Lari's Bookshelf

I'm a librarian in Washington state. I'm a fan of philosophy, sociology, young adult literature, graphic novels, macabre lit and more.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong - James W. Loewen

This fascinating book by Professor James W. Loewen, delves into the American mythos. Loewen points out why history is such a hated subject among the nation's youth. In order to separate fact from fiction, he compares 12 commonly used American History textbooks with historical research and authentication.

He explains that history is presented as a series of facts to be learned and then regurgitated for a test in our nation's high schools. History has come to mean memorizing a bunch of dates, and learning about historical figures who are elevated to hero status in American history textbooks. Primary sources are rarely, if ever, used or reffered to. Can you imagine taking a Shakespeare class without actually reading any Shakespeare?

He clearly explains that American textbooks seem to be obsessed with creating "heroes" out of our nation's historical figures. This is harmful because they start to whitewash prominent figures in American history, without addressing their flaws. This puts students in a bad predicament for disillusionment. And from what I was able to infer, there are two ways for disillusionment:

1. The potential for disillusionment by discovering the "hero" has flaws.

2. The potential for disillusionment in oneself. (For who could ever live up to some of these historical figures we put on pedestals?)

Loewen clears up facts about early explorers to the Western hemisphere, prominent figures like Helen Keller, and iconic figures from American History like Christopher Columbus. National myths are examined and put into perspective.

The book juxtaposes the myth and the reality for the reader. Paintings are used to aid in discussing perceptions of the treatment of Columbus.

The glorified, "heroic" version of Columbus as seen in the US Capitol's Rotunda:

Landing of Columbus  by John Vanderlyn

The unfortunate truth for the natives of Hispaniola:

Theodore de Bry's Woodcut on the Treatment of Natives by the Spanish

I think the author does what he sets out to do in the beginning: make history a much more fascinating subject by making it more real, and acknowledging that there is just as much controversy and debate in the past, as there is in the present. History is not a neatly little boxed up collection of self-contained "facts," but a tapestry of human experience as diverse in perspective as the human race itself.

Here is a video on the book's amazon page. Loewen gives a no-nonsense history of a Civil War Statue monument in Alexandria, Virginia:


Clean - Amy Reed

This book is one of the best teen books I've read in a long while. It takes an unapologetic look at the ugly face of teen drug addiction. The five different characters in the book are addicted to different drugs for different reasons, and all come from different backgrounds. (Except the fact that they are all white, something which is pointed out explicitly in the narrative.)

As mentioned in the book, it is pretty much like the Breakfast Club with drug addicts. I couldn't think of a better way to put it. The character development is well done, and I really enjoyed reading all the character narratives, except one who I really couldn't get into (but that may have been intentional).

The author writes in first person present tense, and hops into five different points of view with the five different teen addicts. I am impressed with how fluidly she executes this challenging way to tell a story. Some sections are written in first person essay, and other sections are answers to questionnaires the characters get in rehab.

I loved the theme in the book that really empowered the protagonists. Jason put it nicely when he says that they start being adults when they stop blaming their parents or poor environment for the crappy decisions they make, and start making good choices despite their upbringing.

The ending was a superb letter from one character to the others, and it could basically be read to any teen facing drug addiction. I don't want to say who and what exactly was said so as not to ruin it. It was enjoyable and engrossing, and there were moments where I held my breath or cried.

Read this book.


Legacy by Cayla Kluver

Legacy - Cayla Kluver

I was really excited to read this book. The fact that the author was so young when she wrote this created a lot of interest for me. I thought Legacy had a great beginning (major international war, infant massacre, baby missing...). It had such an epic background, but how did the actual plot measure up? Honestly, I didn't feel there was much of a story arc.

The problem of Alera and her inevitable betrothal to the egotistical, military man Steldor is beat over the reader's head, without really introducing any other problems the character must face. Alera doesn't change very much from beginning to end either,  leaving the book vapid of any serious character development.

Alera as a protagonist disappointed me. She seemed a little too naive (even for a teenager). Not that being naive is a bad thing, but she annoyed me. For instance, she tattles on her beloved bodyguard for leaving his post, then she seems shocked that he gets fired, and is upset because he's mad at her. Not that all in all those wouldn't be normal reactions, just the execution of how the character has these feelings and her action and dialogue came off as a little irksome.

Secondary characters were flat and uninteresting. The one character that intrigued me was Alera's former bodyguard, but Narian, her love interest, the one Alera focuses all her attention on, is kind of the stereotypical underdog. Also, I noticed that sentences and dialogue seemed to repeat themselves throughout the book. I can't remember the exact place I found the quotes, but there is one bit of dialoge that I read in the beginning along the lines of "I know that father won't approve of any other suitor to be my husband other than Steldor!" Then 300 pages later, "Father won't approve of a suitor who is not Steldor!" We get it. We get it. Stop whining Alera and actually DO SOMETHING.

In terms of the setting, there was a part where Alera mentions how her father had her study Latin. This pulled me out of the world altogether. What is Latin doing in Hytanica? Also, some of the prose seemed wooden and forced, as if the author became to friendly with a thesaurus while she wrote this.

Reading Legacy is kind of like tearing off a band aid at a ridiculously slow pace. You realize early on that Alera is too passive to truly fight for herself, so you know that unless a knight in shining armor saves her*, she is going to end up succumbing to her father's and Steldor's wishes. You just need to read 400 or so pages to actually see it happen. The book is filled with needless descriptions of clothes and furniture. It could lose 200 pages and be, pretty much, the same thing. Only better because then it would consist of less text to get through.

I will not be reading the other books in this series. However, I am interested in following the author's career and other stories she may write. There is a lot of potential there, and I have a feeling she'll be successful in the long run.

The reason I am giving this one more card than one is because I think this is a fabulous achievement for someone the author's age. I also was intrigued in the beginning, even though my interest in the book fizzled out rather quickly

*Despite the fact the novel appears(?) to look down on the misogynistic culture of Hytanica, I find plots with women who do little to fight for themselves, and allow themselves to be governed by men, a tad sexist. Yes Alera, "spoke up" for herself now and then, but I don't think she was that strong of a character.

Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson

Ultraviolet - R.J. Anderson

"Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. This is not her story. Unless you count the part where I killed her."


Alison is a 16 year old girl who wakes up in a mental hospital. She has no memory of how she got there, but as time and therapy soon show, her last memory before her psychological breakdown was of a fellow classmate, Tori, disintegrating.


Tori has since gone missing, and the community and police suspect Alison. She was the last one to see Tori and was found with Tori's blood on her hands. Alison believes that her rare abilities may have killed Tori.


Immediately, I picked up on the fact that the narrator is a synesthete. Synesthesia is when different neural pathways in the brain, connect different regions related to senses. Because of this, Alison can see music, taste voices, hear what she sees, etc. A very common form of synesthesia is assigning colors and personalities to numbers and letters. For example, in the image below, the left is how you would see the image if you were in the majority of the population, but the right is how you might view it if you had synesthesia:



Because of this rather fascinating character trait, the book, written in first person, is full of sensory descriptions, and it's totally appropriate because the character narrating the story is a synesthete! I loved the world the author painted for the reader from Alison's point of view, it was a huge brain treat.


Unfortunately, for Alison, her mother was scared of her daughter's phenomenal sense perception, and made made Alison ashamed of her sensory abilities. Because of this, Alison always hid what she could "see" from others. Eventually, Alison meets a friendly scientist with striking violet eyes, and as she starts to learn more about herself as he studies her at the mental institution.


The big part of the book, the part that has me still thinking, and what really made this work, is that Alison is most definitely NOT a reliable narrator. She is in a mental institution and evidence shows she may have murdered a classmate. As the book progresses, her perceptions of reality change drastically and her abilities as a synesthete begin to amplify (which isn't normal even for synesthetes).


I don't want discuss the end of the story because I fear to ruin it, but this novel definitely crosses a couple of genres, making it difficult for me to label (which is a good thing). I also think that because our narrator is so unreliable, the end of the story is rather open ended, as we have no one else confirming "what happened" other than Alison.


This novel is an amalgam of different genres; it is paranormal, a psychological thriller, a murder mystery, and even science fiction. As the reader begins to think they are in for a certain kind of story, they get pulled in a completely different direction. It also made me think about a lot of questions pertaining to the nature of an individual's perceptions and "absolute reality," and is there such a thing?


I would recommend this book to most teens. It's a lot of fun.

Domestic Violets

Domestic Violets - Matthew Norman

Tom Violet lives in the shadow of a man he wishes he could be, his father. He works at a job he hates, has a great relationship with a girl he shouldn't be with, and a marriage that, frankly, sucks. Add a dog with anxiety, a cute daughter who sees the world as it is, a corporate goon for an arch nemesis, a few other quirky characters, and you have an entertaining, coming of age novel about a 30-something year old husband/son/father/writer trying to figure out who he is.

I have to say that while the first half of the book was interesting and funny enough, it hovered around a three star rating for me. It starts out as aimless as Tom himself. The first scene is a rather awkward sexual encounter with his wife. Tom's been struggling with erectile dysfunction and the hilarity with that ensues over the next few chapters. He is also the son of an award winning author, and, as an aspiring writer himself, Tom's just finished a "secret" novel that's tucked away in his drawer. The only problem is that his father arrives in a drunken stupor in the middle of the night to tell his son that he's just won the Pulitzer Prize.

The author is able to do some great things with character development and perspective. The reader knows they don't have an entirely, reliable narrator, and that works splendidly for how the author wants the reader to see Tom. I think that's why I was not as enthusiastic about the book in the beginning. Here I am, a 20-something, old married woman, and my life and Tom's are just so... different. But then Tom does something drastic half-way through the book to make a stand for himself, and I really connected with that. Tom also starts to make some difficult decisions about who he is, and who he wants to be. This is why I would describe the book as coming of age for the nearly middle-aged. I could also easily imagine this as a film with a style along the lines of "Little Miss Sunshine."

It was a great read: funny, believable, and with a lot of heart.

American Vampire Vol 01

American Vampire #1 - Stephen King, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque

American Vampire is not just another vampire rehash. Scott Snyder and Stephen King are co-authors in a one of a kind introduction to a compelling new addition to the modern vampire mythos. King’s narrative illustrates the creation of the first American Vampire, Skinner Sweet, an outlaw who makes enemies of an elite group of Euro-vamps.


Snyder’s storyline takes place in 1925, a few decades later, in Los Angeles where would-be actress Pearl Jones’s life is turned upside down by an encounter with the undead. She is given a chance for bloody revenge, however, when she is made vampire by none other than Skinner Sweet. Conflicts between Euro and American Vamps ensue, and the work delightfully lays down some new vampire rules.


Rafael Albuquerque’s crisp lines and colors pop in this graphic novel’s beautifully designed panels. Shocking violence, as well as eerie settings, capture the reader’s attention. American Vampire alternates between storylines, giving a well rounded introduction to the events surrounding the creation of two American Vampires. This volume contains an introduction by King and some interesting back matter, including original concept art, and scripts. An amalgem of the American West and vampires... how could you possibly go wrong?


Copper - Kazu Kibuishi I just enjoyed reading the copper book for the first time. Interestingly enough, my first exposure to copper was in book format vs. web format. It was a highly pleasant experience. Copper is a story about a boy and his dog. Both embark on journeys together and retain a solid friendship. The work reminded me of two kinds of naturalism that could apply to one's thoughts and actions, and although not as overt, it reminded me a lot of this xkcd comic here (with Copper being the "enchanted" one and Fred the "disenchanted" one). Beautiful art. Engaging panels. Well worth adding to a personal or library collection. (At the very least, check out the original webcomic, though the actual book is a gorgeous thing to behold.) Also, there is a great bonus at the end when the author explains his creative process and shows how copper goes from an idea to a finished comic.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice - Boring as sin.

Perfect Timing

Perfect Timing - Michele Ashman Bell

Quick Plot Summary: Kenidee (note the stupid fake Utah name) serves a mission in Florida, and while she is there, her mother dies. When she comes home, she has to deal with the fact that her father has remarried a mother of three. She feels lost and confused and wants to leave to Salt Lake to wait for her missionary Brendan, but her plans are delayed so she eventually she falls in love with Camden, a childhood friend, who is now divorced and the father of two children.


I would say that the number one strength of this story would be that it builds suspense fairly easily in the beginning. Kenidee is faced with the fact that her mother is sick and dies while she is on her mission, and her father remarries. HOWEVER, this plot was extremely predictable. As soon as she returns from her mission to find out Camden is divorced, the reader just knows that she is going to end up with Camden and not Brendan, especially with how Brendan sounded distant in his letters. "His letters had slowly become more formal, which she understood, but the first time he wrote 'Dear Sister Ashford' she’d lost it" (17).


It's obvious that the Huang family will come in between Brendan and Kenidee, and I was even able to assume that there was another love interest for Brendan in the family, BEFORE they came to the country, because Kenidee was upset at their coming and because they were all Brendan could talk about. And because he constantly talked about how he loved the people and he felt like he was Taiwanese when he and Kenidee went on a date (271-275).


I didn't feel the characters were interesting enough to justify the actionless plot. It got really slow at times. Kenidee seems like a strong person in that she was able to complete her mission even though her mother passed away. Tension really builds within the character as she comes home, "Her mission had worn her out. She was physically and emotionally drained. She didn’t have strength to face what she was about to face. But she had no choice. People, some she knew, some she didn’t, expected her to come off the plane and act like she was happy to be home. But truth be told, she would be happy to stay on the plane until it turned around and landed back in Florida" (19).


She was also great at helping other characters with their household chores. However, I really thought Kenidee was very superficial. She seemed to be dishonest with herself and others, especially with all the times that I read about her fake smiles: "Kenidee forced a smile" (34), "Kenidee faked a smile" (149), "Kenidee kept the smile plastered on her face" and "her enthusiasm as fake as her smile" (260), "plastered on smile" (293), "Kenidee didn't realize she was such a good actress" (303), "smile felt wooden on her face" (311). It made her to be an unlikable protagonist.


She also cried a lot, which got annoying.


Kenidee's superficiality really shines through for me when she doesn't seem at all upset that her friend Dolly is crying and having such a hard time with her grandmother passing away, and she only gets upset when Dolly says she can't go with her to California anymore. She doesn't even cry until she is asked whether or not she is going:


"Are you still going to go to Sacramento?' That question flipped Kenidee’s emotional switch onto high. 'Probably not,' she managed to answer. Then before tears erupted, she abruptly left the room and went straight to bed. The quicker this day ended the less time there was for anything else to go wrong!" (P. 200)


Yeah, stupid friend's grandma. Why'd you have to go and die and ruin Kenidee's plans, huh? Self-centered grandma with her little having to die act . . . . /sarcasm


Brendan's dialogues were slightly didactic, bordering on the robotic, like when he told his parents that he got knifed and didn't seek medical care because he didn't want the President to close his area:


"Oh my goodness!" Patricia exclaimed. "Had I known I would have-well, I don’t know what, but I can’t believe you didn’t get medical care. How did you know it wouldn’t get infected?"


"I had faith, Mom." (P. 253)


Ultimately, it was really hard for me to like the protagonist and supporting characters. Combined with an actionless plot, it amounted to a huge waste of time.


I want those hours of my life back.


There were also some racist overtones throughout the book. But I won't elaborate on those.

The Doll in the Garden

The Doll in the Garden - Mary Downing Hahn I first read this book when I was 8 or 9 years old, and re-read it again and again until I graduated from elementary school. I remember, that when I was that young, this book totally rocked... however, I don't know how it would appeal to an adult who never read it growing up.

Currently reading

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson