Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Wolf's Boy - Susan Williams Beckhorn

Summary: An outcast boy and a young wolf have only each other against an Ice Age winter . . .

Kai burns to become a hunter and to earn a rightful place among his people. But that can never be. He was born with a club foot. It is forbidden for him to use or even touch a hunter’s sacred weapons.

Cut off from the other boys, Kai turns to his true friends, the yellow wolves, for companionship. They have not forgotten the young human they nurtured as an abandoned infant. When Kai discovers a motherless cub in the pack, he risks everything to save her, bringing her back to live with him.

But as winter draws near, Kai’s wolf grows ever more threatening in the eyes of the People. When the worst happens, Kai knows that they must leave for good. Together, they embark on a journey into the north—a place of unimaginable danger—that tests the power of friendship and the will to survive.

Award-winning author Susan Williams Beckhorn delivers a tale set in Paleolithic times. Inspired by modern discoveries, Susan’s careful research creates a vivid picture of a time when the first wolves came to live with humans and forged a bond that lives on to this day. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review: This was a delightful happenstance of a book--I was at the library searching for an entirely different novel, and when it wasn't there I happened to glance down and saw The Wolf's Boy.

I ate this book up.  I loved our main character Kai from the off, an underdog, considered tabat among his people, an outcast, a curse.  He doesn't even have a true name.  Yet even with that hanging over him, he longs to be a hunter, something a person of his standing can never be according to ancient traditions of his people.  Despite being outcast, Kai was kind and caring, and I loved the interactions between him and his younger siblings, and of course his love and care for the wolf cub he adopts.  As well as his longing for the relationship lost between him and his older brother.

This book was filled with awesome words that related to people and things that gave this world a very real feel.  Words like Ama and Apa for mother and father, keerta for a warrior's weapon, and bah and bu for girl and boy.  Simple things woven through the text and dialogue helped this feel like an authentic world.

I always love a good boy and his dog story.  This was a tale set in ice age France, when the first dog began to work with the first human.  I loved Kai's dedication to his wolf, named Uff, and how he needed her as much as she needed him. 

This was a great character story, and also a great adventure and survival story set in a prehistoric time where mammoths, cave bears and saber tooth cats roamed the land.  A quick read too, but very fulfilling.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Kai lives in a harsh eat or be eaten world, but it's handled with taste.  There are several accidents where characters are injured, sometimes very badly, and there is talk of blood.  Animals are also killed for food.

Monday, November 12, 2018

When Elephants Fly - Nancy Richardson Fischer

Summary: There are some battles worth fighting even if it means losing yourself.

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she's not developing schizophrenia.Genetics are not on Lily's side. 

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily's odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there's a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can't abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf's life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: There are a lot of steps you can take to prevent getting sick. Wash your hands. Eat well. Exercise. Get your flu shot. Sadly, the answer isn't as clear when you're talking about schizophrenia. T. Lily Decker is bound and determined to do everything she can do to stave off the genetic predisposition to the disease. She's avoided boys, coffee, stress, stimulus, even learning to drive. Her best friend gives her monthly not-schizophrenic-yet quizzes. She is determined to beat the disease. However, what happens when something more important than your desires come up? Do you walk away? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Honestly, this is one of those books that seems like it would be a quick, set-and-forget kind of books, but it asks the hard questions. What's more important to you than you? Are you willing to sacrifice what you want for what someone else needs? How damaging can our own unintentional narcissism be to our relationships? What if your parents aren't perfect? What if you're not?

Lily is a flawed main character, and not because she's fearful of her future. She's flawed because she's an 18-year-old girl. She's self-obsessed. Her problems create a myopic view of her world - sound like any other eighteen-somethings you know? The best part, however, is that she's able to learn. Her flaws are room for growth, not stereotyped and fluffed up for the reader. The fixes are raw, they're messy, and they're open-ended--almost like real life fixes tend to be. The result is a relatable (at any age, let's be honest, I have T-shirts older than Lily!), real character I couldn't help but root for. The supporting characters are equally as complex and realistic. It was a breath of fresh air.

Even better, this book brings up and highlights two well-researched and pertinent topics: mental health and the plight of elephants around the world. Are they related? Not at all, but in Fischer's hands, they become inseparable. Included at the back of the novel are lists of resources for both issues when readers' interested are piqued and they want to learn more. (My teachy-sense got a little giddy at that.)

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There's a sex scene that, while necessary to the plot, goes further than I'd prefer. There is mention of pedophilia, attempted filicide, animal abuse, and a murder most foul. Trigger Warnings: abuse, schizophrenic breaks 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Nightbooks - J.A. White

Summary: A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling.

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place.

This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales. (summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: Nightbooks was a fun, dark adventure that's a mix of Hansel and Gretel and Scheherezade.  It's filled with witches and curses and clever kids, the perfect mixture for any good story.

Our villain is properly spooky and the haunting dilemmas Alex and his friend Yasmin get caught up in are frightening.  Only by reading a different story he has written every night can Alex keep himself alive another day, and the stories he's concocted are pretty creepy and delightful.

The characters are fun and full, and the magical apartment always has something up its sleeve that adds to the spooky atmosphere, and is definitely not always as it seems. This book is a must for those who love ghost stories or dark fairy tales.

I always like a story about stories, and that theme runs strong in this novel.  Alex has been gifted with a mind for telling dark tales, something which sets him apart from others around him, and something he thinks he needs to squelch in order to fit in.  But as the book goes on, he realizes that gift is something that makes him special, something that he loves to do, no matter how creepy or dark the tales he tells.  I totally understand where he's coming from too--when you're 12 and you hit that middle school stage, you want to do whatever you can to fit in, even if it's going against who you really are inside.  We've all done it, I think.  What's cool is coming out of that and realizing who you're supposed to be, and this ordeal helps Alex come to that point, and how his stories, and stories in general, help him--and us--to be.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: the stories Alex tells are spooky, and some deal with death, and the witch can be scary at times.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Girl Who Smiled Beads - Clemantine Wamariya

Summary: A riveting story of dislocation, survival, and the power of stories to break or save us.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were "thunder." In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries, searching for safety--perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted asylum in the United States, where she embarked on another journey--to excavate her past and, after years of being made to feel less than human, claim her individuality.

Raw, urgent, and bracingly original, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever destroyed; what can be repaired; the fragility of memory; the disorientation that comes of other people seeing you only as broken--thinking you need, and want, to be saved. But it is about more than the brutality of war. It is about owning your experiences, about the life we create: intricately detailed, painful, beautiful, a work in progress.

Review: Remember that scene when Oprah reunited the family split apart by the Rwandan genocide? There were tears and cheers, the whole audience cried, Oprah solidified herself as  America’s fairy godmother, and it was super heartwarming. But what about after the cameramen shouted “Cut!”? What happened to get them to that point? What happened to their relationship after?

Clemantine Wamariya was so young when she and her sister fled the genocide. The goal was to stay with her grandmother until things calmed down, but the mobs that engulfed Rwanda didn’t stick to the cities. Her story, the story of flight and survival, the story of bouncing from refugee camp to refugee camp, of growing up without a country, relying on her sister to be mother, father, family, and friend, and of her eventual asylum in America is the side of the stories we don’t know. 

With the struggles in Sudan not settling down anytime soon, and with the ongoing debate of what to do with refugees, The Girl Who Smiled Beads aims to change the ignorance that surrounds the label of refugee. Wamariya’s experiences, so beautifully and hauntingly detailed here, give the reader the opportunity to see more than a byline. These experiences throw off the shroud of stereotype that those who have never been a refugee all carry, exposing the truth of the struggle refugees have of supporting themselves, of fear of becoming obsolete or nothing but a burden, of the loss and uncertainty that comes with admittance into a camp.

I don’t know about many, but I always thought I understood it as much as I could without having been in this experience. I’d never thought of the boredom that comes with running. The fear of trying to join the black market had never occurred to me. The nuance and the reality struck me, so much so that this book stayed with me for weeks. I found myself literally incapable of starting another book until I’d come to grips with what I’d read, and encouraging everyone I knew who knew how to read to join me in this incredible, heart wrenching, life-altering journey. Even better, I’ve lost count of how many friends who heard about the book when I obsessively posted about it, and who have turned around and asked me “Have you heard of this incredible book!? Wait, did you tell me about it? Isn’t it amazing??”

Trust me, it’s that good. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Rating: Five stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Given how difficult and how terrifying life is for two young women on their own, this is quite clean. There are some beatings that are described. At the end of the book, Wamariya addresses sexual assault in the most respectful acknowledgement and condemnation I’ve ever read.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Taste For Monsters - Matthew J Kirby

Summary: It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.

When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review: This book took me completely by surprise, meaning I didn't really expect to like it as much as I did.  I don't often delve into historical fiction, but the premise excited me and from the moment I began reading, I didn't want to put it down.

This is a proper ghost story, though as the book's tagline states, the scariest ones might not be the dead.  I loved our main character, Evelyn--she is fully rounded  and feels so vividly real and believable.  We get to experience this gritty world through her eyes in a way we don't often think of.  

Because this book was so visual.  This is London in the late 1800s, the slums and its peoples, their way of life.  Kirby doesn't powder it up--I could just feel the grime of the dirty streets, the degradation, the fear, hopelessness.  Evelyn wishes to escape that, not only because she's a woman and hopes to avoid prostitution, but because of her facial deformity which makes everyone gawk and stare.  And it is in the London Hospital where she becomes a maid servant to Joseph Merrick that she believes she's finally found safety.

What I love about how Kirby spun the narrative of this book is that he took two simultaneous timelines, that of Joseph Merrick's stay in the London Hospital, and the Whitchapel murders, and wove this theme of monsters.  We have Leather Apron (a name of Jack the Ripper), the killer murdering and slicing up women in Whitechapel slums, we hear his horrible deeds as the characters ponder on who it could be and if he will be caught.  This comes in stark contrast to Mr. Merrick, who has been seen by the world as monstrous, put in freak shows as the Elephant Man with a disability and disfigurement that keep him separate from the world, and even exploited by his doctor, but was known to all as the most sincere, kind and guileless man.  This book showed how tender and gentle he was.

It further goes on to address the theme of monsters in our main character, Evelyn.  She sees herself as a monster, she has lived a difficult life that has hardened her, done things she's not proud of, and we can see that fight in her demeanor--but that hard life has not taken away her kindness.  She is a stalwart if ever there was one, facing up to her fears over and over again, caring only for the safety of her friend Mr. Merrick even over her own position or safety.

I must also add I like how Kirby humanized those who were murdered--often they are seen as merely victims, faceless names attached to a notorious killer--but this book gave us stories behind the women, let us see their hopes and dreams and eventual peace. 

Gripping ghost story, murder mystery, and character piece.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: The descriptions of the Whitechapel murders are fairy vivid.  There are numerous ghost hauntings, some more frightening than others. There is also an attempted (but thankfully halted) sexual assault, brief discussion of men's anatomy, and some mild language.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: It will be no surprise to you, I’m sure, from just reading this title, that this book is very emotionally charged. I feel like this is a good time for me to give a disclaimer—I am not from nor do I live in a city where there is a large African-American population. I did grow up where there were other minority groups, and indeed I live in a place right now where the minority population is 25%, but I did not grow up in a place where there was a ghetto to avoid or shootings going on. Sure, there were things that happened, and there were places we did not go at night, but there was nothing like the situations in this story. That being said, maybe I’m the worst person to review this book. Then again, maybe I’m the person perfect. Although I am not unfamiliar with the police shootings and racial profiling, reading a first person account of these situations is something I have not done before. This is obviously a fictional book, but it is based on current events and situations that many people experience on a daily basis.

There were several things I really enjoyed about this book. I think it wouldn’t be nearly the book it is if it weren’t for was the voice of Starr, the main character. She was basically our guide through the book, and I loved her sassy attitude and her strength and vulnerability. I also loved how it felt like she took the reader along on a little cultural excursion, letting us into her teenage life complete with slang, social situations, parents, school, and living the dual life of being a kid from the “ghetto” (her words, not mine) but going to a private school in a privileged area. She felt real and made bad decisions just like a normal teen would, but she was also really strong and a force for good. I liked her a lot. I wouldn’t be nearly cool enough to be her friend, but I really liked her.

Another thing I really appreciated was how the author created a very authentic-feeling neighborhood. I don’t believe that all people in the ghetto are all bad. Of course not. I love how Thomas created a vibrant neighborhood full of people who loved and took care of one another. There were the neighborhood kooks like every neighborhood has, right alongside the giving and sharing people who are essential to making it like it is. That being said, Thomas didn’t pull any punches. There was gang activity and scary things, and ultimately that leads some big life changes for Starr and her family, which I won’t give away here. I just really appreciated how honest and authentic it felt.

I really appreciated the humanizing of the victim. Yeah, Khalil was a kid from a “bad” neighborhood and yeah he was selling drugs, but that doesn’t mean he deserved to die in a situation where he was innocent. I find it so hard that this kind of thing happens still, and this book was an eye-opening experience, not because I wasn’t aware of these things that are going on, but because I am aware and yet this insider perspective really fleshed out what it all means. I thought it was a very powerful book, and very worth a read, especially for the young adult audience. Maybe they’ll be able to create a better world than the one they were raised in.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a lot of bad language, drugs, and some violence. There is teenage sexual fooling around but nothing too drastic.

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