Friday, November 30, 2012

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

Barnes & Noble

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think about life before the war. But it's now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching in their town.

The Nazis won't stop. The Jews of Denmark are being "relocated," so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family.
  Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend's life. There is no turning back now.

I love this book. It's a very quick read for adults and perfect for middle grade students. Parents and kids should read this together; it can spark a lot of great conversations.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Under the Dome, by Stephen King

Barnes & Noble

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when -- or if -- it will go away. 

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing -- even murder -- to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO good! I want more! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, a novel of war and survival, by Louise Murphy

Barnes & Noble

In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed "Hansel" and "Gretel." They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called "witch" by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children.

Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, Louise Murphy’s haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel tells a resonant, riveting story.

This was a hauntingly beautiful book and a fantastic re-writing of a classic fairy tale.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Collateral, by Ellen Hopkins

Barnes & Noble

The gripping story of a woman torn between love for her boyfriend, a dedicated Marine deployed to Afghanistan, and the resentment she has for the war that is tearing their lives apart.

Written in Hopkins’s stunning poetic verse style, Collateral centers on Ashley, an MFA student at San Diego State University. She grew up reading books and never dreamed she would become a military wife. One night she meets a handsome soldier named Cole. He doesn’t match the stereotype of the aggressive military man. He’s passionate and romantic. He even writes poetry. Their relationship evolves into a sexually charged love affair that goes on for five years and survives four deployments. Cole wants Ashley to marry him, but when she meets another man, a professor with similar pursuits and values, she begins to see what life might be like outside the shadow of war.

Collateral captures the hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield and the minds of the friends, family, and lovers they leave behind. Those who remain at home may be far away from the relentless, sand-choked skies of the Middle East and the crosshairs of a sniper rifle, but just the same, all of them will sacrifice a part of themselves for their country and all will eventually ask themselves if the collateral damage caused by war is worth the fight.

Ellen Hopkins takes a very real--and very raw--look at military families and how they cope being left behind.

Unlike when I read her YA fiction, I found that I couldn't complete this novel in one sitting: I had to break it down into chunks so I could process the events.

Hopkins is as brilliant as ever.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, by Michelle Moran

Barnes & Noble

The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire.
From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. 

Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Élisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.

I was a French major in college, studied in Paris for a year, and consider France to be my home away from home. I have studied the French Revolution and knew all of the major dates and the most important players.

But those years of study don't come anywhere close to affecting me the way that this novel does.

Michelle Moran has done an amazing job bringing Madame Tussaud -- someone I never gave much thought to -- and the French Revolution to life. It has given me a better understanding of an era I thought I knew about.

I can't wait to read more of Moran's works!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Don't Let Me Go, by J.H. Trumble

Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, heart-pounding, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an off-Broadway job in New York--at Nate's insistence--that certainty begins to flicker. Nate's friends can't keep his insecurities at bay, especially when he catches Skyped glimpses of Adam's shirtless roommate. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it's the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.

This book had SO much potential and fell terribly flat.  I absolutely love the premise and I totally swooned over the cover.  Other reviewers compared this to works by David Levithan and John Green, so I was expecting to be wowed.

And I was.  Just not in a good way.
To be fair, I am not gay.  I am also not a guy.  So I have no idea what it's like to be a recently-out 17-year-old high school boy.  But I DO read a fair bit of GLBT YA fiction, so I'm not completely unfamiliar with the genre.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Barnes & Noble

Joan Foster is the bored wife of a myopic ban-the-bomber.  She takes off overnight as Canada's new superpoet, pens lurid gothics on the sly, attracts a blackmailing reporter, skids cheerfully in and out of menacing plots, hair-raising traps, and passionate trysts, and lands dead and well in Terremoto, Italy.  

In this remarkable, poetic, and magical novel, Margaret Atwood proves yet again why she is considered to be one of the most important and accomplished writers of our time.

2.5 stars. Decent, but not something I'd recommend to others.   

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne

Barnes & Noble

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

OMG. I just... And then... I can't... This was such an original concept in a saturated genre.

4.5 stars.

I am still trying to wrap my head around this book. It was amazing and disturbing and brilliant and scary and I still feel like I'm going to be sick.

The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli

Barnes & Noble

Need to seize a country? Have enemies you must destroy? In this handbook for despots and tyrants, the Renaissance statesman Machiavelli sets forth how to accomplish this and more, while avoiding the awkwardness of becoming generally hated and despised.

For nearly 500 years, Machiavelli's observations on Realpolitik have shocked and appalled the timid and romantic, and for many his name was equivalent to the devil's own. Yet, The Prince was the first attempt to write of the world of politics as it is, rather than sanctimoniously of how it should be, and thus The Prince remains as honest and relevant today as when Machiavelli first put quill to parchment, and warned the junior statesman to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.

I don't like giving a classic such a low rating, but this book just didn't do anything for me. Maybe it's because I don't know much about late 15th century & early 16th century European politics.

I do feel bad for Machiavelli, though: he doesn't seem terribly evil; he's just accumulated a wealth of knowledge from seeing what others have accomplished. He's more of a strategist and historian.