THEY CALLED US ENEMY by George Take, illustrated by Eisinger Scott Becker: An Essential New Graphic Novel!

July 20, 2019

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, illustrated by Eisinger Scott Becker

I am a big fan of George Takei; when I was a girl, I watched him in episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series as Hikaru Sulu.  More recently, I have admired his social activism and support worldwide for democracy, especially for LGBQ rights.  Now I admire him even more for his courage and conviction in the face of the oppression he and his family suffered during the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. What a gift his graphic novel memoir is!  I am recommending and gifting the book to all my friends and family.  It’s perfect to share with middle grade and high school readers, and to read as an adult.  Be prepared for intense discussion!

Both Jim and I read it straight through once we started it.  Though I knew a little about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during the war, I learned so much about the racism and political atmosphere that led to this disgraceful and shocking period. Takei’s mother was born in the United States, but his father, while raised in the U.S., had been born in Japan. He was not a U.S. citizen because at the time it was illegal for Asians to apply for U.S. citizenship. (Shocking, right?)  Not only that, the Japanese Americans all lost their homes, their jobs, and worst of all, their freedom. Takei and his family survived 4 years in two different internment camps.

Takei uses flashbacks as well as more contemporary episodes to document his experiences.  It is such a timely book for all of us to read now. To quote George Takei:  “The resonance of my childhood imprisonment is so loud today…every headline, every morning…It’s an endless cycle of one inhumanity, cruelty, injustice, repeated generation after generation. And it’s got to stop. We have to learn our history. America is a land that is made up of the desendents of immigrants.” (Washington Post interview with George Takei, published 7/16/19).

Most highly recommended!



OTHER EARTH By Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: Book 2 of the Last Reality Series

July 13, 2019

OtherEarth by Jason Segel and Kirstin Miller

We are currently embarking on Season 2 of the HBO series Westworld, and reading the Last Reality Series is the perfect complement. When we last left Simon and his best friend Kat, they were trying to rescue themselves and others in the digital landscape that takes place in the video game of Other World.  As the adventure continues, the plot thickens:  the Company is even more evil than previously believed and has created an even more terrifying aspect to their digital ownership:  OtherEarth, an augmented-reality game that can not only kill, it has the power to erase the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy. Look for deepening relationships, surprises in the plot, and high adventure.  Book 3 comes out in November!

OTHERWORLD by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

July 2, 2019

Otherworld by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

This summer, our family is making time to read family-recommended books.  Jacob suggested we all read one of his favorite recent discoveries, Otherworld.  It was a happy coincident, too, because I had been thinking he might like to read the classic Ender’s Game.  And when I read the reviews of Otherworld, one stated that it was an intriguing cross between Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I agree, though I think you could also add a dash of Westworld and a pinch of The Matrix.  If that doesn’t pique your interest, then this probably isn’t the right choice for you!

In this near-future sci-fi, a popular video game is advanced to new heights.  For some players, with a headset, it feels as if you are really in this world through your avatar.  Of course, when you are “killed” or hurt, it is your avatar who is sent back to the start-up point.  But in a terrifying advance, some players are hooked up by disks attached to their brains.  For these “guests,” it is all too real:  the good news is, you can touch taste, smell, feel everything. And that’s also the bad news, because if you are hurt, you are truly injured.  It’s that real!

Kat and Simon are at the center of an adventure that hopes to save the “real world” from the villains (The Company) that rule (and reap profits from) the players that become addicted to  “Otherworld.”  It’s more complex than that, though.  The characters are intriguing:  Simon is a tall, thin, and gawky brilliant teen, known for his prominent snoz, inherited from his low-level gangster grandfather, who also becomes a minor character.  Kat has her own mysterious background and present-life with a step-father who is one of the arch-villains of the Company.  Lots of twists and turns as the story delves deeper. Other characters include a brainy teen hacker, a Russian oligarch, a few adult programmers with their own issues, and more.  I am looking forward to discussing it with Jacob and the rest of the family. And then, reading the sequel, of course (Other Earth).

TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

June 21, 2019

To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Another middle grade novel to recommend for your summer reading pleasure.  It’s perfect for my family:  both Meghan and I (Ruth here) love Meg Wolitzer’s novels (especially The Interestings and The Wife.  This is her first foray into writing for teens and tweens, and she and her co-author are superb writers who really connect across the ages.  Also, last summer, our family dipped into the past with watching both versions of the movie The Parent Trap.  I loved it as a teen myself (the Hayley Mills version), and the twins really enjoyed the Lindsey Lohan movie from the 1990’s.  Well, To Night Owl from Dogfish plays on the “parent trap” theme a bit.  Only this time, two twelve-year old girls are being sent to summer camp by their Dads who have fallen in love and want the girls to meet and become friends.  Instead of plotting to get their parents back together, as Hayley Mills and Lindsey Lohan tried to do, these girls decide they must find a way to break their Dads up. . .at least at first.  The book is entirely composed of texts, emails and letters, and I love the distinct voices of all the characters that come through their written words.  The girls, of course become fast friends in spite of themselves, and when their Dads do split up, Avery and Bett’s plans take off in new directions.  The book explores family, friendship, bravery, courage, and is never predictable (unlike The Parents Trap!).  Meghan and I both really enjoyed it and are waiting for Molly to dig in and let us know her take on it.  We’ll keep you posted!

ONCE AND FUTURE by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta: A YA King Arthur Retelling

June 14, 2019

Once and Future by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta

Since I first read The Once and Future King by T.H. White years ago when I was a teen, I have been fascinated by the King Arthur myth, including the central character of Merlin.  So when I heard that a new retelling of the mythology was being published, and the King Arthur would be a young woman, I was already sold.  But the book is even more mind-blowing than you can imagine.  First of all, take the genre:  set in the future, it’s a sci-fi thriller, with notes of magical realism and high adventure.  Then, the gender explorations are wonderful:    Ari Helix, our reluctant new reincarnation of King Arthur, is a lesbian teen, a Middle Eastern immigrant of sorts. Her knights of the roundtable include such a  diversity of characters, not to mention Merlin himself, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager.  As one reader confided, “Readers of all sexualities, genders, orientations and melanin will find themselves represented here, and in a way that is not ‘about’ being ace or fluid or straight or whatever–that’s just one aspect of the character that is basically as mundane and routine as having brown eyes or being taller than everyone else.”

If course, there is a monumental quest at the heart of the tale:  Ari and her community must defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind. Readers will be caught up in this quest, thanks to the witty writing and complex characters, not to mention the humor and compassion at the heart of the tale.  Highly recommended!

THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTENING GIRL by Stacy McAnulty: An Excellent “Surviving Middle School” Novel

June 9, 2019

The Miscalculations of Lightening Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Meet reluctant middle school student Lucy, aka Lightening Girl.  Her family nickname comes from her terrifying experience being hit by a bolt of lightening–and surviving.  The lightening jolt gives her a super-power of sorts:  acquired math genius.  Ever since, she’s been home-schooled, and now is ready for college, at least academically.  But her wise grandmother who is raising her wants her to grow in other ways as well, and throws down the gauntlet: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!).  Lucy’s experience is difficult, yet fulfilling as she makes friends and discovers new interests and capabilities.  But she also must deal with social issues such as  mean girls, and deciding whom to trust.  Her OCD rituals are sensitively handled, as well as her true love of the beauty of numbers.  The dialogue of all the characters ring true, and I appreciated the details of her growing friendship with both Windy and Levi.  Some intriguing twists and turns in the plot line, with heart-wrenching surprises.  Highly recommended!


May 31, 2019

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras

Last week, I reviewed The Mad Wolf’s Daughter–with enthusiasm, you’ll recall.  I should have waited until I read the companion novel so I could share my recommendation for both books at the same time.  The second novel picks up right where the first left off:  Our heroine Dress has saved her father and brothers’ war-band, as well as the young Lord Emerick, who is being hunted by his evil uncle (who wants him dead).  Drest continue to grow as a character, as do her friends Emerick and Dig, not to mention Drest’s family members.  We also learn interesting information about Drest’s background (hint:  her mother is still alive!)Emerick is still healing, which considerably hampers their efforts to retake the castle, and at times, even to survive.  The adventure is fast-paced and exciting: Drest narrowly escapes capture by a knight who wants the 30 pounds placed upon her “wolf’s head,” which she later learns means that anyone who sees her has permission to kill her for the reward.  Will Drest and the war-band be able to survive to put the rightful Lord Faintree at the head of his castle?  Read on! A perfect quest tale for middle graders.