Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review - Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 26, 2011

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside—a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man—or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio—dehydrated, sick, and in pain—traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.
The story of a plane crash in New Guinea during World War II, Lost in Shangri-La packs a lot of information in an easy to read story of survival, discovery and cooperation.

I normally don’t review non-fiction. In general, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, maybe that’s not exactly true. I read a lot of children’s non-fiction at work, especially when we get new books in. But, adult non-fiction not as much, except when it comes to history and when it has crossover appeal for teens. So, when Trish from TLC Tours asked if I was interested in reviewing Lost In Shangri-La, it sounded like something I could enjoy while learning something too.

It was very easy to get swept into the story Mitchell Zuckoff was telling. He introduced all of the major players with lots of background information and most of the steps that led them to New Guinea during the later part of World War II. It’s clear that a lot of research was conducted, but Zuckoff put a very personal spin on how the information was presented, almost as though he was talking about old friends. And of course there were tons of footnotes and  a bibliography at the end, in case the reader wanted to learn more about this particular incident. Personally, I love footnotes and being able to trace the quote or piece of information back to its source. Maybe that’s just the history buff in me.

Another element that set Lost in Shangri-La apart was that Zuckoff didn’t forget about what else was going on with regards to the war and in the world at large. So while he focused on this one plane crash and rescue mission, he never forgot to clue the reader into other events that were happening. The epilogue tied everything together nicely and gave the reader a look at how this event affected those involved, especially the three survivors.

I would recommend Lost in Shangri-La to readers who enjoy narrative non-fiction, books about World War II that aren’t all about combat and to history lovers. Despite the lack of gory photos, I think some teens will enjoy this book as well. 

An ARC of Lost in Shangri-La was provided by Harper and 

Waiting On Wednesday - Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 27, 2011

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I'm not sure I can explain how excited I am for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The summary gives me goosebumps in the best way possible. If that happens from just reading the summary, imagine what actually reading the book will do? Along with Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the book I'm most looking forward to hearing more about at BEA.

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  What book are you eagerly waiting for?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review - The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source: S&S Galley Grab

The Summer Before Boys is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq. Julia's mom has been in Iraq for the past nine and a half months. Because of this and her father's job, Julia is spending the summer with her sister, brother-in-law, and niece, Eliza. Julia and Eliza are the same age and best friends - inseparable. They spend most of their time at the resort where Eliza's father works wandering the hiking trails, trying to sneak into tea, playing Lester and Lynette, and getting ice cream at the gift shop. At least they do until Julia starts to notice Michael. What happens to a friendship when one person is ready to grow up, but the other isn't?

The Summer Before Boys is a very timely book; a good number of people are dealing with the same anxieties and fears associated with having a family member deployed to Iraq as Julia. She's worried that her mother's deployment will be extended, that something will happen to her or that she'll come back different. To help her deal with this, Julia has collected facts about women in war, which are included through out the book. I found these pieces of information interesting and thought that they added another layer to the story that allowed the reader to get to know Julia.

There is a back and forth, almost like you can see Julia's thought process, type of narration. Julia is telling about the current summer, but then mentions something that happened the year before in school or about the days leading up to her mother leaving. Describing it makes it seem weird, but it really worked in the framework of the story because you get to see the different pieces that lead to the summer and what happens between Julia and Eliza.

Throughout the book, Ms. Baskin does a great job balancing the two major arcs in the story and it's interesting how they come together. The way she handles that awkward age when some kids are ready to grow up and others are happy still living in their own make believe world is what made The Summer Before Boys a great read for me. But then again, I've lived through that time in my own life and can remember it with mostly fond memories. I'm wondering if girls that are the same age as Julia and Eliza will be able to relate to them. I'm hoping they can and if they do, they will be rewarded with a wonderful read.

I can see The Summer Before Boys being a great book for readers who like more quiet or introspective books.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Character Interview - Garreth from Lemniscate

Today (err...Yesterday..) let's welcome Garreth from Angel Star and Lemniscate.

Welcome Garreth!!

1.       Can you explain what happens in Lemniscate in 10 words or less?
Teagan faces her darkest fears with surprising alliances.
2.       Now that you're Earthbound, what is one of your favorite thing to do with Teagan?
Never leave her side.

3.       If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go or what would you ?
Remember a Guardian can go anywhere – at least geographically. I can’t stray too far from Teagan though because it’s my responsibility to watch over her. I think picking a human activity would be a better question so I’m going to have to say a rollercoaster.

4.       What is your biggest fear?
Losing the greatest love of my life. If you recall, when a Guardian is corrupted, the human charge changes. It is similar when the situation is reversed. If anything were to happen to Teagan, everything I possess would be taken from me; every reason, every hope.

Published by Lands Atlantic Publishing
Publication Date: March 21, 2011
For Teagan, these last few months have been heaven on earth- especially now that Garreth, her boyfriend and guardian angel, is earthbound. But perhaps Garreth is becoming a little more human than either of them expected.

Now, Teagan must realize that her world is once again about to shift, as she questions the faith she held in others against those once considered enemies.

In this continuation of Angel Star, Lemniscate will draw you even deeper into the world of dark and light as Teagan realizes the angel who could possibly save them all is the one angel she feared the most.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review - Lemniscate by Jennifer Murgia

Lemniscate by Jennifer Murgia
Publisher: Lands Atlantic Publishing
Publication Date: March 21, 2011

I went into reading Lemniscate with a little trepidation. After loving Angel Star, both the Teagan/Garreth dynamic and how relatable Teagan was , I was worried that the sequel wouldn't hold up. There were parts of Lemniscate I loved even more than Angel Star- the developing friendship between Teagan and Ryan, Hadrian and how he became an integral part of Teagan's fight against the darkness, and the fact that Teagan's understanding of who she really was and her role she was meant to fulfill increased. That last part fit into, what I felt was one of the overarching themes - change. So many things changed in Lemniscate; families came together, some friendships grew, while others disintegrated, and personalities changed (and not always for the better).

Teagan has a better idea of who she is after what happened in Angel Star and now that Garreth is earthbound there isn't anything that they can't handle: until Garreth becomes more human and distances himself from Teagan. Add to that the fact that Teagan's mother is dating the father of the girl who made her life a living hell and said girl has been acting weirder than normal. To top it all off, Hadrian is back and Teagan isn't quite sure how he fits into her life.

I wanted to love Lemniscate outright and while there were parts I did absolutely love, it didn't quite live up to Angel Star. The biggest reason for this was Garreth and his story arc. I know that he couldn't remain static because that would make for a boring story, but it felt like his becoming more human happened very suddenly. It didn't ring true, almost as though there was more at play than hormones or wanting to hang out with the guys every once in awhile. Despite everything I knew about Garreth from Angel Star, I did not care for him in Lemniscate at all. Hadrian, on the other hand, really came into his own and it felt that he was stepping into parts of Garreth's role. The interaction between Hadrian and Teagan and how it allowed Hadrian to come into his own was a highlight.

The theme of change combined again with the battle between good and evil or light and dark, and the acceptance that everyone has some of both kept the action going. The main characters, at different points had to decide which side they would fight for, which kept the dynamic changing. Plus there were so many twists that it was difficult to predict what would happen next. Despite everything that happened, Teagan was still a very relatable character. She kept the whole plot grounded and it was wonderful to watch her come into even more of her strength. 

Lemniscate is a must read for Angel Star fans and for those who like their angel stories with lots of action.

Guest Post: Amy Plum Discusses Parisian Cafés

Today, Amy Plum, author of Die For Me is joining us to talk about cafés (and eating decadent desserts) in Paris.  When I found out that The Serpentine Library would be part of the blog tour for Die For Me, I knew that I wanted more information about Paris, the wonderful setting for Kate and Vincent's story. So I asked:

Certain cities make me think of food: Rome, Florence, Paris, even Athens.  I have this picture in my head of Paris - maybe I've read too many books or seen too many movies set there - of sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee and eating a decadent dessert.  For someone who has never been to Paris where would be the best places to this and do some people watching too?

And Ms. Plum answered:

You are absolutely right about Parisians sitting outside in cafés, drinking coffee and watching people. As for the decadent desserts, when I first moved to Paris, I too thought that was part of a Parisian’s daily routine. So every day, on my way home from work, I would pick up one of the amazing looking pastries at our neighborhood pastry shop. After gaining ten pounds in just a couple of months, I asked a local how everyone stayed so thin if they ate such amazing desserts all of the time. And the response was: they don’t eat them all of the time. They eat them at the most once a week, usually for Sunday dinner. So there goes that stereotype down the drain. However, if you are visiting Paris as a tourist, I feel you are obliged to eat one of every pastry you see. 

Some of my favorite cafés for people watching are along the Boulevard St. Germain. Like Les Deux Magots, where Vincent takes Kate for hot chocolate, which is super-touristy but still fun. There’s a little café looking out onto the Place Saint Sulpice, facing one of Paris’s most beautiful fountains (with lion sculptures around it), which makes for fun gazing. I like the Place Saint Catherine and the Place des Vosges in the Marais. But every neighborhood has its own character, and every neighborhood has a great café to sit and watch people. So wherever you go, if you find a place that is nicely decorated (for example, wooden or wicker chairs instead of plastic) and is near a Metro (subway), you will probably luck out with the good coffee and people watching!

And just to show you how right-on your question was regarding DIE FOR ME’s setting, here is an out-take from DIE FOR ME: a few paragraphs that were cut to avoid slowing down the pace with too much description. (Which is like pulling teeth for me because I LOVE descriptions!) This is from Kate’s point of view:

“I’ve always thought of Parisian cafés as their own universes: little islands of civility and warmth dotted throughout the big city. People go there for three main reasons: to eat, drink and gawk at other people. Besides an occasional glass of wine at dinner with Mom and Dad, I didn’t drink. But drinking in Paris isn’t like drinking in the States. American teenagers seem to drink with the express purpose of getting drunk. They don’t do that in France. “Drunk” is an extreme, and the French don’t like extremes. Nothing too cold or too hot – it ruins the taste, they say. Your Coke is served slightly chilled, but without ice. And you’ll never get a tongue-scalding cup of coffee.

So the typical café-goer will slowly sip a glass of wine or beer, ordering a second one if they decide to stay for a while. The coffee cups all look like they were stolen from a child’s tea-set, but people sit there and nurse them for an hour. 

And then there’s the people-watching. It isn’t considered rude in France to stare. So people do. You can’t walk past a café without everyone sitting at the outside tables giving you at least a two-second looking-over. That’s why you never leave your front door dressed in a ratty old sweatsuit or anything else you mind being judged in. 

My black jeans, green t-shirt and Converse tennis shoes guaranteed me invisibility in this land of beautiful people wearing stylish clothes. I passed the minimum level of appearance-acceptability, while simultaneously accomplishing inconspicuousness.”

A big thank you to Amy Plum for sharing some of her favorite cafés in Paris for people watching and for the out-take!

Waiting on Wednesday - Prized

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme that spotlights upcoming releases and is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine

Prized (Birthmarked #2) by Caragh M. O'Brien
Publication Date: November 8, 2011

In the thrilling follow up to Birthmarked, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone has fled from the Enclave and now must fight for her baby sister’s survival in the matriarchal society of Sylum. Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, 16-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole? (Summary from Goodreads)

I'm so very excited about Prized! I really enjoyed Birthmarked, but felt like the ending was so open ended. Now we get to find out what happened to Gaia and it sounds like she's found a new society to learn about and possibly disrupt.

What not yet published book are you eagerly waiting for?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review - The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 1, 2010

Can an origami puppet really tell the future or know if the person you like likes you back? That's exactly what Tommy and the rest of the 6th grade at McQuarrie Middle School are trying to find out. Dwight, the weird guy that every class has, has an Origami Yoda that dispenses advice. But can it really tell the future or know the answers to everyone's questions? Tommy, with the help of his friends Harvey and Kellan, set out to find out.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was a fun, quick read that let the reader draw its own conclusions about the title character. Um, yes I'm counting the Origami Yoda as a character, he (it?) did give advice to most of the 6th graders who asked. Plus, look at him all Zen like on the cover. Speaking of the cover check out this blog post about all the changes it went through from the initial concept to the final cover.

So, all of the references to Star Wars were a huge plus for me, I can't even count how many times I've seen episodes 4, 5, and 6, but that's not why I liked this book so much. Mr. Angleberger really gets the awkwardness of being in sixth grade and because of this the characters came across as very real. Even though there were a lot of characters, some only appeared for a chapter, they were all very distinct.

I also really liked the structure of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. The case files that Tommy puts together as he investigates Origami Yoda and his advice break the information (and story) into manageable pieces. Plus, the comments and doodles from Harvey and Kellan were often funnier than Tommy's insight.

I would recommend The Strange Case of Origami Yoda to fans of funny stories. Even though it's been marketed as a middle grades book, I can see anyone from second graders to adults really enjoying it. The directions at the back of the book for how to make your own Origami Yoda are a nice addition, making it a great choice for book clubs or even a class read aloud since there is an activity built right in. Don't want to follow written instructions? There's a video too!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review - Haven by Kristi Cook

Haven by Kristi Cook
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Source: S&S GalleyGrab/Bought Copy

I have mixed feelings about Haven. There were some things I really enjoyed about the story, setting, and characters. But, there were a few aspects that took away from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. 

I really liked that there wasn’t too much set up at the beginning. There was a little background on why Violet chose to go to Winterhaven and then it’s her first day and she’s meeting her roommate and starting classes. I have a thing for books set at boarding schools, so that was a plus for me. And also related to the setting, I loved that Winterhaven was set in Tarrytown, close to New York City, but still worlds away.

The fact that everyone has an ability or something different about them truly made the school a haven for Violet; it allowed her to feel normal in her abnormality. Though, I wish it didn’t take Violet as long as it did to realize in exactly what way Winterhaven was different from a normal boarding school.

The secondary characters, Violet’s roommate and friends, were a lot of fun to read and it was easy to learn about the different types of “gifts and talents” through their scenes and conversations. I wish that there had been more scenes with Violet and her roommate.

My biggest issue with Haven (and judging from the reviews I’ve read, I’m in the very tiny minority here) was Aidan and the brooding loner/unattainable guy falls for the new girl trope. I just didn’t see the attraction of the “Aidan Effect.” And maybe it was the back and forth nature of their relationship: she likes him, she doesn’t, she likes him, she’s made at him, he ignores her, she forgives him, etc., but something about Aidan and Violet’s relationship didn’t sit right with me. 

Time didn’t seem to flow smoothly, it jumped around – in one paragraph it was one day and in the next it was days or weeks later. I’m hoping that it was just a formatting issue, because if there had been some sort of separator or visual way for the reader to know that some time had passed, the issue would have been resolved.

The last few chapters flew by, since they were jam packed with preparations for fighting the Big Bad Evil. It was nice that the most kick-butt characters weren’t the stereotypical ones you would expect. The main story was wrapped up nicely, but there were inklings of what pieces might be continued in the possible sequel.

Haven might not have been for me, but I know that there are tons of other bloggers and readers who have loved it and will continue to love it. And the teens at my library will love it as well.

Plus, an author who has references to Neil Gaiman, Phantom of the Opera and Buffy in their book is definitely an author to watch.


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