Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano

Summary:  A prime number is a lonely thing.  It can only be divided by itself or by one; it never truly fits with another.  Alice and Mattia, both "primes," are misfits haunted by early tragedies.  When the two meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred damaged spirit.  Years later, a chance encounter reunites them and forces a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface.  But can two prime numbers ever find a way to be together?  This brilliantly conceived and elegantly written debut novel by the youngest winner ever of the prestigious Premio Strega award has sold more than one million copies in Italy.  The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a stunning meditation on loneliness, love, and what it means to be human.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, giving me the eyeball and muttering read me, woman at odd intervals so this weekend I finally gave in.  I'll be honest, this book gave me the mixed feels. The writing was compelling, in that, like a river, it just sort of swept me away regardless of how I felt about it.  Sometimes the story was gentle and languid and other times it tossed me around, pushing me up against logs or dragging me under.  That's some powerful writing, but I can't say that I entirely loved the experience and I often thought about just throwing in the towel.  I'll explain a bit further...

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is almost entirely character/relationship driven, with setting barely putting a toe on stage.  In fact, I read three-quarters of the book before I realized most of it took place in Italy.  The where just didn't matter.  What did matter were the characters, their choices and interactions.  The main characters, Alice and Mattia, were two people so very different, broken, and alone.  The story began in their childhood and wound through and around key moments in their lives.  The author described their intermittent high school interactions as "a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much silence, a clean and empty space where both could come back to breathe when the walls of their school became too close for them to ignore the feeling of suffocating."  I desperately wanted the 'mains' to really find each other (and themselves) and to have someone who could appreciate their differences, love their brokenness, and help them heal.  In some ways, I got what I wanted and in other ways I did not.

Unfortunately, it was the absolute vileness of a certain secondary character and the bullying, sexual situations, and crude subject matter that swirled around them that made me want to throw in the towel.  It was quite unsettling.  Viola, specifically, is a horrid horrid person.  She is like the sexually-aggressive Dolores Umbridge of this book and I couldn't hate her more.  Denis? Well, he's not so much vile as just lonely and confused about his sexuality, but I could have done without most of the details his story provided. To distance myself a bit, I skimmed over anything that got too graphic, but that fact that I kept having to do so made it rather hard to love the book in its entirety. 

One aspect of this book that I found interesting (and it was probably my favorite part of the book) was the way mathematics factored in to the story.  Mattia was exceptionally gifted, especially in math, and often preoccupied with the visual mathematics in the world around him.  Through his musings, the author introduced a concept that I'd never heard of before and that I find fascinating -- that of 'twin' primes.  Here's an thought-provoking excerpt that not only demonstrates what I mean in regards to the mathematical themes in the book but also showcases the author's writing abilities:
Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and by themselves.  They hold their place in an infinite series of natural numbers, squashed, like all numbers, between two others, but one step further than the rest.  They are suspicious, solitary numbers, which is why Mattia though they were wonderful.  Sometimes he thought they had ended up in that sequence by mistake, that they'd been trapped, like pearls strung on a necklace.  Other times he suspected that they too would have preferred to be like all the others, just ordinary numbers but for some reason they couldn't do it.  This second thought struck him mostly at night, in the chaotic interweaving images that comes before sleep, when the mind is too weak to tell itself lies.
In his first year at university, Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special.  Mathematicians call them twin primes:  pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching.  Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43.  If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer.  You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop a distressing presentiment that the pairs encountered up until that point were accidental, that solitude is the true destiny.  Then, just when you're about to surrender, when you no longer have the desire to go on counting, you come across another pair of twins, clutching each other tightly.  There is a common conviction among mathematicians that however far you go, there will always be another two, even if no one can say where exactly, until they are discovered.   
Mind.  Blown.  Such a fascinating concept and (in case you didn't catch it) it's also a not-so-subtle reference to Mattia and Alice's relationship over the years.  If I had to pick a page that best encompassed the entirety of The Solitude of Prime Numbers (minus the sexual elements), well, you just read it.

Booklist called this book "Beautiful and affecting. An intimate psychological portrait of two 'prime numbers'--together alone and along together."  It's an apt description.  However, though I loved the writing and was intrigued by the main characters journey and certain themes, I had a hard time overcoming my revulsion at some of the subject matter.  As such, I don't think I could recommend this book to most people I know.  Whether you like this book or not might depend on how much you fall into the category of "sensitive reader."  You'll have to make that call.

My Rating: 2 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Move along.  There are a handful of swear words, a variety of sexual themes and situations, instances of self-harm, and triggers for anyone struggling with an eating disorder.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean - Lauren Child

Summary: It's not easy to concentrate at school when mysterious things are happening all around you. In fact, Clarice Bean is starting to feel just like her favorite heroine: Ruby Redfort, schoolgirl detective.

Clarice and her utterly best friend, Betty Moody, are planning to ace their book project about Ruby and win the class prize, until Betty disappears into thin air, and horrible teacher Mrs. Wilberton teams Clarice up with the naughtiest boy in school. Will her new partner ruin everything? Will Betty ever come back? And what on earth happened to the silver trophy everyone's hoping to win?

Lauren Child brings her trademark wacky wit and eccentric visual energy to a full-length, fastpaced Clarice Bean episode that will charm even the most capricious reader. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I first discovered Lauren Child through the delightful children's show Charlie and Lola which is based on her picture books of the same name.  Child has an uncanny ability to write children so utterly well, particularly with dialogue.  The way her characters speak just feel like a child and how they observe the world.

Which is why I love Utterly Me, Clarice Bean so very much--the voice.  I love a unique first person voice, and love when they are so strong that person just becomes real.  Right away we're pulled straight into Clarice's life: "This is me, Clarice Bean.  I am not an only child, but I wish I was."

And from then on, we are taken along Clarice Bean's daily life, which is simple enough, except that the way this story is told you just don't want to put the book down.  Clarice and her best friend love these books called Ruby Redfort (I think a take on Nancy Drew), and they decide to become detectives and use the Ruby books to help guide them in how a detective should behave, which I also love because I love when children love books.  The characters in this book are also great, Clarice, her friend Betty, the naughty boy Karl, and Clarice's funny grandpa who is harboring several dogs in their house

Another fun thing about this book--the typeset.  Clarice has a vivid imagination, and often the words on the page will swoop and swirl, which only adds to the fun narrative.

And then we have Child's cute illustrations, her characters with big eyes, and the feel of someone playing cut and paste with magazine pictures, which works so well for her style of writing.

I have actually lost track of how many times I've read this book, it's one of those books that I love to pick up every couple of months and read again because the voice is just so charming.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing offensive.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dry - Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman

Summary: When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  It’s been awhile since I’ve read any real post-apocalyptic YA Fic. There are always the fantasy novels that are dealing with societies on complete collapse after some far-in-the-past catastrophic event. And there are lots of books out there with “the chosen one” who is either a queen or needs to defeat the queen or comes from a lower point of society to overthrow those in charge etc., etc., etc. I think you know what I’m talking about. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a good old-fashioned something-realistic-happens-that-causes-a-societal-collapse sort of situation. This is one of those books.

You’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the droughts around the world, particularly in California (so it couldn’t be a rock in California). This novel deals with the scenario of the water finally being gone in California and the faucets turning off and people just not having water. It’s YA Fic so of course the parents are somewhat idiots and the kids have to solve all the probs (which, who knows, may be real if it ever happens? Idk). The kids are resourceful and clever, and they do a remarkable job of surviving on their own. They are faced with very real and adult-like situations, and yet, despite all of this, there is just the right combination of peeps in their little band of misfits that they are able to figure it all out and face catastrophes together and tra-la-la.

I know I sound sarcastic, but I’m really not trying to be. I actually enjoyed this book. I like good, snarky teenage characters, and I like ones that combine the right levels of intelligence and street smarts but also obviously have weaknesses. The characters weren’t as well-developed as other YA Fic books I’ve read, but I think part of that is because it is relatively short. I would have liked more character development, especially with some of the main characters who remained a mystery pretty much throughout, and yet played a large part in the story as a whole. This book would lend itself well to doing a companion or sequel novel where it dealt with other players in either the same scenario or even after the catastrophe. It almost seems like if you’re going to spend so little time on your main characters and instead focus on the event, you should give more power to the event and write a companion novel.

Still, it was a really fast, really interesting read. I thought the writing was well-placed and the story good. Sometimes in books I feel like apex situations happen so quickly that it is difficult to figure out what really happened. I don’t know if that’s because the author doesn’t go into enough detail, or glosses over it, or just makes it so short that it’s confusing. That is not the case with this book. I have a clear idea of what happened and even the apex moments were clear. That's a big deal, I think. If your apex moments are muddy and confusing, how the heck can it be an apex?

I think this book did a very good job of making the reader feel the panic and stress of the situation, and the reality of it too (and it definitely helps that this reality doesn’t feel all that far-fetched). The situations encountered in this story were not all completely believable or realistic, and sometimes things worked out really well and the realities were stretched, but that’s okay. Everyone wants to be able to survive a real-life catastrophe and if that means we have to live it out in the novel, that’s ok.

If you’re into realistic post-apocalyptic YA Fic, I think you’d really enjoy this book. I did. It was a really good distraction that didn’t take a long time or a big mental commitment to deal with. It had a good amount of peril and the story was compelling.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Abel's Island - William Steig

Summary: Abel's place in his familiar, mouse world has always been secure; he had an allowance from his mother, a comfortable home, and a lovely wife, Amanda. But one stormy August day, furious flood water carry him off and dump him on an uninhabited island. Despite his determination and stubborn resourcefulness--he tried crossing the river with boats and ropes and even on stepping-stones--Abel can't find a way to get back home. Days, then weeks and months, pass. Slowly, his soft habits disappear as he forages for food, fashions a warm nest in a hollow log, models clay statues of his family for company, and continues to brood on the problem of how to get across the river--and home. Abel's time on the island brings him a new understanding of the world he's separated from. Faced with the daily adventure of survival in his solitary, somewhat hostile domain, he is moved to reexamine the easy way of life he had always accepted and discovers skills and talents in himself that hold promise of a more meaningful life, if and when he should finally return to Mossville and his dear Amanda again. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I think as a kid I liked the idea of going on an adventure and having to survive by my wits and cunning.  I always loved books like My Side of the Mountain, and this one, Abel's Island, where characters have to do just that.

I recently re-read Abel's Island, and it still had that same charm, and I love how he figures out how to survive on the island he's deposited on after an unfortunate incident.  Having grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, I also like how he has to humble himself to realize that the world does not revolve around him, and he has to work hard just to make it.

Despite his difficult circumstances, and how lonely he feels missing his wife Amanda, he makes the best of his situation, foraging and storing food, keeping out of reach of the hungry owl, and, in a bout of loneliness, starts sculpting his family members into life-size statues so he doesn't feel so alone.

I like introspective stories like this, where a character has to sort of analyze everything they've been dealt and work with it, and figure out where to go from here.  I think I also like reading these types of stories because I always wonder what I would do if I were ever stranded on a deserted island somewhere, and if I would have the stamina to survive, and even if that will never happen, it's something to think about, which is why stories and books are so great, they let you have that experience.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive, but Abel is put in a lot of dangerous situations.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lovely, Dark, and Deep - Justina Chen

Summary:  What would you do if the sun became your enemy?  That's exactly what happens to Viola Li after she returns from a trip abroad and develops a sudden and extreme case of photosensitivity -- an inexplicable allergy to sunlight  Thanks to her crisis-manager parents, she doesn't just have to wear layers of clothes and a hat the size of a spaceship.  She has to stay away from all hint of light.  Say goodbye to windows and running outdoors.  Even her phone becomes a threat when its screen burns her.

Viola is determined to maintain a normal life, particularly after she meets Josh.  He's a funny, talented Thor look-alike who carries his own mysterious grief.  But the intensity of her romance makes her take more and more risks, and when a rebellion against her parents backfires dangerously, she must find her way to a life -- and love-- as deep and lovely as her dreams. (Summary from book flap - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Lovely, Dark, and Deep is about a young girl named Viola who is suddenly diagnosed with a rare condition.  Basically, she's allergic to the sun and quite a few other light sources.  And by allergic I mean hives, blisters, possible death.  As you can imagine, this wreaks havoc on pretty much every aspect of her life -- school, home, love.  All of it in shambles.  This book is basically how she learns to deal with the mess, reorder her hopes/dreams/ambitions, and live life on her terms.

Right out of the gate, Lovely, Dark, and Deep had my full attention.  The first chapter takes place at a Pop Culture convention, where Viola is dressed as River Tam -- a character from Firefly (my favorite lesser known/short-lived TV series).  As if that isn't enough, in the middle of peddling baked goods for a good cause, she passes out and it caught by none other than THOR, or at the very least a guy who strongly resembles him.  Possible love interest? Color me riveted.

When Viola received her official diagnosis (solar urticaria), my reading antennae perked up.  Re-perked? For two reasons.

  • First, this is the sort of thing that you hear about from time to time, but it doesn't often show up in books.  Or at least it hasn't shown up in any of the books that I have read before, and I like new material to chew on.  I was also fascinated by the lifestyle repercussions for someone with this allergy and the lengths a person or family must go to make their home and daily routine safe from something so seemingly harmless as sunshine.  It continues to boggle my mind. 
  • Second, my eldest daughter also has a rare allergy.  Long story short, she has physical urticaria, which means that if her skin gets too cold she will get hives, itch like crazy, and sometimes has to deal with swelling in her extremities.  It can also happen with extreme heat or contact, though this happens less frequently.  Her case is fairly mild (nothing like Viola's) and she is still able to do many things with relatively minor discomfort (and the occasional preemptive benadryl).  However, we are still careful to avoid polar bear plunges and the like for fear of how her body might react to a sudden temperature shift.  It was interesting to read about fictional someone with a real-life rare allergy.

In Lovely, Dark, and Deep, Vi's fury and frustration fairly radiated off the page as her condition continued to deteriorate and any semblance of a normal life kept slipping through her fingers.  Normal clothes, gone.  Cell phone, gone.  Giant hat, required indoors and out.  Sunscreen, everywhere.  Dating, impossible.  Cardboard in her windows.  College dreams in pieces.  It seemed fairly realistic that any teenager would try to test the boundaries of her illness, act rashly, and be angry at parents making decisions on her behalf, no matter how much in-her-best-interest they were.  If occasionally the dialogue included some heavily melodramatic lines worthy of an eye-roll or two...well, I suppose that's part of the writing in the teenage voice and probably more authentic than not.

One of my favorite aspects of the story was Viola herself.  She is a strong female character who is not only socially aware and concerned for others, but completely driven.  Vi knows what she wants out of life and has meticulously planned how to get it.  When her condition completely annihilates those plans, Vi inevitably flounders.  She fights and rages and gives up and tries again and figures it out (eventually).  I loved that about her.  Allergy or not, Vi finds a way to make a life worth living.

One clever aspect of the book is the authors use of ink.  As the story progresses and Vi's condition worsens, the first page of each chapter gets progressively darker.  It's unnoticeable at first.  I don't know that I even picked up on it until about halfway through the book.  Towards the end of the book, it becomes rather hard to read black font on a charcoal page.  I had to squint a bit, but thankfully it's only that first page of the chapter and not the chapters in their entirety.  I think it was meant to discomfort the reader, like how Vi might feel trying to read in the absence of light.  Eventually you get some relief, in the form of a white font, but the pages themselves continue to darken.  It's all very artistic and I just loved the little extra something it added to the book.

It might come as surprise, but while I really enjoyed many aspects of the story, I'm not sure I loved the book.  I just didn't feel the pull to pick-it-up-and-never-put-it-down that is the hallmark (for me) of a really excellent book. This could be partly my fault in choosing it in the first place.  I've been trying to find age-appropriate books that my daughter would like to read and picking up books that I think *she* would like, but they aren't really what *I* want to be reading.  I do think that Lovely, Dark, and Deep is thoughtful and well-written, but for me, it's a one and done kind of book.  I have my own stack to work on.  That having been said, I think that my 15-year-old daughter (The Great Hived One) would probably enjoy it, and I think she's of the age I can hand it over without too much concern.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A handful of H-words.  Some references to having regrettably "gone further than ever" with another boy in his car (that's the extent of the details given).  Also some making out with "Thor".

Friday, April 5, 2019

El Deafo - Cece Bell

Summary: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. 

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the hallway...in the teacher's lounge...in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: El Deafo is a cute autobiographical story about when the author went deaf as a child, and her adjustments to life with her hearing aids after that.

I love the way that Cece tells the story of her childhood.  What's great about this little graphic novel is, yes it's about how she grew up deaf, but I feel a lot of us had similar experiences growing up that she had, finding friends, fitting in at school, trying to look cool, and other things.

However, I loved learning about Cece's unique view of life.  One of my favorite bits was when she was in an all-deaf kindergarten, and her teacher was teaching them how to read lips.  She told them that they not only needed to pay close attention to the person's mouth, but they also had to be a sort of detective, because many words look the same when they're said.

One day Cece sees a character on TV who has hearing aids like her.  She's excited to see someone like her (which is why I always advocate for a wider variety of positive characters with different disabilities, races, etc in media, it's great for children to see others like themselves).  However, this particular character is teased and called 'Deafo.'  Instead of being offended, Cece decides she will create an alter ego, hence 'El Deafo.'

The humor is delightful, and the way Cece views and lives life is alternately lonely and full of fun.  Though she is deaf, her story is also resonates with many, such as finding and losing friends, getting a crush, feeling left out, and ultimately coming to love what makes her different.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: there are a few instances where a character vomits, Cece get a bloody eye, some smoking and one mild swear word.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

We Were the Lucky Ones - Georgia Hunter

Summary: It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety. 

As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere. 

An extraordinary, propulsive novel, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can endure and even thrive. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I’m not going to lie. There were times when I physically had to put this book down and just walk away. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it—just the opposite, actually. I really enjoyed this book the entire time. Sometimes World War II literature is just. So. Hard. But let’s start at the beginning.

This book is excellent. The writing is excellent, the story is excellent. The book itself is organized in chapters that switch from narrator to narrator. It follows one Jewish family of Poles throughout the war, and it goes from person to person for the story. I found this to be extremely effective in the telling of the story. First off, the fact that the entire family is separated during the war makes this a great way to keep us up to date on what everybody is doing and where they are. When done poorly, authors have a way to keep the reader hanging for too long or break the momentum in a way that isn’t conducive to good storytelling. That is not true with Hunter. She is so great at timing the momentum is just right—she leaves you hanging for a good story arc and some necessary tension, but the “hanging” doesn’t become burdensome. And sometimes she doesn’t leave you hanging, and that is also important. In order for a changing narrator to work, the author definitely needs to pull it off.

I enjoyed the writing in this book. I really connected with the characters. I understood who they were. It was heartbreaking, really, and so hard to read, but also hopeful and brave at the same time. One thing that made this hard to read is the nature of children involved. Ugh. I can’t even. I understand that World War II history was not kind to anyone, and children were no exception, but it’s still difficult.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about this whole book is that it is a true story based on the author’s family.  Although memoirs and biographies have their own power, it is even more powerful when the story is so remarkable and so epic that it is just an excellent story, and the fact that it is true makes it even better. This is how I felt that this book was—it was so excellent, and so well-written, and the characters so strong and phenomenal, that the fact that they were real people and the stories were accessed from some of the people who lived it, it just pushed it from a really great historical read to something that I believe everyone should read. As I mentioned, for me, World War II historical books are difficult to read. I have grandparents who fought in the war, and although it gets further away all the time, it feels so real and tangible even today. I think it is so important that we read about it—the people, the stories, the history—and never forget what happened. There is a plethora of really good historical fiction books out there, and I think this is one of the best I’ve read. It is even better because it isn’t historical fiction, it is real life. The fact that it reads like a well-crafted fictional novel is a testament to the author’s abilities and her incredible, brave, intelligent, resourceful, family members.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is difficult, as are many World War II books. There is some language and discussion of sex, but it is light and nothing compared to the horror of the atrocities the Nazis committed on Jews during World War II, some of which is mentioned in this book.

Monday, April 1, 2019

La Princesa and the Pea - Susan Middleton Elya (Author) & Juana Martinez-Neal (Illus)

Summary:  The Princess and the Pea gets a fresh twist in this charming bilingual retelling, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration.

El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree.

The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa, but the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too... (Summary and Image from penguinrandomhouse.com)

My Review: I found La Princesa and the Pea on my third day volunteering at our school's book fair.  What can I say?  I like to be around books...and the 25% discount for volunteers doesn't hurt either.  As I flipped through the pages, it seemed strangely familiar.  The drawings.  The cadence.  I couldn't put my finger on it until I got home and started, well, paying closer attention to things like authors and illustrators.  The author, Susan Middleton Elya has written several other books, including Eight Animals on the Town, a book that I regularly read to my kiddos.  Juana Martinez-Neal illustrated not only La Princesa and the Pea but also Alma y Cómo Obtuvo Su Nombre, another book that I reviewed recently (and picked up at the same book fair on a different day).  With all that literary street cred, it was practically a forgone conclusion I would like this book.  And guess what?  I totally did.  In fact, I'm somewhere near love. I think you could say I am smitten. Yes, I am in deep smit.

La Princesa and the Pea is an adorable twist on a classic fairy tale, with the perfect little something up its sleeve.  First, it's just plain fun to read.  The author's prose has such a pleasing lilt and clever rhymes, that I don't mind reading it over and over....and I have to because my kids love it. Confession time, though.  When I flipped through this book at the fair, I didn't actually read all the way through.  I thought I knew how it would end.  It's The Princess and the Pea for goodness sake.  We all know how it ends, right?  Wrong.  The twist made me laugh so hard I had to re-read the page so my kiddos could understand me.  I promise, you'll love it.

On to the drawings.  The illustrator is Peruvian herself and drew a lot of her inspiration for characters, setting, and costume from the textiles, culture, and people of Peru.  Along with the author's particular prose, this change in scenery and custom breathed so much life back in to what some might call a tired-out tale.  As with other books by this illustrator, I found so much to look at on each page and noticed things in subsequent readings that I didn't pick up on initially.  I love stuff like that....kind of like little Easter Eggs.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is that it uses both English and Spanish in the text (heavy on the English, light on the Spanish).  If you or your kidlets don't speak Spanish, don't let that scare you.  I feel like these books are what I would call intuitively bilingual.  I'm pretty sure I just made up that term, but what I mean is that even if you don't speak Spanish it's pretty easy to figure out what a lot of the words mean using the pictures and other context clues (see picture for example).  If that doesn't work, they have kindly provided a Spanish/English glossary and pronunciation guide so you can fake it till you make it. It only took one read through and a few translations reminders for my monolingual kids (ages 6 and 8) to understand the entire story. 

Ultimately, if you have kiddos and even the slightest inclination to speak (or try to speak a bit of Spanish) I think you will love this book.  It's pleasantly surprising and too dang cute.

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I had to dig deep for this one because really there is nothing to offend.  I suppose if you have a really dirty mind, the very last page could contain the smallest of completely and assuredly unintentional innuendo.  It'll likely go over everyone else's head.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Stern Men - Elizabeth Gilbert

Summary:  Before Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her beloved memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she wowed critics everywhere with Stern Men -- a wise and charming novel set off the coast of Maine.  Ruth Thomas is born into a feud fought for generations by two groups of local lobster men over fishing rights for the waters that lie between their respective islands.  At eighteen, she has returned from boarding school -- smart as a whip, feisty, and irredeemably unromantic - determined to join the "stern men" and work the lobster boats.  As the feud escalates, Ruth proves herself to be an unforgettable American heroine who is destined for greatness -- and love -- despite herself. (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray Love -- a memoir I adored but likely read before I started this blog.  As such, it isn't reviewed here, though you can read our review of her novel, The Signature of All Things.  I picked up Stern Men because I loved my experience with her memoir, the plot looked interesting, and because it was lauded by the San Francisco Chronicle as "howlingly funny."

Stern Men starts out with a "once upon a time" kind of vibe. You know, the one where the omniscient narrator gives a quick history of the island and settles in to tell a story, already knowing how it ends.  I really thought I was going to love the book at this point -- the history of and long standing war between two islands over lobster fishing and introduction of a peculiar cast of characters was particularly irresistible.  The history finally comes to a head with Ruth Thomas, returned from school to the only home she has ever known.  All right, here we go! Up to this point, though lovely, it felt like mostly set up, but this -- rubs hands together to warm up reading fingers -- is where the story will take off.  Unfortunately the characters and backstory just kept coming and, interesting though they were, I started wishing for a glossary of characters to keep things straight in my mind.  Eighty pages later, I was still waiting for things to get cracking and more confused than ever about who was who and what was what.  On top of that -- the swearing.  I consider myself a fairly desensitized person when I am reading for myself (it's a different story if I'm reading for my kiddos) but even I was bothered by the sheer volume of profanity.  I realize that the language is probably perfectly in keeping with the salty lobster man stereotype, but it overwhelmed some of the characters to the point that I just wanted them to stop. talking.   I had waded a third of the way through the book before I realized that I was forcing myself to read a book I no longer had an interest in reading.  This  'howlingly funny' book...wasn't.  I didn't feel like a basic plot had emerged, the promised feud hadn't escalated, and destined love hadn't even hinted at appearing. Ruth hadn't even set foot in a lobster boat yet, and I was sick and tired of waiting for all of it.

One of the many reasons I took a break from book blogging a few years back was that I felt weighed down by the number of books I felt compelled to read and review out of a sense of duty.  I'd start one with hope but end up slogging through, my once unquenchable desire to read completely quelled by the onerous task of having to finish that book before I could move on to anything else.  I call it being "book blocked".   I promised myself when I returned to blogging that I would no longer read out of a sense of obligation.  I'd give a book 100 pages of my time (maybe more if it was gigantic) and if I simply wasn't feeling it, that was that.  There are just too many potentially amazing books in my stack to waste time stumbling over a book block. 

If you haven't guessed at this point, I did not finish Stern Men.  The characters and backstory were varied and compelling, but the lack of movement and sheer volume of profanity are what guided my decision.  A less sensitive, more patient reader might find more to love, but I did not.  

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I can't speak to anything past page 106, but there was a massive amount of profanity, especially of the F and GD variety, often spit out with machine-gun rapidity.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Asterix the Gaul - René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

Summary: The year is 50BC, and all Gaul is occupied. Only one small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. But how much longer can Asterix, Obelix and their friends resist the mighty Roman legions of Julius Caesar? Anything is possible, with a little cunning plus the druid Getafix's magic potions! Their effects can be truly hair-raising... (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: When I was a kid, I loved looking at my dad's extensive collection of Asterix books.  Aside from one, however, I couldn't read them, because they were all in French.  It wasn't until I was able to later find English translations at the library that I was able to more fully appreciate the delight that are the Asterix books.

This little village of Gauls refuses to give in to the Roman Empire, and that makes for the main conflict nearly every time.  In this first story, we learn about Asterix, his best friend Obelix, and the other Gauls in the village, who have a secret that keeps them from having to succumb to the Roman army--a magic potion brewed by their druid Getafix that bestows the drinker superhuman strength for a time.

I've always loved the humor of Asterix.  It's witty and clever, and the name puns are always great (Crismus Bonus, anyone?).  This first installment is particularly fun, as Asterix turns trickster when he goes to save Getafix and they have a laugh all at the expense of the Romans.  The dangerous situations are always treated lightly and are more comic than frightening.  

The characters are also just so delightful.  Asterix's friend Obelix is another favorite, and though he's not in this one as much as he is in the others, we get to appreciate his kind of dull-witted demeanor which counters Asterix's very sharp wit, but which doesn't dampen their tight friendship.  We also get an introduction to the village bard Cacophonix (whose music nobody likes), Getafix the wise druid, and the chief, Vitalstatistix (see, these names, they kill me!)

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: lots of cartoon violence, the Gauls delight in and are constantly beating up Roman soldiers.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise - Dan Gemeinhart


Summary: Five years.

That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.

It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.

Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.

Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...

Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here, but there is some seriously legit fiction for younger readers these days. I have read a lot of Newbury winners, and there was one point when I even started at the very beginning and read some of the older ones. I’ll tell you, people, junior fiction has come a long way. I don’t know if the market wasn’t as dense, or the focus not as strong on young people (although those are my suspicions), but I’m telling you right now that most of that fiction couldn’t hold a candle to the JFic that is coming out today. It is heavy but light, poignant, fun, and has a way of touching audiences of all ages. It’s simple enough that young readers get it and get the point of it, but it is complex enough and the topics serious enough that adult readers can benefit from them as well.

I really enjoyed this book, and feel like it was on par with a lot of the really great (and probably my favorite) fiction I’ve read in the JFic genre. It had everything I like—weird, likeable characters, which aren’t too perfect and are completely relatable, even if I’m nothing like them and my circumstances are nothing like theirs. I think this ability to create characters with this kind of depth helps readers understand (and hopefully train up young readers, and those adult readers who are still struggling with it as well) to be able to understand other people even if they aren’t just like them. It creates empathy and understanding, and more love and acceptance overall.  There was a great cast of characters in this book, including animals, which is always fun. And who doesn’t love some really great animals in a book? I think most JFic readers really appreciate a situation where animals play as much of an important part as the humans. In fact, I think many adults do, as well. Our own lovely reviewer Court certainly does!

Another thing I really enjoyed is that had a really compelling story. The story itself was fun, but also had that hint of realistic feeling trauma and sadness that was able to give it a weight that it would not have had were it just a girl and her crazy dad traveling the countryside in a bus for fun. It’s one thing to have a crazy, zany story, but if that story is just crazy and zany, it goes from weak comic book fodder to something that actually means something. (Yes, I know there are deep comics. I’m talking about the lame ones that basically mean nothing).

The end of this book is hard, but I do think that it is a great resolution. It teaches the lessons it needs to teach, and I think that it will really reach the readers that will read it. There are, as you might imagine, some situations that maybe wouldn’t have gone that way in normal life, but that’s okay. It doesn’t reach the level of magical realism by any stretch (and I do enjoy some good magical realism) but it does count for some situations going a very specific way in order for it to all work it.

I highly recommend this book. The writing is excellent, the story is great and unique and fun and the characters are totally lovable and relatable. If you are a reader of JFic, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not, it’s a great read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean, but there is a traumatic event that resulted in a loss of family members that might be triggering for some.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Alma y Cómo Obtuvo Su Nombre / Alma and How She Got Her Name) - Juana Martinez-Neal

Summary: ¿Cómo terminó Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela con un nombre tan largo? Mientras Papi le cuenta la historia de cada uno de sus nombres, Alma comienza a sentir cómo cabe perfectamente en ellos. 

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.   (Summary and image from penguinrandomhouse.com)

NOTE(for my English-speaking Friends): There is an English-language version of this book.  However, as I bought this book in it's original Spanish version, I've opted to include a review in Spanish.  If you don't speak Spanish, that's okay.  Just skip down a little for my English review.  If you speak both...well, as you will soon be able to tell, my Spanish isn't that great.  Please don't laugh at me or send me hate mail.  I'm trying/Estoy tratando.

Mi Evaluacíon:  Me llamo Mindy y yo hablo español.  Pues.  Hablo un poquito. Con lo que sé y la ayuda de mi esposo y "Google Tranlsate," ojala que puedo decir lo que quiero decir en español y que no he masacrado el idioma.  Empecemos!

Mi primer hija tiene el nombre de su bisa, su abuelo, y nuestro nombre familiar.  Es un nombre muy antiguo, de Finlandia, y difícil de pronunciar. A veces, ella no le gusta el nombre.  "Es horrible! Nadie puede decirlo," ella dice!  Mi hija y la niña en este libro tienen algo en común.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela no le gusta su nombre.  Ella piensa que es muy largo y no le cabe.  Su padre se sentó con ella para explicar el origen de cada de sus nombres.  Ella apprendió que cada nombre representa uno de sus antepasados.  Alma entendió que ella tiene algo en común con cada persona.  Aquí es un ejemplo:

Que linda, sí?

Cuando encontré este libro en una feria de libro, me enamoré al instante. Era tan hermoso y con un mensaje muy importante, yo tenía que tenerlo.  No habia un version en ingles a la venta el dia, pero yo no me importé. Aunque mis niñas no hablan español (todavía), yo compré el libro para un cuento de acostar y esperanzé que podria traducir.  Es un cuento bellamente escrito, con dibujos fascinantes en cada pagina.  Pero, el mensaje es mas importante.  Pienso qu el cuento muestra como apreciar nuestra historia y que nuestras diferencias eran lo que nos hacen especial.  Ojala que yo podria decir mas, pero me falta las palabras.  En conclusión, si tiene niñas o nietas (especialmente aquellas con nombres muy largas), tiene que comprar este libro en cualquier idioma que requieran.

Mi Clasificación: 5 Estrellas

Para el lector sensible: No hay nada a ofender.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

My Review:  My eldest daughter is named after her great-great-great grandmother, as well as my mother, and has our family last name.  Both her first and last name are old-fashioned, Finnish, and difficult to pronounce.  Occasionally, it gets to her and she says something along the lines of -- "I hate my name! It's horrible!  No one can say it!"  She and the little girl in this book have quite a lot in common.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela does not like her name. She thinks it's too long and she feels it does not fit her. When Alma complains to her father, he sits down with her to explain the origin of each of their names and she learns that each name represents one of her ancestors.  As her father tells her about them, Alma discovers that she has something in common with each of her namesakes.  For example, in the first picture (above) she learns that her grandmother Sofía loved books, poetry, jasmine flowers, and her son (Alma's father).  In the second picture, Alma realizes that she loves books, flowers, and her Papa too!  The name Sofía does fit her!  And so on and so forth with the rest of her names.  Beautiful, right?

When I found this book at our school book fair, I fell in love with it instantly.  It was so beautiful and with such an important message that I had to have it.  There wasn't an English version at the sale, but that didn't matter to me.  Although my children don't speak Spanish (yet), I bought the book as a bedtime story and hoped I would be able to translate it.  I made it work and my girls really enjoyed it.  This book is beautifully written with fascinating illustrations on every page, but the message is the most important part.  It teaches readers to appreciate their heritage and that what makes us different can also make us special.  If you have a little girl (and most especially a little girl with a long family name), or if you are a girl with a long family name, you should probably pick this one up in whichever language version you require. 

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

Summary: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I’ve said this many times, but one of the things I love about a good book is the ambiance it creates. I love reading books about places I know, but I also really love being transported to a place I’ve never been, and it’s a whole new ballgame if it’s a place I will never be able to go to. Now. Will I be able to go to the swamps and backwaters of the North Carolina coast? Maybe. I mean, I could probably physically get there if I flew there and then hired some guy to take me to the swamps, but could I ever really visit the time and place of this book? Or get into the culture of it? Nope. And that is super intriguing. My undergrad degree is in sociocultural anthropology, and it is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever studied and I still love it. I love culture, I love seeing different cultures and people in it, and I am especially intrigued if those cultures take place in my own country in a surprising way. I love that we’re not all homogeneous. It’s super easy to think that we are, really, especially now with the internet and social media. It seems like we’re all the same. But no. We’re not. There are still pockets of people out there living completely differently than you could ever imagine, and this book embraces that and all the questions that come with it.

This book is not without its heartache. The main character experiences so much abandonment and abuse and trauma in her life, and that obviously takes a toll on her (and the reader, by extension). However, I loved the people in the book who surrounded her. There were a few kind people who were brave and willing to befriend her or include her, and that made a huge difference. There were other not-so-brave ones, but that made the book feel authentic and challenging. In fact, this is one of the things that I really appreciated about the book—it made me question myself and the people around me. Am I as kind as I should be? Am I willing to give people the benefit of the doubt? Do I judge people unfairly just because they're different from me or I don't understand them? I think that any reader of this book should ask themselves those questions, and then seriously consider the ramifications of what happens in this book and how we can prevent those things from happening in the real world.

I really enjoyed the story in this book. I thought it was compelling and had a lot of depth to it. There were a lot of surprises, but they felt natural and like they took the natural route instead of being contrived by the author who had an agenda or an idea of what was supposed to happen, even when the characters and story didn’t warrant it.

Owens is a very talented author, and her quiet prose is beautiful and poignant. This is the kind of book that you appreciate reading while you’re reading it. It’s hard to read because some of the content is painful, but she guides you through it so gently that you find yourself grateful for the opportunity. I think this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and difficult sexual situations. It is not overly violent or the language too offensive.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Pinduli - Janell Cannon

Summary: Pinduli's mama has always told her that she's the most beautiful hyena ever. But Dog, Lion, and Zebra don't think so. Why else would they make her feel so rotten about her big ears, her fuzzy mane, and her wiggly stripes? Poor Pinduli just wants to disappear--and she tries everything she can think of to make that happen. Yet nothing goes her way. Nothing, that is, until a case of mistaken identity lets her show the creatures of the African savanna how a few tiny words--bad or good--can create something enormous.

Janell Cannon, the creator of the bestselling Stellaluna, introduces yet another endearing character in this triumphant story about self-image, self-acceptance, and treating others with respect.

Includes notes about hyenas and other animals of the African savanna. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: Hyena are often seen in a bad light, which makes me sad because I actually am rather fond of hyenas.  The hyenas in this book are of the striped variety.

Pinduli is a cute little story about not worrying about what others think of us, but it is also a trickster story.  Pinduli knows her mother says she is the most beautiful little hyena, but she lets others' opinions make her change her appearance until she becomes unrecognizable, and that is where the trick begins.

It also goes to explore how words can be dangerous and their effects can last far beyond where they were originally meant to fall.  Each of the animals that insult Pinduli were in turn insulted by other animals in a chain that carries on since they themselves are insecure, and teaches that we should be careful what we say.

Cannon's adorable illustrations tell two stories--the full color pictures that follow the main story of Pinduli on her little adventure, and the pen and ink doodles on the other page that follow Pinduli's mother anxiously searching for her.  She wonderfully captures the animals of Africa in her story, highlighting an animal that is lesser known and making her the hero of the story.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing offensive 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Virgil Wander - Leif Enger

Summary: The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals--from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Leif Enger is the kind of writer who reminds you that it’s really, in the end, all about the writing. The story is obviously key as well, but if there’s a good story it doesn’t matter if the writing sucks. A writer, in the sense of Enger, is able to come up with a good story and then execute it to the point that the story is just awesome. It elevates it; takes it to a new level. I don’t know if you’ve read Peace Like a River, which was one of Time magazine’s top-five novels of the year in 2001 and was a bestseller. His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome was also a bestseller in 2008. I’m just saying—the man is worth reading. If you haven’t read these books, I assure you that you can trust in him to write a good story and execute it in such a way that you just know he’s an exceptional writer.

I thought this book was excellent. I loved Peace Like a River, and when I began reading this book all those fuzzy warm feelings came back to me. Enger’s writing is old-timey and nostalgic, but it is also very real and doesn’t dance around harsh realities or struggles. Virgil Wander, in particular, has some dark times. The book itself is gently humorous. I loved Virgil Wander, the main character. His voice was just so specific that I felt like he was my friend, and yet I discovered things about him all the time. He wasn’t an entirely reliable narrator, which was so well done in this instance. I do love a good unreliable narrator. This one was no exception.

The characters in this book feel real. They have real problems and real flaws, but they are also endearing and good—just like real people, ya know? There are quirks that make this town in Minnesota feel so real and yet nostalgic. It’s an interesting mix of being able to watch the town and just knowing that you could show up and find these characters living their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they actually existed. They felt real. On the other hand, it’s so beautiful and nostalgic-feeling that you can’t help believe that it’s also a story—and a good one. The town is quirky, the people are quirky, the story is quirky, and you can’t help but just love it all and appreciate Enger gently guiding you through this little slice of America. I firmly believe that Enger could take any piece of America and any collection of lives and make them seem notable and story-worthy.

I think this is a great piece of fiction. I wish all fiction books were more like this—well-written, well-executed, and an interesting story that doesn’t weigh too heavily nor move too lightly for what it is. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of love scenes, but nothing graphic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tintin: The Black Island - Herge

Summary: Investigating a mysterious plane crash, Tintin discovers he's onto something big! The case leads Tintin to Scotland, where he learns of a monster that stalks a lonely island. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: The Tintin books are so much fun, and you don't even have to read them in any particular order.  I'm a fan of most of the albums, but I really like this one, as it is just full of so many funny twists and turns and adventures.

For anyone unfamiliar with Tintin, he is technically a reporter, though aside from his very first adventure he never actually does any reporting.  He's more of a sleuth and adventurer, traveling to different countries to solve a crime or a mystery along with his faithful dog, Snowy.

This particular tale involves counterfeiting and some villainous types that Tintin is more than familiar with.  His detective skills take him to Scotland this go round, where he gets to don a kilt and head to a mysterious island.

One of my favorite things about Tintin is the humor--there are a lot of funny goings on in what could otherwise be scary situations.  Someone that helps out with keeping this light is Snowy.  Tintin's little fox terrier speaks throughout the comics (though his contributions are lessened when a new character, Captain Haddock, comes on the scene in later albums).  It's never really known if anyone else can hear Snowy's words, but he provides a good comic relief.

It's also fun to see Tintin's relentless spirit, nothing can get him down, no, not even if he's been shot!  Seriously, you would be amazed the number of times this kid ends up in hospital only to check himself out later that day.  He is a serious go-getter, always determined to stop the bad guy and deliver justice to any who have been wronged.  He's not always that clever, however, and Snowy often has to help him get out of trouble.

The art is always impeccable, Herge always does a grand job of illustrating these global ventures, and the detail is grand for the scope of what is being illustrated.

Any fan of a good mystery, a good adventure, and some good humor will enjoy Tintin.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Tintin gets into a lot of predicaments, like being shot, but they're dealt with lightly and he always comes out on top.  Snowy is also a bit of a lush, and gets well drunk in this book.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Rule of One - Ashley & Leslie Saunders

Summary:  Their past is a crime.  Their future is a rebellion.

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.  In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced.  Everyone follows the Rule of One.  But Ava Goodwin daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret -- one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail.  But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins.  Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to do discover just how far they'll go in order to stay alive Ava and Mira rushed head-long into a terrifying unknown. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I love dystopian fiction.  It's totally my jam.  As such, I snapped this book up in a hurry when I found it at the library.  I love the premise.  Ava and Mira are twin girls born into a society that only allows one child per family. Initially, it bore a strong resemblance to the Netflix show What Happened to Monday as the twins learn to match in more than just appearance to avoid discovery and take turns venturing out into the world.  The book was fairly fast-paced, so it wasn't long before their secret was uncovered and the girls were dodging evil government henchman and finding refuge and allies in unexpected places.  Now wanted fugitives, the twins must disguise themselves and remain unnoticed in a surveillance state that has both advanced facial recognition software and the ability to track their very scent and heat signatures.  In their race to safety, they learn of a rebel faction simmering under the surface of society, waiting for its opportunity to rise again.  Will they flee or join the fight?  Like, I said -- I love the premise.  I just have a problem with the delivery.

The Rule of One had all the fundamental characteristics of a dystopian fiction novel, there just wasn't a whole lot of depth to it.  While the authors gently touched on issues like gun control, climate change, privacy rights, illegal immigration, governmental overreach, and psychological warfare, they didn't seem to "dig in" to any one thing and it felt more like Dystopia Lite.   Perhaps that's okay for a YA audience, but I still wanted something I could sink my teeth into and savor a bit and this just wasn't meal enough to satisfy.  The overall conflict in this book resolved a bit too quickly for my tastes, especially towards the end where certain aspects of the story seemed rather far-fetched (in a Wow.  That one needle sure found that other needle pretty darn fast, considering they were in that big old haystack kind of way).  Again, it was probably not something that would bother your average YA reader, but it left my eyes a-rollin'. 

The Rule of One ended with a little bit of a cliff hanger.  It's sequel, The Rule of Many, doesn't come out until May 2019, and while I believe the premise of the novel could drive me to pick up the next book were it out right now, I'm not sure that my interest will hang around for three whole months.  I probably would read the sequel if I happened upon it at the library, but I doubt I'll go searching for it. 

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some swearing (about 10-12 instances of the SH, D, F, B variety).  There is some brief unwanted groping and innuendo when the girls come across some unsavory characters and some violence.

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