Friday, February 28, 2020

Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell


This book was one of my son's assigned readings for his freshman English class. I feel like I read it when I was in high school, but I honestly did not remember any of it. 

The book is told from the point of view of the animals on the farm and depicts the political events that took place in Russia during the time of the revolution. The pigs are declared the smartest animals on the farm and naturally become the leaders. Napoleon (Stalin) uses multiple forms of propaganda to influence the other animals into blindly following his rule. Napoleon isn't an eloquent speaker and relies on Squealer, one of the other pigs, to persuade the others into thinking "Napoleon is always right." "If Napoleon says it, it must be right".

The pigs methods were not admirable and in the end backfired on them. While the book is rather short, 141 pages, I felt like it was very educational. My son is learning about this same time period in European history in his social studies class and was able to more thoroughly understand the events and the individuals involved after reading this story.  

Maybe it is because I am older, but when I had to read these types of books as a high school student, I often found them painful. This time around, I found the writing to be very clever and looked forward to reading each night to see what would happen next.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review: One of Us is Next by Karen McManus


Simon is gone, but the drama and bullying associated with his gossip app is still alive and well at Bayview High. This time around, there is a text group set up by "unknown" that is challenging students to a game of truth or dare. The first student selected is Phoebe, who decides to ignore the message, until a horrible truth is shared with the school. 

From then on, everyone seems to be taking the dares, which in comparison are rather tame. Things begin to spiral out of control when a student dies in an "accident" and another viscous truth is shared.

Bronwyn's sister Maeve is once again the ring leader in the investigation. She is working with an interesting group of characters that are both new and old. The Bayview Four (Nate, Addy, Cooper, and Bronwyn) are involved and offer their experience and expertise, but they are secondary characters this time around.

Maeve best friend/ex-boyfriend, Knox, witnesses the accident that killed a student, but he can't remember any of the details. He doesn't believe things really happened the way some of the other witnesses described the events, which is corroborated by some of the findings Nate discovers at the scene. They just don't have any solid proof, a motive, or a suspect.

Maeve and Knox recruit unknown's first victim, Phoebe, to their investigative team. In addition, Maeve's new crush, Luis, gets sucked into things when a shady characters shows up at his parent's restaurant. Luis is Cooper's best friend and the catcher on the baseball team in One of Us Is Lying. Addy and Phoebe both work at the restaurant and Knox and Maeve spend a lot of time hanging out there, so the five of them naturally come together to start solving this potential murder and to put an end to unknown's viscous game.

This was a very entertaining murder mystery. I sort of guessed one of the characters that was involved, but I never would have guessed the primary person behind the events or why this individual was interested in perpetuating Simon's legacy. I never imagined there would be a sequel to One of Us Is Lying, but this was a great addition to the series. I loved all of the new characters and enjoyed seeing how the Bayview Four have been doing since the conclusion of the first book. I was originally thinking this was going to be a companion novel, but it definitely needs to be read after One of Us Is Lying to fully appreciate everything that is taking place. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

My son is a freshman in high school.  This book was part of his assigned reading for his English class, so I decided to read it as well. Instead of writing my own review for this book, I'm sharing a large portion of Preston's reflection paper. He received a 30 out of 30 and was quite proud of his work. I did remove all of the spoilery stories and examples he shared that I thought readers would want to experience first hand.

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being” (Noah 110). In the book Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Trevor discusses his relationships with his family and what life was like growing up in apartheid South Africa. The stories he shares range from humorous to tragic, but they are all thought provoking. As a mixed race child, he does not fit into any one category and often feels like an outsider. As a result, his views and observations often focus on the racial tensions in his community. Trevor’s mere existence is a punishable crime up until the liberation, but through the love and support he receives from his family and the faith his mother instilled in him from an early age, he ultimately prevails. 

Trevor does not often feel like he is being chosen, but his mother chose him from the day he was born. She sacrifices her own safety to protect and support him. Trevor is the son of a white man and a black woman from South Africa. At the time, it was illegal for the two to have a child and the act was punishable by five years in prison. Trevor’s father never married his mother and Trevor can only see him when apartheid allows. As a result, he lives with his mother and her family, who keep him in hiding to protect him from the government. Once the liberation occurs, his mother encourages him to live openly in the community and teaches him a number of life lessons that enable him to not only survive, but to also thrive. She wants her son to rise above his poor beginnings and she is an example of independence, strength, and determination. She is very strict with Trevor and does not allow him to succumb to the crime and violence that plagues their community. Trevor explains how “crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate” (Noah 209). Trevor could have taken the easy road and turned to a life of crime, but his mother taught him to be better than that. He makes some bad decisions growing up, but he learns from his mistakes and does not allow his past to hold him back. Trevor writes, “I was blessed with another trait I inherited from my mother: her ability to forget the pain in life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold on to the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new” (90). In addition to the support Trevor’s mother showed him, she also taught him to rely on faith to get through challenging times.

What likely keeps Trevor’s mother going through all of the oppression and discrimination is her faith and her involvement in the church. Trevor’s childhood “involved church, or some form of church, at least four nights a week” (Noah 6). His mother never allows him to skip church on Sunday. She believes the Devil is the source of their problems and it is even more crucial they attend church when there is adversity. While Trevor does not have the same dedication to the church as his mother, he still believes in God and the value of prayer. When he is afraid his mother tells him, “Honey, I’m not alone. I’ve got all of Heaven’s angels behind me” (13). This is a powerful message and a belief that gives his mother her strength to overcome the odds.

Trevor’s mother is a constant source of support, wisdom, and faith throughout the book. She does everything she can to provide the best education, living conditions, and life experiences she can for Trevor. While he does not appreciate or see the value in attending three church services every Sunday, the discipline and dedication his mother shares with him is instrumental in his development. “People love to say give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. What they don’t say is that it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod” (Noah 190). Trevor’s mom not only taught him how to fish, but she gave him all of the tools he needs to succeed in life. He has achieved far more than she ever could have imagined when he was first born in apartheid South Africa. In addition, Trevor is not the only one benefiting from her love and wisdom. By sharing his experiences and life lessons with millions of readers around the world, countless individuals continue to benefit.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Review: I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Goodreads Overview:

John Smith seems like an ordinary teenager, living a normal life with his guardian Henri in Paradise, Ohio. But for John, keeping a low profile is essential, because he is not an ordinary teenager. He’s an alien from the planet Lorien, and he’s on the run. A group of evil aliens from the planet Mogadore, who destroyed his world, are hunting anyone who escaped.

Nine Loric children were sent to Earth to live in hiding until they grew up and developed their Legacies, powers that would help them fight back—and help them save us. Three of them are now dead. John is Number Four, and he knows he’s next….

Michael Bay, director of Transformers, raved: “Number Four is a hero for this generation.” This epic story is perfect for fans of action-packed science fiction like The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.


I picked up a copy of this book a while ago from my local Little Free Library. It has been sitting in my TBR pile, without so much as a second glace, until my son needed a choice book to read for his freshman English class. I googled books for boys his age and this was in the top five. He enjoyed Ender's Game, so I decided this would be a great choice for us both to read.

When John was around five his planet, Lorien, was attacked by aliens from the planet Mogadore. The elders were able to evacuate nine children with gifted powers, known as the Garde, along with their Cepans or guardians. John's Cepan, Henri, is responsible for protecting him and teaching him how to use his powers as they develop. At the time of the evacuation, the elders put a spell on the children that prevents the Mogadorians from killing them out of order. They must find and kill number 1, then 2, etc. If they try to kill one before it is his/her time, any damage directed at the child will revert back to the Mogadorian who attacked.

At the beginning of this book, John is now fifteen and becomes aware that Number 3 has been killed... and he is next. John and Henri are constantly on the run and hiding in small remote locations. This time around, they decide to settle in Paradise, Ohio. I have lived in Ohio my entire life, so I found several of the references to local cities etc. to be highly entertaining. At one point Henri makes a road trip to Athens, which is where I went to college. I absolutely loved the detailed description of the drive into town, the football stadium, the basketball arena, and what Court Street is like.

Henri is always telling John to blend in and go unnoticed. In theory that is a great idea, but is almost impossible to accomplish when he is the perpetual new kid in school. As his "legacies" or powers begin to develop, it becomes even more difficult. Another one of Henri's rules is to not become attached to anyone because they never know when they will have to leave and start over. John is a pretty outgoing individual, so he struggled with this rule as well. For once in his life he has a girlfriend, Sarah. The only problem, Sarah's ex-boyfriend is a star football player who now has it out for him. He also becomes best friends with Sam Goode, who is obsessed with aliens and follows a number of conspiracy theory sites, which also draws attention.

This book was action packed and I loved learning about John's legacies as they developed. Now that he and the other Garde have more of their legacies, they are finally able to defend themselves. If they can work together, they may be able to defeat the Mogadorians once and for all. I have no idea how many Mogadorians there are on Earth, but that seems like a daunting task since there are only six Garde remaining. Their entire population on Lorien couldn't put up much of a defense, so their chances seem dismal, but I will be rooting for them. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White


I subscribed to OwlCrate at the end of November and my first shipment was the December "Tales of Trickery" box, which included the following:

I have been using the book sleeve just about every day to carry my print books in my purse and the pencils have been useful for the coloring pages in my Always Fully Booked planner.  The candle is a very nice winter cinnamon/spice scent, which I have been lighting every night when I read before bed. Even the ear muffs have come in handy while walking the dog this winter. Overall, I was very happy with my first OwlCrate delivery.

The book is autographed and included an author letter. I'm not so sure about the hand warmer, but I will give it a try the next time it is really cold out. It has been relatively mild this winter in Ohio, so I haven't had an opportunity to use it yet.

I have had several of Kiersten White's books on my TBR list, but this is the first one I have actually read, thanks to OwlCrate. My goal is to complete every OwlCrate book in the month it is intended to be read or I will have to suspend my subscription until I catch up. I loved receiving this bookish delivery and all the little surprises it contained, so I definitely don't plan on falling behind.

This is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. I wasn't very familiar with the folklore, but I absolutely loved this story. Guinevere is the daughter of Merlin and is sent to Camelot to marry King Arthur. There isn't much of a romance in this installment since it is an arranged marriage concocted by Merlin to help protect Arthur and Camelot from a magical attack. 

We learn about Camelot and are introduced to a character referred to as "The Patchwork Night," who has been a sensation in the jousting arena. He wears a mask, so nobody knows who he is. He is an exceptional fighter and it is clearly trying to become one of Arthur's Knights. Even Arthur is caught up in all of the excitement, but Guinevere thinks he may be the threat she was sent to protect Arthur from. I was shocked to find out who the Patchwork Night is and the role this character plays in this series.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the next book in the series. This installment contained a lot of character introduction, world & relationship building. We didn't really know how everyone fit into the story until the very end, so the pacing was slower than I anticipate the next book will be. There was a ton of action towards the end of this book, which is where I'm hoping things will pick back up. I'm also hoping we will see more of Merlin and get a better understanding of the secrets he has been keeping from Guinevere.