06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Paula, Poetry

Directing Herbert White by James Franco, 83 pages, read by Paula, on 01/06/2015

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Directing Herbert White is the debut poetry collection by the actor, director, and writer James Franco
I’m a nocturnal creature,
And I’m here to cheat time.
You can see time and exhaustion
Taking pay from my face—In fifty years
My sleep will be death,
I’ll go like the rest,
But I’ll have played

All the games and all the roles.
—from “Nocturnal”

“There’s never been a book quite like this. Hollywood—fame, celebrity, the promise of becoming an artist—is the beast at its center. Franco knows it like Melville knows whaling. Hollywood in this book devours its young. Obsessed with myths about its own past, it can be survived only by finding a vantage point that is not Hollywood. Bold yet subtle, fearless yet disarming, Franco has made a book you will never forget.” —Frank Bidart“A star-studded cast moves like ghosts across the screen of James Franco’s poetic consciousness, imbuing the writing with scenes of icons who are also humans replete with sorrow and presence in our own psyches. James Dean, Monica Vitti, Catherine Deneuve, Sal Mineo, Heath Ledger, pass and fade. The author has a wonderful, self-reflexive insouciance about his own fame and roles inhabited, from Hart Crane to Allen Ginsberg to Harvey Milk’s lover. Franco is a gifted contemporary Renaissance kind of guy, surveying the waterfront of illusion, suffering, and impermanance. We leave the movie theater a little wiser.” —Anne Waldman

This is the work of art that made me a Franco fanatic. His poetry is a beautiful glimpse into his mind and soul.
31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Paula, Poetry

Howl: And Other Poems by Ginsberg, Allen, 57 pages, read by Paula, on 12/29/2014

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“Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems was originally published by City Lights Books in the fall of 1956. Subsequently seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police, it was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene.

Allen Ginsberg was born June 3, 1926, the son of Naomi Ginsberg, Russian émigré, and Louis Ginsberg, lyric poet and schoolteacher, in Paterson, New Jersey. To these facts Ginsberg adds: “High school in Paterson till 17, Columbia College, merchant marine, Texas and Denver copyboy, Times Square, amigos in jail, dishwashing, book reviews, Mexico City, market research, Satori in Harlem, Yucatan and Chiapas 1954, West Coast 3 years. Later Arctic Sea trip, Tangier, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, read at Oxford Harvard Columbia Chicago, quit, wrote Kaddish 1959, made tape to leave behind & fade in Orient awhile. Carl Solomon to whom Howl is addressed, is a intuitive Bronx dadaist and prose-poet.””

23. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/22/2014

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.

Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.

Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.

19. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Autobiographies, Children's Books, Memoirs, NonFiction, Poetry

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 12/18/2014

Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s wonderful novel in verse memoir of her childhood. She moves from her birthplace in Ohio to her mother’s people in South Carolina to New York. It is a story of leaving things behind as she leaves her father behind in Ohio and her beloved grandparents behind in South Carolina. It is a story of love and loss and hope and dreams. Woodson dreamed of creating stories and being a writer from an early age but struggled with a learning disability. The book also shows the struggle of Blacks during the Civil Rights era. We are shown what it means to be Black in South Carolina and how that is different in New York. Woodson’s story is beautiful and lyrical and a wonderful story to read. I’m not sure how much traction it will get with the elementary/middle school readers as novels in verse are sometimes a hard sell.

10. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Shane Evans (Illustrations), 336 pages, read by Angie, on 12/09/2014

Amira lives with her family in a village in South Darfur. She is envious of her friend Halima who gets to attend school in a neighboring city. Even though her family is fairly prosperous in the village they do not have the money to send her to school, nor would her conservative mother allow it. Their idyllic life is destroyed when the Janjaweed invade the village killing many of the people including Amira’s father. The survivors trek through the Sudanese desert to a refugee camp at Kalma. The camp is nothing like their village and Amira has a difficult time adjusting until she receives a red pencil and a pad of paper from one of the refugee workers. Suddenly Amira’s dream of learning to read and write becomes a possibility.

I really enjoy novels in verse. I think they are a beautiful way of telling a story. I think Pinkney’s verses are lyrical and really illustrate Amira’s thoughts and environment. I also appreciate stories that take place in settings or deal with situations or events that are not often covered in middle grade books. I can’t say I have ever read a middle grade book about the situation in Darfur and it is not one you hear about in general. This was a good introduction to the genocide that has been taking place there for the past decade. I only wish more information could have been included about the conflict, the Janjaweed and what is actually happening to thousands of people. Because the book is told from Amira’s point of view, and she has little knowledge of the conflict, readers do not get a lot of information.

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Humor, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs by Francesco Marciuliano, 110 pages, read by Tammy, on 12/04/2014

i could chew on thisA collection of poetry that express dogs devotion to their owners, their food and what makes them happy. Things like squeaky toys, naps, bones. Funny and heartfelt. For anyone who has ever loved a dog.

 

26. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Cats, Humor, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

The Rules: A Guide For People Owned By Cats by Max Thompson , 85 pages, read by Tammy, on 11/25/2014

rules for peopleMax Thompson known far and wide on the Internet as “The Psychokitty” is an expert in all things feline. He has decided to help out humans everywhere to understand the ways of the cat. That with cute furriness comes hairballs. There are paw drawn illustrations and note pages to further assist people with their learning curve. At the end are included some letters from cats and their people who have written to Psychkitty for advice. A funny book. Though I must say that Psychokitty seems to have more issues with poop and barfing then any of the five house cats I have had.

 

26. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Cats, Humor, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

I Knead My Mommy: And Other Poems by Kittens by Francesco Marciuliano , 111 pages, read by Tammy, on 11/24/2014

download (1)Nothing is cuter than a kitten or more curious. This book of poems by kittens shares their amazement at their new world around them, their never ending curiosity and how they learn to live with older cats and their people. Filled with cute photos and funny poems that made me laugh out loud.

26. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Cats, Humor, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

I could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano , 111 pages, read by Tammy, on 11/20/2014

i could pee on thisThis book is full of fun photos of cats and kittens and the poems are straight forward and funny. If you have ever owned a cat, especially a house cat this book is for you. Some of the poems made me laugh out loud. Others made me give an exasperated sigh, because “my cat has done that.” The author of the syndicated comic strip, Sally Forth, helps cats unlock their creative potential and explain their odd behavior in perfectly cat logical ways. But no matter how wacky, whimsical or exasperating cats are always still loveable. At least mine are. : )

08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Suzy’s little brother becomes a hero when he calls 911 for a neighbor. Suddenly Suzy is second fiddle in the family and Parker is getting all the attention. Suzy’s and her best friend Alison are taking part in Tween Time at the library during the summer and learning about the 1800s. Suzy is also friends with Gilbert, a young man who does odd jobs around the neighborhood. Gilbert is accused of stealing from one of the neighbors, but Suzy is sure he didn’t do it. When Suzy learns about Emily Dickinson at the library she decides that maybe it is time to give up being Suzy and start being Emily. She wears white dresses and becomes a recluse. However, being a recluse is hard work and Emily misses some of the things she did as Suzy.

I enjoy novels in verse and this one was fairly well done. I liked the family dynamic of Suzy’s family, but I felt like most parents would not have put up with the recluse nonsense. I did think it was pretty realistic how Parker got more attention than Suzy and she got jealous. That is something a lot of kids have to work through. I am not sure how familiar kids today would be with Emily Dickinson and her poetry.

06. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank, 272 pages, read by Courtney, on 09/27/2014

This novel-in-verse—at once literary and emotionally gripping—follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.

Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. Where Chess is polite, Shannon is rude. Where Chess tolerates pain silently, Shannon screams bloody murder. Where Chess seems to be getting slowly better, Shannon seems to be getting worse. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.

06. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins , 560 pages, read by Courtney, on 09/14/2014

Matthew Turner is an atheist. He might have believed in God if his brother was still alive. But his brother committed suicide after the persistent harassment and hostility he faced when he came out as gay. In Matthew’s mind, if there really was a God, that God wouldn’t have let such terrible things happen to his brother, who was, by all accounts, a kind and wonderful human being. In fact, when it comes right down to it, Matthew doesn’t have faith in anything. His parents don’t get along; his father is a philanderer. His girlfriend is deeply religious, which causes serious problems when she decides she needs to get closer to God instead of Matt. School is even a bit of a mess; his essays raging against Christianity get him in trouble. What’s a kid to do when there’s nothing to believe in?

I’m ultimately kind of split on how I feel about Hopkins’ latest effort. On many levels,Rumble is great. On others, it feels heavy-handed and slightly contrived. The discussion of guilt and culpability is an important one for teens to read about, but Matthew is not a likeable character. He’s full of vitriol when it comes to the religion issue and he’s incredibly disrespectful of the faith of others. Of course, this really only pertains to Christianity, not other faiths. I’m honestly not sure that I buy the relationship between Matthew and his girlfriend. I have a lot of trouble believing that a girl so deeply religious would want to be around someone so exceedingly hostile toward a major aspect of her life. I might have bought it if one of the characters was more middle-of-the-road, or at least in a questioning phase. In this case, it feels like she exists more as a plot device and foil rather than a fully-realized character. That all having been said, I still found the overall message of the book to be a good and necessary one. While I saw the ending coming, I’m sure it will still satisfy many readers and give them plenty of food for thought.

19. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry

Voices from the March on Washington by J Patrick Lewis, George Ella Lyon, 128 pages, read by Angie, on 09/18/2014

This is a collection of poems that capture the spirit of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The voices range from young to old and from black to white. They capture the commitment of those determine to make a change in their world. While these are all fictional people it isn’t hard to believe there were those in the crowd who felt the way these characters felt. The poems are interspersed by verses by famous people who were actually at the March. This is an excellent collection of poems that really illustrate just how powerful that day was for those who were there.

08. July 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

Odette lives in Paris with her mother and father. They are non-practicing Jews and have a good life in Paris. Then the Nazis come into power and things begin to change. First her father joins the French Army and is taken prisoner by the Germans. Then the Nazis start rounding up the Jews of Paris. Odette’s mother is prepared however and Odette gets sent to the Vendee countryside with several other little girls. They are going to hide in plain sight not as Jews but as Christian girls escaping the violence of Paris. Odette must learn the Catholic prayers and the sign of the cross and never tell anyone she is Jewish. Odette considers this just one more secret she must keep. Her mother soon joins her in the country which makes things even more difficult. They spend the war safely ensconced in their country cottage, but suspicions still follow them. After the war they are able to return to Paris and their home, but life will never be the same. 

I really enjoy novels in verse and thought the format really worked for this book. Odette’s Secrets is based on the true story of Odette Meyer and how she and her family survived the war. Odette was able to blend in as a Christian girl and actually came to enjoy praying and different aspects of Christian life. It is amazing how adaptable people, especially children, can be. I am always fascinated by the stories of how people survived during WWII. These stories make me wonder if I would be as strong or as brave as those who fought against the Nazis and did what they must to survive.

07. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Kristy, Poetry, Teen Books

I Just Hope It's Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy by Liz Rosenberg (Editor), Deena November (Editor), 208 pages, read by Kristy, on 04/05/2014

The teenage years are a time filled with sadness, madness, joy, and all the messy stuff in between. Sometimes it feels that every day brings a new struggle, a new concern, a new reason to stay in bed with the shades drawn. But between moments of despair and confusion often come times of great clarity and insight, when you might think, like the poet Rumi, “Whoever’s calm and sensible is insane!” It is moments like these that have inspired the touching, honest, and gripping poems found in I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy. After all, what’s normal anyway? 

This collection includes poems by Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe, W. B. Yeats, Dorothy Parker, Jane Kenyon, and many more, including teenage writers and up-and-coming poets.

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kristy, Poetry

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, 256 pages, read by Kristy, on 03/31/2014

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

19. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Poetry

God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant, Marla Frazee (Illustrations), 48 pages, read by Angie, on 02/19/2014

God Got a Dog is a short collection of poems by Cynthia Rylant. These poems all explore what would happen if God came to earth to explore being a human. He gets a job, gets in a fight, goes skating, eats spaghetti, gets cable and ends up with a dog to warm his feet. I liked the fact that while some of the poems are a little irreverent (talking about writing the bible) most of them are fairly serious looks at what God would find himself or herself doing as a human. I also really liked the fact that God could be any age and any gender; he is everyone and no one at the same time. This book will not be for everyone, but it is filled with thoughtful poems that really explore what it means to be human and who God is.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins, 543 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/24/2013

In spite of the fact that “Burned” was not my favorite of Hopkins’ books (a statement which will likely get me in trouble with many of my teens, for whom this is a much-beloved favorite), I was still anxious to read “Smoke”, its sequel. It had never occurred to me that there might even be a sequel to “Burned”, which so clearly stood on its own, but then, well, Ellen went and wrote a sequel.
This picks up more or less where “Burned” left off. Pattyn Von Stratten is now on the run after the death of her father. She has nowhere to go and no one left to turn to. She meets a girl her age who agrees to put her up for the night. There, Pattyn meets the rest of the girl’s family- all immigrants. In spite of the cultural differences, Pattyn begins to feel more at home with this new family than her real one.
In the meantime, Pattyn’s sister, Jackie, is still at home with the rest of the family and dealing with the aftermath of what happened in the family garage that fateful night. With Pattyn gone, Jackie has no one left to turn to. She’s not even remotely upset about what happened to her father, but she cannot accept her mother’s failure to acknowledge the trauma that Jackie has endured. The family’s continued adherence to the LDS church means that the family secrets are not to be discussed. Gradually, Jackie’s pain turns to anger as she begins to heal with the help of a new boyfriend.
This is a relatively tame book for those who are familiar with Hopkins’ oeuvre. The main themes center around the aftermath of abuse. This is, ultimately, a survivor’s tale. Pattyn and Jackie each have very different approaches to healing their psychological wounds, but each does so in a way that feels true to their character. There are times when the narrative drags, but readers who loved Burned will undoubtedly love meeting back up with the Von Stratten sisters and will rejoice in their triumphs over their troubling family situation.

I received this ARC from the publisher at the ALA Annual Conference. Smoke officially publishes in September 2013.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story by Sonya Sones, 496 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/15/2013

Colette is the daughter of a major Hollywood actress and has developed a knack for lying to escape from her mother’s shadow. She’s known for lying about anything and everything. Colette and her little brother even make a game of pretending its their birthday at restaurants to score free desert. When Colette’s summer plans are abruptly cancelled due to her mother’s filming schedule, Colette is convinced it’s going to be the worst summer ever. On the way to the middle-of-nowhere town that the filming is taking place in, Colette spots a gorgeous guy on a motorcycle and decides that maybe summer won’t be so terrible after all. She is even more pleased when biker-guy begins to pay attention to her. Colette worries, however, that her mother’s fame will ruin this relationship just as it has so many others, so she lies about her age and background. What Colette doesn’t count on is that her new boyfriend may be hiding a few secrets of his own.
This is the quintessential fun summer read. Since it’s written in verse, the story moves extremely quickly. Colette is fun and sarcastic, if a bit naive. Her little brother is charming, though his lisping quickly starts to feel like a cutesy convention. Readers may see the twist coming, but will likely be entertained enough by the humor and pacing to forgive the somewhat cliched ending.

This novel comes out in late August. I received this ARC from the publisher at the ALA Annual Conference.

11. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry, Rachel, Teen Books

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, 117 pages, read by Rachel, on 12/09/2013

Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora’s journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could possibly change her life—a voice. Eleanora could sing. Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with some of the era’s hottest big bands. Billie Holiday sang as if she had lived each lyric, and in many ways she had. Through a sequence of raw and poignant poems, award-winning poet Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Eleanora Fagan’s metamorphosis into Billie Holiday. The author examines the singer’s young life, her fight for survival, and the dream she pursued with passion in this Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner. With stunning art by Floyd Cooper, this book provides a revealing look at a cultural icon.

I loved this book of poetry! It was a quick read, but full of biographical information on one my favorite jazz singers. The illustrations were beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.