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Book Reviews

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All th LightOne of my friends started a book challenge last year that she invited me to join.  The challenge asks readers to complete books based on a list of topics. For example, one book might need to have a number in the title, one could be a book that you’ve read multiple times, etc. Well, a category in the challenge was to read a Pulitzer Prize Winner and I chose the 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The novel centers around the lives of a cast of characters who are living during World War II. It is the story of Marie-Laure, a young, blind girl living with her father in France who must flee their home in Paris to the city of Saint-Maulo and her reclusive great-uncle’s home as the war closes in. It is the story of Werner, an orphaned German boy with an appetite for knowledge who must leave the only family he knows when he is called to fight for his country. It is the story of the search for a rare and cursed diamond that promises eternal life to the person who holds it.

Doerr tells this story through many different perspectives in various flashbacks. The story begins as the city of Saint-Maulo is being attacked and then transports back to when the war was just starting. We learn about the lives of many interwoven characters and circumstances and watch as those characters eventually are connected through the atrocities of war.

I found this book to be very moving. The vivid details the author uses really bring the story to life. I have always been interested in reading about World War II and found that this gave me new perspectives into what people on different sides of the conflict faced. This is a book that I felt like I NEEDED to talk to someone about after reading. Luckily, I know some people who had read it – and I looked on some of the message boards on goodreads and found an outlet that way as well. It is a novel that I know will stick with me for awhile.

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr: 4.5/5 stars

Leap List book 1/200




The United States of YA

I love to read…always have, always will. As a high school teacher, I often find myself drawn to young adult books – books that I can read and then suggest to my students. I try to mix some YA in among the fiction and non-fiction that I “should” be reading…and I mean, I’m still a young adult, right?!

While I was scrolling through Pinterest one time, I found a link to a list called “The United States of YA” – this is a list of 50 YA books (one per state) that take place in that state – and I decided to take on the challenge. Here’s the photo of the United States of YA:

And while the photo is great, I also wanted to make a list that I could put in my planner and cross off as I finished each book. Below is the list of books – with stars next to the ones I’ve read (I can’t tell you how ticked I am that “The Wizard of Oz” is the Kansas book…I mean, really?!)

Alabama – The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Alaska – Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Arizona – Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Arkansas – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

California – Bloodlines by Richelle Meade

Colorado – A Beautiful Dark by Joscelyn Davies

Connecticut – My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Delaware – The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher

Florida – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Georgia – Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hawaii – Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury

Idaho – Deadline by Chris Crutcher

* Illinois – Divergent by Veronica Roth

* Indiana – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Iowa – Ashfall by Mike Mullin

* Kansas – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Kentucky – The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

Louisiana – Arise by Tara Hudson

* Maine – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Maryland – Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Massachusetts – Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Michigan – Wake by Lisa McMann

Minnesota – Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Missouri – Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

Mississippi – Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Montana – The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Nebraska – Revived by Cat Patrick

Nevada – Crank by Ellen Hopkins

New Hampshire – Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

New Jersey – White Cat by Holly Black

New Mexico – fated by Alyson Noel

New York – The Diviners by Libba Bray

* North Carolina –The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

North Dakota – The Beet Fields by Gary Paulsen

* Ohio – I am Number 4 by Pittacus Lore

Oklahoma – Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp

* Oregon – If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Pennsylvania – Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Rhode Island – devilish by Maureen Johnson

South Carolina – Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia

South Dakota – Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs

Tennessee – Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Texas – Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey

Utah – Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Vermont – JIP: His Story by Katherine Paterson

* Virginia – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

* Washington – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

West Virginia – Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

* Wisconsin – Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Wyoming – Unearthly by Cynthia Hand


I’m only 1/5 of the way done so far with 10 of them read, but I’m excited to take on the challenge. I’ve started “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” but I’m also reading “All the Light We Cannot See” which is WONDERFUL! I did find a list of a Literary Map of America that I’ll share in a future post that I’m also working through.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The dystopian genre is one that seems to be here to stay…and I have to admit, I get sucked into each and every one that I read.  I picked up “The Testing” by Joelle Charbonneau (The Testing #1) from the school library prior to my trip to Nashville in November, but didn’t have time to really get into it until Christmas break…and when I got into it, it read so quickly!

18613058The novel takes place “sometime in the future” in a United States that has been ravaged by the Seven Stages War…which is about how most dystopian novels start. The country is working hard to rebuild and they choose the elite among them to be those to lead the rebuilding.  The way they are chosen is through a testing process, where those who show promise in school will be put to the ultimate test to see whether or not they are worthy of becoming a future leader.

Cia Vale has wanted nothing more than to be chosen for the testing, so she can hardly contain her excitement when she is one chosen (along with her childhood friend Thomas).  However, on the night of her departure, Cia’s father – himself a former testing candidate – warns her that the testing is not what she imagines – and that she should trust no one. With each passing day of the harsh (and often deadly) testing, Cia must decide whether she wants to live a life without trust or take her chances by creating alliances that will help her succeed.

This first novel in The Testing trilogy took what I knew about dystopian literature and added new elements that I found very interesting.  While often compared to “The Hunger Games” (aren’t all dystopian novels compared to “THG”) I found that there were enough unique twists and turns to make this novel fresh and new.  I also enjoyed how the main action of the plot took place in the Midwest – and I could picture many of the scenes very easily.

I can’t wait to continue reading more of this trilogy – in fact, I’ve picked up the next two from the library already – reviews coming soon!

“The Testing” by Joelle Charbonneau: 4/5 stars

Book Review – Lovestruck in London by Rachel Schurig


I finished reading “Panic” by Lauren Oliver while flying from Nashville to Dallas…with my other “book book” stuck up in the overhead compartment, I searched for a new book to read on my nook. Each day I get my recommendations for cheap and free books, and recenty “Lovestruck in London” was on that list. As I was scrolling through the books on my nook, this one stuck out to me…so I thought I’d give this one a shot.

The story is a “fish out of water” tale of Lizzie Medina, a Detroit native who takes a year off for post-graduate work in London before becoming a teacher like the rest of her family.  Lizzie has always wanted to live in London, and jumps at the chance to reinvent herself away from her loving, but overly involved, family.  After spending her first week in London stuck in a classroom, Lizzie and her best friend Callie go for a night at the theater…where Lizzie meets up and coming actor Thomas Harper – a chance meeting that sends them both head over heels in love. When Thomas’ most recent movie skyrockets him to fame, will the two be able to handle all of the stress and attention that comes with stardom?

Now, if you are looking for a challenging, intellectual read….keep looking, but this was just what I was in search of – a fun, quick, chick-lit read that I could just enjoy.  I enjoyed the characters – Lizzie, Thomas, Callie, Charlie…all were unique and fun.  I loved the London setting and it makes me want to visit England even more. While not every piece of information was probably fully accurate…who cares – it was a fun read.  There is a second novel in the series called Lovestruck in LA that I just might have to check out.

“Lovestruck in London” by Rachel Schurig 4/5 stars

Book Review: Page by Paige, by Laura Lee Gulledge


The summer reading program at our local library encourages readers to try different kinds of books – one of the genres on the list was a graphic novel.  I have never really read a graphic novel before, but I got a recommendation from my mom that this one was really good, so, I chose “Page by Paige,” by Laura Lee Gulledge as my graphic novel.

First of all, the story centers around Paige Turner (her parents are writers – which is why she has her unique name). Paige and her family have moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Brooklyn during the Christmas break.  Paige must adjust to a new school, a new town and the intimidation of making new friends.  Paige chooses to write about her struggles, hopes and fears in her sketchbook – which is what the graphic novel essentially is – Paige’s sketchbook.

The story was a typical YA story about a high school girl navigating the perils of high school life with the added struggle of dealing with being the “new girl.” While the story was typical, the drawings were awesome! I was amazed at just how fabulous and intricate the drawings were.  I am so jealous of people that are so gifted in drawing (it is a skill that I never mastered).  As a reader, it gives you so much more to work through than a typical novel or short story. I really, really enjoyed the experience – I think partially because I enjoyed the topic. I’m hoping to looking into Gulledge and see if she has any more to read!

Book Reviews: “Page by Paige,” by Laura Lee Gulledge 4/5 stars.

Book Review: Death of a Kitchen Diva by Lee Hollis

I picked up this book at our local bookstore (if you are in Emporia support Town Crier!! because I was in need of an “antonym” book.  I’m participating in a reading challenge this summer over at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life and read a book last month called “The Life List.” While I was perusing the shelves at Town Crier, I decided to search out a book with death in the title – so I could check that category off my list. I also realized that I needed to read a mystery for the summer reading challenge at the public library, so I figured I would check out the paperback mysteries.

I discovered the book “Death of a Kitchen Diva,” by Lee Hollis.  Lee Hollis is actually the brother/sister writing duo of Rick Kopp (who was a writer for “The Golden Girls”) and Holly Simason (a food columnist).  The book is considered a Cozy Mystery – which basically means it takes place in a picturesque little town (this one is in Bar Harbor, Maine), doesn’t have too many gory details or adult situations, and deals with some colorful characters. This particular book series (and this one is the first in the series) is about a divorced newspaper office manager – turned food and cocktails columnist who ends up playing detective in a murder investigation where she is the prime suspect.

The novel begins with the main character Hayley Powell being arrested for the death of rival food columnist Karen Appelbaum when Appelbaum is found dead (by Hayley) in a bowl of Hayley’s clam chowder soup.  The book then goes back in time to how we ended up at that moment she was arrested.  The cast of characters include Hayley’s brother, who is partners with the local police chief, Sergio; her best friends – one who is a real estate agent up on the latest fashions and the other who is a perpetually pregnant lobster woman; along with two men who are vying for her attention – fellow newsroom worker Bruce and Lex, a man with some mystery of his own.

First off, I wasn’t really expecting much from this book – I wanted a quick and easy read, and that’s exactly what I got.  I did enjoy the journalistic side of things (surprise, surprise) and I enjoyed reading Hayley’s columns which are interspersed throughout the book and include recipes.  The story itself wasn’t spectacular, but it did keep me guessing. I also enjoyed the colorful supporting characters.

If you are looking for a quick read that doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking, pick up one of the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries (there are now 5 in the series).

Book Review: “Death of a Kitchen Diva,” by Lee Hollis 3/5 stars.

Book Review: “The Shade of the Moon (The Last Survivors #4),” by Susan Beth Pfeffer


I started this series because a student had recommended the books to me – he even brought the first one for me to read.  I enjoyed the series and thought it was simply a trilogy.  While the third book left me with some questions, I accepted it as the finale – and then discovered there was a 4th book.  While my student warned me to not read the book…I didn’t listen.

The novel (published 3 years after the third book) takes place 4 years since the catastrophic event that has left the earth completely changed.  The characters we met in books 1-3 have now settled in an area of Tennessee. Jon, the younger brother featured in the first and third books, lives with his stepmom and half-brother in a safe enclave, where they are given all they want, with servants to wait on them.  Jon’s family (his sister Miranda, the narrator from books 1 and 3; her husband Alex, the narrator from book 2; and their mother Laura) lives in the “grubtown” White Birch a 20 minute bus ride, away, although the way they live makes it seem much farther.

I won’t go much into the details of this book, because I was simply not a fan.  I really, really liked the first novel, “Life As We Knew It,” and it really stuck with me, but I have liked each book in the series less than the previous book.  Although the action in this book is to take place only 2 years following the previous novel, I felt as though much more time had passed.  I was not a fan of Jon in the previous novels – and he was truly a minor character throughout those books.  This book made me wish that either or Miranda or Alex would have been the narrator again – although I know why Pfeffer decided to change things.  To me, Jon is not likable and I don’t see him as changing or growing much throughout the novel.

This series started out with such promise, but ended with a fizzle.

Book Review “The Shade of the Moon,” by Susan Beth Pfeffer: 2/5 stars