Audiobook Review: Girl at War by Sara Nović

Audio Review

Girl at WarTitle: Girl at War

Author: Sara Novic

Narrator: Julia Whelan

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12th, 2015

Interest: Alex Award Winner

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

Audiobook Review: Julia Whelan has become one of my favorite audiobook narrators, especially after listening to Gone Girl last year. Her voice is really easy to listen to and she does a pretty good job changing it for different characters and even using various accents. I decided to listen to Girl at War because it won an Alex Award and also because I don’t have a physical copy (yet). Plus, Julia Whelan as the narrator was an automatic win. It was nice to hear the names and words pronounced correctly since I know I’d butcher them if I read it myself. It was hard at first not hearing Amy from Gone Girl, but after listening for a while that went away and Ana took full form for me.

Book Review: Girl at War is about a war I know little about even though I was alive during that time period. I’m thankful that this debut exists because more readers, especially teen readers, need to know about more wars in history. Our sophomores have an independent reading war poetry unit that requires them to read a novel dealing with war. I’m going to share Sara Novic’s novel with those teachers in my department so they can consider adding it as a recommended book.

There are other qualities that make me want to recommend it to the teachers in my department. The writing it beautiful and full of emotion. I don’t know anything about Sara Novic, but I imagine based on the story she’s written, that this war hits close to home. The end of Part I had me crying and many other scenes caused me to tear up as well. I wish I had a physical copy while I listened because there were plenty of scenes that I wanted to mark based on the writing alone. Girl at War is full of vivid imagery and smart writing overall.

If you’re looking for a novel that will pull at your heartstrings and make you aware of a war, that in my mind hasn’t been covered enough, look no further than Girl at War. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sara Novic’s novels. Even though this is a short review, please don’t let think that I didn’t love this book, because I did. I couldn’t get enough of the audio; I was completely enthralled and connected to the characters.

Waiting on Wednesday–The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

 

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

Before I mention why I’m featuring this 2016 debut, I need to point out the cover. It is so pretty and eye catching! Also, I’m excited to read a book featuring the summer before college begins; it’s such a transitional and exciting time. The summary leaves me feeling like The Loose Ends List will be a good combination of handling grief and all things sweet. I really wish it was June and not cold, gray January.

The Loose Ends ListTitle & Author: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

Release Date: June 7th, 2016

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary (From Goodreads):

A refreshing, funny, and moving debut novel about first loves, last wishes, and letting go.

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.

Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.

Waiting on Wednesday–Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

July is a (sadly) far in the future, but I have to share Miranda Kenneally’s upcoming Hundred Oaks novel now that it has a cover. My students and I fangirl over this group of books on a regular basis because they’re so much fun to read. I’m extra excited for Defending Taylor since its main character is a soccer player. The high school I teach at has a really strong soccer program; the girls who play will want to read Taylor’s story.

Defending TaylorTitle & Author: Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: July 1st, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Summary (From Goodreads):

Taylor’s always felt pressure to be perfect. That’s what happens when you are a senator’s daughter. So when she’s kicked out of private school for covering for her boyfriend’s not-so-legal behavior, she is devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as she joins what used to be her rival soccer team at Hundred Oaks High. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. But Ezra has secrets of his own. Will Taylor repeat past mistakes, or can she score a fresh start?

Review: Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Violent EndsTitle: Violent Ends

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / More than one POV / Author(s)

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

It’s been two months since I finished reading Violent Ends and I’m still having a difficult time putting all of my thoughts together. Immediately after finishing it I began tweeting my reactions and thoughts because I had to say something about it to someone right away. So this review is going to be a mixture of those tweets and some written explanation.

One of the primary reasons aspects that makes this an awesome book is that it’s not easy to demonize Kirby. When a school shooting occurs the shooter(s) is almost instantly villainized by the media. And part of me wants to add “rightly so,” but then I think about Violent Ends and all of the stories connected to Kirby, and I find it difficult to type “rightly so.” That’s incredibly hard for me to grapple with as a teacher and parent.

Something that is so smart about Violent Ends is that even though many of the stories could prompt a reader to point to a moment as “the moment” that set Kirby off, we still can’t do that. Take this tweet for instance:

Violent Ends Tweet 3

I won’t say what happens in Elisa’s chapter, but, yeah. I was extremely fortunate to be invited to the Simon & Schuster NCTE dinner that featured Shaun and was able to ask him some questions about this book during the dinner. I asked Shaun specifically about this chapter and even he doesn’t know exactly how it ends. Elisa has purposely kept that quiet because it could sway readers in one direction or not. I bring this up, because it’s a perfect example of how society wants to find the real reason why someone decides to attack a school (or any public place). And often when a suicide is involved we’re left without answers. The authors who wrote this book together crafted it in such a way that while we know Kirby pretty well, we don’t know exactly why. The closest we get to being in Kirby’s head is in a chapter from the gun’s point of view.

There are chapters that made me feel close to Kirby and the characters who were directly involved in his life.

Violent Ends Tweet 4

This chapter, had me on edge like the tweet says, but it also showed an unexpected side of Kirby. I’m still thinking about that character and want Tom Leveen to write a book from her point of view.

There’s also this:

Violent Ends Tweet 2

Mindi Scott’s chapter left me feeling almost everything. And, again, I saw a side of Kirby that made me want to know him more. Mindi was the perfect author for this character and chapter (I’m purposely not naming the character).

Overall, Violent Ends is smart and timely, which is one of the reasons it was one of my favorite books of 2015. I’m impressed with variety of authors Shaun David Hutchinson pulled together and the amazing story they created. I never felt like I was reading something written by a group of authors, which is quite the feat.

Violent Ends Tweet 1 Violent Ends Tweet 5

Waiting on Wednesday: Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I left NCTE/ALAN with piles of books, but I didn’t get a copy of Kill the Boy Band which I’m bummed about. My friends have raved about it and said I should have it on my 2016 reading radar. I’ve come to realize that I don’t read as many humorous books as I should and this debut strikes me as something my students will want to read. I’m often drawn to serious/heavy topics, so I’m going to challenge myself to read a few more books on the lighter side in 2016. I think this debut will be a great way to meet my new reading goal!

Kill the Boy BandTitle & Author: Kill the Boy Band by Goldy  Moldavsky

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

Publisher: Pointe (Scholastic)

Summary (From Goodreads):

From debut author Goldy Moldavsky, the story of four superfan friends whose devotion to their favorite boy band has darkly comical and murderous results.

Okay, so just know from the start that it wasn’t supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near The Ruperts, our favorite boy band.

We didn’t mean to kidnap one of the guys. It kind of, sort of happened that way. But now he’s tied up in our hotel room. And the worst part of all, it’s Rupert P. All four members of The Ruperts might have the same first name, but they couldn’t be more different. And Rupert P. is the biggest flop out of the whole group.

We didn’t mean to hold hostage a member of The Ruperts, I swear. At least, I didn’t. We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that’s what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.

How did it get this far? Who knows. I mean midterms are coming up. I really do not have time to go to hell.

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyTitle: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Author: Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: June 9th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us , as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

I’ve wanted to read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes since the publisher sent me an ARC, but somehow it ended up sitting in my TBR stack for a while. Finding out that it’s a William C. Morris finalist is what pushed me to read it over Christmas break. I wish I would have read it sooner!

The first few pages grabbed my attention and never let it go. I couldn’t possibly turn away after this first sentence: “I am a blood-soaked girl.” That line is going to hook some reluctant readers. From there readers find Minnow Bly surrounded by blood in a snow bank and also discover that she no longer has hands. But it’s not her blood.

This debut is often gruesome and haunting. There are lines about the popping of burning skin and we discover how Minnow’s hands were taken from her. But these lines–and many throughout the novel–are also lyrical and written beautifully. Some scenes reminded me of Grimm’s fairy tales, which makes sense after finding out that this story was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale “The Handless Maiden.” It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read before.

Minnow’s story is told mostly through flashbacks while she’s in juvie remembering and detailing her life in the Kevinian cult. As I was reading I kept thinking how unbelievable it is that people fall into cults, but when Minnow meets Jude, an outsider, and they discuss the Bible and the Prophet, I wonder if some people think that about those who believe in God. Some of the flashbacks were so outrageous I sometimes wondered if Minnow was an unreliable narrator. It’s going to be interesting hearing what my students have to say about this after they read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

It’s interesting to me that Minnow Bly’s hands (I assume they’re Minnow’s hands) are at the forefront of the cover considering her hands have been cut off. I also noticed many references to hands, fingers, nails, etc.:

“Fingernail-sized flakes of snow”
“Bulbous knuckles”
“Rigid finger”

I’m going out on a limb and assuming that was done purposefully. I love noticing imagery like that when I’m reading.

Towards the end I was teary and distraught, but I was able to remain hopeful for Minnow. She becomes friends with her juvie inmate, Angel, whose story broke my heart. It’s her friendship with Angel that helps Minnow see the world differently even though she’s told that Angel is a bad influence. Stephanie Oakes wrote a mystery about a cult, but it’s really more than that. Ultimately it’s about a girl who learns to trust herself and find independence.

I completely agree with The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly being a Morris finalist because it’s an impressive debut. I can’t wait to read The Arsonist which is set to release from Dial/Penguin in fall 2016.

Some read-alikes: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (minus the magical realism), The Giver by Lois Lowry, and the short essay “Salvation” by Langston Hughes

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingTitle: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received at ALAN

Summary (From Goodreads):

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Everything, Everything since I started reading early reviews during the summer, so when I received two copies at ALAN I was over the moon thrilled. I brought them to school and ended up giving both copies to students which were immediately and quickly passed from student to student. Thankfully I was able to snag one of the copies and read it!

First, I thoroughly enjoyed the multigenre approach used to tell Madeleine’s story. As I was reading this I kept thinking back to my seniors’ memoir multigenre essay and wishing I would have had a copy of this then to share with them. I don’t know exactly why Nicola Yoon chose to write her book this way because it doesn’t really feel like it was necessary for the story, but it worked for me. It upped the interest level which I know has been a big factor in its popularity among my students.

Because I didn’t finish Everything, Everything before Christmas, my momentum was slowed and consequently I found myself growing impatient with the movement of the story. It didn’t help that while I was on Goodreads one day I noticed someone shelved this book a certain way that made me question what was happening in the story. It was kind of an unintentional spoiler so I was anxious to figure it out. Instead of enjoying the relationship between Madeleine and Olly blossoming I was rushing to get further in the book to figure out if my suspicion was right after seeing that shelf designation. Anyway, I think that’s why I ended up really liking this as opposed to loving it.

I will say, however, that I’m excited to read future books written by Nicola Yoon. The story and the format are original and fresh which makes me confident that I’ll enjoy more of her novels. It’s also noteworthy that Everything, Everything isn’t really about SCID like some may expect. It’s more about relationships and self-discovery, which I loved. I felt like I knew Madeleine really well and understood her motivations. I foresee this debut being a perennial favorite in my classroom.

Waiting on Wednesday–Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I adore Jessica Spotswood’s historical fiction trilogy, The Cahill Witch Chronicles, so discovering that she’s written a contemporary realistic novel has me over the moon excited! I like that the summary provides a mysterious vibe to the story and the idea of legacies and curses. I just know this is going to be a fun book to read!

Wild SwansTitle & Author: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Release Date: May 1st, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Summary (From Goodreads):

The summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden; all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives—and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?

But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past….

Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last WordTitle: Every Last Word

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: June 16th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Author / Mental Illness

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

Tamara Ireland Stone was signing copies of Every Last Word at NCTE and she spoke on a panel at the ALAN workshop. When I came home from my trip I was overwhelmed with the sudden large variety of books to choose from, so I kept up my own personal book pass through the Thanksgiving weekend. Before I returned to work I began reading the first chapter of Every Last Word, which I had signed at NCTE. I was hooked within the first few pages of the chapter. The combination of Sam’s stand-out voice and the obsessional thoughts she has in that opening scene grabbed me more than most opening chapters to books do. From that point on I could barely set the book down.

It’s important to me as a teacher that I read books about teens with mental illness because I know many of my students are suffering silently. I haven’t read many books about characters with OCD, especially Purely-Obsessional OCD. I didn’t even know it existed, but after reading Sam’s story I have to believe that more of my students will relate to her character than I could accurately guess. On the surface Sam is concerned with fitting in, wearing the right outfits, earning a swimming scholarship, and doing well in school. Beneath all of that, however, Sam fears that people will discover her OCD and think she’s crazy. Sam fears that she’s crazy. She fears the unfortunate stigmas attached to mental illness and seeking help from a therapist.

I commend Tamara Ireland Stone for writing this book because she’s written it in such a way that teens who are suffering from OCD and anxiety are going to find themselves within the pages. Teens who do not suffer from anxiety or OCD will gain an important understanding about those who do. It’s my hope that my students who read Every Last Word will be more understanding of their friends who are like Sam and won’t judge their peers who seek counseling. I’m thrilled that Sam finds Poet’s Corner because it truly shows how therapeutic it is to write, which is something I tell my students on a regular basis. I hope my students who read this will believe me now (if they didn’t before) when I talk about the benefits of writing. I’m even considering creating some kind of Poet’s Corner in my classroom for my students to share their poems and songs.

Overall, this is a compelling novel featuring a strong character, solid friendships, a sweet romance, and a great portrayal of mental illness and coping with said illness. I hope Every Last Word reaches a large audience of readers and lands in many classroom and school libraries.

 

Waiting on Wednesday–Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I saw an ARC of Love & Gelato when I was at NCTE last month and knew as soon as I saw the cover that I would want to read it. The fact that gelato is part of the title grabbed my interest right away because who doesn’t love gelato?! A road trip across Tuscany, however, sold me on the book. This sounds like the perfect book to read as winter turns to spring.

Title & Author: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Release Date: April 12th, 2016

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Love & GelatoSummary (From Goodreads):

A summer in Italy turns into a road trip across Tuscany in this sweeping debut novel filled with romance, mystery, and adventure.

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept from Lina for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and ever herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

%d bloggers like this: