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All Book Reviews

The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie
Joyce, William
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I don't normally review picture books, but this book was awesome! The story was compelling and beautifully written and the artwork was gorgeous. Zoe fell asleep as I was reading it to her, which is rare for her. Since it's a book about the Sandman, this is a good thing. So beautiful.

Book Review: I Am Malala
Yousafzai, Malala
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

A powerful look at a young girl's fight for education in Pakistan. Malala starts by filling us in on her country's history, from before colonization by the British through the Taliban takeover. All the while she and her father fight for girls' education. It's hard not to despair for her as she is fighting against such great odds, but her positive attitude reminds us that good can overcome evil. She wants every person in the world to be educated. Amen to that!

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half
Brosh, Allie
3 stars = Pretty Good

This book is a funny look at a woman's neuroses, with great drawings. I could relate to her constantly feeling like she wanted to trip strangers, throw sand at beachgoers, and otherwise behave inappropriately. It got three stars because while it was funny, it was a bit disjointed as well. Still, worth the quick read.

Book Review: Wonder
Palacio, R. J.
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Wonder is wonderFUL. At times your heart is breaking and at others soaring during this story of a boy's experiences in middle school. Even if you weren't born with a chromosomal abnormality that has rearranged your face, you will find yourself in the pages of this book. I am far removed from middle and high school days, but the characters found in 'Wonder' are all distinct reminders of that time, and I suspect young people reading this book will see themselves here too.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars
Green, John
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I could say so many things about this book, but what I most want to say is that you should read it. Even when you're crying and want to put it down, you're laughing through your tears a few paragraphs later. Beautiful and memorable.

Book Review: Detroit: An American Autopsy
LeDuff, Charlie
4 stars = Really Good

I've never enjoyed an obituary so much. Charlie LeDuff sure knows how to cozy up to his readers, even if the tales he's telling are less than happy, quaint musings set in Paradise. An easygoing, narrative style meant I had serious trouble putting this book down. Partially, I'm fascinated by the empty shell that is now the city of Detroit- and I'd much rather hear about it from the bottom, up than vice versa. Real stories from real people put things into a much clearer perspective, while also lending a definite desperation to the tone. Detroit has died, and after ignoring its death throes, we didn't even have the decency to give it a proper funeral.

Charlie is ready to breathe one last breath of life into a city that has been burned down by its own residents no less than three times in history. It's a city that in fact gave birth to the American worker, the American sound, and American progress. It's hard to escape the irony that it's also where all of those things have gone to die.

The Round House
Erdrich, Louise
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

When I heard about this book it had already won the National Book Award for Fiction. The description immediately intrigued me, and even after only a few pages I was engrossed. Louise Erdrich has rolled out a story so rich in emotion, character development, and place that it is almost impossible to stop thinking about the story after finishing it.

The story begins in 1988, with the attack of a woman living on a North Dakota reservation. The woman's reaction to what has happened to her, combined with the reactions of her husband Bazil and son Joe, bring the action to a deeply emotional place. Narrating the story is adult Joe, looking back at his 13 year old self with complete honesty and rawness. Expertly interwoven with details about Native American and Ojibwe culture and history, the reader feels deeply embedded in the lives of the characters as well as a profound sadness at what has come to pass on the original inhabitants of our great land.

This is not an easy book. There is lust, violence, rape, and sadness. Yet there is also strength, honor, and perseverance. And hope, most important of all.

Liesl & Po
Oliver, Lauren
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

A most magical story that weaves together the lives of several seemingly incompatible characters. In the author's note, Lauren Oliver explains that she wrote this book as a manner of dealing with the loss of her best friend, and the concept of death and loss are pervasive throughout the story.

Liesl is locked in a tiny attic bedroom by her evil stepmother. Will is the mistreated orphan assistant of an alchemist. Po and Bundle are ghosts, from the Other Side. Together they embark on a touching adventure in a darkened world and learn the true meaning of magic.

Liesl & Po is a sensitive book that pretty much demands that the maturity and sensitivity of its readers accepts that it is a tale of mystery, fantasy, and magic. If you stop to question the plausibility of certain events within this story, then you've already lost the point. Let yourself be drawn into the warm embrace of Oliver's thoughtful prose and let your heart bloom with this lovely tale of friendship.

In the Kingdom of Men
Barnes, Kim
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

My introduction to this book was through an NPR interview with the author. I really connected with the things she was saying about her life in general, though our early lives were nothing alike. Not only did I know that she would be a prolific writer, and she is- using lyrically beautiful phrases that have an almost heart-wrenching clarity, but her ability as a storyteller is almost unmatched by anything I've read lately.

'In the Kingdom of Men' is a fictional tale that, in some truth, describes the lives of Americans living in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s on the Aramco Oil Company compound, which really did exist. The compound is a 'Little America' of sorts, with everything (and more) that the wives and husbands could need while spending their lives in the desert. Virginia Mae McPhee and her husband Mason have escaped Oklahoma to a new kind of withering heat. Virginia, or Gin, is at first uncomfortable with the level of luxury she is now living in:
houseboys, gardeners, a private car to take them everywhere. Even then, it all comes at a price, and Gin soon finds herself wanting much more than the oppressive life she seems destined to lead. In the land of emirs and oil princes, women are even more invisible than they might have been in America.

There is something more to this story, and plenty of colorful characters, adventure, and action to keep the reader fascinated and fully engrossed in the education of Gin McPhee and land where sand meets sea.

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Un
Boo, Katherine
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

It has taken several days since finishing 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' for me to put together what I might like to say about it to others. Before now I've basically just resorted to, "Yeah, you should really read this book."

But, yeah, you should really read this book. Even if you're not like me, and you DON'T try to pick at least ONE book about India every time you pile up your requisite stack from the library, you should still really read this book.

Narrative non-fiction books are some of my favorites, and Katherine Boo does an incredible job of telling a true story that reads like a novel. The action takes place in the slum of Annawadi, one of the many shantytowns or slums in the city of Mumbai, India. Mumbai has one of the highest concentrations of people in the world, and nearly 3/4 of the population lives in poverty. Poverty that is abject beyond anything you would see in the United States. No electricity or running water, and diseases that have long been extinct in other developed countries.

Boo has chosen to chronicle the stories and lives of a few of the slum's inhabitants, and it actually gives the reader a closer look at how a specific group of people have inserted themselves into the global market. In a place where so few have so much, and so many have so little, even trash is a commodity that is bought, sold, and traded. Many of the people of Annawadi scrape out a meager existence on the scraps of plastic and metal that are thrown away and discarded by others. I don't think I'll ever look at trash in the same way.

In summary, an excerpt from the advance praise on the book jacket aptly describes the book like this: "There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that." ~Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Book Review: Bomb: The Race to Build- And Steal- The World's Most Dangerous Weap
Sheinkin, Steve
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Everything they probably taught you in middle school, but WAY more entertaining and fascinating! Steve Sheinkin wrote textbooks and then vowed to make it up to us with engaging narratives of history. The espionage, the intrigue, the science, and the implications of it all kept me returning to this Newbery Honor book. The many facts with which Sheinkin presents the reader are accessible as well as interesting, and the use of original photographs puts faces to names and gives perspective to the devastation caused by the weapons. Excellently cited, Sheinkin paves the way for researchers and history buffs young and old to continue their reading on this fascinating time in our nation's past.

The Shipping News
Proulx, Annie
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Poor Quoyle. The quiet, miserable hulk of a man has lost his two-timing wife in an accident- leaving him with their two daughters to raise. Joining resources with an estranged aunt, he decides to make a new life in their ancestral homeland of Newfoundland. There, Quoyle and his timid girls find a home amongst the briny townspeople and rediscover what it is to love and be loved.

Slow, deliberate pace gives way to lush descriptions of landscape and characters. Nothing much really 'happens,' per se, but the daily lives and emotions of the characters keep the pages turning. I've heard this was made into a movie, but I can't imagine it could soar to the heights that the book does. Proulx is a master of prose and shapes a town, a landscape, and most importantly- a man- into shards we all find within ourselves.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
Seal, Mark
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Could. not. put. this. down! I literally read it in about 27 hours. I was amazed by the story itself and also by the fact that I don't remember anything about it when it happened (2008). You, too, will be transfixed by the web of lies and false persona this man has been able to weave. It's truly fascinating that he was able to get away with it for so long. If you get as interested as me, there are Youtube videos that show some of the interviews with him after all was said and done.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
DiCamillo, Kate
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Oh, Kate DiCamillo, you have done it again! Flora is a little girl, a cynic in fact, but the day that her neighbor Tootie vacuums up a squirrel and he comes out with magical powers her cynicism is shaken to its core. Ulysses, as Flora names him, is a sensitive superhero of a squirrel who has a penchant for poetry and is always hungry. In fact, Ulysses is responsible for all kinds of wonderful things, including bringing Flora closer with her mother and father, and giving her a healthy dose of optimism.

Lovely, short comic strips flesh out the major action in the story. All in all, a heartwarming tale that will engage listeners and readers alike.
Younger children will enjoy listening to this story, say first to second grade. 4-6 graders will be able to read this on their own.

Book Review: The Road
McCarthy, Cormac
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Scary and haunting. There were times when I actually had to put this book down because I was so terrified by what had just happened or what I thought was going to. Cormac McCarthy can take a sparse, post-apocalyptic nothingness and turn it into a setting rich with emotion and detail. I find myself still thinking about this story; wondering, hoping...unable to let go of the images it leaves behind.

Snow White Must Die
Neuhaus, Nele
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Snow White Must Die is an excellent police procedural/mystery. It is by German author, Nele Neuhaus, but the translation is flawless. It doesn't read like a stiffly translated book. If this hadn't been the Manitou Library's book club selection, I probably wouldn't have read it since I don't care for translated books. Snow White Must Die is outstanding and I am looking forward to reading Neuhaus' other books. I don't want to give away the plot, so read it for yourself. It is in hardback and on Overdrive.

Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Beautiful little story, full of fantastic imagery and good feelings.

It revolves around the journey of a young man in search of a fallen star for his love. He travels through the magical land of Faerie and encounters many wonderful, strange and malicious beings. A great book with a happy ending.

The Lover's Dictionary
Levithan, David
4 stars = Really Good

This book is set up as a series of dictionary entries that portray one couple's roller coaster of a love story. As such it follows no specific timeline and lets the reader try to piece it together one entry at a time.

There is at least one word for each letter and the corresponding "definitions" range from a few words to multiple pages making this book a quick read at only a little over 200 pages.

Book Review: Winger
Smith, Andrew
3 stars = Pretty Good

It was o.k. I felt like there was just not much of a plot until the very end, and then it just... ended. If the end (those of you who have read it know the "end" I'm talking about) would have been more toward the middle of the story, I think the book would have been more interesting.

Otherwise, it was a book about a teenager who is overly cocky to hide his insecurity. Nothing really new. Funny in parts, and not unreadable, just o.k.

The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier
Davidson, Jim
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Absolutely amazing! This is not at all the type of book I usually read, but the author is going to be coming to speak at our library so I wanted to learn more about him. I could NOT put it down (even thought it was about 12:30 a.m.)! Will be highly recommending this book.

Book Review: Mud Season
Stimson, Ellen
1 star = Yuck!

I was really looking forward to this book, and it started off very well - there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. But toward the middle, the author seemed to start rambling. The stories jumped around and it was more of the author flitting around her memory for cute stories rather than one cohesive tale. It got to the point that I had to put the book down. Her habit of ending a paragraph with a telling "clue" of the next story became annoying as well.

Book Review: Life After Life
Atkinson, Kate
4 stars = Really Good

Wavering between three and four stars. While I appreciated the intricacy of Ursula's many lives (I kind of saw it as a Sliding Doors type of book), there were points when I was madly flipping back and forth trying to remember what happened the LAST time she died and who the myriad of characters were, which was frustrating and took me out of the story. I do think the writing was amazing, and read this much faster than I anticipated.
I agree with other reviews I have read in that I'm not sure how it should have ended, but the one it had was not as strong as the rest of the book. I may change the rating once I have the chance to digest this book a bit more!

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Shaffer, Mary Ann
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

This was a wonderful book written by the characters in the form of letters to each other. The story line was engaging. Historical fiction that takes place shortly after the Nazi occupation of an island between England and France. It felt as if you had spent time with new friends at the end of the book. Charming!

Book Review: The Book Thief
Zusak, Markus
2 stars = Meh

This book was too long and the author tried too hard to make it deep and poetic. But I read the whole thing, so it wasn't bad. I liked hearing about Hitler's reign from a German non-Jew perspective. Death as a narrator was okay, I guess. I don't know, it just didn't really work for me. Also, although it's technically a teen book, I think it's more suited for adults.

Book Review: Keeping Hope Alive
Hawa Abdi
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I undertook Dr. Abdi's book with some trepidation. The glossy photos of her mugging with such celebrities as Katie Couric and one of my least favorite presidents made me doubt whether or not I could handle the political angle of the work. However, the book's straight forward style and charming asides soon won me over. It's a tale of a horrific slide into anarchy of once-promising country and the struggles of people who refuse to let go of their dream of what things could be, rather than the harsh realities they suddenly find crowding in on all sides. While shocks and tragedies to permeate the book, Dr. Abdi's consistency of spirit and her practical approach to medicine and everyday life leave the reader with a sense of what can be accomplished, not by believing in what everyone else is saying, but rather by believing that people have it in them to be great, no matter what evidence you are currently observing in their behavior.