Tuesday, September 27, 2011

(82) A vicious hate crime & learning to stand up for what is right

Title: LIE by Caroline Bock
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
224 pages
Genre: YA

I received this book as an advanced electronic galley through netgalley.com it was released 8/30/11

Synopsis: Everybody knows, nobody’s talking. . . .

Seventeen-year-old Skylar Thompson is being questioned by the police. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, stands accused of brutally assaulting two young El Salvadoran immigrants from a neighboring town, and she’s the prime witness. Skylar is keeping quiet about what she’s seen, but how long can she keep it up?

But Jimmy was her savior. . . .

When her mother died, he was the only person who made her feel safe, protected from the world. But when she begins to appreciate the enormity of what has happened, especially when Carlos Cortez, one of the victims, steps up to demand justice, she starts to have second thoughts about protecting Jimmy. Jimmy’s accomplice, Sean, is facing his own moral quandary. He’s out on bail and has been offered a plea in exchange for testifying against Jimmy.

The truth must be told. . . .

Sean must decide whether or not to turn on his friend in order to save himself. But most important, both he and Skylar need to figure out why they would follow someone like Jimmy in the first place.

Review: The author flips back and forth between characters allowing you to hear their innermost thoughts, and reactions to what happened that fateful night.  The only voice that is missing is Jimmy, which I think is greatly missed.  All the characters revolve around Jimmy yet his voice is missing from the book, although one could argue that most of the characters are so enraptured by Jimmy that Jimmy has been thinking and speaking for them for so long that now they are getting their opportunity to speak and start to find themselves.

This is not an easy book to read. Its not the writing so much as the subject. It is a stark look at how people can delude themselves and how so many teens get wrapped up in what their friends are doing that they don't stop to think for themselves. It also takes a hard look, but not hard enough in my opinion, of racism. It is the story of doing what is right vs doing what others expect you to do. It is about knowing who you are and standing up for your beliefs.

I honestly didn't like this book at first and I couldn't figure out why.  I think it was the utter lack of anyone standing up for themselves, but just following along.  I realize that this has never been my issue for me or that of my children.  They stand up for what they believe even if it isn't popular.  Its not always easy.  It was kids like the one's in this book that I always had issues with in high school so its not hard to understand why I didn't like them.

By the end of the book I could understand its value and I really started to enjoy it and felt sorry for many of the characters.  There is no rosy ending to this book but there is some closure. I would recommend it to high school students and I think it could spark some interesting discussions.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Book Week Sept 24 - Oct 1




Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  This event helps draw attention to censorship by spotlighting books that were actually or 
were attempted to be banned across the USA.

BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them. Thanks to librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community most of the books targeted were not banned.  I want to send a big thank you to all who help fight these bannings, uphold our First Amendment rights and draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints placed on the availability of information.
 
Below are books that were attempted to be banned for the past 3 years.  Pick one up and read it this week!

   2010: 
1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson - So Cute! Loved it.
2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie;
3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley;
4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins;
 5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins - Love it! Can't wait to read the rest of the series.  This was also my daughters 10th Grade summer reading book. 
 6)Lush, by Natasha Friend;
7) What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones;
8) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich - Hated it. - didn't like the writing style, and thought that although the subject was interesting the author was very pretentious.  This was my other daughters required summer reading for 11th grade. 
9)Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie;
10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer - I actually really enjoyed this series. 

   2009: 
1) ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle;
2) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson See Above
3) The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky;
4) To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee - Read this in high school and didn't get much out of it...read it again a few years ago and fell in love with it.  
5) Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer - See above
 6)Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger;
7) My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult - Found this to be a great book, hard subject matter but fascinating.
 8) The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler - I have this on my shelf but haven't read it yet - the title drew me to it. Guess I should pull it down and read it this week. 
9) The Color Purple, by Alice Walker - Fabulous book 
10) The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

   2008: 
1) And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell - See above
2) His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman;
 3) ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle;
4) Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz;
5) Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya;
6) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky;
 7) Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar;
 8) Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen;
9) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini - My daughter was required to read this in 9th grade for Honors English - I decided to read it as well - glad I did, what a fabulous book.  She liked it as well. 
10) Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(81) Standing out from the crowd

Title: Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand by William Aruda & Kristen Dixon
Publisher: Wiley
224 pages
Genre: Business

Synopsis: As a professional, your reputation is your most valuable career asset. Whether you're climbing the ladder at your current company or seeking a new job, in today's fast-paced work environment, you must proactively and continuously position yourself for success. Your credibility, visibility, personality, and personal style all make up your brand. Build and nurture your personal brand and you'll make yourself a must-have, can't-fail professional—and you'll do it without having to be someone you're not.

Career Distinction outlines the proven personal branding process and provides case studies of successful professionals that will help you not only survive, but thrive, in today's dynamic and ultracompetitive workplace. You'll learn to manage your brand with innovative tools that enable you to differentiate yourself and stand out from your peers.

The increasing pace of change in the business world gives you less time than ever to make your professional mark. Career Distinction demonstrates how to express who you are and the value you bring to your organization—branding you as an indispensable, memorable, and unique professional. Success takes more than just hard work; brand yourself and watch your career soar.

Review: I read this book for a class I'm taking for my Masters in Organizational Development and while the information wasn't necessarily new to me I like the way it was written.  This book is one of the most readable and engaging of the books on business and branding that I have read.

Career Distinction makes the case for thoroughly understanding yourself and how building your unique brand will bring value to your audience. Standing out from the crowd and being constantly sought out by potential employers is the payoff for putting these ideas in action.  I was particularly interested in the 360 degree assessment of how others perceive my personal and professional skills and attributes. Knowing how others perceive you is incredibly important to understanding yourself.  In the book there is a code to get your own free assessment but unfortunately the website has since changed and it doesn't seem to work.  My professor passed along to us the website for the free 15 day assessment which I will add later in the comment section.  This was an incredibly invaluable tool.  Its fascinating to see how others see you.

If you are looking at switching jobs or just want to learn how to better your career this is a great place to start. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

(80) Violent Crime in Sweden

Title: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell 
Publisher: Vintage Crime
280 page
Genre: Mystery

Synopsis: It was a senselessly violent crime; on a cold night in a remote Swedish farm house an elderly farmer is bludgeoned to death, and his wife is left to die with a noose around her neck. And as if this didn't present enough problems for the Ystad police Inspector Kurt Wallander, the dying woman's last word is foreign, leaving the police the one tangible clue they have - and in the process, the match that could inflame Sweden's already smoldering anti-immigrant sentiments.

Unlike the situation with his ex-wife, his estranged daughter, or the beautiful but married young prosecutor who has piqued his interest, in this case Wallander finds a problem he can handle. He quickly becomes obsessed with solving the crime before the already tense situation explodes, but soon comes to realize that it will require all his reserves of energy and dedication to solve.

Review: I have found myself a little obsessed myself these days.  I have a fascination with Nordic mysteries.  I think one of the things that intrigues me so much is that they are so different than what I thought that part of the world was like.  Whenever I watch anything on Sweden or Norway it is always depicted as so idealistic.  Little crime, where you can leave your stroller on the street and it won't get nicked etc.  But these books depict another side, the darker side of these idealistic communities and I'm hooked.

Henning Mankell has created a great character in Kurt Wallander, the middle aged, divorced police officer.  In this book I think Wallander isn't just looking to solve a crime he is looking for himself.  Floundering after his divorce, trying to repair a relationship with his daughter, learning how to be a son to a man who he feels has been disappointed with him since he decided to become a police officer.  Throughout the investigation he learns more about himself and starts to see his father in a new light.  He's a good cop, just a bit lost at the moment.

I think thats one of the other aspects of these mysteries that I am drawn to.  The characters are all a bit flawed, and average.  They don't solve mysteries in the blink of an eye, random facts don't just jump out of the blue, they plod through these crimes uncovering evidence piece by piece in a very realistic fashion.  I will have to say if I ever drank as much coffee as these guys do though I don't think I would ever sleep.

So if you have a thing for flawed characters, crime solving and cold Wintry landscapes try some of these writers that are getting more exposure thanks to Stieg Larsons Millenium trilogy.


Friday, September 16, 2011

(79) Second Chance at Love

Title: Beautiful Disaster by Laura Spinelli
Publisher: Penguin Publishing
384 pages
Genre: Mystery, Romance

Synopsis: A story of love lost...and found.

Mia Wells's eco-friendly career goals are about to become a reality-but her life-altering moment is interrupted when an unexpected call ushers in her tremulous past. A man who's never left Mia's memory: Flynn, the enigmatic, passionate man whose disappearance broke her heart, has mysteriously resurfaced.

 Now back in her life and in the hospital, Flynn is gravely injured. Mia keeps a bedside vigil-terrified that he will die, awestruck at the prospect of his survival. In a story filled with sweetness and suspense, Mia's what-ifs are endless. And Flynn's return ignites an achingly powerful tale about the most enduring love, one that is greater than honor, or friendship, or the passing of time.

Review: I was grabbed by this book from the beginning and while it is a bit of a sappy story you have to remember it is a romance! I think Spinelli did a great job weaving the past and the present together so that you didn't feel jolted or lost when you changed time lines.  The characters were well developed and you found yourself routing for them from the very beginning.

Mia and Flynn's whirlwind romance begins when Mia is in college.  Mia's best friend and hyper-vigilant roommate takes an instant disliking to Flynn and will stop at nothing to get them apart.  It fascinated me how pushy the roommate was and how Mia's personality changes throughout the book but it wasn't until the end when I feel Mia really took control of her own life instead of letting others manipulate her.

There isn't much suspense but there are a few plot twists that may take people off guard.  I think this was a great debut.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pause for a Rant

I have read several tweets about this article "Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA" and it makes me crazy! Why do gay characters need to be straightened or eliminated? Isn't it bad enough that the suicide rate for LGBT teens is higher than other groups?

Now not only are people going to shun them in real life but we are going to make it harder for them to identify with characters in fiction? Wake up people! This might actually help some of those kids.  I'm almost sad that they didn't post the name of the publishing company in their article maybe it would have shamed them into doing something different like take a look at their policies or the way in which publishing agents are doing their jobs.

Maybe these archaic policies or choices being made by agents are the reason I can't find any books with AA teen characters that aren't set in the hood or about basketball or some other sport.  Do they think all AA boys read is sports related books? Its crazy.  But thats a different rant.

Its time to get some diversity in publishing out there...and while I like being able to find LGBT book easily in their own section of book stores I also think that it eliminates many people who might read them from stumbling across something really good.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

(78) Serial killers and broken cops

Title: Bleeding Out by Baxter Clare
Publisher: Bella Books
306 pages
Genre: Lesbian Mystery

Synopsis: Lieutenant  Meet LA Franco - Better known as Frank who commands Homicide Squad #93 in the gang ravaged central Los Angeles area.

Described by one of her detectives as "Dirty Harry's personality stuffed into Martina Navratilova's body", Frank allows nothing into her bruised personal life except music, football, booze and exercise - all her drugs of choice. And just when she needs them most, they are all about to fail her....

Review: Frank is called into investigate the homicide of a young girl dumped at a school.  The girl had been brutally beaten and sodomized. During her investigation she finds more bodies and evidence that ties them all together.  Now she knows she is looking for a serial killer who is escalating in his violence.

While trying to find the killer she finds that pushing the pain away from the death of her long term partner isn't working as well anymore. When she is put on leave while IAD investigates Frank's shooting of a suspect she finds herself with too much time on her hands and a brain that won't stay still.

Frank is a very broken and troubled character. She gets the job done but her life is falling apart. The chapters all end with insight into the killer that Frank is looking for - the why behind what he does.  I liked it but it is very dark and Franks life reads like a what not to do cautionary tale.

Monday, September 5, 2011

(77) Mommie Darkest

Title: Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 20) by Laurell K. Hamilton
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
336 pages
Genre: Horror

Synopsis: A serial killer is hunting the Pacific Northwest, murdering victims in a gruesome and spectacular way. The local police suspect "monsters" are involved, and have called in Anita Blake and Edward, U.S. Marshals who really know their monsters, to catch the killer.

Review: Old school Anita is back.  After the last book in this series I wasn't sure if I was going to read this one but I did and I was glad.  Anita has been away from her men and Jean Claude as she helps other Marshals in a serial killer case.  Of course being away has its down side, the metaphysics that allow Anita to heal and do some of the amazing things she does are going a little wacky because of the amount of times he has spent away.  But have no fear Edward has her back.  The bond between Edward and Anita has never been more apparent than it is in this book.  I loved that she brought them back together although I feel like Edward is starting to become more human as Anita becomes more "other".

My one dissatisfaction with this book is the end.  I'm not going to spoil it but lets just say I was expecting more of a fight.  There is an interesting twist which I'm sure will show up in another book regarding Olaf the serial killer who wants Anita as his own...although no one really knows what that means since she does resemble all the women that he has tortured and killed in the past.  Does he want to date her or kill her?

(76) Love Builds Families

Title: This is Us: the new all American Family by David Marin
Publisher: Exterminating Angel Press
288 pages
Genre: Memoir - Adoption

Synopsis:When David Marin fell in love with three abandoned children desperately in need of a home, there was only one thing he could do. Give up his relatively carefree life and learn how to become a parent. In the process, he found the future he had always wanted, but he also learned some hard lessons about single-parent adoption, the Kafkaesque side of Social Services, and America's anti-immigrant sentiment: Heartbreaking, funny, and inspiring, This Is US chronicles Marin’s quest to create a better life for these children—and for himself.

Review: David Marin's account of adopting three children from Foster care is a delight.  Witty, and laugh out loud funny in some places yet aggravating and sad in others.  David Marin had to jump through more hoops than the average adoptive parent because he was a single man.  Many social workers at DHS didn't want to place children with him and certainly didn't agree with placing three Latino children with a red haired man, never mind that David is half Puerto Rican.

He is stopped by cops, has set backs with the legal system and through it all he keeps his humor.  Its amazing and uplifting.  Then there are all the pitfalls to new parenting which as David is the first to admit, "small mammals know more about parenting" than he did.  But yet her persevered, through racism, bosses that pushed him out because of his want of family and social workers who did everything to get in his way.

Anyone who can go through that and still have the ability to be witty and humble is amazing.  His children are very lucky to have such a wonderful father.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

(75) Family Secrets & Little Known History

Title: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
336 pages
Genre: Fiction - Historical ficition

Synopsis:  A fictionalized account of the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive.

Review: This little known period of history was fascinating to me.  I had no idea that this happened in France in 1942 and I'm devastated to learn about it now.  Why is it left out of history teachings on the Holocaust? While some reviews I read felt that this book lacked the culpability of the French people I have to disagree.  While the character Julia was investigating the Vel d'Hiv she found that most people didn't want to talk about it or even want her asking questions about it.  They wanted it hidden.  Even the monuments she uncovered didn't mention the French as the one's who rounded up the Jews just that it was the Nazi's.  I think that Julia's dismay to the lack of culpability and the way she doggedly goes after the story despite people trying to block her path saying that it should be left in the past and that no one would want to read about it is putting a subtle spotlight on a sad piece of history that France would like to forget they played a major role in.

The book alternated between 1942 and the present until the story gets tied together toward the end.  I loved the flow of the book and found it to be an easy and engrossing read.  If anything it makes me want to learn more about the Vel d'Hiv.  I haven't seen the movie version of this book that was recently released but I might have to go see it.
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