"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

29 May 2013

Wonder Show

Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012.

Portia's mom and dad leave her at her aunt's house, and after a few years, her aunt sends her away to a home for wayward children.  When Portia's only friend at the home dies, she chooses to run away to the circus rather than continuing life at the home. She joins up with the circus side show, cooking and assisting with behind-the-scenes duties as she gets to know the "circus freaks." One day, two men in suits show up to take her back to the home.  Will Portia ever reunite with her father?

I really enjoyed the writing style and narrative voice of this book. Most of the chapters are narrated in third-person, but occasional chapters give us glimpses inside the heads of various characters.  It was fun to get a peek into the lives of circus performers as well.  If I still had a classroom, this book would definitely be on my shelf.

27 May 2013

I Do

No book review today, folks.  This morning I will be marrying the love of my life.  We will return to our regularly scheduled book reviews in a few days.

25 May 2013

My Friend Dahmer

Backderf, Derf.  My Friend Dahmer. Harry N. Abrams, 2012.

I almost didn't read this book.  I'm not interested in serial killers, I found the art in this work to be a bit creepy, and the author's first name is the same as that of my stuffed turtle.

Even though this book is about a serial killer, it ended up being fairly enjoyable. The creepy art matches the creepy tone of the story, and the author did not go into much detail about Dahmer's crimes, instead demonstrating that Dahmer's home situation combined with his lack of popularity at school may have led him to do what he did. I can understand why this book has been popular, even if it wasn't my favorite.

23 May 2013

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. Hill and Wang, 2012.

Trinity, the debut graphic book by the gifted illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, depicts in vivid detail the dramatic history of the race to build and the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. This sweeping historical narrative traces the spark of invention from the laboratories of nineteenth-century Europe to the massive industrial and scientific efforts of the Manhattan Project. Along the way, Fetter-Vorm takes special care to explain the fundamental science of nuclear reactions. With the clarity and accessibility that only a graphic book can provide, Trinity transports the reader into the core of a nuclear reaction—into the splitting atoms themselves.

This was a great read, giving lots of background information on the atomic bomb. I would pair this book with The Green Glass Sea, Under the Blood-Red Sun, and other books featuring information about the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.  

21 May 2013

The Vengekeep Prophecies

Farrey, Brian. The Vengekeep Prophecies. Harper Collins, 2012.

Jaxter Grimjinx comes from a long line of thieves and swindlers, but he's too clumsy to be of much help in his family's heists.  That is, until a prophetic tapestry depicts his family as the saviors of their town and they realize that Jaxter is the only one who can truly save the day.  Jaxter embarks on a quest to obtain the ingredients to destory the tapestry (and thus the prophecy), but will he be able to return in time to save his family?

This was a fast-paced and enjoyable read that I could see being very popular with fans of Harry Potter. I hope there will be more from this author.

19 May 2013

Beyond Belief

Hill, Jenna. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. William Morrow, 2013.

Jenna Miscavige Hill grew up in the world of Scientology as created by L. Ron Hubbard. She embraced the doctrines unquestioningly until her adult years, when she chose to leave.  Now she describes her life as a Scientologist and what caused her to leave behind everything she'd known.

This is another great "escape from a cult" books, similar to those written by people fleeing the FLDS church.  I enjoyed this book and could relate to some of Hill's experiences.  I think it's interesting to have this perspective on Scientology, from someone who not only was part of the elite in-group, but who was also a relative of the head of the church.

17 May 2013

The Gate Thief

Card, Orson Scott. The Gate Thief. Tor Books, 2013.

Danny North is still in high school, yet he holds in his heart and mind all the stolen outselves of thirteen centuries of gatemages. The Families still want to kill him if they can't control him…and they can't control him. He is far too powerful.

And on Westil, Wad is now nearly powerless—he lost everything to Danny in their struggle. Even if he can survive the revenge of his enemies, he still must somehow make peace with the Gatemage Daniel North.

For when Danny took that power from Loki, he also took the responsibility for the Great Gates. And when he comes face-to-face with the mages who call themselves Bel and Ishtoreth, he will come to understand just why Loki closed the gates all those centuries ago.

OSC is at his best in this series.  I like it almost as much as the books in the Ender saga.

15 May 2013

Eleanor & Park

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin's Press, 2013.

Park is a half-white, half-Korean boy in 1986 Nebraska.  Eleanor has just been allowed back into her home after her alcoholic stepfather kicked her out for a year.  She is trying to survive school, take care of her family, and keep her stepfather's filthy hands off of her.  One day she ends up sitting next to Park on the bus on the way to school.  The rest of the book follows Eleanor and Park as they get to know each other and begin to fall in love.

I hated the first chapter of this book. 4 pages, 14 cuss words, and someone is called a retard. I find extreme use of foul language to be quite off-putting. I almost put it down right then. But it got better. I actually ended up enjoying this story, to the point where I came home from work and opened the book, reading right through dinner and into the evening. It's not a happy book, but it is good, and while I didn't want the book to end as it did, the ending is satisfying. For anyone who grew up in an abusive home, however, this book might be triggering, so please take care when you read.

13 May 2013

Love Drugged

Klise, James. Love Drugged. Flux, 2010.

Jamie knows he's gay, so when his pretend-girlfriend's father tells him about a drug he's developing to "cure" gayness, Jamie steals some pills. Eventually he is blackmailed into taking the pills as part of an unofficial study on their effectiveness. By the end of the story, Jamie is out to his family, out to his school, and off the pills. As a side plot, Jamie's best friend has been on Ritalin and chooses to go off of it without telling anyone, with disastrous consequences.

The premise of this story - a closeted gay kid who wants to be normal and straight - is totally believable. A pill to cure him? Not so much. And I'm glad it's not a reality, just like I'm glad that for many LGBTQIA teens, things are getting better

11 May 2013

Out of the Easy

Sepetys, Ruta. Out of the Easy. Philomel Books, 2013.

Josie is the daughter of a prostitute in 1950s New Orleans and wants to distance herself from her mother's reputation, go to college, and start a life of her own. But how will she get into the New England school of her choice with no money and no prospects?

I enjoyed this story, and was glad that it had a happy ending, and it was also a fairly quick read. I also like the idea of a character who sees what she wants and goes for it, regardless of how impossible it may seem.

However, I will leave you with one caveat: rape and abuse survivors will likely find parts of this book triggering, as I did. Josie spends time around a few unsavory characters and at one point is in a very sticky situation, so proceed with caution. The book itself is fast-paced and thrilling and the story was quite enjoyable to read.

09 May 2013

Assimilation Squared

Tipton, Scott. Star Trek, The Next Generation / Doctor Who Assimilation 2, Volume 1. IDW Publishing, 2012.

Finally, a comic book I can really be interested in! It's got Doctor Who, Amy & Rory, and Cybermen, and also Star Trek, Captain Picard, and the Borg! What more can anyone ask for?  I really enjoyed both volumes of this work; I read both in one sitting on the same night. Will someone please turn these into a movie?

07 May 2013


Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch On.  Simon and Schuster, 2013.

From GoodReads: "Contagious combines groundbreaking research with powerful stories. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheese-steak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the seemingly most boring products there is: a blender. If you’ve wondered why certain stories get shared, e-mails get forwarded, or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to leverage these concepts to craft contagious content. This book provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping information spread—for designing messages, advertisements, and information that people will share."

This book delves into the theories behind why certain things go viral, from products to YouTube videos to internet memes involving grumpy cats. It's a great look at what makes things interesting and popular.

05 May 2013

Two Boys Kissing

Levithan, David. Two Boys Kissing. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Wow. Just wow. The basic plot of this story is that two boys are attempting to beat the world record for the longest kiss, which means they'll have to be standing up and their lips will have to touch for more than 32 hours. Meanwhile, we follow several other boys - a closeted boy who runs away when his parents find out he's gay, a couple of boys who just started dating, a boy who was born with a girl's body. The entire story is narrated from the perspective of all the gay men who have died of AIDS and are now watching this scene unfold. It's amazing and heart-warming and sad all at once.

03 May 2013

Does Jesus Really Love Me?

Chu, Jeff. Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Harper, 2013.

Jeff Chu embarks on a search throughout the United States to see what different organizations and denominations believe about the intersection of faith and sexuality, specifically whether God does indeed love gay people. He visits the infamous Westborough Baptist Church, Exodus (an ex-gay organization), the Metropolitan Community Church, the Gay Christian Network, and many other organizations on various ends of the spectrum. His research is thorough and he tells the stories of many individuals he encounters on his travels. Interspersed throughout the book are Chu's email conversations with Gideon, a young man from a very conservative Christian family who has recently come out to himself and is considering coming out to his parents.

This book is very thorough; I can tell that Chu has done his research. I can also tell that this topic is very important to him, as is his faith. My coming out and "counseling" sessions were very similar to Gideon's, and I did enjoy this book as a description of the current pulse of the faith community of the United States, although much of the information was not new to me. I would recommend this book along with Justin Lee's Torn and John Shore's Unfair! to those who are interested in the Gay/Christian debate.

01 May 2013

Brain on Fire

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire. Free Press, 2012. 

Susannah Cahalan was a successful journalist with the New York Post when she was struck with a strange illness that caused seizures, hallucinations, and a host of other symptoms. No one could figure out what was wrong, but it was clear that Cahalan needed serious medical assistance. It was only after a doctor performed a simple test that she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder.

This book stems from the combination of interviews of the medical staff, Cahalan's parents' journal, and thousands of pages of medical records. Cahalan describes her month of madness when her brain truly seemed to be on fire.

This was a very interesting book, made even better by an excellent narrator. The story is well-told, engrossing, and only near the end does Cahalan mount a soap box and advocate for others who may have her same illness. I'd recommend this book in a heartbeat, especially to fans of narrative nonfiction.