Monday, February 17, 2020

Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reporductive Rights

From the publisher: From award-winning author Karen Blumenthal, Jane Against the World is
deep and passionate look at the riveting history of the fight for reproductive rights in the United States.
Tracing the path to the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and the continuing battle for women's rights, Blumenthal examines, in a straightforward tone, the root causes of the current debate around abortion and repercussions that have affected generations of American women.
This eye-opening book is the perfect tool to facilitate difficult discussions and awareness of a topic that is rarely touched on in school but affects each and every young person. It's also perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Deborah Heiligman.
This journalistic look at the history of abortion and the landmark case of Roe v. Wade is an important and necessary book.

Jane Against the World is a comprehensive review of the history of reproductive rights in the United States that led up to the landmark trial. In the early 1800s, abortion in the early stages of pregnancy was completely legal in the US. As had been the case throughout much of recorded history, a fetus wasn't considered alive or human until the woman felt it moving inside ('quickening'). Until this point, both the public and churches had little issue with abortion. The book follows the history of women's rights through the decades, through the work of Margaret Sanger and later the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a group of religious leaders from various denominations who united to refer women for abortions. Jane Roe isn't even introduced until halfway through the book, underscoring the importance of laying the foundation of the legal and social framework that came before the trial. The case takes up the majority of the second half of the book with some space allotted for the impact of the decision.

I found this book to be incredibly informative. Although marketed as a YA book, I never felt like the language or subject matter was watered down, and I especially appreciated the legal aspects of the cases being explained so well. The section dealing with the court case itself is (necessarily) dry. I do wish that the section detailing the 80s through today, when abortion protests became more violent and state's laws came under attack, was able to have more pages devoted to it. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Throw Like a Girl by Sarah Henning

From the Publisher: Friday Night Lights meets Morgan Matson's The Unexpected Everything in this contemporary debut where swoonworthy romance meets underdog sports story.

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws on
e ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she'll have to convince its coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex 
and the teammates of the girl she punched... EverySingleDay.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he'll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the spring. But it will take more than just a flawless spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland's halls, and behind that charismatic smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all.
With lovable characters and a charming quarterback love interest, Throw Like a Girl will have readers swooning from the very first page.

Throw Like a Girl is the contemporary fiction debut of Sarah Henning, known for her fantasy novels Sea Witch and Sea Witch Rising. This book, however, is a combination sports and romance novel written for teens. It tells the story of high school softball star Olive "Liv" Rodinsky (known as O-Rod to her teammats), who loses her scholarship to an expensive prep school after a fight during a game and has to transfer to public school and convince the coach she can be a good teammate. However, it's not just any school, but the very school whose first base player she punched out last year! That player has thankfully graduated, but the coach isn't letting Liv join the softball team until she can prove herself as a good teammate. As it turns out, the best way to do that is for Liv to accept star quarterback Grey's offer to become his backup on the football team... on which her ex-boyfriend Jake is also the running back! If she can coexist with him, surely the coach will have to let her play softball.

Liv turns out to enjoy football quite a bit more than she expected, and as a result this makes for a fun, fast read. The story reads as a love letter to high school sports as much as it does a romance between characters. Though there's a bit of melodrama regarding secrets kept by Liv and others, on the whole the story is pretty lighthearted and sweet. Liv has a supportive network of family and friends, and while she does face some sexism as a girl joining a boys' sports team, it's not a major focus of the story. There's also some diverse representation in the cast, as Liv's older sister is married to another woman, and her best friend Addie is African-American.

Readers looking for a fun, fast read involving story of an empowered female playing football, and a romance as a nice bonus, will definitely enjoy Throw Like a Girl.

Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

From the publisher:

Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Tanaz Bhathena's Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India.
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.

Hunted by the Sky is Tanaz Bhathena's first foray into fantasy, and it is lush and beautiful. It's such a welcome change to see a fantasy novel set somewhere other than generic 'medieval Europe'. Tanaz draws inspiration from both Vedic India (1500-500 BCE) and the opulence of the medieval courts. Additional Persian mythology influences shape a unique world that provides a breath of jasmine-scented air in the field of YA fantasy. 

Twenty years ago, a prophecy foretold that King Lohar would be brought down by a star-marked girl. Gul is born with a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and throughout her life her family moves constantly to avoid the King's soldiers. After witnessing her parents' murders, she is taken in by the Sisters of the Golden Lotus and begins her training in both magical and non-magical combat. While the Sisters believe she may be the Star Warrior of the prophecy, Gul's focus is strictly on avenging her parents' deaths.

Cavas lives in the tenements with the rest of the non-magus, and his father is dying. Willing to do anything to obtain his father's medicine and perhaps enough coin to move him out of the squalor, he provides information about the palace and its going ons to a mysterious ally. While seeking him out at the bazaar, Cavas saves Gul when she's accused of pick-pocketing. On the advice of his cryptic friend, he arranges to sneak Gul into the palace grounds.

I really enjoyed this book. In addition to providing a gorgeous and unique environment, the main characters are well fleshed out, and I was eager to see what happens next. There's a lot that happens in the last 70 pages and the pace felt a bit jarring compared to the rest of the book. It appears to be set up for a sequel or more, and I look forward to seeing more of Gul and Cavas.

I read an advance reader copy of Hunted by the Sky. It is scheduled to be published in June of 2020 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

From the publisher: It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. Earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort: a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order—an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code. In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.

The Mother Code has a terrific premise, but it didn’t quite live up to its promise for me. The military releases a bioweapon that causes a global pandemic. In a desperate attempt to save humanity, a fleet of robots is launched containing genetically engineered embryos. The robots are coded with the personalities of the real women who donated eggs to the project. The robots disperse, the babies are incubated inside them and born, and the mother robots raise the children. A core group of military strategists given an antidote survive the pandemic, along with pockets of naturally resistant humans like the Hopi. Years pass as the children grow up and the team of humans tries to find them.

The Mother Code is very readable and moves along at a brisk pace. I totally bought into the sequence of events at the beginning. However, as it moved toward the end I felt the plot twists were too Hollywood-esque. The narrative tension felt artificial.

I never felt I got to know the kids, who read like a casting call for a movie: the combative natural leader; the meditative naturalist who communes with snakes; the reckless tomboy; the shy mouse; the boy with almond-shaped eyes who is good at cooking; the black girl who starts a garden. In fact overall this entire book reads like a detailed movie script, and indeed Steven Spielberg has optioned the movie rights.

The overall message of what it means to be a mother seemed very labored by the end. If you are looking for a fast-moving thriller that reads like an action movie, The Mother Code may be for you. As a book that will truly make a reader think, that’s perilously close to something that could happen in real life, the book is not quite as successful.

I read an advance reader copy of The Mother Code. It is scheduled to be published in May 2020 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

From the creator of the hit webcomic My Life As a Background Slytherin comes a hilarious graphic novel pastiche of classic Romantic literature led by a trio of
queer misfits—and several angry vampires.
Set in early nineteenth-century Britain, Bloodlust & Bonnets follows Lucy, an unworldly debutante who desires a life of passion and intrigue—qualities which earn her the attention of Lady Violet Travesty, the leader of a local vampire cult.
 But before Lucy can embark on her new life of vampiric debauchery, she finds herself unexpectedly thrown together with the flamboyant poet Lord Byron (“from books!”) and a mysterious bounty-hunter named Sham. The unlikely trio lie, flirt, fight, and manipulate each other as they make their way across Britain, disrupting society balls, slaying vampires, and making every effort not to betray their feelings to each other as their personal and romantic lives become increasingly entangled.

I spied this graphic novel whilst walking through the library and was immediately drawn to it. In the initial flip-through, the third page opens with the heroine Lucy declaring to the group of men approaching her ‘Gentlemen, I do hope you like honey, for I have a bee in my bonnet’ while removing said chapeau and charging towards them with upraised sword.

I was hooked. 

The book follows Lucy’s battlefield meeting of Lord Byron, their journey to his magical castle (in Scotland), and encountering the bounty-hunter Sham (who perhaps has a secret agenda). The trio travels through woods, ballrooms, baths, Bath, wine cellars, and gentlemen’s clubs as they pursue the vampiric Lady Violet Travesty.
With a distinctive art style and biting (ha) wit, B&B is a both a love letter to and parody of the Romantic literature genre. I absolutely adored this book. At the moment I’m trying to minimize physical books coming into my possession, due to a lack of shelf space. Upon finishing it, I immediately put B&B on my wish list and strongly hinted to my husband that he should purchase it for my upcoming birthday. 

Also, in the course of researching this review, I discovered that the real Lord Byron really did use curling papers in his hair at night. 

You can find Bloodlust & Bonnets in the graphic novel section under the author's last name McGovern

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

No Ordinary Dog: My Partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid by Will Chesney

From the publisher: No Ordinary Dog is the powerful true story of a SEAL Team Operator and military dog handler, and the dog that saved his life.
Two dozen Navy SEALs descended on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. After the mission, only one name was made public: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois and military working dog. This is Cairo's story, and that of his handler, Will Chesney, a SEAL Team Operator whose life would be irrevocably tied to Cairo's.

No Ordinary Dog details the relationship between SEAL Team Operator Will Chesney and a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog (MWD) named Cairo. The first 100 pages or so touch briefly on Will’s childhood and adolescence, and then focus on his enrollment in the US Navy, where he is determined to become a SEAL. The grueling details of preparation, training, and the infamous Hell Week are covered in painful detail. As his career progresses, Will is introduced to MWDs and begins the process of training to become a dog handler. 

After being partnered with Cairo, the focus shifts to training the handler (the dog already has thousands of dollars and years of experience by this point) and making sure both are prepared to ship out to Afghanistan. The book details the roles and duties that both handler and dog play, from bomb detection to taking down enemy combatants. It’s here and up through the latter bin Laden raid that the book tends to be a little repetitious, as over and over it describes the sheer force and power of MWDs. This was already touched upon in the fascinating section describing the training and procurement of said dogs, and it starts to wear a little, especially if read in one sitting (if, for instance, your flight is delayed….). New York Times bestselling author Joe Layden is listed on the cover as well as Will, and this is really the only part of the book that stands out as a negative. A separate section of photos would be nice as well; one can hope that it may make an appearance in the final edition. 

After the raid, Cairo returns to a less active military role, and Will is injured by a grenade blast. While his visible wounds heal, brain injuries and PTSD begin to make their devastating effects known, and Cairo transitions to a position of healer.
Overall, I found this to be a good book on a subject that the general public has had little chance to know about. As one might infer from the last line of the back cover (‘-and then up to Will to be there when Cairo needed him the most.’), this is a tear jerker, so beware if you’re easily affected and reading in public.


...Cairo does pass away at the end of the book. It’s a rough last twenty pages, but obviously written with love and dedication.

I read an advance reader copy of No Ordinary Dog. It will be published in April 2020 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.