Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Long Way Down audiobook, by Jason Reynolds

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. 2 hours on 2 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Odyssey Honor

I already wrote about how amazing this book was in my review of the print version. I found new levels of amazing by listening to it.

Jason Reynolds reads his own poetry, so he knows exactly how each line was intended. I noticed details I didn’t notice when I read it myself.

This audiobook is about a kid in a situation where what he thinks he needs to do is kill the person he’s sure murdered his brother. And then on each stop of the elevator someone gets on who was a victim of the same rules Will is trying to live by.

There’s whole new power in listening to Jason Reynolds read the words himself.

It’s a short book in either form, but it’s not one you’ll easily forget.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Silent Days, Silent Dreams, by Allen Say

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

by Allen Say

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is the story of artist James Castle, told from the perspective of his nephew.

James was born deaf and mute. Moving things seemed to frighten him, but he couldn’t even hear himself shriek. He eventually learned to draw, but he never did learn to speak, read, or write.

When James got upset, he’d scream. His father started locking him up in the attic to calm down. Eventually, he spent so much time there, it became his room. He’d draw pictures of the furniture he wanted to have.

For years, he went to the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, along with his sister who had become deaf after having the measles. James didn’t learn to read or write or speak, but he did learn how to sew books together, and he did more and more drawing. Now his drawings included houses with his name on them – but that was the only intelligible word he would write. He did put in symbols that looked like the alphabet, but if they had any meaning to him, he never told anyone else. When James was fifteen, the school told his family that he was “ineducable.”

When he no longer had access to drawing materials, he made his own from soot and spit. He drew on scraps of paper and even made books out of them. He continued to draw, and even made cut-out dolls, furniture, farm animals, and birds out of cardboard.

James Castle’s art went unappreciated for most of his life, until his nephew showed some of his drawings to an art professor. The art professor arranged an exhibit, and later James got to see his work displayed in an art gallery.

Allen Say does a beautiful job of telling about this artist’s life. He does most of the drawings in the style of James Castle and communicates how difficult life must have been for the artist – without any communication. In fact, he lets drawings tell much of the story. The drawings are especially poignant that show Jimmy shrieking when he couldn’t even hear himself, or being taunted by other children.

But the story ends hopefully. When Jim’s sister got him a mobile home to work in, replacing the old chicken coop, his nephew heard him laugh for the first time.

After thirty years in the chicken coop, Uncle Jim finally got his Dream House, as the family called it. He worked in it for fifteen more years, in the same way he had when I was a kid – drawing with soot and spit on scavenged paper. I think he was happy.

scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Parrotfish, by Ellen Wittlinger

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Parrotfish

by Ellen Wittlinger

Simon & Schuster, 2007. 287 pages.
Starred Review

I have a transgender adult daughter. So it’s high time I read this by now classic teen novel about a transgender teen boy. Though I wish I’d read it before I had a specific reason to do so – this is simply good writing.

Grady has decided to start his junior year of high school as the person he truly is – a boy. But when he tells his family and his former best friend to call him Grady instead of Angela, the reactions are mixed. When he tries to explain to his teachers and get them to use his new name, the responses are also mixed.

But this is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting novel. Grady makes a new friend, a nerdy guy named Sebastian who’s in his TV Production class. Sebastian asks Angela to the school dance, so Grady has to explain. Sebastian tells him that’s just like the stoplight parrotfish, which he’s doing a report on for Environmental Science. In fact, Sebastian tells him that there are many fish and other animals which change gender.

I thought you’d like some real evidence here that you are not alone in the animal world. There are other living creatures that do this all the time. ‘Nature creates many variations.’ I’m using that line in my paper.

The story of the book plays out as Grady’s Dad is preparing the Christmas Extravaganza their family does every year – even though everyone else in the family is tired of it. Grady’s younger, spoiled brother wants a dog, and his younger sister is embarrassed that everyone’s talking about Grady now. Meanwhile, Grady’s former best friend Eve has gotten in with the in-crowd of the school – led by a girl who’s a real bully, and sees Grady as a target.

And meanwhile, Grady’s making new friends, including a girl he has a crush on – but who’s the girlfriend of one of his new friends from TV Production class. Can a freak like him even dare to fall for someone? But maybe these new friends don’t see him as a freak. In fact, he finds himself giving advice to both the girl and the guy in that relationship – and they both appreciate that Grady is good at understanding both sides.

This is an excellent story about navigating relationships with friends and family in high school. And the main character happens to be transgender. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ashes, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Ashes

The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book Three

by Laurie Halse Anderson

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 298 pages.
Starred Review

This book concludes The Seeds of America Trilogy. I never did read the first book, Chains, about Isabel, an African girl stolen into slavery during Colonial times. (I need to remedy that!) I did read Forge, the second book, about Curzon, a slave turned soldier, and what he went through at Valley Forge.

In Ashes, Isabel and Curzon have joined forces and are going through the countryside looking for Isabel’s little sister Ruth. When they find her, their welcome is nothing like Isabel hoped for. But they wind up at the army camp in Williamsburg as the American and French soldiers prepare to lay siege to the British army at Yorktown.

Isabel’s the narrator of this volume. She’s got lots to worry about — finding her sister, staying alive, staying healthy, getting money and food to travel on, and staying free. Also, how does Curzon really feel about her? He seems to care more about fighting for so-called “freedom” than about her.

This book gives a fascinating look at a time I thought I knew a lot more about than I did. Giving the vantage point of African-Americans inside the camps brings it to life so much more vividly than a textbook.

I enjoyed the Revolutionary War-era diary excerpts and letter excerpts at the start of each chapter. There are also in-depth notes at the back. I knew from reading Octavian Nothing that the British promised freedom to African-Americans who fought for them. I learned in this book that 17 of George Washington’s slaves escaped during the Revolutionary War and fled to the British. Many of those were returned to him after the war, but a few did make it to New York and managed to get safety and freedom in Nova Scotia. Twenty-three of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves fled to join the British, though six were found and recaptured after the war.

All of these tidbits (told as answers to questions that naturally arise out of the story) are accompanied by suggestions for further reading.

MadWomanInTheForest.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Face of Water, by Sarah Ruden

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

The Face of Water

A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible

Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books, 2017. 229 pages.
Starred Review

The Face of Water looks at the Bible as ancient literature – beautiful ancient literature. The author has translated other works of Hebrew and Greek. Now she comes at the Bible text, not as a theologian, but as a translator and as someone who has worked with these ancient languages in other contexts.

What the author is trying to do here is fairly simple:

I would read in the original languages some of the best-known passages of the Bible and describe what I saw and heard there.

So here I am now, trying to make the book less a thing of paper and glue and ink and petrochemicals, and more a living thing.

The Introduction talks about how beautiful the Bible is as literature in its original languages.

The Bible’s beauty helps explain the astonishing amount of influence this set of texts gained in itself, in defiance of hard and even disastrous circumstances. It had to be something people were genuinely attached to – not distasteful or stern or dull writing they resignedly learned and obeyed; and not decrees they regarded as trivially or oppressively superstitious but went along with for pragmatic reasons. It had to be their book; it had to win their assent by every means available.

Then she gives history of how the Bible came together. She concedes the need for translators, but then says this:

Still, to me as a reader of ancient literature, most of what I see in English Bibles is loss: the loss of sound, the loss of literary imagery, the loss of emotion, and – inevitably, because these texts were performances deeply integrated into the lives of the authors and early readers and listeners – the loss of thought and experience. A deep irony is that reverence – fear of God, deference to the religious community, reluctance to impose personal judgment on a sacred text – has the effect, over time, of flattening out the inspiring expressiveness of the original; not only the physical beauty but the actual meanings, as – I have to insist – the two aren’t separate.

In the book that follows, I will use description, analogy, speculation, and experiment in attempts to convey something of what’s lost. I may provoke a great deal of disagreement, but that’s fine. If I merely bring a fuller and more nuanced discussion of the Bible into the public sphere, where it belongs, I will have made a bigger contribution than, a few years ago, I imagined possible.

The main part of the book has an odd format. In Part One, she takes seven Old Testament passages and seven New Testament passages, one of each in each chapter, and talks about the challenges of translating those passages, talks about what special cases come up in those passages.

In Part Two, she offers (in most cases) her own translation of the fourteen passages she considered in Part One. In Part Three, she gives a more direct transliteration of the original languages for the same passages – and a literal translation in parallel.

I would have liked to have the three parts interwoven, so that after reading about John 1 in Part One, then I’d see her translation and the transliteration right away. After all, I read the book slowly, only reading a section per day, so I’d almost forgotten what was said in the first chapter of Part One before I got to Part Two. (I’m tempted to read the whole thing again and do it that way with skipping around. Perhaps someday, I will. It’s worth looking at again.)

However, despite that quibble, this book is lovely. She does manage to convey what was found in the original language in terms of sound, literary imagery, emotion, thought and expression. Her words gave me a whole new level of insight into these passages, and a different way of thinking about them.

I have to say that she chose interesting passages: The story of David and Bathsheba paired with the Lord’s Prayer; The beginning of Genesis paired with the beginning of the gospel of John; Ezekiel’s dry bones paired with martyrs before the throne in Revelation; Ecclesiastes paired with Paul’s song of God’s great love in Romans 8; the Ten Commandments paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan; and finally a chapter on “comedy”: Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites paired with Paul’s talk in Galatians about what those who demanded Christians be circumcised could do to themselves.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s studied Greek or Hebrew. But I have studied neither of those, so I also recommend it to anyone who loves the Bible – you’ll gain new appreciation of its beauty and look at it in a new light.

sarahruden.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Encore (Simon & Schuster Audio), 2016. 9 discs.
Starred Review

While I’m reading lots and lots of children’s books for the 2019 Newbery Medal, during my commute I indulged in a thriller for adults. This book is so intense, I can’t promise that it didn’t mess with my driving.

We’ve got a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer, and she gets an opportunity to go on a luxury cruise on a small lavish ship while her boss is on maternity leave. But a few days before the trip, she suffered a break in, and she’s very much on edge. And then, yes, she had quite a bit too much to drink the first night of the cruise.

So when she wakes up suddenly in the night to the sound of a body thrown into the sea, we definitely wonder if that’s really what she heard. But there must be an explanation for the fact that before dinner, there was a woman in Cabin 10 who gave Lo mascara when she asked to borrow some, and didn’t want it back. After Lo hears the splash in the night and calls security, there is no one in Cabin 10, and she’s told that the person who booked that room never came on the cruise at all. So who did Lo see and talk with?

The security staff don’t believe her. The reader isn’t sure we should either. The ship keeps traveling on.

But some more odd things start to happen.

This book does a wonderful job of setting a puzzle which I not only couldn’t solve, but I couldn’t imagine how the author could possibly solve.

Let’s just say that the author did make the puzzle work – with plenty of life-and-death danger and suspense along the way.

The narrator was fabulous. Though I have to say that I’m easily pleased by anyone with a British accent – but she did a good job and was a delight to listen to. Lo’s precarious mental state was communicated often by the tone of voice, sounding somewhat desperate when called for, or bewildered, or simply exhausted.

This was one of those audiobooks I eventually brought into my house to finish, because I couldn’t stand waiting until my next commute. Highly recommended for a version of a locked-room mystery – at sea.

audio.simonandschuster.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Heaven’s Doors, by George W. Sarris

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Heaven’s Doors

Wider Than You Ever Believed!

by George W. Sarris

Grace Will Succeed Publishing, 2017. 256 pages.
Starred Review

It’s true – I’ve started collecting books on universalism. I originally came to believe God will eventually save everyone by reading the writings of George MacDonald and then searching the Scriptures to see if it could be true. But George MacDonald doesn’t give a direct, organized defense of universalism.

Then I started finding more and more books that actually do defend universalism. My nagging doubts and questions all got cleared up. One of the most significant moments was when I learned that for the first 500 years of the church, while the leaders were native speakers of Greek, the most prominent teaching was that hell will not last forever, but is for the purpose of restoring and refining those who do not come to Christ while they are alive on earth.

This book, Heaven’s Doors, didn’t contain anything I hadn’t heard before, but I think it may be my new first choice for explaining universalist views to others. The author takes the Bible seriously – He would not have come to this view if he didn’t believe it’s what the Bible teaches. He also researched the teachings of the early church fathers.

But even though there is rigorous research behind his positions, he writes with a light and readable style. He even includes anecdotes at the start of each chapter.

In fact, he was an evangelical pastor before he came around to these views, and had to leave the church where he was ministering because he no longer agreed with their Statement of Faith. This makes me very, very glad that the church I’m attending right now doesn’t require members to sign a Statement of Faith – they just ask you to affirm that you’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of your life and desire to follow him.

The author has had close friends confront him as following heresy and label him a heretic. He comes to these views and beliefs at great personal cost. (It reminds me to go easy on folks who are ministering with evangelical organizations. Although I firmly believe God will save everyone and this glorious belief gives me joy – it’s going to affect their lives and ministries more than it does mine.)

I did like his section on answers to common questions – some of the answers there were well said and helpfully articulate why certain passages don’t rule out universalism.

He uses endnotes – more than 400 of them – and while that does help make the text readable, I would have preferred footnotes, because as it was reading the endnotes when I was all done with the book, I didn’t always remember what it referred to. But that’s a minor quibble.

Here’s a lovely summary at the end of the book:

Throughout this book I’ve tried to look honestly and carefully at the major historical and Biblical issues that relate directly to the concepts of heaven and hell. I personally have concluded that all the people God created will ultimately be in heaven.

Why? Because of who God is.

He’s not partial – favoring some over others. He doesn’t change – acting graciously toward sinners while they’re alive on earth, but then withdrawing His hand of mercy at death. He’s not cruel – able to save all, but choosing rather to consign most of the human race to endless, conscious suffering. And He’s not weak – desiring to save all, but ultimately powerless to do so.

God is good! God is powerful! And God is loving!

Hell is real, but not forever. Jesus Christ succeeded in His mission to seek and save what was lost.

Amen!

For an articulate, well-organized and well-researched explanation of universalism and the Very Good News, this book is a good place to start.

heavensdoors.net

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Snowbear, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Claire Alexander

Friday, January 26th, 2018

The Snowbear

by Sean Taylor
illustrated by Claire Alexander

words & pictures (Quarto Publishing), Lake Forest, CA, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Charming, sweet, and simple – this would be a great pick for a winter storytime. It’s from the point of view of two small children, and the words and pictures are realistically childlike.

When Iggy and Martina wake up to snow, they go out to play. Their mother warns them to be careful of the hill, because it’s too steep and slippery. So they make a snowman – but it ends up looking more like a snowbear.

“He looks happy to be made,” said Martina.

And it was true.

Then Iggy wants to slide down the hill on their sled. Oops! It really is too steep and slippery. They slide on and on, into the deep dark woods.

There’s lots of atmosphere:

Nothing moved except for one grey pigeon.

“I want to go home,” said Martina.

“So do I,” said Iggy.

He got off the sledge and tried to pull it back the way they’d come.

But Mom was right.
It was too steep and slippery.

Next, there’s a wolf staring at them through the trees. It’s a scary moment. But they hear something, and an entire spread is their open-mouthed faces staring in amazement.

The snowbear has come lolloping down the hill toward them! The wolf leaves, and without a word, the snowbear picks them up and carries them home. Then it goes back to where they’d made it, keeping its friendly smile all along.

The ending is nice and open ended. Mom says it’s a lovely snowbear, but only the kids understand what really happened.

The pictures and text work together beautifully in this tale with child-sized drama and danger – and wonderful coziness.

QuartoKnows.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Seeing Things

A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs

by Joel Meyerowitz

Aperture, 2016. 74 pages.
Starred Review

This is a book about photography – and about becoming a better photographer by learning to see as a photographer does.

The bulk of the book is a series of great photographs, chosen by Joel Meyerowitz, who is a photographer himself. They are mostly not images I would have chosen – they aren’t necessarily pretty pictures – but they are consistently images that make you think and wonder, if you stop to take a second look.

On the accompanying page to each photograph there is some text pointing things out, but also asking questions. The author explains why each one is a great photograph and explores why it captures your attention so effectively.

The earliest photo in this book was taken in 1898 and the latest in 2014. There are a wide variety of subjects and styles. The selection alone is provocative and will get you thinking about what you would choose for a collection of outstanding photographs.

Here’s what the author has to say on the opening page:

I chose the photographs in this book with the hope that the things you discover in them will encourage you to open your eyes and your mind so that you can see the world around you in a new way.

These photographs, of people and animals, of landscapes and life on the street, are full of humor, mystery, and surprise and show that any moment of any ordinary day has the potential to activate your mind with a sudden flash of insight.

That moment of seeing is like waking up.

How lucky we are to be living in an age when making a photograph is available to everyone with a smartphone or a camera. The photographs that follow show the kinds of tools that photographers use, like intuition, timing, point of view, a willingness to wait, and the courage to move closer – tactics that make beauty and meaning, otherwise hidden, visible. All of these things are part of how you naturally see, but you have to be aware of them if you’re really going to see.

What you notice will reflect the way the world speaks to you, and only to you.

You may or may not be able to change the world, but the world can certainly change you.

This book calls itself a kid’s guide to looking at photographs, but anyone of any age who takes pictures will learn from considering the ideas in this book.

aperture.org

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?