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Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by sarahhunt tagged coming of age

Sabotage The Mission to Destroy Hitler's Atomic Bomb: Young Adult Edition

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged history

Nazis took over Norway in 1940 without much of a fight, gaining a North Sea foothold and control of a remote industrial plant, Vemork, that was able to manufacture heavy water used in some nuclear reactors. Soon the plant was operating at capacity, sending barrels of heavy water to Berlin where scientists were feverishly trying to develop an atomic bomb. Word reached Churchill, and he tasked patriotic Norwegians in Britain to join the resistance by heading back to Norway and creating a base for operations against the plant. They prepared supplies and scouted the factory before the British sent in a force of demolitions engineers to destroy it, but things went poorly — bad weather caused the engineers’ gliders to crash, and the survivors were captured. The second attempt, with the Germans on high alert, involved sending six more Norwegians to join the four already hiding in the freezing countryside. They planned to ski to the plant, destroy its production capabilities, and escape through the woods to Sweden. The chances of survival for the skiing commandos was less than fifty percent. And If they failed, there was a good chance that Nazi Germany would develop an atomic bomb before the Allies.

Why I picked it up: Neal Bascomb wrote The Nazi Hunters, one of the few nonfiction books I can give to kids that never fails to amaze them. When I tell them it is about Israeli secret agents kidnapping, drugging, and smuggling a Nazi officer out of Argentina, they are hooked.

Why I finished it: Churchill wanted to harass the Nazis with commando raids across Europe to keep the Germans off-balance. The Norwegian team that attacked Vemork was part of the British Special Operations Executive whose leaders called their unit the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” Unbeknownst to the Allied troops, Hitler had ordered that all Allied commandos caught in Europe were to be executed, not captured. In fact, all survivors of the glider crashes were interrogated then summarily shot at point blank range. 

It’s perfect for: My student Trevor. He’s reading all sorts of military books about famous battles along with technical specifications for military vehicles. This book would entrance him, especially the details about climbing the 600 foot cliffs to the Vemork plant bearing backpacks bulging with high explosives. 

1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die A Food Lover's Life List

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged nonfictioncookbook

Journalist and food critic Mimi Sheraton was inspired as a young girl by her parents (an adventurous home cook and a produce vendor) plus Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Travel.” She has spent her life pursuing new flavors and experiences, often writing articles on strange exotic foodstuffs to justify travel. This book is a savory reduction of her life’s work.

Why I picked it up: I’ve always been attracted to books that talk about things you should do before you die, but frequently find them depressing because unless you’re wealthy, it’s impossible to experience even a tenth of the adventures they contain. This is different, though, because Sheraton supplies recipes or mail order information for many.

Why I finished it: My best travel experiences have been when I’ve visited foreign countries in the company of someone who lived in them for some time. I’ll never forget the schnitzel I had in Vienna, all the varieties of ramen I ate in Okinawa with my cousin, and the tasty conch in Belize. Every article in this book makes me feel much the same way, as though I am getting the scoop from someone in the know who wants to share her discoveries with me.

It’s perfect for: Anyone who has ever salivated over the all-too-brief food pages in a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide and wanted a whole book of those, but with history, context, and sometimes even literary references. It is also wonderful for revisiting personal travels, and for understanding how simple foods, such as grilled yakitori chicken in Japan, can taste so amazing.

How To Say I Love You Out Loud

Link to this review by diane tagged coming of age

Jordyn Michaelson has a pretty good life in her exclusive high school. She’s relatively popular, a starter on the field hockey team, and Alex, a star football player, has taken a liking to her. But she’s keeping a huge secret. The special school her autistic brother attended has closed, and until a suitable replacement is found, he has to attend Jordyn’s school. Fearing that she will lose the life she has built if everyone know she is related to the “weird” new kid, she refuses to acknowledge that she even knows him.

Why I picked it up: My school has a program for students with autism and other developmental challenges. I’m always looking for books that feature these students in a positive way.

Why I finished it: Cozzo didn’t shy away from Jordyn’s embarrassment over her brother. Her attempts to maintain a “normal” existence seemed authentic, and it was clear that she was struggling with a conflict of conscience. She loves her brother, but also resents the way his challenges dominate her family’s time and encroach on her own life. And the growing relationship between Jordyn and Alex was very sweet, which only made it hurt more when Jordyn’s secret comes out and Alex feels betrayed. The resolution brought me to tears.

Readalikes: Wonder by R. J. Palacio, another story about a young man with challenges, this time more physical than intellectual or developmental. Augie has a very visible deformity and has always attended a special school. When he decides to attend a regular school, he experiences a full range of reactions, from embarrassment to antagonism to empathy. Both books emphasize the need for tolerance, understanding, love, and respect.

The Shadow Behind the Stars

Link to this review by wally tagged coming of agefantasy

Endymion, a revered hero, sought to marry Aglaia because of her beauty; when she rejected him, he killed everyone in her village and raped her. She somehow makes her way to an island where the three Fates live apart from mortals. The Fates put a spell on Aglaia to calm her, but she cannot remain with them. Chloe, the spinner and the youngest of the three, knows that Aglaia’s destiny will destroy them all if she is not killed, but she cannot deny Aglaia’s desire for revenge.

Why I picked it up: It looked like an interesting take on Greek mythology’s Fates.

Why I finished it: I liked the slow pace of this novel and the thoughtfulness of the Fates. The first part of the book follows Chloe’s narration of the lives of the Fates and their timeless task. Then Aglaia’s arrival brings the sisters face-to-face with mortality. Aglaia’s realization that she is pregnant leads first Chloe, and then her sisters, to wrestle with whether or not to join the world of humans.

Readalikes: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore trilogy, particularly Voices. In it, Memer must deal with the fact that she is the daughter of a woman who was raped by one of the soldiers who have occupied her city for a generation. Memer is shunned by most of the people in her city because she’s a shameful reminder of the occupation.

Dragons Beware!

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agegraphic novelfantasy

Claudette wants her father, Augustine, to train her to be a warrior so they can defeat the dragon who took his arm and legs and retrieve his sword, Breaker. Her brother, Gaston, wants to be a sword maker, though he excels at cooking; he has vowed not to cook again until he makes his father proud. Their friend Marie is locked in the castle for princess training, and so she will stick around to meet the princes that have come to court her because of her valor.

The evil Grombach has escaped Calavera Island, and his gargoyle army is about to attack the city. The Marquis thinks there’s nothing to worry about, because the city’s walls protect its citizens. But Augustine knows he needs his sword to defeat Grombach again. After he leaves to get it back, Claudette, Gaston, and Marie soon follow. But before they can reach the dragon’s cave, they’re attacked by gargoyles. Luckily, Claudette’s wooden sword is magic.

Why I picked it up: I loved the previous graphic novel in the series, Giants Beware!

Why I finished it: It’s a lighthearted, entertaining, colorfully drawn book that manages to give equal time to characters who defy stereotypes without reading like a crappy after-school special. Giants make an appearance, the princes courting Marie endure entertainingly minor abuse at the hands of Grombach, and both diplomacy and cooking both have a role to play in the end. 

Readalikes: These graphic novels are up there with Bone and Amulet as one of the great, truly all-ages series that can be read and enjoyed by the whole family.

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