25/30 Mini-Review: Childhood Favorites


I decided to revisit some childhood favorites today with mini-reviews! Maybe this will inspire you to check out some of these older books. They rather neatly cover a variety of genres, so you have flexible options! Continue reading

24/30 Book Review: Upstairs at the White House


Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
J.B. West with Mary Lynn Kotz
Nonfiction/memoir

Summary

J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, as well as their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state.

J. B. West, whom Jackie Kennedy called “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” provides an absorbing, one-of-a-kind history of life among the first ladies. Alive with anecdotes ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s fascinating political strategies to Jackie Kennedy’s tragic loss and the personal struggles of Pat Nixon, Upstairs at the White House is a rich account of a slice of American history that usually remains behind closed doors.

Old and Relevant

Upstairs at the White House was first published in 1973, but it’s still a fascinating read. It’s surprising readable even if you don’t know/care much about history and politics. You’ll learn a lot about how the White House functions and you’ll probably laugh at surprising antics of the staff and executive families.

West is a consummate professional throughout the book, careful not show favoritism or reveal any serious indiscretions. He is an archetypal butler, clever, competent, and occasionally inscrutable. The breadth of his responsibilities at the White House is breath-taking and it seems a wonder that such a huge organization continues to function with such grace.

A highly recommended read for nearly anyone.

19/30 Book Review: Working Stiff


Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
Judy Melinek & TJ Mitchell
Nonfiction/memoir

Summary

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. While her husband and their toddler held down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

Fascinating Field

I knew very little about forensic pathology or the work of a medical examiner before reading this book. I wouldn’t say I know a lot now, but Continue reading

16/30 Book Review: The Starbound Trilogy


brokenstarsStarbound Trilogy:
These Broken Stars
This Shattered World
Their Fractured Light

Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

First Book Plot Summary

It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

Expectations

I waited much longer Continue reading

14/30 Book Review: Replica


Replica
Lauren Oliver
YA Sci-fi

Summary

Lyra’s story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape.

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and a completely new set of questions.

The Format

Replica is uniquely styled as two stories in one book. The story is told entirely from each girl’s perspective, with the two printed in reverse to each other. In other words–you can start on one side of the book and read Lyra’s story straight through or start on the other and read Gemma’s story. I chose to begin with Lyra’s story and read alternating chapters. Some readers found the format distracting, but I really didn’t notice after awhile. The book offers a variety of different reading options (starting with one girl, then the other, etc.), but I think alternating chapters is best if, like me, you like as much surprise as possible.

The girls meet up pretty early on in the book, so if you were reading one perspective straight through, it would spoil elements of the other girl’s story. That could still be a good reading experience, but I would not have enjoyed it.

The Plot

Good combo of YA and sci-fi. I particularly appreciate that Oliver doesn’t pull the punches with darkness and violence. No details, but she set herself up to explore Continue reading

13/30 Book Review: Faking Normal


Faking Normal
Courtney Stevens
YA contemporary

Summary

Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool. Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does—and deal with the trauma.

When Bodee Lennox—“the Kool-Aid Kid”—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up about the rape that has changed the course of her life.

Find Your Brave

When I met Courtney Stevens at SEYA Fest this year, she signed a note for me that said Continue reading