Monday, November 23, 2015

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Genres: Historical, Young Adult
Release Date: February 23rd, 2016
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Source: ARC received for review from GPL

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In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 

Reasons why I read the book: Title + cover + setting + time period.

Reasons why I loved the book: Feels + characters + great relationships + diversity

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is actually not about some weird person that goes around sniffing other people's houses. It is a profound book about families, relationships and the interconnectedness of a community.

I don’t usually like multiple point of views and while I think some of the transitions between them could have been neater, I actually liked all of the characters and enjoyed being inside their minds. The characters don’t have much in common besides the community they are part of/will become a part of and don’t even really hang out with each other, but the way their stories interwine is amazing.

This may seem like a feel-good book but it really isn’t. It’s heartbreaking. 3 out of 4 of the main characters come from heartbreaking backgrounds and their journey to finding a place within this community isn’t easy.

Ruth has to deal with teen pregnancy and this constant feeling of not being loved. Dora is trying to escape from her awful home and although she has found a new, loving family, she cannot embrace them because she still thinks it’s too good to be true. Hank runs away from home with his brothers to give them a new beginning, but he loses one of his brothers. Alyce on the other hand is just trying to find a place in her own family. Her parents got divorced and summer is the only time she gets to see her father so she is torn between wanting to stay with him and following her dreams.

Things do wrap up a little too easily at the end of the book but it did not keep me from enjoying the nice warmness this book brings about when these characters find their place and begin to understand the world in a way they hadn’t before.

I would recommend this book to everyone that wants to cuddle up with a book on a cold winter night that will warm them up as much as any cup of hot cocoa. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I very much enjoyed Station Eleven and had no trouble following the many character threads across the years as the timeline moved back and forth.

The situation  - a pandemic that kills 99% of the world’s population in a few days - feels so very possible, and that certainly increased my interest in the plot. What might happen after such a pandemic also felt plausible. And I am wholeheartedly in support of the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians trying to keep the arts alive “Because survival is insufficient.” (I’m also happy to see a Star Trek Voyager reference in a book, as Voyager is my favorite Star Trek spin-off.)

Most of the main characters were well drawn. One thread (Jeevan’s) felt somewhat pointless, but I suppose was necessary to convey what it was like immediately after the catastrophe.

I did feel the ending fell a little flat. I expected a few more connections and explanations than were made.  Still, I definitely recommend Station Eleven to readers of dystopia and science fiction.

The Galesburg Public Library has Station Eleven in regular print and large print, as an audiobook, and as an ebook.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

From the publisher: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity's only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild. Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing ― kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery―one that will change Rithmatics―and their world―forever.

This month, the GPL Chapter Chompers Teen Lit Book Club read The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. Overall, book club members really enjoyed the book. While a magical world centered around evil chalk drawings seemed kind of comical at first, we quickly found ourselves buying into the premise, wondering whether or not any of us would be capable of drawing the perfect circles required for protection against Wild Chalklings. We liked the character of Joel (one group member called him "pleasantly nerdy"), were conflicted about Melody (one group member LOVED her, while another felt like she was maybe hiding something), and loved to hate Professor Nalizar. We all appreciated the twists and turns of the book's ending -- Who's good? Who's bad? And why do we have to wait until 2017 to find out, Brandon Sanderson???

Almost all of our group members shipped Melody and Joel (welcome to the world, Jelody), and we spent some time envisioning the sequel of our dreams, wherein Melody and Joel get married, Professor Fitch tragically dies, and then Jelody produces a baby they name Baby Fitch, regardless of gender. What? It could happen.

The Chapter Chompers 5-point book rating system is as follows:
1 (lowest ranking) = 1 pizza
2 = 2 pizzas
3 = 3 pizzas
4 = breadsticks
5 = legit unitado

I am pleased to announced that The Rithmatist received the coveted Legit Unitado rating from our group of distinguished teen readers. It is available now in libraries and bookstores.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Apples of Uncommon Character

Apples of Uncommon Character is a truly delightful look at 123 varieties of apples, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their uses.

This is a not boring recitation of information about apples. The author injects some humor and interest into all the descriptions. He also includes history and fun facts. For example, did you know that the character of Rambo by David Morrell was named after the Summer Rambo apple? That the apple that led Isaac Newton to ponder gravity was a Flower of Kent?

Other fun comments about various varieties:

Of the Blue Pearmain: "This is the apple Elrond would have tended in his backyard in Rivendell, and it would have been off-limits to any dwarf or hobbit."

Of the Knobbed Russet (a very ugly apple): "Uses: Terrify your children."

Of the Dabinett: "Use: Don't eat fresh, unless sucking on tea bags is your idea of fun."

Of the Red Delicious: "Texture: Both good and bad examples have that horrible leathery skin that likes to slide between your teeth and lacerate your gums....Use: Makes a great logo."

Definitely recommended for foodies and lovers of apples.

The book can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at NFIC 634.11 JAC.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Death Comes to Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to Kurland Hall is the third book in a Regency romance-mystery series. I very much enjoyed the first two books. The third is not quite as good but still kept my attention. 

The tame Austen-like romance is more front and center than the mystery, and the language and behavior are probably too modern for a purist. For example, Lucy Harrington, the rector's daughter, thinks mildly about the fact that her father is sleeping with his cook, and the servants are insolent and familiar. The modern language and behavior can be jarring.

Lucy and Major Kurland have a Beatrice and Benedick-like relationship, which is sometimes taken to extreme lengths. While an extremely unlikeable woman lays dead at the bottom of the stairs at Kurland Hall, Major Kurland and Miss Harrington bicker over the body before calling for help.

The dialog is sometimes quite repetitive, and a red herring regarding the identity of the murder was too red. It was easy for me to see the person was not the murderer. I guessed the identity of the murderer early and found the person's motivation and behavior not in character with the person as presented and developed by the author.

The romance is sweet and satisfying for lovers of proper romance, but the resolution of the mystery was not believable. Still, I will read the next book in the series and hope it returns to the level of the first two.

I recommend Death Comes to Kurland Hall for those interested in the continuing relationship between Major Kurland and Lucy Harrington. The first book in the series is Death Comes to the Village. The first two books are available at the Galesburg Public Library, and the third will be when it is published in late November.

I read an advance reader copy of Death Comes to Kurland Hall.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genres: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Release Date: October 22nd, 1999
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: Checked out book from GPL

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Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
When Speak came out over a decade ago, it was ground breaking because of the way it dealt with teen sexuality. 16 years later, it is still relevant and continues to change lives because it isn’t afraid to tell the story of a teenager who had real problems and real reactions to them.

Melinda doesn’t have a whole cast of friends to rely on. She doesn’t have parents to rely on. When she called the police at the party at the end of the summer, she lost her friends and she is stuck all by herself not knowing how to deal with what happened.

In that way, Melinda’s character is heartbreakingly realistic. But, Melinda also has a certain wit that makes her more than just a character to which a ‘bad thing’ happened. It makes Melinda a character worth knowing and someone you want to cheer for.

This book also deals with rape in a way that I think is realistic. It doesn’t dramatize it (this may be the wrong word to use but I don't know how to better express myself) but rather approaches it in a way that shows the reality of it. There are some things that were a little iffy but I am not going to go into detail because SPOILERS.

This book wasn’t perfect, though. I did think there were things that happened towards the end that were perhaps too easy but at the same time, worked. I also wished that we weren’t cut off from one scene towards the end of the book because it was the most important in my opinion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am so glad I finally read it after having it on my to-be-read list for ages.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt

From the publisher: An act of kindness brings shy reporter Mr. Tibble into contact with the unusual Miss Minou. Tibble is close to losing his job because he only writes stories about cats. Fortunately, Minou provides him with real news. She gets the juicy inside information from her local feline friends, who are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Tibble is appreciative, but he wonders how she does it. He has noticed that Minou is terrified of dogs and can climb trees and rooftops with elegance and ease. . . . It's almost as if she's a cat herself. But how can that be?

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof is a charming tale by award-winning Dutch author Annie M.G. Schmidt, now translated into English and scheduled to be published in January 2016.

Miss Minou is in fact a cat, turned into a human after eating rubbish outside a research institute. She sleeps in a box and can still understand Cattish, which is how she is able to provide Mr. Tibble with all those news scoops. There are cats everywhere, and they see and hear everything.

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof is wise in the ways of cats and full of felines with big personalities.  The humor is sly and subtle: 
When Minou came home with some news story or other and told Tibble how she’d got it, he cried, "It’s all so organized! One cat passes it on to the next. … It’s a kind of cat press agency."
"I’m not sure I like the sound of that,’ Minou said hesitantly. ‘A cat press … it makes me think of a garlic press. Squished cat."
"Not a cat-press agency," Tibble said, "a cat press agency.’
(p. 28 of the advance reader copy)

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof would make a fabulous chapter book to read with any young cat lover. The artwork is adorable, with different drawings of cute cats starting off each chapter.

I read an advance reader copy of The Cat Who in off the Roof.