Book Reviews

Hark!: A Vagrant

posted Feb 24, 2015, 12:02 PM by William Reese   [ updated Feb 24, 2015, 1:28 PM ]

Hark!: A Vagrant
Kate Beaton

History, literature and absurd situations are rendered in black and white ink. Kate Beaton is a history major turned cartoonist whose flair for capturing the inane details of past events and classic novels make Hark!: A Vagrant a winning read. Whether you crack up thinking about Daisy and Tom Buchanan "parenting" their child or imagine Lewis and Clark throwing a tantrum when Sacajawea refused to carry them in a papoose, Beaton has you covered. Try not to laugh out loud while you're reading this; I promise you it's basically impossible. 
Image courtesy of OCLC


posted Feb 24, 2015, 11:56 AM by William Reese   [ updated Feb 24, 2015, 1:29 PM ]

Stephen King

As a quiet boy in 1950s New England, Jaime Morton falls under the spell of a charismatic young minister. Following a crushing family tragedy the reverend has a crisis of faith and is driven from the town. As a troubled adult, Jaime encounters the minister who saves him from his life of addiction. Yet the pastor's motives and methods are murky and Jaime is soon caught up once again. This is classic Stephen King; creepy New England location, sinister character lurking under a harmless facade, and a slightly over-the-top ending. Fans of his work, as well as people interested in doubt, faith, and electricity will enjoy Revival.

Image courtesy of OCLC

I'll Give You the Sun

posted Feb 24, 2015, 11:49 AM by William Reese   [ updated Feb 24, 2015, 1:29 PM ]

I'll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson

Twins Jude and Noah are two very different people, but their sibling bond is strong. Jude is a daredevil at 13 and Noah a quiet artist. Three years later their relationship is destroyed. The secrets and lies that tore them apart could keep them separate forever, but two mysterious outsiders begin to influence the lives of the twins in unpredictable ways. This is a great contemporary young adult read, filled with complicated family dynamics and an engaging narrative structure. 

Image courtesy of OCLC

The Girl on the Train

posted Feb 24, 2015, 9:37 AM by William Reese   [ updated Feb 24, 2015, 1:29 PM ]

The Girl on the Train                                                       PR6108 .A963 G57 2015
Paula Hawkins

Can we always believe what we see? Are the people we know who they say they are? The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins uses a fast-paced perspective-shifting narrative that forces the reader to ponder these questions. Rachel has become obsessed with a seemingly perfect couple she views every day from her commuter train. After witnessing what appears to be a crack in the facade, the beautiful wife goes missing and Rachel must face her demons in fighting to find the truth. If you liked the twists and turns of Gone Girl you will love The Girl on the Train, on display now. 

Image courtesy of OCLC


posted Dec 9, 2014, 11:42 AM by William Reese   [ updated Jan 9, 2015, 10:48 AM ]

Sway by Kat Spears                                                                         

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the literary equivalent may be the update on a classic. In Kat Spears’s Sway (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014; Gr 9 Up), the strong first person narrative is Jesse Alderman’s, a jack-of-all-trades who deals in a wide variety of goods and favors, some more legitimate than others. The rakish charm and questionable behavior of the protagonist pay deliberate homage to Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac,and the central conflict of the novel mirrors that of the play as well.

Known for his ability to procure favors and people, Jesse is asked by a class jock for help in wooing a classmate. Ken Foster is no Christian, the nobleman and soldier who entreats de Bergerac in the original story to write romantic missives to his beloved—he is cruel and petty in ways that Christian simply wasn’t—but he has his looks and his bravado. As for Rostand’s Roxane, here she’s Bridget Smalley, an almost too-good-to-be-true beauty whose belief in the importance of personality over appearance make her a difficult mark. Jesse falls for Bridget quickly but stays true to his original mission of delivering her to Ken Foster, in part due to his interest in maintaining social credit and respect for his questionable enterprises and in part because he is emotionally closed off and deadened from weathering a family tragedy.

Sway will be immensely appealing to young adult readers, especially fans of John Green. But Jesse Alderman has more in common with characters on The Wire than those in Cyrano de Bergerac. He is constantly brokering deals, evading danger, looking out for the hapless and bullied, and participating in conduct that would have never had a place in 17th-century France. Spears imbues her character with an impish spirit, but one that is clearly suffering long before Bridget enters the scene. While the subject matter is often darker than the source material, Sway ends on a high note. The moral quandaries Jesse faces and deals he chooses to traffic in would yield fruitful book-group discussions, especially with older teens who will appreciate the book’s nuances.


posted Dec 9, 2014, 11:36 AM by William Reese   [ updated Jan 9, 2015, 10:50 AM ]

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer                                                                             PZ7 .W8338               

Acclaimed author Meg Wolitzer makes her young adult debut with Belzhar (Dutton, 2014; Gr 9 Up)a spare novel that pays homage in title and content to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Jam, the main character, has been sent away to a therapeutic boarding school after struggling mightily with the death of her boyfriend. While both Jam and Esther from The Bell Jar share pathologies, the link between the two is made more explicit by the exclusive class that Jam is selected to attend at the school led by a legendary teacher.

The instructor chooses Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar and her poetry as the last texts she will teach before retirement. Each student in the class is given a journal to record their responses. It soon becomes clear that the journals function as a portal to a psychological and emotional space the teens are able to revisit—a safe place that existed before the defining event that wounded them and sent them to the school. With the assistance of the journals and the de facto group therapy that happens in and outside the classroom, Jam and her classmates begin to heal in small ways, even as they worry about what will happen to their in-between world (coined Belzhar) when the diaries are full.

The teens who populate these novels are fresh descendants of the characters in the titles that preceded them and can be read as companions to their literary antecedents while serving another generation in the classics. They will inspire discussion and engagement in the classroom.  

The Fall

posted Dec 9, 2014, 11:24 AM by William Reese   [ updated Dec 9, 2014, 11:26 AM ]

The Fall by Bethany Griffin                                                                     On Display at the Front Desk

Many children and teens have a fascination for the macabre, which is just one of the reasons Edgar Allan Poe's work is likely to remain of interest to that audience. Bethany Griffin's The Fall (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2014) retains the best, most gripping facets of this master of gothic's gloomy tale, "The Fall of the House of Usher," in its protagonists' obsession with maladies and the creeping evil of the house, while delving even deeper into the characters' back stories. 

In the original tale, a former classmate visits the ailing Roderick Usher, the last in a long line of an accursed family. While spending time with him, he assists Roderick as he buries his sister Madeline; eventually it's revealed that she was interred alive. In The Fall, the story is told from the perspective of Madeline, and flashbacks flesh out the missing details.

All the elements of the gothic are present, which makes it an ideal supplemental text for teaching the genre's foundations; the titular house is an imposing, castelike structure as well as the possible source of all evil. Madeline, her brother, and their parents before them are often subject to inexplicable phenomena both physically and mentally, and the pervasive language choices reveal darkness, stormy weather, and the air of doom. This fascinating, gripping story is guaranteed to send readers back to the original.  

Hyperbole and a Half

posted Nov 21, 2014, 11:30 AM by William Reese   [ updated Nov 24, 2014, 6:00 PM ]

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh                                                        NC 1429 .B76

picture courtesy of OCLC

    A collection of cartoons, some of which appeared on the author’s

    website. She tackles everything from bad grammar to questionable

    childhood antics to very realistic, touching cartoons about suffering

    from depression. Her artwork is misleadingly simplistic for what

    can be serious subject matter.


posted Nov 21, 2014, 11:27 AM by William Reese   [ updated Nov 24, 2014, 9:01 AM ]

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill                                                                    PS 3608 .I4342 N67 2013

    A haunted car that travels between dimensions, a down-on-her-luck 

    mother and the presence of a nightmare landscape called 

    Christmasland fill this novel to the brim with fascinating characters 

    and spooky prose. You'll never look at a gingerbread cookie the 

    same way again. 

picture courtesy of OCLC


posted Nov 21, 2014, 11:24 AM by William Reese   [ updated Nov 24, 2014, 9:02 AM ]

by Dave Cullen                                                        
LB 3013.33 .C6 C84 2009


    If you're a non-fiction fan, this will be right up your alley. If you're 

    not a non-fiction fan, this book will convert you. The author was a 

    reporter for the Rocky Mountain News when the school shooting at        

    Columbine occurred. This is an in-depth look at the tragedy that 

    features new information and clarifies misinformation that still 

    swirls around the incident.

 picture courtesy of OCLC   

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