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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Moriarty, L. (2014). Big Little Lies. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9780399167065

Annotation: Three women in a idyllic suburban neighborhood are dealing with different personal challenges as their children begin kindergarten, and they learn to lean on each other for support.

Reaction: So on the surface, this book is a mystery. It opens with interviews of the attendees of a Parent’s Trivia Night at the local elementary school where Something Has Happened, but we don’t know what yet. The main narrative arc then begins about six months before the Trivia Night, and leads us through all the events that led up to the Something That Has Happened.

But really? The mystery is secondary to the relationships between the three main characters, Madeline, Celeste and Jane, and what’s going on in each woman’s life. Which is not to say that I didn’t spend the entire book trying to guess what happened to whom, but I think this book really triumphs in it’s depiction of the friendships between adult women. In talking about this book with my own friends, that’s the one aspect that has been really refreshing; Moriarty’s characters rely on each other and become stronger through their friendship, and I don’t think that’s something you see very often in literature. And sure, Madeline is a little catty, but when it comes down to it, she’s all about supporting the women around her, even her nemesis.

On top of that, all of the characters in this book, even those we only see in their interviews and the entire class of five year olds, are all really well drawn and unique. There are a lot of characters in this book, and I think it would have been really easy for them all to become just part of the crowd, but by the end, Moriarty has told us significant details about every one.

On top of ALL that, this book was compellingly readable. I was listening to the audibook on CD in my car, and I found myself not only looking forward to long drives alone so that I could really dig into the story, but also sitting in the driveway listening because I had to find out what happened next. It was completely engrossing and emotional and funny, and oh my God, I want to be Madeline when I grow up. She’s the best. And there’s nothing I love more than when an author creates characters I want to hang out with.

Author’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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I Loathe You by David Slonim

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Slonim, D. (2012). I loathe you. New York: Aladdin. ISBN: 9781442422445

Annotation: Just how much does Big Monster loathe Little Monster? More than every gross thing and in all possible nasty ways, it turns out.

Reaction: I originally picked this book out for my preschool storytime. I think preschoolers would totally love it…if they got the joke. I think this book would be wonderful one on one or with a small group, where you could explain it a little, but I just don’t think I can do that with my 15 kids. The rhyming text is delightful, full of yucky, nasty gross imagery and accompanying images. I love the colorful illustrations, and Slonim’s depictions of all the ways Big Monster loves Little Monster. It’s a super cute twist to the all the usual “how much do I love you” books. It’s sentimental and affectionate without being overly sappy.

Media Used: Acrylic with charcoal

Author’s Website

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Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani

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Daswani, K. (2012). Lovetorn. New York: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780061673115

Annotation: When Shalini’s father’s new job moves the family to Los Angeles from India, she has to learn how to survive in American high school, and eventually she begins to question the marriage that was arranged for her when she was three.

Reaction: I feel like I don’t often see Young Adult novels with an Indian (the country, jsyk) protagonist, though that could be a symptom of me simply not noticing these books. I am always fascinated by stories featuring Indian culture, since it is so different from what we experience in the US.

This is a story about a sixteen year old girl who has been engaged to her best friend since she was three years old. She loves her fiance, but the distance and culture shock of coming to the US cause Shalini to doubt her relationship. When she first starts at her new school, Shalini clings to the familiarity of her Indian heritage, but as the year progresses, she comes to embraces both the cultures in which she lives. Complicating her transition to American life is her mother’s deep depression and rejection of anything American.

This is a great book for anyone who is interested in Indian culture and wants a glimpse into what it might be like for a teen from India. The romance is strong in this book, so I’m not sure how much boys will enjoy it, but I think it would be a great introduction to another culture for those teens interested in realistic YA fiction with a romantic twist.

Author’s Website

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The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze

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Craze, G. (2012). The last princess. New York: Poppy. ISBN: 9780316185486

Annotation: After simultaneous natural disasters have destroyed modern society and left England isolated, the princess Eliza has to find a way to save her family from a crazed dictator who is determined to eliminate the British monarchy.

Reaction: Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The plot is fast paced and easy to read, and I kind of enjoyed that Eliza is a descendant of the current queen of England some unknown generations removed. Eliza is a strong heroine who does what it takes to survive not just the devastation of the land itself, but also the crazed dictator who wants to kill her entire family and crown himself as king.

I really like the premise of the book and the way Craze humanizes the British monarchy; despite Eliza being a fictional princess, writing her as a descendant of the current queen sort of makes me rethink how I view the royals as distant, practically mythological figures. The world building in this book is also good. Craze transforms the UK into a terrifying landscape that it almost familiar, which is a little heartbreaking, to be honest.

Unfortunately, the prologue of the book set my expectations a little low. In the first three pages, the queen, Eliza’s mother, dies of poisoning after receiving a gift basket from an unknown sender and eating the practically extinct fruit. OF COURSE the mystery fruit is poisoned! Are you new to being royalty? I’m not the queen, and even I know that you don’t eat fruit when you don’t know where it comes from! After that, I was prepared for all sorts of ridiculous and terrible plot points. Thankfully, the book pretty much only goes up from there. But while the story is engaging (and not terrible!), it’s also not super surprising. To anyone paying attention to any book ever written, the reveal of Wesley’s, Eliza’s savior and protector, true identity comes as no shock. It’s not badly done, it’s just not the huge surprise it’s supposed to be in the story.

Cornelius Hollister is a villain whose actions are horrific, but the character himself nor his motivations are super well defined. The best explanation we get in this book is when he tells Eliza that he does what he does because her family feasted while the people starved, though he is not trying to set himself up as a benevolent equalizer of the people. His regime puts one more in the mind of Hitler, causing the common folk to rally around Eliza and fight to reestablish her the Windsor line as monarchy.

My criticisms aside, I did genuinely like this book, and I might even read the sequel when it comes out. I read this book in about two days, probably totaling less than twelve hours reading time, so anyone looking for fast, intriguing post-apocalyptic YA novels should definitely pick this one up.

Author’s Website: None

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Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson

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Woodson, J., & Talbott, H. (ill.) (2005). Show way. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9780399237492

Annotation: The making of quilts to “Show Way” to freedom is a tradition passed through the author’s family for over 150 years, tying each woman to all the women who came before.

Reaction: This book was really powerful, and I love the way Woodson told her personal family history. I love the way quilting was passed down in her family and symbolized hope and African-Americans’ fight for freedom.

The art is beautiful and textured. Talbott really captured the patchwork of quilting and the importance of family and personal history. The quilt pieces are bright spots of color in often otherwise dark illustrations.

I think this book would be great as part of a 5th or 6th grade history unit. Woodson’s family history could spark really great discussion about heritage and honoring one’s roots.

Media Used: Multimedia, including watercolors, chalk, muslin, workshirts and bermuda shorts on Arches cold-press watercolor paper.

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website

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Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalil

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Amir & Khalil. (2011). Zahra’s Paradise. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596436428

Annotation: After the 2009 Iranian elections and subsequent protests, a 19 year old boy goes missing. This is the story of his family’s desperate search for him.

Reaction: I don’t know what to say about this book. I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t take any pleasure from reading it, except the pleasure of reading a well crafted, riveting story. But I’m glad to have read it. I think it was worthwhile and important and I think more people should read it.

Amir and Khalil, writing under pseudonyms for safety reasons, created a story that, while fictional, is probably similar to what a lot of Iranian families went through after the 2009 election and protests. They capture the narrator and his mother’s desperation to find Mehdi after he never came home from the protests. The circles they have to run and the danger of asking too many questions just to find any information about him are ridiculous and heartbreaking.

I remember the tweets from protesters after the elections and the tweets from those outside Iran after the government cut off internet access. At the time, I didn’t quite realize just how brave and heroic the protesters were, but they faced imprisonment or worse for the chance at freedom.

I’ll admit to being a bit confused during the book occasionally simply because I don’t know anything about Iranian politics, but they have really helpful guides in the back (that I would totally have used while reading if I had known about them before I finished).

I would give this to mature readers, probably juniors and seniors in high school and above, but it’s especially for those who liked Persepolis. I think this would go with a high school current events unit really well, as it gives the reader a real sense of what Iran is like for regular people, and the additional context of a class discussion about the politics and modern history there would really be helpful.

Media Used: None listed

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Stitches by David Small

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Small, D. (2009). Stitches: a memoir. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 9780393068573

Annotation: At 14, David is taken into surgery to have a lump in his throat removed. After two surgeries, he wakes up to find one of his vocal chords has been removed, he can’t talk and he has a huge scar across his throat. Then he discovers that his parents are hiding the fact that the lump was cancerous.

Reaction: I wasn’t expecting to like this book; I didn’t really know what it was about, but something about the blurb on the cover turned me off, not that I can remember now what it was. But some of my Picture Books classmates really enjoyed it, since I already had it checked out, I figured I might as well read it. I was quite pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this quiet, moving memoir. Small’s story is a little heartbreaking, but it’s also a little heroic. He managed to work through his family issues and become a successful illustrator and author.

His illustrations in this are beautiful and set the tone for the story. He allows the pictures to handle all the descriptive heavy lifting, using short declarative sentences for most of the book. I love the grey washes that are the only color; it adds to the feeling of melancholy that pervades most of the story.

I would recommend this for graphic novel loving high school kids. The themes and tone are a bit mature; nothing really offensive, but just really heavy subject matter.

Media Used: None listed, but it appears to be ink and watercolor, similar to So You Want to be President?

Author’s Website