Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

While I was working the book fair The Dark Unwinding was another book that caught my attention.  The cover hooked me and the description on the back drew me in the rest of the way.  In 1852, Katharine is a seventeen-year-old girl with no fortune of her own living with her Aunt Alice in London.  When Aunt Alice receives word that the family fortune is being wasted by the current controller of the estate, she sends Katharine to have him committed to an insane asylum.  When Katharine arrives, she finds that her uncle is actually quite brilliant and that he employs hundreds of people in factories bringing his inventions to life.  She knows she must do what she can to protect her uncle, but doing so will most certainly result in her aunt turning her out of her home.  

This book is historical fiction and mystery and even a little romance all rolled into one.  It was wonderful to read and I had a little trouble putting it away at night.  The characters are rich and though the plot was a bit predictable at times, it also had twists I didn't expect.  The sequel will has already been added to my list.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Earlier this month, I served as the Book Fair Chairperson at our school.  I love book fair.  I love looking at all the books and I really love telling people which books they just have to buy.  The books I pushed the hardest were Wonder, The One and Only Ivan, and The Book Thief.  I just love being able to tell people about wonderful books and then watching as they come to love them as well.  And of course, I also love buying the books that I see at the book fair.

One that particularly captured my attention was Ungifted by Gordon Korman.  It's hard to ignore a cover like that, don't you agree?  It is the story of Donovan, a middle school trouble maker who is accidentally sent to an academy for gifted students.  Due to his most recent trouble, Donovan uses the academy as a place to hide out from the powers that be.  Unfortunately, he is decidedly ungifted.  When the letter comes informing him that he has qualified for this special school, he says to himself. "Forget it.  Not in a million years.  You won't last ten minutes in the gifted program.  There's never been anybody more ungifted than you."

While attending the Academy for Scholastic Distinction, Donovan suddenly becomes a part of the robotics team where the extent of his expertise is in decorating the body of the robot.  Also on this team are several people with IQs far above his own.  One of the fun parts about the book is that it is narrated by several different characters and each chapter lists the narrators full name as well as his or her IQ.  They range from 107 to 206.  Can you imagine being that smart?  Donovan makes friends he never would have expected and learns so much about himself, even if he can't understand a thing in biochemistry. 

I loved that this book talked about the positives and the negatives of being identified as gifted.  One girl in his class, Chloe, begins her chapter with this: "Being gifted is not a gift.  A gift you get for nothing.  This you have to pay for.... There is a price to being gifted."  Chloe just wants a "normal" life with friends and sports and free time and dances.  And Donovan notices the double standard enjoyed by the gifted students:

"We didn't even have the dumb soda rules that ruined everything.  For example, soda was banned at my old school because of the sugar content.  But the Academy lunchroom had a drink machine that was open to everybody.  It even sold the extra-sugar, extra-caffeine stuff.  It was fine, even necessary to fuel the brainiacs through late-night study marathons.  But if one of the ungifted kids at Hardcastle happened to get a sip, he'd go straight out and rob a bank."

I have already recommended this to two school counselors that I know and I have another friend whose husband teaches Physics and runs the robotics team at a nearby high school that I think would also find it amusing.  My sister is a teacher and I think she would get a kick out of it as well.  As a matter of fact, you should all read it.  Really.  Even if middle grade books aren't really your thing, I think you'll enjoy this one.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

I would consider my latest read, What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin, to be chick lit.  I am not usually a big fan of chick lit because I feel that books in this genre often lack substance.  While I certainly don't think that every book I read needs to be great literature, I also don't want to feel like I have wasted my time on fluff.  What Nora Knew wasn't like that.  It was fun and romantic and girly.  I knew while I was reading it that it would qualify as chick lit, but I really enjoyed it anyway.

Molly is a divorced magazine writer just on the verge of turning 40.  She has turned into quite the cynic when it comes to love and has stopped looking for anything truly special.  As a matter of fact, at the start of the book she is dating a man for whom all her friends and family believe she has settled.  He's nice; he's reliable; he has a good job and they get along well enough.  At one point she struggles with the thought that this man is the best she can do.  She actually asks, "Isn't somebody better than nobody?"  It makes me so sad to hear when a woman believes she should take whatever she can get.  Luckily for this book, there are plenty of strong female characters to make up for Molly's brief lack of backbone with this statement.  Later in the novel she redeems herself with: "I have long been an advocate of staying home with a good book over going out with a bad date."  That is much more along my line of thought.

So what does "Nora" have to do with it all?  Molly has been assigned to write about love in the style of Nora Ephron.  We've all seen When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle and those are to be Molly's inspiration for an article about falling and staying in love.  Sadly, Molly has lost all faith in that kind of love and so it becomes a difficult assignment for her.  In the meantime, she makes the acquaintance of a very popular crime novel author.  Each time she runs into Cameron Duncan, he is with a different woman and so she believes she knows all about him.  It is through him and through her article assignment that Molly learns far more about herself.  I enjoyed this book and I was always quick to get back to it.  It would make a nice beach read or if you are simply looking for something lighter and a little romantic.