Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle book cover and review
I loved The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily in so many ways. 

The story is told by Lily, who has ADHD.  She struggles to stay in school, to follow directions, to keep track of papers and things, to keep track of time. She has difficulty following some conversations if things go too fast.  She is dyslexic, so sometimes she can't read fast. She often breaks things. She wants to visit her father in Portland, Oregon, during the summer.  Her mom has told her she must pass all her classes and not skip school in order to do so, but her medication makes her feel different and when she quits taking it, things happen.

She gets in trouble at school for breaking something, and it turns out Abelard was in on it, so they both get detention.  Abelard is high-functioning autistic.  He is very smart but lacks social skills.  He doesn't like to be touched. He loves routine and can't stand it if people aren't punctual.

These two unlikely teens fall in love.  The relationship is rocky, and because of their neurodifferences, unusual situations cause more problems than the usual teen relationship.

I loved that I learned so much about what it might be like to be ADHD.  The author has this condition, so I'm assuming this is pretty accurate, at least for some kids. I loved that the ending is hopeful but very open.  Not a perfect "happily ever after." The pacing is excellent. I couldn't stay away from this book.  It's not that it is action-packed, but it's that enough happens.  But mostly it is Lily and Abelard--and their families, who really wanted what is best for these kids.  No crazy parents in this one.  Both of these teens are really intelligent and well read. The title of the book comes from The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise, which they have both read and quote a lot in this book.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily gave me such warm fuzzies.  I've already recommended this to several people.  One of my favorite books of the year (And a contemporary! Who would have thought!)

Published by HMH BFYR, December 26, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
352 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic and exciting tale.

I've seen the musical a couple of times live, as well as the movie, so I have always wanted to read the book. For a classic, it's pretty easy to read and follow.  I'm going to assume you are at least familiar with the basic premise of the story.  (If not, click on the link for a summary.) The beginning goes much like the story in the musical, but after Christine is taken by the Phantom (although he is never called that in the book), it is much more exciting!

There is an additional character, the Persian, not in the musical, who along with Raoul are tortured and barely escape with their lives! We also learn about the Phantom's past, which helps explain why he is so evil. The reader is asked to have sympathy for him, but it is difficult, given what he put everyone through.

I'm glad I read the story, but I wouldn't read it again.  If you are a true fan, it's a must-read. If you enjoy macabre classics, this is a good one.

Published by Pierre Laie (originally), in 1910 (in English in 1911.)
eBook obtained from Serial Reader
270 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Midnight at the Electric, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric, by Jodi Lynn Anderson book cover and review
Midnight at the Electric is a uniquely written story, narrated by three women in three different time periods.

Adri exists in the near future.  She has been chosen to go to the colony on Mars. (Don't worry, this book isn't science fiction.) As part of her final training, she will go to The Center in Kansas where the rocket will be launched.  She finds out she has a cousin, Lily, who is 107 years old and lives close to the Center.  Adri will stay with Lily while in her final preparations.

While Adri is staying with Lily (who is in the early stages of dementia), she finds letters from someone called Catherine, who is writing in 1934.  They are in the middle of the Dust Bowl, and Catherine, her mother, and her little sister are barely surviving. Ellis is their farm hand, who they hired after Catherine's father died.  Catherine is secretly in love with Ellis.

Catherine finds letters that were sent to her mother, Beth, by someone named Lenore.  When Cathy asks her mother about Lenore, all she gets is silence. It seems Lenore was Cathy's best friend when Cathy's parents decided to leave England to avoid the war.

Lenore is writing in 1919 and has lost her brother, Teddy, in the war.  Her entire family is in mourning.  She longs to go to America to be with Cathy and is saving her money to do so.  Lenore finds an old shack in their woods and begins to clean it up.  It is a place she can go for peace and quiet.  And she can pretend that Cathy is there.  Soon she realizes that someone else has been using the cabin.  And she meets James, who is a severely deformed veteran of the war who has left civilization and is surviving in the wild.

There are secrets, friendship, hardship, and a lot of soul-searching in Midnight at the Electric.  It is interesting how the stories finally fit together, and we find out, along with Adri, how these people are connected to Lily's house.  Oh, and there's a Galapagos turtle, who is probably older than Lily, that plays an important part in the story.

Midnight at the Electric is a mellow story that I got wrapped up in quickly.  The changes in time and perspective are easy, and with all the jumping around, the story flows well. I'm not sure which teens to push this one to -- I've already recommended it to some of my adult friends.  I think it will need to be pushed, but it's a wonderful story.

Published by HarperTeen, June 13, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
257 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Book Review: The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson

The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson book cover and review
The Christmas Room is a cute, heartwarming romance but wasn't the Christmas story I expected.

Cam has moved his family (his mother, Maddie, and son) to Montana where he bought some land and intends to build a house.  But, in the meantime, they are camping out - living in a trailer and other makeshift dwellings. When he strikes up a conversation with Kirstin while having a drink, he has no idea she's the daughter of his crazy neighbor, Sam Conacher.

Sam has a reputation for running off and ruining any suitor that even thinks about dating his daughter.  Cam and Kirstin can't ignore the attraction they feel, so they begin seeing each other in secret.

Since Sam's wife died six years ago, he's been a totally different person.  Almost all of his ranch hands have quit.  He's lost contact with all his friends.  When he discovers his daughter has been seeing Cam, he explodes and ends up confronting Maddie, who is a tough older lady and doesn't take any crap from Sam.

We end up with a double romance in The Christmas Room--the older and younger generations trying to make their way into a relationship.  Maddie has been recently widowed, so surviving and grieving after losing a spouse is a strong theme.

I enjoyed watching it all play out.  The characters are interesting, all having their faults.  Nothing is easy, but love prevails. My only complaint is that I didn't really consider this a Christmas story.  Christmas isn't even mentioned until well into the second half of the book.  I kept looking at the cover and thinking, "This looks like a Christmas book, right?" The book ends at Christmas, and there are some Christmas surprises, but I didn't get enough Christmas to satisfy my need.

I enjoyed The Christmas Room, but I'll be looking for another Christmas novel that I hopefully can get to before the holiday.  This is the first book I've read by Anderson, and I won't hesitate to pick up her others when I'm in the mood for a romance.

Published by Berkley, September 26, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Review: March, Book One, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

March, Book One by John Lewis book cover and review
March: Book One is the story of the life of U.S. Congressman John Lewis.  It is the first of a three-part graphic novel series about his life.

John Lewis was (and is) a staunch supporter and fighter for civil rights.  March: Book One is the beginning of his life when he discovered Martin Luther King and several other civil rights leaders. John Lewis got arrested for the first of many times in this book.

His philosophy is all about passive, nonviolent resistance. At the end of the book, he makes a point of discussing that this fight is not only against the white leadership but also the black leadership because so far, they have been content with "partial segregation."  John Lewis was one of the first of the new generation that would only be content with true equality.

I enjoyed this book and learned some things about the history of the civil rights movement.  I did find the print to be extremely tiny, but my eyes are old and this may not be a problem for everyone. The book goes back and forth from the past to the present very abruptly because it is told as if John Lewis is telling his life story to a couple of children in 2009. In some spots, there is a (very tiny) date indicated so you know you've jumped, but not every time, so I kept having to backtrack.

The artwork is black and white and goes well with the text.  I'm not a fan of graphic novels. I read the bubbles in the wrong order -- it's not a natural thing for me.  I read too fast and don't always take the time to look at the art, but March: Book One is worth the time.

March: Book One is nominated for the Lincoln Award, Illinois Teen Readers' Choice Award for 2018. Students interested in the history of civil rights should not miss this one.

Published by Top Shelf Productions, 2013
Copy obtained from the library
121 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell book cover and review
The Last Magician creates a unique, magical world full of wonder and a lot of danger.

Esta can travel through time with the help of a stone in a bracelet she wears.  Professor Lachlan has been like a father to her and has taught her everything she needs to know to survive in other time periods and return safely. She is a master thief, and her ability to slow time helps her immensely.

New York City is different than the one we are familiar with.  There is a barricade, called "The Brink" that keeps everyone with magical powers from crossing the river and leaving Manhattan.  If they do, their magic is stripped, sometimes causing their death. "The Order" is a group of men who are bound and determined to uphold The Brink and rid the city of anyone with magic. Esta has been training for one, all important mission--to return to 1902 and steal a book that will allow the destruction of The Brink.

The setup is complex, and I missed a few things, I think.  It took me a while to "get it" and I probably should have gone back and re-read the beginning again.  But this is a looooong book, so I just went with it. Once Esta went back to 1902 it was very exciting, although I thought at times the book dragged.  The action was interrupted by constant reiterating of points we already knew.  How awful The Brink is, how devious certain characters are, how determined Esta is to betray everyone in 1902. Somewhere some of that could have been cut.

The ending is excited and unexpected.  The reader really has no idea what is going to happen, which is wonderful.  This episode does have some closure, but then we are thrown right back into the conflict and danger, only to be left hanging -- waiting for the next installment.

I hesitate to read books with a lot of magic because sometimes things just become too easy if every problem is solved by its use.  However, The Last Magician has enough interesting rules about magic and the way it is used never feels like an easy out.

My teen book club chose this one for December, and I'm looking forward to hearing their thoughts.  I would recommend The Last Magician to any readers who enjoy fantasy and alternate worlds.

Published by Simon Pulse, July 18, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
500 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Odd & True, by Cat Winters @catwinters

Odd & True by Cat Winters book cover and review
I'm feeling very repetitive, but as I say in all my reviews of Winter's books, I love the way she weaves together a historical setting, intriguing characters, and a smidgen of magic into a remarkable tale.

Odd & True is the story of two sisters in the early 1900s.  They live with their aunt, and Od, the oldest, tells her younger sister, Tru, stories of their mother's supernatural power to ward off demons and ghosts of all kinds. They have a magical box, a special necklace, and a mirror in their window to keep the bad things away.

Tru is crippled from polio and spends most of her time in a wheelchair. We get flashbacks from Od's point-of-view about their childhood.  When Od is 15, she is sent away by Aunt Vik and is never to return.  Tru has no idea why but receives letters from her sister indicating that she has a job reading Tarot cards in the circus.

When Tru is about to turn 15, Od returns and convinces Tru that they need to go on an adventure and hunt monsters around the country.  Tru convinces Od that they need to go find their mother. So their journey begins. They find many other things along the way.

That is such a bland description for a beautiful book. Od and Tru are such vivid, complete characters whose motivations may be unclear, but their hearts are true.  Od is keeping secrets about what really happened when she was away, but all will be revealed. I did find it took a while for Odd & True to really grab me, but it certainly did.

And about that magical power to ward off demons?  Has the power passed to the sisters? Well, I'll let you find out.

I've read four other books by Cat Winters and have given three of them a rating of 5/5.  The other got a 4/5.  Suffice it to say, she's one of my favorite authors. Her books defy categorization.  All of her books contain author's notes at the end that suggest further reading on the historical aspects of the story.  Odd & True actually contains a full bibliography.

If you haven't read Cat Winters, give Od & Tru (or any other of her books) a try.  It's an immersive experience.

Published by Amulet, September 12, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
358 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir @andyweirauthor ‏

Artemis by Andy Weir book cover and review
The Martian is one of my favorite books, so Artemis had some big shoes (or book covers) to fill.  It did not disappoint.

Jazz lives on the moon.  She's on her own after she and her father split. She is making it, but barely.  She smuggles contraband into Artemis, the city on the moon.  When the opportunity arises for her to make real money -- like being set for life -- she goes for it, even though it's an impossible task.  Things don't go well and Jazz gets in deeper and deeper, but if there is one thing she is, it's tenacious.

Jazz is also very intelligent - one might even say she's a genius.  The obstacles she must overcome are huge, and some of her schemes are inconceivable.  But the stakes are high, so after convincing a few others to help her she goes for it. And misses.

Artemis is not marketed as a young adult book, but the main character is a teenager, so I think teens will enjoy this. Weir once again doesn't shy away from some scientific explanations for what is happening. You can enjoy the science, but if not there is still plenty of story around it to "skip" it.  One thing I missed, as compared to The Martian, is the humor.  Jazz is a pretty serious character, not given to seeing the humor in her situation as was Watney.

The story definitely kept my interest, and it moves at a fast pace. Artemis has a complete ending, but I wouldn't be surprised if we join Jazz again on some more adventures. I, for one, would enjoy that.

Published by Crown, November 14, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
387 pages

Rating: 4/5

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