Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

My sister, also a giant book nerd, joined me last year for Texas Book Festival and we had a great time. She reads mostly YA fiction and loved hearing all the YA authors speak. One such author, Paige McKenzie, was presenting her new book The Haunting of Sunshine Girl. McKenzie is a 17-year-old young woman who has created the character of Sunshine Girl and her various hauntings. After several years as a supernatural YouTube series, she released this book. Sunshine is a 16-year-old girl who comes to realize that she is meant to help spirits cross to the other side. She is very resistant to this idea at first, but when the stakes get too high for her to ignore, she accepts her role. This book is the first in a series and it ends in a bit of a cliffhanger, just to keep the reader interested.

Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. I am impressed by any 17-year-old who has a book published, but, sadly, this read exactly like a book written by a 17-year-old. The writing just wasn't very strong and I think her editors could have helped her more. Her website features a blurb by Yahoo that says "For Harry Potter and Twilight Fans." I certainly saw the Twilight connection, but it was definitely no Harry Potter. My sister really liked this book and that was my only real motivation to finish it. It was a quick read, but not really worth my time. Maybe I'm wrong and you'll love it. Or maybe not.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North- Reread

There are so many good books out there that I rarely get to a reread. I always say I'm going to reread, but I just never seem to find the time when I have so many books stacked here and there demanding my attention. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, however, is a different story, pun intended. You can read about my first experience with this wonderful book here. It was only a year-and-a-half ago, so it may seem a little early for a reread, but I didn't think so. This past December I gifted this book to a dear friend for her birthday. When she had time to get to it, I wanted to read along with her so that we could discuss it when she finished. When she told me she was going to read it right away, I knew I had to get started as well.

So, how does this book hold up on a reread? It was everything I remembered. I just hate it when I find a book I love, I pass it on to everyone I know and then I discover upon rereading that it wasn't really as good as I thought it was. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was NOT like that. It was still fascinating and captivating and I have now added it to my required reading list. I will continue to recommend this book to anyone who asks. Actually, have you read it yet??

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Oh, this book. Nest by Esther Ehrlich follows Naomi, better known as Chirp, as she attempts to navigate what is likely to be the most difficult year of her young life. At only eleven-years-old, Chirp must face the devastating illness of her beloved mother. Chirp's mother, Hannah is a talented dancer, but when her leg begins to drag everyone knows something serious is wrong. It is the 1970s and much isn't known about Multiple Sclerosis which is the diagnosis that Hannah finally receives. She is heartbroken and falls into a deep depression. Chirp does her best to cope with the changes in her home and spends her days bird watching at the pond near her home on Cape Cod. Chirp knows just about everything about the birds that visit her area, but her favorite is the elusive Red-Throated Loon.

This book covers topics that some might think are too difficult or painful for a middle grade reader, but that is what I think is important about it. So often we minimize what our children understand about the world around us. We protect them as best we can, as is right, but they see. They know. And so we must help them understand. When Chirp talks about her mother's depression, she is explaining it to the reader as well as to herself:

...her depression is chronic, which means it will never completely go away.

Chirp is afraid, but she is reluctant to say anything that might make her mother feel worse and so she keeps quiet.

I fill up the room with my haaaa so there's no room for anything else.

When things get even harder for Chirp, she retreats to her room and the only safe feeling she can imagine. She builds herself a nest from all her bedding and clothes, just like the birds she loves do.

A nest should be well constructed. It should keep you warm even when there are strong gusts or a downpour. It can't just fall apart. It should be as safe as possible from predators.

Isn't this what we all want from our home- a safe, warm nest? 

The prose in this novel is beautifully written. Right away in chapter one we get this lovely description:

The air's already thick and warm, even though the sun's still just a spritz of light in the pitch pines and scrub oaks.

And that wonderful writing continues through the entire novel. I really enjoyed this book. I think the subject matter is very important. It is touching and heartrending and beautiful.

*I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

When my husband saw that I was reading The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, he scoffed a bit. Reading a book about a television show is, to him, the equivalent of reading the junior novelization of a movie. Then I explained to him that it's not really about the show at all. It is about all of the history upon which the show is based. Throughout the book, information is shared about the culture of the Edwardian time period and all the details that twenty-first century viewers may not know. For instance, did you know that 9 million people worldwide died in World War I and that shortly thereafter 50 million people were victims of the Spanish Influenza epidemic? This may be something I had learned in a past history class, but when put into the context of characters that I have come to know, these facts come alive. I also learned about how Cora's character is based on the influx of rich American young women who came to Britain in search of titled young men to marry from the late 1870s, continuing for the next fifty years. These young women were referred to as the "Buccaneers'' and they injected a significant amount of American money into the great estates. 

...More determined matriarchs made their way to Europe, where the aristocrats were secure enough in their titles and estates to welcome the pretty, rich and fun young women to the party. And, they liked the smell of the American girls' money.

Also especially enjoyable to learn are all the ways in which young women were expected to behave, the manners that were thrust upon them as a necessity of daily life. Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, recalls in the book a member of his own family sharing this:

My great-aunts would be taken round the gardens by their governess and at every shrub they would have to introduce a new subject. The idea was that you could keep a conversation going even with someone who was completely socially incapable.

I really enjoyed gaining a deeper understanding behind one of my favorite shows. The only drawback of this book is that it was published at the beginning of series two and so it doesn't contain all the information on the remaining series. There is a new book, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, that covers all six series and I'd really like to read it as well. 
I also came across a Downton Abbey Script Book at a local book store that really just called my name. It is a collection of each series' scripts as well as notes on the motivation as well as historical notes to further inform the reader. It was fascinating and I'd really like to have that as well, but I'm trying not to get over my head. Oh, so many books, so little time. You know how it is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016

I am so excited to sign up for my very first reading challenge! I came across this one somewhere in the blogosphere and it is perfect for me. The Mount TBR Reading Challenge is hosted by My Reader's Block and I absolutely love the idea. There are eight levels from which to choose and there is one doable for everyone. Check these out:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s

Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

The whole idea is to finally make my way through all those books I've had for so long that I've never gotten around to reading. Last year I tried so hard to work my way through my TBR list by forbidding myself from purchasing new books. While that was a worthy goal, all it really accomplished was making me a more frequent patron of our library. While I love libraries, I really need to do something about those boxes of unread books that I don't want to have to move again. This challenge allows for the reading of paper books as well as e-books and I have quite the backlog of those as well, though they are much easier to store and move.

My favorite thing about this challenge is that it allows for DNFs or Did Not Finish books. Often I will go to my TBR pile and nothing really looks good to me (I don't know why because they certainly looked good when I bought them). The point of the challenge is to clear off (or at least greatly reduce) that pile. If I start a book and give it a real try and it turns out it's a book I will never really want to read, I can count it toward my total as long as I donate, sell, or give it away. Book removed, mission accomplished.

I'd really like to aim high with my goal, but I want to keep this realistic and also fun. I don't ever want reading to feel like a chore. That is why I am planning to start with Mt. Ararat. If I make it to 48 books and still have time in the year, I can always upgrade my goal to the next level.

Join me, won't you? This is going to be a lot of fun and it will help me make room for new books! How high can you climb?