BONUS BOOK: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

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“The words were wonderful and dangerous.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:Rose knows it is forbidden to love another guardian. Her best friend, Lissa – the last Dragomir princess – must always come first. Unfortunately, when it comes to gorgeous Dimitri Belikov, some rules are meant to be broken… Then a strange darkness begins to grow in Rose’s mind, and ghostly shadows warn of a terrible evil drawing nearer to the Academy’s iron gates. The immortal undead are closing in, and they want vengeance for the lives Rose has stolen. In a heart-stopping battle to rival her worst nightmares, Rose will have to choose between life, love, and the two people who matter most… but will her choice mean that only one can survive?”

Review: Unfortunately, it looks like this is the end of the line for Richelle Mead and I. I’ve read four of her novels now, but Shadow Kiss will unfortunately join The Glittering Court with a one star rating (bringing my average rating for Mead books down to 1.5 stars). While I found Vampire Academy to be a fun, escapist read, I sensed that things were starting to go downhill with FrostbiteAnd now, having finished Shadow Kiss, I can say with certainty that I am not a Richelle Mead fan. Her characters end up feeling extremely one dimensional. All of Rose’s spunk and sass that I enjoyed reading about in Vampire Academy is gone in this third installment and, from what I read, the fourth book in the series does nothing to rectify that. The Rose/Lissa relationship, which is falsely marketed as the foundation of the series, has stalled in development since the first book. There are too many moments that make me cringe or roll my eyes, and for that reason I’m officially done with the Vampire Academy series.

Rating:

One_Star

BONUS BOOK: March – Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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“Our revolt was as much against the traditional black leadership structure as it was against segregation and discrimination.”

Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir, Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, John Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole). March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.”

Review: Another graphic novel! And a graphical memoir at that. March: Book One takes the reader into the early life and childhood of Civil Rights icon, John Lewis. As someone who only knew the bare bones of John Lewis’ story before reading March: Book One, it was fascinating to learn about his early activism, and how certain choice events led to his pivotal first meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. Nate Powell’s illustrations are gorgeous (although I would really like to read a graphic novel with color illustrations for a change), and there was enough text to stay engaged with the story while also enjoying the images.

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I was very pleased to learn that March: Book One has been incorporated into many school curricula as an addition (and sometimes alternative) to more traditional literature on the Civil Rights Movement. The graphic novel format is likely a nice break for middle school and high school students, while the content still provides an illuminating look at what it was like to experience the Civil Rights Movement firsthand. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in this trilogy, and would recommend the March series to anyone interested in learning more about the historic life of John Lewis.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Stitches by David Small

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“Getting sick, that was my language.”

Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir, Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “One day, David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die. In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David – a highly anxious yet supremely talented child – all too often becomes the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage. Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden. Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen – with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist – will resonate as the ultimate survival statement. A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.”

Review: I decided to read Stitches after my labmate, Ana, recommended it. Her praise of the book largely stemmed from the excellent drawings, and I certainly can’t argue with her there. Prior to reading this book, I was unfamiliar with David Small’s work. But having now experienced his artistic talent, I’m eager to see how my two young nieces feel about his picture books (and we have 25 to choose from!).

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However, Stitches is definitely more suited to mature readers, given how intense some of the content is. It’s no small feat that David was able to survive his dysfunctional family, complete with a frigid mother, perpetually angry father, and psychotic grandmother. I had thought (or perhaps hoped) that Stitches was not a true memoir; after all, what kind of parents don’t tell their child they have cancer until years later? But what becomes clear from the very beginning of Stitches is that David’s art was his sanctuary and escape. Through art, he was able to survive an incredibly challenging upbringing.

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Altogether, I think Stitches is a really fascinating graphical memoir. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about graphic novels as a whole, which is why I rated this one three out of five stars. But for those looking to give graphic novels a chance, this is a great one to start with.

Rating:

Three_Star

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

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“I think people believe in heaven because they don’t like the idea of dying, because they want to carry on living.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Christopher John Francis Boone knows all of the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and beloved novels of the last decade.”

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the story of Christopher Boone, a highly intelligent 15-year-old with autism who sets out to determine who killed a dog (Wellington) in his neighborhood. Like many books I’ve read lately, however, the story of the murdered dog isn’t actually the main focus of the novel; in fact, Christopher gets to the bottom of the murder relatively quickly. Instead, the book largely focuses on how Christopher interacts with and interprets his world, and how his uniqueness impacts those around him, including his parents, aides, and neighbors. I thought Haddon did a remarkable job with the narrative, and would be curious to know how those more familiar with autism feel about Christopher’s experiences. While I enjoyed the novel overall, I did find that I wanted the murder mystery to play more of a central role in the story than it did. Not only did I determine who had killed Wellington long before Christopher came to the same conclusion, but I also felt that the second half of the plot began to drag once Christopher’s objective switched from solving the murder mystery to finding his mother. At any rate, I would certainly recommend this book to people looking for a unique narrator, but I also think it has received more hype than it perhaps deserves.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been challenged and banned in several schools, primarily due to complaints regarding “profane” language. Some parents have also requested the book be removed from school reading lists because they believe it promotes atheism. But Haddon doesn’t seem to be too troubled by the frequent challenges to his work. In his words:

“The assumption is that I should be morally affronted when this happens – and it has happened surprisingly often – but the truth is that it always generates a really interesting debate among school kids and librarians and parents, not just about Curious, but about literature and freedom and language, and this is an undeniably good thing. I have no way of proving it, but my suspicion is that more people read the book as a result and read it with more attention and interest than they might have done.”

Rating:

Three_Star

 

 

BONUS BOOK: Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

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“For a boy needs more than books to be a boy.”

Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call ‘Milk Sickness.’ ‘My baby boy…’ she whispers before dying. Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire. When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, ‘Henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…’ Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House. While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving the Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years. Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time – all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.”

Review: Prior to reading this novel, my only experience with Seth Grahame-Smith had been through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I loved. I was excited to see what Grahame-Smith would do with very different subject matter: namely, the life and times of our 16th President, Honest Abe, had he been not only faced with national polarization and the fight against slavery, but also with ruthless zombie attacks. While I applaud Grahame-Smith yet again for his creativity and excellent writing, I found Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be shockingly boring. I’ve never before encountered a book that was such an easy read from a writing standpoint, but also tediously dull. While I do feel like I’ve learned more about the true life of Lincoln (after all, Grahame-Smith’s book does include a ton of historically-accurate information), I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to many people. If you’re interested in historical fiction with a twist and don’t mind a drier read, then Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter might be right for you. But my guess is that most people will not make it through this novel, despite Grahame-Smith’s clear writing ability.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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“We were drunk on anticipation and good old-fashioned liquor under stars that seemed to belong to us to rearrange at will.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up ‘wed or dead,’ Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.”

Review: What a debut novel! Rebel of the Sands was so different from what I expected. The proposed fusion of Middle Eastern fantasy with Western action and adventure didn’t initially sound like my cup of tea, but from the get-go Hamilton took this rich, colorful story in so many unexpected directions. I absolutely had to give this novel a high rating because, for the first time in a long time, I was genuinely shocked by the major plot twist (don’t worry, no spoilers). I love Amani as a character; she’s fierce and independent, completely determined to be master of her own future.

“The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.”

Jin doesn’t really hold a candle to her, but the secondary cast of characters that are introduced about two-thirds of the way through the novel certainly make up for any flare he may be lacking. Hamilton’s world building skills are commendable, and her incorporation of mythology and folklore into the world of Miraji was impeccable. I couldn’t justify giving this novel a five star rating because of some character and plot complaints, but I was really impressed overall and am looking forward to the next two books in the series.

“The air smelled of oil and incense and smoke and food and the desert and being alive in the desert.”

Rating:

Four_Star

 

 

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”

Review: I somehow managed to miss out on reading The Bell Jar in middle school/high school, and thought it was high time I check this classic off my list. Overall, I think that The Bell Jar is a very well-written book, and I appreciated the unique cast of characters that Plath created. Plath’s talent as a poet is immediately apparent in the lyrical way she writes.

“I laid my face to the smooth face of the marble and howled my loss into the cold salt rain.”

There were, however, a few things that I didn’t like about The Bell Jar. I found that it was difficult to feel like I really knew and understood Esther (although perhaps that was part of Plath’s objective). In a similar vein, I never felt truly engaged in Esther’s world. My favorite books are the ones that draw me in and refuse to let go, even after the last pages are turned. Overall, I felt very neutral and detached at the end of The Bell Jar, which is why I gave this classic a three star rating.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: The Bell Jar has been banned for a number of reasons, including perceived profanity and its coverage of both suicide and sexuality. The novel also rejects “typical” ideas of a woman’s role as both mother and wife.

Rating:

Three_Star