What Joa is Reading & Other Stuff

Book reviews...from picture books to adult books, as well as books-to-movie info, and other stuff I think is interesting. Note: Not all books reviewed or recommended are appropriate for all ages.
JULY 17, 2012
TEENS/ADULTS: The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is covered with award stickers, including the National Book Award, Newbery Honor, and Michael Printz award. After reading this very excellent and suspenseful cautionary tale, I'm not surprised. 

Detailing a future where cloning is commonplace, The House of the Scorpion takes place in North America, which has been splintered into territories ruled by powerful drug lords, including the country called Opium.

The main character, Matt, is a clone of the tyrannical patriarch of the Alacrán empire, El Patrón. Unlike the clones that are made "eejits" at birth, Matt's mental faculties are left intact, and he grows up being cared for by Celia, who loves him like a son, and knowing that he is has a special role to play in the Alacrán family. When he meets other children in the Alacrán world, he learns that most people react to clones with fear and disgust. Yet, the little girl Maria, always treats him like the person he feels he is.

An exciting survival story begins to unfold, as Matt fights for his life, in more ways than one, and builds unlikely alliances, from Maria, to Tam Lin, a bodyguard with a dark secret, to the "Lost Boys" orphans that he meets later on. 

Highly recommended.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Survival/AdventureJoa RecommendsFantasy


MAY 22, 2012
Inside Out & Back Again
I highly recommend Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai to all ages of chapter book readers, including adults. This memoir-like book in verse tells the story of Ha, a young Vietnamese refugee girl, and her family, who fled to the United States right before the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.

Ending up in a small rural community in Alabama, Ha struggles to learn English and assimilate to a foreign culture within a sometimes hostile environment.

Written in short poems, this would be a powerful read-aloud...it is poignant and compelling in Ha's authentic and often funny voice, and gives a very unique perspective on this time in history.

This novel, which is loosely based on the author's own childhood experience is a Newbery Honor recipient, as well as a National Book Award Winner.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: True Stories/MemoirsHistorical ReadsOther Cultures


MAY 17, 2012
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
Every once in awhile I read a book I like so much that even when I'm finished reading, it is hard to return it...because I don't want it to be over. The novel, Tall Story, was like that for me.

A very unique story told from the alternating perspectives of Bernanrdo and Andi, a brother and sister, who get acquainted for the first time in their lives, when Bernardo finally gets his paperwork approved to move from his homeland of the Phillipines, where he has been staying with his aunt and uncle, to London with his mother, stepfather, and younger sister.

Because of his 8 feet tall staure, Bernardo is believed by the local villagers to have the powers of a legendary giant. He leaves for London secretly, as people believe he is protecting them from earthquakes and other misfortune.

Andi, who loves basketball but is very disappointed that her new school only has a boys' team, is doubly frustrated when the boys' team is thrilled to have Bernardo on their team because of his height, even though he can barely play.

Meanwhile, Bernardo and Andi's mother, a nurse, is extremely worried about Bernardo's extreme height, realizing that he likely has as serious health condition.

This story is full of heart and an interesting plot line--and you really feel like you get to know both the characters so well...with the alternating chapters from their points of view. I think this would also make a great book to read-aloud.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Other CulturesRead-Aloud RecommendationsJoa Recommends


APRIL 25, 2012
The Cheshire Cheese Cat
I just read a cleverly written chapter book: The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright.

Pip is an unusual mouse with an unusual talent: he can read, thanks to time spent with Nell, the daughter of the owners of the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese shop, where Pip and many, many mice live because of the cheese-making talents of the cook there.

Pip meets Skilley, a cat with an unusual appetite: he does not hunt or eat mice....he prefers cheese, so Pip convinces the mice to strike a bargain where Skilley pretends to serve as a mouse-catcher for the shop, so they won't get a REAL mouse-catching cat.

Throw in an injured raven from the famous "Tower of London" ravens who is hidden upstairs, an evil mice-hungry cat named Pinch, comic relief as the author Charles Dickens sits in the shop attempting to write his classic, Tale of  Two Cities, AND great pencil sketches throughout the chapter book by Barry Moser, and you have a great story that would be fun for a family or teacher to read-aloud, or for kids to read on their own.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Animal StoriesHistorical ReadsRead-Aloud Recommendations


MARCH 17, 2012
Another good book by Helen Frost
I checked out the new novel, Hidden by Helen Frost, as I had so enjoyed the book Diamond Willow, another novel in verse by Frost. I was not disappointed.

This new book tells the story of two young teen girls, Wren and Darra, who arrive at the same camp one summer. Although relative strangers, they quickly realize that they are connected through the worst event in each of their own lives: Wren was unintentionally kidnapped as a 8 year old girl when Darra's father stole their family car after a botched robbery attempt.

Written in poetry form, the first half of the book tells about this childhood incident...Wren hiding in the back of the car, and later a boat in the garage, while Darra and her mother tried to grasp what was happening. When the girls connect at camp in the second half of the book, there are unresolved feelings--Wren is grateful as she knows that years earlier Darra brought her food and water, Darra is angry and sad about the loss of her father, in spite of his crime and abusive nature. Throught the summer, the girls work out this bond that neither of them chose, while keeping the secret from the other campers.

Both girls are likeable characters, and show strength in their own individual ways. Because of the poetry format...and somewhat suspenseful storyline, this is a fast read. I highly recommend this to tween, teen and adult readers.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Joa RecommendsRealistic Reads


FEBRUARY 16, 2012
TEENS/ADULT: Casting of Hunger Game's Katniss
I don't usually post on this blog about movies, but I recently watched Winter's Bone (Rated R) starring Jennifer Lawrence, and I feel pretty good about her being cast as Katniss in the soon to be released Hunger Games movie. Her Winter's Bone character was the oldest daughter of a family with an absent father, a mentally absent mother (catanonic-like), who has developed a no-nonsense toughness, purely as a survival skill. She also has a great tenderness for her younger siblings.....and is the kind of character you really root for. Sound familar? I could really see her in the scenes in my mind from The Hunger Games, and look forward to watching her interpretation of this great character.

FYI: The library will host a Hunger Games: Book into Movie discussion the week after the movie comes out (released on Friday, March 23)....dates and time to be announced, but watch for details.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Movie Tie-insEventsSurvival/Adventure


FEBRUARY 8, 2012
Diamond Willow is one of a kind
I have been busy reading and writing questions for Battle of the Books titles, both for the Lenihan/MACS list and the MHS list...and I recently re-read Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, which I liked just as much the second time reading it.

Diamond Willow  is a fast read with much of it written in a very unique two-layered free verse poetry style. The story is told in alternating voices by Willow (a middle school girl who with native Alaskan heritage), and by her and other characters' ancestors (who are watching over them in their current animal forms.) Willow wants to be allowed to drive her family's sled dogs solo to her grandparents house, and when she finally is allowed to, there is an accident that blinds Roxy, a sled dog who Willow considers her best friend. The storyline culminates in Willow taking off to protect Roxy and getting caught in a blizzard.

This story is exciting and suspenseful, but overall very poignant when it unfolds with a surprising twist. Highly recommended for all ages, including adults.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Survival/AdventureOther CulturesAnimal Stories


DECEMBER 19, 2011
TEEN/ADULT: Now is the Time for Running
I just finished reading Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams. It was a very fast read, as suspenseful as it is brutal and heart-breaking. The story of Deo, a 15-year-old boy from Zimbawe, who cares for his autistic older brother, the book begins when soldiers arrive in his village during a soccer game and change everything. When Deo slips away to find his brother, Innocent, in hiding, his village (including his family and friends) are massacred by the solidiers.

Reminiscent of A Long Way Gone, the true story of child soldier, Ismael Beah, the author of Now is the Time for Running keeps the story more geared toward a younger teen audience by honestly conveying the grim, violent realities, without engaging in graphic descriptions.

Managing to make it to South Africa across a crocodile-infested river and a large game preserve, Deo and Innocent find work as migrants at a tomato-farm, facing anger and resentment from locals. The boys head off to Johannesberg, where they are again left to survive in another dangerous--albeit urban--wilderness.

While a very grim portrait of continuing on after nearly incomprehensible loss, the story is ultimately one of hope and survival. Highly recommended for older readers.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Joa RecommendsOther CulturesSocial Justice Issues


NOVEMBER 8, 2011
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
If the title alone doesn't pull you into this short chapter book, maybe the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"-like illustrations, "handwriting" of different narrators, etc. will. The book is The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

The light-hearted plot centers on building a case for whether or not the origami Yoda that Dwight carries around with him has "magic" powers of giving advice. Different characters tell their individual stories, and some characters make notes throughout the notebook in their own "handwriting."

I would recommend this book to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid as well as other stories of regular school life (with a little "twist")...like the Humphrey series, beginning with The World According to Humphrey (about a classroom hamster that seems to have the same "helping" effect as Yoda in this title.)

A sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, is newly published and available for check-out as well. 

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Funny StuffMysteryJoa Recommends


NOVEMBER 1, 2011
Read blog post by Deborah Ellis

After having the opportunity to spend the day with Deborah Ellis, thanks to our Marshalltown author visit in September, I have been happy to see lots of good reviews for her newest book, No Ordinary Day. Read what Deborah has to say about her book on this new blog post on the Teaching Books site: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/?p=6816

You can even click on a link to hear her read from the book. We currently have two copies of the book available for check out, as well as many titles that she talked about when she spoke about during her author visit.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Joa RecommendsSocial Justice IssuesOther Cultures


OCTOBER 21, 2011
Just Grace
Just Grace is the first book of a series by Charise Mericle Harper, and is a great early chapter book for a new chapter book reader. It is a fun, quick read...featuring lists and cartoonish drawings inside, in the spirit of Diary of Wimpy Kid.

This first book is about a girl named Grace, who gets re-named "Just Grace" much to her horror, early on in the school year because there are so many girls named Grace in her class. The main plotline is Grace's altruistic project to secretly help her neighbor, Mrs. Luther, who was sad because her beloved cat, Crinkles, started running away out of fear of her owner's new bright orange leg cast. Grace wants to cheer up her neighbor, but ends up being blamed when Crinkles goes missing---and then must solve the mystery to clear her name.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Funny StuffMystery


OCTOBER 10, 2011
Third book by Kristen Cashore announced

As a huge fan of Graceling, I was excited to see the announcement that the sequel, Bitterblue, is scheduled to be published in May, 2012. If you haven't yet read Graceling, and you enjoy fast-paced action/adventure stories featuring a strong female character (along the lines of Hunger Games), I'd highly recommend it (see past review for more info.)

Just FYI, even though Fire was published AFTER Graceling, it is actually a prequel, so Bitterblue will be the first book to continue on the exciting plotline of Graceling.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: sequelsFantasyFYI


OCTOBER 6, 2011
Someone Named Eva
Someone Named Eva is a fiction book, but it is based on the true history of what happened to the residents of a small town in the former Czechloslovakia during the Nazi regime. Both hard-to-put-down, as well as sometimes hard emotionally to read, this story is told from the viewpoint of Milagra, who is taken from her family by the Nazis and sent to a Nazi "re-education" school where the goal was to wipe out any memories or connections the students had to their past, in order to create what they viewed as the ideal German, Aryan youth.

Renamed Eva by her Nazi captors, Milagra and the other students were forbidden to speak any language other than German, and then placed with new German families, who were told they were orphans of the war.

This book, for older students through teens/adults, is a powerful example of just one of the horrors that took place during the Holocaust and Nazi reign in Europe. This is a book geared toward young people, and therefore does not include the kinds of graphic details that some adult Holocaust stories might include. However, the pain that Milagra and the other students experience at being taken from their families, as well as plot elements that touch lightly upon, while not glossing over, some of the most horrific actions of the Nazis make the story difficult to forget.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Historical ReadsTeaching Tie-insOther Cultures


SEPTEMBER 30, 2011
TEEN/ADULT: Two inspiring reads
I recently read two non-fiction books, each very inspiring: Whose Child is This? by Bill Wilson and Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle. Both authors have dedicated their lives to living their faith by working daily in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in the country.

Wilson lives in a very rough part of Brooklyn, and runs one of the largest Sunday School programs in the country. Having been abandoned by his mother as a child, he has paid forward the kindness shown to him by a mechanic, who sent him to a church camp that changed his life.

Boyle is a Jesuit priest who lives in Los Angeles in the middle of gang territory. He started Homeboy Industries, a group of workplaces where former gang members are hired, often to work side by a side a former enemy. Boyle speaks about the tragic childhoods of many of these young men, who have managed to choose a different path for themselves.

Both men greatly humanize people in the most challenging of circumstances. As Boyle says, "Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it."

Both men also minimize their own "heroics" in choosing their vocations, sending the message instead that they have gained as much as they have given.

Regardless of your personal beliefs, there is something to take from these books for anyone who is interested in people...in the humanity that connects us all and how to bridge that which threatens to divide us.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Joa RecommendsTrue Stories/MemoirsSocial Justice Issues


SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
Liberty's Voice: the Story of Emma Lazarus
This picture book biography by Erica Silverman tells the story of Emma Lazarus, who is famous for the poem that is engraved on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. This book, appropriate for all ages, tells of Emma's life as a poet, including studying with Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emma was asked to write a poem in honor of the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France to the United States. At first she thought she couldn't write a poem "to order," but then became inspired as she thought of her deep desire that newcomers to the country be welcomed and treated with respect. This inspiration became the poem containing her very famous words: "....Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore...."

Emma never knew how famous her words would become, as she died in 1887...and the poem was engraved on the base of the statue in 1903. At her funeral, a mourner wrote: "We lament the loss to humanity of a women of high ideas and noble enthusiasms, a courageous and chivalrous fighter whose lance was raised effectively in defence of the oppressed."

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: True Stories/MemoirsTeaching Tie-insJoa Recommends


SEPTEMBER 12, 2011
TEEN/ADULT: Marcelo in the Real World
This extremely well-written novel stars Marcelo Sandoval, a character who has a lot of Asperger-like proclivities, but who does not consider these indications of any kind of disability. The story follows his experience leaving the comfortable setting of his private school to work as an intern in his father's law office so he can experience (in the words of his father) the "real world."

A lot of what he learns about the "real world" is disheartening, but the beauty of this book is the privilege of following Marcelo's thought processes as he decides how to cope and adapt without losing himself.

This book leaves you committed to the idea that the opposite of normal is not necessarily abnormal, that sometimes what some call a "symptom" another may call a "gift," and that the "real world" needs more people like Marcelo.  

This book received a starred review in nearly every library journal where it was reviewed, as well as multiple awards. It is also on the 2011-12 Iowa Highschool Battle of the Books list, and will be a book discussion choice at the local book club,  LOL @ MHS, in November, 2011.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Joa RecommendsRealistic ReadsAwards


JULY 20, 2011
The Trouble with Chickens
The Trouble with Chickens is a funny book for beginning chapter book readers. The book, written by Doreen Cronin (Diary of a Fly, Diary of a Spider, and Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type) has great cartoonish illustrations throughout by Kevin Cornell.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Funny StuffJoa RecommendsAnimal Stories


MAY 18, 2011
Interesting and riveting story

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is a story of an almost four-year old child's near-death experience and his family's interpretation of its meaning. This book is a really riveting read, regardless of your beliefs.

Colton nearly died from a misdiagnosed medical condition, and then months later, comments here and there start to convince his father, a pastor, and his mother that something extraordinary happened while Colton was in surgery fighting for his life. While you may or may not agree with what the experience comes to mean for Colton's family, the story is told in the genuine voice of Colton's father, Todd (with writer Lynn Vincent) and has many touching, and suspenseful, moments.

We have this book in our Large Type sections, as well as in adult and teen non-fiction.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Category: True Stories/Memoirs


MARCH 25, 2011
Finally! Paolini's new book to be released...
For those who have been waiting and waiting (I've had a reserve list for years, now!) for the conclusion to Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, the wait will be over soon.

The series that began with Eragon, which Paolini started writing at the age of 15, continued with Eldest and Brisingr.

The last book is Inheritance and is scheduled for release on November 8. You can get on the reserve list now, by emailing me at mtownlibrary@yahoo.com

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: FantasyFYISequels


MARCH 18, 2011
Holocaust history book reads like fiction
The new youth non-fiction book: Surviving the Angel of Death: the true story of a Mengele twin by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri is written as engagingly as any fiction book. The heart-breaking content makes you wish that it was fiction. 

Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were one of many, many pairs of twins that faced sadistic and unbelievably cruel treatment at the hands of the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele of Auschwitz. The book is geared toward intermediate and teen readers, so while the content is disturbing, the details are not as graphic as an adult book on Holocaust horrors.

Eva tells the story of her childhood leading up to the sisters' lives at the concentration camp, while anti-Jewish sentiment increased in her small Hungarian village. The kinds of details included, like story problems in her elementary math textbook that referenced killing Jews, are chilling.
After losing the entire rest of her family, Eva was motivated by sheer will to survive with her sister during her time in Auschwitz and the aftermath. The story is amazing...not only the horrors they survive, but the triumph of the human spirit and ultimately, of forgiveness.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: Historical ReadsTeaching Tie-insJoa Recommends


FEBRUARY 15, 2011
Iron Queen buttons & bookmarks
We have a few giveaways for anyone who is a fan of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey paranormal romance series that begins with The Iron King. The publisher sent us some buttons and bookmarks to coincide with the release of The Iron Queen, #3 in the series.

I have not yet read these books, but Jenelle, who works in the circulation department, highly recommends them.

If you'd like a button or bookmark....just ask at the youth desk.

Add a comment  (0 comments) posted by joa

Categories: FantasyFreebies!


Subscribe via RSS