"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Salon, July 31, 2016

Magical door to unknown treasures.
Weather: (Ha! It is nearly 11 AM and I haven't even looked outside. Excuse me for a minute.) High clouds and cool for a summer day, 64 degrees F. Yesterday ended up being warm and humid (we call if muggy.)

Democratic National Convention: I did little else this week than watch the DNC and read about it after it was over for the evening. I don't want my blog to be political in nature but if you are interested, here are a few of my favorite moments from the week. Click on the links in a new tab.

Hunt for Wilderpeople: Love, love, love this quirky movie which we saw last night in the local Indy movie theater. Set in New Zealand. Click on the link for more info. It is based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump which I hope to read some day.

Today: we start a full throttle effort at getting Carly packing for New York.  She had her last day of work Friday and her last day volunteering at the Crisis Line yesterday. She is tying up her business here.

This coming week: Don will go to Spokane to be with his father who is having surgery for a pacemaker; later in the week we all head to Eugene for my parents 65th wedding anniversary and for a family reunion at the Oregon coast later in the week.

Books completed this week:
  • Steeplejack by AJ Hartley...a fun and intricate YA murder mystery. I enjoyed it a lot. Print.
  • The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle...a realistic YA novel about a gay boy whose hopes of writing the great American screen play is derailed when his sister dies in a car crash. Audio.
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson...another YA novel with many similar aspects as the above book, but this one has some paranormal aspects. (I think this book is the superior book.) Print and Audio. (Click on the links for my reviews)
Currently reading:
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton...a fantasy set in the desert. I've only just started but so far so good. Print. YA. 10%.
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen...I am finally getting back to this nonfiction account of Karen Blixen's time in Africa, Print. 10%.
  • My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter...an audiobook about the Civil War and slavery. I actually haven't started it yet but I have it cued up on my iPod. Audio. 0%.
  • The Well Path by Jame Heskett, MD...a health-oriented book with suggestions how to improve my wellness. Print. 20%.
Upcoming books:
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald...I have the audiobook from the library checked out ready to go for our trip to Oregon the end of the week.
A brag: the author of a favorite YA novel wrote me a note this week how much she liked my review of her book. The book The Passion of Dolssa, the author Julie Berry. (Burnk, Burnk...which is the sound of one's head expanding from conceit!) Click the hyperlink to read the review.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

Quinn Roberts is a 16-year-old high school student who loves to write movie scripts in which his sister, Annabeth, and his best friend, Geoff, collaborate, or, I should say, collaborated. Five months earlier Annabeth died in a car crash outside of school and Quinn has been so deeply immersed in grief since that time he has become a total recluse. But Geoff is finally able to drag Quinn to a college party where he meets a guy, a hot guy, and suddenly the mood starts to shift.

Quinn decides to come out to his friend and his mother, even though both knew he was gay already. He starts to care about his hygiene and his mother's health. It is as if he is emerging from a long dreary winter. Yet Quinn can't shake the feeling that his sister's death is somehow his own fault. It haunts him to think that his last text to her may have killed her.

I like The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle and will certainly encourage my students to select it for their reading. Quinn is a smart-mouthed, snarky kid and I am sure many teens at my school will appreciate his attitude and understand his dilemma concerning his sister.

Unfortunately for this book, I listened to it just days before I listened to We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, which I think is a superior book. And, in a lot of ways, the books are similar. Both books deal with a depressed, homosexual teen boy. Both boys are having trouble coping with the death of a beloved friend/relative. Each boy lives in the household headed by their mother because the fathers have abandoned them. And finally each boy starts to emerge from their funk because of the attention of another gay teen and as their lives start to surface, each finds solace from their pen and writing. Hmm. I guess you can tell why I am a bit confused as I try to think of these books as separate entities. Not helping my cause is the their juxtaposition in terms of reading them one after the other.

That said, I do want to encourage you and others not to brush this book aside. There are a lot of positive, important messages in this book especially about the transformative power of friendship.
Do I think this book is Printz-worthy? No, honestly I don't. But, as I've said before, that doesn't mean it isn't an awesome book worthy of being read and shared.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Source: Audiobook from the public library

2017 Printz Award Contenders

23 / 35 books. 66% done!

Friday, July 29, 2016

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

"If the world were going to end, but you could stop it, would you?" This is the question that Henry Denton asks his friends, family, and neighbors in Shaun David Hutchinson's book We Are the Ants. Why does Henry ask everyone this question? Because Henry has been abducted by aliens and they have granted him the privilege of saving mankind if only he will press the big red button. But Henry doesn't press the button because he is not sure if mankind deserves to be saved.

Everything in Henry's life pretty much sucks. First he has been abducted by aliens enough times that others have caught on and they taunt him at school by calling him space boy. Secondly, his father abandons Henry and his family within weeks of the first abduction leaving a dad-sized hole in his life. Next, his boyfriend Jesse committed suicide and Henry wonders if it was his fault. His brother is a big bully, his mom is harried, his grandmother is losing her memory, and the most popular kids at school harass and bully Henry almost endlessly. Is it any wonder that he is depressed and his grades are slipping, too? Maybe it would be best if there was a mankind re-do, Henry thinks.

Then he meets Diego, a new boy from Colorado, and Henry finds in him a kindred spirit and a new friend, maybe even a boyfriend. And he invites his friend Audrey back into his life. Perhaps he can forgive himself, or at least peace with his past and move forward, even wanting to save the planet afterall. But as in most things in life, situations arise which complicate his feelings, and the aliens haven't dragged him away giving him an opportunity to hit the button. Finally Henry acknowledges that he needs help, that he can't cope with all his problems on his own.

Finally, a YA book I couldn't put down. I've been slogging along reading YA after YA book thinking to myself, "OK, that was good, but not special." We Are the Ants has that special something extra that notches the book up a level. Perhaps the difference is how thoughtfully it explores a plethora of topics: abuse, abandonment, suicide, bullying, depression, love, friendship, and family dysfunction and it did it all without being preachy. Perhaps it was because the three principal characters, Henry, Diego, and Audrey readers can relate to and are likable. All the characters, save some of the bullies, show growth and depth. The ending was satisfying even though it was a bit ambiguous.

The book should come with a warning, however, because some of the scenes, both sexual and abusive, were very graphic. This is not a coming-of-age book for young teens or preteens. There was also a lot of very strong, offensive language. Teens often tell me they aren't bothered by the same language issues that make me cringe, but I wanted to warn you anyway.

My rating for the book is a 5 out of 5 and I will be recommending we include this book as a Printz-worthy book. In my personal rankings I place this one either tied with The Passion of Dolssa or just one tiny step behind, making them my #1 and #2 favorite YA books of the year so far.

Source: I checked out the book from the GKHS library and then found the audiobook on Overdrive which I checked out from the public library.

Challenge: Big Book Summer Challenge at 452 pages.

2017 Printz Award Contenders

22 / 35 books. 63% done!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ice Cream flavors/Book titles

I'm taking part in a new book tag featuring my favorite desert - ice cream!  I learned about this book tagging event by Lauren Stoolfire over at Always Me. I won't be tagging anyone specific to do this tag, but if you would like to feel free to join in the fun.

Vanilla Caramel Fudge - Pick a light and fluffy contemporary

Character, Driven by David Lubar is a funny yet poignant coming-of-age tale where the narrator, Cliff, leads his readers on a romp through the male psyche.

Mint Chocolate Cookie - A new release that you wish everybody would read

I loved The Passion of Dolssa by Jullie Berry even though I spent nearly an hour crying as I read its concluding pages. This book has everything that is wonderful about literature and makes the time spent reading worth it. This is my favorite YA read of 2016 so far.

Cherry Garcia - An ending that was bittersweet

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Spoiler alert*
I can totally relate to the ending where Newland decides to go home rather than meet Madam Olenska again after thirty years of separation. We all have our memories of past loves and events associated with that person. Those memories are real to us. I, for one, am not sure if I want to have those memories wrecked by present realities. But readers who crave happy endings will find this finale frustrating.

Strawberry Shortcake - A book containing your One True Pairing of OTP's

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Anne and Captain Wentworth. They waited for each other for seven years!

Milk and Cookies - Two authors that if they collaborated, they would go perfectly together.
John Green and AS King

Boston Cream Pie - A book that had you turning the pages late at night

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. This is my current read. It has been a long time since I've read a book which has kept me up reading.

Chocolate Therapy - A book that makes you feel better after a long day of life
Poetry books.
If I am having a rough time in my life I can always grab a poetry book and read a few poems to help me deal with my current circumstance. Roger Housden's books are all favorite poetry collections.

Sermon Notes including notes on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This past week I was a guest "preacher" for my church. I agreed to fill in for our actual preacher who is on vacation. The themes of the sermon were Mercy and Grace based on my reading of two books, Pride and Prejudice and Just Mercy. After Sunday several people asked me for a copy of my sermon notes, which you will find below the fold. The notes are my outline so they may not include complete thoughts. I wrote just enough to remind me what I wanted to say. The center fold of the sermon were my thoughts on the excellent memoir, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I recommend that you read the book but in lieu of that watch the author's TED talk to learn about the important work he is doing to correct justice issues we are having in our nation.

Sermon notes below

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Classics Club Question of the month, July 2016

What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future.

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.
(Published between 1997-2007)

Why? Of the 14 points that Italo Calvino uses to define a Classic, The Harry Potter series clearly meets nine of them, and maybe more:

  • People say they are rereading the series, rather than reading it.
  • Reading the Harry Potter books is a treasured experience.
  • The books (characters, settings, plot) are unforgettable.
  • Rereading the Harry Potter books offers as much discovery as reading them the first time.
  • The messages in the books of love, acceptance, friendship, fairness, fighting for the right are themes which will never become exhausted or outdated.
  • Trailing behind the Harry Potter craze is the aura left behind on our society.
  • The Harry Potter books are and were original, innovative, and unexpected.
  • It is impossible to stay neutral about the whole Harry Potter series. 
  • The Harry Potter series is a modern classic because already it has become background noise to our lives. Whether you have read the books or not you are aware of them and they influence culture with their quiet background hum.
  • Of the other five points, most of which have to do with the placement of this work next to the canon of classic lit, I am not clever enough to know.
Do you agree with me? Are the Harry Potter books modern classics? What books, published recently do you think are modern classics.  Please visit Italo Calvino's website for more information about the fourteen points which make up a Classic. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Vicky Cruz wakes up in the mental health ward of the hospital the day after she attempts suicide. The feelings that led her to attempt killing herself are compounded because now she feels even more like a failure: she can't even kill herself. Fortunately for Vicky she is assigned a very caring doctor, Dr. Desai, and she meets other teens who are also struggling with mental health issues. Cautiously and together they can all make progress toward restored health first in the hospital setting and next at Dr. Desai's ranch outside of town.

"Inspired in part by the author's own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn't seem worth it, and how we go on anyway."-from the publisher

I have been sitting on this review not for weeks but  for months since I read the book back in February. Why? I have very conflicted feelings about it.

Francisco Stork is one of my favorite YA authors.  His characters all seem authentic and his situations all seem realistic and handled with care, if that makes sense when referring to situations in books. As I started The Memory of Light the prose just swept up from the page and I was entranced. Here are a few examples of Stork's writing:

It's a sadness that has been knocking at my door for a long time, and I finally let it in.” 
(Vicky acknowledges her depression.)

“You say that as if pretending were a big sin. We all do that kind of pretending to survive, Vicky. Some pretending is necessary and even good. We can tolerate all the pretending we need to do if we have some...islands of honesty in our lives. Places where we don't lie to others. Most of all, places where we don't lie to ourselves.” 
(Dr. Desai shares with Vicky that sometimes she will have pretend, in the 'fake it till you make it" mode.)

“The rocks are everywhere. You have to dig around them without getting pissed at them. I expect the rocks to be there. Sometimes I think they're put there on purpose so I can learn not to be angry about them.” 
(Vicky and another patient are asked to repair a fence but digging the post holes is very hard work because of the rocks. The other patient is philosophical about it here.)

“You are not the clouds or even the blue sky where clouds live. You are the sun behind them, giving light to all, and the sun is made up of goodness and kindness and light.” 
(I can't remember the context for this quote, but it is just lovely, lovely prose.)

So where is the conflict? Why am I not just gushing about this book? Why did I delay this review for so long?  After Vicky and the other patients have run out of time for treatment in the hospital, they are all invited to come and live on the Doctor's ranch so they can continue their group therapy and put in some hard work to keep them grounded in this world.

Would such a thing ever happen? Is it even ethical?

Of course it was a literary technique to advance the plot and to help us see other sides of the characters but I just couldn't suspend my disbelief on this point long enough for it not to bug me. It especially bothered me when Mona stops taking her medications without the Doctor's knowledge. As you can imagine, bad things happen because of it, too.

In the end, Vicky isn't healed but she has some tools she can use if she even starts to feel swamped by depression again.  

The book is remarkable in the way it speaks the truth. You can just tell. Stork admits in his Afterward that he himself has struggled with depression and he wanted to reach out to those teens who feel alone in their sadness.

As I write this blog post I realize I have very positive feelings about the book and really will recommend it to my teen readers. In fact, I might even consider it for one of our Mock Printz selections. Lucky I finally got around to writing this review. It helped me clear my head!

Rating: 4 of 5
Source: Audiobook obtained from the public library

2017 Printz Award Contenders

21 / 35 books. 60% done!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do/Learn More About After Reading Them

Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do/Learn More About After Reading Them 

Almost every book I have read had caused me to want to know more about the topic. In fact that is my favorite type of book, one that causes me to reflect and dig in deeper so I emerge with new information/convictions/beliefs/skills/etc.

The list I have created below is all over the board. I hope, if nothing else, it makes you smile.

1. Cooking. Most recipe books have, um, recipes. But The Joy of Cooking not only contains recipes it also contains directions how to cook/bake.  It is the go-to book in our house if we want to learn how to make new foods or don't understand tricky cooking directions.

2. Bird Watching. I am not a bird watcher extraordinaire but I like knowing what fine feathered friends grace my backyard. I always have the Birds of North America nearby for reference.

3. Traveling in Europe. We are a big fan of Rick Steves' books. We used his book on Italy trip for suggestions where to stay and eat, and also what to see and to understand what we were seeing. If I travel anywhere else in Europe, I will take along his book for sure.

4. Gardening. I haven't found an absolute go-to gardening book but I have used several gardening books over the years to help me by making suggestions for good plants for my garden, how to deal with garden pests, and other gardening issues. One book I have used several times in the Treasury of Gardening.

5. Purchasing Fair Trade products. We've long been fairly trade coffee drinkers but recently I have learned about the need to extend this type of purchasing for other products, like chocolate. The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan is a fiction book about the near-slave living conditions for workers in some of the cacao plantations in West Africa.

6. History...name the topic and I have read fiction and nonfiction books which have caused me to go beyond the books to investigate further, to learn more, to read other books on topics related to American or World history. For eaxample, recently I read a book about a freed American slave, Mary Bowser, who served as a servant to the Confederate President in his Grey House. She gleaned information from his home and transferred it to Union contacts. An African-American women who was a Union spy! I never knew anything about this until I read the book, The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.

7. Diet and Health. I've read many health-related books over the years. Many of them have given me the information I've needed to lose weight, to balance hormones, to exercise properly. Others have sent me searching for more information. I've read many books on diseases, mental illness, and eating/mood disorders. No one definitive book comes to mind but here are several books I recommend. The Day the Voices Stop. Stitches. Being Mortal.

8. Social Issues. Almost all social issues I care about I've learned more by reading books. Examples: Minimum wage---Nickel and Dimed; LGBT issues---Unbecoming; Race issues: Black Like Me; Death Penalty---Dead Man Walking; Drugs---Buzzed; Justice issues---Just Mercy....the list goes on.

9. Religious/Faith issues. The Bible sends me on to other books by other books on faith matters. One example: What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey.

10. Poetry. Poetry always leads to more poetry for me. Start some place and I will always end up in another book. A favorite poetry editor is Roger Housden.

There. I told you this list would be all over the board. I hope it gave you a smile.

Splendid Outcast: Beryl Markham's African Stories

As you know, if you are a faithful reader of this blog (does such a person exist? I don't actually know.) Anyway, if you have read my blog infrequently over the past several months, you should have noted that I have been on an African kick. It started with Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, which led to West With the Night by Beryl Markham, a look at Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (the movie and a bit of the book) and finally to The Splendid Outcast, African Stories also by Markham.

The Splendid Outcast was published in 1987, after Markham had died. Each short story highlights events that Markham either experienced herself or she drew from her own experiences and just made them into a fictional account. Markham's biographer, Mary S. Lovell, commented before each story with information about what was happening in Markham's life at the time the story was written, where it was originally published, and if the story was drawn from Markham's own life how the facts were altered. I found these editorial comments very helpful. In addition, Lovell wrote a lengthy introduction to the collection which I also found insightful and helpful in understanding Markham. Even though Markham wrote West With the Night about her own experiences growing up in Kenya, becoming first a horse trainer and then an aviator, she didn't give many us many details about her personal life. Lovell fills in a few blanks here. Among the most interesting to me was Lovell's assurance that Markham did indeed pen West With the Night, not her third husband, as some scholars believe.

The Splendid Outcast is a collection of eight short stories, four of them were written in the 1940s by Markham with editing help from her husband. her best stories are about horses and horse racing. Three of the stories were probably written by her husband but with material he had gleaned from Markham. The quality and descriptions were quite different that the other five stories, not really as good. The last story, "The Quitter" was written by Markham herself without editing help from her husband. It was published in 1946 and may have been written for purely financial reasons. It, too, wasn't as good as the first four stories in the collection. Apparently Markham and her husband, Raoul Schumacher, made a good writing team, and when one or the other wasn't involved the effort fell a bit short.

My favorite story in the collection is "The Captain and His Horse". In the story, which I think is actually true, Beryl is allowed to ride a captain's horse, Baron, out with the hunting party. Beryl was quite young. The Baron is so smart it is easy to assign human intelligence to him. In fact, because of Baron's quick intelligence and action Beryl is saved from sure death. Here is a quote from this story, a brief descriptive paragraph about the colors of Africa which I think is simply spectacular,
"To say that it was a clear day is to say almost nothing of that country. Most of its days were clear as the voices of the birds that unfailingly coaxed each dawn away from the night. The days were clear and many-colored. You could sit in your saddle and look at the huge mountains and at the river valleys, green, and aimless as fallen threads on a counterpane---and you could not count the colors or know them, because some were nameless. Some colors you never saw again, because each day the light was different, and often the colors you saw yesterday never came back."
Oh man, that quote just gives me shivers it is so lovely. I wish I had the ability to write as well as Markham so when I see that special sunset, or the light dappled through the leaves, or the animal squinting in the sun, I could capture the moment with such beautiful prose.

I don't know how easy this book is to find. I found a copy at a used bookstore in a neighboring town. Check your public library, perhaps thy have a copy you could borrow.

My rating, a 4, is because of the inconsistent quality of the writing. I liked all the stories but I loved the writing on only the first four.

Source: print, I purchased the book.

A 2016 year-long challenge to read classic literature by women authors.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Salon, July 24th

Chihuly glass. Photo by A. Bennett. All rights reserved.
Weather: Beautiful blue skies, warm but not hot.

"Surely you must know, I did it all for you": This was the title of the sermon I preached today in church. Our pastor is on vacation. He asked me and I agreed to preach in his stead. The themes of the message were MERCY and JUSTICE. Of course, I referenced two books besides the Bible. The above quote is from Pride and Prejudice. I used the example of Mr. Darcy as a Christ-like character who, through sacrifice on his own part, saved the Bennet family. I also quoted and used material from Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy. In his work with EJI, Stevenson and his team have helped represent individuals on death row, have argued in front of the Supreme Court, and attempted to represent as many poor and underrepresented people. In his efforts 152 innocent people on death row have been released. In all his work he has had to be brave and strong. Christians need to work for justice or there will never be peace. And they need to be brave to do their work for the kingdom of God.

Three bags down: Carly has begun the arduous task of sorting through her things in preparations for her move to New York. Two garbage bags for Goodwill, and one half each for garbage and recycling. She hasn't really gone through her things since she moved home from college two years ago. We'll toss a lot more stuff in the next few days,

Reading homeostasis: At book club on Tuesday evening somehow the conversation turned to how many books I can read at one time. I don't actually do a good job when reading five books at once, the situation for the last two weeks. I end up feeling all fractured and out of sorts. This week things back into balance, a reading homeostasis, of sorts. By finishing five books, three of them from my original list of five, starting two others and making good progress on them, writing reviews for four books, and mapping out my reading plan for the rest of the summer, finally, for a minute, balance.

Books completed this week. Click on hyperlinks for the reviews.
  • Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff...the first half of this YA part fantasy/part romance book was slow going but the pacing in the second picked up and I really ended up liking the ending. Print.
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson...part autobiography, part history of the 1950s by a favorite author. Audio.
  • We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman...a YA/Junior nonfiction book about the White Rose movement led by Hans and Sophie Scholl in Germany in 1942. Print.
  • Bubonic Panic by Gail Jarrow...When the Bubonic Plague came to San Francisco in 1900 and what it means to us today. An interesting history of the disease. Another YA/Junior book. Prnt.
  • Splendid Outcast: Eight Beryl Markham Africa Stories by Beryl Markham...more from a new favorite author. Print.
Currently reading:
  • Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley...a YA murder mystery set in a Victorian-type South Africa. It seems a little like steam punk. Print. Progress: 75%.
  • They Great American Whatever by Tim Federle...A YA realistic coming-of-age novel. Topics depression, and LGBT. Audio. Progress 30%.
Book Club discussions:
  • The Secret Life of Mary Bowser... a freed slave and a spry against the confederacy. We had a great discussion and everyone liked the book. (RHS Book Club)
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie...this classic murder mystery. We all enjoyed it but it didn't really generate a good discussion. (SOTH Book Club)
This is what I thought of the RNC Convention this past week: Follow this link to the Doonesbury Strip for 7/24/16. Let's just say, it was not good.

Recipe of the day: Brownie Scones. They are the best of both scones and brownies. Yum. Thanks Carly for the treat. 

Today's scripture: Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Two nonfiction short reviews

We Will Not by Silent: the White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. When many people are tiring of the never-ending parade of books about WWII, some stories of heroism in the face of terrible consequences bear repeating. The story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Resistance Movement they started in response to the Nazis is such a tale.

Hans and Sophie Scholl were a brother and sister growing up in Germany in the 1930s. Both joined the Hitler Youth organizations but grew disillusioned with it as they saw how it did not allow for independent thought or individualism. But because of their ages they were both tapped for community service in lieu of military service before they could attend university. Hans, three years older than his sister, had already started medical school and made friends with like-minded friends before Sophie was able to join him Munich and fall in with his group. All the students were disillusioned with the Nazis and what was happening to their country. As an act of deviance and courage they put together several tracks which they distributed secretly. The tracks accused the government of needlessly killing people, of crimes against Jews, of the problems with blindly following Hitler. Needless to say the Nazi officials were very upset about the tracks and were on high alert to find their creators. When they caught Sophie and Hans in the act of distributing them, they swiftly meted out punishing by beheading them.

But the White Rose movement did not die with the brother and sister team. Students and others in Germany picked up the cause and continued to pass around the tracks. At one point the tracks made their way to London where they were reproduced and returned to Germany in the form of flyers dropped by the thousands from planes.

Today a memorial at Munich University is found outside the main entrance of the Geschwister-School-Platz-Scholl Siblings Square. A unique memorial in front of the entrance is made of tiles depicting White Rose leaflets that appear to have been dropped on the cobblestones. When asked why he did such a dangerous thing, Hans Scholl wrote, "I'm searching for myself, just myself, because this much I do know: I'll only find the truth inside me."

The book is touching and important. It is considered a junior-level book but I will likley purchase it for my library. It is difficult to find nonfiction books which teenagers will read. This book which is stuffed with old photos and is short on text will likely be attractive to teen researchers.

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow is the third book in the Deadly Diseases series by the author. With its deadly consequences we all know a bit about the disease often called the Black Death but few know the details of when the disease landed in San Francisco in 1900s and the on-going effects of that "visit".
In March 1900, San Francisco’s health department investigated a strange and horrible death in Chinatown. A man had died of bubonic plague, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. But how could that be possible? Bubonic Panic tells the true story of America’s first plague epidemic—the public health doctors who desperately fought to end it, the political leaders who tried to keep it hidden, and the brave scientists who uncovered the plague’s secrets. Once again, acclaimed author and scientific expert Gail Jarrow brings the history of a medical mystery to life in vivid and exciting detail for young readers. This title includes photographs and drawings, a glossary, a timeline, further resources, an author’s note, and source notes.- Goodreads
The book not only covers the first outbreak in the USA, but covers the whole history of the disease going back to the Justinian Pandemic which began in 542 AD and killed tens of millions before it disappeared for a few hundred years before reemerging again in Europe in the 1300s where 1/4th to 1/2 of the population died from it. Jarrow also explains the efforts that scientists took to discover the cause of the plague, often at their own peril.

Bubonic Panic is also aimed at the middle school student. This book is longer than the first but it also contains lots of photographs and captioned charts. I will certainly purchase this book for my library collection.

Both books came to my attention because of the starred reviews they have received. Since they were both published in 2016 they qualify for Printz consideration. However, I do not think either of the books will be seriously looked at by the real committee. Since the formation of the YALSA Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction for YA it appears the Printz committee's main focus is fiction. I recommend both books but not as Printz-worthy considerations.

Ratings: 4 stars for both books

Source: I checked both books out of the public library

2017 Printz Award Contenders

21 / 35 books. 60% done!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Friday Quotes, July 21

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Book Title: Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

Book Beginning:
The last person up here never made it down alive, but there was no point thinking about that.
Friday 56:
Will he live or will he die? Either way, the outcome for me was flight or death, but I needed to know, if only so I could come to terms with what I had done.
Comment: I guess you can tell I've got a murder mystery on my hands. So far so good. I am pretty excited because usually YA mysteries aren't so complicated and interesting. This one is breaking that mold.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

Mary Bowser was a slave in Richmond, Virginia prior to the Civil War. Her owner, Mrs. Van Lew, freed all her slaves at the urging of her daughter Elizabeth after her husband's death. Elizabeth made arrangements for Mary to live in Philadelphia, where she went to school and furthered her education. At some point Mary returned to Richmond, as a free black woman and married Wilson Bowser just a day before the start of the Civil War. Working alongside her former owner Wilson and Mary participated in efforts to thwart the Confederacy. At some point Mary was placed in the Jefferson Davis household as a servant where she worked at a spy for the Union. No one in the Davis household suspected that a colored woman could read or think so they were not careful to shield their papers or conversations from her. Working through a network of other spies, Mary would pass on information she had gleaned from Jefferson Davis in the Grey House.

Not much is known about Mary after the Civil War as records of individuals who assisted the Union were destroyed so as to preserve their anonymity. But in 1995 she was recognized by the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame with these words,
"Ms. Bowser certainly succeeded in a highly dangerous mission to the great benefit of the Union effort. She was one of the highest placed and most productive espionage agents of the Civil War." (American Civil War Story)
Lois Leveen, the author of The Secrets of Mary Bowser, is described as a person who dwells in the spaces between literature and history (Leveen). She was able to take the outline and fragments of what is known of Mary Bowser's life and make a very interesting and satisfying novelization of details to fill in the holes. This gives the reader a sense of the accomplishments of a true, yet little known, American hero and spy.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser also seems to be the type of book which would lend itself to classroom use or study. Leveen lists a few themes which emerge from the text: the power to overcome stereotypes; the power of education and reading; the ability to act for the benefit of the larger community; parental expectations and determining a personal path; learning to work with people who are different than you; and the role women played in American History (Leveen Teaching).

When we selected The Secrets of Mary Bowser for our July book club meeting none of us knew more than the briefest of outlines of the storyline. Yesterday when we met to discuss the book we all unanimously praised the book and the subject. This is rare. Usually at least one person in the group will find fault in the book of the month. If there was any criticism it was mild---the book is quite long, 453 pages. The portion of the story focused on the spying didn't begin until around three quarters of the way through. But that said, much of the back story was necessary to understand Mary Bowser's motivations and her genius. All in all it is a delightful and insightful book. We are all glad we read it. And I would recommend it for any reading group or book club as it really  lends itself to discussion.

(A side note, the length of the book, 453 pages, qualifies for my Big Book Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Sue at Book by Book.)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: print edition checked out from the public library.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Big Book Summer Challenge

As in past summers I am joining the Big Book Summer Challenge which gives me an excuse to read at least one big book, over 400 pages, during our warmest months. All I have to do is read at least one long book, write an entry post (this one) and an exit post in September with my updates. I am going to attempt to read three or four big books, which won't be that hard since I've already read two. Ha! Join in the fun. Click the link above for more details and to sign up.

My list of possible selections:

  • The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry @478 pages. Update: completed.
  • The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen @450 pages. Update: completed
  • Draw the Line by Laurent Linn @528 pages. Update: hold placed on library book
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson @455. Update: checked out from my library but I haven't started it.
  • Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey @665 pages. Update: the book was given to me this past week by a friend from Australia.
  • The Slap by Chistos Tsiolkas @570 pages. Update: another gift book.