Non-essential in the Under the Never Sky series, but it fills in backstory about a supporting character from the first book. This was $3.00 on Amazon...moreNon-essential in the Under the Never Sky series, but it fills in backstory about a supporting character from the first book. This was $3.00 on Amazon and includes a preview of the next book in the series - Through the Ever Night. I'd say this was worth about the above price - not more but not less. (less)
What a creepy, strange, dark little book. Reading this felt like wielding a blunt instrument. The writing veered this way and that sometimes with litt...moreWhat a creepy, strange, dark little book. Reading this felt like wielding a blunt instrument. The writing veered this way and that sometimes with little connection between scenes and characters. Told from several points of view, this book is a grim tale of prejudice, human stupidity, cowardice, loneliness and a kind of blundering savagery. Laurel Shelton has spent her life in what the people of her town consider to be a cursed cove. Her brother Hank has just returned from World War I without a hand. Their mother died long ago, and their father only died within the last year. Laurel spent about a year in what the author repeatedly refers to as this gloamy cove - an experience she all but vows not to relive. The Shelton farm has been neglected, and the house itself lacks a calendar and a working clock. Laurel sees no reason to replace these things - preferring to orient herself to the days of the week based upon when the family's only friend - an old man name Slidell - shows up periodically with supplies and information. The people in town have always avoided the cove, saying it brings ill fortune to its inhabitants. And Laurel is shunned as a witch because of a birthmark she has on her arm.
This book is very short, and you do experience a sense of place while reading, though the sense of place is perhaps not as evocative as the author would like. The writing had a lot of gaps and lacked nuance. The characters were thinly drawn, and it was hard to get at anyone but Laurel, though she herself was more an animate incarnation of numbed loneliness, combined with a naive dreaminess about the future.
One day Laurel comes upon a man in the woods playing a flute. After he is nearly stung to death by bees, she brings him back to the cove and revives him. Purporting to be an illiterate mute, Walter agrees to help Laurel's brother repair the farm. Laurel meanwhile has designs on Walter, who seems to immediately reciprocate the instant Laurel turns her gaze upon him. Their relationship had little development or detail. It merely happens and seems to develop primarily because they both happen to be in the same place at the same time. Walter has a secret that the author seems to want to readers to guess right away because of the note he provides right before the first page. This secret brings doom, gloom (or should I say gloam?) and disaster upon everyone.
The villain of the story had an unnecessary level of time given to his narrative arc. Chauncey Feith is a cowardly army recruiter who preferred to stay at home rather than fight overseas. He is a lifelong fool who was bullied as a child and continues to experience bullying as an adult. His personality is hollow, foolish and without consequence. To give so much time to his story was worthless, because the author seemed to envision this villain as a stock character. His actions were obvious, and his character had no depth. His end was probably the only appropriate thing about him.
Regarding the end, without totally giving it away, it was abrupt and brutal. The last 30 pages were a race to a dead end. I'm not sure what the larger picture was with this book. The characters had little to say, made few connections or observations and were more or less stereotypes. And what individuality they possessed wasn't expanded upon to any kind of satisfying degree. I won't be reading anything else by this author.(less)
This was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obv...moreThis was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obvious and realizing your sense of self-worth. Good book for 2nd grade and up.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert them. Kami is an outsider in the village of Sorry-In-The-Vale for several reasons - the main one being that she's never been shy about telling people that she has spent her entire life talking to a boy named Jared who exists only in her head. This has given her some grief growing up as you could imagine, but she's perfectly content to be herself and doesn't especially question why she's been hearing this guy's voice in her head since she was born. In fact, Kami is strangely confident in herself for the most part and has taken it upon herself to head the small English village version of the Scooby-Doo gang.
Kami runs her school paper, and her first assignment is to find out why the town's mysterious founders the Lynburns have suddenly returned after a 20-odd-year absence. The perfect sources for this investigation show up immediately, when cousins Ash and Jared Lynburn turn up as students at her school. Naturally, the Jared mentioned above eerily resembles the one she has heard in her head. What the two of them will do now that they are forced to confront the real existence of the other is simultaneously hilarious and yet also awkward and sad. Sara Rees Brennan takes what amounts to a fairly simple paranormal setup and gives it some depth worth discussing. The social awkwardness of teen relationships is magnified here by the happiness and excitement juxtaposed with the oddity and claustrophobia of having someone know what you're thinking and how you're feeling all the time. Rather than jumping past the uncertainty of wondering what another person is thinking, having Jared and Kami unable to escape each other just seems to make figuring out their new relationship to each other more difficult. I thought that was great.
The gothic part of the story comes into play with a string of mysterious murders with a Satanic bent that start popping up after the first few chapters. Everyone in this small town is a suspect, and even Kami's own mother is hiding something from her. The Lynburns' creepy old castle and the woods that seem to engulf people at the drop of a hat add nice touches to the side of this story that is a sendup of gothic tropes. It's also a nice touch having a new part of the book begin with a quote from 18th- and 19th-Century literary celebrities like Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Frost.
What I liked about this story is that Jared and Kami spend the first book in this series literally at arms length. Their newfound realness is fascinating and yet also horrifying to both of them. Most YA books would and have gone the route of creating a ridiculous, co-dependent, instantaneous relationship between the two of them. Kami and Jared are certainly very close, but they had no choice. Now having met, Kami begins to see the negative side of having someone pretty much know your every move whether you want it that way or not. Jared meanwhile does a good job of playing the part of a Byronic hero, moody and sneering and co-dependent. However, he has his funny side too, and he's not alienating.
Definitely looking forward to seeing how this story takes shape over the next book. The mystery was engaging as well, and for the most part I felt everything came together logically. This isn't a deep, mind-altering read, but it was pleasant and done well.(less)
Awesome book about a girl who can't get her family's attention because they're so wrapped up in their technological devices. She gets a hint of a leaf...moreAwesome book about a girl who can't get her family's attention because they're so wrapped up in their technological devices. She gets a hint of a leaf blowing through the front door from outside, and suddenly a whole new world opens up for her!(less)
Great little book about a self-involved toy rabbit who learns the value of love and friendship after being lost one day. He comes full circle through...moreGreat little book about a self-involved toy rabbit who learns the value of love and friendship after being lost one day. He comes full circle through a varied series of interactions. The writing too is simple but eloquent.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Quick-paced and exciting historical fiction that focuses on a lesser-known aspect of World War I...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Quick-paced and exciting historical fiction that focuses on a lesser-known aspect of World War II: the Norwegian resistance effort against the Nazis. Espen is based on a real-life Norwegian spy who started out delivering illegal newspapers as a teenager and eventually became a full-fledged covert operative. Margi Preus does a great job evoking the setting. I felt like I could envision the Alps perfectly. It was also a really interesting window into how much skiing was a part of the lives of Norwegians. It was even more exciting to know skiing played a part in espionage!
This is a great middle-grade book, with some excellent back matter that expounds on the true aspects of this story. Also a few espionage-related extension activities for those who want to create their own secret messages like Espen did.
I had a couple of minor complaints about this book that actually would probably prove as strengths in a classroom setting. The first is that the "villain" Aksel was too one-dimensional. He felt shallow and just plain mean. I would have liked to see more of what motivated him, other than the fact that he was never liked at school. The second issue I had focused on Espen's friend Kjel, who joined the Norwegian Nazi party for misguided reasons; he was a good person who thought working with the Nazis would simply end the conflict. His character had a lot of possibilities for examination that weren't dealt with as much as I would have liked, but kids could spend a lot of time debating the path they would have chosen when faced with Kjel's situation.
The story had some loose ends that were later more or less resolved by the author's note about the real story in the back. However, it would have been nice if they had wrapped up in the narrative itself. All in all though I loved this book. It was inspiring and fascinating, and I raced through it easily.(less)
Wordless picture book about an escaped slave hiding in a shed on a farm during the Civil War. A girl finds the fugitive while gathering eggs one day....moreWordless picture book about an escaped slave hiding in a shed on a farm during the Civil War. A girl finds the fugitive while gathering eggs one day. She never actually sees the slave but leaves food every day. When Confederate soldiers come looking for the slave, the girl doesn't say anything. The slave eventually escapes but leaves a corn husk doll as a gift for the girl.(less)
Reading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most p...moreReading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most part. The pacing was great, though occasionally marred by ultimately pointless meditations on the current events of the day. All this talk of miners' strikes and IRA bombings didn't really impact the personal war going on between MI5 agent Serena Frome and writer Tom Haley. This book was so meta in its framework that the constant onion-like nature of the narrative unnecessarily made your head spin over nothing. Occasionally funny and also fascinating, but Sweet Tooth ultimately had too many flaws to succeed.
I can't say much about this without blowing the plot, but the outlook of this story was so self-indulgent and yet also so self-loathing and malicious that I kind of wanted to vomit a little. Didn't care for the Scooby-Doo turn of events - readers will see. As it turns out, the world Serena operates in as an MI5 employee is rather boring. It's dingy at the Leconfeld House headquarters, and it really sucks being a spy. You might think Serena is simultaneously worthless and yet also too good to be true. There's a reason why, though the exact intent behind this leaves me skeptical.
What I found to be the most interesting part of the book was the fact that the spying that actually went on amounted to the characters' desire to be watched in a sense. Rather than being voyeurs, in a strange way, they wanted others to turn their gazes on them. They wanted validation and purpose for their actions and lives, never mind the fact that they mostly let life happen to them except in certain cases. Boredom, a desire for distraction, general malaise, loneliness - England was failing pretty hard in the early '70s, and this book tries very hard to illustrate a national individual moral bankruptcy. There's some sense of good intentions, but not really in the end. In fact, the true nature of the story is so winking that it's hard to fully believe that what you thought was happening is in fact the opposite. I'm not convinced.
Did any of this make any sense? I hesitate to elaborate on the off-chance that someone doesn't see the end coming. Ian McEwan was far too impressed with himself with this one.(less)
This was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency pe...moreThis was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency period in English history and a tongue-in-cheek farce. This book has a funny cast of characters who all resemble various characters you have met before in Jane Austen novels. The pastiche is done very well, with the dialogue and narrative perfectly capturing everything Regency fans love about Austen novels. However, Keeping the Castle is more obvious and blatant in style and tone and therefore lacking in the sharp subtlety that makes Jane Austen really stand out through history as a unique author.
Althea, much like your typical Austen heroine, must marry for money in order to secure her own livelihood and the livelihoods of her relatives. While witty, keenly observing and generally more rational than those around her, Althea, much like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett, can be blind to her own faults at times. The references to Jane Austen come off a bit like a greatest hits, and if you think each character reminds you a lot of Emma, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy or even some lesser lights in the Austen cannon, then you've got it right on. It's unclear how much Patrice Kindl wants readers to knowingly laugh at all of the obvious references to the source material or if she just really wants to recreate an Austen novel.
Either way, it generally comes off well, and this book like brain candy - easily digestible though not necessarily harboring any lasting nutritional value. While Austen novels astutely skewer society and human relationships with the intent to point out hypocrisy and human failings, this book seems to enjoy being funny for its own sake. The strange thing about this book is that it would seem to be intended as a gateway for students, so they can later find their way into a Regency novel. However, the tone and style of the book make it seem as if much of the reader's enjoyment rests on having already read Austen and the like. The number of winking in-jokes riddled throughout the book would seem that this book is in reality meant for adults or older teens, though the level of complexity is more appropriate for a younger audience.
This brings me to an observation long-discussed about YA novels - that many of them are in reality (though perhaps unconsciously) written for adults. I don't see why a teen would pick this up. It's far too much like the source material, which would likely come off as boring to many teens. Don't get me wrong - I liked reading this through my adult lens and enjoyed all of the references to Austen as a devotee of her work. I just think it fails a little as a young adult novel.(less)
A slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature...moreA slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature written all over it in the vein of stories like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremain. Avi mixes hefty amounts of period vocabulary and language with real historical figures to successful effect. Sophia Calderwood becomes a spy in the home of British General Clinton in hopes of avenging her brother's death at the onset of the war. It is there that she learns of a plot between a British officer who boarded in her family's home when she was 12 and a famous Continental general. Torn between duty to her country and her brother's memory and her lingering childhood feelings for the charming enemy officer who once lodged in her home, Sophia must decide which side she is on as the time draws near for the plot to be executed.
A little heavy on historical detail at times, but overall the reader can learn a lot about the period without growing so bored as to put the book down. Sophia is an admirable and realistic heroine, who behaves fairly authentically for a girl her age; she ages from 12 to 15 by the end of the story. The ending was a little dramatic, and I had trouble believing in the depth of some of Sophia's feelings, but on the whole, this was a riveting tale of espionage. And, the spy is a girl - a great hook to use during a book talk!(less)
Not sure why I never added this until about 600 books later. This is one of the few books that I sat back and thought - this is amazing, this author u...moreNot sure why I never added this until about 600 books later. This is one of the few books that I sat back and thought - this is amazing, this author understands, everything has aligned.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenom...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenomenon of bog bodies. Fergus McCann's brother Joe is doing time in a Northern Irish prison for collaborating with terrorists during the Troubles - a brutal period in Irish history that culminated in violent deaths on the sides of Republicans and Unionists alike. Joe and the other prisoners in his bloc are undergoing a hunger strike as part of a protest, and this decision not only puts strain on Joe, but also his family.
Fergus doesn't have hardcore political affiliations. He believes in a united Ireland, but he believes more in getting out of a war-torn world and becoming a doctor, as long as he can pass his graduation exams.
From the outset of the story, the mood is gloomy, depressed and tense. Fergus and his uncle Tally begin the story illegally harvesting peat, so they can sell it to people as fuel for heating homes. During their illicit endeavor they happen upon the long-dead but well-preserved body of a girl. The story of how the girl came to be in the bog merges well with the draining goings-on of Fergus' family issues and the political strife of the times. The writing and the atmosphere were great. The story felt timeless, but still managed to include elements from the era (the early 1980s) without seeming dated. Everything felt very remote - a consequence of the mood of the book - and yet the story evoked the right emotions when necessary.
One complaint I had involved the lack of detail in some instances - particularly in reference to the character Cora, who I thought got a bit of a raw deal in the end as far as her portrayal went. Sometimes things passed by with characters, but not enough time was lent to the characters' motivations. However, the surreal nature of the story more than made up for this flaw, and I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. Strangely, this seemed like a story that would resonate more with adults even though I found the tone and style appropriate for teens. I would recommend this book to both audiences. (less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children to England from Germany during the Holocaust. Franziska Mangold and her family are practicing Christians but according to the Nazis her Jewish ancestry is enough for her family to be considered Jewish now.
After Franziska's father is imprisoned, her mother makes the difficult decision to send her to England as part of a refugee program that pairs German Jewish children with English Jewish families. Not particularly close to her mother prior to her evacuation, it is in England that Franziska finally experiences the comfort of having a mother and brother. Despite an initially rocky start, Franziska learns about Jewish culture, what it means to be a family and more.
This story had a strange cadence to the narrative, which was never easy to adjust to right up to the end. The tone was simultaneously distant and yet immediate. The same goes for the descriptions and interactions of the characters. At times I felt like I had a clear picture in mind of who these people were, but in others it seemed vague. The tone was definitely appropriate for the subject though, and while the story was sad at times, it wasn't horribly hard to take.
While not inappropriate for upper elementary, it's perhaps too mature and dense for that age group to grasp. This book is better suited to middle-graders, who can more readily understand the horror of the Holocaust. Younger students may not be able to take or understand the rupture Franziska's German family experiences because of the war. Still, a unique topic among the stories of the Holocaust and worth looking at in this interesting book.(less)
Super affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, b...moreSuper affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, but also through distributing leaflets, protesting, smuggling and through armed uprisings in camps. This book is very sad but also a story of hope and courage. Each chapter discusses a specific incident or individual story, and the author provides resolution at the end of each situation. You know how things turned out for these people for good or ill. The photographs that go with some of these incidents alternate between hopeful and horrific. When first-hand accounts are provided they really amplify the text, though I would say this is one element that could have been included more than it was. Sometimes though describing the incident itself is enough to illustrate its severity. The courage of these people is unparalleled.(less)
As the year begins to wind up, I'm trying to catch up with all of the notable children's non-fiction from 2012. This was the first of those such books...moreAs the year begins to wind up, I'm trying to catch up with all of the notable children's non-fiction from 2012. This was the first of those such books I began while in the middle of a vacation I took leading up to Thanksgiving. This little known rescue of stranded whalers off the coast of Alaska in the late 1890s was filled with first-hand accounts from those directly involved with this harrowing rescue. Conditions were terrible, but the rescuers had much help along the way from the various peoples living in this frozen landscape. Lots of photographs that struck an eerie chord - the black and white depictions of ice and snow were chilling and yet almost seemed to lack resonance because of the colorless format. The book had some ok back matter, but nothing to write home about. This story would have been greatly enhanced by some interesting side-panel graphics or little features on life in Alaska or whaling, etc.
The narrative was very straight, and was often gripping. At times though it got bogged down in too much detail, and it could have used a little more of a narrative punch. Just the same, a great book about surviving the elements. I wonder, however, if many kids will pick this up. The topic has a lot of potential but the presentation leaves a bit to be desired.(less)