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WildlifeWildlife by Fiona Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was honestly surprised at how delightful this book is. When I started the pre-release I thought, “oh another upper class, private school, white girl, coming of age.”

While all of those things may exist in this book, it contains a fresh edge. The students are taken out of their natural elements and into the woods and we don’t get a good feeling for how privileged they are. They all seem like teens, with their own personalities and quirks. Sib especially, because even though she’s met fame, it hasn’t changed her into a different person. She cares about the world and her friends, even if she does overlook some obvious faults for far too long. She is a real person.

Lou’s grief hits you head on. As a biker myself, I can feel the loss of her boyfriend who died in a biking accident. She’s simply putting one foot in front of the other most of the time, but her personality wins through when she sees the atrocious way that Sib’s friend Holly treats others. We get to know her better as her grief gives way to living, and her dry humor and smart replies are priceless.

I was a little confused at first that a school would send students away for 3 months to live in the woods and experience some pretty intense backpacking trips, but then I realized it’s set in Australia. I could see that…

A joy to read.

Update: And now that I’ve found this article, I really want to read Six Impossible Things. Hurry up and come out in the US!!!

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Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of VietnamCatfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gritty bike journey through the US West coast, Japan and finally, Vietnam. An (Andrew) bikes through all these places in search of himself, even though he is often more lost on his introspective journey than when he began. Interspersed with the tale of his travels are flashes to the past when he was a child in Vietnam before, during, and after the war, and as an immigrant in the US, ending up in Los Angeles.

An has a lot of self hate, and he seems to be searching for a way to like himself: if he can only find a reason to like the Vietnamese, he might learn to like himself. I’m not certain that ever happens, but he has a grand adventure trying.

All in all, very entertaining. I always wanted to know what would happen next and I found his ability to keep going despite his setbacks inspiring. I would have liked a bit more of an ending, but this is a memoir, so I’ll have to live with reality.

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Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey Across AmericaGoing Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey Across America by Brian Benson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brian and Rachel set off on bikes across the country, testing their strength and relationship during the thrilling and grueling days in the saddle. Written from Brian’s point of view, he spends a lot of time being apologetic for his white maleness and inspecting his interactions with Rachel. I loved the descriptions of the ride and both the good and bad feelings (physical and emotional) that went with it. However, Brian’s voice got a little whiny at times and I often wished that Rachel was the voice of the story.

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Afterworlds

 

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved loved loved this. Here is a list of what I loved:

 

The two plot lines: one fantasy, one realistic fiction
The insight into the YA writer’s life, the writing process, and publishing industry
The impressionable young author moving to the big city and taking a chance
The lesbian relationship without the book being about lesbian relationships
The dark plot of the fantasy story, the death lord and new psychopomp, the bad man and the patchcoat man, the ghosts
The complexity of the characters
The bits of the other characters/writer’s books that were included

I could go on and on. I did not want it to end.

This book is fairly experimental and it worked for me. I think a lot of adults and teens will like it.

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Let’s Get LostLet’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leila is taking a road trip to see the northern lights. We get hints at why she is doing this throughout the story, but author Adi Alsaid does an amazing job of keeping the truth from us until the last portion of the book.

Along the way, Leila meets 4 other teens in various states of confusion and crisis. She imparts wisdom as often only a brave outsider can do and helps these four follow a better path. She is like a mythic fairy godmother, but helping these people also helps Leila; first it distracts her from her own problems, then helps bring them into perspective.

I found the ending a little too convenient, but for the sake of spoilers I won’t go there. Great book, great character building. If you like John Green, you will like Adi Alsaid.

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We Are the GoldensWe Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are many good things about this book. The writing, the friendships, the depiction of high school for a normal student, relationships in a divorced family, some racial diversity without calling it out.

Nell and Layla have always been close. For younger sister Nell, the relationship has bordered on obsession. Layla is growing up and becoming detached from her younger sister and while Nell is trying to let her go, she’s worried. Soon we find out there’s a good reason to worry.

Nell is also growing up and starting to do things on her own, with her own personality and activities. She’s trying to be supportive of her sister, but something is just not right. When Layla finally confides in her, she keeps the secret but knows she shouldn’t and it puts a lot of stress on her.

Nell makes a decision and does something about it rather than allowing a bad situation to go on until its natural conclusion. I like this because it shows teens that doing something hard will not end their world.

A couple of things that distracted me: dead brothers as advisers, student teacher romance seemed a little cliche, the “we’re so connected I thought we shared a name” thing, that their parents were always giving them money. Nothing I couldn’t get over though. Fans of realistic fiction will love this book.

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The Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was on a list of books that include people of color as the main character. Violet Diamond is in the situation where her mother and all of the family around her is white, she lives in a predominantly white town and she is half black. Her father died before she could know him.

Violet hates the looks from people when she’s out shopping with her mother and sister. Everyone always has that question on their face, where does she fit in? These are questions that children do see, whatever their difference from others. Eventually they start to see it whether or not it’s there.

Violet does get to work through this feeling. She meets her grandmother and the rest of her father’s family. At first she doesn’t quite fit in there either, being half white, but as time goes on she is able to see herself as a whole person and her family sees her that way as well.

The writing drew me in, the characters were well done and the message was interwoven with the story in such a way that you don’t feel preached to. It is nice to see it set in a middle class household (possibly upper middle, as mom and dad were doctors and grandma is a successful artist) rather than a poor one as seems to usually happen.

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The Crane WifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on the Japanese myth (the same one The Decemberists wrote about) Patrick Ness has woven a modern day fantasy in his book The Crane Wife. The crane comes to George in the dead of night, needing help and support and getting it of course, as these fairy tales begin.

This one is a bit on the dark side though. As George struggles to break the arrow and remove it from her wing, he’s freezing to death and contemplating his shortcomings as a man and a human. The complex character building continues through the book with most of the major characters. The only one we don’t get to know is Kumiko, the crane, the wife, who should be a mystery.

I love the art work they create through the book. It gives an added depth I didn’t think possible. I enjoy paper art; making it, looking at it, exploring the possibilities, and the multi-media art that makes George and Kumiko semi-famous, a little richer, and builds the story is just the right touch to really draw me the rest of the way in.

This book was effortless for me. It flowed, the characters were flawed but relateable and the whole thing just took me out of time and place, sat me down and read to me.

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I’ve been struggling to get through a book. It seems like I only get a few pages in a night and that just doesn’t cut it when you have a pile of books to read.  On top of it, it’s a book that a lot of people like and one that I bought, thinking I would like it.  That’s right, I actually bought a book. ahem, back to the subject. So, I’ve decided not to finish it. I can still give it to the right teen–someone who likes supernatural mysteries with strong characters and strange plots with a little historical fiction.

Now I’m reading The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness.  It’s the kind of book I can’t wait to get back to. The main character is just a regular guy on the surface, a little amazing below it, who finds himself in a very strange situation. I love the story, the tone and the complex characters and I’m so happy to move on to something that keeps my mind intrigued.

The library has been busy. I’m planning a couple of special projects that have been going up and down with triumphs and setbacks.  Each time I run up against a setback, another opportunity saves the program. It’s been bumpy but I’m learning a lot and feeling very optimistic how they will turn out.

Now if only I could make most of my job revolve around community biking programs, I’d be set! ;)

Oh, one more triumph this week. I watched a webinar today given by Eidelweiss and finally scored my first digital ARC. I also figured out how to download it. So I’ll be reading Singapore Noir, a series of short dark stories set in Singapore, a place that’s always intrigued me.

And now to go nurse this cold. My third in a month. I hope it’s short.

 

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is just as entertaining as Carriger’s adult romances, minus the romance and raunchiness. It has a good bit of snark that her readers will find endearing, and a smart girl protagonist that really leads the show.

Set in an alternate steampunk history with floating finishing schools and a mysterious communication device that somehow runs without wires, Etiquette & Espionage hints at being a prequel to the Parasol Protectorate series.

I love Sophronia. This will be on my 2014 Book Talk list for my next school visit.

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