Skinny bones

SkinnybonesSkinnybones by Barbara Park

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

Alex Frankovitch is a little on the skinny side for his age and definitely on the uncoordinated side. He has extra talent, however, for making the people in his life (and readers) laugh. It’s this talent that helps him get through baseball season and life as the target for the school jock and bully.

My review 

I consider read aloud time in my third grade classroom to be sacred. Ok maybe not sacred, but pretty darn important. Kids need to be exposed to “good” literature, not just curriculum stories formulated to teach information or a concept. They need to know what it feels like and sounds like to read a story with an interesting and smart author voice, one in which all the story elements are present, consistent, and complete. They need to be exposed to different genres as well. This is how experienced readers can motivate those still learning to want to keep at it. A read aloud experience at home or the classroom can show kids the adventures that wait them when they can independently read.

So I take seriously the responsibility of choosing “good” books to read aloud to my class. The BFG was our first read aloud this year, and then The Magician’s Elephant. Both of these books were fantasy though with very different voices. But I decided we needed a realistic fiction for our third read aloud. I perused all kinds of library lists and blogs to get ideas. On one list I saw Skinnybones. The name sounded vaguely familiar so I looked it up on Goodreads. As soon as I saw the cover memories from 5th grade came flooding back. My teacher read it to my class that year and I suddenly remembered bunting in baseball being confused with vomiting and other hilarious antics from Alex Frankovitch (a.k.a. Skinny bones). I knew it had to be the next read aloud in my classroom.

I was certain boys and girls with love this book and that we would all have a good laugh. I was 100% right. Alex Frankovitch is definitely the class clown, but an often misunderstood one. He makes some pretty dumb choices that get him into trouble but never out of maliciousness. He just doesn’t always think through his decisions. And he loves to make people laugh. The result is a laugh out loud journey through the perils of being an uncoordinated 5th grade aspiring baseball player with a problem with the class bully. My students were literally on the edge of their seats at times as we waited to see what Alex would do or say next. Everyday there were groans of disappointment when read loud time was over.

I loved the trip down memory lane. There are so many times that I would read a line or turn a page and suddenly remember what was going to happen next despite it having been over 20 years since my teacher read the book to my class. Occasionally I would start laughing at just the memory of what was to come and then have the hardest time reading it out loud without laughing through it. The laughter was contagious and my students would start laughing along with me before they even knew what the funny part was. Some highlights of the book for me are the beginning with Kitty Fritters fiasco, Alex’s conversations with God, and of course “Ooga Booga” in the middle of a baseball game.

Alex is just a lovable character despite his trouble-making tendencies. He reminds me of a boy in my class actually. I love how his parents handle his personality with their own sense of humor. The writing is genius. Though it was originally published in 1982, but it could just as easily take place today. So much of the story telling is dialogue and Alex’s thoughts which made it extra fun to read aloud with different voices and expression.

If you are in the mood for a ROTFL read pick up Skinnybones. I’m looking forward to seeing how many of my students pick up the next books in the series when we go to the library.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were the perfect age for appreciating this book. 5th and 6th grades would love it as well. But this book isn’t just for kids. Adults will appreciate the story and especially the perspectives of Alex’s parents and teachers.

Appropriateness: I love that this book is relatable for girls and boys. There is vomit talk, as would be expected when entering the mind of a 5th grade boy. Alex also has conversations with God but not in relation to any specific religion or spirituality. It was interesting to watch my students’ faces as I read the word “God” over and over. I live in a very religious area and yet students are not used to “that word” coming up at school. I loved being able to show them that it’s not taboo in all forms and that God is a real part of life for some people and even characters in books. I found nothing offensive in this book and it made for a perfect classroom read aloud.

Discussion Material: In my classroom this book inspired discussion about how to handle bullying, how to make up for mistakes we make or trouble we might cause, and how to keep a positive attitude and to like yourself even when life isn’t perfect.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Skinnybones I think you would also like Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Isabella’s Pink Umbrella (New York)

Isabella's Pink Umbrella New YorkIsabella’s Pink Umbrella New York by Yvette Cragun

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a kid I used an umbrella for so many things. Of course it was great to use in the rain, but I loved pretending it was a parasol when it was sunny, and as a big fan of Mary Poppins an umbrella could have all kinds of magical properties as well. So when I read about Isabella’s adventure with her umbrella it just gave me warm fuzzies. My girls often request this book as our bedtime story, so I know it sparks excitement, imagination, and interest for them too. It is also an entertaining way to teach a little about the sights and sounds of New York City.  The rhyming scheme is a fun addition to the storytelling though there are a few parts where the rhyming feels a little awkward.

View all my reviews

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans #1)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

My Review

It was a tradition to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever almost every year when I was growing up. I have great memories of my older sister and my mom reading it to me. I remember my mom tearing up as she read the last chapter. But it had been probably close to 20 years since I had read the book (or had it read to me). Then pulling out boxes of Christmas decor this year I saw that bright red cover with Gladys Herdman as the Angel on it. All the good memories and feelings came flooding back and I just knew I had to read it to my 9 year old and almost 8 year old.

I wondered as we began if it would keep their interest. It is over 40 years old now. But age didn’t matter in this case. My girls were engaged from the start. They experienced all the shock and laughter that I remember experiencing as I read about the escapades of those naughty Herdmans. I was impressed by the genius of the writing that present characters, setting, and plot that could take place in the 70’s when it was written just as easily as it could take place today. The only aspect that dated the book at all was that the Herdmans read books at the library instead of looking online to learn about King Herod. 🙂

Teaching 3rd grade this year has given me the chance to interact with a lot of kids besides my own children, and it was amazing how “real” the characters and dialogue are. Every child character in the book reminded me of a student in my class (including the Herdmans).

I guess that’s why the tears flowed freely for me this year through that last chapter. The Herdmans weren’t just characters. They each had faces for me this year, faces of students that I see every day, students who just like the Herdmans suffer hunger and neglect but do the best they can with what they have and know. Reading of the change that occurred for the Herdmans gives me hope that real children in the world can have experiences that change them for the better if we all do our part to teach and reach out to them.

I also appreciated the reminder of the “Truth” of the Christmas Story. The Herdmans give a poignant picture; they make it easy to see that a true portrayal of the Holy Family would be of poor and weary travelers, likely disheveled and slightly anxious. Circumstances couldn’t have been less ideal for having a new baby. A Stable for heaven’s sake! And yet with the Christ child’s arrival the “imperfections” became meaningful and even perfect. The birth of our Savior made that stable sacred and all who visited treated it so. Just a reenactment of the Savior’s birth brought sanctity to the unruly Herdmans. And so it is with our lives. When Jesus Christ is allowed in he turns us from stables to temples. Even the hardest of hearts can be touched, even Imogene Herdman’s, and through hers – ours.

Such powerful messages to be packed into a short and sweet 80 pages. And they are powerful because they are not preached. Instead the author presents ideas, observations, and situations with plenty of detail and reality, but also with openness that allows us to visualize and make our own judgment.

Truly a classic. Merry Christmas! and “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Age Recommendation: 8 and older would understand the content best. While the genre is children’s literature I highly recommend this one to adults too.

Appropriateness: There are a few swear words (from the Herdmans), some mention of underwear and the word sex appears. None of it is inappropriate for the purpose and audience.  It is in fact vital to the telling of this funny and engaging story.

Book Club Discussion: Besides the Christmas theme and the fresh look at the Christmas Story, this book also provides a platform to discuss troubled children and families, how we can help them, and how we should and shouldn’t judge others.

Other Book Recommendations: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff.

View all my reviews

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student, into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

My Review

This is one of those books that is so hard to review because there is just no way that you can do it justice. The author says it all absolutely perfectly, precisely, and poetically, so any words on my part are like fluorescent lights compared to the perfect gold of autumn sunshine. However, there is so much Truth and beauty to process and internalize from the pages of this book that I must attempt a review regardless of the inadequacy of my words. There were several passages though, that resounded with such power that I will quote them directly.

It seems almost an oxymoron to say that a memoir written by a dying cancer patient is one of the most powerful, positive, uplifting, and hopeful records of life that I have ever read, but it is the truth. Paul Kalanithi’s grasp of the meaning of life and death is so full, nuanced, and inspiring; he so eloquently describes his life journey as a son, reader, student, friend, philosopher, doctor, husband, and finally patient and father. All of it motivated by his desire to live a meaningful life and to discover what makes a life meaningful.

His interest in and search for meaning was sparked by literature. He felt like a bosom friend when I read, “I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, has something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans that undergirded meaning…Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the riches material for moral reflection.”

But Paul Kalanithi didn’t just stop at reflection. He wrote, ““If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?” And so he lived. He challenged his mind and body, he formed relationships, he worked hard and played hard.

His reading also introduced him to an idea that stuck with him through many years and that ultimately led him to choose neurosurgery as his career path over literature and writing:

“The mind was simply the operation of the brain, an idea that struck me with force…Of course it must be true – what were our brains doing, otherwise? Though we had free will, we were also biological organisms – the brain was an organ, subject to the laws of physics, too! Literature provided a rich account of human meaning; the brain, then, was the machinery that somehow enabled it. It seemed like magic…I began to see all disciplines as creating a vocabulary, a set of tools for understanding human life in a particular way. Great literary works provided their own set of tools, compelling the reader to use that vocabulary….I couldn’t quite let go of the question: Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect? [Medical school] would mean setting aside literature. But it would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.”

I was completely fascinated by his experiences and descriptions of medical school. He illuminates the ironies and conflicts in balancing science and sensitivity in the practice of medicine. One of my favorite descriptions related to working on cadavers: “You would think that the first time you cut up a dead person, you’d feel a bit funny about it. Strangely, though, everything feels normal. The bright lights, stainless steel tables, and bow-tied professors lend an air of propriety. Even so, that first cut, running from the nape of the neck down to the small of the back, is unforgettable.”

I would describe Paul Kalanithi as a hero, but that’s certainly not what he was going for. However, his integrity and sincerity are truly bold and valiant in today’s world of instant gratification and self-interest. His words give the best sense of his convictions:

“Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them…Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.”

“I was pursuing medicine to bear witness to the twinned mysteries of death, its experiential and biological manifestations: at once deeply personal and utterly impersonal.”

“The heroic spirit of responsibility amid blood and failure. This struck me as the true image of a doctor.”

“In my life, had I ever made a decision harder than choosing between a French dip and a Reuben? I still had a a lot of practical medicine to learn, but would knowledge alone be enough, with life and death hanging in the balance? Surely intelligence wasn’t enough; moral clarity was needed as well.”

“The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

I went back to teaching this year after 10 years as a stay-at-home mom. There have been feelings of doubt, guilt, euphoria, and everything in between. I have had to make decisions and judgment calls regarding how to prioritize my time, how to balance my family and my students, how to keep and strengthen relationships with my children while also being effective as a teacher – both situations in which I can impact lives for good or ill. It was cathartic to read and relate to Kalanithi’s struggle to find the same balance in his life between medical school, family, research, and then ultimately illness and death. He wrote, “Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job – not a calling.” Both Motherhood and Teaching are my callings; this book has inspired me and strengthened my resolve that I can bring meaning to my life and to others through doing what it takes to fulfill my callings, no matter the sacrifice and inconvenience to myself.

Most powerful was the feeling of kinship Kalanithi inspires not just between him and his readers, but between the human race as a whole: “…it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer and eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them.”

All of this wisdom and Truth Paul Kalanithi shares as his body and mind are attacked and destroyed by cancer. It brings such an urgency to his message, while at the same time his words are full of peace and dignity even in the face of death. He is honest and open about his struggles in each stage of his life, including at the end, but that just makes his message and decisions to put others above himself more inspiring. The epilogue written by his wife solidifies the beauty of the love that they shared as a family and that they now share with the world.

Please read this book. No matter your life circumstance or experience there is something in these words for you.

Age Recommendation: This book deals with the theme of death beautifully, respectfully, and with reverence; however, some of the facts may be too emotional for younger readers. For that reason, I would recommend this book for 17 and older.

Appropriateness: There is some swearing in the book, but not a distracting or disturbing amount. Some vague, mild, reference to sex, but nothing graphic or disturbing. There is some medical procedures and description, but it’s all scientific so even when described in some detail the intent is not to be disgusting.  There are emotional themes which ought to push us out of our comfort zones a little, but the intent is pure and good.  If any of these aspects would deter you from reading the book, please don’t let them. This is a “must-read.”

Book Club Discussion: There are so many topics and questions that could be discussed in relation to When Breath Becomes Air including the importance of literature, doctor and patient responsibilities, terminal illness, dealing with death, sacrifice for goals, and finding balance.

Other book recommendations: If you are interested in When Breath Becomes Air then I think you would also likeThe Alchemist by Paul Coelho, The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

 

 

Taking Chance

I am breaking form for a moment and reviewing a movie rather than a book. But this movie moves me as much as any of my favorite books, so it deserves to be included in my reviews.

The movie is Taking Chance   and I give it 5 stars.

5 Star Rating

wallpaper-lt-col-michael-strobl-1600
Summary

Based on true events – Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl escorts the body of a 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps, a marine who was killed in Iraq. The film follows his journey from the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, to Private Phelps home in Wyoming and gives an intimate look at the process and people involved in putting a fallen soldier to rest. The real power of the film is in the emotions it evokes with its honest and unabashed  portrayal of real people who sacrifice for others and who receive the respect, honor, and reverence that they truly deserve.

Time: 1 hour 17 min.

Rating: PG

Starring: Kevin Bacon

My Review

This is not at all what you would call an “action-packed” film, but it packs a punch nonetheless.  To tell the events of the movie would sound a lot like a travelogue, but the details and absolute order of each checkpoint in the journey reveals the true dignity and hallowed calling of the men and women of our armed forces. Each person that you meet in the film who is involved in the sacred duty of returning the body of Chance Phelps to his family, lights such a fire of hope and optimism for our nation and citizens because they all give respectful and reverent tribute in their own unique and perfect ways.

I can’t think of any other movie I have seen that is presented with such honesty and truth.  Taking Chance is devoid of any Hollywood dazzle or ploys. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is perfect and the supporting actors feel so real. This is not a parade of magazine cover faces, but rather a look into true and everyday America.

Through the process of Chance Phelps’s body being brought to rest  we get a glimpse of the intricacies involved in giving our military men and women, both the living and the dead, the honor, respect, and reverence they deserve. The pieces that are shown come together into a powerful whole in which you feel such gratitude and pride for those who give so much for our freedom and way of life.  Even more powerful though, is the vision these events give of how we could be as a nation and as the human race if we were to treat every person and responsibility with the same honor that is evident throughout the movie.

After watching, I feel smaller and bigger. I feel humbled and proud. I feel my priorities rearranging themselves and such gratitude for my life and for those that sacrifice in small ways and who sacrifice everything so that I can live the way I do. And I feel, like the people in the film, the desire to give back in some way, big or small, to those strangers who sacrifice, fight, and die for me. Posting a review isn’t much compared to a soldier’s sacrifice, but maybe by drawing attention to this film in my small way others can also be affected and changed by it’s message.

With that, I say with absolute certainty that every American should see Taking Chance.

 

 

 

The BFG

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! It’s lucky for Sophie he is the Big Friendly Giant. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My review

It had been over 20 years since I read this book, but I remembered thinking it was hilarious as a 10 year old. So I decided to pick it up as our first read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. It was a hit! My students loved the way the BFG mixed up his words and they could not get enough of “whizpopping.” The story develops quickly so it kept their interest well, but it also has a great balance of developing details and really painting a picture of the characters, settings, and action. There is a lot of dialogue in the book which makes it especially fun as a read aloud. The text was on the perfect level for a class of 8 and 9 year olds.

Discussion material: The BFG inspired class discussions on metaphors, stereotypes, and geography. As a class we got to practice comprehension strategies inference, predictions, character mapping, sequence of events, and cause and effect.

Age Recommendation: Readers of any age can enjoy the fun, creativity, and humor in The BFG, but I think 2nd-4th graders will be especially enthralled.

Appropriateness: I didn’t find anything offensive or inappropriate; however, if you have a problem reading about passing gas (called whizpopping in the book) you may want to avoid this one. But if you are willing to loosen up and give it a chance, despite the whizpopping involved, you won’t regret it! It’s a clever and humorous adventure.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the BFG then you should give other Roald Dahl books a try like Matilda, The Twits, and George’s Marvelous Medicine. You will also like Frindle by Andrew Clements, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

View all my reviews

Reclamation

Reclamation (Eruption, #2)Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads):

Jace Vega wakes up three years after the eruption of Mount Hood where she and the man she loves, Corey Stein, tried to use time travel to release Victor Trent’s powerful hold on the world. But life is even greater turmoil. The future seems to be unchanged and Corey is missing. Nothing about her other relationships feel right.

As Victor Trent continues to amass power, using information terrorism Jace knows she doesn’t have much time if she’s going to stop him. Jace’s reawakening begins a race to the place where it all began: the Point of Origin. If she can only remember where it is.

My Review

I waited so long for the conclusion to this story and it was completely worth it. I actually re-read the first book in the series, Eruption, right before beginning Reclamation and that was a great choice. I enjoyed reliving the suspense of the events in Eruption, and the refresher on all of the details was helpful. Reclamation picks up exactly where Eruption ends, and I loved being able to put one book down and immediately pick up the next without interruption.

I love the smart prose, imagery, and powerful description in the writing. I am so impressed and fulfilled by the author’s ability to weave current events, social issues, social media and technology, psychological examination, and even spirituality into a seamless, colorful, and thoughful storytelling tapestry. And she does it without being preachy; rather her keen expression and description says just enough and leaves the intellectual work up to the reader. There is plenty of opportunity for that “aha” moment as you connect the text and characters to your own life, while at the same time the thrills and suspense of their lives keep you turning pages as fast as you can. The sequence of events flows naturally, and all of that is accomplished while presenting a complex science fiction plot involving volcanoes and time travel.

I loved the main character and narrator, Jace Vega, in the first book with her smarts and maturity and her flaws. She continues to evolve, learn, and change in Reclamation, but she stays consistent, believable, and lovable. I really grew to care about all of the characters and their relationships. Even the “villain” has a “human” side that makes him relatable in some sense.

For me, there is really a lot of pressure on the endings of books with complex and plots and deep characters such as in the Eruption series. Even when events and suspense are so well paced throughout a book, endings can ruin it all if they are rushed or do not tie up all the loose ends. But that was not a problem in Reclamation. The ending was timed well; I had no unanswered questions; it made sense within the flow and the events of the story, and most importantly it felt complete and good. Such a satisfying ending will keep me pondering these books and the layers of lessons and meanings for days to come.

If reading were a meal, Eruption and Reclamation would leave you full and satisfied, and dreaming about the next time you could savor those unique and perfect flavors.

Age Recommendation: The complicated plot and some of the themes will be best understood by mature readers, likely 16 and older.

Appropriateness: There is nothing objectionable in this series. Clean language and high moral standards along with plenty of excitement and tension. These books would give plenty of material for book club discussions regarding coping mechanisms, the purpose of tragedy and suffering, our reliance on technology, and the consequence of choices.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Reclamation and Eruption I recommend you also read The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, Graceling by Kristin Cashore,  The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale,  The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

The Selection Series

The Selection (The Selection, #1)1624806818635016The Selection , The Elite, and The One by Kiera Cass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

My Review

I liked the first book in the series the most. They were all entertaining and kept me reading to the last word, even into the wee hours, but in the end they weren’t terribly fulfilling. I got tired of the soap opera and of the constant tension because of characters’ decisions to not trust each other or to communicate. I can understand immature miscommunication being the source of some of the story conflict but when it happens over and over and over it gets old. I need the characters to learn from their mistakes otherwise they become annoying.

I also didn’t buy the whole dystopian setting. The story takes place in a future America after a 3rd world war, etc. etc. but the problem is that the setting didn’t actually have any relevance to the story itself. A dystopian American didn’t affect the plot or enhance the plot in any way. It was more like little tidbits of trivia just to make it fit into a genre that is so popular in YA fiction right now. It just didn’t work for me and in fact I found it took away from the story development and plot because the little tidbits just weren’t developed enough. If the story had been set in some other fictional or semi-fictional location I would have enjoyed it much more. Then I wouldn’t have needed much detail to explain the country’s roots or current status. I could have accepted it more easily as just how things are. Whereas setting it in dystopian America automatically results in me asking more questions, wanting more explanation, so I can be convinced of the plausibility of the plot. Unfortunately that kind of information wasn’t offered, the details were lacking, and so the setting fell very flat.

The development of the big “shock” in the third book was also lacking for me. I can’t decide if there was too much foreshadowing and so I already knew what was coming which dampened the “wow” factor. Or if it was that the development just wasn’t exciting enough or involved enough. I needed more information about the opposing factions. The resolution came about rather quickly after 3 books of build up.

But despite being disappointed in all of those aspects, that didn’t stop me from reading all 3 and reading them rather quickly. They definitely make for an easy and entertaining read. Having just seen that there is a book #4 and a #5 I can say that I will be reading those as well.

Age Recommendation: These books would be enjoyable for 14 and older, mainly girls.

Appropriateness: These are young adult romance books with plenty of romance (kissing) but greater intimacy is not described in great detail. Language is clean. There was nothing that I was uncomfortable with in my reading.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in The Selection Series I recommend you also read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Winner’s series by Marie Rutkoski, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, and Matched by Allie Condie.

View all my reviews

Eve and Adam

Eve & Adam (Eve & Adam, #1)Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

And girl created boy…

In the beginning, there was an apple—

And then there was a car crash, a horrible injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker’s head clears a strange boy named Solo is rushing her to her mother’s research facility. There, under the best care available, Eve is left alone to heal.

Just when Eve thinks she will die—not from her injuries, but from boredom—her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect… won’t he?

My Review

I debated whether it was even worth reviewing this one, but in the end I figured I read it so I might as well. Part of my purpose in reviewing is to give myself the exercise in expressing my thoughts and ideas logically and accurately. So even if this books ended up being pretty inconsequential I guess it’s still worth my time to verbalize why.

This book was a bit of an enigma for me. Despite the 1 star rating I gave it, I did get wrapped up in it enough to finish it within just a few hours. However, I contemplated not finishing it multiple times while reading, and then when I got to the end I really wished I hadn’t wasted the time.

I was just browsing the shelves at the library when I saw Eve and Adam. The cover art and the plot description intrigued me so I figured I’d give it a shot, but I didn’t have terribly high expectations. I figured it was most likely going to be just a quick read, probably not much depth, but hopefully not horribly written and with an interesting enough concept to make it at least entertaining. It definitely was a quick read and the writing was good, but the lack of depth in character and plot development was totally dissatisfying. The potential for the concept and the writing is what kept me reading, kept me hoping that just maybe the ending would redeem it from the shallow and way too sex-crazed characters, the hollow and underdeveloped “love” (more like “lust”) story, and the crude and unintelligent swearing. Sadly, no redemption to be found.

Now actually writing out and analyzing all of the things I didn’t like about the book I really wonder why I kept reading. The best explanation I can come up with is that I just wanted to see how it would end, what the deal was with this “perfect” Adam creation. Unfortunately, he is the flattest of all of the characters and really has very little importance overall.

After reading the back cover when I picked the book up at the library I think I was expecting more of a science fiction book. What I got was a badly done YA romance. The driving force in the theme and plot development was the not-so-developed relationships. The genetics and science fiction aspects became simply the backdrop for the hormonal, disrespectful, selfish, insecure, and generally messed up teenagers to think more about themselves and sex, and to think they fell in love after a few superficial conversations.

But I guess I have to give the authors some credit for keeping me on board despite my thoughts of jumping ship. However, I think I’d rather just have back those few hours I spent reading.

Age Recommendation: Lots of talk and thought about sex, innuendos, and lots of swearing. I wouldn’t recommend this book probably at all, but definitely not for under 16.

Appropriateness: Despite there not being any graphic or detailed descriptions of gore or sex, a line was still crossed for my standards.  Way to much swearing for my likes as well, especially since it was mostly the derogatory type.

Other Book Recommendations: If this book sounds interesting you might also like these books (but they are all way better than Eve and Adam) – Watched Series by Cindy M. Hogan, Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins, the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield, the Maze Runner series by James Dashner, Divergent Series by Veronica Roth, Matched series by Ally Condie, and An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock.

The Winner’s Kiss (Winner’s Trilogy book 3)

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3)The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

The war intensifies and the world is changing. There is so much to lose; it’s almost impossible to see how anyone can win.

My Review

It was torture to not have this book immediately available after I finished book 2 in the series. When I finally got my hands on it I read in every free minute I had for 3 days. I was completely caught up in the story and conflict, in the romance, and in the storytelling just like with the first two books. I was worried that since it had been about 8 months since I had read book 2 that I wouldn’t remember enough to really get enthralled, but all the details came back to me as soon as I started reading. (You can read my review of books 1 and 2 here)

The same intrigue, stratagem, deceit, and difficult decisions from the first two books are alive and well in the series’ conclusion. It’s a web of lies and moral dilemmas and it makes these books more interesting and intelligent than your average YA romance. However, I’m giving this book 3 stars instead of the 4 that the other 2 books got simply because this one felt a little more like a soap opera. I was still completely enraptured in all the aspects of the story (the war and intrigue as well as the romance), but the characters lost just a little of their intelligence and strength for me because the focus seemed SO much on the romance. And there were SO many obstacles to the relationship just finally solidifying. I think it was dragged out just a little too long for me, but that didn’t stop me from devouring the book.

I enjoy the author’s voice; it’s poetic but for the most part not to the point of distraction. I respect her genius in creating such a complicated world and dilemma, web of characters and motivations, and pulling it all together into a satisfying story.

I will probably read this series again one day, and I will very much enjoy being able to read the whole thing from start to finish without months in between books.

Age Recommendation: With the harsh circumstances of war and imprisonment I would recommend this book for 16 and older.

Appropriateness: There is killing as well as torture and other harsh realities associated with war. But none of these horrors are glorified and the descriptions aren’t graphic.  There is description of kissing and intimacy, but the actual act of sex is not described graphically.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Winner’s Trilogy interests you I recommend that you also read The Wild Orchid: a retelling of the story of Mulan by Cameron Dokey, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, The Books of Bayern Series by Shannon Hale, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.