Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson

The Soil Will Save Us

Soil can absorb carbon from the air — who knew?  It turns out quite a few agriculturalists, scientists, and environmentalists across the globe knew, and are working on cultivating soil health not only for the good of their crops, but also potentially for the health of our atmosphere.  Thank you to Kristin Ohlson for bringing this hopeful news to the lay environmentalists of the world in a fascinating, readable way.  I really enjoyed this book!

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty

From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would be a historical romance novel.  I honestly thought it would read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix.  And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off.  Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school (in 1895 ) were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life.  While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!

Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace.  Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide.  Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit.  After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy.  Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate‎

The One and Only Ivan

When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it.  It just sounded too depressing.  Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it.  I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp.  This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit.  So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.

Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny.  The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light.  My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?”  Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! 😉  He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals.  The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan.  I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.

Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon


At a secret lab in the Appalachians, Jonah Jones and his group of scientists have found a gateway to… well, they don’t quite know what yet.  It’s what comes in through the gate that is the problem.  A zombie plague from another world rapidly infects the scientists, the U.S. and then the world.  Holly Wright manages to escape through the doorway.  What will she find there — a cure for the plague, escape, or maybe just some explanation?  And who is this dark mysterious figure coming after Jonah in his dreams?  Will the earth be saved?

If you are a fan of zombie apocalypse books, you will love this one.  Can’t wait for the next book in this exciting series.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

I would highly recommend this beautifully written work of historical fiction that alternates between the stories of two children during WWII.  The two main characters are Marie-Laure, a young blind French girl who flees occupied Paris with her father, a key master of the Natural Museum of History, and Werner, a German orphan whose tinkering with an old radio lends him technical skills that throw him headlong into a Hitler Youth group which leads him directly into the heart of the war.

The action moves in waves from Germany to France, from pre-war years to action in the midst of war to the end of fighting and back again.  Doerr’s development of the two main characters continues even after the war ends and finally finishes in the present day with an underlying message of the innocence and humanity of these two young characters as their lives are sadly forced into a path that will someday have them meet as enemies. The book can help today’s youth to understand events and conditions in Europe during the Second World War, and the lives of individuals on each side of the conflict.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club

Ever wonder what it would be like to stand in the shoes of an astronaut’s wife?  If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, I can almost guarantee that you did!  The book goes through the years of lift-offs, landings and explosions with an emphasis on the wives’ friendship and support of one another.  Through the years, the book offers a glimpse into their lives by showing cheating husbands, widows, colorful personalities among the astronauts and their wives, the first divorce, the women’s liberation movement and political mayhem.  The book doesn’t go into that much depth —  it’s more of an overview of their lives and of the times.

What I didn’t like was that the book jumped around often, so it was confusing to remember which wife was married to which astronaut as the book went on.  There were a few pictures in the book of some of the wives, but since Koppel frequently referred to them by their first names, it became confusing as more astronauts were added to the program.  It would have been very helpful to have a chart showing the husband’s name and the wife’s name … like a family tree.  Overall, I enjoyed the book since I was a child of the 60s and could relate to those times.

Omega Days by John Campbell

Omega Days

Another Zombie apocalypse novel.  And well worth your time!  Well drawn characters battle for their lives in an America ravaged by a zombie horde.  Father Xavier Church questions his faith, as one might imagine, but shows bravery and skill in surviving and leading other survivors.

Skye Dennison, an incoming college student at the University of California, Berkeley, watches as her family is killed.  After her own rescue she learns to defend herself.  Young and brave, her driving purpose is revenge.

Then there is Angie West, star of a History Channel reality show that features her family’s gun business.

Our characters fight for survival and move toward a final gathering that presages the next book in the series.  As the book switches between the adventures of each small group, the reader feels sorry to leave one group, but the next is even more intriguing.  Zombie fans take note!

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

It’s wartime, 1940.  Maggie Hope, raised in America, is actually British and, due to the unexpected inheritance of a house, finds herself in London and in need of a job.  Most unexpectedly, she winds up working as a typist for the prime minister, Winston Churchill himself.  Maggie’s background is actually math, and she soon finds herself caught up in intrigue and ciphers.  This book contains marvelous period detail and interesting characters.  It is both a first-rate historical novel and a fine murder mystery.  Recommended.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando


I think this would have been an excellent book to have read the summer before I went away to college.  Although I am not an overly shy person, I was kinda freaked out about the concept of rooming with someone I had never met before.  I find it odd that it never crossed my mind to try to get in touch — and that my college didn’t really try to foster early communications either.  Things may have been strained that first semester, but I still lived to tell the tale.

Aside from the obvious worries about classes and living with a stranger, Elizabeth and Lauren also have family relationships and friendships that are about to change.  Lauren is only moving about an hour away (from San Francisco to Berkeley) so staying in touch with family and friends should, theoretically, be easy enough.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is going to be moving across the country (from New Jersey to California), so she won’t be able to take any quick visits home to see her mom or her friends.  Still, distance is not the only factor that determines how hard a move will be.  Lauren is leaving her tight-knit family full of younger siblings whom she typically helps to care for.  She worries that she will miss them too much or that they won’t be able to manage without her.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is all too used to being alone in her house and is excited to get away from home.  She is also hoping to spend some quality time with her father (who owns an art gallery in San Francisco), but doesn’t know how to start up a relationship with the father who’s never really been there for her.  Readers get to peek into the minds, and emails, of each of the girls as she prepares for moving in with her new “roomie.”  I’m certain that fans of Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, How to Save a Life, Lucy Variations) will love this, and I’m desperately hoping for more YA from Tara Altebrando.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Size 12 Is Not Fat

Size 12 is not fat.  I believe this to be true, as does Heather Wells—former teen pop idol—in Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot.  The Meg Cabot who wrote The Princess Diaries?  Yes, that Meg Cabot.  It may seem as if Cabot is making a giant leap here, venturing from a YA series about modern princesses and the like to an adult series about a former pop star turned crime solving residence hall assistant.  Okay, maybe it’s not that giant a leap, but Size 12 is successful in bridging the gap between YA and, well, A.

After her mother runs off with her money and her manager, and her fellow famous pop heartthrob fiancé cheats on her, Heather Wells is forced to make her own way in the world.  Fortunately Jordan, her now ex-fiancé, has a “black sheep” brother willing to take her on as a roommate in his (inherited) Manhattan brownstone—that is, in exchange for doing his “books.”  Cooper, true to “black sheep” form, is a licensed private investigator and an organizational disaster.

Though no one can believe it, Heather is truly happy with her new life.  She loves Cooper… rather, her living situation with Cooper.  Obviously she can’t be in love with her ex-fiancé’s brother.  And she loves her job at the residence hall—even when a girl is found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft—a mystery she is determined to solve with or without anyone else’s help.  She will not have students dying on her watch!

Size 12 is a fun ride with a fun heroine, while also teaching us a valuable lesson—that you can start over.  And that there are more important things in life than what size you wear or how famous you are — things like the ability to think for yourself and stand on your own two feet — lessons important for all women, YA and A alike, to learn, and to take to heart.



Noggin by John Corey Whaley


With all of the attention The Fault in Our Stars has been receiving lately, many people are looking for read alike books.  I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the same category, since it is magical realism as opposed to contemporary realistic fiction.  (If you’re looking for another realistic contemporary read alike, you should check out Somebody Up There Hates You.)  Despite the magical realism, though, I think many TFiOS fans will find that Noggin is “close enough” in that it’s a smart and funny book that challenges your preconceived notions of the world around you.  Also, Travis Coates is a teenager who had cancer.

Because Travis Coates’ body was riddled with cancer and the treatments weren’t proving to be effective, he didn’t really have many options left.  He could continue trying every experimental treatment possible, which often left him weak and ill; he could give up fighting and try to enjoy the time he had left; or he could go rogue and let some scientists cut his head off, cryogenically freeze it, and hope they could develop the technology to successfully reanimate his head on a donor body.  Although they didn’t think they would have the technology to reanimate him before all of his friends and family were very old or gone altogether, Travis liked the idea of dying on his own terms.  Potentially living again would just be a bonus.  Imagine his surprise, then, when he wakes up and finds out that it has only been 5 years since he “died.” He’s still 16, but everyone he knows and loves has aged 5 years, and nothing is at all as he left it.

Trevor by James Lecesne


A literary adaptation of an Academy Award winning short film that also launched a nationwide project to help LGBTQ teens?  Yes, Trevor is back and ready to conquer the world.  This time he has returned to us in Trevor, a novella by James Lecesne, who authored the original story for the 1994 Oscar winning Live Action Short.

In this updated version of the original story, a kind of Trevor 2.0, Trevor presents us with the age-old question: what color glitter is best for a Lady Gaga Halloween costume?  While in pursuit of the answer, something shifts for Trevor.  His oldest friends begin ignoring him in the hallways, the school’s gay-straight alliance has started harassing him to join their ranks, and his only-semi-religious parents have called upon the local pastor to engage Trevor in a tête-à-tête outside the Dairy Queen.

Despite the fact that he has become infatuated with Pinky, a jock boy with a troubled home life, Trevor has not identified himself as gay, straight, bisexual… so why is everyone doing it for him?  Why do they think they have that right?  What would Lady Gaga do?

Lecesne leads us through the hallways of high school with Trevor, inviting us along on his journey from self-awareness to self-acceptance, as he navigates the many complications that arise with adept insight, quirky humor and an insatiable passion.  Praised by literary heavyweights like David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) and Michael Cunningham (The Hours), Trevor is indeed a remarkable book that glitters as much as Lady Gaga herself.