Countdown takes place in 1962 and is the story of 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Franny is a middle child living near Andrews Air Force base, and she oftCountdown takes place in 1962 and is the story of 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Franny is a middle child living near Andrews Air Force base, and she often feels overlooked. She loves to read aloud, but her teacher never seems to pick her to read for the class. She’s fighting with her friend Margie, her uncle is losing his grip on reality, and her sister is mysteriously absent for long periods of time. And as if it’s not hard enough being 11 already, the Cuban Missile Crisis has everyone in a panic, and Franny fears for her life.
The book Countdown is a documentary novel, and the printed book is scrapbook-like and includes important visual references from 1962 to enhance the reading experience. The audiobook experience is just as rich, however, and includes snippets of speeches, “duck and cover” instructions, presidential biographies, the sound of a typewriter, radio dial, bomb explosions and more. It really feels like you are there in 1962, with all the cultural references of the time. It is one of the more unique and entertaining audiobook experiences I’ve had.
It’s easy to identify with Franny and understand her worries about the world. Even though the book takes place 50 years ago and times have changed a lot, some things are still the same. Friendship conflicts still exist, and fears about the future. Franny is a sweet, sensitive girl who loves Nancy Drew mysteries, and playing her sister Jo Ellen’s 45’s, and is excited to attend her first boy-girl party. The author captures the feeling of that age very well, and made me remember my own time in fifth grade, and I was a worrier like Franny so could definitely relate to that.
One of my favorite YA audiobook narrators, Emma Galvin, reads the audiobook. Her voice works well for a variety of different stories, and again she shines with her performance here. She is believable as the voice of Franny, and gets to the heart of the character. Galvin conveys Franny’s kind and earnest nature and her voice is suited for the time frame. The character differentiations are subtle yet distinct, from Franny’s mother to her Uncle Otts, to her crush Chris. Even without the added bells and whistles found in the audiobook, her performance stands out.
Countdown is the first book in the Sixties trilogy, but it is a complete and satisfying story on it’s own. This book is a lot of fun, educational, and entertaining for both kids and adults. Though it’s meant for a middle grade audience, I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction or contemporary YA would enjoy this book. I recommend listening to the audio format to hear the sound effects and bonus historical material to get a feel for the era....more
I received this audiobook for review, and even though I was unfamiliar with the title, I was eager to try out a new historical fiction. Of course nowI received this audiobook for review, and even though I was unfamiliar with the title, I was eager to try out a new historical fiction. Of course now I’m seeing this book advertised everywhere. A Good American is an entertaining read about the Meisenheimer family and their ups and downs across generations. The book takes on the idea of what it means to be an American through the immigrant family’s example. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked on the story and I finished the audio in no time.
The saga begins in 1904 when Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer fall in love in Hanover, Germany. When Jette becomes pregnant it shames her mother, and the couple hastily leaves for America. They finally settle in Beatrice, Missouri, home to other German immigrants, with their new son Joseph. There’s a language, cultural and financial barrier to overcome, as well as the stress of being new parents. Frederick and Jette are challenged to build a new life in America from scratch for their family. The couple’s grandson, James, narrates their tale.
Though times change throughout the book, one thing that is consistent is that food and music are always present in the Meisenheimer’s lives. The tradition starts with gifted singer Frederick, and the talent is passed down all the way to their grandsons. The family also appreciates all kinds of music and at the different incarnations of their family-run dining establishment you can see the styles of music as well as menu options change with the times.
Each generation of the family has an interesting story to tell. And even though I would get attached to the story I was listening to, I was quickly caught up in the next generation’s journey. In addition to the Meisenheimer family, there are an entertaining cast of side characters woven into the story. Humor also keeps the book from ever becoming too heavy. Though the book loses a little steam for me towards the end, there’s an interesting twist that pulled me back in.
Gibson Frazier narrates the audio, and his storytelling abilities complement the book well. His reading drew me into the story, and he conveys the appropriate emotion and energy throughout. He uses different dialects for the characters but it is not overdone. I’m sure the book is great too, but I’m glad that I got the chance to listen to the audio. I started in on a new audio right after but found myself missing listening to A Good American.
I think this book will appeal to those that enjoy historical fiction, or books like Water for Elephants or The Help. It’s a really interesting look at American history as well as a wonderful family drama, and it would make an excellent book club choice....more
What an enjoyable book! I wasn’t sure this book would be for me because of the circus setting, and I’ve never been a circus fan. However, I kept heariWhat an enjoyable book! I wasn’t sure this book would be for me because of the circus setting, and I’ve never been a circus fan. However, I kept hearing how great it is and I made a promise to myself to read it this year. I ended up liking it quite a bit. The characters are well rounded and believable. The story flows nicely with descriptive details that set the tone of the era. It’s obvious the author did her homework with the historical facts and the behind the scenes info on the circus.
Water for Elephants tells the life recollections of “93 or 95″ year old Jacob Jankowski. He is in a nursing home and reflecting on his life spent with his wife and children, and the memorable time he spent working as a vet for the Benzini Brothers circus. The story is told in present day at the nursing home and flashbacks to 1931 to the circus.
This book was fascinating and held my interest with all of the details of life at the circus. The story has drama, romance, friendships and suspense. All of the main and side characters are intriguing and help to paint a vivid picture of the circus life. The animals also play a big part in the book, especially lovable Rosie the elephant. Regarding the animals, I was expecting the scenes of animal cruelty, but it was still hard for me to read. The book was educational and helped me to look at the time period and at circuses in general in a new way.
My goal was to finish this book before I saw the movie, but I didn’t quite make it. I read about 80% of it before the movie. I’m glad it turned out that way though, since it made the movie ending a surprise.
I recommend this book to any fiction readers or anyone who liked the movie. This one is a good crossover book for YA fans- it is a fast read, and a good historical, with interesting characters and relationships. I’m curious to read more from Sara Gruen....more
This Dark Mirror bonus short story shares the character Allarde's story as told through diary entries. It was interesting to learn more about him andThis Dark Mirror bonus short story shares the character Allarde's story as told through diary entries. It was interesting to learn more about him and get some insight into his character. This story can be read by anyone - you don't need to read Dark Mirror first. Following the story are the first two chapters of Dark Mirror. ...more
This is a sweet story that is a historical fiction mixed in with magical and humorous elements. It reads like a fairy tale. The heroine Eleonora is faThis is a sweet story that is a historical fiction mixed in with magical and humorous elements. It reads like a fairy tale. The heroine Eleonora is fascinating as the child prodigy and her character is what drew me in to the book.
The writing flows smoothly and I was quickly caught up in the story. The descriptively beautiful writing transports you to another place and time with a mysterious air. Although this is a historical fiction, the plot still feels current and relevant. I read the book without knowledge of the history of the Ottoman Empire, and that did not hinder my enjoyment.
Eleonora appealed to me with her love of books, inquisitive nature and talent of communicating with animals. She is such an intelligent and poised main character that it is easy to forget she is just a child. I would love to follow her adventures in further books; she is such an interesting character. I was happy for her when she got away from her stifling surroundings and her stepmother and into a new home where her talents were appreciated.
In addition to Eleonora, we are introduced to her father, Yakob, a carpet salesman, and the evil stepmother Ruxandra. Eleonora stays in Stamboul with Moncef Bay, a kind and wealthy bachelor with a secret past. Through Eleonora’s tutor she is brought to the attention of the Sultan. Eleonora’s travels take her from the Turkish markets to the Sultan’s palace. The sights, sounds, smells and foods are vividly described and make you feel as if you are there.
This book should appeal to those interested in history or that appreciate historical fiction, and those that read literature. Readers of young adult fiction may also enjoy this story and relate to Eleonora and the questions and tragedies she faces in her life. The Oracle of Stamboul is a charming debut and I would be interested in reading more from this author....more
Between Shades of Gray is a powerful read about one girls experience in work camps during World War II. Lithuanians were forcibly taken from their homBetween Shades of Gray is a powerful read about one girls experience in work camps during World War II. Lithuanians were forcibly taken from their homes and sent by train to Siberia to work in horrible freezing conditions. They were given very little in the way of food and shelter and were treated like criminals. In this story, Lina, along with her mother and little brother are separated from her father, and taken to the Arctic Circle to a work camp. Lina is an artist and documents her time in the camp through painting and drawing on scraps of paper, hoping her drawings will reach her father. The family is stretched to the limit in terms of food shortage, disease and illness, and abuse. Their story is not easy to read, and disturbing many times, but hard to put down.
Lina’s story is not sugar coated and it’s very bleak, but her family’s courage and determination is admirable. Though around them people are killed and dying of hunger and disease, they continue on as best they can while remaining true to themselves. Flashbacks are interspersed in the story and let you see into the family’s happy life before the displacement. It is a stark comparison to their present day circumstances. I liked that Lina had art as an outlet and her bravery to use it to tell her story. Lina’s mother is especially inspiring and a great example for compassion and dignity to everyone in the camp.
The novel does show the shades of gray of people as the title suggests. I was continually surprised by the actions of some of the characters in the book, and how behaviors contradicted my expectations.
The audiobook is just under eight hours long, and Emily Klein does a great job with the narration and bringing the reader into the story. She captures the distinct voices of the characters well, and conveys the appropriate emotional intensity to the story. Listening to the audiobook actually made some of the scenes more difficult to get through because they seemed so real. At the end of the story the author talks about writing the book (linked below), and that just brought the tears all over again.
Though the subject matter is difficult, the story is a worthwhile read and educated me on this time in history. The story is very compelling and really puts things into perspective when you look at the problems of your own life. Recommended for anyone, even if you don’t usually read historical fiction. I look forward to reading more from this author....more
I fell in love with this magical book. CHIME is unique, funny and utterly original and completely deserving of the 6 starred reviews it has earned. ThI fell in love with this magical book. CHIME is unique, funny and utterly original and completely deserving of the 6 starred reviews it has earned. The characters are eccentrically wonderful and the story is charmingly written and full of surprises. CHIME is a YA paranormal historical set in Swampsea village in turn of the century England. It includes fantasy and romantic elements that captivated me from start to finish. In addition to the mystery and romance, mystical creatures including Witches, Dark Muses, and Old Ones help to set the stage.
The characters in CHIME really bring the story to life. Briony is unusual in that she is self-loathing, but with a witty and clever sense of humor. As a narrator she is at times misleading as she leaves out some details. Briony believes she is a witch and that she is responsible for the sickness and death that have fallen upon her family. She keeps her fears to herself to avoid a witch’s prosecution. Briony carries around a lot of guilt for the pain she believes she causes to those around her. She feels a terrible responsibility to protect the swamp creatures whose lives are threatened by the plans for the railroad that threaten their swamp home. She must stop the progress of the railroad before more children can be cursed with the dreaded swamp cough.
Briony starts to see herself in a new light when Eldric arrives to live with her family. Eldric is a burst of sunshine in Briony’s life that refuses to believe anything negative about her. The relationship between Eldric and Briony is very sweet and unique and one of my favorite parts of the book. They have a fun banter and respect for one another. Briony lives with her father and her identical twin sister named Rose who has some charming quirks about her. Rose is another one of my favorite characters that made me smile with her off the wall behavior. Their stepmother recently died under mysterious circumstances, and it seems like Rose knows more than she lets on.
The fantasy elements add a dark and eerie sensibility to the story. Briony tries to stifle her witch side, but keeps getting pulled into the supernatural world by the creatures that follow her around.
CHIME is a lovely and inventive story that is sure to appeal to fans of YA fantasy and fans of adult fiction. As soon as I finished the story I wanted to start reading it again. CHIME is one of my favorite reads so far this year....more
I enjoyed Strings Attached a lot, and it’s one of the best I’ve read in the YA historical fiction genre. I was swept up in the story immediately and cI enjoyed Strings Attached a lot, and it’s one of the best I’ve read in the YA historical fiction genre. I was swept up in the story immediately and captivated with the details of Kit’s life in New York during the Korean War. The historical details are obviously well researched and transported me to another time and place. I felt like I was watching a film noir as the scandalous story unfolded.
Kit is on the one hand very mature to be able to handle life alone in New York. But at the same time she is naive in her relationship with Nate. He is bribing her so that he can get closer to his son, and for Kit’s help with his unsavory business dealings. Kit has a tumultuous relationship with Billy, who is a possessive and jealous boyfriend. He always seems to be walking in on her as she is embracing another man, which doesn’t help matters.
The story unfolds slowly and the details of Kit’s life are filled in through flashbacks to her life in Providence. We learn about her childhood and growing up as a triplet. We also learn about her relationship with Billy and her complicated family history with his father Nate. The flashbacks don’t interfere with the story in New York, but add a new perspective when viewing the current events.
The events of the book lead up to a jam packed ending, filled with shocking revelations and dramatic twists and turns. The books ends with such a big finish it is a shock to read after the more even pace of the first three quarters of the book. The book has a satisfying though bittersweet ending that was a complete surprise.
Strings Attached has a great story with a modern feel and relevance to today’s contemporary YA readers even though the story is set in the past. The noir-like tale of 1950 nightlife and gangsters has painstaking and vivid historical details of interest to history buffs as well. I’ll be sure to pick up the author’s previous book, National Book Award winner, What I Saw and How I Lied....more
Beautifully written and complex, Revolution is a unique and satisfying book. It’s a very ambitious novel with two interwoven points of view – part hisBeautifully written and complex, Revolution is a unique and satisfying book. It’s a very ambitious novel with two interwoven points of view – part historical fiction and part present day tale of grief and healing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am still digesting it days later.
Revolution starts off with a bang when we follow Andi’s path of self-destruction in the present in Brooklyn. She is flawed, and grieving, and a bit of a mess, but smart and sympathetic. I related to her turning to music to help her get through the day. The music aspect of the novel was one of my favorite parts. I thought the music that Andi and the other musicians covered such as The Smiths were really appropriate to the story. I need to make a Revolution playlist.
I’m just starting to become interested in historical fiction and am not an expert on the French Revolution and I found the historical aspect of the book fascinating. I was as just as invested in the story told in the diary as Andi’s story in present day.
Once I hit about page 50 of the novel, the pages started flying and I couldn’t stop reading until I was finished. The story incorporated so many interesting themes, and I was always entertained. There is a love story, friends and family relationships, depression and grieving, music therapy, and even some magical realism.
This is the first book I have read by Jennifer Donnelly and I was very impressed. I will definitely check out her book A Northern Light, and am looking forward to reading more from this author.
Dark Mirror is the first book in a unique new YA series by M.J. Putney. It is a historical fiction novel set in England in 1803 about Lady Victoria “TDark Mirror is the first book in a unique new YA series by M.J. Putney. It is a historical fiction novel set in England in 1803 about Lady Victoria “Tory” Mansfield and her paranormal adventures. This book actually tells two historical stories in one through the magic of time travel. Along with a bit of romance, this book has it all!
Tory has just discovered she has some magical power when she finds herself floating above her bed. This power soon comes in handy and helps her to save a young boy’s life. Her family, however, is shamed rather than grateful for Tory’s magic and immediately sends her away to Lackland Abbey to learn to control her magic with other mages. In the beginning Tory wants to be cured, but soon is intrigued to learn more about her new powers. She suddenly finds herself on a new adventure when she stumbles through a magical time travel mirror 100 years in the future. She finds herself wondering why she is there and if she was sent there with a higher purpose.
This book starts out a bit slow, but I was soon caught up in the story and found myself quickly turning the pages. I thought the historical aspect was fascinating and seeing how the future England compared and was similar to Tory’s present day England. The book got more interesting and exciting for me once Tory travels to the future. Although her classmates and teachers at Lackland are intriguing, it felt like the plot moved along more swiftly when the action moved to the future and with the added characters.
The magical aspect is compelling and it is interesting to see the different powers her classmates possess. There are all kinds of mages in the book including those that control the weather, create heat, or can heal. In addition to practicing magic, Tory is also involved in the beginnings of a romance. The romance angle is not a huge part of the book, which is more about Tory learning about her powers. I’m curious to find out what happens in the sequel.
I liked the descriptive writing and the imaginative story, and felt like I was transported in time reading this book. I recommend this series for fans of paranormal, romance, fantasy and historical fiction....more
I picked up the audiobook of THE HELP from the library; I have been curious to read it for a while after seeing it on bestseller lists and numerous reI picked up the audiobook of THE HELP from the library; I have been curious to read it for a while after seeing it on bestseller lists and numerous recommendations. THE HELP is the story of two black maids living in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s and one white woman who wants to publish their stories about their relationships with the families they work for.
The audiobook was one of the best I’ve heard and the voice actresses portraying Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny made the story come alive. I listened to the audiobook as I was doing housework and my house got very clean as I was finding excuses to keep listening to this book.
The characters in the book are richly drawn and all of their unique stories are fascinating. Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny take turns narrating and all have compelling stories to tell of life in the time of the Civil Rights era in the South. There are many stories shared about their lives, and numerous stories of heartbreaking racial inequality. I was drawn to all of the character’s stories, but Aibileen is the heart of the book who I was rooting for. Miss Hilly is the villain of the book and her behavior just got more and more distasteful and reprehensible.
The descriptive stories leap off the page and I found the book hard to put down. The book has some mysteries that are revealed slowly while the tension builds. The visual descriptions made it easy to picture the setting and I can imagine this book will translate successfully as a movie.
I enjoyed THE HELP for the wonderful writing and storytelling, the characters and the pacing. The book is charmingly told with a nice balance of drama, light humor, heartbreak, and heartwarming stories. I found the book to be an enthralling and thought-provoking read. I especially recommend the audiobook version of this book....more