Counting by 7s ~ Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7sSummary:  I may have found a theme in the 2014 Black Eyed Susan books.  So far, I’ve read this one and After Iris, and they both focus strongly on family, anti-social girls, and tragic events.  Like Blue in After Iris, the main character of this book, Willow Chance, prefers being alone.  Willow is a super-genius.  Her hobbies include tending her exotic backyard garden, learning new languages, and diagnosing medical problems.  Even though her obvious oddity makes people steer clear of her, her life is going along pretty well until her adoptive parents die.  That’s how the book starts, actually, so I didn’t just spoil the whole story for you.  After the accident, Willow has no idea where to go.  This amazing, heartfelt book follows Willow through her journey to find a new family where she can be accepted as she is.

Recommendation:  I was sort of traumatized when I started this book.  Here you have a novel with a pretty cover and recommendations that describe it as wonderful and sweet, and then you start reading and BOOM!  Two people die.  After that, the book becomes less shocking.  I was addicted to Counting by 7s, even though it got more and more sad as it went along, almost to a painful level.  I like reading books that feature smart characters, but only when they match the voice of the book.  You can tell the author is smart too because the book ‘thinks’ like the character would think.  The character Willow is incredible.  She isn’t understood by anybody and lives a mostly solitary life, but she still finds things that keep her happy.  Some aspects of her remind me so much of myself, like when she is thinking all of these funny thoughts that I can completely relate to: “I like the word gusto.  It should be used more in daily life.”  My friend Gabby and I want to adopt Willow as a sister.  The level of depth to this book is almost scary; it can get extremely philosophical in a very powerful way.  If you don’t like books with morals and life lessons, don’t worry.  Counting by 7s doesn’t aim to make you a perfect person.  This is a book that you must read, and soon!

Favorite Passage:  

Willow – When they find the place for you (and it will be a great place and it will be right for you, I know that) I want you to try and take Cheddar [a cat] with you.  I will call Lenore and say that the cat is a therapy dog.  Yours in friendship, ___ [spoilers].

He said the cat was a therapy dog.  I appreciate his support, but I sincerely hope that he’s not running this show.”

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After Iris ~ Natasha Farrant


after-irisSummary:
 
Blue, full name Bluebell, is living in the most unusual family I have ever heard of.  Because both of her parents are constantly, and I mean constantly, away on business trips, Blue and her siblings are babysat by college-aged Zoran.  His cooking skills are, sadly, limited.  Blue’s siblings are unique in their own ways – Blue’s older sister, Flora, is a typical rebellious teen who dyed her whole head of hair a vibrant shade of purple.  Twig and Jas are the younger kids, completely obsessed with their pet rats.  You might think that Blue is absolutely, completely normal, in contrast to her family.  Nope!  She’s antisocial and films her life instead of living it.  And to top this family off, Blue’s twin sister Iris died years ago, which is one of the reasons this family acts so haphazard.  Blue’s strategy to cope with her life is to stick to the shadows, but her quiet way of life is threatened when her new neighbor Joss decides that he’s going to rescue her from being forgotten.  As you are introduced to Blue and her surrounding cast of characters, you realize that Blue needs to let go of her past and live in the present – but can she embrace it?

Recommendation:  Even though it may seem like it, After Iris is not your typical drama-llama teenagery book.  The author, Natasha Ferrant, goes to a much deeper level than just describing Blue and her dramatic life.  Each of the characters is interesting and realistic, having both good and bad sides.  Flora is eccentric and a drama queen, as well as protective and loving towards her siblings.  Twin and Jas may be overly obsessed with their rats, but they are also caring and sweet.  My heart went out to Blue, who hides from any confrontations at all, including just talking to people.  However, I warn you not to get too attached to anyone or anything in this book.  Not that anyone is going to die; After Iris is tragic in a different way.  After you expose your mental health by becoming interested and attached, the book violently attacks you.  Your heart is broken, then sewn back together again, and then, when you finally think you’re safe, the book brings out a blender and shreds your feelings like an innocent potato.  Did you like my description?  Not fun to go through.  Other than that vivid warning I gave you, there aren’t any other things you should be worried about in this book.  Completely recommended.

Favorite Passage:  “All eyes are turned to the door, drawn by the whir and squeak that followed the opening creak. […] For sitting in the doorway, strapped into a remote-controlled model of a Jaguar XK120 SE DHC convertible, is a large white rat.”

What I’ve Been Reading ~ Pigs In Heaven

pigs in heavenI haven’t posted a review in a while, but I can assure you that there’s a reason.  I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven and scheming up a review for it.  It was only after I finished the book that I realized there was too much​ mature content​ in it for me to feature it on this blog.  Although I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book to middle-schoolers, it is ​a great book for those of you who know you can handle it.  Even if you have to wait until you get into high school – and you probably want to – I’m going to tell you a little bit about it.

Pigs in Heaven focuses on a young single mother, Taylor, and her adopted daughter, Turtle.  Turtle is a mostly quiet and very thoughtful young girl who was found abused and half-dead in Taylor’s car as a baby.  Not much is known about Turtle’s background other than the fact that she is Cherokee.  The public’s attention is turned to this duo when Turtle witnesses a man falling into the Hoover Dam. Turtle alerts a rescue team, ​and all of a sudden she is the little hero everyone knows about.  However, some of this attention is unwelcome, as lawyer Annawake Fourkiller (also a member of the Cherokee tribe) investigates Turtle’s possibly illegal adoption.  Turtle and Taylor are now living life on the lamb so they can stay together, and stay away from Annawake.  This depressing yet hopeful book is pretty great overall.  I especially enjoyed it when the book talked about Cherokee culture and the way that they value family more than anything.  It had a strong connection to Turtle and Taylor’s bond.

Interested in reading it?  Remember my warning first!  And hopefully I’ll post another review soon, assuming that schoolwork doesn’t kill me first :).

 

Around the World in Eighty Days ~ Jules Verne

Around the WorldSummary:  Phileas Fogg is famous all around town for his robot-like precision.  Never early, never late, he arrives exactly on time for everything.  An important London newspaper publishes an article saying that, without any delays, traveling around the world is possible in no less than​ 80 days.  After a discussion with some of his wealthy acquaintances, Fogg​ wagers over half of his fortune that journeying around the world in such a short amount of time is indeed possible.  “I have a deposit of twenty thousand at Baring’s [Bank] which I will willingly risk upon it.”​  Wasting no time, he embarks on his quest with only his newly hired French servant, Passepartout, and a carpet bag containing 20,000 pounds (a fortune at that time – 1872, to be precise).  Fogg and Passepartout travel to exotic and dangerous places, using boats, trains, sleds, even elephants (but never hot air balloons, as pictured on many covers)​ to transport them from destination to destination.​  The two adventurers join paths with beautiful Aouda and mysterious Mr. Fix as they race towards London by the 80-day limit.

Recommendation:  This book is surely a page turner, to say the least.  I felt like I was the one betting all my money every time Fogg’s determined gang was delayed or gained time.  In stark contrast to the main character’s calm and precise demeanor, this classic is packed with action, suspense, and adventure. Verne focused on specific parts of the world, setting most of the action in India, China, the US, and the tumultuous oceans separating them.  I loved hearing about the exotic jungles, vast plains, and Arctic expanses ​Fogg had to cross.  The descriptions of landscapes are so vivid, it’s hard to believe Verne hasn’t actually been to all these places in person.​  Verne smoothly shifts from focusing on one character to another, giving the reader a window into the characters’ thoughts as they experience the adventure.  I enjoy reading “classics” maybe more than I enjoy other books.  They’re usually challenging to read and age-appropriate.  ​Around the World’s language is easier to understand than other classics I’ve read.  I recommended this book to my brother, who is in 5th grade, and he’s reading it right now. He’s hooked so far!

Favorite Passage:  The chapter titles in classic books are the best. You’ll see what I mean.

  • In Which Phileas Fogg Engages in a Direct Struggle with Bad Fortune
  • In Which Certain Incidents Are Narrated Which Are Only to Be Met with on American Railroads
  • In Which Passepartout Does Not Succeed in Making Anybody Listen to Reason

Classified as Murder ~ Miranda James

classified as murderSummary:  This murder mystery takes place among the dusty shelves of a private library.  Charlie, a librarian in Athena, Mississippi, is called in to do an inventory of eccentric millionaire James Delacorte’s rare book collection.  Although James is a polite and helpful gentleman, his extended family who live with him are the most spiteful and troublesome people you will ever come across.  James begins to suspect that a member of his family is stealing from him after​ he finds the books in his library mixed up and realizes that other books are missing.  Charlie needs to finish the inventory as fast as possible so any books can be confirmed stolen.  However, Charlie’s job is not as straightforward as he thought it would be.  Although he is surrounded by priceless works of literature, the family seems determined to make his stay miserable.  A shocking murder​ drives​ Charlie to do more than just sort books – he gets drawn into the center of an edge-of-your-seat mystery.

Recommendation:  There’s a reason this book is called a “Cat in the Stacks” mystery.  Charlie’s cat, Diesel, is a 30 pound Maine Coon whose personality is worth his weight in gold.  Charlie brings Diesel everywhere with him on a leash, and Diesel helps with the investigation.  Diesel brings personality and comic relief to the book.  Don’t be fooled by the cute cover, though.  You might be surprised to hear that this doesn’t read like a Young Adult or Children’s book (and it isn’t marketed as one)​.  Along with Diesel, the vibrant characters in Classified as Murder keep the book from becoming drab – a problem that I’ve found in other murder mysteries.  Miranda James makes her characters full of personality and very real-life.  Charlie’s son, Sean, ​has a complex personal backstory that is interesting to hear about.   Even the less important characters such as Azalea (the sassy housekeeper) and annoying Anita (who works at the library) are realistic and entertaining.  Surprisingly, Charlie is the character that I feel that I know the least, even though he is the protagonist.  (​It’s possible that ​readers get to know him better throughout the series.)  He seems to have no interests other than the library and his cat, and therefore seems like the least well-developed character in the book.  This didn’t keep me from enjoying the book overall – I look forward to reading more Cat in the Stacks mysteries!

Favorite Passage:  “Anita bestowed on me what was probably meant to be a coy glance but looked more like a constipated bovine attempting to relieve herself.​ “​

Italian Folktales ~ Selected and Retold by Italo Calvino

italian folktalesSummary:  Italo Calvino brings together 200 magical folktales from several regions of Italy in this collection.  A seemingly endless variety of stories invite you to explore distant and sometimes non-existent lands where you never know what will come next.  A story often begins when poverty or some other adverse circumstance causes the hero or heroine to be thrust into the world to “seek their fortune.”  Down the road, they might encounter hairy ogresses, dazzlingly beautiful princesses, or trickster fairies.  The twists and turns of their fate lead them through much despair, which is heartbreaking for the characters but entertaining for the reader!  Reading through these beautiful stories both introduce you to the world of Italian folklore and remind you of stories you already know.

Recommendation:  As he explains in the book’s introduction, Calvino modified each tale just a little bit by smoothing over rough edges and filling in missing pieces while leaving intact the essence of the folktales.  As he tweaks each story, Calvino does not merely retell it, but he also leaves his poetic and personal mark.  Like any region’s folktales, there are a lot of recurring themes.  Of course, repetition is to be expected because as stories are retold and passed down, they are slightly changed and then classified as separate.  I still felt a little let down when I read several tales that were almost identical except for a couple of details.  Some of the stories in Calvino’s collection have ties to well-known classics – for example, there is one called “The False Grandmother” that is almost identical to Little Red Riding Hood.  And then “Wooden Maria” follows the same theme as the Trojan Horse myth, in which people hide inside a massive wooden statue that is presented as a gift.  Speaking of the Trojan Horse, the folktales often reminded me of Greek mythology (of which I’ve read more than what’s good for me :-)).  Both focus on magic, heroes, and the consequences of one’s actions.  However, Calvino’s Italian Folktales end happily 99% of the time whereas Greek myths almost always end in tragedy.  Whether you’re in search of a love story, a comedy, or even a little gore, Calvino’s Italian Folktales will leave you quite satisfied – almost as satisfied as an ogre making a snack out of the baker’s daughter.

Favorite Passage:  “One day he took her quite by surprise and kissed her.  At that, the milkmaid aimed her embroidery needle at his chest, thrust it into his heart, and killed him.”

Red, White, and Blue ~ My Editing Process

I am photo 1 (4)positively overjoyed to announce that I have some new goodies.  12 marvelous gel pens and a recently rediscovered journal from when I must have been, maybe six?  Combining these two plus a cheap pen (and my computer) makes up my writing workshop which happens to be entirely in red, white, and blue.

A couple of days ago I was waiting for my brother to get out of a dentist’s appointment.  While I was sitting therphoto 2 (7)e, I pulled out my old pastel-y journal and started writing.  I sketched out a draft of my Walk Two Moons review and began pondering my foreboding 4th of July special, which you are now reading.  I neatly calligraphed the title in a luscious shade of aqua on the sky blue paper (patterned with white flowers!), not-so-neatly scrawled out my prospective summary, then went back and edited in red.  When I got in the car afterwards, I turned my mind back to the special… and vwhallah!  It hit me!  I had been writing in red, white, and blue this whole time without noticing it – perfect for a patriotic post.

photo 4 (4)Even though I only started writing my review drafts by hand a little while ago, my more modern editing process of typing my content up on WordPress’s new post template, fine-tuning it until I am content with what I read, and then emailing it to my utterly fantastic editor is also in patriotic colors: blue headings, a blue Publish button, a white screen, and plenty of red “you spelled this wrong” underlines (like vwallah).

Do you like this maniacal coincidence?  I think it’s pretty darn cool. 🙂  I wish you a wonderful holiday and an equally wonderful rest of the summer!

Walk Two Moons ~ Sharon Creech

walk two moonsSummary:  Salamanca Tree Hiddle has a funny name and a not-so-funny life, both thanks to her mother.  The story of Walk Two Moons takes place while Salamanca (she goes by Sal) is on a car trip with her grandparents.  To pass the time, she tells a story to her grandparents and the reader.  Even though the story is supposedly about her friend, it documents her own life, which goes like this.  Her life was changed forever when her mom, Sugar, left to rethink her life – and never came back.  Sal’s dad makes the decision to move out of their quaint farm.  He can’t live in their house, where everything everywhere reminds him of Sugar.  Much to Sal’s dismay, they move to a small neighborhood where she has to deal with new friends, her dad’s possible girlfriend, and bizarre situations such as the possibility that they might be living near an axe murderer.  The book’s path switches back and forth between Sal’s past and present, so the reader has to piece together her entire history.  You are finally led to what you have been wondering all along – why didn’t Sal’s mom come back? – and the truth hits you so hard it’s like being slapped across the face.

Recommendation:   Throughout the story, Salamanca loses people she loves and things she treasures.  Because of this, Walk Two Moons couldn’t be more different from The Castle Corona, the other book I reviewed by Sharon Creech.  I found Walk Two Moons to be more tragic, have deeper undertones, and include more realistic characters.  Whereas Corona was humorous and lighthearted, this book is filled with sorrow and keeps you thinking about it days afterwards.  Don’t let me convince you that this book is only sad – even though it has more than its share of teary moments, it’s also full of hopeful, happy, and humorous times.  Creech balances somber with optimistic in this gripping novel, and that is how she writes the message that the book sends.  Although Creech never says it in these exact words, the message seems to be Dr. Seuss’s “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  As with other novels I’ve read, I could really connect the characters in this book to real life – the clueless teacher, the barely tolerable friend, and the crazy-in-a-good-way relative.  No wonder it’s so easy to become attached to the characters in this book – which, unlike me, you shouldn’t do.  Just don’t!  You’ll see why.

Favorite Passage:  “That day Mrs Cadaver was home puttering around her garden.  […]  Actually, puttering is not the best word.  What she was doing was more like slogging and slashing.  Mrs. Cadaver hacked branches off of trees and hauled these to the back of her lot where she lumped them into a pile of branches that she had hacked off last week.”

The Case of the Ill-Gotten Goat ~ Claudia Bishop

Summary:  72-year-old Dr. McKenzie, country vet and owner of Cases Closed Detective Agency, knows something is wrong when milk inspector Melvin Staples is found dead floating in a milk vat.  He begins to dig deeper into the case and the mystery becomes more personal.  90-something-year-old Doucetta is the owner of Tre Sorelle Goat Creamery, where the murder took place.  She seems to have a grudge against every human being and never cooperates with the investigation.  Every possible suspect has an alibi for the time of the murder, which leads the Dr. to rule them out and have to interview his own friends and family.  (It’s a very small town.)  And worst of all, the attacks aren’t stopping; more murders and other crimes prove that someone is determined to bring down Tre Sorelle!  Dr. McKenzie won’t stop investigating until he solves the case, even if he ends up crossing paths with danger on more than one occasion.

Recommendation:  Words are wonderful things.  They can make an argument sound smarter than it really is, they can give you a better grade on your English assignment, they can even make you sound smart as you fill your speech with interesting, complex words.  As the main character of Ill-Gotten Goat certainly has a way with words, the pages are full of cool-sounding ones.  Listen: consortium.  Triumvirate.  And my favorite sounding word from this book, phlegmatic.  What does that even mean?  (No, it does not mean full of mucus.  See below the Favorite Passage section.)  A few more literary treasures I found include obdurate, tete-a-tete, and the phrase “nefarious hijinks.”  Words always appeal to me when they roll off the tongue satisfyingly (even when not said out loud), like phlegmatic.  Just say it to see what I mean!  I also enjoy discovering new words to use as insults, such as “You nefarious hijink!  You are an obdurate and phlegmatic tete-a-tete.”  Now, if you know the definitions of these words, that sentence makes absolutely no sense.  But it sounds great, doesn’t it?  Back to the book.  Even though the cover makes the book appear an easy read, or even childish, the content is nothing of the sort.  Claudia Bishop uses complex and formal language, which is perfectly tailored to the main character’s dialogue.  The mystery that carries the plot is intriguing and certainly kept me interested the whole way through.  And best of all: I couldn’t guess who the murderer was… darn it!  I bet you can’t guess who the murderer is, either.

Favorite Passage:  “‘Did you assault Brian Folk with a pie?’ Brian Folk leaned against a nearby booth, his arms folded across his chest.  ‘You bet I did.’  ‘She admits it!’  Brian Folk said with a vicious smirk.  ‘In front of witnesses, too.’  Simon leaned down and banged his forehead gently against the table.  ‘I wish,’ Madeline added sunnily, ‘that it had been a larger pie.  It was more of a tart, really.'”

~~~

Consortium:  any association, partnership, or union.

Triumvirate:  any group or set of three.

Phlegmatic:  not easily excited to action or display of emotion.

Obdurate:  stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.

Tete-a-tete:  a private conversation between two people.  (Literally, head-to-head.)

Nefarious:  wicked or criminal.

Hijink:  noisy and mischievous merrymaking.

Have You Noticed? ~ Site Update

Have you noticed the new section in this site’s sidebar?  Yep, there’s a “What I’m Reading” block o’​ space so you can ​see what books I’m currently consuming (yum).  Unfortunately, I read more than I get to review; I would love to write about all of them but sometimes I need a break from my computer.  Just because I didn’t review a book, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth reading!  That’s why I invite you to explore these fun books that might not end up getting reviewed and see it they’re the book for you. 🙂

~Clara