Crowdsourced Short Book Reviews – by my friends!

So here we are locked in (or at least we should be – come on people!), and my friends have books to recommend. The request was a brief book review of a book that floats your metaphorical (socially distanced) boat. Care to join in the fun? Message me and I’ll see about doing this again.

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Dodgers by Bill Beverly. A powerful coming of age story that follows East, a LA gang member, on his journey to complete a mission. – Stacey Robothom Baugh

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The Nix: a smart, funny and often touching novel about a professor. Struggling to write his next book, he finds inspiration when his estranged mother makes news headlines. – Jennifer Ress Bush

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. It’s a coming-of-age story in which the sibling relationship is the most significant. Vivid characters surrounded by strange beauty. – Jill Hecht Maxwell

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The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. I’m working my way back through the first three before I finally read the final book. Spanning from 1910-1960 Barcelona, they’re crime, thriller, noir stories. Gorgeously descriptive in it’s portrayal of a beautiful, yet socially broken Spain following the civil war. Each book is self contained, but there are character/family lineage crossovers. The books are: The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits. – Sean Hefferon

Adding on to Sean’s review — I just finished the last book. Not much need to read the rest of the series. They are not the main characters and not featured until the end. For everyone, it’s over 2000 pages of delicious reading. – Robert Gerson

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Tembi Locke, From Scratch. A haunting, beautifully written memoir about love, loss and how food can bring us together and heal our broken hearts. – Lauren Henry

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The Starless Sea. I have no idea what happened but I loved it anyway. – Jennifer Ray

Adding on to Jennifer’s review — That is the best description on the book. I was sad when it was over. – Michelle Smith

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Carl Hiaasen creates some really outrageous characters. – Robert Gerson

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How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen. It puts into perspective and context what is important in life, how to understand where you are in that “process” while bringing different views and experiences that enrich everyone’s understating of their own sense of achievement and happiness. – Pablo Terpolilli

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I’ve been reading a lot of Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s about the Spanish civil war, and it totally holds up. – David Larmore

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If you are interested in learning more about epidemiology and the political and social implications from years past, (particularly the Reagan administration), I recommend And the Band Played On by Randy Shiltz. – Leslie Salters

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I am very excited to read The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. It’s the final book in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two, gave a new perspective on Henry VIII, the wives, and the history of that time. Absolutely riveting…and many pages, which is good when one is social distancing as we all are right now. – Phyllis Stone

The Fault in our Stars – Review by Charlotte Lucas

Image result for singapore skylineCharlotte Lucas, a literary young lady with a literary name. Charlotte writes well, thinks well, reads well, and is kind. She’s unassuming and on the quiet side, but when you get her sharing a thought on paper or aloud, whether with the whole group or in a pair, prepare to be impressed. She’s recommending a book that seems very much like her: sweet and deep and funny.

“Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.”                — Amazon

 

Every child deserves to read a book of truth like The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.Image result for the fault in our stars book cover The Fault In Our Stars is about a girl named Hazel coping with her inevitable death. She’s lost her childhood from her battle of cancer, she takes college courses at the age 16, and doesn’t have any close friends. I truly recommend this book because in American culture it isn’t normal to talk about cancer and death so openly. Through Hazel’s perspective the reader finds a new way to think about live. This book is known to slowly mesmerize you with the live performance inside your head. It’s astounding to say that some teenagers don’t like this book because it is so open about topics that have a stigma surrounding them. Reality is always there, and hating or avoiding what you don’t like won’t make it go away. Teenagers that are staying with the comfortable topics aren’t doing any favor to themselves, and the story of Hazel and Augustus is one you can take with you for the rest of your lives. Hazel is a human and she wants to live, even if it may not be presented that way in some parts of the book. The last reason I’d recommend this book it because it isn’t just a drama like it is sometimes advertised. Adventure, comedy, and romance are very pivotal, and balance the tone of the story throughout the book. This way, there’s something to enjoy for everyone. The best type of reader for this book is someone who can deal the pain of stories without becoming upset, but also needs the closure at the end of the tale. People develop this as they get older, so I would say you should be around twelve. Though there are some moments that are inappropriate for younger children, sometimes it’s very heavy on romance and drama. In my opinion, everyone should read The Fault In Our Stars to get another perspective on life as we know it. Yes, there is a fault in everyone’s stars, but it is shown that we are not the fault in them.

Wonder – Review by Samantha Wu

-2What one notices first about Samantha is her smile. She always smiles! Having her in my final class of the day is truly energizing. Whether talking about books or serious moments in history, she is insightful and thrives on sharing her words on paper and aloud. A terrific kid recommending a terrific book – a book I resisted reading for no good reason but loved once I did.
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August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, a #1 New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.  – Amazon

 

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio is a deep, funny, and sometimes sad story that really makes you think.Wonder_Cover_Art It is a story about trying to fit in when people try to single you out, self acceptance, bullying, friendship, and forgiving. The protagonist, August, was born with what he calls “mandibulofacial dysostosis”- a facial deformity. He has been kept out of school for his entire life- until 5th grade when his parents decide it is time to put him out into the real world. He is bullied and followed everywhere by stares, and when he thinks that he is finally making friends, he overhears a conversation that he is not supposed to hear, and is crushed. School turns his life upside down, and flips it inside out. Over ups and downs, this is a story full of resilience and friendship- told by August, his friends, and his family, as they realize that “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”. It is wonderfully written, and deserves 5 stars.

“I think that there should be a rule that everybody in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives… since we all overcometh the world”. – R.J. Palacio

Wonder definitely deserves a standing ovation.

 

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – reviewed by Hannah Meit

-1 Hannah was a fabulous student in my class last year. Her nickname was Wolf, though I admit I always just called her “Hannah”. We’d had a run on kids wanting animal nicknames, and I’m an old dog, er, teacher, and never managed to switch over from real names for most kids. Regardless, the title seems quite fitting, and the book looks interesting. Great cover, too!

 

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

12875258June’s mother didn’t know what she was doing when she made her brother, Finn, June’s godfather. June was five, and she desperately tried to follow in his footsteps. Finn was a painter, a famous one at that, who was obsessed with everything medieval. As June grew up, she grew into those traits of Finn, too. Her mother would say that she took it a bit too far. June would only wear long skirts to school, along with blouses and old-timey sweaters. She had her treasured black leather boots that Finn gave to her as some of the only shoes she wore. June was closer to Finn than anyone else- or so she thought. Then, her life changed forever.

Finn had AIDS, and his health was declining rapidly. June, now fourteen, desperately tried to hold onto everything she had of him. He offered to paint her a portrait of her and her sister, Greta, to be his last work. Greta, sixteen, is snobby and mean, nothing like she and June used to be. They used to be best friends. Now June envies her sister. Greta is pretty, popular, and dainty, while June sees herself as ugly, unpopular, and clumsy. While the portrait is being finished, Finn obsesses over every last detail up to his death.

June is torn to shreds. While picking herself back up, a month after Finn’s death, she receives a strange call from a strange man who she later finds out was Finn’s significant other. His name is Toby, and he is dying, too. At first she despises Toby, but then they grow together. June has to balance meeting with Toby to talk with keeping him a secret to her family, as he is the one who her mother thinks gave Finn AIDS. Her mother hates Toby with a passion, and blames him for not only giving Finn AIDS but also tearing Finn away from his family. Inwardly, June’s mother had also wanted to be a painter, but her dream never came true like Finn’s did. She needed somebody to blame, and found Toby. Toby has nobody after Finn dies. After overcoming her suspicions, June figures out that she needs to be that somebody for him.

Set in the 1980’s, Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is an adult book. I suggest it only for adults and mature teen readers.

After Dark – Review by Rachel

tumblr_nnc4yecyHM1qj7h55o2_500The cover on the left is not a mistake. It’s for the novel written by this week’s teen reviewer. Yup. High school student. Cool novel completed. Website created. And she likes talking to me. Go figure.

Sometimes in life you get lucky. I told Suzanne Supplee, an author I met at a Maryland librarian’s conference (MASL), that I would work as a mentor for one of her creative writing students from The Carver School in Baltimore. In being told the student would submit a full novel to me for review, I was not sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect anything as incredible as what Rachel Sparza (aka R.R.S.) had produced. She wrote a speculative fiction/dystopian novel, a genre with which I am obsessed, and created a story that was immersive and original. I read the first book, PIERCING MIDNIGHT, of planned trilogy.  Rachel takes criticism far better than I do, and I enjoyed the heck out of watching her drafts roll out. I hope to meet her in person once school ends for us both. For more info. on her book, check out her website: http://the-infinity-chronicles.com/

Now on to her review!

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After-Dark-1 After Dark, by Haruki Murakami

“It’s true, though: time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night.” – After Dark

Haruki Murakami’s After Dark suspends readers between the borders of night and dawn, reality and make-believe.The novel takes place in modern Tokyo, Japan in the course of one night, and includes an ensemble of characters as unusual as the lives they lead. This includes (but is not limited to) a young trombone player who attracts the attention of any passing cat, a female ex-wrestler love hotel owner who has a knack for giving sage advice, a young girl who reads alone in Denny’s after the sun has gone down, and her stunningly beautiful older sister who has decided to literally sleep through the rest of her life. The perspective shifts from character to character, and the reader is caught in a torrent of mystery, metaphysical drama, and the complexities of human relationships until the very last page.

This is the book that got me running down the library aisle to snatch up all of the Murakami books available once I was done with it. It’s slim, a mere 205 pages, and it may only report on the happenings of one night, and yet it packs the full punch of delivering flesh and blood characters, both light and satisfying emotions, as well as the heavy, crushing realities of the horrors of this world. It is a book unlike any other by Murakami, and I have found after reading many of his other works (Dance Dance Dance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, 1Q84, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and The Strange Library) that he is a writer who enjoys recycling character tropes and literary elements. I mean, good God, he really has a thing for mopey 30-something guys who are after manic pixie dream girls and who listen to sad classical music (not to mention he has a fixation on sheep + man hybrid creatures??) But, alas! This book, the first of his I took a peek at, remains to be my favourite, and it is absolutely unique against his literary backdrop and those of other magical-realism writers.

I have recommended this book to countless friends who have book tastes of all sorts, ranging from Twihards to Sci-fi geeks to Austen lovers to classic Russian lit fans. What makes this book so universally appealing, I believe, is the vast range of personalities woven throughout the story, as well as the thematic elements. First off-

Murakami’s writing is exceptionally cinematic. His narration doesn’t just show the readers what he wants us to see , but guides us like a camera lense. Take a look at how chapter two begins:

The room is dark, but our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness. A woman lies in bed, asleep. A young, beautiful woman: Mari’s sister, Eri. Eri Asai. We know this without having been told so by anyone. Her black hair cascades across the pillow like a flood of dark water.

We allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time. Perhaps it should be said that we are peeping in on her. Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At the moment, the camera is situated directly above the bed and is focused on her sleeping face. Our angle changes at intervals as regular as the blinking of an eye.

after-darkSo not only is there spellbinding imagery and intriguing selection of detail, the reader’s lense changes hats and positions from scene to scene and makes the book even more captivating to read.

Secondly- every character has a story, and every story intersects; whether those crossings are literal or merely thematic. It is astounding how well we get to know each of them in their own right over the course of only one night, and especially how much emotion we invest in each of them. Take, for example, the character of Eri Asai who you saw in the excerpt. She is asleep THE ENTIRE BOOK. When do we see her, meet her? While she’s in bed. Asleep. Not a peep from her until the last page. And yet, through what is revealed about her through the anecdotes of others, and the details given about her current state, she turns out to be one of the characters readers have found themselves most intensely sympathizing with. Not to mention- everybody likes meeting strange and cool people, right? There are plenty of them in here, as well as the not so savory ones with blood on their hands and a man who hides in television sets and has no face.

Finally- this book is weird. This book is good. Read it at night for the full experience. If you can, read it all in one night so that the sense of time passing isn’t lost. Even better- read it at midnight in a booth at a Denny’s restaurant to get the full experience of the first character we meet. While at times Murakami’s language is poetic and long-winded, After Dark never fails to be understood and adored by readers of all walks of life. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves experimental, character-driven stories that intertwine the complex truths of life with the mirage of consistent reality. After Dark leaves many mysteries unsolved, but just as many hints at how the “night people” will make their way in the darkness without needing the dawn to ever come.