Every Exquisite Thing

I don’t quite know how I feel about my latest read, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. This book, which will be released next month, is the first Matthew Quick book I’ve read, but I doubt it will be the last. (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been on my TBR pile for quite a while.) Even though I’m still pondering what I think about the book, the most important thing is that it did make me think. I have a feeling many other readers will feel the same way.

Nanette O’Hare is a girl who has it all together. She’s a good student, a star soccer player, and a rule-follower. She thinks she knows exactly what path her life is going to take…until her favorite teacher introduces her to The Bubblegum Reaper, a book that changes everything Nanette believes about herself and the world around her.

Nanette quickly becomes obsessed with The Bubblegum Reaper and its author, and, for the first time in her life, she questions the path she’s on. What if she doesn’t want to play soccer? What if she doesn’t want to hang out with her superficial friends? What if she doesn’t want to go to college? Suddenly, it’s okay to ask these questions and break free from everything she’s supposed to do.

While Nanette is rebelling against the life others have chosen for her, she’s joined by Booker, the reclusive author of The Bubblegum Reaper, who never wants to talk about his only published work; Alex, another fan of Booker’s novel, a boy who maybe takes the whole “rebel against the norm” thing too far; and Oliver, a kid who is tormented at school and needs someone to fight for him. Nanette believes she’s found kindred spirits in all three of these people, especially Alex.

Nanette and Alex grow closer, united in their rebellion against the status quo. But what will happen when Alex begins to lose himself, when he gets into trouble that he can’t talk his way out of? How will Nanette cope? Will she lose herself, too? Will she revert to the girl she once was–just going through the motions of “normal” life–or will she find a way to remain true to herself?

Read Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick to witness how a book changes one girl’s life, helps her find her voice, and makes her really look at the world around her and begin to find her own place in it.


When I was reading this book, I sympathized with Nanette, worried about her, and kind of wanted to be her. When she finally asserted herself and demanded that others see the “real” her, I cheered…and wished that I could do the same thing. When Nanette was both drawn to and repelled by Alex and his almost manic sense of rebellion, I wanted to shout at her to run away from what would surely be a destructive relationship. (In many ways, I was absolutely correct.) When she did what was expected of her, I did a bit of internal screaming, raging at her to wake up and live her own life. Suffice it to say, this character–the whole cast, really–elicited a lot of feelings, and most of them weren’t particularly comfortable.

Throughout the course of this book, I wanted those around Nanette–especially her parents–to see just how lonely she was and find some way to truly understand her. While that only sort of happened, Nanette did gain a greater understanding of herself. She was no longer content to simply do what everyone expected of her. Yes, some people got hurt, some judged her, and even those closest to her didn’t get why she was, in their eyes, throwing everything away. Nanette didn’t care. She eventually learned to live her own life instead of the one others wanted her to live. That’s something that many adults–myself included–still struggle with.

I guess, thanks to putting my thoughts into this post, I’ve realized just how much I really did like this book. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky book, and it’s not something you can read and never think about again. This book, like The Bubblegum Reaper, makes readers think and examine their own lives and who they’re living for. To some adults, that’s a dangerous concept to present to teen readers (and may explain why The Catcher in the Rye is still one of the most banned books around).

I do think Every Exquisite Thing is a book for mature teen readers. It deals with some adult situations and language that the vast majority of middle grade readers (and some teens and adults) are not ready to handle. This is a novel that invites some fairly intense philosophical questions, so be prepared for that.

For those that want to learn a bit more about Every Exquisite Thing, which will be out on May 31st, and other novels by Matthew Quick, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Inked

Most of the books that I’ve read through NetGalley have been fairly good. Some have been stellar (The Kiss of Deception, We Were Liars, The Fourteenth Goldfish, Gracefully Grayson, and others). Some have been less so. (I won’t link those because…well, I don’t want to.) The book I just finished, in my most humble opinion, falls into the latter category.

Inked by Eric Smith has a really interesting premise–tattoos that determine one’s destiny–but the book itself just didn’t grab me. I found it really easy to put aside, and it took me over three weeks to finish. Now, some books take a while because I want to savor every page. This one wasn’t like that, at least for me. Maybe you’ll feel differently. (If you do, let me know in the comments. I welcome a good argument!)

Caenum’s life is on the verge of great change. His birthday is approaching, and that means that he’ll soon receive his Ink. In Caenum’s world, Ink determines destiny, and he is nervous about the magical tattoos he’ll end up with. So nervous, in fact, that he is considering leaving everything behind to avoid being Inked.

Before Caenum can go through with his plan to run away, though, something happens that will make Caenum question everything he thought he knew about himself, his family, his friends, and the world around him.

After angering the Scribe tasked with giving Caenum his Ink, events are set in motion that reveal that the entire Inking process isn’t at all what it seems. Ink is a way to keep people under the Citadel’s iron control, and there are some that want to see that control come to an end.

Caenum and some friends, after witnessing the destruction of their homes and families, go on the run from the Citadel. During their journey, it becomes clear that Caenum and his friends possess the special abilities that make them so dangerous to the Citadel and all those who fear magic. Caenum can control the earth; Dreya, Caenum’s best friend, is a healer; and Kenzi, the very Scribe that was supposed to give Caenum his Ink, has the power of lightning. What do these powers mean, and why are they so important to and feared by the Citadel?

As Caenum and company journey toward an uncertain future, they encounter both friends and foes…and it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. One thing, however, is certain. Caenum’s world is changing in ways that he never expected, and he’ll have to step up and make some hard decisions in order to make his own way in the world.

Who will try to stop Caenum’s quest for freedom? Who will work with him? Who will be sacrificed in the battle to come, and will those sacrifices work for the good of Caenum’s world…or its eventual demise?

Read Inked by Eric Smith to learn just how skin-deep one young man’s destiny really is…

_______________

I think if Inked had been a little more fleshed out, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just felt too rushed for me. Yes, it was action-packed, and I think many readers will enjoy that, but I wanted to see more. More character development, more explanation of the Inking process, and more back story would have made an okay story into a spectacular one.

Given how Inked ended, I’m sure we can expect further installments from Caenum and friends. Hopefully, future books will address the issues I had with Inked. I guess we’ll just have to see.

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!

Read you must all of the Origami Yoda books before proceeding! The Force will be strong in those who read these books:

As you’ve no doubt gathered, we’re up to the fifth book in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue! Once again the students of McQuarrie Middle School are battling the FunTime Menace, but they may just have an unexpected ally now.

The Origami Rebellion thought they had won a victory when Principal Rabbski agreed to see about putting an end to the horribly boring, soul-crushing FunTime program. This expensive test-prep program put an end to their field trips, electives, and everything else that really made school fun. Even the teachers hate it.

But FunTime seems to be Force-choking McQuarrie Middle. The students are still sitting through the mind-numbing videos and worksheets, and Principal Rabbski doesn’t appear to be doing much to stop it.

So what’s a rebellion to do? They ask the advice of the puppet that started it all: Origami Yoda. Yoda urges the rebellion to let Principal Rabbski take a look at their extensive case file (which details how everyone really feels about FunTime). Since there are entries that paint Rabbski in a rather unflattering light, the rebellion disagrees.

Someone, though, has taken matters into her own hands. The mysterious Princess Labelmaker has given Rabbski the case file, hoping that it will convince the principal to finally take action against the evil FunTime Empire.

Will the Origami Rebellion finally get their principal to turn from the Dark Side? Who is the rogue rebel who gave the case file to Rabbski, and was that act worth it? Will the FunTime Menace finally be vanquished? Find out when you read Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!

_______________

I don’t have to do much to sell the Origami Yoda books in my library. Basically, I put them on the shelves, and they disappear. (I do talk them up anyway. My kids know how much I love all things Star Wars.) This fifth installment, I’m sure, will be no different.

Student readers aside, I’d like to recommend this entire series to educators. In my opinion, Tom Angleberger hits the nail on the head when describing how both students and teachers feel about the stranglehold standardized testing has on education today. Standardized testing is big business, and, in my opinion, students are the ones who end up paying the highest price. We’re sacrificing creativity, curiosity, and, yes, fun in the hopes that kids will do well on a standardized test…when there is nothing standard about student learning. And don’t get me started on evaluating teachers on their students’ test scores. (Seriously. I could rant for days on that subject.) Are a few points on a test more important that developing a love of learning in students? I don’t think so…and neither does the Origami Rebellion.

Time to step off my soapbox…for now.

Even though there was a nice bit of closure in Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!, I’m sure we’ll see more of the students of McQuarrie Middle School. In the meantime, I recommend visiting the author’s Origami Yoda page and Twitter feed. Also, be sure to take a look at the video below for more from Tom Angleberger. May the Force be with you!

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett

Warning you must heed! Read first three Origami Yoda books you must! Annoying yet, is this?

So…as you’ve no doubt gathered, this post will focus on the fourth book in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett. (In case you can’t remember, the first three books are The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.) You really need to read the first three books to fully grasp what’s going on in the fourth. If you’re a Star Wars nut like me, that shouldn’t be a problem.

In this fourth book, the students of McQuarrie Middle School are facing a terrible evil.  More evil than the Empire. More evil than a Sith Lord without his morning coffee.  More evil than Jar Jar Binks. (Well, maybe not that bad.)  This semester, the school is eliminating all electives–Lego robotics, drama, music, yearbook–and forcing kids to spend those class times watching the horrible FunTime videos that are supposed to help increase standardized test scores.

As one can probably imagine, the students are not happy about this, and, with the help of Captain Dwight and Origami Yoda, they decide to do something about it. The students of McQuarrie Middle form their own Rebel Alliance and try to figure out a way to put an end to FunTime (and it’s stupid singing calculator). Their plan is risky, but it may just work if they can get enough kids on board. Armed with a battalion of origami Star Wars figures, the students of McQuarrie Middle seek to restore order and balance to the Force at their school.

Will the Rebel Alliance succeed in defeating the dreaded FunTime Menace, or is this war bigger than they realize? And what will this rebel band do when help comes from a surprising source? Learn just how much a determined group of kids can accomplish when you read The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger! May the Force be with you!

_______________

I must say that I enjoyed this book just as much as the other three books in the Origami Yoda series.  I do think, though, that it’s basic message might just be geared toward adults as much as kids. (I hate to say it, but it’s definitely a message that the “powers-that-be” in my own state and district could stand to learn.) If you ask any quality educator, they’ll probably tell you–at length–how they feel about standardized tests.  (In short, we hate them.)  Our hands are tied, though.  We have to do what we’re told…just like our students do.  It doesn’t make anyone happy, and I honestly don’t think you can measure a student’s achievement by looking at one test.

This book, quite frankly, gives me hope that change can happen…and it will begin with students. Once students and their parents have enough of being tested to death, things may just start to shift. I can almost guarantee teachers will get on board fast. Will it happen while I’m still an educator? Only time will tell…

Aside from all of the stuff about the evils of removing electives to focus on test-prep, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett is like candy for Star Wars fans. Every student we meet has their own origami Star Wars figure (which are often matched to the students’ personalities). It’s really cool and kind of makes me want to start a Star Wars club at my school. (That would probably be the greatest club mankind has ever known.)

This book is a great read for the Star Wars fan (or the frustrated educator) in your life.  It demonstrates what a determined group of people are capable of accomplishing if they work together. Good times.

For more information about the Origami Yoda series and author Tom Angleberger, visit http://origamiyoda.com/.

One more thing! This Saturday is Star Wars Reads Day! For information on an event near you, check out http://starwars.com/reads/!

Partials

I feel like my latest read should come with a warning label.  Something like Caution: If you are prone to paranoia or think nearly everything is a government conspiracy, this book will only make your condition worse.  Since I am a teensy bit paranoid, I’m even more so after finishing this book, Partials by Dan Wells.  I read the advance reader’s edition (the final product is due out on February 28, 2012), so some things may change, but I think the general tone of the book will definitely remain the same.  Partials took me on a roller coaster ride, and I think fans of science fiction and dystopian literature will be as captivated and disturbed by this book as I was.

Even the beginning of Partials is ominous:

“When our ancestors were attacked at Pearl Harbor, they called it a day that would live in infamy. The day the Partials attacked us with the RM virus will not live in anything, because there will be none of us left to remember it.”
-President David R. Cregan, March 21, 2065, in a presss conference at the White House. Three hours later he hanged himself.

Our story begins twelve years later. The year is 2079, and nearly the entire human race has been wiped out by a deadly virus known as RM. The few known survivors, those immune to the virus, reside in East Meadow, Long Island, and their hope for a cure is dwindling.  The Partials, the biologically engineered soldiers who released the virus, haven’t been heard from in over a decade.  The Senate controls nearly every aspect of life, and their Hope Act requires every woman eighteen years of age and older to become pregnant in the hope that a baby immune to RM will be born.  Rumor has it, though, that the Senate is about to lower the Hope Act age to sixteen.  A rebel group known as the Voice is determined to thwart the government of East Meadow at every opportunity.  In the middle of it all is Kira…

Kira Walker, a sixteen-year-old medical intern, is growing tired of seeing babies born only to die hours later when RM attacks them.  She knows the cure is out there, and she is determined to find it.  But what can she, a mere intern that no one listens to, possibly do that no one else has done before?  She can study the very beings that released the virus in the first place–the creatures no one has seen in years, those immune to the virus in all its forms.  Kira can capture a Partial.

As Kira tries to find a way to do something that no one has ever attempted, she is met with resistance–from the government, from friends, even from her own unsettled mind.  But she is determined, and she eventually–with a lot of struggling, some law-breaking, and the help of some loyal friends–reaches her goal.  She has a Partial to study.  His name is Samm, and Kira is unprepared for how human he actually is.  Kira is learning things from Samm that turn her entire world upside down.  What if the Partials didn’t release RM?  What if Partials are the key to the survival of the human race?  What if the Partials need humans as much as humans seem to need them? 

Kira doesn’t know if she can trust Samm’s information, but she is also learning that she can’t trust her government, either.  Kira knows the Senate wants total control of the people, and they will use fear–of Partials, of RM, of the Voice, even of Kira–to maintain that control.  Kira’s only choice to prevent civil war is to find a cure.  But how can she find a cure when the only society she’s ever known is on the verge of self-destruction?  When she doesn’t know who she can or cannot trust?  When everything in her life is turning upside down?  In this twisting, unpredictable world, how can one young girl–who may be more important than even she realizes–save humanity before all hope is lost?  As she’ll soon learn, “the only hope for humanity isn’t human.” 

This book took me on quite a ride.  It started with a bang, and it ended on a cliffhanger.  I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book.  Partials is action-packed and will appeal to female readers who want a kick-butt, Katniss-like character, and it will appeal to male readers who enjoy reading about war, fighting, blowing stuff up, and super-soldiers.  (I know this is a bit stereotypical, but it’s also kind of true.)  Like I said above, fans of science fiction and dystopian fiction will definitely find something to enjoy in this book, the first in an anticipated series.  If you like reading about government control, conspiracies, killer viruses, rebellion, and teenagers who think they know everything (and sometimes do), you should check this one out.  Partials will be released to the masses on February 28, 2012.