Recommend A…is run by Chick Loves Lit, and I love this little meme because it is basically like a practical test in reader’s advisory, which was my favorite part of being a librarian (and the reason why I run this blog). People come up to librarians all the time requesting some very unique or odd things. I also like the challenge of recommended unique or odd things for popular requests (romance, fantasy, “a book like The Hunger Games”).
Today we are looking back to the fun days of vacations and the books we read when we have time to really sit back and enjoy them in a more carefree environment. A good vacation for me is one where I have time to read lots of books, especially books that challenge me or have been in my TBR pile for too long. Since I’ve already shared the oodles of books I read on my vacation this summer, I thought I’d think back to the times of my youth. We often go to my family’s cabin in Vermont for a week or two in the summer, and other people are always leaving old books in the cabin. One summer (I think I was in middle school), I picked up a copy of this book and couldn’t put it down…
by Stephen King
Plot in a nutshell: Carrie White lives with a mother who is crazy religious, and she’s different. Her classmates bully her, and she’s an outcast. But one day Carrie gets her first period…and telekinetic powers that she uses to fight the forces that have made her miserable for so long. Oh, and there’s a popular boy asking her out as his fake prom date, a bucket of pig’s blood, and lots of killing. Stephen King’s first published novel.
Why I recommend it: I first read this book as a kid, which is probably the perfect time to be reading such things. What it shows is how good a horror writer ole Steve-o is. That man can take a story that has the potential to be a Friday The 13th-esque-cheese-fest, and make it something that really frightens us. I wasn’t scared in the check-under-the-bed-for-serial-killers kind of way, but more in the general “people are SHITTY sometimes” kind of way. I think Carrie’s mom was the most frightening character, with her crazy religious fanaticism, but the way Carrie’s powers manifested really showed how much crud that girl put up with over the years. So yeah…don’t bully people. Oh my.
Who I recommend it to: I’ve heard people refer to Carrie as a sort of Stephen King gateway drug. It’s still the only Stephen King novel I’ve ever read, and I enjoyed it. You don’t have to be a fan of horror to enjoy this novel, but you do have to be able to tolerate psychologically terrifying stuff. But it’s pretty short (maybe 200 pages?) and it will stick with you for a long time. I still remember it, sixteen years later. I recommend it to everyone who can handle it, ages 11 and up (yes, I said 11. Some uber-cool kids might enjoy it).
Have you ever read Carrie? What did you think of it? Have any other Stephen King recommendations for me?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are looking at the best of the best books read while blogging and writing reviews. I know I’ve come to look at books in a different way since starting my blog about a year and a half ago! I’ve read about 120 books since then. Here are the top ten of those 120 books that I’ve read since January 2011:
Top Ten Books I’ve Read In the Lifetime of My Blog
[here we go...]
1.) Unwind by Neal Schusterman – Dystopian lit at its finest. It not only manages to be great dystopian with an un-put-downable plot, but it also explores issues of the value of human life (abortion, murder, organ donation) by showing rather than telling (and showing how complicated the issues are).
2.) The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart – Ruby Oliver is my favorite literary character. I realize that I talk her up so much that she could never live up to your expectations if you haven’t read the novel, and for that I apologize.
3.) Divergent by Veronica Roth – Fast paced, adventurous, dystopian. A thrilling read, even if I couldn’t make it through Insurgent.
4.) Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery – Anne’s a classic for a reason. Classics are slower reads than modern books, but they have such delightful prose on every page!
5.) An Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose – In 2011, I named this my favorite book. I enjoyed Roose’s open-minded approach to evangelical Christianity. He really blew my mind with how seriously he took his project and how respectful he was as a liberal on Liberty University’s campus for a semester.
6.) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – Such a beautiful and haunting novel.
7.) Across the Universe by Beth Revis – I can’t quite describe why I loved it so, but I think it has to do with the twists and turns at the end!
8.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Part of my love is because of the adventure/quest aspect of the novel, and part was the experience I had reading it — lakeside, at a cabin in the woods on vacation.
9.) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – The book that made me cry the most in the past eighteen months. I like crying, so it’s all good!
10.) Bossypants by Tina Fey – I mean, it’s Tina Fey. She’s my hero. She could write her grocery list on a napkin and I’d find it brilliant.
If you are a book blogger (or even if you just do the occasional review), do you find that you look at books differently since you started blogging/reviewing? Which books have been your favorites?
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
by AJ Jacobs
Simon and Schuster
Purchased in the Nook Store
[#46 in my 75 book challenge]
After my less-than-stellar review of Jacob’s The Know-It-All, I thought I’d give another book of his a try. The reviews, both online and from friends, for The Year of Living Biblically were much better. Religion fascinates me, especially the sociological aspects of religion and how different people interpret/practice it. Jacobs takes his religion to an extreme, following every single rule he possibly can from the Bible — with a dash of humor, of course! Since Jacobs is a self-proclaimed agnostic, his experience is fascinating to watch.
In true AJ Jacobs-style, the man takes his task seriously. This man does not play around. He reads the Bible and imerses himself in it, but also reads oodles of other books about the Bible: commentary, different versions, notes, and even some really extreme texts. He visits experts on various aspects of religion, and seeks many Biblical and religious experiences: he hangs out with the Amish, Hasidic Jews, an extreme uncle-turned-cult-leader, snake handlers, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and gay fundamentalists. He grows his beard, wears only white, and attaches tassels to his sleeves. He tries to avoid all lying, gossip, and lustful thoughts. Jacobs learns to love some of the rules (observing the Sabbath) and loathe others (not touching his wife when she’s menstruating). The comprehensive, yet open-minded, approach Jacobs takes to this task is fascinating. I enjoyed every day and every word of his journey.
My favorite part is when Jacobs makes his new intern, Kevin Roose, his slave. Roose is SUCH a suck-up, which makes it even more hilarious. He’s ready to do anything Jacobs asks, no matter how weird. I loved Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple, which he decided to write after his experience as Jacob’s slave. Both books affected me in a similar way. Both are about agnostic guys immersing themselves in the world of religion with open minds. Jacobs, like Roose, learned a lot about the good side of religion. This book may show a lot of the absurdity, contradictions, and outdated rules of Christianity, but it also show the history and hidden benefits behind them.
FINAL GRADE: A It’s hard for non-fiction to get an A, but this one really earned it. I love a book that surprises me, and this one surprised me around every corner. I liked it far better than The Know-It-All, and you’ll notice that I also finished this one in far less time! I definitely recommend it to adults and anyone interested in the Bible or Christianity from a humorous perspective. I learned a lot about what’s really going on in good book, and if I weren’t starting a Ph.D in the fall, I would probably start in on my life-long goal to read the whole Bible for myself. Now there’s a review that might take up more than a few paragraphs on a blog post, huh?
Have you read any interesting rules in the Bible? Have you ever learn anything about the Bible that surprised or shocked you? (The first time I read the four Gospels during Lent one year, I was shocked by how different they all are, and how many of the details from Bible stories aren’t even in the actual Bible!)
by Jodi Picoult
Washington Square Press
Purchased in paperback
[#26 in my 75 book challenge]
Ooooohhh, Picoult, you sure have a way of showing me both sides of a complicated issue. You’ve made me sympathetic to murder-suicide, anti-gay ex-husbands, and kids who refuse to donate a kidney to their sisters. And now you’ve made me sympathetic to neonaticide.
In this novel, a newborn baby is found dead in an Amish barn, and Katie Fisher is on trial for the murder. Big-city lawyer Ellie Hathaway ends up not just representing Katie in court, but also living in Amish country as her client’s court-appointed guardian prior to the trial. Like all Picoult novels, the story grows more and more complicated as we find out more about Katie’s life. We are given one twist and turn at a time, even throughout the trial in the last 1/3 of the book, and are left wondering exactly what happened until the last few pages when the truth comes out and the verdict is given.
Though I like Picoult’s books and read them like 400+ page candy, I found myself not liking either Ellie or Katie in this story. That fact didn’t hurt my overall enjoyment too much, but it was problematic none-the-less. I didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic toward the commitment-phobic, workaholic lawyer (ohmygoodness, will a few month living the simple life cure her?!) and I didn’t feel any sympathy toward Katie. She’s supposed to be sort of mature and naive at the same time, but I felt like I didn’t trust her from page one. And that trust didn’t even change at the end of the book.
Why do characters always have to hold on to secrets that they KNOW will be important (like who the baby daddy is) and that they know will be found out? And why on earth do they seem surprised that other characters in the story want to know these things? You are on trial for murder, honey. The baby daddy IS IMPORTANT. Characterization aside, though, it was a good page-turner of a book.
FINAL GRADE: B I liked it, in a quiet way. The ending wasn’t quite satisfying for me, which is why it’s knocked down from an A to a B. There are a few flaws, but overall it was what I was expecting in a Picoult book — legal drama with a lot of depth and a good twist. I’ve seen many people list this as one of their favorite Picoult books. I can see why, but I’m still sticking with The Pact as my #1.
Other Picoult books I’ve read:
My Sister’s Keeper
Have you read any Picoult novels? Why or why not? Which is your favorite?
(Also, did you know Picoult’s name is pronounced Pec-o? I learned that while researching this novel. Fun fact.)
The Chosen One
by Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin’s Griffin
Purchased from Amazon
[#19 in my 75 Book Challenge]
Oooooooo I loved this book. REVIEW SPOILER: I give it an A. That’s why you should read this review. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give any real spoilers. Because I want you to read it for yourself.
So it’s a book about Kyra, a thirteen-year-old girl living on a polygamist compound. She has three mothers and nineteen siblings. Kyra finds out that she has been chosen as the seventh wife of her own uncle, a man she finds extremely unpleasant. One thing is certain: Kyra is not going to marry that man, no matter what.
I am fascinated by polygamy, and my purchase of this book came from a little obsession I had with the topic last year. I watched Big Love and Sister Wives like it was my JOB. And while those shows are trying to promote a more progressive image of the culture, The Chosen One represents tradition polygamy…the almost cult-like groups that live on dusty compounds. We do see Kyra living in a loving family, but the power given to the religious leaders is huge and oppressive. They rule with force and fear. No one can leave.
Anger. That was the emotion I felt throughout this book. Anger at the injustice and hypocrisy. Anger at the treatment of women. Anger at the abuse of religion for personal gain. The climax of the story left me with my jaw hanging open in disbelief, and the ending was perfect. I’m not necessarily against polygamy, but I am against polygamy as practiced in this way. Child brides, forced marriages, domestic violence, child abuse, forced poverty, and abuse of power are terrible in any situation, but it does seem difficult to separate polygomist groups from this type of behavior.
Final Grade: A I’m a sucker for a good book that pulls real emotions out of me, and this one delivered. It’s beautifully written, I read it almost in one sitting, and it made my heart pound. It made me angry and it made me cry.Though the topic might seem mature, is done in a very MG/YA appropriate way. There is graphic violence, but no graphic sexual scenes. I would recommend it to my more mature students and any adult.
The Red Blazer Girls
by Michael Beil
Audio book from public library/
Purchased from Scholastic Book Fair
[#17 in my 75 Book Challenge]
Sophie, Margaret, and Becca are three normal seventh grade girls attending a normal Catholic school (St. Veronica’s) in New York City. One day they stumble upon an old woman with a puzzle to solve — a puzzle created twenty years before for her estranged daughter. The puzzle was never solved and Mrs. Harriman enlists the girls to go on the adventure and recover the hidden prize at the end.
The puzzles in the book range from word problems to literature trivia and math equations, and they are exactly appropriate for a bright middle school student. Unlike most of the books I read, this is quite solidly a middle grades novel. YA’s would be too mature for the story.
By far, I loved the characters the most. Sophie, Margaret, and Becca are normal girls that I would want to be friends with. They are bright, yes, but a little sassy and a little lost when it comes to boys. The narrator on the audio book, Tai Alexandra Ricci, nailed the voice and tone of the story without sounding too juvenile (unlike the obnoxious narrator in The Lightning Thief).
Final Grade: C While it was a cute story with likable characters, it didn’t blow my mind. I’m grading it as C against other middle grades fiction, not against all fiction, since the novel knew so clearly which audience it wants to reach. There’s a very small portion of middle-class middle-school girls who would appreciate the novel, and they would love it. I am not a middle school girl anymore, so it fell a bit short for me. This is a short-ish review because I just don’t have much more to say!
All These Things I’ve Done
By Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Library book from Junior Library Guild
[#3 in my 75 book challenge]
If you need a summary of the book, just take a look at the cover. Instead of having some cliche picture on there, we’ve got a list of the things going on: chocolate is contraband, caffeine is illegal, the city is riddled with crime, Anya is torn between accepting her birthright and following her heart.
When I picked this one out, I thought it was dystopian. While it sort of is, it’s really more like a mafia novel taking place in 2083. Anya’s family is in the chocolate business, making her father one of the most powerful men in the city…until he was murdered. Anya’s mother was also murdered, and her older brother was severely injured in hits on her family. Though her ailing nana is technically her guardian, Anya is basically in charge of keeping her family healthy and safe, while also trying to survive high school.
You probably noticed that the chocolate on the cover is in the shape of a heart. That’s right, kids — Anya falls in love! Romeo and Juliet-style, she’s falling in love with the Assistant DA’s son, Win (short for Goodwin). He’s so dreamy, he’s so perfect, he’s so atrractive. She’s so…Catholic. And waiting until marriage. Whilst Anya’s trying to figure all of this out, there’s drama, scandals, hits, attempted poisonings, and a lot of distrust going around “the family business.” I didn’t trust anyone, even at the very end. The ending was satisfying, but this is definitely a series and this book has a lot of loose ends.
In reading other reviews of the novel, I noticed that many people thought the story started out strong and fell flat in the middle. I disagree. I was bored at the beginning and found I liked it more at the end. Anya was realistic — yes, she falls victim to high school love and becomes distracted for a bit, but isn’t that understandable? I also felt her struggle with losing her virginity was realistic. It’s not as simple as “good, Catholic schoolgirls don’t do that” for her, there’s a bit more to it than that. I think it’s a struggle a lot of girls have when they really fall in love in high school. The entire premise of the novel was a little odd (why did they outlaw chocolate? Are the going to unveil more to that plot in later books?), but once I accepted that I read it as a love story. And, as has been the trend lately (hurrah!) Anya is a pretty kick-ass female protagonist.
Final Grade: C I’m still having a hard time with this rating system business, but I have to keep reminding myself that a C is a good grade. It was average book. Adequate. Kept me reading, kept my interest, and entertained me. However, I don’t think it’ll be making any Top 10 lists at the end of the year. It just isn’t going to be memorable. Worth a read if you like a good mafia story or love story, absolutely. Worth putting in the school library for sure. But I have a feeling many of my students will be returning it unread.