Populazzi by Elise Allen – Book Review

Populazzi by Elise Allen
Published by Harcourt Children’s Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Ever since Cara peed her pants in kindergarten, she has never stood a chance of being one of the cool kids, the Populazzi. Now, in her junior year of high school, she might have the chance to change all that. Cara is moving to a new school, and her best friend, Claudia has the perfect plan for how Cara can move up the Populazzi ladder. Things start out well: meet a guy, date him, leap from his social group to the next one up. Soon, though, feelings get involved and things become complicated.

Okay, I loved Populazzi so, so, so much. It might have been easy not to, the picture of high school was totally cliche and I could spot the ending a mile away, but honestly, none of that mattered. Allen’s writing is engaging to the point of being infectious, and she has a gift of creating characters that you can’t help but love, even when they are doing incredibly stupid and even hurtful things. Also, I love Archer, the first guy Cara meets, so incredibly much it wasn’t even funny. He is just adorable beyond words.

Beyond her fun writing and lovable characters, Allen is not afraid to discuss issues of teen sex, lying, drug use, and eating disorders. She walks a perfect line between neither glamorizing nor overly moralizing these realities of teenage life, which is incredibly refreshing.

All in all, Populazzi was an incredibly addictive book that I simply could not put down. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source:Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Maid by Kimberly Cutter – Book Review

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joan of Arc is one of the best known of the Catholic saints, and perhaps the most famous of medieval women. As a young woman, she heard what she believed was the voice of God, calling out to her, telling her to lead an army against the English and restore the Dauphin Charles to his rightful place as the King of France. In The Maid, Kimberly Cutter addresses not only who Joan – here called Jehanne – was, but what it might have been like for her to have been the figurehead of the French army, so convinced that she was the only one who could drive out the English conquerors.

Cutter walks a fine line with The Maid, between attempting to bring Jehanne to life and also attempting to stay as true as possible to the verifiable events of her life. This means that, at times, The Maid reads a bit more like historical nonfiction than historical fiction, but this is by no means a mark against it. Although the reader is not always privy to Jehanne’s deepest emotions, Cutter excels at showing Jehanne’s state of mind, particularly her increasing volatility as her time as a leader of battle dragged on and she knew the end was approaching, such as this scene when her order forbidding prostitutes in camp is disobeyed:

Jehanne smiled, then raised her sword over her head and hit the woman with the flat of it so hard that the sword broke in half. The woman fell to the ground. Everyone around the campfire stood frozen, eyes wide as coins. Jehanne stared back at them. “I said no whores in camp.” -p. 235

Jehanne is a character who continually struggles with her believed calling, and with how she might even begin to complete the tasks set to her. Her emotional distress and quick temper may raise the question for many readers whether she was truly hearing the voice of God or whether she was mentally ill, but Cutter will not easily let us dismiss her as merely schizophrenic, as many have, dwelling as well on her verified fulfilled prophecies, such as her the outcomes of battles she did not witness and her own wounding by an arrow, as well as her miraculous survival of a seventy-some foot fall without so much as a sprained ankle.

This continual questioning and the lack of easy answers are perhaps  the best thing about The Maid, but even without them this is a compelling story of a girl who takes on a responsibility never dreamed of by the other woman of her age and steadfastly performs what she sees as her duty, despite her own fears and misgivings. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Whooo’s That? – Saturday Story Spotlight

Welcome to Saturday Story Spotlight, my feature where I discuss books my husband and I are reading with our son, Daniel. These are books that he, we, or all of us particularly enjoy.

Whooo’s That by Kay Winters, illustrated by Jeannie Winston
Published by Harcourt Children’s Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Whooo’s That? is a very cute Halloween lift-the-flaps book. Every page other than the last one has one or more jack o’ lanterns that can be flipped down to complete the sentence “Whooo’s that….” Beneath each of the flaps is some sort of Halloween creature, most of which are shown on the last page to be kids out trick or treating.

This is a very cute book with big, easy to manipulate flaps, and even the biggest Halloween beasties are basically adorable. Facing pages rhyme, and everything scans well. It isn’t Daniel’s very favorite Halloween book, but it is a good addition to the rotation.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk – Book Review

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, & Language From the Insect World by Marlene Zuk
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Animals can tell us much about ourselves. We can study their gene, their reactions to stimuli, their behaviors in order to better understand the vagaries of humanity. Studying adorable mammals tends to cause anthropomorphizing, which can confuse results. Studying insects, however, does not tend to result in any romantic notions, which is part of the reason that Marlene Zuk is so fascinated by them; although she finds them captivating in their own right as well. In Sex on Six Legs, Zuk endeavors to share with the rest of us myriad things she believes make insects so worth our attention.

Insects play a special role in our use of animals to help us understand ourselves, as I argue throughout this book. Because they are rarely cared for by their parents, and usually live relatively solitary lives without the input of others, the behavior they exhibit as adults is largely controlled by their genes. -p. 143

Zuk is extremely successful both in her attempts to make insects interesting and to shed light on just what complex creatures they are, and just how much many of their behaviors mirror our own. For example, Zuk discusses in the first chapter the extremely few species that engage in true teaching, one of the hallmarks of which is that information is passed on at some cost to the teacher, simply allowing children to mimic actions is not sufficient to count. Surprisingly, none of our simian relatives meet this distinction:

That teaching happens in ants and not monkeys or apes is unsettling for the same reason I love studying insects: it’s all about getting to the same destination with different modes of transportation. -p. 33

And who knew just how complicated bee dance language is?

The length of the run is correlated with the distance of the food from the hive, while the angle of the bee’s body relative to vertical indicates the angle between the sun and the food source…. In other words, bees seem to have symbolic representations for the distance and direction of the food, which fits many if not all of the criteria for an actual language. -p. 214

Sex on Six Legs is not merely didactic, however, but entertaining as well. Zuk brings a measure of her own personality into the book, recounting her fondness for earwigs and other insects, as well as a good degree of humor.

At some level, everyone with siblings understands the urge to murder them. -p. 167

Sex on Six Legs is an incredibly interesting and educational book, although readers do run the risk of seeming insufferable spouting off insect knowledge to anyone who will listen. Zuk succeeds in granting a new appreciation for the six-legged creatures, although it doesn’t make me want to see them in my house any more than I did before.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Curious George and the Pizza – Saturday Story Spotlight

Welcome to Saturday Story Spotlight, my feature where I discuss books my husband and I are reading with our son, Daniel. These are books that he, we, or all of us particularly enjoy.

Curious George and the Pizza by Margret Ray and H.A. Ray
Published by HMH Books

When George and his friend go to a pizza parlor, George is absolutely fascinated by the tossing of the pizza dough and the making of the pizzas. When he tries to make some pizzas on his own, though, a huge mess ensues. The owner of the pizza parlor is pretty angry, until he has to deliver a pizza to a factory which is already closed, at which point George’s monkey skills save the day.

A monkey and pizza! What more could Daniel want?

Really, there’s nothing particularly special about Curious George and the Pizza, but it is a crowd-pleaser in this house. My favorite reason to read it with Daniel is for the identification of facial expressions. When the pizza parlor owner is frustrated to the point of tears, Daniel points at him and yells “crying!” Between this and just the joy of reading, Curious George and the Pizza is a frequent visitor to our storytimes.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011