Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Team Tynga's Reviews.  You can find their blog here:  This weekly meme, which Tynga's team posts on Saturdays, is all about sharing the books that you received or purchased over the previous week.  This week's Stacking the Shelves covers last week and this week... because I'm forgetful.

ARCs & egalleys

Rich Kids of Instagram by The Creator of Rich Kids of Instagram with Maya Sloan.  I equally hate and love Rich Kids of Instagram.  This is actually a novel, not just a collection of the best of the best, so it's going to be interesting.
Ruth's Journey: The Story of Mammy From Gone With the Wind by Donald McCaig.  SO EXCITED!  I love love love Gone With the Wind.
True Fire by Gary Meehan.  To be honest, I can't remember much of anything about this one.  I just pulled it up on Goodreads and it's got witches and teen pregnancy.  Hmm.
Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae.  I requested this one just for the title, which I love.
Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood From America's Presidents by David Stabler.  I love presidential history books, and this one has got a unique spin!
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein.  I have not read The Art of Racing in the Rain but I heard great things about it so I thought I'd try his new one.  And who could resist that cover?!?
Tween Hobo: Off the Rails by Tween Hobo with Alena Smith.  Another social media thing I love!  This is supposed to be a combo novel/graphic novel.  I'm intrigued.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer.  Early reviews are nothing but glowing!

(Who doesn't love free books?  Go use your local library!)
A Year With Six Sisters' Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together by Six Sisters' Stuff.  Y'all, SO MANY approachable, decently healthy recipes to try!  And pictures of each dish!  I recommend this to everyone!
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  Recommended to me by a coworker who's taste I trust.

What did ya'll get this week?

Friday, May 30, 2014

That Season of Hope by Keith Larson | Book Review


Before you read That Season of Hope, make sure you have a good supply of Kleenex nearby.  It's a heartbreaker.  Like, it's hard to even write the review of this book.

If you live in the Carolinas (like me), you've probably heard of Hope Stout, a vivacious twelve-year-old redhead who was diagnosed with cancer and passed away at age 12.  Every Christmas the local radio stations re-broadcast Keith Larson's phone interviews with Hope and her dad.  You can still see some "Pray for Hope" bumper stickers as you drive around town.  And the Panthers continue to fundraise for cancer victims and cancer research through their "Keep Pounding" campaign.  Hope will not soon be forgotten.

Although the book was only published in October 2013, the Season of Hope refers to the 2003 football season.  The entire timeline of events is surprisingly short:  Hope is diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer in July and passes away in December.  Hope and her family are huge Panthers fans, and at one point they have the opportunity for Hope and her best friend to spend a sunny afternoon at a Panthers game, and to get to meet the players on the sidelines before the game.  When Jake Delhomme meets Hope, they instantly click, and he becomes one of her major cheerleaders, and she becomes one of his.  Even when she becomes too sick to attend games, she'll watch from home and then call Jake after the game to talk about it.  
As if it's not enough that a twelve-year-old passes away, Hope has to grab you by the heart.  She and her family maintain a positive outlook right to the end.  Their faith keeps them strong.  And when Hope is contacted by the Make a Wish Foundation, her wish just blows everyone away:  she wishes that people would come together to donate $1 million dollars so that every kid currently on the list could have their wish granted.  WOW.  Hope could have had anything; she could have had Super Bowl tickets or a vacation, but she chooses to grant other kids' wishes.  What follows is 3 months of furious fundraising to try to grant Hope's wish.  The entire city of Charlotte came together for this cause.

I won't give any spoilers; you'll have to read the book to see if the wish was granted, and if it was granted in time.

What a beautiful story.  What a tearful story.  And what a great cause:  all of the author proceeds from sales of That Season of Hope are split between the Make a Wish Foundation, the Keep Pounding Foundation and the March Forth With Hope Foundation.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Divergent by Veronica Roth | Book Review

Throwback Review!

Continuing with "housekeeping" I noticed that I'd posted a review of Allegiant without having ever posted reviews of Divergent or Insurgent.  What a great, emotional, adventure-packed trilogy!  I might have to re-read someday.  I am so looking forward to these movies!  (Yes, plural: I'm optimistic that they'll make movies of all three!)

Checking on Goodreads, I see that I read Divergent in August 2012 and that I gave it 4 of 5 stars and that I didn't bother to write anything.  :/  Apparently I wasn't feeling chatty in 2012.  Here's Goodreads' synopsis/review so that you're up-to-date on the plot before I post my Throwback Review of Insurgent:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hysteria by Megan Miranda | Book Review

(Not really a big fan of this cover.)

So here's the blurb from Goodreads (and I think it's the jacket summary as well):  Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian.  She can't remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn't charged.  But Mallory still feels Brian's presence in her life.  Is it all in her head?  Or is it something more?  In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her... or anything about her past.  But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets.  Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead.  As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others.

I thought this was a pretty good book, and I've definitely recommended it to a few teens.  It's a fairly quick read, packed with lots of intrigue and suspense.  It's so easy to book talk.  When I read it, I got sucked in to the plot and barely surfaced for air before finishing.  The pacing and tone are great.  The book alternates between first-person contemporary (Mallory's pov) and flashbacks to the night that Brian died (also Mallory's pov), so the reader really gets inside Mallory's head.  By scattering the flashbacks in between chapters, the reader is kept in suspense for most of the book as to what really happened that dark and fateful night.  And finally, I liked that Hysteria ended.  That sounds mean, but it's not.  I liked Hysteria's ending.  I just liked that it ended... there are so many YA trilogies and series, it's refreshing to find a good standalone novel.

Now that I've listed all those great positives, I'm going to disclose a few negatives.  They're not that bad, and they're things that might not bother other readers at all.

First:  the blurb/summary.  I included the blurb above so that ya'll would have it right in front of you when I break the news that I feel it misleads.  "She can't remember the details of that night..."  Oh, but she can!  As I mentioned above, there are flashbacks nearly every chapter of the book.  She does remember what happened that night, and it haunts her.  The reader doesn't know, but Mallory does.  "In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her... or anything about her past."  Oh, but there is someone who knows her!  In fact, her dad is a Monroe alumnae, and he's been dragging the family to different Monroe get-together events her entire life.  There's a student at Monroe, Reid, who Mallory tried to make a move on just two years prior.  Also, are there ever really any secrets with high schoolers?  They don't even have to know half the facts to get the rumor mill going.

I also had a problem with some of the characters' relationships.  The friendship between Mallory and Colleen felt really weird... sometimes it felt like they were mad at each or seriously drifting apart and then next thing you know Colleen would be getting herself into trouble on Mallory's behalf.  The relationship between Mallory and her parents felt really odd also, up until the very, very end of the book.  I just could not get a handle on how they felt about each other.  I chalked that one up to the fact that their daughter had (in self-defense) killed another kid.  I don't think anyone knows how they'd react in that situation. 

My final little gripe is with the book's length and depth.  I was left wanting more.  I don't feel like I really got to know any of the characters.  Even the main character, Mallory, is a bit of a conundrum at the end of the book.  If there had been a little more length, there could have been a little more character development.

Overall, not a bad book at all.  I'd give it 3.5 of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a neat weekly feature over at a blog I really enjoy, The Broke and the Bookish.  They read books similar to some that I've been reviewing, and they're fun and they write well.  Totally worth checking out.

Top Ten Series I Need to Finish!

I actually keep a list of series that I'm already involved with/enjoy so that I can remember to check back and see if the author has added to the series.  So this was a nice easy week for Top Ten Tuesday, and my picks are in alphabetical order, not favorites order!

1. Ally Carter's "Heist Society" books.  I got the first two from my library on CD and really enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, my library doesn't have the third one on CD, and I've been procrastinating on getting the book.

2. Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" books.  I accidentally read one in the middle of the series, 61 Hours, and really liked it.  Come to find out there's a bunch more, but I haven't read any of them.

3. Cassandra Clare's "Infernal Devices" books.  I know, I'm waaaaaay behind the curve on this one!  I need to catch up.

4. A throwback: Caroline B. Cooney's "Janie" series.  I read the first three books about 15 times each (might be a slight exaggeration) in middle school; need to finish up!  It's been a long time, so I probably need to reread those first three again.

5. Michelle Cooper's "Montmaray" books.  This is only a duology and I've already read the first one, so I'm halfway done.  Unfortunately, my library doesn't own the second one.  I read the first one with my mom and we both liked it.

6. Patricia Cornwell's "Kay Scarpetta" series.  I like a good old murder mystery sometimes, and these are well-written.

7. Janet Evanovich's "Stephanie Plum" series.  I put myself on the holds list for these books the minute they're released.  I'm currently waiting for my copy of the latest.

8. Tim Federle's "Nate" books.  I LOVED Nate the Great and can't wait to try Five, Six, Seven, Nate.  Great stories, and I'm totally rooting for Nate.

9. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's "Beautiful Creatures" series.  I only read the first one, but I really liked it.  And they're set in the South!

10. Elliott James' "Pax Arcana" series.  He hasn't yet released the second book, but it's already on my tbr list.  :)

11. Tamar Myers' "Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries" books.  I've loved these books since I was a teen, and Ms. Myers was the first author I ever met at a book signing!  I'm two books from caught up.

12. Jennifer Niven's "Velva Jean" books.  I hear there's a third one...  unconfirmed, but I'm going to look into it.  I love Velva Jean.

13. Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" series.  I'm only one book from done.  I need to finish this up.

14. James Patterson and Maxine Paetro's "Confessions" series.  I loved loved loved the first book and am looking forward to trying the sequel.

15. Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series.  This one is a hubby recommendation.  He's read nearly all of them; I need to catch up!

16. Rick Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" series.  I'm on book 4.  I listen to them on CD and laugh out loud.

17. Megan Shepherd's "Madman's Daughter" trilogy.  I've read both released books and CAN NOT wait for the third!

18. Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books.  I read the first one years ago and liked it, but never got back to it.

19. Maggie Steifvater's "Raven Cycle" books.  I need to get caught up!  I haven't read the second one yet.

20. Laini Taylor's "Daughter of Smoke & Bone" trilogy.  I'm not even on the request list for book 3 yet!  Shame on me.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen | Audiobook Review

(This is a simple, clean cover and I love it.)

Jessica is one of the star runners on her high school track team until a freak accident results in her losing her right leg below the knee.  She is not at all comforted when her doctor tells her that she's lucky to have kept her knee; she can get a prosthesis and someday walk again.  Walk?  Why would she care about walking when she lives to run?  Her entire life is built around track.  Her best friend is on the track team with her.  She starts and ends each day with running.  Her parents even joke that she was born ready to run.  The Running Dream opens with Jessica in the hospital, only a day or two after the accident, and follows her through a year:  the extremely difficult adjustment to life with one leg; the difficult return to school; the first fittings for a prosthetic leg... Along the way, Jessica has great support from her family and her best friend Fiona, from her track coach, and from a new friend, Rosa, who struggles with Cerebral Palsy herself.  At first, Jessica is focused on herself, and how she would survive with just one leg.  But as the story unfolds, the focus grows.  The whole town comes together to support Jessica and her family, and Jessica shifts her focus to Rosa.  The Running Dream is about much more than just one girl learning to run again; it's about family and community and friendship.

I absolutely loved this book!  I can see why it's on so many "recommended/required summer reading" lists around here every year.  It's got so many great conversation points to it.  If I were a high school English teacher (and I'm definitely not) I would ask all my students to write about which character they identify with and why.  I would just love to read/hear all the answers!  In fact, if you've read this book you should leave me a comment with which character you identify most with and why!

Characters:  I loved all the characters.  I loved how they were all flawed, but yet were so awesome.  A great example of this is Jessica herself.  She's not perfect.  She gets really frustrated, especially in the beginning.  She has good days and bad days.  Sometimes she misunderstands someone's intentions and gets mad and then has to rethink her reaction.  But deep down inside, she's a really great girl who I'd like to be friends with.  She's loyal to her friends:  even when she's feeling really down about not being able to run anymore, she still goes to track meets and cheers on her friends during their races.  She's hardworking:  she gets herself in shape amazingly quickly in order to get her prosthetic leg as quickly as possible, and she never gives up on schoolwork and manages to get caught up in every subject after having to miss so much school after the accident.  She's caring:  there's this one scene where she's still in the hospital after the amputation and she comforts Fiona (not hurt in the accident)!  Speaking of whom, I do love Fiona's overt enthusiasm for life!  She's so bubbly.  I also love Rosa, who has incredible strength in her words and actions despite her disability.  And last but not least, I love seeing the character growth and development in Gavin through the book.

The Running Dream also has great pacing and "flow."  (I don't know if that's the technical literary term, but you get it, right?  I'm talking about how easy it was to just float through the book and get lost in the story without having to overthink or reread passages.)  The pacing was just spectacular. There was not a single point where anything slowed down too much or sped up too much or where anything got bogged down.

I listened to The Running Dream on CD in my car and the narration was fantastic.  Kudos to Laura Flanagan for great narration!

I give this book an enthusiastic 5 of 5 stars!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bibliocraft: The Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects by Jessica Pigza | Book Review

Bibliocraft blew me away!  It was not at all what I was expecting, and I couldn't be happier.  :)  This book is in two parts:  Part I, which showcases all the great resources contained within your public library and how to access them and Part II, which showcases amazing craft projects inspired by library resources with instructions on how to replicate the crafts!

Jessica Pigza is a rare and special books librarian in NYC, and I'm a little jealous.  Her job sounds so cool!  All those really unique and special materials that she gets to work with every day, and I bet she gets some really interesting patron questions and requests too.  (Don't fear; I'm not going to leave my southern teen library services job for the fancy archives of NYC.... but maybe I could work out a visit?  We'll call it "professional development.")  

I love how Jessica really takes her time showing off all the great things that libraries have to offer!  It feels like I'm constantly spouting off at people "you know; you could probably find that at your library! *wink wink nudge nudge*" and I hope I don't annoy my friends when that line slips out.  It feels good to know that there's other people out there who are all proud of their library and it's collections!  And she's not overly abstract about it.  She'll mention vintage sewing patterns and then she lists some of the nation's top libraries to contact for materials and how to go about requesting them, either in person or via Interlibrary Loan.  

Then in Part II, Jessica has assembled a collection of projects from the best of the best of the crafting world.  There's the founder of Design*Sponge, Grace Bonney, and STC Craft authors Natalie Chanin, Heather Ross, Liesl Gibson, and Gretchen Hirsh, all together in one place.  The projects are very unique and they vary in medium, craft, and difficulty level.  The first project in Part II is a little clutch bag that nearly anyone could attempt, even a very novice crafter.  Then there's more advanced projects that may require a little more skill or time, such as an adorable little girls' dress with stuffed kittens to go in the pockets.  Again Jessica shows her librarian stripes when she includes short bibliographies for each project:  which books or materials inspired the project and where to find them and how to go about requesting the materials or copies.

I read the book straight through, cover to cover, but I feel like it's more of a resource.  When read straight through, some bits get a tad repetitious.  But if you were going to look up a specific piece of information, you'd want all parts of the pertinent information right there together, even if it was just covered in the previous chapter.  So that makes sense.  To balance out that tiny complaint, I'll mention that I loved the photographs.  Jessica included many photographs throughout the book of both the materials referenced and the projects themselves.  There's also helpful templates included for any project requiring them.  I found all the craft instructions to be incredibly clear and easy to follow.  I definitely recommend this book to any bibliophile crafters!