're dead. It reminds me to never give up. To keep trying until I cannot try anymore. After I finished my doctoral work, I thought that I would have more leisure time, like to read, things that I want to read. Well, it has not happened, so in order to not give up, I realize that I need a simple plan to "force" myself to read because I deserve it.

How to Read More OR don't die before you're dead

  • Stop playing Trivia Crack, Candy Crush, Farm Heroes Saga, Bejeweled. . .phones (and iPads)are for READING - this is now my wallpaper on my phone

    • Always have two or three books waiting in the wings (or in my case, in my Oyster books reading list)

    • Carry a book with me at all times
    • Go to bed an hour before and read instead of watch TV
    • Have a magazine, professional article, other kind of reading in "5 minute places"- the bathroom, the kitchen, my car, the iPad
    • Stop reading what I don't want to read
    • Log what I read (aka get back on Goodreads) and share what I like
    Read and share.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2015

    City of Bones Review

    Title: City of Bones, Book one, Mortal Instruments
    Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

    In short: Suddenly able to see demons and the Darkhunters who are dedicated to returning them to their own dimension, 15-year-old Clary Fray is drawn into this bizarre world when her mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a monster.

    My piece of mind:
    I am WAAAYYYY late to the party, perhaps because I have been out of my literacy job and doing administration, perhaps because I have been finishing my doctorate for the past three years, but I am done now and I am using my Oyster Books subscription with a vengeance.  I have seen the stunning covers and always had the Mortal Instruments on my maybe I should read list, but Clary just pulled me in. I have to remember she is supposed to be only 15 when I feel like scolding her for being weak. The characters quickly become real for the reader and I continue to worry for Simon. 

    Thousands of people have already read these books. They have been on the New York Times for such a long time, but I am thankful that 5 of the 6 are on Oyster books because it has taken me five days to read five books. Thank goodness for some free weekends.


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