Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August Book Reviews

I notice we haven't been on here much lately, but here's my post in hopes of reigniting the blog! 

As a Librarian working primarily in Youth Services, I have spent ample time learning my Library's collection and reading A LOT of book reviews for children and young adult literature. What I don't to do as often is actually read the books... and I often wonder how the other Librarians working in my field are able to read the amount they do.  

As a member of both YALSA and ALSC, I am subscribed to the groups' listservs and receive tons of emails daily about everything from the newest best books you've read to discussion of controversial books, to requests for more titles similar to "enter your choice here" to even stumpers!!  Every time a Librarian posts a plea for "Help -- Stumper" and goes on to describe the book their patron is looking for, it never fails -- somebody on the listserv is able to name the title and author of the book! It's really an incredible tool, and it never ceases to amaze me that the stumper is solved often within the hour.  But my bigger question  --  HOW is it possible they all have read everything under the sun?! Seriously, do they ever get sleep?!

Anyways, tangent aside, I wanted to share three titles I've recently read -- all of which fall into the children or YA literature category, but nonetheless, are books even adults can enjoy.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I'm still not sure how I missed reading this book as a child. Now reading it in my twenties, I can't believe I missed out on it -- it is perhaps one of my all-time favorites in children's literature. 

Following the death of her beloved grandfather, Kit Tyler, a young woman raised in Barbados, travels to the New World to find her only remaining living relatives in Wethersfield of the Connecticut Colony. As she tries to adapt to this new and different way of life, she never ceases to shock the rigid and solemn Puritan community in Wethersfield by her outlandish ways. In turn, she is shocked and struggles to fit in with the severe strictness of the Puritan way of life. She meets and befriends the lonely old widow, Hannah Tupper, who lives by the Blackbird Pond, and her friendship with the woman helps give Kit the strength to face her trials. 

But when an illness strikes the community, the townspeople are quick to call blame Hannah, for they believe she practices witchcraft and are fearful of her because she is a Quaker, with beliefs that greatly differ from their own theology. Kit must find to courage to do what is right and stand against her tormentors when she too is put on trial for witchcraft.  

A few things that particularly struck me about this book.  Though it was published in 1958, it reads like it could have been published yesterday.  Much of the language is of course older sounding and fits with the setting of 1687 colonial America, but the novel overall feels like it was written for today's audience. It was later revealed by a Newbery Committee member that this title won the 1959 Newbery Medal unanimously on the first ballot, which is an exceptionally rare occurrence -- I don't believe it's happened since.  

Speare also does a fantastic job with her characters and accurately portraying early Colonial America and the ups and downs to the rigid ways of Puritanism.  While she reveals some of the good traits, she also shows the great evil that comes from their harsh intolerance of others and those who believe different from them.   It's interesting while her book illustrates how fear and hysteria about witchcraft in Colonial America led to horrible events, the same thing was happening in our country right during Speare's era with the Cold War and the fear of communism in America.  Perhaps a bit of a statement on Speare's part regarding current events.  Excellent all around book and truly one that can be enjoyed by all ages.  Recommended for everyone ages 8+. 

Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
A truly amazing and horrifying story that sheds abundant light on the history of the atomic bomb and how it has elevated to the constant existing threat of nuclear annihilation that we face today. This single project would forever change worldwide warfare as we know it. Sheinkin's well-written book weaves together three main narratives: America's top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, the Soviets' attempts to steal the top-secret information from inside Los Alamos itself, and the Allied attempts to thwart any German attempt at building an atomic bomb.  

Sheinkin succeeds not only in breaking down tough scientific concepts behind the atomic bomb for the average reader, but also creates a factual historic novel that reads much like a fast-paced crime thriller. This is an excellent read for middle grade readers and up, especially for those who have an interest in history and World War II. 

Quite frankly, I knew very little about the atomic bomb prior to reading this book. It has potential to provoke excellent discussion, particularly where ethics and morals are concerned.  Was it ethical to use such a destructive weapon?  It's said it could have saved thousands...probably at least tens of thousands of American soldiers from further battle in Japan -- but at the cost of thousands and thousands of civilian lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Is the world a safer place with such weapons? Could the world ever survive another world war? One thing's for sure -- it'll never be the same. A really interesting topic that is still quite relevant in our world today. 

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan  

This is a book I didn't have particularly high hopes for but after both positive reviews from Kirkus (which isn't an easy feat) and from friends, I decided to give it a go... and was pleasantly surprised. 

First things first -- there are A LOT of paranormal, particularly vampire, books out there.  When you step into a YA section today, you can get lost in it and it's difficult to sift through and find the gems amongst the garbage. 

Main character Mel is absolutely dismayed when arrogant and gorgeous Francis Durvarney is allowed to start at her high school. Because he is undead.  To her further dismay, her best friend, Cathy immediately falls for him and becomes hell-bent on being with him forever, even though a transition going wrong could mean becoming a zombie. Mel is determined to get through to her best friend, and prove that Francis is no good, meanwhile helping her friend solve a mystery involving the undead and overcoming some of her own prejudices when she meets a human guy raised by vampires.  

I know, I know... sounds a bit ridiculous, right? I thought so too. But let me say a few things about why I actually enjoyed it.  First off -- it was funny. Very funny. It starts a bit slow, and doesn't sound particularly unique at first,  but really picks up a little ways in.  Sure, it's absolutely a parody of the Twilight series, along with some even older vampire tales, and yet, it turns out to be much more than that, definitely going some places I didn't expect.  The characters are pretty well developed,and most even turn out quite likable!   They are flawed and realistic, and grow.  There's a dose of teen angst, but it doesn't overpower the book.  Refreshingly, there's no love triangle. The minor vampire characters I found extremely entertaining.  The "Bella" character, [Cathy] actually has hobbies (yay!) and the book overall had it's own plot and story to tell, which makes it so much more than just a satire. 

Out of all the vampire books out there, this one is worth checking out. It you're in the mood for a teen paranormal with dry humor, definitely check it out!  It may not be for everybody, but it was much better for me than I had expected!  


  1. I didn't read The Witch of Blackbird Pond until I was an adult, either, and had the same feeling: how did I miss this? It's become my standard of excellent historical fiction.

  2. Loved "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" even as a child. You've done a great job with these reviews. Makes me want to read all of them!