All posts by mspelmanlibrarian

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Midnight Sun (Twilight, #1.5)Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Midnight Sun has been long-awaited for many Twihards. Honestly, the original series is pretty mediocre, but I wanted to see what the hype was about with this new release. And I was pleasantly surprised?

what was good
1) Bella: her personality is so much more interesting, and I loved learning about her
2) more backstory on the Cullens
3) Edward’s perspective: it was fascinating going through Edward (and by proxy, everyone else’s) thoughts
4) ALICE CULLEN: do I need to say more?

what was bad
1) unjustified creepy stalking
2) unjustified over-protectiveness
3) extensive repetition and redundancy: this book could have been like 400 pages if an editor had stepped in

Overall, I can’t decide if this is worse than the original or better. I think that this one paints the romance in a better light since Bella actually has a personality. On the other hand, this narrative went on and on for 25 whole hours while the original is MUCH shorter. But, hey, I felt 12 again and that’s the most I can ask from a vampire romance book about a creepy, stalker dude. -Review by Anika F. ’21

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The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris (review by Ritu B. ’24)

The Truths We Hold: An American JourneyThe Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself well-versed in politics; sure, I skim the newspaper headlines every weekend (or so) but the bulk of my opinions on politics stems from topical memes and, of course, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. If this sounds like you, and it’s getting harder to pretend you don’t live under a rock when conversation turns to the upcoming elections, then keep reading.
I picked up Kamala Harris’s autobiography hoping to understand the background of the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, but my entire world view had shifted by the end. In The Truths We Hold, the arc of Harris’s life, from her humble upbringings to vast political victories, unites with a not-so-subtle Democratic agenda to create a highly captivating read. I greatly admired her approach of translating political triggers into real stories. She strives to highlight the voices of actual people, from victims of the subprime mortgage crisis to separated families at border entry points. Readers familiar with Michelle Obama’s Becoming will find Harris’s book more political and op-ed-like as opposed to a meticulous memoir, but nonetheless, just as inspiring and educational. Anyone interested in becoming interested in the elections will love The Truths We Hold.
—Review by Ritu B. ’24

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Devolution by Max Brooks (review by Mrs. Vaughan)

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A small group of Seattleites populate a new community on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, enjoying both the beauty of their natural surroundings and excellent electronic connectivity. Necessities are delivered regularly by helicopter, which can also ferry them to first class medical attention if needed. Perfect, right? Not so much when Mt. Rainier erupts unleashing disaster and cutting off these pilgrims from their supply chain. Worse yet – the shrinking natural environment has precipitated a conflict between them, and folklore become real: a small but hungry band of Bigfoot.
Fans of Max Brooks’ World War Z may be a bit disappointed in his long-awaited effort – another fictionalized oral history of Armageddon, just a different setting. Still, this sophomore attempt is, like his first, cleverly written. Here the oral histories take backseat to the found journal of resident Kate Holland, creating a more consistent through line than Z. Brooks has done his legwork (again) and weaves in much historic, folkloric, and scientific research about the Yeti, the Sasquatch and less familiar versions of the oversized primate. Characterization is varied, dialogue rings true and the suspense is palpable. True, this is not World War Z, but Brooks’ fans and horror fans won’t want to miss it! — Mrs. Vaughan

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Daisy Jones & The Six (review by Emma A. ’21)

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About a page into the book, I was completely hooked! Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of the rise and fall of a fictional band in the 70s. The story depicts unconditional love, addiction, self-help, and the golden era of rock, all while set to a soundtrack of some of the best made up songs I have ever read. Loosely modeled off of Fleetwood Mac, the drama and events of the novel are so realistic that you will have to keep telling yourself the band doesn’t exist!

The novel is divided into parts, each progressing through the story of the whimsical, carefree Daisy Jones and the emerging musical powerhouse The Six. Daisy and the band’s stories begin to intertwine and new group dynamics emerge and are tested. The characters are each imperfect in their own ways and there is a sense of humanity given to each of them. Unsurprisingly, my favorite character was Daisy. Daisy is headstrong, stubborn, self sabotaging, and possesses natural born talent, but she grows and develops over the course of the story. As the novel was told in an interview format, each character was reflecting on the decisions they made in the past while providing commentary and witty remarks. Each character’s voice emerged distinctly and proved a testament to their personalities.

This book was honestly a perfect shelter in place read for me and a great addition to my favorite books of all time list! I found myself eager to keep reading and couldn’t put the book down (I finished it in one night!). The story is incredibly engrossing and realistic, and though I grew up in the 2000s, I felt fully immersed in the bustle of LA and the rock scene of the 70s. -Review by Emma A. ’21

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Solitaire by Alice Oseman (review by Hita T. ’23)

SolitaireSolitaire by Alice Oseman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sixteen-year-old Tori Spring, a cynical and pessimistic teenager, only likes her brothers Charlie and Oliver, her best friend Becky, blogging, and sleeping. Her life, to her, is uninteresting and dull, and as she enters Year 12 at Harvey Greene Grammar School (more commonly known as Higgs), she expects nothing interesting to happen. However, everything changes when Solitaire struck.

Solitaire, an anonymous organization, starts to run pranks in Higgs and what begins as a few minor pranks leads to more large scale events. Tori’s life is suddenly turned upside as she and Michael Holden, an eccentric student who is new to Higgs, tries to find out who is behind Solitaire. However, the answer might be closer than she expects…

Told in the perspective of Tori Spring, Solitaire, a YA novel, captures the life of an English teenager living in today’s era. Solitaire required a second reading from me as it did not exactly engage me the first time, but when I read it the second time around, the plot twists and the mystery had me on tenterhooks until the very end. -Review by Hita T ’23

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (review by Anya W. ’20)

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Simonverse, #1)Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d looked at this book a few times before, and rejected it because the summary seemed a bit flat, but then the release of the film rekindled my interest, and I was thrilled to find the novel on overdrive. Once I finally got to reading it I did not regret my decision.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, is sweet romance shaken up with a healthy dose of teen angst and youthful irresponsibility. Abertalli tells a tale of staying in, coming out, and ultimately finding oneself. It was a great read for a sunny day. -Anya W. ’20

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Nietzsche and the ‘Burbs (review by Sophia G. ’21)

Nietzsche and the BurbsNietzsche and the Burbs by Lars Iyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished the book Nietzsche and the ‘Burbs by Lars Iyer. Overall I enjoyed it, however, sometimes the main characters were far too edgy for me. They often lament life rather than embrace it, rejecting the concept of amor fati that the real Nietzsche held so close to heart. The book is about a suburbian band of British misfits who try and make music to escape their boring lives as well as adventuring to entertain themselves. Most of the plot points, relationships, parties, whatever, are pretty normal for the YA genre, however I find they are handled with far more poetic prose. If you enjoy long flowing sentences and sardonic humor as I do, then you probably will like this book. If you aren’t a fan of some what emo main characters, I would avoid. Overall, it’s a well written and very original look at the coming of age genre, with some lovely turns and twists. -Sophia G. ’21

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Scarlet Fields (review by Mr. Cracraft)

Scarlet Fields: The Germans, 1933-45Scarlet Fields: The Germans, 1933-45 by John Lewis Barkley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scarlet Fields is the American doppleganger to the French “The Price of Glory.” It is the simply-told tale of an American farm boy who fought a stutter to be accepted into the Army. He won that battle and was sent to France. He had a rather unique experience as he was assigned scouting duties due to his skills in the woods and countryside. He teamed up with a couple of Native Americans in his company and they all helped keep each other alive through some of the brutal fighting that occurred in the short few months the American Army was in action in France.

He was a modest man and tried to do his best in the war. Ultimately, he did pretty well, receiving the Medal of Honor from Black Jack Pershing, himself (who accidentally pinned it right through the skin under his blouse–this was back before it was a neck-hanger, apparently). Barkley got the award months after it was earned. In the closing days of the war, as both armies heaved and tumbled in no mans land in desperate attempts to force a conclusion to the war, Barkley, sent to scout, found himself right in the line with a company of Germans approaching. He grabbed a deserted German machine gun and climbed into a knocked-out French tank–and these were just little things, not much bigger than an over sized pickup truck– and got to work on the crowd. He gives no estimate of how many he killed that day, and his citation just says “many” but it must have been over a hundred. From his writing, I suspect he was embarrassed and a little ashamed for having sent so many men, even the enemy, to their maker.

He fired that machine gun until it overheated and froze up. Just as he was exiting the tank to make a run for it, he found a can of oil, so broke down the gun, oiled it, poured the rest in the water jacket and went back to work. He was shelled and one explosion flapped the tank tread onto the hull where it hit the protruding machine gun barrel sending the stock crashing into Barkley’s chin, knocking him out. He came to, tightened up the now-loose stock, and went back to work. It didn’t help that he had mustard gas burns on his head from an earlier battle.

Barkley had a hundred adventures before and after his MoH effort and the book is a wonderful read for a snapshot of life during that struggle.

After the war, Barkley returned home, was touted around America a bit, and settled right back in Missouri, where he spent the rest of his life, dying in 1966.Wonderful tale by a humble, honest man, the kind that fought out two wars for freedom before the turn of the century. John Lewis Barkley, you are remembered. I hope you are in the arms of your Valkyrie, and that Jesse and Floyd and Tom and Mike are all there sharing a fire-roasted chicken and a canteen of brandy. -Mr. Cracraft

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The Habsburg Empire: A New History (review by Mr. Cracraft)

The Habsburg Empire: A New HistoryThe Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter M. Judson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew! Ever read a book you know you should finish, but it is so stuffed with information that each page has to be examined with brain fully engaged? That was “The Habsburg Empire, A New History” by Pieter M Judson. 452 pages that take the reader through the machinations of nationalism, state-building, revolution and war that beset the Habsburg Empire from about 1840 on.

Various efforts to liberalize “crownlands” to give greater scope to local politicians and leaders were piecemeal successful, but often slipped back into the old ways when leadership, locally and in Vienna, changed. The book details many of the efforts by Serbians, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles, Jews, Orthodox and Catholics to carve out truer freedoms than they had under the Empire.

Ultimately, of course, it all flew against the wall like a huge lasagna following WWI, when the Emperor quietly stopped ruling. At that point, each “nation-state,” such as they were, did everything they could to create tiny empires by annexing the bits and bobs around their core state to enhance their own country, even–and this is important–if those being annexed did not speak the core language and were not culturally aligned with the occupying state.

So, millions of Germans, culturally and language-wise, were stuck in what became Czechoslovakia, many were stuck into the new Polish borders and it was these populations that gave Hitler his excuse to try to build out the German empire he hoped for. The author makes the point that the final borders were settled by military force in each locale, not by the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control, just as they were following WWII, due to the threat of war between the Western Allies and Russia. Crazy times.

The whole timeline and political development from the mid-1800’s until 1920 or so are super critical to understanding how the Second World War started and played out as everyone re-jockeyed for position between 1939-1946 — the Poles taking a hunk of Czechoslovakia prior to being invaded themselves by both Russians and Germans in 1939–the Russians took a big bite out of Poland to the east as the Nazis invaded from the west.

After WWII, of course, the map of Europe changed again, but that is another library of books! All in all, this was a really, really well-written book that explained a lot of junk that happened prior to World War One and that led to both it and WWII, much as the lead-up to the Franco-Prussian War helped germinate (pun intended) WWI and WWII. -Mr. Cracraft

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We Are The Perfect Girl (review by Ms. Pelman)

We Are the Perfect GirlWe Are the Perfect Girl by Ariel Kaplan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming, fresh, and sharply written retelling of Cyrano De Bergerac where friendship, not romance, is at the heart of the story. Aphra and Bethany are best friends. Bethany is painfully shy—she can’t string 4 words together when attempting to speak to her crush Greg. Aphra is smart, funny, and outgoing, but does not consider herself attractive mainly due to her nose (naturally). In the midst of trying to help Bethany get together with Greg, she inadvertently begins an anonymous relationship with him online, which she then parlays into assuming the Cyrano role, feeding Bethany lines during dates and composing text messages for her. As an overwhelmed Bethany tries to go along with the plan, Aphra falls harder and harder for Greg.
Even readers unfamiliar with the original story will understand both the folly of their plan and the inevitable blowup that will ensue. The trick is making us care. Kaplan accomplishes this feat and more in her deftly constructed novel. With its swift pacing, humor, and fully-realized characters, readers will be swept up. Far from simply zany, the substantive plot makes clear Aphra’s journey through anger and pain, and her awakening to the kinds of love that matter most. While its seeming conventionality may be a turn off for some, readers who don’t mind romantic entanglement mixed in with their strong, intelligent female protagonists will find much to enjoy. -Ms. Pelman

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