Book Reviews: What Ms. Logan Read Over Winter Break

Over winter break, my family and I took my favorite kind of vacation–we went to a beach and basically spent the time sitting around the water, relaxing.  One reason I love this kind of trip is that I have LOTS of time to READ, and this break was no exception.

Before we left, I headed to the San Jose Public Library‘s website and downloaded popular YA titles I’ve been meaning to read to my kindle, for free.  I like doing this when we travel because they are books I want to read anyhow, but I don’t have to carry them all with me and worry about losing the library’s copy.  I like using Digital Overdrive through SJPL because they have a lot of good titles, and I can narrow them based on format.  I can also check out 10 at a time, which is cool.  If you have an e-Reader or use an e-Reader app, I encourage you to try it!

So, I downloaded 10 books but only finished 4 1/2 (I’m in the middle of one right now, so I’ll review it later).

First, I read Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach.  I chose this book because I had it out during “book speed dating” with some classes the week prior to break, and students always picked it up and then, while skimming through it, always laughed.  I wanted to know what was so funny.  The answer is, THIS BOOK!  Gabe, aka Chunk, completes a health project with some friends and notices a connection between the soda machine and the health of himself and his fellow students.  He also notices which type of students purchase sodas from the machine.  Even though Gabe sees a connection between the sodas and his size, he rationalizes the purchases because the proceeds go to support the school marching band, which he loves.  However, a new poster announces that proceeds will fund the school’s new dance team right when soda prices increase.  Then, summer band camp is cancelled and the entire music program’s future is in jeopardy.  Gabe knows he needs to take action.  He rallies his “band” of misfits and confronts the powers that be, determined to rescue the music program.

Gabe’s a pretty funny guy, but the book isn’t all laughs.  It deals with serious issues, like standing up for what you believe in, being a leader, confronting bullies, recognizing when you are being a bully, dealing with parents, loss, and more.  It was a light, quick read (I started and finished it on the plane) that literally made me laugh out loud a few times.  Pick this one up when your brain needs a vacation!

Next I decided to try The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston.  This book is set in modern times, but with one major difference–the world that Owen and Siobhan live in has dragons.    Owen’s father and aunt are dragon slayers, so he is expected to be one as well.  However, first he’s got to get through high school.  Siobhan starts out as his tutor, because he’s not the greatest student.  His aunt, however, has bigger plans.  Dragon slaying has become pretty political, and she’d like to change that.  One way she hopes to accomplish that is by reinvigorating the tradition of bards–musicians and poets who write songs telling of the dragon slayer’s battles.  A good bard can make or break a dragon slayer, and can change the way dragon slayers work.  Siobhan just happens to be a musician, so despite her parent’s concerns, she begins learning some dragon-slaying basics (for her own protection) and is soon accompanying Owen when he helps his father with dragon attacks.

I know you’re probably thinking this book sounds weird, but it was a really enjoyable read.  It’s really cool how the author weaves dragons into the world–historical events, environmental factors, the economy–without getting too “fantasy.”  It also strangely relates to the world today.  How do countries allocate their resources (armed forces, first responders, etc.)?  How do we ensure that all areas are protected, even the less populated ones?  I also loved the way Siobhan’s inner bard shines through.

“Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.”  Give this one a try–you won’t be sorry!

I switched to realistic fiction with If You’re Reading This, by Trent Reedy.  This one has been in the library since last year, but based on the cover I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.  Sometimes I’m not sure what cover designers are thinking.  Ignore the cover and read this book!

I must confess that a big part of the reason I loved this book is that I strongly identified with the main character, Mike.  When Mike was 7, his father was killed in Afghanistan.   Right before he turns 16, Mike starts receiving letters from his father, written to him before he died, intended to be delivered in the event of his death before his 16th birthday.  As someone who lost a parent as a child, I completely understood what those letters would mean to Mike.  Even though my logical brain always knew that no such letters existed for me, I admit that at “milestone” events like my high school graduation or wedding, I hoped that someone had been saving something like a letter for me from my father.  What makes the book worth reading beyond that connection, though, is the actions Mike takes in response to his father’s letters.  The letters all contain a lesson or challenge, and Mike makes real changes and takes risks to meet those challenges, even when it means violating the rules of his overprotective mother and joining the football team in secret.  He also has a mystery to solve–who is sending the letters?  Exactly how was his father killed?  And why won’t his mother talk about it?

I admit it–this book almost made me cry on several occasions.  Based on the cover, I expected a sports book, and there is a lot of football in here, but it’s really about relationships and what it means to become an adult, be a friend, and stand up for what’s right.  If you’re a cynic, you might not enjoy this book, but if you can set cynicism aside, you will probably enjoy it.

Finally, I read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson.  Like Wicked or other Gregory Maguire novels, Tiger Lily takes the familiar story of Peter Pan and retells it from a different perspective, making you wonder how much of the classic J.M. Barrie story is the “real” story and how much was left out.  Written from Tinker Belle’s perspective, the novel follows the character Tiger Lily (the daughter of tribal shaman Tik Tok) as she meets and falls in love with Peter Pan.  In addition to her secret (and forbidden) relationship with Peter, Tiger Lily struggles with the arrival of Philip, and Englishman whom she originally rescues but comes to distrust.  Philip seems friendly at first, but slowly starts to change the culture of Tiger Lily’s tribe, threatening her father’s way of life and the community she loves.  Distracted by her relationship with Peter, will Philip’s actions go unchecked?  How will Tiger Lily balance her tribal obligations with her desire to see Peter?  And what happens when Wendy arrives?

I loved Anderson’s take on these characters and the way she took a classic story and made it relevant to today’s readers.  Tiger Lily is not a “wilting flower.”  She is a strong, independent girl and a warrior in her own right.  She and Peter struggle to navigate their relationship because they are both so stubborn and competitive.  Wendy’s arrival makes Tiger Lily question herself–does she need to act more “like a girl” to keep Peter’s affections?  Do males need to feel superior to a woman to love them?  When you’re torn between obligation and your heart, which one should win?

If you like reading classic stories with a twist, you will enjoy Tiger Lily.

So that’s what I read over break.  How about you, Vikings?  Did you pick up a good book?  Submit a review here!

If you’re one of the 84 students who participated in Lynbrook Library’s Book Matchmaking Service (aka Date-a-Book), check your FUHSD gmail for information on how to rate your match and submit a review.

Myths and Legends Series: Egypt

This is a nonfiction book focused Mythology of Ancient Egypt.

I disliked it because the author makes references and draws similarities to other myths which are something not even relevant to the book.  The only things I like are the cover and pictures which look pretty classical.

A person that would enjoy this would be a person that likes myths but does not feel bothered or confused by the many aspects given in this book.

Tiffany rates this book 3/5

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

I read Longbourn by Jo Baker last week because every once in a while, I get on a themed kick.  This one was, of course, a Jane Austen kick.  I’ve had these before.  And there are lots and lots of related, themed spinoffs for Austen novels, from Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (also quite good) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a little stiff) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  I even found the best site for further gleaning, Jane Austen.co.uk.

Longbourn follows the tale of overworked housemaid Sarah, giving us a “downstairs” telling of a tale that covers the timeline of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  We see the ins and outs of what life must have been like for a servant at Longbourn, the Bennett family home.  Characters from the original tale weave through the telling, but appear on the higher rungs of the scaffolding.  Sarah’s contemporaries are, of course, her fellow servants; her life only touches the Bennett family members inasmuch as she serves them.

I loved this story, partly because it was fun to follow the plot running parallel to the original that I know so well, but mostly because Sarah is a captivating person.  Ms. Baker captures everything from the raw, freezing-water-logged hands to the chagrin at receiving castoff finery from the Bennett girls that could never be worn in the scullery or kitchen.

I highly, highly recommend Longbourn to Austen fans, and to those who wish to gain historical perspective on life as a servant during the turbulent Regency period, between the Peninsular War and Napoleonic Wars.

Rated 5/5 by Ms. Ashworth  

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini

In The Kite Runner, an American Afghan man narrates his life. In his childhood, he made big mistakes, like sacrificing his best friend for his father’s attention. When he grew up, he has to redeem is honor and pride, by going back into the chaos that Afghanistan has become and rescuing his best friend’s son.

Everyone who reads this book can learn something new that could benefit themselves.

Rated 5/5 by Albert

Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

In a future where mankind resides in space after the destruction of “Old Earth”, seven pilgrims embark on a journey to fulfill a wish granted by the Shrike, a legendary monster, each sharing their stories along the way.

I recommend this book to sci-fi lovers because the futuristic elements are astonishing and beautifully-written for a book written in the late 1980’s. The overall plot development is also very skillful.

Rated 5/5 by Pi

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates speaks of love as a kind of madness. Alicia Keyes sings, “Is it a sickness?/’Cause I feel like I’m losing my mind ” in her song, Love is my Disease.

Delirium is a dystopian novel with a strong female lead. And by strong, I don’t mean physically.  Don’t judge the book by its cover!  We’re talking about a heroine that evolves and devolves and evolves as the plot line tangles, untangles, and tangles.  The story follows Lena Holoway through the months, then weeks, then days before her much-anticipated 18th birthday, when she will be cured of a dangerous disease, love.

Identity in the world of acceptable and encouraged genetic engineering is the big theme; I’d recommended to people who like dystopian drama with a splash of romance.  This is book one in the series, followed by the cleverly?-titled Pandemonium and Requiem.

Rated 4.5/5 by Ms. Ashworth