Book Review: Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick


AuthorMatthew Quick
TitleEvery Exquisite Thing 
Narrator: Vanessa Johansson
Publication Info: New York : Hachette Audio, p2016.
Summary/Review:

Not sure what to make of this book. Nanette O’Hare is a good student and star soccer player at her high school, but an outsider who spends her lunch time with her English teacher.  When her teacher introduces her to an out-of-print book about a disaffected teen railing against conformity, Nanette’s life is changed and she finds and befriends the book’s author. While Nigel Booker refuses to discuss his novel, he does encourage Nanette to rethink her life, leading her to quit the soccer team and reconsider going to college.  He also introduces her to a boy her age who is also a fan of the book and a tortured poet, Alex.  Alex is kind of the manic pixie dream boy of the novel which is kind of a tragedy since neither Nanette nor the author seem to want to realize that he is a colossal douche.  I won’t go into any spoilers but a lot of things happen that push Nanette to the edge of her sanity and increase her resentment against everyone she knows.  I think the problem with this book is that so many characters are so one-dimensional and villainous, that it undermines the generally well-rounded and contradictory characterization of Nanette herself.  Maybe I’ve just finally outgrown teenage rebellion?

Recommended booksThe Pigman by Paul Zindel, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Rating: **

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Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson


AuthorLaurie Halse Anderson
Title: Chains 
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ©2008.
Summary/Review:

This historical novel set during the early days of the American Revolution focuses on 13-year-old Isabel, an enslaved girl promised freedom on the death of her master, but finds she has no recourse when she and her sister Ruth are sold to cruel new masters in New York.  Working a Loyalist household she finds herself drawn into spying for the revolutionaries, but soon learns that despite promises from Loyalists and Patriots alike, that neither side is concerned with freeing Africans from the bonds of slavery.  Anderson captures the anger of Isabel, but doesn’t neglect to also characterize her as having many concerns typical to a young teenager as well.  The author also really captures the uncertainty of the Revolution, the people of New York taking different sides in 1776, with some among them willing to shift loyalties to whomever has the upper hand.  She also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war on the civilian community from a brutal fire to depictions of captured Americans cruelly held in cold, overcrowded, and disease-ridden prisons.  The book is the first of a trilogy of books called The Seeds of America and ends on a cliffhanger at a momentous occasion in the narrative so I will be sure to read the rest of the series.

Favorite Passages:

“Momma said that ghosts couldn’t move over water. That’s why kidnapped Africans got trapped in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, he said the ancestors howled and raged and sent a thunderstorm to turn the ship back around, but it was too late. The ghosts couldn’t cross the water to help him so he had to make his own way in a strange place, sometimes with an iron collar around his neck. All of Momma’s people had been stolen too, and taken to Jamaica where she was born. Then she got sold to Rhode Island, and the ghosts of her parents couldn’t follow and protect her neither. They kept moving us over the water, stealing us away from our ghosts and our ancestors, who cried salty rivers into the sand. That’s where Momma was now, wailing at the water’s edge, while her girls were pulled out of sight under white sails that cracked in the wind.” – p. 25

The woman in the yellow head cloth worked the pump for Grandfather. “The British promise freedom to slaves but won’t give it to the white rebels,” she said as she pushed the handle up and down. “The rebels want to take freedom, but they won’t share it with us.” She set down the first bucket and picked up the second. “Both sides say one thing and do the other.” – p. 166

Recommended booksThe Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


AuthorJeanne DuPrau
TitleThe City of Ember 
Narrator: Wendy Dillon
Publication Info: Listening Library (2004)
Summary/Review:

This book is the first part of a series about a subterranean city built for reasons not yet explained over 240 years before the events of the novel.  By this time, the people of Ember have forgotten about their origins and are dealing with crumbling infrastructure and dwindling supplies (a very clear analogy to climate change).  The protagonists of the novel are Lina and Dina, two young people who have reached the age where they are given their “Assignments,” their jobs they have to do to contribute to the survival of the community (I don’t think the novel specifies their age, but they seem to be around 12 years old).  A curious pair, Lina and Doon piece together instructions left behind by the “Builders” of Ember, and find a way out of the underground city.  They are a clever and likable duo, albeit a bit one-note.  The plot is very simple but it should be readable for it’s target age group.  The book ends on a massive cliffhanger which makes of course makes me want to read the next book, but also a bit resentful because I didn’t find the book engaging enough on its own to want to read more.

Recommended booksGregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, and The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
Rating: **

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Author: Becky Albertalli
TitleSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Narrator: Michael Crouch
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2015
Summary/Review:

Simon is a closeted gay teenager living in the Atlanta suburbs and finding himself falling in love for the first time.  The problem is that the boy he loves he only knows through anonymous email exchanges.  Over the course of this novel, both Simon and “Blue” end up coming out and eventually meeting in real life.  But what’s great about this novel is that it explores the changes and complications of life in Simon’s circle of friends and family.  The book has a lot of heart, romance, and humor.

Recommended books:

Every Day by David Levithan and George by Alex Gino
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer


AuthorAndrea Cremer
TitleThe Inventor’s Secret
NarratorLeslie Bellair
Publication Info: Listening Library (2014)
Summary/Review:

This is the first in a series of an alternate universe dystopia in which Great Britain suppressed the revolution in the American colonies and have created a deeply stratified industrial tyranny.  I actually thought it was supposed to be set sometime in the far future, but since its  in the steampunk genre, it’s supposed to be in the 19th century despite the advanced technology.  The protagonist is Charlotte, a 16-year-old member of the resistance living with other children in camp hidden away from the empire.  When a mysterious newcomer arrives, it moves forward a plot for Charlotte, her brother and other companions to infiltrate the imperial society in New York.  It’s an interesting concept, but the story didn’t engage me .  I could see it’s appeal for younger readers interested in a mix of fantasy, alternate history, and romance.

Rating: **

Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


Author:  Leslye Walton
TitleThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Publication Info:  Somerville, MA : Candlewick Press, 2014.
Summary/Review:

This is a story about a girl born with wings. The novel details three generations of her family’s life filled with heartbreak, tragedy, and little touches of magical realism on every page. It’s basically what would happen if Laura Esquivel or Isabel Allende were transported to the Pacific Northwest.  While the quirkiness can get overbearing at times, this is an engaging story with a lyric beauty. And while the climax is horrific, the finale is optimistic.

Recommended booksSong of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Rating: ****

Book Review: Flight by Sherman Alexie


Author: Sherman Alexie
TitleFlight
Narrator: Adam Beach
Publication Info: [Ashland, Ore.] : Blackstone Audio, p2008.
Summary/Review:

This novel is told from the point-of-view of “Zits,” a teenager of Native American heritage being passed through the foster care system and acting out in response.  After growing increasingly and gruesomely violent, Zits is magically transported into other peoples’ bodies at different times in history including an FBI agent working against the indigenous rights movement, an Indian child at the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn, an Indian tracker working for the 19th-century U.S. Army, a pilot who trained an Islamic terrorist, and his own father.  These experiences help him learn the effects of violence both a personal decision and societal impact.  This is a pretty grim book but Alexie’s characterization of Zits brings an element of humor as well.  The conclusion of the book is a bit corny, but I think it’s an effective story reflecting on some serious issues in American history and today.

Recommended booksSlam by Nick Hornby, Every Day by David Levithan, and Waylaid by Ed Lin.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket


Author: Lemony Snicket
TitleWhy Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? 
Narrator: Liam Aiken
Previous Books in the Series:

Publication Info:
Summary/Review:

The conclusion of the All the Wrong Questions series finds Lemony Snicket and all the other characters of the series on a train crossing the sea.  There are many twists, and dark humor, and betrayals, and when the mystery is eventually solved it is more sad than valedictory in the traditional Snicket manner.  A good end to a good series. Creative and fun, and a little bit sad.
Favorite Passages:

“The truth is like a doorknob. You can stumble around in the dark, and when you finally grasp it, you may end up someplace terrifying.”

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare


Author: Elizabeth George Speare
TitleThe Witch of Blackbird Pond
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2002 [Originally published in 1958]
Summary/Review:

As a child growing up in Connecticut, I developed a passion for history, particularly colonial American history and local history.  Yet somehow I missed this children’s novel set in 17th-century Connecticut.  Until now!

Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados after the death of her grandfather and seeks out her aunt in Wethersfield, Connecticut. While welcomed warmly to join her aunt’s family, Kit misses the sunshine and tropical splendor of Barbados, not to mention the slave labor that had kept her from the daily drudgery she now shares with her cousins.  Her free spirit is also at odds with the strict discipline of the Puritan community.  She finds a kindred spirit in Hannah Tupper, the “witch” of the title who is actually a Quaker forced to live on her own in the marshy areas on the edge of town.  As their friendship blossoms, suspicions grow in the community leading to accusations of witchcraft.

It’s a good novel, and while not 100% historically accurate, it uses its colonial Puritan setting well to create the atmosphere for a story of a positive young female character for the 20th century when it was written and now the 21st century as well.
Recommended booksJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson, and Blindspot by Jane Kamensky & Jill Lepore
Rating: ***1/2

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer


AuthorEoin Colfer
TitleArtemis Fowl: The Last Guardian
Narrator: Nathaniel Parker
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, p2012.
Summary/Review:

The final installment in the Artemis Fowl series or so it would seem.  Opal Koboi has her biggest take over the world plot, Mulch Diggums has his biggest flatulence, and Artemis has his ultimate moment of genius.  And sacrifice.  Colfer’s humor stands out as Koboi raises an army with her minions occupying the bodies of the dead with comic results. It’s a nice distraction from the grim reality of a story that puts the entire world in peril.  This is a strong finale the series.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Happiness of Kati by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Thailand
Author: Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva
Title: The Happiness of Kati
Publication Info: New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006.
Summary/Review:

Kati, a nine-year-old girl lives with her grandparents and dreams of her mother who left five years earlier.  Finally, it’s revealed that her mother has ALS and is close to death.  The separation from her mother seems cruel, but it is obvious there’s a lot of love in this family.  They are reunited for Kati’s mother’s last days, a time where Kati learns a lot about her family.  Before dying, Kati’s mother tells her how she can contact her father who she has never met.  The final chapters detail Kati’s choice to seek out her father or not.  This is a touching novel, written from a perspective that realistically portrays the way a child views the world and deals with difficult issues like death.

Recommended booksThe Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer and The Book Thief by Markus Zusakd
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer


AuthorEoin Colfer
TitleArtemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex 
NarratorNathaniel Parker
Publication Info: Listening Library (2010)
Summary/Review:

The penultimate volume in the Artemis Fowl series has the titular hero suffering the titular disease.  The Atlantis Complex is alleged to be brought on by feelings of guilt in recovering criminals leading to symptoms such as paranoia and multiple personality disorder.  This means of course that Artemis’ alternate personality emerges at the worst possible time leading to some chuckles, although I think Colfer overplays the joke.  The story has a different villain than Opal Koboi and this leads to some interesting variations in the adventure.  Also, Foaly is on the scene with Artemis, Holly, Mulch, & Butler making for a nice twist as well.  All in all, a solid story and an addition to the ongoing story arc of the series.  I look forward to reading the final installment.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket


Author: Lemony Snicket
TitleShouldn’t You Be In School?
Narrator: Liam Aiken
Publication Info: [New York] : Hachette Audio, 2014.

Other Books Read By Same Author:

Summary/Review:

The third novel in the All the Wrong Questions series reaches a turning point in the overarching story, and contains a lot of surprises.  I like this novel particularly because the many supporting characters introduced over the course of the series come together as a team.  Even S. Theodora Markson gets a turn to break away from her arrogant mien and general incompetence.  While the themes in this novel are dark – children are essentially held in prison and drugged with laudanum, for starters – there’s an optimism that stands out among Snicket books, and satisfying twist at the conclusion.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: When you reach me by Rebecca Stead


Author: Rebecca Stead
TitleWhen you reach me
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2009.
Summary/Review:

This young adult novel is grounded in a realistic setting of New York’s Upper West Side in the 1970s with the protagonist Miranda dealing with going to school, a falling-out with a friend, and her mother appearing on a tv game show.  Added to this are mystery and science fiction elements such as Miranda receiving unexplained notes that predict the future and a seemingly homeless “laughing man” having a constant presence on the street near her school.  It’s a good blend of storytelling techniques that deals with children gaining independence, friendship, and second chances.
Recommended booksThe Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, Tunneling by Beth Bosworth, The Time It Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


Author: Ruta Sepetys
TitleBetween Shades of Gray
Narrator:Emily Klein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)
Summary/Review:

This novel set in the World War II-era depicts the oppression of Lithuanian partisans through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina.  A promising young artists, Lina and her mother and brother are rounded up by the NKVD with other women, children, the elderly, and disabled and transported to a labor camp in Siberia.  The narrative depicts the hardscrabble life as Lina and her community in the labor camp as they struggle to survive.  But there are also moments of joy and unexpected solace.  It’s a decent novel and an introduction to the Stalinist persecution of Lithuania.

Recommended booksStalemate by Icchokas Meras, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer


Author: Eoin Colfer
TitleArtemis Fowl: The Time Paradox
NarratorEnn Reitel
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2008.

Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I gave up on reading the Artemis Fowl series a while back because I felt it was becoming formulaic with diminishing returns.  But I had a change of heart, and after a decade decided to pick up where I left off.  It felt good to be reacquainted with the characters like old friends.  And this book strikes me as more mature than the earlier novels.  In order to save his mother, a teenage Artemis has to go back in time with Holly to face his most devious opponent yet: his 10-year-old self.  The novel oozes with philosophical ideas and pondering of mortality.  The book also features a group of people whose goal is to cause extinction of animals, which is particularly grim.  Sure, the formula is still there (Mulch Diggums shows up for some fart jokes and the ultimate villain is the same old character) but it feels refreshed and new.  I’ll have to continue reading the newer installments of this series.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green


AuthorJohn Green
TitleLooking for Alaska
NarratorJeff Woodman
Publication Info: [Grand Haven, Mich.] : Brilliance Audio, 2006.
Previously Read By Same Author:  The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines.
Summary/Review:

This novel is told by a boy named Miles who transfers into a boarding school where he befriends his roommate “The Colonel” and falls in love with an intelligent, attractive, but impulsive young woman named Alaska.  Like other works in the boarding school genre, the story involves a lot of drinking, smoking, sex, and pranks.  But Miles also attends classes and his religious studies class in particular play’s an important role in helping Miles deal with some of the issues he’s facing in his life.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the novel turns on a tragic moment.  On the downside, I found the book draws a little too much on the “women in refrigerators” trope and moral lessons that are a bit too pat.  Overall though, I found it an accurate and entertaining depiction of teenage life.

Recommended booksThe Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Fade by Robert Cormier
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket


AuthorLemony Snicket
TitleWhen Did You See Her Last?
Narrator: Liam Aiken
Publication Info: [New York] : Hachette Audio, [2013]
Other Books Read By Same Author:

Summary/Review:

The second installment of All the Wrong Questions picks up in Stain’d-by-the-Sea with Lemony Snicket investigating a missing person’s case, putatively with the help of his chaperon S. Theodora Markson.  It continues to be a whimsical mix of mystery novel and humor.  One thing that stands out is that other than Snicket as narrator, the major characters in this novel are all women, which is a refreshing change.  I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket


AuthorLemony Snicket
TitleWho Could That Be at This Hour?
Narrator:  Liam Aiken
Publication Info: 9781619695375
Other Books Read By Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Daniel Handler under his nom-de-plume Lemony Snicket narrated the trials and travails of the Baudelaire children in a A Series of Unfortunate Events.  In this series, All the Wrong Questions, Lemony Snicket tells “his own” story of how as a teenager he became involved in a secret organization, was assigned to the worst chaperon, and begins his first assignment in the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea.  The book reads as a pastiche of classic children’s adventures and noir detective stories with memorable characters, a lot of humor, and puzzles to solve.  It’s a good start to the series and I look forward to reading more.
Rating: ***