What A Nice Guy by Phil Torcivia

I came across this book on the Women’s Literary Cafe website and requested it as one of my January review picks.  It wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but I ended up enjoying it for what it was.

What a Nice Guy by Phil Torcivia is a book comprised of various vignettes about life, love, and relationships from the blog that Phil keeps.  Many of them are humorous, although there are people who would probably consider some of them crass as well.  As a divorced man approaching age 50, Phil has had much experience in both life and love and it certainly shows in these vignettes.

Like I mentioned above, this book was not what I was expecting.  When I requested it, I thought it was fiction.  I am not usually a humor or non-fiction reader.  However, given that I finished it in about five days, I would say that I enjoyed it.  At first, I wasn’t sure what this book was even about, as the vignettes are connected only through illustrated headings.  Otherwise, they were very diverse, with few connecting threads.  The humor was sometimes crass, which some people might find off-putting, but I don’t mind bad language or sexual humor.  Overall, the book was funny, and I got some good laughs, but it is not on my list of favorites.  I give it three stars out of five.

 

 

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Unfortunately, it has been quite a while since I reviewed a book here.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading.  I certainly have been.  It’s just that life things have been catching up to me lately.  I’m busy at work, busy with my son, busy with the holidays, and am having a Crohn’s flare, which just saps my energy.  With that being said, now that the holidays are over, I fully intend to begin reviewing again.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King, is about an eighteen year old senior girl in an unnamed town in Pennsylvania (In reality, the town is Reading, Pennsylvania, where I happen to work).  The story focuses on Vera and her best friend, Charlie, who, we learn within the first page, has recently died.  There is an air of mystery around Charlie’s death, something to do with dead animals, and Vera knows more than she is saying.  This is ultimately a story about loss, grieving, and growing up.

Honestly, this is probably one of the best young adult books that I have read in a long time.  This happens to be the book that my supervisor in the Teen Department at the Reading Public Library has chosen to read for our novel club in April, so I thought I should see what it was all about.  I couldn’t put it down; I didn’t want to stop reading it until it was over and then I was sad to see it end.  Vera reminded me of me when I was her age: naive, quiet, usually responsible, but making more than her share of mistakes, and not sure what to expect in life and love.  She was thoroughly likeable, with a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor, which gave the entire book an aura of dark humor.  The book is told mostly through Vera’s eyes, but we occasionally hear from Vera’s dad, Ken, the dead kid, Charlie, and Reading’s wonderful landmark, the Pagoda.  Overall, I highly recommend this book.  Although it can be depressing at times, the story is beautiful and real.  I gave this one five stars!

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Teen Department Book Reviews Part II

Here is part two of the book reviews I wrote for my Teen Read Week book picks at the library.

 

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

 

Realistic Fiction

 

 

It is 1962 and twenty-two year old Skeeter has just graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in journalism, but her family won’t be happy until she has a ring on her finger.  Aibileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child.  Minny is also a maid, and she is one heck of a cook.  Unfortunately, she might also be the sassiest woman in Mississippi.  Because of this she has lost yet another job.  Seemingly very different, these three women come together for a very secret project that puts them all at risk.

 

This book was fantastic!  It was one of those stories that I was sorry to see end.  All of these women are very different, but find it in their hearts to come together for an extremely important project, exposing their white, female bosses for what they really are.  Skeeter is young and idealistic.  Aibileen is wise and loving.  Minny is not afraid to tell it like it is.  These three personalities both mesh and clash as they paint a picture of the South in 1962.  Excellent writing!

 

 

 

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

 

Realistic Fiction

 

 

 

This book is the first in the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series.  It is a wildly funny journal of her thoughts on school, boys, and her enormous, half-wild, pet cat, Angus.  I did enjoy this book, but it was not my favorite.  It was very funny and Georgia’s experiences are very true-to-life.  The author is from England, so be prepared for British slang, such as snogging, which means kissing.  Overall, a very funny read.

 

 

 

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

 

Urban Fiction

 

 

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial as an adult accomplice to murder.  As he tries to make sense of what is going on, he uses his passion for film to present his trial as a screenplay.  Is Steve the Monster the prosecutor says he is or is he just a victim of circumstances?

 

I read this book for my Teen Literature class and I was very skeptical at first.  I’d never heard of a book being written as a screenplay before, but as soon as I started it, I found myself really enjoying it.  I found myself really sympathizing with Steve, who, it seems, was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This novel was very gritty and realistic. 

 

 

 

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary Jacky Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer

 

Historical Fiction

 

 

 

 

Life as a ship’s boy aboard HMS Dolphin is a dream come true for Jacky Faber.  It sure beats scavenging for food and fighting for survival on the streets of London.  Jacky is becoming a respected sailor instead of a street urchin.  There is only one problem.  Jacky is a girl.  Can she keep the crew of the Dolphin from discovering her secret?

 

I am a big fan of historical fiction and this was no exception.  Jacky is a very likeable character and her misadventures while trying to keep from being discovered are very funny.  If you like pirates and adventure on the high seas, this is a book for you.

 

 

 

cut by Patricia McCormick

 

Realistic Fiction

 

 

This book follows Callie during her time as a “guest” at a local residential treatment facility, aka, the psychiatric hospital.  Callie has been cutting herself with sharp objects as a way to dull the pain of living with her damaged family.

 

This book was very good.  We follow Callie’s thoughts as directed to her therapist.  She thinks with a very flat affect, as befits someone who is unhappy with their situation.  Both Callie’s and the other girls’ problems come to seem like attempts to fight off both parental and societal obliviousness to their needs. 

 

 

 

Glass by Ellen Hopkins    

 

Realistic Fiction                     

 

 

 

 

This is the second book in the Crank trilogy by Ellen Hopkins.  In book one, Kristina Georgia Snow visits her estranged father and is introduced to the drug she calls the “monster”, otherwise known as crystal methamphetamine.  She adopts a sexy alter-ego named Bree and is the victim of a brutal date rape that leaves her pregnant.  In this book, Kristina is 17.  She has a convenience store job and baby Hunter to care for.  However, another visit to her father ensnares Kristina deeper into the “monster’s” clutches.

 

I have loved every single one of Ellen Hopkins’ books and this is no exception.  This is a gritty, realistic interpretation of an addiction to crystal meth and where it can lead you.  Hopkins is not afraid to tell things like they are and spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities in order to get her point across.  This is a fabulous book told in verse!  I loved every second of it!

 

 

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

 

Realistic Fiction

 

 

Anna isn’t sick, but she might as well be.  By age thirteen she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can fight leukemia.  Anna was conceived as a genetic bone marrow donor for Kate, which is a role she has never questioned…until now. 

 

I have read most of Jodi Picoult’s books and this was probably one of my favorites.  Picoult always writes about real life issues.  In this book, Anna is questioning whether it was right for her parents to have her, just so they could save their first child.  Anna feels that her parents only care for Kate, so she seeks medical emancipation, so she can decide whether or not she wants to help Kate.  This book has characters I could relate to and a twist ending I never saw coming.

 

 

 

Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe

 

Urban Fiction

 

 

Maya’s father is a con-man, but whenever his schemes go wrong, she has always found a scientific way to fix the problem.  When the law finally catches up to him, and foster care fails, Maya finds herself on the streets trying to find a long-lost aunt.  It is four hundred miles from Reno to Boise (where her aunt last lived) and every day it gets harder for Maya to reconcile what she has to do to survive with her morals.

 

I really enjoyed this book.  I initially picked it up because it was a pretty sizable novel, but it read very quickly.  I was ensconced in Maya’s world quite quickly, and found myself feeling sorry for her.  She has never known stability; she and her father are always running.  Life on the streets is very difficult, even with two companions, and the things that happen to them are almost never good.  This tugged at my heartstrings and made me realize what life is like for a runaway.

 

 

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 

Historical Fiction

 

 

 

Set during World War II in Germany, this book tells the tale of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing books that the Nazis have marked for banning and burning.  Her foster father teaches her how to read and she shares her stolen books with friends during bombing raids and with the Jewish man hiding in their basement.

I couldn’t put this book down when I was reading it.  This was an excellent portrait of a very turbulent time in history, told through the eyes of Death himself.  I had never come across a book narrated by Death before and haven’t since, either.  I found it easy to identify with Liesel because she was very offended that books were being burned.  As a librarian, my job is to make sure things like that don’t happen and that’s the job that Liesel took upon herself, as well.  An excellent book!

 

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Realistic Fiction

This book follows Sophie through her ninth-grade year of high school.  Sophie is boy-crazy and constantly crushing on someone new.  When she dances with a masked stranger at her high-school dance, she develops a crush that is taken to new heights.

Sophie is a portrait of a teenage girl.  Although her life is very nice compared to some, almost every girl has gone through the things that Sophie goes through in this book.  I really enjoyed this book because I recognized myself in ninth-grade.  I was extremely boy-crazy, often having three or four crazy crushes at a time.  This book really brought back high school for me, in a way that I enjoyed.

 

what my girlfriend doesn’t know by Sonya Sones

Realistic Fiction

This book is the sequel to What My Mother Doesn’t Know.  It picks up almost immediately where My Mother leaves off.  Robin, better known as Murphy, and Sophie have just spent an amazing winter break falling in love.  Now it’s time to go back to school and Robin is afraid that Sophie will ignore him, since he is an outcast.  However, when Sophie sits with him at lunch she becomes an outcast as well.  It is now Sophie and Robin against the world.  However, when Robin starts taking a college art class and they start spending some time apart, their relationship starts to fall apart as well.

I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first one, but it was still good.  Written in free verse, just as the first one was, it follows Robin instead of Sophie.  It was nice to get the boy’s perspective, but it just didn’t resonate with me as much as Sophie’s story did.  This is a fun, quick read, but no more than that.

 

 

 

 

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Realistic Fiction

This is a book about being different and also being yourself.  When Stargirl first arrives at Mica High everyone loves her.  She captures Leo Barlock’s heart with just one smile.  Then the students turn on her.  Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her herself, and Leo, desperate and in love, tries to make her become the very thing that could destroy her: normal.

This is another book I couldn’t put down.  I am a big fan of Maniac Magee, so I decided to try this book.  It was excellent.  It reminded me a little bit of me when I was in high school.  I was never loved like Stargirl, but I was definitely different.  Heart-wrenching at times, but ultimately happy, this was a wonderful book.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Fantasy

This is the last book in the Harry Potter series.  In this volume, it is Harry’s last year at Hogwarts.  He decides not to go so he can look for Horcruxes in order to defeat Voldemort.  Ron and Hermione, his two best friends, accompany him on the search.

I bought this book the day it came out in July 2007.  However, I did not read it until this summer 2011.  I don’t think I wanted the series to be over!  I am glad I read it, however, because this might be the very best of the Harry Potter books.  It was full of adventure, magic, and heartbreak.  Harry loses people that are very dear to him and also comes closer and closer to defeating Voldemort.  This is a must read if you like Harry.

 

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Street Lit

Twelve-year-old Hope’s life is turned upside down when her older sister, Lizzie, becomes an elective mute and is institutionalized after trying to kill herself.  Lizzie and Hope have stuck together after the death of their father.  Their mother, who turns tricks to support the family, is unreliable at best.  Now, Hope does not know what to do.

Glimpse is written in free verse (do you sense a pattern here?  I like free verse.).  It is a heartbreaking novel about two girls whose mother is a prostitute to support the family.  However, all is not as it seems and the older girl tries to kill herself.  Most of the novel is spent trying to get Lizzie to speak again, so Hope knows why she tried to off herself.  I thought the reason was rather predictable, but the book was a good one overall.

 

The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

 

 

The original Vampire Diaries is comprised of four different novels, Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, and Dark Reunion.  With the debut of the television series, the books were marketed in two volumes, one containing the first two books and one containing the third and fourth.  It is Elena’s senior year in Fell’s Church, Virginia.  Her parents have died in a car crash, and she lives with her aunt and little sister.  When a strange, new boy, Stefan, shows up at school, Elena knows she has to have him.

I first read these when I was in seventh grade and I have bought both of these volumes to read them again.  I have already finished the first two books.  I have loved vampire tales for a long time because of these books.  They are exciting, romantic, and dark.  I highly recommend these for anyone who is a fan of the supernatural.  These books are the original Twilight.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Fantasy

After her mother gets remarried, 17-year-old Bella Swan goes to Forks, Washington to live with her father.  When she starts school, she notices a family that stands out from everyone else, the Cullens.  Bella comes to find out that the Cullens are vampires and falls in love with the one her age, Edward.

I thought Twilight was all right.  I honestly think I was spoiled by reading The Vampire Diaries when I was younger.  It took me three tries to get far enough into this book to finish it.  When I did I enjoyed it, but the last book was definitely the best of the bunch.  I liked Stephanie Meyer’s adult novel The Host, which is about aliens, much more than this.

 

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer

Fantasy

This book takes place during the timeline of Eclipse, the third book of the Twilight saga.  Victoria, the vampire whose lover Edward killed, is after Bella and the Cullens and is creating an army of newborn vampires.  Bree Tanner is one of these vampires and this novella is told through her eyes.

I read the rest of them so I had to read this one, too.  It wasn’t any better written than the other ones, but I did enjoy the story for what it was.  It gave me new insight into that section of Eclipse.  It was enjoyable, but nothing more than that.

 

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Futuristic Fiction

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, young women are now being paid to become pregnant.  Sixteen-year-old twins, Melody and Harmony, were separated at birth and have never met until Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep.  Melody is almost perfect genetically: she has the looks, the smarts, and the conception contract of a lifetime, with Jondoe, the most desirable RePro of all.  Harmony comes from Goodside, a religious commune located somewhere around New Jersey and has spent her whole life preparing to be a wife and mother.  She believes her calling is to teach Melody that pregging for profit is a sin.  When a mix-up occurs, how will the sisters save themselves?

I love, love, loved this book!!  I can’t wait for the next one.  I am a huge fan of Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series, so I picked up this book.  I loved every second of it.  The book explores many moral issues: Should teens be exploited for the reproductive ability?  Should you have a choice as to who you are intimate with?  What place should girls have in society?  It really made me think about women, both young and older, as people and our place in this world.  If you are squeamish about sex, this book may not be for you, but it is about so much more than that!  Excellent!!!

 

 

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Living with Crohn’s Essay

This is the essay that I sent in for the Ladies Home Journal essay contest. I adapted it from a blog entry I wrote earlier. I’m disappointed because I accidentally left a brand name in the essay I submitted even though I changed about six others. Oh well. Worth the effort.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness knows that life is not easy. I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder, Crohn’s Disease, in January of 2006. I was 24 years old. As I have dealt with this illness, I have had good times and bad times, as with anything else in life. However, even during the very good times, the fact that the disease still lurks somewhere in my system is present in the back of my mind. My goal in writing this story is to increase awareness of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. I also want to relate my personal experiences to let others with IBD know they are not alone.
I first knew something was wrong when I had a tonsillectomy in the summer of 2005. I was subsisting on pudding, milkshakes, and electrolyte drinks. Everything I took in almost immediately resulted in diarrhea. I went from 120 pounds to 107 pounds in a matter of weeks. I talked to the ENT, who told me that was not normal, and if it continued I would have to see a different doctor. As soon as I started eating more solid food, however, the diarrhea stopped and I forgot all about it for a time.
Then, in mid-October I started to have severe abdominal cramping and was in the bathroom eight times a day or more. I started losing weight and was tired all the time. I went to my family doctor and she immediately recommended that I see a gastroenterologist. I saw a doctor in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in late December of 2005 and was sent for a colonoscopy on January 2nd of 2006. For those of you who have never had one, the procedure itself is not difficult, as you are under anesthesia the entire time. It is the preparation that is difficult, because in order to get the camera where it needs to go, your intestines have to be cleared out completely. After spending most of the night awake doing the prep, I went in early the next morning for the procedure. I was put under anesthesia and woke up while I was still in the operating room. I immediately asked if I could watch, but was told the procedure was already over. After I regained sufficient consciousness and was aware of what was happening, I was told that I had Crohn’s. My diagnosis was fairly easy, as I had polyps in my colon that only occur in Crohn’s. It also helped that I had a wonderfully knowledgeable doctor. However, many peoples’ diagnoses are not so easy. Some people spend years going to doctors and still never have a clear diagnosis.
Many people have never even heard of Crohn’s, let alone know anything about it. I know I certainly didn’t. With that being said, some facts about Crohn’s Disease follow. It is estimated that as many as 1.4 million Americans have IBD, with that number evenly split between Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s is a chronic illness that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. It can occur anywhere therein, but most commonly occurs in the small intestine or colon. No one knows what causes Crohn’s Disease, but it is marked by an abnormal response by the body’s immune system. Researchers believe that the immune system mistakes microbes normally found in the intestines for foreign or invading substances and then launches an attack.
Symptoms of Crohn’s can vary depending on what part of the digestive tract is affected. I experienced bloody diarrhea, cramping, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, and extreme weight loss. There are also many complications of Crohn’s, some of which I experienced and some of which I didn’t. I experienced anemia due to blood loss, and a skin condition called erythema nodosum. This condition causes tender, red bumps that look like bruises on the shins. They are extremely painful to the touch. One afternoon I was babysitting for several children and we decided to play soccer. The soccer ball hit one of the bumps and I dropped to the ground in extreme pain. I also experienced joint pain, hemorrhoids, and extreme fatigue. To this day, I still have joint pain when it gets cooler out. I wake up stiff and have trouble going down the stairs.
Not long after I was diagnosed, I was accepted to a university in Philadelphia to study for my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. Going to classes, which were held from 6:00 to 9:00 at night, was sometimes difficult because I was so tired. Also, sitting for that long was painful. The air would build up in my lower abdominal area and by the time I had to walk back to the station to catch the train home, I would be doubled over in pain. As soon as I got home I would then spend up to an hour in the bathroom. However, I managed to graduate with my degree, do my student teaching, and get my certification to teach in Pennsylvania by June of 2007, regardless of how difficult it was for me to get to and from classes.
After my diagnosis, I was put on medication, which helped control my flare up. However, one of the things about Crohn’s is that not every medication works for every case of Crohn’s. I was on corticosteroids for a while, which controlled the flares, but ate away at the bone in my hips, giving me osteopenia. As soon as I stopped the steroids, the Crohn’s would flare again. Finally, we found an injectable medication in May 2007, which almost immediately put my Crohn’s into remission. I was taken off the medication in June 2011 and have been flare free ever since.
Crohn’s disease caused many problems for me as I tried to get it under control. I couldn’t drive too far if I knew I was going out to eat, because there was no guarantee that the food wouldn’t come right back out again while I was in the car. Even going out to eat was hit or miss, because I had to avoid fast food, pizza, wings, almost all fruits and vegetables, and anything containing a lot of fat. I needed to know where the bathrooms were wherever I went. I lost so much weight that I looked like I had an eating disorder. I had no color at all during my best friend’s wedding; I literally looked gray, even with my makeup done. I had just started a new relationship and the Crohn’s damaged it. He would have liked me to be spontaneous, ready to go out whenever he called. However, there were nights when all I could do was curl up on the couch with the heating pad, the cramps were so bad. There were some days when I could barely get out of bed. I couldn’t eat so many things that going out to dinner or lunch was pretty much hit or miss. I had no energy to go out dancing or to a party.
One flare was particularly bad and I had to be put on a liquid diet. It was the weekend of Mother’s Day and I was supposed to do several things that included food that weekend. My boyfriend’s church (he was an associate pastor at the time) was having their annual luncheon that weekend. It was catered at a very nice location, but I had to bring a cooler full of protein drinks. I was also supposed to take my mother to tea that weekend, but had to cancel. Through all of this, I never lost my spirit or my will to conquer the Crohn’s. Once I started the injectable medication, however, things started to look up for me. I was in remission within months.
My experiences with Crohn’s have made me a stronger person, both physically and mentally. This disease required me to grow up faster than many people do. I spent many hours having procedures done and going to doctors’ appointments. I hardly ever missed a day of work or school, regardless of the symptoms I was having that day. That was never an option for me. I was not going to let my disease define who I was. Once the Crohn’s went into remission, life started to get better for me. I started to horseback ride again, which I hadn’t done for months, because the pain in my knees was too bad. I met the man who was to become my husband. We got married and now I have a wonderful son, Jack, who is almost ten months old. I was not even sure I would be able to get pregnant, as some people with Crohn’s have fertility problems. My son is one of the joys of my life and I look forward to every day with him. It is always a possibility that the Crohn’s will return at any point in time, and when it does, I will be ready to fight again. I have my wonderful doctor, my family, and my friends. My grandmother always said, “What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” Crohn’s will probably never kill me, but it certainly has made me stronger.

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Teen Department Book Reviews

In honor of Teen Read Week, my co-worker Ashly and I have picked some of our favorite young adult books and reviewed them.  This post includes nine of those reviews.  Please keep in mind that they are not as well-written as you are used to seeing.  These reviews are for teens in the poorest city in the country.  Their literacy levels are very low, therefore the reviews are written to those levels.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Adventure/Fantasy

This is a story about a 12-year-old boy named Percy Jackson, who has been expelled from yet another school, for yet another battle with mythological creatures only he can see.  He is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he learns that he is what’s called a demigod, the son of a Greek god and a human woman.  Not only that, he is also the son of Poseidon, making him one of the most powerful demigods in the world.  Almost immediately he is sent on a quest to the Underworld, to prevent a war among the gods. 

This book was action packed from beginning to end.  I found myself not wanting to put it down.  Rick Riordan did his research when it comes to Greek mythology.  I can see why my students at school liked this book.  It was a little longer than most children’s books, which allowed Rick to put more meat into the story.  However, I was left wishing for more sometimes.  Overall, a good read, and an author I’m looking forward to reading more of.

 

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Supernatural Romance

This is one of the best written young adult titles I have read recently.  A good friend of mine lent this to me thinking I would enjoy it because I read and enjoyed the Twilight series.  The Twilight series, although fun, is not one of the best written series out there.

In my opinion, the Twilight series pales in comparison to this book and I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series.  As of right now, there are three books.  Lauren Kate obviously wanted to capitalize on the supernatural phenomenon that has hit both the adult and young adult publishing world.  I went into reading this book thinking it would be a quick, humorous, poorly written read, but my preconceptions were sorely wrong.  This really does go to show that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

As I started reading, I found myself pulled into the world of Luce (Lucinda Price), a young girl who has been sentenced to attend Sword & Cross reform school after the mysterious death of her boyfriend.  The reform school is filled with colorful characters that one would expect to see in this type of school: girls with black and pink mohawks and piercings and boys with tattoos and bad attitudes.  Lucinda finds herself inexplicably drawn to one of these boys (Daniel Grigori), even after he has the nerve to flip her the middle finger before they even meet.  As the story goes on, Lucinda finds herself battling not only Daniel’s attitude, but also a horde of supernatural shadows that have been appearing to her since she was little.

This book was a beautifully written gothic romance; a delight to read for teenagers and adults alike.  With just the right mix of mystery, romance, and the supernatural, this is a highly entertaining read for anyone who decides to pick it up.  I have already begun the second book in the series and so far it promises to be just as good as the first.

 

 Black Bird Volume 1 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

Manga

 Misao Harada has a special gift: she can see the world of myth and magic that intersects with ours.  However, she wants nothing to do with magical realms.  She only wants to have a normal high school life and possibly a boyfriend.  Everything changes for Misao when she is attacked by a demon one day.  Her childhood friend, Kyo, returns to save her and tend her wounds by licking her!  It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives immense power to the demon who claims her.  Misao has to decide if this is a role that she wants to fill.

This was my first experience with Manga, so I was a little confused at first.  It took me a little while to get used to reading from right to left instead of left to right.  However, once I got the hang of reading that way, I really enjoyed the story.  I liked the fantasy elements, although the book was a little racy at some points.  That doesn’t bother me, but if you are squeamish about sex, this book may not be for you.  Misao is a likable character and her struggle to figure out whether Kyo really loves her or is just after her for the power is an interesting plot line.  Overall, an enjoyable read!

 

 Black Bird Volume 2 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

 Manga

 

Misao Harada’s story continues in this second volume of Black Bird.  Kyo, the head of the Tengu demon clan, is Misao’s only hope for survival.  Only he can save her from the demons who would like to gain power by eating her.  Although she has fond childhood memories of Kyo, she has trouble reconciling them with the man he seems to be now.  Can she trust her life to him?

 Again, I was still getting used to the Manga experience, but it was a little easier this time.  I really enjoyed where the story went in this volume of Black Bird.  I am currently reading Volume 3 and learning more about Kyo and Misao.

 

 prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

Realistic Fiction

 I read this book a very long time ago, but recently bought it so that I could read it again.  I am not a person who reads novels more than once unless I really like them, so it goes without saying that I really enjoyed this book.

 This is the story of Lee Fiora, an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old.  She is dropped off at the dorms of the prestigious Ault School, a boarding prep school in Massachusetts.  She was attracted to the school because of their glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on newly mown fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.  However, Lee comes to realize that the reality of Ault is very different from her expectations.

 A fabulous read!  Lee’s relationships with teachers, friends, and family are explored deeply.  She learns lessons that every fourteen-year-old learns, but the stories are told in an enjoyable, although sometimes cringe-worthy, way.  This is an excellent coming-of-age story.

 

Ruby in the Smoke:A Sally Lockhart Mystery by Philip Pullman

 

Mystery/Historical Fiction

This is the first book in the Sally Lockhart Trilogy by Philip Pullman.  Sally lives in nineteenth-century (1800s) London, England.  In search of clues to her father’s mysterious death, she ventures into the seedy underworld of Victorian London.

 

I loved this book!  It is one that I plan to read again.  Sally Lockhart is a 16-year-old girl who starts her own detective agency while searching for clues in her father’s death.  She is a realistic, likeable character, who makes mistakes, but also has many successes.  She meets a variety of villains on her romp through London and gets into some very serious trouble along the way.

 

 Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

 

Non-Fiction

Have you ever wondered what happens to your body if you decide to donate your organs (or the whole thing) to science after you die?  This book answers all your questions!  Mary Roach spares no details as to what happens to your body when you are no longer with it.

 

I am very interested in forensic anthropology (what Bones does on TV) and I really enjoyed this book.  From organ donation, to dissections for medical school, to a body farm, you learn everything that can possibly happen if you decide to donate your body after you are dead. 

 

Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece

 

Graphic Novel

In the early twentieth century, lynching African-Americans for the slightest thing was commonplace.  Courageous reporters, who could pass for white based on the light color of their skin, would go undercover to expose the atrocities.  These reporters were said to be going “incognegro”.  Zane Pinchback, a reporter for the New York-based New Holland Herald barely escapes after his latest story goes bad.  However, when he returns to Harlem, he is sent to investigate the arrest of his brother, charged with the murder of a white woman in Mississippi.

 

This was one of my first experiences with a graphic novel.  I am not a huge fan of the format, but I really enjoyed the story.  It was a commentary on race in America wrapped up in the disguise of a mystery.  The story was well-written and suspenseful.  It held my interest well.  It was thought-provoking, disturbing, and sad in many places, but overall was a very good read.

 

 

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

 

Fantasy/Adventure

This is the first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.  It starts out at Oxford’s Jordan College, where the orphaned Lyra Belacqua lives with her daemon.  Each person has a daemon, which is a creature that reflects each person’s soul.  The adventure starts with the arrival of Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel, who appears to have evidence of danger in the North.  He leaves Lyra with a woman named Mrs. Coulter while he investigates.  However, Lyra is not content to stay put.  She takes off for the North to find her kidnapped friend, Roger, who seems to be the latest victim in a series of experiments to separate humans from their daemons.

 

Lyra is a courageous and lovable heroine.  Her daemon complements her just as he should.  He is a reflection of her inner spirit.  When things start to go wrong, she is not afraid to investigate on her own.  This is a great example of kids triumphing over adults.  I highly recommend this book, although I have not read the other two books in the trilogy.

 

 

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I had heard excellent things about this book from my kids at school, but could never find the time to read it.  When I got my Nook in May, I saw that it was on sale for five dollars, so I immediately bought it.  When I got around to reading it, I ended up finishing it in two days, wishing for me.  Luckily for me, this is only the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, of which there are five.

This is a story about a 12-year-old boy named Percy Jackson, who has been expelled from yet another school, for yet another battle with mythological creatures only he can see.  He is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he learns that he is what’s called a demigod, the son of a Greek god and a human woman.  Not only that, he is also the son of Poseidon, making him one of the most powerful demigods in the world.  Almost immediately he is sent on a quest to the Underworld, to prevent a war among the gods. 

This book was action packed from beginning to end.  I found myself not wanting to put it down.  Rick Riordan did his research when it comes to Greek mythology.  I can see why my students at school liked this book.  It was a little longer than most children’s books, which allowed Rick to put more meat into the story.  However, I was left wishing for more sometimes.  Overall, a good read, and an author I’m looking forward to reading more of.

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Jury Duty

This past Monday, I was summoned to the court-house of the City of Reading, to do my duty as a voting American Citizen.  Jury Duty that is!  I was not looking forward to the experience going into it, but now I would LOVE to go back to do it again!  In the post that follows, all names have been omitted to protect the innocent (or not so innocent). 

I arrived at the court building bright and early.  8:00 am to be exact.  Having gotten used to getting ready whenever I feel like it, this was a bit of a shock.  I was directed to the Jury Assembly room.  They have to make everything sound so important, when it is just a big room filled with chairs.  I filled out my Juror Questionnaire and then waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Around 9:45 the Tipstaffs came in and told us there was a civil trial and a criminal trial on the docket that morning.  My name was called to go to one of the court rooms. 

When I arrived in the court room, we sat down by juror number.  I was number 18.  The judge gave us instructions, the lawyers asked us questions, and then proceeded to select jurors out of a blue folder.  There are 12 jurors in the Reading courts.  When 10 of them were picked from the front row, I could have sworn I was going home.  But no, I was picked as Juror #11. 

We went up to the Juror Deliberation room, lined up, and then filed back down to start hearing testimony in a car accident case.  Having had a family member who had back problems due to a car accident and won money from the insurance company for damages, I knew what was involved in this type of case.  I listened with an open mind, but soon realized that the woman suing was full of bulls***. 

The car accident happened in May of 2008.  The plaintiff was driving to work in her Jeep Cherokee with a trailer hitch protruding about a foot from the vehicle.  The defendant was also driving to work in her 2002 Subaru Impreza.  I used to drive an Impreza.  These cars are TINY!  While they were stopped at a light, the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff.  There were minor scratches to the trailer hitch. 

The plaintiff was crying neck pain and arm and finger numbness from the point of the accident until now.  Here is where her testimony got interesting.  She told the defendant she was fine, just shaken up.  She drove to her husband’s place of work and then continued on to her cleaning job.  She noticed neck stiffness while she was cleaning so she took out her eucalyptus oil and put some on her neck.  The next day she scheduled an appointment at the chiropractor.  I have nothing against people who were raised holistically, as it sounds like this woman was, but when you have pain after a car accident, you go directly to the ER or your family doctor.  You don’t wait six days to go to the chiropractor. 

After seeing the chiropractor for a year and a half, she decided that it wasn’t working, so went to a new chiropractor and a massage therapist.  She went to her family doctor after about a year for abdominal problems.  At no point did any of these doctors order X-rays, MRIs, or any other tests to rule out other damage from the car accident.  To make a long story short, the plaintiff had suffered back and neck problems before the car accident, as we found after viewing her medical records. 

Needless to say, when it was time for us to deliberate, it took us about 10 minutes to reach a decision.  Everyone agreed that this woman did not deserve anything for the BS that we had just shoveled.  However, since the defendant had already admitted negligence for rear-ending her, we had to give her something.  We gave her $500 for the therapy she paid for out-of-pocket and that was it.  The best part was that her husband was asking for money as well.  We gave him nothing. 

All in all, it wasn’t the hellish experience I was led to expect.  I actually had a good time, although parts of the testimony left me fuming.  I was ready to argue with my other jurors if they didn’t agree with me.  Luckily that was not necessary and I came out of my first jury duty experience relatively unscathed.

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