Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books

January 2012

One of my flute students loaned me this book. "You haven't read it yet? You HAVE to! Here." *hands me her copy*

Find it on:

Can I admit that I went into The Fault in Our Stars with a bad attitude?

  • It's YA. I expected to have a flashback to those Lurlene McDaniel novels that were so popular in the '80s.
  • It centers on a love story, gag! (I sound heartless, don't I?)
  • It's about cancer. Kids with cancer. My sister was diagnosed with an aggressive, very rare cancer (leiomyosarcoma) when she was a kid. She's an adult now and thankfully cancer-free, but I remember those times.
So yeah, I could not imagine enjoying this book. But I was curious about it, because there has been so much hype. When one of my flute students loaned me her copy, I had no excuse and the pressure was on.

Thankfully, I really enjoyed John Green's writing. It read quickly like I expect whenever I pick up a YA novel, but the writing was so refined. I was surprised to find that the teenager tone didn't annoy me at all. I even found the love story to be sweet. There was a little adventure - a bookish one at that! And the characters' cynicism and honesty, even when that honesty had the potential to make people uncomfortable, was absolutely refreshing. No sap. Just reality.

And oh my word, reading this as a parent?! I thought I would be okay as far as crying went, and mostly I was. Then came some particularly moving glimpses into the parents' perspective, and I lost it.

Obviously this topic makes the book a tough read, but surprisingly, I didn't find it to be a downer. It was insightful and focused on living life to its fullest even when facing death, without being overly sentimental or manipulating the reader's emotions.

Thanks to FangirlingFlautist for making me read this! I'm sure I'll be reading more by John Green.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Small Fry Saturday: Artsy Boys and Smelly Girls by Elise Gravel

Small Fry Saturday is a meme inspired by The Well-Read Redhead, showcasing books our children enjoy.

This week's pick is:

Title: Artsy Boys and Smelly Girls
Author: Elise Gravel
Illustrator: Elise Gravel
Publisher: self-published

A Facebook friend shared the link to the book on the author's website. I happened to notice it in my News Feed.

Find this e-book for FREE at:

Gender stereotypes, grrrr. I know I'm not the only parent who cringes when children are pigeonholed, who cheers when a book or toy promotes kids being themselves. C still enjoys a good picture book, so I was excited to stumble upon Elise Gravel's e-book Artsy Boys and Smelly Girls. It has fun illustrations (just like the cover image above) and an easy to understand message. Each page features an adjective or an emotion — such as angry or sensitive — and illustrates it in a way that defies common gender stereotypes (so, an angry girl, a sensitive boy). Each example is also so very normal, which makes a simple message pretty powerful.

If it were available in print (it'd be perfect as a board book), I'd be buying gift copies left and right! Artsy Boys and Smelly Girls is available in PDF format, in French and in English, as a FREE download at the author's website.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Title: How to Build a Girl
Author: Caitlin Moran
Publisher: Harper

Expected Release:
September 23, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
After shaming herself on local television, fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself. It's 1990, prime time for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Johanna transforms into Dolly Wilde and lands a job writing reviews for a music paper by the time she's sixteen, determined to save her family from poverty. Eventually her new lifestyle catches up with her and she is forced to confront Dolly's tragic flaw.

Johanna is incredibly intelligent. In a strange sort of way, she reminds me of an edgy Flavia de Luce. I think it's the way her mind works. She's discerning and sees things as they really are... yet, she can't deny her teenage desires to be desired, to be beautiful, to be cool. She also can't avoid the inevitability of making stupid choices and naive assumptions, though she recognizes the wrongness of her situation and the fact that she's still a child.

This book is a wild and crazy ride, but it's so much deeper than that. Johanna carries the burden and anxiety of her family's poverty. We are privvy to her thought process as she works through her deepest inner conflicts. Her revelations are profound, sometimes sad, always enlightening.

There are sticky notes all throughout my copy of the book. I can see why some of my fellow bloggers broke this up in sections and were still able to write profusely about each one. How to Build a Girl would be perfect for a book group; it's guaranteed to inspire and encourage endless discussion. An unforgettable coming of age story with a nice, satisfying ending.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall Bloggiesta To Do List

I'm a little short on time this weekend, but I think I'm going to sneak in and try to participate in Bloggiesta. I was feeling too disappointed at the thought of not participating at all. Plus, I normally finish my lists fairly quickly. Short on time? Bah! There's plenty of time!

Here's my to do list:

Interested in participating in Bloggiesta? It's not too late! All the details can be found here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline

I'm excited to be a part of the blog tour for Christina Baker Kline's The Way Life Should Be. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour begins today and finishes up October 8; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!

Title: The Way Life Should Be
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow

May 2008

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Find it on:
Angela is 33 years old and single, stuck in a job she doesn't love and a life that seems, somehow, to have just happened. Though she inherited a flair for Italian cooking from her grandmother, she never has the time; for the past six months, her oven has held only sweaters. Angela decides to risk it all and move to Maine, but her new home isn't quite what she expected. Far from everything familiar, and with little to return to, Angela begins to rebuild her life from the ground up, moving into a tiny cottage and finding work at a local coffee shop. To make friends and make ends meet, she leads a cooking class, slowly coming to discover the pleasures and secrets of her new small community, and – perhaps – a way to connect her heritage to a future she is only beginning to envision.

My Thoughts:
This was my first time reading one of Christina Baker Kline's novels, though I've noticed a lot of positive comments about her books around the blogosphere and have had Orphan Train on my shelf for a while. The Way Life Should Be is women's fiction with a slight chick-lit feel. It had a first person present tense narrative, which for some reason struck me: I felt like Amanda was right there in front of me, telling me her story. Amanda has suppressed her naturally adventurous spirit over the years, and is in this weird stage that falls somewhere between feeling like she needs a man in her life and wanting to be completely self-reliant. I liked the pull between the two; it felt realistic.

There was an insta-romance at the start. Okay. Not my thing at all, but somehow it wasn't annoying here, so I stuck with it (and was glad I did). The book was also a little predictable, but that didn't matter much, either. On the flip side, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Kline to wrap up this novel in any number of expected, typical ways, but she didn't. This one had an open ending that made complete, perfect sense.

Kline crafts a story that's so enjoyable. It's perfect whenever you want a light, comfort read. It's easy to live vicariously through her characters. As a bonus, tasty Italian recipes are included at end of the novel. I know I'll be reaching for Kline's other novels in the future.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Salon: Reading Little, Hanging On

It's a good thing I have all my reviews for September already written and scheduled, because I've hardly had time to read at all! I'm playing in the orchestra for a local production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun, and unlike The Sound of Music last month, there is hardly a moment to rest, much less get any reading done.

Regardless of my super slow pace, I'm enjoying The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which is really cute and kind of quirky. I'm also reading an Italian middle grade novel (in Italian) called Tobia e l'Angelo by Susanna Tamaro. It's about a lonely young girl and the way she perceives and contemplates the world around her. It has a slightly surreal, dreamlike tone which I find so beautiful.

I stopped by the library last week, just ran in to renew my card (it "expires" every couple of years, you just have to confirm your info to renew it in the computer). Of course I couldn't leave empty-handed: I left with The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Facades by Eric Lundgren, two books I've been wanting to read for a while. I have a shelf full of books here at my home waiting to be read, and I couldn't show self-control during a quick library stop?! (To be fair, they were sitting on a featured shelf right by the exit. Understandable, right?)

Are you able to visit the library and leave without checking out something?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Small Fry Saturday: Nonfiction Kidlit Mini Reviews

Image Map

I always have my eyes open for nonfiction titles I think my daughter will enjoy, especially if I can include them in our homeschooling day. The following two books were big hits. I received a copy of each from Kids Can Press to be considered for an honest review.

If... A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers
written by David J. Smith
illustrated by Steve Adams

Huge concepts are scaled down to help kids wrap their minds around facts such as the age of the earth, the size of our galaxy, etc. To be honest, it can be difficult for adults to fully grasp this degree of enormity. I'm a sucker for living math/science, and the cover art was so gorgeous I couldn't resist giving it a try with C (age 5), even though it's geared for ages 8 to 12. Much of it was way over her head, but she was drawn to each page and really seemed to want to figure it out. And there were some pages she could grasp, so I think this will be a great "grow with me" kind of book we can go back to for several years. Not only is the artwork stunning, it supports the ideas presented on the page: Sometimes, if the text was too much for C, the illustrations gave her the basic idea. The author includes teaching ideas at the end. Such a cool book!

Families Around the World
written by Margriet Ruurs
illustrated by Jessica Rae Gordon

This title is geared for ages 3 to 7. The artwork is lovely, very colorful and sweet. I was glad to see a wide variety of families portrayed. There were differences in gender (one child has two  moms), race (including a biracial family), faith, generations and family size, community, and culture. The text itself isn't especially captivating, but it's brief and to the point. C liked how each portrait started with a greeting in the child's native language. There's a glossary/pronunciation guide in the back, as well as ideas for further enrichment. My mind was swimming with ideas of how to use this book for social studies!

Do you have any favorite nonfiction titles that spark children's interest and inspire them to learn more?