Whistling Past the Graveyard review

**I was provided a copy of this book by netgalley.com in exchange for my review.

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

From Goodreads: The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.

My review: Nine year old Starla lives in the south in the 1960s with her grandmother. Her father works on an oil rig and rarely gets to visit, and her mother left when Starla was three and moved to Nashville to become a singer. When Starla runs away to find her mother, she finds herself in heaps of disastrous situations. Caught in a turbulent time between southern whites and African Americans, Starla learns more about the world, and herself, than she had ever anticipated.

While the story lines in this book at times feel very familiar, the tone, style, and language feel very authentic and original. I liked Starla from page one, and found her spunky, full-of-life attitude entertaining. The dialogue was rich and well-written, though I might have preferred more description of time and place to fill in the stories a bit more. I love that the ending was not all peaches-and-cream, and some works of fiction tend to be. Overall, I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Secret Life of Bees, The Help, and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. When it is released in the stories I will also be picking up a copy for my students’ historical fiction projects, since its easy, engaging plot will probably appeal to my high school kids.

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With or Without You review

**I was provided a copy of this novel from netgalley.com in exchange for my review. This book will be published in late March 2013.

With or Without You

With or Without You by Domenica Rutka

Goodreads summary: Domenica Ruta grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, in a ramshackle, rundown, trash-filled house with her mother, a drug dealer and user who raised Domenica on a steady diet of Oxycontin. Growing up, Domenica knew she didn’t fit in-she was far smarter and worse dressed than everyone else she knew, and she clearly had the most flamboyant mother of anyone in town-but she found solace in writing and reading. As she grew older, though, and as her mother’s behavior grew increasingly outrageous and her home life increasingly untenable, Domenica fled Danvers only to become ensnared by the demons of addiction.

A thoroughly textured and masterfully written book, layered with wildly colorful characters, a biting sense of humor, and penetrating, deeply sympathetic insights, With or Without You finally ends with Domenica’s increasing awareness that she must leave the life she grew up with in order to survive.

 

My review:

I typically love a good memoir. In fact, many of the books that have stuck with me the longest have been memoirs. This, however, will probably not stick with me much past today.

In order to write a memoir, you should either a.) be famous for something or b.) have some terribly horrific/inspiring/life-altering/ mind-blowing story to tell. Rutka has neither. I still can’t figure out why someone decided her story is any different from the hundreds of kids in my high school, the thousands of people in my town, or the many millions of Americans who have led lives exactly like hers. I can find no discernible reason why one should read this book or care about this story beyond the typical empathy we possess for any normal human being.

All that being said, I could have enjoyed a memoir that was well-told simply because of my love for good writing. I could have forgiven her for being unimportant (because, really, aren’t most of our lives individually unimportant to the masses?) if she’d just told a decent story. So here’s the crux- I really, really disliked the method of delivery of this story too. The first half skips willy-nilly through the 1980’s, 90’s, and well into the 00’s with absolutely NO discernible path or pattern. One minute she’s 3 in the early 80’s, a page later 16 in the 90’s, and then back to fresh-from-the-womb paragraphs after that. It’s maddening in its irregularity. While there were parts that were well-written, even mildly entertaining, overall I found this book whiny, bitchy, and wholly unsympathetic.

Perhaps this book would sit better with me if Rutka were even a decade removed from her tale of addiction and despair. As it sits, however, all I found was someone fresh off her ordeal with no ability to provide perspective on her recovery. It just left me repeating “So what?” and “Who cares” over and over again.

A Review of Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, # 1)

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

From Goodreads:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

 

Jacqueline’s review:

The bookclub that I belong to on Goodreads announced this was the first book we would be reading and I will admit I was not too thrilled. The movie comes out in just a few weeks, and I generally avoid reading books being turned into movies to hopefully avoid all the book-to-movie bandwagoners. Anyhow, I am glad that I picked this book up and maybe (!) even glad that it’s being made into a movie.

Some of the reviews/comments I had heard mentioned that they thought this book started out really slowly. I have to say, I feel that way about books but I did not feel that way at all with this one. Right from the beginning I was sucked into the story and wanted to see where it was going. I purposefully hadn’t read much about the plot, so the twists and turns kept me reading. While the main male character, Ethan, was a little too cheesy for me, I really enjoyed the female main character, Lena. While I can’t pretend I understand what it would be like to have my life decided for me the moment I turn 16, I could put myself in her shoes and feel the terrible pain she must have felt being treated the way she was by the people in her hateful little town.

All-in-all, this book contains a lot of the things I really enjoy in a good book: it’s set in a tiny town in the South, involves a bit of supernatural, features a smart female lead, and kept me guessing until the end. There was just the right amount of description and character development without making me want to skip over pages or paragraphs. While the middle might have been better if shortened up a chapter or two, overall I felt the pacing and writing style were spot-on. I will definitely be sharing this book with my students; I just hope they read the book after I talk about it instead of just going to see the movie.

 

 

 

Girl of Nightmares, a Review

 From Goodreads: t’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.

Jessica’s Review:

When I read Anna Dressed in Blood last year, I was genuinely freaked out.  I remember laying in bed and checking over my shoulder because I was convinced someone, or something, was watching me.  Blake did not disappoint with the sequel and conclusion in Girl of Nightmares.

As much as I loved Anna in the first book, this one really focuses on Cas.  I was able to feel for Cas even though I wanted to agree with everyone else that he needs to move on.  There was a whole new side to Cas that we did not see in the first book that made me love him more.  I will admit, I was hoping for more Anna in this novel, but I was not disappointed overall even with less Anna.  I enjoyed the continued development of Thomas and Carmel.  I also adored the shady new character of Jestine in this book.  I don’t want to give too much away about her, but I can appreciate another tough female character.  And, of course, the humor is there among all the character as before.

Blake takes the plot in a whole different direction (London!) than I expected, and I love when authors do that.  Blake is also able to explain much more about the athame and the whole business of ghost hunting.  I was able to accept things without explanation in Anna Dressed in Blood, but I definitely appreciate a better understanding of everything now.

I am so glad that this book is not only the sequel but the conclusion of Anna and Cas.  I am a little “seried” out right now.  I am happy with how the story ended up and loved that Blake kept me guessing on how it will all end throughout.  If you liked Anna the first time through, make sure you pick up Girl of Nightmares. 

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading? 1/14/13

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

It’s Monday! What’s Are You Reading? is a meme originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts  host a KidLit version celebrating picture books to YA novels.

Jessica

What I read last week…

So last week I was successful in reading both books that I set out to read:

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake – I was very happy with the conclusion on the Anna series.  After loving Anna Dressed in Blood, I could not be happier about the sequel.  Stay tuned for a review of Anna and this one later this week!

The Evolution of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodkin is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors!  Thank goodness The Retribution of Mara Dyer  is being released this year!  I am totally engrossed in Mara’s world and want t know what is going to happen next!

What I plan on reading this week…

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I still don’t know how I have never read this one before!  I am lost in the 1920’s when I read this.  I will probably be done with this by tomorrow.

Dead to You by Lisa McMann – This one has been getting a ton of love from my friends on Goodreads and Twitter.  I used a Christmas gift card from my uncle to get this one.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson – Another loved one by Goodreads and Twitter fans.  I have also been approved from Netgalley to read Hattie Ever After.  Have to get the first one done to appreciate the second!

Jacqueline:

Last week I finished reading several books, and have just begun a couple more. Here’s a recap!

Before I Go To Sleep I finished reading Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. While not really YA (really, not at all) this book was extremely interesting and thought-provoking for me.  It’s about a woman with double-amnesia- she can’t remember what happened to her yesterday, nor can she remember what happened to her 15 years ago. As she struggles to get through every day, I was left with a million questions about what life must be like for someone in that condition.

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)I also finished reading Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake, which I will review for you in full in an upcoming post (see? Making good on my resolutions already!). Suffice it to say that the top of my to-read list this week includes the sequel. We’ll talk more about that later.

My currently-reading list is fairly short, for me. I am reading this little gem:  it’s called Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Shakespeare: The World as Stage and it’s written by the ever-witty Bill Bryson. It’s not really a biography of our friend Will, but instead an examination of the previous works written about him and why they are all-too-often wrong. It’s actually making me a little sad, as I just keep thinking about how little we know about the man and the fact that we will probably never know much more than we do now. It’s cleverly written, and very interesting.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)

I am also reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness in my attempts to find more books that appeal to teenage
boys. I’m about a third of the way though, but I’m not quite sure just yet what to say about this book. I’ll review it in full once I’ve finished it.

 

It’s Monday – What are you reading? 1/7/13

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is originally hosted by Shelia at Book Journey and Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts  host a kidlit and YA version as well.

Mrs. Crawford 

With last week still being break, I read a little more than I usually do over the last two weeks.  I read two books last week.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix – I loved this piece of historical fiction.  I learned so much more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the fights for rights as well as the fire.  I book talked it today to my classes.

Matched by Ally Condie – I have heard a lot about this one and finally read it.  Overall, I enjoyed it and plan on reading the rest of the series.

I have a few plans for this week, which I am calling the week of book 2’s:

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake – I loved Anna Dressed in Blood last year and am enjoying reading the next part of Cas and Anna’s story.  I can’t wait to see where this ends up!

The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin – I also loved The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.  My sister-in-law even got me a signed copy of it for Christmas.  I read the first chapter at the end of the first book and desperately want to know what is happening with Mara.

Mrs. Terbrack

This week I am finishing up a few books and looking forward to starting another. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, mainly while I drive. I used to think there was no way I could follow a story in short bursts and with no visual reference, but I have really grown to love audio over the years! I never listen to the radio, and love the feeling of extra accomplishment I get when I’m driving to work or out running errands. I have been listening to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for awhile now, and am almost to the end! It is slightly more fantasy than I am used to, but I am really enjoying it. I will probably be picking up the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, sometime soon.

Next up I plan to listen to Speaker of the Dead by Orson Scott Card, which is the sequel to Ender’s Game (which I LOVED). I’m also powering through a challenge another teacher friend and I embarked on to read the Bible from cover to cover in 90 days. I’m 60% through!
Speaker for the Dead (Ender's Saga, #2)Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)

As soon as I get a second, I am going to start reading Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. While technically an adult novel, I think the concept would be interesting for high school kids to think about: the main character, Christine, suffers from both types of amnesia. Most days, she wakes up thinking she is a child and soon realizes she is a middle-aged, married woman. She cannot remember anything past her youth, and forgets everything that happens in her life every night when she goes to sleep. I can’t wait to get started reading!

Before I Go To Sleep

Jessica and I also both created our reading goals for 2013 on Goodreads. If you don’t already use Goodreads, you should! We love to make new friends, so please add us both so we can see what you are reading too!

Happy Monday everybody!