Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas & Grandpas - Sally Lloyd-Jones (illustrated by Michael Emberley)

Summary:  Did you know that when you have a grandma or a grandpa, there are guidelines for how best to take care of them?  There are all sorts of special things you need to do to make them feel loved.  Now here at last is a manual packed with advice, pointers, and helpful hints.  For instance, you need to dance for them, sing to them, draw pictures for them, and even hold their hand when they cross the street!  It's also very important to take a nap with them (so that they're not the only ones).  But most importantly, you need to give them lots of hugs and kisses -- because that is what grandmas and grandpas like best! (Summary from book flap)

My Review:  My youngest daughter is turning five tomorrow but still has a somewhat flawed selection process when it comes to choosing books at our local library.  Upon arrival, she runs to the kiddie section and proceeds to grab grab grab from the shelves until she has a Pisa-like tower of books and declares herself ready to check out.  As you might imagine, her reading choices can be somewhat hit and miss in the quality department and come story time, I usually regret my lack of guidance.  This has led to me reading far more Barbie and Biscuit books that a person really needs to read in a lifetime. However, very occasionally she manages to bring home a winner and this book is stinking adorable.

The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas & Grandpas is an adorably tongue-in-cheek care and keeping manual for the younger generations.  Each page shows a different set of animal grandparents and their grandchildren engaging in shenanigans and includes a little tip for kids on how to keep their grandparents safe, well-fed, and entertained.  Of course, there is the standard "let them spoil you" shtick but children are also directed to listen to their stories, gobble up the dinners they make, share their ice cream, go outside, and do fun things together.  There are even great little safety tips that any grandparent (or parent, really) can appreciate -- like being able to see your grandparents all the time "in case they run off" or hold their hand when they cross the street.  I can see it being a great gift for your little one to take with them the first time they stay the night at grandma and grandpas house OR (possibly even better) a great way to announce to your parents that they are becoming grandparents.  Either way, this book is a Goldilocks length for bedtime stories (not too long or too short) and would also work well as a read-together book for your up-and-coming reader.  I'm glad it managed to find its way home to us and I imagine we'll have to buy a few copies for the grandparents in our lives.

My Rating:  4.5 stars

For the sensitive reader:  As long as you have nice grandparents things should work out just fine.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Prisoner B-3087 - Alan Gratz

Summary: Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story. (Summary and image from

Review: Yanek feels safe and happy in his Polish town, until the Nazis appear. Suddenly, school isn't an option. Having food for dinner is a constant struggle. His Bar Mitzvah is conducted in secret, by cover of night. His family lives governed by fear first, by Nazis and the Judenrat second. His main goal in life becomes survival, at any cost.

Prisoner B-3087 is based on the true experiences of Yanek Gruener. As a child, he suffered through an unimaginable ten concentration camps, a death march, and the loss of his family. He survived. Miraculously, he survived. This is his story, told in a way that middle grade/young adults can grasp the desperation, the ingenuity, the terror, and the relief of his experience. Beautifully written, compellingly presented, and surprisingly hopeful, this is definitely a book that students studying World War II should read.

I was so impressed with the tact with which Gratz approached Gruener's story. I can't begin how difficult it must be for a survivor to relay what he went through, and then adding the further challenge of making his experiences age appropriate for the reader, it's nearly a Herculean task. Gratz doesn't stoop to the "shock and awe" factor to spice up Gruener's story, he relays the information in a tactful and appropriate manner. The simplicity itself is beautiful, especially for a reader just hearing about the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time.

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: This is a book about the Jewish Holocaust. While the atrocities are downplayed, they are very much there.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Summary: The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. 

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel - in its form and voice - completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

My Review: One of the first places I heard of this book was from the podcast “Kirkus Reviews.” I had heard mention of it before, seen a few friends who had read it, but it was largely off of my radar. After heaving George Saunders interviewed on the podcast, I knew I had to check it out. Originally I began reading it, as one does when, you know, reading a book. However, I heard mention of it again and how the audio version was incredible—famous narrators including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, George Saunders, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Lena Dunham, and a full cast including over 120 characters convinced me that this was a book I had to listen to.

Now, just so you know, I rarely listen to books. Like never. My audio time is devoted to podcasts, which I also love. The nerdier the better. The only other book I can remember listening to was Elizabeth’s Smart book that she reads herself. I found it very powerful. However, I actually like reading as opposed to “reading.” I really enjoy it. There are definitely books on my list that I will probably listen to, the Harry Potter series being one of them because I’ve heard they’re incredible, but most books—99% perhaps—I will read. However, I am so glad I listened to this book for several reasons. First off, there are a bajillion characters. Remember how there is a full cast including over 120 characters? That is no joke. Some make only one appearance, and a few you only hear from once or twice, but that makes it super confusing for reading. However, with it being read it made it more understandable. In some ways it is actually written very play-like, and having readers helped it flow and made it really interesting. The book itself (which I began reading before switching over to the audio version) looks very choppy, broken into small chapters with each character saying maybe one sentence or a small paragraph and then their name written under it. I can see how it would take a lot of concentration to read this book and get out of it what I think the audio version has to offer. Not to mention that I really enjoyed the readers. There were a lot of readers I recognized and have enjoyed in other places and so it was fun to have them be a part of this book as well.

The book itself is super weird but also awesome. It’s a mix of reality and fiction. I loved how Saunders incorporates first-hand accounts of what Lincoln was like, what the White House was like, and just in general had a lot of reality interwoven with the fictional goings on at the bardo. One of the things that struck me when I heard about this book on the Kirkus Reviews podcast was that the editors receive dozens of Lincoln biographies every week, but this one was different. It’s a biography but it isn’t. I felt like I came to understand Lincoln more than any other thing I’ve read (and I haven’t read a lot, admittedly), but the first-hand accounts as well as were arranged in such a manner that many different viewpoints were offered—some contradictory—and it made for a weirdly complex and complete picture of a very deep, iconic man.

Now for the bardo. Oh, what a weird and wonderful creation. Saunders has masterfully created very real characters in an obviously confusing (for them) situation. This allows for all kinds of discussion of life and death and what it all means in the end. What matters most. What we leave behind and what we can take with us. What we would do in the next life to be able to go back and fix in this life. The confusion of it. It really is quite brilliant. It’s hard to explain, really, because it is a very complex book that is surprisingly clear in its confusion.

I think this is a great read. It’s not a light read, necessarily, and it certainly has some language and content. Two of the ghosts in the bardo have exceptionally bad language and so for that reason I would caution those who are sensitive to such things.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some sexual content and a few instances of very bad language.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mark of the Thief - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Summary: When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods -- magic some Romans would kill for.

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic's newfound powers for their own dark purposes.

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire's most powerful and savage leaders. Summary and image from

Review: Everyone loves a good underdog story. There's just something satisfying about reading about the successes of the little guy, and it doesn't get much lower than a Roman slave in the mines. Sent on a mission that will most certainly lead to his doom, Nic comes face to face with a griffin, and to his surprise, is not only marked with Magic, but comes into possession of Caesar's bulla, a magical object that holds the power of the Gods. 

Disclaimer: this is clearly a middle grade book. Not quite YA, still too mature for younger-but-skilled readers, this could be a poster child for the MG genre. It's fun. It's a little intense, but not so intense that I'd hesitate giving it to my 11 year old. It's a good blend of silly, sweet, and suspenseful.

As a book falling solely in the MG genre, it's also predictable. From an adult standpoint, it was super easy to see where the characters were being led, the twists weren't true twists as much as well-broadcast turns, but I didn't get bored. Sometimes it's a pleasant change to read something that requires less brain power than Victor Hugo, and where I'm not as stressed about solving the mystery as I tend to be with the Queen of Mystery Agatha Christie's books. This is exactly that kind of book--fun, doesn't require too much commitment, easy on the mind, and well-written enough for me to look past the genre and reach for the second book. I'm curious to see what one of my kiddos would make of the book. 

Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: The treatment of Nic as a slave could illicit discussions with your children. Since this book is set in Ancient Rome, gladiators also make an appearance. It's not gruesome, but it may bring about some questions.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fire and Steel Vol. IV: The Proud Shall Stumble - Gerald N. Lund

Summary: Battered down and humiliated on an international scale, post-World War I Germany is a nation on the brink of economic and social collapse. Work is scarce, food has become an extravagance, and money is practically worthless. The people have lost the pride and conviction that once carried them. But some see their suffering as a political opportunity to restore the Fatherland to its former glory--by any means necessary.

In the fourth volume of Gerald N. Lund's epic new series, the Eckhardt family is shaken to the core by Hans's involvement in an attempted coup in Bavaria that has devastating consequences. While Emily turns to her newfound faith for hope and comfort, the world takes little notice of the country's rapidly deteriorating situation or an ambitious political leader who is anything but defeated by his conviction for treason. (Summary and image from I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: We left the two families of the Fire and Steel series during Hitler's meteoric rise to the top of the Bavarian political scene.  Considering the frustration boiling over throughout Germany after the Great War, the unbelievable inflation and economic trials that were hitting postwar Europe, and the uncertainty surrounding any governmental action, Bavaria is now a hotbed for revolution, and Hitler is ready to fill that role. His stormtroopers are mobilized, his plan is flawless, he is convinced that this movement will lead to the eventual takeover of Germany as a whole. But it doesn't work. No plan is perfect, and the coup fails because of ego. In the first few chapters, we find Hitler and his comrades--including Hans--arrested and tried for treason.

Things aren't much better with the Westlund family in Southern Utah. Economically they're prospering -- it is the Roaring 20s, after all. But while they worry about their German family and friends, they also worry about their children. Times are changing and change is scary, especially when what they see coming from Germany doesn't match the reports their friends are sending along. Is this prosperity going to last? Is there something looming?

This was a really interesting follow-up to book three. I always knew Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government, but it was always the footnote. Oh, and by the way, first attempt failed, so he went to prison and wrote Mein Kampf. It fascinated me to revisit the series of events that led to that prison stay, to experience them in more detail than we ever covered in history, and to see Lund's imaginings of how those events would have been viewed by citizens both in Germany and in the United States. While this wasn't as fast-paced or as jam-packed with historical references and events, it delved into the history and the ramifications of the few events it covers in astounding detail. It felt pressing, and urgent, and harrowing. I love how Lund can make me forget that I know how it ends.

Now, let's be honest. There were a few years in the 20s where nothing major either in America or Germany happened. Instead of trying to fill the time, I was surprised to just see a three-year jump. It shocked me a bit to finish one chapter and start another to find teenage characters now finishing school and engaged, but it moved the story forward in a way that would have otherwise detrimentally slowed it down. I get invested in these families, but I also get ridiculously bored when I'm bogged down with the minutia of their daily lives. My biggest draw to this series isn't the lives of the characters, it's how they've fit into history. I'm happy to say that the traction that Lund found in book three hasn't slackened. This is a great addition to the series, and I can NOT wait for the next installment!

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Clean. Hitler's speeches are inflammatory, but it's Adolf Hitler. Of course they are.

Friday, May 12, 2017

King's Cage - Victoria Aveyard

When the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down. (Summary and image from

Review: Entrapped in a cell lined with Silent Stone, shackled with manacles made of the same power-blocking material, and with two Silents as guard, Mare can barely stand. Escape from Maven and his regime is nearly impossible, and yet she has agreed to this. In order to save her family, her friends, and her love, she’s agreed to this slow death and torture. But Silent Stone only quiets her powers, not her mind.

Book Three in this series was an easy, fun, fly-through read. It was clear that this was a holding-pattern book, but there was still so much that happened in it that it that I was surprised to not find myself as bored by this plot advancement as other books that have the same purpose. Were the major revelations? Some. Were there fierce battles and advancements of the Red Dawn’s cause? One or two. But the whole purpose of this installment wasn’t to give you a James Bond-esque action novel, nor was it to rush the series plot forward. 

So, then, what DID we get? Amazing character development to start, not only from Mare but from Maven. Until this point, I never stopped to ask how difficult it could be to be raised by someone who could control your body and fiddle around in your mind. The exploration of that was fascinating and heartbreaking all at the same time. Second, some seriously awesome twists and turns that will shake up the series moving forward. Unexpected allies, new powers emerging, and different forms of the powers we’ve already seen made for a brighter read. Finally, a little bit of the bigger picture, as well as a promise of what is to come. And man, I’m excited what is to come. The research into where these powers came from is something that I’m super excited to discover.

While this isn’t as exciting as the first book in the series, or as action-packed as the second, it did get me very excited and more curious about the next book to come. Further, I’m not happy I have to wait to read it!

Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There’s a fade-to-black that isn’t exactly, um, discreet.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Silent Children - Amna Boheim

Summary: Vienna, 1938: Something's amiss at the home of young Annabel Albrecht. First, her favourite maid Eva disappears, then her friend Oskar. Worse is to come – her brother is murdered and her mother is taken away, leaving Annabel to fend for herself. 

Almost 70 years later, Annabel's son Max uncovers his mother's long-buried past, and unlocks the secrets preserved by Annabel's missing friends. But as Max is to discover, some children can never be completely silenced. Is he haunted by ghosts or by guilt, and will he ever escape?

The Silent Children is a gripping tale of tragedy and revenge, a modern-day ghost story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page. (Summary and image from I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Okay, to start, don't read this book at night. Don't. Especially when your husband is out of town on business and you have an overactive imagination. First off, it's impossible to put down. Second, the ghostly part (which I totally misjudged when I requested the book) comes out of nowhere and doesn't pull any punches. This is a book best read in a brightly lit room with birds chirping outside your window. 

Now to the actual book.

Boheim's debut novel is so well-crafted and well-executed, it's difficult to remember that this is her first book. Reminiscent of Daphne's DuMaurier's Rebecca (one of my favorite books to read in October), the reader is immersed into the mystery surrounding Max's family, a mystery that Max is uncertain whether he wants to even uncover. Boheim has done an impeccable job of creating and capturing how consumed Max becomes by these tidbits of revelation that keep appearing over the course of many weeks. 

The story without the ghostly aspect is strong enough. It could stand on its own without having to delve into the paranormal, which could in other hands prove fatal to the book. However, the ghostly aspect is sparse enough and so perfectly parsed out that instead of mucking up a story with unnecessary "boos" and "spooks", it strengthens and spices up the plot, truly taking it to the next level. It strikes a perfect balance between heartbreaking, terrifying, hopeful, and horrific.

The plot is dark. Notwithstanding the fact that it's a ghost story, the secrets Max's family has buried are difficult to read. Unlike Rebecca,  the ending holds no hope. It's tragic. It fits the story, but man. Have some tissues nearby. 

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Read in bright, sunshiny, populated company. The ghostly presence is vengeful. There is also a post-assault scene that is difficult to read. And the secret is dark.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens - Amy Sarig King

Summary: Obe Devlin has problems. His family's farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn't like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his house, in the last wild patch left, picking up litter and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog, or maybe a small boar. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags... No one has ever seen a creature like this before, because there's never been a creature like this before. The animal--Marvin Gardens--soon becomes Obe's best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King tells the story of a friendship that could actually save the world. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Well this was a funny little book. I do like JFic for some of the wacky things that happen. This book was no exception. The story itself is real enough—a beautiful and large parcel of land owned by one family that is, 100 years ago, sold off for various reasons, much of it by the grandfather of the main character to pay drinking debts. Now the family must watch as its beloved land is turned into subdivisions all in different phases. My family has never owned land like this, but I did grow up in a rural-ish place that was slowly built up into houses. I used to ride my horse through the fields in back of my house, but those fields are now subdivisions with names about as cheery as the ones in this book. So I can somewhat understand what the protagonist is going through.

I loved that there were fun kid things that he did—burying something of his in each of the houses to be built so that the land would still be his. I loved that he would go places and feel a sense of belonging and loss for the land. It really did paint an accurate portrait of a young boy. I have boys around this age and I can totally see that they think how he did. My oldest son is just this age, and he has friends who are starting to get into girls. He isn’t interested at all yet, though (thankfully!). He seems utterly confused by the giggling girls around him and can’t figure out what’s going on. I really enjoyed the main character for this reason—I think he is a realistic boy caught in a realistic situation with very real and relatable thoughts and actions. That is one of the things I love about good JFic.

Now for the animal. Marvin Gardens. How hilarious is it to have an animal who eats trash and poops toxic waste and seems the answer to all things but possibly also the problem of all things? It’s really quite funny, and also sad, too, and again, I loved watching how the kids interacted with him and accepted him. They were fine with a mythical-type creature. They didn’t have a problem believing he was real or trusting him, even when they understood the gravitas of the situation. I mean, it’s no small feat to discover an animal and then have to protect it and know who to tell to both protect it from the world as well as protect the world from it. It was an interesting conundrum that added a layer of maturity to the book that I also appreciated.

One thing I did not love about the book was how heavy-handed it was. I believe that humans pollute the world. I will leave it at that because who wants to read about global warming and whether or not it exists and whether or not humans created it on a book blog? Not me. The point is that I am fine with authors discussing issues. I am. But I do not like being hit over the head with an agenda, no matter what that agenda is, even if I agree with it. Now if I go into a book expecting an agenda—like I’m reading a religious text or maybe a book with the title This is what I think of this topic and I’m going to spend 300 pages telling you about it then I shouldn’t be annoyed because I know what I’m getting into and I’m willingly subjecting myself to such things. However, when I feel like an author tells me something and then hits me over the head with it over several hundred pages I get annoyed and then possibly rebellious about it. I’m looking at you, Barbara Kingsolver. I do feel that this book was somewhat this way. However, because it is a JFic book I understand that subtlety is not necessarily as effective.

Overall, I found this to be a witty and creative book with lots to offer. It was a fun story but also discussed real issues and real feelings, which I think is great. I think my boys would love it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is quite a bit of discussion of poop, which they call scat after talking about poop for quite awhile. Also, there is some bullying. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lock and Key: The Initiation - Ridley Pearson

Summary: Bestselling author of Peter and the Starcatchers and the Kingdom Keepers series, Ridley Pearson reimagines the origins of the epic rivalry between Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. Set in modern times and focusing on Moriarty's bone-chilling beginnings, this middle grade mystery-adventure series will upend everything you thought you ever knew about Sherlock Holmes—and the true nature of evil.

In the pantheon of literature’s more impressive villains, Sherlock Holmes’s greatest nemesis, James Moriarty, stands alone. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes him in the classic tale “The Final Solution,” Moriarty is a genius, a philosopher, and a spider in the center of his web. He is the Napolean of crime—and now, for the first-time ever, New York Times bestselling novelist Ridley Pearson explores the origins of his evil ways.

Our story begins when James and his younger sister, Moria, are unceremoniously sent off to boarding school at Baskerville Academy. It is not a fate either want or welcome—but generations of Moriarty men have graduated from Baskerville’s hallowed halls. And now so too must James. It’s at Baskerville where James is first paired with a rather unexpected roommate—Sherlock Holmes. The two don’t get along almost instantly, but when the school’s heirloom Bible goes missing and cryptic notes with disconcerting clues start finding their way into James’s hands, the two boys decide that they must work together to solve a mystery so fraught with peril, it will change both their lives forever!

It’s another seat-of-your-pants mystery from the bestselling author of Peter and the Starcatchers and The Kingdom Keepers series, Ridley Pearson. (Summary and image from

Review: I'm a sucker for a Sherlock Holmes story, regardless of the form. Even though I know not all retellings are going to be as enthralling as the original (and that I may end up liking one or more retellings even more than some of the original stories), I can't seem to step away from them. Enter Ridley Pearson's new series, Lock and Key.

Now, I really like Pearson's writing. It's fluffy, it's fun, it's light and intriguing, it entertains me when I just want to be entertained. Like many prolific authors, there are some series I like more than others, and some I am fine taking my time working through. But the older I get, the more I realize I'm not going to read every book on my TBR list unless I get a little more discriminating in what I pick up. Some series need to be abandoned, some I'm okay with not even starting. Unfortunately, this is one I'm a little upset I started. 

The reader is taken through a few different points of view throughout the story, giving us a better picture of what's going on. However, it just convoluted the story. And I don't know if it's because I'm such a fan of BBC's Sherlock, but I really didn't think that modernizing the characters worked in this setting. I had a difficult time wrapping my head around why on earth Sherlock, a British charity case, would be shipped across the Atlantic to boarding school, when the very best boarding schools are in Europe. It just felt too convoluted and forced. 

Second, I found myself searching desperately for any spark of brilliance in Moriarty, and all I truly found was a propensity toward bullying, but not much of one. Building upon that upset, Sherlock seemed like a sycophant, desperate for anyone's approbation. It just grated on my sensibilities. Gone were the formidable and genius minds, in their place were two rather average intelligent tweens. And yes, I understand that tweens aren't going to be full adults, but I expect more from two of the greatest minds in fiction, even in their youth.

Finally, this story just dragged. It got outright boring, something that no Holmes-based story should ever be allowed to do. Slogging through the detritus of the story in order to solve a rather boring mystery became chore-like. That's not what a Sherlock story should be. It should be a mind-puzzle. An opportunity for the reader to deduct, reason, and foresee potential outcomes. Never, ever, should a Sherlock story in any form be an exercise in endurance.

Rating: Two stars

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wolf Hollow - Lauren Wolk

Summary: Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Wolf Hollow is the third stop on my tour of 2017’s Newbery Award winners. As with the winner this year—The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and one of the Honorable Mentions, TheInquisitor’s Tale, this Honorable Mention was also a very powerful, well-written book.

One of the things I have really enjoyed about this year’s Newbery Award choices was the diversity of them. The Girl Who Drank the Moon was a fun and allegorical fairytale that obviously had real-world application, but was also just fun because it was an allegorical fairytale. The Inquisitor’s Tale was hilarious and beautifully illustrated and a really unique book that did an excellent job of creating the world in which it took place. Wolf Hollow is an excellent book that had an old-timey feel about it, with a great grasp of the best parts of historical fiction, but also the very real applicability of a book that kids today could relate to.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I feel like I say that a lot. I love to be happily surprised. (Who doesn’t?) I always have high hopes for award winners, especially ones that are as prestigious as the Newbery Award. But let’s face it—some of those early Newbery winners couldn’t hold a candle to the winners today. JFic has become an extremely competitive genre, and I think that’s due not only to more adults reading and enjoying JFic (because let’s face it, sometimes adulting is hard), but also because today’s kids are facing situations that are very complex and layered and they are understanding and experiencing commensurate to what they are reading. I, for one, have very much enjoyed what the JFic genre has had to offer for the past several years.

One of the things that surprised me most about Wolf Hollow was the old timey feel about it. It reminded me of historical fiction books from a long time ago—the kind that don’t necessarily bring you right to living in the time it takes place, but more like helping you remember another time, another place. Does that make sense? It’s not like I was living in the world, I felt like I was watching the world it was taking place in. It was fascinating, actually. Wolk does an excellent job of setting time and place and explaining things in a way that just really takes you back. Not that I lived during this time, of course, (WWI is a very long time ago, even if you think I’m old, which I’m not). For instance, in the very beginning of the book she’s describing how the main character doesn’t think she’s rich, and then proceeds to tell about the home she lives in, the little extras like the small stained glass window in their house, and it just creates this very real portrait of the world as well as what the narrator is like. It’s great.

I very much enjoyed the characters in this book. They made the story, of course. As I’m sure you can tell from the description, this is a sad book. There is so much hurt and misunderstanding and sometimes that’s really frustrating not only to read about, but to live in real life as well. And so I appreciated the honesty in that sense. I also appreciated that for the most part, people were good and trying to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I like this in real life and I also enjoyed it in the book. My world view is such that I believe people really are like this.

Lastly, I thought the writing was fantastic, as you might expect from a winner of such a prestigious award. It was beautiful and poignant and felt like it was written by a young pre-teen, even though it was also very complex in its simplicity and insight. There was a lot to be learned not only from what was being said, but by the subtle nuances as well.

I really think this was a great book. I appreciated the lessons it had to teach, and definitely recommend it to those who love JFic.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some child on child violence and also some sad scenes. I felt like these things were all dealt with on a level that JFic readers would be sad to read about, but could understand and relate to.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Zalman Ber - Sol Kotz and Lisa Mishler

Summary: Zalman Ber's story, told in his own voice, is a powerful addition to the historical recountings of World War II. Together, he and his wife, Luba, survived the Holocaust. They escaped the horrors the Nazis inflicted on their Polish villages. They fought with partisans. Then later, Zalman enlisted with the Russian military.

Their story is about love, war, heroism, and miracles. It is a testament to their resiliency and capacity not just to survive, but to flourish and rise above tremendous adversity. Love, courage, and a sheer force of will drove Luba during her long journey to find Zalman, alone, in one of the coldest winters in recorded history while being surrounded by Nazi soldiers. Luba with her sensitivity influenced Zalman when, time and time again, he should have been killed and was not. Their story deserves to be experienced and honored. (Summary and image from I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Zalman Ber and his wife survived the ghettos of Poland. They survived the personalized attention and disdain of a Nazi commander. They joined the resistance, fought bravely, endured unimaginable personal loss, and survived the war. This is his story as told to his daughter, and it’s a powerful one.

Written in a conversational tone, almost as though the book is a transcript of her father’s interview, this is a simple book that grabs at your heart and humanizes some of the lesser-told stories of the Holocaust. It was sweet. It was fast — and I’m talking an hour and a half read. But don’t let the length diminish the worth of the story. Ber may succinctly lay out his struggles and his triumphs, but he doesn’t glaze over either personal failures or growth.

The style of writing perplexed me. At the beginning, I couldn’t decide if it was stylistic to write in broken English, or if it was a draft that had been published as an ARC. Confusing me further, there were numerous typos that are scattered throughout, and the English improves for a time, only to devolve toward the end. I don’t feel like the style lent itself to the story, rather it detracted from what is a powerful enough narrative in its own right. 

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There are glancing mentions of sex and affairs. But they’re so brief you can blink and you’ll miss them.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Darkness Absolute - Kelley Armstrong

Summary: The follow-up to #1 NYT bestseller Kelley Armstrong’s acclaimed City of the Lost, Rockton town detective Casey Duncan makes a terrible—and dangerous—discovery in the woods outside of town.

When experienced homicide detective Casey Duncan first moved to the secret town of Rockton, she expected a safe haven for people like her, people running from their past misdeeds and past lives. She knew living in Rockton meant living off-the-grid completely: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. What she didn’t expect is that Rockton comes with its own set of secrets and dangers. 

Now, in A Darkness Absolute, Casey and her fellow Rockton sheriff’s deputy Will chase a cabin-fevered resident into the woods, where they are stranded in a blizzard. Taking shelter in a cave, they discover a former resident who’s been held captive for over a year. When the bodies of two other women turn up, Casey and her colleagues must find out if it’s an outsider behind the killings or if the answer is more complicated than that...before another victim goes missing.

Casey Duncan returns in another heart-racing thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I've been on a reading tour of the recent Newbery Awards, so maybe you know how that goes...simple reads with a lot of substance. Cute kids, fun stories, exceptional writing. I mean, who doesn't love the Newbery Award winners? I think it's very safe to say--and you will probably agree wholeheartedly here--that this book is very different from that. And you know what? I was kind of a nice break. I've very much enjoyed reading all the awesomeness that the Newbery Awards have had this year, but every once in awhile I enjoy a feisty female detective in a society cut off from it all.

Several months ago I reviewed the first book in this series, City of the Lost. Read that review here. I have enjoyed some of Armstrong's works in the past, and so I was excited to see a new series come out, especially an adult series. The series I really enjoyed previously was a YA Fic series, and I am embarrassed to admit what that was so we're moving along. Anyway, the premise to this series is really cool. It takes place in an off-the-grid kind of wilderness place (think Canadian Yukon, not crazy town North Korea). The people are isolated geographically from the outside world because they are being protected from people who wish them serious harm, although there are those that have bought their way in to the community to get rid of their shady and criminal past. No one knows who is who, and even the sheriff (a swarthy and salty-mouthed man) is on a very limited need-to-know basis about peoples' past. This is all controlled by a Big Brother-like committee who makes the Big Decisions. It's like the ultimate party game of Mafia where nobody knows who is the bad guy or the good guy, and when someone wakes up dead they could be a common villager or someone that they should be protected from. So it's fun, right? A party game in book form. And serious, of course. Because the dead people won't be eating pigs in a blanket and grape-jelly-and-hot-sauce meatballs after everyone is out and the game is over.

One thing that I really like about this series so far is how the place is an actual character. It is as much a fight against the weather and the atmosphere as it is the hostile people. And there are outsiders from the community. All good mysteries should have outsiders. These outsiders are two-fold--those who have left the community, and those who have grown up on the outside. Those people are suspiciously feral and unpredictable. It just really makes for a foreboding and dangerous feeling throughout the book. In a good way, of course.

The actual human characters are fun and interesting as well. There's some mushy love stories going on as well as the predictable sex scenes (Armstrong loves sex scenes). These are not horribly graphic, although I wouldn't call them clean.  The people are interesting, though, and many of them are multi-dimensional, which comes naturally both because that's how people are but also there is a sense of not really knowing who anyone is just because of the nature of the town and the secrets it holds.

I thought this was a pretty fun book overall with a good twist at the end. There is quite a bit of language. Armstrong likes to be a Big Girl by putting the "F" word all around in the book just to make sure we know that she can write adult books as well as YA Fic, where she also uses bad language. The character that uses this language the most--the sheriff--uses it creatively and in many forms--noun, verb, etc. So there's that. If you don't mind language, and are up for a good mystery with a super cool additional character of the atmosphere, this is your book.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Do not read this book. Sex scenes. Language. Bad language.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Moon Called - Patricia Briggs

Summary:  Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy's next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she's fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy's connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water... (Summary from

My Review:  Let's just address the elephant in the room.  That cover!  Quite frankly, I wouldn't be caught dead reading this book in public (or in front of my girls), but it came highly recommended from a new friend of mine and so I thought I'd give it a whirl.  On my ipad.  Which has a solid purple cover.  Sadly, as awesome as she is, I'm not sure this new friend and I are kindred spirits when it comes to our reading tastes. Basically the story boils down to this: Mercy is a mechanic with an attitude.  She's also a shapeshifter/were-coyote/something-else-mysterious.  She lives next to an Alpha werewolf who ends up nearly dead after his human daughter is kidnapped by mysterious assailants. Hi-jinks ensue.  Mercy gets in the middle of it all.  Along the way there are a thousand other characters and a remarkably unromantic love triangle between Mercy, Mr. Alpha, and Mr. Werewolf Ex From Her Past, before things are resolved.

Ordinarily, I like a good paranormal romance I adore stories with a strong female lead. In Moon Called, paranormal abounds and Mercy is as strong as they come, but I just couldn't stomach the rest of it. Everything was convoluted and sooooo.  darn.  tedious.   Something happens.  Have a long conversation about it.  Go talk to new character (werewolf/vampire/witch/gremlin/undercover cop) about it.  Get into and out of trouble.  Leave with tiny clue.  Add to that a bunch of pack rules and extraneous details that get in the way and it was just too hard to keep it all straight and way too hard to care.  I finished, but with very little desire to read further in the series.  A peek at the next one's cover nailed that coffin firmly shut.  Can you say, 'Hello, boobs!'?  Sheesh, Mercy needs to button up her coveralls.

For the sensitive reader: No sex, but a lot of aggressive male posturing. Some swearing, but none of the 'majors' as far as I can recall.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Monday, April 24, 2017

How They Choked - Georgia Bragg

Summary: Over the course of history, famous people made mistakes that were so monumental they could never escape them, no matter how brilliant their successes! Ferdinand Magellan is credited as the first man to sail around the world . . . but he only actually made it halfway. His terrible treatment of everyone he met cut his life journey short. Queen Isabella of Spain is remembered for financing Columbus’s expeditions—and for creating the Spanish Inquisition. J. Bruce Ismay commissioned the unsinkable marvel of the sea, the Titanic—and then jumped the line of women and children to escape death on a lifeboat. Readers will be fascinated well past the final curtain and will empathize with the flawed humanity of these achievers. 

Famous successful “failures” include:
Marco Polo • Queen Isabella of Spain • King Montezuma II • Anne Boleyn • Ferdinand Magellan • Isaac Newton • Benedict Arnold • George Armstrong Custer • Vincent Van Gogh • Susan B. Anthony • Thomas Alva Edison • J. Bruce Ismay • Amelia M. Earhart • Joseph Jefferson Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) (Summary and image from

Review: If you remember a few years ago, we really enjoyed How They Croaked over here, a slightly irreverent, humorous collection of deaths of famous people. While How They Choked is a similar format, written in the same short biographical chapter, I found that the overall tone was much different. It felt overly snarky, more than anxious to exploit and mock any and every mistake a handful of heroes from history may have ever made. Are some of these characters deserving of at least one of their mistakes being explored? I'd argue all of them are. However, that's not what this book accomplishes.

I think mistakes are awesome. I don't like making them, but how else do we innovate, learn, study, and progress than by making mistakes? I'm a natural optimist, and believe that there's nothing wrong with exploring mistakes, especially if we look toward the outcome. How did these people grow from their mistakes? How did they change the world? Why do we remember them? How do I not make the same ones? When I grabbed this book (I needed a quick read, and I wanted to screen it for my kids' reading leisure), that's what I was expecting.

That's not what I got. Instead of any modicum of positivity, these bios are ridiculously pessimistic. The theme of "choking" runs throughout, refusing to acknowledge any and all successes that came from their mistakes, instead, painting each of the subjects as complete and utter dunderheads incapable of any rational decision or thought,  and worse, individuals that just stumbled into the "luck" of being remembered for their "wins". Don't get me wrong, some of these subjects are possibly deserving of such treatment (I'm looking at you, Benedict Arnold.). But mocking Susan B. Anthony as never having accomplished anything? Nope. Can't get behind that.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: This is a middle grade level book. Nothing is terribly graphic, but discrimination and death happens.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Caraval - Stephanie Garber

Summary: Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away. (Summary and pic from

My Review: This is one of those books that just looks really cool. I'm not talking like I was browsing along and "Yeah, this looks pretty cool." I'm talking about how the book itself actually looks really cool. I like the way the invitations to the Caraval are written, I liked how the book was divided into sections, I liked the artwork. It was I've read several books in the YA Fic genre that look really cool, and I just love the tone it sets. The way a book looks matters, people. It just does.

So the premise of this is pretty cool. It takes place in a fantastical realm, and like many books that do this, there are different territories (or countries or kingdoms or whatever) and the oppressed ones often don't know what it's like elsewhere, or even if elsewhere exists. Sometimes the book really describes this a lot and we know a lot about the world, but this isn't such a book. We know some about the world, but when I think back it's all kind of fuzzy. I know the main characters are from a conquered place, unaware of other places and what they're like, and that makes Caraval even cooler. The world building in this isn't so important, though, because the real story is about Caraval. 

Don't you just love that name--"Caraval?" I think it's really a fun description of what the Caraval is--the magic, the mystery, the carnival/mardi gras/crazy game that is Caraval. I think it's a really apt name for a lushly described environment. Just like the look of the book, the descriptions are lush and varied. The Caraval was well-described and Garber obviously had a very clear picture in her mind of what everything looked like. It was fun to read about the sumptuous surroundings and the elaborate clothes and frenzied behavior of the people. Sometimes I felt like these descriptions were a little formulaic, never varying in their number of descriptive words or the obligatorily followed analogy. It was almost like every noun in Caraval was put in a long list, and then she went through and gave every one two descriptive words and a metaphor, creating a pattern that she followed every.single.time. At least she was consistent, right? I found it to be slightly distracting at some points, but I still enjoyed the book.

Now for the story. As with most books, it was going along just great and was really fun and interesting, and then the ending came along. The ending was fine, but as with most books (endings are hard, as we all know), it felt rushed and a little confusing, like Garber knew exactly what she wanted to happen but she'd run out of pages and therefore had to close the entire book in the span of three paragraphs. I'm exaggerating, but it did have that rushed feel and the slight dysphoria that comes from not knowing exactly what transpired after reading such lush transcriptions and then all of a sudden you're just dumped out the other side wondering what happened to you and the rest of the book. It was certainly finished and had an ending point, but it did seem a little rushed in comparison to what the rest of the book was like. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Yes, it had its writing issues as mentioned above. This may be due to the author's inexperience, although she was definitely a fun writer. The story was a fun distraction, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. If you're a fan of YA Fic, this is one I definitely recommend.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some teenage sexual goings on, although nothing really graphic, and I think it's definitely on par with others in the genre, maybe even on the lighter side.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Modesty, Makeovers, and the Pursuit of Physical Beauty: What Mothers and Daughters Need to Know - Jeffrey R. Holland and Susan W. Tanner

Summary:  The Lord wants us to be made over - but not in the image of the world. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president, present two powerful messages on self-image and society's obsession with outward appearance. Based on their October 2005 general conference addresses, this small-size volume explores the intimate link between body, mind, and spirit.  

Women of all ages are confronted with a fixation on the physical body that has become increasingly common in the world today.  Elder Holland asserts, "You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything!  The pitch is, 'If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.'  That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood."  These timely and inspired messages will help us understand that happiness comes from accepting and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world.  Filled with beautiful images and inspiring ideas, this attractive gift book is perfect for any woman aspiring to fulfill her potential of divine spiritual beauty.  (Summary from book flap)

My Review: Growing up, I remember having a poor body image and a warped sense of physical beauty, picked up from observing the world through the wrong kind of filter.  Now, as the mother of four girls, I am constantly looking for books that will help them develop and maintain a healthy spiritual and physical outlook (and avoid some of the pitfalls of living in an imagine obsessed world). I ordered this book to help my two older girls learn a bit more about the importance of modesty and spiritual beauty and to help my tween with a religious goal she had set.  It didn't hurt that Jeffrey R. Holland was a co-author. We are besties.* 

This book was based off two talks from the October 2005 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints**, and that is exactly what it felt like -- two talks.  Each section was full of inspirational wisdom and truth, accompanied with pictures and beautiful quotes. The talks stressed the importance of loving oneself, striving to live a virtuous life, and not subscribing to the world's definition of beauty, but it was not the in-depth exploration of issues that I was hoping to read.  It felt like the first half of a book, the part intended to motivate the reader into making a change, and I am there -- I am already super motivated.  I wanted a deeper dig and a little more actionable intel to go on.  Something that I could put into practice that I am not already doing.  In short, I liked this book and would recommend it as an important, truth-filled, quick and uplifting read, but I wanted a little more 'how-to' out of the experience. 

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

*At least, in my head.
**While these authors are members of the LDS (aka Mormon) Church, I do believe that their words on this topic are applicable to those of all faiths.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Heartless - Marissa Meyer

Summary: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. (Summary and image from

Review: Cath just wants to bake. As a lady of the court, she typically can only sneak into the kitchens to practice her passion. Her mother only allows her to bake because the King of Hearts is so taken with her treats. She dreams of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid, Mary Ann, who has such a head for business and numbers it's astounding. But then one night she dreams of a man with golden eyes. As golden as lemons, in fact, so imagine her surprise when she wakes up from her dreams with a lemon tree in her room. This is Wonderland, however, and dreaming a dream into reality isn't exactly news. How else do you think Cheshire Cat came to be?

Marissa Meyer is tackling a different retelling through this book. Instead of adapting and updating a series of fairy tales into a new story like she did with Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, she's tackling the untouched origins of the brutal, mad Queen of Hearts. Origin stories can be tricky -- look no further than Star Wars 1-3. You enter the story knowing the ending, and have to somehow work backward to ascertain how the villain became such. It can go wrong quickly and without much warning, because so many readers expect to feel a certain camaraderie with the protagonist. It's difficult to see a character so loved become the antagonist.

So, did Meyer "Annie" the Queen of Hearts? (Seriously? Annie? How did George Lucas think that would ever be an okay nickname for Darth Vader? Seriously.) I'm so pleased to report that no, no she did not. Meyer has taken on quite a task here, not only trying to inject a modicum of humanity into a truly loathsome character everyone knows, but doing so in the unpredictable, mad, rich world of Wonderland. Through getting to experience the true, sweeping love of Jest and Cath, battling the Jabberwock (and discovering exactly how the Jabberwock came to be), attending a tea party at the Hatter's (pre-madness, but don't worry, we cover that, too!), and the courtship and eventual betrothal of Cath to the King of Hearts, I found myself not even questioning the journey from sweet, adventurous baker to psychopathic ruler of Wonderland. More so, I found myself so gutted by Cath's heartbreak that the transition seemed inevitable and mostly logical.

Meyer has a special talent for taking stories that everyone knows, that everyone could recite by heart, and by turning them on their heads in a way that not only preserves the integrity of the originals, but breathes fresh and new life into them. Her venture into Wonderland was so rich, well-detailed, and true to character that I had no problem wrapping my mind around this version. It's as though she collaborated with Lewis Carroll in the writing of the story. My only complaint is that this isn't a new series. I was not emotionally prepared to bid Cath farewell!

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Sir Peter Peter (the Pumpkineater) is emotionally and physically abusive. There are a couple of murders, and the Jabberwock attacks are intense. That said, I think a thirteen year old would enjoy this book. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Carve the Mark - Veronica Roth

Summary:  Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people.  Cyra's currentgift gives her pain and power-- something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies.  But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother's hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.  Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe.  Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless.  Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive- no matter what the cost.  Then Akos is thrust into Cyra's world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable.  Will they help eachother to survive, or will they destroy one another?  Carve the Mark is Veronica Roth's stunning portrayal of the power of friendship -- and love -- in a galaxy filled with unexpected gifts.  (summary from inside flap of book)

My Review: Carve the Mark is the latest from Veronica Roth, bestselling author of the Divergent series.  It is set on the ice planet Thuvhe (Thoo-vuh) and tells the story of two warring nations and two very different people.  Cyra is a hardened Shotet warrior, increasingly crippled by a her current gift which can cause others, and herself, immeasurable pain.  Akos and his brother Eijah were kidnapped from Thuvhe by the Shotet when they were children and have been forced to live in captivity.  Without giving away the details, it is a story of friendship, vengeance, endurance, loyalty, and the lengths some will go to for love and others for power.  

Carve the Mark didn't knock my socks off, but it didn't make me want to eat them either which is a feat for some YA these days.  Initially, it took a while for me to properly engage with the characters, due in large part to my distraction with their hard to pronounce names (well, hard to pronounce correctly).  Is it See-rah?  Kee-rah?  Who knew?!   I finally had to put the book down and go look it up so that I get past that particular obstacle**.  Once I was able to get in the proper head space, it was easier to read and enjoy the characters.  

Sometimes YA protagonists can seem a little too perfect, too strong, to good-looking, etc, but Roth does a good job writing believable characters.  I loved that neither Cyra or Akos was the be-all-end-all of their species.  They struggled in different ways, both needing each other for different reasons.  I felt their personalities, chemistry, and relationships were authentic and not over-the-top-I-would-abandon-my-family-for-just-one-more-second-with-you dramatic like some other YA novels.  The story line had a lot of different elements and characters that sometimes were hard to keep straight, but overall I enjoyed my time with the story, even if I was decidedly unhooked.  If Carve the Mark is a stand-alone, which I highly doubt, then Veronica Roth is mean because it ended with several loose ends.  However, if it's part of a greater series, which I strongly suspect, then I am willing to give the next book a chance to really hook long as it doesn't take nine years to come out.  In the famous words of Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Williams, Ain't nobody got time for that!

**Let's just get that out of the way for you: Cyra = SIGH-ruh, Akos = AH-kose, Eijah = EYE-juh, Ryzek = RYE-zek.  There.  That should help.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: One instance of swearing that I can recall.  Some violence towards the innocent.  Some making out between two characters.  Allusions to a homosexual relationship between two secondary characters.  


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