Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

 Tanya Lee Stone's new book is the true story of America's first black paratroopers and an important step in the process of integrating our armed forces.

During WWII African American soldiers where not allowed to have the same positions as white soldiers.  They were mostly relegated to service positions which was frustrating because they wanted to do their part in the war just like anyone else.

Sgt. Walter Morris soon noticed that his African American soldiers where suffering under the strain of boring work as guards at Fort Benning, so he can up with a plan.  He would wait until all the white trainees had left for the day, and then have his soldiers go through the same training.  Even though they had no hope this practice would lead to promotion, this active training definitely improved morale.

It wasn't long until someone noticed, and Sgt. Morris's soldiers soon became the first official black paratrooper trainees.  The training was difficult, and even after they had proved themselves time and again, these soldiers where faced with hate and racism in the army and out of it.

This is a great book about a time when our nation was struggling to find its way.  We were fighting hatred and discrimination in Europe, but many people were blind to the racism in our own backyard.  You'll enjoy this book filled with photographs and personal stories from some of the original Nickles.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Thing About Luck

Cynthia Kadohata's new book just won the National Book Award, and it is well deserved.  This book made me feel like a 12 year old again.

Summer's family is having a year of bad luck.  She has just recovered from a deadly bout of malaria, her autistic brother's only friend moved away, and now her parents have been called back to Japan to care for ailing relatives right at harvest time.

Summer's parents and grandparents work as harvesters driving the combines that harvest wheat.  With her parents in Japan, her grandparents will have to earn enough money working alone to pay the mortgage.

Summer is a hard worker, too, helping her grandmother prepare the meals for the combine drivers.  As Obaachan's back pain increases, Summer takes on more of the cooking responsibility.  But Obaachan is still hard on her.  She criticizes everything Summer does including the crush she has on the boss's son, Robbie.

Jiichan, Summer's grandfather is a hard worker and a story teller.  He is also Summer's favorite person.  Most of the family's earning capacity falls on him, and there is no one to take up the slack if anything happens.

I love this wonderful book that seems to come straight out of the mind of a 12 year old girl about hard work, growing up, and figuring out who you really are.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Best of 2013!

I'm a little late in getting this together this time around, so I hope you'll forgive me.  Also, I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I am basing this on the books I read in 2013.  Some of them may have been published earlier.  Unfortunately, I can't read everything I want when I want because I'm not a robot (I'm kind of glad about that actually).  This comes into play especially in the sequels section of this overview.  I usually have to save those for the summer.  Bonus, that means series books get to be on my radar a little longer.  :)

I'm also going to include some fun book/library related graphics in here to add visual interest and just because I want to.

With no further ado, I present 2013 in review!  Let's start with the breakdown.  I read a whopping 135 books in 2013!  Yes, you should all bow down to me and my reading prowess.  

Realistic Fiction--26
Science Fiction--15
Historical Fiction--26
Sports-1 (I guess I better get busy on that front.)

Now, if you're doing the math.  (God bless you if you are; someone should.)  You will probably see that my numbers don't add up.  That's because there is some cross over.  For shelving books, I have to be clean in designating books to a particular genre, but we all know most books fall into at least two genres.  

Most of the books I read last year were middle school, but all of them weren't.  This best of 2013 will be concerned with middle school books that are available in the Campbell Library.  If you want to know the best of the rest, click on that Goodreads widget to your right.  Heck, join and send me a friend request while you're at it.  The more book recommendations, the better!

Onto the judging!  Let's see how I rated those 135 books:

Five Stars--23 books
Four Stars--60 books
Three Stars--45 books
Two Stars--4 stars
One Star--0 books
No Stars--2 books (I didn't rate these because I didn't finish them.  I don't think it's fair to rate a book you haven't actually read.  If you want to know why I didn't finish them, go to Goodreads.  Neither was a middle school book.)

I agree with my friend and hero, Mr. Gaiman.  That's why I'm going to pick more than five!  :) If you click on the book cover, it will link you to my original review of the book

Fiction (In no particular order)

This is not just one of my favorites for this year, but it is one of my all time favorites!  Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery for her first book, Moon Over Manifest, and I have to admit it was good but not my favorite.  (Gary Schmidt was robbed!) So Navigating Early was one of those books I knew I should read, but I wasn't very excited about it.  This is one of those times when I am happy to admit I was wrong.  This book is an amazing mix of myth, longing, and old fashioned quest novel.  It surpasses genre to become one of those amazing books that can surprise, delight, and reveal.  You must all read it, or suffer in the knowledge that you missing out on a beautiful experience.

I picked this book solely based on the cover art.  It was an impulse based on that cool graphic which you can't really see in this small image.  I am so glad I did.  This is a beautiful story about growing up and facing the truth, and it's a western!  And a mystery!  It really reminded me of the True Grit remake that came out a couple of years ago.  

Do you really still need me to tell you about this one?  Come on, if you haven't read it yet, do it now!  This book is amazing, and it will probably win the Newbery for 2014.

Oh my awesomeness!  I love this book.  It's no surprise really since it is that perfect blend of fantasy and horror I love plus the ghost of Jacob Grimm is a main character.  It is just wonder and complex perfect.

I love good fantasy.  Unfortunately, a lot of fantasy is mediocre at best, so this book was a gift for my little fantasy loving nerdy heart.  It's one of the best fantasy novels I've read in years with original ideas, a complex plot, and well-written characters.  Hallelujah!  

No one is more surprised than I am to see this book on my best of 2013 list.  I read it thinking it would be an OK read and fairly popular with kids.  I ended up loving this alternate version of reality where ghosts have invaded England and can do real harm.  There is enough plot and character development here to really sink your teeth into, and it has a decidedly Dickensian feel.  Don't worry there are plenty of thrills and chills, too!

Zany characters with clever names and mysterious pasts?  Count me in!  I loved this mystery set in the south that is really about figuring out who you are and where you belong.  

This sci-fi version of Jane Austen's Persuasion is a true romantic treat!  It's rare to find a good romance that is more about the spirit than the body even in young adult literature, and this book is a great success.  My heart was caught up in the "will they/won't they" painful struggle of true love.  Plus, that cover is gorgeous!  It has nothing to do with the book, but isn't it lovely.  

Here's another cheer for beautiful cover art.  This is just striking; I love it!  Think of this one as kind of a Harry Potter in steampunk Victorian London as an overly exuberant girl.  Then just read the book because it's some of the best literary fun I had all year!

This historical novel is based on the true story of Jack Gruener, Holocaust survivor who withstood the horrors and hardships of ten different concentration and death camps.  It is a chilling reminder of the evils in our past and of the power of hope.

OK friends, that's ten.  I'm sure you are all saying, "But what about...."  Feel free to leave it in the comments.  I probably loved it, too!

Sequels that Didn't Murder My Love for the Series

So, as I mentioned earlier, I usually have to save sequels for the summer.  This means I may not have yet read the new sequel in your favorite years.  Sorry, maybe it'll make the list next year!

This was my Christmas gift to myself.  Neal Shusterman, you are a crazy genius!  If you haven't started the Unwind series yet, what are you waiting for?  It will blow your mind!

The Lunar Chronicles continues with the story of Scarlet.  This one is just as good as the first, but a whole lot bloodier.  Not only do we get to meet Meyer's version of Little Red Riding Hood and her Big Bad Wolf, but we learn more about Cinder's shrouded past.  I can't wait for book three!

If you are a Hunger Games fan, and you haven't read this series, what is wrong with you?  You will love it!  Prodigy is just as good as Legend, filled with action and good character development.  Read it!

I just love these books.  Reading them is like eating good chocolate!  They are the perfect blend of action, adventure, and romance.  LOVE!

Nonfiction:  Hurrah for Learning Things!

Not only is this book full of fabulous information, but it is also highly entertaining!  A good book about space always brings out my inner Star Trek nerd and my long held dream to travel the stars.  Read it!

I never cease to be amazed at what a great writer can do with great source material.  I expected this book to be good.  It was amazing and highly readable.

I highly recommend this fascinating look into the weird and wonderful life of Steve Jobs.  It's a great and true story about a man overcoming plenty of challenges, some of his own making, to find success and achieve his dreams.

This book looks at the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of some of the children who participated.  This is a great introduction to the Birmingham Children's March and the events that led up to it.  

Ms. Grandin is a great example to all of us.  She looked at her life and her personal challenges and found a way to turn them into strengths and live a happy and fulfilling life.

Well friends, that's the end of my year in review.  I hope you had a great year between the pages and outside them!  Happy reading!

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole

Black holes have always been one of those mysterious, too weird to be true, but really it is true kind of things.  As a fan of science fiction, black holes show up in storytelling fairly regularly, so I was excited to read this book and get to the truth of this mysterious phenomena.

This book is funny, informative, and highly readable.  Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano explains the science of black holes, how they are formed and how they work (as far as we know).  She also provides excellent source notes and links to websites with some amazing images!  I am going to put them here because you should go to some of them and be amazed!

Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Hubblesite:  Black Holes

NASA's Imagine the Universe!

StarDate's Black Hole Encyclopedia

Starship Asterisk*

The Reluctant Assassin

Fans of Artemis Fowl rejoice!  Eoin Colfer is back with a new series opener that will knock your socks off!

Riley is an orphan living in Victorian London.  He has been apprenticed to Albert Garrick, assassin and magician, since he was a small child.  Riley has been putting off the moment of his first kill for a long time, but the moment has come.  He doesn't want to be killer, but he also knows Garrick will kill him if he doesn't follow through.

Chevron Sevano is a disgraced teenage member of a defunct FBI recruiting program.  The bureau managed to get rid of everyone else, but Chevie is determined to stick with it until she is old enough to become a full fledged agent.  As punishment, she's been sent to London as an assistant in the W.A.R.P. (Witness Anonymous Relocation Program) where she is guarding a pod.  She doesn't know what her purpose is only that she is bored out of her mind with way too much time to work out.

All of that changes when the mysterious pod comes to life sending a dead man and his supposed killer into the 21st century.  Riley and Chevie become reluctant partners as they are quickly pursued by the nefarious Albert Garrick who has finally discovered something that will allow him to rule the world with his new intelligence and skills.

In this fast paced thriller, our heroes will fight for their lives across the London of the present and the past.  They must find a way to stop Garrick before the ruthless killer destroys everything!  But is there something more going on than a simple game of cat and mouse across time?  Read the book to find out!


In book three of the Unwind dystology, Connor and Lev are on the run after the destruction of the Graveyard, but for the first time since that fateful day in Akron, Ohio, they are not just running away from unwinding but running toward answers they hope will make in a difference in the battle against unwinding.  Even though he has taken on the role of revolutionary, he still sometimes longs for the days when he and Risa could be together every day.

Cam, the rewind, has turned against Proactive Citizenry.  He's just biding his time until he can escape and take down the people who made him.  If he can do this, he hopes Risa will take him seriously.

Risa is now hiding from everyone.  The Juvenile Authority and parts pirates have always been a threat, but everyone is against her since her forced public support of unwinding.  No one knows the truth, that she was blackmailed into that support to save the Whollies at the graveyard.  Even while she struggles for survival, she longs to see Connor again, but she fears he died in the graveyard.

Starkey is still at large with his gang of Storks that grows larger every day, and if there's one kid who shouldn't have worship and adoration, it's him.  The more power he gets, the more he craves, and his violent tendencies grow out of control.

As always, Neal Shusterman peppers this exhilarating and disturbing tale with real life news reports that only add to the reader's unease.  This is a fast paced thriller of a tale that takes the story even deeper.  With each revelation, the plot and the conspiracy thickens.  I can't wait for book four!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Counting By 7s

Willow Chance is a twelve year old genius who doesn't fit in anywhere but home.  She was adopted as a baby, and she and parents seem to have the perfect family.  Despite her eager anticipation for her new school, things don't go well.  The kids don't like her, and even her teachers are put off by her intense intelligence and inability to understand social situations.

But things are about to get a lot harder for Willow when she returns from school one day to find police officers waiting to tell her that her parents died in a car accident.  Willow has never been more alone in her life.

She will have to create a new life for herself with the help of people she barely knows.  Her ineffectual school counselor, her new friend Mai, and Mai's Vietnamese family, even a cab driver.

Willow is numb from her tragedy, but this odd and broken little girl will inspire and connect everyone around her and maybe even create a new family for herself along the way.

I loved Holly Goldberg Sloan's book and its wonderful message of finding hope in the face of tragedy!

Ship Out of Luck

Antsy Bonano is back in a new book that takes him into international waters.  Old man Crawley wants to celebrate his 80th birthday in style and not alone, so he has invited (commanded) Antsy's family to join him in the best suite on a new and fabulous cruise ship.

Things will never go as planned for our hapless hero starting with a case of missing luggage, but that's the least of his worries.  Antsy quickly gets involved with beautiful stowaway, Tilde, and her plans to help some Mexican immigrants in a not so legal way.

Join the Antsy and company on another funny and thoughtful adventure from one of my favorite authors, Neal Shusterman!