Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back // Book Review

Author: Shel Silverstein
Genre: Children’s Book
Year Published: 1963
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 112 pages

Shel Silverstein started my love of reading at the ripe young age of five. I’m not too cool to admit that sometimes when I have a bad day I turn to my good friend Where the Sidewalk Ends. So when my little sister bought me a Shel Silverstein book as a birthday present for my 21st birthday I was incredibly, nerdily excited.

This story follows a brave lion who comes to be known as Lafcadio. After eating a hunter and stealing his gun Lafcadio quickly becomes the sharpest shooter in all of Africa. When he gets recruited to join a circus, Lafcadio becomes wildly famous and rich. And in the process might just forget where he came from.

I absolutely love Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back. This quirky tale of self-discover disguised as a children’s book could teach people of all ages a lesson or two. As someone who is about to enter their (potential) last year of college and is trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life, I found great comfort in Lafcadio’s journey. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from the lion who shot back.

Use your talents for good! When Lafcadio first starts shooting he uses it to protect his friends and family. But the aspect of endless marshmallow’s leads him down a road of riches. He gets lonely and bored very quickly.

Being rich and famous isn’t nearly as important as the people in your life. Lafcadio had it all. He had so much that he got bored with all his crazy adventures. He kept searching for bigger and better experiences that ultimately still left him feeling lonely. Even an unlimited supply of marshmallows couldn’t keep him happy.

Never forget where you came from. Lafcadio got so caught up with his fancy new life that he completely forgot where he came from. When he returns to Africa on a hunting trip he is struck by just how much he has changed. So much that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.

And most importantly:
It’s ok to not know where you’re going or what will happen: My favorite quote in this whole book was towards the end. “…he didn’t really know where he was going, but he did know he was going somewhere, because you really have to go somewhere, don’t you? And he didn’t really know what was going to happen to him, but he did know that something was going to happen, because something always does, doesn’t it?” This has seriously become my life motto. I don’t know where I am going in life and what I’m doing, but that’s ok because something will happen in my life! Thanks Lafcadio for validating my uncertainty.

Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back was a fantastic, quick read that both transported me back to my childhood and gave me some new perspective about my adult life. I would honestly recommend this book for readers of all ages.

Rating: 5 marshmallows out of 5

Book Review / The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Year Published: 2014
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Length: 391 page

Synopsis:
Hayley Kincain is far from your typical high school senior. After being home schooled for five years as her dad worked as a semi-truck driver, she finds herself back in the halls of public high school. Throughout first, and last, year in high school Hayley juggles a father suffering from PTSD, trying to access her own memories from her childhood, figuring out the rules to dating, and not doing great at actually passing her classes. Hayley skirts on the brink of disaster in her life on a daily basis. Will she let the memories tear her way through and trust that she can recover? Or will the pressure of taking care of her dad become too much to handle?

My Thoughts:
I just have to start out with proclaiming my love for Laurie Halse Anderson. She is seriously the queen of YA. Anderson takes big issues and weaves them into incredible heart-wrenching tales of love, loss, and belonging.

The ways in which Anderson explained Andy and Hayley’s relationship was so realistic. She didn’t try to sugar coat their dynamic, but showed how complex it was. The constant turmoil Hayley went through of loving and wanting to help her father, but also wanting to just be a normal teenager for once felt was so genuine.

I also loved seeing the highs and lows Andy went through from Hayley’s perspective. This book was a very real exploration of a child living with a parent suffering from PTSD.

I can’t talk about this book without talking about Finn. Hayley and Finn’s relationship was precious, and just as complex as everything else in Hayley’s life. Again, Anderson succeeded in create genuine, realistic relationships between her characters. I think insta-love is all too common in YA. And sure, sometimes it works. But, it wouldn’t have for Finn and Hayley. The fact that Hayley had never really dealt with the realm of boys and relationships became very real in the way she approached her relationship with Finn right from the start. Seriously though, that date he tricked her into? Adorable. Also, the fact that Finn had his own emotional baggage was perfect for Hayley. Sure, they were kind of crap at communicating, but that’s pretty typical for a high school relationship. They definitely learned to be what the each other needed.

For me the sign of a good book is when it makes me emotional. If I am so attached to the lives of these characters that I can’t hold it together, that’s a good sign. This book did just that. I laughed, I cried, I swooned, and I yelled. The Impossible Knife of Memory was just as fantastic as any of Anderson’s other works.

A Really Awesome Mess / Book Review

Author: Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Year Published: 2013
Publisher: Egmont
Length: 275

Synopsis:
Justin is a sixteen year old with daddy issues and a sex drive. Emmy, an adopted Chinese girl, desperately seeks love to the point of developing an eating disorder. Both of these teenagers land in Heartland Academy, a therapeutic boarding school. Thrown into a rag tag group for therapy these two find themselves in crazy adventures, making new friends, and even confronting their own issues.

My Perspective:

I was not the biggest fan of this book. I got it for free for volunteering at a book sale on my campus, so no harm no foul really. Emmy and Justin both annoyed me. I know they were dealing with very valid issues, but they just seemed so whiney. The character change throughout the book felt forced and sudden. They were both so reluctant to work on their own life issues, that when they finally started to it felt ingenuine. I sort of liked the all the other characters in their therapy group, mostly because they were funny. I just had the hardest time getting invested in their lives. Typically, I love books about kids in therapy because usually the characters are complex and I really enjoy trying to figure them out. But, Emmy and Justin just seemed flat and cliche and boring.

Same with the plot. I was not invested in what was happening. It was definitely fun. The kids were all about crazy hijinks. More than they cared about their own character development honestly. Their adventures were a bit unrealistic though.

Overall, I just think this book wasn’t my cup of tea. Or a wrong book at the wrong time type of deal.

My Rating: 1 jailbroken pig out of 5.
You’ll like this book if: You enjoy fun reads full of hijinks and shenanigans.
You’ll dislike this book it: Typical characters that fall flat.

June: The Month of Reading

June was the month of reading! I read more this month than I have read in a really long time and it was fantastic. The combination of ending the school year, only working a few days a week, and a few trips home made for the perfect reading month. Here’s what I read and a few brief thoughts!

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler: I really enjoyed this slightly goofy, mildly dark, and all together different tale of love lost. Handler has a way of writing characters impossible not to fall in love with. I wrote a full review on this one so check it out!

Feed by M.T Anderson: Feed took a route I wasn’t quite expecting it to take, but I liked it more than I thought it would. The love story interwoven with the social commentary on technology was well written and pulled me into the story.

Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up by Grace Helbig: This quirky book is part self-help, part memoir, and 100% funny. Written by Youtube Personality Grace Helbig, Grace’s Guide was the perfect summer read.

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin: I was not a fan of this one. A Really Awesome Mess follows two teens whose problems land them in a therapeutic boarding school. The characters were whiney. The plot was kind of weird and not that interesting. This book just didn’t keep me interested.

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson: This is the last book I read in June. I finished this book eleven days ago and haven’t really read all that much since. I think I still have a massive post-book hangover from this one. Catalyst is definitely not easy to move on from. I loved everything about it from the characters to the plot to the writing. I even loved how much it broke my heart.

So that’s June for you. Hopefully July is just as productive! I just bought a couch for my porch, so I anticipate a lot of reading to happen there. How’s your summer reading going? Any summer recommendations?

Happy Reading,
Sam

Like a Thorn

Author: Claire Vidal
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult Fiction
Year Published: 2002
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Length: 119 heart-wrenching pages

Synopsis:
Melie is a strange child with an interesting relationship with her mother. Her mother goes from “Rosey Mother” to “Dark Mother” in a blink of an eye. Melie begins to invent rituals she believes will counter her mother’s erratic behavior. This slowly, but surely spirals out of Melie’s control.

My Perspective:
I got this book for free a few months ago for volunteering at a book sale on my college campus. The cover is beautiful and the blurb intrigued me. When I decided to start this whole read my book shelf in a year thing, I figured this was a good place to start. It’s tiny, only 119 pages, and the print is pretty big. But, oh man, does this book pack a punch. I don’t think I have ever felt so many conflicting and confusing emotions before in one little book. I couldn’t decide if I was on Melie’s side or I thought she was over-reacting. I couldn’t decide where exactly to place her mom in the middle of all this. I also feel as though I was missing so much of the story. It was so small and simple that I felt like I needed more information to decide what my emotions were.

That being said, I did think that even though it seemed simply written it was beautifully written. It probably sounds even more beautiful in French. Like a Throne is a simple, yet complicated story of a young girl spiraling into mental illness and how those in her life react to them. This quick, but heart wrenching read will keep you thinking for days.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 antique gifts
You’ll this book if: You like thinkers. If you like dark books and psychologically challenging reads.
You’ll dislike this book if: Happy reads where everything turns out ok in the end.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

*Disclaimer: We can thank my Young Adult Lit professor for the format of this review.  I actually wrote this for an assignment, but I really  like the format of it so here it goes!*

Author: M. T Anderson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year Published: 2008
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Length: 353 pages that should be accompanied by a dictionary
 

Synopsis:
Octavian, a boy raised amongst hordes of academicians in Boston, is given an education to rival that of European Princes all in the name of science. Octavian and his mother are given the riches of the world and adored by all the scholars that ever visit, all while every detail of their being is monitored and recorded. After forming a friendship with a servant named Bono, Octavian dares to step through the one door in the house he is forbidden to enter, thus finding the true nature of the experiment where he himself is the subject. Finally discovering the complicated, slightly horrifying truth, Octavian’s life is shifted forever. Never will her return to the blissfully ignorant life of simply academia.

Set in the backdrop of the American Revolution, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is an intelligently written exploration of the battle between science and humanity and the true nature of liberty.

My Perspective:
First off, holy moly did this book stretch my vocabulary to the moon and back. I read this book with the dictionary app on my phone open and at the ready. Not that this is a bad thing, just made it a little more challenging to get through. In fact, the language used in this book helped set the stage for Octavian’s life. This book is set in a) the late 1700s and b) a house full of scientists, philosophers, and academics. It wouldn’t be believable if it had been written in the language that I am accustomed too, that of a twenty year-old college kid in the twenty-first century.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing took me through a whole roller coaster of emotions. I began to feel attached to Octavian very early on therefore I was definitely rooting for him throughout the entire book. I also found many of the other characters in this book incredibly odd. As Octavian grew older and began to face more hardships, I was sitting on the edge of my seat in suspense. I wanted so badly for Octavian’s life to turn out ok, but I really doubted that this book would have a decent outcome. It was, however, fairly comforting that I knew a sequel existed so I knew the end couldn’t be that bad.

M.T. Anderson not only pulled me into the age of the Revolution, but also weaved a narrative that made me laugh at the ridiculous moments, my heart break with injustice, and rejoice at the idea that there is still some hope in the darkest places.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 cups of tea!
You’ll like this book if: You enjoy emotional, yet highly intellectual narratives that complicate views on well-known histories or if you find conversations about what is just and ethical interesting.
You’ll dislike this book if: You enjoy easy, light-hearted reads that wrap up nicely at the end.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

I am typically not a huge fan of science fiction books. I’m definitely more of a contemporary kind of girl when it comes to my reading habits. However, when I read the blurb for The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness I was instantly intrigued. This book had been on my want to read list for a while, so the other day when I saw it at the library I just had to check it out. And I loved it.

Young Todd Hewitt, who is on the brink of manhood, is suddenly forced to flee his home of Prentisstown with just a rucksack full of supplies and his dog. That is, until he meets Viola, a girl from a settler ship sent on a scouting mission. Viola is the only girl Todd has ever met due to the Noise, the disease that causes every man’s thoughts to be heard at all times and kills women. At least that’s what Todd’s small amount of schooling taught him. Viola and Todd partner up and flee from danger together. Along the way Todd finds out a lot truth about the life he thought he lived.

First I have to mention the relationships in this book. They were so wonderfully authentic. Before Viola Todd had never even seen a girl before. At first their friendship was awkward and quiet and sort of weird, but that is totally normal. Ness didn’t feel the need to make this an instant friendship or rush it along. They way it progressed was perfect. As time went on and they continued to journey together you could see them getting closer and caring about each other more and more. One of my favorite parts is when Todd realizes that he can read Viola, even though she doesn’t have noise. I love when he jumps up with the realization that he knows her well enough to know how she is feeling. Or when he is with Doctor Snow and Viola refuses to leave his side. Oh, I just love them together. I am excited to see their friendship grow even more as I read the next two books.

Also, Todd’s relationship with Ben and Cillian is so tragically beautiful. In the beginning Todd and Cillian’s relationship seems kind of rocky, but as soon as Todd has to flee you see the love they have for each other. Ness did a great job portraying that familial connection. I was so happy when Ben and Todd were reunited that I started crying. I could practically feel the love radiating off the page.

Don’t even get me started on Manchee. I am not ok with his ending.

Not only were the relationships in this book portrayed so wonderfully, but so were the antagonists. Every time Aaron popped up again I was so angry! He was the last thing Todd and Viola needed in their lives. And yet every few chapters there he was. Seriously Aaron, no wants you here. And then there’s Mayor Prentiss up on his horse getting everyone else to do his dirty work. I dislike him strongly.

The Knife of Never Letting Go was so action packed and fast paced. It definitely kept me intrigued. I kept having to cover the next page so I didn’t read ahead! This book might just change my opinion on sci-fi. I can’t wait to dive into the sequel.

Happy Reading,
Sam