Monday, November 20, 2017

The Excellent Lombards - Jane Hamilton

Summary: "This is the book Jane Hamilton was born to write... [it is] magnificent." - Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth 

"Everything you could ask for in a coming-of-age novel-- funny, insightful, observant, saturated with hope and melancholy." - Tom Perotta, author of Little Children and The Leftovers

"Tender, eccentric, wickedly funny and sage...gives full voice to Jane Hamilton's storytelling gifts." - Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Mary Frances "Frankie" Lombard is fiercely in love with her family's sprawling apple orchard and the tangled web of family members who inhabit it. Content to spend her days planning capers with her brother William, competing with her brainy cousin Amanda, and expertly tending the orchard with her father, Frankie desires nothing more than for the rhythm of life to continue undisturbed. But she cannot help being haunted by the historical fact that some family members end up staying on the farm and others must leave. Change is inevitable, and threats of urbanization, disinheritance, and college applications shake the foundation of Frankie's roots. As Frankie is forced to shed her childhood fantasies and face the possibility of losing the idyllic future she had envisioned for her family, she must decide whether loving something means clinging tightly or letting go. A new classic from the author of Oprah's Book Club picks A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth*Includes Reading Group Guide* (summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. I mean, when I pick up books to review, I often have some inkling that I’ll like them—I’m not ridiculous enough to saddle myself to something I know for sure I won’t enjoy. That happens, of course, but for the most part I know what I like. So I wasn’t surprised when I found out I liked it, but I was surprised by the kind of book it was. Many of the quotes used to describe the book compared it to something like To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, even though I enjoyed this book, I just think that you can’t ever be To Kill a Mockingbird. By the very nature of that book—the one SO MANY people list as their favorite and undoubtedly one of the most popular and best books of all time—cannot just be topped willy nilly. I’m telling you right now this book is not that book. But it is a fun coming of age novel with a really fun main character.

One of the things I loved about this book was the main character, Frankie. Right off you know she’s not a reliable narrator, which I think is actually a fun twist from the normal omniscient or even future-telling narrator. Frankie, however, is just a young girl complete with weird stories from her childhood that she misinterprets in weird ways. Here’s what I mean—I’m sure that you and your siblings have some weird stories of stuff that happened. Looking back, you can see that it was probably pretty normal and had a very reasonable explanation, but as children, something normal was just interpreted as just so outside of your realm of experience or just so wrapped up in the magic of it all that you just can’t help but think that it somehow defied all logic and possibility. My sisters and I have tons of memories like this—we’ll tell stories of some adventure we went on or some neighbor we encountered or some game we invited and inevitably something crazy happened that we still talk about. As a parent myself now I can totally see how a kid can interpret something very normal as something very strange. This book is full of that. And I loved it! Hamilton does an excellent job of creating a character that is very believable in this way. As Frankie gets older she continues to be believable—she is moody, she is unpredictable, her tumultuous inside is often not clearly interpreted by those on the outside. It’s pure character development gold. Even though I may not be like Frankie in many ways, I could easily find myself relating to her and understanding her and easily accepting how authentic she was as a character.

The story itself is charming and evokes a strong time and place, which I really enjoyed. The setting is as much a character as the humans in the book, and I love reading about places that create a weight and substance in the lives of those who live there. Hamilton does a great job of creating characters both human and non-human that evoke nostalgia and familiarity, even though I’ve never lived in this place or time. I just felt a warm connection. When things were bad and hard I felt that, too. It was easy to get wrapped up in the lives of these very ordinary people.

I thought the writing in this book was great. It was fluid and poignant without being too stodgy. It was beautiful but still believable that a young girl would exist and speak within the story and the writing. The writing made for a quick, enjoyable read. I happened to be on vacation when I was reading this book and I read it in pretty much one day, which I love to do with books that I am enjoying.

I think this is a book well worth the time it takes to read it (it isn’t very long, that being said). It’s not a riveting adventure story or a deep literary read that will keep your mind churning late into the night, but it was a lovely character-driven book that fulfills something I find that many books fail to touch within my soul.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language but is clean

Friday, November 17, 2017

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon


Summary: My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. Summary and image from goodreads.com.

Review: Oh, young love! The agony, the ecstasy, the inevitable heartache. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s entirely another to experience it. For Madeline, stuck in her allergen-safe room, she has resigned herself to only know of young love through her precious books. When a family moves next door with a gorgeous, mysterious, perfectly-suited-to-a-YA-romance teenager, Madeline knows her life has forever changed.

The movie is coming out soon, which is why I wanted to read the book, and it’s cute. It’s an easy read, perfect for a vacation or a rainy day, it follows the typical YA romance fairly closely. If you liked The Fault in our Stars, I’m guessing you’ll enjoy this novel as well. 

There are a few detractors that irked me. First, there is absolutely no conflict between the two young lovers. While I know that teens are prone to the “Romeo and Juliet complex”, zero conflict felt too faked. I mean, even Prince Philip and Aurora had that pesky curse to deal with. Second, it was difficult to buy their everlasting and perfect love through the rushed and barely-mentioned IM conversations the reader is shown. (Think Twilight meets TFIOS now.) Finally, the twist. I had an inkling of what it would be, and I was right, but where there should have been resolution (if even a slight amount), I felt like the narrative abandoned it in favor of the love story, which again, felt a little too shallow. I’m sure it’ll be a cute movie, though.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There is a sex scene that is a little much.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia - Lisa Dickey

Summary: Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia three times—in 1995, 2005 and 2015—making friends in eleven different cities, then coming back again and again to see how their lives had changed. Like the acclaimed British documentary series Seven Up!, she traces the ups and downs of ordinary people’s lives, in the process painting a deeply nuanced portrait of modern Russia.

From the caretakers of a lighthouse in Vladivostok, to the Jewish community of Birobidzhan, to a farmer in Buryatia, to a group of gay friends in Novosibirsk, to a wealthy “New Russian” family in Chelyabinsk, to a rap star in Moscow, Dickey profiles a wide cross-section of people in one of the most fascinating, dynamic and important countries on Earth. Along the way, she explores dramatic changes in everything from technology to social norms, drinks copious amounts of vodka, and learns firsthand how the Russians really feel about Vladimir Putin.

Including powerful photographs of people and places over time, and filled with wacky travel stories, unexpected twists, and keen insights, Bears in the Streets offers an unprecedented on-the-ground view of Russia today. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I’m sure you’re aware that there has been quite a bit about Russia in the news. U.S./Russia relations are not great right now, and so I found this to be a super interesting dive into people across Russia.

I really enjoyed how this book came about—a journalist who, initially, went on the trip with a photographer to escape a career that wasn’t quite happening yet. This does not come out of the blue, as her mother had also been to Russia and traveled as well, and Dickey was interested in seeing some sights her mother had described as well. The initial journey was not something she was actually prepared to do. The other two journeys were Dickey’s ideas, and were planned with the purpose of seeing the same people again and catching up with them. I really liked this. I thought it was a really cool way to experience people across Russia and learn about them—not just random people, but the same selection of people who had lived through 30 years of changes, both personally and culturally. It was fascinating to see what had happened, who was still alive, who wasn’t, and where things had landed in the wake of the modern world. Here is where pretty much only one of my complaints comes in—I wish this book could have been a little more organized. The book was divided into people (and therefore areas, because each person/set of people is in a different area in Russia), but I wish each chapter would have also been divided into years as well. I understand that that may not have made for as smooth a transition in the writing, but sometimes I was confused whether it was the second or third trip when events were happening. This is a minor thing in the great scheme of the book, but it is something that I thought of several times throughout.

I have mentioned before that I am an anthropology nerd. My undergrad degree is in sociocultural anthropology, and so this sort of book about studying culture and people is totally my jam. I love learning about other people and their lives, especially people in other places. It’s easy to get caught in my own little world, just living along, and either thinking that other people are probably pretty much just like me, or some variation on the same theme, but then I read anthropology books such as this one and it totally blows my mind. I love the diversity of the world, and because Russia is such a huge country covering a vast distance geographically as well as culturally, there is a very large diversity of people and cultures there as well. Many of the people in Dickey’s book are as far away from each others’ worlds in Russia as I am from their world here, both geographically and culturally.

One of the questions that Dickey brings with her is what the different people she meets think of America. I found that really interesting as well. I’m sure you’re aware (and if you’re not, well, this may come as a shock to you) but we don’t always hear both sides of the story from the news. Whether the news is intentionally biased or not, we don’t know the whole story of every person we hear from. I feel like Russia is just such a place. It’s so easy to get caught up in the politics of it all, and so easy to forget that underneath all the political drama and the leaders who make decisions at the top, are just people—people like us—who are doing their best to be happy and take care of their families and do what they can to live a fulfilled life. I think this book did a good job of highlighting this, and also bringing some perspective on people and culture as a whole, not just in the backdrop of Russia.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and some detailed description of an animal being harvested in a traditional way. There is also some discussion of homosexuality. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Auschwitz Testimonies: 1945-1986 - Primo Levi and Leonardo de Benedetti

Summary: In 1945, the day after liberation, Soviet soldiers in control of the Katowice camp in Poland asked Primo Levi and his fellow captive Leonardo De Benedetti to compile a detailed report on the sanitary conditions in Auschwitz. The result was Auschwitz Report, an extraordinary testimony and one of the first accounts of the extermination camps ever written. The report, published in a scientific journal in 1946, marked the beginnings of Levi's life-long work as writer, analyst and witness. 

In the subsequent four decades, Levi never ceased to recount his experiences in Auschwitz in a wide variety of texts, many of which are assembled together here for the first time. From early research into the fate of his companions to the deposition written for Eichmann's trial, from the ?letter to the daughter of a fascist who wants to know the truth? to newspaper and magazine articles, Auschwitz Testimonies is a rich mosaic of memories and critical reflections of great historic and human value.

Underpinned by his characteristically clear language, rigorous method, and deep psychological insight, this collection of testimonies, reports and analyses reaffirms Primo Levi's position as one of the most important chroniclers of the Holocaust. It will find a wide readership, both among the many readers of Levi's work and among all those who wish to understand one of the greatest human tragedies of all time. Summary from goodreads.com, image from wiley.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: 

*Disclosure: I’m writing this review within days of the sickening events at Charlottesville.*

There is no one who can deny that the Holocaust is one of the—if not the definitive—darkest moments in human history. The scale of devastation has been well-documented, studied in countless schools worldwide, and is something that anyone can prove with a ten-second google search. However, this wasn’t always the case. Shortly after the liberation of the camps, and shortly after the survivors started to trickle home, those who hadn’t been exposed to the truth (or those who chose not to believe what was happening miles from their doors) denied their experiences as a vilification of their captors. Men like Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, and Victor Frankl were instrumental in speaking for those whose voices were silenced, in bringing to light the atrocities they had suffered under the hands of the Nazis, and in giving us a realistic glimpse into what humanity is capable of with a little nudge—both good and evil.

This book is a new compilation of articles, testimonies, and entries by Primo Levi and Leonardo de Benedetti which testify of their experiences being removed from Italy, their internment in the Monowitz camp, and their experiences upon liberation. This was my first exposure to Levi, and I was astounded at how poetic and how heartbreaking his writing is. I entered this book certain that nothing would be new to me, and found myself reaching for a highlighter within the first few pages.

Levi discusses how each generation of artists leaves a mark, finds a new voice to better their art. He talks about the great playwrights of the past, the artists who experiment and improve everyone that comes in their wake through their creations and innovations. His assertion is that the contribution his generation must make is the art of testimony. The passage where he makes the case for testimony as art is hauntingly beautiful — it seriously took my breath away. 

This assertion is the impetus for this collection. Levi’s testimony of his experiences and the testimony of de Benedetti functions in numerous manners. Of the articles included, some of them are true sworn-in testimonies given at various trials throughout their history. Some are testimony as an art form, and the difference between the two is hardly noticeable. Levi was a chemist by trade, I would argue that writing was his calling. His voice is so clear through every medium contained in the book, it was truly beautiful.

Unlike most books published about the Holocaust, there is no overarching narrative in this book. As such, it reads like facts that are laid bare for the world to witness. Considering the events of our current time, this is a style we need more of. By dismissing this book as “yet another”, we run the risk (edit: we are encountering the risk) of a generation who doesn't know (or refuses to see) what happened. By not knowing, by not recognizing the steps that were taken to get to such a heinous period, we begin down the same path. Instead of reading a book that is becoming ancient history, the events of the past few weeks have proven that this is more relevant now than ever before.

Rating: Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader: While this is a direct testimony of what happened in the camps, it is well-handled. It is blunt without being sensational.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Daughter of the Pirate King - Tricia Levenseller

Summary: There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

My Review: Well! This was swashbuckling! Given that this book was YA Fic, I knew that it wasn’t going to be too much serious pirating and more along the lines of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series. I was right.
The story starts out awesome: “It should not be this difficult to stay prisoner on a pirate ship. This is the second time I’ve had to stage my own capture. Ridiculous.” I mean…right?! Super fun. I liked the main character, Alosa, and loved the idea of a female captain. Her back story is cool, too, and she has a secret that I won’t reveal here that makes for some fun depth to the story, both for Alosa and for her father, the pirate king. In addition—and this cannot be discounted—Alosa is a pretty awesome pirate. She fights well, knows her stuff, has a ship and crew of her own, and can definitely hold her own in all the piratey situations. I don’t want to say a lot about this, either, because I feel like in a lot of ways this was an introductory book. There was a story there, but much of the novel was spent discussing Alosa, her father the pirate king, and the other main players that I assume will be with us in subsequent books. I will let you discover those things on your own.
This book does not create its own realm of pirating, and indeed it is basically as if it were swiped right out of one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. The characters were stereotypical of the ones we all know and love from the movies, including the villains, the heroes, the comic relief, and even the ships as characters. If you have seen any of those movies (and I assume if you’re reading this book you probably like pirates and therefore have seen all of the movies) the setting and characters will feel very familiar to you. There aren’t any blatant rip-offs of characters or storylines, but this story and its characters can easily exist in that world.
Now let’s talk story. I enjoyed the story, actually, and although I didn’t find the twists and turns it took to be too shocking or surprising, maybe a YA Fic audience would (although I don’t think so). It was entertaining, at least, though not completely original or shocking.
The writing of this book is standard YA Fic fare. I wasn’t blown away by its poetic prose or its profound truths, but it was a fun little read. It wasn’t the kind of book I couldn’t put down, and the end really didn’t surprise me at all, but it was innocuous and a fun edition to the realm of fantastical creatures that mill around in the YA Fic world. Why aren’t there more pirates there, anyway? There should be more pirates. Pirates are cool.
Overall, I found this to be a fun and quick little read. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to buy the sequel, but I can see that should I be missing my more swashbuckling adventures I may go ahead and take the plunge (see what I did there?) and read it. This is a fun book for those who love the “Pirates” movies and who wish that the adventure could just go on and on.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some piratey violence and some discussion of love, but I would say this is on the tamer side of YA paranormal romance. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Pearl Thief - Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Before Verity…there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: Capitalizing on the success of Code Name: Verity, Elizabeth Wein takes us back to the world of Julie Stuart, providing a glimpse into the kind of girl it took to create our favorite ill-fated British spy. Julie Beaufort-Stuart is looking forward to a relaxing and bittersweet holiday from boarding school when she’s found unconscious by a stream on her grandfather’s estate. With no ability to ascertain her identity, she’s brought to the village hospital by two travelers (who we would call gypsies). It’s not until she learns of the extent of her injuries and as the missing memories start to resurface that she realizes that there is much more to her “accident” than she originally thought. 

This was a quick and fairly light-hearted read. While it didn’t pack the same punch or rise to the stimulating and ingenious twists of its predecessor, it was a quick, easy, perfect-for-summer book to pick up. To be frank, it took me about one-third of the book to realize that the main character was in fact the woman who would become Verity. Part of that could be on me and my quick reading, part of it was because the immaturity and impetuousness of Julie was hard to reconcile with Verity’s calculating, thought-out, brilliant ability to think and survive. I couldn’t tell if that was by design or if there was a bit of the “resting on the laurels” of Verity. The mystery itself wasn’t anything earth-shattering, even though there were two parts - the missing pearls of her grandfather, and the assailant who knocked Julie unconscious and left her for dead. It was intriguing to see the development of Julie’s theories and her discoveries, but again, it just failed to grip me the same way Wein has managed in the past. 

Julie and Verity are both impetuous, high-spirited, and easy with their affections. This time around, Julie’s object of affection is the beautiful, proud Ellen—the sister of the traveler who rescued her. The romance is handled like a summer crush, relatively PG but to be honest, it felt forced. I got the distinct and uncomfortable impression that the relationship was written as such in order to conform to current social expectations rather than because it’s how Julie would have acted of her own accord. To be honest, it’s not the same-sex relationship that bothered me as much as the feeling that Wein was pushing it on the characters to be hip, or edgy, or au courant. I’m a big fan of letting the writing stand on its own, and I didn’t quite feel like that was happening here.

Rating: Three stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Same sex kissing, fairly gruesome discovery of a body, destruction of an ancient artifact (which really upset me more than anything else).

Monday, November 6, 2017

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World - Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger (Illustrator)


Summary:  Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what's right, even when they had to fight to be heard.  In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren's refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity.  In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity -- sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience.  They all certainly persisted. She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small.  With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn't give up on their dreams.  Persistence is power. (Summary from inside flap of book)


My Review:  She Persisted is a thoughtful, empowering, and emotional read all wrapped up in a beautifully illustrated children's book.  I read it to my four girls (ages 13, 11, 7, and 5), whom I am endeavoring to raise to be kind, strong, educated, and persistent women and actually got a little choked up while reading.  With engaging illustrations (showing the characters first as children and later as adults) and the kind of informative brevity I appreciate in a children's book, Clinton and Boiger bring to light the struggles, sacrifices, and strides of the following feminine figures: Harriet Tubman, Hellen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virgina Apgar (yes, that Apgar), Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor.  Each historical vignette also featured a personal quote that provided the sort of gutsy-go-get-em-girl inspiration that I hope to ingrain in my girls.  While some of the prose in this book probably flew over the head of my five year old, the rest were quite engaged and it's certainly never too early (or too late) to introduce the concept of morality, equality, and persistence.

Now, I know there are some people out there who probably turned up their nose at this book (and possibly even this review) because of the last name attached to its author.  To those people I say, don't be lame.  Yes, this book was probably supposed to have 14 women featured in it, but given the outcome of the general election, it does not (though Hillary does have a small illustrative cameo).  Now, I'm not a huge Clinton fan (nor am I a Trumpet), but thankfully you don't have to be a fan of either politician to appreciate this book.   I closed this book feeling like my girls could do anything they set their minds to and I hope they felt the same.  I recommend this book to anyone trying to raise a strong-minded, sensational human being.

For the sensitive reader:  If you are in the far far left or far far right of any political party, you'll likely get your knickers in a twist over something.  Maybe pick up some Dr. Seuss instead.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Friday, November 3, 2017

Well, Now We're Blushing...

We here at Reading for Sanity are super excited 
and honored to have been recognized by 
The Writer Awards as one of the Best Blogs of 2017.  
A team of writers went through over a THOUSAND blogs and 
our little ole' blog landed at #19


 We couldn't be more thrilled and extend a hearty thank you for the award and your kind words:  
  
"The sheer number of books that have been reviewed by this blog is quite amazing.  There have been hundreds if not 1000+ books reviewed here.  The reviews are are tagged by genre, so it's very easy to sort through author, genre, and titles."  - The Writer Awards

If you'd like to see more of the list, you can click here.

(And just in case you were wondering -- we have 1,396 reviews posted to date.)
Go us.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Midnight Queen - Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Summary: In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…


I received a free copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I feel like it’s only fair that I tell you right off that the reason I picked this book is because I was super wistful of the Harry Potter series. And you have to admit that the description of this book seems to be very reminiscent of at least Harry Potter-esque goings on. Well, I was very wrong. And I’m quite sad about it, I might add. I was hoping for more Harry Potter, even if it was just a knock-off. Therefore, you can see how a non-fantasy reading person who only liked Harry Potter because it was Harry Potter would have felt about a book that was decidedly not Harry Potter but more like all those other fantasy books I don’t really like to read. Yeah.

First off, this book takes place when Henry VIII was king. In fact, he is a character and plays a big part at the end. It’s not real history, though, more like an alternative history that involves some of the real players and real goings on, but mostly just kind of does its own thing. It wasn’t super obvious that this book took place during this time, either. There wasn’t a lot of discussion or atmospheric descriptions that led me to believe it took place in any specific time or place. Technology (or lack thereof) wasn’t really discussed, and the atmosphere wasn’t such that I felt like I’d been transported right back to the Middle Ages. As the book went on and I was able to reframe my belief that I would be reading Harry Potter again, I could see how it could have been Medieval, but it wasn’t obvious right off. To me, that's a detriment. I like being transported to the time and place of a book.

Secondly, this book reads like a traditional fantasy book involving mages and magic, and specifically reads like the books my husband read in his childhood. Although we weren’t alive and reading in the seventies, this book could have easily jumped from those types of books—you know, the ones his dad would have liked in the sixties and seventies that he then passed on to my husband, who then devoured them and their cheesy covers. This book actually has a cool cover, but it could have been one of those books. I found the writing to be dated and I didn’t really enjoy it. (My husband was mildly offended by this paragraph.)

The story itself was okay. I didn’t enjoy the very un-modern (I wouldn’t go so far as to say old-fashioned) treatment of the characters, especially the women. This wasn’t a function of the times, either, i.e. I know that women during the Middle Ages didn’t have a ton of sway in society. It wasn’t that, though. It just felt, well, dated.

Overall this book took me much longer to read than it should have. Half of the problem is that I was having a pity party because it wasn’t Harry Potter and the other half of the problem is that I really just don’t like fantasy that much, and this embraced pretty much everything I don’t like about fantasy. I know, I know. This isn’t very fair to the book right out of the gate. However, I try to be open-minded about what I read, I read a wide variety of things and enjoy a wide variety of things, and I just didn’t really enjoy this. I will not be reading the upcoming books in the series.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book was mostly clean. There was a love scene between two newly married people, but it was not graphic.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

Summary:  Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she has left behind.  She is like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world.  And in the stern Puritan community of her relatives, she soon feels caged as well, and lonely.  In the meadows, the only place where she can feel completely free, she meets another lone and mysterious figure, the old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond.  But when their friendship is discovered, Kit faces suspicion, fear, and anger.  She herself is accused of witchcraft!  (Summary from back of book)

My Review:  The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, sending out sticky tendrils of guilt and shame in my general direction.  Something along the lines of: Hey!!  I'm an award winning classic work of YA historical fiction!!!  Why haven't you read me yet, Mindy?!  You call yourself a READER!?!?  Do books ever do that to you?  Mock you from their place on the shelf??  No?  Just me then...well, this is awkward.

Anyway...

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is an incredibly easy read that paints a stark picture of live in the colonies in the late 1600s. It begins with a young Katherine "Kit" Tyler aboard a ship on her way to her aunt's home in Wethersfield, Connecticut where she hopes to find lodging after her grandfather's passing.  Kit soon discovers that everyday life in their strict household is vastly different from the freedoms she had enjoyed living with her grandfather in Barbados, and she struggles to find her place in a Puritan community that is far from welcoming.  As an adult I liked the book well enough on a superficial level but felt it lacked the depth and teeth to be truly memorable.  Honestly, I was a little distracted as a I read her story.  I spent most of the book waiting for the witchcraft hammer to drop and read with a sense of impending doom.  It took a while, but when the hammer fell and things came to rather swift and neatly-tied resolution, I felt a little let down.  That having been said, I imagine the younger readers in my household would enjoy it exactly as written.   Older readers looking for a bit more bite and texture might set their gaze on The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller's set around the same time period.  That having been said, I think The Witch of Blackbird Pond  would be a good introduction or companion book for a middle or YA reader studying the history of the area. 

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some racist ideologies expressed that were typical of the time and some very mild discussion of witchcraft.

Friday, October 27, 2017

All the Lovely Bad Ones - Mary Downing Hahn

Summary: Travis and his sister, Corey, can t resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother's quiet Vermont inn, where they're spending the summer, has a history of ghost sightings, they decide to do a little haunting of their own. Before long, their supernatural pranks have tourists flocking to the inn, and business booms. But Travis and Corey soon find out that they aren't the only ghosts at Fox Hill Inn. Their thoughtless games have awakened something dangerous, something that should have stayed asleep. Restless, spiteful spirits swarm the inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn s grounds. Only Travis and Corey can lay to rest the ghosts they stirred. This means discovering the secret of Fox Hill and the horrors visited on its inhabitants years before... Once again, Mary Downing Hahn has created a chilling and gripping ghost story in the tradition of The Old Willis Place, Witch Catcher, and Deep and Dark and Dangerous."

My Review: I have a very vivid memory of a day in fourth grade when I was supposed to be doing my math but instead was avidly reading Wait Til Helen Comes. Mrs. Balginy (who I just looked up on Facebook) came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I kid you not—I jumped up and screamed so much because I was just totally in the book zone and it was right at the part that Helen is coming out and when she touched me…well. I still remember that fear. If you’ve read Wait Til Helen Comes, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That book is scary! It’s still creepy! That being said, as soon as I saw that my son brought home a copy of All the Lovely Bad Ones I just had to read it because I wanted to be that creeped out again! And it’s Halloween season! So it was time.

This book is scary, just as one would hope from Mary Downing Hahn. There’s just something awesome about an author whose total goal is to scare children out of their wits. I was pleasantly surprised to be scared by this book as well. Its one thing to build up a book in your head and then go back and read it again only to be disappointed, but its super cool when you go back and it’s just as scary and cool as you remember. I had not read this book before, but it certainly is similar enough in its feeling to Wait Til Helen Comes that I knew I’d be disappointed if it was totally lame and not scary at all. Luckily, it lived up to my expectations and was totally creepy full of a nightmare-inducing ending that can only be the workings of an author hell-bent on scary the crap out of little children. Which again. Is awesome. This book was actually really fun to read on a dark and stormy night, which is why I’m putting this review so close to Halloween. It’s a short enough and easy enough read that you still have time to go get it and scare yourself for the season! (It can’t be just me that does that, right?) I like to have some good mood reading to bring me into one of my favorite holidays. It’s not a good Halloween without some creepy ghosts.

One thing I love about this book is that the ghosts are legit. I always feel let down when a “ghost” is not really a ghost, rather some ridiculous misunderstanding. If I want to be scared, I want it to be legit! And these ghosts are cool and scary and definitely bring some nightmares. The story itself is pretty cool and from what I remember of Wait Til Helen Comes, (you know, from a few decades ago) this plot was a little more complex than some of her other work. The back story was there and was actually sad and tragic and also super scary.

I liked this book, obviously, but I don’t want you to go into it thinking that if you’re a hardcore ghost story reader that you shouldn’t read this in place of adult ghost story books. No. This is merely a book that is short enough and accessible enough that you could squeeze it in RIGHTNOW before Halloween is over and still enjoy your normal reading seasonal reading.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a children’s book and therefore the language is clean and there is no sexual content, but there is some violence discussed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (The Illustrated Edition) - J.K. Rowling, Illus. by Jim Kay

Summary:  Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground.  He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.  All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley -- a great big swollen spoiled bully.  Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.   But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry -- and anyone who reads about him -- will find unforgettable.  The beloved first book of the Harry Potter series, now lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist Jim Kay.  (Summary from book flap)

My Review:  If you know me at all, you know I'm a huge Harry Potter fan.  As in, I went to Universal Studios Orlando without my kids so that I could experience it myself.  Yup.  I'm that girl.

I've read the series countless times to my husband and two older children and have two more little kids that I am excited to introduce to Hogwarts.  If you'd like to know my full thoughts on the story, my review of the picture-less version is here.  Ordinarily, I read the first book to them, and then they have to read it themselves and take the AR test before they get to watch the movie and we move on to the next one.  That's how we roll and it works for us. 

However, we ran into a little snag when my third daughter started trying to read chapter books in the 1st grade.  We noticed she would come home from school with a headache almost daily, would squint when reading, and complain about blurry vision and losing her place.  Our first stop was the optometrist, but her prescription was negligible.  It took some time and a myriad of appointments and opinions, but we finally discovered she has some vision issues (with fancypants names) that will require weekly vision therapy.


We have high hopes for the therapy, but realistically, it might be a while before she can read Harry Potter on her own.  I decided to cheer us both up by announcing that, unlike her sisters, I would read the Harry Potter series to her until she is able to take it on herself, without all the AR hoops, etc.

To ease the transition, I decided to pick up the illustrated edition of the first book in the series because I figured it would help enhance her vision and grasp of the story.  Jim Kay's illustrations are fantastic -- magical and whimsical in all the right places.  He brought the cupboard under the stairs, Hagrid's Hut, and Hogwarts Castle (and so many other places) to splendid life...even the owls have attitude!  I especially loved his detailed illustrations of Diagon Alley, the creepiness of Snape's classroom, and the page on trolls torn out of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them.  Kay's vision of the characters is spot on and I loved that the characters didn't exactly resemble their cinematic counterparts, allowing my little girl to put her own mental spin on them.

In short, when I didn't think Harry Potter could get any better, J.K. Rowling met Jim Kay.  And it did.  I recommend this book to anyone who has (or hasn't) read Harry Potter yet.  It's a must have, must read for your collection.

My Review:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Light-handed witchcraft and wizardry.






Monday, October 23, 2017

Popcorn - Frank Asch

Summary: Sam Bear invites his friends to an impromptu Halloween party and asks them to bring a treat. (Summary from Goodreads.com)

My Review: Some books take you straight back to your childhood and, for me, Popcorn, is one of those books. Oddly enough, although I remember the book vividly, I don't remember who read it to me. Statistically speaking, it was either my mother or LeVar Burton (the dude from Reading Rainbow). Either way, I was mesmerized by the author's far-fetched story and characteristically wonderful illustrations. Here's the long and short of it...

Sam's parents leave him home alone while they go to a Halloween party. Is this good parenting? I don't know. The little bear's age is unclear.  As a kid, I just assumed they were amazing.  Sam decides to make the best use of his lack of supervision and throw a raging party while his folks are out. My inner wild child gave him props. After all of his be-costumed friends arrive toting popcorn, they get real crazy and throw it all in a big pot and cook it. Yes, that's right -- they are now operating the stove. As things heat up, popcorn begins to spill out of the pot and onto the floor (see picture below) and quickly fills the entire house. Sam's so-called friends immediately want to bail, but he forces them stay and help him eat up all the popcorn. The night ends with a frightful tummy ache for all involved and Sam manages to drift off to fitful slumber...that is until his parents come home (to nary a trace of revelry), and wake their baby bear to give him a surprise. You can probably guess what they brought, but for the sake of mystery, let's just say that Sam was not a happy camper.  End of story.

This book was written eons ago (okay, 1979) back when people were a lot less PC and snowflake-y about things.  Now, certain parents might try to ban this book for advocating neglect, the reckless application of the culinary arts, and overwhelmingly high-carb diets -- all the reasons I really liked it as a kid and still like it as an adult. After all, what fun is reading if you can't fly in the face of reason every now and again?  I recommend this book as a fast little read and great bed-time story for your little ones.  Just don't actually leave them alone with access to the stove and a gallon of popcorn.  Not for a while, anyway. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:   Should be just fine.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Burning World - Isaac Marion

Summary: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind. Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review: Okay, was anyone a fan of Warm Bodies? Remember that movie with Nicholas Hoult and that girl from America’s Next Top Model? I made my husband watch it with me, we both enjoyed it way more than we thought we would, and I place all of the blame on any zombie-lit book I read on that movie. Because, of course, once I found out it was adapted from a book, I had to read the novel. Clearly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel as well, and have anxiously awaited the promised sequel. To my delight, it didn’t take long for my local library to stock it after publication (sometimes it takes a while, our library system is, um, not good.), and I eagerly jumped in. 

It’s certainly different. Written with a much grittier feeling than the first, Marion explores what life is like after death is “cured” for this little group of zombies and humans. The world certainly isn’t perfect, former zombies aren’t magically trusted pillars of the community, the apocalypse certainly isn’t over just like *that*, and there are still a plethora of challenges to overcome. Matters are made worse when the stadium is bombed and taken over by an unknown corporation, and our heroes (plus a few) set out to discover what’s really going on.

Although the reader is privy to more flashbacks before the plague, which give us insight not only into the humans but into the zombies we’ve come to know and love, the overall feeling of this book is one of despair. I found the humanity surprisingly less evident in this book than in the first, and coupled with the uptick in raunchiness, vulgarity, and gore, it just missed the mark for me. I left the book unsatisfied, and wondering if I will even read the conclusion—whenever that’s published.  Perhaps this is a book best left to the movie?

Rating: Two stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Violent. Gory. Foul language. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

Summary:  At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse.  He thinks himself surrounded by idiots -- and no wonder, with all those happy joggers and shop assistants who talk in code, not to mention the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as chairman of his neighborhood residents' association.  People think him bitter.  But must a man be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered on his face all the time, doesn't always tell people what they want to hear, and remains silent when he has nothing in particular to say?

Ove's well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors -- a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters -- who announce their arrival by flattening Ove's mailbox with their U-Haul.  What follows is a funny and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community's unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

A word-of-mouth bestseller that has caused a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman's irresistible novel about the angry old man next door is an uplifting exploration of the unreliability of first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it is shared with other people.  (Summary from book cover)

My Review:  It's been a while since I've really felt called to a book.  You know?  The kind of book that you think about when you're not reading it. The kind of book you talk about with others even though you haven't finished it yet.  The kind of book that physically pulls you back to your reading spot and says: Listen up Missy!  Yes, I know you've got stuff to do.  Screw it.  READ ME.  RIGHT NOW.   I picked up A Man Called Ove on the recommendation of my favorite librarian and former RFS Reviewer, Heather and  I am so glad I did.  I needed to wash the what-did-I-just-read taste out of my brain left by the last book* I failed to force myself to finish.  Thankfully, A Man Called Ove was just the thing.

If you want a one sentence summary of the book:  Think Gran Torino, but with much less violence and slightly less racisim.  For those of you who haven't seen Gran Torino or who'd like a little more...read on.

In A Man Called Ove, I pretty much took my measure of the main character, Ove, within the first few pages.  Yowza, he's a grump -- old, angry, unpleasant, unreasonable, and just plain rude to pretty much everyone.  It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to read an entire book about a cross old fogey, but I kept on reading because there was just something about him that was the tiniest bit ridiculous and I had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to his story. I was right (go me!).  With each chapter, I learned a little about Ove's history, personality, and motivations.  Each glimpse into his past, made me love him a bit more.  The time spent in Ove's present was a somewhat sadistic delight as various members of the community he scorns worm their way into his life and heart and seriously mess with his plans for the future.

Sometimes authors spend all their time on a main character and forget to flesh out their secondaries, but A Man Called Ove, does not disappoint in that department.  I loved Ove, first and foremost, but Parvaneh, Patrick, and their kids, Sonja, Anita, Rune, Lena, the Blonde Weed, Anders, Adrian, Jimmy, the White Shirts, and even (and especially) the Cat, were all clearly established in my mind.  I could see each of them and even their mannerisms as they interacted - like a movie was playing itself out in my head.  It was awesome.

One of my favorite aspects of any well written book is the moment where things come together and a book gets flipped on its head -- reorienting my perspective and bring things together in a jaw-dropping way.  This book held a few of those moments for me, but I am being deliberately vague about the details because I don't want to yank those moments away from anyone who might be reading this review and thinking, "Hmmm...this Ove guy sounds interesting."  A Man Called Ove is beyond interesting.  And unbelievably sweet.  And a lesson to all about love, the importance of principles, and the absolute necessity of looking a little deeper before pronouncing judgment.

*The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest.  For me, it was mind numbing.  And not in a good way.  That's all the review you will be getting as I don't wish to waste any more time thinking about it.

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  The occasional swear word.  Some brief discussion of a homosexuality.  One very angry (and kind of adorable) man.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick


Summary: A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Pitch Perfect, Twilight, Up in the Air, Into the Woods and Trolls. Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, defiant, and '10 per cent weird'. When she was thirteen, a classmate dropped by her house unexpectedly and discovered written evidence of Anna's social ineptitude. From then on she decided to 'keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here's the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.'

 In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites her readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candour and winningly wry observations. With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she's experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can - from her unusual path to the performing arts (her older brother's affinity for Vanilla Ice may have inadvertently launched her career) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial 'dating experiments' (including only liking boys who didn't like her back) to the perils of reading The Shining while filming Twilight in the isolated Canadian wilderness to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual 'man-child'. Enter Anna's world and follow her rise from 'scrappy little nobody' to someone who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page - with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).  (Summary from amazon.com)
*SIDENOTE* After the birth of my fourth child, something peculiar happened to my reading habits.  They hit a brick wall.  Full stop.  As of right now, if I try to read during the day, my kids invariably need something every five seconds until I give up and decide to try again after everyone is in bed.  When that blessed hour arrives, I usually grab my book eagerly, park my butt on the couch, crack it open...and am asleep within seconds. In recent days, I've turned to audio books to squeeze in something that at least approximates reading.  It's going okay.

My Review:  Scrappy Little Nobody is the perfect audio book for the Anna Kendrick fan, in large part because it is read by one of the funniest people in Hollywood -- Anna Kendrick.   I haven't watched Anna's entire body of work, but I am a fan of her talent and I've loved her in everything I've seen her in (Twilight, Into the Woods, The Last 5 Years, Pitch Perfect, and Trolls (voice)).I loved listening to her read.  No one else could project her particular brand of snark, self-deprecation, and dead-pan delivery with any amount of success. She nailed it.  Anna gives a delightfully honest, witty, and down-to-earth perspective on how she made it in Hollywood -- from her childhood on the stage, horrifying auditions, loneliness, paparazzi, and awkward kissing scenes, to relationships, award shows, intimacy, and an inside look at her experiences on the set of shows like Twilight, CampInto the WoodsPitch Perfect, Up in the Air, and stage productions like High Society.  

Even though the author and I don't necessarily see eye to eye on certain moral issues and it was a bit rather inordinately salty in the language department, taken as a whole, I thought Scrappy Little Nobody was a laugh riot and insanely insightful.  Sometimes Hollywood starlettes tend to come across as superhuman Glamazons, but this book wasn't that at all.  I loved when Anna got real and talked about her obsession with baking, how exhausting it was pretend to be someone you're not, or how broken she was after getting dumped.  I never would have imagined that when she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Up in the Air that she was sleeping on IKEA furniture, struggling to make ends meet and cover up the tar-stains on the middle of her living room carpet (her roommate did it). Anna also doled out bits of wisdom on the deeper issues women (and men) can face. She's pretty much always funny, but it was when she was encouraging those in abusive relationships to turn to their friends for help, ranting about society's double standards, or talking about the importance of not being a "nice" girl if being 'nice' means always doing whatever you're told, that I really felt her passion come through.

To be perfectly honest, I can't recommend this book to most people I know because most people I know would be completely turned off by all the swearing, but I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Anna Kendrick in all her glory.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars.

For the sensitive reader: Anna is adorable and I love her, but she doesn't shy away from swearing or talking about sex.   If you're sensitive to those sorts of things, this is probably not the book (or audiobook) for you.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

The House of Blood and Tears - Lenore Eidse

Summary: "She gazed at the majestic stone building from a distance; with the sun reflecting in the tall gabled windows, it was lovely enough to be a little palace. But appearance is deceiving; inside it was a chamber of evil."

In 1939, Hitler's invasion of Holland crashed like a thunderbolt upon the unsuspecting Dutch people. The dreaded word "Occupation" ruled their existence, but this family of three chose to defend the Motherland. Hillie worked as a double agent; shy, twelve year old Anje was a courier, and Jan became a collaborator. Secrets and lies, the concealment of Jews, Allied pilots in hiding, all were considered acts of treason which could condemn them in this notorious "House of Blood and Tears." The consequence of their involvement was costly in Hitler's Holocaust. A vivid history of World War II in the Netherlands, this is an amazing account of great courage and daring, with a surprise conclusion. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Anje lived a near-idyllic life. Her parents spoiled her, her father’s best friend doted on her, life was good until the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. In the blink of an eye, her life changed permanently. Her father, a lover of the finest and the best, was caught embezzling funds to support his spending habits and found himself without a job. More and more he wasn’t home, leaving Anje and her mother Hillie alone to figure out food, safety, and financial security.  It wasn’t long before the pair decided to do whatever they could to drive the Nazis from their homeland, even if that meant participating in the Underground. 

The strength and tenacity of both Anje and Hillie are amazing. While this book is historical fiction, it is directly based on the life of Anje Minnes and her mother Hillie. Anje started acting as courier shortly after the Occupation and continued through the end of the war. Her mother, who not only found herself needing to support the family financially, also worked directly with the Underground, as well as posing as a double agent. Together they would deliver ration cards, rescue and aid downed pilots, help forge papers for fleeing citizens, hide Jews and place Jewish children in foster homes, and live with the constant fear that any moment, or any person, could bring disaster. 

Along with working for the Underground, these incredible ladies live in an occupied territory and have to struggle with all that entails. Danger doesn’t just come from discovery - it lurks in the darkened streets, wears the face of the neighbor across the way, or comes bringing famine.

While the story itself is incredible and deserves to be told, I had a difficult time with the writing. The writing was fairly immature, reading like an early-reader chapter book (lots of Hooray! or Boo! sentences, many short, minimally descriptive sentences that could have easily been fleshed out, and many instances of elementary paragraphs [A went here. B did that. C happened.]), and I felt like it detracted from the peril and suspense of the story. I feel like it would have been an easy thing to fix had an editor pointed it out, so that’s where I choose to lay the blame.  Despite the writing failings, I am glad this story fell into my hands. The strength, courage, and perseverance of Anje in the face of unspeakable tragedy and betrayal is one everyone ought to know. 

Going beyond the events of the Occupation, the reader is also privy to Anje’s life after the war, as well as how her actions during the Occupation blessed lives generations later. I won’t lie, I may have reared up reading the final chapters of the book.

Rating: Four stars (could have been five, but the writing needed some tightening up)

For the Sensitive Reader: Betrayal that no one should ever face, talk about soldiers raping Dutch women, talk of the torture that goes on in the House of Blood and Tears.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pandora - Victoria Turnbull

Summary: Pandora lives alone, in a world of broken things. She makes herself a handsome home, but no one ever comes to visit. Then one day something falls from the sky . . . a bird with a broken wing. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I attend a book conference every year that focuses on books for young readers, and each year, aside from hearing from children's book authors and illustrators, we are given a spotlight of new books that have come out.  Pandora was one of them.

It's a gentle story about being broken and alone, and then finding a sprig of hope, in Pandora's case, a little bird with a damaged wing.  She works hard to care for and mend this little creature and, in turn, the bird itself leaves her a greater gift.

Being a picture book, this review is a short one, and all I can say is you need to check this one out.  Aside from the beautiful little story, the art itself is so gorgeous.  Pandora's world is well crafted, her character design soft and welcoming, and the ending pages lovely.

My Review: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive

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